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they broke into a trot again, and were soon across the brook, up the slope, and into the spinney. Here they advanced as noiselessly as possible, lest keepers or other enemies should be about, and stopped at the foot of a tall fir, at the top of which Martin pointed out with pride the kestrel's nest, the object of their quest.
“Oh where! which is it?" asks Arthur, gaping up in the air, and having the most vague idea of what it would be like.
“ There, don't you see,” said East, pointing to a lump of mistletoe in the next tree, which was a beech : he saw that Martin and Tom were busy with the climbing-irons, and couldn't resist the temptation of hoaxing Arthur stared and won. dered more than ever.
“ Well, how curious! it doesn't look a bit like what I expected,” said he.
“ Very odd birds, kestrels,” said East, looking waggishly at his victim, who is still star-gazing.
“ But I thought it was in a fir tree?" objected Arthur.
" Ah, don't you know? that's a new sort of fir which old Caldecott brought from the Himalayas."
“ Really!” said Arthur ; " I'm glad I know that how unlike our firs they are. They do very well too here, don't they ? the spinney's full of them.”
“ What's that humbug he's telling you ?” cried Tom looking up, having caught the word Himalayas, and suspecting what East was after.
* Only about this fir,” said Arthur, putting his hand on the stem of the beech.
.“ Fir!” shouted Tom," why you don't mean to say, young'un, you don't know a beech when you see one ?"
Poor little Arthur looked terribly ashamed, and East exploded in laughter which made the wood ring.
“ I've hardly ever seen any trees,” faltered Arthur.
4 What a shame to hoax him, Scud,” cried Martin. “ Never mind, Arthur, you shall know more about trees than he does in a week or two."
“ And isn't that the kestrel's nest then?” asked Arthur.
“ That! why that's a piece of mistletoe. There's the nest, that lump of small sticks up this fir."
“ Don't believe him, Arthur,” struck in the incorrigible East; “I just saw an old magpie go out of it.”
Martin did not deign to reply to this sally, except by a grunt, as he buckled the last buckle of his climbing-irons; and Arthur looked reproachfully at East without speaking.
But now came the tug of war. It was a very difficult tree to climb until the branches were reached, the first of which was some fourteen feet up, for the trunk was too large at the bottom to be swarmed, in fact neither of the boys could reach more than half round it with their arms. Martin and Tom, both of whom had irons on, tried it without success at first; the fir bark broke away where they stuck the irons in as soon as they leant any weight on their feet, and the grip of their arms wasn't enough to keep them up; so after getting up three or four
feet, down they came slithering to the ground, barks ing their arms and faces. They were furious, and East sat by laughing and shouting at each failure, 6 Two to one on the old magpie!”
“ We must try a pyramid,” said Tom at last. “ Now, Scud, you lazy rascal, stick yourself against the tree.”
6 I dare say! and have you standing on my shoulders with the irons on; what do you think my skin's made of?” However up he got and leant against the tree, putting his head down and clasping it with his arms as far as he could. "Now then, Madman," said Tom,“ you next.”
“ No, I'm lighter than you, you go next.” So Tom got on East's shoulders and grasped the tree above, and then Martin scrambled up on to Tom's shoulders, amidst the totterings and groanings of the pyramid, and with a spring which sent his supporters howling to the ground, clasped the stem some ten feet up, and remained clinging. For a moment or two they thought he couldn't get up, but then, holding on with arms and teeth, he worked first one iron then the other firmly into the bark, got another grip with his arms, and in another minute had hold of the lowest branch.
“ All up with the old magpie now," said East; and after a moment's rest, up went Martin, hand over hand, watched by Arthur with fearful eagerness.
“ Isn't it very dangerous ?" said he.
“ Not a bit," answered Tom; “ you can't hurt if you only get good hand-hold. Try every branca
with a good pull before you trust it, and then up you go."
Martin was now amongst the small branches close to the nest, and away dashed the old bird and soared up above the trees watching the intruder.
“ All right — four eggs!” shouted he.
“ Take 'em all!" shouted East; “ that'll be one apiece.”
“ No, no! leave one, and then she won't care." said Tom.
We boys had an idea that birds couldn't count, and were quite content as long as you left one egg. I hope it is so.
Martin carefully put one egg into each of his boxes and the third into his mouth, the only other place of safety, and came down like a lamplighter. All went well till he was within ten feet of the ground, when, as the trunk enlarged, his hold got less and less firm, and at last down he came with a run, tumbling on to his back on the turf, spluttering and spitting out the remains of the great egg, which had broken by the jar of his
6 Ugh, ugh! something to drink — ugh! it was addled,” spluttered he, while the wood rang again with the merry laughter of East and Tom.
Then they examined the prizes, gathered up their things, and went off to the brook, where Martin swallowed huge draughts of water to get rid of the taste; and they visited the sedge-bird's nest, and from thence struck across the country in high glee,
beating the hedges and brakes as they went along; and Arthur at last, to his intense delight, was allowed to climb a small hedge-row oak for a magpie's nest, with Tom, who kept all round him like a mother, and showed him where to hold, and how to throw his weight; and though he was in a great fright didn't show it, and was applauded by all for his lissomness.
They crossed a road soon afterwards, and there close to them lay a heap of charming pebbles.
Look here,” shouted East, “ here's luck! I've been longing for some good honest pecking this halfhour. Let's fill the bags, and have no more of this foozling bird's-nesting.”
No one objected, so each boy filled the fustian bag he carried full of stones: they crossed into the next field, Tom and East taking one side of the hedges and the other two the other side. Noise enough they made certainly, but it was too early in the season for the young birds, and the old birds were too strong on the wing for our young marksmen, and flew out of shot after the first discharge. But it was great fun, rushing along the hedgerows and discharging stone after stone at blackbirds and chaffinches, though no result in the shape of slaughtered birds was obtained; and Arthur soon entered into it, and rushed to head back the birds, and shouted, and threw, and tumbled into ditches and over and through hedges, as wildly as the madman himself.
Presently the party, in full cry after an old blackbird (who was evidently used to the thing