Under the Eaves

by Lenore Elizabeth Mulets

It was the tenth day of April. Phyllis knew the date because it chanced to be her birthday. She was just eight years old.

The sun shone very warm and bright, and the buds were growing big and red on the horse-chestnut-trees.

"I shall go down to the brook to look for pussy-willows this afternoon," said the little girl.

Phyllis was sitting in the window of the barn loft with the sun shining full upon her. All was very quiet and the little girl was half asleep.

Suddenly, with a flash of blue wings and a funny little twitter, a bird darted right across her face. Phyllis sat up straight, and, leaning out of the window, looked up at the eaves.

There she saw the merry twitterer, with several of his companions, who seemed very busy and very talkative.

They darted here and there, they skimmed through the air so swiftly that Phyllis could only catch a gleam of blue. They wheeled and circled and darted. All the time they twittered, twittered, twittered.

"What are they up to?" said Phyllis, leaning farther out and looking more closely.

For an instant one of the birds clung to the eaves and seemed to be pecking away at a bit of mud which was stuck to the eaves.

Phyllis noticed the deeply forked tail of the bird. Its back and wings and tail were steel blue. Its throat and chest were bright chestnut, becoming paler near the back of the body.

"Oh, I know you," laughed Phyllis. "I have no fear of frightening you, for you are a swallow.

"How does it happen that you are so fearless? You are scarcely more afraid of us than our chickens. Why do you build so near our homes? You are even more tame than the robin!"

The swallow twittered in a way which made Phyllis feel that he was laughing at her. He darted so near that had she been quick enough she might have caught him.

"We are not afraid of you!" laughed the swallow, darting close again and then whirling away.

"What a funny bird!" said Phyllis.

In a moment the bird was back with a bit of mud in his mouth. He plastered it up against the rest of the mud under the eaves. Then he flew again near Phyllis.

"I suppose there was a time," said the bird, "when all swallows built their nests on the sides and ledges of caves or cliffs. But that was hundreds of years ago, before men came and made barns with such comfortable places for building.

"To be sure there are swallows to this day who prefer the bank of a brook or the side of a cave for their nesting-place. But we barn swallows like the eaves best."

"You, too, are an early bird," said Phyllis. "Where did you spend the winter?"

There was a great twittering among the returning swallows just then and Phyllis was obliged to wait for a reply. Back came the bird after a moment.

"We went south last October," he said. "Late in September we gathered in great flocks in the marshes.

"For days we stayed there waiting for the entire company to gather. At length on one of the blue October days we flew southward.

"There were hundreds of birds in the flock. We looked like a small cloud, as we skimmed and darted through the air. As we flew, the flock was a half mile long.

"We spent the winter in South America. There are delicious insects there. But for all that we love the north country best.

"By and bye Mother Nature whispered to us. She said that it was nest-building time in the northland. Such a twittering and fluttering there was when this news came.

"That very afternoon we started north. Day after day we flew. We met other great flocks as we travelled, who joined us.

"Day after day we flew northward. We did not stop to eat, but caught our food on the wing.

"Now we lunched on moths and flies. Again we dined on grasshoppers. Any insect foolish enough to trust itself in the air at the time we passed served as food.

"We arrived here only a few days ago. It is not yet very warm, but here under the eaves on the sunny side of the barn it is quite comfortable.

"We are so busy with this nest-building and settling for the summer. You see we swallows do not live alone. There are always flocks of us together.

"We should be lonely if we lived only in pairs. That is the reason that we build a whole little village of nests under your eaves."

"You build very queer nests," said Phyllis. "They are neither like the robin's nor the chickadee's nests."

"No, indeed, no robin or chickadee could build such nests as the swallow. You see we make the soft mud from the brookside into little balls and carry it in our bills. With it we mix straws and grasses. This holds the clay together. When the outer clay wall is finished we line the nest with soft grasses and feathers."

"'No robin or chickadee could build such nests as the swallow'"

"'No robin or chickadee could build such nests as the swallow'"

"I notice there are a great many chicken feathers in the barnyard. I shall line my nest with the softest, fluffiest feathers that I can find there.

"By and bye my little mate will sit in the dear clay nest and over four or five or possibly six little eggs."

"I shall never be able to see them," sighed Phyllis. "They are up so high. Tell me about them."

"Oh, my eggs are beautiful," said the swallow. "They are white with just a little rose tint. They are spotted with fine dots of brown and purple, and are about three-quarters of an inch long.

"We shall probably have three broods of birdlings this summer. What a happy, happy time we shall have!"

All this time the swallow was darting and wheeling and circling about Phyllis in a most graceful manner.

"Are you never still?" asked Phyllis, at last. "I do not believe you even stop to eat."

"I do not," said the swallow, darting after a big blue fly. "I eat on the fly." And then he burst into a giggling twitter.

"I catch nearly all my food on the wing. No one can complain—as they do of the robin—of our destroying fruit.

"We do not care for fruit at all. I would rather have a dozen nice fat flies than all the cherries in the world!"

"Well," laughed Phyllis, "I'd rather have a dozen ripe cherries than all the flies in the world!"

"Tastes differ," twittered the swallow.