Written by Clara Dillingham Pierson
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 trees 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.
The birds had not awakened so early as usual, because it was darker. They had hardly gotten a good start 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 almost made it to the top of this maple tree 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 to talk 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 angry, 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 best. 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 everything. 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.
“Ah!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 woke up 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 nearby.
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. “Go way!” he cried, waving his umbrella. “Go way! Don’t you try to catch any birds ’round here. My father doesn’t ’low it. Go way! Go 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 almost gobbled up a Robin, only I wouldn’t let him do that, let’s get him some cream.”