Read CHAPTER EIGHT - ONLY ABOUT A LITTLE BIRD. of She and I‚ Volume 1 , free online book, by John Conroy Hutcheson, on

Oh! let them ne’er, with artificial note, To please a tyrant, strain their little bill; But sing what heaven inspires, and wander where they will!

I was ten times angrier with myself when I got home.

What a fool I had been-what an idiot-to have thrown away my chances as I had done!  I had wished for “the roc’s egg” to complete my happiness; and I had obtained it with a vengeance.

My roc’s egg had been the “open sesame” to Mrs Clyde’s castle.  I had sighed for it, striven for it, gained it at last; and, a fine mess I had made of it, all things considered!

What must she think me?

An ill-bred, untutored, unlicked cub, most probably!

I did not let myself off easily, I promise you.  My conscience gave it to me well, and I could find no satisfactory terms in which I could express my opinion of my own surly behaviour.

I think if some people only knew the bitter pangs that social culprits afterwards experience within themselves for their slips and slidings by the way, they would be less harsh in their judgments and unsparing in their condemnation than they usually are.  Sending him to Coventry is a poor punishment in comparison with the offender’s own remorse.  He finds the “labor et opus redintegrare gradum” hard enough, without that Rhadamanthus, “society,” making the ascent slippery for him!

As I recalled the incidents of the evening, I could not help allowing to my conscience that Mr Mawley the curate, whom I disliked, had shown himself a gentleman, where I had only acted like a snob; while Horner, a man whom I, in my conceit, had looked down upon and affected to despise as an empty-headed fop and nonentity, was a prince beside me!

They had but played their respective social parts, and accepted the gifts that the gods provided; while I-dunder-headed dolt that I was- had conducted myself worse than a budding school-boy who had but just donned swallow-tails, and made his first entry into society!

Jealousy had been the cause of it all, of course; but, although I have always held, and will continue to believe, that the presence of that “green-eyed monster,” as the passion is euphuistically termed, is inseparable from all cases of real, thorough, heart-felt, engrossing love-still, jealousy is no excuse for ill-manners.  “Noblesse oblige” always.  There is no half-way medium; no middle course to take.

Then, fancy my being such a brute as to quarrel with Min, merely because she could not avoid being courteous to her guests!  The fact of their being personally obnoxious to me, did not affect the scale one way or the other; she could not help that.  I doubt whether she even knew it.

I was unable to forgive myself, and wondered if she would excuse my conduct, and speak to me again; although, I really deserved social extinction.

But, I surely could not belie her angel nature, I thought?  When she came to know all I had suffered that evening, and the miserable self-upbraidings I had since endured, she would pity me, and forgive me, forgetting all that had occurred “as a dream when one awaketh?” I was sure she would; and I gained renewed courage from the impression.

I now bethought me how I should next present myself before her.  In accordance with the usages of conventionality, it would be right for me to make an early call at Mrs Clyde’s, in recognition of her late assembly; and, unless I should chance to meet Min out alone, I would have no chance of making my apology before then, while, even on that occasion, the presence of her mother might prevent my speaking to her as openly as I wished.  What should I do?

I determined, under the circumstances, and from the fact of our being such old friends-she had said so herself, had she not?-that I would make her a little peace-offering, in the shape of a present of some sort or other.

This did not occur to me with the idea of propitiating her as an offended goddess, sacrifices being out of date in the existing era- except those to Moloch!  No, such a thought never occurred to me for a moment.

Min was not the class of girl whose pardon or good-will could be purchased, as is frequently the case, perhaps, with others of her sex!

What suggested the scheme to me was, my not having made her any birthday gift, as her other friends, without exception, had done.  It is “never too late to mend;” so, why should I not take her a little present now, to show her that she lived in my heart and had not been intentionally forgotten?  If she accepted my offering, good.  I should then be certain that she extenuated my gaucherie at her party, whether I got speech with her or no.  Yes, that would be the proper course for me to pursue.  Would you not have thought so in a like contingency?

The present being decided on, what should I get for her?  Flowers, photographs, books, music, and all those delicate nothings, which people generally tender as souvenirs for other people’s acceptance, she had in abundance.

None of these would do at all.  I wanted her to have some special, out-of-the-way something from me, which would always call the giver before her mind whenever she saw it.  You may think my wish a selfish one, perhaps, but we generally like to be remembered by those we love.  I think so, at least; and, I do not believe I am a very exceptional individual.

What should my gift be?  It would not be proper for me to offer, nor was it likely that her mother would allow her to accept, anything very valuable, or of intrinsic worth:  such as a watch, which I first thought of.  Besides, she had a watch already-one that kept time, unlike most ladies’ “time-keepers”-and a particularly pretty one it was, too; so, that was out of the question at once.  Jewellery would be just as inadmissible.  What on earth should my present consist of?

Why, a bird, of course!  How stupid I was growing, to be sure!  I really had become quite dull.  A bird would be the very thing of all others to suit her, so I need not worry my brains any longer.  She had plenty of flowers in her bay window conservatory, besides a tiny crystal fountain, that leaped and sparkled to the astounding altitude of some eighteen inches, and which, on festive occasions, ran Florida-water or Eau-de-Cologne.  In addition to these, she required, to my mind, a bird to complete the effect of the whole.  A bird she, accordingly, should have.

I had often heard her say that she loved birds dearly.  Not wild songsters, however, who sing best in their native freedom of the skies, like the spotted-breasted, circle-carolling lark, the thicket-haunting blackbird, and the sweet-throated thrush.-It would have afforded her no pleasure to prison up one of these in a cage.  But, a little fledgling that had never known what it was to roam at its own sweet will, and who, when offered the liberty of the air, would hardly care to “take advantage of the situation;” that would be the bird which she would like to have, I was certain.

I knew just such an one.  I had him, in fact.  He was “Dicky Chips:”- the funniest, quaintest, most intelligent, and most amusing little bullfinch you ever clapped eyes on.

I resolved that Dicky Chips should be Min’s property from henceforth.

Whenever she watched him going through his varied pantomimic rôle, and heard his well-turned, whistling notes-he had a rare ear for music-she would think of him who gave him to her, although he might then be far away.  I decided the point at once before going to bed.  Dicky Chips should, like Caliban, have a new master, or rather mistress; and be a new man, or rather bird, to adopt Mr Toots’ peculiar ellipto-synthetical style of speaking.  Where do you think I got hold of him?  Do you know a travelling naturalist who goes about London during the summer months-and all over the country, too, for that matter, as I’ve met him north of Tweed, and down also at the Land’s End, in Cornwall?

He has birds for sale, and he sells them only at that period.

Where he hides himself when winter, dark and drear, approaches, I’m sure I cannot tell; but I’ve never seen him then perambulating the streets.  He may possibly, at that season, join company with Jamrack-that curiosity of the animal world; or, he may hibernate in the Seven Dials, as most feather-fanciers do; or, he may retire to his private mansion in Belgrave Square; or, again, he may, peradventure, go abroad “to increase his store,” in the fashion of Norval’s father, the “frugal swain” who fattened his flocks on the Grampian Hills-though, I prefer South Down mutton, myself!

The bird-seller may do either and all of these things in the winter months; but, I only know his summer habitude:-then he is always to be observed going about the streets with birds for sale.

Do I mean the gentleman who wheels about a costermonger’s table-cart, whereon he makes a number of unfortunate canaries pull about tiny carriages, with yokes, shaped like those of the Roman chariots, and fire cannons, and appear as if they liked it; while a decrepit white mouse runs up a cane flag-staff, supporting himself finally, and very uncomfortably, on the top?

No; I do not mean anything of the sort.  The person I refer to is quite a different character.

He is generally to be seen driving in a large, full-bodied gipsy waggon, or covered-in break, with open sides and a tarpaulin roof, in which he has, carefully stowed away, tiers upon tiers of cages, that contain almost every description of English and foreign birds; not excluding, also, sundry small pet animals-monkeys, squirrels, and toy dogs, to wit.

He invariably accommodates two horribly-ugly, black-faced pugs, underneath the driving seat of his vehicle; and you may generally hear his approach, when distant more than a mile, through the chirping, and squeaking, and squalling, of his motley cargo.

Canaries are there by the hundred, packed up separately in those square little wooden boxes, each fitted with a small, red, goblet-shaped pitcher and seed-rack, in which they are imported from Germany; parrots, macaws, cockatoos, and lories; larks, thrushes, blackbirds; starlings, magpies, and such like-down to the common hedge-sparrow and poor little Jenny wren.

There, now!  I have pointed out the distinguishing characteristics of the itinerant bird-fancier; and, should you never have seen him before, you will be able at once to recognise him in case of your possibly encountering him in the future.

Well, one day, meeting this gentleman “drumming around” our suburb, I had the curiosity to stop and inspect his live freight.  In doing so I lighted upon Dicky Chips, as I subsequently christened him:  a sturdy little bullfinch, who looked somewhat out of place, and lonesome, amongst his screaming companions from foreign lands.  I purchased him for a trifle, and have never since regretted the bargain, for, he was a dear, bright little fellow; so tractable, too, and intelligent, that I was able to educate him to a pitch of excellence, which, I believe, no bullfinch in England ever reached, before or since.

When invited properly, he would dance a hornpipe, whistling his own music in sharp staccato notes, as from a piccolo.  He could likewise “present arms” with a little straw musket which I had provided for him; besides feigning to be dead, and allowing you to take him up by the legs, his head hanging down, apparently lifeless, the while, without stirring-although he would sometimes, if you kept him too long in this position, open one of his beady black eyes, and seem to give you a sly wink, as if to say, “A joke is a joke, certainly; but you may, perhaps, carry it too far!” I could not enumerate half his accomplishments in this line; and, as for whistling operatic tunes-the most difficult ones, with unlimited roulades, were his especial choice-“Bai-ey Je-ove!” as Horner would say, you should only have heard him.

As I allowed him to go in and out of his cage at pleasure, he roamed the garden according to his own sweet will, whenever and wherever he pleased, without reservation; and he, I may add, seldom abused the privilege.  Some time after I had given him to Min, he actually found his way back one morning to our house again.  I shall never forget the circumstance:  you should have witnessed his delight at seeing the old place and his old friends again!  He flirted, he danced, he rolled in paroxysms of joy on the little table by the window, whereon he had been accustomed to go through his performances:-he chirped, he whistled; in fact, he behaved just like a mad bird.

But he did not desert his mistress, mind you.  I think he even got fonder of her than he had even been of me.  Still, often after discovering that he could thus vary the monotony of his existence by paying a visit to his old domicile-which only lay a short distance from his new quarters-he would come round; and, after spending an hour or two with me, when he would conscientiously insist on going through the entire round of his accomplishments without any invitation on my part, as if to show that he yet retained his early instructions well in mind, he would return to Min’s house, and the no less warm affection that awaited him there.

This was the little present that I intended for a birthday gift to my darling:  one that I valued beyond gold.  The very next afternoon I carried him round to her in my coat-pocket-he having a tiny cage that just fitted into it comfortably “to a t.”

Fortunately, I found Min alone in the drawing-room, when I was ushered in.  She was sitting on the sofa reading, and, although she rose up on my entrance, she only bowed, looking distant, and somewhat embarrassed.

This did not look well for my chances of forgiveness, and for getting her to accept Dicky Chips, did it?

I went up to her impulsively.

“Min!” I exclaimed, “can you, will you, excuse and forgive me for acting so rudely last night?  I cannot forgive myself; and I shall be miserable till you pardon me!”

She looked down gravely a minute.

“What made you so naughty, sir?” she asked at length, looking up again with a dancing light in the clear grey eyes, and a smile on her pretty little mouth.

“I thought that you did not want me, Min; and I wished myself away, when I saw you speaking to every one else that came, as if you did not care to speak to me.  I was very unhappy, and-”

“Oh, Frank!” she said; “unhappy!”

“Yes,” I said, “I was never more so in my life.  I believed you preferred speaking to Mr Mawley and Horner, to talking to me, and I thought it very unkind of you.”

“Well, do not think so again, sir,” she said, with such a pretty affectation of sternness, and laughing one of her light, silvery laughs.

“And you did not wish me away?” I asked, anxiously.

“Of course not,” she answered.  “Why should I have done so?  You would not have been invited, sir, if your noble presence had not been wished for, Master Frank.”

“And you didn’t care so much for Mawley after all?” I continued, rendered bolder by her changed manner.

“You must not ask too many questions, sir!” she said.  “This just shows how very unreasonable you were!  How could I have neglected everybody else to speak to you, only, all the evening; what would they have thought, sir? what would mamma have said?  Besides, you were not very entertaining, Master Frank; you were very cross, sir; you know you were!”

“But you forgive me now, Min, don’t you?” I implored.

“Yes,” she said, “if you promise never to be cross with me again.”

“What, cross with you?” I exclaimed.

“You were, though, last night,” she said, with a little toss of her well-shaped head.

I thought the time had now arrived for making my little peace-offering; and yet, I felt as shy and nervous about it as did poor “Young John,” the gaoler’s son of the Marshalsea, when he went to call on Little Dorrit’s father in the grand Bond Street hotel, and drew his humble present of a bundle of cigars from his coat-pocket.

“Min,” I said, “you have heard me speak of a clever little bird I had- Dicky Chips?”

“Oh, yes,” she said.  “You mean the nice little fellow you taught to do so many funny things?  Nothing has happened to him, I hope, Frank?  I should be so very sorry,” she added, sympathisingly, “for I know you are very fond of him.”

“No,” said I hesitatingly; “nothing has happened to him, exactly; that is, Min, I have brought him over for you; and, unless you accept him, I shall think you are still angry with me, and have not forgiven me.”

I thereupon pulled the little chap, cage and all, out of my pocket, and presented him to her.

“Oh, Frank!” she exclaimed, in her sweet, earnest accents, with a ring of emotion in them.  “He’s such a little pet of yours; and you have had him so long!  I would not take him from you for the world!”

“Then,” said I, just as earnestly, “you have not forgiven me.  Oh, Min! when you promised to do so!” And I took up my hat as if to go away.

We argued the point; but, the end of the matter was, that Dicky Chips was made over to his new mistress, with all his goods, chattels, and appurtenances.  A happy bird he might consider himself henceforth, I knew.  He would be idolised-a very nice situation, indeed, for a bullfinch!

By-and-by I got closer to Min, as we were standing up, talking together and making Dicky go through a few of his tricks on the drawing-room table.

“Min,” said I, softly, bending over her and looking down into her honest, truth-telling grey eyes-“my darling!”

But, at that precise moment, the door opened; and, in walked Mrs Clyde.