Chapter 1 - Gooses

Arthur Stuart stood at the window of the taxidermy shop, rapt. Alvin Smith was halfway down the block before he realized that Arthur was no longer with him. By the time he got back, a tall White man was questioning the boy.

"Where's your master, then?"

Arthur did not look at him, his gaze riveted on a stuffed bird, posed as if it were about to land on a branch.

"Boy, answer me, or I'll have the constable..."

"He's with me," said Alvin.

The man at once became friendly. "Glad to know it, friend. A boy this age, you'd think if he was free his parents would have taught him proper respect when a White man - "

"I think he only cares about the birds in the window." Alvin laid a gentle hand on Arthur's shoulder. "What is it, Arthur Stuart?"

Only the sound of Alvin's voice could draw Arthur out of his reverie. "How did he see?"

"Who?" asked the man.

"See what?" asked Alvin.

"The way the bird pushes down with his wings just before roosting, and then poses like a statue. Nobody sees that."

"What's the boy talking about?" asked the man.

"He's a great observer of birds," said Alvin. "I think he's admiring the taxidermy work in the window."

The man beamed with pride. "I'm the taxidermist here. Almost all of those are mine."

Arthur finally responded to the taxidermist. "Most of these are just dead birds. They looked more alive when they lay bloody in the field where the shotgun brought them down. But this one. And that one..." He pointed to a hawk, stooping. "Those were done by someone who knew the living bird."

The taxidermist glowered for a moment, then put on a tradesman's smile. "Do you like those? The work of a French fellow goes by the name 'John-James.'" He said the double name as if it were a joke. "Journeyman work, is all. Those delicate poses - I doubt the wires will hold up over time."

Alvin smiled at the man. "I'm a journeyman myself, but I do work that lasts."

"No offense meant," the taxidermist said at once. But he also seemed to have lost interest, for if Alvin was merely a journeyman in some trade, he wouldn't have enough money to buy anything; nor would an itinerant workman have much use for stuffed animals.

"So you sell this Frenchman's work for less?" asked Alvin.

The taxidermist hesitated. "More, actually."

"The price falls when it's done by the master?" asked Alvin innocently.

The taxidermist glared at him. "I sell his work on consignment, and he sets the price. I doubt anyone will buy it. But the fellow fancies himself an artist. He only stuffs and mounts the birds so he can paint pictures of them, and when he's done painting, he sells the bird itself."

"He'd be better to talk to the bird instead of killing it," said Arthur Stuart. "They'd hold still for him to paint, a man who sees birds so true."

The taxidermist looked at Arthur Stuart oddly. "You let this boy talk a bit forward, don't you?"

"In Philadelphia I thought all folks could talk plain," said Alvin, smiling.

The taxidermist finally understood just how deeply Alvin was mocking him. "I'm not a Quaker, my man, and neither are you." With that he turned his back on Alvin and Arthur and returned to his store. Through the window Alvin could see him sulking, casting sidelong glances at them now and then.

"Come on, Arthur Stuart, let's go meet Verily and Mike for dinner."

Arthur took one step, but still couldn't tear his gaze from the roosting bird.

"Arthur, before the fellow comes out and orders us to move along."

Even with that, Alvin finally had to take Arthur by the hand and near drag him away. And as they walked, Arthur had an inward look to him. "What are you brooding about?" asked Alvin.

"I want to talk to that Frenchman. I have a question to ask him."

Alvin knew better than to ask Arthur Stuart what the question was. It would spare him hearing Arthur's inevitable reply: "Why should I ask you? You don't know."
* * *

Verily Cooper and Mike Fink were already eating when Alvin and Arthur got to the rooming house. The proprietor was a Quaker woman of astonishing girth and very limited talents as a cook - but she made up for the blandness of her food with the quantities she served, and more important was the fact that, being a Quaker in more than name, Mistress Louder made no distinction between half-Black Arthur Stuart