A terminal moment most fowl
by Victor Sullivan, © 2010
My Uncle Tom, a farmer, was ready and willing to treat me as a ten-year-old man and I tried to respond as manfully as I could. On one memorable occasion he had deemed me fit to cut a small field of oats with a one-horse mowing machine. He had overseen my oiling of the moving parts, issued warnings about hazardous features and watched as I backed Nancy between the shafts and tackled her to the machine. Then I carefully lowered the knife-bar, mounted the cast iron seat from behind as instructed and lined up the mare for the first cut following the straight line of standing oats that my uncle had already opened with a scythe.
"Tom! TOM! Get the child off that machine right now!" bleated my fussy grandmother from the roadway that overlooked the small field where I was proudly in command of both horse and mowing machine.
"He's all right," drawled my Uncle, "he can manage it fine!"
With my left foot I moved the lever that engaged the cutting gear, flicked the reins, Nancy leaned forwards and off we went. The golden oats fell into a neat row behind us as the chattering mechanism did its intended work as well as successfully drowning out my grandmother's continued protests. The sharp, triangular teeth of the knife reciprocated rapidly between the pointed dividing fingers of the knife-bar as the machine advanced into the standing stalks of ripe oats, severing each one cleanly three inches above the ground.
The tricky turn was executed satisfactorily at each corner and the remaining patch of oats grew smaller and smaller. Soon it was time to be on the look-out for any rabbits that might be hiding in the diminishing cover. How many more cuts before my task would be completed, one? Two at most and still no rabbit came charging out. Bob, the sheepdog, lay sleeping in the sun, utterly uninterested; a bad omen. We clattered on.
Suddenly a loud and horrible squawking startled both mare and myself as a violently flapping Rhode Island Red hen rose, legless, into the air out of the falling oats as the reciprocating knife-bar passed beneath her.
By the time Nancy and I had completed the final round of the field my uncle had captured the unfortunate bird and terminated its unexpected distress. The drama had been grimly observed by my hen-loving grandmother who was clearly not pleased with my harvesting achievement.
We had her for dinner next day, the legless Rhode Island Red. My behavior was impeccable at the table. It was a more solemn meal than was usual.
Photo: A Mowing Machine of the type in the story, minus shafts and horse.
The cutting knife-bar is in the vertical position