LITTLE GATEWAYS TO SCIENCE
BY EDITH M. PATCH
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
ROBERT J. SIM
BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1926
Copyright, 1921, by
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY PRESS
First Impression, May, 1921 Second Impression, May, 1922 Third Impression, March, 1926
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY PRESS PUBLICATIONS
ARE PUBLISHED BY
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
IN ASSOCIATION WITH
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
JUNIOR AUDUBON CLASSES
ALL OTHER BOYS AND GIRLS THROUGHOUT THE LAND WHO ARE FRIENDLY TO BIRDS
For help in planning this book, for sharing his bird-notes with the writer, and for a critical reading of the manuscript, acknowledgment should be made to Mr. Robert J. Sim. Certain events in the lives of Eve and Petro and little Solomon Otus are told with reference to his observations of eave-swallows and screech owls; his trip to an island off the Maine coast for gull-sketches added greatly to an acquaintance with Larie; and but for his six-weeks' visit with the loons of "Immer Lake," much of the story of Gavia could not have been told. Since Mr. Sim contributed not only the pictures to the book, but many items of interest to the narrative, it gives the writer pleasure to acknowledge his cooperation, both as artist and as field-naturalist.
EDITH M. PATCH
I. CHICK, D.D. 1
II. THE FIVE WORLDS OF LARIE 18
III. PETER PIPER 33
IV. GAVIA OF IMMER LAKE 49
V. EVE AND PETRO 66
VI. UNCLE SAM 86
VII. CORBIE 100
VIII. ARDEA'S SOLDIER 121
IX. THE FLYING CLOWN 133
X. THE LOST DOVE 150
XI. LITTLE SOLOMON OTUS 163
XII. BOB, THE VAGABOND 180
NOTES TO THE STORIES 199
A BOOK LIST 208
Chick, D.D. in his pulpit Frontispiece
Firs that pointed to the sky 2
"Woodland Music after an Ice-Storm" 4
Birds, too, that had lived in rough winds 25
Floated beside him in the sea another gull, to whom he talked pleasantly 28
After Larie found a clam, he would fly high into the air and then drop it 30
It was not for food alone that Larie and his mate lived that spring 31
One was named Peter, for his father 34
The spot she teetered to most of all 43
Dallying happily along the river-edge 47
Immer Lake 51
Two babies, not yet out of their eggshells, hidden among the rushes 53
While their children were napping, Gavia and Father Loon went to a party 61
At Work in the Plaster Pit 72
The Hunting Flight 74
They always chatted a bit and then went on with their work, placing their plaster carefully 77
Quaint Clay Pottery 81
A Famous Landmark 85
Above all other creatures of this great land he had been honored 87
The Yankee-Doodle Twins 90
In this Mother Crow had laid her eggs 101
"Kah! Kah! Kah!" he called from sun-up to sun-down 109
Corbie slipped off and amused himself 116
She wore, draped from her shoulders, snowy plumes of rare beauty 122
Near Ardea's Home 124
That criss-cross pile of old dead twigs was a dear home, and they both guarded it 127
The Flying Clown 135
Peaceful enough, indeed, had been the brooding days 141
The little rascals could practise the art of camouflage 144
Suppose you should find just one pair 153
Through all the lonesome woods there is not one dove 158
Once, so many flew by, that the sound of their wings was like the sound of thunder 161
Oh, the wise, wise look of him 165
Solomon knew the runways of the mice 168
Those five adorable babies of Solomon 171
He passed the brightest hours dozing 174
It was time for the Feast of the Vagabonds 185
Something south of the Amazon kept calling to him 189
Nature has kept faith with him and brought him safely back to his meadow 195
Right in the very heart of Christmas-tree Land there was a forest of firs that pointed to the sky as straight as steeples. A hush lay over the forest, as if there were something very wonderful there, that might be meant for you if you were quiet and waited for it to come. Perhaps you have felt like that when you walked down the aisle of a church, with the sun shining through the lovely glass in the windows. Men have often called the woods "temples"; so there is, after all, nothing so very strange in having a preacher live in the midst of the fir forest that grew in Christmas-tree Land.
And the sermon itself was not very strange, for it was about peace and good-will and love and helping the world and being happy—all very proper things to hear about while the bells in the city churches, way, way off, were ringing their glad messages from the steeples.
But the minister was a queer one, and his very first words would have made you smile. Not that you would have laughed at him, you know. You would have smiled just because he had a way of making you feel happy from the minute he began.
He sat on a small branch, and looked down from his pulpit with a dear nod of his little head, which would have made you want to cuddle him in the hollow of your two hands.
His robe was of gray and white and buff-colored feathers, and he wore a black-feather cap and bib.
He began by singing his name. "Chick, D.D.," he called. Now, when a person has "D.D." written after his name, we have a right to think that he is trying to live so wisely that he can teach us how to be happier, too. Of course Minister Chick had not earned those letters by studying in college, like most parsons; but he had learned the secret of a happy heart in his school in the woods.
Yes, he began his service by singing his name; but the real sermon he preached by the deeds he did and the life he lived. So, while we listen to his happy song, we can watch his busy hours, until we are acquainted with the little black-capped minister who called himself "Chick, D.D."
Chick's Christmas-trees were decorated, and no house in the whole world had one lovelier that morning than the hundreds that were all about him as far as he could see. The dark-green branches of the pines and cedars had held themselves out like arms waiting to be filled, and the snow had been dropped on them in fluffy masses, by a quiet, windless storm. It had been very soft and lovely that way—a world all white and green below, with a sky of wonderful blue that the firs pointed to like steeples. Then, as if that were not decoration enough, another storm had come, and had put on the glitter that was brightest at the edge of the forest where the sun shone on it. The second storm had covered the soft white with dazzling ice. It had swept across the white-barked birch trees and their purple-brown branches, and had left them shining all over. It had dripped icicles from the tips of all the twigs that now shone in the sunlight brighter than candles, and tinkled like little bells, when the breezes clicked them together, in a tune that is called, "Woodland Music after an Ice-Storm."
That is the tune that played all about the black-capped bird as he flitted out of the forest, singing, "Chick, D.D.," as he came. The clear cold air and the exercise of flying after his night's sleep had given Chick a good healthy appetite, and he had come out for his breakfast.
He liked eggs very well, and there were, as he knew, plenty of them on the birch trees, for many a time he had breakfasted there. Eggs with shiny black shells, not so big as the head of a pin; so wee, indeed, that it took a hundred of them or more to make a meal for even little Chick.
But he wasn't lazy. He didn't have to have eggs cooked and brought to his table. He loved to hunt for them, and they were never too cold for him to relish; so out he came to the birch trees, with a cheery "Chick, D.D.," as if he were saying grace for the good food tucked here and there along the branches.
When he alighted, though, it wasn't the bark he found, but a hard, thick coating of ice. The branches rattled together as he moved among them and the icicles that dangled down rang and clicked as they struck one another. The ice-storm had locked in Chick's breakfast eggs, and, try as he would with his little beak, he couldn't get through to find them.
So Chick's Christmas Day began with hardship: for, though he sang gayly through the coldest weather, he needed food to keep him strong and warm. He was not foolish enough to spend his morning searching through the icy birch trees, for he had a wise little brain in his head and soon found out that it was no use to stay there. But he didn't go back to the forest and mope about it. Oh, no. Off he flew, down the short hill slope, seeking here and there as he went.
Where the soil was rocky under the snow, some sumachs grew, and their branches of red berries looked like gay Christmas decorations. The snow that had settled heavily on them had partly melted, and the soaked berries had stained it so that it looked like delicious pink ice-cream. Some of the stain had dripped to the snow below, so there were places that looked like pink ice-cream there, too. Then the ice-storm had crusted it over, and now it was a beautiful bit of bright color in the midst of the white-and-green-and-blue Christmas.
Chick stopped hopefully at the sumach bushes, not because he knew anything about ice-cream or cared a great deal about the berries; but sometimes there were plump little morsels hidden among them, that he liked to pull out and eat. If there was anything there that morning, though, it was locked in under the ice; and Chick flew on to the willows that showed where the brook ran in summer.
Ah, the willow cones! Surely they would not fail him! He would put his bill in at the tip and down the very middle, and find a good tasty bit to start with, and then he would feel about in other parts of the cone for small insects, which often creep into such places for the winter. The flight to the willows was full of courage. Surely there would be a breakfast there for a hungry Chick!
But the ice was so heavy on the willows that it had bent them down till the tips lay frozen into the crust below.
So from pantry to pantry Chick flew that morning, and every single one of them had been locked tight with an icy key. The day was very cold. Soon after the ice-storm, the mercury in the thermometer over at the Farm-House had dropped way down below the zero mark, and the wind was in the north. But the cold did not matter if Chick could find food. His feet were bare; but that did not matter, either, if he could eat. Nothing mattered to the brave little black-capped fellow, except that he was hungry, oh, so hungry! and he had heard no call from anywhere to tell him that any other bird had found a breakfast, either.
No, the birds were all quiet, and the distant church-bells had stopped their chimes, and the world was still. Still, except for the click of the icicles on the twigs when Chick or the wind shook them.
Then, suddenly, there was a sound so big and deep that it seemed to fill all the space from the white earth below to the blue sky above. A roaring BOOOOOOOM, which was something like the waves rushing against a rocky shore, and something like distant thunder, and something like the noise of a great tree crashing to the earth after it has been cut, and something like the sound that comes before an earthquake.
It is not strange that Chick did not know that sound. No one ever hears anything just like it, unless he is out where the snow is very light and very deep and covered with a crust.
Then, if the crust is broken suddenly in one place, it may settle like the top of a puffed-up pie that is pricked; and the air that has been prisoned under the crust is pushed out with a strange and mighty sound.
So that big BOOOOOOOM meant that something had broken the icy crust which, a moment before, had lain over the soft snow, all whole, for a mile one way and a mile another way, and half a mile to the Farm-House.
Yes, there was the Farmer Boy coming across the field, to the orchard that stood on the sandy hillside near the fir forest. He was walking on snowshoes, which cracked the crust now and then; and twice on the way to the orchard he heard a deep BOOOOOOOM, which he loved just as much as he loved the silence of the field when he stopped to listen now and then. For the winter sounds were so dear to the Farmer Boy who lived at the edge of Christmas-tree Land, that he would never forget them even when he should become a man. He would always remember the snowshoe tramps across the meadow; and in after years, when his shoulders held burdens he could not see, he would remember the bulky load he carried that morning without minding the weight a bit; for it was a big bag full of Christmas gifts, and the more heavily it pressed against his shoulder, the lighter his heart felt.
When he reached the orchard, he dropped the bag on the snow and opened it. Part of the gifts he spilled in a heap near the foot of a tree, and the rest he tied here and there to the branches. Then he stood still and whistled a clear sweet note that sounded like "Fee-bee."
Now, Chick, over by the willows had not known what BOOOOOOOM meant, for that was not in his language. But he understood "Fee-bee" in a minute, although it was not nearly so loud. For those were words he often used himself. They meant, perhaps, many things; but always something pleasant. "Fee-bee" was a call he recognized as surely as one boy recognizes the signal whistle of his chum.
So, of course, Chick flew to the orchard as quickly as he could and found his present tied fast to a branch. The smell of it, the feel of it, the taste of it, set him wild with joy. He picked at it with his head up, and sang "Chick, D.D." He picked at it with his head down and called, "Chick, D.D.D.D.D.D.D., Chick, D.D." He flew here and there, too gay with happiness to stay long anywhere, and found presents tied to other branches, too. At each one he sang "Chick, D.D., Chick, D.D.D. Dee Deee Deeee." It was, "indeed" the song of a hungry bird who had found good rich suet to nibble.
The Farmer Boy smiled when he heard it, and waited, for he thought others would hear it, too. And they did. Two birds with black-feather cap and bib heard it and came; and before they had had time to go frantic with delight and song, three others just like them came, and then eight more, and by that time there was such a "Chick"-ing and "D.D."-ing and such a whisking to and fro of black caps and black bibs, that no one paid much attention when Minister Chick, D.D., himself, perched on a branch for a minute, and gave the sweetest little warble that was ever heard on a winter's day. Then he whistled "Fee-bee" very clearly, and went to eating again, heeding the Farmer Boy no more than if he were not there at all.
And he wasn't there very long; for he was hungry, too; and that made him think about the good whiff he had smelled when he went through the kitchen with the snowshoes under his arm, just before he strapped them over his moccasins outside the door.
Yes, that was the Farmer Boy going away with a clatter over the snow-crust; but who were these coming through the air, with jerky flight, and with a jerky note something like "Twitterty-twit-twitterty-twit-twitterty-twitterty-twitterty-twit"? They flew like goldfinches, and they sounded like goldfinches, both in the twitterty song of their flight and their "Tweeet" as they called one another. But they were not goldfinches. Oh, my, no! For they were dressed in gray, with darker gray stripes at their sides; and when they scrambled twittering down low enough to show their heads in the sunlight, they could be seen to be wearing the loveliest of crimson caps, and some of them had rosy breasts.
The redpolls had come! And they found on top of the snow a pile of dusty sweepings from the hay-mow, with grass-seeds in it and some cracked corn and crumbs. And there were squash-seeds, and sunflower-seeds, and seedy apple-cores that had been broken up in the grinder used to crunch bones for the chickens; and there were prune-pits that had been cracked with a hammer.
The joy-songs of the birds over the suet and seeds seemed a signal through the countryside; and before long others came, too.
Among them there was a black-and-white one, with a patch of scarlet on the back of his head, who called, "Ping," as if he were speaking through his nose. There was one with slender bill and bobbed-off tail, black cap and white breast, grunting, "Yank yank," softly, as he ate.
But there was none to come who was braver or happier than Chick, D.D., and none who sang so gayly. After that good Christmas feast he and his flock returned each day; and when, in due time, the ice melted from the branches, it wasn't just suet they ate. It was other things, too.
That is how it happened that when, early in the spring, the Farmer Boy examined the apple-twigs, to see whether he should put on a nicotine spray for the aphids and an arsenical spray for the tent caterpillars, he couldn't find enough aphids to spray or enough caterpillars, either. Chick, D.D. and his flock had eaten their eggs.
Again, late in the summer, when it was time for the yellow-necked caterpillars, the red-humped caterpillars, the tiger caterpillars, and the rest of the hungry crew, to strip the leaves from the orchard, the Farmer Boy walked among the rows, to see how much poison he would need to buy for the August spray. And again he found that he needn't buy a single pound. Chick, D.D. and his family were tending his orchard!
Yes, Minister Chick was a servant in the good world he lived in. He saved leaves for the trees, he saved rosy apples for city girls and boys to eat, and he saved many dollars in time and spray-money for the Farmer Boy.
And all he charged was a living wage: enough suet in winter to tide him over the icy spells, and free house-rent in the old hollow post the Farmer Boy had nailed to the trunk of one of the apple trees.
That old hollow post was a wonderful home. Chick, D.D. had crept into it for the first time Christmas afternoon, when he had eaten until dusk overtook him before he had time to fly back to the shelter of the fir forest. He found that he liked that post. Its walls were thick and they kept out the wind; and, besides, was it not handy by the suet?
In the spring he liked it for another reason, too—the best reason in the world. It gave great happiness to Mrs. Chick. "Fee-bee?" he had asked her as he called her attention to it; and "Fee-bee," she had replied on looking it over. So he said, "Chick, D.D." in delight, and then perched near by, while he warbled cosily a brief song jumbled full of joy.
Chick and his mate had indeed chosen well, for it is a poor wall that will not work both ways. If the sides of the hollow post had been thick enough to keep out the coldest of the winter cold, they were also thick enough to keep out the hottest of the summer heat. If they kept out the wet of the driving storm, they held enough of the old-wood moisture within so that the room did not get too dry. Of course, it needed a little repair. But, then, what greater fun than putting improvements into a home? Especially when it can be done by the family, without expense!
So Mr. and Mrs. Chick fell to work right cheerily, and dug the hole deeper with their beaks. They didn't leave the chips on the ground before their doorway, either. They took them off to some distance, and had no heap near by, as a sign to say, "A bird lives here." For, sociable as they were all winter, they wanted quiet and seclusion within the walls of their own home.
And such a home it was! After it had been hollowed to a suitable depth, Chick had brought in a tuft of white hair that a rabbit had left among the brambles. Mrs. Chick had found some last year's thistle-down and some this year's poplar cotton, and a horse-hair from the lane. Then Chick had picked up a gay feather that had floated down from a scarlet bird that sang in the tree-tops, and tore off silk from a cocoon. So, bit by bit, they gathered their treasures, until many a woodland and meadow creature and plant had had a share in the softness of a nest worthy of eight dear white eggs with reddish-brown spots upon them. It was such a soft nest, in fact, with such dear eggs in it, that Chick brooded there cosily himself part of the time, and was happy to bring food to his mate when she took her turn.
In eleven or twelve days from the time the eggs were laid, there were ten birds in that home instead of two. The fortnight that followed was too busy for song. Chick and his mate looked the orchard over even more thoroughly than the Farmer Boy did; and before those eight hungry babies of theirs were ready to leave the nest, it began to seem as if Chick had eaten too many insect eggs in the spring, there were so few caterpillars hatching out. But the fewer there were, the harder they hunted; and the harder they hunted, the scarcer became the caterpillars. So when Dee, Chee, Fee, Wee, Lee, Bee, Mee, and Zee were two weeks old, and came out of the hollow post to seek their own living, the whole family had to take to the birches until a new crop of insect eggs had been laid in the orchard. This was no hardship. It only added the zest of travel and adventure to the pleasure of the days. Besides, it isn't just orchards that Chick, D.D. and his kind take care of. It is forests and shade-trees, too.
Hither and yon they hopped and flitted, picking the weevils out of the dead tips of the growing pine trees, serving the beech trees such a good turn that the beechnut crop was the heavier for their visit, doing a bit for the maple-sugar trees, and so on through the woodland.
Not only did they mount midget guard over the mighty trees, but they acted as pilots to hungry birds less skillful than themselves in finding the best feeding-places. "Chick, D.D.D.D.D.," they called in thanksgiving, as they found great plenty; and warblers and kinglets and creepers and many a bird beside knew the sound, and gathered there to share the bountiful feast that Chick, D.D. had discovered.
The gorgeous autumn came, the brighter, by the way, for the leaves that Chick had saved. The Bob-o-links, in traveling suits, had already left for the prairies of Brazil and Paraguay, by way of Florida and Jamaica. The strange honk of geese floated down from V-shaped flocks, as if they were calling, "Southward Ho!" The red-winged blackbirds gave a wonderful farewell chorus. Flock by flock and kind by kind, the migrating birds departed.
Well, never ask Chick, D.D. The north with its snows is good enough for him. Warblers may go and nuthatches may come. 'Tis all one to Chick. He is not a bird to follow fashions others set.
This bird-of-the-happy-heart has courage to meet the coldest day with a joyous note of welcome. The winter is cheerier for his song. And, as you have guessed, it is not by word alone that he renders service. The trees of the north are the healthier for his presence. Because of him, the purse of man is fatter, and his larder better stocked. He has done no harm as harm is counted in the world he lives in. It is written in books that, in all the years, not one crime, not even one bad habit, is known of any bird who has called himself "Chick, D.D."
Because the world is always better for his living in it; and because no one can watch the black-capped sprite without catching, for a moment at least, a message of cheer and courage and service, does he not name himself rightly a minister?
Yes, surely, the little parson who dwells in the heart of Christmas-tree Land has a right to his "D.D.," even though he did not earn it in a college of men.
THE FIVE WORLDS OF LARIE
Larie was all alone in a little world. He had lived there many days, and had spent the time, minute by minute and hour by hour, doing nothing at all but growing. That one thing he had done well. There is no doubt about that; for he had grown from a one-celled little beginning of life into a creature so big that he filled the whole of his world crammed full. It was smooth, and it was hard, and its sides were curved around and about him so tightly that he could not even stretch his legs. There was no door. Larie was a prisoner. The prison-walls of his world held him so fast that he could not budge. That is, he could not budge anything but his head. He could move that a little.
Now, that is what we might call being in a fairly tight place. But you don't know Larie if you think he could not get out of it. There are few places so tight that we can't get out of them if we go about it the right way, and make the best of what power we have. That is just what Larie did. He had power to move his head enough to tap, with his beak, against the wall of his world that had become his prison. So he kept tapping with his beak. On the end of it was a queer little knob. With this he knocked against the hard smooth wall.
"Tap! tip tip!" went Larie's knob. Then he would rest, for it is not easy work hammering and pounding, all squeezed in so tight. But he kept at it again and again and again. And then at last he cracked his prison-wall; and lo, it was not a very thick wall after all! No thicker than an eggshell!
That is the way with many difficulties. They seem so very hard at first, and so very hopeless, and then end by being only a way to something very, very pleasant.
So here was Larie in his second world. Its thin, soft floor and its thick, soft sides were made of fine bright-green grass, which had turned yellowish in drying. It had no roof. The sun shone in at the top. The wind blew over. There had been no sun or wind in his eggshell world. It was comfortable to have them now. They dried his down and made it fluffy. There was plenty of room for its fluffiness. He could stretch his legs, too, and could wiggle his wings against his sides. This felt good. And he could move his head all he cared to. But he did not begin thumping the sides of his new world with it. He tucked it down between two warm little things close by, and went to sleep. The two warm little things were his sister and brother, for Larie was not alone in his nest-world.
The sun went down and the wind blew cold and the rain beat hard from the east; but Larie knew nothing of all this. A roof had settled down over his world while he napped. It was white as sea foam, and soft and dry and, oh, so very cosy, as it spread over him. The roof to Larie's second world was his mother's breast.
The storm and the night passed, and the sun and the fresh spring breeze again came in at the top of the nest. Then something very big stood near and made a shadow, and Larie heard a strange sound. The something very big was his mother, and the strange sound was her first call to breakfast. When Larie heard that, he opened his mouth. But nothing went into it. His brother and sister were being fed. He had never had any food in his mouth in all the days of his life. To be sure, his egg-world was filled with nourishment that he had taken into his body and had used in growing; but he had never done anything with his beak except to knock with the knob at the end of it against the shell when he pipped his way out. What a handy little knob that had been—just right for tapping. But, now that there was no hard wall about him to break, what should he use it for? Well, nothing at all; for the joke of it is, there was no knob there. It had dropped off, and he could never have another.
Never mind: he could open his beak just as well without it; and by-and-by his mother came again with a second call for breakfast, and that time Larie got his share. After that, there were calls for luncheon and for dinner, and luncheon again between that and supper; and part of the calls were from Mother and part from Father Gull.
Larie's second world, it seems, was a place where he and his brother and sister were hungry and were fed. This is a world in which dwell, for a time, all babies, whether they have two legs, like you and Larie, or four, like a pig with a curly tail, or six, like Nata who lived in Shanty Creek. An important world it is, too; for health and strength and growing up, all depend upon it.
There was, however, only a rim of soft fine dry grass to show where Larie's nest-world left off and his third world began. So it is not surprising that, as soon as their legs were strong enough, Larie and his brother and sister stepped abroad; for what baby does not creep out of his crib as soon as ever he can?
They could not, for all this show of bravery, feed themselves like the sons of Peter Pan, or swim the waters like Gavia's two Olairs at Immer Lake. However grown up the three youngsters may have felt when they began to walk, Father and Mother Gull made no mistake about the matter, but fed them breakfasts, dinners, and suppers, and stuffed them so full of luncheons between meals, that the greedy little things just had to grow, so as to be able to swallow all that was brought them.
There were times, certainly, when Larie still felt very much a baby, even though he ran about nimbly enough. For instance, when he made a mistake and asked some gull, that was not his father or mother, for food, and got a rough beating instead of what he begged for!
Oh, then he felt like a forlorn little baby, indeed; for it was not pleasant to be whipped, and that sometimes cruelly, when he didn't know any better; for all the big gulls looked alike, with their foam-white bodies and their pearl-gray capes, and they were all bringing food; so how could he know who were and who were not his Father and Mother Gull? Well, he must learn to be careful, that was all, and stay where his very own could find and feed him; for gulls can waste no time on the young of other gulls—their own keep them busy enough, the little greedies!
Again, Larie must have felt very wee and helpless whenever a big man walked that way, shaking the ground with his heavy step and making a dark shadow as he came. Then, oh, then, Larie was a baby, and hid near a tuft of grass or between two stones, tucking his head out of sight, and keeping quite still as an ostrich does, or,—yes,—as perhaps a shy young human does, who hides his head in the folds of his mother's skirt when a stranger asks him to shake hands.
But few men trod upon Larie's island-world, and no man came to do him harm; for the regulations under the Migratory-Bird Treaty Act prohibit throughout the United States the killing of gulls at any time. That means that the laws of our country protect the gull, as of course you will understand, though Larie knew nothing about the matter.
Yes, think of it! There was a law, made at Washington in the District of Columbia, which helped take care of little downy Larie way off in the north on a rocky island.
I said "helped take care of"; for no law, however good it may be, can more than help make matters right. There has to be, besides, some sort of policeman to stand by the law and see that it is obeyed.
So Larie, although he never knew that, either, had a policeman; and the law and the policeman together kept him quite safe from the dangers which not many years ago most threatened the gulls on our coast islands. In those days, before there were gull-laws and gull-policemen, people came to the nests and took their eggs, which are larger than hens' eggs and good to eat; and people came, too, and killed these birds for their feathers. Then it was that the beautiful stiff wing-feathers, which should have been spread in flight, were worn upon the hats of women; and the soft white breast-feathers, which should have been brooding brownish eggs all spattered over with pretty marks, were stuffed into feather-beds for people to sleep on.
Well it was for Larie that he lived when he did; for his third world was a wonderful place and it was right that he should enjoy it in safety. When Larie first left his nest and went out to walk, he stepped upon a shelf of reddish rock, and the whole wall from which his shelf stuck out was reddish rock, too. Beyond, the rocks were greenish, and beyond that they were gray. Oh! the reddish and greenish and grayish rocks were beautiful to see when the fog lifted and the sun shone on them.
But Larie's island-world was not all rock of different colors: for over there, not too far away to see, was a dark-green spruce tree. Because rough winds had swept over this while it was growing, its branches were scraggly and twisted. They could not grow straight and even, like a tree in a quiet forest. But never think, for all of that, that Larie's spruce was not good to look upon. There is something splendid about a tree which, though bending to the will of the mighty winds that work their force upon it, grows sturdy and strong in spite of all. Such trees are somehow like boys and girls, who meet hardships with such courage when they are young, that they grow strong and sturdy of spirit, and warm of heart, with the sort of mind that can understand trouble in the world, and so think of ways to help it.
Yes, perhaps Larie's tree was an emblem of courage. However that may be, it was a favorite spot on the island. Often it could be seen, that dark, rugged tree, which had battled with winds from its seedling days and grown victoriously, with three white gulls resting on its squarish top—birds, too, that had lived in rough winds and had grown strong in their midst.
There was more on the island than rocks and trees. Over much of it lay a carpet of grass. Soft and fine and vivid green it was, of the kind that had been gathered for Larie's nest and had turned yellowish in drying. Under the carpet, in underground lanes as long as a man's long arm, lived Larie's young neighbor-folk—little petrels, sometimes called "Mother Carey's Chickens."
There was even more on the island yet: for high on the rocks stood a lighthouse; and the man who kept the signal lights in order was no other than Larie's policeman himself. A useful life he lived, saving ships of the sea by the power of light, and birds of the sea by the power of law.
So that was Larie's third world—an island with a soft rug of bright-green grass, and big shelfy rocks of red and green and gray, and rugged dark-green trees, with white gulls resting on the branches, and a lighthouse with its signal.
All around and about that island lay Larie's fourth world—the sea. When his great day for swimming came, he slipped off into the water; and after that it was his, whenever he wished—his to swim or float upon, the wide-away ocean reaching as far as any gull need care to swim or float.
All over and above the sea stretched Larie's fifth world—the air. When his great day for flying came, he rose against the breeze, and his wings took him into that high-away kingdom that lifted as far as any gull need care to fly.
Now that Larie could both swim and fly, he was large, and acted in many ways like an old gull; but the feathers of his body were not white, and he did not wear over his back and the top of his spread wings a pearl-gray mantle.
Nor was he given the garb of his father and mother for a traveling suit, that winter when he went south with the others, to a place where the Gulf Stream warmed the water whereon he swam and the air wherein he flew.
But there came a time when Larie had put off the clothes of his youth and donned the robe of a grown gull. And as he sailed in the breezes of his fifth world, which blew over the cold sea, and across the island with a carpet of green and rocks of red and green and gray,—for he was again in the North,—he was beautiful to behold, the flight of a gull being so wonderful that the heart of him who sees quickens with joy.
Larie was not alone. There were so many with him that, when they flew together in the distance, they looked as thick as snowflakes in the air; and when they screamed together, the din was so great that people who were not used to hearing them put their hands over their ears.
And more than that, Larie was not alone; for there sailed near him in the air and floated beside him in the sea another gull, at whom he did not scream, but to whom he talked pleasantly, saying, "me-you," in a musical tone that she understood.
Larie and his mate found much to do that spring. One game that never failed to interest them was meeting the ships many, many waves out at sea, and following them far on their way. For on the ships were men who threw away food they could not use, and the gulls gathered in flocks to scramble and fight for this. Children on board the ships laughed merrily to see them, and tossed crackers and biscuits out for the fun of watching the hungry-birds come close, to feed.
Many a feast, too, the fishermen gave the gulls, when they sorted the contents of their nets and threw aside what they did not want.
Besides this, Larie and his mate and their comrades picnicked in high glee at certain harbors where garbage was left; for gulls are thrifty folk and do not waste the food of the world.
From their feeding habits you will know that these beautiful birds are scavengers, eating things which, if left on the sea or shore, would make the water foul and the air impure. Thus it is that Nature gives to a scavenger the duty of service to all living creatures; and the freshness of the ocean and the cleanness of the sands of the shore are in part a gift of the gulls, for which we should thank and protect them.
Relish as they might musty bread and mouldy meat, Larie and his mate enjoyed, too, the sport of catching fresh food; and many a clam hunt they had in true gull style. They would fly above the water near the shore, and when they were twenty or thirty feet high, would plunge down head-first. Then they would poke around for a clam, with their heads and necks under water and their wings out and partly unfolded, but not flopping; and a comical sight they were!
After Larie found a clam, he would fly high into the air a hundred feet or so above the rocks, and then, stretching way up with his head, drop the clam from his beak. Easily, with wings fluttering slightly, Larie would follow the clam, floating gracefully, though quickly, down to where it had cracked upon the rocks. The morsel in its broken shell was now ready to eat, for Larie and his mate did not bake their sea-food or make it into chowder. Cold salad flavored with sea-salt was all they needed.
Exciting as were these hunts with the flocks of screaming gulls, it was not for food alone that Larie and his mate lived that spring. For under the blue of the airy sky there was an ocean, and in that ocean there was an island, and on that island there was a nest, and in that nest there was an egg—the first that the mate of Larie had ever laid. And in that egg was a growing gull, their eldest son—a baby Larie, alone inside his very first world.
[Footnote 1: Hexapod Stories, page 80.]
One was named Sandy, because Sandy is a Scotch name and there were blue-bells growing on the rocks; so it seemed right that one of them should have a Scotch name, and what could be better, after all, than Sandy for a sandpiper? One was named Pan, because he piped sweetly among the reeds by the river. One, who came out of his eggshell before his brothers, was named Peter, for his father.
But Mother Piper never called her children Sandy and Pan and Peter. She called them all "Pete." She was so used to calling her mate "Pete," that that name was easier than any other for her to say.
The three of them played by the river all day long. Each amused himself in his own way and did not bother his brothers, although they did not stray too far apart to talk to one another. This they did by saying, "Peep," now and then.
About once an hour, and sometimes oftener, Mother Piper came flying over from Faraway Island, crying, "Pete, Pete, Pete," as if she were worried. It is no wonder that she was anxious about Sandy and Peter and Pan, for, to begin with, she had had four fine children, and the very first night they were out of their nest, the darlings, a terrible prowling animal named Tom or Tabby had killed one of her babies.
But Peter and Pan and Sandy were too young to know much about being afraid. So they played by the river all day long, care-free and happy. Their sweet little voices sounded contented as they said, "Peep," one to another. Their queer little tails looked frisky as they went bob-bob-bob-bing up and down every time they stepped, and sometimes when they didn't. Their dear little heads went forward and back in a merry sort of jerk. There were so many things to do, and every one of them a pleasure!
Oh! here was Sandy clambering up the rocky bank, so steep that there was roothold only for the blue-bells, with stems so slender that one name for them is "hair-bell." But Sandy did not fall. He tripped lightly up and about, with sure feet; and where the walking was too hard, he fluttered his wings and flew to an easier place. Once he reached the top of the bank, where the wild roses were blossoming. And wherever he went, and wherever he came, he found good tasty insects to eat; so he had picnic-luncheons all along the way.
Ho! here was Pan wandering where the river lapped the rocky shore. His long slender legs were just right for wading, and his toes felt comfortable in the cool water. There was a pleasing scent from the sweet-gale bushes, which grew almost near enough to the river to go wading, too; and there was a spicy smell when he brushed against the mint, which wore its blossoms in pale purple tufts just above the leaves along the stem. And every now and then, whether he looked at the top of the water or at the rocks on the shore-edge, he found tempting bits of insect game to eat as he waded along.
Oho! here was Peter on an island as big as an umbrella, with a scooped-out place at one side as deep as the hollow in the palm of a man's hand. This was shaped exactly right for Peter's bathtub, and as luck would have it, it was filled to the brim with water. Such a cool splashing—once, twice, thrice, with a long delightful flutter; and then out into the warm sunshine, where the feathers could be puffed out and dried! These were the very first real feathers he had ever had, and he hadn't had them very long; and my, oh, my! but it was fun running his beak among them, and fixing them all fine, like a grown-up bird. And when he was bathed and dried, there was a snack to eat near by floating toward him on the water.
Oh! Ho! and Oho! it was a day to be gay in, with so many new amusements wherever three brave, fearless little sandpipers might stray.
Then came sundown; and in the pleasant twilight Peter and Pan and Sandy somehow found themselves near each other on the bank, still walking forth so brave and bold, and yet each close enough to his brothers to hear a "Peep," were it ever so softly whispered.
Did it just happen that about that time Mother Piper came flying low over the water from Faraway Island to Nearby Island, calling, "Pete, Pete, Pete," in a different tone, a sort of sundown voice?
Was that the way to speak to three big, 'most-grown-up sandpiper sons, who had wandered about so free of will the livelong day?
Ah, but where were the 'most-grown-up sons? Gone with the sun at sundown; and, instead, there were three cosy little birds, with their heads still rumpled over with down that was not yet pushed off the ends of their real feathers, and a tassel of down still dangling from the tip of each funny tail.
And three dear, sweet, little voices answered, "Peep," every time Mother Piper called, "Pete"; and three little sons tagged obediently after her as she called them from place to place all round and all about Nearby Island, teaching them, perhaps, to make sure there was no Tabby and no Tommy on their camping-ground.
So it was that, after twilight, when darkness was at hand and the curfew sounded for human children to be at home, Peter and Pan and Sandy settled down near each other and near Mother Piper for the night.
And where was Peter Piper, who had been abroad the day long, paying little attention to his family? He, too, at nightfall, had come flying low from Faraway Island; and now, with his head tucked behind his wing, was asleep not a rod away from Mother Piper and their three sons.
Somehow it was very pleasant to know that they were near together through the starlight—the five of them who had wandered forth alone by sunlight.
But not for long was the snug little Nearby Island to serve for a night camp. Mother Piper had other plans. Like the wise person she was, she let her children find out many things for themselves, though she kept in touch with them from time to time during the day, to satisfy herself that they were safe. And at night she found that they were willing enough to mind what they were told to do, never seeming to bother their heads over the fact that every now and then she led them to a strange camp-ground.
So they did not seem surprised or troubled when, one night soon, Mother Piper, instead of calling them to Nearby Island, as had been her wont, rested patiently in plain sight on a stump near the shore and, with never a word, waited for the sunset hour to reach the time of dusk. Then she flew to the log where Peter Piper had been teetering up and down, and what she said to him I do not know. But a minute later, back she flew, this time rather high overhead, and swooped down toward the little ones with a quick "Pete-weet." After her came Peter Piper flying, also rather high overhead, and swooping down toward his young. Then Mother and Peter Piper went in low, slow flight to Faraway Island.
Were they saying good-night to their babies? Were their sons to be left on the bank by themselves, now that they had shaken the last fringe of down from their tails and lost the fluff from their heads? Did they need no older company, now that they looked like grown-up sandpipers except that their vests had no big polka dots splashed over them?
Ah, no! At Mother Piper's "Pete-weet," Peter answered, "Peep," lifted his wings, and flew right past Nearby Island and landed on a rock on Faraway Island. And, "Peep," called Sandy, fluttering after. And, "Peep," said Pan, stopping himself in the midst of his teetering, and flying over Nearby Island on his way to the new camp-ground.
That is how it happened that they had their last luncheon on the shore of Faraway Island before snuggling down to sleep that night.
One of the haunts of Peter and Pan and Sandy was Cardinal-Flower Path. This lovely place was along the marshy shore not far from Nearby Island. It was almost white with the fine blooms of water-parsnip, an interesting plant from the top of its blossom head to the lowest of its queer under-water leaves. And here and there, among the lacy white, a stalk of a different sort grew, with red blossoms of a shade so rich that it is called the cardinal flower. Every now and then a ruby-throated hummingbird darted quickly above the water-parsnips straight to the cardinal throat of the other flower, and found refreshment served in frail blossom-ware of the glorious color he loved best of all.
And it would be well for all children of men to know that, although three bright active children of sandpipers ran teetering about Cardinal-Flower Path many and many a day, the place was as lovely to look upon at sundown as at sunrise, for not one wonderful spray had been broken from its stem. So it happened, because the children who played there were Sandy and Peter and Pan, that the cardinal flowers lived their life as it was given them by Nature, serving refreshments for hummingbirds through the summer day, and setting seeds according to their kind for other cardinal flowers and other hummingbirds another year.
But even the charms of Cardinal-Flower Path did not hold Pan and Peter and Sandy many weeks. They seemed to be a sort of gypsy folk, with the love of wandering in their hearts; and it is pleasant to know that, as soon as they were grown enough, there was nothing to prevent their journeying forth with Peter and Mother Piper.
Of all the strange and wonderful plants and birds and insects they met upon the way I cannot tell you, for, in all my life, I have not traveled so far as these three children went long before they were one year old. They went, in fact, way to the land where the insects live that are so hard and beautiful and gemlike that people sometimes use them for jewels. These are called "Brazilian beetles," and you can tell by that name where the Pipers spent the winter, though it may seem a very far way for a young bird to go, with neither train nor boat to give him a lift.
Not even tired they were, from all accounts, those little feather-folk; and why, indeed, should they be tired? A jaunt from a northern country to Brazil was not too much for a healthy bird, with its sure breath and pure rich blood. There was food enough along the trail—they chose their route wisely enough for that, you may be sure; and they were in no great haste either going or coming.
"Coming," did I say? Why, surely! You didn't think those sandpipers stayed in Brazil? What did they care for green gem-like beetles, after all? The only decorations they ever wore were big dark polka dots on their vests. Perhaps they were all pleased with them, when their old travel-worn feathers dropped out and new ones came in. Who can tell? They had a way of running their bills through their plumage after a bath, as if they liked to comb their pretty feathers.
Be that as it may, there was something beneath their feathers that quickened like the heart of a journeying gypsy when, with nodding heads and teetering tails, they started again for the north.
Did they dream of a bank where the blue-bells grew, and a shore spiced with the fragrance of wild mint?
No one will ever know just how Nature whispers to the bird, "Northward ho!" But we know they come in the springtime, and right glad are we to hear their voices.
So Peter Piper, Junior, came back again to the shore of Nearby Island. And do you think Sandy and Pan walked behind him for company, calling, "Peep," one to another? And do you think Mother Piper and Father Peter showed him the way to Faraway Island at sun-down, and guarded him o' nights? Not they! They were busy, every one, with their own affairs, and Peter would just have to get along without them.
Well, Peter could—Peter and Dot. For of course he was a grown-up sandpiper now, with a mate of his own, nodding her wise little head the livelong day, and teetering for joy all over the rocks where the red columbine grew.
The spot she teetered to most of all was a little cup-shaped hollow high up on the border of the ledge, where the sumachs were big as small trees and where the sweet fern scented the air. The hollow was lined tidily and softly with dried grass, and made a comfortable place to sit, no doubt. At least, Dot liked it; and Peter must have had some fondness for it, too, for he slipped on when Dot was not there herself. It just fitted their little bodies, and there were four eggs in it of which any sandpiper might well have been proud; for they were much, much bigger than most birds the size of Dot could ever lay. In fact, her little body could hardly have covered them snugly enough to keep them warm if they had not been packed just so, with the pointed ends pushed down into the middle of the rather deep nest.
The eggs were creamy white, with brown spots splashed over them—the proper sort of eggs (if only they had been smaller) to tuck beneath a warm breast decorated with pretty polka dots. But still, they must have been her very own, or Dot could not have taken such good care of them.
Because of this care, day by day the little body inside each shell grew from the wonderful single cell it started life with, to a many-celled creature, all fitted out with lungs and a heart and rich warm blood, and very slender legs, and very dear heads with very bright eyes, and all the other parts it takes to make a bird. When the birds were all made, they broke the shells and pushed aside the pieces. And four more capable little rascals never were hatched.
Why, almost before one would think they had had time to dry their down and stretch their legs and get used to being outside of shells instead of inside, those little babies walked way to the edge of the river, and from that time forth never needed their nest.
And look! the fluffy, cunning little dears are nodding their heads and teetering their tails! Yes, that proves that they must be sandpipers, even if we did have doubts of those eggs. Ah! Dot knew what she was about all along. The size of her eggs might fool a person, but she had not worried. Why, indeed, should she be troubled? Those big shells had held food-material enough, so that her young, when hatched, were so strong and well-developed that they could go wandering forth at once. They did not lie huddled in their nest, helplessly begging Peter Piper and Mother Dot to bring them food. Not they! Out they toddled, teetering along the shore, having picnics from the first—the little gypsy babies!
Tabby did not catch any of them, though one night she tried, and gave Dot an awful scare. It was while they were still tiny enough to be tucked under their mother's feathers after sundown, and before they could manage to get, stone by stone, to Nearby Island. So they were camped on the shore, and the prowling cat came very near. So near, in fact, that Mother Dot fluttered away from her young, calling back to them, in a language they understood, to scatter a bit, and then lie so still that not even the green eyes of the cat could see a motion. The four little Pipers obeyed. Not one of them questioned, "Why, Mother?" or whined, "I don't want to," or whimpered, "I'm frightened," or boasted, "Pooh, there's nothing here."
Dot led the crouching enemy away by fluttering as if she had a broken wing, and she called for help with all the agony of her mother-love. "Pete," she cried, "Pete," and "Pete, Pete, Pete!"
No one who hears the wail of a frightened sandpiper begging protection for her young can sit unmoved.
Someone at the Ledge House heard Dot, and gave a low whistle and a quick command. Then there was a dashing rush through the bushes, that sounded as if a dog were chasing a cat. A few minutes later Dot's voice again called in the dark—this time, not in anguish of heart, but very cosily and gently. "Pete-weet?" she whispered; and four precious little babies murmured, "Peep," as they snuggled close to the spotted breast of their mother.
So it happened that two sons and two daughters of Peter Piper, Junior, played and picnicked and bathed by the river. The one who had first pipped his eggshell was named Peter the Third, for his father and his grandfather, and a finer young sandpiper never shook the fluff of down from his head or the fringe from his tail, when his real feathers pushed into their places.
What his brother and sisters were named, I never knew; and it didn't matter much, for their mother called them all "Pete."
Peter the Third and the others grew up as Pan and Peter and Sandy had grown, dallying happily along the river-edge, and as happily accepting the guidance of their mother, who made her slow flight from Faraway Island every now and then, usually so low that her spotted breast was reflected in the clear water as she came, the white markings in her wings showing above and below.
Of course, as soon as the season came for their migration journey, the four of them started cheerfully off with Peter and Dot, for a leisurely little flight to Brazil and back—to fill the days, as it were, with pleasant wanderings, from the time the hummingbird fed at the feast of the cardinal flower in late summer, until he should be hovering over the columbine in the spring.
GAVIA OF IMMER LAKE
Once upon a time, it was four millions of years ago. There were no people then all the way from Florida to Alaska. There was, indeed, in all this distance, no land to walk upon, except islands in the west where the Rocky Mountains are now. That is the only place where the country that is now the United States of America stuck up out of the water. Everywhere else were the waves of the sea. There were no people, even on the Rocky Mountain Islands. None at all.
No, the creatures that visited those island shores in those old days were not people, but birds. Nearly as large as men they were, and they had teeth on their long slender jaws, and they had no wings. They came to the islands, perhaps, only at nesting-time; for their legs and feet were fitted for swimming and not walking, and they lived upon fish in the sea. So they dwelt, with no man to see them, on the water that stretched from sea to sea; and what their voices were like, no man knows.
A million years, perhaps, passed by, and then another million, and maybe another million still; and the birds without wings and with teeth were no more. In their places were other birds, much smaller—birds with wings and no teeth; but something like them, for all that: for their feet also were fitted for swimming and not walking, and they, too, visited the shore little, if at all, except at nesting-time, and they lived upon fish in the water.
And what their voices were like, all men may know who will go to the wilderness lakes and listen; for, wonderful as it may seem, these second birds have come down to us through perhaps a million years, and live to-day, giving a strange clear cry before a storm, and at other times calling weirdly in lone places, so that men who are within hearing always say, "The loons are laughing."
Gavia was a loon who had spent the winter of 1919-1920 on the Atlantic Ocean. There had hardly been, perhaps, in a million years a handsomer loon afloat on any sea. Even in her winter coat she was beautiful; and when she put on her spring suit, she was lovelier still.
She and her mate had enjoyed the sea-fishing and had joined a company of forty for swimming parties and other loon festivities; for life on the ocean waves has many interests, and there is never a lack of entertainment. The salt-water bathing, diving, and such other activities as the sea affords, were pleasant for them all. Then, too, the winter months made a chance for rest, a change from home-duties, and a freedom from looking out for the children, that gave the loons a care-free manner as they rode the waves far out at sea.
Considering all this, it seems strange, does it not, that when the spring of 1920 had gone no further than to melt the ice in the northern lakes, Gavia and her mate left the sea and took strong flight inland.
What made them go, I cannot explain. I do not understand it well enough. I do not really know what urges the salmon to leave the Atlantic Ocean in the spring and travel up the Penobscot or the St. John River. I never felt quite sure why Peter Piper left Brazil for the shore where the blue-bells nod. All I can tell you about it is that a feeling came over the loons that is called a migration instinct; and, almost before Gavia and her mate knew what was happening to them, they had flown far and far from the Ocean, and were laughing weirdly over the cold waters of Immer Lake.
The shore was dark with the deep green of fir trees, whose straight trunks had blisters on them where drops of fragrant balsam lay hidden in the bark. And here and there trees with white slender trunks leaned out over the water, and the bark on these peeled up like pieces of thin and pretty paper. Three wonderful vines trailed through the woodland, and each in its season blossomed into pink and fragrant bells. But what these were, and how they looked, is not a part of this story, for Gavia never wandered among them. Her summer paths lay upon and under the water of the lake, as her winter trails had been upon and under the water of the sea.
Ah, if she loved the water so, why did she suddenly begin to stay out of it? If she delighted so in swimming and diving and chasing wild wing-races over the surface, why did she spend the day quietly in one place?
Of course you have guessed it! Gavia was on her nest. She had hidden her two babies among the bulrushes for safety, and must stay there herself to keep them warm. They were not yet out of their eggshells, so the only care they needed for many a long day and night was constant warmth enough for growth. They lay near each other, the two big eggs, of a color that some might call brown and some might call green, with dark-brown spots splashed over them.
The nest Gavia and her mate had prepared for them was a heap of old wet reeds and other dead water-plants, which they had piled up among the stems of the rushes until it reached six inches or more out of the water. They were really in the centre of a nest island, with water all about them. So, you see, Gavia was within splashing distance of her fishing-pool after all.
She and her mate, indeed, were in the habit of making their nests here in the cove; though the two pairs of Neighbor Loons, who built year after year farther up the lake, chose places on the island near the water-line in the spring; and when the water sank lower later on, they were left high and dry where they had to flounder back and forth to and from the nest, as awkward on land as they were graceful in the water.
Faithful to her unhatched young as Gavia was, it is not likely that she alone kept them warm for nearly thirty days and nights; for Father Loon remained close at hand, and would he not help her with this task?
Gavia, sitting on her nest, did not look like herself of the early winter months when she had played among the ocean waves. For her head and neck were now a beautiful green, and she wore two white striped collars, while the back of her feather coat was neatly checked off with little white squarish spots. Father Loon wore the same style that she did. Summer and winter, they dressed alike.
Yes, a handsome couple, indeed, waited that long month for the birth of their twins, growing all this time inside those two strong eggshells. At last, however, the nest held the two babies, all feathered with down from the very first, black on their backs and gray shading into white beneath.
Did I say the nest held them? Well, so it did for a few hours. After that, they swam the waters of Immer Lake, and their nest was home no longer. Peter Piper's children themselves were not more quick to run than Gavia's twins were to swim and dive.
I think, perhaps, they were named Olair; for Gavia often spoke in a very soft mellow tone, saying, "Olair"; and her voice, though a bit sad, had a pleasing sound. So we will call them the two Olairs.
They were darlings, those baby loons, swimming about (though not very fast at first), and diving out of sight in the water every now and then (but not staying under very long at the beginning). Then, when they were tired or in a hurry, they would ride on the backs of Gavia and Father Loon: and they liked it fine, sailing over the water with no trouble at all, just as if they were in a boat, with someone else to do the rowing.
Oh, yes, they were darlings! Had you seen one of them, you could hardly have helped wanting to cuddle him. But do you think you could catch one, even the youngest? Not a bit of it. If you had given chase in a boat, the wee-est loon would have sailed off faster yet on the back of his father; and when you grew tired and stopped, you would have heard, as if mocking you, the old bird give, in a laughing voice, the Tremble Song:
"O, ha-ha-ha, ho!—O, ha-ha-ha, ho!— O, ha-ha-ha, ho!—O, ha-ha-ha, ho!—"
If you had tried again a few days later, the young loon would have been able to dive and swim by himself out of sight under water, the old ones giving him warning of danger and telling him what to do.
But no child chased the two Olairs and no lawbreaker fired a shot at Gavia or Father Loon. They had frights and narrow escapes in plenty without that; but those were of the sorts that loons get used to century after century, and not modern disasters, like guns, that people have recently brought into wild places. For the only man who dwelt on the shore of Immer Lake was a minister.
Because he loved his fellow men, this minister of Immer Lake spent part of his days among them, doing such service to the weak of spirit as only a minister can do, who has faith that there is some good in every person. At such times he was a sort of servant to all who needed him.
Because he loved, also, his fellow creatures who had lived in the beautiful wild places of this land much longer than any man whatsoever, he spent part of his days among them. At such times he was a sort of hermit.
Then no handy trolley rumbled by to take him on his near way. No train shrieked its departure to distant places where he might go. There was no interesting roar of mill or factory making things to use. There was no sociable tread of feet upon the pavement, to give him a feeling of human companionship.
But, for all that, it was not a silent world the minister found at Immer Lake. On sunny days the waves, touching the rocks on the shore, sang gently, "Bippo-bappo, bippo-bappo." The trees clapped their leaves together as the breezes bade them. The woodpeckers tapped tunes to each other on their hollow wooden drums. The squirrels chattered among the branches. At dawn and at dusk the thrushes made melodies everywhere about.
On stormy nights the waves slapped loudly upon the rocks. The branches whacked against one another at the mighty will of the wind. The thunder roared applause at the fireworks the lightning made. And best of all, like the very spirit of the wild event, there rang the strange, sweet moaning Storm Song of the Loon:—
"A-a-ah l-u-u-u-u-u-u' la. A-a-ah l-u-u-u-u-u-u' la. A-a-ah l-u-u-u-u-u-u' la. A-a-ah l-u-u-u-u-u-u' la."
The minister of Immer Lake liked that song, and he liked the other music that they made. So it was that he sat before his door through many a summer twilight, and played on his violin until the loons answered with the Tremble Song:—
"O, ha-ha-ha, ho! O, ha-ha-ha, ho! O, ha-ha-ha, ho! O, ha-ha-ha, ho!"
Then they would swim up and up, until they floated close to his cottage, feeding unafraid near by, while he played softly.
Often, when Gavia and her mate were resting there or farther up the lake, some other loon would fly over; and then Father Loon would throw his head way forward and give another sort of song. "Oh-a-lee'!" he would begin, with his bill wide open; and then, nearly closing his mouth, he would sing, "Cleo'-pe''-a-rit'." The "Oh" starts low and then rises in a long, drawn way. Perhaps in all the music of Immer Lake there is nothing queerer than the Silly Song of Father Loon:—
"Oh-a-lee'! Cleo'-p''-a-rit', cleo'-pe''-a-rit', cleo'-per''-wer-wer! Oh-a-lee'! Cleo'-p''-a-rit', cleo'-pe''-a-rit', cleo'-pe''-wer-wer!"
Such were the songs the two Olairs heard often and again, while they were growing up; and they must have added much to the interest of their first summer.
Altogether they had endless pleasures, and were as much at ease in the water as if there were no more land near them than there had been near those other young birds that had teeth and no wings, four million years or so ago. Their own wings were still small and flipper-like when, about the first of August, they were spending the day, as they often did, in a small cove. They were now about two-thirds grown, and their feathers were white beneath and soft bright brown above, with bars of white spots at their shoulders. They had funny stiff little tails, which they stuck up out of the water or poked out of sight, as they wished. They swam about in circles, and preened their feathers with their bills, which were still small and gray, and not black like those of the old birds.
After a time Gavia came swimming toward them, all under water except her head. Suddenly Father Loon joined her, and they both began diving and catching little fishes for the two Olairs. For the vegetable part of their dinner they had shreds of some waterplant, which Gavia brought them, dangling from her bill. Surely never a fresher meal was served than fish just caught and greens just pulled! No wonder it was that the young loons grew fast, and were well and strong. After the twins were fed, Gavia and Father Loon sank from sight under the water, heads and all, and the Olairs saw no more of them for two hours or so, though they heard them now and then singing, sometimes the Tremble Song and sometimes the Silly Song.
They were good children, and did not try to tag along or sulk because they were left behind. First they dabbled about and helped themselves, for dessert, to some plant growing under water, gulping down rather large mouthfuls of it. Then they grew drowsy; and what could have been pleasanter than going to sleep floating, with the whole cove for a cradle?
You could never guess how those youngsters got ready for their nap. Just like a grown-up! Each Olair rolled over on one side, till the white under-part of his body showed above water. Then he waved the exposed leg in the air, and tucked it away, with a quick flip, under the feathers of his flank. Thus one foot was left in the water, for the bird to paddle with gently while he slept, so that he would not be drifted away by the wind. But that day one of the tired water-babies went so sound asleep that he didn't paddle enough, and the wind played a joke on him by shoving him along to the snaggy edge of the cove and bumping him against a log. That was a surprise, and he woke with a start and swam quickly back to the middle of the cove, where the other Olair was resting in the open water.
While their children were napping, Gavia and Father Loon went to a party. On the way, they stopped for a bit of fishing by themselves. Gavia began by suddenly flapping around in a big circle, slapping the water with wing-tips and feet, and making much noise as she spattered the spray all about. Then she quickly poked her head under water, as if looking for fish. Father Loon, who had waited a little way off, dived a number of times, as if to see what Gavia had scared in his direction.
Then they both dove deep, and swam under water until they came near the four Neighbor Loons, who had left their two families of young dozing, and had also come out for a good time.
When Father Loon caught sight of his four neighbors, he sang the Silly Song, after which the six birds ran races on the water. They all started about the same time and went pell-mell in one direction, their feet and wings going as if they hardly knew whether to swim or fly, and ending by doing both at once. Then they would all stop, as suddenly as if one of them had given a signal, and turning, would dash in the opposite direction, racing to and fro again and again and again. Oh! it was a grand race, and there is no knowing how long they would have kept it up, had not something startled them so that they all stopped and sang the Tremble Song, which sounds like strange laughter. They opened their mouths quite wide and, wagging the lower jaw up and down with every "ha," they sang "O, ha-ha-ha, ho!" so many times that it seemed as if they would never get through. And, indeed, how could they tell when the song was ended, for every verse was like the one before?
Then all at once they stopped singing and began some flying stunts. A stiff breeze was blowing, and, facing this, they pattered along, working busily with wings and feet, until they could get up speed enough to leave the water and take to flight. Though it was rather a hard matter to get started, when they were once under way they flew wonderfully well, and the different pairs seemed to enjoy setting their wings and sailing close together around a large curve. They went so fast part of the time that, when they came down to the surface of the water again, they plunged along with a splash and ploughed a furrow in the water before they could come to a stop.
Of course, by that time they were hungry enough for refreshments! So Gavia went off to one side and stirred the water up as if she were trying to scare fish toward the others, who waited quietly. Then they all dived, and what their black sharp-pointed bills found under water tasted good to those hungry birds.
After that the loon party broke up, and each pair went to their own home cove, where they had left their young. It had been a pleasant way to spend the time sociably together; and loons like society very much, if they can select their own friends and have their parties in a wilderness lake. But gay and happy as they had been at their merrymaking, Gavia and her mate were not sorry to return to the two Olairs, who had long since wakened from their naps and were glad to see their handsome father and mother again.
By the time the two Olairs were full grown, Gavia had molted many of her prettiest feathers and was looking rather odd, as she had on part of her summer suit and part of her winter one. Father Loon had much the same appearance; for, of course, birds that live in the water cannot shed their feathers as many at a time as Corbie could, but must change their feather-wear gradually, so that they may always have enough on to keep their bodies dry. And summer and winter, you may be sure that a loon takes good care of his clothes, oiling them well to keep them waterproof.
Fall grew into winter, and the nest where Gavia had brooded the spring before now held a mound of snow in its lap. The stranded log against which the little Olair had been bumped while he was napping, months ago, was glazed over with a sparkling crust. The water where Gavia and Father Loon had fished for their children, and had played games and run races with Neighbor Loons, was sealed tight with a heavy cover of ice.
And it may be, if you should sail the seas this winter, that you will see the two Olairs far, far out upon the water. What made them leave the pleasures of Immer Lake just when they did, I cannot explain. I do not understand it well enough. I never felt quite sure why Peter Piper left the shore where the cardinal flowers glowed, for far Brazil. All I can tell you about it is that a feeling came over the loons that is called a migration instinct, and, almost before they knew what was happening to them, they were laughing weirdly through the ocean storms.
If you see them, you will know that they are strange birds whose ancestors reach back and back through the ages, maybe a million years. You will think—as who would not?—that a loon is a wonderful gift that Nature has brought down through all the centuries; a living relic of a time of which we know very little except from fossils men find and guess about.
It is small wonder their songs sound strange to our ears, for their voices have echoed through a world too old for us to know. It makes us a bit timid to think about all this, as it does the minister of Immer Lake, who sits before his door through many a summer twilight, playing on his violin until the loons answer him with their Tremble Song:—
"O, ha-ha-ha, ho! O, ha-ha-ha, ho!"
EVE AND PETRO
If swallows studied history, 1920 would have been an important date for Eve and Petro. It was the one hundredth anniversary of the year when a man named Long visited cliff swallows among the Rocky Mountains.
The century between 1820 and 1920 had given what we call civilization a chance to make many changes in the wild world of birds. During that time lifeless hummingbirds had been made to perch upon the hats of fashionable women; herring gulls had been robbed of their eggs and killed for their feathers; shooting movements had been organized to kill crows with shotgun or rifle, in order that more gunpowder might be sold; the people of Alaska had been permitted to kill more than eight thousand eagles in the last great breeding-place left to our National Emblem; uncounted millions of Passenger Pigeons had been slaughtered, and these wonderful birds done away with forever; and the methods by which egrets had been murdered were too horrible to write about in books for children to read.
But however shamefully civilization had treated, and had brought up children to treat, these and many other of their fellow creatures of the world, who had a right to the life that had been given them as surely as it had been given to men, the years since 1820 had been happy ones for the ancestors of Eve and Petro.
Eve and Petro, themselves, were happy as any two swallows need be that spring of 1920, when they started forth to seek a cliff, just as their ancestors had done for the hundred years or so since man began to notice their habits, and no man knows for how many hundreds of years before that.
Of course they found it as all cliff swallows must, for cliff-hunting is a part of their springtime work. It was very high and very straight. Its wall was of boards, and the gray shingled roof jutted out overhead just as if inviting Eve and Petro to its shelter.
It was a good cliff, and mankind had been so busy building the same sort all across the country for the past hundred years that there was no lack of them anywhere, and swallows could now choose the ones that pleased them best. Yes, civilization had been kind to them and had made more cliffs than Nature had built for them; though perhaps it was Mother Nature, herself, who taught the birds that these structures men called barns and used inside for hay or cattle were, after all, only cliffs outside, and that people were harmless creatures who would not hurt the swallow kind.
However all that may be, it is quite certain that Eve and Petro squeaked pleasantly for joy when they chose their building site, undisturbed by the ladder that was soon put near, and unafraid of the people who climbed up to watch them at their work. They were too happily busy to worry, and besides, there is a tradition that men folk and swallow folk are friendly, each to the other.
How old this tradition is, we do not know; but we do know that swallows of one kind and another were welcomed in the Old World in the old days to heathen temples before there were Christian churches, and that to-day in the New World they play in and out of the dark arches in the great churches of far Brazil and flash across the gilding of the very tabernacle, reminding us of the passage in the Psalms where it is written that the swallow hath found a nest for herself, where she may lay her young—even thine altars, O Lord of Hosts!
So it is not strange that far and wide over the world people have the idea that swallows bring luck to the house. I think so myself, don't you?—that it is very good fortune, indeed, to have these birds of friendly and confiding ways beneath our shelter.
Of course the ancestors of cliff swallows had not known the walls and roofs of man so long as other kinds of swallows; but the associations of one short century had been pleasant enough to call forth many cheerful squeakings of joy, just like those of Eve and Petro that pleasant day in June when they started their nest under the roof near the top of the ladder.
To be sure, they made no use of that ladder, even though they were masons and had their hods of plaster to carry way up near the top of their cliff. No, they needed no firmer ladder than the air, and their long wings were strong enough to climb it with.
They lost little time in beginning, each coming with his first hod of plaster. How? Balanced on their heads as some people carry burdens? No. On their backs, then? No. In their claws? Oh, no, their feet were far too feeble for bearing loads. Do you remember what Corbie used for a berry-pail when he went out to pick fruit? Why, of course! the hod of the swallow mason is none other than his mouth, and it holds as much as half a thimbleful.
First, Eve had to mark the place where the curved edge of the nest would be; and how could she mark it without any chalk, and how could she make a curve without any compasses? Well, she clung to the straight wall with her little feet, which she kept nearly in one place, and, swinging her body about, hitch by hitch, she struck out her curve with her beak and marked it with little dabs of plaster. Then she and Petro could tell where to build and, taking turns, first one and then the other, they began to lay the wall of their home.
It was slow work, for it must be thick and strong, and the place where they gathered the plaster was not handy by, and it took a great great many trips, their hods being so small.
At first, while the nest was shallow, only one could work at a time; and if Petro came back with his plaster before Eve had patted the last of hers into place, she would squeak at him in a fidgety though not fretful voice, as if saying, "Now, don't get in my way and bother me, dear." So he would have to fly about while he waited for her to go. The minute she was ready to be off, he would be slipping into her place; and this time she would give him a cosy little squeak of welcome, and he would reply, with his mouth full of plaster, in a quick and friendly way, as if he meant, "I'll build while you fetch more plaster, and we'd both better hurry, don't you think?"
After worrying a bit about the best place to dump his hodful, he went to work. He opened his beak and, in the most matter-of-fact way, pushed out his lump of plaster with his tongue, on top of the nest wall. Then he braced his body firmly in the nest and began to use his trowel, which was his upper beak, pushing the fresh lump all smooth on the inside of the nest.
Have you ever seen a dog poke with the top of his nose, until he got the dirt heaped over a bone which he had buried? Well, that's much the way Petro bunted his plaster smooth—rooted it into place with the top of his closed beak. He got his face dirty doing it, too, even the pretty pale feather crescent moon on his forehead. But that didn't matter. Trowels, if they do useful work, have to get dirty doing it, and Petro didn't stop because of that. If he had, his nest would have been as rough on the inside as it was outside, where a humpy little lump showed for each mouthful of plaster.
Although Eve and Petro did not fly off to the plaster pit together, they did not go alone, for there was a whole colony of swallows building under the eaves of that same barn; and while some of them stayed and plastered, the rest flew forth for a fresh supply.
They knew the place, every one of them; and swiftly over the meadow and over the marsh they flew, until they came to a pasture. There, near a spring where the cows had trampled the ground until it was oozy and the water stood in tiny pools in their hoof prints, the swallows stopped. They put down their beaks into the mud and gathered it in their mouths; and all the time they held their wings quivering up over their beautiful blue backs, like a flock of butterflies just alighting with their wings atremble.
So their plaster pit was just a mud-puddle. Yes, that is all; only it had to be a particularly sticky kind of mud, which is called clay; for the walls of their homes were a sort of brick something like that the people made in Egypt years and years ago. And do you remember how the story goes that the folk in Pharaoh's day gathered straws to mix with the clay, so that their bricks would be stronger? Well, Eve and Petro didn't know that story, but they gathered fibres of slender roots and dead grass stems with their clay, which doubtless did their brick plaster no harm.
Men brick-makers nowadays bake their bricks in ovens called kilns, which are heated with fire. Eve and Petro let their brick bake, too, and the fire they used was the same one the Egyptians used in the days of Pharaoh—a fire that had never in all that time gone out, but had glowed steadily century after century, baking many bricks for folk and birds. Of course you know what fire that is, for you see it yourself every day that the sun shines.
Every now and again Eve and Petro and all the rest of the swallow colony left off their brick-building and went on a hunting trip. They hunted high in the air and they hunted low over the meadow. They hunted afar off along the stream and they hunted near by in the barnyard. And all the game they caught they captured on the wing, and they ate it fresh at a gulp without pausing in their flight. As they sailed and swirled, they were good to watch, for a swallow's strong long wings bear him right gracefully.
Why did they stop for the hunting flight? Perhaps they were hungry. Perhaps their mouths were tired of being hods for clay they could not eat. Perhaps the fresh plaster on the walls of their homes needed time to dry a bit before more was added.
Be that as it may, they made the minutes count even while they rested from their building work. For they used this time getting their meals; and whenever they were doing that, they were working for the owner of the barn, paying their rent for the house-lot on the wall by catching grass insects over the meadow, and mosquitoes and horseflies and house-flies by the hundreds, and many another pest, too.
Ah, yes, there may be some reason for the belief that swallows bring good luck to men. I once heard of a farmer who said he didn't dare disturb these birds because of a superstition that, if he did, his cows wouldn't give so much milk. Well, maybe they wouldn't if all the flies a colony of swallows could catch were alive to pester his herd; for the happier and more comfortable these animals are, the healthier they are and the more milk they give.
The hunting flights of Eve and Petro and their comrades lasted about fifteen minutes each time they took a recess from their building.
After two days the nest was big enough, so that there was room for both swallows to build at once; and after that, Petro didn't have to fly around with his mouth full of plaster waiting for Eve to go if he chanced to come before she was through. They always chatted a bit and then went on with their work, placing their plaster carefully and bunting it smooth on the inside, modeling with clay a house as well suited to their needs as is the concrete mansion a human architect makes suited to the needs of man.
And if you think it is a simple matter to make a nest of clay, just go to the wisest architect you know and ask him these questions. How many hodfuls of clay, each holding as much as half a thimble, would it take to build the wall of a room just the right shape for a swallow to sit in while she brooded her eggs? How large would it have to be inside, to hold four or five young swallows grown big enough for their first flight? How thick would the walls have to be to make it strong enough? What sort of curve would be best for its support against a perfectly straight wall? How much space would have to be allowed for lining the room, to make it warm and comfortable? How can the clay be handled so that the drying sun and wind will not crack the walls? What is the test for telling whether the clay is sticky enough to hold together? How much of the nest must be stuck to the cliff so that the weight of it will not make it fall?