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54: Choices

It’s difficult to find the means
Of implementing treasured dreams
When others’ welfare intervenes

A little southerly from Shalisa Creek Bay a small sheltered cove cut itself into the coastline where Land ran down to Sea and dabbled its feet gently in the waves which washed its shore. Land appeared not to be overly influenced by Wind and Sea there, seeming serenely indifferent to Weather as Tide came and went his way day after day and season after season. This attitude was aided in its furtherance by a long, low, grass-tufted islet which sat in front of the cove, mitigating the force of Sea, and protecting the little inlet where it tucked itself into its coastal niche.

     It seemed as though Nature had carved with less force here, as though by way of trial, before creating more stupendously rugged coastlines farther northward with her heftier tools of roaring Wind, torrential Rain, crashing Sea and scouring Sand. Even during violent storms when angry water broke its usual truce with shoreline and rolled up the quiet slope as though it had intentions of engulfing it all, it lay calmly green or brown, retreating softly upward as Sea came on, always keeping distance between itself and unruly Tide.

     There was just too much of it, lounging there leaning on its elbow, stretched out comfortably sloped, always out of reach, and Sea had to give up the endeavour.

     Rocks of any size did not know this stretch of beach, and the little protective islet successfully blocked the force of Southeaster and heavy Tide, so that Land and Sea had agreed to keep a certain amount of neutrality between themselves, which was unusual for that part of the coast.

     Visitors coming to the cove by salt water transport made their way around the fronting islet and, having come behind it, they could anchor there and go ashore by dinghy, beaching their small craft on the gravelly beach to easily offload themselves. Fastening their painter to the many old and greying soggers, both cut and uprooted, which also acted to turn away the force of wave action along the curving shore, they could then enjoy a quiet, undemanding stroll up the slope.

     Beyond the reach of Sea and farther up from the tideline of the resting slope, fruit trees and meadowland rolled back and away to a busy old farm which had been created and cared for by generations of one family.

     The first to work this land had seen it as sanctuary, a kinder place than the one they had left. They had come at a time when land was being given away free—with only one proviso—that those who dared to claim it for their own would spend their lives in unceasing toil to clear the rugged landscape and turn it into productive farmland. So many acres within a certain time limit of years was the requirement, after which—if the terms had been met—the land would be theirs.

     This contract, if kept, seemed to indicate that the place from which the claimants had come had been hard indeed, for this land was heavily treed, with formidable tangled undergrowth, and rocky, acidic earth which had to be cleared of tree roots once the giants were felled, and the area laboriously relieved of rocks, large and small. The trees though, provided material for housing, and the rocks made fine terracing to hold back the new earth from being washed into the sea.

     They fulfilled their part of the bargain with great energy, having known nothing but unceasing toil before, without much reward attached and certainly not the prospect of ownership. The thought of actually owning land, and so much of it, was a huge incentive, and the large family which took on the job swore that once it was theirs it would always belong to ‘family’.

     Up to this point that vow had been kept and it appeared that, with the plethora of people making up the family, there would be no problem with perpetuating the ongoing pledge. Some members might leave and take up other occupations in other places, but there was always ‘family’ left behind, willing and able to enjoy the life their forebears had left them as their legacy.

     Those who remained often asked themselves why anyone would want to leave this rich diversity of sea and sky and farm, graced with the bounty of the hard work which had gone before—food from sea and land, a climate which smiled on that southern piece of coast, and the promise of freedom to work each day as it came without hindrance from others ordering them about and telling them what to do.

     Maybe it was just that last bit about freedom which prompted some of the youthful family member workers to have a try at something else. Somebody had to make sure everything got done and be boss for this sprawling enterprise, so that when it came to being boss—the boss was bossy. He had to be. Fair and even-handed but—very firm. To some it appeared that the long-standing dictum had been compromised, and they felt that maybe injustice had snuck in somewhere over the years as to just who was free to do as they pleased without orders. Whatever the reasoning, some left for other places.

     It would seem that all families have their share of young people who want to experience something other. This family certainly had its number and they went to it with a will. Country life, after all, still demands hard labour, and doesn’t offer the excitement and activities of a city where, it is said, living is easier and more fun—with no boss—if a person is able to obtain a profession, or start their own business.

     Some found that proposition to be a fallacy and came back home.

     The country lovers noted with interest that, whenever holiday time came along, city living seemed to lose its charm. Trips offshore for the city dwellers had certainly been worked over, but for some this pleasure had become too expensive, too noisy, too harassing, and when the destination was reached after tiring travel there were no cheerful relatives to make them welcome at the end of the journey and offer hospitality—for free.

     The farm was a welcoming spa more than occasionally, even if the visitors did have to pitch in and help with things. It offered something different to be thought about when they returned to their overly structured lives and started planning for their next holiday—possibly offshore again if they could save up the money and air miles.

     It was clear that some of the grandchildren preferred to run around on the farm in jeans and tee shirts frolicking with the cows, chickens et al, and often that was where they ended up when Mom and Dad wanted a holiday to themselves once in awhile, or were simply fed up with listening to protests from the very young family members about—’Why do I have to wear all this silly stuff—I don’t like aeroplanes—they’re boring—I want to go to Grandma’s’. The unspoken trailer to that being—and get dirty without being hauled off and scrubbed up the minute it happens.

     It was here in the hard-won green fields of work and play that Daisy the Cow lived with others of her kind, along with her friends the dogs of many names, the independent cats, petted and loved by everyone and refusing to answer to any name although they were given them, chickens and ducks and geese picked on by hawks and eagles and raccoons, a donkey named Garibaldi who had been abandoned by its original owners because he ate too much, brayed loudly and unmusically, had lost his ‘cute’ baby donkey look and was too stubborn, and an ancient horse named ‘Wow’ because at the time of her birth she was unexpected—now spending her well-earned retirement lolling literally in clover and fine green grass.

     In among this collection wandered a couple of llamas, boy type, quickly named Spit and Polish, who were no longer needed on the home ranch from which they had been expelled, having been outdone by a superior male of their kind, and also because they were now considered to be an expensive nuisance as eating machines. The means of the service they had rendered so faithfully had been rendered unserviceable before they were heartlessly turfed out, and they had been accompanied by two little smiling, sturdy-legged alpacas from the same source and type of servitude, unnamed when they arrived at the farm, but soon called Butter and Cream according to their colour.

     These most recent fortunate dwellers intermingled with some sheep, their four long, elegant necks rising high and above the sheepish and more obedient crowd, many of whom had been orphans, unwanted by busy herdsmen and nursed up from the brink of extinction with bottle feeding by the cheerful recipients of the cull, like the two angora goats, who went about looking independent and superior.

     Although the humane element in all this care and attention for unwanted and abandoned animals had been genuine there had also been an eye to economic benefit. A freebie was a freebie and this farm operation always latched on to a good deal when they saw one. This flock of wooly and opulently well-coated farm residents offered material which, when sheared, helped to bring in a more than reasonable income to pay for their keep, adding to the efforts of their other fellow barnyard inhabitants.

     Much of the farm’s mix of livestock had been ‘donated’ by people who simply tired of the fun of having a pony or pet of any kind. Pets, they had found out, became a drag and a nuisance, requiring constant care and feeding, unable to be left alone to take care of themselves. Therefore these animals were fobbed off as so much excess baggage to whomever would take them, their needs and wants being handed over with relief and indifference to people who regarded the unwanted creatures as individuals, who were to be treated as such, and given a home and kindness. For this they returned their shaggy coats, their eggs, milk, labour, or just their love if no other commodity was within their capacity.

     The fruit trees, herb and market garden, sprawled around adding their help to the income take, and the whole lot got on organically well, helping each other out, the stationary green growing type offering fodder to the other peripatetic roamers who reciprocated with lots of fertiliser to keep their groceries coming.

     Added to all this liveliness were the wild residents who managed to get themselves into trouble. Deer fawns got abandoned one way or another, and no young person was going to leave one to starve by the wayside. They were brought home and cared for until they were able to fend for themselves, at which time they were turned loose again, expected to go happily back to their wild roots, but they generally hung around the place, knowing very well when they were well off.

     Eagles and ravens were found with bullet holes in them which hadn’t quite finished them off, or they turned up somewhere around with broken wings from unknown causes, or got caught in barbed wire fences—the kind this farm didn’t use. Baby raccoons came around begging—no mother attached. Speculation about the origin of much of this mayhem fell on a neighbour who wasn’t quite as kindly inclined toward predators and poachers—those which went after chickens, or helped themselves to grain and fodder intended for farm animals.

     Spiders, snakes and lizards were regarded as important friends for keeping greedy bugs at bay—themselves being considered non-invasive. To provide sustenance for these interesting freeloaders most of the bugs themselves were allowed to come and go as they pleased—mostly—except when a group got out of hand, like the earwigs one year which had to be dealt with because they were demolishing the bean patch. Flower pots, stuffed with tissue paper and hung upside down on sticks low to the ground lured these villains into hiding there for the day and they were subsequently—dispatched—in soapy water, with feelings of guilt attached by the dispatchers to send them on their way.

     Swallow houses of many colours hung under eaves of houses and outbuildings, along with Mason bee condos, these latter being recent additions since the wild bees were becoming few and far between. Once more the neighbour came in for it, being accused of using pesticides, and so the blue-black bee cousins were introduced, because they didn’t fly far enough to get into trouble and did a better job of pollination where crops were concerned. Honey though, was becoming scarce in the vicinity as the Masons seemed more interested in filling their condos with their prospective young and walling them up carefully than worrying about making the world sweet.

     Fishing also added to the take in season, the skiff being shored up on the beach idly enjoying its leisure under a tarp when not in use. Since it was an accessory rather than a mainstay, it went out on the water only when the farmer skipper figured it was safe. Fishing in small craft with reel and rod though, was industriously pursued.

     The family which lived in this benevolent location kept it all going more or less smoothly using old equipment which continued to operate with the help of farm wisdom, which contended that since the machinery had been put together by humans other humans could pull it apart and fix it when it broke, which they did. Not much of the rolling stock was new, everything being mostly of the heirloom variety handed down from the ongoing family groups, one to the next.

     All of it was treasured.

     The whole establishment was an antique dealer’s dream-find, except that the owners of all this tantalising and delightful mélange just kept on using it and wouldn’t let go of it. Linen sheets owned and embroidered by great-grandmother, getting thin from use, still graced some of the beds when company came. Kitchen utensils, many of which went even farther back in time still did their daily duty. Copper pots and pans, enamelled ladles and baking containers, and ancient work-saving devices of many kinds were utilised as though the only value they had was to be useful.

     Silverware of old vintage, shiny, not from being polished but from constant washing and drying and contact with many hands and mouths, was carefully closed away in its big varnished case waiting to be used for guests or on festive occasions. The tines of the forks were rounded gracefully from wear, some of the spoon bowls were a little flat on the tips from ringing against dishes and cups, and a knife handle or two were a bit loose, but they were laid out carefully and lovingly, on the handmade heirloom lace tablecloth, beside the old china, the chips which some pieces possessed being regarded as lovely patina put there by past family members, the occasion of the chipping being recalled every so often, with laughter about its happening, and every guilty family member was remembered for their offence, no matter how far back or recent the event.

     The idea that selling any of this would bring in considerable amounts of money never seemed to occur to anyone. Why would they sell it when they needed it all?

     This was one family which new its history and the history of everything it owned and nobody longed for anything else. Glasses were mourned when they broke. Cups without handles were cheerfully used without same. Chairs were repaired and upholstered pieces recovered whenever needed, along with everything else. Things got made, and recycling, thought of by others as a recent innovation, had been in effect as far back as memory could reach. Clothes which were outgrown by growing children got handed on to smaller growing family members. Repaired belongings and patches on clothing were rife like fish and fools in the sea.

     Extra money, when there was any, was regarded with amazement and ploughed back into the daily operations. Steady income was necessary for taxes and schooling and fuel for the machinery and other ongoing expenses like that. Money beyond those necessities was a bonanza. The word ‘credit’ was odious, but it was spoken when pressing necessity loomed.

     Otherwise the farm was self-sufficient. Nothing went to waste. Like thrifty small farms everywhere this one supplied food, shelter, adequate income for a modest living—and endless worry about the weather, possible crop failure, sick animals and people, unexpected emergencies and rough spots in the world economy which might run them into the red where accounting was concerned.

     This year the tent caterpillars had moved in on the apple trees, black blight had hit the tomatoes, the old tractor needed new brakes, and the pumphouse needed new everything, having been flattened somewhat by a falling tree but, along with a few other incidental small calamities which arose, it was considered not a bad season, all things considered. The sun shone, the rain fell, birds and butterflies arrived and left when they were supposed to, chickens laid eggs, crops of various sorts got harvested and sold and, when long grey winter rains came, the wood stove glowed warm, supplied by the back ten acres of sustainable ‘forest’, of which alder was the mainstay. It grew fast and was cut with a judicious eye to the future.

     It was a tough life, but these farm dwellers considered it a good one.

- - -

From this long established, busy household six little chickens were expected to be launched to new homes and owners—the eager and exuberant children from Shalisa Creek Bay.

     ‘Chickies’ would be arriving at the bay this day!

     The old shed which had been overhauled to house the newcomers could hardly wait to take charge of its tenants. It was now a thing of beauty—if any chicken house can be thought of in that way. Each nest had a name plate awaiting its occupier—names to be added as they were bestowed. There was fresh straw in each nest—somewhat prematurely but with future use in mind. Containers of scratch and feed were ready in a small stall at the side of the building, and a fenced-in run of generous proportions awaited the arrivals, but before the nests could be occupied or the run utilised the preparations for the little chicks to live and grow had taken up some floor space.

     A brooder to keep the little residents warm, gravity fed water and feed setup had been built. The adults had been ‘consulted’ at last and everything had fallen into place in spite of the young architects and their flights of fancy. Never mind that it was all decorated like a fairy tale, and some of it was downright useless. It was presumed that ‘chickies’ would appreciate all this artistic, imaginative and well-meant preparation immensely and, furthermore, since the addition of adult input—the essentials worked.

     Isabel, it was conceded, had done yeoman’s service keeping all the bits and pieces together, and it had been her idea that maybe Uncle Doc could take them to visit the place where the chicks were coming from ahead of time, so that everyone could maybe get a few pointers about looking after the little birds and maybe a better sense of what they were getting into.

     What they got into when they hit Daisy’s farm after Armand had consented and taken them and some supervisory Bay adults on this sally one sunny day, was everything, Daisy first.

     The beautiful big Jersey cow was used to children. In fact she looked forward to visits from young people. It was great to be petted and patted and called beautiful and thanked for all that milk, cream and butter. Actually, some of that came from a few other cow residents, but they were not as pettable or interested in children, so they stayed slightly aloof from this love-in—which they got dragged into anyway if they hung around too long. Daisy was the matriarch, her production reserved for special customers, and she had an enclosure of her own to be well tended in—dogs not allowed or woe betide them.

     Next, Wow the old horse got to play at being ridden again, very gently for both participants, as she seldom got past a slow amble now, and those on her back never expected anything else. It was enough that they were getting a ride on a horse. The apples she got for a reward and the attention from so many young people were all she expected for her trouble. It was play time.

     Next, the sheep and long-necked friends had to be visited, the geese and ducks admired as they waddled into the pond, complaining about having been disturbed from their quiet sunning, the donkey came up to make sure he got in on the fun, while various dogs and cats along the way asked for their share. Sticks got thrown for retrieving, purring mechanisms got a good workout and then, after buns and apple juice, it was remembered that the visit had been to find out all about how ‘chickies’ lived. There not being any little chickies around at the moment, the lessons and advice had to be demonstrated with big red hens instead, which wasn’t quite the same, but the advice was just as good.

     This day, however, the chicken house was to be the first item on the visitors’ list—in fact it was the sum total.

     Just after breakfast Armand loaded the six youngsters aboard METHUSELAH, and motored off to retrieve the much anticipated half-dozen. Sailing had been deftly sidetracked when suggested, as perhaps taking too long to get where they were going on this very special morning cruise. Armand knew better than to try teaching six youngsters all at once, cold turkey, how to sail a schooner.

     He was the lone adult on this cruise because every one of the other adults had agreed that this really was a day for the children to manage for themselves. They had brought their dream of chickie pets and the housing for them to such an amazing reality that nobody wanted to push their adult ideas onto the project just at its finish, although they were as interested about the conclusion of it as were the young people.

     This was Children’s Day—except for the necessity of Uncle Doc and his schooner. Choosing and bargaining was to be left to the ‘Saucy Six’, as Rose had dubbed them. Everyone thought the feeling of accomplishment which went along with this venture would give that sense of independence young people want to acquire as they go along their daily paths, without the omnipresence of adults, however good their advice might be. It was agreed that the feeling of, ‘There, I did it myself,’ would give an expansive and confident outlook to the very young, encouraging them to continue developing their already budding independence—results notwithstanding.

     Notwithstanding the sidetracking of sailing lessons, Armand found enough to do keeping track of six enthusiastic, active youngsters, even just motoring. Heron had told them about his first visit aboard JOLLY ROSE, and how he had climbed the ratlines, and there was nothing for it but everyone had to have a go at doing the same aboard METHUSELAH.

     Even though he had agreed with the other residents of the bay that the children wouldn’t be ‘put upon’ by adult supervision this was, after all, his ship, he ran a taut one, and took responsibility for everything going on aboard her. Doing a bit of chewing on his bottom lip, he watched anxiously as the youngsters went climbing up and down the rigging like so many agile monkeys, and he was grateful when every one of them returned safely to the deck.

     Then there was the ‘Hold me up so I can look over the railing better and see the waves go by’ request from the twins, and the obliging response from big sister and brother, allowing them to hang over the water—but when somebody suggested that they try launching the dinghy underway to make sure everything worked, that did it. There was a loud, “Oiy! Lay off that!” as Uncle Doc turned into Captain de Marincourt, who wasn’t about to allow a lot of unknowing amateurs to meddle with his emergency equipment, Children’s Day or not. He had his limits of safety and patience.

     An immediate lessening of experimental activity occurred as the six remembered that they were still obliged to listen when an adult spoke, even if it did happen to be good old Uncle Doc.

     There was no doubt about the relief Armand felt when the anchor was at last deployed behind the little islet and everyone got ashore. At least there, he figured, maybe skinned knees and a couple of other scrapes could be more easily taken care of than falls from rigging or retrieval from the sea.

     As they ascended the green slope they were met by a smiling chunky woman, one of the many family members who lived in the big, sprawling main house, a returnee who had married and given that profession up as unsuitable to her taste.

     “Hi Kids!” she called to them as they came up. “It’s a great morning isn’t it?”

     Having been assured by a chorus of young voices that it sure was, captain and crew were invited to come on up to the house and have a snack before the business of getting chickies was entered into. Along the way, Armand was informed about the health of two or three farmees who would certainly be glad to see ‘the Doc’, and asked if he would please thank Harry again for having come to help with an obstreperous diesel engine.

     Armand was a well-known and welcomed guest, having been a travelling medic up and down the coast at a time when doctors willing to take on such an inaccessible and scattered group of patients were seldom to be found. The arrival of METHUSELAH on her regular round had been eagerly looked forward to, even if the residents didn’t need the aid of her master. He himself had often regarded these runs as more socialising than surgery. Now, with new roads and available air transport, his services had become less urgent and the visits were more in the way of friendly afternoon chats.

     “I see you brought your bag along,” was the approving comment as the welcoming appointee watched Armand swinging it along in company with his stride.

     “I wouldn’t be foolish enough to visit without it, Julie,” laughed Armand, “Anymore than your household would be without your fine apple cider which I so appreciate when I come and which you lavish so liberally on me.”

     This reference to the generosity of the establishment, which always saw the doctor leave with at least six bottles of healthful harvest pressing, made the young woman smile as she replied,

     “Well, you’re the one who’s always going on about organic everything for eating, so why not brew to match a meal like that?”

     “Of course,” approved Armand, “Apples are as healthful as the good red wine which people are making such a hoop-la about lately. It’s really the grape itself which does it though, unfermented. It is the skins of the delightful little fruit which hold most of the magic, so if you are inclined not to drink alcoholic beverages you can still get the benefit of the vine.”

     “I’ll take mine fermented thanks,” laughed Julie.

     “We are two of a kind,” smiled Armand.

     Snacks of cheese and apple slices were appreciated rather hastily by the children, who were anxious to get on with the ‘chickie business’. Very shortly they went off with Julie, stopping here and there to look at this or that animal, stroll through the orchard to admire the various fruit ripening on the trees and eventually, to go and assess the little birds they had come for, while Armand enjoyed a glass of fermented produce from that same admired fruit, looked after the small medical complaints of the family members, and collected the goods he had been requested to bring back from the farm for the bay residents.

     The six excited youngsters were at last taken to the chicken house and there presented with a cheeping roundup of little red hens, which weren’t that yet, tumbling over their feet and still wearing their downy fluff, being schooled by three large adult versions, demonstrating what was to be expected as the little ones grew.

     One of them, seeing what was coming, clucked to her brood, spread out her wings, hunkered down and ordered her five chicks to get under and stay there. Kids being kids, some did and some didn’t, and others peeked in and out to see what was going on. The second hen was a little farther away and she was busy trying to teach her clutch how to scratch for goodies, working industriously to give them an expert example. Number three, viewing the approaching herd of humans, moved her four away some distance, giving the unwanted visitors anxious glances as she clucked orders to her brood.

     The children were entranced.

     “They’re so beauty!” exclaimed Bernice, as she watched the little birds running and hiding under their mother’s feathers and disobeying to run out again, or the other little ones still curiously wondering what their mother was doing scratching around like that.

     “Wowsie! They’re sure fast,” observed Walter.

     “How are we supposed to choose one?” laughed Morgan. “We need a butterfly net or something.”

     “They’ll all be hens when they grow up,” Julie informed them, “Just like you wanted.”

     Therése was about to ask how the woman knew this fact, but a sudden suspicion at the back of her mind regarding hens and roosters, and how they were dealt with in the market-place arose in her mind. As she watched her younger sister and brother, so happily and innocently regarding the little chicks, she decided to hold her tongue.

     “Look how many!” marvelled Bernice, trying to count, with her forefinger. “One, two... ,” she paused and then announced “There must be thirty of them I think.”

     “There aren’t that many—let me count—are you counting their mothers too?” asked Therése, as everybody laughed.

     At the word ‘mothers’ the twins looked at each other in sudden silence for a moment and then Bernice asked, with anxiety in her voice,

     “If we take away some little chickies won’t they miss their Mommy?”

     “Won’t their Mommy miss them?” was Walter’s reverse take.

     A sudden and heavy quiet spread itself around.

     In the sunny morning which had started out with such buoyant enthusiasm, six children, without parents, stood looking at little chicks, running under and about their mother for protection, or being taught how to forage for food.

     “Maybe they’ll be lonely,” said Therése at last. “They’re just little babies.”

     “Well—they’ll keep each other company,” reasoned Morgan hopefully.

     “But what about at night when they don’t have their Mommy to kiss them goodnight?” asked Bernice. “I still miss our Mommy.”

     The other five heard the slight quaver in her voice when she spoke the last words. It had been some time since anyone had mentioned Mommy, all of them having agreed that they had to be brave and not cry anymore.

     Young Heron thought of his mother the last time he had seen her, as she had lain in an alcoholic stupor while he had tried to rouse her to eat something and, looking at the busy chicks with the obviously caring and concerned hens, he said,

     “They all look very happy together.”

     “But we’ll take really good care of them,” offered Isabel, distressed at this reminder of their own loss.

     “It’s not like having a Mommy,” Walter pointed out.

     The happy occasion of choosing a chickie for a pet had taken an unexpected and painful turn.

     Armand, carrying a large cardboard box and coming up on this little drama, was struck by the silence all around. Looking at the face of the farmer’s daughter, he realised something was not quite as it should have been.

     “Have the choices been made?” he asked, a little hesitantly, and was dismayed when Bernice suddenly burst into tears.

     “Whatever is the matter little one?!” he asked with concern, going over to pick the little girl up. “There there, don’t cry.”

     “We don’t want to take the chickies away from their Mommies,” she wailed.

     “It’s wrong,” blurted Walter, beginning to sniffle.

     Doctor and Daughter exchanged glances bordering on confused laughter at this odd hitch in the proceedings but Armand, realising that it was no laughing matter for the youngsters, finally came out with,

     “Oh—I see—there is a problem. Well—now it may be time when we must talk of many things which we hadn’t thought of before. We had better do this, then. Come along, mes enfants, and we’ll go to the house and have some of Daisy’s nice milk, and Julie will find some cookies, won’t you Julie, and then we’ll all talk it over, shall we? I’m sure we’ll figure out what’s the right thing.”

     There was nodding of heads and sniffling, and the now solemn little troupe headed back toward the big friendly farmhouse where many things would be discussed very earnestly.

- - -

It was just getting to be lunchtime when the schooner was seen sailing through the Gap and the word was out.

     “METHUSELAH’s on her way in. Here come the chickies!”

     The news spread, and some of the adults began heading down toward the wharf to be in on the fun.

     The little ‘chickie mansion’, unable to make its way down to the wharf, stood anxiously on tiptoe doing its best to get a glimpse of what was going on, as the big schooner drew slowly up to the wharf and was quickly secured by Fitz and Shiro, while the others waited on the beach, afraid that the weight of too many bodies might be the demise of the old structure.

     “Hi kids,” called Shiro, “How’d it go?”

     “Fine,” came the reply from Isabel and Morgan.

     The reply lacked a certain bounce and shine which had been expected. Shiro glanced at Fitz. There seemed to be a definite absence of the laughter and happiness which had been expected here. Instead, there was something like uncertain hesitation. It didn’t seem to match ‘fine’.

     Young people began climbing off the boat, and it was noted that the behaviour of the children was rather quiet and subdued—quite unlike their noisy departure.

     “Well, where are the chickies?” asked Fitz with a laugh, not seeing anything resembling chick or container for same, and noting the empty-handed youngsters, Morgan with his hands in his pockets, the twins holding hands, and Heron with his hands tightly clasped behind himself.

     Here Armand intervened, as he jumped onto the wharf, and came toward them saying,

     “We have a bit of explaining to do. Let’s all go ashore, young people, so that everyone will hear. METHUSELAH will wait to be put in order.”

     This was not what anyone had looked for. There was quiet in the group of children as they walked along the wharf and onto the beach, and they faced the adults in a little huddle almost with guilty apprehension, as though they had done something wrong, and it was Armand who addressed the welcoming group as he opened up with,

     “We have to tell you that we have not come back with what we went for.”

     There was no mistaking the consternation among the waiting adults then, as a concerned silence began to settle on them along with puzzled and questioning facial expressions.

     “You see,” he continued, “There were many little chickies, all very fine and happy with their mothers, and the children didn’t want to break up families, feeling it would be much in the way they themselves think about staying together. They couldn’t bring themselves to choose individuals to be taken from their mothers, so they didn’t. They hope that what they have done is acceptable to everyone.”

     There was a long silence as everybody waited for more, but Armand didn’t say anything else, and the children just stood there in silence.

     Rose, having watched Armand’s expression as he had given this fine little speech, got the sneaking impression that there was something humorous in his delivery of it, which prompted her to consider the careful wording he had used in that way he had of getting around difficult situations with astute diplomacy. There seemed to be a tinge of theatre about it all and she knew he had a flair for that. To her mind the whole thing began to appear like a staged event. She had the feeling that although little chickies hadn’t been chosen, something else was in the air.

     Finally she prompted,

     “So—what have they done?”

     “Well,” he hesitated, smiling, “We have brought back little chicks, but also their mothers, and it’s hoped you’ll all approve of this, as it is more than we had planned for and they all have to be looked after.”

     Relieved laughter from the adults met this announcement, and Bettina said,

     “For sure we can look after a couple more.”

     “You don’t mind?” asked Isabel, very happy with this reaction.

     “Of course not”, was the unanimous opinion.

     There were “Oh goodies”, and “Boy, that’s great”, and “Wowsies!” from the group of youngsters, and Isabel said,

     “I’m so glad we can keep them all!”

     At the word ‘all’ Rose’s suspicions of what was coming next were even more aroused, so she asked then,

     “Uh—just how many did you wind up with? Eight?”

     “Actually, we got a real bargain,” Morgan jumped in quickly, taking over. “Julie was so pleased that we wouldn’t break up families that she let us have them all for the price of the six we wanted originally.”

     “Yes,” persisted Rose with something of an iron smile, “And—just how many might that be?”

     Armand looked at the children who stood silent, until Isabel confessed,

     “Seventeen—counting their three mothers.”

     “Seven—teen?!” came from Harry in disbelief at this revelation, as the others stood there in speechless surprise.

     “Yeah,” grinned Walter, plainly delighted.

     “We can all pick names, ’cause there’s a chickie for everybody,” announced Bernice.

     “Therése was right,” Heron informed them. “We counted up everybody and there’s just enough to go around.”

     “We think maybe Uncle Nohow would like a Mommy ’cause he said before that he likes eggs,” Bernice told them excitedly, “An’ the Mommies are big enough for that.”

     Uncle Nohow took that surprise just like he should.

     “I don’t know anything about chickens!” was his laughing protest.

     “Well you don’t have to,” Therése comforted him. “They do it all themselves.”

     “Well mine had better be able to,” replied Howard, “Because I’m not going to be around long enough to get well acquainted with it—maybe its eggs though.”

     “It’s not an ‘it’,” corrected Isabel indignantly, “It’s a ‘she’!”

     “She can keep Uncle Twimby’s Mommy company,” declared Bernice, “Because he’s not here either and mommies can look after themselves.”

     “Uncle Twimby gets one too?” asked Rose, trying to keep a straight face, “Who gets the third one?”

     “Uncle Tugboat,” came the prompt reply from Walter, “ ’Cause he’s told us he has chickies at home an’ he likes eggs too an’ he’s not here all the time either.”

     “Bon!” exclaimed Armand, clapping his hands loudly together with a gesture of finality, quick to conclude the meeting before anybody thought of making an objection about taking on such an expanded flock. “I knew you’d all be as pleased about our solution to the problem as we are. Come on young people. Since we don’t have to return them like you feared, let’s get them ashore and take our little guests to their new home.”

     “Oh yeah—’Our solution to the problem’?” laughed Rose as they watched Armand bringing down from the stern of METHUSELAH three large cardboard boxes with airholes cut in them, from which issued the unmistakable sound of peeping chicks intermingled with low clucks of a more adult nature. “I think we’ve been had.”

     “Think you got that right,” agreed Fitz, laughing with her. “Armand’s pretty good at managing to work things over, and I suspect he had more than one hand in there when this deal came off.”

     “Guess we’ll have to do a bit of renovating,” suggested Harry, scratching his head. “We did all that brooder stuff for nothing.”

     “That poor little shed is going to bust at the seams,” added Fitz. “We’ll have to make an addition to accommodate all the extra feathered folk.”

     “There go all our quiet mornings, shattered with cluck cluck cluck CLUCK! “ mourned Shiro.

     “The chicken house is far enough away so that we won’t be bothered too much,” reasoned Bettina, “And there are only three of them big enough for laying—so far.”

     “Yeah, and think of the fresh eggs for breakfast,” grinned Howard.

     “We’ll draw lots for who gets to eat ’em every morning,” suggested Harry.

     “Not for mine!” stated Howard, “And since David isn’t here I’ll have to take charge of his for him. You’ll have to fight with ‘Uncle Tugboat’ for the last one—whoever he is.”

     “We’ll probably have to keep our eyes on you to make sure you don’t swipe any that don’t come from your chicken,” laughed Harry. “And who said David would let you have his?”

     “Since he’s not here right at the moment he hasn’t got anything to say,” stated Howard, “So I’m looking out for his interests.”

     “Yeah?” retorted Harry, “Well I say first come first served. His are up for grabs.”

     “Stop talking like hooligans,” ordered Tashakawa, “And start thinking how to get all those chickens into that piece of art they’re going to use for a chicken house. Maybe they should have given that some thought before they bought the whole flock.”

     “Well, we were the ones who turned the kids loose to be independent traders in the market place,” laughed Rose, “And it looks like our own little chickies were a lot smarter and more thoughtful than we were aware of.”

     “Tell the men to stop complaining and haggling,” Bettina appealed to Rose. “I think it’s great. We have a full-fledged flock ready to grow up right here. It was so good of Julie to understand the kids the way she did.”

     “They really didn’t want any more chickens on the farm,” Rose pointed out, “So her generosity has more than one purpose. Two birds with one stone—or rather, seventeen of them—and I gather ‘we’ got a little help from Uncle Doc in pulling this whole caper off.”

     “I think perhaps,” suggested Dancing Water, who had been standing quietly behind the group, her smile getting deeper as the conclusion of the whole project had come to light, “It was the Shalisa way which made the children consider leaving the chicks with their mothers. They themselves are without Mother and they have considered others who might be hurt this way. It may be now that we should take our frightened little friends and let them out for some air so that they will begin to enjoy their life here at Shalisa Creek Bay, just as all of us have been so happily welcomed.”

     “Good thinking,” agreed Shiro, “Grab a box there Howard, and let’s head for the shed—uh—mansion.”

     There was a great flapping of wings and confused clucking and running around as hens and chicks scrambled out of their cardboard containers and tried to sort themselves out in this new environment, while around them there was excited talk of how to start a regimen for feeding and caring and about names, all of it going well until the last item had Howard coming up with,

     “Okay, how are we going to tell what belongs to who? They all look the same to me, even the mothers.”

     “Good question,” agreed Fitz.

     There was a bit of quiet thinking until Isabel, her face brightening up replied,

     “We’ll use coloured bands on their legs.”

     “Oh yeah” scoffed Howard with a grin, “Seventeen different colours.”

     Not to be put down that way, Isabel returned,

     “We can have two colours each, like rainbows, and we’ll make a chart until they’re all grown up, and we’ll know them personally then.”

     “Personally?” exclaimed Howard. “You’re a bunch of freaks!”

     “And you’re a lousy party pooper!” countered Morgan. “We’ll be as freaky as we like without your approval, thanks.”

     The put-down silenced Howard for a moment, as he remembered having been called freaky by Lucy and how he had felt much the same way, but he managed to field that one with,

     “Okay, I want red and yellow for my one.”

     “Who said you could choose first?” objected Therése. “You can’t.”

     “Yes I can because I’ve already done it,” came back the reply as Howard considered it to be a fait accompli. “As Isabel is always pointing out, ‘can’t’ means not being able to, and I’m pretty able.”

     “You’re also pretty selfish and arrogant,” Isabel downed him.

     Here, Dancing Water, seeing a note of contention pushing itself into the happy occasion, suggested helpfully,

     “Perhaps we could use a method which would be approved by Uncle Twimby your brother,” she told Howard. “We could collect all seventeen brightly coloured leg bands, put them in a hat, and each will take one out. There will be an interesting element of chance and also of fairness.”

     “Okay,” agreed Howard immediately, feeling free to have fun with this woman whom he regarded as his friend, “And since I’m so selfish and arrogant, me first.”

     “You’re just awful!” Isabel told him in disgust, as Dancing Water laughed in surprise at this reply. “Go and get some feed from the shed out there and at least pretend to be useful.”

     Howard went, laughing all the way.

     The little ‘mansion’ sat there, almost bouncing with excitement, although nobody had thought to ask how it felt about having to show hospitality to this unexpectedly large group of guests. Overwhelmed but delighted, it did its best to welcome all seventeen, after some of the now unnecessary equipment had been removed and there was enough space to accommodate the little flock for the time being. Watching this lively group of tenants investigating their new habitation, and feeling very important in the ongoing happenings, it looked forward with interest to having more charming and artistic additions being created in future, to augment the limited spatial offerings it now possessed.

     It was with difficulty that the children were pried away from the chickie mansion to have some lunch which the adults were ready for, if not the young members of the group.

     As they left, a large, fluffy, four-footed Bay resident padded silently up and then sat down outside the run, tail switching, whiskers forward, watching with large wide eyes the flock of newcomers.

     Nobody had thought to ask Charm what she thought of the whole thing. Used to being the centre of attention, she now regarded this crowd of talkative arrivals, and felt just a little neglected.

     <I know I’m not supposed to chase birds, but—are these the same kind of thing? How many are there? One, two, three—uhhuh! I’ll just keep my eyes on this crowd. Could be I’m on to something here.>