To Rule the Roost
by Becky Sue Jordan of Hillsboro, TN, age 13
The turmoil had been going on for a week. I never knew five chickens could make so much racket. I guessed that their being relatives had something to do with it. Providence was the father of Poor Richard, and Loretta was Providence’s wife. Lenny was Richard’s wife, and Benny Hen was Lenny’s twin sister. The whole bunch of them lived right beside my doghouse. Yes, the close relations must have had something to do with it.
It was the eighth day since the turmoil had been going on when Loretta told me that she wanted to talk. So I sat on the outside of the chicken gate and she in the inside. Loretta is what I call a dumb blonde and a prissy. Hear me, I have nothing wrong with blondes unless they act dumb. She knew I didn’t like her and said, “Even though you do not like me, and neither I you, I have decided that peace must come and it can come by only one way. Can you guess what that way is?”
“Providence,” I said.
“No, I am afraid this is one case Providence can not solve. Do you even know what the problem is?”
“No, but I meant God and not your husband. God is the Way, you know, and He brings peace.”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “I do, indeed, know. Well, the problem is that Richard has decided he can rule the roost.”
“Oh,” I said. “What do you want me to do?”
“Help us. Have a court case. Anything.”
The birdhouse was only a little way from the chicken house. I had seen both Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird and Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow there, having a war over who got the house, a war that came every spring.
“Good morning. How are ya’ll?” I asked, even though I knew already they weren’t so fine, and no it wasn’t such a fine morning.
“Ain’t got no time for no dog, Smarty,” Mr. Sparrow said to me. And then to Mr. Bluebird, “Come on, Big Bird, continue the fight.”
“I think we can find some time. How are you doing, Esau?” asked Mr. Bluebird, also known as U.S. Male.
“Fine, thank you, but listen, both of you. The chickens are having relative problems. Richard wants to kick Providence out and rule the roost.”
“I see,” U.S. Male said. Mr. Sparrow just grunted.
“We’re going to have a court case. U.S., would you like to be Providence’s lawyer and you, Mr. Sparrow, be Richard’s?”
“I’d love to if I could find time. This evening might work.”
“Got a busy schedule. No time for dumb bums. But if you give me somethin’ in return,” he held out his wing, “you got yourself a deal.” I shook his wing and told him he could drink out of my water bucket any time he wanted, for a week.
“Alright,” I said. “Tonight at six. But you’ll have to meet with your clients before hand.” With that I left them to finish their war. After that I collected Mr. and Mrs. Wren and Mr. and Mrs. Mockingbird for the jury.
All evening from four to six o’clock, U.S. Male and Providence were mumbling together and Mr. Sparrow and Richard were grunting together. Mr. Sparrow put on his spectacles and kept writing things down with a long quill. Mrs. Bluebird and Mrs. Sparrow sat on the shed beside the chicken pen. The jury sat on the chicken fence, rocking back and forth. The three hens were reciting their story of the argument to themselves, for they were to be the witnesses.
I sat at the outside of the gate and waited. At six I brought the case to order.
“We are here,” I began, “to discuss the problems of Providence and Poor Richard. I am to be the judge; Mr. Bluebird, the lawyer of Providence; Mr. Sparrow-,” here Mr. Sparrow coughed to tell me to skip the details, but I ignored him –“Richard’s lawyer; the hens, witnesses; Mr. and Mrs. Wren and Mr. and Mrs. Mockingbird, the jury; and Mrs. Bluebird and Mrs. Sparrow, the on-lookers.
“I do not know how to run court cases, so I shall run it in my own fashion,” I said, looking at Mr. Sparrow. “We will begin by having Loretta come up.” She walked up to the gate with a prim air. “Loretta, do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing, but the truth, so God bring mercy to every last one of us?”
She coughed, rolled her eyes, and said, “Yes.”
“Now please tell the story as it is.”
“Well, one night Richard went in the house early. Then Lenny went in and we heard her say, ‘Richard, why are you up there?’ And he said, ‘Come on up, Lenny. It’s time I rule the roost around here.’ Providence heard that and went up to look. There was Richard on the roost! I saw him with my own eyes. And he’s been trying to rule the roost from then on.”
“Thank you. You may sit down now. Benny.” Benny Hen walked up. I swore her in and then said, “Now tell me your side of the story, and quit making that noise!” Benny was a squeak box.
“Well, Friday night-or was it Saturday-no-yes-”
“It doesn’t matter. Those kind of details don’t.” Benny’s story was the same as Loretta’s, except that she wasn’t sure if Lenny went in the house before Richard or not, and she added that that night there were arguments until midnight.
Lenny’s story added up to the others, but she said that Providence should hand the authority over to Richard. At this Richard nodded and Providence went after him. When I’d called the case to order again, I said, “Witnesses should not have opinions. Mr. Sparrow let’s hear your notes.”
He coughed, fixed his spectacles and read, “Providence is an old, controlling man who thinks he owes the world nothin’, but owns it. He has gray hair, grown-up children, and coming on grand children.”
At this Providence interrupted, “Lenny, you never told me,” he said.
“I never knew,” Lenny answered, still looking at Mr. Sparrow.
“He should not be making decisions when he’s half-blind, half-deaf, and losing his head. Signed Mr. R.W. Sparrow.” Loretta had to hold Providence back so he and Sparrow wouldn’t fight.
“Mr. Bluebird, please,” I said. He and Providence must have memorized every word that they were going to say. “Providence has his faults just as everyone else does. He admits that himself.” U.S. looked at Providence, who nodded. “But he goes by the rules. And the rule he uses here is-” he looked at Providence again.
“Let one die before the other takes office, authority, or any other government seat,” Providence said.
“He is much aware,” U.S. continued, “that Richard wants to take this government seat, but as the rule says, Providence must die first.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Would everyone but the jury please go into the chicken house?” When they were all in the chicken house, the jury and I went into my doghouse.
“We will do this as a vote,” I said. “Who votes for Providence?” Mr. and Mrs. Wren and I raised our wings and paw. “Richard?” Mr. and Mrs. Mockingbird raised their wings. “Providence wins,” I said.
A new fight had begun between Mr. Wren and Mr. Mockingbird. Mrs. Wren and Mrs. Mockingbird sat in the tree calling each other names. Mrs. Wren would say something mean to Mrs. Mockingbird and Mrs. Mockingbird would echo it right back to her. The mockingbird in her, I guess.
I walked over to the chicken house. “Every one, please come out,” I said. I heard something that sounded like ten horses running and then Mr. Sparrow poked his head out. Providence bulldozed over him and the rest followed. When everyone was in order I said, “I am here to announce-Providence shall rule until he dies.”
There was an uproar and it took me awhile to realize what was going on. Providence was racing Richard around the chicken pen, two laps a second. U.S. Male and Mr. Sparrow were in a fight that was over something other than birdhouses, although I think that had something to do with it. Mrs. Bluebird was cheering for U.S. Male and Mrs. Sparrow for Mr. Sparrow. It was a sorry sight and standing right there in the middle of it all was a poor dog, who had tried to solve a fight, didn’t succeed in that, and had started two more. I laid down, sighed, and whispered to myself, “Case closed.”