Phoebe, after getting well acquainted with the old hen, was sometimes

permitted to take the chicken in her hand, which was quite capable of

grasping its cubic inch or two of body. While she curiously examined

its hereditary marks,--the peculiar speckle of its plumage, the funny

tuft on its head, and a knob on each of its legs,--the little biped, as

she insisted, kept giving her a sagacious wink. The daguerreotypist

once whispered her that these marks betokened the oddities of the

Pyncheon family, and that the chicken itself was a symbol of the life

of the old house, embodying its interpretation, likewise, although an

unintelligible one, as such clews generally are. It was a feathered

Advertisement..

riddle; a mystery hatched out of an egg, and just as mysterious as if

the egg had been addle!

The second of Chanticleer's two wives, ever since Phoebe's arrival, had

been in a state of heavy despondency, caused, as it afterwards

appeared, by her inability to lay an egg. One day, however, by her

self-important gait, the sideways turn of her head, and the cock of her

eye, as she pried into one and another nook of the garden,--croaking to

herself, all the while, with inexpressible complacency,--it was made

evident that this identical hen, much as mankind undervalued her,

carried something about her person the worth of which was not to be

estimated either in gold or precious stones. Shortly after, there was

a prodigious cackling and gratulation of Chanticleer and all his

family, including the wizened chicken, who appeared to understand the

matter quite as well as did his sire, his mother, or his aunt. That

afternoon Phoebe found a diminutive egg,--not in the regular nest, it

was far too precious to be trusted there,--but cunningly hidden under

the currant-bushes, on some dry stalks of last year's grass. Hepzibah,

on learning the fact, took possession of the egg and appropriated it to

Clifford's breakfast, on account of a certain delicacy of flavor, for

which, as she affirmed, these eggs had always been famous. Thus

unscrupulously did the old gentlewoman sacrifice the continuance,

perhaps, of an ancient feathered race, with no better end than to

supply her brother with a dainty that hardly filled the bowl of a

tea-spoon! It must have been in reference to this outrage that

Chanticleer, the next day, accompanied by the bereaved mother of the

egg, took his post in front of Phoebe and Clifford, and delivered

himself of a harangue that might have proved as long as his own

pedigree, but for a fit of merriment on Phoebe's part. Hereupon, the

offended fowl stalked away on his long stilts, and utterly withdrew his

notice from Phoebe and the rest of human nature, until she made her

peace with an offering of spice-cake, which, next to snails, was the

delicacy most in favor with his aristocratic taste.