ONCE upon a time there was a man who had two pet parrots that could talk very nicely; indeed they had more sense than most people have, and when their master was alone he used to spend the evening chattering with them. They cracked jokes like any Christian, and told the funniest tales.
But this man had a thievish maid-servant. He had to lock everything up, and even as it was, never turned his back but she was filching and pilfering.
One day the man had to go away on a journey. Before he went he took out the two parrots, and perched one on each fist, and says he to them, "Now, Beaky and Tweaky, I want you to watch the maid while I am gone; and if she steals anything, you are to tell me when I come home again."
They blinked at him, their eyelids coming up over their eyes from underneath, as you must have noticed in parrots; looking very solemn as they did so. Then Beaky said,
"If she do it
She shall rue it!"
But Tweaky said nothing at all; only winked again more solemnly than ever.
"Good Beaky!" said the man, "naughty Tweaky!"
Then he went away.
As soon as he was out of sight, the maid began her games. She picked the locks of his cupboards and ate the sugar, she ate the biscuits, she drank the wine. Beaky hopped into the room, stood on one leg, and shrieked,
Aren't you afraid?
Master shall know,
And you shall go!"
The maid jumped as if she had been shot, and looked round. She thought somebody had caught her unawares; but when she saw it was Beaky she put on a sweet smile, and held out a lump of sugar, saying in a coaxing voice, "Pretty Poll! pretty Beaky! I won't do it again! Come, then, and have a nice lump of sugar."
This temptation was too strong for poor Beaky. He wanted very much to do his duty, but he wanted the lump of sugar more. So he put his head on one side and, looking very wise, sidled up to the maid. This was very wrong of Beaky, because he knew the sugar was stolen; and in another minute he was sorry; for as soon as he came within reach and pecked at the sugar, the maid caught him by the neck with the other hand. Then her smile changed, and she sneered,
"So Beaky is going to tell, is he? Tell-tale tit! I'll teach Beaky to tell tales!" As she said each word, she plucked out a feather from poor Beaky's head. Beaky shrieked and Beaky struggled, but all in vain; she did not let him go till he was bald as a bullet.
Tweaky saw all this, but said nothing, only winked and blinked, and looked more solemn than ever. The maid looked at him, but thought she, "That bird is too stupid to tell, and he isn't worth the trouble of plucking." So she left him alone.
By-and-by the master came in. The maid went up to him in a great bustle, and said she had found Beaky stealing sugar, and she had plucked him as a punishment.
When the evening came, the master sat in his room with Beaky and Tweaky. Poor Beaky felt ashamed of himself, and had nothing to say; he sat on his perch the picture of misery, with his tail drooping, and his ridiculous bald head. Tweaky said nothing at all.
Now it happened that the master had a bald head too, and when he took off his skull-cap, which he generally wore to keep his head warm, Tweaky noticed it.
He laughed loud and shrieked out, "Oh-oh-oh! Where's your feathers, Tell-tale tit? Where's your feathers, Tell-tale tit?"
Tweaky was only a parrot, you see, and was not always quite correct in his grammar, as you are.
"What do you mean?" asked the master.
But for a long time Tweaky would say nothing but the same words over and over again, "Where's your feathers, Tell-tale tit?" However, by-and-by they heard the maid going to bed, tramp, tramp, tramp. Then Tweaky grew a little braver; and next time the master asked him what he meant, he replied:
"Every parrot has two eyes,
Both the foolish and the wise;
But the wise can shut them tight
When 'tis best to have no sight.
Wisdom has the best of it:
Where's your feathers, Tell-tale tit?"
Then the master understood what had happened, for he was a very clever man; and without any delay he ran upstairs two steps at a time, and woke the maid, and made her dress herself, and turned her out of the house then and there. I wonder why he did not do it before, but that is no business of mine.
After that, poor Beaky never had the heart to talk again; but Tweaky, whenever he saw a bald-headed man, or a woman with a high forehead, shrieked out at the top of his voice--
"Ha! ha! ha! Where's your feathers, Tell-tale tit?"