Only his feet were left, abandoned by their predator, in the grass. I felt sad as I looked at them, remembering his loud and frequent voice, now hushed for ever. Gingerly I picked up the dismembered limbs, fighting nausea. How could this have happened? I wondered. We'd been so sure that it was safe here - a haven for him and his kind. A refuge where they could live and love in peace.
There were some, I knew, who regarded him as little more than a nuisance. Who thought - and sometimes said - that he kept irregular hours and was noisy and raucous, causing a disturbance to those around. There was, for them, no pleasure at his joyful cries, which so clearly displayed his love of life and triumphant ownership of his small domain. They watched his arrogant stance with irritation, rather than admiration. They saw his strutting gait and reacted with distaste, instead of admiration.
I thought bitterly of their happiness at his demise. They wouldn't care that his end was brutal and violent. And that he bravely fought against his attacker, unwittingly prolonging his own agony. They minded not that before he finally succumbed to his horrible fate, he also suffered the excruciating pain and indignity of seeing two of his wives suffer the same.
I was still holding the feet and they smelled awful. I hurled them as far away as I could, over the fence at the end of the garden and into the next field.
The fox came in the night, for the first time ever, cleverly circumventing the barricades of fencing, and pouncing on the plump poultry within. I can only guess - and shudder - at the horror of that night. I can barely imagine what frightful scene took place and hope fervently that the final throes of those who died were mercifully quick.
I can only suppose that the fox, stuffed to bursting, couldn't quite summon up the energy to drag the two remaining hens home to his family and friends. The morning after, we found them jammed into one nesting box in a dark corner of the hutch. They were, not surprisingly, thoroughly traumatised. I spoke soothingly to them, dripping Rescue Remedy into their beaks and trying to reassure them that although their lord and master and fellow wives had been cruelly taken from them, I would see that they at least were safe from now on.
They remained in deep hen shock, continuing to cluck and quiver in a rather desperate manner. And then a miracle happened. As they shook and shuffled featherishly around, they parted briefly - and a tiny black head emerged.
'Cheep,' it said.
'Hurray!' I said, tearing off to alert everyone to this new life amongst death and disaster. Of a hidden clutch of eggs, just one had hatched out.
The two hens quickly recovered their equilibrium, probably aided by the need to assume parental responsibility, and within a few hours, this thoroughly modern family was pecking and clucking their way around the run.
The chick is adorable. We've called her Hope - of course.
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