Her apparently desperate and hopeless condition grew so comical when I reflected that it was only affectation, that I could not help laughing, loud and long. "Dear gossip," I called to her, "pray don't give yourself so much unnecessary trouble! You might know I wouldn't hurt you or your nest for the world, you most absurd of birds!"
As if she understood me, and as if she could not bear being ridiculed, up she rose at once, strong and graceful, and flew off with a full, round, clear note, delicious to hear.
Then I cautiously looked for the nest, and found it quite close to my feet, near the stem of a stunted bayberry bush. Mrs. Sandpiper had only drawn together a few bayberry leaves, brown and glossy, a little pale green lichen, and a twig or two, and that was a pretty enough house for her. Four eggs, about as large as robins', were within, all laid evenly with the small ends together, as is the tidy fashion of the Sandpiper family. No wonder I did not see them; for they were pale green like the lichen, with brown spots the color of the leaves and twigs, and they seemed a part of the ground, with its confusion of soft neutral tints. I couldn't admire them enough, but, to relieve my little friend's anxiety, I came very soon away; and as I came, I marvelled much that so very small a head should contain such an amount of cunning.
HOW DID THE CANARY DO IT?
By Celia Thaxter
A little friend of mine, who was going away for the winter, asked me to take charge of one of her canaries till she returned in the spring. The bird was a foreigner, born and bred in Fayal, and brought across the water in his youth, a gray-green and golden little creature, whose name was Willie.
I gladly consented, and one day Willie was brought over from Jamaica Plains, a distance of ten miles, and deposited in my parlor. His cage was closely covered with brown paper during the journey, and he came in the cars, by the roundabout way of Boston.
At first he seemed somewhat lonely and lost, but soon grew very happy and content in his new home; and well he might be, for he had all his wants supplied, and did not lack companions.
I had two canaries, a robin, and a song-sparrow, and they soon began to make beautiful music all together.
The sun could not rise without shining into the parlor windows; it lingered there all day, till the last glow of the evening-red faded out of the sky. At two windows the light streamed through green leaves and gay flowers, and made a most cheerful atmosphere, in which no bird could possibly help singing. The song-sparrow's clear, friendly notes seemed to bring May to the very door; and the robin executed, _sotto voce,_ all his fine out-of-door melodies, and put one into an April mood with his sweet, melancholy rain-song.
Willie could not choose but be happy. So they all sang and chirruped together the whole winter through, and cheered us in that cold, sad season. Slowly the earth turned daily more and more toward the sun, and before we were ready to realize so much joy, the "willow-wands" were spangled with "downy silver," and the alder catkins began to unwind their long spirals, and swing pliant in the first winds of March. Then the melting airs of April set the brooks free, the frogs began to pipe, and there was rare music! Birds came in flocks, the soft green grass stole gradually over the land, and dandelions shone gay in the meadows. When beneath a southern window the flowering almond blossomed, I kept the windows open during fine weather, and left the bird cages on the sill the whole day. Little wild birds came and sat on the grapevine trellis above, and twittered and talked with the captives, and sometimes alighted on the cages; the pink almond sprays waved round them, and all were, or seemed to be, as happy as the day is long.
Willie's little mistress returned about this time, and I only awaited a proper opportunity to return my charge, safe and well, into her hands. I congratulated myself on his state of health and spirits, and thought how glad she would be to see him again. But, alas! for human calculations. One afternoon I went, as usual, to take in the cage for the night: there was Dick, the robin; and Philip, the sparrow; and slender Rupert, my own canary, and his mate; but Willie of Fayal, the green and golden stranger, was gone, cage and all. I looked out of the window; there lay the cage upon the ground, empty. Imagine my consternation! Had some strange, prowling cat devoured--? I was in despair at the thought.
"If it had been any one but Willie," I said, again and again. He had been intrusted to my care; what should I say when he was required of me? In real sorrow I wrote to my youthful friend and told her all. She mourned her bird as dead, but only for a day; for what do you think happened? The most surprising thing! You never will guess; so I shall tell you all, at once.
Willie was not devoured; he escaped from his cage, and flew unerringly back to his former home, ten miles from mine. The night after he disappeared from my window, he was heard pecking at the window of the little girl's chamber, but no one noticed him; so he stayed about the house till morning, and flew in when the window was opened, and was found perched on the cage of his old companion.
Great was everybody's astonishment, as you may imagine. There was no mistaking him,--it was Willie, and no other.
Yes, really and truly. Now, how do you suppose he found his way over all those miles of unfamiliar country, straight to that chamber window? _What_ guided him? Did he fly high or low?
Probably not high; for his wings were unused to flying at all, and consequently not strong; but they bore him over woods and fields, over streets and people, over hundreds of houses, till at last his tired eyes beheld the tower and gables of his old dwelling-place rising from among the pleasant woods, and then he knew he might rest in safety.
But how _could_ he find the way? Supposing birds to have means of communicating with each other by speech, how would he have put his questions, wishing to ask his way? Meeting a thrush, or sparrow, or any other dainty feathered creature, he might perhaps have hailed it with,--"Good morrow, comrade;" but he couldn't have said, "Can you tell me the way to Jamaica Plains?" or, "Do you know where the little girl lives to whom I belong? Her name is May, and she has golden hair; can you tell me how to find her?" Do you think he could? Yet he did find her, and until last summer, was still living in that pretty chamber among the green trees.
Some time, perhaps, we shall understand those things; but until then, Willie's journey must remain one of the mysterious incidents in natural history.
A RUNAWAY WHALE
By Captain O.G. Fosdick
"Now, boys," said Captain Daniel, "draw your skiff up beside the _Greyhound,_ and I'll tell you a story of how I was once run away with by a whale."
We boys did as we were bid, drawing the skiff well up clear of the tideway. We clambered on board the _Greyhound_ and, seating ourselves or the transom, waited for Captain Daniel to begin.
Taking a match from his waistcoat pocket and lighting a long clay pipe, he spoke:
Along in the fifties I was cabin-boy on the whaling-ship _Nimrod_, Alarson Coffin, master. We were cruising on the coast of Brazil when, one day, the lookout, stationed at the masthead, reported a large school of sperm-whales off our lee-beam.
Captain Coffin, who had taken his spy-glass and gone aloft at the first cry from the masthead, ordered the boats lowered. As the men tumbled over one another to be first to reach the monsters, my young heart danced within me, and our old black steward had to hold me back, I was so anxious to go.
There was a gentle wind blowing, and the boats' crews, having hoisted the sails, were fast leaving the ship.
Captain Coffin now ordered the men to get a spare boat from its cranes over the quarter-deck and fit it with whaling implements.
There were only a few of us left on board for ship-keepers. We quickly had the boat down from its cranes, and everything ready for launching.
There were several other whalers off our weather beam, and as soon as they noticed our boats in the water they squared their yards and ran down across our stern. Captain Coffin had observed their manoeuvres, and calling to the ship's cooper, he said, "Bangs, you will have to take charge of the ship during my absence, for every one of our boats is fastened to a whale, and the rest of the school has become gallied, and I don't want those Nantucketers to get there before our boats secure two whales apiece, at least."
Taking another look at the ships which had now crossed our wake, he added, "Blast those Nantucketers! They can smell a sperm-whale five miles to their leeward any time."
He had come down from the rigging, and ordered the head-sails thrown back. The order was obeyed, and stepping to the ship's waist, he placed his powerful shoulders against the whale-boat, and said: "Now, boys, all shove together!"
As the ship rolled to the leeward, out through the gangway shot our boat and landed safely in the water, and I after her; for you must know, children, I was so anxious to see the boat launched properly that as she struck the water I ran to the open gangway, and not noticing the boat's warp, which the steward had taken the precaution to fasten taut to the ship's rail, was struck by it and thrown overboard.
They threw me a bight of rope from the ship, and I clambered back on deck. Captain Coffin told me to go below and change my dripping clothes, and then I could go in the boat with him and pull the after oar. You may lay to it that I flew down those cabin stairs, for if there was anything in the world I longed for, it was to get a chance to see a sperm-whale killed.
As Captain Coffin stepped to the bow of the boat he ordered the black steward to his place at the steering-oar. "Don't be afraid to lay me right on to them, steward," said he. "Nothing but wood and black skin will suit me to-day!"
We soon caught up with the other boat. The first and second officers had each killed a whale, and were then engaged in buoying a tub, with the _Nimrod's_ name stamped upon it, to their carcasses. The rest of the school had gone down, and the third and fourth officers' crews were resting on their oars, waiting for the attacked whales to break water again.
The other ships now had their boats in the water, and as Captain Coffin saw them approach he called to his officers: "Don't let the Nantucketers beat us! They are regular sharks after sperm-oil, but we have four whales the best of them now. Every man here must strike his fish to-day."
He had hardly finished his speech when, right beside our boat, an old bull whale showed his nose out of the water and sent a blast of hot air out of his spout-holes, which was blown back to us by the wind.
As we felt the warm breath on our faces, each man checked his oar.
And right here, children, I want to correct a mistaken idea. Whales don't spout water. It is their hot breath which, like the breath from a horse's nostrils in winter, shows white against the sky and looks like water.
The body of the whale which had broken water beside us bore many a scar, and his back was all covered with barnacles.
"Now, boys, give way to your oars, and you, steward, lay me right on to him!" spoke Captain Coffin, and as each man gave a steady pull steward, with a skilful turn of the steering oar, brought the head of the boat round, and the next instant her bow brought up against the body of the whale. Captain Coffin's wish was fulfilled, for, in whalemen's lore, we were "wood and black skin."
Instantly he plunged his harpoon into the monster's quivering blubber, and with a dexterity that was wonderful in a man of his size, he seized another and thrust it to the hilt beside the first.
"Stern all! stern all!" he cried, and, as we backed away from the maddened whale, it turned and, with one sweep of its flukes, sent a cataract of water over us that almost filled the boat, and drenched us to the skin. It dived, then, and the whale line ran out of its tub so rapidly that the loggerhead in the stern, around which was a turn of the line, smoked like a chimney.
"Pour some water on that line!" cried the steward to the tub oarsman. And as the man obeyed, the steward tightened the turn on the rope, and the boat shot ahead like a race-horse.
Soon the whale slackened his speed and rode to the surface, and in a few moments broke water off our starboard bow. Then Captain Coffin ordered us to gather in the line and pull him up beside the whale, and at the same time he took a long lance from its socket and having braced himself firmly against the bow thwart, stood ready.
What a moment of awe it was to me as I looked at the monster angrily lashing the water with its fins and flukes! The next instant we were beside the whale, and as it rolled on its side Captain Coffin transfixed him with a thrust of his lance that seemed to pierce his very vitals. The next moment the blood poured in gallons from his spout-holes. Having slackened the line from the boat, we rested on our oars at a safe distance and watched the monster circling around in its dying fury.
During this time the rest of the boats had each secured another whale. The crew in the third officer's boat appeared to be making signals of distress, and Captain Coffin ordered us to cut loose from our whale and go quickly to their assistance.
We saw as we drew near them that the gunwale and the two upper streaks of their boat had been stove by their last whale, and the officer was about to throw all the whaling implements overboard, in order to lighten her, for the crew were desperately bailing out the water, which was pouring in through the broken seams. She was fast sinking.