Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
 ONE night a maple tree, the very one under which Mr.
Red Squirrel sat when he first came to the forest,
dreamed of her winter resting-time, and when she
awakened early in the morning she found that her leaves
were turning yellow. They were not all brightly
colored, but on each was an edging, or a tip, or a
splash of gold. You may be sure that the Forest People
noticed it at once.
"I told you so," chirruped a Robin
 her mate. "The Orioles went long ago, and the
Bobolinks start to-day. We must think about our trip
to the South." When she said this, she hopped
restlessly from twig to twig with an air of being
Her husband did not answer,
but began to arrange his new coat of
feathers. Perhaps he was used to her fussy ways and
thought it just as well to keep still. He knew that
none of the Robins would start South until the weather
became much colder, and he did not think it necessary
to talk about it yet. Perhaps, too, Mr. Robin was a
trifle contrary and was all the more slow and quiet
because his wife was uneasy. In that case one could
hardly blame her for talking over the family plans with
Later in the day, a Bobolink came up
from the marsh to say good-by. He had on his travelling
suit of striped brown, and you would never have known
him for the
 same gay fellow who during the spring
and early summer wore black and buff and sang so
heartily and sweetly. Now he did not sing at all, and
slipped silently from bush to bush, only speaking when
he had to. He was a good fellow and everyone disliked
to have him go.
Mrs. Cowbird came up while they were
talking. Now that she did not care to lay any more
eggs, the other birds were quite friendly with her.
They began to talk over the summer that was past, and
said how finely the young birds were coming on. "By
the way," said she, in the most careless manner
possible, "I ought to have a few children round here
somewhere. Can anybody tell me where they are?"
Goldfinch looked at her husband and he looked at the
sky. The Warblers and the Vireos, who had known about
the strange egg in the Goldfinches' nest, had already
left for the winter, and there
 seemed to be no
use in telling their secret now or quarrelling over
what was past. Some of the other birds might have told
Mrs. Cowbird a few things, but they also kept still.
"It is a shame," she said. "I never laid a finer lot
of eggs in my life, and I was very careful where I put
them. I wish I knew how many there were, but I forgot
to count. I have been watching and watching for my
little birds to join our flock; I was sure I should
know them if I saw them. Mothers have such fine
feelings, you know, in regard to their children."
(As though she had any right to say that!)
Doves were there with their young son and daughter, and
you could see by looking at them that they were an
affectionate family. "We shall be the last to go
South," they cooed. "We always mean to come North in
the very early spring and stay as late as possible.
 This year we came much later than usual, but it
could not be helped." They had spoken so before, and
rather sadly. It was said that they could tell a
sorrowful story if they would; but they did not wish to
sadden others by it, and bore their troubles together
bravely and lovingly.
"How do the new feathers work?"
asked a Crow, flying up at this minute and looking
blacker than ever in his fall coat. Then all the birds
began to talk about dress. As soon as their broods
were raised, you know, their feathers had begun to drop
out, and they had kept on moulting until all of the old
ones were gone and the new ones on. When birds are
moulting they never feel well, and when it is over they
are both happy and proud.
"I changed later than usual
this year," said the Crow, "and I feel that I have the
very latest fashions." This was a joke which he must
have picked up among the
 Barnyard People, and
nobody knows where they got it. Fashions never change
in the Forest.
"I think," remarked a Red-headed
Woodpecker, "that I have the best wing feathers now
that I ever had. They seem to be a little longer, and
they hook together so well. I almost wish I were going
South to try them on a long journey."
Woodpecker's wing feathers are certainly excellent,"
said his wife, who was always glad to see him well
dressed. "I am sure that the strongest wind will never
part them. I don't see how the Owls can stand it to
wear their feathers unhooked so that some of the air
passes through their wings each time they flap them.
It must make flying hard."
"Well, if you were an Owl
you would understand," chuckled the Crow. "If their
great wings were like ours, the noise of their flying
would scare every creature
 within hearing, and
there would not be much fun in hunting."
And so they
chatted on, while from the meadow came the sound of the
happy insects piping in the sunshine. It was chilly
now at night and in the early morning, and they could
give concerts only at noon-day. The next day the Wild
Turkeys came and there was great excitement in the
forest. The Squirrels were busier than ever storing up
all the acorns that they could before the newcomers
reached the oak trees; and the Blue Jays were so
jealous of the Turkeys that they overate every day for
fear there would not be enough to go around. As though
there were any danger!
The Ground Hog was getting so
sleepy now that he would doze off while people were
talking to him, and then he would suddenly straighten
up and say: "Yes, yes, yes! Don't think that I was
asleep, please. The colors of the trees are so
 bright that they tire my eyes and I sometimes close
them." The dear old fellow really never knew how he
had been nodding.
The Snakes, too, were growing dull
and slow of motion, while the Bats talked freely of
hanging themselves up for the winter. The Grouse and
Quail made daily trips to the edges of the
grain-fields, and found rich picking among the stubble.
You could almost fancy that they came home each night
fatter than when they went away in the morning.
went on in this way for many days, and the birds had
all stopped singing. There were no more happy concerts
at sunrise and no more carols at evening; only
chirrupings and twitterings as the feathered people
hopped restlessly from one perch to another. All could
see that they were busily thinking and had no time for
music. The truth was that each bird who was not to
spend the winter in
 the Forest felt as though
something were drawing—drawing—drawing him southward.
It was something they could not see or hear, and yet it
was drawing—drawing—drawing all day and all night.
They spoke of it often to each other, and the older
birds told the young ones how, before long, they would
all start South, and fly over land and water until they
reached their winter home.
"How do we know where to
go?" asked the children.
"All that you have to do,"
the older ones said, "is to follow us."
"And how do
you know?" they asked.
"Why, we have been there
before," they answered; "and we can see the places over
which we pass. But perhaps that is not the real
reason, for sometimes we fly over such great stretches
of water that we can see nothing else and it all looks
alike. Then we cannot see which way to go, but still
we feel that we are
 drawn South, and we only have
to think about that and fly onward. The fathers and
sons can fly the faster and will reach there first.
The mothers and daughters come a few days later. We
never make a mistake."
"It is wonderful, wonderful,"
thought a young Rabbit on the grass below. "I must
watch them when they go."
The very next morning the
Forest People awakened to find a silvery frost on the
grass and feel the still air stirred by the soft
dropping of damp red, brown, and yellow leaves from the
trees. Over the river and all the lowland near it hung
a heavy veil of white mist.
"It is time!" whispered
the Robins to each other.
"It is time!" cooed the
"It is time!" cried the Cowbirds in
their hoarse voices.
All through the forest there was
restlessness and quiet haste. The Juncoes
already come from the cold northland and were resting
from their long flight. The Ground Hogs, the Rabbits,
and the Squirrels were out to say good-by. The Owls
peeped from their hollow trees, shading their eyes from
the strong light of the sun. And then the travellers
went. The Robins started in family parties. The
Mourning Doves slipped quietly away. The Cowbirds went
in a dashing crowd. And the Crows, after much talking
and disputing on the tree-tops, took a noisy farewell
of the few members of the flock who were to remain
behind, and, joining other flocks from the North, flew
off in a great company which darkened the sky and
caused a shadow to pass over the stubble-field almost
like that of a summer cloud.
"They are gone!" sighed
the Ground Hog and his wife. "We shall miss them
sadly. Well, we can dream about them, and that will be
 "Jay! Jay!" shrieked a
handsome-crested fellow from the tree above. "What if
they are gone? They will be back in the spring, and we
have plenty to eat. What is the use of feeling sad?
But all people are not so heartless as the
hungry Blue Jays, and the song-birds had many loving
friends who missed them and longed for their return.