Tabby, the house cat, lay on a soft rug by the open door, looking wistfully toward the top of a small cherry tree that stood close at hand.
There is a robins nest in that tree," said she to herself, and there are some young birds in it. What a tender morsel one of them would make for my breakfast, if
Just then the housemaid chanced to spy the keen eyes of the cat directed toward the tree, and
she gave her a sound box on the ear that sent her flying into the back yard.
But Tabby was not to be cheated out of a good meal by such treatment as this; and she stole softly back toward the foot of the tree and crouched low down in the grass, so that she was almost hidden from sight.
I will wait, she said, till one of the old birds flies down from its perch, then I will pounce upon it, and begin my breakfast on that, and if
All at once a large, heavy stone came whizzing through the air and barely missed hitting her on the head.
With a loud m-e-ow she bounded away, and hid herself in one corner of the fence.
Now this nest on the bough was well built of mosses, straws, and dried stems, plastered together with mud, and was lined with soft grass.
And when it was all completed the mother bird laid within it four small eggs of a greenish-blue tint.
So away they would sail on soft wings, the father bird saluting the sky, as he skimmed the air, with a song of the sweetest melody.
By and by, the eggs hatched out, and then there was a nest full of little children, and oh, such appetites as they had!
Both Mr. and Mrs. Robin were early risers; for they knew that the fat cutworm and his family were in the habit of coming up out of the ground during the night, in order to feed on the tender stalks of the cabbage, the beet, and other garden plants.
The heads and wings, as well as the tail feathers of these birds were of a dark brown, but their plump, glossy breasts were of a pale, yellowish red.
Everybody that saw them stopped to admire them, and to listen to the sweet notes of their morning hymn.
Pretty soon they would come flying back to their leafy home, bearing in their yellow bills some choice tidbit for the little ones in the nest.
Beetles, grubs, moths, caterpillars, and cutworms, by the hundred, were carried to that young family every day; and yet four tiny hungry bills were always open, calling for more.
So they grew and grew, and pretty soon the little nest was too small to hold all of them together; and one day, as one of them was crowded to the very edge of the nest, he tumbled out and fell to the ground.
Alas, alas! Tabbys watchful eyes beheld the mishap. Now is my chance, she said, and in a moment she was on the spot.
As she moved her tail from side to side, she looked very fierce indeed, almost as fierce as her wild cousins, the tigers and the lions, that roam the forests in search of their prey.
Suddenly she made a spring to seize the helpless baby bird with her sharp claws.
This was more than the terror-stricken parents could endure, and sweeping down from the bough, they hovered above her form and dealt her several hard blows with their wings.
Then they pecked her body with their sharp bills, and pulled tufts of hair out of her head.
It was hard, very hard, for her to yield up her prize; but the birds fought her so furiously that she was glad to escape; and with a cry of rage
and pain she leaped away, leaving many tufts of her soft fur behind her.
The housemaid, hearing the clamor made by the old birds, came to the door, and saw the helpless infant lying on the ground. She took it up tenderly and replaced it in the nest, where it soon cuddled down as happy and contented as if nothing had happened to it.
When the parent birds found that their darling was unharmed, they flitted about from bough to bough, and chirped their gratitude and delight; but it was a long time before they would leave their little home unguarded.
When one of them went away in search of food the other would remain on the bough to watch their treasures.
It was not many days, however, before the young birds began to try their wings; and one morning the whole family flew away from their leafy home, and did not come back.
As for the cat, she had learned a useful lesson; for when the parent birds returned the next spring, and took possession of their old quarters, Tabby never so much as cast a glance toward the tree.
I will not go near them, she m-e-owed to herself; for if I dohere she stopped, licked
her paws, and rubbed very tenderly a bare place on the side of her head.
Ah, Tabby, it will take you many a day to comb and smooth your fur, before that bald spot will be covered; and even then, you will never look as sleek and fine as you did before the battle!
WITH AUGER AND SAW
Why do you speed along in such haste? said a stout-bodied sawfly to her cousin, the horntail fly, as they both chanced to be going in the same direction.
Pray do not ask me to travel at your sluggish pace, replied the other. I am on my way to that tall elm yonder; for I want to bore into its trunk, and hide my eggs there, and this bright July morning is just the time for it.
I am going to that very tree myself, said the sawfly; but I shall make a slit in one of the leaves for my eggs, which I am sure will be much easier to do than to bore into the hard trunk of a tree.
That is as you like, answered the other. I work with an auger, and you with a saw; and it is a good thing that each of us prefers his own tools. And with this short answer she sped on, out of sight.
And now let us watch her, as she busies herself on the trunk of the tree yonder. Her head is large, her body is round and long, and she has long, narrow wings.
At the end of her body she has a sharp needle or auger, with which she can bore through both the bark and the wood of a tree.
It does not take her very long to do her work either, for she has already made several holes, and into each hole she has pushed a small egg.
Now, Mrs. Horntails infants will be ugly, white grubs, with small, round, horny heads, and pointed, horny tails. They will each have six legs, and such sharp jaws that they can gnaw their way anywhere through the tree.
They will feed on its sweet sapwood; and when they have eaten so much that they can eat no more, they will make for themselves, each, a silken cocoon, and into that they will weave some of the small chips that they have chewed. Then they will go to sleep.
And when at last they have finished their nap, they will cast off their pupa skins, break open their cocoons, and crawl up to the very end of their burrows.
Then they will soon gnaw away the bark, and come out with four smoky-brown wings.
And what is strangest of all, insects of this kind have been known to remain so long in the pupa state that after a tree was cut down and the wood was planed and polished, and made into furniture, they gnawed their way out of it.
But the horntail fly is not the only insect that works with an auger; and although her sharp borer is a full inch in length, she has a sly enemy that
carries one from three to four inches long.1 And what do you suppose she does with this long tool? She hunts around for a time till at last she finds the tree in which Mrs. Horntails larval children are hidden. Then she thrusts in her auger, here and there, and slyly pushes an egg into each hole.1 The ich-neu´mon fly.
And when her babies hatch out, they creep about through the body of the tree till they find a fat young horntail.
Then they have no farther to look for their dinner. It is all ready for them; and you may be sure that they do not wait to be invited, but seize upon it at once.
They soon make themselves fast to the skin of the helpless infant and feast on him to their hearts content; and no matter how much he may wriggle and squirm, they do not loosen their hold till the meal is finished.
Ah, Mrs. Horntail, you would not have sailed so proudly away, could you have seen what the end might be!
Possibly your family may live to flit about in the warm sunshine of a pleasant July day; but your enemy has marked the tree, and she is on your track.