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Bird Stories by  Edith M. Patch
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CHICK, D.D.

[1] 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 [2] 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 [3] 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 load held themselves out like arms waiting to be filled, aiic the snow had been dropped on them in fluffy iiiasses, by a quiet, windless storm. It had been very yoft and lovely that way—a world all white and green below,with a sky of wonderful blue that the firs pointed

like steeples. Then, as if that were not decoration vii0~ęgh, another storm had come, and had put on the klil,tcr that was brightest at the edge of the forest where blic sun shone on it. The second storm had covered [4] 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, [5] "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'tlazy. He did n'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 was n'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 could n'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 [6] 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 did n'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 [7] 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 drat it seemed to fill all the space from the white earth [8] 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 win ter sounds were so dear to the Farmer Boy who lived at [9] 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 lie could and found his present tied fast to a branch. The tirnell 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, [10] 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 was n'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.

[11] 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 [12] 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 hap- pier 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 was n'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 need n'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 [13] 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 [14] 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 did n'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 [15] 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 is n'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 beech-nut 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 [16] 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.

WHY?

Well, never ask Chick, D.D. The north with its snows is good enough for him. Warblers may go and nuthatches may come. 'T is 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 [17] 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.


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