Dowser

Sharing Great Out-of-Print Stories -- The Birds, Daphne du Maurier

  
By:  Dowser  •   •  9 years ago  •  6 comments

Sharing Great Out-of-Print Stories -- The Birds, Daphne du Maurier

If, like me, you like to read whole stories, Im going to try to fit this into one loooong blog. I am typing this story from the book, Bennet Cerfs Take Along Treasury , published by Doubleday & Company, Inc. in Garden City, New York, in 1963. The books Library of Congress Catalog Card Number is 63-18206. The copyright, 1963, is held by Doubleday & Company.

To be perfectly clear-- this is not my work. I am simply quoting from Ms. du Maurier's original story.

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Web site -- Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning (1907 1989)

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The Birds Daphne du Maurier

76_blogs.png On December the third the wind changed overnight and it was winter. Until then the autumn had been mellow, soft. The earth was rich where the plow had turned it.

Nat Hocken, because of a wartime disability, had a pension and did not work full time at the farm. He worked three days a week, and they gave him the lighter jobs. Although he was married, with children, his was a solitary disposition; he liked best to work alone.

It pleased him when he was given a bank to build up, or a gate to mend, at the far end of the peninsula, where the sea surrounded the farmland on either side. Then, at midday, he would pause and eat the meat pie his wife had baked for him and, sitting on the cliffs edge, watch the birds.

In autumn great flocks of them came to the peninsula, restless, uneasy, spending themselves in motion; now wheeling, circling in the sky; no settling to feed on the rich, new-turned soil; but even when they fed, it was though they did so without hunger, without desire.

Restlessness drove them to the skies again. Crying, whistling, calling, they skimmed the placid sea and left the shore.

Make haste, make speed, hurry and begone; yet where, and to what purpose? The restless urge of autumn, unsatisfying, sad, had put a spell upon them, and they must spill themselves of motion before winter came.

Perhaps, thought Ned, a message comes to the birds in autumn, like a warning. Winter is coming. Many of them will perish. And like people who, apprehensive of death before their time, drive themselves to work or folly, the birds do likewise; tomorrow we shall die.

The birds had been more restless than ever this fall of the year. Their agitation more remarked because the days were still.

As Mr. Triggs tractor traced its path up and down the western hills and Nat, hedging, saw it dip and turn, the whole machine and the man upon it were momentarily lost in the great cloud of wheeling, crying birds.

Nat remarked upon them to Mr. Trigg when the work was finished for the day.

Yes, said the farmer, there are more birds about than usual. I have a notion the weather will change. It will be a hard winter. Thats why the birds are restless.

The farmer was right. That night the weather changed.

The bedroom in the cottage faced east. Nat woke just after two and heard the east wind, cold and dry. It sounded hollow in the chimney, and a loose slate rattled on the roof. Nat listened, and he could hear the sea roaring in the bay. He drew the blanket round him, leaned closer to the back of his wife, deep in sleep. Then he heard the tapping on the windowpane. It continued until, irritated by the sound, Nat got out of bed and went to the window. He opened it; and as he did so something brushed his hand, jabbing at his knuckles, grazing the skin. Then he saw the flutter of wings and the thing was gone again, over the roof, behind the cottage.

It was a bird. What kind of bird he could not tell. The wind must have driven it to shelter on the sill.

He shut the window and went back to bed, but feeling his knuckles wet, put his mouth to the scratch. The bird had drawn blood.

Frightened, he supposed, bewildered, seeking shelter, the bird had stabbed at him in the darkness. Once more he settled himself to sleep.

Presently the tapping came againthis time more forceful, more insistent. And now his wife woke at the sound, and turning in the bed, said to him, See to the window, Nat, its rattling.

Ive already been to it, he told her. Theres some bird there, trying to get in.

Send it away, she said. I cant sleep with that noise.

He went to the window for the second time, and now when he opened it, there was not one bird on the sill but half a dozen; they flew straight into his face.

He shouted, striking out at them with his arms, scattering them, like the first one, they flew over the roof and disappeared.

He let the window fall and latched it.

Suddenly a frightened cry came from the room across the passage where the children slept.

Its Jill, said his wife, roused at the sound.

There came a second cry, this time from both children. Stumbling into their room, Nat felt the beating of the wings about him in the darkness. The window was wide open. Through it came the birds, hitting first the ceiling and the walls, then swerving in midflight and turning to the children in their beds.

Its all right. Im here, shouted Nat, and the children flung themselves, screaming, upon him; while in the darkness the birds rose, and dived, and came for him again.

What is it Nat? Whats happened? his wife called. Swiftly he pushed the children through the door to the passage and shut it upon them, so that he was alone in their bedroom with the birds.

He seized a blanket from the nearest bed, and using it as a weapon, flung it to the right and left about him.

He felt the thud of bodies, heard the fluttering of wings; but the birds were not yet defeated, for again and again they returned to the assault, jabbing his hands, his head, their little stabbing beaks sharp as pointed forks.

The blanket became a weapon of defense. He wound it about his head, and then in greater darkness, beat at the birds with his bare hands. He dared not stumble to the door and open it lest the birds follow him.

How long he fought with them in the darkness he could not tell; but at last the beating of the wings about him lessened, withdrew; and through the dense blanket he was aware of light.

He waited, listened; there was no sound except the fretful crying of one of the children from the bedroom beyond.

He took the blanket from his head and stared about him. The cold gray morning light exposed the room.

Dawn and the open window had called the living birds; the dead lay upon the floor.

Sickened, Nat went to the window and stared out across his patch of garden to the fields.

It was bitter cold, and the ground had all the hard, black look of the frost that the east wind brings. The sea, fiercer now tithe turning tide, whitecapped and steep, broke harshly in the bay. Of the birds there was no sign.

Nat shut the window and the door of the small bedroom and went back across the passage to his own room.

His wife sat up in bed, one child asleep beside her; the smaller one in her arms, his face bandaged.

Hes sleeping now, she whispered. Something must have cut him; there was blood at the corners of his eyes. Jill said it was the birds. She said she woke up and the birds were in the room.

His wife looked up at Nat, searching his face for confirmation. She looked terrified, bewildered. He did not want her to know that he also was shaken, dazed almost, by the events of the past few hours.

There are birds in there, he said. Dead birds, nearly fifty of them. He sat down on the bed beside his wife.

Its the hard weather, he said. It must be that; its the hard weather. They arent the birds, maybe, from around here. Theyve been driven down from upcountry.

But Nat, whispered his wife, its only this night that the weather turned. They cant be hungry yet. Theres food for them out there in the fields.

Its the weather, repeated Nat. I tell you, its the weather.

His face, too, was drawn and tired, like hers. They stared at one another for a while without speaking.

Nat went to the window and looked out. The sky was hard and leaden, and the blown hills that had gleamed in the sun the day before looked dark and bare. Black winter had descended in a single night.

The children were awake now. Jill was chattering, and young Johnny was crying once again. Nat heard his wifes voice, soothing, comforting them as he went downstairs.

Presently they came down. He had breakfast ready for them.

Did you drive away the birds? asked Jill.

Yes, theyve all gone now, Nat said to her.

Ill walk with you to the bus, Nat said to her.

Jill seemed to have forgotten her experience of the night before. She danced ahead of him, chasing the leaves, her face rosy under her pixy hood.

All the while Nat searched the hedgerows for the birds, glanced over them to the fields beyond, looked to the small wood above the farm where the rooks and jackdaws gathered; he saw none. Soon the bus came ambling up the hill.

Nat saw Jill onto the bus, then turned and walked back toward the farm. It was not his day for work, but he wanted to satisfy himself that all was well. He went to the back door of the farmhouse; he heard Mrs. Trigg singing, the wireless making a background for her song.

Are you there, missus? Nat called.

She came to the door, beaming, broad, a good-tempered woman.

Hullo, Mr. Hocken, she said. Can you tell me where this cold is coming from? Is it Russia? Ive never seen such a change. And its going on, the wireless says. Something to do with the Arctic Circle.

We didnt turn on the wireless this morning, said Nat. Fact is, we had trouble in the night.

Kiddies poorly?

No. He hardly knew how to explain. Now, in daylight, the battle of the birds would sound absurd.

He tried to tell Mrs. Trigg what had happened, but he could see from her eyes that she thought his story was the result of nightmare following a heavy meal.

"Sure they were real birds? she said, smiling.

Mrs. Trigg, he said, there are fifty dead birdsrobins, wrens, and suchlying now on the floor of the childrens bedroom. They went for me; they tried to go for young Johnnys eyes.

Mrs. Trigg stared at him doubtfully. Well, now, she answered. I suppose the weather brought them; once in the bedroom they wouldnt know where they were. Foreign birds maybe, from that Arctic Circle.

No, said Nat. They were the birds you see about here every day.

Funny thing, said Mrs. Trigg. No explaining it, really. You ought to write up and ask The Guardian. Theyd have some answer for it. Well, I must be getting on.

Nat walked back along the lane to his cottage. He found his wife in the kitchen with young Johnny.

See anyone? she asked.

Mrs. Trigg, he answered. I dont think she believed me. Anyway, nothing wrong up there.

You might take the birds away, she said. I darent go into the room to make the beds until you do. Im scared.

He went up with a sack and dropped the stiff bodies into it, one by one. Yes, there fifty of them all told. Just the ordinary, common birds of the hedgerow; nothing as large even as a thrush. It must have been fright that made them act the way they did.

He took the sack out into the garden and was faced with a fresh problem. The ground was frozen solid, yet no snow had fallen; nothing had happened in the past hours but the coming of the east wind. It was unnatural, queer. He could see the white-capped sea breaking in the bay. He decided to take the birds to the shore and bury them.

When he reached the beach below the headland, he could scarcely stand, the force of the east wind was so strong. It was low tide; he crunched his way over to the shingle to the softer sand then, his back to the wind, opened up his sack.

He ground a pit in the sand with his heel, meaning to drop the birds into it; but as he did so, the force of the wind lifted them as though in flight again, and they were blown away from him along the beach, tossed like feathers, spread and scattered.

The tide will take them, when it turns, he said to himself.

He looked out to sea and watched the crested breakers, coming green. They rose stiffly, curled, and broke again; and because it was ebb tide, the roar was distant, more remote, lacking the sound and thunder of the flood.

Then he saw them. The gulls. Out there, riding the seas.

What he had thought at first were the whitecaps of the waves were gulls. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands.

They rose and fell in the troughs of the seas, head to the wind, like a mighty fleet at anchor, waiting on the tide.

Nat turned; leaving the beach, he climbed the steep path home.

Someone should know of this. Someone should be told. Something was happening, because of the east wind and the weather, that he did not understand.

As he drew near the cottage, his wife came to meet him at the door. She called to him, excited. Nat, she said, its on the wireless. Theyve just read out a special news bulletin. Its not only here, its everywhere. In London, all over the country. Something has happened to the birds. Come listen; theyre repeating it.

Together they went into the kitchen to listen to the announcement.

Statement from the Home Office, at eleven A. M. this morning. Reports from all over the country are coming in hourly about the vast quantity of birds flocking above towns, villages, and outlying districts, causing obstruction and damage and even attacking individuals. It is thought that the Arctic air stream at present covering The British Isles is causing birds to migrate south in immense number, and that intense hunger may drive these birds to attack human beings. Householders are warned to see to their windows, doors, and chimneys, and to take reasonable precautions for the safety of their children. A further statement will be issued later.

A kind of excitement seized Nat. He looked at his wife in triumph. There you are, he said. Ive been telling myself all morning theres something wrong. And just down, down on the beach, I looked out to sea and there were gulls, thousands of them, riding on the sea, waiting.

What are they waiting for, Nat? she asked.

He stared at her. I dont know, he said slowly.

He went over to the drawer where he kept his hammer and other tools.

What are you going to do, Nat?

See to the windows and the chimneys, like they tell you to.

You think they would break in with the windows shut? Those wrens and robins and such? Why, how could they?

He did not answer. He was not thinking of the robins and the wrens. He was thinking of the gulls.

He went upstairs and worked there the rest of the morning, boarding the windows of the bedrooms, filling up the chimney bases.

Dinners ready. His called him from the kitchen.

All right. Coming down.

When dinner was over and his wife was washing up, Nat switched on the one oclock news. The same announcement was repeated, but the new bulletin enlarged upon it. The flocks of birds have caused dislocation in all areas, said the announcer, and in London the mass was so dense at ten oclock this morning that it seemed like a vast black cloud. The birds settled on rooftops, on window ledges, and on chimneys. The species included blackbird, thrush, the common house sparrow, and might be expected in the metropolis, a vast quantity of pigeons, starlings, and that frequenter of the London river, the black-headed gull. The sight was so unusual that traffic came to a standstill in many thoroughfares, work was abandoned in shops and offices, and the streets and pavements were crowded with people standing about to watch the birds.

The announcers voice was smooth and suave; Nat had the impression that he treated the whole business as he would an elaborate joke. There would be others like him, hundreds of them, who did not know what it was to struggle in darkness with a flock of birds.

Nat switched off the wireless. He got up and started work on the kitchen windows. His wife watched him, young Johnny at her heels.

What they ought to do, she said, is to call the Army out and shoot the birds.

Let them try, said Nat. Howd they set about it?

I dont know. But something should be done. They ought to do something.

Nat thought to himself that they were no doubt considering the problem at that very moment, but whatever they decided to do in London and the big cities would not help them here, nearly three hundred miles away.

How are we off for food? he asked.

Its shopping day tomorrow, you know that. I dont keep uncooked food about. Butcher doesnt call till the day after. But I can bring something when I go in tomorrow.

Nat did not want to scare her. He looked in the larder for himself and in the cupboard where she kept her tins.

They could hold out for a couple of days.

He went on hammering the boards across the kitchen windows. Candles. They were low on candles. That must be another thing she meant to buy tomorrow. Well, they must go early to bed tonight. That was, if

He got up and went out the back door and stood in the garden, looking down toward the sea.

There had been no sun all day, and now, at barely three oclock, a kind of darkness had already come; the sky was sullen, heavy, colorless like salt. He could hear the vicious sea drumming on the rocks.

He walked down the path halfway to the beach. And then, he stopped. He could see the tide had turned. The gulls had risen. They were circling, hundreds of them, thousands of them, lifting their wings against the wind.

It was the gulls that make the darkening of the sky.

And they were silent. They just went on soaring and circling, rising, falling, trying their strength against the wind. Nat turned. He ran up the path back to the cottage.

Im going for Jill, he said to his wife.

Whats the matter? she asked. Youve gone quite white.

Keep Johnny inside, he said. Keep the door shut. Light up now and draw the curtains.

Its only gone three, she said.

Never mind. Do what I tell you.

He looked inside the tool shed and took the hoe.

He started walking up the lane to the bus stop. Now and again he glanced back over his shoulder; and he could see the gulls had risen higher now, their circles were broader, they were spreading out in huge formations across the sky.

He hurried on. Although he knew the bus would not come before four oclock, he had to hurry.

He waited at the top of the hill. There was half an hour still to go.

The east wind came whipping across the fields from the higher ground. In the distance he could see the clay hills, white and clean against the heavy pallor of the sky.

Something black rose from behind them, like a smudge at first, then widening, becoming deeper. The smudge became a cloud; and the cloud divided again into five other clouds, spreading north, east, south, and west; and they were not clouds at all but birds.

He watched them travel across the sky, within two or three hundred feel of him. He knew, from their speed, that they were bound inland; they had no business with the people here on the peninsula. They were rooks, crows, jackdaws, magpies, jays, all birds that usually preyed upon the smaller species, but bound this afternoon on some other mission.

He went to the telephone cell box, stepped inside, lifted the receiver. The exchange would pass the message on. Im speaking from the highway, he said, by the bus stop. I want to report large formations of birds traveling upcountry. The gulls are also forming in the bay.

All right, answered the voice, laconic, weary.

Youll be sure and pass this message on to the proper quarters?

Yes. Yes. Impatient now, fed up. The buzzing note resumed.

Shes another, thought Nat. She doesnt care.

The bus came lumbering u the hill. Jill climbed out.

Whats the hoe for, Dad?

I just brought it along, he said. Come on now, lets get home. Its cold; no hanging about. See how fast you can run.

He could see the gulls now, still silent, circling the fields, coming in toward the land.

Look, Dad; look over there. Look at all the gulls.

Yes. Hurry now.

Where are they flying to? Where are they going?

Upcountry, I dare say. Where its warmer.

He seized her hand and dragged her after him along the lane.

Dont go so fast. I cant keep up.

The gulls were copying the rooks and the crows. They were spreading out, in formation, across the sky. They headed, in bands of thousands, to the four compass points.

Dad, what is it? What are the gulls doing?

They were not intent on their flight, as the crows, as the jackdaws, had been. They still circled overhead. Nor did they fly so high. It was though they waited upon some signal; as though some decision had yet to be given.

I wish the gulls would go away, Jill was crying. I dont like them. Theyre coming closer to the lane.

He started running, swinging Jill after him. As they went past the farm turning, he saw the farmer backing his car into the garage. Nat called to him.

Can you give us a lift? he said.

Mr. Trigg turned in the drivers seat and stared at them. Then a smile came to his cheerful, rubicund face. It looks as though were in for some fun, he said. Have you seen the gulls? Jim and I are going to take a crack at them. Everyones gone bird crazy, talking of nothing else. I hear you were troubled in the night. Want a gun?

Nat shook his head.

The small car was packed, but there was room for Jill on the back seat.

I dont want a gun, said Nat, but Id be obliged if youd run Jill home. Shes scared of the birds.

Okay, said the farmer. Ill take her home. Why dont you stop behind and join the shooting match? Well make the feathers fly.

Jill climbed in, and turning the car, the driver sped up the lane. Nat followed after. Trigg must be crazy. What use was a gun against a sky of birds?

They were coming in now toward the farm, circling lower in the sky. The farm, then, was their target. Nat increased his pace toward his own cottage. He saw the farmers car turn and come back along the lane. It drew up beside him with a jerk.

The kid has run inside, said the farmer. Your wife was watching for her. Well, what do you make of it? Theyre saying in town the Russians have done it. The Russians have poisoned the birds.

How could they do that? asked nat.

Dont ask me. You know how stories get around.

Have you boarded up your windows? asked Nat.

No. Lot of nonsense. Ive had more to do today than to go round boarding up my windows.

Id board them now if I were you.

Garn. Youre windy. Like to come to our place to sleep?

No, thanks all the same.

All right. See you in the morning. Give you a gull breakfast.

The farmer grinned and turned his car to the farm entrance. Nat hurried on. Past the little wood, past the old barn, and then across the stile to the remaining field. As he jumped the stile, he heard the whir of wings. A black-backed gull dived down at him from the sky. It missed, swerved in flight, and rose to dive again. In a moment was joined by othersix, seven, a dozen.

Nat dropped his hoe. The hoe was useless. Covering his head with his arms, he ran toward the cottage.

The kept coming at him from the airnoiseless, silent, save for the beating wings. The terrible, fluttering wings. He could feel the blood on his hands, his wrists, upon his neck. If only he could keep them from his eyes. Nothing else mattered.

With each dive, with each attack, they became bolder. And they had no thought for themselves. When they dived low and missed, they crashed, bruised and broken, on the ground.

As Nat ran he stumbled, kicking their spent bodies in front of him.

He found the door and hammered upon it with his bleeding hands. Let me in, he shouted. Its Nat. Let me in.

Then he saw the gannet, poised for the dive, above him in the sky. The gulls circled, retired, soared, one with another, against the wind.

Only the gannet remained. One single gannet, above him in the sky. Its wings folded suddenly to its body. It dropped like a stone. Nat screamed and the door opened.

He stumbled across the threshold, and his wife threw her weight against the door.

They heard the thud of the gannet as it fell.

His wife dressed his wounds. They were not deep. The backs of his hands had suffered most, and his wrists. Had he not worn a cap, the birds would have reached his head. As for the gannetthe gannet could have split his skull.

The children were crying, of course. They had seen the blood on their fathers hands.

Its all right now, he told them. Im not hurt.

His wife was ashen. I saw them overhead, she whispered. They began collecting just as Jill ran in with Mr. Trigg. I shut the door fast, and it jammed. Thats why I couldnt open it at once, when you came.

Thank God the birds waited for me, he said. Jill would have fallen at once. Theyre flying inland, thousands of them. Rooks, crows and all the bigger birds. I saw them from the bus stop. Theyre making for the towns.

But what can they do, Nat?

Theyll attack. Go for everyone out in the streets. Then theyll try the windows, the chimneys.

Why dont the authorities do something? Why dont they get the Army, get machine guns?

Theres been no time. Nobodys prepared. Well hear what they have to say on the six oclock news.

I can hear the birds, Jill said. Listen, Dad.

Nat listened. Muffled sounds came from the windows, from the door. Wings brushing the surface, sliding scraping, seeking a way of entry. The sound of many bodies pressed together, shuffling on the sills. Now and again came a thud, a crash, as some bird dived and fell.

Some of them will kill themselves that way, he thought, but not enough. Never enough.

All right, he said aloud. Ive got boards over the windows, Jill. The birds cant get in.

He went and examined all the windows. He found wedgespieces of old tin, strips of wood and metaland fastened them at the sides of the windows to reinforce the boards. His hammering helped to deafen the sound of the birds, the shuffling, the tapping, andmore ominousthe splinter of breaking glass.

Turn on the wireless, he said.

He went upstairs to the bedrooms and reinforced the windows there. Now he could hear the birds on the roof, the scraping of claws, a sliding, jostling sound.

He decided the whole family must sleep in the kitchen and keep up the fire. He was afraid of the bedroom chimneys. The boards he had placed at their bases might give way. In the kitchen they would be safe because of the fire.

He would have to make a joke of it. Pretend to the children they were playing camp. If the worst happened and the birds forced an entry by way of the bedroom chimneys, it would be hours, days, perhaps, before they could break down the doors. The birds would be imprisoned in the bedrooms. They could do no harm there. Crowded together, they would stifle and die. He began to bring the mattresses downstairs.

At the sight of them, his wifes eyes widened in apprehension.

All right, he said cheerfully. Well all sleep together in the kitchen tonight. More cozy, here by the fire. Then we wont be worried by those silly old birds tapping at the windows.

He made the children help him rearrange the furniture, and he took the precaution of moving the dresser against the windows.

Were safe enough now, he thought. Were snug and tight. We can hold out. Its just the food that worries me. Food and coal for the fire. Weve enough for two or three days, not more. By that time

No use thinking ahead as far as that. And theyd be given directions on the wireless.

And now, in the midst of many problems, he realized that only dance music was coming over the air. He knew the reason. The usual programs had been abandoned; this only happened at exceptional times.

At six oclock the records ceased. The time signal was given. There was a pause, and then the announcer spoke. His voice was solemn, grave. Quite different from midday.

This is London, he said. A national emergency was proclaimed at four oclock this afternoon. Measures are being taken to safeguard the lives and property of the population, but it must be understood that these are not easy to effect immediately, owing to the unforeseen and unparalleled nature of the present crisis. Every householder must take precautions about his own building. Where several people live together, as in flats and hotels, they must unite to do the utmost that they can to prevent entry. It is absolutely imperative that every individual stay indoors tonight.

The birds, in vast numbers, are attacking anyone on sight, and have already begun an assault upon buildings; but these, with due care, should be impenetrable.

The population is asked to remain calm.

Owing to the exceptional nature of the emergency, there will be no further transmission from any broadcasting station until seven A.M., tomorrow.

They played God Save the Queen. Nothing more happened.

Nat switched off the set. He looked at his wife. She stared back at him.

Well have supper early, suggested Nat. Something for a treattoasted cheese, eh? Something we all like.

He winked and nodded at his wife. He wanted the look of dread, of apprehension, to leave her face.

He helped with the supper, whistling, singing, making as much clatter as he could. It seemed to him that the shuffling and the tapping were not so intense as they had been at first, and presently he went up to the bedrooms and listened. He no longer heard the jostling of place on the roof.

Theyve got reasoning powers, he thought. They know its hard to break in here. Theyll try elsewhere.

Supper passed without incident. Then, when they were clearing away, they heard a new sound, a familiar droning.

His wife looked up at him, her face alight.

Its planes, she said. Theyre sending out planes after the birds. That will get them. Isnt that gunfire? Cant you hear the guns?

It might be gunfire, out at sea. Nat could not tell. Big naval guns might have some effect upon the gulls out at sea, but the gulls were inland now. The guns couldnt shell the shore because of the population.

Its good, isnt it, asked his wife, to hear the planes?

Catching her enthusiasm, Jill jumped up and down with Johnny. The planes will get the birds.

Just then they heard a crash about two miles distant. Followed by a second and then a third. The droning became more distant, passed away out to sea.

What was that? asked his wife.

I dont know, answered Nat. He did not want to tell her that sound they had heard was the crashing of aircraft.

It was, he had no doubt, a gamble on the part of the authorities to send out reconnaissance forces, but they might have known that gamble was suicidal. What could aircraft do against birds that flung themselves to death against propeller and fuselage, but hurtle to the ground themselves?

Where have the planes gone, Dad? asked Jill.

Back to base, he said. Come on now, time to tuck down for bed.

There was no further drone of aircraft, and the naval guns had ceased. Waste of life and effort, Nat said to himself. We cant destroy enough of them that way. Cost too heavy. Theres always gas. Maybe theyll try spraying with gas, mustard gas. Well be warned first, of course, if they do. Theres one thing, the best brains of the country will be on it tonight.

Upstairs in the bedrooms all was quiet. No more scraping and stabbing at the windows. A lull in battle. The wind hadnt dropped, though. Nat could still hear it roaring the chimneys. And the sea breaking down on the shore.

Then he remembered the tide. The tide would be on the turn. Maybe the lull in battle was because of the tide. There was some law the birds obeyed, and it had to do with the east wind and the tide.

He glanced at his watch. Nearly eight oclock. It must have gone high water an hour ago. That explained the lull. The birds attacked with the flood tide.

He reckoned the time limit in his head. They had six hours to go without attack. When the tide turned again, around 1:20 in the morning, the birds would come back.

He called softly to his wife and whispered to her that he would go out and see how there were faring at the farm, see if the telephone was still working there so they might get news from the exchange.

Youre not to go, she said at once, and leave me alone with the children. I cant stand it.

All right, he said, all right. Ill wait till morning. And we can get the wireless bulletin then, too, at seven. But when the tide ebbs again, Ill try for the farm; they may let us have bread and potatoes.

His mind was busy again, planning against emergency. They would not have milked, of course, this evening. The cows would be standing by the gate, waiting; the household would be inside, battened behind boards as they were at the cottage.

That is, if they had had time to take precautions.

Softly, stealthily, he opened the back door and looked outside.

It was pitch-dark. The wind was blowing harder than ever, coming in steady gusts, icy, from the sea.

He kicked at the step. It was heaped with birds. These were the suicides, the divers, the ones with broken necks. Wherever he looked, he saw dead birds. The living had flown seaward with the turn of the tide. The gulls would be riding the seas now, as they had done in the forenoon.

In the far distance on the hill, something was burning. One of the aircraft that had crashed, the fire, fanned by the wind, had set light to a stack.

He looked at the bodies of the birds. He had a notion that if he stacked them, one upon the other, on the window sills, they would be added protection against the next attack.

Not much, perhaps, but something. The bodies would have to be clawed at, pecked and dragged aside before the living birds gained purchase on the sills and attacked the panes.

He set to work in the darkness. It was queer. He hated touching the dead birds, but he went on with his work. He noticed grimly that every windowpane was shattered. Only the boards had kept the birds from breaking in.

He stuffed the cracked panes with the bleeding bodies of the birds and felt his stomach turn. When he had finished, he went back into the cottage and barricaded the kitchen door, making it doubly secure.

His wife had made him cocoa; he drank it thirstily. He was very tired. All right, he said, smiling, dont worry. Well get through.

He lay down on his mattress and closed his eyes.

He dreamed uneasily because, through his dreams, ran the dread of something forgotten. Some piece of work that he should have done. It was connected, in some way, with the burning aircraft.

It was his wife, shaking his shoulder, who awoke him finally.

Theyve begun, she sobbed. Theyve started this last hour. I cant listen to it any longer alone. Theres something smells bad, too, something burning.

Then he remembered. He had forgotten to make up the fire.

The fire was smoldering, nearly out. He got up swiftly and lighted the lamp.

The hammering had started at the windows and the door, but it was not that he minded now. It was the smell of singed feathers.

The smell filled the kitchen. He knew what it was at once. The birds were coming down the chimney, squeezing their way down to the kitchen range.

He got sticks and paper and put them on the embers, then reached for the can of kerosene.

Stand back, he shouted to his wife. He threw some of the kerosene onto the fire.

The flame roared up the pipe, and down into the fire fell the scorched, blackened bodies of birds.

The children waked, crying. What is it? asked Jill. Whats happened?

Nat had no time to answer her. He was raking the bodies from the chimney, clawing them out onto the floor.

The flames would drive away the living birds from the chimney top. The lower joint was the difficulty though. It was choked with the moldering, helpless bodies of the birds caught by fire.

He scarcely heeded the attack on the windows and the door. Let them beat their wings, break their backs, lose their lives, in the desperate attempt to force an entry into his home. They would not break in.

Stop crying, he called to the children. Theres nothing to be afraid of. Stop crying.

He went on raking out the burning, smoldering bodies as they fell into the fire.

Thisll fetch them, he said to himself. The draft and the flames together. Were all right as long as the chimney doesnt catch.

Amid the tearing at the window boards came the sudden homely striking of the kitchen clock. Three oclock.

A little more than four hours to go. He could not be sure of the exact time of high water. He reckoned the tide would not turn much before half past seven.

He waited by the range. The flames were dying. But no more blackened bodies fell from the chimney. He thrust his poker up as far as it could go and found nothing.

The danger of the chimneys being choked up was over. It could not happen again, not if the fire was kept burning day and night.

Ill have to go and get more fuel from the farm tomorrow, he thought. I can do all that with the ebb tide. It can be worked; we can fetch what we need when the tides turned. Weve just got to adapt ourselves, thats all.

They drank tea and cocoa, ate slices of bread. Only half a loaf left, Nat noticed. Never mind, though; theyd get by.

If they could hang on like this until seven, when the first news bulletin came through, they would not have done too badly.

Give us a smoke, he said to his wife. It will clear away the smell of the scorched feathers.

Theres only two left in the packet, she said. I was going to buy you some.

Ill have one, he said.

He sat with one arm around his wife and one around Jill, with Johnny on his lap, the blankets heaped about them on the mattress.

You cant help admiring the little beggars, he said. Theyve got persistency. Youd think theyd tire of the game, but not a bit of it.

Admiration was hard to sustain. The tapping went on and on; and a new, rasping note struck Nats ear, as though a sharper beak than any hitherto had come to take over from its fellows.

He tried to remember the names of birds; he tried to think which species would go for this particular job.

It was not the tap of the woodpecker. That would be light and frequent. This was more serious; if it continued long, the wood would splinter as the glass had done.

Then he remembered the hawks. Could the hawks have taken over from the gulls? Were there buzzards now upon the sills, using talons as well as beaks? Hawks, buzzards, kestrels, falcons; he had forgotten the birds of prey. He had forgotten the gripping power of the birds of prey. Three hours to go; and while they waited, the sound of the splintering wood, the talons tearing at his wood.

Nat looked about him, seeing what furniture he could destroy to fortify the door.

The windows were safe because of the dresser. He was not certain of the door. He went upstairs; but when he reached the landing, he paused and listened.

There was a soft patter on the floor of the childrens bedroom. The birds had broken through.

The other bedroom was still clear. He brought out the furniture to pile at the head of the stairs should the door of the childrens bedroom go.

Come down, Nat. What are you doing? called his wife.

I wont be here long, he shouted. Im just making everything shipshape up here.

He did not want her to come. He did not want her to hear the pattering in the childrens bedroom, the brushing of those wings against the door.

After he suggested breakfast, he found himself watching the clock, gazing at the hands that went so slowly around the dial. If his theory was not correct, of the attack did not cease with the turn of the tide, he knew they were beaten. They could not continue through the long day without air, without rest, without fuel.

A crackling in his ears drove away the sudden, desperate desire for sleep.

What is it? What now? he said sharply.

The wireless, said his wife. Ive been watching the clock. Its nearly seven.

The comfortable crackling of the wireless brought new life.

They waited. The kitchen clock struck seven.

The crackling continued. Nothing else. No chimes. No music.

They waited until a quarter past. No news bulletin came through.

We heard wrong, he said. They wont be broadcasting until eight oclock.

They left the wireless switched on. Nat thought of the battery, wondered how much power was left in the battery. If it failed, they would not hear the instructions.

Its getting light, whispered his wife. I cant see it but I can feel it. And listen! The birds arent hammering so loud now.

She was right. The rasping, tearing sound grew fainter every moment. So did the shuffling, the jostling for place upon the step, upon the sills. The tide was on the turn.

By eight there was no sound at all. Only the wind. And the crackling of the wireless. The children, lulled at last by the stillness, fell asleep.

At half past eight, Nat switched the wireless off.

Well miss the news, said his wife.

There isnt going to be any news, said Nat. Weve got to depend upon ourselves.

He went to the door and slowly pulled away the barricades. He drew the bolts, and kicking the broken bodies from the step outside the door, breathed the cold air.

He had six working hours before him, and he knew he must reserve his strength to the utmost, not waste it any way.

Food and light and fuel; these were the most necessary things. If he could get them, they could endure another night.

He stepped into the garden; and as he did so, he saw the living birds. The gulls had gone to ride the sea, as they had done before. They sought sea food and the buoyancy of the tide before they returned to the attack.

Not so the land birds. They waited and watched.

Nat saw them on the hedgerows, on the soil, crowded in the trees, outside in the fieldline upon line of birds, still, doing nothing. He went to the end of his small garden.

The birds did not move. They merely watched him.

Ive got to get food, Nat said to himself. Ive got to go to the farm to get food.

He went back to the cottage. He saw to the windows and the door.

Im going to the farm, he said.

His wife clung to him. She had seen the birds from the open door.

Take us with you, she begged. We cant stay here alone. Id rather die than stay here alone.

Come on, then, he said. Bring baskets and Johnnys pram. We can load up the pram.

They dressed against the biting wind. His wife put Johnny in the pram, and Nat took Jills hand.

The birds, Jill whimpered. Theyre all out there in the fields.

They wont hurt us, he said. Not in the light.

They started walking across the field, toward the stile, and the birds did not move. They waited, their heads turned to the wind.

When they reached the turning to the farm, Nat stopped and told his wife to wait in the shelter of the hedge with the two children. But I want to see Mrs. Trigg, she protested. There are lots of things we can borrow if they went to market yesterday, and

Wait here, Nat interrupted. Ill be back in a moment.

The cows were lowing, moving restlessly in the yard, and he could see a gap in the fence where the sheep had knocked their way through to roam unchecked in the front garden before the farmhouse.

No smoke came from the chimneys. Nat was filled with misgiving. He did not want his wife or the children to go down to the farm.

He went down alone, pushing his way through the herd of lowing cows, who turned this way and that, distressed, their udders full.

He saw the car standing by the gate. Not put away in the garage.

All the windows of the farmhouse were smashed. There were many dead gulls lying in the yard and around the house.

The living birds perched on the group of trees behind the farm and on the roof of the house. They were quite still. They watched him. Jims body lay in the yard. What was left of him. His gun was beside him.

The door of the house was shut and bolted, but it was easy to push up a smashed window and climb through.

Triggs body was close to the telephone. He must have been trying to get through to the exchange when the birds got him. The receiver was off the hook, and the instrument was torn from the wall.

No sign of Mrs. Trigg. She would be upstairs. Was it any use going up? Sickened, Nat knew what he would find there.

Thank God, he said to himself, there were no children.

He forced himself to climb the stairs, but halfway up he turned and descended again. He could see Mrs. Triggs legs protruding from the open bedroom door. Beside her were the bodies of black-backed gulls and an umbrella, broken. Its no use doing anything, Nat thought. Ive only got five hours; less than that. The Triggs would understand. I must load up with what I can find.

He tramped back to his wife and children.

Im going to fill up the car with stuff, he said. Well take it home and return for another load.

What about the Triggs? asked his wife.

They must have gone to friends, he said.

Shall I come and help you then?

No, there is a mess down there. Cows and sheep all over the place. Wait; Ill get the car. You can sit in the car.

Her eyes watched his all the time he was talking. He believed she understood. Otherwise she certainly would have insisted on helping him find the bread and groceries.

They made three journeys altogether, to and from the farm, before he was satisfied they had everything they needed. It was surprising, once he started thinking, how many things were necessary. He had to go around searching for timber. He wanted to renew the boards on all the windows at the cottage.

On the final journey he drove the car to the bus stop and got out and went to the telephone box.

He waited a few minutes, jangling the hook. No good, though. The line was dead. He climbed onto a bank and looked over the countryside, but there was no sign of life at all, nothing in the fields but the waiting, watching birds.

Some of them slept; he could see their beaks tucked into their feathers.

Youd think theyd be feeding, he said to himself, not just standing that way.

Then he remembered. They were gorged with food. They had eaten their fill during the night. That was why they did not move this morning.

He lifted his face to the sky. It was colorless, gray. The bare trees looked bent and blackened by the east wind.

The cold did not affect the living birds, waiting out there in the fields.

This is the time they ought to get them, Nat said to himself. Theyre a sitting target now. They must be doing this all over the country. Why dont our aircraft take off now and spray them with mustard gas? What are all our chaps doing? They must know; they must see for themselves.

He went back to the car and got into the drivers seat.

Go quickly past that second gate, whispered his wife. The postmans lying there and I dont want Jill to see.

It was a quarter to one by the time they reached the cottage. Only an hour to go.

Better have dinner, said Nat. Hot up something for yourself and the children, some of that soup. Ive not time to eat now. Ive got to unload all this stuff from the car.

He got everything inside the cottage. It could be sorted later. Give them all something to do during the long hours ahead.

First, he must see to the windows and the door.

He went around the cottage methodically, testing, every window and the door. He climbed onto the roof also, and fixed boards across every chimney except the kitchens.

The cold was so intense he could hardly bear it, but the job had to be done. Now and again, he looked up, searching the sky for aircraft. None came. As he worked, he cursed the inefficiency of the authorities.

He paused, his work on the bedroom chimney finished, and looked out to sea. Something was moving out there. Something gray and white among the breakers.

Good old Navy, he said. They never let us down. Theyre coming down channel; theyre turning into the bay.

He waited, straining his eyes toward the sea. He was wrong, though. The Navy was not there. It was the gulls rising from the sea. And the massed flocks in the fields, with ruffled feathers, rose in formation from the ground and, wing to win, soared upward to the sky.

The tide had turned again.

Nat climbed down the ladder and went inside the cottage. The family were at dinner. It was a little after tow.

He bolted the door, put up the barricade, and lighted the lamp.

Its nighttime, said young Johnny.

His wife had switched on the wireless once again. The crackling sound came, but nothing else.

Ive been all around the dial, she said, foreign stations and all. I cant get anything but the crackling.

Maybe they have the same trouble, he said. maybe its the same right through Europe.

They ate in silence.

The tapping began at the windows, at the door, the rustling, the jostling, the pushing for position on the sills. The first thud of the suicide gulls upon the step.

When he had finished dinner, Nat planned, he would put the supplies away, stack them neatly, get everything shipshape. The boards were strong against the windows and across the chimneys. The cottage was filled with stores, with fuel, with all they needed for the next few days.

His wife could help him, and the children too. Theyd tire themselves out between now and a quarter to nine, when the tide would ebb; then hed tuck them down on their mattresses, see that they slept good and sound until three in the morning.

He had a new scheme for the windows, which was to fix barbed wire in front of the boards. He had brought a great roll of it from the farm. The nuisance was, hed have to work at this in the dark, when the lull came between nine and three. Pity he had not thought of it before. Still, as long as the wife and kids slept. That was the main thing.

The smaller birds were at the windows now. He recognized the light tap-tapping of their beaks and the soft brush of their wings.

The hawks ignored the windows. They concentrated their attack upon the door.

Nat listened to the tearing sound of splintered wood, and wondered how many million years of memory were stored in those little brains, behind the stabbing beaks, the piercing eyes, now giving them this instinct to destroy mankind with all the deft precision of machines.

Ill smoke that last cigarette, he said to his wife. Stupid of me. It was the one thing I forgot to bring back from the farm.

He reached for it, switched on the crackling wireless.

He threw the empty pack onto the fire and watched it burn.

I hope that you enjoyed Daphne du Mauriers story of The Birds!

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Dowser
Sophomore Participates
link   author  Dowser    9 years ago

I hope that you enjoy this! Just typing it gave me the bejeebers! Smile.gif

 
 
 
Dowser
Sophomore Participates
link   author  Dowser    9 years ago

If you read this-- please leave a comment so that I know what you think! Smile.gif

 
 
 
Neetu2
Freshman Silent
link   Neetu2    9 years ago

Keeps you biting those knuckles, doesn't it? Now I remember, I have read it in childhood - just forgot how scary it was, Dowser! Thank you for typing and posting this lost story!

 
 
 
Dowser
Sophomore Participates
link   author  Dowser    9 years ago

You are very welcome! It was worth every backspace to fix a typo if you enjoyed it! Smile.gif

To me, it is a LOT scarier than the movie-- it leaves more to the imagination!

 
 
 
Merleliz
Freshman Silent
link   Merleliz    9 years ago

Loved it...rereading an old favorite is like visiting with an old friend...thank so much!

 
 
 
Dowser
Sophomore Participates
link   author  Dowser    9 years ago

You are very welcome! I'm just glad you enjoyed it! I love the story, even though it scares the crap out of me! Smile.gif