More Folks in Red
J UMPER THE HARE didn't have time to reply to Peter Rabbit's question when Peter asked if there was any one else besides the Crossbills who had come down from the Far North.
"I have," said a voice from a tree just back of them.
It was so unexpected that it made both Peter and Jumper hop in startled surprise. Then they turned to see who had spoken. There sat a bird just a little smaller than Welcome Robin, who at first glance seemed to be dressed in strawberry-red. However, a closer look showed that there were slate-gray markings about his head, under his wings and on his legs. His tail was brown. His wings were brown, marked with black and white and slate. His bill was thick and rather short.
"Who are you?" demanded Peter very bluntly and impolitely.
"I'm Piny the Pine Grosbeak," replied the stranger, seemingly not at all put out by Peter's bluntness.
"Oh," said Peter. "Are you related to Rosebreast the Grosbeak who nested last summer in the Old Orchard?"
"I certainly am," replied Piny. "He is my very own cousin. I've never seen him because he never ventures up where I live and I don't go down where he spends the winter, but all members of the Grosbeak family are cousins."
"Rosebreast is very lovely and I'm very fond of him," said Peter. "We are very good friends."
"Then I know we are going to be good friends," replied Piny. As he said this he turned and Peter noticed that his tail was distinctly forked instead of being square across like that of Welcome Robin. Piny whistled, and almost at once he was joined by another bird who in shape was just like him, but who was dressed in slaty-gray and olive-yellow, instead of the bright red that he himself wore. Piny introduced the newcomer as Mrs. Grosbeak.
"Lovely weather, isn't it?" said she. "I love the snow. I wouldn't feel at home with no snow about. Why, last spring I even built my nest before the snow was gone in the Far North. We certainly hated to leave up there, but food was getting so scarce that we had to. We have just arrived. Can you tell me if there are any cedar-trees or ash-trees or sumacs near here?"
Peter hastened to tell her just where she would find these trees and then rather timidly asked why she wanted to find them.
"Because they hold their berries all winter," replied Mrs. Grosbeak promptly, "and those berries make very good eating. I rather thought there must be some around here. If there are enough of them we certainly shall stay a while."
"I hope you will," replied Peter. "I want to get better acquainted with you. You know, if it were not for you folks who come down from the Far North the Green Forest would be rather a lonely place in winter. There are times when I like to be alone, but I like to feel that there is someone I can call on when I feel lonesome. Did you and Piny come down alone?"
"No, indeed," replied Mrs. Grosbeak. "There is a flock of our relatives not far away. We came down with the Crossbills. All together we made quite a party."
Peter and Jumper stayed a while to gossip with the Grosbeaks. Then Peter bethought him that it was high time for him to return to the dear Old Briar-patch, and bidding his new friends good-by, he started off through the Green Forest, lipperty-lipperty-lip. When he reached the edge of the Green Forest he decided to run over to the weedy field to see if the Snowflakes and the Tree Sparrows and the Horned Larks were there. They were, but almost at once Peter discovered that they had company. Twittering cheerfully as he busily picked seeds out of the top of a weed which stood above the snow, was a bird very little bigger than Chicoree the Goldfinch. But when Peter looked at him he just had to rub his eyes.
"Gracious goodness!" he muttered, "it must be something is wrong with my eyes so that I am seeing red. I've already seen two birds dressed in red and now there's another. It certainly must be my eyes. There's Dotty the Tree Sparrow over there; I hear his voice. I wonder if he will look red."
Peter hopped near enough to get a good look at Dotty and found him dressed just as he should be. That relieved Peter's mind. His eyes were quite as they should be. Then he returned to look at the happy little stranger still busily picking seeds from that weed-top.
The top of his head was bright red. There was no doubt about it. His back was toward Peter at the time and but for that bright red cap Peter certainly would have taken him for one of his friends among the Sparrow family. You see his back was grayish-brown. Peter could think of several Sparrows with backs very much like it. But when he looked closely he saw that just above his tail this little stranger wore a pinkish patch, and that was something no Sparrow of Peter's acquaintance possesses.
Then the lively little stranger turned to face Peter and a pair of bright eyes twinkled mischievously. "Well," said he, "how do you like my appearance? Anything wrong with me? I was taught that it is very impolite to stare at any one. I guess your mother forgot to teach you manners."
Peter paid no attention to what was said but continued to stare. "My, how pretty you are!" he exclaimed.
The little stranger was pretty. His breast was pink. Below this he was white. The middle of his throat was black and his sides were streaked with reddish-brown. He looked pleased at Peter's exclamation.
"I'm glad you think I'm pretty," said he. "I like pink myself. I like it very much indeed. I suppose you've already seen my friends, Snipper the Crossbill and Piny the Grosbeak."
Peter promptly bobbed his head. "I've just come from making their acquaintance," said he. "By the way you speak, I presume you also are from the Far North. I am just beginning to learn that there are more folks who make their homes in the Far North than I had dreamed of. If you please, I don't believe I know you at all."
"I'm Redpoll," was the prompt response. "I am called that because of my red cap. Yes, indeed, I make my home in the Far North. There is no place like it. You really ought to run up there and get acquainted with the folks who make their homes there and love it."
Redpoll laughed at his own joke, but Peter didn't see the joke at all. "Is it so very far?" he asked innocently; then added, "I'd dearly love to go."
Redpoll laughed harder than ever. "Yes," said he, "it is. I am afraid you would be a very old and very gray Rabbit by the time you got there. I guess the next thing is for you to make the acquaintance of some of us who get down here once in awhile."
Redpoll called softly and almost at once was joined by another red-capped bird but without the pink breast, and with sides more heavily streaked. "This is Mrs. Redpoll," announced her lively little mate. Then he turned to her and added, "I've just been telling Peter Rabbit that as long as he cannot visit our beautiful Far North he must become acquainted with those of us who come down here in the winter. I'm sure he'll find us very friendly folks."
"I'm sure I shall," said Peter. "If you please, do you live altogether on these weed seeds?"
Redpoll laughed his usual happy laugh. "Hardly, Peter," replied he. "We like the seeds of the birches and the alders, and we eat the seeds of the evergreen trees when we get them. Sometimes we find them in cones Snipper the Crossbill has opened but hasn't picked all the seeds out of. Sometimes he drops some for us. Oh, we always manage to get plenty to eat. There are some of our relatives over there and we must join them. We'll see you again, Peter."
Peter said he hoped they would and then watched them fly over to join their friends. Suddenly, as if a signal had been given, all spread their wings at the same instant and flew up in a birch-tree not far away. All seemed to take wing at precisely the same instant. Up in the birch-tree they sat for a minute or so and then, just as if another signal had been given, all began to pick out the tiny seeds from the birch tassels. No one bird seemed to be first. It was quite like a drill, or as if each had thought of the same thing at the same instant. Peter chuckled over it all the way home. And somehow he felt better for having made the acquaintance of the Redpolls. It was the feeling that everybody so fortunate as to meet them on a gold winter's day is sure to have.