Dingo and the Little Brown Hen
LL the next day the children helped again in the
They were just rubbing their eyes and yawning to wake themselves up, when suddenly under the house there was a queer sound. Ramon heard it first and sat bolt upright on his mat to listen. Then he rolled off and began to jump into his clothes. The noise kept on—"Cluck, cluck, cluck, peep, peep, peep; cluck, cluck, cluck, peep, peep, peep," it went.
Rita heard it, too, and by this time was scrambling into her clothes so fast she put her dress on wrong side out. But she did not stop to do it over; instead she dashed out of the kitchen door and down the steps and under the house, almost tumbling over Ramon in order to get there as soon as he did. They were just in time to see a little brown hen come out from behind the pile of peanut straw leading a brood of little tiny chickens.
"Oh, Mother, Mother!" screamed Rita. "Come here quick!"
Petra was in the kitchen right above their heads. The kitchen floor was made of narrow strips of bamboo with cracks between, so she peeped down through the cracks instead of going down the steps. She could see the little chicks running about and see the beautiful golden brown color of the mother hen.
"How many chicks has she?" she called down.
"They run about so I can't count them, but I think there are ten anyway," Ramon shouted back.
"Here is something for them to eat," cried Petra, and she dropped a few crumbs through the cracks of the floor. The mother hen said, "Quick, quick, quick," to her babies. She picked up the crumbs in her bill and dropped them again to teach the little ones how to eat.
"Oh!" cried Rita, clasping her hands with delight. "Isn't she a clever little hen? She hid herself away in the straw, and we didn't know she had a nest there at all."
"She always came out to eat when I fed the other chickens, so I never missed her," said Ramon, his face beaming with pride. "She's a sly one."
They could hardly tear themselves away from this delightful surprise, and all the morning in school their thoughts were with the new family at home.
At five o'clock that afternoon they came bounding into the yard, their eyes shining with excitement.
"Oh, Mother, Mother," cried Ramon, "what do you think is going to happen? The teacher says that when the rice is harvested there is going to be a great celebration in the village and there are going to be prizes for the best work done by the children this summer all by themselves. We can raise chickens, or make gardens, or do anything we want to, and all the things we do will be exhibited in the schoolhouse, and, oh, Mother, may I have the brown hen and her brood for my very own, and take care of them all myself, so I can show them and maybe get a prize?"
"And, Mother, I'm going to weave a basket, all by myself!" cried Rita. "It's going to be made of little teeny, tiny strips of bamboo such as they use for weaving hats, and there are going to be butterflies woven in a black pattern on the edge! I thought it all out in school."
The children's mother could do a great many things. She could weave fine sinamay cloth on the loom, which stood in the corner of the room. She could embroider beautiful patterns on pineapple cloth. She could also weave mats and baskets and hats and she had taught Rita to weave a little bit, too. At school Rita had learned still more from the Maestra, and now she thought she could make a basket all by herself.
"You may have the brown hen and her brood," said his mother to Ramon, "and you, Rita, may make your basket, only you will have to wait until we can get the material for it."
"When I go to school, I can get it," cried Rita, "and
I know just what I want. It's going to be
Ramon set to work at once to make a coop for his chickens. He took a box which he found under the house and nailed bamboo slats across the front. Part of the bottom was gone, but he put some peanut straw on what was left of the floor for a nest. Then he and Rita tried to catch the little hen and put her in the new house.
But the little hen had her own views about being caught
and shut up in a coop. She didn't like the idea at
all. She walked away, clucking to her brood, and hid
herself under the pile of boards beneath the house. In
vain Ramon scattered grain before her
At last, in despair, Ramon said: "I'm going to send Dingo under there to drive her out. If I don't shut her up, she'll stray away by herself and lose half the brood as likely as not. Besides, I want to feed them a great deal so they will be big and fat by harvest time."
"Don't you do it," said Rita. "You know very well what a blunderbuss Dingo is! He'll step on the little chickens and kill them. Dingo is a dear dog but he hasn't much sense."
Dingo, hearing his name spoken, pricked up his ears and came bounding to Ramon's side. He grinned with his head on one side, his tail wagging and his eyes saying as plainly as words: "What is it, master? I'll do anything you say."
Ramon bent down and pointed under the pile of boards. "Go fetch them!" he cried.
The boards were piled up in such a way that there was a small tunnel running under them from one end to the other. This was so they would not rot from lying on the ground.
Ramon thought if he sent Dingo in at one end of the
tunnel the little hen and her brood would surely come
out at the other. Dingo thought so, too.
Then, all of a sudden, his tone changed. Instead of
No little brown hen came out at the farther end of the boards. Instead, there was an angry pecking sound from under the fortress, and a worried clucking.
Poor Dingo went away under the kitchen steps and rubbed his nose with his paws. He looked reproachfully at Ramon when he came to comfort him.
"It's not a bit of use," said Rita. "You'll just have to leave her alone until morning. She has put her babies to bed for the night."
Petra heard them talking under the house. She bent down and called through the cracks, "Come to supper."
Ramon sniffed the air, "I smell camotes," he said.
"I don't suppose there's any rice at all
Rita looked wise, and counted on her fingers. "Let's see, it's July now, then comes August, and September, and October. It will be four months more, anyway!" Ramon groaned, with his hand on his stomach. "When harvest comes," he said, "I'm going to have all the rice I want for once. I'm going to boil a potful for myself and eat it all, every bit. I'm going to have chicken with it, too. I tell you, Rita," he added confidentially, "I just hate being poor. When I grow up I'm going to be rich and I'm going to have every single thing I like to eat every day."
"Shame on you, you greedy boy," said Rita piously. "You haven't gone hungry yet, even if you haven't had everything you want. We could be a lot poorer than we are. Why can't you think about something else besides your stomach?"
Ramon could not think of a good answer; so he ran out his tongue at Rita! Yes, he did! "You needn't think you are such a lot better than I am," he said. "You feel just the same way yourself! You know you do!"
"Children, come to supper," Petra called again, and the two dashed upstairs without finishing the dispute.