Freedom For An Hour
"Now, Polly, don't be cross," said Herbert; "the fairy must have fancied you could tell a good thing, else she wouldn't have said what she did."
"Oh, she had no idea I could tell a story," said Polly; "she only meant that, considering my great age, I ought to be able to give you a word of good advice. She only said it out of politeness."
"A fairy would be sure to know all about you," said Herbert, "and would never say what she didn't mean."
"Ah, there's more than fairies do that," said Polly, pausing to shake her head. "I once knew a little boy who said to his cousin, 'Oh, I hope your mamma will let you come again on Saturday;' and then, when his cousin was out of hearing, he turned and said, 'I hope he won't get leave to come, he's such a cross-patch.'"
"O Polly, what a sly rogue you are! I see I shall have to be careful what I say before you," said Herbert.
"I hate deceit," said Polly. "Ah, I knew a man who was well punished for a fine trick he played; and about a bird of my species, too."
"Do tell it me, Polly, there's a dear," said Herbert.
"Well, I was once the favourite Polly of an old bird-stuffer," said Mrs. Polly; "and great pains he took to teach me many songs and words of your language, and very proud he was when I managed to say them. He was so very fond of me, that after I had gone to bed, with my head on my back, he would creep downstairs and repeat the words he had been dinning into my ears all day; and just to get rid of him, more than to please him, I used to say them correctly, and so off he would go to bed as pleased as possible. One day a gentleman brought two birds to be stuffed, and I heard him say they were trogons. Now, they are very rare birds; and after the gentleman went away, my master exclaimed, 'I have long been wanting a bird of this kind. I think I could manage to make one to myself out of some of the feathers!'
"Now, the very night before, my master had come down with his red night-cap on his head to teach me to say, 'Honesty is the best policy;' because he wanted me to call out to the servant-maid, 'Who stole the tea?' and finish off with the other as a warning. So I said under my breath, but loud enough for him to hear, 'Honesty, sir, is the best----;' and then screamed out, 'Who stole the----? Oh, fie for shame!'
"You should have seen how he started, Master Herbert; but he went on with his wicked intentions, and actually kept back every third feather, making a bird to resemble a trogon out of them. When he tried to get me to say that about honesty, I never would do it again, but kept saying instead, 'Oh fie! Who stole the feathers?' And the more he wanted me to change the word into tea or sugar, the more I cried 'feath--ers.' He was so angry with me about it that he sold me to an old lady, who took me away in her carriage."
"But where did you come from first of all, Polly?" said Herbert. "Where were you born?"
"I really cannot tell you, sir," said Polly. "I have heard the old bird-stuffer telling people I was a native of Western Africa, but whether that was true or not I do not know. All I can recollect of my first home was sitting beside an old parrot like what I am myself now, who, I suppose, was my mother; and on looking round, I saw a strange animal glaring at me from the trunk of the tree behind. I fluttered and screamed, but my mother did not seem to fancy there was any danger, till, all at once, she was pounced upon by the animal, and dragged away, and I never saw her more. Then I crept back into the nest, and lay half-dead with fright, moaning and crying at times for very loneliness; but she never came. And even now, Master Herbert--would you believe it?--I keep thinking of that dreadful time, and I have to shriek out for some relief to my feelings. You often ask me what I am crying for, but you will know now. And you often wonder why I won't be friends with the cat, and try to bite her when I get a chance. Well, the animal that stole my mother was so very like a cat, that I cannot help hating everything that looks like one.--But don't you think, sir, Mr. Cocky is staying out beyond his time. I am not sure of him, sir. Remember, by his own showing, he was an ill-behaved, ungrateful bird in his youth."
"Yes; but, Polly, don't you think he has some good qualities too?" said Master Herbert. "I liked to hear him tell how he went to look for his mother, when the rest were running away, leaving her to her fate. I really think, if his brothers had been kinder to him he would have been more amiable. And papa often tells me that if he sees a boy kind to his mother, he is pretty sure to turn out a good man in the end. But tell me, Polly, how you got on after your mother left."
"Well, sir," continued Polly, "as I sat looking out of the nest in the tree, another parrot came and sat beside me, asking all sorts of questions as to where my mother had gone; and when I told him, he stayed and took care of me. I suppose he must have been my father. But before I was many months older, I was knocked down off the tree, just in the same way as Cockatoo says his mother was knocked down, and I was put into a cage and carried away along with ever so many birds. I've scarcely any recollection of living out of a cage, sir, or off a perch, the time I stayed in my native woods being so short, and so very long ago."
"And how did you like the old lady, Polly?" inquired Herbert.
"Oh, very well indeed, sir," she replied. "I had plenty to eat and drink, and a very fine brass cage to live in, and a servant to attend to my wants along with the other birds my mistress had. I cannot say I was ever troubled with a restless disposition,--owing, I suppose, to my having been taken from my native land when I was so very young,--and I always felt very happy. My mistress took a great deal of notice of me, teaching me a great many things, and particularly songs. I used to sing a verse of an old song called 'Crazie Jane,' and another called 'The Maid of Lodi,' which used to be a great favourite with my mistress; and when I saw her coming in with some dainty bits from the dessert after dinner, I used to dance about my perch, and cry out,--
'I sing the Maid of Lodi,
Who sweetly sung to me,'
which used to make her so happy, poor old lady. But I am sorry to say my singing led me into some trouble. I used to be put in the kitchen at night to benefit by the heat of the fire, and I used to be teased a good deal by the servants to sing. Now, it was past my usual bed-hour when I was taken to the kitchen, and as I always went to bed at sunset, I used to be quite angry with them, and would say all sorts of impudent things instead of singing. But, as they would then walk away with my dishes, and threaten to pour water on me if I didn't do what they said, in desperation I would sing my songs to get rid of them. One young woman, the lady's-maid, was particularly tormenting in this way; and when Tom, the footman, tried to teach me a new song, I could not help noticing she was in a great fright. I pricked up my ears at once, and showed Tom I was all attention. In a very few days I could say it quite correctly, but no one knew of it except Tom. Seeing the lady's-maid preparing to go out one day, and dressed in her very finest clothes, I took the opportunity to ask her for a drink of water, my dish being empty; but she was in a hurry, and cross at something, and instead of replying civilly, she made such an ugly face, and flapped her handkerchief at me. My mistress, who was going out too, had her back turned at the moment, else the maid had not dared to do such a thing. But I had not learned to bear insults quietly then, and was young and hot-headed, so, thirsting for revenge, I screamed out what Tom had taught me:
'How happy you shall be
With your bold soldier boy!'
How frightened she did look, to be sure! Up she came to the cage, and in the most coaxing voice said, 'Pretty Polly! would Polly like some fresh bread and milk?--Oh, please, madam, wait till I get Polly some food! Her dish is quite empty, poor, dear bird!' and away she flew to fetch me some.
"'Why, what's Polly saying, Emma, about a soldier?' said my mistress solemnly. 'Now, you know I abhor soldiers.'
"'How happy you shall be!
Come with me--you shall see
Your bold soldier boy!'
I sang out again, dancing about my perch in great delight at the mischief I was causing.
"'Emma, what do I hear?' said my mistress. 'Have you still anything to do with that soldier, after what I said?'
"And now I began to feel sorry for poor Emma, who fell a-crying, and held up her hands in despair or entreaty. Then I thought to myself, what good had my revenge done me? So hoping to help her out of the difficulty, I called out, 'Tom, Tom, Tom! Come here, sir! Oh fie!'
"Tom was at the door waiting for our mistress, I knew; and being a kind-hearted lad, he came in at once; and seeing Emma in tears, and hearing the story, told he had taught me the song, and she knew nothing about it. Though my mistress said she was satisfied with Tom's explanation, she was still angry, and ordered poor Emma to take off her finery and remain at home. After she was gone, Emma took my cage into the garden, where I was often allowed to remain for hours. But I was very much surprised when she took me out and allowed me to sit on her hand, much to little Dido the Italian grayhound's indignation, for he was always a jealous animal. I really believe she wanted me to fly away then and there. But, as I told you before, Master Herbert, I never was of a restless turn, and had no ambition to leave my home. Seeing this, she gave me a great twist by the toes to put me back into the cage; but as she pinched me very hard, I tried, in self-defence, to bite her, and in the scuffle she broke a piece of my toe off, which has never grown on again. But whenever I look at it I am reminded, if revenge is sweet, it doesn't escape without something bitter too; and Miss Emma no doubt felt the same, because I left my mark for ever upon her soft white arm."
"Thank you, Polly," said Herbert. "I see the fairy is right in saying you have many useful lessons to teach; but I must now go and see what Mr. Cockatoo is about. I do hope he hasn't flown away, for Uncle James would never forgive me for letting him off, he thinks so much of his beautiful plumage."
Herbert had a good hunt all over the grounds for the cockatoo, and was just going to give him up, when, as he approached the summer-house, he heard him chattering, and trying to say, "Pretty Cockatoo."
"Oh, you're there, are you?" said Herbert. "It's past the time I allowed you to stay out, so come along, old fellow,--a bargain's a bargain."
"Just one more flight, sir," said the cockatoo. "My wings are so stiff, I've only taken a very few."
Herbert having consented, away flew the cockatoo down on to the path; but at that moment a huge cat, which lived outside, and which had a lively young family of five kittens, under the summer-house, saw the bird and made a pounce at him, catching him by the feathers of his tail. Fortunately Herbert saw what had happened, and before the cockatoo had time to scream, he had pitched his cap at Mrs. Puss, and then drove her away with the branch of a tree lying near. Mr. Cockatoo was shaking with fright, and was thankful to find himself inside his cage once more, with the door securely shut. For some time after, when Herbert urged him to take a little exercise, he refused, saying that he agreed with Mrs. Polly in thinking that, as they were now in a foreign country, flying about did not seem to suit his health, and that there were worse places than his cage.
Some days after, Herbert's cousins came to pay him a visit; and as Minnie was recovering from a severe illness, the sofa was taken out of doors, and placed under the spreading branches of an oak-tree. There she lay, enjoying the fresh cool air that wafted along under the branches; while Herbert read aloud her last new book to her and her sister Grace. Polly, who had taken a great fancy to Minnie, had requested Herbert to place her perch close to them; for, though she liked to be out of doors, her terror of cats was so great, that unless she was closely guarded she preferred to remain in her cage. It was a book on natural history Herbert was reading from. In the midst of a dry description of the habits of the humming-bird, he suddenly broke out with----
"'The humming-bird! the humming-bird!
So fairy-like and bright
It lives among the sunny flowers,--
A creature of delight!
"'In the radiant islands of the East,
Where fragrant spices grow,
A thousand thousand humming-birds
Are glancing to and fro!'"
"Oh! how beautiful they must be!" exclaimed Herbert, pausing in the reading. "How delightful it must be to visit foreign countries! Only think of 'a thousand thousand humming-birds!'"