From my hole, I had followed this scene, not without a secret satisfaction to see this misadventure melt on a persecutor of the little birds; but this first movement of vengeance passed, I began to think and realized that my reasoning was sinning at the base. “Am I guilty when I eat an ant? My conscience assures me that no; I obey the conditions of my existence. Is the merlin more guilty when it devours me? He obeys the voice that nature has in him. Created to feed on living flesh, he is inevitably subject to his instinct: he obeys it. What, in this purely passive act, can constitute a good or an evil? I see it now a function filled, nothing else. Too bad for the poor chick who is the victim!
This new way of looking at the question took me further than I would have liked. Consistent with myself, I now followed the implacable logic of the truth, but hesitating as someone who feels driven in spite of himself in paths where he is reluctant to walk.-So, if in the act of the merlin attacking me, there is neither good nor evil, I must pity him instead of rejoicing to see him fall into the traps of man, because it will be without mercy for him. But, on the other hand, if I pity the merlin, I must also pity the squirrel and the ant. Now, to pity everybody is to have no commiseration for anyone. I fell back into another perplexity. What do you want? a sparrow does not become, at first sight, a philosopher.
I wondered then if the action of the man was right, and, placing myself in his point of view, I found that he was right to defend his good – represented by partridges, pheasants and other edible birds that he hunts – against the appetite of thieves, in whatever form they present themselves. It is good war, and the war, – I was always fatally reduced to this conclusion – the destruction, is, it must be admitted, up and down the ladder of animals, the law of life!
Those were my thoughts in my woodpecker hole. They were not cheerful, it’s true; but I am convinced that it is good for a sparrow to reflect from time to time on serious matters, and to rediscover his mind in the great ideas of general philosophy which elevate the soul by making it aware of the greatness of the Omnipotent The universal equilibrium of the world is the highest and most satisfying manifestation of the one who created it.
While I was philosophizing, my confusion had dissipated; I decided to leave my cell and soon grew bolder to the point of descending to the vermilion at the foot of a nearby bush. I was hungry; fear does not fill the stomach; Also, I worked hard to collect my meal, when I heard a cheerful song go off like a rocket by my side, and a new companion came hopping near me.
“Hello! My friend Sparrow!”
I have a cold first, I must confess it, and, besides, I like as much to question that I hate that a stranger calls to me. I disdainfully looked at the myrmidon who spoke to me over my shoulder, and did not answer him.
“Ah! you are very proud, my friend Sparrow.”
“Sparrow! Sparrow! What are you doing so far from the houses?”
“Are you traveling, Sparrow, my friend? But your kind are sedentary and do not leave the native chimney.”
“I am not like my kind,” I said, refreshing myself. I am a philosopher sparrow.
“Oh! Oh! Oh! my friend Sparrow; the good story! Are you a philosopher? And you tell me that without laughing?”
“Sir, excuse me, but I never laugh!”
“It’s a big mistake. Ah! my friend Sparrow, you must have philosophized at your ease on the fear; for, from the bush where I was, I saw you pass a cruel moment just now and find you very close to the vulture’s grip. I think that your philosophy had left you with very little composure at that moment, for you rushed like crazy into the house of this poor squirrel!”
“Have you seen that?
“I was in the first places.”
“You will allow me to say that my fright was very natural.”
“Natural … and even supernatural, I do not disagree. And now what are you going to do, my friend Sparrow?”
“Alas! I have not yet decided my resolution.”
“Stop her, stop her, Sparrow, my friend! It’s always good.”
“My desire is to travel. Everything pushes me there: the desire to educate me, the love of the unknown, the admiration of the great spectacles of nature, in a word, a kind of innate and unfulfilled curiosity that pushes me forward …”
“And how are you here for so long?”
“Do you know it?”
Ah! Sparrow, we are everywhere and nowhere! Instead of shamelessly strutting us in the middle of courtyards, gardens, flowerbeds, instead of squealing, we slip from bush to bush; we see everything, and when the need to sing holds us, we ascend to the top of a bushy tree, and there we repeat our rhythmic sentence for long enough for the man to notice, draw his teaching, and, knowing us devoted, they love us, respect us and defends us.”
“How?” I said to the height of surprise: “the man, this insolent being, agrees to listen to you? You say he needs you? I would like to know what you are serving to him.”
“Ah! ah! my friend Sparrow … there are so many things you do not know, that it is prudent not to ask the other so many questions at once … Learn that we are the barometers of the poor people.”
“Really! Do you predict the weather?”
“So, Mathieu Laensberg only has to hang out?”
“Do not joke foolishly, Sparrow, we are very useful. The peasant, who knows it, knows us, consults us, and loves us.”
“And how are you doing, please?”
“Nothing is simpler. We climb a tree, the higher the more beautiful it will be the next day and the following days. If the farmer or the gardener hears our little song, he looks up:
“”Ah! ah! here is the robin … Where is he? … Here! he is at the top of the pear tree: it will be sunny tomorrow and by the end of the week … Ah! the naughty bird, he’s on the low branches! … It’s water for sometimes or for the night … ” and he arranges accordingly.”
“I give you my compliment. And, tell me, please, how do you learn these beautiful things?”
“We do not know anything about it; no more than you, the others.”
“How? What we? … But we are not the barometers of anyone …”
“Excuse me! You too…”
“Ah! For example.”
“Let me speak; you will agree with it later. Who makes you squeal more or less often than usual?”
“You do it, though. Now, the man has noticed that when you shake, when you shout a lot, it is that the rain is near.”
“The fact is that moisture …”
“Yes, it acts on your rheumatism!”
“You are a bad joker, sir, with a red tie.”
“And you, Sparrow, my friend, a good fellow who does not see longer than the end of your beak and needs to learn to know something.”
“And it is you, master, who will teach me?”
“I do not ask for better”
“Then, remember what I said to you just now; I would like to travel. I wish to see the world, to study the customs and manners of the most remote peoples; I will go, if I must, to the end of the earth for that.”
“You say, Robin, and many others with you, that we sparrows are sedentary. This is true, but does not prove anything.”
“I read this morning, on an article of a gazette which enveloped the luncheon of a hunter, that the French, with whom we live, are a very sedentary people, and that, however, it rises from time to time, in the midst of them, individuals dominated by the passion of travel, news, unforeseen, who then reach the ends of the world and go as far as the lost children of the most cosmopolitan peoples.”
“Damn! Sparrow, my friend, but you are very learned. I, whose life passes rather in the company of the countrymen than city-dwellers, I do not know so much as you. However, allow me to point out that, to travel, the experience of the fields is at least as necessary as the science acquired in the cities.”
“I am convinced. You have one, I have the other. Why do not we share what we have acquired? Let’s travel together.”
“Ok! Here comes the time when I start my annual race … Moreover, the trip for two is one of the beautiful dreams of youth. How few are happy enough to realize it!”
“Done! … Another peck and let’s go!”
Ten minutes later, we passed over the walls of this park in which I had declared to want to spend my life, and we entered the open country.
Thus began my friendship with the invaluable master Jean Robin.
He was the most charming bird boy we could see. Cheerful, carefree, delicate, brave, even heroic, a little quarrelsome, yet kind, helpful, sensitive, I gradually recognized all the qualities that make a bird superior. Poor friend! … May the sorrow of your unhappy end fall – like the crime that caused it – on the head of its author!
At daybreak my friend woke me up, for he is the most morning of all birds. The blackbird himself, who claims to be the first to sing, was often awakened by Master Jean, and yet the blackbird is early in the morning! But Master Jean’s Argentinian trills were already rising to the sky, while at dawn, the side of the sunrise was hardly white.
From that moment, until the closed night, our conversation never stopped. It was with this friend that I learned all about the countryside, as well as the work of the fields. He was very learned also on the properties of plants, and if the sky had kept me, I would have received from him good advice to defy the wild animals. We could hear better together because his flight was neither faster nor longer than mine.
We both walked along the hedges, hopping from one bush to another and perorating to shorten the length of the path. It was during these days that he told me why the inhabitants of Brittany gave him the venerated name of Bird of good God, Eur Lapoucet Douë.
“”The Robin,” they say, “is the only one of the birds that accompanied Jesus Christ to Calvary, comforting him with his melancholic little song, and restoring his courage by reminding him of the glories of the Most High. Also, by a singular favor, he was permitted to detach a thorn from the holy crown of the Redeemer, and God, as a reward for his faith and charity, animated him with the Holy Spirit, giving him the mission of separate the men of the evil spirit, to conjure up his enterprises and to thwart his potions and his enchantments.” That is why, revered and beloved by the people of old Armorica, the Robin is regarded as a bird of happiness bringing the blessing in the house to which he addresses himself. When, during the cold hard winter, when the ground is covered with snow, the young girls are careful to crumble bread for him on their window, Jean Robin arrives, without ceremony, to honor the meal that it is served to him. Often, as soon as he sees the door of an open house, he comes in, comes to the hearth to ask a place for the heat of the broom that flames and a scrap of smoked buckwheat pancake. Nobody thinks of hurting him; everyone respects and loves him, for they see in him the messenger of friendly fairies and the courier of beneficent geniuses. If Jean does not find the door open, he bangs his little beak at the window, and everyone hastens to open it and save it from the cold by retreating piously in front of this little hopping bird, which takes possession of the home as if he were at home. Gray and brown is his coat, but resplendent is his head and chest, especially as he shows off his dazzling Aurora-colored bib at the darkest moments of the bad season, as a memory of the past summer as a promise of spring to come!
We went a long way, for a little work, repeated for a long time, ends by making a big deal; and I enjoyed the inexhaustible gaiety of my fellow-traveler. The more I knew him, the more I loved him.
As days passed, without bringing boredom or satiety to us, summer flew away; we realized it because, in the morning and in the evening, we felt ourselves enveloped by the fogs that escort the autumn. The heat wave had long passed and ripened the fruits; the trees were turning yellow or red, and morning frosts were shaking the discolored leaves. Around us, the songs ceased little by little; we saw, one by one, or in bands, the summer birds flying from north to south, joining spring, while winter came to us.
If, passing near the great woods, we raised our eyes towards the top of the trees, we already saw in the light of day the abandoned nests.
Jean Robin was not afraid of winter; he knew very well that just now he was going to be the only one to sing in the middle of the sleeping nature … For my part, I had no desire for songs and even – I’ll admit it, since I’m in vein frankness – the arts of pleasure seem to me to be a bad match for the grave character that a traveler and an observer such as I want to be, must keep.
Naturally, I held these reflections in my heart, not judging it appropriate to deflate the illusions of the charming artist, my fellow traveler. The sparrow is more positive than that, thankfully! He is not enthusiastic. However, to be true, I must confess that in the morning, while Master Jean Robin was singing his song, fervent prayer, I felt involuntarily softened … It is nice to be a philosopher, we are not wood !. ..
So we had been going for many days; we had passed streams, rivers, greasy pastures, bursts, and bare plains. We had together found fat feeds and sometimes suffered from cold and hunger. One morning we came to the foot of hills covered with plants of equal height, with large leaves turning yellow or red as by the fire of the setting sun. “These are vines,” my companion tells me. “We will find there a good lodging and a fat supper.” “Long live God!” I replied, “it’s only time. Autumn definitely puts us on a par!”
The harvest of the grapes was finished; but, thanks to our piercing sight, we still discovered a good number of grains forgotten or escaped from the eyes of the grapevards, those gleaners of the vineyard countries. We remained in agreement on these hillsides, where the rare rays of an oblique sun came, from time to time, to warm us. We liked it all the more because these vines were sheltered from the north winds by a curtain of magnificent forests dominating the hills.
One morning, Master Jean was looking between the vines and the ground for his supply of insects and worms; I inspected the underside of the last leaves and collected some forgotten grains, when a great noise of men and dogs made me leap and filled my heart with terror. This noise came from the neighboring forest, whose dark, mysterious, austere appearance did not inspire me with a desire for a walk. I admit that I had not yet dared to enter it.
“Who is it?” I said to my companion.
“A few things,” he said to me; “do not torment yourself like that, Sparrow. It’s the sound of a hunt, you do not have to fear. It is probable that it is a stag that is hunting at this moment; we have nothing to fear, for, by shooting at us, the huntsmen would spoil their hunt. The deceived dogs, attracted by the gunshot, would lose the track on arriving, and their masters would find, with reason, that it would be a sad hallali that that of a sparrow or a robin!”
Nevertheless, we cautiously gained a thick bush of black thorns, and there he told me that the hunt was open, that is to say that any individual who can buy what is called a hunting license was entitled to life and death on all the inhabitants of the sky and the woods which remain or pass in his domains. “All this of course, friend Sparrow, it is good that I give you one last advice. If we have nothing to fear from the big-game hunters that you will see at work, it’s not the same with a crowd of little young people coming out of college who, happy to have a rifle for the first time, shoot everything they encounter. To these, every living thing is good to aim for. They are happy, as long as they bring home an animal of some kind … Let’s go to the forest!”
He had not finished, that I saw the deer pass. The poor beast was beginning to be on her ends, she slowed her pace and the dogs were following her closely. It was really a beautiful show for people hungry for these cruel emotions, because the number of dogs was considerable.
“You have never seen great hunts; but chance has marvelously placed you, for it is here that the hallali will take place.”
“Hallali? … What is this, Master Jean?”
“It’s the cry of victory that the biters are pushing to indicate that death is not far off and will soon hit the deer at barking.”
“Barking? What is it again, my friend Jean?”
“At the end of forces, my friend Sparrow.”
“Who is this tall man dressed in green, laced at every seam and holding a shining instrument in his hand?”
“He is a whipper on a horse; he follows the dogs, directs them and sounds the throwing, the sight, etc., etc.”
“Where is the bell? …”
“What bell, Sparrow, my friend?”
“But … the bell that rings? …”
“It’s not a bell that rings, my poor Sparrow, it’s the beautiful shiny copper instrument you mentioned earlier and that is called a horn.”
THE POOR ANIMAL IS STILL TRYING TO COPE
“Ok, ok, Jean, my friend. The throw is when the animal leaves; the sight, when it is seen … Very good! I’m a hunter …”
” At the sound of the horn, the huntsmen rally, find the hunt they have sometimes lost, and … well, here’s the dogs coming. Warning! The deer is forced, the dogs surround him! The poor animal is still trying to cope with them, but, alas! it’s over, it’s lost … A tear flows from his eyelid, but none of the assistants are softened, not even this young woman, who, under her riding habit, seems more lively, more dazed than not one of the huntsmen.”
“Ah! my poor Robin!”
“You wondered what was the hallali? Do you hear it sounding? What trouble for these valets to restrain the dogs! Now they are going to do the cure. To reward the dogs, and to animate them to another pursuit, they will cut some parts of the beast and distribute them to them …”
I saw at once what my friend announced to me, and believed, indeed, to be present at the meal of a herd of ferocious beasts. These animals rushing on the shreds of flesh still thrilling, these men and women attending the show with exclamations of joy, these trumpets sounding the fanfare of the ten-horned deer, this incredible spectacle made me dizzy … Me, poor little bird, I was afraid; really, I confess that then I had completely lost the assurance that possesses any well-bred franc sparrow. I found myself so small, so small, in the presence of these grandiose manifestations of human life, that I needed to repeat to myself that, big and small, all have their useful place in creation and contribute to it to form the magnificent harmony! …
Calm is slowly recovering. The huntsmen parted, and a rendezvous was made the next day to attack a wild boar. We resolved, my companion and I, to attend, and so as not to be late, we settled as conveniently as possible on the large oak chosen for the meeting place. What a night! Never will its remembrance be erased from my memory! Sinister sounds and howls had been heard, as soon as the sun was setting, in the tall trees beside us. I had seen on several occasions like burning coals shining between the branches; I had seen brown masses passing silently above the paths that crossed at the foot of our big oak.
This forest was peopled with ferocious beasts, not only wild boars, but wolves, which are for the other quadrupeds what the hawks are for us, poor little birds. Remarkable thing! Man does not feed himself more on the flesh of these than on others: all are worthless.
Although we were in autumn, the day had been, as it sometimes happens, magnificent, and the heat very great, and the thirst of the wolves was excessive.
Near the tree where we had established our lodging was a pond, very poor of water no doubt, because everything was dry, but which kept enough however to relieve the thirst of the animals of the forest. The wolves had chosen it for their watering hole and were making plaintive howls that resembled those of the dogs. I did not even find a very noticeable difference between wolves and these ones, only because the first ones had ears pointed and directed forward and carried a big bushy and drooping tail.
In addition to its remarkable strength, the wolf has a very fine ear, as well as smell; his sight is perfect, and all these qualities serve him to escape from the continual war which men started against him. Driven by hunger, the wolf, which is not dangerous during the day, becomes terrible at night: it attacks animals and people; but in ordinary times it only devastates the flocks. Thus a large wolf passed by our tree, carrying in its terrible jaws a little lamb whose bleating made it hard to hear.
At last the moon appeared, veiled at times under heavy white clouds, which the wind was slowly hunting. In front of me, a red-leaved beech was spreading its long branches, and at every moment a low thud resounded … It was one of its ripe fruits falling to the ground. In the midst of its foliage, I had seen two brilliant glimmers moving, which made me shudder with terror. Suddenly, among the beechmast that had fallen to the ground, a slight rustling revealed small animals passing and repassing. The two lights disappear: an enormous bird, with immense and silent wings, plunges to the ground; a high-pitched cry sounds … everything goes into silence! The bird rises from a swing and passes so close to my branch, that I distinctly see a field mouse in its beak.
Uneasy of such a neighborhood, I took it upon myself to nudge Jean.
“Hum! … What is it?”
“Watch what is passing below us.”
“Damnation!” exclaims Master Jean, stamping on the spot, “it’s a hideous owl! Oh! wduring the day, I will show him what Jean Robin can do!”
“Will you keep quiet, unhappy? If he sees us, he’ll make a mouthful of us two.”
“Do not be afraid; he can not think of attacking us in the midst of the branches where we are huddled; but tomorrow it will be day … and we will see beautiful game!”
“Thank you! Master Jean, calm down. Since this vampire can not attack us, let’s sleep! It will be time to see tomorrow …”
At last the day came, and with him, the awakening of my friend Jean Robin. After carefully watching from all sides, he sang his little morning song. Half asleep, I shook myself on my branch and saw that, as usual, he was awakened first, and had awakened the peaceful inhabitants of the neighboring trees. The rare birds inhabiting the forest at this late time of the year, mingled their songs with the buzzing of insects of all kinds, which awoke one after the other, and whose outing announced a fine day. The squirrels jumped from tree to tree and took advantage of the last hours of the beautiful days to finish their provisions. One added a beech, the other a chestnut, the latter a nut and that one a pine cone. All of them, hastily, hastened, warned by this marvelous instinct which never deceives them, that winter is near and that famine will come.
As for Master Jean, he was nothing less than quiet; he struggled on his branch like a handsome devil, and murmuring broken words, bristling his feathers, he seemed plagued by violent anger.
ALL SMALL BIRDS PUSH DISCORDANT SHOUTS, AIDED BY BEAKS AND WINGS
Suddenly, a shadow passes slowly rising above the great beech … My friend utters a piercing scream and takes his flight with a tremendous leap. O surprise! from all the points of the forest furious cries respond to his cry of appeal: ten, fifteen, twenty little birds as we rush … Well! I do the same! I run, and what do I see above our head? The horrible beast of the night climbing painfully on its wings! …
Around her, below, above, all the little birds utter discordant cries and harass her with beaks and wings, striking from the first through the body, seconds on her big dazed eyes! In the first rank, Master John multiplied and struck like a furious thrust and size. They all seemed like a swarm of flies attacking an ox, and they went to their heart’s content. At the least offensive return of the big beast, all retreated on their fast wings, to return more fiercely a second after …
Finally, the nocturnal bird activated its escape and disappeared in the distance. As for me, very tired, although having only fought at a distance, I rejoined my beech, and a few moments later, Jean, panting, descended to my side.
It was time!
The awakening of the forest, the multiple songs, the sweet and graceful murmurs that fill the woods at sunrise, were already giving way to the sound of the fanfares, to the voice of the dogs, to the cries of the whippers supporting the dogs, to the neighing of the horses carrying hunters and huntress. The beast had just been launched. The wild boar, which seems a heavy and cumbersome animal, nevertheless runs very fast and makes a long journey to those who pursue it. Almost always, after being chased away, he returns to the launch, that is to say, in the neighborhood of the place from which he was sent out. “Let’s stay here,” said Robin, who knew that; “the wild boar will return, and we will be in the first places.”
So we stayed on our beech in the company of a young man who had been placed at his feet, after the drawing of the posts between the hunters. We had been there for at least three hours, inattentive and indifferent, whispering all low together, when we were surprised by a cracking of broken branches in the thicket. It was the wild boar coming back among the young undergrowth, crushing them in its path, as easily as a dog lays the stalks of the stubble in which he hunts. We could hear the dogs, faintly, in the distance …
Our young man grabs his rifle and lends his ear …
In less than a second the shot goes, the boar turns suddenly and rushes, head down, on the one who just hit him …
HE FIRED A BULLET IN THE EAR OF THE MONSTER THAT BLASTED HIM
At this extreme, the coolness does not abandon our young neighbor. Firming himself on his legs, his rifle in his shoulder, motionless, his finger on the trigger, he aims at the monster and waits for him three steps away! He must not miss it, his life may depend on it! In the twinkling of an eye, the wild boar almost touches the barrel of the weapon … The dog falls, I hear a dry sound, … the blow missed! Throwing aside his useless weapon, the tumbled hunter rolls with his enemy, whom he hugs and tries to avoid. The bloody eye, the foam on the lips, the gleaming tusks rolling up the folds of a monstrous snout, the boar seeks to bring mortal blows to his adversary, whom he inundates with his own blood. The young man is finished if the monster reaches him in the chest! …
This show was touching, terrible, and the young man really beautiful to see. One would have said Hercules on the banks of the Erymanthus, seeking to seize the living wild boar which he intended for Eurystheus.
THE SHOT WENT OFF! ALAS! THE CHILD HAD AIMED TOO WELL!
However, the struggle was prolonged; the boar was not weakening, but the hunter felt his strength abandon him … He was going to be defeated! Suddenly the sound of a precipitous gallop announces that another actor will take part in the drama. The newcomer judges at a glance how unequal the game is, but at the same time he sees the frightening danger for his companion, of the blow to be fired. The man and the animal presented only a shapeless mass rolling on itself! He dismounted, leaving the bridle on his neck, approached with admirable coolness and taking advantage of a moment when the boar had just slain the poor young man under him and was going to split his breast, he lodged a bullet in the monster’s ear, which struck him down.
Overwhelmed by the weight of the terrible beast, the young hunter had fainted. His comrade relieved him, and he pressed it against the foot of our beech, when the dogs arrived, pushing angry barkings … The hunt followed closely and rang the hallali.
They complimented the two valiant hunters, the savior and the saved who, all covered with blood, had returned to him, and found himself not too bad for some rough bruises; then, the cure was done while everyone asked for details about this event that I could have told so well.
Alas! this day was to end with a misfortune which I still deplore, and which deprived me of one of the dearest friends in my heart. In the car of the ladies who followed the hunt, there was a schoolboy on vacation. I confess that, until then, I had never liked college students, but since that fatal day, I hate them even more … This race is without mercy …
To carry a rifle had been his desire, to use it was his ambition. But as his age did not yet allow him to measure himself with the wild boars, all that was required was to load the slight rifle with a small shot at a blow that had been confided to him. Impatient, too, to make noise in the world, he sought a goal to prove his skill. At this moment, my poor Jean Robin was a little exposed between two branches … The shot went off! Alas! the child had aimed too well! John of good God received the lead under the wing! … He falls, shouting to me: Farewell!
And I saw the young hunter carry away the still thrilling corpse of my friend, like a trophy of his too fatal address!