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The Boy Who Knew What the Birds Said by  Padraic Colum
Table of Contents


 

 

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Said the Lapwing "Crow,

I never have seen

Such a one as you

For stealing eggs."


Said the Crow "Caw, caw,

I never have seen

Such a one myself,

And I am, I am sure

Longer in the world."

Then the Crow flew away and the Lapwing went on complaining.

The Crow flew away and he came to where the Peacock was walking in the King's Garden. He asked the Peacock did he ever listen to stories.

"No," said the Peacock as he mounted the steps of the terrace. "No. Certainly not. I do not demean myself by listening to any of the stories they tell down below there." He spread out his tail, and, that he might view his own magnificence, he turned his blue, shining neck.

Hoodie the grey-headed Crow with the bright sharp eyes hopped after him.

"Jewels! Kings! Magicians! Palaces! Dragons!" What do geese, grouse and farmyard fowl know of such things? And yet they presume to tell stories! Tell stories that have nothing in them of Jewels, Kings, Magicians, Palaces, or Dragons!"

"Nothing at all about such things," said Hoodie the Crow, as he plucked a feather out of the Peacock's tail.

"Yet they will not listen to me," said Purpurpurati the Peacock. "They affect even to scorn my voice! They pretend that it is less resonant than the cock in the farmyard and less musical than the bird's that sings at night.

"They'd say anything," said Hoodie the Crow, keeping behind the Peacock's tail.

Purpurpurati the Peacock mounted higher on the terrace. "I shall walk before the statue of the beautiful Queen yonder," he said, "and I shall tell you a story. The reason that I shall tell you is that the Queen always listens to me. But I would have her think that it is to you that I am telling the story."

"I'll listen to you," said Hoodie the Crow and he plucked another feather out of the Peacock's tail.

"When the Queen has been pleased with the sight of my tail, I shall begin," said Purpurpurati, and he spread out his tail. Hoodie the Crow plucked out three feathers.

"How pleased she looks," said he.

"Yes, she is always pleased by my appearance," the Peacock said, and he turned round and walked the other way.

"Did I ever tell you," said Hoodie, hiding the feathers behind a bush. "Did I ever tell you how the Pigeon went to the Crow to learn the art of nest-making?"

"I do not know about such things," said Purpurpurati the Peacock.

"I'll tell you and then you'll know," said Hoodie the Crow.


[Illustration]

The Crow is the Master-builder among the Birds and so it was to the Crow that the Pigeon went to learn the art of nest-making. "We begin with the sticks," said the Crow. "I know," said the Pigeon. "First we take one stick and lay it lengthwise." "I know," said the Pigeon. "Then we put a stick across it," said the Crow. "I know," said the Pigeon. "And then we put another stick lower down." said the Crow. "I know," said the Pigeon. "Then we put another stick lengthwise," "I know," said the Pigeon. "Musha," said the Crow, "If you know so much, why do you come here at all? Away with you! Fly home now and build the nest yourself." The Pigeon flew home, but of course he was not able to build his nest, for he knew nothing about the laying of sticks and the bringing of straws,


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and he was too young and foolish to learn when he got the chance. And that is why the Pigeon to this day cannot build a nest.

"Why do you tell such foolish stories?" said Purpurpurati the Peacock when Hoodie had finished.

"We have no other stories in our family," said Hoodie the Crow. "We don't know about Jewels and Magicians and Palaces and Kings and Dragons."

"The Magician," said Purpurpurati the Peacock, "The Magician lived in a Palace of red marble that was all surrounded by a forest of black, black trees. I lived there too and I ate golden grains out of pails of silver. That was long ago and it was in far India.

The Magician had precious stones of every kind and he would have me walk beside him to the Cavern where he kept his precious stones, and as he handled them over he would tell me of the virtues that each stone possessed. And one day the Magician looking upon me said ‘This Peacock I will slay, for the beauty of his neck makes dull my turquoises and the crest on his head is more shapely than my Persian jewel-work' "

"Dear me, dear me!" said Hoodie the Crow.

Hearing him say this, said the Peacock "I flew into the branches of a dark, dark tree. And as I rested there the fair lady who walked about the Garden—White-as-a-Pearl she was called and she was the Magician's daughter—walked under the dark, dark trees, and I saw that she was weeping.

I knew why she wept. She wept for the young man whom her father had imprisoned in a tower. This young man was the son of a King, and the Magician was his father's brother. And if the young man died the Magician would become King in his brother's Kingdom. But the lady White-as-a-Pearl did not want the young man to die.

A little snow-white dove flew down from the tower and spoke in words to White-as-a-Pearl and asked her what word she had to send to the young man.

" 'You must tell him terrible news, my little snow white dove,' said White-as-a-Pearl. 'My father will have him go forth to fight with a dragon. And this is a terrible dragon. Every young man who has gone forth against him has been slain.'

The little snow white dove flew back to the tower and the Princess White-as-a-Pearl stood under the dark, dark trees and wept again. And when she saw me on my branch she said 'O most beauteous of all the birds, do you know of any arms by which a hero can slay a terrible dragon?'


[Illustration]

Then I came down off my branch and I walked beside the Princess, and as I walked beside her I told her the wonderful secrets I knew."

"And what were the secrets," said Hoodie the Crow plucking a last feather from the peacock's tail. "What were the secrets anyway?"

"Can I tell them to a Crow?" said Purpurpurati the Peacock. But I will tell them. I told her the secrets I had learnt from the Magician when he spoke of the virtues of his precious stones—a ruby in a man's helmet would make a dragon's eyes go blind. A turquoise on his arm would make a dragon's blood turn to water. A sapphire on his spear would make a dragon's heart burst within him.

So the Princess White-as-a-Pearl went to her father's cavern and took the precious stones I spoke of and gave them to the King's son. And he went forth the next day and when he came to him the dragon's eyes were blinded, and his blood turned to water and his heart burst within him. And the King's son cut off his head and brought it into the Palace. Then the Magician fled amongst the dark, dark trees and I was given the red marble palace to live in."

"I lived in Lapland," said Hoodie the Crow. "And who do you think I knew there?"

"No one of any dignity," said Purpurpurati the Peacock.

"I knew your White-as-a-Pearl. She had become an old ugly witch-woman."

"Base crow!" said Purpurpurati and he walked up the steps and went away.

Then Hoodie the Crow dressed himself in the feathers he had stolen from the Peacock and went away and walked across the field admiring himself. But a Fox that had promised to bring a Peacock to his Mother-in-law saw Hoodie the Crow and stole up beside him and caught him in his mouth and carried him away. And that was the end of Hoodie who was such a clever crow. "This Peacock is very tough," said the Fox's mother-in-Law as she ate Hoodie. "What would your Ladyship have?" said Rory the Fox." Peacock is always tough.


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