A PAIR of robins had begun to build their nest on a branch of an old apple-tree up under the nursery window. Day after say five little children might be seen peeping out of that window watching the movements of the birds. There were Alice and Mary, bright-eyed little girls of seven and eight years; then came stout little Jamie and Charlie, and finally little Puss, whose real name was Ellen, but who was called Puss and Pussy, Birdie or Todlie, or any other pet name that came to mind. The birds soon became so familiar with the curly heads at the window, that they rashly caught up and wove into their nest little bits of cotton, and bits of thread and yarn that were thrown to them. Charlie cut one of the floss curls from Todlie's head and threw it out; they all laughed to see Todlies golden hair figuring in a bird's nest. Great was the joy of the children when the nest was finished. They call it "our nest," and the two robins they called "our birds." But greater still was their joy when one morning they saw in the nest a beautiful pale green egg. In five day there were five little eggs, and then Alice, the eldest girl, said:
"That makes one for each of us, and each of us will have a bird by-and-by;" at which all the children laughed and clapped their hands, and jumped for glee. Now the mother bird began to sit on the eggs, and there she sat day after day.
"Yes she is," said grave little Alice. "Old Sam says his hens set three weeks; just think, almost a month!"
At length one morning as they looked out of the window, the patient mother bird was gone, and there seemed to be nothing in the nest but a bundle of something hairy. But when the children cried out to their mamma to come there, five little mouths opened in the nest and they knew there were five little birds there. The children wished to feed the little things, but their mamma told them that the old birds knew best how to take care of them; and sure enough, while they were speaking, back came Mr. and Mrs. Robin whirring through the green branches, and then all the little red mouths flew open, and the birds put something into each. After this it was great amusement to watch the daily feeding of the little birds and to observe how, when not feeding them, the mother sat brooding over the nest warming them under her soft wing, while the father bird sat on the top-most bough of the apple-tree and sang to them.
"I'm going to give mine a name," said Mary, when the robins were almost full-grown. "I'll call him Brown-Eyes."
"And I shall call mine Tip Top, because I know he'll be a tip-top bird," Jamie said.
"I'll call mine Singer," said Alice.
"I'll call mine Toddy," said little Todlie, who would not be behind the others.
"Hurrah for Todlie!" cried Charlie; "hers is the best of all. For my part, I'll call mine Speckle."
The birds grew rapidly, and soon the nest was very much crowded. Now Tip Top was the biggest and strongest, and he was always scuffling and crowding the others and clamoring for the most food; and when Tip Top was too noisy, Speckle, who was a bird of spirit, would peck at him. Little Brown Eyes was a meek and tender little bird, and would sit winking and blinking with fear while her big brothers quarreled. As to Toddy and Singer, they were sister birds, very fond of chattering, and they used to scold their badly-behaved brothers in a way that made the nest quite lively. Mr. and Mrs. Robin were much grieved at the wranglings in their family.
"I say," said Tip Top one day to them, "this old nest is a crowded hole, and it's quite time some of us were out of it; just give us lessons in flying, won't you, and let us go."
"My dear boy," said Mother Robin, "we shall teach you to fly as soon as your wings are strong enough." "You are a very little bird," said his father, "and ought to be good and obedient, and wait patiently until your wing feathers grow."
"Wait for my wing feathers? Humbug!" Tip Top would say, as he sat balancing himself on the very edge of the nest, with his little short tail and little chumps of wings, looking up into the blue clouds above, or into the grass and clover-heads below. "Father and mother want to keep me back," said he; "if the don't hurry up and teach me to fly, I'll take matters into my own hands and be off some day before they know it. Look at those swallows, skimming and diving through the blue air! That's the way I want to do."
His little sister tried to reason with him, but Tip Top only said, "What do you know about flying?"
"About as much as you do," said Speckle. And so the quarrelling grew worse and worse every day, while Tip Top would get out on the edge of the nest and threaten to go away.
"My dear boy," said the mother, "do go into the nest and be a good boy, and then you will be happy."
"Oh!" said Tip Top, "I'm too big for the nest, and I want to see the world; it's full of beautiful things, I know. Now there's the most lovely creature, with bright eyes, that come under the tree every day, and want me to come down in the grass and play with her."
"My son, take care," said the frightened mother, "that lovely-seeming creature is our dreadful enemy, the cat, a horrid monster with teeth and claws."
At this all the little birds shuddered and cuddled deeper into the nest, except Tip top, who felt he was so big he needn't be afraid of anything. The next morning, after the mother and father were gone, Tip Top got on the edge of the nest again, and looking over he saw lovely Miss Pussy washing her face among the daisies under the trees. As Tip Top looked down, he thought her yellow eyes were beautiful, and then she said so sweetly, "Little bird, little bird, come down, Pussy want to play with you."
"Only look at her! Her eyes are like gold!" exclaimed Tip Top.
"No, don't look," said Singer and speckle; "she will get you to come down, and then she will eat you up."
"I'd like to see her try to eat me up," said Tip Top; "just as if she would! She's a nice creature, and wants us to have some fun; we never do have any fun in this old nest."
Then Pussy called again, "Little birds, come down, Pussy want to play with you."
A moment after a scream was heard from the nursery window, where the children were looking out upon the nest.
"Oh, mamma! Do come here! Tip Top has fallen out of the nest, and the cat has got him!"
Away ran Pussy with foolish Tip Top in her mouth. Jamie ran after the cat. Mr. and Mrs. Robin, who had just come home, made plaintive cries when they saw what had happened, and Mrs. Robin's bright eyes soon discovered her poor little son, where Pussy was patting him and rolling him from one claw to the other under the currant bushes. Lighting on the bush above, she called the little folks to the spot by her cries. Jamie plunged under the bush, and catching the cat, with one or two blows he obliged her to let Tip top go. The poor thing was not dead, but some of his feathers were torn out, and one of his wings was broken; he was put back into the nest. The cat had shaken all the nonsense out of him, and he was dreadfully humbled young robin. In a short time the birds learned to fly, but poor Tip Top sat there, sad enough, with a broken wing. Finally Jamie took him out of the nest and made him a cage, and took such good care of him that he seemed tolerably contented, but he was a poor lame-winged robin all his days.
Story of the Tip Top
A Fictional Short Story by
Agnes Taylor Ketchum & Ida M. Jorgensen