I had gone heartbroken, despite the carelessness and proverbial gaiety of my character. I could not overcome my pain, for the sorrow I felt was of a different nature from all those who had overwhelmed me to this day. My companion, my children were no more! I had lost them a little because of my fault, because I should have taken more care to check the food that my sparrow girl found in the interior of the houses, knowing, from what I had seen, that all too often the man is obliged to use similar means to destroy certain pests.
These poignant reflections increased my pain and, rolling them constantly in my mind, I flew mechanically from tree to tree, making a long way without realizing where I wanted to arrive.
Suddenly I found myself in an immense meadow surrounded by hills which, a little farther on, took on the appearance of mountains and blued the horizon with their irregular cut-outs. Without knowing exactly where I had turned my steps, I thought I realized that I had walked towards the south. The summer was just beginning, because I had my children very early. Also, seduced by the appearance of this place, by the proximity of a village whose bells I heard behind the trees, I resolved to establish my home in this place.
I lived in abundance, because this elevated meadow was used as pasture for livestock of the neighboring commune. Soon the chief shepherd arrived. This brave man had nothing poetic, no crook stuffed with ribbons, no straw hat with floating knots; he carried a big stick in his hand, a bad woolen cap on his head, and chased before him a herd of magnificent cows with trailing and bouncy breasts.
I was soon interested in these good cows so peaceful and so naively ignorant of their strength: my favorite pleasure was to fly near them and contemplate them, lying in the leafy grass, ruminating gravely, the eyes lost in the distance , in a reverie that must be full of charm.
These good beasts never tried to hurt me. But, machines to transform the fodder, they worked relentlessly, not seeming to suspect that nothing could exist more in the world, than eat, ruminate and sleep.
Very intrigued to know to whom could belong such a beautiful flock, I learned that these beautiful cows made the fortune of the peasants of this country who hastened to establish cheese-stores.
To make me understand, my children, I have to explain that in a part of France, we created what existed formerly only in Switzerland, that is to say, these cheese-stores, establishments that we would have more rightly called cheese-makings, since they have no other job than to make cheese with the milk that the peasants bring to it. According to the quantity they have provided for a month, they are given at the end one or more breads of cheese, which the merchants come to collect at certain times of the year.
Nothing more right. But sometimes a peasant uses a means well known to the milkmen to increase the quantity of their milk, it is to add a little water from the fountain. Well, that’s very difficult, because if the peasant likes to deceive, he does not like to be deceived. So we find in each cheese-store milk scales, or instruments by means of which we see at the moment if the milk has been adulterated. When this happens, the guilty peasant pays a fine and his milk is refused for the present and the future.
You see, my children, that everything has been planned, and that these cheese-makings present two great examples: the application of the fruitful principle of association and the preservation of the sacred word.
Do not do to others what you would not want done to you.
These cheese-making products are so advantageous that they compel the peasant to procure as many cattle as possible, which consequently leads them to increase the quantity of manure they can dispose of on their land. These result in much more than the fields badly or poorly smoked.
The earth is like you, my children. Cultivate your intelligence, while you are young and nourish it with science and art: later you will do like fields well worked and smoked, you will bear good fruits.
I gazed at my beautiful cows resting in the meadow and forming graceful white, brown, or black patches, when I saw a second flock of herdsmen coming from the village.
This herd was composed of merinos whose wool will one day, my dear little friends, be used to weave the fabrics so necessary to protect men from the cold.
The sheep, beside us, is not a spiritual animal, far from it, but it is a beast so useful, that one feels inclined to like it, to estimate it, because of the services that he returns to everyone. Not only is he careful to leave the thorns that border the path with flakes of his fleece so that we can fill the bunk of our little ones; but, without him, man would have a hard time withstanding the inclemency of the seasons, for it is very pitiful to see that nature has created him naked and without shelter against the attacks of cold and heat. giving him a little intelligence to complete a creation as sketched.
The sheep is therefore one of the most useful animals for the man who dresses with his wool, uses his skin for a thousand uses and feeds on his flesh. To enumerate all the party that can be drawn from it, is to say that the sheep is of a definite relation for the people who can raise it. But for this, it requires large areas of land where these animals can travel and graze by changing places; therefore, not all countries are suitable for the pupil of sheep.
It was around this time that I almost fell victim to an unforeseen event that left in my mind a salutary fear and distrust. On the other side of the meadow, at a considerable distance, I had seen a kind of house with pointed roof and a charming effect. It was all built of bricks, and this color cut beautifully over that of the sky, because the cottage was built in a high place and quite uncovered. It carried a wooden gallery which surrounded her, a rustic staircase gave access to it. Outside and above were four large branches, which looked like big arms to the day. As I like to be aware of the things I meet – always with the aim of being useful to my posterity later – I went to perch on one of these branches; but, in less than a moment, the wind rising, these arms moved as if by magic, and experienced a very rapid movement of rotation. I was almost rushed and barely managed to fly away frightened. I learned what is a windmill I did not know yet.
The heart still moved by the terrible accident to which I had escaped by a miracle of skill, I went to land in the middle of a neighboring field, to recover from my emotion and find, among the young corn, some freshness. I followed, strolling, the bottom of a furrow when, near a ditch, I saw next to me the most touching spectacle, but also the best made to renew all my pains; it was that of a good mother, having around her a dozen little children, all so pretty, so cute that my heart squeezes frightfully at the memory of what mine had certainly been.
The conversation began between us, as between well-bred people, and I became acquainted with this partridge, the first I had met in my life. Soon I heard a shrill cry in the neighborhood: Pirre … hear! She answered it, and a few moments later, I had the honor to be introduced to a husband, father of this charming family.
The nest of the partridge is a shallow cavity dug or chosen in the soil of the furrow, often leaning against a large clump or an old molehill. The mother lays fifteen to twenty eggs, which she arranges with great care, so as to perfectly distribute all the heat of her body. During the incubation, she barely leaves her eggs to fetch some food and, before leaving, takes care to cover them with grass or dry leaves.
The same partridge I knew had already hatched for several days, but they were still too weak to fly, because it takes a month for them to trust their wings, even these flights are very limited . But the partridges, who run from the egg, do not separate from their parents like other birds as soon as they no longer need help; on the contrary, they remain together and continue to live in an intimate society, helping each other in the good as well as in the bad luck, and thus form what are called companies which remain united until the month of February.
If we consider that the instinct of sociability indicates superior birds as intelligence, we must also admire the love of parents for their little ones. In no case are the father and mother no longer lavish care and attention on them. They lead them, direct them with touching solicitude where they suppose that the danger does not exist. They choose their food, teach them what is good or bad. The male, himself, takes the direction of the family as soon as the cubs have emerged, and shows no less courage and intelligence than the female to save them in danger.
A few days after our acquaintance and during a good and friendly conversation we were doing at the edge of a hedge, I had a striking example of the devotion of my new friends. We suddenly hear barking in the meadow, the mother had gone to walk her children in the morning. The barking is getting closer in the wheat; it’s a dog that follows the trail of the partridges … He’s coming … he’s here! …
The male is devoted … He goes to the front of the dog, and flies under his nose; but like a wounded partridge, who can, with great difficulty, escape the tooth that will reach him.
Lured by this good fortune, the dog makes a first leap in pursuit of the cunning cock. Hooray! … The family is saved! … The male is still taking off, the dog is jumping, the lack and the pursuit is relentless on one side, devoted, clever, calculated on the part of the poor father …
And the dog is moving away more and more.
A last leap and the male, just half dead, regains its strength and vigor. He utters a cry of joy, removes himself and a fast and sustained flight travels a kilometer to the eyes of the amazed dog!
But he did not touch the ground sooner than on his fast legs, and by devious paths, following the bottom of furrows and ditches, he ran in the front of his female.
While I followed this admirable mane, I had not looked at what had become of the mother with her little ones. I turned around … everything was gone!
From the beginning of the pursuit, she had taken with a rapid pace her little ones who did not fly yet, had scattered them, placing them in a fissure of the ground, which under a dry leaf, which enters between two clumps; and she herself waited, devoted, the moment to resume the trick of her husband if he succumbed, or if the dog retraced his steps.
At the first cry of the male, the female answered, and this happy family meets untouched before my eyes.
I complimented them, but they told me that they had done something quite natural, and the female herself asked me if we sparrows, we would not do as much for our little ones? I assured her yes, so that she does not dislike our race, and preserve me in particular, a friendship which her sweet manners, a simple and devoted character, rendered me very agreeable.
At the end of a month’s journey and after having crossed many countries, I arrived safely, in a great forest pierced in all directions, which indicated the care with which it was maintained. I took my information from a sparrow living in the house of one of the guards, and he informed me that I was in the forest of Fontainebleau.
I was advancing resolutely along a long path, when I met a bird eight or ten times bigger than me. Her head, neck, back, and almost all of her chest were black, but deep black, with metallic highlights similar to steel, while the underside of the wings, belly, and lower chest were pure white. Add to this a large black tail with tiered feathers, longer in the middle than at the edges, and black feet, and you will have a faithful portrait of my new acquaintance.
Although this bird looked suspicious and cunning, I approached her so frankly that he could not see a bad intention; so she let me do without going too far back. I noticed that, lying on the ground, she was always in motion, making as many jumps as the steps, and impressing to her big tail a sudden and almost continual beat, like that of the wagtails on the banks of the rivers. I took advantage of the moment when this bird flew on a tree to place me beside her; but her manner of taking off showed me that her wings were too short and her tail too long to fly gracefully. I concluded that she could not undertake, like us, long and interesting journeys, and was only bound to fly from tree to tree and from steeple to steeple. I first asked her who owned the Forest of Fontainebleau, for I did not know it.
To this question, my new acquaintance made me at least twenty different answers in two minutes, and not a conclusive one. I remained confused … astonished by such loquacity. I naturally asked her what her name was; she told me that she was called Pie!
Now, poor Pie was a ruthless talkative, she spoke without truce or thank you, and I could not manage to place the simplest reflection. Much better, as soon as I opened my mouth, she pretended that before hearing my first word, she knew what I meant. I then took the wisest course, that of listening to her without interrupting her. She told me that this forest was visited by a crowd of people who came to admire there, some of the hundred-year-old trees, the others of the remarkable rocks. She told me that, despite this large number of visitors, the forest was so full of prey of all kinds that it was haunted by a large number of birds of prey …
This news was not made to reassure me, because my bravery is very reasonable … This is not boasting! What good is exposing oneself to dangers against which one can not fight?
I thought, therefore, if it was not proper to leave the forest at once, when the Pie, guessing my fear and my irresolution, reassured me by saying that this neighborhood did not torment her at all, that I could live, if I found it good, in the shadow of his protection, that she was used to fighting birds and putting them to flight.
We became the best friends in the world. She made me walk the forest in all directions from Franchard to the Desert and the gorges of Apremont. She knew here and there a crowd of retreats, hiding places more curious than the others, and where we took shelter each evening.
I noticed that she was especially afraid of the man and that she was running away from him. As she was extremely distrustful, she warned me and I flew with her. On the contrary, the dog, the fox, the birds of prey did not inspire him with terror. She seemed attracted rather than repulsed by their sight. So, in those cases, I hastened to be very small and hide myself as best I could until the scuffle had passed. In fact, my Pie assailed them, fluttering about them, and uttering shrill cries which roused all its like in the neighborhood. It was then a chauvinism to wake the Seven Sleepers, and all returned to tranquility only when the enemy had fled. I was still waiting, fearing pecks, that the gathering would have dissipated, which required enough time, because the conversations were long, and finally we remained alone and I left my hiding place.
One day we were talking, or, to put it more exactly, she was talking alone, making requests and answers. I was standing on a branch a little above her and from there I saw that she wore around her neck, half hidden under the feathers, a necklace of colored pearls.
“Tell me then, my dear friend, this little ornament could have been put there?“
“Really! Are you curious, Pierrot, my friend? Here’s how and why. I was taken very young by men and taken to a house where I lived free and happy. Unfortunately, we magpies, we have irresistible instincts. Thus, I could not help but taking a certain amount of objects that I was going to hide in a garden. As long as I stole only bits of food, nothing was noticed. But one day I found small silver coins, which seemed so pretty to me, who adore everything that shines, that I could not resist the temptation … I took them one after the other, and joined all this to my treasure.
“Another time, it was even worse. I took a very beautiful ring which I had found on the chimney of my mistress. Oh! so! it made an abominable scandal! The servants were suspected; there was even one sent back. Everything would have gone well if I had been able to contain my appetites for marauding. But as a large number of objects disappeared and suspicions persisted over the people of the house, one of the servants … – who had probably attended the opera of The Thieving Magpie, she added… – imagined to spy on me.
“Soon everything was discovered, and my treasure was plundered. As I feared the vengeance of these people, or at least slavery, for I thought they were going to lock me up, I thought it prudent to go to the forest. This is how and why I wear the mark of my serfdom on my neck, which my mistress had made for me herself. She was good, I loved her very much; she had taught me a number of phrases that extremely amused the people around her. So, when she had people, they brought me dessert, and I was asked a thousand questions to which I responded according to my fancy. I must confess that I was, especially at that time, very stubborn, and sometimes this defect prevailed over my desire to speak. However, when it was my mistress who questioned me, I always answered, for, I repeat, I loved her very much, and I regret her sincerely.
“The other day she was walking here with several other ladies. All went to sit under the King’s Oak, which you see there. I resolved to prove to my dear mistress that I had not forgotten her, although my flight went back beyond a year.
“I went to perch on one of the highest branches of the oak, and there, hidden in a mass of foliage, I shouted several times:
““Hello Marie! A kiss to Cocotte! A kiss to Cocotte! …“
“The astonishment was extreme, as you think. We watched from all sides. My mistress answered me:
“”Hello Cocotte !! …“
“She had tears in her eyes! … When the visitors came back from their surprise, many decided that they should try to seize me. But I heard that plot. When they raised their heads to look for me, I had already put between us a respectable distance!
“You must have noticed, dear Sparrow,” she went on without stopping, “that I was much more civilized and more educated than the other inhabitants of this forest. Yes, it is our equal instruction which has brought you find grace in my eyes. I guessed that you had lived among men; I thought that I could talk to you and that your society would be a great resource for me because here most birds have received no education. Some of the less stupid, like the nightingale and the warbler, are so infatuated with their musical science, that they look at us almost with disdain … I could have bound myself with the crow, but she is so dizzy and so talkative that we live rather in enemies.“
“That poor Pie,” I thought to myself, “she sees a straw in her neighbor’s eye, and does not feel the beam bursting with hers.“
She continued for so long, jabbering continuously and I half sleeping while listening to her … However, she did so much and so well, that the evening was done. We went to bed; I saw her suddenly open her wings, stretch her neck forward, bristle her feathers, and prepare for battle. At that moment we were perched among the green trees of a garden adjoining a country house, as there are many on the edge of the forest. The Pie shouted at me to hide under her wings on the branch where she was perching … and I saw the enemy appear. It was an owl that was shaving flying the top of the tree on which we perched. I huddled on the branch, more dead than alive, and making myself small as much as possible.
The fight was not long in coming. The Pie, unafraid of this enemy who seemed terrible to me, but whom she probably knew to be very cowardly, received him with loud beaks. He fought back to my defender with a poke, which, thankfully, was on the feathers of his back, but under the tremendous pressure of which it stumbled, clinging to the branch and stretching me a wing blow that stuns me as a blow of a club, and tumbled me all through the branches of the green tree. Furious, my friend pursued the owl, still shouting until she had run away.
I was bruised, half dead … If I had not met the stiff pine leaves that supported me like a floor, I would have killed myself by falling on the ground. I tried to fly, I stumbled and rolled on the rounded windows of a greenhouse where my nails could not find hold. From that moment, I abandoned myself to death; I felt the empty space beneath me and my helpless wings!
I had met one of the raised panels of the greenhouse, and I fell panting on an orange tree …
The gardener, hearing the sound of my fall, seized me. I tried no resistance, fear and pain destroyed me.