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The Farm-Yard
by [?]

There is a big farm-yard close to the house where I am staying just now; it is a constant pleasure, as I pass that way, to stop and watch the manners and customs of the beasts and birds that inhabit it; I am ashamed to think how much time I spend in hanging over a gate, to watch the little dramas of the byre. I am not sure that pigs are an altogether satisfactory subject of contemplation. They always seem to me like a fallen race that has seen better days. They are able, intellectual, inquisitive creatures. When they are driven from place to place, they are not gentle or meek, like cows and sheep, who follow the line of least resistance. The pig is suspicious and cautious; he is sure that there is some uncomfortable plot on foot, not wholly for his good, which he must try to thwart if he can. Then, too, he never seems quite at home in his deplorably filthy surroundings; he looks at you, up to the knees in ooze, out of his little eyes, as if he would live in a more cleanly way, if he were permitted. Pigs always remind me of the mariners of Homer, who were transformed by Circe; there is a dreadful humanity about them, as if they were trying to endure their base conditions philosophically, waiting for their release.

But cows bring a deep tranquillity into the spirit; their glossy skins, their fragrant breath, their contented ease, their mild gaze, their Epicurean rumination tend to restore the balance of the mind, and make one feel that vegetarianism must be a desirable thing. There is the dignity of innocence about the cow, and I often wish that she did not bear so poor a name, a word so unsuitable for poetry; it is lamentable that one has to take refuge in the archaism of kine, when the thing itself is so gentle and pleasant.

But the true joy of the farm-yard is, undoubtedly, in the domestic fowls. It is long since I was frightened of turkeys; but I confess that there is still something awe-inspiring about an old turkey-cock, with a proud and angry eye, holding his breath till his wattles are blue and swollen, with his fan extended, like a galleon in full sail, his wings held stiffly down, strutting a few rapid steps, and then slowly revolving, like a king in royal robes. There is something tremendous about his supremacy, his almost intolerable pride and glory.

And then we come to cocks and hens. The farm-yard cock is an incredibly grotesque creature. His furious eye, his blood-red crest, make him look as if he were seeking whom he might devour. But he is the most craven of creatures. In spite of his air of just anger, he has no dignity whatever. To hear him raise his voice, you would think that he was challenging the whole world to combat. He screams defiance, and when he has done, he looks round with an air of satisfaction. “There! that is what you have to expect if you interfere with me!” he seems to say. But an alarm is given; the poultry seek refuge in a hurried flight. Where is the champion? You would expect to see him guarding the rear, menacing his pursuer; but no, he has headed the flight, he is far away, leading the van with a desperate intentness.

This morning I was watching the behaviour of a party of fowls, who were sitting together on a dusty ledge above the road, sheltering from the wind. I do not know whether they meant to be as humorous as they were, but I can hardly think they were not amused at each other. They stood and lay very close together, with fierce glances, and quick, jerky motions of the head. Now and then one, tired of inaction, raised a deliberate claw, bowed its head, scratched with incredible rapidity, shook its tumbled feathers, and looked round with angry self-consciousness, as though to say: “I will ask any one to think me absurd at his peril.” Now and then one of them kicked diligently at the soil, and then, turning round, scrutinised the place intently, and picked delicately at some minute object. One examined the neck of her neighbour with a fixed stare, and then pecked the spot sharply. One settled down on the dust, and gave a few vigorous strokes with her legs to make herself more comfortable. Occasionally they all crooned and wailed together, and at the passing of a cart all stood up defiantly, as if intending to hold their fort at all hazards. Presently a woman came out of a house-door opposite, at which the whole party ran furiously and breathlessly across the road, as if their lives depended upon arriving in time. There was not a gesture or a motion that was not admirably conceived, intensely dramatic.