The Wily Gander & the Vain Rooster-Another Barnyard Tale

Uncle Gus was the best story teller in all the county. When the children saw him coming, they ran to meet him. The boy said, “Tell us a story, please.” 

The girl giggled and said,

“Yes. Tell us another story about Blue Tommie Joe and the animals on the Crenshaw farm.”

She grabbed his arm, the boy grabbed the other, and they pulled him to the porch swing.  

Uncle Gus, sighed. “I reckon, you caught me fair and square. Sit down and I’ll see what I can do.” The girl sat on the swing beside him. The boy lay with his back on the floor and his arms folded under his head. 

Uncle Gus scratched his chin and said, “As I remember, I told you about the night Blue Tommie Joe killed Cock Ruby-Eyes in a fight set up by that old sly old gander, Hank.” 

They nodded, and the girl clapped her hands.  

“Yep. Old Hank made a fat stack of corn off the bets on that fight. Blue Tommie Joe won the fight, but he was mighty beat up, with an eye swollen shut, talons broken, and one wing dangling, nearly useless. When he saw Hank with that big pile of corn he’d won, bloodied Blue Tommie limped over and said, “I’m here for my share.”  

Old Hank looked at Blue out of the corner of his eye. “What are you talking about, Boy? I don’t recall you laying any bet.” He made a show of studying his bet book, saying, “But let me look. No, I don’t see as you ever placed a bet.” He grinned, and added, “You surely should have, because you fought a fine fight.” 

I nearly got killed, fighting the fight you set up. You owe me. Pay up!”  

Sly Hank smiled, and asked, “Your share? I never promised you a share, but if you have a contract, I’ll sure enough honor it. I sure will – just as soon as you bring it to me.” 

Blue was fit to be tied. “I won the fight, but don’t get anything to show for it?” 

“Sure you do,” said Hank. “You get to be the champ.” 

“You crooked old gander. If I wasn’t so broken up, I’d beat the smile off your face, beat you till you’d be fit for nothing but the Crenshaw’s supper table.”  Blue drug himself off, saying, “I’ll get even with you!” 

Over time, Blue’s wounds healed, and Hank’s ill-gotten gains ran out.  

One morning, Blue was perched on the water through, admiring his beautiful blue feathers reflected in the water. Esmeralda, the wise old cow, came up to drink and said “Blue, stop your preening and move over.” He flew up to the fence where he saw Hank edging around the barn.

Blue said, “Esmeralda, look at Hank, sneaking around, looking for his next dirty deal. He cheated me, but someday I’ll get even.”  

Esmeralda rolled her eyes. “Don’t try it. You’ll get taken again. He’s too wily.” 

“There’s more to Blue Tommie Joe than beauty and brawn – I’ve got brains. I’ll show you all. I’ll set up my own match and win more corn than Hank’s ever did.”  

“What kind of match?”  

“Can’t be a fight,” he said, stretching his neck up and spreading his blue wings. “There’s not a rooster on the farm who’ll fight me, but I’ll think of something.” 

Blue started thinking of ideas. He walked by the sty, and thought, “Hmmm. Maybe a pig-in-mud fight.” Then he pictured it, and thought, “Nah, pigs rolling in mud? They’d be too happy to fight.” 

Bones, the barn cat, walked by, and Blue thought about a cat-fight between Rocko, the old tom cat that stayed under Farmer Crenshaw’s porch, and Bones. Then he remembered the day he’d come beak to face with Rocko. No, not again! 

A day went past, then another, and another, and still no idea. “Do I have better’s block?” he thought, then told himself, “No! I just have to think harder.”  

He was thinking so hard he didn’t see how close he was to the water, until a big splash soaked his beautiful blue feathers with muddy water. 

He was cussin’ mad, stomping around, throwing a fit, and yelling, “Who did that?” Then he saw the frogs splashing and jumping from rock to rock, and he had his idea. He crowed,

“That’s it! But not leapfrog! Leap-sheep!” The champion leaper was Dexter. But Blue had seen the young ram, Maximus, sneaking off to practice, and followed him, spying. “Yes sir,” he thought, “Maximus can win.”  

Blue raced back to the barnyard, crowing at the top of his voice, and with muddy water flying off his feathers. That bird was a sight. Esmeralda laughed. But the hens were scared. They stopped their pecking, and scattered, clucking, “What’s he running from? It must be Rocko. Is it Rocko? Is he coming?”  

Blue ran on past them, to the sheep pasture gate, where he stopped, took a breath. Then he strolled in like it was Sunday. He ambled up to Maximus. “Howdy, Max. Nice running into you. I’ve been hearing some mighty nice things about you.” 

Maximus hated that nickname, but he had to ask, “What did you hear?” 

“Just that you’re a pretty good jumper, maybe better than Dexter.”  

That’s just what the ram wanted, but he didn’t let on. Jumping just comes naturally to me. I never give a thought to who’s best – and don’t call me Max. 

Blue said. “Sure thing, Max. You don’t care about competing to see who’s best, so we’ll never know if you could be the champ.” 

Maximus said, Huh? I didn’t say I wouldn’t compete with him. I might.” 

Blue saw some young ewes watching, and said

“Look, they’re watching you. Take a few jumps. Show off for them. But, if I was you, I’d hold back, not let Dexter know how good I was.” 

The ram took off, leaping, but not as high as he could. 

Blue leaned against the fence, flicking mud off his feathers, waiting. When Dexter came around the corner, he sidled up to him, and crooned, “Dexter, How do you do it? You look fitter and friskier all the time.”  

Dexter backed away from the muddy bird, with a look of disgust. He didn’t much like Blue or his bragging and crowing.  

Blue kept smiling. “I was chatting with Esmeralda the other day and we were wondering. Dexter, didn’t you used to be the best jumper in the pasture?” 

The ram snorted.

 “I’m still the best jumper in the pasture.” 

Blue scratched his comb. “Think so? They say young Maximus is as good – maybe even better than you were in your prime.” 

Dexter snorted and pawed the ground. In my prime? In my prime?! I’ll show them prime!” and he exploded into a run, jumping and snorting. With the seeds of jealousy sown, Blue strutted off, leaving them to grow.  

Blue dropped hints. “Have you seen those two rams jumping, trying to out-do each other? That young’un’s good, I’d put my money on Dexter.” 

Pretty soon, the animals were hankering for a contest, so he went to Dexter and Maximus. He set the match for noon on Saturday, and started taking bets.  

The animals placed bets till Blue’s bet book was about full. Then the ducks came in and placed the biggest bet of all, which was odd, because the ducks were known to be stingy with their corn. He was happy to take their money, because he knew Max was the best and he was going to make a killing. 

Blue said to Esmeralda, “Old Hank’s not been around – mad he didn’t come up with the idea first.” 

Saturday noon, the animals gathered in the pasture, except for Hank. Blue wanted to see the old gander’s face when Max won and he got rich. 

Just as Blue signaled the contest to start, the old gander strutted in, smiling as big as you please,  

The rams took off, jumping around like rabbits, but Maximus was at full throttle, taking three leaps for every one Dexter took. One jump, two jumps, five jumps, ten. Hootin’ and hollerin’ rang through the pasture. 

At the break Max was seven leaps ahead. Blue looked around, hoping to see Hank’s face, but he’d lost sight of him again.  

When the match started again, Dexter, who had paced himself, while Max ran full-steam, was going strong. Twelve jumps, fifteen, eighteen.  

But Max’s leaps were getting shorter and lower till he was more hopping than jumping. The crowd roared, when Dexter caught up, then screamed, “Dexter’s ahead!” Maximus gathered up all his strength, crouched, pushed off, but didn’t jump an inch. He fell and lay on the ground, while the animals cheered for Dexter. “Champ! Champ.” 

Maximus sat on the grass rubbing his hoof. Hank came by and said, “Tough break, Max. Maybe next year.” 

The ram groaned, “I wish Farmer Crenshaw would sell me to another farmer.”  Just then, a jagged piece of glass popped out of his hoof, and he yelled, “It wasn’t fair. I had glass in my hoof.” 

Hank patted his shoulder. “Tough break, Max. I can’t imagine how broken glass got in the pasture.” 

Poor Blue Tommy, was in the barnyard, settling bets, till he had just a tiny pile of corn. Two turkeys Blue didn’t know were coming his way. Then, he saw Hank was with them, and grinning big as daylight. Hank pulled out a burlap sack and dumped out all the ducks’ betting tickets.

“I’ve come to collect our winnings.”  

Hank had beat him again! Blue went crazy. He leapt at Hank with his claws out, aiming for the gander’s throat to tear it open, but the turkeys stepped up and spread their wings in front of him. 

Blue’s claws caught in the wings, and the birds shook him off to sprawl in the dust. “You owe me a pile more than what you have here. You’ll be months paying me off, but take a lesson, Blue, my boy. Don’t bet against me. You can’t trick a trickster.” 

With that, Hank swept what corn was left into his sack and turned to walk away. Blue stood up and brushed off his feathers, taking back his pride. “You’re the best cheater, but that’s nothing, you ugly old buzzard. The only contest you’d win without cheating is an ugly contest. You wouldn’t dare have a beauty contest. I’d bet on myself, and you’d see who’d walk away with the prize.” 

A sly smile came on Hank’s face. In his sneaking around, he’d heard Farmer Crenshaw talking, and he knew something Blue didn’t know.  

“A beauty contest, you say. Why, Blue, that’s a fine idea. I’ll set it up for one week from today.” 

“And that’s the end of the story,” said Uncle Gus, standing up. 

“No,” screamed the girl. The boy begged, “Tell us. What did Hank know?” 

“No, I’ve got chores to do. That’s a story for another day.” 

August 6, 2019