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Title: Beautiful Birds
Author: Selous, Edmund
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Beautiful Birds" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



BEAUTIFUL BIRDS

[Illustration: LYRE-BIRD]



  BEAUTIFUL BIRDS

  BY

  EDMUND SELOUS
  AUTHOR OF "TOMMY SMITH'S ANIMALS"

  WITH MANY ILLUSTRATIONS BY
  HUBERT D. ASTLEY

  1901
  LONDON: J. M. DENT & CO.
  29 & 30 BEDFORD STREET, W.C.


  Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO.
  At the Ballantyne Press



CONTENTS


  CHAP.                                                       PAGE

  I. WHY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS ARE KILLED                              1

  II. BIRDS OF PARADISE                                         20

  III. THE GREAT BIRD OF PARADISE                               35

  IV. THE RED BIRD OF PARADISE                                  56

  V. THE LESSER, BLACK, BLUE, AND GOLDEN BIRDS OF PARADISE      67

  VI. ABOUT ALL BIRDS OF PARADISE, AND SOME EXPLANATIONS        93

  VII. ABOUT HUMMING-BIRDS, AND SOME MORE EXPLANATIONS         108

  VIII. SOME VERY BRIGHT HUMMING-BIRDS                         129

  IX. HERMIT HUMMING-BIRDS AND TWO OTHER ONES                  151

  X. THE COCK-OF-THE-ROCK AND THE LYRE-BIRD                    164

  XI. THE RESPLENDENT TROGON AND THE ARGUS PHEASANT            179

  XII. WHITE EGRETS, "OSPREYS," AND OSTRICH-FEATHERS           203



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  _Lyre-Bird_                  _Frontispiece_

                                       _Page_

  _Papuan shooting Birds of Paradise_      49

  _Lesser Bird of Paradise_                69

  _King Bird of Paradise_                  77

  _Golden-winged Bird of Paradise_         89

  _Racquet-tailed Humming-Bird_           113

  _Plover-crest Humming-Bird_             125

  _Train-bearer Humming-Bird_             131

  _Cock-of-the-Rock_                      168

  _Resplendent Trogon_                    187

  _Argus Pheasant_                        195

  _White Egret_                           205

  _End Piece_                             225



[Illustration]



BEAUTIFUL BIRDS.



CHAPTER I

Why Beautiful Birds are Killed


What beautiful things birds are! Can you think of any other creatures
that are quite so beautiful? I know you will say "Butterflies," and
perhaps it _is_ a race between the birds and the butterflies, but
I think the birds win it even here in England. Just think of the
Kingfisher, that bird that is like a little live chip of the blue
sky, flying about all by itself, and doing just what it likes. The
Sky-blue Butterfly is like that too, I know, but then it is a much
smaller chip, and does not shine in the sun in such a wonderful way
as the Kingfisher does. Neither, I think, does the Peacock-Butterfly,
or the Red Admiral, or the Painted Lady, or the Greater or Lesser
Tortoise-shell; and, besides, they none of them go so fast. Yes,
all those butterflies are beautiful, very, very beautiful. But now,
supposing they were all flying about in a field that a river was
winding through, and, supposing you were sitting there too, amongst
the daisies and buttercups in the bright summer sunshine, and looking
at them, and supposing all at once there was a little dancing dot of
light far away down the river, and that it came gleaming and gleaming
along, getting nearer and nearer and keeping just in the middle all
the time, till it passed you like a sapphire sunbeam, like a star upon
a bird's wings, then I am sure you would look and look at it all the
time it was coming, and look and look after it all the time it was
going away, and when at last it was quite gone you would sit wondering,
forgetting about the butterflies, and thinking only of that star-bird,
that little jewelly gem. But, perhaps, if you were to see a _Purple
Emperor_ sweeping along--ah, _he_ is a _very_ magnificent butterfly, is
the purple emperor. You can tell that from his name, but whether he is
_quite_ so magnificent as a star-bird (for that is what we will call
the Kingfisher)--well, it is not so easy to decide. The birds and the
butterflies are both beautiful, there is no doubt about that, only this
little book is about beautiful birds, and perhaps afterwards there will
be another one about beautiful butterflies. That will be quite fair to
both.

The birds, then! We will talk about them. I am going to tell you about
some of the most beautiful ones that there are, and to describe them
to you, so that you will know something about what they are like. But
perhaps you think that you know that already because you have seen
them, so that _you_ could tell _me_ what they are like. There is the
star-bird that we have been talking about, and then there is the Thrush
and the Blackbird. What two more beautiful birds could you see than
they, as they hop about over the lawn of your garden in the early dewy
morning? The Blackbird is all over of such a dark, glossy, velvety
black, and his bill is such a lovely, deep, orangy gold. It would be
difficult, surely, to find a handsomer bird, but the Thrush, with his
lovely speckled breast, is just as handsome. Then the Robin with _his_
crimson breast, and his little round ball of a body--what bird could be
prettier? Or the Chaffinch, or Greenfinch, or Linnet? Or the Bullfinch,
surely _he_ is handsomer than all of them (except the star-bird), with
his beautiful mauve-peach-cherry-crimson breast, and his coal-black
head and nice fat beak, and that pleasant, saucy look that he has.
Yes, _he_ is the handsomest, unless--oh, just fancy! we were actually
leaving out the Goldfinch. _He_ has crimson on each side of his face,
and a black velvet cap on his head, whilst on both his wings he has
feathers of a beautiful, bright, golden yellow. I think _he must_ be
the handsomest, unless it is the Brambling, who is dressed all in
russet and gold. And then there is the Yellow-Wagtail! Could one think
of a prettier little bird than he is--unless one tried a good deal?
To be a wagtail at all is something, but to be not only a Wagtail but
yellow all over as well, _that does_ make a pretty little bird! And I
daresay you have seen him running about on your lawn, too, at the same
time as the thrush and the blackbird. And there is _another_ bird,
one that you do not see running or hopping over your lawn, but flying
over it, sometimes far above it, when the sky is blue and the insects
are high in the air, sometimes just skimming it when it is dull and
cloudy and the insects are flying low. You know what bird it is I mean,
now--the Swallow. I need not _say_ how beautiful _he_ is.

So, as you have seen all these pretty birds, and a good many others
too--at least if you live in the country and not in London--perhaps you
think that there cannot be many, or perhaps any, that are so _very_
much prettier. Ah, but do not be too sure about that. You must never
think that because something is very beautiful there can be nothing
still more beautiful. _You_ may not be able to imagine anything more
beautiful, but that may be only because your imagination is not strong
enough to do it. It may be a very good imagination in its way, better
than mine perhaps, or a great many other people's, but still it is not
good enough. In fact there is not one of us who has an imagination
which _is_ good enough to do things like that. _We_ could never have
imagined birds which are still more beautiful than those we have been
talking about. Indeed we could never have imagined those that we _have_
been talking about. Only Dame Nature has been able to imagine them both.

_She_ can imagine anything, and the funny thing is that as she imagines
it, there it is--just as if she had cut it out with a pair of scissors.
Perhaps she does do that. She is a lady--_Dame_ Nature, you know--so
she would know how to use a pair of scissors. But what _her_ scissors
are like and how she uses them and what sort of stuff it is that she
cuts things out of, those are things which nobody knows. Only, there
are the birds, not only the beautiful ones that you have seen, but a
very great many others which you have never seen, and which are so very
much more beautiful than the ones you have, that if you were to see
those beside them, they would look quite--well no, not ugly--thrushes
and blackbirds and swallows and robin-redbreasts could not look
_that_--but insignificant--in comparison.

Now it is about some of those birds--the very beautiful birds of
all, the most beautiful ones in the whole world--that I am going to
tell you; but all the while I am telling you, you must remember that
they--these very beautiful birds--do not sing, whilst _our_ birds--the
insignificant-looking ones--do. So you must not think poorly of
our birds because their colours are plain or even dingy--I mean in
comparison with these other ones--for if they have not the great beauty
of plumage, they have the great beauty of song. And perhaps you would
not so very much mind growing up plain, like a lark or a nightingale
(which would not be so very, very plain), if you could _sing_ like a
lark or a nightingale--as perhaps one day you will.

Indeed, I sometimes wish that those very beautiful birds were not quite
so beautiful as they are. You will think that a funny wish to have, but
there is a sensible reason for it, which I will explain to you. Perhaps
if they were not quite so beautiful, not quite so many of them would be
killed. For, strange as it may seem to you--and I know it _will_ seem
strange--it is just because the birds _are_ beautiful that hundreds and
hundreds, yes, and thousands and thousands, of them are being killed
every day. Yes, it is quite true. I wish it were not, but I am sorry to
say it is. People kill the birds _because_ they are beautiful. But is
not that cruel? Yes, indeed it is, very, very cruel. It is cruel for
two reasons: first, because to kill them gives them pain; and secondly,
because their life is so happy. Can anything be happier than the life
of a bird? Surely not. Only to fly, just think how delightful that
must be, and then to be always living in green, leafy palaces under
the bright, warm sun and the blue sky. For I must tell you that these
birds we are going to talk about live where the trees are always leafy,
where the sun is always bright and the sky always blue. So they are
always happy. Even if a bird _could_ be unhappy in winter--which I am
not at all sure about--there is no winter there. Now the happier any
creature is the more cruel it is to kill it and take that happiness
away from it. I am sure you will understand that. If you were carrying
a very heavy weight, which tired you and made you stoop and gave you no
pleasure at all, and some one were to come and take it away from you,
you would not think that so very cruel. You would have nothing now, it
is true, but then all you _had_ had was that weight, which was so heavy
and made you stoop. But, now, if you were carrying a beautiful bunch of
flowers which smelt sweetly and weighed just nothing at all, and some
one were to take _that_ away, you would think _that_ cruel, I am sure.
A bird's life is like that bunch of flowers. How cruel, then, it must
be to take it away from any bird. We should think it very wrong if some
one were to kill _us_. Yet it is not _always_ a bunch of flowers that
_we_ are carrying.

So, as it is cruel to kill the birds, and as they are not nearly so
beautiful when they are dead as they are when they are alive, and as
the world is full of tender-hearted women to love them and plead for
them and to say, "Do not kill them," perhaps you will wonder why it is
that they are killed. I will tell you how it has come about. When Dame
Nature had imagined all her beautiful birds, and then cut them out of
that wonderful stuff of hers--the stuff of life--with her marvellous
pair of scissors, she said to her eldest daughter--whose name is
Truth--"Now I will leave them and go away for a little, for there are
other places where I must imagine things and cut them out with my
scissors." Truth said, "Do not leave the birds, for there are men in
the world with hard hearts and a film over their eyes. They will see
the birds, but not their beauty, because of the film, and they will
kill them because of their hearts, which are like marble or rock or
stone." "They are, it is true," said Dame Nature, "and indeed it was of
some such material that I cut them out. I had my reasons, but you would
never understand them, so I shall not tell you what they were. But
there are not only my men in the world; there are my women too. I cut
_them_ out of something very different. It was soft and yielding, and
that part that went to make the heart was like water--like soft water.
I made them, too, to have influence over the men, and I put no film
over _their_ eyes. _They_ will see how beautiful my birds are, and they
will know that they are more beautiful alive than dead. And because of
this and their soft hearts they will not kill them, and to the men they
will say, 'Do not kill them,' and my beautiful birds will live. Women
will spare them because they have pity, and men because women ask them
to. And to make it still more certain, see yonder on that hill sits the
Goddess of Pity. She has come from heaven to help me, and has promised
to stay till I return. It is from her that pity goes into all those
hearts that have it, and because she is a goddess, she sends most of it
into the hearts of women. Have no fear, then, for until the Goddess of
Pity falls asleep my birds are safe." "But _may_ she not fall asleep?"
said Truth. But Dame Nature had hurried away with her scissors, and was
out of hearing.

As soon as she was gone, there crept out of a dark cave, where he had
been hiding, an ugly little mannikin, who hated Dame Nature and her
daughter Truth, and did everything he could to spite them both. Their
very names made him angry. He was a demon, really, and ugly, as I say.
But he did not _look_ ugly, because nobody saw him. All that people saw
when they looked at him was a suit of clothes, and this suit of clothes
was so well made and so fashionable, and fitted him so well, that they
always thought the ugly demon inside it was just what he ought to be.
So, of course, as every one had different ideas as to what he ought to
be, he seemed different to different people. One person looked at the
clothes, and thought him quite remarkable, another one looked at them
and thought him ordinary and commonplace, and so on. Only every one was
pleased, because, whatever else he seemed, he always seemed just what
he ought to be. So, when two people both found that he was that, they
each of them thought that he looked the same to the other. Of course
the clothes were enchanted, really, only nobody knew it, and if any one
had been told that it was the clothes and not the demon inside them
they were looking at, he would not have believed it. It was only Dame
Nature and her daughter Truth who could look at those clothes and see
the little demon inside them, just as he really was. That was why he
hated them, and never liked to hear their names.

This ugly little demon crept up to the Goddess of Pity, who looked at
the clothes and was not even able to pity him; and, when he saw that he
had her good opinion, he began to repeat a sort of charm to send her
to sleep, for he knew that when once the Goddess of Pity was asleep he
might do whatever he liked.

These were the words of the charm:--

    Fashion, fashion, fashion!
      Give a little sneer.
    Fashion, fashion, fashion!
      Science makes it clear.
    Fashion, fashion, fashion!
      A bird is not a bat.
    Fashion, fashion, fashion!
      Such a pretty hat!

Under the influence of this drowsy charm--which, of course, had no
meaning in it whatever--the Goddess of Pity began to nod, and nodded
and nodded till, on the last line, she went fast asleep, with a pleased
smile on her face.

Then the wicked little demon took from one of the pockets in the suit
of clothes that charmed everybody two little bottles that contained two
different sorts of powders, one hot like pepper, and the other cold
like ice, but both of them so fine that they were quite invisible. He
took a pinch of the hot powder which was labelled "Vanity," and blew it
upon the heads of all the women, and the instant it touched them they
all looked pleased, and you could see that they were thinking only of
how they looked, though they _talked_ in a _very_ different way. It was
funny that they _all_ looked pleased, because a great many--in fact,
most of them--were plain, not pretty, and yet they looked pleased too,
as well as the others. But, you see, it was all done by magic. Then
from the other little bottle, which was labelled "Apathy," the demon
took a pinch of the cold powder and blew it on the women's hearts, and
as soon as it fell on them they became frozen, so that all the pity
that had been in them before was frozen, too. Frozen pity, you know, is
of no good whatever. You can no more be kind with it in that state than
you can bathe in frozen water. So now there was nothing but vanity in
the women's heads, and no pity in their hearts, and as the Goddess of
Pity was fast asleep, it was not possible for any more to be put into
them until she woke up. Nobody could tell when that would be. Gods and
goddesses sometimes sleep for a long time, and very soundly. Besides,
you know, this was a charmed sleep.

So, now, what happened after the wicked little demon had behaved in
this wicked way? Why, the women whose hearts he had frozen began to
kill the poor, beautiful birds, those birds that Dame Nature loved so,
and had taken such pains to keep alive. I do not mean that they killed
them themselves with their own hands. No, they did not do that, for
they had not enough time to go to the countries where the beautiful
birds lived, which were often a long way off as well as being very
unhealthy. You see they were wanted at home, and so to have gone away
from home into unhealthy countries to kill birds would have been
_selfish_, and one should never be that. So instead of killing them
themselves the women sent men to kill them for them, for _they_ could
be spared much better, and if they should not come back they would not
be nearly so much missed. And the women said to the men, "Kill the
birds and tear off their wings, their tails, their bright breasts and
heads to sew into our hats or onto the sleeves and collars of our gowns
and mantles. Kill them and bring them to us, that you may think us even
more lovely than you have done before, when you compare our beauty with
theirs and find that ours is the greater. Let us shine down the birds,
for they are conceited and think themselves our rivals. Then kill them.
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill them." Then the men, whose hearts had
always been hard, and over whose eyes there was a film, went forth into
the world and began to kill the poor, beautiful birds wherever they
could find them. Everywhere the earth was stained with their blood,
and the air thick with floating feathers that had been torn from their
poor, wounded bodies. It was full, too, of their frightened cries, and
of the wails of their starving young ones for the parents who were dead
and could not feed them any more. For it is just at the time when the
birds lay their eggs and rear their young ones that their plumage is
most beautiful--most exquisitely beautiful--and it was just this most
_exquisitely_ beautiful plumage that the women, whose hearts the wicked
little demon had frozen, wanted to put into their hats. They knew that
to get it the young fledgling birds must starve in their nests. But
they did not mind that now, their hearts were frozen and the Goddess of
Pity was asleep.

So the birds were killed, and the lovely, painted feathers that had
lighted up whole forests or made a country beautiful, were pressed
close together into dark ugly boxes--or things like boxes--called
"crates" (large it is true, but not _quite_ so large as a forest
or a country), and then brought over the seas in ships, to dark,
ugly houses, where they were taken out and flung in a great heap on
the floor. Soon they were sewn into hats which were set out in the
windows of milliners' shops for the women with the frozen hearts to
buy. You may see such hats now, any time you walk about the streets
of London--or of Paris or Vienna, if you go there--for the Goddess of
Pity is still sleeping, she has not woken up yet. There you will see
them, and outside the window, looking at them--sometimes in a great
crowd--you will see those poor women that the demon has treated so
badly. There they stand, looking and looking, ravenous, hungry--you
would almost say they were--longing to buy them, even though they have
new ones of the same sort on their head. Ah, if they could see those
birds as they looked when they were shot, before they were dressed
and cleaned and made to look so smart and fashionable! If they could
see them with the blood-stains upon them, the wet, warm drops running
down over the bright breasts--perhaps onto the little ones underneath
them--the poor, broken wings dragging over the ground and trying to
rise into the air, through which they had once flown so easily, the
flapping, the struggling! If they could see all this, and much more
that had been done--that _had_ to be done--before there was that
nice, gay, elegant shop-window for them to look into, would it not
be different then, would not the vain heads begin to think a little
and the frozen hearts to melt? No, I do not think so, because of the
ugly little demon in the correct suit of clothes. They would look
in at the window and go in at the door still, and--shall I tell you
something?--it would be the same, just the same, if all those bright
feathers in every one of the hats had been stripped, not from the
birds' but from the _angels'_ wings. Those who could wear the one could
wear the other, and if angels were to come down here I should not
wonder if angel-hats were to get to be quite the fashion. Only first,
of course, angels would _have_ to come down here. I do not think they
are so _very_ likely to.

And the worst of it is that not only the _pretty_ women wear the
beautiful birds in their hats, but the plain ones do too, which makes
so many more of them to be killed. If it was _only_ the pretty women
who wore them it would not be quite so bad, but the wicked little demon
was much too clever to arrange it like that. He did not wish any of
the birds to escape, and I cannot tell you how many _millions_ of them
_would_ escape if only the pretty women were to wear their feathers.

But now, how are the birds to be saved--for _we_ want them _all_ to
escape--and how are the women to be saved? That is another thing. You
know it is not _their_ fault. They were kind and pitiful till the
wicked little demon blew his powder into their hearts. It is _his_
fault. You may be angry with _him_ as much as you like, but you must
not think of being angry with the women. Indeed, you should be sorry
for them, more even than for the birds, for it is much worse to be a
woman with a frozen heart than to be a bird and be shot. Oh, poor,
frozen-hearted women, who _would_ be so kind and so pitiful if only
they were allowed to be, if only the wicked little demon would go
away, and the Goddess of Pity would wake up!

Then is there no way of saving them both, the poor birds and the poor
women? Yes, there is a way, and it is you--the children--who are to
find it out. Listen. It is so simple. All you have to do is to ask
these women (these _poor_ women) _not_ to wear the hats that have
feathers, that have birds' lives in them, and they will not do so any
more. They will listen to you. There is nobody else they would listen
to, but they will to you--the children. Perhaps you think that funny.
Listen and I will explain it. When the wicked little demon blew his
powder called "Apathy" into the hearts of the women, it froze them all
up, as I have told you, but there was just one little spot in every
one of their hearts that it was not able to freeze. That was the spot
called Motherly Love, which every woman has in her heart, and which
is the softest spot of all, if only a little child presses it--and
especially if it is her own little child. So I want you--the little
children who read this little book--to press that spot and to save
the birds from being killed. Nobody can do it but you, nobody even
can find that spot except you, but you will find it directly. And you
are to press it in this way. Throw, each one of you, your arms round
your mother's neck, kiss her and ask her not to kill the birds, not
to wear the hats that make the birds be killed. And if you do that and
really mean what you say, if you are really sorry for the birds and
have real tears in your eyes (or at least in your hearts), then your
mother will do as you have asked her, for you will have pressed that
spot, that soft spot, that spot that even the wicked little demon, try
as he might, could not freeze, could not make hard. And as you press
it, the whole heart that has been frozen will become warm again, and
the powder of the demon will go out of it, and the Goddess of Pity will
wake up. You will do this, will you not? It is only asking, and what
can be easier than to ask something of your mother? But you must make
her promise. Never, never leave off asking her till you have got her to
promise.

And if some of you have mothers who do not kill the birds, who do not
wear the hats that have birds' lives sewn into them, well it will do
them no harm to promise too. Then they never _will_ wear them, and if
they should never mean to wear them, they will be all the more ready
to promise not to. Only in that case you might put your arms round the
neck of some other woman that you have seen wearing those hats and kiss
_her_ and ask _her_ to promise. And she will, you will have touched
that spot because you are a little child, even though you are not her
own little child. Perhaps you will remind her of a little child that
was hers once.

Now I am going to tell you about some of the most beautiful birds that
there are in the world, but you must remember that they are being
killed so fast every day that, unless you get that promise from your
mother very quickly, there will soon be no more of them left; as soon
as she promises it will be all right, for of course it will not be only
_your_ mother who will have promised, but the mother of every other
little girl all over the country, and as the birds were only being
killed to put into their hats, they will be let alone now, for now no
more hats like that will be wanted. No one will wear hats that have
birds' lives sewn into them, any more.

So the beautiful birds will go on living and flying about in the world
and making _it_ beautiful, too. You will have saved them--_you_ the
children will have saved them--and no grown-up person will have done
_anything_ to be more proud about. I daresay a grown-up person _would_
be more proud about what he had done, even if it was nothing very
particular; but _that_ is another matter.

Now we will begin, and as we come to one bird after another, you shall
make your mother promise not to wear it in her hat.



CHAPTER II

Birds of Paradise


First I will tell you about the Birds of Paradise. You have heard of
them perhaps, and how beautiful they are, but you may have thought that
birds with a name like that did not live here at all. For the Emperor
of China lives in China, and if the Emperor of China lives in China,
the Birds of Paradise ought, one would think, to live in Paradise. But
that is not the case--not now at any rate. They live a very long way
off, it is true, right over at the other side of the world, but it is
not quite so far off as Paradise is. No, it cannot be there that they
live, because if you were to leave England in a ship and sail always in
the right direction, you would come at last to the very place, instead
of coming right round to England again, which is what you would do if
you were to sail for Paradise--for you know, of course, that the earth
is round. But why, then, are they called Birds of Paradise if they live
here on the earth? Well, there are two ways of explaining it. I will
tell you first one and then the other, and you can choose the way you
like best. The first way is this.

A long time ago--but long after the little demon had crept out of his
cave--the early Portuguese voyagers (whom your mother will tell you
about), when they came to the Moluccas to get spices, were shown the
dried skins of beautiful birds which were called by the natives "Manuk
dewata," which means "God's birds." There were no wings or feet to the
skins, and the natives told the Portuguese that these birds had never
had any, but that they lived always in the air, never coming down
to settle on the earth, and keeping themselves all the while turned
towards the sun. One would have thought they must have wanted wings, at
any rate, to be always in the air, but that is what the natives said.
So the Portuguese, who did not quite know what to make of it, called
them "Passaros de Sol," which means "Sun-birds" or "Birds-of-the-Sun,"
because of their always turning towards him. Some time after that, a
learned Dutchman who wrote in Latin (just think!), called these birds
"Aves Paradisei"--Paradise Birds or Birds of Paradise--and he told
every one that they had never been seen alive by anybody, but only
after they had fallen down dead out of the clouds, when they were
picked up without wings or feet, and still lying with their heads
towards the sun in the way they had fallen. So, after that these
wonderful birds were always called "Birds of Paradise." That is one way
of explaining how they got their names, but the other way, and perhaps
you will think it a _little_ more probable, is this.

Once the Birds of Paradise were really Birds of Paradise, for they
lived there and were ever so much more beautiful than they are now,
though perhaps, if you were to see them flying about in their native
forests, you would hardly believe that possible. That is because
you cannot imagine _how_ beautiful _real_ Birds of Paradise are,
for these Birds of Paradise were not more beautiful than the other
ones that lived there. All were as beautiful as each other though in
different ways, and it was just that which made these Birds of Paradise
discontented. "If we go down to earth," said they, "the birds of all
the world will do homage to us on account of our superior beauty, for
there will be none to equal us. So we shall reign over them and be
their King. Here we are only like all the others. None of them fly to
the tree on which we are sitting to do us homage." "Do not be foolish,"
said the tree (for in Paradise trees and all can speak). "The homage
which you desire you would soon weary of, and the beauty which you
enjoy here would, on earth, be only a pain to you, for it would remind
you of the Paradise you had left but could never enter again. For
those who once leave Paradise can never more return to it. Therefore
be wise and stay, for if you go you will repent, but then it will be
too late." And all the birds around said, "Stay," and then they raised
their voices, which were lovelier than you can imagine, in a song of
joy--of joy that they were in Paradise and not on earth. And the Birds
of Paradise sang too, their voices were as sweet as any, but they had
envy and discontent in their hearts. "Our singing cannot be surpassed,
it is true," thought they, "but it is equalled by that of every other
bird. We sing in a chorus merely. It would not be so on earth. We
should be 'prima donnas' there." (Your mother will tell you what a
prima donna is as well as what doing homage means.)

So, when the song was over, they flew to the Phenix, who was the most
important and powerful bird of all the birds that were in Paradise. I
have told you that all the birds there were equal, and so they were,
only, you see, the Phenix was a little _more_ equal than the others.
One cannot be a Phenix for nothing. Now it was only the Phenix who
could open the gate of Paradise, and let any bird in or out of it. He
was not obliged to let them in, and there were very few birds (who
were not there already) that he ever did let in. Many and many a bird
fluttered and fluttered outside the door, that had to fly away again.
But if a bird that was in Paradise wanted to go out of it, then the
Phenix had to open the door and let it out, because if it had stayed it
would have been discontented, and birds that are discontented cannot
stay in Paradise. It would not be Paradise for long if they could. So
when the Birds of Paradise said to the Phenix, "Let us out, for we
are tired of being here, where all are equal, and wish to be kings
and 'prima donnas' on earth," he had to do it, only he warned them as
the tree had done, that if they once left Paradise they could never
come back to it again. "The door of Paradise," said he, "may be passed
through twice, but only entered once. When you pass through it the
second time, it is to go out of it, and when you are once out of it,
out of it you must remain. You can never come in again; you can only
flutter at the gate."

"We shall never do that," said the proud Birds of Paradise. "We shall
stay down on earth and be kings and 'prima donnas' amongst the other
birds." So the Phenix let them out, and they flew down through the warm
summer sky, looking like soft suns or trembling stars or colours out of
the sunrise or sunset, they were so beautiful.

Then the birds of earth flew around them and did them homage, and, when
they sang, the nightingale stood silent and hid her head for shame, and
would never sing in the daytime any more, but only at night when the
beautiful strangers were asleep. That is why the nightingale sings by
night and not by day--only since the Birds of Paradise have lost their
voice (which I am going to tell you about) she does sing in the daytime
sometimes, just a little.

So the Birds of Paradise were kings and "prima donnas" amongst the
birds of earth, and they were happy--for a time. They were not quite
so happy after a little while, for they got tired of hearing the birds
praise them, and, wherever they looked, they saw nothing to give
them pleasure. The earth, indeed, was beautiful, but they remembered
Paradise, and that made it seem ugly. There was nothing for them to see
that was worth the seeing, or to hear that was worth the listening to,
except their own beauty and their own song. But that reminded them of
Paradise, and they could not bear to be reminded of it now that they
had lost it for ever. In fact they were miserable, and it was not long
before they were all fluttering outside the gates of Paradise, and
begging the Phenix to let them in. But the Phenix said, "No, I cannot.
I warned you that the gates of Paradise could only be passed twice,
once in and once out, and then no more. I tried to keep you from going,
but you chose to go, and now you must stay outside. You can never enter
Paradise again." "If we cannot enter it," said the poor Birds of
Paradise, "let us at least forget it. Take away our beautiful voices,
so that, when we sing, we shall not think of all the joys we have lost.
Let our song be no more than the lark's or the nightingale's, or make
us only able to twitter, and not sing at all. Then we can listen to the
lark and the nightingale, and perhaps, in time, we may grow to admire
them. As it is, we must either sing or be silent. We do not like to sit
silent, and when we sing we think only of Paradise." "Yes," said the
Phenix, "I will take your voice, your beautiful voice of song." So he
took it, and that is why the Birds of Paradise never sing at all now,
not even as the lark and the nightingale sing.

After that they were happier, but still they had their great beauty,
their glorious, glorious plumage, and when they looked at each other
they felt sad and hung their heads, for still they thought of Paradise.
"You have taken our song from us," they said (for they were soon there
at the gate again), "but still our beauty remains. Take that also,
that, when we look at each other, we may not think of the Paradise we
have lost, and be wretched." "Fly back to earth," said the Phenix,
"and when you are a little way off I will open the gates of Paradise
wide, and the brightness that is in it will stream out and scorch your
feathers, and you will be beautiful no more. Only you must fly fast,
and you must not turn to look, for if you do, the brightness will blind
you. You could bear it once when you lived in it and had known nothing
else, but now that you have lived on earth you cannot. It would only
blind you now." So the Birds of Paradise flew towards the earth, and,
when they had got a little way, the Phenix opened the gates (he had
only been speaking to them through the keyhole), and, as the splendour
of Paradise streamed forth and fell upon them, their feathers were
scorched in its excessive brightness, all except a few tufts and plumes
which were not quite destroyed, because, you see, they were getting
farther away every second. A little of their beauty was left, and that
was enough to make them the most beautiful birds on earth (till we come
to the Humming-birds), but they are very ugly compared to what they
once were when they lived in Paradise. Think then, what the real Birds
of Paradise must be like when those that have left it, and have had
their plumage scorched and spoilt, are so very beautiful. That is the
other way of explaining how there come to be Birds of Paradise living
on the earth, and I think you will say that it is the more sensible
way of the two. For as for people having ever believed that there were
birds who had no feet or wings, and that lived always in the air with
their heads turned towards the sun, why, _that_ does not seem possible.
Nobody could have believed in a thing like that, but _here_ is a
_natural_ explanation.

But now you must not think that the Birds of Paradise which are in the
world to-day, are the very same ones that used to live in Paradise,
and that had their feathers scorched. Oh no, you must not think that.
Those old Birds of Paradise died (for, of course, as soon as they came
to earth they became mortal, they had been immortal before), but before
they died they had laid a great many eggs, and reared a great many
young ones, and these young ones, as soon as they were grown up, laid
other eggs, and the birds that came out of those eggs laid others, and
so it has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years, right up
to now. And _now_, if you were to ask a Bird of Paradise where it was
he used to live, and why he had lost his voice and got his feathers
scorched, he would not know one bit what you were talking about. In
hundreds of thousands of years a great many things are forgotten, and
the Birds of Paradise of to-day are quite happy. The earth is quite
good enough for them, and if they were not shot and put into hats for
the women with the frozen hearts to wear, they would have nothing to
complain of. They have something to complain of now, but you must
remember your promise, and then, perhaps, they will not be shot any
more.

Now, the Birds of Paradise that live on the earth to-day do not live
all over it, as they used to do in those old days when they could hear
the lark and the nightingale. It is only a very small part of the
world that they live in now--small, I mean, compared to the rest of
it--and there are no larks or nightingales there. I will tell you where
it is. Far away over the deep sea, farther than Africa, farther than
India, farther even than Burma or Siam, there are a number of great
islands and small islands and middling-sized islands, which lie between
Asia and Australia, and all of these together are called the Malay
Archipelago. The largest of all these islands, and the one that is
farthest away too, is called New Guinea, and it is a very large island
indeed, the largest, in fact, in the world after Australia, which, as
you know, is so large that we call it a continent. Round about this
great island of New Guinea, and not very far from its shores, there are
some other islands which are quite tiny in comparison, and it is here,
just in this one great island and in these few small islands near it,
that the Birds of Paradise live. They do not live in any of the other
islands of the Malay Archipelago, but only just here in the ones that
are farthest away of all.

It would take you weeks to go in a steamer to where the Birds of
Paradise live, and if you were to go, not in a steamer but in a ship
with sails, it would take you longer still. But when you got there you
would not see the Birds of Paradise flying all about, as soon as you
went ashore out of the ship or the steamer, as you would see sparrows
here. Oh no, Birds of Paradise are not so common as that, even in their
own country. They do not come into the towns, like sparrows, either,
but live in the great forests where people do not often go, and even
when one does go into them, it is difficult to see them amongst the
great tall trees and the broad-fronded ferns and the long, hanging
creepers that make a tangle from one tree to another.

Ah, those are wonderful forests, those forests far away over the seas!
Some of the trees have trunks so thick that a dozen men--or perhaps
twenty--would not be able to circle them round by joining their hands
together, and so tall that when you looked up you would not be able to
see their tops. They would go shooting up and up like the spires of
great cathedrals, till at last they would be lost in a green sky, not
the real sky, the blue one--that would be higher up still--but a green
sky of leaves made by all the trees themselves, and in this sky of
leaves there would be flower-stars almost as bright and as beautiful
as the real stars of the real sky. Then there are other trees that
have their roots growing right out of the ground, and going up more
than a hundred feet high into the air. At the top of them is the tree
itself, going up another hundred feet, or perhaps more, so that the
real tree--the trunk at any rate--begins in the air, and before you
could climb it, you would have to climb its roots, which _does_ seem
funny. And there are palm-trees with long, tall, slender trunks, smooth
and shining, crowned with leaves that are like large green fans; and
rattan-palms, which are quite different, for instead of being straight,
their trunks twist round and round the trunks of other trees, going
right up to their very tops, and raising their own most beautiful
feathery ones above theirs. Sometimes they will climb first up one tree
and then down it again, and up another, and then down that, till they
have climbed up and down several trees, all of them very, very tall.
How tall--or rather how _long_--_they_ must be you may think. We say
that a snake is so many feet long, not tall, and these rattan-palms are
palm-creepers, great vegetable serpents, that twist and coil as they
grow, and hug the forest in their great coils, which are larger and
more powerful than those of any python or boa-constrictor. A python or
a boa-constrictor could not kill a _very_ large animal, but the great
palm-snakes will crawl up the largest tree, and crush it and squeeze
it till at last it dies and comes thundering down in the forest, and
then they will crawl along the ground to another, and hug that to
death, too. Then there are tree-ferns, which are ferns that have trunks
like trees, which are sometimes thirty feet high, with fronds growing
from their tops, so broad and tall that a number of people could sit
underneath them in their cool, deep shade, as if they were a tent. And
there are wonderful flowers in these forests, such as you only see here
in botanical gardens or in the conservatories of rich people, orchids
and pitcher-plants, and others with Latin names that one forgets. Some
of them are flower-trees, or tree-flowers, as high as the trees are,
and with hundreds of large, crimson blossoms glowing out like stars
from their trunks. When you come upon them all at once in the gloom of
the forest, it almost looks as if some of the trees were on fire.

Other flowers are golden like the sun and grow all together in
clusters, whilst others, again, grow on the branches of trees and hang
down from them by long stalks which are like threads, each thread-stalk
strung with flowers, as a thread is strung with beads. Only these
flower-beads are as large as sunflowers, with colours varying from
orange to red, and with beautiful, deep, purple-red spots upon them.

But if you had wings like the Birds of Paradise, and could fly over
the tops of the trees that make the forest, and look down into a
leafy meadow instead of up into a leafy sky, then you would see the
most gloriously beautiful flowers growing in that meadow, just as the
daisies and buttercups grow in the meadows that you run over, here.
For flowers love the light of the sun, and they struggle up into it
through the leaves that keep it out. To them the leaves are not as the
sky, but as the clouds that shut the sky out, and as they are clouds
that will never roll away (even though they may fall sometimes in a
rain of leaves), the only thing for them to do is to climb up to them
and pierce them, and see the sky, with the sun shining in it, on the
other side. So whilst a few flowers stay in the shade below, most of
them grow and struggle up into the light and air above, and they are
all in such a hurry to get there that every one tries to grow faster
than all the others. Ah! what a race it is, a race to reach the sun.
You have heard of all sorts of races, and some, perhaps, you have seen;
running-races, races in sacks, boat-races, horse-races (though those,
I hope, you never have and never will see), but you never either saw
or heard of a fairer, lovelier, more delicate race than a race of
flowers to reach the sun. Think of it, all over those great, wide,
far-stretching forests, forests stretching away like the sea, and only
bounded by the sea! Think of all the millions of flowers there must be
in them, with all their delicate shapes, and rich, fragrant scents and
glorious colours, and then think of them all growing up together, each
trying to be the first to see the sun. So eager they all are, but so
gentle. There is no pushing, nothing rude or rough. But as the leaves
grow thinner, and the light shines more and more through them, they
tremble and sigh with joy, and one says to another, "We are getting
nearer--nearer. I can see him almost; we shall soon be bathed in his
light." And so they all grow and grow till at last they gleam softly
through the soft leaves, and see the beautiful deep blue sky and the
glorious, golden sun. Yes, that is a lovely race indeed--as anything to
do with flowers is lovely--and it is a race upwards, to the sky and to
the sun. Not all races are of that kind.

It is in forests like those that the Birds of Paradise live; and
now that we know something about where they live, we will find out
something about them.



CHAPTER III

The Great Bird of Paradise


The Great Bird of Paradise lives in the middle of the great island
called New Guinea, and all over some quite little islands close to
it which are called the Aru Islands. He is the largest of the Birds
of Paradise, and perhaps he is the most beautiful, but it is not so
easy to be sure about _that_. However, we shall see what you think of
him. His body and wings and tail are brown. "What, only brown?" you
cry. "That is like a sparrow." Ah, but wait. It is not _quite_ like a
sparrow. It is a beautiful, rich, _coffee_-brown, and on the breast it
deepens into a most lovely, dark, _purple-violet_ brown. There! That is
different to being just brown like a sparrow, is it not? Then the head
and neck are yellow, not a common yellow, but a very pretty, light,
delicate yellow, like straw. Sometimes ladies have hair of that colour,
and when they have, then people look at them and say, "What beautiful
hair!" which is just what they themselves say, sometimes, when they
look in the glass. These feathers are very short and set closely
together, which makes them look like plush or velvet, so you can think
how handsome they must be. What would you think if you were to go out
for a walk and see a bird flying about with a yellow plush or yellow
velvet head? But the throat is handsomer still. _That_ is a glorious,
gleaming, metallic green. Some feathers are called "metallic," because
when the light shines on them they flash it back again just as a bright
piece of metal does; a helmet or a breastplate, for instance. You know
how _they_ flash and gleam in the sunshine when the Horse-Guards ride
by. At least, if you have seen the Horse-Guards, you do, and if you
have not, well, I daresay you have seen it in a dish-cover or a bright
coal-scuttle. But fancy feathers as soft as velvet, gleaming as if
they were polished metal, but gleaming all emerald green as if they
were jewels--emeralds--too! Then on the forehead and the chin of this
bird--by which I mean just under the beak--there are glossy velvety
plumes of a deeper green colour. The other is emerald. These are like
the deep, lovely greens that one sees sometimes in the fiery opal or
the mother-of-pearl. What jewellery! and out of it all flash two other
jewels--the bird's two eyes--which are of a beautiful bright yellow
colour to match with the yellow plush of its head. Then this bird has
a pale blue beak and pale pink legs, and I am sure if he thinks himself
very handsome, you can _hardly_ call him conceited. For he would be
handsome only with this that I have told you about; that would be quite
enough to make him a beautiful bird without anything else.

But _has_ he anything else--any other kind of beauty _besides_ what
I have told you about? Listen. The emerald throat and the yellow
velvet-plush head and the blue beak and the pink legs are as nothing,
nothing whatever, compared to the glorious plumes which this Bird of
Paradise has on each side of his body. Oh, you never saw such plumes,
and you cannot think how lovely they are. There are two of them--one
on each side--and each one is made up of a number of very long, soft,
delicate silky feathers, which are of an orange-gold or golden-orange
colour, and so bright and glossy that they shine in the sun like
floss-silk. Just where they spring from the body each one of them has
a stripe of deep crimson-red, and, towards the top, they soften into
a pretty pale, mauvy brown. Even one feather like that on each side
would be beautiful--or one all by itself in the middle--but fancy a
_plume_ of them on each side, a thick plume too, though each feather is
so slender and delicate--there are so many of them. They look lovely
enough when they stream out behind as the bird flies, for they are
twice as long as its whole body, so, of course, the two plumes come
together and make one lovely large one that lies as softly on the air
as the feather of a swan does on the water. The body, then, is almost
covered up in all these soft feathers, so that it is just like looking
at a flying plume with wings and a head to it.

Yes, they look lovely enough then, these glorious plumes; but sometimes
they look lovelier still, and that is when the Great Bird of Paradise
raises them both up above its back so that they shoot into the air
like two golden feather-fountains that mingle together and bend over
and fall in spray all around, only it is a spray of feathers--not a
real spray--and, instead of falling, they only wave and dance. Such a
glorious, plumy cascade! The bird himself is almost hidden in his own
shower-bath, but the emerald throat and the yellow-plush head look out
of it and gleam like jewels as he peeps and peers about from side to
side to see if any one is looking at him. For, of course, the Great
Bird of Paradise does not make himself so _very_ beautiful just for
nothing. When he shoots up his feather-fountains and sits in a soft,
silky shower-bath, he does it to be looked at, and the person he wants
to look at him most is the hen Great Bird of Paradise, for--do you know
and _can_ you believe it?--the poor hen Great Bird of Paradise is _not_
beautiful. She has no wonderful plumes--she has no plumes at all--and
out of all those splendid colours I have told you about--orangy-gold
and emerald green and all the rest of them--she has only one, which is
the coffee-brown. Now, of course, a nice rich coffee-brown is a very
good colour, but still, by itself it is not enough to make a bird one
of the most beautiful birds in the world. So when a bird is _only_
coffee-brown, then, compared to a bird who has all those other colours
and the most wonderful plumes as well, it is quite a plain bird. So a
poor hen Great Bird of Paradise is quite a plain bird compared to her
handsome husband, with his emerald throat and yellow-plush head and his
wonderful orangy-gold plumes.

But, then, if the poor hen bird has no glorious plumes of her own, she
is always looking at them, always having them spread out on purpose
for her to look at, and that must be very pleasant indeed. When the
male Great Birds of Paradise wish to show their poor plain hens how
handsome they are--just to comfort them and make them not mind being
plain themselves--they come to a particular kind of tree in the forest,
a tree that has a great many wide-spreading branches at the top, with
not so very many leaves upon them, so that it is easy for them to be
seen by the hens, who are sitting in other trees near, all ready to
watch them. Then they raise up their wings above their backs, stretch
out their emerald necks, bow their yellow heads politely to each other,
and shoot up their golden feather-fountains, making each of the long,
plumy tufts tremble and vibrate and quiver, as they droop all over them
and almost cover them up. The plumes begin from under the wings--that
is why they lift their wings up first so that they can shoot straight
up and so that the hen birds may see the little stripes of red, which
I told you about, and which look like little crimson clouds floating
in a little golden sunset. How beautiful they must look! Perhaps there
may be a dozen Great Birds of Paradise, all bowing their heads and
quivering their plumes, on a dozen branches of the tree, whilst a
dozen more will be flying about from one branch to another, so that
the tree and the air are full of beauty. The air never had anything to
float upon her softer or lovelier than those golden floating plumes,
and no tree ever bore blossoms _quite_ so beautiful as those wonderful
golden Paradise-flowers. And both the air and the trees are happy.
Both of them whisper, "Oh thank you, thank you, Birds of Paradise." Of
course the Birds of Paradise are happy too. They are happy to have such
beauty and to be able to show it to the hens, who sit hidden in the
trees and bushes around, and _they_ perhaps--the hens for whom it is
all done--are happiest of all. Then it is all happiness--and beauty.
Beauty and happiness, those are the two things it is made up of.

There are not so many things that are made up of just those two. Try
and think of some. A party, perhaps you may say (only it must be a
juvenile one), or a pantomime. Well, of course, there is an _enormous_
amount of beauty and happiness at things of that kind; but is it _all_
beauty and happiness? Not _quite_ all, I think. Still I am sure you
would think it a very unkind thing if somebody were to break up a party
before it were over, or to stop a pantomime before the last act had
been performed. You would think that cruel, I am sure. And now if you
were looking at those beautiful, happy Birds of Paradise at _their_
party or pantomime (I _think_ it is as pretty as a transformation
scene), and all at once, when they were just in the middle of it, first
one and then another of them were to fall down dead to the ground,
till at last half of them lay there underneath the tree and the rest
had flown away, would you not think _that_ a most cruel and dreadful
thing? Where would be the beauty and the happiness now? It would all be
gone. Joy would have been changed into sorrow, and beauty _almost_ into
ugliness--for a dead bird is _almost_ ugly compared to a beautiful,
living one. And life would have been changed into death--yes, and
_such_ life, the life of happy, lovely birds, of Birds of Paradise.
And I think that if you were there and saw that happen--saw those
beautiful birds fall down dead--_murdered_--all of a sudden--you would
be sorry and angry too, and you would say that only a demon could have
done so wicked a thing.

You would be right if you were to say so. It _could_ only be a
demon--that same little demon that I told you about who sang a charm
to send the Goddess of Pity to sleep and then froze the hearts of the
women with his bad, wicked powder. That wretched little demon who wears
the magic suit of clothes, which makes him seem all that he ought to
be, is always killing the poor Birds of Paradise, just when they are
feeling so happy and looking so beautiful. He does not do it himself
(any more than the women), for, as he could not be in more than one
place at a time, he would not be able to kill a sufficient number to
satisfy him, and besides he has a great many other things of the same
kind, but more important, to do. So he makes his servants do it. That
has always been his plan. He has servants all over the world, and you
must not think that they are as bad as himself, for that is not the
case at all. They are not bad, but enchanted, so that they do all
sorts of bad things without having any idea that they are bad. In fact
they generally think that they are the finest things in the world.
The demon has all sorts of little bottles with different kinds of
powders in them, one for every kind of servant that he wants. In his
little private workshop they all stand in rows upon a shelf and every
one has a different label on it, so that he knows which to take up
in a minute. One is labelled "Glory," and has a powder in it of all
sorts of different colours, scarlet, blue, green, white, and a little
of it dirty yellow. The man on whom a grain of this powder falls will
always be wanting to kill people, and the more he kills the better man
he will think himself, and so, too, will other people think him. You
may imagine what a lot of work the demon can get out of a servant like
that. Another one is labelled "Justice," and whoever the powder in that
falls on will go through life always saying what he doesn't believe,
and trying to make other people believe it. Others are labelled
"Patriotism," "Duty," "Culture," "Refinement," "Taste," "Sensibility,"
and so on (all which words your mother will explain to you). The demon
chooses them according to the kind of thing he wants done, and all on
whom any of the powders inside the bottles fall become his servants in
different ways--very grand ways, too, they are often thought--and go on
serving him and thinking well of themselves, and being held always in
great honour and respect, all their lives.

Now you must not, of course, think that these bottles _really_ contain
the things that are written on their labels. No, indeed, they are
_false_ labels, for, you see, _these_ bottles stand in the window where
people can see them, the demon does not keep them in his pocket like
those other two I told you of. So when people see them they think that
they have good powders instead of bad ones inside them, and when the
stoppers are taken out the powders fly into their eyes, and they are
blinded and never know the difference. Almost every one is blinded,
for the demon just stands at the window of his workshop and blows his
powders through the world. It is not necessary for him to walk up and
down in it sprinkling them about. That would be a long, tedious way
of doing things. He just blows them, and he need never be afraid of
blowing too much away, for his bottles are magic bottles and always
full. Outside his window there is always a great crowd looking at the
bottles and admiring them, whilst the demon stands there in his magic
suit of clothes, and seems to every one to be just what he ought to be.

They say that somewhere else in the world there is a very beautiful
house with a radiant angel inside it, and that there, in vases of
crystal and diamond--or something like crystal and diamond, but very
much more beautiful--are the real things which the demon only pretends
to have in his ugly little bottles. Any one has only to step in and
ask for them, and the angel will open the vase and shed the essence
that is inside it into his very heart. But--is it not funny?--hardly
anybody ever goes into that house, and the few who do cannot persuade
others to follow them. I will tell you why this is. The beautiful house
does not _look_ like a beautiful house at all to most people, and the
angel of light who sits in the open doorway seems to them to be only
a shabbily dressed, unfashionable sort of person. Nobody sees his
wings, or, if they do, they think wings are vulgar and out of date.
It is the demon who is to blame for this. He has had time to blow his
magic powders all about the world, and they have blinded people's eyes
and made what is really beautiful seem mean and ugly to them--for the
demon's powders can blind the eyes as well as freeze the heart. But the
little workshop of the demon, which is really as mean and wretched a
place as you could find, _that_ people think glorious and beautiful,
and his ugly bottles are to them as vases of crystal and diamond. So
they crowd about the demon's workshop, thinking it to be the angel's
house, and into the angel's house they never go, for they think a
demon--or at least an unfashionably dressed person with wings--which
are out of date--lives there.

Now, it is one of those bottles with the false labels which the demon
takes when he wants one of his servants in that part of the world to
kill the Great Bird of Paradise; for I don't think the men in those
countries would much mind what the women said to them. I cannot tell
you which bottle it is, but it is none of those that I have told you
about. The label upon it is not nearly such a grand one, and the powder
is of a much coarser grain, for the man that the demon is going to blow
it at is only a poor savage, who is black and nearly naked, and who is
not able to serve him in such important ways as are people of a lighter
colour and less scantily dressed. He is only fit to do little odd jobs
now and again, and his wages are very low in consequence. Even what he
gets he is often not allowed to keep, for the demon's upper servants
take them away from him, and he is not strong enough to resist. One
of his odd jobs is killing the poor Great Birds of Paradise, and now
I will tell you how he does it. Only you must not be angry with him,
or even with the other people whose servant he _thinks_ he is, though
they are all of them _really_ the servants of one master, that wretched
little demon in the magic suit of clothes, which makes him seem nice to
everybody, although he is so nasty. It is _he_ you must be angry with,
for it is he who does all the mischief, in the way I have told you. He
gets people into his power; but, if you do as I tell you, perhaps you
will be able to save them from him, and to save the poor, beautiful
Birds of Paradise, as well as other beautiful birds, from being killed
and killed until they are all dead. Think what a lot of good you will
have done, then, to have kept such beauty safe in the world, when it
might have been lost out of it for ever. Yes, and you will have done
more good than that even, for you will have helped to wake up the
Goddess of Pity, and when once she is awake there will be so much for
her to do--for, ah! she has been asleep so long.

But, now, listen. I have told you that the man who kills the Great Bird
of Paradise is black and naked and a savage. But he is not a negro,
although he is rather like one. His hair is something like a negro's
hair, but there is much more of it. In fact it is quite a mop, and he
is very proud of it. He is a Papuan, and the islands that he lives in
are called the Papuan Islands, and are a very long way from Africa,
which is where the negroes live. He is a tall, fine-looking man, with
a beautiful figure, and he looks very much better naked than he would
do if he were dressed. And when I said that he was black, this was not
_quite_ true, because he is really brown, but it is such a very dark
brown that it looks black, and when a man is such a very dark brown
that he looks black, then people _will_ call him a black man, so that
is what we will call this Papuan. Now, this black man is very quick
and active--which is what most savages are--and he can climb trees
almost as well as a monkey. When he finds one of those trees where the
Great Birds of Paradise have their parties, their "Sacalelies" (that
is what _he_ calls them, it is a word that means a dancing-party), he
climbs up into it early in the morning, before it is daylight, and
waits for them to come. It does not matter how tall the tree is (and
this kind of tree is very tall), or how dark it may be, this naked
Papuan savage climbs up it quite easily and without slipping, just like
a monkey. He takes up with him some leafy branches of another tree, and
with these he makes a little screen to sit under, so that the Birds of
Paradise shall not see him. Besides this, he takes his bow and arrows
to shoot the poor birds with, for he does not use a gun, which would
make too much noise, and, besides, the shot would hurt the beautiful
plumage. The arrows do not hurt the plumage as the shot would, because
at the end of each one there is a piece of wood, shaped something like
an acorn, but as large as a teacup, and the large end of it makes what
would be the point of an ordinary arrow. When the poor birds are hit
with that great, smooth piece of wood they are killed, because it hits
them so hard, but their plumage is not hurt at all, for nothing has
gone into the skin, or torn the feathers.

[Illustration: PAPUAN SHOOTING BIRDS OF PARADISE]

So the naked black man waits behind his screen for the Great Birds of
Paradise to come, and as soon as they come and begin to spread their
plumes, he shoots first one and then another of them with his great
wooden arrows, and they fall down dead underneath the tree. And, do you
know, they are so occupied in showing off their beautiful plumes, and
so happy and excited as they spread them out and look through them, or
fly like little feathery cascades from branch to branch, that it is
not till quite a number of them have been killed (for the black savage
does not often miss his aim) that the others take fright and fly away.
Then the black man climbs down from the tree and picks up the poor,
beautiful, dead birds and takes them to another man who is yellow and
not quite so naked as he is, who gives him something for them, but not
so much as he ought to. The yellow man cheats the black man, and, when
he has cheated him, he takes the skins to a white man, who is quite
dressed and civilised, and sells them to him, and the white man cheats
_him_ a good deal more than _he_ has cheated the black man--for, of
course, the white man is the cleverest of the three. (You see there
are yellow men in those countries--called Malays--as well as black
men, and a good many white men go there as well.) Then the white man
puts all the beautiful skins that he has bought from the yellow man,
as well as a great many others which have been brought to him from all
the country and from all the islands round about, into one of those
large kinds of boxes called "crates," that I have told you about, and
it is put on board a ship where there are a great many others of the
same kind, all full of the skins and feathers of beautiful birds that
have been killed. And the ship sails to England, and then up the Thames
to London, where the crates are taken out and put into great vans and
driven away to the great ugly warehouses to be unpacked and laid on the
floor there in a heap, all as I have told you. You know what happens to
them then.

And now I will tell you something funny that I daresay you would never
have thought of, but which is quite true all the same. That great
heap of brightly coloured feathers lying on the floor, to make which
hundreds of thousands of the most beautiful birds in the world have
been killed, and hundreds of hundreds of thousands of their young ones
that would have grown up beautiful, too, have been starved to death
in the nest--that great big heap of the loveliest plumage is not so
lovely, not nearly so beautiful as one living thrush or one living
blackbird or one living swallow or one living robin-redbreast. That
is the difference between life and death. A live Bird of Paradise is
hundreds of times more beautiful than a live blackbird or thrush or
swallow or robin-redbreast, but when it is dead it is not so beautiful
as they are. Its feathers are more beautiful, still, of course, but
where are the _waving_ feathers, the _floating_ plumes, the bright
eyes, the quick, graceful movements, and the flight--the glorious
flight--of a bird. They are gone, they are gone for ever, and, in their
place, there is only stiffness and deadness and dustiness. Oh never,
never wish to see a dead Bird of Paradise in a hat, when you can see
a living thrush or blackbird on the lawn of your garden, or a living
swallow flying over it. And even if you can never see a living Bird
of Paradise--as I daresay you never will be able to--what then?--what
then? You cannot see everything, but have you not got an imagination
(your mother, who has got one, will tell you what it is), and is it not
better to imagine a beautiful bird flying about in life and loveliness
than to see it dead? And the people who have these hats with the Birds
of Paradise, or with other beautiful birds, sewn into them, how much
do you think they really care about them? Do they ever look at them
after they have once bought them? Oh no, they never do. Sometimes they
look in the glass with the hat on--yes--but then it is only to see
themselves _in_ the hat, not the hat.

So now you know what kind of birds the Birds of Paradise are, and how
very beautiful they are, and you know how gloriously beautiful the
Great Bird of Paradise is, and how it is killed and not allowed to live
and be happy, just because it is so beautiful. But now these Great
Birds of Paradise live only in some quite small islands and just in one
part of one large one, and although there may be a good many of them
where they do live, yet if they are always being killed in that way,
very soon there will be no more of them left. Then there will be no
more Great Birds of Paradise in the world--for they do not live outside
those islands--and when they are once gone they can never, never come
again.

But do you not think that it would be a dreadful thing if such a bird
as this--this beautiful Great Bird of Paradise that I have told you
about--were to be killed and killed until it was not in the world
any more? Of course you think it would be a dreadful thing, and I am
sure that you would prevent it if you could. And you _can_ prevent
it--_now_--yes, _now_--and in the easiest way possible. All you have
to do--only you must do it directly--is to put your arms round your
mother's neck and make her promise never, never to wear a hat with the
feathers of a Great Bird of Paradise in it. Of course she will promise,
if you ask her in that way, and keep on, and when she once has promised
you must not let her forget it. You must remind her of it from time
to time ("Remember, mother, you _promised_"), and, especially, when
you hear her talking about getting a new hat. And when you have made
her promise about herself, then you must make her promise never to let
_you_ wear a hat of the sort (of course when you are grown-up and buy
your own hats you never will), or your sisters either. And if you have
a sister very much older than yourself who buys her own hats, then you
can make _her_ promise too. Perhaps _that_ will be less easy, but she
will do it in time if you tease her enough about it and want her to
read the book. And then if you can get any other lady to promise, well,
the more who do, the better chance there will be for the beautiful
Great Bird of Paradise. Only you must make your mother promise
first--that is the chief thing--and, to do it, you must tell her all
about the wicked little demon, with his powders and his charm to send
the Goddess of Pity to sleep. So now go to your mother, go at once, do
not wait, or, if your mother is out anywhere, you must only wait till
she comes home again.



CHAPTER IV

The Red Bird of Paradise


Then there is another very beautiful Bird of Paradise which is called
the Red Bird of Paradise. It is no use trying to find out whether he
or the one I have just been telling you about is the most beautiful,
because if somebody were to think that one were, somebody else would
be sure to have a different opinion. But now I will tell you what this
Red Bird of Paradise is like, and then you will know how beautiful to
think him. You know those lovely plumes that I told you about, that
the Great Bird of Paradise has growing from both his sides, under the
wings, and how he lifts up his wings and shoots them right up into the
air, so that they fall all over him, like two most beautiful fountains
that meet in the air and mingle their waters together. Now the Red
Bird of Paradise has those plumes--those feather-fountains--too, and
he can shoot them up into the air and let them fall all over him,
and look out from amongst them as they bend and wave, and think "How
lovely I am!" just the same as the Great Bird of Paradise can. They
are not so long, it is true, but then they are very thick, and of a
most glorious crimson colour--such a colour as you see, sometimes, in
the western sky, when the sun is flushing it, just before he sinks
down for the night. People talk about a sky like that and call it a
glorious sunset when they see it in Switzerland. One can see it here,
too, if one likes, but it is not usual to talk about it or even to look
at it, unless one is in Switzerland (your mother will tell you the
reason of this). Fancy a bird that looks out of a crimson sunset of
feathers--crimson, but with beautiful white tips to them! Crimson and
white, that is almost more splendid than orange-gold and mauvy-brown;
unless you like orange-gold and mauvy-brown better--it is all a matter
of taste.

But there is another thing that the Red Bird of Paradise has, which the
Great Bird of Paradise has not got at all. He has two little crests
of feathers--beautiful metallic green feathers--on his forehead. Just
fancy! Not one crest, merely, but two. One talks about a feather in
one's cap (which, of course, a _bird_ may have without its being
wrong); but what is a feather in one's cap compared to two crests of
feathers on one's forehead? And such crests! And, besides his crimson
sunset plumes with their white tips and the two little lovely green
crests on his forehead, this bird has two wonderful feathers in his
tail; they are not feathers at all, really, that is to say, the soft
part of them on each side of the quill, which we call the web, is gone,
and there is only the quill left, but it is such a funny sort of quill
that you would never think it was one. It is flat and smooth and shiny,
and quite a quarter of an inch wide. In fact it looks like a ribbon, a
beautiful, black, glossy ribbon, twenty-two inches (which is almost two
feet) long.

These two wonderful ribbons--I told you there were two--hang down in
graceful curves as the bird sits on the branch of a tree, first a curve
out and then in and then out again, just at the tips, so that the two
together make quite a pretty figure. Of course, when there is any wind
at all, they float gracefully about and look very pretty indeed, and
when the Red Bird of Paradise flies, his two wonderful ribbons float
in the air behind him, just as if he had been into a linen-draper's
shop and bought something, and flown out again with it, in his tail.
And yet, to make these two pretty ribbons--which are feathers, really,
though they do not look like them--the soft part of the feather, which
is usually the pretty part, has been taken away, and only the quill,
which is usually almost ugly by comparison, has been left. And yet
they are so handsome. That is because Dame Nature is such a wonderful
workwoman. She can make almost anything she tries to, out of any kind
of material.

Now, I must tell you that the Great Bird of Paradise has two funny
feathers like this in _his_ tail too--feathers, I mean, without webs to
them--only his ones have just a little web at the beginning and, again,
at the very tips; all the part in between has none at all. These funny
feathers of the Great Bird of Paradise are even longer than those of
the red one, for they are from twenty-four to thirty-four inches long,
and thirty-four inches, you know, is almost three feet. But then they
are thin, not broad like ribbons, and the plumes of the Great Bird of
Paradise are so long that they are a good deal hidden by them, and,
sometimes, hardly noticed amongst such a lot of finery. I think that
must be why, when I was describing the Great Bird of Paradise to you,
I forgot all about them, which, of course, I ought not to have done.
But we all of us make mistakes sometimes, people who write books just
as much as people who only read them, although, of course, people who
_write_ books _ought_ to be more careful.

In fact, a great many of the Birds of Paradise have these funny
feathers, and some of them have more than two. If you look for page
77 you will see a picture of the King Bird of Paradise, who has two
beauties. He is not one of the birds that I talk about in this
book--there was no room for him--but that does not matter. He sent
me his picture, and it will show you what these "funny feathers" are
like. There _is_ a Bird of Paradise that has twelve of them, but now
I must finish talking about the Red Bird of Paradise. I have told you
about the glorious crimson plumes that he has on his sides, and the
two funny feathers, like ribbons, in his tail, and the double crest of
beautiful emerald-green feathers on his forehead, but, of course, there
are other parts of him besides these, and I must tell you what they
are like too. His head and his back and his shoulders are yellow, as
they are in the Great Bird of Paradise, but it is a deeper and richer
yellow, not the light, straw-coloured yellow which _he_ has and which
is very pretty too (I am sure we should never agree as to which is the
prettier of these two birds). His throat, too, is of a deep metallic
green colour--you know what metallic means now--but those lovely
green feathers go farther up, in fact right over the front part of
the head--which is his forehead--so as to make those two sweet little
crests which he has, and which help to make him such a very handsome
bird. The rest of his wings and body, and his tail, except the two
ribbons in it, are brown--a nice, handsome, rich, coffee-brown--his
legs are blue, and his beak is a fine gamboge-yellow. Ah, _there_ is
a beautiful bird indeed! What would you say if you were to see a bird
that was yellow and green with crimson-sunset plumes, and with two long
glossy ribbons in his tail, and two beautiful crests on his forehead,
with blue legs and a gamboge bill, flying from tree to tree in your
garden?

Ah, yes, if you were to see him like that he would be more beautiful
than any bird that has ever been in your garden or that has ever flown
about in the woods or fields all over England--for he would be alive
then--alive and happy. But if you were to see him dead he would not be
so beautiful as any of the birds in your garden--no, not even as the
sparrows (which is saying a good deal), for the beauty of life would be
gone out of him, and that is the greatest beauty of all. And even if
he were in a cage--unless it were a _very_ large one with a great many
trees in it--he would hardly look as beautiful as a lark does when he
sails and sings in the sky.

So, however beautiful this bird is, you must only want to see him
flying about in the forests or gardens of his native land, if ever you
go there. If you do not go there, then you must not mind, but you must
try to imagine him, which is almost as good as seeing him, if you do it
properly. But you must never want to see him in a cage that is smaller
than a large garden with trees in it, or dead in a glass case or a
hat. It is better that beautiful birds should be alive and you not see
them, than that they should be killed or made miserable for you to look
at.

Now you may be sure that if the poor Great Bird of Paradise is killed
because he is so beautiful, so is the poor Red Bird of Paradise because
_he_ is. It is dreadful to _be_ sure of such a thing, and it is all
because of the wicked little demon, and the Goddess of Pity being
asleep. When the wicked little demon has been driven away, and the
Goddess of Pity has been woken up--and it is you who are going to wake
her--then you may be sure that no beautiful birds will be killed, and
that the more beautiful they are the less people will ever think of
killing them. But that time is not come yet. It will not come till you
have read this book right through and finished it.

Now you remember that the Great Bird of Paradise is shot with arrows
by a naked black man with frizzly hair like a mop--a man that we call
a savage, though, really, he is not nearly so savage as some men who
wear clothes all over them. You see, where he lives it is very warm, so
that he does not want clothes, and he looks very much better without
them, for his black, smooth skin is very handsome indeed, and so is
his frizzly hair. If you saw him you would think him a very nice,
amiable person, for he is always laughing and springing about, and his
white teeth do flash so and his eyes beam, and he looks very pleasant
indeed. I think you would quite like him, so you must not despise him
because he is not civilised like us; never despise people because they
have a different coloured skin to your own and wear no clothes and are
called savages. Perhaps we may be better than people like that, but
remember that the angels are much better compared to us, than we are,
compared to such people. But do you think the angels _despise_ us? Oh
no, you _could_ not think that, so _you_ must not despise the savages.
Never despise any one, that is the best thing. Instead of doing that,
try to find out what is good about them--there is sure to be something,
and, often, it is something which _they_ have and _we_ have not. _Never
despise._

Well, it is this same naked, frizzly-haired Papuan who kills the
beautiful Red Bird of Paradise as well as the Great one, but he does
not do it with bows and arrows, but in quite another way, which I will
tell you about.

The Birds of Paradise are all fond of fruit; they like insects and
things of that sort too, but fruit they are _very_ fond of. They like
a nice ripe fig, and there are so many fig-trees in that country, both
growing wild and in the gardens too, that when the figs are ripe they
do not trouble to finish one before they begin another, but fly about
from tree to tree, making a bite here and another there, out of just
the ripest and nicest. That is a nice, delicate way of eating figs, _I_
think, just to take a little and leave the rest. We are so greedy that
we always eat the whole fig, but then _we_ are not Birds of Paradise.

But now there is one particular fruit which the Red Bird of Paradise
likes better than any other, much better, even, than a ripe fig. It is
a fruit which I do not know the name of, in fact I am not quite sure
that it has a name, except in some language which we would neither of
us understand. But you know what an arum lily is, and in those forests
that I told you of there is a kind of arum lily which climbs up trees,
for there are climbing lilies there as well as climbing palm-trees.
This climbing arum lily has a red fruit, and it is this red fruit
which the Red Bird of Paradise thinks so exceedingly nice. It will go
anywhere to get that fruit, and the naked black man with frizzly hair
knows that it will; so he makes a trap for it with the very fruit that
it is so fond of.

But besides the fruit, two other things are necessary for making this
trap; one of them is a forked stick like the handle of a catapult, and
the other is some string. The Papuan soon cuts the stick, either with a
knife that he has bought of a white man, or with a sharp piece of stone
or flint, and the string he makes from some creeper, or by rolling the
inner bark of a tree between his hands. When he has done this he takes
the fruit and ties it to the forked stick, then he climbs up a tree
that he knows the Red Birds of Paradise come to perch on, and ties the
stick, with the fruit fastened to it, to one of the branches. To do
this he takes a very long piece of string, one end of which hangs right
down to the ground, and he ties it so cleverly that he has only to pull
the string for the stick, with the fruit on it, to come away from the
branch, just as a sash that is tied in a bow will come undone when you
pull one of the ends. Then the black Papuan climbs down from the tree,
again, and sits underneath it with the end of the long string in his
hand, all ready to pull it when the right time comes.

Sometimes it will not be long before a Red Bird of Paradise comes to
the tree, sometimes the Papuan will have to sit there the whole day or
even for two or three days, for he is very patient and will not go away
till he has done what he came to do. All savages are like that; they
are ever so much more patient than civilised people who wear clothes.
But whenever the poor Red Bird of Paradise does come, he is sure to see
the fruit, and then he is sure to fly to it, to eat it, and _then_ he
is sure to get caught in the string. For the string has a noose in it
which gets round his legs, and the frizzly-haired man underneath, who
is watching the Bird of Paradise all the time, just pulls the cord,
and down he comes as well as the stick. You see he cannot fly very well
with the stick fastened to him, and, however much he tries to, it is no
use, for the black man has only to keep pulling the string.

That is how the poor Red Bird of Paradise is caught, and as soon as
he has caught him the black frizzly-haired man kills him and skins
him--I need hardly tell you that he does that, for you know in whose
service he is. Then the black man takes the skin to a yellow man, who
buys it of him and cheats him a little, and the yellow man takes it
to a white man who buys it of _him_ and cheats _him_ more, and it all
happens just the same as it did with the Great Bird of Paradise, until
the skin is lying on the floor of the warehouse, with all those other
beautiful skins of poor beautiful birds--all killed to be put into the
hats of women whose hearts the wicked little demon has frozen. Is it
not shocking? But you know how to stop it. You have only to make your
mother promise--yes, _promise_--_never_ to wear a hat that has the
skin or any of the feathers of a Red Bird of Paradise in it. Make her
promise this before reading the next chapter.



CHAPTER V

The Lesser, Black, Blue, and Golden Birds of Paradise


Now I have told you about two very beautiful Birds of Paradise, and
in this chapter I shall tell you about some others; at least I shall
try to tell you what they are like, because not so very much is known
about their habits, what they do, or how they live. That is because
they live in such wild parts of the world, in such deep, dense forests,
and on such high, steep hills. Not many travellers have been into
these out-of-the-way places, and those that have gone there, instead
of trying to watch them and find out all about them--which would have
been so interesting--have shot at them with their guns whenever they
have seen them, and have either killed them or driven them away. It is
not by killing birds or by driving them away that you can find out much
about their habits.

It would be much better if these travellers were to take a good pair of
glasses and were to sit down in the forests or on the hills and watch
the birds through the glasses whenever they saw them; for with a good
pair of glasses one can watch birds even when they do not come very
near to one. Then we should know something about them, and the more we
know about a bird or any other living creature the more interesting it
becomes for us. One cannot be _very_ interested in something that one
knows nothing about, but as one begins to know even a little about it,
it begins to get interesting directly. But then, why is it that the
travellers who go out to these countries take guns with them instead
of glasses, and shoot the birds--as well as other animals--instead of
watching them? That is a question which I cannot answer. All I can tell
you is that it is as I say, and I am afraid the wicked little demon has
something to do with it. But now we must get on, and first we come to
the Lesser Bird of Paradise.

The Lesser Bird of Paradise is something like the Great Bird of
Paradise, only it is not quite so handsome and not nearly so
big--which, of course, is what you would expect from its name. Where
the Great Bird of Paradise is brown the lesser one is brown too, but
it is a lighter brown, not such a nice, rich, coffee-coloured one as
the other, and, on the breast, this brown colour does not change into
a blackish-violet or a browny-purple as you know it does in the
Great Bird of Paradise--it is brown there just the same. On the back,
though, the Lesser Bird of Paradise is all yellow, so that here, if you
remember, it has the advantage; but then the long plumes on each side
under the wings are not _so_ long as in the Great Bird of Paradise,
and they have only just a tinge of orange in them, instead of being of
the beautiful golden-orange colour that _his_ ones are. The tips of
them, too, are white instead of mauvy-brown, and the two funny feathers
in the tail are much shorter than the Great Bird of Paradise's funny
feathers.

[Illustration: THE LESSER BIRD OF PARADISE]

But although the Lesser Bird of Paradise is not such a beautiful bird
as the Great Bird of Paradise is, still it is a very beautiful bird
indeed--what Bird of Paradise is not?--and as it is commoner than the
other Birds of Paradise and easier to get, it is the one that is most
often killed and put into the hats that the women with the frozen
hearts wear; which is why I want you to jump up and throw your arms
round your mother's neck and make her promise never, never to wear a
hat that has a Lesser Bird of Paradise in it.

And now, what would you say to a Black Bird of Paradise? For there is
one--yes, and such a splendid bird. "Oh, but," you will say, "if he
is black he cannot be so _very_ beautiful, for he cannot be of all
sorts of beautiful colours like the other ones." But have you not heard
of a black diamond? That is black, but _in_ its blackness all sorts
of wonderful colours are lying asleep, and sometimes they wake up and
flash out of it, as the sun's rays do out of a dark, stormy cloud, and
then they go back into it again and are lost, as the sun's rays are
lost when the sun goes in. Yes, they are asleep, those colours, and
whilst they are asleep the diamond is really black, but when they wake
up and begin to gleam and flash, and sparkle, and shoot about, then it
is not a _black_ diamond any more, although we may call it so.

And there may be a dark, deep cavern, so dark and so deep that you
would be quite afraid to go into it, especially at night. But some
gipsies, who were not afraid, have gone into it and have lighted a
fire, and the flames leap up and glimmer through the smoke, and then
sink for a moment and shoot up again, and fall on the sides and roof
of the cavern, and make a deep glow in its mouth, and flicker on the
leaves of the trees outside, and send out long tongues of flame that
make a red light in the air and lick the darkness off everything that
they touch. That cavern _was_ dark and black before the fire was
lighted in it, and when the fire goes out it will be dark and black
again, but it is not dark and black just now, whilst the red fire is
burning.

Or it may be a dark night, very dark and stormy, so dark that it is
difficult for people who are out in it to find their way, whilst people
who only look out of the window, say that it is a pitch-dark night. But
now the rain is beginning to fall, and it comes down faster and faster,
and there is a muttering in the dull sky, and, all at once, a flash of
lightning leaps out of the darkness, cutting it as though with a red,
jagged knife, and for an instant it is day, and you see the leaves on
the trees, and the rain-drops falling through the air, and the fields
with haystacks standing in them, or rivers winding through them, and
the distant hills, and the line where the earth meets the heavens.
Then, all in a moment--almost before you can say "Oh," and quite before
the great clap of thunder that follows the lightning-flash--it is
night--deep, dark, black night--again. The night in which there is a
storm like that is a dark night, but it is not dark when the lightning
is leaping and flashing.

It is the same with this Black Bird of Paradise. At first when you
look at him, all his plumage is of a deep, dark, velvety black, a
lovely black, a beautiful, smooth, glossy black, a black that seems
almost to gleam and to sparkle as if it were jewellery--black velvet
jewellery you may call it, very handsome, very beautiful indeed. Still
it is black, but all at once all the colours that have lain asleep in
it--blues and greens, and bluey-greens and greeny-blues, and purples
and indigos, and wonderful bronzy reflections--wake up together,
and flash out of it like the sparkles out of the diamond, like the
tongues of fire out of the black cavern, like the lightning out of the
dark night. There they all are, flashing and leaping about, meeting
and mingling, then shooting apart, playing little games with each
other, till all at once they fall asleep again, and there is only the
smooth, glossy black, the deep, jetty black, the shining, gleaming,
satiny-velvety black, the black velvet, black satin jewellery. That
is what a Black Bird of Paradise is like, like a black diamond, like
a cavern with a fire lighted in it, like a dark night with flashes of
lightning.

But now I will tell you a little more about his appearance, for this
that I have told you is only just to give you an idea of how that
wonderful material, from which Dame Nature with her scissors cuts out
all her children (for all things that are alive are the children of
Dame Nature), can be black, and yet have all sorts of colours in it at
the same time.

First, you must know--so as not to make any mistake--that this "Black
Bird of Paradise" has another name--indeed he has two other names, but
one of them is in Latin, so we won't bother about that. There are some
birds that have no English names, and when we come to them we will
have to call them by their Latin ones--but as long as a bird has an
English name we will never trouble our heads about what its Latin name
may be, not we, any more than the bird itself does, and no bird that
has an English name ever thinks about what its name is in Latin--in
fact I really do not believe that it knows. An English name is enough
for _any_ bird, if only it is so _fortunate_ as to have one. Now this
bird is so fortunate as to have two English names--the Black Bird of
Paradise, that you know about--which is what the English people who
live in its own country call it--and the Superb Bird of Paradise,
which is what naturalists at home in England call it. The _Superb_
Bird of Paradise! Just fancy having a name like that! Supposing a
gentleman--some friend of your father and mother, who calls sometimes
at the house--were to be called the superb Mr. Jones or the superb Mr.
Robinson! Only he would have to be very much more handsome than he is
at all likely to be, before he would deserve a name like _that_.

Well, the two most wonderful things about the Superb or Black Bird of
Paradise--after his marvellous black plumage, that has all sorts of
colours lying asleep in it--are two wonderful ornaments that he has,
one on his head and one on his breast. The one on his head is the most
wonderful. It is a sort of crest--at least I think that is the best
name for it. Some people, I know, call it a shield, but then that is
what they call the other wonderful thing on the breast too; so, if they
call that a shield, I think they should call this a helmet, for it is
a helmet, and not a shield, that soldiers wear on the head. _I_ shall
call it a crest, but it is one of the most extraordinary crests that
any bird ever had. It is like a pair of black velvet lappets, so long
that they go all down the back and reach half-an-inch beyond the tips
of the wings. But at the back of the head, where this crest begins,
the two lappets meet, and they are joined together for a little way
before they begin to go apart. I tell you what will give you an idea
of the shape of this crest. Have you ever seen a pair of trousers
that have been washed, and are hanging out on a clothes-line to dry,
with the legs very wide apart, so wide they look as if they had been
stretched?--I don't know if they really have. Of course you have seen
such a thing. Well, that will give you an idea--mind, that is _all_
I can say--of what this wonderful crest that is worn by the Black
Bird of Paradise is like. The legs of the trousers are the two lappets,
from where they are divided from each other, and, farther up, they
join and become all one, just as the legs of a pair of trousers _do_.
Only, of course, I need hardly tell you that a crest of beautiful,
black, velvety feathers, glossed with bronze and purple, has a far more
_elegant_ appearance than a pair of trousers hanging out to dry, though
it may have just a _little_ the same shape.

[Illustration: KING BIRD OF PARADISE]

Now I think you will agree with me that this crest is a wonderful
thing, even when it is only lying down along the neck and body of the
bird. But what would you say when you saw the Black Bird of Paradise
lift it right up above its head?--which is what he does, you may be
sure, when he wants to show off before the hen bird, who has no crest
on _her_ head nor shield on her breast, and whose black feathers, I
am afraid, are not nearly so glossy and velvety, and have no colours
lying asleep in them and ready to wake up all of a sudden. Ah, you
would think the Black Bird of Paradise a wonderful, wonderful bird
if you were to see him bowing politely to his hen and lifting up his
wonderful, wonderful crest to her.

But I told you this bird had a shield too, and when he lifts up his
crest over his head, he shoots out his shield in front of his breast,
at the same time, and this shield is something of the same shape as
the crest or helmet, only smaller, and always of a lovely bluey-green
colour, with a glossy sheen upon it that is just like that upon satin.
Yes, _always_, for the colours that go to sleep in the other parts of
the Black Bird of Paradise's plumage, keep wide awake in the shield on
its breast, or, if you ever do catch them napping, it is only just for
a single instant, and then out they flash again, wider awake than ever.
So now, if you were to say--as I am sure you would say--that the Black
Bird of Paradise was a wonderful, wonderful bird, even if you were to
see him with only his crest lifted up, what, ah, _what_ would you say
if you were to see him with his crest lifted up and his shield shot out
at the same time? Why, I think that then you could not say less than
that he was a wonderful, wonderful, _wonderful_ bird--three wonderfuls
instead of only two. And indeed you would be right.

Yes, he is a wonder, is the Black Bird of Paradise, though I must
tell you that he has not any of those long, silky feathers that hang
down like cascades and shoot up like fountains, from the sides of
those other Birds of Paradise I have been telling you about. And he
has no long "funny feathers" in his tail either. You see he cannot
have everything, and his crest and shield are instead of those. They
are not quite so beautiful, perhaps, but I think they are still more
wonderful. Even when his crest--his helmet--is laid down and his shield
is not stuck out, the Black Bird of Paradise is a wonder, but when he
raises the one up and shoots the other out, both at the same time,
and says to the hen, "Look at me!" and all the colours that have been
asleep in the helmet, or awake in the shield, gleam and flash and
sparkle together, ah, _then_ he is a wonder of wonders.

Then, do you think he is a bird that ought to be killed and killed
and killed, only to have those beautiful, bronzy-black crests, and
satiny-green, gleaming shields of his set in hats where they soon get
dull and dusty, and where he can never raise them up or shoot them out
or pay proper attention to them--because he is dead, dead, dead? Is
he to be killed and killed till he is gone for ever, and there is not
one more beautiful Black Bird of Paradise in the whole world? Oh no,
no, no; it ought not to be so--it must not, it _shall_ not--because
you will prevent it--yes, you. You will turn to your mother now, this
minute, if she is there, if she is reading this to you, or, if not, you
will run to her--oh, so quickly, so quickly--and ask her, beg her--keep
on asking and asking, begging and begging her to promise--till she
_has_ promised--never, _never_ to buy a hat that has a beautiful Black
Bird of Paradise in it.

Now, as I have said that the Black Bird of Paradise is such a
very wonderful bird--as I have even called him a "wonder of
wonders"--perhaps you will think that there is no other Bird of
Paradise quite so wonderful as he is. Well, I do not wonder at your
thinking so; and, do you know, whilst I was describing him to you and
telling you how wonderful he was, I thought so too. But I had forgotten
the Blue Bird of Paradise.

The Blue Bird of Paradise is quite as wonderful as the Black one.
Perhaps--but mind I only say perhaps--he is even a little more
wonderful. To begin with, blue is a very uncommon colour for a Bird
of Paradise to be of. None of the Birds of Paradise that I have told
you about have feathers that are really blue. There are blue lights, I
know, in some of their feathers, especially on the head, but still they
are not quite blue. You could hardly call them blue feathers, for there
is a green light or a purple light as well as a blue light in them,
which makes them bluey-green or greeny purple, or, at any rate, green
or purple _and_ blue, not just blue by itself. And then, as you know,
sometimes all those lights go to sleep and then the feathers are black.
I do not think there is any Bird of Paradise except the Blue Bird of
Paradise whose feathers are really and truly blue, and I am quite sure
that there is no other one--at least that we know of--which has so much
blue about it, that you would think of it as a blue bird, or that has
blue feather-fountains--those wonderful long silky plumes that grow out
of each side under the wings.

That is what is most wonderful in the Blue Bird of Paradise. There is
no other Bird of Paradise that can sit under a blue fountain or look
out of a blue sunset. But the plumes of the Blue Bird of Paradise are
not so long as those of the Great or the Lesser Bird of Paradise, and
when he spreads them out they go more on each side of him than up over
his head, and, for this reason, I think, he looks more as if he was
looking out of a sunset than sitting under a fountain. You have seen
a beautiful sunset often; there will be blue in it somewhere, cool,
lovely lakes or bays, or long, stretching inlets, of the loveliest,
purest, most delicate blue. But the clouds that float in those bays
and lakes like islands, or that shut them in and make their shores,
like great burning continents, are not blue, but rosy red or fiery
crimson or molten gold or golden-crimson flame. That, at least, is what
the brightest ones are like, those that are gathered nearest round
the sun. Now, if they could keep all their brightness and glowingness
and be blue instead of rose or crimson or gold, then it would be a
blue sunset; and that is what the sunset is like that the Blue Bird
of Paradise looks out of, when he spreads out his plumes, just as the
sunset that the Red Bird of Paradise looks out of, when _he_ spreads
out _his_ plumes, is like a red sunset--only of feathers, of course.
One is a blue feather-sunset, and the other a red feather-sunset.

And how soft those feathers are, those wonderful, blue sunset-feathers
of the wonderful Blue Bird of Paradise. Oh, I cannot tell you how
softly they droop down over his breast, or how softly--how _very_
softly--each feather touches the other one, upon it. How softly, I
wonder--for I know you will want me to say. As softly as a snowflake
falls upon snow? Oh, more softly than that. As softly as two gossamers
are blown together in the air? Still more softly, even. As softly,
then, as your mother kisses you when you are asleep, and she does not
wish to wake you? Yes, I think it is as softly, or almost as softly, as
that. Those are two of the very softest kisses--when your mother kisses
you when you are asleep, so as not to wake you, and when the soft blue
feathers of the plumes on each side of a Blue Bird of Paradise, meet
and kiss each other on its breast.

Now that is all I am going to tell you about the front part of the
Blue Bird of Paradise--for those wonderful blue feathers that grow on
each side become the front part of him when he spreads them out. You
see, they open out like two fans, with the handles turned towards each
other, and meet together on the breast and above the head, so as to
make one large fan or screen. Of course there is something behind this
screen, and through it peeps the head of the bird, which is very pretty
too. But you don't look at his head, you don't seem to see it. All
you see or look at are those beautiful, beautiful plumes, that lovely
screen, that wonderful soft blue feather-sunset.

As for the back part of this wonderful Blue Bird of Paradise, well,
that is blue too, most of it--a handsome blue, a lovely blue, a
gleaming, shining, glossy, satiny blue that looks darker when you see
it from one side, and lighter when you see it from another, and which
gleams and glints and is very resplendent (which is a word your mother
will explain to you) however you look at it. Oh, a glorious blue, a
magnificent blue, but not _such_ a blue as the blue of those soft
lovely feathers that spread out on each side and curl over and meet and
kiss each other so softly, on the breast. And the head and neck of the
Blue Bird of Paradise (for sometimes he puts them behind the screen,
and then they are the back part of him) are of a soft velvet brown
that, as you look at it, becomes a soft velvet-claret-magenta colour
(which your mother knows all about and will explain to you), and in his
tail there are two long "funny feathers" that hang down from the bough
he is sitting on, and--and _now_ you must try to imagine him. _When_
you have imagined him--or before you have, if you are not able to--you
must make your mother promise--now what? You know, of course. You must
make her promise _never_ to wear a hat with a Blue Bird of Paradise's
feathers in it.

Now we come to the Golden or Six-shafted Bird of Paradise, who lives
just in one part of New Guinea--that long part at the north that goes
out into the sea, and which we call a peninsula; you have only to
look at the map and you will see it. Now I think of it, the Superb
or Black Bird of Paradise--or shall we say the Superb Black Bird of
Paradise?--lives there too, so I daresay they sometimes see each other.
Perhaps they call on each other, for, you see, they are both of them
distinguished. One is superb and the other golden, and when two people
are like that they do not mind calling upon one another. You see,
neither of them can be hurt by it then. A _superb_ person may call
upon even a _golden_ person, and yet feel quite well after it, and it
will not do a _golden_ person any harm at all to call upon a _superb_
person. So, if birds are like people, I feel sure that sometimes the
Golden and the Superb Bird of Paradise call upon each other.

Now you will want to know why this Bird of Paradise is called both the
Golden and the Six-shafted Bird of Paradise. Well, he is called the
Golden Bird of Paradise because he has lovely golden feathers on his
throat and breast, and he is called the Six-shafted Bird of Paradise
because six little arrows--for that is what they look like--seem to
have been shot into his head, three on each side--arrows, you know, are
sometimes called shafts. These little shafts or arrows are six inches
long--almost as long as the bird itself--and bend right back over
his body, as far as to the tail. Of course each of them is really a
feather--an arrow that is all feather--but it is a "funny feather" with
only the quill, which is very thin and slender, till quite the end,
where there is just a little oval piece of the soft web--the part that
looks really like a feather--left upon it. That is what makes them look
like arrows. But is it not curious that the "funny feathers" of _this_
Bird of Paradise are in his head instead of in his tail? I think it
must be because Dame Nature wanted to make him a little different.

Of course you will see at once that six feathers like that--to say
nothing of his wonderful golden breast--make the Six-shafted (or
Golden) Bird of Paradise quite as remarkable as the Black or the Blue,
or any of the other, Birds of Paradise. Whether it makes him _more_
remarkable, that I really can't say. _You_ must make up your mind about
that. The fact is, _all_ the Birds of Paradise are remarkable. I am
sure if they were all together in one place, and you were to say out
loud that any one of them was the _most_ remarkable, all the other ones
would be very much offended.

But now, besides his six little shafts or arrows and the beautiful
golden feathers on his throat and breast--they are very large, I must
tell you, those feathers, and sometimes they look green and blue
as well as golden--this Bird of Paradise has two immense tufts of
beautiful, soft, silky feathers on each side of the breast. So large
each tuft is, that when he lifts them both up--as of course he can
do--they almost hide him altogether. Then on the back of his head he
has a band of feathers, so wonderfully bright that they do not seem
to be feathers at all. They look more like jewels--yes, jewels. It is
as if some magician had taken the sheen and shining light out of the
emerald and topaz, and put them on that bird's head, and told them
to stay there. Then on his forehead, just above the beak--as if all
this were not enough--there is a patch, quite a large patch, of pure
white feathers that shine like satin. Really I think you might
almost say that this Bird of Paradise was _the_ most wonderful of all
the Birds of Paradise. But take care, do not say it out loud or you
will offend _all_ the others. Only I forgot, they are not here. Well,
then, you _may_ say it out loud, if you really think so. I do wish I
could have got this bird's picture, but as he would not give it me, you
must look at the picture of the Golden-winged Bird of Paradise instead.
_He_ is a very handsome bird, too--very much brighter than he looks.

[Illustration: GOLDEN-WINGED BIRD OF PARADISE]

Well, this makes the sixth Bird of Paradise which I have been able
to tell you something about--I mean about their appearance, for very
little else is known about them. But, do you know, there are some forty
or fifty different kinds, and, of course, if I were to describe them
all, or anything like all (which, however, I should not be able to do),
this little book would become quite a big book, and there would be no
room in it for any other kinds of beautiful birds. So I won't describe
any more Birds of Paradise, but I will just say something, before
getting on to the other beautiful birds, about Birds of Paradise and
beautiful birds in general. That means about most Birds of Paradise and
most other beautiful birds. When we talk about things in general, or
people in general, we mean most things or most people. But that must be
in another chapter, for this one has been quite long enough, and so
we must end it. Oh, but wait a minute. Really, I was quite forgetting.
First you must get your mother to promise never to buy a hat in which
there are any feathers belonging to the Golden or Six-shafted Bird of
Paradise. Yes, and never to wear it either, even if she did not buy it,
but had it given to her. Of course your father might give your mother a
hat, but if he were to give her one of that sort, he would have to take
it back to the shop and change it for another.



CHAPTER VI

About all Birds of Paradise, and Some Explanations


As I have told you, there are some forty or fifty different kinds of
Birds of Paradise, and they are all of them as beautiful, or nearly as
beautiful, as those that I have described, each one in its own special
way. Of course you must know yourself, or your mother will tell you,
that all this wonderful beauty has not been given to these birds for
nothing, and I have told you that the male Birds of Paradise, who alone
have it, show it off to the poor hen birds, whose plumage is quite
sober in comparison--though you must not think that _they_ are not
pretty birds too--because they are pretty, though in a quieter style.
So they are not _really_ "poor" hen birds, that is only just a way of
speaking. They are happy enough, you may be sure, for they have their
husbands' fine clothes to look at. But what is so interesting, is that
each of these different kinds of Birds of Paradise has some different
way of arranging and showing off his fine clothes--for, of course, a
bird's feathers are his clothes just as much as our coats and dresses
are ours. And, besides that, each one of them puts himself into some
peculiar attitude, which he thinks is the best one to let his plumage
be seen as he would like it to be. We may be quite sure of this,
because it is what all birds do that have beautiful plumage; and many
of them have regular places that they come to, to run or jump about in,
just as soldiers come into a park or common to march about in it, and
show off their nice pretty uniforms. There will always be a great many
hen birds round these places, to look at the beautiful males, and there
are always a great many ladies round the park or common, to look at the
beautiful soldiers.

Now, would it not be interesting if we knew what all these different
Birds of Paradise did, and how they arranged their plumage, and what
attitudes they went into, and whether they ran or jumped or flew or
did all three, and all the rest of it? If only there was somebody who
knew all that, I think he could write a very interesting book, and if
only some one would go out into those countries, with a pair of glasses
(or even a pair of eyes) instead of with a gun, and whenever he saw a
Bird of Paradise would just look at it through the glasses (or with
his own eyes, if it was near enough) instead of shooting it, I think
_he_ might write an interesting book. I am sure _I_ should find it
interesting, and I _think_ you would too. Depend upon it, if any one
could tell people what a Bird of Paradise did, he would interest them
very much more than by telling them how he shot it. That is not at
all interesting, how he shot it. Do you think it would be so _very_
interesting for people to know how you broke a very handsome ornament
in your mother's drawing-room? Why, I don't think it would interest
even your mother--much; but she would be very sorry you broke it. And
that is just how _I_ feel (and I think some other people do too) when
a person tells me how he shot a Bird of Paradise. Things of that kind
interest the little demon. If they interest any one else, I am afraid
it is only _because_ of that little demon, because of his wicked
powders and his having sent the Goddess of Pity to sleep.

But I am sorry to say that there is hardly anybody who knows anything
about all these Birds of Paradise, anything about their habits and how
they live and how they dance and the way they arrange their wonderful
plumage, so as to make it look as beautiful as possible. Perhaps there
are a few people who know just a little--a _very_ little--about some
of the more common kinds, but as for all the rest, if any one knows
anything about them, it must be those black or yellow people that we
call savages, who live in the same countries that they live in. That
is because, when a traveller from Europe goes out to those countries he
always takes a gun--not glasses (or if he does take a pair of glasses
he does not use them, or his eyes either, in the right way), and when
he sees one of these rare Birds of Paradise, he shoots it, or else
frightens it away, as I told you. Then, when he comes back, he writes
his book and tells you how he shot it, or tried to shoot it, and then
he says: "Unfortunately, nothing whatever is known of the habits of
this species." It is not very wonderful that _he_ knows nothing of
them, is it? And yet this traveller, with his gun, almost always calls
himself a _naturalist_. Now a _real_ naturalist is a person who loves
nature. But is not that a funny way to love her--to shoot her children?
Depend upon it, that one of those little bottles that the demon keeps
his powders in, is labelled "Natural History" or "Love of Nature." You
know that _his_ bottles have generally a false label on them.

So, I am afraid I cannot tell you much about what the Birds of Paradise
do, or how they show off their beautiful feathers. Indeed, it is very
much the same with most other beautiful birds, and for the very same
reason that I have been telling you, because people _will_ shoot,
instead of looking and watching. Just the little that we know about
the Great Bird of Paradise, how he has a special tree that he comes
to, to have those dances that the natives call "Sácalelis," and how he
flies about with his plumes waving, or sits underneath them as if he
were in the spray of a falling fountain, that I have told you; but,
besides this, I can only tell you just a very little about a Bird
of Paradise that I have not said anything about, because, you know,
there are so many of them. The little I can tell you is this. Two
gentlemen--one of them a Mr. Chalmers and the other a Mr. Wyatt--were
once travelling in the part of New Guinea where this Bird of Paradise
lives, and one morning, when they were up early, they saw four of the
cock birds and two of the hens, in a tree close by them. This is what
one of these gentlemen says about them (if there is any word too long
for you, or that you don't understand, you must ask your mother to
explain it):--

"The two hens were sitting quietly on a branch, and the four cocks,
dressed in their very best, their ruffs of green and yellow standing
out, giving them a handsome appearance about the head and neck" (yes,
I feel sure of that), "their long flowing plumes so arranged that
every feather seemed combed out, and the long wires" (he means the
"funny feathers") "stretched well out behind, were dancing in a circle
round them." (Just fancy!) "It was an interesting sight." (I should
_think_ so!) "First one and then another would advance a little nearer
to a hen, and she, coquette-like" (you will have to ask your mother
what _that_ means), "would retire a little, pretending not to care
for any advances. A shot was fired, contrary to our expressed wish,
there was a strange commotion, and two of the cocks flew away" (you
see what shooting does), "but the others and the hens remained. Soon
the two returned, and again the dance began, and continued long. As we
had strictly forbidden any more shooting, all fear was gone; and so,
after a rest, the males came a little nearer to the dark brown hens.
Quarrelling ensued, and in the end all six birds flew away."

Fancy seeing all that! I think it is wonderful that any of the birds
stayed after the shot had been fired, and if another one had been,
no doubt they would all have gone. Those travellers, you see, were a
little better than most travellers are. They did not kill the birds
(perhaps _they_ were _not_ naturalists), and the consequence is they
have had something interesting to tell us about them. Still, I think
if I had been there I should have had a _little_ more to say, and
instead of just saying that the cock birds were dancing, I should have
described _how_ they were dancing, and what sort of attitudes they
put themselves into. And I think I would have waited at that place,
and gone to those trees again very early next morning, all by myself,
to see if those birds came back to dance there. Still, what these
travellers do tell us is very interesting, very much more interesting
than if they had only written, "Here we shot," or "Here we obtained
another specimen of Paradisea Something-elsea"--which, of course, would
be the Latin name. Naturalists like to tell us the Latin name of the
animals they shoot. If they only had an English name I don't think they
would care nearly so much to shoot them. How sorry we ought to be that
animals have Latin names!

But, now, how is it that it is only the cock bird--the male--of all
these Birds of Paradise who is so beautiful, whilst the poor hen--the
female bird--is quite plain, in comparison? Well, I must tell you,
first, that this is not only the case with Birds of Paradise, but
that it is just the same with other birds as well. In most, if not
all, of the beautiful birds I am going to tell you about, it is the
male bird that is so _very_ beautiful, so that perhaps you will begin
to think that this is the case with _all_ beautiful birds, and that
there is no hen bird that has _very_ splendid or brilliant plumage.
But this is not so at all. You would make a great mistake if you were
to think that. In most of the parrots--those brightly-coloured birds
that you know so well--the male and female are alike, and if you
were to see a kingfisher--the star-bird that I told you about in the
first chapter--gleaming and glancing up a river, you would not know
whether it was the one or the other. The feathers of the female scarlet
flamingo are almost--if not quite--as scarlet as those of the male; the
cock robin's breast is not more red than the breast of the hen robin,
at least you would find it difficult to tell the difference; male and
female pigeons--and some of them are very splendid--are as bright as
each other, and so it is with a very great number of other birds.

Now does not this seem funny, that some male birds should be so much
handsomer than their wives, whilst some _hen_ birds should be just
as handsome as their husbands? Is there any way of explaining this,
or, rather, do we know how to explain it? for there _is_ a way of
explaining everything--a right way, I mean, of course. The difficult
thing is to find it out. Well, there are some clever people who have
been thinking about this funny thing, and they try to explain it in
this way.

Of course, when the male Birds of Paradise (and it is the same with
other birds) show off their fine plumage to the hen birds, it is
because they want to marry them, which is just the same as with people;
for, you know, when a gentleman wishes to marry a lady he dresses as
nicely as he can, and sometimes he goes into attitudes as well. Now,
the hen Birds of Paradise--so these clever people say--always choose
for their husbands the birds that have the finest feathers, and the
other ones, whose feathers are not so fine, have to look about for
another wife. Of course, after the Birds of Paradise have married, they
make a nest, and very soon there are eggs in it, and then the eggs are
chipped and little Birds of Paradise come out of them. Some of these
little Birds of Paradise will be males and some females, and the male
ones will grow up with feathers like the cock birds, and the females
with feathers like the hen--just as with us, the boys sometimes grow up
like the father, and the girls sometimes grow up like the mother--only
with Birds of Paradise it is always so. But now, amongst these young
Birds of Paradise, though all will be beautiful, some will be more
beautiful than the others, more beautiful even than their father,
perhaps, and you may be sure that those will be the ones who will
find it most easy to marry, and who will have the greater number of
children. Some of those children will be more beautiful than _their_
fathers, and then _they_ will marry and have children that are still
more beautiful than themselves, and so it will always be going on.
The young male Birds of Paradise will always have feathers like their
fathers, and gradually they will get more and more beautiful, because
their wives will always choose them for their beauty. But the young
female Birds of Paradise will always be like their mothers, and will
not become more beautiful than they are, because hen Birds of Paradise
are not chosen for their beauty, but only for their good qualities.

Now, if this is true, it shows how sensible the Birds of Paradise must
be, for all _sensible_ persons would choose their wives for their good
qualities, and not just for their beauty. The worst of it is that there
are so many _persons_ who are not _quite_ sensible. Still, even with
us, there are a good many wives who must, I think, have been chosen,
like the hen Birds of Paradise, for their good qualities--which, of
course, is what they _ought_ to be chosen for.

That is how some people explain why the male Birds of Paradise, and
other beautiful male birds, are so much more beautiful than the
females. They say that they have gradually got more and more beautiful,
whilst the hens have remained plain, and that once upon a time there
was not so very much difference between them. And if you ask them
why the males and females of other birds are both as beautiful as
each other, they will tell you that the children of _those_ birds
were always like the father, so that, as the father birds became
beautiful--for they were chosen in the same way--all the little
daughter birds became beautiful too, as well as the little sons.

But I am afraid the people who explain it all in this way must have
forgotten how the Birds of Paradise, at any rate, used once to live
in Paradise, where, of course, they were all as beautiful as each
other, and though their plumage got spoilt when they came out of it
(beautiful though it seems to us) in the way I told you, yet it does
seem funny that the hens should have had it spoilt so much more than
the cock birds. But you know it was spoilt by the glory which streamed
out of the gates of Paradise, and which was so bright and burning that
it burnt off all the most beautiful parts of it, and scorched and
singed the rest. Now, of course, the nearer any bird was to the gate of
Paradise when it opened, the worse he would have got scorched, and so
if the cocks flew faster than the hens--and I am sure they did--they
would have got soonest away, and the hens would have suffered most.
_That_ explanation seems much more simple; but, you see, these _clever_
people do not believe about the Birds of Paradise having once lived
in Paradise. They have their own explanation of it all (which I have
just told you), and they like to believe in that. Then which of the
two are you to believe in? Well, I think the simpler one--which is
prettier as well--would be the best for you to believe in _now_, but
later on--when _you_ are a clever person--you can try the other. Now,
you know, you are only a little child, and something that is simple and
pretty is the right thing for a little child. But a clever person wants
a different kind of explanation to _that_. _He_ wants a clever one, and
as soon as you feel that _you_ have become a clever person, there will
be a clever explanation all ready for you.

But now, whilst you are still a little child, I can give you another
explanation of why the males and females of some birds are as beautiful
as each other, whilst the males of some other ones are ever so much the
most beautiful. This other explanation will do in case the one about
the cock Birds of Paradise flying faster than the hens is not the right
one, for, of course, we cannot be quite sure that they flew faster. I
did say I was sure, but that was just a little mistake of mine. One
is not _really_ sure of a thing until one knows it, and I don't quite
_know_ that it happened like that, however much I may think it did.
Besides, this new explanation that I am going to give you will do for
all other birds as well as for the Birds of Paradise, and, of course,
the more anything explains the better explanation it is. So now I will
give it you, and, if you like it better than the other, you can take it
instead, and if you only like it as well, then you will have two nice
explanations instead of only one. Here it is.

In the old days, a long, long time ago, the males and females of all
the birds were as beautiful as each other, and they were all in love
with each other. Only the question was which of them were the most in
love, and, as to that, they often had disputes. "We love you better
than you love us," said the male birds to the females; "you love us
only for our beauty, you do not love us for ourselves, as we love you."
"If you think so," said the female birds (the beautiful hens), "give us
your beauty, and you shall find that we love you just as well, without
it." But the male birds, who were quite content, _really_, to be loved
for their beauty, and who did not wish to part with it, made haste to
change the conversation. "But _you_ love _us_ for _our_ beauty," said
the hen birds (for they soon got round again to the same subject);
"it is not for ourselves that you love us, but only because we are
beautiful." "If that is your idea," said the male birds, "bestow your
beauty upon us, and you shall soon be undeceived." Then the female
birds, who only wished to be loved for themselves and not for what
they looked like, gave all their beauty to their beautiful husbands,
and remained without any. So now, of course, the male birds were twice
as beautiful as they had been before, whilst the poor hens were not
beautiful at all, and would even have been quite ugly if they had not
been birds, for a bird _cannot_ be ugly. And now it was found that,
whilst some of the male birds had loved their wives so much that they
went on loving them still, in spite of the change in their appearance,
others (and I am afraid they were the greater number) left off loving
them, as soon as they had left off being beautiful, and were not able
to love them again, although they tried ever so hard. You see, they
had only loved them for their beauty, not for themselves, so as soon
as there was no more beauty, there was no more love. So those male
birds who had loved for love only, and not because their wives were
beautiful, kept this beauty and added it to their own. Their wives did
not want it back again, for love was enough for them. But the ones
who had loved their wives, only because of their beauty, had to give
it them back, for otherwise they would not have been able to go on
loving them, and that would have been very awkward indeed. That is why,
in some birds, the males and females are as beautiful as each other,
whilst in others, the males are twice as beautiful as the females. As
I told you, this is an explanation which does as well for any other
bird as it does for the Birds of Paradise, and, if you like it, you can
believe in it till you have grown up from a simple little child into a
complicated clever person.

So now there are six Birds of Paradise that your mother has promised
not to wear in her hats, not in any hat that she buys or has given to
her, whether it has the whole skin of one in it, or only just a few
feathers, or even one. She will not buy such a hat, and she will not go
into a shop to ask the price of it. She will have nothing to do with it
whatever, because she has promised.

But now, do you not see that, as your dear mother has only promised
about six kinds of Birds of Paradise, and as there are some forty or
fifty kinds in the world, she might easily buy a hat that had some kind
of Bird of Paradise in it, without its being any of these six? How much
better it would be, then, if your dear, dear mother were to promise
never to wear a hat that had any kind of Bird of Paradise in it. And I
am sure she will, now that you have explained to her about the wicked
little demon, and how much more beautiful these Birds of Paradise are
when they are alive, and how happy they are, too, and how their wives
want them, to look at, and how there will be no more of them left,
soon, if people keep on killing them, just to put into hats. Just talk
to her about it a little, and then throw your arms round her neck and
say: "Oh mother, do _promise_ never to wear a hat that has the feathers
of _any_ Bird of Paradise in it." There! And now she has promised.
Well, you see how easy it is.



CHAPTER VII

About Humming-Birds, and Some More Explanations


Perhaps, when I was telling you about the Birds of Paradise and how
very, very beautiful they are, you thought they were the most beautiful
birds in the whole world. They are nearly, but not quite. There are the
Humming-birds--_they_ are even more beautiful. At least they are more
like jewels, and the Indians who live in the countries where they are
found call them "living sunbeams."

    "By western Indians living sunbeams named."

You can remember it by that line, which is from a poem by Mrs. Hemans,
a clever lady whom your mother will tell you about. For the Indians,
you know, live in America, that great country--so large that we call it
"the new world"--which Columbus discovered. They do not live in India,
as you might think. At least, when we talk of the Indians, it is the
ones that live in America and not India that we mean. The ones that
live in India we call Hindoos. It seems funny, but the reason of it is
that when Columbus discovered America, he thought it was India; for
it was India he had been trying to find, and he thought he had found
it. But it was America, not India, and it is only in America that the
beautiful Humming-birds live--birds that are so beautiful as they are
want a world to themselves to live in.

Now the birds that we have been talking about--the Birds of
Paradise--are not such very small birds. The largest of them is nearly
as large as a crow, and even the very smallest is not so much smaller
than a thrush or a starling. But the largest Humming-bird is not so
large as a sparrow or chaffinch, and the smaller ones are the very
smallest birds in the whole world, some of them being not so _very_
much larger than a large humble-bee, which is quite wonderful to think
of. Then they are wonderful fliers. The Birds of Paradise fly very
well--quite well enough--but still there is nothing extraordinary in
the way they fly. But the little Humming-birds dart about quite like
lightning, and move their wings so fast that, when you look at them,
they do not seem to be wings at all, but only two little hazy patches
in the air, with a bright jewel between them, which is the gleaming
breast of the Humming-bird. All the time their wings are moving so
quickly, they make a humming sound, just as a top does when it is
spinning very fast, which is why we call them Humming-birds, just as we
call tops that hum very much, humming-tops.

We have named the Humming-birds from the sound they make when they fly,
and the Indians from their bright radiance and the speed at which they
dart about. It is from flower to flower that they dart, and whilst you
are looking at one sunbeam that is dancing about one flower, all at
once there is a ray of light through the air, and another sunbeam is
dancing about another flower. That is what it looks like, only, really,
it is the same sunbeam that has flown from one flower to another.

Sometimes when you are walking in the garden in England and looking
at the geraniums in your flowerbeds, you will see a little brown moth
hovering over one of them, and putting a long, slender thread-like
thing that we call a proboscis (though we call an elephant's trunk a
proboscis too) right down into the centre of the flower. _His_ wings
move so fast that you can hardly see them, and in a second or two _he_
will dart away too, so quickly that you only know he is gone, and then,
all of a sudden, you will see him again, hovering over another geranium
and probing it with his wonderful, long, thin proboscis. It is a tube,
that proboscis, and through it, the moth is sucking up the nectar of
the flower, which is what it lives on. That moth is the humming-bird
hawk-moth, and, if you have seen it, you have seen what looks more like
a Humming-bird than anything else in England. It hovers over or under
or in front of a flower, as the Humming-birds do, it keeps moving its
wings in the same rapid way as they move theirs, and making the same
humming noise with them, and it puts a long, slender, little brown
thing, that looks _something_ like the beak of a Humming-bird, right
down into the flower, and sucks up the nectar that is in it, which is
just what a Humming-bird does. So if the humming-bird moth were bright
and gleaming, as Humming-birds--sunbeams--are, it would seem to be a
Humming-bird and not a moth at all. But you must not think that it
really would be one. Oh no, it never could be, because it is an insect,
and an insect is a very different thing to a bird.

The humming-bird moth and the Humming-bird look like each other because
they live in the same way and do the same things. They both fly, so
they both have wings; and they both sip nectar, so they both have a
long thing to stick into the flowers and suck it up with: so they look
like each other, but they are not a bit the same. A petticoat, you
know, looks a little like an upper skirt, for they both have to be worn
round the waist, which makes them the same kind of shape, and when the
skirt is part of a white dress then they are of the same colour. But
think how different they really are! Why, one is a petticoat and the
other is an upper skirt. So you must always remember that, though two
animals look the same, they may really be very different.

Now although the Humming-birds, or living sunbeams, are all of them
small birds, yet they are not all of the same size, and some are
quite big compared to others, just as a peacock butterfly is quite
big, compared to a tiny blue one, whilst even the tiny little blue
one may be big compared to some very small moths. Then, again, their
beaks are of all kinds of different shapes and lengths. Some are quite
straight, whilst others are bent like a sabre or even a sickle, and one
Humming-bird has his so very much bent indeed, that it looks like half
of a black ring or bracelet or something else that is quite round. As
for length, some are shorter than a quite short pin, whilst others are
longer than a very long darning-needle.

[Illustration: RACQUET-TAILED HUMMING-BIRD]

Of course there is a reason for the beaks of Humming-birds being so
different, and the reason is that they have to go into different
flowers, and must fit into them as a finger fits into a fingerstall or
a periwinkle into its shell. If the part of the flower that holds the
nectar is straight, then the beak of the Humming-bird that feeds on
the nectar of that flower must be straight too, but if it is curved,
then, of course, the beak must be curved, or else how could it be
pushed into it?

And if the nectary of any flower (for that is what the place that the
nectar is in is called) were shaped like a corkscrew, then the beak of
the Humming-bird that sucked out the nectar from _that_ flower would
have to be shaped like a corkscrew too. But there are no flowers shaped
like that, and so there are no Humming-birds with corkscrew beaks, like
the tail of a periwinkle. But there _is_ a flower that has its nectary,
or honey-tube, bent round into almost a half circle, and it is just
that one Humming-bird that has its beak bent in the same way, that sips
the nectar from that flower. No other one is able to do it, and there
is no other flower that that Humming-bird can sip the nectar from.

And there are more than 400 different kinds of Humming-birds, and
the beak of every one of them must fit into some flower or another,
and often into a great many more than one. Oh then, what a lot of
different kinds of flowers there must be, for all these beaks to fit
into! Ah, there are indeed, for it is in the great forests or plains
of America--the largest in the whole world--or on the slopes of the
great mountain ranges there--the highest in the world except the
Himalayas--that the Humming-birds live, and everywhere there are
wonderful trees and wonderful flowers. As for the trees, I have told
you what some of them are like in the forests of the Malay Archipelago,
and in the great forests of Brazil; I think they are still larger and
more wonderful. And as for the flowers that grow in those wonderful
forests or on the great plains or the slopes and sides of those great,
high mountains, how could I ever give you an idea of what they are
like, or how should I know where to begin, when there are so many? For
there are some that are like great scarlet trumpets on the outside of
their petals, but when you look inside them they are like the open
mouths of fierce dragons shooting out a lot of fiery-orange tongues,
all forked and cloven ever so many times over, each tongue looking
as if it were the tongues of twenty little hissing snakes, all tied
together in a bundle and ready to dart at you. And there are some that
are in bunches, and each bunch looks as if a lot of oxen had put their
heads against each other and begun to grow smaller and smaller and
smaller till their horns were no longer than honeysuckles, and then
had disappeared altogether, _except_ their horns, which had turned
pink and stayed there. Bunches of little pink ox-horns are what those
flowers look like. Then there are flowers that look as if they had
almost changed into very beautiful butterflies, and others that seem
to be very beautiful butterflies just changing into flowers. There are
flowers that are all the colours that there are, and others that have
tried all the colours that there are, and then found out new ones to be
of. And there are some, too, that are only white, but so lovely that
all the flowers of all the colours that there are, gaze at them and
envy them. Some are so soft and delicate that, although you see them,
you only seem to be dreaming of them. They make you think of heaven,
and it is as if angels were kissing you. Others are like golden stars,
with a stem that is like a long, long, very long piece of red string
that goes tying itself round and round a great many trees, and climbing
up and up them, and all the way up there are bright green leaves and
the beautiful golden stars. Other strings are golden or green, and
have pink or crimson stars upon them, and some of these hang down,
like glowing lamps from a soft, cool, emerald ceiling. Some flowers
are like little bunches of red counters that you play games with, and
there is one that is like a wonderful, scarlet, shining leaf, with a
thick little tail at the tip of it, twisted round in a coil. This tail
is orange with cream-white spots upon it, but just at its _own_ tip it
is scarlet again, like the rest of the leaf. Such a wonderful-looking
flower! There are creeping crimson nasturtiums that make the air
blush in spots, azaleas with scarlet that has swooned into pink, and
pink that has blushed into scarlet, and calceolarias that look like
yellow flower-bubbles that fairies have blown into the air and that
have come down, softly, upon delicate little stalks, and stayed there
without bursting. Not all of these wonderful flowers have a scent, for
scented flowers are commoner here in England than in far-off tropical
countries. But a few of them have, and _their_ scent is so exquisite
that you would think it was sent from heaven.

Some of the flowers have leaves that are even more beautiful than
themselves, and sometimes it is the leaves that you look at and not
the flowers at all. Some of these leaves seem to be made of velvet,
or something even softer and more velvety _than_ velvet, whilst the
colours in them are like the pattern of a very beautiful Turkey carpet.
Others look like wonderful spear-heads or the tops of very ornamental
park railings, green and red and orange, and all striped and spotted
and speckled like the skin of newts or lizards. There are some leaves
so large, too, that they would almost make a carpet for a _very_ small
room, and so handsome that you might go into all the haberdashers'
shops in the world without finding any carpet that would look nearly so
well. Some are still larger, and those are the leaves of palm-trees
that bend down from high in the air, at the end of long, bending
stalks that spring from the top of the small slender stem. They are of
such a soft, lovely green that it makes you cool even to look up at
them, and so graceful and delicate that you think of the fairies, but
so big and strong that a giant might lie upon them and go to sleep,
without breaking them or crushing them down. And there are wonderful
cactuses--so large that they are called trees--with trunks like great,
prickly, green caterpillars, and branches like smaller, prickly, green
caterpillars stuck on to them by the tail. But on these ugly branches
there are flowers like beautiful purple stars, whilst in the pools or
the rivers, water-lilies are floating that look like large, purple
flakes of snow. It is amongst flowers and leaves and trees like these
that the Humming-birds fly about. Those are the wonderful goblets out
of which they sip their nectar.

But now, about this sipping of nectar I have something to tell you, and
when I have told it you, you will know more than a good many people do,
who think they know something about Humming-birds and natural history.
Well, it is this: the Humming-birds do not live _only_ on the nectar
in the flowers, as most people think they do, but on the insects that
have been drowned in it, and which they suck up at the same time. You
see the insects--of course I mean little insects--flies or gnats, not
large moths and butterflies--get into the tubes of the flowers, to sip
the nectar themselves, and they often fall into it, and are not able to
get out again, but drown there; for to them it is like a little lake or
pond--a pond of nectar, and, of course, very nice, but still, for all
that, it drowns them. There is hardly any flower-cup that has not these
drowned insects in it, and when the Humming-birds drink the nectar,
they swallow the little insects at the same time. They could not live
upon nectar only--they want animal food (as it is called) as well, and
that is the way in which they get it. That is why when people have
caught Humming-birds, and given them only nectar--or sugar and water,
which is something like it--to live on, they have always died. There
are no insects in it, no animal food. They had gravy, you see, but no
meat, and they wanted meat as well as gravy. So they died, the poor
Humming-birds. But I think it is almost better for a living sunbeam to
die than to be kept living in a cage.

But now, why do the Indians call the Humming-birds living sunbeams?
Oh, but you will say I have told you that, and, besides, anybody could
guess. It is because they are so bright and gleaming, and hover in the
air as a sunbeam dances in it, or shoot through it as quickly and as
brightly as a sunbeam shoots down from the sun. Well, yes, that is one
explanation; but why should there not be two (as there were about the
Birds of Paradise), so that you can choose the one you like best?--for
you know you are not a clever person _yet_. Well, there _are_ two,
for the Indians say that the Humming-birds are called living sunbeams
because they really _are_ living sunbeams, just as you are called a
little girl because you are a little girl; and how could there be a
simpler explanation of a thing than that?

And this is how it happened, only you must remember that it was a very,
very long time ago. In those old days the sun had not long sent his
beams to earth, and it was only after they came there that the things
upon the earth began to live. There had been no life at all before,
it had all been dark and cold; it was only when the sun's beams began
to shine upon the cold, dark earth, that they warmed it into life and
love. Now as first one beautiful thing and then another began to live
upon the earth, the sunbeams admired them all very much, but they did
not envy them, for there was nothing there _quite_ so beautiful as a
sunbeam. But one day, as they were dancing upon the waters of the sea,
they heard the fishes saying to each other: "How beautiful are the
sunbeams! Is there anything so beautiful as they? Our scales flash out
brightly, but compared to them they are dull, even on the sunniest day.
We should envy them, were they alive like us, but of course, as it is,
it is different." "Are we not alive?" said the sunbeams, and they felt
sad and did not dance on the waves any more that day. Then, another
day, they were dancing on the leaves, and falling through them on to
the shady ground underneath, chequering it with gold. "How glorious are
the sunbeams!" said the leaves to each other, "more glorious even than
the birds or the butterflies that perch amongst us. Would that we were
as beautiful!" "Do you envy them?" said a butterfly, who had overheard
and felt annoyed; "they have neither sense nor breath, are neither born
nor die. Envy us, if you will, who have all these advantages, and are
so beautiful as well--much more so than yourselves--but do not, however
plain you may be, envy what is not alive." "Are we not alive?" said
the sunbeams, and they were discontented and the clouds hid them, so
that neither the trees nor the birds and butterflies within them seemed
to be alive any more. And, again, the sunbeams were shining through
a small window, where, in a wretched garret, on a still more wretched
bed, lay a man who had care and sorrow--yes, and worse even than
those--in his heart. "Would that I were dead!" he cried, as he clasped
his hands on his forehead. "Ah, how I envy the sunbeams! But no, I will
not envy _them_, for _they_ are not alive, they are inanimate merely."
"Are we not alive?" said the sunbeams; "and does nobody envy us on that
account?" And the wretched room that had seemed quite cheerful whilst
they were there, became dark and dismal again, as they withdrew.

And now it was the sunbeams who envied everything--bird or beast, or
plant or leaf or flower (even the man in the garret)--because they
were alive. "It is hard that we alone should be without life," thought
they, and they complained to the sun. "Give us life," they cried; "we
are more beautiful than anything here on earth, but nothing envies us
because we are not alive. It is dreadful not to be envied." "And do you
really think," said the sun, "that you, who have given life to others,
have no life yourselves? Before I sent you to the earth, it was dark
and cold and lifeless. It needed you, to give it that for which you now
ask. Do not, then, be discontented any more, but be assured that you
have life, as much as anything that lives and grows upon the earth,
though, to be sure, it is of another kind. Be satisfied, therefore, and
rejoice in your loveliness." This answer of the sun's satisfied most
of the sunbeams, but there were some who were foolish and whom it did
not satisfy. "Give us such life as the children of the earth enjoy!"
cried these; "the life that breathes and grows, that has a shape, that
is born and dies. That is the life that we would have. Be good to us,
and give us that." Then the sun said to the foolish sunbeams: "I can
give you such life as you ask for, and, if you persist in asking it,
I must; for you are my children and I cannot bear to see you unhappy.
But remember, if I once grant you this wish, and give you the life that
earth's children enjoy, you can nevermore be as you now are, or enter
into my palace--my golden palace--again. Now you fly from me to the
earth and from the earth back to me, but when once you have earth's
life, on earth you must remain and on earth you must die. You are
immortal now: when you become children of the earth you will be mortal
as they are."

[Illustration: PLOVER CREST HUMMING-BIRD]

But the foolish sunbeams, who could not understand what death should
be, persisted, and the sun, who loved them because they were his
children, had to do what they asked. So one night, when all the
other sunbeams had flown back to him, he sent these foolish ones to
sleep on the earth (which had never happened to them before), and there
they lay all night--some in the flower-cups, some under the leaves of
the trees--without giving any light at all, for when a sunbeam _is_
asleep it can give no light. But in the morning, when their brother and
sister sunbeams flew back to earth, they woke up, but the two did not
know each other again, for the foolish sunbeams were not sunbeams any
more--not real ones, that is to say. They flew about, still, in the
forests, and glanced through the trees, and hovered over the flowers,
in almost the same way as they had done before; but now they had a
shape and wings, and they sipped the nectar out of the flower-cups,
which was a thing that they had never even dreamed about. They were
Humming-birds, and though their feathers were as bright as _they_ had
ever been, and though they had all of them long Latin names and a
scientific description in books, still it was not quite the same, for
it would take a lot of Latin and a lot of scientific description, to
make up for not being a sunbeam. But when the Indians came to know of
the occurrence, they called them "living sunbeams," and it is easy to
understand what they meant. And now you know (until you are a clever
person) how Humming-birds came into the world. But you must not think
that the other sunbeams--the real ones that have never changed into
anything--are dead. Oh no, indeed! How could they dance and play about
as they do, if they were?



CHAPTER VIII

Some very Bright Humming-Birds


One of the most beautiful of all the Humming-birds (but we can say
that of so many) is the Rainbow Humming-bird. It is very large for a
Humming-bird, so what _will_ you think when I say that its body is
about the size of a little wren's, a bird which, perhaps, you had been
thinking was the smallest bird there is. Why, a Humming-bird that is as
big, or almost as big, as a wren is a very big Humming-bird indeed--in
fact quite a gigantic one. But now, the tail of this Humming-bird is
very different to a wren's, and makes it look still bigger because
it is so long--three to three and a half inches, I should think--and
such a wonderful shape. It is forked, so you must think of a swallow
first if you want to imagine it; but then you must imagine that the two
feathers which make the fork of a swallow's tail are curved outwards
like two little scimitars, so that their tips are six inches apart
from each other. Indeed they gleam as brightly as any scimitar does
in the sun, but it is not like steel that they gleam, for they are of
the most lovely deep, rich, violet-blue that you can imagine, such a
colour as was never seen anywhere else out of the rainbow; and now I
come to think of it, what these lovely feathers are most like is two
little violet rainbows set back to back. You can think how lovely they
look as they go darting through the air, and I must tell you that the
beautiful violet-blue sends out gleams of other kinds of blues--lighter
ones--which are just as beautiful as the violet itself. On the opposite
page you see the picture of a Humming-bird that is a good deal like
this one. But it is not the same, so the tail is not _quite_ the same
either.

Now of course you will think--and you will be quite right to think
so--that a bird that has a tail like two little violet rainbows will
have the other parts of him beautiful as well. Well, the back of this
bird is all green--a beautiful, shining, gleaming green, and his head
is green too--at least it seems to be when you see it first; but, as
you look at it, all at once the green changes into a heavenly violet
blue, to match the heavenly violet blue of its lovely rainbow tail.
Under the throat it is green like the rest, but just in the centre of
it there is a tiny little drop--just one or two little feathers--of the
very loveliest amethyst. Ah, fancy seeing a bird like that flying about
and hovering over the flowers. Only you would not _see_ him, for you
would not be able to see his wings--at least not properly--they would
move so fast. What you would see, would be a little circle of hazy
brown mist, and, right in the middle of it, a little sparkling sun, and
on the other side, gleaming through the mist, two sweet little violet
rainbows. Then all at once there would be a trail of light in the air,
and it would all be somewhere else--another sun and rainbows over
another flower. Of course, really, a Humming-bird would have flown from
one flower to another, but what it would look like would be a gleam of
light--a sunbeam--with a jewel-flash at each end of it.

[Illustration: TRAIN-BEARER HUMMING-BIRD]

Another Humming-bird--the Sappho Comet--is about the same size as the
last one, and he is a lovely gleaming green, too--an emerald green,
I think--on his head and neck and shoulders, but his throat is light
blue--the colour of a most beautiful turquoise. But _such_ a turquoise!
There is no other one in the world that ever gleamed and flashed and
sparkled in that way, because, you know, turquoises do not sparkle at
all--at least nowhere else--it is not their habit. But I think that
some of the very finest of them--at least the lovely colours that were
in them--must have flown into that Humming-bird's throat and begun to
gleam and flash and sparkle there. Perhaps they begged to be allowed
to as a very special favour. Then the tail of this Humming-bird is
forked too, like the other one's, but not in quite the same way. It is
more like the fork of an arrow than two little rainbows turned back
to back, and instead of being violet it is all ruby and copper and
topaz, with a broad band of velvet black at each tip. I cannot tell
you how brilliant those colours are--the ruby and the copper and the
topaz. They are so brilliant that, if you were to take them into a dark
room, I really almost think they would light it up like a lamp or a
candle. Oh, it is a wonderful tail. You might think and think for quite
a long time and yet you would never be able to think how bright--how
wonderfully bright--it is.

But listen to what the Indians say. They say that once that
Humming-bird was out in a thunderstorm, and the lightning got angry
with him because he flew so fast, and tried to strike him. It was
jealous of him, that was the reason, for the lightning likes to think
itself faster than anything else. But although the lightning chased
that Humming-bird for a very long time, it could only just touch his
tail, and there it has stayed--a little flash of it which was not
enough to hurt--ever since. You know how bright the lightning is; that
will help you to think what that Humming-bird's tail is like. And you
know, now, what his throat is like. Fancy seeing them both together,
flashing, sparkling, gleaming, beaming, glancing, dancing in the
glorious, glowing sunshine of South America.

But now in the Splendid-breasted Humming-bird all the glory is upon
his breast, his throat. Once, I think (at least the Indians say so),
he must have flown very high--yes, right up to heaven, and the door
was open and he tried to fly in. But he could not, they turned him
away; but the glory of heaven had just fallen upon his breast and he
flew back with it there, to earth. It is green--that glory--the most
marvellous, light, gleaming green, but all at once, as you look at it,
it has changed to blue, an exquisite light, turquoise blue, and then,
just as you are going to cry out, "Oh, but it is blue, not green,"
it is green again, and then blue again before you can say that it is
green, and then, all at once, it is both at the same time, for each has
changed into the other.

It is the throat-gorget (you know I explained to you) on which this
glorious colour falls, but this bird has such a large one that it
covers the breast as well as the throat, and goes up quite high on
each side, till it meets the deep, rich, velvety black of the head. Of
course this deep, velvet black makes the wonderful green and blue look
all the more wonderful, for it is a dark background for them to shine
out against, and your mother will explain to you what a background is.
Then, on the back this Humming-bird is green too--in fact you might
call him the emerald Humming-bird--but it is darker than that other
green (if anything so bright _can_ be darker) and without the lovely
turquoise-blue in it. It is a glory, but not _such_ a glory as the
one on his breast; not the glory of heaven that fell upon him at its
gates--perhaps it is his memory of it as he flew away.

But now I feel sure you will ask why the same brightness which streamed
out of heaven, and spoilt the plumage of the Birds of Paradise, should
have made the plumage of this Humming-bird so beautiful. Well, it is
a difficult question, but perhaps it is because the Humming-bird was
thinking of heaven, and wishing to get into it, whilst the Birds of
Paradise had got tired of being in heaven and were only thinking of
earth. That might have made a very great difference. And _perhaps_ you
will say, "If the Humming-birds are sunbeams that have been changed
into birds, why should some of them have been made more beautiful
afterwards in other ways?" Well, as to that, there are a great many
different kinds of Humming-birds (more than four hundred, as I told
you), so perhaps they were not quite all of them sunbeams first, and
besides, even when a bird has been a sunbeam first, something else
might happen to it when it had become a bird. At any rate, if one
explanation does not seem satisfactory, there is always the other, and
one of them must be the right one--until you are a clever person, which
will not be yet awhile. So now we will go on, for there are some other
Humming-birds with other explanations waiting.

The Glow-glow Humming-bird (I do like that name) is smaller than any
of the other three we have talked about, for it is less than half the
size of a little wren. Its head and its back are shining green (you
will be thinking all the Humming-birds are green, but wait a little!),
its breast is white, but its throat--oh, its throat!--what is it? What
can it be called? It is a rose that has burst into flame. No, it is a
flame trying to look like a rose. No, it is neither of these. It is
one of those stars that are of all colours, and change from one to the
other as you look at them--from green to gold, from gold to topaz,
from topaz to rosy red. Only _this_ star changed into every colour at
once, which was wonderful, and as he did that (and this was still more
wonderful) he flew all to pieces, and little bits of him were scattered
through the whole air, and when the sun rose and shone upon them, they
were all Humming-birds, flying about with wings and feathers, and with
long Latin names, so that there should be no doubt about it. It was
wonderful, wonderful; but yet it was not quite so wonderful as the
colours upon this Humming-bird's throat.

The Little Flame-bearer (there is a name for you!) is a still smaller
Humming-bird than the last one--indeed his body, without the feathers,
would not be _very_ much larger than a _very_ large humble-bee. Here,
again, all the wonder is on its throat, which is topaz and green and
copper, all glowing and sparkling together, as if they were all married
to one another and each of them was trying to get the upper hand. Ah,
was there ever such a sweet little gem-bird? He is a jewel mounted
on wings and set in the air. Only sometimes, when he hovers just
underneath a flower, he seems hanging from its tip like a pendant.

Costa's Coquette (that means that some one named Costa--some Portuguese
gentleman--was the first to write about it) is larger than the Little
Flame-bearer (though not half so big as a wren), and he _tries_ to
be brighter. Whether he _is_ brighter I am sure I can't say. To tell
properly, one ought to see them both hovering under the same flower,
or, at least, very close together, and even then one would only feel
bewildered. But this one's head and throat are all one splendour, one
marvellous gleam of rosy, pinky, rosy-pink, pinky-rose magenta. Only
if you _say_ that that is what it is, it will change into violet and
contradict you, and then, if you say it is violet, it will change into
topaz and contradict you again. So you had better say nothing--for one
does not want to be contradicted--but just hold your breath and watch
it. It will change quite soon enough, even then, long before you are
tired of its rosy, pinky, rosy-pink, pinky-rose magenta, which is a
colour you have not seen, and which I have not told you about before.
Only if you _must_ say something about it whilst you are looking at
it--something besides "Oh!" I mean--say it is a Humming-bird. That
will be quite sufficient, and not one of its colours can be offended
with you then for not mentioning them and mentioning the others. Now,
I must tell you that the feathers of this little bird's throat--of
that wonderful, gleaming throat-gorget--grow out on each side into two
little peaks, two little pointed tongues of rose-pink magenta flame
(but hush!), and he can spread them out and shoot them forward, as well
as the whole of the gorget, in quite a wonderful way. When he does
that, what he _seems_ to do is to strike a great number of matches at
the same time, and from each one, as he strikes it, there bursts out
hundreds and hundreds of bright, sparkling jewels of flame. Ah, you
should see him strike his jewel-matches--all together, all the jewels
that there are, all struck in one second, as he whizzes about in the
air. His back is all green, and _so_ bright, if only you cover up his
head and throat. If you don't cover them--or as soon as you uncover
them again--you hardly seem to see it. It is no brighter then than a
glow-worm is when a very bright star is shooting through the air.

Now we come to the Splendid Coquette, a little bird not half the size
of a golden-crested wren, which is the smallest bird that we, in this
country, know anything about, smaller, even, than the common wren.
_He_ has a crest, too--this little Humming-bird--a very fine one of
chestnut feathers, not sticking up on the top of the head, as so many
crests do, but going backwards after the head has come to an end, so
that it makes a little chestnut feather-awning for the neck to be
under. But just where they spring from the head each of these chestnut
feathers is black, and at their tips, too, they have all a little black
spot, and this makes them look still prettier than if they were all
chestnut. When the little bird spreads out this fine crest of his, like
a fan--for he can do that--all the feathers in it stand out separately
from each other, and then he looks like a little sun in the centre of
his own rays.

Yes, a sun, because he is so very bright. He has a gorget (or perhaps
you would prefer to call it a lappet) of feathers on his throat and
breast, of the most glorious, radiant green colour, and from it there
shoot out--one on each side--a pair of the very loveliest and most
delicate little fairy-wings that ever you _never_ saw--for I feel sure
that you never _have_ seen anything at all like them. I do not mean, of
course, that they are real wings, to fly with, no--it would be funny
if a bird had _two_ pairs of _that_ kind--but ornamental ones, wings
for the little hen Humming-bird, who has none, to look at and say,
"How beautiful! How _extraordinarily_ becoming!" Each of these dear
little wings is made by a few delicate, long, slender feathers of a
light chestnut colour, the same as the feathers of the crest, only,
instead of being tipped with black, these ones are tipped with a spot
of the same lovely green that there is on the throat and breast. The
longest of them, which is in the middle, is nearly an inch long--which
is very long indeed when you think how small the little birdie is--and
it stands out a quarter of an inch beyond the two next longest ones on
each side of it, and these are almost a quarter of an inch longer than
the ones that come next. If you hold out your hand with the fingers
spread out, and imagine the middle one a good deal longer and the
little finger and thumb much shorter, then you will know the shape
of these dear little fairy-wings; only, of course, feathers are much
more elegant than fingers--even than pretty little fingers. Think
how pretty something in muslin or puff-lace, like that, on a dress
would be!--but it is ever, oh, _ever_ so much prettier on a little
Humming-bird, in little chestnut feathers with little green spangles at
their tips. And that is why I call them "fairy-wings," for I think if
any pair of wings that are _not_ a fairy's could be pretty enough _for_
a fairy, those would be the ones.

And I think if you saw this sweet little Humming-bird hanging in the
air, with his breast all flashing and sparkling, and with his chestnut
crest spread out above it, and his little chestnut and star-spangled
wings flying out on each side of it, you would think him almost as
pretty as a fairy could be. You would think his fairy-wings the real
ones that he was flying with, because you would see them, whilst the
other ones would be moving so quickly that they would be only like a
mist or haze--a little night that he had made for himself for the star
of his beauty to shine in.

Now just try to imagine how lovely that little Humming-bird must be.
Can you understand any one _wanting_ to kill him? But now that I have
told you about that wretched little demon with his charms to send
people to sleep, and those two bad bottles of his, or, rather, the
powders inside them--apathy and vanity--I daresay you can understand
it. If I had not told you about _him_ I don't think you would have
been able to.

Princess Helen's Coquette (how proud he ought to be of a name like
that!) is a little Humming-bird something like the last one. He is a
little smaller, I think, but whether he is a little prettier, too, or
not _quite_ so pretty, or only _as_ pretty, all that I shall leave to
you; it is you who will have to decide. His back is all of a golden
green, and his head, which has a forked crest at the back of it like
a swallow's tail, is a beautiful, rich, dark, velvety green, so that
would make a pretty little bird--would it not?--even without anything
else. But he _has_ something else--two or three other things in
fact--which are so--oh, so _very_ pretty. First, on each side of the
back of the head--just under each fork of the little swallow-tailed
crest--there is a little delicate tuft of feathers, which rise up and
spread out upon each side in such a graceful little curve. But these
feathers are not like other feathers. They are _something_ like the
"funny feathers" that the Birds of Paradise have, for they are quite
thin, like threads, and an inch long, which (although it is not quite
so long as those) is yet a good length when you think of what a little
thing this little Humming-bird is. These pretty little feathers are of
a deep velvety green colour--the same colour as his swallow-tailed
crest--and there are three on each side, three little velvet green
feather-threads, floating out on each side behind his head. On his
throat there is a gorget of gleaming, jewelly green, much lighter
than the other greens--more like emerald, but with a goldeny, bronzy
wash in it, as well. Just think how beautiful that must be! And then,
lower down on his throat, underneath the green gorget--as if all that
were not enough for him--this Humming-bird has something else--we will
call it a tippet--which flies out all round his neck, and, especially,
on each side of it. A tippet or a ruffle--perhaps that is rather a
better word--a ruffle of velvet black feathers in front, and of light
chestnut feathers with velvet black stripes--like a tiger--on each
side. As for his tail, it spreads out into a dear little fan, and the
fan is chestnut and black too, broad stripes of chestnut and narrow
stripes of black, with a broad patch of black where it begins, which
looks like the handle of the fan. What a pretty, pretty bird! Fancy
a little birdie that is only about two inches long, and has a crest
like a swallow-tail on his head, a gorget--or lappet--on his throat, a
tippet--or ruffle--just underneath the gorget, and a little spray of
feather-threads on each side of his head, just underneath the crest!
Fancy killing such a little fairy-bird as that! Fancy _wanting_ to kill
him! But it is all the little demon. It is he who has blown about
his nasty powders and frozen the hearts of the _poor_ women, who are
_really_ so kind--at any rate they _would_ be if only he would let them.

Did I say, "Such a little fairy-bird"? I think I did, and I was quite
right, for it is just this very little Humming-bird that the fairies
are so fond of riding on. They go two at a time, sometimes. One sits on
his back, and another lies on the broad fan of his tail, and the one on
the back uses the little feather-threads as reins. It is so grand! The
Humming-bird dashes up at the fairy's own flower-door, and hovers there
till she is ready to come out, and then dashes away with her to another
flower, where another fairy lives. And that is how the fairies call
upon each other in countries where there are Humming-birds. Perhaps you
will think that a Humming-bird--even quite a little Humming-bird (and
they are none of them big)--is _rather_ a large gee-gee for a _fairy_
to ride on. But you must remember that in tropical countries fairies
grow to quite a remarkable size.

Well, that is eight Humming-birds that I have tried to describe to
you (though it is very like trying to describe a sunset to some one
who has never seen one), and perhaps you think I have chosen all the
most beautiful ones first, and that there are no more left which are
_quite_ so pretty. But I think I can find just one more that is not
such a _very_ plain bird, not a bird you would call ugly if you were
to see it hovering about over a bed of geraniums or under a cluster of
honeysuckle, some bright spring or summer morning when you happened to
go out into your garden. So we will take that one, and, if he is not
pretty enough, you must just try to put up with him.

He is called the Sun Beauty. Perhaps you would think him dark at first,
for his head and back and shoulders are of such a rich, deep, velvety
green that it almost goes into black velvet--all except one little
spot on the forehead, just above the beak, and that never can look
_quite_ black. Sometimes it does _almost_, just for one second, but
the next second it flashes into green again, and oh, how it gleams and
sparkles and throws out little jewels, little splashes of sun-fire all
round it! What a wonderful green it is!--at first, and then--oh, what
a wonderful--but really there is no proper name for _that_ colour. I
was going to say "blue," and perhaps it is more like blue than anything
else, but nothing else is quite like it. Then, just at the beginning
of this Humming-bird's throat--just under the chin--there are a few
feathers that are like a kind of dusky-smoked-magenta-bronze-jewelry,
and a little farther down they gleam into ruddy bronze and coppery
topaz, and then--oh, what _is_ that? The very sun himself has flashed
out from his throat, from his gorget--yes, a little flake of the sun,
a sunflake instead of a snowflake. Oh, it is _such_ a gorget, a gorget
of golden topaz, of coppery gold, of green gold, of silver gold, of
silver, of gleaming white, of all these together, and it spreads out
on each side like a wonderful fan, and shoots out in front of all the
other feathers. Such a gorget! The feathers in it are not feathers at
all--I do not think they _can_ be feathers--they are sunflakes, as I
have told you.

That is what this Humming-bird is like on the throat. Underneath the
throat, on the breast, he becomes green again, not the dark velvet
green of the back, but a still more glorious green, gleaming and
brilliant, but soft and rich at the same time. It is a green that
changes, too--changes almost into blue. I will tell you how that is.
Once this green--this wonderful, lovely green--did not think itself
lovely enough (which was funny), so it said to the blue of the violet
and the turquoise and the amethyst and the sapphire: "Come and make
part of me, but I must be the greater part." "That is not fair," cried
the blues of all those lovely things; "we will come, since you have
invited us, but we intend to have the upper hand." "Come then," said
the green, "and let us fight for the mastery. Whichever wins, the
other will be improved by it. We will struggle together, and we will
see which is the strongest." So they came, those blues of wonder,
from the violet, the turquoise, the sapphire, and the amethyst--yes,
and from the sky, the stars, and the sea as well--and they fell in
a glory on that glorious green that had been there before them, and
fought with it to possess the breast of that Humming-bird. And they
are fighting to possess it now. They gleam and flash and sparkle and
glow, and try to out-glory each other; but I think that that wonderful
green is the strongest, although he has such a lot of blues to fight
against. But stronger than any and than all of them is the sun on that
Humming-bird's gorget, that gorget of gold and topaz, and copper and
bronze, and silver and gleaming white.

That is what that Humming-bird is like, and that is how he got some of
his wonderful colours; so, at least, the Indians say, only some of them
say that it was the blues who were there first, and asked the green to
come. But always, in history, you will find that there are different
opinions about the same thing. People are not _all_ agreed, even about
the battle of Waterloo.

So, you see, we have been able to find one other handsome
Humming-bird, at any rate. And then there is the Hermit Humming-bird.
I must just describe him. His head and neck are--brown, the whole of
his back is--brown, his wings, his throat, and his breast are--brown,
and all the rest of him is--brown. Why, then, he is all brown, without
any colours at all, unless there are some lying asleep, and ready to
wake up and dart out all of a sudden, in the way I have explained to
you. No, there are no colours, either asleep or awake, or, at any
rate, hardly any. Compared to the Humming-birds I have been telling
you about, this one is just a plain, dull bird, as plain and as
dull, almost, as his wife, for that, you know, is what the wives of
Humming-birds are like. Then is he a Humming-bird at all? Surely he
is not one; he must be some other bird. Oh no, he is not. He is a
Humming-bird, but he is a Hermit Humming-bird. I have not told you
before--but now I will tell you--that there are some Humming-birds--in
fact a good many--that have no bright colours at all, and _they_ are
called hermits. A hermit, you know, is a person who lives in a cell or
cave, and wears a long, brown gown, with a hood at one end of it for
his head, and never dresses gaily or goes out to see things, but has
what _we_ should consider a very dull life; only as _he_ likes it that
makes it all right--for _him_. So these dull-coloured Humming-birds
are called hermits, not because they live in cells, because, of
course, they do not, but because they have no bright things to wear,
but only brown gowns, like hermits. But now as Humming-birds used
once to be sunbeams, and are still _living_ sunbeams that have been
changed into birds, how does it happen that any of them have become
hermits, with nothing showy about them? That is a thing which requires
an explanation, so it is lucky that there is one all ready for it in
the next chapter. Not all the things that require an explanation are so
lucky as that. Some of them go on requiring one all their lives, and
yet never get what they require. I have known several of that sort.



CHAPTER IX

Hermit Humming-Birds and Two Other Ones


I told you that as soon as the sun's light fell upon the earth all the
sunbeams that had been asleep there woke up, and were changed into
Humming-birds. But there was just one sunbeam who had gone to sleep
in a cave, and when _he_ woke up it was quite dark, and so _he_ was
changed into a Humming-bird without any colours, and when his brother
Humming-birds saw him they laughed at him, and called him a hermit.
It was very wrong of them to do so, for it was not his fault that he
was brown. There is nothing wrong in going to sleep in a cave, and, of
course, he could not tell what would happen. But they thought he looked
ridiculous, coming out of it all brown, like a hermit. I don't think
that made him ridiculous, really, but, even if it did, they should not
have laughed at him. We should not laugh at people because they are
ridiculous. It makes them unhappy, and, besides, we may be sure that
in some way or other we are just as ridiculous as they are, _We_ may
not know in what way. _That_ only shows how ignorant we are. It is best
not to laugh at other people. If we _want_ to laugh at any one, we can
always laugh at ourselves.

Now, this poor Hermit Humming-bird was unhappy because he alone had
no colours, and because all the other Humming-birds laughed at him.
He complained of it to the sun, who was his father, and explained
how it had happened. "It is unfortunate," said the sun; "but since I
was unable to shine upon you, when you awoke, I cannot give you my
own livery to wear now. But do not be unhappy. The world is full of
brightness and beauty, and if you go about asking for some of it from
those who have it, none of them will refuse you, when they know that
you are one of my children. They will grant it you for the love of me,
for I am loved of all that live upon the earth. In this way, though I
cannot clothe you directly from myself, it will come to the same thing
in the end, for it is through me that all things have their beauty, so
that in having what was theirs you will have what is mine, and still
you will be a living sunbeam. Only do not ask any of your brother
Humming-birds to give you anything, because then you will not be under
an obligation to them." (Your mother will explain to you what being
under an obligation is, and how very many _you_ are under to _her_.)

So the poor Hermit Humming-bird went about through the world, asking
all the beautiful things in it for some of their beauty, and not one
that he asked refused him, for the love of his father the sun. He
begged of the clouds at sunset, when they were all crimson lake, and
at sunrise, when they were all topaz and amber, and all three of these
lovely colours fell upon his throat and struggled for the mastery, like
the green and blue on the breast of that other Humming-bird that I have
told you about. Then he begged of the bluest stars in the sky, and just
on the outer edge of his now lovely throat, on the edge of that shining
gorget, there fell such a blue as made one feel in heaven only to look
at it. After that he begged of the sea that the sun was shining on in
the morning, and now his head was of the loveliest pale sea-green, and
then, again, he begged of it a little later in the day, and his back
became a darker green, almost, if not quite, as lovely as the lovely
one on his head. Thus he went about the world, begging and asking, and
he did not forget either the jewels, or the flowers, or the colours
that live in the rainbow. And at the end of the day this Humming-bird
that had been all brown, and that his brothers had called a hermit,
was one of the loveliest of all the Humming-birds, and his English
name (we won't trouble about the Latin one) was the All-glorious
Humming-Bird. He was not called a hermit any more, after that, but
those Humming-birds that had called him one, and laughed at him when he
was brown, were changed into hermits themselves. That is how there came
to be Hermit Humming-birds in the world, and one of them is the one
that surprised you so much when I described him to you, because he was
all brown. They are all of them brown, but you must not laugh at them,
for all that, even though they did at their brother. They have their
punishment, and it is bad enough to be punished and made all brown,
without being laughed at about it as well.

Now, of course, as all the Hermit Humming-birds are brown, it would
be no use to describe them to you, one at a time, like the others.
Instead of that I will tell you about some more Humming-birds who are
pretty, and who came to be what they are like now in some curious
way or other, which had nothing to do with their having once been
sunbeams. One of these is the Snow-cap. He is very small, almost as
small as the smallest of the Humming-birds--and you know how small
that is--and although he is not exactly brown, still he is not at all
a brilliant bird for a Humming-bird. What makes him so pretty is this.
First, all the whole crown of his head is of a beautiful, pure, silky
white, which makes it look as if a large, soft snowflake had fallen
upon it, and then, when he spreads out his tail like a fan--which
you may be sure he knows how to do--there are two white patches upon
it as well, which look like two smaller snowflakes. It is not many
Humming-birds who are ornamented in _that_ way. How did this one get
those white patches, and are they really snowflakes that fell upon
him? You shall hear. Once they were not white at all, those patches,
but coloured with all the colours of the rainbow, and more brilliant
than anything you could possibly think of, more brilliant even than
any other colour that is upon any other Humming-bird. Indeed they
were _so_ brilliant that no one could look at them, and that made the
Humming-bird very proud indeed. "Could my rivals have looked at me," he
said, "they would never have confessed my superiority, however plainly
they must have seen it. Not to be able to look at me is, in itself,
a confession. They are dazzled, and well they may be, for to look at
me is like looking at the sun himself. Surely there is no earthly
brightness that I do not outshine." And as the proud bird said this,
he looked up, and there, far above him in the blue dome of the sky,
were the snows of the mighty mountain Chimborazo, and in their white,
dazzling purity they seemed even brighter than himself. But instead of
being humbled, the Humming-bird only felt insulted, and resolved to do
something decisive. "I will thaw those white robes of his," he said;
"my brightness shall burn them away, and there shall be no more snow in
the world." He was just a little larger than a humble-bee.

So up this Humming-bird flew, right on to the top of Chimborazo, the
great high mountain, where there was snow everywhere. "Have you come to
thaw me?" said the snow, as it fell around him. "That is ridiculous.
We shall see which of us is best able to extinguish the other." With
that one snowflake fell upon his head and two more upon his tail, just
over those three patches that had been so marvellously bright. He tried
to shake them off, but he could not. They stayed there, and instead
of having been able to thaw them, it was _they_ who had put _his_
brightness quite out. All those wonderful colours were gone now, and
there was only the snow-white. "Fly back," said the snow, "or I will
quite cover you. You have lost that of which you were so proud, but you
have me in exchange. Fly back, and be a wiser bird for the future." So
the Humming-bird flew back, ashamed and crestfallen, and fearing to
show himself. "What will the others say when they see me?" he thought.
But when the other Humming-birds saw him, they all cried out, "Oh,
look! What beautiful bird is this that has come to dwell amongst us?
What an exquisite white! Surely he has been to the top of Chimborazo
and brought down some of its snow upon him. How pure and how lovely!"
Yes, they could look at him now, and they thought him more beautiful
than when they were blinded and dazzled. That is how that Humming-bird
got his snow-white patches. He had no colours now with which to
outrival the other Humming-birds, but he could put up with that, for
the white snow was lovelier than them all.

And then there is the Humming-bird that the Indians call the
Jewel-flower-sunrise-and-sunset-Humming-bird (only they have one word
for it, which makes it sound better). I have forgotten what his English
name is--I am not quite sure if he has one. This Humming-bird was very
beautiful to begin with, so beautiful, indeed, that the flowers, as he
hovered over them, fell in love with him and wished to give him their
colours to wear, for their sakes. But the Humming-bird did not want
their colours, for he thought his own were much more beautiful. "If
you sparkled like jewels," he said, "as well as being soft and bright,
then it would be different. But your beauty is too homely. You are not
sufficiently refulgent." (That was a word he was fond of, for he had
heard it applied to himself. Your mother will tell you what it means).

So the flowers prayed to the sun from whom they have their beautiful
colours, and the sun made them like jewels--jewels of the rose and
the violet, of the lily and the daffodil, the sunflower, the pink and
carnation. Perhaps they were not just the same flowers as those, for
they grew in America, but they had all their colours and many more.
"That is an improvement certainly," said the Humming-bird, when he had
looked at them. "You are much more beautiful now, but you remain the
same all day long. It is very different with the sky. Every morning and
evening when the sun rises and sets, she has quite a special beauty,
and it is only then that she can be said to be refulgent. If it were
so with you, then I might take you, but I do not care for flowers who
have no sunrise or sunset." So the flowers prayed to the sun again, and
he made them as much more beautiful when he rose and set at morning
and evening as the sky is then in the east and west. And when the
Humming-bird saw that they were really refulgent, he took all their
colours, and, for a little while, the flowers were quite pale, and only
got bright again by degrees. But they never flashed and sparkled like
jewels any more, and there was never another flower sunrise or another
flower sunset. The Humming-bird kept all that for himself; he never
gave any of it back to the flowers. It was not very generous of him.
I _think_ he was going to be punished for it, but, somehow or other,
it was forgotten. Punishments do get forgotten, sometimes--almost as
often, perhaps, as rewards.

Those are just a few of the beautiful Humming-birds that there are in
the world--in that new world that Columbus discovered--but, as you
know, there are more than four hundred different kinds, and numbers
of them are just as beautiful--some perhaps even more beautiful--than
those I have told you about. And you may be sure that they know exactly
what to do with their beauty, how to raise up their crests and fan
out their tails and ruffle out their gorgets and tippets in the way
to make them look most magnificent, and give the greatest possible
pleasure to their wives, who are all of them hermits--poor plain
Humming-birds--just as the Birds of Paradise do for _their_ wives, who
are hermits too.

And do you know that when two gentlemen Humming-birds are both trying
to please the same lady--but that, of course, is before she has married
either of them--they very often fight, and it is then that they gleam
and flash and sparkle, more brilliantly than at any other time. Ah,
what a wonderful sight that must be to see--those fights between little
fiery, winged meteors, those jewel-combats in the air--diamond and ruby
and sapphire and topaz and emerald and amethyst, all angry with each
other, shooting out sparks at each other, trying to blind each other,
to flash each other down! Ah, those are fiery battles indeed, and yet
when they are over--you will think it wonderful--not one Humming-bird
has been burnt up by another one. No, Humming-birds do not kill each
other, they do not even hurt each other very much, they are only angry,
and even that does not last very long. _We_ are not very angry with the
poor Humming-birds, I even think we must be fond of them, for there is
really hardly one that we have not called by some pretty name, though
not nearly so pretty as itself. And yet we kill them, we take away
those bright little gem-like lives that are so lovely and so happy. The
people who live in those countries make very fine nets--as fine and
delicate as those that ladies use for their hair--and put them over the
flowers or the shrubs that the Humming-birds come to, so that they get
entangled in them and cannot fly away. Then, when they come and find
them, they kill them (could _you_ kill a living sunbeam?), and send
their skins over here to be put into the hats of women whose hearts
the wicked little demon has frozen.

Into hats! Ah, I think if one of those poor, frozen-hearted women could
see a Humming-bird, sitting alive in its own little fairy nest, she
would blush--yes, _blush_--to think of it in her hat, even though she
wore a pretty one and was pretty, herself, too. For I must tell you
that the nests that Humming-birds make are so pretty and graceful and
delicate that one might almost think they had been made by the fairies,
and, indeed, the Indians say that the fairies do make them, and give
them to the Humming-birds. But that is not really true. Humming-birds
make their own nests, like other birds, though I cannot help thinking
that, sometimes, the fairies must sit in them. Yes, they sit and swing
in them sometimes, I feel sure, in the warm, tropical nights, when the
stars are set thick in the sky and the fire-flies make stars in the
air. For they hang like little cradles from the tips of the leaves of
palm-trees, or from the ends of long, dangling creepers or tendrils,
or even from the drooping petal of a flower. They are made of the fine
webs of spiders, all plaited and woven, or of down that is like our
thistle-down, but thicker and softer and silkier. And you may think
of everything that is soft and delicate and graceful and fragile and
fairy-like, but when you see a Humming-bird's nest, you will think
them all coarse--yes, _coarse_--by comparison. And to think of that
bright little glittering thing, sitting there alive and warm, in its
warm little soft fairy nest, and then to think of it in a _hat_--and
_dead_! Oh, dear!--dusty too, I feel sure. _Oh_, dear! But it is all
the fault of that most wicked little demon, and _you_ are going to set
it right.

Now perhaps you will wonder why there has been nothing about promising
yet, for there have been thirteen Humming-birds in the two last
chapters, and not a single promise about any of them. But then, what
would be the use of promising about thirteen when there are four
hundred and more? It would be ever so much better, _I_ think, to
promise about all the four hundred and more together, and that is what
I want you to ask your mother to do. Then all those little glittering,
jewelly, fairy-like things will go on living and being happy--will
go on glittering and gleaming, flashing through the air, sparkling
amongst the flowers, sitting and shining in dear little soft swinging
cradles, on the tips of broad, green palm leaves, or the petals of
fair, drooping flowers. They will go on being _living_ sunbeams then,
not poor, dead, dusty ones in hats. And it will be you who will have
done this, you who will have kept sunbeams alive in the world, instead
of letting them be killed and go out of it for ever. Yes, it will be
you--and your dear mother. So now you must say to your dear mother,
"Oh, mother, do promise never to wear a hat that has a Humming-bird in
it." Say it quickly, and with _ever_ so many kisses.



CHAPTER X

The Cock-of-the-Rock and the Lyre-Bird


Well, I have told you about the Humming-birds and the Birds of
Paradise, which are the _most_ beautiful birds that there are in the
world. Now I will tell you about just a few other ones which are very
beautiful, although they are not quite so beautiful as those are. One
of them is the Cock-of-the-Rock, a bird which lives in South America,
where the Humming-birds live. There are three kinds and they are all
handsome, but the handsomest, _I_ think, is the one that is called the
Blood-red Cock-of-the-Rock. It is about the size of a small pigeon,
and of the most wonderful blood-red colour you can imagine. You would
think, when you saw it first, that it had not one feather on the
whole of its body that was not of this brilliant crimson, but, after
a little, when your eyes are not so dazzled, you see that its wings
and tail are not red but brown. Only, when the wings are shut they are
almost quite covered up by the flaming feathers of the back, and just
on one part--that part which we should call the shoulders--they are
red too. "A scarlet bird! A crimson bird!" that is what you would say
first, if you were to see this wonderful Cock-of-the-Rock, and then,
all at once, you would cry out, "Oh, but where is his beak? Why, he
has no beak!" Yes, and you might almost say, "Where is his head?" for
you don't see that either--at least, you only see the back of it, all
the rest, and the beak too, is hidden in a wonderful crest of crimson
feathers that almost looks like the head itself, only it is a little
too big for that. This crest is just the shape of a tea-cosy, so that
it looks as if some one had put a little tea-cosy made of the most
splendid blood-red, fiery, crimson-sunset feathers right over the
bird's head and covered it quite up. You see no beak at all, and it
_does_ look so funny to see a bird without a beak--_almost_ as funny as
it would to see a beak without a bird.

The two other kinds of Cock-of-the-Rock are very handsome birds, too.
One of them has all its plumage orange-coloured, instead of crimson,
and the other is of a colour between orange and crimson. So, if you
were travelling from one part of South America to another, it would
seem as if the same bird was getting brighter and brighter or darker
and darker all the way, for the three different kinds do not live in
the same parts of the country, but in different parts that join each
other. Only, of course, you would have to go in the right direction,
which would be, first, through the forests of British Guiana, then
along the banks of the great river Amazon--which is the largest river
in the world--then up the mountains of Peru, and then, still higher, up
those of Ecuador. Or, you might start from Ecuador and go all the way
to British Guiana. If you get an atlas and look for the map of South
America, your mother will soon show you where all these places are.

Now after what you know about the Humming-birds and the Birds of
Paradise, you will not be surprised to hear that this brilliant crimson
or orange-coloured bird has quite a sober-coloured wife, and that he
is as careful to please her, as they are, by showing her his beautiful
bright plumage in all the ways in which it looks best; in fact he is
so very careful about it that I feel quite sure he pleases himself by
doing so, at the same time. You know now that male birds dance, when
they show their fine feathers to their wives and sweethearts, for I
have told you about the "sácalelis" of the Great Bird of Paradise, and
the way in which those other Birds of Paradise danced whilst the two
travellers were watching them. But some birds have still more wonderful
dances than these; at least they behave in a way that is even more like
real dancing. Now the Cock-of-the-Rock is a very fine dancer indeed,
and he has a regular place to dance and play in, which we may call his
ball-room, or his drawing-room, or his play-ground--whichever name
we like best. He chooses it in some part of the forest where it is a
little open, and where the ground is soft and mossy, and here, every
day, a number of birds assemble, some males and some females; for of
course the hen-birds come too, there would be nothing to dance for
without them. Then first one of the cocks walks out into the middle of
the open space and begins to dance. He flutters and waves his wings,
moves his head, with its wonderful crimson tea-cosy, from side to side,
and hops about with the queerest little jumpy steps you ever saw. As
he goes on he gets more and more excited, springs higher and higher
into the air, waves his wings more and more violently, and shakes his
head as if he were trying to shake off the tea-cosy, so as to have a
cup of tea to refresh himself. All the other birds stand and look at
him, criticise his performance, turn their heads towards each other,
and make remarks, you may be sure. "How elegant!" exclaims a young hen
Cock-of-the-Rock. "What spring! What elasticity! Really he is a very
fine performer." "I have seen finer ones in my time," says an older
hen--in fact quite an elderly bird. "One could judge better, however,
if there were some one else to compare him with. He seems to be having
it all his own way. In _my_ time there was more emulation amongst male
birds." And you may be sure that, as soon as she says that, ever so
many other Cocks-of-the-Rock step out into the ring, and there they
are, all dancing together, all springing and jumping, all waving their
wings, and all trying to shake the tea-cosies off their heads, so as to
have a cup of tea for refreshment after all that exercise. Perhaps you
will say that that is nonsense, because there is no teapot under the
tea-cosy; but remember that no one has ever taken that tea-cosy off.
How can you tell what is under a tea-cosy until you take it off. (Your
mother will tell you that this is only _fun_.)

[Illustration: COCK-OF-THE-ROCK]

But what a strange, curious dance it is, this wonderful bird dance,
all in the wild, lonely forest. Oh, how interesting it would be to see
it--to find out one of those little, open places where the moss is all
pressed smooth and firm, and then to hide somewhere near, and wait
there quietly, quietly, without making a sound, all alone in the great,
wild, lonely forest, until at last--at last--there is a crimson flash
amongst the tree-trunks, and then another and another and another, as
bird after bird comes flying or walking to the ball-room, and the dance
begins. And sometimes you would see them chasing each other through
the forest, all very excited, and often clinging to the trunks of the
trees, and spreading and ruffling out their lovely plumage, so as to
show it to each other, each one seeming to say, "I _think_ mine is
finer than yours; _perhaps_ I may be mistaken, but I _think_ so." What
beautiful birds! and what funny birds, and what interesting things they
do whilst they are alive! As soon as they are dead they are not funny
or interesting any more, and they are only beautiful as a shawl or a
piece of embroidery is beautiful. It is dead beauty then; the beauty
of life--which is the highest beauty of all--is gone out of them.

Now you can see many and many beautiful things that never had life in
them, though some, such as beautiful statues and pictures, imitate
life so marvellously that you would almost think they were alive. And
you can admire these beautiful things, and take pleasure in looking at
them, without having to feel sorry that they once were alive and happy,
but have been killed for you to look at. Surely you would not wish a
beautiful, happy bird to be killed, just for you to look at. You would
not even wish it to be put in a cage and kept alive, in a way in which
it could not be happy. No, you would rather know that it was alive and
happy in its own country, and only imagine what it was like, and how
beautiful it was. That is much the best way of seeing creatures, if we
have no other way without killing them or putting them in prison--to
imagine them; and there is ever so much more pleasure in imagining
creatures alive and happy than in seeing them dead or wretched. It is a
very fine thing, I can tell you, to _imagine_, and some people can do
it a great deal better than others. There _are_ people who cannot do it
at all, but we do not want birds killed for _stupid_ persons. People
who cannot imagine can do capitally without seeing, either--just as
well as people who _can_ imagine, only in another way. Now, just ask
your mother to promise not to wear any hat that has the feathers of a
beautiful Cock-of-the-Rock in it.

In Australia--oh, but perhaps you want to know why this handsome bird
is called the Cock-of-the-Rock, such a very funny name. Well, although
it lives in forests and flies about amongst the trees, yet some of
these forests are on the sides of mountains, so, of course, there
are rocks all about. The Cock-of-the-Rock likes to perch upon a very
high one; so, when the old travellers first saw it perched up there,
and looking such a fine bird, they called it a Cock-of-the-Rock, and
almost expected to hear it crow. At least, if this is not the right
explanation, it is the only one I can think of. The Indians _may_ have
another one, but if they have I cannot tell it you, because I do not
know what it is. Perhaps if I were to think a little, I should know--or
else I could imagine it--but I have no time to think or imagine just at
present. I want to get on.

In Australia, the great island-continent--the island that is so large
that we call it a continent--there is a wonderful bird called the
Lyre-bird. It is one of the most wonderful and the most beautiful birds
that there is in the world, and all its wonder and all its beauty lies
in its tail. This wonderful tail--as I am sure you will guess from
the name of the bird--is shaped like a lyre, though it is much more
beautiful than any lyre ever was, even the one that Apollo played
on. You know, I dare say, what a lyre is, a kind of harp with a very
graceful shape, curving first out and then in, and then out again on
each side, and with the strings in the centre. Now the Lyre-bird has,
on each side of its tail, two beautiful, broad feathers that curve in
this way, and are of a pretty chestnut colour, with transparent spaces
all the way down. These are the two outer tail feathers, and they are
like the two sides of the lyre--the solid part of it which is held
in the hand, and which we call the framework. Then, for the strings,
which, as you know, are stretched across the hollow space within the
framework, not from side to side, but lengthways from one end to the
other, the Lyre-bird has a number of most beautiful, thin, graceful
feathers, more graceful and delicate than the strings of any harp.
Only, instead of being straight, like harp strings, these feathers are
curved, and droop over to each side in a most graceful way, and instead
of keeping inside the two broad feathers--the sides of the lyre--they
come a long way past them, and instead of being only four, which is the
number of strings that a lyre has, there are ever so many of them--more
than a dozen, I feel sure. And if you could see these feathers, and
the way they are made, oh, you would think them wonderful. You know
that on each side of the quill of most feathers there is what is called
the web--which we have talked about--and this web is made of a number
of little, light, delicate sprays, like miniature feathers, which
we call barbs, and these are kept close together by having a lot of
little, tiddy-tiny hooks (though such soft little things don't look
like hooks a bit), which are called barbules, with which they catch
hold of each other, and won't let each other go. That is why the web
of a feather--on each side of the quill--is so smooth and even. But,
now, in these wonderful feathers of the Lyre-bird, the little delicate
things (the barbs) which make the webs are much fewer than in ordinary
feathers, and they have no little hooks to catch hold of each other
with, and instead of being all together, they are a quarter of an inch
apart, and wave about, each by itself, looking like very delicate
threads floating from the long slender quill of the feather. And that,
too, is how those beautiful plume-feathers of the Birds of Paradise are
formed, and you have seen something like it in the long ones of the
peacock's tail. The tail of the Lyre-bird is not so grand, perhaps, as
that of the peacock, but it is more graceful and delicate, and on the
whole, I _think_ (for on such points one can never be sure) it is still
more wonderful.

But now is it not very strange that any bird should have a tail like
that--a tail that is shaped like Apollo's lyre? Well, I will tell
you how it happened, for it is one of those things that requires an
explanation--and is lucky. Once the great god Apollo (who is the god
of music and song) was walking in Australia and playing upon his lyre.
Now, I must tell you, at that time--it was a very long time ago--the
Lyre-bird had not a tail like it has now, but quite an ordinary one;
so, as it is only its tail that is _extra_ordinary, it was quite an
ordinary bird. But although it was ordinary in appearance, it was
extremely musical, as it is now--I must tell you that--and also a
wonderful imitator of every sound that can be made. The Lyre-bird can
imitate all the different notes of other birds, as well as the barking
of dogs, the mewing of cats, and the conversation of people.

So, when it heard Apollo playing so sweetly on his lyre, it was quite
enraptured, and began to imitate it so cleverly that you would have
thought there were two Apollos playing on two lyres. All the other
birds and creatures were delighted at this--for, of course, two good
things are better than only one--but, for some reason or other which
I cannot quite explain, Apollo was not nearly so pleased. In fact, he
became angry, and _so_ angry that he threw his lyre at the poor bird
who had so appreciated his music, and the lyre hit it on the tail as
it ran away and cut it right off. Of course, when the Lyre-bird found
that it had no tail it was in a terrible state, and it came to Apollo
and said: "It was because I loved your music that I tried to imitate
it. I failed, no doubt--for who can sing as Apollo?--but still it is
a hard price to have to pay for my admiration." And when Apollo heard
that, he was so sorry for what he had done, and so pleased with the way
in which the Lyre-bird had explained things, that he said to it: "Well,
I will make amends, and what I give shall be better than what I took
away. The lyre which I threw at you, you shall keep, but it shall be of
feathers, and even more beautiful than my own. You shall not play on
it, for none but myself must do that, but you shall always be a most
musical bird, as you are now, and able to imitate any sound that you
hear, even my own playing. That power I will not take away from you, I
will even increase it, and from this time forth you shall be called the
Lyre-bird, in honour of your piety and good taste."

That is how the Lyre-bird got its tail, and why it is, now, a very
beautiful, as well as a very musical, bird. But what its tail was like
before Apollo gave it the one it has now, that I cannot tell you,
for it has never been known to allude to the subject, and it would
hardly do to ask it. We only know that it was quite ordinary. But,
do you know, Apollo never quite liked the Lyre-bird's imitating him,
even though he had told it that it might, and so, not so very long
afterwards, he left the country. He went to Greece--it was a very long
time ago--and he has not gone back to Australia yet.

Now you may be sure that a bird with a tail like that has his playing
ground, where he may come and show it to his wife or sweetheart; for it
is only the male bird who has it--like the others--though, really, I
cannot think what Apollo was about, not to give it to the hen as well,
for he was always a very polite god. The Lyre-bird's playground is a
small, round hillock--which he makes all himself--and there he will
come and walk about, raising his magnificent tail right up into the
air, and spreading it out in the most beautiful and graceful way. And,
as he does this, he will sing so beautifully, sometimes his own notes,
which are very pretty ones, and sometimes those of other birds, all of
which he can imitate quite well. But, of course, as Apollo has left
Australia, he cannot imitate him any more now, and after such a long
time he has forgotten what he learnt, unless, indeed, his own notes are
what Apollo used to play. But, if that is the case, he must have left
off singing his old song, and I do not think he would have done that.

This wonderful bird builds a wonderful nest with a roof to it, so
that he can get right inside it and be quite hidden from sight, tail
and all, although he is so large--almost as large as a pheasant, even
without counting his tail. As a rule it is only little birds that make
nests like that, and not big ones. The Lyre-bird's nest is something
like the one that our little wren makes--which perhaps you have
seen--only of course ever so much bigger. Only one egg is laid in it,
and out of it comes one of the queerest little birds you can imagine,
all covered with white, fluffy down, and with no tail at all that you
can see, so that you would never think he was going to grow into a
Lyre-bird. It takes him four years to get that wonderful tail. Apollo
did not mean him to have it, until he was quite grown up--it was not a
thing to be entrusted to children.

Now you must not think that the Lyre-bird always holds his tail up in
the air, for when he walks through the thick bushes he has to carry it
as a pheasant does, and I think you know how that is. As soon as he
wants to show it to his wife or his sweetheart, up it goes, and oh, it
_does_ look so beautiful!

But now, if it were not for that promise which your mother is going to
make you, there would very soon be no more of these wonderful birds,
with their wonderful and beautiful tails, left in Australia, which
would mean that there would be none in the whole world, for Australia
is the only country in the world where they are found. People like much
better to see that beautiful tail in their rooms, where it will soon
get spoilt and dusty, or to put some feathers of it in their hats,
than to know that the bird is running about with it, alive and happy,
holding it down like a pheasant's when he walks through the bushes, but
raising it in the air when he stands on his little hillock, for the
hen Lyre-bird to see, and singing her a song as well. People who live
in Australia--and there are a great many people who live there--might
often see it doing that if they were to take a little trouble (they
take a great deal of trouble to kill it), and, even if they could not
see it, they would hear its beautiful song. But they like much better
to kill it, so that there may be a little less song and beauty and
happiness in the world, and all because of the wicked little demon with
the correct suit of clothes. But all this is going to be altered, and
you are going to alter it. Just run to your mother, wherever she is--if
she is not with you now--and ask her to promise, _ever_ so faithfully,
never to have anything whatever to do with a hat that has so much as
one single feather of a Lyre-bird in it.



CHAPTER XI

The Resplendent Trogon and the Argus Pheasant


One of the most beautiful birds in the whole world--more beautiful,
even, than _some_ of the Birds of Paradise and than _some_ of the
Humming-birds, even those that are not hermits--is the lovely Trogon
of Mexico. But first I must tell you that there are a great many
birds called Trogons that live in other parts of America as well as
in Mexico, and in other parts of the world as well as in America. But
the most beautiful of all of them--which is the only one I shall have
time to tell you about--is the Resplendent Trogon or Quezal--for that
is what the Indians call it--and it is only found in Mexico, which,
you know, is in North America, only right down at the southern end of
it, where there are a good many Humming-birds too. There are many more
Humming-birds in South America than in North America. It is the hot,
tropical countries they are so fond of. You see they like to be with
their brothers the sunbeams.

This Mexico is such an interesting country. It belongs, now, to the
Spaniards, whom I dare say you have heard about, but once it belonged
to a quite different people, an old people who had been there for
hundreds and hundreds of years, long before Columbus discovered
America. These people were civilised, only in a different way to
ourselves. They did not wear the kind of clothes that we do, but only
light linen things, dyed all sorts of colours, which were prettier
and suited the climate. They had many cities, as we have, though they
were built in a different way, and the largest was built all over a
great lake, with bridges going from one side of it to another. One can
build houses in the water, you know, for there is Venice in Italy, and
Rotterdam in Holland, which are both built in the sea, and which your
mother will tell you about.

These people, who were called Aztecs, were very clever workmen, and
such wonderful goldsmiths and silversmiths, especially, that they used
to make imitation gardens, with all sorts of flowers beaten out of
gold and silver. Then they used feathers as we do a paint-box, to make
pictures of things with. They would paint houses and ships and men and
boats and landscapes with them, putting the right-coloured feathers
just where they were wanted, blue ones for the sky, green ones for the
grass, and so on. For the wicked little demon knew of those people
just as well as he knows of us, and he had taught them to kill birds,
too. Only as they had no guns they could not kill nearly so many of
them as we can, so that there was no danger, then, of a beautiful bird
getting rarer and rarer, until, at last, it is not to be found in the
world any more, which is what happens now with us--at least it will if
_you_ do not stop it. But though it would have been much better to let
these birds--which were often Humming-birds--go on living and flying
about, and though no picture made with their feathers was nearly so
beautiful as the feathers themselves were, growing upon them, yet these
feather-pictures of the old Aztecs were very wonderful things, and it
is a great pity that there are none of them left now, for us to look
at. Nothing could bring the poor birds back to life, so we might just
as well have had the pictures that they had helped to make.

And we might have had some other pictures, too, that these people made,
for they used to draw things, just as we do, and when they wanted to
describe a thing they would often draw a picture of it, instead of only
_saying_ what it was like. Even their writing was all in pictures, for
when they wanted to write--say the word "sun" or the word "house"--they
would draw a little picture of the sun or of a house, only so quickly
and with such a few strokes of the pen or the paint-brush (I don't
quite know which it was), that it was quite like proper writing. Of
course there are some words that are not so easy to make a picture
of--as you can try for yourself--but, wherever it could be done, these
old Aztecs would do it. And if only we had some more of this writing
(for we have very little of it), we should be able to know a great deal
more about this old people, who were in America before Columbus came
there, and what they did and what they thought about, and the remarks
they made to each other, and just think how interesting that would be.
It is always interesting to know something about people quite different
to ourselves who lived a long time ago.

Unfortunately, when the Spaniards had conquered these people, instead
of keeping the things which they had made, they burnt them. They burnt
their houses, their temples, their cities, their picture-writings,
their feather-pictures, their wonderful flowers--until the gold
and silver they were made of were quite melted--their clothes,
everything--even the people themselves--and, to save time, they
often burnt the two last together. It is a great pity they did this,
but, you see, everybody has a plan of doing things, and the plan of
the Spaniards was to burn the people they conquered, and everything
belonging to them. But was it not horribly cruel? Oh! most horribly;
but so it is to shoot sea-gulls, and then to cut off their wings,
before they are dead, and throw them back into the sea, to drown there
or bleed to death. That is what _we_ do, and _it_ is horribly cruel,
too. So do not let us think about the cruel things the Spaniards
did--yet. Let us think, first, about the cruel things that are done
by people in our own country, and try to stop _them_. _When_ we have
stopped them--_all_ of them--then we can think about the Spaniards--and
some other nations.

You know there is a proverb which says, "Those who live in glass houses
should not throw stones;" that is generally one of the first proverbs
we learn, and _always_ the very first one we forget. I am afraid that
those old Aztecs lived in _rather_ a glass house, for _they_ had a plan
of cutting people open, whilst they were still alive, and tearing their
hearts out. Horrible! was it not? But they did not _burn_ people; so,
when they saw the Spaniards doing so, they were shocked at them. As
for the Spaniards, _they_ were shocked at the Aztecs doing this other
thing, for _that_ had never been _their_ custom. So the Aztecs and the
Spaniards were shocked at each other. People are very easily shocked at
each other, but they are not nearly so easily shocked at themselves.
Now I come to think of it, I never remember hearing any one say, "I
am _shocked_ at myself!" And yet it would often be a quite sensible
remark.

But what I wanted to tell you about these old Aztecs, who lived in
Mexico all that time ago, was that, when the Spaniards came there, they
were ruled over by a great king named Montezuma, and this king, amongst
many other wonderful things, had a great place, where he kept all the
different kinds of birds that were found in his country. A place like
that is called an aviary, and you may be quite sure that the beautiful
Trogon or Quezal was one of the birds in King Montezuma's aviary, for
it was more highly thought of than any other bird in the country. Let
us hope that all the birds in this aviary had nice, large places to be
in, with trees, and flowers, and everything that they wanted; and, as
it was a king's aviary, I daresay they had.

Well, now, I will tell you what this beautiful bird, the Quezal or
Resplendent Trogon, that used to be in King Montezuma's aviary,
is like. It is about the size of a turtle-dove, but with the most
beautiful, long, curling feathers in its tail, and these beautiful
feathers, and all the feathers on its back and breast and on its head,
too, are of the most lovely, rich, golden-green colour. Really I don't
know whether there is more of gold or of green in them, but there
is just the right quantity of each to make them the most beautiful,
beautiful feathers you can possibly imagine. It is the tail-feathers
that are the most beautiful, for they are so very long--the two longest
are much longer than those in a pheasant's tail--but there are some
feathers which begin on the back and lap softly round the sides, one
a little way off from the other, so that you see their pretty shapes,
and these are almost as beautiful, although they are ever so much
shorter. But now there is something funny about those long feathers,
which I have called the tail-feathers, and that is, that they are not
_really_ tail-feathers at all. They look as if they were, but _really_
they are feathers which go _over_ the tail and cover it up, so that
the _real_ tail is underneath them. It is like that--though I am sure
you never knew it--with the peacock; those beautiful, long feathers
which we _call_ the tail are not _really_ the tail, and you will see
that, directly, if you watch a peacock when he spreads them out, for,
as soon as he does, you will see the real tail underneath, which is
nothing very particular to look at. Still, in both these birds the long
feathers look so like the real tail that we may very well call them the
tail-feathers, and we can always explain about it afterwards, to show
how much we know. And, do you know, these beautiful, long, golden-green
feathers of the Quezal, which we are going to call the tail-feathers,
although we know very well they are not, were so highly valued by
these people who used to live in Mexico, that no one was ever allowed
to kill the bird, but only to catch it and cut them off and let it go
again, so that new ones might grow on it. And only the chiefs were
allowed to wear its feathers. And, indeed, there would be no great harm
in wearing feathers in hats, if we got them only in that way. Only
I cannot think what the little demon could have been about in that
country. A law like that must have made him very angry indeed.

Then, besides his splendid tail-feathers, this beautiful bird has a
crest on his head, which is something like the one the Cock-of-the-Rock
has on his, for it is of the same tea-cosy shape, only it is green
instead of crimson, and it does not quite cover up the beak. So perhaps
you will think that, as the Cock-of-the-Rock is all blood-red, with a
tea-cosy crest on his head, this beautiful golden-green Trogon, with
the tea-cosy crest on _his_ head, is all golden-green. But no, all the
lower part of him--that part which is hidden when he sits down--instead
of being golden-green, is the most splendid vermilion, as bright a
colour--although it is not quite the same--as the Cock-of-the-Rock's
himself. Just think, golden-green and splendidly bright vermilion! and
you cannot think how beautiful the one looks against the other. Whether
they would look quite so well together in a dress _I_ am not quite
sure, but your mother would know all about that. Only you must remember
that _such_ a golden-green and _such_ a vermilion as this Trogon has
were never seen together--no, or separately either--in any dress yet.

[Illustration: THE RESPLENDENT TROGON]

These beautiful Quezals live in the forests of Mexico, and they like
to sit lazily on the branch of a tree, and let their beautiful long
tails (which we know are not _really_ tails) hang down underneath
it, like the "funny feathers" of the Birds of Paradise. At least the
male birds like to do that, because the female Quezals have not got
those beautiful, long feathers, although they are very fine birds even
without them. They are not so handsome as the males, but they are not
plain like the female Humming-birds or Birds of Paradise. Perhaps the
male Quezals show off their fine feathers to the females by letting
them hang down like that, because, of course, long, soft, drooping
feathers, such as they have, would not stand up in the air, like those
of the peacock or of the Lyre-bird. But very likely they have some
other nice way of showing them.

Now, although the Quezal or Resplendent Trogon is such a magnificent
bird, he is not so very often seen. It is difficult to find him in the
dense forest, and I wish it was still more difficult than it is, for
when he _is_ found, he is always shot for those beautiful feathers of
his. When the Indian who is looking for him sees him sitting in the way
I have told you, he hides somewhere near and imitates the cry of the
bird. When the poor Trogon hears it, he thinks it is another Trogon--a
friend of his, perhaps--and so he comes flying to where the sound
came from. Then this deceitful man--and I really think it is _very_
contemptible to deceive a bird in that way--shoots him, and there is
one beautiful, happy bird less in the world. Is it not dreadful to
think of, that in almost every part of the world there are some _very_
beautiful birds to be found, and everywhere they are being killed and
killed and killed, so that they are getting scarcer and scarcer every
year? If it were not for what your mother has promised you about the
Lyre-bird, and what she is going to promise you about this Trogon,
there would soon be no more beautiful Lyre-birds in Australia, and no
more beautiful Trogons in Mexico. How terrible that would be! But we
have saved the beautiful Lyre-bird, and now we are going to save the
beautiful Trogon. Ask your mother--oh, _do_ ask her--to promise, most
_faithfully_, never to have anything whatever to do with a hat that has
any of the feathers--short or long, golden-green or vermilion--of a
Quezal--a Resplendent Trogon--in it. Ah, now she has promised, and we
have saved that beautiful bird as well as a great many others.

Now I will tell you about a very beautiful pheasant--the Argus
Pheasant. Some people may think him the most beautiful one of all.
And yet he is not the most showy pheasant--for the pheasants, you
know, are very showy birds indeed. There is the Golden Pheasant, who
is dressed in the sun's own livery; and the Silver Pheasant, who has
a silver white one which is more like the moon's, but who looks gaudy
and smart all the same; and the Amherst Pheasant, who manages to be
handsomer than both the sun and moon--which is very clever of him; and
the Fire-back, who is all in a blaze without minding it at all; and
the Impeyan or Monal, who looks as if he was made of beaten metal, and
had just been polished up with a piece of wash-leather. There is the
Peacock, too--for he is really nothing but a large pheasant--so, you
see, the pheasants are a handsome family, and you may be sure that
they know how to appreciate themselves. The pheasant that we are going
to talk about is quite a large bird, not so large as the peacock, it
is true, but with still longer tail-feathers, and oh, such wonderful
wings! One may say, indeed, that this bird is all wings and tail, but
he is principally wings, at least when he spreads them out. But, even
when they are folded, they are so very large that he looks quite
wrapped up in them; and I think he is, too, partly because of that, but
still more because they are so very handsome.

So, first, I will tell you what these large, handsome wings of his are
like. Well, in each one there are twenty-five or twenty-six very fine
long feathers, but these feathers are not all so fine or so long as
each other. Ten of them are about a foot long, and these are prettily
marked and mottled with all sorts of pretty brown colours, whilst, down
the centre of each one, there is a pretty blue stripe. It is the quill
of the feather that makes that stripe, for it is blue, and looks as if
it had been painted. So you see even these are pretty feathers, but
it is the fifteen or sixteen other ones that are so very beautiful.
They are much broader and longer than the other ten--the longest are
more than twice as long--and down each of them, just on one side of
the great quill in the centre, there is a row of such wonderful spots.
They are as large as horse-chestnuts (big ones I mean), and what they
look like is a cup and ball, the ball just lying in the cup ready to
be sent up; only, of course, the cup has no handle to it--you must not
think that--for the spots are round. And, do you know, the balls look
as if they were _really_ balls, so that you would think you could take
them in your hand, and throw them up into the air, and catch them
again as they came down. They do not look flat at all. You know, when
you try to draw an orange or an apple, how difficult it is not to make
it look flat like a penny. _You would_ make it look flat, I know, but
these wonderful balls on the Argus Pheasant's feathers look as if
they had all been drawn by a very clever artist (as indeed they have
been--a _very_ clever one), who had shaded them properly; you know how
difficult shading is. There are eighteen or twenty--sometimes as many
as twenty-two--of these wonderful spots on each feather, but I have not
told you, yet, of what colour they are. Perhaps you will think they are
very bright and dazzling. No, they are not like that at all. They are
soft, not bright, and their softness is their beauty. All round them,
at the edge, there is a ring of deep, soft brown, and, just inside the
ring, there is a lighter brown, and it goes on getting lighter and
lighter, until, in the centre, it is a pretty, soft amber, and, at
the edge of the soft amber, there is a pretty, white, silvery light,
as if the moon was just coming out from behind an amber cloud. _So_
pretty! And when the Argus Pheasant spreads his wonderful wings out,
you can see more than a hundred of these wonderful spots on each wing,
which is more than two hundred altogether. Such a sight! so soft and
so pretty they look. Shall I tell you what such wings are like? They
are like skies where the stars are all moons, that float softly among
soft brown and amber clouds, tipping them all with soft silver. For the
Argus Pheasant is not one of the very brilliant birds of the world. No,
he is not brilliant at all. His colours are only soft browns and soft
ambers and soft, silver whites, and yet he is so pretty, so beautiful.
I think he is as pretty as the peacock, and, when one sees him after
the peacock, it is a rest for the eye. Some people might prefer him to
the peacock. Do you wonder at that? It is not so very wonderful. There
may be a little girl reading this, with soft brown hair and soft brown
eyes, and with nothing golden or gleaming about her, and some people,
besides her father and mother, may think her prettier than the little
girl who is all golden and gleaming. It is all a matter of taste. Some
like a broad sheet of water dancing in the sunlight, and some like
quiet streams running under cool, mossy banks, with trees arching above
them, where the shadows are cool and deep, and where even the sun's
peepings are only like brighter shadows. People who like that better
than the other, will like the quiet little girl with the brown hair
better than the one who gleams and dazzles; and they will like the
Argus Pheasant better than the peacock, and think them both a rest for
the eye. It is not at all a bad thing to be a rest for the eye.

[Illustration: THE ARGUS PHEASANT]

I have told you how large the wings of the Argus Pheasant are; when
he spreads them out to show to the hen bird (who has nothing like
them), they look like two banners or two beautiful feather-fans, the
kind of fans that you see Eastern queens being fanned with, in the
pictures. Then he has a very fine tail as well, as I told you. Two
of the feathers in it are very long indeed--quite four feet long, I
should think--and as broad as a man's hand, if not broader, near the
base (which means where they begin), but getting gradually narrower
towards the tips. On one side, these feathers are a soft, rich brown,
with silver-white spots, and, on the other, a soft, silver grey, with
silver-white spots. When the Argus Pheasant spreads out his two great
wings, he takes care to lift up his fine handsome tail, as well, so
that the two long feathers of it are quite high in the air. So there is
his tail going up like a rocket, whilst his wings spread out on each
side of it, like feather-fans, and his head comes out between them,
just in the middle, and makes a polite bow to the hen. That is the
right way to do it, and the Argus Pheasant would rather not do it at
all than not do it properly. Oh, he takes a great deal of trouble about
it, and all for the hen--which is unselfish.

This beautiful Argus Pheasant lives in Sumatra--which is a large island
of the Malay Archipelago--and also in the Malay Peninsula and Siam,
which are, both, part of the great Asiatic continent--as perhaps you
know. Yes, that is where he lives, but you might walk about there for
a very long time, without ever once seeing him, for the Argus Pheasant
is a very difficult bird to find. He lives in the great, thick forests,
and keeps out of everybody's way. One hardly ever does find _him_,
but, sometimes, one finds his drawing-room (for he has one, like the
Cock-of-the-Rock and the Lyre-bird), and if one waits there long enough
(_I_ would wait a week if it were necessary) one may see him come into
it. He spends almost all his time in looking after this drawing-room,
and he only sees the hen Argus Pheasant when she comes there too, to
look at him. Of course he dances in it, and it is there that he spreads
out his wonderful wings and lifts up his tail, in the way that I have
told you. The Argus Pheasant is very proud of his drawing-room, and he
_will_ have it nice and clean, with nothing lying about in it. So, if
he finds anything there that has no business to be there, he picks it
up with his beak, and throws it outside. He has not to open a door to
do that; his drawing-room is only an open space which he keeps nice
and smooth, so, as it is always open, it does not want a door to it.
Now I think you will say--and I am _sure_ your mother will agree with
you--that the Argus Pheasant does quite right to act in this way, and
that to keep one's drawing-room clean and tidy is a very proper thing
to do. Your mother may be surprised, perhaps, that it is the male Argus
Pheasant, and not the hen bird, that does it, but I am sure she will
not blame _him_ on that account. But I am sorry to say that the wicked
little demon has found out a way of making this habit of the poor
bird's--which is such a good one--a means of killing him.

The people who live in that part of the world--those yellow people
called Malays that I have told you of--know all about the ways of the
Argus Pheasant, and how he will _not_ have things lying about in his
drawing-room. Now there is a great tall reed that grows there, called
the bamboo, which I am sure you have heard of, and which your mother
will tell you all about. The Malays cut off a piece of this bamboo,
about two feet long, and then they shave it down--all except about six
inches at one end of it--till it is almost as thin as writing paper. It
looks like a piece of ribbon then, only, as it is very hard, as well
as thin, its edges are quite sharp, and able to cut like a razor. But
the piece at the end, which has been left and not shaved down, they cut
into a point, so that it makes a peg, and this peg, that has a ribbon
at the end of it, they stick into the ground, right in the middle of
the Argus Pheasant's drawing-room. So, when the poor Argus Pheasant
comes into his drawing-room, he sees something lying on the floor,
which has no business to be there. It may be only a ribbon, but that
is not the right place for it, so he tries to pick it up and throw it
outside. But it won't come, however much he pulls it, for the peg at
the end is fixed in the ground, and he is not strong enough to pull
it out. At last he gets angry and thinks he will make a great effort.
He twists the long ribbon round and round his neck--just as you would
twist a piece of string round and round your hand if you were going
to pull it hard--then takes hold of it with his beak, just above the
ground, and gives quite a tremendous spring backwards. You may guess
what happens. The long peg does not come out of the ground, but the
ribbon is drawn quite tight round the poor bird's own neck, and the
sharp edges almost cut his head off.

Now is not _that_ a most cruel trick to play upon a bird who only wants
to keep his drawing-room in proper order? How would your dear mother
like to be treated in such a way for being _neat_ and _tidy_, which I
am sure she is? But we are going to stop it--this cruel trick of the
wicked little demon--for it was he who thought of it and taught it to
the Malays. It is not _their_ fault, you must not be angry with them,
any more than with the poor women whose hearts the same demon has
frozen. We are going to stop it, and you know how. The Malay only kills
the poor Argus Pheasant to sell his feathers. If _they_ were not wanted
he would leave him alone, to be happy and beautiful, and to dance in
a nice tidy drawing-room. So just ask your mother to promise never to
wear a hat--or anything else--that has a feather, or even a little
piece of a feather, of an Argus Pheasant in it.

That was going to be the end of the chapter, but there is just
something which I have forgotten. I am sure you will have been
wondering why this beautiful pheasant is called the Argus Pheasant,
and what the word Argus means. Well, I will give you an explanation.
Argus was the name of a wonderful being--a kind of monster--who had a
hundred eyes, and who lived a long time ago. But he offended the great
god Jupiter, who had him killed, and then Jupiter's wife--the goddess
Juno--whose servant he was, put all his eyes into the tail of the
peacock--for the peacock was her favourite bird. That is one story; but
another one says that she did _not_ put them _all_ there, but only the
bright ones. The soft ones--those pretty ones that I have been telling
you about--she put into the wings of another bird, that she liked
quite as well, if not better, and that bird became, at once, the Argus
Pheasant. But now if Argus had only a hundred eyes, how is it that
there are two hundred, or more, in the wings of the Argus Pheasant, to
say nothing of those in the tail of the peacock? That shows, _I_ think,
quite clearly that he must, really, have had a great many more; and so,
now, when people talk to you of Argus and his hundred eyes, you can
say, "A hundred, indeed! Why, he must have had _three_ hundred at the
very least." And then you can tell them why.



CHAPTER XII

White Egrets, "Ospreys," and Ostrich-Feathers


The last bird I am going to tell you about is the White Egret. But, do
you know, I am not quite sure if he is beautiful enough to be put in a
book of beautiful birds, because, of course, a book of beautiful birds
means a book of _the_ most beautiful birds that there are, and I am not
_quite_ sure if the White Egret is so beautiful as all that. At any
rate he is not so beautiful as the birds I have been telling you about,
and there are many other birds in the world that I have _not_ told you
about, that are more beautiful than he is. So, perhaps, you will wonder
why I put him into the book at all, but I will soon give you a proper
explanation of it. In the first place, if the White Egret is not one of
the most beautiful birds in the world, yet, at any rate, he has some of
the most beautiful feathers that any bird has, and that alone, I think,
gives him a right to be here, because, you know, "fine feathers make
fine birds." And, in the second place, this poor bird is so shot and
killed and persecuted for these beautiful feathers of his, that, unless
you were to get your mother to make that promise about him, there would
soon be no such thing as a White Egret left in the world. He and his
feathers would both be gone.

But now, perhaps, you will say that if "fine feathers make fine birds,"
then beautiful feathers must make beautiful birds, too, and so the
White Egret must be a beautiful bird. Oh, yes, he is. You are quite
right. I did not mean that he was not a beautiful bird at all. All I
meant was that he was not quite so beautiful as the Birds of Paradise
and the Humming-birds, and birds like that--birds that look as if they
had flown into a jeweller's shop, and then flown out again with all the
best part of the jewellery upon them. Whether he is not as beautiful as
some of the other birds we have talked about--but I will not say which,
for fear of offending them--that I am not quite so sure of; but, at any
rate, he is beautiful.

[Illustration: THE WHITE EGRET]

Oh, yes, he is quite a beautiful bird, is the White Egret; and now I
will describe him to you. I shall not have any colours to tell you
about, because he is all white--which of course you will have guessed
from his name--but you know how beautiful white can be. You will not
have forgotten the little Humming-bird who was made still more
beautiful than he had been before, by three snowflakes falling upon
him. But, with this bird, it is as if the snow had fallen all over
him and covered him up, for he is white all over, a beautiful, soft,
silky white, as pure and delicate as the snow itself. Only his shape,
perhaps, is a little funny--at least you might think so--for he has a
pair of long, thin, stilty legs, and a long, thin, snaky neck, and a
long, sharp, pointed beak, so that all three of these together make him
a tall, thin, stilty bird. "Something like a stork, that is," you will
say, for you will have seen pictures of storks, even if you have not
seen one alive in the Zoological Gardens--which is a very bad place for
him, _I_ think. Well, this bird _is_ something like a stork, but he is
a great deal more like a heron, that long-legged, long-necked bird that
stands for hours in the water, waiting for a fish to come near it, so
that it may catch it and swallow it; for the heron, you know, lives on
fish and frogs, and things of that sort.

Yes, he is very like a heron, and, do you know, there is a very
good reason for that, because the White Egret _is_ a heron. Some
birds, I must tell you, have names which are like our surnames, and
show the family they belong to. As long as you only know a boy's or
girl's Christian name--Reginald or Bertram or Dorothy or Norah or
Wilhelmina--you don't know a bit what family they belong to; but as
soon as you know their _surnames_--Smith or Brown or Jones or Thompson
or Robinson--why then you do--and it is just the same with birds. Heron
is really a surname, only the bird that has it, here in England, has
not a Christian name as well--unless "common" is one, for he is called
the Common Heron. But White Egret is a Christian name and the surname
to it is Heron--for the White Egret belongs to the Heron family. That
is why he is so tall and gaunt and stilty, for a heron is always like
that--it is the family figure--and so now, when I tell you that _he_
stands in the water and catches fish, you will know why he does that,
too; fish is the family dish, and no heron would think of going without
it, for long.

But now, let me tell you about those beautiful feathers which the
poor White Egret has. They grow only on his back--about the middle of
it--and droop down to a little way over his tail, so that they are
a foot or more long. You remember what I explained to you about the
feathers in the tail of the Lyre-bird, and those that make the plumes
in the beautiful Birds of Paradise--how the barbs of the feather on
each side of the quill have no barbules to hold them together, so that
they fall apart and wave about like beautiful, soft, silky threads. If
you have forgotten, then you must look back for it, because I should
not explain it better here than I do there, and, besides, it would
be twice over. Well, these feathers are made in the same way, only
they are of a pure, shining white--like all the rest of this birds
plumage--and although they are as soft as silk they are stiff at the
same time, and so smooth that they look like the delicate flakings from
a piece of beautiful, pure, polished ivory. Imagine a little fountain
of ivory threads all shooting up together into the air, quite straight
at first, and then bending over and drooping down in the most delicate,
graceful way imaginable. That is what a plume of those feathers looks
like, when they have been taken out and tied together, but I wish,
myself, that they did not look nearly so beautiful, for it is because
of those beautiful plumes, that the poor bird is being killed and
killed and becoming scarcer and scarcer, every day. For the women whose
hearts the little demon has frozen, wear these plumes in their hats and
in their hair, and they are called "ospreys," and are very fashionable
indeed.

Soldiers, too, used to wear them in their caps, but _they_ have
given up doing so. It is only the frozen-hearted women who are
killing the poor White Egrets now--but ah, there are so many of them
(the women I mean, not the Egrets). I have sat at the entrance of
a large concert-hall, and counted the faces that had these lovely
egret-plumes--these beautiful, fashionable "ospreys," so white and
yet so blood-stained--nodding above them--counted them as they
came in and as they went out, young faces, old faces, soft faces,
hard faces, shrivelled faces, puckered faces, painted faces, plain
faces, ugly faces, quite dreadful faces--ah, what numbers of them
there were! It was quite difficult to count them all. Every now and
again there would be a pretty face, and I used to count _those_
separately--one--two--three--four--five--sometimes up to half-a-dozen.
That was not so tiring, but, you see, I had to count them all.

Oh, wise but wicked little demon, who blew his bad powders into the
hearts of _all_ the women! There were two kinds, you know, and one of
them was "Vanity." Now if it had been a man--however wicked a one--I
feel sure that he would have looked about for the women with the
_pretty_ faces, and who were rather young, to blow _that_ powder into.
But the little demon was wiser, in his own wicked way. He did not go
about, looking and looking. He blew it into _all_ their hearts, and
that gave him no trouble at all.

Now, I must tell you that there are two different kinds of White
Egrets, with these beautiful feathers that the women with the frozen
hearts wear. One is much larger than the other, and is called the
Great White Egret. He is quite a big bird, larger even than our common
heron--and you know what a big bird _he_ is. The other one, which is
called the Small White Egret, is not more than half the size of the
great one, but his feathers are the most beautiful, so that, though
he has not nearly so many of them, he is worth nearly twice as much
money. That means, of course, that the servants of the wicked little
demon, who shoot him and sell his feathers, can get nearly twice as
much money for them as they can for the feathers of the other one. So,
of course, they like shooting him best, but they are very glad to shoot
the other one--the Great White Egret--too, for even _his_ feathers
are worth a good deal. Now, if the wicked little demon had not frozen
the hearts of women, they would never want to wear feathers that cost
the lives of the poor birds to whom they belong--because, you know,
women are, _really_, so kind. Then, of course, those feathers that are
so beautiful would not be worth anything (as it is called), and so
men would not shoot the White Egrets, because they would not be able
to sell their feathers. I am afraid they would have no better reason
for not doing so than that, because men, you know, are not kind and
pitiful--as women are, if only their hearts are not frozen. But, at any
rate, the White Egrets would be left alive.

And you must not think that their feathers would _really_ not be worth
anything, then. When we talk of a thing not being worth anything, what
we really mean is that we cannot sell it for money. Now what are things
that you cannot sell for money? I will tell you three. There is the
sky, and the air, and the sunlight. You cannot buy or sell them, but
do you think they are not worth anything! _I_ think they are worth a
good deal. Then there is a good temper; nobody can buy that, but yet
what a lot it is worth! Now if the beautiful feathers of the White
Egret could not be sold, because the world was better and there were no
frozen-hearted women to buy them, yet they would be worth something,
although it would not be money. They would be worth love and pity
and sympathy and interest and real admiration (which never wants to
kill), for all those things would be given to the beautiful bird with
its beautiful feathers, and it would be just because of those things
that no one would think of killing him. His feathers, then, would be
like the smiles on a face. You cannot take those _out_ of the face,
and put them in a hat. If you could, then some one would soon say to
you: "Will you part with a few of your smiles? They are fashionable
in hats just now; I will give you, for a nice, bright one--let me
see--half-a-crown." Then you might say that a nice, bright smile was
worth half-a-crown. But I think it is worth much more where it is, in
your face, though you cannot take it out and get half-a-crown for it.

Smiles are not bought for money in _that_ way, but you must remember
that what is not worth money is often worth much better things. That is
why I wish the feathers of the poor White Egrets were not worth even
a penny. If they were not, then, if you were to go to the countries
where they live, you would see those feathers on the birds themselves,
where they look most beautiful, and you could watch the birds (with
the feathers on them) flying through the air, or perched in trees, or
walking about in the water and catching fish in it, or building their
nests, or feeding their young, or doing all sorts of other interesting
and amusing things. And they would not be so rare then; in fact they
would be quite common, so that you would not have to go into such
out-of-the-way places--yes, and such unhealthy places too--in order to
see them. No, they would be all about, so that they would often come
to see _you_, instead of your going to see _them_; sometimes, even,
they might come into your garden--for why should you not have a garden
in another country?--and walk about on the lawn. Think how interesting
that would be, and how pretty it would look!--and all because those
beautiful white feathers would not be worth anything.

But, because they are worth a good deal, men who would kill every bird
in the world for money go out with guns, and shoot these poor White
Egrets whenever and wherever they see them. And, because of this,
they are only to be found, now, in swamps and places where you, and
most other sensible people, do not like to go; so that, now, the only
people who ever see these beautiful birds are just the servants of the
demon, who murder them as soon as they see them. You and I, and others
like us, who would like to look at them, and admire them, and watch
their ways, and learn all about them, cannot do so, cannot see them
at all, cannot even imagine them, unless in swamps, and being shot.
Yet once they were quite common, so that everybody might look at them.
Now they are getting rarer and rarer, so that very soon, if we do not
do something about it quickly, there will be no more of them left in
the world. How dreadful that is to think of! If you were to see a very
beautiful picture, or statue, and then, afterwards, you were to hear
that it had been destroyed, you would feel sorry, would you not? And
not only you, but all the world would. I feel perfectly sure that if
Sir Edwin Landseer, who (as your mother will tell you) was a great
animal artist, had painted a White Egret, everybody would think it
quite shocking if it were to be burnt or torn up. You would hear people
say (and they would be quite right to say so): "Oh, it is dreadful, it
is quite dreadful to think of! It can never be replaced! There is no
such other artist! To think of such a masterpiece being destroyed!"
Now, when all the White Egrets (and let me tell you they are _all_
masterpieces) have been destroyed, it will be quite impossible to
replace any one of them; so that that kind of bird--or any other kind
of bird or animal that has been shot and shot till there are no more
of it left--will have gone in just the same way that a picture goes,
when you burn it or tear it to pieces. But is there any picture of a
bird or animal, that is so beautiful or so wonderful as that bird or
animal itself? And is there any artist so great as the artist who made
it, who made that bird or animal, that picture with a life inside it?
You know who _that_ artist is, you know _His_ name--or if you do not,
your mother will tell you. I have called Him Dame Nature, but that is
only just a way of talking. He has another name, greater than that. He
is a much greater artist than Sir Edwin Landseer (or even Raphael or
Phidias), but I am afraid there are not many people who really know
that He is. Perhaps He is too great to be appreciated. That sometimes
happens, even amongst ourselves.

Well, these poor White Egrets--these masterpieces that are always
being destroyed--are birds that live, mostly, in America--in Mexico,
and California, and Florida, and, I think, all over South and Central
America. They live in the swamps and lagunes--as they are called--of
the great forests, where trees grow all about in the water--such dark,
gloomy, wonderful places--and the servants of the little demon, whose
business it is to kill them, have to follow them to those places, and
live there, too. Of course it is very unhealthy for them, and they
often die there; but the women with the frozen hearts do not mind that,
any more than they mind the Egrets being shot. They want the feathers,
and when they pay for the feathers they pay for the lives as well--for
they are honest, although their hearts have been frozen.

Perhaps you will wonder how men can live at all, in such places as
those. Of course, as it is all water, they have to live in boats or
canoes, and as soon as they have found out a pool or creek, where the
White Egrets come to catch fish, or some trees where they have built
their nests, they cover their boats over with reeds or rushes or ferns
or the branches of trees, so that, even though you were to come quite
close to them, you would not think they were boats at all, but only
part of the forest. That is what the poor White Egrets think, for the
men sit in their covered-up boats, quite silently--without speaking a
word--and, as soon as they come near enough to them, fire at them and
kill them.

And now I will tell you another dreadful thing, which makes the killing
of these poor birds more cruel even than you will have thought it was,
though I am sure you will have thought it cruel enough. I have spoken
of their having nests, so, of course, there will often be young ones
in those nests, who cannot feed themselves, but have to be fed by the
parent birds. What do the young ones do when the parent birds--their
own fathers and mothers--have been shot? I will tell you. They starve.
That is what they do, and that is what the women with the frozen
hearts, who wear these feathers, know that they do--for they have been
told so, now, often enough. Is it not terrible? For those pure, white,
beautiful feathers, not only have the grown birds been killed, but the
young ones--their children--have starved--starved slowly--in the nest
where they were born. Day after day they had looked out from it, to
see their father or mother come flying to them, with something to eat;
day after day they had not seen them, and when the night came--oh,
they were so hungry! Before, how glad they used to be when they saw
the great, white wings come floating to them, slowly, through the
air, like a silver sun, like a broad, white, silken sail. Nearer and
nearer they came, and then there was a cry of greeting, and such _good_
appetites for breakfast or dinner. Their appetites were just as good
now--indeed better, for they were starving--but where was father or
mother, where were the broad, white wings, the silken sail, the great
silver sun? Oh, how they strained their eyes and stretched their poor,
little, long necks over the side of the nest, to try to see them, to
see if they were not coming, if there was only a speck of white in the
distance! But they saw nothing, for father and mother had both been
shot. And, now, they grew so weak with hunger that they could not hold
their heads up, any more. They laid them down in the nest, and their
eyes closed, and their poor little voices only came in whispers, "Feed
us! feed us!"--they had been screams before. Then even the whispers
ceased, the beaks could not be opened, and slowly, slowly they starved.

And those are the feathers--feathers that have been got in that
way--which the poor women whose hearts the little demon has frozen,
wear in their hats. In those hats they go out to concerts, and hear
songs that are all of love and tenderness, and music that seems to have
been made by the angels in heaven; in those hats they go to meetings
that are held, perhaps, for some good and just thing--to save people
from being killed, or children from being starved--some of them may
even speak at such meetings--and in those hats, those very hats; in
those hats, too, they go to church, they kneel down in them, and they
pray--yes, _pray_.

Oh, it is wonderful--wonderful! In Africa, where the people believe in
witchcraft, one man will throw a spell upon another man that he hates,
so that wherever that man goes and whatever he does, he always sees his
face, his enemy's face. There it is, always before him, and, at last,
he gets so tired of seeing it that he dies, or even kills himself.
Of course, he does not _really_ see the face, and his enemy does not
_really_ cast a spell upon him, because there is no such thing as
witchcraft, _really_; it is all superstition, as I think you know. But
as the one man _thinks_ he sees the face, and the other man _thinks_ he
is casting a spell upon him, and making him see it, it comes to very
nearly--if not quite--the same thing as if it were real, especially as
the one man does _really_ die. Ah, if those hats could cast a spell
(not quite the same one as that, but something like it), if, wherever
the women who wore them went--whether it was to concerts where they
heard beautiful music, or to meetings where good things were talked
about, or to church where they kneeled down and prayed--they always
saw a picture of a nest, with young birds in it, starving--slowly
starving! if it was always there, always before them--that pitiful
picture--and if the voices came, too--the screams, and then the
whispers--"Feed us! feed us!" then, I think, they would take off those
hats, and they would not wear them any more. They need not die or kill
themselves, they would only have to take off those hats.

And they will do that now, because you and every little child in the
world will have asked them to. Yes, they will do it now. They will
take off those hats--those hats of starvation and murder, of terrible
and shameful cruelty--they will leave off wearing them, they will
never put them on, again. Those plumes called "ospreys," that one sees
everywhere--in streets and in shop-windows, at concerts, at meetings,
and in churches--that bend above fine sentiments, that wave over
charities and goodnesses, and tremble, softly, in the breath that
prayers are made of--they will tear them out of their hats and out of
their hair--yes, and out of their hearts too. They will hate them,
they will loathe them, and when they say, next time, in church, upon
their knees, "Give us this day our daily bread," they will try not to
remember them, or only to think that they are unfashionable.

Oh, make them unfashionable! for you have not yet, you have not said
"promise" yet. Oh, then, at once, at once! Break the spell of the
demon, that spell that is so real and so cruel, that spell that kills
the soul. Thaw the poor frozen heart, thaw it with your own warm one,
with your lips, with your soft hands and arms. Thaw it with the tears
in your eyes, as they look up, thaw it with the words that you say,
"Mother, do not kill parents, and make children starve! Mother, do not
wear 'ospreys!' Oh, mother, promise, promise!"

So, now, we have saved the White Egrets, as well as all those other
birds that I have been telling you of, and that your mother has
promised about. But does that save all the beautiful birds in the
world? Oh no, for there are ever so many more than I have been able
to say anything about, in a little book like this, more--oh, a great
many more--than all the Birds of Paradise, and all the Humming-birds,
and all the other ones in the other chapters--for, you know, there are
not many--put together. And though the Humming-birds and the Birds of
Paradise and the White Egrets and the others are, now, quite safe,
yet, if your mother does not promise about the rest, people will go on
killing them, till there are no more of them left in the world. Think
what that would mean! Why, besides hundreds and hundreds of beautiful
foreign birds, it would mean all the kingfishers--the star-birds (for
there has been no promise about them)--and all the chaffinches and
bullfinches and goldfinches and greenfinches--yes, and all the little
robin-redbreasts too--being shot and shot, killed and killed, till
there were no more of them left, either in England or anywhere else.
For, of course, when all the beautiful foreign birds were gone, then
the frozen-hearted women would begin to wear our own little birds,
here at home, in their hats. You would hear one lady say to another:
"I wanted to have a redbreast tippet this winter, but, my _dear_ they
are so expensive. You see, hundreds go to one, because there's only the
breast, so I'm afraid I must fall back on greenfinch. They're less, of
course; you see, there's a greater surface, and they're not quite so
rare. But I _did_ so want redbreast!" And, then, the other lady would
say: "Well, I think I should manage it if I were you, dear, for, you
know, they say there'll soon be no more real redbreast--only imitation.
So it's best to get one, whilst there's time." And you may be sure that
it would be managed somehow--things like that always are.

Well, then, but what is to be done? Do you think your mother would
make a promise about all the birds? I think she would if _you_ were
to ask her. But then, perhaps, she might think it a _little_ hard not
to wear any feathers--just at first, at any rate--although flowers
and all sorts of other things look ever so much nicer in hats. Oh,
but wait. Are there _no_ feathers that can be worn in hats without
its doing any harm at all--without any bird being killed to get
them? Why, yes, of course there are--and the very handsomest of them
all--ostrich-feathers. Ostriches are kept on farms, and twice a year,
their beautiful white and black feathers are clipped and sent to
the market. So, as they are not killed, but kept alive and fed and
taken care of, and have a very good time of it--as I can tell you
that they do, for I have lived on an ostrich-farm--I do not see any
reason why one should not wear their feathers--if one wants to. And
how beautiful their feathers are! I think, myself, that they are the
only feathers that really look nice in a hat--at any rate they are
the only ones that ever looked nice in a portrait. A portrait of a
lady in a beautiful, broad-brimmed hat, with beautiful, broad, soft
ostrich-feathers curling all round it, looks lovely; but a portrait of
a lady in a stiff little pork-pie sort of thing, with a lot of heads
and wings and tails, sticking bolt upright in it, looks _horrid_.
People, you know, always look like their portraits, as long as their
portraits are good ones--and, of course, we are not talking about bad
portraits. So I think that any _sensible_ woman, even though her heart
were frozen and she were determined to wear feathers, would only wear
ostrich-feathers. Of course, no woman whose heart the wicked little
demon had _not_ frozen would ever wear any other kind.

But there are not going to be frozen-hearted women in the world any
more, now, because their little children will soon have thawed all
their hearts, and the Goddess of pity is just beginning to wake up
again. So now, ask your dear, dear mother to make just one more
promise, just one more which will be better than all the others she has
made. Of course she could not be expected to make it quite at first,
but now, after all that you have told her, I think she will. Just go to
her and throw your arms round her neck, and whisper: "Mother, promise
not to wear _any_ feathers, except the beautiful ostrich-feathers that
you look so _lovely_ in." As soon as she has promised, then all the
beautiful birds in the world (and that means all the birds, for all
birds are beautiful) will be saved, and it is you and the other little
children who will have saved them. So, of course, you must keep on
saying "Promise" till she does.


  Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO.
  Edinburgh & London



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE


Archaic, obsolete, unusual and inconsistent spellings have been
maintained as in the original book. Obvious errors have been fixed as
noted below.

  Page 119:   spring from the top of the small
  Originally: spring from the the top of the small





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