The Moon Stroke
by Laurence Housman
In the hollow heart of an old tree a Jackdaw and his wife had made
themselves a nest. As soon as the mother of his eggs had finished laying,
she sat waiting patiently for something to come of it. One by one five
mouths poked out of the shells, demanding to be fed; so for weeks the
happy couple had to be continually in two places at once searching for
food to satisfy them.
Presently the wings of the young ones grew strong; they could begin to fly
about; and the parents found time for a return to pleasuring and
curiosity-hunting. They began gathering in a wise assortment of broken
glass and chips of platter to grace the corners of their dwelling. All but
the youngest Jackdaw were enchanted with their unutterable beauty and
value; they were never tired of quarrelling over the possession and
arrangement of them.
"But what are they for?" asked the youngest, a perverse bird who grouped
himself apart from the rest, and took no share in their daily squabblings.
The mother-bird said: "They are beautiful, and what God intended for us:
therefore they must be true. We may not see the use of them yet, but no
doubt some day they will come true."
The little Jackdaw said: "Their corners scratch me when I want to go to
sleep; they are far worse than crumbs in the bed. All the other birds do
without them—why should not we?"
"That is what distinguishes us from the other birds!" replied the Janedaw,
and thanked her stars that it was so.
"I wish we could sing!" sighed the littlest young Jackdaw. "Babble,
babble!" replied his mother angrily.
And then, as it was dinner-time, he forgot his grief as they all said
grace, and fell-to.
One evening the old Jackdaw came home very late, carrying something that
burned bright and green, like an evening star; all the nest shone where he
set it down.
"What do you think of that for a discovery?" he said to the Janedaw.
"Think?" she said; "I can't. Some of it looks good to eat; but that
fire-patch at the end would burn one's inside out."
Presently the Jackdaw family settled itself down to sleep; only the
youngest one sat up and watched. Now he had seen something beautiful. Was
it going to come true? Its light was like the song of the nightingale in
the leaves overhead: it glowed, and throbbed, and grew strong, flooding
the whole place where it lay.
Soon, in the silence, he heard a little wail of grief: "Why have they
carried me away here," sighed the glow-worm, "out of the tender grass that
loves the ground?"
The littlest Jackdaw listened with all his heart. Now something at last
was going to become true, without scratching his legs and making him feel
as though crumbs were in his bed.
A little winged thing came flying down to the green light, and two voices
began crying together—the glow-worm and its mate.
"They have carried you away?"
"They have carried me away; up here I shall die!"
"I am too weak to lift you," said the one with wings; "you will stay here,
and you will die!" Then they cried yet more.
"It seems to me," thought the Jackdaw, "that as soon as the beautiful
becomes true, God does not intend it to be for us." He got up softly from
among his brothers. "I will carry you down," he said. And without more
ado, he picked it up and carried it down out of the nest, and laid it in
the long grass at the foot of the tree.
Overhead the nightingale sang, and the full moon shone; its rays struck
down on the little Jackdaw's head. For a bird that is not a nightingale to
wake up and find its head unprotected under the rays of a full moon is
serious: there and then he became moon-struck. He went back into bed; but
he was no longer the same little Jackdaw. "Oh, I wish I could sing!" he
thought; and not for hours could he get to sleep.
In the morning, when the family woke up, the beautiful and the true was
gone. The father Jackdaw thought he must have swallowed it in his sleep.
"If you did," said his wife "there'll be a smell of burnt feathers before
But the littlest Jackdaw said, "It came true, and went away, because it
was never intended for us."
Now some days after this the old Jack-daw again came carrying something
that shone like an evening star—a little spike of gold with a
burning emerald set in the end of it. "And what do you think of that?"
said he to his wife.
"I daren't come near it," she answered, "for fear it should burn me!"
That night the little Jackdaw lay awake, while all the others slept,
waiting to hear the green stone break out into sorrow, and to see if its
winged mate would come seeking it. But after hours had gone, and nothing
stirred or spoke, he slipped softly out of the nest, and went down to
search for the poor little winged mate who must surely be about somewhere.
And now, truly, among the grasses and flowers he heard something sobbing
and sighing; a little winged thing darted into sight and out again,
searching the ground like a dragon-fly at quest. And all the time, amid
the darting and humming of its wings, came sobbing and wringing of hands.
The young Jackdaw called: "Little wings, what have you lost? Is it not a
spike with a green light at the end of it?"
"My wand, my wand!" cried the fairy, beside herself with grief. "Just
about sunset I was asleep in an empty wren's nest, and when I woke up my
wand was gone!"
Then the little Jackdaw, being moon-struck, and not knowing the value of
things, flew up to the nest and brought back the fairy her wand.
"Oh!" she cried, "you have saved my life!" And she thanked the Jackdaw
till he grew quite modest and shy.
"What is it for? What can you do with it?" he asked.
"With this," she answered, "I can make anything beautiful come true! I can
give you whatever you ask; you have but to ask, and you shall have."
Then the little Jackdaw, being moon-struck, and not knowing the value of
things, said, "Oh, if I could only sing like a nightingale!"
"You can!" said the fairy, waving her wand but once; and immediately
some-thing like a melodious sneeze flew into his head and set it shaking.
"Chiou! chiou! True-true-true-true! Jug! jug! Oh, beautiful! beautiful!"
His beak went dabbling in the sweet sound, rippling it this way and that,
spraying it abroad out of his blissful heart as a jewel throws out its
The fairy was gone; but the little Jackdaw sprang up into the high elm,
and sang on endlessly through the whole night.
At dawn he stopped, and looking down, there he saw the family getting
ready for breakfast, and wondering what had become of him. Just as they
were saying grace he flew in, his little heart beating with joy over his
new-found treasure. What a jewel of a voice he had: better than all the
pieces of glass and chips of platter lying down there in the nest! As soon
as the parent-birds had finished grace, he lifted his voice and thanked
God that the thing he had wished for had become true.
None of them understood what he said, but they paid him plenty of
attention. All his brothers and sisters put up their heads and giggled, as
the young do when one of their number misbehaves.
"Don't make that noise!" said his mother; "it's not decent!"
"It's low!" said the father-bird.
The littlest young Jackdaw was overwhelmed with astonishment. When he
tried to explain, his unseemly melodies led to his immediate expulsion
from the family circle. Such noises, he was told, could only be made in
private; when he had quite got over them he might come back,—but not
He never got over them; so he never came back. For a few days he hid
himself in different trees of the garden, and sang the praises of sorrow;
but his family, though they comprehended him not, recognised his note, and
came searching him with beak and claw, and drove him out so as not to have
him near them committing such scandalous noises to the ears of the public.
"He lies in his throat!" said the old Jackdaw. "Everything he says he
garbles. If he is our son he must have been hatched on the wrong side of
After that, wherever he went, all the birds jeered at and persecuted him.
Even the nightingales would not listen to his brotherly voice. They made
fun of his black coat, and called him a Nonconformist without a
conscience. "All this has come about," thought he, "because God never
meant anything beautiful to come true."
One day a man who saw him and heard him singing, caught him, and took him
round the world in a cage for show. The value of him was discovered. Great
crowds came to see the little Jackdaw, and to hear him sing. He was
described now as the "Amphabulous Philomel, or the Mongrel-Minstrel"; but
it gave him no joy.
Before long he had become what we call tame—that is to say, his
wings had been clipped; he was allowed out of his cage, because he could
no longer fly away, and he sang when he was told, because he was whipped
if he did not.
One day there was a great crowd round the travelling booth where he was on
view: the showman had a new wonder which he was about to show to the
people. He took the little Jackdaw out of his cage, and set him to perch
upon his shoulder, while he busied himself over something which he was
taking carefully out of ever so many boxes and coverings.
The Jackdaw's sad eye became attracted by a splendid scarf-pin that the
showman wore—a gold pin set with a tiny emerald that burned like
fire. The bird thought, "Now if only the beautiful could become true!"
And now the showman began holding up a small glass bottle for the crowd to
stare into. The people were pushing this way and that to see what might be
At the bottom sat the little fairy, without her wand, weeping and beating
her hands on the glass.
The showman was so proud he grew red in the face, and ran shouting up and
down the plank, shaking and turning the bottle upside down now and then,
so as to make the cabined fairy use her wings, and buzz like a fly against
The Jackdaw waggled unsteadily at his perch on the man's shoulder. "Look
at him!" laughed some one in the crowd, "he's going to steal his master's
"Ho, ho, ho!" shouted the showman. "See this bird now! See the marvellous
mongrel nature of the beast! Who tells me he's only a nightingale painted
The people laughed the more at that, for there was a fellow in the crowd
looking sheepish. The Jackdaw had drawn out the scarf-pin, and held it
gravely in its beak, looking sideways with cunning eyes. He was wishing
hard. All the crowd laughed again.
Suddenly the showman's hand gave a jerk, the bottle slipped from his hold
and fell, shivering itself upon the ground.
There was a buzz of wings—the fairy had escaped.
"The beautiful is coming true," thought the Jackdaw, as he yielded to the
fairy her wand, and found, suddenly, that his wings were not clipped after
"What more can I do for you?" asked the fairy, as they flew away together.
"You gave me back my wand; I have given you back your wings."
"I will not ask anything," said the little Jackdaw; "what God intends will
"Let me take you up to the moon," said the fairy. "All the Jackdaws up
there sing like nightingales."
"Why is that?" asked the little Jackdaw.
"Because they are all moon-struck," she answered.
"And what is it to be moon-struck?" he asked.
"Surely you should know, if any one!" laughed the fairy. "To see things
beautifully, and not as they are. On the moon you will be able to do that
without any difficulty."
"Ah," said the little Jackdaw, "now I know at last that the beautiful is
going to come true!"