Beautiful Joe
Chapter 18

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Please be aware that this book was originally published in 1894 and may contain words, descriptions, or other passages that may be considered offensive today.


CHAPTER XVIII: MRS. WOOD'S POULTRY

After breakfast, Mrs. Wood put on a large apron, and going into the kitchen, said: "Have you any scraps for the hens, Adele? Be sure and not give me anything salty."

The French girl gave her a dish of food, then Mrs. Wood asked Miss Laura to go and see her chickens, and away we went to the poultry house.

On the way we saw Mr. Wood. He was sitting on the step of the tool shed cleaning his gun. "Is the dog dead?" asked Miss Laura.

"Yes," he said.

She sighed and said: "Poor creature, I am sorry he had to be killed. Uncle, what is the most merciful way to kill a dog? Sometimes, when they get old, they should be put out of the way."

"You can shoot them," he said, "or you can poison them. I shot Bruno through his head into his neck. There's a right place to aim at. It's a little one side of the top of the skull. If you'll remind me I'll show you a circular I have in the house. It tells the proper way to kill animals: The American Humane Education Society in Boston puts it out, and it's a merciful thing.

"You don't know anything about the slaughtering of animals, Laura, and it's well you don't. There's an awful amount of cruelty practised, and practised by some people that think themselves pretty good. I wouldn't have my lambs killed the way my father had his for a kingdom. I'll never forget the first one I saw butchered. I wouldn't feel worse at a hanging now. And that white ox, Hattie — you remember my telling you about him. He had to be killed, and father sent for the butcher, I was only a lad, and I was all of a shudder to have the life of the creature I had known taken from him. The butcher, stupid clown, gave him eight blows before he struck the right place. The ox bellowed, and turned his great black eyes on my father, and I fell in a faint."

Miss Laura turned away, and Mrs. Wood followed her, saying: "If ever you want to kill a cat, Laura, give it cyanide of potassium. I killed a poor old sick cat for Mrs. Windham the other day. We put half a teaspoonful of pure cyanide of potassium in a long-handled wooden spoon, and dropped it on the cat's tongue, as near the throat as we could. Poor pussy — she died in a few seconds. Do you know, I was reading such a funny thing the other day about giving cats medicine. They hate it, and one can scarcely force it into their mouths on account of their sharp teeth. The way is, to smear it on their sides, and they lick it off. A good idea, isn't it? Here we are at the hen house, or rather one of the hen houses."

"Don't you keep your hens all together?" asked Miss Laura.

"Only in the winter time," said Mrs. Wood. "I divide my flock in the spring. Part of them stay here and part go to the orchard to live in little movable houses that we put about in different places. I feed each flock morning and evening at their own little house. They know they'll get no food even if they come to my house, so they stay at home. And they know they'll get no food between times, so all day long they pick and scratch in the orchard, and destroy so many bugs and insects that it more than pays for the trouble of keeping them there."

"Doesn't this flock want to mix up with the other?" asked Miss Laura, as she stepped into the little wooden house.

"No; they seem to understand. I keep my eye on them for a while at first, and they soon find out that they're not to fly either over the garden fence or the orchard fence. They roam over the farm and pick up what they can get. There's a good deal of sense in hens, if one manages them properly. I love them because they are such good mothers."

We were in the little wooden house by this time, and I looked around it with surprise. It was better than some of the poor people's houses in Fairport. The walls were white and clean, so were the little ladders that led up to different kinds of roosts, where the fowls sat at night. Some roosts were thin and round, and some were broad and flat. Mrs. Wood said that the broad ones were for a heavy fowl called the Brahma. Every part of the little house was almost as light as it was out doors, on account of the large windows.

Miss Laura spoke of it. "Why, auntie, I never saw such a light hen house."