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Alfred de Musset (1810–1857). The Story of a White Blackbird.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Chapter II

MY father was so inhumane as to leave me for several days in this humiliating situation. In spite of his violent temper, he was good hearted, and I could tell from the sidelong glances that he cast at me, that he would have been glad to pardon me and call me back; and my mother, still more, constantly gazed up at me with eye full of tenderness, and even dared, from time to time, to call me with a little plaintive cry; but my horrible white plumage filled them in spite of themselves with terror and repugnance which I saw were wholly beyond remedy.

“I am not a blackbird!” I kept repeating; and in fact, when I was pluming myself in the morning, using the water in the gutter for a mirror, I could see only too clearly how little resemblance I bore to the rest of my family. “Oh heavens!” I repeated once more, “tell me then what I am!”

One night when there was a pouring rain, I was just ready to fall asleep, worn out with grief and hunger, when I saw alighting near me a bird wetter, paler, and thinner than I could have believed possible. He was almost the same color as I, as well as I could see through the rain which was pouring over us; he had scarcely enough feathers on his whole body to cover a sparrow, and he was bigger than I. At the first glance, he seemed to me a very poor and needy bird; but in spite of the storm which deluged his nearly bald head, he still had a proud air which fascinated me. With becoming modesty, I made him a low bow, to which he responded with a peck that almost knocked me off the gutter. When he saw that I was scratching my ear and that I was retiring ruefully without attempting to reply to him in his own language:

“Who are you?” he asked in a voice as hoarse as his head was bald.

“Alas! my Lord,” I answered (fearing a second jab), “I have not the slightest idea. I thought I was a blackbird, but I have been convinced that I am not.”

My unusual answer and my air of sincerity aroused his interest. He came close to me and made me tell him my story, which I did with all the sorrow and humility befitting my position and the terrible weather.

“If you were a carrier pigeon like me,” said he after he had heard my tale, “the foolish things that you grieve over would not give you a moment’s trouble. We travel, that is our whole life. And although we have our love affairs, I do not know who my father is. Our pleasure, indeed our very existence, is rushing through the air, flying through space, seeing mountains and plains at our feet, breathing the very azure of heaven, and not the exhalations of the earth, darting like an arrow towards an end which we never miss. I can travel farther in one day than a man can in ten.”

“Upon my word, Sir,” said I, plucking up a little more courage, “you are a gipsy bird.”

“That is another thing that I care nothing about,” answered he. “I am a bird without a country; I know only three things: my journeys, my wife, and my little ones. Whereever my wife is, there is my country.”

“But what have you there hanging around your neck? It looks like a ragged old curl paper.”

“Those are important papers,” answered he, puffing himself up proudly. “I am now on way to Brussels, and I am carrying a message to the celebrated banker —— which will lower the rate of exchange by one franc and seventy-eight centimes.”

“Good Lord,” I cried, “you certainly lead a fine life, and I am sure that Brussels must be a very interesting city to see. Could you not take me with you? Since I am not a blackbird, perhaps I am a carrier pigeon.”

“If you were,” he replied, “you would have struck back when I pecked you just now.”

“Very well, Sir, that’s easily remedied; let us not quarrel for so small a matter. Morning is coming and the storm is clearing away. I beg you to let me follow you! I am ruined, I have nothing left in the world—if you refuse me, there is nothing left for me to do but to drown myself in this gutter.”

“Very well, let us start. Follow me if you can.”

I cast one last glance at the garden where my mother was sleeping. A tear flowed from my eyes; the wind and the rain carried it away. I spread my wings, and I started.