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HOME > Classical Novels > Norma: A Flower Scout > CHAPTER IV BUILDING BIRD HOUSES.
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 The day Norma discovered where her four precious seeds had gone was the day Sambo arrived at Green Hill, and just before he made his appearance, the dog, Grip, was found on the high road and brought home to the farm to live. Soon after his introduction to Mrs. James, the dog saw his rightful master coming in at the gate and welcomed him as only a lost dog can welcome a master found.  
Norma spent most of her spare time that day in weeding the strip of garden alongside the old rail fence. Sam was ordered to help in this work after dinner, and Mrs. James came out to dig up roots and snags which would not come out by hand-pulling. The entire strip, running from the great oak tree near the front gate, down to the old hollyhocks that grew opposite Natalie’s corn field, was cleared of weeds and the ground was dug up and ready to be well mixed with manure1.
As the girls were going in the automobile2, the next day, to buy a cow, Sam was told to use the manure left near the vegetable gardens, to spade under in the soil alongside the rail fence. The cow was purchased and Janet also bought a little calf3, a deed which she felt was reckless because of her meager4 finances since she began stock farming. But Susy, the calf, was too cute to leave behind, so she was to be brought the same time the cow was delivered at the farm.
The party got back to the house just before two o’clock, but Rachel had not expected them any sooner, so the dinner was just ready when the car drove in at the gate and stopped by the side porch.
Rachel bustled5 out of the side door, consumed with curiosity. “Did you-all git a cow?” she asked almost before the car had stopped.
“Not only a fine cow, Rachel, but a darling calf, too!” exclaimed Janet, the pride of proprietorship7 sounding in her voice.
“I jus’ finished dinneh, so you-all come right in and eat,” said Rachel, anxious over her charges because they had gone long past the usual dining hour with nothing to eat.
While the autoists washed and brushed up before sitting down at the table, Rachel stood talking to Norma about the garden. “Sam done gone and futilised dat soil so fine dat you kin8 grow any t’ing in it, now. When you done dinneh you just go and see how smood it looks.”
“That’s good, Rachel, because I found some lovely bushes growing down the road a bit that I want to dig up and plant along that fence line. If we begin keeping bees, we will need plenty of blossoms all summer through, and these bushes will provide flowers now, and berries later, for the birds.”
While the girls were getting ready for dinner, the girl scouts9 from camp could be heard laughing and talking eagerly as they approached the house. In a few moments, not only the camping scouts, but Nancy Sherman, Hester Tompkins and Dorothy Ames, with them, came up the porch steps and greeted the returned tourists.
“We came to see if you found a cow?” was the general question.
Then it became necessary to describe every lap of the journey much to the delighted interest of all the audience. When they heard the corporation cow would arrive Saturday morning, they all cheered lustily, but Mrs. James said seriously:
“You haven’t any habitable shed for the cow, nor for the calf, to go in. If I were you girls I would commence without delay and construct a decent cow-shed for Susy, and partitioning off a stall in the barn as a home for the cow.”
This was decided10 upon after discussing the pros11 and cons6 of a cowshed or a first class barn stall for a cow. The latter choice won because it was much easier to partition off a stall than to build an entirely12 new shed and fence in a yard.
It seemed that once Janet started adding to the stockyard creatures, she lost all count of money and squandered13 what allowances might come to her in the next two months, or three. Mr. Ames had offered to trust her for payment, and that was her undoing14, for she not only bought the twenty goslings the day she exchanged the old Plymouth Rock hen for the Rhode Island Reds, but she also chose a few guinea hens, five pairs of pigeons, and spoke15 for half a dozen ducks.
Norma had not had any time to devote to her flower beds that day, because she wished to help build the home for Sue, but when the girls trooped back to the house, Miss Mason saw the heap of boxes lying near the cellar door.
“What are all those for?” asked she, of anyone who would answer.
“Bird houses. Mrs. Tompkins says we ought to make them at once and get them up if we hope to coax16 any birds to our farm,” explained Norma.
“Good idea! Do any of you girls know how to build one?” asked the Captain.
“I never made one, but Mrs. Tompkins told me just how to do it. She says flowers need birds and bees about to keep them healthy,” returned Norma.
“She’s right, too, because birds are a gardener’s right-hand helper in catching17 destructive insects on the plants. If Natalie had more birds about the farm, she wouldn’t have any potato bugs18 on her vines,” remarked Mrs. James.
“Well, I’m going to clean all those beetles19 off as soon as I get time,” said Natalie, in justification20 of her procrastination21.
“Now that we all whetted22 an appetite for sawing and hammering, what do you girls say to our working on the bird houses until it is time to go back to camp?” asked Miss Mason.
This suggestion met with approval from all, and soon there was a medley23 of sounds—laughing, talking, hammering, sawing and scuffling of feet on the stone floor of the cellar, for that is where the bird boxes were being constructed. Mrs. James insisted that the scouts from camp remain to sup with them and finish the work on the bird houses afterward24.
Of course, they were pleased at the invitation—even though it was proper to refuse to stay, in a tone that meant they would, if the invitation was repeated. So they all remained to enjoy some of Rachel’s famous supper dishes, and then completed the bird houses that evening before going back to camp.
Miss Mason and Mrs. James superintended the carpentry and kept up a pleasant fire of good suggestions, at the same time.
“I’m delighted that we will have enough bird houses to try to induce some of the lovely birds I have seen about here to come and nest in our trees, but I think we ought to provide a bird bath on the lawn where the newcomers can drink and bathe without going down to the stream. I fear they may be enticed25 to stay away, if they compare conveniences with our environment and down by the stream,” said Mrs. James.
“It ought to be an easy matter to build a nice concrete bird-bath,” said Miss Mason.
“I’d like to experiment on one, after we finish these houses and get them properly placed,” said Mrs. James.
“Well, I’ll help you make one, if you say so, although I am almost as ignorant of how to mix concrete as this box. Still, we can use our intelligence, you know,” laughed the Captain.
“I know what to do!” exclaimed Norma, now. “I’ll go and ask Mrs. Tompkins in the morning. She’ll know and tell us what to do.”
Mrs. James and the house scouts laughed, and the former said: “Norma runs to her Oracle26 for everything, now.”
“We might experiment with a feeding station, too, if you want to attract and hold the birds about the house until they get acclimated27 to their new quarters. Then they will remain late into the fall and return early in the spring,” was Miss Mason’s suggestion.
“I wonder what kind of birds we can coax to our houses?” queried28 Natalie, boring a hole in one of the boxes with an augur29.
“I’ve seen wrens31, bluebirds, robins32, thrashers, cat birds, orioles and many not so familiar, flying about the farm, so that ought to be a fair idea of the kind we may hope to house very soon,” replied Mrs. James.
“One bird we can depend on coming and trying to crowd out all the others,” giggled33 Natalie.
“Yes, the English sparrow,” agreed Janet. “I wish we could raise the rent on them, or do some other restrictive act that would warn them from the premises34.”
“The only way I know of is to keep the doors of the nests small enough for a wren30 and too small for a sparrow. All the other birds will fight off the sparrows, but the wren won’t—they just move away,” explained Mrs. James.
“Look at this hole, is it about the right size, Jimmy?” asked Norma as she finished the boring in the wood.
“Speaking of the wren, I want to tell you a little story of one I found nesting under the eaves of my brother’s country house. Its nest was dangerously near the rose trellis where a cat could climb up and get it, but it wanted to be near the people in the house, and that was the only available spot where a nest would perch35. So we built a special corner bracket and shelf for it, and when Jenny laid her eggs we very gently and carefully moved the nest to a safe place, before she had really started brooding over them. We knew she would not abandon the eggs because of the moving, but we felt much easier when we realized she was safe.”
“I remember some wrens who always built their nests as close to our back doors as they could get without actually lodging36 right on the doorstep,” laughed Mrs. James.
“What dear little things they are!” sighed Norma tenderly.
This remark attracted several girls’ attention to Norma and then they stopped their own work to go and see what she was making.
“Well! of all things—just look at Norma’s palace!” exclaimed Janet admiringly.
That brought the other girls around her and she had to explain just what she was doing with the cheese box. “I am following Mrs. Tompkins’s suggestions and plans for my bird house. You see I divided the inside of the box into five flats, and at each apartment I bored a hole. Because they are of different sizes, I hope to have different birds as tenants38 in it.
“When the partitions were fastened inside, I nailed the cover on the cheese box again. The two large barrel covers that Mrs. Tompkins gave me make the bottom and roof. Because the barrel head is larger than the cheese box, it provides a nice little balcony all around the house. And the other head that is on top for a roof, projects far enough over the cheese box to keep the rain from driving in at the open doors of the apartments.”
“But, Norma, how are you going to keep the water from coming through that flat roof and soaking the birds inside the box?” asked Janet.
“You just wait! I found a fine roof for my house, this afternoon, but I am not ready, yet, to roof the building. I want to nail some brackets on the bottom so the house can be nailed to a pole, then I will roof it and paint it green with white trimmings.”
Accordingly, Norma finished the house and then got out a basket filled with straw. An upright stick was fastened in the center of the top of the house and to this a wire netting was tacked39, so that the edges overlapped40 the eaves of the roof, and the top fitted close to the upright. Upon this wire net Norma wove her thatched roof, which, when finished, looked very attractive and rustic41.
“It looks great but it is going to be a dreadful work to fasten it in a tree, because it is so big and bulky,” said Janet.
“I’m not going to place it in a tree. It is going to be mounted on an old clothes pole that Rachel never uses. I’ve chosen the site of the house already,” laughed Norma.
“And you said you were going to paint it?” asked Natalie.
“Yes, I bought a can of green paint and a smaller one of white lead at the store yesterday. When it is on the pole I am going to paint the house and the pole, too.”
Norma then went to inspect the work of her companions. She found they had divided the starch42 boxes into four rooms, a room for each nest. But each opening was so placed that no bird need meet his neighbor, in coming to or going from his home. Under each door was a perch, or platform, for the birds to alight upon before entering the door of their house. Some of these perches43 were made by boring a tiny hole under the doorway44 and sticking a meat skewer45 firmly in. When the inside work was completed, the cover was shoved onto the starch boxes and nailed fast. A slat was attached to the bottom so the house could be nailed to a tree trunk and yet be out of reach of any prowling cat.
“I’m curious to know who will draw that other cheese box as their lot,” said Belle46, as she added the finishing touches to her soap-box apartment house.
“Well, if no one else applies for it, I shall attach it for my own pleasure,” said Mrs. James. “But I warn you girls now—I propose building a modern flat-house with every conceivable convenience in it for my tenants. They will have sleeping porches, hot water day and night, elevator service, telephones, parquet47 floors—in fact, everything one looks for in a first-class modern apartment. So don’t feel jealous when you find the birds flock to rent my rooms, because you must remember my investment of labor48 will be twice as heavy as yours, and I deserve having the best tenants apply for my flats.”
The girls giggled at Mrs. James’s explanation, and Janet said: “What will you do if a sparrow or a blue jay applies for rooms?”
“I’ll ask him for references. If he can’t produce high-class references from other landlords, I’ll have none of him.”
The girls laughed at the reply, and Janet retorted: “The day of rent profiteers is past. You’ll be hauled into Court if you ask high rents.”
“Then I’ll fill my flats on a co-operative plan. That is best, anyway, I think. I will provide the house, and the tenants will provide the harmony,” said Mrs. James, smiling at her own foolishness.
“You’re too lenient49 with your tenants, Jimmy,” remonstrated50 Norma. “If any applicant51 asks me what form of rent my co-operative plan demands, I’ll say the tenant37 has to pay me in helping52 me keep my plants clear of insects.”
“You two have so much to say I can’t get in a word. Now keep quiet, and let us have a word to say,” begged Frances.
“What do you want to talk about?” laughed Belle.
“Here’s my bird house. Six flats made out of a soap box. Where shall I secure it to a tree?” asked Frances.
“Did you intend the flats for bluebirds or martins? The openings are too large for the wrens,” said the Captain.
“Every one else seemed anxious to house a wren so I thought I would try for another kind of bird. It’s all the same to me, who rents the place, as long as they behave and pay their rent in advance,” explained Frances.
“What are your prices? You haven’t any insects to keep from the plants,” laughed Miss Mason.
“A song to wake me, a song when I have the blues53, and a song at eventide,” said Frances.
“You’ll get it, all right. Never fear that your house will be vacant on those terms,” remarked Janet.
“I would like one of those soap box houses to be placed near the end of the farm yard, girls, just where the little brook54 runs past the old barn. I have a reason for this, which I will tell you of another day. If we had two or three houses in that vicinity it would be better than one,” said Mrs. James.
“I saw a thrasher in a brush heap over by that creek55, today, while we were working in the barn yard,” said Janet now.
“Then we ought to place a house for him in that location,” rejoined Mrs. James.
“Isn’t it too late in the season for the birds to build in our houses?” asked Belle. “I thought birds mated and nested in the springtime.”
“They do, but storms, winds and other accidents are always breaking down nests so that the birds have to seek new quarters. These wanderers we are sure to attract to our houses. Besides these, the tree swallows, martins and chickadees are generally on the lookout56 for better homes than they have built. They will move, at any time, during the summer season.”
Finally the boxes were all turned into bird houses of different styles and workmanship, but all looked substantial and serviceable enough to suit any particular bird house hunter. Some of the boxes were covered with the bark from an old tree trunk; others had copied Norma’s plan of thatching a roof; and some were panelled and balconied, until they looked very elaborate, indeed.
“Well, we can’t do any more tonight, girls. Tomorrow morning, if you’ll come up after breakfast, we will place the bird houses wherever you choose,” said Mrs. James.
So good nights were said and the scouts went down the hill towards camp, while the house girls went slowly upstairs to bed.

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