THE MASQUERADING CROW
HE Crow became very sour and disagreeable after his friend the Peacock’s cousin deserted him for more gorgeous company. Though he pretended not to care because the Pheasant was now a proud, beautifully-coated dandy, while he was the shabbiest of all the birds in his coat of rusty black, yet in truth he did care very much. He could not forget how the Peacock’s cousin had dyed him this sombre hue, after promising to paint him bright and wonderful, like himself. He could not help thinking how fine he would have looked in similar plumage of a rainbow tint, or how becoming a long swallow-tail would be to his style of beauty. He wished that there was a tailor in Birdland to whom he could go for a new suit of clothes. But alas! There seemed no way but for him to remain ugly old Crow to the end of the chapter.
The Crow went moping about most unhappily while this was preying on his mind, until he really became somewhat crazy upon the subject. The only thing about which he could think was clothes—clothes—clothes; and that is indeed a foolish matter to absorb one’s mind. One word of the Peacock’s cousin remained in his memory and refused to be forgotten. He had advised the Crow to gather up the feathers which had fallen from the Peacock’s plumage and to make himself fine with them. First the Crow remembered these words sadly, because they showed the unkind heart of his old friend. Next he remembered them with scorn, because they showed vanity. Then he remembered them with interest because they gave him an idea. And that idea gradually grew bigger and bigger until it became a plan.
The plan came to him completely one day while he was sitting moodily on a tree watching the Peacock and his cousin sweeping proudly over the velvet lawn of the King’s garden. For nowadays the Pheasant moved in the most courtly circles, as he had promised himself. As they passed under the Crow two beautiful feathers fell behind them and lay on the grass shining in the sunlight with a hundred colors.
“Once more the cast-off plumage of the Peacock family is left for me!” croaked the Crow to himself. “Am I only to be made beautiful by borrowing from others? Perhaps I might collect feathers enough from all the birds to conceal my inky coat. Aha! I have it.” And this was the plan of the Crow. He would steal from every dweller in Birdland a feather, and see whether he could not make himself more beautiful than the Peacock’s cousin himself.
Now the Crow was a skilful thief. He could steal the silver off the King’s table from under the steward’s very nose. He could steal a maid’s thimble from her finger as she nodded sleepily over her work. He could steal the pen from behind a scribe’s ear, as he paused to scratch his head and think over the spelling of a word. So the Crow felt sure that he could steal their feathers from the birds without any trouble.
When the Peacock and his cousin had passed by, the Crow swooped down and carried off the two feathers which were to begin his collection. He hid them in his treasure-house in the hollow tree, and started out for more.
It was great fun for the Crow, and he almost forgot to be miserable. He followed old lady Ostrich about for some time before he dared tweak a handful of feathers from her tail. But finally he succeeded; and though she squawked horribly and turned, quick as a flash, she was not quick enough to catch the nimble thief, who was already hidden under a bush. In the same way he secured some lovely plumes from the Bird of Paradise, the Parrot, and the Cock. He robbed the Redbreast of his ruddy vest, the Hoopoe of his crown, and he secured a swallow-tail which he had long coveted. He took some rosy-redness from the Flamingo, the gilding of the Goldfinch, the gray down of an Eider-Duck. He burgled the Bluebird and the Redbird and the Yellowbird; and not one single feathered creature escaped his clever beak. At last his hole in the tree was brimming with feathers of every color, length, and degree of softness, a gorgeous feather-bed on which it would dazzle one to sleep.
Then the Crow set to work to make himself a coat of many colors, like Joseph’s. He was a very clever bird, and a wondrous coat it turned out to be. It had no particular cut nor style; it was not like the coat which any bird had ever before worn. The feathers were placed in any fashion that happened to please his original fancy. Some pointed up and some down; some were straight and some were curled; some drooped about his feet and others curved gracefully over his head; some trailed far behind. He was completely covered from top to toe, so that not one blot of his own inky feathers showed through the gorgeousness. A red vest he wore, and a swallow-tail, of course, and there was a crown of feathers on his head. Never was there seen a more extraordinary bird nor one more gaudy. Perhaps he was not in the best of taste, but at least he was striking.
When all was finished the Crow went and looked at himself in the fountain mirror; and he was much pleased.
“Well now!” he cried. “How am I for a bird? I believe no one will know me, and that is just as well; for now I am so fine that I shall myself refuse to know any one. Ho! This ought to give some ideas to that conceited Peacock family! I am a self-made man. I am an artist who knows how to adapt his materials. I am a genius. King Solomon himself will wonder at my glory. And as for the Eagle, King of the Birds, he will grow pale with envy. King of the Birds, indeed! It is now I who should rightfully be King. No other ever wore clothes so fine as mine. By right of them I ought to be King of the Birds. I will be King of the Birds!”
You see the poor old Crow was quite crazy with his one idea.
Forth he stalked into Birdland to show his gorgeous plumage and to get himself elected King of the Birds. The first persons he met were the Peacock and his cousin,—he who was once the Crow’s best friend. The Crow ruffled himself his prettiest when he saw them coming.
“Good gracious! Who is that extraordinary fowl?” drawled the Peacock. “He must be some great noble from a far country.”
“How beautiful!” murmured his silly cousin. “How odd! How fascinating! How distinguished! I wish the Crow had painted me like that!” The Crow heard these words and swelled with pride, casting a scornful glance at his old friend as he swept by.
Next he met a little Sparrow who was picking bugs from the grass. “Out of my way, Birdling!” cried the Crow haughtily. “I am the King.”
“The King!” gasped the Sparrow, nearly choking over a fat bug, he was so surprised. “I did not know that the King wore such a robe. How gorgeous—but how queer!”
Next the Crow met Mr. Stork, standing gravely on one leg and thinking of the little baby which he was going to bring that night to the cottage by the lake. The Stork looked up in surprise as the wonderful stranger approached.
“Bless me!” he exclaimed, “whom have we here? I thought I knew all Birdland, but I never before saw such a freak as this!”
“I am the King. I am to be the new King,” announced the Crow. “Is there any bird more gorgeous than I?”
“Truly, I hope not,” said the Stork gravely. “Yet the Woodcock is a very foolish bird. One never knows what he will do next. If he should try to be fashionable”—
But the Crow had passed on without listening to the Stork’s sarcasm.
As he went through Birdland he drew behind him a following of feathered citizens, chattering, screaming, tittering all together like the crowd after a circus procession. All the birds, big and little, plain and pretty, flocked to see this wonderful stranger who because of his fine clothes was coming to have himself named King. Some of them thought him truly beautiful, some thought him ridiculous; some envied him, some jeered. But they all stared; and the more they stared the more conceited became the Crow, the more sure that the kingdom was to be his.
At last they came into the presence of the Eagle himself. That royal bird was perched upon his eyrie far up on the cliff. Below him gathered the dense flock of birds, waiting to see what would happen when the Crow demanded to be made King in the Eagle’s place. The Eagle had been warned of the matter by the little Humming-Bird, and was looking very majestic and scornful. But the Swallow flew round and round in great circles, twittering excitedly, and in each circle sweeping nearer and nearer to the ground. The Swallow was angry because some one had stolen his beautiful swallow-tail.
Presently the Crow swaggered forth, and cocking his impertinent eye towards the Eagle he croaked,—
“Hello there, Old High-perch! Give me your crown and sceptre, for I am King of the Birds, not you. Look at my gorgeous clothes; look at your own dull plumage. Am I not kingly?—look at me.”
The King made no reply, merely gazing sternly at the Crow. But the Swallow took up the word.
“Look at him, look at him indeed, O King!” he screamed. “There is something strange about his kingly plumage. That swallow-tail is mine, I know it!” And with a vicious tweak the Swallow pulled out the long forked feathers of which the Crow was especially proud. Oh, what a shriek of rage the mad old bird gave! At that moment the Hoopoe came up and said, “Ha! Methinks I too recognize my property. This is my crown,” and forthwith he snatched the plumes from the Crow’s forehead, leaving it quite ugly and bare. Next the gentle Redbreast claimed his vest, and the Bluebird her azure feathers, and the Ostrich her train which she had sorely missed. Each of the birds in turn came up and with much chattering and scolding twitched away the property of which he or she had been robbed, until the Crow stood before them in his customary suit of solemn black, a bird ashamed and sore. For they had pecked him with their bills and beaten him with their wings and scratched him with their claws until even his own plain old coat was frayed and rent.
“Oh ho, oh ho! It is only old Daddy Crow, after all!” screamed the birds in chorus. And then, because the Eagle burst out laughing, they saw that it was really funny. Since the King did not mind being robbed for a time of his title, surely they need not mourn over the few feathers which the thief had borrowed, especially since each now had his own. Chattering with glee they all flew home to their various nests, leaving the Crow alone with his shame and soreness.
Just at this moment the Peacock and his cousin came hurrying up out of breath.
“Oh, what is it? What is the matter? What was all that noise just now?” asked the Peacock.
“Oh, what has become of the beautiful, noble, splendid, remarkable, graceful, gorgeous, stylish, long-tailed, kingly stranger?” questioned the Peacock’s cousin, speaking affably to the Crow, for the first time since his adoption into high society.
The Crow looked at him sideways, and all his madness went away as he saw how very, very silly this creature was.
“He was a fool in fools’ feathers,” he croaked. “He is no more. But before the end he bade me return these to you, saying, ‘Fine feathers do not make fine birds.'” Speaking thus, he presented to the pair their two long feathers with which he had started his collection and which were the only ones now remaining to the masquerading Crow.
Then with a harsh Caw! he flew away to his tree. He is not a happy bird, but since that time he has never been so mad as to think that clothes are the chief thing in the world.
And another 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