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´╗┐Title: What the Blackbird said - A story in four chirps
Author: Locker-Lampson, Hannah Jane
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 "What the Blackbird said - A story in four chirps" ***

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  WHAT THE BLACKBIRD SAID.


  A Story
  _IN FOUR CHIRPS_.


  BY
  MRS. FREDERICK LOCKER.


  _ILLUSTRATED BY RANDOLPH CALDECOTT._


  LONDON
  GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS
  BROADWAY, LUDGATE HILL
  NEW YORK: 416 BROOME STREET
  1881


  LONDON:
  R. CLAY, SONS, AND TAYLOR,
  BREAD STREET HILL, E.C.


  TO MY DEAR CHILDREN,
  GODFREY AND DOROTHY,
  THIS LITTLE STORY IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED
  BY THEIR MOTHER.



CONTENTS.
                                                                  PAGE
  CHIRP THE FIRST--WINTER                                            1
  CHIRP THE SECOND--SPRING                                          22
  CHIRP THE THIRD--SUMMER                                           47
  CHIRP THE FOURTH--AUTUMN                                          69



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
                                                                  PAGE
  THE BLACKBIRD ON A SMALL WHITE HILLOCK.                            4
  THE ROBIN'S NEST.                                                 38
  THE ROOK.                                                         62
  THE THREE FRIENDS--THE ROBIN, THE ROOK, AND THE BLACKBIRD.        84



CHIRP THE FIRST.


The winter of 1878 was certainly an unusually dreary one, and so thought
a remarkably fine young Blackbird, as he perched one morning on the bare
bough of a spreading lime-tree, whose last brown leaf had fallen to the
ground some weeks before.

With the exception of the Scotch firs and other fortunate evergreens,
there was nothing to be seen on all sides but leafless branches standing
out sharply against the cold, grey sky. The ground was frozen, and
entirely covered with snow, for there had been a heavy fall during the
night. The way-marks of field and road were obliterated, all was one
sheet of dazzling whiteness. Here and there a little mound marked the
spot where a flower-bed lay buried, and there was one narrow path where
the snow was thickly piled on either side, for it had been partially
swept from the centre, which showed traces of the bright brown gravel
below.

The Blackbird was contemplating this landscape in a discontented and
unhappy frame of mind. He was, as we have just said, a remarkably fine
young bird. His plumage was of a glossy blackness, with which not even a
raven's could vie; his bright eyes looked even brighter as they gleamed
from the deep yellow rims which surrounded them, and his bill resembled
the polished shaft of an early crocus.

At the time at which my story begins, this Blackbird was about eight
months old, and usually he was not a little vain of his appearance. On
this particular morning, however, he did not feel at all so proud of
himself, or especially pleased with any one or anything. He had passed
the long night in a wood hard by, and had been benumbed with cold.

He had tucked his head first under one wing, and then under the other,
but it had been of no use, the cutting wind had penetrated even his
thick warm feathers, and had ruffled them in a way which had sorely
discomposed him, in body as well as in mind.

Then again, all through the night he had been exceedingly put out by
little cold wet dabs which kept continually falling on his back. The
Blackbird had changed his position--he had done it several times: he had
moved from a birch to an elm, and then to a beech-tree. But it was of no
avail, the little cold droppings seemed to pursue him wherever he went,
and it was not till quite late in the night that he found real shelter,
and got a little rest in a thick mantle of ivy which completely covered
a wall near the stables.

What were these cold droppings? He could not imagine. He knew well
enough they were not rain; rain always made a sharp pelting noise as it
struck against the trees. But there had been no such sound, for, with
the exception of the occasional sighing of the wind, the night had been
a singularly noiseless one. What then could this cold, soft moisture
be?

The Blackbird could not at all understand it, but as he was well
sheltered, and soon got warm in the ivy, he fell asleep and forgot all
about it.

[Illustration: THE BLACKBIRD ON A SMALL WHITE HILLOCK.]

The next morning, however, when he woke up and peeped forth from his
green canopy, he was much astonished by the sight which met his eyes.
Everything was white! The green fields were gone, the lawn where he
found his worms, the flower-beds where he caught his insects,--all had
disappeared, and a broad, white, sparkling covering lay over everything.
What was it? what could it mean?

The Blackbird had no one to explain it all to him, so he thought he
would just take a short flight and find out for himself. He stretched
his wings and skimmed away over the white ground, and then he thought he
would rest for a while on a small white hillock.

No sooner, however, had his little dusky brown feet touched the surface
of the snow, than he found he was gradually sinking down, down into a
soft, but very cold white bed. With a shrill cry of alarm he flew up
again, and did not stop until he alighted on the bough of the lime-tree
where we were first introduced to him. What was it? What wonderful and
terrible new thing was this? and where was he to go for his breakfast?

He was sitting in a very melancholy frame of mind, stretching out first
one foot and then the other, when his attention was arrested by a flood
of joyous song poured forth from above, and looking up, he saw a
bright-breasted Robin on the bough immediately over his head.

The little bird in his scarlet and brown plumage looked more richly
coloured and even more beautiful than usual, as, supported by his
slender legs, with his head thrown back and his feathers puffed out, he
poured forth his light-hearted carol to the leafless woods.

"How can you sing on this miserable morning?" said the Blackbird,
gloomily, and indeed half contemptuously.

"Miserable morning!" replied the Robin in a tone of surprise; "why I
don't think it's at all a miserable morning,--just look at the beautiful
snow."

"Oh, that's what you call that white stuff down there, is it?" said the
Blackbird, disdainfully gazing at the white world beneath him.

"Yes, to be sure," said the Robin; "have you never seen snow before?"

"No," replied the Blackbird, "I've not, and I shan't break my heart if I
never see it again. All last night it was dropping on my back till I was
wet through and through; and just now, when I flew down to look about
for my breakfast, why it all gave way under my feet, and I might have
been smothered."

"Ah," said the Robin, shaking his head, "you won't mind it when you get
more used to it. You see you're a young bird; this is only your first
winter. Now I saw it all last winter. I'm nearly two years old."

The Robin said this with a certain pride of seniority, and stretched
himself to his full height as he looked at his younger, but much more
bulky, neighbour.

"I don't see any great advantage in being old," said the Blackbird,
sarcastically; "but since you are so experienced, perhaps you can tell
me what it all means?"

"Yes, I can," said the Robin, hopping a little nearer. "Rain, you know,
comes down from the clouds up there. Well, when it gets very cold
indeed, as it is just now" (here the Blackbird shivered visibly), "why,
then the clouds get frozen, and instead of falling in soft, warm little
drops, they come down in these white flakes, which we call snow. I am
not very learned myself," said the Robin, humbly, "but a very wise
friend of mine, an old Rook, told me all this, and he also said that if
I examined a flake of snow, I should find it was made of beautiful
crystals, each shaped like a little star."

"Indeed," said the Blackbird, "that is very curious, but, in the
meantime, I should very much like to know what I am to do for something
to eat. The fruit is all gone from the garden, and I can't find any
insects in the snow. Ivy-berries will be poorish eating day after day."

"What do all your friends do?" asked the Robin.

"I don't see much of my friends," replied the Blackbird; "we Blackbirds
are not so mighty fond of each other's company, we like to live alone,
we never," he said this rather loftily, "talk much to strangers; in
fact, during this cold weather, we don't care to talk to each other."

"Every one must judge for himself," quoth the Robin, "but methinks it
would be rather a dull world if none of us spoke to each other when it
was cold. You see it's very often cold here in old England, and the
winters are very long and dark. I should like to know what we should all
do without a little cheerful talk, and an occasional snatch of song?"

"As to singing," struck in the Blackbird, "I've been so hoarse these
last two months, that it's only when the sun is very bright indeed that
I can sing at all, and all my friends are in the same plight. There are
no leaves on the trees, there is no music in the woods, there is no
sunshine to speak of, and it's altogether exceedingly dull."

The Robin did not exactly know how to reply to this wail of discontent,
so he gathered himself together and poured forth a bright little song.

"How is it," said the Blackbird suddenly, "that you have all at once
become such a great songster? I never remember hearing your voice in the
summer."

"Ah, that's it," replied the Robin, "many people think I only sing in
the winter, but in reality I sing quite as well, and better too, for
that matter, in the summer. The truth is that it's very difficult for
me to make myself heard when the larks are singing so gloriously, and
the thrushes, and the nightingales--not to speak of yourself," said the
Robin, turning round politely. "Now, however," he continued, "there are
so few woodland notes, that I think my poor little pipe may be more
welcome, and I do my best."

Again the Robin carolled, and as the Blackbird listened he said, with a
certain air of respect, "You are a good little bird, Mr. Robin, and I
feel the better for having heard your song; all the same, however, if we
are to have much of this wretched snow, I should just like to know what
I am to do for my food?"

His song ended, the Robin had been preparing to fly away, but at these
words he drew in his little brown wings again, and said, "I hope we may
meet again in a few days, and that you may then be happier than you are
just now. In the meantime, however, it may be a help to you to hear
something which my good friend the old Rook once told me, and which I
have never forgotten. He said that the great God Who made you and me,
and the snow, and everybody and everything, would never forget any of
us, for He not only thinks of us, but, can you believe it, not one of
those poor little sparrows falls to the ground without His knowing it.
We don't think much of the sparrows," continued the Robin, "they are
low, mischievous creatures, but God feeds them, so I'm sure He won't let
us starve. I'm only a very small bird myself, but the thought that I'm
taken care of makes me feel very happy."

Then away flew the Robin, leaving the Blackbird on the bare branch, with
much to think about. He had heard many new and startling things that
morning, and now as he gazed at the snow-covered world, it was with a
happier feeling; the little Robin's discourse had not been altogether
thrown away.

It was getting late, and as yet the Blackbird had had no breakfast. He
determined, therefore, to make an expedition in search of food, and his
sable wings were soon bearing him swiftly over the sparkling snow. He
first flew to a wood not very far off, and as he alighted on a small
hazel-branch he noticed, just beyond him, a fine holly, and in spite of
the snow he could see that it was covered with scarlet berries. How was
it that he had never noticed that beautiful bush before? The ripe
berries looked very tempting, and he had soon made as substantial a meal
as any hungry Blackbird could desire--indeed he left one bough almost
bare. He felt all the better after this breakfast, and took quite a long
excursion over the snow-covered woods and fields in the neighbourhood.

It was very remarkable how many trees he now found covered with
berries; he had never noticed such a number before. In one hedgerow,
leafless though it was, he discovered a hawthorn-bush, and its small
black berries, hard though they proved to be, formed by no means a
contemptible luncheon, even after the softer scarlet ones he had
disposed of at breakfast. There was a mountain ash too, just on the
other side of the hedge, upon the fruit of which this keen-eyed
Blackbird made up his mind to regale himself at no very distant period.
Altogether, his day, which had begun so unpromisingly, was a decided
success, and that night, as he fluttered to rest in the ivy, and saw
the little silver stars peeping and twinkling at him through the warm
green curtains of his canopy, he thought of all the little Robin's
wise words. It was with a chirp of sincere thankfulness that he
tucked his head under his wing.

The next morning was sunny, but frosty and very cold. Before leaving the
ivy-bush, our Blackbird ate a few of the dark berries which clustered
thickly around him. They were not, perhaps, quite so good as the holly
or hawthorn berries, but still they were better than nothing at all.

He then flew from the ivy to his favourite branch on the lime-tree, and
he was not a little pleased to find that his small red-breasted friend
was there before him.

"Well," quoth the Robin, as he paused in his carol to welcome his
friend, "how do you find yourself this morning?"

"Better," replied the Blackbird, "much better." He then gave the Robin
an account of all his experiences of the day before, and observed how
curious it was that in one short day he should have discovered so many
new kinds of berries.

"It is remarkable indeed," said the Robin: "now I wonder what my old
friend the Rook up there would have to say about it."

The Rook was at that very moment sailing in slow circles round the top
of a neighbouring elm-tree. For centuries he and his ancestors had built
their nests in the particular avenue of elms of which this tree was one
of the tallest. It so happened that the Rook was just starting off for
his morning constitutional, and as he finished his round, and then swept
slowly across the meadow below, very deliberately flapping his great
dusky wings, he came in sight of the lime-tree on which the Robin was
perched.

Out flew the Robin, and then back again to attract the Rook's attention.
When the Rook saw this, he slowly gathered in his wings and swung
himself on to a branch close to his little friend.

He certainly was a very sedate, and even solemn-looking gentleman, at
least so thought the Blackbird. His plumage was anything but bright and
glossy, in fact it looked very shabby indeed, as if he had worn it for
some seasons without a change, and had been out in much rough weather.
His dark eyes were relieved by no merry twinkle; then there were small
bare patches (which were not over beautiful) on his neck; and his voice
was exceedingly hoarse and unmusical. But notwithstanding all this,
there was a certain quiet dignity, and an air of ripe wisdom about the
old bird which much impressed our hero, and made him listen with respect
to whatever words of wisdom fell from the blue beak, although they were
uttered in rather a croaky tone.

After the usual "good mornings" had passed, and the Blackbird had been
presented in due form to the Rook, the Robin said, "How comes it, Mr.
Rook, that there are so many new berries on the bushes?"

"You ask how it is, my little friend," said the Rook, kindly; "well, I
will tell you. Just now, when no insects can be had, what should we all
do if we had no berries? Now that the leaves have all fallen, we can
find the berries much more easily. Many of them were there already, only
you didn't see them. They are provided for us by our Heavenly Father. As
each season comes round, God gives us the fruits of that season, and
when one kind of food fails, He provides us with another. I am an old
bird," continued the Rook, "but I've never known the seasons to fail. We
do not 'sow, nor do we gather into barns,' but still 'God feeds us.' I
always look forward, and hopefully too, to every season as it
comes--Spring,--Summer,--Autumn,--Winter,--and, my young friends, you
will be wise to do the same, for, do you know, this trustful feeling is
called 'faith.'"

The Rook then shut his learned beak, and opened and spread his wide
black wings, and slowly sailed away, leaving the Blackbird and the Robin
to meditate on all that he had been telling them. At last the Robin
broke silence with "Have you breakfasted?"

"Yes, I have," replied the Blackbird, "on a few poor ivy-berries, but
I'm still rather hungry."

"Then come with me," said the Robin, "and you shall soon have a right
good feast." Off the birds flew, and swiftly passed over one or two
snow-covered fields, and then by a long avenue of lime-trees. They came
at last to a level lawn, at the end of which stood an old gabled
mansion, built of gray stone; ivy climbed round the pillars of an arcade
at the east end of the house, and ivy covered the west corner. The
time-stained gables, surmounted by round stone balls, stood out in the
sunshine, and the dark tiles of the roof peeped out here and there from
their snowy covering. The two friends flew to the west side of the
mansion, which overlooked a smooth grassy terrace and garden. Beyond was
a lake, and then came a wood behind which the sun sank, each evening, to
rest. Gray gables rose on this side of the house also, and there was a
large bay window which the Blackbird soon discovered to be the window of
the dining-room. There were some thick laurel-bushes beyond this window,
to which the two birds flew, and then they stopped to rest and look
about them. The Blackbird gazed admiringly at the old house, and with
especial interest at the bay window.

Standing there was quite the dearest little couple he had ever seen, a
little girl and boy.

The boy was a brave little man of about four years of age, with two dark
eyes, and thick curly brown hair. His face was positively brimming over
with fun and mischief. Standing by his side, and clasping his hand with
plump little fingers, was a little girl of some two and a half years.
She had a round baby face, gray eyes, and the sweet bloom of babyhood
was on her cheek. Her eyes had that wondering, far-away look, which is
so very bewitching in quite little children, and her small rosy mouth
showed some very white teeth, especially when she laughed, which was not
by any means seldom.

It was evident that these little ones were waiting for something of
interest, for they stood very patiently, and their eyes were fixed on
the grass beneath the fir-trees. At the moment we are describing the
redbreast flew from one laurel-bush to another, and then with a shout of
delight, the little children suddenly disappeared from the window. In a
minute however they were back again with faces full of expectation and
importance, bearing between them a plate of bread which had been
carefully broken into small pieces.

One of the large windows, which opened to the ground, was then flung
back, and the little boy, advancing carefully, scattered the crumbs on
the gravel path just beyond the window. The window was then softly
closed, and hand-in-hand the little children stood still to watch. The
opening and shutting of the window had frightened the Blackbird; he had
flown to a more distant bush; but as the more courageous Robin only
fluttered about for a moment, the Blackbird soon came back, and in less
than a minute the Robin was upon the gravel path hard at work picking up
the dainty white crumbs. The Blackbird still hesitated on the laurel
branch, loth to remain, yet fearful to advance, but at last, impelled by
a sudden pang of hunger, he ventured to join his red-breasted friend.

It was a most luxurious repast; never before had the Blackbird tasted
food half so delicious. It is true that he got one or two frights, for
once the little girl was so delighted at the sight of both birds
devouring the crumbs, that she banged her little fat hands against the
window-pane, dancing at the same time with delight. This gambol fairly
startled their feathered guests, and frightened them away for a minute
or two, but they were soon back again, and then the Blackbird saw that
the boy was carefully holding his sister's hands to keep her quiet.

Each morning found the little eager faces waiting at the window, and
each morning also found the two expectant birds perched on the
laurel-bushes. The feathered company was soon swelled by the arrival of
some impudent and very quarrelsome sparrows, a pair of chaffinches, and
a darling little blue titmouse, who, with his cousin a cole-titmouse,
soon became quite at their ease. By common consent all the other birds
avoided the sparrows. "They are common, idle creatures, you know," said
the Robin, "and none of us care to associate with such low, vulgar
birds."

The Blackbird, through the kindness of his little friend the Robin, soon
got acquainted with many other birds, and indeed he grew quite intimate
with a gaily apparelled Goldfinch. However, notwithstanding all this,
the Blackbird found it difficult to make friends, and could never be
quite so much at his ease as his more sociable red-breasted companion.

One day the Robin confided to the Blackbird a great discovery that he
and the Goldfinch had made. They had come upon a large barn, and there,
close to the roof, they had found a small hole. It was very small
indeed, but, after some hesitation, they had squeezed through it, and
had found themselves in a large room filled with huge sacks of corn,
oats and barley. Their delight at this discovery was not to be
described, any more than the feast they subsequently made. Mice, and
even rats, were scampering about in every direction, gnawing holes in
the sacks, and getting into all manner of mischief.

"We were afraid of the rats at first," said the Robin, "but we soon
found that they were much too busy to trouble their heads about us. The
Goldfinch is very anxious that the sparrows should not find out this
barn. They are greedy and quarrelsome, and would keep it all to
themselves, and try to turn us out."

The Blackbird soon found his way to the corn sacks, but he and his
friends were uncommonly circumspect whenever they met any sparrows.
They would even pretend that they were going in quite another
direction; they would fly straight by the barn, and then wait
patiently in a neighbouring tree or hedgerow, and not return till they
were certain of not being noticed.

It must be confessed that the process of squeezing through the small
dark hole was not altogether an agreeable arrangement, it sadly
disturbed our smart friend's smooth, glossy feathers. The mice too, to
say nothing of the rats, were not congenial companions. But the corn
was so good that it made amends for all these drawbacks.

Thus the winter passed by very happily, and what with the berries, red
and black, the corn, and best of all, the crumbs, the Blackbird never
wanted for food.

Not the least pleasant part of the day was the morning, when he paid his
visit to the bay window, where the little children were always ready for
him. No wonder he grew very fond of them, and soon learnt their names,
"_Willie_" and "_Alice_," which he would often repeat to himself as he
fell asleep in the ivy, and thought of the little boy and girl fast
asleep too, and of the happy meeting which they were all looking forward
to in the morning.

END OF CHIRP THE FIRST.



CHIRP THE SECOND.

SPRING.


The days were certainly becoming longer and less cold, the snow had
altogether disappeared, and somehow the sun seemed, to the Blackbird, to
get up earlier and go to bed later. He noticed also, about this time,
that little shaft-like leaves were beginning to peep through the grass,
and that the beech and hazel twigs were swelling into small knobs. He
also felt that there was something different in himself--a change--he
was stronger and happier, and he was seized with an irresistible desire
to sing. The hoarseness which had tried him so much during the winter
months had gone, and his throat was once more clear.

A week passed by, the little knobs on the trees began to open and
discover small, tender leaves, and between the green spear-like shoots
in the grass delicate stems had come up bearing white drooping flowers.

One morning the Blackbird discussed all these changes with the Robin;
and the Rook, who happened to be flying by, was called in to assist at
their council.

"You are surprised at all these changes, my young friends," he said;
"did I not tell you that the seasons never fail? This is the Spring, the
time when everything comes forth to new life. The snow has overspread
the earth and kept it warm all these months. It has covered the bulbs of
the snowdrops, those white flowers that you so greatly admire, friend
Blackbird. It covered them up carefully till the proper time arrived
that they should spring forth. In the same way the buds on the trees
have been wrapped up in their brown coats and kept warm during the
bitter winter weather, and now that the sun is once more shining, the
said brown coats are beginning to drop off, for the little green leaves
are pushing their way into the world of warmth and sunshine. And then,
not the least interesting change, your song has once more returned to
you, the woods are full of sweet music,--ay, and you will see yet
greater wonders, for truly 'the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land.'"

Yes, the Rook was quite right; each day now brought about some fresh
wonder--a few more green leaves, a few more white flowers; and presently
between the snowdrop plants came up the slender green leaves, and the
gold and purple blossoms of the crocus.

About this time, too, the Blackbird noticed that many of his feathered
friends were unusually busy. They seemed to have no time for talk. He
met them flying hither and thither with feathers, small pieces of straw,
or twigs, in their beaks. About this time also, the Blackbird himself
felt a strong desire to have a nest of his own. But how could he build
it by himself? He must find a partner to share his labours--and where
could he find such a partner? He was almost in despair, so at last he
determined to pour out his desire in song, as he perched one morning on
the branch of a budding hawthorn.

He sang his sweetest, his very best, and as the song was borne along on
the bright morning air, and then died away, he became aware of a tender
little note, a faint twitter which came from a branch immediately
beneath him. He looked down, and, lo and behold, there, half concealed
by spreading boughs, was a bird like himself, another Blackbird! This
stranger Blackbird was very attractive-looking, but its plumage was not
quite so bright or black as his own. Its bill, too, was more brown than
yellow, and the orange streaks round the eyes were of a greenish hue.
But notwithstanding these slight differences, the bird which now hopped
down on the grass, and answered his song by if possible a sweeter
warble, was both handsome and winning. The Blackbird was delighted to
have thus found so immediate a response to his petition, and he was very
soon on the grass beside the interesting stranger. On nearer approach he
found that this Blackbird had gentle eyes, and was indeed altogether
very bewitching, so without any hesitation he proposed that they should
build a nest together! His offer was shyly accepted, and then came the
important question, where to build?

The Blackbird was anxious not to be too far from his little friends
Willie and Alice. They had been so kind to him during the winter, that
he would fain see something of them still, and sing them his best
songs, now that he had his voice back again. He had watched them the day
before, as they trotted hand-in-hand along the home-meadow where the
snowdrops and crocuses grew. They had pulled some of the white and
yellow blossoms, and had then stood still to listen to the flute-like
voice of an unseen minstrel. Hand-in-hand they listened; the little boy
with his large brown eyes fixed on the tree from whence came the song,
the little girl with her baby-face uplifted, and one pink finger held up
as much as to say "Hush! hush!"

The song ended, the Blackbird flew out from the shelter of the thick
fir-tree where he had been concealed, and winged his way across the
meadow.

"Our Blackbird!" cried the little boy, exultingly. "Our Blackbird!"

"Dicky! dicky!" shouted the little girl, and then they ran home
delighted.

Yes, this songster was their own particular Blackbird, there was no
doubt about it; and did it not behove him to build his nest as near
their home as he possibly could?

After a short consultation, the pair of Blackbirds set off on an
exploring expedition. First of all they carefully examined the ivy which
covered an old wall near the stables: but they did not consider the
stems of the ivy were quite strong enough to support their nest. They
then looked at some laurel-bushes. But no, these would not do. The
position was too exposed, the branches were much too far apart, their
nest would soon be discovered. Then a very compact little evergreen bush
on the lawn in front of the old house caught their eyes. It was thick
and well grown, every branch was covered, so that a nest could not be
seen by the passers-by. Yes, it was the very place for them, there they
might build in security, and at the same time watch their dear little
friends as they went out and about each day. They carefully inspected
each bough of the said bush, and then, having chosen a spot at the lower
end of a branch where it joined the main stem, they set to work to build
in right good earnest. Small twigs, the waifs and strays of last autumn,
strewed the ground in a little wilderness hard by, and thither the
Blackbirds repaired. Hour after hour both might be seen flitting
between the wood and their chosen bush, with twigs in their yellow
beaks. These they neatly laid on the branch, and then twisted them in
and out, and round and round each other, and then a little moss and a
few soft fibres were added to the harder twigs. The whole fabric soon
began to assume a round, nest-like appearance. It grew fair and shapely,
and the exultant Blackbird paused to pour forth a "clear, mellow, bold
song," as he alighted for a moment on the summit of the Deodor. Then he
and his gentle partner, feeling the "keen demands of appetite,"
determined to go and refresh themselves with some food, and they
repaired to a field not very far off.

There they found the Rook hopping along the freshly-turned furrows,
eagerly picking up the grubs which had been brought to the surface by
the plough-share. The repast did not look very inviting,--those small,
gray grubs! But it was the Rook's favourite food, and the farmers were
not sorry that he and his feathered friends should make a meal of that
same gray grub, for these insects sometimes destroy whole acres of
grass. They bury themselves in the turf, and then it turns brown and
dies. These grubs are mischievous indeed,--after remaining for some
time in the grub state, they change into cockchafers, and even then they
are by no means agreeable visitors.

"Good morning, my friend," said the polite old Rook, "this is a very
pleasant change of food after the hard winter berries, isn't it?"

"Indeed, it is," replied the Blackbird, picking up a grub, "but I like
better feeding near the hedgerows; however, this isn't bad after a hard
day's work."

"Oh, you are house building, are you?" said the Rook. "I hope you have
chosen wisely, and got a good mate to work with you, one who is
industrious and affectionate."

"I think I have," said the Blackbird, with a certain amount of proper
pride; "but you shall judge for yourself," he added, as he presented his
young wife to the Rook. The Rook made a quaint sort of movement with his
head, which, probably among birds, passed for a very grave and polite
bow, and after looking at her for a few moments, he nodded his
approval.

"We are all rather sad to-day," said the Rook, after a few moments of
silence; "we have just lost a very dear friend--indeed a cousin of
mine." The Blackbird looked grave and sympathetic, and the Rook
continued, "He started off yesterday evening to get some supper, and
found his way to some grass-land which was being destroyed by these
mischievous little grubs; he was busy pecking away at them, when all of
a sudden we, who were in a tree hard by, heard a fearful noise, and saw
a great deal of smoke. In another moment, as the smoke cleared away, we
saw my poor cousin lying on the ground. He was quite dead; a young
farmer had shot him with a terrible gun, thinking he was doing mischief;
the stupid fellow little knew what good service my cousin was engaged
upon in eating those grubs. This affair has made us all very sad
indeed," said the Rook, with a little extra huskiness in his voice:
"poor fellow, he had just begun building his first nest, and his young
widow is completely broken hearted."

The Blackbird was very grieved for his friend's trouble, and he felt
rather uncomfortable besides, for it occurred to him that the same
wretched man might very likely shoot him some evening, and then what
would become of _his_ little wife? He therefore prepared to fly off, but
before doing so he said, "I hope we sha'n't be shot also, for these
grubs are easier food to get at than the snails. I got hold of some
snails this very morning, and my bill still aches with the trouble they
gave me. I dropped them on the stones to break them, but one, and he was
a fat fellow too, was so obstinate he would neither come out of his
shell, nor could I crack it. So after ten minutes hard work I was
obliged to leave the rascal. They are stubborn creatures, these snails,"
said the Blackbird, with a groan that expressed his deep sense of
injury.

"_That_ they are," replied the Rook, "and they ought to be taught
better."

A few days more went by and then the nest in the evergreen bush was
completed. The inside walls, which were of mud, had been perhaps the
most difficult part of the building, for although the Blackbirds would
very often start off with a nice piece of soft mud in their beaks, it
would get dry, in a very tiresome manner, before they could reach the
nest, and it then crumbled to pieces as they tried to plaster it on the
twigs. The birds persevered, however, and the mud walls were at last
substantially built, and to crown the whole, a lining of soft grass was
added.

The Blackbird was so over-joyed when the nest was finished, that, after
carefully examining it outside to see that each twig was in its proper
place, and looking at the neatly finished interior, he flew off to the
laurel-bushes by the bay window and sang a song of such surpassing
ecstasy that two little brown heads soon made their appearance at a
bed-room window to listen. The little figures were clothed in long white
night-dresses, for they were just going to bed, but they could not miss
such a song. I am sure that if it could have been interpreted it would
have proved to be a chant of joy and praise. The nest was completed, the
home was ready!

That night as long brown lashes sank over soft sleepy eyes the little
heads that belonged to them were still thinking of that jubilant carol,
and about the same time, under the shelter of the ivy leaves, two other
and much smaller heads were full of dreams of the future, of the
newly-built home in the evergreen, and of all that new home might mean.

Some two days after this the Blackbird happened to be perched on the
branch of a dark fir-tree. His young mate had been for some time sitting
steadily on the nest in the evergreen bush. To amuse her he had sung
some of his sweetest songs. He could not see her very distinctly through
the thick branches, so he thought he would just go and have a look at
her. He flew to the bush, and there was a sight which, for a moment,
made him feel almost breathless. His mate was perched on the bough above
the nest, but what was that in the nest below?

Down in its very centre lay a round, smooth, pale blue object, shaded
with light green, and marked at one end with reddish brown spots. There
it lay securely, snugly; and it looked very fresh and beautiful. The
Blackbird hopped nearer. What could it be? Was it really an egg? Yes, it
was indeed an egg! His delight was so great that he could only express
it in song, and the deep flute-like notes sounded from the little bush
quite late into the twilight of that evening.

A few more days saw four eggs added to the first. Yes, five little blue
balls now lay side by side. As his industrious little wife flew off to
get supper the evening that the last egg was laid, the happy Blackbird
perched himself on the very top of the bush, to guard the nest and sing
his evening song. He had not been there very long when he heard a door
bang, and presently from under the old porch came the dear little couple
he loved so well, the little one in her white frock and white hat, the
other in his sailor's suit.

They ran together across the grass, but stopped suddenly as they heard
the Blackbird's note, and the Blackbird as suddenly ceased singing, for
how terrible would it be if they should discover his nest and all his
treasures!

The sharp eyes of the little boy had already espied him, and the little
feet scampered lightly over the ground. The poor Blackbird's heart sank
within him. Nearer, still nearer came the brother and sister, and at
last they stopped close by the bush. The Blackbird rose into the air
with a shrill, scared cry, and then settled again. Would they hurt him?
Could they be so cruel as to rob him of his treasures?

"He _must_ have a nest somewhere," said the little boy, as he peeped
cautiously into the bush.

What was that dark thing on the bough above? The little fellow clapped
his hands, wild with excitement. "A nest! a nest!" he cried. The little
girl fairly danced with delight. Then the boy slowly put out his hand
and caught the bough, and carefully bent it towards him. All this time
two black eyes were watching with intense anxiety from the tree-top.

Would the eggs fall out and be broken? would the nest be robbed?

"One, two, three, four, five," counted the little boy slowly, while a
poor palpitating heart counted each moment. How long those moments
seemed!

The little boy still held the bough in his grasp, the nest was on one
side, he stretched out his eager little hand.

The Blackbird scarcely breathed. The boy's fingers were over the nest;
they nearly closed on one of the eggs. Then he suddenly drew back, "No,
no, Alice," he said, "Mamma says I must never rob the poor birds. We
won't rob our own Blackbird."

Then the branch was slowly released and returned to its place, and the
little fellow, who with no small amount of self-denial had conquered the
intense desire to take the eggs, stood still gazing at the bush. Little
Miss Alice now made signs that she wished to be lifted up to see into
the nest, and with no small difficulty her sturdy young brother obliged
her.

"Look, Alice, pretty eggs; but we mustn't touch, and we mustn't tell any
one."

At that moment the front door of the old manor house again opened, and
this time a voice called, "Master Willie, Miss Alice, wherever have you
got to?"

At hearing this sudden appeal, Willie dropped his little sister, both
because her weight was rather more than he could well support, and
because he was afraid that "Nanny" might find out what they were doing.
However, as Alice fell on the grass she was not hurt. Willie quickly
helped her up, and, as they ran towards the house, the Blackbird heard
Willie say, "We won't tell any one about our nest, will we? It's a great
secret."

It was some time before the poor bird recovered from his terrible
fright. His little heart beat very fast, and when his wife returned, and
he told her all about the children's visit, it was with bated and
often-interrupted breath.

That night his sleep was disturbed by very unpleasant dreams. He had
visions of numbers of little boys who kept coming to look at his nest,
and who pulled the bough down to the ground. Then he saw the eggs
rolling out slowly one after the other on to the lawn. And then he would
wake with a start to find that after all it was only a dream, and would
see the bright moonlight shining on the dewy grass, and hear afar off
the hoarse trill of the night-jar, or the boding screech of the great
white owl.

All that night he could not help feeling nervous, and he was very glad
indeed when the first streaks of dawn became visible in the far east. It
was a bright spring morning, and as he and his sprightly little wife
hopped nimbly about on the daisy-spangled lawn, ere the dew had
disappeared from the little pink and white flowers, and as they here and
there picked up a worm or an insect, he felt wonderfully refreshed,
indeed by the time he had taken his morning bath, and had plumed his
feathers, he was quite himself again.

The thirteen days which now followed were very important ones; for,
during that time, our Blackbird's patient young wife sat almost
uninterruptedly upon her nest. She stole away for a few moments to the
neighbouring hedgerows for breakfast or dinner; but she was never happy
till she was back again to her precious charge.

It was at this time that the Blackbird poured forth his very best music.
He had never sung so many nor such varied songs before; now that his
partner could not go about with him, he had so much to tell her of his
rambles and of course he told it all in song.

He did not always perch on their own bush. He was afraid that if he did
so he might attract too much attention, but from the bough of any tree
close at hand he cheered her heart with his beautiful melodies.

[Illustration: THE ROBIN'S NEST.]

Then it was that he told his wife of the green hedgerows where the
golden, star-shaped blossoms of the celandine were luxuriant, and where
the shy primroses were just beginning to show their pale heads. He would
sing of the blackthorn whose snowy blooms were then just peeping out,
and of the hawthorn already covered with its tender green leaves. He
told her, and this was a profound secret, of the nest of their good
friend, the Robin, which was very cunningly concealed at the top of the
ivy. It was a soft, cosy little nest, not plastered with mud as
theirs was, but lined with silky hair. The Robin had shown him five
little pale eggs, white spotted with brown, at the bottom of the nest,
half hidden by the soft hair.

The Blackbird had also come across a most remarkable nest, that of the
golden-crested wren. "My old friend, the Rook, tells me," said the
Blackbird, "that this wren is the very smallest of our birds. He
certainly is a great beauty with his crown of golden feathers. His nest
is in yonder yew-tree. It seems large for a bird of his size. It is
almost entirely built of moss, and, can you believe it, the wren uses
spider's webs to bind it together! It seemed to be hanging from the
bough, and was so well hidden by another bough, that I did not see it
until I had flown quite into the middle of the tree. The opening in the
nest is so small, I don't believe you could have got even your little
head in; but I had a good peep, and saw its lining of soft warm
feathers, and counted ten of the palest, tiniest eggs you can possibly
imagine."

The following day the Blackbird had other tidings for his wife. He had
been to a stream in the neighbourhood,--the Brawl. Its banks were gay
with marsh marigolds, and while he was hopping and frisking about
there, he had met a very curious-looking bird, a ring-ousel. This
creature was rather shy and had not long arrived from the south, where
he usually spent the winter. He was a pretty fellow, with black plumage
and a white crescent round his throat, and his song was very sweet
indeed. He had few relations in England, for he was what folks call a
rare bird, and the Blackbird was sorry for it, for he thought him both
pretty and attractive.

The following day the Blackbird had a long talk with the Rook. The
latter was perched on an elm, whose leaves were just beginning to burst
forth, and it was there that the Blackbird joined him. Rooks' nests,
made of rough-looking sticks, many of them containing one or more blue
eggs, were to be seen dotted here and there along the avenue of elms,
and the cawing and the gossip, to say nothing of the quarrelling, was
almost deafening. The Blackbird settled on a bough close to the Rook,
and as he did so he noticed some swallows skimming over the lawn far
below them. They were beautiful birds, their blue-black plumage glinted
in the sunshine, and now and then a quick turn displayed their brown
throats and white breasts. They were darting hither and thither, so
rapidly that the eye could hardly follow them, catching the many-winged
insects as they flew by. Then they would suddenly dart off to the
topmost gables of the old mansion, where their compact mud nests could
be plainly seen against the dark gray stones.

"I remember," said the Blackbird, "watching those swallows a long, long
time ago, when I was quite a fledgeling; but I haven't seen one all the
winter. Where can they have been all this time?"

"Oh," replied the Rook, "the swallows are most curious and interesting
creatures. When October comes they assemble from all parts of Great
Britain and then start forth on a long journey across the wide seas to
pass the winter in sunnier and warmer countries. When April returns they
all come back again,--from the palms of Africa, over the olives of Italy
and the oaks of Spain--back across the seas they come to us. It is here
that they build their nests and rear their young ones, but only to fly
away again in the autumn. Truly, these swallows are wonderful
travellers."

"How nice it must be to spend the winter in a warm, sunny place,"
remarked the Blackbird, enviously.

"Well, I don't know," retorted the Rook; "think of the long, long
journey! Think of the miles and miles of ocean to be crossed, think of
the weary wings, think of the poor breathless birds. They often perch to
rest a while on the passing ships, and they often get knocked down and
killed. Then again, just think how they must suffer from the cold here
in England, after the warm climates they have wintered in. No, depend
upon it," said the Rook, shaking his head wisely, "it's far better to
spend the winter here at home and get healthy and hardy. There are many
nights when you and I are warm and comfortable that these unhappy
swallows are crouched shivering under the eaves. In my humble opinion
there's nothing like England, dear old England, for English birds."

You see this old Rook was very patriotic, and of course a great Tory to
boot. He disliked change of every sort and kind. He, and his ancestors
before him, had built in these same elm-trees, since the first gray
stone of the old mansion had been laid. From these same trees, from
generation to generation, they had watched the sun rise and set during
the stormy days of winter and the sunny days of summer. They had noted
the seasons as they came and went, enjoying the fruits and the joys of
each, and when any rook was cut off by death, it was generally old age
that killed him,--unless it were that occasionally a youngster, more
enterprising than prudent, would lean out of his nest to see the world
around him, and what was going on there, and then a sudden rush of his
small body through the air, and a thud at the foot of the tree, would
tell of the premature decease of a promising rooklet. Yes, "Old England
for ever!" was still the watchword of the rooks.

"Certainly it is very delightful just now," said the Blackbird, looking
round him. Delicate young leaves were bursting forth on every side;
primroses, anemones, and even a few early cowslips were peering through
the grass below, the sun was shining, and the woods were filled with a
chorus of song.

"Yes indeed," said the Rook solemnly "'the stork in the heavens knoweth
her appointed time, and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow
observe the time of their coming.'"

This conversation, and all his other talks and small adventures, were
faithfully reported to the home-tied wife. His voice beguiled the many
weary hours during which she patiently sat on her nest.

It was thus that matters went on until towards the end of the thirteenth
day, when certain mysterious sounds were heard to proceed from the nest,
faint peckings, which would cease and then begin again. One day, while
his wife was taking her mid-day meal, the Blackbird hopped close to the
nest, and put his head over the side, and as he watched and listened, lo
and behold, through a slight crack in the blue shell of one of the eggs
peeped a very tiny beak!

It was very marvellous! This beak moved backwards and forwards, and in
and out, and gradually, the crack becoming larger, a small featherless
head emerged. Yes, so it was; and before sunset the following day five
callow little birds lay huddled together in the nest, and although they
were his own sons and daughters, it must be confessed that the Blackbird
could not help thinking them remarkably ugly. They had very few feathers
on their poor naked little bodies, their heads appeared to be of an
enormous and disproportionate size,--and then, their mouths!

As they squatted in the nest with their five mouths opened to their
widest, displaying five red throats, the Blackbird thought that never
before in all his long life had he seen anything so frightful. How such
enormous creatures had ever come out of those five pretty little eggs he
could not imagine. However, he had no time for reflection, for what on
earth did those eager little monsters mean by gaping at him like that?

At last it occurred to him that they might be hungry, and thereupon he
and his wife set off to pick up small worms and insects for them. The
Blackbird fancied that being so very young they would require delicate
feeding, but this proved to be an entire mistake. Never before had he
thought it possible that such small bodies could dispose of so much
food. From morning to night, and almost from night to morning, he and
his poor wife were to be seen flying backwards and forwards conveying
provisions to the nest.

However, none of the brood ever seemed to be satisfied. Five mouths
always opened wide when the Blackbird returned, although he could only
feed one at a time, and he never, for the life of him, could remember
which he had fed last.

Worms, grubs, caterpillars, insects, all found their way to the little
gaping mouths,--nothing came amiss, until the Blackbird felt that if it
went on much longer there would be no insects left in the whole country,
and that his young ones would certainly die of indigestion. However, the
little birds flourished, and grew apace, and each night as the Blackbird
drew in his wings for a few short hours of rest, he wondered when the
brood would be old enough to feed themselves, for he looked forward, and
with no small longing, to that time of rest.

END OF CHIRP THE SECOND.



CHIRP THE THIRD.

SUMMER.


It is not to be supposed that our little friends Willie and Alice made
but that one visit to the Blackbird's nest. No, at some hour or other of
each day the small couple stole across the lawn to peep at the mother as
she sat on her nest. At first, the birds were rather alarmed by these
visitations, but they soon grew accustomed to them, more especially when
they found that their young friends meant no harm.

One morning, on going to the nest, Willie was very much surprised to
find that a wonderful change had taken place. The pretty little blue
eggs had disappeared, and behold, in their place were five callow,
gaping creatures! Alice was also very much interested, and it was but
natural that she should insist upon seeing what excited her brother so
much. Willie, therefore, after considerable difficulty, raised her
sufficiently high to let her have a good look at the funny little heads.
At the sight of them, Alice kicked her little feet with joy, which
caused her to slip quickly through Willie's arms on to the grass. Her
fresh white frock was a good deal tumbled in consequence, and her hat
had fallen off in the scramble.

At this critical moment their nurse, Mrs. Barlow, appeared on the scene.
"Master Willie! Master Willie!" she called, "how often I've told you not
to lift Miss Alice. She's a deal too heavy for you; and look how you've
tumbled her clean white frock. There'll be an accident some day, or my
name's not Barlow. I won't have you dragging her about the country in
this way; before you've done you'll make a regular tom-boy of her, and,
bless her heart, she's a real delicate little lady."

Master Willie tried to look penitent, and he secretly hoped their
beloved nest would not be discovered. However, the nurse had her
suspicions of their bush, so she walked straight up to it and then round
it.

"Well, I do declare," she said at last, "there's a nest, and that's what
you've been after, is it? Well, of all the nasty, horrid little things
that ever I saw these birds are the nastiest. Bless me, I wonder now how
they get along, and no nurse to look after them."

_What fun they must have_, was Willie's secret thought. They could rove
about the country at their "own sweet will," and never think about
tumbling their clothes. But then he remembered that the birds hadn't got
any clothes to speak of, and that, as yet, they couldn't even fly. He
therefore began to wonder how they did manage without a nurse, and
thought he should like to try, just for a week or two, how _he_ could
get along without one. What climbings, delightful wanderings, and
general mischief presented themselves to his childish imagination!
_what_ fun he and Alice would have!

"Whatever bird is it?" said the nurse.

"_Our_ Blackbird," replied Willie, with an air of considerable
importance.

"_Your_ Blackbird!" she said; "why, whatever does the child mean? Well,
anyhow, the gardener will soon make short work of the Blackbirds, nasty
mischievous things!--why, they eat up all the fruit, and destroy the
flowers."

"Oh, Nanny," cried the little boy sadly, "don't say that, our Blackbird
is so good, he sings beautifully, and we are so fond of him. The
gardener mustn't kill our Blackbird." Tears stood in the soft brown
eyes, and Nanny, who was really a kind-hearted woman, hastened to say
that she didn't at all suppose that that particular Blackbird would be
killed, it was only that birds in general were such destructive
creatures, that the fewer of them there were left about, the better.

Willie, however, was not altogether consoled, and he could not help
feeling that Nanny was not so sympathetic as she might be about his dear
Blackbird. Still he hoped for the best, and determined, at the very
earliest opportunity, to entreat the gardener to spare every Blackbird,
young and old, for the sake of his particular friend.

All this had happened in the spring, some months before, and it was now
July. The young Blackbirds, hatched in April, had been out and abroad in
the world some weeks. They were not yet quite full grown, and still
depended upon their parents for help and advice. The parent birds,
however, had not a little to do, for by this time they had hatched a
second brood, and, just now, these last required their constant
attention, although they hoped that by the end of the month their young
ones would be able to fly a little. This brood had proved more
refractory than the first one, and they were continually getting into
trouble and mischief. One of them tumbled into a pool of water, and was
as nearly as possible drowned; another was pursued by a cat and had his
leg very much hurt; while a third, alas! a poor little fellow, tumbled
right out of the nest one morning, fell on the hard ground, and never
breathed again.

But although the Blackbird had his troubles, and serious ones they were
too, the beauty and luxuriance of the season rejoiced his heart. The
country was in its richest summer garb, even the porch of the old gabled
house was covered with pale pink roses. A splendid yellow rose, a
_Gloire de Dijon_, clustered round the library window, and a white rose
peeped in at the drawing-room. White and yellow jasmin, varied here and
there by clusters of deep crimson roses, covered the west side of the
house and the old bay window, and the garden below was gay with
bright-coloured flower-beds.

Every tree was in full foliage, and the avenue of limes was sweet with
small white blossoms, and musical with the murmur of myriads of
contented bees, who found some of their sweetest nectar there. The
newly-mown hay was falling on all sides, and the trees gave a very
grateful shade to the tired haymakers during the noon-tide heat.

The spot, however, which most attracted the Blackbirds, was the kitchen
garden. What ripe red strawberries were hidden away under the thick
leaves on the long slope of the upper garden! what cool green
gooseberries, and what a variety of currants, were fast ripening in the
lower garden! The Blackbird would often retire with one or two of his
young people to this favoured region. They would first settle themselves
at the strawberry-bed, though it must be confessed that this part of the
feast was attended with some peril. They felt a certain degree of
nervousness, a sense of insecurity, for a horrid net had been stretched
over this particular bed, and sometimes the dark feathered heads got
caught in it.

One day the Blackbird had a most terrible fright. He and his wife, and
some of the young ones, had been hard at work on the ripe strawberries.
They had been so busy that they did not hear stealthy footsteps
approaching on the sandy gravel till they were quite close to them. Then
the birds rose in the air, with shrill cries of alarm, all except
_Mamma_ Blackbird, who somehow could not get her head from under the
net. She struggled desperately; the gardener was now close upon her. The
poor bird, wild with alarm, fluttered backwards and forwards, till at
last by a supreme effort, she freed herself and fled away, very much
scared, but rejoicing in her liberty. This affair gave all the family a
fearful shock, and it was some days before they dared to re-visit the
strawberry-bed.

All things considered, though, the strawberries were very good, the
birds preferred the lower garden, where they could hop comfortably and
securely under the gooseberry and currant bushes. There were no nets
there, and the gardener could not pounce down upon them through those
stiff thorny bushes; they could feast on the small, red gooseberries,
and then, for a change, pass on to the smooth yellowish ones. Their meal
generally ended by a visit to a certain bush where the clusters of white
currants hung conveniently near the ground.

There was one spot, however, which was perhaps the most attractive of
all. On the south side of the garden flourished an old cherry-tree which
bore on its wide spreading arms "white hearts" of the very finest
quality and flavour. This was a secret corner to which the birds
repaired at eventide, and where, curiously enough, the gardener never
suspected them of trespassing.

One bright July morning the Blackbird noticed a most unusual stir at the
old mansion. There was a good deal of running about, to and fro, and in
and out. The dairymaid paid a great many visits to the dairy, and other
maids might be seen hurrying in all directions. The small brother and
sister had more than once trotted out on the lawn to look at the sky,
and make sure that it was not raining.

When the Blackbird happened to fly across the garden he was still more
puzzled. Two gardeners with large baskets were stooping over the
strawberry beds, hard at work, picking the last of the strawberries.
Alas! there would be none left! Another gardener was walking down the
rows of raspberry-bushes, filling a capacious basket with the red and
white berries. A small boy was collecting currants in another bulky
receptacle, while two more were pulling quantities of gooseberries. What
did it all mean?

Later on in the day two large carts quite brimming over with rosy-faced
girls and boys passed through the yard, and on into the hay-field hard
by. The little ones were soon seated in groups on the soft, sweet hay,
and then the old mansion began to pour forth its inmates.

Servant-maids appeared with their gowns tucked up, carrying large cans
of hot tea, followed by men in livery with huge platters piled with
plum-cake, and stacks of bread-and-butter; and last, but by no means
least, the ancient housekeeper, and her special maids, with baskets of
fruit and jugs of rich golden cream. Then, last of all, from under the
old porch, appeared the mother and father and their two children, our
Willie and Alice. Little Alice looked so fair and pretty in her white
frock, blue sash, and blue shoes; and Willie's bright young face was
flushed with excitement and delight.

Then the Blackbird began to suspect what it all meant. It was Willie's
birthday; yes, he was five years old, and he had chosen, as his treat,
that all the village children should be invited to tea in the hay-field.
It was a great joy to Willie to hand round the cake and fruit, and to
watch the little faces aglow with happiness. Willie and Alice, and even
their mamma and papa, had tea in the hay-field, and Willie thought that
never before had even strawberries and cream been quite so delicious.

It was a lovely afternoon, and it was very pleasant to sit on the
newly-mown hay and listen to the birds singing in the trees. Of
course, the Blackbird could not resist going to see and, as far as
he could, share the fun, and he and his family had a private banquet of
their own: for it so happened that one plate of fruit had been put
behind a little hay-cock and then overlooked and forgotten, and there,
fearless of gardeners or nets, the Blackbirds devoured the last of the
strawberries.

After tea games were proposed, and the merry voices could be heard in
"blindman's buff," and "drop the handkerchief," until quite late into
the evening. By this time the fathers and mothers had arrived to look
after their children and take them home, and many were the kind words
and warm thanks expressed to Willie and Alice as their graceful little
figures went in and out among the groups as they said "good night."

At last little Alice was fairly tired out, so she was borne away by
Nurse Barlow, who announced it as her decided opinion that the children
would "get their deaths of cold, and both be laid up the next day."

Poor Mrs. Barlow had not enjoyed her afternoon. She had been constantly
occupied in trying to find Willie and Alice, for, as there were so many
children scattered over the field, they had continually escaped her
searching eye. Once she had ruthlessly torn Alice away as she was
standing between two rosy-cheeked, delighted village urchins, playing
"drop the handkerchief." Each of her little fair hands was clasped by
the strong brown fingers of a small village neighbour, and Alice
vigorously resented being thus carried off.

"The idea of her playing with them," murmured Mrs. Barlow contemptuously
as she carried her off.

Not long afterwards a shout of triumph attracted her attention to
another part of the field, where she was certain "Master Willie" would
be found. "If there's mischief going on," she said, "he's sure to be in
it;" and when she reached the spot, there he was sure enough, in his
best clothes trying to climb the well-greased pole. As may be supposed
his intentions of reaching the top, and securing the prize, were quickly
nipped in the bud, and he was obliged to make a more sudden descent than
he had counted upon.

Notwithstanding these slight interruptions, everything went off most
satisfactorily, and all were sorry enough when the time arrived to say
good-bye.

The children assembled in front of the old house, and sang a short
hymn--

    "We are but little children weak;"

and then they were marched off to their different homes, and Willie went
to bed, his thoughts full of the happy day they had had, and the words
of the children's hymn still sounding in his ears.

The Blackbird had thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon. There had been no
drawbacks. Although he had not been one of the invited guests, he felt
somehow that he had been welcome, and he was very pleased to have seen
so much of his two young friends, and to have left them so happy.

At this summer-time, it was a great pleasure to the Blackbird during
the afternoon to perch on the limb of an old fir-tree on the lawn, and
watch the squirrels at their gambols. They would play long, long
games of hide and seek among the dark branches, and then, tired of
that, they would chase each other from bough to bough, scattering the
pine-cones, which dropped with a soft sound on the grass below.
Little wagtails ran nimbly about the lawn uttering their shrill
"quit, quit," and catching as they ran the gnats and other insects. The
small dark heads of the swallows could be seen as they crouched and
twittered beneath the gables of the old mansion, and the distant
trickling of water made a soft accompaniment to these varied sounds.

One afternoon when the Blackbird was thus perched on his favourite
fir-branch he saw the old Rook sailing slowly by. He had not seen his
old friend for some time, so he gladly welcomed and joined him. Away
they flew to a copse beyond the lake where hazels and alders grew. A
bright, pebbly stream wound through this copse, babbling cheerily as it
went, and both birds alighted on an overhanging bough to watch the tiny
fish as they poised and darted backwards and forwards. At a bend of the
stream a little higher up, a brilliant-hued kingfisher was on the watch,
and another bird of much soberer plumage was perched on a hazel bough
beyond. He had yellow legs, a long tail, and ashen-coloured plumage
spotted with white, which attracted the Blackbird's attention, for he
did not remember ever to have seen him before.

"Do you know that bird?" inquired the Blackbird, nodding in the
direction of the stranger.

"Indeed I do," replied the Rook, dryly; "but he's no friend of mine I
assure you. He's one of the laziest and most unprincipled of creatures.
He has only one good point about him, that's his note, and you must know
that well. His 'twofold shout' of _cuckoo_ is a welcome sound to every
one, for it tells us that Spring is here. As I said, however, that is
his only good point,--for, can you believe it? _he never builds a
nest!_"

"Never builds a nest!" exclaimed the Blackbird in astonishment, "then
where does he lay his eggs?"

"Why," said the Rook, "the cuckoos have the impudence, the audacity, to
drop them in the nest of some other bird, any nest that takes their
fancy. And that is not all. Not only does the cuckoo lay its egg in a
stranger's nest, but the unfortunate bird whose nest he has chosen has
not only to sit on his egg, and hatch his great gawkey young one, but
has also to feed it, and rear it till it can take care of itself. Nice
job it is too," said the Rook with disgust. "Then they are so
knowing--ay, they're clever birds! Why they never lay their eggs in the
nests of any of the Finches, because they are seed-feeding birds, and
the cuckoos know full well that their young ones would starve, because a
seed-feeding bird wouldn't be able to rear them. Therefore they always
choose the nests of the insect-feeding birds, and they never make a
mistake. I wish they would sometimes, then there would be a few less of
them! Those little pied wagtails, that you were watching on the lawn
just now, often have the honour thrust upon them of hatching and rearing
a young cuckoo, as do also the hedge sparrow and the reed warbler. The
cuckoos are such cowards too," continued the Rook, "that they sometimes
lay their eggs in the poor little nest of quite a small bird who can't
even remonstrate with, much less fight them. Last Spring a vile cuckoo
actually laid her egg in a wren's nest, and the two poor little wrens
had to hatch and rear the young monster. You may fancy what hard work it
was,--it was nearly the death of them!"

The Blackbird groaned sympathetically, for he remembered his own labours
in that line. After a last glance at the kingfisher, the cuckoo, and the
winding stream, the two friends flew farther on, over "flowery meads"
and shining woods. The hedges were purple with marshmallow and vetch,
while in other places the blue heads of the succory, and the pink and
white briar roses were luxuriant, not to speak of the pale bindweed
which clung so affectionately round the slender stems of the hazels.

The pair of friends alighted for a moment to gaze at all this summer
wealth.

"I _do_ wish it could always be summer," sighed the Blackbird.

"You'd soon get very tired of it if it were," retorted the Rook, "and
you would not value the sunshine and flowers half so much if you always
had them."

[Illustration: THE ROOK.]

"Perhaps not," said the Blackbird, gazing rather sentimentally at the
closing blossoms of the convolvulus, "perhaps not, but the flowers are
very lovely."

"Yes," said the Rook, gravely; "they toil not, neither do they spin, and
yet we are assured that even the great King Solomon in all his glory
'was not arrayed like one of these.' The great God is over all His
works, friend Blackbird; nothing, however small or however insignificant
it may be, is overlooked or forgotten by the Creator."

After a few moments of silence the Blackbird said, "I must be going
home; my young ones are not yet able to do without me."

"Your young ones!" exclaimed the Rook, in a tone of surprise; and then
he added, "Ah, you've had two broods, I suppose?"

"Yes," replied the Blackbird, "and the last are still young. My first
are now quite grown up."

"I once knew a relation of yours," said the Rook, "who hatched three
broods in one year."

"Dear me," said the Blackbird in a tone of commiseration, "how exhausted
he must have been by the time he had finished with his third family."

"I have been told, and on the best possible authority too," said the
Rook, rather mischievously, "of a pair of Blackbirds who had four
families--"

"Oh, pray don't," said the Blackbird, as he opened out his wings as if
for flight; "you make me feel quite nervous."

The Rook gave a caw which he intended to be a sympathetic one, but there
was a little falter in it, which, had he been a human being instead of a
bird, might have been mistaken for a smothered laugh. The birds now rose
on the wing, and together flew homewards. While passing the lake a boat
and the sound of oars arrested their attention. To watch it as it went
by, they settled on the lowest branch of an old beech-tree, which grew
at the edge of the lake, and spread its arms over the bright waters,
affording a grateful shade to boating-parties in the summer. This tree
was quite an old family friend, and generation after generation had
gazed at it from the old bay window--generations who had rejoiced in its
first spring leaves, and regretted the fall of the last brown one in
autumn. It formed a capital shelter for the birds, from whence they
could see and not be seen.

Willie and Alice, their mother and father, and Mrs. Barlow the nurse,
were in the boat. The father was rowing, and Willie was occupying the
proud position of steersman. They soon drew to land and moored the
little craft under the shade of the beech-tree. Then out came little
mugs, bread and butter, fruit and cake--they were actually going to have
a pic-nic on the water!

Tea out of doors was an immense delight; but tea out of doors and _on
the water_ was even better, at least so thought Willie and Alice, but so
did _not_ think Nurse Barlow. She screamed each time the boat rolled,
and assured them every few minutes that they would all be drowned. As
far as she was concerned she couldn't see "why Master Willie and Miss
Alice couldn't have had tea quietly in their own nursery. It was a deal
better than coming out there on the water, and sitting under that tree,
with all those nasty insects dropping down on them."

Nurse Barlow did not love expeditions of any sort or kind. She
infinitely preferred walking up and down the trim gravel paths, with a
child on either side of her. She could not bear to see the little curls
ruffled, and the fresh white frocks tumbled.

But these were not the sentiments of Willie and his sister, and it is to
be feared that they gave Nurse Barlow many disturbed and anxious
moments, as they darted away from her to hide behind the bushes, or
rolled head over heels in the new-mown hay, quite regardless of clean
frock or embroidered suit.

It must be confessed that on this particular evening Willie was in a
specially mischievous humour, for, among other tricks, he directed the
attention of many small insects to his nurse's gown, where they remained
till jerked off in horror by the discomfited Nanny.

The Rook and Blackbird watched the party with no small interest and
amusement, and then as the shadows lengthened they flew away home.

It was such a lovely evening that, after seeing his wife and the young
ones comfortably settled in their nest the Blackbird took another short
flight before going to bed himself.

He halted on a hedgerow in a narrow lane, which bordered a deep wood.
The sky was lovely sapphire colour, pierced here and there by bright
stars.

It was wonderfully still, save for those indescribable sounds which ever
accompany the close of a summer's evening, those sounds which reveal to
us that the great pulse of life is still strong,--strong even at that
hour of repose,--the sleepy half-notes of the woodland bird, the
"droning flight" of the beetle, or the passing hum of a belated bee.
Tiny lamps, the glow-worm's "dusky light," shone here and there from the
hedgerow. No step sounded, the air was sweet with the perfume of
flowers, and had not yet lost the heat of a long summer day.

All at once, in the midst of the general stillness, there broke forth on
the night air a song so strange, so beautiful, that the Blackbird held
his breath to listen. It came suddenly; and from a tree close beside
him, a sweet low murmuring song, and then it changed to a swift "jug,
jug." This was followed by a shake, clear and prolonged, and then came a
"low piping sound," which, as the song ceased, the air gave back, as if
it were loth to lose the melody.

Once again the song broke forth, varied, and, if possible, more full,
more beautiful than before, finishing with the same low pipe. The
Blackbird gazed about him in ecstasy; who could the unseen minstrel be?

A very unpretending looking bird, with a brown back, and a dull white
breast was sitting on a beech-tree close by. Could that be the minstrel,
that plain insignificant looking bird?

And then as the Blackbird reflected, he all at once called to mind who
it was,--this songster of the night!

It was none other than the Nightingale, the queen of song, the glory of
the woods; and the Blackbird flew back to his nest, lost in admiration
of the small brown-coated singer, his heart filled with gratitude for
the glorious song.

END OF CHIRP THE THIRD.



CHIRP THE FOURTH.

AUTUMN.


The strawberries had entirely disappeared, the raspberries and
gooseberries had followed, the last of the hay had been some time
gathered in, and dry grass had taken the place of flowery meadows. The
corn which had been green and soft was rapidly becoming hard and golden.
It was now that the Blackbird became aware that the sun was once more
beginning to go earlier to bed, and yet to get up later.

"No doubt the sun is getting tired," thought the Blackbird, "and no
wonder; he has been up and shining so many hours lately. I shall be glad
when he has had a good long rest, and begins to rise early again, for
the birds are not singing so sweetly as they used to do, and even the
poor flowers begin to droop."

However, the days were still beautiful, though the blue sky was now
often obscured by clouds, and the evenings were getting rather chilly.

The oaks were still as fresh as ever, but many other trees had changed
their bright green for the deeper and more golden tints of autumn. In
some places brown and crisp leaves already formed a thick carpet, and
the beeches were fast flinging their ripe nuts to the ground. For all
that, it was a little hard to realise that Autumn had already begun, for
many flowers yet lingered, and the white and yellow roses still
enlivened the gray face of the old mansion.

However, as the Blackbird had learnt to know, there were fruits and joys
for every season, and if the strawberries and cherries had gone, were
there not rosy-cheeked apples and delicious pears, which had been
wanting in the summer?

There was one apple-tree in the orchard which he specially remembered;
he had noticed it in the spring with its wealth of pink-white blossoms.
The blossoms had quickly fallen, and he recollected hopping and frisking
about among the soft, rosy petals as they strewed the grass. He had
regretted the fall of these pretty leaflets, and, of course, had gone
to the old Rook for consolation.

"Wait a while," had been the Rook's sage remark; "they have only fallen
off to give place to something better."

The old sage was right, they had been pushed off, in order that the
apples of autumn might come to perfection. This tree was now covered
with rosy-cheeked, tempting fruit, pippins, that were so round and
plump, that their skins appeared to have a great difficulty in
containing them, and the Blackbird determined that no time should be
lost in conducting his young family there.

Accordingly, one fine evening found him on the wing, at the head of his
summer nestlings, who were fast developing into grown-up birds. He
alighted on a bough, and hopped down from thence to the grass, where the
apples lay very temptingly around. Just as he was about to commence
supper, he became aware of a very fierce-looking man who was standing
with outstretched and threatening arms, only a few yards from the tree.

The Blackbird immediately rose in the air and flew away with a shrill
cry, and all his young ones followed him. They did not venture to stop
till they reached a neighbouring field. The appearance of the man at
this time was all the more singular, for the Blackbird never before
remembered to have seen the gardener in the orchard, so late in the
evening. However, the next morning he determined to be there betimes,
and to make his breakfast off the apples, although he had lost his
supper. As he flew along, followed by his young ones, he said, "Now
remember, my children, always to be very careful, and never go near the
orchard if the gardener happens to be about, for the hard-hearted man
would think nothing of shooting every one of us, and all for the sake of
his miserable apples."

This admonition did not make the young Blackbirds feel over comfortable,
and as they hopped to the grass their poor little legs trembled with
alarm.

At this moment a shrill cry from their parent startled them, and again
they quickly scattered, for the dreadful gardener had already arrived,
and was there awaiting them, standing by the tree with his outstretched
arms.

It certainly was very provoking and terrifying, and after one or two
more feeble attempts upon the apples the Blackbird determined to give
up the orchard altogether, for go at what time he might, that horrible,
that ugly old gardener was always there before him.

One day he happened to mention his trouble and disappointment to the
Rook. You should have seen that bird's face; his usually solemn
expression of countenance suddenly gave way to one of intense amusement,
as he replied, "Ah, you hav'n't been quite so many years about the
orchards as I have, or you wouldn't have been quite so frightened. The
gardener has tried that old trick upon me and mine so often that I'm
quite accustomed to it. Why, it's not a gardener at all--it's a rickety
old Scare-crow! However," he added, as he saw the Blackbird look rather
ashamed and crestfallen, "I was quite taken in myself at first; but one
day I happened to be passing the orchard just as a gale of wind was
blowing, and saw the Scare-crow topple over. Since that day I've never
been afraid of scare-crows, although there's an old farmer near here who
puts most frightful-looking ones in his corn fields, worse than any I've
ever seen anywhere else. It's of no use, however, we don't care a bit
for them. They must find out something much more terrible than
scare-crows if they want to frighten the crows or us."

It must be confessed that the Blackbird never had the moral courage to
acknowledge how completely he had been taken in, and it was only
gradually that his young ones found out that after all the scare-crow
was not the dreaded gardener, but only some very shabby old clothes
arranged on a stupid pole or two.

It was about this time that the Blackbird haunted the neighbourhood of a
certain lane, where the bramble blossoms had been succeeded by the
wild-fruits of autumn. The blackberries were abundant, and it was not
the Blackbird only who found this lane, with its high hedgerows, an
attractive spot. Little Willie would sometimes persuade his unwilling
nurse to take that lane on their way home, "just for a treat, you know;"
and while the nurserymaid, followed by Mrs. Barlow, pushed Alice in her
perambulator, Willie would linger far behind, making many overt attacks
upon the blackberries, thereby tearing his clothes and staining his lips
and fingers.

One day the Blackbird was much amused at a scene which took place in the
lane between Mrs. Barlow and her young charges. The nurserymaid had been
left at home, Nanny was alone with them, Willie had lagged far behind,
and had stuffed his mouth, and then with some difficulty all his
pockets, full of ripe blackberries. Of course Nanny knew nothing of
this; she was rather exhausted, and had stopped for a moment,
perambulator in hand, to speak to a friend.

This was an opportunity not to be lost. Willie ran up with one of his
small hands full of the juicy berries, they were so good he _must_ give
some to Alice. The delighted little girl opened wide her rosy mouth to
receive the fruit. The crushed berries were hastily pushed in by Willie,
leaving large purple stains on her lips and chin, and in his haste and
fear of being discovered he let several fall on her pale blue pelisse.

It was just at this moment that Nurse Barlow looked round. "Master
Willie! Master Willie!" she cried, darting forward and seizing him by
both hands, "haven't I often and often told you Miss Alice is not to
have those nasty berries? Didn't I only yesterday read in the newspaper
of three children that were poisoned to death by eating berries out of a
hedge--poor little children that had no nurse to look after them; and
here you've given the darling those nasty, poisonous things. Just look
at her mouth!" and she paused as she turned to examine Willie's
pockets. "I do declare if you haven't gone and put them into the pockets
of your new clothes! Well," said she, appealing to her friend, "did you
ever see the like? That's his new suit, on yesterday for the first
time,--and just look!" she continued, as one after the other she slowly
turned the pockets inside out, "just look!"

The pockets were purple, as were also the lips and hands of the
delinquent, and he really looked as penitent as he felt, though, as
Nurse Barlow said, "where's the use of being sorry when the mischief's
done?" Willie promised that he really would behave better another time,
and that he had not meant to do any harm. In the meanwhile little Alice
had mightily enjoyed the taste of these her first blackberries, but she
and Willie did not forget in a hurry the terrible scolding, and the much
more terrible washing, which succeeded that famous day's blackberrying
in the lane.

The Blackbird congratulated himself that he had no blue suit of clothes
to spoil, and that his coat was of such a colour that the berries could
not harm it.

We have already said that the Blackbird had his interests and pleasures
even at this autumn time, but it must be owned that a good deal of life
and enjoyment had gone with the summer.

The woods were almost songless, and each day added to the increasing
multitude of dead leaves that drove before the wind; each day, too, the
bare boughs, once so well covered, flung a few more of their last leaves
to the ground. About this time, too, the Blackbird did not feel quite
well--he was listless, his wings would droop in spite of himself. His
feathers were not so black and glossy as they had been,--the fact was,
the moulting season had begun, and it was some time before he began to
feel really bright and well again.

It was also about this time that the Blackbird noticed a most unusual
gathering together of the swallows, and a good deal of commotion and
twittering. They assembled in large flocks, and appeared to be eagerly
discussing some weighty affair of State. After such discussions they
would suddenly disperse, but only to re-assemble and twitter more
eagerly than ever.

What could it all mean? Of course the sage and experienced Rook was
referred to.

"These birds," he said, "are about to what is called _migrate_, it is a
very important event to them, and they hold long consultations
beforehand. As you may remember, I told you in the spring they do not
spend above half the year in England, and now that the leaves are
falling, and the winds are getting cold, they know it is high time to be
off. They are wonderfully quick flyers, a few days will find them on the
distant shores of Africa."

"It must be very sunny, very delightful there," said the Blackbird.

"I daresay it is," replied the Rook, hopping slowly from one fir-branch
to another; "but I had far rather remain at home. Dear old place!" he
said, looking at the venerable gray mansion, and then at the beautiful
lake and wood behind which the sun was setting. "I wouldn't miss the
winter and spring here for anything that Africa or any other place in
the wide world could give me."

The gray stones and gables were bright with the glory of the setting
sun, the ruddy stems of the firs had caught the reflection and stood out
in their depth of red from the dark green foliage. Some autumn flowers
and a few late roses still gave colour to the garden, and the sound of
far-off childish voices echoed from the more distant lime-trees.

Willie came dancing across the lawn, and the perambulator, pushed by
Nurse Barlow, followed more slowly. Willie's eyes were sparkling with
excitement. He had been out with his father, and had hunted the
hedgerows for blackberries to his heart's content. In one hand he held a
small basket wherein lay some fresh-gathered mushrooms. In the other he
bore in triumph a large hazel branch, loaded with nuts. Just then his
mother came out on the lawn, and he ran towards her with eager joy and
affection.

"Look, mother! I picked these in the field my very own self. Ain't they
beauties?" he said, turning the mushrooms slowly over; "they're for your
dinner, and _I_ picked them."

They certainly looked very fresh and tempting, with their glossy white
tops and soft pink gills.

"Thank you, my darling," said his mother, stroking the brown hair back
from his bright face, "I shall like them very much."

At this moment Willie caught sight of a little black head and a pair of
bright eyes between the fir-branches.

"Mother," he whispered, pointing to the branch, "that's our Blackbird.
He's fond of blackberries; he was eating some in the hedge the other
day--I saw him. I have a few in the corner of the basket here. I'll
throw them to him."

A few blackberries were scattered on the grass on the other side of the
fir-tree, and Willie moved a little further off, for fear the Blackbird
should be shy.

"These nuts are for your dessert, mother," he continued, holding out the
hazel branch in triumph.

"It is very good of my little boy to think of mamma," said his mother.
"Isn't it, Barlow?" she said, turning to that rather exhausted person,
who now came slowly up.

Nurse Barlow had not had a happy afternoon. She had been toiling through
the lanes after Willie and his papa. The lanes were muddy, they had gone
a long way, and she was very tired. She had made up her mind that the
mushrooms were toadstools. It is true that they had come from a meadow
in the neighbourhood where excellent mushrooms were wont to grow, but
all the same, she was fully persuaded that these particular ones were
toadstools, "just such as my poor sister's little boy nearly died of
eating."

Then again Master Willie had eaten "pounds of blackberries, let alone
those nasty nuts."

It turned out that Nurse Barlow's fears were happily unfounded, for
Willie's papa had forbidden the consumption of nuts and limited the
quantity of blackberries.

Notwithstanding these assurances, "Nanny" refused to be comforted, and
as she tucked Willie in his little bed, she soothingly remarked, "A nice
lot of physic I shall have to give you. Then you'll have to stay
indoors, and you'll both be very cross and very tiresome; I know what it
will be."

That night Willie's dreams were troubled, but they were mingled with a
deep bliss notwithstanding. He seemed to be wandering through endless
lanes where thousands of ripe and gigantic blackberries grew on all
sides,--they actually seemed to bend forward and drop into his basket as
he passed. Hazel-nuts were there also, of a marvellous size, and very
brown and sweet, browner and sweeter than any he ever remembered to have
eaten. He passed from the lanes into a field, where the mushrooms grew
so thickly, that it was difficult to avoid treading on them as he
walked. What greatly added to the delights of the expedition was the
fact that all the time the Blackbird hopped by his side. He, too, seemed
to have grown larger, and he was wonderfully tame, and allowed Willie to
stroke his glossy head and back. Arrived at the end of the meadow,
however, Willie seemed somehow to pass into another lane, and there on
the hedgerows instead of blackberries hung curious-looking bottles, and
they were all labelled "Mr. Phil Viall, Chemist and Druggist."

Alas! poor Willie, he knew those bottles far too well. Some of them were
yellow and others were white, while a few were dreadfully black.
"Nanny," grown very tall indeed, marched before him down the lane,
pointing sternly to each bottle as she passed.

At this moment Willie awoke, and was very glad to find that after all it
was only a dream, that the bright morning sun was streaming through the
white dimity curtains, and that he did not feel one bit the worse for
yesterday's expedition.

A few days passed away, and the Blackbird found that all that the
Rook had told him was strictly true, for before long an evening
arrived when a great many swallows began to congregate; then after a
good deal of twittering and excitement they took wing, and flew steadily
away towards the setting sun. The next morning the Blackbird sadly
missed the twitter of his small friends. No little glossy dark heads
were to be seen peeping out of the clay-built nests under the eaves,
and no white-breasted flyers skimmed the lawn. Yes, the swallows were
indeed gone, and the Blackbird sadly realised the fact that the
summer and its singers were gone too, left far behind in the months of
long ago.

That evening, after watching the flight of the swallows, the Blackbird
flew from the fir to his favourite branch on the lime, where we were
first introduced to him. He felt rather sad, there was so much that was
bright and joyous and sunny to look back upon in the past spring and
summer; there was not a little that was dark and cold and dreary to look
forward to in the approaching winter. As he was meditating on the past,
and thinking of the future, a bright, a familiar note greeted him from a
branch close by,--in another moment the Robin had hopped to his side.

"My dear little friend," cried the Blackbird, "I haven't seen you for a
long time."

"I've often seen you though," said the Robin; "but what with your two
large families, and all the delights and distractions of the summer, you
have been a good deal occupied."

"I haven't heard you singing," said the Blackbird.

"Don't you remember what I told you in the spring?" replied the Robin;
"my poor little song is quite extinguished when so many others are
singing, but now I am beginning to be heard once more."

Again he poured forth a clear, bright carol.

"As I have said before," remarked the Blackbird, "you are a very good
little bird, you come to cheer us just when we want cheering."

"But you're not so down-hearted as you used to be," said the Robin.

"That is due then to your bright little lessons," said the Blackbird
gratefully, "and the teaching of our dear old friend the Rook there."

In another moment the Rook, who was passing, had joined them on the
lime-tree bough, and together the three friends watched the sun setting,
and wondered where the swallows had got to by that time.

The evening was chilly, and a damp mist lay over the meadows, a warning
to the birds that it was time to be going home.

[Illustration: THE THREE FRIENDS--THE ROBIN, THE ROOK, AND THE BLACKBIRD.]

"Yes," said the Blackbird reflectively, taking up the conversation where
he had left off, "I ought to be very grateful to you, Mr. Rook,--and to
you, my dear little friend," he said, turning to the Robin. "You, Mr.
Rook, have taught me a great deal, and given me a real interest in the
creatures and things about me, which I should not have had otherwise.
Above all, you have taught me the great lesson of faith and trust. And
you, dear little red-breasted friend, have taught me the sweet lesson of
content, and not that alone, but you have shown me that each of us in
our small way should try to make the world a little better and brighter
for those around us. You do it, Mr. Rook; you do it, little Robin;
Willie and Alice do it, with their kind thoughtfulness for us, and why
should not I try to do it also,--I will, and this very winter too."

All the birds were grave and silent for a few moments, and then, as they
took an affectionate leave of each other before parting, the Rook said,
"There was a pretty little poem once written about the Robin. I will
repeat it to you before we separate:

    "Unheard in Summer's flaring ray,
    Pour forth thy notes, sweet singer,
    Wooing the stillness of the autumn day:
    Bid it a moment linger,
          Nor fly
    Too soon from Winter's scowling eye.

    "The Blackbird's song at eventide,
    And hers, who gay ascends,
    Filling the heavens far and wide,
    Are sweet. But none so blends,
          As thine
    With calm decay, and peace divine."

Each day now the sun rose later and went to bed earlier. Willie and
Alice still ran about the garden, stamping their little feet among the
dry, crisp leaves, and picking up the beech-nuts which strewed the
ground.

However, as time went on, they came less out of doors, for cold and wet
days followed each other, when all that the Blackbird saw of his little
friends were the two small faces pressed against the dining-room
window-pane, looking wistfully out as the clouds drove past, and the
rain pattered against the glass.

At last a night arrived when it was very cold indeed. Through the bare
boughs, and on to the hedgerows and ivy, stole down the pure, soft snow.
The Blackbird put his head out of the ivy-bush to see what sort of night
it might be, and lo! under the pale light of the moon, all the landscape
lay white and dazzling before him.

One little flake dropt upon his head--one cold, soft flake; but as he
drew back into the shelter of the ivy, to return once more to rest, it
was with very different thoughts and feelings than those gloomy ones
which had troubled him the year before. He now knew what the beautiful
snow meant. It was the beginning of a hard winter, it was the herald of
cold, dark days. But he had also been taught a lesson of faith; he knew
of the winter berries which would be provided for him by One who
remembered even the despised Sparrows; he knew of a certain bay window
where two eager little faces would be watching for him, through all the
cold, dark days; and as he closed his eyes, on this the first night of
winter, he remembered that little Willie and Alice, and he himself, and
all created things, were under the protection of Him Who "casteth forth
His ice like morsels," but Who, in His own good time, would again bring
about the "time of the singing of birds," when, once more, as of old,
"the voice of the turtle" would be "heard in the land."

THE END.



  LONDON:
  R. CLAY, SONS, AND TAYLOR,
  BREAD STREET HILL, E.C.

                   *       *       *       *       *


Transcriber's Notes

Typographical problems have been changed and are listed below.

Hyphenation standardized and are also listed below.

Archaic and variable spelling is preserved, including pic-nic.

Author's punctuation style is preserved.

Illustrations moved close to their relevant pages, and page numbers
references removed.

Passages in italics indicated by _underscores_.

Passages in bold indicated by =equal signs=.


Transcriber Changes

In addition to standardizing hyphenation, the following changes were
made to the original text:

  Page 3: Was =where-ever= hyphenated across two lines (the
          little cold droppings seemed to pursue him =wherever= he
          went)

  Page 7: =Ivy berries= standardized to =Ivy-berries=
          (=Ivy-berries= will be poorish eating day after day.")

  Page 15: Added end quote after us. (We do not 'sow, nor
           do we gather into barns,' but still 'God feeds =us.'=)

  Page 15: =lime trees= standardized to =lime-trees=
           (swiftly passed over one or two snow-covered fields, and
           then by a long avenue of =lime-trees=.)

  Page 32: =laurel bushes= standardized to =laurel-bushes=
           (he flew off to the =laurel-bushes= by the bay window and
           sang a song)

  Page 36: Removed comma from "Nanny," (he was afraid that
           "=Nanny=" might find out what they were doing.)

  Page 41: Removed begin quote before "When ("Oh," replied
           the Rook, "the swallows are most curious and interesting
           creatures. =When= October comes they assemble)

  Page 52: =newly mown= standardized to =newly-mown= (The
           =newly-mown= hay was falling on all sides)

  Page 54: =even-tide= standardized to =eventide= (This was
           a secret corner to which the birds repaired at
           =eventide=)

  Page 60: "twofold shout" changed to single quotes (His
           ='twofold shout'= of _cuckoo_ is a welcome sound to every
           one)

  Page 84: spring?" changed to double quote ("Don't you
           remember what I told you in the =spring?"=)

  Page 87: =bay-window= standardized to =bay window= (he
           knew of a certain =bay window= where two eager little
           faces would be watching for him)

                   *       *       *       *       *





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