THE BLUEBIRDS & THEIR NEIGHBOURS

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CHAPTER 3

Mr. Bluebird Sees Molly Cottontail

THE barn on the Old Homestead was a large rambling building with a cow shed along one side and a machine shelter on the other. It had a great hayloft where Bud and Mary Smith liked to romp with their friends on rainy days. It was so much fun to hear the patter of the Wet Little Raindrops on the broad roof, while inside all was cozy and dry.

When there was not too much hay in the loft, Farmer Smith let Bud and Mary build a swing from the, rafters. Bud also built a high trapeze above the hay pile in one end of the loft, where he and other boys could tumble in true circus fashion, with a bed of soft hay to catch them when they jumped.

Mr. Bluebird perched on the peak of the spreading roof and looked around. From the top of the Rambling Old Barn he could see almost the whole farm. He could see the Grand Old House and the Apple Orchard and the Hedgerow. Then there was Little River winding through the Green Meadow, and off to the right was the Duck Pond. Along one side of the Old Homestead was High Cliff, where Aquila the Golden Eagle lived, and across one end was the Black Forest, the home of Reddy Fox and Shadow the Lynx and Sharpshin the Hawk.

It was a beautiful scene, but Mr. Bluebird was thinking of other things. He remembered that a colony of Cliff Swallows had built a row of jug-like houses under the eaves of the Rambling Old Barn the summer before, and he was wondering if one of these would not make a good nest for him and Mrs. Bluebird. The houses were made of mud and straw and feathers stuck together, and fastened in some mysterious way to the bare board under the eaves.

Dauber the Cliff Swallow was a natural mason. Bud and Mary sometimes called him Eave Swallow. His house was inclosed except for the round opening leading out through a short porch-like doorway, and Mr. Bluebird knew that such an arrangement would keep Noisy the English Sparrow from nosing in where he was not wanted. Mr. Bluebird thought he could use one of Dauber's houses even though he did not like the location.

And so Mr. Bluebird had come to the Rambling Old Barn to see if he could find one of Dauber's houses that he could rent for the summer. He thought that Dauber would not mind building another, as it was no trouble for him.

Mr. Bluebird flew from the top of the barn and looked under the eaves. Every nest was gone! Painters had given the barn a new coat of red, and when doing so had scraped away the dried mud nests so that they could paint the boards.

Again Mr. Bluebird was troubled. He was also hungry. And so he flew over to the Green Meadow to see if he could find some bugs or some dried berries on the vines and bushes that grew in places along the banks of Little River. It was too early in the spring for many bugs to be flying, but Mr. Bluebird had expected that when he came north. In the Sunny Southland he had eaten the waxy berries of the mistletoe and other fruit, and he thought he could find something as good along Little River.

It was here that he met Molly Cottontail. Molly Cottontail's home was in a Friendly Burrow that Digger the Badger had dug over at the foot of High Cliff near the Little Jungle Thicket. Molly liked to visit, and for that reason she was seldom home. Of course, she never went so far from home that she could not scamper back when Great Horn the Owl or Reddy Fox or Shadow the Lynx came along.

Tattler the Jay had told Molly Cottontail that he had seen some Clover Leaves and Tender Grass Shoots peeping through the ground in sheltered places in the Green Meadow, and Molly had gone there to see if she could find some. It was farther from home than she liked to go, but she had found another Friendly Burrow that Billy Coon had dug in the bank along Little River, which was deep enough for her to run into for protection if she needed to.

That is how Molly Cottontail happened to be in the Green Meadow when Mr. Bluebird flew there to hunt for bugs and dried berries. She sat up on her hind legs and wiggled her nose in surprise when she saw Mr. Bluebird. And Mr. Bluebird was even more surprised to see Molly Cottontail.

"Dear me, how you frightened me!" exclaimed Molly. "I thought you were Sharpshin the Hawk when I saw your shadow."

"I thought you were Hunting Cat," said Mr. Bluebird.

Now, if there is one thing more than another that Mr. Bluebird can do well, it is to tell when spring is near. So when he arrives in the Chilly Northland, it is a sure sign that Jolly Spring is just around the corner.

That is one reason why Molly was so glad to see Mr. Bluebird. There had been lots of snow during the winter, and some days she had had a hard time to find something to eat. Sometimes she nibbled the tender bark from the shrubs that grew along Little River, and once she let Bud Smith know she was hungry by eating some of the bark off the young fruit trees in the Apple Orchard.

Of course, that was wrong, but what was Molly Cottontail to do when there was nothing else in sight to eat? Then Bud built a rack and placed it near Molly's Friendly Burrow. He kept it filled with clover and alfalfa that had been dried green. The rack had a wide roof over it to catch the snow so that Molly would have no trouble getting food.

CHAPTER 4

Mr. Bluebird Hears Good News

IT HAD been almost five months since Molly Cottontail had seen Mr. Bluebird. Many things had happened on the Old Homestead while Mr. Bluebird was in the Sunny Southland. And if there was anyone who knew everything that happened, it was Molly. She had gone from one place to an�other until she had worn trails everywhere.

Of course, she always kept near to a patch of Jungle Thicket, or the Hedgerow, or a Friendly Burrow, so that she could hide whenever Reddy Fox or other enemies came around. She knew the location of every Friendly Burrow on the Old Homestead.

Molly Cottontail dearly loved to visit. So she started right in to tell Mr. Bluebird all the news. "Johnny Chuck moved his home a little farther up High Cliff so that he can lie in the sun on warm spring days, and Worker the Gray Squirrel lives in the old tree in the corner of the rail fence, and Billy Coon made a new home in the Hollow Den Tree near the end of the bridge that crosses Little River, and Digger the Badger stays in a Friendly Burrow that he made over by the corn patch, and Tawny Chipmunk went to sleep in a den under a big rock near Johnny Chuck. I haven't seen any of them very often because all they do is sleep during cold weather. Why, do you know, Tawny Chipmunk is still sleeping ! I don't see what fun folks have staying inside half of their lives. You don't catch me curling up inside a hole and staying there for months. No, siree! "

Molly Cottontail had talked so fast she was out of breath, and had to stop.

"What are you doing here?" asked Mr. Bluebird. "I came to the Green Meadow to live until things begin to grow up by High Cliff," replied Molly.

"How is Peter, your husband?" asked Mr. Bluebird. Molly bit off a Clover Leaf and sighed: "He went over to the Big Jungle Thicket in the Black Forest in search of Tender Grass Shoots to eat, and I haven't seen him for a longtime," she said. "I do hope he comes home to our own Jungle Thicket soon.

She did not tell Mr. Bluebird she was afraid something had happened to Peter because he had been gone so many days. She thought that would not interest Mr. Bluebird, anyway.

What he was interested in most was in finding a Nesting Place. He almost wished that he could live in a Friendly Burrow like Molly Cottontail and Johnny Chuck and Digger the Badger and others.

Mr. Bluebird decided he would ask Molly Cottontail if she had seen a Nesting Place. She seemed to know everything about the Old Homestead.

"Of course, you know that the Nesting Post by the Apple Orchard is gone," he said, "and now I must find another. Do you know where there is one that would please Mrs. Bluebird?"

Molly Cottontail twitched her nose as some people do when they smile. "Of course I do," she replied. "I know the very place: But surely you have seen the new Nesting Box if you have been up by the Grand Old House. Bud Smith built it, and I think he made it especially for you. It is standing in the corner of the front yard near the Big Elm."

That was good news to Mr. Bluebird. "I think the reason I didn't see it is that it wasn't very light when I was there this morning, and I was thinking about the Nesting Post near the Apple Orchard."

Mr. Bluebird couldn't wait to see the new Nesting Box that Bud had made for him. No, sir, he just couldn't wait. He might have known that Bud would give him another home when Farmer Smith took the old one away to build a new fence around the Apple Orchard. Bud Smith was that kind of boy. Mr. Bluebird was glad to hear that he had a new Nesting Box, because he knew that the Old Nesting Post had been getting shaky.

"Tru-ally, tru-ally, that is the best news I have heard," he said, "and I must fly right over and see that new Nesting Box."

It was getting dark when Mr. Bluebird left Molly Cottontail. It was so dark that he couldn't see the new Nesting Box very well when he perched in the Big Elm. But he could see enough to make him feel very, very sad.

There was Mrs. Noisy the English Sparrow sticking her head out of the door of his new home, and Mr. Noisy was sitting on the front porch as cocky as you please.

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