Chapter XVI. Making a Place for Chickens
 

Before the meal was over, I said, seriously, "Now, boys, there must be no more hunting until I find out about the game-laws. They should be obeyed, especially by sportsmen. I don't think that we are forbidden to kill rabbits on our own place, particularly when they threaten to be troublesome; and the hunt this morning was so unexpected that I did not think of the law, which might be used to make us trouble. You killed the other rabbits on this place, Junior?"

"Yes, sir, both of 'em."

"Well, hereafter you must look after hawks, and other enemies of poultry. Especially do I hope you will never fire at our useful song-birds. If boys throughout the country would band together to protect game when out of season, they would soon have fine sport in the autumn."

In the afternoon we let Winnie and Bobsey expend their energy in making paths and lanes in every direction through the snow, which was melting rapidly in the south wind. By three o'clock the rain began to fall, and when darkness set in there was a gurgling sound of water on every side. Our crackling fire made the warmth and comfort within seem tenfold more cheery.

A hearty supper, prepared in our own kitchen, made us feel that our home machinery had fairly started, and we knew that it would run more and more smoothly. March was keeping up its bad name for storm and change. The wind was again roaring, but laden now with rain, and in gusty sheets the heavy drops dashed against the windows. But our old house kept us dry and safe, although it rocked a little in the blasts. They soon proved a lullaby for our second night at home.

After breakfast the following morning, with Merton, Winnie, and Bobsey, I started out to see if any damage had been done. The sky was still clouded, but the rain had ceased. Our rubber boots served us well, for the earth was like an over-full sponge, while down every little incline and hollow a stream was murmuring.

The old barn showed the need of a good many nails to be driven here and there, and a deal of mending. Then it would answer for corn- stalks and other coarse fodder. The new barn had been fairly built, and the interior was dry. It still contained as much hay as would be needed for the keeping of a horse and cow until the new crop should be harvested.

"Papa," cried Winnie, "where is the chicken place?"

"That is one of the questions we must settle at once," I replied. "As we were coming out I saw an old coop in the orchard. We'll go and look at it."

It was indeed old and leaky, and had poultry been there the previous night they would have been half drowned on their perches. "This might do for a summer cottage for your chickens, Winnie," I continued, "but never for a winter house. Let us go back to the barn, for I think I remember a place that will just suit, with some changes."

Now the new barn had been built on a hillside, and had an ample basement, from which a room extending well into the bank had been partitioned, thus promising all one could desire as a cellar for apples and roots. The entrance to this basement faced the east, and on each side of it was a window. To the right of the entrance were two cow-stalls, and to the left was an open space half full of mouldy corn-stalks and other rubbish.

"See here, Winnie and Merton," I said, after a little examination, "I think we could clear out this space on the left, partition it off, make a door, and keep the chickens here. After that window is washed, a good deal of sunlight can come in. I've read that in cold weather poultry need warmth and light, and must be kept dry. Here we can secure all these conditions. Having a home for ourselves, suppose we set to work to make a home for the chickens."

This idea delighted Winnie, and pleased Merton almost as much as hunting rabbits. "Now," I resumed, "we will go to the house and get what we need for the work."

"Winifred," I said to my wife, "can you let Winnie have a small pail of hot water and some old rags?"

"What are you up to now?"

"You know all about cleaning house; we are going to clean barn, and make a place for Winnie's chickens. There is a window in their future bedroom--roost-room I suppose I should call it--that looks as if it had never been washed, and to get off the dust of years will be Winnie's task, while Merton, Bobsey, and I create an interior that should satisfy a knowing hen. We'll make nests, too, children, that will suggest to the biddies that they should proceed at once to business."

"But where are the chickens to come from?" my wife asked, as she gave the pan to Merton to carry for his sister.

"Oh, John Jones will put me in the way of getting them soon;" and we started out to our morning's work. Mousie looked after us wistfully, but her mother soon found light tasks for her, and she too felt that she was helping. "Remember, Mousie," I said, in parting, "that I have three helpers, and surely mamma needs one;" and she was content.

Merton at first was for pitching all the old corn-stalks out into the yard, but I said: "That won't do. We shall need a cow as well as chickens, and these stalks must be kept dry for her bedding. We'll pile them up in the inner empty stall. You can help at that, Bobsey;" and we set to work.

Under Winnie's quick hands more and more light came through the window. With a fork I lifted and shook up the stalks, and the boys carried them to the empty stall. At last we came to rubbish that was so damp and decayed that it would be of no service indoors, so we placed it on a barrow and I wheeled it out to one corner of the yard. At last we came down to a hard earth floor, and with a hoe this was cleared and made smooth.

"Merton," I said, "I saw an old broom upstairs. Run and get it, and we'll brush down the cobwebs and sweep out, and then we shall be ready to see about the partition."