The Song of the Bird by Unknown

I.

IN those unhappy days when revolution prevailed in France, there were a number of noble families who were reduced to extreme poverty. One of these was the family of Duke Erlan, who was a noble and highly-respected man, while his wife was kind and charitable to such an extent that all the poor people in the surrounding country loved her with great affection.

They had two children—Carl and Lillie. When a certain revolutionary outbreak had occurred, the duke removed from the city where he lived to his chateau, in a retired part of the country, where he was surrounded by rocks, vineyards, and fields of grain, far removed from the bustle and turmoil of city life.

The good man regarded himself as very fortunate in being permitted to live here in quiet with his family, and become the teacher of his children.

Notwithstanding the great danger prevailing in the country, this was indeed a happy family.

The duke was a good musician, and he made it an object to teach his children to play on the piano; and though they were quite young, both of them knew a number of very beautiful tunes.

On one stormy evening, near the end of winter, all four of them sat together near their splendid piano. The duke had composed a little song for his two children. It was such a pleasant, lively melody, that they had learned it very easily, and each of them could play it. Their mother, however, did not know it, and the children now thought it a great thing for them to have the privilege of teaching it to her.

“Carl,” said the duke, “you play, and we will sing.”

And they sang this song:—

“Take courage, bird;
Our Father says,
In winter’s storms
And summer’s rays
You have no barns,
You sow no wheat,
But God will give you bread to eat.”

While they were singing, they heard some one knock at the door. They heard the bell ring, and when the door was opened, five soldiers, clad in uniform, demanded Duke Erlan to deliver himself up. They walked straight up to him, and told him that he must go immediately to prison. His wife cast herself at their feet, and begged them to let him live in peace.

“We cannot help it,” said they. “We have our orders, and must obey them.”

Not five minutes elapsed before that good man was taken from the midst of his happy family, and hurried to prison. The duchess and her son and daughter were overwhelmed with sorrow. They could not sleep that night, and the next morning, as they looked out of the window and saw how the storm had prevailed in the vineyards and on the fields, they felt that the storm in their own hearts had been far more destructive.

The unhappy duchess now determined to use every means to rescue her beloved husband. She went to the judges and assured them of her husband’s innocence; but they did not seem to have any more feeling than so many marble statues. She received, in reply to her entreaties, this answer:—

“In a few days your husband will be beheaded.”

She returned to the castle after three days, and found that it was occupied by soldiers. The furniture had all been  taken away, and the treasures were missing. She was not permitted even to enter the castle, and was informed that her children, for whom she was weeping in great sorrow, were gone—nobody could tell where.

It was late at night, and she did not know where she would sleep. Going out into the castle-yard, she was met by Richard, an old and faithful servant, who said,—

“Good mistress, you are in danger every moment of being arrested. There is no safety for you unless you flee as quickly as possible. I cannot conceal you, for that would be dangerous for all. I cannot save your husband, and if you stay here it will be certain death. Your children are at my house. Come with me. My brother, the old fisherman, who keeps the ferry at the Rhine, is already informed of the matter. I will go with you this very night, and he will take you and your children safely over the river. Run—let us run for life.”

The duchess came to the house of good Richard, where she found her children. But Lillie was quite sick, and lay upon Richard’s cot, suffering from a high fever. She did not even know her mother. How could that good lady leave her sick child? She did not wish to do it, but the peasant told her that she could be of no assistance, and that he would see that she was well provided for.

“Run,” said he, “for your life is in danger.”

It was a sad moment when Lillie’s mother was compelled to leave her child lying upon that sick bed; but the good woman, before giving her a parting kiss, knelt at her side, and said,—

“O Lord, I commit this dear child to thee for safe keeping. I believe thou wilt one day restore her to me.”

The duchess was silent for a few moments; then, calmly arising, she kissed her child, took Carl by the hand, and hastened through the door towards the distant river.

She finally came to the old ferryman’s house, and he gave them a great deal of welcome, having provided some warm soup and bread to strengthen them. They were taken over the river, and the two brothers, Solomon and Richard, returned in the boat.

It was a desolate condition in which the duchess and her child were placed, and we must follow her in her wanderings. The farther she went from the river, the safer it would be for her and Carl. She followed the direction which Richard had given her, until she reached Switzerland. But her delay there came near costing her her life, for she learned that a detective officer was in search of them. With all the haste possible, she got across the Swiss boundary into the Tyrol, which was Austrian territory. There she was safe. They passed over high mountains, and through deep valleys, seeking a place where they could settle. At last they came to a certain valley, which, in quiet beauty, surpassed anything that they had seen.

“This reminds me more of home,” she said, “than any country through which we have passed. I have got several hundred louis which good Richard saved when our house was plundered, and we can afford to rent a little cottage.”

The old Tyrolese peasant told her that there was no house for sale in all the valley. “But,” said he, “you can board in my cottage if you choose.”

The price was agreed upon, and the duchess and her son became inmates of the family. The little room which was to be their home was very plainly furnished; but simple as it was, the first thing that she did on entering it was to kneel there with her child, and thank God for a shelter. She arranged her affairs as well as  she could for a permanent residence with the Tyrolese peasant, and she began to look upon it as home.

One day she told the peasant that she wished to send her little boy Carl to school, if there was a good schoolmaster in the neighborhood.

“The pastor in a neighboring village,” said the peasant, “will be here to-day to catechise my child. He teaches school, and I think you can make an arrangement with him.”

That day the gray-haired old pastor came, and an arrangement was made with him for Carl to go to school to him. Books were provided for him, and he went to school with the greatest pleasure. He was a rapid student, and repeated his lessons every evening to his mother.

In the Tyrol a great many canary birds are trained, and are sold to dealers all through the country. The old Tyrolese peasant with whom the duchess and Carl were boarding had a young and beautiful bird, which sang very sweetly. Carl asked his mother to buy this bird, saying,—

“Mother, this bird is very much like the one that our dear, sweet Lillie used to have. Buy it for me, so that it may learn how to sing.”

The duchess bought the bird, and soon became very much attached to it. Carl took the greatest pleasure in its training, and in due time, little Tim—for that was his name—would come to him and peck at his fingers, and rub his little head on Carl’s hand.

Carl was a natural musician, just as his father was, and would sometimes play on a flute which the old Tyrolese peasant had. Little Tim would imitate his tunes, and sometimes the concert was well worth hearing.

The old pastor provided the duchess with news. One day he gave her a French newspaper, and in the first column which she read there was a long list of the names of noblemen who had been beheaded. Among them she read the name of her husband, Henry Erlan. The newspaper fell from her hands, and she swooned away. A severe illness came on, and it was a long time doubtful whether she would recover. The old Tyrolese despaired of her life, and said,—

“The coming autumn may find her no more with us; but who knows what the good Lord will bring out of all this sorrow?”

II.

The old servant Richard, having rescued his good mistress from arrest, and probably from death, now formed the resolution to save his master too. He had not much time to plan, for he learned that the duke was to be beheaded the following week. It so happened that the son of his brother Solomon, the ferryman, belonged to the National Guard, and was stationed at the prison to guard it. If he could only secure him to engage in the enterprise, he felt that he could succeed. It was a difficult thing to get a word to say to any member of the National Guard. But old Richard had done many kind things for his nephew, and he succeeded in getting a note to him through the post office, appointing a time, when he was off duty, to meet him. Richard opened the whole enterprise freely to his nephew, and told him all the great injustice that had been done a noble family, and the sufferings through which the different members had passed.

The duke was informed that he was to be beheaded next day, and his door was marked by the prison-keeper as the room of a man who was to be executed the following morning. The good man knelt in prayer after the intelligence had been conveyed to him, and said,—

“To whom shall I go for help and courage, this last night of my life, but to thee, O Lord? Thou knowest best what  will happen to me. If it be in accordance with thy will, permit me to see my wife and children again. If thou seest that it is not best for thy glory that I should live, then I will obey willingly. Thy will, not mine, be done.”

Lillie, her father and Richard listen to the bird singing

Father, father! that is the very tune which we were singing together the night that you were arrested.

That was a noble prayer. Scarcely had the last word fallen from his lips, when he heard somebody gently lifting the latch of his door, and inserting the key.

“Save yourself,” whispered the person who entered, who was none other than old Solomon’s son, to whom Richard had confided his enterprise. It was two o’clock in the morning, the very best time to accomplish his purpose.

“Put on these clothes,” said he, as he unfolded a soldier’s uniform; “take this hat, and here is a gun. As quickly as you possibly can, transform yourself into a soldier.”

They escaped in safety from the prison, accompanied by the faithful Richard, and went as rapidly as they could towards the Rhine. They reached old Solomon’s ferry house. The young man knocked gently at the window, and asked his father to come out as soon as possible and take the duke over the river.

“Are you not going to take your little girl with you?” said the old ferryman.

“What little girl?” asked the duke.

“Your little daughter, whom my brother has brought here this very day; and she is as sweet a child as I ever saw in my life. She lies asleep now in the corner of the room.”

This was news which the nobleman did not expect to hear, and he was almost  overcome with joy. But he had no time to spend in greeting, except to give his dear Lillie a kiss. Soon they were over the Rhine; but before reaching the bank on the opposite side, they were fired at by soldiers who had come in search of them. A bullet passed through the top of the duke’s high soldier hat, but he was not harmed, and escaped in safety.

The great task for him to accomplish now was to find his wife and boy, though he had but little hope of ever finding them. Old Richard had enough money to buy the duke a horse; so the father mounted the horse, and took his little daughter on the saddle with him. They travelled over the mountains and through the vales, asking, whenever they met any person, to tell them if they knew of any strangers in that section of the country. But nobody gave any information.

Old Richard was yet with them, for he had still enough money left to buy a mule, and he rode beside his good master and Lillie until the 17th of July arrived, and that was Lillie’s birthday. The duke determined that they three should stop and celebrate it by taking a little rest and a good meal in a cottage by the wayside. Having finished their dinner, they went out of doors and looked about the beautiful yard, which was all blooming with flowers. A bird cage was hanging by the side of the door, and the bird was singing the tune to these words:—

“Take courage, bird;
Our Father says,
In winter’s storms
And summer’s rays
You have no barns,
You sow no wheat,
But God will give you bread to eat.”

Lillie was astounded at again hearing that sweet melody, and she exclaimed,—

“Father, father! that is the very tune which we were singing together the night that you were arrested.”

The little bird went over it two or three times, and the father said,—

“You are right, my dear child. That is the melody—not a note is wanting. This is truly wonderful. I do believe that this bird has been taught to sing that song by Carl and your good mother. O, Richard, can you not find out how this bird came here?”

Richard said in reply,—

“I will do all I can, but I am afraid that it will be very difficult.”

He made inquiries of the man who owned the bird, and who had furnished them with the dinner, as to where the bird came from. The Tyrolese replied,—

“I don’t know where it came from, except that a young man who passed along the road, and who lives about three miles from here, sold it to me for a trifling sum one day. I was pleased with its appearance, because it was a beautiful bird, and the price was very low.”

Then Richard said,—

“Can you not see that young man, and find out where he got it from?”

“I will do so if you wish,” he answered.

Richard then told him to report as soon as possible what he had learned.

That afternoon, about five o’clock, the young man was brought to Richard and the duke, and inquiries were made as to where he got the bird. He said that he did not know where it came from exactly, except that it was found one day after it had escaped from somebody’s cage. He did not know who owned it, or else he would have taken it to its owner.

“Where was it you found it?” said the duke.

“About ten miles from here, when I was going to see my mother, who lives a great many miles away.”

“Do you know whether any strangers are in that neighborhood?” asked the duke.

“I heard my mother say that there  were a lady and a little boy living some three miles the other side of her house, and that she was a very good woman.”

“Did you ever see the boy yourself?” inquired the duke.

“Yes, I saw the boy going to school.”

The duke, on making further inquiries as to his appearance, came to the conclusion that the boy whom he had seen was probably none other than Carl. He accordingly made his arrangements to go to the place of which the young man had spoken.

That night he reached the house where this good lady and her son were boarding. True enough, the duke and little Lillie were in the presence of the duchess and Carl. It was a happy meeting, far beyond my power to describe. Their gratitude to their heavenly Father for preserving them to each other knew no bounds. It was an hour of such happiness as is seldom permitted any one to enjoy.

They sat up late that night and recounted their experiences to each other, and then the duke revealed the secret of his coming to that house; that it was a canary bird which had been the instrument of his finding her and Carl. They spent a few days in great happiness there, and made a bargain with the man who owned the canary bird which had escaped from Carl’s cage to get it back again.

Two years passed on, and peace and quiet were again restored to France. The duke and his family were permitted to return to his castle, and the government made him ample reparation for all the losses that he had incurred. They took with them their little canary bird, which had lost none of its sweet notes by the lapse of time.

One day a magnificent new piano arrived from Paris, and after tea the duke said,—

“Now we will try the piano in our own quiet home. What shall we sing?” asked he.

The duchess, and Carl, and Lillie all answered with one voice,—

“We must sing our bird song.”

“Take courage, bird;
Our Father says,
In winter’s storms
And summer’s rays
You have no barns,
You sow no wheat,
But God will give you bread to eat.”