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The Burgess Bird Book for Children by  Thornton W. Burgess


 

 

THE WATCHMAN OF THE OLD ORCHARD

[46] A FEW days after Chebec and his wife started building their nest in the Old Orchard Peter dropped around as usual for a very early call. He found Chebec very busy hunting for materials for that nest, because, as he explained to Peter, Mrs. Chebec is very particular indeed about what her nest is made of. But he had time to tell Peter a bit of news.

"My fighting cousin and my handsomest cousin arrived together yesterday, and now our family is very well represented in the Old Orchard," said Chebec proudly.

Slowly Peter reached over his back with his long left hind foot and thoughtfully scratched his long right ear. He didn't like to admit that he couldn't recall those two cousins of Chebec's. "Did you say your fighting cousin?" he asked in a hesitating way.

"That's what I said," replied Chebec. "He is Scrapper the Kingbird, as of course you know. The rest of us always feel safe when he is about."

[47] "Of course I know him," declared Peter, his face clearing. "Where is he now?"

At that very instant a great racket broke out on the other side of the Old Orchard and in no time at all the feathered folks were hurrying from every direction, screaming at the top of their voices. Of course, Peter couldn't be left out of anything like that, and he scampered for the scene of trouble as fast as his legs could take him. When he got there he saw Redtail the Hawk flying up and down and this way and that way, as if trying to get away from something or somebody.

For a minute Peter couldn't think what was the trouble with Redtail, and then he saw. A white-throated, white-breasted bird, having a black cap and back, and a broad white band across the end of his tail, was darting at Redtail as if he meant to pull out every feather in the latter's coat.

He was just a little smaller than Welcome Robin, and in comparison with him Redtail was a perfect giant. But this seemed to make no difference to Scrapper, for that is who it was. He wasn't afraid, and he intended that everybody should know it, especially Redtail. It is because of his fearlessness that he is called Kingbird. All the time he was screaming at the top of his lungs, calling Redtail a robber and every other bad name he could think of. All the other birds joined him in calling Redtail [48] bad names. But none, not even Bully the English Sparrow, was brave enough to join him in attacking big Redtail.

When he had succeeded in driving Redtail far enough from the Old Orchard to suit him, Scrapper flew back and perched on a dead branch of one of the trees, where he received the congratulations of all his feathered neighbors. He took them quite modestly, assuring them that he had done nothing, nothing at all, but that he didn't intend to have any of the Hawk family around the Old Orchard while he lived there. Peter couldn't help but admire Scrapper for his courage.


[Illustration]

SCRAPER THE KINGBIRD. Look in the Old Orchard for a bird with white breast, dark head and back, and with a white tip to his tail. REDEYE THE VIREO. The only Vireo with red eyes.

As Peter looked up at Scrapper he saw that, like all the rest of the flycatchers, there was just the tiniest of hooks on the end of his bill. Scrapper's slightly raised cap seemed all black, but if Peter could have gotten close enough, he would have found that hidden in it was a patch of orange-red. While Peter sat staring up at him Scrapper suddenly darted out into the air, and his bill snapped in quite the same way Chebec's did when he caught a fly. But it wasn't a fly that Scrapper had. It was a bee. Peter saw it very distinctly just as Scrapper snapped it up. It reminded Peter that he had often heard Scrapper called the Bee Martin, and now he understood why.

[49] "Do you live on bees altogether?" asked Peter.

"Bless your heart, Peter, no," replied Scrapper with a chuckle. "There wouldn't be any honey if I did. I like bees. I like them first rate. But they form only a very small part of my food. Those that I do catch are mostly drones, and you know the drones are useless. They do no work at all. It is only by accident that I now and then catch a worker. I eat all kinds of insects that fly and some that don't. I'm one of Farmer Brown's best friends, if he did but know it. You can talk all you please about the wonderful eyesight of the members of the Hawk family, but if any one of them has better eyesight than I have, I'd like to know who it is. There's a fly 'way over there beyond that old apple-tree; watch me catch it."

Peter knew better than to waste any effort trying to see that fly. He knew that he couldn't have seen it had it been only one fourth that distance away. But if he couldn't see the fly he could hear the sharp click of Scrapper's bill, and he knew by the way Scrapper kept opening and shutting his mouth after his return that he had caught that fly and it had tasted good.

"Are you going to build in the Old Orchard this year?" asked Peter.

"Of course I am," declared Scrapper. "I—"

[50] Just then he spied Blacky the Crow and dashed out to meet him. Blacky saw him coming and was wise enough to suddenly appear to have no interest whatever in the Old Orchard, turning away towards the Green Meadows instead.

Peter didn't wait for Scrapper to return. It was getting high time for him to scamper home to the dear Old Briar-patch and so he started along, lipperty-lipperty-lip. Just as he was leaving the far corner of the Old Orchard some one called him. "Peter! Oh, Peter Rabbit!" called the voice. Peter stopped abruptly, sat up very straight, looked this way, looked that way and looked the other way, every way but the right way.

"Look up over your head," cried the voice, rather a harsh voice. Peter looked, then all in a flash it came to him who it was Chebec had meant by the handsomest member of his family. It was Cresty the Great Crested Flycatcher. He was a wee bit bigger than Scrapper the Kingbird, yet not quite so big as Welcome Robin, and more slender. His throat and breast were gray, shading into bright yellow underneath. His back and head were of a grayish-brown with a tint of olive-green. A pointed cap was all that was needed to make him quite distinguished looking. He certainly was the handsomest as well as the largest of the Flycatcher family.

[51] "You seem to be in a hurry, so don't let me detain you, Peter," said Cresty, before Peter could find his tongue. "I just want to ask one little favor of you."

"What is it?" asked Peter, who is always glad to do any one a favor.

"If in your roaming about you run across an old cast-off suit of Mr. Black Snake, or of any other member of the Snake family, I wish you would remember me and let me know. Will you, Peter?" said Cresty.

"A—a—a—what?" stammered Peter.

"A cast-off suit of clothes from any member of the Snake family," replied Cresty somewhat impatiently. "Now don't forget, Peter. I've got to go house hunting, but you'll find me there or hereabouts, if it happens that you find one of those cast-off Snake suits."

Before Peter could say another word Cresty had flown away. Peter hesitated, looking first towards the dear Old Briar-patch and then towards Jenny Wren's house. He just couldn't understand about those cast-off suits of the Snake family, and he felt sure that Jenny Wren could tell him. Finally curiosity got the best of him, and back he scampered, lipperty-lipperty-lip, to the foot of the tree in which Jenny Wren had her home.

[52] "Jenny!" called Peter. "Jenny Wren! Jenny Wren!" No one answered him. He could hear Mr. Wren singing in another tree, but he couldn't see him. "Jenny! Jenny Wren! Jenny Wren!" called Peter again. This time Jenny popped her head out, and her little eyes fairly snapped. "Didn't I tell you the other day, Peter Rabbit, that I'm not to be disturbed? Didn't I tell you that I've got seven eggs in here, and that I can't spend any time gossiping? Didn't I, Peter Rabbit? Didn't I? Didn't I?"

"You certainly did, Jenny. You certainly did, and I'm sorry to disturb you," replied Peter meekly. "I wouldn't have thought of doing such a thing, but I just didn't know who else to go to."

"Go to for what?" snapped Jenny Wren. "What is it you've come to me for?"

"Snake skins," replied Peter.

"Snake skins! Snake skins!" shrieked Jenny Wren. "What are you talking about, Peter Rabbit? I never have anything to do with Snake skins and don't want to. Ugh! It makes me shiver just to think of it."

"You don't understand," cried Peter hurriedly. "What I want to know is, why should Cresty the Flycatcher ask me to please let him know if I found any cast-off suits of the Snake family? He flew away before I could ask him why he wants [53] them, and so I came to you, because I know you know everything, especially everything concerning your neighbors."

Jenny Wren looked as if she didn't know whether to feel flattered or provoked. But Peter looked so innocent that she concluded he was trying to say something nice.


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