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The Cuckoo
by [?]

I have been much haunted, indeed infested, if the word may be pardoned, by cuckoos lately. When I was a child, acute though my observation of birds and beasts and natural things was, I do not recollect that I ever saw a cuckoo, though I often tried to stalk one by the ear, following the sweet siren melody, as it dropped into the expectant silence from a hedgerow tree; and I remember to have heard the notes of two, that seemed to answer each other, draw closer each time they called.

But of late I have become familiar with the silvery grey body and the gliding flight; and this year I have been almost dogged by them. One flew beside me, as I rode the other day, for nearly a quarter of a mile along a hedgerow, taking short gliding flights, and settling till I came up; I could see his shimmering wings and his long barred tail. I dismounted at last, and he let me watch him for a long time, noting his small active head, his decent sober coat. Then, when he thought I had seen enough, he gave one rich bell-like call, with the full force of his soft throat, and floated off.

He seemed loath to leave me. But what word or gift, I thought, did he bring with him, false and pretty bird? Do I too desire that others should hatch my eggs, content with flute-like notes of pleasure?

And yet how strange and marvellous a thing this instinct is; that one bird, by an absolute and unvarying instinct, should forego the dear business of nesting and feeding, and should take shrewd advantage of the labours of other birds! It cannot be a deliberately reasoned or calculated thing; at least we say that it cannot; and yet not Darwin and all his followers have brought us any nearer to the method by which such an instinct is developed and trained, till it has become an absolute law of the tribe; making it as natural a thing for the cuckoo to search for a built nest, and to cast away its foundling egg there, as it is for other birds to welcome and feed the intruder. It seems so satanically clever a thing to do; such a strange fantastic whim of the Creator to take thought in originating it! It is this whimsicality, the bizarre humour in Nature, that puzzles me more than anything in the world, because it seems like the sport of a child with odd inconsequent fancies, and with omnipotence behind it all the time. It seems strange enough to think of the laws that govern the breeding, nesting, and nurture of birds at all, especially when one considers all the accidents that so often make the toil futile, like the stealing of eggs by other birds, and the predatory incursions of foes. One would expect a law, framed by omnipotence, to be invariable, not hampered by all kinds of difficulties that omnipotence, one might have thought, could have provided against. And then comes this further strange variation in the law, in the case of this single family of birds, and the mystery thickens and deepens. And stranger than all is the existence of the questioning and unsatisfied human spirit, that observes these things and classifies them, and that yet gets no nearer to the solution of the huge, fantastic, patient plan! To make a law, as the Creator seems to have done; and then to make a hundred other laws that seem to make the first law inoperative; to play this gigantic game century after century; and then to put into the hearts of our inquisitive race the desire to discover what it is all about; and to leave the desire unsatisfied. What a labyrinthine mystery! Depth beyond depth, and circle beyond circle!