THE PEACOCK’S COUSIN
ONG, long ago in the days of wise King Solomon, the Crow and the Pheasant were the best of friends, and were always seen going about together, wing in wing. Now the Pheasant was the Peacock’s own cousin,—a great honor, many thought, for the Peacock was the most gorgeous of all the birds. But it was not altogether pleasant for the Pheasant, because at that time he wore such plain and shabby old garments that his proud relative was ashamed of him, and did not like to be reminded that they were of the same family. When the Peacock went strutting about with his wonderful tail spread fan-wise, and with his vain little eyes peering to see who might be admiring his beauty, the Peacock’s cousin and his friend the Crow, who was then a plain white bird, would slink aside and hide behind a tree, whence they would peep enviously until the Peacock had passed by. Then the Peacock’s cousin would say,—
“Oh, how beautiful, how grand, how noble he is! How came such a lordly bird to have for a cousin so homely a creature as I?”
But the Crow would answer, trying to comfort his friend, “Yes, he is gorgeous. But listen, what a harsh and disagreeable voice he has! And see how vain he is. I would not be so vain had I so scandalous a tale in my family history.”
Then the Crow told the Peacock’s cousin how his proud relative came to have so unmusical a voice.
When Adam and Eve were living peacefully in their fair garden, while Satan was still seeking in vain a way to enter there, the Peacock was the most beautiful of all the companions who surrounded the happy pair. His plumage shone like pearl and emerald, and his voice was so melodious that he was selected to sing the Lord’s praises every day in the streets of heaven. But he was then, as now, very, very vain; and Satan, prowling about outside the wall of Paradise, saw this.
“Aha!” he said to himself, “here is the vainest creature in all the world. He is the one I must flatter in order to win entrance to the garden, where I am to work my mischief. Let me approach the Peacock.”
Satan stole softly to the gate and in a wheedling voice called to the Peacock,—
“O most wonderful and beautiful bird! Are you one of the birds of Paradise?”
“Yes, I am one of the dwellers in the happy garden,” answered the Peacock, strutting. “But who are you who slink about so secretly, as if afraid of some one?”
“I am one of the cherubim who are appointed to sing the Lord’s praises,” answered the wicked Satan. “I have stopped for a moment to visit the Paradise which He has prepared for the blest, and I find as my first glimpse of its glories you, O most lovely bird! Will you conceal me under your rainbow wings and bring me within the walls?”
“I dare not,” answered the Peacock. “The Lord allows none to enter here. He will be angry and will punish me.”
“O charming bird!” went on Satan with his smooth tongue, “take me with you, and I will teach you three mysterious words which shall preserve you forever from sickness, age, and death.”
At this promise the Peacock was greatly tempted and began to hesitate in his refusals. And at last he said,—
“I dare not myself let you in, O stranger, but if you keep your promise I will send the Serpent, who is wiser than I and who may more easily find some way to let you enter unobserved.”
So it was through the Peacock that Satan met the vile Serpent, whose shape he assumed in order to enter the garden and tempt Eve with the apple. And for the Peacock’s share in the doings of that dreadful day the Lord took away his beautiful voice and sent him forth from the pleasant garden to chatter harshly in this workaday world, where his gorgeousness and his vanity are but a reminder to men of the shame which he brought upon their ancestors.
“And therefore,” said the Crow, concluding his gossip, “therefore, dear Pheasant, I see no reason why we should envy your cousin. We are very plain citizens of Birdland, but we are at least respectable. I like you much better, having nothing to make you vain, nothing of which to be ashamed.”
So the Crow spoke, in the wisdom which he had learned from Solomon. But the Peacock’s cousin refused to be comforted. The shabbiness of his coat preyed upon his mind, and he fancied that the other birds jeered at him because in such old clothes he dared to be the Peacock’s cousin. It seemed to him that every day the Peacock himself grew more haughty and more patronizing.
One day the Crow and the Peacock’s cousin were sauntering through the Malay woods when they met the Peacock face to face. The Crow looked defiant and stood jauntily; but the Pheasant tried to shrink out of sight. The Peacock, however, had spied his poor relative, and was filled with cousinly resentment at his appearance.
He stopped short. He stood upon one leg. He puffed and ruffled himself, spreading out his thousand-eyed tail so that its colors flashed wonderfully in the sunshine. He frilled his neck feathers and snapped his mean little eyes maliciously; then turning his back on the shabby couple said, as he stepped airily away,—
“Ah, I have dropped some of my old feathers back there a little way. You can have them if you like, Pheasant. They will freshen you up a bit; you really are looking shockingly seedy. But for mercy’s sake don’t wear them in my presence! I can’t bear to see any one parading in my cast-off elegance.” Then the Peacock minced away.
The Peacock’s cousin stamped on the ground and flapped his wings with rage. If he had been a girl he would have burst into tears. “I cannot stand this,” he cried. “To be treated as if I were a beggar! To be given old clothes to wear! Crow, Crow, if you were any kind of friend you would help me. But you stand staring there and see me insulted, without turning a feather! What is the use of all your wisdom that you learned from King Solomon if you cannot help a friend in need? I tell you, I must have some better garments, or I shall die of mortification.”
“Don’t be excited,” said the Crow soothingly. “I have been thinking the matter over, and I believe I can do something. Listen. Yesterday I found brushes and a box of colors in a room of the King’s palace. They belonged to the Court Painter. Now they belong to me, for I have hidden them away in a hollow tree where no one else can find them. I thought they might be useful, and I think so still.”
“Well, well! What do you propose to do with paints and brushes?” cried the Peacock’s cousin impatiently.
“I propose to paint you, to varnish you, to gild you,” patiently answered the Crow.
“Oh, you dear Crow!” exclaimed the other, clapping his wings. “You will make me brilliant and beautiful! You will make me worthy of the Peacock, will you not? How clever of you to think of such a thing!”
“Yes,” replied the Crow; “I watched the Court Painter at work in the garden one day, and I know how it is done. I will make you as gorgeous as you wish. But you must return the compliment. If you are to be an ornament of fashion, so must I be; for are we not inseparable cronies? And when you become beautiful it would not do for you to be seen with such a dowdy as I am.”
“You dear creature!” said the Peacock’s cousin affectionately; “of course we will share alike. I will paint you as soon as I see how you succeed with me. Ah, I know your skill in everything. You will be a fine artist, my friend! But come, let us get to work at once.”
So the flattered Crow led him to the hollow tree where he had concealed the brushes and the gilding and the India ink, and all the gorgeous changeable tints which an Eastern artist uses in his paintings. “Here we are,” said the Crow. “Now let us see what we shall see, when Master Crow turns painter.”
The Crow set to work with a will, splashing on the colors generously, gold and green and bronze iridescence. He had the Peacock in mind, and though he did not exactly copy the plumage of that wonderful bird, he managed to suggest the cousinship of the Pheasant in the golden eyes of his long and beautiful tail. When he had finished, the Crow was delighted with his work.
“Ah!” he cried. “Now bend over this fountain, my dear friend, and observe yourself. I think you do credit to my skill as an artist, eh?”
The Peacock’s cousin hurried down to the water-pool, all in a flutter of excitement. And when he saw his image he cried, “How beautiful, how truly beautiful, I am! Why, I am quite as handsome as Peacock himself. Surely, now he need not be ashamed to call me cousin. I shall move in the most fashionable circles. Heavens! Look at my lovely tail! Look at my burnished feathers! I must go immediately and show my new dress to Cousin Peacock. I should not be surprised if he became jealous of my gorgeousness.” And off he started as fast as he could go.
“Hold on!” cried the Crow. “Don’t run away so quickly. You have forgotten something. Don’t you remember that you promised to paint me beautiful like yourself?”
“Oh, bother!” answered the ungrateful friend, tossing his head. “I have no time now for such business. I must hasten to my cousin, for this is a matter of family pride. Run along like a good creature; and by the way, you may as well gather the feathers which Peacock mentioned. I am sure they will make you look quite respectable. Besides, I will give you some of mine when I have worn them a little. Ta-ta!” And he stepped airily away.
But the Crow strode after him, shaking his wings and crying, “Come back, come back and perform your part of the bargain, you selfish, ungrateful creature!” And he caught the Pheasant by one of his long tail-feathers.
“Let go my train, impertinent wretch!” shrieked the Peacock’s cousin, turning upon him fiercely. “I tell you I have no time to spend in such nonsense. I must be presenting myself in high society.”
“Villain!” croaked the Crow, and he rushed forward fiercely, intending to tear out the beautiful feathers which he had painted for his ungrateful friend. Thereupon the Pheasant exclaimed,—
“You want to be painted, do you? Well, take that!” and, seizing the bottle of India ink which was in the Eastern artist’s paint-box, he hurled it at the poor Crow, deluging with blackness his spotless feathers. Then laughing harshly, away he flew to his cousin the Peacock, who received him with proud affection, because they were now really birds of a feather. For the Peacock’s cousin was become one of the most beautiful birds in the world.
But the poor Crow was now a sombre, black bird, wearing the seedy-looking, inky coat which we know so well to-day. His heart was broken by his friend’s faithlessness, and he became a sour cynic who can see no good in anything. He flies about crying “Caw! Caw!” in the most disagreeable, sarcastic tone, as if sneering at the mean action of that Malay bird, which he can never forget.
Another birdly 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