The plain yellow chicken stalks the green sward with the other plain yellow chickens and a few baroque brown ones with their curling feathers and arching necks. Moving through the grass, they fan out across garden and pasture and compost pile, pausing to warm their reptile feet in its heat. They work tirelessly, clearing stubble and stalk of every small crawling thing too slow for their sharp black eyes and scratching pink toes.
Their eyes cast down, they do not see the fox step out of the trees at the edge of the wood, but the mares see. They push their velvet noses under the pasture fence to watch as the ragged fox pounces. The bird is fat, perhaps the fox is young, and the horses gaze, rapt, unperturbed, upon the struggle that should not be a struggle. The other chickens hasten on heavy wings away, away—up the hill, down the hill, into the low branches of the very trees that sheltered the fox—with no thought of their stricken sister, or her shrieking cries, or her fruitlessly beating wings.
Now the barn cat, hardly bigger than a yellow chicken, becomes the unlikely hero of this tale, entering the fray and driving the feckless fox back into the trees. But the cat does not exult in her triumph. The mares do not gaze at each other in amazement. The chicken is not grateful for her rescue. She is hurt but not mortally hurt. A day or two in the safety of the coop, and she will be fine.
Or she would be but for her sisters, who cannot, will not, leave her alone. On this hill there is a pecking order, and it is not a metaphor. The hens, not the fox, are now her enemies, the plain yellow chickens and the ornate brown ones alike. They surround her like a Biblical whore fated for stoning. She cannot live here safely alone, and she cannot live safely with her flock. The hands that fling the corn will dress her for supper, and the fox will go hungry tonight.