1180174The Story of the Robins — Chapter 6Sarah Trimmer



After Harriet and Frederick had been gratified with the sight of the robins' nest, they were returning to the house, conducted by their friend Joe, when they were met in the garden by their mamma, accompanied by Miss Lucy Jenkins and her brother Edward. The former was a fine girl about ten years old, the latter a robust, rude boy, more than eleven. "We were coming to seek you, my dears," said Mrs. Benson to her children, "for I was fearful that the business you went upon would make you forgetful of your young visitors."

"I cannot answer for Frederick," replied Harriet, "but indeed, mamma, I would not on any account have slighted my friends.—How do you do, my dear Lucy?" said she; "I am happy to see you. Will you go with me into the play-room? I have got some very pretty new books.—Frederick, have you nothing to show Edward?" "Oh yes," said Frederick, "I have got a new ball, a new top, a new organ, and twenty pretty things; but I had rather go back and show him the robins."

"The robins?" said Edward, "what robins?"

"Why, our robins, that have built in the ivy-wall. You never saw anything so pretty in your life as the little ones."

"Oh, I can see birds enough at home," said Edward; "but why did you not take the nest? it would have been nice diversion to you to toss the young birds about. I have had a great many nests this year, and do believe I have a hundred eggs."

"A hundred eggs! and how do you propose to hatch them?" said Harriet, who turned back on hearing him talk in this manner.

"Hatch them, Miss Benson?" said he; "who ever thinks of hatching birds' eggs?"

"Oh, then, you eat them," said Frederick, "or perhaps let your cook make puddings of them?"

"No, indeed," replied Edward; "I blow out the inside, and then run a thread through them, and give them to Lucy to hang up among her curiosities; and very pretty they look, I assure you." "And so," said Harriet, "you had rather see a string of empty egg-shells than hear a sweet concert of birds singing in the trees? I admire your taste, truly!"

"Why, is there any harm in taking birds' eggs?" said Lucy; "I never before heard that there was."

"My dear mamma," replied Harriet, "has taught me to think there is harm in every action which gives causeless pain to any living creature; and I own I have a very particular affection for birds."

"Well," said Lucy, "I have no notion of such affections, for my part. Sometimes, indeed, I try to rear those which Edward brings home, but they are teasing, troublesome things, and I am not lucky. To tell the truth, I do not concern myself much about them: if they live, they live; and if they die they die. He has brought me three nests this day to plague me; I intended to have fed the birds before I came out, but being in a hurry to come to see you, I quite forgot it. Did you feed them, Edward?"

"Not I," said he, "I thought you would do it 'tis enough for me to find the nests."

"And have you actually left three nests of young birds at home without food?" exclaimed Harriet.

"I did not think of them, but will feed them when I return," said Lucy. "Oh!" cried Harriet, "I cannot bear the thought of what the poor little creatures must suffer."

"Well," said Edward, "since you feel so much for them, I think, Harriet, you will make the best nurse. What say you, Lucy, will you give the nests to Harriet?"

"With all my heart," replied his sister; "and pray do not plague me with any more of them."

"I do not know that my mamma will let me accept them," said Harriet; "but if she will, I shall be glad to do so."

Frederick inquired what birds they were, and Edward informed him there was a nest of linnets, a nest of sparrows, and another of blackbirds. Frederick was all impatience to see them, and Harriet longed to have the little creatures in her possession, that she might rescue them from their deplorable condition, and lessen the evils of captivity which they now suffered.

Her mamma had left her with her young companions, that they might indulge themselves in innocent amusements without restraint; but the tender-hearted Harriet could not engage in any play till she had made intercession in behalf of the poor birds; she therefore begged Lucy would accompany her to her mamma, in order to ask permission to have the birds' nests. She accordingly went and made her request known to Mrs. Benson, who readily consented; observing that though she had a very great objection to her children having birds' nests, yet she could not deny her daughter on the present occasion. Harriet, from an unwillingness to expose her friend, had said but little on the subject; but Mrs. Benson, having great discernment, concluded that she made the request from a merciful motive; and knowing that Lucy had no kind mamma to give her instruction, she thus addressed her:—

"I perceive, my young friend, that Harriet is apprehensive that the birds will not meet with the same kind treatment from you which she is disposed to give them. I cannot think you have any cruelty in your nature, but perhaps you have accustomed yourself to consider birds only as playthings, without sense or feeling; to me, who am a great admirer of the beautiful little creatures, they appear in a very different light; and I have been an attentive observer of them, I assure you. Though they have not the gift of speech, like us, all kinds of birds have particular notes, which answer in some measure the purpose of words among them, by means of which they can call to their young ones, express their love for them, their fears for their safety, their anger towards those who would hurt them, &c.; from which we may infer that it is cruel to rob birds of their young, deprive them of their liberty, or exclude them from the blessings suited to their natures, for which it is impossible for us to give them an equivalent. Besides, these creatures, insignificant as they appear in your estimation, were made by God as well as you. Have you not read in the New Testament, my dear, that our Saviour said, 'Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy'? How then can you expect that God will send His blessing upon you if, instead of endeavouring to imitate Him in being merciful to the utmost of your power, you are wantonly cruel to innocent creatures which He designed for happiness?"

This admonition from Mrs. Benson, which Lucy did not expect, made her look very serious, and brought tears into her eyes; on which the good lady took her by the hand, and kindly said, "I wish not to distress you, my dear, but merely to awaken the natural sentiments of your heart: reflect at your leisure on what I have taken the liberty of saying to you, and I am sure you will think me your friend. I knew your dear mamma, and can assure you she was remarkable for the tenderness of her disposition. But let me not detain you from your amusements; go to your own apartment, Harriet, and use your best endeavours to make your visitors happy. You cannot this evening fetch the birds, because when Lucy goes it will be too late for you to take so long a walk, as you must come back afterwards; and I make no doubt but that, to oblige you, she will feed them to-night."

Harriet and Lucy returned, and found Frederick diverting himself with the hand-organ, which had lately been presented to him by his godpapa; but Edward had laid hold of Harriet's dog, and was searching his pocket for a piece of string, that he might tie him and the cat together, to see, as he said, how nicely they would fight; and so fully was he bent on this cruel purpose, that it was with difficulty he was prevailed on to relinquish it.

"Dear me!" said he, "if ever I came into such a house in my life ! there is no fun here. What would you have said to Harry Pritchard and me the other day when we made the cats fly?"

"Made the cats fly!" said Frederick; "how was that?"

"Why," replied he, "we tied bladders to each side of their necks, and then flung them from the top of the house. There was an end of their purring and mewing for some time, I assure you, for they lay a long while struggling and gasping for breath, and if they had not had nine lives, I think they must have died; but at last up they jumped, and away they ran scampering. Then out came little Jemmy, crying as if he had flown down himself, because we hurt the poor cats. He had a dog running after him, who, I suppose, meant to call us to task with his bow-wow; but we soon stopped his tongue, for we caught the gentleman, and drove him before us into a narrow lane, and then ran hooting after him into the village; a number of boys joined us, and cried out as we did, 'A mad dog! a mad dog!' On this, several people pursued him with cudgels and broomsticks, and at last he was shot by a man, but not killed, so others came and knocked him about the head till he expired."

"For shame, Edward!" said Harriet; "how can you talk in that rhodomontade manner? I cannot believe any boy could bring his heart to such barbarities."

"Barbarities, indeed! why, have we not a right to do as we please to dogs and cats, or do you think they feel as we do? Fiddle-faddle of your nonsense! say I. Come, you must hear the end of my story: when the dog was dead, we carried him home to little Jemmy, who was ready to break his heart for the loss of him; so we did not like to stand hearing his whining, therefore left him and got a cock, whose legs we tied, and flung at him till he died. Then we set two others fighting; and fine sport we had, for one was pecked till his breast was laid open, and the other was blinded, so we left them to make up their quarrel as they could."

"Stop! stop!" exclaimed Harriet, "for pity's sake, stop! I can hear no more of your horrid stories; nor would I commit even one of those barbarities which you boast of for the world! Poor innocent creatures! what had they done to you to deserve such usage?"

"I beg, Edward," said his sister, "that you will find some other way to entertain us, or I shall really tell Mrs. Benson of you."

"What! are you growing tender-hearted all at once?" cried he.

"I will tell you what I think when I go home," replied Lucy.

As for poor Frederick, he could not restrain his tears, and Harriet's flowed also at the bare idea of the sufferings of the poor animals; but Edward was so accustomed to be guilty of those things without reflection, that there was no making any impression of tenderness upon his mind; and he only laughed at their concern, and wanted to tell a long story about an ox that had been driven by a cruel drover till he went mad; but Harriet and his sister stopped their ears.

At last little Frederick went crying to his mamma, and the young ladies retired to another apartment; so Edward amused himself with catching flies in the window, pulling the legs off some, and the wings off others, delighted with their contortions, which were occasioned by the agonies they endured. Mrs. Benson had some visitors, which prevented her talking to this cruel boy as she otherwise would have done on hearing Frederick's account of him; but she determined to tell his papa, which she accordingly did some time after, when he returned home.

Edward was now disturbed from his barbarous sport by being called to tea; and soon after that was over, the servant came to fetch him and his sister. Harriet earnestly entreated her friend Lucy to feed the birds properly till she should be allowed to fetch them; Lucy promised to do so, for she was greatly affected with Mrs. Benson's discourse, and then entreated her brother to take leave, that she might return home. With this he readily complied, as there were no further opportunities for cruelty. After her little visitors had departed, Harriet went into the drawing-room, and sat herself down, that she might improve her mind by the conversation of the company. Her mamma perceived that she had been in tears, of which Frederick had before explained the cause. "I do not wonder, my love," said she, "that you should have been so affected with the relation of such horrid barbarities as that thoughtless boy has, by degrees, brought himself to practise by way of amusement. However, do not suffer your mind to dwell on them, as the creatures on which he inflicted them are no longer objects of pity. It is wrong to grieve for the death of animals as we do for the loss of our friends, because they certainly are not of so much consequence to our happiness, and we are taught to think their sufferings end with their lives, as they are not accountable beings; and therefore the killing them, even in the most barbarous manner, is not like murdering a human creature, who is perhaps unprepared to give an account of himself at the tribunal of heaven."

"I have been," said a lady who was present, "for a long time accustomed to consider animals as mere machines, actuated by the unerring hand of Providence to do those things which are necessary for the preservation of themselves and their offspring; but the sight of the Learned Pig, which has lately been shown in London, has deranged these ideas, and I know not what to think."

This led to a conversation on the instinct of animals, which young readers would not understand; it would therefore be useless to insert it.

As soon as the company was gone, "Pray, mamma," said Harriet, "what did the Learned Pig do? I had a great mind to ask Mrs. Franks, who said she saw it; but I was fearful she would think me impertinent."

"I commend your modesty, my dear," replied Mrs. Benson, "but would not have it lead you into such a degree of restraint as to prevent you satisfying that laudable curiosity, without which young persons must remain ignorant of many things very proper for them to be acquainted with. Mrs. Franks would, I am sure, have been far from thinking you impertinent. Those inquiries only are thought troublesome by which children interrupt conversation, and endeavour to attract attention to their own insignificant prattle; but all people of good sense and good nature delight in giving them useful information.

"In respect to the Learned Pig I have heard things which are quite astonishing in a species of animals generally regarded as very stupid. The creature was shown for a sight in a room provided for the purpose, where a number of people assembled to view his performances. Two alphabets of large letters on card-paper were placed on the floor; one of the company was then desired to propose a word which he wished the pig to spell; this the keeper repeated to the pig, which picked out every letter successively with his snout, and collected them together till the word was complete. He was then desired to tell the hour of the day, and one of the company held a watch to him; this he seemed to examine very attentively with his cunning little eye, and having done so, he picked out figures for the hour and minute of the day. He exhibited a number of other tricks of the same nature, to the great diversion of the spectators.

"For my own part, though I was in London at the time he was shown, and heard continually of this wonderful pig from persons of my acquaintance, I never went to see him; for I am fully persuaded that great cruelty must have been used in teaching him things so foreign to his nature, and therefore would not give encouragement to such a scheme."

"And do you think, mamma," said Harriet, "that the pig knew the letters, and could spell words?" "I think it possible, my dear, that the pig might be taught to know the letters at sight one from the other, and that his keeper had some private sign, by which he directed him to each that was wanted; but that he had an idea of spelling I can never believe, nor are animals capable of attaining human sciences, because for these human faculties are requisite; and no art of man can change the nature of anything, though he may be able to improve that nature to a certain degree, or at least to call forth to view powers which would otherwise be hidden from us. As far as this can be done consistently with our higher obligations, it may be an agreeable amusement, but will never answer any important purpose to mankind; and I would advise you, Harriet, never to give countenance to those people who show what they call learned animals, as you may assure yourself they practise great barbarities upon them, of which starving them almost to death is most likely among the number; and you may, with the money such a sight would cost you, procure for yourself a rational amusement, or even relieve some wretched creature from extreme distress. But, my dear, it is now time for you to retire to rest; I will therefore bid you good-night."