A BLACKBIRD and his mate lived together on a tree. The Blackbird used to sing very sweetly, and one day the King heard him in passing by, and sent a Fowler to catch him. But the Fowler made a mistake; he did not catch Mr. Blackbird, who sang so sweetly, but Mrs. Blackbird, who could hardly sing at all. However, he did not know the difference, to look at her, nor did the King when he got the bird; but a cage was made for Mrs. Blackbird, and there she was kept imprisoned.
When Mr. Blackbird heard that his dear spouse was stolen, he was very angry indeed. He determined to get her back, by hook or by crook. So he got a long sharp thorn, and tied it at his waist by a thread; and on his head he put the half of a walnut-shell for a helmet, and the skin of a dead frog served for body-armour. Then he made a little kettle-drum out of the other half of the walnut-shell; and he beat his drum, and proclaimed war upon the King.
As he walked along the road, beating his drum, he met a Cat.
"Whither away, Mr. Blackbird?" said the Cat.
"To fight against the King," said Mr. Blackbird.
"All right," said the Cat, "I'll come with you: he drowned my kitten."
"Jump into my ear, then," says Mr. Blackbird. The Cat jumped into the Blackbird's ear, and curled up, and went to sleep: and the Blackbird marched along, beating his drum.
Some way further on, he met some Ants.
"Whither away, Mr. Blackbird?" said the Ants.
"To fight against the King," said Mr. Blackbird.
"All right," said the Ants, "we'll come too; he poured hot water down our hole."
"Jump into my ear," said Mr. Blackbird. In they jumped, and away went Blackbird, beating upon his drum.
Next he met a Rope and a Club. They asked him, whither away? and when they heard that he was going to fight against the King, they jumped into his ear also, and away he went.
Not far from the King's palace, Blackbird had to cross over a River.
"Whither away, friend Blackbird?" asked the River.
Quoth the Blackbird, "To fight against the King."
"Then I'll come with you," said the River.
"Jump into my ear," says the Blackbird.
Blackbird's ears were pretty full by this time, but he found room somewhere for the River, and away he went.
Blackbird marched along until he came to the palace of the King. He knocked at the door, thump, thump.
"Who's there?" said the Porter.
"General Blackbird, come to make war upon the King, and get back his wife."
The Porter laughed so at the sight of General Blackbird, with his thorn, and his frogskin, and his drum, that he nearly fell off his chair. Then he escorted Blackbird into the King's presence.
"What do you want?" said the King.
"I want my wife," said the Blackbird, beating upon his drum, rub-a-dub-dub, rub-a-dub-dub.
"You shan't have her," said the King.
"Then," said the Blackbird, "you must take the consequences." Rub-a-dub-dub went the drum.
"Seize this insolent bird," said the King, "and shut him up in the henhouse. I don't think there will be much left of him in the morning."
The servants shut up Blackbird in the henhouse. When all the world was asleep, Blackbird said--
"Come out, Pussy, from my ear,
There are fowls in plenty here;
Scratch them, make their feathers fly,
Wring their necks until they die."
Out came Pussy-cat in an instant. What a confusion there was in the henhouse. Cluck-cluck-cluck went the hens, flying all over the place; but no use: Pussy got them all, and scratched out their feathers, and wrung their necks. Then she went back into Blackbird's ear, and Blackbird went to sleep.
When morning came, the King said to his men, "Go, fetch the carcass of that insolent bird, and give the Chickens an extra bushel of corn." But when they entered the henhouse, Blackbird was singing away merrily on the roost, and all the fowls lay around in heaps with their necks wrung.
They told the King, and an angry King was he. "To-night," said he, "you must shut up Blackbird in the stable." So Blackbird was shut up in the stable, among the wild Horses.
At midnight, when all the world was asleep, Blackbird said--
"Come out, Rope, and come out, Stick,
Tie the Horses lest they kick;
Beat the Horses on the head,
Beat them till they fall down dead."
Out came Club and Rope from Blackbird's ear; the Rope tied the horses, and the Club beat them, till they died. Then the Rope and the Club went back into the Blackbird's ear, and Blackbird went to sleep.
Next morning the King said--
"No doubt my wild Horses have settled the business of that Blackbird once for all. Just go and fetch out his corpse."
The servants went to the wild Horses' stable. There was Blackbird, sitting on the manger, and drumming away on his walnut-shell; and all round lay the dead bodies of the Horses, beaten to death.
If the King was angry before, he was furious now. His horses had cost a great deal of money; and to be tricked by a Blackbird is a poor joke.
"All right," said the King, "I'll make sure work of it to-night. He shall be put with the Elephants."
When night came the Blackbird was shut up in the Elephants' shed. No sooner was all the world quiet, than Blackbird began to sing--
"Come from out my ear, you Ants,
Come and sting the Elephants;
Sting their trunk, and sting their head,
Sting them till they fall down dead."
Out came a swarm of Ants from the Blackbird's ear. They crawled up inside the Elephants' trunks, they burrowed into the Elephants' brains, and stung them so sharply that the Elephants all went mad, and died.
Next morning, as before, the King sent for the Blackbird's carcass; and, instead of finding his carcass, the servants found the Blackbird rub-a-dub-dubbing on his drum, and the dead Elephants piled all round him.
This time the King was fairly desperate. "I can't think how he does it," said he, "but I must find out. Tie him to-night to my bed, and we'll see."
So that night Blackbird was tied to the King's bed. In the middle of the night, the King (who had purposely kept awake) heard him sing--
"Come out, River, from my ear,
Flow about the bedroom here;
Pour yourself upon the bed,
Drown the King till he is dead."
Out came the River, pour-pour-pouring out of the Blackbird's ear. It flooded the room, it floated the King's bed, the King began to get wet.
"In Heaven's name, General Blackbird," said the King, "take your wife, and begone."
So Blackbird received his wife again, and they
lived happily ever after.