One evening in winter as Alice, a dear little girl whom everybody loved, pushed aside the curtains of her bedroom window, she saw the moon half hidden by great banks of clouds, and only a few stars peeping out here and there. Below, the earth lay dark, and cold. The trees looked like great shadows.
There was at change in her sweet face as she let fall the curtain and turned from the window.
"Poor birds!" she said.
"They are all safe," answered her mother, smiling. "God has provided for every bird a place of rest and shelter, and each one knows where it is and how to find it. Not many stay here in the winter time, but fly away to the sunny south, where the air is warm and the trees green and fruitful."
"God is very good," said the innocent child. Then she knelt with folded hands, and prayed that her heavenly further would bless everybody, and let his angels take care of her while she slept. Her mother's kiss was still warm upon her lips as she passed into the world of pleasant dreams.
In the morning, when Alice again pushed back the curtains from her window, what a sight of wonder and beauty met her eyes! Snow had fallen, and everything wore a garment of dazzling whiteness. In the clear blue sky, away in the cast, the sun was rising; and as his beams fell upon the fields, and trees, and houses, every object glittered as if covered all over with diamonds.
But only for a moment or two did Alice look upon this beautiful picture, for a slight movement drew her eyes to a corner of the window-sill, on the outside, and there sat a pigeon close against the window-pane, with its head drawn down and almost hidden among the feathers, and its body shivering with cold. The pigeon did not seem to be afraid of her, though she saw its little pink eyes looking right into her own.
"O, poor, dear bird!" she said in soft, pitying tones, raising the window gently, so that it might not be frightened away. Then she stepped back and waited to see if the bird would not come in. Pigeon raised its brown head in a half scared away; turned it to this side and to that; and after looking first at the, comfortable chamber and then away at the snow-covered earth, quietly hopped upon the sill inside. Next he flew upon the back of a chair, and then down upon the floor.
"Little darling," said Alice, softly. Then she dressed herself quickly, and went down stairs for some crumbs of bread, which she scattered on the floor. The pigeon picked them up, with scarcely a sign of fear.
As soon as he had eaten up all the crumbs, he flew back towards the window and resting on the sill, swelled his glossy throat and cooed his thanks to his little friend. After which darted away, the morning sunshine glancing from wings.
A feeling of disappointment crept into the heart of Alice as the bird swept out of sight. "Poor little darling!" she sighed. "If he had only known how kind I would have been, and how safe he was here, what nice food and pure water would have been given, he wouldn't have flown away."
When Alice told about the visit of pigeon, at breakfast time, a pleasant surprise was felt by all at the table. And they talked of, doves and wood-pigeons, her father telling her once or two nice stories, with which she was delighted. After breakfast, her mother took a volume from the library containing Willis's exquisite poem, "The little Pigeon," and gave it to Alice to read. She soon knew it all by heart.
A great many times during the day Alice stood at the open door, or looked from the windows, in hope of seeing the pigeon again. On a distant house-top, from which the snow had been melted or blown away, or flying through the air, she would get sight of a bird now and then; but she couldn't tell whether or not it was the white and brown pigeon she had sheltered and fed in the morning. But just before sundown, as she stood by the parlor window, a cry of joy fell from her lips. There was the pigeon sitting on a fence close by, and looking, it seemed to her, quite forlorn.
Alice threw open the window, and then ran into the kitchen for some crumbs of bread. When she came back, pigeon was still on the fence. Then she called to him, holding out her her hand scattering a few crumbs on the window-sill. The bird was hungry and had sharp eyes, and when he saw Alice he no doubt remembered the nice meal she had given him in the morning, in a few moments he flew to the window, but seemed half afraid. So Alice stood a little back in the room, when he began to pick up the crumbs. Then she came nearer and nearer, holding out her hand that was full of crumbs, and as soon as pigeon had picked up all that was on the sill, he took the rest of his evening meal from the dear little girl's hand. Every now and then he would stop and look up at his kind friend, as much as to say, "Thank you for my nice supper. You are so good!" When he had eaten enough, he cooed a little, bobbed his pretty head, and then lifted his wings and flew away.
He did not come back again. At first Alice, was disappointed, but this soon wore off, and only a feeling of pleasure remained.
"I would like so much to see him and feed him," she said. "But I know he's better off and happier at his own home, with a nice place to sleep in and plenty to eat, than sitting on a window-sill all night in a snow storm." And then she would say over that sweet poem, "The City Pigeon," which her mother had given her to get by heart. Here it is, and I hope every one of my little readers will get it by heart also:--
"Stoop to my window, thou beautiful dove!
Thy daily visits have touched my love.
I watch thy coming, and list the note
That stirs so low in thy mellow throat,
And my joy is high
To catch the glance of thy gentle eye.
"Why dost thou sit on the heated eaves,
And forsake the wood with its freshened leaves?
Why dost thou haunt the sultry street,
When the paths of the forest are cool and sweet?
How canst thou bear
This noise of people--this sultry air?
"Thou alone of the feathered race
Dost look unscared on the human face;
Thou alone, with a wing to flee,
Dost love with man in his haunts to be;
And the 'gentle dove'
Has become a name for trust and love.
"A holy gift is thine, sweet bird!
Thou'rt named with childhood's earliest word!
Thou'rt linked with all that is fresh and wild
In the prisoned thoughts of the city child;
And thy glossy wings
Are its brightest image of moving things.
"It is no light chance. Thou art set apart,
Wisely by Him who has tamed thy heart,
To stir the love for the bright and fair
That else were sealed in this crowded air
I sometimes dream
Angelic rays front thy pinions stream.
"Come then, ever, when daylight leaves
The page I read, to my humble eaves,
And wash thy breast in the hollow spout,
And murmur thy low sweet music out!
I hear and see
Lessons of heaven, sweet bird, in thee!"