The Pious Robin by Abbie Farwell Brown

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“Art thou the bird whom man loves best,
The pious bird with the scarlet breast,
Our little English Robin?”

THE English Robin is not precisely like our little American friend whom we call by that name, although, as the lines of poetry quoted above will show, in two ways he is the same as ours: he has a red breast, and he is the bird whom every one loves. Of all the little brothers of the air, in every land and clime, the pretty, jolly, neighborly Robin Redbreast is the favorite.

There are many stories about him: some which tell how he came by his scarlet breast, others which explain why he has always been best beloved of the birds. I have already told how he helped the Wren to bring fire to men. Every one knows how tenderly he covered with leaves the poor Babes in the Wood, when they had been deserted even by their nearest of kin. Some have heard about Saint Kentigern, and how he restored to life the pious Robin of his master Servan,—the dear little bird who used to sing psalms every morning in the Saint’s company. Some also know about the Robin who brought the wheat-ear in his bill to the poor brothers in Brittany who had no grain to plant for their future harvest. All these tales show the Robin’s generous heart, cheerful nature, and pious devotion, which make him beloved by men. But perhaps you do not know why he is called God’s own bird.

“The Robin and the Wren
Are God’s cock and hen,”

sing the little English children, and they think it is very wicked to injure one of the holy birds or make her unhappy by robbing her nest of its pretty eggs.

This is why the Robin is called the good bird, God’s bird. The oldest stories say that the little Christ-child used to feed most tenderly the Robins who hopped about the door of His mother’s house, for they were dearest of all to His baby heart. Perhaps He thus early learned to love them because His mother had told Him of the service which the dear little birds had once performed for her.

For it is said that once upon a time, when Mary was a little girl, as she was going along the gusty road a bit of straw blew into her eye and pained her terribly. She sat down upon a stone and began to cry. Now a Robin was sitting on a branch close by, singing with all the power of his little throat when the maiden passed, for she was very sweet to see and the Robin loved her looks. But when he saw the blessed Mary begin to cry and rub her eye with her chubby hand, he stopped his gay song and became very sad, wondering what he could do to help her.

What he did was to fly away and tell his friend the Swallow all about it, asking her aid. After that he fluttered to a little fountain which bubbled up close by and brought thence in his bill a drop of water. Then, perching on Mary’s forehead, he gently dropped this into the suffering eye. At the same time the Swallow softly brushed her long tail-feathers under the maiden’s eyelid, and the hateful straw was wiped away. Thus the little Mary was relieved, and when once more she could look up happily with her pretty eyes she smiled upon the two kind birds and blessed them for their aid.

Of course, if the little Christ heard His mother tell this pretty story He would have been sure to love the Robin, just as she did. And so these little birds became His boyhood friends.

Those were happy times. But in the after years, in the dreadful day when the Saviour was so cruelly done to death by His enemies, the little Robin once more proved his generous and pious heart, so the legends say.

The Saviour hung upon the cross, suffering and sad, while the world was veiled with darkness and all good creatures mourned. Two birds perched upon the cross beside His weary, drooping head. One was the faithful Robin, who was then a plain and dark-colored bird with the scorched feathers of a fire-bringer upon his breast. The other was the Magpie, who at that time was among the most gorgeous and beautiful of all the birds. She had a tuft of bright feathers on her head, and her plumage outshone even that of the Peacock, who has the hundred gleaming eyes of Argus set in his fan-like tail. But the Magpie, in spite of her beauty, was at heart a wicked bird. Think of it! She mocked the dying Saviour in His agony and seemed to rejoice in His suffering!

But the Robin fluttered about the holy figure, timidly uttering chirps of sorrow and longing to help the Master who had fed him tenderly for so many years. With his soft wings he wiped away the tears which flowed from the Lord’s eyes, while with his beak he tugged at the cruel thorns which pierced His brow, trying to relieve Him.

Suddenly a drop of blood fell from Christ’s forehead upon the Robin’s breast and tinged with bright crimson the rusty reddish feathers.

“Blessed be thou,” said the Lord, “thou sharer of my suffering. Wherever thou goest happiness and joy shall follow thee. Blue as the heaven shall be thy eggs, and from henceforth thou shalt be the Bird of God, the bearer of good tidings. But thou,” He added, addressing the Magpie sorrowfully, “thou art accursed. No longer shall the brilliant tuft and bright feathers of which thou art so proud and so unworthy adorn thee. Thy color shall be the streaked black and white of shadows, thy life a hard one. And thy nest, however well builded, shall be open to the storm.”

These were almost the last words which the Saviour spoke. After that, when the Lord was laid in the sepulchre, the faithful Robin still watched beside Him for those three dread days until He rose on Easter morning, when the little bird rejoiced with all nature at the wondrous happening. And again on Ascension Day he paid his last tribute to the risen Master, joining his little song with the chorus of the angels themselves in the gladdest Hosanna which the universe had ever heard.

This explains how the Magpie became a restless, noisy, black-and-white bird as we know her to this day, having lost all her brilliant beauty through the wickedness of her heart. But the pious Robin still wears upon his breast the beautiful feathers stained red with his Master’s blood. And all that the Saviour foretold of him has come true. He is the blessed bird whom children everywhere love and of whom they still repeat these old verses:—

“The Robin and the Redbreast,
The Robin and the Wren,
If ye take out of the nest
Ye’ll never thrive again.
The Robin and the Redbreast,
The Martin and the Swallow,
If ye touch one of their eggs
Bad luck is sure to follow.”

Another story about birds tomorrow…(one every day, all month long)

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
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

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