Read CHAPTER VII of Chicken Little Jane on the Big John , free online book, by Lily Munsell Ritchie, on


“Take a hand to a wooster? Take a hand to a wooster!”

Dick Harding was standing out in the road near the white cottage one morning about two weeks after the hunting party, trying to decide whether he would take a walk or a ride to settle his breakfast. He glanced down into Jilly’s sober little face lifted to his appealingly.

“Take a hand to a wooster? Charmed, I’m sure. Point out the rooster. But what has his rooster-ship done, and how can I make him keep still long enough to lay hands on him, Jilly Dilly?”

Jilly clasped five fat fingers around two of his, smiled confidingly and made her plea once more: “Take a hand to a wooster.”

Dick looked puzzled, but Jilly was pulling and he meekly followed her guidance. “I haven’t the faintest idea what you are getting me into, young lady, but go ahead, I’m at your service.”

Jilly pattered along not deigning to reply to his remarks. Jilly considered words as something to be reserved for business purposes only.

She led him to the chicken yard, pressed her small face against the wire netting that enclosed it, and contemplated the fowls ecstatically. Dick contemplated also, trying to pick out the offending rooster.

“Which rooster, Jilly?”

But Jilly only smiled vaguely. “Feed a wooster,” she commanded after another season of gazing.

“Yes, to be sure, but what would you suggest that I offer him? There doesn’t seem to be anything edible round here.”

The chickens seconded Jilly’s suggestion, coming to the fence and clucking excitedly.

Jilly looked pained at Dick’s indolence and, taking his hand, led him over to a covered wooden box, which was found to contain shelled corn. The chickens were duly fed, but Dick still puzzled over the unchastized rooster until Marian enlightened him later.

“I shall have to give you a key to Jilly’s dialect,” Marian laughed “she merely wanted you to go with her to see the chickens.”

Chicken Little was enjoying her guests. Her resolve to help mother was carried out only semi-occasionally when there were raspberries or currants to be picked or peas to be shelled, under the grape arbor so they wouldn’t be in Annie’s way in the kitchen. At first, Mrs. Morton had counted on having the girls help with the breakfast dishes, but they developed such a genius for disappearing immediately after breakfast that she gave it up as more bother than it was worth.

They tramped and rode, and waded and splashed and finally swam, in the bathing hole down at the creek, under Marian’s or Alice’s supervision, till Katie and Gertie were brown and hearty.

“Mrs. Halford wouldn’t know Gertie she’s fairly made over,” Alice observed one morning.

Gertie was fast losing her timidity and had so much persistence in learning to ride that she bade fair to have a more graceful seat in the saddle than Jane herself. Sherm was deep in farm work and the girls saw little either of him or of Ernest, except in the evenings and on Sundays. Dick ran the reaper in the harvest field for Dr. Morton for three days, but his zeal waned as the weather got hotter.

“This is my vacation and I don’t want to sweat my sweet self entirely away ‘in little drops of water.’ Think how pained you’d be, dearest,” he told Alice.

“I never dreamed there was so much farming to a ranch,” Alice remarked to Dr. Morton one day. “I thought you attended to the cattle ”

“And rode around in chaps and sombreros, looking picturesque, the rest of the time,” interrupted Dick. “My precious wife is disappointed because she hasn’t seen any cowboys cavorting about the place shooting each other up or gambling with nice picturesque bags of gold dust.”

“Dick Harding! I didn’t. But we’d hardly know there were any cattle round if we didn’t go through the pasture occasionally.”

“Our big pastures take them off our hands pretty well in summer, but in winter they have to be fed and herded and looked after generally, don’t they, Chicken Little? Humbug has played herd boy herself more than once. You are thinking of the big cattle ranges in Colorado and Montana and Wyoming, Alice. This country is cut up into farms and the ranges are gone. And we have to raise our corn and wheat and rye, not to mention fruits and vegetables. It’s a busy life, but I love its independence.”

A day or two after this conversation, Ernest came in late to dinner, exclaiming: “Father, the white sow and all her thirteen pigs are out.”

“The Dickens, have you any idea where she’s gone?” Dr. Morton looked decidedly annoyed. “I told Jim Bart that pen wasn’t strong enough to hold her she’s the meanest animal on the place.”

“One of the harvest hands said he thought he saw her down along the slough. I am sorry for the porkers if she is they aren’t a week old yet.”

“Go down right after dinner and see if you can see anything of her. The old fool will lose them all in that marshy ground. And I don’t see how we can spare a man to look after them. It looks like rain and that wheat must be in the barns by night.”

Ernest came back from his search to report that the sow and one lone pig had wandered back to the barnyard and Jim Bart had got them into the pen.

“One pig! You don’t mean she has lost the other twelve? That’s costly business!”

“Looks that way. They’re such little fellows I suppose they’re squealing down there in the slough in that swamp grass it’s a regular jungle three or four feet high.”

Dr. Morton studied a moment, perplexed. “Well, the grain is worth more than the pigs. I guess they’ll have to go until evening and then we’ll all go down and see how many we can find. They won’t suffer greatly before night unless they find enough water to drown themselves in.”

“Oh, the poor piggies!” exclaimed Chicken Little. “Why, they’ll be most starved and maybe the bull snakes might get them.”

“I hardly think they could manage a pig. But I can’t help it, unless you think you could rescue them, daughter.” Dr. Morton said this last in fun, but Chicken Little took it seriously.

“What could I put them in, Father?”

“Oh, you might take a small chicken coop,” replied her father carelessly. The wagons coming from the barn were already rattling into the road and he was in a hurry to catch one and save himself the hot walk to the fields.

Chicken Little was thinking. She sat twisting a corner of her apron into a tight roll. “I believe we could do it,” she said presently, “and the bull snakes are perfectly harmless if they are big, ugly-looking things. Will you help me, Katie?”

“Ugh, are there really snakes there, Jane?”

“Yes, but we’ve never seen any poisonous ones along there, though I saw a water moccasin once right down by the spring, so you never can tell. But snakes sound a lot worse than they really are, ’cause they’re such cowards they always run.”

Katy considered. The task did not sound attractive, but Katy was plucky. “I guess, if you can do it, I can.”

Jane had not thought of asking Gertie and she was surprised to hear her say: “I’m coming, too.”

“Oh, Gertie, won’t you be afraid?”

“Yes, I’m afraid, but I don’t want the little piggies killed just think how you’d feel if you were lost in such a dreadful place and there were snakes and awful things. If I see a snake I’ll yell bloody murder, and I guess it’ll let me alone.”

Jane threw herself on Gertie and hugged her. “Gertie Halford, I think you’d make a real, sure enough book heroine, because you do things when you think you ought to, whether you’re scared or not.”

“I wish Dick hadn’t gone to town to-day,” said Katy.

Chicken Little had her campaign already planned. “I’m going to get Ernest’s and Frank’s and Sherm’s rubber boots for us. They’ll be lots too big, but we can tie them around the legs to make them stick on. They will be fine in the mud and water if we have to wade in the slough. Yes, and they will protect us from the snakes, too. We won’t put them on till we get down there; they will be too hard to walk in. And we can take Jilly’s red wagon and put the smallest chicken coop on it. It isn’t heavy.”

Mrs. Morton had gone to town with Dick and Alice for the day or the girls would probably not have been permitted to carry out their unusual undertaking. They quickly made their preparations with much joking about the boots, and twenty minutes later came to the banks of the slough. The slough was in reality a continuation of the spring stream, which spread out in the meadows below the pond until it lost all semblance of a stream and became merely a marshy stretch, whose waters finally found their way into the creek. In the meadows adjoining, the finest hay on the place was cut each year.

The girls sat down on the grass and fastened on the boots. The effect was somewhat startling, for they reached well above the knee on Chicken Little, who was the tallest of the three, while poor Gertie seemed to be divided into two equal parts.

Both Katy and Jane giggled when she got laboriously to her feet.

“There’s more boots than girl, Gertie,” laughed Jane.

“You don’t need to be afraid, Sis, you’ll scare anything, even a snake!” Katy remarked unfeelingly, though her words reassured Gertie wonderfully.

“I don’t feel so afraid in these,” she said.

Chicken Little was slowly making her way in to the slough. “Jim found the mother pig near here, Ernest said, but the little scamps may be most anywhere. Let’s listen and see if we can hear any squeals or grunts.”

“Yes, I did I’m most sure, but it didn’t sound very close by,” Gertie answered.

Chicken Little listened. “Which way did the sound come from?”

“Toward the creek, but I don’t hear it any more.”

“We’d better search pretty carefully as we go along so we won’t have to come back over the same ground,” remarked Katy, who had a genius for organizing even a pig hunt. “You are the tallest, Jane, so you take the tallest grass next the water, and I’ll come along half way up the bank and Gertie can walk through the meadow grass that way we can’t miss them.”

“No, for they must be on this side of the slough: they’re too little to wade across it.”

Chicken Little made the first find, two discouraged little porkers, hopelessly mired and grunting feebly when disturbed. They had no trouble in catching these, but holding their wet, miry little bodies was a different matter. They were slippery as eels. Chicken Little and Katy, who each had one, found them a handful.

“Oh, mine most got away! And I’m all over mud we’ll be a sight!” Katy giggled hysterically. “I wonder what mother would think if she could see me now.”

“Well, it will all wash off. It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so hard to clump along in these old boots. It takes forever to get any place.”

They had sent Gertie on ahead to open the coop door. With a sigh of relief, Katy shoved hers into it. Jane was not so lucky. Instead of going in, as a well-regulated pig should, the small, black-and-white sinner shot off to one side and made for the slough again. They had a pretty chase before he finally tangled himself up in the grass and was captured once more.

They plodded back to take up the search where they had left off, going through the shorter grass till they should reach the point where they had found the pigs. They were clumping along, chattering gaily, when Katy jumped and let out a yell that could have been heard a block away.

“Oh, there’s the biggest snake I ever saw over there near that rock don’t you see?”

Gertie turned white, but Chicken Little encouraged her by starting toward the monster, which was indeed a huge bull snake fully five feet long, as Ernest and Sherm found by actual measurement that evening.

“Pooh,” said Chicken Little, “it looks dreadful, but it won’t hurt you. If I can find some stones I’m going to try to kill it.”

“Don’t you dare go near it.” Katy grabbed her dress and held on tight.

“But we’ll all be scared to death all the time, for fear we come across it again, if I don’t. There are some rocks over there big enough, if I can get them out of the ground.”

She went resolutely over and, prying with a stick, secured two good-sized rocks. Armed with these, she started toward the snake coiled up asleep in the hot July sunshine. Katy and Gertie watched her breathlessly. Chicken Little advanced with caution. She didn’t like the job herself, though she was sure the snake wouldn’t do anything worse than run. She had seen her elders kill them more than once, and they had always been cowardly. Nevertheless, her heart thumped and her breath came fast, as she crept nearer. She must go close and aim at the head if she hoped to do any execution. Step by step she crept forward till she was within four feet of that ugly coil. Stopping, she raised the heavy stone and took careful aim. At this instant her presence disturbed the snake. It raised its oval head, fixing her with its beady, bright eyes. A thrill of horror shot through her. What if it should fascinate her so she couldn’t move? She had heard of such things. She heaved the stone, shutting her eyes tight as it left her hand.

Katy and Gertie both screamed and jumped back. Jane opened her eyes quickly to see the snake uncoil and start to glide away. She saw something else, too. She saw that her stone had wounded it just behind the head. Her courage flowed back in a trice. She raised the other stone and moved forward. The snake was slipping over the ground at a swift pace. She had to run, catching up with it as it came to its hole, a few feet distant. She smashed down the second rock almost in the same place she had hit before. The reptile moved feebly about six inches farther till its ugly head was hidden inside the hole, then thrashed its heavy body through another undulation, and lay still.

Chicken Little stood looking at it in dazed surprise for several seconds. She was white and trembling with excitement. Seeing that it did not move, Katy and Gertie crept a little closer. No one said a word for a full minute, then Chicken Little came to life, her face convulsed with loathing.

“Ugh, the nasty thing I hate them. I don’t see what God wanted to make such horrid, wicked things for!”

“Well, the Bible says they weren’t wicked till Eve ate the apple,” Katy replied, staring curiously down at the snake. She had never seen such a big one outside of a circus. “But I think they must have always looked wicked, anyhow. How did you ever dare, Chicken Little, to tackle it? I was expecting it to wind right round you like that picture of Laocoon in our mythology.”

“I shouldn’t have dared if I hadn’t seen so many of them before. I guess being brave is mostly being used to things. But I hate snakes worse than anything in the world I don’t feel a bit sorry about killing them!”

“Oh, dear,” said Gertie, shuddering, “I s’pose we have got to find the rest of the pigs.”

Katy and Chicken Little each echoed the sigh. They all started ahead resolutely. But they kept closer together for a time. They went some little distance without finding any further signs of the lost animals.

“You don’t suppose we could have passed them, do you?” Katy inquired anxiously.

“We couldn’t, if they are on this side of the slough.”

A few rods farther on something moved in the swamp grass. All three jumped and screamed: their nerve had been sadly weakened by the bull snake.

A squeal and chorus of grunts reassured them.

“Here they are a lot of them. Oh, dear, I wish we’d brought the coop along so we wouldn’t have to go back.” Jane parted the tall grass and discovered five of the fugitives huddled together. They were much livelier than the first ones and showed symptoms of bolting if the girls approached nearer.

“I’ll go back for it,” said Katy. “I’ll go through the short grass and I won’t be afraid.”

Chicken Little and Gertie watched and waited.

“Isn’t that little white one with the pink ears and curly tail cunning? I didn’t suppose pigs could be so pretty.”

“They are only pretty when they are weenties. As soon as they grow old enough to root in the mud, they are horrid.”

When Katy returned they anchored the red wagon with the chicken coop and the two captured piglets as close to the slough as possible. All three crept upon the pig cache cautiously.

“Pick out which one you’ll grab, for they are going to run sure,” Chicken Little admonished.

They made a dash and each got a pig, but, alas, the two free ones made a dash also a break for liberty worthy of an Indian. They selected routes immediately in front of, and immediately behind Chicken Little, whose attention was absorbed with trying to hold a squealing, squirming pig. The result was disastrous to all concerned. Pig N tripped her up neatly and she sat down hastily and unexpectedly upon Pig N, who gave one agonized squeal, in which the pig in her arms joined. Fortunately, her victim did not get her whole weight or there would have been one pig the less in this vale of tears. Chicken Little squashed him down gently into some two inches of oozy mud and water. It splashed in all directions, baptizing Katy and Gertie and the fleeing pig as well as completing the ruin of Jane’s pink gingham frock, fresh that morning.

The sight of her amazed and disgusted face generously decorated with mud, was too much for Katy. She giggled till the tears stood in her eyes. Chicken Little was indignant.

“I guess you wouldn’t think it was so funny, if it was you,” she replied with dignity. Dignity did not become her tout ensemble. Katy went off into fresh screams of mirth. Chicken Little had stood about all she could that afternoon. Her face flamed with wrath, and, gathering up the struggling pig in her arms, she hurled it at Katy, as the only missile within reach. Piggy just missed Katy’s head, tumbling harmlessly into the ooze. Chicken Little was instantly remorseful, not on Katy’s account but on Piggy’s.

Katy was furious. She didn’t say a word, but walked deliberately over to the coop, deposited her pig very gently and started toward the house.

Gertie tried to stop her, but she shook her off. Chicken Little, too angry to care what happened, relieved herself of the rest of her ill-temper.

“Go off and be hateful if you want to a lot I care, Miss Katy Halford. I should think you’d be ashamed to act so when you are most fifteen.”

A swift retort rose to Katy’s lips, but she decided it would be more impressive to remain dignifiedly silent. She stalked on. Gertie hesitated as to which of the belligerents she should follow, but finally decided in favor of the one who needed her worst. She put her pig in the coop and came to help Jane up. The latter was already ashamed of her outburst, but was far from being ready to acknowledge it. The other three pigs had not gone far and they soon had them safely in the coop. They were debating as to whether they should give up hunting for the others, when a hail from the road brought aid and comfort. Katy had met Dr. Morton coming from the field on an errand and had told him what they were trying to do. He was delighted and surprised to see the seven rescued pigs.

“Why, Chicken Little, I didn’t really suppose you were in earnest or ” Dr. Morton stopped suddenly, he had just taken a good look at his only daughter the look was effective. He threw back his head and roared.

“Oh, if you could just see yourself, Jane!”

This was adding insult to injury and Chicken Little burst into tears. “You can just hunt your old pigs yourself I don’t think it’s nice of you to laugh when I tried so hard!”

“Come, come, I beg your pardon, but you are enough to make an owl laugh, Humbug. It was fine of you to try to rescue the pigs. You girls deserve a great deal of credit, for it is a disagreeable, muddy job. I guess I’ll have to make it up to you. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You may have this litter for your very own, and we’ll send the little girls their share over the cost of keeping, when the pigs are sold. How will that do?”

Chicken Little was not in the mood to be easily appeased.

“Yes, but you say things are mine till you want to sell them, and then I never see the money.”

This was touching a sore point. The Doctor had been a little remiss on the subject of the children’s ownership of their pets. He was nettled by this accusation.

“My dear, when I say a thing I mean it. I was about to add, though, that if I give you the entire proceeds of the pigs I shall expect you to attend to feeding them until they are big enough to be turned in with the drove.”

“I thought the mother fed them.”

“Well, the mother pig has to be fed.”

“Do you really, truly, mean it, Father?”


Chicken Little forgot the late unpleasantness. “Oh, goody, let’s call Katy back and tell her!”

Katy was not so far away as might have been anticipated. Her wrath was dissipating also.

Dr. Morton lingered to help them a few moments and to satisfy himself that they could not do themselves any damage that a bath and the wash tub could not repair, then left them once more to their own resources.

By four o’clock they had all but one of the missing pigs safely stowed in the coop. They were very tired and hot, and decided to save the joy of hunting for the last pig for Ernest and Sherm in the evening.

It was well they did. The wee stray would have led them a chase. He had found his way almost to the creek, and it took the boys a good hour of wading and beating the swamp grass to discover him.

Just as Chicken Little was dropping off to sleep that night, Katy roused her.

“Do you suppose we’ll get as much as five dollars apiece from those pigs?”