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The Ungrateful Pigeons by Nellie McClung


Philip was a little boy, with a generous growth of freckles, and a loving heart. Most people saw only the freckles, but his mother never lost sight of his affectionate nature. So when, one warm spring day, he sat moodily around the house, she was ready to listen to his grievance.

"I want something for a pet," said Philip. "I have no dog or cat or anything!"

"What would you like the very best of all?" his mother asked, with the air of a fairy godmother.

"I want pigeons! They are so pretty and white and soft, and they lay eggs and hatch young ones."

All his gloom had vanished!

"How much a pair?" asked his mother.

"Twenty-five cents out at Crane's. They have millions of them; I can walk out?it's only five miles."

"Where will we put them when you bring them home?" she asked.

Philip thought they could share his room, but this suggestion was promptly rejected!

Then Philip's father was hurriedly interviewed by Philip's mother, and he agreed to nail a box on the end of the stable, far beyond the reach of prowling cats, and Philip, armed with twenty-five cents, set forth gaily on his five-mile walk. It was Saturday morning, and a beautiful day of glittering April sunshine. The sun was nearly down when Philip returned, tired but happy. It seemed there had been some trouble in catching them. The quoted price of twenty-five cents a pair was for raw, uncaught pigeons, but Philip had succeeded at last and brought back two beauties, one with blue markings, and the other one almost white.

The path of true love never ran smooth; difficulties were encountered at once. Philip put a generous supply of straw in one end of the box for a bed, but when he put them in they turned round and round as if they were not quite satisfied with their lodgings. Then Philip had one of those dazzling ideas which so often led to trouble with the other members of his family. He made a hurried visit to Rose's?his sister's ?room. Rose was a grown-up lady of twelve.

When he came back, he brought with him a dove-grey chiffon auto veil, the kind that was much favored that spring by young ladies in Rose's set, for a head protection instead of hats.

Rose's intimate friend, Hattie Matthews, had that very day put a knot in each side, which made it fit very artistically on Rose's head. Philip carefully untied the knots, and draped it over the straw. The effect was beautiful. Philip exclaimed with delight! They looked so pretty and "woozy"!

In the innocence of his heart, he ran into the house, for Rose; he wanted her to rejoice with him.

Rose's language was pointed, though dignified, and the pretty sight was ruthlessly broken up. Philip's mother, however, stepped into the gap, and produced an old, pale blue veil of her own, which was equally becoming.

It was she, too, who proposed a pigeon book, and a very pleasant time was spent making it,?for it was not a common book, bought with money, but one made by loving hands. Several sheets of linen notepaper were used for the inside, with stiff yellow paper for the cover, the whole fastened with pale blue silk. Then Philip printed on the cover:

Philip Brown,
Pigeon Book,

but not in any ordinary, plain, little bits of letters! Each capital was topped off with an arrow, and ended with a feather, and even the small letters had a thick blanket of dots.

The first entry was as follows:

April 7th.?I wocked out to Crane's, and got 2 fantales. they are hard to ketch. I payed 25 scents. My father knailed a box on the stable, and I put in a bed of straw, they are bootiful. my sister would not let me have her vale, but I got one prettier. they look woozy.

The next day, Sunday, Philip did not see how he could go to church or Sunday-school?he had not time, he said, but his mother agreed to watch the pigeons, and so his religious obligations did not need to be set aside.

Monday afternoon the Browns' back yard was full of little boys inspecting Philip's pigeons, not merely idle onlookers, but hard-headed poultry fanciers, as shown by the following entry:

April 9th.?I sold a pare of white ones to-day to Wilfred Garbett, to be kept three weeks after birth, Eva Gayton wants a pare too any color, in July. She paid for them.

Under this entry, which was made laboriously in ink, there was another one, in lead pencil, done by Philip's brother, Jack:

This is called selling Pigeons short.

Philip's friends recommended many and varied things for the pigeons to eat, and he did his best to supply them all, as far as his slender means allowed; he went to the elevator for wheat; he traded his good jack-knife for two mouse-eaten and anaemic heads of squaw-corn, which were highly recommended by an unscrupulous young Shylock, who had just come to town and was short of a jack-knife. His handkerchief, scribblers and pencils mysteriously disappeared, but other articles came in their place: a small round mirror advertising corsets on the back (Gordon Smith said pigeons liked a looking-glass?it made them more contented to stay at home); a small swing out of a birdcage, which was duly put in place (vendor Miss Edie Beal, owner unknown). Of course, it was too small for pigeons, but there were going to be little ones very soon, weren't there?

He also brought to them one day five sunflower seeds, recommended and sold by a mild-eyed little Murphy girl, who had the stubby fingers of a money-maker. Philip, being very low in funds that day, wanted her to accept prospective eggs in payment, but the stubby-fingered Miss Murphy preferred currency! Philip decided to make no entry of these transactions in his Pigeon Book.

His young brother, Barrie, began to be troublesome about this time, and to evince an unwholesome interest in the pigeons. The ladder, which was placed against the stable under their house, at first seemed to him too high to climb, but seeing the multitude of delighted spectators who went up and down without accident, he resolved to try it, too, and so successfully that he was able after a few attempts to carry a stick with him, stand on the highest rung, and poke up the pigeons.

One day he was caught?with the goods?by Philip himself. So indignant was Philip that for a moment he stood speechless. His young brother, jarred by a guilty conscience and fear of Philip, came hastily down the ladder, raising a few bruises on his anatomy as he came. Even in his infant soul he felt he deserved all he had got, and thought best not to mention the occurrence. Philip, too, generously kept quiet about it, feeling that the claims of justice had been met. The only dissatisfied parties in the transaction were the pigeons.

The next Sunday in Sabbath School there was a temperance lesson, and Barrie Brown quoted the Golden Text with a slight variation?"At the last it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like a ladder!"

Philip was the only one who knew what he meant, and he said it served him good and right.

The following entry appears in the Pigeon Book:

My brother Barrie poks them, but he got his leson. tomoro I'll let them out?there fond enough of home now I gess.

The next day being Saturday, when Philip could watch them, he let them out. All day long his heart was torn with pride and fear?they looked so beautiful, circling and wheeling over the stable and far away across the road, and yet his heart was chill with the fear that they would never return.

That night the Pigeon Book received the following entry:

April 21st.?I let them out and, they came back?they are sweet pets. I dreem about them every night I have two dreems, my good dreem is the've layd my bad dreem is about tomcats and two little heaps of fethers its horrid.

The next week another entry went into the book:

I sold another pare to-day I've raised the price this pare is to be delivered in Ogist. I gave them a bran mash to-day, it makes them lay sure.

Under this Jack wrote:

Thinking of the August delivery.

The next entry was this:

May 1st.?Wilfred G. is pritty meen, he thinks he knows it all. they aint goin to lay all in a hurry.

There seemed to be no doubt about this. They certainly were not. In spite of bran mashes, pepper, cotton batting, blue veil and tender care, they refused to even consider the question of laying.

Philip was quite satisfied with them as they were, if they would only stay with him, but the customers who had bought and paid for highly recommended young fowl were inclined to be impatient and even unpleasant when the two parent birds were to be seen gadding around the street at all hours of the day, utterly regardless of their young master's promises.

Philip learned to call them. His "cutacutacoo?cutacutacoo" could be heard up and down the street. Sometimes they seemed to pay a little attention to him, and then his joy was full. More often they seemed to say, "Cutacutacoo yourself!" or some such saucy word, and fly farther away.

One night they did not come home. Philip's most insistent "cutacutacoo" brought no response. He hired boys to help him to look for them, beggaring himself of allies and marbles, even giving away his Lucky Shooter, a mottled pee-wee, to a lynx-eyed young hunter who claimed to be able to see in the dark. He even dared the town constable by staying out long after the curfew had rung, looking and asking. No one had seen them.

Through the night it rained, a cold, cruel rain?or so it seemed to the sad-hearted, wide-awake little boy. He stole out quietly, afraid that he might be sent back to bed, but only his mother heard him, and she understood. It was lonesome and dark outside, but love lighted his way. He groped his way up the ladder, hoping to find them, but though the straw, the cotton batting, the blue veil, the water-dish were all in place?there were no pigeons!

Philip came back to bed, cold and wet in body, but his heart colder still with fear, and his face wetter with tears. Under cover of the night a boy of ten can cry all he wants to.

His mother, who heard him going out and who understood, called softly to him to come to her room, and then sympathized. She said they were safe enough, never fear, with some flock of pigeons; they had got lonesome, that was all; they would come back when they got hungry, and the rain would not hurt them, and be sure to wipe his feet!

The next day they were found across the street with Jerry Andrews' pigeons, as unconcerned as you please. Philip parted with his Lost Heir game?about the only thing he had left?to get Jerry to help him to catch them when they were roosting. He shut them up for a few days and worked harder than ever, if that were possible, to try to please them.

The Pigeon Book would have been neglected only for his mother, who said it was only right to put in the bad as well as the good. That was the way with all stories. Philip made this entry:

They went away and staid and had to be brot back by force I guess they were lonesome. I don't know why they don't like me?I like them!

When his mother read that she said, "Poor little fellow," and made pancakes for tea.

In a few days he let them out again, and watched them with a pale face.

They did not hesitate a minute, but flew straight away down the street to the place they had been before, to the place where the people often made pies of pigeons and were not ashamed to tell it!

Philip followed them silently, not having the heart to call.

"Say, Phil," the boy of the pigeon loft called?he was a stout boy who made money out of everything?"I guess they ain't goin' to stay with you. You might as well sell out to me. I'll give you ten cents for the pair. I'm goin' to sell a bunch to the hotel on Saturday."

An insane desire to fight him took hold of Philip. He turned away without speaking.

At school that day he approached the pigeon boy and made the proposition that filled the boy with astonishment: "I'll give them to you, Jerry," he said, hurriedly, "if you promise not to kill them. It's all right! I guess I won't bother with pigeons?I think I'll get a dog ?or something," he ended lamely.

Jerry was surprised, but being a business man he closed the deal on the spot. When Philip went home he put his pigeon book away.

There was a final entry, slightly smeared and very badly written:

They are ungrateful broots!