That was a terrible affair!” said a hen, and in a quarter of the town, too, where
it had not taken place. “That was a terrible affair in a hen-roost. I cannot sleep
alone to-night. It is a good thing that many of us sit on the roost together.”
And then she told a story that made the feathers on the other hens bristle up,
and the cock’s comb fall. There was no doubt about it.
But we will begin at the beginning, and that is to be found in a hen-roost
in another part of the town. The sun was setting, and the fowls were flying
on to their roost; one hen, with white feathers and short legs, used to lay
her eggs according to the regulations, and was, as a hen, respectable in every
way. As she was flying upon the roost, she plucked herself with her beak, and
a little feather came out.
“There it goes,” she said; “the more I pluck, the more beautiful do I get.”
She said this merrily, for she was the best of the hens, and, moreover, as had
been said, very respectable. With that she went to sleep.
It was dark all around, and hen sat close to hen, but the one who sat nearest
to her merry neighbour did not sleep. She had heard and yet not heard, as we
are often obliged to do in this world, in order to live at peace; but she could
not keep it from her neighbour on the other side any longer. “Did you hear what
was said? I mention no names, but there is a hen here who intends to pluck herself
in order to look well. If I were a cock, I should despise her.”
Just over the fowls sat the owl, with father owl and the little owls. The family
has sharp ears, and they all heard every word that their neighbour had said.
They rolled their eyes, and mother owl, beating her wings, said: “Don’t listen
to her! But I suppose you heard what was said? I heard it with my own ears,
and one has to hear a great deal before they fall off. There is one among the
fowls who has so far forgotten what is becoming to a hen that she plucks out
all her feathers and lets the cock see it.”
“Prenez garde aux enfants!” said father owl; “children should not hear such
“But I must tell our neighbour owl about it; she is such an estimable owl to
talk to.” And with that she flew away.
“Too-whoo! Too-whoo!” they both hooted into the neighbour’s dove-cot to the
doves inside. “Have you heard? Have you heard? Too-whoo! There is a hen who
has plucked out all her feathers for the sake of the cock; she will freeze to
death, if she is not frozen already. Too-whoo!”
“Where? where?” cooed the doves.
“In the neighbour’s yard. I have as good as seen it myself. It is almost unbecoming
to tell the story, but there is no doubt about it.”
“Believe every word of what we tell you,” said the doves, and cooed down into
their poultry-yard. “There is a hen—nay, some say that there are two—who have
plucked out all their feathers, in order not to look like the others, and to
attract the attention of the cock. It is a dangerous game, for one can easily
catch cold and die from fever, and both of these are dead already.”
“Wake up! wake up!” crowed the cock, and flew upon his board. Sleep was still
in his eyes, but yet he crowed out: “Three hens have died of their unfortunate
love for a cock. They had plucked out all their feathers. It is a horrible story:
I will not keep it to myself, but let it go farther.”
“Let it go farther,” shrieked the bats, and the hens clucked and the cocks
crowed, “Let it go farther! Let it go farther!” In this way the story travelled
from poultry-yard to poultry-yard, and at last came back to the place from which
it had really started.
“Five hens,” it now ran, “have plucked out all their feathers to show which
of them had grown leanest for love of the cock, and then they all pecked at
each other till the blood ran down and they fell down dead, to the derision
and shame of their family, and to the great loss of their owner.”
The hen who had lost the loose little feather naturally did not recognise her
own story, and being a respectable hen, said: “I despise those fowls; but there
are more of that kind. Such things ought not to be concealed, and I will do
my best to get the story into the papers, so that it becomes known throughout
the land; the hens have richly deserved it, and their family too.”
It got into the papers, it was printed; and there is no doubt about it, one
little feather may easily grow into five hens.