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Dooryard Stories by  Clara Dillingham Pierson
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[Illustration]

THE FIGHT FOR THE BIRD-HOUSE

[12]

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wrens were a most devoted couple,?all in all, about the nicest birds on the place. And that was saying a great deal, for there were many nesting [14] there and others who came to find food on the broad lawn. They were small birds, wearing dark brown feathers on the upper parts of their bodies and lighter grayish ones underneath. Even their bills were marked in the same way, with the upper half dark and the lower half light. Their wings were short and blunt, and they had a habit of holding their tails well up in the air.

People said that Mrs. Wren was very fussy, and perhaps it was true, but even then she was not a cross person. Besides, if she wished to do a thing over five times in order to make it suit her, she certainly had a perfect right to do so. It was she who always chose the nesting-place and settled all the plans for the family. Mr. Wren was quite content to have it so, since that was the custom among Wrens, and it saved him much work. Mr. Wren was not lazy. He simply wanted to save time for singing, [15] which he considered his own particular business. Besides, he never forgot what had happened to a cousin of his, a young fellow who found fault with his wife and insisted on changing to another nesting-place. It had ended in his going, and her staying there and marrying another Wren. So he had lost both his home and his wife by finding fault.

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

"Guess not now," said Mr. Sparrow, with a bad look in his eyes. "Nothing belongs to anybody else if I want it. Do [16] you see?" Then he picked up and swallowed a fat Grub which the Blackbird had uncovered for himself and left lying there until he should finish talking. One could hardly blame the blackbird for being vexed about this, for everybody knows that English Sparrows really prefer seeds, and that this one ate the Grub only to be mean. It did not make the Blackbird any happier to hear his relatives laugh at him in the evergreens above, and he made up his mind to get even with that Sparrow.

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

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

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

Down flew Mr. And Mrs. Wren. "Oh, is n't it pleasant to get home again?" she exclaimed. "But what is that Sparrow doing on our porch?"

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

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


[Illustration]

THE FIGHT FOR THE BIRD HOUSE.

Mr. Wren looked at his wife and she nodded. Then he flew at Mr. Sparrow [18] and they fought back and forth on the grape trellis near by them, in the air, then on the ground. Mrs. Sparrow peeped out of the open door to see if her husband needed help. He was the larger of the two, but not so quick in darting and turning. Now they passed out of sight behind the tool-house and she forgot Mrs. Wren and flew down to see better. She was hardly off the tiny porch when Mrs. Wren darted in. Mrs. Sparrow saw when it was too late what a mistake she had made, and tried to get back. She reached the porch again just in time to have a lot of straws, twigs, and feathers poked into her face by the angry Mrs. Wren.

"I am cleaning house," said Mrs. Wren. "My house, too! Get out of my way!" Then she pushed out more of the same sort of stuff. Mrs. Sparrow tried to get in, and every time she put her head through the doorway she was pecked by Mrs. Wren. And she deserved it. She [19] called Mr. Sparrow, but he could not help her, and Mr. Wren was so pleased that he sat on top of the tool-house and sang and sang and sang. To look at him you would have thought he was trying to kill himself. He puffed up his throat and swelled up his body and sang so fast that he seemed to be saying about four words at a time.

"Good for you! Good for you! Good for you!" he sang. "Stick to it! Stick to it! Stick to it! I'm here! I'm here! I'm here, here, here!"

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

This was the middle of the morning and she could not get out to feed until late in the afternoon. Mr. Wren found some delicious insects on the grapevines, and tried to carry a few billfuls to his [20] wife, but the Sparrows prevented him. He would have enjoyed his own dinner better if she could have eaten with him. When he asked how she was, she chirped back that she was hungry but would not give up. Mr. Wren spend most of his time walking around the roof of the tool-house in circles, dragging his wings on the shingles, and saying, "Tr-r-r-r-r-r!" He was so angry that sometimes he could not say anything else. The Sparrows sat on the grape trellis and said mean things.

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

"This has gone far enough," said he. "This house belongs to the Wrens and they are going to have it. I   say so. If I catch either of you Sparrows around [21] here again, I will drive you off the place. I can do it, too. You may think it over until the next time that grapevine is blown against the tool-house. If you do not go then, there will be trouble." He ruffled up his feathers and glared with his yellow eyes. That was all he had to do. Before the grapevine swayed again, the Sparros were far away.

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

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


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