When the other children played on the beach, building castles in the sand, or picking up pretty shells, this poor boy had to gather driftwood for his great-aunt’s kitchen fire.
But for all his hard-luck he was always whistling blithely at his work. He would whistle all the tunes in the hymn book, and all the sailor’s songs, and the nursery songs, and then some more that he made up as he ran along the beach picking up driftwood. Of course, his great-aunt had forbidden his whistling about the house, but other people liked to hear him, and since he had no name, they called him “Birdling.” His great-aunt called him “You!”
One day, after he had come home from school, washed his hands, eaten his dry bread, and drunk his tea without sugar or cream, he went as usual to the beach to gather wood; but this day, all the boys from school were down by the sea-side making sail-boats. Their mothers and aunts and grandmas had given them odd bits of muslin from the rag-bag for sails, and their fathers and uncles and grandpas had given them little pots of paint, and the old boat-builder who lived on the beach had supplied the nails and boards and no end of good advice. They were building a splendid fleet, and when Birdling came whistling along the sands, they all hailed him and shouted:
“Birdling, Birdling, come and build a boat! We have nails to spare, and surely you have some nice boards in your load of driftwood! Come, come and build a boat!”
So Birdling, forgetting all about his duties and his great-aunt, sat down in the warm yellow sand, and built a boat of driftwood; and while he worked he whistled.