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THE BATTLE OF THE FOWLS It was about this time, also, that the boys became interested in the battles which broke out among the fowls. In those days the hens were not the big, clumsy Plymouth Rocks or Brahmas
we have now. On the contrary, the roosters were resplendent 5 creatures, lofty of step, imperious of voice, with plumage of green,
orange, and purple, which shone in the sunlight like burnished metal. They had high, graceful tail feathers, and they carried their necks proudly. The pride of an Indian chief was in their step, and the splendor of the rainbow in their swordlike plumes.
It is difficult to tell why they fought so much more readily at this time of the year, but it seemed a part of the returning joy and vigor of the spring, and the boys were thoughtless enough to enjoy these encounters.
Once when a new rooster was turned into the barnyard, the 16 Stewart boys watched him with something of the feeling with
which faithful retainers of old watched their chieftains in the lists. At once, on being released, the stranger walked dazedly forth into the open, but soon recovered his courage, and, after a
study of his surroundings, blew his horn in defiance of all comers. 20 The boys understood this, and quivered with excitement when
the chief of the flock took up the gage of battle. As the gladiators approached each other, Lincoln couldn't help a feeling of sympathy for the stranger, so confident and so determined was the action
of the home bird. Both were magnificent warriors-shapely, 25 sinewy, and plainly prepared for struggle, with no hesitation in
their hearts. Slowly they approached, circling warily about and studying each other with cold, keen, analytical glances.
Suddenly their heads were lowered and outthrust until they almost touched. The shining ruff about each neck bristled with 30 anger and resolution. For a time, with eyes seemingly bound
together by an invisible thread, they stood, moving their heads up and down so silently that one seemed to be nothing more than the shadow of the other. Then, with a rush, the stranger flung
himself upon his opponent, striking at his heart with his keen, 35 long spurs, rolling him in the dust like a knight who had been un
horsed. With instant readiness he arose, and they faced each
other again, rushing together, twice, thrice, in a flutter of dust, flashing, whirling in a frenzy of anger. At times they seized each other with savage bills and wrestled like bulldogs, going down over and over again in an ignoble pile. Soon their beautiful 5 plumage began to look draggled and torn like the disarray into which a cavalier is thrown in battle, and Lincoln became alarmed over the fate of the newcomer, who felt himself, perhaps, an alien in an enemy's country, with no friend to cheer him on. He fought
on desperately, however, until Mrs. Stewart came out to discover 10 what the boys were watching so intently.
“Lincoln, go in there and stop that. I don't want to see any more of that. They'll kill each other.”
At the same moment, as if inspired by her voice, the stranger bird flung himself for the last time against his confident ad15 versary with such force that the other bird was vanquished.
When he arose, it was as a defeated chieftain. Turning tail, he ran swiftly, dejectedly, under the barn.
Thereupon, the conqueror, in perfectly human exultation, struggled feebly to the top rail of the fence, and sent forth a 20 hoarse defiance to all his enemies.
Another and less savage diversion of the boys at this season of the year was the hiding of Easter eggs. The hiding of eggs for Easter was a curious custom, quite common among the children
of the settlers from New York and the Middle States. The 25 avowed purpose was to lay up a supply of eggs for Easter Sunday.
But as they were always extremely plentiful at this season of the year, and almost worthless, the motive must be sought deeper down. Perhaps it was a survival of some old world superstitions.
Anyhow, Lincoln and his brother Owen began to hide eggs in all 30 sorts of out-of-the-way places for fully three weeks before Easter Sunday.
It was understood by Mr. Stewart that if he could discover their hiding places the eggs might be confiscated, and he made
elaborate pretense of searching for them. One of the shrewd 35 ways in which the boys made concealment was by lifting a flake
of hay from the stack and making a hole beneath it. Upon letting the flake of weatherbeaten thatch fall back into place, all
signs of the nest disappeared. As the hens were laying a great many eggs each day, it was very difficult for Mrs. Stewart to tell how many the boys were hiding—she did not greatly care.
In his meetings with Milton and Rance, Lincoln compared s notes, as to numbers, and together the four boys planned their
Easter outing. Day after day Mr. Stewart, to the great dread of the boys, went poking about, close to the very spot where the eggs were hidden, and twice he found a small "nest.” But this only
added to the value of those remaining and stimulated the boys to 10 yet other and more skillful devices in concealment.
They were able, in spite of his search, to save up several dozens of eggs, which they triumphantly brought to light on Easter morning, with gusty shouts of laughter over the pretended dismay of their parents.
With these eggs packed in a pail and with a few biscuits and some salt and pepper, Lincoln and Owen started out to meet their companions, Rance and Milton; together they all set forth toward the distant belt of forest in which Burr Oak Creek ran.
There, in the warm spring sun, on the grassy bank beside the 30 stream they built their fire and cooked their eggs for their mid
day meal. Some they boiled, others they roasted in the ashes. Rance caught a chub or two from the brook, which added a wild savor to the meal, but eggs were considered a necessary order of the day; all else was by the way.
Something primeval and splendid clustered about this unusual camp fire. Around them were bare trees, with buds just beginning to swell. The grass was green only in the sunny nooks, but the sky was filled with soft white clouds. For guests they
had the squirrels and the blue jays. It was a celebration of their 30 escape from the bonds of winter and a greeting to spring. There
was no conscious feeling in this feast, as far as the boys were concerned. But the deep down explanation was this: they had gone back to the worship of the Anglo-Saxon divinity of Spring; they
had returned to the primitive, to the freedom of the savage, not 35 knowing that the egg was the symbol of regenerate nature.
As a matter of fact, the flavor of these eggs was not good; the burned shell had a disagreeable odor, and the boys would have
been very sorry if Mrs. Stewart had served up for them anything so disagreeable of flavor. But the curl of smoke from the grass with which they started the fire, the scream of the jay, the hawk sweeping by overhead, the touch of ashes on their tongues, the 3 smell of the growing grass, and the sky above, made it all wonderful and wild and very sweet. When at night they returned, tired and sleepy, to the warmly-lighted kitchen and to mother, they considered the day well spent, uniting as it did the pleasures of both civilization and barbarism.
NOTES AND QUESTIONS.
Biography. Hamlin Garland (1860–) was born in Wisconsin. His father was a farmer pioneer, who, lured by the hope of cheaper acres, better soil, and bigger crops, moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota, from Minnesota to Iowa, and from Iowa to Dakota. When Hamlin Garland turned his attention to literature, he was keen enough to see the literary value of his early experiences. He resolved to interpret truthfully the life of the western farmer and its great hardships and limitations, no less than its hopes, joys, and achievements. This selection is taken from Boy Life on the Prairie.
Discussion. 1. How did the settlers on Sun Prairie feel at the coming of spring? Why? 2. What was the first outdoor work of the spring? Can you give any reason why this would be the first work done? 3. Would you like to do the boys' part of this work? Give reasons for your answer. 4. Would the maple logs interest you as much as they interested Lincoln? Explain why. 5. What does the fact that Lincoln watched the migrating birds tell you about his interest in Nature? 6. What work was the boy called upon to do at this time that he disliked very much? Find the sentence that tells why he did not complain about it. 7. What experiences did Lincoln have that you would enjoy? What experiences that you would not enjoy? 8. What qualities made Lincoln a worthy home-member and a good American citizen? 9. Is such a life as his necessary to produce these qualities? 10. What would be the result if all boys and girls would say of unpleasant duties what Lincoln said? 11. How would our country be helped if all its citizens worked in this way? 12. Library reading: “The Call of the Spring,” Alfred Noyes (in High Tide). 13. Find in the Glossary the meaning of: inundated; residue; transitory; swales; infallible; ecstasy; ignoble; disarray; cavalier; alien; confiscated. 14. Pronounce: exquisite; horizon; jocund; sinewy; warily; adversary; savor; primeval.
HOME-THOUGHTS, FROM ABROAD
Oh, to be in England,
And after April, when May follows,
NOTES AND QUESTIONS
Biography. Robert Browning (1812-1889) was born in a suburb of London in 1812. His four grandparents were respectively of English, German, Scotch, and Creole birth. His father was fond of writing verses, and his mother was very musical. Browning's education was gained from a private school in the neighborhood and from tutors at home. In 1846 he married the poetess, Elizabeth Barrett, and they lived for years in the old palace Casa Guidi in Florence, Italy. After his wife's death he returned to England, but spent most of his summers abroad. He died in Venice in 1889 and is buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.