As they were feeding the fowls Miriam came out. The boys took no notice of her. One hen, with her yellow chickens, was in a coop. Maurice took his hand full of corn and let the hen peck from it.
'Durst you do it?' he asked of Paul.
'Let's see,' said Paul.
He had a small hand, warm, and rather capable-looking. Miriam watched. He held the corn to the hen. The bird eyed it with her hard, bright eye, and suddenly made a peck into his hand. He started, and laughed. 'Rap, rap, rap!' went the bird's beak in his palm. He laughed again, and the other boys joined.
'She knocks you, and nips you, but she never hurts,' said Paul, when the last corn had gone.
'Now, Miriam,' said Maurice, 'you come an' 'ave a go.'
'No,' she cried, shrinking back.
'Ha! baby. The mardy-kid!' said her brothers.
'It doesn't hurt a bit', said Paul. 'It only just nips rather nicely.'
'No,' she still cried, shaking her black curls and shrinking.
'She durs n't,' said Geoffrey. 'She niver durst do anything except recite poitry.'
'Durs n't jump off a gate, durs n't tweeedle, durs n't go on a slide, durs n't stop a girl hittin' her. She can do nowt but go about thinkin' herself somebody. 'The Lady of the Lake.' Yah!' cried Maurice.
Miriam was crimson with shame and misery.
'I dare do more than you,' she cried. 'You're never anything but cowards and bullies.' 'Oh, cowards and bullies!' they repeated, mincingly mocking her speech.
'Not such a clown shall anger me,
A boor is answered silently'
he quoted against her, shouting with laughter. She went indoors.
Sons and Lovers was written by DH Lawrence in 1913. It is set in working class Nottinghamshire in the early 20th century, and tells the story of a young man reaching adulthood.
mardy-kid a bad-tempered or complaining child
The Lady of the Lake a romantic poem by Sir Walter Scott