A Smile from the past and other stories
A PRIZE FOR BUBBILI
It was a glorious morning in spring. The lake reflected the blue of the sky above, and a gentle breeze just stopped the sun from being too hot. The three children who had walked from their school, two miles away, sat down in the shadow of a big chenar. A little way off two dogs chased each other, and rolled happily in the rich green grass.
“I wish”, said Pat watching them wistfully. “I do wish we had a dog. It’s so much more fun going anywhere if one has an animal to take along too”.
“Oh there you go again !” said her cousin Rodney a trifle impatiently. “You know why neither your father or mine will let us have dogs at present. It’s on account of this rabies scare, and nothing you say is going to make them change their minds”.
“Pat sighed heavily”. “I know”, she said.
“Well, some other animal then – or even a bird”.
“You couldn’t take a bird out for walks with you”, said her cousin scornfully. “Who ever heard of a bird going for walks ?”
“You could take it for flies”, Rooni, Pat’s little sister was beginning, but Pat had risen to her feet and was staring in the direction of a bush about twenty yards away.
“What !” she said. “There’s something down there under that bush. I saw it move “.
She moved quietly over to the bush, and the next moment was down on her knees picking up, something very small which chirruped loudly.
“It’s a baby bulbul !” she cried. “it must have fallen from its nest. Can you see a nest anywhere ?”
“No “ replied her cousin who had joined her, scanning the branches overhead. “But there’s another baby down there”, he moved cautiously towards the bush, and parting the branches picked up a second bulbul.
“We must try and find their nest”, said pat anxiously. “The parents will be frantic if we take them away”.
“Then why aren’t they here ?” asked her cousin.
“I don’t know. Oh look ! There’s the nest all torn in pieces. That’s why the parent birds have gone off, I suppose”.
“Looks as though some animal must have torn it down”, said Rodney, examining it.
“Either that, or some boy”.
“Then we’ll have to take the babies home”, said Pat, secretly rejoicing, as she greatly loved baby bulbuls. “We can’t leave them here or those pye dogs over there would find them and then they wouldn’t last long”.
“Oh yes, Pat – do let’s take them home”, chimed in Rooni, for she too loved birds.
“You can’t have both of them”, said Rodney truculently. “I found one of them, and I’m going to keep that one myself”.
“Oh but Rodney – it wouldn’t be kind to separate them”, said Pat anxiously. “And do you know how to feed and bring up baby birds ?”
“I expect I can do it as well as you can “ rejoined her cousin obstinately.
“Oh, Rodney – you couldn’t !” broke in Rooni, anxious to support her sister. “Pat knows all about bringing up baby birds, don’t you Pat. Daddy says she is an expert at it !”
“Daddy’s the expert “, Pat corrected her.
“Oh you girls ! Just because your father teaches natural history you think you know everything ! All you need to do is to wait until a baby bird opens its mouth and then shove something in”.
Pat shrugged her shoulders.
“All right, Rodney”, she said. “You keep the bulbul you found, but it you want any help in how to feed it, just let us know”.
“O.K. Miss Superior”, said Rodney disagreeably. “We’d better be getting along back now, anyway, or we shall be late for lunch”.
He stalked ahead of them for the rest of the way home, and once inside the school gates, turned right while his cousins turned left, each making for the house where their father’s were respective masters in the school.
A fortnight later, both baby bulbuls were still alive, but while Pat’s bulbul flourished, his feathers sleek and his eyes bright, Rodney’s bulbul sat in its small cage with drooping feathers, and its whole attitude a picture of dejection. The reason was not far to seek. While Pat’s bulbul, Bubbili, had a large cage, the door was always open, and Bubbili was free to go wherever he wanted. From his first waking moments he was Pat’s constant companion, sitting on the side of the bath as she bathed and splashed him, flying into the dining room and sharing her breakfast, and even when she went walking and riding, sitting on her shoulder or on the horse’s neck, flying up into a tree or bush that they passed to peck at a berry or a grub, and then quickly catching her up to get a further lift. When unable to be with Pat, Rooni came second best in his affections, and he would stay beside her where she played in the garden, flying up into the trees occasionally, to join some of the other birds in the branches.
Rodney’s bulbul, which had no name, led a very different life. Alone from morning to night he sat, moping in his tiny cage, which Rodney did not even bother to keep clean; in fact the only reason the little bird was still alive at all was because during the first week or so, Rodney had left the feeding of his pet entirely to Pat.
And so another week went by, and Pat wished more and more that her cousin could be persuaded to give them his bulbul. “Oh God, please let something happen which will make Rodney give us his bulbul !” she prayed devoutly, and wondered what could possibly happen which would make such an event take place. “I wish he would give the bulbul to Rooni for her birthday next week”, she meditated, but her cousin was not much of a one for giving presents, and she knew that this was something very unlikely to happen.
Rooni’s birthday dawned bright and clear, and she was up before 6 O’clock examining her presents. Her best present, however, arrived on the breakfast table in the shape of a small square box.
“It’s something for you to wear always”, said her mother gravely as Rooni excitedly undid the package. Inside a small jewel box lay a little gold pendant set in pearls.
“Oh, Mummy – how lovely ! Is it really for me ?”
“Yes, of course, dear”, replied Mrs. Harley. “It belonged to your grand-mother, and was given to me on my seventh birthday. Now you are seven I am passing it on to you to wear always”.
Mr. Harley looked up from his morning paper.
“Is that quite wise ?” he observed mildly.
“The child will only lose it at her age. It’s too valuable to be worn by a little girl”.
“Of course it is valuable”, agreed his wife, “but Rooni is always very careful of her things. Besides it’s on a strong chain with a safety catch. It won’t break”.
“As you wish “, Mr. Harley rose to his feet, and started to light his pipe. “By the way – don’t forget to send someone to fetch Rooni’s birthday cake. The shop said it would be ready this morning any time after ten”. The day was a holiday, and he wandered out into the garden, to tend to his roses.
An hour later Rodney appeared with a birthday present from his parents for Rooni.
“Oh – is that you, Rodney ?”? Mrs. Harley called out. “I wish you would go down to the town Pat to collect Rooni’s birthday cake. I don’t like her going alone. There’ve been some disreputable characters around lately, and I don’t feel it’s safe sending a child alone”.
Rodney was never a willing slave, but to be put into the position of an adult flattered his vanity.
“Of course, Aunt Elsbeth”, he said readily.
“Which is the shop, and how much is there to pay ?”
“It’s already paid for, and Pat knows the shop”, replied his aunt. “You’ll find her outside, playing ‘tea-parties’ with Rooni”.
Rodney went out into the garden, where Pat was playing with her little sister, who was busily pouring out ‘tea’ from a miniature doll’s tea set, while Bubbili looked on interestedly from a branch overhead.
“Pat”, he called. “Aunt Elisbeth wants us to go and collect Rooni’s birthday cake. I don’t know where the shop is, so you’ll have to come too”.
“Of course !” Pat quickly jumped to her feet, and Rooni intent upon brewing more tea scarcely notice her go. When she looked up, Pat was already at the gate.
“Where are you going ?” shouted Rooni, scrambling up.
“To collect your birthday cake”, Pat shouted back, and went out of the gate, following Rodney, who was in a hurry to get his task over’
“Wait, wait !” screamed Rooni, running as fast as she could to the gate. “Wait for me ! I want to come too”.
But the other two were already out of earshot and did not hear her. Rooni ran panting after them. She could catch them up just round the corner she knew, and ran as fast as her short legs would carry here. What she did not know was that Rodney, intent upon getting his task accomplished as quickly as possible, had suggested to Pat that they should break into a trot. By the time Rooni reached the corner the other two were nowhere in sight, and she abandoned all idea of being able to catch them up.
“I’ll wait for them here”, she decided.
“I don’t suppose they’ll be so very long, and maybe when they see me sitting here all alone, they’ll be sorry they didn’t take me with them” ahead, so she sat down to wait for us to come back the same way”.
“But we didn’t come back the same way”, Rodney added. “Because I had to post a letter for my father on the way back”.
“Quick, children ! Go and look for her !” there was no mistaking the anxiety in Mrs. Harley’s voice now.
“I’ll go too !” added Mr. Harley striding out after them.
It did not take them long to reach Rooni. The youth had just run off but there was a look of delighted exultation on Rooni’s still rather white face. She ignored Pat and Rodney and threw herself excitedly into her father’s arms.
“Daddy – you’ll never guess what happened !” she cried. “Pat and Rodney went off without me, so I thought I’d wait for them, and then a horrid boy came along and tried to take my locket. And do you know what happened, Daddy ? Bubbili was there and saw him, and Bubbili didn’t like what he was doing so he came down from a branch and flew at the boy’s face and eyes, and the boy was so frightened that he just screamed and started running ! I don’t think he’ll ever try to take anybody’s locket again”, she added complacently.
Mr. Harley hugged his small daughter, and Bubbili flew down and alighted on Rooni’s head in case his help was needed again.
“Please tell him he needn’t peck me !” said Mr. Harley laughing and Pat and Rodney joined in the laughter.
“What a marvelous little bird he is “ marvelled Rodney. “Just as good as a watch dog ! Hadn’t we better give him a prize of some sort ?”
“What a good idea !” exclaimed Pat, “he certainly deserves one”.
“What do you think he would like ?” Rodney continued.
“I know ! I know !” Rooni clapped her hands. “And I’d like it too !” she added.
“Well – what is it ? Let’s give it to him then”, chimed in her father.
“A friend – a little friend all of his own to live with him always. There’s one already for him, only Rodney’s got it !”
She looked straight at Rodney, who hesitated, but only for a second.
“I’ll bring his little friend round straight away !” he said, “and then it can do as a birthday present for you as well “, he added looking at Rooni.
And so it came about that there are now two bulbuls flying about the Harley’s garden, and if Pat or Rooni call for Bubbili, a second little bulbul whose name is Bubbaleta comes as well !
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