THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BIRD IN THE WORLD
When it comes to the prettiest bird of all the birds, she's done gone away too long ago to talk about, and nobody can't find her. She wasn't the prettiest bird just 'cause someone say so; not her — no, sir! She was pretty 'cause all the other birds say so. They done decide it — they done agree to it — and you can't rub it out. They ain't want to say so, but they pleased to do it; they wasn't no getting 'round it. One bird ain't like the idea of saying that any other bird is prettier than what she is, but they pleased to do it, after they seen what they seed. I ain't never is seed this pretty bird myself, and the next man you ask will tell you the same; but I done hear tell of him — if he was a him.
Time and time again I hear folks tell the tale — some one way and some another, but it all come to the same thing in theend — there was the tale.
She was the prettiest bird on the face of the earth. I'm kind of rattled about the entitlements of this here bird, 'cause it seem like that them what first begun to tell the tale kind of got the name mixed up with their own foolishness. Some call him the Coogly Bird, some call him the Cow-Cow Bird, and some call him the Coo-Coo Bird — some say it was a lady bird, and then again some say it was a gentleman bird. By good rights, she ought to been a lady bird, from the fuss she kicked up, and I bound she was. It's just like I tell you about the name, yet, call her what you please and when you please, she ain't going to come for your calling. She'd've come long ago if calling would've fetch her, 'cause, from that time to this, some of the other birds been hollering and calling her. They been calling her since the day that all the birds had their assemblement just like white folks, and black folks, too, for that matter, when they want to up and out a man what ain't been doing nothing in the round world but getting pay for sitting 'round doing nothing.
Way back yonder, when the clouds was thicker than what they is now, and when the sun ain't had to go to bed at night to keep from being tired the next day, the time come when the critters, fur and feather, ain't had much to do, more specially the birds. They flewed 'round, they did, and fed together without fighting, and made their houses in the trees and on the ground, and they was all just as sociable as you please. But after while they ain't had much to do, and when that time come they got to wrangling and disputing, just like folks does now. One would sail up and say "Howdy?" and the other's refuse to respond, and there they had it. While the gentleman birds was going on this away, the lady birds was just as busy. They disputed about their feathers and about their looks till it seem like they was going to be sure enough war, 'cause the most of 'em had bills and claws.
After while, they find that this kind of doings ain't going to pay, and so they bowed to one another, mighty polite, and make out they going on about their business. Well, they played like they was mighty busy, but they soon get tired of this, and they say to theyself that they'd die dead if they didn't run 'round and have a chat with the neighbors; and here they went, asking the news, and telling that what ain't news. One say she hear that Miss Red Bird up and 'low that she the prettiest of all the birds, and there they had it, squalling, chattering, and squealing. The word went 'round and when it come back to where it started, it ain't look like itself. It was Miss Blue Bird, it was Miss Jay Bird, it was Miss that and Miss The Other. It seem like that every one of 'em think that she the prettiest.
Well, sir, the dispute got so hot that they had to be something done — there wasn't no two ways about that. Miss Wren and Miss Blue Bird and Miss Robin put their heads together, and ask how they going to stop the dispute. Neither one of 'em depended on their good looks, but their havishness was of the best, and they wanted to stop the jowering. They study and they study, they talk and they talk, but they ain't hit on nothing. Little Miss Wren was the spryest, and she had a slice of temper with salt and pepper on it.
They talked so fast and they talked so long that she was scared she might get sort of sassy, and she up and say, "Ladies, let me make a move an' motion. Let's procrastinate this session of our confab, 'cause some one us might say something that the others won't like. The sun getting mighty low anyhow; let's put off our colloquin' till tomorrow. We'll go home an' ask our ol' men what they think, an' they'll tell us what they can — you know how men folks does: they knows everything 'cepting that they does know, and that they done forgot. They'll tell us, and when we go to bed we can dream on it."
Miss Blue Bird and Miss Robin allow that this the smartest thing they ever is hear, and they agree to what little Miss Wren say. They put on their things and marched off home for to feed the chilluns and put 'em to bed. Bright and early the next morning they met at the same place, and, after they got over their giggling and their howdy-doing, they start up the confab where they left off. Miss Robin say she can't think of a blessed thing. She say that when she asked her old man about it, he up and allowed that she better join him in hunting bugs for the chilluns for to play with, instead of gadding from post to pillar. And the others raise their wings, and say, "Well, well!" and "Who'd've thunk it?"
Miss Blue Bird allow that when she ask her old man about it, he say she better stay at home instead going 'round spreading scandalousness through the neighborhood. Miss Wren kind of hunged her head like she ashamed for to tell about her spouse. She say that her old man was monstrous sassy till she told him that if he want to change his boarding-house he was more than welcome. With that, he whirled and ask her why in the name of goodness don't she persuade 'em for to have a big assembly of all the lady birds at some place or another where they'll have plenty of room, where they can all march 'round and let somebody pick out the prettiest in the whole crowd, and then when that's done all the balance of 'em must be put under the necessity of agreeing to what the picker picks. If he say the owl is the prettiest, then all the other birds got to say so too; if he say the buzzard is the prettiest, that's the way it got to be.
"Lordy me!" says Miss Robin; "did you ever hear the beat?"
Miss Blue Bird allow, "Now, ain't that just like a man!"
You may not believe it, but the three took up with the idea, and when they talked it over with the balance of the lady birds, all of 'em say it's just fine, and they took up with it quicker than a cat can smell a mackerel laying on the shelf. The funny thing about the whole business was that they had to have two assemblements. Yasser! They had two assemblements. The agreement was that all the lady birds, of all kinds and color, was to be there, and all was to march by the place where the one they had chosen for to pick out the prettiest was to be sitting at. The one they chosened was old Brer Rabbit, so that the saying might come true — "When you choosen a critter, just shun the bird-eater." In them days, the doctor done told Brer Rabbit that the best eating for him was honey- and-clover and sweet barley, and he was sticking to that kind of doings.
When the time come for the first assemblement, Brer Rabbit was right on the spot, with a fresh plug of tobacco, and a pocketful of honey- bee clover. The birds all come, just like they say they would, and when someone motioned to Brer Rabbit for to say the word, they begun to march 'round and 'round, one by one, and two by two. They ain't been marching long before Brer Rabbit shook his head and sat down again.
"Lord, Brer Rabbit!" they say; "what the matter? We are all here; whyn't you pick out the prettiest? We ain't going to peck your eyes out." '
"I don't know so well about that," says old Brer Rabbit, says he. "You say you are all here, but if I got my two eyes you ain't all here. No, ladies! You'll have to excuse" And, with that, he rise up, he did, and make such a nice bow that old Miss Swamp Owl's mouth begun to water. they say, "Lawd's a-mercy! Who's missin'?"
Brer Rabbit he allow, "Where Miss Coo-Coo Bird? I put on my specs, but I can't see her. Is she 'round here anywheres?"
They looked all 'round, in the corners, and under the bushes where anybody might hide, but they ain't find the Coo-Coo Bird. And a mighty good reason, 'cause she wasn't there, let 'em hunt where they would and search where they might.
Then Brer Rabbit up and allow, "Ladies, all, we pleased to procrastinate this here assemblement, an' put it off till you can send word to the Coo-Coo Bird, 'cause you can't do nothing 'tall without her. She got to be in, or she won't bide by the choosement. You just pleased to get her in if you going to stop the disputin'. There ain't no two ways about that."
Then they all begun to look at one another, and giggle, and make a great admiration about how sharp Brer Rabbit was. Some say that they don't think that the Coo-Coo Bird is worth fooling with, 'cause she ain't no great shakes, nohow, but they pleased to have her in the crowd when the assemblement assembles, 'cause there ain't no other way for to stop the jowering. All the birds was pleased to be there.
Well, time went on just like it do now; if there was any difference, meal-time came a right smart sooner then than it do now. Enduring the time 'twixt the assemblement what had to be called off, and the next one that was to come, the lady birds had a scrumptious time. They went calling on their neighbors, and them that they ain't find at home they'd hunt up. There was more backbiting than you could shake a stick at, and the chatter went on so long and so loud, that you couldn't hear your own ears. Miss Peafowl called on Brer Rabbit, and asked how she was going to come out in the parade, and Brer Rabbit say that she'd have a mighty good chance if it wasn't for her footses and her scaly legs. He allow that if she come there with 'em, she won't have no show at all, and there they had it, up and down. And it was the same way with all of 'em; they tried for to make old Brer Rabbit, which he was going for to be the judge, look at 'em through they own eyes.
While all this was going on, they was hunting up the Coo-Coo Bird, and after so long a time they found her right where they might've found her at first, staying at home and looking after the house-keeping. But it was a mighty queer thing about the Coo-Coo Bird: she ain't got a rag of clothes to her back. Where the feathers ought to been there wasn't nothing but a little bit of downy fuzz. When they find her, they say, "Whyn't you come to the assemblement, there they goin' to choosen the prettiest of all the bird tribe?"
She allow, "Lord, I got somethin' else to do 'sides trying to find out who the prettiest; an', more than that, how I going to come when I ain't got no clothes to wear? No, ma'am! You'll have to excuse me! Go on and parade on your Boulevard, and I'll parade at home."
They try to tell her that they pleased to have her there, so they'll all be satisfied, but she shook her head, and went on cleaning her house. They persuaded, and they persuaded, and by and by she say that if they'll loan her some clothes among 'em, she'll go; if they don't, well and good — she won't budge a step. And so there it was. Well, all the other birds kind of colloqued together, and they say they better loan her some clothes. They went 'round and got a feather from every bird, and from some of 'em two. Old Miss Ostrich know'd she ain't stand no chance in the parade with her bony neck and long legs, and she sent the Coo-Coo Bird a bunch of the prettiest feathers you ever is lay eyes on.
When the time come for the assemblement, Miss Coo-Coo was there, and dressed up fit to kill; and when they all begun to march, she was at the head of the crowd, and stepped along as gaily as you please. Well, there wasn't no two ways about it, Miss Coo-Coo was way yonger the prettiest of the whole gang. The way she look, the way she walk, the way she hold herself, the way she bow and salute 'em all — everything put her in the front place. Brer Rabbit stood up, he did, and wave his hand, and they all stop still. Then he say that there ain't no doubt and no suspicions but what Miss Coo-Coo Bird was the prettiest of all the birds, and they all agree with him. Then they was to have a dance, but before the music struck up, Miss Coo-Coo say they must please excusing her, and with that, she slip into the bushes and was gone — done gone! Gone for good, and they ain't nobody seed her from that day to this, less'n maybe old Brer Rabbit, and he ain't telling nobody about it.
The other birds hunt for her, but they can't find her, and they're hunting plumb till yet, hunting everywhere, and a-calling as they hunt. They do say that when the big owl hollers, he ain't asking, "Who cooks for you all?" He's saying, "Coo-Coo, Coo-Coo! Whar you at?" and the turtle-dove hollers, "Coo-Coo, Coo-Coo, Coo-Coo, Coo-Coo! Coo-Coo-oo!" and even down to the rooster calling out before day, and all through the night, "Please fetch my feather back!"
And so there you is! Coo-Coo Bird done flewed away, and all the other birds hunting for her. and they tells me, that when folks think the birds is picking theyself and straightening out their feathers, they ain't doing nothing in the round world but seeing if the one what they loaned the Coo-Coo Bird is done growed back.
Jig-a-ma-rig, and a jig-a-ma-ree! That's all the tale that was told to me!