Bill, the Ventriloquial Rooster by Henry Lawson
"When we were up country on the selection, we had a rooster at our
place, named Bill," said Mitchell; "a big mongrel of no particular
breed, though the old lady said he was a `brammer' — and many an
argument she had with the old man about it too; she was just as
stubborn and obstinate in her opinion as the governor was in his.
But, anyway, we called him Bill, and didn't take any particular
notice of him till a cousin of some of us came from Sydney on a visit
to the country, and stayed at our place because it was cheaper than
stopping at a pub. Well, somehow this chap got interested in Bill,
and studied him for two or three days, and at last he says:
"`Why, that rooster's a ventriloquist!'
"`Go along with yer!'
"`But he is. I've heard of cases like this before; but this is the
first I've come across. Bill's a ventriloquist right enough.'
"Then we remembered that there wasn't another rooster within five
miles — our only neighbour, an Irishman named Page, didn't have one
at the time — and we'd often heard another cock crow, but didn't
think to take any notice of it. We watched Bill, and sure enough he
WAS a ventriloquist. The `ka-cocka' would come all right, but the
`co-ka-koo-oi-oo' seemed to come from a distance. And sometimes the
whole crow would go wrong, and come back like an echo that had been
lost for a year. Bill would stand on tiptoe, and hold his elbows out,
and curve his neck, and go two or three times as if he was swallowing
nest-eggs, and nearly break his neck and burst his gizzard; and then
there'd be no sound at all where he was — only a cock crowing in the
"And pretty soon we could see that Bill was in great trouble about
it himself. You see, he didn't know it was himself — thought it was
another rooster challenging him, and he wanted badly to find that
other bird. He would get up on the wood-heap, and crow and listen —
crow and listen again — crow and listen, and then he'd go up to the
top of the paddock, and get up on the stack, and crow and listen
there. Then down to the other end of the paddock, and get up on a
mullock-heap, and crow and listen there. Then across to the other
side and up on a log among the saplings, and crow 'n' listen some
more. He searched all over the place for that other rooster, but, of
course, couldn't find him. Sometimes he'd be out all day crowing and
listening all over the country, and then come home dead tired, and
rest and cool off in a hole that the hens had scratched for him in a
damp place under the water-cask sledge.
"Well, one day Page brought home a big white rooster, and when he
let it go it climbed up on Page's stack and crowed, to see if there
was any more roosters round there. Bill had come home tired; it was a
hot day, and he'd rooted out the hens, and was having a spell-oh under
the cask when the white rooster crowed. Bill didn't lose any time
getting out and on to the wood-heap, and then he waited till he heard
the crow again; then he crowed, and the other rooster crowed again,
and they crowed at each other for three days, and called each other
all the wretches they could lay their tongues to, and after that they
implored each other to come out and be made into chicken soup and
feather pillows. But neither'd come. You see, there were THREE crows
— there was Bill's crow, and the ventriloquist crow, and the white
rooster's crow — and each rooster thought that there was TWO roosters
in the opposition camp, and that he mightn't get fair play, and,
consequently, both were afraid to put up their hands.
"But at last Bill couldn't stand it any longer. He made up his
mind to go and have it out, even if there was a whole agricultural
show of prize and honourable-mention fighting-cocks in Page's yard.
He got down from the wood-heap and started off across the ploughed
field, his head down, his elbows out, and his thick awkward legs
prodding away at the furrows behind for all they were worth.
"I wanted to go down badly and see the fight, and barrack for Bill.
But I daren't, because I'd been coming up the road late the night
before with my brother Joe, and there was about three panels of
turkeys roosting along on the top rail of Page's front fence; and we
brushed 'em with a bough, and they got up such a blessed gobbling fuss
about it that Page came out in his shirt and saw us running away; and
I knew he was laying for us with a bullock whip. Besides, there was
friction between the two families on account of a thoroughbred bull
that Page borrowed and wouldn't lend to us, and that got into our
paddock on account of me mending a panel in the party fence, and
carelessly leaving the top rail down after sundown while our cows was
moving round there in the saplings.
"So there was too much friction for me to go down, but I climbed a
tree as near the fence as I could and watched. Bill reckoned he'd
found that rooster at last. The white rooster wouldn't come down from
the stack, so Bill went up to him, and they fought there till they
tumbled down the other side, and I couldn't see any more. Wasn't I
wild? I'd have given my dog to have seen the rest of the fight. I
went down to the far side of Page's fence and climbed a tree there,
but, of course, I couldn't see anything, so I came home the back way.
Just as I got home Page came round to the front and sung out, `Insoid
there!' And me and Jim went under the house like snakes and looked out
round a pile. But Page was all right — he had a broad grin on his
face, and Bill safe under his arm. He put Bill down on the ground
very carefully, and says he to the old folks:
"`Yer rooster knocked the stuffin' out of my rooster, but I bear no
malice. 'Twas a grand foight.'
"And then the old man and Page had a yarn, and got pretty friendly
after that. And Bill didn't seem to bother about any more
ventriloquism; but the white rooster spent a lot of time looking for
that other rooster. Perhaps he thought he'd have better luck with him.
But Page was on the look-out all the time to get a rooster that would
lick ours. He did nothing else for a month but ride round and enquire
about roosters; and at last he borrowed a game-bird in town, left five
pounds deposit on him, and brought him home. And Page and the old man
agreed to have a match — about the only thing they'd agreed about for
five years. And they fixed it up for a Sunday when the old lady and
the girls and kids were going on a visit to some relations, about
fifteen miles away — to stop all night. The guv'nor made me go with
them on horseback; but I knew what was up, and so my pony went lame
about a mile along the road, and I had to come back and turn him out
in the top paddock, and hide the saddle and bridle in a hollow log,
and sneak home and climb up on the roof of the shed. It was a awful
hot day, and I had to keep climbing backward and forward over the
ridge-pole all the morning to keep out of sight of the old man, for he
was moving about a good deal.
"Well, after dinner, the fellows from roundabout began to ride in
and hang up their horses round the place till it looked as if there
was going to be a funeral. Some of the chaps saw me, of course, but I
tipped them the wink, and they gave me the office whenever the old man
"Well, Page came along with his game-rooster. Its name was Jim.
It wasn't much to look at, and it seemed a good deal smaller and
weaker than Bill. Some of the chaps were disgusted, and said it wasn't
a game-rooster at all; Bill'd settle it in one lick, and they wouldn't
have any fun.
"Well, they brought the game one out and put him down near the
wood-heap, and rousted Bill out from under his cask. He got
interested at once. He looked at Jim, and got up on the wood-heap and
crowed and looked at Jim again. He reckoned THIS at last was the fowl
that had been humbugging him all along. Presently his trouble caught
him, and then he'd crow and take a squint at the game 'un, and crow
again, and have another squint at gamey, and try to crow and keep his
eye on the game-rooster at the same time. But Jim never committed
himself, until at last he happened to gape just after Bill's whole
crow went wrong, and Bill spotted him. He reckoned he'd caught him
this time, and he got down off that wood-heap and went for the foe.
But Jim ran away — and Bill ran after him.
"Round and round the wood-heap they went, and round the shed, and
round the house and under it, and back again, and round the wood-heap
and over it and round the other way, and kept it up for close on an
hour. Bill's bill was just within an inch or so of the game-rooster's
tail feathers most of the time, but he couldn't get any nearer, do how
he liked. And all the time the fellers kept chyackin Page and singing
out, `What price yer game 'un, Page! Go it, Bill! Go it, old cock!'
and all that sort of thing. Well, the game-rooster went as if it was
a go-as-you-please, and he didn't care if it lasted a year. He didn't
seem to take any interest in the business, but Bill got excited, and
by-and-by he got mad. He held his head lower and lower and his wings
further and further out from his sides, and prodded away harder and
harder at the ground behind, but it wasn't any use. Jim seemed to
keep ahead without trying. They stuck to the wood-heap towards the
last. They went round first one way for a while, and then the other
for a change, and now and then they'd go over the top to break the
monotony; and the chaps got more interested in the race than they
would have been in the fight — and bet on it, too. But Bill was
handicapped with his weight. He was done up at last; he slowed down
till he couldn't waddle, and then, when he was thoroughly knocked up,
that game-rooster turned on him, and gave him the father of a hiding.
"And my father caught me when I'd got down in the excitement, and
wasn't thinking, and HE gave ME the step-father of a hiding. But he
had a lively time with the old lady afterwards, over the cock-fight.
"Bill was so disgusted with himself that he went under the cask and