Jean smiled as she gazed outside. It was a fine day. Having just put the washing out on the line she went into the kitchen and opened a window. It was near lunch time and she expected everyone home. As she began to slice bread and leftover roast for sandwiches, she could hear the familiar sound of tires on gravel rolling up the driveway. It was some time before the front door swung open, so long that Jean had almost forgotten she had heard the car.
"Lucien!" Jean called out over her shoulder as she was setting out plates, "Lunch will be in a few minutes."
"Excellent. Um, Jean."
Jean didn't look up. "Mmm?"
His more definitive tone made her turn around. Raising her head to meet his gaze, her eyes grew wide and she let out a soft exclamation, dropping the plate in her hand. It settled harmlessly on the table but Jean did not seem to notice.
"What is that?!"
Lucien looked down at the bundle he was cradling in his arms.
"It's a chicken."
"Yes I can see it's a chicken. Why do you have one, and what's it doing in the house?"
"Well, I was at a house call this morning out on the Dunster's farm. Cindy Dunster had called and asked me to check up on her elderly mother. I'm afraid she's not doing very well. I prescribed something to ease her breathing but I don't think she has long. She's past eighty. She will need to go to a facility soon and receive skilled nursing treatment unless Cindy wants to try and care for her at home."
"Lucien! I'm sorry to hear that but it doesn't explain anything."
"Right, sorry. Anyhow, it appears the Dunsters have fallen on hard times. Late frost did a lot of damage to their crops. Cindy didn't think they could pay me. So she gave me a chook instead."
Jean rolled her eyes.
"And you just took it?"
Lucien looked back down at the bird. "Apparently. I didn't really think I could refuse." Lucien grinned. "I'll tell you I had a dickens of a time getting her out of the car. She's quite feisty!"
Jean's mouth hung open.
"You let a chicken run loose in your fathers car?"
"Well I had to get it here somehow and..." Lucien's voice trailed off when he noticed Jean's expression. "I, uh, I'll go towel the car down after lunch, shall I?"
"Yes Lucien, I think you should. After you return that thing."
"I can't do that, Jean. I accepted her as payment. You used to live on a farm, you'll know what to do with her."
Lucien stood up tall and jutted his chin out, attempting to look dignified despite the large bird tucked under his arm. Jean stared down at the offending creature which stared back at her, surprisingly placid. It truly was a fine specimen, with iridescent black feathers tinged with green, rust highlights along the neck and wings, a bright red comb, and a luxurious curled black tail. Jean was unmoved.
"It's livestock. It doesn't belong in a house."
"Well it could live outside. We could name her. Chicken Little. Or Redburn. That's it, Redburn. A noble name for a noble chook."
Jean started to redden around the ears. "Let's name it Hopeless because there is nothing to do for it. Lucien, chickens don't just wander around in the driveway. They need a pen, and feed. And what will the neighbors think of the noise?"
Lucien puffed out his chest. "I'm sure free eggs will more than make up for the inconvenience."
Jean sighed, "Lucien. You do know this is a male, right?"
"A male, Lucien. A rooster! It doesn't lay eggs. Roosters are only good for one thing."
Lucien opened his mouth to respond and Jean cut him off, "Dinner!"
"Oh Jean, you wouldn't. Just look at her. Him."
Jean's voice grew sharp.
"At what, the unwanted chook sitting a few meters from my cutting board? What else am I supposed to do with him?"
"But it's not just a chicken, it's a Barnevelder. A very fine breed, or so I was told."
"It's poultry! And you're a doctor not Farmer Brown."
The phone rang. Jean gave a pleading look to the heavens, strutting by Lucien it pick it up.
"Why hello Superintendent...yes, he's here...really, right now? I don't suppose it could wait, his hands are rather full at the moment. Yes, I know he's on call...well it's not my fault a man was murdered..."
Lucien reached across her and plucked the phone from her hand, the rooster still tucked under one arm. "I'll take that, thank you!"
After a brief conversation Lucien hung up the phone. He looked at Jean sheepishly.
"It appears I'm needed just outside town."
Jean backed away, alarmed.
"Oh no you don't."
"Nonsense, Jean you are an experienced farm hand. You'll know what to do. Just keep an eye on Mr. Hopeless here and we'll sort it out when I get home tonight."
Lucien thrust out the chicken towards Jean. The chicken suddenly became far less sanguine about the situation and attempted to take off in the kitchen, making several loops while Jean chased after a bundle of angry clucking feathers. He finally settled on the kitchen table, standing on top of the tray of roast beef sandwiches.
Lucien looked up at Jean in terror. Jean's face was bright red. The rooster seemed angry too.
"Right. I have to go. Police business."
He quickly fled the house.
When Lucien came home that evening he carefully inched the door open, hoping to sneak by unnoticed. He padded carefully down the hallway, daring a quick glance toward the kitchen. He was relieved to be greeted by Jean with a placid smile. Feeling a little less scared for his life, Lucien stood in the kitchen entrance. Mattie and Charlie were already sitting down to dinner.
"Everything ok there?"
Jean turned towards him, wiping her hands on her apron. "Oh yes. You know I decided you were right. Once a farmer, always a farmer. I don't know what I was worried about. But heavens it took all day."
Lucien puffed out his chest and tugged on his waistcoat. "Well, I'm glad. And something smells wonderful! What is it?"
"Dinner. You can carve if you don't mind."
Jean bent down and opened the oven, producing a roasted chicken with veg and set the pan down on a trivet in front of Lucien. Lucien stared in horror.
Jean was slicing up bread at the counter and didn't look up.
"She was only here a few hours. You could have at least taken the time to get to know her!"
"Fine, him! He was our guest!"
"Lucien it's a chook not a new lodger."
Charlie leaned over towards Mattie, "I'm glad nobody did that to me when I moved in."
Mattie giggled in response. Lucien continued to gape at the pan in front of him while Jean set out more food, seeming to look everywhere but at him. Suddenly a screech pierced the air.
Lucien shouted, "What the bloody hell is that?"
Jean looked over her should. "That's Hopeless."
Lucien gestured towards the roasting pan. "Then what's this?"
Jean looked at him as if he were a little thick, "That's dinner."
"So then what took all day?"
"Rigging up a temporary pen in the sun room. Mattie helped. I don't have any proper feed but he has some water and he'll be fine until Mrs. Pruitt comes by tomorrow."
"Yes. I remembered her telling me in church last Sunday that their prize rooster died, and I think Mr. Hopeless out there just might fit the bill. I got a good price for him too. Two dozen eggs."
Jean put her hands on her hips and looked proud of herself. Lucien pointed back towards the sun room.
"That chook was payment for an entire house call."
"Well then why don't you take him down to the meat market tomorrow and see what you can get for him. Less than the cost of two dozen eggs I'll wager."
The rooster crowed again. Jean pulled a slice of bread off of Lucien's plate and held it out to him.
"I'll tell you what, if you're so concerned about the animal you can take him his dinner. Charlie can carve the chicken."
Lucien stood up, pushing his chair away from the table as he did so. He paused to look at Jean and sighed heavily.
"I should have known it would be hopeless."
Lucien took the piece of bread out of Jean's hand and headed into the sun room.