Mrs. Spring Fragrance by Edith Maude Eaton
Tales of Chinese Children
The Story of a Little Chinese Seabird
A little Chinese seabird sat in the grass which grew on a rocky island. The little Chinese seabird was very sad. Her wing was broken and all her brothers and sisters had flown away, leaving her alone. Why, oh why, had she broken her wing? Why, oh why, were brothers and sisters so?
The little Chinese seabird looked over the sea. How very beautiful its life, and movement! The sea was the only consolation the little Chinese seabird had. It was always lovely and loving to the little Chinese seabird. No matter how often the white-fringed waves spent themselves for her delight, there were always more to follow. Changeably unchanged, they never deserted her nor her island home. Not so with her brothers and sisters. When she could fly with them, circle in the air, float upon the water, dive for little fish, and be happy and gay — then indeed she was one of them and they loved her. But since she had broken her wing, it was different. The little Chinese seabird shook her little head mournfully.
But what was that which the waves were bearing towards her island? The little Chinese seabird gave a quick glance, then put her little head under the wing that was not broken.
Now, what the little Chinese seabird had seen was a boat. Within the boat were three boys — and these boys were coming to the island to hunt for birds' eggs. The little Chinese seabird knew this, and her bright, wild little eyes glistened like jewels, and she shivered and shuddered as she spread herself as close to the ground as she could.
The boys beached the boat and were soon scrambling over the island, gathering all the eggs that they could find. Sometimes they passed so near to the little Chinese seabird that she thought she must surely be trampled upon, and she set her little beak tight and close so that she might make no sound, should so painful an accident occur. Once, however, when the tip of a boy's queue dangled against her 5 head and tickled it, the little Chinese seabird forgot entirely her prudent resolve to suffer in silence, and recklessly pecked at the dangling queue. Fortunately for her, the mother who had braided the queue of the boy had neglected to tie properly the bright red cord at the end thereof. Therefore when the little Chinese seabird pecked at the braid, the effect of the peck was not to cause pain to the boy and make him turn around, as might otherwise have been the case, but to pull out of his queue the bright red cord. This, the little Chinese seabird held in her beak for quite a long time. She enjoyed glancing down at its bright red color, and was afraid to let it fall in case the boys might hear.
Meanwhile, the boys, having gathered all the eggs they could find, plotted together against the little Chinese seabird and against her brothers and sisters, and the little seabird, holding the red cord in her beak, listened with interest. For many hours after the boys had left the island, the little Chinese seabird sat meditating over what she had heard. So deeply did she meditate that she forgot all about the pain of her broken wing.
Towards evening her brothers and sisters came home and settled over the island like a wide-spreading mantle of wings.
For some time the little Chinese seabird remained perfectly still and quiet. She kept saying to herself, "Why should I care? Why should I care?" But as she did care, she suddenly let fall the bright red cord and opened and closed her beak several times.
"What is all that noise?" inquired the eldest seabird.
"Dear brother," returned the little Chinese seabird, "I hope I have not disturbed you; but is not this a very lovely night? See how radiant the moon."
"Go to sleep! Go to sleep!"
"Did you have an enjoyable flight today, brother?"
"Tiresome little bird, go to sleep, go to sleep."
It was the little Chinese seabird's eldest sister that last spoke.
"Oh, sister, is that you?" replied the little Chinese seabird. "I could see you last of the flock as you departed from our island, and I did so admire the satin white of your underwings and tail."
"Mine is whiter," chirped the youngest of all the birds.
"Go to sleep, go to sleep!" snapped the eldest brother. ;
"What did you have to eat today?" inquired the second brother of the little Chinese seabird.
"I had, a very tasty worm porridge, dear brother," replied the little Chinese seabird. "I scooped it out of the ground beside me, because you know I dared not move any distance for fear of making worse my broken wing? "
"Your broken wing? Ah, yes, your broken wing!" murmured the second brother.
"Ah, yes, your broken wing!" faintly echoed the others.
Then they all, except the very youngest one, put their heads under their own wings, for they all, except the very youngest one, felt a little bit ashamed of themselves.
But the little Chinese seabird did not wish her brothers and sisters to feel ashamed of themselves. It embarrassed her, so she lifted up her little voice again, and said:
"But I enjoyed the day exceedingly. The sea was never so lovely nor the sky either." When I was tired of watching the waves chase each other, I could look up and watch the clouds. They sailed over the blue sky so soft and white."
"There's no fun in just watching things," said the youngest of all the birds: "we went right up into the clouds and then deep down into the waves. How we splashed and dived and swam! When I fluttered my wings after a bath in silver spray, it seemed as if a shower of jewels dropped therefrom."
"How lovely!" exclaimed the little Chinese seabird. Then she remembered that if her brothers and sisters were to have just as good a time the next day, she must tell them a story — a true one.
So she did.
After she had finished speaking, there was a great fluttering of wings, and all her brothers and sisters rose in the air above her, ready for flight.
"To think," they chattered to one another, "that if we had remained an hour longer, those wicked boys would have come with lighted torches and caught us and dashed us to death against stones."
"Yes, and dressed us and salted us!"
"And dressed us and salted us!"
"And dried us!"
"And dried us!"
"And eaten us!"
"And eaten us!"
"How altogether uncalled for!"
"Are you quite sure?" inquired the eldest brother of the little Chinese seabird.
"See," she replied, "here is, the red cord from the queue of one of the boys. I picked it out as his, braid dangled against my head!"
The brothers and sisters; looked at one another.
"How near they must have come to her!" exclaimed the eldest sister.
"They might have trampled her to death in a very unbecoming manner!" remarked the second.
"They will be sure to do it tonight when, they search with torchlight," was the opinion of the second brother.
And the eldest brother looked sharply down upon the little Chinese seabird, and said:
"If you had not told, us what these rude boys intended doing, you would not have had to die alone."
"I prefer to die alone!" proudly replied the little Chinese seabird. "It will be much pleasanter to die in quiet than with wailing screams in my ears."
"Hear her, oh, hear her!" exclaimed the second sister.
But the eldest sister, she with the satin-white under-wings and spreading tail, descended to the ground, and began pulling up some tough grass. "Come," she cried to the other birds, "let us make a strong nest for our broken-winged little sister — a nest in which we can bear away to safety one who tonight has saved our lives without thought of her own."
"We will, with pleasure," answered the other birds."
Whereupon they fluttered down and helped to build the most wonderful nest that ever was built, weaving in and out of it the bright red cord, which the little Chinese seabird had plucked out of the boy's queue. This made the nest strong enough to bear the weight of the little Chinese seabird, and when it was finished they dragged it beside her and tenderly pushed her in. Then they clutched its sides with their beaks, flapped their wings, and in a moment were soaring together far up in the sky, the little Chinese seabird with the broken wing happy as she could be in the midst of them.