Story type: Essay
Though generally cheerful and content with her lot, the hen at times becomes moody, sullen and taciturn. We are often called upon to notice and profit by the genial and sunny disposition of the hen, and yet there are times in her life when she is morose, cynical, and the prey of consuming melancholy. At such times not only her own companions, but man himself shuns the hen.
At first she seems to be preoccupied only. She starts and turns pale when suddenly spoken to. Then she leaves her companions and seems to be the victim of hypochondria. Then her mind wanders. At last you come upon her suddenly some day, seated under the currant bushes. You sympathize with her and you seek to fondle her. She then picks a small memento out of the back of your hand. You then gently but firmly coax her out of there with a hoe, and you find that she has been seated for some time on an old croquet ball, trying to hatch out a whole set of croquet balls. This shows that her mind is affected. You pick up the croquet ball, and find it hot and feverish, so you throw it into the shade of the woodshed. Anon, you find your demented hen in the loft of the barn hovering over a door knob and trying by patience and industry to hatch out a hotel.
When a hen imagines that she is inspired to incubate, she at once ceases to be an ornament to society and becomes a crank. She violates all the laws and customs of nature and society in trying to hatch a conservatory by setting through the long days and nights of summer on a small flower pot.
Man may win the affections of the tiger, the lion, or the huge elephant, and make them subservient to his wishes, but the setting hen is not susceptible to affection. You might as well love the Manitoba blizzard or try to quell the cyclone by looking calmly in its eye. The setting hen is filled with hatred for every living thing. She loves to brood over her wrongs or anything else she can find to squat on.
I once owned a hen that made a specialty of setting. She never ceased to be the proud anonymous author of a new, warm egg, but she yearned to be a parent. She therefore seated herself on a nest where other hens were in the habit of leaving their handiwork for inspection. She remained there during the summer hatching steadily on while the others laid, until she filled my barnyard with little orphaned henlets of different ages. She remained there night and day, patiently turning out poultry for me to be a father to. I brought up on the bottle about one hundred that summer that had been turned out by this morbidly maternal hen. All she seemed to ask in return was my kind regards and esteem. I fed her upon the nest and humored her in every way. Every day she became a parent, and every day added to my responsibility.
One day I noticed that she seemed weak and there was a far away look in her eye. For the first time the horrible truth burst upon my mind. I buried my face in the haymow and I am not ashamed to say that I wept. Strong man as I am, I am not too proud to say that I soaked that haymow through with unavailing tears.
My hen was dying even then. Her breath came hot and quick like the swift rush of a hot ball that caves in the short-stop and speeds away to center-field.
The next morning one hundred chickens of various sizes were motherless, and if anything had happened to me they would have been fatherless.
For many years I have made a close study of the setting hen, but I am still unsettled as to what is best to do with her. She is a freak of nature, a disagreeable anomaly, a fussy phenomenon. Logic, rhetoric and metaphor are all alike to the setting hen. You might as well go down into the bosom of Vesuvius and ask it to postpone the next eruption.
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