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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Out-takes XVI

After some minutes a beautiful bird appeared on the ledge. Edith did not see it approach or alight on the ledge. It seemed to materialise there out of nothing.

She had never seen a more beautiful or colourful bird in her life. It was not large, being about seven inches long, but with a striking blue and black head, a blue-green back, and a burned chestnut breast. There was a white spot on its neck, and it had a white chin and red legs.

“What is it?” she whispered to Nellie, but Nellie only shook her head in a further warning to be quiet.

The bird sat motionless, its eyes fixed on the moving waters below. It sat still for so long that Edith thought it might be dead. It did not seem to breath, and its eyes did not move or blink. But suddenly it was off, darting from the rock and shooting out over the water like a blue flame. Edith nearly lost it, but its flight was so sure and unwavering that she picked it up again in time to see it stop dead and plunge into the water. A moment later it emerged again with its prey: a small fish.

“It’s a kingfisher,” said Nellie, and almost before she had finished speaking the bird was back on the ledge. It swallowed the fish and was back in position, motionless, its eyes fixed on the moving waters below.

The two girls watched it for a long time. Sometimes it changed its tactics and hovered over the water in the shade, and at other times it came back to the ledge and waited.
“It’s a fisherman,” said Nellie. “Like your mother.”

“No,” said Edith. “It’s like Capt’n Cornwall. He’s a king fisherman.”

“Next year I’ll show you where they nest,” said Nellie. “They dig a hole in the side of the bank, all slimy, and they make the nest out of chewed up fishbones. And when the eggs come they’re pink and round like marbles.”

“You know a lot of things, don’t you?” said Edith.

“Yes, I’m useful to know,” said Nellie. “I’d make a good friend for you.”

“Tell me something else, then.”

“Well, for instance,” Nellie continued. “A long time ago the kingfisher was just plain grey. And when all the animals and birds were let out of Noah’s Ark the kingfisher flew up towards the sun, and that’s how it got its colours.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“It’s true,” said Nellie. “That’s why it’s blue on the top, from the colour of the sky, and the feathers underneath were scorched by the setting sun.”

“Well, maybe,” said Edith, perceiving the reasoning. “What else do you know?”

“If you get a kingfisher and kill it and dry its body you’ll never be struck by a thunderbolt, or if you hang it up in a wardrobe you’ll never get moths.”

“Goodness,” said Edith.

“And,” said Nellie, getting into her stride. “If you hang it by a thread from the ceiling it will always point with its bill to the direction from which the wind blows.”

“Really,” said Edith. And after a moment to digest all the information. “I really like you, Nellie. You do know lots of things. I’m glad your my friend.”

“Am I?” said Nellie. “Am I really your friend? Will we do things together, all kinds of things?”

“I expect so,” said Edith. “I expect that’s what friends do.”

As they walked back, away from Penlee Point, the kingfisher shot out over the water again, this time calling out its shrill “pip, pip, pip,” as if in farewell to the two girls.

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