The Autobiography of a Bird
VIRGINIA SHARPE PATTERSON
"The Girl of the Period," "All on Account of a Bonnet," "The Wonderland Children," etc.
With Introduction by
HON. JOHN F. LACEY, M.C.
ELIZABETH M. HALLOWELL
A. J. Rowland—1420 Chestnut Street
Copyright 1899 by the
AMERICAN BAPTIST PUBLICATION SOCIETY
From the Society's own Press
my dear children
Laura, Virgie, and Robert George
this little Volume is
This beautiful volume has been written for a good purpose. I had the pleasure of reading the proof-sheets of the book while in the Yellowstone National Park, where no gun may be lawfully fired at any of God's creatures. All animals there are becoming tame, and the great bears come out of the woods to feed on the garbage of the hotels and camps, fearless of the tourists, who look on with pleasure and wonder at such a scene.
"The child is father of the man," and this volume is addressed to the heart and imagination of every child reader. If children are taught to love and protect the birds they will remember the lesson when they grow old. When children learn to prefer to take a "snap-shot" at a bird with a camera, rather than with a gun, they will protect these feathered friends for their beauty, even if they do not regard them for their usefulness.
Nature has supplied a system of balances if left to itself. Some forms of insect life are so prolific that but for the voracity and industry of the birds the world would become almost uninhabitable.
Bird life appeals to the eye for its beauty, to the ear for its music, and to the interest of man for its utility. Shooting-clubs have foreseen the extermination that awaits many of the finest of the game birds, and are taking much pains to enforce the laws enacted for game protection. A selfish interest thus is called into activity, and one class of birds is receiving protection through the aid of its own enemies.
But the birds of beautiful plumage are now threatened with extinction by the desire of womankind for personal decoration. Against this destruction Audubon societies are organizing a crusade, and Mrs. Patterson's principal purpose in this book is to direct attention to the wholesale slaughter of the birds of plumage and song.
The Princess of Wales was requested to write in an album her various peculiarities. Among the inquiries was: "What is your greatest weakness?" She answered: "Millinery."
When Napoleon was banished to Elba it is stated that the fallen monarch was followed by Josephine's old millinery bills. How many of these bills were for the plumage of slaughtered birds the historian does not say. But the passion for the beautiful is very strong in the tender hearts of women, and an earnest appeal to the natural gentleness of the sex must be made to enlist them in the defense of the birds.
Mrs. Patterson enters upon this task with enthusiasm, and many a bird will live to flutter through the trees or glisten in the sunshine and gladden the earth with its beauty that but for this little book would have perched for a brief season upon the headgear of some lovely woman.
Let the good work go on until the mummy of a dead bird will be recognized by all persons as an unfitting decoration for the head of womankind.
JOHN F. LACEY.
I. THE ORCHARD II. DICKEY DOWNY'S MEDITATIONS III. THE RULER WITH THE IRON HAND IV. DICKEY'S COUSINS V. "DON'T, JOHNNY" VI. THE PARROT AT A PARTY VII. A WINTER IN THE SOUTH VIII. THE PRISON IX. THE HUNTERS X. A NEW HOME XI. THE ILL-MANNERED CHILD XII. TWO SLAVES OF FASHION XIII. DICKEY'S VISIT XIV. THE COUNTRY SCHOOL XV. POLLY'S FAREWELL
List of Illustrations
The Indigo Bird
The Summer Tanager
The Baltimore Oriole
Last night Alicia wore a Tuscan Sonnet And many humming birds were fastened on it. Caught in a net of delicate creamy crepe The dainty captives lay there dead together; No dart of slender bill, no fragile shape Fluttering, no stir of radiant feather; Alicia looked so calm, I wondered whether She cared if birds were killed to trim her bonnet. Her hand fell lightly on my hand; And I fancied that a stain of death Like that which doomed the Lady of Macbeth Was on her hand.
Bobolink, that in the meadow Or beneath the orchard's shadow Keepest up a constant rattle, Joyous as my children's prattle, Welcome to the North again. —Thos. Hill.
My native home was in a pleasant meadow not far from a deep wood, at some distance from the highway. From this it was separated by plowed fields and a winding country lane, carpeted with grass and fringed with daisies.
While it was yet dawn, long before the glint of the sun found its way through the foliage, the air was musical with the twittering of our feathered colony.
It is true our noisy neighbors, the blue-jays, sometimes disturbed my mother by their hoarse chattering when she was weary of wing and wanted a quiet hour to meditate, but they disturbed us younger ones very little. My mother did not think they were ever still a minute. Constantly hopping back and forth, first on one bough, then on another, flirting down between times to pick up a cricket or a bug, they were indeed, a most fidgetty set. Their restlessness extended even to their handsome top-knots, which they jerked up and down like a questioning eyebrow. They were beautiful to look at had they only possessed a little of the dignity and composure of our family. But as I said, we little ones did not trouble ourselves about them.
The air was so pleasant, our nest so cozy, and our parents provided us such a plentiful diet of nice worms and bugs, that like other thoughtless babies who have nothing to do but eat, sleep, and grow, we had no interest in things outside and did not dream there was such a thing as vexation or sorrow or crime in this beautiful world. When our parents were off gathering our food, we seldom felt lonely, for we nestled snugly and kept each other company by telling what we would do when we should be strong enough to fly.
At this stage of our existence we were as ungainly a lot of children as could well be imagined. To look at our long, scrawny necks and big heads so disproportioned to the size of our bodies, which were scantily covered with a fuzzy down that scarcely concealed our nakedness, who would have thought that in time we would develop into such handsome birds as the bobolink family is universally considered to be?
Our mother, who was both very proud and very fond of us, was untiring in her watchful care. No human mother bending over the nursery bed soothing her little one to rest, showed more devotion than did she, as she hovered near the tiny cradle of coarse grass and leaves woven by her own cunning skill—alert and sleepless when danger was near and enfolding us with her warm, soft wings. Thus tenderly cared for we passed the early sunny days of life.
After we could fly we often visited a fragrant orchard that sent its odors across the grain fields. From its green shade we made short excursions to the rich, black soil in search of some choice tid-bit of a worm turned up by the plow expressly for our dessert. We were indeed glad to be of use to the farmer by devouring these pests so destructive to his crops, but did not limit our labors to these places; we also made it our business to pick off the bugs and slugs that infested the fruit trees, and often extended our efforts to the tender young grape leaves in the arbor and the rose bushes and shrubs in the flower garden.
On a warm morning after a rain was our favorite time for work, and it was pleasant to hear the tap-tap-tapping of our neighbor the woodpecker, as he located with his busy little bill the bugs in the tree limb. It was like the hammer of an industrious blacksmith breaking on the still air. His jaunty red cap and broad white shoulder cape made of him a very pretty object as he worked away blithely and cheerily at his useful task. While the rest of us did not make so much noise at our work, we were equally diligent in picking off the larvae and borers that ruined the trees, and on a full crop we enjoyed the consciousness of having aided mankind.
On several occasions I had seen our enemy, the cat, slinking stealthily on his padded feet from the direction of the great brick house which stood on the edge of the orchard. Crouched in a furrow he would gaze upward at us so steadily and for so long a time without so much as a wink or a blink of his green eyes, that it seemed he must injure its muscles. Aside from the many frights he gave us it is sad to relate that he succeeded before many days in getting away with one of our number. One morning he crept softly up to a young robin which had flown down in the grass, but had not sufficient power to rise quickly, and before the unsuspecting little creature realized its danger, the cat arched his back, gave a spring, and seized it. A moment later he softly trotted out of the orchard with the poor bird in his mouth and doubtless made a dainty dinner in the barn off our unfortunate comrade. This incident cast a deep gloom over us, and our songs for many days held a mournful note.
But while cats were unwelcome visitors from the great brick house, we sometimes had others whom we were always glad to see. The two young ladies of the family, together with their mother and little niece, occasionally came out for a saunter under the trees, and it was very delightful to listen to their merry chat. So affectionate toward each other, so gentle and withal so bright and lively, they seemed to bring a streak of sunshine with them whenever they came. Miss Dorothy, who was tall and stately, seldom sat on the grassy tufts which rose like little footstools at the base of each tree, but rambled about while talking. This was perhaps because she disliked to rumple her beautifully starched skirts. But Miss Katie—impetuous, dimple-cheeked Katie, would fling herself down anywhere regardless of edged ruffles or floating sash ribbons.
"For it is clean dirt," she laughingly said, when Miss Dorothy playfully scolded her for it. "This kind of dirt is healthful, and it isn't going to hurt me if a few dusty twigs or a bit of dried grass or weeds should cling to my gown. You must remember, Sister Dorothy, there are different kinds of dirt. I haven't any respect for grease spots or for clothes soiled from wearing them too long. I don't like that kind of dirt, but to get close to dear old mother earth, and have a scent of her fresh soil once in a while is what I enjoy. It is delightful. I like nature too well to stand on ceremony with her."
"You like butterflies too, don't you, aunty?" asked little Marian.
"To be sure I do, dear. I love all the pretty things that fly."
"And the birdies too?" asked the child.
"Yes, indeed; I love the birds the best of all."
"And the old cat was awful naughty when he caught the baby robin the other day and ate it up. Wasn't he, aunty?"
"Yes. Tom is a cruel, bad, bad cat," responded Miss Katie, as she squeezed Marian's little pink hand between her own palms. "That naughty puss gets plenty to eat in the house and there are lots of nice fat mice in the barn, and yet he slips slyly out to the orchard and takes the life of a poor, innocent little bird."
"And it made the mamma-bird cry because her little one was dead," added Miss Dorothy, who had drawn near.
Little Marian heaved a deep sigh and her rosy lips trembled suspiciously. "Poor mamma-bird! It can never have its baby bird any more," she said, with a sob of sympathy. "Don't you feel sorry for it, Aunt Dorothy?"
"Yes, dear. I feel very sorry for it."
"And I expect the poor mamma-bird cries and cries and weeps and grieves when she comes home to supper and finds out her little children are gone forever and ever." And with her bright eyes dimmed with tears of pity, Marian, clasping a hand of each of the young ladies, walked slowly to the house still bewailing the fate of the robin.
My heart warmed toward these sweet young girls for their tender sympathy. I almost wished I were a carrier pigeon, that I might devote myself hereafter to their service by bearing loving messages from them to their friends.
But, alas! I was to have a rude awakening from this pleasant thought. As we flew that evening to our roosting-place, I observed to my mother that if there were no cats in the world what a delightful time we birds might have.
"You have a greater enemy than the cat," she responded sadly. "It is true the cat is cruel and tries to kill us, but it knows no better."
"If not the cat, what enemy is it?" I asked in surprise. "I thought the cat was the most bloodthirsty foe the birds had."
My mother dipped her wings more slowly and poised her body gracefully a moment. Then she said impressively, "Our greatest enemy is man. No," suddenly correcting herself, "not man, but women, women and children."
"Women and dear little children our enemies?" said I, in astonishment. "The pretty ladies who speak so sweet and kind! The pretty ladies who gather roses in the garden! Would they deprive us of life?"
My mother nodded.
"Yes," she answered, "the pretty ladies, the wicked ladies."
DICKEY DOWNY'S MEDITATION
It hath the excuse of youth. —Shakespeare.
That night I pondered long upon what my mother had told me. Ever since I left my shell I had been taught to respect my elders, and that it was a mark of ill manners and bad breeding for children to question the superior knowledge of those much older than themselves. Notwithstanding this, in my secret heart I could not help thinking that my mother was mistaken in her estimate of women when she called them wicked. She had surely misjudged them. However, I took good care not to mention these doubts to her.
I had heard from my grandmother, who had traveled a great deal from the tropics to the North and back again, that women were the leaders in the churches and were foremost in all Christian and philanthropic work; that they provided beautiful homes for orphan children, where they took care of them and nursed them when they were sick. She told me about the hospitals where diseased and aged people were kindly cared for by them. She said they were active in the societies for the prevention of cruelty to children and to animals. They fed armies of tramps out of sheer pity; even the debauched drunkard was the object of their tenderest care and their earnest prayers. They held out a friendly hand to the prisoners in the jails and sent them flowers and Bibles; they pitied and cheered the outcast with kind words. They offered themselves as missionaries for foreign lands to convert the heathen and bring them to Christ. They soothed the sick and made easy the last days of the dying.
On the battlefield, when blood was flowing and cannon smoking, my grandmother had seen the Red Cross women like angels of mercy binding up the gaping wounds and gently closing the glazed eyes of the expiring soldier. In woman's ear was poured his last message to his loved ones far away, and when death was near it was woman who spoke the words of consolation and her finger that pointed hopefully to the stars.
Did not all this prove her to be sweet and tender and loving and gentle and kind? Yes—a thousand times yes.
My grandmother once had her nest near a cemetery, and often related pathetic incidents which had come under her observation at that time. One in particular I now recalled. It was of a woman who came every day to weep over the mound where her babe was buried. She was worn to a shadow from her long watching through its illness, and when it was taken from her, her grief was deep. The bright world was no longer bright since she was bereft of her darling, and her moans for the lost loved one were heartrending.
This incident was only yet another instance of the tenderness of woman's nature, and I could not reconcile it with what my mother had told me.
"No, no," I repeated as I cuddled my head under my wing, "never can I believe that woman, tender-hearted woman, who is all love and mercy, all gentleness and pity, never can I believe she is our enemy." And resolving to ask my mother to more fully explain her unjust assertion I fell asleep.
But a source of fresh anxiety arose which for a time caused me to forget the matter.
The lindens which fringed the wood were now in full leafage, adorned with their delicate ball-like tassels, and hosts of birds flitted among them daily. Many of them were of the kind frequently known as indigo birds, smaller than the ordinary bluebird. In color they were of the metallic cast of blue which has a sheen distinct from the rich shade seen on the jay's wings or the brilliance of the bluebird. Flashing in and out among the hanging blossoms their beautiful blue coats made them an easy target for the boys who attended the neighborhood country school.
To bring down a sweet songster with a shower of stones, panting and bleeding to the ground, they thought was the best sport in the world, and the woods rang and echoed with their whoops and cheers as each poor bird fell to the earth. A mere glimpse of one of the blue beauties as he hid among the leaves seemed to fire these cruel children with a wish to kill it.
One half-grown boy, who went by the name of Big Bill, was noticeable for his brutality. He encouraged the others in cruelties which they might not have thought of, for such is the force of evil example and companionship. A distinguishing mark was a large scar on his cheek, probably inflicted by some enraged animal while being tortured by him. I always felt sure Big Bill would come to some bad end. My mother said that a cruel childhood was often a training school for the gallows, and the boy who killed defenseless birds and bugs deadened his sensibilities and destroyed his moral nature so that it was easy to commit greater crimes.
So dreadful became the persecutions of the schoolboys that the indigo birds finally held a council and determined to leave that part of the country and settle far from the habitations of men, where they might live unmolested and free from persecutions.
THE RULER WITH THE IRON HAND
But evil is wrought by want of thought As well as want of heart. —Hood.
One morning as we flew across the open space which lay between the wood and the wheat fields, we noticed two gentlemen in the orchard who were carefully examining the trees, peering curiously into the cracks of the rough bark or unfolding the curled leaves.
As we came nearer we discovered that one of them was the owner of the place, the father of Miss Dorothy and Miss Katie. The other was a thin gentleman in spectacles, who held a magnifying glass through which he intently looked at a twig which he had broken off.
After a few minutes' inspection he said: "Colonel, your orchard is somewhat affected. This is a specimen of the chionaspis furfuris."
"Is it anything like the scurfy-bark louse?" inquired the colonel.
"The same thing exactly. It occurs more commonly in the apple, but it infects the pear and peach trees. You will find it on the mountain ash, and sometimes on the currant bushes," he answered.
The colonel asked him if he would recommend spraying to get rid of the pests, and was advised to begin immediately, using tobacco water or whale-oil soap.
"By the way," said the colonel, "there is a beetle attacking my shade trees. They are ruining that fine row of elms in front of the lawn."
"It is undoubtedly the melolontha vulgaris," said the professor. I designate him in this way because he used such large words we did not understand. My mother told us that she was positive he was president of a college. "The melolontha vulgaris is the most destructive of beetles, but the larvae are still more injurious. They do incalculable damage to the farmer. Fortunately enormous numbers of these grubs are eaten by the birds."
"Unfortunately the birds are not so numerous as they used to be. They are being destroyed so rapidly, more's the pity! These grounds and woods yonder were formerly alive with birds of all kinds. Flocks of the purple grakle used to follow the plow and eat up the worms at a great rate. You are familiar with their habits? You know they are most devoted parents. I have often watched them feeding their young. The little ones have such astonishingly good appetites that it keeps the old folks busy to supply them with enough to eat. They work like beavers as long as daylight lasts, going to and from the fields carrying on each return trip a fat grub or a toothsome grasshopper."
"I am a great lover of birds," returned the professor enthusiastically, "and I find them very interesting subjects of study. By the way, I was reading the other day a little incident connected with one of America's great men which impressed me deeply. The story goes that he was one day walking in company with some noted statesmen, busily engaged in conversation. But he was not too much occupied to notice that a young bird had fallen from its nest near the path where they were walking. He stopped short and crossing over to where the bird was lying, tenderly picked it up and put it back into its nest. There was a gentleman of a noble nature! No wonder that man was a leader and a liberator!"
"Who was he?"
"The grand, the great Abraham Lincoln," responded the professor impressively.
"Well, he'd be the very one to do just such a kind deed as that," was the colonel's hearty response. "No man ever lived who had a bigger, more merciful heart than 'Honest Abe.'"
For myself I did not know who Abraham Lincoln was. I had never heard the name before, but I was quite sure from the proud tone of the professor's voice that he was a distinguished man, as I was equally sure from the story of his pity for the helpless bird, that he was a good man.
"You mentioned the industry of the grakle a moment ago," resumed the professor. "Do you know that the redwing is equally as useful, and besides he is a delightful singer?
"The redwing flutes his o-ka-lee.
"Do you remember that line, colonel?" and the professor softly whistled a strain in imitation of a bird's note. "The services of our little brothers of the air are exceedingly valuable to the horticulturist. And think of the damage done to arboriculture by the woodborers alone were it not for the help given by the birds. Did you ever notice those borers at work, colonel? Some writer has well described them as animated gimlets. They just stick their pointed heads into the bark and turn their bodies around and around and out pours a little stream of sawdust. The birds would pick off such pests fast enough if people would only give them a chance and not scare them off with shotguns."
"Yes, the birds earn their way, there is no denying it, and he is a very stupid farmer who begrudges them the little corn and wheat they take from the fields. The account is more than balanced by the good they do." Then the conversation ceased, for the colonel and his friend moved off to inspect the quince bushes.
Pleased by the praises they had bestowed on us for our efforts in cleaning the fruit trees and cornfields of injurious insects, I went to work with new vigor to get out some bugs for my luncheon, and was thus pleasantly employed when a sharp twitter from my mother attracted my attention.
"Look, children!" she exclaimed. "Here come our young ladies with some company from the city. Be careful to notice what they have on their heads and then tell me what you think of our sweet, pretty ladies."
One of my brothers was swaying lightly on a little swing below me. I flew down hastily and placed myself on the next bough, where I could also get a good view of the ladies as they strolled toward us. They were in a very merry mood and each one seemed striving to say something more arousing than her companions. Miss Dorothy led the way, her arm linked in that of one of the stranger guests. Then followed the others with Miss Katie and Marian hand in hand in the rear. They were all very handsomely dressed, and having just returned from a drive had not yet removed their hats.
As they came under the tree where we were perched, which was a favorite spot with Miss Katie, they halted for some time and consequently I had an excellent opportunity to look, as my mother had bidden me.
And what did I see?
I saw six ladies' hats trimmed with dead birds. Fastened on sidewise, head downward, on one was a magnificent scarlet tanager, his body half concealed by folds of tulle, his fixed eye staring into vacancy. On another was the head and breast of a beautiful yellow-hammer; it was surmounted by the tall sweeping plumes of the egret, which this bird produces only at breeding time. Oh, how much joy and beauty the world had lost by that cruel deed! A third hat had two song sparrows imprisoned in meshes of star-studded lace. Their blithesome carol had been rudely silenced, their cheer to the world cut short, simply that they might be used for hat trimming. Of the remaining ones some were as yet unknown to me, but my mother, who had an extensive acquaintance with foreign birds, said that in that strange murderous mixture of millinery, far-away Australia had furnished the filmy feathers of the lyre bird which swept upward from a knot of ribbons, and that the forests of Germany had contributed the pretty green linnet. Dove's wings and the rosy breast of the grosbeak completed the barbarous display.
How my heart sickened as I gazed at these pleasant, refined, soft-voiced women flaunting the trophies of their cruelty in the beautiful sunlight.
Had they no compassion for the feathered mother who had been robbed of her young for the sake of a hat?
"Oh, how can they do such dreadful, such wicked things!" I moaned. My mother heard my lament and signaled for us to come up where she was perching.
"You see now who are our worst enemies," said she. "The cat preys on us to satisfy his bodily hunger, but women have no such excuse. We are not slaughtered to sustain their lives but to minister to their vanity. For years the women of Christian lands have waged their unholy war against us. We have been driven from our old haunts and forced to seek new places. We have been shot down by thousands every season until now many species are destroyed from the face of the earth. There is no security for us in any place. The hunter with his gun penetrates into the deepest forests, he perils his life in scaling the most dangerous cliffs, he wades through bog and marsh and mud and tracks us to our feeding grounds to surprise us with the deadly shot, and kills the mother hovering over the nest of her helpless offspring with as little compunction as if she were a poisonous reptile instead of a melodious joy-giver. And all this horrible slaughter is for women."
I grew feverish with excitement at this terrible arraignment of the "gentler sex."
"But why are they so cruel? Why do they do this wicked thing?" I asked.
"For the sake of Fashion," said my mother.
"Fashion, what is that?"
My mother was very patient with me, so when I asked questions she did not put me off by telling me she didn't know, or advise me to fly away and play, or tell me she was busy and couldn't be bothered just then, therefore she now took pains to make me understand.
"You ask me what is Fashion," she began. "Well, Fashion is an exacting ruler, a great, tyrannical god who has many, many worshipers, and these he rules with an iron hand. His followers cannot be induced to do anything contrary to his wishes. He sits on a high throne from which he dictates to his slaves what they must do. Often they do the most outrageous things, not because they like to, but because he demands it. He is constantly laying down new laws for their guidance, and some of these laws are so unreasonable and absurd that a part of his followers frequently threaten to rebel. They do not hold out against him long, for he manages to make it quite unpleasant for those who disobey him or refuse to come under his yoke."
"Has he any men slaves?" asked my brother.
"Yes, he has some slaves among men, but the larger number of those who wear his most galling fetters are women. If he but crooks his little finger these bond-women rush pell-mell in the direction he points. They are thus keen to do his bidding, because each woman who is the first to carry out his rules in her own particular town or neighborhood acquires great distinction in the eyes of the other worshipers."
"His slaves are nearly always rich women, aren't they?" asked my brother.
"By no means. Many of them are poor working women who have to labor hard for a living. But they will rob themselves of necessities and needed rest to get the means to follow his demands. Often it takes them a long time to do this, and perhaps just as they have accomplished the weary task he suddenly proclaims a new law, and all this toiling and drudging and stinting must begin over again. In this way the unhappy creatures have never a breathing spell. It is utterly impossible for them to conform to the new law when it is first proclaimed by the god, and so they are always struggling to keep up. Their chains are never lifted or lightened a particle."
"If the chain is so heavy why don't they break it?" I asked impatiently.
"Because they are afraid," she replied.
"Afraid of the god?"
"No, no, child, they are afraid of each other. They are afraid the richer slaves, who are able to comply with the demands will laugh at them and ridicule them, and that is why they strain every nerve to follow the god's wishes. A slave, whether she is rich or poor, grows more cringing year by year, until at last she loses all her individuality, and becomes a mere echo of the god."
"What about the slaves who rebel at first and afterward yield?"
"Oh, they denounce the god very severely when he lays down some new law they don't happen to like, but as all the other slaves are obediently complying with it they dislike to be set off by themselves as different, and so they reluctantly give in after a time. Sometimes they try to compromise with the god by going half-way."
I inquired what the other slaves thought of that.
"They mildly tolerate them," said she. "Sometimes they look askance at them when they meet, and try to show their superiority as being obedient, full-blooded, genuine slaves, while the others are only lukewarm servants of the monarch!"
I wondered how the slaves regarded the woman who was independent and wouldn't worship the god.
My mother twittered softly at my question, and I knew she was smiling to herself. "Why," said she, "they call that kind of a woman a crank—whatever that is."
It was very evident that this god Fashion was a cruel tyrant, and it was clearly through his influence that we were killed, and I so told my mother. She looked very sorrowful as she replied:
"Yes, the women do not hate us. They do not dislike to hear our pretty songs; they have no revenge to gratify; but the god orders them to have us killed, and they do it. He tells them that to wear our poor mutilated dead bodies will add to their appearance, and so we are sacrificed on the altar of their vanity and silly pride. As members of humane societies women have denounced the docking of horses' tails as cruel, but from what I know of woman's indifference to the sufferings of the innocent birds, I venture to assert that were Fashion to say that she should trim her cloak with horse tails there would not be left an undocked horse in the country."
I knew my mother was very excited or she would never have been so vehement.
"Just hear how those birds twitter," remarked one of the ladies, looking up into our tree. "One would think they were holding an indignation meeting over something."
"Yes, the dear little things; I love to hear them chirp," commented Miss Katie, turning a sweet glance toward us, and then the party moved to go and we saw the six hats loaded with their mournful freight file off to the house. We followed the retreating hats with sad eyes till they were lost to view.
My brother broke the silence by asking, "Are there any Christian women who wear birds, and are among the god's worshipers?"
My mother's manner grew very grave and solemn. "That is not for me to say," she replied. "They know whether they are guiltless of our wholesale slaughter, and they know too, how the gentle, merciful Christ regarded us when he declared that 'not a sparrow is forgotten before God.'"
Another of my airy creatures breathes such sweet music out of her little instrumental throat that it might make mankind to think that miracles are not ceased. We might well be lifted up above the earth and say, Lord, what music hast thou provided for the saints in heaven, when thou affordest bad men such music on earth?—Izaak Walton.
The fine pasture adjoining was a popular resort for some handsome birds that often visited it as a playground. They were said to be relatives of ours, but I do not think they were closer than seventh or eighth cousins, which is so distant that it doesn't count—especially if one doesn't want it to.
All I know is that their family name was the same as ours, Icteridae, and means something or other, I forget what. It was a good honorable name, however, and our branch was as proud of our ancestry as any Daughter of the American Revolution could possibly be.
There were some tall weeds growing along the margin of a little stream in the pasture which produced quantities of delicious seeds, and to these we often repaired when we wanted a choice breakfast, as well as to watch the playful pastimes of these queer bipeds.
What would you think of a bird taking a bareback ride on a cow? They were extremely fond of settling themselves on the cattle which browsed in the field and presented a truly comical picture as they complacently gathered in little groups on the backs of those huge animals. Moving slowly along munching the dewy grass, first on one side, then on the other, the cows did not seem particularly to mind their saucy bareback riders. Occasionally they would toss their heads backward, when up all the birds would fly into the air only to descend again as soon as the cattle were quiet.
As I said, they were very handsome. At a short distance they looked to be clothed in black, but the breast and neck were really a very rich brown, with the rest of the body like jet and as lustrous as satin. They were not general favorites with the other birds on account of some dishonorable tricks which they did on the sly. For instance, they never troubled themselves to make nests, but watched their chance to sneak in and lay their eggs, only one in a place, in the nests of other birds. For some reason their eggs always hatch a little sooner than the eggs rightfully belonging there, consequently the foster-parents, not knowing of the deception, are quite delighted with the first little one that comes out of the shell, and immediately fly off to get food for it. This is very unfortunate, for during their absence their own eggs get cold and will not hatch. After a time the old birds grow disgusted and tumble the poor eggs all out of the nest and bestow their whole attention to the juvenile cowbird, entirely ignorant of the fact that they are the victims of a "put-up job."
Once when we were dining in the pasture we found out the cause of the booming noise we had often heard sounding through the woods. Two men, each carrying in his hand a long club, shaped large at one end, appeared in the meadow and began looking among the long grasses which sheltered the nests of some meadow larks. A number of the larks were on the wing, others sat on the rail fence rolling out cadenzas in concert in a gush of melody from their downy throats. The men moved cautiously nearer under cover of the weeds. Raising their long clubs to their shoulders they gazed along their narrow points a moment. Without exactly knowing why, we took alarm, and larks, bobolinks, and cowbirds sped upward like the wind. At the same instant something bright shimmered in the sunlight, and with it a horrid burst of noise and a puff of smoke. We did not all get away, for some of the beautiful larks fell to the ground pierced by the sportsman's deadly hail.
Again and again, all through that long, sad day we heard the ominous booming crash, and knew the savage work of killing was going on.
Among our acquaintances was a lame redbird who at one time had been trapped and made a prisoner, confined behind the bars of a wire cell for many weeks and months. Luckily he made his escape one day when his grated door was accidentally opened, and he speedily made his way back to his dearly loved forest.
During the period of his imprisonment in the city he had picked up a great deal of information regarding the bird trade, and some of the facts recited by him of the terrible cruelties perpetrated and the carnage which had been going on for years, almost caused our feathers to stand upright in horror as we listened.
Farewell happy fields, where Joy forever dwells. —Milton.
A very pleasant, sociable fellow was this redbird, and often when on hot afternoons we were hiding in the treetops from the rays of the sun he told us stories and anecdotes about the people he had seen while he lived in the city.
He and his brother had been caught in a trap in the woods set by a farmer's boy. One cold spring morning when the boy came to look at his trap he was overjoyed to find he had snared two redbirds, and forthwith carried them to the village nearby and sold them to the grocer for five cents apiece, which sum he said he was going to invest in a rubber ball.
As he put the dime into his coat pocket he told the man that one of the birds was named Admiral Dewey and the other Napoleon Bonaparte. The groceryman agreed that these names were good enough names for anybody, but he thought he'd change Bonaparte's name to Teddy Roosevelt, as being easier to pronounce, and the two birds were accordingly given these titles then and there. Not having any cage at hand to put them in, the man thought that for a few days the new-comers could share the quarters of an old sparrow he had in the rear end of the store until an extra cage could be procured.
But alas for Teddy Roosevelt! The very first night he was ignominiously whipped by the spiteful occupant of the cage, who resented having these country visitors thrust into his house without his leave. Poor Teddy died the next day. Admiral Dewey stood the battle better than his unfortunate friend, but he too was pecked at in a way so threatening that the groceryman concluded it would be wise to get rid of him immediately. Because the admiral had not defended himself better from his pet's attack, the grocer regarded him with some disgust.
"Being as there was two of you and only one of the sparrow, 'pears as if you hadn't much grit," he said. "I would better take your high-soundin' name away from you and call you something else besides Dewey, if you can't fight."
For all the man's censure, the redbird knew that if Teddy Roosevelt had killed the sparrow instead of being killed by it, the grocer would have been much more grieved at the loss, for he had heard him say the sparrow was like one of his family. The man forgot that the result might have been different if the redbirds had been older.
Having decided to dispose of the admiral, the grocer, who had an errand in the city the next day, carried the bird with him. He knew of a probable customer for it in a gentleman named Morris, who had been advertising in the papers for a redbird. He soon found the street and number where was located the gentleman's office, at which the advertisement was to be answered, and displayed the admiral.
"Your bird looks kind of ragged, as though he hadn't been treated well," said Mr. Morris, as he examined the scarlet plumage. "My boy wants a redbird, and I promised him one if he would get the highest grade in arithmetic in his class this term and he did it, so of course I must keep my word. What d'ye ask for this bird?"
"He'd be cheap at five dollars," answered the groceryman. "A nice redbird is hard to get, and they're powerful nice singers, but bein' as it's for your boy that has earned it by studying his lessons so good—I always like a boy that is fond of his books—you can have it for two dollars and a quarter."
As he had paid but five cents for it this advance in price would be a fine business speculation. After a little further talk, Mr. Morris counted out the money, and the man went back to his home doubtless wishing he had a hundred more redbirds to sell at the same handsome profit. After he had gone, Mr. Morris went to a box hanging against the wall, and turning a handle began talking to the box as if it were a human being. Though it was just a plain wooden box, the admiral said there was something mysterious about it, for Mr. Morris actually seemed to be carrying on a conversation with it, though the bird could not hear what the box answered, but he felt sure it talked back.
Mr. Morris' residence was a fine stone house with wide porches and sunny bay windows, over which were trained graceful creeping vines. A boy of about eleven years of age and a very pretty lady stood arm in arm on the broad steps leading up to the front entrance that evening when Mr. Morris and the admiral arrived. They were Johnny Morris and his mother, who had already learned that Mr. Morris had bought the bird and would bring it when he came to dinner. The admiral discovered the next day that Mrs. Morris owned a box like the one at the office, into which she talked, and that it was called a telephone. He often mentioned this mysterious box as one of the most remarkable things he saw during his stay among men.
Johnny Morris capered and danced and jumped so hard in the exuberance of his joy at receiving the redbird that all the way to the sitting room his mother was coaxing him to be quiet.
"Don't act so foolishly," she begged; but he only capered and kicked up his heels still harder. When the cage was placed on a stand in the bay window he pranced around it, whistled and chirped, threw the bottom of the cage floor full of seed and splashed the water about so recklessly in his attempts to be friendly as nearly to frighten the poor admiral to pieces.
"Now, Johnny, don't," pleaded his mother.
"Johnny, don't do that," commanded his father every few minutes.
It was a constant "Don't, Johnny, do this" and "Don't, Johnny, do that," until, the admiral said, the conversation was so mixed up with "Don't-Johnny's" as made it almost unintelligible. Of course these expostulations made not a bit of impression on Johnny Morris. To be sure, he might stop for the moment, but the next second he was doing something else which brought a fresh round of "Don't-Johnny's" from each parent.
He was such a generous, affectionate, pretty boy, with his rosy cheeks and wavy yellow hair, it was a great pity that he should keep a whole household in a state of constant commotion by his habit of not promptly minding when he was spoken to. His father and mother were very indulgent to him, and the admiral believed he had every kind of a toy known to the boy world. He also had a machine to ride on, which they called a "wheel." On this he went out occasionally, although Mrs. Morris declared she never felt at ease a minute while he was gone, because he never came back at the hour he promised he would. Besides this, he had a dear little pony, named Jock, on whose back he often cantered about the big park. Frequently from the bay window the admiral watched him as he mounted Jock and rode away, while his mother stood on the house step and called after him as long as he was in sight: "Don't ride in that reckless way, Johnny; you'll tumble off," or "Don't, Johnny; the pony will throw you," at which Johnny would laugh and make the pony go faster.
Among the boy's other possessions was a parrot, which the admiral asserted was the smartest bird in the world. She was a highly educated parrot, and much time had been spent on her training, and she was usually very willing to show off to company all her various accomplishments. Occasionally she assumed an air of offended dignity when asked to display her talents, and no amount of threats or coaxing could change her purpose. At such times she impatiently flapped her wings and croaked "No, no" in her harshest tones.
Her favorite retreat when her temper was ruffled was on the back of an armchair, where she would sit with her bill in the air and her head cocked disdainfully on one side, pretending not to hear or see any one. In her affable moods, however, no one could be more complaisant and entertaining than Bessie.
Her name was an uncommon one for a parrot. Strangers usually accosted her as Polly, at which mistake she was greatly displeased.
"No, no—not Polly; call me Bessie," she would scream, so angrily that it always made people laugh, which angered her still more.
Bessie could sing a verse of an old-time song, at least she thought she could. The admiral said nothing could have induced him to sing for company if his voice had been as harsh and cracked as hers, but he said it was a fact that everybody seemed to enjoy her noise more than his music; that when she took up her position on top of the piano to sing, they crowded around and called her "nice Bessie," "nice lady," and praised her, and gave her bits of sugar, as if she were the finest singer in the world. The admiral thought they showed very poor taste, for her music was simply horrid and couldn't compare with the warblings of the woods birds. It is well, however, to make allowance for the admiral's opinion, for musicians are proverbially jealous of each other.
The song the parrot sang was "Listen to the Mocking Bird," to which Mrs. Morris played a little gliding accompaniment on the piano. Great hand-clappings always followed the performance. These Bessie accepted with an air of studied indifference. But if for the purpose of teasing her they did not applaud her performance, she shrilly screamed: "Bessie's a good bird, a good bird I tell you," raising her voice higher and higher at each repetition.
Then she would wait a moment for some one to assure her that she was indeed a very good bird, quite the smartest bird that ever breathed. But if these soothing assurances were not quickly forthcoming, she would retire to the back of her favorite chair and, elevating her bill to show her disdain, sulk in silence.
"Did she like you?" I asked the admiral one day when he was telling us about her funny tricks.
"No, she was a little bit jealous of me; yet she was not unfriendly, except when Johnny or some other member of the family paid me attention. She always wanted to be the center of attraction herself, which showed she was a vain creature. No matter how silent she had been or how firmly she might have refused to talk only the minute before, if Johnny came to my cage and called, 'Hello, Admiral! you're a daisy,' Bessie immediately struck up such a chattering as would almost deafen one.
"'Johnny dear, open my cage. I want to take a walk,' she would say in her most coaxing manner. If she happened to be already out of her cage and walking about the room, she endeavored to get him to leave me by saying: 'Here, Johnny, boy, put me on your finger. Kiss poor Bessie—p-o-o-r Bessie.'
"Mrs. Morris used to laugh at these schemes of the parrot to attract notice, and said Bessie reminded her of some people she had met who always wanted to monopolize the conversation."
"Monopolize?" said I. "That's a large word. I don't know the meaning of it."
"Well, I think it means getting the most of anything and crowding other people out," replied the admiral; "and it was true in Bessie's case, for she always wanted the most attention. A gentleman friend of the Morrises had this habit too. He had been a general in a war that took place in the South a good many years ago, and was often entertained at dinner at the Morrises'. Though he was a well-informed, genial man, he was almost rude in making himself heard, so determined was he that people should listen to his jokes and stories, which were generally something about himself. At a large tableful of guests, General Peterson's voice was always heard above that of every one else. He seemed to compel the rest of the company to listen. His big voice drowned the others out. Though Mr. and Mrs. Morris liked him very much, when they were alone they often ridiculed this disagreeable habit.
"'Bessie and General Peterson are just alike,' Mrs. Morris used to say jokingly, when the parrot pushed herself into notice by her loud jabbering. 'Neither of them can endure to have any one else receive attention when they are present.'
"Although Bessie had not a pony to ride on as Johnny had, she took a great many jaunts around the parlors on the cat's back. This cat was a great pet in the house. A very striking-looking cat he was too. He was jet black with a flat face and long white whiskers. Johnny always said he resembled an old colored man who used to be their coachman, and he wondered if they were any relation to each other.
"When Bessie was out of her cage the cat did not often visit the parlor, because he was afraid of her. He always appeared to be much relieved when she did not notice him. If she had decided to take a ride, however, he never was quick enough to get away from her. With a shrill laugh of triumph she would fly upon his back, and holding on by digging her claws into his fur, around and around the room they would go, the poor cat feeling so completely disgraced that he dragged his body lower and lower at every step, until his legs could scarcely be seen at all.
"Bessie enjoyed it greatly. She seemed to take a wicked satisfaction in making poor Jett ridiculous, and laughed and chuckled and scolded till the cat looked as if he were ready to drop from very shame. Urging him on with, 'Get up, get up, you lazy thing,' she refused to be shaken off till his body was actually dragging on the floor, a sign of his complete humiliation. As soon as he threw off his unwelcome burden, Jett always ran away to hide. With his tail slinking, his ears drooping, and crawling rather than walking, he was the most abject-looking, miserable cat in existence. Bessie meanwhile flirted herself saucily and chuckled with the conscious air of having done a very smart thing."
THE PARROT AT A PARTY
A parrot there I saw, with gaudy pride Of painted plumes, that hopped from side to side.
"How did you happen to get away from the Morrises?" asked my brother.
The red-bird laughed heartily, as if the recollection were exceedingly amusing.
"Well," said he, "it all came about through Johnny's having a tea party. For months he had been coaxing and begging his mother to invite his schoolfellows to the house and entertain them with games and plays and music, ending with a fine supper. Early in the spring when he began talking of it, it was too cold, his mother said. Then after a while it was too rainy, or too warm, or they were house-cleaning, or something, and so she kept putting him off from one time to another, hoping by deferring it to make him forget it. The Morrises always spent the month of August at their seaside cottage, and the night before they left home, Johnny tried to get Mrs. Morris to promise that he might have the party the very first thing on their return.
"'I'll think about it, my dear,' she answered.
"'Whenever you say you'll think about it then I'm pretty sure not to get what I want,' sighed Johnny."
"His mother seemed to be much amused at this statement. 'Oh, no, my son, it doesn't always turn out that way; but you know it wouldn't do for me to promise to have it just as soon as we get back,' she objected. 'I am always very busy just at our return. It might be very inconvenient for me to prepare for a children's evening at that time; but when I am ready I shall take pleasure in getting up a nice party for you sometime in the autumn.'
"This sounded well, but it was not definite enough to suit Johnny. However he said no more at that time. While the family were gone Bessie and I had the back porch to ourselves, and no one being there except the housemaid to whom she could display her superiority over me, she grew to be quite agreeable. For some time before the Morrises had bought her, which was years and years before, long before Johnny was born, she had lived in a taxidermist's shop. The owner of the shop was also a bird dealer in a small way. On account of her accomplishments he had held her at a price that few were willing or able to pay, and so she had been forced to stay with him a long time. She much preferred being owned by a refined family to living in a dingy store, for she was a bird of luxurious tastes, she said.
"I too had never ceased being glad that the grocer had sold me to the Morrises, for I was sure that life would not have been so comfortable for me in the back part of a country store, inhaling the odors from fish barrels and molasses kegs, and with the dreary outlook afforded by shelves full of canned vegetables and cracker boxes. The only point in favor of a life at the grocery was that I would have been nearer to the woods; but if I could not be in the woods, of what avail was that? The Morrises were people of elegance and refinement, and their home expressed their culture. I had made a pleasant exchange, and I felt it was wise to be as contented as possible.
"August slowly passed, and Johnny came back. The big house that had been so quiet for four weeks was suddenly wakened as from a sleep. His noisy, joyous voice rang through the halls, and from cellar to garret.
"'Bless the b'y! he's that plazed to git back, it does one's sowl good to hear him,' said the housemaid.
"Mrs. Morris was so busy for the first day or two that she saw little of Johnny. He was sent on several errands, and took his own time in returning, but every one had too much to do to inquire what kept him so long.
"'Can't I shine up Bessie's and the admiral's cages?' he asked his mother after dinner the second day.
"Mrs. Morris was delighted with her son's thoughtfulness. 'Why, Johnny,' she said, 'I'll be so glad to have you do it.'
"So master Johnny wiped and dusted our cages till we felt very clean, although I own I did not enjoy having him work about me with his brush and dust cloth. Just as he had finished and put us back in our places the doorbell sounded, and presently we heard children's voices in the hall asking the maid if Johnny Morris was at home.
"'It is some one to see you,' said Mrs. Morris. But Johnny did not reply. He was nowhere to be seen. At the first sound he had quietly slipped out of the room and I could now see him hiding behind the curtains in the library. Soon Sarah came ushering three or four little barefooted children into the parlor.
"'They've come to Johnny's party, ma'am,' she explained to Mrs. Morris, who looked up from her work as the children entered.
"'How do you do, my dears?' said Mrs. Morris sweetly, though I could see she was greatly surprised. 'I believe I don't know your names, so you will have to introduce yourselves.'
"The children looked bashful, and made no reply.
"'You are not Johnny Morris' schoolmates, are you?' she questioned.
"'No, ma'am,' answered the tallest girl, as she gazed about the handsome room with wide-open eyes, I could see that she was not accustomed to such beautiful things.
"Where did you get acquainted with him, then?' went on Mrs. Morris kindly.
"'We hain't acquainted at all, ma'am; but he seed us on the street this morning, and said for us to come to his party to-day. He thought as how maybe they'd be ice-cream to eat, and he told us where he lived, and so we are here.'
"'Well, we must try to make you have a pleasant time,' she replied. 'Sarah, please call Johnny and tell him his guests have arrived.'
"But Sarah had been answering a second peal of the bell, and now appeared with a very queer smile on her face at the head of a line of three girls and a small boy, whom she introduced by saying:
"'A few more children, ma'am, who have come to take tea with master Johnny.'
"'Why, really,' exclaimed Mrs. Morris, in a sort of flutter, as she helped Sarah to seat the new arrivals. 'The house is hardly in order for company.'
"The children appeared quite embarrassed, and ranged themselves silently and sedately on the chairs to which they had been directed.
"'Dear me, Sarah, what a predicament to be in! Where do you suppose Johnny scraped up all these youngsters? I don't know what I ought to do to him for playing me this trick.' Mrs. Morris said this to the maid as they came to my side of the room. 'Think of all the work to be done, and which will have to be stopped for the day—the house all upside down—no chance for preparations for an extra supper for his company. And that big girl bespoke ice-cream as soon as she entered.' And then Mrs. Morris and Sarah turned into the recess of the bay window and laughed softly. Her vexation seemed to pass away in a few minutes, for she added, 'We must make the best of it, since they are here, and let everything else go. But there's the bell; I expect it's another batch of Johnny's friends.'
"And so it proved, for these were old acquaintances, eight or ten of his schoolmates. Little misses dressed in fine style, in dainty ruffled frocks and necklaces and bright hair-ribbons, tripped gracefully in and advanced to meet Mrs. Morris, quite like grown ladies in their manners. Behind them came several boys, spick and span in fresh white linen waists and silk neckties and well-fitting shoes.
"'Ah! here are Frances and Naomi and Justice and Karl and Mary Ethel and Philip and Jessica and all the rest,' said Mrs. Morris, giving them each a hand of welcome as they gathered about her in a pretty group. 'Will you make yourselves quite at home and help me to entertain these other visitors till Johnny comes in? I don't know what keeps him so long. If you'll excuse me I'll go and look for him. There are the pictures in the portfolio that you might like to show to these little girls. And there's the admiral, our redbird, and Bessie, the parrot. Maybe they would like to look at them.'
"The two girls whom she had designated as Jessica and Frances looked at the strange children a minute but made no movement to carry out Mrs. Morris' wishes. Instead they drew a little apart and began to talk to each other. Mary Ethel, a round-faced girl who giggled a great deal behind her fan, crossed over to where sat the large girl who had mentioned the ice-cream, and started a conversation by remarking that it was a warm day. The girl made no audible answer, only nodded.
"'Do you like to go to school?' inquired Mary Ethel.
"The girl again nodded. There was a little pause. Mary Ethel, who was bent on carrying out Mrs. Morris' suggestion to help her entertain them, began again on the weather. I suppose she couldn't think of anything new to say, so she observed:
"'It's a nice warm day for the first of September, don't you think?'
"The girl's head once more wagged up and down in assent, but not a word did she utter. At this a subdued titter came from Frances and Jessica. Mary Ethel's face grew red and she frowned at them.
"Just at this moment in ran Johnny. He had put on his best suit. His yellow hair was freshly brushed and his face was wreathed in smiles. He reminded one of a dancing sunbeam. It was wonderful to see how quickly he set the social wheel moving in the parlor. In three minutes he had them all acquainted and talking to each other. At one side I noticed Naomi and Jessica who were trying to make the parrot talk for the big girl. Mary Ethel was turning the crank of a small music box, around which were clustered a group of the stranger children. On a sofa three or four others had the portfolio of pictures spread out. Others came to my cage coaxing me to whistle for them, while Johnny capered hither and thither and joked and had more funny things to say than anybody in the room. When he let Bessie out of her cage and put her on the piano to sing the 'Mocking Bird,' the joy of the visitors knew no bounds.
"'Have you a parrot, Jeannette?' he asked one of the little barefooted girls, whose dancing black eyes showed how much she enjoyed Bessie's performance.
"'No, but I have two lovely cats.' She made the announcement as if very proud of their ownership.
"'I have a cat too. He dresses in black and wears long white whiskers, and looks just like a respectable old colored man.' This description amused the children very much.
"'What's your cat's name?' they shouted.
"'Jett. What do you call your cats, Jeannette?'
"'The big one is Boule de Neige and the little one is Jaune Jaquette.'
"'What queer names!' exclaimed Mary Ethel. 'How did you happen to select such names for them?'
"'Oh, miss, because the names do suit them so well.'
"'They don't sound like any cats' names that ever I heard. I don't understand how they would suit.' Mary Ethel looked perplexed.
"'Why, miss, on account of the color of those cats, to be sure,' said Jeannette in surprise.
"'Pooh!' explained Johnny, 'that's easy. Boule de neige is the French for snowball, and jaune means yellow, so jaune jaquette means yellow jacket. I learned that in our French reader. I expect one of the cats is all white and the other is a yellow one. Is that it, Jeannette?'
"'Yes, sir,' said the French child, and she tipped him a polite little bow that was very pretty indeed.
"'Boule de Neige! what a funny name. I haven't named our white kitten yet. I believe I'll call it Boule de Neige for a change,' said Karl.
"Then Jett was brought in and Bessie pounced upon him for a ride, she chuckling and singing and looking from side to side with proud satisfaction, knowing she was being observed by everybody. The children almost screamed with delight at this performance.
"'Now, Bessie,' said Johnny, as the poor cat at last shook her off and slank away. 'You did that beautifully, and you deserve something to eat. I am going to let you have some bread and milk right here in the parlor, and the company can see how nicely you can feed yourself with a spoon.'
"'All right,' croaked the parrot. Sarah brought in a saucer in which was a little bread moistened with milk, and two spoons with it. A cloth was spread over one corner of the table and Bessie crawled up to the top of a chair which had been placed with its back close to the table. This brought the bird almost in line with the saucer. Johnny took his seat beside her and broke the bread into tiny pieces with his spoon, shoving the particles into the other spoon as fast as Bessie disposed of them. She gravely clasped her spoon with one claw and brought it to her mouth quite dextrously and ate the contents with evident relish, though it was plain that she enjoyed being admired for being able to do it really more than she enjoyed the bread. Once in a while her grasp was uncertain and the food was spilled on her breast feathers or fell to the floor. At this she scolded herself roundly and seemed quite ashamed.
"'One of these days, when I get time, I am going to train her to use a napkin when she eats,' said Johnny.
"'She'll be a perfectly accomplished lady then,' added Mary Ethel.
"By this time some of the stranger children had left the table and had come over to my cage to look at me.
"'The admiral's an awful purty feller,' said one.
"'Wouldn't his tail be sweet on a Sunday hat?' suggested another.
"'Oh, I choose his wings for my hat,' exclaimed a third.
"'I choose his head and breast for mine,' said the first one who had spoken. 'And Naomi chooses his whole body for her hat, I expect,' she added as Naomi joined them.
"'No,' said Naomi, 'we don't wear birds any more in our family. My sister and I used to have our hats trimmed with them, but we've quit. I had a lovely one on my blue velvet hat last year. It was a beautiful hat," and she smiled at the recollection. 'But we've quit now,' she added gravely.
"'Why?' asked the other girls in a breath.
"'Oh, because my mother thinks it is wrong to wear them. Little boy, little boy, be careful or you'll let the bird out,' she called hastily.
"But the warning was too late. While the girls had been talking the small boy who was with them had been entertaining himself by slightly opening my cage door and letting it spring back to its fastening. Suddenly he was seized with fright at discovering that it had stuck while half-way back, and refused to come together.
"Oh, dear!' he called. 'He's out.'
"'Mercy on us! Oh, dear!' screamed the girls as I made a dash through the opening, and flew to the top of a picture frame. 'Johnny, Johnny, your redbird's out,' they called.
"All was confusion in an instant. Boys and girls ran hither and thither, tumbling over each other, and over the chairs and stools, and all talking and screaming at once.
"'Bring a broom or a flagpole, Johnny,' called Philip. 'I'll shoo him down for you while you stand underneath and catch him.'
"'Shoo, shoo!' said Jeannette, catching her dress skirt with both hands and waving it back and forth rapidly. In a minute all the girls were waving their dress skirts at me and saying 'shoo.'
"'Oh, my pretty Admiral Dewey, my dear old admiral,' wailed Johnny, almost in tears.
"I didn't wait for the broom or the flagpole to help me from the picture frame. I balanced myself steadily and then I flew out of the open window and away into the world, without saying good-bye to anybody. I suppose they all crowded to the window to look after me as I disappeared, for the last thing I heard was Mrs. Morris' voice saying, 'Don't, Johnny; you'll fall out if you lean over so far. Papa will get you another bird. Don't grieve so hard. Don't, Johnny.'"
"Did you ever see Johnny afterward?" we asked the redbird.
"Yes, once I saw him cantering along slowly on Jock. He could not go very fast because he was holding a great bunch of red and pink roses in one hand. His cheeks were as pink as the flowers and his yellow hair curled up under the edge of his cap the same as it used to. I knew him in a minute. A great many carriages were on the street trimmed in flags and flowers. Little flags were fastened to the horses' harness. Jock had one on each side of his head, which made him look very pretty. Children were running about carrying wreaths. On a corner of the street where a band was playing some men were holding banners. I heard some one say it was Decoration Day, and that everybody strewed flowers on the graves in the big cemetery that day. I thought it was a very beautiful custom. Through all the buzz and confusion I kept an eye on Johnny. He didn't seem to be riding anywhere in particular, but was just looking around for the fun of the thing. Presently he drew up to the sidewalk where a little ragged boy was leaning up against a tree. He had a wistful look, as if he would like to be taking part.
"'Hello!' said Johnny, as he reined Jock in. 'Aren't you going to help to decorate?'
"'Naw—ain't got any posies, I tell you.' The boy said this in a sullen tone.
"'Here, take these. I brought you a big bunch so you could divide 'em with some of your friends. There's enough for all of you boys to have a few flowers to take to the cemetery.' Johnny extended the roses with a smile as he spoke.
"The boy grabbed them eagerly. 'My! You're a jolly one, I'll say that for you,' he said heartily by way of thanks, then he ran off with a whoop.
"I saw from this action that Johnny was the same generous, kind-hearted boy he used to be, and I felt proud to have had the honor of his acquaintance."
A WINTER IN THE SOUTH
I was wrong about the Phoebe bird; Two songs it has, and both of them I've heard; I did not know those strains of joy and sorrow Came from one throat.
As the season advanced our May songs became less melodious until finally our music was merely a metallic but pleasant, "chink, chink," and we knew we would soon be putting on our new fall attire, as toward the close of the summer our family exchange their pretty black-and-white suits, so much admired, for a becoming yellowish-brown one. The different flocks were also now arranging for their regular winter trip to the sunny Southland, where their winters were spent.
I was very glad to know that we bobolinks were to travel only in the daytime, as that would afford us younger ones a better opportunity to see the country. The return trip to the North is always made by night. A great many people have wondered why we do this, and those who are interested in our habits have tried to find out; but it is a secret the birds have never yet divulged, and probably never will.
The blue jays were going to remain behind, for the winters which we dreaded so much had no terrors for them. Sometimes when we were preening our feathers under the radiant skies near the Southern gulf, I thought of our old neighbors the jays, and fancied them in their bleak Northern home flitting about in the tops of the leafless trees, swayed by the icy winds from the upper lakes, and with perhaps but little to eat. I would not have exchanged places with them for the world. But my older comrades assured me the jays were not in need of my sympathy or pity. They liked the invigorating cold and chattered merrily in the desolate boughs and enjoyed many a nice meal from under the melting snow. The crimson dogwood berries, standing out like rosettes of coral, at which they liked to peck, also furnished them an aesthetic and sumptuous feast. Much more to be dreaded than the winter's cold was the cruel sportsman, said my comrades.
The day of our departure came. The concourse of birds setting out on their annual journeys was immense, and oh, what joy it was to soar aloft on buoyant pinion high up in the blue sky, over housetops and tops of trees, skimming along above rushing waters or tranquil streams in quiet meadows. Mere existence was a keen delight. The sense of freedom, of lightness, of airiness, was gloriously exhilarating, a delicious sensation known only to the feathered tribes of all God's creation.
Our trip took us across some densely wooded mountains, where we rested for a time. A thick undergrowth of young saplings prevented any roads, and only occasional narrow footpaths showed that people sometimes passed that way.
The mountain was grand in its loneliness; but doubtless was a desolate spot to the settlers, whose cabins were scattered at long distances from each other in the depths of the wood. I could imagine how cut off from the whole world the women and children in these cabins would feel, for it is natural for human beings to love society. The perpetual stillness must have been hard to bear when months sometimes passed away, especially in the winter season, without their getting a glimpse of other human faces.
The mountains were full of wildcats too, which made their situation worse, as these fierce animals were frequently known to attack men as savagely as wolves do. One day while we were there two travelers camped under the tree where our family was roosting. They had evidently had a hard time making their way through the tangled undergrowth, for as one of the men flung himself down on the ground and stretched himself out at full length, he exclaimed peevishly:
"Well, I don't want any more such experiences. I'm dead tired; my face is all scratched with the thorns and bushes; and I haven't seen a newspaper for a week. If the railroad company needs any more work of this kind done, they must get somebody else."
"Fiddle-dee-dee! You mustn't be so easily discouraged," answered the other young man, who had already set to work scraping up dry chips and pieces of bark to make a fire, "Think of these poor mountaineers who stay here all their lives. Your little tramp of a few days is nothing to what they do all the time and never think of complaining. The half of them are too poor to own a mule. They eat hog and hominy the year around, and are thankful to get it. Their clothes are fearfully and wonderfully made, but for all that they don't give up and think life isn't worth living."
As the two young fellows talked on in this strain I named them Growler and Cheery, because the one was so determined to look on the dark side, while the other took a cheerful view of everything. Growler continued to lounge on the ground, looking with careless interest at Cheery, who was preparing dinner.
The dinner was in a small tin box which he took from his coat pocket. Opening it he disclosed some eatables very compactly put in. He took out several articles and set them on the ground in front of him. In the box was a bottle stoutly corked containing a dark liquid, some of which he poured into a flat tin cup which formed a part of the lid of the box. This he set over the fire, which by this time was snapping cheerily.
"Come," he said. "Here's a lunch fit for a king. Get up and have your share. Maybe when your stomach is warmed up with a few ham and mustard sandwiches, some cheese and coffee, you'll be in better spirits. These crackers are good eating too."
"Fit for a king, eh? Mighty poor kind of a king, I should say," growled Growler sarcastically; but he rose and flicked the leaves and twigs from his clothing before he helped himself to the coffee which was now hot.
"One cup for two people is just one too few," laughed Cheery when it came his turn to take some. "My! but it tastes good. There's nothing like the open air to give one an appetite."
"I don't like coffee without cream," objected Growler, chewing moodily at his cracker.
"Well, we'll get to Girard by to-night, and then possibly we will get a good supper."
While they were lunching I had observed another traveler slowly approaching through the underbrush. Over one shoulder was slung a leather strap in which were a few books. He carried a rifle, and from his coat pocket bulged a small package. As he drew nearer the sound of his footsteps startled Growler who nervously upset his coffee over his shirt front.
"What d'ye suppose he is?" he asked of Cheery as the stranger approached.
"I judge he's a parson, from the cut of his clothes," observed Cheery. Then as the new-comer advanced he called: "Hello, friend! Who'd 'a thought of meeting company this far back in these mountains?"
"This is only about eight miles from the town where I live," answered the gentleman, who now seated himself near them with his back against a tree, "I know the paths through here fairly well, for I come this way several times through the summer. But this will be my last trip for the season, and I'm giving a little more time to it on that account. I've taken it somewhat leisurely to-day."
He was a delicate-looking, middle-aged man, with a mild voice and a kind face.
"You're a drummer for a publishing house, I take it?" said Growler, nodding toward the books in the strap. "I've just been wondering where you'd find any buyers in these infernal woods."
The gentleman laughed. "No," said he, "this is my regular route; but I'm not a commercial traveler in any sense. I'm a pastor at a town near here, and I go out to these mountain families to hold services every few weeks."
"You don't mean you foot it through these bushes and among these wildcats to preach to the mountaineers!" exclaimed Growler in astonishment.
"Certainly I do. These poor people would never hear the sound of the gospel if some one did not take it to them. They have souls to be saved, my friend. I feel it is my duty to carry the word to them. As for the wildcats," he continued, smiling, "I have my rifle. Besides the government offers a small bounty for every wildcat."
"Oh, yes, I see. You combine business with pleasure and have your wildcat bounty to pay expenses as you go along—or else keep it for pin-money," and Growler laughed good-humoredly at his own fun.
"You're the parson from St. Thomas, I judge," said Cheery.
The gentleman bowed, and said he was the pastor of that little church.
"I've heard of your mission work, and I understand you've done a great deal of good among the mountain whites."
"How many churches have you in these mountains?" interrupted Growler.
"I have but the one church organization, for outside through the mountains there are no churches—no buildings, no organizations. People ten and fifteen miles apart can't very well have churches. I visit the families. I have three on this mountain side. I am well repaid for all the sacrifice of comfort I make, in knowing how glad they are to have me come. To many of them I am the connecting link with the rest of mankind. Ah! the world knows nothing of the privations and sorrows and ignorance of many of these poor creatures! Through the winter I am obliged to stop my visitations, but I generally leave a few books and papers for those who can read, and pictures for the children."
"Well, parson, I didn't know there was enough goodness in any man in the United States to make him willing to tramp right into the wildest part of the Allegheny. Mountains to preach the gospel to half a dozen poor people!" exclaimed Growler, still more astonished.
"My friend," responded the gentleman earnestly, "the world is full of Christian men and women who are trying to help others."
Just then my mother said to me, "When I hear the beautiful words that minister speaks and see what he is doing, then indeed do I believe that human beings have hearts."
As we resumed our journey I wondered if Growler would profit by the sunshiny example of Cheery and the devotion of the parson of St. Thomas.
Later in our travels we came upon some old acquaintances. Our stopping-place was near an ancient house on a mountain side. The outlook was the grandest I had ever seen, and though I have traveled much since then I have never found anything to exceed it in beauty. A glistening river wound its way in a big loop at the foot of the mountain, and beyond it lay stretched out a busy city.
A good many years before a battle had been fought on these heights, which people still remembered and talked about. I heard them speak of it as the "Battle above the clouds." There was still a part of a cannon wagon in the yard which visitors came to see and examined with much interest. They also often requested the landlady to let them look at the walls of an old stone dairy adjoining the house, because the soldiers had carved their names there.
To me it seemed strange that the guests would sit for hours on the long gallery of this hotel, and go over and over the incidents of the battle, telling where this regiment stood, or where that officer fell, as if war and the taking of life were the most pleasant rather than the most distressful subjects in the world. In the distance was a mammoth field of graves, miles of graves, beautifully kept mounds under which lay the dead heroes of that sad time.
The days up here were beautiful, but it was at night that this was a scene of surpassing loveliness. Far below the lights of the city glowed like spangles in the darkness. Above us was the star-encrusted sky. It was like being suspended between a floor and a ceiling of glittering jewels.
On this plateau grew the biggest cherry trees I ever saw, and they bore the biggest and sweetest cherries, though I could not taste any at that time, as the season was past. I heard the landlady complaining one day to some of her guests that the rascally birds had hardly left her a cherry to put up.
"The saucy little thieves! they must have eaten bushels of the finest fruit," she said.
"And didn't you get any?" inquired a childish voice. There was something familiar in the voice and I flew to the porch railing to see who it was. And who should it be but dear little Marion. And there too was her aunty, Miss Dorothy, and the professor, and in the parlor I caught a glimpse of Miss Katie and the colonel. They were having a pleasant vacation together.
Marion looked inquiringly into the landlady's face. No doubt she was thinking the mountain birds were very greedy to eat up all the cherries and not leave one for the poor woman to can.
"Our birds always eat some of our cherries too," she said, "but they always leave us plenty."
"There were bushels left on our trees," observed the landlady's daughter. "We had all we wanted, mother. We couldn't possibly have used the rest if the birds had not eaten them. We had a cellar full of canned cherries left over from the year before, you remember, and that is the way it is nearly every year."
"Yes, yes, I know," answered her mother impatiently; "but for all that I don't believe in letting the birds have everything."
"I never begrudge a bird what it eats," commented the professor. "Of course you can discourage the birds, drive them off, break up their nests, starve them out, and have a crop of caterpillars instead of cherries. But, beg pardon, madam, maybe you don't object to caterpillars," and he bowed low to the landlady.
The laugh was against her and I was glad of it, for I didn't consider it either kind or polite to call us "saucy little thieves."
We were amused one morning when, flying over a piece of pretty country, we saw a lady moving rapidly along on the red sandy path below. She seemed to be neither exactly riding nor walking, as she was not on foot nor had she a horse. On closer inspection it was seen that she was propelling a strange-looking vehicle. Two of her carriage wheels were gone, and between the remaining two the lady was perched. At sight of it I was immediately reminded of the queer thing that Johnny Morris rode which the admiral had described to us and called a "wheel." I felt sure that this was the same kind of a machine. The lady looked neither to the right nor to the left, but her glance was fixed intently on the road before her.
Farther along another lady leaned against the fence awaiting her approach. As she bowled along the friend asked enthusiastically: "Is it not splendid?"
The rider called back to her: "It is grand! It is almost as if I were flying. I know now how a bird feels."
Think of comparing the sensation produced by moving that heavy iron machine, with the rider but three feet from the ground, to the exhilaration felt by a bird spurning the earth and soaring on delicate wing through the fields of heaven! It was truly laughable!
Our amusement was cut short, however, when we noticed that the lady's hat was decorated with a dead dove.
"Can we never get away from this millinery exhibition of death?" I exclaimed in horror.
"No," said my mother sorrowfully. "The god, Fashion, I told you of has his slaves all over the land. We will find them wherever we go, north, south, east, and west. No town is too small, no neighborhood too remote, but there will be found women ready to carry out his cruel laws."
Had we not been haunted by this vision of death which we were constantly meeting wherever women were congregated, we might have been happy in the fair land of rose blossoms and magnolias where we now sojourned. The air was soft and balmy, and the atmosphere filled us with a serene, restful languor quite new to those who had been accustomed to the brisker habits of a colder clime. Besides the birds there were many human visitors from the North spending the winter months here. Some sought this warmer climate for their health, others for pleasure, and these also soon fell into the easy-going, happy-go-lucky ways induced by the sluggish climate.
Among the birds the waxwings most readily acquired this delightful Southern habit of taking life easy. In fact the waxwings are inclined to be lazy, except when they are nesting; they are the most deliberate creatures one can find, but very foppish and neat in their dress. Never will you find a particle of dust on their silky plumage, and the pretty red dots on their wings and tails look always as bright as if kept in a bandbox. They have, indeed, just reason to be proud of themselves, for they are very beautiful.
Hunters by scores were after them with bag and gun mercilessly killing them for the New York millinery houses. The slaughter was terrible, and made more easy for the hunters by reason of the poor birds flocking together so closely in such large numbers when they alighted in circles as is their habit. As they came down in dense droves to get their food, the red dots on their wing tips almost overlapping those of their fellows, dozens were slain by a single shot. They were very fond of the berries of the cedar trees, and after the other foods were gone they hovered there in great numbers. Here too, the hunters followed them and made awful havoc in their ranks. One man made the cruel boast that the winter previous he had killed one thousand cedar-birds for hat trimmings.
Many of our family had located for a time near the coast, but here too, on these sunny plains, the death messengers followed us and slew us by the thousands.
We learned that one bird man handled thirty thousand bird skins that season. Another firm shipped seventy thousand to the city, and still the market called for more and yet more. The appetite of the god could not be appeased.
I am sure this account of the loss of bird life must have seemed appalling to my mother, for I heard her moan sadly when it was talked about.
It was during my stay in the Southern islands that I first saw the white egret, whose beautiful sweeping plumes, like the silken train of a court lady, have so long been the spoils of woman, that the bird is almost extinct. As these magnificent feathers appear upon the bird only through the mating and nesting season, the cruelty of the act is still more dastardly. The attachment of the parent birds for their young is very beautiful to witness, yet this devotion, which should be their safeguard, is seized upon for their destruction, for so great is the instinct of protecting love they refuse to leave their young when danger is near, and are absolutely indifferent to their own safety.
Never shall I forget one sad incident which occurred while I was there. Overhanging the water was an ancestral nest belonging to a family of egrets which had occupied it for some seasons. Unlike the American human species, in whom local attachment is not largely developed, and who take a new house every moving day, the egret repairs and fixes over the old house year after year, putting in a new brace there, adding another stick here, to make it firm enough to bear the weight of the mother and the three young birds which always comprise the brood.
The three pale-blue eggs in this nest had been duly hatched, and the fond mother was now brooding over her darlings with every demonstration of maternal affection. She was a beautiful creature with her graceful movement, her train of plumes, and her long neck gracefully curved.
The quick sharp boom, boom of the guns had been echoing through the swamp for some time, and the men were now coming nearer. The efforts of the poor mother to shield her babies were piteous, but the hunters did not want them. Their scant plumage is worthless for millinery purposes. Possibly the mother might have escaped had she been willing to leave her dear ones; but she would not desert them, and was shot in the breast as the reward of her devotion. The nestlings were left to starve.
Would you think the woman who wore that bunch of feathers on her bonnet could take much pleasure in it?
Like a long-caged bird Thou beat'st thy bars with broken wing And flutterest, feebly echoing The far-off music thou hast heard, —Arthur Eaton.
This was my last day of liberty for many, many months. The very next evening I was stunned by a stone thrown by a small boy who accompanied a hunter. Picking me up he ran toward his father, who was coming back from the neighboring swamp with his loaded gamebag.
"This bird isn't dead," said the boy, holding me up to view, "and I'm going to put it in a cage and train it to talk."
"Crows are the kind that talk. That's no crow nor no starling neither," answered the man. "Better give it to me to kill. I'll pay you a penny for it."
"Naw, you don't," and the boy drew back, at the same time closing his hand over me so tightly that I feared I would be crushed. "I'm going to keep him, I tell ye. He's mine to do what I please with, and I ain't agoing to sell him for a penny, neither."
So saying he ran along in front of his father till we reached the mule cart. Into this clumsy vehicle they climbed and soon we were jogging over the sandy road to their home. As we drove along the man computed, partly to himself, partly aloud, how much money the contents of his game-bag would bring him. The result must have been satisfactory, for presently he observed:
"Purty fair day's wages, but I believe I could make more killing terns and gulls than these birds. Bill Jones and the hunters up on Cobb's Island last year got ten cents apiece for all the gulls they killed. Forty thousand were killed right there. Oh, it's bound to be a mighty good business for us fellows as long as the wimmen are in the notion, that is, if the birds ain't all killed off."
"Air they getting scarce?" questioned the boy. The man ejected a mouthful of dark, offensive juice from between his grizzled whiskers before replying.
"Yes, purty tol'ble scarce. So much demand for 'em is bound to clean the birds out. There used to be heaps of orioles an' robins an' larks an' blackbirds an' waxwings through the country, but they're getting played out too, since the wimmen tuk to wearin' 'em on their bunnets."
"Well, no woman sha'n't have my bird for her bunnet," and the boy gave me another friendly pinch that nearly broke my bones. "I'm a going to put it in that old cage that's out in the shed and give it to Betty, if she wants it."
"Humph! she won't keer for it. You'd better kill it. Betty won't be bothered with it."
"She may give it away, or let it loose, or do what she pleases with it, then," was the boy's reply.
I learned from their further conversation that the hunter sold his game to another man who cured the skins for shipment to the city. To this dealer the bag which held my dead companions was taken and I saw them no more. Arriving at the hunter's home I was put under a bucket that I might not escape, while my captor prepared my prison for me. It was an almost needless precaution for I had been so cramped between his fingers that I feared I could never again use my legs or wings. Just before putting me in my rude prison house he brought a pair of shears and bade Betty clip my wings.
"Oh, I'm afraid it will hurt it!" she exclaimed, pushing away the extended scissors.
"Nonsense, you ninny! What if it does hurt it?" and he roughly knocked my bill with his hand.
"Now that's real mean, Joe. You're a scaring it to pieces. Here, Dickey Downy, I'm going to give you a pretty name if you belong to me; let me hold you. Why, its little heart is a thumping as if 'twould burst through its body."
Joe was reluctant to loosen his grasp, and between being pulled first one way and then the other by the two children, I was badly bruised. Finally I was permitted by my young captor to enter the cage, where I sank, trembling and exhausted, to the floor, and remained there all night, being too sore to ascend the perch.