20. The Pursued Bird
"There is no doubt but that Dick will be the one to win the crown," was the silent reflection of Nelly; "I work from no hopes of getting that; but it will be quite reward enough for me if my dear mother be pleased with my cottage; and smiles from Duty and Affection would make any labour seem light."
By dint of steady hammering Nelly at last managed to fix in a goodly number of dates. When she was satisfied that enough had been done, she rose from her knees, and relieved herself by a yawn.
"I will go and see after my Plain-work," said she; "the fruit upon it is swelling quite big--I am glad that it will be perfectly ripe when my dear mother comes back. If she be satisfied with it, how little shall I grudge my past trouble--how joyful and happy I shall be!"
Nelly uttered these words as she crossed her threshold, and felt the fresh, pleasant air playing upon her flushed cheek and her aching brow.
At that moment her ear caught a whirring sound, as of wings, and looking upwards, she beheld a beautiful bird pursued by a hawk darting down towards her at the utmost speed that terror could lend it. Scarcely had she seen its danger, when the little fluttering fugitive had sought shelter in the bosom of the child.
"Oh, poor little bird--poor little bird--the hawk shall not catch you!" cried Nelly, putting one hand over the trembling creature, and holding out the other to keep the fierce pursuer away.
The hawk, which was of a species called "Tempers," not altogether unknown in Great Britain (my readers may, perhaps, have seen specimens), wheeled round and round in circles, as if unwilling to give up its prey. Nelly was quite afraid that it might attack her, and still pressing the poor frightened bird to her bosom, she hurried back into her cottage.
"You are safe, pretty creature--quite safe. You need no longer tremble and flutter," said the little girl to the bird. It almost seemed as if the fugitive understood her; it spread its pinions, but not to fly away; lightly it hopped on to her hand, and rubbed its soft head against her shoulder.
"I never saw such a beauty of a bird!" cried the delighted Nelly; "and it seems just as tame as it is pretty. What lovely white silvery wings, what soft eyes that gleam like rubies, the changing tints on its neck and breast are lovelier than anything I ever saw before!"
Still perched on her hand, the bird opened his beak, and began to warble a song of gratitude far sweeter than any nightingale's lay. Little Nelly was enraptured at the sound.
"Oh, how glad I am," she exclaimed, "that I did not leave my hammering before--that I did not go, as I much wished to go, either with Lubin or Dick. This lovely creature would then have been torn to pieces by the cruel hawk, and I should have seen nothing of it, except perhaps a few stained feathers at my door."
"I hear the well-known warble of my bird Content!" cried a voice from without which Nelly at once recognized; and running to open the door as fast as her lameness would let her, she joyfully admitted her two friends, Affection and Duty.
Content fluttered to the hand of his mistress, Duty.
"Ah, truant!" cried the fair maiden, as she caressed her little favourite, "how could you wander from me--how could you ever fancy yourself safe apart from Duty? I saw the hawk wheeling in the air, and I trembled for my beautiful pet; but he has found here a refuge and protector. Nelly, I thank you for your kindness, and it is with pleasure that I reward it. You have saved the bird, and the bird shall be yours. Go, pretty warbler, go; and, warned by former danger, keep close to your new young mistress."
Nelly uttered an exclamation of delight, as, obedient to the word, silver-winged Content flew again into her bosom, and nestled there like a child.
"Oh, thanks, thanks!" she cried; "such a treasure as this will be a constant delight. I would rather have the bird Content, than even the crown of Success."
"You must never part with it," said Duty earnestly, "whoever may tempt you to do so; my gift must never be sold or exchanged. Content is a wonderful bird; joy and happiness breathe in his note. Though I be not visibly present, such a mysterious tie connects Content with Duty, that when you have followed my rules, and acted as I would have you act, my bird will cheer and reward you with one of his sweetest songs."
"I will never, never part with him of my own free will," said Nelly, as she fondled her bird.
Affection now came forward. The reader may remark that the sisters seemed ever to keep close together, as though they scarcely could live apart. They were indeed tenderly attached, and felt a pleasure in each other's society which made them never willingly sundered. Duty felt that without Affection she would find every occupation a weary task; and Affection, who was a little given to extravagance, would often have got into trouble without the quiet counsels of Duty. Each looked fairer and brighter when seen in the company of her sister.
Affection now placed before Nelly a Book, wrapped in a cover of gold. "To my sister's gift," she said, "I must add one yet more precious. However well the head may be furnished, if the highest knowledge be wanting, all other things become worthless and vain. Treasure this Book, dear child; make it your counsellor and guide; you will not prize it less because Duty requires you to study it, and it may be pleasant to you to remember that you first received it from my hand as the best, the noblest gift which even Affection could offer."
Youthful reader, do you know that Book, and do you dearly prize it? It is that volume which gives knowledge compared to which all the inventions of science, all the learning of man, all the wisdom of this world, is but as dust in the balance.