With the Water Watchman
by Lenore Elizabeth Mulets
"Please, Jack," begged Phyllis.
"Girls always talk," replied Jack.
"I will not say a word to you—indeed I will not."
"Well, if you spoil my fishing—" began Jack.
"And I'll pick thimbleberries for our lunch," said Phyllis, eagerly.
So it happened that a small girl in a great sunbonnet followed a small
boy with a still larger straw hat and a fishing-pole and line, out of
the back gate and down the lane.
True to her promise, Phyllis said nothing, but trudged along behind
Jack with wide open, watchful brown eyes.
By and bye the children came to a pond of shining, clear water. How
still everything seemed, how brightly the sun shone!
"Now if you talk you'll scare the fish," said Jack, with an air of
"I will not talk," Phyllis whispered back, shutting her lips very
tightly and sitting down beside her brother with a little sigh.
Jack threw his line—Phyllis watched with awe. They sat for a moment
waiting for a "bite."
Then Jack jerked the line up sharply, not so much because he thought he
had caught something, as because he hoped he would catch something.
"I don't believe there are any fish here," he grumbled at last.
But Phyllis's bright eyes had caught sight of something and she forgot
all about the fishing and her resolve not to speak.
"Look!" she cried, pointing to a fallen tree-trunk which hung over the
On a branch sat a bird. He was considerably larger than a robin.
"On a branch sat a bird. He was considerably larger than a robin"
On the top of his head was a tall crest, which reached to the nape of
His back and the entire upper part of his body was blue. His wings and
short tail bore spots and bars of white.
The lower part of his body was white and across his breast ran two
bands of blue.
"His bill is longer than his head!" laughed Phyllis. "What a funny big
head and what funny little feet! Who is he, Jackie?"
"A kingfisher!" Jack replied.
"What is he doing?" asked Phyllis.
"Fishing," said Jack, shortly.
In a moment Jack spoke again.
"There must be fish here if Mr. Kingfisher is on the lookout. He is a
famous old fisherman. He could not live without fish to eat. Did you
notice the white spot above each eye?"
Encouraged by the sight of the other fisherman, Jack again cast his
line and waited for a bite.
Phyllis watched the bird. Suddenly it seemed to drop from the branch.
It dived into the water.
There was a great flutter and splash—a struggle. Then the bird in the
blue and white uniform perched again on the old branch.
The children watched eagerly.
In the bird's strong bill was a scaly, glittering fish. It wriggled
and flopped helplessly, but could not escape.
The bird held the fish firmly in its strong grasp, raised his head and
struck the fish three or four sharp knocks against the branch. Then
the fish wriggled no longer.
"He can never swallow that big fellow!" cried Jack, forgetting his own
fishing. "I have seen kingfishers swallow minnows alive and whole, but
that fish is too large for him to manage!"
The bird, however, seemed to think that he could "manage" it. He
started to swallow the fish. When it was half-way down his throat it
With much sputtering and gagging the bird brought the fish up again.
But he must have his dinner, and not in the least discouraged, tried
He gagged and writhed. The scales and fins stuck in his throat. Up
came the fish again.
Four—five times he struggled to swallow the fish. Five times he
failed to succeed. Five times the fish-scales glittered again in the
sunlight. Such strange wrigglings and twistings the bird made.
"The poor fellow is having an unhappy time with his lunch," laughed the
At the sixth effort the fish was safely landed in the bird's stomach.
With a flash of blue wings he circled through the air. He gave a noisy
rattling cry as he alighted on a branch nearer to the children.
Again the bird watched the water intently. Again he dived like a
flash. Again he bore a fish to the surface and killed it by striking
it against the tree.
But this time the kingfisher did not swallow the fish. He rose with it
in his bill and flew gracefully away.
The children watched for some time, but the strange blue bird did not
return. Then Jack turned again to his fishing.
"I thought you were to furnish the thimbleberries for lunch," he said.
"So I shall," Phyllis replied, snatching up her basket and starting off
in the direction of some bushes which she could see.
So Jack was left to his fishing and Phyllis went berrying.
Sure enough the bushes proved to be loaded with beautiful ripe berries.
Soon the little fingers were stained quite purple and the little basket
was half filled with berries.
As she started to return to her brother, Phyllis passed along the foot
of a high bank. She was singing softly to herself when she heard the
rattling cry of the kingfisher quite near.
He gracefully swung into sight on wide-spread wings. He bore another
fish in his strong bill.
When he saw Phyllis he stopped short and held himself perfectly still
in the air while he looked at her.
At length, deciding that she was harmless, he circled past the little
girl and entered a small hole on the face of the bank.
"Why!" said Phyllis. "I wonder why he has gone in there. I shall wait
for him to return."
So Phyllis waited until the bird came out. Then she held out her
basket of berries.
"Will you have some of my berries?" she said. "I'm sure that your
throat must be sore from the scratching of those fish-scales. You had
to try so many times before you got it down. Tell me, did this last
fish also stick in your throat?"
The kingfisher "chuckled" deep down in his throat.
"I do not eat berries," he said. "I usually eat fish. I sometimes eat
large insects or shrimps, but I love to fish."
"So does my brother," said Phyllis, politely, glancing at Jack sitting
motionless on a rock in the sunshine.
"Why did you go into that hole to eat?"
The kingfisher chuckled again.
"That is my nest," he said. "My wife is in there. I took the fish to
her. She can fish quite as well as I, but our eggs are just hatching
and she dare not leave them."
"That a bird's nest?" cried Phyllis. "Who made it?"
"Mrs. Kingfisher and I did," was the reply. "We found this fine steep
bank when we came from the south in March.
"I began the nest myself. I held myself still in the air before the
bank just as I did when I first noticed you. Then I drove my beak into
the soft bank with quick plunges. How the clay rattled and rolled and
splashed into the water below!
"It was but a very short time before I had a foothold on the bank.
Mrs. Kingfisher and I worked very quickly. Soon we dug ourselves out
"But how do you dig—"
"Oh, just look at my bill, Phyllis. With it I loosen the earth. With
my feet I scratch the dirt out in a perfect shower behind me. Our
tunnel is so narrow that we could not turn around in it."
"How deep is it?" asked the little girl, pushing back her big hat and
The kingfisher did not seem to hear her. He just went on with his
"Perhaps a little less than two feet from the outside we made a turn to
the right. After that we were obliged to bring the earth out in our
"Two could not work at once. While I worked at the tunnel Mrs.
Kingfisher fished. While she worked, I fished. At last the tunnel was
eight feet long.
"'That is a very safe distance,' said Mrs. Kingfisher to me. 'Let us
dig no more, but make our nest here at the end of the tunnel.'
"We built a wonderful nest," the bird went on, "a fine prickly nest for
our little ones. We did not line it with feathers and moss. We
carefully arranged a pile of fish-bones and scales at the farthest end
of the tunnel. On these bones and scales my wife laid six white eggs.
Already four little baby kingfishers have pecked their way out of the
white shells. The others will be out soon.
"I must be off about my fishing. Mrs. Kingfisher and I will both be
very busy now catching minnows for those blue babies of ours."
With another chuckle and rattle the kingfisher flew away to his fishing
station over the pond.
Phyllis picked up her basket of berries and returned to the spot where
Jack still sat patiently holding his pole.
"Oh, Jack—" Phyllis began.
"Sh-h-h-h!" whispered Jack. "You promised not to talk. You'll scare
the fish away. Girls always talk."
"I'm sorry," said Phyllis. "How many have you now?"
"None—but I've had a nibble several times. I think they'd bite better
if the sun would go under a cloud."
"Let's eat our lunch now," begged Phyllis. "Perhaps there'll be some
clouds by the time we finish."
As they ate Phyllis told her brother about the kingfisher's nest and
babies. When they finished the sky was as blue as ever.
"These are halcyon days," said Jack, looking very wise.
"Wh-a-a-t—?" said Phyllis, wholly puzzled and half frightened at the
"Well, you see father told me about them the other day when we were
fishing in this same place.
"It seems that long ago when people were not very wise, they believed
all sorts of queer things. They told strange stories about the things
which they did not understand.
"In those days kingfishers were called halcyons. Some said these birds
made nests which floated on the sea.
"As long as these eggs or birdlings were in the nest, the people said,
the sea would remain smooth and the weather fair.
"Ever since then, when we hear any one speak of 'halcyon days,' we know
that they mean pleasant happy days."
"Then," laughed Phyllis, "this has been one of the 'halcyon days' even
though you failed to catch any fish."
Then two tired little people trudged home through the river reeds and
down the lane.
On their way the blue kingfisher flashed by, chuckling harshly deep
down in his throat.