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

Chapter V

BEING left solitary and disappointed, I had nothing better to do than to profit by the remainder of the day and to fly at full speed towards Paris. Unfortunately, I did not know my way. My voyage with the pigeon had been so trying that I was unable to remember the route exactly; so that, instead of turning sharply to the right, I turned to the left at Bourget, and, being overtaken by night, I was obliged to seek shelter in the woods of Morfontaine.

All the birds were going to bed when I arrived. The pies and jays, who, as everyone knows, are the most uneasy creatures in the world at bedtime, were pushing and scuffling in every direction. The sparrows were scolding and treading on each other in the bushes. At the water’s edge two herons were walking solemnly, balancing themselves on their long stilts, in a meditative attitude, the George Dandins of the place, patiently awaiting their wives. Huge crows, already half asleep, were perching clumsily on the tops of the tallest trees, and saying their evening prayers in nasal tones. Lower down, some amorous tom-tits were still chasing each other through the thicket, while a woodpecker with ruffled plumage was pushing his family from behind, to drive them into a hole in a tree. Whole flocks of hedge-sparrows were coming in from the fields, dancing in the air like puffs of smoke, and alighting on a shrub, covering it completely. Chaffinches, linnets, and robin redbreasts had grouped themselves lightly on some pruned branches like crystals on a chandelier. Voices sounded in every direction, saying quite plainly: “—Come, wife!—Come, daughter!—This way, sweetheart!—Come here, dearest!—Here I am, my dear!—Goodnight, my love!—Good-bye, friends!—Sleep well, children!”

What a position for a bachelor, to lodge in such a tavern! I felt tempted to accost some birds of about my size and ask for their hospitality.—At night, I thought, all birds are gray; and, for that matter, does it do people any harm to sleep quietly near them?

I turned first toward a ditch where some starlings were assembled. They were making their evening toilette with special care, and I noticed that most of them had golden wings and varnished claws: these were the dandies of the forest. They were good-natured enough, but did not pay me the compliment of noticing me at all. But their talk was so silly, they recounted their quarrels and their successes with such self conceit, and they pressed against each other so closely, that I really could not stand it.

I then went and perched on a branch where there were half a dozen birds of different kinds sitting in a row. I modestly took the last place at the extreme end of the branch, hoping to be tolerated there. Unfortunately, my neighbor was an old dove, as dry as a rusty weather vane. As I approached her, the few feathers which covered her bones were the object of her tenderest care; she was pretending to plume them, but she was too much afraid of pulling one out: she was merely counting them over, to see if she still had the proper number. I had scarcely touched her with the tip of my wing, when she stood erect, with freezing dignity.

“What are you doing, Monsieur?” she said, pinching her beak together, with British modesty.

And, giving me a great push with her elbow, she threw me off the branch with a vigor that would have done credit to a porter.

I fell into a furze bush where a big wood hen was sleeping. Even my mother in her porringer had not such an air of complete beatitude. She was so plump, so well grown, so comfortably seated on her own fat stomach, that one might have taken her for a pasty which had had its crust eaten off. I slipped up to her furtively.—“She will not wake up,” I said to myself, “and, in any case, such a nice fat mother cannot be very spiteful.” In point of fact she was not. She half opened her eyes, and said with a little sigh:

“You are bothering me, little one, do go away.”

Just then I heard some one calling me. It was some thrushes, in the top of a service tree, who were making signs to me to come to them.—“There are some good souls at last,” I thought. They made room for me, laughing wildly, and I slipped into the feathery group as swiftly as a love letter into a muff. But it did not take long to find out that those ladies had eaten more grapes than were good for them; they could scarcely hold on to the branches on which they were sitting, and their highly spiced pleasantries, their peals of laughter, and their ribald songs drove me to move on.

I was beginning to despair, and was about to go to sleep in a solitary corner, when a nightingale began to sing. Every one kept silence at once. Ah me! how pure his voice was! how sweet even his melancholy seemed! Instead of disturbing any one’s sleep, his notes seemed only to soothe it. No one dreamed of telling him to be quiet, no one found fault with his singing at such an hour; his father did not beat him and his friends did not take to flight.

“I, then, am the only one who is forbidden to be happy! I will go away, I will fly from this cruel company! I would rather try to find my way in the dark, at the risk of being eaten by some owl, than to have my heart torn by the sight of others’ happiness!”

Moved by this thought, I started once more and wandered for a long time at random. At daybreak I saw the towers of Notre Dame. In the twinkling of an eye I was there, and I soon recognized our garden. I flew to it quicker than lightning… Alas it was empty… In vain did I call my parents. Nobody answered. The tree where my father used to sit, my mother’s bush, the precious porringer, all had disappeared. The axe had destroyed everything; instead of the green bordered path where I was born, nothing was left but a pile of fagots.