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People Who Are "Down"
by [?]

If any one happens to feel ashamed when he notices the far-off resemblances between the lower animals and man’s august self, he will probably feel the most acute humiliation should he take an occasional walk through a great rookery, such as that in Richmond Park. The black cloud of birds sweeps round and round, casting a shadow as it goes; the air is full of a solemn bass music softened by distance, and the twirling fleets of strange creatures sail about in answer to obvious signals. They are an orderly community, subject to recognised law, and we might take them for the mildest and most amusing of all birds; but wait, and we shall see something fit to make us think. Far off on the clear gray sky appears a wavering speck which rises and falls and sways from side to side in an extraordinary way. Nearer and nearer the speck comes, until at last we find ourselves standing under a rook which flies with great difficulty. The poor rascal looks most disreputable, for his tail has evidently been shot away, and he is wounded. He drops on to a perch, but not before he has run the gauntlet of several lines of sharp eyes. The poor bird sits on his branch swinging weakly to and fro, humping up his shoulders in woebegone style. There is a rustle among the flock, a sharp exchange of caws, and one may almost imagine the questions and answers which pass. Circumstances prevent us from knowing the rookish system of nomenclature; but we may suppose the wounded fellow to be called Ishmael. Caw number one says, “Did you notice anything queer about Ishmael as he passed?” “Yes. Why, he’s got no tail!” “He’ll be rather a disgrace to the family if he tries to go with us into Sussex on Tuesday.” “Frightful! He’s been fooling about within range of some farming lout’s gun. The lazy, useless wretch never did know the difference between a gun and a broom!” “Serves him right! Let’s speak to the chief about him.” The chief considers the matter solemnly and sorrowfully, and then may be understood to say, “Sorry Ishmael’s in trouble, but we can’t acknowledge him. There’s an end of the matter. You Surrey crow, take a dozen of our mates, and drive that Ishmael away.” The wounded bird knows his doom. He fumbles his way through the branches, and flies off zig-zag and low; but the flight soon mob him. They laugh at him, and one can positively tell that they are chattering in derision. Presently one of them buffets him; and that is the signal for a general assault. Quick as lightning, one of the black cowards makes a vicious drive with his iron beak, and flies off with a triumphant caw; another and another squawk at the wretch, and then stab him, until at last, like a draggled kite, Ishmael sinks among the ferns and passes away, while the assassins fly back and tell how they settled the fool who could not keep the shot out of his carcass. If the observer sees this often, his disposition to moralise may become very importunate, for he sees an allegory of human life written in black specks on that sky that broods so softly, like a benediction, over the fair world. One may easily bring forward half a score of similar instances from the animal kingdom. A buffalo falls sick, and his companions soon gore and trample him to death; the herds of deer act in the same way; and even domestic cattle will ill-treat one of their number that seems ailing. The terrible “rogue” elephant is always one that has been driven from his herd; the injury rankles in him, and he ends by killing any weaker living creature that may cross his path. Again, watch a poor crow that is blown out to sea. So long as his flight is strong and even, he is unmolested; but let him show signs of wavering, or, above all, let him try to catch up with a steamship that is going in the teeth of the wind, and the fierce gulls slay him at once.