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Jane Marcet

The Bird's Nest

O NE day that Willy was walking out with his Mamma, he saw a little boy climbing up a tree.

"What are you doing there, my lad?" said Willy's Mamma.

"Going to get the bird's nest, at the top of the tree, Ma'am: the eggs are hatched, and I want to have the young birds."

"You will not be able to rear them," said she, "if you get them; and it is cruel to take them from their mother."

"Oh! the mother is flown away. I have frightened her off the nest;" and the boy kept climbing on towards the branch on which the nest was built.

"Mamma," cried Willy, pulling her by the arm, "don't let him take the bird's nest."

"I cannot help it, my dear, if he will do it."

Just then they saw a bird fly round the tree; it approached the nest; but when it saw the boy, and heard the rustling he made among the boughs, it flew away. By this time the boy reached the nest: he stretched out his hand and laid hold of it, but, in so doing, he lost his hold, and fell from branch to branch through the tree, till he came to the ground.

"It serves him right," cried Willy, who was quite enraged against the boy for taking the nest; "I am very glad of it."

His Mother, without saying a word, ran to the spot where the boy lay, and tried to raise him up; but he cried sadly, and said he was so much hurt that he could not stand.

Then Willy's anger began to subside; and when he saw the wry faces the boy made, and that he seemed to suffer great pain, he thought only of pitying him.

His Mother was wholly taken up in trying to give him relief. She set him upright, with his back against the tree, and asked him where he lived.

"Down there, Ma'am, in that cottage yonder."

"Well, I will run and fetch your father or mother," said she; "and you, Willy, stay with him till I come back."

Willy seemed half afraid to stay alone with a boy who had been so naughty; but his Mother added, "I can run faster without you, Willy, and perhaps you may be of some use to him while I am gone." So she set off, and ran as quickly as she could towards the cottage, which was at some distance. The boy remained quite still, with his back resting against the tree, and his eyes shut. Willy thought that he was asleep, but he was awake, and shut his eyes only because the pain he suffered made him very faint and weak. Willy saw something lying on the ground a little way off: he went on tiptoe, for fear of disturbing the boy, to see what it was. When he came up to it, what should he see but the bird's nest quite empty, and four poor little birds lying sprawling on the ground. The boy had let the nest drop in trying to catch at a bough as he fell; and when the nest came to the ground, the poor little birds, who were not yet fledged, were all tossed out of it. Willy picked them up, and put them back into the nest; two of them seemed to be quite dead, and the other two opened their wide mouths, crying out caw, caw, in such a weak and plaintive tone, that Willy could hardly keep from crying. He then observed a bird flying round the tree; and he thought that it must be the mother of the poor little birds. He took the nest to the boy, and seeing that his eyes were open, he said to him, "Look here at these poor little birds; I dare say that they feel as much pain as you do, for two of them are dead, poor things."

"Ay, we could never have reared them," said the boy; "they were too young, so it don't signify."

"Don't signify to kill them!" cried Willy; "why, only think how it must hurt them; besides, they cannot fly about, and eat and drink when they are dead."

Willy was very glad when he saw his Mamma coming back, and a man and woman with her. "Here they come," cried he; "don't cry so; they run so fast, I am sure they will soon be here;" and so they were. The poor woman fell a crying too when she saw the blood running down her son's face; she wiped it with her handkerchief, and pitied him extremely. But the father, when he beheld the bird's nest, had half a mind to be angry.

"Ay, I see what has brought you to this," cried he; "you have been after your old tricks, climbing trees to rob the poor birds of their nests; I have often told you what it would come to one day or other." However he lifted him up in his arms, and carried him home, for he was about ten years old; and too heavy for his Mother to carry. Willy and his Mother went home with them. The doctor was then sent for; and they were very happy when he told them that the boy had not broken any of his bones.

"How glad I am!" said Willy; "for you know, Mamma, he must have lain in bed a long, long time, like Johnny; and then it hurts so to have your leg set."

The doctor, however, declared that he was so much bruised by his fall, and one of his ankles so sprained, that it would be a long time before he would be able to run about again. Willy's Mamma took out her purse, and gave some money to the woman, who seemed to be very poor; and she thought that perhaps she would not have money enough to pay the doctor, and pay for the medicine he sent for the boy.

They then went away; and as they were walking home, Willy said, "Why does he not go to the hospital, Mamma, like Johnny?"

"Because it is too far off," replied she; "besides, I hope he will get well much sooner than Johnny did."

"And when he is well will he come and work in our garden, like Johnny?"

"Oh dear no," replied his Mamma; "Johnny fell down the chimney from accident; he was obliged to climb up it, and it was a great pity he was obliged to do so dangerous a thing. He was a boy of a very good character, and deserved reward; while this boy went up the tree to do a cruel thing, to take the poor little birds from their mother, merely to please himself: he cared not what the birds suffered so that he could but have them; he has been severely punished for it, it is true, but he deserved punishment and not reward."

"I am glad he is not to come," said Willy, "because I do not like him." They were now passing by the tree where the accident happened.

"There is the tree, Mamma," said Willy; "let us go and look what has become of the poor little birds." They found the nest, but the poor little birds, which were chaffinches, were all dead, and the mother flown away.

"How sorry she must be, Mamma! I wonder where she is gone." Just then they heard the cry of a bird, not as if it was singing, but as if it was wailing or grieving. Willy listened attentively.

"I dare say that it is the mother; don't you think so, Mamma?"

"I cannot tell, my dear, but it is very likely: she may not like to leave the spot, poor bird! and is perched upon some bush or tree, moaning for the loss of her young." She then shook the little chaffinches out of the nest under some bushes, and gave it Willy to look at.

He asked, "Whether birds made their own nests?"

"Yes," replied she: "they have no builders or carpenters to work for them."

"But somebody must teach them how to build their nests. Look, Mamma, how nicely it is made: all the little bits of hay and straw laid so close, and stick so well together; and then it is quite round without any ins and outs; I am sure I could not have made it so well."

"No, because you are not a bird. Birds know how to build nests without being taught. As soon as they want a nest, they fly about for something to build it with; and they pick up little bits of straw, and hay, and small twigs, and then put them together to make a nest, as you see this is made. Then they go in search of something soft to put inside the nest, that the young birds may lie soft and warm in it."

"What can they find soft and warm out of doors?" said Willy.

"They pick up bits of wool that have fallen from the sheep, and small downy feathers, to line their nests with; and I have heard that if they cannot find any, some birds will pick the small feathers from their own breasts, that their young may have a warm bed."

"What good mothers they are!" exclaimed Willy; "well, go on, Mamma."

"When the nest is finished, the good mother bird lays her eggs in it, and sits upon them to keep them warm all day and all night, excepting when she flies off for a few minutes to seek for food."

"How tired she must be sitting still so long!"

"If she left the eggs long enough for them to grow cold," said his Mother, "they would never become birds."

"And are the eggs like those we take from the hen-house, Mamma?"

"Yes, my dear, only hens being much larger than chaffinches, their eggs are larger also."

"And how do the eggs turn into birds?"

"The little birds grow inside the egg-shell."

"But how can they get any thing to eat there, Mamma, to make them grow? for you know the egg is shut up all round; and when you eat an egg at breakfast, you are obliged to break the shell to get at the inside."

"Yes," replied she; "and it is the yellow yolk which you are so fond of, that feeds the young bird, and makes it grow."

"But I never saw a bird in an egg, Mamma."

"No, because we eat the egg before the bird begins to grow. At first there is only a little speck, not bigger than a pin's head, which is not at all like a bird; but if the egg is left in the hen-house for the hen to sit upon, this little speck will grow, and in time become a little bird; and it will get bigger and bigger every day, till at last, when it has eaten all the yolk of the egg, it will be too large for the egg-shell to hold it."

"Oh, poor little bird! what will it do then, squeezed up in prison, and nothing to eat?"

"When it begins to feel uncomfortable, it breaks the egg-shell and comes out."

"And do not the little birds feel very cold when they come out of the shell, that the mother has been sitting on to keep them warm?"

"No, because the mother bird still continues to sit upon them, and she spreads out her wings, covered with feathers, over them all to keep them warm, and they lie there quite snug and comfortable."

"But does not the great bird hurt the little ones by sitting on them?"

"Oh no, she is very careful not to press upon any of them."

"And what do they get to eat, Mamma?"

"The mother flies about to seek for food for them, and bring it back in her beak. They eat seeds; and when they get a grain of corn it is quite a treat to them."

"Like me, Mamma, when I have some plum-cake."

"Then sometimes their mother brings them a little insect to eat—they are very fond of that too."

Willy then enquired how soon the birds began to fly after they were hatched; and his Mother told him as soon as their feathers were grown.

"I think they must long for their feathers to be grown that they may fly," said Willy; "they must be so tired of staying such a long while in the nest; and when they see their mother flying about, I am sure they must wish to go with her."

"I believe," replied his Mamma, "that they stay very patiently in the nest till they are able to fly. The mother then helps them, or perhaps pushes them, to the edge of the nest; and when they feel themselves falling from it they stretch out their wings and flutter them about till they begin to know how to fly."

"I dare say they are afraid sometimes; don't you think so, Mamma?"

"Yes; very likely they may all be frightened when they first try to fly; but they soon find out that, by flapping their wings against the air, it will support them, and that they are in no danger of falling, and then they fly boldly."

"Is the air strong enough to hold them up?"

"Not unless they strike their wings against it; for if they were not to move them when they are up in the air, they would fall to the ground."

"And how does the flapping their wings make the air hold them up, Mamma?"

"That is too difficult for me to explain to you: but we have now reached home; and before we go in, we will look into the hen-house to see whether there are any chickens lately hatched." They found a hen sitting over six young chickens, which had just come out of their shells. The pieces of the broken shells were lying scattered about. The hen seemed very cross and angry, and would hardly let Willy and his Mamma look at her chickens, for fear they should hurt them. The little chickens were a great deal bigger than the chaffinches. They grew more and more every day; and were soon put out on the grass, under a hen-coop, and Willy often went to feed them with crumbs of bread: the little things ran out of the coop to pick up the crumbs; and the poor hen, who could not get out, was sadly frightened lest any harm should happen to them, and called them back, crying, Cluck, cluck, cluck! When the little ones heard her, they ran back into the coop, with the crumbs in their mouths, and nestled under her wings.