F OR a while Jenny Wren was too busy to talk save to scold Mr. Wren for spending so much time singing instead of working. To Peter it seemed as if they were trying to fill that tree trunk with rubbish. "I should think they had enough stuff in there for half a dozen nests," muttered Peter. "I do believe they are carrying it in for the fun of working." Peter wasn't far wrong in this thought, as he was to discover a little later in the season when he found Mr. Wren building another nest for which he had no use.
Finding that for the time being he could get nothing more from Jenny Wren, Peter hopped over to visit Johnny Chuck, whose home was between the roots of an old apple-tree in the far corner of the Old Orchard. Peter was still thinking of the Sparrow family; what a big family it was, yet how seldom any of them, excepting Bully the English Sparrow, were to be found in the Old Orchard.
"Hello, Johnny Chuck!" cried Peter, as he discovered Johnny sitting on his doorstep. "You've lived in the Old Orchard a long time, so you ought to be able to tell me something I want to know. Why is it that none of the Sparrow family excepting that noisy nuisance, Bully, build in the trees of the Old Orchard? Is it because Bully has driven all the rest out?"
Johnny Chuck shook his head. "Peter," said he, "whatever is the matter with your ears? And whatever is the matter with your eyes?"
"Nothing," replied Peter rather shortly. "They are as good as yours any day, Johnny Chuck."
Johnny grinned. "Listen!" said Johnny. Peter listened. From a tree just a little way off came a clear "Chip, chip, chip, chip." Peter didn't need to be told to look. He knew without looking who was over there. He knew that voice for that of one of his oldest and best friends in the Old Orchard, a little fellow with a red-brown cap, brown back with feathers streaked with black, brownish wings and tail, a gray waistcoat and black bill, and a little white line over each eye—altogether as trim a little gentleman as Peter was acquainted with. It was Chippy, as everybody calls the Chipping Sparrow, the smallest of the family.
Peter looked a little foolish. "I forgot all about Chippy," said he. "Now I think of it, I have found Chippy here in the Old Orchard ever since I can remember. I never have seen his nest because I never happened to think about looking for it. Does he build a trashy nest like his cousin, Bully?"
Johnny Chuck laughed. "I should say not!" he exclaimed. "Twice Chippy and Mrs. Chippy have built their nest in this very old apple-tree. There is no trash in their nest, I can tell you! It is just as dainty as they are, and not a bit bigger than it has to be. It is made mostly of little fine, dry roots, and it is lined inside with horse-hair."
"What's that?" Peter's voice sounded as if he suspected that Johnny Chuck was trying to fool him.
"It's a fact," said Johnny, nodding his head gravely. "Goodness knows where they find it these days, but find it they do. Here comes Chippy himself; ask him."
Chippy and Mrs. Chippy came flitting from tree to tree until they were on a branch right over Peter and Johnny. "Hello!" cried Peter. "You folks seem very busy. Haven't you finished building your nest yet?"
"Nearly," replied Chippy. "It is all done but the horsehair. We are on our way up to Farmer Brown's barnyard now to look for some. You haven't seen any around anywhere, have you?"
Peter and Johnny shook their heads, and Peter confessed that he wouldn't know horsehair if he saw it. He often had found hair from the coats of Reddy Fox and Old Man Coyote and Digger the Badger and Lightfoot the Deer, but hair from the coat of a horse was altogether another matter.
"It isn't hair from the coat of a horse that we want," cried Chippy, as he prepared to fly after Mrs. Chippy. "It is long hair from the tail or mane of a horse that we must have. It makes the very nicest kind of lining for a nest."
Chippy and Mrs. Chippy were gone a long time, but when they did return each was carrying a long black hair. They had found what they wanted, and Mrs. Chippy was in high spirits because, as she took pains to explain to Peter, that little nest would now soon be ready for the four beautiful little blue eggs with black spots on one end she meant to lay in it.
"I just love Chippy and Mrs. Chippy," said Peter, as they watched their two little feathered friends putting the finishing touches to the little nest far out on a branch of one of the apple-trees.
"Everybody does," replied Johnny. "Everybody loves them as much as they hate Bully and his wife. Did you know that they are sometimes called Tree Sparrows? I suppose it is because they so often build their nests in trees?"
"No," said Peter, "I didn't. Chippy shouldn't be called Tree Sparrow, because he has a cousin by that name."
Johnny Chuck looked as if he doubted that. "I never heard of him," he grunted.
Peter grinned. Here was a chance to tell Johnny Chuck something, and Peter never is happier than when he can tell folks something they don't know. "You'd know him if you didn't sleep all winter," said Peter. "Dotty the Tree Sparrow spends the winter here. He left for his home in the Far North about the time you took it into your head to wake up."
"Why do you call him Dotty?" asked Johnny Chuck.
"Because he has a little round black dot right in the middle of his breast," replied Peter. "I don't know why they call him Tree Sparrow; he doesn't spend his time in the trees the way Chippy does, but I see him much oftener in low bushes or on the ground. I think Chippy has much more right to the name of Tree Sparrow than Dotty has. Now I think of it, I've heard Dotty called the Winter Chippy."
"Gracious, what a mix-up!" exclaimed Johnny Chuck. "With Chippy being called a Tree Sparrow and a Tree Sparrow called Chippy, I should think folks would get all tangled up."
"Perhaps they would," replied Peter, "if both were here at the same time, but Chippy comes just as Dotty goes, and Dotty comes as Chippy goes. That's a pretty good arrangement, especially as they look very much alike, excepting that Dotty is quite a little bigger than Chippy and always has that black dot, which Chippy does not have. Goodness gracious, it is time I was back in the dear Old Briar-patch! Good-by, Johnny Chuck."
DOTTY THE TREE SPARROW
The reddish-brown cap and dark spot in the middle of his breast are all you need to look for.
SLATY THE JUNCO
The little slate-colored and white ground bird of winter.
Away went Peter Rabbit, lipperty-lipperty-lip, heading for the dear Old Briar-patch. Out of the grass just ahead of him flew a rather pale, streaked little brown bird, and as he spread his tail Peter saw two white feathers on the outer edges. Those two white feathers were all Peter needed to recognize another little friend of whom he is very fond. It was Sweetvoice the Vesper Sparrow, the only one of the Sparrow family with white feathers in his tail.
"Come over to the dear Old Briar-patch and sing to me," cried Peter.
Sweetvoice dropped down into the grass again, and when Peter came up, was very busy getting a mouthful of dry grass. "Can't," mumbled Sweetvoice. "Can't do it now, Peter Rabbit. I'm too busy. It is high time our nest was finished, and Mrs. Sweetvoice will lose her patience if I don't get this grass over there pretty quick."
"Where is your nest; in a tree?" asked Peter innocently.
"That's telling," declared Sweetvoice. "Not a living soul knows where that nest is, excepting Mrs. Sweetvoice and myself. This much I will tell you, Peter: it isn't in a tree. And I'll tell you this much more: it is in a hoofprint of Bossy the Cow."
"In a what?" cried Peter.
"In a hoofprint of Bossy the Cow," repeated Sweetvoice, chuckling softly. "You know when the ground was wet and soft early this spring, Bossy left deep footprints wherever she went. One of these makes the nicest kind of a place for a nest. I think we have picked out the very best one on all the Green Meadows. Now run along, Peter Rabbit, and don't bother me any more. I've got too much to do to sit here talking. Perhaps I'll come over to the edge of the dear Old Briar-patch and sing to you a while just after jolly, round, red Mr. Sun goes to bed behind the Purple Hills. I just love to sing then."
"I'll be watching for you," replied Peter. "You don't love to sing any better than I love to hear you. I think that is the best time of all the day in which to sing. I mean, I think it's the best time to hear singing," for of course Peter himself does not sing at all.
That night, sure enough, just as the Black Shadows came creeping out over the Green Meadows, Sweetvoice, perched on the top of a bramble-bush over Peter's head, sang over and over again the sweetest little song and kept on singing even after it was quite dark. Peter didn't know it, but it is this habit of singing in the evening which has given Sweetvoice his name of Vesper Sparrow.