« Peep, peep. »
« Cluck, cluck, cluck. »
« Quack, quack. »
« Cock-adoo-dle doo ! »
April – Fruit trees are in blossom.
Now Spring has come, the Old Black hen decides to set. Though given a nest of eggs in a quiet spot she is suspicious and hesitates. « I wish, » she grumbles, « they'd let me do it in my own way. I hate a strange nest, and how do I know what kind of eggs they've given me. Those green ones don't look right. »
May – The leaves have come.
Night, however, makes her try it. « No hen made this nest, » she scoffs. « Still the eggs do feel very comforting, I daresay I can't do better. I think I'll stay. » So she flattens down to warm and hatch her eggs, and once interested even hunger hardly moves her ffrom the nest, and she sits and dreams of the chicks through long and weary weeks, a monument of hopeful patience.
Just when she really begins to grow tired of her task, to tell the truth, and thinks, « It's surely time – I can't sit here forever, » something happens. First come feeble pecks and peeps, then shells begin to crack, and little chicks come struggling out. And long and last two little ducks. « There, » says the hen in vexation, « I've been cheated again, and ducks are such a care. »
May – Buttercups are in the grass.
« Cluck ! Cluck ! Come chicks, » she calls, « We'll take a walk. » Then she struts in triumph past the other hens, and proudly leads her brood out into the world. The old rooster wonders whether they are girls or boys, and hopes they turn out to be girls, for boys are harder to manage, that he knows.
May – The garden is growing.
The old hen finds a new made garden bed of good soft earth. « A likely place for worms, » she thinks, and sets to work with furious zeal to scratch and dig. « Keep away from my feet when I am working, » she warns. And the little chicks soon see the reason why, and learn to dodge and scramble.
They all crowd around as she explains the principle of digging worms, and how to catch them. « Worms and bugs, » she tells them, « make little chickens fat and strong. » Now all goes smoothly till the kitten, looking for some one to play with, comes trotting up to join the happy family.
« A cat! » cries the mother hen. « Children never have anything to do with cats, they eat little chicks. I'll fix him. » So she ruffles up her feathers to make herself look terrible, and with a rush and shriek flies at the surprised kitten, who scrambles off in wild alarm through the onion patch.
May – Now all is green.
Then she gathers her brood beneath her protecting wings in the open ground of the asparagus bed, and warns them of the dangers of life. « You must always keep near mother, » she explains, « and do just as I tell you or I can never bring you up. » The kitten, from a safe distance, demurely looks on and wonders what made her so angry.
Each day they grow a little bigger, and hop, and jump, and run about the garden. The ducks soon find the water tub, and in they flounder, to dive and swim, and will not listen to their mother who fears they'll drown. « I hoped that this time I could teach them to be chickens, » she sighs, « but it's no use, you can't change ducks, alas! »
June – The garden flowers come.
As they all get strong and full of life they become quite bold and daring, and run when called, to feed from the hand, and crowd and jostle without fear. Though the old hen still remains suspicious. « I've heard that people eat chickens, too, » she warns, but, of course then can't believe this and doubt their mother's wisdom.
Now she teaches them the various chicken ways of arranging their toilet, and keeping clean and tidy. « Do just as I do, » she explains as she preens and dresses her feathers ; « our family has always prided itself on its neatness. » So they copy all her tricks, and learn to stand on one foot and scratch their ears, in a knowing way, and feel very proud of it.
June. Flowers come and go.
Then they go on great exploring expeditions through the garden, and chase the butterflies, roll in the shade of the currant bushes, and dig for nice fat worms, and get to know all sort of things that are good to eat. « That's the way to earn your living, chicks, » their mother encourages ; « we must all do that nowadays. »
Their little tails soon grow out, and wing feathers come, and really they feel that they are now quite big chicks. Until the wetting rain comes down and makes them feel quite small again, and very miserable. All but the ducks, who quack and laugh in delight and paddle in the puddles. « Those ducks again, » the old hen groans ; « they'll surely catch their deaths. »
July – Summer bright.
As they steadily grow bigger their appetites grow as well and they are always hungry, and hail with boisterous welcome breakfast time. Like unruly children, their behavior is not of the best, for each tries to eat as much as he can in the shortest time. « Don't be so rude, » their mother chides, then thinks, « Chicks will be chicks. But ducks really have no manners. »
With Summer's advance they grow so fast that they quite fill their box, and the old hen is uncomfortably crowded, especially as the ducks are now nearly as big as she is. « I can't get a wink of sleep, » she complains; « I won't stand this any longer, they didn't take up so much room before, but now they want it all, it's really quite unbearable. »
August – Evening's flower blooms.
At last she decides to go back to the coop, after taking it over with the old rooster who says, « They are plenty big enough to look after themselves » ; and he finds her a comfortable place to roost. The deserted chicks didn't like this at all, and set ut a doleful wail, and the ducks are broken-hearted, for though big they are timid, and dread being alone in the dark.
Now in fear of the coming night, they all turn back to their lonely box. With much quaking and clumsy scrambling the chicken learn to roost. But the ducks, though they try hard to climb, have to sleep on the straw below. « Quack, quack! » they plaintevely cry. « If the cat should come! Oh, dear! Will it never be to-morrow. »
September – Autumn's glow
As no harm comes they become used to being alone, and get on very well. This life is full of play, with little care ; in fact their only work is growing. The ducks, now glorious creatures, flap their grat new wings, and laughing call, « Now don't you wish that you could swim ? » and splash and splatter, much to the disgust of the chickens who do so hate to get their feathers wet.
October – Leaves are falling.
Autumn comes, the chicks and ducks feel very big, and think that they should be promoted. « For we're really quite grown up now, » they say. And they have their wish for soon they are turned into the big chicken yard. Of course they feel proud, though timid. « Now, » says a spiteful hen, « we must teach them their place, or they will become insupportable. » So she gave them a peck. But the rooster welcomes them all. He likes a large family.
October – Winds are blowing
They soon regret the garden and their lost liberty, and think, « Being grown up isn't what we expected at all. » And they have to learn to dodge ill-disposed hens. » « Horrid things, » they call them. The young cock tries to make himself agreeable, and get acquainted, but the old rooster thinks him too forward, and tells him not to put on airs.
November – The trees are bare.
And at last they disagree, and lose their tempers, and call each other names, more's the pity. Though the ducks, who love peace so much they will almost fight for it, try hard to keep them from quarelling, and loudly cry, « Quack! quack! Stop! Stop! »
November – Dead leaves are burning
But in vain, for they come to blows and fight a furious battle, and feathers fly about. Of course the young cock is blamed. « He really is very impudent, » says the Old Black hen ; « none of my children ever behaved so before. » He is soon forced to run for his life, and then keeps out of the way for a while.
November – The snow has come.
In time things settle down again, and harmony reigns in the lower court. The rooster talk to the chickens, now young hens, and tells them, « Now my dears, it is high time you were thinking of laying eggs, like the other hens, you are quite big enough. » And they feel very proud and happy at being considered so grown up.
December – Winter snow is here.
When Winter comes they boldly struggle in the scramble for a share of Christmas Dinner. Already quite at home they have laid their first round eggs. In fact, they even dream of Spring, which soon will come again, when they, like other hens, will hatch out broods of chicks themselves. And so the wheel of chicken life goes round.