The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess

Bob White and Carol the Meadow Lark

[98] "BOB—BOB WHITE! Bob—Bob White! Bob—Bob White!" clear and sweet, that call floated over to the dear Old Briar-patch until Peter could stand it no longer. He felt that he just had to go over and pay an early morning call on one of his very best friends, who at this season of the year delights in whistling his own name—Bob White.

"I suppose," muttered Peter, "that Bob White has got a nest. I wish he would show it to me. He's terribly secretive about it. Last year I hunted for his nest until my feet were sore, but it wasn't the least bit of use. Then one morning I met Mrs. Bob White with fifteen babies out for a walk. How she could hide a nest with fifteen eggs in it is more than I can understand."

Peter left the Old Briar-patch and started off over the Green Meadows towards the Old Pasture. As he drew near the fence between the Green Meadows and the Old Pasture he saw Bob White sitting on one of the posts, whistling with all his might. On another post near him sat another [99] bird very near the size of Welcome Robin. He also was telling all the world of his happiness. It was Carol the Meadow Lark.


[Illustration]

CAROL THE MEADOW LARK

You will know him by the black crescent on his yellow breast and the white outer feathers of his rather short tail when he flies.

Peter was so intent watching these two friends of his that he took no heed to his footsteps. Suddenly there was a whirr from almost under his very nose and he stopped short, so startled that he almost squealed right out. In a second he recognized Mrs. Meadow Lark. He watched her fly over to where Carol was singing. Her stout little wings moved swiftly for a moment or two, then she sailed on without moving them at all. Then they fluttered rapidly again until she was flying fast enough to once more sail on them outstretched. The white outer feathers of her tail showed clearly and reminded Peter of the tail of Sweetvoice the Vesper Sparrow, only of course it was ever so much bigger.

Peter sat still until Mrs. Meadow Lark had alighted on the fence near Carol. Then he prepared to hurry on, for he was anxious for a bit of gossip with these good friends of his. But just before he did this he just happened to glance down and there, almost at his very feet, he caught sight of something that made him squeal right out. It was a nest with four of the prettiest eggs Peter ever had seen. They were white with brown spots all over them. Had it not been for the eggs he [100] never would have seen that nest, never in the world. It was made of dry, brown grass and was cunningly hidden is a little clump of dead grass which fell over it so as to almost completely hide it. But the thing that surprised Peter most was the clever way in which the approach to it was hidden. It was by means of a regular little tunnel of grass.

"Oh!" cried Peter, and his eyes sparkled with pleasure. "This must be the nest of Mrs. Meadow Lark. No wonder I have never been able to find it, when I have looked for it. It is just luck and nothing else that I have found it this time. I think it is perfectly wonderful that Mrs. Meadow Lark can hide her home in such a way. I do hope Jimmy Skunk isn't anywhere around."

Peter sat up straight and anxiously looked this way and that way. Jimmy Skunk was nowhere to be seen and Peter gave a little sigh of relief. Very carefully he walked around that nest and its little tunnel, then hurried over toward the fence as fast as he could go.

"It's perfectly beautiful, Carol!" he cried, just as soon as he was near enough. "And I won't tell a single soul!"

"I hope not. I certainly hope not," cried Mrs. Meadow Lark in an anxious tone. "I never would have another single easy minute if I thought [101] you would tell a living soul about my nest. Promise that you won't, Peter. Cross your heart and promise that you won't."

Peter promptly crossed his heart and promised that he wouldn't tell a single soul. Mrs. Meadow Lark seemed to feel better. Right away she flew back and Peter turned to watch her. He saw her disappear in the grass, but it wasn't where he had found the nest. Peter waited a few minutes, thinking that he would see her rise into the air again and fly over to the nest. But he waited in vain. Then with a puzzled look on his face, he turned to look up at Carol.

Carol's eyes twinkled. "I know what you're thinking, Peter," he chuckled. "You are thinking that it is funny Mrs. Meadow Lark didn't go straight back to our nest when she seemed so anxious about it. I would have you to know that she is too clever to do anything so foolish as that. She knows well enough that somebody might see her and so find our secret. She has walked there from the place where you saw her disappear in the grass. That is the way we always do when we go to our nest. One never can be too careful these days."

Then Carol began to pour out his happiness once more, quite as if nothing had interrupted his song.

[102] Somehow Peter never before had realized how handsome Carol the Meadow Lark was. As he faced Peter, the latter saw a beautiful yellow throat and waistcoat, with a broad black crescent on his breast. There was a yellow line above each eye. His back was of brown with black markings. His sides were whitish, with spats and streaks of black. The outer edges of his tail were white. Altogether he was really handsome, far handsomer than one would suspect, seeing him at a distance.

Having found out Carol's secret, Peter was doubly anxious to find Bob White's home, so he hurried over to the post where Bob was whistling with all his might. "Bob!" cried Peter. "I've just found Carol's nest and I've promised to keep it a secret. Won't you show me your nest, too, if I'll promise to keep that  a secret?"

Bob threw back his head and laughed joyously. "You ought to know, Peter, by this time," said he, "that there are secrets never to be told to anybody. My nest is one of these. If you find it, all right; but I wouldn't show it to my very best friend, and I guess I haven't any better friend than you, Peter." Then from sheer happiness he whistled, "—Bob White! Bob—Bob White!" with all his might.

Peter was disappointed and a little put out. [103] "I guess," said he, "I could find it if I wanted to. I guess it isn't any better hidden than Mrs. Meadow Lark's, and I found that. Some folks aren't as smart as they think they are."

Bob White, who is sometimes called Quail and sometimes called Partridge, and who is neither, chuckled heartily. "Go ahead, old Mr. Curiosity, go ahead and hunt all you please," said he. "It's funny to me how some folks think themselves smart when the truth is they simply have been lucky. You know well enough that you just happened  to find Carol's nest. If you happen  to find mine, I won't have a word to say."

Bob White took a long breath, tipped his head back until his bill was pointing right up in the blue, blue sky, and with all his might whistled his name, "Bob—Bob White! Bob—Bob White!"

As Peter looked at him it came over him that Bob White was the plumpest bird of his acquaintance. He was so plump that his body seemed almost round. The shortness of his tail added to this effect, for Bob has a very short tail. The upper part of his coat was a handsome reddish-brown with dark streaks and light edgings. His sides and the upper part of his breast were of the same handsome reddish-brown, while underneath he was whitish with little bars of black. His throat was white, and above each eye was a broad [104] white stripe. His white throat was bordered with black, and a band of black divided the throat from the white line above each eye. The top of his head was mixed black and brown. Altogether he was a handsome little fellow in a modest way.


[Illustration]

BOB WHITE

No other bird is shaped like him.

Suddenly Bob White stopped whistling and looked down at Peter with a twinkle in his eye. "Why don't you go hunt for that nest, Peter?" said he.

"I'm going," replied Peter rather shortly, for he knew that Bob knew that he hadn't the least idea where to look. It might be somewhere on the Green Meadows or it might be in the Old Pasture; Bob hadn't given the least hint. Peter had a feeling that the nest wasn't far away and that it was on the Green Meadows, so he began to hunt, running aimlessly this way and that way, all the time feeling very foolish, for of course he knew that Bob White was watching him and chuckling down inside.

It was very warm down there on the Green Meadows, and Peter grew hot and tired. He decided to run up in the Old Pasture in the shade of an old bramble-tangle there. Just the other side of the fence was a path made by the cows and often used by Farmer Brown's boy and Reddy Fox and others who visited the Old [105] Pasture. Along this Peter scampered, lipperty-lipperty-lip, on his way to the bramble-tangle. He didn't look either to right or left. It didn't occur to him that there would be any use at all, for of course no one would build a nest near a path where people passed to and fro every day.

And so it was that in his happy-go-lucky way Peter scampered right past a clump of tall weeds close beside the path without the least suspicion that cleverly hidden in it was the very thing he was looking for. With laughter in her eyes, shrewd little Mrs. Bob White, with sixteen white eggs under her, watched him pass. She had chosen that very place for her nest because she knew that it was the last place anyone would expect to find it. The very fact that it seemed the most dangerous place she could have chosen made it the safest.


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