THE SANDPIPER'S TRICK
By Celia Thaxter
One lovely afternoon in May I had been wandering up and down,
through rocky gorges, by little swampy bits of ground, and on the
tops of windy headlands, looking for flowers, and had found many:
ólarge blue violets, the like of which you never saw; white
violets, too, creamy and fragrant; gentle little houstonias; gay
and dancing erythroniums, and wind-flowers delicately tinted, blue,
straw-color, pink, and purple. I never found such in the mainland
valleys; the salt air of the sea deepens the colors of all flowers.
I stopped by a swamp which the recent rains had filled and turned
to a little lake. Light green iris-leaves cut the water like sharp
and slender swords, and, in the low sunshine that streamed across,
threw long shadows over the shining surface.
Some blackbirds were calling sweetly in a clump of bushes, and
song-sparrows sang as if they had but one hour in which to crowd
the whole raptures of the spring. As I pressed through the budding
bayberry bushes to reach some milk-white sprays of shadbush which
grew by the water-side, I startled three curfews. They flew away,
trailing their long legs, and whistling fine and clear. I stood
still to watch them out of sight. How full the air was of pleasant
sounds! The very waves made a glad noise about the rocks, and the
whole sea seemed to roar afar off, as if half asleep and murmuring
in a kind of gentle dream. The flock of sheep was scattered here
and there, all washed as white as snow by the plenteous rains, and
nibbling the new grass eagerly; and from near and far came the
tender and plaintive cries of the young lambs.
Going on again, I came to the edge of a little beach, and presently
I was startled by a sound of such terror and distress that it went
to my heart at once.
In a moment a poor little sandpiper emerged from the bushes,
dragging itself along in such a way that, had you seen it, you
would have concluded that every bone in its body had been broken.
Such a dilapidated bird! Its wings drooped and its legs hung as if
almost lifeless. It uttered continually a shrill cry of pain, and
kept just out of the reach of my hand, fluttering hither and
thither, as if sore wounded and weary. At first I was amazed, and
cried out, "Why, friend and gossip! What is the matter?" and then
stood watching it in mute dismay.
Suddenly it flashed across me that this was only my sandpiper's way
of concealing from me a nest; and I remembered reading about this
little trick of hers in a book of natural history. The object was
to make me follow her by pretending that she could not fly, and so
lead me away from her treasure. So I stood perfectly still, lest I
should tread on the precious habitation, and quietly observed my
deceitful little friend.
Her apparently desperate and hopeless condition grew so comical
when I reflected that it was only affectation, that I could not
help laughing, loud and long. "Dear gossip," I called to her, "pray
don't give yourself so much unnecessary trouble! You might know I
wouldn't hurt you or your nest for the world, you most absurd of
As if she understood me, and as if she could not bear being
ridiculed, up she rose at once, strong and graceful, and flew off
with a full, round, clear note, delicious to hear.
Then I cautiously looked for the nest, and found it quite close to
my feet, near the stem of a stunted bayberry bush. Mrs. Sandpiper
had only drawn together a few bayberry leaves, brown and glossy, a
little pale green lichen, and a twig or two, and that was a pretty
enough house for her. Four eggs, about as large as robins', were
within, all laid evenly with the small ends together, as is the
tidy fashion of the Sandpiper family. No wonder I did not see them;
for they were pale green like the lichen, with brown spots the
color of the leaves and twigs, and they seemed a part of the
ground, with its confusion of soft neutral tints. I couldn't admire
them enough, but, to relieve my little friend's anxiety, I came
very soon away; and as I came, I marvelled much that so very small
a head should contain such an amount of cunning.