The Kestrel's Eggs

by Unknown

ALPH NORTON was home on leave from the Britannia, and it was not easy to find a sufficient outlet for his energies in the quiet neighbourhood where he lived. So when his sister Marjorie told him that she wanted a kestrel's egg for her collection, he explored a wood not far away, and discovered a nest which would give him a good piece of climbing.

'Don't take more than one—or two, at the most,' Marjorie said. 'I can't bear to make the birds miserable, but I don't think they can mind losing one egg out of a whole batch.'

It was a lovely spring morning and Ralph stood at the foot of the tall fir and looked up at the nest, which was built on a branch quite near the top.

'It is a stiff climb,' he thought, 'and it's a good thing I am not heavy, or that branch would never bear me.'

But he was not a Britannia cadet for nothing, and the harder the climb the better fun he would think it, so up he scrambled.

A few minutes later a game-keeper came along, and stopped when he got near the fir-tree.

"'Hold hard there!'" "'Hold hard there!'"

'I will just put a charge of shot into that hawk's nest,' he said to himself. 'Hawks do too much damage. I may catch the bird sitting there, and at any rate I can smash the eggs.'

He raised his gun to take aim when a piercing yell seemed to come from the sky. He lowered it hastily, and it was fortunate the shock did not make him discharge it.

'Hold hard there!' came a shrill voice from the direction of the nest. 'If you don't look out, you will bring down a bigger bird than you reckon for.'

The kestrel at this moment flew swiftly away, and the keeper was so perturbed he missed his opportunity of bringing her down.

'Oh, it's you, is it, Master Ralph?' he shouted. 'I declare I never can tell what prank you will be up to next. You do frighten a man most out of his wits.'

'And what about me?' Ralph retorted. 'I have had about as much of a scare as I want. It was hard-enough work getting up, without seeing the ugly muzzle of a gun pointed at me. And a jolly good thing I did see it, or you might have been had up for manslaughter.'

'Well, I like that!' muttered the game-keeper. 'I wonder who is about his proper business—that daring young scamp, or a harmless man like myself?'

But he knew from experience he did not often get the better of Ralph in a war of words.

'As you are up there, sir,' he called, 'you might take all the eggs, and then I need not waste my shot.'

'Right you are!' was the answer; but Ralph found there were seven, and he thought of Marjorie's injunctions.

'I will leave a couple,' he decided, and even then he hardly saw how he could get the others safely down. Two could be carried in his mouth in the orthodox fashion, and the other three must take their chance in his pocket; not much of a chance though, considering the scramble before him.

However, he was soon on the ground beside the keeper, displaying his treasures.

'A good set too,' he said, 'from rusty red to one almost white. But you did give me a turn with that old gun.'

'I'm sure, sir, I am thankful enough I didn't fire it off, but I should have been doing no more than my duty, and that's more than you can say, seeing that this wood is strictly preserved.'

Ralph laughed, and they sauntered off together, and the kestrel sailed back to her despoiled nest. If only she had known it, she had reason to be grateful to Ralph, for if he had not been in the act of robbing the nest, she might have been shot herself, and at any rate her eggs would have been destroyed. As it was she had in time two little downy fledglings to console her, and this fact was a comfort to Marjorie, though perhaps Ralph thought more of the fun of the little adventure than of the bird's feelings.