And three of them—
I don’t know their names, for they couldn’t speak,
Except with a little imperative squeak,
Exactly like Poll,
Susan’s squeaking doll;
But squeaking dolls will lie on the shelves
For years and never squeak of themselves:
The reason we like little birds so much better than toys
Is because they are really alive, and know how to make a noise.
There were three of us, and three
Kate,—that is I,—and Susan, and Jem.
Our mother was busy making a pie,
And theirs, we think, was up in the sky;
But for all Susan, Jemmy, or I can tell,
She may have been getting their dinner as well.
They were left to themselves (and so were we)
In a nest in the hedge by the willow tree;
And when we caught sight of three red little fluff-tufted, hazel-eyed,
open-mouthed, pink-throated heads, we all shouted for glee.
The way we really did wrong was
We took them for Mother to kiss,
And she told us to put them back;
Whilst out on the weeping-willow their mother was crying “Alack!”
We really heard
Both what Mother told us to do, and the voice of the mother-bird.
But we three—that is Susan and I and Jem—
Thought we knew better than either of them:
And in spite of our mother’s command and the poor bird’s cry,
We determined to bring up her three little nestlings ourselves
on the sly.
We each took one,
It did seem such excellent fun!
Susan fed hers on milk and bread,
Jem got wriggling worms for his instead.
I gave mine meat,
For, you know, I thought, “Poor darling pet! why shouldn’t it have
roast beef to eat?”
But, oh dear! oh dear! oh dear! how we cried
When in spite of milk and bread and worms and roast beef, the
little birds died!
It’s a terrible thing to have heart-ache,
I thought mine would break
As I heard the mother-bird’s moan,
And looked at the grey-green, moss-coated, feather-lined nest she had
taken such pains to make,
And her three little children dead, and as cold as stone.
Mother said, and it’s sadly true,
“There are some wrong things one can never undo.”
And nothing that we could do or say
Would bring life back to the birds that day.
The bitterest tears that we could
Wouldn’t wake them out of their stiff cold sleep.
We—Susan and Jem and I—mean never to be so selfish, and wilful,
and cruel again.
And we three have buried those other three
In a soft, green, moss-covered, flower-lined grave at the foot of
the willow tree.
And all the leaves which its branches shed
We think are tears because they are dead.
A NURSERY RHYME
Hush-a-by, Baby! Your baby, Mamma,
No one but pussy may go where you are;
Soft-footed pussy alone may pass by,
For, if he wakens, your baby will cry.