Every spring since she was first hatched out under the eaves
of a wooden house on the west side, Brownie had built her
nest between the upper hinges of the attic blind and the wall.
Here, seldom disturbed by the opening of the window or any
noise within, she reared her little family, and sent them forth
to fill their places in the sparrow world.
  Brownie was a sensible mother, and she instilled excellent
lessons into the minds of her children before she trusted them
to battle alone with the world.
  Just as soon as the birdlings showed a propensity to use
their wings and leave the mother nest, Brownie would call
them all together and address them in this wise:
  "My dear children, the time has come when you must be
told something of your family history.  A number of years
ago, our ancestors, long residents of London, were appealed
to by the distressed American people to come over and de-
fend them against the encroaching caterpillar.
  "The American birds would not touch this enemy to the
foliage, and, as a consequence, the caterpillar increased to such
an extent that destruction threatened the trees.
  "Our ancestors, for so many generations loyal to England
and English soil, left its dear associations and fond ties and
came to the United States to do battle with the worm.  The
foe was easily subdued to the extent that their depredations
were arrested; and the American people were loud in the
praises of English sparrows, who became at once a pet with
old and young.  But greatly to the amazement of the good
American people, and to the shame of the American Colony of
English sparrows, the second generation of these birds refused
to touch a caterpillar, they demanded to be fed by the people;
and, added to this, they fought with and antagonized the native
American birds, driving them from their own domains, and
then seeming to take delight in uselessly defacing buildings
and clogging telegraph wires by building unnecessarily cum-
bersome nests, and filling them with all sorts of rubbish and
filth.  In all this they proved themselves wholly unworthy the
famous race from which they sprang.  Their conduct was
more in keeping with that of the immigrant who comes to
America, glad to do any toil at any price and live on crusts;
but who in a few short months demands a public office, large
pay and easy toil, while he antagonizes the native American
with his insolence and his dirt.
  "You will, therefore, my dear children, understand why the
sparrow race rests under a cloud at the present time.  But
as you go forth into the world you can do much to redeem the
family name.  I have always made the caterpillar my chief
article of diet, and have brought you up to the present time
on this food, although the dear children who occupy this house
have offered me crumbs enough to support a dozen families.
But I never allowed myself to form a taste for such delicacies,
desiring to be true to the mission of my early ancestors; and
I wish you to do the same.  Seek the caterpillar; destroy him.
Avoid antagonizing the American birds, and never injure or
deface a building by making your nest larger than necessary.
Take only enough crumbs to show these dear children your
appreciation of their loving kindness; but never allow your-
self to look to them for support, and do not ruin your natural
appetite for worms."
  In this way the good mother sparrow would instruct her
children before she sent them forth; and whenever they in
turn built their nests under the eaves, and hatched their
young, the same lessons were taught the grandchildren.
  Brownie's first recollection of a human face was of seeing
a small boy of perhaps five years leaning out of the attic win-
dow at the risk of his life, and dropping crumbs into the nest
where she lay--a wee bit of a baby sparrow.  After that
she grew to know and love this boy--Master Willie, as she
heard him called.  He often brought crumbs or worms to
her own little ones, when she became a proud mother; and
she grew to feel so kindly toward him that she would light
upon his head or his shoulder for a second when he was play-
ing in the court which she and her children frequented in
idle moments.
  Master Willie was a fine lad of eight when Brownie had
reared her third brood of children.  One crisp autumn day
the whole brood flew into the court to make their mother a
little visit.  They were so plump and round and pretty that
Brownie's heart swelled with pride; and when she saw
Master Willie and another boy approaching, she flew about
his head as if to call his attention to her fine children; and
then she settled on the window ledge to look down upon
  "No doubt the dear boy has brought them a handful of
crumbs," she said to herself; "and if he has, I will let them eat
to their fill for once without a word of remonstrance.  I think
one's good advice has more weight for being occasionally
  Just as she was saying this to herself, she heard a queer
sound, and a strange sharp cry from the oldest of her brood,
and she saw him roll over on the other side panting for
breath; then she heard a strange boy cry "That was a good
shot, Willie--quick now and you can hit another.  Two cents
apiece, golly, that's a great chance for us to get Christmas
money, ain't it?  See that old one in the window ledge; go for
her, Will!"
  But Willie did not aim his cruel air gun at Brownie--
he aimed it at another of her brood--and the second shot was
as unerring as the first, and still the strange boy kept on
talking.  "That's four cents ain't it, Will?  Oh, but I must
ask my pa to get me a gun too; it's such fun to pop 'em over,
ain't it?  And do you suppose the city will pay us the money
sure?  Pa said it would--two cents for every dead sparrow,
'cause they're killing all the birds and the trees too."
  Just then Brownie saw the third bird of her brood of five
fall dead under Willie's aim.  The words of the strange boy
seemed ringing in her ears!  The awful knowledge burst upon
her, that Willie--the boy who had been so kind and gentle to
her and hers for three years--Willie, whose hand had often
given her food, was not transformed into an eager, heartless
murderer by the prospect of a few cents gain, and the knowl-
edge broke her poor little heart.  She gave a weak but a
woful cry, her poor plump little breast heaved and fluttered,
her eyes filmed and she rolled down in the court dead.
  "My, ain't that queer?" cried Willie's companion.
"Here's a dead sparrow, Will, and you didn't shoot at her at
all.  Wonder what killed her.  But you can get your two
cents on her all the same, can't you?"
  And Willie did collect his two cents on poor heart-broken
Brownie; and this two cents went to swell his fund for the
celebration of the birth of Christ "Who noteth even a spar-
row's fall."

The Beautiful Land of Nod by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Chicago: Morrill, Higgins & Co. [1892]

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