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The Burgess Bird Book for Children
By THORNTON W. BURGESS, Louis Agassiz Fuertes
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Jenny Wren Arrives
LIPPERTY-lipperty-lip scampered Peter Rabbit behind the tumble-down stone wall along one side of the Old Orchard. It was early in the morning, very early in the morning. In fact, jolly, bright Mr. Sun had hardly begun his daily climb up in the blue, blue sky. It was nothing unusual for Peter to see jolly Mr. Sun get up in the morning. It would be more unusual for Peter not to see him, for you know Peter is a great hand to stay out all night and not go back to the dear Old Briar-patch, where his home is, until the hour when most folks are just getting out of bed.
Peter had been out all night this time, but he wasn't sleepy, not the least teeny, weeny bit. You see, sweet Mistress Spring had arrived, and there was so much happening on every side, and Peter was so afraid he would miss something, that he wouldn't have slept at all if he could have helped it. Peter had come over to the Old Orchard so early this morning to see if there had been any new arrivals the day before.
"Birds are funny creatures," said Peter, as he hopped over a low place in the old stone wall and was fairly in the Old Orchard.
"Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut!" cried a rather sharp, scolding voice. "Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut! You don't know what you are talking about, Peter Rabbit. They are not funny creatures at all. They are the most sensible folks in all the wide world."
Peter cut a long hop short right in the middle, to sit up with shining eyes. "Oh, Jenny Wren, I'm so glad to see you! When did you arrive?" he cried.
"Mr. Wren and I have just arrived, and thank goodness we are here at last," replied Jenny Wren, fussing about, as only she can, in a branch above Peter. "I never was more thankful in my life to see a place than I am right this minute to see the Old Orchard once more. It seems ages and ages since we left it."
"Well, if you are so fond of it what did you leave it for?" demanded Peter. "It is just as I said before—you birds are funny creatures. You never stay put; at least a lot of you don't. Sammy Jay and Tommy Tit the Chickadee and Drummer the Woodpecker and a few others have a little sense; they don't go off on long, foolish journeys. But the rest of you—"
"Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut!" interrupted Jenny Wren. "You don't know what you are talking about, and no one sounds so silly as one who tries to talk about something he knows nothing about."
Peter chuckled. "That tongue of yours is just as sharp as ever," said he. "But just the same it is good to hear it. We certainly would miss it. I was beginning to be a little worried for fear something might have happened to you so that you wouldn't be back here this summer. You know me well enough, Jenny Wren, to know that you can't hurt me with your tongue, sharp as it is, so you may as well save your breath to tell me a few things I want to know. Now if you are as fond of the Old Orchard as you pretend to be, why did you ever leave it?"
Jenny Wren's bright eyes snapped. "Why do you eat?" she asked tartly.
"Because I'm hungry," replied Peter promptly.
"What would you eat if there were nothing to eat?" snapped Jenny.
"That's a silly question," retorted Peter.
"No more silly than asking me why I leave the Old Orchard," replied Jenny. "Do give us birds credit for a little common sense, Peter. We can't live without eating any more than you can, and in winter there is no food at all here for most of us, so we go where there is food. Those who are lucky enough to eat the kinds of food that can be found here in winter stay here. They are lucky. That's what they are—lucky. Still—" Jenny Wren paused.
"Still what?" prompted Peter.
"I wonder sometimes if you folks who are at home all the time know just what a blessed place home is," replied Jenny. "It is only six months since we went south, but I said it seems ages, and it does. The best part of going away is coming home. I don't care if that does sound rather mixed; it is true just the same. It isn't home down there in the sunny South, even if we do spend as much time there as we do here. This is home, and there's no place like it! What's that, Mr. Wren? I haven't seen all the Great World? Perhaps I haven't, but I've seen enough of it, let me tell you that! Any one who travels a thousand miles twice a year as we do has a right to express an opinion, especially if they have used their eyes as I have mine. There is no place like home, and you needn't try to tease me by pretending that there is. My dear, I know you; you are just as tickled to be back here as I am."
"He sings as if he were," said Peter, for all the time Mr. Wren was singing with all his might.
Jenny Wren looked over at Mr. Wren fondly. "Isn't he a dear to sing to me like that? And isn't it a perfectly beautiful spring song?" said she. Then, without waiting for Peter to reply, her tongue rattled on. "I do wish he would be careful. Sometimes I am afraid he will overdo. Just look at him now! He is singing so hard that he is shaking all over. He always is that way. There is one thing true about us Wrens, and this is that when we do things we do them with all our might. When we work we work with all our might. When Mr. Wren sings he sings with all his might."
"And when you scold you scold with all your might," interrupted Peter mischievously.
Jenny Wren opened her mouth for a sharp reply, but laughed instead. "I suppose I do scold a good deal," said she, "but if I didn't, goodness knows who wouldn't impose on us. I can't bear to be imposed on."
"Did you have a pleasant journey up from the sunny South?" asked Peter.
"Fairly pleasant," replied Jenny. "We took it rather easily. Some birds hurry right through without stopping, and I should think they would be tired to death when they arrive. We rest whenever we are tired, and just follow along behind Mistress Spring, keeping far enough behind so that if she has to turn back we will not get caught by Jack Frost. It gives us time to get our new suits on the way. You know everybody expects you to have new things when you return home. How do you like my new suit, Peter?" Jenny bobbed and twisted and turned to show it off. It was plain to see that she was very proud of it.
"Very much," replied Peter. "I am very fond of brown. Brown and gray are my favorite colors." You know Peter's own coat is brown and gray.
"That is one of the most sensible things I have heard you say," chattered Jenny Wren. "The more I see of bright colors the better I like brown. It always is in good taste. It goes well with almost everything. It is neat and it is useful. If there is need of getting out of sight in a hurry you can do it if you wear brown. But if you wear bright colors it isn't so easy. I never envy anybody who happens to have brighter clothes than mine. I've seen dreadful things happen all because of wearing bright colors."
"What?" demanded Peter.
"I'd rather not talk about them," declared Jenny in a very emphatic way. "'Way down where we spent the winter some of the feathered folks who live there all the year round wear the brightest and most beautiful suits I've ever seen. They are simply gorgeous. But I've noticed that in times of danger these are the folks dreadful things happen to. You see they simply can't get out of sight. For my part I would far rather be simply and neatly dressed and feel safe than to wear wonderful clothes and never know a minute's peace. Why, there are some families I know of which, because of their beautiful suits, have been so hunted by men that hardly any are left. But gracious, Peter Rabbit, I can't sit here all day talking to you! I must find out who else has arrived in the Old Orchard and must look my old house over to see if it is fit to live in."CHAPTER 2
The Old Orchard Bully
PETER Rabbit's eyes twinkled when Jenny Wren said that she must look her old house over to see if it was fit to live in. "I can save you that trouble," said he.
"What do you mean?" Jenny's voice was very sharp.
"Only that your old house is already occupied," replied Peter. "Bully the English Sparrow has been living in it for the last two months. In fact, he already has a good-sized family there."
"What?" screamed Jenny and Mr. Wren together. Then without even saying good-by to Peter, they flew in a great rage to see if he had told them the truth. Presently he heard them scolding as fast as their tongues could go, and this is very fast indeed.
"Much good that will do them," chuckled Peter. "They will have to find a new house this year. All the sharp tongues in the world couldn't budge Bully the English Sparrow. My, my, my, my, just hear that racket! I think I'll go over and see what is going on."
So Peter hopped to a place where he could get a good view of Jenny Wren's old home and still not be too far from the safety of the old stone wall. Jenny Wren's old home had been in a hole in one of the old apple-trees. Looking over to it, Peter could see Mrs. Bully sitting in the little round doorway and quite filling it. She was shrieking excitedly. Hopping and flitting from twig to twig close by were Jenny and Mr. Wren, their tails pointing almost straight up to the sky, and scolding as fast as they could make their tongues go. Flying savagely at one and then at the other, and almost drowning their voices with his own harsh cries, was Bully himself. He was perhaps one fourth larger than Mr. Wren, although he looked half again as big. But for the fact that his new spring suit was very dirty, due to his fondness for taking dust baths and the fact that he cares nothing about his personal appearance and takes no care of himself, he would have been a fairly good-looking fellow. His back was more or less of an ashy color with black and chestnut stripes. His wings were brown with a white bar on each. His throat and breast were black, and below that he was of a dirty white. The sides of his throat were white and the back of his neck chestnut.
By ruffling up his feathers and raising his wings slightly as he hopped about, he managed to make himself appear much bigger than he really was. He looked like a regular little fighting savage. The noise had brought all the other birds in the Old Orchard to see what was going on, and every one of them was screaming and urging Jenny and Mr. Wren to stand up for their rights. Not one of them had a good word for Bully and his wife. It certainly was a disgraceful neighborhood squabble.
Bully the English Sparrow is a born fighter. He never is happier than when he is in the midst of a fight or a fuss of some kind. The fact that all his neighbors were against him didn't bother Bully in the least.
Jenny and Mr. Wren are no cowards, but the two together were no match for Bully. In fact, Bully did not hesitate to fly fiercely at any of the onlookers who came near enough, not even when they were twice his own size. They could have driven him from the Old Orchard had they set out to, but just by his boldness and appearance he made them afraid to try.
All the time Mrs. Bully sat in the little round doorway, encouraging him. She knew that as long as she sat there it would be impossible for either Jenny or Mr. Wren to get in. Truth to tell, she was enjoying it all, for she is as quarrelsome and as fond of fighting as is Bully himself.
"You're a sneak! You're a robber! That's my house, and the sooner you get out of it the better!" shrieked Jenny Wren, jerking her tail with every word as she hopped about just out of reach of Bully.
"It may have been your house once, but it is mine now, you little snip-of-nothing!" cried Bully, rushing at her like a little fury. "Just try to put us out if you dare! You didn't make this house in the first place, and you deserted it when you went south last fall. It's mine now, and there isn't anybody in the Old Orchard who can put me out."
Peter Rabbit nodded. "He's right there," muttered Peter. "I don't like him and never will, but it is true that he has a perfect right to that house. People who go off and leave things for half a year shouldn't expect to find them just as they left them. My, my, my, what a dreadful noise! Why don't they all get together and drive Bully and Mrs. Bully out of the Old Orchard? If they don't, I'm afraid he will drive them out. No one likes to live with such quarrelsome neighbors. They don't belong over in this country, anyway, and we would be a lot better off if they were not here. But I must say I do have to admire their spunk."
All the time Bully was darting savagely at this one and that one and having a thoroughly good time, which is more than could be said of any one else, except Mrs. Bully.
"I'll teach you folks to know that I am in the Old Orchard to stay!" shrieked Bully. "If you don't like it, why don't you fight? I am not afraid of any of you or all of you together." This was boasting, plain boasting, but it was effective. He actually made the other birds believe it. Not one of them dared stand up to him and fight. They were content to call him a bully and all the bad names they could think of, but that did nothing to help Jenny and Mr. Wren recover their house. Calling another bad names never hurts him. Brave deeds and not brave words are what count.
How long that disgraceful squabble in the Old Orchard would have lasted had it not been for something which happened, no one knows. Right in the midst of it some one discovered Black Pussy, the cat who lives in Farmer Brown's house, stealing up through the Old Orchard, her tail twitching and her yellow eyes glaring eagerly. She had heard that dreadful racket and suspected that in the midst of such excitement she might have a chance to catch one of the feathered folks. You can always trust Black Pussy to be on hand at a time like that.
No sooner was she discovered than everything else was forgotten. With Bully in the lead, and Jenny and Mr. Wren close behind him, all the birds turned their attention to Black Pussy. She was the enemy of all, and they straightway forgot their own quarrel. Only Mrs. Bully remained where she was, in the little round doorway of her house. She intended to take no chances, but she added her voice to the general racket. How those birds did shriek and scream! They darted down almost into the face of Black Pussy, and none went nearer than Bully the English Sparrow and Jenny Wren.
Now Black Pussy hates to be the center of so much attention. She knew that, now she had been discovered, there wasn't a chance in the world for her to catch one of those Old Orchard folks. So, with tail still twitching angrily, she turned and, with such dignity as she could, left the Old Orchard. Clear to the edge of it the birds followed, shrieking, screaming, calling her bad names, and threatening to do all sorts of dreadful things to her, quite as if they really could.
When finally she disappeared towards Farmer Brown's barn, those angry voices changed. It was such a funny change that Peter Rabbit laughed right out. Instead of anger there was triumph in every note as everybody returned to attend to his own affairs. Jenny and Mr. Wren seemed to have forgotten all about Bully and his wife in their old house. They flew to another part of the Old Orchard, there to talk it all over and rest and get their breath. Peter Rabbit waited to see if they would not come over near enough to him for a little more gossip. But they didn't, and finally Peter started for his home in the dear Old Briar-patch. All the way there he chuckled as he thought of the spunky way in which Jenny and Mr. Wren had stood up for their rights.
Excerpted from The Burgess Bird Book for Children by THORNTON W. BURGESS, Louis Agassiz Fuertes. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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