Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

Eighty Years of A Bird's Life

by Mrs. Amelia E. Barr

 

You must understand, my dear young readers, that the Raven of this tale is not at all an ordinary bird. It is true, he could not sing even as well as the smallest wren, but then he could talk, and it was generally believed that he knew a great deal more than the wisest of men and women supposed. He was, too, the very last representative of an extremely ancient family of Ravens, who had inhabited some rocky hills just behind the little cottage for hundreds of years—a family, indeed, so ancient that they had watched the battle-fields of Celts, Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans, and had had among them very wise birds, who croaked quite learnedly on the subject.

Now at the bottom of the lofty rocks which they inhabited was a rich and beautiful valley, and here, four hundred years ago, a Norman lord, who was a great fighter, built himself a fine castle. The Ravens and he got on very well together, and became great friends. His hunting and fighting supplied them with food, and it is said they told him a great many things that only a bird can know. He called his castle Ravensfield, and very soon people began to call him Ravensfield, and then the birds and he grew more friendly than ever. And it is said that when he was dying he told his son always to be good to the Ravens, for that just as long as the Ravens lived on Raven's Rock, the Ravensfields would own the rich lands below it.

For two hundred years everything went well; the knights grew rich and powerful, and the birds fat and numerous. Then the Ravensfields began to go to London, and spend money, and do all sorts of foolish things, and get into all kinds of troubles, and though the Ravens croaked and croaked until they were hoarse, they would not be prudent, and stay at home and mind their own business.

So the end of the matter was that every Ravensfield got poorer, and the fine old castle fell into ruins, and the colony of Ravens among the rocks also got smaller and smaller, until one morning the last knight of Ravensfield found in a deserted nest the last of this once powerful family of birds. It was half fledged and half starved, and he brought it home, and gave it to his sister to nurse. "Sister Mabel," he said, sadly, "this is the luck of Ravensfield: nurse it carefully, and to-morrow I will buckle my sword to my belt and go to India. I do believe this bird will live to see the old house rebuilt, and the glory of our family restored."

So the young Lord Stephen went over the seas, and Miss Mabel nursed the bird, and talked hopefully to it for fifteen years. But poor Lord Stephen was killed in a great Indian battle, and soon after there came to Miss Mabel a little lad who was Lord Stephen's only child. His father had left him a little money, and his aunt Mabel took great pains with him, and sent him to the best schools; and when he was twenty years old, she buckled his sword on his belt, and kissing him tenderly, sent him away also to India. "For, Stephen," she said, "you must win fame and gold to buy back the house and lands of Ravensfield."

All these twenty years the Raven had been growing large and splendid, and when the second Lord Stephen went away, he looked after him with a queer sidewise glance that filled Miss Mabel's heart with fear. But he was a bold, brave youth, and sent happy letters over the sea, and Miss Mabel told the Raven all the news, and I have no doubt they comforted each other very much. After nine years had passed, the Raven suddenly grew silent, and then there came a sad, sad letter: the second Lord Stephen had been killed fighting under his flag, and his sickly little baby girl was sent home to his aunt in England.

Poor Miss Mabel was now sixty years old, and her heart and hopes were quite crushed. She had little love left for the desolate child, and she seemed to take a dislike to the poor Raven. At any rate, she never spoke to it, and the bird became the companion of the little girl. They played and ate and slept together, and when little Nannette went out to gather primroses or berries, the Raven always walked solemnly beside her.

NANNETTE FEEDING THE RAVEN. NANNETTE FEEDING THE RAVEN.

One morning (the very morning when somebody drew this picture of them) her aunt was cross—she had a heartache, and a toothache too, poor old lady!—and Nannette took her porringer of bread and milk out of the cottage, and she and the bird were enjoying it together, when some one called out, "Nannette, I am going to shoot that ugly old bird!"

Then Nannette's little heart stood still in her terror, and she dropped her breakfast and ran to the boy, crying out that she should die if it were killed, for it was the only thing in all the world she had to love her.

The boy saw that she had great brown eyes, and beautiful brown hair, and a little mouth like a rose-bud, and he thought, "How lovely she is!" and dropped his gun, and said so many comforting words to Nannette, that always after it they were the very dearest of friends. And the Raven seemed to approve of Reginald also—for Reginald was the little boy's name, and he was very proud of it, being, as you know, a little out of the common; he would perch on his shoulder, and what he said to him as years went by I can not tell; but Reginald became thoughtful, and talked to Nannette continually about going away, and growing rich, and then coming home to marry her and make her a great lady. But Reginald did not have money enough to go away, and so he was often very sad and silent.

One day he came to Nannette with a paper in his hand. "See!" he cried, "the squire's son has been lost in the hills while hunting, and there is one hundred pounds to be given to whoever finds him. I know all about the hills, and shall certainly find the young squire." Then he said good-by to Nannette, and would have done so to the Raven, but the bird flew away before him, and for all his mistress's cries he would not come back. So together they went up the rocks, and Nannette watched them quite out of sight.

And Reginald, who knew a great deal about birds, watched the Raven, and saw that he flew continually over one spot in a narrow ravine; and there he found the poor young squire. His horse had been killed by the fall, and there he lay with a broken leg, and almost dead with hunger and thirst and pain. After this piece of good luck, Reginald's way was clear. Every one was then talking about a new country full of gold, called California; and though it was at the other end of the world, Reginald bravely sailed away into the West. Aunt Mabel shook her head, and the Raven nodded his head, and Nannette cried and laughed, and bid him "come quickly back, and build again the beautiful castle of Ravensfield"; and Reginald said, gravely, "I will surely do it," whereat the Raven nodded his wise-looking head harder than before.

"How long will he be away, Aunt Mabel?" said Nannette, sadly.

"Twenty years at least, my dear. I shall never see him again. I am seventy-five years old now."

"And I am fifteen. Ah! I shall be an old woman when Reginald comes back, and he won't know his little Nannette any more!" Then the Raven said something to Nannette, and she laughed, and his "Croak! croak!" sounded very like "Yes! yes!" It did, indeed.

Four years after Reginald went away, a very singular thing happened. Two pairs of strange Ravens came to Raven's Rock, and built nests and reared their young there. Nannette's Raven went very often to see them, and seemed to be altogether a changed bird. For though he was getting near sixty years old, he began to plume his feathers, and to sit continually at the cottage door, watching, watching, watching, as if he expected somebody.

It affected Nannette at last. "I think, aunt," she said, timidly, "that Reginald must be coming home. Just look at that bird!"

"Nonsense, child! How should he know?"

And indeed I don't understand how this wonderful bird knew, but he did; for that very night, just as Nannette was going to light the candle, she heard Reginald's step on the crisp snow, and the old lady heard it, and the Raven heard it, and there was the gladdest meeting you can possibly imagine; and if ever a bird said "I told you so," that Raven said it at least a hundred times that night.

Besides, Reginald had come home with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds; and he married lovely Nannette, and rebuilt Ravensfield; and dear, patient Aunt Mabel, after sixty years of waiting, went back to the stately old house, and ended her days in the little parlor where she had kissed her brother Stephen farewell.

As for the Raven, he showed himself to be a bird of a very aristocratic nature. He stepped proudly about the fine halls and gardens, and never went near the little cottage or the village streets again. He lived until his fine plumage began to turn gray, and Nannette's oldest son was almost big enough to put on a scarlet coat and a sword; and when he was nearly eighty years old he died on Nannette's knee, his foot in her hand, and the last thing he was conscious of was her tears dropping upon it.

Very likely, children, some extremely wise men and women will say, "I would not believe too much of this story, boys and girls." But when you have lived as long as I have lived, you will know that extremely wise men and women don't know everything. At any rate, there are plenty of Ravens on Raven's Rock now, and plenty of Ravensfields in the splendid castle; and if ever you go to England, you can see them if you want to.