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The Capocier and his Mate, edited by Andrew Lang


When Vaillant the traveller was in Africa, he made the acquaintance of a bird to which he gave the name of capocier. It was a small creature, which was in the habit of coming with its mate several times a day into Vaillant’s tent; a proceeding which he thought arose from pure friendship, but which he soon found sprang from interested motives. Vaillant was making a collection of birds, and his table was strewn about with moss, wool, and such things as he used for stuffing. The capocier, with more sense than might have been expected of him, found out very soon that it was much easier to steal Vaillant’s soft material than to collect it laboriously for himself, and the naturalist used to shut his eyes with amusement while the birds flew off with a parcel of stuffing as big as themselves.

He followed them, and tracked them to a bush which grew by a spring in the corner of a deserted garden. Here they had placed a thick layer of moss, in a fork of one of the branches, and were now engaged in weaving in grass, cotton, and flax. The whole of the second day the little pair worked hard, the male making in all forty-six journeys to Vaillant’s room, for thieving purposes. The spoil was always laid either on the nest itself, or within the reach of the female, and when enough had been collected, they both trampled it in, and pressed it down with their bodies.

At last the male got tired, and tried to prevail on his wife to play a game. She declined, and said she had no  time for such things; so, to revenge himself, the male proceeded to pull to pieces her work. Seeing that he would have his own way, the female at length consented to play for a little, and fluttered from bush to bush, while her mate flew after her, but she always managed to keep just out of his reach. When he had had enough, he let her go back to her work, while he sang a song for a little, and then made ready to help build the nest. He found, or stole, the materials necessary, and carried them back to his wife, who packed them firmly in and made all tidy. But her husband was much more idle than she, and he soon tired of steady labour. He complained of the heat, and laughed at her for being in such a hurry, and said there was plenty of time before them, and he wanted a little fun. So eight times during that one morning the poor wife had to leave off her building, and hide her impatience, and pretend to play, when she would much rather have been doing something else, and it was three days before the bottom was finished and the sides begun.

Certainly the making of the bottom was rather a troublesome business; for the birds had to roll over every part of it, so as to get it firm and hard. Then, when all was right, they made a border, which they first trimmed round, and next overlaid with cotton, pressing it all together with their breasts and shoulders. The twigs of the bush in which the nest was built were interlaced into the sides to prevent the whole structure being blown down, and particular care was taken that none of them should stick out in the inside of the nest, which was absolutely smooth and solid. After seven days it was done, and very pretty it was. It was perfectly white in colour, and about nine inches high on the outside where it had been made very thick, and not more than five inches within. However that was quite big enough for two such little people.