STORY OF THE ROBINS.
HARRIET AND FREDERICK FEEDING THE BIRDS.
In a hole which time had made in a wall covered with ivy, a pair of redbreasts built their nest. No place could have been better chosen for the purpose; it was sheltered from the rain, screened from the wind, and in an orchard belonging to a gentleman who had strictly charged his domestics not to destroy the labours of those little songsters who chose his ground as an asylum.
In this happy retreat, which no idle schoolboy dared to enter, the hen redbreast laid four eggs, and then took her seat upon them, resolving that nothing should tempt her to leave the nest for any length of time till she had hatched her infant brood. Her tender mate every morning took her place while she picked up a hasty breakfast, and often, before he tasted any food himself, cheered her with a song.
At length the day arrived when the happy mother heard the chirping of her little ones; with unexpressible tenderness she spread her maternal wings to cover them, threw out the egg-shells in which they before lay confined, then pressed them to her bosom, and presented them to her mate, who viewed them with rapture, and seated himself by her side that he might share her pleasure.
"We may promise ourselves much delight in rearing our little family," said he, " but it will give us a great deal of trouble. I would willingly bear the whole myself, but it will be impossible for me, with my utmost labour and industry, to supply all our nestlings with what is sufficient for their daily support; it will therefore be necessary for you to leave the nest sometimes to seek provisions for them." She declared her readiness to do so, and said that there would be no necessity for her to be long absent, as she had discovered a place near the orchard where food was scattered on purpose for such birds as would take the pains of seeking it; and that she had been informed by a chaffinch that there was no kind of danger in picking it up.
"This is a lucky discovery indeed for us," replied her mate; " for this great increase of family renders it prudent to make use of every means for supplying our necessities. I myself must take a larger circuit, for some insects that are proper for the nestlings cannot be found in all places; however, I will bear you company whenever it is in my power."
The little ones now began to be hungry, and opened their gaping mouths for food; on which their kind father instantly flew forth to find it for them, and in turns supplied them all, as well as his beloved mate. This was a hard day's work, and when evening came on he was glad to take repose, and turning his head under his wing, he soon fell asleep; his mate soon followed his example. The four little ones had before fallen into a gentle slumber, and perfect quietness for some hours reigned in the nest.
The next morning they were awakened at the dawn of day by the song of a skylark, which had a nest near the orchard; and as the young redbreasts were impatient for food, their father cheerfully prepared himself to renew his toil, requesting his mate to accompany him to the place she had mentioned. "That I will do," replied she, "but it is too early yet; I must therefore beg that you will go by yourself and procure a breakfast for us, as I am fearful of leaving the nestlings before the air is warmer, lest they should be chilled." To this he readily consented, and fed all his little darlings; to whom, for the sake of distinction, I shall give the names of Robin, Dicky, Flapsy, and Pecksy. When this kind office was performed he perched on a tree, and while he rested, entertained his family with his melody, till his mate, springing from the nest, called him to attend her; on which he instantly took wing, and followed her to a courtyard belonging to a family mansion.
No sooner had the happy pair appeared before the parlour window, than it was hastily thrown up by Harriet Benson, a little girl about eleven years old, the daughter of the gentleman and lady to whom the house belonged. Harriet with great delight called her brother to see two robin redbreasts; and she was soon joined by Frederick, a fine chubby rosy-cheeked boy, about six years of age, who, as soon as he had taken a peep at the feathered strangers, ran to his mamma, and entreated her to give him something to feed them with. "I must have a great piece of bread this morning," said he, "for there are all the sparrows and chaffinches that come every day, and two robin redbreasts besides." "Here is a piece for you, Frederick," replied Mrs. Benson, cutting a loaf that was on the table; "but if your daily pensioners continue to increse as they have done lately, we must provide some other food for them, as it is not right to cut pieces from a loaf on purpose for birds, because there are many children who want bread, to whom we should give the preference. Would you deprive a poor little hungry boy of his breakfast to give it to birds?" "No," said Frederick, "I would sooner give my own breakfast to a poor boy than he should go without; but where shall I get food enough for my birds? I will beg the cook to save the crumbs in the bread-pan, and desire John to preserve all he makes when he cuts the loaf for dinner, and those which are scattered on the tablecloth." "A very good scheme," said Mrs. Benson, "and I make no doubt it will answer your purpose, if you can prevail on the servants to indulge you. I cannot bear to see the least fragment of food wasted which may contribute to the support of life in any creature."
Harriet, being quite impatient to exercise her benevolence, requested her brother to remember that the poor birds, for whom he had been a successful solicitor, would soon fly away if he did not make haste to feed them; on which he ran to the window with his treasure in his hand. When Harriet first appeared, the winged suppliants approached with eager expectation of the daily handful which their kind benefactress made it a custom to distribute, and were surprised at the delay of her charity. They hopped around the window—they chirped—they twittered, and employed all their little arts to gain attention; and were on the point of departing, when Frederick, breaking a bit from the piece he held in his hand, attempted to scatter it among them, calling out at the same time, "Dicky! Dicky!" On hearing the well-known sound, the little flock immediately drew near. Frederick begged that his sister would let him feed all the birds himself; but finding that he could not fling the crumbs far enough for the redbreasts, who, being strangers, kept at a distance, he resigned the task, and Harriet, with dexterous hand, threw some of them to the very spot where the affectionate pair stood waiting for her notice, who with grateful hearts picked up the portion assigned them; and in the meanwhile the other birds, being satisfied, flew away, and they were left alone. Frederick exclaimed with rapture that the two robin redbreasts were feeding; and Harriet meditated a design of taming them by kindness. "Be sure, my dear brother," said she, "not to forget to ask the cook and John for the crumbs, and do not let the least morsel of anything you have to eat fall to the ground. I will be careful in respect of mine, and we will collect all that papa and mamma crumble; and if we cannot by these means get enough, I will spend some of my money in grain for them." "Oh," said Frederick, "I would give all the money I have in the world to buy food for my dear dear birds." "Hold, my love," said Mrs. Benson "though I commend your humanity, I must remind you again that there are poor people as well as poor birds." "Well, mamma," replied Frederick, "I will only buy a little grain, then." As he spoke these last words, the redbreasts having finished their meal, the mother bird expressed her impatience to return to the nest; and having obtained her mate's consent, she repaired with all possible speed to her humble habitation, whilst he tuned his melodious pipe, and delighted their young benefactors with his music; he then spread his wings, and took his flight to an adjoining garden, where he had a great chance of finding worms for his family.
Frederick expressed great concern that the robins were gone; but was comforted by his sister, who reminded him that in all probability his new favourites, having met with so kind a reception, would return on the morrow. Mrs. Benson then bid them shut the window; and taking Frederick in her lap, and desiring Harriet to sit down by her, thus addressed them:—
"I am delighted, my dear children, with your humane behaviour towards animals, and wish by all means to encourage it; but let me recommend to you not to suffer your tender feelings towards animals to gain upon you to such a degree as to make you unhappy or forgetful of those who have a higher claim to your attention—I mean poor people; always keep in mind the distresses which they endure, and on no account waste any kind of food, nor give to inferior creatures what is designed for mankind."
Harriet promised to follow her mamma's instructions; but Frederick's attention was entirely engaged by watching a butterfly, which had just left the chrysalis, and was fluttering in the window, longing to try its wings in the air and sunshine; this Frederick was very desirous to catch, but his mamma would not permit him to attempt it, because, she told him, he could not well lay hold of its wings without doing it an injury, and it would be much happier at liberty. "Should you like, Frederick," said she, "when you are going out to play, to have anybody lay hold of you violently, scratch you all over, then offer you something to eat which is very disagreeable, and perhaps poisonous, and shut you up in a little dark room? And yet this is the fate to which many a harmless insect is condemned by thoughtless children." As soon as Frederick understood that he could not catch the butterfly without hurting it, he gave up the point, and assured his mamma he did not want to keep it, but only to carry it out of doors. "Well," replied she, "that end may be answered by opening the window;" which, at her desire, was done by Harriet: the happy insect was glad to fly away, and Frederick had soon the pleasure of seeing it upon a rose.
Breakfast being ended, Mrs. Benson reminded the children that it was almost time for their lessons to begin; but desired their maid to take them into the garden before they applied to business. During his walk, Frederick amused himself with watching the butterfly as it flew from flower to flower, which gave him more pleasure than he could possibly have received from catching and confining the little tender creature.
Let us now see what became of our redbreasts after they left their young benefactors.
The hen bird, as I informed you, repaired immediately to the nest; her heart fluttered with apprehension as she entered it, and she eagerly called out, "Are you all safe, my little dears?" "All safe, my good mother," replied Pecksy, "but a little hungry, and very cold." "Well," said she, "your last complaint I can soon remove; but in respect to satisfying your hunger, that must be your father's task; however, he will soon be here, I make no doubt." Then spreading her wings over them all, she soon gave warmth to them, and they were again comfortable.
In a very short time her mate returned; for he only stayed at Mr. Benson's to finish his song and sip some clear water, which his new friends always kept where they fed the birds. He brought in his mouth a worm, which was given to Robin; and was going to fetch one for Dicky, but his mate said, "My young ones are now hatched, and you can keep them warm as well as myself; take my place, therefore, and the next excursion shall be mine." "I consent," answered he, "because I think a little flying now and then will do you good; but, to save you trouble, I can direct you to a spot where you may be certain of finding worms for this morning's supply." He then described the place; and on her quitting the nest he entered it, and gathered his young ones under his wings. "Come, my dears," said he, "let us see what kind of a nurse I can make; but an awkward one, I fear; even every mother bird is not a good nurse, but you are very fortunate in yours, for she is a most tender one, and I hope you will be dutiful for her kindness." They all promised him they would. "Well, then," said he, "I will sing you a song." He did so, and it was a very merry one, and delighted the nestlings extremely; so that, though they were not quite comfortable under his wings, they did not regard it, nor think the time of their mother's absence long. She had not succeeded in the place she first went to, as a boy was picking up worms to angle with, of whom she was afraid, and therefore flew further; but as soon as she had obtained what she went for, she returned with all possible speed; and though she had repeated invitations from several gay birds which she met to join their sportive parties, she kept a steady course, preferring the pleasure of feeding little Dicky to all the diversions of the fields and groves. As soon as the hen bird came near the nest her mate started up to make room for her, and take his turn of providing for his family. "Once more adieu!" said he, and was out of sight in an instant.
"My dear nestlings," said the mother, "how do you do?" "Very well, thank you," replied all at once; "and we have been exceedingly merry," said Robin, "for my father has sung us a sweet song." "I think," said Dicky, "I should like to learn it." "Well," replied the mother, "he will teach it you, I dare say; here he comes, ask him." "I am ashamed," said Dicky. "Then you are a silly bird. Never be ashamed but when you commit a fault; asking your father to teach you to sing is not one; and good parents delight to teach their young ones everything that is proper and useful. Whatever so good a father sets you an example of you may safely desire to imitate." Then addressing herself to her mate, who for an instant stopped at the entrance of the nest, that he might not interrupt her instructions, "Am I not right," said she, "in what I have just told them?" "Perfectly so," replied he; "I shall have pleasure in teaching them all that is in my power; but we must talk of that another time. Who is to feed poor Pecksy?" "Oh, I, I!" answered the mother, and was gone in an instant.
"And so you want to learn to sing, Dicky?" said the father: "well, then, pray listen very attentively; you may learn the notes, though you will not be able to sing till your voice is stronger."
Robin now remarked that the song was very pretty indeed, and expressed his desire to learn it also. "By all means," said his father; "I shall sing it very often, so you may learn it if you please." "For my part," said Flapsy, "I do not think I could have patience to learn it, it will take so much time." "Nothing, my dear Flapsy," answered the father, "can be acquired without patience, and I am sorry to find yours begin to fail you already; but I hope, if you have no taste for music, that you will give the greater application to things that may be of more importance to you." "Well," said Pecksy, "I would apply to music with all my heart, but I do not believe it possible for me to learn it." "Perhaps not," replied her father, "but I do not doubt you will apply to whatever your mother requires of you; and she is an excellent judge both of your talents and of what is suitable to your station in life. She is no songstress herself, and yet she is very clever, I assure you: here she comes." Then rising to make room for her, "Take your seat, my love," said he, "and I will perch upon the ivy." The hen again covered her brood, whilst her mate amused her with his singing and conversation till the evening, excepting that each parent bird flew out in turn to get food for their young ones.
In this manner several days passed with little variation; the nestlings were very thriving, and daily gained strength and knowledge, through the care of their indulgent parents, who every day visited their friends, the little Bensons. Frederick had been successful with the cook and footman, from whom he obtained enough for his dear birds, as he called them, without robbing the poor; and he was still able to produce a penny whenever his papa or mamma pointed out to him a proper object of charity.