Title


THE FLEDGELING

By I. AL. Bratescu-Voineshti

0ne springtime a quail nearly dead with fatigue-she came from far-away Africa-- dropped from her flight into a green cornfield on the edge of a plantation. After a few days of rest she began to collect twigs, dried leaves, straw, and bits of hay, and made herself a nest on a mound of earth, high up, so that the rain would not spoil it; then for seven days in succession she laid an egg, in all seven eggs, as small as sugar eggs, and she began to sit upon them.

Have you seen how a hen sits on her eggs? Well, that is how the quail did, but instead of sitting in a coop, she sat out of doors, among the grain ; it rained, it pelted with rain, but she never moved, and not a drop reached the eggs. After three weeks there hatched out some sweet little birds, not naked like the young of a sparrow, but covered with yellow fluff; like chickens, only smaller, like seven little balls of silk, and they began to scramble through the corn, looking for food. Some- times the quail caught an ant, sometimes a grasshopper, which she broke into pieces for them, and with their little beaks they went pie ! pie! pie! and ate it up immediately.

They were pretty and prudent and obedient ; they walked about near their mother, and when she called to them " pitpalac ! " they ran quickly back to her. Once, in the month of June, when the peasants came to reap the corn, the eldest of the chicks did not run quickly at his mother's call, and, alas, a boy caught him under his cap. He alone could tell the overwhelming fear he felt when he found himself clasped in the boy's hand ; his heart beat like the watch in my pocket. Luckily for him an old peasant begged him off.

"Let him go, Marin, it's a pity on him, he will die. Don't you see he can hardly move, he is quite dazed."

When he found himself free, he fled full of fear to the quail to tell her what had befallen him. She drew him to her and comforted him, and said to him

"Do you see what will happen if you do not listen to me ? When you are big you can do what you like, but while you arc little you must follow my words or something worse may overtake you."

And thus they lived, contented and happy. The cutting of the corn and the stacking of the sheaves shook a mass of seeds on to the stubble which gave them food, and, although there was no water near, they did not suffer from thirst because in the early morning they drank the dew-drops on the blades of grass. By day, when it was very hot, they stayed in the shade of the plantation ; in the afternoon, when the heat grew less, they all went out on to the stubble, but an the cold nights they would gather in a group under the protecting wings of the quail as under a tent. Gradually the fluff upon them had changed into down and feathers and with their mother's help they began to fly. The flying lesson took place in the early morning towards sunrise, when night was turning into day, and in the evening in the twilight, for during the daytime there was danger from the hawks which hovered above the stubble-field.

Their mother sat upon the edge and asked them:

"Are you ready?"

"Yes," they answered.

" One, two, three ! "

And when she said "three;' whrrr ! away they all flew from the side of the plantation, as far as the sentry-box on the high road, and back again. And them mother told them they were learning to fly in preparation for a long journey they would have to take when the summer was over.

"We shall have to fly high up above the earth for days and nights, and we shall see below us great towns and rivers and the sea."

One afternoon towards the end of August, while the chicks were playing happily near their mother in the stubble, a carriage was heard approaching, and it stopped in the track by the edge of the plantation. They all raised their heads with eyes like black beads and listened. A voice could be heard calling : "Nero ! to heel ! "

The chicks did not understand, but their mother knew it was a man out shooting, and she stood petrified with fear. The plantation was their refuge, but exactly from that direction came the sportsman. After a moment's thought she ordered them to crouch down close to the earth, and on no con- sideration to move.

"I must rise, you must stay motionless, he who flies is lost. Do you understand? "

The chicks blinked their eyes to show they understood, and remained waiting in silence. They could hear the rustling of a dog moving through the stubble, and from time to time could be heard a man's voice : " Where are you? To heel, Nero ! "

The rustling drew near-the dog saw them ; he remained stationary, one paw in the air, his eyes fixed upon them.

"Do not move," whispered the quail to them, and she ran quickly farther away from them.

The dog followed slowly after her. The sportsman hurried up. His foot was so near to them that they could see an ant crawling up the leg of his boot. Oh, how their hearts beat ! A few seconds liter the quail rose, and flew low along the ground a few inches in front of the dog's muzzle. It pursued her, and the sportsman followed, shout- ing : "To heel ! to heel ! " He could not shoot for fear of hurting the dog ; the quail pretended to be wounded so well that the dog was determined to catch her at all cost, but when she thought she was out of range of the gun she quickly flew for shelter towards the plantation.

During this time, the eldest fledgeling, instead of remaining motionless like his brothers, as their mother bade them, had taken to his wings ; the sportsman heard the sound of his flight, turned and shot. He was some distance away. Only a single shat reached his wings. He did not fall, he managed to fly as far as the plantation, but there the movement of the wings caused the bone which had only been cracked at first to give way altogether, and the fledgeling fell with a broken wing.

The sportsman, knowing the plantation was very thick, and seeing it was a question of a young bird only, decided it was not worth while to look for it among the trees. The other little birds did not move from the spot where the quail had left them.

They listened in silence. From time to time they heard the report of a gun and the voice of the sportsman calling : " Bring it here ! " After a time the carriage left the cart-track by the plantation and followed the sportsman; gradually the shots and the shouting became fainter and died away, and in the silence of the evening nothing could be heard but the song of the crickets ; but when night bad fallen and the moon had risen above Cornatzel, they clearly heard their mother's voice calling to them from the end of the stubble : " Pitpalac ! pitpalac ! " They flew quickly towards her and found her. She counted them ; one was missing.

" Where is the eldest one ? "

" We do not know-he flew off."

Then the heart-broken quail began to call loudly, and yet more loudly, listening on every side. A faint voice from the plantation answered:

"Piu ! piu ! " When she found him, when she saw the broken wing, she knew his fate was sealed, but I she hid her own grief in order not to discourage him.

From now on, sad days began for the poor fledgeling. He could scarcely move with his wing trailing behind him ; with tearful eyes he watched his brothers learning to fly in the early morning and in the evening ; at night when the others were asleep under his mother's wings, he would ask her anxiously:

"Mother, I shall get well, I shall be able to go with you, shan't I ? And you will show me, too, the big cities and rivers and the sea, won't you ?"

"Yes," answered the quail, forcing herself not to cry.

In this way the summer passed. Peasants came with ploughs to plough up the stubble, the quail and her children removed to a neighbouring field of maize; after a time men came to gather in the size. They cut the straw and hoed up the ground, en the quails retired to the rough grass by the edge of the plantation.

The long, beautiful days gave place to short and gloomy ones, the weather began to grow foggy and the leaves of the plantation withered. In the evening, belated swallows could be seen flying low along the ground, sometimes other flocks of birds of passage passed and, in the stillness of the frosty nights, the cry of the cranes could be heard, all migrating in the same direction, towards the south.

A bitter struggle took place in the heart of the Doc quail. She would fain have torn herself in vo, that one half might go with her strong children ho began to suffer from the cold as the autumn advanced, and the other half remain with the injured chick which clung to her so desperately. One day, without any warning, the north-east wind blew a dangerous blast, and that decided her. Better that one of the fledgelings should die than that all of hem should-and without looking back lest her resolution should weaken, she soared away with he strong little birds, while the wounded one called piteously:

"Do not desert me! Do not desert me!"

He tried to rise after them, but could not, and remained on the same spot following them with his eyes until they were lost to sight on the southern horizon.

Three days later, the whole region was clothed in winter's white, cold garb. The violent snowstorm was followed by a calm as clear as crystal, accompanied by a severe frost.

On the edge of the plantation lay a young quail with a broken wing and stiff with cold. After a period of great suffering he had fallen into a pleasant state of semi-consciousness. Through his mind flashed fragments of things seen-the stubble-field, the leg of a boot with an ant crawling upon it, his mother's warm wings. He turned over from one side to the other and lay dead with his little claws pressed together as though in an act of devotion.




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