The Song of the Cardinal by Gene Stratton-Porter
"See here! See here!" demanded the Cardinal
The mandate repeatedly rang from the topmost twig of the thorn tree, and yet the Cardinal was not in earnest. He was beside himself with a new and delightful excitement, and he found it impossible to refrain from giving vent to his feelings. He was commanding the farmer and every furred and feathered denizen of the river bottom to see; then he fought like a wild thing if any of them ventured close, for great things were happening in the sumac.
In past days the Cardinal had brooded an hour every morning while his mate went to take her exercise, bathe, and fluff in the sun parlour. He had gone to her that morning as usual, and she looked at him with anxious eyes and refused to move. He had hopped to the very edge of the nest and repeatedly urged her to go. She only ruffled her feathers, and nestled the eggs she was brooding to turn them, but did not offer to leave. The Cardinal reached over and gently nudged her with his beak, to remind her that it was his time to brood; but she looked at him almost savagely, and gave him a sharp peck; so he knew she was not to be bothered. He carried her every dainty he could find and hovered near her, tense with anxiety.
It was late in the afternoon before she went after the drink for which she was half famished. She scarcely had reached a willow and bent over the water before the Cardinal was on the edge of the nest. He examined it closely, but he could see no change. He leaned to give the eggs careful scrutiny, and from somewhere there came to him the faintest little "Chip!" he ever had heard. Up went the Cardinal's crest, and he dashed to the willow. There was no danger in sight; and his mate was greedily dipping her rosy beak in the water. He went back to the cradle and listened intently, and again that feeble cry came to him. Under the nest, around it, and all through the sumac he searched, until at last, completely baffled, he came back to the edge. The sound was so much plainer there, that he suddenly leaned, caressing the eggs with his beak; then the Cardinal knew! He had heard the first faint cries of his shell-incased babies!
With a wild scream he made a flying leap through the air. His heart was beating to suffocation. He started in a race down the river. If he alighted on a bush he took only one swing, and springing from it flamed on in headlong flight. He flashed to the top of the tallest tulip tree, and cried cloudward to the lark: "See here! See here!" He dashed to the river bank and told the killdeers, and then visited the underbrush and informed the thrushes and wood robins. Father-tender, he grew so delirious with joy that he forgot his habitual aloofness, and fraternized with every bird beside the shining river. He even laid aside his customary caution, went chipping into the sumac, and caressed his mate so boisterously she gazed at him severely and gave his wing a savage pull to recall him to his sober senses.
That night the Cardinal slept in the sumac, very close to his mate, and he shut only one eye at a time. Early in the morning, when he carried her the first food, he found that she was on the edge of the nest, dropping bits of shell outside; and creeping to peep, he saw the tiniest coral baby, with closed eyes, and little patches of soft silky down. Its beak was wide open, and though his heart was even fuller than on the previous day, the Cardinal knew what that meant; and instead of indulging in another celebration, he assumed the duties of paternity, and began searching for food, for now there were two empty crops in his family. On the following day there were four. Then he really worked. How eagerly he searched, and how gladly he flew to the sumac with every rare morsel! The babies were too small for the mother to leave; and for the first few days the Cardinal was constantly on wing.
If he could not find sufficiently dainty food for them in the trees and bushes, or among the offerings of the farmer, he descended to earth and searched like a wood robin. He forgot he needed a bath or owned a sun parlour; but everywhere he went, from his full heart there constantly burst the cry:
"See here! See here!"
His mate made never a sound. Her eyes were bigger and softer than ever, and in them glowed a steady lovelight. She hovered over those three red mites of nestlings so tenderly! She was so absorbed in feeding, stroking, and coddling them she neglected herself until she became quite lean.
When the Cardinal came every few minutes with food, she was a picture of love and gratitude for his devoted attention, and once she reached over and softly kissed his wing. "See here! See here!" shrilled the Cardinal; and in his ecstasy he again forgot himself and sang in the sumac. Then he carried food with greater activity than ever to cover his lapse.
The farmer knew that it lacked an hour of noon, but he was so anxious to tell Maria the news that he could not endure the suspense another minute. There was a new song from the sumac. He had heard it as he turned the first corner with the shovel plow. He had listened eagerly, and had caught the meaning almost at once--"See here! See here!" He tied the old gray mare to the fence to prevent her eating the young corn, and went immediately. By leaning a rail against the thorn tree he was able to peer into the sumac, and take a good look at the nest of handsome birdlings, now well screened with the umbrella-like foliage. It seemed to Abram that he never could wait until noon. He critically examined the harness, in the hope that he would find a buckle missing, and tried to discover a flaw in the plow that would send him to the barn for a file; but he could not invent an excuse for going. So, when he had waited until an hour of noon, he could endure it no longer.
"Got news for you, Maria," he called from the well, where he was making a pretense of thirst.
"Oh I don't know," answered Maria, with a superior smile. "If it's about the redbirds, he's been up to the garden three times this morning yellin', 'See here!' fit to split; an' I jest figured that their little ones had hatched. Is that your news?"
"Well I be durned!" gasped the astonished Abram.
Mid-afternoon Abram turned Nancy and started the plow down a row that led straight to the sumac. He intended to stop there, tie to the fence, and go to the river bank, in the shade, for a visit with the Cardinal. It was very warm, and he was feeling the heat so much, that in his heart he knew he would be glad to reach the end of the row and the rest he had promised himself.
The quick nervous strokes of the dinner bell, "Clang! Clang!" came cutting the air clearly and sharply. Abram stopped Nancy with a jerk. It was the warning Maria had promised to send him if she saw prowlers with guns. He shaded his eyes with his hand and scanned the points of the compass through narrowed lids with concentrated vision. He first caught a gleam of light playing on a gun-barrel, and then he could discern the figure of a man clad in hunter's outfit leisurely walking down the lane, toward the river.
Abram hastily hitched Nancy to the fence. By making the best time he could, he reached the opposite corner, and was nibbling the midrib of a young corn blade and placidly viewing the landscape when the hunter passed.
"Howdy!" he said in an even cordial voice.
The hunter walked on without lifting his eyes or making audible reply. To Abram's friendly oldfashioned heart this seemed the rankest discourtesy; and there was a flash in his eye and a certain quality in his voice he lifted a hand for parley.
"Hold a minute, my friend," he said. "Since you are on my premises, might I be privileged to ask if you have seen a few signs 'at I have posted pertainin' to the use of a gun?"
"I am not blind," replied the hunter; "and my education has been looked after to the extent that I can make out your notices. From the number and size of them, I think I could do it, old man, if I had no eyes."
The scarcely suppressed sneer, and the "old man" grated on Abram's nerves amazingly, for a man of sixty years of peace. The gleam in his eyes grew stronger, and there was a perceptible lift of his shoulders as he answered:
"I meant 'em to be read an' understood! From the main road passin' that cabin up there on the bank, straight to the river, an' from the furthermost line o' this field to the same, is my premises, an' on every foot of 'em the signs are in full force. They're in a little fuller force in June, when half the bushes an' tufts o' grass are housin' a young bird family, 'an at any other time. They're sort o' upholdin' the legislature's act, providing for the protection o' game an' singin' birds; an' maybe it 'ud be well for you to notice 'at I'm not so old but I'm able to stand up for my right to any livin' man."
There certainly was an added tinge of respect in the hunter's tones as he asked: "Would you consider it trespass if a man simply crossed your land, following the line of the fences to reach the farm of a friend?"
"Certainly not!" cried Abram, cordial in his relief. "To be sure not! Glad to have you convenience yourself. I only wanted to jest call to your notice 'at the birds are protected on this farm."
"I have no intention of interfering with your precious birds, I assure you," replied the hunter. "And if you require an explanation of the gun in June, I confess I did hope to be able to pick off a squirrel for a very sick friend. But I suppose for even such cause it would not be allowed on your premises."
"Oh pshaw now!" said Abram. "Man alive! I'm not onreasonable. O' course in case o' sickness I'd be glad if you could run across a squirrel. All I wanted was to have a clear understandin' about the birds. Good luck, an' good day to you!"
Abram started across the field to Nancy, but he repeatedly turned to watch the gleam of the gun-barrel, as the hunter rounded the corner and started down the river bank. He saw him leave the line of the fence and disappear in the thicket.
"Goin' straight for the sumac," muttered Abram. "It's likely I'm a fool for not stayin' right beside him past that point. An' yet--I made it fair an' plain, an' he passed his word 'at he wouldn't touch the birds."
He untied Nancy, and for the second time started toward the sumac. He had been plowing carefully, his attention divided between the mare and the corn; but he uprooted half that row, for his eyes wandered to the Cardinal's home as if he were fascinated, and his hands were shaking with undue excitement as he gripped the plow handles. At last he stopped Nancy, and stood gazing eagerly toward the river.
"Must be jest about the sumac," he whispered. "Lord! but I'll be glad to see the old gun-barrel gleamin' safe t'other side o' it."
There was a thin puff of smoke, and a screaming echo went rolling and reverberating down the Wabash. Abram's eyes widened, and a curious whiteness settled on his lips. He stood as if incapable of moving. "Clang! Clang!" came Maria's second warning.
The trembling slid from him, and his muscles hardened. There was no trace of rheumatic stiffness in his movements. With a bound he struck the chain-traces from the singletree at Nancy's heels. He caught the hames, leaped on her back, and digging his heels into her sides, he stretched along her neck like an Indian and raced across the corn field. Nancy's twenty years slipped from her as her master's sixty had from him. Without understanding the emergency, she knew that he required all the speed there was in her; and with trace-chains rattling and beating on her heels, she stretched out until she fairly swept the young corn, as she raced for the sumac. Once Abram straightened, and slipping a hand into his pocket, drew out a formidable jack-knife, opening it as he rode. When he reached the fence, he almost flew over Nancy's head. He went into a fence corner, and with a few slashes severed a stout hickory withe, stripping the leaves and topping it as he leaped the fence.
He grasped this ugly weapon, his eyes dark with anger as he appeared before the hunter, who supposed him at the other side of the field.
"Did you shoot at that redbird?" he roared.
As his gun was at the sportman's shoulder, and he was still peering among the bushes, denial seemed useless. "Yes, I did," he replied, and made a pretense of turning to the sumac again.
There was a forward impulse of Abram's body. "Hit 'im?" he demanded with awful calm.
"Thought I had, but I guess I only winged him."
Abram's fingers closed around his club. At the sound of his friend's voice, the Cardinal came darting through the bushes a wavering flame, and swept so closely to him for protection that a wing almost brushed his cheek.
"See here! See here!" shrilled the bird in deadly panic. There was not a cut feather on him.
Abram's relief was so great he seemed to shrink an inch in height.
"Young man, you better thank your God you missed that bird," he said solemnly, "for if you'd killed him, I'd a-mauled this stick to ribbons on you, an' I'm most afraid I wouldn't a-knowed when to quit."
He advanced a step in his eagerness, and the hunter, mistaking his motive, levelled his gun.
"Drop that!" shouted Abram, as he broke through the bushes that clung to him, tore the clothing from his shoulders, and held him back. "Drop that! Don't you dare point a weapon at me; on my own premises, an' after you passed your word.
"Your word!" repeated Abram, with withering scorn, his white, quivering old face terrible to see. "Young man, I got a couple o' things to say to you. You'r' shaped like a man, an' you'r' dressed like a man, an' yet the smartest person livin' would never take you for anything but an egg-suckin' dog, this minute. All the time God ever spent on you was wasted, an' your mother's had the same luck. I s'pose God's used to having creatures 'at He's made go wrong, but I pity your mother. Goodness knows a woman suffers an' works enough over her children, an' then to fetch a boy to man's estate an' have him, of his own free will an' accord, be a liar! Young man, truth is the cornerstone o' the temple o' character. Nobody can put up a good buildin' without a solid foundation; an' you can't do solid character buildin' with a lie at the base. Man 'at's a liar ain't fit for anything! Can't trust him in no sphere or relation o' life; or in any way, shape, or manner. You passed out your word like a man, an' like a man I took it an' went off trustin' you, an' you failed me. Like as not that squirrel story was a lie, too! Have you got a sick friend who is needin' squirrel broth?"
The hunter shook his head.
"No? That wasn't true either? I'll own you make me curious. 'Ud you mind tellin' me what was your idy in cookin' up that squirrel story?"
The hunter spoke with an effort. "I suppose I wanted to do something to make you feel small," he admitted, in a husky voice.
"You wanted to make me feel small," repeated Abram, wonderingly. "Lord! Lord! Young man, did you ever hear o' a boomerang? It's a kind o' weapon used in Borneo, er Australy, er some o' them furrin parts, an' it's so made 'at the heathens can pitch it, an' it cuts a circle an' comes back to the fellow, at throwed. I can't see myself, an' I don't know how small I'm lookin'; but I'd rather lose ten year o' my life 'an to have anybody catch me lookin' as little as you do right now. I guess we look about the way we feel in this world. I'm feelin' near the size o' Goliath at present; but your size is such 'at it hustles me to see any man in you at all. An' you wanted to make me feel small! My, oh, my! An' you so young yet, too!
"An' if it hadn't a-compassed a matter o' breakin' your word, what 'ud you want to kill the redbird for, anyhow? Who give you rights to go 'round takin' such beauty an' joy out of the world? Who do you think made this world an' the things 'at's in it? Maybe it's your notion 'at somebody about your size whittled it from a block o' wood, scattered a little sand for earth, stuck a few seeds for trees, an' started the oceans with a waterin' pot! I don't know what paved streets an' stall feedin' do for a man, but any one 'at's lived sixty year on the ground knows 'at this whole old earth is jest teemin' with work 'at's too big for anything but a God, an' a mighty big God at that!
"You don't never need bother none 'bout the diskivries o' science, for if science could prove 'at the earth was a red hot slag broken from the sun, 'at balled an' cooled flyin' through space until the force o' gravity caught an' held it, it doesn't prove what the sun broke from, or why it balled an' didn't cool. Sky over your head, earth under foot, trees around you, an' river there--all full o' life 'at you ain't no mortal right to touch, 'cos God made it, an' it's His! Course, I know 'at He said distinct 'at man was to have `dominion over the beasts o' the field, an' the fowls o' the air' An' that means 'at you're free to smash a copperhead instead of letting it sting you. Means 'at you better shoot a wolf than to let it carry off your lambs. Means, at it's right to kill a hawk an' save your chickens; but God knows 'at shootin' a redbird just to see the feathers fly isn't having dominion over anything; it's jest makin' a plumb beast o' yerself. Passes me, how you can face up to the Almighty, an' draw a bead on a thing like that! Takes more gall'n I got!
"God never made anything prettier 'an that bird, an' He must a-been mighty proud o' the job. Jest cast your eyes on it there!
Ever see anything so runnin' over with dainty, pretty, coaxin' ways? Little red creatures, full o' hist'ry, too! Ever think o' that? Last year's bird, hatched hereabout, like as not. Went South for winter, an' made friends 'at's been feedin', an' teachin' it to trust mankind. Back this spring in a night, an' struck that sumac over a month ago. Broke me all up first time I ever set eyes on it.
"Biggest reddest redbird I ever saw; an' jest a master hand at king's English! Talk plain as you can! Don't know what he said down South, but you can bank on it, it was sumpin' pretty fine. When he settled here, he was discoursin' on the weather, an' he talked it out about proper. He'd say, `Wet year! Wet year!' jest like that! He got the `wet' jest as good as I can, an', if he drawed the `ye-ar' out a little, still any blockhead could a-told what he was sayin', an' in a voice pretty an' clear as a bell. Then he got love-sick, an' begged for comp'ny until he broke me all up. An' if I'd a-been a hen redbird I wouldn't a-been so long comin'. Had me pulverized in less'n no time! Then a little hen comes 'long, an' stops with him; an' 'twas like an organ playin' prayers to hear him tell her how he loved her. Now they've got a nest full o' the cunningest little topknot babies, an' he's splittin' the echoes, calling for the whole neighbourhood to come see 'em, he's so mortal proud.
"Stake my life he's never been fired on afore! He's pretty near wild with narvousness, but he's got too much spunk to leave his fam'ly, an' go off an' hide from creatures like you. They's no caution in him. Look at him tearin' 'round to give you another chance!
"I felt most too rheumaticky to tackle field work this spring until he come 'long, an' the fire o' his coat an' song got me warmed up as I ain't been in years. Work's gone like it was greased, an' my soul's been singin' for joy o' life an' happiness ev'ry minute o' the time since he come. Been carryin' him grub to that top rail once an' twice a day for the last month, an' I can go in three feet o' him. My wife comes to see him, an' brings him stuff; an' we about worship him. Who are you, to come 'long an' wipe out his joy in life, an' our joy in him, for jest nothin'? You'd a left him to rot on the ground, if you'd a hit him; an' me an' Maria's loved him so!
"D'you ever stop to think how full this world is o' things to love, if your heart's jest big enough to let 'em in? We love to live for the beauty o' the things surroundin' us, an' the joy we take in bein' among 'em. An' it's my belief 'at the way to make folks love us, is for us to be able to 'preciate what they can do. If a man's puttin' his heart an' soul, an' blood, an' beef-steak, an' bones into paintin' picters, you can talk farmin' to him all day, an' he's dumb; but jest show him 'at you see what he's a-drivin' at in his work, an' he'll love you like a brother. Whatever anybody succeeds in, it's success 'cos they so love it 'at they put the best o' theirselves into it; an' so, lovin' what they do, is lovin' them.
"It 'ud 'bout kill a painter-man to put the best o' himself into his picture, an' then have some fellow like you come 'long an' pour turpentine on it jest to see the paint run; an' I think it must pretty well use God up, to figure out how to make an' colour a thing like that bird, an' then have you walk up an' shoot the little red heart out of it, jest to prove 'at you can! He's the very life o' this river bank. I'd as soon see you dig up the underbrush, an' dry up the river, an' spoil the picture they make against the sky, as to hev' you drop the redbird. He's the red life o' the whole thing! God must a-made him when his heart was pulsin' hot with love an' the lust o' creatin' in-com-par-able things; an' He jest saw how pretty it 'ud be to dip his featherin' into the blood He was puttin' in his veins.
"To my mind, ain't no better way to love an' worship God, 'an to protect an' 'preciate these fine gifts He's given for our joy an' use. Worshipin' that bird's a kind o' religion with me. Getting the beauty from the sky, an' the trees, an' the grass, an' the water 'at God made, is nothin' but doin' Him homage. Whole earth's a sanctuary. You can worship from sky above to grass under foot.
"Course, each man has his particular altar. Mine's in that cabin up at the bend o' the river. Maria lives there. God never did cleaner work, 'an when He made Maria. Lovin, her's sacrament. She's so clean, an' pure, an' honest, an' big-hearted! In forty year I've never jest durst brace right up to Maria an' try to put in words what she means to me. Never saw nothin' else as beautiful, or as good. No flower's as fragrant an' smelly as her hair on her pillow. Never tapped a bee tree with honey sweet as her lips a-twitchin' with a love quiver. Ain't a bird 'long the ol' Wabash with a voice up to hers. Love o' God ain't broader'n her kindness. When she's been home to see her folks, I've been so hungry for her 'at I've gone to her closet an' kissed the hem o' her skirts more'n once. I've never yet dared kiss her feet, but I've always wanted to. I've laid out 'at if she dies first, I'll do it then. An' Maria 'ud cry her eyes out if you'd a-hit the redbird. Your trappin's look like you could shoot. I guess 'twas God made that shot fly the mark. I guess--"
"If you can stop, for the love of mercy do it!" cried the hunter.
His face was a sickly white, his temples wet with sweat, and his body trembling. "I can't endure any more. I don't suppose you think I've any human instincts at all; but I have a few, and I see the way to arouse more. You probably won't believe me, but I'll never kill another innocent harmless thing; and I will never lie again so long as I live."
He leaned his gun against the thorn tree, and dropped the remainder of his hunter's outfit beside it on the ground.
"I don't seem a fit subject to `have dominion,'" he said. "I'll leave those thing for you; and thank you for what you have done for me."
There was a crash through the bushes, a leap over the fence, and Abram and the Cardinal were alone.
The old man sat down suddenly on a fallen limb of the sycamore. He was almost dazed with astonishment. He held up his shaking hands, and watched them wonderingly, and then cupped one over each trembling knee to steady himself. He outlined his dry lips with the tip of his tongue, and breathed in heavy gusts. He glanced toward the thorn tree.
"Left his gun," he hoarsely whispered, "an' it's fine as a fiddle. Lock, stock, an' barrel just a-shinin'. An' all that heap o' leather fixin's. Must a-cost a lot o' money. Said he wasn't fit to use 'em! Lept the fence like a panther, an' cut dirt across the corn field. An' left me the gun! Well! Well! Well! Wonder what I said? I must a-been almost fierce."
"See here! See here!" shrilled the Cardinal.
Abram looked him over carefully. He was quivering with fear, but in no way injured.
"My! but that was a close call, ol' fellow" said, Abram. "Minute later, an' our fun 'ud a-been over, an' the summer jest spoiled. Wonder if you knew what it meant, an' if you'll be gun-shy after this. Land knows, I hope so; for a few more such doses 'ull jest lay me up."
He gathered himself together at last, set the gun over the fence, and climbing after it, caught Nancy, who had feasted to plethora on young corn. He fastened up the trace-chains, and climbing to her back, laid the gun across his lap and rode to the barn. He attended the mare with particular solicitude, and bathed his face and hands in the water trough to make himself a little more presentable to Maria. He started to the house, but had only gone a short way when he stopped, and after standing in thought for a time, turned back to the barn and gave Nancy another ear of corn.
"After all, it was all you, ol' girl," he said, patting her shoulder, "I never on earth could a-made it on time afoot."
He was so tired he leaned for support against her, for the unusual exertion and intense excitement were telling on him sorely, and as he rested he confided to her: "I don't know as I ever in my life was so riled, Nancy. I'm afraid I was a little mite fierce."
He exhibited the gun, and told the story very soberly at supper time; and Maria was so filled with solicitude for him and the bird, and so indignant at the act of the hunter, that she never said a word about Abram's torn clothing and the hours of patching that would ensue. She sat looking at the gun and thinking intently for a long time; and then she said pityingly:
"I don't know jest what you could a-said 'at 'ud make a man go off an' leave a gun like that. Poor fellow! I do hope, Abram, you didn't come down on him too awful strong. Maybe he lost his mother when he was jest a little tyke, an' he hasn't had much teachin'."
Abram was completely worn out, and went early to bed. Far in the night Maria felt him fumbling around her face in an effort to learn if she were covered; and as he drew the sheet over her shoulder he muttered in worn and sleepy tones: "I'm afraid they's no use denyin' it, Maria, I was jest mortal fierce."
In the sumac the frightened little mother cardinal was pressing her precious babies close against her breast; and all through the night she kept calling to her mate, "Chook! Chook!" and was satisfied only when an answering "Chip!" came. As for the Cardinal, he had learned a new lesson. He had not been under fire before. Never again would he trust any one carrying a shining thing that belched fire and smoke. He had seen the hunter coming, and had raced home to defend his mate and babies, thus making a brilliant mark of himself; and as he would not have deserted them, only the arrival of the farmer had averted a tragedy in the sumac. He did not learn to use caution for himself; but after that, if a gun came down the shining river, he sent a warning "Chip!" to his mate, telling her to crouch low in her nest and keep very quiet, and then, in broken waves of flight, and with chirp and flutter, he exposed himself until he had lured danger from his beloved ones.
When the babies grew large enough for their mother to leave them a short time, she assisted in food hunting, and the Cardinal was not so busy. He then could find time frequently to mount to the top of the dogwood, and cry to the world, "See here! See here!" for the cardinal babies were splendid. But his music was broken intermittent vocalizing now, often uttered past a beakful of food, and interspersed with spasmodic "chips" if danger threatened his mate and nestlings.
Despite all their care, it was not so very long until trouble came to the sumac; and it was all because the first-born was plainly greedy; much more so than either his little brother or his sister, and he was one day ahead of them in strength. He always pushed himself forward, cried the loudest and longest, and so took the greater part of the food carried to the nest; and one day, while he was still quite awkward and uncertain, he climbed to the edge and reached so far that he fell. He rolled down the river bank, splash! into the water; and a hungry old pickerel, sunning in the weeds, finished him at a snap. He made a morsel so fat, sweet, and juicy that the pickerel lingered close for a week, waiting to see if there would be any more accidents.
The Cardinal, hunting grubs in the corn field, heard the frightened cries of his mate, and dashed to the sumac in time to see the poor little ball of brightly tinted feathers disappear in the water and to hear the splash of the fish. He called in helpless panic and fluttered over the spot. He watched and waited until there was no hope of the nestling coming up, then he went to the sumac to try to comfort his mate. She could not be convinced that her young one was gone, and for the remainder of the day filled the air with alarm cries and notes of wailing.
The two that remained were surely the envy of Birdland. The male baby was a perfect copy of his big crimson father, only his little coat was gray; but it was so highly tinged with red that it was brilliant, and his beak and feet were really red; and how his crest did flare, and how proud and important he felt, when he found he could raise and lower it at will. His sister was not nearly so bright as he, and she was almost as greedy as the lost brother. With his father's chivalry he allowed her to crowd in and take the most of the seeds and berries, so that she continually appeared as if she could swallow no more, yet she was constantly calling for food.
She took the first flight, being so greedy she forgot to be afraid, and actually flew to a neighbouring thorn tree to meet the Cardinal, coming with food, before she realized what she had done. For once gluttony had its proper reward. She not only missed the bite, but she got her little self mightily well scared. With popping eyes and fear-flattened crest, she clung to the thorn limb, shivering at the depths below; and it was the greatest comfort when her brother plucked up courage and came sailing across to her. But, of course, she could not be expected to admit that. When she saw how easily he did it, she flared her crest, turned her head indifferently, and inquired if he did not find flying a very easy matter, once he mustered courage to try it; and she made him very much ashamed indeed because he had allowed her to be the first to leave the nest. From the thorn tree they worked their way to the dead sycamore; but there the lack of foliage made them so conspicuous that their mother almost went into spasms from fright, and she literally drove them back to the sumac.
The Cardinal was so inordinately proud, and made such a brave showing of teaching them to fly, bathe, and all the other things necessary for young birds to know, that it was a great mercy they escaped with their lives. He had mastered many lessons, but he never could be taught how to be quiet and conceal himself. With explosive "chips" flaming and flashing, he met dangers that sent all the other birds beside the shining river racing to cover. Concealment he scorned; and repose he never knew.
It was a summer full of rich experience for the Cardinal. After these first babies were raised and had flown, two more nests were built, and two other broods flew around the sumac. By fall the Cardinal was the father of a small flock, and they were each one neat, trim, beautiful river birds.
He had lived through spring with its perfumed air, pale flowers, and burning heart hunger. He had known summer in its golden mood, with forests pungent with spicebush and sassafras; festooned with wild grape, woodbine, and bittersweet; carpeted with velvet moss and starry mandrake peeping from beneath green shades; the never-ending murmur of the shining river; and the rich fulfilment of love's fruition.
Now it was fall, and all the promises of spring were accomplished. The woods were glorious in autumnal tints. There were ripened red haws, black haws, and wild grapes only waiting for severe frosts, nuts rattling down, scurrying squirrels, and the rabbits' flash of gray and brown. The waysides were bright with the glory of goldenrod, and royal with the purple of asters and ironwort. There was the rustle of falling leaves, the flitting of velvety butterflies, the whir of wings trained southward, and the call of the king crow gathering his followers.
Then to the Cardinal came the intuition that it was time to lead his family to the orange orchard. One day they flamed and rioted up and down the shining river, raced over the corn field, and tilted on the sumac. The next, a black frost had stripped its antlered limbs. Stark and deserted it stood, a picture of loneliness.
O bird of wonderful plumage and human-like song! W hat a precious thought of Divinity to create such beauty and music for our pleasure! Brave songster of the flaming coat, too proud to hide your flashing beauty, too fearless to be cautious of the many dangers that beset you, from the top of the morning we greet you, and hail you King of Birdland, at your imperious command: "See here! See here!"