Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Birds and Beasts
Author: Lemonnier, Camille
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 "Birds and Beasts" ***

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



(This file was produced from images generously made


                            Birds and Beasts


 _Translated by_ A. R. Allinson _from the French of_ Camille Lemonnier

                            _Illustrated by_
                             E. J. Detmold

                  London: George Allen & Company, Ltd.
                 _Ruskin House_, Rathbone Place. Mcmxi

                         [All rights reserved]

                  Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson & Co.
                   At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh



                       Contents and Illustrations


                                                                    PAGE
  Jack and Murph                                                       1
  The Captive Goldfinch                                               53
  Strange Adventures of a Little White Rabbit                         91
  “Monsieur Friquet”                                                 106
  A Lost Dog                                                         133
  Misadventures of an Owl                                            156



                            Birds and Beasts


[Illustration: JACK AND MURPH]



                             Jack and Murph


                                   I

Jack and Murph were friends, old friends, trusty and tried.

It was now nearly six years since the day chance had brought them
together as members of the same company. Jack had come straight from the
African forests; he had crossed the seas, and set foot on the continent
of Europe for the first time; his amazement knew no bounds.

It is not for nothing a little fellow of his sort is torn from the
freedom of his vagabond life in the woods and surrendered to the tender
mercies of a showman of performing animals. He learned to know the cruel
tedium of captivity; shut up in a cage, he thought sadly of his merry
gambols in the tree-tops; his little face grew wan and withered, and he
came near pining to death. But time damped the keenness of his grief; by
dint of seeing around him other little creatures that, like himself, had
wearied for their native wilds, then little by little had grown
reconciled to their fate, and now seemed to get a prodigious amount of
fun out of their new life, he made the best of the bars, the tainted air
of the booth, and the clown’s grimaces, rehearsing his drolleries before
the animals’ cages.

At the same time he could never quite share the gaiety of his companions
in misfortune. While they were enjoying everlasting games of
hide-and-seek, scuffling, squabbling, pelting each other with nuts, he
would cower timidly in a corner, too sad at heart to join in their noisy
merriment. Sometimes, when his feelings grew too much for him, he would
break out in a series of sharp, shrill outcries, or wail like a new-born
babe in his doleful despair.

The master was very fond of him, for he was both intelligent and
teachable. In a very short time he learned to do his musket drill, to
walk the slack-rope, and use the spring-board. But these accomplishments
only earned him the ill-will of the other pupils. There was never a
prank they did not play him. No sooner had he cracked a nut, to eat the
kernel, than a hand would dart over his shoulder and snatch the morsel
just as he was putting it between his teeth. They slapped his face,
pinched his tail, scarified his head with their nails, jumped upon him,
or half strangled him in a corner, till a day came at last when his
master, noticing how he was bullied, put him in a separate cage all by
himself. But this loneliness only made him more unhappy still; he spent
his life in lamentation, sitting stock-still all day long, with his arms
hanging limp, and his eyes fixed on vacancy, refusing either to eat or
drink. This would never do; so they left him at liberty to wander at
will in the house.


                                   II

Oh! but this house was not a bit like mine or yours; yet it had doors
and windows like any other house, but so tiny these doors and windows
were, they were hardly worth mentioning. Imagine a house on four wheels,
and no higher than a man of middle size, with three little windows high
up admitting light and air from outside; you entered by a wooden
staircase that looked more like the ladder of a windmill than anything
else.

This queer construction rolled most part of the year along the high
roads, jolting, gee-wo, gee-hup! in and out of the ruts, and carting
about in its interior men and animals, to say nothing of household
stuff—beds, cooking-stoves, chests crammed with clothes, and a whole
heap of other things. An old horse, who was little better than a bag of
bones, was in the shafts; when a halt was called, they let him crop the
grass alongside the hedgerows.

It was the funniest thing, being hauled along like this, tossing and
tumbling in this box on wheels where the furniture seemed to be always
just on the point of starting a polka. The table would throw up its legs
in the air, and the chairs turn head over heels, while the pots and pans
knocked together in the corners, making the quaintest music, sharp or
flat in key according to the jolts.

Jack, perched atop of a big press, held on tooth and nail to save a
tumble. More often than not he found himself under the table along with
his good friend Murph, a Stoic philosopher, who let nothing ever disturb
his equanimity, but calmly went on beating the bush of his thick woolly
coat in search of the game that lived there. All the while the caravan,
bumping and thumping with a terrific rattle, was tacking and luffing
over the rolling billows of the stony roads.


                                  III

It is high time to tell you that Jack was a dear, pretty little monkey
of the chimpanzee kind, with tiny, delicate hands, nervous and
semi-transparent, almost like a sick child’s. He was no bigger, the
whole body of him, than a pocket-handkerchief, and you could have easily
hidden him inside your hat. He was slim and slender, daintily made, with
narrow chest and sloping shoulders—a creature all nerves, with a
wonderful little pale phiz of his own, puckered and wrinkled, and long,
drooping eyelids, greyish-white, and as thin as an onion skin, that
slowly, rhythmically, opened and closed over brown eyes ringed with
yellow. He bore the solemn, serious look of those who suffer; his eyes
seemed fixed on something beyond the visible world, and now and again he
would pass his long, dry fingers across his eyes as if to wipe away a
tear. He seldom gambolled, and never indulged in the grotesque
contortions of other apes; their restless, ceaseless activity seemed
foreign to his nature, and even his grimaces had nothing in common with
theirs.

Noise scared him; he was never angry, but habitually silent and
thoughtful. He preferred to lurk alone in dark corners, where he would
spend long hours, squatted on his tail, almost motionless, dreaming
sadly of some mysterious, unattainable future. But, for all his
unlikeness to his colleagues and their comicality, his queer little
crumpled, wrinkled face never failed to produce its effect on the
spectators. Jack was perfectly irresistible; no one _could_ look at him
for any length of time without bursting out laughing. His aspect was at
once so piteous and so ridiculous, his gaze so pathetic and so
grotesque, his deadly earnestness so side-splitting, while his eyelids
would droop suddenly ever and anon in so anxious and appealing a wink,
that the result was comic beyond belief. An old, old man’s head on a
baby’s body, a mask that was for ever changing, twitching, wrinkling,
with eyes that looked out grave, intense, solemn, from beneath a low,
flat brow crowned by what looked for all the world like a wig!

The louder the merriment he excited, the more serious Jack became. On
show days, while the audience was convulsed with mirth, the gravity of
his mien, the careworn look in his eyes, over which the lids dropped
mechanically at regular intervals, as if weighed down with their load of
melancholy, reached the acme of fantastic absurdity.

Alas! men cannot tell what monkeys are thinking of. If they knew, they
would not always laugh. Jack was dreaming of the sun, the vast green
forests, the friends he had left behind; he was dreaming of the delights
of swinging high in the air, cradled in the leafy hammocks of the
boughs, dreaming of the trailing lianas, of the romps and games with his
fellows throwing cocoanuts at one another’s heads, and of the endless
chivyings and chasings from tree-top to tree-top above the rolling
billows of the wind-tossed jungles, through which the wild
beasts—elephants, panthers, and lions—plough their way like ships on the
high seas, leaving in their wake a broad furrow of floating odours and
deep-toned sounds.


                                   IV

But Jack had a friend, and he never embarked on his voyages into the
far-away dreamland without calling on his old chum Murph to join him.

Yes, Murph gambolled with him in the tropical jungles, Murph frolicked
with him in the tall grasses, Murph and he amused themselves together at
never-ending games of play; if ever it was granted him to see his native
land again, he fully hoped to take Murph along with him.

Poor Jack! he did not understand that the worthy Murph, acrobat as he
was, would have found it hard to follow him in the lofty regions where
his congeners are wont to disport themselves, nearer to the stars than
the earth. Not a doubt of it, Murph would have had to kick his heels at
the foot of a tree, while his friend was off and away aloft; and the
smallest of his perils would have been to find himself, on looking
round, face to face with a python-snake, just uncoiling his folds to
spring, or else, on the river-banks, confronted with the gaping jaws of
a crocodile.

Murph could play dominoes, tell fortunes, hunt for a handkerchief in a
spectator’s pocket, read the paper. Murph had many other accomplishments
besides, but it is far from certain that he would have extricated
himself successfully from a _tête-à-tête_ of this sort with beasts that
could boast neither his education nor his manners.

The liking was reciprocal. From the very first Jack had taken a fancy to
the big woolly-coated dog, as woolly as a sheep, who never barked or
growled or grumbled or showed his teeth—so unlike the other dogs in the
menagerie; in the same way Murph, the big dog, had formed an affection
for the well-behaved, sad-faced little ape, who never pulled his tail
and never tried to scratch out his eyes.

As it happened, the showman had made up his mind to make them perform
together. Murph was the best runner in the troupe; there was nobody like
him for a round trot or a swinging gallop, for wheeling suddenly round
and dropping to his knees just before making his exit, nobody to match
Murph, always good-tempered and imperturbable, always on the look-out,
with his bright eyes half hid under the bushy eyebrows, for a bit of
sugar and a round of applause.

Jack, for his part, had very soon become a brilliant horseman, lissom
and fearless, an adept at leaping through the hoops and vaulting the
bars. Thus the two seemed made for each other, both in body and mind.
They bore the hardships of the life together, and they shared its
successes; by dint of standing so often back against back and muzzle
against muzzle, they found their hearts brought close together too, and
became fast friends. Murph was never to be seen without Jack; wherever
Jack was, Murph was there as well; they lived curled up on the same rug,
in the same corner, under the same table, Murph licking Jack in the
neck, and Jack stroking Murph’s nose, each bound to each in perfect
trust and amity.


                                   V

Murph was older than Jack by nearly nine years, and his years made him
nearly as serious-minded as his friend. But it was a different sort of
gravity. Murph was neither morose nor disillusioned; his was the gentle
seriousness of old age. He had seen many things since he had been in the
world, but life did not appear to have left only its dregs in him. He
still believed in springtide, in friendship, in the master’s kind heart;
then he had neither family nor native land to regret, for he had been
born in the menagerie of a father and mother broken in like himself to
circle the trapeze and leap through the hoop.

His horizon was bounded by the four walls of the caravan in which, as a
puppy still sucking at his mother’s breast, he had been carted from fair
to fair. Day by day he had watched from behind the window-panes the long
procession of cities and countries filing past; he had visited most
parts of Europe, in company with the strange _omnium-gatherum_ of apes,
goats, parrots, and dogs that at each halting-place was the delight of
the infant population. But he had never taken it upon him to covet the
kingdom of this world; he had never craved to roam at liberty through
the streets; never, in one word, had he so much as dreamt of playing
truant. He was a very learned dog, and, like other learned people, he
lived absorbed in his own thoughts, self-centred within the circle of
his meditations, seeking nothing of things outside.


                                   VI

Murph was a poodle by breed, and you might have searched long before you
found a bigger or better-built one. Standing well on his legs, with a
good, strong, supple back of his own, he carried his head high, as a
self-respecting poodle should. I mean, of course, in the days when Murph
was still young, for since age had crept on him, it _would_ droop more
or less; but even so, there was something proud and dignified about its
carriage that always attracted attention. He walked slowly and sedately,
as if intent on the solution of an ever-insoluble problem. His thick,
curly fleece clothed his neck like a mane, while a stout pair of long
drooping moustaches gave him the look of an old cavalry officer; his
skin was smooth and polished where the coat had been cut very close; he
wore heavy ruffles round his ankles, and his tail ended in a woolly
tuft.

Thus accoutred, Murph was a fine-looking dog; the curs of low degree
that came prowling round the van, and caught a glimpse of him through
the crack of the door, gazed at him with admiration. He had the majestic
port of beings destined to greatness; it was easy to see he might have
been a diplomatist, or a great general, if nature, in fashioning his
lot, had not chosen rather to give him the shape of a poodle; nor was
Murph slow to appreciate and enjoy the impression he produced.

Fine fellow as he was, he was not altogether free from vanity; the
humblest animal with which Murph compared himself was the lion; he had
seen one once in a travelling menagerie, and been struck by his own
likeness to the king of beasts. Why, had he not, like the lion, a mane
about his neck, a tuft to his tail, and bracelets of hair about his
ankles? Had he not likewise his Olympian look and superb carriage? By
dint of a little imagination, Murph had come to believe the lion a
degenerated type of poodle dog.

But let us pass lightly over his foibles; every one has his little
weaknesses. Time, moreover, that damps the foolish ardour of mankind and
dogkind, had tamed our friend’s ambitions. He was by now as
contemplative and calm as some wise philosopher satiated with the
glories of this world. More often on his back than on his feet, he would
watch the younger dogs, his juniors in the profession, capering and
giving themselves the airs of a drum-major heading his regiment, without
any other feeling towards them but one of kindly indulgence; and if any
one else was disposed to rebuke them, he would shake his head, as much
as to say, “There, there, we have all of us done the like in our day!”


                                  VII

Jack had come as a solace to his old age; he had loved him as a friend,
almost as a son, with a truly fatherly affection.

This little suffering, delicate creature, so morbidly nervous and
excitable, had roused in him some mysterious instinct of protection,
that had grown little by little and ended by forming an unbreakable bond
of brotherhood. Ceaselessly he watched over his protégé, sheltered him,
defended him, kept for him the best of his bodily heat and his warm
heart. If a bullying animal ran after Jack, in one bound the latter was
beside Murph, who would show a determined front, that soon sent the
would-be tormentor to the right-about. One day, indeed, Murph, usually
so good-tempered, showed his teeth to the master himself, who, for some
small fault, had thought good to lift his whip at the little monkey. If
Jack was a-cold—and he was always shivering, blow the wind from what
quarter it might—quick he would slip between Murph’s paws and cuddle
against his breast in the warm, cosy place. Murph was Jack’s special
providence.

Thus they had been living for nearly half-a-dozen years. Never a cloud
had dimmed their good accord; never an angry snap of the teeth—never a
pettish fit; mankind might have taken a lesson in the art of friendship
from them. Thus they had grown old, loving, fondling, helping each
other, making between them the prettiest happy family ever known in the
world, never weary one of the other, but realising the ideal of the most
perfect union.

Mutual esteem further increased their affection. Murph had never seen an
ape more alert and clever, more intelligent and active than Jack; he
would gladly have stood for hours watching him performing his tricks,
clinging to the cords with his delicate, dry little hands, then hurling
himself into space to alight again on his feet, or else holding on by
his tail and swinging from earth to heaven on the trapeze.

On his side Jack—Jack the cynic, whose lack-lustre eyes seemed incapable
of any curiosity—admired his friend Murph as a creature of extraordinary
gifts.

And what wonderful things the good dog could do, to be sure! I have
mentioned some of them; I could tell of many others. Murph could climb a
ladder; Murph could walk along a line of bottle necks; Murph could nose
out the prettiest lady in the audience; Murph could play the
cornet-à-piston; Murph could smoke a pipe; Murph was almost a man.


                                  VIII

It did one good to see him “come on,” a big pink bow knotted in the
tufts that adorned his tail. He would enter gravely, bow politely to
right and left, then cast a questioning look at his master, quite
motionless the while, except for a slight quiver of the tail, waiting
for the conclusion of the introductory remarks which the “old man” never
failed to address to the audience. At last came the loud “Hi,
Murph!”—and the good dog began his evening’s work.

He could have given points to the most experienced actors by his aplomb,
his punctiliousness, his patient and never-flagging attention. Nothing
ever distracted him from his part. Wags would amuse themselves sometimes
by offering him a lump of sugar, or even pitch a sausage or a cake right
between his paws; but Murph was adamant against such temptations. How
the crowd cheered and clapped hands and stamped feet when he went
bounding from hoop to hoop, so supple and nimble and self-possessed,
never losing step or missing a spring, striking the paper with his head
fair and square in the middle every time, crashing through and landing
again on his feet, gravely and yet so elegantly.

His tricks finished, he would repeat his bows to right and left, still
quite sedate and unintoxicated by the thunders of applause. The fact is,
Murph respected both his audience and himself; he knew how to keep his
feelings to himself—how different from those ill-trained dogs that yelp
and bark and lose their heads in the hurly-burly, quite forgetting that
the finest thing on earth is to take one’s triumph modestly.


                                   IX

But Murph was particularly admirable in the tricks he went through with
Jack. Each of the two friends seemed made to help out the other, and
each vied with the other in sacrificing himself to enhance the general
effect. Now it was “Mazeppa’s ride”; you know—Mazeppa bound on the back
of his fiery charger and borne on and on in wild career over the steppes
in a whirlwind of flying stones and smothering dust. Now it was a
_powder-play_ of Bedouins, pursuing, retreating, prancing, curvetting,
rising in their stirrups and brandishing their muskets; or else a mortal
combat between two troops of horse, firing at each other, reloading and
firing again. The spectacle, whatever it was, was always thrilling.

Murph would stand waiting in the side-scenes for his cue. Suddenly he
would give a spring, a tremendous spring, and like a bomb-shell he was
on the stage, with mane erect and flashing eyes; clearing every
obstacle, upsetting everything he encountered, animate or inanimate, he
hurled himself on to the boards; on his back, clinging to his woolly
coat, shaking and shivering, teeth hard set and mouth awry, rode a
little black figure wrapped in a voluminous burnous that flapped in the
wind.

And bing! bang! bang! as his steed dashed by, with all the flash and
dazzle of red saddle braided with gold, scarlet bridle, and red, green,
blue spangles, shaking the boards, rattling the lustres, rustling the
curtain, to reiterated cries of “Hi! hip! hurrah, hurrah!” and the crack
of the whip going off like pistol-shots behind, Jack would fire off his
gun over and over again, till he was shrouded in a cloud of smoke,
through which he could be discerned still tireless, still indefatigable,
bestriding Murph in every possible position, now perched on the neck,
now on the crupper. He seemed made of iron, the frail little being!
Murph might prance and jib and shy, buck-jump and leap fences—nothing
could unseat Jack. The performance over, the latter would shake his
little head under its jockey-cap two or three times, by way of bow, and
so exit, as his friend the poodle gave one last tremendous bound that
carried him and his rider out of sight.

The enthusiasm of the spectators followed him behind the scenes, and the
floor trembled and shook under the drumming of heavy boots. The applause
grew deafening, and suddenly Jack and Murph made a final whirlwind dash
across the stage, executed a last frantic _fantasia_—and retired for
good and all.


                                   X

But, alas! Murph was getting old. His exertions tired him dreadfully;
after each performance he had to be rubbed down and attended to, or he
would have lain moaning and groaning for an hour.

His master was sorry for him, and with deep regret—for he saw no glimpse
among his troupe of any talent to take the place of the “falling
star”—he set him to do his more quiet tricks—playing dominoes, finding
handkerchiefs, walking on bottles.

At the same time he resolved to try a young poodle to fill the hole in
the receipts his good, faithful Murph’s retirement was bound to make. He
trained the animal to run in circles, to leap through hoops, to clear
obstacles, and one fine day clapped Jack on his back.

Banco—that was the poodle’s name—had not gone three steps before he was
bitten, beaten, garrotted, and left blinded and bleeding. The master
punished Jack severely, and presently made a fresh attempt. But, no—Jack
_would_ not obey; he tore Banco’s ear in two, and then sprang from the
saddle and hid himself in a dark corner.

Much the same thing happened at every new trial. The whip was no sort of
use; Jack was not to be moved. At last, wearied out, the showman gave
in, and Jack and Murph remained inseparable, living and working together
as before.

One night Murph came in from his performance utterly worn out, his
tongue hanging out of his mouth and his strength exhausted; his midday
meal had proved indigestible, and, to cap all, the applause to-night had
been faint and feeble.

Ah! few of us know how actors live on that elusive thing, the favour of
the public, and what renewed force, when they are grown old and have one
foot in the grave already, what fresh vigour the smiles of a delighted
audience instil in their veins, when the blood is beginning to run
feeble!

No, the thankless audience did not for once acknowledge Murph as their
old favourite, the veteran of the boards, the good and gallant beast
that had so often been their darling and their delight. Under his
outward show of indifference Murph hid a vast fund of sensibility, and
the coldness of his audience cut him to the quick, coming so soon after
his late successes. He thought the dark night of public neglect was
beginning for him; he realised his loss of vigour, his waning energies,
and, like other old players, he saw himself superannuated, out of date,
unknown, and misunderstood by a new public, become a mere shadow on the
scene of his former triumphs. Add to this his master’s evident
ill-humour, as he foresaw the inevitable moment when his old servant
would be a mere pensioner on his bounty.

Murph staggered off, and fell panting on the rug that formed his bed.

Then Jack came to help him; but, alas! even Jack could not console him
just at first. Murph rejected his friend’s ministrations, so bitter was
his rancour against mankind. But his pique was soon over, and his
wounded heart found healing under the gentle hand of his lifelong
companion.


                                   XI

But the fatal hour had struck; old age was upon him. Murph had grown
infirm; he would take a dozen steps, crawling from one corner to
another, and then sink down helplessly. His legs, once so prodigiously
strong and active, tottered and stumbled from sheer weakness. In vain
his master’s voice called him to show his tricks; he would struggle to
his feet, for an instant his head would recover its proud carriage of
old days; then suddenly, his momentary strength exhausted, his limbs
tingling with rheumatic pains that cut like whip-lashes, he would slink
away to fall back again into the lifeless attitude of an aged invalid.

A cloud floated before his eyes, he could no longer see things clearly,
and a growing deafness filled his head with a buzz-buzzing that never
stopped. Life was slowly dying down in the old body. He would lie torpid
for hours and doze away the time in dark corners, under tables, where
nothing would wake him, neither the yapping of the other dogs nor the
chattering of the monkeys, neither the noise of footsteps coming and
going nor the shrill trumpetings of the clown’s cornet-à-piston playing
“Malbrouck s’en va-t-en guerre!”

It was a deep, dreamless sleep. Jack did not like it, and would crouch
down beside him, watching him with sad eyes, like a friend at a sick
man’s bedside. Poor beast, he could make nothing of this new state of
affairs. Some change he could not comprehend had come over his chum and
laid him low. He seemed to be mutely questioning him, asking him why he
never nowadays trotted about behind the scenes. But it was all Murph
could do to see his little anxious, sorrowful face; he could only view
him as if through a fog, an indistinct shape of sympathy hardly
distinguishable from surrounding objects.

Nevertheless, he still tried hard to make out in the dusk of his
blindness his kindly comrade of yore; he would raise his palsied head,
and from the depths of his dim eyes, veiled by a milky film, dart a pale
look of infinite gentleness.

Sometimes the two bushy tufts on his forehead dropped right over his
eyes and further confused his vision. But Jack would put them back
lightly with the tips of his delicate fingers. Indeed he never left his
side, tickling his ears to amuse him, tapping and stroking him, ever on
the watch, a tender-hearted nurse of inexhaustible care and foresight.

This lowly being had learnt to love like a mother; his little dim soul
had emerged from its darkness to answer his dying comrade’s need, and
now, shining bright in the light of day, was working deeds of charity.


                                  XII

One evening the show pitched on the outskirts of a big town. The booth
was raised, the trestles fixed, the boards laid, and the costume-chests
emptied of their miscellaneous finery.

Murph lay curled up by himself behind the stove; all round him reigned a
deafening uproar, a rush and scurry of feet, a perfect hurricane of
noise. The master was shouting and scolding; the Jack-pudding with his
hoarse voice was yelping like a dog, mewing like a cat, crowing like a
cock, getting into trim for the patter-speech with which to tickle the
ears of the groundlings, while the general hands were bustling about,
nailing and hammering, stimulated by copious libations of wine.

The monkeys, too, bore their part; hearing all this uproar, they joined
in with a will. Their shrill scolding rose above the hammering, and they
chattered incessantly and shook the bars of their cages. The dogs
barked, a solemn-faced parrot repeated a bad word over and over again,
while the musicians hired for the evening performance drew lugubrious
notes from their instruments by way of keeping their hand in.

Hurrah! the stage was set up at last.

Then the dogs were dressed, the seats given a last wipe-down—and
suddenly boom! boom! the big drum, furiously beaten, rolled out its
deep-toned summons. Instantly a perfect hurricane of discordant,
ear-splitting noises was let loose in front of the show-tent. Answering
the deafening rumble of the big drum, the fifes and ophicleide awoke,
the kettledrum began its rub-a-dub, the cymbals clashed, and the whole
booth shivered and shook from floor to roof-tree.

Shouts, yells, bursts of ribald laughter, combined in one deep-toned,
incessant roar to form the bass, while cat-calls, cries of vituperation
and repartee, the trampling of many feet marking time before the doors,
the clown’s voice rising and falling amid a tempest of scuffling and
kicking, all met and mingled in the air above the red glow of the
pitch-pine torches flaring in the wind, and punctuating the general din
one never-ceasing refrain—

“First seats one franc; second seats half a franc; third places twenty
centimes—_only_ twenty centimes. Walk up, ladies and gentlemen; just
about to begin! Citizens and soldiers, walk up, walk up!”


                                  XIII

A torrent of humanity surged up the steps, pushing, shoving, shouting;
then, suddenly released, poured tumultuously over the seats of the
auditorium. Then the big drum redoubled its efforts, the fife blew its
shrillest, the ophicleide lost all control of its keys, tom-toms and
hand-bells, frantically beaten, added their quota to the din, the
kettledrums made a terrific rub-a-dub, and the whole force of the
company, a mad whirl of startling colours and flashing spangles, danced
a fandango on the platform.

“Walk up, gentlemen, walk up!” the master-showman kept yelling; “here
you shall see what you _shall_ see—marvels and miracles you’ve never
seen the like of before! Look at me! I am the world-famous Brinzipoff,
director-in-chief to the Royal Theatre of St. Petersburg and to all the
crowned heads of Europe! Hi! ho! hup! _only_ twenty centimes the back
seats! Halloa! ha! hurrah! here you are, here you are, ladies and
gentlemen, _this_ way for the front seats!”

A pause of comparative calm succeeded this grand chorus of ear-splitting
noises.

The close-packed audience was waiting, stamping with impatience, for the
curtain to rise. Then Jack-pudding came on, pulled his funny faces, and
let off his jokes amidst a dropping fire of jeers and bravos, and
presently made way for Esmeralda, the performing goat, “the unique, the
incomparable Esmeralda, the very same identical animal described by the
immortal _Alexandre_ Hugo!” The musicians struck up an appropriate air,
mostly made up of the vigorous thumping of drumsticks on drumheads.


                                  XIV

Murph had never budged from his corner; he was quite insensible as yet
to the din that had once had such power to excite him. His head resting
on his outstretched paws, he lay asleep, stolid and stupid, callous to
all external things. Round his neck, buried in the dirty, matted fleece,
now long untouched by the curry-comb, were wound Jack’s arms; for Jack
never left his side.

Esmeralda made her exit, and then suddenly bombarding the audience with
a tornado of sound, the big drum rolled again, as if to announce some
special and extraordinary turn.

Murph knew this furious, frantic prelude well; this was always the way
Mazeppa’s headlong ride began. Yes, next moment, fifes, drums, bells,
tom-toms struck up together in a mad concert of all the instruments
combined, whereby the bandsmen strove to depict poor Mazeppa’s terrors
as his galloping steed bore him off to be the prey of all the fiends of
hell!


                                   XV

Then something stirred in the old dog’s brain. Did he recall his former
triumphs, the shouts of excited audiences, the encores, all the
intoxicating successes of his life on the boards? Did some vision of an
applauding multitude, of arms outstretched, and voices raised in
gratitude, amid the crash of trumpet and drum, in the hot air thick with
men’s breath and the fumes of powder—did some vision of all this pass
before the poodle’s dying eyes?

It was a strange awakening, at any rate. Murph sprang suddenly to his
feet, took a leap, and bounded on the stage, tail proudly swinging, and
head erect, Jack hanging on to his woolly coat. Delighted, entranced,
amazed, the poor little beast kept craning over to peer into his
comrade’s face, to see if it was really true, and watch the light of
life dawning and brightening in his deep-set eyes.

So his friend was himself again at last! So they were to begin the old
merry life again, to gallop and leap, and risk their necks as in the
dear, daredevil days of yore! Jack danced and pranced on the poodle’s
back, as if drunk with the delight of this miraculous transformation.

At sight of this great, hollow-flanked, unkempt beast, with his dirty,
greasy, tangled fleece, standing there stark and stiff, his legs
tottering under him, his body shaken from head to foot by a nervous
tremor, paws sprawling, back bending, a few scanty hairs bristling in
his tail—when the crowd beheld this pitiful ruin, to which Jack, alert
and debonair, Jack and his grimaces and contortions, Jack and his
caresses, the tender eyes he made, and the close, loving embrace he cast
about his comrade’s neck, all added a touch of comedy, at once sad and
irresistibly ludicrous, a mighty shout of laughter arose.

It burst like a rocket, then spread from row to row of the spectators,
till it ended in a tempest of merriment that from the audience extended
to the stage, and burst on the dying comedian who stood there.

Suddenly the dog’s legs gave way beneath him, and Murph fell over on his
side. His supreme effort had killed him; he had succumbed, as great men
sometimes will, at the very moment of their greatness.

He lay there, the death-rattle in his throat, the death-agony shaking
his poor body in a last, dreadful spasm. He opened his eyes wide,
unnaturally wide, in a stony, sightless stare, as empty as the heads of
the thoughtless crowd in front.

Then they came and dragged him off the scene.


                                  XVI

Jack was farther from understanding things than ever; his wonder had
only increased.

Why had his friend stopped short when so well under way? He could not
tell; he could only gaze at him with questioning eyes, his eyelids
winking very fast in a startled way.

He pressed closer and closer to Murph, and felt a shock as of something
snapping, a shudder, the quiver of a breaking chain. A deeper darkness
still crept over poor Murph’s senses; he was dying!

Jack crouched over him, gazing down at his friend.

Just then Murph made a supreme effort, half turned his head and peered
up in his friend’s face, while a look of tender affection passed over
his glazing eyeballs, mingled with the reflection of the objects he had
known all his life.

The tip of a white, dry tongue came out between his teeth, and
lengthening out like a slender riband, licked Jack’s paw. It was not
drawn back again; Murph was dead.

Close by in the slips the fifes were shrilling, the drums beating, the
audience in front clapping hands and stamping.

Jack watched beside his friend all night. At first he had crept in
between his paws, as he had always done; but the chill of the cold,
rigid limbs had forced him to abandon his position.

His little brain was sorely exercised, you may take my word for that.
What was this icy chill, like the coldest winter’s frost, that drove him
from his dear comrade’s bosom, generally so warm a refuge? He lay there
by Murph’s side, dozing with one eye open; then, suddenly starting wide
awake in a panic, he would touch his friend with exploring fingers to
see if he was still asleep.

Finally, he lost all patience at the other’s prolonged slumbers; he
shook him, he plucked at the tufts of his woolly coat, he tickled his
nose—gently at first, then more roughly. But it was all no use.

Then he took Murph’s head in his little arms; it was as heavy as lead
and dragged him down all sideways. But he would not let it go, holding
it hard against his breast, examining it all the while with surprise and
consternation. Presently, recalling what he had seen his master’s wife
do, he began to rock it to and fro, cradling it softly and swaying it
slowly, unceasingly from side to side, his queer little head swaying in
time, like an old man’s crooning over an infant.

The dawn filtered in through the shutters of the van, and a sunbeam
trembled for an instant in the dead poodle’s eyes.


                                  XVII

Jack absolutely refused to be parted from Murph. He fell into a fury,
and bit the men who tried to separate them on face and hands. He had to
be dragged away and shut up in a cage. There he lived for three days,
whimpering like an old man fallen into the imbecility of dotage, his
haggard eyes looking out despairingly from between his wrinkled temples,
his little face all shrivelled like a medlar, his lips as pale as wax,
and an expression of utter life-weariness in every feature.

He would eat nothing, leaving untasted the carrots he was once so fond
of, and refusing to touch either sugar or milk. All day long he cowered
motionless in a corner, moaning, his eyes fixed on something invisible
to others, outside the cage, far away.


                                 XVIII

On the morning of the third day they found him stark and cold, his
angular little skeleton almost piercing through the skin. His long, dry
hands were closed convulsively; the lips were drawn back and showed the
small, white teeth; two deep, moist furrows were visible on either side
his nose, as if, before he died, the ape had been weeping for his
friend.

[Illustration: THE CAPTIVE GOLDFINCH]



                         The Captive Goldfinch


                                   I

Once upon a time, far away in the depths of a great orchard, there lived
a goldfinch. He was born in the spring, amid the fragrance of the fresh
leaves, and there was not a prettier, sweeter little fellow to be found
in any of the nests round about. His mother longed to keep him near her
always, she loved him so dearly; but then, there is nothing so tempting
as a pair of wings, and once July was come, the month of daring flights
and dashing enterprises, light and agile as only young birds are, he
left the maternal nest in search of distant adventures.

Oh! but it is enough to turn any goldfinch’s head, this flying free over
the blue expanse of the skies! Hardly had he passed the limits of the
orchard where he was born ere he clean forgot all about his fond mother,
her warm breast, and her dark eye so full of tender solicitude.

A sort of frenzy seized him. Thinking the leaves were as eternal as the
springtide, he boldly took his flight, and away across the sky; soaring
ever higher and higher, he rose into the heat and glory of the sun, into
the regions where the larks sing and the swallows dart, where all the
wild wings make a sound as of a mighty fan opening and shutting.

Wonder of wonders! now the earth below him looked round and shining like
a ball of flowers floating in an enveloping cloud of gold-dust; and
bathed in splendour, he saw the sun rise and set in the glory of
limitless horizons.

Oh! what glorious flights he had in the blue depths of the clouds! what
games of hide-and-seek among the flickering leaves, what cries and songs
and dartings after gnats, and all the delights known only to the little
winged souls we call birds!

The nightingales lulled him to sleep with the melody of their concerts,
the cock woke him with the shrill clarion-call of his crowing; all the
day long he flitted and flew amid the endless twittering and warbling of
linnets, tomtits, bullfinches, sparrows, and chaffinches, taking _his_
part too in the orchestra, and near bursting his little throat to
produce his finest notes, with that vanity that makes us one, and
believe Nature has implanted in us the soul of an artist—a great,
mysterious, unappreciated artist.


                                   II

But the summer passed into autumn, and drenching rains succeeded the
sunny days; the poor goldfinch had to perch of nights in rain-soaked
trees, where he had to sit cold and shivering, feeling his feathers
getting wet and draggled one by one. Furious winds tore away the leaves,
and lo! one morning when he opened his eyes, he saw a new and strange
world—the ground was covered with snow, and far as sight could reach
were only white roofs, white hedges, and white trees. Winter was come!

Then oh! how bitterly he regretted his mother’s warm breast! How gladly
would he have given the joys of the past summer to find himself once
more pressed close to her side and feel her heart beating against his in
the cosy nest! But all summer the wind had been busy confusing the
pathways of the air, so that it was now impossible to discover the one
that should have led him back to the nest; nay, a more blighting wind
than all the rest blew out of the skies; the wind of forgetfulness had
breathed upon his spirit, carrying away the memory of that happy
road—the first that young folks forget. And now winter grew fierce and
fell, devastating the orchards, bombarding the cottages with hailstones,
driving hope from all breasts and killing the little birds in the
nests—the young birds that are the hope of the verdant springtide and
happy days to come.

The little goldfinch was quite sure this horror would never end, that
the trees would never grow green again, that never more would the
harvest clothe the fields in green, that gaiety, sunshine, and youth
were vanished away for good and all.

Cowering in the hollow of an old branch, he watched the days go by like
a procession of white phantoms, each uglier than the other, and his
little feet all stiff with cold, his feathers frozen together with
hoar-frost, sad and shivering, he thought many and many a time his last
hour was come.

In vain the old birds told him of a re-birth; he could not believe in
the resurrection of things when this dreary time of mourning should be
over.


                                  III

Little by little, however, the snowstorms grew rarer, stray sunbeams
pierced the murkiness of the heavens, and a verdant down, at first light
as a vapour, but which presently grew denser and soon took on the
solidity and sheen of satin, hemmed round the sombre garment of the
fields. A mildness filled the air—something restful, calm, and kindly,
that was like a benediction, something the winds distilled, the sun
diffused, the growing grass and humming insects and fragrant violets
spread abroad, something which, like a river fed by a myriad rippling
rills, gushed forth along the torrent-bed of creation.

A door seemed to open in the sooty firmament of winter, and this portal,
rolling back on golden hinges, suddenly revealed the sun in his
splendour, like a king stepping forth to bring peace to the peoples.
Then sounded the first chord in the plain-song of the woods; waters,
sky, and earth joined in the harmony with a deep, long-drawn note that
rose and swelled, sobbed and sighed, grew louder and louder, assumed the
majestic breadth of an orchestral symphony, and waxing gradually, ended
by filling the depths and heights of air with a mighty diapason, as if
all mouths, all voices, all breaths were raised together in one vast
unison.

I leave you to guess if the goldfinch lifted up _his_ voice in this
universal hymn of praise!

So it was true, then! The sun had indeed returned! A fine lacework of
filmy greenery began to clothe the tree boles, and the water-springs to
sparkle in the shy recesses of the forest; the air was free; once more
he and his comrades could laugh and sing, flit idly to and fro, pilfer
and steal, plunder the orchards, peck the flowers, drink in from a drop
of dew intoxication to last the livelong day, and revel in that
twice-blessed existence that is full of a fine frenzy of delight to make
the thrushes envious.

Good-bye to the winter covert, the crevice in the protecting bough, the
moss that still keeps the impress of his little body! Nothing will
satisfy him now but the wild fields of space; and with a bold sweep of
wing the masterful goldfinch has left his dolorous refuge, never to
return. A second piece of ingratitude, another act of forgetfulness!
Yes, it must be allowed a little bird’s head has small room in it for
remembrance.


                                   IV

Good times began again. White and pink, the orchards blossomed like
bridal bouquets. It snowed butterflies’ wings and flower stamens in the
tall grass; lilacs hung in clusters over the walls; like a good priest
saying mass, the earth donned a golden cope, and all Nature trembled and
loved.

Then was the time for our pretty bird to abandon himself to endless idle
wanderings and loiterings, hopping hither and thither, always on one
leg, barely lighting and then off again, shaking the leaves with an
incessant flutter of wings, twittering and chirping, flirting with the
daisies, ruffling the hawthorn, hooting the holly. At peep of dawn he
never failed, when the harebells rang their morning summons, to come
down to attend the good God’s church whither the flies and sparrows
assemble, still half asleep and blundering against the pillars; next the
beetles get under way along the roads, teased and tormented by the
butterflies and ladybirds; then the linnet leaves her bough and flies
off to where the bells tinkle, but of a sudden darts back again, finding
she has left something behind, lost something—more often than not her
head—for the poor lady generally wears it wrong side before! Thither fly
the chaffinches too, and the grave-faced oriole, the pretty bullfinch,
and the chattering cock-sparrow. Then the cockchafers come, too, too
often, alas! trailing after them the thread of captivity clinging to
them—the burly cockchafers that, with the bumble-bee, are the bass
voices of the underwoods. Plain and woodland are all alive, for there is
never a creature at this fair hour of daybreak, while the skies are
brightening, but is eager to come and make its orison to God in His
temple.

So the little goldfinch followed their example; he preened his feathers,
looking at himself admiringly in a dewdrop the while. Then, his toilet
done, like all the rest of the world, he bustled off to his business and
his pleasures.


                                   V

Goldfinches’ hearts are made much the same as men’s; the spring awakes
both to thoughts of love.

Our hero had remarked in his neighbourhood a sweet little hen-goldfinch.
She lived with her parents in the tall branches of an apple-tree; more
than once, coming home at evening, he had admired the fascinating smile
of her beak at the window, embowered in foliage, where she sat watching
for his going-by.

Was it his fancy? Was it really and truly a modest blush, or only the
rosy reflection cast by the setting sun? Yes, sure—he had seen her
redden. It needed no more to decide him to ask her hand in marriage.

One morning he made his bravest toilet, scented himself with lavender
and thyme, polished up his little claws, and in this gallant array he
set out, with a shining face but an anxious heart, to see the parents.
They received him politely, but could not make up their minds, and
begged him to come again.

He came again and again, and the more he saw of his little sweetheart,
the deeper he fell in love. She was as pretty as seven in her little
brown mantle with yellow facings, and her dainty head in its red hood
was poised on her neck with an incomparable grace. Saucy and alert, she
was as slight and slim as a flower waving in the breeze, as bright as a
sunbeam piercing through the leaves, as agile as the wind. Dewdrops
seemed to sparkle in the depths of her little round pupils. She was a
vision of the spring-tide made into a bird!

True, our hero was no less brave to see. Gallant and gay, he cocked his
beak boldly and carried the colours of his race with becoming pride.

At last the wedding-day was fixed; but the bride’s trousseau was still
to seek. No doubt birds are able to start housekeeping at small cost,
neither needing tables and chairs nor pots and pans; still, there must
be some little fitting-out to be done.

And so thought the bride’s parents, who were prudent people, and loved
their daughter.

A fine to-do there was, to be sure, on the bough where the old couple
had their home; a stir that never ceased all day long kept the green
hangings of the house shaking, and the doors banging; everlasting
comings and goings turned the stairways upside down. Pale and
eager-eyed, the little hen-goldfinch awaited the happy hour when she
could fly away with her mate.


                                   VI

Soon the news of the betrothal spread amongst the neighbours. The
nearest trees were all agog; nothing was to be heard but twitterings and
whisperings, not to mention backbitings, for envy is to be found
everywhere in this world. The tomtits above all took a delight in saying
evil of the bride, calling her a silly, insipid little thing; they
chirped and chattered, whistled and whispered, pecking and pulling to
pieces the poor innocent child’s good name. In vain the bullfinches,
good, decent bodies, tried to interfere: the tomtits’ cackle quite
drowned their grave remonstrances. The critics had enlisted a naughty
grisette, a chaffinch, a minx who had kicked over the traces in her day,
and was renowned for her spiteful tongue; a blackbird too had joined the
conspiracy, and now, perched all together on a high branch, from which
they could spy upon the comings and goings of the goldfinch household,
they kept up a famous uproar.

The Master of Ceremonies of the birds’ parish arrived in the afternoon;
he had come to inquire the hour at which the young folks were to be
married, and if they wanted choristers to attend. It was agreed to
engage a lark and a chaffinch; nightingales were too expensive. A pretty
carpet of green would be laid down, as green as on the finest summer’s
day; the porch was to be decorated with anemones, and the chancel with
daisies; the sun would be ordered for five o’clock, to make a grand show
of purple and gold. Of course the drones would be at the organ, and they
would ask the wind to give them a helping hand by roaring in the pipes.
The harebells would strike up a merry peal at peep of day, and ring till
the bridal pair arrived. The holy-water stoup would be filled with dew.
As for incense, the violets would see the censers were well filled, and
the bees would keep them swinging all through the ceremony.

I forgot to tell you that a wedding breakfast had been ordered, at
which, besides flies and worms galore, they were to regale themselves on
a cricket and a locust—a magnificent spread indeed. The nearest spring
would supply the wine; they were to have corn-berries for dessert, and
the table would be laid in the thickest of an apple-tree in full
blossom, where a cloud of gnats was always buzzing and making beautiful
music. A yellowhammer was invited; he was a rollicking blade, and there
was nobody to match him at singing a comic song.

All was going as well as could be; yet how long seemed the hours of
waiting to the little bridegroom! To and fro he flitted, up and down the
roads he sauntered, trying to cheat his impatience by incessant
movement; presently he would light on a bough and fall a-dreaming, while
his little heart beat fast and furiously.

Every minute he kept glancing up at the great dial God has set in the
sky, and which only the birds can read; but the sunbeam which is the
hand of this aerial clock would _not_ move fast enough for his
impatience. He could only bewail his lot, and force himself to drop
asleep to kill the lagging time. He even went to see the village
clockmaker, an old cuckoo, a greybeard bird with a nid-nodding head, who
all day long used to strike the hours with exasperating punctuality, and
besought him to quicken up the evening a bit.

But the cuckoo shook his head.

“Little madcap,” he told him, “am I to put out all the folk of the
countryside for you? Don’t you know everything goes on by rule and
regulation among your neighbours, and that each hour brings its own
tasks? Why, whatever would they think if I rang vespers before the great
timepiece of the heavens had indicated the time of twilight? What would
the mole say if I brought him out of his underground house, looking
black as a collier, before nightfall, and if suddenly the sun dazzled
him with its light—poor purblind fellow who had never in his life dared
look at anything but the moon?”

So, the cuckoo having shown him the door, he wandered off again,
flitting from hedgerow to hedgerow, burning with impatience.


                                  VII

A heap of little white grubs lay under the hedge of an orchard. More for
lack of anything else to do than because he was hungry, the goldfinch
flew up and fell upon it.

Ah! have a care, pretty birdie. A man was busy thereabouts just now.

But, alas, it is too late; a whole life of happiness is ruined by a
moment’s curiosity. Hardly had the poor fellow plunged his beak in the
mass when a string pulled the catch; down comes the trap, and he is a
prisoner. Then the shape crouching behind a tree comes out from its
hiding-place; it approaches, looms larger and larger, turns into a big
bearded man, who opens enormous great hands, seizes the poor bird, and
claps it in a cage, grinning a broad grin of satisfaction. Good-bye,
little bride! Good-bye, marriage-feast and wedding-march! Good-bye,
woods and orchards, gardens and flowers! Good-bye, twittering nests!
Good-bye, life and love!

Consternation nailed our little hero to the spot; something had befallen
him he could make nothing of; he gazed at the cage with haggard eyes,
too scared to think.

Ah! if only he had lost his memory! But this consolation was denied him.
He shook himself, dashed at the bars, pecked and bit at them, thinking
maybe they would open and leave him free as air again.

But no; the bars would _not_ give way.

Then he shuddered from head to foot. Anger and terror frenzied his
little brain. He flew wildly at the bars; but all in vain—the cage was
solid and strong.

Suddenly he realised his calamity, and, filled with a perfect frenzy of
despair, with panting breath and trembling, shuddering limbs, he hurled
himself at the bars, beat his head against the wires, tearing and
lacerating beak and claws, flew madly up and down, breaking his wings,
till, battered and bruised, his feathers all dripping with blood,
exhausted and out of breath, he rolled half-dead into a corner.

It was all over!

While joy was paramount yonder in his bride’s home, while song and
laughter were the order of the day, while preparations for the
wedding—bitter mockery!—were completing, and all things, leaves and
butterflies and nests, were a-flutter, the poor bridegroom lay in his
agony amid the silence of a prison.


                                  VIII

Evening lit up the sky with its gleaming tints of copper; little by
little the chattering family groups fell silent, and the darkling trees
assumed the look of long-drawn, solemn colonnades. Alas! it was not
under this familiar aspect that night fell for our captive goldfinch. A
dirty whitewashed wall, on which hung strangely shaped objects, replaced
the sable curtain spangled with stars that twilight spreads over the
countryside. A guttering, flaring candle smoked on the table, bearing
how faint a resemblance to the silver moon! and by its sordid light the
hard-hearted wretch who had robbed him of his liberty was moving to and
fro.

Ah! what right had he, this miserable birdcatcher, this highway robber,
to tear him from the free air, the hedgerows and the green fields? Tiny
though he be, is the bird therefore of no import to the leaves, the
winds, the trees, which without him would be voiceless? Has the blue sky
no need of his outspread wings, his echoing song, the flutter of his
plumage?

What use the pool glittering in the woodland, if he was not there to dip
his beak in it and absorb in a drop of water the red of dawn, the gold
of noon, the deep shadow of the quivering leaves? Is not a little bird
the less a disaster in the forests and orchard-closes, a voice silenced
in the symphony of nature, a furrow left barren in the fields of space,
a bright point vanished from the azure sky? Is not the universe
disturbed for the loss of a little creature wherein all nature is summed
up and glorified?

The man blew out the taper, and a moonbeam shot in at the garret-window
and fell on the poor captive.

It formed, as it were, a luminous rail on which his thoughts glided; and
they always travelled in one direction—to his little _fiancée_, who at
that moment, softly cradled by the night wind, was fast asleep and
dreaming of the great to-morrow.

The moon paled and daylight appeared.

Yonder no doubt all was ready; the harebells were ringing their peal,
the drones were organing their deep music, while the trembling bride,
white as the lilies, was asking herself why her bridegroom did not come.

The cuckoo clanged out the hour of dawn. One and all were ready for the
fête; only _his_ arrival was waited for.

The hours slipped by without his appearing, and little by little the
murmuring and muttering, low at first, grew louder and louder, and rose
into a perfect tempest of cries and jeers and gibes. The chaffinches
were jubilant, the parents disconsolate. And what of her, the poor,
despairing bride? Her pretty innocent eyes could not bear the light of
day; stricken to the heart by this unaccountable desertion, she was
borne away fainting, half dead with shame and sorrow.


                                   IX

Dark days followed. At first only a prisoner, his cruel master now made
him into a galley-slave. He put a chain round his foot, and condemned
him to the servitude of the car and cord. So drag your weight, work your
pulley, haul in your little car, poor outcast! Who has not seen the
monstrous spectacle—one of God’s creatures, created to fly free in the
realms of air, coming and going on a toy platform, a ring about its leg?
Who has not seen the unhappy captive, to win meat and drink, drawing up
by little laborious jerks the water-jar and car, its eye gleaming with
pitiful longing, gaining its subsistence by a never-ending useless
martyrdom? Only he who has seen the cruel sight knows to what lengths
the cruelty of bad men can go.

This was the fate of the poor goldfinch.

The man had given him a cage to imitate a Swiss châlet, in front of
which was a little terrace. On the terrace was fixed a post, with a
pulley attached worked by a thread. This thread the captive had to pull
in with his beak, little by little, till the little drinking-bucket
hooked to the other end rose to the level of the platform; then putting
his foot on the cord, he had to hold it in place and so drink a drop,
bitter as a tear, hurriedly and fearfully, lest the thread should slip
from under his claw and suddenly let the bucket run down again.

More often than not the bucket upset in its descent, and then he had to
go without water for the rest of the day.

A second thread made it possible for him to haul to the edge of the
platform a miniature car running on an inclined plane outside the cage;
this held his bird-seed. What a struggle it was to drag it up! At each
snap of the beak the car would ascend, but oh! so slowly. By successive
jerks, never tiring, never stopping, with straining neck, working with
the adroitness of a galley-slave, and clapping his foot on the cord
after each pull, he had to drag up the accursed car, which would
sometimes elude him and dash down the incline again, spilling the seed
and mocking all his laborious efforts!

A hundred times a day he was forced to begin the horrid task again.

Many a time the goldfinch resolved to give in and die of hunger; but
hunger is a terrible thing, and no sooner did its pangs begin to pinch
his little stomach than he would seize the cord afresh and pull for dear
life.


                                   X

So passed the hours for the once happy bridegroom. Never a chirp now,
never a flirt of the tail! Disconsolate and draggled, every feather of
his little body betraying the misery of his broken life, he seemed an
embodiment of the bitter protest of the winged creation against the
cruelty of man.

A feeble ray of sunshine used to flicker on the garret walls towards
midday; he would watch for it, and when it came at last, shooting a
slender pencil of gold, in which the dust-motes danced athwart the gloom
of his prison-house, it was like a brief instant of recovered freedom;
for a moment he forgot his chain, his car, his slavery, and away he flew
in fancy to the great orchards that showed their black masses of shadow
on the horizon. Alas! the sunbeam slid along the wall and disappeared,
and the appalling reality came home to him again.

What had he done to deserve this cruel fate? To filch a grain of corn
here and there, to forage in the kitchen-gardens, to play the truant, to
make the most of life, all day long to fly hither and thither, the free
denizen of air—was this a crime? He never reflected how he had forgotten
his mother, and that this crime alone deserved the sternest expiation.

His master was one of those good-for-nothing workmen who make the whole
week a series of Sundays. One night he forgot to come home at all; next
morning the ill-starred captive found bucket and car both empty. No use
hauling them up to him and pecking about in every corner; never a grain
of seed was to be found, never a drop of water! Then indeed he knew the
torments of hunger and thirst. In vain he toiled at his cruel, slavish
task; the car ascended, the bucket rose, but without bringing solace to
his famished cravings. His tools refused their office; with pale eyes of
consternation the poor prisoner gazed at them, and could not understand.

As if by the irony of fate, the window had been left wide open, and he
could plainly see the green of the nearest trees, in which the birds,
his more fortunate brethren, were squabbling. He saw the sun slowly sink
and the shadows of the house-roofs lengthen. Then a frenzy of madness
seized him; with quick, frantic pecks he tore at the chain riveted round
his leg, and by sheer fury burst its rings.

To dart to the window, to sail away for the paling blue of the sky, was
the work of an instant; but next minute he fell to earth again, so weak
was he with hunger. Luckily, not far from the foot of the tree where he
had dropped, a flock of pigeons was enjoying a feast of oats at the door
of a stable. He joined the band, and in a very short while had plumped
his crop to such good purpose that he felt his full strength come back
to him.

A long time had passed since he had quitted his bonny bride, and he
trembled to think what changes the days might have brought with them in
her life. Still the longing to see her again grew so irresistible after
he had been free an hour that, even if she had forgotten him, he was
fain to bid her farewell.

And pr-r-r-rt! he was off like the wind.

All the world was asleep when he arrived—even the tomtits, those
inveterate gossips, who love to loiter at their doors long after dark,
talking scandal of their neighbours.

“Little bride! little bride!” he breathed softly.

A yellowhammer answered him in a cross voice—

“Third tree to the left in the next orchard!”

Why, actually the goldfinches had removed! He hurried to the tree
indicated, and once again, “Little bride!” he whispered.

A faint cry answered, and next moment his sweetheart appeared.

“I was waiting for you,” she cried.

Ah! these were happy moments that made up for all their sufferings. He
told her all his adventures; she told him how her faith in him had never
faltered. They woke the parents, who warmly welcomed the returned
prodigal.

“Just think,” said the mother, “those odious chaffinches positively
forced us to leave the neighbourhood. Life was become unbearable;
morning, noon, and night it was nothing but insulting remarks. But now
you are come back again! So these spiteful folks will be finely
confounded.”

Another old hen-goldfinch was there, who was gazing at him with wet eyes
and wings all a-tremble.

“Ah!” cried our hero, “why, it is mamma, my poor mother I had forgotten
so long!”

Yes, it was his mother indeed: his little bride, after his
disappearance, had never wearied till she found her, telling herself
that, with her for company, there would be two of them to wait for his
return.

Their happiness was complete.

Two days after, but soberly this time, without drum or trumpet, the
wedding was solemnised.

The story has its moral, as every story should. It was the goldfinch’s
father-in-law who undertook to draw it for his young friend’s benefit.

“Son-in-law,” he said, “I hope you will teach your little ones two
lessons. The first is—never forget your mother; the second—beware of
traps in the hedgerows.”

[Illustration: STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A LITTLE WHITE RABBIT]



              Strange Adventures of a Little White Rabbit


Four little rabbits had seen the light in a hutch snugly stuffed with
straw, where they lived cosy and warm by their mother’s side.

They were pretty, plump little things, all four as fat as butter, and
just as well-liking one as the other; but while three of them had white
bellies and dappled backs, one was white all over from head to foot, and
his mother was mighty proud of his beauty, you may be sure.

You could not have found so exquisite a rabbit, no, not for three
leagues round, and every day he grew handsomer and handsomer, like a
king’s son. Two great rubies glittered in his fine eyes, and his teeth
were just like the edge of a saw; yes, and he had a moustache—three
hairs, which made him, oh! so conceited.

Mother Rabbit loved them all tenderly; but she loved Jannot, her
firstborn, best of all.

To begin with, he was the eldest; then she had had more trouble to rear
him, and ill-health always draws a closer bond between mother and child;
besides, she was inordinately proud of his white coat, and dreamt he was
destined for greatness. What form would it take? This she could not
tell. Perhaps he would take first prize at a show—perhaps he would found
a breed of white rabbits like himself. She lavished every delicacy upon
her darling, and his prospective honours consoled her for the triviality
of everyday existence.

They would soon be two months old, and that is the age when young
bunnies are taken from their mothers. She dreaded the moment of parting;
Jannot would have to go with the rest.

In fact, all four were weaned by this time; they were beginning to gnaw
at carrots now, and would often try to get out through any gaps they
could find, for they longed to see the great world. The hutch had open
bars, and they could look out into a kitchen-garden with lettuce-beds,
and beyond that see a flock of ducks paddling about beside a brook.
There was an apple-tree to the right, with a cloud of sparrows always
squabbling round it. To the left an outhouse door gave a glimpse of cows
and horses, dimly outlined in the gloom of the interior. There were
cats, too, stretching themselves in the sun or stalking sedately up and
down.

At peep of day the whole farmyard woke up; noon brought a momentary
silence; then, as the sun grew hotter, sparrows chirped, ducks quacked,
cows lowed, and the din went on uninterruptedly till dusk.

The little bunnies would fain have joined the other animals; they would
gaze wistfully at the birds flying high in the air, and the sight of the
cattle marching off cheerfully for the pastures gave them a craving for
the green fields.

How big the farmyard seemed, to be sure! and how amazed they were when
Mother Rabbit told them there were other places bigger still which they
could not see. She described the woods and ravines and burrows, for she
knew these well enough from hearsay; why, they could not have travelled
round the world in a whole day, so enormous it was! Squatted round their
mother, the youngsters listened to all this, and their hearts almost
failed them.

But not so Jannot; _his_ imagination was stimulated by what he heard.

“Ah!” he would cry, “will they never let me out, that I may have _my_
chance of seeing all these wonderful things?”

Then his mother was alarmed; but he would kiss her and promise he would
come back again directly, once he had seen the world. But she only shook
her head, and could not make up her mind to let him go.

“The world is full of cruel beasts; you will never, never escape its
dangers.”

“I have teeth and claws.”

“So have they, child; but their teeth are longer and their claws sharper
than yours. Restrain your eagerness; time enough yet to go forth into
the wide, wide world.”

He would shake his head impatiently and fall to gnawing at the woodwork
of the hutch; in fact his mind was full of guilty thoughts of escape. At
last, one fine morning, when his mother was tidying the litter, he made
a bolt for it.

Scarcely had he gone a hundred steps when he was arrested by a startling
sight. He beheld half-a-dozen hairy brown skins nailed up in a row. They
still retained the shape of the bodies they had once clothed, and little
trickles of blood ran down the wall where they hung. There was no
mistaking; they had belonged to rabbits like himself.

“Oh, dear!” he thought, “so they kill rabbits, do they?”

But this sinister sight was quickly forgotten in the variety of new
wonders he encountered. A pig was grunting on a dunghill, with a young
foal kicking at him and destroying his peace of mind, and a goat
gambolling near by; one after the other he saw a rat, a dog, a calf, and
a flock of pigeons that suddenly took wing.

They rose in the warm morning air, glittering in the sun, flying so high
he soon lost sight of them altogether. Looking down again, he noticed a
cat watching him, and remembered he had seen her in the garden, prowling
among the lettuces.

The width of the yard was between them, and he had a barn behind him.
The cat lay crouched on the kitchen steps; she never moved, but her eyes
were wide open and glittered cruelly. Then she got up slowly.

Jannot believed his last hour was come; he thought of his mother, and
shut his eyes. A furious barking made him open them again. The cat was
gone; with one bound Jannot sprang into a cart round which a bull-dog
was racing with his mouth wide open, and leapt from there into the barn.

Inside the straw was piled up mountains high, so close to the wall he
had some difficulty in forcing a passage; still, it was only betwixt the
wall and the straw he could hope to find a safe refuge. He durst not
come out again, and stayed there in hiding till nightfall.

Then he plucked up spirit, took a step or two in the dark, and came upon
a hole close down to the floor through which he could slip.

What a sight met him outside! The country lay white in the moonlight,
house-roofs, pools, watercourses glittering in the beams. The leaves
quivered restlessly in the night wind, and the distant clumps of
brushwood stood out in clear-cut outline. It was very beautiful; but
look! suddenly, close to him, two long, black, moving shadows scared him
out of his seven senses.

The cat!

Jannot never stopped till he reached the woods, after darting across the
garden, leaping a brook, scurrying over the fields, breathless and
exhausted. Vague shadows loomed around him; flying footsteps sounded
about his path; suddenly, by the startled cry that escaped a little
creature which halted right before his nose, he knew he was in presence
of another rabbit.

“I am Jannot,” he said, in a low voice; “perhaps we are relations.”

From the first moment the rabbit saw him, he loaded him with polite
attentions, declared he loved him already, and offered him the
hospitality of his house; so the two of them jogged off in company. But
after a moment or two Goodman Rabbit stopped dead, saying—

“You’d best go by the clearing, and I through the scrub; it will never
do to let the polecat see us. We will meet at the foot of a great oak
you can’t help seeing.”

Jannot followed his companion’s advice; but no sooner were they together
again than the rabbit, after fifty yards or so, cried out once more—

“The place we’re in now is just as dangerous as the other. A wild-cat
lurks hereabouts, and slaughters whatever comes under his claws. You go
that way; I’ll go this. A rock you will see will serve as rendezvous.”

They reached the rock at the same moment, and then trotted off again.
They were just coming to a coppice of young trees with narrow winding
paths through it when his experienced friend called a halt for the third
time, crying—

“Well, we did well not to travel side by side. My advice is that we go
each his own way again, without bothering about one another, till we
come to the crossroads you’ll find down yonder. Ah! d’ye see those
snares? Mind you don’t get into them, for if the polecat and the
wild-cat are lords of the lands we have just been through, the poacher
rules here as monarch paramount.”

The advice was good, but its giver had no time to finish it; he was
caught by the foot in one of the gins, and the more he struggled to get
free, the tighter the dreadful noose was drawn.

“Help! help!” he clamoured.

But already Jannot was off and away, panic-stricken; he ran on and on,
never once stopping till he won back as quick as ever he could to the
edge of the woodland where he and Master Rabbit had first met.

“If the world is so strewn with dangers,” he thought to himself, “better
to live in peace and quietness in a hutch. What use in roaming the
woods, when death is at the journey’s end?”

Then in his mind’s eye he saw his mother again and his brothers; and the
safe shelter where they awaited his return seemed a far-off, happy
refuge he could hardly hope to reach.

Field-mice and weasels and martens were stirring in the dark underwood
and shaking the leaves. Suddenly a new terror, more appalling than all
the rest, gripped him; he thought he was being pursued. Then he dashed
out into the plain that lay clear in the moonlight, and, with ears
pricked, thinking all the while he could hear at his heels the
unwearying, unflagging trot, trot of the fell creatures that were on his
track, he pushed through hedges, leapt ditches, climbed banks.

He had his back to the moon, and two black shadows, the same he had seen
at the outset of his escapade, stretched out before him; this time they
went in front, never leaving him, and sometimes lengthening out to
portentous proportions.

No doubt about it, a whole host of enemies was after him!

At last his breath failed him and he sank down in despair, waiting for
death; but as it was a long time coming, he began to recover a little
courage, and, turning round, stared hard into the night.

Not a thing was visible amid the loneliness of the fields, and the moon
seemed to be grinning down at him from the sky.

Then he discovered that the two shadows that had terrified him so were
only the shadows of his own two ears. This was mortifying!

Day dawned by slow degrees; and presently he found himself back by the
brook, the ducks, the cow-shed and the kitchen-garden.

“Mind this,” his mother told him, “there’s no adventures so fine as to
match the pleasure of being safe at home, among the folks who love you.”



                           “Monsieur Friquet”


Nature had not been generous to the poor thing; Claire was born a
hunchback, and a hunchback she had grown up—if indeed she can be said
ever to have grown up—an undersized, sickly, suffering creature, who at
thirty was not as high, from head to heels, as a little girl of nine.

She had been left an orphan when quite a child; first her mother died,
and her father had not survived her long. So Claire had had to face the
world alone, with her own ten fingers for all her fortune. Her parents
had never spoilt her with overmuch indulgence. They were poor,
hardworking folks, who hardly knew what it was to smile. Even when they
were alive, she had led a lonely enough existence. Still, after their
death, she missed the life lived in common, the destitution shared with
others, the bustle of the hugger-mugger household, where scolding and
grumbling were by no means unknown. Her parents were her parents after
all; with them life had its happy moments, now and then.

[Illustration: “MONSIEUR FRIQUET”]

They were hard times now for Claire. Shut up all day long in the
unhealthy air of workrooms, she seemed to grow more and more emaciated,
and smaller and smaller every day. Nobody ever thought of pitying the
poor, uncouth being who sat sewing apart from the rest, who, with a
gentle humility, always sought the shade, where her deformity was less
noticeable; nobody ever dreamed of asking if there was a soul within
that misshapen body, and her great eyes—light blue, sickly-looking eyes,
which she would raise slowly and languidly, as if afraid of the
light—encountered only mockery and indifference from all about her.

The tall, handsome girls who sat round the sewing-table had nothing but
hard words for her; scarcely knowing why, yielding to a cruel impulse
which a little thought, if nothing better, would have checked, they
treated her vilely.

Little by little she had become the general butt of the workroom; one
dismal day in December a last outrage was added to all the rest.

An ill-conditioned cripple, a girl who had borne Claire a grudge from
the first day of her coming, because of their sisterhood in misfortune,
which caused twice as many gibes to be levelled at her own club-foot,
contrived to secrete a piece of silk, in order to accuse Claire of the
theft. She declared stoutly she had taken the piece and hidden it inside
her dress. In vain the poor girl, bursting into tears, swore she was
innocent. The head of the shop ordered her to strip. She begged
piteously for mercy, clasping her hands in supplication; but the cripple
moved heaven and earth to set the others against her. Rough hands were
laid on her; she was bruised and shaken and hurt; all she could do was
to stammer out appeals to their compassion; she was nearly fainting, and
the tears were streaming down her cheeks. No use; the poor back was
bared, and while the mistress was searching her, the pretty,
rosy-cheeked workgirls were feeling the deformity curiously, examining
what like a hump exactly was.

Claire had buried her face in her hands; her hair had fallen about her
ears, and there she stood, quite still and helpless, terrified at the
angry faces about her; her throat was dry and her whole body quivering
with overmastering agitation. She wished she was dead.

The mistress’s hard voice dismissing her roused her at last; she got to
her feet amidst the jeers of the workroom, buttoned her frock, collected
her needles and scissors, and, shuddering and shaking, catching her feet
in her skirts, she hurried to the door; there was a loud buzzing in her
ears, and she seemed to see everything through a sort of mist.

She dashed downstairs two steps at a time and reached the riverside
quays, looking in her despair for an unfrequented bridge from which an
unhappy hunchback might throw herself into the water and not be noticed.
But everywhere she seemed to see mocking eyes pursuing her.

By degrees she began to think of the dreadful publicity of such a death;
she saw herself dragged from the river, laid on the crowded bank, under
the eyes of a throng of curious onlookers, in the glaring light of day.

No, what she craved was a quiet death in some dark corner, where she
would be sheltered from prying looks.

She retraced her steps, bought a supply of charcoal, which she hid in a
fold of her gown, and made her way home. Her poor worn hands had helped
her—how hardly!—to live, now they should help her to die.

Possessed by these ideas, she pushed open the door of the room—and
suddenly stopped....

How, when, by what way had he got in, the little sparrow she saw beating
his wings against the walls, looking so scared and frightened, trying in
vain to find a way out of the garret he had invaded so impudently, like
the little good-for-nothing scamp he was?

Yes, she remembered; that morning, before leaving, she had left the
window ajar; but no doubt the wind had blown it to, and after coming in
unhindered, like a conquering hero taking possession of a new kingdom,
the bird was now a prisoner.

A prisoner? But why a prisoner? What had she and he in common? He only
asked to live, to fly, to soar in the free air, while she, she was fain
to die. Begone, little madcap! you shall have your freedom again.

She went to the window; but as her hand touched the latch, she paused.
The sparrow had stopped fluttering about the room; cowering in the
corner of a cupboard, his little breast heaving with terror and
breathlessness, he was looking at her with his frightened eyes.

To see him shivering and shaking and ruffling his feathers in terror,
she seemed to recognise a fellow-sufferer. _Her life_, from first to
last, had it not been one long quaking agony of fear, exposed to
never-ending uncertainties and disappointments? The similarity made a
sort of common bond between them, and her heart stirred with a longing
for a last touch of love and sympathy with the living creatures of this
earth she was about to quit.

She left the window, advanced a step, and held out her finger to beckon
and encourage him. But the movement, gentle as it was, was misunderstood
by the bird; he spread his wings and darted up to the ceiling. Then she
spoke to him, and very humbly—she found it very easy to be
humble—besought him—

“Poor birdie, why should you be afraid of me? Do you think I want to
hurt you? I only ask you one favour—to kiss you once, just once,
before.... There, come, light there on my hand; let me just hold you;
you shall fly away again directly after. Come, dear birdie, I know I am
ugly to look at, but I am not cruel.”

And stepping softly, silently, she followed him about the room, with
outstretched fingers and smiling lips, almost like a mother, as if she
were talking to a little child. Then, as he would not come—

“Come, now.... Does my back shock you—like the others? Why should you
care if I _am_ hunchbacked, when you are so pretty? Come, pretty
birdie—if only to give me the strength I need so badly.”

She crumbled some bread on the table. This made the bird hesitate; he
did not come down at once, but, still perching aloft, gazed down at the
white crumbs, craning his neck, his eyes glittering with greediness.

Finally appetite overcame prudence. He darted down on to the table and
began to peck—_tock, tock!_ at the food, stopping every now and then to
shake out his feathers and cocking up his head to look about him.

Presently she scattered more crumbs, first on the floor and then on the
window-sill, and he soon came hopping up to them on his little pink
toes, flirting his tail and looking as happy as a king, the glutton!

What a darling he was, to be sure! She forgot all thoughts of death, to
see him so alive and so handsome, coming and going, marching up and down
with his mettlesome air, his rolling eye, his tossing head, his
everlasting pickings and peckings and his fine look of swagger and
impudence. He had a way of peeping at her askance, winking one eye with
a merry, mocking glint in it, that seemed to say unmistakably: “I don’t
mind eating your bread, because it’s downright good; but never you think
I’m going to give up my freedom for you. I shall be off and away again
just whenever I choose.”

Other times he would fix his little black beads of eyes meditatively
upon her face, scrutinising her features as if bent on reading her
inmost thoughts, but never missing a peck at the food for all that, or
one crumb of this long, luxurious repast.

When he had eaten up every scrap, she got some more and offered it him,
this time in her palm.

Up he fluttered, took his stand in front of her hand, examined it from
every side, from above and from below, wishing but not daring; then
suddenly caution carried the day, and he hopped away.

“Pst! pst!” she chirped to him, but never stirred. Her stillness
reassured him; with a determined air, feeling a sinking again in his
insatiable little stomach—it was not every day he had such a chance of
filling it—he hopped forward, then drew back again; finally, making up
his mind once for all, he began to peck warily at the contents of the
well-stored hand.

She watched him with delight and admiration. The sight of him and his
pretty ways stirred deep, unsuspected feelings within her. The blue sky
seemed to have entered at her humble window, as if the bird had brought
in along with him a fragment of space. Under his wing he hid, Claire
thought, all the gaiety and brightness of the spring.

Memories awoke in her heart; she dreamed of the woodlands, the fields of
golden grain, the water-springs, all the glories of kindly Mother
Nature. Three or four times in her colourless life she had been taken
into the country; she had heard the birds sing, the great trees swaying
and rustling in the breeze and the prattling of the brooks. One day—it
was fifteen years ago at least—she had actually dropped asleep on the
moss in the warm shadow of the woods, and when she awoke the old oaks
seemed to be smiling down on her.

Her black thoughts fled before this memory of rosy hours.

Besides, after days of gloom do not happier days follow? Had not he,
too, her little friend, had not he known the hardships of winter?
Shivering with cold, he had endured frost and bitter wind; his nest
battered by the hail, his plumage soaked by the rain, his wings stiff
with pain—was not all this far harder to bear than the gibes and insults
of a few silly girls, giddy-pated perhaps rather than really
ill-natured? Twenty times, a hundred times over, death had hovered near,
when the storms scattered the leaves and tore down the nests all round
him; but he had kept a good heart, and when spring-time came back again,
had he not been rewarded for his bravery by happy, happy days? As she
thought of the stubborn courage of the little sparrow, she was ashamed
of her own weakness.

Who knows?—perhaps the bird had been sent to call her back to duty, to
encourage her never to despair, to bring her a lesson straight from
Mother Nature. Something of Nature’s tender care for the weak and
unprotected was in his coming to visit her garret; it was not for
nothing he had chosen out the barest and poorest of them all, driving
away with the rustle of his tiny wings those other dark, overshadowing
wings—the wings of death. She found herself calling down blessings on
him, thanking him for arriving so opportunely, weeping with joy to see
his graceful gambols; for he was not frightened now, but bright and gay,
and rather amused than otherwise at the four walls that had suddenly
replaced the boundless plains of air.

A new life began for the two.

Monsieur Friquet—that was the name she had given him—seemed to be quite
content to take his place as house-mate with the poor work-girl, whose
heart was so full of affection, and who, to his partial eyes, looked as
pretty as the prettiest things he had ever seen in the world outside.
Did she not always wear a kind smile on her lips whenever she came home?
And is not kindness, when all is said and done, the same thing as
beauty?

Monsieur Friquet had forgotten all about the distractions of the
streets. Like a rakish younger son who has been living for years on his
wits, he thoroughly enjoyed this life of slippered ease in a cosy house,
where, it is true, the sun did not often penetrate, but then neither did
the wind. Its quiet was unbroken all day long while his mistress was
abroad, allowing him to doze and dream away the long hours till her
return set stove and saucepans in activity again.

He was a lazy loon, and nothing could have suited him better than to
have a place at table laid out for him morning and evening, without his
having so much as to put his head outside the door.

He had known so many of his comrades who had perished miserably under a
cat’s claws, at the corner of a gutter-pipe or in the treacherous shadow
of a chimney-stack; so many who, grown old and impotent, and unable to
find themselves a warm lodging, had died a lonely death on some deserted
housetop; in fact, he had witnessed so much disappointment and
disillusion and misery that he was ready—some days, at any rate—to swear
he would not exchange for all the spacious blue of heaven shining in
through the windowpane the indigo-blue paper with white bunches of
flowers that covered the garret walls.

He had put on flesh, and his chirp had grown thick and fruity; nowadays
the graceless fellow had nothing but ill to say of the freedom he had
lost, but which, after all, was limited, in summer, to scolding and
squabbling in the tree-tops, and, in winter, to freezing on a wretched
perch.

And _pr’t! prr’t! chirp! chirp!_ he went, in scorn of everything that
could remind him of the old bad times of his life.

How much better to sit soft and warm over a good feed of bird-seed, to
sleep away his afternoons in slothful ease, never to soil his feathers
scratching for doles in a dungheap, but to live like a gentleman on his
means, among his own belongings, without even a thought of work or
worry!

Monsieur Friquet, you see, was a philosopher of an accommodating temper.

Thank God! everybody does not think alike; for what would become of the
sky and the woodland if all the race of sparrows forsook them like him
for cosy quarters and a free table? He was one of those selfish folk who
deem all is well directly all is well with them, and who only think of
being on the best terms with the world and with themselves, without ever
a care beyond.

True, he was barely awake ere he saw his kind mistress bustling about in
her room and filling up his bowl with new milk; true, she shared her
loaf and her eggs with him, always giving him the best of everything and
cheerfully keeping the crust and the white for herself; true, all day
long the table was laid for him, and he had nothing to do but to eat and
drink to his heart’s content, like the regular glutton he was; but
Monsieur Friquet never once thought at the cost of what painful
sacrifices he enjoyed all these good things.

Claire had resumed the cruel slavery of the workroom.

Every morning, at seven o’clock, she set out, a meagre hunch of bread in
her basket, and along the sleeping streets where the yawning passers-by
were few and far between, half dozing herself, but brave and thinking of
Monsieur Friquet, she would make her way to the dismal room where she
was to be kept prisoner all day. Her companions never dreamed what
strength to bear unhappiness a friend affords, a good friend you are
sure to find at home on your return, who welcomes you with bright eyes
of pleasure and who fills your thoughts even when he is not there.

How he filled her thoughts, to be sure! What endless dialogues she had
with him down in her own heart, just between the two of them.

“Now then, Monsieur Friquet, what are we going to have for dinner? A
couple of poached eggs? I’ve just bought them, new laid, at the
green-grocer’s. Oh! you can almost see through them; just you look. And
not too dear either, thank God! There, the fire just burning up nicely.
Well, have you made up your mind? Will you have them poached or boiled?
Oh! never mind me. To begin with, I don’t care which; I like one as well
as the other. I’ve got some salad too—fine fresh salad. Ah! so you’re
laughing, Monsieur Friquet! You’ll laugh better still directly. Boiled,
then, it’s to be, eh? You see, you bad boy, we only think of pleasing
you.”

She was hardly home before the fire was crackling, the egg-boiler
singing; in next to no time the eggs were on the table, and the two of
them, Claire and the sparrow, were pecking away, she sitting in front of
the cloth, he perched in front of her on the edge of a glass or else
clinging to her fingers.

At every mouthful he would give his wings a shake, looking saucily now
at the food, now at Claire, with his head on one side.

_Chirp! chirp! chirp!_ he would say in his shrill treble. It was at once
an appeal to his mistress to give him more, and a way of thanking her
for the trouble she took in feeding him.

His impudent little beak would dive into every single thing—bread, salt,
salad, the hollow of his mistress’s hand, poking everywhere, filching
bits from her very lips, never still for an instant. Teasing, defying,
thieving, he was in perpetual motion, as his brethren are among the
leaves of the forest trees.

They drank out of the same cup, ate off the same plate. Ah! but Monsieur
Friquet had his wilful moods too at times; _he_ was not the fellow to be
satisfied with everything; now it was the bread he refused with a little
decided peck that said as plain as words: “I won’t have it!”—now it was
the egg, or the salad, or something else. You see, he knew quite well,
did Monsieur Friquet, there was a biscuit waiting for him in the
cupboard, and he was inordinately fond of biscuit.

Sunday was a special festival.

Up betimes as usual, for workgirls are never lie-abeds, Claire would set
to rights the disorder of the week, tripping on tip-toe about the room,
not to wake Monsieur Friquet, who was snoring in a corner, a fat ball of
feathers, with his head under his wing.

“Monsieur Friquet won’t be awake for another hour,” she would think to
herself. “I shall have time enough to set all straight”—and she would
set to work, dusting, sweeping, washing the floor, happy in the prospect
of the coming Sunday that would release her a while from her chain of
servitude.

At last the bird would wake up, and there would be quick cries of: “Good
morning, Monsieur Friquet! How have you slept?”

“Chirp! chirp!” would come the answer.

And she would reply—

“Oh! so have I—excellently, thank you.”

Then breakfast would be served at once. He would come to table still
half asleep, with heavy eyes, to be scolded and fondled and chided.

“Lazybones! why, it’s close on eight o’clock!”

But he would hop on her shoulder, and put his little round head to her
lips as if to ask pardon.

Then they would talk of serious matters.

“Monsieur Friquet! I say, Monsieur Friquet!”

“Chirp! chirp!”—which meant: “Well, what? I’m all attention!”

“Monsieur Friquet, I want your advice. What shall we have to eat for
Sunday?”

“Chirp!”

“I hear you! Biscuit! biscuit! But people can’t live only on biscuit! We
must have something else _to go with it_. Suppose we bought a couple of
artichokes! Do you like artichokes, Monsieur Friquet? Yes? Ah! I knew an
artichoke would please you. Wait here for me, and I’ll run round to the
greengrocer’s.”

So the Sunday wore away in happy play and merry nonsense between the
pair.

What more was needed to transform the sharp thorns of pain into fragrant
roses of content? She had invested the bold little chattering fellow
with all the treasures of her tenderness; on him she lavished all her
care and devotion; he was father and mother and family to her, and where
he was, was home.

They lived long and happily together, and their love was never
interrupted.

[Illustration: A LOST DOG]



                               A Lost Dog


                                   I

Have you ever noticed the melancholy pensive look masterless dogs assume
at the hour when the press thins, and the passers-by slacken their pace
on the side-walks, like waters from a tap running dry?

As the silence deepens they appear from every side, these poor,
friendless beasts, their meagre forms slinking through the fog and
gloom; up and down the streets they prowl, noses to the ground, and
tails drooping, like so many lost souls. Some have sound legs to run on,
others can hardly drag themselves along; but all have hollow flanks and
protruding ribs. They are out in search of food, nosing in the refuse
heaps, scratching in the mud, filching from the scavengers bones as
fleshless as themselves.

What the world lets fall from its table is still a banquet for their
starving bellies. They are not hard to please; till the wan light of
dawn surprises them, they hunt the streets, rain-soaked and
frost-bitten; then they creep back into mysterious holes and corners,
where they curl themselves up in a round and sleep away the livelong
day.

Most of them are wild and shy, for they have only known the blackest
side of life—cuffs and kicks, wretchedness and desertion. For them no
hope survives the shipwreck of friendships betrayed; alone they live and
alone they creep into a hole to die—creatures of the dunghill whose
obsequies will be performed by the scavenger’s cart.

But if some are discouraged and disillusioned, there are bolder spirits
too who will sometimes, when they hear the steps of a belated wayfarer,
tear themselves from the heap they are foraging in and stand panting and
eager in the dark street, with the desperate eye of a swimmer looking
out across the raging foam in search of a port of safety. Hope is not
yet dead in _them_; they still have faith in mankind, and each shadowy
form that emerges in the light of the gas-lamps entices them as offering
promise of a home. For hours they will trot, with a humble, gentle,
deprecating gait, at the heels of a casual passer-by, a shadow among
shadows, dogging his steps to the last, hoping against hope. It is a
_friend_ they are fain to run to earth; but alas! the chase is one that
is repeated night after night—and it is almost always unsuccessful. More
often than not, the pursued has no inkling even of the dumb escort that
attends him through the night.

How _should_ he know? Behind his back the dog treads noiselessly, with
paws of velvet and nose to earth, checking his pace when the stranger
slackens his, stopping when he stops, bit by bit learning his walk and
ways. At last, when he has journeyed far through the dark streets, when
his legs ache with pursuing under the wayfarer’s form a dream that is
never to come true, a door will interpose, a ponderous, an impassable
barrier between him and his fond hopes. Yet, who can tell? perhaps he
will still linger on, shivering, till daylight, so unconquerable is his
faith in man.

It was one of these hopeful but unappreciated souls that encountered an
old schoolmaster one night, when the latter had tarried late in the
fields outside the fortifications, anxious to assist at the noble
spectacle the sun gives gratuitously to one and all, as he sets in the
glowing west.

He was returning by the boulevards, his heart full of these glories no
fireworks have ever yet been invented to match; as he jogged along, he
was thinking of God’s goodness, who every night lights up these ruddy
lamps of the sky to make fine flame-coloured curtains for the slumbers
of His creatures.

A little black dog, the ugliest little dog you ever saw, without ears
and without a tail, or as good as without, saw the solitary stranger.
Did he divine perhaps beneath the man’s easy, good-natured exterior a
fellow-sufferer, the heart of a disappointed, disillusioned being like
himself? Sometimes animals can see very far into things.

At any rate he started off in pursuit.

The stranger noticed nothing, but marched along, striding over gutters
and stamping across pavements, knocking sometimes against benches and
trees in his preoccupation. It had been raining for an hour past, as it
does come down in spring, in floods of warm soaking rain and sudden
showers that wetted man and dog to the skin, without either one or the
other being much disturbed.

Absent-minded as he was, the old man presently felt something rubbing
softly against his leg, and, looking down, was surprised to see the
wretched-looking cur beside him.

It was crawling and cringing, and with little half-stifled barks seemed
to be appealing to the generosity of this unknown friend, perhaps less
hard-hearted than the generality of mankind.

Many people, seeing what a hideous beast it was, would have said “No,
no!” at once. But it was just the creature’s hideousness that moved the
worthy man’s pity irresistibly. Touched by its repulsive looks, he
guessed at the pitiful hardships the wretched animal must have borne in
secret. He saw its sunken flanks, its mangy coat, its sharp-ridged back,
and loved it with a sudden ardour of affection—the affection poor
suffering folks feel for one another. All very well for happy people to
test and try one another for ever so long to see if they suit each
other, but they who have nothing to lose by mutual affection make no
bones about clapping hand in hand straight away and swearing eternal
friendship.

And so it was with these two new comrades.

Both were poor, and they fraternised at once. The dog was enchanted to
have met a kind stranger to help him in his need, while his benefactor
thought to himself how pleasant it would be to have the faithful
creature to share his solitude. He stooped, patted the animal’s
streaming coat, tickled his ear, or as much of it as there was to
tickle, and ended by taking him home to his garret.

It was many a day since the poor beast had known the comfort of four
walls and a roof—if indeed he ever had! For two whole days, barring meal
times, he slept like a log; on the third he roused himself from his
lethargy, trotted up and down the room, poked his nose into every
corner, and showed every sign of being wide awake at last.

The dog must have a name, and the good schoolmaster was not long in
finding one. Azor and Faithful are names that never come amiss for poor
folk’s dogs; he chose Azor, perhaps keeping Faithful for himself—and he
well deserved it! He had only to move his lips, pronouncing the two
syllables “Az-or” below his breath, and the dog was instantly on the
alert, looking up at him with roguish eyes, wondering what he was going
to say next. No doubt of it, he was a very intelligent animal.

It was a happy household. Not that bread was over and above plentiful;
but people who have nothing are cheaply satisfied, and if stomachs were
pinched some days, at any rate hearts were never chilled. The dog had
come into the man’s life like a special providence; henceforth his
existence had an object; he had some one to love, some one besides
himself to think of; poverty, so heavy a burden for a lonely man, seemed
almost a boon now there were two to bear it—like a load of which each
carries his half.

He loved and indulged him like a child, and something of selfishness
entering into all ardent affections, Azor soon came to represent all
humanity in his eyes. One day, to make him look fine, he fastened in the
coarse hair of his neck a pink bow a young girl had dropped in the
street, and told himself the dog was the handsomest beast alive. Slender
greyhound, fleet-footed pointer, sturdy Newfoundland, none were a patch,
in the eye of this partial judge, on the little ragged-haired,
undersized mongrel he had introduced to his hearth and home.

Azor had just as great an admiration for his master. Sitting up on his
haunches in front of him, he would gaze into his face for hours together
in a sort of ecstasy.

Did he see him transmuted into something other than he was, or did the
rough face, scored with its network of heavy wrinkles, from amid which
the nose shone like a beacon-fire, embody for the wee doggie the
beau-ideal of manly beauty? For my part, I think Azor beheld in it a
beauty of a higher sort than the perishable beauty of the features; the
old man, to be sure, was goodness incarnate, and is not goodness the
highest form of beauty?

They lived for one another. Azor yapped, and the old man talked, and
between them they had wonderful fine dialogues; beginning in the garret,
these were resumed in the street the days they took the air together.

The pair might be seen marching side by side, the old man laughing, the
dog laughing, too, in a way he had of his own. And so they wandered
through the streets, in search of quiet, both taking little short steps.
True, Azor was young still, and would have liked to dart on ahead; but
his friend could not have kept up, and that was quite enough to make him
adopt the peaceful gait of a dog who has ceased to care for the
distractions of the roadside.

But out in the fields you may be sure this sedateness was exchanged for
wild excitement. Intoxicated by the open air, Azor would dash away,
gambolling and wheeling and leaping like a mad creature, and performing
a hundred tricks that mightily amused his good old master.


                                   II

Azor had his little ways. Every morning he used to go down into the
street to inspect the gutters and pay a visit to the dogs of the
neighbourhood. He was always back in a quarter of an hour or so.

But one day he did not return.

His master waited patiently for him till midday. Animals are like men,
and love to linger; perhaps he had met friends—and the old schoolmaster
smiled indulgently at the notion.

However, when half the afternoon was gone, and still Azor did not
appear, he began to get anxious. Had some accident befallen him? and he
thought of carriage wheels and horses’ hoofs and the rush and roar of
the main streets.

His first impulse was to rush to the stairs; but Azor might come back at
any moment, so he stayed where he was, more dead than alive.

The window opened on the roof; the old man took a chair, climbed on it
and craned his head over the sill till he could see down over the edge
of the rain-shoot. There he stood for ever so long watching the little
black dots darting in and out among the legs of the passers-by. But not
one of them was Azor.

A cold sweat broke out on his forehead; he was obliged to get down off
the chair.

At last, as dusk was falling, a paw came scratching at the door, and he
flew to open it.

Yes, it was his old comrade—but in what a plight! dyed blue, with a
rope’s end still dangling round his neck! Some tragedy had befallen, no
doubt, of which he had been the victim—and he patted the poor beast, his
mind a prey to a hundred sinister apprehensions. Azor meantime fawned
round him, looking as contrite as a culprit who cannot hope to be
forgiven.

The dye refused to be washed out; soap was of no avail, and they had to
resort to caustics; but for all they could do, a tinge of blue remained.
It lasted nearly a month, but at last the black reappeared. While his
master was busy over these operations, Azor would lick his hands, only
stopping to sneeze, when the strong fumes got up his nose. He seemed
cured of all wish for adventures.

Nevertheless, when a month was over, these prolonged absences began
again. Sometimes he would stay away an hour; one Saturday he was abroad
six hours. This irregular behaviour vexed his good master exceedingly.
What could the mysterious attraction be that kept his faithful friend
like this? He determined to find out.

He had noticed that Azor, the better to elude his vigilance, apparently
used always to loiter a bit in front of the house, not starting away
before he felt certain no one was looking; then in one bound he would be
at the end of the street and disappear.

One day he followed the truant. Now and again the dog would stop, nose
all along the pavement, then, reassured, set off again at a trot. He
turned the corner, then down a broader street, and so eventually into a
square. The clumps of rhododendrons hid him for a moment from his
master, who came puffing up; but presently he caught sight of him in the
middle of a group of children. He was barking joyously, leaping up at
them, rolling on his back in the grass, in transports of delight. They
were five little pale-faced things, and among them one face paler still
and pinched with illness.

The shock nailed the old man to the spot. Was it possible? Was Azor a
traitor to his friend? And he gazed first at the dog and then at the
children with the look a man wears who sees an edifice he has long been
labouring at crumbling into ruin. He had put his trust in the animal; he
esteemed him as well as loved him—and, lo! the ingrate was sharing his
caresses with others. He hated duplicity, and his gorge rose at the
thought.

“Come here!” he shouted.

Azor knew his voice instantly, and, crawling along the ground like a
serpent, he crept up to his benefactor, his tail dragging in the dust.
But the latter never so much as thought of punishing him, and patted him
on the back gently. Their eyes met; the man’s were full of sadness, the
dog’s besought forgiveness. Then, still in the same humble attitude, he
tried to draw his master towards the little group of pale faces.

The children had come forward—all except the little invalid, who stayed
where he was; and all with one accord, their hands behind their backs,
were staring at the new arrival.

Was he going to take their dog from them? Their brows were puckered with
anxiety, and as he watched them, he was amazed to think his anger had
been so easily roused.

What harm had Azor done after all? Ah! the blow would have been harder
to bear if he had betrayed him for another man; but children! The
piteous air of the little one who had remained behind touched him so
that he took his hands with a smile and asked him if he loved Azor too.

“Oh! yes,” cried the child.

His eyes moved languidly under drooping lids, and he wore the careworn
look of an invalid. Azor laid his head on the child’s knees, and he
caressed him with his thin fingers long and lovingly.

The others soon found their tongues. Azor, they said, used to come every
morning, and they romped together. They had known him for a long time in
fact; but he had been a month once without appearing, and they had
believed he was dead. A dyer’s apprentice, after tying a cord round his
neck, had dragged him off, and as they never saw him any more, they had
laid his death at the bad boy’s door.

“So that’s the explanation!” the old man muttered, and remembered the
long day of agonised suspense when he waited for him at the garret
window, and then how he had come back dyed blue. It was a relief to know
the truth.

He went again at the same time next day, the dog careering gaily ahead
as if he quite understood. Presently all found themselves in the square
again, and all faces lit up with a common pleasure.

They became fast friends; he learned their names, and that two of them
were brothers of the pale-faced little fellow; their mother always sent
them to look after him in the garden; they lived only a few steps away.
His heart was filled with compassion for the frail-looking little lad.
As Pierre could not walk, he got into the way by degrees of carrying him
home in his arms as far as the door, Azor galloping after them, wagging
his tail.

One day the child’s mother came down to thank the “kind gentleman,” and
they fell into talk. The boy’s father was a workman on the railway,
while she worked at fine sewing; the little one was a sore trouble to
them; he had to be taken out for fresh air, and constantly looked after;
and all hope of cure had had to be abandoned long ago.

“And yet he’s no fool either, sir; of the three he’s the cleverest.”

He only nodded, his head full of a notion that still occupied him after
he got home; Azor lay at his feet and watched him thinking, thinking all
day long. At nightfall he took the dog’s head between his hands.

“There!” he cried merrily, “you’ll be pleased with your old master this
time.”

Three days later he bought a go-cart, in which he installed Pierre, and
every morning they used to set out for the country, Azor scouting ahead
and his master following with the child in tow.

The old schoolmaster would explain all they saw to him—animals and
things; he had made him a present of an alphabet with coloured pictures
where a yacht stood for Y and a zebra for Z. And Pierre soon learnt to
read.

On Sundays, instead of three, they were seven; the whole family would
join the expedition, and they would linger on till dark in the starlit
fields.

They were very happy, and their happiness lasted many long years.



                        Misadventures of an Owl


His plumage was glossy and abundant, his eye alert, his claws long and
strong; in all points he was everything a handsome young owl should be.
For two years he had slept snug under his mother’s wing, the fond object
of her jealous care; but when spring came round again, his father, who
was a very sententious bird, addressed him in these terms—

[Illustration: MISADVENTURES OF AN OWL]

“You are grown up now, and the time is come when we must part. The nest
would be too small to hold both you and those who will come after you.
Moreover, no owl is ever happy save as head of a household. All sorts of
trials and tribulations await us; men feel nothing but anger and
contempt for our race. No matter for the watch and ward we keep over the
orchards, the war of extermination we wage on the prolific broods that
devastate the wheat, for all our well-meant efforts to aid the harvests
to grow and the fruit-trees to bloom, our only guerdon is to be shot at
with guns. Alas! the most of us end by being nailed up to a barn-door,
with spread-eagled wings. A wife and family will console you under all
this cruel injustice. Year by year your heart will grow green again amid
the joys of domesticity, and you will attach a higher value to life when
you no longer stand alone to bear its burden. So quit the nest, as I did
before you; choose a good helpmeet of your own age, and may you be happy
together, as we are, your mother and I.”

Accordingly the youngster took his departure. Gravity comes early to
owls, and though only two years old, he already wore the severe air of
an old philosopher. But the young lady owls, likewise brought up to
scorn worldly pleasures, prefer this serious deportment to the gay
exterior the other birds find so fascinating.

He went methodically round the village, and was well received by the
parents, while more than one young thing turned her head to look after
him. But there was not one of them, he thought, like his mother, and as
she was the paragon of all merit in his eyes, he had sworn only to
choose a mate who should resemble her in mind if not in face. He was in
despair, and on the point of returning to the paternal roof when, one
evening, as he was hovering about an old church-steeple, he caught sight
of a charming little head peeping out between the luffer-boards.

Was he weary of the search perhaps, or did the little face really remind
him of the adored image of his parent? He lingered long in admiration,
never tired of watching her dainty ways, and little by little something
began to thump inside him, something he had never felt before. She was
busy crunching a mouse, pecking and worrying at it with her sharp beak,
and had very soon left nothing but the bare bones. Then she wiped her
beak and preened her feathers prettily, as every well-bred young lady
owl should.

Just as she was finished, she saw him sitting in the next tree, and,
startled at being caught at her toilet, she hid her head under her wing;
nor was he a whit less embarrassed, and each of them gazed at the other
in equal confusion, without saying one word. At last he made up his mind
and spoke to the parents, who both thought him a very charming fellow.

It was a quiet wedding, as weddings always are among the owls. There was
no music or nonsense; they were married at night, in the old steeple,
and the moon lent her illumination. When all was over, the parents gave
their blessing, and the young couple set out on their honeymoon.

But it was not the sort of jaunt the sparrows indulge in, sailing away
into the blue, so high, so high they seem as if they would never come
back again; _they_ lighted sedately on the bough of an old oak, and,
finding it a good place, stopped there for good. Besides, the oak, being
decrepit with years, had not, as a younger tree would, a whole host of
impudent little cock-sparrows for its denizens; a blackbird lodged on
the first floor, and a magpie had selected the trunk as his residence,
and though both were great chatterers, the owls did not find their
company disagreeable.

But it was not so with Father Blackbird and Mother Magpie; they were
fond of gaiety, and the newcomers struck them as dismal neighbours to
have. So they went off to see the tomtits, who are naturally very daring
fellows, and told them about the hum-drum life the happy pair led; and
between them they planned a fine _charivari_ for the benefit of their
new neighbours in the early hours of the morning.

Our friends were still fast asleep, snugly ensconced in the depths of a
hollow bole, when the hostile band appeared. Suddenly an appalling
uproar woke them with a start; screwing up their eyes, they tried to
discover what was the matter, but they could not see a thing. Meantime
dawn had broken, the sun was already shooting his beams like fireworks
through the boughs, and great dragonflies were darting to and fro,
glittering like emeralds. At last they made out a whirl of wings,
looming like a black shadow in the clear morning air. Their assailants
swept down and crowded every branch of the old oak, which hummed like a
gigantic harp with the twittering of a thousand throats.

The poor owls could make nothing of it; owls are simple-minded folk, and
all they could think of was that another newly-married couple were
celebrating their nuptials, and that the discordant noises they heard
were the cries of transport to be expected under the circumstances. They
shrunk away still deeper in their hole, not wishing to interrupt other
people’s enjoyment. But the tomtits were not satisfied—not they; it was
nothing merely to have startled them in their slumbers; they meant to
expel them from the old oak altogether. Prompted by the magpie, who sat
screaming defiance from the foot of the tree, some of the bolder spirits
poked in their heads at the entrance of the cavern. Inside it was dark
as night, and from the depths four eyes blazed out like balls of fire.
The champions took fright, and fell back hurriedly on the main body.

“Cowards!” screeched their amiable ally, raising her harsh voice to its
shrillest pitch; “d’ye mean to leave the villains in peace in their den?
Think of the horrid carnage there will be in the woods every night! Not
one of you will be safe in his nest any more. From time immemorial the
owl tribe has been the scourge of the whole bird nation. Their heads are
full of nothing but wile and wickedness, and the better to shed blood,
they go to work like murderers in the dark! Worse still, they are all
heretics. The witches use them in their incantations. They are birds of
hell. Slay, slay the foes of Holy Church!”

This speech rallied the waverers, and all together they forced a way
into the dark, yawning cavern.

In a moment a hundred beaks were pecking savagely at the two victims,
who, blinded by the light, struck out wildly in self-defence. Two of the
tomtits were left on the field, while the rest flew away in a panic,
screaming in chorus—“Vengeance! vengeance on the rascally owls!”

What had they done? What crime had they committed? Astounded as they
were, and amazed to think what motive should have prompted the attack,
they could no longer doubt that open war was declared upon them.

So they went in search of another home, and as night was falling, found
a safe retreat under the eaves of a lonely presbytery. “Here, at any
rate,” they thought, “no one will come to molest us. Alas! it is only
too true—we are not made for the society of our fellow-creatures, and
this deserted roof will hide us better than a prison.”

They had happy times; they reared a family of little ones, and lived a
patriarchal life in the hollow under the roof. Everybody has his own way
of being happy in this world of ours, and for all it was different from
the general fashion, this was good enough for them. To begin with,
dwelling by themselves, they knew nothing of envy, and no thought of
ambition vexed them; their only wish was to live as long as possible,
pariahs and outcasts as they were, and grow old together.

Let others go in search of adventures; their desires were limited by the
modest horizon they had before their eyes, and a secure abode, poor and
bare though it might be, seemed to them preferable to all the treasures
of Golconda. You see what reasonable, respectable people they were!

Certainly their dun-coloured plumage was not of the sort to let them
flaunt in the sunlight like other birds; after spending a luxurious
morning dozing side by side, they would wake just when the linnets,
goldfinches, and chaffinches were going to bed. A great silence brooded
over nature; for the giddy-pates who had been playing truant all the
day, and had left a feather or two of their plumage to dance in every
sunbeam, it would have seemed as dull as death; but they thought
otherwise, and for them the night was filled with infinite music. Did
not the breeze blow soft in the leaves with a murmur as of running
waters and prattling brooks? A wide peace fell upon the woodlands which
from noon to twilight had throbbed under the golden beams of the sun,
while the moon, the owl’s sun, spread her white beams over the landscape
like a river of milk.

Then their keen ear, an instrument of extraordinary delicacy, being very
large, and forming, as every bird-lover knows, a double spiral of
enormous dimensions, and admirably adapted to catch the faintest sounds,
noted from afar light rustlings and soft sighs, and a confused murmur of
music, wherein the wind seemed, turn and turn about, to pipe through
clarinet and oboe. Silent and awe-struck, the two outcasts felt the
kindly beneficence of nature moving on the face of the world. At times
louder sounds would mingle with the whisperings of the night, telling
them of the fawns pushing through the matted undergrowth, of companies
of woodland creatures sallying out to feed, lovers like themselves of
the darkness—badgers, polecats, wild-cats, weasels, and rabbits, of a
vast stir of life and activity down in the dim, intricate forest tracks.
Cats were prowling, their yellow eyes flaming along the darkling ways,
while from the homesteads rose rhythmically, pledge of security for all
the host of fur and feathers, the heavy snoring of the sleepers within.

Then they would come out and stand at the edge of the eaves, and gaze
forth, as from a balcony, on all the moving spectacle of the kindly
night. Sparkling gleams would flash along the ground like diamonds, and
the slates glitter like so many mirrors on the house-roofs. They could
see the stars reflected in the brook; mysterious eyes looked out from
under the trees, vague shapes went gliding along the road, while high in
the heavens, with a round face that seemed to laugh good-humouredly,
sailed the lady moon.

As long as they had no children, they enjoyed these hours of
contemplation like true artists who grudge to miss one note of harmony
or one gleam of beauty; they would never stir till dawn, hardly
troubling themselves even to go in search of food. But when the brood of
youngsters arrived, they had perforce to forgo these ecstasies. The
little beaks were for ever crying for more, and Goodman Owl, who was the
best of parents, became a mighty hunter.

Scarce was evening fallen ere he had taken post on the roof, heedless
now of the mysterious splendours of the night, the furtive comings and
goings of his prey occupying all his thoughts; the music of the spheres
was henceforth confined for him to the rustling of the field-mice
climbing the espaliers and the house-mice scuttling along the walls;
still as a statue he stood there watching and picking out the fattest
victim. Before the little creature had time to turn its head, he held it
in his terrible jaws, and was flying off with his prey, panting in
mortal terror, to his young ones, who instantly made a meal of it.

The poor little mouse saw nothing, heard nothing. A soft, fanning sound
from the night-bird’s velvety pinions was the only warning that anything
untoward was near; but already the ravisher had seized his prey; there
was a stifled squeal, and all was over!

Every ten minutes—the same regular interval has been observed in all
owls questing for food—he would bring fresh provender to the nest. The
darkest night was no hindrance; his shining eyes, with their widely
dilated pupils, pierced the blackest shadows as if they were
transparent, and there was no hole or corner where the little night
prowlers did not go in terror of their lives.

Meanwhile the mother-bird was feeding her brood, sometimes when the
mouse was particularly tough, tearing it piecemeal for her little ones
to devour more easily.

At other times father and mother together would guide the little family
along the roofs, patiently teaching the inexperienced wings to fly, and
giving a helping touch with beak or wing when they stumbled and tumbled
in their attempts. At full moon they carried the youngsters to a
neighbouring tree, he taking one, she another, and it was pretty to see
their amazement when, craning their little necks, they watched the dim
outlines of moving objects against the blue distance.

But they were getting big now, and the old owl lectured them sagely, as
his father had lectured him; he would tell them of the joys and sorrows
of life, and advise them to marry. No, it was not callousness—far from
it; he loved them tenderly, for by reason and instinct he was a pattern
of all the domestic virtues. But he was a wise and far-seeing parent,
who dreaded what their fate would be, should he and his mate one day
meet the doom all owls are liable to. Perhaps one morning a yokel would
climb to their hiding-hole and carry them off to kill them. True, the
good Curé, whose house sheltered them, had forbidden their being
molested; but he was an old man now, and nobody cared much what he said;
then, with a ladder, it was so easy to reach the nest! The old owl
always spoke like a philosopher; the future did not terrify him, and he
seemed quite resigned to the cruel lot men mete out to his species. His
words were without gall or bitterness; but a deep-seated melancholy gave
them the gravity that ever marks creatures born to suffer.

In younger days he had known rebellious thoughts, and the sense of human
injustice had oppressed his spirit; he had even dreamt of flying his
country for the lands the swallows in September told him of, and far
away from cruel men, living in peace and quietness with the mate who had
joined her life to his. But time had softened these resentments; he had
bowed his head, recognising a higher power above him, and content to
live on, harmless and obscure, asking only to repay good for evil.

One morning the young birds deserted the nest.

Then, alone once more, they resumed their former existence in the dark
hollow of the old oak, so solitary and silent now; they bore their
children’s departure as only another of nature’s inevitable necessities.
They seldom stirred from home now, seeing hardly a soul except a couple
of old friends sometimes on Sabbath days; as of old, they held long,
long talks of nights with the moon. Perched side by side on the eaves,
their dark shapes threw long black shadows across the roof; there they
sat stiff and still, save when, from time to time, they spread their
wings, swooped down on their prey, then resumed the same rigid attitude.
These murderous assassins were at heart the most peaceable of good
citizens. It was never their way, coming home at night, to wake the
other birds asleep among the foliage; no one ever heard them quarrelling
or shifting the furniture or pecking at the wall, as the cuckoos,
linnets, and chaffinches are so fond of doing; only, six or eight times
in the night, to advertise the country folk, they would cry _To-hoo!
to-hoo!_ if next day was going to be fine, and _To-whit!_ if it was
going to rain, at regular intervals, like talking barometers.

A pair of young turtle-doves nesting on the next roof found this habit
annoying, and went to the judge of the district to lodge a complaint.

The judge was a very old raven, whom years had only made more sly and
artful; he was said to be a hundred, and certainly his bald pate was as
shiny as a polished stone. He lived in a crevice in the rocks, alone
with his own thoughts. But these thoughts, unlike most old men’s, were
full of mockery for all created beings. This feathered Methuselah had
seen so much in his day! and experience had only taught him to laugh at
griefs and joys and everything else.

While appreciating his usefulness, he did not like Mr. Owl, and was not
sorry to make things unpleasant for him; he could always dismiss the
case in the end, after getting his fun out of it, if the turtles proved,
as he half suspected, to have been in the wrong after all.

Three blackbirds he employed as constables arrived at break of day at
the owls’ front door and knocked. Three times they had to repeat the
summons, so fast asleep was the worthy couple, till, roused at last, the
latter poked out their heads in great alarm to ask what was wanted with
them. Both looked so upset, he, poor fellow, in a nightcap, and she,
good dame, in morning deshabille, that the blackbirds, who are always
fond of a joke, burst into such a peal of laughter it took them ten
minutes to recover their gravity.

They laughed so heartily that the sparrows of the neighbourhood were
attracted by the noise, and began to turn and wheel in flocks above the
roof, while a horrid hubbub, a vile chirp! chirp! chirp! broke out,
deafening and confusing the poor owls still more.

The blackbirds, when they had done laughing, called for silence, which,
however, it took some time to establish. Then they announced—

“We, assistant officers of justice of this district, and by order of His
Honour the Judge, do hereby summon you to appear this day before stroke
of noon at his Court, situate, to wit, in the first crevice on the right
hand, beginning from above, of the cliff bordering the Great Meadow.”

This order was promulgated in shrill, nasal tones amid the rustling of
the wings of all present, who, the instant the last word was uttered,
began to amuse themselves by screaming in frantic delight. On the
blackbirds departing, a number of sparrows lingered on to enjoy the
confusion of the two owls.

These had shrunk away into the deepest recess of their lair, terrified
yet resigned, and their inquisitive tormentors heard none of the
lamentations they expected.

What black deed had been laid to their charge? The blackbirds had given
no indication, and they began mentally to review their past, searching
in vain for any crime they could be accused of. They had not robbed
other people’s goods, nor slandered their neighbours; they had never,
no, never caused any one’s death, while they had honestly and honourably
performed the duties Nature had given them to do. What more could be
asked of them?

The Judge was waiting—they must be off. It was a woeful pilgrimage. The
bright daylight dazzled them, and they went along blindly, running
against everything and perpetually losing their way; twenty times over
they lost their bearings and had to retrace their steps, covered with
confusion, while their dusky plumage made a dirty-looking blotch in the
fresh morning air.

“This way!” cried some tomtits, flying ahead of them—and, taking their
word, they blundered into a nest of yellowhammers, which luckily
happened to be empty.

“Don’t listen to them—come along with us,” the chaffinches advised them
next—and they went crash! head first into a wall.

A cloud of small birds followed behind. They were clawed and scratched,
and half-dazed, as they wandered about like phantoms of the night
masquerading at high noon.

When at last, after a thousand tribulations, with eyeballs starting from
their heads, battered and beaten and jeered at, they reached the Court,
another swarm of tormentors was waiting to receive them. There were at
least eight hundred, and every second others kept coming up, who, after
flying wildly about in search of places, lighted here and there and
everywhere, chattering and squabbling. The rock was soon so crowded from
top to bottom that a linnet, who had been detained at home feeding her
chicks, could not find a perch anywhere, and fluttered up and down the
tumultuous ranks, beseeching the audience in vain to sit a little
closer. The ladies especially seemed determined not to give up a single
inch of room, and all vied together in raising a hubbub, shrieking and
laughing and chattering as if they would never stop.

“Accused,” ordered the raven suddenly, “stand up. Our Clerk of the Court
will now read the statement of misdemeanours charged against you.”

For a little while the uproar still continued, mingled now with sharp
calls to order and appeals for silence; then, diminishing gradually,
died away into the light rustle of many wings. Then a magpie was seen to
rise briskly to his feet; his dark eye rolled roguishly, as he unfolded
with his beak a huge sheet of paper scribbled all over with writing and
read out in a dry, rasping voice—

“We, Clerk of the Court, &c., &c., do hereby certify that the
appellants, to wit M. Narcisse Tourtereau and his consort, Mme. Virginie
Tourtereau or Colombelle, have duly appeared before us and deponed that
the said appellants, cohabiting near by the messuage whereat the Owls,
man and wife, have taken up their abode, are nightly awakened by the
clamours, complaints, moans, groans, and quarrels of the aforesaid Owls,
who, instead of sleeping in their beds during the interval of time
falling betwixt sunset and sunrise, as do all the other birds, do choose
these selfsame hours, that are customarily devoted to repose, for
robbing and murdering and maliciously and mischievously disturbing their
neighbours’ night’s rest by reason of unseemly and uncouth noises.—I
have spoken.”

The magpie flirted his tail four times in token of satisfaction at his
own performance, snapped up a gnat to clear his throat, and, resuming
his seat, devoted himself to an endless succession of smiles directed to
the feminine portion of his audience. An approving murmur greeted the
conclusion of the statement of accusation.

Then, after a few moments of disorder, which was promptly checked, “Caw!
caw!” went the raven, with a fine attempt at seriousness, his great
round-eyed spectacles perched on his nose; then, turning to the owl, he
lisped in an affected voice—

“The word is with you; the Court will hear you in your own defence.”

Never, never had the birds enjoyed so laughable a spectacle before, as
they beheld the fowl of night step forward, looking oh! so awkward and
uncouth, with such a heavy hang-dog air! His great eyes rolled in his
head, he stumbled at every step, while behind his back grimaced his
shadow, mimicking every movement of his neck as it jerked in and out,
first short, then long, like the barrels of an opera-glass.

A wild spasm of merriment seized the vast concourse at sight of the
grotesque creature, and tomtits, linnets, birds of every sort and kind,
broke into a frantic peal of mirth.

“Silence in the Court!” shrieked the magpie.

But laughter is infectious. Quickly it extended to the lower ledges of
the rock, where the spectators sat half hidden from each other in the
semi-darkness, and the mighty cliff shook as if lashed by a hurricane.

The contagion caught even the magpie, the blackbirds, the Judge himself,
who began to sneeze again and again, in the effort to recover his
dignity. By fits and starts, the laughter would die down, only to burst
out afresh with redoubled vigour, and it was long before the excitement
subsided and heads ceased to wag. When at last the audience had
recovered something like composure, even then fans could be seen here
and there waving to hide behind their shield a last dying echo of
hilarity.

Meanwhile, the poor buffoon, the butt of all this scathing opprobrium,
stood silent and uncomplaining, humbly waiting his chance to speak.
Finally, when quiet was restored, he said—

“I am aware, your Honour, that men and birds all hold me and mine in
detestation. There is no villainy they do not impute to us, no crime
they do not charge us with, and when we have the misfortune to show
ourselves, the howl of hate rises as high about us as a tower. But are
we criminals? Do we lurk in the woods to rob our fellow-birds by night
or day? Do we plunder the granaries? Do we go thieving in the hedges? Do
we ever interfere with the livelihood of any of God’s creatures with
whom He has bidden us live in peace? Never, your Honour, never! All the
day we lie quiet in our hole, loving our wives and children, and
troubling nobody; then, when night is fallen, we win our nourishment by
exterminating rats and mice, field-rats and field-mice. I would hurt no
one’s feelings, but it is well to make comparisons sometimes, and I ask
myself—Which fulfils the more useful function, he who from dawn to dark
scours the orchards, stealing cherries, plums, and pears, so that the
countryman, when winter comes, has but the half of the crop he hoped
for, or he who, seconding the farmer’s toils with an incessant but
unseen activity that wins no reward, secures him the proper reward of
his pains?”

Protests were heard at these words, the goldfinches and sparrows crying
out indignantly—

“Ah! he shifts the blame on us, the sly-boots! He knows he can say what
he likes here, but outside the Court—why, he durst not so much as look
us in the face.”

“Oh! but, my good gentlemen,” retorted the orator quietly, “it is no
fault of mine if I cannot look at you in the way you wish; a natural
infirmity makes it impossible for us to see in daylight; such floods of
light beat into the wide pupils of our eyes as would blind us if we had
to face the sunshine long. That is the reason why you mocked at us just
now, when you saw us disabled by this excess of light, whose rays
pricked and pained our eyeballs like so many needles. Would you not feel
yourselves at the same painful disadvantage if you were obliged to fly
at night, when we owls come and go at our ease, our great pupils serving
us as lamps to see by? You would very soon break your heads against a
wall, let me tell you!

“But let me come to the allegations that have brought me here, into the
dock. Indeed, I have touched on them already; for is not the specific
charge against us that we choose the night to come out of our holes and
find our food? Why, what else could we do, when by daylight, by dint of
seeing too much, we cease to see anything at all? Nature has given us
the night, as she has given other birds the day, unwilling, in her
kindly wisdom, to see the dark less useful than the light; she has
appointed us her guardians to watch over the storehouses and orchards
and granaries, which, above all in the night-time, become the prey of a
host of pillagers.

“They talk of robbery; why, what robbery can they reproach us with? Is
it a malefactor’s work to purge the earth of the creatures that pick and
steal, and, like unnatural cannibals, would bring their mother to her
death, if we and some others, our colleagues in the same beneficent
task, did not put a check on their never-ending mischiefs? Just think if
we folded our arms and left them a free field; they would end by
devouring the trees, along with the bit of ground where they grow, and
the very folks who can never satiate their spite against us, finding
themselves deprived of shady leaves and luscious fruits alike, would
very soon come begging and beseeching us to return to our never-ending
task.

“Yet the owls, as your Honour knows, win neither respect nor profit from
their irksome labours. They are not proud; you will never hear them
bragging of the services they render; but modest, as becomes good
workers to be, they roost quietly at home all the time they do not
devote to the chase. Scorned by their brethren the birds, and persecuted
by mankind, they are victims of consistent ingratitude from the very
creatures they benefit; if I say this, it is to have the fact known once
for all, not to protest against a state of things established for all
time. We are therefore compelled to find in ourselves a happiness which
society refuses us, and, living in solitude, we rear our little ones for
a lot like our own. There is the head and front of our offending.

“There is yet another grievance against us; we disturb, so they allege,
our neighbours’ rest by our uproar. Surely the word is rather strong to
apply to us who are lovers of silence, shunning noise in others as much
as we avoid it in our own homes. If we make ourselves heard, it is not
for the pleasure of listening to our own voices! We well know we are no
sweet-voiced choristers, and when the nightingale sings, we have never
dreamt of posing as his rivals. There are, so the migrants have told us,
in the far-off cities of other lands, men who proclaim the hour from the
tall minarets in the silence of the night. We do not announce the
time—the cuckoo alone has this office to perform during daylight—but we
instruct the swallows on the point of winging away, we inform the
cricket, the bee, the ant, the ploughman, all to whom rain and sunshine
are not matters of indifference, if they may count or not on a
favourable morrow. So the kindly mother of man and beast has put two
notes in our throats, deeming we needed no more, not to make us singing
birds, but only birds of good help.

“I have no more to say, for indeed we are no great talkers, and oratory
is an art unknown to us. I will say no more, therefore, save only
this—that if you are not satisfied with my pleas, I offer myself—and my
companion here present will do the like—I offer myself a willing victim
to your resentment, if so be the common good, which could not heretofore
exist without our aid, is now only to be secured by the sacrifice of our
lives.”

Not a little surprised at his own eloquence, the bird of night stepped
back to his place with tottering limbs. Thereupon the jays and
yellowhammers began a hoot of derision, which was quickly drowned by the
protests of the mother birds trembling for their young; and then the old
raven, rising slowly to his feet, folded up his glasses, coughed,
croaked, and, inspired apparently by the general sense of justice,
summed up as follows—

“You, Sir Owl, you have done wrong in crying out over loud; but you,
young Turtle-dove, you have done a far graver wrong by haling an
innocent prisoner to the bar. You therefore will pay the fine to which
you would have had your neighbours condemned, and the costs of the trial
to boot. Moreover, I will take this opportunity to do an act of justice,
and extend a hand of brotherly affection to our honoured friend the owl,
who is henceforth to be treated with proper consideration and respect,
or I will know the reason why.”

Little by little the audience dispersed, the swarm of birds scattered
into space, and the raven’s rock was left to its former solitude.


                  Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson & Co.
                           Edinburgh & London



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

--Corrected a few palpable typos.

--In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by
  _underscores_.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Birds and Beasts" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home