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A Boy's Town by William Dean Howells

There was a turtle in the hogshead


Of

course these boys kept chickens. The favorite chicken in those days was a small white bantam, and the more feathers it had down its legs the better. My boy had a bantam hen that was perfectly white, and so tame that she would run up to him whenever he came into the yard, and follow him round like a dog. When she had chickens she taught them to be just as fond of him, and the tiny little balls of yellow down tumbled fearlessly about in his hands, and pecked the crumbs of bread between his fingers. As they got older they ran with their mother to meet him, and when he sat down on the grass they clambered over him and crept into his shirt-bosom, and crooned softly, as they did when their mother hovered them. The boy loved them better than anything he ever had; he always saw them safe in the coop at night, and he ran out early in the morning to see how they had got through the night, and to feed them. One fatal morning he found them all scattered dead upon the grass, the mother and every one of her pretty chicks, with no sign upon them of how they had been killed. He could only guess that they had fallen a prey to rats, or to some owl that had got into their coop; but, as they had not been torn or carried away, he guessed in vain. He buried them with the sympathy of all the children and all the fellows at school who heard about the affair. It was a real grief; it was long before he could think of his loss without tears; and I am not sure there is so much difference of quality in our
bereavements; the loss can hurt more or it can hurt less, but the pang must be always the same in kind.

Besides his goat, my boy's brother kept pigeons, which, again, were like the goat and the rabbits in not being of very much use. They had to be much more carefully looked after than chickens when they were young, they were so helpless in their nests, such mere weak wads of featherless flesh. At first you had to open their bills and poke the food in; and you had to look out how you gave them water for fear you would drown them; but when they got a little larger they would drink and eat from your mouth; and that was some pleasure, for they did not seem to know you from an old pigeon when you took your mouth full of corn or water and fed them. Afterwards, when they began to fly, it was a good deal of fun to keep them, and make more cots for them, and build them nests in the cots.

But they were not very intelligent pets; hardly more intelligent than the fish that the boys kept in the large wooden hogshead of rain-water at the corner of the house. They had caught some of these fish when they were quite small, and the fish grew very fast, for there was plenty of food for them in the mosquito-tadpoles that abounded in the hogshead. Then, the boys fed them every day with bread-crumbs and worms. There was one big sunfish that was not afraid of anything; if you held a worm just over him he would jump out of the water and snatch it. Besides the fish, there was a turtle in the hogshead, and he had a broad chip that he liked to sun himself on. It was fun to watch him resting on this chip, with his nose barely poked out of his shell, and his eyes, with the skin dropped over them, just showing. He had some tricks: he would snap at a stick if you teased him with it, and would let you lift him up by it. That was a good deal of pleasure.


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