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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Golden Bird By Maria Thompson Daviess Characters: 17455

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"Of course, Ann, you do realize just what you are doing?" asked Matthew of me, as we walked on the moss-green flagstones back to the barn, and his voice was so sweet and gentle with solicitude that I felt I must answer him seriously and take him into my confidence. Affection is a note that one must always make payment on.

"Yes, Matt, I do realize that those two are in a way children, for whose maintenance I have made myself responsible, and my mind is scared to death, but my heart is beating so high with courage that I can hardly stand it."

"Oh, come with me, Ann, and let me-" Matthew wooed.

"Matt," I answered gravely, "I haven't been here twenty-four hours yet, but when the thought of having it all taken away came to me, something in me rose and made me rage, rage, as I did in the house. I don't know what it is, but there is something in this low old farm-house, this tumble-down old barn, that leafless old garden with its crumbling brick walks, and these neglected, worn-out old acres, which seems to-to feed me and which I know I would perish without. Oh, please understand and-and help me a little like you did this morning," I ended with a broken plea, as I stretched out my hand to him just as I entered the door of my barn-castle of dreams for the future.

"Dear Lord, the pluck of women!" Matthew exclaimed reverently, down in his throat. "I'll be here, Ann, whenever you want me, and if you say that chickens must fill my future life, then chickens it shall be," he added, rising to the surface of the question again.

"Oh, Matt, you are a darling, and I-" I was exclaiming when a soft voice from out of the shadows of the barn interrupted me and an apple-blossom in the shape of a girl drifted into the late afternoon sunlight from the direction of the feed-room.

"I'm Polly Beesley, and mother sent these eggs to scramble with the ones you got this morning for supper," she said in a low voice that was positively fragrant with sweetness. Two huge plaits of corn-silk hair fell over her shoulders, and her eyes were as shy and blue as violets were before they became a large commercial product. Her gingham dress was cut with decorum just below her shoe-tops and, taking into consideration the prevailing mode, its length, fullness, and ruffles made the slim young thing look like a picture from the same review from which I had cut my smocks. However, I am sure that if she had been at the between six and eighteen age year before last, when about two and a half yards of gingham would have been modish for her costume, she would still have been attired in the voluminous ruffles.

"Holy smokes," I thought I heard Matthew gurgle, and I felt him start at the apparition, though the young thing never so much as glanced in his direction as she tendered me a quaint little basket in which lay half a dozen eggs, real homely brown eggs and not pearl treasures.

"Oh, thank you, Polly dear," I answered with enthusiasm, and in obedience to some urge resulting from the generations ahead of Polly and my incarnation in the atmosphere of Riverfield, my lips met the rosy ones that were held up to me. I felt sorry for Matthew, and I couldn't restrain a glance of mischief at him that crossed his that were fixed on the yellow braids.

"I didn't believe it of this day and generation," I heard him mutter as I presented him to Polly, who answered that she was "pleased to make his acquaintance," in a voice in which terror belied the sentiment expressed.

In her eyes traces of that same terror remained until suddenly the Golden Bird stepped proudly out of the bushes with the Ladies Bird, clucking and scratching along behind him. He had led the family out into the pasture and was now wisely returning them to the barn before the setting of the sun. I thought I had never seen him look so handsome, and no wonder his conquest was immediate.

"Oh, how beautiful," exclaimed Polly, while all restraint left her young face and body as she fell on her knees before the Sultan. "Chick, chick, chick," she wooed, in the words that Pan had used to command, and with a delight equal to hers in the introduction, the Bird came toward her. "Oh, please, sir, Mr.-Mr. Berry, get me some corn quick-quick! I want to squeeze him once," she demanded of Matthew, confident where she had before been fearful. His response was long-limbed and enthusiastic, so that in a few seconds Mr. G. Bird stood pecking grains from her hand. The spectacle was so lovely that I was not at all troubled by twinges of jealousy, but enjoyed it, for even at that early moment I think I felt a mercenary interest in seeing the friendship between the Golden Bird and the Apple-Blossom sealed. In her I psychologically scented an ally, and I enjoyed the hug bestowed upon him fully as much or even more than he did. It was a lovely picture that the kiddie made as she knelt at our feet with the white fluff balls and wings whirring and clucking around her.

"Yes; let's go into the chicken business, Ann," said Matthew, as his eyes danced with artistic pleasure. "You love 'em, don't you, Miss-Miss Corn-tassel?" he asked, with teasing delight in his voice as well as in his eyes.

"Yes sir," she answered as she looked up at him merrily, all fear of him gone.

"Say, what do you think of going into the business with your Uncle Matthew if Ann refuses to sell a half interest in hers to me?" he asked of her in his jolly booming voice, with a smile many inches wide across his face. "I'll put up the capital, you put up the work, and we'll take all the prizes away from Ann."

"I don't want to take the prizes from Miss Ann. I'd rather have Reds so we could both get ribbons," she answered as she dimpled up at me as affectionately as if she had tagged at my gingham skirts at our sixth and second years.

"Reds it shall be, Corn-tassel, and I'll be back with them as soon as an advertisement in the daily papers can find them for me. I'll start the search right now," said Matthew, teasing the kiddie as if he had known her all his life, but with an expression turning to the genuine poultry business enthusiasm. "You and Ann come on down to the gate with me in the car and we'll talk-"

But just here an interruption occurred in the way of a hoarse squawk coming from around the corner of the house. Hastily my eye called the roll of the Ladies of Leghorn and found them all present just as the tall young farmer whose ears had cooled down the day before over at Riverfield enough to let him admire the Golden Bird and family appeared around from behind the huge lilac at the corner of the house. He was attired as yesterday in the beautiful dull-blue overall and jacket; his hair was the color of Polly's and shocked from under the edges of a floppy gray hat, and in his arms he carried a large hen the identical color of Pan's head.

"Howdy, Miss Nancy," he said in a voice as shy as Polly's, and his eyes were also as blue and shy as hers. He looked right through Matthew until I introduced them, then he shifted the hen and shook hands with Polly's "Pleased to make your acquaintance" greeting.

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Beesley," said Matthew, exerting more charm of manner than I had ever seen him use before. "My, but that is a gorgeous bird you have!"

"She's a right good hen, but she's a mongrel. There isn't a single thoroughbred Rhode Island Red hereabouts. I aim to get a setting of pure eggs for Polly this spring if I sell my hawgs as good as Mr. Adam perdicks I will. I brought her as a present to you, Miss Nancy, 'cause she's been a-brooding about two days, and if you get together a setting of eggs the last of next week she'll hatch 'em all. She carried three broods last year."

"Oh, Mr. Beesley, how lovely of you," I exclaimed, as I reached out my arms for the gorgeous old red ally. "I like her better than any present I ever had in all my life!" This I said before the face of Matthew Berry, with a complete loss of memory of all of the wonderful things he had been giving me from my début bouquet of white orchids and violets to the tiny scarab from the robe of an Egyptian princess that I wore in the clasp of my platinum wrist-watch.

"Well, I should say!" Matthew exclaimed, with not a thought of the comparison in his generous mind. "Did you know that your sister, Miss Polly, and I are going into the Rhode Island Red business together? We were just deciding the details as you came around the house. What do you say to coming in? How many shall I buy? Say, about fifty hens and half a dozen cocks? Let's start big while we are about it. If Ann is going to make three thousand dollars a year off one rooster and ten hens, we can make fifteen off of five times as man

y."

"Yes, and we can bust the business all to pieces with too much stock," answered the brother Corn-tassel. "Miss Nancy has got real horse-sense starting small, and chicken-sense too."

"I stand corrected," answered Matthew. "I see that a flyer cannot be taken in chickens any higher than a hen can fly. I'm growing heady over this business and must go back to town to set the wheels in motion. All of you ride down to the gate with me and find out what the word jolt means."

Then after housing the Bird family in the feed-room with their guest, all happily at scratch in the hay for the wheat and corn thrown to them by the Corn-tassels while Matthew and I went in to bid the paternal twins good-by, we all rode merrily and joltily down the long avenue under the old elms to the big gate at the square in Riverfield. In front of the post-office-bank-grocery emporium we deposited the Corn-tassels, introduced Matthew to Aunt Mary and Uncle Silas, with the most cordial results on both sides, and then turned in the car out the Riverfield ribbon instead of in.

"Just a spin will do you good, sweet thing," said Matthew, as I settled down close enough to his shoulder to talk and not interrupt the powerful engine. "I want you to myself for a small moment away from your live stock, human and inhuman."

"Oh, Matt, there is nobody just like you and you have made this day-possible," I said as I snuggled down into the soft cushions.

"Honestly, Ann, do you mean positively that you don't want me-now?" he asked me as he sent the car whirling into the sun setting over Old Harpeth.

"Not-now," I answered bravely, though I nestled a little closer to him. He seemed so good and strong and-certain.

"All right then, I'll take the next best and I'll come in to your farm circle as partner or competitor or any old thing that keeps me in your aura. I'll grow chickens with the Corn-tassels or-here we turn back for I want to get out again over that bit of mountain-path that leads to your citadel before twilight."

"Put me out at the gate, Matt. I want to walk up," I said, and held to it against his protest. I finally made him see that I really was not equal to another "rocking" over the road, and I stood and watched him drive the huge car away from me down the Riverfield ribbon.

"I'm afraid I love him and just don't know it," I said to myself, as I stood at the big gate and watched him going away from me into life as I had known it since birth until twenty-four hours past. And from that vision of my past I turned in the sunset light of the present and began to walk slowly up the long avenue into my future. "I've never known anything but dancing and motoring and being happy, and how could that teach any woman what love is?" I queried as I stopped and picked up a small yellow flower out of a nest of green leaves that some sort of ancestral influence must have introduced to me as dandelion, for I had never really met one before. I felt a pale reflection of the glow I had experienced when I took the two warm pearls in my hands in the morning.

Then suddenly something happened that thrilled me first with interest and then with-I don't know what to call it, but it was not fear. A fierce little wind, that was earthy and sweet, but strong, ruffled across my path and up into the tops of the elms, and with a bit of fury tore down an old bird's-nest and flung it at my feet. It was soft and downy with bits of fur and hair and wool inside, but it was all rent in two.

"I wonder if I can hold my Elmnest steady on the limb when-" I was saying to myself unsteadily, with a mist in my eyes for the small wrecked home, when from somewhere over my left shoulder there came Pan's reedy call, and it ended with the two Delilah notes that I had thought I heard in the early morning. It was with no will of my own that I answered with that coo which I had heard Mr. G. Bird singing on the stage of the Metropolitan in my dawn dream. Also I crashed rapidly through the bushes in the direction of the call that this time came imperatively and without the coo.

"To your left and then straight toward the oak-tree," came human words from Pan in quick command and direction. "Hurry!"

With a last struggle with the briars I broke out into a small open space under the spreading branches of the old oak and upon a scene of tragedy, that is, it was almost tragedy, for the poor old sheep was lying flat with pathetic inertia while Adam stood over her with something in his arms.

"It's the fine Southdown ewe I persuaded Rufus to trade for one of the precious hogs," he said, with not so much as a word of greeting or interest personal to me in his voice or glance, but with such wonderful tenderness that I came close to him because I couldn't resist it. "She dropped twin lambs last night and she is down with exhaustion. They are getting cold, and I want to take her right up to the barn where I can bed her on hay and get something hot into all three. Can you cuddle the lambs and carry them while I shoulder her?" As he spoke he held out his armful to me without wounding me by waiting for my consent.

"Oh, the poor, cold babies!" I exclaimed, as I lifted the skirt of my long, fashionable, heavy linen smock and wrapped them in it and my arms, close against my warm solar plexus, which glowed at their soft huddling. One tiny thing reached out a little red tongue and feebly licked my bare wrist, and I returned the caress of introduction with a kiss on its little snowy, woolly head.

"You've the lovesome hand with the beasties," said Pan as he smiled down on the lambs and me.

A poor old sheep was lying flat with pathetic inertia while Adam stood over her with something in his arms

"I like 'em because they make me sorter grow inside some place, I don't know exactly where," I answered as I adjusted my woolly burden for what I knew would seem a long march. "I'll get 'em to the barn all right," I assured their first friend, who was now bending over the poor mother. "This is what I took Russian ballet dancing and played golf for, only I didn't know it."

"You'd have executed more Baskt twists and done more holes a day if you had known," said Adam, with beautiful unbounded faith in me, as he braced his legs far apart and lifted the limp mother sheep up across his back and shoulder. It seemed positively weird to be standing there acting a scene out of Genesis and mentioning Baskt, and I was about to say so when Pan started on ahead through the bushes and commanded me briefly to: "Come on!"

At his heels I toiled along with the sheep babies hugged close to my breast until at last we deposited all three on a bed of fragrant hay in a corner of the barn.

"What'll I feed 'em?" I questioned anxiously. "There isn't a bit of any kind of food on this place but the ribs of a hog and a muffin and a cup of coffee."

"We'll give her a quart of hot water with a few drops of this heart stimulant I have in my pocket, and she'll do the rest for the family as soon as she warms up. She's got plenty of milk and needs to have it drawn badly. There you are-go to it, youngsters. She is revived by just being out of the wind and in the warmth, and I don't believe she needs any medicine. She wouldn't let them to her udder if she wasn't all right. Now we can leave them alone for a time, and I'll give her a warm mash in a little while." As he spoke Adam calmly walked away from the interesting small family, which was just beginning a repast with great vigor, and paused at the feed-room door. With more pride than I had ever felt when entering a ball-room with a Voudaine gown upon me and a bunch of orchids, I followed and stood at his side.

"Well, how do you do, sweeties, and where did you get this model hen-house? Trap nests! I wouldn't have believed it of you!" said Adam to the Leghorn family and me inclusive.

"I didn't do it all," I faltered as I experienced a terrific temptation to lie silently and claim all of the affectionate praise that was beaming from Pan's eyes upon all of us, but I fought and conquered it with nobility. "Matthew Berry came out and did about-no, a little more than half of it. But I did all I could," I added, with a pathetic appeal for his approbation.

"Well, half of the job is more than the world could expect of the beautiful Ann Craddock, who sits in the front of Gale Beacon's box at the Metropolitan," answered Pan, with a little flute of laughter in his voice that matched the crimson crests which stood more rampant than ever across the tips of his ears.

"Why, where-who are you and-" I asked in astonishment as I followed him into the last of the sunset glow coming across the front of the barn.

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