As may be imagined I was very sorrowful and unhappy. The separation from my mother and my dear companions, coupled with the fear that I might never again wing my blithesome flight through the bright blue sky, but spend the balance of my life in this miserable cell, filled me with despair. Frantic but useless were my efforts to escape. In vain I beat my head against the hard steel bars; in vain I endeavored to crowd my body between them. My prison was too secure.
At length I found that fluttering back and forth buffeting my wings against the sides of my cell only injured me and availed nothing. Then it was I wisely made the resolution to endure my imprisonment as cheerfully as possible. I soon began to regain my strength and spirits and, save that I was deprived of my liberty, I had no special fault to find for some days with my treatment from Betty, who was now regarded as my owner and keeper.
I was always glad when Joe was absent from home, for he was vicious as well as rough. One of his favorite tricks was to dash my cage hard against the wall, laughing boisterously as he did so to see how it frightened me. The concussion was frequently so great that my claws could not hold to the perch, and I would be tossed helplessly from side to side with my feathers ruffled and broken. There was but one thing Joe liked better than this cruel sport, and that was gingerbread; and my tortures were often stopped by Betty's producing a slice of this delicacy which she had saved from her own luncheon for this particular purpose. When I discovered that Joe could be bought off with gingerbread it can be imagined that I was always glad on the days when the pungent odors of cinnamon, ginger, and molasses issued from the cook-stove. It was a surety of peace, of a cessation of hostilities as long as the cake lasted.
All went fairly well for a little while, but as the novelty of possession gradually wore off, my little jailer grew negligent and left me much of the time without water or food. Frequently my throat was so parched from thirst that I could not utter a protesting chirp. I knew no other way to attract attention to my wants than to flutter to the bars and thrust out my head; unfortunately this action was attributed to wildness and a desire to escape, and I was allowed to suffer on.
"That bird is the most annoying, restless thing I ever saw," complained Betty's mother one evening when I was thus trying to tell them my cup was empty. "It spends all its time poking its head through the wires or thrashing around in the cage, instead of getting up on its perch and behaving itself quietly as a decent bird should."
"Do you reckon it's sick?" suggested Betty, and she came to my cage and looked at me attentively.
"Reckon it's hungry, you mean," growled her father, who was in one corner of the kitchen cleaning his gun.
"She never feeds it any more," commented the mother. "What's the use of keeping it? I'd wring its neck and be done with it. Betty don't keer a straw for it."
"Yes, I do," cried the little girl. "I'll get it something to eat this very minute."
These spasms of attention only lasted a day or two, however, when my young keeper would lapse into carelessness, and again I would be allowed to go with an empty crop and a dry throat. My beautiful plumage grew rusty from this irregularity and continual neglect, and although I am not a vain bird, my dingy appearance was a source of daily grief and mortification to me. When Betty was not too busy playing she sometimes hung my cage outside the door of the cottage, but often for days together through the pleasant summer I was left hanging in the kitchen, sometimes half-choked with smoke or dampened with steam. No wonder I drooped and ceased my cheerful song.
The days when I was put out of doors were indeed gala days to me. Many families of young chickens lived in the back yard, and the pipings of the little ones and the scoldings of the mothers when their children ran too far away from them, were always amusing to listen to and gave me something to think about which kept my mind off my own troubles.
I liked to watch the hens with their fuzzy broods tumbling about them, or with the older chicks when they scratched the ground and ceaselessly clucked for them to come to get their share of what was turned up in the soil; meanwhile they kept a sharp lookout with their bright eyes to see that no outsider shared in the feast. And how angrily did they drive it away should a chick from another brood heedlessly rush in among them to get a taste.
One old hen in particular interested me very much. I noticed her first because of her pretty bluish color and the dark markings around her neck, but I soon came to pity her, for she made herself quite unhappy and seemed to take no comfort in anything. She was usually tied to a tree by the leg, and although her string was long it seemed always just a little too short to reach the thing she wanted. To make matters worse she had a bad fashion of rushing wildly around the tree and getting her string wound up shorter and shorter until at last she could not stir a step, but would hang by one foot foolishly pulling as hard as she could. It always seemed to me that her chickens were more disobedient than the rest, because they knew she could not get to them nor follow them.
Joe sometimes slyly threw pebbles at this blue hen to scare her and make her jump and pull at the string, when he thought his mother was not looking. As pay for his sport he often got his ears cuffed, for though his mother did not seem to notice how cruelly he teased me, she would not allow him to frighten her fowls.
"Don't you know that a hen that's all the time skeered won't lay?" was the lesson she tried to impress on him as she punished him.
But the thing I liked best of all was to see Betty's seven white ducks crowd up to the kitchen door every time any one appeared with a pan of scraps. Such gabbling and quacking, such pushing and such stepping on each other and on the chickens, in their eagerness to get there first, was almost laughable. In fact, the pink-toed pigeons that walked up and down the ridge of the barn roof, did make fun of them openly. Had I not known the ducks were well fed and so fat they could scarcely waddle, I might have thought they were really hungry, but I soon discovered that they were simply greedy.
Standing on tiptoe and stretching up their long necks they often seized the food before it had a chance to fall to the ground. By this good management they usually got more than the chickens. Joe accused Betty of being partial to the ducks.
"You allus give 'em the best of everything, and twice as much as you do the chickens," he complained.
"They get the most because they've got the most confidence in me," said Betty, putting on a very wise look. "They come close up to me, while a chicken shies off and misses the goodies coz she's silly enough to be afraid. Besides, the ducks are mine. I raised 'em. I paid twenty cents a setting for the eggs out of my own money, and when you raise a thing you generally like it the best. Ducks are a heap smarter'n chickens, anyway," she asserted. "I never can get one of the chickens to feed out of a spoon, and the ducks like it the best kind." To convince him she held toward them a large baking spoon of soured milk. This milk was thickened into a paste or ball by being put on the stove and separated from the whey, or watery part, by the action of the heat.
It was a favorite dish with the fowls, and they all smacked their lips when they saw it coming.
As fast as Betty could fill the spoon it was emptied by the ducks, who stuck their big yellow bills into it and devoured the contents, letting the chickens below scramble and push and pick each other for any stray bits that fell to the ground.
"Didn't I tell you?" said Betty triumphantly. "Them chickens had just as good a chance as the ducks, but they wouldn't take it."
"Huh!" answered Joe. "Their necks ain't long enough, is what's the matter."
There were several trees in the yard, and often when the fowls were fed, birds flew down from their leafy recesses to pick up the crumbs left lying about. How I used to wish they would come near enough to my cage that I might converse with them, but it always happened that just at the time when one of them would settle close to the house, either Joe's little dog, Colly, would run across the yard, or Betty or her mother would appear at the door and frighten my feathered friend away. Only once did I exchange a word with any of these birds, and that for but a few short minutes.
The bird did not belong to our family, nor had I ever met any of his relatives before, but that made but little difference. He was a bird, and that was enough. We did not wait for any formal introduction; but as he balanced himself on the edge of my cage he hurriedly told me news of the woods, and how he wished I might get free and come to live there. He told of the lovely dragon flies, with purple, burnished wings that floated in the forest, mingling their drowsy hum with the chirping of the birds. He told of the great mossy carpet spread under the trees; how at set of day the owls came out, and the moles rustled in the fallen leaves, and the frogs raised their evening hymn to the sinking sun.
I could have listened for hours to the sweet familiar tale my feathered brother told of life in the happy woodland, but Betty's mother suddenly hurrying out to the pump to fill her bucket, cut short the story, and away my bird friend skimmed out of sight without so much as saying "good-bye." Though I saw him several times after that, he never came so close again.
"Oh, what heaps and heaps of fireflies!" exclaimed Betty, as she unhooked my cage to move me into the house that evening. "It looks as if our door-yard was full of moving lanterns."
"Nothin' but lightnen bugs!" said Joe contemptuously. "Here, see me catch 'em," and in a few minutes he showed her a handful which he had killed by crushing between his hands.
"Hold on, I want to catch some too!" and hustling me into the kitchen, Betty ran along with him and was soon engaged in catching and killing the beautiful fireflies.
Song birds, plumage birds, water fowl, and many innocent birds of prey, are hunted from the everglades to the Arctic Circles for the barbaric purpose of decorating women's hats. The extent of this traffic is simply appalling.—G. O. Shields.
When Joe and his father came back from their gunning expeditions, the accounts they gave of the day's slaughter made me very homesick and miserable, and wore sadly on my spirits in my captivity.
The heartless indifference with which the woman would ask her husband if it had been "a good day for killings," almost made me wail aloud.
"Best kind of luck; I bagged nearly a hundred this trip," he replied exultingly, one night when she put the usual question. "The birds were as thick as blackberries in the high weeds along the creek, and were havin' a mighty good time stuffing themselves with seeds. Joe fired the old gun to start 'em and, great Jerushy! in a minute the sky was dark with 'em; I just blazed away and they dropped thick all around us, and it kept us tol'ble busy for a while a pickin' 'em up."
"Pop, tell 'em about the old water bird down in the swamp," said Joe with a wicked laugh.
"Yes, tell us; what was it, pop?" urged Betty.
"Oh, nothin' partickler, I reckon; just an old bird that hadn't the grit to get away from me," and the man gave a low chuckle at the remembrance.
"My, oh! the way them old birds hung around and wouldn't scare worth a cent when we was right up close to 'em was funny, I tell ye," and Joe leaned back in his chair and slapped his knees in a fresh burst of merriment.
"There was eggs in the nest was the cause," said the man; "them birds are always as tame as kittens then. You can go right up to 'em and they won't leave the nest. Them birds has two broods in a season, and then's the chance to get a good whack at 'em."
Joe rubbed his hands together in delight as he turned to his sister, "You'd ought to have seen 'em, Betty. There was pop in his rubber boots a creepin' along—a c-r-e-e-p-i-n' along as sly as a mouse toward 'em, and there they stayed. The male bird he fluttered and' squawked, and the female she stuck to the nest till pop he got right up and he didn't even have to shoot her. He just clubbed her over the back and down she went ker-splash as dead as you please. Them there eggs won't hardly hatch out this year, I don't reckon," and at the prospect Joe broke into a malicious guffaw.
"I think to club it was meaner'n to shoot the poor thing," said Betty indignantly. "And, anyway, I wouldn't a-killed it on the nest. It's mean to treat an 'fectionate bird so."
"Pshaw, you'd do big things!" was Joe's scornful reply.
"Well, I wouldn't be so tremenj'us cruel," persisted Betty; "I don't believe in killing a pretty bird."
"But what would the wimmen do without bunnet trimmen' if we didn't kill 'em, hey?" and Joe finished his question with a taunting whistle.
As the shadows of each evening gathered around the cottage, the shadow over my life seemed to deepen and grow more gloomy. Outside the door I could hear the hum of the bees as they flew homeward, the wind-harp played in the yellow pines its softest, sweetest music, and I scented the odor of honeysuckles and roses far away. The rushing of the waters over the stones in the creek tinkled dreamily, but in the midst of all earth's loveliness I was desolate, because I was not free.
And thus the summer days dragged wearily along, and the autumn came. It is not surprising then that I was overjoyed when later on I learned that I was to be given as a present to a young relative of Betty's, who lived to the northward in a distant State. My present existence had grown almost intolerable, and I felt that any change could scarcely make my condition worse, and there was a chance of its being better. The prospect put new life into me.
Preening my feathers became a pleasant task once more. I whetted my bill till it glistened, and my long-neglected toilet again became my daily care.
"I shall be mighty glad to get rid of the mopy creature," Betty's mother had, said when they talked of my departure. "I wouldn't give the thing house-room for my part."
"Cousin Polly will like it, though," Betty answered her mother. "Polly was always fond of pets, and she'll be powerful pleased to get it as a present from her Southern kinfolks."
"We'll have to go to the cost of a new cage, I reckon, and I don't feel like spending the money, neither," mused the mother. "Polly might like a bresspin better. I don't know as it will pay to send her the bird after all."
How my heart sank at this announcement! so fearful was I that I might have to remain at the cottage; but Betty's answer gave me new hope.
"Oh, certain it will pay!" she exclaimed eagerly. "You know how many nice things Cousin Dunbar's sent us off-and-on, and only last Christmas Polly sent me my string of beads. As for giving her a bresspin for a keepsake, she can get a heap nicer one out of their own store than any we could send her, and I'm certain she'd like the bird best of all; it's such a good chance to send it by Uncle Dan when he is going to their town and can hand it right over to Polly."
"I reckon you're right. Well, it will be only the cost of the cage," said her mother, and so the matter was settled, much to my satisfaction.
My new cage was very pretty, if anything can be said in praise of a prison, and was much lighter and pleasanter than the old, heavy, home-made structure in which I had been shut up so long. Its rim was painted a cheerful green, and the wires were burnished like gold. Ornamental sconces held the glass cups for my food and there were decorated hoops to swing in. Altogether it was a very handsome house, yet I could not forget it was a prison house.
Betty busied herself in fixing it comfortably for me, and was full of kind attentions. She begged me many times not to get frightened when the cover would be put on my cage. The hood was necessary when I was traveling, but Uncle Dan would be sitting right near me all the time and would be very good to me. She further assured me that I would find the motion of the cars delightful, and that all I would have to do was to sit on my perch and munch my seed and have a good time. How jolly it would be to go whizzing past fences and over bridges and through tunnels and towns and never know it, she said. She also charged me particularly not to be scared when I would hear an occasional horrible shriek and a rumbling like thunder, as if the day of judgment was at hand. I must remember it was only the locomotive, and it was obliged to do those disagreeable things to make the cars go faster'n, faster'n, faster'n———
How much faster I did not have time to find out, for Uncle Dan just then called to get me. A light cover with a hole in the top was slipped over my cage, and I started on my journey. Of my trip, of course, I knew nothing. Part of the way we rode in a wagon through the country to the station where we took the train, but as Uncle Dan did not remove my cover in the railway car the time spent on the journey was almost a blank to me.
Right glad was I, after what seemed a long, long time of jarring and jolting, to find the cage once more swinging from his hand and to hear the click of his boot heels on the pavements as we went through the streets of the town where Polly lived.
A NEW HOME
Should it happen that the last egret is shot and the last bird of paradise is snared to adorn a lady's dress, then—then I would not like to be a woman for all that earth could hold.—Herbert O. Ward.
When at last my covering was removed I found myself in a large, long room, which I afterward learned was a millinery store. In fact the store was the front part of the family residence, the living rooms being behind and upstairs over it. My cage was hung near the wide doorway at the end of the apartment and my new mistress at once ran to fill my cup with fresh water and bring me a supply of clean millet. After I had refreshed myself I began to look about me and study my strange surroundings.
My new home was so unlike the little log house in the South from which I had come that it was many days before I could accustom myself to the clatter of voices which buzzed monotonously all day through the store. From ten o'clock in the morning, if the day were fine, till three in the afternoon, the din at times was almost deafening; for it was the busy season and customers were constantly coming and going, not all of them to buy, merely to look over the ribbons and tumble up the goods, as I heard the tired clerks say complainingly more than once.
Numerous glass cases were placed near the walls, and running cross-wise were a counter and shelves much frequented by ladies who stood eagerly examining the array of bright gauzes, the glittering buckles, the flowers and plumes displayed there. And what a chattering they kept up! What a stir and a hubbub they made! So many "Oh-h's" and "Ah-h's," so many "How lovely's," and other ecstatic exclamations, were mingled with their conversation as was quite bewildering. In time, however, I became accustomed to this and discovered it was simply a way ladies have of expressing their approval of things in general. Around the glass cases which held the trimmed hats the women buzzed like a swarm of flies, their volubility assuming a more emphatic character as they gazed within at the fashionable headgear placed on long steel wires. Almost every hat held one, or a part of one, of my slaughtered race. Frequently there were parts of two or three varieties on one hat—a tail of one kind, a wing of another, or a head of a different species. The ends of the world had been searched to make this patchwork of blood. The women raved over the cruel display; they gloated over our beauty; but they cared nothing for the pathetic story the hats told of rifled nests and motherless young.
My new owner was a soft-voiced, gentle child, from whom I soon found I had nothing to fear. She was most careful to keep my cage in order and never neglected to feed me. Unlike her little friend Betty, she never allowed her sports or pleasures to interfere with this duty. Often her playmates came for a romp in the garden behind the store, but she did not join them till she had first attended to my wants. I was fond of having her talk to me, for her voice was sweet and kind, and the little terms of endearment she often used were very pleasing and made me feel she was my true friend. She once tried to pet me by stroking my feathers, but I did not like it. Although I knew she did not mean to hurt me, the motion of her hand made me nervous. Instead of persisting, she only said reproachfully, as she put me back on my perch:
"Dear Dickey Downy, why are you afraid of me? Your own little Polly wouldn't hurt you for the world. I wanted to softly stroke your pretty plumage just out of pure love and, you dear little coward, you won't let me."
In her affection for me, Polly did not forget the wild birds outside, which flew about in the big evergreen trees near the garden gate. She showed her thoughtfulness for the little creatures by strewing bread crumbs for them on the window sills on snowy days. She often gathered up the tablecloth after the housemaid had removed the breakfast dishes and, running out under the trees, would shake it vigorously that her wild pets might get all the little pieces of food that fell. Not a bird came down as long as she remained in the yard, but as soon as she had tripped back to the house and the door closed upon her brown curls, I could see a drove of hungry snowbirds swoop from the trees, and in a minute every crumb would be picked up. I am sure they must have loved dear little Polly, for many a choice bit did they get through her kindness.
While the majority of the customers at the store were well-dressed women, there were many who came to buy hats who looked poor and pinched. A few looked slatternly.
A sudden swing of their dress skirts would disclose a badly frayed petticoat or a tattered stocking showing above the shabby shoe. Their gloveless hands were red and cold and coarse, and the milliner told the clerk that she dreaded to have them handle her filmy laces or glistening satins, because their rough fingers stuck to the delicate fabrics and injured them.
These poor women worked hard, early and late. Beyond the barest necessities they had little to spare, and yet not a woman among them would have bought an unfashionable or out-of-date hat could she have had it at one quarter the price. Feathers were fashionable, and feathers she must have. Might not one "as well be out of the world as out of the fashion"?
All this dreadful traffic in my murdered comrades, and their display in the glass cases as well as on the heads of the customers, naturally made me very sad, and I now looked with aversion at every woman who entered the store. But that all were not heartless fiends who were robed in feminine garb I found out another day when a daintily dressed lady came in to purchase a winter hat. The contents of the glass cases were looked over critically for some time before she selected one which she tried on before the long mirror. The milliner, who deftly adjusted it for her, tipping it first forward a little, then setting it back a trifle, stood off now to view the effect, at the same time assuring her how beautiful it was, and how vastly becoming to her.
"I like this hat very much," said the lady; "or at least I shall like it when the bird is taken off."
"You think the oriole too gay? Orange is quite the vogue," answered the milliner, who seemed reluctant to make any change, and yet was anxious to please her customer. "Perhaps you'd prefer some wings; or stay, here is a sweet little gull that will go all right with the rest of the trimming. We will take off the oriole if you wish."
"Thank you, but I have decided not to wear birds any more," said the customer.
"But the effect would be quite spoiled without a wing, or an aigrette, or something there," exclaimed the milliner. "You wouldn't like it. I wouldn't think of taking off the bird, if I were you."
"Yes, I shall like it much better with the bird off," returned the lady quietly. "I have sufficient sins to answer for without any longer adding the crime of bird slaughter to the list."
The milliner bestowed on her a pitying smile, but evidently was too politic to get into a discussion of an unpleasant subject. Having given her final order for the hat, the lady crossed over to the other side of the room and shook hands with a friend whom she addressed as Mrs. Brown, who had just come in and was making a purchase at the lace counter.
"I have been putting my new resolution into effect," she remarked after the first greetings; "I have just ordered my new hat, and it is not to have a bird or a wing or a tail on it."
"Oh, I'm glad to hear of one convert to the gospel of mercy," said Mrs. Brown heartily. "The apathy of our women on this subject is heart-sickening. Men are denouncing us; the newspapers are full of our cruelty; the pulpit makes our heartlessness its theme; and yet we keep on with our barbarous work with an indifference that must make the angels weep."
Her face glowed with righteous indignation. It was easy to see that any cause to which she might commit herself was sure of an ardent and untiring champion.
"But they tell me that chicken feathers, and those of other domestic fowls are being largely used now instead of birds," said the other lady.
"Oh, yes; they tell us so because they want to prevent us from getting alarmed, since so much has been said against the destruction of the birds. It is true that chicken feathers always have been used to some extent, the straight quills for instance. I know it is frequently broadly asserted that the most of the birds used are made birds, but the manufactured creatures are poor deceptions; they are mixed with bird feathers, and are sold only to the less fastidious customers. The demand for genuine birds is as great as ever."
"But do you think as many are used now as formerly?" questioned her companion.
"Yes, indeed! Just think of the feather capes and muffs and collarettes made of birds. The market for them is increasing all the time. It takes from eighteen to twenty-five skins for each collar, and I don't know how many for the muffs. Oh, I tell you, women are heaping up judgment on themselves."
The other lady looked grave. "I understand," said she, "that in many places down on the New Jersey coast the boatmen have given up fishing, as they can make so much more money killing terns and gulls for women's use. They earn fifty dollars a week at it, at ten cents apiece for the birds. Isn't that a horrible record for women?"
"I don't doubt they earn that much, and perhaps more," answered Mrs. Brown; "for one season there were thirty thousand terns killed in one locality alone. And at Cape Cod, and up along the shore near where I lived, they are slain by thousands every season and shipped to New York. Oh, I can't tell you how distressing it used to be to hear the report of the guns day after day and know that every piercing sound was the sign that more innocent lives were being taken. I used to cover up my ears and try not to hear them. It made me shiver to know that those poor gulls were being shot down for nothing. Their only crime consisted in being beautiful."
Both women turned at that moment attracted by the sight of a young lady who was standing on the pavement outside in an animated talk with another girl.
"There's Miss Van Dyke, with her new feather collar on," observed Mrs. Brown, in a low voice.
The young lady in question was a dashing, radiant creature, bright with smiles and a face like a picture. On her shapely shoulders was a magnificent cape, lustrous as satin, of silvery white, into which pale dark lines softly blended at regular intervals. Twenty-two innocent lives had been taken to make that little garment. Twenty-two beautiful grebes slain that their glossy breasts might lend splendor to a lady's wardrobe.
The two friends looked at Miss Van Dyke in silence for a moment, then sighed as she passed along out of their view.
"When I see such perversion of woman's nature I wonder that the very stones do not cry out against us," exclaimed Mrs. Brown. "And mark my words, the slaughter will go on; the unholy traffic will not long be confined to grebe's breasts for muffs and cape trimmings. Other birds will be used. The gentle creatures are not all put on hats."
"Oh! I must not forget to tell you that the new preacher over at the Second Church has begun a course of lectures on the work of mercy that women might do. He says that as mothers in the homes, and as teachers in the public schools and the Sabbath-schools, we have a grand opportunity."
"So we have; but what avails our opportunity if our eyes are blinded so that we do not see it?" assented Mrs. Brown.
"Last night," resumed the lady, "he spoke particularly of the crime of wearing birds; and he accuses us of being more cruel than men."
"He does?" questioned Mrs. Brown, in great surprise. "Why, we all know that woman's part in this wickedness comes from her desire to look pretty; at least she thinks that wearing birds adds to her beauty. Her wickedness does not come from actual love of butchery. But men and boys have shot innocent creatures since the world began for the mere brutal pleasure of killing something. It seems as though they were born with a blood-thirsty instinct, a wanting to destroy life, to hunt it and shoot it down. They beg to go gunning almost before they are out of dresses and into trousers. Every mother knows there is a savage streak in her boy's nature. No," continued Mrs. Brown, with a decisive nod of her head, "I say let the man who is without sin among them be the first to cast stones now. Perhaps this very preacher spent all his Saturdays robbing birds' nests and clubbing birds when he was a little boy, and kept it up until he was big enough to kill them with a gun. Of course there are some who do not; not all boys are cruel. But this cruelty does not excuse ours. Man's wickedness does not make us the less guilty. We will be held responsible all the same."
The other woman looked thoughtful. "Well," she said at last, "I haven't quite lost all faith in womanly mercy. Women don't mean to be cruel; the trouble is they don't think."
"Don't think!" echoed Mrs. Brown scornfully. "Don't think! That is an excuse entirely too babyish for women to offer in this age of the world. Do they want to be regarded as irresponsible children forever? Don't you know that childish thoughtlessness on a subject as important as the needless taking of life argues tremendously against us? Here we are at the twentieth century, and with all our boasted advancement we are as cruel and savage as Fiji Islanders. Oh, don't talk to me about women!" and she made an outward motion of her hand as if pushing away an imaginary drove of them that was coming too near. "I haven't a particle of patience with them. If they're not in the habit of thinking, let them begin it right off. Let them begin it before the birds are all destroyed. If they have the least spark of tenderness left in their hearts———"
The rest of the sentence was lost in the louder tones of a pert little miss, who in company with her mother was rummaging over a box of trimmings on the counter nearest my cage.
THE ILL-MANNERED CHILD
O wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursel's as ithers see us. —Burns.
There lived of yore a saintly dame, Whose wont it was with sweet accord To do the bidding of her Lord In quaintly fashioned bonnet With simplest ribbons on it.
"I won't have ribbon loops, I tell you," exclaimed the child. "I want an owl's head and I'm going to have it."
"Why, my dear, the ribbon is ever so much prettier," urged the mother soothingly. "An owl's head is too old a trimming for your hat, dear. It wouldn't do at all. Here, select some of this nice ribbon."
"Didn't I say I wouldn't have it?" answered "dear" pettishly, as she reached into another box containing an assortment of wings, quails, tails, and parts of various birds jumbled up together. Picking out a pair of blackbird's wings she placed them jauntily against the rim of an untrimmed hat which her mother held.
"There, that looks nice," was her comment. "If I can't have an owl's head I'm going to have these wings."
Her mother mildly assured her that the ribbon was more suitable only to be met with the reply: "You can wear it yourself then, for I sha'n't wear it."
This shocking disrespect caused two old ladies who were pricing hat pins to turn quickly and view the offender.
"Goodness gracious!" ejaculated one of them, drawing a deep breath. "If that youngster belonged to me for about twenty minutes, wouldn't I give her something wholesome that she'd remember? I'd take the tantrums out of her in short order."
"She deserves it, sure," said her companion. "But the mother is more to blame than the child for letting it grow up with such abominable manners. I dare say the woman at first thought it was cute and smart in the little thing, and now she can't help herself. La, sakes! just listen to that." She re-adjusted her spectacles and gazed with added interest at the pair in altercation.
With the hat poised on her finger the milliner was bending smilingly toward the little girl who was giving her order in a very peremptory tone.
"I want those wings put on my hat. I won't wear it if you trim it only in ribbon."
The mother seemed a little embarrassed as she told the milliner that she supposed the hat would have to be trimmed in the way Elsie wanted it.
"Humph! I knew the child would get what she wanted," observed the old lady who had first spoken. "I felt all the time that the mother would have to give in. What on earth did she let her take those big black wings for? Two of those little yellow sugar birds would have been better for a child's hat. The idea of letting a youngster rule you that way! My!" and then she took another deep breath. "She needs a trouncing, if ever a child did," and with that she and her friend resumed their shopping.
The cloud had vanished from Elsie's face, and all was serene again. Her mother seemed somewhat ashamed of her little girl's bad manners, as was shown by her apologetic air when she observed to the trimmer that Elsie was as queer a child as ever lived. When she set her mind on a thing, it was so hard for her to give it up.
They waited for the new hat to be trimmed, and on its completion Elsie seized it and put it on her head, much against her mother's wishes, who preferred not to have it displayed until the next day at Sunday-school; but the insistence of the child was so vehement that again the mother thought it wise to yield, and Elsie tripped off in triumph to the other end of the store with the black wings showing out stiffly on each side of her head. The mother remarked, with forced playfulness, as she watched her, "Elsie's a g-r-e-a-t girl, I tell you. You can't fool her."
As the trimmer returned the boxes to the shelves, I overheard her mutter, "Oh, yes, Elsie is a g-r-e-a-t girl, a perfect little jewel, so well-behaved. Her polite manners show her careful home training; quite a reflection on her dear mamma." But from the peculiar laugh she gave I didn't believe she really meant it as praise.
When the nights grew longer and the store was closed for the evening, the milliner and her husband usually spent an hour or two in the back room looking over the newspaper which came every day from the city. The man always turned at once to the wheat reports, and the price of wool, which he read aloud to his wife, though I could see she did not care very much to hear about them; but she hunted first for the fashion notes and the bargains in millinery before she read the other news. One night while thus engaged she suddenly exclaimed:
"Here's something that is bound to hurt trade."
By trade she meant the millinery business.
"What is it?" her husband inquired, looking over the top of the page he held.
"Why, here's a lot of women who have been meeting in a convention in Chicago and getting excited and losing their heads, and passing some ridiculous resolutions."
"What kind of resolutions?" he inquired.
"Oh, they've been denouncing the fashion of wearing birds. They belong to a society called—called—something or other, I forget what. Let me see," and she ran her eye down the column. "Oh, yes, here it is. They are members of the O'Dobbin society, and they got so wrought up on the subject they took the feathers out of their hats right there in the meeting and vowed never to wear bird trimming again. Well, if such outlandish notions spread, you'll soon see how it will injure the millinery trade."
"Pshaw! you needn't worry. The protests of a handful of fanatical women can't do your business any harm," he answered carelessly, and turned to his paper again.
She shook her head. "I'm not so sure of that. I think there are some women in this very town just cranky enough to endorse such foolishness. There's Mrs. Judge Jenkins for one. I've never yet been able to sell her a real stylish hat. She won't wear birds, because she thinks it's wicked. I hope to goodness she won't consider it her duty to start an O'Dobbin society here."
From the depths of my heart I blessed those kind women who had shown their disapproval of the nefarious traffic in bird life, and had pledged themselves to our protection. True, they were but a handful compared with the millions whom the god Fashion still held in bondage, only a handful who were fighting the good fight; but would not the influence of their noble example and their pledge of mercy be spread abroad till all the women in Christian lands would join in the crusade against the wrong?
In my joy at the thought I chirped so loudly that the lady looked up from her reading. She seemed suddenly to recall a thought as she glanced at my cage, for she said, "I must not forget to ask Katharine if she can take the bird home with her next week and keep it while Polly is gone to the country. I'll be sure to forget to feed it. Anyway, I haven't time to bother with it."
The day before Polly left for the country I heard her inquiring for the "Daily," which I remembered was the name they called the newspaper containing the account of the noble city ladies who had pledged themselves not to wear us any more.
"Tuesday's paper?" her mother asked; she was busy at the time fastening a poor, little, mute swallow on a rich hat. "Perhaps it was thrown behind the counter. Did you want it for any special purpose?"
Polly replied that she wanted to read something in it.
"Well, it is probably torn up by this time," said her mother. "If it isn't on the table in the back room, or on the shelf by the window, or behind the counter, I'm sure I don't know where it is."
The young clerk who was arranging the goods on the counter had heard Polly's inquiry, and she now asked if it was the newspaper that told about the women who thought it wrong to wear birds. It seemed to me that Polly hesitated a little as she replied that that was the very paper she wanted.
"Goodness, child, is that the piece you want to read?" Her mother's voice sounded rather sharp, as if she were vexed. "I hope that subject hasn't turned your head too," but she said no more, for just then a customer coming in, she laid down her work and went forward to greet her.
Polly looked troubled, but she confided to Miss Katharine that she wanted very much to read the account.
"Fortunately I cut the piece out to give to my sister. I knew she'd be interested in it, but I have always forgotten to give it to her," said the clerk. She seemed to be very much in earnest as she continued, "I do wish something could be done to save the birds. If women must have feathers, why can't they content themselves with wearing ostrich tips and plumes? There is nothing cruel or wicked in the way they are procured."
She opened the little satchel hanging at her belt, and from it took a folded slip of paper which she handed to Polly, telling her she might have it to read, and when she had finished it to please bring it back to her. Polly thanked her, and ran away to a quiet corner of the back room, where I saw her slowly reading the clipping as she rocked herself in her pretty birch chair. When she had read it through, she sat for some time looking very thoughtful. At last she rose and carried the paper back to Miss Katharine, halting a moment as she passed my cage, to whisper softly:
"Dickey Downy, you dear little fellow, I'm going upstairs right this very minute to take the feathers off my best Sunday hat and I'm never, never going to wear birds any more."
TWO SLAVES OF FASHION
I do not like the fashion of your garments. —Shakespeare.
I'm sure thou hast a cruel nature and a bloody. —Shakespeare.
Two young ladies, fashionably dressed, met each other that afternoon just in front of our side window, which had been raised to let in the air. From the warmth of their greeting I saw that they were on terms of friendly intimacy.
One of the girls stood a little out of the range of my vision, therefore I could not hear her voice when she talked, if, indeed, she had a chance to say anything, but the vivacious monologue carried on by her friend was amply sufficient to show the theme which interested them.
How glibly that pretty creature chattered! How fast the words flew! How she arched her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders and winked her eyes and wrinkled her forehead and pursed her rosy lips and tilted her nose and gesticulated with her slender hand and tapped the pavement with her umbrella point, passing from each phase of expression to the next with a rapidity truly wonderful. Occasionally she went through with these strange grimaces all at once. She was indeed a whirlwind of language, an avalanche of emotion.
Her voice was high pitched and shrill, so that every one on the street must have heard her as she exclaimed:
"Oh, Nell, how perfectly lovely your new hat is! Turn around so that I can see the other side. Oh-h, ah-h, that darling little bird with its glossy plumage among the velvet is too sweet for anything! If anything it is prettier than Kate Smith's hat with the thrush's head and wings, although I'll admit hers is awfully stylish. You ought to see my new hat. Ah, I tell you it's a beauty; soft crown of silvery stuff, and on one side a tall aigrette and a dear little cedar-bird, and toward the back is the cutest, cunningest humming-bird with its tiny green body and long bill. It looks as if it were ready to fly or to sing. I selected the trimming for sister May's new hat too. It is brown velvet and has an oriole on it; you know they are so showy and bright it makes you almost think you are in the woods. At Madame Oiseau Mort's, where I get my millinery, there was another hat I had a notion to take. It was built up with robins' wings and part of a tern was on it too, I believe—just lovely! but afterward I was glad I didn't buy it, for that decoration is more common. I counted nine hats in church last Sunday trimmed with gulls. Of course they were pretty, for a handsome bird makes any hat pretty.
"By the way, Nell, I must tell you something perfectly ridiculous! Do you know papa pretends it's wicked for women to wear birds on their hats or trim their gowns with feather trimming? Did you ever? I told him we'd be a mighty sorry-looking set going around like a lot of female Dunkards or Salvation Army women, without a bit of style, and he said those women hadn't the sin on their souls of wearing birds that had been killed on purpose to minister to their vanity; that he'd rather be a peaceful-faced Dunkard woman or Salvationist with her plain bonnet and her gentle heart than a gay society butterfly with her empty head loaded down with dead birds.
"Isn't it perfectly horrid for him to talk like that? He is such an old fogy in his ideas he actually makes me tired. Then he went on to say that never again could he believe that women are the tender-hearted creatures they have always been supposed to be, when they show themselves so eager to be decked with the innocent songsters whose lives are sacrificed by the million on the altar of fashion; the men have always been taught that woman's nature was morally superior to theirs, but we'd have to give up this criminal fad which we have persisted in at such a fearful price of bird life before we could be regarded as other than monstrously cruel and bloody. However, he prophesied that the fashion can't continue much longer anyway, because there soon won't be any birds left, and then, he says, we'll have a world without its sweetest music. It will be hushed by the folly of woman.
"Oh, Nell, don't you dislike to have anybody lecture you like that? It makes one feel so uncomfortable. I don't suppose it's so very wrong to wear bird trimming or our minister's wife wouldn't do it. You know her black velvet hat with that big bird on it with the red points on the wings, is one of the most striking hats that come to church. And her feather muff is so elegant, awfully expensive too. And what would her hat look like without that bird on it, I'd like to know? So if it isn't wicked for her it isn't wicked for us, Nell, and I'm not going to give up looking nice just to please papa. He'd like to have me dress as antiquated as old Mrs. Noah when she came out of the ark, but I'm not going to encourage him in his old-fashioned notions. And here, Nell, just listen to this! Don't you think, he says the Episcopal Prayer Book ought to be revised for the women worshipers and omit that part of the litany where it says, 'From pride, vain-glory, and hypocrisy, good Lord, deliver us.' What fol-de-rol!" And being out of breath she stopped talking and they walked away down the street together.
Kind hearts are more than coronets. —Tennyson.
Plainly furnished and small was the house to which I was taken by Miss Katharine to stay during Polly's absence at her grandmother's in the country. But though it was destitute of fine furnishings, it was the abode of peace and love, and its lowly roof sheltered noble and kindly hearts. The two sisters lived there alone, supported mainly by Katharine's earnings in the millinery store, though occasionally the sister, who was lame, added something to their little income by making paper flowers and other articles of bright tissues. It was her business to keep the house while Miss Katharine was at the shop, and very long and lonely the hours must have seemed to her while her sister was away.
The first day I was there a boy whom she addressed as John Charles came to the house. Apparently he had been carefully trained, for he raised his cap when the lame girl opened the door to his knock. His manners were fine, for he remained standing after he entered until she had first seated herself, as if to say, "A gentleman will not sit while a lady stands."
He had come to inquire if she wished to buy some cooking apples.
"They are very nice," said John Charles briskly, quite as if he were an old salesman. "No mashed or decayed ones among them."
"I have been wanting some apples," said Eliza. "If I knew what yours were like I might buy some."
"I have a few here to show," and John Charles drew from a small paper sack one or two bright rosy apples. "There, try one," he said. "You will find them nice and juicy and sour enough to cook quickly."
Eliza bit into one and expressed her approval of the fruit. "They will make delicious apple-sauce, I'm sure," she said. After inquiring the price she told the young merchant he might carry in a peck.
With a business-like flourish John Charles took a small note-book and pencil from his pocket and wrote something at the top of the leaf.
"I'm not delivering now," he said as he returned the note-book to his pocket. "I'm only taking orders; but I'll have your apples here in an hour."
Eliza bit her lip to keep back a smile. A boy in knee pants transacting business like a grown man, appeared quite amusing to her.
"Oh, I see," she said. "You take orders for your goods. You don't sell from door to door."
"No, indeed!" answered John Charles with a lofty air. "That's too much like peddling. I won't peddle. I prefer to get regular customers and take orders and fill them."
While he had been talking he had been glancing toward me where I hung in the window, and he now politely asked if he might come to look at me. Eliza gave a surprised consent, but watched the boy closely as he stood near and chirped to me calling me, "Po-o-o-r Dickey Downy," as soon as he found out my name. I saw from the way Eliza kept her eyes on his movements that she was expecting he would do something to hurt me, but in this she was pleasantly disappointed, for he never once touched my cage and cooed as softly when he spoke to me as Polly herself might have done.
I was quite afraid of him at first, for ever since my experience with the wicked schoolboys who clubbed us in the linden trees, and my later experience with Joe, I disliked boys very much.
When John Charles had bidden Eliza "good-morning" and tipped his hat again and the door closed after him, she said to me: "Why, Dickey, that was a new kind of a boy! He never once tried to hurt you or to scare you. It shows that all boys are not rough, and I shall always like John Charles, for he is a little gentleman."
To this sentiment I fully agreed, and I thought, "Alas! why are not all boys as gentle as John Charles?"
In a few hours I felt as much at home with Eliza as if I had always lived there, and I was much pleased when I heard her tell Katharine at the supper table the next evening how much she had enjoyed having me with her.
"A bird is ever so much better company than a clock," she said; "though when I'm here by myself I always like to hear the clock tick. It seems as if I were not so entirely alone. But a bird is better. I talked to Dickey to-day and he twittered back. He has such a cute way of perking his little head to one side just as knowing as you please, and he acts exactly as if he were considering whether he should answer 'yes' or no' to what I say, and then it is such fun to watch him smooth down his feathers. He washes and irons them so nicely and works away as industriously as if he were afraid he'd lose his 'job.'"
Miss Katharine rose from the table and stuck a lump of sugar for me to taste between the wires of my cage.
"I am surrounded by poor dead birds in the store all day," she observed, "and spend so much of my time sewing their wings and heads and tails on hats and sort boxfuls of them for customers to look at, that even a living bird saddens me."
"Yes, it must be very depressing. What a shame to kill them; they are so cute and pretty and such happy little creatures! See how cunning he looks nibbling at that sugar," and the sister joined Miss Katharine in watching me.
"But do you know, Kathy, I don't believe that women would continue wearing bird trimmings if they stopped a minute to think about it. It doesn't seem wrong to them because they never considered the question. They simply haven't thought about it at all."
"Somebody set the fashion and they all followed like a flock of sheep," answered the other with a sneering laugh.
"Yes, that's just the way. They go along without thinking. They only know it is the style, and they don't stop to inquire whether it can be indulged in innocently or hurtfully. Now I believe that if their attention was particularly called to it, the most of them would quit it."
Miss Katharine brightened into a smile and half unclasped her little satchel.
"If a bird could talk," pursued the lame girl, "what a revelation it could make. What lovely things it could tell us of that upper kingdom of the air where it floats and the distant land it sees! What sweet secrets of nature it knows that man with all his wisdom can never find out. And then its gift of song! Why, if thousands and thousands of dollars were spent in training the finest voice in the world it could never equal the notes of a bird. A woman who could perfectly imitate a lark's carol would make her fortune in a month. The world would go wild over her."
"But as she can't do that she has the lark killed to stick on her hat, and then she goes wild over it," interrupted Miss Kathy.
Her sister smiled at this outburst and continued: "While I was working at that morning-glory wreath to-day I couldn't help but watch this bird of Polly's with its innocent little antics, and it made me see more than ever how wrong it is to cage and kill them. I just felt as though I ought to do something to help save the birds and, Kathy, I wonder if we were to invite some of our friends here some evening and call their attention to the subject, and explain the wrong to them, if we couldn't do some good that way? Maybe they'd decide not to wear birds on their hats."
"We might try, sister, I would be perfectly willing to try; but I'm afraid it wouldn't do much good, for we have but little influence. As long as fashionable and wealthy ladies will do it, the poorer classes will not give it up very readily."
"But they have hearts which can be appealed to. They have feelings which can be roused," answered the lame girl eagerly. "Being alone so much I have more time to think over these things than the shop girls who are hurried and busy all day, and perhaps nobody has ever tried to show them how wrong it is; but I really believe some of them could be influenced, if once they would seriously think of the wrong they are doing. That is the reason, Kathy, I suggested to get a lot of them together to talk about saving the birds."
The gentle cripple had never even heard of the great Audubon. She did not know that societies existed in many States called by the name of the distinguished naturalist, engaged in the same merciful work.
Miss Katharine drew from the satchel the paper clipping and handed it to her sister, saying: "This is a coincidence surely; I cut this out of the daily paper at the store some time ago, intending to give it to you, but I always forgot it. It is an account of the proceedings of a convention in one of the big cities. You will see by reading it that somebody else has been thinking your identical thoughts."
"How lovely that is!" exclaimed Eliza when she had carefully read the notice. "How I should have enjoyed being at that meeting. We will help those people all we can, Kathy, by stirring up our acquaintances here. You invite the girls for tomorrow night and I'll have the house ready for them."
That I had been an inspiration to this gentle girl in her work of mercy was a great joy to me, and all the next day I was constantly bursting into a round of cheerful twitters and I swung myself in my hoop as fast as I could make it go.
The best room was swept and dusted with the greatest care, and a few extra chairs moved in from other parts of the house. My cage was transferred from its usual hook to the parlor, and about eight o'clock the guests thronged in and soon every seat was filled. They were principally girls who were clerks in stores, or worked in shops and offices, and many of them were very smartly dressed. A few, like Miss Katharine and her sister, were more plainly attired; but all were lively and full of girlish fun and seemed to enjoy being together. My cage hung in view of every one, and I was proud to be selected as an object-lesson by the lame hostess in her introductory appeal to her guests to help save the birds. She so presented the facts that before the evening was over she had roused an enthusiasm in some of them almost equal to her own, and several pledges were given not to wear birds again.
"There is something new in the way of womanly cruelty which isn't so well known as the destruction of the birds," remarked one of the company. "The humane society ought to get after the women who wear baby lamb trimming."
"The way sealskins are procured is also very cruel," said another girl.
"I have never read much about it," answered Eliza, "but it surely cannot be so wicked as killing song birds, because the sealskin is an article of clothing which serves to keep the body warm, while a dead bird sewed on your hat is merely for show and doesn't keep you warm or cool or anything else."
"It is not the use that is made of the sealskin that is wrong, but the cruelty of the hunters in getting it," replied the young lady who had first spoken. "They say when the parent seal is captured the young one cries for it exactly as a human baby cries after its mother. It is most pitiful to hear it wail. The branding of the poor creatures is a most brutal thing."
"Why are they branded?" asked Kathy.
"Well, you know, for some years there has been a great strife between the United States and Canada, principally over the seal fisheries. Each was afraid the other would get more than its share. To put a stop to the seals being entirely killed off, as was likely to be the case since so many poachers were in the business, one of our government agents suggested that the seals should be branded. They drive them into pens and burn them with red-hot irons."
"It isn't likely that any of us will be called upon to deny ourselves the wearing of baby lamb, as it is quite expensive, but we can condemn it by word if not by example," observed Kathy.
The good-nights were said and the company dispersed, not so jolly and noisy as they came, but with thoughtfulness arising from awakened consciences. The humble lame girl had sowed the good seed.
Polly was to come back from her grandmother's the next week and, though I looked forward with pleasure to being with her again, I felt sorry to leave this peaceful home. The worthy lives and beautiful aims of these obscure girls of whom the world knew nothing was a sweet remembrance to carry with me.
"Thank Polly for me for Dickey Downy's visit and tell her whenever she wants to go away anywhere I'll be glad to take care of him for her," Eliza said when the time came for me to go.
She gave the cage into Miss Kathy's hand. I chirped a farewell to her and she whistled back to me and we parted to see each other no more.
THE COUNTRY SCHOOL
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. —Bible.
Polly's welcome to me was most cordial. She was bright as a cricket and full of chat about her visit. With her usual care she examined my cage closely to see that everything was in order and petted and praised me for a little while to my full content, then ran to Miss Kathy to tell her of the new story book which had been presented to her while away.
"And I am going to read you the stories some day," she added.
Her young playmates flocked in to see her and as I listened to their glad voices my heart yearned more than ever for my comrades of the woods, for a thought of spring was in the air.
As the days went by there were indeed signs all around that spring was on the way. The wind no longer bellowed hoarsely in the treetops, but had a mellow, musical sound and the raindrops that struck the window pane trickled softly as if glad to come out of the clouds.
Just after school one bright afternoon Polly came to the door on the side porch and called in to Miss Katharine:
"I'll be playing out in the yard awhile. Louise and Nancy have come to stay till half-past five o'clock, so if mother needs me you'll know where to find me."
"All right" said Miss Kathy. "Go on and have a jolly time."
And a jolly time they had, judging from the merry shouts that came in through the open door.
"I've got your tag! I've got your tag!" I could hear Polly say, and then there was a great scampering of feet and roars of laughter as they chased each other up and down the walks. This was kept up for some minutes, then a voice began:
"Intery-mintery, cutery-corn, Apple-seed and briar-thorn, Wire, briar, limber-lock, Three geese in one flock; One flew east and one flew west And one flew over the cuckoo's nest."
"Oh, Louise, you're out! It's your turn first."
"I wonder if we are the geese?" said Nancy. Then they all giggled as if what she had said was very funny.
"Louise, Louise, look, look! You're going to have good luck," presently shouted two voices. "A ladybird has lighted on your shoulder."
"Oh, goody!" said Louise. "I wonder what my good luck is going to be?"
"Shake it off, Louise, let it light on me," said Nancy. "I want good luck to come to me too."
"It is just the color of my new crimson dress," declared Polly.
"Only your red dress hasn't spots on it," corrected Louise.
"No, but the red is about the same shade as my dress. Oh, girls, wouldn't a row of ladybirds for buttons be pretty on my waist?"
At this quaint conceit the three girls all giggled again.
"I do think they are the cutest little bugs. I never get tired of looking at them," observed Polly.
"Bugs? You wouldn't call them bugs, would you?" inquired Louise. "I think they are little beetles."
"Beetles? No, no," said Polly and Nancy both in one breath, "A beetle is a big black thing that flies around only at dusk."
"Do you suppose your father would know?" asked Louise of Polly. "Let's take it in the house and ask him, and so settle whether it is bug or beetle."
And they came running into the sitting room behind the store to show the lady-bird to Polly's father, who was there looking over his paper.
"Is it a bug or a beetle?" they asked.
He laid down the paper and looked at the pretty little insect a moment.
"It is a ladybird."
"Yes, of course, we know that, papa; but Nancy and I say it is a bug, and Louise says it's a beetle," explained Polly.
"Louise is right," was his reply. "It is classed as a beetle. It is one of the best friends the farmer has, and the fruit grower too."
"How is it useful to him?" asked Nancy.
"Why, it eats the lice that spoil certain plants and leaves and grain. I notice that the Australian government is—Do you girls know where Australia is?" he asked, interrupting himself.
"Of course we do," they all shouted with much laughing, as if it were a great joke to ask them such a question.
"Well, I was going to tell you that the Australian government is taking steps to encourage the ladybird on purpose to help the fruit farmers of that country. Perhaps they have heard that it brings good luck," he added with a smile.
"Let's show it to Dickey Downy and then put it out of the door and let it go home," said Polly.
"Dickey Downy wouldn't know a lady-bird from a grasshopper," answered Nancy teasingly.
Polly retorted, "Don't be too sure! Dickey is a very intelligent bird, a very extraordinary bird."
She contented herself with paying me compliments, for instead of bringing the crimson beetle into the store she opened the window and let him fly away.
"Well, I'm glad I have learned something new about ladybirds," remarked Louise, as she tied her hat strings ready to go home.
"And I too," chimed in Nancy. "I am glad the Australians prize the pretty little creatures. It's nice to be useful and handsome too."
Then both girls said good-bye and ran home.
A few days later Polly announced to Miss Kathy that she was ready to read the long promised tale.
"Mother says you will be in the back room sewing this afternoon, so I will bring my little rocker and sit here and read to you. My book is full of beautiful stories about children and birds and bees."
I too anticipated a pleasant afternoon, for my cage still hung within the doorway where I could hear and see all that took place in both apartments. Soon after dinner Miss Kathy appeared in the back room with her thimble and scissors and seated herself at the work-table. Polly drew up her chair beside her. The book she held was a pretty little affair bound in red with a silver inscription on the covers, and after being duly admired by both, Polly opened it and selected the following story, which she read aloud:
THE MOUNT AIRY SCHOOL.
The breath of blossoms was in the air and spicy scents from the woods that lined the lane on each side came floating to the delighted senses of a little girl who drove slowly along the road leading to Mount Airy School.
Young horses frisked in the pastures or came whinnying to the fence as she passed. Lazy cows cropped the grass at the sides of the road, pushing their heads into the zigzag corners of the rail fence in pursuit of the tender clover that had crept through from the thrifty meadows.
The school was a little brick structure standing back a short distance from the road, with a playground on each side as enchantingly beautiful as it was novel to Alice Glenn, the little girl who had come from town by invitation of the teacher to visit the school. Accustomed to the severer discipline of the graded school of which she was a member, the unconventional ways of these children amused the young visitor greatly. But who could study on a morning like this, with the delicious warbling of the birds sounding in one's ears?
Who could be expected to take an interest in nouns and adverbs while his heart was out in the woods with the bugs and bees or with the sheep over in yonder field, whose ba-a, ba-a, was borne in distinctly through the open door?
"I'm sure I would never have my lessons if I went to school here in the summer time," thought Alice as she glanced over the room. "The country is too lovely to be spoiled by school books. Why, that boy has a wounded bird in his desk! I wonder if Miss Harper knows?" And a moment after, Alice met the bold, defiant look of the boy himself, which seemed to say, "Well, what are you going to do about it? That bird belongs to me."
The history class being called at this moment the big boy got up, shoved the little creature to the farthest corner of his desk and giving Alice a parting scowl, went forward to recite his lesson. Notwithstanding her desire to befriend the feathered captive she soon became interested in the class and could scarcely refrain from laughing outright at the answer to the teacher's question, "What happened at Bunker Hill?"
"Old Bunker died."
This was bawled out by a freckled-faced boy, who reminded her of a rabbit, owing to a fashion he had of twitching his nose and keeping it in motion in some mysterious way. Even the teacher wanted to laugh, but assuming her sternest manner she speedily restored order.
It was during the arithmetic lesson that Alice's heart went out in pity for the youthful instructor. The majority of the pupils were bright; but an unruly fraction, one child, refused to comprehend.
"If a family consume a barrel of flour in nine weeks, what part of a barrel will they use in one week, Matilda?"
Matilda rolled her blue eyes up to the ceiling as if to find the answer there, then studied a board in the floor for several minutes, then slowly shook her head and sat down. A dozen hands were raised, and the teacher nodded permission to a small boy who analyzed it successfully.
"Now, Matilda, you try it."
But Matilda shook her head and fidgeted with her apron string.
"Try it, and we will help you," persisted the teacher.
Thus urged, Matilda cleared her throat, folded her arms and began: "If nine persons use a barrel of flour in nine weeks, in one week they would use nine times nine, which is eighty-one."
"What! eighty-one barrels? But, Matilda, it makes no difference about the number of persons. It may be one hundred or it may be twenty. Suppose it were a bushel of potatoes they consumed in nine weeks. How many would they use in one week?"
The girl again shook her head and resumed her upward gaze.
"Would they not use one-ninth of a bushel? Or, we'll take a peach for instance."
Matilda's face brightened perceptibly and almost lost its look of dejection. The teacher noted the change and smiled encouragingly as she said:
"We'll suppose a peach will last you nine days. What part of it will you eat in one day?"
The expectant look faded out of the poor girl's face. One peach to last nine days! No wonder the question seemed impossible of solution.
"Well, then," said Miss Harper quite in despair and almost perspiring in her effort to make it plain to the child, "we'll let the peach go. Suppose instead, it were a watermelon. If you ate a carload of watermelons in nine days, what part of a carload would you eat in one day?"
At the mention of her favorite fruit, Matilda's eyes glistened, her features relaxed into a broader smile, and almost before the teacher had finished she had her answer ready and gave a correct analysis. Watermelons had won.
At last the little clock that ticked away the hours on the teacher's table pointed to the time for the noon intermission, and with a whoop and halloo almost deafening, the pupils rushed out with dinner pails and baskets to eat their luncheon in the shady woods.
Miss Harper led Alice away to her boarding-place across the fields. Scarcely taking time to taste the different kinds of jams, jellies, grape-butter, and other sauces set out by the hostess in special honor of the young visitor, Alice hastily dispatched her dinner and was soon back at the playground, where she found a bevy of girls seated on a big grapevine which one of the larger girls was swinging backward and forward amid shouts of glee. Nearby two gingham sunbonnets bobbed up and down as their owners bent their heads to watch a speckled lady-bug crawl up a twig.
"Lady-bug, lady-bug, fly away home, Your house is on fire, your children will roam,"
repeated Esther in a low monotone.
"See, it's going now. I wonder whether it really understands us?"
"Of course it does," replied her companion positively. "Daddy-long-legs are real smart too. I caught one last night and I said over three times, 'Tell me which way our cow goes or I will kill you,' and it pointed in the direction of our pasture lot every time."
"You wouldn't really have killed the poor thing, though," exclaimed Alice, who had drawn near to look at the crimson lady-bug. "A daddy-long-legs is such a harmless creature. It has a right to live as well as we have."
"Oh, Caleb, did you catch it?" interrupted Matilda. "Bring it here!" and she beckoned to a small boy who was busy near a large beech tree some distance away. "He's been after a tree-frog," she explained. "There's one up in that tree that sings the cutest every evening and morning. I hear him when I am gathering bluebells."
"It's pretty near dead," said the boy bringing his trophy. "I guess I squeezed it too hard. We might as well kill it."
"No, no! that would be cruel; the poor little thing will soon be all right if you put it back on its tree. We'll go with you and help you put it up," replied Alice. "Come on, girls."
"It ain't hardly worth the trouble," and the boy looked at the frog disdainfully. "It's uglier than a toad, if anything. But I never kill toads; I know better'n to do that."
"I am glad to hear it," said the visitor from town as they turned toward the elm tree. "Toads enjoy life and it's wicked to molest 'em."
"Oh, I don't know about their enjoyin' life. The reason I let 'em alone is, coz if you kill a toad, your cow'll give bad milk."
Alice did not dispute this wise statement. She could not help wishing that the same law of retaliation protected all birds, beasts, and insects.
After seeing the frog deposited in safety in a hole in one of the big boughs, she with Matilda and Esther scampered back to the swing expecting to find the others there. To their surprise the big grapevine was unoccupied, and the shouts and screams issuing from the schoolhouse led them too, to hurry on to see what was the matter.
"Maybe Jim Stubbs has got a mus'rat, or somethin' in there a-scarin' the children," suggested Esther, as they entered the door.
A crowd had gathered in front of the teacher's desk on which was placed the large dictionary, and seated on the book was the boy who winked with his nose.
"Stand back!" he called, "I'm going to let it out, and then you'll see fun."
With that he jumped down, removed the dictionary, raised the lid of the desk, and out popped a red squirrel. Round and round over the floor flew the frightened animal, dodging here and there and wildly darting into corners to evade the books and other missiles that were thrown at it. Not only the boys took a part in the cruel sport, but some of the girls helped with sticks, sunbonnets, and whatever they could lay their hands on. Two or three times the little creature was struck. At last, helpless, it stood panting while one of its tormentors dealt it a blow that killed it.
A cry of protest broke from Alice's lips, but her voice was lost in the roar of applause that followed the big boy's action, as he tossed the lifeless squirrel across the room into the face of another boy, who in turn pitched the animal at his neighbor.
"The poor little creature! How could they abuse it and take its life?" cried Alice, turning to those nearest her. The other girls shrank back abashed at her reproachful tones, which were noticed by Jim Stubbs, and that hero felt called upon to make a speech.
"Bah! boys, that girl is getting ready to cry over a dead squirrel. What d'ye think of that?" And a heartless chorus echoed his laughter.
"No, I'm too indignant to cry," replied Alice with spirit. "I never knew boys could be so awfully wicked, yes, and girls too. I should think you would love these dear little creatures, and pet and protect them. They are what make country life pleasant. I wouldn't give a fig for your pretty woods if there were no living things to be seen there."
This was an aspect of the situation the boys had never before considered. They did not realize that to a lover of nature the humblest form of animal life is interesting. Did other people really prize squirrels and frogs and lightning bugs and such things?
Just at this moment the teacher entered, and the crestfallen pupils busied themselves in gathering up the scattered books and other articles used in storming the squirrel.
"My young visitor is quite shocked by such an exhibition of cruelty," said Miss Harper, when she had learned how matters stood. "Think what the woods would be without the song of birds and the chirp and hum of insects. Your playground teems with happy beings that love the warmth and sunlight as well as you do. Would not the forests be robbed of half their beauty and interest if the squirrels and chipmunks and birds and butterflies were killed off?"
"Wimmen folks are nice ones to talk about cruelty to birds," sneered the big boy to his neighbor, "when they stick wings and tails and whole birds on their hats and bonnets whenever they can raise a cent to buy 'em with. Oh, yes, wimmen are awful consistent! They are, for a fact."
Had his words reached Miss Harper's ears she might have replied that sensible and humane "wimmen folks" regarded the fearful slaughter of birds as little less than a crime; but unfortunately she did not hear this and resumed:
"Yet you hunt out these harmless and beautiful creatures and wantonly destroy them. Nearly every boy gives way to this savage, brutal impulse to kill something. He couldn't tell why if you were to ask him. Children, do you know there is a society whose members pledge themselves to protect the birds? I wish we might organize one here to-day. I am sure, from a spirit of kindness, you would like to unite in a promise not to willfully harm any of these wonderful creatures that God has placed around us."
When Alice Glenn drove home that evening she carried with her a glad heart, for in her pocket was a copy of the rules and by-laws of the "Anti-Cruelty Society, of Mount Airy School," which Miss Harper had organized that afternoon. And it was signed not only by the girls and all the smaller boys, but by big Jim Stubbs and the boy who winked with his nose.
Happy little maiden, Give, oh, give to me The highness of your courage, The sweetness of your grace, To speak a large word in a little place. —E. S. Phelps-Ward.
Closing the volume, Polly laid it in her lap.
"That was a good story," observed Miss Kathy, as the child paused. The little girl did not immediately reply, but leaned forward and looked wistfully in her companion's face for a moment.
"Do you think it is so very wicked to keep—that is, to—to deprive a bird of its liberty?" she asked timidly.
"Oh, I don't know that it could be called wicked. A canary bird, born in a cage, that never knew any other home, would be apt to die if it were turned loose to shift for itself and get its own living. It possibly could not stand the exposure to the weather," replied Miss Katharine.
"But supposing it wasn't a canary," said Polly hesitatingly; "supposing it might be a redbird, or a wren, or—or——"
"Or a bobolink?" Miss Kathy smiled as she supplied the word.
"Well—yes, a bobolink, for instance." And Polly glanced toward me.
"Any captured bird certainly feels very bad to be shut up in a cage all its life, though I have seen robins in captivity that grew to be as tame as canaries. My aunt had one that lived twelve years in a cage. It would peck her cheek, and pretend to kiss her, and do all sorts of sweet little tricks. His cage door stood open, and he went in and out as it suited him, but he never thought of flying away. However, it is only natural to suppose that hopping about in a narrow space would be dreadful to a bird accustomed to spreading its wings and soaring up through the sky whenever and wherever it pleased."
Miss Kathy looked at the clock. She saw it was time for her to go back into the store, then gathered up her work and went into the front room. When Polly was left to herself I could see she was thinking very hard. The rocking-chair kept moving faster, and her forehead was drawn into a little pucker between her eyes. She sighed too, occasionally, as if she were sad.
I noticed that Miss Katharine from her post behind the counter looked in at the child from time to time, and I heard her say half-aloud: "If the fashionable women of the land had hearts as merciful and consciences as tender as that dear little Polly's, the slaughter of the birds would soon come to an end."
The birch chair finally ceased to rock. The deep-drawn wrinkle passed away from Polly's forehead. She laid down her book and came to my cage, then she stood for a moment looking at me tenderly. Then she took the cage down from its hook and carried it to the door leading to the garden. The air was pleasant, and a sunbeam slanted across the porch making a yellow gleam on the lattice. How beautiful it looked to my weary eyes!
"Dearest Dickey Downy, good-bye," she said to me, and her voice had a little tremor in it. "You had a right to be happy and live out of doors among the trees, and I kept you a prisoner. Please forgive me for it, and forgive me for wearing birds' wings on my Sunday hat. I shall never do such cruel things again. It's coming spring now, Dickey, so be happy and fly away to the beautiful clouds."
She set the little wire door wide open. A warm zephyr swept by, laden with the scent of wild flowers and all sweet growing things. My heart fluttered with joy. I heard the far cry of the hills as I floated out and upward, higher and higher, on joyous wing. I was free, free!