WHY THE NIGHTINGALE WAKES
HEN the other birds are sound asleep in their nests, with their little heads tucked comfortably under their feathers, Sister Nightingale, they say, may not rest, but still sounds the notes of her beautiful song in grove and thicket.
Why does she sing thus, all night long as well as through the day? It is because she dares not go to sleep on account of the Blindworm, who is waiting to catch her with her eyes closed.
Once upon a time, when the world was very new, the Blindworm was not quite blind, but had one good eye. Moreover, in those days the Nightingale also had but one eye. As for the Blindworm, it mattered very little; for he was a homely creature, content to crawl about in the dark underground, or under wood and leaves, where nobody saw him and nobody cared. But the Nightingale’s case was really quite too pitiful! Fancy the sweetest singer among all the birds, the favorite chorister, going about with but one eye, while every one else, even the tiniest little Humming Bird of all, had two.
The Nightingale felt very sore about this matter, and tried to conceal her misfortune from the other birds. She managed to cock her head the other way whenever she met a friend, and she always flew past any stranger so fast that he never saw the empty socket where her other pretty eye should be.
But one day there was great excitement among the birds. Miss Jenny Wren was going to be married to young Cock Robin. There was to be a grand wedding; every one was invited, and of course the Nightingale was needed to lead the bridal chorus of feathered songsters. But the poor Nightingale was set in a flutter of anxiety by the news.
“Oh, dear me!” she said, “I do want to go to Jenny’s wedding, oh, of course I do! But how can I go? If I do, the other birds will discover that I have but one eye, and then how the disagreeable creatures will laugh at me. Oh dear, oh dear! What shall I do? I cannot go, no, I really cannot. But what excuse can I give? Oh, it is not right that the sweetest singer in all Birdland should be laughed at, merely because she has the misfortune to lack one poor little eye!”
The Nightingale sat on the branch, singing so mournfully that all the creatures on the ground below went sorrowfully about their daily business. Just then the Nightingale spied a silvery gleam among the dead leaves. It was the Blindworm, a spotted gray streak, writhing noiselessly along towards the decayed wood of a fallen tree, in which he loved to burrow. And the Blindworm was not sad like the others, neither seemed he to care in the least about the Nightingale’s music. Worms think little of sweet sounds. He cocked his one eye up towards the Nightingale and winked maliciously. He alone of all creatures knew the Nightingale’s secret.
“Good-day, Sister Nightingale,” he said. “How is your eye this morning? We have a goodly pair between us; though I think that mine is rather the better of the two.”
Then he disappeared into a tiny opening. For though the Blindworm is nearly a foot long he is so smooth and slippery that he can enter a hole which is almost smaller than himself.
The Nightingale was very indignant at being addressed in this familiar way by a miserable, crawling creature who not only could not fly, but who could not sing a note, and did not know do from fa. Besides, it made her angry to think that he knew her secret and talked aloud about it so that any one might hear.
“The idea!” she cried. “It is bad enough that I cannot go to the wedding of my dear friend Jenny. But to be jeered at by this creature, it is more than I can bear. Ha! I have an idea. I will punish him and help myself at the same time. I will steal his one eye and wear it to Jenny Wren’s wedding; then no one will ever discover my misfortune.”
Now this was an excellent scheme, but it was not so easy to carry it out as the Nightingale had thought. For the Blindworm was very timid and kept himself carefully hidden in his burrow of soft soil, as if he half suspected the Nightingale’s plans. Day after day the Nightingale kept eager watch upon his movements, and at last, on the very eve of the wedding, when she had almost given up hope, she spied the Blindworm sound asleep on the moss under a tall tree.
“Ha!” said the Nightingale to herself very softly. “Now is my chance!” She fluttered into the top of the oak tree, and from there hopped down from branch to branch, from twig to twig, until she was directly over the sleeper’s ugly head, over the one closed eye. Then whirr! Down she pounced upon the Blindworm. And before the creature had a chance to know what was happening, the Nightingale had stolen his eye, and had popped it into place in the empty socket on the other side of her beak.
“Ha, ha!” she sang merrily. “Now I have two bright eyes, as good as any one’s. Now I can go to Jenny Wren’s wedding as gayly as I please, and no one shall see more of the ceremony than I. I shall be able to tell just exactly how the bride is dressed, how every little feather is arranged, and how she looks after Parson Crow has pronounced the blessing. Oh, how happy I am!”
But the poor Blindworm, blind indeed from that day forth, began to cry and lament, begging the Nightingale to give him back his eye.
“Nay,” said the Nightingale, “did you not laugh at me when you saw me sadly sitting on the tree, mourning because I could not go to the wedding? Now I have stolen your eye, and I can see famously. But you will never again see me sitting sadly on the tree.”
Then the Blindworm grew very angry. “I will get the eye back!” he cried. “I will steal it from you, as you stole it from me, some time when you are asleep. I will climb up into your nest some night, and I will take both your eyes of which you are so proud. Then you will be blind, wholly blind as I am now.”
At these threatening words the Nightingale ceased to sing and became silent with fear. For she knew that the Blindworm would do as he said. But again a brilliant thought came to her.
“Nay!” she trilled gladly. “That you shall never do. I will never sleep again. I will keep awake always, night and day, with my two bright eyes ever looking out for danger. Yes, yes, yes! No one shall ever catch me napping.”
“You cannot help yourself,” said the Blindworm. “You cannot keep awake. You will drowse in spite of everything. I shall yet find you asleep some night, and then beware!”
“Nay, nay!” warbled the Nightingale, as she flew away to make herself fine for the wedding. “I shall sing, sing, sing night and day henceforth to keep myself awake. And thus I need not fear. Farewell-well-well!”
And so the Nightingale went to the wedding and sang more sweetly in the bridal chorus than she had ever sung before. And after that, although she was weary, oh, so weary! she sang all night long, and all the next night and the next. And so she has continued to sing ever since in the lands which are blessed by her presence. For she dares not go to sleep even for a single moment, knowing that the Blindworm is ever ready to pounce upon her and take away the eyes which she is now enjoying.
Thanks for reading today’s birdy short story, come again tomorrow for a new one.
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