TWO LITTLE BIRDS
There is, hidden away in a corner of Northern India, a tiny orchard which may be likened to an oasis in the desert, because the trees which compose it are always fresh and green, even when the surrounding country is dry and parched. Last April two or three of the paradise flycatchers who were on their annual journey northward were tempted to tarry awhile in this orchard to enjoy the cool shade afforded by the trees. They found the place very pleasant, and insect life was so abundant that they determined to remain there during the summer. Thus it chanced that one morning, early in May, a cock flycatcher was perched on one of the trees, preening his feathers. A magnificent object was he amid the green foliage. The glossy black of his crested head formed a striking contrast to the whiteness of the remainder of his plumage. His two long median tail feathers, that hung down like satin streamers, formed an ornament more beautiful than the train of a peacock. He was so handsome that a hen flycatcher, who was sitting in a tree near by, resolved to make him wed her; but there was another hen living in the same orchard who was equally determined to secure the handsome cock as her mate. Even while the first hen was admiring him, her rival came up and made as if to show off her dainty chestnut plumage. This so angered the first hen that she attacked her rival. A duel then took place between the two little birds. It was not of long duration, for the second hen soon discovered that she was no match for the first, and deeming discretion to be the better part of valour, she flew away and left the orchard before she sustained any injury. Then the triumphant hen, flushed with victory, went up to the cock and said, " See what I have done for love of thee. I have driven away my rival. Wed me, I pray, for I am worthy of thee. Behold how beautiful I am." The cock looked at her as she stood there spreading her chestnut wings and saw that she was fair to gaze upon. He then fluttered his snowy pinions and sang a sweet little warble, which is the way a cock bird tells the lady of his choice that he loves her.
For the next few days these little birds led an idyllic existence. Free from care and anxiety, they disported themselves in that shady grove, now playing hide-and-seek among the foliage, now making graceful sweeps after their insect quarry, now pouring out the fulness of their love -: the cock in sweet song and mellow warble, the hen in her peculiar twittering note. Their happiness was complete; never did the shadow of a cloud mar the sunshine of their springtime.
One day they were simultaneously seized by the impulse to build a nest. First a suitable site had to be chosen. After much searching and anxious consultation, mingled with love-making, they agreed upon the branch of a pear tree, some eight feet above the ground. During the whole of the following week they were busy seeking for grass stems, which they fastened to the branch of the tree by means of strands of cobweb. They did not hunt for material in company, as some birds do. The cock would go in one direction and the hen in another. Each, as it found a suitable piece of dried grass, or moss, or cobweb, or whatever it happened to be seeking, would dash back joyfully to the nest with it and weave it into the structure. Sometimes one bird would return while the other was at work on the nursery; the former would then sit near by and wait until the latter had finished.
At the end of the first day the nest appeared to the uninitiated eye merely a tangle of grass stems stuck on to the tree, but owing to the united efforts of the energetic little builders, it soon took definite shape. By the third day it was obvious that the nest was to have the form of an inverted cone firmly bound to the branch of the tree. The birds took the utmost care to make the nest circular. In order to ensure a smooth, round cavity they would sit in it and, with wings spread over the edge, turn their bodies round and round. At the end of about five days' steady work the nursery had assumed its final shape. But even then much remained to be done. The whole of the exterior had to be thickly covered with cobweb and little silky cocoons. This was two full days' work.
Great was the delight of the little birds when the last delicate filament had been added. Their joy knew no bounds. They would sit in the nest and cry out in pure delight. The whole orchard rang with their notes of jubilation. Then a little pinkish egg, spotted with red, appeared in the nest. This was followed, next day, by another. On the fifth day after its completion the nursery contained the full clutch of four eggs.
Most carefully did the birds watch over their priceless treasures. Never for a moment did they leave them unguarded ; one of the pair invariably remained sitting on the nest, while the other went to look for food and dissipate its exuberant energy in song or motion. During the day the cock and hen shared equally the duties of incubation, but the hen sat throughout the night while the cock roosted in a tree hard by. So healthy were the little birds and so comfortably weary with the labours of the day that they slept uninterruptedly all the night through ; nor did they wake up when a human being came with a lantern and inspected the nest. Thus some ten days passed. But these were not days of weariness because the hearts of the little flycatchers were full of joy.
Then a young bird emerged from one of the eggs. It was an unlovely, naked creature -: all mouth and stomach. But its parents did not think it ugly. Its advent only served to increase their happiness. They were now able to spend their large surplus of energy in seeking food for it.
Ere long its brethen came out of their shells, and there were then four mouths to feed ; so that the father and mother had plenty to do, but they still found time in which to sing.
Thus far everything had gone as merrily as a marriage bell. The happiness of those lovely little airy fairy creatures was without alloy. It is true that they sometimes had their worries and anxieties, as when a human being chanced to approach the nest; but these were as fleeting as the tints in a sunset sky, and were half forgotten ere they had passed away. This idyllic existence was, alas, not destined to endure.
One day, when the man who kept guard over the orchard slumbered, a native boy entered it with the intention of stealing fruit. But the pears were yet green, and this angered the urchin. As he was about to leave the grove he espied the beautiful cock flycatcher sitting on the nest. The boy had no soul for beauty; he was not spell-bound by the beautiful sight that met his eyes. He went to the tree, drove away the sitting bird, tore down the branch on which the nest was placed and bore it off with its occupants in triumph, amid the distressed cries of the cock bird. These soon brought back the hen, and great was her lamentation when she found that that which she valued most in the world had gone. Her sorrow and rage knew no bounds. Poignant, too, was the grief of the cock bird, for he had been an eye-witness of the dastardly act. For a few hours all the joy seemed to have left the lives of those little birds. But they were too active, too healthy, too full of life to be miserable long. Soon the pleasantness of their surroundings began to manifest itself to them and soothe their sorrow, for the sun was still shining, the air was sweet and cool, the insects hummed their soft chorus, and their fellow-birds poured forth their joy. So the cock began to sing and said to his mate, " Be not cast down, the year is yet young, many suns shall come and go before the cold will drive us from this northern clime; there is time for us to build another nest. Let us leave this treacherous grove and seek some other place." The hen found that these words were good. Thus did these little birds forget their sorrow and grow as blithe and gay as they had been before. But that orchard knew them no more.