At a music festival one summer in Tangletale Wood, a score of soloists came together to compete for the annual Peacock Awards. The Cricket was asked to pick the winner because of his fame as a fiddler and his many appearances on radio, where he is employed to let audiences know when it is night.
The Cricket was met at the station by the Wren, who flew him to an inn, bought him a drink, carried his bags upstairs to his room, and was in general so courteous and attentive that the Cricket thought he was the proprietor of the inn.
“I am not a proprietor, but a competitor,” the Wren said. “It is a greater honor to be judged by you, even if I should lose, than to win the highest award from a lesser critic and cricket. As small tokens of my esteem, here are a bottle of wine and a cherry pie, and the key to the boudoir of as charming a lady cricket as you would attract in a year of chirping.”
That afternoon, the Wren flew the Cricket out to the concert field, where he heard the Frog scrape his cello, the Lark blow his clarion trumpet, the Nightingale strum his lyre of gold, the Blackbird play his boxwood flute, the Catbird run his bright piano arpeggios, and the Partridge show off on his drums.
The vocalists came next, beginning with the Canary, a temperamental visitor from abroad, who had sat up all night bragging of his ability and was, as a consequence, in lousy voice. “The Owl can do better than that even if all he can sing is ‘Who,'” said the Wren, who had slipped quietly into a chair next to the Cricket’s.
He gave the critic a cigar, a light, and a swig from a flask. “I shall sing a group of Lieder,” said the Wren, “all of them Henley’s ‘Take, Dear, This Little Sheaf of Songs.’ I composed the music myself, and dedicated it to my mate and to you.”
The Mockingbird sang next, and those in the audience who hoped the amiable Wren would win with his bright little group of songs, all of them the same song, began to worry, for the Mockingbird had slept all night, dreaming of victory, and as a consequence, was in heavenly voice. “I should say his tongue is sharp rather than sweet,” whispered the Wren. “When I told him last night that you were a finer fiddler than all the finest fiddlers in the field, he remarked that, to him, you looked like a limousine come to grief at an intersection.”
The Cricket rubbed his legs together angrily, producing two low, ominous notes. “In my opinion,” the Wren went on, “you look like a shining piece of mechanism, handsome and authoritative, such as the trigger action of a Colt. Here is a lozenge for your cough, and a pillow for your chair, and a footstool for your feet.”
When it came time for the Wren to sing, his group of songs, all of them the same song, delighted everybody in the audience except the other soloists and their friends and families.
“I could do better than that,” sneered the Mockingbird, “with my beak closed.”
“I have thrashed singers with voices ten times better than that,” said the Brown Thrasher.
“Gott im Himmel!” cried the Canary. “Er klingt wie ein rostiges eisernes Tor das geölt werden muss.”
In awarding first prize to the Wren, the Cricket said, in part and in parting, “His voice is like some bright piece of mechanism, such as the works of a golden music box, and he gives his group of one song an infinite variety. This artist also has a keen appreciation of values and a fine critical perception.”
In departing, or, to be precise, escaping from, the music festival, the Cricket was fortunate enough to have at his disposal a private airplane, none other than the victorious Wren himself.
MORAL: It is not always more blessed to give than to receive, but it is frequently more rewarding.