A Bird Story by WM. M. F. Round
Visible from my study-window, and less than a stone's throw away, is a
cottage, all tree-embowered and vine-covered, which its owners call "The
Nest." All over the house, wherever a bird-box can be placed, there you
are sure to find one. These little homes nestle under the eaves among
the supporting brackets; they hide under the nooks of the gables; they
are perched above the windows; they are indeed to be found wherever you
would be likely to look for them, and in a good many places where you
would never think of looking. Besides these bird-boxes on the house,
there are bird-boxes in the trees, bird-boxes airily placed on high
poles—bird-boxes in all forms, from the plain four-sided salt-box to
the elaborate Swiss chalet and the pretentious be-spired and be-columned
meeting-house. Then there are bird-cages—pretty brass cages, with
tarlatan petticoats to keep the seeds from flying out, and tied with
such dainty bows of ribbon that one has no need to be told there is a
woman in the house; there are capacious cages in which brown
mocking-birds sit all day long echoing back the other birds' songs they
hear; there are dainty glass cages from Venice, in which Java sparrows
carry on their ceaseless love-making, billing and cooing for hours and
hours, as if all life to them was an interminable honeymoon. There is
also a great white parrot, who, perched in a brass ring, mutters and
mutters to himself for hours, and hums snatches of tunes, and calls
imaginary dogs and visionary cats; and when he sees a certain manly form
coming up the garden-walk is wont to cry out in a miserable mockery of
tenderness, "Oh, my darling! I'm so glad to see you!" and then smack
his bill as near like a kiss as he can, and chuckle and laugh and turn
somersaults, and otherwise disport himself as parrots do when they are
And while all this is going on there comes running out of the house a
pretty little figure in a fresh muslin dress and with outstretched arms;
and, strangely enough, she says just what Polly has said, and there is a
kiss that is no imitation, and a responsive kiss that fairly puts Polly
to shame; but the bird chuckles and laughs nevertheless.
When all this takes place—and it is no more of an event than the daily
home-coming of our good neighbor and dear friend Arthur Sterling, Esq.,
barrister-at-law,—when this home-coming takes place, all the birds at
The Nest break forth into a merrier song—get so enthusiastic in their
pipings that you'd think, to hear them, that they would split their
throats; and still gladder and sweeter and merrier than their song is
the voice of our dear neighbor's wife, Mistress May Sterling, who pours
forth, in a ceaseless chattering song, a whole day's accumulation of
love—yes indeed, a whole lifetime's accumulation; and while the
rippling flow goes on their two fond hearts sing louder with joy than
any birds would ever dare to think of singing.
How they love the birds! And why not? Since but for a little bird they
would not have been together in this sweet little nest, outbilling and
outcooing the Java sparrows, dwelling in the land of Love's young dream,
in the sunshine of each other's affection, and ready to declare upon
oath that there is no night in their lives that isn't radiant with the
sheen of the honeymoon.
And now I'll tell you the story of a little bird as Mistress May
Sterling told it to me one evening while her Arthur and I smoked our
cigars in the moonlight on The Nest's piazza. No: on the whole, Mistress
Sterling shall tell the story herself: she tells it much better than I
"Why, yes," she says, "I'll tell it: why not? I love to tell it, for,
taken altogether, it is the best story I ever heard of.—Kiss me,
Arthur having done as he was bidden, Mrs. Sterling begins at once, and
all you and I have to do is to listen:
"When I was young and giddy—ever and ever so long ago, of course:
indeed I was quite a girl then, only eighteen—I was, as you may
imagine, quite a pet with my father—don't laugh, Arthur: you know I
was—and quite a belle too, I can assure you, with lots of young men
flinging themselves at my feet and swearing all kinds of oaths about
fidelity and everlasting affection, and all the other things that young
"And inexperienced," put in Arthur.
"Don't interrupt me, sir. Where was I? Oh yes!—that young and
enthusiastic and inexperienced people are accustomed to swear. And my
father, who was very stern and had old-fashioned notions—and has now,
for that matter, dear old papa!—said that, whatever befell, he would
not on any account give the least encouragement or the slightest
permission to any lover till I was past twenty years old. Not that I
cared, only it was such fun to hear the men talk, and me looking
unutterable things and saying softly, 'You must never say anything to me
on this subject again till you have papa's consent: he would be very
angry if he knew what you've said already'! You see, I knew papa's
will—it is unchangeable as granite: at least I thought it was—and I
felt perfectly safe.
"This was, you know—no, you don't know—but it was the year I came out
in society. And I used to go to receptions and all sorts of things with
papa, and receive his company, and sit at the head of the table, and
keep house, just as my mother would have done if she'd been living. I
hardly remember mamma: I was not four years old when she died. And
society and people's admiration seemed so glorious! I declared I'd never
marry, but go on to the end of my days saying 'No' to any man that asked
me, and enjoying such a lot of pity for the poor fellows. I deliberately
hardened my heart, as many a girl does at that age, and fairly
pitied—yes, actually pitied—the girls that were so weak as to fall in
love and get married. I think papa used to encourage me in the feeling,
for he didn't like to think of losing me out of the house, and he a
judge and a Congressman, and having ever so much company, and nobody but
dear old-fashioned Aunt Jane to help him receive them if I was to leave
"When father was re-elected to Congress we had a glorious reception at
our house in the country, and among others that came to it was a Mr.
Sterling, the son of my father's college chum, and a promising young
sprig of the law, father said. He came to stay a day or two in the house
as a visitor before the reception, and was to leave the morning after it
At this point in the narrative Mr. Arthur bethought him of a letter he
must write, and begged to be excused for a time—a piece of rare good
sense on his part, considering how much the story had to do with
"During his stay we had been a good deal together. I had been his guide
to all the famous spots in the neighborhood, and he had been chatty and
bright, and amused me greatly. We had a little chat in the conservatory
that evening of the reception, and I told him I was sorry to have him
"'Thank you,' he said. 'I would rather hear you say that than anything
you could have said, except one.'
"'What is that, pray?' I asked.
"'That you would like to see me here again.'
"'Oh,' I replied, 'I never give invitations: papa does that. Of course
he'll be glad to see you again.'
"'Why, since you insist upon my saying it, I shall be glad too: you
amuse me greatly.'
"'So might a tight-rope performer or a performing dog, I suppose?'
"'No: I don't care for such amusements. I like to hear the talk of
bright men, and you strike me as a very bright man.'
"'It is only the reflection of yourself, Miss Bronson,' he said in a
cold society tone, which, strange to say, pained me, and I replied that
I didn't care for compliments: I had plenty of them, and they palled on
"Then he said, 'Do you want me to tell you the truth, the out-and-out
truth—the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God?'
"'That's an oath, Mr. Sterling,' I said: 'don't commit yourself.'
"'I do commit myself—I came here to commit myself. I want you to hear
me out and believe that I realize fully the solemnity of what I am
saying. I have sought this opportunity to tell you that I love you, Miss
"Strangely enough, I wasn't the least moved: I don't think my heart beat
the least bit faster; and I said, 'Why, Mr. Sterling, how can you know
anything about me? How can you love me, when you've known me only two
days, and seen me always on my best behavior? I am a very unlovable
person: if you only knew me well you'd soon find it out. Of course, if
you love me, it is all very well for you to tell me so, but I can't
understand why you should.'
"'Is that all you have to say to me, Miss Bronson?' he asked earnestly.
"'Why, what can I say? You don't know me, and I don't know you; and you
think you love me, and I don't love you at all. I'm fond of you in a
certain way, to be sure, but love is quite a different thing. I never
shall love anybody very much except papa: I never intend to. I'm very
kind to you, Mr. Sterling, to talk to you as I do. In a few weeks, when
you've all but forgotten my existence, you'll think of me just enough to
be grateful to me for talking to you as I have. Love isn't a mushroom to
spring up in a night: it is an oak to grow and grow, and only come to
perfection after years and years. You don't love me at all, Mr.
Sterling: you only think you do.'
"All this time he stood silent, looking more awkward than I ever saw him
before or have seen him since. Then he put out his hand and said, 'I'll
bid you good-bye, Miss Bronson: I'm going early in the morning. I shall
not see you then, so I'll say good-bye now. I am going abroad in a few
"'Abroad! where?' I hadn't heard of it, and I felt a strange sort of
pang—of surprise, I thought.
"'To Leipsic, to finish my studies. I shall be gone a considerable
time—two years at least. When I return I shall come to you and repeat
what I've said to-night.'
"'Oh no, you won't: you'll forget all about it. I'd much rather you
would. Please don't feel bound to come back: I release you from your
oath, and I shall not expect you.'
"I don't know what more we might have said, but there was a flutter
among the vines by the door, and we thought some one was near us. We
were just returning into the adjoining dining-room when a little brown
bird flew out into the light, and, hopping about among the flowers,
began chirping in a sad sort of way that caught our attention at once.
"'It is only the little widow,' I said.
"'Lost her mate, eh?' Arthur said carelessly. He wasn't Arthur then, you
know, but Mr. Sterling.
"'Yes: he's deserted her. She built here in the vines last spring when
the conservatory was all thrown open. They were such a pair of lovers,
she and her mate! She raised two broods of little ones, and it was quite
a domestic revelation for me to see them, they seemed so fond of each
other, and so happy, and so loving. But a month ago, when the plants
were brought in and the cold nights began to come on, he left her, and
she has been sad and heartbroken ever since.'
"'Perhaps he'll come back to her by and by,' said Arthur.
"'Oh no: he'll no more come back to her than you'll come back to me.'
"'Then he's sure to come,' replied Arthur; and just then my father came
to look for me and bid me join the other guests.
"I didn't see Arthur again that night, and the next day he was gone. I
never missed anybody so much. Nobody and nothing seemed to fill his
place. I went into the room he had occupied, and found there a glove
that he had left behind. I took it to my room and said, 'I'll keep it
for him till he comes back.' I tried to speak lightly, and was surprised
and angry at myself that the trivial thought seemed to mean so much.
"The winter wore on, and the little forsaken bird remained in the
conservatory, and sometimes would fly into the room, and I felt a lonely
sort of sympathy with it. I used to take the bird in my hand sometimes
and call it a poor thing, and talk to it, and tell it that it was no
worse off than many a poor girl or many a young wife, for men were like
her mate, and promised all sorts of things they didn't mean, and
couldn't be faithful if they tried. After a while we went to Washington,
and I saw a great many people and received a great deal of attention.
The Prussian ambassador had a brother visiting him—a Baron
Dumbkopf—very handsome, very rich, very distingué, and soon very
attentive to me. He was constantly at our house, and he was agreeable
enough and easy to talk to, and very obedient, and very seldom a bore. I
rather liked him, and papa liked him exceedingly. I wasn't at all
surprised when one day he suddenly became sentimental and ended by
offering me his hand.
"'Have you spoken with my father on this subject?' I asked.
"He had not: would I give him permission to do so? I told him that I
should not even consider his proposition for a moment till he had talked
with my father; that I never intended to marry without my father's
consent; and as for falling in love, I was sure I should never do that.
"So he went away to talk with my father, and I felt safe. I hadn't an
idea papa would do as he did, you see; but the truth is, papas are not
to be depended upon—at least, not always.
"The next day my father called me into the library and asked me if I
loved Baron Dumbkopf.
"'No,' I said, 'I don't love him.'
"'Do you like him?'
"'Do you dislike him?'
"'No: I am quite indifferent to him.'
"'He is of a very good family and of excellent character,' said my
"'I know all that,' I replied. 'Do you wish me to marry him, papa?'
"'I can't say that I wish you to, my daughter, but if you loved him I
should be pleased for you to have such a husband.'
"I was never more surprised in my life. Then he told me a great many
things about the baron—how universally he was esteemed, what a position
he held in society, how wealthy he was, how honorable and how good.
These things I knew before. They certainly had weight with me in favor
of the baron: I think they would have had with almost any girl. I asked
my father if he had given the baron any encouragement, and he replied
that he had left everything between the baron and myself for settlement.
"The next evening the German came again to woo me with my father's
sanction. He became very earnest, and I told him that I would not, could
not, give him any hope. He asked me if it might ever be otherwise, and I
told him I thought not. 'Well,' he said, 'I shall certainly ask you
again. I return to Germany in April, and I shall hope to carry home the
tidings of my betrothal.'
"It was then late in the winter, and pretty soon we returned to the
country, for father liked to be close to Nature when it burst into its
"How nice it seemed to be once more in the old house! I soon found
myself interested in my old occupations, and most of all in the care of
the conservatory, which was then all abloom with azaleas and other
spring-flowering plants. There too was the little widow, as sad as ever,
but glad to see me back, and more than ready to resume the old
friendship. We had hardly got into our old routine ways before my father
announced one morning that the baron Dumbkopf was coming down to say
good-bye before leaving for Germany. I knew very well what it all meant,
and I began to think that as it was my father's wish that I should marry
some time, and that as I could hardly find a husband more suited to his
ideas, and that as I probably should never fall in love, I might as well
accept him as anybody. Then I began to think of Arthur. Thoughts of the
two men crossed and recrossed in my mind, closely woven like the threads
in a cloth. I used to go and look at his glove and talk to the little
bird-widow about him, and really was quite angry with myself for having
him so much in my mind and he so long gone.
"At last the baron came. He was a splendid-looking man, and his manners
were perfect. These things tell for so much with girls! He came, and one
morning—I remember it well: it was a cold, blowy spring morning—he
found me alone in the conservatory and renewed his suit. I was petting
the little bird when he found me, and he said, 'Dear little bird! he is
to be envied in having so much tenderness shown him.'
"'It is a female bird,' I said, 'and a forsaken bird, for its mate has
flown away and left it broken-hearted;' and I began at once to think of
Arthur, and fell into a reverie.
"The baron interpreted my little speech and my subsequent silence as
favorable to himself. He really thought I was beginning to pity myself
because he was going away. 'Ah,' he said, 'you know why I have come?'
"'To say good-bye,' I answered.
"'Perhaps, but to say first that I love you still, and to ask you to be
"My heart beat rapidly now, and I think the little bird that I was
holding to my bosom must have felt it, for it began to chirp in a low
murmur as if it would comfort me.
"'Give me a little time to think,' I said; and, strangely enough, all my
thinking was of Arthur and his going away, and his promised return; and
then I said to myself, 'What folly! he has forgotten me. If he had loved
me he wouldn't have gone till he had my word of love in return. He's
forgotten all about me.'
"The baron was gaining ground with me: I was reasoning myself into
something above esteem for him, and I turned to put my hand in his,
when there was a tap at the window, and the little bird, struggling from
my hand, burst into such a flood of singing that the whole place was
drowned with melody.
"'Oh,' I cried, 'her mate has come back! her mate has come back! He is
fluttering against the window. Do let him in, baron, the poor dear,
happy little thing!' and I sat down among the azaleas and the budding
Easter lilies and cried like a baby.
"The poor baron did let the little bird in, and side by side we
witnessed the joy of their meeting, expressed in a hundred tender little
"At last the baron said, 'You forget, Miss Bronson, you haven't given me
"'And I can't answer you now,' I said. 'Please forget me. Indeed, I
don't know what to say to you: I believe I shall say No.'
"'Don't say anything,' he replied. 'I have done wrong. I have not given
you time to think. I must go now, but a year from now I shall ask you
the same question again, and then you must say Yes or No; and God grant
it may be the first!'
"'You are very good,' I said; 'and a year hence I will tell you if I can
be your wife or not.'
"So the baron went away, and he had hardly been gone a week when I was
ashamed of having been so much affected by the bird's return. The idea
of believing in omens! Then a little time further on there came a letter
from a friend of mine in Leipsic which mentioned Arthur Sterling, spoke
of him as a young man very popular in society—you know Arthur is most
fascinating—and said that he was very attentive to a young American
girl there, a beautiful blond: they were seen everywhere together, and
report said he was to marry her.
"'It is a lie!' I said to myself: 'he promised to come back to me.' And
then I said again, 'Why should I be angry? why should I believe him? I
hardly knew him, and most men are false.' I was such a silly girl, I
thought. Then father was always speaking of the baron: I could see that
he was sorry I had not accepted him at once. And Aunt Jane, she had to
talk to me about it, and say that she couldn't last long, and that
father was getting old, and that I ought to think about getting married,
and—Well, you know how women talk to each other about marrying.
Considering that Aunt Jane had never thought of marrying herself, it
oughtn't to have had much weight with me, but it did.
"The year wore on. Of course I thought a great deal about Arthur, but I
thought a good deal about the baron too. The little bird was no longer
lonesome; and as she and her mate had built themselves a nest, and had
domestic duties to perform in rearing a brood of young ones, they were
too much wrapped up in their own affairs to be very companionable. But
when autumn came again, and the leaves were falling and the cold winds
blew out of the north, that foolish little mate flew off to the south,
and the little forsaken thing came back into the conservatory and wanted
to be comforted. And we did comfort her as best we could. All the winter
through she was in and out from the conservatory to the dining-room,
becoming very friendly and answering to her name instantly: papa had
named her Niobe.
"In due course of time the early spring came round again, and one April
morning there came a letter from the baron. He asked me for my answer:
should he come and take me with him to his German home? I showed the
letter to papa, and all he said was, 'My daughter, he would make you an
excellent husband—such a one as your poor mother would wish for you
were she alive. I hope you'll consider the matter well before you say
"I thought it all over. Why not? Yes, I would write to the baron and say
Yes. Arthur was away; he'd never come back; he was in love with that
pretty blond. Was it likely I was going to ruin my life for him? I had
too much sense for that. I would just go and throw his old glove into
the fire and all thoughts of him to the winds. So I went for the glove,
and kissed it—foolish thing!—and put it back in my treasure-box, and
went on thinking of Arthur more than ever. Then I remonstrated with
myself for my foolishness, and took my writing-desk in my lap and sat
down in the conservatory to write to the baron. I began my letter 'My
dear Arthur,' and then had to begin again, and started fairly with 'My
dear baron.' Then I tried to frame a proper sentence to start with, but
that desolate little bird came flying to my shoulder, and chirped so
sadly and so persistently that it put me all out.
"'Oh, you poor foolish little thing!' I said: 'anybody would think there
were no other birds in the world but your faithless mate.'
"The bird fluttered and chirped and talked with a purring song, which I
fancied to say, 'Oh, my poor heart! poor heart! poor broken heart!
Alas!' and it was such a strong impression that I put my hand to my own
heart and held on there, while I laid my head on one side till it
touched the feathers of the bird on my shoulder; and so we sat silently
"What do you think roused us? There was a quick fluttering in the bird's
breast. She flew away from my shoulder: she flew to the top of the
highest azalea, and she sung—oh, how she sung! Joy, victory over doubt,
faith crowned, glimpses of heaven in the spring sunlight,—they were all
in that song. I knew in a minute what had come. I threw open the sash,
and out of the sunshine, borne in with the odors of the new grass and
budding trees, came a little brown bird, tired as from a long journey,
but with a song of greeting that overtopped even the song of welcome
that awaited him.
"I watched them a moment, as if in a spell, and then I tore up my letter
to the baron and tossed it among the flowers; and the tears came in my
eyes, and I said aloud, 'Oh, Arthur, I do love you—I know I do! If you
don't come back I shall die.'
"'Then, dear, you shall not die, for I am here;' and the foolish
boy—for it was Arthur come back and stolen upon me to surprise me—put
his dear strong arms about me, and I was ready to faint, and cried a
little on his shoulder, and he kissed me, and we went in to papa and
talked it all over; and he told me about his finishing his studies and
hurrying home, and all about the blond, a cousin of his who was out in
Leipsic with her mother studying music, and they'd made a home for him,
and said I should know them and they should know me; and it was all
lovely. And the result of it all is, here we are, and we love birds, and
we love each other. And do you wonder at it? And here's Arthur, coming
back from his letters. And, and—Come and kiss me, Arthur."
And so the little lady finished with a kiss, as she had begun, and the
parrot moved uneasily on his perch at being disturbed with conversation
at so late an hour, and the Java sparrows twittered a little; and I rose
to go, only asking, "And the baron?"
"Oh! he's married since—such a lovely wife!—and I dare say is as
grateful to the bird as Arthur and I. You see, he was only
infatuated—Arthur and I were in love."
"Good-night," from me.
"Good-night, good-night," from them; and I heard another kiss as I went
down the walk.
Wm. M.F. Round.