THE WREN WHO BROUGHT FIRE
ENTURIES and centuries ago, when men were first made, there was no such thing as fire known in all the world. Folk had no fire with which to cook their food, and so they were obliged to eat it raw; which was very unpleasant, as you may imagine! There were no cheery fireplaces about which to sit and tell stories, or make candy or pop corn. There was no light in the darkness at night except the sun and moon and stars. There were not even candles in those days, to say nothing of gas lamps or electric lights. It is strange to think of such a world where even the grown folks, like the children and the birds, had to go to bed at dusk, because there was nothing else to do.
But the little birds, who lived nearer heaven than men, knew of the fire in the sun, and knew also what a fine thing it would be for the tribes without feathers if they could have some of the magic element.
One day the birds held a solemn meeting, when it was decided that men must have fire. Then some one must fly up to the sun and bring a firebrand thence. Who would undertake this dangerous errand? Already by sad experience the Kingfisher had felt the force of the sun’s heat, while the Eagle and the Wren, in the famous flight which they had taken together, had learned the same thing. The assembly of birds looked at one another, and there was a silence.
“I dare not go,” said the Kingfisher, trembling at the idea; “I have been up there once, and the warning I received was enough to last me for some time.”
“I cannot go,” said the Peacock, “for my plumage is too precious to risk.”
“I ought not to go,” said the Lark, “for the heat might injure my pretty voice.”
“I must not go,” said the Stork, “for I have promised to bring a baby to the King’s palace this evening.”
“I cannot go,” said the Dove, “for I have a nestful of little ones who depend upon me for food.”
“Nor I,” said the Sparrow, “for I am afraid.” “Nor I!” “Nor I!” “Nor I!” echoed the other birds.
“I will not go,” croaked the Owl, “for I simply do not wish to.”
Then up spoke the little Wren, who had been keeping in the background of late, because he was despised for his attempt to deceive the birds into electing him their king.
“I will go,” said the Wren. “I will go and bring fire to men. I am of little use here. No one loves me. Every one despises me because of the trick which I played the Eagle, our King. No one will care if I am injured in the attempt. I will go and try.”
“Bravely spoken, little friend,” said the Eagle kindly. “I myself would go but that I am the King, and kings must not risk the lives upon which hangs the welfare of their people. Go you, little Wren, and if you are successful you will win back the respect of your brothers which you have forfeited.”
The brave little bird set out upon his errand without further words. And weak and delicate though he was, he flew and he flew up and up so sturdily that at last he reached the sun, whence he plucked a firebrand and bore it swiftly in his beak back toward the earth. Like a falling star the bright speck flashed through the air, drawing ever nearer and nearer to the cool waters of Birdland and the safety which awaited him there. The other birds gathered in a flock about their king and anxiously watched the Wren’s approach.
Suddenly the Robin cried out, “Alas! He burns! He has caught fire!” And off darted the faithful little friend to help the Wren. Sure enough, a spark from the blazing brand had fallen upon the plumage of the Wren, and his poor little wings were burning as he fluttered piteously down, still holding the fire in his beak.
The Robin flew up to him and said, “Well done, brother! You have succeeded. Now give me the fire and I will relieve you while you drop into the lake below us to quench the flame which threatens your life.”
So the Robin in his turn seized the firebrand in his beak and started down with it. But, like the Wren, he too was soon fluttering in the blaze of his own burning plumage, a little living firework, falling toward the earth.
Then up came the Lark, who had been watching the two unselfish birds. “Give me the brand, brother Robin,” she cried, “for your pretty feathers are all ablaze and your life is in danger.”
So it was the Lark who finally brought the fire safely to the earth and gave it to mankind. But the Robin and the Wren, when they had put out the flame which burned their feathers, appeared in the assembly of the birds, and were greeted with great applause as the heroes of the day. The Robin’s breast was scorched a brilliant red, but the poor, brave little Wren was wholly bare of plumage. All his pretty feathers had been burned away, and he stood before them shivering and piteous.
“Bravo! little Wren,” cried King Eagle. “A noble deed you have done this day, and nobly have you won back the respect of your brother birds and earned the everlasting gratitude of men. Now what shall we do to help you in your sorry plight?” After a moment’s thought he turned to the other birds and said, “Who will give a feather to help patch a covering for our brave friend?”
“I!” and “I!” and “I!” and “I!” chorused the generous birds. And in turn each came forward with a plume or a bit of down from his breast. The Robin first, who had shared his peril, brought a feather sadly scorched, but precious; the Lark next, who had helped in the time of need. The Eagle bestowed a kingly feather, the Thrush, the Nightingale,—every bird contributed except the Owl.
But the selfish Owl said, “I see no reason why I should give a feather. Hoot! No! The Wren brought me into trouble once, and I will not help him now. Let him go bare, for all my aid.”
“Shame! Shame!” cried the birds indignantly. “Old Master Owl, you ought to be ashamed. But if you are so selfish we will not have you in our society. Go back to your hollow tree!”
“Yes, go back to your hollow tree,” cried the Eagle sternly; “and when winter comes may you shiver with cold as you would have left the brave little Wren to shiver this day. You shall ruffle your feathers as much as you like, but you will always feel cold at heart, because your heart is selfish.”
And indeed, since that day for all his feathers the Owl has never been able to keep warm enough in his lonely hollow tree.
But the Wren became one of the happiest of all the birds, and a favorite both with his feathered brothers and with men, because of his brave deed, and because of the great fire-gift which he had brought from the sun.
Another bird short story tomorrow…
Project Gutenberg's The Curious Book of Birds, by Abbie Farwell Brown This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net Title: The Curious Book of Birds Author: Abbie Farwell Brown Illustrator: E. Boyd Smith Release Date: June 27, 2005 [EBook #16140] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1