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THE next day I was so stiffened by my somewhat unusual exertions that I fairly creaked. So I rather slighted the grooming of my horses, but looked carefully to the welfare of my thoroughbred fowls, and was fully rewarded by seeing two on the nests.
That day a slatted box arrived at my office by express, containing a most magnificent black-red gamecock. I was out when the expressman arrived, or I should have required him to deliver it at my farm. As it was, the bird kept up a most terrific crowing during the forenoon, leaving some doubt in the minds of casual callers or prospective clients as to whether they were entering a cockpit, a poultry exhibition, or the unassuming office of an attorney-at-law and amateur farmer. As the charges had been prepaid by my unknown benefactor, I felt that I could afford to secure the bird's transmission to my farm at the hands of a small boy and at the expense of ten cents.
That noon when I went to lunch, I first repaired to my barn to liberate the gamecock.
But somebody had evidently anticipated my humane desire to emancipate the prisoner, and I found the box empty. A dreadful suspicion occurred to me, and I made rapid strides for the hencoop, where I found my fears confirmed.
A battle had been fought, and evidences of it in the shape of tufts of silvery feathers scattered over the pen in which my beautiful Hamburg cock had been confined were abundant, while in a corner, looking like a soiled and frayed feather-duster, lay the remains of that proud and well-bred bird. His conqueror, splendid and unhurt, scratched and curveted before the consorts of the late deceased king, and crowed so lustily that the very rafters rang, and occasionally, as if to dissipate any doubt that the ladies present might have entertained of his being the "champeen," took a whack at his antagonist, and plucked from the stiffened and prostrate form a choice nosegay of feathers, which he strewed at the feet of the penciled beauties.
Either my instructions had not been sufficiently explicit, or that boy possessed a strong strain of sporting blood in his composition. "If I could only catch that rascal I would —" Well, I couldn't really say what I would do, but I probably would have cross-questioned him severely for the purpose of ascertaining just what sort of a fight the old Hamburg put up.
The next thing was to get the gamecock out of the pen. It was my intention when I bought those Hamburgs to breed to a feather, and not allow any hybrids on the farm, but the presence of an alien rooster of undisputed lineage, but practically unknown moral standing, in a flock of young and giddy female birds, mere schoolgirl biddies in fact, might excite in the unregenerate a suspicion of a taint in the blood of their progeny, to say nothing of a blot on their moral escutcheon.
So I opened the door between the pens, stepped in, and carefully fastened it to avoid a second fatality to the Dominique at its hands, or rather at its heels. While my back was turned and my attention occupied in this task, the feathered pugilist struck me a most vicious blow in the calf of my right leg, which hurt outrageously, and so angered me that I rushed furiously after him.
Away he went round the coop, flapping and swearing in shrill gallinaceous language, while I came right after him, doing my best to answer his remarks in vigorous English. Now any one who has endeavored to catch an adult and frantic rooster in a small room, and in the midst of a round dozen of hysterical and gymnastic hens, in full possession of astonishing powers of speech and motion, knows what a dreadful task is before one.
It seemed as if every single hen had been multiplied by ten, shedding shrieks, squawks, feathers, dust, and scratches; and as I pursued that gorgeous devil up, over, round, and through the pen, I was bombarded with hens. One frantic biddy collided with my best stiff hat so violently that it was knocked off, stepped on, and ruined, before I was aware of its loss. Another nearly blinded me as I unexpectedly intercepted its arrow-like flight from one roost to another; the number of times I bumped my head against those roosts was beyond computation; I stepped on the edge of a large, deep tin pan filled with water, and the same promptly reared aloft and cast its contents over my soiled, dusty, and feather-covered person. Two hens escaped by dashing bodily through the windows, which I had neglected to have properly protected by wire; but at last I caught that infernal gamecock by the legs, whereupon, finding itself caught, it stopped squawking, reached for my unoccupied hand, and with its iron beak gouged a segment therefrom and struggled to bring its sharp spurs to play.
When, after rescuing the mangled remains of my hat and immuring the murderer in a separate prison, I returned to my family I was an appalling sight. I was festooned with cobwebs, downy with feathers, covered with dust, and drenched with water. One side of my face was smeared with dirt, and the other was seamed with scratches where maniacal pullets had deftly dealt me glancing blows, my hand was bleeding, and my new hat ruined.
However, I had determined to become a farmer, and all my unpleasant experiences were in a way valuable, and would doubtless bear fruit. In some ways farming had not proved exactly profitable, but it was far more exciting than I had ever dreamed.
For the week following the chase of the gamecock, and the tragic death of our fine stock bird, I was quite closely confined to the office with an epidemic of legal business that broke. loose. It seemed as if almost every third man I met was tormented with an unconquerable desire to quarrel about a right of way, to institute criminal proceedings for the collection of a civil claim, or to file a libel for divorce on untenable grounds.
This tried me severely, for while such business is seldom remunerative, and needs to be sorted out with the greatest care, the legal transaction of the best of it, to say the least, adds nothing to one's reputation either as a lawyer or a gentleman, which terms should be, but are not always, synonymous.
I stepped on the edge of a large deep tin pan
Again, clients in such classes of business know so much more than their legal advisers, and are so tenacious of their opinions, that in many cases it is almost impossible to get rid of them without resorting to violence.
And so, at the end of the next week I was just yearning for a taste of the farm, and for a chance to put to the test some of the theories I had been forming in regard to the proper development of my stock and the bringing my farm up to the standard set by government publications of the Agricultural Department. I had studied faithfully the various poultry books and magazines, and felt that I could at once detect that grim destroyer, roup, the moment I saw it; and for several days I had, when feeding and watering my fowls, looked them over with considerable trepidation, fearful of the dread scourge, and yet determined if necessary to kill, burn, and reduce to infinite nothingness any unfortunate fowls that might be attacked, and even prepared to go to the extreme length of burning the hencoop.
I also learned with profound regret that there was no known remedy for fatty degeneration of the liver, or tumors in the gizzard, but that pip could be cured by certain preparations to be procured only of the advertiser; that gapes and cholera could be promptly cured by explicitly following certain directions sent by mail, "Enclose twenty-five cents in stamps," which I did, and received "specific directions" to kill the affected specimens at once; that bumble-foot could be also effectually remedied by cutting open the foot and rubbing in a preparation, the ingredients of which could be obtained only of the advertiser; that this remedy was the result of years of study at the expense of thousands of dollars.
I also learned that there were thirty or forty "best" remedies for vermin, fifteen or twenty "only" remedies for vermin, and at least a dozen "best and only" remedies for vermin. Indeed, so much was said of the ravages of vermin that I felt quite crawly every time I finished a poultry magazine.