Story type: Literature

“See how each boy, excited by the actual event, is all ear.”–Froebel.

There it hangs, on a corner of the picture frame, very much as it hung in the old willow-tree out in the garden.

It was spring time, and I used to move my rocking-chair up to the window, where I could lean out and touch the green branches, and watch there for the wonderful beautiful things to tell my little children in the kindergarten. There I saw the busy little ants hard at work on the ground below; the patient, dull, brown toads snapping flies in the sunshine; the striped caterpillars lazily crawling up the trunk of the tree; and dozens of merry birds getting ready for housekeeping.

Did you know the birdies “kept house”? Oh, yes; they never “board” like men and women; indeed, I don’t think they even like to RENT a house without fixing it over to suit themselves, but they ‘d much rather go to work and build one,

“So snug and so warm, so cosy and neat,
To start at their housekeeping all complete.”

Now there hung just inside my window a box of strings, and for two or three days, no matter how many I put into it, when I went to look the next time none could be found. I had talked to the little girls and scolded the little boys in the house, but no one knew anything about the matter, when one afternoon, as I was sitting there, a beautiful bird with a yellow breast fluttered down from the willow-tree, perched on the window-sill, cocked his saucy head, winked his bright eye, and without saying “If you please,” clipped his naughty little beak into the string box and flew off with a piece of pink twine.

I sat as still as a mouse to see if the little scamp would dare to come back; he didn’t, but he sent his wife, who gave a hop, skip, and a jump, looked me squarely in the eye, and took her string without being a bit afraid.

Now do you call that stealing? “No,” you answer. Neither do I; to be sure they took what belonged to me, but the window was wide open, and I think they must have known I loved the birds and would like to give them something for their new house. Perhaps they knew, too, that bits of old twine could not be worth much.

Then how busily they began their work! They had already chosen the place for their nest, springing up and down in the boughs till they found a branch far out of sight of snakes and hawks and cruel tabby cats, high out of reach of naughty small boys with their sling-shots, and now everything was ready for these small carpenters to begin their building. No hammer and nails were needed, claw and bill were all the tools they used, and yet what beautiful carpenter work was theirs!

Do you see how strongly the nest is tied on to those three slender twigs, and how carefully and closely it is woven, so that you can scarcely pull it apart? Those wiry black hairs holding all the rest together were dropped from Prince Charming’s tail (Prince Charming is the pretty saddle-horse who crops his grass, under the willow-tree). Those sleek brown hairs belonged to Dame Margery, the gentle mooly cow, who lives with her little calf Pet in the stable with Prince Charming; and there is a shining yellow spot on one side. Ah, you roguish birds, you must have been outside the kitchen window when baby Johnny’s curls were cut! We could only spare two from his precious head, and we hunted everywhere for this one to send to grandmamma!

Now just look at this door in the side of the nest, and tell me how a bird could make such a perfect one; and yet I’ve heard you say, “It’s only a bird; he doesn’t know anything.” To be sure he cannot do as many things as you, but after all you are not wise enough to do many of the things that he does. What would one of my little boys do, I wonder, if he were carried miles away from home and dropped in a place he had never seen? Why, he would be too frightened to do anything but cry; and yet there are many birds, who, when taken away a long distance, will perch on top of the weather-vane, perhaps, make up their little bits of minds which way to go, and then with a whir-r-r-r fly off over house-tops and church-steeples, towns and cities, rivers and meadows, until they reach the place from which they started.

Look at the nest for the last time now, and see the soft, lovely lining of ducks’ feathers and lambs’ wool.

Why do you suppose it was made so velvet soft and fleecy? Why, for the little birds that were coming, of course; and sure enough, one morning after the tiny house was all finished, I leaned far out of the window and saw five little eggs cuddled close together; but I did not get much chance to look at those precious eggs, I can tell you; for the mamma bird could scarcely spare a minute to go and get a drink of water, so afraid was she that they would miss the warmth of her downy wings.

There she sat in the long May days and warm, still nights: who but a mamma would be so sweet and kind and patient?–but SHE didn’t mind the trouble–not a bit. Bless her dear little bird-heart, they were not eggs to her: she could see them even now as they were going to be, her five cunning, downy, feathery birdlings, chirping and fluttering under her wings; so she never minded the ache in her back or the cramp in her legs, but sat quite still at home, though there were splendid picnics in the strawberry patches and concerts on the fence rails, and all the father birds, and all the mother birds that were not hatching eggs, were having a great deal of fun this beautiful weather. At last all was over, and I was waked up one morning by such a chirping and singing–such a fluttering and flying–I knew in a minute that where the night before there had been two birds and five eggs, now there were seven birds and nothing but egg-shells in the green willow-tree!

The papa oriole would hardly wait for me to dress, but flew on and off the window-sill, seeming to say, “Why don’t you get up? why don’t you get up? I have five little birds; they came out of the shells this very morning, so hungry that I can’t get enough for them to eat! Why don’t you get up, I say? I have five little birds, and I am taking care of them while my wife is off taking a rest!”

They were five scrawny, skinny little things, I must say; for you know birds don’t begin by being pretty like kittens and chickens, but look very bare and naked, and don’t seem to have anything to show but a big, big mouth which is always opening and crying “Yip, yip, yip!”

Now I think you are wondering why I happen to have this nest, and how I could have taken away the beautiful house from the birds. Ah, that is the sad part of the story, and I wish I need not tell it to you.

When the baby birds were two days old, I went out on a long ride into the country, leaving everything safe and happy in the old green willow-tree; but when I came back, what do you think I found on the ground under the branches?—-A wonderful hang-bird’s nest cut from the tree, and five poor still birdies lying by its side. Five slender necks all limp and lifeless,–five pairs of bright eyes shut forever! and overhead the poor mamma and papa twittering and crying in the way little birds have when they are frightened and sorry–flying here and there, first down to the ground and then up in the tree, to see if it was really true.

While I was gone two naughty boys had come into the garden to dig for angle-worms, and all at once they spied the oriole’s nest.

“O Tommy, here’s a hang-bird’s nest, such a funny one! there’s nobody here, let’s get it,” cried Jack.

Up against the tree they put the step-ladder; and although it was almost out of reach, a sharp jack-knife cut the twigs that held it up, and down it fell from the high tree with a heavy thud on the hard earth, and the five little orioles never breathed again! Of course the boys didn’t know there were any birdies in the nest, or they wouldn’t have done it for the world; but that didn’t make it any easier for the papa and mamma bird.

Now, dear children, never let me hear you say, “It’s no matter, they’re only birds, they don’t care.”

Think about this nest: how the mother and father worked at it, weaving hair and string and wool together, day by day! Think how the patient mamma sat on the eggs, dreaming of the time when she should have five little singing, flying birds to care for, to feed and to teach! and then to have them live only two short days! Was it not dreadful to lose her beautiful house and dear little children both at once?

Never forget that just as your own father and mother love their dear little girls and boys, so God has made the birds love their little feathery children that are born in the wonderful nests he teaches them to build.

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