`` But tell me , doctor , where do you plan to conduct the hatching '' ? ?
Alex asked .
`` That will have to be in the hotel '' , the doctor retorted , confirming Alex's anticipations .
`` What I want you to do is to go to the market with me early tomorrow morning and help smuggle the hen back into the hotel '' .
The doctor paid the bill and they repaired to the hotel , room number nine , to initiate Alex further into these undertakings .
The doctor opened the smallest of his cases , an unimposing straw bag , and exposed the contents for Alex's inspection .
Inside , carefully packed in straw , were six eggs , but the eye of a poultry psychologist was required to detect what scientifically valuable specimentalia lay inside ; ;
to Alex they were merely six not unusual hens' eggs .
There was little enough time to contemplate them , however ; ;
in an instant the doctor was stalking across the room with an antique ledger in his hands , thoroughly eared and big as a table top .
He placed it on Alex's lap .
`` This is my hen ledger '' , he informed him in an absorbed way .
`` It's been going since 1908 when I was a junior in college .
That first entry there is the Vermont Flumenophobe , the earliest and one of the most successful of my eighty-three varieties -- great big scapulars and hardly any primaries at all .
Couldn't take them near a river , though , or they'd squawk like a turkey cock the day before Thanksgiving '' .
The ledger was full of most precise information : date of laying , length of incubation period , number of chick reaching the first week , second week , fifth week , weight of hen , size of rooster's wattles and so on , all scrawled out in a hand that looked more Chinese than English , the most jagged and sprawling Alex had ever seen .
Below these particulars was a series of alpha-beta-gammas connected by arrows and crosses which denoted the lineage of the breed .
Alex's instruction was rapid , for the doctor had to go off to the Rue Ecole De Medecine to hear more speeches with only time for one sip of wine to sustain him through them all .
But after the doctor's return that night Alex could see , from the high window in his own room , the now familiar figure crouched on a truly impressive heap of towels , apparently giving its egg-hatching powers one final chance before it was replaced in its office by a sure-enough hen .
A knocking at Alex's door roused him at six o'clock the following morning .
It was the doctor , dressed and ready for the expedition to the market , and Alex was obliged to prepare himself in haste .
The doctor stood about , waiting for Alex to dress , with a show of impatience , and soon they were moving , as quietly as could be , through the still-dark hallways , past the bedroom of the patronne , and so into the street .
The market was not far and , once there , the doctor's sense of immediacy left him and he fell into a state of harmony with the birds around him .
He stroked the hens and they responded with delighted clucks , he gobbled with the turkeys and they at once were all attention , he quacked with the ducks , and cackled with a pair of exceedingly flattered geese .
The dawn progressed and it seemed that the doctor would never be done with his ministrations when quite abruptly something broke his revery .
It was a fine broody hen , white , with a maternal eye and a striking abundance of feathers in the under region of the abdomen .
The doctor , with the air of a man whose professional interests have found scope , drew Alex's attention to those excellences which might otherwise have escaped him : the fine color in comb and wattles , the length and quality of neck and saddle hackles , the firm , wide spread of the toes , and a rare justness in the formation of the ear lappets .
All search was ended ; ;
he had found his fowl .
The purchase was effected and they made their way towards the hotel again , the hen , with whom some sort of communication had been set up , nestling in the doctor's arms .
The clocks struck seven-thirty as they approached the hotel entrance ; ;
and hopes that the chambermaid and patronne would still be abed began to rise in Alex's well exercised breast .
The doctor was wearing a long New England greatcoat , hardly necessary in the June weather but a garment which proved well adapted to the sequestration of hens .
Alex entered first and was followed by the doctor who , for all his care , manifested a perceptible bulge on his left side where the hen was cradled .
They advanced in a line across the entrance hall to the stairway and up , with gingerly steps , towards the first landing .
It was then that they heard the tread of one descending and , in some perturbation glancing up , saw the patronne coming towards them as they gained the landing .
`` Bonjour , messieurs , vous etes matinals '' , she greeted them pleasantly .
Alex explained that they had been out for a stroll before breakfast while the doctor edged around behind him , attempting to hide the protuberance at his left side behind Alex's arm and back .
`` Vous voulez vos petits dejeuners tout de suite alors '' ? ?
Their hostess enquired .
Alex told her that there was no hurry for their breakfasts , trying at the same time to effect a speedy separation of the persons before and behind him .
The doctor , he noticed , was attempting a transverse movement towards the stairs , but before the movement could be completed a distinct and audible cluck ruffled the air in the hollow of the stair-well .
Eyes swerved in the patronne's head , Alex coughed loudly , and the doctor , with a sforzando of chicken noises floating behind him , took to the stairs in long-shanked leaps .
`` Comment '' ? ?
Ejaculated the surprised woman , looking at Alex for an explanation but he , parting from her without ceremony , only offered a few words about the doctor's provincial American speech and a state of nerves brought on by the demands of his work .
With that he hurried up the stairs , followed by her suspicious gaze .
When Alex entered his room , the doctor was already preparing a nest in the straw case , six eggs ready for the hen's attentions .
There was no reference to the incident on the stairs , his powers being absorbed by this more immediate business .
The hen appeared to have no doubts as to her duties and was quick to settle down to the performance of them .
One part of her audience was totally engaged , the connoisseur witnessing a peculiarly fine performance of some ancient classic , the other part , the guest of the connoisseur , attentive as one who must take an intelligent interest in that which he does not fully understand .
The spectacle progressed towards a denouement which was obviously still remote ; ;
the audience attended .
Time elapsed but the doctor was obviously unconscious of its passage until an unwelcome knock on the door interrupted the processes of nature .
Startled , he jumped up to pull hen and case out of view , and Alex went to the door .
He opened it a crack and in doing so made as much shuffling , coughing , and scraping noise as possible in order to drown emanations from the hen who had begun to protest .
It was Giselle , the fille de chambre , come to clean the room , and while she stood before him with ears pricked up and regard all curiosity , explaining her errand , Alex could see from the corner of his eye the doctor doing all he could to calm the displeased bird .
Giselle was reluctant but Alex succeeded in persuading her to come back in five minutes and the door was shut again .
`` Who was that , young feller '' ? ?
The doctor instantly asked .
`` That was the fille de chambre , the one you thought couldn't get the eggs out .
She looked mighty interested , though .
Anyhow she's coming back in five minutes to do the room '' .
The doctor's mind was working at a great speed ; ;
he rose to put his greatcoat on and addressed Alex in a muted voice .
`` Have you got our keys handy '' ? ?
`` Right in my pocket '' .
`` All right .
Now you go outside and beckon me when it's safe '' .
The hall was empty and Alex beckoned ; ;
they climbed the stairs which creaked , very loudly to their sensitive ears , and reached the next floor .
A guest was locking his room ; ;
they passed behind him and got to Alex's room unnoticed .
The doctor sat down rather wearily , caressing the hen and remarking that the city was not the place for a poultry-loving man , but no sooner was the remark out than a knock at this door obliged him to cover the hen with his greatcoat once more .
At the door Alex managed to persuade the increasingly astonished fille de chambre to return in ten minutes .
It was evident that a second transfer had to be effected , and that it had to take place between the time the fille finished the doctor's room and the time she began Alex's .
They waited three minutes and then crept out on tip-toe ; ;
the halls were empty and they passed down the stairs to number nine and listened at the door .
A bustle of sheets being smoothed and pillows being arranged indicated the fille de chambre's presence inside ; ;
they listened and suddenly a step towards the door announced another important fact .
The doctor shot down to the lavatory and turned the doorknob , but to no effect : the lavatory was occupied .
Although a look of alarm passed over his face , he did not arrest his movements but disappeared into the shower room just as the chambermaid emerged from number nine .
Alex suppressed those expressions of relief which offered to prevail in his face and escape from his throat ; ;
unwarranted they were in any case for , as he stood facing the fille de chambre , his ears were assailed by new sounds from the interior of the shower room .
The events of the last quarter of an hour , mysterious to any bird accustomed only to the predictable life of coop and barnyard , had overcome the doctor's hen and she gave out a series of cackly wails , perhaps mourning her nest , but briefly enjoyed .
The doctor's wits had not left him , however , for all his sixty-eight years , and the wails were almost immediately lost in the sound of water rushing out from the showerhead .
Alex nodded to the maid as though nothing unusual were taking place and entered the doctor's room .
Shortly , the doctor himself entered , his hair somewhat wet from the shower , but evidently satisfied with the outcome of their adventures .
Without comment he opened the closet and from its shelves constructed a highboard around the egg case which he had placed on the floor inside .
Next , the hen was nested and all seemed well .
The two men sat for some time , savoring the pleasure of escape from peril and the relief such escape brings , before they got up and left the hotel , the doctor to go to the conference house and Alex to go to the main post office .
Alex returned to the hotel , rather weary and with no new prospects of a role , in the late afternoon , but found the doctor in an ebullient mood .
At the time Alex arrived he was engaged in some sort of intimate communication with the hen , who had settled herself on the nest most peacefully after the occurrences of the morning .
`` Chickens have short memories '' , the doctor remarked , `` that's why they are better company than most people I know '' , and he went on to break some important news to Alex .
`` Well '' , he began , `` It seems like some people in Paris want to hear more from me than those fellers over at the conference house do .
They've got a big vulture from Tanganika at the zoo here , with a wife for him , too , very rare birds , both of them , the only Vulturidae of their species outside Africa .
Seems like she's willing , but the male just flops around all day like the bashful boy who took Jeannie May behind the barn and then didn't know what to do , and the people at the zoo haven't got any vulture chicks to show for their trouble .