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rLI/ ," 'N 'Maude proclaimed that the old birds had gone out, and therewere only the little ones in the nest.
AUTHOR OF "AUNT ANNIE'S STORIES"WITII ILLUSTRATIONS BYMRS. IIARTLANID)SEELEY, JACKSON, AND HALLIDAY,FLEET STREET, LONDON.1872.
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A TALE OF A NEST.CHAPTER I.ALONE IN THE WORLD.'Winter is cold-hearted,Spring is yea and nay,Autumn is a weathercock,Blown every way.Summer days for me,When every leaf is on its tree,When Robin's not a beggar,And Jenny Wren's a bride,And larks hang singing, singing, singing,Over the wheat-fields wide.'C. G. ROSSETTI.'THE snow has been swept from the broad walk;you had better go and run about there with yourhoop, Miss Maude: it will do you good, and makeB
2 A Tale of a Nest.you much warmer than sitting over the fire.' So saidnurse, as, much against little Maude Vaughan's incli-nation, she put on the child's thickest boots, and littlescarlet cloak and hat, and turned her out to play inthe garden.And Maude made no reply, but, fetching her hoopfrom the place where it was kept, she did as she wastold, and sauntered down the broad carriage-drive. Butthough she said nothing there was a look on thechild's face that said, more plainly than any wordscould have done, how much she disliked such treat-ment, and how gladly she would have rebelled hadshe dared. But nurse was not a person whose will itwas well to dispute, and so Maude had got up fromher stool by the fireside, where she was enjoying amost delicious fairy tale, and submitted to be dressedand sent out into the cold. It was good for her,nurse said, and so of course it was horrid; this wasMaude's idea,-everything that nurse said was goodfor her she knew would be disagreeable: it was goodfor her to get up just when she felt particularly com-fortable in bed; it was equally good- for her to go
Alone in the World. 3to bed just when she most desired to stay up; itwas good for her to get into a cold bath; better stillfor her to take powders; and, as a natural conse-quence, it was very bad for her to sit reading by thefireside,-and such horrid trash, too, as nurse ob-served. So by degrees, in little Maude's mind, theidea had arisen that all good things were distastefulto her, and all bad things exactly what she particu-larly liked; and, consequently, that she was a verynaughty child.This was unpleasant, certainly, but Maude didnot often dwell much on such thoughts as these; shepreferred to live in a world of dreams and imagina-tions, among the fairies and giants she was alwaysreading about: for Maude, though only seven yearsold, could read quite easily, and infinitely preferredsuch employment to all the games that nurse saidwere so much better for her. So, though she fetchedher hoop and began to trundle it slowly over thefrozen ground, little Maude's thoughts were far away;and the little sober face that peeped out from underthe little black hat showed no pleasure in the exer-
4 A Tale of a Nest.cise: in fact, to her aunt's eyes, as she met her comingup the drive on her return from a walk, there seemedto lurk there an expression of discontent and ill-temper that made Miss Vaughan stop and exclaim,'Why, Maudie, what's the matter ?'Then the cross feeling entirely took possessionof little Maude, and she exclaimed, 'Oh, Auntie, it'sso cold, and I want to go in and finish about thefight with the old giant; it was too bad of ntrse tomake me come out just now.''But, Maudie, your giant stories are so long, allthe beauty of the day would have been gone if youhad stayed to finish it. What is your poor hoopdoing? why don't you have a run?'' I don't want to run,' Maude replied; 'I waswatching those two sparrows, Auntie. What are theydoing ?''Looking for something to eat, I suspect: poorlittle fellows, they must have had a hard time lately;how glad they will be when the cold goes. Don'tyou like sparrows as well as fairies and giants,Maude ?'
A lone in the World. 5'Oh, no, Auntie; sparrows are only birds, andthey are of no use at all, and fairies are such beauti-ful things, you know.''Are they? what are they like?' inquired MissVaughan, gravely.'Oh, Aunt, you must know; they are all bright,with beautiful wings: at least, I suppose they'vewings, for they fly about, you know.''Do they, really! And they have wings, havethey ? Well, so have sparrows.'' Oh, Aunt, the sparrows are ugly, dirty-lookingthings, not a bit like fairies, I'm sure.''Perhaps not. I have not much acquaintancewith your friends the fairies, so I do not know; butI like my friends the sparrows, and all their littlevoices, very much. Why don't you make friendswith them too, Maudie ?''I don't know how to, they can't talk to me. Oh,Auntie, how I wish I had a little sister to talk to!I am so dull all by myself.''My poor little niece, so you are,' said MissVaughan, pityingly; 'a little solitary child. Papa
6 A Tale of a Nest.and mamma far away in India, and nobody to careabout little Maude but grandmamma and auntie; andwe're both getting old and dull-aren't we ?''Not old, Auntie,-at least, you're not; but youare older than I am, aren't you ?''A few years, certainly,' replied Miss Vaughan,laughing; 'and I can't run with a hoop or skip aswell as I used to: but I can take you for walks, andperhaps I might be able to tell you a story now andthen, if I tried very hard, Maudie.''Oh, I should like that,' exclaimed the child.'And could you tell stories about fairies, Auntie, orabout dwarfs and giants ?''I am afraid, Maude, that I know too little aboutthem to tell you anything you don't know already. Ishould make mistakes, and you would laugh at me;but I could tell you something about creatures withwings that perhaps you don't know so much about.''You mean birds, Auntie,' said Maude, lookingrather disappointed. 'I don't know that I shouldcare much about that; fairies are more use, I think.And then they are always busy helping people out
Alone in the World. 7of scrapes, and making miserable people all right andhappy again: but birds are stupid, they do nothingbut hop about and sing, and look for food; theydon't talk, or get into any trouble, or do anythingfunny.''Is it funny to get into trouble, Maudie? youqueer little piece of goods !' inquired Miss Vaughan,smiling. 'Well, I know what you mean, such thingsmake a story more exciting and interesting; buthow do you know birds have no troubles and donothing funny ? Oh, you are a little ignoramus, anddon't know how to use your eyes ; I must see if Ican teach you.''Then will you tell me a story about birds ?' in-quired Maude, eagerly; for her aunt's last wordssounded rather ominous; teaching seemed to involvelessons, and Maude was not fond of lessons.'This evening, when grandmamma is having hernap, I will try,' said MissVaughan; and Maude pickedup her hoop and began to trundle it along with un-usual vigour, thinking of the promised treat, for, inher very quiet life, this lonely child had few changes*
8 A Tale of a Nest.to look forward to. Once or twice that morning shestopped to watch the brown sparrows as they hoppedabout among the leafless twigs, but it was with therather melancholy thought, 'They are not a bit likeme! there are so many of them, what splendid gamesthey might play at if they liked!' Nevertheless,Maude was quite ready to listen to her aunt's storyin the evening.IHE sun had risen, late indeed, but that had- been his fashion for some weeks past, andmany people who like an excuse for lying in bedhad followed his example. But at last he hadrolled back his dark heavy curtain, and, making abold plunge, had set about the business of the day.And as he rose, scattering his beams far andwide, even into little cracks and holes which they didnot always reach, one stray ray found its way into acurious little nook where a little solitary bird hadbeen passing the night.'A sure sign this that it is time to get up,'muttered the little bird sleepily, as he shook
Alone in the World. 9himself and gaped. 'What a night it has beep! Iam quite stiff all over; most unhealthy weather; Iam sure very bad for rheumatic folks. I really mustgo and see how all my friends are.' And so saying,and thinking how much he had to do in the day, hebundled out of bed.'Hungry weather this,' he ejaculated. 'I shan'tdress till after breakfast;' and following this resolu-tion, he proceeded in search of some food. But theground was hard, and food was scarce, and it waslong ere the poor fellow succeeded in making even ascanty breakfast. Very woebegone indeed he looked,and to see him with his unplumed ruffled feathersand downcast mien, you would never have guessedhow young he was, how merry and lighthearted hecould be at times. But this was his first winter, andits trials and hardships were new to him; it seemedto him an age since that bright day when, full ofhope and eager anticipations, he left the old home,and began life on his own account. He had seensome sad things, too; the cold had been severe, andmore than one of his intimate acquaintances hadI
Io A Tale of a Nest.fallen victims to its severity, and the bright days ofspring which he heard so often talked about, whenthe sun shone all day long, and there was food inabundance in the hedges, seemed as far off as ever.Full of these gloomy thoughts, he was sitting ona leafless twig of a hawthorn tree listlessly dressinghimself, more as a matter of habit than because hecared much how he looked, when his reflections weredisturbed by a chattering among some young birdsnear him. Apparently the severity of the weatherhad not such a depressing effect upon them, for theywere discussing the affairs of their neighbours withgreater zest than politeness. Our hero would haveheard many interesting scraps of scandal had hecared to listen; but he was too full of his owngloomy thoughts to heed them much, till someremarks reached his ear, of which he was plainly thesubject.'Such a shabby young fellow!' remarked adainty young Chaffinch, a maiden of his own age;'it is plain he means to be an old bachelor, or hewould wear a more respectable coat.'
Alone in the World. 11'And at least take the trouble to dress before heshows himself,' added a cousin of his own, who feltgreatly ashamed of her untidy relation.'Such a lazy creature, too!' screamed a Robin, whohad been early abroad, and was anxious that everyone should be aware of it. What sort of nest wouldhe build, do you suppose ?'A low chuckle was the only reply to this inquiry,and for a minute the little listening bird hesitatedwhether or not he should make a fourth in this con-versation. But he was a peaceable bird, and thoughtit best to take no notice of the disagreeable remarkshe had overheard; or rather, he resolved to go andtell his griefs to an old friend and relative of hisown, whose vast experience had often helped himalready.He was a tough old fellow, this Chaffinch; coldand wet and frost seemed to have no effect on him;and though he had seen numbers of generationsdisappear, he was still hale and strong.'Well, and what does it signify?' he inquired,when his young friend had repeated to him the
12 A Tale of a Nest.ill-natured remarks he had overheard. 'Young ladieswill chatter, and of course they often talk a greatdeal of nonsense. Is that all that's the matter?''No, not exactly; but I can't see what rightthey had to say I should be an old bachelor, andthat I couldn't build a nest.'' Both those statements were rash, and you willbe able to disprove them before very long, I daresay,' replied the old Chaffinch; 'but as to your per-sonal appearance, excuse me, but I think they werenot far wrong.'The young bird looked down, and seemed some-what confused as he muttered that it was too cold tospend much time over one's toilet; in fact, it was toocold to do anything: there was no food to be had,and no enjoyment at all in life.'Stop, stop!' exclaimed the old bird; that isgoing rather too fast. For my part, I think thissunshine is most delicious, and if, as you say, food isscarce, still with diligent and persevering search youmay find enough for yourself. Then there is thespring to look forward to.'
Alone in the World. 13'Ah, the spring!' cried the other, impatiently;'that will be all very fine, I dare say, but why doesn'tit come ?''Ah, that's more than you and I can say,' repliedhis friend, scratching his head thoughtfully: 'webirds would like it to be always spring; perhapsthere are some creatures that would like it to bealways winter.''Not the grubs and the caterpillars,' replied theyoung bird, 'they hate the winter; at least I believethey do, for they take themselves off. I can't findany. And those famous long worms that the star-lings are so fond of, why they are all frozen into theground, and can't get out.''Indeed, that's about true, I'm afraid: butDickon, my boy, I see what's the matter; you'vehad a sorry breakfast, that's what makes thingslook so gloomy.''Well, and if so, there's no help for it,' repliedthe other, gloomily.' I'm not so sure of that,' said his friend, cheerily.' You're not shy, are you ?'
14 A Tale of a Nest.'No; but what are you going to do ?''Show you where there's generally food to befound,' replied the old bird; 'and where we'll getsome to-day, if we're not too late. Come along.',The proposal sounded too pleasant to be refused,though Dickon had some misgivings, which ratherincreased when he found that his friend was direct-ing his flight towards a large red brick building wheredwelt, as he had long ago discovered, a number ofmonstrous beings whom he had always i-egardedwith the utmost terror. All sorts of vague rumourshad from time to time reached his ears concerningthese gigantic beings, and though he did not giveimplicit credence to all he heard, he firmly believedthat they were the mortal and determined enemiesof the whole feathered tribe.Once or twice he tried to utter a faint remon-strance, but his friend was too much in advance ofhim to overhear what he said; and when at last healighted on the ground and perceived various scrapsof food, such as would delight any bird's heart,scattered here and there, the terrible- monsters were
Alone in the World. 15forgotten, and he made a feast such as he had notenjoyed since the winter had set in.It is true he felt greatly puzzled to account forthe abundance of food in this spot, and not alto-gether easy at the society in which he found himself;for you must not suppose that he had all the foodto himself. A number of sparrows were hoppingabout, regaling themselves most merrily: veryshabby and dirty things they looked, our youngfriend thought; but necessity makes us ready to for-get small distinctions, and it was not till his hungerwas appeased and he had flown away to a little dis-tance with his friend that our hero spoke his mind.'Well, it doesn't do to be too particular in thesedays,' he remarked; and his voice sounded much moresprightly than it had done a short time before; 'butI shouldn't care to mix myself up much with thosefolks.''What folks ?' inquired the old bird in surprise.'Why, those sparrows; they're a very low, vulgarset: don't you think so?''Oh, oh, the sparrows! Well, I suppose they are
16 A Tale of a Nest.distantly related to us, and it isn't well to speak evilof one's own flesh and blood. They're not very aristo-cratic-looking, certainly; but I'm told that, thoughthey can't pretend to much in the way of beauty andelegance, there are some distinguished charactersamong them.''Indeed! I should never have imagined it: but Iknow very little about them; their manners are notat all to my taste, and I generally avoid them asmuch as possible. I have a great dislike to any-thing like intercourse with the lower orders.'The old bird shook his Wings rather contemp-tuously at this speech, but continued as if he hadnot noticed anything strange. 'That particularly tallsparrow that carried off a large piece of crust, didyou notice him ? Well, he is a bird whose acquaint-ance any one may be proud to possess; though stillquite young he is a distinguished traveller, and onlyto hear him describe the adventures he has met withwould make your feathers stand on end with as-tonishment. I advise you to call on him.'Dickon shook his head: though he did not care
Alone in the World. 17to own it he was a very shy bird, and much as hewould have liked to hear more of the travellersparrow's adventures, not even that desire wouldhave been a sufficient inducement to him so far tochange his habits as to make advances of friendshiptowards a complete stranger, and one, too, of thedespised family of sparrows.He had, as we have seen, rather exalted opinionsof his own rank and position in society; possibly hejudged too much by exterior appearance and man-ners, which we all know are not very safe guides tofollow: he was, moreover, rather an obstinate bird,and his prejudices-and he had a good many-wererather too firmly rooted. Perhaps he inherited thisobstinacy of disposition from his mother, for she hadalways held herself somewhat aloof from intimateacquaintance with other birds, saying that it waseasier to make friends than to get rid of them.Very likely she had learned mistrust from sad ex-perience.Time went on, and the much-talked-of spring-time gradually approached. Dickon could scarcelyC
18 A Tale of a Nest.believe that this much-to-be-desired season was reallyclose at hand, that the cold weather, the snow, andthe bitter winds were gone, and would not returnfor many a long month, but his heart beat high withhope when a conversation like the following reachedhis ear :'I tell you I'm sure of it, and who ever heard ofmy being mistaken, I should like to know?' exclaimeda Rook of distinguished appearance and bearing to asleek, lively Magpie, with whom he had been takinga short stroll. 'I've warned them all, and they won'tbelieve it : that's not my fault.''Certainly not, my dear friend,' replied his com-panion, blandly; 'but who is it that has ventured tobe so rude, and I may say so foolish, as to doubtyour word ?''Who? why all the young folks in our avenue;and between ourselves, I must say that I think thatevery season matters get worse, age and experienceare less and less respected, and birds hardly out of theegg think themselves wiser than their great-grand-fathers.'
A lone in the World. 19'Indeed, I hope not,' replied the Magpie, makingat the same time an elegant hop and adroitly pick-ing up a stray worm that chanced to meet his eye:he was not nearly so old or so experienced as hisfriend, and this remark might therefore be somewhatpersonal.'I told them this morning,' continued the Rook inthe same querulous tone, 'that I had no doubt thatspring, delicious spring, had come at last, and that itwas time to shake off all the lazy habits we contractin winter, and prepare for the delightful though ardu-ous labours of the season.''And no doubt they will profit by your kindsuggestions,' remarked the Magpie courteously. 'But,my dear friend, is it true that several of the treeswhich last year afforded shelter to some of yourmost charming families have been greatly damagedby the late severe weather?''A few,' replied the Rook carelessly; 'but I wasof opinion all along that our avenue required muchthinning, and why it was not done last year I cannotsay. We shall be none the worse off for the loss of
20 A Tale of a Nest.a few boughs. But to return to these young muffs.I have no patience with them; would you believeit, they laughed and jeered when I spoke of spring,and made many insolent remarks about old-fashionedpeople who expected to rule everybody who came intheir way ? Well, I don't care; when they have wastedtheir time and find all chance of making an eligiblematch gone it will be my turn to laugh.''And you really do think it is time we were0looking about us ?' inquired the Magpie, ratheranxiously.'To be sure! Do you not feel the change in thewind yourself? I assure you I saw a tomtit at workthis morning, and several thrushes have been stirring.Nothing like being beforehand, my good friend: infact, I have wasted too much time already, and mustbe off.'So saying he flew away, and the Magpie, thinkinghe could not do better than follow his advice, soondisappeared into a neighboring wood.Perched on the topmost twig of a high hedge, ouryoung friend Dickon had listened to the greater part
A lone in the World. 21of this conversation. It was extremely interesting tohim, as indeed such matters could hardly fail to beto any bird of intelligence and ordinary prudence.'They evidently understand the matter,' he saidto himself: 'that rook, though he does talk as if hehad a perpetual sore throat, is a knowing fellow. It'sevidently time to be thinking about settling one'splans. Let me see: I must make some calls, andthen the nest-building: I must make all proper in-quiries about that. I dare say the rook could havegiven me some useful hints; but I couldn't bear totalk to him, he always makes me feel inclined tocough and clear my throat. How unpleasant it mustbe to have such a rough voice! and they are allalike, those rooks. I shouldn't wonder if it is causedby living in such exposed situations. I notice theyalways build in the tops of high trees. Very foolish.I shall not do that. I wonder where that magpie willmake his nest ? Some folks say he is very shy ofhaving his nest visited; and that it is because heis not too honest. Well; it doesn't do to believeall one hears, and I like the look of him: his
22 A Tale of a Nest.manners are pleasant and gentlemanly, and healways seems in good spirits-that doesn't look as ifhe had anything on his mind.'Reflecting thus, Dickon descended from his ex-alted position, and, in much better spirits than hehad been for a long time, sought the society of someof his particular friends; most of whom he foundwere like himself, full of anticipations of the laboursand pleasures of the coming spring. There wasmuch talk concerning the latest improvements inbuilding, much discussion of sites and materials; andas the conversation proceeded, one bird after anotherjoined the group, till quite a large party wereassembled.'Great cry, little wool,' remarked a strange voiceclose at hand; and as one after another of the eagertalkers turned to see who had uttered this dispa-raging remark, they noticed the very magpie whomDickon had seen before.'Oh, oh, oh,' he exclaimed, hopping about on oneleg: 'sorry to disturb you, ladies and gentlemen;pray don't let me interrupt you.'
Alone in the World. 23' What a horrid creature!' exclaimed one of theparty; 'turn him out!'"Yes, turn him out!' screamed several more, andsome valiant birds made a rush at the intruder, as ifto expel him by force. But an adroit hop or twocompletely baffled them, and shutting one eye andsquinting maliciously out of the other, the magpiebegged that he might be allowed to listen to thedeliberations of the assembly on what every onemust allow was a deeply interesting and importantsubject.'Everybody knows what hideous things he' makesand calls nests,' remarked an elegant lady Chaffinch;'it would be a charity to let the creature hear somegood advice. And, in the first place, you will allagree with me, that the first thing to be con-sidered is the position you will choose for yournest.'' A matter of the greatest importance,' echoed thewhole assembly.'It should be a retired spot, sheltered from ob-servation, and from the attacks of hawks and the
24 A Tale of a Nest..wild beasts that creep about with noiseless step andfierce glittering eyes.'' Decidedly! very good!' was heard on allsides.' A gooseberry-bush with plenty of thorns wouldbe a good place,' suggested the Magpie, modestly.'For idiots and magpies, no doubt,' said theChaffinch scornfully; 'no bird of sense would depositall that she holds dearest exactly in the spot 'mostlikely to be frequented by those thieves and mur-derers, schoolboys.''Idiots, thieves, and murderers! The lady usesstrong language,' muttered the Magpie in a low voice.'I shall not stay here much longer.''Neatness is a very important thing in building,'remarked a cock Chaffinch: 'use plenty of wool;that's my advice.''I prefer moss and grass,' replied a Goldfinch.'Mud's as good as anything to my mind, andthat is always to be had in these parts,' broke in aSwallow, who had only just returned from a winterabroad.
Alone in the World. 25'What a lazy speech!' replied the first Chaffinchwho had spoken. 'I shouldn't wonder if you wentback to the very same nest that you had last year.'" I shouldn't wonder either. Why should I go tothe trouble of making a new one, if the other's tidyand comfortable ? But what are you fidgeting sofor ?' he inquired of his nearest neighbour, our friendDickon; 'can't you keep quiet, and let's hear all ourfriends have got to say?'' I thought I heard a sound, a soft step,' whisperedDickon; I do believe it's a cat.''A cat! a cat!' screamed all the party; andwithout a moment's delay each pair of wings wasspread, and the next minute not a single bird wasto be seen except the Magpie, who hopped about,crying, A cat! a cat! oh, where's the cat ?'Where, indeed? Mrs. Puss was not by any meansso ready to attack the magpie as she would havebeen to pounce on one of the smaller birds; andwhen they were gone she wisely slipped away too.She knew something of this same magpie; and, totell the truth, she did not care to know much more.
26 A Tale of a Nest.'So the Magpie hopped about merrily by himself,picking off the heads of daisies or gobbling up strayflies.What his own plans were no one knew but him-self, for he could be very close if he chose; but heliked to discover where other birds meant to build,for he had an ugly habit, this same magpie, ofsucking eggs, and even, if very hungry, of carryingoff young birds and eating them at his leisure: itwas therefore convenient to know where such foodwas to be found.I am afraid he cared very little for the hardthings that were said of him, and thought it quiteridiculous to try to earn a better character forhimself. He was perfectly well aware that he was athorough scamp, and yet he rather enjoyed thatknowledge than deplored it. He had been rathervexed, it is true, to discover that, in spite of hiscourteous manners and blandishments, the remem-brance of one dark deed was still vivid; and, withone or two exceptions, the inhabitants of the neigh-bouring rookery treated him with coldness and con-
Alone in the World. 27tempt. To him it seemed strange that they shouldthink it such an unpardonable crime to carry off afew young rooks just out of the eggs; there werealways young rooks enough and to spare in theworld.
CHAPTER II.UNION IS STRENGTH.'Was never a sweeter nest, we said,Than this little nest of ours.'J. INGELOW.THE evenings at Dunmow Priory were not usuallywhat Maude would have considered very lively oramusing. After tea, she had been in the habit ofsitting quietly in her little chair doing her knitting,while old Mrs. Vaughan dozed on the sofa, and MissVaughan looked over the accounts of a clothing-clubwhich she managed in the village, or wrote letters.Very often no one spoke to the little girl, andup to this time Maude had generally been quitewilling to go, when nurse put her head in at thedoor with the remark,' Miss Maude, will you pleaseto come to bed ?'
30 A Tale of a Nest.But now matters were changed; the doleful lookon her little niece's face had awakened a feeling ofregret in Miss Vaughan's mind as she thought howlittle she had done to make the child's life a happyone. Accordingly, the knitting and letters had beenneglected that evening, and Maude had listened withgreat delight to a story which, if it could not rivalthe fairy tales in interest and excitement, had oneadvantage over them, in that it described creatureswhich she saw every day of her life.'Nurse cannot call that trash,' she said to herself,as at the usual signal she had left her seat onher aunt's knee, and unwillingly followed nurse tothe nursery; and full of this reflection, they had notnearly finished the process of hair-brushing when sheburst forth-'Nurse, do you know Auntie is going to tellme the memoir of a chaffinch; won't that benice ?''Really, Miss Maude, how you can talk in thatsenseless fashion is more than I can understand;when will you learn to think before you speak ? A
Union is Strength. 3memoir is the life of a good Christian person, not asilly heathenish thing like a bird.'Maude looked rather perplexed.'Is a bird a heathen, nurse ? I thought theheathen were black people who live in India, wherepapa and mamma are.''So they are; but the birds are as senseless andstupid: and to talk about the memoir of a chaffinchis downright wicked, Miss Maude.''Is it ? I didn't mean to be wicked,' said Maude;thinking, nevertheless, that it was hard to be fiveminutes in nurse's company without doing or sayingsomething that she at least would call wicked. 'But,nurse, Auntie doesn't think birds are stupid thingsat all. She showed me a verse in the Bible thatsays that God cares for the birds and feeds the youngravens when they're hungry; so He can't thinkthey're stupid things, I should think. I wonderwhether the birds know who gives them their food,and whether they thank God for it as we do whenwe've done dinner?'' Of course not, they know nothing,' nurse replied
32 A Tale of a Nest.shortly; and Maude, finding that the subject did notinterest her, let the conversation drop.But she did not forget it on that account, andwhen snugly tucked in her little bed and left to goto sleep she did not, as was her usual custom, take atrip to fairy land, and fancy that in every ray of lightshot into the room by the soft moonbeam'some fairyform was to be seen ; but instead she thought of thelittle birds sleeping in the trees, and of all they nighthave to suffer from the cold, and it was a greatcomfort to the little girl to remember the verse thatMiss Vaughan had shown her, which says that notone of the sparrows is forgotten before God.'I wonder whether it would be wrong to put alittle piece into my prayer to ask God to keep thebirds from dying of cold and hunger ?' she said toherself, as she nestled down in her warm bed. 'I'llask Aunt Louey to-morrow;' and so thinking she fellasleep.I suppose disappointments are good for littlepeople as well as for big people; if they had every-thing exactly as they would wish, they might perhaps
Union is Strength. 33get into the way of thinking that the whole worldwas made for them, and that would certainly be avery bad state of things. Still it makes me sad whenI hear that little children are not to have some plea-sure to which I know they are looking forward; Iknow it is so hard to bear such little trials well,--sohard not to be cross and say naughty things.So little Maude found it, when, coming down tobreakfast the next morning, she noticed a gravelook on her grandmamma's and aunt's faces, and bylistening hard to their conversation at last discoveredthat a little girl, who was Miss Vaughan's godchild,and a very great favourite of hers, was very ill-dying, they thought, and Miss Vaughan evidentlymeant to start at once to go and see her.Now Maude knew quite well, that as May Wilmotlived in a distant part of England,-quite up in thenorth,-Miss Vaughan was sure to be gone some time;and her first thought was, not of sorrow to hear ofthe little girl's illness, but of disappointment andvexation that the life of the chaffinch would have tobe discontinued for what she considered an immenseD
34 A Tale of a Nest.time. The house, too, would be even duller thanusual without MissVaughan; and as she thought of allthis, Maude grew more and more cross and discon-tented. What a naughty little girl! you will say: yes,I'm afraid she was naughty; she knew she was herself,and yet knowing it did not seem to make it anyeasier to be good.So when the carriage had carried away her auntto the station, Maude ran away into the garden tohave a good cry all by herself, where no one couldsee her or scold her; and when that was over she felta good deal better, and began to think it was justpossible she might be happy again some day, though,of course, not for a long while.Her aunt had said to her as she bade her good-bye, 'You must see how much you can find outabout the birdies by yourself, Maude, and when Icome back you can tell me all your discoveries.' SoMaude thought she would come out of the tool-house,where by-the-bye she had grown very cold, and walkabout the garden, and try if she could see any birds.She wondered whether they would be soon thinking
Union is Strength. 35of building their nests: she feared not, for certainlythe spring was a long way off yet, and Miss Vaughanhad said they would not build their nests till themild weather set in.Well, she must look every day, and she must takecare to feed them constantly, that none might die ofhunger through her fault: and so Maude brightenedup and went back to the nursery, looking much asusual, and finding one of her pet fairy tales, AuntLouey and the birds were soon quite forgotten, andthe great trouble had vanished.And as week after week passed away, and stillAunt Louey did not return, the story of the chaffinchand the interest it had excited had very nearly fadedfrom Maude's mind. April had come, the birds reallyhad begun to build their nests, when at last a letterbrought the news that Miss Vaughan was comingback; and oh, what joy to little Maude! she was notcoming- alone, she was going to bring little May withher.Grandmamma almost thought that her littlegrandchild had gone out of her senses, when she
36 A Tale of a Nest.looked up and saw the effect of these tidings on theusually quiet child; the dreamy little face was litup with such a glow of delight that it seemed com-pletely changed, and the torrents of questions withwhich Maude assailed her almost deafened the oldlady.Nurse was no less astonished, and, in fact, quiteat a loss to account for the change, which she wasfar from thinking a satisfactory one: she had trainedMaude in habits of quietness and decorum, and 'sud-denly they were all forgotten, and the quiet childwas scampering about the house like a mad thing.'Little Miss Wilmot is an invalid,' she remarkedmore than once; 'if you make such a noise when shecomes, Miss Maude, she will wish herself at homeagain pretty soon, I am sure.'And such a fearful idea as this never havingoccurred to her before, Maude grew grave and soberin a minute.What an invalid was, Maude hardly knew. Some-times her grandmamma was very poorly, and thenshe knew that it was not proper to run up and down
Union is Strength. 37stairs or talk loud, but an invalid little girl wouldsurely be very different. Maude hoped she wouldbe able to run about, for it would spoil all their funif she had to lie on the sofa all day.Then a bright thought came into Maude's head:she would talk to May about the fairies, and if shehad to lie on the sofa, why she could read to hersome of her very best fairy tales; and in the evening,perhaps Aunt Louey would go on with her story ofthe chaffinch: but this idea she kept to herself.Nurse would have said it was all trash.The days seemed very long that had to passbefore Miss Vaughan and May Wilmot were ex-pected; but, like all days, they did pass away, andthe much-longed-for moment came at last, and thelittle friend for whom Maude had been wishing eversince she could remember was really in the house.Very pale, indeed, little May looked, but she gaveMaude a very sweet 'smile as the child approachedto meet her, and from that moment they were firmfriends. It is true that the sight of the thin, wastedlittle face, made Maude extremely solicitous lest the
38 A Tale of a Nest.games that she had planned should be altogetherimpracticable, but when tea was over little May beganto look less delicate, and hope revived.'May will soon grow strong here, I hope,' saidMiss Vaughan, noticing the anxiety with which herniece regarded her new friend; 'but till she is youmust be careful not to tire her, Maude: stories andtalk will be better for her for a few days than anyboisterous games.''Then, Aunt Louey, will you tell us the rest ofMr. Chaffinch's history ?' said Maude, eagerly.SPerhaps so to-morrow evening: but May doesnot know the beginning, you will have to tell herabout it to-morrow morning, Maudie.'Maude was rather doubtful whether she couldremember it, but she promised to try, and succeededso well that little May was quite as eager as she wasto hear more the next evening.1 HE rooks and the linnets, the magpie and thechaffinches, and all the birds, were quite
Union is Strength. 39right. Spring had really come; there could be nodoubt about the matter.Our friend Dickon was quite convinced, and beingquite eager to begin the business of life, he setabout diligently looking for a place suitable forbuilding purposes. In this search he was accom-panied by a young lady chaffinch, who had agreed toshare his lot in life: so Dickon, you see, was nolonger alone in the world. Mrs. Dickon, or, as shewas called by those who knew her well, Mimi, wasa sweet young thing, in every way suitable to herhero; in fact, they were a very good-looking youngcouple, and every one said they were well matched.Some folks certainly said that Mimi had a temperof her own, but Dickon did not believe it; he wassupremely happy, and would willingly have sat byher side singing sweet little songs of love to her bythe hour together, had they not had more importantwork on hand.'We will not build in the same tree with anyother birds,' remarked Dickon one day; 'it is sonice to be all alone and sheltered from prying eyes.'
40 A Tale of a Nest.Mimi laughed her sweet little laugh, and told himhe was unsociable; but she was very contented to haveit so, and replied that she had noticed a beautifulhawthorn-tree which took her fancy greatly, and thatshe heard from her friends it would shortly becovered with beautiful blossoms, giving forth themost delicious smell: in fact, it seemed to her every-thing that heart could wish.'Let us go and see it, Mimi,' replied Dickon.'I had thought of an apple-tree; there is one coveredwith blossom not far from here, but I dare say thehawthorn will be best.''Oh, an apple-tree would be :dangerous,' ex-claimed Mimi. I remember seeing apples last year:they are round hard things; they might fall into ournest and break it, and hurt us very much.''There are no apples on the tree yet,' repliedDickon; 'nothing but blossom : but lead the way toyour tree, and let us look at that.'Mimi obeyed, and in a few minutes the youngcouple were flying round the hawthorn in question,anxiously inspecting it on every side.
Union is Strength. 41'This would be a good place,' said Mimi, perch-ing herself on a forked branch, and looking up at hercompanion, who was resting on a branch a littlehigher up. 'What do you say to it, Dickon ?'' I like it immensely,' replied Dickon enthusiasti-cally; 'shall we set to work at once, or ask the ad-vice of some of the elder folks before we decide ?'' Oh, don't do anything rash,' urged Mimi. 'Letus ask my sister, who is building in the hedge on theother side of the garden; she is a year older thanI am, and she says her nest last year was greatlyadmired.'Dickon agreed to this proposal, and both flewacross the garden to the spot where Mimi's sister wasalready hard at work. She expressed some surpriseat hearing that they had not yet commenced, andreadily gave her opinion when asked.'It is a great thing to choose an agreeable posi-tion,' she remarked ; 'and what can be more deliciousthan to sit watching the blossoms of the May unfold,and drink in at the same time its delicious scent ?Yes, Mimi, I do not think you can do better than fix
42 A Tale of a Nest.upon the hawthorn. And now let me beg you tolose no more time. The first nest is always difficult,from the want of experience; it really is high timeyou were at work.''We will begin very early to-morrow,' repliedMimi, 'and we mean to work so hard that it willsoon be done. I hope ours will b, as neat as yours.Is it very difficult to make a nest ?''Of course not,' replied Dickon,. without waitingfor the elder bird's opinion; it comes quite naturally:the only difficulty is in getting the materials.''That beautiful soft wool, and those feathers!yes, it must be hard to find enough. Oh, I long tobegin; we will go to roost early to-night, that wemay get up very early to-morrow, Dickon.'Dickon did not seem quite so eager about thematter; nevertheless, the first rays of the sun foundthem up and busy collecting the materials for theirwork. This was very exciting work, and so eagerdid they soon become that everything else was for-gotten in the all-absorbing matter.So for a while things went on very well, but after
Union is Strength. 43a day or two even Mimi's ardour slackened. Shehad very orderly tastes, and in this respect Dickondid not altogether agree with her; she was too par-ticular, quite old-maidish, and fidgety, he told her:as long as the nest was strong and tolerably tidy,what did it signify if there was a bump or twoinside, or a straggling bit of moss disfiguring theexterior ? The principal thing was to get it done asfast as possible.But in this opinion Mimi could not acquiesce;every one whom she met spoke of the elegance andbeauty of her sister's house, and why should not sheearn the same praise ? Besides, and this feeling sheuttered very emphatically, though it might mattervery little to Dickon that the nest was hard and un-comfortable, it would be a very different thing for her;in short, she was determined to have her own way.This was the first dispute the young couple had had,and how it would have ended it is impossible to say,had not Dickon's pride been aroused by overhearingsome disparaging remarks made by the passers-by.The first of these was the meddling Magpie, who,
44 A Tale of a Nest.having finished his own building operations, was atleisure to go about and make remarks on the pro-ceedings of his neighbours. 'You are going to keepa ragged school, my friend,' he remarked, as he no-ticed Dickon; 'a very good plan to have your housesuited to the inmates;' and then he hopped away,leaving both Dickon and Mimi boiling with rage.To his dying day our hero could never forget thisinsult. But to Mimi the half-suppressed laughter ofthose among her friends who came to examine herwork was much more trying, and before long shedeclared that they must begin over again, and be lesssparing of good materials; and, with a sigh, her hus-band acquiesced. Building was by no means sucheasy work as he had expected; nevertheless, the nestmust be made, and this time he worked with allhis might.What was his delight when all else was com-pleted, and the only thing wanting was some softwool to line the inside!'Before sunset it will be done,' he said to himself,as with a choice scrap he returned to the hawthorn,
Union is Strength. 45where Mimi was still at work. 'But, Mimi, what isthat hideous thing you are weaving in ? folks willsay we are cracked.''It is a feather which I am told.belongs to a rareand beautiful bird,' replied Mimi proudly. 'I amastonished at your want of taste, Dickon.''Want of taste or not, it is too bright and gaudyfor our quiet dwelling; I shall pull it out,' repliedDickon resolutely.'Indeed I cannot part with it; it is a treasure,a souvenir of a happy moment, and I am quiteresolved to have it in my nest.''Wherever did you get it from ?' inquired Dickonimpatiently.' It fell from the hat of a sweet child that walksabout the garden sometimes,' replied Mimi, ratherreluctantly; 'it reminds me of her sweet face, and Ilove the feather for her sake. You need not look socross, my love; it is quite true.'' And is it possible,' Dickon exclaimed angrily,'that you don't know that children are our mostdeadly enemies ? Can you possibly be so infatuated
46 A Tale of a Nest.as to keep anything that will remind you of them ?Do you not remember that fearful story your sistertold us of the two little ones she lost last year, tor-tured to death by the hands of some wretched boys ?It makes me shudder to thihk of it.'' And no wonder,' replied Mimi. 'But this childwas quite different; in her face there was nothingbut love and sweetness, and I shall keep her featherto remind me of her.''I couldn't have believed you could be so weakand silly,' Dickon replied; but he did not touchthe feather, and no more was said on this subject.The nest was finished, and Mimi pronounced itperfect, and thoroughly comfortable.Dickon was glad it was done, and when, a fewdays after, the bottom was filled by four beautifuleggs, he felt that a great matter had been accom-plished. The work of life had really commenced, andall the little disputes were forgotten as he admiredthe zeal and earnestness with which Mimi watchedover the precious eggs. How she could bear to siton the nest all day long while the bright sun shone,
NA &I ,rr t- I/ N-I'E~~AC II~~\~~"~"-~~0C~a"~mM~ll'S NEST.!~l
Union is Strength. 47and everything was so bright around, was a constantwonder to him; but not a complaint escaped her,every thought seemed given to the welfare of thedear eggs, and had anything happened to them Ibelieve she would have been inconsolable.As well as he could Dickon set himself to cheerher in her quiet, for never before had he admired andrespected her as he did now. I believe he sangtill his throat ached, because Mimi often said shewould never be tired of listening to him; and all thetime that he spent abroad was devoted to seekingout the most juicy caterpillars to tempt her ap-petite.'I pity her so, compelled to stay at home allthrough these delicious days,' he replied, in answerto the remark of the old Chaffinch whom we havebefore mentioned, to the effect that he was workingvery hard for his mate. 'I can't imagine how it isthat her patience holds out: she who was always onthe wing, the merriest of the merry, how can she bearsuch a monotonous life ?''It does seem strange, indeed,' replied his friend;
48 A Tale of a Nest.'but I assure you I have noticed the same thing withmany a young thing before her; and I must con-gratulate you on the charming position you haveselected for your home, the prospect of lovely blos-soms of the May and the sweet fragrance must beof great benefit to your young wife.'Dickon looked highly delighted at this compli-ment, but modestly disclaimed any right to be con-sidered peculiarly wise or discerning. 'It was Mimiwho fixed upon the spot,' he said; 'and, indeed, ourbush is beautiful.'They were now at a little distance from the haw-thorn in question, and the old bird looked at it withadmiring eyes. 'To be born in such a spot willcertainly give your little ones bright views of life,' heremarked; 'but, my dear friend, what is the causeof that unusual stir in that part of the hedge ? yourwife seems to be entertaining a great many visitors.I have observed no less than three sparrows and twochaffinches fly into the bush within the last fiveminutes. I hope nothing has happened.'Dickon's feathers ruffled up in a moment, and
Union is Strength. 49looking greatly alarmed he took wing to the spot.His companion followed, and, perched on a twig ata little distance, looked anxiously down into the nest,where sat Mimi.But very unlike her usual quiet tone were thetremulous sounds in which she replied to Dickon'sinquiries as to the cause of the bustle and excitementin the immediate neighbourhood.'Indeed I hardly know what has happened,' shereplied, trembling from head to foot; 'I have beenso terribly alarmed that I scarcely know where I am.I almost lost my senses; but it is over now, and Itrust I may never see it again.''Who-what is it? Was it a cat, or a hawk?'exclaimed Dickon eagerly.'Oh, certainly not a cat,' replied Mimi; 'a catcomes with a soft, stealthy tread, and not a word ofwarning, but this creature made a horrible noise, akind of scream, and shook the tree till I nearly fellout of the nest; and then suddenly, Dickon, a pair ofimmense staring eyes were fixed on me, and somethingmoved above me and passed over my body; thenE
50 A Tale of a Nest.everything became dark, my senses seemed goingfrom me: but I can just remember another voicewhich seemed to say "May;" and then the darknesspassed away, and by degrees I discovered that I wasstill safe in my nest, and my dear eggs all safe too.''What could it have been?' Dickon exclaimed,while every feather on his body seemed to quiver inmingled fear and rage; but another voice was heard,and an old Sparrow, who sat on a bough above thenest, and had been watching Mimi with looks of sym-pathy and great concern, replied, 'It was one of thosethings that are called children. Some people say I amprejudiced against them, but, however that may be,I cannot look upon them as anything but a continualsource of trouble and anxiety to us birds. They seemto me nearly as bloodthirsty as their four-leggedfriends, the cats; and yet, in some respects they areworse, for I have heard them laugh and joke whilewatching the agonies of those poor victims whomthey have caught, while the cat generally makesshort work with her prey.'Mimi shuddered and closed her eyes, as if she
Union is Strength. 5would fain shut out the remembrance of those ter-rible eyes that had glared in upon her through herleafy screen, while Dickon's heart swelled almost tobursting.'It is horrible !' he said,' and we can do nothing.Must we endure such cruelty? can we do nothing todefend our wives from such dangers and alarms ?'And he looked tenderly at Mimi as he spoke.'Ah, Dickon, if you could always be with me,'she murmured. 'I feel so safe when I see you andhear your voice: even those eyes would not terrifyme now that you are here.''I should fly at them and tear them out,' Dickonmuttered in a low voice; but aloud he replied, Iwonder you did not fly off and leave the nest.''And my eggs?' said Mimi. 'Oh, no: that thingthat touched me, and which I suppose must havebeen the child's claw, might have carried off my nest,and my dear eggs, and when I came back I mighthave found them gone!''You are a brave little thing!' said the old Spar-row affectionately, while Dickon thought to himself
52 A Tale of a Nest.that no one ever had such a wife as he had. 'Butsupposing these same children, for there were two ofthem, should come back, what do we mean to do ?'There was a moment's silence, anfd then Mimireplied, 'I mean to sit still; and perhaps after allthey only come to look at me, and may not meanto hurt me: at least I shall try to think so.'Dickon looked incredulous, while the old Sparrowsighed and said, May you never have cause to thinkworse of them, my dear! Ah me! the life I haveled, the sorrows I have known, and most of them inconsequence of the malice and wickedness of thesetwo-legged monsters! They think we have no hearts,my dear; that we care nothing for our little ones'lives, and do not feel pain. Some day I will tellyou my history, and then you will see how littlefeeling these creatures have.''Tell me now,' said Mimi faintly.'Yes, stay with Mimi and talk to her, while I goand get her some dinner: she must be faint withhunger,' said Dickon; 'and she is in too nervous astate to be left.'
Union is Strength. 53This was quite evident, and the old Sparrow con-sented to sit beside the nest while Dickon went inquest of food, and tell her tale -a sorrowful one,indeed.'I was not born in this part of the world,' shebegan; 'no green trees or sweet May flowers hungaround the nest where I first saw the light. Myparents were city folk, and lived on the roof of ahouse among the chimney-pots: some people thinkthat is why my plumage is so dull, but I don't believeany such thing. Well, that doesn't much matter; wewere well contented with our feathers when they came,and very happy in our nest among the chimneys. Canyou remember the day you came out of the egg, mydear? Well, I can't; I often wish I could. But I re-member our nest quite well, and my brothers andsisters. We were not my mother's first children; Ibelieve she had had several before us; but we wereher last. My poor mother! it was from her sad fatethat I first learned to hate children. How it hap-pened that she suffered herself to be caught I cannotimagine, but such was the case; and the torture she
54 A Tale of a Nest.underwent at the hands of her savage captors are toodreadful to be related. Well, she died, and somemonths passed away, and our family was dispersed.I met with new friends, and after a time the caresand interests of my own family in some degreebanished the remembrance of my mother's fate. Mynest now was in a garden; not such a garden as this,dear Mimi, but a town garden. Here I had my firstfamily, and sweet little things they were. My hus-band, too, was kind and affectionate, and togetherwe managed to bring up our children, and the inter-esting moment had arrived when it was necessary forthem to be taught to provide for themselves. Allwent well for a time; they learned to fly with unusualease, all except my youngest-a weakly little thingshe had always been, though I own I loved her nonethe less on that account. Still I hoped that air andexercise might give her strength, and endeavouredby all means in my power to encourage her to trustherself in the air; but with little success: a yard ortwo's flight, and my feeble child would invariablycome panting to the ground. And now to my
Union is Strength. 55troubles: anxiously I had been watching her forsome time one day, when, after many efforts, thepoor thing contented herself with hopping from twigto twig, and at last alighted on the ground. Oh,I see it all now! the sudden spring, the slight strugglefor life, and then my darling carried off triumphantlyin the bloody jaws of a savage brute of a cat!''Oh dear!' murmured Mimi. 'And could you donothing? had you to stand and watch her torn limbfrom limb, and devoured at last by the monster ?''No, indeed. I flew screaming from the spot,and when my husband joined me we left that terribleplace once and for ever; our other children were wellable to provide. for themselves; and my next homeI resolved should be far away from this melancholyspot. Accordingly, next spring I built my nest highup in the tower of a church, as I thought far be-yond the reach of cats and boys, but bitterly was Imistaken; this time my children never saw the lightof day. Some wretched urchins climbed the towerto see the view, and spying my nest carried it offbodily. I, alas! had not your presence of mind and
56 A Tale of a Nest.courage, dear Mimi, and at their approach had de-serted my post. Not that I am at all sure that tostay would have been of any avail. What becameof my eggs I know not. As the wretches descendedI watched them frantically, hoping that they mightfall and break their necks; for boys, you know, Mimi,are completely destitute of anything like wings-asingular thing, but so it is; and if they fall from aheight I have heard they are almost certain to breaktheir necks or legs. Ah, the rooks in the avenuecould tell you an amusing story which would provethat. Last year a wretched boy climbed one of theirtrees, no doubt intending to carry off a nest of eggs,when he lost his footing, and fell howling and scream-ing to the ground: the place rang with his cries andwith the laughter of the rooks. I promise you theyhave not forgotten that day, and I doubt not the boyhas good reason to remember it too.''But all this is very dreadful,' sighed Mimi; 'whatwith the cats and the boys, it must be difficult indeedto rear a family.''True, too true !' replied the old Sparrow. 'Well,
Union is Strength. 57my dear, my next family I did contrive to settle inlife without any serious accident befalling them; ofcourse I had many such alarms as you had thismorning, but nevertheless I had the great, the un-speakable pleasure of seeing all my children growup healthy and strong around me. Not so fortunatewas the next year; the first that broke the egg wasa splendid fellow, and my heart rejoiced over him,feeling sure he was destined for something great:how little I ever imagined that he would end hisdays miserably shut, up with a host of other birdsin a cage, where his free, noble spirit chafed andchafed till he pined away and died! But here comesyour husband, with a dainty morsel indeed. Of allthings in the world I love those juicy green cater-pillars. Well, you are well taken care of, my dear,and I shall go now; I hope my dismal stories will notdisturb your night's rest.'' What has she been telling you, my love ?' in-quired Dickon, as, noticing that the fine caterpillardid not serve to cheer his wife, he began to fear thatthe morning's alarm had made her really ill.
58 A Tale of a Nest.'Oh, Dickon, such horrors upon horrors! how anybird could live through them I can't imagine: thehalf would have broken my heart long ago.''Sparrows are not very sensitive beings, I im-agine,' replied Dickon; 'they are birds of little or norefinement, my dear. I dare say that a child lesswould be rather a relief than a trouble to them, asthere would be fewer to provide for.''And yet she did seem to feel it,' said Mimi;'though not as I should, I am sure. You do notcare about the sparrows, Dickon, do you? I oftennotice that you speak slightingly of them, anddo not seem to care for me to be intimate withthem.'"Well, no,' said Dickon,' I don't altogether likethem. My friend Mr. Linnet says it is a foolish pre-judice; perhaps it is, but their manners seem tome so bold and obtrusive in short, so differentfrom yours, love, that I do not care to see much ofthem.'Mimi was silent; she had a particular friendamong the sparrows, and Dickon's prejudice, as he
Union is Strength. 59called it, had more than once interfered with theirintimacy.'Well, now I shall have my children to take careof,' she said to herself: 'perhaps it is as well that Icannot see much of my old friend, she might makeme negligent of my home duties;' and as she haddone many times before, Mimi resolved that. shewould be a pattern of a good mother: all the cats,hawks, and children in the world, should not harm.her precious babes if she could help it.t", -.
CHAPTER III.A DOUBTFUL FRIEND.'When day, declining, sheds a milder gleam,What time the May-fly haunts the pool or stream,Then be the time to steal down the vale,And listen to the vagrant cuckoo's tale.'WHITE.'I DO think it was too bad of Aunt Louey,' saidlittle Maude, as, hand-in-hand, she and May pacedthe garden-walks about a week after the latter'sarrival, 'to make it out that it was so cruel of you topeep into the chaffinch's nest. I am sure you nevermeant to frighten them, and I don't believe the mother-bird really minded it one bit.'' Don't you think so?' said May, on whose con-science the matter had been weighing heavily ever
62 A Tale of a Nest.since Miss Vaughan had mentioned it in her storyto the children. 'I only meant to stroke her softhead, she looked so pretty, sitting there among theMay-blossom. Maude, if I were a bird, I would buildmy nest in a hawthorn-wouldn't you ?'"No,' said Maude, after a moment's consideration,'I don't think I would; the thorns scratched myhands so the other day when I was trying to picksome. I think the birds must get terribly scratchedgoing in and out.'' Oh, but they would never build their nests thereif they did. They must have some clever way ofgoing in without rubbing against the thorns.''I don't suppose they thought about the thornstill after the nest was built,' said Maude. 'Theyhaven't much sense, you know, May.''Haven't they ? I -thought Miss Vaughan madeit out they had a good deal,' replied May; 'theymake such wise remarks and such good resolu-tions.''Yes, in the story; but that is to amuse us.Aunt Louey can't possibly know whether they
A Doubtful Friend. 63really do say such things: she only supposes, youknow.''Look, look, Maude!' exclaimed May, in anunder-tone: 'there is Mr. Chaffinch himself comingout of the hedge. I wonder what he is going to do.Shall we watch him ?'' Yes; see, he is poking about among those leaves:he must be looking for his supper, or perhaps his wifehas sent him out to get some for her. I wonderwhether she will get a juicy caterpillar to-day? Oh,I wish we might go and look at her! But what areyou looking so solemh about, May?'' I was thinking,' said May, gravely,' that I don'tlike birds at all.''Don't like them Why, when you saw the littlechaffinch in her nest, you called her a dear little thing,and you told Aunt Louey that her story made youquite fond of birds. What makes you say you don'tlike them all of a sudden ?''Because,' said May, 'when I said I liked themI quite forgot one thing, and that one thing makesme hate them: what right has that chaffinch to go
64 A Tale of a Nest.hunting after the caterpillars and eating them up?I saw him walk off with a spider in his mouth theother day. I think it's horrid, don't you?'' It doesn't seem very nice,' replied Maude; 'Ishould think he might find something else to eat. Idon't think it can be right of him to eat caterpillars,though I'm not very sorry he does, for I don't thinkthey're nice things at all. A great woolly beardropped on to my neck the other day off a tree, andit made me shudder all over. I should be rather gladif there were no woolly bears in the world, I think.''Yes, so should I; but I'd rather they'd neverbeen made than that birds should eat them up,'answered May: 'it doesn't seem right at all. Howwould they like to be picked up and gobbled up ina minute, I wonder ?''They do get gobbled up sometimes, May,' re-marked Maude: 'don't you remember how the catate the poor little sparrow?''Yes; and what a fuss the mother made about it!'replied May, indignantly: 'just as if she'd never eatenanything in her life! Well, I was very sorry when
A Doubtful Friend. 65Miss Vaughan told us about the little sparrow; butnow I think I'm rather glad. I like people to beserved out when they do wicked things.''What people are you talking about, May?' in-quired a voice behind her; and the two children,turning round, perceived Miss Vaughan, who hadcome into the garden to call them in to tea.'Not exactly any people, Miss Vaughan,' repliedthe little girl. 'Maude and I were talking about thebirds, and I said I was rather glad they sometimesgot eaten up by the cats, because it is so cruel andwicked of them to eat the spiders and flies and but-terflies, who never do them any harm.''And what do you think about it, Maude?' in-quired her aunt, smiling.'I don't know, Auntie: but I think perhaps thebirds don't know it's wrong, and I think the cats do;for I watched Rose the other day, when she was inthe garden looking at the birds, and she crept alongso quietly, just as if she knew she was doing wrong;and when she saw me she scampered into the houseas fast as she could go.'F
66 A Tale of a Nest.'Well, come in to tea now,' replied Miss Vaughan.'We can talk about the cats and the birds indoors;and since you think them so wicked, May, perhapsyou won't care to hear any more about Dickon andMimi ?'" Oh, yes, I shall,' cried May; while Maude added,'I don't mind hearing about wicked people at all,nor wicked birds either.''But are you quite sure the birds are so wickedas you imagine ?' said Miss Vaughan, as she pouredout the tea.'Why, yes, Aunt; we have seen them carry cater-pillars and worms in their beaks lots of times; andyou told us about it in your story, too.''To be sure, I am quite aware they catch andeat these poor insects. But are you sure it is wrongof them to do so ? Would you have them die ofhunger ?''Oh, no, Miss Vaughan,' exclaimed May, eagerly;'but they might eat leaves and grass, and notinsects.''They do eat leaves sometimes. But how would
A Doubtful Friend. 67you like it, May, if we gave you nothing to eat butcabbages and potatoes, and told you it was wrong toeat meat ?'May looked quite bewildered. 'I never thoughtof that,' she said; 'but it isn't wrong to eat meat,is it?''Not wrong and cruel to kill the poor sheep andlambs, and eat them ? Surely it must be. Whatharm have they done you?'May looked still more puzzled; but Maude beganto laugh, as she exclaimed,-' And if it's not wrong for us to eat meat, it'snot wrong for the birds. Caterpillars and wormsare their beef and mutton aren't they, AuntLouey?'' Perhaps so,' replied Miss Vaughan. 'Well, May,what do you think now? Mayn't the poor birdshave meat for their dinner as well as you ?''It seems so different,' murmured May. Maudeand I don't rush at a sheep in a field and bite a pieceout of it, or eat it up before it's half dead.''No, you prefer your meat cooked: but, fortu-
68 A Tale of a Nest.nately, Mrs. Chaffinch is not so particular; for I don'tquite know how she would contrive to have a fire inher snug little nest.''A fire!-oh, Auntie, it would roast the eggs!'exclaimed Maude, laughing; and May added, 'Andset the whole nest on fire, too !''Then it is quite as well Dickon and Mimi liketheir food uncooked; and if they do pick it up ratherunceremoniously, and forget sometimes to ask thepoor worm whether it would object to being eaten,perhaps like some little girls of my acquaintance,who forget to see if grandmamma has everything shewants at dinner-time, they too might plead in excusethey are so hungry. But, May dear, the same Godwho gave us the sheep and cattle for our food, as wellas the corn and vegetables, taught the little birdswhere to seek their food, and what He meant them toeat. We cannot surely settle these things better thanHe has done it for us ?''No, of course not, Auntie. I did not think aboutthat. I like the birds better now; so will you tell ussome more about our chaffinches after tea ?'
A Doubtful Friend. 69'We will see. Perhaps I may make you dislikethem again, and that will be a pity; but I am goingto tell of some of their bad habits. You must hear thebad as well as the good about them, you know:-D IMI had resolved long ago that she would be avery good mother, and I must say I think shehad made a very good beginning; for patiently,day after day, she kept her place, and never oncesuffered her eggs to get a chill: and this was not byany means an easy task, for, as Dickon had said,Mimi dearly loved the open air and plenty ofexercise. Sometimes she felt so cramped and wearythat the temptation to fly off and take a good longexpedition was almost irresistible: then it was sowearisome, too, to have, always the same thingsbefore her eyes; she grew almost tired of thebeautiful blossoms around her, and spent most partof the days in a half-dreaming state, rousing herselfoccasionally to talk to Dickon, or take the food hebrought her. Most of her friends were like herself,
70 A Tale of a Nest.busy with their eggs: some had already had thehappiness of welcoming their little ones into theworld; but they were doubly busy in providing themwith food. Mimi's visitors, therefore, were not verynumerous, and she passed her time very quietly.One lady, Madame Cuckoo, it is true, paid herfrequent visits, and Mimi, who thought her anamusing companion, was always glad to see her.Sometimes, it is true, she grew rather tired of hearingher talk, for Mrs. Cuckoo had a very long tongue;and as for Dickon, he declared that he thought herinsufferably conceited: she did nothing but talkabout herself.But Dickon, as we have seen, was rather apt tobe uncharitable; and when he told Mimi that hewould rather she did not encourage the Cuckoo'svisits, his poor little wife felt rather hurt. It seemedhard that in her loneliness she might not receive andwelcome any one who came to call upon her, andshe could not refrain from expressing her feelings.'There is something wrong about her,' wasDickon's reply. 'A respectable bird would not have
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A Doubtful Friend. 71time for so much gossiping; she ought to stay athome and mind her own business.''She pities me so much,' Mimi replied; 'she saysI look so thin and worn out, that, though she's verybusy, she makes a point of coming to cheer me up.''Where does she live?' Dickon inquired, rathergruffly.'In the wood behind the church, she says. Iwonder whether she has as pretty a nest as mine ?''Some folks say she has no nest-that she is toolazy to build one,' Dickon remarked; 'in fact,Mimi, I have heard very strange things about yourfriend.''But, Dickon, you know it doesn't do to believehalf one hears,' pleaded Mimi, plaintively; 'my sisterlikes her very much. Mrs. Cuckoo told me this after-noon that she had been taking charge of Fay's eggswhile she went out for a walk this afternoon, and shehoped to-morrow I would let her do the same forme."I am sure I hope you won't,' exclaimed Dickon.'I wouldn't have that great awkward creature touch
72 A Tale of a Nest.the eggs for anything; you may be sure she'd dosome mischief.''Well, if you think so, of course I won't,' saidMimi, with a half sigh; 'but Fay is older than I am,she must know all about the Cuckoos, and if shetrusted her I don't see why I shouldn't.''I dare say the Cuckoo made it all up; she talkstoo fast to be very careful about the truth. Whatwas she telling you about her eldest son when I camein, Mimi ?''That he has a most superb voice; he has beenaway for the winter and has not long come back,and she is quite astonished at his improvement. Doall the Cuckoos spend the winter abroad, Dickon ?''I believe so; that's another of their bad habits.It may be all very well to travel sometimes; I havesome thoughts of doing so myself next winter: butwhen a whole family goes it looks bad, very bad;they must be of a rather fidgety nature.''Perhaps they are delicate, and cannot standthe severity of our cold weather,' suggested Mimi,timidly.
A Doubtful Friend. 73'Delicate! Nonsense, Mimi! If they were theywouldn't be shouting at the tops of their voices allday. One of them, I dare say it was your friend'seldest son, got into a tree close by last night, andwoke me up just in the middle of a most deliciousdream, almost before it was light, by shrieking hisown name as if he had gone mad. Why can't theysay something else, I wonder ?''Mrs. Cuckoo told me that next month they allalter their tune; she says it makes a pleasing variety,but that some people think the early song thesweetest.''Song! do they call that a song?' exclaimedDickon, indignantly. 'And what do they say nextmonth ? Did she tell you ?''I think they say the same thing,' replied Mimi;'only the note is different."'By that time I suppose they have cracked theirvoices, so the note happens to be different. Andwhen do they take themselves off, do you know ?Very early, I hope..''Dickon, how bitter you are! you forget she has
74 A Tale of a Nest.been very kind to me,' pleaded poor Mimi, who couldnot help feeling some regard for the object of herhusband's dislike.'Well, I can't help it; I don't like her,' saidDickon, bluntly; 'and I don't think she likes me,she always goes when I come in.''Because she has so much to do, and would notcome at all except to cheer me up in your absence.But if you don't like her, why should we talk abouther ? Will you sing to me instead ?''I am hoarse, but I'll try,' replied Dickon; 'onlyI hope my singing won't start that horrid Cuckooagain. I believe he doesn't like to hear any one'svoice but his own.' And with this final scrap ofabuse the subject of the Cuckoos was dropped, and,soothed by the sweet strains of her husband's voice,Mimi soon forgot her vexation.It was a few days after this conversation aboutthe Cuckoo, that Mimi greeted Dickon on his bid-ding her good morning with the delightful news thatone of the little ones had broken the egg, and withher merry little chuckle she bade him get up quickly,
A Doubtful Friend. 75for he had now two people to provide for insteadof one.It was an important consideration, especially asmany other birds had similar cares, and were aseager as himself to secure food: feeling, therefore, agreat deal older than he had done the day before,Dickon made a hasty toilet, and sallied forth tobegin his labours; while Mimi admired the new-born infant, and made up her mind that when hegot his feathers he would be very like his papa.She was in a great state of excitement, poorlittle Mimi! and longed to hear the other eggscrack and see what the other children were like. Itwould be so nice when she could join Dickon andhelp him in his arduous task of providing food forthe family. Surely he would be tired out if he hadto go on alone much longer!But she was not called upon to be patient muchlonger; one after another the three other babies pre-sented themselves, all looking very much surprisedand astonished as they stared at each other, and atthe nest, and their mother. But they soon grew*
76 A Tale of a Nest.accustomed to their lot, and settled themselves mostcomfortably under their mother's warm wings, anddozed, and eat, and conducted themselves, in themost correct way.Mimi, of course, was in ecstasies with them, andwas never tired of looking at them, and of callingDickon's attention to their funny little ways; shehad thought the eggs very pretty, but the childrenwere twice as charming-all so strong and healthy,she felt so thankful she had taken Dickon's adviceand not allowed the Cuckoo to take her place onthe nest even once, for if anything had happenedshe would never have forgiven herself.'And that reminds me, Dickon,' she said, 'I mustgo and see if my sister's eggs are hatched yet, andtell her about our children. She will be so pleasedto hear they are all so promising.''I heard this morning,' replied Dickon, 'that allher eggs had broken except one, perhaps that ishatched by this time. Well, they can't be a finerfamily than ours.'Though she had no doubt on this point, Mimi4
A Doubtful Friend. 77had a great desire to compare her new-born infantswith others of a similar age; and she was not long,therefore, before she found time to visit the hedgewhere her sister had built her nest. It was not insuch a charming position as her own, but in hermost satisfied moods Mimi could not flatter herselfthat the nest in, the hawthorn was anything like sowell built or well planned as that in the laurel hedge.Just now, however, she was thinking far less of thenests than of their occupants, and when she hadgreeted her sister, her first words were concerningthe matter uppermost in both their minds.'I can't think how it is,' Fay remarked, and hervoice sounded sad and dispirited, 'I have been sittingand sitting on this egg till I am perfectly sick of it,and it won't break. It is so provoking, for the otherbirds are all out, and I am quite exhausted. I'malmost ready to turn it out of the nest.''Oh, pray don't,' exclaimed Mimi, alarmed atsuch an idea; 'I dare say it will break soon, andperhaps it will prove the finest bird of all. Let melook at the others: may I, Fay ?'
78 A Tale of a Nest.Her sister allowed her a peep, and Mimi, wellsatisfied that her own children were infinitely su-perior, sat down on the branch above the nest tohave a little chat; it was so long since she had hadany opportunity of enjoying a little gossip, that shecould not refuse Fay's entreaties to stay a littlewhile.'And so the linnets in the apple-tree have had abad time with their family,' Fay remarked. 'I ex-pect the mother has been careless; I never likedher much, she is such a busybody. My husband, saysshe seems scarcely at all concerned at'having onlyone child instead of four, as she ought to have had.I suppose she thinks one will be less trouble; but Ican't understand such conduct.''No, indeed,' said Mimi. 'But, oh, Fay, I wantto ask you what you think of Madame Cuckoo; youknow her, don't you ? Dickon has taken such a dis-like to her, and will hardly let me speak to her. Hesays there are very bad reports about concerningher.'" I know,' replied Fay, hastily; 'my husband has
A Doubtful Friend. 79been telling me, but I don't believe them; she hasbeen very kind to me, and though I haven't seenher for the last few days, there is nothing strange inthat: no doubt she is busy, like the rest of us.''Then you don't think there is any harm inher ?''No, I don't. But, Mimi, let your husband havehis own way, it is the best way in the end.'' I suppose so,' replied Mimi, with a sigh. 'Well,Fay, I shall come and see you again soon. I hopethe last little one will be out to-morrow.'Two or three days passed away, and so con-stantly occupied was Mimi, that she had no timeto fulfil her promise. It was impossible to imaginethat such young things should require such a quan-tity of food; both father and mother soon foundthat they were likely to be pretty constantly em-ployed if the young ones were to get as much foodas they liked. And yet it was so pretty to see theirlittle mouths wide open in eager expectation, that thetask of filling them was only too pleasant. At timesDickon was inclined to think them greedy; but to
80 A Tale of a Nest.Mimi's remark, 'Pretty dears! they are so hungry!'he always replied, 'So it seems.' Still, it was a mat-ter of considerable concern to him, that in her anxietyto provide for the little ones his wife was too apt toneglect herself, and once when he had pressed herto devour a most tempting morsel, he was greatlyprovoked to see it disappearing into the ever-readymouth of the youngest of this hopeful family.'There's no use talking to you, Mimi, he ex-claimed, one evening, after having urged upon herin vain the necessity of attending to her own health.' You'll make yourself ill, and then what will becomeof the children ?''Oh, I shan't be ill, Dickon,' she replied, and thento turn the subject she begged him to run across andinquire after the progress of her sister's family.'Fay must think we have quite forgotten her,' sheremarked, and Dickon rather reluctantly departed onhis errand.The two brothers-in-law were not always on thebest of terms, there having been many little disputesabout the right to certain interesting worms and cater-
A Doubtful Friend. 8pillars, and, as a rule, they rather avoided eachother.But to her surprise, in less than five minutesMimi spied her husband returning.'What can be the matter ?' she exclaimed, seeingfrom his appearance that something had occurred.'Has that tiresome young one come out of the shellyet ?''Yes, that it has; and it is such a monster, thatthough she professes to be very proud of him, Ibelieve Fay is half afraid of him: she wants you togo and see him.''I think I will,' Mimi replied, her curiosity greatlyexcited. 'I won't be many minutes; it's time thechildren went to bed.''Here, come, you young ones, put your headsunder your wings and go to sleep,' exclaimed Dickon,hopping on the bough close to the nest, and lookingvery sternly at the young birds, who, seeing himapproach, opened their beaks in expectation of food.Mimi laughed, and told him that was not the way toget children to sleep.G
82 A Tale of a Nest.'They must wait till you come back then,' saidDickon; 'I'll stay and take care that nobody comesto eat them up while you're gone.'Mimi flew off, but it was getting late, and herprudence made her visit a very short one. Dickonhad hardly finished the first song with which he wasstriving to amuse the little ones, when she reap-peared.'Fay says there never was such a fine young birdseen,' she remarked, as panting and breathless shetook her place on the nest; but I told her I wouldrather not have such an enormous child, I think it'sperfectly hideous.''She didn't much approve of your saying that, Ishould think,' replied Dickon,' she seemed immenselyproud of it just now; well, we shall see. I fancy theyoung fellow will lead her a nice life.'Mimi looked hard at her husband; and after afew minutes' silence, remarked,-'I have seen nothing of our neighbour, Mrs. Cuckoo,lately; have you, dear ?''I have seen nothing of the old lady for some
A Doubtful Friend. 83days, but of her famous son I have seen quite enough,aye, and heard a great deal more than enough too.'Mimi was silent, but uneasy thoughts had takenpossession of her, and she got little sleep that night.What if the unpleasant stories about the cuckoo weretrue after all, what a terrible thing it would be forpoor Fay! for Mimi was very much attached to hersister, and almost as much interested in the welfareof Fay's family as of her own.A few days passed away, and nothing was talkedof in the neighbourhood but the astonishing size ofthe young chaffinch, in the nest in the laurel hedge;it was the wonder of the whole community. But bydegrees, among the older birds there arose a rumour,whispered. of course, that all was not right. Itreached Mimi's ears, and brought her anxious andsympathising to her sister's nest one evening, just asthe parent birds had returned with food for theiryoung. Fay dropped the green caterpillar into thewide, open mouth of the huge young bird, and wasabout to greet her sister, when glancing at the nest,she exclaimed, in tones of the greatest alarm,-
84 A Tale of a Nest.'Where is your sister, my sweet little Brownie ?what has happened to her? Tell me quickly!'There was a confused twittering among the youngbirds, all of them seemed endeavouring to makethemselves heard; at length the youngest, the pro-digy of whom so much had been heard, exclaimed,-'She has been fidgeting ever since you wentout, and at last she disappeared. I suppose shetumbled out of the nest.''Tumbled out of the nest! impossible!' exclaimedboth the distressed parents; and indeed, so securedid the nest seem, that for a young bird to fall outcertainly seemed next to impossible; and yet, whenthey came to search, it did appear that such musthave been the case, for lying at the bottom of thetree, crushed and mangled, lay the poor little thing,quite still and dead.With a sad heart Mimi returned home to tellher husband what had happened, leaving the poorparents mourning over the fate of their sweet littlebirdie. Dickon heard the tale in silence, but at theend of it he said,-
A Doubtful Friend. 85'Mimi, that cuckoo brings trouble wherever shegoes.''Nay, Dickon, what can she have to do with this ?'urged Mimi, who still thought him hard upon her oldfriend.'You will see. All the birds who know anythingabout the matter, and they are older than you or I,shake their heads, and mutter the word, "Cuckoo;"depend upon it, she is at the bottom of all this.''Oh, Dickon, this is nothing but prejudice,-mostdownright prejudice,-I am sure.''We shall see,' wvas all Dickon's answer.The next day there was another terrible sceneat the foot of the laurel-bush where poor Fay hadbuilt her nest; another little bird lay there, having,so said his big brother, tumbled out like his sister.It was terrible, and very strange; but the parentssaw no reason to doubt the truth of what they hadheard ; and with all its neatness, Fay thought she hadmade a mistake: the nest certainly ought to havebeen much larger, there was not ro6m for the youngbirds to move without falling out.
86 A Tale of a Nest.They had now only two children, the big birdwhose appearance had caused so many remarks, anda sturdy little sister. Over these they resolved towatch with the greatest care; but as every one said,since there was now certainly plenty of room in thenest, if another accident occurred there must be somereason for it.Two days passed, during which Fay scarcely lefther nest and no fresh accident happened. Duringthis time strange misgivings were awakened in hermind by the extraordinary conduct of her big nest-ling. Such a restless and fidgety bird she had neverseen; he was never still a moment, and the littlesister who shared the nest must have found itstrangely uncomfortable, so many pushes and shovesdid she get from her big brother. Then he was soselfish and greedy, every morsel of food that hisfather brought was eagerly snatched by him, whilehis sister opened her beak again and again in vain.Much quarrelling was of course the result of thisselfish behaviour, and the mother grew more andmore uneasy.
A Doubtful Friend. 87'I should like to know who ever saw a bird withsuch a temper?' she complained to her sister, asMimi happening to pass near overheard the disturb-ance, and stopped to inquire the cause. He doesnothing but rail at and fidget his poor sister, andwill hardly let her get anything to eat, he is sogreedy.''I should give him no food till he learned tobehave better,' replied Mimi, who, like most youngmothers, had a notion that she had a great faculty forkeeping young ones in order; 'why do you put upwith such conduct, Fay?''Because I can't make him out,' replied Fay: 'heis quite different from any young ones I ever had todo with; he doesn't mind what I say in the least.'' It is a pity he was not the one to tumble outof the nest and break his neck,' replied Mimi, as sheeyed the delinquent with anything but favour; 'hecertainly doesn't look in the least like any of ourfamily, Fay, and I am sure he does not take afteryou in disposition: you are the sweetest-tempered ofour family.'A
88 A Tale of a Nest.Fay looked a little soothed by this compliment,for she had fancied that her sister intended to findfault with her management of her children, and thiswas a point on which Fay was peculiarly sensitive.' Nor is he in the least like his father, I am sure,'she replied: 'my husband is gentleness and kindnessitself; while this young thing quite wears me outwith his tantrums.''Come for a little turn, Fay: it will do you goodand refresh you, the air is delicious this evening; andyou can tell me what you think of my little ones,'urged Mimi.'Heigh-ho,' sighed Fay, as half-reluctantly sheobeyed her sister's invitation; 'the sight of yourhappy little family reminds me of my half-emptynest: I cannot bear to look at them, Mimi.''Well, don't then,' replied Mimi; 'we will go fora turn instead;' and the kind-hearted little creatureregretted that she had proposed what must neces-sarily be so painful to her sister.'Let's go down the rooks' avenue,' suggested Fay,after a moment's silence, during which she had hung