"O h, Mamma! Look at that little bird, hopping about on the balcony," said Willy.
"Poor little bird!" said his Mamma; "now all the ground is covered with snow, he does not know where to find any thing to eat."
"Poor little bird!" repeated Willy, in a tone of compassion: "let us give him some of our breakfast."
His Mother told him the bird would not like tea; but he might gather up some of the crumbs of bread on the tablecloth to give him. Willy was in such a hurry to feed the bird, and made so much noise in running to the window, that he frightened the bird away.
"It is gone, Mamma! Flown quite away!—Oh, you foolish little bird! I am sure you thought I was going to hurt you, and I was only going to give you some good breakfast."
"Oh, foolish little Willy!" said Mamma, "to make such a noise, and frighten away the bird. How could the bird know what you were going to do? perhaps he thought you were going to catch him, and keep him in a cage. If he had seen the bread, and you had made no noise to frighten him, I dare say he would have staid to eat it."
"I will throw the crumbs on the balcony, Mamma; perhaps he is only perched upon one of the branches of that tree; and if he sees the crumbs he may come back again."
When Willy had strewed the bread, Mamma shut the window so gently, that it made no noise, and Willy stood quietly looking to see whether the bird would come back again. In about five minutes, which Willy thought a long time, he saw the bird fly out of the tree and perch upon the balcony, coming on, hop, hop, hop; looking first on one side, then on the other, to see if there was nothing to fear. Willy went on tiptoe up to his Mamma, who was writing, and, pulling her sleeve, he whispered so low that his Mamma could not hear what he said; but she guessed that it was to tell her that the bird was come back again; so she looked up, and saw it hopping up to the bread, and then it put down its little beak and picked up one crumb of bread, and then another. Willy was so much pleased, and so afraid of frightening the bird away, that he scarcely moved or spoke, till at length he said,—"How much I should like to have that nice little bird in a cage, Mamma."
"But the bird would not like it at all, Willy."
"Oh yes, he would, Mamma; I should give him such good breakfasts and dinners, and keep him warm, instead of his flying about in the cold snow, where he can find nothing to eat; I should love him so much, that, I dare say, he would grow fond of me too."
"I do not think he would grow fond of you, if you took him away from the birds he loves: perhaps he has a mother, and he would be very sorry to see her no more: do not you think so, Willy?"
"Oh yes; I should not like any body to take me away from you, Mamma, I am sure."
"Well, then, I believe, he would be happier, my dear, flying about in the cold snow, and getting very little to eat, than to be shut up all alone in a cage, though you loved him ever so much, or fed him ever so well. Just then the sparrow (for that was the name of the bird), having picked up the last crumb of bread, hopped once or twice, to see if there were any more, and finding none, it stretched out its little wings, and flew back into the tree."
"Mamma," said Willy, "I dare say that tree is its home, for, you see, it is gone there again; and if it lives there, it can see when I strew crumbs of bread on the balcony; so I might feed it every day, without putting it in a cage."
"That is a very good plan, my dear: if the bird finds bread every morning, I dare say he will come and fetch it, and you will have the pleasure of seeing him, and of doing him good, without shutting him up." The next morning the crumbs were spread on the balcony, and the bird popped down from the tree to pick them up: this continued several days, till at length the little bird, finding that Willy did him good, and no harm, was no longer afraid of him, so that Willy could go close up to him; and at last the sparrow would come and peck the bread out of his hand.
"Mamma, I think he is lame, for he does not walk with both his legs; he hops about."
"Little birds hop instead of walking; and they commonly go to sleep for the whole night, perched on one leg on the branch of a tree."
"Oh, how tired they must be, Mamma!"
"I do not think they are, for if they were, they would stand on both legs or lie down."
"I am sure I should be tired," said Willy.
"But then you are not a bird, Willy; you are not made like a bird; and you do not feel like a bird."
"How I should like to be made like a bird, Mamma, and have wings, and fly about in the air, and perch upon the branches of the trees."
"And should you like to put your mouth down to the ground, to pick up all you eat."
"Oh no, indeed: the poor bird has no hands; I should not like at all to have no hands; for I could not play with snowballs, nor draw my cart, nor turn over head and heels, nor—I do not know how many things."
"You would not be able to turn over the leaves of a book without hands; but, perhaps, you would not much mind that."
"Yes I should," cried Willy; "for I could not look over the book of pictures without turning over the leaves. Then, Mamma, you know, I mind my lessons much better than I did.—Well," continued Willy, after thinking a little, "it is better to have hands than to have wings like a bird. I wonder whether the sparrow would like to have hands better than wings?
"Oh no; he would not know what to do with hands; and he would not know what to do without wings. He lives up in the trees, so he wants wings to fly there. Wings are best for birds, and hands for little boys.—There is my little sparrow again," said Willy; "I think he must be hungry, and want some more bread." He then begged Mamma to open the window; and whilst he was throwing crumbs of bread to the bird, he saw a large cat at the other end of the balcony, looking as if she was slily watching the sparrow. "Oh, Mamma," cried Willy, "there is pussy coming to play with the bird."
Just as he said this, the cat gave a great spring, and jumped upon the sparrow; but it was not to play with it, but to kill it and eat it, for cats are very fond of eating birds when they can catch them. Willy heard the poor little bird squeak, and flutter its wings, and soon found that the cat was not at play with it, but hurting it; so he ran to drive away the cat. The cat ran away, but carried the bird in its mouth, which was squeaking all the while, as if he was calling Willy to save him. Luckily Mamma, who heard what was passing, came to the balcony in time. She held a stick in her hand, with which she gave a blow to the cat, which made it drop the bird, and run away without it. Willy picked it up; and the poor little bird trembled so that Willy was afraid the cat had hurt it sadly; but Mamma felt its little bones, and found there were none broken.—"I hope he is only frightened," said she: "we will lay him in a warm corner on the sofa, and by-and-by, I dare say, he will be well again."
"Oh, if that naughty cat comes again," said Willy, reddening with anger, "how I will beat him!"
"No," said his Mother; "that would be wrong: I struck the cat, to save the poor bird; for if he had carried it away, he would certainly have killed it and eaten it: but cats, when they are not fed in the kitchen, live upon mice and birds, so you should not be angry with them for it; it is natural to them to do so."