THE STORY OF THE YEAR 427
knows anything about it : in the country they are better informed. Shall we fly out there and*, wait ? There, at any rate, we shall be nearer to spring.'
' Yes, that may be all very well,' observed one of the Sparrows, who had been hopping about for a long time, chirping, without saying anything decided. ' I've found a few comforts here in town, which I am afraid I should miss out in the country. Near this neighbourhood, in a courtyard, there lives a family of people, who have taken the very sensible notion of placing three or four flowerpots against the wall, with their mouths all turned inwards, and the bottom of each pointing outwards. In each flowerpot a hole has been cut, big enough for me to fly in and out at it. I and my husband have built a nest in one of those pots, and have brought up our young family there. The family of people of course made the whole arrangement that they might have the pleasure of seeing us, or else they would not have done it. To please themselves they also strew crumbs of bread; and so we have food, and are in a manner provided for. So I think my husband and I will stay where we are, although we are very dissatisfied—but we shall stay.'
' And we will fly into the country to see if spring is not coming ! '
And away they flew.
Out in the country it was hard winter, and the glass was a few degrees lower than in the town. The sharp winds swept across the snow-covered fields. The farmer, muffled in warm mittens, sat in his sledge, and beat his arms across his breast to warm himself, and the whip lay across his knees. The horses ran till they smoked again. The snow creaked, and the Sparrows hopped about in the ruts, and shivered, ' Piep ! when will spring come % it is very long in coming ! '
' Very long,' sounded from the next snow-covered hill, far over the field. It might be the echo which was heard ; or perhaps the words were spoken by yonder wonderful old man, who sat in wind and weather high on the heap of snow. He was quite white, attired like a peasant in a coarse white coat of frieze ; he had long white hair, and was quite pale, with big blue eyes.