It was a raw March day when Jolly Robin returned to Pleasant Valley one spring. There had just been a heavy fall of snow—big, wet flakes which Farmer Green called “sugar-snow,” though it was no sweeter than any other. Johnnie Green liked that kind of snow because it made the best snowballs. And he had had a fine time playing in the orchard near the farmhouse, not long before Jolly Robin appeared there.
Now, the orchard was the place where Jolly Robin and his wife had had their nest the summer before. So it was natural that he should want to go there at once and look about a bit.
He perched himself on a bare limb, where he sang “Cheerily-cheerup” a few times, in spite of the snow and the cold, whistling wind. He knew that the weather would grow warmer soon; and he was glad to be in Pleasant Valley once more, though he had to confess to himself that he liked the orchard better when the grass was green and the trees were gay with apple-blossoms.
“It’s really a beautiful place for a home,” he told himself. “I don’t wonder that Farmer Green likes to live near the orchard. And now I’ll just go over to the house and see if I can’t get a peep at him and his wife and his boy, Johnnie—and the hired-man, too.”
So Jolly Robin jumped off the bough and started through the frosty air toward the farmhouse. But all at once he saw a sight that sent him darting into a tree. He hid there for a while and something made him shiver—something besides the cold wind.
Yes! Jolly Robin was the least bit frightened. For he had caught a glimpse of a strange man. It was neither Farmer Green nor his hired-man, for this was a giant. He had big, black eyes and a great lump of a nose, which stuck out queerly from his pale moon-face. He was dressed all in white, except for a battered, old, black hat, which he wore tipped over one eye. In one hand he held a stick. And it seemed to Jolly Robin that the queer man was just about to hurl it at something.
In spite of his uneasiness, Jolly peeped around his tree and watched the stranger. But he did not throw the stick. He stood quite still and seemed to be waiting. And Jolly Robin waited, too, and stared at him.
“Maybe there’s a squirrel hiding behind a tree,” he said to himself. “Perhaps this man in white is going to throw the stick as soon as the squirrel shows himself.”
But no squirrel appeared. And Jolly Robin was just about to start for the farmhouse again when he saw somebody pop out of the woodshed door and come running toward the orchard.
“Here’s Johnnie Green!” Jolly exclaimed. He knew Johnnie at once, because neither Farmer Green nor the hired-man ever went hopping and skipping about like that.
Pretty soon Jolly saw Johnnie Green stop and make an armful of snowballs. And then he went straight toward the stranger in white. Though Johnnie began to shout, the man in white did not even turn his head. And then Johnnie Green shied a snowball at him.
The snowball sailed through the air and struck the stranger’s battered hat, knocking it off into the snow. And, of course, Jolly Robin couldn’t help laughing. He was more surprised than ever, too, because the moon-faced man did not move even then. Anyone else would have wheeled about and chased Johnnie Green. But this odd gentleman didn’t seem to know that his hat had been knocked off.
“That’s queer!” said Jolly Robin to himself. “He must be asleep. But I should think he would wake up.”
While Jolly was wondering, Johnnie Green threw another snowball. And when it struck the stranger a very peculiar thing happened.
And Jolly Robin did not laugh. He was too frightened to do anything but gasp.