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How Winnie Hatched The Little Rooks


How Winnie Hatched the Little Rooks

As told by Queen Crosspatch

By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Author of "Little Lord Fauntleroy," "Sara Crewe," "Editha's Burglar," etc., etc.

With Illustrations by Harrison Cady


Now please to remember that it is a Fairy who wrote this story—a real Fairy—just as real as you are yourself-—because if you don't remember it will make me scold like anything.


I am a little cross to begin with but I believe I shall get better as I go on with my story about Winnie and the little rooks, because it is such a nice story. You will scarcely believe what a nice story it is. But I feel cross because just as I was passing through the Crystal Hall in my palace to go to Rose Garden and begin to write I suddenly caught sight of a tiny little ragged black creature hiding behind one of the glittering crystal chairs and kicking its legs about and dancing and giggling in the most impudent way, and I heard it cackle at me as it peeped in and out.

"He-he-he—kee-e-e-e! She thinks she is going to write a book."

And I saw it was nothing more or less than my little Temper, the one I lost out of my silver cage, and he looked so tatteredy and raggedy and black and ugly and saucy that I am sure I should have begun to scream and stamp my feet but that I remembered quickly, that I had made up my mind to keep myself quite quiet until some day I could pounce upon him and catch him when he wasn't expecting it and just snip him into his silver cage again and shut the door. I had the silver cage with me that minute, swinging at my waist by a tiny diamond chain and the ugly little Imp caught sight of it and you should have seen him kick up his heels and shout:

 

"Oh! minkery—tinkery—winkery wee
She's got her cage and she thinks she'll get me!
Well, minkery—tinkery. We shall see."

 

I stopped a moment and almost stamped but remembered again and clinched my teeth and flounced past him, and I am glad to say that he was so frightened that he tumbled over and lay sprawling and kicking on his back.

Then I went to the Rose Garden and found the Respectable person waiting for me and I sat down and ordered her to Spell what I told her about Winnie.

And this is it:

Winnie was one of the nicest little girls I ever knew. She was only five and she was a round little thing. She had a round little face and round very blue eyes, and round red curls all over her head, and she had a round rosy button of a mouth, and round fat legs, and a round little body as plump as a robin redbreast's.

She lived in a big castle and her nursery was in a tower and her nurse Binny lived in it with her. She had no papa and mamma and the castle really belonged to her but she was not old enough to care about that, because she had so many other things to care about. She cared about Binny who was fat and had a comfortable lap and could sing songs and tell stories, and she cared about the thousands and thousands of primroses and bluebells which grew in the park round the castle, and she cared about the deer with horns and their wives who had no horns and the little fawn children who skipped about under the trees. But most of all she cared about the birds and was always asking Binny questions about them. One day when Winnie and Binny were walking together Binny stopped by a hedge and said:

"There is a thrush's nest with four eggs in it, in that hedge."

"Oh! Binny!" said Winnie, "do lift me up and let me look at it."

"No," said Binny. "If the eggs' mother saw us do it, she would go away and never sit on the eggs again, and they would starve to death."

Then Winnie dragged her away by the hand and ran as fast as her round little legs would carry her. When she stopped running, her very blue eyes were rounder than ever.

"If the eggs' father was flying about and saw us, would he tell the mother?" she said, all out of breath with running.

"I daresay he would," answered Binny.

"And if the eggs' aunt saw us, or their uncles or cousins, would they tell the mother and would she never sit on the eggs again and would they starve to death?"

"That's just what would happen," said Binny. So from that time, when Winnie went walking with Binny, she always turned her face quite away from the hedges for fear a mother bird would think she was looking at her eggs and would go away and leave them to starve to death.

She was always watching birds, but I think she watched the rooks most. That was because she could look out of her window in the tower and see the Rookery where they lived. Rooks are big black birds who always fly in flocks and build their nests near each other in the tops of tall trees. A great many rooks built their nests in some trees Winnie could see from her window and she used to sit and watch them every day. In the morning when she heard them begin to say "Caw-w! Ca-aw! Caw!" She would run to the window and call out:

"Binny! Binny! the rooks are getting up and going to breakfast."

Then she would watch and see first one glossy black rook come out of his nest and stand among the green leaves and shake his wings and preen his glossy black feathers with his beak. And then he would "Caw! Caw!" to his wife until she came out and sat among the leaves and smoothed out her glossy black feathers, and then they would Ca-aw! Ca-aw! Caw! to their neighbors in the other branches and then they would Caw to the rooks in the next tree, and the next and the next, and the rooks would keep getting up and answering, until all the trees in the Rookery were full of rooks, all Cawing as if they were talking about the weather. But Binny told Winnie they were saying things like this:

 

"I know where there's lots to eat
Caw, Ca-aw, Caw!
I know where there's a field of wheat
Caw, Ca-aw, Caw!
The farmer sows that he may reap
But the Scarecrow's nodding and fast asleep.
Who cares for the Scarecrow?"

 

And at last they would all rise together flapping their wings and fly away over the tree tops like a black cloud, and Binny said they were laughing at the idea of being frightened of the Scarecrow the farmer put in the field to keep them from stealing his wheat.

Winnie always watched them until they were out of sight and she could hear them cawing no more.

Then about sunset she liked to be at the window to watch them come home to sleep. First she would see a little black cloud in the sky and then it would come nearer and nearer, until she saw it was made of rooks all flying together, back to their nests in the high, high old trees. Then Binny told Winnie they were saying things like this:

"Flying and fun and food all day,
Caw, Ca-aw, Caw,
Flying and fun and meat and play,
Caw, Ca-aw, Caw,
We've sat on the backs of fat old sheep.
High up in our tree tops."

And oh! what fun it was to see them settle down for the night. What a fuss they made cawing and talking and flapping their wings. When the last of them had got into his nest with his wife, and the cawing had stopped, everything seemed so quiet that Winnie was quite ready to get into her nest and sleep as they did. She loved the rooks because there were so many of them, and they seemed to live so near her. She used to feel as if they knew she was watching them from the tower window.

At last one day Binny said to her.

"The mother rooks are beginning to sit on their eggs."

Winnie gave a little jump and scrambled down from the window seat.

"Then I mustn't look at them," she said, "I mustn't look at them."

"Yes, you can look at them from here," Binny answered. "They can't see you. Get up in your seat again. There's a mother on the nest in the top of that nearest tree."

Winnie scrambled back full of joy. There was a nest in the nearest tree and she could see a bit of it and Mr. Rook was sitting near it and talking to his wife.

And he said this: (I told Binny and Binny told Winnie.)

 

"Spread out my dear, tuck in your legs,
Caw, Ca-aw, Caw;
Attend to your business—eggs is eggs,
Caw, Ca-aw, Caw;
It's not the first time you've been told
That if you let your eggs get cold.
We shall have to send for the doctor."

For the next two days Winnie sat and watched and watched. She wanted to sit in the window seat all day and she asked Binny questions and questions.

Because I was so fond of her I sent some of my Fairies to push the leaves aside near Mrs. Rook's nest so that she could see better. She began to feel as if she was the eggs' mother herself and was quite anxious when Mrs. Rook went away for a minute.

One day when she was watching from her window she suddenly saw a boy standing beneath the tree and looking up. All at once he began to scramble up it and he scrambled very fast.

"He will frighten Mrs. Rook," cried Winnie to Binny.

"He is going to steal the eggs," said Binny.

"Run as fast as you can," Winnie said. "and tell him he mustn't—he mustn't."

Binny ran as fast as she could, but by the time she got to the foot of the tree the boy was at the top of it. Winnie saw him put out his hand and she gave a little scream as Mrs. Rook flew up with a loud cry, and sailed away to find Mr. Rook and tell him what had happened.

"Come down! come down!" Binny called up from the foot of the tree. "How dare you touch the rook's eggs!"

The boy looked down and was very frightened when he saw the fat nurse from the castle scolding him. He thought she might send for the village policeman and he put the eggs back and scrambled down faster than he had scrambled up. And Binny caught him and boxed his ears before he ran away.

When she went back to the nursery in the tower Winnie was crying.

"Mrs. Mother Rook will never come back and the eggs will starve to death," she said.

And she sat and watched and watched, and Binny sat and watched and watched. Mrs. Rook and Mr. Rook came and flew about and cawed and talked to the other rooks and everybody cawed and scolded, but go back to that nest Mrs. Rook would not.

"When the sun goes down they will get cold," wept Winnie. "Oh! I wish I could go and keep them warm myself" She covered her very blue eyes with her very fat hands.

"If a Fairy would only come and help me," she cried. "Nobody but a Fairy could help me."

The very minute I heard her say that I flew on to her window ledge and let her see me.

"Just look at me," I said.

"Oh! you are a Fairy!" she gasped, and then she called out, "Binny, Binny! here is a Fairy!" But Binny had gone out of the room. I did not want her interfering.

"I am glad you know a Fairy when you see one," I said. "Would you really like to sit on the nest and keep the eggs warm."

In the nest on the top of the tree?" said Winnie, all in a flutter.

"Yes," I answered. "Would you like to sit on them until they change into baby rooks, and then would you like to teach (hem to fly?"

"Yes! Yes! Yes!" said Winnie. "But I can't fly myself, Fairy. And Binny wouldn't let me climb up the tree."

I just turned round and blew my tiny golden trumpet, I blew it once, I blew it twice, I blew it three times. And suddenly Winnie saw a flock of lovely green things she thought were butterflies. They came flying and flying. They were my Working Fairies, dressed in their green working-smocks. They all stood in a row before me on the window ledge and made a bow and they sang together:

"Fairies are real. Fairies are true.
What shall we do? What shall we do?"

"Get out your tools," I ordered them, "and make this young lady small enough to sit on a rook's nest."

They took their tiny silver hammers out of their tool bags and they began to work. Their taps were so tiny that Winnie did not feel them and only laughed as they flew up and down her and worked and worked, darting about and all talking at once, so it sounded as if a whole hive of bees were buzzing.

Winnie held out her hand which was covered by a swarm of them and she laughed and laughed.

"Oh! how pretty they are!" she said. "Binny! Binny! do come and see! I am covered with Fairies! "

"Hush," I said, "and stand still. There is a great deal to be done."

Presently she began to grow smaller and smaller and in a few minutes she was quite small enough to sit on a nest.

"Now," I said, "you are ready to go."

"But what will Binny do when she misses me?" she asked.

"Binny will not know," I answered. "I am going to leave an Imitation Winnie in your place."

Then her very blue eyes grew rounder and rounder.

"Oh!" she said.

But I knew my business and I called to one of my Working Fairies:

"Tip, can you turn yourself into a little girl?" He looked ashamed of himself and wriggled.

"I'm afraid I've forgotten how, Your Majesty," he stuttered. I stamped my foot hard and called to another one:

"Nip, can you?"

He began to wriggle too and tried to slink behind the others.

"I—I—never learned, Ma-am," he stammered.

Think how disgraceful. It shows what Fairy-land is coming to.

"Rip! Skip! Trip!" I called out, and they all wriggled and tried to slink because none of them could do it, and I was just going to fly into a rage and scream when a very tiny one called Kip stepped forward looking very red.

"I've been practising three hours a day if you please 'm," he said.

"Then do it this minute," I commanded.

He went and stood in the middle of the room and began. He puffed and he fluffed and he puffed and he fluffed until one of his legs was round and fat like Winnie's. Then he fluffed and he puffed and he fluffed and he puffed until the other one was like it. Then he puffed and he fluffed until his body was round and plump. Then he puffled until his arms were round, and he fluffled until he had a round rosy face. Then he puffled and fluffled and huffled all at once until short red curls came out all over his head, and he had very blue eyes and a mouth like a rose button. And when he had done he stood there and looked exactly like Winnie.

"There," he panted out, "but my word, it was hard."

"If he stays here until I come back, Binny will never know I have been away," said Winnie.

"Of course she won't," I said. "What do you suppose I made him do it for! He is the Imitation Winnie. Now we must go or the eggs will be cold."

I touched her on the shoulder and a lovely pair of wings sprang out.

"Just try flying around the room a few times," I said. She stood on her tip-toes and gave a few flaps and sailed up to the ceiling and round and round.

"How easy it is," she said. "Oh! how beautiful!"

"Now fly right out of the window and we will come with you," I said, "and take you to your nest."

But when she flew to the window ledge she stopped a moment to speak to Imitation Winnie.

"Be very nice to Binny," she said, "and always say 'please.’"

She flew right out of the window and when she got outside, flying was so delightful that she felt as if she would like to fly up into the sky. But she flew straight to the rook's nest.

It was high up in a lovely tree and when she lighted upon the branch among all the waving, rustling green leaves she laughed for joy. There were green branches below her and green branches above her and green branches all round her, and all the trees in the Rookery touched each other, and the blue sky was quite close, and there was the nest with the lovely eggs lying there waiting for her.

"I hope they are not cold, Fairy," she said, and she put her hand on them. They were not cold but they would have been if they had waited much longer. Then she settled down in the nest like a mother-bird. She spread out her little flouncy embroidered frock and fussed and fussed until nothing could have been warmer than the eggs were.

"They won't get cold now," she said. "I'll love them and love them until they think I am their real mother." All the Working Fairies crowded round in their green smocks with their little hammers and picks over their shoulders and looked at her. They kept nudging each other and smiling delightedly. They had never seen a little girl sit on a nest before.

"Good-night," I said to her.

Then all the Working Fairies said:

"Good-night. Good-night. Good-night. Good-night," in low singing silvery voices, and we all flew away.

The nest was very comfortable and the eggs grew warmer and warmer, the top of the tree rocked like a cradle, the wind whispered through the branches like a nurse saying:

"Sh—sh—sh," and in the park Winnie could hear two nightingales singing. She lay and watched the stars twinkling in the blue sky above her head until her eyes closed and she fell fast asleep. When she wakened, the sun was just getting up out of a rosy cloud, and all the air seemed full of birds singing. The rooks were cawing and flapping about, and suddenly she found she could understand what they were saying.

I had not told her about it but I had taught her rook language in her sleep.

A very handsome, glossy young rook had alighted upon a branch close to her nest and was looking and looking at her. When she opened her eyes he said this:

 

"My goodness me! I am surprised
Caw, Ca-aw, Caw,
Till now I never realized,
Caw, Ca-aw, Caw,
That lady Rooks could be pink and white,
With feathers of snow and eyes so bright.
It really sets me fluttering.
Such a lady rook I have never seen,
Caw, Ca-aw. Caw,
Such a lady rook sure has never been,
Caw, Ca-aw, Caw.
I really can think of nothing to say,
I feel so shy I could fly away.
My gracious! I hope she'll admire me."

 

Winnie sat up and smiled at him.

"Are you my Rook husband?" she asked

He put his claw up to hide his blushes of joy and fluttered about on his branch.

"Are you?" said Winnie, and she pushed her flouncy little frock aside so that he could see the eggs.

"You see I am sitting," she explained, "and when I hatch, I shall be obliged to have a Rook husband to go and get things for the children to eat. Binny says that you'd be surprised to see how much they do eat. If you are not my husband will you be him? "

"Oh! Caw! May I?" said the young gentleman rook.

"I should like to have you very much," said Winnie. "You are a beautiful rook. Do come close and let me stroke you. I have always wanted to stroke a rook. But they never will let you."

The young gentleman rook came sidling along and stood by her with his head on one side. And you never saw anything like the airs and graces he put on when Winnie stroked him. He asked to see the eggs again and Winnie showed them to him.

"Do you think I ought to wash them every morning?" she said. "Or would they take cold if I did?"

"I am afraid, they would," he said. "I never was washed."

When I came with my Working Fairies to bring her a Fairy breakfast he was sailing about over her head and flapping his wings and cawing and showing off in a perfectly ridiculous manner. He actually wanted to fly at my Working Fairies and peck them away.

"Get away, green butterflies!" he cawed, "Don't bother my wife."

But I soon brought him to order.

"Green butterflies indeed!" scolded. "They are my Fairies—and what is more you would never have seen this new kind of lady rook if I had not brought her here. I am Queen Crosspatch—Queen Silver-bell as was." He was frightened then. They all knew me.

"I sent him here to be company for you," I said to Winnie.

"Oh! thank you," she said. "He is so nice. He lets me stroke him."

He was so pleased and she was so pleased that I knew I need not trouble myself about them. Every time I went to see Winnie she talked about her Rook husband, or else I found him sitting close to her cawing softly while she stroked him, or sat with her hand on his neck. He said that none of the other rooks had such a happy home. I never saw a bird as sentimental. He said his one trouble was that he was not a nightingale, so that he could sing to her all the night while she was sitting. He tried it once, though I told him not to do it, and Winnie had to ask him to stop. She could not go to sleep herself and it made all the other rooks in the Rookery so angry, and besides she was afraid he might waken the eggs. It was beautiful sitting on that nest, rocking softly on the tree tops and looking up at the sky. All sorts of birds used to stop to talk and sing; squirrels came scuffling up to call and bring ready cracked nuts; and bees came and hummed and hummed about flowers and hives, and the lady rooks who were sitting on their nests in the other branches, told Winnie story after story about the lovely places they flew to when they were not busy with families.

She grew fonder and fonder of her rook husband. He loved her so much and was so proud of her, he would have done anything for her, and he was so delighted with the eggs.

"Whenever you hear the least little tapping sound, tell me," he said, "because that will mean one is beginning to break his shell." He would scarcely go out to get things to eat. He was so afraid of being away when she hatched.

One beautiful sunny morning he was sitting near her being stroked when she gave a little jump.

"Oh! I am sure I heard a tap!"

Then she gave another little jump and said:

"Oh! I am sure I heard a crack!"

And when she pushed her flouncy little frock aside there was a baby rook scrambling and kicking out of his shell, and in a few minutes more, another, who was perhaps a sister, both of them with nothing on but pin feathers and with their mouths wide open. Then there began to be work for Mr. Rook to do. He had to fly and fly and fly and bring food to drop into their mouths, and the more he brought the more they wanted and the wider their mouths opened and the more they squawked and cried. He worked so hard that drops of perspiration stood on his forehead, but he was so proud that he never grumbled at all.

"You are a good husband," Winnie said.

"But just think how patiently you have sat on them," he answered smiling at her with his head on one side. I can tell you they both had to work before the baby rooks were fledged. They were restless, kicking babies, and Winnie had to fuss and fuss and tuck them in every few minutes to keep them from falling out of the nest and tumbling from the tree top. I used to send a guard of my Working Fairies to stand round the nest and help her. Every morning at six o'clock I used to go to see her and give her good advice.

"Make Mr. Rook peck them if they won't behave themselves," I said to her.

But she spoiled them dreadfully.

"Oh! no!" she would say. "They are so little and they have no feathers yet." And she would fuss and fuss and spread her flouncy little frock out and cover them up as if they had been little golden rooks instead of squawky little things with big mouths and bare backs. But she was so glad that she had saved them from being starved to death that she even thought they were pretty.

One morning I went and found her in a great flutter. The baby rooks were fledged and Mr. Rook had told her they must be taught to fly. But when he made them come out and stand on the tree they were so frightened that they would not stir and even tried to scuffle back into the nest under Winnie's flouncy little frock.

"Oh! do you think they are big enough?" she said. "Suppose they should fall from the tree top."

"If they fall they will begin to flap their wings, and if they flap their wings they will find out they can fly," said Mr. Rook. "I think I'll give the eldest a little push."

"Oh! don't!" cried Winnie.

So he talked to them and argued and flew about to show them how to use their wings and he said:

 

"Come off the tree you silly things,
Caw, Ca-aw, Caw.
The only way to use your wings,
Caw, Ca-aw, Caw,
Is to know that you were made to fly
And then flap and sail into the sky.
For that's all there is in flying."

 

But they shivered and squawked and clung to Winnie until I began to scold them. And after I had scolded them I just marched up to the eldest one and gave him a push myself. He gave a big squawk and tumbled and his brother tumbled after him, for I gave him a push too. And of course the minute they found themselves falling, they began to flutter and flap their wings, and they found out they could fly and they just fluttered and flapped gently to the ground at the foot of their tree, and there they stood squawking and cawing and boasting to each other about their cleverness, and saying they knew they could do it. Mr. Rook flew down to them of course and Winnie was left alone.

"Oh!" she cried. "The nest feels so empty. Will they never come back? "

"They will never come back to stay," I answered.

"But I will make them come and visit you on your tower window ledge. And I am sure Mr. Rook would visit you whether I made him or not."

"Well I did hatch them, didn't I?" said Winnie, "and they didn't starve to death, and I am very fond of Binny—very."

The next evening after Binny had gone to bed, I took her back. She kissed Mr. Rook a good many times and he told her he would come to see her three times a day.

When we flew into the nursery window, Imitation Winnie was in bed waiting for us and was very glad to see us. She wanted to turn into Kip again.

But the first thing was to make Winnie the right size once more—the size Binny was accustomed to. So my Working Fairies began. They swarmed all over her like bees and began to pull and tap and puffle her out—and in a few minutes there she was standing quite big enough to put on Imitation Winnie's night-gown and get into Imitation Winnie's bed, so that Binny would find her all right when she came in the next morning.

"Oh! it has been nice," said Winnie as she cuddled down into her frilled pillow. "I never shall forget how lovely it is to rock in a nest in a tree top."

When she told Binny about it Binny believed she had been dreaming. Of course she had never known she had been away because Imitation Winnie had looked exactly like her and had always said "please."

But there was one thing she could never understand and that was why so many rooks used to come and fly about the nursery window and sit on the window ledge. They actually seemed to love Winnie, particularly one very glossy handsome young gentleman rook, who called there three times a day and was so tame that he used to perch on her shoulder or stand quite still with his head on one side while she stroked him.

So you see that is the story of one of the things that would never have happened if Fairies had not been real and much cleverer than People.


The next story I am going to write is about two dolls' houses and the doll families who lived in them—and I know both families well. One doll's house was a grand one and one was a shabby disreputable one. And one doll family I liked, and the other doll family I didn't like. And you will have to read the story and find out for yourself—if you have sense enough—which was the nice one.

Queen Crosspatch


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1924, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.