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VII. O MISFORTUNE, BE WELCOME, IF YOU COME ALONE!

When it’s snowing in the cold,
When the wind whips the roofs;
When under the feet the ice screams,
The tree complains and the bird prays:
“My God, do not leave us
“During the winter and its frost!”
(Regensburg).

It was not possible for me to leave soon my brave companions in arms. I had become the friend of all; nothing cements friendship as the dangers run together and the mutual certainty of a foolproof courage. Sylvie, my devoted friend, was always the same with me, and we would have had a sweet life if the winter, the sad winter, had not arrived quickly.

Already the poor girl found almost nothing to peck among the reeds and rushes, her usual home; she spoke of leaving; and at the discomfort she felt, I saw clearly that she would soon obey an instinct she could not control. The days followed sad, under the gray sky; our conversations did not take on a more cheerful hue …

One morning, I called Sylvie … I could not find her anymore! She had left during the night. I believed her, like us, free to attach herself to the country that pleased her. I was thus disillusioned.

Still alone; alone! … The lake and its surroundings seemed to me more sad than ever, with their dried rushes, rustling under the wind that froze us to the bone … The bristly feathers, the body forming the ball, I stayed for entire hours silent and melancholic, sheltered as best as possible in a small bush of thorns. Unfortunately his last leaves fell one by one; the evening wind did not meet any obstacle … I was cold; I was often hungry, I was very unhappy!

One morning, I saw falling from the sky light white flakes, elusive, but which, arriving on the ground, hardened, and finally covered completely. I learned that it was called snow. My misfortune then became greater than it had ever been. The cold was increasing; it became excessive, and I found it difficult to discover a hole, sometimes in a rock, sometimes in the trunk of a tree, to shelter me. O misfortune! I could not find anything for my food: the snow had spread his white coat everywhere and on everything.

I tried to scratch with my paws, but soon they became frozen … From time to time, I found, in the corner of a rock, a small seed; sometimes, on a bush, remained a winter fruit; but all that was not enough food, and I was in pain.

But what’s the point of complaining? Nothing is more importunate, nothing is more monotonous. Let’s resign ourselves! I was flying slowly through the fields, for I had abandoned the shores of the lake; my feathers were wet, my limbs were broken, and I was trying to find my way to a city where I hoped to find more resources. I believe that at this moment I would have willingly sacrificed my freedom for a well sheltered cage and a trough filled with succulent seeds! As winter gives sad ideas! Hungry belly does not think much.

It is because all the other miseries of life do not seem anything beside hunger. It takes little to feed a sparrow; but still, this little thing, we must find it! … We do not see flies at this time of the year, and all the seed plants are dead, all the insects are hidden.

So I had arrived at this state of profound discouragement where we give up everything. Also, a certain night when I had suffered so much that I hardly had the strength to support myself, I decided to wait for death in the place where, towards dusk, I had taken shelter.

The day arrived, I realized that the place that had served me as a refuge was an anfractuosity dug under a rock; and in the bottom – oh! unexpected happiness! – I saw straw, brought there by the little shepherds who, keeping the flocks in the fields, let the dogs watch from time to time, while they rest on this rustic bed. Now, among the strands of this straw, had remained some ears. Although very weak, I rushed upon these forgotten grains, and nothing can describe how delicious this meal seemed to me. It seemed to me that no food could have such a flavor. I felt revived; hope had returned to me, and it was almost with joy that I resumed my flight. Finally, as a good never comes alone, according to the proverb, I began to meet trees growing closer, announcing orchards, then gardens, and I finally saw the first houses. This little town, seated at the foot of a hillside which sheltered it from the north wind, seemed to take on the task of turning in the sun the facade of its coquettish and joyful constructions.

The sun was shining at the moment on the snow, which shone to dazzle the eyes, but did not melt.

I wondered in which garden I was going to take up residence, when fresh and happy laughter reached me. Flying on this side was a matter of a moment, and I saw a charming young girl playing with her brother appear to me. Both of them in the orchard had cleared a large square in the middle of the snow, and there, crumbled the bread of their snacks, which the hungry birds of the neighborhood came eagerly to peck.

I approached like the others, perhaps faster than the others; but I was an intruder and I received loud pecks. It was not the moment to retreat; I returned them, and my bravery won me not only a place at the feast, but the good graces of the two children, who always threw the biggest pieces on my side. That’s how we became friends. The court, the barnyard, the orchard of this house thus became my chosen place, and soon, known to the two children, their good behavior for me did not slow down a single day! Touched by their kindness, by their good heart, I resolved to reward them with the greatest mark of confidence I could give them, by the sacrifice of my liberty.

Perhaps I was glad to spend the winter warm. Still, one fine day, I boldly entered the salon, and placed myself on the shoulder of their mother. Great was joy; I was taken, I let myself go. They caressed me, I returned the caresses; they called me charming names, and little Marie exclaimed in her happiness:

Oh mom! what a delicious sparrow! he is all beautiful!

They laugh a lot of his expression and the name remained.

So here I am, commensal, under the name of all beautiful, with this amiable family. They tried to put me in a cage, but I made understand by my actions and my resistance that I did not want it. Marie took my part, and they allowed me to roam freely in the apartments where each one filled me with treats and caresses, and where I was really spoiled from morning to night.

Winter passed this way.

One day, one of the first days of spring, the sky was very sad, rainy, and dark, as it happens in this season; the whole family looked sullen. The little girl, in a corner, festooned an embroidery which was hardly advancing; the little boy in another was doing a duty that was not moving either, and both were yawning at whoever better.

I imagine then distracting them and began to flit around the head of Mary; then, melting on his hand, I take off his festoon and save him with a conquering air. The children laughing, getting up, and here we are playing at the bars, me to preserve my conquest, them to take me back.

The mother, hearing this noise, arrived to scold: but she was disarmed when she saw me fleeing with the festoon in my beak, and the children exclaiming:

Mom, it’s All Beautiful that prevents us from working! …

Finally we went back to work and the homework was quickly finished, because good humor is the best help we can give to children.

At the break, they had fun making soap bubbles. I wanted to start again my mischief in the morning, but I was much less well received. My little friends wanted me to stop them from working, but not from playing. The first time they scolded me, but when, the second time, I came to remove the tube of pen which was used to blow the bubbles, they gave me a good cap.

She did not hurt me much; but as I was angry and raging, I made the dead.

Then both began to cry; Little Marie took me in her hand, caressed me, kissed me, and flooded me with her tears. So, seeing his grief, I pretended to return little by little to existence; but the poor little ones were so scared that they could not play anymore.

I went from one to the other to cheer them up, but nothing could console them; at last I imagined to seize the tube and carry it back into Marie’s hand. Oh! this time it was a concert of cries of joy!

They were so pleased with my wits that in the evening, in the living room, at the risk of being scolded, they told the whole story. I became the hero of the evening. Everyone praised my intelligence, also a friend of the house, infatuated with scholarly canals he had seen the day before, declared that I was fit for every possible feat of strength, and that I had to learn to become my turn a scholar sparrow: making the dead, shooting the cannon …

At these words fear took hold of me.

I forgot all I needed to thank for a winter so cozy. Spring, moreover, had come, the window was open to my eyes; my wings shuddered and I flew away, not, however, without taking a last look at my little golden cage and a thought of regret at the beneficent beings who had saved me from certain death.

And so winter passed! because everything pass in this world … And that’s how spring came back! for God wanted good to follow evil, abundance famine, and little birds to be happy after having been very unhappy during the cold season.

Little by little the buds grew to the trees, opened, and there came fresh pink leaves, still wrinkled and crumpled, which came out and unfolded little by little; a few timid flowers appeared: it was a dazzle for my eyes! Everywhere the insects, buzzing in the air, left their retreats and searched for each other. The cuckoo, the spring bird par excellence, uttered its monotonous song, announcing to men the return of good weather, and to the other birds that it was time to prepare their nests. In the gardens, along the walls, to the south, bees were awake and begin to leave their hives to forage on primroses, violets and hawthorn.

All was joy around me, and yet I was sad because I felt lonely. All the birds of my species had already chosen their companion; none of them paid attention to me.

I stood on a branch, away, my face scowling, sullen, anxious, unhappy with me and others … when I saw fluttering on my side a lonely little sparrow girls. In spite of my bad humor, I thought I ought to be polite to her; for her part, she seemed an amiable moment … I even thought she was making advances to me, I was shocked … I thought she was not pretty! A moment before I had been in a limpid fountain, and my beauty had struck me; I had a beautiful black collar; my tail was very long, the feathers of my wings very well furnished and shining, at last I was more beautiful than all the sparrows I saw flying around me.

I was not long in perceiving that, in spite of her amiability, this young sparrow girl was fearful; Probably she felt her inferiority and dared not aspire to become my companion. If she would have seemed sure of her success my pride would have revolted; but his shyness touched me. I encouraged his efforts, and after having had a long explanation in our language, we ended by uniting our two destinies.

I bless the sky, because she has never been better or more devoted.

My dear sparrow girl was anxious to build a nest; I looked for a suitable place. I had become difficult, and I made as much caution and prudence in this choice, for I knew most of the tricks that men use to destroy our broods.

Finally, after a long time, we discovered a suitable place, an oasis in the middle of the bare countryside.

A small castle, surrounded by dense shady trees, rose at the entrance of a valley where the sun concentrated its warm rays. The gardens were filled with fruit trees, the orchard was full of cherry and blossoming plums. Next to it, a thin brook, crossing the meadow, snaked in the thick grass, and on its banks an enormous poplar of Italy majestically raised its acute head above the surrounding trees. Our poplar was so high that, mounted on the branches of the summit, I dominated the slopes which closed our valley, and could thus see the enemy coming from far away. Everything made us believe that we could safely build the cradle of our children there, and that we would find peace to raise our little family.

Here we are, building our nest of two, among the thickest branches, towards the middle of the tree. The sparrow girl, working with all her heart, went everywhere to seek straw and fluff. Our work was soon finished, and she, having laid five eggs, began to hatch them. My task during that time was getting heavy. It was necessary to provide not only for the food of my companion, but also for me. I struggled to find anything that pleased her, and I did not feel selfish enough to let her hatching alone. But she was so brave that she wanted to stay on her nest at the risk of starving there.

The desired day finally arrived, and we were rewarded for our care by the birth of five little ones, all in good health. May our joy be great! Poor children! We quarreled with who would give them the mash. And that was not all. One of us had to stay on the nest to provide these dear little ones with the heat they did not have yet. Little by little we saw them grow up. We were happy!…

Not far from the castle stood a barn that provided our food. We found seeds and often small pieces of bread. We went to the barnyard for the prepared dough, in the cages, for the chickens that were being fattened. Our life was thus divided between the duties of the family and the relations established with some birds of the neighborhood that become our friends.

Among them was a Bullfinch that loved us very much; he had set himself by chance in the country. He was a male, and his chest, the most beautiful red, brought out the black of his beak and his nails. I noticed he knew a lot of tunes and sang them perfectly. This neat education for a bird in the country astonished me. I asked him some friendly questions, and he gladly told me his story.

Not long ago, he told me, I lived in Paris. The family in which I lived was composed of the father, the mother, and a kindly little boy, who taught me a great number of tunes, by means of an instrument of which an uncle had made him present. Unfortunately, the child fell ill, without being possible to guess which of his organ was attacked.

It was a desperation in this family of which he was the only hope. All the doctors were consulted; none of them knew where the disease came from; but at the end of science they ordered the need of countryside air, and we came to establish ourselves in this property.

The poor child vegetated for a long time; his only happiness, his only distraction, was to play with his dear Bullfinch; and, of course, I gave him the friendship he had for me. One day, a big movement took place in the house … everyone was crying, nobody thought of me … I was starving; I anxiously circled my cage and saw that it was ajar. I slipped slowly into my dear master’s room, as much to see him as to ask him to eat.

The little patient was lying almost lifeless; I walked slowly towards him, and, chirping slightly, I announced my presence. The poor child turned his eyes to me, and I saw him sketching, recognizing me, a sweet and sad smile which, begun here below, went to end among the angels of heaven; because he died looking at me …

In my despair, I flew out the window, but I promised myself never to leave these places. I kept my promise, and every day I fly on the tomb of the poor child, my friend, and there, I sing one of the tunes that he taught me by giving himself so much trouble. Happy, in my grief, to remind me of her naive caresses, and to break, by my song, the silent sadness of her tomb!

We advanced in the education of our children; their feathers were pushed. They did not eat alone, but soon they could get out of the nest. My sparrow girl saw approaching this moment with less joy than me; our reflections on this subject were very different. I was proud and happy to launch into the world creatures to whom I had given the existence, which I had raised myself, that I intended to guarantee of any snare by making them profit from my experience.

She, with her more expressive affection, but also more timid, was afraid of the moment when she would have to separate from her children. Alas! she had to be separated from it in a very cruel way!

One day, she arrived very happy. She had, she told me, discovered an excellent food which had been arranged in the barn and with which she would make an exquisite meal for her dear little ones. I rejoice with her; but as I was very busy at that moment to hear my friend, the Bullfinch, I left him alone to give the children a meal.

For a few moments already she had just left me to fulfill that care which was so dear to her, when I seemed to hear a plaintive cry on the side of our nest … I steal in one gulp … O despair! my companion and my children were expiring …..

Alas, this food, found and brought back with so much solicitude and happiness, contained poison for the rats. My grief was frightful; for more than two days I took no food; I wanted to die too … But the care and good advice of my friend the Bullfinch gradually brought me back to life.

To stay longer in this place was impossible for me, my heart was broken at the memory of my lost happiness.

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