A NEW SORT OF A PARTY

For some days after this meeting mysterious bundles were brought into
the Gordon home. To pass Billy, or Danny, or some of the other boys,
with a knobby package whose contents were well kept from view by thick
paper and a well-knotted string, was such fun. Jimmy offered to carry
one for Nan one afternoon when she was coming from Leigh’s, but Nan
said that it was “fragile” and that she could trust it to no one. “Of
course, he wanted to feel of it and see if he could tell what it was.”

Whether the boys had a real club room or not they did not know. Nor did
they know how long the Black Wizards had been in existence. “Curiosity
killed the cat,” was all that Jimmy would say when Nan asked him where
the Wizards met, after informing him first, that the S. P.’s were
planning to have all their meetings at Jean’s, their business meetings,
at least. The girls carefully noted all the boys that wore the snake
pin, and put their names down. This was to make the number of girls
fairly even, when they gave their party of celebration.

Although there were no other children at Judge Gordon’s beside the
lively Jean herself, the club room was kept locked and it leaked out
among the boys that the judge was having a number of keys made, “I’d
like to get into their club room,” said Danny Pierce to Billy, “and see
what they have there. What can _girls_ do? If any of those girls lose a
key, O boy!”

Billy Baxter took great delight in repeating Danny’s last sentence to
Jean, who passed it on to the rest of the girls, creating quite a stir,
as Billy had intended. “Would they _dare_?” asked Molly, in horror.

“No,” said Jean, “but they might climb up and peep in. I’d better keep
the curtains together, though we’ll have to have the windows on the
balcony open part of the time.”

“Unless they’re human flies, they can’t climb up,” said Leigh, looking
out of the front window.

“There’s that oak tree,” Jean reminded her. “Wouldn’t it be funny if
they planned to do it, and then we invited them?”

“Yes, but we are not sure that we’ll let any one into the inner
sanctum.”

Every possible moment of the week was spent either on the attic
floor itself or in sewing draperies or annexing ornaments in the
various homes of the S. P.’s. It was not until Friday afternoon that
the committee visited Miss Haynes, screwing up their courage to do
something that turned out very pleasantly, as things dreaded often do.

The girls found Miss Haynes at the pleasant occupation of grading test
papers in her room after school. She nodded pleasantly as they came in,
halting just inside the door, while Jean asked, “Could we see you just
a minute, Miss Haynes?”

“Certainly,” she replied, “but take seats for a few minutes. I’m just
in the middle of averaging some grades.”

The girls sat down at the front desks, while Miss Haynes apparently
forgot their existence in her work. But they kept as still as mice, or
the Stealthy Prowlers they had decided to be, though time went on and
they hoped that she really had not forgotten them.

“There!” she said presently. “That’s done. Why do we have to have tests
and keep grades anyway?”

“Oh, that’s what _we_ think, Miss Haynes. Can’t you do something about
it?”

“I’m afraid not, Jean,” but Miss Haynes’ eyes danced. Why, it wasn’t
going to be hard at all to talk to her. Probably it was because she
liked hiking and things that she was so human!

The girls explained. They had started a club. They wanted to do some
things that girls did in some of the organizations they’d read about
in Camp Fire and Girl Scout stories and yet they wanted their own fun,
too. They knew that she took hikes and knew everything about nature
work and maybe camping, and could she suggest anything that would be
possible to do?

Miss Haynes listened thoughtfully. “Why, yes, girls do a great deal
that is very wholesome for them these days, but if they take up
anything seriously they usually have a leader. I am not familiar with
any of the organization work. Isn’t there any young woman in the town
who does?”

“Nobody, Miss Haynes, and besides, the older girls don’t want to bother
with us.”

“Will we have any field work in science, Miss Haynes?” This was Phoebe.

“Why, yes, a little. I’m sorry that I can’t start more, but there is a
reason this year. The schedule will not permit it, the superintendent
said, and there is some one who does not want the children to take
their Saturdays.”

Jean looked at Nan. “That old school board!” she thought.

“But if you want something to work toward outdoors, I may be able to
start you at something. Bird study is my particular hobby, but I also
teach and study botany, and bugs and butterflies and anything else in
that line. How would you like to begin on snails?” Miss Haynes was
actually pretty when she laughed and talked like this. Nan “bet” that
she wasn’t much older than the senior girls.

“My father has an old zoology text with lots of interesting pictures in
it,” said Phoebe. “I’d like snails better than snakes, but I think I
like birds best.”

“And you are a phoebe yourself, aren’t you? How many girls have you in
the club?”

“Only seven now.”

“Hunting birds in a crowd is not very good, but if you will promise
to be very still, and if you really want to make a start, you may all
come out with me early to-morrow morning. I will show you some tree
sparrows, a lot of juncos, possibly some fox sparrows, and there is
never any knowing what we may find. I’m perfectly delighted to be in
Wisconsin, for I’m sure that birds I’ve never seen will be nesting in
this inland lake. Then I found some interesting specimens of other
things in that swampy place along the little run. I suppose you girls
know the common birds and you can help me, for I have never been around
the Great Lakes much.”

“I wish that we could help you, Miss Haynes,” said Jean, delighted with
the sincerity and kindness of the teacher. “We don’t know much, only
some of the commonest birds. We know a heron from a gull and that’s
about all, I guess.”

“We’ll study together, then. Now I like to stay out a good while,
especially when we are finding things, so bundle up. Any girl that
isn’t warmly enough dressed will have to go back!” Miss Haynes smiled,
but her firm tone showed that she meant what she said, and it was not
the first time that the teachers had mentioned the girls’ dressing too
lightly.

“Wouldn’t it be a good idea to take a lunch, too, in case we want to
stay?”

“That would be lovely!” exclaimed Phoebe.

“Oh, yes,” said Jean, “and couldn’t we build a fire and have something
the way we do at a beach party?”

“A fire would be a good idea, if it is in a safe place, but if you are
going to see birds, you don’t want to carry much. All I have will go
into my pocket. Have any of you field glasses, or even opera glasses?”

Nobody had, so far as these girls knew. “And, Miss Haynes, don’t you
bother about any lunch,” said Jean. “If you let us go with you, we’ll
take enough sandwiches for all of us,–please.”

“Very well. That is very nice of you. I am glad that we are having
this warmer spell, but bundle up just the same, for there will be some
breeze, at least near the lake. Do you ever have any snow in April?”

“Sometimes, but it usually does not stay so long. You speak as if you
didn’t want any. Don’t you like winter fun any more?”

“I’m not too old yet, Phoebe,” laughed Miss Haynes, “but I want to get
out as easily as possible during the spring migration of birds,–so I
want a pleasant April and May.”

“We’ll do our best to get it for you, Miss Haynes,” declared Nan,
rising with Jean, to go. You didn’t want a teacher to get tired of you,
of course, and Miss Haynes was busy. Funny, she didn’t like tests,
either, because you had to grade papers. Still, how would she find out
who knew anything?

The girls hurried home to call up the rest of the S. P.’s and notify
them of the hike. Leigh said that her father had a field glass. She
would bring that. Mrs. French hunted up an old opera glass for Molly.
Kinds of sandwiches were distributed according to the variety each was
in the habit of making most successfully. Chocolate bars were bought,
to be stowed in pockets.

Without something hot it would be a funny sort of a beach party, they
thought. Accordingly local shops sold a few tin cups or those equally
light. The girls would have cocoa.

In the morning, Jean, who had no glass to carry, put her sandwiches
in an aluminum kettle, carefully wrapped “not to rattle and scare the
birds away.” Water could be found at springs familiar to all of them.
Cream went farther than milk and was not so heavy. One bottle was
tucked in the pocket of Phoebe’s oldest coat and Nan put another in
hers. Pockets bulged and Bess swung from her arm a box of marshmallows,
these for toasting.

Miss Haynes smiled broadly when the seven girls made their appearance
at the door of her boarding house, just as she was starting out. “Good
for you,” she cried, “all with sensible wraps on. I fancy, from the
looks of your pockets, that we shall not go hungry.”

Familiar as the girls thought they were with the country about their
town, Miss Haynes, a comparative stranger, could show many new things;
for some conveyance had usually taken them to the big lake, and to
the smaller ones sometimes, for their beach parties, and many very
interesting bypaths were unknown to the girls.

How wet it was. Water came up around their overshoes as they walked
over the soft turf by the muddy road. Snow lay in the fence corners.
But the sky was blue and the birds were already singing, some meadow
larks in a field and a flock of red-winged blackbirds in a swampy place
not far out of town. Miss Haynes called attention to a song sparrow in
a little leafless tree, where twigs and bird were etched against the
sky. For the first time the Stealthy Prowlers deserved their new name,
as they crept near enough to get a good look at the brown splashes on
the sparrow’s breast, with the “breast-pin” where they coalesce. And
while they watched, the little finch bill opened and the bubbling,
merry song rang out.

Miss Haynes, pleased with their interest, watched the girls more than
the sparrow. “When you learn to know voices and songs,” said she, “you
will not have to see some of them to find out what they are.”

“I never thought of learning the voices of birds,” exclaimed Phoebe,
who was musically inclined. “Has it been here all winter, or has it
just come?”

“It may have been here all winter, not singing much.”

The sparrow had flown away before they began to discuss it, but Miss
Haynes directed them toward some willows by the brook, which they were
approaching. “I see a little flock of birds about those willows,” said
she. “Come quietly, and tell me what you see, after you have had a good
look. I will pass the glass around.”

This time they stood at some little distance and looked through Leigh’s
glass, Molly’s opera glass and Miss Haynes’ stronger glass. One little
fellow settled in the top of a bush, giving the girls a fine view of
his breast. No, it wasn’t another song sparrow.

Another little chap turned his back upon them; but just as the other
bird flew, this one shifted his position, and they saw that his breast
was like that of the other. Then some movement in the bushes startled
the flock. With a soft whirring of wings, together they all flew away
and Miss Haynes turned smiling to ask, “What did you see, girls? How
many had a good look?” she added, in teacher fashion. “You scarcely
know, I suppose, how lucky you are to start your bird study so early,
before the foliage gets in your way and before some of the winter
visitants leave us. I’m much mistaken if the tree sparrows will stay at
this latitude, or fox sparrows, either.”

“Mercy, how many sparrows are there?” asked Jean. But not waiting to be
answered she continued enthusiastically, “Oh, I had the _best_ look,
Miss Haynes! They are the cunnin’est! I saw just a sparrowy back,
something like the English sparrows, and the top of the head was a sort
of reddish brown. Then right in the middle of the breast there was a
cute little spot. It wasn’t streaked, like the song sparrow.”

“Very good, Jean. Remember particularly the one spot. Not all of
the sparrows are so easily identified. You asked me how many there
are,–probably you will identify a dozen species around here, during
the migration, and there are more.”

“I’ll never get them,” declared Bess.

“One at a time,” suggested Miss Haynes, with a smile. “Nature lessons
are much like other lessons, except that there is such a thrill to them
that you are more likely to remember them.”

“I believe it!” cried Jean.

“Did you hear a sweet little song, different from that of the song
sparrow, Jean?”

Jean and Molly had noticed it.

“It was from one of the tree sparrows,” explained Miss Haynes.

“Did you see him do it?” asked Leigh.

“No; I just know the song,” Miss Haynes returned.

“Imagine!”

Miss Haynes was already much at home in the country about the village,
and the girls, on the other hand, were greatly surprised to find how
little they knew about some phases of their native environment. They
left the swampy region, crossed the brook, now considerably swollen,
but having a bridge, and then left it behind to climb a high bank or
bluff, from whose top they could see the larger stream, or river which
drained the inland lake. A few robins were among the trees here. These
the girls knew, as well as the bluebird warble, which called their
attention to the singer.

A bluejay called harshly and two or three crows flew over. Miss Haynes
motioned to the girls to stand still and listen. Dead leaves in wet,
drifted heaps, patches of snow, and leafless trees were around them.
Jean drew her coat more tightly around her and fastened her fur collar
together. The March wind was noticeable here.

Now came a funny little call, like the far away honk of a car, Jean
said afterward. Miss Haynes’ pointing finger drew their attention to
the trunk of a large tree. Some of the girls looked blank, but Jean had
caught a glimpse of something. Some bird had moved around, upon the
opposite side of the tree trunk.

There he was again! Ah, how pretty! What could it be? A little
gray-blue, or blue-gray bird was searching the old trunk for food. He
seemed to be getting some, too.

Jean strained her eyes to distinguish the markings, until Miss Haynes
put her own glass in Jean’s hands. Then, alas, she had trouble in
focussing it for her eyes and the bird had gone out upon a little limb.
“If birds would only stay put!” she thought. Now it was back upon the
trunk. Now it was going up; now it was going down. Now it “walked out
on the under side of a large limb,” as Jean told her father that night.
Finally she had a good look, for the little fellow stopped, raised his
head and looked off for a moment, to see if there were any danger near,
or, possibly, to find a better feeding ground.

“Quank-quank!” he said, or “honk-honk!” How shining a black were his
crown, and nape, and how white his breast. Never would Jean forget her
first white-breasted nuthatch. Thank fortune, it wasn’t like anything
else, either. You wouldn’t get it mixed up!

By this time Miss Haynes was becoming so interested in teaching
the girls that she decided to give up her own cherished time for
discoveries of her own in order to keep on showing them what were, so
far, perfectly familiar to her. But her reward came a little later.

Again the girls became the Stealthy Prowlers in earnest as they tried
very hard to make no noise in going down a little cleft in these
high banks. There was snow instead of mud, which made it easier, if
slippery. In a moment they stood upon a stony ledge that was only a
short distance above a wider, sheltered spot, where a number of birds
had gathered out of the wind. Miss Haynes’ glass was directed toward
some little birds upon the ground. Accordingly, the girls focussed
attention and the two other glasses there.

Those using only eyes could see some little brown-streaked birds,
scratching like chickens among the dead leaves. Molly grinned as she
put her opera glass into Jean’s hands and pointed out one little bird
nearest them, whose active foot was making dirt and decaying leaves fly
behind it. “Did you ever see anything cuter?” she whispered. “Must be
some other kind of a sparrow.”

By this time Jean was getting accustomed to seeing differences. So
clear was the white, so heavy were the brown streaks of the under
parts. There was a greenish tinge to the sparrowy crown, as the sun
shone full upon it. The long tail was a reddish brown, but it was a
sparrow tail. “It’s bigger than the tree sparrows,” she whispered to
Molly, “and look at the little thing near him. It’s different. I’d like
to look again when you are through. If I’m not crazy, it has a pink
bill!”

Molly looked at both birds, changing the focus of her glass as the
birds moved a little farther away, still feeding. “Now take it, Jean,
quick! What do you suppose that little dark thing is? It’s got a black
hood and cloak on!”

Jean’s hand was trembling a little as she took again the glass offered
by generous Molly. Nothing is more thrilling than discovery. It may
not be a discovery which thrills a continent. It may even be something
that others have discovered before. But something becomes yours. And
just that combination of circumstances may be new. In these years many
girls and boys are lending themselves to scientific gains.

Jean was not the only girl who was afraid that the birds would fly
before they had seen all there was to be known about them. The glasses
went from hand to hand. There was perfect quiet till Miss Haynes
herself slipped a little on an icy stone. Another whir of wings, and
the birds were off!

“I’m glad that it was you, Miss Haynes, and not us, we, I mean,” said
Bess, correcting her own error.

“Yes, I was the guilty one,” laughed Miss Haynes, clutching Fran to
regain her footing.

“Oh, Miss Haynes, what were those little dark things, and which birds
had the white streaks in the tails when they flew? I was too confused
to tell.”

“You are very observant, Jean, I see. Those were the slate-colored
juncos, or black snow-birds. They were feeding with the fox sparrows.
They have white feathers at the sides of the tail and show them when
they fly. Did you think them pretty?”

“I think _so_!” cried Leigh. “Those pretty pink bills! And they were
all white underneath, so it looked as if they had dark hoods and
cloaks, the way the dark gray went straight across the breast!”

“That’s just what Molly thought,” said Jean. “I must put down what I’ve
seen for fear I’ll get it mixed.”

“I’m taking notes, Jean,” said Nan. “We’ll keep a record of what the S.
P.’s see.”

“Then put down that the tree sparrow is called the ‘winter chippy’
sometimes,” Miss Haynes added. “The chipping sparrow is a little like
it, though that has no spot on its breast.”

“I saw a little streak of brown on the tree sparrow’s cheek,”
meditatively remarked Jean, to the amusement of the crowd. But Miss
Haynes told them that it was proper to speak of “cheeks” with birds.

Back to the top of the bank they climbed, to see bronzed grackles,
which they knew as common blackbirds; more bluebirds, and a small flock
of quail that scurried across an open space into underbrush.

But Miss Haynes said, “Listen. There is one more _very_ common little
bird that I’ll wager half of the United States sees and does not know.
That is the tufted titmouse. I thought I heard one. Here it comes.”




Something flew into a tree above their heads and great were the
twistings of necks and pointing of glasses in the effort to see.
A second bird followed the first and there was what Jean called
“conversation.”

“Sounds like kissing,” said Molly, listening, while Jean looked through
her glass.

“More like chirruping to a horse,” declared Phoebe.

In a moment a clear, sweet whistle came from above their heads. “Spring
is here now,” said Miss Haynes. “The tufted titmouse has given us his
word.”

“Was that it, that ‘Peter, Peter, Peter’?” Fran asked.

“Yes. And you may have noticed that the whistle was a little like the
quality of the chickadee’s whistle.”

“Why, doesn’t the chickadee call ‘Chickadee, dee, dee, dee, dee’?”

“Yes; and the titmouse talks in about the same ‘tone of voice’; but I
mean the clear whistle of both of them. That will be one thing for you
to find out, then. The chickadee is the black-capped titmouse, so you
see they are related. Who saw what the titmouse looks like?”

Several hands were raised, much as in school, but no one could say much
more than it was a little grayish bird with a tuft on its head. “Look
it up in the bird book,” said Miss Haynes.

“Oh, we haven’t any bird books, Miss Haynes!”

“That’s so, you haven’t, and not a library in the whole town except the
school library, and that is limited! Well, there is one encyclopedia,
also a dictionary! I tell you what I’ll do. I will bring my Chapman’s
Handbook and some field books I have to school; and if you will be
careful of my books, I’ll let you look up any bird you like. Take
careful notes of every point when you are out. Then look it up. I will
show you how different the bills are and how you should look for size
and shape and flight and coloring and everything. Oh, what is that,
girls?”

This time it was Miss Haynes who asked the question. They were
approaching the inland lake that lay ahead of them, its quiet waters
only ruffled a little by the wind now, and its whole expanse shining
in the morning sun. Reeds at the end nearest them grew up in shallow
sands, and there it was that Miss Haynes had caught a glint of yellow.

“Where, Miss Haynes?” asked Jean.

“I caught a gleam of yellow; but those were blackbirds, weren’t they,
that disappeared into that copse?”

“I did not notice, because blackbirds are so common; but we have
yellow-headed blackbirds here and I imagine that is what you saw.”

“Jean, that was it! Why, do you know I never saw one before, and to
think I did not find them last week! Now find me a new water-bird, and
the S. P.’s may study birds with me forever!”

At that the S. P.’s began to look about in earnest. “We have black
terns that nest here,” said Leigh. “Father knows them.”

As if in response to their eager desire, that of pleasing their new
friend, two birds flew out of the reeds and settled upon the narrow
beach. “Oh,” gasped Miss Haynes, forgetting girls and everything as
she stood with her glass at her eyes. The girls stood stock still,
not caring to look for themselves, for these were birds that circled
about the lake all summer, birds in every variety of plumage, adult or
immature.

But one of these two terns was the adult male bird, with its black
head, neck, breast and underbody. The other bird was still in winter
plumage, or was immature. “I don’t know whether that bird ought to be
black at this time or not,” breathed Miss Haynes to herself, “but it
is. Put down in your notes, Nan, that the S. P.’s have shown their
teacher two new birds this day! Now let us have lunch.”

Enough material was found that would burn, especially as Jean’s kettle
contained some kindling and paper below her sandwiches. Let the Indians
make fires without matches. The S. P.’s would do it in the quickest
way possible. There was not much danger that they would set fire to
anything so damp as the surrounding woods, but they were careful, for
the wind had dried the leaves in some places. It was a mild breeze
now and the sun was warm. They screened their fire from the wind by
dragging a log around and putting some branches up against it, or
behind it in the sand. “We’ve had a fire here before,” the girls said,
by way of explaining how they could so easily find two posts, so to
speak, that supported a third long piece from which Jean’s kettle could
hang. It was a little insecure, but Jean watched it, ready to catch the
kettle’s looping handle upon a long stick which she held.

“The boys usually drive down the supports for us,” said Bess, “but we
have to learn to be independent now. We’ll take you to a beach party on
Lake Michigan some time, Miss Haynes, if you will go. We’ll get some
wild place where the gulls are likely to be, if you like.”

“I shall like very much, Bess, and I will go with pleasure.”

The fire was allowed to die down as soon as the cocoa had come to the
proper stage. Water from the spring was poured upon it, for they wanted
to leave as soon as the lunch was eaten. Along the old log they sat to
eat their sandwiches and fruit and drink their warming cocoa, though
the sun shone down upon their backs and kept them from being chilled.

Nan drew from her pocket the notes which she had scribbled on the
way. “Tree sparrow, fox sparrow, junco, song sparrow, robin, bronzed
grackle, white-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmouse, meadow lark,
red-winged blackbird, chickadee, turtle dove,–I guess that’s all.” But
on the way back they added more, though only recording those that the
S. P.’s had actually identified, or had thoroughly noted themselves.

Where two sloppy roads met, on the way from the lake, several of the
Black Wizards came along, just ahead of the girls, to enter the main
road from the one at an angle to that taken by the S. P.’s. “I wonder
where the boys have been,” said Jean to Nan.

“I wonder what those girls have been doing with Miss Haynes,” said
Billy Baxter to his companion. “That’s all the S. P.’s are, a nature
club! Seeking, searching, strolling, I’ve got it, the Strolling
Pilgrims. Wait till I write that on the blackboard Monday morning!”