DURING the last few days I have received letters contradicting, upbraiding, abusing, impeaching and downright bully-ragging me for daring, in a recent article, to number the kookaburra amongst the bold, bad villains of Birdland!
I think I can quite understand the sentimental indignation that moves my various correspondents to arise and slang me for traducing their best beloved bird in all the Australian bush.
I can appreciate the swift desire to retaliate in defence of a jovial old friend, because even I, well as I know him, can not entirely shed what is more than a passing regard for the hoary old humbug.
But I, unlike my correspondents, have had more than one glimpse behind that air of bland benevolence with which he deceives his millions of admirers. And, because of long and intimate association, I am able to judge him, uninfluenced by that tradition which has built about him a reputation for jocund good-will and jovial friendliness, so apt to hoodwink his casual acquaintances.
His continuous joviality no one can help admitting; and I am prepared to concede his trustful and friendly demeanour toward human associates. But to see him through the eyes of the smaller and weaker inhabitants of Birdland is to discover in him a character altogether different from that of the kindly kookaburra of tradition.
Anyhow, I do not propose to answer the various charges that his indignant champions have brought against me; but to defend myself by putting John Kookaburra himself in the dock and appointing myself chief counsel for the prosecution. Therefore:-
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
The prosecution had at first been minded to charge the prisoner, John Kookaburra, with being Public Enemy No. 1 of the Australian Avian nation; but, since the Crow (or Raven) seems long ago to have well earned that unenviable title, we do couple the accused with his cousin, the Butcher Bird, as Enemy No. 2.
Such open and natural enemies as the hawk and eagle, the kite, falcon and kestrel we exclude from consideration, since Nature allows them no means of subsistence save through cannibalism.
But John Kookaburra stands charged as Public Enemy No. 2, because, under cover of an external aspect of sniggering and sanctimonious good-fellowship, he carries on a horrible and secret trade in murder, kidnapping, torture, cannibalism and infanticide.
We have proof further, so we maintain, that he is a habitual criminal who, from nest to necropolis lives the life of a giggling gangster and an incorrigible racketeer.
We are aware, ladies and gentlemen, that the defence will produce a number of reputable witnesses (mostly human) who will testify to the prisoner's reputation for jovial good nature, perpetual love of laughter, and his kindly, not to say canonical aspect of beneficent altruism that is hard to associate with such charges as the prosecution will endeavour to maintain.
The prosecution is prepared to admit all this, and indeed to cite it as proof of the extreme cunning of the benevolent-seeming prisoner in the dock.
But we too, ladies and gentlemen, will put forward witnesses, human and avian, who are prepared to swear to certain specific and definite crimes committed by the accused.
Twice at least he has been known to seize young thrushes from the nest, and, having battered out their brains despite the frantic protests of the parents, to carry them away for what ghastly purpose I leave you to imagine.
As recently as last week, the prisoner was seen, by several witnesses, with a living, half-fledged blue wren in his murderous beak. A mere infant, ladies and gentlemen! A child of tender years who had not yet learned to lisp his mother's name! And, while the hapless infant's family and friends thronged about him snapping ineffective beaks, this feathered ghoul calmly, callously, with almost unthinkable brutality, battered that helpless little body against a fence-rail till it lay cold and still.
Then, ladies and gentlemen, before the very eyes of its anguished parents, this soulless, bowelless villain---
I am sorry, but tears will not permit me to continue. Also, in the very face of these horrible charges, the prisoner, even now, begins to chuckle in the dock.
Look at him, ladies and gentlemen! Listen to the heartless scoundrel! Does that soulless sniggering suggest to you the possession of the barest rudiments of decent pity, of remorse? Does it not, rather, indicate a nature utterly depraved and hopelessly callous?
Look at him! He giggles! He guffaws! He---
Your Honour! I claim the protection of the court! I ask that this brutal levity be sternly repressed! In view of---
Your Honour! Even the gentlemen at the Bar are now moved to infectious mirth. Mirth? in the face of these ghastly accusation---
Now the Press, the associate, the police are tittering! The prisoner shrieks and shouts in unholy glee! Why, the very Bench itself is now moved to unseemly hilarity!
I throw up my brief! I resign from this case!