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The Farm Yard Journal by E. V. Lucas

    Dear Tom,

'Since we parted at the breaking-up, I have been for most of the time at a pleasant farm in Hertfordshire, where I have employed myself in rambling about the country, and assisting, as well as I could, at the work going on at home and in the fields. On wet days, and in the evenings, I have amused myself with keeping a journal of all the great events that have happened among us; and hoping that when you are tired of the bustle of your busy town you may receive some entertainment from comparing our transactions with yours, I have copied out for your perusal one of the days in my memorandum-book.

'Pray let me know in return what you are doing, and believe me,

                    'Your very affectionate friend,

                     'RICHARD MARKWELL.'

[Illustration: She kicked up her hind legs, and threw down the milk-pail.—Page 93.]

'June 10.—Last night we had a dreadful alarm. A violent scream was heard from the hen-roost; the geese all set up a cackle, and the dogs barked. Ned, the boy who lies over the stable, jumped up and ran into the yard, when he observed a fox galloping away with a chicken in his mouth, and the dogs on full chase after him. They could not overtake him, and soon returned. Upon further examination, the large white cock was found lying on the ground all bloody, with his comb torn almost off, and his feathers all ruffled; and the speckled hen and three chickens lay dead beside him. The cock recovered, but appeared terribly frightened. It seems that the fox had jumped over the garden hedge, and then, crossing part of the yard behind the straw, had crept into the hen-roost through a broken pale. John, the carpenter, was sent for to make all fast, and prevent the like mischief again.

'Early this morning the brindled cow was delivered of a fine bull-calf. Both are likely to do well. The calf is to be fattened for the butcher.

'The duck-eggs that were sitten upon by the old black hen were hatched this day, and the ducklings all directly ran into the pond, to the great terror of the hen, who went round and round, clucking with all her might, in order to call them out, but they did not regard her. An old drake took the little ones under his care, and they swam about very merrily.

'As Dolly this morning was milking the new cow that was bought at the fair she kicked with her hind legs, and threw down the milk-pail, at the same time knocking Dolly off her stool into the dirt. For this offence the cow was sentenced to have her head fastened to the rack, and her legs tied together.

'A kite was observed to hover a long while over the yard with an intention of carrying off some of the young chickens; but the hens called their broods together under their wings, and the cocks put themselves in order of battle, so that the kite was disappointed. At length one chicken, not minding its mother, but straggling heedlessly to a distance, was descried by the kite, who made a sudden swoop, and seized it in his talons. The chicken cried out, and the cocks and hens all screamed, when Ralph, the farmer's son, who saw the attack, snatched up a loaded gun, and just as the kite was flying off with his prey, fired and brought him dead to the ground, along with the poor chicken, who was killed in the fall. The dead body of the kite was nailed up against the wall, by way of warning to his wicked comrades.

'In the forenoon we were alarmed with strange noises approaching us, and looking out we saw a number of people with frying pans, warming pans, tongs and pokers, beating, ringing, and making all possible din. We soon discovered them to be our neighbours of the next farm in pursuit of a swarm of bees which was hovering in the air over their heads. The bees at length alighted on the tall pear tree in our orchard, and hung in a bunch from one of the boughs. A ladder was got, and a man ascending with gloves on his hands, and an apron tied over his head, swept them into a hive, which was rubbed on the inside with honey and sweet herbs. But as he was descending, some bees which had got under his gloves stung him in such a manner that he hastily threw down the hive, upon which the greater part of the bees fell out, and began in a rage to fly among the crowd, and sting all whom they lit upon. Away scampered the people, the women shrieking, the children roaring; and poor Adam, who had held the hive, was assailed so furiously that he was obliged to throw himself on the ground, and creep under the gooseberry bushes. At length the bees began to return to the hive, in which the queen bee had remained; and after a while, all being quietly settled, a cloth was thrown over it, and the swarm was carried home.

'About noon three pigs broke into the garden, where they were rioting upon the carrots and turnips, and doing a great deal of mischief by trampling the beds and rooting up the plants with their snouts, when they were spied by old Towzer, the mastiff, who ran among them, and laying hold of their long ears with his teeth, made them squeal most dismally, and get out of the garden as fast as they could.

'Roger, the ploughman, when he came for his dinner, brought word that he had discovered a partridge's nest with sixteen eggs in the home field, upon which the farmer went out and broke them all, saying that he did not choose to rear birds upon his corn which he was not allowed to scratch, but must leave to some qualified sportsman, who would besides break down his fences in the pursuit.

'A sheep washing was held this day at the mill-pool, when seven score were well washed, and then penned in the high meadow to dry. Many of them made great resistance at being thrown into the water, and the old ram, being dragged to the brink by a boy at each horn, and a third pushing behind, by a sudden spring threw two of them into the water, to the great diversion of the spectators.

'Towards the dusk of the evening the Squire's mongrel greyhound, which had been long suspected of worrying sheep, was caught in the fact. He had killed two lambs, and was making a hearty meal upon one of them, when he was disturbed by the approach of the shepherd's boy, and directly leaped the hedge and made off. The dead bodies were taken to the Squire's, with an indictment of wilful murder against the dog. But when they came to look for the culprit, he was not to be found in any part of the premises, and is supposed to have fled his country through consciousness of his heinous offence.

'Joseph, who sleeps in the garret at the old end of the house, after having been some time in bed, came downstairs in his shirt, as pale as ashes, and frightened the maids, who were going up. It was some time before he could tell what was the matter. At length he said he had heard some dreadful noises overhead, which he was sure must be made by some ghost or evil spirit. Nay, he thought he had seen something moving, though he owned he durst hardly lift up his eyes. He concluded with declaring that he would rather sit up all night in the kitchen than go to his room again. The maids were almost as much alarmed as he, and did not know what to do; but the master, overhearing their talk, came out and insisted upon their accompanying him to the spot, in order to search into the affair. They all went into the garret, and for a while heard nothing, when the master ordered the candle to be taken away, and everyone to keep quite still. Joseph and the maids stuck close to each other, and trembled in every limb. At length a kind of groaning or snoring began to be heard, which grew louder and louder, with intervals of a strange sort of hissing. “That's it!” whispered Joseph, drawing back towards the door. The maids were ready to sink, and even the farmer himself was a little disconcerted. The noise seemed to come from the rafters near the thatch. In a while, a glimpse of moonlight shining through a hole at the place plainly discovered the shadow of something stirring, and on looking intently somewhat like feathers were perceived. The farmer now began to suspect what the case was, and ordering up a short ladder, bid Joseph climb to the spot, and thrust his hand into the hole. This he did rather unwillingly, and soon drew it back, crying loudly that he was bit. However, gathering courage, he put it in again, and pulled out a large white owl, another at the same time being heard to fly away. The cause of the alarm was now made clear enough, and poor Joseph, after being heartily jeered by the maids, though they had been as much frightened as he, sneaked into bed again, and the house soon became quiet.'


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