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´╗┐Title: Featherland - How the Birds lived at Greenlawn
Author: Fenn, George Manville, 1831-1909
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Featherland - How the Birds lived at Greenlawn" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Featherland, or How the Birds lived at Greenlawn, by George Manville
Fenn.

________________________________________________________________________

As he explains in the last paragraph the book was written for the
amusement of two little girls who were fond of leaning up against his
knee, and asking him to tell them a story.  Fenn was a very good
naturalist, and I feel sure that he enjoyed looking out at the birds on
the lawn, and seeing their reactions to one another.  From this he has
gone on to add occasional snatches of English speech, to illustrate to
the girls the way the birds, and a few other animals (the dog, the cat,
the bees, a hedgehog, the flies, the wasps), were behaving in each
other's presence.

On the whole the language is easy, and suitable for young children, but
just occasionally a word slips in such as "gourmandising", which would
need explaining to a child.

I am not much in favour of books that make animals talk as though they
were little human beings, but in this book such language is used only to
the very minimum, just enough to make the animals' activities
meaningful.  For the rest the birds mostly make their appointed noises.
But I did enjoy the skylark's song.  And once Fenn had put in one song
it was inevitable that he would put in another, for which the bluebottle
was the "singer".  NH

________________________________________________________________________

FEATHERLAND; OR, HOW THE BIRDS LIVED AT GREENLAWN, BY GEORGE MANVILLE
FENN.



CHAPTER ONE.

HOW SPRING WAS COMING.

"Hallo, old Yellowbill! what's brought you out so early?" said a fine
fat thrush, one bright spring morning, stopping for a moment to look at
his companion, and leaving the great broken-shelled snail he had rooted
out of the ivy bush curling about upon the gravel path.  "Hallo, old
Yellowbill! what's brought you out so early?"

"What's that to you, old snail-crusher?" said the blackbird, for he was
in rather an ill temper that morning, through having had a fright in the
night, and being woke up by old Shoutnight the owl, who had been out
mousing and lost his wife, and sat at last in the ivy-tod halloaing and
hoo-hooing, till the gardener's wife threw her husband's old boot out of
the window at him, when he went flop into the laurel bush, and banged
and bounced about, hissing and snapping with his great bill, while his
goggle eyes glowed so angrily that the blackbird's good lady popped off
her nest in a hurry and broke one of her eggs, and, what was worse, was
afraid to go back again till the eggs were nearly cold; and then she was
so cross about it, that although the broken egg was only a bad one, she
turned round upon Flutethroat, her husband, who had been almost
frightened to death, and told him in a pet it was all his fault for not
picking out a better place for the nest.

So it was no wonder that Flutethroat, the blackbird, turned grumpy when
neighbour Spottleover, the thrush, called him "Yellowbill;" for of
course he did not like it any better than a man with a red nose would
like to be called Hot-poker.  But it was such a fine morning, and there
were so many dew-worms lying out in the cool grass that the neighbours
could not stop to be crabby.  So Spottleover flew off with his snail,
and Flutethroat soon had hold of a thumping, great worm, and set to
work, tug-tug, to draw it from its hole, and then pulled and poked it
about till it was easily to be packed in a knot, when he took it in his
bill and flew off to the laurel bush, where Mrs Flutethroat was busy
sitting upon four green speckly eggs, and waiting very impatiently for
her breakfast.

Just then the sun cocked one side of his great round face over the hill,
and looked down upon Greenlawn garden, where all this took place, and
tried to make the dew-drops glitter and shine upon the grass and leaves;
but he could not, for Dampall, the mist, was out, and had spread himself
all over the place like a great wet smoke; and for ever so long he would
not move, for he did not like the sun at all, because he, as a mist, was
good friends with the moon, and used to let her beams dance all over
him.  But it was a fine spring morning, and the sun had got up in a good
humour, and had no end of business to get through that day.  There was
all the water on the lowlands to drink up; all the little green buds
just coming out on the trees to warm; the bees to waken up and send
honey-seeking amongst the crocuses, primroses, and violets, that were
all peeping out from amongst last autumn's dead leaves; flies to hunt
out of crevices where they had been asleep all the winter; and old
Bluejacket, the watchman beetle, to wake up from his long doze; as well
as Nibblenut the squirrel, Spikey the hedgehog, and ever so many more
old friends and neighbours; and so, of course, he was not going to be
put down by a cold, raw mist.  And, "Pooh!" he said, looking sideways at
it, and, as he got his face a little higher, right through it, "Pooh!
that won't do; you've been up all night, so be off to bed, and don't
think that I am going to put up with any of your nonsense.  You had it
all your own way whilst I was busy down south; but I've come back now to
set things right; so off you go."

Whereupon the mist looked as raw and cross as he could, but it was of no
use; so he rolled himself off the lawn, down the hollow, and into the
vale, where he hung about over the river ever so long, evidently meaning
to come back again; but the sun was after him in a twinkling, and so
there was nothing else for it, and the poor mist crept into a cave by
the river's bank, and went to sleep all day.

"Hooray!" said the birds when the mist was gone; and all the little
pearly dew-drops were sparkling and twinkling on the grass.  The daisy
opened his eye and sat watching the grass grow; while the bees--as their
grand friends, the great flowers, had not yet come to town--came buzzing
about, and carried the news from daisy to daisy that Queen Spring was
coming, and that there were to be grander doings than ever in the
garden.  "Hooray!" said the birds, for they knew it too, and they all
set to work, singing in the gladness of their hearts to think that old
Niptoes the winter had gone at last, and that there would be plenty to
eat, and no more going about with feathers sticking up, and no leaves to
shelter anybody by night.

A fine place was Greenlawn, for there the birds had it all their own
way; not a nest was touched; not a gun was ever seen; and as to powder,
the rooks up in the lime-trees never smelt it in their lives; but built
their great awkward nests, and punched the lawn about till the grubs
used to hold consultations together, and at last determined to emigrate,
but as no one would come out of the ground to make a start, any more
than a mouse could be found bold enough to put the bell on the cat's
neck as told in the old fable, the grubs stopped there year after year,
and had a very, very hard time of it.  It was a regular feast-land for
the birds; there were no such buds anywhere else to peck at, for so the
tomtits and bullfinches thought; no such strawberries for the blackbirds
and thrushes; and as to the elder-berries down by the pond, the
starlings used to come in flocks to strip them off, and then carelessly
leave ever so many wasting upon the ground.

"Hooray!" said the birds that morning; and they sang and sang so loudly
and sweetly that the master of the garden opened his window and sat down
to listen to them.  But they had something else to do besides sing;
there was courting, and wedding, and building, and housekeeping, going
on all over the garden.  Mr and Mrs Redbreast were just married, and
shocking as it may seem, were quarrelling about the place where they
should live.  Mr Robin wanted the snug quarters in the ivy, down by the
melon pits; while Mrs Redbreast said it was draughty, and made up her
mind to live in the rockery amongst the fern.  Mr and Mrs Specklems,
the starlings, were very undecided about the hole in the chimney-stack,
so much so, that when they had half-furnished it, they altered their
minds and went to the great crack half way up the old cedar, and settled
there; "like a pair of giddy unsettled things," as the jackdaw said, who
meant to have been their neighbour; but was not above taking possession
of the soft bed they had left behind.  As to Spottleover, he, too, was
out of temper all the rest of the day, and when Flutethroat met him in
the afternoon he found his neighbour all smeared with clay, and looking
for all the world like a clay-dabbing plasterer as he was.

"There, just look at those wretched little cocktail things," said
Flutethroat, pointing to the wrens, hard at work at their nest, just
when the cock bird flew up on to the wall, perked about for a moment,
sang his song in a tremendous hurry, and seemed to leave off in the
middle, as he popped down again to his work.

"Good job, too," said the thrush; "I wish mine was a cocktail, and then
I shouldn't have had these nobs of clay sticking to it;" saying which he
showed his neighbour three or four little clay-pellets attached to his
tail-feathers, evidently caught up when fetching his mortar from the
pond side.

"Ah! it's a stupid plan that plastering," said a conceited-looking
chaffinch, joining in the conversation.  "I wonder your children don't
die of rheumatic gout."

"Take that for your impudence, you self-satisfied little moss-weaver;"
saying which the thrush gave the new-comer such a dig in the back with
his hard bill, that the finch flew off in a hurry, vowing that he would
pass no more opinions upon other people's building.



CHAPTER TWO.

THE STOLEN EGGS.

Plenty of fine mornings came and went, and busier than ever were all the
birds.  Nests had been built; eggs had been laid; little callow birds
had been hatched; and the little mouths wanted so much feeding that
there was not even time to sing.  But there was a good deal of
discomfort and unpleasantry abroad, for a young relative of Spottleover
the thrush had lost three or four eggs from his nest at the bottom of
the garden.  Of course they had been stolen, but who was the culprit?  A
chattering old sparrow said it was one of the rooks; and when the report
got up in the rookery there was a fine commotion about it that evening,
for the rooks held quite a parliament to vindicate the innocence of
their order; and at last passed a vote of censure upon the sparrow for
his false accusation; agreed to send him to Coventry; and, as one old
rook said, it would have been much more to his credit to have had his
shirt-front washed, for it was dreadfully dirty, than to have gone
making the rooks out blacker than they really were.  Then someone said
it was the magpie; but he was dreadfully indignant about it, and his
long tail trembled with passion; but he quite cleared his character
before he flew back to his nest in the great elm down the field, for as
he very truly said, if the case had been respecting a young bird or two,
and times had been very hard, he might have fallen into temptation, and
taken a callow nestling; "but as to eggs," he said, laying a black paw
upon his white waistcoat, "upon his honour, no, not even if they were
new laid."

And so the eggs kept going, and nobody knew where; for they all felt
when the magpie said "Tar-tar," and flew away, that he had spoken openly
and honourably, and was not the thief.  At last one evening, when all
the birds were as busy as their old friends the bees, all of a sudden
there was a complete full stop throughout the garden, for from one of
the low branches of the great cedar someone suddenly shouted out in a
full, loud, and distinct voice--"Cuckoo!" and again two or three times
over--"Cuckoo!"

"Halloa!" said Flutethroat, ceasing his worm hunt, "who is that?"

"Cuckoo," said Spottleover, dropping a snail; "what does that mean?"

And all through the garden there ran a thrill of excitement, for the
thrush's cousin flew up to the birds who had collected together, and
told them he had seen the thief in the act of taking an egg, and he had
flown into the cedar-tree.  He was a long ugly bird in a striped
waistcoat, and--

But the narrative was interrupted by the long mellow call of--

"Cuckoo!"

"What's it mean?" chorused the birds.

"Oh, that's his impudence," said the old owl, winking and blinking, for
he had been roused out of his sleep by the new call.

"Come now, that won't do; we don't want you meddling now, old
mousetrap," said the birds; "none of your night-birds here."  Saying
which, they pecked and buffeted old Shoutnight to such a degree that he
was glad to shuffle off to his hole behind the ivied chimney-stack.

All this while the cry kept coming out of the cedar, "Cuckoo! cuckoo!"

"It's Dutch," said a greenfinch, looking very knowing.

"No, it isn't; he comes from Spain, I know," said the goldfinch.

"Chiswick, Chiswick," shouted the sparrow.

"Tchah," said the jackdaw.

"Twit, twit," said the nuthatch.

"Little bit o' bread and no cheese," said the yellowhammer.

"Ah, we'll `twit' him with his theft," said the sage old starling; "and
it's neither bread nor cheese he'll get here.  He's a thief; a cheat;
a--"

"Quack, quack," cried a duck from the pond.

"Ah! and a quack," continued the starling, and then he grew so excited
that the rest of his speech was lost in sputtering, chattering, and
fizzing; and all the birds burst out laughing at him, for all his little
sharp shining feathers were standing up all over his head, and he looked
so comical that they could not contain themselves, but kept on
tittering, till all of a sudden--

"Cuckoo!" said the stranger, and came right into view.

"He's a foreigner," shouted the birds; "give it him;" and away they
went, mobbing the strange bird; flying at him, over him, under him,
round and round him, darting in and out in all directions, and pecking
him so sharply that he was obliged to make signs for mercy; when he was
immediately taken into custody by the starlings, and made to go into a
hole in the cedar, where a jackdaw kept watch while they made
preparations for trying the thief.



CHAPTER THREE.

PREPARATIONS FOR THE TRIAL.

And a fine job those preparations were.  It was all in vain that a
meeting was held, and the perch taken; everybody wanted to talk at once,
and, what was worse still, everybody did talk at once, and made such a
clatter, that Tom, the gardener's boy, threw his birch-broom up in the
cedar-tree, and then had his ears boxed because it did not come down
again, but lay across two boughs ever so high up and out of reach, to
the great annoyance of Mrs Turtledove, a nervous lady of very mournful
habit.

The birch-broom scattered the birds for a while, but they soon came
back, for they were not going to be frightened away by a bundle of
twigs, when they did not even care for a scarecrow, but used to go and
sit upon its head; while the tomtit declared it was a capital spider
trap, and used to pick out no end of savoury little spinners for his
dinner.

When the birds had all settled again, they went to business in a quieter
way, for they did not wish to be again driven off in such a sweeping
manner; so at last they decided that the owl should be judge, because he
looked big and imposing.

"Oh!" said Specklems the starling, "but he's so sleepy and
chuckleheaded."

"All the better, my dear sir," said the magpie, who had come back on
hearing the news of the capture; "all the better, my dear sir, for you
know you will be for the prosecution, and then, with a highly
respectable jury, we shall get on capitally; in fact, hardly want any
judge at all, only to keep up appearances."

"Whew, whoo, whistlerustle," away they went, and settled in a cloud on
the top of the old ivied house, and round about the owl's nest--birds of
all colours, sorts, and sizes; long tails and short tails; long bills
and short bills; worm-workers, grub-grinders, bud-biters,
snail-crushers, seed-snappers, berry-bringers, fruit-finders, all kinds
of birds--to fetch Judge Owl to sit at the court, to try the foreign
thief, who had made such a commotion, trouble, bother, worry, and
disturbance; and kicked up such a dust, such a shindy, such a hobble, as
had never before been known in Featherland.

"Hallo! here, Shoutnight; hallo! wake up; anybody at home?" said the
magpie, holding his head very much on one side, and peeping with one eye
at a time into the snug place where the fuzzy old gentleman used to
bring his mice home.  "Hallo! here," he continued, throwing in a small
lump of mortar, which woke up the owl with a start.

"Who-hoo-hoo-hoo?" shouted the master of the house.

"Who-who tu-who-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo?" shouted the mistress.

"Ciss-s-s--phistle--phut-snap," chorused the juveniles, who had been
disturbed by their mamma, treading upon one, scratching another on the
side of the head, and giving number three such a crack with her wing
that the little fellow was knocked out of the nest into an old sooty
part of the chimney, and came back such a little guy that his mother
hardly knew him.

"Who-who-oo-oo-oo?" said the owl again.

"`Who? who? who?' why, whom do you suppose, but all your cousins of
Featherland, come to give you a call?" said the magpie.

Whereupon the old gentleman came forth in a very dignified way, with his
wife's spectacles on his nose, and then, because he could not see a bit,
stood winking and blinking and nodding his great head, and bowing, and
sticking up his feathers, like a stupid old turkey-cock, till he looked
so majestic and imposing, that it was decided at once that he must come
into the cedar and try the foreigner, who would not have a chance to get
off with such a judge before him.

Off went the owl with a heavy flap-flap, and across the garden to where
the great cedar stood; and away went the birds with such a flutter,
rustle, and bustle, that the whole air whistled again as they swept
away.

"Now, then, bolster-brains," said the starling to the jackdaw, "why,
you've been asleep!"  And there, sure enough, had sat the daw with his
head in his pocket, and one leg put away for the present until he wanted
it again.

"Asleep! nonsense!" said the daw.  "Pooh--tchah! who ever heard of such
a thing?  Only thinking, my dear sir--only thinking; and I think so much
better with my eyes shut and the light shaded from them."

"Why, you depraved descendant of a corvine ancestor; you grey-headed old
miscreant," exclaimed the blackbird, who had been to look at the
prisoner, "what have you done with the foreigner?"

"Done," said the daw, "done with the foreigner!  No, of course I have
not done with the foreigner, any more than the rest of the company
have."

"But where is he?" chorused several birds; "where is he?"

"Ah!" said Judge Shoutnight, "who-oo-oo--ere's the prisoner?"

Over the hills and far away, with voice cleared by sucking the little
birds' eggs, and crying "Cuckoo," till the far-off woods rang back the
echo from their golden green sides; and still on and on flew the
sweet-voiced bird, crying that summer had come again with its hedge-side
flowers and sweet-scented gales, bonny meadows, golden with the glossy
buttercups, while nodding cowslips peeped from their verdant beds.
"Cuckoo!" cried the bird, and away he flew again over the rich green
pasture, where the lowing cows lazily browsed amongst the rich
cream-giving grass, or crouched in their fresh, sweet banqueting-hall,
and idly ruminated with half-shut eyes, flapping their great widespread
ears to get rid of some early fly.  And, still rejoicing in his liberty,
the bird cried "Cuckoo! cuckoo!" over vale and lea.



CHAPTER FOUR.

"PEEDLE-WEEDLE-WEE."

"There, only hark at that," said Mrs Flutethroat; "who can possibly go
to sleep with that noise going on--ding, ding, dinging in one's ears?"
saying which the good dame took her head from beneath her wing, and
smoothed down her feathers as she spoke.  "There never was such a
nuisance as those bottle-tits anywhere."

The noise that Mrs Flutethroat complained of proceeded from the low
branches of a large fir-tree; and as the good dame listened the sounds
came again louder than ever, "Peedle-weedle-wee, peedle-weedle-wee," in
a small, thready, pipy tone, as though the birds who uttered the cry had
had their voices split up into two or three pieces.

"Peedle-weedle-wee, peedle-weedle-wee," cried a row of little
long-tailed birds, so small that they looked like little balls of
feathers, with tiny black eyes and a black beak--so small that it was
hardly worth calling a beak at all--stuck at one point, and a thin tail
at the other extreme.

"Peedle-weedle-wee, peedle-weedle-wee," they kept crying, which
meant,--"Let me come inside where it's warm;" and as they kept on
whining the same cry, the outside birds kept flitting over the backs of
those next to them, and trying to get a middle place.  Then the next two
did the same, and the next, and the next, until they all had done the
same thing, when they began again; and all the while that wretched,
querulous piping "peedle-weedle-wee" kept on, till Mrs Flutethroat grew
so angry, and annoyed and irritable, that she felt as though she could
have thrown one of her eggs at the tiresome little intruders on the
peace of the garden.

"Peedle-weedle-wee, peedle-weedle-wee," said the bottle-tits as busy as
ever, trying to get the warmest spot.

"There they go again," said Mrs Flutethroat; "why don't you go
somewhere else, and not make that noise there?"

"Peedle-weedle-wee, peedle-weedle-wee," said the bottle-tits.

"Ah!" said Mrs Flutethroat, "I wish I was behind you, I'd make you say
`Peedle-wee-weedle--weedle-wee-peedle,' as you call it.  I'd soon He
after you, only it is so dark, and all my egg's would grow cold.
Tchink-tchink-tchink," she cried, trying to fright them; but still they
kept on "Peedle-weedle-wee, peedle-weedle-wee" worse than ever; and, as
it grew dark, it actually appeared as though they were coming nearer to
the nest.

"There," she exclaimed at last, "I can't stand this any longer!  Here,
Flutethroat, wake up, do," she cried to her partner, who was sitting
upon a neighbouring bough with his feathers erect all over him, and his
head turned right under and quite out of sight.  "Wake up, wake up, do,"
she cried again, trying to shake the boughs.

But Flutethroat could not wake up just then, for he was enjoying a most
delightful dream: he was living in a country where there were no cats,
nor any other living things but slugs, snails, and grubs; while all
kinds of fruit grew in profusion, so that there was no difficulty in
obtaining any amount of food; but one great drawback to his happiness
was an ugly, misshapen little bird, which would keep running after him,
and crying, "Peedle-weedle-wee, peedle-weedle-wee," or else shouting at
him to "wake up."

"Wake up, wake up," cried the voice.

"Get along with you, do," said Flutethroat.

"Peedle-weedle-wee, peedle-weedle-wee," cried the voice again.

"Oh! bother," said Flutethroat, slowly drawing his head out from beneath
his wing, and finding that the voices were real, and plainly to be heard
on both sides of the puzzled bird; for Mrs Flutethroat was crying out
"Wake up, wake up," and the bottle-tits were squabbling more than ever
for the warmest place.

"There, at last," said Mrs Flutethroat, "if you sleep after that
fashion, that old green-eyed cat must have you some day, and I shall be
made a disconsolate widow."

"Well, what's the matter?" said Flutethroat, opening his yellow bill
quite an inch, and gaping dreadfully without putting a wing before his
mouth.

"What's the matter?" said his mate crabbily.  "Why, look at those nasty
little feather-balls peedle-weedling; who can put up with it?  They've
no business there at all.  They've been making that noise for
half-an-hour."

"Well, go to sleep, and don't take any notice."

"But I can't; I've been trying ever so long, and they won't let me.
Every now and then I think they have gone to sleep, but they only burst
out worse than ever.  There, hark at them; isn't it dreadful?"

"Heigho--he--ha--ha--hum--mum; yes, very," said Flutethroat.  "Oh! dear;
how sleepy I am!"

"Sleepy," said Mrs Flutethroat crossly; "so am I; then why don't you go
and stop that dreadful noise?"

"How can I stop it?  They have as good a right to be there as we have to
be here; so we must not interfere with them."

"But you must stop it," said his wife, getting so cross that Flutethroat
was obliged to say "Very well," and go slowly towards the fir-tree,
where the tiny birds were sitting in a row, and when he got up to them
there they were tired out and fast asleep; the last one awake having
dropped off just as he was half through saying "weedle," and as he was
going to hop over his neighbours' backs to get in the middle.

Flutethroat stopped to look at the little downy grey mites, and could
not help thinking how pretty they looked; when he went back to the
laurel bush, and found his mate fast asleep too; and so there was
nothing else for it but to turn himself into a ball of feathers, which
he quickly did; and then there was nought to be heard but the night
breezes of early spring rustling through the half bare trees, and
hurrying off to fetch water from the sea to drop upon the ground, so
that flowers and grass might spring up, and earth look bright and gay
once more.

"Kink-kink-kink," cried Flutethroat, darting through the shrubbery next
morning, and rousing up his cousins, who were soon busy at work
finishing their nest and getting everything in apple-pie order.  How
hard they all worked; fetching materials from all sorts of distant
places, and picking only those of the most sober hues, such as would not
attract the notice of those people who might be passing by; and then how
carefully was every straw, or hair, or thread woven in and out and
secured, so that the walls of the nests grew up neat, tight, and compact
as possible, and all the while so tightly fastened that nothing short of
great violence could move them from their place.  As for the nests of
Flutethroat and his cousins, they were so warmly plastered inside, that
it might have been thought that they meant their little nests to be
substantial houses to last them for years to come.

"Caw-aw--caw-aw--caw-aw," cried a rook up in the high limes.

"Caw-caw-caw-caw," cried all the rest of the rooks up in the high limes.
And then such a chorus broke forth that the whole of Greenlawn was in a
state of alarm, and called a meeting in the cedar to know what was the
matter.

"There's somebody shot," said Mr Specklems, the starling.

"Nonsense," said the thrush; "there was no pop.  It must be something
much worse than that."

"Send some one to ask," said the jackdaw.

"Ah! to be sure," said everybody in chorus; and so it was decided that
the jackdaw should go and see, and then come back and deliver his
report.

Off he went; and all the time he was gone the birds in the cedar made a
noise of their own, almost equal to that in the rookery, till the
jackdaw came back looking so cunning and knowing, that every one could
plainly see that nothing very serious was the matter.

As soon as he got up to his place in the cedar all the birds crowded
round him to make inquiries; but the daw began to teaze them, and
wouldn't tell anything for a few minutes, and then in a half whisper he
said something to the starling.

"Tchitch!" said Specklems, "is that all? why I'd have two dozen
hatchings without making one half of that disturbance.  Dear friends,"
he continued, turning round to the assembled birds, "dear friends, it's
a great to-do about nothing at all; for all that hullabaloo is because
there are some young rooks hatched."

"Boo! oh! er! ah!" cried all the birds in all sorts of tones of disgust
and annoyance.  "What a shame.--Stupid things," and many other
expressions of indignation at being startled about such a piece of
rubbish, burst from the birds; and directly after there was a whirl, and
a rush, for all the birds darted off in the greatest haste to get to
their business again, to make up for lost time; and would not leave it
afterwards although a jay flew over screaming harshly; and a stray hen
got in the garden scratching the flower beds, and had to be hunted out;
nor yet even when Mrs Puss came slinking down the garden, and round all
the flower beds; for this was a terribly busy time, and every moment was
of value, though certainly food began to be much more plentiful now the
warm and genial sun began to shine longer every day, and made bud after
bud burst into beautiful emerald green leaves, that made the trees cast
a deeper shade, and began to conceal the nests--even those of the rooks
up in the tall limes.



CHAPTER FIVE.

PRETTY PUSSY.

A nice job had Mr and Mrs Spottleover with their young ones; they were
not amiable and dutiful children, but spent all their time in grumbling
and shouting for more food, till they nearly drove the old folks mad,
and Mrs Spottleover said she would never have been married if she had
known; "no; that she wouldn't."  Tiresome children hers were, for they
were no sooner hatched, and lay at the bottom of the nest all eyes and
mouth, with just a patch of grey woolly fluff stuck on their backs, than
they began to open their great beaks, and gorge everything the old ones
brought; till you would almost have thought they must have killed
themselves; but they did not; they only grew; and that, too, at such a
rate, that before they were fledged they used to push, crowd, and fight
because, they said, the nest was too tight; and it was almost a wonder
nobody fell overboard.  Beautiful beaks they had, too, as they grew
older, and sweet voices, that subsided into a querulous grumbling when
the old birds had gone; but directly father or mother returned, tired
and panting, to settle on the bush, up popped every bird, and strained
every neck, and wide open sprang every beak, ready for the coming "slug,
grub, or wire-worm."

"My turn--my turn--my turn--my turn," chorused the voices; ready to snap
up the coming morsel like insatiable young monsters as they were; and
this time it was a fine fat worm that Mrs Spottleover found on the
grass plot far away from his hole, and had killed and then brought him
in triumph to her little ones for breakfast.

"Now, one at a time, children; one at a time; don't be greedy," said
dame Spottleover; and then she popped the beautiful, juicy,
macaroni-like morsel into the beak of number one, who began to gobble it
down for fear anyone else should get a taste; but number four saw a
chance, and snapped hold of the other end of the worm and swallowed ever
so much, till at last he and his brother had their heads close together;
when they began to pull and quarrel--quarrel and pull--till Mrs
Spottleover turned her own beak into a pair of scissors, snipped the
disputed morsel in two, boxed both the offenders' ears, said she would
take the worm away--but did not, as it was all gone--and then flew off
for a fresh supply.

In came father with three green caterpillars fresh from off the
cauliflowers, popped them in as many beaks, and he, too, flew off on his
day's work to hunt out savoury morsels for his little tyrant-like
children.

"I can fly," said number three; "I know I can.  I mean to try soon, and
get my own bits.  I know I can."

"You can't," said one brother; "you can't.  You would come down wop! and
couldn't get up again.  You ain't strong enough to fly yet."

"I am.  I could fly ever so high; and I'd show you, if I liked, but I
don't like."

"Ah! you're afraid."

"No; I'm not."

"Yes; you are."

"No; I'm not.  There's a wing now," said the fledgeling, spreading out
his half-penned pinion.  "Couldn't I fly with that?"

"Oh!" roared the other disputant, "that's right in my eye.  Oh, dear;
oh, dear; won't I tell when mother comes back."

"Tchut, tchut, children," said the dame, flying to the nest; "quiet,
quiet, there's the green-eyed tiger that killed your grandfather coming;
so thank your stars that you are safe in the nest your father and I made
for you; for yon wretch would, if it could, make mouthfuls of you all."

But Mrs Pussy with her striped sides, and long, lithe sweeping tail,
did not know of the thrushes' nest, and so went quietly and softly down
the path towards the hollow cedar-tree.  Here and there lay a wet leaf
or two; and when quiet Mrs Puss put her velvet paw on one it would
stick to it, and set her twitching and shaking her leg till the leaf was
got rid of, when she licked the place a little and went on again.  Ah!
so soft and smooth and velvety was Mrs Puss, looking as innocent as the
youngest of kittens, and without a thought of harm to anybody.  Walking
along so softly, and not noticing anything with one eye, but keeping the
other slyly fixed upon friend Specklems, who was high up on a dead
branch, making believe to sing to his good lady, who was two feet deep
in a hole of the cedar, sitting upon four beautiful blue eggs.  And
beautifully Specklems, no doubt, thought he sang, only to a listener it
sounded to be all sputter and wheezle--chatter and whistle; but he kept
on.  All the while puss crept gently up to the trunk of the tree, only
just to rub herself up against it, backwards and forwards; nothing more.
But, somehow, Mrs Puss was soon up the trunk, and close to the
nest-hole before the starling saw her; but he did at last, with her paw
right down in the hole.  "Now, thief," he shouted, perking himself up
and looking very fierce; but all the while trembling lest puss should
draw out his wife tangled up in the nesting stuff.  "Now, come, out of
that."

Mrs Puss gave a slight start, and peering up saw Specklems looking as
fierce about the head as an onion stuck full of needles; but she did not
draw forth her paw until she had, by carefully stretching it out as far
as possible, found that she could not reach the nest.

"Dear me, how you startled me, Mr Specklems," she said; "who ever would
have thought of seeing you there?" and then she began sneaking and
sidling up towards the bird, of course with the most innocent of
intentions; and though not in the slightest degree trusting Mrs Puss,
Specklems sat watching to see what she would do next.

"It's a nice morning, isn't it?" she continued mildly, but at the same
time drawing her wicked-looking red tongue over her thin lips as though
she thought Specklems would be nicer than the morning.  "It's a nice
morning, isn't it? and how Do you do, my dear sir?  You see I am taking
a ramble for my health.  I find that I want fresh air; the heat of the
kitchen fire quite upsets me sometimes, and then I come out for a
stroll, and get up the trees just to hear the sweet warbling of the
songsters."

"Humph!" said Specklems to himself, "that's meant for a compliment to my
singing; but I know she's after no good."

"The kitchen was very, very hot this morning," continued Puss, "and so I
came out."  And this was quite true, for the kitchen _was_ hot that
morning--too hot to hold Mrs Puss, for cook had run after her with the
fire-shovel for licking all the impression off one of the pats of
butter, just ready for the breakfast parlour, and leaving the marks of
her rough tongue all over the yellow dab, and hairs out of her whiskers
in the plate; and then when cook called her a thief, she stood licking
her lips at the other end of the kitchen, and looking so innocent, that
cook grew quite cross, caught up the shovel, and chased puss round the
kitchen, till at last the cat jumped up on cook's shoulder, scratched
off her cap, and leaped up to the open skylight and got away; while poor
cook was so frightened that she fell down upon the sandy floor in a
fainting fit, but knocked the milk-jug over upon the table as she went
down, which served to revive her, for the milk ran in a little rivulet
right into one of the poor woman's ears, filled it at once like a little
lake, and then flowed down her neck, underneath her gown, and completely
soaked her clean white muslin handkerchief.  And so Mrs Puss found the
kitchen very hot that morning, and took a walk in the garden.

"Let me hear you sing again, sir," said Puss, creeping nearer and
nearer.  "That piece of yours, where you whistle first, and then make
that sweet repetition, which sounds like somebody saying `stutter' a
great many times over very quickly.  Now, do, now; you folks that can
sing always want so much pressing."

Poor Specklems! he hardly knew what to do at first; but he had wit
enough to be upon his guard while he sang two or three staves of his
song.

By this time Puss had managed to creep within springing distance of poor
Specklems; and just in the midst of one of her smooth oily speeches she
made a jump, open-mouthed and clawed, but missed her mark, for the
starling gave one flip with his wing and was out of reach in an instant,
and then, with a short skim, he alighted on the thin branch of a
neighbouring tree, where he sat watching his treacherous enemy, who had
fared very differently.  Crash went Mrs Puss right through the prickly
branches of the cedar, and came down with her back across the handle of
the birch-broom, which still stuck in the tree, and made her give such
an awful yowl, that the birds all came flocking up in time to see Mrs
Puss go spattering down the rest of the distance, and then, as a matter
of course, she fell upon her feet, and walked painfully away, followed
by the jeers of all the birds, who heard the cause of her fall, while
she went off spitting and swearing in a most dreadful manner, and
looking as though her tail had been turned into a bottle-brush, just at
the time her coat was so rough that it would be useful to smooth it.

Poor Mrs Puss, she nearly broke her back, and she went off to the top
of the tool-shed, where the sun shone warmly, and there she set to and
licked herself all over, till her glossy coat was smooth again, when she
curled herself up in a ball and went fast asleep, very much to the
discomfort of a pair of redstarts, who were busy building their nest
under the very tile Mrs Puss had chosen for her throne.

"A nasty, deceitful, old, furry, green-eyed, no-winged, ground-crawling
monster," said Mrs Specklems.  "There I sat, with its nasty fish-hook
foot within two or three inches of my nose, and there it was opening and
shutting, and clawing about in such a way, that I turned all cold and
shivery all over, and I'm sure I've given quite a chill to the eggs; and
dear, dear, what a time they are hatching!  Don't you think that if we
were both to sit upon them they would be done in half the time?  Here
have I been sit-sit-sit for nearly twenty days down in that dark hole;
and if we are to have any more such frights as that just now, why, I do
declare that I will forsake the nest.  The nasty spiteful thing, it
ought to be pecked to death."

But Mrs Puss was not to go unpunished for her wrongful dealings; about
half an hour after she had been asleep, who should come snuffing about
in the garden but Boxer, the gardener's ugly, old rough terrier.  He had
no business at all in the garden, but had managed to get his chain out
of the staple, and there he was running about, and dragging it all over
the flower beds, and doing no end of mischief; then he made a charge at
Mrs Spottleover, who was on the lawn, where she had just punched out a
fine grub, but she was so frightened at Boxer's rough head and
hair-smothered eyes, that she dropped her grub and went off in a hurry.
Over and over went Boxer in the grass, having such a roll, and panting
and lolling out his great red tongue with excitement, and then working
away with both paws at his collar till he got it over his little cock-up
ears, and then he gave his freed head such a shake that the ears rattled
again.  Then away he went, sniffing here, snuffing there, jumping and
snapping at the birds far above, and coming down upon the ground with
all four legs at once, and racing about and playing such strange antics,
capers, and pranks, that the birds all laughed at the stupid,
good-natured-looking dog, and did not feel a bit afraid of him.

All at once Boxer gave a sharp sniff under the cedar-tree, just where
Mrs Puss had tumbled down, and then sticking his ears forward, his nose
down, and his tail straight up, he trotted off along the track Mrs Puss
had made, until he came close to the tool-shed, where, looking up, he
could just see a part of Pussy's shining fur coat leaning over the
tiles.  Now, Boxer was a very sly old gentleman, and when he saw the
birds flocking after him to see what he would do, he made them a sign to
be quiet, and put his paw up to the side of his wet black nose, as much
as to say, "I know;" and then he trotted off to the melon frames, walked
up the smooth sloping glass till he could jump on to the ivy-covered
wall, where he nearly put his foot in the hedge-sparrow's nest, and so
on along the top till he came to the tool-shed, where his enemy, Mrs
Puss, lay curled up, fast asleep.

They were dreadful enemies were Mrs Puss and Boxer, for the cat used to
go into the yard where the dog was chained up, and, after spitting and
swearing at him, on more than one occasion took advantage of his being
at the end of his chain, and keeping just out of his reach scratched the
side of his nose, and tore the skin so that poor Boxer ran into his
kennel howling with pain, rage, and vexation; while Mrs Puss, setting
her fur all up, marched out of the yard a grander body than ever.  And
then, too, she used to get all the titbits out of the kitchen that would
have fallen to Boxer's share; and he, poor fellow, used often to say to
the robin-redbreast who came for a crumb or two, that the pieces he
sometimes had smelt catty, from Puss turning them over and then refusing
them, when they came to the share of the poor dog.

So Boxer never forgave the scratch on his nose, nor yet Mrs Puss's
boast that he was afraid of her; so he walked softly along the wall, and
on to the tool-shed, and with one bouncing leap came down plop upon the
treacherous old grimalkin.

"Worry-worry-worry-ur-r-r-ry," said Boxer, as he got hold of Pussy's
thick skin at the nape of her neck, and shook away at it as hard as he
could.

"Wow-wow-wiau-au-au-aw," yelled Puss, wakened out of her sleep, and in
vain trying to escape.

"Hooray!" said the birds, flying round and round in a state of the
greatest excitement.

"Give it her, Boxer," shouted Mr Specklems, remembering the morning's
treachery.

And then off they rolled on to the ground, and over and over, righting,
howling, and yelling, till Mrs Puss made a desperate rush through a
gooseberry bush, and a thorn went so sharply into Boxer's nose that he
left go, and away went Puss across the garden till she came to the wall,
and was scrambling up it, when Boxer had her by the tail and dragged her
down again.  But Puss made another rush towards the gate, dragging Boxer
after her, till she came to the trellis-work opening, through which she
dragged herself, and a moment after Boxer stood looking very foolish,
with a handful of fur off Puss's tail in his mouth; while she, with her
ragged ornament, was glad enough to sneak in-doors frightened to death,
and get to the bottom of the cellar, where she scared cook almost into
fits, by sitting upon a great lump of coal, with her eyes glaring like a
couple of green stars in the dark.

"Wow-wow-wow--bow-wow-wuff," said Boxer at last, when he found that his
enemy had gone.  "Wuff-wuff," he said again, trying to get rid of the
fur sticking about his mouth.  "Wuff-wuff," he said, "that's better."

"Bravo!" chorused the birds, in a state of high delight; "well done,
Boxer!"

"Ha-ha-ha; phut-phut-phut--wizzle-wizzle," said the starling off the top
of the wall.

"Wizzle-wizzle, indeed," said Boxer grumpily; "why don't you come down,
old sharp-bill, and pull this thorn out of my nose?"

"'Tisn't safe," said the starling.

"Get out," said Boxer; "why, what do you mean?"

"You'd get hold of my tail, perhaps," said Specklems.

"Ha-ha-ha," laughed all the birds; "that's capital, so he would."

"No, no; honour bright," said Boxer.  "You never knew me cheat; ask
Robin, there."

Whereupon the robin came forward in a new red waistcoat, blew his nose
very loudly, and then said:--

"Gentlemen all, I could, would, should, and always have trusted my
person freely with my friend--if he will allow me to call him so,"--here
the robin grew quite pathetic, and said that often and often he had been
indebted to his friend for a sumptuous repast, or for a draught of water
when all around was ice; he assured them they might put the greatest
trust in Boxer's honour.

Whereupon Boxer laid himself in the path, and the birds dropped down one
at a time, some on the beds, some on the gooseberry or currant bushes,
and formed quite a cluster round the great, rough, hairy fellow, for
they felt perfectly safe after what the robin had said.

First of all, the starling examined the wound with great care, and said,
"The thorn is sticking in it."

"Well, I knew that," said Boxer; "pull it out."

He spoke so sharply that every one jumped, and appeared as if about to
fly off; but as the dog lay quite still, Specklems laid hold of the
thorn, and gave a tug at it that made Boxer whine; but he did not get it
out, so tried again.

"Some one come and lend a hand here," said the starling; and then two or
three birds, one after another, joined wings and pulled away with a
hearty "Yo, ho," until all at once out came the thorn, and down fell the
haulers all in a heap upon the ground, where they fluttered and
scrambled about, for their legs and wings had got so mixed up together
that there was no telling which was which; and the only wonder was that
the thrush did not come out of the scramble with the starling's wings,
and the blackbird with somebody else's tail.  However, at last they were
all right again, and Boxer declared he was so deeply indebted to the
birds that he must ask them all to his kennel in the yard to help him to
eat his dinner next day.

Then the birds whistled and chattered, piped and sang; Boxer gave two or
three barks and jumps off the ground to show his satisfaction, although
his nose was bleeding; while all the time Mrs Puss sat alone in the
coal-cellar, making use of most dreadful cat-language, and determining
to serve the birds out for it some day.

When a proper amount of respect had been shown upon both sides, the
birds flew off to their green homes, to attend to the wants of their
young ones, and to finish nesting; while Boxer went back to his green
kennel and made himself a nest amongst his clean straw.



CHAPTER SIX.

THE TOMTITS.

It was all very well for Mrs Puss to get up the great cedar-tree and
put her paw down the great hole, but if it had been the thorn-tree, that
was just coming out all over beautiful white scented blossoms, hanging
in long silvery wreaths, Mrs Puss would have found out her mistake.
There was a hole there, and there was a nest in it, but pussy's paw
could no more have gone down it than a cannon-ball would run through a
tobacco-pipe.  Such a tiny round hole; such a depth; and such a tiny
little round pair of birds, with blue and white heads, green backs, and
yellow breasts, with a black stripe down the centre; such tiny black
beaks; in short, such a tiny pair of tits were Tom and Tomasina, who had
made their nest right down at the bottom of this little hole.  Bustling,
busy little bodies they were, too, popping in and out with little bits
of soft wool, down, or small feathers; and then, tiniest of all were
first about a dozen morsels of eggs, and then the nest full of little
callow birds, with all that dozen of little beaks up and open for food.
In and out, in and out, till any one would have thought the little
tomtit wings would have been tired out; but, no; in and out still, and
backwards and forwards, bringing tiny grubs and caterpillars, and all
manner of little insects in those little open beaks, to satisfy the
craving little family at home.  Tom-tit told his wife that he could not
understand it, but thought that when they were mated all they would have
to do would be to fly about the garden, hopping from twig to twig, and
picking all the little buds through the long sunshiny days, and sleeping
at night upon some high, safe bough, rolled up like little balls of
feathers.

"Oh! but," said Mrs Tit, "only to think of it; such a tiny body as I am
to have twelve children, and all the while that great gawky, Mrs
Stockdove, only to have one, for the other she had rolled out of the
nest and was killed."

"Nest," said Tom, "I never saw such a nest; nothing but a few sticks
laid across one another.  No wonder the poor little thing rolled out;
there was nothing to save it.  But it is not every one who has so tidy
and neat a little body for a wife as I have.  So come, wifey, bustle
about, for the children are all crying as though they had not eaten for
a week; and I declare that I'm as hungry as any of them."

And away flew the little tits, ridding the garden of thousands of insect
plagues, and clearing off nuisances that would have destroyed half the
fruit and vegetables in the garden.  As for the little crawling flies
and other insects, it was wonderful how fast they were snapped up; and
though people would say that Tom-tit and his wife did a great deal of
mischief by pecking the buds, it was quite a mistake; for though they
pecked the buds, it was almost always when some sly little insect had
made itself a hole in the bud, where it would have laid eggs, and its
young would have totally destroyed the tree.  Todkins, the old gardener,
used to be in a fine way about it, and laid all sorts of charges against
not only Tom-tit but all the rest of the birds, and used to want to set
traps, and spread poisoned wheat, and get guns to shoot them with; but
the master of Greenlawn would not let him; so the old man used to
grumble and say there would be no fruit and no vegetables, for the birds
would eat everything up, seed, fruit, and all.  But the master of
Greenlawn knew best, for he thought that if the birds were killed or
frightened away, the insects, and grubs, and caterpillars, and slugs,
and snails, and all sorts of other uncomfortable things, would come and
eat the fruit and vegetables, and eat them all up, while the birds would
be sure to leave some.  And, sure enough, he was quite right, for
somebody else, who used to kill and frighten away all the birds, had all
his crops destroyed; while at Greenlawn, where there were hundreds and
hundreds of birds, there was always plenty of fruit and vegetables; for
the birds very seldom touched the fruit if they could get plenty of
other food.  Certainly sometimes Mr Sparrow used to pick out the finest
and ripest cherries, or have a good peck at a juicy pear.  The
starlings, too, would gobble down the elder-berries, and sometimes the
greenfinches used to go to see how the radish seeds were getting on, and
taking tight hold of the thread-like shoots, pull them out of the
ground, and leave them upon the top of the bed, fast asleep, for they
never grew any more.  Still, take it altogether, there was always twice
as much fruit where there were plenty of birds, as where they were all
driven away.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

AN ODD STRANGER.

There was one bird used to run about Greenlawn on a fine morning,
hunting for tiny spiders and flies; he was a little, slim, dapper
fellow, with a long tail, and whenever he jumped about a little way, or
settled upon the ground, he used to make his long tail go wipple-wapple,
up and down, as if he had shaken it loose; but it was only a funny habit
of his, like that of Mrs Hedgesparrow, who was always shaking and
shuffling her wings about.  A fast runner was Mr Wagtail, and fine fun
it was to see him skimming along the top of the ground in chase of a fly
to take home to his wife, who used to live in a nest in the bank close
by the hole over the pond, where old Ogrebones--blue-backed Billy the
kingfisher, had his house, and used to spread the bones of his fishy
little victims about the grass.

One day Walter Wagtail was running along the ground after a fly, and was
going to snap him up, when--"bob"--he was gone in an instant; and
Wagtail found himself standing before--oh! such an ugly thing, with two
bright, staring eyes; a bloated, rough, dirty-looking body; four crooked
legs, no neck, no wings, no tail, and such a heavy stomach, that he was
obliged to crawl about with it resting upon the ground.

"Heugh! you horrid, ugly-looking thing," said Wagtail; "you swallowed my
fly.  Where do you come from? what's your name? who's your father and
mother, and what made you so ugly?"

"Ugly, indeed," said the pudgy thing; "what do you mean by ugly?  Just
you go to the bottom of the pond and lie under the mud, old
fluffy-jacket, and stop there for a week, and see how you would look
with your fine gingerbread black and white feathers sticking to your
sides all muddy and wet.  Who would look ugly then?  Not you! oh no."

"But I shouldn't be such a round, rough, clay-tod as you are, old
no-neck," said the wagtail, ruffling his feathers up at the very idea of
getting them damp.

"No, you wouldn't, you miserable whipper-snapper," croaked the other,
settling himself down on the flowerbed, so that he could hardly be told
from the ground for colour.  "No, you wouldn't, but you would be--
ho-ho-ho--you would be--ha-ha-ha--such a--he-he-he--such a--haw-haw-haw.
There, I can't help laughing," said the round fellow, with his fat
sides wagging about through his merriment.  "You must excuse me, but I
do think you would look so comical with all your feathers gummed down to
your skinny sides, that wisp of a tail like a streak of horsehair, and
those stilty legs sticking into your scraggy body--ho-ho-ho-ho--my fat
sides!  How I wish I had ribs, for then I could stop laughing easier;
but you are such a droll little chap."

"Get out," said the bird, wagging his tail with fury, for he was very
proud of his genteel appearance; "get out, you old dusky dab, or I shall
kick you.  I feel quite disgusted with your appearance.  What are you
doing here?"

"Doing?" said the other, rubbing the tears out of his eyes; "doing? why,
getting my living the same way as you do--fly-catching."

"Fly-catching," said the other with a sneer; "how can you catch flies?
Why, you can't run a bit.  I suppose you wait till they tumble into your
mouth, don't you?  Who are you?  What's your name?"

"My name?" said the other; "well, you are not very civil, but I don't
mind telling you.  My name's Toad--Brown Toad--and I'd a great deal
rather be such an ugly fellow, as you call me, than a weazen, skinny,
windbeater like you.  How do I catch flies?  Why, so, my boy; that's how
I catch them," and just then the toad crept to within two or three
inches of a great fly that had settled upon a leaf, darted out his long
tongue, which stuck to the fly, and it was drawn into the toad's great
mouth in an instant.  "That's the way I catch flies, my boy, and a
capital way too, isn't it?"

"Hum," said the wagtail, rather astonished at the ease with which the
fly was caught; "it wasn't so bad, certainly; but you know you are
precious ugly.  Why, you have no waist."

"Waste!" said the toad, "no, there's no waste about me; it's all useful
what there is of me."

"Ugh! you stupid," said the other; "I mean _waist_ over your hips, where
you ought to wear your belt or sash."

"Oh! ah!  I see," said the toad.  "No, I've no waist, and don't want
any, but I know a little chap that has; he's a little black and yellow
fellow, who goes buzzing about, making a fine noise, and likes sweet
things; he'd suit you, only he has _such_ a tickler in his tail.  His
name's Wops, or Wasp, or something of that kind."

"Oh!  I know the conceited little plum-stealer; he's poisonous, like you
are."

"Pooh!" said the toad, "poisonous!  I'm not poisonous.  I'm not even
ill-tempered, so as to poison people's minds, much more poison their
bodies.  That's an old woman's tale; they say I spit poison, because
they've seen me catch flies; and are stupid enough, like you, to think
me ugly, just as if that made any difference.  I creep about here and
catch my flies, and enjoy myself well enough."

"But you can't fly," said the wagtail vainly; "I can."

"Pooh!  I know," said the toad; "and you can't swim.  I can."

"But you can't run and catch flies," said the other, getting cross.

"No, but I can sit down and catch them," said the toad, "and that's
easier."

"Boo! old bark-back; where's your tail?" said the wagtail, now quite
cross to find that the ugly old toad was quite as clever as he, and a
deal better-tempered.

"Tail," said the other contemptuously; "what's the use of a tail only to
wag?  Do you want me to pull it?"  And then he made believe that he was
going to get hold of the wagtail's long feathers, but the bird flew off
in a fright, thoroughly vexed and disappointed, because the nasty,
black-looking, rough toad could beat him in everything he said.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

OGREBONES.

Away went the wagtail--flit-flit-flit--down to the pond where the
water-lilies grew, and began running about over them to catch the gnats
that were dancing over the glassy water; and there again he had a
fright, for he saw close to his feet, by the edge of a large leaf, a
green nose, just the shape of the toad's.  However, he had presence of
mind to say, "Who are you?"

"Croak," said the green nose, and dived under the water; and then the
wagtail saw that it was a light-green thing, with longer legs than the
toad, and that it swam to the bottom and stopped.

Just then old Ogrebones, the kingfisher, came skimming along like a blue
flash over the pond, and he settled on a twig near his hole in the bank.

"Morning, neighbour," said he to the wagtail.  "How are flies this
morning?"

"Scarce, very scarce," said the wagtail.  "There was a poacher out on my
place catching the poor things with a machine, which he shot at them.
One of the lowest-looking, rough customers you ever saw.  He said his
name was Brown Toad, and quite insulted me about my figure,--an ugly,
pumpkin--shaped, pod-nosed thing."

"Oh!  I know him," said the kingfisher; "I often meet his first cousin
down here in the pond when I'm diving.  They're a low lot; a
cold-blooded set; but what can you expect from a thing whose eggs are
soft, and left to hatch themselves?  Why, they are only tadpoles at
first."

"You don't say so?" said the wagtail, who had not the least idea what a
tadpole was, unless it was the pole the gardener used to pull the weeds
out of the pond with.  "You don't say so?"

"O yes!" said Ogrebones; "it's a fact; I tried to eat one once, but
couldn't get on with it at all.  You see, I'm an English bird, and not
French, so that I cannot manage frog."

"Of course not; I see," said the wagtail.

But the kingfisher did not stop to hear him out, for all of a sudden he
sprang up, poised himself a moment in the sunny air, and then darted
into the water, from whence he presently emerged, bearing a little
struggling fish in his great beak, and with the sparkling drops of water
running off his back, and leaving his bright glossy blue feathers all
dry, shining, and bright, as though he had only been for a flight
through the air.

"There," said Ogrebones, "I've got him this time, and not without
trying.  I've missed this little chap twice over, but when once Mrs K
inside there takes him in hand, he will have no chance; for it will be
eggs and crumb, and frying-pan with him in no time."

So then old Ogrebones disappeared within his hole; Wagtail betook
himself to his nest to relate his morning's experiences to the patient
Mrs Wagtail, who, like many other friends and relatives, was busy
keeping her eggs warm; and so the pond was for the moment vacated by the
birds; but it was not alone for all that, for a pretty place was that
pond, just at the bottom of Greenlawn--a pond rich in life of all kinds;
this was where the blue-eyed forget-me-not was always peeping up at the
passers-by; there grew the yellow water-lily floating amongst its great
dark green leaves, like a golden cup offered by the water fairies for
drinking the clear crystal liquid.  The white water-buttercups, too,
glistened over the shallow parts, with such crisp brown water-cresses in
between, as would have made a relish to the bread and butter of a
princess.  All round the edges was a waving green fringe of reeds and
rushes--bulrushes with their brown pokery seed-vessels--plaiting rushes
with their tasselled blossoms--and reeds with graceful drooping feathery
plumes waving in the soft summer air.  Down in the depths of the pond
glided by the silvery little fish, glistening and bright; while on the
surface skimmed no end of insects: shiny beetles forming patterns on the
water as they dodged in and out, and round and round in their play;
long-legged insects that ran over the water as though it were a hard
road; while darting about in all their metallic brightness and on gauzy
wings flitted the dragon-flies, blue, green, and blue and green--now
settling upon the end of some reed, now careering in mid air, now poised
motionless with wings invisible in their rapid beat, now disturbed by
the buzz of some great humble-bee, and then round and round and up and
down in pursuit of one of their own tribe, till the gauzy wings beat
together and rustled as they came in contact.  Butterflies, white,
yellow, blue, orange-spotted, tortoise-shell, peacock-eyed, and laced,
came there to flit over the glassy water, and look within it at their
beauty; and here, too, came the mayflies to dance up and down all the
day, and die when even came.  There never was such a pond anywhere else;
for here came the martins and swallows, with their glossy black backs,
to skim and dip and drink the water in their rapid flight; here they
feasted on flies and gnats; and now and then came the squealing, sooty
swift, with his long knife-blade wings, and tiny hand-like feet, to
whisk away some heedless fly.  The swallows above all liked the pond,
and used to sit upon the dead branch of the weeping-willow to twitter
and sing after their fashion for half-an-hour together.  Old Ogrebones
was the great man of the place; but, in the cool of the evening, out
would come sailing from the midst of the little reed island, and
flicking their round stumpy tails, the moor hens swimming away, to the
great disgust of the white ducks, who said they were only impostors, and
had no business to swim, because they had no webs to their feet, but
only long straggling toes.  And what ducks those were! white as snow,
with red legs; and often and often they would put their beaks in the
soft warm white feathers on their backs and sit upon the water for hours
together.  All the birds loved the pond, and would fly down of a morning
to have a regular splash and wash; flicking the water about with their
wings, and sending it flashing and sparkling ever so high in the air,
and making the little black tadpoles or pod-noddles go scuffling off
into the deeper water.  This was the place that old Boxer loved, and
when he could get a chance he would go and wet his feet, and rustle
about in amongst the reeds, and pretend to go in the water to swim after
the ducks, but always turning back when he got in up to his body.



CHAPTER NINE.

A TALL GENTLEMAN.

"Hum!" said Mrs Spottleover one morning to Mrs Flutethroat, after they
had been having a wash in the bright pure water.  "Hum!" she said,
looking at the duck's brood of little downies swimming about after her,
and one of them with a bit of shell sticking to its back.  "Hum! yes,
pretty well, but why yellow?"

"Ah! my dear, they will come white; they're not bleached yet.  But they
are strong, aren't they?  Look at the little ones, now, only four hours
old, and feeding themselves!  Don't you wish yours would?  Only think of
the trouble they give before they can feed alone!"

"Well!" said Mrs Spottleover, "that's all very well, but, after all,
those little downy balls take as much looking after as our little ones;
and then only think of one's child growing up to say nothing better than
`Quack-quack,' besides being flat-nosed and frog-footed.  Depend upon
it, my dear, things are best as they are!"

"Well, I suppose you are right," said Mrs Flutethroat; "but I must not
stay here gossiping, for I have no end of work to do this morning."
Saying which the hen blackbird shook out her long dusky wings, cried
"Pink-pink-pink," and flew off to the laurel bush to attend to her
little ones; while the thrush hopped up into a tree to see how the haws
were getting on, and whether there would be a good crop for the winter.

Just then there was a great shadow passed over the pond, and the
ducklings splashed through the water, because they were so frightened,
and then flop-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop, there came old Shadowbody, the
heron, to the pond, and pitched down by the haunt of the kingfisher,
where he stood with his long stilty legs half in the water, his great
floppy wings doubled up close to his sides, and his long neck squeezed
between his shoulders all of a bundle; and there he stood looking as
though he were going to sleep; but not a bit of it, old Shadowbody, or
Bluescrags, as some of the saucy young birds called him, did not stand
by the side of a pond to go to sleep, but to look after his dinner.

By-and-by the ducklings, seeing that the heron did not move, came nearer
to him; and at last a little white fly went sailing along under his
beak, and two ducklings set off on a race over the surface of the pond
to see which would get the little white fly; and so busy were they that
they forgot all about the great heron, and went up close to him,
splashing him all over with the bright sparkling water.

"Take that, you ugly little downy dab," said the heron in a pet.  "Do
you think I came here to be made a water-mop of?  Get out with you! see
how you've wetted my waistcoat.  Take that!"

And the poor little duckling did take _that_, and scampered off to its
mother, crying out in such a pitiful voice, "Wheedle-wheedle-wheedle,"
that the heron forgot his ill-humour and burst out laughing, and felt
quite sorry that he had given poor little Yellow-down such a cruel poke
in its back with his long sharp beak.

"Serve it right, though," said the heron; "coming splashing, and
dashing, and sending the water all over a sedate, quiet gentleman,
quietly fishing by the side of a pond!  And a nice pond it seems too,
with plenty of fish in it.  It strikes me I shall often come here."

Just then Bluescrags made a poke at a fish, and caught it in his long
bill, and gobbled it up in no time.  But he was not to enjoy himself
long, for the duck was telling all her neighbours about the ill-usage
her little one had received; and the mischief-making little wagtail
thought as he had seen the lanky bird eating what he called the
kingfisher's fishes, he would go and tell, and then sit on the bank and
see the quarrel there would be; for he considered that the heron had no
more business to take the fish out of the pond than the toad had to
catch flies.  So he ran to the blue bird's hole, and sticking in his
little thin body, he ran up it to the nest, shouting, "Neighbour,
neighbour; thieves, thieves!"

"Where, where?" said Ogrebones the kingfisher.

"Here; running away with your fish by the dozen," said the wagtail.

"Well, get out of the way," said the kingfisher, bustling out of the
nest and going towards the mouth of the hole.  "There, do make haste."

But the wagtail couldn't make haste, for his tail was so long he could
not turn round in the hole, and so had to walk backwards the best way he
could, with the points of his tail-feathers catching against the wall
and sending him forwards upon his beak, and making the old kingfisher so
crabby, that at last he gave the poor wagtail a dig with his heavy beak
that made him cry out, "Peek-peek-peek."

"Then why don't you get out of the way, when all one's fish are being
taken and stolen?"

Now the wagtail thought this very strange behaviour, when he had taken
the trouble to let old Ogrebones know, and so he very wisely made up his
mind never to interfere with other people's business again; for, said
he, as he got out of the hole at last, "I don't know but what the heron
has as good a right to the fish as old surly has; at all events, I'll
never fetch him out any more."

Out bounced the kingfisher--"Here! hi!  I say! you, there! what are you
after, impudence?  Do you know that you are poaching?"

"Eh?" said the heron, looking at the showy little bird that was flitting
round him with his feathers sticking up, and looking as though he were
in a terrible passion; "Eh?" said the heron, "what's poaching?"

"What's poaching, ignoramus? why, taking other people's fish.  Don't you
know who I am?" said the kingfisher, sitting upon a spray and looking
very self-satisfied and important.

"No," said the heron; "I don't know you.  But you are not a bad-looking
little fellow; only you are small--very small.  Why, where are your
legs?"

"Come, now," said Ogrebones, "none of your impudence, old longshanks.
I'm the king--the kingfisher; and I order you off; so go at once."

"Ho-ho-ho," laughed the tall bird.  "And pray who made you a king?  I'm
not going to be driven off by such a scrubby little thing as you, even
if you have got such grand feathers on your back.  Why, if I were to
shut my bill upon your neck, that head of yours would drop off regularly
scissored, and then you'd be just such a king as Charles the First."

"Oh, dear!" said the kingfisher, "only hark at him!  I never heard such
a character before in my life."

"He nearly killed one of my little ones," quacked the duck, coming up.

"Stuck his beak in my back," said a frog, putting his nose out of the
water; and then seeing that the heron was going to make a dart at him,
"Ouf," said he, popping down again in a hurry, and never stopping until
had crept close down to the bottom of the pond where he crept under the
weeds, and lay there all day, lost frightened to death.

"Keep your little flat bills at home, ma'am," said the heron.  "But
really," he said politely, "I did not know they were yours, or I should
not have done so; but who would have thought that those little yellow
dabs were children of such a beautifully white and graceful creature as
you are?"

Whereupon the duck blushed, and spread one of her webbed feet before her
face, and looked quite pleased at the compliment.

"Don't listen to him," croaked the kingfisher, backing into his hole;
"he's a cheat, and a bad character, and thief, and a--"

But the heron here made a poke at his royal highness with his great
scissors bill, and the kingfisher scuffled out of sight in a fright,
having learnt the lesson that a small tyrant, however grandly he may
dress, is not always believed in; for with all his bright colours and
gaudy plumes he was no match for the great sober-hued, flap-winged
heron, who only laughed at him, and all his grand swaggering; and, as
soon as he was gone, settled himself down to his work, and caught fish
enough for a good meal, for he felt quite certain that he had as good a
right to the fish as the little king, who had had it his own way so long
that he thought everybody would give way to him.

Poke went the heron's bill, and out came a finny struggler; but it was
no use to kick, for Bluescrags never left go when once he had hold of a
fish, and he was just gobbling it down when--

"Hillo-ho-ho-o-o," cried a voice, and looking towards the place from
whence the sound proceeded, the heron, as he rose from the ground, saw a
man holding upon his hand a large sharp-winged bird, with a
cruel-looking mouth, like that belonging to Hookbeak, the hawk, who
sometimes passed over the garden, and such bright yellow and black
piercing eyes, that as soon as Bluescrags felt their glance meet his, he
turned all of a shiver, and his feathers began to ruffle up as though he
were wet.  But there was no time to shiver or shake, for the great bird
was coming after him at a terrible rate, every beat of his pointed wings
sending him dashing through the air, and in another moment the strange,
fierce bird would have had the sharp claws he stretched out in the poor
heron, but for the sudden and frantic effort he made to escape.

All this while Mrs Flutethroat was crying, "Pink-pink-pink" in the
shrubbery, in a state of the greatest alarm, for a man had passed by the
place where she was teaching her young ones to fly, carrying a bird on
his gloved hand; while the bird had a curious cap upon its head, so
contrived that it could not see anything; but the blackbird could see
its yellow legs and cruel hooked claws that were stuck tightly into the
thick glove the man wore.

"Well," said Mrs Flutethroat, "I'm very glad he's a prisoner, for the
nasty, great, cruel-looking thing must be ten times worse than Hookbeak,
the hawk, and if it were let loose here we should all be killed.
Pink-tchink-chink," she cried in alarm; for just then the man, who was a
falconer, took his bird's hood off, and shouted at the heron by the
pond.  The great flap-winged bird immediately took flight, and then,
with a dash of its wings, away went the falcon, leaving Mrs Flutethroat
shivering with fear.

Flip-flap, flap-flip-flop went the heron's wings over the water; flip
and skim went the falcon's, and then away and away over the woods and
fields went the two birds, circling round and round, and higher and
higher; the falcon trying to get above the heron, so as to dart down
upon him and break his wings; and the heron, knowing that as long as he
kept up the falcon could not touch him, trying his best to keep the
higher.  At last the swift-winged bird darted upwards, and hovering for
a moment over the poor heron, who cried out with fear, darted down with
a rush, and went so close that he rustled through the quill feathers of
the heron; and so swift was the dart he made, that he went down--down
far enough before he could stop himself, and then when he looked up
again, he saw that the heron had risen so high that there was no chance
of catching him again; so off he flew, and perched in the cedar-tree at
Greenlawn, where he sat cleaning and pruning his feathers, and
sharpening his ugly hooked beak till it had such a point that it would
have been a sad day for the poor bird who came in his clutches; while
his master, who had lost sight of him, was wandering away far enough
off, whistling to him to come back to his perch.



CHAPTER TEN.

FLAYEM, THE FALCON.

However, he was not left there long in peace, for the birds of Greenlawn
did not like such visitors; and the first notice they had of the
stranger was from Specklems, the starling, who flew up into the tree,
and then out again as though a wasp had stuck in his ear.

"Chur-chair-chark," he shouted, flying round and round, spitting and
sputtering, and making his head look like a hedgehog.
"Chur-chair-r-r-r," he cried, and very soon the whole of the birds in
the neighbourhood were out to see what it all meant.

"Now then, what's the matter?" said the magpie, coming up all in a
hurry.  "Whose eggs are broken now?  Anybody's little one tumbled out of
the nest into Mrs Puss's mouth, for me to get the blame?"

"Look--look in the cedar," shouted the birds; and up in the cedar went
the magpie with his long tail quivering with excitement, and down he
came again with his tail trembling with fright.

"Why didn't you say who it was in the tree?" said the magpie.  "Oh! my
stars and garters, how out of breath I am.  Going about in such a hurry
always puts me in a tremble.  Oh no!  I'm not afraid, not the least bit
in the world, it's being out of breath."

"Well, go up and drive the old hook-nosed thing away," said the
blackbird; "he's no business here, and we _are_ all afraid; ain't we
birds?"

"Yes! yes! scared to death," chorused all the birds.

"Come, up you go," said the blackbird; "there's a good fellow."

But the magpie stood on one leg and put a long black claw by the side of
his beak in a very knowing manner, and then he said, with his head all
on one side, "How do I know that he won't bite?"

"Why, we thought you said that you were not afraid," said the birds.

"Not the least in the world, gentlemen," said Mag; "but my wife's
calling me, and I must go, or really I should only be too happy to
oblige you.  Another time you may depend upon me.  Good-bye, gentlemen,
_good-bye_."

And before the birds had time to speak again, the cowardly magpie gave
three or four hops across the lawn, and then spread out his wings, and
went off in a hurry--telling a story into the bargain, for his wife
might have called for a week, and he could not have heard so far-off.
But Maggy was dreadfully afraid, and, like many people in the world, he
was ashamed to show it, and so made a very lame-legged excuse, and ran
away.

"Ha-ha-ha," said the birds, "why, that's worse than being afraid and
showing it.  Why, he's ever so much bigger than we are, and has claws
sharp enough for anything.  Why, he pinched one of old mother
Muddle-dab's ducklings to death with his great black nails."

"Well, what's to be done now?" said Specklems, "I'm not going to have
him in my tree, and I won't either.  I've a good mind to run at him with
my sharp bill and stick it into him; and I would, too, if I was sure he
wouldn't hurt me.  Wouf!" said the starling, fiercely, and making a poke
at nothing; "wouf! couldn't I give it him!"  And then he stuck his
little pointed feathers up again, and stood on the tips of his toes with
a look as fierce as a half-picked chicken.

"Of course, gentlemen, it isn't for such a quiet mournful body as me to
say anything," said the dove, "but I can't help thinking that the tree
is as much mine as Mr Specklems'; but we won't quarrel about that, for
just now it belongs to somebody else, and I feel very uncomfortable
about my young ones.  Suppose Mr Specklems goes and gives the great
staring, goggle-eyed thing a poke; I'm sure I wish he would."

"I should just like to pickaxe him with my mortar-chipper," said an old
cock-sparrow.  "I'd teach him to come into other people's trees without
being asked."

"Let's ask him civilly to go," said the wren.

"Let's shout at him, and frighten him," said the owl.

"Say `Ta-ta' to him, and then he'll go," said the jackdaw.

"Why, we're not afraid, after all," said all the birds together; "let's
all have a fly at him at once and beat him off."

"Who'll go first?" said the jackdaw.

"Why, I will," said the tomtit.

And then all the birds burst out laughing so heartily at the tiny little
fellow's offer, that he grew quite cross, and told the birds to come on;
and then he flew into the cedar, and before the great falcon knew what
he was going to do, Tom-tit dashed at him, and gave him such a peck with
his little sharp beak, that the falcon jumped off his perch and stared
about him; and then, before he could find out what was the matter, the
jackdaw flew up above him, and came down head over heels on his back;
the owl shouted "Who-o-who-o" in his ear; the blackbird and thrush stuck
their beaks in his stomach; the sparrows poked him in the back; and the
martins and swallows darted round and round him, and under and over, and
all the other birds whistled and chattered and fluttered about him at
such a rate, that at last the falcon didn't know whom to attack, and was
regularly mobbed out of the garden, and flew off with a whole stream of
birds after him, and he, in spite of his sharp claws and beak, glad to
get out of the way as fast as he could.

At last the birds all flew back again, and settled down amongst the
bushes on Greenlawn, and chirruped and laughed to think how they had
driven away the great hook-beaked enemy, when who should come down into
their midst but the magpie, all in a hurry and bustle, and looking as
important as if all the place belonged to him.

"Now, then, here I am again," said he.  "She only wanted my opinion
about our last eggs, and I've hurried back as fast as I could to drive
away this great hook-beaked bird that frightened you all so.  I suppose
I had better go up at once, hadn't I?  But where shall I send him to?"

And there the great artful bird stood pretending that he had not seen
the falcon driven off, and that he had come back on purpose to scare it
away.  But it would not do this time, for although there were some of
the little birds who believed in the magpie, and thought him a very fine
fellow, yet the greater part of those present burst out laughing at him,
and at last made him so cross that he called them a pack of idiots, and
flew off in a pet, feeling very uncomfortable and transparent, and cross
with himself as well, for having been such a stupid, deceitful thing.
While the wiser birds made up their minds never to be deceived by the
sly bird again; for before this he had had it all his own way, because
he was so big, and everybody thought that he was brave as well; but now
that he had been put to the test, he had proved himself to be an arrant
coward, and only brave enough to fight against things smaller than
himself.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

THE LITTLE WARBLER.

"Sky-high, sky-high, twitter-twitter, sky-high-higher-higher," sang the
lark, and he fluttered and circled round and round, making the air about
him echo again and again with the merry song he was singing--a song so
sweet, so bright and sparkling, that the birds of Greenlawn stopped to
listen to the little brown fellow with the long spurs and top-knot,
whistling away "sweet and clear, sweet and clear," till he rose so high
that the sounds came faintly, and nothing could be seen of him but a
little black speck high up against the edge of the white flecky cloud;
and still the sweet song came trilling down so soft and clear, that the
birds clapped their wings and cried "Bravo!" while the jackdaw said he
would take lessons from the lark in that style of singing, for he
thought it would suit his voice, and then he was quite offended when the
thrush laughed, but begged pardon for being so rude.  And then, while
the birds were watching the lark, he began to descend; slowly, and by
jerks, every time sending forth spurts from the fountain of song that
gushed from his little warbling throat; and then down, lower and lower
still, singing till he was near the ground, when, with one long, clear,
prolonged note, he darted down, falling like a stone till close to the
grass, when he skimmed along for some distance, and then alighted in a
little tussock of grass that stood by itself in the field, which came
close up to Greenlawn, and ran right down to the farther edge of the
pond.  And what was there in the tussock of grass but a tiny cup-like
nest in the ground, lined with dry grass, and covered snugly over by the
lark's little brown wife, who was keeping the little ones warm, while
her husband had been up almost out of sight in the bright sunny air
singing her one of his sweetest songs,--a song so sweet that the birds
had all stayed from their work to listen.

And this is what he sang--the song that made his little mate's black
beady eyes twinkle and shine as she sat in the tussock; for she felt so
proud to think how her mate could warble:--

  "Low down, low down, sitting in the tussock brown,
  Little mate, the sky is beaming; little mate, earth wears no frown.
  Higher, higher; higher, higher; toward the cloudflecks nigher, nigher,
  Round and round I circle, singing; higher, higher ever winging;
  Over meadow, over streamlet,
  Over glistening dew, and beamlet
  Flashing from the pearl-hung grasses,
  Where the sun in flashes passes;
  Over where sweet matey's sitting;
  Ever warbling, fluttering, flitting;
  Praising, singing--singing, praising;
  Higher still my song I'm raising.
  Sky-high, sky-high; higher--higher--higher--higher,
  Little matey, watch your flier;
  Sweet--sweet--sweet--sweet--sweet--sweet--sweet--sweet;
  Here the merry breezes meet,
  Where I twitter, circling higher,
  Watch me flying higher, higher.
  Low down, low down, nestling in the tussock brown,
  Little mate, I'm coming down."

"Well, that beats the owl hollow," said Mr Specklems to his wife.  "I
think I could sing as well myself though, if it was not for this
constant feeling of having a cold.  There must have been a draught where
I was hatched, and I've never recovered it.  I can't think how he
manages to sing and fly too at the same time: I can't.  Why, I should be
out of breath in no time."

"There, don't be a booby," said his wife; "you are not a song-bird at
all.  I heard the crow say we were distant relations of his, and no one
would for a moment think that he was a singer."

"Hark at her now!" said Specklems, "not a singer; why, what does she
call that?"  And then the vain little bird whistled and sputtered and
cizzled away till he was quite out of breath, when his wife laughed at
him so merrily, but told him that she liked his whistle better than the
finest trill the skylark ever made; and so then Specklems said that
after all he thought the crow might be right, but, at all events, the
Specklems could do something better than cry "Caw-waw" when they opened
their beaks.

Just then who should come buzzing along but a wasp, a regular gorgeous
fellow, all black and gold, and with such a thin waist that he looked
almost cut in two.

"Now then, old spiketail," said the starling, "keep your distance; none
of your stinging tricks here, or I'll cut that waist of yours in two
with one snip."

"Who wants to sting, old peck-path?" said the wasp.  "It's very hard one
can't go about one's work without being always sneered and jeered and
fleered at by every body."

"Work," said the starling, "ho-ho-ho, work; why, you don't work; you're
always buzzing about, and idling; it's only bees that work and make
honey."

"There now," said the wasp, "that's the way you people go on: you hear
somebody say that the bees are industrious and we are idle, and then you
believe it, and tell everybody else so, but you never take the trouble
to see if it's true; and so we poor wasps have to go through the world
with a bad name, and people say we sting.  Well, so we do if we are
touched; and so do bees too, just as bad as we do, only the little
gluttons make a lot of sweet honey and wax, and so they get all the
praise."

And then away went the little black-and-yellow fellow with his beautiful
gauzy wings shining in the sun, and he flew over the garden wall, and
was soon scooping away at a ripe golden-yellow plum that was hanging
from the wall just ready to pick; and then off he flew again to his
nest, where dozens more wasps were going in and out of the hole in a
fallen willow-tree, all soft like touchwood, and in it the wasps had
scooped out such a hole, where they had been working away quite as hard
and industriously as the bees their cousins; and here they had made
comb, and cells, and stored up food, and instead of their cells being
made of wax, they were composed of beautiful paper that these busy
little insects had made.  There were grubs, too, and eggs that would
turn to grubs, and afterwards to wasps; and here the wasps worked away,
in and out all day, as busy as could be.  But they had a very hard life
of it, for everyone was trying to kill the poor things, and set traps
for them to tumble into and be smothered in sweet stuff.  But though
people did not think so, the wasps did a great deal of good, and among
other things they killed a great many tiresome little flies that were
always buzzing and humming about; and the wasps went after them and
caught them by the back, and then snipped off their wings and head, and
flew off and ate the best parts of them up.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

BUSY BEES.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine round-topped straw
hives there were at Greenlawn--hives full of such rich, thick honey, and
such beautiful combs, and all about these round heavy hives the bees
would hum and buzz of a hot day, flying in and out loaded with honey and
pollen; and outside some of the hives the bees would hang down like
great pockets made of insects, all hanging to one another; and there
they hung, getting ready to swarm and fly off to a new home; but they
did not know how to choose one for themselves, for they would only fly
off to a tree and hang there all of a lump, when the master of Greenlawn
would take a nice, clean, sweet hive and sweep them all into it, and set
them on a board by the side of the other hives.  It was such a nice,
sweet place, all amongst flowers, and the scent of the honey would come
from the hives so strongly that very often the birds would come and
think they would like a taste, while the wasps would even go so far as
to creep in and steal some of the luscious food.  As to flies, they
would come without end, and if they had not been afraid of the bees they
would soon have run off with all the sweet honey.  But one day there was
a very serious bluebottle who had sat upon the end of a sweet pea
watching the bees so busy, while he had been doing nothing all day but
make a noise, and he felt at last so ashamed of himself, that when he
saw a bee come to the flower he was on, and put his long trunk into it
to find whether there was any honey, he began to buzz very loudly; and
the bee, looking up to know what he meant, heard him say--

  "Little bee, buzzing about in the air,
  For once be not busy, a moment pray spare,
  And tell me, pray tell me, how honey you make
  From the flowerets of garden, soft meadow, and brake.
  You rise with the sun, and your gossamer wing
  Bears you swiftly away where the heather-bells spring;
  Whence you come heavy laden with nectary spoil,
  For the sweet winter stores of your summer of toil.

  "Oh!  I would be busy; and lay up in store
  For the days of the winter when cold showers pour,
  And the wild wintry breezes sweep flowers away,
  While the sun sets in gloom o'er the dim-shadowed day;
  But I'm a poor bluebottle, spoken of ill;
  Whilst you are protected, all bear me ill-will;
  And if I escape from each murderous blow,
  The first cutting frost lays the bluebottle low.

  "So little bee buzzing, a lesson pray give;
  Remember the motto to `live
  and let live;' For one moment teach me sweet honey to make,
  That again in the spring-time with you I may wake."

"Buzz," said the bee, "that's all very fine, but you were never meant to
make honey.  Go and do your duty, and lay eggs in the bad meat to make
maggots to eat it up, so that we may not have the nasty stuff lying
about.  I daresay you think we have a very fine time of it amongst the
honey; but, don't you know, sometimes somebody comes with the brimstone
and smothers us all, and takes the honey away?  How should you like
that, old blue-boy?"

"Worse and worse--wuz-z-z-ooz-wooz," said the bluebottle, and off he
flew, and never sang any more songs to the bees; while the old bee burst
out laughing so heartily at the way in which the bluebottle was
frightened, that he let all the bee-bread tumble out of his baskets, and
before he could pick it up, a bee from another hive flew off with it.

"There," said the first bee, "that comes of laughing at other people,
and now I've got all my work to do over again; but, oh dear! how he did
bustle off when I told him about the brimstone."



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

COLD WEATHER.

At last the merry summer-time was gone, and the flowers began to hang
their heads in the gardens, looking wet and soiled; for every now and
then the cold wind would come with a rush and a roar and knock the poor
things about dreadfully; sometimes they would be struck right down on
the ground, where they would lie, never to get up any more.  Sometimes,
however, the sun would come out to cheer them up again, but he was not
at all warm; and then the nights began to grow so long and cold that the
flowers had nearly made up their minds to go to sleep for the winter,
when Jack Frost sent word one night that he was coming, and his
messenger left such a cold chill everywhere that he had been, that the
flowers all went to sleep at once, and the leaves on the trees, turning
yellow with fright, began to shake and shiver, and tumble off as hard as
ever they could tumble, till they lay in great rustling heaps all over
the gravel walks, where they were swept up and carried off into the
back-yard.  And then all the birds were as busy as ever they could be:
the young ones were now strong on the wing, and there were such meetings
and congregations in wood and field--on lawn and in tree--in hedgerow
and down even in the ditches.  The martins and swallows all said
"Good-bye," and were off in a hurry; and all the other summer visitors
who were lagging behind, when they saw the swallows go, went off as hard
as ever they could, not even stopping to take any cold flies with them,
they were in such a hurry.  Sparrows and finches, they all made
excursion parties, and went feasting in the stubble-fields; starlings,
jackdaws, and rooks, they went worm-picking in the wet marshlands; and
all the thrush family went off to the fields and hedgerows, seeking
berries and fruits that had now grown tender and sweet; and so at last
Greenlawn began to look very deserted all day, but it was not so of a
night, for there would be a fine noise in the ivy, where all the
sparrows came home to roost, for they were in such high spirits that
they could not keep quiet, but kept on chatter, chatter, till it grew so
dark they could not see to open their beaks.  As to the starlings, they
came home by scores to the warm, thick cedar, and there they whistled
and chattered until the moon began to shine, when they, too, went off to
sleep; and so, wherever there was a snug, warm spot at Greenlawn, the
birds came back in the cold wintry nights to sleep--flying far-off in
the day-time, but always returning at night.

They were hard times for the poor birds when Jack Frost had it all his
own way; for in his sharp, spiteful, nip-toes fashion he would freeze
and freeze everything until it was all as hard as steel; and then, so as
to make sure that by hard work and bill-chipping no worms were dug out,
he would powder the ground all over with white snow, so that all the
footmarks were stamped upon it as the birds walked along.
Shiver-shiver-shiver; ah! it was cold! and food was so scarce that no
one could get anything to eat but the robin-redbreast; and he would go
up to the house, and, sitting upon the snow-covered sills, peep in at
the windows with his great round staring eyes, until the master's little
girls would come and open the sash, and shake all the crumbs out of
their pinafores; so that the poor cold bird would often get a good
hearty meal.

Sometimes the sun would come out and shine upon the snow-wreaths, and
they would glitter and sparkle, and turn of the most beautiful colours;
while the trees were covered with frost-work that looked more brilliant
than the finest silver that was ever worked.

But, ah! the poor birds! it was a sad time for them; and they would
huddle up together in flocks; and very often got to be so cold and
hungry that the country people picked them up half dead, with their
feathers all ruffled up and their beautiful little bright, beady eyes
half-shut.  Ah! those were sad times at Greenlawn; and the master would
gladly have helped the poor things if he could; but generally they used
to fly right off, miles away, so that very often not a bird was to be
seen but Bob Robin, who kept hopping about the doors and windows.

But Jack Frost did not care a bit, for he loved freezing; and when the
winter nights were come, with the moon shining, and the stars twinkling
and blinking ever so high up, Jack would put on his skates and go
skimming over the country, breathing on people's window-panes, and
making them all over ferny frost-work; hanging icicles round the eaves
of the houses; making the roads so hard that they would sound hollow and
rattle as the wheels passed over; and turning the ponds, lakes, and
rivers into hard ringing ice.  Then the frost would hang upon the
labourers' hair, and little knobs of ice upon the bristles about the
horses' muzzles; while some of the branches of the trees would become so
loaded with the white clinging snow that they would snap off and fall to
the ground.  Away would troop the birds in the day-time then to feast
upon the scarlet berries of the holly, the pearly dew-like drops of the
mistletoe, or the black coaly berries that grew upon the ivy-tod; and
away and away they would fly again with wild and plaintive cries as Jack
Frost would send a cutting blast in amongst them to scare them away.
How the poor birds would look at the man cutting logs of wood to take to
the master's house; and how they would watch the blue smoke and sparks
come curling out of the wide chimneys.  In the night the wild geese
would fly over to the moor, crying "Clang-clang-clang," and frightening
many a shivering sleeper with their wild shriek; and then the
long-necked birds would dart down from their high swoop to some lonely
lake in the wild moor, there to sit upon the cold ice, pluming
themselves ere they started again for some spot where the frost king had
not all his own way.

Old Ogrebones, the kingfisher, lay snug at the bottom of his hole in the
bank; while all the tender birds were far-off in milder climes, where
flies were to be caught, and where the sun shone bright and warm.  As to
the poor ducks, they could do nothing but paddle and straddle about over
the surface of the glassy pond, for almost as soon as the hard ice was
broken for them to get water, it all froze together again; and in spite
of their thick coats of warm down and feathers, they said it was almost
too cold to be borne.  The rooks had gone down to the sea-side and the
mouths of the rivers to pick up a living when the tide went down; while
all the other birds that were not in the fields made friends with the
sparrows, and went in flocks to the farmyards, where they could find
stray grains of corn, and run off with them, chased by the old cocks and
hens.  And still Jack Frost had it all his own way, and stuck his cold,
sharp teeth into everything and everybody--even into the foreign
thrushes and grey crows that came over from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark,
and nipped them so that they all said they had better have stayed at
home.

Now, all this could not have been borne, only that Jack Frost would go
to sleep sometimes, and then down would come a soft, warm rain that
would wash away the snow and melt the ice, and soften the ground so that
food became plentiful again; and the birds would set to and make up for
lost time by having such a feast as would make them better able to bear
Jack Frost's next fast, and strong enough to set his sharp teeth at
defiance.

They were fine times for feasting when the thaw had set in, for then, as
the earth grew soft, the worms would come crawling out to have a
stretch, after being asleep beneath the iron-bound earth.  As for the
rooks, they ate until they could hardly move, and gormandised in a way
that could only be excused in things that could not get their meals at
regular times.  "Snip-snap" went the bills all over the marshlands, and
gobble-gobble went the poor worms; and so for about a week the birds had
such a feast that their skins all got quite tight with the thick jacket
of fat that was spread beneath them to keep the cold out, and all their
feathers began to stick up so that they had plenty of work to smooth
them down.  But such weather did not last long, for soon Jack Frost
would wake up again, quite cross to think how long he had slept, and
then on he would put his sharp steel skates again, and away over the
country he would skim with all the land turning to iron wherever he
went, and looking as if the keen old fellow had been sprinkling diamonds
and emeralds and pearls all over the ground.  As to the sheep, they
would quite rattle with the knobs of ice upon their wool, while the
turnips they were nibbling out in the fields were like snowballs.  And
away skimmed Jack Frost by the light of the bright moon, while all the
stars kept laughing and winking at his freaks, and soon again all the
country was powdered over with snow, and the water all turned to ice.
Then at night, when the cold cutting wind would hum outside the doors
and sing through all the chinks, trying to get in, people would draw the
red curtains close, and heap up the dry logs of wood upon the fire till
the bright blue flames would dance and flicker, and flicker and dance,
and roar up the chimney; but all the time sending such warmth and
comfort through the rooms that the wind would give up trying, and,
knowing that it could not battle with such a warm fire, would rush off
again over the bare woods and fields to help Jack Frost, and bear away
the words of the song he was singing, so that everybody could hear it.
For the icy fellow as he skimmed along would laugh and shout to see how
everybody was afraid of him, and lighted fires to keep him away; and
then he would sing,--

  "I kiss cheeks and make them rosy;
  I make people wrap up cosy;
  I bring chilblains, chaps, and nipping;
  I send people quickly tripping.
  See my breath all silver lacing;
  Feel my touch how cold and bracing;
  Come and race o'er ground so snowy;
  Come and trip 'mid breezes blowy.
  I'll make little eyes look brightly;
  I'll make little hearts beat lightly;
  And when cheeks grow red as cherry,
  Then will echo voices merry.
  For I'm Jack Frost who makes cheeks rosy;
  I make people wrap up cosy;
  I bring chilblains, chaps, and nipping;
  But send the little people tripping."

But in spite of all Jack Frost could do, the birds at Greenlawn would
manage to get through the harsh time of winter, looking out for the
spring to come again; and happy and contented, though always very busy,
and trying hard to do their duty as well when the cold wintry rains
fell, or the biting sleet, or soft falling snow, or even when the ground
was all hard and they were nearly starved, as when plenty reigned
around; for still they hoped on, and waited for spring, that seemed so
long in coming, but yet would surely come at last, however long it might
appear, and tire their patience.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

FALSE ALARM.

One morning, when a soft breeze from the south had melted away all the
snow, and the bright sun had thawed all the ice in the ditches, brooks,
and ponds, everything looked so bright and fine, that the snowdrops and
crocuses popped their heads out of the ground, and kept calling to one
another across the gravel walk, "All a-growin' and a-blowin'," as the
men who bring round the flowers.  Two or three violets opened their
little blue eyes, too, and poking at the dead leaves that were lying on
them, kept trying to get a peep at the bright sun; for he had had a bad
cold all through the winter, and had kept his head wrapped up in thick
mists and clouds, only showing himself now and then; and when he did,
his face looked all red, swelled, and inflamed, as though he had got a
dreadful fit of neuralgic-tic-doloreuginal-toothache.  And now the
blue-eyed violets wanted to have a peep at the sun, and to nod at their
old friend; but the leaves lay so wet and heavy upon them that they
could hardly get out, and when they did, poor things, their heads were
all bent down, and they looked as drooping as though their necks were
cricked with sleeping in a damp bed.  And truly it was a very damp bed--
the violets'--all moss and wet grass in a shady bank; but the cheerful
little flowers did not mind it a bit, but sent forth such a sweet scent
all through the hedgerows, that as soon as the birds smelt it they began
to sing, and to think it was time to build nests again.

"Spring's come! spring's come!" shouted a little chiff-chaff, just come
over from a foreign country all in a hurry; for while he was getting
ready, and thinking it was time to pay a visit to England, there came a
great storm of wind, and caught up the little, tiny greeny bird and blew
him right over the seas; and then, because it was a bright day when he
got here, he began running up and down the country crying out "Spring's
come! spring's come!" when spring was only just putting one or two of
her toes in the shape of crocuses and snowdrops out of her wintry bed,
to see how cold it was, and whether she might get up yet.

Spring had not come, for it was too soon, and the stupid little
chiff-chaff thought himself such an important little body that because
he had come spring must have come too.  And no end of mischief he did,
for as is always the case when one person does a foolish thing, plenty
more begin to follow the bad example; and so one bird after another took
up the cry, till it rang all over Greenlawn that spring had come; and
the birds set to work in such a hurry to repair last year's damaged
nests or to make new ones.  As to the rooks, they came all in a bustle
to the old limes and held a parliament, which every now and then turned
into a squabble about some favourite spot, and there they all stopped
talking, and flying round and round, but soon began again, to keep on
till it grew quite dark, and then they were silent till some obstinate
bird or another would say something crooked, and then out they all burst
again--"Caw-caw-caw," till the awkward rook was talked down; then
somebody else would have the last word, when they broke out again two or
three times over, till at last it grew so dark that the rooks were
afraid to speak any more, lest somebody should come and upset them upon
their perches, and they not see the enemy coming.

The next morning everybody began to call the chiff-chaff names, and to
say it was a little cheat; for a sharp sleety rain had been falling for
hours and freezing as it fell, so that all the rooks' claws were stuck
fast to the tall, top branches of the limes.  As to the crocuses, they
had squeezed themselves up as small as grass, and half crept back into
the earth, while the snowdrops had shut up their houses and pulled down
the green blinds to keep the cold out, and as to the violets, why, they
crept under the dead leaves again to wait for the sun's next appearance.

No; it was not spring yet, and no one knew it better than the little
chiff-chaff, who had crept into the ivy-tod, where the great dark leaves
flopped down, and kept everything dry underneath; and there the poor
little thing kept dancing the dicky-bird's dance, and going bibbity-bob,
bibbity-bobberty, up and down, to keep himself warm, and wishing that
the great, rough, rude wind had blown somebody else out of the warm
country to cry "Spring's come; spring's come," because it happened to be
a fine bright sunshiny day.

But the little bird did not mean to do wrong, and so he stopped in the
ivy-tod and lived upon cold spider for a whole week, drinking the melted
sleet off the ivy leaves, and wishing all the time that spring had come,
for he expected no end of friends and relations over as soon as the
weather was fine enough; and, besides, he was anxious to feel the warm
weather; for he was rather a delicate little fellow, who was obliged to
go to a warm place in the winter time for the benefit of his health, and
only came to spend the fine part of the year at Greenlawn.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

SPRING AT LAST.

"Build away, birds; there's no chiff-chaff trickery this time.  Spring
is here," said the thrush, "and here's all the company coming.  All the
swallow family are over, and here's the wryneck been playing a tune upon
its comb all the morning; as for those sit-up-o'-night birds, they've
been sing-sing, till I'm almost tired of it, and wish they would set to
work and find something better to do.  But what's the matter down
there?"

It was plain that something was the matter, for all the birds were
leaving their work on purpose to go and see what was wrong; for there
was the yard-dog, Boxer, loose in the garden again, barking, and
snapping, and snarling at something rolled up amongst the dead leaves.
The thrush flew up, and settling on a low branch, stopped to watch what
was the matter; and he soon saw, for there, causing all the noise, was a
tightly-rolled up hedgehog, with his sharp spines sticking up all over,
and looking for all the world like a sharp round hair-brush.  As for
Boxer, he was sniffing and snuffing and pricking his nose in his efforts
to get Blacknose open; but the little spikey thing would not open the
least bit in the world, but kept himself rolled up snug and fast, with
nothing but spines and thorns sticking out all over him.  The more Boxer
sniffed and poked at the round ball, the more he got pricked, and then
he held up his head and whined in so comical a way, that all those who
were looking on could not keep from laughing, which made the dog so
cross that he barked at the birds, and made believe to bite; only they
were all out of reach; and this made him all the more cross and
snappish.

At last Boxer got the prickly thing close to the bank, and over it
rolled right down into an old rabbit's hole, where the dog could not
reach it; so then he turned round and ran at the first thing he saw,
which happened to be the magpie, who stayed so long upon the ground
before flying up, that the dog got hold of one of his tail-feathers.

"Pull, magpie!" shouted the birds.  And magpie did pull, as hard as ever
he could pull, and fluttered and flew, but he could not get his
tail-feather away, so had to leave it behind with Boxer, who quietly sat
down on the grass and began to gnaw and tear the beautiful glossy green
plume, until he had completely spoiled it, when he threw it away, and
began to look out for some more fun; whilst poor Mag's tail was so sore,
that he went home grumbling and half-crying at his misfortune.

Busier and busier the birds grew every day; there was no one idle in
Greenlawn in spring-time, but all hard at work, build-build-build from
morning, when the first rosy peep of day appeared, and the blackbird
cried out, "Wake-wake-wake," until the night closed in, and the pale new
moon peeped down from amid the light clouds, watching over the nesting
birds, with their beaks tucked snugly under their wings, and gently
swaying about upon the light branch that rocked them to sleep with the
easy motion of the soft spring breeze.  Sweetly then used to sing the
nightingales, perched on the low boughs of the fresh-leaved bushes, and
whistling for their wives, not yet come over the sea; whistling and
answering one another from wood to wood, and from grove to grove, until
the night rang with the sweet sounds, and bird after bird would draw out
its head to listen to the sweet, strong-voiced warblers.  But generally
the birds used to grumble at the nightingale, and say it was not fair of
him to make such a noise of a night.  They wanted peace and quietness;
and one old greenfinch, who could not sing a bit, and had no ear for
music, used to say that the nightingale was as great a nuisance as old
Shoutnight, the owl, and that his noises ought to be stopped.

But one night there was such a shouting and hoo-hooing that all the
birds woke up in a fright.  One asked the other what it meant, but no
one knew, and every now and then, ringing through the still night, came
the wild strange cry.  Even the master of Greenlawn opened his window
and looked out and wondered, and at last crabby old Todkins, the
gardener, opened _his_ window, and even called the birch-broom boy up to
listen; but they could not make out what the noise was.  Nobody knew,
and at last they began to be like the birds, rather frightened; for it
was such a wild, dreadful cry as they had never heard before.

"It's a wild goose," said Mrs Spottleover to her mate.

"You're a goose," said Spottleover, all of a shiver.  "You never heard a
goose cry out like that.  It's like a peacock, only ten times more
horrible; and--there it goes again; isn't it dreadful?"

The old owl said it was a rude boy trying to hoot; while the saucy
jackdaw said it was nothing to be afraid of, for it was only old
Shoutnight with a bad cold.

But, last of all, out came the old gardener with a lantern in one hand,
a stick in the other, and his red nightcap on, to look round the garden
and see what was the matter.  No sooner was he out on the lawn than all
the stupid birds began to look about his light to see what it was made
of, and how it was that what they took for a glow-worm should be going
about the lawn; and still all this while the dreadful cry kept coming,
now higher, now lower, and the gardener could not find out what it was;
but at last he stood stock-still and scratched his head, until the
tassel of his red nightcap went jiffle-iffle, and danced up and down
like a loose leaf on a twig.

"There, I don't care," said the gardener; "I'm going home to bed again;
so ye may shout all night, whatever ye are, unless ye like to speak.
But, hallo, Boxer, boy! what is it?" he said, as the dog laid hold of
his leg and then ran on before him, turning round every now and then to
see if his master would follow; and at last he did follow the dog till
it stopped, barking and smelling, at the edge of the dip well, where the
water-grotto was, and the cresses grew under the trickling spring--a
little well-like place it was; and just as the old man came up the cry
seemed to rise out of the water so wildly and shrilly, that he gave a
jump and dropped his lantern.

Fortunately, however, the lantern did not go out, and so he quickly
picked it up again and held it down, and there, swimming round and
round, and unable to get out, was poor Blacknose, the hedgehog, getting
fainter and fainter, and nearly drowned, and crying out for somebody to
pull him out.

"Well, only to think of that little thornball making all that noise,"
said the gardener, helping the poor thing out and setting it on the
grass; when it was so grateful that it would have thanked him if it
could, but it could not, and so stopped there quite still while Boxer
put his cold black nose up to it, and stood wagging his thick stumpy
tail; for he was too generous a dog to meddle with anyone in trouble,
even a hedgehog; and piggy, feeling that he was in distress, and an
object of sympathy, did not even attempt to curl up, but lay quite
still, waiting for his visitors to go.

"Well," said the old man, "I suppose I am not going to hurt ye, for the
master won't have anything hurt; so come along, Boxer; and dinna ye be
fetchin' a chiel oot o' bed at sic a time o' nicht again, or ye may e'en
stop i' the water."  And then the old gardener went off to his cottage;
and Boxer, after a run back and a scamper round the rescued hedgehog,
went to his kennel.

And so things went on at Greenlawn, year after year, and season after
season.  It may perhaps seem a very wonderful place; but there are a
great many little Greenlawns all over England, where little eyes may see
the birds do many of the things that have been told in this little
story--a story thought of to please two little girls who were very fond
of leaning up against somebody's knee in the evenings before the candles
were lighted, and asking somebody to tell them a story.

THE END.





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