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The Song of the Wren by Mrs. Margaret Eytinge



In a certain wild but beautiful country place, far from this great city, stood a little white cottage all by itself, there being no other house for ten or twelve miles, over which, in summer-time, the wild rose vines clambered until they reached the very chimney, where, clinging to the red bricks, they flung out in merry triumph slender flower-laden branches like pennons on the breeze. Under the cottage eaves some swallows built their nests every spring, and to the garden came, as soon as the yellow and white honeysuckles and blue larkspurs and many-colored four-o'clocks bloomed, myriads of humming-birds, looking like rubies, and diamonds, and opals, and emeralds, and topazes, and sapphires, that had taken to themselves wings, and flown from all parts of the world to visit the living gems in this lovely spot. In the autumn, when the leaves, dressed in their gayest dress, were bidding farewell to the sunshine and the wind and each other, hundreds of robin-redbreasts—"God's birds"—hopped like little flames about the ground, and in a hollow tree near the cottage door a pretty red-brown wren and his mate had found shelter for a long time, and reared several broods. As for the saucy, chattering, busy, fearless sparrows, they had feather-lined nests wherever a sparrow's nest could be placed, and that is almost everywhere—on the pump, behind the wood-pile, in the barn, among the trees—and these nests they never forsook all the year round. What wonder that the cottage was called Bird House, and the dear wee girl whose home it was answered to the name of Birdie? No brothers or sisters had the innocent, blue-eyed child, and, save the birds, no little friends. But they loved her dearly, and were always near her; so she never grew lonely, but was happy and contented from morning until night. At early dawn, when a soft light in the eastern sky told that the sun was coming, they tapped on her window-panes to waken her; and when she appeared at the cottage door, they flew to meet her, lighting on her fair head, her shoulders, her outstretched hands, with loud, sweet, twittering welcomes. Even strange birds just passing that way would join the merry throng, and joyfully and gratefully partake of the crumbs the dear one scattered for her friends. And often at night, when Birdie awoke from a pleasant dream, and found her room filled with the silver of the moon, she would hear the sparrows and swallows say—still dreaming they—"Birdie, sweet Birdie!"

She had learned their language when she was but a babe, and knew when they were glad or sad; when they praised or scolded; when they gave warning that the spirits of the storm were abroad; when they said to their young, "Courage, little ones; it is time to try your wings"; when they softly chirped, "To sleep, to sleep"; and when they sang songs of love or farewell.

And so it happened that she understood every word of the song that the wren sang to her that winter afternoon. The snow had been falling, and the sunshine was just coming back, when she went out in the garden, in her Little Red Riding-hood cloak, to share her bread with the sparrows and snow-birds. Around her they flew, uttering cries of joy, when suddenly the wren, forgetting his shyness, appeared among them; and this is the song he sang:

"In the time of violets,
When the Spring came dancing
O'er the meadow, through the wood,
Sunbeams round her glancing—
'Birdie's sweet, sweet, sweet,
Sweet,' sang the swallow,
'And where'er her footsteps roam,
I will follow, follow.'

"When the roses bloomed and blushed,
And the fragrant Summer
Kisses warm and sparkling smiles
Gave to each new-comer—
'Birdie's sweet, sweet, sweet,'
Sang the blackbird clearly;
'Sweet as daisy-buds, and I
Love her dearly, dearly.'

"When the autumn leaves began
Gold and crimson turning,
Robin-Redbreast sang—his breast
Bright as sunset burning—
'Birdie's sweet, sweet, sweet,
Sweet as dewy clover,
And her praises shall be sung
All the wide world over.'

"Wrens and sparrows—all the birds,
Dear, that fly above thee,
For thy gentle words and ways,
For thy beauty, love thee.
Birdie sweet, sweet, sweet—
Happy be forever!
While the birds can guard thee, sweet,
Harm shall reach thee never."

"Thank you, dear wren—thank you, dear birds," said Birdie, with tears in her beautiful blue eyes, when the song was ended; and she went away to her own little room and said a prayer of thankfulness.

And from that time the child's heart was lighter than ever, and she sang all day long like a tuneful mocking-bird, blending all the sweet strains of her friends in one delightful song, until winter passed away, and the snow melted, and the snow-drop peeped out of the ground, and said, timidly, "I am here: spare me, O Wind!" and while the spring covered the earth with daisies and dandelions and May buds and brave honest grass, and flung delicate blossoms all over the orchards. Then came the summer once more, and started millions of lovely "green things a-growing," and filled the trees with thousands of joyous young birds.

And one glowing July day, early in the morning, Birdie wandered off to the woods, as she had often done before, to look for wild flowers, and gather some green food for her feathered pets. "I'll be back again in a little while, mamma," she said, as she left the cottage. But the hours went by, and noon came, and she had not returned.

"Where is my little maid?" called her father, cheerily, as he came in to dinner from the field where he had been working; but no little maid replied.

"She has gone for bird weeds and flowers," said her mother. "She will be here in a few moments."

But the dinner was eaten, and the father went back to his work, and still no Birdie came.

The clock struck one—struck two—struck three, and then, her heart growing heavier and heavier at every step, the frightened mother started out to look for her darling. North, south, east, west, half a mile each way from the cottage, she ran, stopping every few minutes to call, "Birdie! Birdie!" but only the echoes answered her call. At last to the field where her husband was working she flew. "Leave the plough," she cried, wringing her hands, "and look for the child."

North, east, south, west, a mile each way from his home, went the father, shouting, "Birdie! Birdie, little maid!" and the echoes repeated, "Birdie! Birdie, little maid!" but no other sound he heard except the rustling of the leaves and the whir of insect wings. The sun was beginning to sink in the west when, tired and heart-sick, he came back again. "Perhaps she is there now," he thought, a ray of hope lighting up his face as he neared the garden gate; but a glance at his wife's tearful eyes as she came to meet him told him he had hoped in vain. "I'll saddle the horse and ride to the village," he said, "and every father there will join me in the search for my child. And we'll find her, never fear."

"God grant that you may—and alive!" sobbed the poor mother. "My darling! oh, my darling!"

At that moment a flock of birds came in sight—so large a flock that, wheeling around the head of the sorrowing mother, it almost shut out from her the light of day.

Round and round her the birds circled, uttering strange, eager sounds; then flew away a short distance, to return with louder calls than ever.

"They miss her," said the father, who was just about to mount his horse. "They have come to be fed."

"They have come to lead us to her," cried his wife, her whole face growing glad and bright. "Look at them! They are asking us to follow."

And the birds turned as she made a few steps forward, and flew slowly before her. To a narrow path up the nearest hill they led—so narrow that the horse had to be left behind, and the father, who in his impatience had ridden on in front, was obliged to dismount and follow on foot. Over the hill and across a bridge that spanned a wide stream they went, then up some steep rocks, and down, down into a tiny green valley, from which another flock of birds arose with welcoming cries; and there, in a little cave, imprisoned by a huge stone that had fallen from the rock above across its mouth, the trees and shrubs around her black with watching birds, sat Birdie, her little hands patiently folded in her lap, a smile on her pale lips, and faith shining from her heaven-blue eyes. And for once—her heart being full to overflowing with love for her wee daughter, and gratitude to the good God and them—the mother too understood the language of the birds as they sang,

"Birdie, sweet, sweet, sweet,
Happy be forever!
While the birds can guard thee, sweet,
Harm shall reach thee never."