I was never happier than in this blessed garden of heaven. Abundance of possessions, profound peace, charming relations with the highest sparrows of the capital, was it necessary more for my fate to be worthy of envy?
Alas! yes, I missed something! it was a friend; the sky was kind enough to give it to me.
One side of the garden is bordered by tall houses whose windows look in the middle of the big trees. At one of these windows, I saw, since my arrival, a hanging cage containing a Serin of a magnificent color. His mistress must have loved this animal madly, for I saw her, leaning towards him, having long conversations with her bird of predilection. It is true that I had never heard such velvety trills, trills as brilliant as those of the prisoner, whose grace and kindness had won my heart.
Free, I knew the anxieties of captivity, and I felt carried towards this charming bird, as much by the feeling of the compassion as by the intuition which leads us to guess a heart ready to answer us. One day, I approached Serin and, perched on his cage, I bound a conversation with him.
“Good morning, friend,” I said, “are you happy?”
A little frightened at my abrupt apparition, the bird threw itself at the bottom of its cage; but, encouraged no doubt by the benevolence of my attitude, he replied:
“Yes, I am as much as you can be in prison.”
“How can you judge that, you who have never enjoyed freedom?”
“It is true: I was born in a cage; my parents had also spent their lives there, but there is in our hearts a voice that always sings freedom.”
“Poor, poor friend!”
“Why do you give me that name, I hardly know you? It was not long before I saw you in the trees around.”
“It was not long ago that I regained my darling freedom.”
“Tell me what you did, I beg you,” said the prisoner.
“I want it a lot. Perhaps you will judge your escape severely, for I think I have been ungrateful. But what do you want? We are thus made that immobility is unbearable to us.”
I told him about my life, my misfortunes and my travels. From this day, a solid friendship unites us.
“You seem,” I said, “to have a good mistress.
“Foes she loves you?”
“A lot. But, you will admit, I am tired of the food she gives me. Poor woman, if she could suspect that, she would do anything to change her. But, could she? How would she go looking for the worms, the caterpillars we need so much to counterbalance the fatal influence of dry seeds? … You see, despite the suffering I endure, I have to endure my pain and smile to the efforts of his friendship. I sing for her, but I cry inside!”
“What your mistress can not do, others may try it …”
“Other? Who would love me enough for that?”
“Who knows? … Bye!”
“Do you leave me? Adieu! do not forget me, you whose heart was moved by the story of the poor prisoner.”
I left and flew to the part of the nursery where the gardeners establish the beds on which they grow flowers. I thought I noticed that there were abundant worms, larvae and pupae that were easy to discover … I was not mistaken. Ten minutes later, I came back, pulling the prisoner a full peck of fresh and appetizing worms.
I landed on his cage, dropped them next to him and ran away as if I had done something wrong. But from the top of a nearby tree, I watched my friend … His first astonishment passed, he threw himself on this delicacy, did honor to it and, looking on all sides, seemed to seek me to thank me.
“See you tomorrow!” I shouted from afar as I flew away.
I was happy. A good action always makes you happy!
The next day I recommenced my hunt, but this time I could not fly early enough for Serin, who was watching me, did not hold me back by a good word. Our friendship became so much more intimate every day, and my friend knew me so well that he seized his food, even from my beak, through the bars of his prison.
As a whole to our charming trade, we did not take notice that we were watched, not only by the mistress of my friend, but by several of his neighbors. My reputation spread like this, in a short time, throughout the neighborhood. The good lady knew me, and when I arrived with my provision, she opened her window and said to me:
“Hello, Sparrow, hello, my friend! God will reward you!”
One day I saw, near a neighboring window, the cage of another prisoner serin. The poor beast was agitated, she called my friend to his aid. When I brought some worms, I heard a supplicating voice that said to me:
“And I, shall I have nothing? O you, who help the unfortunate, think of a prisoner!”
“Well,” I said to myself, “that poor serin, how he breaks my heart, I am going to hunt for him. And I left, then came back soon with a good feed. How happy he was! Every time I brought him something, I always reserved a little for my first friend Citronnet: for that is how his good mistress had named him.
But on all sides were hung cages, on every side supplicating voices implored my help. I asked nothing more than to multiply my efforts as unfortunate people sprang up around me. I had as much work as if a brood had asked for my care. But in the midst of these new friends, the man gave me pitfalls, treacherous hands came forward to seize me. Fortunately, I always kept an eye on the watch; I always escaped. Once I could not resist the temptation, and I sent such a peck on the fingers of a wicked woman, that she uttered a terrible cry and threw me her curse! …
I only laughed about it, but did not return to his prisoner, and kept all my care for Citronnet and his good mistress, who loved me now, as much as he did.
Winter passed thus. We were often hungry both, because the worms were rare; but I always shared religiously with Citronnet, and my good deed was rewarded. Here’s how.
Citronnet told me that, on a great plane tree, at a short distance, lived a young and beautiful sparrow girl, whose husband had been surprised and devoured the previous year by an ugly tomcat in the neighborhood. He made me get to know her. I recognized at her home the qualities that make a good mother. So, in the first spring, we made a beautiful nest in one of the busiest trees in the nursery. We found a shelter more perfect than on the big trees of the garden, and we were closer to the worms and the larvae which would become indispensable to the food of our children.
Everything was going to perfection: we never saw more beautiful nest, more charming eggs, more united couple, more beautiful spring.
At the bottom of our tree, however, another bird had come to begin its work, and its neighborhood did not leave me without anxiety … much bigger than us, the worried eye, the robust and pointed beak, the sudden movements, he seemed to me an unsociable animal and at least inconvenient.
How wrong I was! It was the model of the spouses, the best of fathers, and I learned to appreciate him at his true value.
Black, the yellow bill, this bird frightened me; I heard him one day named by a young man who exclaimed:
“Oh! the beautiful Blackbird!”
Caring little for the scarecrows that were put in place to scare us, he perched on top, went under, to peck where he wanted.
The Blackbird brought her female to the foot of our acacia, showed her the place he had chosen between the flexible branches of the foot; then, both of them, with a good heart, began to work hard, without truce or rest, foraging and building from dawn to night.
It took them only eight days to complete their task, and we had used more than twelve to complete ours.
The female then deposited five greenish-blue eggs marked with brown spots, and covered them with an assiduity which my kind companion gave him the example. My neighbor, the Blackbird, brought her food, just as I did for the mother of my little ones. Sometimes we shared the work of incubation while the mothers went to drink or loosen up their numb limbs. In ordinary times, I have noticed that blackbirds are like sparrows, they like water and bathe frequently.
As for his little ones, he feeds them absolutely as we feed ours, caterpillars and worms. Only his are much bigger, and what they consume is really amazing. With forty caterpillars per hour, we were sufficient for the appetite of our children. This, however, gave us the very respectable work of five hundred caterpillars to find, both of us, a day, and three thousand five hundred a week. You must not waste time. But for the unfortunate father Blackbird four times that quantity was not enough. Fortunately, he could attach the snails and slugs he destroyed a huge number, to the benefit of the garden.
As soon as they are able to fill themselves their own needs, the little blackbirds separate, and this happens quickly. They then seek their food themselves and, besides insects and worms, throw themselves on berries and fruits. Cherries, gooseberries, raspberries, ivy, holly, hawthorn, they like a lot, and that’s why the man declared war on them, especially since I was told that the flesh of this bird is very good.
Without ever being very united, we maintained good neighborly relations. It was not the same between my neighbor and a household of Thrushes who had come to settle in a tree whose branches touched ours.
This couple did not offer, I must say, a model of cordial understanding, and we deplored morals so similar to those of men. The male, a beautiful bird, adorned with a charming plumage, had, at the beginning of fine days, sung to his female his tenderest elegies, and had so well captured her heart that she believed in an eternal affection. So she set herself with unparalleled eagerness to begin her nest. The male, from that moment, displeased me. Monsieur remained flaneur and idle, watching his female bringing the materials, building, going, coming, while he whistled florets to the young thrushes of the neighborhood, and during this time the poor devoted slave went far to seek his burden.
Our neighbor, the Blackbird, who, placed nearer to us, saw this merry-go-round better, expressed to him his discontent in very unmeasured terms. Master Thrush took the thing badly; words came to blows, and the Blackbird put him for some time to reason by administering a good volley. But, bast! peace was not long in the unhappy household. Monsieur was not happy with this, about that, about the food, the weather, the nest; he grunted, he beat his female, then his absences seemed to me suspicious.
On his return, he was often in a worse mood than when he left, and was still trying to quarrel with his thrush. The latter, strong in her good will, defended her work, her beak half open, her neck in front, her feathers bristling. They threw themselves words of distrust and anger. Insults came to fight, and the poor thrush, weaker, was very badly treated. The feathers flew, the cries of pain split the air: it was pity. But the Blackbird arrived as a dart, grounded on mister Thrush and often put him to flight by his mere presence, because this bad husband who beat his female was a coward.
The female, in the midst of this hell, had laid four pretty blue-sky eggs marked with dark brown; but scarcely had the little ones hatched, as soon as they began to push their first down, that they disappeared one after the other. The cries and despair of the poor mother attracted my attention and the commiseration of my dear female. There was only a little one left in the nest, the other three had disappeared; the mother did not dare to leave her last child, who was screaming for food.
What to do? What a terrible alternative, and who will ever say the battles fought by fear and love in the heart of the unfortunate mother Trush?
At last, no longer holding her, she gets up, throws a desolate glance at the sky and leaves, as a dart, in the direction of the flower covers.
I was well hidden among the leaves above my nest and watched carefully what would happen; when I saw … I still shudder with indignation and horror! … The father … yes, the father, himself, tore his last child with his sharp bill! … The father putting in pieces the son of his entrails !!! …
Enfin, n’y tenant plus, elle se lève, jette au ciel un regard désolé et part, comme un trait, dans la direction des bâches à fleurs…
J’étais bien caché, parmi les feuilles, au-dessus de mon nid et guettais attentivement ce qui allait arriver; quand je vis… J’en frissonne encore d’indignation et d’horreur!… Le père… oui, le père, lui-même, déchirait son dernier enfant de son bec acéré!… Le père mettant en pièces le fils de ses entrailles!!!…