No animal, no being and no creature
Who does not have its opposite: it is the law of nature.
To look for the reason, they are superfluous care.
God did well what he did, and I do not know more than that.
By dint of flying from tree to tree, gently and without hurry, pecking right and left a fruit, a seed, an insect, I arrived a few days later at the confines of the vast plain where had brought me so much unforeseen events. In this place, the aspect of the country changed. Huge trees rose around green lawns, and razed like velvet carpets, streams flowed gracefully through them, and wide sandy paths followed their contours.
Surprised at finding a so charming nature, I decided that I should settle in these places; but, above all, I wanted to see what could make such a big difference between what I saw and the plain. I soon realized that a long wall separated them from each other and that I had entered a huge park adjoining the castle of one of the wealthiest landowners in the country.
“I will plant my penates here!” I cried. “Is it possible to be happier? Everything is shown at discretion. Let’s have a look at the side of the kitchens!…”
I went there and never did I see such an abundance, such a profusion of dishes of every kind. I met there hundreds of sparrows like me, who had taken up residence in the castle or its surroundings, and who proved by their stoutness and their presence that parasite life has its charms and its good side. The acquaintance between the newcomer and the habitual guests of the classes was soon made: after a few hours given and received, some compliments to the right and to the left, I became one of the members of the big family.
However, less lazy than my new companions, perhaps tormented by my still unfulfilled passion for traveling, I pushed towards the park of recognitions in which none of them wanted to accompany me.
It was during one of them that I learned from the lord of the castle, why the Eagle was the king of birds, a sentence which shocked me extremely; for finally, the eagle is the strongest, the boldest, the most voracious of our enemies. How and why would we want to make it a king? Is the custom of a king to live by his subjects? Let him be the king of birds of prey; but the king of sparrows and little singing birds, turtledove, pigeon, and partridge, it seemed absurd to me. Finally, the Lord had said it!
That day, I was just robbing a beautiful cherry tree, a few meters from a bench of grass surrounded by heliotropes and fragrance reseda. Suddenly, the owner advances with his daughter, an adorable blonde child with curly hair, azure eyes, a real cherub figure. They spoke birds.
“Father,” said the child, “these ugly sparrows come, like mice, to fetch the crumbs of bread into the dining-room; why, then, does not the little bird we have just seen come here too? He is, however, much prettier than them!”
In parenthesis, I must confess that the taste of the cherub seemed to me very questionable, because everyone agrees that the sparrow’s dress is more graceful, more elegant, better matched than that of all other birds. Alas! We must take his part, the business of listener at the doors has some disadvantages.
“Because, my beloved,” replied the father, “the Wren, that you saw just now, fluttering from tree to tree and from branch to branch, hanging from the branches, spends his life searching for and surprising insects. Or, I do not know that falling, from our tablecloth, insects on the steps of the dining room! …”
“I think so!”
“But you will see him, this winter, go hunting in the hortensia beds that line the steps, and from there look at you with his big naive eyes, without being afraid of you; then get back to work by repeating his little song.”
“Father, where did the name of Wren [“Roitelet” in French, Kinglet] come from? Does he mean little king?”
“Yes, my daughter. Have you not seen his crown?”
“Ah! Yes. A crest of gold on the head?”
“It’s very nice, that name!”
“You find? Well! other authors claim that the name of Wren does not come from the crown, but from a legend …
“Oh! Father,” said the child, “a legend! Would you tell it to me?”
“Willingly, dear sweet. Let’s sit on this bench and listen to me for a few moments.”
“Once upon a time…”
“But it’s a story, father, that you tell me there!”
“A legend or story, child, it’s often the same thing.”
It was once upon a time, in a country very far from here and at the time when the animals spoke, a general assembly of all the birds. They had made an appointment to choose a king. Naturally, many opinions were agitated, many wise and crazy propositions were put forward. Some wanted the strongest to be chosen, but the weak were not happy; others the largest, but the little ones were demanding; it was proposed the highest, then the lowest, then the fatter and the leaner, then the whitest and the darkest …”
“Father, you are making fun of your daughter!”
“No, dear darling; when it comes to running for honors, all pretexts are good. While the opinions crossed, the cries increased, some good heads reflected … Finally, a certain parrot who had lived among men, asked and ended up getting silence; he rushed on the president’s staff and spoke roughly as follows:
“”My fellow citizens, it is time to take a stand and stop useless cries. All of you have the same rights to royalty, all of you are equally worthy to occupy the throne. Who makes the bird? Are not the wings? … Well! all of you have wings; therefore, all of you have the same right to sit on the throne of our august nation!”
“”Bravo! Bravo!” shouted the troop of competitors with one voice. Long live Coco! He is right!”
“Then silence was restored.
“”The wing, is the bird; therefore the first wing will be the first bird, that is to say will be our king. So let’s try who of us will have the best wing. Sovereignty will belong to the one who will rise the highest in the air; all the better, my dear fellow-citizens, that approaching the sun, the father of nature, more than any other, he will be better able to bring back the purest aspirations. I said!…”
“The assembly shuddered with joy at hearing this program, and everyone secretly began to sharpen his wings. They voted; the test was decided unanimously. Master Coco gave the signal and all the competitors left. You understand, my good little girl, that the Eagle was not the last to spread his immense wings: he rushed majestically and climbed as far as the eye could see, at the edge of the atmosphere, hovering there for an hour, playing with the efforts of its competitors, and appearing only as an imperceptible point in the eyes of the millions of birds assembled. When all his tired competitors had returned to the ground, the Eagle folded his powerful sails, let himself down slowly, as befits a conqueror, and addressing his stupefied voters:
“”Am I your king?”
“”Yes! Yes! Long live the Eagle! Long live our king!”
“”One moment! Not so fast!” cried a small, frail, shrill voice. “Moderate your voices! Have you not sworn to award the crown to one of us who ascends the highest in the air?”
“”It is true!” said a large number of voices.
“”Well! I have risen higher than the Eagle; for, huddled under the feathers of his back, where you still see me, he unconsciously took me away with him, and I have always dominated him. Who denies him?”
“”He is right!”
“”He is wrong!”
“The tumult is at its height. The very letter of the oath gave reason to the little bird.
“The voters were in great embarrassment.
“Certainly, the little bird was in his strict right; but how can one think of taking as sovereign a similar pygmy, frail as well as deafened? How could he represent the powerful corporation of birds?
“In the end, an old Owl – it’s the bird of Minerva – who enjoyed a great reputation for wisdom, opened his wide eyes and signaled that he wanted to speak:
“”Children,” he said, scratching his venerable gray head, “my children, the case is serious, but not insoluble. In my humble opinion, here is how to solve this problem. The Eagle will be the king, because alone and by his own strength, he has reached where none of us could have arrived. This is indisputable.”
“”Yes, yes, it is true!”
“”Well! Let us proclaim him king.”
“”That’s it! Long live the king! Long live the king!”
“”Very well. But the text of the oath is against us. As for the bird which, without the Eagle, could not reach the heights of the Empyrean, let us proclaim it also! but Kinglet (“Roitelet”), a little king.
“”Bravo! very well! Long live the Kinglet! Long live the Owl!”
“”I ask for the speech,” said the little flute voice of the Wren.
“”Speak, sire; we are listening to you.”
“”You are wrong, my dear friends; you prefer the Eagle to govern you; my revenge will be to leave you the handsome king whom you have given yourself. He is certainly stronger than me and most of you; you will feel the effects! But I am smarter than him, since I fooled him without him to suspect. Poor king! In truth, I say to you and you will remember it: the intelligence is better than the force to govern a State!”
“That said, he flew away, and was heard whispering in the neighboring trees:
“”I like my freedom better, oh, ford! Far from the troubles of power! I like my life better, oh, ford! but I keep the crown, oh, ford!!!”
“And he disappeared …”
This is how I learned a legend that concerned our entire race. The father and daughter went away, holding hands, and I lost myself in an ocean of reflections, all more serious than the others.
My life flowed sweet and easy in the park, when a day – bad day! – I was surprised by a mortal danger … from which came one of my sweetest joys. So is life made.
I thought the park was populated only by sweet and meek animals. Also, full of confidence, I allowed to fall asleep with pleasure the circumspection which must never be abandoned by a wise sparrow. I loved to get lost in the groves, I loved to fly on the isolated trees that bordered the ponds or formed a point of view among the lawns: the harvest of insects and worms was abundant there, and often I was alone there. One day, resting on the branch of a huge aspen advancing its bare branches over the river, I enjoyed the complete silence of nature. Noon had sounded; everything was calm; the singing birds had ceased to make their voices heard; a few flies alone buzzed at the end of the branches … Half asleep, I opened a languid eye …
Suddenly, a strident, wild cry sounds and makes me look up. Above me, in the sky, I see shining two eyes fixed, terrifying, throwing lightning to give you goosebumps … Between these fierce eyes is a bluish, crooked, threatening beak, half-open by the thirst for blood and surmounted by two yellow mustaches! …
I shudder again while thinking about it, and my feathers bristle as they did then … All this belonged to a bird with huge wings, motionless in the air, cut into powerful oars … Never had I seen, until then, animal spreading around him, like this one, the idea of the carnage and the death …
The Sparrowhawk, who had formerly pursued my dear Lark, was only a sheep compared to the bird that threatened me. What did I look like, besides, near him? An atom. His body was bigger than a pigeon’s, his wings much longer, besides having paws like ours to perch on the trees or walk on the ground, he held open, under his chest real involved hands; hands armed with hooked, sharp, barbed, terrible nails, dreadful weapons that were to pierce and tear alive the poor victim they seized …
I understood, moreover, in this fatal moment, that I was dealing, in my turn, with a bird of prey, with one of the destroyers of the little birds of the good God … Horror! I was under the grip of a Merlin!
I have since known that, to be the smallest of the hawks of our country, he is none the less one of the most ferocious, or, as men say, one of the most courageous! Good courage, in truth, that this one, which only attacks animals that can not defend themselves! Merlin sees only partridge, quail, larks and small birds like us …
Ah! if he addressed himself to his kind, or only to great waders with a strong beak, as I knew later! I would understand that we must say courageous. But so? … so!!!
Finally, men, I was told, found, a few hundred years ago, that there was courage to go away, iron-clad from head to foot, to cut and thrust of poor devils of their kind who, to defend themselves, had nothing but a canvas sack on their backs! Also, seeing a bird deploy the same bloodthirsty instincts, they named him courageous and made of his species the symbol of the big ones of the world and of the law of the strongest! Tapi against my branch, I certainly did not think to make these reflections more or less deep; they were out of place, it was necessary to act; I thought I could already feel the terrible pincers hugging and tearing me.
This was the affair of a moment, the duration of a flash; in spite of my terror, my fright, I do not know how a hole presented itself to my sight; it was dug in the stem of the aspen that bore me. This hole was to be the work of a woodpecker. More dead than alive, I rushed head down, like a whirlwind, hitting the walls, and fell on a sleeping animal.
It was a squirrel, who, frightened by this sudden invasion, had no time to make use of his teeth against me, sprang like a spring, knocking me over, and, with a rapid impulse, ran to at the end of the branch I was leaving. When he got there, he stopped to recognize … The bad took him. The two great wings closed quickly like lightning; the grip opened and closed on the poor animal, who, uttering a supreme cry, felt himself lifted into the air.
I was saved!
I preserved my life, thanks to the death of one of my natural enemies! The raptor, to dismember it at its ease, carried it to the highest branch of a dead and isolated tree; and from there I saw him take off after his horrible meal, and seek a place of rest favorable to his digestion.
These birds are as defiant as they are cruel. They have to perch an isolated place, from which they can dominate the plain, and – as they never sleep except with one eye – fly away to the first suspicious object.
Noticing an isolated pole in the middle of the fields, our bandit goes towards him, describing defiant spirals before approaching him; then, finally, folding his big wings, he releases the grip with caution … Paff! … a spring relaxes, and my enemy is caught by the legs! This pole so convenient was a trap holder for raptors who decimated the partridges and pheasants of the neighboring park! …
(Les aventures d’une fourmi rouge et les mémoires d’un pierrot, by Henri de la Blanchère, translated by Nicolae Sfetcu)