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   Chapter 3 No.3

The Golden Bird By Maria Thompson Daviess Characters: 19295

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"Si Beesley? Spare rib, dear?" was his disappointing but hospitable, answer in two return questions to my anxious inquiries about the Pan who had come out of the woods at my need.

"No; I mean-mean, didn't you call him Adam?"

"Nobody knows. Now, William, a spare rib and a muffin is real nourishment after the nightingale's tongues and snails you've been living on for twenty-odd years, isn't it?" As he spoke Uncle Cradd beamed on father, who was eating with the first show of real pleasure in food since we had had to send Henri back to New York, after the crash, weeping with all his French-cook soul at leaving us after fifteen years' service.

"I have always enjoyed that essay of Charles Lamb's on roast pig, Cradd," answered father as he took a second muffin. "I know that Lamb used to bore you, Cradd, but honestly now, doesn't his materialism seem-"

"Oh, Uncle Cradd, please tell me about that Adam man before you and father disappear into the eighteenth century," I pleaded, as I handed two cups of steaming coffee to Rufus to pass my two elderly savants.

"There is nothing to tell, Nancy child," answered Uncle Cradd, with an indulgent smile as he peered at me over his glasses. "Upon my word, William, Nancy is the living image of mother when we first remember her, isn't she? You are very beautiful, my dear."

"I know it," I answered hurriedly and hardly aware of what I was saying; "but I want to know where he came from, please, Uncle Cradd."

"Well, as near as I can remember he came out of the woods a year ago and has been in and out helping about the farms here in Harpeth Valley ever since. He never eats or sleeps anywhere, and he's a kind of wizard with animals, they say. And, William, he does know his Horace. Just last week he appeared with a little leather-covered volume, and for four mortal hours we-"

"They says dat red-haided peckerwoods goes to the devil on Fridays, and Mas' Adam he cured my hawgs with nothing but a sack full of green cabbage heads in January, he did," said Rufus, as he rolled his big black eyes and mysteriously shook his old head with its white kinks. "No physic a-tall, jest cabbage and a few turnips mixed in the mash. Yes, m'm, dey does go to the devil of a Friday, red-haided peckerwoods, dey does."

"By the way, Cradd, I want you to see a little volume of the Odes I picked up in London last year. The dealer was a robber, and my dealer didn't want me to buy, but I thought of that time you and I-"

"Not one of the Cantridge edition?"

"Yes, and I want you-"

During all the rest of supper I sat and communed with my own self while father and Uncle Cradd banqueted with the Immortals.

Even after we went back into the low-ceilinged old living-room, which was now lighted by two candles placed close together on a wonderful old mahogany table before the fire, one of the dignified chairs drawn up on each side, with my low seat between, I was busily mapping out a course of action that was to begin with my dawn signal.

"I'd like to get into the-trunk as soon as possible. There is something I want to look up in my chicken book," I said before I seated myself in the midst of one of the battles that raged around Ilium.

"Nancy, my dear, you will find that Rufus has arranged your Grandmother Craddock's room for you, and Mary Beesley came over to see that all was in order," said Uncle Cradd, coming and taking my face into his long, lean old hands. "God bless you, my dear, and keep you in His care here in the home of your forefathers. Good-night!" After an absent-minded kiss from father I was dismissed with a Sanskrit blessing from somewhere in the valley of the Euphrates up into my bedroom in the valley of Old Harpeth.

If I had discovered the shadow of tradition in the rest of the old house, I walked into the very depths of them as I entered the bedroom of my foremothers. Deep crimson coals of fire were in a squat fireplace, and a last smoldering log of some kind of fragrant wood broke into fragments and sent up a little gust of blue and gold flame as if in celebration of my arrival. There was the remnant of a candle burning on a small table beside a bed that was very near, if not quite, five feet high, beside which were steps for the purposes of ascension. All the rest of the room was in a blur of lavender-scented darkness, and I only saw that both side walls folded down and were lit with the deep old gables, through the open windows of which young moon rays were struggling to help light the situation for me. As I looked at that wide, puffy old bed, with a blur of soft colors in its quilt and the valance around its posts and tester, I suddenly became as utterly weary as a child who sees its mother's arms outstretched at retiring time. I don't know how I got out of my clothes and into my lace and ribbons, with only the flickering candle and the dying log to see by, but in less time than I ever could have dreamed might be consumed in the processes of going to bed I climbed the little steps and dived into the soft bosom of the old four-poster.

"God bless me and keep me in His care here in my grandmother's bed," I murmured after the invocation of Uncle Cradd, and that is all I knew after the first delicious sink and soft huddling of my body between sheets that felt as if they must be rich silk and smelled of old lavender.

And then came a dream-a most lovely dream. I was at the opera in Gale Beacon's box, and Mr. G. Bird was out on the stage singing that glorious coo in the aria in Saint-Sa?ns' "Samson and Delilah," and I was trying to answer him. Suddenly I was wide awake sitting up in a billowed softness, while moonlight of a different color was sifting in through the gable windows and the most lovely calling notes were coming in on its beams. Without a moment's hesitation I answered in about six notes of that Delilah song which was the only sound ready in my mind. Then I listened and I am not sure that I heard a reedy laugh under my window as just the two notes succeeding the ones I had given forth came in on the dawn beams. Then all was as still and quiet as the hush of midnight.

In about two seconds I had vaulted forth from between the high posts, splashed into a funny old wooden tub bound together with brass rims, whirled my black mop into a knot, slipped into the modish boots, corduroys, and a linen smock, and was running out into the peculiar moon-dawn with the swiftness of a boy.

But I was too late! The silver-moon sky was growing rosy over behind the barn as I peered about, and a mist was rolling away from between the trees, but not a soul in all the world was awake, and I was alone.

"Did he call me?" I asked of myself under my breath. And the answer I got was from the Golden Bird, who sent a long, triumphant, eager "salutation to the dawn" from out the shadows of the barn.

Eagerly I flew to him, and the minute I entered the apartment of the Bird family I discovered that I had been only half dreaming about my early morning opera. Pan had come and gone. Upon the door was pinned a piece of torn brown wrapping-paper upon which I found these penciled words:

Give them about two quarts of warm meal mash, into which you put some ground turnips at noon. Better build about four nests in the dark under the bin, and be sure to disinfect them by white-washing inside and out. Put in clean hay. Dust all the beauties on their heads and under their wings with wood ashes in which you put a little of the powder you'll find in a piece of this paper in the right-hand corner of the bin. They'll want a good feed of ground grain at three o'clock. Get copperas from Rufus to put in their water, and I'll let you know later what else to do. Salutations!

Adam

"I'm glad I got up so early if that's the day's program," I gasped to myself as I leaned against the bin from which the Golden Bird had already alighted and was commanding the Ladies Leghorn to descend-a command which they were obeying one at a time with outspread white wings that were handled with the height of awkwardness. "But I'll do it all if it kills me," I added, with my head up, as I began to scatter some of the big white grains that I knew to be corn and which, by lifting lids and peering into huge slanting top boxes set against the wall, I discovered along with a lot of other small brown seed stuff that I knew must be wheat. I was glad that I had remembered that Adam had called the room the feed-room so I had known where to look.

It was so perfectly exciting to see all those fluffy white members of my family fortune scratching and clucking about my feet that I prolonged the process of the feeding by scattering only a few grains at a time until great shafts of golden morning sun were thrusting themselves in through the dim dusk and cobweb-veiled windows.

"Morning, little Mis'! I axes yo' parding fer not having breakfast 'fore sun-up fer you, but they didn't never any Craddock ladies want theirn before nine o'clock before, they didn't," came Rufus's voice in solemn words of apology uttered in tones of serious reproof. As he spoke he stood as far from the door of the feed-room as possible and eyed the scratching Bird family with the deepest disapproval. "Feed-room ain't no place fer chickens; they oughter make they living on bugs and worms and sich."

"These chickens are-are different, Rufus, and-and so am I," I answered him with dignity. "Call me when the gentlemen are ready to breakfast with me."

"They talked until most daylight, and I knows 'em well enough to not cook fer 'em until after ten o'clock. They's gentlemen, they is." The tones of hi

s voice were perfectly servile, though it was plain to see that his mental processes were not.

"All right, I'll eat mine now, Rufus, and then I want you to get me a-a hammer and some nails. Also a bucket of whitewash," I said as I closed the door upon the Birds and preceded him to the house.

"Oh, my Lawd-a-mussy!" he exclaimed as he dived into the refuge of the kitchen, completely routed, to appear with my breakfast upon his tray and with such dignity in his mien that it was pathetic. I was merciful while I consumed the meal which was an exact repetition of the supper of the ribs of the hog and muffins and coffee; then I threw another fit into him, to quote from Matthew at his worst in the way of diction.

"Please set a bucket of the wood ashes from the living-room fire out at the barn for me, Rufus," I commanded him with pleasant firmness.

"Yes, Madam," was the answer I got in a tone of cold despair. It was thus that the feud with my family traditions was established.

"Also, Rufus, please bring the saw with the hammer and the nails," was my last hand-grenade as I departed out the back door to the barn. From the old clock standing against the wall in the back hall I discovered the hour to be exactly seven-thirty, and I felt that I had what would seem like a week ahead of me before the setting of the sun. However, I was wrong in my judgment, for time fairly fled from me, and it was nine o'clock by my platinum wrist-watch before I had more than got one very wobbly-looking box nailed together on the floor of the barn, and I was deep in both pride and exhaustion.

"I knew I could do it, but I didn't believe it," I was remarking to myself in great congratulations when a shadow fell across the light from the door. I looked up and, behold, Mrs. Silas Beesley loomed up against the sun and seemed to shine with equal refulgence to my delighted eyes! In her hand she held a plate covered with a snowy napkin, and her blue eyes danced with delighted astonishment.

"Well, well, Nancy!" she exclaimed, as she seated herself upon a bench by the door and began to fan herself with a corner of a snowy kerchief that crossed her ample bosom. "Looks like you have begun sawing and nailing at the Craddock family estate pretty early in the action though it's none too soon, and mighty glad I am to see you do it while there is still a little odd lumber left. I've always said that it's women folks that prop a family and it will soon tumble without 'em. I am so glad you've come, honeybunch, that tears are laughing themselves out of the corner of my eyes." This time the white kerchief was dabbed over the keen blue eyes.

"Is it all-very-very bad, Mrs.-I mean, Aunt Mary?" I asked, as I laid down my dull-toothed instrument for the dissection of the plank, and sank cross-legged on the barn floor in front of her.

"Oh, it might be worse," she answered as she smiled again with resolution. "Rufus has eleven nice hogs and feed enough for them until summer, thanks to the help of Adam in tending the ten-acre river-bottom field, which they made produce more than any one else in the river bend got off of fifty. Nobody can take the house, because it is hitched on to you with entailment, and though the croppers have skimmed off all the cream of the land, the clay bottom of it is obliged to be yours. Now that you and William have come with a little money the fields can all be restored. Adam will help you like he did Hiram Wade down the road there. It only cost him about ten dollars to the acre.

"But-but father and I-that is, Aunt Mary, you know father has lost all his property and Uncle Cradd assured us that-that there was plenty for us all at Elmnest," I said in a faltering tone of voice as a feeling of descending tragedy struck into my heart.

"Cradd and Rufus have lived on hog, head, heels, and tail for over a year, with nothing else but the corn meal that Rufus trades meat with Silas for. I thought, honeybunch, when I saw you coming so stylish and beautiful with those none-such chickens that you must have been bringing a silk purse sewed with gold thread with you. I said to Silas as he put out the lamp last night, 'The good Lord may let His deliverance horses lag along the track, but He always drives them in on the home stretch for His own, of which Moseby Craddock is one.' 'Why, she's so fine she can't eat eggs outen chickens that costs less than maybe a hundred dollars the dozen,' answered Silas to me as he put out the cat."

"They cost eight hundred and fifty dollars and they are all I have got in the world. Father gave up everything, and I sold my clothes and the cars to buy back his library and-and the chickens," I said with the terror pressing still more heavily down upon me.

"Well, I shouldn't call them chickens spilled milk. Just listen at 'em!" And just as we had arrived at the point of desperation in our conversation a diversion occurred in the way of two loud cacklings from the feed-room and the most ringing and triumphant crow that I am sure ever issued from the throat of a thoroughbred cock. "'Tain't possible for 'em to have laid this quick after traveling," said Aunt Mary, but she was almost as fleet as I was in her progress to the feed-room door. And behold!

"Well, what do you think about that, right out of the crate just last night, no nests nor nothing!" she exclaimed as we both paused and gazed at two huge white eggs in hastily scratched nests beside the bin over which two of the very most lovely white Leghorn ladies were proudly standing and clucking, while between them Mr. G. Bird was crowing with such evident pride that I was afraid he would split his crimson throat. All the other white Birds were clucking excitedly as if issuing hen promissory notes upon their futures.

"They're omens of good luck, bless the Lord, Honeybunch. Pick 'em right up!" exclaimed Mrs. Silas.

"Oh, they are warm!" I cried as I picked the two treasures up with reverent hands and cuddled them against the linen of the smock over my breast in which my heart was beating high with excitement. And as I held them there all threat of life vanished never to return, no matter through what vicissitudes the Golden Bird family and I were to pass.

"You can eat these, and next week you can begin to save for a setting as soon as you can get a hen ready. I'll lend you the first one of mine that broods," said Mrs. Silas as she took both the beautiful treasures into one of her large hands with what I thought was criminal carelessness, but didn't like to say so.

"I've ordered a three-hundred-egg incubator for them," I said proudly, as I gently took the warm treasures back into my hand. "Incubators are so much more sanitary and intelligent than hens," I added with all the surety of the advertisement for the mechanical hen which I had answered with thirty-five dollars obtained from the sale of the last fluffy petticoat I had hoped to retain, but which I gave up gladly after reading the advertisement. Two most lovely chemises had gone for the two brooders that were to accompany the incubator, and it seemed hard to think that I would have to wait ten days to receive the fruits of my feminine sacrifice from the slow shipping service of the railroad.

"Don't ever say that again, Nancy! Hens have more genuine wisdom growing at the roots of their pin feathers than most women display during the span of their entire lives, and they make very much better mothers," reproved Aunt Mary, with sweet firmness. "Just you wait and see which brings out your prize birds, the wooden box or the hen. When men invent something with a mother's heart, they had better name it angel and admit that the kingdom has come. Bless my soul; these biscuits I brought over for you-all's breakfast are stone-cold!"

"I've had my breakfast a half a day ago," I answered. "You go in and start father and Uncle Cradd off with the biscuits while I finish the nest and-and do some more things for my family fortune."

"Child, if you attempt to do the things that Adam wants you to do for and with live stock you may see miracles being hatched out and born, but you'll be too worn out to notice 'em. Trap nests indeed! I've got to have some time to make my water waves and offer daily prayer!" And with this ejaculation of good-natured indignation, evidently at the memory of sundry and various poultry prods, Mrs. Silas betook herself to the house with a beautiful and serene dignity. As she went she stopped to break a sprig from a huge old lilac that was beginning to burst its brown buds and to put up half a yard of rambler that trailed across the path with its treacherous thorns.

"Your lilacs are breaking scent already," she called back to me over her shoulder.

A woman can experience no greater sensation of joy than that which she feels when she first realizes that she is the mistress of a lilac bush. Neither her début dance nor her first proposal of sentiment equals it. It is the same way about the first egg she gathers with her own hands; the sensation is indescribable.

"I'll do all the things he says do for you and the family, Mr. G. Bird, if it kills me, as it probably will," I said with resolution as I drove a last wobbly nail into the first nest, and took up the saw to again attack the odds and ends of old plank I had collected on the barn floor. "If I can make one nest in two hours, I can make two more in four more, and then I will have time for the rest of the things," I assured myself as I again looked at my wrist-watch, and began to saw with my knee holding the tough old plank in place across a rickety box.

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