Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/39

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
27
UP THE CHIMNEY.

and six in the morning, they came and went, went and came with apparently sleepless energy. The nights were clear and dry, and in the sky or over the white surface of the lake, insects were probably easily seen at any hour by birds accustomed to such gloom as that of my chimney. Still it was wonderful to think of their strength and patience, and of their knowledge of place. Many, if not most, of us poor mortals lose our paths under the simplest conditions, even with the sun smiling down upon us, or the stars writing their ancient guide-boards anew for us in the dark heavens, toward which we will not turn for aid. These swifts, however, seem to plow through darkness or light with equal confidence, cleaving the cool wind at the rate of more than a mile a minute, seeing first the pale lake below their chimney's shadow, then the vast peak of Chocorua, framed in its somber spruces, and again some far range of untrodden mountains where fellow swifts still nest in hollow tree trunks, after the ancient practice of their family. What marvelous sense is it which brings them back by day or by night, in sunlight or in storm, straight as thought itself, to home and rest?

I never have met a man who remembered having seen a swift perch. It was formerly supposed that they had no feet, and some people still believe the fable. In building time the birds come spinning through the air like projectiles, and while flying thus, snap small terminal twigs from sycamores and other brittle trees, and carry them back to their chimneys, to be painstakingly glued into their fragile nests. After seeing my swifts use their feet so readily in getting to and from their nest, I shall not be much surprised some day to see a swift alight upon some convenient perch outside his chimney. Nevertheless, so far as is now known, the swifts take no rest even after flying many miles with incredible speed, until their accustomed shelter is regained.

When Saturday came, I felt that it was time to see more of my noisy tenants. In the intervening days something which looked like a happy thought had come to me. Why should I lie supine among the fire irons, gazing up the black chimney hole, when, by judicious use of a few mirrors, I could bring the swifts and their cavern within range of my writing table? Saturday morning the small mirror climbed the flue a second time, and was firmly lashed in position a few inches above the nest. The lashing, of course, was applied to the butt of the fishing rod, at the point where it rested in the fireplace among andirons and tongs. Then a narrow, old-fashioned mirror, in which somebody's great-grandmother may have admired her pretty face in the days of a long-forgotten honeymoon, was gently rested upon the single stick of wood at the back of the fireplace so that its face inclined slightly toward me. Wonderful!—there were the shiny flue, the