Of course, there was a time, once, when Jolly Robin was just a nestling himself. With two brothers and one sister — all of them, like him, much spotted with black — he lived in a house in one of Farmer Green’s apple trees.
The house was made of grass and leaves, plastered on the inside with mud, and lined with softer, finer grass, which his mother had chosen with the greatest care.
But Jolly never paid much attention to his first home. What interested him more than anything else was food. From dawn till dark, he was always cheeping for something to eat. And since the other children were just as hungry as he was, those four growing babies kept their parents busy finding food for them. It was then that Jolly Robin learned to like angleworms. And though he ate greedily of insects and bugs, as well as wild berries, he liked angleworms best.
Jolly and his sister and his brothers could always tell when their father or their mother brought home some dainty, because the moment the parent lighted upon the limb where the nest was built they could feel their home sink slightly, from the added weight upon the branch.
Then the youngsters would set up a loud squalling, with a great craning of necks and stretching of orange-colored mouths.
Sometimes, when the dainty was specially big, Mr. or Mrs. Robin would say, “Cuck! cuck!” That meant “Open wide!” But they seldom found it necessary to give that order.
Somehow, Jolly Robin managed to eat more than the rest of the nestlings. And so he grew faster than the others. He soon learned a few tricks, too. For instance, if Mrs. Robin happened to be sitting on the nest, to keep her family warm, when Mr. Robin returned with a lunch for the children, Jolly had a trick that he played on his mother, in case she didn’t move off the nest fast enough to suit him.
He would whisper to the rest of the children. And then they would jostle their fond parent, lifting her up above them, and sometimes almost upsetting her, so that she had hard work to keep from falling off the nest.
Mrs. Robin did not like that trick very well. But she knew that Jolly would not annoy her with it long. Indeed, he was only eleven days old when he left his birthplace and went out into the wide world.
You see, the young folk grew so fast that they soon more than filled the house. So there was nothing their parents could do but persuade them to leave home and learn to fly.
One day, therefore, Mr. Robin did not bring his children’s food to the edge of the nest and drop it into their mouths. Instead, he stood on the limb a little distance away from them and showed them a plump angleworm.
The sight of that dainty was more than Jolly Robin could resist. He scrambled boldly out of the nest; and tottering up to his father on his wobbling legs, he snatched the tempting morsel out of his proud parent’s bill.
Jolly never went back to the nest after that. The next day Mrs. Robin coaxed the other children from home in the same fashion. And though it may seem a heartless act, it was really the best thing that could have happened to Jolly and his sister and his brothers.
You see, they had to learn to fly. And so long as they stayed in the nest they could never learn a difficult feat like flying.
After Jolly Robin had gulped down the fat angleworm with which his father had coaxed him to leave the nest, he clung desperately to the limb. With no food in sight he had plenty of time to look about him and to be alarmed.
The day was not gone before he had a great fright. He tumbled out of the apple tree and fell squawking and fluttering upon the ground.
Luckily, his mother happened to be at home. She went to Jolly at once and told him not to be afraid.
“Nothing will hurt you,” she said, “if you’ll only keep still. But if you squall like that, the cat will find you.”
It may seem strange, but his mother’s words frightened Jolly all the more. They scared him so thoroughly that he stopped making a noise, anyhow. And that was how he learned never to talk when he was on the ground near a house where a cat might live.
“Now,” said Jolly’s mother, as soon as he was still, “I’ll teach you a new game. Just watch me!” And spreading her wings, she flapped them, and sprang into the air.
Soon Jolly was trying to imitate her. And it was not long before he found himself gliding a short distance, skimming along just off the ground.
But in spite of all his efforts, he couldn’t help falling again. Though his mother tried to show him how to fly into a tree-top, Jolly Robin seemed unable to learn the trick.
At last Mr. Robin said to his wife:
“I’ll teach him the rest. You’ve made a good beginning. But he must learn more at once. There’s no telling when the cat may come into the orchard to hunt for field-mice. And you know what would happen then.”
His wife shuddered. But Mr. Robin told her not to worry.
“I’ll soon have this youngster so he can fly as well as anybody,” he declared.
So he went and hopped about on the ground with Jolly for a little while, showing him how to find worms beneath the grass carpet of the orchard.
And then, in a loud voice, Mr. Robin suddenly cried:
“The cat! The cat!” And he flew into an old tree near-by.
Jolly Robin had never seen Farmer Green’s cat. But he had heard that she was a dreadful, fierce creature. And when his father shouted her name Jolly was so startled that he forgot he didn’t quite know how to fly. Before he knew what he was doing, he followed his father right up into the old apple tree and perched himself on a low branch.
That was the way he learned to fly, for he never had the least trouble about it afterward. And as soon as he realized that he had actually flown from the ground to the bough he was so pleased that he began to laugh merrily.
As for the cat, she was not in the orchard at all. Indeed, Jolly’s father had not said that she was. You see, he had played a joke on his son.
Now, up to that time Jolly Robin had not been named. You must remember that he was not two weeks old. And having three other children of the same age, his parents had not been able to think of names for all of them.
But this big youngster laughed so heartily that his father named him “Jolly,” on the spot. And “Jolly” he remained ever afterward.
After he learned to fly, Jolly Robin’s father took him into the woods to spend each night in a roost where there were many other young robins, whose fathers had likewise brought them there.
Jolly learned a great deal from being with so many new friends. It was not long before he could find plenty of food for himself, without help from anyone.
He discovered, too, that there was safety in numbers. For example, if Jasper Jay made too great a nuisance of himself by bullying a young robin, a mob of robins could easily put Jasper to flight.
“Always help other people!” That was a motto that all the youngsters had to learn. And another was this: “Follow your father’s lead!”
Later in the season, in October, when the robin cousins and uncles and aunts and sisters and brothers and all the rest of the relations made their long journey to their winter homes in the South, Jolly found that there was a good reason for such rules. If he hadn’t followed his father then he might have lost his way, because — since it was the first time he had ever been out of Pleasant Valley — he knew nothing whatever about travelling.
He looked forward with much interest to the journey, for as the days grew shorter he heard a great deal of talk about the trip among his elders. And while he was waiting for the day when they should leave he became acquainted with many new and delicious morsels to eat. He roamed about picking wild grapes, mulberries and elderberries. And he did not scorn a large, green katydid when he chanced to find one.
There was always some new dainty to be sampled; though as the weather grew colder Jolly began to understand that in winter Pleasant Valley would not be so fine a place to live.
However, he managed to find food enough so that he continued to grow rapidly. The night after he found a mountain ash on a hillside, full of bright red berries, his father said that he seemed much taller than he had been that morning.
“You must have eaten a great many of those berries,” said Mr. Robin.
“Well, I notice one thing,” Jolly observed. “My waistcoat is fast losing its black spots. And it’s redder than it was. The red berries certainly colored it in some way.”
Mr. Robin replied that he had never heard of such a thing happening. He looked curiously at his son’s waistcoat.
“It does seem to look different,” he said. “It’s brighter than it was.”
Really, that was only because Jolly was fast growing up. But neither he nor his father stopped to think of that. And since Jolly had learned that motto, “Follow your father’s lead,” he thought his waistcoat ought to be just as red as old Mr. Robin’s was.
So Jolly visited the mountain ash each day and fairly stuffed himself with the bright red fruit.
It did him no harm, anyhow. And he enjoyed eating it.
And the next spring, when Jolly Robin returned to Pleasant Valley, after spending the winter in the South, there was not a redder waistcoat than his in all the neighborhood.