The Story of the Robins/Chapter 15
The next morning the redbreasts attended at Mrs. Benson's as usual, and Robin was still better, but his father began to fear he would never perfectly recover from his accident; however, he kept his apprehensions to himself, and suffered the little ones to entertain their lame brother with a relation of what they had seen the day before in the orchard. Frederick and Harriet were so diverted with the chattering and chirping of the little things, that they did not miss the parent's song.
When the young ones had stayed as long as she thought right, the hen redbreast summoned them away, and all took leave of Robin, who longed to go with them, but was not able. The father reminded him that he had great reason to rejoice in his present situation, considering all things; on which he resumed his cheerfulness, and giving a sprightly twitter, hopped into Frederick's hand, which was spread open to receive him. The rest then flew away, and Harriet and her brother prepared for their morning tasks.
The redbreasts alighted as usual to drink in the courtyard, and were preparing to return to the orchard, when Flapsy expressed a desire to look a little about the world, for she said it would be very mopish to be always confined to the orchard; and Dicky seconded her request. Pecksy declared that, however her curiosity might be excited, she had known so much happiness in the nest, that she was strongly attached to the paternal spot, and could gladly pass her life there. The parents highly commended her contented disposition; but her father said that as there was nothing blameable in the inclination Dicky and Flapsy expressed for seeing the world, provided it was kept within due bounds, he would readily gratify it. Then asking if they were sufficiently refreshed, he took wing, and led the way to a neighbouring grove, where he placed his little tribe among the branches of a venerable oak. Here their ears were charmed with a most enchanting concert of music. On one tree a blackbird and a thrush poured forth their strong melodious notes; on another a number of linnets joined their sweet voices; exalted in the air a skylark modulated his delightful pipe, whilst a brother of the wood, seated on a cool refreshing turf, made the grove re-echo with his melody; to these the nightingale joined his enchanting lay: in short, not a note was wanting to complete the harmony.
The little redbreasts were so exceedingly charmed, that for a while they continued listening with silent rapture. At length Dicky exclaimed, "How happy should I be to join the cheerful band, and live for ever in this charming place!" "It is," replied his mother, "a very pleasant situation, to be sure; but could you be sensible of the superior advantages which, as a redbreast, you may enjoy by taking up your abode in the orchard, you would never wish to change it. For my own part, I find myself so happy in that calm retreat, that nothing but necessity shall ever drive me from it."
Pecksy declared that though she was much delighted with the novelty of the scene, and charmed with the music, she now felt an ardent desire to return home; but Flapsy wished to see a little more first. "Well," said the father, "your desire shall be gratified; let us take a circuit in this grove, for I wish you to see everything worth observation in everyplace you go to, and not fly about the world, as many giddy birds do, without the least improvement from their travels." On this he spread his wings as a signal of departure, which his family obeyed.
Observing a parcel of boys creeping silently along, "Stop," said he, "let us perch on this tree, and see what these little monsters are about." Scarcely were they seated, when one of the boys mounted an adjacent tree, and took a nest of half-fledged linnets, which he brought in triumph to his companions.
At this instant a family of thrushes unfortunately chirped, which directed another boy to the place of their habitation, to which he climbed, and eagerly seized the unfortunate little creatures. Having met with so much success, the boys left the grove, to exult at their own homes over their wretched captives, for ever separated from their tender parents, who soon came back laden with the gain of their labour, which they had kindly destined for the sustenance of their infant broods.
The little redbreasts were now spectators of those parental agonies which had been formerly described to them, and Pecksy cried out, "Who would desire to live in this grove, after having experienced the comforts of the orchard? "Dicky and Flapsy were desirous to depart, being alarmed for their own safety. "No," said he father, "let us stay a little longer—now we will go on."
They accordingly took another flight, and saw a man scattering seed upon the ground. "See there," said Dicky, "what fine food that man throws down! I dare say he is some good creature who is a friend to the feathered race. Shall we alight and partake of his bounty?" "Do not form too hasty an opinion, Dicky," said the father; "watch here with me a little while, and then do as you will." All the little ones stretched their necks, and kept a curious eye fixed on the man. In a few minutes a number of sparrows, chaffinches, and linnets descended, and began to regale themselves; but, in the midst of their feast, a net was suddenly cast over them, and they were all taken captive. The man, who was a birdcatcher by profession, called to his assistant, who brought a cage divided into a number of small partitions, in which the linnets and chaffinches were separately deposited. In this dismal prison, where they had scarcely room to flutter, were those little creatures confined who lately poured forth their songs of joy fearless of danger. As for the sparrows, their necks were wrung, and they were put in a bag together. The little redbreasts trembled for themselves, and were in great haste to take wing. "Stay," said the father, "Dicky has not yet made acquaintance with this friend of the feathered race." "No" said Dicky, "nor do I desire it; defend me and all who are dear to me from such friends as these!"
"Well," said the father, "learn from this instance never to form a hasty judgment, nor to put yourself in the power of strangers, who offer you favours you have no right to expect from their hands."
"Indeed, my love," said the mother bird, "I am very anxious to get home; I have not lately been used to be long absent from it, and every excursion I make endears it more to me." "Oh, the day is not half spent," replied her mate, "and I hope that for the gratification of the little ones you will consent to complete the ramble. Come, let us visit another part of the grove; I am acquainted with its inmost recesses." His mate acquiesced, and they proceeded on their journey.
At length the father hastily called out, "Turn this way! turn this way!" The whole party obeyed the word of command, and found the good effects of their obedience, for in an instant they saw a flash of fire, a thick smoke followed it, and immediately they heard a dreadful sound, and saw a young redstart fall bleeding to the ground, on which he struggled just long enough to cry, "Oh, my dear father! why did I not listen to your kind admonitions, which I now find, too late, were the dictates of tenderness!" and then expired.
The little redbreasts were struck with consternation at this dreadful accident, and Pecksy, who recovered the soonest, begged her father would inform her by what means the redstart was killed.
"He was shot to death," said he, "and had you not followed my directions, it might have been the fate of every one of you; therefore let it be a lesson to you to follow every injunction of your parents with the same readiness for the future. You may depend upon it our experience teaches us to foresee many dangers which such young creatures as you have no notion of, and when we desire you to do or to forbear anything, it is for the sake of your safety or advantage. Therefore, Dicky, never more stand, as you sometimes have done, asking why we tell you to do so and so; for had that been the case now, you, who were in a direct line with the gunner, would have been inevitably shot."
They all said they would pay implicit obedience.
"Do so," said he; "but in order to this you must also remember to practise in our absence what we enjoin you when present. For instance, some kinds of food are very prejudicial to your health, which we would not, on any account, let you taste when we are by; these you must not indulge in when away from us, whatever any other bird may say in recommendation of them. Neither must you engage in any dangerous enterprise, which others, who have natural strength or acquired agility, go through with safety; nor should you go to any places which we have pointed out as dangerous, nor join any companions which we have forbidden you to make acquaintance with. This poor redstart might have avoided his fate, for I heard his father, when I was last in the grove, advise him not to fly about by himself till he had shown him the dangers of the world."
Pecksy answered that she knew the value of parental instruction so well, that she should certainly treasure up in her heart every maxim of it; and the others promised to do the same. "But," said Flapsy, "I cannot understand the nature of the accident which occasioned the death of the redstart."
"Neither can I explain it to you, my dear," replied the father; "I only know that it is a very common practice with some men to carry instruments from which they discharge what proves fatal to many a bird; but I have, by attentive observation, learnt how to evade the mischief. But come, let us descend and rest ourselves a little, as we may do it with safety, and then we will see if we cannot find a place where you can find amusement, without being exposed to such dangers as attend the inhabitants of woods and groves. Are you sufficiently rested to take a pretty long flight?" "Oh yes," cried Dicky, who was quite eager to leave the spot in which, a short time before, he had longed to pass his life: the rest joined in the same wish, and every wing was instantly expanded.
The father led the way, and in a very short time he and his family arrived at the estate of a gentleman who, having a plentiful fortune, endeavoured to collect all that was curious in art and nature, for the amusement of his own mind and the gratification of others. He had a house like a palace, furnished with every expensive rarity; his gardens, to which the redbreasts took their flight, were laid out in such a manner as to afford the most delightful variety to the eye.
Amongst other articles of taste was an aviary, which was built like a temple, enclosed with brass wire. The framework was painted green, and ornamented with carving, gilt; in the middle a fountain continually threw up fresh water, which fell into a basin whose brink was enamelled with flowers; at one end were partitions for birds' nests, and troughs containing various kinds of seed and materials for building nests: this part was carefully sheltered from every inclemency of the weather. Numbers of perches were placed in different parts of the aviary, and it was surrounded by a most beautiful shrubbery.
A habitation like this, in which all the conveniences of life seemed to be collected, where abundance was supplied without toil, where each gay songster might sing himself to repose in the midst of ease and plenty, safe from the dangers of the woods, appeared to our young travellers desirable beyond all situations in the world, and Dicky expressed an earnest wish to be admitted into it.
"Well," said the father, "let us not determine hastily; it will be advisable first to inquire whether its inhabitants are really happy, before you make interest to become one of the number. Place yourselves by me on this shrub, and whilst we rest ourselves we shall have an opportunity of seeing what passes." The first bird that attracted their notice was a dove, who sat cooing by himself in a corner, in accents so gentle and sweet, that a stranger to his language would have listened to them with delight; but the redbreasts, who understood their import, heard them with sympathetic concern. "Oh, my dear, my beloved mate!" said he, "am I then divided from you for ever? What avails it that I am furnished here with all the elegances and luxuries of life? Deprived of your company, I have no enjoyment of them; the humblest morsel, though gained with toil and danger, would be infinitely preferable to me if shared with you. Here am I shut up for the remainder of my days, in society for which I have no relish, whilst she who has hitherto been the beloved partner of all my joys is for ever separated from me! In vain will you, with painful wing, pursue your anxious search in quest of me; never, never more shall I bring you the welcome refreshment ; never shall I hear your soothing voice, and delight in the soft murmurs of the infant pair which you hatched with such care and nursed with such tenderness! No, my beloved nestlings, never will your wretched father be at liberty to guide your flight and instruct you in your duty." Here his voice faltered, and overcome with bitter reflections, he resigned himself a prey to silent sorrow.
"This dove is not happy, however," said the hen redbreast to her mate, "and no wonder; but let us attend to the notes of that lark." His eyes were turned up towards the sky, he fluttered his wings, he strained his throat, and would, to a human eye, have appeared in raptures of joy; but the redbreasts perceived that he was inflamed with rage. "And am I to be constantly confined in this horrid place?" sang he. "Is my upward flight to be impeded by bars and wires? Must I no longer soar towards that bright luminary, and make the arch of heaven resound with my singing? Shall I cease to be the herald of the morn, or must I be so in this contracted sphere? No, ye partners of my captivity, henceforth sleep on and take ignoble rest, and may you lose in slumber the remembrance of past pleasures! Oh, cruel and unjust man! was it not enough that I proclaimed the approach of day, that I soothed your sultry hours, that I heightened the delights of evening; but must I, to gratify your unfeeling wantonness, be secluded from every joy my heart holds dear, and condemned to a situation I detest? Take your delicious dainties, reserve your flowing stream, for those who can relish them, but give me liberty! But why do I address myself to you, who are heedless of my misery?" Here, casting an indignant look around, he stopped his song.
"What think you now, Dicky?" said the redbreast; "have you as high an idea of the happiness of this place as you conceived at the first view of it?"
"I cannot help thinking still," replied Dicky, "that it is a charming retreat, and that it must be very comfortable to have everything provided for one's use."
"Well," said the father, "let us move, and observe those linnets who are building their nest."
Accordingly, they flew to a tree, the branches of which formed a part of the shelter of the aviary, where they easily heard, without being themselves observed, all that passed in it.
"Come," said one of the linnets, "let us go on with our work and finish the nest, though it will rather be a melancholy task to hatch a set of little prisoners. How different was the case when we could anticipate the pleasure of rearing a family to all the joys of liberty! Men, it is true, now with officious care supply us with the necessary materials, and we make a very good nest; but I protest I had much rather be at the trouble of seeking them. What pleasure have we experienced in plucking a bit of wool from a sheep's back, in searching for moss, in selecting the best feather where numbers were left to our choice, in stopping to rest on the top of a tree which commanded an extensive prospect, in joining a choir of songsters whom we accidentally met! But now our days pass with repeated sameness; variety, so necessary to give a relish to all enjoyment, is wanting. Instead of the songs of joy we formerly heard from every spray, our ears are constantly annoyed with the sound of mournful lamentations, transports of rage, or murmurs of discontent. Could we reconcile ourselves to the loss of liberty, it is impossible to be happy here unless we could harden our hearts to every sympathetic feeling."
"True," said his mate; "yet I am resolved to try what patience, resignation, and employment will effect, and hope, as our young ones will never know what liberty is, they will not pine as we do for it." Saying this, she picked up a straw, her mate followed the example, and they pursued their work.
At this instant a hen goldfinch brought forth her brood, who were full fledged. "Come, my nestlings," said she, "use your wings; I will teach you to fly in all directions." So saying, the little ones divided; one flew upwards, but emulous to outdo a little sparrow which was flying in the. air above the aviary, he hit himself against the wires of the dome, and would have fallen to the bottom, but that he was stopped by one of the perches. As soon as he recovered,—
"Why cannot I soar as I see other birds do?" said he.
"Alas!" cried the mother, "we are in a place of confinement, we are shut up, and can never get out; but here is food in abundance, and every other necessary." "Never get out!" exclaimed the whole brood; "then adieu to happiness!" She attempted to soothe them, but in vain.
The little redbreasts rejoiced in their liberty, and Dicky gave up the desire of living in the aviary, and wished to be gone.
"Stop," said the father, "let us first hear what those canary birds are saying."
The canary birds had almost completed their nest.
"How fortunate is our lot," said the hen bird, "in being placed in this aviary! How preferable is it to the small cage we built in last year!"
"Yes," replied her mate; "yet how comfortable was that in comparison with the still smaller ones in which we were once separately confined! For my part, I have no wish to fly abroad, for I should neither know what to do nor whither to go; and it shall be my endeavour to inspire my young ones with the same sentiments as I feel. Indeed, we owe the highest gratitude to those who make such kind provision for a set of foreigners who have no resources but their bounty, and my best lays shall be devoted to them. Nothing is wanting to complete the happiness of this place but to have other kinds of birds excluded. Poor creatures ! it must be very mortifying to them to be shut up here, and see others of their kind enjoying full freedom. No wonder they are perpetually quarrelling; for my part, I sincerely pity them, and am ready to submit, from a principle of compassion, to the occasional insults and affronts I meet with."
"You now perceive, Dicky," said the cock redbreast, "that this place is not, as you supposed, the region of perfect happiness; you may also observe that it is not the abode of universal wretchedness. It is by no means desirable to be shut up for life, let the place of confinement be ever so splendid; but should it be our lot to be caught and imprisoned, which may possibly be the case, adopt the sentiments of the linnet and canary birds; employment will pass away many an hour that would be a heavy load if spent in grief and anxiety, and reflections on the blessings and comforts that are still in your power will lessen your regret for those which are lost. But come, pick up some of the seeds which are scattered on the outside of the aviary, for that is no robbery, and then I will show you another scene."