King Solomon and the Birds by Abbie Farwell Brown

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KING SOLOMON was wiser than all men, and his fame was in all nations round about Jerusalem. He was so wise that he knew every spoken language; yes, but more than this, he could talk with everything that lived, trees and flowers, beasts and fowls, creeping things and fishes. What a very pleasant thing that was for Solomon, to be sure! And how glad one would be nowadays to have such knowledge!

Solomon was especially fond of birds, and loved to talk with them because their voices were so sweet and they spoke such beautiful words. One day the wise King was chatting pleasantly with the birds who lived in his wonderful garden, and these are some of the things which he heard them say. The Nightingale, the sweetest singer of all, chanted,—

“Contentment is the greatest happiness.”

“It would be better for most people never to have been born,” crooned the melancholy Turtle-Dove.

The happy little Swallow gave her opinion,—”Do good and you will be rewarded hereafter.”

The harsh cry of the Peacock meant, “As thou judgest so shalt thou be judged.”

The Hoopoe said, “He who has no pity for others will find none for himself.”

The cynical old Crow croaked disagreeably, “The further away from men I am, the better I am pleased.”

Last of all the Cock who sings in the morning chanted his joyous song,—”Think of your Creator, O foolish creatures!”

When they had finished talking King Solomon softly stroked the head of the pretty little Dove and bade her cheer up, for life was not so dreadful a thing, after all. And he gave her permission to build her nest under the walls of the great Temple which he was building, the most beautiful, golden house in the whole world. Some years afterward the Doves had so increased in numbers that with their extended wings they formed a veil over the numberless pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to visit the wonderful Temple.

But of all the winged singers who spoke that day in the garden, the wise King chose to have ever near him the Cock, because he had spoken words of piety, and the nimble Hoopoe, because he was able to plunge his clear gaze into the depths of the earth as if it were made of transparent glass and discover the places where springs of living water were hidden under the soil. It was very convenient for Solomon, when he was traveling, to have some one with him who was able to find water in whatsoever place he might be resting.

Thus the Cock and the Hoopoe became Solomon’s closest companions; but of the two the Hoopoe was his favorite. The Hoopoe is an Eastern bird and we do not see him in America. He is about as big as a Jay, colored a beautiful reddish gray, with feathers of purple, brown, and white, and his black wings are banded with white. But the peculiar thing about a Hoopoe is his crown of tawny feathers, a tall crown for so small a bird. And this is the story of the Hoopoe’s crown.

One day when Solomon was journeying across the desert, he was sorely distressed by the heat of the sun, until he came near to fainting. Just then he spied a flock of his friends the Hoopoes flying past, and calling to them feebly he begged them to shelter him from the burning rays.

The King of the Hoopoes gathered together his whole nation and caused them to fly in a thick cloud over the head of Solomon while he continued his journey. In gratitude the wise King offered to give his feathered friends whatever reward they might ask.

For a whole day the Hoopoes talked the matter over among themselves, then their King came to Solomon and said to him,—

“We have considered your offer, O generous King, and we have decided that what we most desire is to have, each of us, a golden crown on his head.”

King Solomon smiled and answered, “Crowns of gold shall you have. But you are foolish birds, my Hoopoes; and when the evil days shall come upon you and you see the folly of your desire, return here to me and I will help you yet again.”

So the King of the Hoopoes left King Solomon with a beautiful golden crown upon his head. And soon all the Hoopoes were wearing golden crowns. Thereupon they grew very proud and haughty. They went down by the lakes and pools and strutted there that they might admire themselves in the water mirrors. And the Queen of the Hoopoes became very airy, and refused to speak to her own cousin and to the other birds who had once been her friends.

There was a certain fowler who used to set traps for birds. He put a piece of broken mirror into his trap, and a Hoopoe spying it went in to admire herself, and was caught. The fowler looked at the shining crown upon her head and said, “What have we here! I never saw a crown like this upon any bird. I must ask about this.”

So he took the crown to Issachar, the worker in metal, and asked him what it was. Issachar examined it carefully, and his eyes stuck out of his head. But he said carelessly, “It is a crown of brass, my friend. I will give you a quarter of a shekel for it; and if you find any more bring them to me. But be sure to tell no other man of the matter.” (A shekel was about sixty-two cents.)

After this the fowler caught many Hoopoes in the same way, and sold their crowns to Issachar. But one day as he was on his way to the metalworker’s shop he met a jeweler, and to him he showed one of the Hoopoes’ crowns.

“What is this, and where did you find it?” exclaimed the jeweler. “It is pure gold. I will give you a golden talent for every four you bring me.” (A talent was worth three hundred shekels.)

Now when the value of the Hoopoes’ crowns was known, every one turned fowler and began to hunt the precious birds. In all the land of Israel was heard the twang of bows and the whirling of slings. Bird lime was made in every town, and the price of traps rose in the market so that the trap-makers became rich men. Not a Hoopoe could show his unlucky head without being slain or taken captive, and the days of the Hoopoes were numbered. It seemed that soon there would be no more Hoopoes left to bewail their sad fate.

At last the few who still lived gathered together and held a meeting to consider what should be done, for their minds were filled with sorrow and dismay. And they decided to appeal once more to King Solomon, who had granted their foolish prayer.

Flying by stealth through the loneliest ways, the unhappy King of the Hoopoes came at last to the court of the King, and stood once more before the steps of his golden throne. With tears and groans he related the sad fortune which had befallen his golden-crowned race.

King Solomon looked kindly upon the King of the Hoopoes and said, “Behold, did I not warn you of your folly in desiring to have crowns of gold? Vanity and pride have been your ruin. But now, that there may be a memorial of the service which once you did me, your crowns of gold shall be changed into crowns of feathers, and with them you may walk unharmed upon the earth.”

In this way the remaining Hoopoes were saved. For when the fowlers saw that they no longer wore crowns of gold upon their heads, they ceased to hunt them as they had been doing. And from that time forth the family of the Hoopoes have flourished and increased in peace, even to the present day.

Solomon was ever seeking to grow even wiser. The better to know the wonders of God’s world and the ways of all creatures, he undertook many journeys,—not as we ordinary poor mortals travel, in heavy wagons or clumsy boats, by dusty roads or stormy waves. It was in no such troublous ways that Solomon the all-powerful traversed space and reached the uttermost corners of the earth. Thanks to his great knowledge, he had discovered a means of locomotion compared to which the most magnificent railway coaches and the richest palanquins of Indian princes would seem poor indeed. He had caused his Genii to make a silken carpet of four leagues in extent. In the midst of this carpet was placed a magnificent throne for the royal traveler himself; and around it were seats of gold, of silver, of wood, for the multitude of persons of different rank whom he took with him. There was also no lack of the most gorgeous furniture and the necessary provisions for a king’s traveling banquet.

When all was ready Solomon was wont to seat himself upon his throne, and would command the winds to do their duty. Immediately they gently lifted the carpet and bore it rapidly through the air to the appointed spot. During the journey, above the aerial caravan fluttered a cloud of birds, who with their wings formed a splendid canopy to shield their beloved lord from the sun’s heat, as the Hoopoes had first done.

One day, while on such a journey, Solomon was shocked to feel a ray of sunlight piercing through this plumy dais which overhung his head. Shading his eyes, the King glanced up and perceived that there was an opening in the canopy. One bird was missing from its post. In great displeasure Solomon demanded of the Eagle the name of the truant. Anxiously the Eagle called the roll of all the birds in his company; and he was horrified to find that it was Solomon’s favorite, the Hoopoe, who was missing. With terror he announced the bird’s desertion to the most wise King.

“Soar aloft,” commanded Solomon sternly, “and find the Hoopoe that I may punish him. I will pluck off his feathers that he may feel the scorching heat of the sun as his carelessness has caused me to do.”

The Eagle soared heavenward, until the earth beneath him looked like a bowl turned upside down. Then he poised on level wings and looked around in every direction to discover the truant. Soon he espied the Hoopoe flying swiftly from the south. The Eagle swooped down and would have seized the culprit roughly in his strong talons, but the Hoopoe begged him for Solomon’s sake to be gentle.

“For Solomon’s sake!” cried the Eagle. “Do you dare to name the King whom you have injured? He has discovered your absence and in his righteous anger will punish you severely.”

“Lead me to him,” replied the Hoopoe. “I know that he will forgive me when he hears where I have been and what I have to tell him.”

The Eagle led him to the King, who with a wrathful face was sitting on his throne. The Hoopoe trembled and drooped his feathers humbly, but when Solomon would have crushed him in his mighty fist the bird cried,—

“Remember, King, that one day you also must give an account of your sins. Let me not therefore be condemned unheard.”

“And if I hear you, what excuse can you have to offer?” answered Solomon, frowning. But this was his favorite bird and he hoped that there might be some reason for sparing him.

“Well,” said the Hoopoe, “at Mecca I met a Hoopoe of my acquaintance who told me so wonderful a tale of the marvelous Kingdom of Sheba in Arabia that I could not resist the temptation to visit that country of gold and precious stones. And there, indeed, I saw the most prodigious treasures; but best of all, O King, more glorious than gold, more precious than rare jewels, I saw Queen Balkis, the most beautiful of queens.”

“Tell me of this Queen,” said Solomon, loosening his rough grasp upon the Hoopoe. So it was, say the Mussulmans, that a bird told Solomon of the great Queen whose journey to Jerusalem is described in the Bible.

The Hoopoe told of her power and glory, her riches, her wisdom, and her beauty, until Solomon sighed a great sigh and said, “It seems too good to be true! But we shall see.”

So the King wrote a letter to Balkis, bidding her follow the guidance of fate and come to the court of the wise King. This note he sealed with musk, stamped with his great signet, and gave to the Hoopoe, saying,—

“If now you have spoken truth, take this letter to Queen Balkis; then come away.”

The Hoopoe did as he was bid, darting off towards the south like an arrow. And the next day he came to the palace of the Queen of Sheba, where she sat in all her splendor among her counselors. He hopped into the hall and dropped the letter into her lap, then flew away.

Queen Balkis stared and stared at the great King’s seal upon the mysterious letter, and when she had read the brief invitation she stared and stared again. But she had heard the fame of Solomon and was eager to ask him some of her clever questions to prove his wisdom. So she decided to accept his invitation and come to Jerusalem.

She came with a great train of attendants, with camels that bore spices and treasures of gold and precious stones, gifts for the most wise King. And she asked him more questions than any woman had ever asked him before, though he knew a great many ladies, and they were all inquisitive.

But Solomon was so wise that he answered all her questions without any trouble.

And she said to him, “It was a true report that I heard of you in my own land, of your wisdom and of your glory. Only that which now I know and see is greater than what I heard. Happy are thy men and happy are thy servants who stand continually before thee and hear thy wisdom.”

And she gave the King a hundred and twenty talents of gold, which was a very rich treasure, besides great store of spices, and the most precious gifts; no one had ever seen such gifts as the Queen of Sheba gave to Solomon.

But he in turn was even more generous. For he gave to the fair Balkis all that she desired and everything she asked, because he admired so much this splendid Queen of whom the Hoopoe had first told him.

And so, the Bible says, the Queen of Sheba turned and went to her own country, she and her servants. But the Mussulmans’ tales say that in later days she married Solomon and they lived happily ever after. And it was all the work of that little Hoopoe with a yellow crown, whom after that we may be sure Solomon loved better than ever.

Another short story about birds tomorrow…

Project Gutenberg's The Curious Book of Birds, by Abbie Farwell Brown

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Title: The Curious Book of Birds
Author: Abbie Farwell Brown
Illustrator: E. Boyd Smith
Release Date: June 27, 2005 [EBook #16140]
Language: English
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