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Reginald in Russia and Other Stories

The Blood-Feud Of Toad-Water
A West-Country Epic
The Cricks lived at Toad-Water; and in the same lonely upland spot Fate had pitched the
home of the Saunderses, and for miles around these two dwellings there was never a
neighbour or a chimney or even a burying-ground to bring a sense of cheerful
communion or social intercourse. Nothing but fields and spinneys and barns, lanes and
waste-lands. Such was Toad-Water; and, even so, Toad-Water had its history.
Thrust away in the benighted hinterland of a scattered market district, it might have been
supposed that these two detached items of the Great Human Family would have leaned
towards one another in a fellowship begotten of kindred circumstances and a common
isolation from the outer world. And perhaps it had been so once, but the way of things
had brought it otherwise. Indeed, otherwise. Fate, which had linked the two families in
such unavoidable association of habitat, had ordained that the Crick household should
nourish and maintain among its earthly possessions sundry head of domestic fowls, while
to the Saunderses was given a disposition towards the cultivation of garden crops. Herein
lay the material, ready to hand, for the coming of feud and ill-blood. For the grudge
between the man of herbs and the man of live stock is no new thing; you will find traces
of it in the fourth chapter of Genesis. And one sunny afternoon in late spring-time the
feud came--came, as such things mostly do come, with seeming aimlessness and
triviality. One of the Crick hens, in obedience to the nomadic instincts of her kind,
wearied of her legitimate scatching-ground, and flew over the low wall that divided the
holdings of the neighbours. And there, on the yonder side, with a hurried consciousness
that her time and opportunities might be limited, the misguided bird scratched and
scraped and beaked and delved in the soft yielding bed that had been prepared for the
solace and well-being of a colony of seedling onions.
Little showers of earth-mould and root-fibres went spraying before the hen and behind
her, and every minute the area of her operations widened. The onions suffered
considerably. Mrs. Saunders, sauntering at this luckless moment down the garden path, in
order to fill her soul with reproaches at the iniquity of the weeds, which grew faster than
she or her good man cared to remove them, stopped in mute discomfiture before the
presence of a more magnificent grievance. And then, in the hour of her calamity, she
turned instinctively to the Great Mother, and gathered in her capacious hands large clods
of the hard brown soil that lay at her feet. With a terrible sincerity of purpose, though
with a contemptible inadequacy of aim, she rained her earth bolts at the marauder, and
the bursting pellets called forth a flood of cackling protest and panic from the hastily
departing fowl. Calmness under misfortune is not an attribute of either hen-folk or
womenkind, and while Mrs. Saunders declaimed over her onion bed such portions of the
slang dictionary as are permitted by the Nonconformist conscience to be said or sung, the
Vasco da Gama fowl was waking the echoes of Toad-Water with crescendo bursts of
throat music which compelled attention to her griefs. Mrs. Crick had a long family, and
was therefore licensed, in the eyes of her world, to have a short temper, and when some