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GRAMP AND THE GAMECOCK
ONE thing that made farm-life additionally interesting and pleasant was that my father had moved his family directly opposite my house; and as he took a hearty interest in farming, although I have reason to believe he knew but little more than I did about it, he took occasion to come over about every day to give me gratuitous advice.
Now it is one of the peculiarities of that delightfully frank old gentleman to fail to recognize the fact that I have grown either in body or mind since the time I was about twelve years of age, and so he frequently criticises me severely, even going to the extent of fervent oratory whenever my methods of managing my affairs do not coincide with his views, and whenever a very considerable amount of obstinacy that I have inherited from this same choleric gentleman, impels me to have my own way.
I do not find fault with his peculiarities in this regard. Indeed, I rather enjoy them and recognize them as a sort of paternal privilege. More than this, I know perfectly well from my experience on one occasion (when I arrived breathless and just in time forcibly to prevent an ambitious attempt by him to thrash a man half his age, and fully his size, who had intimated casually that my legal attainments were not quite up to the mark) that he would not tolerate any criticism of me from any one else.
Now my respected father spent a good deal of his spare time in superintending operations on my farm, and in that respect was of great assistance to me. There was, however, one thing in which I was disposed to criticise his efficiency.
Most of the unemployed help in our town spent a large percentage of their time in the House of Correction for drunkenness, and in the intervals between sentences worked at odd jobs until they received pay enough to go on a convivial "bat," and when rounded up in the Police Court, took whatever sentence awaited them with cheerful acquiescence.
Knowing this, I made it a rule never to pay laborers of this class until they had finished their work. Now, these men knew me from bitter experience, and also knew my respected father for reasons of a contrary nature; and so whenever they felt the desire for alcoholic stimulants coming over them, they found no difficulty in wheedling an advance "on account" from the old gentleman, upon their sworn statement that they wanted it for the necessaries of life; whereupon they, to the old gentleman's surprise, at once proceeded to exhilarate, and would frequently return in a most hideous state of inebriation, and endeavor to argue the matter with me until I would be obliged to have them removed by the police. And so the farming industry in our particular location would be brought to a standstill.
Again, father believed that the domestic fowl would yield more returns if allowed to range freely over my premises, at least until seed was sowed. I rather favored his point of view, and thought that a flock of neat fowls looked well on a lawn or about the buildings.
But my wife took the opposite view, and showed a deplorable pride of opinion in the matter, and the frequent spectacle of an agile woman in "specs" pursuing squawking fowls with a broom, added much to the joy of the neighbors.
Now, I was bound to keep fowls, and my wife was bound they should not be kept on the lawn. She was unquestionably right in the matter, and so a compromise was entered into. The fowls were to be let out only at stated intervals, when they could be under the charge of the old gentleman, who engaged to see that they did not trespass on the lawn or dooryard.
This seemed a fair and equitable arrangement, and was entered into with much enthusiasm by the old gentleman, to whom sitting in the sun, smoking, and watching hired men and hens "scratch gravel" was a most congenial employment.
He was particularly pleased with the gamecock, and never tired of watching it and extolling its brilliant colors and its great courage. And when that valiant bird sent an inquisitive dog yelping from the premises, and chased the family cat, spitting and swearing, up a tree, he was outspoken in his joy.
It was his custom to let the pens of fowls out at different times, and in about an hour to lure them back to their quarters with handfuls of grain. In this way he had established considerable familiarity with the fowls, which bred in the gamecock that contempt which is the usual result of familiarity.
One day in following his regular programme the old gentleman found the grain-bin almost entirely empty, so much so that he was obliged to immerse his head and shoulders in the bin and scrape around on the bottom with a grain measure to get enough for the fowls. While this was happening the gamecock stepped around the corner of the barn-door in quest of adventure. Seeing this unusual object, he stopped to contemplate it, and at the sight his wrath grew. Here was an unknown something that apparently needed a lesson. It was alive because it moved. That was enough. It defied him. He would investigate it promptly.
And investigation with a gamecock meant instant and vigorous action. The fighting bird spread its hackles, took a short run, launched itself in the air, and drove its sharp spurs home with all the power of its strong wings. The result was equally astonishing to the gamecock and to his innocent and unsuspecting antagonist.
With a yell that could have been heard half a mile, the old gentleman straightened up, bumping his head resoundingly against an overhanging beam. With a vigorous cuss word he launched the grain measure at the gamecock, and followed this with a hammer that lamed an innocent pullet for life.
When I returned from the office that night I heard his views of the transaction, and it is but justice to him to state that I never heard a more cogent or dramatic recapitulation of the affair. That night when all was dark I boxed the gamecock up and sent him away, where I trust he has become the founder of a long line of beautiful birds. But it was many days before the old gentleman resumed his seat on the bench.