CAUGHT BY MR. CROW
It wasn't far to the edge of the cornfield from the farmyard fence. And Henrietta Hen was quick to discover that the freshly ploughed and harrowed field offered a fine place to scratch for all kinds of worms and bugs and grubs.
Not being what you might call a wise bird--like old Mr. Crow--Henrietta didn't know that Farmer Green had carefully planted corn in that field, in long rows. She did exclaim, however, that she was in great luck when now and then she unearthed a few kernels of corn. But she wasn't looking for corn. She merely ate it when she happened to find any.
It is no wonder, then, that she was amazed when a hoarse voice suddenly cried right in her ear, almost, "You're a thief and you can't deny it!"
She jumped. How could she have helped it? And the voice exclaimed, "There! You're guilty or you'd never have jumped like that."
Turning, Henrietta saw that a black, beady-eyed gentleman was staring at her sternly.
"It takes Mr. Crow to catch 'em," he croaked. "He can tell a corn-thief half a mile away."
All this time Henrietta Hen hadn't said a word. At first she was too surprised. And afterward she was too angry.
"Why don't you speak?" he demanded. He dearly loved a quarrel. And somehow it wasn't much fun quarrelling with anybody when the other party wouldn't say a word.
Still Henrietta Hen didn't open her mouth. She puzzled Mr. Crow. He even forgot his rage (for it always made him angry if anybody but himself scratched up any corn).
"What's the matter with you?" he asked. "What's the reason you don't speak?"
"I'm too proud to talk with you," said Henrietta Hen. "I don't care to be seen speaking to you, sir."
"Ha!" Mr. Crow exploded. "Don't you think I'm as good as you are?"
"No!" said Henrietta Hen. "No, I don't!"
Mr. Crow was all for arguing with her. He began to tell Henrietta many things about himself, how he had spent dozens of summers in Pleasant Valley, what a great traveller he was, how far he could fly in a day. There was no end to his boasting.
Yet Henrietta Hen never looked the least bit interested. Indeed, she began scratching for worms while he was talking. And that made the old fellow angrier than ever.
"Don't you dare eat another kernel of corn!" he thundered. "If you do, I'll have to tell Farmer Green."
"He feeds me corn every day--cracked corn!" said Henrietta.
"Well, I never!" cried Mr. Crow. "What's he thinking of, wasting good corn like that?"
"Really, I mustn't be seen talking with you," Henrietta Hen told Mr. Crow. "If you want to know the answer to your question, come over to the barnyard and ask the Rooster. He'll give you an answer that you won't like."
And then she walked away with stately steps.
Mr. Crow watched her with a baleful gleam in his eyes. He knew well enough what Henrietta meant. The Rooster would rather fight him than not. And though Mr. Crow loved a quarrel, he never cared to indulge in anything more dangerous than harsh words.
"I don't know what the farm's coming to," he croaked. "Here's Farmer Green wasting corn on such as her--and cracking it for her, too!"
So saying, the old gentleman turned his back on Henrietta Hen, who was already fluttering through the farmyard fence. And thereupon he scratched up enough corn for a hearty meal, grumbling meanwhile because it wasn't cracked for him.
"Somehow," he muttered, "I can't help wishing I was a speckled hen."