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XI. INGRATE AND COWARD

The Blackbird, using his strength at my instigation, drove out this denatured father from our quarter: we were rid of this sad household and peace reigned again around us.

Our children were visibly growing; their kindness was extreme; already they were fluttering on the edge of the nest, we had a party, Sparrow girl and I, to walk them in the garden soon, when all this present and future happiness was once again annihilated …

In recent days, large groups of people were forming in the garden paths. We talked a lot; the figures were menacing.

Worried about what could happen, Sparrow girl and I tried to follow the groups to inform us of what was going to happen. But in vain we listened attentively to all that was said around us, it was impossible for us to understand a single word. It was about human rights … we were completely strangers to it. So our concern was extreme. Every day the crowd became more numerous, each day it became more difficult to find the food that was shouted loudly by our dear children …

One morning, the garden doors were closed, soldiers invaded our asylum, the drums came to frighten us with their prolonged rolls … Suddenly, a frightful explosion rang out, the cannon growls, the fusillade sparkles, the screams mingle with this terrible noise. Hopeless, we return to our nest, we hide our little ones under our wings, determined to make them a shield of our bodies … The noise continues; the battle is engaged: the air, filled with smoke, hides the trees around us.

At the moment when we were reassuring our frightened little ones, a frightful commotion struck the branch upon which our nest was leaning; the bullets whistle with a sinister sound around our heads; the branch wobbles, bends over … and we are rushed …

Crazy with terror, my wings carry me to the top of a nearby plane tree … I see my Sparrow girl fleeing through the bushes, and our little ones, fallen on the straw roof of a neighboring apiary, hiding their best between the sheaves.

What happened then? I do not know it anymore …

The fusillade redoubled intensity, the branches bowed, crackled and fell around me. Distraught, I left, flying at random, not knowing what road I could or should take …

At that moment I remembered the peaceful courtyard of the school where I had lived. I wanted to take refuge there and went up the side of the Pantheon, but there reigned terror and death. With a blow of the wing, I took off as high as my strength permitted, and was snuggled on the dome of the Pantheon. Alas! around me it was only desolation, my fellows fled in bands, bumping against the tiles and chimneys … I followed them down the valley to the Seine, where I saw large trees and where I hoped to hide easily.

It was thus that I reached the botanic garden. All the alleys were deserted, not a man showed up, the battle attracted people to the top of the mountain. A few sparred sparrows surrounded me. I had to give them news of their brothers that I was leaving.

Fortunately, this garden contains an immense quantity of provisions of all kinds. Imitating my comrades, I slipped through the large mesh of a wire fence and wanted to share the meal of a stork. A vigorous peck that happened to me and which would have nailed me to the ground if it had reached me, made me take another direction, and I was asked by some peaceful ducks for a hospitality which they hastened to give me.

For several days we heard from afar the noise of the fusillade; for several days we lived in the agony of terror; then, little by little, the tumult calmed down, peace returned, and with it a little security.

What had become of my dear Sparrow girl? And my poor children! what had been their fate? …

The next day, I resolved to do everything to get news and calm my anxiety; I did not, however, believe in the complete misfortune that was going to strike me. Alas! I could search, find out from my friends, I could never find the tracks of my poor girl. Is she dead in distress? Has it been devoured by the enemies who have invaded the garden? The most complete obscurity has always reigned over this catastrophe. Citronnet himself was no longer in his accustomed place; his mistress had been killed behind his window, and the poor friend was dead, forgotten in his abandoned cage! O woe! when you hit us, you never stop!

I looked for my children. I soon found them in the vicinity of the little house which, by sheltering them, had saved their lives. They scarcely recognized me; they were self-sufficient, made the big boys and, a little more, would have sent me for a walk …. My heart sank one last time … I lowered my head, wished them, from the bottom of my heart, a happier life than their father’s … and left them forever.

I lived there for about three months alone, still alone, … insensitive to all the advances made to me by other sparrows, my comrades. Shut up in my pain, I let the days flow without thinking the next day, passing from one bush to another, a park in the neighbor, without being aware of what was happening around me, tingling a scrap of bread here, a grain of millet or hemp seed, but unable to provide for my food if I had been in open country. The disgust of the wild life had taken me. I had only one satisfaction, that of seeing me near the man, in a place where his attendance was so complete, that, for me, this garden was like a great aviary.

Alas! my children! it was written that I could never be happy!

One day, at the moment when we thought of it the least, the people descended in arms in the streets; the battle resumed its fury, the cannon roared, the bullets whistled in our asylum, hitherto so quiet. It is not only around us that roaring, that disordered cries of frightened animals. Death seems to hover over our heads. We must still leave!…

This time, I took the road to the border; … there, perhaps, is true happiness.

So I flew, following the Seine, as long as my wings were able to sustain me, and toward evening I was far from Paris, in the middle of a little wood, in the middle of the country.

I spent the night there, my belly hollow, delivered to very sad reflections.

What to do? Which way to follow?

I resolved to return among the men, to give myself to them, and there, at least, behind the bars of my cage, I would find the ease, tranquility, and repose which had become necessary to me. It remained to choose the house to which I was going to confide, for from this choice depended, perhaps, the happiness of my old age; we do not find every day the way to escape as I had already done!

I searched for a long time.

One day, I stopped in the shade of a beautiful tree: two people were slowly following a path, arm in arm.

“Blanche, my friend,” said the voice of a man, “is it not soon enough to rejoin your mother at Fontainebleau?

I thought about it, Emile … Happiness makes you selfish.

And we are so happy!

Do you know, sir, that six months ago …

No more doubt! It was my charming little mistress, it was Blanche! but grown, but embellished for two years that I had not seen. And Mr. Emile, to whom she was giving an arm, was Mr. Sceller, his cousin!

I understood, when I saw two girls coming in mourning, seeing the crepe worn by the young man, that his old father was dead, and that the gift that Madame Sauval wanted to make to the young laureate was this beautiful property, as a dowry of the happy Blanche!
Ashamed, I wanted to flee … The movement of my wings made my old friend look up.

“Emily, do you remember my poor Sparrow?

I advise you to talk about it, Blanche, an ingrate!

Ingrate? But no.

But yes, my friend; when one has the happiness of being loved by you, one must be a monster to leave you!

“Flattering! But, see how this sparrow looks at us!

It is true.

I would say Sparrow…..

What madness!

“Sparrow! Sparrow! my poor Sparrow.

I hesitated…

“It’s him, I do not doubt it.

An invincible bad shame nailed me to my limb. The word ingrate rustled in my ears.

Instead of throwing myself into the arms that was handed to me, I silenced my heart and … I flew away!

No! no! it is not Sparrow,” murmured Blanche, returning sadly to his house, “he had come to me.

Alas! it was him. Ungrateful and cowardly at the same time!

It was a nasty day in my life, and this confession, my good Claire, is not without costing me a great deal; but I promised to be sincere.

Give me the absolution of a caress: near you I will never do it again!

The summer, in its splendor, provided me with an easy life, and I pressed myself all the less to choose a lodging, that the bad season was far from me. Walking through the country houses of this admirable valley, I studied the habits of the inhabitants, often hesitating and postponing to the next day, in the hope of finding better, and, more than once, I returned to the park of my beloved Blanche. But she and her husband were gone!

I went away, and after a long journey I arrived in this country and near the house where you see me today.

Claire’s beauty and kindness charmed me when I saw her playing in the park with her tame sheep. I resolved to give myself to her.

One morning when she was on the lawn in front of the castle, I flew past her and came almost to her feet.

Oh! the pretty sparrow! she says.

Then, crumbling the cake of her breakfast, she threw it to me. I went over, spitting graciously and shrieking to prove to her that I was not afraid of her.

Emboldened by my confidence, she called me, holding out her finger; I jumped in, still chirping.

I give up painting the exultation of my adopted friend. Always running, she brought me to the castle, after giving me a thousand kisses that I gladly returned to her, and settled me in her room. I’m still there! …

Twice already the leaves have yellowed and repelled on the trees since I have been living with my benefactress, and all this time I have felt but one sorrow; yet it did not come from her, but from my bad character.

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