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The Wren
by [?]

“Parson and the rest say ’tis true. But I can’t believe it, and something inside says ’tis wrong. . . . There! I won’t shoot another bird–and that settles it!”

“Halleluia!” said a tiny voice somewhere above him.

The voice, though’ tiny, was shrill and positive. Young John recognised, and yet did not recognise it. He stared up at the wall of the old mine-house from which it had seemed to speak, but he could see no one. Next he thought that the word must have come from his own heart, answering a sudden gush of warmth and happiness that set his whole body glowing. It was as if winter had changed to summer, within him and without, and all in a moment. He blinked in the stronger sunshine, and felt it warm upon his eyelids.

“Halleluia!” said the voice again. It certainly came from the wall. He looked again, and, scanning it in this strange, new light, was aware of a wren in one of the crevices.

“Will he? will he?” piped another voice, pretty close behind his ear. Young John, now he had learnt that wrens can talk, had no difficulty in recognising this other voice: it was the half-hearted note of the titlark. He turned over on his side and peered into the shadow of the Main-Stone; but in vain, for the titlark is a hesitating, unhappy little soul that never quite dares to make up its mind. It used to be the friend of a race that inhabited Cornwall ages ago. It builds in their cromlechs, and its song remembers them. It is the bird, too, in whose nest the cuckoo lays; so it knows all about losing one’s children and being dispossessed.

“We will give him a gift,” chirruped the wren, “and send him about his business. He is the first man that has the sense to leave us to ours.”

“But will he?–will he?” the titlark piped back ghostlily. “One can never be sure. I have known men long, long before ever you came here. I knew King Arthur. This rock was his table, and he dined here with seven other kings on the night after they had beaten the Danes at Vellandruchar. I hid under the stone and listened to them passing the cups, and between their talk you could hear the stream running down the valley–it turned the two mill-wheels, Vellandruchar and Vellandreath, with blood that night. Even at daybreak it ran high over the legs of the choughs walking on the beach below–that is why the choughs go red-legged to this day. . . . They are few now, but then they were many: and next spring they came and built in the rigging of the Danes’ ships, left ashore–for not a Dane had escaped. But King Arthur had gone his way. Ah, he was a man!”

“Nevertheless,” struck in the wren, “this is a good fellow too; and a smith, whose trade is as old as your King Arthur’s. We will prosper him in it.”

“What will you give him?” asked the titlark.

“He is lying at this moment on the trefoil that commands all metals. Let him look to his gun when he awakes.”

“Ah!” said the titlark, “I told you that secret. I was with Teague the Smith when he discovered it. . . . But he discovered it too late; and, besides, he was a dreamer, and used it only to make crosses and charms and womanish ornaments.”

“It’s no use to us, anyhow,” said the practical wren. “So let us give it away. I hate waste.”

“I doubt,” said the titlark, “it will be much profit to him, wonderful though it is.”

“Well,” said the wren, “a present’s a present. Folks with a living to get must give what they can afford.”

It is not wise, as a rule, to sleep on the bare ground in December. But Young John awoke warm and jolly as a sandboy. He picked up his gun. It was bent and curiously twisted in the barrel. “Hallo!” said he, and peered closely into the short turf where it had lain. . . .