Published by
Hydrogen Jukebox Press


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      An Online Edition

  edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers

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Tuesday, May 5, 1914

[The Ruined Nest]


     This story of a ruined nest was told the Iron Fireman by a pair of pigeons from the suburbs who have the good fortune to live among people that appreciate the friendship of birds--that friendship which demands so little and bestows so royally. This pair, in their flights across the city, never fail to drink at the fountain; and today they rested long, for their hearts were more heavy than their wings. The story was something like this:

      To the lawn surrounding a house in the suburbs came early last month a pair of rust-brown birds, with long tails and beaks and dark-streaked breasts-- Brown Thrashers--In movement like a thrush, in size and bold bearing like a robin, in song somewhat like a mockingbird, and as readily tamed as a wren or sparrow. They perched and fluttered about in the yard shrubbery, and the male gave thanks for safe arrival after the long migratory passage in a short song that instantly aroused the friendly interest of a convalescent girl who was just beginning to enjoy the wakening of spring from her hammock on the front porch. A great tangle of woodbine shaded her corner; in the first sunshiny days this vine had proved itself the bravest thing of the waking year, cupping its leaves, a pair within a pair, rounded a tiny treasure of clustered buds that in April became rich crimson and scarlet flowers. Next day the brown birds came again, exploring, and the male, carrying up a crooked stick longer than himself, arranged it to suit him in the thickest tangle of the vine. It was a nesting site well chosen, and he sang Eureka immediately over the young girl's head. The twig was perhaps placed to hold possession--an option against the claims of the ubiquitous sparrows, who were rapidly taking up all the nesting places in sight.

     On the third day the birds worked together for half an hour, finished with a low, charming song, and disappeared for the day. But each day thereafter they returned, and worked longer each time, keeping hard at it for hours with inter[s]persions of hunting and occasional joyous interlude of song.

     The big ragged nest with its central finely rounded cup took shape gradually, and was made ready for the warm white treasure of the eggs. In and out of the green arbor with its red blossoms the birds flashed every hour of the day. The male began every morning with a song--a song of life; life, the red gift of the sun; of life everywhere thrilling to million-tinted splendors of growth, of creation, of abundance and beauty. "Oh, home!" he fluted from the neighboring shrubbery. "Oh, forest loom of life-stuff! Oh, quickening sun! Oh, holy world!"

     The bright yellow eye of the mother bird peered over the edge of the nest, and against her breast lay the four eggs of her brooding. She thrilled to the song, so soft, so wildly sweet, that it never sung at all. She counted the hours until, motionless there, she became almost hypnotized; her wings ached for expansion, as she waited the wonderful moment. The young ones grew in the frail shell; at last there was a tapping only she could hear, and one by one the tiny living things came forth from a dream of her mothering breast to reality.

     By the time they were hatched, the parent birds had become very tame, and the young girl strong enough to climb up and look into the nest; she knew better, however, than to handle either eggs or young.

     And all this time the Cat was patrolling the garden boundaries tirelessly, hunting lizards, bringing in sometimes a frog, a field mouse or a house mouse, or even a young rabbit or a mole to her kittens. She appeared not to notice the occupants of the woodbine tangle; but one day she caught two wrens and then a ground squirrel, and then the girl, fearing for the thrashers, sent away to the city--where a good mouser is often welcomed--all the family of cats except one pretty kitten, all white, with eyes like two emeralds set into the pure ermine of his coat.

     By this time the spring was well advanced. Every neglected corner, so unbeautiful at other times, was now a white storm of bloom where the brambles tossed white wreaths against the shadows. The green of the trees began, as the leaves grew and thickened, to divide the masses of light and shade--green gloom and green fire. But the wind still sank into the boughs as into velvet arras; there was no rustling midsummer gloss on any leaf, and they still seemed to glow, to retain and diffuse the sunshine.

     The birds worked every hour in the day, together, feeding the nestlings. They were always happy; they seemed to be amid entirely friendly surroundings, except for the sparrows who were easily made to know their place by a strong and masterful Thrasher. The real work for the season was almost over, the young wings almost ready for a first flight. Around them lay the hills, velvety blue, flushed with spring, and dimmed as with vaporized sapphire; but here was the heart of the world.

     Then, one morning, there was no song to greet the morning' plangent glory--no busy toilers among the fairy trumpets of woodbine. The girl, climbing up to investigate, found that the thrashers were missing, and the nest robbed and torn. The white kitten had been there. The parent birds, bereft, had gone away to grieve in the forested hills.

     It proved as fair a day as the sun-kissed valley had ever seen, closing with a sunset that flamed to the zenith betwe[e]n cloudy promontories painted with the dusk: but the girl would not look up from her hammock at those sierras of a twilight land. She cried herself into a relapse; and she sent the kitten away, for the shadow of the nest's tragedy was all over her world.

 



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