The old rooster was gruff, and he liked solitude, but he didn’t mind having Sonny around. Some chickens thought it was out of pity for the little rooster, since he held an embarrassingly low place in the pecking order. Others thought it was because he posed no threat; even though Sonny was now old enough to challenge the chief, he didn’t have the size or strength to go talon to talon with a seasoned fighter like Winston. Besides, Sonny had never displayed the least amount of ambition or aggression; he just wasn’t chief rooster material. But the truth was Winston saw something of himself in that little grey rooster. As for Sonny, the nature of his interest in Winston was much less cryptic: he idolised him.
The two roosters walked together along the dirt path back up to the henhouse. Every so often Sonny fell behind and had to make a short dash to catch up. He stopped at one point and took a long look back toward the fence, and then darted up alongside Winston, whose imposing stride never faltered. “Winston,” said Sonny, “I need to tell you something.”
“This sounds important.”
“I think it is,” Sonny continued. “I have noticed something.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes. I think you need to know.”
“You’ve seen Ivan,” said Winston.
“Yes! Three mornings now I’ve seen him watching you from up behind the apple trees.”
Ivan was a young rooster, a Rhode Island Red. He was less than a year older than Sonny, but he was far larger and stronger. He had recently been asserting his dominance over the other young roosters.
“Actually,” answered Winston, “he has watched me a dozen mornings over the last month.”
“You knew he was there?”
Winston nodded, but showed not half the concern Sonny thought the matter deserved.
The two continued walking in silence until they stopped at the henhouse. Winston liked to check on the hens each morning and watch the new chicks play and scratch about in the dirt. Watching the little ones was the only time Winston’s grave demeanour softened, and he looked almost happy. When each chick noticed the old rooster standing there, they ran over to him. Winston smiled and greeted them. Some of the chicks liked to ask him questions, as though the old rooster had been around forever and knew everything. “Winston,” said one, “how old is the great bull?”
“Do piglets hatch from eggs?” asked another.
“Why does Farmer McGinley ride the horses but not the dogs?”
One by one they gave their questions, and one by one the old rooster answered them, satisfying their faith in his omniscience. After the others had asked their questions, a tiny yellow chick approached the chief rooster. In appearance, the chick was not far removed from a large ball of lint. “Winston Rooster”, she peeped, “your crow wakes all the animals on the farm—but what wakes you?”
“What wakes me?” Winston repeated. His smile faded and a distant stare came over his face. An awkward silence passed before Winston returned to his senses and cleared his throat. “Ah yes, what wakes me? That’s an interesting question. And it has an interesting answer…” He bowed low to look the tiny chick in the eye. “But it’s a secret only old roosters can know,” he said with a wink. The hens chuckled as Winston patted the tiny chick on the head and then continued his morning walk back up to the shed.
Sonny, at Winston’s request, followed the chief rooster all the way to the shed. He was invited in. This was a rare privilege for the young rooster. The two entered the shed and sat down—Winston on his thick bed of straw beneath the old workbench, and Sonny on a small, dusty block of wood in front of him.
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