It was intensely cold. Heavy sleds creaked as they scraped over the jeweled sounding board of dry, unyielding snow. The signs above the shop doors shrieked and groaned as they swung helplessly to and fro. The clear, keen air seemed frozen into sharp little crystalline needles that stabbed every living thing that must be out in it. The streets were almost forsaken in mid-afternoon. Businessmen hurried from shelter to shelter. Every dog remained at home. Not a bird was to be seen or heard. The sparrows had been forced to hide themselves in crevices and holes. The doves found protected corners and huddled together as best they could. Many birds were frozen to death.
A dozen or more doves were gathered close under the cornice of the piazza of a certain house, trying with little success to keep warm. Some small sparrows, disturbed and driven from the cozy place they had chosen, saw the doves and came flying across the piazza.
“Dear doves,” chirped the sparrows, “won’t you let us nestle near you? Your bodies look so large and warm.”
“But your coats are frosted with cold. We cannot let you come near us, for we are almost frozen now,” murmured the doves sadly.
“But we are perishing.”
“So are we.”
“It looks so warm near your broad wings, gentle doves. Oh, let us come! We are so little, and so very, very cold!”
“Come,” cooed a dove at last, and a trembling little sparrow fluttered close and nestled under the broad white wing.
“Come,” cooed another dove, and another little sparrow found comfort.
“Come! Come!” echoed another warm-hearted bird, and another, until at last more than half the doves were sheltering small, shivering sparrows beneath their own half-frozen wings.
“My sisters, you are very foolish,” said the other doves. “You mean well, but why do you risk your own beautiful lives to give life to worthless sparrows?”
“Ah! They are so small, and so very, very cold,” murmured the doves. “Many of us will perish this cruel night. While we have life let us share its meager warmth with those in bitter need.”
Colder and colder grew the day. The sun went down behind the clouds suffused with soft and radiant beauty, but more fiercely and relentlessly swept the wind around the house where the doves and sparrows waited for death.
An hour after sunset a man came up to the house and strode across the piazza. As the door of the house closed heavily behind him, a little child watching from the window saw something jarred from the cornice fall heavily to the piazza floor.
“Oh, Papa,” she cried in surprise, “a poor frozen dove has fallen on our porch!”
When he stepped out to pick up the fallen dove the father saw the others under the cornice. They were no longer able to move or to utter a cry, so he brought them in and placed them in a room where they might slowly revive. Soon more than half of the doves could coo gratefully, and raise their stiffened wings. Then out from beneath the wing of each revived dive fluttered a living sparrow.
“Look Papa!” cried the child. “Each dove that has come to life was holding a poor little sparrow close to her heart.”
They gently raised the wings of the doves that could not be revived. Not one had a sparrow beneath it.
Colder and fiercer swept the wind without, cutting and more piercing grew the frozen, crystalline needles of air, but each dove that had sheltered a frost-coated sparrow beneath her own shivering wings lived to rejoice in the glowing gladsome sunshine of the days to come.