The Diary of a Goose Girl HTML version

Chapter 4
July 9th.
By the time the ducks and geese are incarcerated for the night, the reasonable, sensible,
practical-minded hens--especially those whose mentality is increased and whose virtue is
heightened by the responsibilities of motherhood--have gone into their own particular rat-
proof boxes, where they are waiting in a semi-somnolent state to have the wire doors
closed, the bricks set against them, and the bits of sacking flung over the tops to keep out
the draught. We have a great many young families, both ducklings and chicks, but we
have no duck mothers at present. The variety of bird which Phoebe seems to have bred
during the past year may be called the New Duck, with certain radical ideas about
woman's sphere. What will happen to Thornycroft if we develop a New Hen and a New
Cow, my imagination fails to conceive. There does not seem to be the slightest danger for
the moment, however, and our hens lay and sit and sit and lay as if laying and sitting
were the twin purposes of life.
The nature of the hen seems to broaden with the duties of maternity, but I think myself
that we presume a little upon her amiability and natural motherliness. It is one thing to
desire a family of one's own, to lay eggs with that idea in view, to sit upon them three
long weeks and hatch out and bring up a nice brood of chicks. It must be quite another to
have one's eggs abstracted day by day and eaten by a callous public, the nest filled with
deceitful substitutes, and at the end of a dull and weary period of hatching to bring into
the world another person's children-- children, too, of the wrong size, the wrong kind of
bills and feet, and, still more subtle grievance, the wrong kind of instincts, leading them
to a dangerous aquatic career, one which the mother may not enter to guide, guard, and
teach; one on the brink of which she must ever stand, uttering dryshod warnings which
are never heeded. They grow used to this strange order of things after a bit, it is true, and
are less anxious and excited. When the duck- brood returns safely again and again from
what the hen-mother thinks will prove a watery grave, she becomes accustomed to the
situation, I suppose. I find that at night she stands by the pond for what she considers a
decent, self-respecting length of time, calling the ducklings out of the water; then, if they
refuse to come, the mother goes off to bed and leaves them to Providence, or Phoebe.
The brown hen that we have named Cornelia is the best mother, the one who waits
longest and most patiently for the web-footed Gracchi to finish their swim.
When a chick is taken out of the incubytor (as Phoebe calls it) and refused by all the other
hens, Cornelia generally accepts it, though she had twelve of her own when we began
using her as an orphan asylum. "Wings are made to stretch," she seems to say cheerfully,
and with a kind glance of her round eye she welcomes the wanderer and the outcast. She
even tended for a time the offspring of an absent-minded, light-headed pheasant who flew
over a four-foot wall and left her young behind her to starve; it was not a New Pheasant,