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XII. LAST FRIEND

One day last summer, about the month of June, Claire and her mother were working in the living room, while I was perched in my usual place, on the shoulder of the girl, where I played with her coiffure and with his hair. Suddenly, we heard a certain noise behind the screen of the chimney, noise followed by small plaintive cries. These ladies ran and found a young chimney swallow who, no doubt, had fallen from the nest and had the chance to get downstairs without hurting himself.

To take the poor swallow, panting, warming her, reassuring her, in a word, was a matter of a moment. She was placed on a bed of cotton, in a small box, and then the question of her food was discussed. Claire knew that flies, relatives and other similar insects, form the usual pasture of this species of bird; so she set about collecting enough to raise the little orphan to whom she immediately gave the name of Titi, to imitate the little cry that the poor beast was constantly pushing.

All this amused me a little; meanwhile she did not care about me! However, I was still patient, while gnawing and grumbling against the intruder that was going to delight me, I foresaw all too well, half the friendship of my beloved Claire.

We are very jealous, we sparrows!

The swallow was first given fragments of flies, then whole flies. We had put the box used as a cradle or nest in a small cage similar to mine, and the young swallow always liked this place to spend the night. She had to get her out of that nest where, cautious, she came in herself every night, to eat; but the peculiar character of this bird soon manifested itself, and my mistress realized that it was necessary to act as her new protege would wish it to be.

Miss Titi did not like to be taken by the body – I did not care, on the contrary; – so she presented her the finger as a little parakeet, and, my faith, she darted on with a grace and remarkable lightness. Miss Titi did not like to be caged, although it was open, – we were both of the same opinion about this. – She was placed on the edge of the worktable, and she held, chirping and talking for hours at a time with her mistress, polishing her black feathers, stretching her wings and tail, turning her head and looking at us with her big black glossy eyes.

From time to time, Claire or her mother took a few flies in a little box and presented them to the swallow, who darted on them, between her fingers, her little agile beak, and never missed them. Rarely she picked them up on the table; for that she had to be very hungry. The first time I saw this disdain, I jumped from Claire’s shoulder on the table and caught the flies before Miss Titi knew how it was. Titi, frightened at my approach, tried to peck me that I gave it back to her; but my mistress reprimanded me, and calling me, “I begged you!” she put me on her shoulder.

One day, on a beautiful evening, Titi was in her usual place on the work table when, suddenly, she uttered a little cry, opened the wings, and ran away to join her companions who were flying in large numbers above lawns of the garden …

“Something better!” I thought, “here she is gone; so much riddance!”

I also began to take my flight, and was perched on a nearby roof to see what was coming. Ma Claire and her mother were ashamed and inconsolable. For a long time they remained at the window watching the infidel, guessing her in her wild pursuits, looking for her in the midst of the general comings and goings of the merry band.

I then came back to put on Claire’s shoulder, who said to me kissing me, with tears in her eyes:

“You, my poor Sparrow, you love me!”

“Yes Yes Yes!” I replied; and I went back to observe on my roof.

Claire then went down to the garden and called Titi in her sweetest, most caressing voice; nothing helped. She came back desolate when she heard a light touch on her shoulder; a shriek came to his ear … It was Titi coming back, who had the brow to take my place. For once, I did not stop, and melted on her like a hurricane … But Claire took his defense, gave me the other shoulder and kissing me:

“Sparrow, darling,” she said, “if you are jealous of Titi, I will not love you!”

I did not answer. My heart was too swollen.

“You are not answering me?” she tells me. “Come on, sir, embrace mistress, and embrace Titi too.”

It had to go through there.

Since that day, Titi had her full freedom like me, and never abused it. In the morning, at dawn, she woke us, Claire and I, with a very nice twitter, because she slept like me in the small room of his mistress. This one opened the window, Titi was leaving, too, and we came back after an hour, because every day I saw that she was a good person and I did not refuse her my friendship.

Poor Titi! I liked her, when … Well, God wanted it! …

If the window was closed, she went to the parlor to take her usual place on the work table, and I was prowling about in the courtyard, around the dining-room. During the day, she came and went, went out to fly with her companions, went home, went for a walk in the drawing-room, greeted us with a joyful song, to which we replied, and went again without stopping. While her races, I went to chat with some old friends from the neighborhood, or visit the vines to see if the Chasselas grapes were ripe.

During mealtime, Titi returned and took her place on the shoulder that was devolving to her, then Claire brought us both … Ah! the good times!

Although she only wanted to eat flies, it was offered to her some raw or cooked chicken meat, or cut lengthwise like little grubs or worms; but she never seemed to be fond of it. I do not understand how difficult it is! I enjoyed it, and all that was served was my taste; also, you see, I’m still here, solid at the post and vigorous, while the poor girl! …

But the months passed, September had come, and with him the flies disappeared.

I had often told her, to poor Titi:

“Beware of winter; learn to eat meat; midges do not always live, how will you do?”

“God will provide it,” she replied in her graceful voice.

“It’s equal, friend, pay attention to you! winter will come!”

“I do not know winter.”

“It’s equal, fear it; I have the experience, believe me.”

Poor mad head, she would not believe anything!

The sun’s rays began to become oblique; my dear Titi, – because I really and truly loved her – was going out no more than rarely; his companions were gathering; all these signs saddened us very much.

One beautiful morning, all the swallows in the garden had disappeared! We were at October 8.

My good Claire opened the window so that the dear little beast could take flight and join the few isolated swallows that were still passing. She did not want it either because she was cold or because she was suspicious of the strength of her wings or because of another unknown cause.

It was necessary to return to the city. Titi and I, in the same cage, made the journey on the knees of our mistress; all the way, I urged her to leave, telling her that she would come back to see us next year, that we would think of her, and wait for her like spring; nothing could decide her and without giving any reason, she was inflexible. Poor friend, she was running to ruin!

In the city, little or no flies. How not to starve? … Small pieces of meat could never feed her during six months! A great advice was given, and I heard that the dear little creature would be let out, for there were still enough swallows to follow.

Alas! my good mistress kissed her once more, I said a tender goodbye to her, opened the window, and Claire let her go into the garden. We all had tears in our eyes!

She made a few laps around the house, and then left by flapping wings…

We closed the window, our heart swollen!

A few days later we learned that at about the same time we had left her, – what are the kilometers for such wings? Titi had returned to the country. She had pecked the window of the salon, then that of Claire’s room … Finding them closed, she had long squeaked plaintively, then, rising to a great height, she had disappeared …

Has she perished from the cold? Has she been able to join her companions? … Have her young wings failed her on her long journey? … No one knows, we never saw her again !! …

That’s how I lost my last friend! Today I am old, morose, sickly; I reflect, I think. Devoted to my charming mistress, I love and caress her with all my heart, waiting with resignation for death to come and strike me near her.

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