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Title: Dooryard Stories
Author: Pierson, Clara Dillingham
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: THE VERY RUDE YOUNG ROBINS. _Page 100_]


DOORYARD STORIES

by

CLARA DILLINGHAM PIERSON

Author of “Among the Forest People,” “Night People,” etc.

Illustrated by F. C. Gordon



New York
E. P. Dutton And Company
31 West Twenty-Third Street

Copyright, 1903
by E. P. Dutton & Co.

Published Sept., 1903

The Knickerbocker Press, New York



    To

    MY FATHER

    WHO FIRST TAUGHT ME TO LOVE MY DOORYARD FRIENDS



PREFACE


MY DEAR LITTLE FRIENDS:--These stories are of things which I have seen
with my own eyes in my own yard, and the people of whom I write are my
friends and near neighbors. Some of them, indeed, live under my roof,
and Silvertip has long been a member of our family. So, you see, I
have not had to do like some writers--sit down and think and think how
to make the people act in their stories. These tales are of things
which have really happened, and all I have done is to write them down
for you.

Many of them have been told over and over again to my own little boy,
and because he never tires of hearing of the time when Silvertip was a
Kitten, and about the Wasps who built inside my shutters, I think you
may care to hear also. He wants me to be sure to tell how the baby
Swift tumbled down the chimney into his bedroom, and wishes you might
have seen it in the little nest we made. When I tell these tales to
him, I have great trouble in ending them, for there is never a time
when he does not ask: “And what did he do then Mother?” But I am
telling you as much as I can of how everything happened, and if there
was more which I did not see and cannot describe, you will have to
make up the rest to suit yourselves.

Besides, you know, there is always much which one cannot see or hear,
but which one knows is happening somewhere in this beautiful great
world. The birds do not stop living and working and loving when they
leave us for the sunny south, and above us, around us, and even under
our feet many things are done which we cannot see. As we become
better acquainted with the little people who live in our dooryards, we
shall see more and more interesting things, and I wish you might all
grow to be like my little boy, who is never lonely or in need of a
playmate so long as a Caterpillar or a Grasshopper is in sight.

See how many tiny neighbors you have around you, and how much you can
learn about them. Then you will find your own dooryard as interesting
as mine and know that there are playmates everywhere.

    Your friend,

    CLARA D. PIERSON.

    STANTON, MICHIGAN,

    _October 30, 1902_.



    CONTENTS


                                             PAGE
    SILVERTIP                                   1
    THE FIGHT FOR THE BIRD-HOUSE               12
    THE FIR-TREE NEIGHBORS                     22
    THE INDUSTRIOUS FLICKERS                   36
    PLUCKY MRS. POLISTES                       48
    SILVERTIP STOPS A QUARREL                  68
    A YOUNG SWIFT TUMBLES                      78
    THE VERY RUDE YOUNG ROBINS                 96
    THE SYSTEMATIC YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO       108
    THE HELPFUL TUMBLE-BUGS                   121
    SILVERTIP LEARNS A LESSON                 132
    THE ROBINS’ DOUBLE BROOD                  145
    THE SPARROWS INSIDE THE EAVES             158
    A RAINY DAY ON THE LAWN                   173
    THE PERSISTENT PHŒBE                      183
    THE SAD STORY OF THE HOG CATERPILLAR      199
    THE CAT AND THE CATBIRD                   210
    THE FRIENDLY BLACKBIRDS                   222



    ILLUSTRATIONS


                                           PAGE
    THE KITTEN LAPPED UP HIS MILK             6
    THE FIGHT FOR THE BIRD HOUSE             18
    A RED SQUIRREL ATE THEM                  34
    A VERY CRUEL THING TO DO                 38
    THE CHIMNEY-SWIFT’S HOME                 78
    THE VERY RUDE YOUNG ROBINS              100
    STUFFED IT DOWN THE WIDE-OPEN BILL      116
    MR. CHIPMUNK ON THE WOODPILE            142
    “O MOTHER, IT IS RAINING!”              175
    “YOU DESERVE TO BE EATEN”               218



SILVERTIP


A very small, wet, and hungry Kitten pattered up and down a board walk
one cold and rainy night. His fur was so soaked that it dripped water
when he moved, and his poor little pink-cushioned paws splashed more
water up from the puddly boards every time he stepped. His tail looked
like a wet wisp of fur, and his little round face was very sad.
“Meouw!” said he. “Meouw! Meouw!”

He heard somebody coming up the street. “I will follow that
Gentleman,” he thought, “and I will cry so that he will be sorry for
me and give me a home.”

When this person came nearer he saw that it was not a Gentleman at
all, but a Lady who could hardly keep from being blown away. He could
not have seen her except that Cat’s eyes can see in the dark. “Meouw!”
said the Kitten. “Meouw! Meouw!”

“Poor little Pussy!” said a voice above him. “Poor little Pussy! But
you must not come with me.”

“Meouw!” answered he, and trotted right along after her. He was a
Kitten who was not easily discouraged. He rubbed up against her foot
and made her stop for fear of stepping on him. Then he felt himself
gently lifted up and put aside. He scrambled back and rubbed against
her other foot. And so it was for more than two blocks. The Lady, as
he always called her afterward, kept pushing him gently to one side
and he kept scrambling back. Sometimes she even had to stand quite
still for fear of stepping on him.

“Meouw!” said the Kitten, and he made up his mind that anybody who
spoke so kindly to strange Kittens would be a good mistress. “I will
stick to her,” he said to himself. “I don’t care how many times she
pushes me away, I _will_ scramble back.”

When they turned in at a gate he saw a big house ahead of him with
many windows brightly lighted and another light on the porch. “I like
that home,” he said to himself. “I will slip through the door when she
opens it.”

But after she had turned the key in the door she pushed him back and
closed the screen between them. Then he heard her say: “Poor little
Pussy! I want to take you in, but we have agreed not to adopt another
Cat.” Then she closed the door.

He wanted to explain that he was not really a Cat, only a little
Kitten, but he had no chance to say anything, so he waited outside and
thought and cried. He did not know that the Lady and her husband
feared that Cats would eat the many birds who nested in the trees on
the lawn. He thought it very hard luck for a tiny Kitten to be left
out in the cold rain while the Lady was reading by a blazing grate
fire. He did not know that as she sat by the fire she thought about
him instead of her book, for she loved little Kittens, and found it
hard to leave any out in the street alone.

While he was thinking and crying, a tall Gentleman with a black beard
and twinkling brown eyes came striding up to the brightly lighted
porch. “Well, Pussy-cat!” said the Gentleman, and took a bunch of
shining, jingling things out of his pocket and stuck one of them into
a little hole in the door and turned it. Then the door swung open, and
the Gentleman, who was trying to close his umbrella and shake off the
rain, called first to the Lady and then to the kitten. “O Clara!” he
cried. “Come to see this poor little Kitten. Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!
I know you want to see him. Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty! I should have
thought you would have heard him crying. Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!”

The Lady came running out and was laughing. “Yes, John,” she said, “I
have had the pleasure of meeting him before. He was under my feet most
of the way home from church to-night, and I could hardly bear to leave
him outside. But you know what we promised each other, that we would
not adopt another Cat, on account of the birds.”

The Gentleman sat down upon the stairs and wiped the Kitten off with
his handkerchief. “Y-yes, I know,” he said weakly, “but Clara, look at
this poor little fellow. He couldn’t catch a Chipping Sparrow.”

“Not now,” answered the Lady, “yet he will grow, if he is like most
Kittens, and you know what we said. If we don’t stick to it we will
soon have as many Cats as we did a few years ago.”

The Kitten saw that if he wanted to stay in this home he must insist
upon it and be very firm indeed with these people. So he kept on
crying and stuck his sharp claws into the Gentleman’s sleeve. The
Gentleman said “Ouch!” and lifted him on to his coat lapel. There he
clung and shook and cried.

“Well, I suppose we mustn’t keep him then,” said he; “but we will give
him a warm supper anyway.” So they got some milk and heated it, and
set it in a shallow dish before the grate. How that Kitten did eat!
The Lady sat on the floor beside him, and the Gentleman drew his chair
up close, and they said that it seemed hard to turn him out, but that
they would have to do it because they had promised each other.

The Kitten lapped up his milk with a soft click-clicking of his
little pink tongue, and then turned his head this way and that until
he had licked all the corners clean. He was so full of warm milk that
his sides bulged out, and his fur had begun to dry and stuck up in
pointed wisps all over him. He pretended to lap milk long after it was
gone. This was partly to show them how well he could wash dishes, and
partly to put off the time when he should be thrust out of doors.

[Illustration: THE KITTEN LAPPED UP HIS MILK. _Page 6_]

When he really could not make believe any longer, his tongue being so
tired, he began to cry and rub against these two people. The Gentleman
was the first to speak. “I cannot stand this,” he said. “If he has to
go, I want to get it over.” He picked up the Kitten and took him to
the door. As fast as he loosened one of the Kitten’s claws from his
coat he stuck another one in, and at last the Lady had to help get him
free. “He is a regular Rough Rider,” said the Gentleman. “There is no
shaking him off.”

The Kitten didn’t understand what a Rough Rider was, but it did not
sound like finding a home, so he cried some more. Then the door was
shut behind him and he was alone in the porch. “Well,” he said, “I
like that house and those people, even if they did put me out. I think
I will make them adopt me.” So he cuddled down in a sheltered, dry
corner, put his four feet all close together, and curled his tail, as
far as it would go, around them. And there he stayed all night.

In the morning, when the rain had stopped and the sun was shining
brightly, he trotted around the house and cried. He went up on to
another porch, rubbed against the door and cried. The Maid opened the
door and put out some milk for him. He could see into the warm kitchen
and smell the breakfast cooking on the range. When she came out to
get the empty dish, he slipped in through the open door. She said
“Whish!” and “Scat!” and “Shoo!” and tried to drive him out, but he
pretended not to understand and cuddled quietly down in a corner where
she could not easily reach him. Just then some food began to burn on
the range and the Maid let him alone. The Kitten did not cry now. He
had other work to do, and began licking himself all over and
scratching his ears with his hind feet.

When he heard the Gentleman and the Lady talking in the dining-room,
he watched his chance and slipped in. He decided to pay the most
attention to the Gentleman, for he had been the first to take him up.
They were laughing and talking and saying how glad they were that the
rain had stopped falling. “I believe, John,” the Lady said, “that if
it had not been for me, you would really have kept that Kitten last
night.”

“Oh, no,” answered the Gentleman. “We ought not to keep Cats. I think
that if it had not been for me _you_ would have kept him.”

Just at that minute the Kitten began climbing up his trousers leg and
crying. “Poor little Pussy,” said the Gentleman. “Clara, can’t we
spare some of this cream?” He reached for the pitcher. The Kitten
began to feel more sure of a home.

“O John, not here?” began the Lady, and the Maid came in to explain
how it all happened. The Kitten stuck his claws into the Gentleman’s
coat and would not let go. Then he cried some more and waved his tail.
He had a very beautiful tail, marked just like that of a Raccoon, and
he turned it toward the Lady. He had heard somewhere about putting the
best foot forward, and thought that a tail might do just as well.
While he was waving his tail at the Lady he rubbed his head against
the Gentleman’s black beard.

“If we _should_ keep him, John,” said the Lady, “we ought to call him
Silvertip, because he has such a pretty white tip to his tail.” The
Kitten waved it again and began to purr.

“If you knew what a strong and fearless fellow he is, you would call
him Teddy,” answered the Gentleman, turning over a paper which said in
big black letters, “Our Teddy Wins.”

“Call him Teddy Silvertip then,” said the Lady, as she reached for the
bell. When the Maid came in answer to her ring, she said, “Belle,
please take our Kitten into the kitchen and feed him.” Then the Kitten
let go and was carried away happy, for he had found a home. He had
also learned how to manage the Lady and the Gentleman, and he was
always _very_ firm with them after that.



THE FIGHT FOR THE BIRD-HOUSE


Under the cornice of the tool-house was an old cigar-box with a tiny
doorway cut in one end and a small board nailed in front of it for a
porch. This had been put up for a bird-house, and year after year a
pair of Wrens had nested there, until they began to think it really
their own. When they left it in the fall to fly south, they always
looked back lovingly at it, and talked over their plans for the next
summer.

“I think we might better leave this nest inside all winter,” Mrs. Wren
always said. “It will seem so much more home-like when we return, and
it will not be much trouble to clear it out afterward.”

“An excellent plan, my dear,” her cheerful little husband would reply.
“You remember we did so last season. Besides,” he always added, “that
will show other birds that Wrens have lived here, and they will know
that we are expecting to return, since that is the custom in our
family.”

“And then do you think they will leave it for us?” Mrs. Wren would
ask. “You know they might want it for themselves.”

“What if they did want it?” Mr. Wren had said. “They could go
somewhere else, couldn’t they? Do you suppose I would ever steal
another bird’s nesting-place if I knew it?”

“N-no,” said Mrs. Wren, “but not everybody is as unselfish as you.”
And she looked at him tenderly.

The Wrens were a most devoted couple,--all in all, about the nicest
birds on the place. And that was saying a great deal, for there were
many nesting there and others who came to find food on the broad
lawn. They were small birds, wearing dark brown feathers on the upper
parts of their bodies and lighter grayish ones underneath. Even their
bills were marked in the same way, with the upper half dark and the
lower half light. Their wings were short and blunt, and they had a
habit of holding their tails well up in the air.

People said that Mrs. Wren was very fussy, and perhaps it was true,
but even then she was not a cross person. Besides, if she wished to do
a thing over five times in order to make it suit her, she certainly
had a perfect right to do so. It was she who always chose the
nesting-place and settled all the plans for the family. Mr. Wren was
quite content to have it so, since that was the custom among Wrens,
and it saved him much work. Mr. Wren was not lazy. He simply wanted to
save time for singing, which he considered his own particular
business. Besides, he never forgot what had happened to a cousin of
his, a young fellow who found fault with his wife and insisted on
changing to another nesting-place. It had ended in his going, and her
staying there and marrying another Wren. So he had lost both his home
and his wife by finding fault.

Now the April days had come, with their warm showers and green growing
grass. A pair of English Sparrows, who had nested in the woodbine the
summer before and raised several large broods of bad-mannered
children, decided that they would like to try living in the
bird-house. Having been on the place all winter, they began work
early. The Blackbirds were already back, and one reminded them that it
belonged to the Wrens.

“Guess not now,” said Mr. Sparrow, with a bad look in his eyes.
“Nothing belongs to anybody else if I want it. Do you see?” Then he
picked up and swallowed a fat Grub which the Blackbird had uncovered
for himself and left lying there until he should finish talking. One
could hardly blame the Blackbird for being vexed about this, for
everybody knows that English Sparrows really prefer seeds, and that
this one ate the Grub only to be mean. It did not make the Blackbird
any happier to hear his relatives laugh at him in the evergreens
above, and he made up his mind to get even with that Sparrow.

The Sparrows pitched all the old nest out of doors and began
quarrelling with each other about building their own. They always
quarrelled. Indeed, that was the way in which they had courted each
other. Mrs. Sparrow had two lovers, and she married the one who would
stand the worst pecking from her. “For,” she said, “what is the use of
having a husband unless you can beat him when you fight with him?”

Now they stuffed the dainty little bird-house full of straws, sticks,
feathers, and anything they could find, until there was hardly room
left in which to turn around. They were just beginning to wonder if
they must throw some out when they heard the happy song of Mr. Wren.

“Get inside!” cried Mr. Sparrow to his wife. “I will stand on the
porch and fight them.”

Down flew Mr. and Mrs. Wren. “Oh, isn’t it pleasant to get home
again?” she exclaimed. “But what is that Sparrow doing on our porch?”

“This is our home now,” said Mrs. Sparrow, “and we are very busy. Get
out of my way.”

“Your home?” cried the Wrens. “How is that? You lived in the woodbine
last season and knew that this was ours. You are surely not in
earnest.”

Mr. Wren looked at his wife and she nodded. Then he flew at Mr.
Sparrow and they fought back and forth on the grape trellis near by
them, in the air, then on the ground. Mrs. Sparrow peeped out of the
open door to see if her husband needed help. He was the larger of the
two, but not so quick in darting and turning. Now they passed out of
sight behind the tool-house and she forgot Mrs. Wren and flew down to
see better. She was hardly off the tiny porch when Mrs. Wren darted
in. Mrs. Sparrow saw when it was too late what a mistake she had made,
and tried to get back. She reached the porch again just in time to
have a lot of straws, twigs, and feathers poked into her face by the
angry Mrs. Wren.

“I am cleaning house,” said Mrs. Wren. “My house, too! Get out of my
way!” Then she pushed out more of the same sort of stuff. Mrs. Sparrow
tried to get in, and every time she put her head through the doorway
she was pecked by Mrs. Wren. And she deserved it. She called Mr.
Sparrow, but he could not help her, and Mr. Wren was so pleased that
he sat on top of the tool-house and sang and sang and sang. To look at
him you would have thought he was trying to kill himself. He puffed up
his throat and swelled up his body and sang so fast that he seemed to
be saying about four words at a time.

[Illustration: THE FIGHT FOR THE BIRD HOUSE. _Page 18_]

“Good for you! Good for you! Good for you!” he sang. “Stick to it!
Stick to it! Stick to it! I’m here! I’m here! I’m here, here, here!”

Mrs. Wren was too busy to say much, but she did a great deal. Every
scrap of the nest was thrown out, and as she worked she decided to
keep that house if she starved there.

This was in the middle of the morning and she could not get out to
feed until late in the afternoon. Mr. Wren found some delicious
insects on the grapevines, and tried to carry a few billfuls to his
wife, but the Sparrows prevented him. He would have enjoyed his own
dinner better if she could have eaten with him. When he asked how she
was, she chirped back that she was hungry but would not give up. Mr.
Wren spent most of his time walking around the roof of the tool-house
in circles, dragging his wings on the shingles, and saying,
“Tr-r-r-r-r-r!” He was so angry that sometimes he could not say
anything else. The Sparrows sat on the grape trellis and said mean
things.

They were still doing this late in the afternoon, while the tree
shadows grew longer and longer on the lawn with the lowering of the
sun. Suddenly a Blackbird alighted on the trellis. It was the same one
whose fat Grub Mr. Sparrow had stolen.

“This has gone far enough,” said he. “This house belongs to the Wrens
and they are going to have it. _I_ say so. If I catch either of you
Sparrows around here again, I will drive you off the place. I can do
it, too. You may think it over until the next time that grapevine is
blown against the tool-house. If you do not go then, there will be
_trouble_.” He ruffled up his feathers and glared with his yellow
eyes. That was all he had to do. Before the grapevine swayed again,
the Sparrows were far away.

The Wrens thanked him, even before Mrs. Wren ate her late dinner. “You
are welcome,” he said. “It was just fun for me. I cannot bear those
Sparrows, and I hoped they would stay and give me a chance to fight
them. How I wish they had stayed!” He looked sad and disappointed.

“I’ll never have another such good chance,” said he. And he never did.
Perhaps it was just as well, although there are times when it is not
wrong to fight, and the Wrens think this would have been one.



THE FIR-TREE NEIGHBORS


With so many trees in the yard, it always seemed a little strange that
three families should choose to build so close together in one. Still,
it must also be remembered that there were many birds who liked to
build near the big house, and thought of that yard as home.

The Lady spoke of this tree as “The Evergreen Apartment House.” The
birds simply called it “The Tallest Fir Tree.”

Early in the spring a pair of English Sparrows decided to build there.
Perhaps one should say that Mrs. Sparrow decided, since her husband
had nothing to say about it, except to murmur “Yes, dear,” when she
told him of her choice. They built well up in the tree, and had a big
mass of hay, grass, and feathers together there when the Blackbirds
came. This would have more than made a nest for most birds. Mrs.
Sparrow called it only a beginning, and was always looking for more to
add to it.

When the Blackbirds came in a dashing flock, they began hunting for
building places and talking it all over among themselves. One mother
Blackbird, who had nested on the place the year before, had counted on
having that particular tree.

“I decided on it last fall,” said she, “before I went South, and I
have been planning for it all winter. I shall build in it just the
same.” She shut her bill in such a way that nobody could doubt her
meaning exactly what she said. Her husband didn’t like the place
particularly well, but she said something to him which settled it.
“You need not ruffle up your feathers for me,” she said, “or stand on
tip-toe to squeak at me, unless you are willing to live there.”

They built higher than the nest of the English Sparrows. “We have
always been well up in the world,” she said, “and we do not care to
come down now.” That was all right. One could not blame them for
feeling above the English Sparrows.

The English Sparrows had added more stuff to what they had, and the
Blackbirds had their nest about half done when a pair of Hairbirds
came to look for a comfortable tree. They were a young couple, just
married that spring, and very devoted to each other. They did not
decide matters in the same way as the English Sparrow, and the
Blackbirds.

Although there were eleven other great evergreens in the yard, besides
a number of trellises covered with vines, and all the vine-covered
porches, there was no place which suited them so well as that
particular tree. Yet each was so eager to please the other that it
was rather hard to get either to say what he really thought. They
perched on the tips of the fir branches and chattered and twittered
all morning about it.

“What do you think?” Mrs. Hairbird said.

“What do you?” he replied.

“But I want to know what _you_ think,” she insisted.

“And I would rather know what _you_ think,” said he.

“No, but really,” asked she, “do you like this tree?”

“Do you?” asked Mr. Hairbird.

“Yes, yes,” answered she.

“So do I!” he said, with a happy twitter. “Isn’t it queer how we
always like the same things?”

“I wonder if we like the same branch?” said Mrs. Hairbird, after a
long pause, in which both picked insects off the fir-tree and ate
them.

“Which branch do you like?” asked he. But he could not help looking
out of the side of his eye at the one he most fancied. He could not
look out of the corner of his eye, you know, because round eyes have
no corners, and being a bird his eyes were perfectly round.

“I like that one,” she cried, and laughed to think how easily she had
found out his choice. Then he laughed, too, and it was all decided,
although Mrs. English Sparrow, fussing around in her mass of hay and
feathers above them, declared that she never heard such silliness in
her life, and that when she had made up her own mind that was enough.
She never bothered her husband with questions. Mr. English Sparrow
heard her say this, and thought he would rather like to be bothered in
that way.

Mrs. Blackbird thought it all a great joke. “When they have been
married as long as I have,” she said, “it wont take so long to decide
things.” Mrs. Blackbird laughed at everything, but she was mistaken
about this, for the Hairbirds, or Chipping Sparrows, as they are
sometimes called, are always devoted and unselfish.

It being the custom in their family, the newcomers built quite low in
the tree. Such a happy time as they had. Every bit of grass root which
either of them dragged loose and brought to the tree, was the
prettiest and stoutest and best they had ever seen. And when it got to
the Horsehairs for lining, they visited all the barns for a block
around, hunting for them. Once, when Mrs. Hairbird wished for a white
hair for one particular place, Mr. Hairbird even watched for a white
Horse, and pulled it out of his tail.

You can imagine how surprised the Horse was when he felt that little
tweak at his tail, and, looking around, saw a small brown bird
pulling at one of his longest hairs. “I am sorry to annoy you,” said
this bird, “but Mrs. Hairbird needed a white hair.”

“That is all right,” said the Horse, to whom one hair was a very small
matter, and who dearly loved a joke. “Please tell Mrs. Hairbird that
my tail is hers if she wishes it.”

“Your tail is hers!” exclaimed Mr. Hairbird, who ought to have seen
the joke, since he was not an English Sparrow. “Oh, no, surely not!
Surely your tail is not her tail. They are quite different, you know!”
Then he understood and hurried away, but not in time to help hearing
the Horse laugh.

When the white hair was woven in, the nest was done, and Mrs. Hairbird
laid in it four greenish blue eggs with dark brown specks. In the nest
above were six greenish white ones with brown and light purple spots.
In the nest above that were five dingy streaked and speckled ones.
Mrs. Hairbird said that hers were by far the prettiest. “It is not
because I laid them,” she said to her husband. “It is not for that
reason that I think so, but they really are.”

Mr. and Mrs. Hairbird were the only ones who paid for the chance to
build in the tree. They picked insects off the branches, insects that
would have robbed the tree of some of its strength.

The Blackbirds would not bother with such small bits of food. The
English Sparrows should have paid in the same way, but they would not.

Their great-great-great- --a great many times great- --grandparents
were brought over to this country just to eat the insects which were
hurting the trees and shrubs, but when they got here they would not
do it. “No, indeed,” said they; “we are here now, and we will eat
what we choose.” Their great-great-great- --a great many times
great- --grandchildren were just like them.

Silvertip often came to sit under this tree. He called it a family
tree, because it had so many little families in its branches. He could
not climb it. The fine branches and twigs were so close together that
he could not get up the trunk, and they were not strong enough for him
to step from one to another of them.

As might perhaps have been expected, there was some gossipping among
neighbors in this tree. The Blackbirds usually climbed to their nest
by beginning at the bottom of the trunk and going around and around it
to the top. This took them so close to the other nests that they could
not help looking in. At any rate, they didn’t help it.

Mrs. Blackbird told Mrs. Hairbird that the way Mrs. Sparrow kept house
was a disgrace to the tree. Mrs. Sparrow told her to be very careful
not to leave her eggs or young children alone when the Blackbirds
were around, because when they were very hungry they had been known
to----! She did not finish her sentence in words, but just ruffled up
her feathers and fluttered her wings, which was a great deal meaner.
If she were going to say such things about people, you know, she
should have said them, and not made Mrs. Hairbird guess the worst
part.

Mr. Blackbird said he pitied Mr. Sparrow with all his heart. He knew
something what it was to have a wife try to run things, but that if
Mrs. Blackbird had ever acted as Mrs. Sparrow did, he would leave her,
even if it were in the early spring.

Mr. Sparrow said it was most disagreeable to have such noisy neighbors
as the Blackbirds overhead. That if his wife had known they were
coming to that tree, she would have chosen another place. “Of course
it was too late for her to change when she found it out,” he said.
“Her nest was well begun, and she had some very choice straws and
feathers which she didn’t care to move. You know how such things get
spoiled in carrying them from place to place.”

Most of these things were told to Mrs. Hairbird, because she was at
home with the eggs, but she repeated them all to her husband when he
came. She even told him how Mr. Sparrow flew down one day just after a
quarrel with his wife, and of all the things he had said when angry.
It was quite right in Mrs. Hairbird to tell her husband, and yet she
never chirped them to another bird. And that also was right.

When people talked these things to her, she always looked bright and
pleasant, but she did not talk about them herself. Indeed, she often
made excuses for her neighbors when she repeated things to her
husband. For instance, when she told what Mrs. Sparrow had said about
Mrs. Blackbird, she added: “I suppose that may be so, still I feel
sure that Mrs. Blackbird would not eat any of our children unless she
were _dreadfully_ hungry.”

You can see what a sweet and wise little person Mrs. Hairbird was, and
her husband was exactly like her. No matter how other people
quarrelled, they did not. No matter what gossip they heard, they did
not repeat it. And it ended just as such things always do.

In late spring, about the time that the Bees were gathering varnish
for their homes, and every fir-tree tip had one or two buzzing around
it, there was a dreadful quarrel in the family tree. Mrs. Sparrow
wanted some grasses from the outside of the Blackbirds’ nest, and she
sat on her own and looked at them until she felt she could not live
without them. Of course, that was very wrong. She might have forgotten
all about them if she had made herself think about something else.
Any bird who wants something he ought not to have should do that. She
might better have looked down at her own breast, or counted her wing
feathers over and over. However, she didn’t. She took those grasses.

Mrs. Blackbird missed them, and then saw them woven loosely into the
nest below hers. She did not say much, and she did not eat the eggs
out of the Sparrows’ nest. Some people said that she ate them, but
that was a mistake. All that she did was to sit very quietly on her
nest while a Red Squirrel ate them. When this same fellow would have
eaten those in the nest below, both the Hairbirds being away, she
drove him off herself.

You can imagine what the Sparrows said when they returned. Or perhaps
you might better not try to, for they said very cross things. Then
Mrs. Blackbird told what she thought about those stolen grasses,
and her husband joined in, until there was more noise than a flock of
Crows would make.

[Illustration: A RED SQUIRREL ATE THEM. _Page 34_]

It ended in Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow tearing down that nest and building
another in the woodbine, where most of their relatives lived. Some of
their neighbors thought the Blackbirds right and some thought the
Sparrows right, but through it all Mr. and Mrs. Hairbird were happy
and contented, and brought up their four charming children to be as
good birds as they were themselves.

The Sparrows often said that the worst thing about going away from the
family tree was leaving the Hairbirds, who were such delightful
neighbors. The Blackbirds said that the pleasantest thing about the
tree was having the Hairbirds for neighbors. The Hairbirds were liked
by everybody, and never made trouble between friends. It was all
because they knew how and when to keep their bills shut.



THE INDUSTRIOUS FLICKERS


If the Bad Boy who lived in the next block had known more about the
habits of Flickers, there would probably have been no young ones to
feed on the lawn of the big house. He had watched Mr. and Mrs. Flicker
in the spring when they were making their nest ready, and had waited
only long enough for the eggs to be laid before climbing the tall
Lombardy poplar to rob it.

You must not think that Mr. and Mrs. Flicker were stupid in showing
the Bad Boy where their nest was. There was never a more careful
couple, but they were so large and handsome that, if they went
anywhere at all, they were sure to be seen. After they had once been
seen, it was easy for any one with plenty of time to watch and follow
them home.

Mr. Flicker was clad mostly in golden brown, barred with black. He had
a very showy black spot on his breast, which was just the shape of a
new moon, black patches on his cheeks and smaller ones on his belly.
The linings of his wings, and the quills of his long wing- and
tail-feathers were a bright yellow, and on the back of his head he had
a beautiful red band. All these were very fine, but the most
surprising thing was a large patch of pure white feathers on the lower
part of his back. These did not show except when he was flying. At
other times his folded wings quite hid them from sight. Mrs. Flicker
looked so much like her husband that you could not tell one from the
other, unless you were near enough to see their cheeks. Then you would
know, for Mrs. Flicker had no black spots on hers.

When the Bad Boy was sure that the nest was high up in the trunk of
the old Lombardy poplar, just across the street from the big house, he
waited until his mother and his big sister were out of the way, and
then he climbed that tree and took the six white eggs out of it. That
was a very, very cruel thing to do. It would have been bad enough to
take one, but to take all six was a great deal worse. You will not
pity the Bad Boy when you know that he tore his trousers and hurt one
hand on his way down.

Poor Mrs. Flicker cried herself to sleep that night. “If we had not
been careful,” she sobbed, “I wouldn’t feel so badly, but to have it
happen after all the trouble we took! I am sure that when we cut the
hole for our nest, not a single chip fell to the ground below. We
carried them all far away before dropping them.

“Excepting the ones we left for the eggs to lie on,” added Mr.
Flicker, who was always particular and exact in what he said, even
when in great trouble.

[Illustration: A VERY CRUEL THING TO DO. _Page 38_]

“Yes, excepting those,” sobbed his poor wife. “I left a few of the
best ones inside.”

“I wonder where the eggs are now,” said Mr. Flicker. He looked toward
the Bad Boy’s home as he spoke. If he had but known it, the Bad Boy
had not one left. Two had been broken in coming down the tree (for his
mouth had not been big enough to carry all six), three he had traded
for marbles, and the last one, which he meant to keep for a
“specimen,” had rolled off his desk in school and smashed on the
floor. The Bad Boy had been kept in at recess for this, but that did
not make the egg whole again.

The Flickers went sadly to sleep, and dreamed of a land where Birds
were as big as Cows and Boys as small as Goldfinches--where boys were
afraid of birds and hid when they saw them coming.

When the morning sunshine awakened them and they had breakfasted well,
Mrs. Flicker began to feel more hopeful. “I am really ashamed of
myself,” she said, “for being so discouraged. There would be some
excuse for it if I were another kind of bird, but since I am a Flicker
and can lay more eggs whenever my nest is robbed, I think I’d better
stop crying and plan for six more.”

“My brave wife!” exclaimed Mr. Flicker. “You are quite right. It is
all very sad, but we will make the best of it and try to be happy.”

The Bad Boy passed under the tree more than twenty times before the
second lot of eggs were hatched, and he wished and wished for a
Flicker’s egg (only he called them High Holes, because they built in
high holes). He never guessed that in the nest above his head lay six
more just as fine as the ones he had stolen. It is not strange that he
did not, for who but a Flicker can lay and lay and lay eggs when her
nest is robbed?

Now the young Flickers were hatched and ready to leave their
comfortable home. They were much more helpless than most young birds
are when they leave the nest. In fact, they could hardly fly at all,
and had to tumble and sprawl their way to the ground, catching here
and there in the branches of the poplar. Her neighbors thought Mrs.
Flicker quite heartless to let them go so soon, but when she told them
what a care her six nestlings were, they felt differently about it.

“Did you ever hear of such a thing?” exclaimed Mrs. Catbird, who
thought herself quite overworked in caring for her six, and who had
only known Flickers by sight before this. “Did you ever hear of such a
thing? She tells me that she and Mr. Flicker not only have to find
all the food for their children, but have to eat it for them also. I
remember the Mourning Doves doing that, but then, they never have more
than two children at a time, so it is not so hard.”

“What is that?” asked a Blackbird, who, like the rest of her family,
always wanted to know about everything.

“Why,” repeated Mrs. Catbird, “the Flickers have to eat all the food
they get for their children, and then, when it has become soft and
ready for young birds, they unswallow it into their children’s bills.
It takes so much time to do this and to fly back and forth that they
want to have them out of the nest as soon as possible. Then they can
take them around with them.”

You can imagine how anxious the parents were for a few days, while
their six babies were still so awkward and helpless. They took them
across the street to the lawn around the big house, and tucked them
away in dusky places where their brown feathers would not show against
anything light. Most of them were under the edge of a board walk, one
was under a porch, and one was under a low branching evergreen. Mrs.
Robin, who was then hatching her second brood, kept watch for
Silvertip, and this was a great help to the Flickers on the ground
below.

First one and then another of the young Flickers went out with one of
the parents, and it was most interesting to see them fed. The
Flickers, you know, are woodpeckers, and their long bills are slender,
curved, and pointed, just right for picking Grubs and nice fat little
Bugs out of tree-bark. Their tails, also, are stiff and right to prop
them as they work up and around the trunk of a tree. Still, they feed
on the ground more than on trees, and like Ants better than anything
else in the world.

Now, one could see Mr. Flicker by an Ant-hill with a nestling beside
him, his head going up and down like a hammer, and an Ant picked up in
his bill at every stroke. Every now and then he would stop, turn his
head, place his bill in that of his child, and unswallow some Ants,
which the nestling would gulp down. Between feedings the nestling
would settle his head between his shoulders, and slide his thin
eyelids over his eyes. He never slid his thick eyelids over. He saved
those for night, when he would really sleep.

While the father was feeding one, the mother would be feeding another.
When these two were satisfied they were sent back to their
hiding-places and two more had their turns. It was very hard work, in
spite of their being so good. They never fussed or teased. They waited
patiently for their turns and found no fault with the food.

“Oh,” said Mrs. Flicker to her husband, as she swallowed the six
hundred-and-forty-eighth Ant since sunrise. “I am so tired that I feel
like giving up. If it were not for you and the children, I believe I
would just as soon let that Cat catch me as not.”

“I know,” he answered. “I am very tired myself, and I am sure you must
be more so. You do not seem strong since you were shut in so long
while brooding the eggs.”

“It is easier in one way, now that all are out of the nest,” said she.
“It saves my wings a great deal, but my neck and throat ache from such
steady work. I used to rather enjoy eating for myself. The food tasted
good, and it was something pleasant to do. This eating for a whole
family is quite different.”

“Well, it won’t last much longer,” her husband said comfortingly. “The
children will soon be able to feed themselves, and you can have a good
rest. Then we will go picnicking in the fields beyond this place, and
every one shall get his own lunch.”

In a few more days they did this, and for three mornings they might
have been seen, in a happy party of eight, walking around together,
quite as Pigeons do. At the end of the third day, Mr. Flicker said to
his wife: “Well, my dear, are you having a good time? This is a
pleasant change from caring for the children, isn’t it?”

To his surprise, she turned her head away and did not answer. When he
repeated his questions, she replied with a little choke in her voice.
“It is very easy,” she said, “and a great rest, but it seems to me I
have nothing to do. I eat all I can and try to swallow slowly, but
when my stomach is full I have to just walk around. I miss the
children putting their dear little bills up to mine and taking food
from me. I believe I am lonely.”

Poor Mr. Flicker was young and inexperienced. He did not know how
quickly some people change their minds, or how mothers miss the care
of children.

“Isn’t there something you can do,” he asked, “to make you happier?”

“Could you help me clean out our old hole in the Lombardy poplar?”
said she. “I believe I will lay some more eggs.”

“What?” cried her husband. “When you have been so tired? And then you
will be shut in so long while brooding them. Why not fly off on a
pleasure trip with me?”

“I will,” said she. “I’d love to go. But let us get the nest all ready
first.”

Mr. Flicker was young and inexperienced, as has been said before, yet
he flew right off to work on that nest and let his wife do exactly as
she chose. Which shows that, although she did change her mind and he
could not understand why, they were a very happy and sensible couple,
after all.



PLUCKY MRS. POLISTES


Mrs. Polistes was a charming little widow, who had slept through the
long, cold winter, snugly tucked away in a crack in the barn belonging
to the big house. She had married late in the fall, but her husband
was a lazy fellow who had soon left her, and sat around in the
sunshine with his brothers and the other fellows whom he knew. Each
sat in his own little spot, and at last died because he was so lazy.
That is the way with many insects who will not work. They die, and the
members of their families who keep busy live to a good old age.

Now it was spring, and Mrs. Polistes awakened happy and full of plans.
You must not think her hard-hearted to be happy after her husband was
dead. If he had been a different sort of a fellow, you know, she would
have missed him more. As it was, she did not even think of marrying
again, but set to work to build her home and bring up her children to
be good and industrious Wasps like herself.

She asked another young widow to work with her, and together they flew
around hunting for a good building-place. They talked first of hanging
their nest from the branch of a bush, but both were very careful Wasps
and preferred to be sheltered from rain-storms. (Some of their family,
however, did choose to build on bushes). Next they flew into the
ice-house and tried several of the corners there. Mrs. Polistes did
most of the talking, being a Wasp of very decided opinions.

“It is too chilly here,” she said. “I should never feel like myself in
such a cold place. And you know perfectly well,” she added, “that if
anybody should disturb us in here, we would not be warm enough to
sting. Or if we did sting, we could never pump much poison in.”

There was nothing to be said after that, for everybody knows that
unless a Wasp can sting, and sting hard, he is not safe.

Then they looked at the porch ceilings. Their cousins, the Vespæ, had
started some nests there, and they preferred not to be too near them.
The Vespæ were very good Wasps, but, as Mrs. Polistes said, “We wish
to bring our children up to be Polistes Wasps, and if they see the way
in which the Vespæ live, they will get their ideas all mixed. I do not
think it wise to rear them within sight of covered nests, and you know
as well as I [this was to her friend] how the Vespæ wall around their
cells.”

After this they found what they thought a most delightful place. It
was just inside the closed shutters of a bedroom window. The upper
sash of the window was lowered, and inside of that was a fine wire
netting. “Excellent!” said the friend. “That is probably there to keep
the people inside from coming out this way.”

Mrs. Polistes was not quite sure that the netting was there for that
reason, but she liked the place, so they flew off together to the
stump-fence which enclosed the great field back of the house. Then
they looked for an old stump, sat down on one of its prongs, and began
to gnaw off wood fibre. They did not talk much, for they had to work
so hard with their mouths. Each gnawed length-wise of the grain until
she had a little bundle of wood fibre in her jaws. When these were
ready, they flew off to their chosen spot and began to build. First it
had to be chewed for a long time, until it was soft and pulpy, then,
working together and very carefully, they built a slender, stemlike
thing down from the top of the window casing.

It took many trips to bring enough wood fibre for this, and between
trips they had to stop for food. It took longer to find it so early in
the season than it would later, for Flies and insects of all kinds
were scarce and there were not many flowers yet. Some of those which
looked most tempting were for Bees, and not for Wasps. The Wasps, you
know, have such short tongues that they cannot get the honey from most
flowers. That is why they so like the flat-topped ones and the shallow
ones into which they can reach easily. Mrs. Polistes and her friend at
last found a bed of sweet clover which made them fine meals.

That first day they only chose the place for their home and got the
stem ready, but it was not long before they had three tiny cells begun
and eggs in two of them. Mrs. Polistes and the homemakers of her
family always insisted upon doing in this way.

“It not only saves time,” said Mrs. Polistes, “to have several kinds
of work going at once, but it rests one, too. When my jaws are tired
of chewing wood fibre or shaping it into cells, I rest myself by
laying an egg. And when my sting is tired from that, I hunt food for
myself and the babies. There is nothing like having a change of work.”

Mrs. Polistes spoke in this way about her sting, you understand,
because it was her ovipositor, or egg-layer, as well. She really used
it in this way much more than the other. She did not wish to sting
with it any more than she had to. It tired her very much to pump
poison through it when she stung. There was always the danger, too, if
she stung a large creature, like a boy, of getting it stuck in him and
not being able to pull it out without breaking. If it broke, she would
die.

Mrs. Polistes and her friends took turns in laying eggs, and soon had
to begin another row of cells around the first. They laid their oblong
white eggs in them long before the cells were done, and had to stick
them up to the side walls to keep them from falling out of the opening
at the bottom. Then, when they had time, they lowered the walls of the
cells. When the babies hatched, which was only a few days after the
laying of the eggs, they brought food and fed them as they hung in
their cells.

The Lady who lived in the big house watched this very often, and Mrs.
Polistes and her friend became so used to it that they were not at all
frightened or disturbed. Wasps, you know, are very easily tamed by any
one who moves gently. The Lady stood on a chair just inside the
window, and put her face close to the screen. She could see exactly
how the mother Wasps bit the cell walls into shape, moving backward
all the time. She could see Mrs. Polistes and her friend bring nicely
chewed-up Flies and other insects with which to feed the babies, and
watched them go quietly from cell to cell, giving a lunch to each.

They were very interesting babies. Being still fastened to the cell
wall by the tail end, only their heads showed, tiny white heads with
two little eyes and brown, horny jaws. Sometimes, when Mrs. Polistes
and her friend were away, the Lady would softly lower the screen from
the top of the window and touch the nest very, very gently with her
pencil. Then each baby thought it was his mother or his aunt, and
thrust his tiny head out for food. Perhaps this was not kind to the
Wasp babies, but if the Lady made them and their mother amuse her, she
was also very careful about worrying them. The older Wasps never found
out that the screen had been moved, and the Lady told everybody in the
house that the upper window sash must not be put up. She feared that
it would strike the outer cells and loosen the nest if raised.

All would have gone well if it had not been for that dreadful
thunderstorm just before daylight one morning. The Gentleman found the
raindrops blowing in through the bedroom window, and got it almost
closed before he remembered the Wasps’ nest. Then he lowered the upper
sash again and left it down, in spite of the rain.

Sad to say, when morning came the dainty little nest lay on the top
edge of the upper sash. It had been loosened but not crushed, and had
fallen on to the only place it could. Mrs. Polistes and her friend
were flying in and out with food for the babies, who were now all
tilted up sidewise, instead of hanging head downward, as Wasp babies
should.

“I don’t understand it at all,” said the friend. “Everything is
exactly as it was when we went to sleep, except that the nest has
fallen.”

“I was dreaming as I hung on the nest last night,” replied Mrs.
Polistes, “when suddenly I felt a great jar and was knocked off.”

“So was I,” exclaimed her friend.

“I flew around in the dark until I found it again,” added Mrs.
Polistes, “but I had to wait until daylight to see what had happened.
Oh, dear! It is so upsetting to find one’s home upside down, and two
of my children are just ready to spin their cocoons.”

“Your children?” asked her friends quite sharply, for it made her
cross to have such misfortunes. “Your children? One of those children
is mine.”

“Which one?” asked Mrs. Polistes, who thought she remembered her own
egg-laying.

“I don’t know which, now that the nest is all turned around,” was the
answer. “It has mixed those babies up, and I can’t pick out mine.”

“Well, it doesn’t really matter,” said Mrs. Polistes kindly. “You may
call them both yours, if you want to. Just laying the egg doesn’t
count for much, and we have both fed and cared for them. I supposed we
would share babies as we have shared everything else.”

This made the friend ashamed of herself, and she said that she was
sorry she was cross, and that Mrs. Polistes should call one of the
cocoons hers.

Then they put their heads together to decide what to do with the nest.
When Wasps put their heads together, they stroke each other with their
long feelers, or antennæ, and in that way each is sure what the other
is thinking. They also smell with these feelers, you know, and some
people say that they hear with them. A Wasp with broken antennæ can do
but little, and as for not having any--why, a Wasp might as well die
at once as to lose his antennæ.

Poor Mrs. Polistes and her little friend! It looked now as though if
they were to bring up those children at all, they would have to do it
wrong side up. The right way, you know, is to raise them upside down,
and here they were lying with their heads up in cells that were open
at the top.

Yet, even while they were thinking about it, something else happened.
The window sash on which the nest lay began to move slowly and
steadily upward, not stopping until the nest almost touched the casing
above.

Mrs. Polistes was so frightened! She thought that nest, children, and
all were about to be crushed flat. She said afterward that she was so
scared she could think of nothing but stinging, and there was nobody
whom she could sting. Of course, that would be so, for a Wasp who is
frightened always wants to sting, and it is a great comfort to him if
he can. It gives him something new to think about, you know.

The Lady was the one who slowly pushed the sash upward. She thought it
might help the poor little mothers somewhat. And it did. They began at
once to hunt food for their children and bring it in. The nest now lay
on the middle of the sash. Before it was knocked loose, it had hung
over in one corner of the casing. It would now have been much nearer
for the little mothers to crawl through the middle of the shutters.
But they were Wasps, and Wasps do not easily change their paths, so
they entered each time at precisely the old place, and then flew or
crawled to the nest. One who watches Wasps in the open air would never
expect them to go by a roundabout way, for they fly so swiftly,
strongly, and directly, yet they are easily puzzled by changes around
the nest.

Mrs. Polistes had not fed more than half her share of children when
she had an idea. She struck her antennæ against those of her friend
and told her about it. Then they walked all around the nest, looked at
it, felt of it, and gave it little pushes. The Lady stood on her chair
watching them, but they were used to her and did not mind it.

“I believe we can,” said Mrs. Polistes.

“It would be lovely if we could,” answered her friend, “but I am sure
we can’t.”

“We can try it, anyway,” said Mrs. Polistes.

“What is the use?” said her friend. “It will just scare the babies and
tire us out. We might better feed them where they are.”

“No,” said Mrs. Polistes, and she spoke very positively. “No! There
are worse things than being scared, and they must stand it. If we
leave this nest as it is, the first hard wind will tumble it around,
and a rolling nest raises no Wasps.”

“Mothers!” cried the children, in their weak little voices. “Mothers!
What are you talking about?”

“We are going to fix your nest up again,” answered Mrs. Polistes. “Now
be good children, and do not bother us with questions.”

Then she and her friend began pushing and pulling and rolling and
tumbling the nest around to get it more nearly right side up. They got
it tipped so that all the cells slanted downward, and then they began
chewing wood-pulp and building a new stem toward it from the casing
above. Mrs. Polistes worked so hard that her friend was really worried
about her. She would not take time to eat. At last her friend stood
right in front of her and unswallowed a drop of delicious honey. “You
must eat it,” she said. “When I swallowed it, I meant to keep it for
myself, but I would much rather give it to you.” Mrs. Polistes lapped
it up and felt stronger at once.

Such a stout stem as this one was! The cell walls also had to be
strengthened with more of the wood pulp and sticky saliva from the
Wasps’ mouths, because the stem was to be fastened to them in a new
place. It was not until the next day that all this work was done, and
the mothers could begin living in the old way again. The babies were
glad when this time came, for they had not been fed so much while
extra building had to be done.

The two children who were ready to do so had spun their cocoons in
their cells. They used the silky stuff which they had in their mouths,
and which oozed out through a little hole in each child’s lip. The
others were growing finely, the nest was hanging from its new stem,
the Lady had lowered the window sash once more, and Mrs. Polistes and
her friend had a little time to rest. “I am going to give myself a
thorough cleaning,” said she, licking her front feet off and then
rubbing her head with them. “And then I am going away for a
playspell.”

She cleaned herself all over with her legs, and was most particular
about her antennæ. She had special cleaners for these, you
know--little prongs which grow in the bend of the fourth and fifth
joints of the forelegs and fit closely around the antennæ, scraping
them clean between the bent legs and the prongs. You can see she would
need to be particular, because she had to do her talking, her
smelling, part of her feeling, and perhaps some of her hearing with
them. When she was well scrubbed, she took a good look at the children
and flew off for a fine time, while her friend took care of things at
home.

Such fun as she had! She caught and ate Cabbage Butterflies, Earwigs,
and other food which will not be touched by most insects and birds.
She supped a tiny bit of honey from the sweet clover, and then flew
straight to the cherry tree. A Catbird was already there, helping
himself to the best in the tree-top, and laughing at the Lady when she
tried to scare him away. He was never afraid of her throwing straight
enough to hit him.

Mrs. Polistes sipped juice from one ripe cherry after another, and
then, sad to say, she began to drink from one which was over-ripe. She
may not have known that it was so, but not knowing made no difference
with her feelings. She was soon so weak in all her six legs that she
could not walk, and so weak in her wings that her big front and her
small hind pairs would not stay hooked together as they should be. It
was a long time before she could get home.

When she _did_ go, she carried back some good things for the children,
and then took care of them while her friend had a playspell. After
all, when she was once rested, she enjoyed work better than play. Her
children all grew finely, and so did those of her friend, which was
exceedingly fortunate. If one had died, you know, after the tumbling
down of the nest, each would have thought it her own.

The little Wasps also grew up as well as could be expected. The sons
all took after their father, and were lazy, but, apart from that, they
were all right. The Queen daughters were exactly like their mothers,
and the little Workers, of whom there were the most of all, were the
greatest of comforts. They did the work of the home as soon as they
were old enough. It was truly a family which paid for saving.

When people asked Mrs. Polistes how she ever came to think of such a
thing as putting the nest up again, she simply flirted her wings and
replied: “Where else should I put it? I couldn’t leave my children
there.”



SILVERTIP STOPS A QUARREL


This is the story of something which did not really happen in the
dooryard of the big house, yet it has seemed best to put it in with
these tales because it could all be seen from that yard, and because
Silvertip had a part in it.

He was sitting quietly upon the broad top-rail of the fence one
afternoon, wishing that the sun would shine again. It had rained most
of the time for three days, and he did not like wet weather. He
thought it was going to clear off, for the clouds had not sent any
drops down since noon. The grass and walks were still damp, so he sat
on the fence-rail. He had stayed in the house so long that he was
tired of it, and he was also watching a pair of Robins who had built
a nest on one of the up-stairs window-ledges. They had put it right on
top of a last year’s Robins’ nest, and that was on one of the year
before. You can see that it was well worth looking at.

Silvertip had been here only a short time, when he saw Mr. White Cat,
from another house, walking over to the one across the street. Miss
Tabby Cat lived there, and he knew that Mr. Tiger Cat was around
somewhere. Mr. White Cat looked very cross. He was one of those people
who are good-natured only when the sun is shining and they have
everything they want, and this, you know, is not the best sort of a
person.

“Um-hum!” said Silvertip to himself. “I think there will be a fight
before long. I will watch.” He stood up and stretched himself
carefully and sat down the other way, so as to see all that happened.
Silvertip himself never fought. He spent a great deal of time in
making believe fight, and usually entertained his Cat callers by
glaring, spitting, or even growling at them, but he never really
clawed and scratched and bit. He did not care to have sore places all
over him, and he did not wish to get his ears chewed off.

“I can get what I want without fighting for it, so why should I
fight?” said he. He was a very good sort of Cat, and had never been
really cross about anything except when the Little Boy came to live in
the big house. Then he had been sulky for weeks, and would not stay in
the room with the Little Boy at all. He thought that if he made enough
fuss about it, the Gentleman and the Lady would not let the Little Boy
live there. When he found the Little Boy would stay anyway, he stopped
being cross. After a while he loved him too.

No, Silvertip would not fight. But he very much liked to watch other
Cats fight. Now he saw Miss Tabby sit quietly by the house across the
street and right in front of a hole under the porch. She had her legs
tucked beneath her, and her tail neatly folded around them. She looked
as though she had found a small spot which was dry, and wanted to get
all of herself on that.

Just inside the open doorway of the barn, there sat Mr. Tiger Cat. He
also had his legs tucked in and his tail folded around him. Mr. White
Cat walked straight up to him and stood stiff-legged. Mr. Tiger Cat,
who had just eaten a hearty meal and wanted an after-dinner nap, half
opened his eyes and looked at him. Then he closed them again.

This made Mr. White Cat more ill natured still. He did not like to have
people look at him and then shut their eyes. He began to switch his
tail and stand his hair on end. He decided to make the other Cat fight
anyway. He cared all the more about it because Miss Tabby was
watching him. He had not noticed Silvertip. “Er-oo!” said he, drawing
back his head and lowering his tail stiffly. “Did you say it was going
to rain, or did you say it was not?”

“I hardly think it will,” answered Mr. Tiger Cat pleasantly.

“You don’t think it will, hey?” asked Mr. White Cat. “Well, I say it
will pour.”

Mr. Tiger Cat slid his thin eyelids over his eyes.

“Did you hear me?” asked Mr. White Cat, still standing in the same
way.

“Certainly,” answered the other.

“Well, what do you say to that?” asked Mr. White Cat, and now he began
to stand straighter and hold his tail out behind.

“I am willing it should pour,” said Mr. Tiger Cat, beginning to
uncover his eyes slowly.

“Oo-oo! You are?” growled Mr. White Cat. “You are, are you? Well, I am
not!”

There was no answer. You see Mr. Tiger Cat did not want to fight. He
did not need to just then, and he never fought for the fun of it when
his stomach was so full. He supposed he would have to in the end, for
he knew when a fellow has really made up his mind to it, and is
picking a quarrel, it has to end in that way. At least, it has to end
in that way when one is a Cat. If one is bigger and better, there are
other ways of ending it.

Mr. Tiger Cat knew all this, and yet he waited. “The longer I wait,”
he thought, “the more I shall feel like it. My stomach will not be so
full and I can fight better. He needn’t think he can come around and
pick a quarrel and chew my ears when Miss Tabby is looking on. No
indeed.”

You see Mr. Tiger Cat was also fond of Miss Tabby.

“Er-roo!” said Mr. White Cat, straightening his legs until he stood
very tall indeed. “Er-roo!”

He had made himself so angry now that he could not talk in words at
all. Mr. Tiger Cat sat still.

“Er-row!” said Mr. White Cat, speaking way down his throat. “Er-row!”
Mr. Tiger Cat sat still.

Silvertip became so excited that he could not stay longer on the
fence. He dearly loved to see a good fight, you know, so he jumped
quietly down without looking away from the barn door, and began
walking softly toward it. He knew that when a Cat got to saying
“Er-row!” down in his throat, something was going to happen very soon.
Silvertip did not know, however, exactly what it would be because he
did not see a couple of big Dogs trotting down the street toward him.

He crept nearer and nearer to the barn, hardly looking where he
stepped for fear of missing some of the fun. His pretty white paws got
wet and dirty, but that did not matter now. Paws could be licked clean
at any time. Fights must be watched while they may be found.

“Ra-ow!” said Mr. White Cat, giving a forward jump.

“Pht!” answered Mr. Tiger Cat, standing stiffly on his hind feet and
letting his front ones hang straight down. He was wide awake now, and
ready to teach Mr. White Cat a lesson in politeness.

“Bow-wow!” said the Dogs just behind Silvertip. He might have run up a
tree near by, but he had a bright idea.

“I’ll do it,” he exclaimed. “The Little Boy says it is wicked to
fight, anyway.” Then he ran straight in through that open door and
jumped to a high shelf in the barn. He saw Miss Tabby turn a
summersault backward and crawl under the porch.

Mr. Tiger Cat took a long jump to the sill of a high window. Mr. White
Cat did not seem to care at all whether it was going to pour or not.
He sprang to the top round of a ladder. The Dogs frisked below,
wagging their tails and talking to each other about the Cats.

Mr. Tiger Cat, who was very well-bred and could always think of
something polite to say, remarked to Silvertip: “Your call was quite
an unexpected pleasure!” He had a smiling look around the mouth as he
spoke.

“Yes,” answered Silvertip, who liked a joke as well as anybody, unless
it were a joke on himself alone. “Yes, I found myself coming this way,
and just ran in.”

Then they both settled down comfortably where they were, tucking their
feet under them and wrapping their tails around. Nobody said anything
to Mr. White Cat, who had no chance to sit down, and, indeed, could
hardly keep from falling off the ladder.

The Dogs frisked and tumbled in the barn for a while and hung around
the foot of the ladder. They knew they could not get either of the
others, but they had a happy hope that Mr. White Cat might fall.

When at last the Dogs had gone, and Mr. White Cat had also sneaked
away, Mr. Tiger Cat said: “Fighting is very wrong.”

“Yes,” replied Silvertip, “very wrong indeed. But,” he added, “I’ll
make believe fight anybody.” So he jumped stiffly down and Mr. Tiger
Cat jumped stiffly down, and they glared and growled at each other all
the afternoon and never bit or even unsheathed a claw. They had a most
delightful time, and Miss Tabby came out from under the porch and
smiled on them both. She loved Cats who acted bravely.



A YOUNG SWIFT TUMBLES


In one of the chimneys of the big house several families of Chimney
Swifts had built their homes. They had come north in April and flown
straight to this particular place. It was the family home of this
branch of the Swifts, and every year since great-grandfather Swift
discovered it, some of his children and grandchildren had come back
there to build. They were quite airy, and thought a great deal about
appearances. “Swifts are sure to be judged by the chimney in which
they live,” they said, “and there is no use in choosing a poor one
when there are good ones to be found.”

Nobody would have dared remind these Chimney Swifts that their
great-great-great-great-grandparents lived in hollow trees, if
indeed any of their friends knew it. They themselves never spoke of
the Swifts who still do so, and since they had always lived in a land
of chimneys, they did not dream of the times when there were none to
be found. Of course, before the white men came to this country Swifts
had to build in hollow trees.

[Illustration: THE CHIMNEY-SWIFT’S HOME. _Page 78_]

You can just imagine what a happy, busy place this chimney was in the
springtime, when last year’s nests were being torn down and new ones
were building. The older Swifts were there and those who were to keep
house for the first time. Then, of course, the younger ones had
married and brought new wives there, and they had to be introduced and
shown all over the chimney.

Some wanted to build nearer the top than others, and the older ones
were always advising the younger ones. It was so hard for a Swift
mother to remember that her married son was old enough to decide
things for himself; and many such mothers fluttered around the sons’
nests, telling them how to place each twig, and giving the new wives
advice as to how to bring up the babies who would soon come to live
with them.

This story is about a young couple who built the lowest nest of all.
They were dressed just alike in sleek, sooty, brown feathers, which
were of a lighter shade on their throats. Their necks and heads were
very broad, their bills short but able to open very wide; their wings
were longer than their tails, and the quills of their tail feathers
stuck out stiff and bare far beyond the soft, feathery part. The
Swifts are all very proud of these bare quills. “There are not many
birds,” they say, “who can show their quills in that fashion.”

These quills are very useful, too, for after a Swift has broken off a
tiny twig for his nest, he has to cling to the side of the chimney and
fix it into place, and he could not do this without supporting himself
by these tail quills. It is hard work building nests, and you can see
that it would be. They have to cling with both feet, support
themselves with their tails, put each tiny twig in place with their
bills, and glue it there with sticky saliva from their mouths or else
with tree-gum.

The young husband who was building his first home low down in the
chimney was a sturdy and rather wilful fellow, who was very sure what
he wanted, and just as sure that he was going to get it. When he said,
“I shall do this,” or, “I am going to have that,” other people had
learned to keep still. They sometimes had a smiling look around the
bill, but they said nothing. His wife was a sweet and sensible Swift
who never made a fuss about anything, or bragged of what she meant to
do. Still, other Swifts who watched them said that she had her way
quite as often as he had his.

It was really she who had chosen to build well down in the chimney.
Her husband had preferred to be near the top, and she had agreed to
that, but spoke of what would happen if one of their children should
fall out of the nest.

“There is no need of one falling out,” said Mr. Swift. “Tell them to
lie still and not push around. Then they will not fall out.”

Mrs. Swift fixed one of the feathers on the under side of her left
wing, and then remarked: “And you do not think it would disturb you to
have our neighbors passing all the time.”

“Yes, I do,” he replied. “I have thought so from the first, and I am
thinking that it might be well to build lower for that reason. Then we
could be passing the others instead.”

He flew down and pecked at the bricks in a few places to make sure
that he could fasten a nest securely. Then he came back to his wife.
“I have decided to build the lowest nest of all,” said he, “but you
understand it is not on account of the children. There is no sense in
their moving around in the nest.”

“I understand,” said Mrs. Swift, and he flew away for twigs while she
stayed behind to visit with her mother-in-law.

The mother-in-law’s eyes twinkled. “I believe my son said that his
children were not to move around in the nest,” she said with a laugh.
“I wonder how he is going to stop their doing so.”

“Tell them, I suppose,” answered young Mrs. Swift, smilingly. “Did he
push around at all when he was a baby?”

“He?” replied the older Swift. “He was the most restless child I ever
hatched. He will know more about bringing up children after he has
raised a brood or two. Don’t worry, my dear. It will come out all
right.” She flew off and the young wife went for twigs also, and
thought how happy she ought to be in having such a mother-in-law.

When the lowest nest was built and the four long pure white eggs were
laid in it, Mr. and Mrs. Swift were a very proud young couple. The
nest was so thin that one could see the eggs through it quite plainly,
but it was exceedingly stout and firm. It was not a soft nest, and it
had no real lining, although Mrs. Swift had laid in one especially
perfect grass blade “to give it style.”

That grass blade may be seen to this day by any one who cares to look
at the nest as it lies in a cabinet in the house. It was the only nest
in the chimney which had anything but twigs in it, and some people
wondered at Mrs. Swift’s taste. One stout elderly mother Swift said
“she supposed it was all right, but that she had never done such a
thing and her children had turned out all right.” However, young Mrs.
Swift smiled in her pretty way and did not talk back.

When they were planning for the four children whom they expected, Mrs.
Swift spoke of how patient they would have to be with them, but Mr.
Swift said: “They must be brought up to mind! If I tell a child once
to do a thing, that is enough. You will see how I bring them up.” Then
he ruffled up his feathers, puffed out his throat, and looked very
important.

They did most of their visiting in the beautiful night-time, for it is
a custom among their people to fly and hunt and visit in the dark, and
rest by day. Their busiest time is always just before the sun comes
up, and so it happened that the Little Boy who slept in the room below
did not often hear the rumbling noise in the chimney as they flew in
and out. When they were awakened he slept quietly in his snug little
bed, and as he was awakening, and stretching, and getting his dimples
ready for the day, the Swifts were going to sleep after a busy night.

When the baby Swifts broke their shells and were seen for the first
time by their loving father and mother, Mr. Swift was surprised to
find how small they were. Mrs. Swift murmured sweet words to them and
worked as hard as her husband to find them food. There were now so
many mouths to be fed that they flew by day as well as by night, and
often the Little Boy in the room below thought he heard distant
thunder when it was only the Swifts coming down the chimney with food
for their babies. All sorts of tiny winged creatures were brought them
to eat, for Swifts catch all their food as they fly, and that means
that they can feed upon only such creatures as also fly.

When they were stretching up to reach the food, Mrs. Swift would say
to the children: “Now learn to move carefully, for if you should get
over the edge of the nest you will tumble down into that fireplace of
which I have told you.”

When he was feeding them Mr. Swift would say: “You may open your
bills, but not one of you must move beyond that twig. Do you
understand?”

Three of them obeyed without asking questions, but the eldest brother
was always trying to see just how far he could go without tumbling,
and he would talk back to his father.

“You don’t care if I put one wing out, do you?” he would ask.

“Not one wing!” his father would answer.

“Why?” the son would ask. “I wouldn’t tumble just because I put one
wing out.”

“It is not minding me,” his father would say, “to see how far you can
go without tumbling. I did not tell you only to keep from falling
out. I told you to keep inside that twig.”

Then the son would pout his bill and act very sulky, getting close to
the twig which he had been told not to pass. When he thought his
father was not looking, he would even wriggle a little beyond it. Mrs.
Swift was worried, but what could she do? She noticed that her husband
did not talk so much as he used to about making a child mind the very
first time he is spoken to.

One night when the Swifts had fed their children faithfully, this son
was unusually naughty. It may be that he had eaten more than his share
or that he had picked for the biggest insect every time that lunch was
brought. It may be, too, that he was naughty simply because he wanted
to be. It does not always mean that a child is ill when he is naughty.
His father had just told him to be more careful, and he made a face
(yes, he did) and flopped aside to show what he could do without
falling.

Then he felt a tiny twig on the edge of the nest break beneath him,
and he went tumbling, bumping, and scraping down into the fireplace
below. He could not fly up, for his wings were not strong enough to
carry him up such a narrow space, and his parents could not get him.
He heard his brother and sisters crying and his mother saying that she
had always expected that to happen.

“Horrid old twig!” he said. “Don’t see why it had to break! Should
think they might build their nest stronger. I don’t care! I was sick
of being told not to wriggle, anyway!”

Then he fluttered and sprawled through a crack beside the screen of
the grate until he was out in the room. The Little Boy lay asleep in
the bed, and that frightened the young Swift. When they tried to
scare each other the children had always pretended that a Boy was
after them. He crawled behind a picture which leaned against the wall,
and stayed there and thought about his dear, dear home up in the
chimney.

The Little Boy stirred and awakened and called out: “Mother! Mother!
There is somefing making a scratching noise in my room. I fink it is a
Bear.”

The young Swift sat very still while the Lady came in and hunted for
the Bear. She never came near his hiding-place, and laughed at the
Little Boy for thinking of Bears. She told him that the only Bears
around their town were two-legged ones, and when he asked her what
that meant she laughed again.

He peeped out from behind the picture and saw the Little Boy dress
himself. He heard him say: “I can’t poss’bly get vese shoes on, but
I’ll try and try and try.” He thought how much pleasanter it was to
be a Swift and have all his clothes grow on, and to go barefoot all
the year.

He heard the Lady say: “Why, you precious Boy! You did get your shoes
on, after all.” Then he saw them go off to breakfast, racing to see
who would beat.

After they were gone, he fluttered out to the window, and there the
Lady found him, and the Little Boy danced around and wanted to touch
him, but didn’t quite dare. The Lady said: “I think this must have
been your Bear,” and the Little Boy said: “My teeny-weeny little bitty
Bear wiv feavers on.” He heard the Little Boy ask, too, why the bird
had so many pins sticking out of his tail, and this made him cross. He
did not understand what pins were, but he felt that anybody ought to
know about tail-quills.

He didn’t know much about Boys, for this was the first one he had
ever seen, and he wondered what those shiny white things were in his
mouth. He had never seen teeth and he could not understand. He
wondered how the Boy got along without a bill, and pitied him very
much. This Little Boy did not seem so very terrible. He even acted a
bit afraid of the Swift.

Next the young Swift felt himself lifted gently in the Lady’s hand and
laid in a box with soft white stuff in it and two small holes cut in
the cover. He was carried from room to room in the house and shown to
other people. Once he heard a queer voice say, “Meouw!” and then the
Little Boy stamped his foot and said: “Go way, Teddy Silvertip. You
can’t have my little bird, you hungry Cat.”

After this the young Swift was more scared than before, and would have
given every feather he had to be safely back in the nest in the
chimney. He was hungry, too, and he wanted to see his father and his
dear mother. He beat his wings against the sides of the box and cried
for his mother. “Oh,” he said, “if I were only back in the nest I
wouldn’t move. I wouldn’t move a bit.” Then the Cat mewed again and he
kept still from fright.

At last he was taken into the open air and placed in the top of a
short evergreen, where the Cat could not reach him. Here he clung,
weak and lonely and scared, blinking his half-blinded eyes in a light
brighter than he had yet seen. All the rest of that day he stayed
there, while his father and mother and their other children were
sleeping in the home nest. He expected never to see them again, but he
did want to tell them how sorry he was.

After the sun had set and the moon was shining, he saw his father
darting to and fro above him. “Father!” he cried. “Father, I am so
sorry that I moved past the twig. I was very naughty.”

His father heard and flew down to tuck a fat and juicy May Beetle into
his mouth. “You poor child!” said he. “Eat that and don’t try to talk.
You will not do such things when you are older. I will get you some
more food.”

When he returned Mrs. Swift was with him, and they petted and fed the
young Swift all night, never scolding him at all, because, as they
said, he had been punished quite enough and was sorry. And that was
true. His grandmother came also with a bit of food. She told him that
they would feed him every night and that he should hide in the
branches each day until his feathers were grown.

“In three days more,” said she, “you will be ready to fly, and you
look more like your father all the time. In three days more,” she
said, “if nobody eats you up.”

You can imagine how anxious the young Swift was during those three
days, and how small he tried to be when Silvertip was around.
“Surely,” he thought, “the sun and moon were never before so slow in
marking off the time.”

When at last he was ready for flight, Silvertip was under the snowball
bush near by. The young Swift sprang into the air. “Good-by, my Cat
friend,” said he. “You look hungry, but you have lost your best chance
at me. You should have been waiting at the grate for me. You might
have known that such a foolish young Swift as I would tumble down
sooner or later. All that saves some people is not having their
foolishness found out!”



THE VERY RUDE YOUNG ROBINS


Why this pair of Robins chose to build so near the Sparrows, nobody
knows. It was not at all like Robins to do so, for they are quite
careful how they bring up their children. One would expect them to
think how likely the little Robins would be to grow up rude and
quarrelsome.

However, there their nest was, not the length of a beanpole from those
of two pairs of Sparrows. When the nestlings were hatched, they
listened all day to what the Sparrows were saying and looked at what
they were doing. They heard and saw many things which Mr. and Mrs.
Robin did not like. But there was no helping it then, and all that
their parents could do was to try to bring them up to be good little
birds, and do as they had been told, and not as they had seen naughty
children do.

It did make a difference in the behavior of the children, however, and
after they left the nest this showed very plainly. When they were old
enough to go outside the yard in which they had been hatched, they
went to the place next door. There were many fowls on this place, and
several Hens in coops with young Chickens around them. The father and
mother left the young Robins in safe places while they went to hunt
Worms in the newly hoed garden. Two children, a brother and a sister,
were half hidden under the drooping branches of a large gooseberry
bush.

They had been there for some time, when the sister said, “Just see
what lots of good, clean food that Hen and her Chickens have. Don’t
you wish you had some of it?”

“Um-hum!” answered the brother. “What a pretty yellow it is. I just
know it is good!”

Neither of them spoke again for a long time. Indeed, the brother had
begun to settle his head down on his shoulders and slide the thin lids
over his eyes, when his sister said, “If you were a Sparrow, you’d get
some.”

“Well, I’m not a Sparrow,” he answered, “and so I shall have to go
without.”

He was almost cross to his dear little sister, but perhaps one could
partly excuse him. He saw that there was much more than the Chickens
could eat, and that it would lie there spread out on the board until
they had spoiled it all by trampling it with muddy feet. Now it was
lovely, clean, sweet corn-meal mush. Besides, he was becoming
dreadfully hungry. It was fully ten minutes, you know, since he had
been fed anything.

The little sister kept still for a while. Her mother had taught her
that it does not always pay to talk too much. At last she asked, “Do
you suppose those tiny bits of Chickens know the difference between a
Sparrow and a Robin?”

Her brother opened his eyes very wide, and stretched his head up so
that one could see the black and white feathers under his bill. He was
almost full-grown. “I’ve a good mind to try to fool them,” he said.
“You see, the Hen can’t reach the board where the food is.”

“I dare you to!” cried his sister, who really should have been his
brother, she was so brave.

“All right,” he answered. “Only you come too.”

“I will,” she said. “But let’s wait until Father and Mother are
looking the other way.”

Twice they started out and came back because their parents were
looking. At last they made a dash and were by the board.

“Stand aside!” said the brother, talking as nearly like a Sparrow as
he could. “Let us have some of this!”

“Who are you?” asked the Chickens, while the old Hen
cluck-cluck-clucked and strutted to and fro in the coop. Every little
while she stuck her head out as far as she could reach, and her neck
feathers spread around in a funny, fat way against the slats of her
coop.

“Go away!” she scolded. “Go right away! That is not your mush! You are
not my Chickens! Go right home to your mother! Cr-r-r-r-r!” She said
this last, you know, because she was getting so angry that she could
say nothing else.

The fowls behind the netting of the poultry-yard all came to see what
was going on, and chattered about it in their cackling way. “Send
them off!” they cried. “Send them off! The idea of their trying to
take food from the Chickens!” The Cocks looked particularly big and
fierce. Still, there is not much fun in looking big and fierce behind
a wire netting, when the people whom you want to scare are in front of
it.

The young Robins were dreadfully frightened, but having feathers all
over their face, it did not really show. Neither one was willing to be
the first to start away, and they didn’t like to speak about it to
each other for fear of being overheard. You know, if you can keep
other people from finding out that you are scared, you may end by
scaring them, and that was exactly what the Robins meant to do.

“Get out of our way!” said they. “Don’t brush against us so again! If
you were not young, we wouldn’t have stood it this time. When you have
feathers you may know better.”

Then the little Chickens were very badly scared indeed. They backed
away as quickly as they could, and crawled in beside their mother. She
told them to go back; that the Robins couldn’t hurt them, and that she
was ashamed to have them act so Chicken-hearted.

“Let us get under your wings!” they said. “Please let us get under
your wings!” And they followed, peeping, after her, as she marched to
and fro in the narrow coop. Sometimes they got so near her feet that
she almost knocked them over, and at last they quite gave up trying to
cuddle down under her, and got together in little groups in the back
part of the coop.

“Had enough?” asked the brother at last.

“Yes, indeed,” answered his sister. “I can’t swallow any more now.
I’m just making believe because you are not through.”

“All right!” said he.

He turned to the Chickens. “Now you may come,” he said. “But another
time get out of our way more quickly.” Then they turned their backs
and hopped off. They didn’t want to try flying, because that would
show how very young they were.

“We did it,” exclaimed those two naughty children. “Did you ever see
such little Geese as those Chickens? But oh, what if our parents
should find it out?”

“See here,” chirped their mother, who could not speak very plainly
because she had two large Earthworms hanging in wriggling loops from
her bill, “Here is a lovely lunch for you.”

“Give it to Brother,” said the little sister. “He always wants more
than I.”

“Oh, no. Give it to Sister,” said he. “I don’t mean to be selfish.”

“You shall both have some,” said their mother, tucking a large Worm
down each unwilling throat. “Little birds will never be big birds
unless they eat plenty of the right kind of food. I will bring you
more.”

When she was gone they looked at each other. “I just can _not_ eat
another billful,” said the sister.

“And I won’t!” said the brother. After a while he added, “Is there any
of that mush sticking to my bill?”

“No,” said the sister. “Is there any on mine?”

They did not feel at all sure that their mother would have let them
eat so much mush if she had been asked. They wondered if it would make
them sick. They began to think about the stomach-ache, and felt sure
that they had one--that is to say, two--one apiece, you know.

Over in the garden, Mrs. Robin said to her husband, “Do you know what
those children have done? It was a very ill-bred, Sparrow-like trick.
They scared the little Chickens away, and ate all they could of their
mush. I am dreadfully ashamed of them, but I shall pretend I did not
see it.”

“Make them eat plenty of Worms,” suggested Mr. Robin.

“Just what I am going to do,” answered his wife. “It won’t really hurt
them to overeat for once in their lives, and it will punish them very
well.”

That was why Mr. and Mrs. Robin worked so especially hard all morning,
and made so many trips in under the gooseberry bush. The two young
Robins who were there kept insisting that they didn’t need any more,
and that they really couldn’t eat another Worm. After they said this,
Mrs. Robin always looked sharply at them and asked, “What have you
children been doing? Young birds should always want all the Worms
their parents can bring them.”

The little Robins were not brave enough to tell what they had done.
You know it often takes more courage to confess a fault than it does
to scare people. So whenever their mother said this they agreed to eat
one more Worm apiece, and choked and gulped it down. It was a dreadful
morning for them.

Inside the Chicken-coop the old Hen was trying to settle down again,
and the Chickens were talking it over.

“Wasn’t it dreadful?” asked one. “I didn’t know that Robins were so
fierce.”

“Mother said that we shouldn’t be afraid of them,” cried another, “but
I guess she’d be afraid her own self if she wasn’t in that coop. She’d
be ’fraider if she was little, too.”

“I’m glad they didn’t eat it all,” said a third Chicken. “When do you
suppose they’ll come again?”

“Every day,” said another, a Chicken who always expected bad things to
happen. “Perhaps they will come two times a day! Maybe they’ll even
come three!”

But they didn’t. They didn’t come at all. And they never wanted
corn-meal mush again.



THE SYSTEMATIC YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO


The people who lived in the big house were much worried about the
maple trees which shaded the sidewalk around the place. It was spring
now, and they feared another such summer as the last, when the lawn
had been covered with fine, healthy, large maple leaves, gnawed off by
hungry Caterpillars. One could be sure they were not blown or knocked
off, for each stem was neatly eaten through at about the length of a
fir needle from the leaf. The lawn did not look well, and the Man who
cared for it grumbled and scolded under his breath as he went around
raking them up. He could not see that the Caterpillars were of any
use in the world. The birds thought differently, but he was a busy
Man and not used to thinking of things in that way.

Now spring had come again, and every day the people looked for more
leaves on their lawn. They had not found them yet, because the
Caterpillars were not old enough to nibble through the stems. Then,
one morning while they were eating their breakfast, these people heard
a new voice outside. It was not a sweet voice. It sounded somewhat
like a thumping on rough boards. It was saying, “Kuk-kuk-kuk!”

Some men who were passing by stopped to look up at the trees, then
shook their heads and went on. The Little Boy wanted to leave his
breakfast and go out at once to find the new bird, but he had to stay
where he was, eat slowly, and fold his napkin before he was allowed to
do this. When he went, the Lady and the Gentleman went with him. None
of them could see the bird, although they heard his “kuk-kuk-kuk!” in
first one tree and then another.

“I am sure that is a Yellow-billed Cuckoo,” said the Lady, “and if it
is, he has come for the Caterpillars that are spoiling our trees.”

“Why, Mother?” asked the Little Boy. “How do you know? You didn’t see
him.”

“If you had your eyes shut, and I spoke to you,” she replied,
“wouldn’t you known whose voice it was?”

The other birds also seemed to know whose voice it was, for they flew
around in fright, and scolded and chattered until the visitor had left
that row of maples and gone far away. Even then the more timid ones
could not settle down to their regular duties. “It has given me such a
start,” said one Robin, whose nerves were always easily upset, “that I
don’t believe I can weave another grass-blade into my nest to-day.”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed a Blackbird. “Eat something and you will feel
all right. There is nothing like eating to make one feel better.”

The Robin did as she was told and felt somewhat steadier, yet even
then she talked of nothing else that morning. “To think of a
Yellow-billed Cuckoo coming here!” she said. “It makes my quills
tingle to think of it. My poor babies! My poor babies!”

“Couldn’t you stop worrying for a while?” her husband asked. “You know
you have not even laid your eggs, so your children are not in danger
yet.”

Mr. Robin was always gentle with his wife. The other birds didn’t see
how he could stand it, for she was forever worrying about something.

“No,” she replied, “they are not laid yet, but they will be, and you
know perfectly well, Mr. Robin, how glad that dreadful Cuckoo would
be to suck every one of them. If he were only a Black-billed Cuckoo,
it would not be so bad, but I saw his bill quite plainly, and it
was yellow. Besides, he said, ‘Kuk-kuk-kuk!’ instead of
‘Kow-kow-kow-kuk-kuk!’”

“We will guard the nest carefully when the eggs are laid,” said Mr.
Robin. “And now I think I will go across the street to hunt.” That
also was a wise thing to do, for Mrs. Robin was always more sensible
when she was alone.

The birds saw nothing more of the Cuckoo that morning, but in the
afternoon he came again. He was a large and very fine-looking bird,
with green-gray feathers on the upper part of his body and in the
middle of his tail, the outer tail-feathers being black with white
spots. His wings were a bright brown, and the under part of his body
was grayish-white. His bill was a very long and strong one, and the
under half of it was yellow.

He had a habit of sitting very quietly every now and then on some
branch to think. At such times he looked handsome but stupid, and
really, when he got to thinking so, he was in great danger. It is at
just such times that Hawks like to find Cuckoos, and after a Hawk has
found one, nobody else ever has a chance. If you remember what sort of
food Hawks like, you will understand what this means.

When he was flying, however, he was exceedingly careful, always
flitting from tree to tree by the nearest way, and never talking until
he was well sheltered again by leafy branches. When he came to a row
of maples, he began at one end and went right through, stopping a
little while in each to hunt. He was very systematic, and that, you
know, means that he always tried to do the same things in the same
way. This was why, during all the summer that followed, he came both
morning and afternoon at just the same times as on that first day.
That is, he did on every day but one.

Mrs. Cuckoo looked exactly like her husband. Indeed, some of their
neighbors could hardly tell them apart. She was a very poor
housekeeper. Her nest was only a few sticks laid on a bush in the edge
of an orchard. She often said that she did not take easily to home
life, so many of her great-grandparents having built no nests at all,
but laid their eggs in the homes of other birds. Since this was so,
people should not have expected too much of Mrs. Cuckoo.

Another thing which made it hard for her, was the way in which she had
to lay eggs, hatch eggs, and feed nestlings at the same time all
summer. This was not her fault, for of course when an egg was ready it
had to be laid, and there were seldom two ready at once. It kept her
busy and worried and tired all summer, and one could forgive her if
she sometimes grew impatient.

“I can never half do anything after my first egg is hatched,” she used
to say. “I go to get food for that child, and all the time I am
worrying for fear the second egg, which I have just laid, will get
cold. Of course one newly hatched nestling cannot keep a large egg
like mine warm. Then, when I am having all I can do to care for child
and egg, I have to stop to lay another egg.”

Mr. Cuckoo was always sleek and respectable-looking. He never seemed
in a hurry. He said that haste was ill-mannered. “Always take time,”
he said, “to do things in the best way. If you are not sure which is
the best way, sit down and think about it.” He was much annoyed by
Mrs. Cuckoo, and often told her how she needed to be systematic. “You
have such a hurried way, my dear,” said he. “It is really very
disagreeable.”

She was naturally a sweet-tempered bird, but one day she made up her
mind to let her husband see how systematic he could be in her place.
At that time she had a young bird and two eggs in the nest, and was
very sure that one of the eggs was about to hatch.

When they awakened the next morning, she said sweetly to Mr. Cuckoo,
“My dear, please stay with the baby until I get back.” Then she flew
away without giving him time to ask how long it would be or anything
about it. Mr. Cuckoo was much surprised, and sat there thinking, as
you know he was likely to do, until the nestling fairly screamed for
food.

“Dear me!” said he to himself, “I must do something to keep that child
still.” So he hunted food and stuffed it down the nestling’s wide-open
bill. While he was doing so, he remembered the eggs, which he found
rather cool. “She will never forgive me if those get cold,” he said,
so he hopped onto the nest and covered them with his breast. He wished
that his wife would return. He thought that when a mother-bird had
home cares she should stay by the nest. Just then his child cried for
more food.

[Illustration: STUFFED IT DOWN THE WIDE-OPEN BILL. _Page 116_]

“Hush!” he exclaimed. “I cannot go now. Don’t you see that I am
warming these eggs?”

“I don’t care! I am hungry,” cried she. “You didn’t feed me enough.”

“Well, I couldn’t get you more just then,” he said. “Now be patient
until your mother comes. That’s a good child.”

“I can’t be patient. I’m hungry,” cried the nestling. “I want a
Caterpillar.”

Mr. Cuckoo could not stand teasing, so he hopped off the nest and
picked up the first Caterpillar he found. It was not a good kind, and
the little Cuckoo made a bad face and would not swallow it. Mr.
Cuckoo rushed away to get a better one. That was eaten, and he was
just getting on the eggs again when he heard a faint tapping inside of
one. This made him very nervous, for he was not used to caring for
newly hatched children. He called several times to Mrs. Cuckoo, but
received no answer.

There was more tapping, and the second child stuck his little bill
through the shell and broke it. “Ouch!” cried the older one; “that
pricks me. Take it away!”

“’Sh!” exclaimed his father, who knew that it would never do to help a
young bird out of its shell. The elder child began to cry.

Well! You can just imagine what kind of morning Mr. Cuckoo had. He had
to quiet and feed the older child, clear away the broken shell when
the second was out, keep the remaining egg warm, get some food for
himself, and just hurry and worry until noon. He was about worn out
when his wife came back. She looked very trim and happy, and there was
no ill-mannered haste in her motions as she flew toward the nest.

“I have had such a pleasant morning,” she said. “I met my sister and
we went hunting together. I hope you did not mind. I felt quite easy
about everything. I knew that you would manage it all beautifully,
because you are so systematic.” She looked at him with such a sweet
smile that he did not say any of the things which he had been planning
to say about mother-birds staying at home.

Just then the elder nestling said, “I’m hungry, Mother! I haven’t had
a Caterpillar in ever so long.”

Mrs. Cuckoo answered cheerfully, “All right, I’ll get you one,” and
was about to start off when Mr. Cuckoo spoke up:

“You stay here and look after your newly hatched nestling,” said he.
“I’ll get some food.”

Mrs. Cuckoo was delighted to find another egg hatched, and the morning
away had been a great rest to her. Only one thing troubled her. “I do
wish,” she murmured, “that I could have seen Mr. Cuckoo trying to do
three or four things at once and be systematic. Now I shall never know
how it worked.”

But she did know. Her first-hatched child said, “I’m so glad you are
back. It made Father cross to hurry.” She also knew from another
thing: Mr. Cuckoo never again told her to be systematic, or said that
it was ill-mannered to hurry.

And that was the one day when Mr. Cuckoo did not make his two regular
hunting trips through the maple trees around the big house.



THE HELPFUL TUMBLE-BUGS


In the corner of the barnyard was a pile of manure which was to be put
upon the garden and plowed in. This would make the ground better for
all the good things growing in it, but now it was waiting behind the
high board fence, and many happy insects lived in it. There were big
Bugs and little Bugs, fat Bugs and slim Bugs, young Bugs and old Bugs,
good Bugs and--well, one does not like to say that there were bad
Bugs, but there were certainly some not so good as others.

Among all these, however, there were none who worked harder or thought
more of each other than the Tumble-bugs. One couple, especially, were
thrifty and devoted. They had been married in June, when each was
just one day old. June weddings were the fashion among their people.

Mr. Tumble-bug believed in early marriages. “I have known
Tumble-bugs,” he said, “who did not marry until they were two days
old, but I think that a great mistake. Each becomes so used to having
his own way that it is very hard for husband and wife to agree on
anything. Now Mrs. Tumble-bug and I always think alike.” Then he
smiled at Mrs. Tumble-bug and Mrs. Tumble-bug smiled at him. They were
nearly always together and busy. Perhaps it was because they worked
together every day that they cared so much for each other. You know
that makes a great difference, and if one had worked all the time
while the other was playing, they would soon have come to care for
other things and people.

One hot summer morning, Mrs. Tumble-bug said to her husband, who was
just finishing his breakfast, “I have found the loveliest place you
ever saw for burying an egg-ball. Do hurry up! I can hardly wait to
begin work.”

Mr. Tumble-bug gulped down his last mouthful and answered, “I’m ready
now.”

“Follow me then,” she cried, and led the way over all sorts of little
things which littered up the ground of the barnyard. No Horse was
there just then, and she felt safe. Mr. Tumble-bug followed close
behind her, and a very neat-looking couple they made. Both were
flat-backed and all of shining black. “We do not dress so showily as
some Bugs,” they were in the habit of saying, “but black always looks
well.” And that was true. Although they spent most of their days
working in the earth, they were ever clean and shining, with smiling,
shovel-shaped faces.

“There!” said Mrs. Tumble-bug, as she stopped for breath and pointed
with her right fore-leg to the ground just ahead of her. “Did you ever
see a finer place?” She could point in this way, you know, without
falling over, because she had five other legs on which to stand. There
are some very pleasant things about having six legs, and the only
tumbling she and her husband did was part of their work.

“Excellent!” exclaimed Mr. Tumble-bug. “And the ground is so soft that
it will not tire you very much to dig in it.” He did not have to think
whether it would tire him, because he never helped in that part of the
work. His wife always liked to do that alone.

Then both Tumble-bugs scurried back to the manure heap. “I cannot see
why some of our neighbors are so foolish,” said she. “There is a
Beetle now, laying her eggs right in this pile. She will leave them
there, too, and as likely as not some hungry fellow will come along
before the sun goes down and eat every one of them. She might much
better take a little trouble, put her egg in a mass of food, and roll
it away to a safe place for burial. When my children hatch out into
soft little Grubs, I intend they shall have a chance to grow up safely
and comfortably. Such Beetles do not deserve to have children.”

“Well, they won’t have many,” said her husband. “Perhaps only a
pitiful little family of twenty or thirty.”

“Now,” exclaimed Mrs. Tumble-bug, “We must get to work. Help me roll
this ball of manure. I have laid an egg in it while we were talking,
so that time was not wasted.”

Together they rolled a ball which was bigger than both of them when it
started, and grew larger and larger as they got it away from the heap
and the dust of the ground stuck to it and crusted it over.

Mrs. Tumble-bug stood on top of the ball, and, creeping far out on it,
pulled it forward with her hind feet, while he stood on his head
behind it and pushed with his hind legs. Of course if Mrs. Tumble-bug
had not been climbing backward all the time, the ball would have
rolled right over her. To pull forward with part of your legs and
climb backward with all of them at the same time, and that when your
head is a good deal lower than your heels, is pretty hard work and
takes much planning. Mrs. Tumble-bug had very little breath for
talking, but she did not lose her temper. And that shows what an
excellent Bug she was. “Harder!” she would call out to Mr. Tumble-bug.
“We are coming to a little hill.”

Then Mr. Tumble-bug, who, you will remember, had to stand on his head
all the time, and really did the hardest part of the work, would
brace himself more firmly and push until it seemed as though his legs
would break. He could never see just where they were going unless he
let go of the ball, and Mrs. Tumble-bug did not believe in turning out
for anything.

“What if there is a hill?” she often said. “Can’t we go over it?” And
over it they always went, although they might much more easily have
gone around it. Mrs. Tumble-bug did not want anybody to think her
afraid of work, and she knew her husband would have a chance to rest
while she was burying the ball. Once in a while, when the ball came
down suddenly on the farther side of a twig or chip, it rolled quite
on top of her, and Mr. Tumble-bug would be greatly alarmed. Some
people thought this served her quite right for insisting that they
should go over things instead of around them. Still, one hardly likes
to say a thing like that.

If it were much of a hill, she would climb down from the ball and talk
with him. Then they would put their shovel-shaped heads together under
the back side of the ball, and, pushing at the same time, send it
over. “Two heads are better than one,” they would say, “and this needs
a great deal of head-work.”

At last the ball had reached the spot where they intended to have it
buried. Both were hot and tired. “Many legs make light work,” said
Mrs. Tumble-bug, as she carefully cleaned hers before eating dinner,
“and if there is anything I enjoy, it is finishing a good job like
this!”

Mr. Tumble-bug sighed heavily and said he thought he would go for a
walk with some of his friends that afternoon. “All work and no play
would make me a dull Bug,” said he. Then he called out “Good-by” to
his wife, and told her not to work too hard.

Mrs. Tumble-bug looked after him lovingly. “Now, isn’t he good?” she
said to herself. “There are not many Bugs who will help their wives at
all, and most of them never look at an egg, much less see to getting
it well placed.” And that is true, for the Tumble-bugs are the model
Bug fathers.

Now, indeed, Mrs. Tumble-bug was at her best. She hurried down her
dinner, taking mouthfuls which were much too large for good manners,
and began plowing the earth around the ball as it lay there. She
plowed so deep that sometimes she was almost buried in the loose
earth. At last she came up, took a good look around, knocked some
grains of dust off her shining back, then dived in again upside down,
and pulled the ball in after her by holding it tightly with her middle
legs. All the time she was kicking the earth away with her two hind
legs and her two front ones, which were stout diggers, so that little
by little she sank deeper into the ground.

She made a much larger hole for the ball than it really needed. “I
might just as well, while I am about it,” she said. “And I should so
dislike to have any one think me afraid of work.”

At last she finished and crawled away, covering the place neatly over,
so that nobody could see where she went in or out. “There!” she said.
“Now I am ready to play.”

A stray Chicken came along and she hurried under a chip to be safe.
The Chicken was lost and calling to his mother. “Mother!” he cried.
“Mother Hen, I want to get home and go to sleep under your wings.”

“Dear me!” exclaimed Mrs. Tumble-bug. “Is it time for Chickens to go
to sleep?” She looked through a crack in the fence and across the lawn
to the big house. The shadows lay long upon the short grass. “It
certainly is,” she said. “And here I have spent all day burying that
egg properly. I think it very strange that I cannot get more time for
rest and play.” So she had to eat her supper and go straight to bed to
get rested for the next day’s work.

Mrs. Tumble-bug did not understand then, and perhaps never will learn,
that if she would stop doing things in the hardest way and begin doing
them in the easiest way, she might get a great deal of work done in a
day and still have time to rest. If one were to tell her so, she might
think that meant laziness, but it would not, you know. It is always
worth while to make one’s head save one’s feet, and when a single head
could save six feet it would certainly be worth while. Still, although
Mrs. Tumble-bug never dreamed of such a thing, she probably enjoyed
work about as much as her neighbors enjoyed play.



SILVERTIP LEARNS A LESSON


You may remember what a funny time Silvertip had with the first Mouse
he caught; how he carried it so long in his mouth before daring to lay
it down, and how frightened he was each time that it wriggled. That
was because he was just beginning to hunt. Cats have to learn by doing
things over and over, just like other people. He used to hear the
Little Boy sing.

    If at first you do not try
    Try, try again.

After a while he heard him sing.

    If at first you don’t succeed
    Try, try again.

He did not understand just what this meant, but he soon knew that
Little Boys have to learn things quite as Cats do. He watched him
afterward learning to turn summersaults, and saw him do just that and
nothing else for nearly a whole afternoon.

It was in some such way that Silvertip came to be a good hunter. He
used to spend whole hours under the low branches of some evergreen,
crouching and springing at every passing bird. In summer he crawled
through the wheat-field back of the house, looking for Mice. If he
found nothing better, he caught Moles, although he never ate them. He
thought that Moles were probably made for Cats to practice on, and
that good little Cats, who did the best they could on Moles, would
find Mice to catch after a while--if they were patient.

When he could not find anything alive to hunt, he practiced on the
dead leaves which were blown over the lawn, or chased empty spools
across the kitchen floor. In the spring, when the Gentleman went out
before breakfast to work in his garden, Silvertip played with the
onion sets, chasing them down the narrow trench in which they had been
placed, until the Gentleman had to carry him off and shut him up.

This is how he became so fine a hunter, and it is perhaps not strange
that after a while he grew conceited. You know what it means to be
conceited. Well, Silvertip was so. He thought himself really the
cleverest Cat that had ever lived, a Cat who could catch anything he
tried to. He bragged to the other Cats who came around, and when he
was alone he purred to himself about the fine things he could do. Now
people who think themselves clever are not always conceited, for
sometimes they are as clever as they think. But when a person is
always thinking and talking about what he can do, you watch him to see
if he does as well as he thinks. If not, then he is conceited.

Silvertip even used to climb nearly to the top of the tall maple-trees
after Blackbirds, and crouch there, switching his tail, yet he never
caught any. When the other Cats asked him about this, he would smile,
and say that he decided not to eat any more just then, or that he had
found that Blackbirds disagreed with him. Undoubtedly these excuses
were both true, still they did not keep him from trying again and
again.

The only Blackbird he ever caught was a young one who had disobeyed
her mother and flopped away from the tangle of rosebushes where she
had been told to stay. She was dreadfully punished for it--but then it
was very wrong for her not to mind her mother. If she had stayed where
she was, the thorns would have kept Cats away.

Silvertip had been in the big house nearly a year, when Mr. Chipmunk
came to live in the yard. He chose to burrow under the open shed
which ran along by the back fence, and under which wood was piled to
dry before it was split and carried into the wood-house. He was the
first Chipmunk who had ever lived on the place, and all his new
neighbors were much interested in him.

“Shall you bring your family here?” Mr. Robin asked him, as he watched
his own children caring for themselves. Mr. Robin had worked hard all
summer, and now he was enjoying a little visiting time before starting
south.

“My family?” answered Mr. Chipmunk, with a chuckling laugh. “No,
indeed! One is company and two is crowd with Chipmunks. Of course
mothers have to live with their children for a time, but fathers
always have holes to themselves.”

Mr. Robin did not think that right, yet he kept still. He knew that it
is not always wise or polite to say all that one thinks. He thought it
was not fair to make the mothers have all the care of the children.
There is great difference in animals about this.

Mr. Chipmunk began at once to dig his burrow. He had not seen
Silvertip yet, and did not know that there was a Cat around. He began
just in front of the woodpile, and when he had enough earth loosened
to fill his cheek-pockets, he brought it out and emptied it by the
doorway of his burrow. Quite a pile was there already when Silvertip
came walking past.

“Meouw!” said he. “What sort of creature is at work here?”

Mr. Chipmunk heard his voice, and lay still in his burrow. If
Silvertip had not spoken just then, this story might end very
differently. In fact, it would probably be ended already. “A Cat!”
said he. “Well, it is always something, and it might as well be a Cat
as a Dog. He won’t be so likely to dig me out, anyway.”

After a long time he turned around, and went quietly toward the
door-way of the burrow, just far enough to see who was there. What he
saw was a white face with tiger spots and a pink nose. Long white
whiskers stuck out on either side, and the nose was twitching.
Silvertip was trying to get a good smell of the new-comer.

Mr. Chipmunk did not move, and being brown and in the darkness of the
hole, Silvertip, who stood in the sunshine, could not see him. For a
long time neither moved. Then Silvertip walked slowly away. He was not
very hungry that morning. Mr. Chipmunk always believed in keeping
still as long as possible. “If the other fellow is the larger,” said
he, “always wait to see what he is going to do. Then you can decide
better what you should do.”

After this Silvertip came often to the burrow. He learned the Chipmunk
by smell long before he saw him. When at last he did see him, Mr.
Chipmunk was perched on a low stick of wood, with his small fore paws
clasped on his breast and his beautiful fur glistening in the
sunshine. He was facing Silvertip, so the Cat did not see the five
dark stripes on his back till later.

Silvertip crouched and tried his muscles by shaking himself a little.
He did not say that it was a pleasant day, or that he was glad to
become acquainted with Mr. Chipmunk. He did not even say, “I see you
are making a new home!” He was sure this was the little creature whom
he had been smelling for several days, and he saw no use in saying
anything. He meant to eat Mr. Chipmunk, and Mr. Chipmunk understood
it. There was really nothing to be said. Mr. Chipmunk might object to
being eaten. People usually did object to it, but Silvertip saw no
sense in talking it over. He would rather have no conversation
whatever at meals than to speak of disagreeable things or to quarrel.

Mr. Chipmunk did not care to talk, either. He believed in thinking
before you speak, and he had a great deal of thinking to do just then.
A team stopped by the gate of the driveway. Mr. Chipmunk dared not
look to see what was coming. Silvertip did not look until the Milkman
was near him carrying the milk bottles. Then he gave one quick upward
glance. When he looked back, the stick of wood was there, but Mr.
Chipmunk was gone.

Silvertip was not at all happy, and he felt still worse when Mr.
Chipmunk stuck his saucy little face out of the burrow and called,
“Chip-r-r-r! Milk is better for Cats anyway, you know!” Mr. Chipmunk
did not have to stop to think when he was in his hole.

That was the beginning of the acquaintance, and a very merry one it
was for Mr. Chipmunk. “I have to be hunted anyway,” he said, “so I
might as well have some fun out of it.”

Whenever he saw Silvertip having an especially comfortable nap, he
would run near and give his chirping, chuckling laugh. Then he would
run away. Sometimes he would stand as still as a stone, with his tiny
fore paws clasped on his breast. Silvertip would creep and crawl up
close to him, and he would act too scared to move. Then, just as
Silvertip was ready to spring, he would cry out, “Chip-r-r-r!” and
tumble heels over head into his burrow.

Sometimes, too, Silvertip would be walking along as happily as
possible, not even thinking of Chipmunks, when a mischievous little
face would peep out from the woodpile just beside him. Mr. Chipmunk
would say “Good-morning!” then draw back and disappear, only to peep
out again and again from new places as the Cat came along. You know
nothing can catch a Chipmunk when he is in a woodpile. The worst of it
was that there always seemed to be so many other people around to see
how poor Silvertip was teased. You would never have thought that
Silvertip was hunting Mr. Chipmunk. It always seemed to be Mr.
Chipmunk who was hunting Silvertip.

At last Mr. Chipmunk had his burrow all done. He had made an opening
at the second end and closed the one at the first, so nobody could
tell from the pile of earth what had been happening. He said he had
crawled into the hole and pulled it in after him. The last opening,
which was now to be his only door, was under the woodpile. No rain
could fall into it and no Dog could dig at it. Mr. Chipmunk was very
happy.

He made friends with the Lady, too. She seemed to be perfectly
harmless, and she brought him a great deal of corn and many
peanuts. Sometimes he found butternuts tucked around in the woodpile,
which could not possibly have fallen from any tree. He decided that he
might come to some sort of agreement with Silvertip. He got ready for
it by being more annoying than ever. When Silvertip’s tail was
switching and his nose twitching with anger, Mr. Chipmunk peeped out
from a hollow stick in the pile and called to him.

[Illustration: MR. CHIPMUNK ON THE WOODPILE. _Page 142_]

“Silvertip!” cried he, “O Silvertip! I want to talk with you. How
would you like to be eaten up?”

There was no answer, except a murmuring under his breath that he
“guessed there wasn’t much danger.”

“Enjoy the acquaintance, do you, Silvertip?” asked Mr. Chipmunk. “Find
me a pleasant talker? Ever tell anybody that you were going to eat
me?”

Now Silvertip had told some of his friends exactly that, but this was
before he knew so much about Chipmunks. He growled something under
his breath about “Quit your teasing.”

“I will if you will quit trying to catch me,” answered Mr. Chipmunk.
“Tell your friends that you changed your mind. Tell them that I am not
to your taste. Tell them anything you wish, but let me alone and I
will let you alone.”

“All right,” said Silvertip. “Now don’t you ever speak to me again.”

“Never!” answered Mr. Chipmunk. “Walnuts couldn’t hire me to!” And
after that there was peace around the woodpile.



THE ROBINS’ DOUBLE BROOD


The Robins who nested on the west-side second-story window-ledge had
four as good children as you would care to see. They were healthy
nestlings, brought up to mind and to eat what was given to them
without fussing. If, for any reason there came a time when they had to
go without for a while, they were good-natured then also. Their
parents had raised other broods the year before, and had learned that
it is not really kind to children to spoil them.

“You must never forget,” Mrs. Robin used to say, “that your father
_is_ your father and your mother _is_ your mother. If it were not for
us, you would not be here at all, and if it were not for us you would
have nothing to eat now that you are here. Little birds should be very
thoughtful of their parents.”

When it was bedtime, and the young Robins wanted to play instead of
going to sleep, their father would often leave the high branch where
he was singing his evening song and come over to talk to them. When he
did this he did not scold, but he looked so grave that each child
listened to every word. “Your mother,” he would say, “has been busy
all day, hunting Worms for you and flying up to the nest with them.
Now she is tired, and would enjoy perching on a branch and sleeping
alone, but because that would leave you cold and lonely she is willing
to sleep in the nest and cover you with her soft feathers. Do you
think it is fair for you to keep her awake?”

Then all the little Robins would hang their heads and murmur, “No,
Father.”

“What are you going to do about it?” would be the next question. And
then the little Robins never failed to raise their heads and answer,
“We will be good and not say a word.”

Mrs. Robin often said that there would be more happy mothers in the
world if their children took as good care of them as her nestlings
took of her. “They have to be reminded,” she said, “because they are
so young, but when they have been told the right thing to do, they
always do it.” The Catbird, however, who was a very shrewd fellow,
said he thought it was not so much what their father said to them that
made them good, as what they saw him do. He was always kind to Mrs.
Robin himself, you know, and spoke gently, and left the biggest Worms
for her to eat, so his children felt sure that this was the right way.

Mrs. Robin, too, was always polite to her husband. She spoke
pleasantly of him to the children, and if he had any faults she did
not talk about them. The little Robins were certain that they had the
finest father in the world, and meant to be exactly like him when they
grew up. That is, the sons did. The daughters meant to be like their
mother.

When the little Robins’ tail-feathers were about as long as fir
needles, they were surprised to find a beautiful blue egg in the nest
beside them. “Is it for us to play with?” they asked their mother.
“Did we come out of eggs like that? Why is this here?”

Then their wise and gentle mother stood on the ledge beside the nest
and talked to them. She was a busy bird, you know, but she always said
that it took no longer to answer children’s questions than it did to
tell them over and over again to keep still.

“Each of you came out of just such an egg as that,” she said. “This
one is here because I had it ready to lay, and there was no other
good place to put it. You may play with it very carefully, and be sure
not to push it out of the nest, for then it would fall on the porch
roof and break. You may take turns lying next to it, and before long I
will lay another, so you can all be next to an egg at the same time.”

“What are you going to do with them?” asked the Oldest Nestling. “What
will become of them when we are old enough to leave the nest?”

“That is the loveliest part of it,” answered their mother. “I shall
hatch these eggs, too, and then you can have baby brothers and
sisters, perhaps both.”

“But who will take care of us?” asked the Youngest Nestling, and she
looked as though she wanted to cry when she spoke.

“Don’t you worry, little Robin,” said her mother cheerfully. “There
are always enough people to do the things which have to be done, if
they will only keep sweet and not make a fuss. We will all help each
other and everything will come out beautifully. This is the first time
I ever laid the eggs for the second brood before the first brood was
out of the nest, but we shall manage. Besides,” she added, “I believe
you are the first little Robins I ever knew who had a chance to help
hatch eggs before being grown up. Won’t that be fine?”

Mrs. Robin looked so bright and happy as she spoke that her children
were sure it was going to be great fun, and one and all chirped back,
“Oh, let’s! We’ll hatch them just as hard as we can.”

Mrs. Robin fixed them with the new egg in the middle of the nest, and
went off to help their father find dinner for them. After they had
been fed with about fifteen Worms, she laid the second egg. “That will
be all for this brood,” she said, “and perhaps it is just as well. Too
many eggs would crowd the nest.”

Then she told them what wonderful things eggs are; how what is going
to be the young bird is at first only a tiny, soft, stringy thing,
floating around inside the shell, with a ball of yellow food-stuff in
the middle of the shell and clear white stuff all around it. She told
them, too, how this little thing which is to be a bird floats on top
of the other stuff, and so is always next to the mother’s breast as
she sits over it on the nest. “It is the being warm for a long time
and all the time that changes it into a bird strong enough to break
the shell. You will remember that, won’t you,” said she, “and keep the
top side of the eggs warm when I am not here?”

All the little birds were sure that they could, and very proud to
think that she would trust them so. Perhaps if she had said, “Now,
don’t you let me catch you leaving those eggs uncovered!” they might
have murmured to each other, “What do we care about her old eggs? Let
them get cold!” It is a great pity, you know, when people in families
get to talking in that way. And the worst of it is that every time one
person speaks so, another is almost sure to answer in the same way.

Now the Robin family were all caretakers, and when Mrs. Robin flew up
with choice Worms for her children, she gave them loving glances, and
said, “You are such helpers! I don’t know how I could get along
without you.”

Mr. Robin, too, remarked every now and then that it made him happy to
see how thoughtful they were of their mother. After he had said these
things, the children always stretched themselves, so that they might
look as big as they felt.

With four growing children besides the two eggs in the nest, it soon
became very much crowded. Mr. and Mrs. Robin talked it over while
hunting in the garden, where the Hired Man was spading. After they
had fed the children whole billfuls of Worms, which they had found
wriggling there on top of the ground, Mr. Robin said: “Now, if you
will keep very still and not interrupt, I will tell you some good
news.”

When all was quiet, he said: “I shall take you out into the great
world to-morrow. I shall teach you to fly, to perch on branches, and
to hunt for yourselves.”

“Oh goody!” cried all the little Robins together. Then they remembered
how stubby their wings and tails still were, and wondered how they
could ever get to the ground. “Won’t we tumble some?” they asked
doubtfully.

“You may tumble some,” answered their father, “but isn’t it worth a
tumble to get out into the world? Mother will stay up here and finish
hatching the eggs while I am with you, and we will stay near enough
for her to see how fast you learn.”

You can imagine how excited the young Robins were then. They talked so
much that day that not one of them took a nap, and if their mother had
not insisted upon it, they would not have quieted down at sunset.

Early the next morning their parents helped them to the ground. First
they tumbled, fluttered, and sprawled to the porch roof below the
nest. Then when they had rested, they tumbled, fluttered, and sprawled
to the tops of the sweetbriar bushes underneath. There they clung
until after breakfast, while their father hunted for them and their
mother sat on the eggs above. If they had not been taught to mind, it
would have been much harder. As it was, when their parents said,
“Flutter your wings! Get ready! Fly!” they did the very best they
could at once. And that is exactly the way children must do if they
wish to grow strong and help themselves.

There never were such plump, cheerful, and obedient little Robins as
these. Their father had them stay in the lower branches of the fir
tree, within sight of the nest, and the mother watched them while he
was hunting, and called down comforting things to them. When they had
tumbles in trying to fly, she would say: “Never mind! Pick yourselves
up! Robins must tumble before they can fly. After awhile, when I have
finished hatching these eggs, you can come right up to this window
ledge and see the babies.”

Then the little Robins would try harder than ever, for they were
already proud of the babies to be hatched, since they had helped keep
the eggs warm.

Sometimes Silvertip would stroll around the corner of the house, and
Mrs. Robin would be so scared that she could hardly scream “Cat!” Yet
she always managed to do it in some way, and all the other Robins
would help her. Then the Lady, who was almost always writing or sewing
at the sitting-room window, within sight of the nest, would drop her
work and run out the nearest door, pick up Silvertip, and carry him
inside. There he would stand, with his nose pressed against the screen
and his tail switching angrily.

The Lady seemed to understand Robins. When they only cried “Trouble!”
she did not move, knowing it was something she could not help, but
when they cried, “Cat! Cat!” she always hurried out. Sometimes,
though, it was the Gentleman who came, and sometimes the Little Boy.
Mrs. Robin often said that she was sure she could never raise children
so well in any other place as here, in spite of Silvertip’s being
around.

Every day the young Robins were larger and stronger, and their
tail-feathers were better grown. When at last the joyful time came
for the two babies to chip the shell, every one of the four children
managed to get up to the window ledge to see them. It was a hard trip,
and they had to try and try again, and rest between times. They were
not all there at once, but oh, it was a happy, happy time!

The mother told the babies how their big brothers and sisters had
helped hatch them, and the father told the mother how beautifully she
had managed everything. Then the mother told him how faithfully he had
worked, and they both told the older children how proud they were of
them. Everybody said lovely things to everybody else, and the best
part of it was that all these lovely things were true.

The babies were too little to talk much, but they stretched their
necks up lovingly and sleepily to all the family, and acted as though
they really understood how many people had been loving and working for
them, even before they were hatched.



THE SPARROWS INSIDE THE EAVES


One does not like to say such things, but the English Sparrows were
very disagreeable people. And they are very disagreeable people. Also,
they always have been, and probably always will be, very disagreeable
people. They were the first birds to make trouble among neighbors
anywhere around the big house. If it had not been that the Gentleman
who lived there was so very tender-hearted, their nests would probably
have been poked down with poles long before the eggs could have been
laid in them. When Boys came around with little rifles and ugly
looking bags slung over their shoulders, they were always ordered
away and told that the Gentleman would have no shooting near his
house.

It is not strange then that the woodbine was full of Sparrows’ nests,
and that many of the evergreens also bore them in their top branches.
One had even been tucked in behind a conductor pipe, and their owners
hunted and argued and fussed all over the place. There was just one
way in which the English Sparrows were not cared for like other birds
around the big house. Silvertip was allowed to eat all that he could
catch. And you may be very sure that no Robin ever called “Cat!” when
he was ready to spring upon a Sparrow.

“It may be wrong,” said one Robin mother, “but I cannot do it. I
remember too well how they have robbed my nests and quarrelled with my
friends. I say that they must care for their own children. And if they
do not--well, so much the better for Silvertip!”

You see that the birds were not angry at Silvertip for trying to eat
them. It was all to be expected, as they knew very well. It was not
pleasant, but it had to be, just as Worms and Flies had to expect to
be eaten, unless they were clever enough to keep out of the way of
birds. Only the quickest and strongest could live, so of course all
the young ones tried hard to become quick and strong.

When Miss Sparrow, from the nest behind the conductor pipe, was old
enough to marry, she had many lovers, and that was quite natural. She
was a plump and trim-looking bird, and pretty, too, if one came close
enough to her. Her feathers were gray and brown, with a little white
and black in places. Her bill was black, and her feet were brown. She
was very careful to keep clean, and although she had to hunt food in
the mud of the street, she bathed often in fine dust and kept her
wings and tail well up. Her lovers were dressed in the same colors,
but with more decided markings.

Her parents were very clever to think of building where they did; and
because they had such a large nest and so near the eaves of the house,
they were much looked up to by the other Sparrows. They were very
proud of their home, and especially on days when the water running
down the pipe made a sweet guggle-guggle-guggling sound. Sparrows like
noise, you know, and this always amused the children and kept them
quiet on rainy days.

All the young Sparrows who were not already in love, and a few who
were, began to court Miss Sparrow as soon as it was known that she
cared to marry. This was partly on her own account, and partly because
of her distinguished family.

Some birds would have waited for their suitors to speak first about
marriage. Miss Sparrow did not. The Sparrows are not very well bred.
“Of course I am going to marry,” she said. “I am only waiting to make
up my mind whom I will choose.”

They flocked around her as she fed in the dust of the road, all
talking at once in their harsh voices. When a team passed by, and that
was not often, they flew or hopped aside at the last minute. When they
settled down again there was always a squabble to see who should be
next to Miss Sparrow. Her lovers fought with each other over choice
seeds, but they let Miss Sparrow have everything she wished. She
always seemed very cross when her lovers were around (as well as most
of the time when they were not), and often scolded and pecked at them.
Sometimes one who was not brave, and would not stand pain, flew away
and began courting somebody else.

After a while she had driven away so many that only two were left. She
flew at these, striking first one and then the other, until, brave as
they were, one went away. Then she turned to the suitor who was left
with a sweet smile. “I will marry you,” she said.

His wings were lame from her fighting him, his head smarted where she
had picked at it, and two or three small feathers were missing from
his breast. Miss Sparrow was certainly a strong bird, and he knew that
anybody who wanted her would have to stand just what he had stood. He
would have preferred to court as the Goldfinches and Wrens do, by
singing to their sweethearts, but that could not be. In the first
place, he could not sing, and in the second place she would not have
taken him until she had beaten him anyway. It would have been more fun
for him to fight some of the other birds and let the winner have her,
yet that could not be done either. If he wanted to marry, he had to
marry an English Sparrow, and if he wanted to marry an English
Sparrow he had to go about it in her way. It would have been just the
same if he had courted her sister or her cousin.

The truth is that, although the Sparrow husbands swagger and brag a
great deal and act as though they owned everything in sight, there is
not one whose wife does not order him around. Miss Sparrow would not
have taken him if she had not made sure that she could whip him.

“What do I need of a husband,” she said, “unless he will mind me? And
when I feel crosser than usual I want somebody always near and at
home, where I can treat him as I choose. That is what I care for in a
home.”

“Now,” she said, “if you are to be my husband, I will show you where
we are to build.”

Mr. Sparrow flew meekly along after her. You would be meek with lame
wings, a sore head, and three feathers off from your breast. She led
the way to the front west porch, where the syringa shoots made a
little hedge around it and a tall fir tree made good perching places
beside it.

“Where are we going to build?” asked Mr. Sparrow. He saw plenty of
good window ledges and places which would do for Robins and Phœbes
and other birds who plaster their nests. Yet he did not see a single
corner or big crack where a Sparrow’s nest could be made to hold
together.

“I will show you,” answered Mrs. Sparrow. She perched on the top of a
porch column and looked up at a small round hole nearly over her head.
It was the place where a conductor pipe had once run through the
cornice. Now the pipe had been taken away and the opening was left.
She gave an upward spring and flutter and went straight up through
the hole. “Come up!” she cried in the most good-natured way. “Come up!
This is the best place I ever saw. Our nest will be all hidden, and no
large bird or Squirrel can possibly get in. The rain can never fall on
it, and on cold days we shall be warm and snug.”

She did not ask him what he thought of it, and he did not expect her
to. So he just said, “It is a most unusual place.”

“That is what I think,” she replied. “Very unusual, and I would not
build in the woodbine like some Sparrows. No, indeed! One who has been
brought up in style beside a water-pipe, as I was, could never come
down to woodbine. It should not be expected.”

“I’m sure it was not, my dear,” said her husband.

“Very well,” said she. “Since you like this place so much, we may as
well call it settled and keep still about it until we are ready to
build.”

Mr. Sparrow had not said that he liked it, yet he knew better than to
tell her so. If he did, she might leave him even now for one of her
other lovers. He really dreaded getting out through that hole, and let
her go while he watched her. She went head first, clinging to the
rough edges of the hole with both feet, let go with one, hung and
twisted around until she was headed right, then dropped and flew away.
Mr. Sparrow did the same, but he did not like it.

After a while they began nest-building, and all the straws, sticks,
and feathers had to be dragged up through the little round doorway to
the nest. Mrs. Sparrow did most of the arranging, while her husband
flew in and out more than a hundred times a day. She was a worker. Any
bird will tell you that. Still, you know, there are different ways of
working. Some of the people who do the most work make the least fuss.
Mrs. Sparrow was not one of these. When she did a thing, she wanted
everybody to know it, and since her building-place was hidden she
talked all the more to Mr. Sparrow.

“I am going to have a large nest,” she said. “So bring plenty of
stuff. Bring good things, too,” she added. “You have brought two
straws already that were really dirty, and this last stick isn’t fit
to use. I will push it back into a corner.”

Mr. Sparrow would have liked to tell her what hard work his was, and
ask her to use things he brought, even if they were not quite what she
wanted. He was too wise for this, however, so he flew out and pitched
into another Sparrow who was getting straws for his wife. He tried to
steal his straw, and they fought back and forth until their wives came
to see what was the matter and began fighting also. When they stopped
at last, the straw had been carried away by a Robin, so neither had
it. But they had had a lovely, loud, rough fight, and Sparrows like
that even better than straw, so they all felt good-natured again.

Twice Mrs. Sparrow decided to move her nest a little this way or a
little that, and such a litter as she made when doing it! Some of the
best sticks fell down through the doorway, and the Lady swept them off
the porch. Then Mrs. Sparrow scolded her. She was not afraid of a
Lady. “She might have left them there,” she said. “I would have had my
husband pick them up soon. Yesterday she had the Maid put some of her
own horrid chairs and tables out here while they were cleaning, and I
never touched them.”

Mr. Sparrow flew up with a fine Turkey feather. “It came from the
Lady’s duster,” he said. “I think it will give quite an air to your
nest.”

“Excellent!” cried his wife. “Just wait until I get ready for it.” He
clung patiently by one foot to the doorway. When that was tired he
changed to the other. When that was tired he perched on the top of the
column. He was very hungry, and he saw some grain dropped from a
passing wagon.

“Hurry up, my dear!” he called. “It is past my dinner-time already.”

“Wait until supper then,” cried his wife. “As if I hadn’t enough to do
without thinking about your dinner! Don’t let go of it or it will be
blown away.”

Then Mr. Sparrow lost his temper. He stuck that feather into a crack
near by, and flew softly away to eat some grain. He thought he might
be back in time to carry in the feather and his wife never know where
he had been. Unfortunately, he got to talking and did not hear his
wife call him.

“Mr. Sparrow!” said she. “_Mr. Sparrow!_ I am ready for that
feather.”

When he did not answer, she put her head out of the doorway. There was
the Turkey feather stuck into a crack, and in the road beyond was her
husband eating happily with several of his friends. She looked very
angry and opened her bill to speak. Then she changed her mind and flew
quietly off the other way. She went straight to the Horse-block, where
another old suitor was, the one who had come so near winning her. “Mr.
Sparrow has disobeyed me,” she said, “and is actually eating his
dinner when he should be waiting by the nest to help me. I believe
that I ought to have married you, but better late than never. Come
now.”

This was how it happened that when Mr. Sparrow’s stomach was quite
full, and he suddenly remembered his work, he flew back and found the
Turkey feather gone. In the eaves overhead he heard Mrs. Sparrow
telling somebody else what to do. He tried to force his way up there.
Every time he was shoved back, and not very gently either.

“You might better look for another home,” said Mrs. Sparrow’s voice.
“I have found another husband, one who will help me as I wish.
Good-by.”

That was the ending of Mr. Sparrow’s first marriage. It was a very sad
affair, and the birds talked of nothing else for a long time
afterward. Some said that it served him exactly right, because he
married to get into a fine family, when there were dozens of Sparrow
daughters much prettier and nicer than the one he chose. There may
have been something in this, for certainly if Mrs. Sparrow had not
been so sure of finding another to take his place, she would not have
turned him out in the way she did. It is said, however, that her
second husband had a hard life of it.



A RAINY DAY ON THE LAWN


When the sun rose, that morning late in April, he tried and tried to
look at the big house and see what was happening. All he could see was
a thick gray cloud veil stretched between him and the earth, and,
shine as hard as he might, not a single sunbeam went through that
veil.

When the Blackbirds awakened, they found a drizzling rain falling, and
hurried on their waterproofs to get ready for a wet time. Blackbirds
are always handsome, yet they never look better than when it rains.
They coat their feathers with oil from the pockets under their tails,
as indeed all birds do, and then they fly to the high branches of some
tall and swaying tree and talk and talk and talk and talk. They do
not get into little groups and face each other, but scatter themselves
around and face the wind. This is most sensible, for if one of them
were to turn his back to the wind, it would rumple up his feathers and
give the raindrops a chance to get down to his skin. When they speak,
or at least when they have anything really important to say, they
ruffle their own feathers and stand on tip-toe, but they ruffle them
carefully and face the wind all the time.

When the Robins opened their round eyes, they chirped cheerfully to
each other and put on their waterproofs. “Good weather for us,” they
said. “It will make fine mud for plastering our new nests, and it will
bring out the Worms.”

The English Sparrows, Goldfinches, and other seed-eaters were not made
happy by the rain. With them it was only something to be borne
patiently and without complaining. The Hummingbirds found fewer
fresh blossoms open on cloudy days, and so had to fly farther and work
harder for their food. The Pewees and other fly-catchers oiled their
feathers and kept steadily at work.

[Illustration: “O MOTHER, IT IS RAINING!” _Page 175_]

The birds had not awakened so early as usual, because it was darker.
They had hardly got well started on their breakfast before a sleepy
little face appeared at the window of the big house and a sleepy
little voice called out: “O Mother, it is raining! I didn’t want it to
rain.”

“Foolish! Foolish! Foolish!” chirped the Robins on the lawn. “Boys
would know better than to say such things if they were birds.”

“Boys are a bother, anyway,” said an English Sparrow, as he spattered
in the edge of a puddle. “I wish they had never been hatched.”

“Ker-eeeee!” said a Blackbird above his head. “I suppose they may be
of some use in the world. I notice that the Gentleman and the Lady
seem to think a great deal of this one, and they are a very good sort
of people.”

“I’d like them better if they didn’t keep a Cat,” said his brother.
“Their Cat is the greatest climber I ever saw. He came almost to the
top of this maple after me yesterday, and I have seen him go clear to
the eaves of the big house on the woodbine.”

“That is because the Sparrows live there,” said Mr. Wren. “He went to
see their children. Silvertip says that he is very fond of
children--they are so much more tender than their parents.” Mr. Wren
could laugh about this because his own children were always safely
housed. Besides, you know, he had reason to dislike Sparrows.

“I would not stay here,” said a Sparrow who had just come up, “if the
people here were not of the right sort. They have mountain ash trees
and sweetbrier bushes where birds find good feeding. And in the winter
that Boy throws out bread crumbs and wheat for us.”

“Humph!” said the Oldest Blackbird. “There is no need of talking so
much about it. You can always tell what sort of people live in a place
by seeing if they have a bird-house. If they have, and it is a
sensible one, where a bird could live comfortably, they are all
right.”

After that the birds worked more and talked less, for the Oldest
Blackbird, while he was often grumpy and sometimes cross, was really a
very sensible bird, and what he had said was true. The Robins went
here and there over the lawn in quick, short runs, pausing once in a
while with their heads bent forward and then pulling up choice Worms
to eat. Some of their mouthfuls were half as long as they, but that
was not rude in Robins. What they insist on in bringing up their
children is that mouthfuls should not be too broad, and that they
should not stop swallowing until all the Worm is out of sight.

The Blackbirds hunted in a more dignified way. They never ran after
food, or indeed after anything else. “If walking is not fast enough,”
the Blackbird mothers say, “then fly, but do not run.” They walked in
parties over the lawn and waggled their heads at each step. When they
found Grubs they did not appear greedy, yet never a Grub escaped.

“There are two ways of hurrying,” they often said. “One is the jerky
way and the other is our way, of being sure and steady. Of course our
way is the better. You will see that we do just as much and make less
fuss.”

Silvertip came to the edge of the porch and looked around. He was
licking his lips, and every bird on the lawn was happy to see that,
for it meant that he had just finished his breakfast. His eyes
gleamed and his tail waved stiffly as he saw the fat Robins so near.
He even crouched down and took four short steps, quivering his body
and trying his muscles. Then he remembered how wet the grass was and
turned back with a long sigh. After all, his stomach was full and he
could afford to wait until the grass was dry. The Robins would be
there then, and if they kept on eating Worms at this rate, they would
be growing plump and juicy all the time. He began to lick himself all
over, as every truly tidy Cat does after eating. By the time he had
finished the tip of his tail he was sleepy, so he went into the
kitchen and dozed by the fire.

The front door opened with a bang, and the Little Boy stood there,
shouting and waving a piece of red paper with a string tied to it.
“See my kite!” he cried. “Whee-ee-ee!”

Five birds who had been feeding near flew off in wild alarm. “Now why
did he do that?” asked one, after they had settled down elsewhere.
Nobody answered. None but Little Boys understand these things, and
even they do not always tell.

The Lady came to the door behind him and helped him start away. He
proudly carried a small new umbrella, and the precious kite fluttered
out behind him. When he was outside the gate, he peeped through it and
called back: “Good-by, Mother! I’m going to school to learn everyfing.
I’ll be a good Boy. Good-by!” Then he ran down the walk with the
umbrella held back over his shoulder and the rain falling squarely in
his face. All that the birds could see of the Little Boy then was his
fat legs bobbing along below the umbrella.

“There!” said all the birds together. “There! Silvertip is asleep and
the Little Boy has gone to school. Now we can take comfort.”

       *       *       *       *       *

When the morning was nearly past, and the birds felt so safe that they
had grown almost careless, Silvertip wakened and felt hungry. He
walked slowly out of the kitchen door and looked at the grass. The sun
was now shining, and it was no longer sparkling with tiny drops. He
crept down the steps and around to a place under a big spruce tree,
the lower branches of which lay along the ground. A fat Robin was
hunting near by.

Silvertip watched her hungrily, and if you were a Cat you might have
done exactly the same thing. So you must not blame Silvertip. He was
creeping, creeping, creeping nearer, and never looking away from her,
when the Little Boy came tramping across the grass. He had come in by
the gate of the driveway, and was walking straight toward Silvertip,
who neither saw nor heard him.

Then the Little Boy saw what was happening, and dropped his bright
paper chain on the grass beside him. “G’way!” he cried, waving his
umbrella. “G’way! Don’t you try to eat any birds ’round here. My
father doesn’t ’low it. G’way! G’way! Else I’ll tell my mother that
you are a _bad_ Cat.”

Silvertip fled under the porch, the Robin flew up onto the snowball
bush, and all around the birds sang the praises of the good Little Boy
with the umbrella. But the Little Boy didn’t know this. He stood by
the porch and dangled his pretty paper chain until Silvertip forgave
him and came out to play. Then they ran together into the house, and
the birds heard him shouting, “Mother! Mother! Where are you? I want
to give Silvertip some cream. He is so very hungry that he most had to
eat up a Robin, only I wouldn’t let him.”



THE PERSISTENT PHŒBE


It is not often that a Phœbe will nest anywhere except near running
water, and nobody but the Phœbes themselves will ever know why this
pair chose to build under a porch of the big house. When they came
there on their wedding trip the other birds supposed that they were
only visiting, and it was not until a Catbird heard them discussing
different porches that any one really believed they might come there
to live.

Mrs. Phœbe was eager to begin at once, and could not pass a soft
bit of moss or an unusually good blade of grass without stopping to
look it over and think how she could weave it in. “I see no use in
waiting,” said she. “I know just as much about building now as I
shall after a while, and I should like a home of my own. It makes my
bill fairly tingle to see all these fine grasses and mosses waiting to
be used. And the worst of it is,” she added, “that if we wait, some
other bird may get them instead.”

Mr. Phœbe wanted to think it over a little longer. He was older
than his wife and had been married before. “Phœbe!” he would
exclaim. “Wait a day. You know we are building by a house to please
you, now wait one more day to please me.”

That, you see, was quite right and perfectly fair, for it is _not_
fair for one person to decide everything in a family, and it was right
for the wife to wait as long as she could. She could not, of course,
wait many days, for there were eggs to be laid, and when it was time
for them, the nest had to be ready. Mr. Phœbe knew this and wasted
no time.

“We cannot build on a rock,” said he, “because there are no rocks
here, and we cannot build under a bridge because there is no bridge
here. My other wife and I lived under a bridge.” Then he stood silent
for a long time and looked down at his black feet. When he spoke of
his first wife he always seemed sad. The second Mrs. Phœbe had not
liked this at first, but he was so good and kind to her, and let her
have her own way so much more than some husbands would, that she had
begun to feel happier about it.

There is reason to think that she chose an unusual nesting-place just
to see how far she could coax him out of his old ways. Perhaps, too,
she thought that there would be less in such a place to remind him of
his first wife. Another thing which had made her come to feel
differently was remembering that if he died or left her she would
marry again. Then, you know, she might want to think and talk about
her first husband.

She was very proud of him, and watched him as he stood thinking. His
upper feathers were deep brown, his under ones a dingy white, and the
outer edges of some of his tail-feathers were light colored. His most
beautiful features were his black bill and feet and the crest which he
could raise on the top of his head. Mrs. Phœbe had the same
coloring as her husband, yet she always insisted that he was the
better looking of the two, while he insisted, as a good and wise
husband should, that she was by far the handsomer.

Now Mr. Phœbe was speaking. “We have decided to build on this
house,” said he, “and under a porch. Still, there are four large ones
and we must find out which is the best. You feed on the shady side and
I will feed on the sunny side of the house. Then we shall see how much
these people use their porches.”

“I’ll do it,” answered his wife, “but isn’t it a pity that there are
people living in this house? It would be so much pleasanter if it
were empty.”

Mrs. Phœbe perched on a maple branch on the shady side and watched
two porches. She thought she would like the front one the better, and
had already chosen her window ledge, when she noticed a pair of
English Sparrows dragging straws and feathers toward it and
disappearing inside the cornice. “Not there,” she said firmly, as she
clutched the branch even more tightly with her pretty black feet. “I
will not have quarrelsome neighbors, and I could never bring our
children up to be good if the young Sparrows were always near, showing
them how to be naughty.” Then she darted after a Fly, caught and
swallowed him, and was back on her perch.

“I wonder how the back one would do?” she said. “There are no steps
leading to it, and those sweetbrier bushes all around it would keep
Boys from climbing onto the railing.”

She flew near and saw the Maid kneading bread by one window. A door
stood open into the big kitchen, and through two other windows she
could look into a pleasant dining-room. “I wouldn’t mind that,” she
said. “If I have plenty to eat myself, I would just as soon see other
people eating. We like different things anyway. I dare say those
people never tasted an insect in their lives and do not even know the
flavor of a choice Fly.” Then she swallowed a careless Bug who had
mistaken her for an English Sparrow and flown when he should have
stayed hidden. Mrs. Phœbe was much interested in the nest, but not
so much as to let an insect escape. Oh, never so much as that!

Mr. Phœbe watched the back porch on his side. Some Robins were
building on a window-ledge there, which he thought exceeding
imprudent. But then he was not surprised, for everybody knows how
careless Robins are. That is why so many of them have to leave their
nests--because they are built where no nest should be. Mr. Phœbe
could tell at a glance that no bird should build there. Woodbine
climbed over the pillars and fell in a thick curtain from the cornice,
and beside the door stood a saucerful of milk. “That means a Cat,”
said he, “a Cat who stays on this porch most of the time and always
comes here when he is hungry. And when he tires of milk he will climb
up that woodbine and finish with young Robin. Or, perhaps,” he added,
“I should say that he will finish _a_ young Robin.”

The front porch on his side was sunshiny and quiet, but there was the
woodbine again, and with the Cat so near. He next looked at the
portico over the front door. Under the roof of this was a queer shiny,
thin thing with a loop of black thread hanging down in it. He tried to
get the thread, but only hit and hurt his bill against the shiny,
thin stuff. Then he remembered seeing a bright light in it the night
before when he had been awakened by a bad dream. “That will never do,”
he said. “It is not good for children to sleep with a light near. One
would want to be catching insects there, too,” he added, “when he
should be sleeping. There must be many drawn by the light.”

So it ended in the couple building under the dining-room porch on the
shelf-like top of a column. Mrs. Phœbe chose this instead of a
window-ledge because from here she could look into the window while
brooding her eggs. “You may laugh at me all you choose,” said she to
her husband, “for I did wish the house empty. Since it cannot be,
however, I might as well see what the people in it do.”

“I was not laughing, my dear,” answered her husband meekly (you
remember that he had been married before). “I was only smiling with
pleasure at our fine nest. You have so much taste in arranging
grasses!”

That was the way in which the Phœbes began housekeeping. It was not
always easy, sitting on the nest day after day as Mrs. Phœbe had
to, with only a chance now and then to stretch her tired legs. She was
even glad that people lived in the house. “It gives me something to
think about,” said she, “although I do get much out of patience with
them sometimes. Much they know about bringing up children! That Boy of
theirs eats only three times a day. How can they ever hope to raise
him unless he eats more? Now, I expect to feed my children all the
time, and that is the way to do.” Here she darted away to catch a Fly
who came blundering along.

“It’s a good thing for that Fly that I got him,” she said, smilingly.
“It saved him from being caught in the Spider’s web over there, and I
am sure it is much pleasanter to be swallowed whole by a polite
Phœbe than to be nibbled at by a horrid Spider.”

Mr. Phœbe sometimes brought her a dainty morsel, but he spent much
of his time by the hydrant. “There is not much chance to bathe,” he
said, as he wallowed around in the little pool beside it, “but it is
something to smell water. You know we Phœbes like to fly in and out
of ponds and rivers, even when we cannot stop for a real bath.” His
favorite perch was on the top of a tall pole covered with cinnamon
vine, in the flower garden. Here he would sit for a whole morning at a
time, darting off now and then for an insect, but always returning to
the same place and position. He did not even face the other way for a
change.

The little Phœbes were hatched much like other birds, and were
about as good and about as naughty as children usually are. Mrs.
Phœbe was positive that they were remarkable in every way. Mr.
Phœbe, having raised other broods, did not think them quite so
wonderful, although he admitted that there was not another nestling on
the place to compare with them. “Still,” as he would modestly remark,
“we must remember that we are the only Phœbes here, and that it is
not fair to compare them with the young of other birds. You could not
expect our neighbors’ children to be as bright as they.”

Unfortunately there were only two little Phœbes, so each parent
could give all his time to one. The mother cared for the son and the
father for the daughter. When it was time for them to learn to catch
their own Flies, these children did not want to do so. The father made
his daughter learn, in spite of the fuss she made. He gave her his old
perch on the cinnamon-vine pole, and told her that she must try to
catch every insect that flew past. This was after she had been out of
the nest several days, and had learned to use her feet and wings.

“If you do not,” he said, “I shall not feed you anything.” When she
pouted her bill, he paid no attention to it, and she soon stopped.
There is no use in pouting, you know, unless somebody is looking at
you and wishing that you wouldn’t. Perhaps it was because he had
brought up children before that Mr. Phœbe was so wise.

Mrs. Phœbe meant to be very firm also, but when her son whimpered
and said that he couldn’t, he knew he couldn’t, catch a single one,
and that he was sure he would tumble to the ground if he tried it, she
always felt sorry for him and said: “Perhaps you can to-morrow.” Then
she would catch food for him again.

This is how it happened that, day after day, a plump and strong young
Phœbe sat on a branch of the syringa bush and let his tired mother
feed him. At last his father quite lost patience and interfered. “My
dear,” he said to his wife, “I will be with our son to-day, and you
may have a rest.”

“You are very kind,” she replied, “but he is so used to having me that
I think I might better----”

“I said,” interrupted her husband, “that I would be with our son
to-day. I advise you to fly away with our daughter and show her
something of the world.” Mrs. Phœbe did not often hear him speak in
that tone of voice. When he did, she always agreed with him.

As soon as father and son were alone, the father said: “Now you are
going to catch Flies before sunset. You have let your poor mother
nearly work her feathers off for you. (Of course, feathers do not come
off so, but this was his way of speaking.) She is very tired, and you
are not to act like this again. There comes a Fly. Catch him!”

The young Phœbe made a wild dash, missed his Fly, and came back to
the syringa bush whimpering. “I knew I couldn’t,” he said. “I tried as
hard as I could, but he flew away.”

“Yes,” said his father. “You tried once, just once. You may have to
try a hundred times before you catch one, but that is no reason why
you should not try. Go for that Mosquito.”

The son went, and missed him, of course. This time he knew better than
to talk about it. He just flew back to his perch and looked miserable.

“I think you got a little nearer to this one,” said his father. “Go
for that Fly!”

The young Phœbe was kept darting here and there so often that he
had no time to be sulky. Indeed, if people have to keep moving quite
fast, they soon forget to want to be sulky. At last he was surprised
by his father’s tucking a very delicious Bluebottle down his throat.
“Just for a lunch,” he explained. “Now try for that one.”

The son made a sudden lurch and flight, and actually caught him. It
was a much smaller Fly than the one which his father had fed him, but
it tasted better. He swallowed it as slowly as he could, so as to feel
it going down as long as possible. Then he began to be happier. “Watch
me catch that Mosquito,” he said. And when he missed him, as he did,
he made no fuss at all--only said: “I’ll get the next one!” When he
missed that he simply said: “Well, I’ll get the next one, anyhow!”

And he did.

All day long he darted and failed or darted and succeeded, and more
and more often he caught the insect instead of missing him.

When the long shadows on the lawn showed that sunset was near, his
mother and sister came back. His mother had a delicious morsel for
him to eat. “Open your bill very wide,” she said, “you poor, tired,
hungry child.”

He did open his bill, because a Phœbe can always eat a little more
anyway, but he did not open it until he had said: “Why, I’m not much
tired, and I am not really hungry at all. You just ought to see me
catch Flies!”

You can imagine how surprised his mother was. And in the tall fir tree
near by he heard a Blackbird say something in a hoarse voice about a
persistent Phœbe. But that didn’t make much difference, because,
you see, he didn’t know what “persistent” meant, and if he had known
he could not have told whether the Blackbird was talking about him or
about his father. Could you have told, if you had been a Phœbe?



THE SAD STORY OF THE HOG CATERPILLAR


THE grape-vines on the trellis were carefully pruned and tended, but
that did not prevent a few Hog Caterpillars of the Vine from making
their home upon them. There were a number of other Hog Caterpillars on
the place, and all expected to be Hawk Moths when they grew up.
Sometimes they thought and talked too much about this, and planned too
far ahead. They might better have thought more about being the best
kind of Caterpillars. For sometimes, when they were telling what great
things they would do by-and-by, they forgot to do exactly as they
should just then.

None of them knew when they got their name. Somebody who noticed their
small heads and very smooth, fat, and puffy-looking bodies must have
begun it. Perhaps, too, this person thought that the queer little
things sticking upward and backward from the end of their bodies
looked like the tail of a Hog. Those who lived on grape-vines were
called Hog Caterpillars of the Vine. Then, when their friends spoke of
them, people knew at once to what family they belonged.

If you were to look closely at a Hog Caterpillar of the Vine, you
would think him handsome. He has seven reddish spots along the middle
of his back, every one set in a patch of pale yellow. On each side you
would see a long green stripe with white edges, and below this you
would find seven slanting white ones.

When these Hog Caterpillars of the Vine were hatched, they were very,
very tiny, and had to feed and rest and change their skins over and
over, just as all Caterpillars must. Of course when they changed their
skins, they had nobody to help them, because their parents were Hawk
Moths and never bothered with the care of children. They believed that
Caterpillars should help themselves. “They will have plenty of time to
play when they are grown up,” the Hawk Moths said, “and it is much
better for children to have to change their own skins. If they do
that, they will be more careful of their new ones, when they get
them.”

There is a great deal in the way a child is brought up, and no
Caterpillar ever says, “I can’t do this;” or, “Somebody must help me
get off my old skin, so there!” No indeed! Caterpillars help
themselves and make no fuss at all.

This is not saying that they have no faults. It just means that this
fault was not one of theirs. Perhaps their worst fault was bragging
about what they were going to do. It was either that or carelessness,
and every now and then some one of them would be dreadfully punished.
With so many hungry birds around, Caterpillars should be very careful.
One of those on the grape-vines laughed at a Robin for being afraid of
Silvertip. Of course he did not expect to be heard by any except his
relatives. He was, though, and as soon as Silvertip had walked off,
the Robin came back and hunted for him and ate him. He was very, very
sorry for his rudeness, and tried to wriggle out of it, when the Robin
spoke about it, but he should have remembered sooner. “I laughed
before I thought,” he said. “I’ll never do it again. Never! Never!”

“Say nothing more about it,” answered the Robin, who was noted for his
polite ways; “I am very sure you won’t.” Then he swallowed him while
he was talking. The Catbird said that the Robin took in all that the
Caterpillar was saying, but the other birds didn’t quite understand
what he meant by that.

The oldest Hog Caterpillar of the Vine was always reckless. He would
feed in plain sight in the sunshine if he wanted to, and he was
forever telling what a fine Hawk Moth he expected to be. “If a bird
comes after me,” he would say, “I will just let go of the leaf and
fall to the ground in a little round bunch. I can lie so quietly in
the grass that he will never see me.” He looked so haughty when saying
this that none of his relatives dared to say a word, although a pretty
young one wept quietly under her grape-leaf. He had been very
attentive to her, and she wanted to marry him after they had changed
into Moths. Such plans, you know, might be sadly upset by a hungry and
sharp-sighted bird.

Yet birds were not the only people to fear. The Ichneumon Wasps and
their cousins the Braconids were always flying around and looking for
fat and juicy Caterpillars, and many a promising young fellow had been
pounced upon by them. They were so much smaller and more quiet than
the birds that they were really much more to be feared. His friends
and relatives used to tell the oldest Hog Caterpillar to keep hidden
from them, but he paid no attention. “Do you suppose,” said he, “that
a fine fellow like me is going to sneak under leaves for a slender
Ichneumon or a little Braconid? Not I!”

So it is not surprising that when a mother Braconid came along one
day, looking for a good place to lay eggs, she saw him busily eating
in the sunshine. He had just taken the sixth mouthful from an
especially fine leaf when she alighted on him. “Don’t move!” she said.
“Your position is exactly right. Keep perfectly still and I shall soon
be through.”

The Hog Caterpillar of the Vine understood every word she said, but he
moved as fast as he could. Unfortunately, you know, his legs were all
on the under side of his body, and were so stubby that he could not
reach up to push her away. He did rub up against a leaf and brush her
off for a minute, but she was right back and talking to him again.

“You are very foolish to make such a fuss,” she said. “You might
better keep still and get it over. I have decided on you, and you
can’t help yourself. Now hold still!”

There was only one other thing left for the poor Hog Caterpillar of
the Vine to do. He let go of the grape leaf and fell to the ground. He
had hardly struck it, however, when the Braconid was on his back. “No
more nonsense,” said she sternly. “You really make me quite out of
patience, and I shall not wait any longer. I want to get my eggs laid
and have some time for play.”

Then she ran her ovipositor, which is the tube through which insects
lay their eggs, into his fat back and slipped an egg down through it.
How it did hurt! The poor Hog Caterpillar of the Vine squirmed with
pain, and all the Braconid said was: “It would be much easier for me
if you would lie quietly. Still, I am used to working under
difficulties.... You won’t mind it so after a while.” Then she drew
out her ovipositor, stuck it into another place, and laid another egg.

Before she left him, the Braconid had laid thirty-five eggs in his
body, and the Hog Caterpillar of the Vine was so tired with pain and
anger that he could hardly move. Of the two, perhaps the anger tired
him the more. He had time to do a great deal of thinking before he
climbed onto the vine again. “I will be more careful after this,” he
said, “but I guess there isn’t any need of telling the other fellows
what has happened. None of them were around when that dreadful
Braconid came.”

When he was up on the vine again, one of his relatives said: “You look
sick. What is the matter?” And he answered: “Oh, I am rather tired.
Guess this skin is getting too tight.”

The next day he felt quite well, but as time went on he grew worse and
worse. He ate a great deal, yet he did not grow as he should, and the
other Hog Caterpillars of the Vine began to talk about it. The truth
was, you know, that the Braconid’s thirty-five eggs had all hatched,
and her children were eating up the poor Hog Caterpillar of the Vine.
They were fat little Worms then, and when they were old enough to spin
cocoons, they cut thirty-five tiny doors in his skin and spun their
cocoons on the outside.

Then all his relatives and friends knew what was the matter with him,
for wherever he went he had to carry on his back and sides thirty-five
beautiful little shining white cocoons. He did not think them
beautiful, yet they were, and the Braconid mother looked at them with
great pride as she flew past.

“I should like to see them cut off the tiny round lids of their
cocoons,” she said, “and fly away, but I suppose I shall not be around
then. It is very hard not to have the pleasure of bringing up one’s
own children. Yet I suppose it is better for them, and one must not be
selfish.” She flew away with a very good, almost too good, look on her
face.

The Hog Caterpillar of the Vine was so tired that he died--what there
was left of him. Really the Braconid babies had eaten most of him
before spinning their cocoons. The only truly happy people around were
the Braconid children, who came out strong and active the next day.

This is all a very, very sad story. It is true, though, and it had to
be written, because there may still be some Hog Caterpillars of the
Vine, or perhaps some other people, who will not take advice about
what they should do, and so they come to trouble.



THE CAT AND THE CATBIRD


It was late in the fall when Silvertip came to live in the big house,
and he was then a very small kitten. All through the winter which
followed, he was the pet of the Gentleman and the Lady, of the Maid,
and of the people who came there to visit. He liked the Gentleman best
and showed it very plainly, but that was only right, for it was the
Gentleman, you know, who first brought him into the house.

At night he slept on a red cushion in a basket in the kitchen, except
when he made believe catch Mice with a spool for a Mouse. Sometimes,
when the other people were in bed, they could hear him running and
jumping out there and having the finest kind of a time all by
himself. During the days he spent most of his time on a red
lamb’s-wool rug under a desk where the Lady kept her typewriter. He
thought the desk must be a Cathouse, for the room under it was just
large enough and just high enough to suit him, and there were walls on
three sides to make it warmer. He did not see why the Lady should sit
down at it nearly every day and thump-thump-thump on the queer-looking
little machine which she kept upstairs in this house. When she did
this he had to move farther back on his rug, and it bothered him to do
so when he was sleepy.

Sometimes, when he had been really awakened by the
thump-thump-thumping of the machine and the ringing of the little bell
on it, he would jump up behind it. Then he would peep over its top at
the Lady and chew the paper which stuck out in his face until he was
gently lifted or pushed away. Sometimes he sat by the side of it, and
then he would watch the little bell ringing until he learned to put up
one tiny white paw and ring it himself. After he had watched and
played in this way for a while, he would lie on the high part of the
desk, over where the drawers were, and sleep again. Yet he was never
too sleepy to pat with his paws every printed sheet which the Lady
took from the machine, or to play with every clean white one which she
fastened into it. He liked the white ones the better and didn’t see
why the Lady wanted to mark them all up so. Still, he thought it was
probably her way of playing, so it didn’t matter.

Sometimes, when she seemed tired, the Lady would bend over and put her
face down against his back and call him “her little collaborator.” He
did not know what that big word meant. He thought it might be
something about his tail. They were both interested in tales.

When the Lady was writing on her lap in the funny way that Ladies
sometimes have, he would cuddle down under her portfolio and sleep.
For these things he liked her, but she would hardly ever take time to
play with him. So, when he heard the latch-key rattle in the front
door, he listened, and if it were the Gentleman’s step which he heard,
he ran to the hall door and waited with his little pink nose to the
crack until the Gentleman came in. Then what romps they would have!
Back and forth from one room to another, with balls, spools tied onto
the most charming strings, and even yardsticks and tape-measures, and
things taken from the Lady’s sewing-stand.

He liked the Maid, too. She was always kind to him, although she did
shut him up one day when he stole a silvery little sardine from the
table. She would not let him have anything but milk to eat until he
was nearly grown-up. Whenever he smelled a roast or a fine juicy
steak he would beg as hard as he knew how, but not one taste did he
ever get until he had lost all his Kitten-teeth and his Cat-teeth were
growing in. When he was older and knew more about life, he understood
that this was to keep him from swallowing a loose tooth with a
mouthful of meat, and that Kittens who are given all sorts of food are
very likely to do this and bring on fits. You can just imagine what
trouble it would make to have a sharp tooth get into a Kitten’s
stomach.

This was probably the reason, too, why Silvertip grew so very large
and handsome. At Christmas time he was given a red ribbon to wear
around his neck, red being very becoming to his complexion. He did not
care very much for the ribbon, though, and went off into a corner and
scratched at it with his hind feet until it came off. Then he chewed
it into a wet wisp and left it.

This was Silvertip’s life during that first winter. Sometimes on
sunshiny days he sat out on the kitchen porch, and once in a while he
sunned himself on the broad rail of one of the front porches. Whatever
he wanted he had, except, of course, some kinds of food, which he
ought not to have anyway. Nobody was ever cross to him and many people
were doing things to make him happy. He had yet to learn that this
could not last forever.

When spring came he lived more out of doors, and followed the Hired
Man around barn and woodshed. He went into the ice-house once, but
found that too cold. In these places he saw his first Mice. He will
never forget the very first one which he caught. It was just at supper
time and he brought it into the kitchen. He could not understand why
the Maid should scream and act so queerly. He thought perhaps she
wanted it herself.

Whenever the Mouse wriggled or flirted its tail into his eyes he
jumped backward. It scared him dreadfully, but he would not let go.
Instead of that he would walk backward two or three times around the
kitchen range. He wanted to lay the Mouse down and play with it, only
he did not know just how to go about it. He tried to have the Maid
help him, but every time he went to lay it at her feet she jumped into
a chair. At last she called for the Lady. Then the Lady came out and
laughed at both of them. How it ended nobody but Silvertip knows, for
he walked around the kitchen with it in his mouth until late in the
evening, and the next morning there was not a sign of it to be found.

It was this spring, too, that he became acquainted with the Catbird.
He heard a queer Cat-like voice saying “Zeay! Zeay!” many times, and
yet could never find the Cat to whom it belonged. “Come out here!” he
would cry. “Come out here, and we will make believe fight!” When no
Cat came he couldn’t understand it. He had already become acquainted
with many Cats in the neighborhood, and whenever one came to call they
made believe fight. It was their favorite game. They would sit around
and glare at each other and growl a whole day at a time. So Silvertip
could not understand a Cat who said “Zeay!” instead of “Meouw!” and
would not fight.

One morning when Silvertip was sitting on the back porch, a slender
gray bird, with black crown, tail, bill, and feet, perched on the
woodbine over his head and said, “Zeay!” It sounded as though somebody
in the little apple-tree had said it, but Silvertip was looking at the
bird and saw him open and shut his bill.

“Pht!” said Silvertip, as he began to let his tail and the hair along
his back bristle. “Pht! Don’t you dare to mock me!”

“Zeay!” answered the bird. “Zeay! Zeay!”

“I don’t say it just that way, anyhow,” said Silvertip; “so quit!”

“Zeay!” answered the bird.

“I am the Cat who belongs here,” said Silvertip. “You quit mocking me
or go away!”

“Zeay!” replied the bird, putting his head upon one side. “I am the
Catbird who belongs here. I had a nest here last year before you were
born, and when I went south for the winter you were not here. Zeay!”

Now Silvertip, not having had a chance to learn much about birds,
thought that this one was not telling the truth, and he quite lost his
temper. “You deserve to be eaten,” he cried, and he began to climb up
the woodbine, feeling his way along without taking his eyes from the
Catbird. The Catbird sat there and twitched his tail until Silvertip
had almost reached him. Then he said, “Zeay!” and flew off. A few
minutes later he was sitting on the top twig of a fir tree and singing
wonderfully. This was what he sang: “Prut! Prut! Coquillicot! Really!
Really! Coquillicot! Hey, Coquillicot! Hey! Victory!”

[Illustration: “YOU DESERVE TO BE EATEN.” _Page 218_]

Silvertip walked back and forth on the kitchen porch. He was too angry
to sit down at once. When at last he did, and began to wash himself,
he was thinking all the time how mean the Catbird was.

Every day the Catbird came and flirted around and said, “Zeay! Zeay!”
till Silvertip lost his temper. He just ached to get his claws into
that bird, and that even when his stomach was full. He did not care so
much about eating him, you see, although he would undoubtedly have
done so if he had had the chance, but he wanted to stop his teasing.

One day he was looking out through a screen door and happened to see
the Catbird mocking another bird. He was surprised to hear the other
say: “Mock away, if it is any fun! It doesn’t hurt me any.” Then he
heard the Catbird laugh and saw him fly away.

“I wonder what he would do if I were to try that?” said Silvertip. “I
believe I will the next time.”

That very day, when Silvertip was sunning himself on the porch and
heard the same teasing voice say, “Zeay!” above his head, he opened
his thick eyelids and slid the other ones about half-way to one side,
and looked lazily up. “Pretty good!” he said. “You do a little better
every day I think. If you keep at it you can say ‘Meouw’ after a
while.” Then he began to shut his eyes again.

“Prut!” exclaimed the Catbird. “It’s no fun teasing you any more! You
don’t care enough about it! Good-by!” And that was the last time that
Silvertip ever saw him nearer than the top of a tree. So Silvertip
learned one of the great lessons of life, which is not to pay any
attention to people who make fun of you, or to mind when you are
teased.



THE FRIENDLY BLACKBIRDS


Ever since the year when the first pair of Blackbirds nested near the
big house, there had been some of their family in the tall evergreens.
One could not truly say that the Blackbirds were popular. When they
first came they had a quarrel with a pair of Catbirds about a certain
building-place, and most of the older birds took sides with the
Catbirds. Nobody knew which couple first chose this place, so of
course nobody knows who was really right, and perhaps it might better
all be forgotten.

The Blackbirds were happy there and returned the next year with some
of their children, who courted and married and built in other tall
evergreens in the same yard. After that they were company for each
other and had little to do with Robins, Phœbes, and more quiet
neighbors. They were handsome, bold, loud-voiced, teasing, and not at
all gentle in their ways. Still, that had to be expected of their
family. Their neighbors should have remembered that they were not
Chipping Sparrows or Humming-birds. On the other hand they were
neither Bluejays nor Hawks, and it is much better to think of a bird’s
good qualities than of his bad ones.

Now, there were so many that nearly every one of the tall evergreens
bore a Blackbird’s nest. These were built near the top and close to
the trunk of the tree. They were carefully woven of different things
and lined with mud. Unless you knew the ways of Blackbirds, you would
never find out that there was a nest on the place. No careful
Blackbird, you know, will fly straight to his home if any one is
watching him. He will walk around on the lawn in the most careless
manner possible, until he has the home tree between him and you. Then
he will slip noiselessly in under the low branches and make his way to
the top by walking around and around the trunk, quite as you would go
up a winding staircase.

Two married brothers built in near-by trees and were much together.
Their wives were excellent and hard-working birds--almost, but not
quite, as good-looking as their husbands. Like them, they were all
black except the yellow rings of their eyes. The only difference was
that they were smaller and in the sunlight did not have the same
gleaming green, blue, and purple lights on their feathers.

These two couples were courting at the same time, and were usually in
the same tree, a tall maple. The brothers would sit there in the
sunshine, facing the wind and thinking about their sweethearts. Every
now and then they would spread their wings and tails, ruffle up their
feathers, stand on tiptoe, and squeak in a hoarse voice. Their
sweethearts were hiding in trees near by and crept nearer at each
squeak.

Mrs. Wren said she had never heard anything like it, and that, much as
she loved Mr. Wren, if he had made love to her in that way she would
not have married him. “Think,” said she, “of singing like a cartwheel
in need of oil! And then think of having to listen to that sort of
thing right along after you are married!”

“Oh, that part of it will not be so bad,” said an experienced Robin.
“They probably will not sing so much to their wives.”

“Or if they _do_ sing,” said an Oriole who was building in an
apple-tree across the way, “they may go far away from wife and home
before beginning. Mr. Oriole will never sing in our own tree. He says
he would be seen at once, and then our nest would be found. That is
why he always perches near the big house before he begins. You know
bright-colored birds have to be very particular.”

When the brothers had really won and married their sweethearts, they
chose to build as near to each other as possible, and they walked over
the lawn together as they hunted for Grubs.

The young wives sat on their eggs and chatted happily with each other.
The eggs were bluish-green, with all sorts of queer brown marks. It
was very interesting when they were laying them. No two were alike,
and then Blackbirds never know how many eggs to expect. It is not with
them as it is with other birds, who are sure beforehand of the color
and sometimes even of the number.

You can imagine how often the young wives visited each other’s nests,
and how the one who had only three eggs sat on the other nest, just to
see how it would feel to have five under her. Of course this
difference meant that the couple who lived in the fir-tree would have
to work much harder than the couple in the spruce. Two more mouths
take many more Grubs, and Mrs. Spruce-tree Blackbird, as she was
sometimes called, could never be sure whether she was glad or sorry
that she had only three eggs to hatch. As it happened, it was well for
the other family that there were no more.

When the eight little cousins got safely out of their shells and were
about as large as Humming-birds, the mother of the fir-tree brood
disappeared. She had flown off as usual to find food and nobody ever
saw her again. At about this time her neighbors heard a loud bang and
saw a red-headed boy pick up something from the road. He put it
quickly into his bag and ran away, for he knew that shooting anywhere
near the big house was forbidden.

The five motherless nestlings now had only one parent to feed them,
and he was a sadly overworked bird. He did the best he could and
brought such great billfuls of food that it was a wonder he did not
choke himself. He was up early and worked late, yet his five children
looked thin and forlorn while their three little cousins were plump
and sturdy.

At last Mrs. Spruce-tree Blackbird could stand it no longer. She heard
the motherless children crying hungrily when her own three were filled
with Grubs almost to the tips of their bills. She paused on the edge
of her nest one day with a delicious lunch all ready. Her own children
were ready to swallow whatever she should give them, when she suddenly
turned and flew over to the fir-tree. “There!” she said, as she tucked
food down into first one gaping bill and then another. “There! I guess
it won’t hurt my own babies, and I know it won’t hurt you, if I make
them share once in a while.”

She spoke with her mouth full, which is bad manners, even in a
Blackbird, but one could forgive her still more than that because of
the kind things she was saying. When her husband came home she told
him what she had done and asked him to help. “Just think of your poor
brother,” she said. “Our own children will not suffer, and you know
how you would feel if you were the one to bring up a family alone.” He
looked at her lovingly with his yellow eyes, and sidled up close to
her on the branch. He was a dreadful tease, as all Blackbirds are, but
he was a kind husband and father.

“We will do it,” said he. “I really think our own children have eaten
too much lately. The eldest one has peeped crossly three times this
very day.”

“Yes,” added Mrs. Blackbird, “I think they have been overfed myself.
The baby slept very poorly last night, and kept me awake much of the
time by wriggling around under me.”

So it was settled, and after that the poor brother had help. His five
motherless children began to grow fat and sturdy, while their cousins
were none the worse for sharing. Sad to say, however, they made a
dreadful fuss because their parents helped feed their little cousins.

“Guess those children could get along some way,” they grumbled.
“Mother always gives them the best. It isn’t fair! We just won’t eat
if she does that way!”

When she brought them more food they were sulky and told her to take
it to the other nest. She looked sharply at them and flew away. “Guess
she will feel sorry when we are starved to death,” said the three
cross nestlings. And when their father came to feed them they acted in
the same way.

Their parents, being very wise for a couple with their first brood,
did not urge them to eat, or get worried in any way. They simply paid
no attention to them, besides cleaning out the nest once in a while.
They also kept on helping the other family. It made them very sad to
have their children so foolish and naughty, but they tried to remember
how young they were and to be patient.

After a while the three cross children began to feel very badly. Their
stomachs had not been really empty since they could remember--not
until now. For a while they talked about getting even with their
parents. Then they were very still. The baby began to cry. “I am so
hungry,” said she. And the others cried with her. “So are we,” they
said.

Their parents flew straight up to the nest. There was nobody watching
them, but they were in such haste that they might even have done so if
there had been.

“Don’t you like to feel hungry?” asked their mother.

“No,” sobbed the little Blackbirds. “We want you to feed us.”

“What if you had nobody to feed you?” said she. And she never moved
toward getting them a Grub.

“B-but we have,” they said. “We have a father and a mother.”

“Supposing I had been killed,” said their mother, “don’t you think
your aunt would have helped your father care for you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” answered all three.

“Then don’t you think I ought to help feed your cousins?” said she.

“Yes, ma’am,” was the very meek reply.

“Now,” said she, “are you willing I should feed your cousins, too?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said they, and each was trying to say it first. “We will
be good. We won’t be cross any more.”

Such a meal as the three little Blackbirds had then! It is a wonder
that there were not three stomach-aches in that nest at once. When all
had been fed and were half asleep under their mother’s warm breast,
the oldest one said to his sisters: “It must be dreadful not to have
enough to eat any of the time. I believe I am glad they fed our
cousins.”

“We are glad,” said the others, and then they went to sleep. So the
little Blackbirds learned their first lesson in unselfishness, and
they learned it as larger people often have to do, by having a hard
time themselves.





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