Gateway to the Classics: At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald
At the Back of the North Wind by  George MacDonald

The Early Bird

W HEN Diamond got home he found his father at home already, sitting by the fire and looking rather miserable, for his head ached and he felt sick. He had been doing night work of late, and it had not agreed with him, so he had given it up, but not in time, for he had taken some kind of fever. The next day he was forced to keep his bed, and his wife nursed him, and Diamond attended to the baby. If he had not been ill, it would have been delightful to have him at home; and the first day Diamond sang more songs than ever to the baby, and his father listened with some pleasure. But the next he could not bear even Diamond's sweet voice, and was very ill indeed; so Diamond took the baby into his own room, and had no end of quiet games with him there. If he did pull all his bedding on the floor, it did not matter, for he kept baby very quiet, and made the bed himself again, and slept in it with baby all the next night, and many nights after.

But long before his father got well, his mother's savings were all but gone. She did not say a word about it in the hearing of her husband, lest she should distress him; and one night, when she could not help crying, she came into Diamond's room that his father might not hear her. She thought Diamond was asleep, but he was not. When he heard her sobbing, he was frightened, and said—

"Is father worse, mother?"

"No, Diamond," she answered, as well as she could; "he's a good bit better."

"Then what are you crying for, mother?"

"Because my money is almost all gone," she replied.

"O mammy, you make me think of a little poem baby and I learned out of North Wind's book to-day. Don't you remember how I bothered you about some of the words?"

"Yes, child," said his mother heedlessly, thinking only of what she should do after to-morrow.

Diamond began and repeated the poem, for he had a wonderful memory.

A little bird sat on the edge of her nest;

Her yellow-beaks slept as sound as tops;

That day she had done her very best,

And had filled every one of their little crops.

She had filled her own just over-full,

And hence she was feeling a little dull.

"Oh, dear!" she sighed, as she sat with her head

Sunk in her chest, and no neck at all,

While her crop stuck out like a feather bed

Turned inside out, and rather small;

"What shall I do if things don't reform?

I don't know where there's a single worm.

"I've had twenty to-day, and the children five each,

Besides a few flies, and some very fat spiders:

No one will say I don't do as I preach—

I'm one of the best of bird-providers;

But where's the use? We want a storm—

I don't know where there's a single worm."

"There's five in my crop," said a wee, wee bird,

Which woke at the voice of his mother's pain;

"I know where there's five." And with the word

He tucked in his head, and went off again.

"The folly of childhood," sighed his mother,

"Has always been my especial bother."

The yellow-beaks they slept on and on—

They never had heard of the bogy To-morrow;

But the mother sat outside, making her moan—

She'll soon have to beg, or steal, or borrow;

For she never can tell the night before

Where she shall find one red worm more.

The fact, as I say, was, she'd had too many;

She couldn't sleep, and she called it virtue,

Motherly foresight, affection, any

Name you may call it that will not hurt you,

So it was late ere she tucked her head in,

And she slept so late it was almost a sin.

But the little fellow who knew of five

Nor troubled his head about any more,

Woke very early, felt quite alive,

And wanted a sixth to add to his store:

He pushed his mother, the greedy elf,

Then thought he had better try for himself.

When his mother awoke and had rubbed her eyes,

Feeling less like a bird, and more like a mole,

She saw him—fancy with what surprise—

Dragging a huge worm out of a hole!

'Twas of this same hero the proverb took form:

'Tis the early bird that catches the worm.

"There, mother!" said Diamond, as he finished; "ain't it funny?"

"I wish you were like that little bird, Diamond, and could catch worms for yourself," said his mother, as she rose to go and look after her husband.

Diamond lay awake for a few minutes, thinking what he could do to catch worms. It was very little trouble to make up his mind, however, and still less to go to sleep after it.

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