Read A MURDERER’S ACCOMPLICE of The Wolf's Long Howl, free online book, by Stanley Waterloo, on ReadCentral.com.

It is part of my good fortune in life to know a beautiful and lovable woman. She is as sweet, it seems to me, as any woman can be who has come into this world. She is good. She is not very rich, but she helps the needy as far as she can from her moderate purse. I have known her to attend at the bedside of a poor dying person when the doctor had told her that the trouble might be smallpox. I should say, at a venture, that this woman will go to heaven when she dies. But she will not go to heaven unless ignorance is an excuse for wickedness. If she does go there, it must be as the savage goes who knows no better than to do things which thoughtful people, to whom what is good has been taught, count as cruel and merciless. As the savage is a murderer, so is she the accomplice of a murderer, although it is possible that by the Great Judge neither may be so classified at the end, because of their lack of knowing.

I met this lovable woman on the street the other day, and we walked and talked together. She had only good in her heart in all she was planning to do. She had taste for outlines and color, and she was very fair to look upon. Her dress “tailor-made,” I think the women call it set off her perfect figure to advantage, and her hat was a symmetrical completion of the whole effect. It was a neat, well-proportioned whole, the woman and her toilet, which I, being a man, of course, cannot describe. One of her adornments was the head, breast, and wing of a Baltimore oriole, worn in her hat.

I met this same woman again a day or two ago in another garb not less charming and artistic. We ate luncheon together, and it made life worth living to be with a creature so fair and good. In her hat this time was a touch of the sky when it lies over a great lake. It was the wing of a bluebird.

I know or knew four birds, and to know a fair bird well is almost equal to knowing a fair woman well, though they have different ways. Two of these birds that I knew were orioles and two were bluebirds. The two orioles and the two bluebirds were husbands and wives. I stumbled upon them all last year. The bluebirds had a nest in a hole in a hard maple stump in a clearing in St. Clair County, Michigan. The orioles’ nest was well woven in pear shape, dangling from close-swinging twigs at the end of an elm limb which hung over a creek in Orange County, Indiana. The male oriole attended faithfully to the wants of his soberer-hued wife sitting upon the four eggs in their nest. He was gorgeous all over, in his orange and black, and as faithfully and gallantly as the male bluebird did he regard his mate, and he was, if possible, even more jealous and watchful in his unwearied care of her.

They made two very happy and earnest families. Each male, in addition to caring for his mate, did good in the world for men and women. Each killed noxious worms and insects for food, and each, in the very exuberance of the flush year, and of living, gave forth at times such music that all men, women, and children who listened, though they might be dull and ignorant, somehow felt better, and were better as well as happier human beings. But there was death in the air. The male oriole and the male bluebird had each a brilliant coat!

Young were hatched in each of these two nests vigorous, clamoring young, coming from the eggs of the beautiful bird couples. The father and mother oriole and the father and mother bluebird, each pair vain and prettily jubilant over what had happened, worked very hard to bring food to the open mouths of their offspring. The young ones were growing and flourishing, and they were all happy.

One day, in St. Clair County, Michigan, a man armed with a shotgun went out into a clearing. The shot in the gun was of the kind known as “mustard-seed.” It is so fine that it will not mar the feathers of the bird it kills. On the same day, possibly, or at least very nearly at the same time, a man similarly armed strolled down beside a creek in Orange County, Indiana. The man in Michigan wanted to kill the beautiful male bluebird who was bringing food to his young ones. The man in Indiana wanted to kill the magnificent male oriole who was feeding his young birds in the nest. It was not difficult for either of these two brutes to kill the two happy bird fathers. They were business-like butchers, just of the type of man who make the dog-catchers in cities and they had no nerves and shot well. One of them took home a beautiful dead oriole, and the other took not one but two beautiful bluebirds, for as the male bluebird came back to the nest with food for the younglings, it so chanced that the female came also, and the same charge of shot killed them both.

“She isn’t quite as purty as the he-bird,” said the man, as he picked up the two, “but maybe I can get a little something for her.”

The man who shot the oriole would have gladly committed and profited by a similar double murder had the mother bird happened upon the scene when he shot her orange-and-black mate.

These two slayers, who carried shotguns loaded with “mustard-seed” shot, went out after the beautiful birds, because from Chicago and New York had come into their country certain men who represented great millinery furnishing houses, and these men had left word with local dealers in the country towns that they would pay money for the beautiful feathers of bluebirds and orioles and other birds. The little local dealers were promised a profit on all such spoils sent by them to the great city dealers, and they had set the men with the shotguns at work. Mating time and nesting time are the times for murdering birds, because at that season not only is their plumage finest, but the birds are more easily to be found and killed. It is then that they sing their clearest and strongest notes of joy; then, that they hover constantly near their nests; and it is very easy to stop their music.

So there remained in the nest in the maple stump four little helpless orphan bluebirds, and in the swaying nest in the elm-tree over the brook were four young orioles with only the mother bird to care for them. The widowed oriole fluttered about and beat her wings against the bushes in vain search for her lost love for birds love as madly, and, I have sometimes thought, more faithfully than do human beings. But her children clamored, and the oriole had the mother instinct as well as the faithful love in her, and so she went to work for them. She didn’t know how to get food for them very well at first, for bird wives and husbands have in some ways the same relations that we human beings have when we are wives and husbands. The male oriole, who had been learning where the insects and worms are, where whatever is good for little birds is, all through the time while the female bird is sitting on the nest, must necessarily know much more than his wife as to where things to eat for the children may be found nearest and most easily and swiftly. That is the great lesson the male bird learns while the female is sitting on the eggs and maturing into life the new creatures whose birth and being shall make this little loving couple happy in the way the good God has designated one form of happiness shall come to His creatures, be they with or without feathers.

The forlorn mother did as best she could. She fluttered through brakes and bushes seeking food for her young, but her children did not thrive very well. She worked so hard for them human mothers and bird mothers are very much alike in this way that she became thin and weak, and with each day that passed she brought less food to the little ones in the wonderfully constructed nest which she and her husband had made in the spring, when the smell of the liverworts was in the air, and muskrats swam together and made love to each other in the creek below. She sometimes, in the midst of her trouble (the trouble which came because my sweet woman, must have a bird’s feather in her hat) would think of that springtime homemaking, and then this poor little widow would give a little bird gasp. That was all. One day she had searched hard for food for her young, for as they grew bigger they demanded more and were more arrogantly hungry. As she perched to rest a moment upon a twig, beneath which in the grass were a few late dandelions, she felt coming over her a weakness she could not resist. As a matter of fact, the bird mother had been overworked and so killed. Birds, overpressed, die as human beings do. So the mother bird, after a few moments, fell off the twig upon which she had paused for rest, and lay, a pretty little dead thing down in the grass among the dandelions. Then, of course, her children gasped and writhed and clamored in the nest, and at last, almost together, died of starvation.

Days and days before this the history of the bluebird family had ended. The four little bluebirds, being merely helpless young birds, lone and hungry, did nothing for a few hours after their bereavement but call for food, as was a habit of theirs. But nothing came to them neither their father nor their mother came. They didn’t know much except to be hungry, these little bluebirds. They couldn’t know much, of course, as young as they were, and being but bird things with stomachs, they just wanted something to eat. They did not even know that if they did not get the food they wanted so much the ants would come and the other creatures of nature, and eat them. But they cried aloud, and more and more faintly, and at last were still. And the ants came. They found four little things with blue feathers just sprouting upon them, particularly upon the wings, where the growth seemed strongest and bluest, but the four little things were dead. It was all delightful for the ants and the other small things; all good in their way, who came seeking food. The very young birds, which had died gasping, that a woman might wear bright feathers in her hat, were fine eating for the ants.

Of course, one cannot tell very well in detail how a starving young bird dies. It is but a little creature with great possibilities of song and beauty and happiness; but if something big and strong kills its father and mother, then there is nothing for it but to lie back in the nest and open its mouth in vain for food, and then it must finally, a preposterously awfully suffering little lump of flesh and starting feathers, look up at the sky and die in hungry agony. Then the ants come.

The story I have told of the two bird families and how they died is true. Worst of all it is that theirs is a tragedy repeated in reality thousands and thousands of times every year; yet the beautiful woman I tried to describe at the beginning of this account wears birds and their wings on her hat. It is because she and other women wear birds’ feathers that these tragic things take place in the woods and clearings and open spaces of God’s beautiful world. I say to any woman in all the world that she is wicked if she wears the feather of any of the birds which make the world happier and better for being in it. If women must wear feathers, there are enough for their adornment from birds used for food, and from the ostrich, which is not injured when its plumes are taken.

So long as my beautiful woman wears the feathers of the bluebird, the oriole, or any other of the singing creatures of God, I call her the accomplice of a murderer. I have talked to her, but somehow I cannot make her listen to the story of what lies back of the feathers on her hat. She is more accustomed to praise than blame. When this is printed I shall send it to her, and it may be that she will read it and grow earnest over it, and that her heart will be touched, and that she will never again deserve the name she merits now.

There are, it is said, certain savages just barely human beings called Dyaks. They have become famous to the world as “head-hunters.” These Dyaks creep through miles of forest paths and kill as many as they can of another lot of people, and then cut off the heads of the slain and dry them, and hang them up, arranged on lines more or less artistically festooned about the place in which they live. This exhibition of dried and dead human heads seems to make these swart and murderous savages vain and glad. These people are, as we understand, or think we understand, but undeveloped, cruel, bloody-minded human creatures. They prefer dried human heads to delicate ferns showing wonderful outlines, or to brilliant leaves and fragrant flowers. They have their own ideas concerning decoration.

Upon a dozen or two of the islands in the Southern Pacific, where the waves lap the sloping sands lazily, and life should be calm and peaceful, there are, or were until lately, certain people who occasionally killed certain other people for reasons sufficiently good, no doubt, to them; and who thus coming into possession of a group of dead creatures with fingers, conceived the idea that the fingers of these dead, when dried, would make most artistic, not to say suggestive, necklaces. So they strung these dried fingers upon something strong and pliant, and wore them with much pride.

When I see the bright feathers of birds, slain that hats may be garnished for the thoughtless females of a higher grade of beings, I am reminded somehow of the Dyaks and of the wearers of the necklaces made of fingers.