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Dooryard Stories by  Clara Dillingham Pierson
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THE SPARROWS INSIDE THE EAVES

[158] ONE does not like to say such things, but the English Sparrows were very disagreeable people. And they are very disagreeable people. Also, they always have been, and probably always will be, very disagreeable people. They were the first birds to make trouble among neighbors anywhere around the big house. If it had not been that the Gentleman who lived there was so very tender-hearted, their nests would probably have been poked down with poles long before the eggs could have been laid in them. When Boys came around with little rifles and ugly looking bags slung over heir shoulders, they were always ordered away [159] and told that the Gentleman would have no shooting near his house.

It is not strange then that the woodbine was full of Sparrows' nests, and that many of the evergreens also bore them in their top branches. One had even been tucked in behind a conductor pipe, and their owners hunted and argued and fussed all over the place. There was just one way in which the English Sparrows were not cared for like other birds around the big house. Silvertip was allowed to eat all that he could catch. And you may be very sure that no Robin ever called "Cat!" when he was ready to spring upon a Sparrow.

"It may be wrong," said one Robin mother, "but I cannot do it. I remember too well how they have robbed my nests and quarrelled with my friends. I say that they must care for their own children. And if they do not—well, so much the better for Silvertip!"

[160] You see that the birds were not angry at Silvertip for trying to eat them. It was all to be expected, as they knew very well. It was not pleasant, but it had to be, just as Worms and Flies had to expect to be eaten, unless they were clever enough to keep out of the way of the birds. Only the quickest and strongest could live, so of course all the young ones tried hard to become quick and strong.

When Miss Sparrow, from the nest behind the conductor pipe, was old enough to marry, she had many lovers, and that was quite natural. She was a plump and trim-looking bird, and pretty, too, if one came close enough to her. Her feathers were gray and brown, with a little white and black in places. Her bill was black, and her feet were brown. She was very careful to keep clean, and although she had to hunt food in the mud of the street, she bathed often in fine dust and kept her [161] wings and tail well up. Her lovers were dressed in the same colors, but with more decided markings.

Her parents were very clever to think of building where they did; and because they had such a large nest and so near the eaves of the house, they were much looked up to by the other Sparrow. They were very proud of their home, and especially on days when the water running down the pipe made a sweet guggle-guggle-guggling sound. Sparrows like noise, you know, and this always amused the children and kept them quiet on rainy days.

All the young Sparrows who were not already in love, and a few who were, began to court Miss Sparrow as soon as it was known that she cared to marry. This was partly on her own account, and partly because of her distinguished family.

Some birds would have waited for their suitors to speak first about marriage. Miss Sparrow did not. The Sparrows [162] are not very bred. "Of course I am going to marry," she said. "I am only waiting to make up my mind whom I will choose."

They flocked around her as she fed in the dust of the road, all talking at once in their harsh voices. When a team passed by, and that was not often, they flew or hopped aside at the last minute. When they settled down again there was always a squabble to see who should be next to Miss Sparrow. Her lovers fought with each other over choice seeds, but they let Miss Sparrow have everything she wished. She always seemed very cross when her lovers were around (as well as most of the time when they were not), and often scolded and pecked at them. Sometimes one who was not brave, and would not stand pain, flew away and began courting somebody else.

After a while she had driven away so many that only two were left. She flew [163] at these, striking first one and then the other, until, brave as they were, one went away. Then she turned to the suitor who was left with a sweet smile. "I will marry you," she said.

His wings were lame from her fighting him, his head smarted where she had picked at it, and two or three small feathers were missing from his breast. Miss Sparrow was certainly a strong bird, and he knew that anybody who wanted her would have to stand just what he had stood. He would have preferred to court as the Goldfinches and Wrens do, by singing to their sweethearts, but that could not be. In the first place, he could not sing, and in the second place she would not have taken him until she had beaten him anyway. It would have been more fun for him to fight some of the other birds and let the winner have her, yet that could not be done either. If he wanted to marry, he had to marry an English Sparrow, and [164] if he wanted to marry an English Sparrow he had to go about it in her way. It would have been just the same if he had courted her sister or her cousin.

The truth is that, although the Sparrow husbands swagger and brag a great deal and act as though they owned everything in sight, there is not one whose wife does not order him around. Miss Sparrow would not have taken him is she had not made sure that she could whip him.

"What do I need of a husband," she said, "unless he will mind me? And when I feel crosser than usual I want somebody always near and at home, where I can treat him as I choose. That is what I care for in a home."

"Now," she said, "if you are to be my husband, I will show you where we are to build."

Mr. Sparrow flew meekly along after her. You would be meek with lame [165] wings, a sore head, and three feathers off from your breast. She led the way to the front west porch, where the syringa shoots made a little hedge around it and a tall fir tree made good perching places beside it.

"Where are we going to build?" asked Mr. Sparrow. He saw plenty of good window ledges and places which would do for Robins and Phoebes and other birds who plaster their nests. Yet he did not see a single corner or big crack where a Sparrow's nest could be made to hold together.

"I will show you," answered Mrs. Sparrow. She perched on the top of a porch column and looked up at a small round hole nearly over her head. It was the place where a conductor pipe had once run through the cornice. Now the pipe had been taken away and the opening was left. She gave an upward spring and flutter and went straight up through [166] the hole. "Come up!" she cried in the most good-natured way. "Come up! This is the best place I ever saw. Our nest will be all hidden, and no large bird or Squirrel can possibly get in. the rain can never fall on it, and on cold days we shall be warm and snug."

She did not ask him what he though of it, and he did not expect her to. So he just said, "It is a most unusual place."

"That is what I think," she replied. "Very unusual, and I would not build in the woodbine, like some Sparrows. No, indeed! One who has been brought up in style beside a water-pipe, as I was could never come down to woodbine. It should not be expected."

"I'm sure it was not, my dear," said her husband.

"Very well," said she. "Since you like this place so much, we may as well call it settled and keep still about it until we are ready to build."

[167] Mr. Sparrow had not said that he liked it, yet he knew better than to tell her so. If he did, she might leave him even now for one of her other lovers. He really dreaded getting out through that hole, and let her go while he watched her. She went head first, clinging to the rough edges of the hole with both feet, let go with one, hung and twisted around until she was headed right, then dropped and flew away. Mr. Sparrow did the same, but he did not like it.

After a while they began nest-building, and all the straws, sticks, and feathers had to be dragged up through the little round doorway to the nest. Mrs. Sparrow did most of the arranging, while her husband flew in and out more than a hundred times a day. She was a worker. Any bird will tell you that. Still, you know, there are different ways of working. Some of the people who do the most work make the least fuss. Mrs. [168] Sparrow was not one of these. When she did a thing, she wanted everybody to know it, and since her building-place was hidden she talked all the more to Mr. Sparrow.

"I am going to have a large nest," she said. "So bring plenty of stuff. Bring good things, too," she added. "You have brought two straw already that were really dirty, and this last stick is n't fit to use. I will push it back into a corner."

Mr. Sparrow would have liked to tell her what hard work his was, and ask her to use things he brought, even if they were not quite what she wanted. He was too wise for this, however, so he flew out and pitched into another Sparrow who was getting straws for his wife. He tried to steal his straw, and they fought back and forth until their wives came to see what was the matter and began fighting also. When they stopped at last, the straw had been carried away by a Robin, [169] so neither had it. But they had had a lively, loud, rough fight, and Sparrows like that even better than straw, so they all felt good-natured again.

Twice Mrs. Sparrow decided to move her nest a little this way or a little that, and such a litter as she made when doing it! Some of the best sticks fell down through the doorway, and the Lady swept them off the porch. Then Mrs. Sparrow scolded her. She was not afraid of a Lady. "She might have left them there," she said. "I would have had my husband pick them up soon. Yesterday she had the Maid put some of her own horrid chairs and tables out here while they were cleaning, and I never touched them."

Mr. Sparrow flew up with a fine Turkey feather. "It came from the Lady's duster," he said. "I think it will give quite an air to your nest."

"Excellent!" cried his wife. "Just wait until I get ready for it." He clung [170] patiently by one foot to the doorway. When that was tired he changed to the other. When that was tired he perched on the top of the column. He was very hungry, and he saw some grain dropped from a passing wagon.

"Hurry up, my dear!" he called. "It is past my dinner-time already."

"Wait until supper then," cried his wife. "As if I had n't enough to do without thinking about your dinner! Don't let go of it or it will be blown away."

Then Mr. Sparrow lost his temper. He stuck that feather into a crack near by, and flew softly away to eat some grain. He thought he might be back in time to carry in the feather and his wife never know where he had been. Unfortunately, he got to talking and did not hear his wife call him.

"Mr. Sparrow!" said she. "Mr. Sparrow!  I am ready for that feather."

[171] When he did not answer, she put her head out of the doorway. There was the Turkey feather stuck into a crack, and in the road beyond was her husband eating happily with several of his friends. She looked very angry and opened her bill to speak. Then she changed her mind and flew quietly off the other way. She went straight to the Horse-block, where another old suitor was, the one who had come so near winning her. "Mr. Sparrow has disobeyed me," she said, and is actually eating his dinner when he should be waiting by the nest to help me. I believe that I ought to have married you, but better late than never. Come now."

This was how it happened that when Mr. Sparrow's stomach was quite full, and he suddenly remembered his work, he flew back and found the Turkey feather gone. In the eaves overhead he heard Mrs. Sparrow telling somebody else what to do. He tried to force his way up there. [172] Every time he was shoved back, and not very gently either.

"You might better look for another home," said Mrs. Sparrow's voice. "I have found another husband, one who will help me as I wish. Good-by."

That was the ending of Mr. Sparrow's first marriage. It was a very sad affair, and the birds talked of nothing else for a long time afterward. Some said that it served him exactly right, because he married to get into a fine family, when there were dozens of Sparrow daughters much prettier and nicer than the one he chose. There may have been something in this, for certainly if Mrs. Sparrow had not been so sure of finding another to take his place, she would not have turned him out in the way she did. It is said, however, that her second husband had a hard life of it.


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