Author of John Dough and the Cherub, The Treasure of Karnak, and The Visitors from Oz. etc.
Illustrations by Maginel Wright Enright.
Originally published in 1906 under the pseudonym Laura Bancroft.
[Disclaimer: The term "Jim Crow" is considered a racial slur. Readers should be aware that the name "Jim Crow" is an integral part of the following story, which is presented as originally published. No offense is intended to anyone.]
Jim Crow Becomes a Pet
One day, when Twinkle's father was in the corn-field, he shot his gun at a flock of crows that were busy digging up, with their long bills, the kernels of corn he had planted. But Twinkle's father didn't aim very straight, for the birds screamed at the bang of the gun and quickly flew away--all except one young crow that fluttered its wings, but couldn't rise into the air, and so began to run along the ground in an effort to escape.
The man chased the young crow, and caught it; and then he found that one of the little lead bullets had broken the right wing, although the bird seemed not to be hurt in any other way.
It struggled hard, and tried to peck the hands that held it; but it was too young to hurt any one, so Twinkle's father decided he would carry it home to his little girl.
"Here's a pet for you, Twinkle," he said, as he came into the house. "It can't fly, because its wing is broken; but don't let it get too near your eyes, or it may peck at them. It's very wild and fierce, you know."
Twinkle was delighted with her pet, and at once got her mother to bandage the broken wing, so that it would heal quickly.
The crow had jet black feathers, but there was a pretty purplish and violet gloss, or sheen, on its back and wings, and its eyes were bright and had a knowing look in them. They were hazel-brown in color, and the bird had a queer way of turning his head on one side to look at Twinkle with his right eye, and then twisting it the other side that he might see her with his left eye. She often wondered if she looked the same to both eyes, or if each one made her seem different.
TWINKLE AND JIM CROW
Having no cage to keep him in, and fearing he would run away, the girl tied a strong cord around one of Jim Crow's legs, and the other end of the cord she fastened to the round of a chair--or to the table-leg--when they were in the house. The crow would run all around, as far as the string would let him go; but he couldn't get away. And when they went out of doors Twinkle held the end of the cord in her hand, as one leads a dog, and Jim Crow would run along in front of her, and then stop and wait. And when she came near he'd run on again, screaming "Caw! Caw!" at the top of his shrill little voice.
He soon came to know he belonged to Twinkle, and would often lie in her lap or perch upon her shoulder. And whenever she entered the room where he was he would say, "Caw--caw!" to her, in pleading tones, until she picked him up or took some notice of him.
It was wonderful how quickly a bird that had always lived wild and free seemed to become tame and gentle. Twinkle's father said that was because he was so young, and because his broken wing kept him from flying in the air and rejoining his fellows. But Jim Crow wasn't as tame as he seemed, and he had a very wicked and ungrateful disposition, as you will presently learn.
JIM GETS INTO MISCHIEF
Jim Crow Runs Away
At last Jim got so tame that Twinkle took the cord off his leg and let him go free, wherever he pleased. So he wandered all over the house and out into the yard, where he chased the ducks and bothered the pigs and made himself generally disliked. He had a way of perching upon the back of old Tom, papa's favorite horse, and chattering away in Tom's ear until the horse plunged and pranced in his stall to get rid of his unwelcome visitor.
Twinkle always kept the bandage on the wounded wing, for she didn't know whether it was well yet, or not, and she thought it was better to be on the safe side. But the truth was, that Jim Crow's wing had healed long ago, and was now as strong as ever; and, as the weeks passed by, and he grew big and fat, a great longing came into his wild heart to fly again--far, far up into the air and away to the lands where there were forests of trees and brooks of running water.
He didn't ever expect to rejoin his family again. They were far enough away by this time. And he didn't care much to associate with other crows. All he wanted was to be free, and do exactly as he pleased, and not have some one cuffing him a dozen times a day because he was doing wrong.
So one morning, before Twinkle was up, or even awake, Jim Crow pecked at the bandage on his wing until he got the end unfastened, and then it wasn't long before the entire strip of cloth was loosened and fell to the ground.
JIM GETS RID OF HIS BANDAGE
The crow had been well fed by Twinkle and her mamma, and was in splendid health. But he was not at all grateful. With the knowledge of his freedom a fierce, cruel joy crept into his heart, and he resumed the wild nature that crows are born with and never lay aside as long as they live.
Having forgotten in an instant that he had ever been tame, and the pet of a gentle little girl, Jim Crow had no thought of saying good-bye to Twinkle. Instead, he decided he would do something that would make these foolish humans remember him for a long time. So he dashed into a group of young chickens that had only been hatched a day or two before, and killed seven of them with his strong, curved claws and his wicked black beak. When the mother hen flew at him he pecked at her eyes; and then, screaming a defiance to all the world, Jim Crow flew into the air and sailed away to a new life in another part of the world.
Jim Crow Finds a New Home
I'll not try to tell you of all the awful things this bad crow did during the next few days, on his long journey toward the South.
TWINKLE MOURNS FOR HER CHICKENS
In the mean time the runaway crow flew through the country, and when he was hungry he would stop at a farm-house and rob a hen's nest and eat the eggs. It was his knowledge of farm-houses that made him so bold; but the farmers shot at the thieving bird once or twice, and this frightened Jim Crow so badly that he decided to keep away from the farms and find a living in some less dangerous way.
And one day he came to a fine forest, where there were big and little trees of all kinds, with several streams of water running through the woods.
"Here," said Jim Crow, "I will make my home; for surely this is the finest place I am ever likely to find."
There were plenty of birds in this forest, for Jim could hear them singing and twittering everywhere among the trees; and their nests hung suspended from branches, or nestled in a fork made by two limbs, in almost every direction he might look. And the birds were of many kinds, too: robins, thrushes, bullfinches, mocking-birds, wrens, yellowtails and skylarks. Even tiny humming-birds fluttered around the wild flowers that grew in the glades; and in the waters of the brooks waded long-legged herons, while kingfishers sat upon overhanging branches and waited patiently to seize any careless fish that might swim too near them. Jim Crow decided this must be a real paradise for birds, because it was far away from the houses of men. So he made up his mind to get acquainted with the inhabitants of the forest as soon as possible, and let them know who he was, and that he must be treated with proper respect.
In a big fir-tree, whose branches reached nearly to the ground, he saw a large gathering of the birds, who sat chattering and gossiping pleasantly together. So he flew down and joined them.
"GOOD MORNING, FOLKS"
The birds looked at him curiously, and one or two fluttered their wings in a timid and nervous way; but none of them, little or big, thought best to make any reply.
"Well," said Jim Crow, gruffly, "what's the matter with you fellows? Haven't you got tongues? You seemed to talk fast enough a minute ago."
"Excuse me," replied a bullfinch, in a dignified voice; "we haven't the honor of your acquaintance. You are a stranger."
"My name's Jim Crow," he answered, "and I won't be a stranger long, because I'm going to live here."
They all looked grave at this speech, and a little thrush hopped from one branch to another, and remarked:
"We haven't any crows here at all. If you want to find your own folks you must go to some other place."
"What do I care about my own folks?" asked Jim, with a laugh that made the little thrush shudder. "I prefer to live alone."
"Haven't you a mate?" asked a robin, speaking in a very polite tone.
"No; and I don't want any," said Jim Crow. "I'm going to live all by myself. There's plenty of room in this forest, I guess."
"Certainly," replied the bullfinch. "There is plenty of room for you here if you behave yourself and obey the laws."
"Who's going to make me?" he asked, angrily.
"Any decent person, even if he's a crow, is bound to respect the law," answered the bullfinch, calmly.
Jim Crow was a little ashamed, for he didn't wish to acknowledge he wasn't decent. So he said:
"What are your laws?"
"The same as those in all other forests. You must respect the nests and the property of all other birds, and not interfere with them when they're hunting for food. And you must warn your fellow-birds whenever there is danger, and assist them to protect their young from prowling beasts. If you obey these laws, and do not steal from or interfere with your neighbors, you have a right to a nest in our forest."
"To be quite frank with you, though," said the robin, "we prefer your room to your company."
"I'm going to stay," said the crow. "I guess I'm as good as the rest of you; so you fellows just mind your own business and I'll mind mine."
With these words he left them, and when he had mounted to a position above the trees he saw that one tall, slim pine was higher than all the rest, and that at its very top was a big deserted nest.
Jim Crow Becomes a Robber
It looked like a crow's nest to Jim, so he flew toward the pine tree and lit upon a branch close by. One glance told him that at some time it really must have been the home of birds of his kind, who for some reason had abandoned it long ago. The nest was large and bulky, being made of strong sticks woven together with fine roots and grasses. It was rough outside, but smooth inside, and when Jim Crow had kicked out the dead leaves and twigs that had fallen into it, he decided it was nearly as good as new, and plenty good enough for a solitary crow like him to live in. So with his bill he made a mark on the nest, that every bird might know it belonged to him, and felt that at last he had found a home.
JIM FINDS A HOME
No bird ever came near his nest, but he often flew down to the lower trees and perched upon one or another of them, so gradually the birds of the forest got used to seeing him around, and paid very little attention to his actions.
One day Mrs. Wren missed two brown eggs from her nest, and her little heart was nearly broken with grief. It took the mocking bird and the bullfinch a whole afternoon to comfort her, while Mr. Wren hopped around in nearly as much distress as his wife. No animals had been seen in the forest who would do this evil thing, so no one could imagine who the thief might be.
MRS. WREN IS HEART-BROKEN
This was enough to make all the birds look upon Jim Crow with grave suspicion, and Robin Redbreast called a secret meeting of all the birds to discuss the question and decide what must be done to preserve their nests from the robber. Jim Crow was so much bigger and fiercer than any of the others that none dared accuse him openly or venture to quarrel with him; but they had a good friend living not far away who was not afraid of Jim Crow or any one else, so they finally decided to send for him and ask his assistance.
The starling undertook to be the messenger, and as soon as the meeting was over he flew away upon his errand.
"What were all you folks talking about?" asked the crow, flying down and alighting upon a limb near to those who had not yet left the place of meeting.
"We were talking about you," said the thrush, boldly; "and you wouldn't care at all to know what we said, Mister Jim Crow."
Jim looked a trifle guilty and ashamed at hearing this, but knowing they were all afraid of him he burst out into a rude laugh.
"CAW! CAW! CAW! WHAT DO I CARE?"
This awful threat made them all silent, for they remembered the fate of poor Mrs. Linnet's children, and very few of the birds now had any doubt but that Jim Crow knew more about the death of those helpless little ones than he cared to tell.
Finding they would not talk with him, the crow flew back to his tree, where he sat sullenly perched upon a branch near his nest. And they were very glad to get rid of him so easily.
Jim Crow Meets Policeman Blue Jay
Next morning Jim Crow woke up hungry, and as he sat lazily in his big nest, he remembered that he had seen four pretty brown eggs, speckled with white, in the nest of the oriole that lived at the edge of the forest.
"Those eggs will taste very good for breakfast," he thought. "I'll go at once and get them; and if old Mammy Oriole makes a fuss, I'll eat her, too."
He hopped out of his nest and on to a branch, and the first thing his sharp eye saw was a big and strange bird sitting upon the tree just opposite him and looking steadily in his direction.
Never having lived among other birds until now, the crow did not know what kind of bird this was, but as he faced the new-comer he had a sort of shiver in his heart that warned him to beware an enemy. Indeed, it was none other than the Blue Jay that had appeared so suddenly, and he had arrived that morning because the starling had told him of the thefts that had taken place, and the Blue Jay is well known as the policeman of the forest and a terror to all evil-doers.
POLICEMAN BLUE JAY
But Jim was not very wise; and so he imagined, after his first terror had passed away, that he could bully this bird as he had the others, and make it fear him.
"Well, what are you doing here?" he called out, in his crossest voice, for he was anxious to get away and rob the oriole's nest.
The Blue Jay gave a scornful, chattering laugh as he answered:
"That's none of your business, Jim Crow."
"Take care!" warned the crow; "you'll be sorry if you don't treat me with proper respect."
The Blue Jay winked solemnly, in a way that would have been very comical to any observer other than the angry crow.
"Don't hurt me--please don't!" he said, fluttering on the branch as if greatly frightened. "My mother would feel dreadful bad if anything happened to me."
"Well, then, behave yourself," returned the crow, strutting proudly along a limb and flopping his broad wings in an impressive manner. For he was foolish enough to think he had made the other afraid.
But no sooner had he taken flight and soared into the air than the Blue Jay darted at him like an arrow from a bow, and before Jim Crow could turn to defend himself the bill of his enemy struck him full in the breast. Then, with a shriek of shrill laughter, the policeman darted away and disappeared in the forest, leaving the crow to whirl around in the air once or twice and then sink slowly down, with some of his own torn feathers floating near him as witnesses to his defeat.
POLICEMAN BLUE JAY PUNISHES JIM
But he decided not to go to the oriole's nest that morning, but to search for grabs and beetles amongst the mosses beneath the oak-trees.
Jim Crow Fools the Policeman
From that time on Policeman Blue Jay made his home in the forest, keeping a sharp eye upon the actions of Jim Crow. And one day he flew away to the southward and returned with Mrs. Blue Jay, who was even more beautiful than her mate. Together they built a fine nest in a tree that stood near to the crow's tall pine, and soon after they had settled down to housekeeping Mrs. Blue Jay began to lay eggs of a pretty brown color mottled with darker brown specks.
Had Jim Crow known what was best for him he would have flown away from this forest and found himself a new home. Within a short flight were many bits of woodland where a crow might get a good living and not be bothered by blue jays. But Jim was obstinate and foolish, and had made up his mind that he never would again be happy until he had been revenged upon his enemy.
He dared no longer rob the nests so boldly as he had before, so he became sly and cunning. He soon found out that the Blue Jay could not fly as high as he could, nor as fast; so, if he kept a sharp lookout for the approach of his foe, he had no trouble in escaping. But if he went near to the nests of the smaller birds, there was the blue policeman standing guard, and ready and anxious to fight at a moment's notice. It was really no place for a robber at all, unless the robber was clever.
One day Jim Crow discovered a chalkpit among the rocks at the north of the forest, just beyond the edge of trees. The chalk was soft and in some places crumbled to a fine powder, so that when he had rolled himself for a few minutes in the dust all his feathers became as white as snow. This fact gave to Jim Crow a bright idea. No longer black, but white as a dove, he flew away to the forest and passed right by Policeman Blue Jay, who only noticed that a big white bird had flown amongst the trees, and did not suspect it was the thieving crow in a clever disguise.
JIM DISGUISES HIMSELF
When he reached a brook he washed all the chalk away from his feathers and then returned to his nest as black as ever.
All the birds were angry and dismayed when they found what had happened, but none could imagine who had robbed the robins. Mrs. Robin, who was not easily discouraged, built another nest and laid more eggs in it; but the next day a second nest in the forest was robbed, and then another and another, until the birds complained that Policeman Blue Jay did not protect them at all.
"I can't understand it in the least," said the policeman, "for I have watched carefully, and I know Jim Crow has never dared to come near to your trees."
"Then some one else is the robber," declared the thrush fussily.
"The only stranger I have noticed around here is a big white bird," replied the Blue Jay, "and white birds never rob nests or eat eggs, as you all know very well."
So they were no nearer the truth than before, and the thefts continued; for each day Jim Crow would make himself white in the chalk-pit, fly into the forest and destroy the precious eggs of some innocent little bird, and afterward wash himself in some far-away brook, and return to his nest chuckling with glee to think he had fooled the Blue Jay so nicely.
But the Blue Jay, although stupid and unsuspecting at first, presently began to get a little wisdom. He remembered that all this trouble had commenced when the strange white bird first arrived in the forest; and although it was doubtless true that white birds never eat eggs and have honest reputations, he decided to watch this stranger and make sure that it was innocent of the frightful crimes that had so aroused the dwellers in the forest.
Jim Crow is Punished
So one day Policeman Blue Jay hid himself in some thick bushes until he saw the big white bird fly by, and then he followed quietly after it, flitting from tree to tree and keeping out of sight as much as possible, until at last he saw the white bird alight near a bullfinch's nest and eat up all the eggs it contained.
POLICEMAN BLUE JAY DISCOVERS THE CULPRIT
"It must be a white crow," thought the Blue Jay; "for only a crow can beat me at flying, and some of that race are said to be white, although I have never seen one."
So he called together all the birds, and told them what he had seen, and they all agreed to hide themselves the next day and lie in wait for the thief.
By this time Jim Crow thought himself perfectly safe, and success had made him as bold as he was wicked. Therefore he suspected nothing when, after rolling himself in the chalk, he flew down the next day into the forest to feast upon birds' eggs. He soon came to a pretty nest, and was just about to rob it, when a chorus of shrill cries arose on every side of him and hundreds of birds--so many that they quite filled the air--flew straight at the white one, pecking him with their bills and striking him with their wings; for anger had made even the most timid of the little birds fierce, and there were so many of them that they gave each other courage.
THE BIRDS OF THE FOREST ARE REVENGED ON JIM
Policeman Blue Jay was especially angry at the deception practiced upon him, and if he could have got at the crow just then he would have killed it instantly. But the little birds were all in his way, so he was forced to hold aloof.
Filled with terror and smarting with pain, Jim Crow had only one thought: to get to the shelter of his nest in the pine-tree. In some way he managed to do this, and to sink exhausted into the hollow of his nest. But many of his enemies followed him, and although the thick feathers of his back and wings protected his body, Jim's head and eyes were at the mercy of the sharp bills of the vengeful birds.
When at last they left him, thinking he had been sufficiently punished, Jim Crow was as nearly dead as a bird could be. But crows are tough, and this one was unlucky enough to remain alive. For when his wounds had healed he had become totally blind, and day after day he sat in his nest, helpless and alone, and dared not leave it.
Jim Crow Has Time to Repent His Sins
"Where are you going, my dear?" asked the Blue Jay of his wife.
"I'm going to carry some grubs to Jim Crow," she answered. "I'll be back in a minute."
"Jim Crow is a robber and a murderer!" said the policeman, harshly.
"I know," she replied, in a sweet voice; "but he is blind."
"Well, fly along," said her husband; "but hurry back again."
And the robin-redbreast and his wife filled a cup-shaped flower with water from the brook, and then carried it in their bills to the pine-tree, without spilling a drop.
"Where are you going?" asked the oriole, as they passed.
"We're just taking some water to Jim Crow," replied Mrs. Robin.
"He's a thief and a scoundrel!" cried the oriole, indignantly.
"That is true." said Mrs. Robin, in a soft, pitiful voice; "but he is blind."
"Let me help you." exclaimed the oriole. "I'll carry this side of the cup, so it can't tip."
THE BIRDS BEAR WATER TO JIM
And I wonder what his thoughts were--don't you?
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, March 23, 1919.
Puzzles in Poesy
The forgetful poet's spring shopping continued:
I bought a hoe and watering can,
Some seeds--a garden hose--
I'm going to hoe and sow
And have a garden I --------.
I bought a trowel and a rake,
A spade. It costs a lot
To have a modest garden,
Dears and ducklings, does it -------?
I had to have a big straw hat
To keep away the sun,
And I'm afraid my dog will spoil
My garden when it's --------!
The words omitted from last week's verses were:
1. Reason. 2. Indeed. 3. Batch. 4. Neat.
[Answers next time.]
Copyright © 2010 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.