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Chapter 2 The Yellow Hen

  • A strange noise awoke Dorothy, who opened her eyes to find that day had dawne_nd the sun was shining brightly in a clear sky. She had been dreaming tha_he was back in Kansas again, and playing in the old barn-yard with the calve_nd pigs and chickens all around her; and at first, as she rubbed the slee_rom her eyes, she really imagined she was there.
  • "Kut-kut-kut, ka-daw-kut! Kut-kut-kut, ka-daw-kut!"
  • Ah; here again was the strange noise that had awakened her. Surely it was _en cackling! But her wide-open eyes first saw, through the slats of the coop, the blue waves of the ocean, now calm and placid, and her thoughts flew bac_o the past night, so full of danger and discomfort. Also she began t_emember that she was a waif of the storm, adrift upon a treacherous an_nknown sea.
  • "Kut-kut-kut, ka-daw-w-w—kut!"
  • "What's that?" cried Dorothy, starting to her feet.
  • "Why I've just laid an egg, that's all," replied a small, but sharp an_istinct voice, and looking around her the little girl discovered a yellow he_quatting in the opposite corner of the coop.
  • "Dear me!" she exclaimed, in surprise; "have YOU been here all night, too?"
  • "Of course," answered the hen, fluttering her wings and yawning. "When th_oop blew away from the ship I clung fast to this corner, with claws and beak, for I knew if I fell into the water I'd surely be drowned. Indeed, I nearl_rowned, as it was, with all that water washing over me. I never was so we_efore in my life!"
  • "Yes," agreed Dorothy, "it was pretty wet, for a time, I know. But do you fee_omfor'ble now?"
  • "Not very. The sun has helped to dry my feathers, as it has your dress, and _eel better since I laid my morning egg. But what's to become of us, I shoul_ike to know, afloat on this big pond?"
  • "I'd like to know that, too," said Dorothy. "But, tell me; how does it happe_hat you are able to talk? I thought hens could only cluck and cackle."
  • "Why, as for that," answered the yellow hen thoughtfully, "I've clucked an_ackled all my life, and never spoken a word before this morning, that I ca_emember. But when you asked a question, a minute ago, it seemed the mos_atural thing in the world to answer you. So I spoke, and I seem to keep o_peaking, just as you and other human beings do. Strange, isn't it?"
  • "Very," replied Dorothy. "If we were in the Land of Oz, I wouldn't think it s_ueer, because many of the animals can talk in that fairy country. But ou_ere in the ocean must be a good long way from Oz."
  • "How is my grammar?" asked the yellow hen, anxiously. "Do I speak quit_roperly, in your judgment?"
  • "Yes," said Dorothy, "you do very well, for a beginner."
  • "I'm glad to know that," continued the yellow hen, in a confidential tone;
  • "because, if one is going to talk, it's best to talk correctly. The re_ooster has often said that my cluck and my cackle were quite perfect; and no_t's a comfort to know I am talking properly."
  • "I'm beginning to get hungry," remarked Dorothy. "It's breakfast time; bu_here's no breakfast."
  • "You may have my egg," said the yellow hen. "I don't care for it, you know."
  • "Don't you want to hatch it?" asked the little girl, in surprise.
  • "No, indeed; I never care to hatch eggs unless I've a nice snug nest, in som_uiet place, with a baker's dozen of eggs under me. That's thirteen, you know, and it's a lucky number for hens. So you may as well eat this egg."
  • "Oh, I couldn't POSS'BLY eat it, unless it was cooked," exclaimed Dorothy.
  • "But I'm much obliged for your kindness, just the same."
  • "Don't mention it, my dear," answered the hen, calmly, and began preening he_eathers.
  • For a moment Dorothy stood looking out over the wide sea. She was stil_hinking of the egg, though; so presently she asked:
  • "Why do you lay eggs, when you don't expect to hatch them?"
  • "It's a habit I have," replied the yellow hen. "It has always been my pride t_ay a fresh egg every morning, except when I'm moulting. I never feel lik_aving my morning cackle till the egg is properly laid, and without the chanc_o cackle I would not be happy."
  • "It's strange," said the girl, reflectively; "but as I'm not a hen I can't be
  • 'spected to understand that."
  • "Certainly not, my dear."
  • Then Dorothy fell silent again. The yellow hen was some company, and a bit o_omfort, too; but it was dreadfully lonely out on the big ocean, nevertheless.
  • After a time the hen flew up and perched upon the topmost slat of the coop, which was a little above Dorothy's head when she was sitting upon the bottom, as she had been doing for some moments past.
  • "Why, we are not far from land!" exclaimed the hen.
  • "Where? Where is it?" cried Dorothy, jumping up in great excitement.
  • "Over there a little way," answered the hen, nodding her head in a certai_irection. "We seem to be drifting toward it, so that before noon we ought t_ind ourselves upon dry land again."
  • "I shall like that!" said Dorothy, with a little sigh, for her feet and leg_ere still wetted now and then by the sea-water that came through the ope_lats.
  • "So shall I," answered her companion. "There is nothing in the world s_iserable as a wet hen."
  • The land, which they seemed to be rapidly approaching, since it grew mor_istinct every minute, was quite beautiful as viewed by the little girl in th_loating hen-coop. Next to the water was a broad beach of white sand an_ravel, and farther back were several rocky hills, while beyond these appeare_ strip of green trees that marked the edge of a forest. But there were n_ouses to be seen, nor any sign of people who might inhabit this unknown land.
  • "I hope we shall find something to eat," said Dorothy, looking eagerly at th_retty beach toward which they drifted. "It's long past breakfast time, now."
  • "I'm a trifle hungry, myself," declared the yellow hen.
  • "Why don't you eat the egg?" asked the child. "You don't need to have you_ood cooked, as I do."
  • "Do you take me for a cannibal?" cried the hen, indignantly. "I do not kno_hat I have said or done that leads you to insult me!"
  • "I beg your pardon, I'm sure Mrs.—Mrs.—by the way, may I inquire your name, ma'am?" asked the little girl.
  • "My name is Bill," said the yellow hen, somewhat gruffly.
  • "Bill! Why, that's a boy's name."
  • "What difference does that make?"
  • "You're a lady hen, aren't you?"
  • "Of course. But when I was first hatched out no one could tell whether I wa_oing to be a hen or a rooster; so the little boy at the farm where I was bor_alled me Bill, and made a pet of me because I was the only yellow chicken i_he whole brood. When I grew up, and he found that I didn't crow and fight, a_ll the roosters do, he did not think to change my name, and every creature i_he barn-yard, as well as the people in the house, knew me as 'Bill.' So Bil_'ve always been called, and Bill is my name."
  • "But it's all wrong, you know," declared Dorothy, earnestly; "and, if yo_on't mind, I shall call you 'Billina.' Putting the 'eena' on the end makes i_ girl's name, you see."
  • "Oh, I don't mind it in the least," returned the yellow hen. "It doesn'_atter at all what you call me, so long as I know the name means ME."
  • "Very well, Billina. MY name is Dorothy Gale—just Dorothy to my friends an_iss Gale to strangers. You may call me Dorothy, if you like. We're gettin_ery near the shore. Do you suppose it is too deep for me to wade the rest o_he way?"
  • "Wait a few minutes longer. The sunshine is warm and pleasant, and we are i_o hurry."
  • "But my feet are all wet and soggy," said the girl. "My dress is dry enough, but I won't feel real comfor'ble till I get my feet dried."
  • She waited, however, as the hen advised, and before long the big wooden coo_rated gently on the sandy beach and the dangerous voyage was over.
  • It did not take the castaways long to reach the shore, you may be sure. Th_ellow hen flew to the sands at once, but Dorothy had to climb over the hig_lats. Still, for a country girl, that was not much of a feat, and as soon a_he was safe ashore Dorothy drew off her wet shoes and stockings and sprea_hem upon the sun-warmed beach to dry.
  • Then she sat down and watched Billina, who was pick-pecking away with he_harp bill in the sand and gravel, which she scratched up and turned over wit_er strong claws.
  • "What are you doing?" asked Dorothy.
  • "Getting my breakfast, of course," murmured the hen, busily pecking away.
  • "What do you find?" inquired the girl, curiously.
  • "Oh, some fat red ants, and some sand-bugs, and once in a while a tiny crab.
  • They are very sweet and nice, I assure you."
  • "How dreadful!" exclaimed Dorothy, in a shocked voice.
  • "What is dreadful?" asked the hen, lifting her head to gaze with one brigh_ye at her companion.
  • "Why, eating live things, and horrid bugs, and crawly ants. You ought to be
  • 'SHAMED of yourself!"
  • "Goodness me!" returned the hen, in a puzzled tone; "how queer you are, Dorothy! Live things are much fresher and more wholesome than dead ones, an_ou humans eat all sorts of dead creatures."
  • "We don't!" said Dorothy.
  • "You do, indeed," answered Billina. "You eat lambs and sheep and cows and pig_nd even chickens."
  • "But we cook 'em," said Dorothy, triumphantly.
  • "What difference does that make?"
  • "A good deal," said the girl, in a graver tone. "I can't just 'splain th_iff'rence, but it's there. And, anyhow, we never eat such dreadful things a_UGS."
  • "But you eat the chickens that eat the bugs," retorted the yellow hen, with a_dd cackle. "So you are just as bad as we chickens are."
  • This made Dorothy thoughtful. What Billina said was true enough, and it almos_ook away her appetite for breakfast. As for the yellow hen, she continued t_eck away at the sand busily, and seemed quite contented with her bill-of- fare.
  • Finally, down near the water's edge, Billina stuck her bill deep into th_and, and then drew back and shivered.
  • "Ow!" she cried. "I struck metal, that time, and it nearly broke my beak."
  • "It prob'bly was a rock," said Dorothy, carelessly.
  • "Nonsense. I know a rock from metal, I guess," said the hen. "There's _ifferent feel to it."
  • "But there couldn't be any metal on this wild, deserted seashore," persiste_he girl. "Where's the place? I'll dig it up, and prove to you I'm right,"
  • Billina showed her the place where she had "stubbed her bill," as sh_xpressed it, and Dorothy dug away the sand until she felt something hard.
  • Then, thrusting in her hand, she pulled the thing out, and discovered it to b_ large sized golden key—rather old, but still bright and of perfect shape.
  • "What did I tell you?" cried the hen, with a cackle of triumph. "Can I tel_etal when I bump into it, or is the thing a rock?"
  • "It's metal, sure enough," answered the child, gazing thoughtfully at th_urious thing she had found. "I think it is pure gold, and it must have lai_idden in the sand for a long time. How do you suppose it came there, Billina?
  • And what do you suppose this mysterious key unlocks?"
  • "I can't say," replied the hen. "You ought to know more about locks and key_han I do."
  • Dorothy glanced around. There was no sign of any house in that part of th_ountry, and she reasoned that every key must fit a lock and every lock mus_ave a purpose. Perhaps the key had been lost by somebody who lived far away, but had wandered on this very shore.
  • Musing on these things the girl put the key in the pocket of her dress an_hen slowly drew on her shoes and stockings, which the sun had fully dried.
  • "I b'lieve, Billina," she said, "I'll have a look 'round, and see if I ca_ind some breakfast."