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IX. TOO HAPPY

Give! so that God who endows families,
Give your sons strength and grace to your daughters;
So that your vine always has a sweet fruit;
So that a more mature wheat bends your barns;
In order to be better; in order to see angels
Go through your dreams at night!
(V. Hugo.)

The man took pity on me, seeing me on the back, wings open and panting beak.
“Here is a poor, very sick sparrow!” he said between his teeth. “Some say that these beasts eat the fruits and the seeds … I know that they peel my trees and eat the caterpillars … So I love them. What! each with his taste.”

The old gardener went to fetch, behind a bed of azaleas, a still full bottle, to which he asked for consolation and where he drew his practical philosophy. Of a very questionable utility in any other circumstance, the dear bottle was good for something that day, because he did not rather make me swallow a few drops of the wine it contained, that I felt reborn at the life. Shaking my feathers, which I felt ruffled and wrinkled by my fall, I put myself on my legs and looked at the good illuminated figure of my savior.

“Look! look! my Sparrow who is resurrected! There is only wine for that!”

And he gave himself a hearty consolation.

“He does not look stupid at all, my Sparrow. Dame! it’s crazy, those beasts! Must see. I will take it to miss Blanche; it’s just a sparrow, but it’ll make her happy.”

I replied in my language that I wanted it.

“Oh! Oh! there, my God! Look! look! Is he talking about it now? Is it an educated bird?”

And gently taking me in his big hands, he ran like crazy towards the house in search of his young mistress.

While the good gardener was wearing me, I felt my aching limbs and no longer saw freedom through a rose-colored prism. That’s why I promised myself, in my heart, not to try to flee, if I had fallen into good hands!

I began to be weary of the vagabond and over-rugged life that my fury of adventure and travel had made me: the time for reflection was coming.

My first care was to try to get to know my young mistress. She lived alone with her mother, and both of them bore the expression of the goodness of their heart on their faces.

Nothing in the world calmer than this interior: the mother worked or read while wrapping herself in the memories awakened by the recent loss of her husband; Blanche, my young mistress, cared for her flowers, studying with her mother, and spoiling her sweet treats and caresses her dear Sparrow, who had become, in a few days, the favorite of the house.

Do not be jealous, Claire dear, of the memory of gratitude that I am writing here for the charming Blanche Sauval: you are as good as she and you are as pretty.

Nothing more at her home than at your home, my dear mistress, made me languish in a cage; I had given myself voluntarily, I remained without effort; my life was spent following Blanche in the greenhouse, in the apartments, in the country where we went for long errands together, for she loved to visit the unfortunate, and all the cottages around her knew her. At night, afraid of cats, I slept in a spacious cage at the window of Blanche.

What would I say? … It has long been said that happiness has no history!

Summer was coming to an end: autumn was coming with its procession of mists and cold nights that were neither healthy for the mother nor for the girl. It was decided to rejoin the mother’s brother-in-law in Paris, and to go down with him to the south. The servants were taken away.

All busy with her preparations, my dear mistress was obliged to forget me a little; she had run out of time in the middle of the packages to which she presided, both for her effects and those of her mother. My water was no longer fresh, my cage scarcely clean, and my grain almost exhausted; but this destitution was gilded with the rays of hope and covered with the pink velvet of illusion. O youth! how happy you are to have with you these two fleeting companions to cast a veil over the reality of your devotion.

At last everything was ready; the car was coming down the steps while I was still in my cage hanging on Blanche’s window.

The whole family had gone down.

I felt forgotten! … A sharp shiver ran through my heart. I thought I was going to faint …

It was not the moment to falter. I realized that I had to show myself, and I did.

“Squeak! … squeak! … squeak! … ” And my song burst into an infernal noise. I did not forget at the same time to flit to the bars of my cage, and:

“Squeak! … squeak! … squeak! …”

Blanche heard me, she looked up.

“My bird, my poor sparrow. And me who forgot it … Ingrate!”

Light as a doe, she had, in the blink of an eye, climbed the stairs and unhooked my cage, while I marked him my gratitude by small cries of pleasure.

Down on the steps, she had to know where she would put me. The dresses of these ladies were so wide that they filled the whole car. My cage, forgotten for several days, was not pleasant to see or smell. I felt it well and I was trembling about what was coming. It was decided that I could not be given access in the car, and I was entrusted to the care of the maid, my intimate enemy, who never missed an opportunity to tease me, and whom I did not like, as you think, with all my heart.

It was necessary to resign myself and to climb with her on the seat, behind the car. I felt strongly that I was not in my place, and found myself all the more annoyed at the fact that I was suffering this bad luck through the fault of others and the negligence of the one who was in charge of carrying me. So, while she rested her hand on my cage, I slipped on my taps and took advantage of the opportunity offered to my revenge to pinch her finger to the blood. She screamed, and I thought for a moment that the wicked woman would throw me on the road. But she was afraid of my mistress and did not dare to hurt me.

I saw in the flashes of mischief that her eyes flashed at me that she kept me grudging and would avenge herself at the first opportunity … Alas! This one came soon, because she made it be born by opening my door and turning her head … My first movement was to flee, but the reflection stopped me short.

“Obviously, Marianne has opened the door for you to run away. She will tell Blanche that it was the chance, a misfortune, what do I know? And she will be rid of you. Be careful; you must not give him such a beautiful game!”

I withdrew into the corner of the cage opposite the door, and I stubbornly stopped.

Realizing that her trick had not succeeded and that I was as fine as she, Marianne closed the door grumbling.

We arrived at the railway.

Just out of the car, Blanche came to see me and inquire about me. Alas, an accident had just happened to me. To get out of her seat, Marianne had given my cage to a clumsy maid who knocked over grain and water.

I was condemned to travel to Paris without drinking or eating. Blanche did not notice it. She had arranged all my food so well before we left, so that I did not miss anything during the journey, that she could not imagine my sad situation.

I flattered myself for a moment to follow my young mistress, who had just seized my cage to consider me, but Madame Sauval having noticed that the dress of her daughter was stained by the water which flooded my prison, believed that it was I, who had poured it out while bathing, and without further examination, was put back into the hands of the maid, who carried me to the third-class compartment where her place was designated.

It was in this wagon, at the moment when I least expected it, that I ran a real danger, that of losing my mistress, and arriving without protector or support in the middle of the unknown Paris.

A tall fellow dressed as a valet came to sit beside Marianne, who was carrying me. After having asked her many questions about me, about my intelligence, to which she responded by enormously amplifying my merits, – the funny one suggested to him to buy me … I shudder again! As she answered that she would be scolded certainly, if she did not bring me intact and that it was quite possible that his made her lose her place, this villain began to compose her then a story that could be told to her masters, telling them that after falling asleep, when she woke she had not found any bird. He pushed the evil to tell her to feign great pain, and he ended his beautiful speech by telling her that if, despite his comedy, they will want to dismiss her, he will undertake, he, to take care of her.

I confess to you, O my readers, that at that moment I was very ill at ease. Marianne, I thought, was smart but faithful. Alas! I said to myself, this fidelity, which consists in not stealing its master, will it suffice to resist the lure of a profit so treacherously offered, even the price of a bad action? I was shaking … and cursing my destiny and human frailty.

The tempter offered him five francs. She refused. I breathed.

He gave her ten … I saw the moment she was about to succumb … I was shaking and regretted that I could not fly to Blanche when, fortunately, the train stopped … We had arrived.

Almost at the same moment Blanche appeared, worried about what might have happened to me. I hastened to caress my good mistress and, turning around, I glanced scornfully at the small bird dealer. It was then that I heard this rascal saying to his companion.

“Too bad! I am sure that my mistress would have given me twenty-five francs for a private bird like that.”

I felt very happy to be placed in the hands of my dear Blanche, so sweet and so good. The short stay I had just spent in the midst of people whose feelings and education were so little in harmony with my usual life; the danger that I had run, all this made me to value much better than in the past, the happiness of finding this angelic family where I heard only good and honest thoughts.

“Welcome, my dear sister! And you, my sweet Blanche, come in my arms!”

“My brother!”

“My good uncle!”

And my mistress was tenderly kissed by her uncle, headmaster of the Lycee Saint-Louis, where we had arrived. This uncle, cold and serious outside, was endowed with an excellent heart and, having no children, adored his niece, the providence of the family, as he called her.

When he was reassured of the health of his sister-in-law, the good headmaster gave orders that the luggage should be distributed in the rooms prepared for the travelers. It was at this moment that he noticed my presence.

“What is this, my beloved Blanche? Do you think there are not enough sparrows in high school classes, that you bring one with you?

“Oh! my dear uncle; my Sparrow is not like the others. I will tell you his story. It’s my favorite, and it will become yours when you know how smart it is. All he needs is the word! …”

“Ok! you are the mistress here!”

And Blanche took me to the living room.

There, began again this sweet conversation between affectionate parents inquiring of each other.

A hurried course rang out in the next room; the door opened, and a tall young man threw himself into his aunt’s arms, covering her with kisses. His bearing was more embarrassed at Blanche’s sight; but they embraced each other heartily, and the conversation resumed affectionate and general.

It was a cousin, Emile, honorary award of the day before and the glory of high school.

Here we are accommodated, Blanche and I, in a charming room, specially prepared by the good uncle for his dear favorite. The worthy headmaster had gathered in this room, stretched with white, all that could please a young girl. It was seen that loving care had presided over this installation. A pretty piano, a chosen library, a small desk, furnished with all that is necessary to write, two armchairs and a kneeler, such was the furnishing of this little room beside which a large cabinet contained the bed.

Blanche jumped with joy, and all happy came to open the door of my cage. I saw two windows and flew from one to the other. From the first you could see an immense garden, filled with tall trees, from which rose a magnificent palace in the distance. It was Luxembourg. The second was on one of the college’s main courses … I saw bread in abundance, I …

Suddenly Marianne entered, to do her service, in the little room where Blanche had left me alone, and behind Marianne, slips, coming from the big stairs, a horrible, hideous, bristling cat … At my sight, her pupils light up and flames, … he picks himself up, he will leap!…

At this moment I forget everything in the presence of imminent death; I open the wings, and with a frightened leap I flee in the air !!

Where to go? The trees attracted me as if by an irresistible link, and two minutes later I was in the middle of Luxembourg, gasping, distraught, but saved.

So I gathered in myself; a very sweet memory came back to my memory: “Blanche! Blanche!” I murmured. “But the cat, the horrible cat!”

I never felt the courage to face this terrifying encounter; I dared not even approach the school.

Poor dear mistress! You may have cried me!

A quarter of an hour after my flight, I was snuggled in one of the great chestnut trees. I began to look and examine what was happening around me.

Everything I discovered was singularly reassuring. Many nannies, a lot of students, a very quiet population, considering only human beings. In the trees, it was something else. I could see passing near me and falling into my neighborhood on branches which were bending under their weight, large birds of a rather debonair appearance. The shape of their slender beaks, swollen in some way at its extremity, the debility of their paws, indicated to me innocent and grain-eating birds, and yet their high, powerful, hissing flight recalled the size of that of birds of prey. One of them came so close to me – for these gentlemen seemed to be the only proprietors of the Luxembourg trees – that I hastily recoiled. This movement made him laugh, and, in a cooing and monotonous voice, he said to me:

“Where do you come from, my poor sparrow, that you are afraid of me? Do not you know me?”

“You will forgive me, sir,” I replied, “when you know that I am coming out of a cage. I am a little new in this country; but I have a good will to wising up; would you like to help me?”

“You’re welcome,” said my big companion.

“Be good enough then to tell me your name.”

“I am a wood pigeon.”

“Bah! a dove? How could I recognize you, dear sir? You are so fat, so plump, so civilized in a word, that it would never have occurred to me to compare you with the scrawny, wild, light pigeons I have met many times in my travels.”

During this praiseworthy speech, my new friend was energetic and made the beauty cooing, rolling his eyes in the most grotesque manner. – Finally, it seems that this is how these animals express their pleasure!

While we were talking like this, I saw him turning his head from time to time with a worried look, then suddenly a young pigeon joined him. Their caresses began; they formed a charming house, and after having introduced me his wife, the conversation became general, and while listening to the information which he did not spare me, I examined the merry-go-round of his kind, and I studied their morals. their habits and even their adornment.

This one is not, very near, so beautiful as ours. The wood pigeon is a bluish gray bird a little ashy. It has the neck-behind and on the sides, ornamented with changing colors of a gilded green with copper highlights, but this is not a well-sought adornment. What they have less ugly is a mark that resembles the one that embellished the nature. Everyone knows that we, sparrows, have both sides of the neck white, forming like two points of a collar whose bow tie is made by a superb black spot in front. By the way, I am glad to see that, in my opinion, men have certainly borrowed the ornament of our necks by imitating them.

But back to our pigeons. They wear at the base of their necks, on each side, a white crescent, barred by three black stripes formed by little feathers which continue, going up towards the eye, to make five other similar little black stripes. The tips of the wings and the tail are washed in black blending into the overall gray-blue color. As for the edge of the wings it is white, and this color extends to two small mirrors.

Let’s finish their portrait, saying that the bill and the feet are red and that the iris of the eye is yellow more or less dark. In short, they are good big birds, a little stupid, but not bad, capable of animal affection, and endowed with sufficient qualities, to make good neighbors.

It is in this capacity that I have frequented them for several years and that I have convinced myself that these good people have a life settled like a piece of music. In true bourgeois of the Marais or Landerneau, these good birds eat only at their breakfast hours at 8 o’clock in the morning, dine at 3 o’clock in the evening-and the rest of the time they spend it sleeping or cooing.

We, not so stupid, we always eat everywhere. They have yet another singular propensity: it is to go perching at the highest trees as much as possible on a dead branch or a broom stripped of greenery, which puts them in sight of the birds of prey to a league at the round. It is especially at sunrise and during the cold mornings of November, December and January that we see them stand in the limelight, waiting, motionless, and more often solitary, a pale ray of sunshine comes to warm them up. and render them with suppleness and vigor, a kind of new life.

During the fine season they retreated under the foliage and came to keep us company in the lower and middle trees; it is there that they establish their nest, a true barbarous construction of which I blushed for them. But what to do? Nature has not allowed females of this species greater skill; and as they alone make the nest, its structure suffers. The male in this great business is limited to the role of lumberjack. It is not even he who chooses the location of the nest; it is the female; generally it is decided for a branch which forms a horizontal fork; sometimes she prefers to approach the trunk and places herself at the bifurcation of a principal branch. Anyway, the female remains at the chosen place, and the male goes on a quest. He travels all the trees around to meet the dead sticks of wood he needs. Note that it would be much easier for him to pick them up on the ground, where there is plenty of them: not at all; he never goes down for it! It looks like these little branches have become unfit for nest because they fell from the tree on the ground. Poor woodpigeon!

At last he meets a dead branch; it is necessary to detach it, which is not always easy, and here it is bleeding legs and sometimes beak, weighing on all the weight of his body pulling on the right, pushing left so much, that in the end it gives aup … and he wins. What does master woodpigeon do then? He brings it to his female who is waiting for him, then goes back to look for another one … which he brings back in the same way; and so on, without interruption, until the architect – and what a great God architect – tells him that there is enough. Because the poor pigeon is not strong in education; its edifice is so weak that it often does not wait, to be torn down, that the little ones have enough strength to take flight, and then the poor young remain there, naked, on the big branch or fork that supported their cradle.

Reflecting on all this, I believe that nature provided the safety of young people by giving them the ability to be self-sufficient very quickly, so 14 days after being born, they leave the nest, flying and fleeing perfectly by the main enemies of their race. The poor are not, however, raised very snugly, and very often, comparing them to our children, they made me pity. On the first day, the pigeon warms them a little – but so little! – And on a cold, wet branch, in a nest to day! But after a few days, she abandons them to themselves and places herself on a nearby branch from which she is content to watch them. She and the father take turns to feed them and do it twice a day, at the time of their ordinary meals.

This first food is a kind of porridge that has a great analogy with the milk of the cow – which men use so much for not only for them but for their children. This kind of milk is secreted partly by the membrane of the parents’ crop. Nothing is more singular than to see the pigeons thus giving the beak to their young; it has nothing to do with the method we use. The little ones, instead of opening their mouths wide like ours, introduce them entirely into their parents’ and hold it half-open, so as to catch the white matter we were talking about earlier.

In the wild, as in the half-civilization of the gardens of Paris, the pigeons have never more than two pure white eggs, obtuse at both ends. The time that the female broods is 15 days. They feed on grains first, bread and seeds. They are very fond of peas, but do not disdain beeches, acorns and even strawberries, which are said to be very fond of them. In the absence of this already varied food, they feed on the young shoots of different plants, especially when they begin to germinate.

It was shouted a lot, among the men, after the damage done by pigeons of all species in the countryside; but I heard two doctors of my friends – who often came to sit under our trees – to discuss this question thoroughly, and it seems that the poor birds have been horribly slandered! Like us, alas! ….

It seems that at some time of the year that one visits the stomach of a pigeon – it is a barbarous way to take it on the fact, – that it is at the time of the harvest, or during the sowing season, there is always at least eight times more food of parasitic plant seeds than is found in grasses useful to man and reserved for his use. Still, what is found of these species is generally composed of bad grain. There are also large quantities of gravel and debris of gypsum stones that may contain salt molecules that the pigeon is extremely fond of.

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