Eighty Years of A Bird's Life
by Mrs. Amelia
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.
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
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
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
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.