Surrounding wheat mature before sapling
Was still strong enough
To fly and take flight,
A thousand different cares the agitated lark
Go for pasture, warn his children
To always be on the look-out and to be sentinel …
In the distance stretched the plain, covered in part by golden harvests stretched in places, while in other parts the ears, lying on the ground in long streaks, left the soil exposed. From place to place, large green areas indicated me pastures; a few hedges, some trees along the roads, alone broke the uniformity of this magnificent spectacle. Above, a limpid blue sky, without clouds, and everywhere the burning rays of the July sun.
We birds, we digest quickly and we must eat constantly. Hunger was felt.
I hurried to one of the harvested fields, thinking that the ears had fallen, and had shed some ripe grain of which I would profit. At the moment when I fell into the grass, I saw anxiously coming and going a bird about my size, but whose gait was much faster than mine. He was looking for something on the ground, and I confess that I saw nothing there worth the trouble of this care. I walked to meet him, and seeing that he took no care of me:
“Hello! Who are you?“ … I asked.
“Are you deaf?“
Very intrigued by this busy quest, to which I did not understand anything, at the same time stung that he did not answer my advances better, I walked a few more steps towards him and, touching him with my wing:
“I do not wish you any harm, neighbor, why do you not answer me?“
“I have no time.”
“Please, at least tell me what’s your name?“
The bird paused for a moment, looked at me with his big, intelligent eyes and replied:
“Do not you know me?
“Poor child! you are young, I see it well. Learn, then, that my name is Lark: I sing the Angelus of the birds in the morning, at noon and in the evening.
“Thank you, Madame Lark; my name is Sparrow.“
“I know that,” she said. “Your friends usually are not worth much, but …“
“There are exceptions, ma’am, I assure you.“
“I want to believe you.“
While she spoke in her kind language, I looked at her attentively. On his graceful head rose a hoop formed of elegant feathers; her dress was gray; scarred by two or three tones, drawing a little on the yellow and giving to her adornment a color so similar to that of the earth, that if I strayed from her a few steps, her voice alone indicated her presence. Gracious in all his person, a single detail shocked me by its singularity: it was the disproportionate length of his thumb, flat and armed with a nail without curvature longer than his finger. I made the observation of it, and she explained to me that, thanks to this special conformation, the larks’ fingers can not close like ours and form a pincer by their opposition with the thumb. So the lark can not embrace a branch under its paw and is obliged to never perch.
“Do you spend your life on the ground?“ I asked her.
“It must be very tiring, walk constantly in the plowed land? …“
-No, because our thumb, which seems to you an embarrassment, I see it well, supports us without effort on the soft and sandy grounds.“
As we said so, we left the field and went down the road to a roadman who was breaking stones and whose Lark was not afraid. She had known him for a long time, and often, during his dinner, the old man gave her crumbs of black bread which she hastened, she told me, to distribute to her little ones. A car came to pass; we flew, me on a bush of the neighboring hedge, she in the air, saying to me, on leaving, with her sweet, fluty voice:
Wait for me, my friend …
Wait, wait for me …
I’m going to sing in heaven
And I come back to you!
And she opened her long, vigorous, tireless wings. I watched her astonished while she ascend, ascend, always ascend, and I felt invaded, I know not why, by a poignant anxiety. How did her head not turn at all?… During this time, she was still climbing, describing graceful circles, each round of which raised her more and making her voice heard which, despite the distance, always came to me as clean, as distinct, as strong! This fact filled me with astonishment; but since then, one day, I heard a very learned man telling me that this fact was inexplicable for him, – which does not surprise me, since it is also for me! Today, I deeply regret not having thought of asking my dear Lark how she accomplished this tour de force.
She climbed more than a thousand meters high. A quarter of a league in the air! I could not see her anymore, but I could still hear her, and for half an hour she sang, without effort, without apparent fatigue. His themes were always varied, melodious, tender and limpid, though sad. Soon I heard the other larks of the plain, who, like her, were singing as they went up to the clouds, and as she no doubt obeyed the innate and instinctive urge to swing from time to time in a purer air than ours. I called in my strongest voice:
“Come back, friend! go down!“
What childishness! I did not think she could hear me, since I did not know the art of making my voice heard as far as hers. Suddenly I hear above my head a cry of fright, a strident alert pushed by a swallow that grazed my bush … Beside me, a wagtail, swaying on a pile of stones, responds with a piercing call and flies away … What does all this mean?
Nestled among the thorns of my bush, I followed with my eye my new friend, who appeared as a black dot in the blue of the sky; I saw her ready to come down again, when suddenly a bird much larger than us, endowed with large pointed wings and armed with a hooked and formidable beak, passed, shaving the hedge in which I hid …
The fright paralyzed my senses, when I heard the roadman, near which the bird flew, mumbling between his teeth:
“Rascal of sparrowhawk! go! … Do not attack my Lark, at least, because you would have to deal with me!“
From his piercing eyes, the sparrowhawk had seen my friend. He jumped up and darted into the clouds, obliquely, without, however, losing sight of the poor girl, who, with a swift wing, climbed to the top of the sky. The sparrowhawk ran then a broadside which brought him closer to her; but, suddenly, the Lark folded her sails, and, like a falling stone, suddenly arrived at the foot of the hedge. Then opening its wings a few feet from the ground, she cushions her fall and, with a reverse, huddles in the tall grass. She could barely get there that the Elle sparrowhawk fell in turn, but too late! Despite his yellow, ferocious and inquisitive eyes, gleaming like carbuncles, he did not see the Lark, huddled and motionless.
He walked away, flapping his wing unhappily …
How happy I was! as much seen her saved as to see the brave roadman who, armed with his long-handled hammer, came to his aid.
I went up to her and we began to talk like good friends who meet again; unfortunately, she was a little more reserved than I had desired: like all the inhabitants of the country, she was defiant and did not indulge in the first comer.
However, I appeared to her a good child of sparrow; she was convinced that my heart was sensitive, perhaps she remembered the age-old friendship between our two races; the fact remains that her stiffness relaxed, that she told me her misfortunes, and taught me the dangers my species dreads. for, alas! here below, each one of us has his enemies. Happy are those who have only one!
“I am no longer young,” she said to me; Until now I had escaped all the traps that were laid for us by the children of men; I was proud of it and glorified myself.
“Alas! how much I am punished today for my presumption!
“We usually build our first nest early in the month of April, so that our young are strong enough to fly before the man gets his grain. In the seeded fields, we take advantage of a small natural cavity at the bottom of a furrow, to gather some leaves, a few fine herbs, some well-chosen hair, and on that we lay four to five eggs, more charming that exist, to our eyes at least. No one can escape his destiny, and misfortune pursues certain beings relentlessly. My first brood was destroyed by a storm: myself, I owed my salvation only to the presence of spirit of my husband, who saved me from a torrent of water carrying away our nest and our already broken eggs .
“We eagerly resumed to prepare a second brood; but I saw with sorrow that the corn was ripening too fast, and that our little ones would never be strong enough for the next harvest. The dear children, however, showed themselves full of courage. When they were young, they had left the nest and were trying to follow us; but their little legs soon refused them service, and their wings did not hold them enough in the air to reassure me entirely.
“I therefore judged the year very hastily. The heat is intense and relentless, the grain could be harvested nearly fifteen days earlier than usual.
“One morning, I had gone off to stock small, soft insects, caterpillars, because this animal feed quickly increases the strength of our children. Meanwhile, came the master of the field with his workers. The scythe of the reapers accomplished his fatal office and, in a furrow, discovered the retreat of my dear brood! Delighted with their discovery, these cruel men carried my children to raise them and hold them in cages, to hear their sweet song. Ah! that such misfortune never happens to their family! May God keep them from the house without children: the poet has said it!“
“I have not lost all hope of delivering them … Perhaps it is the sky that sends you to me, and if you wanted to help me, we might, perhaps, to return them to freedom and to my love.“
“How to do?“
“I recognized, by light duvets scattered on the place of the disaster, that they tried to flee. Alas! how was I there to rescue them or die with them!“
“Yes, really,” I said to my new friend, “I will do my best to help you. Count on a friend!“
“If so, follow me. The reapers go to sleep for an hour: the excessive heat and work they indulge forces them to take some rest. Let us try to recognize who is the master among them. It is he who must have my brood. We will follow him to his house and I will soon discover where are my children … The heart of their mother will know how to guess!“
“Let’s go,” I replied, inflamed with great zeal.
“Not before I thank you, young stranger, for the unselfish help you give me. God grant that you always knew pain like mine!“
With one stroke of the wing we flew around the workers, and it was easy for us to distinguish who was at the head of the squad and who was giving the orders.
“Alas! my friend Sparrow, we will have to wait until evening!“
“Do you believe it?“
“Without a doubt. The master begins each furrow, the reapers are at work … Ah! that time seems far away from mine! Poor little ones!“
While the inconsolable mother lamented, a woman appeared in her rustic costume, bringing the food of the snack, and I, perched on a nearby javelle, I let myself go to the pleasure of contemplating this scene of a biblical naivety.
There is true poetry in the accomplishment of the work of the fields. These sun-tanned men under the burning rays of the sun, those rough faces, those sunburnt arms armed with scythe or sickle, these simple costumes; in the distance, the clanging of the hammer on the scythe which he sharpens, all this borrows to the frame of nature a certain austere majesty, which strikes the mind briskly. I had not yet attended such shows; I admired the framing of the stage as much as the acting. They went there with all their heart. Under their greedy teeth the stout provisions disappeared; the big cider pitcher circled the company and received harsh accolades: everyone, except for a few happy jokes, was as busy as the previous one, and it was felt that just now the sickle would maneuver so easily as now the spoon. Good people! As they hurry slowly! There is in all their movements something of the tenacious languor of the ox in the furrow; their manner of eating, conscientious and slow, is not without analogy with the ruminating of these same oxen which accompany their work.
The master hastened, he knew that tomorrow the bad weather could come, that it was necessary to cut down the most possible work, while nothing threatened.
“At work, my boys!“ he said, when the pitcher had completed his last tour.
“Thank you, mother!“ he said, turning to the woman.
Each one got up, a little painfully at first, then regained the furrow started. After five minutes the sickles were all alone …
I contemplated all this without getting tired, while my companion did not hold in place, so much impatience devoured her.
“So she will not return?“ she sighed.
“The farmer! without a doubt…“
I looked at the Lark with big astonished eyes; she went on:
“We will follow it.
“I agree; but what for?“
“My children are at home …“
Indeed, we soon arrived, behind the good woman, at a rather nice house, sheltered by tall trees, and in front of the door of which two young children were playing cheerfully.
We stopped on one of the gables of the barn, and from there I was surprised at the clean, decent, coquettish aspect of this house. No heaps of manure in front of the door, no unhealthy residue for the family and so unpleasant for sight and smell. Instead of this usual show on our farms, a large sandy location allowed cars to approach and maneuver safely and cleanly. This did not prevent life from circulating on all sides and the ease of appearing everywhere. Already neighboring roofs, covered with magnificent pigeons, two or three had detached to come to look under our noses. My friend had taken her flight and was browsing everywhere; I had retreated, as it seemed prudent to do; then, gaining one of the bushy trees within my reach, I met there a troop of my kind in the midst of whom I found a reception … charming and cordial at the highest point … pecks at leisure. Not being the strongest, I slipped away and, hidden under the roof of the house, I looked for my companion.
“Don’t you see anything, my friend Sparrow?“
This desolate voice brought me back to the feeling of my position and the memory of my promise; I reproached myself for strolling thus, while this mother was suffering; I resolved to act.
“I do not see anything, friend; but I’m going to search.“
And, through a hole, I entered the attic. The hardest thing was not to get in, but to get out of it: I remembered it when it was over time, when a strong smell of cat made me remember that I was just risking my skin in a place so badly haunted! Fortunately we are young! we have no doubt about it and we say to ourselves: haphazard!!
I continued my search, redoubled my caution … and it was needed. Everybody knows the immense granaries of rustic buildings; high roofs support the roofs and form, in their length, like the rungs of a gigantic cage. I took refuge on one of these frames to inspect from the depths of a staircase in which it seemed to me to be a slight rush of young birds. It was nothing…
By the time I turned around, appeared in front of me, on my beam … an ear, then two, pointed at me, then an eye, two flaming eyes! … Without that I can realize how it went, a body leaps, huge, white, ruffled … I still see it in the air! O my children! The love of life is instinctive! Ready to lose consciousness of fear, I dropped myself; I do not know how, nor by what miracle I found myself on my wings, fluttering through the attic.
Alas! all danger was not averted, on the contrary: my enemy – a huge cat, I see him at this hour-began a fierce pursuit. Chased from beam to beam, I flew to the top of the roof; but there no more bars, a stake straight! … What to do? Once, twice, I thought myself lost, anxiety made my heart beat to break my chest … and the cat was still climbing! …
Chance – no! let us be just – Providence made me see a little peg that protruded beyond the wall of the post: in the twinkling of an eye I was clinging to it; scarcely was enough to support me, and from there I was able to see for two minutes – two centuries! – my enemy sharpening his claws against the stake, trying to hold on to it, without however daring to leave the transversal part. The ugly beast! as she passed her red tongue over her long white teeth! how she devoured me with her bloody eyes!
At last, no longer holding, the cat recoiled; then, measuring his strength for a long time, he rushed forward. But his strength betrayed his wickedness: he did not reach me, and falling from the top to the bottom of the attic, swore in a formidable manner and disembarked by the staircase, arching back. I sighed with relief, and giving thanks to the heaven of my deliverance, hastened to go through my hole and go out. How beautiful the sky seemed to me!
I called Lark with all my strength. Nobody answered me. Hunger was coming. I ventured down into the yard near the poultry; after so many emotions and so terrible, I felt a strong need to regain strength.
Impossible! a horrible cock laid a peck at me which, if it had hit me, would have broken the chain of my adventures forever. I only had to dodge, which I did with an empty stomach and anxious heart. I returned to my corner and thence cast a sad glance at the bowls full of seeds and soup so well defended by the rooster. Suddenly a cry was heard near us:
Fortunately, the reapers were returning at this moment, and everyone rushed to the side of the disaster. One notices then that a workman fell asleep with a pipe in his mouth, that the fire took on the straw on which he lay, and from there communicated to the barn. Everyone was worthy of praise; as for me, I do not blush to say it, I trembled like the leaf: in truth, it is not my job to walk in the fire! The farmer master was very much loved; so all his employees rivaled each other with zeal and devotion. As this farm was isolated and of considerable importance, the farmer had purchased a fire pump, which was immediately put into operation. The barn was sacrificed; they did what is called the part of fire; then, as the crops were still in the fields, the loss was as small as possible.
In the midst of the hubbub caused by this event, I hid between the branches of a tree, away from the whirlwinds of smoke, watching as best I could about what was happening around me. When all danger was averted, the extent of the losses suffered by the master of the farm was measured, and it was almost the joy of those good people! They regretted less what they had lost than they rejoiced to have kept what they might have lost. The unfortunate man who had been the cause of the disaster had succumbed, suffocated by the smoke. He was religiously carried in a building a little distant from the house, and there, in turn, each one came to fill a pious duty. The master sent wine and cider to the workers, and thanked all the workmen who, by their courage, had preserved most of his fortune. Not one of the cattle had perished, thanks to the care of the drover, who had brought them out before they noticed the fire, and there had been great difficulty, for the stable was attached to the barn, and when they are terrified by the flames, the animals do not want to go out and let themselves be burnt, distraught by the sight of danger. However, they were driven out, bandaging their eyes and exciting them with good words.
In the meantime, the night arrived, quiet and serene. My friend had sought a retreat in a field near the house, after singing her song in the air. Some men were watching over the fire, and I could see between the leaves their silhouettes passing by the reverberation of the last boards that were burning.
At daybreak my companion begged me to continue our research. I had the idea of passing behind the burnt barn, and I had rather turned around this fire, which was hardly extinguished, when I saw a little cage hanging on a piece of wall still standing. This cage was intact … I flew over it … It contained the family of poor Lark, but alas! during the disaster, the small birds had been asphyxiated by the heat. I went away with a heartbroken heart, and had to summon all my courage to my assistance in letting know this sad event to the inconsolable mother; her despair broke my heart, and, in spite of all that I could say to her, she wished to remain near this place, which reminded her of such sad memories.
“My happiness is destroyed,” she said to me. I will watch near these cherished remains. I will be expecting the numerous troops of my companions who, in the autumn, will descend to the plains. In the midst of them, I will find, if not forgetfulness, at least calmness and friendship.“
“Do you emigrate every year?“
“No,” she said, “we are changing township; some approach the shores of the sea, the others look for places where winter wheats allow them to forage during the cold season.“
“Courage!! my dear friend; leave, on the contrary, this country of misfortune; let us go together to see the world, time brings a softening to the greatest evils.“
“No, my friend, I remain: among my kind, I will perhaps be less unhappy.“
All I could add to convince her was useless. I stayed with her for a few days to lavish my consolations on her, but the nature of the free sparrows does not permit them perpetual constancy: they need a carefree and free life. So I said good-bye to this sorry mother; she thanked me for the little I had done for her, and resumed my flight across the fields.
My first project, finding myself alone, was to return to the Bois de Boulogne. Why? I did not know it, I had only been unhappy! We must believe that the native country has secret attractions to which, more than men, we do not know how to escape!
But fate had decided otherwise. The sparrow goes, in this world, where circumstances lead him; happy if heaven grants him a friend.
(Les aventures d’une fourmi rouge et les mémoires d’un pierrot, by Henri de la Blanchère, translated by Nicolae Sfetcu)