Under the window of a certain pretty little cottage there grew a
great old apple-tree, which in the spring had thousands and thousands
of lovely pink blossoms on it, and in the autumn had about half as
many bright red apples as it had blossoms in the spring.
The nursery of this cottage was a little bower of a room, papered
with mossy-green paper, and curtained with white muslin; and here
five little children used to come, in their white nightgowns, to be
dressed and have their hair brushed and curled every morning.
First, there were Alice and Mary, bright-eyed, laughing little girls,
of seven and eight years; and then came stout little Jamie, and
Charlie; and finally little Puss, whose real name was Ellen, but who
was called Puss, and Pussy, and Birdie, and Toddlie, and any other
pet name that came to mind.
Now it used to happen, every morning, that the five little heads
would be peeping out of the window, together, into the flowery boughs
of the apple-tree; and the reason was this. A pair of robins had
built a very pretty, smooth-lined nest in a fork of the limb that
came directly under the window, and the building of this nest had
been superintended, day by day, by the five pairs of bright eyes of
these five children. The robins at first had been rather shy of this
inspection; but as they got better acquainted, they seemed to think
no more of the little curly heads in the window than of the pink
blossoms about them, or the daisies and buttercups at the foot of the
All the little hands were forward to help; some threw out flossy bits
of cotton,--for which, we grieve to say, Charlie had cut a hole in
the crib quilt,--and some threw out bits of thread and yarn, and
Allie ravelled out a considerable piece from one of her garters,
which she threw out as a contribution; and they exulted in seeing the
skill with which the little builders wove everything in. "Little
birds, little birds," they would say, "you shall be kept warm, for we
have given you cotton out of our crib quilt, and yarn out of our
stockings." Nay, so far did this generosity proceed, that Charlie
cut a flossy, golden curl from Toddlie's head and threw it out; and
when the birds caught it up the whole flock laughed to see Toddlie's
golden hair figuring in a bird's-nest.
When the little thing was finished, it was so neat, and trim, and
workman-like, that the children all exulted over it, and called it
"our nest," and the two robins they called "our birds." But
wonderful was the joy when the little eyes, opening one morning, saw
in the nest a beautiful pale-green egg; and the joy grew from day to
day, for every day there came another egg, and so on till there were
five little eggs; and then the oldest girl, Alice, said, "There are
five eggs: that makes one for each of us, and each of us will have a
little bird by-and-by;"--at which all the children laughed and jumped
When the five little eggs were all laid, the mother-bird began to sit
on them; and at any time of day or night, when a little head peeped
out of the nursery window, might be seen a round, bright, patient
pair of bird's eyes contentedly waiting for the young birds to come.
It seemed a long time for the children to wait; but every day they
put some bread and cake from their luncheon on the window-sill, so
that the birds might have something to eat; but still there she was,
"How long, long, long she waits!" said Jamie impatiently. "I don't
believe she's ever going to hatch."
"Oh, yes she is!" said grave little Alice. "Jamie, you don't
understand about these things; it takes a long, long time to hatch
eggs. Old Sam says his hens sit three weeks;--only think, almost a
Three weeks looked a long time to the five bright pairs of little
watching eyes; but Jamie said the eggs were so much smaller than
hens' eggs that it wouldn't take so long to hatch them, he knew.
Jamie always thought he knew all about everything, and was so sure of
it that he rather took the lead among the children. But one morning,
when they pushed their five heads out of the window, the round,
patient little bird-eyes were gone, and there seemed to be nothing in
the nest but a bunch of something hairy.
Upon this they all cried out, "O mamma, DO come here! the bird is
gone and left her nest?" And when they cried out, they saw five wide
little red mouths open in the nest, and saw that the hairy bunch of
stuff was indeed the first of five little birds.
"They are dreadful-looking things," said Mary; "I didn't know that
little birds began by looking so badly."
"They seem to be all mouth," said Jamie.
"We must feed them," said Charlie.--"Here, little birds, here's some
gingerbread for you," he said; and he threw a bit of his gingerbread,
which fortunately only hit the nest on the outside, and fell down
among the buttercups, where two crickets made a meal of it, and
agreed that it was as excellent gingerbread as if old Mother Cricket
herself had made it.
"Take care, Charlie," said his mamma; "we do not know enough to feed
young birds. We must leave that to their papa and mamma, who
probably started out bright and early in the morning to get breakfast
Sure enough, while they were speaking, back came Mr. and Mrs. Robin,
whirring through the green shadows of the apple tree; and thereupon
all the five little red mouths flew open, and the birds put something
It was great amusement, after this, to watch the daily feeding of the
little birds, and to observe how, when not feeding them, the mother
sat brooding on the nest, warming them under her soft wings, while
the father-bird sat on the topmost bough of the apple-tree and sang
to them. In time they grew and grew, and, instead of a nest full of
little red mouths, there was a nest full of little, fat, speckled
robins, with round, bright, cunning eyes, just like their parents;
and the children began to talk together about their birds.
"I'm going to give my robin a name," said Mary. "I call him Brown-
"And I call mine Tip-Top," said Jamie, "because I know he'll be a
"And I call mine Singer," said Alice.
"I 'all mine Toddy," said little Toddlie, who would not be behindhand
in anything that was going on.
"Hurrah for Toddlie!" said Charlie; "hers is the best of all. For my
part, I call mine Speckle."
So then the birds were all made separate characters by having each a
separate name given it.
Brown-Eyes, Tip-Top, Singer, Toddy, and Speckle made, as they grew
bigger, a very crowded nestful of birds.
Now the children had early been taught to say in a little hymn:-
"Birds in their little nests agree;
And 'tie a shameful sight
When children of one family
Fall out, and chide, and fight;" -
and they thought anything really written and printed in a hymn must
be true; therefore they were very much astonished to see, from day to
day, that THEIR little birds in their nest did NOT agree.
Tip-Top was the biggest and strongest bird, and he was always
shuffling and crowding the others, and clamouring for the most food;
and when Mrs. Robin came in with a nice bit of anything, Tip-Top's
red mouth opened so wide, and he was so noisy, that one would think
the nest was all his. His mother used to correct him for these
gluttonous ways, and sometimes made him wait till all the rest were
helped before she gave him a mouthful; but he generally revenged
himself in her absence by crowding the others and making the nest
generally uncomfortable. Speckle, however, was a bird of spirit, and
he used to peck at Tip-Top; so they would sometimes have a regular
sparring-match across poor Brown-Eyes, who was a meek, tender little
fellow, and would sit winking and blinking in fear while his big
brothers quarrelled. As to Toddy and Singer, they turned out to be
sister birds, and showed quite a feminine talent for chattering; they
used to scold their badly behaving brothers in a way that made the
nest quite lively.
On the whole Mr. and Mrs. Robin did not find their family circle the
peaceable place the poet represents.
"I say," said Tip-Top one day to them, "this old nest is a dull,
mean, crowded hole, and it's quite time some of us were out of it.
Just give us lessons in flying, won't you? and let us go."
"My dear boy," said Mother Robin, "we shall teach you to fly as soon
as your wings are strong enough."
"You are a very little bird," said his father, "and ought to be good
and obedient, and wait patiently till your wing-feathers grow; and
then you can soar away to some purpose."
"Wait for my wing-feathers? Humbug!" Tip-Top would say, as he sat
balancing with his little short tail on the edge of the nest, and
looking down through the grass and clover-heads below, and up into
the blue clouds above. "Father and mother are slow old birds; they
keep a fellow back with their confounded notions. If they don't
hurry up, I'll take matters into my own claws, and be off some day
before they know it. Look at those swallows, skimming and diving
through the blue air! That's the way I want to do."
"But, dear brother, the way to learn to do that is to be good and
obedient while we are little, and wait till our parents think it best
for us to begin."
"Shut up your preaching," said Tip-Top; "what do you girls know of
"About as much as you," said Speckle. "However, I'm sure I don't
care how soon you take yourself off, for you take up more room than
all the rest put together."
"You mind yourself, Master Speckle, or you'll get something you don't
like," said Tip-Top, still strutting in a very cavalier way on the
edge of the nest, and sticking up his little short tail quite
"O my darlings," said their mamma, now fluttering home, "cannot I
ever teach you to live in love?"
"It's all Tip-Top's fault," screamed the other birds in a flutter.
"My fault? Of course, everything in this nest that goes wrong is
laid to me," said Tip-Top; "and I'll leave it to anybody, now, if I
crowd anybody. I've been sitting outside, on the very edge of the
nest, and there's Speckle has got my place."
"Who wants your place?" said Speckle. "I'm sure you can come in, if
"My dear boy," said the mother, "do go into the nest and be a good
little bird, and then you will be happy."
"That's always the talk," said Tip-Top. "I'm too big for the nest,
and I want to see the world. It's full of beautiful things, I know.
Now there's the most lovely creature, with bright eyes, that comes
under the tree every day, and wants me to come down in the grass and
play with her."
"My son, my son, beware!" said the frightened mother; "that lovely-
seeming creature is our dreadful enemy, the cat,--a horrid monster,
with teeth and claws."
At this, all the little birds shuddered and cuddled deeper in the
nest; only Tip-Top in his heart disbelieved it. "I'm too old a
bird," said he to himself, "to believe THAT story; mother is chaffing
me. But I'll show her that I can take care of myself."
So the next morning, after the father and mother were gone, Tip-Top
got on the edge of the nest again, and looked over and saw lovely
Miss Pussy washing her face among the daisies under the tree, and her
hair was sleek and white as the daisies, and her eyes were yellow and
beautiful to behold, and she looked up to the tree bewitchingly, and
said, "Little birds, little birds, come down; Pussy wants to play
"Only look at her!" said Tip-Top; "her eyes are like gold."
"No, don't look," said Singer and Speckle. "She will bewitch you,
and then eat you up."
"I'd like to see her try to eat me up," said Tip-Top, again balancing
his short tail over the nest. "Just as if she would. She's just the
nicest, most innocent creature going, and only wants us to have fun.
We never do have any fun in this old nest!"
Then the yellow eyes below shot a bewildering light into Tip-Top's
eyes, and a voice sounded sweet as silver: "Little birds, little
birds, come down; Pussy wants to play with you."
"Her paws are as white as velvet," said Tip-Top, "and so soft! I
don't believe she has any claws."
"Don't go, brother, don't!" screamed both sisters.
All we know about it is, that a moment after a direful scream was
heard from the nursery window. "O mamma, mamma, do come here! Tip-
Top's fallen out of the nest, and the cat has got him!"
Away ran Pussy with foolish little Tip-Top in her mouth, and he
squeaked dolefully when he felt her sharp teeth. Wicked Miss Pussy
had no mind to eat him at once; she meant just as she said, to "play
with him." So she ran off to a private place among the currant-
bushes, while all the little curly heads were scattered up and down
looking for her.
Did you ever see a cat play with a bird or a mouse? She sets it
down, and seems to go off and leave it; but the moment it makes the
first movement to get away,--pounce! she springs on it, and shakes it
in her mouth; and so she teases and tantalizes it, till she gets
ready to kill and eat it. I can't say why she does it, except that
it is a cat's nature; and it is a very bad nature for foolish young
robins to get acquainted with.
"Oh, where is he? where is he? Do find my poor Tip-Top," said Jamie,
crying as loud as he could scream. "I'll kill that horrid cat,--I'll
Mr. and Mrs. Robin, who had come home meantime, joined their
plaintive chirping to the general confusion; and Mrs. Robin's bright
eyes soon discovered her poor little son, where Pussy was patting and
rolling him from one paw to the other under the currant-bushes; and
settling on the bush above, she called the little folks to the spot
by her cries.
Jamie plunged under the bush, and caught the cat with luckless Tip-
Top in her mouth; and, with one or two good thumps, he obliged her to
let him go. Tip-Top was not dead, but in a sadly draggled and torn
state. Some of his feathers were torn out, and one of his wings was
broken, and hung down in a melancholy way.
"Oh, what SHALL we do for him? He will die. Poor Tip-Top!" said the
"Let's put him back into the nest, children," said mamma. "His
mother will know best what to do with him."
So a ladder was got, and papa climbed up and put poor Tip-Top safely
into the nest. The cat had shaken all the nonsense well out of him;
he was a dreadfully humbled young robin.
The time came at last when all the other birds in the nest learned to
fly, and fluttered and flew about everywhere; but poor melancholy
Tip-Top was still confined to the nest with a broken wing. Finally,
AS it became evident that it would be long before he could fly, Jamie
took him out of the nest, and made a nice little cage for him, and
used to feed him every day, and he would hop about and seem tolerably
contented; but it was evident that he would be a lame-winged robin
all his days.
Jamie's mother told him that Tip-Top's history was an allegory.
"I don't know what you mean, mamma," said Jamie.
"When something in a bird's life is like something in a boy's life,
or when a story is similar in its meaning to reality, we call it an
allegory. Little boys, when they are about half grown up, sometimes
do just as Tip-Top did. They are in a great hurry to get away from
home into the great world; and then temptation comes, with bright
eyes and smooth velvet paws, and promises them fun; and they go to
bad places; they get to smoking, and then to drinking; and, finally,
the bad habit gets them in its teeth and claws, and plays with them
as a cat does with a mouse. They try to reform, just as your robin
tried to get away from the cat; but their bad habits pounce on them
and drag them back. And so, when the time comes that they want to
begin life, they are miserable, broken-down creatures, like your
"So, Jamie, remember, and don't try to be a man before your time, and
let your parents judge for you while you are young; and never believe
in any soft white Pussy, with golden eyes, that comes and wants to
tempt you to come down and play with her. If a big boy offers to
teach you to smoke a cigar, that is Pussy. If a boy wants you to go
into a billiard-saloon, that is Pussy. If a boy wants you to learn
to drink anything with spirit in it, however sweetened and disguised,
remember Pussy is there. And Pussy's claws are long, and Pussy's
teeth are strong; and if she gives you one shake in your youth, you
will be like a broken-winged robin all your days."