Joan and the Chickens

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Eileen and Joan are evacuated to their Aunt and Uncle's farm in the Cotswolds during the Second World War and what befalls Joan at the hands of her obnoxious sister.

 

In 1940 Joan’s family had lived in Hertfordshire, in a town no more than half-a-dozen miles from the outskirts of London. Her father, Ken, had been general manager of a factory manufacturing furniture. Joan and her older sister Eileen were sent to live with their aunt Betty in the Cotswolds just as the Luftwaffe began to bomb London.  Many children were evacuated from the capital because it was felt they would be safer elsewhere when the Blitz began. Ken’s factory had gone over to war production, but as it was highly secret he wasn’t permitted to discuss this work with anyone so he had to remain in Hertfordshire to run the factory.

 

The girls were packed up with suitcases and some of their favourite belongings and put on trains and collected at the railways station in Cheltenham by a farm labourer who was far too old to be called up. Aunty Betty and Uncle Eric had no children of their own, so they seemed the obvious choice when it came to evacuation.

 

Joan adored the countryside, but Eileen wasn’t too keen. For a start she had to leave her friends in Hertfordshire. She preferred the town where she could walk on pavements and not in muddy fields. She loved shopping, clothes, the latest fashion, make-up and the ‘bright lights.’ Joan was simply in her element in the middle of the Cotswolds. She was a real tomboy. She relished in her freedom, being able to run wild in the meadows, helping to milk the cows and ride and groom the horses that were used on the farm.

 

Both children were expected to help out on the farm, from mucking out the horses to collecting the eggs. Joan really enjoyed this work very much but Eileen would do anything she could to avoid helping.

 

One Saturday the girls had been invited to a party that was to be held in the village hall. Eileen was really excited, as it was a good excuse for her to get dressed up in her best dress and make a good impression. Joan, being more of a tomboy than her sister, wasn’t so keen. She was far happier running wild on the farm, wearing her oldest clothes and getting covered in mud, climbing trees and generally getting her hands dirty. The very idea of having to get washed and scrubbed and putting on a party frock didn’t appeal in the slightest.

 

The girls were given some responsibility for feeding the horses and collecting the eggs. Eileen always managed to get her own way, being the eldest at fourteen, while nine-year-old Joan did as her sister told her. Eileen preferred the easy option every time, which was to feed the horses, which consisted of merely taking some hay to them in their stable and paddock, checking that they had sufficient water in their trough and filling it from a tap with a bucket. A job that was very simple and easy. On the other hand, the collection of eggs from the chickens who inhabited a run in the orchard the furthest side of a meadow in which a herd of cattle lived and grazed was really no problem to Joan as it meant she could take her time and amble across the meadow and stop on the way to stroke the brown-and-white cows. They were extremely inquisitive creatures and always followed her and enjoyed her attentions. Once across the meadow she had to go through a little wicket gate and into the orchard. The chicken run was under the apple trees that meant Joan could help herself to the occasional apple from one of the trees or picked up from amongst the grass if she managed to discover a fallen apple. Joan took a basket filled with straw with her to put the collected eggs in. She went into the chicken run, closing the gate carefully behind her and then lifting the lid on the side of the chicken house to reveal the nesting boxes in which the chickens laid their eggs. She managed to lift the warm, brown and speckled eggs out of the nests with extra-special care and placed them into the basket to carry back to the farmhouse, where they were put into trays and stored in the dairy. In the evening Joan went back to the chicken run to not only collect the eggs, but to also ensure the chickens went into the house for the night, as there was always the chance that a fox would manage to kill any stray chickens, and, in particular, any that roosted in the trees and were very difficult to round up and made safe before Joan walked back across the meadow as the sun began to set.

The girls were all ready in their finery to go to the party in the village hall. It was to be the birthday party of a family friend. Eileen, however, was not too keen on being told to have to look after her little sister, Joan. Aunty Betty had told her that Joan would need looking after, as she wasn’t really old enough to be left on her own. This really irked Eileen. She had wanted to go to the party alone, as she intended speaking to a young man with whom she had her eye. So she would attempt, at all costs, to detach herself from her sisterly duties.

 

“Have you been to get the chickens in safely?” asked Betty of Joan, who was sitting and sewing by the fire.

 

“Oh dear! I forgot all about it. I was so busy getting dressed!”

 

“You must do it now.  It’s getting dark very rapidly. It’s no use leaving the chickens out in the run. A fox might get in during the night and kill them! Eileen, you’d better go with Joan and help get the chickens in their house . . .”

 

“But our clothes and our shoes . . . It’s muddy out there!” pleaded Eileen.

 

 “Never mind. You’ll just have to be careful, that’s all.  It’s no use leaving it too late, as it will be dark soon. It shouldn’t take you long. You can be back here quickly to go to the party. You must go and get those chickens in. Now hurry. It’ll be too late soon.”

 

The two girls went out into the farmyard and then into the meadow where the cattle were grazing. It was muddy underfoot because  there had recently been a heavy rain storm. Soon they reached the other side of the meadow to the farm and went through the small wicket gate that lead into the orchard where the chicken run was to be found.

 

Eileen sighed deeply as they opened the gate and stepped into the meadow. She was certainly not pleased that she would have to baby-sit her little sister all evening, which was bad enough, but to now be expected to walk across a meadow which contained not only a herd of somewhat unpredictable cattle, but, indignity of indignities, also dressed in her finest frock and wearing totally unsuitable foot-wear, to negotiate cow-pats and mud and then persuade the chickens to go into their house was taking matters too far.

 

“This is all YOUR FAULT!” she bawled at Joan. “You should have remembered to do this job AGES AGO!!”

 

Poor Joan, she just plodded on through the meadow, while Eileen hurled more and more abuse at her.

 

“I really hate and detest you! It’s bad enough having to come and live in this awful place, but it’s too much that I have to baby-sit you and NOW! Stuck in this disgusting mud-patch! Ugggh!”

 

They tramped on through the meadow, Joan holding a torch, the pool of light it made in the darkness illuminating the grass and on occasion picking out a stray cow, which gazed at them through long-lashed eyes, stomped it’s feet and snorted through it’s nose noisily.

 

“Let me have the torch, you’re waving it about too much. You’re just attracting the cows. They’ll come up to us. I don’t like them, large smelly things. They’ll lick us or worse, cover us in muck and mess!”

 

On reaching the furthest side of the meadow, they discovered that the wicket gate leading into the orchard was blocked by a couple of cows that adamantly refused to move out of the way.

 

“Shoo! Shoo!” shouted Eileen at the cows, waving her arms about. The cows merely stared at her, blinking in the light from the torch and continuing to chew the cud. There was no likelihood of them moving out of the way so the girls could go through the gate. Eileen’s patience was by now wearing very thin. How could they possibly be held up by a bunch of stupid cows?

 

“I know!” said Joan. She strode up to one of the cows and slapped it on it’s back.

 

“Scat!” she said, and pushed the cow firmly. “Mush! Scat”

 

 After some more eye-blinking and cud-chewing it decided it was best to shift itself.

 

“There you are!” said Joan, “You just have to know the correct words.

 

“Well . . . I . . .” was all the bemused Eileen could say.

 

“I just happen to have a way with animals it seems,” said Joan.

 

“Hurry up! We don’t have much time!” said Eileen.

 

So they managed to get through the wicket gate into the orchard and walked as fast as they could until they reached the chicken run.

 

The chickens were wandering around in the run, doing what all chickens do, pecking the ground, strutting around and generally minding their own business. Some were beginning to roost in the apple trees.

 

“Make sure they go into the house,” said Eileen, “and make sure that when they do, they don’t come back out, or we’ll be here all night and we’ll miss the party.”

 

Joan stood by the little hatch where the chickens were supposed to go in and out of the house. There was a wooden slide on this hatch which, when pulled up on a piece of cord, allowed the chickens to come and go to their hearts content. It was kept open with a metal peg. When this peg was pulled out, the shutter came down and the chickens were kept safe within their house.

Eileen, meanwhile, made a vain attempt at rounding up the flock of chickens and

endeavoured to drive them towards the hatch and, hopefully, inside the house. But this was

not an easy task. Try as she might, she could not get the wretched birds to go where she wanted. Some fluttered about aimlessly within the fenced-in run, some ran the opposite way to the intended destination, some flew up into the apple trees, but none went anywhere near the entrance to the house. The more they refused her entreaties, the more she became frustrated and angry.

 

“This isn’t working! They won’t go in. It’s all your fault!” At this, the poor Joan just stood open-mouthed and looked at her sister. She knew that if she said anything Eileen would only fly even further into a rage. “It’s getting late. We’ll never get to the party on time.”

 

It was at this point, as she rushed about the run, waving her arms about at the flock of chickens, that her foot trod on something unpleasant.

 

“Now look what’s happened! My best shoes! Ruined! I can hardly see what I’m doing, it’s so dark! I’ve no idea what I’ve just stood in!”

 

Eileen began to wave her arms about even more deliriously at the uncooperative chickens. They simply would not run towards the entrance of the house. The more she shrieked and screamed at them, the more they ran in the opposite direction.

 

“It’s no use! We’ll never get them in tonight. I have an idea. This may just work. I just hope so.”

 

She went to the door at the side of the chicken house.

 

“You’ll have to go inside,” said Eileen.

 

“In there?” said Joan, pointing at the chicken house.

 

“Of course, but you’ll need a bowl of corn! I’ll fill up the bowl and you go inside the house. Then the chickens will follow you!” She went to the small shed just outside the chicken run. She plunged the bowl into the bag of corn and then shoved the bowl into her sister’s hands, at the same time opening the door to the chicken house.

 

“You’ll have to bend your head. Go on! In you go!”

 

Joan, being a very compliant child, did as her sister told her without argument. She knew if she disobeyed her Eileen was likely to become quite nasty. So she bent down to go through the little door. At that moment Eileen shoved her inside the chicken house and slammed the door shut with a loud bang.

 

“Why have you shut me in here?” Joan shrieked,  “Let me out! Eileen? Eileen? Please let me out. It’s dark in here. I don’t like it! It’s horrible in the dark!”

 

It was dark and frightening in the chicken house, save for some light from the moon, which filtered through some slats in the side of the wooden building. She was short for her age, but she couldn’t stand upright and had to stoop, which she found unbearably uncomfortable. A stray chicken had meandered in through the little slit of an entrance, but there wasn’t the rush of the rest of the flock as the girls had hoped. A few feathers fluttered down from a perch inside the house, which made the poor girl sneeze. She sobbed to herself as she looked down at her muddy dress, her ruined hair and her sodden shoes. When would she be let out? Would someone come to rescue her? Why had her sister been so cruel to her?

 

Eileen didn’t stay to find out if the chickens went into the house. She could hear her little sister calling piteously for her, but she didn’t answer. She was off as fast as she could through the orchard and out through the wicket gate and crossing the meadow without so much as a backward glance to see if the cows were following her. She had done what she had set out to do, to leave Joan locked in the chicken house that would allow her the freedom to go to the party on her own.

 

As Eileen walked back towards the farm she could hear the faint cries of her little sister and her vain thumps with her fists on the wooden boards inside the chicken house. But who could hear her cries for help? The house was too far away and there was nobody nearby to release her from her prison.

 

Eileen was totally mistaken if she believed she was going to cross the meadow alone. The cows followed her as she made her way back to the safety of the farmyard. She didn’t like them, and she disliked them even less because they were following her, more out of curiosity than anything else. She could hear their hooves as they trod on the ground and the soft breathing sounds they made. Then she could feel the hot breath of one cow on the back of her neck, which made her panic. What would they do to her? Lick her? Breathe their grassy breath all over her? She attempted to walk faster and faster. How she wished she could reach the safety of the farmyard, but her feet seemed to refuse to move any quicker. It was as if she would never reach the gate. Then her foot struck something hard. The torch, which she held, flew out of her hand and landed up in a heap of brambles. She could vaguely see its glow within the clump of twisted branches. But it was too far away for her to reach to pick up. Then she fell, slap bang in a pile of cowpat! She sprawled on the ground, her face down amongst the grass and daisies of the meadow. She began to get up on her knees and managed to pull herself upright. The breath of a cow felt warm on the back of her neck. It was this that made her run as fast as she could to the gate, but one of her shoes got stuck in the cowpat as she fled. Running with one shoe off was not easy, but she gained the isolation of the farmyard before any of the cows could reach her.

 

Meanwhile Joan was attempting to get the attention of anybody who could hear her within the chicken house. She banged with her fists on the wooden walls of the building, but it was in vain as nobody was near enough to hear her. She cried and the tears ran down her face.

 

Eileen reached the farmhouse. She burst through the sitting room door and presented a sorry sight to her aunt and uncle, her party frock covered in mud, cow-muck and grass stains, her hair a tangled, matted disaster and one shoe missing.

 

Her aunt and uncle were shocked when she crashed through the door of the lounge. Betty quietly sewing and Eric smoking his pipe and reading his newspaper by the light of the fire. They raised their eyes to behold the bedraggled child. Betty’s face was a picture. She stared in bewilderment at the girl.

 

“I hate those cows!” bawled Eileen.

 

“What has happened to you? You were only supposed to get the chickens into the hen house for the night. Where’s Joan?”

 

Eileen didn’t speak for a while. She just stood and cried.

 

“ Just look at the state you’re in. You can’t go to the party looking like this. There isn’t time to sort you out now. Where is your sister?”

 

“She’s . . . she’s with the chickens.”

“Why didn’t she come back with you?”

“We couldn’t get them in the house.”

“Has she had an accident?”

Aunt Betty and Uncle Eric looked at each other. They didn’t need to say much more to

Eileen.

 

“You stay here. We’ll go and get her!”

Uncle Eric knocked his pipe out in an ashtray on a table by his chair. Aunt Betty put the sewing needle into the sock she was darning and then into the workbasket on the floor. They went out into the back scullery and put their coats on and left the house.

 

Meanwhile Joan, still imprisoned within the chicken house, continued to bang on the inside of the wooden walls. She knew she wouldn’t be heard, but she had to make some effort to get help for her release. She cried to herself. Her clothes were ruined, her hair a terrible mess. The party and all the excitement was now a vain and hopeless distant thought.

 

As she cried, her aunt and uncle came in through the wicket gate into the orchard. She could now hear them outside the chicken house. This was all she needed. She stood up as best she could within the confines of the chicken house and put her shoulder to the shutter that was supposed to keep the chickens inside. She pushed hard. The first efforts barely moved the unyielding timbers. Then the next attempt was successful. The shutter flew open as she delivered an almighty blow. She was free! Her aunt and uncle stood in the moonlit orchard and stared wide-mouthed at the escaping child.

 

“What on earth . . .?” was all Aunt Betty could say.

 

Joan ran to her aunt, who put her arms around her and hugged her. The poor child cried. Her aunt used a handkerchief to wipe the tears from her face and picked her up and carried her back to the warmth and safety of the house.

 

When Joan eventually stopped crying and her aunt had got her to take off her ruined clothes and into a warm bath, the child was able at last to tell her what had happened.

 

“Eileen made me get into the chicken house. She pushed me inside. She said if I had a bowl of corn with me the chickens would follow. She slammed the door on me so I couldn’t get back out! It was awful and smelly and horribly dark and dirty!”

 

Not only did both girls miss out on going to the party that evening, but also Eileen had to do extra jobs around the house and the farm to make up for her behaviour towards her little sister.

 

Poor Joan never really got over her experience. Even into her later life she had a real fear of being shut in anywhere. And she could never look a live chicken in the eye and it put her off roast chicken and Kentucky fried which she could never eat without being reminded of the incident!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: June 02, 2014

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