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- My Robin - 2/3 -
conversations which always took place between us. It was I who talked-- telling him how I loved him--how satin red his waistcoat was--how large and bright his eyes--how delicate and elegant his slender legs. I flattered him a great deal. He adored flattery and I am sure he loved me most when I told him that it was impossible to say anything which could flatter him. It gave him confidence in my good taste.
One morning--a heavenly sunny one--I was conversing with him by the Laurette Messimys again and he was evidently much pleased with the things I said. Perhaps he liked my hat which was a large white one with a wreath of roses round its crown. I saw him look at it and I gently hinted that I had worn it in the hope that he would approve. I had broken off a handful of coral pink Laurettes and was arranging them idly when--he spread his wings in a sudden upward flight--a tiny swift flight which ended--among the roses on my hat--the very hat on my head.
Did I make myself still then? Did I stir by a single hairbreadth? Who does not know? I scarcely let myself breathe. I could not believe that such a thing of pure joy could be true.
But in a minute I realized that he at least was not afraid to move. He was perfectly at home. He hopped about the brim and examined the roses with delicate pecks. That I was under the hat apparently only gave him confidence. He knew me as well as that. He stayed until he had learned all he wished to know about garden hats and then he lightly flew away.
From that time each day drew us closer to each other. He began to perch on twigs only a few inches from my face and listen while I whispered to him--yes, he LISTENED and made answer with chirps. Nothing else would describe it. As I wrote he would alight on my manuscript paper and try to read. Sometimes I thought he was a little offended because he found my handwriting so bad that he could not understand it. He would take crumbs out of my hand, he would alight on my chair or my shoulder. The instant I opened the little door in the leaf-covered garden wall I would be greeted by the darling little rush of wings and he was beside me. And he always came from nowhere and disappeared into space.
That, through the whole summer--was his rarest fascination. Perhaps he was not a real robin. Perhaps he was a fairy. Who knows? Among the many house parties staying with me he was a subject of thrilled interest. People knew of him who had not seen him and it became a custom with callers to say: "May we go into the rose-garden and see The Robin?" One of my American guests said he was uncanny and called him "The Goblin Robin." No one had ever seen a thing so curiously human--so much more than mere bird.
When I took callers to the rose-garden he was exquisitely polite. He always came when I stood under my tree and called--but he never at such times MET me with his rush to the little door. He would perch near me and talk but there was a difference. Certain exquisite intimate charms he kept for me alone.
I wondered when he would begin to sing. One morning the sun being strong enough to pierce through the leaves of my tree I had a large Japanese tent umbrella arranged so that it shaded my table as I wrote. Suddenly I heard a robin song which sounded as if it were being trilled from some tree at a little distance from where I sat. It was so pretty that I leaned forward to see exactly where the singer perched. I made a delicious discovery. He was not on a tree at all. He was perched upon the very end of one of the bamboo ribs of my big flowery umbrella. He was my own Robin and there he sat singing to me his first tiny song-- showing me that he had found out how to do it.
The effect of singing at a distance was produced by the curious fact that he was singing WITH HIS BILL CLOSED, his darling scarlet throat puffed out and tremulous with the captive trills.
Perhaps a robin's first song is always of this order. I do not know. I only know that this was his "earlier manner." My enraptured delight I expressed to him in my most eloquent phrases. I praised him--I flattered him. I made him believe that no robin had really ever sung before. He was much pleased and flew down on to the table to hear all about it and incite me to further effort.
In a few days he had learned to sing perfectly, not with the low distant-sounding note but with open beak and clear brilliant little roulades and trills. He grew prouder and prouder. When he saw I was busy he would tilt on a nearby bough and call me with flirtatious, provocative outbreaking of song. He knew that it was impossible for any one to resist him--any one in the world. Of course I would get up and stand beneath his tree with my face upturned and tell him that his charm, his beauty, his fascination and my love were beyond the power of words to express. He knew that would happen and revelled in it. His tiny airs and graces, his devices to attract and absorb attention was unending. He invented new ones every day and each was more enslaving than the last.
Could it be that he was guilty--when he met other robins--of boasting of his conquest of me and of my utter subjugation? I cannot believe it possible. Also I never saw other robins accost him or linger in their passage through the rose-garden to exchange civilities. And yet a very strange thing occurred on one occasion. I was sitting at my table expecting him and heard a familiar chirp. When I looked up he was atilt upon the branch of an apple tree near by. I greeted him with little whistles and twitters thinking of course that he would fly down to me for our usual conversation. But though he chirped a reply and put his head on one side engagingly he did not move from his bough.
"What is the matter with you?" I said. "Come down--come down, little brother!"
But he did not come. He only sidled and twittered and stayed where he was. This was so extraordinary that I got up and went to him. As I looked a curious doubt came upon me. He looked like Tweetie--(which had become his baptismal name) he tilted his head and flirted and twittered after the manner of Tweetie--but--could it be that he was NOT what he pretended to be? Could he be a stranger bird? That seemed out of the question as no stranger bird would have comported himself with such familiarity. No stranger surely would have come so near and addressed me with such intimate twitterings and well-known airs and graces. I was mystified beyond measure. I exerted all my powers to lure him from his branch but descend from it he would not. He listened and smiled and flirted his tail but he stayed where he was.
"Listen," I said at last. "I don't believe in you. There is a mystery here. You pretend you know me and yet you act as if you were afraid of me--just like a common bird who is made of nothing but feathers. I don't believe you are Tweetie at all. You are an Impostor!"
Believable or not, just at that moment when I stood there under the bough arguing, reproaching and beguiling by turns and puzzled beyond measure--out of the Nowhere darted a little scarlet flame of frenzy-- Tweetie himself--with his feathers ruffled and on fire with fury. The robin on the branch actually WAS an Impostor and Tweetie had discovered him red-breasted if not red-handed with crime. Oh! the sight it was to behold him in his tiny Berseker rage at his impudent rival. He flew at him, he beat him, he smacked him, he pecked him, he shrieked bad language at him, he drove him from the branch--from the tree, from one tree after another as the little traitor tried to take refuge--he drove him from the rose-garden--over the laurel hedge and into the pheasant cover in the wood. Perhaps he killed him and left him slain in the bracken. I could not see. But having beaten him once and forever he came back to me, panting--all fluffed up--and with blood thirst only just dying in his eye. He came down on to my table--out of breath as he agitatedly rearranged his untidy feathers--and indignant--almost unreconcilable because I had been such an undiscriminating and feeble- minded imbecile as to be for one moment deceived.
His righteous wrath was awful to behold. I was so frightened that I felt quite pale. With those wiles of the serpent which every noble woman finds herself forced to employ at times I endeavored to pacify him.
"Of course I did not really believe he was You," I said tremulously. "He was your inferior in every respect. His waistcoat was not nearly so beautiful as yours. His eyes were not so soul compelling. His legs were not nearly so elegant and slender. And there was an expression about his beak which I distrusted from the first. You HEARD me tell him he was an Impostor."
He began to listen--he became calmer--he relented. He kindly ate a crumb out of my hand.
We began mutually to understand the infamy of the situation. The Impostor had been secretly watching us. He had envied us our happiness. Into his degenerate mind had stolen the darkling and criminal thought that he--Audacious Scoundrel--might impose upon me by pretending he was not merely "a robin" but "The Robin"--Tweetie himself and that he might supplant him in my affections. But he had been confounded and cast into outer darkness and again we were One.
I will not attempt to deceive. He was jealous beyond bounds. It was necessary for me to be most discreet in my demeanor towards the head gardener with whom I was obliged to consult frequently. When he came into the rose-garden for orders Tweetie at once appeared.
He followed us, hopping in the grass or from rose bush to rose bush. No word of ours escaped him. If our conversation on the enthralling subjects of fertilizers and aphides seemed in its earnest absorption to verge upon the emotional and tender he interfered at once. He commanded my attention. He perched on nearby boughs and endeavored to distract me. He fluttered about and called me with chirps. His last resource was always to fly to the topmost twig of an apple tree and begin to sing his most brilliant song in his most thrilling tone and with an affected manner. Naturally we were obliged to listen and talk about him. Even old Barton's weather-beaten apple face would wrinkle into smiles.
"He's doin' that to make us look at him," he would say. "That's what he's doin' it for. He can't abide not to be noticed."
But it was not only his vanity which drew him to me. He loved me. The low song trilled in his little pulsating scarlet throat was mine. He sang it only to me--and he would never sing it when any one else was there to hear. When we were quite alone with only roses and bees and sunshine and silence about us, when he swung on some spray quite close to me and I stood and talked to him in whispers--then he would answer me--each time I paused--with the little "far away" sounding trills--the sweetest, most wonderful little sounds in the world. A clever person who knew more of the habits of birds than I did told me a most curious thing.
"That is his little mating song," he said. "You have inspired a hopeless passion in a robin."
Perhaps so. He thought the rose-garden was the world and it seemed to me he never went out of it during the summer months. At whatsoever hour I appeared and called him he came out of bushes but from a different point each time. In late autumn however, one afternoon I SAW him fly to me from over a wall dividing the enclosed garden from the open ones. I thought he looked guilty and fluttered when he alighted near me. I think he did not want me to know.
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