In the Meadow

by Lenore Elizabeth Mulets

If Jack's big black dog, Nero, had not chanced to snatch Phyllis's rag doll by the head and run away with it this story would have never been written.

You see, Nero bounded straight across the meadow and Phyllis, fearing that she would lose the doll, ran shrieking after him.

Nero was only playing, and soon dropped the doll and ran off. Phyllis regained her property and started to return, when a bird rose from the grass at her feet with a queer whirring sound.

Phyllis looked up at the bird and then down to the spot from which it had flown.

In another moment she would have stepped in the nest. This meadow lark's nest was unlike any other Phyllis had found. Indeed, it could scarcely be called a nest at all.

But when she looked at it Phyllis thought what a wise little bird the meadow lark must be to choose such a place for the nest.

Had Phyllis not chanced upon it in just the way she did she might have looked all day long and not discovered it.

The nest was flat upon the ground. Around it and over it arched the tall meadow grasses. The nest itself was made of grass—it seemed to Phyllis that it was made in a somewhat careless manner, and that the eggs might easily roll out upon the ground.

There were four beautiful oval eggs in the nest—the largest birds' eggs Phyllis had as yet discovered. They were over an inch long, and were of a beautiful rosy white colour, speckled closely with reddish brown spots.

As Phyllis sat very still, the mother bird crept softly back to her home. She carefully settled herself on the grassy nest and with her bill tenderly tucked the eggs under her soft feathers.

"How careful you are!" exclaimed Phyllis. "No fear of your breaking the eggs."

The brown bird rose up quickly in fright and looked uncertainly toward the fence. Phyllis thought to see her whirr off again.

"Oh, don't go," she cried. "I will not harm you! Truly I will not disturb you!"

The meadow lark looked again toward the fence, and then settled herself once more over her precious eggs.

"Why do you look toward the fence so often?" asked Phyllis.

"Do you not see that bird perched upon the fence?" asked the meadow lark.

"Yes," Phyllis answered, "what is he doing there?"

"He is our sentinel," said the meadow lark. "He is on the lookout for danger. When he gives the alarm, the rest of the flock know there is danger near.

"When we hear the sentinel's alarm we are off in an instant. We fly high into the air. Did you not notice how I hovered near the grass-tops for a moment and then rose high into the air?"

"Yes," answered Phyllis, "and I knew that you were a lark because of that whirring sound you made when flying."

"Ah, but I am not really a lark at all," said the bird. "I am called the meadow lark, but in truth I belong to the blackbird family. The red-winged blackbird is an own cousin of mine. So also is the oriole, who builds a queer hanging nest in the tree-tops.

"The oriole is very proud of her woven nest, but I should consider it a dangerous place for bird babies. My little ones will never be hurt by falling from their nest.

"Neither can I imagine how any bird can dare to build in such an open place.

"My home is hidden here amid the grasses. Sometimes we find places like this, where the grass blades naturally arch over and hide the nest.

"Sometimes we weave a sort of arch over the nest with the downy, fine fibres from the grass leaves.

"Did you notice the little lane down which I returned to my tiny home?"

"No," said Phyllis, "I thought you just came through the grasses by the easiest way."

"If you will look closely," said the meadow lark, pecking away at her own brown feathers, "if you look very, very closely, you will see the tiny path which leads directly to my door."

Phyllis leaned down and peered very curiously among the grass stems. Sure enough, there was a tiny winding path, almost hidden from sight. It led directly to the meadow lark's nest.

"You are a very wonderful little bird," she cried.

"I shall have some very wonderful babies one of these fine days," said the meadow lark, proudly.

"How safely they will be hidden from danger," said Phyllis.

"Well," said the mother bird, shaking her head, sadly, "I am very sure that I build in a safer manner than my cousins. But, alas, even meadow larks are not free from danger."

"I might have stepped on your nest?" said Phyllis.

"Yes," said the bird, "but what makes me fear most are the field-mice and the snakes. They make great havoc in our nests when they discover them. Many a tiny fledgling has been swallowed by a great creeping, crawling snake. Many a beautiful egg has been eaten by the hungry little field-mice."

"I hope no harm will come to your little home," said Phyllis. "I notice one thing which you have for a protection from harm."

"What is that?" asked the meadow lark.

"It is your colour."

The meadow lark raised her head in gentle surprise.

"And what has my colour to do with my danger?" she asked.

"Why," said the little girl, feeling wondrous wise, "do you not see that the browns of your feathery dress are the same colours as the grass stems and the stubble amid which you brood and feed?"

"Why, so it is," said the meadow lark. "My back is brown, edged with brownish white. That is like the grass stems. I am streaked with black and brown and cream colours. That is like the blades of grass.

"My throat and breast are yellow like the stubble amid which I feed. You are wonderfully wise, Miss Phyllis."

"What a beautiful black crescent you have upon your breast," said Phyllis. "It was almost the first thing I noticed when I met you."

"Did you observe the dark brown lines on my head? They seem to cross my eyes."

"I think you are quite beautiful," said Phyllis.

"Ah, but you should see my mate," said the meadow lark. "He is much more beautiful than I. My feathers seem pale and faded when I walk beside him. When fall comes, however, my own colours will brighten."

"On what shall you feed your little ones?"

"When I tell you, you will see again that I am wise in choosing this place for a nest.

"My babies need never grow hungry, for the grass seeds are always falling. The beetles and worms and ants are always walking by. The moths and the butterflies are for ever laying their eggs in all sorts of convenient places. You remember how their eggs do not hatch out into butterflies and moths at once. They are just ugly little worms called grubs."

"Yes," said Phyllis, "I remember."

The meadow lark carefully tucked an egg farther under her soft brown feathers.

"I am glad," she said, "that my eggs do not hatch out as grubs. Perhaps if they did, I should care no more for my babies than the butterfly does for hers. I am told that she does not even know her own children."

"You are quite right," said Phyllis. "She herself told me so."

The meadow lark gave a low whistle and nervously flitted her tail, showing the white feathers with which it was edged.

"It has been some time since I have heard your clear, sweet whistle," said Phyllis. "I thought you must have left our meadow. You have a most beautiful voice."

"Oh, no, we shall not soon leave your meadow, Phyllis. In the autumn we may join a party of larks and take our family to the marshes for awhile, but we shall return. Meadow larks do sometimes go south for the winter, but usually they live their lives in their home meadows."

"Then you will sing for me again?" asked the little girl.

"Oh, with pleasure," said the meadow lark.

"You remember how we used to sing in the spring? Just now our thoughts are so taken up with our nesting that we have little time for song. But later, when the little ones are able to care for themselves, I shall gladly whistle to you once more."

"I shall listen for you," said Phyllis. "Just now I must go, for I hear my mother's voice. Good-bye, meadow lark!"

And the meadow lark from her nest whistled a low good-bye.