Once there was a man and his wife who lived in a lovely little house and there was
nothing they lacked in their happy marriage. Behind the house there was a garden with
beautiful old trees where the wife tended her exotic plants and flowers. One day her
husband went for a walk in the garden and while enjoying the wonderful scents of the
flowers he thought to himself: "How fortunate I am to have such a good and beautiful
wife, and one so capable!" As he was mulling over these thoughts he saw something
moving at his feet.
The man, being very short-sighted, bent over and found a little bird that had most likely
just fallen out of a nest and was still unable to fly. He picked it up and looked at it carefully
and then took it to his wife.
"Dear heart," he called to her, "I have just found a little bird; I think it's a baby
"Oh, come now!« answered his wife without even looking at the bird. »A nightingale here
in our garden? There are no nightingales here who could be its parents."
"You can be sure it's a nightingale! I thought I heard one singing here once. How
wonderful it will be when this one gets stronger and starts to sing! I love to hear
nightingales sing!"
"I can't be a nightingale!" repeated his wife without looking up; she was busy with her
knitting and she had just dropped a stitch.
"Oh yes, yes it is!" said her husband, "I'll take a closer look!" And he held it up right in
front of his eyes.
His wife came over to him, laughed out loud and said: "Honey, it is just a common
"My dear," he replied with a sharp tone, "do you think that I could mistake a nightingale
for the most common bird there is! You don't have the slightest idea about the wonders
of nature; even as a boy I already had a collection of butterflies and beetles."
"But, dear husband, I ask you if a nightingale has such a wide beak and such a broad
"Yes, it has; and this is a nightingale."
"But I tell you, it is not a nightingale; listen to how it chirps!"
"That's the way baby nightingales chirp."
And it went on like that until they were engaged in a hot quarrel. Finally, angered as he
was, the husband left the room to look for a birdcage.
"You aren't about to keep that disgusting bird here in this room, are you!" said his wife as
he stood there in the doorway. "I will have none of that!"
"We will see who is the boss in this house!" answered her husband as he was putting the
bird in the cage and setting some ant eggs before it — which the little bird seemed to
At supper the couple sat at opposite ends of the table and did not exchange a single
word the whole time.
Next morning the wife got up early and came to her husband and said in a serious tone:
"Dear husband, yesterday you were so unreasonable and so short-tempered with me. I
have just had a look at that little bird. I am absolutely sure it is a baby sparrow; allow me
to let it fly free."
"Don't you dare touch that nightingale!" shouted her husband angrily without so much as
looking at her.
It went on like that for a fortnight. It seemed as if their peace and harmony had been
destroyed for good. The husband growled, and when his wife stopped growling back at
him she would break down in tears. But the little bird grew quickly on its diet of ant eggs
and its feathers steadily took on shape and it looked as if it would soon be able to fly. It
hopped around in its cage, sat on the sandy floor, pulled in its head and ruffled its
feathers whenever it shook itself, and chirped and chirped — just like a young sparrow
would do. And every time it chirped it drove a knife into the woman's heart.—
One day her husband left the house and his wife sat in her room all alone crying and
thought about how happy her married life had been up until then; about how they had
enjoyed themselves from morning to night and how much her husband had loved her —
and how everything had stopped, yes everything, ever since that cursed bird had come
into their house.
Suddenly she jumped up like a person who had finally made a decision, took the bird out
of its cage and let it hop over to the window and out into the garden.
At that very moment her husband entered the room.
"My dear," she said, not daring to look at him, "It was all an accident; the cat came and
devoured the little bird."
"The cat ate the bird?" repeated her husband who stood there aghast; "The cat ate the
bird? You are lying! You let the bird go intentionally! I never thought you could do such a
thing. You are a wicked person. Our relationship is over now, forever." And he turned pale
and tears came to his eyes.
When his wife realized what he had said she began to understand that she had done her
husband a great injustice by letting the bird go, and with tears in her eyes she hurried out
to the garden to see if she could lay hands on the bird. And, lo and behold, there it was
right in the middle of the path hopping and fluttering its wings, for it was still unable to fly.
She rushed over to it and tried to catch it but the little bird scampered back and forth in
the flower beds and from bush to bush and the woman, anxious not to hurt it, kept
trying to lay hands on it. She ran into the flower beds and stepped on all the flowers
without thinking what she was doing, and kept that up for a half hour or so. But finally
she managed to catch it. She was red in the face and her hair was disheveled when she
came into the house. But her eyes gleamed with joy and her heart beat briskly.
"My dear," she said, "I have just caught the nightingale. Please do not be angry with me;
it was all so mean of me!"
Then the husband looked at his wife for the first time with a friendly expression and while
so doing he thought he had never seen her look so beautiful. He took the little bird from
her hand, held it up before his eyes again, looked at it from all sides, shook his head and
said: "My dear, you are right! Now I, too, see it for the first time; it is only just a sparrow.
How strange it is that I could have deceived myself like that."
"But darling," replied his wife, "you are just saying that to console me. Today the bird
looks exactly like a nightingale to me."
"No, no!" he said as he looked at the bird again and started to laugh out loud, "It is just a
common— yellow-bill sparrow." Then he gave his wife a hearty kiss and said to her:
"Take it out to the garden again and let that silly little bird fly away It has caused us so
much dissension for the last two weeks."
"No, no", said his wife, "that would be cruel! It is not yet able to fly and the cat might
pounce on it. We will feed it for a few more days until its wings have grown a bit more and
then— then we will set it free!" —
The moral of the story is this: when someone catches a sparrow and thinks it is a
nightingale— beware of telling another person it is not so; for at that moment he will take
it amiss, but later he will come to see the truth for himself.

The Little Bird
Richard von Volkmann-Leander
Illustrations: Hans von Volkmann (Son)
Reveries at French Firesides