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The Story of the Young Cuckoo


The young cuckoo made desperate attempts to get himself through the narrow opening in the hollow tree. He screamed when he failed to get through.

His foster-parents had remained so long beside him that they were wasted and sad while the other birds, their broods reared, were vigorous and joyful. They heard the one that had been reared in their nest, the young cuckoo, scream, but this time they did not fly towards him. The young cuckoo screamed again, but there was something in that scream that reminded the foster-parents of hawks. They flew away. They were miserable in their flight, these birds, for they knew they were committing a treason.

They had built their nest in a hollow tree that had a little opening. A cuckoo laid her egg on the ground and, carrying it in her beak, had placed it in the nest. Their own young had been pushed out. They had worn themselves to get provision for the terrible and fascinating creature who had remained in their nest.

When the time came for him to make his flight he could not get his body through the little opening. Yesterday he had begun to try. The two foster-parents flew to him again and again with food. But now their own nesting place had become strange to them. They would never go near it again. The young cuckoo was forsaken.

A woodpecker ran round the tree. He looked into the hollow and saw the big bird crumpled up.

"Hello," said the woodpecker. "How did you get here?"

"Born here," said the young cuckoo sulkily.

"Oh, were you?" said the woodpecker and he ran round the tree again.

When he came back to the opening the young cuckoo was standing up with his mouth open.

"Feed me," said he.

"I've to rush round frightfully to get something for myself," said the woodpecker.

"At least, someone ought to bring me food," said the young cuckoo.

"How is that?" said the woodpecker.

"Well, oughtn't they to?" said the young cuckoo.

"I wouldn't say so," said the woodpecker, "you have the use of your wits, haven't you?" He ran round the trunk of the tree again and devoured a lean grub. The young cuckoo struggled at the opening and screamed again.

"Don't be drawing too much attention to yourself," advised the woodpecker when he came to the opening again. "They might take you for a young hawk, you know."

"Who might?" said the cuckoo. "The neighbors. They would pull a young hawk to pieces."

"What am I to do?" said the young cuckoo.

"What's in your nature to do?"

"My nature?" said the young cuckoo. "It's my nature to swing myself on branches high up in a tree. It's my nature to spread out my wings and fly over pleasant places. It is my nature to be alone. But not alone as here. Alone with the sound of my own voice." Suddenly he cried, "Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo!"

"I know you now," said the woodpecker. "There's going to be a storm," he said; "trust a woodpecker to know that."

The young cuckoo strove towards the big sky again, and he screamed so viciously that a rat that had just come out of the ditch fastened his eyes on him. That creature looked bad to the young cuckoo. Rain plopped on the leaves. Thunder crashed. A bolt struck the tree, and the part above the opening was torn away.

The young cuckoo flung himself out on the grass and went awkwardly amongst the blue bells. "What a world," said he. "All this wet and fire and noise to get me out of the nest. What a world!" The young cuckoo was free, and these were the first words he said when he went into the world.

That was the last story the King's Son told from Maravaun's book, "The Breastplate of Instruction." They had another little field of blue flowers to cross, and as they went across it Fedelma told the King's Son

Next: Part XIII: The Story of the Cloud-Woman