In the Snow

by Lenore Elizabeth Mulets

It was a bright, wintry day. The frost jewels sparkled on the snow. The winds blew cutting cold from the north.

Phyllis, in her scarlet coat and cap, and long, warm leggings, waded in the deepest drifts she could find.

Out by the garden fence was the greatest drift. After floundering through it, Phyllis climbed up and perched on the top rail of the fence.

She sat quite still, for she was almost breathless after her struggle in the snow.

Suddenly, just over her head, Phyllis heard a whistle. She started so that she almost fell from the fence.

Again came the whistle, clear, sweet, and long drawn out. Phyllis looked up, and there on the branch of the elm-tree sat a cheery little bird.

With a third whistle he flew down to the fence and perched beside Phyllis.

He came quite close and stared at the little girl in a gay, curious manner, as though he might be looking for a playfellow.

"Who are you?" asked Phyllis, looking like a great red bird as she perched on the fence.

"Chick-a-dee! Chick-a-dee! Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!" twittered the little fellow. It seemed to Phyllis that he laughed because she did not know him.

"Oh, to be sure," said she. "How stupid of me not to remember. I have met you a hundred times.

"I should have remembered your black head and throat. The sides of your head and neck are white. Your breasts and sides are light yellow. Your tail and wings are of a much darker shade, and how daintily they are edged with white!"

The chickadee fluttered about for a moment, and noticing the friendliness in Phyllis's tones he perched a little closer to her side.

"I do not believe you noticed the large white feathers in my shoulders," he said. "You may always know a chickadee by the white markings there."

"I did not notice your white shoulders at first," said Phyllis, "but I saw at once what fine downy feathers you have. They are beautifully soft. Do they make a warm winter dress? How do you chance to be here in the winter-time?

"I think it is time you were in the South, Mr. Chickadee! Did your family leave you behind?"

"No, indeed," replied Mr. Chickadee. "No, indeed, Phyllis! My entire family are wintering here in the North. We never go South for the winter.

"We are quite happy to remain here at home, and to come out on sunshiny days and whistle and sing and be happy.

"Only half an hour ago some boys went coasting down that hill. I whistled at them but they did not hear me.

"Soon they came up the hill, drawing their sleds behind them. I whistled again and called my name.

"'Why, hello,' cried a boy in a blue reefer and a blue stocking cap. 'Hello, chickadee, you're a jolly little fellow! We call you our fair weather friend because you sing so cheerily on these clear frosty days.'

"'Oho!' laughed another boy, who had a big scratch on his nose, 'I saw a chickadee flying about among the fir-trees on that very stormy day last week. He sang just as cheerily through the storm.' Then the boy whistled back to me and called my name."

"That was my brother Jack," laughed Phyllis. "He got that scratch while out coasting. He told me that he saw you on that stormy day. He loves the winter quite as well as you do. You should hear him sing and whistle when the snow falls for coasting. You should hear him shout when the cold skating days come. He says that Jack Frost is a fellow's best friend."

"Indeed," said the jolly little chickadee, blinking his eyes in a funny way, "my brothers say the very same thing!"

"But how do you find anything to eat in the winter-time?" Phyllis asked. "The insects and worms have long been dead. What did you have for breakfast this morning?"

"We had eggs and—"

"Eggs?" cried Phyllis, not waiting for the bird to finish. "You had eggs?"

"Yes, moth's eggs," said the bird. "The moths leave their eggs about in all sorts of places. We chickadees know where to find them!"

"Are they—good?" asked Phyllis.

"Delicious!" replied the chickadee. "I think I have eaten more than a million insects' eggs in my life. I shall never tire of them."

"Where do you sleep?" Phyllis asked.

"In the fir-trees, to be sure," was the reply. "It is quite warm in there, among the many branches, and as soon as we waken we can get our breakfasts. There are all sorts of eggs and sleeping insects among the fir branches."

Phyllis looked from her own thick red leggings to the chickadee's light blue legs.

"Don't your feet get very cold?" she asked. "You surely need some leggings."

The chickadee chirruped and twittered and fluttered until Phyllis suddenly saw that he was laughing at her.

"I don't know what cold feet are!" he said. "I'm glad no one gave me red leggings for Christmas."

"What did you get for Christmas?"

"A wonderfully fine dinner spread on a white snow table-cloth under the cherry-tree!" replied the bird.

"Oh, did you come to my bird feast?" cried the little girl. "I spread crumbs and bird seed for you. Jack wanted to hang a meat bone in the cedar-tree. He said that you would like it better. Indeed, I believe he did hang one there. Did you ever see it?"

"Oh, yes, Phyllis, many a day have we pecked away at that meat bone. It was really very good."

"Jack read in a book that you were fond of pecking at meat bones. He will be glad to know that it is true!"

"Thank him for us," said the chickadee. "You were kind to remember us!"

"Ah," said Phyllis, "but it was kind of you to remain behind to cheer us when all the other birds have gone to warmer lands.

"But, chickadee, though you are so cheery and gay in winter, are you not really happier in the summer-time?"

"Oh, we are so busy in summer," the chickadee replied. "Last May I travelled miles and miles looking for a vacant house."

"Looking for a vacant house?" cried Phyllis, with wide brown eyes.

"For housekeeping," said the chickadee. "You see my mate and I had never kept house before. She was very anxious to find a most suitable place.

"My wife said a woodpecker's nest was the very place, but I rather preferred a squirrel's hole.

"For a long time we could find neither to suit us. But at length I heard Mrs. Chickadee calling loudly. I flew to her side at once.

"'What is it?' I cried.

"'Look!' cried Mrs. Chickadee, pointing with her bill and flapping her wings with joy.

"Through the thick of the woods ran a gray old rail fence. Woodbine and wild hop vines wellnigh covered it. The posts were gray where they were not moss-covered.

"In one of these gray-green posts was a hole where a pair of woodpeckers had once built their nest.

"'This is the very place for us!' cried Mrs. Chickadee. 'It could not be better though we hollowed it out for ourselves.'"

"Could you?" asked Phyllis, looking at the bird's little short black bill.

"If need be, we could, indeed," replied the chickadee. "But we would far rather find a knot-hole, or a squirrel's or woodpecker's deserted nest.

"When we had decided on the spot," the bird went on, "we at once began lining the nest. We carried fine grasses and soft feathers. We found mosses and rabbits' fur to make it soft.

"Those were indeed happy days for us. They were also exciting days. We were very careful to let no one know what we were about.

"Once, as I flew home with a bit of moss, I saw a boy lying on the grass not far from our fence-post. It would never do to let him know our secret. Boys are not to be trusted.

"I perched upon the fence and pretended that I had never a thought of nest building.

"In a moment Mrs. Chickadee came flying home with a soft, downy feather. When I called out warningly she at once flew to me.

"Then the boy called softly to his little sister.

"'Come quick,' he said, 'if you want to watch these birds build their nest.'

"A little dark-eyed girl crept up beside the boy. We scarcely knew what to do. Soon a bright idea occurred to me. I began to sing my very best. I also performed my most wonderful tricks. I whirled round and round. I darted between the rails. I spun about.

"The children became so interested in my performance that they forgot to watch Mrs. Chickadee. When they were not looking her way, she flew to the nest and arranged the feather.

"When she returned she took my place on the fence. Now my wife and I look very much alike, and though she cannot perform quite as nimbly as I, the children did not know when we changed places.

"While the children watched her I flew to the nest with my bit of moss.

"'What a pity!' said the little girl, as we flew away laughing to ourselves. 'They stopped to play and they lost the bits of moss and feathers with which they meant to make their nest!'

"'Chick-a-dee! Chick-a-dee! Chick-a-dee!' called back my wife happily."

All this time Phyllis's eyes were growing rounder and bigger.

"Why," said she, "I never knew there was but one bird performing on the fence. I thought the other flew away!"

"That was because Mrs. Chickadee and I look so much alike," replied Mr. Chickadee.

"But we did find your nest a few days later," said Phyllis. "In it were six small white eggs covered with tiny red specks. We went to look at the nest every day until the eggs hatched. Then we went several times a day until the baby birds learned to fly and left the nest empty.

"But you did not disturb us," said the chickadee, "though we were dreadfully frightened at first."

At that moment a great soft snowball went plump! against Phyllis's red cap.

"Jack!" she cried, scrambling off the fence and running after the boy with the scratch on his nose. "Jack, take me for a ride on your sled!"

Then she looked back. The chickadee now sat in the tree-top.

"Tell Mrs. Chickadee," called Phyllis, "that I shall spread some more crumbs and seeds on the white table-cloth this afternoon. We'll hang another bone in the cedar-tree, too!"

"Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!" cried the little bird in a flutter of delight.