22. The Cockatoo, Parade
"Good morning to you, sweet Nelly, dear industrious Nelly!" was the greeting of Folly on the following morning, as she stood with a red cockatoo on her wrist, quite filling up Nelly's doorway with her iron hoop and her flounces.
Nelly was busily engaged in screwing on the legs of a table made of facts from Natural History, which she had bought from General Knowledge. A very curious table it was: the facts were as numerous, and fitted together as closely, as the bits of wood in a Tunbridge-ware box; and the legs were carved all over with figures of birds and beasts. That table had cost many hours, and had been carried home bit by bit; it was one of the prettiest and handsomest pieces of furniture which appeared in the little cottage.
"Good morning," replied Nelly very coldly, in answer to the salutation; she had no good opinion of Miss Folly, and hoped that she did not intend to linger. Folly had, however, come with an object, and did not appear to notice the coldness of the child, indeed no one is slower than Folly in taking a hint to depart.
"I see that you are as fond of creatures as I am," cried Miss Folly, turning her goggle eyes upon her parrot; "I have a fancy, I may say a passion, for them! I keep a regular 'happy family' at home--dogs, cats, mice, parrots, and pigeons, and a little pet alligator, the dearest duck of an alligator, that I've taught to eat out of my hand! You must really come and see them all one day."
"Thank you, but I'm very busy," replied poor Nelly, who wished that her jabbering visitor would leave her in quiet to work.
"But I've no bird like your Content; I really think that I must add it to my collection," said Folly; "it seems to me quite unique!"
Nelly had no notion what unique could mean, but she had a great notion that her Content should never be added to Miss Folly's "happy family."
"Now I've just been thinking," continued the chatterer, "that it would be a nice plan--a most charming plan, for you and me to make a little exchange. You give me your bird Content, which I'll always cherish and coddle, and feed on sugar-plums and strawberry ice, in affectionate remembrance of you"--(O Folly! Folly! how little you care for truth!)--"and you shall have my magnificent cockatoo, Parade, that I've taught to speak myself; he's the finest creature in the world: you shall hear how clever he is!"
Folly coaxed the bird on her wrist, called him by a dozen pretty names, smiled at him, nodded to him, whistled for him, and at length induced him to speak. The cockatoo bobbed his head up and down, shook his wings, puffed out his red feathers, and then in harsh, sharp tones repeated about a dozen times the sentence, "Pretty Poll! ain't I fine? ain't I fine?"
The bird Content, perched on the mantelpiece, seemed listening in wonder to a voice so unlike his own.
"That is a clever cockatoo," said Nelly, with a smile; "but I would not exchange my Content for any other bird in the world."
"Ah, but Parade is a beauty--a real beauty!" cried Miss Folly; "Lady Fashion, my most particular friend, would give anything to possess him! I assure you that when I put him in my window, every passer-by stops to stare at the creature. Only just hear him again."
And again Parade bobbed his head up and down, swelled himself out, and repeated, "Pretty Poll! ain't I fine? ain't I fine?"
"I protest," cried Folly, speaking faster than ever, "he'll sometimes keep repeating over that sentence from morning till night!"
Nelly was too polite to say it aloud, but she thought that one might get very weary of hearing "Pretty Poll! ain't I fine? ain't I fine?"
"I really do not wish to make any exchange," said the lame girl with mild decision; "Parade has very bright colours, it is true, but I love better the silver wings and soft note of my pretty Content."
Even Folly could not but see that this her first effort had failed; but Folly is not easily discouraged. "If this stupid girl do not care for Parade," thought she, "I'll find something else that she cares for;" and putting the cockatoo down on the table, Folly drew a gay jewel-case from her pocket.
"What do you say to these?" she exclaimed, opening the case, and drawing from it a long string of what looked like pearls, with a sparkling clasp which seemed to be made of diamonds.
"They are very pretty indeed!" said Nelly.
"And so becoming--so charmingly becoming! I assure you, my dear, if you would only let me dress up your hair, put it back à l'Imperatrice, and adorn it with these lovely pearls, there's not a creature that would know you again!"
Nelly laughed, and Folly thought that she had now found a vulnerable point; that, like the crow in the fable, the child could be caught by flattery.
"You don't do justice to yourself, my dear; your dress is so common and plain that no one guesses how well you would look if you attended a little to style. If you wore such clothes as Matty now wears, and carried them off with an air, you may depend on't that people would take you for a very grand lady indeed!"
"But why should I wish to be taken for what I am not?" asked Nelly simply.
"My dear, what an absurd question! Does not every one wish to be taken for somebody grander than herself?" cried Folly, jabbering at railroad speed. "The child of the dogs' meat man wears a necklace and hoop; the farmer's daughter cuts out the squire's; the kitchen-maids on Sundays deck out as ladies; each one mimics some one above her, and wants to cut a dash in the world! If any one were content to appear really what she is, I should cut her society at once; I should let the whole world know that she had nothing to do with Folly;"
Sharing the excitement of his mistress, "Ain't I fine? ain't I fine?" cried Parade.
"Now, my dear, I'll tell you what I'll do," continued Folly, lowering her voice to a confidential tone; "you shall give me your bird Content, and, as I told you before, I shall feed him and foster him with the same care as I do my own pet alligator. In return I will not only present you with this charming string of pearls, but will show you how to wear them in a manner the most bewitching."
"I do not think that pearls would suit a plain little girl like me!"
"Plain! if ever I heard such a thing. You've a countenance quite out of the common! You've the prettiest nose--the sweetest little nose; and as for your smile!--" Folly threw up her hands, and cast up her eyes, to denote admiration too great to be expressed by mere words.
Poor little Nelly was rather taken aback by praises to which she had not been accustomed. She certainly placed little confidence in anything said by her visitor; yet flattery has some sweetness in it, even from the lips of Folly. Let no little girl who reads my story despise poor Nelly for smiling and blushing, unless she be quite certain that she never herself has done the same on a similar occasion. But Nelly, though amused, was not caught even by the bait of the pearls and the praises. She remembered many a word of sensible advice given by her faithful friend Duty, and drawing a little back from Folly, who in her eager confidential manner had pressed up quite close to the child, she said in a modest tone, "Whatever our looks may be, a simple and sober dress, such as suits our age and station, is what Duty always recommends."
"Duty--the old horror!" exclaimed Folly, who could not endure the very name; "I don't wonder that you're formal and quiet, if you tie yourself down to her laws. No, no, my pretty Nell, you must break away at once from such a dull, tiresome guide; don't talk to me of Duty again! I'll take you under my charge; I'll show you all my delights; I'll even--" here Folly again lowered her voice to a confidential tone, and leant forward her frizzled head as she whispered, "I'll even manage to introduce you to my most particular friend, Lady Fashion!"
"Nothing on earth would make me give up Duty!" exclaimed Nelly warmly, for she could bear no word spoken against her friend. "I will never forget her, nor part with her gift; and I don't want, indeed I don't, to be introduced to Lady Fashion!"
Miss Folly started back in indignation and horror. "Not want to be introduced to Lady Fashion! the girl must be out of her senses! Not one moment longer shall Folly condescend to stay near one who has the effrontery to own that she does not want to be introduced to Lady Fashion!" and, snatching up her cockatoo, Parade, Miss Folly rushed out of the cottage as fast as her mass of frippery would let her.
Nelly looked after her with a wondering smile, and Content, perched on the shoulder of his young mistress, burst forth into the merriest of songs.
Miss Folly did not stop in her running till she arrived, out of breath, at the spot where Pride was awaiting her return.
"What success?" asked the dark one, though he saw at a glance that Folly had been baffled and defeated.
"I'll never go near her again!" gasped forth Folly; "I'll never put my foot across her threshold! She has disappointed me, rejected me, insulted me; she does not care for my cockatoo, Parade, nor wish to be introduced to my most particular friend, Lady Fashion!" and Folly almost cried with spite and vexation.
"She will not escape me so easily," said Pride; "my arts are deeper than yours. I have resolved that her bird shall die, and die it shall, before to-morrow, let her guard it as well as she may."
"She always keeps Content beside her," observed Folly, "and you know that neither of us are able to take it away by force."
"Not by force," said Pride gloomily, "but by fraud. I know that I cannot with my own hands wring the neck of Content; but I'll do more, I'll make Nelly kill him herself!"
"How can you do that?" exclaimed wondering Folly.
Pride glanced round to see that no one else was listening before he replied, in a voice sunk to a horrible whisper, "I've a poisoned cage, called Ambition, very fair and fine to the eye. Let Content be but once placed in that, and he will swell, and swell, till he burst, like one of your own bubbles, Miss Folly."
Folly looked charmed at the clever idea. "But how to get the bird into the cage?" said she.
"Leave that to me," answered Pride; "I know how to manage these matters. There is many a one who would scorn to listen to the offers of Folly, who cannot turn a deaf ear to Pride. You have power over a weak mind like Matty's, and can turn and mould her at your will; but it needs a more subtle spirit, a more artful lure, to overcome a girl who has been brought up under the guidance of Duty."