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
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 things.'
'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
'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