A Kentucky Cardinal/Chapter XIII

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XIII

The fountains of the great deep opened. A new heaven, a new earth. Georgiana has broken her engagement with her cousin. Mrs. Cobb let it out in the strictest confidence to Mrs. Walters. Mrs. Walters, with stricter confidence still, has told me only.

The West-Pointer had been writing for some months in regard to the wild behavior of his cousin. This grew worse, and the crisis came. Georgiana snapped her thread and put up her needle. He travelled all the way down here to implore. I met him at the gate as he left the house—a fine, straight, manly, handsome young fellow, with his face pale with pain, and his eyes flashing with anger—and bade him a long, affectionate, inward God-speed as he hurried away. It was her father’s influence. He had always wished for this union. Ah, the evils that come to the living from the wrongful wishes of the dead! Georgiana is so happy now, since she has been forced to free herself, that spring in this part of the United States seems to have advanced about half a month.

“What on earth will she do with all those clothes?” inquired Mrs. Walters the other night, eying me with curious impressiveness.

“They ought to be hanged,” I said, promptly.

There is a young scapegrace who passes my house morning and evening with his cows. He has the predatory instincts of that being who loves to call himself the image of his Maker, and more than once has given annoyance, especially last year, when he robbed a damson-tree of a brood of Baltimore orioles. This winter and spring his friendly interest in my birds has increased, and several times I have caught him skulking among the pines. Last night what should I stumble on but a trap, baited and sprung, under the cedar-tree in which the cardinal roosts. I was up before daybreak this morning. Awhile after the waking of the birds here comes my young bird-thief, creeping rapidly to his trap. As he stooped I had him by the collar, and within the next five minutes I must have set up in his nervous system a negative disposition to the caging of red-birds that will descend as a positive tendency to all the generations of his offspring.

All day this meditated outrage has kept my blood up. Think of this beautiful cardinal beating his heart out against maddening bars, or caged for life in some dark city street, lonely, sick, and silent, bidden to sing joyously of that high world of light and liberty where once he sported! Think of the exquisite refinement of cruelty in wishing to take him on the eve of May!

It is hardly a fancy that something as loyal as friendship has sprung up between this bird and me. I accept his original shyness as a mark of his finer instincts; but, like the nobler natures, when once he found it possible to give his confidence, how frankly and fearlessly has it been given. The other day, brilliant, warm, windless, I was tramping across the fields a mile from home, when I heard him on the summit of a dead sycamore, cleaving the air with stroke after stroke of his long melodious whistle, as with the swing of a silken lash. When I drew near he dropped down from bough to bough till he reached the lowest, a few feet from where I stood, and showed by every movement how glad he was to see me. We really have reached the understanding that the immemorial persecution of his race by mine is ended; and now more than ever my fondness settles about him, since I have found his happiness plotted against, and have perhaps saved his very life. It would be easy to trap him. His eye should be made to distrust every well-arranged pile of sticks under which lurks a morsel.

To-night I called upon Georgiana and sketched the arrested tragedy of the morning. She watched me curiously, and then dashed into a little treatise on the celebrated friendships of man for the lower creatures, in fact and fiction, from camels down to white mice. Her father must have been a remarkably learned man. I didn’t like this. It made me somehow feel as though I were one of Æsop's Fables, or were being translated into English as that old school-room horror of Androclus and the Lion. In the bottom of my soul I don’t believe that Georgiana cares for birds, or knows the difference between a blackbird and a crow. I am going to send her a little story, “The Passion of the Desert.” Mrs. Walters is now confident that Georgiana regrets having broken off her engagement. But then Mrs. Walters can be a great fool when she puts her whole mind to it.