JUST before sunrise one bright morning, a mamma and papa robin sat on the twig of a tree talking to one another, while down on the ground was a little nest, in which two baby robins were still sleeping.
"My dear," Mr. Robin was saying, "don't you think our children are old enough to learn to fly?"
"Yes, indeed," said mamma robin; "I think it high time that Dotty and Singer should learn to fly, and I have been thinking that if the morning is pleasant we might begin to-day."
"Very well," said Mr. Robin, "and as I have a few things to say to them before I take them out of the nest, we had better go and wake them."
So they flew toward the nest, singing as they went.
"Well, Dotty and Singer, how would you like to try your wings today?" said papa robin, when they had reached the nest.
"O, ever so much!" cried both robins in a breath.
"Very well, we shall go out with you every morning for a while; after that you must go by yourselves. But before I take you into the world at all, there are a few things which I wish to say to you."
"In the first place, I hope you will always make yourselves as useful as possible in your own way, without trying to imitate other birds, for you will meet a great many birds, who, in both appearances and habits are very much like yourselves, others, who are very different. But all have a certain work to do, and are noted for certain qualities. Now you will find some birds called ducks, who are very good swimmers; others, called chickens who are good scratchers; some sing very sweetly, others are noted for their flight."
"Now, in my opinion, a robin should try and learn to hop well, to fly well, also to sing well. But there is another thing I wish to say to you, and that is in looking for worms for your meals, I hope you will always go among the farmers' crops, for both the farmer and his children have been very kind to us. We have lived very peaceably, and not one of the nests on the farm have been robbed or molested in any way. You can make yourselves useful to him in this way, as worms are very destructive to the crops. But ready, now, for your lesson."
So saying, he hopped out of the nest upon a twig close by, the little robins following.
Dotty and Singer were very much pleased with their first lesson, and continued their practice every day until their wings were quite strong. They were then allowed to fly about by themselves as they pleased.
Now Dotty was an obedient little robin; he remembered all that he had been told, and guided all his actions according to the advice he had received.
But, sad to say, Singer did not. He would sit upon a twig for hours and watch the ducks and geese swim on the nice, clear pond, and thought of the nice time he might have if he could swim; or he would listen to hear the rooster crow, and wonder why he could not do the same.
Dotty would often try to get him out of this mood. "Come, Singer," he would say, "come and help me wake up the children. You know they love to hear us sing, and may oversleep themselves if they do not hear us."
"No, indeed," Singer would reply, "I do not intend to spoil my voice for those children.; and, besides, I am very anxious to learn how to swim just now, and I mean to ask that duck down there on the pond to teach me."
So saying, he flew down to the edge of the pond and called to the duck.
The duck turned her head, looked at the robin awhile, and asked presently:
"Well, little robin, what do you want?"
"I have come to see whether you would teach me to swim."
"Teach you to swim? Well, let me see your feet."
"Why, you have no web between your toes."
"Why, of course not; who ever heard of a robin having a web between his toes? How could we hop with such clumsy feet?"
"Well," said the duck, "webbed feet are necessary for swimming birds; and beside that, I don't think that yourfeathers are oiled."
"O no, indeed, my feathers are not oiled."
"Well, in that case the water will soak right to your skin, and you would take many colds. But why do you wish to learn to swim; can't you do anything else?"
"Yes," said Singer, "I can sing."
"Sing!" said the duck, "strange I never hear you; I am afraid you do not practice very much. I would advise you to give up the idea of swimming and try to cultivate your voice."
So saying, the duck swam off, and left Singer standing at the edge of the pond.
The next day Dotty asked Singer whether the duck had taught him to swim.
"No," said Singer, "she would not teach me because my feet are not big and clumsy like her own, and because my feathers are not oiled. But I don't mean to give up. I am going to ask that beautiful swan; I feel sure she won't refuse me."
"I do wish that you would give up that foolish idea," said Dotty.
"The duck is right, you will never learn to swim because you were not made for that purpose; and you will be much happier if you will stay with the rest of the robins and be content."
Have you heard about the party that is to be given to-morrow?"
"The party?" said Singer, "why no. Tell me about it."
"All the birds about the farm are to meet near the pond to-morrow, and we expect to have a grand time; for all the different classes of birds are to display their particular talents, and of course there will be a winner in each class, and prizes are to be awarded to each. All the swimming birds are to try a race on the pond, the roosters will crow, and we robins are going to sing. But, dear me! I am afraid I have been talking here too long; I really must be off, for I have an engagement with fifty other robins to search for worms among the farmers' crops, for our feast to-morrow. Come with me, Singer, and I will tell you the rest on the way."
"I cannot come just now," said Singer, "but I may come bye and bye."
"O," thought Singer, after Dotty had gone, "I must learn to swim to-day. To-morrow will be the day for me to show that old duck that I can learn to swim; and won't the other robins be surprised when they see me on the pond? But there is the swan on the pond now, I must go and ask her."
So Singer called to the swan and asked her the same question which he had asked the duck. Now the swan was a very wise old bird. She knew that Singer was very foolish and needed a lesson, not in swimming, however, but one which would cure him of his foolish desire. So she said, pleasantly:
"O, yes, I will teach you, if you think you can learn. Just hop upon my back, sit quietly, and watch me for awhile; this will help you partly to accustom yourself to the water."
Singer did as he was told, and they were soon gliding smoothly around the pond. He thought this fine sport, but felt frightened when the swan told him to hop off her back into the water.
"O," said Singer, "I would rather stay where I am."
"But you will never learn to swim up there," so saying, the swan gave her body a slight shake, and Singer knew that this meant that he was to go into the water, and so he did; but, alas! alas! for poor Singer. The water seemed to soak through his body; he tried to keep up with his wings, but these too became so wet and felt so heavy that he was obliged to drop them helplessly to his sides; and his poor little feet without a web seemed of no use at all.
Poor Singer begged the swan piteously to help him out of the water, which. of course, she intended to do from the beginning, for she was wise enough to know just what would happen. So she dived under the water, and poor Sin ger partly hopped and partly climbed upon the swan's back again, and was taken back to the shore without a word. And although Singer was not a happy robin he certainly was a wiser one. And when the party came off the following day, Singer, of course, was quite sick, and had such a sore throat that he could not sing at all.
During his illness Singer had a great deal of time to think, and often said to himself: "After till, I am very glad that I was not drowned, for then I should not have had a chance to correct my bad habit; but now I mean to get over it entirely," and so he did. The lesson he had received was not only a lesson to hire, but was a benelit to all other birds, who, like Singer, were not content with their own particular talents.
A Fictional Short Story by
Agnes Taylor Ketchum & Ida M. Jorgensen