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attenuated a body, and feathers for ever ruffling in the wind, so white and wide apart 1 Was it a bird, or what was it 2 who could say what it was 2. But a sort of bird it must be ; or wherefore all those feathers, frightfully fluttering ' And they stood in chirpless silence, wondering to see it turn and turn again like a spindle; and though they broke out at last into a general titter or twitter of admiration of its antics, they were not the less afraid of it. . An old-lady-sparrow—quite a prude to look at-thought its extraordinary evolutions barely decent—decidedly unbird-like, and bade her fair young friends to come away; upon which all the young-ladysparrows, who had not thought of that, with a pretty affectation, set up screaming fearfully, and flew off, anywhere, out of sight of such a monster, their lovers following them and gallantly chirping after them not to be afraid, which made them scream all the more, so that there were soon few or none but old fellows left to admire this foreign wonder, of all the brave and bold fowls of the air the only one that ventured there, where sparrows dared not show their faces; and they are the boldest and least diffident—in short, the most impudent birds in the world.
Ever since a good stout fence of oak-palings had surrounded this spot, the wading birds, as the pond they loved so much had been filled up, waddled away to a piece of water further down the road, where the weed was pretty good and green, but the frogs few and smallish, and so they gobbled two or three at a time. In the old pond—ah, that was something like a pond l—one was almost a choker: here three frogs went to a mouthful. And now, of all the hundreds of wild and domesticated fowls once common to this once a common, there were but three geese and a gander, (nicked by the gardener as his private property,) and this foreign wonder of a fowl, who were not afraid to venture within this sacred inclosure, regularly tabooed from all the wild-fowl world. When the gardener's back was so completely turned that he was sitting with his face fronting the Two Jolly Gardeners, a mile up the road, taking his pipe and pint of ale, these geese and their green goslings (not because they had more bravery than sparrows, but because they had more stupidity) would run cackling in where they dared not now think of going for a minute in their way to somewhere else;—
“Thus fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
The gander especially (a fine, full-grown fellow, as proud as a No. XXII.--WOL. IV. B B
turkeycock—quite a Grand Turk in his way) so strutted and waddled about “at his own sweet will” wherever he liked—all over the new-made beds, and ducking his head even under the very vertebra of the long-backed monster which so seared them, as if it had no terrors for him, great goose !—a very Alexander of agander —that, willynilly, they could not choose but admire him; for, if he had not courage, he had insensibility to danger—a good substitute for that old bull-dog virtue. By way of compliment to the gander, some one suggested that he should be asked what he thought of this bird, with the spinal column six yards long. Agreed to ; but it was not so soon agreed who should ask him ; for the goose looked so very grave and grand, that they were all afraid to speak to him. At last it was settled that they should get their old gossip the Magpie to pop the question indirectly, not to the Gander, but to a Robin who visited the villa daily for bits of broken victuals, though there was a cat there who hated the very sight of him. As luck would have it, Mag came screaming by, in mere wantonness and fun, for there was nothing amiss with him ; and seeing such a goodly company of sparrows in full convocation assembled, he slackened sail, and dropped in among them. He was a clean, clerical-looking fellow to look at, with a good many of the airs and graces of a pert, smart, pragmatical, pet parson, spoiled by too much praise of his eloquence, and too many presentations of rings and silver tea-pots by fair hands. If there had been any schism in his church touching white and black gowns, he had settled the question by wearing a pie-bald surplice—as much black as white. When they had informed him that his worship was the last person they had in their mouths, they begged his attention to the foreign wonder, and directing him where to look, they inquired if he had ever seen so extraordinary a bird in his life? Mag looked accordingly, with his beak first to one side and then to the other, making all sorts of odd, exclamatory noises as he looked intently at it ; and then he confessed that, in all his wanderings, he had never seen a wild fowl like it before, or behind either, for that matter At which piece of pleasantry there was an universal twitter of sparrow laughter: for he had such a renown among the small birds for his great wit, that he had only to open his mouth, and his silliest badinage was received with a roar. His chuckles of wonder at its antics—his imitations of its capers as the wind affected it—were really comical ; and made the small birds merry—very Among other memorable things said by him on this occasion, he remarked, “That, as it could not say it had not a feather to fly with, why did not it fly, and not stand there frightening the sparrowocracy, and puzzling him what to think of such a fowl ornithologically 3 '' And as Mag was in such a gracious humour, they boldly put it to him, “Would he ask robin to ask the gander -> “No, indeed, I wont,” said Mag decidedly. “Robin is a proud, bird-unsocial fellow; social, and mean, and humble enough to our great enemy, Man, and because he is a poet, and can sing pretty well when his betters wont sing—in winter—when the concert-season is over, he is above speaking to sparrows or to me. Even I should not get a civil answer from him : he would mind his song, and never mind me; which shows that he knows more of music than of manners. The goose I think I could talk to, and get, if not a wise, a civil answer from him. For you will remember—if you don't, I do,” and he looked uncommonly nutty upon his knowledge, “that he is called Anser by the learned, and must answer when called upon by the unlearned.” And here, of course, there was a prodigious twittering, so gratifying to his vanity, that he readily promised to ask the goose the question propounded. “And there he is, coming down the grand gravelled walk—how grandly and how gravely, as if he had something more on his mind than Michaelmas-day next 1 I'll ask him at once to oblige you!” And so saying, Mag walked over the way with great dignity— the dignity of an usher of the black-rod with a message from the upper house—and meeting the gander at the gate he saluted him, and hoped he was salubrious—he looked so; and the ladies and the little ones, all pretty well ? Yes. And then paying him a fulsome compliment upon his wisdom, he laughed, and looked behind him at the sparrows cowering in a corner, and told him of the terror of the small birds at the appearing of this monster-fowl, “all feathers and no flesh, with a spinal column ten yards long, who was eating up all the worms, slugs, and snails to himself." “What monster is this? where is this monster?” said the gander, looking as if it was the first he had heard of it. Mag directed his eye to the centre-bed; and at that moment the indescribable bird was playing most extraordinary antics, and throwing his feathers about from one side of his long spine to the other, as if he cared not which side was warm and which cold. The gander lifted his head with such a deliberate air as only a great goose can assume, and looked very gravely at this monster in the middle bed, Mag, with his sly eye, watching him the while, and wondering to see how wholly unafraid he was— apparently ; for Mag—a great observer—knew that there were dissemblers, in this world, who could affect to look calm, as a custard cooling, while, their hearts were dying within them in dread, and therefore his calmness went for nothing. “Well?” said the gander, looking as if he saw nothing wonderful in this wonder. The grave sparrow, ambassador, surprised at his insensibility, said, “You are not scared by it, I see l’’ “Why should I?” quoth the gander. “If you call that a monster, it is a monster of my own making—mine and my family's I should be a goose indeed to be frightened out-of my wits by my own shed feathers, strung on a string stretched from peg to peg, to scare away such fools as sparrows are, between you and I, with all their swaggering. It has no terrors for me! I am in the secret—I know what it is—what it is made of how harmless a wild fowl it is, and no foreign wonder to me, and Grubbins the gardener 1. It is simply ten yards of twine, two tent-pegs, and my and my wives' cast of finery ! Here, Maggy, my fine fellow, come and see for yourself what this terror is made of ' " And so saying, with an inward cackling, like the chuckling of some grave old grey-beard among men, when he laughs at the follies of the day, the gander waddled up towards this
“Gorgon and chimera dire,”—
the ambassador following after him, about a hop, step, and jump, in the rear, for he had his apprehensions still ; and when he saw with his own eyes what it was, and what it was not, that had scared all Sparrowdom, he chuckled too, and indeed screamed with mirth, which the sparrows hearing, set down for screams of horror.
When their merriment was over, the gander, out of his pity for the small birds, said benevolently, “Don’t disabuse these simpletons of their terrors, by telling them that it is no monster, or they will come trespassing in these grounds, and get shot down by the dozen ; for my master's man swears he'll have no mercy on them if he catches them grubbing here again. When you go back, Maggy, go among them with all your feathers on end, as though you were woundily frightened ; and beg and pray them to keep off these premises till the monster disappears, which will be the ease when the seeds come up. There is room enough in the wide world for them : why should they want to eome here in particular? Simply because they are forbidden f : Disobedience is delightful, I know; but don't let them pay too much for the pleasure of wilfulness! As a friend to them—a well-meaning friend— if you love them, frighten them : Tell them of the terrors you have endured—enough to turn your black feathers to white, your white to grey; and warn them of Grubbins's great wrath to come. His double-barrelled gun is ready, loaded with small shot, and standing handy in the tool-house; and he is in a horrible humour to-day, because the squire snubbed him for oversleeping himself. And so good morning, “Maggy; for I must about my business—get a gizzardful of early earth-worms for my dear little goslings!” * * ; : *** * * * * -*** * “And so saying, the gander gobbled up a great worm and had his eye on several more; while Mag flew screeching back among the simple sparrows, as if awfully horrified at all he had seen and heard. He would never more be seen there, he said, to serve or satisfy anybody, even himself; and away he went, and they after him, till he alighted five fields off; and there he solemnly warned them to avoid that spot, if they set any value on their lives. .” And during all that slow seed-time—for it was a cold, backward spring—not a sparrow was to be seen within gunshot of the tabooed ten acres, till an old bird, noticing how fat, how sleek, how sly and shy Mag had gotten in their abstinence, watched him ; and saw him and the gander grubbing together, and faring sumptuously under the very midriff of the monster. He could hardly believe his old eyes; but he could his ears when he heard Mag say, and chuckle as he said it, “What gullible fools your sparrows are "—and the gander answer him, “Yes, they are simple believers, truly 1” and cackle in contempt of these fools of fowls. “Phew!” whistled the old sparrow, and went openmouthed to tell his congeners what he had seen and heard; but they would not believe a word of this tale: “Tell it to hummingbirds, and they won't swallow it ! ... Mag is too honest and open a fellow for such base lo. said one of them ; and not a sparrow, save this spying one, but religiously kept aloof from the sacred soil : till, towards the end of May, Mag himself—as fat as a mortified monk in Lent—announced that the monster had suddenly disappeared, and the interdict was withdrawn.