From the Barnyard Fence

by Lenore Elizabeth Mulets

Had not the old hen been such a watchful mother she would never have been able to care for such a big, fluffy family.

Had not Phyllis been such a wide-awake little girl, she would have never heard and seen all that I am about to tell you.

Mother Speckle was scratching patiently in the barnyard. Now and again she gave a loud call and her ten little ones ran wildly for the bug or worm which their mother had found for them.

Phyllis was just coming into the barnyard with a cup of meal for Mother Speckle's family, when a strange cry from the old hen startled her.

Phyllis looked and saw every chick running as fast as its little legs could carry it to the hovering mother wings. Soon every chicken baby was hidden from sight and the chicken mother was clucking less loudly.

"What can be the matter?" cried Phyllis, and then looking up she saw a hawk circling in the air above.

She snatched off her hat and waved it wildly at the hawk. At the same time she shouted as fiercely as she could.

The hawk soared calmly in the air, rising ever higher and higher. The mother hen, calling softly to her babies, led the little ones to the protecting shelter of some low bushes. Then Phyllis sprinkled the meal and soon the chicken hawk was quite forgotten by Mother Speckle and her brood.

But Phyllis still watched eagerly for the hawk. She feared that he would return. But she could now see nothing of him.

On the fence post, not far away, sat a big black raven croaking gravely to himself.

"You are not a lovely bird either," said the little girl, but the raven did not hear her.

When she had crept up very close to the post on which the raven sat, Phyllis again saw the hawk sailing in wide circles nearer and nearer.

"Caw! Caw!" cried the raven, rising in the air, high above the barn. "I, too, can sail about in circles! Caw! Caw! Caw!"

The hawk said nothing, but quietly settled on the fence post. The raven still circled in the air, but ever nearer.

The hawk looked up. The raven wagged his head solemnly and uttered his sad, harsh cry. He shook out his black feathers and sat down again on the post.

"I am called the bird of ill omen," said the raven. "Some people think that I bring bad luck. Others think I eat too much of their corn. No one likes me. No one thinks me beautiful.

"Yet if you will look at my black coat you will see how glossy it is. My back fairly gleams in the sunlight. Sometimes I catch gleams of purple and green on my wings. See how soft and loose are the feathers about my throat. They make a fringe about my neck of which I am somewhat proud.

"I do not harm people, and I surely should not be blamed for my appetite. To be sure, I do eat corn and grain. I also eat grubs, worms, field mice, in fact anything which comes in my way.

"I have a home up in the top of the cedar-tree. My nest is round and firm. It is woven of sticks and grasses and lined with wool which I myself pick from the sheep's back.

"We reline the old nest and repair it beautifully every housecleaning time.

"My babies are good children, but they do not in fact look much like me. Perhaps you might think them better looking than their parents. They are black and white.

"Their mother says that the raven babies will outgrow the white feathers soon. She declares that she and I had once as many white feathers as our babies. It seems hard to believe, but perhaps she is right.

"At any rate, they are my children and I do the best I can for them. To me they are very dear, but I fear they will go through life as unloved as I! Caw! Caw! Caw!"

The chicken-hawk ruffled his brown feathers carelessly. He drew in his breath, making a whistling noise which to Phyllis, hiding so quietly below, sounded quite like escaping steam.

"People do not like me either," said the hawk, shrugging his shoulders. "But for all that I shall not sit and mourn.

"I know that my feathers are handsome. I know that I am a good husband and father. I know that I can sail about in the air as gracefully as any bird in the world.

"I sometimes eat insects, but I wonder, Mr. Raven, at your fondness for corn and grain. You should try some of these small birds which are flying about."

"I fear—" began the raven.

"Fear?" cried the hawk, striking out with his strong curved claws. "I do not know what fear is! Look at my short curved bill! Look at my sharp claws! Look at my long wings, which can carry me so swiftly and so far!

"There is scarcely a bird of the air which does not fear me. They skim out of sight at my approach.

"You should see me pounce upon young ducks. It is great fun. Yesterday I was soaring above the pond, when I saw a whole family of young ducks out for their first swim. Without a sound I dropped down, seized one, and bore it off in my claws. I sat in the tree-top to eat it. It was very tender, but also very small. I decided to have another. This time the young ducks saw me. They dived head first into the water.

"I laughed to myself. I knew that they would soon come up. When in half a minute one appeared, I was quick enough to catch him.

"Later I carried a small chicken home to my nest in the big oak on the hill yonder. My nest is a very simple affair,—just a few crooked sticks. The lining is of leaves and a few pieces of loose bark which we picked up.

"Come and see me sometime, Mr. Raven. I will show my babies to you. They are wonderful birdlings with bright yellow eyes and bluish bills.

"Just now I must be off. I see Mrs. Speckle has ventured out from the bushes again and that little girl with the flapping hat—"

The little girl and the "flapping hat" sprang up from the fence-corner with such a shout that the chicken-hawk circled away into the air and did not return that day.

The raven flew away, crying sadly, "Caw! Caw! Caw!" Mother Speckle went on quietly catching bugs for her downy babies.