360 THE NEIGHBOURING FAMILIES
when the Mother-Sparrow approached the nest. ' That must be a young peacock. He glitters with all colours. It quite hurts one's eyes, as mother told us. Piep ! that's the beautiful! '
And now they pecked at the bird with their little -beaks, so that she could not possibly get into the nest; she was so much exhausted that she could not even say * Piep ! ' much less ' I am your mother ! '
The other birds also fell upon the Sparrow, and plucked off feather after feather till she fell bleeding into the rose bush.
' You poor creature ! ' said all the Roses : * be quiet, and we will hide you. Lean your head against us.'
The Sparrow spread out her wings once more, then drew them tight to her body, and lay dead by the neighbouring family, the beautiful fresh Roses.
* Piep ! ' sounded from the nest. ' Where can our mother be ? It's quite inexplicable. It cannot be a trick of hers, and mean that we're to shift for ourselves : she has left us the house as an inheritance, but to which of us shall it belong when we have families of our own ? '
' Yes, it won't do for you to stay with me when I enlarge my establishment with a wife and children,' observed the smallest.
* I shall have more wives and children than you ! ' cried the second.
' But I am the eldest ! ' said the third.
Now they all became excited. They struck out with their wings, hacked with their beaks,and flump ! one after another was thrust out of the nest. There they lay with their anger, holding their heads on one side, and blinking with the eye that looked upwards. That was their way of being sulky.
They could fly a little ; by practice they improved, and at last they fixed upon a sign by which they should know each other when they met later in the world. This sign was to be the cry of * Piep ! ' with a scratching of the left foot three times against the ground.
The young Sparrow that had remained behind in the nest made itself as broad as it possibly could, for it was the proprietor. But the proprietorship did not last long. In