HOW DID THE CANARY DO IT?
By Celia Thaxter
A little friend of mine, who was going away for the winter, asked
me to take charge of one of her canaries till she returned in the
spring. The bird was a foreigner, born and bred in Fayal, and
brought across the water in his youth, a gray-green and golden
little creature, whose name was Willie.
I gladly consented, and one day Willie was brought over from
Jamaica Plains, a distance of ten miles, and deposited in my
parlor. His cage was closely covered with brown paper during the
journey, and he came in the cars, by the roundabout way of Boston.
At first he seemed somewhat lonely and lost, but soon grew very
happy and content in his new home; and well he might be, for he had
all his wants supplied, and did not lack companions.
I had two canaries, a robin, and a song-sparrow, and they soon
began to make beautiful music all together.
The sun could not rise without shining into the parlor windows; it
lingered there all day, till the last glow of the evening-red faded
out of the sky. At two windows the light streamed through green
leaves and gay flowers, and made a most cheerful atmosphere, in
which no bird could possibly help singing. The song-sparrow's
clear, friendly notes seemed to bring May to the very door;
and the robin executed, sotto voce, all his fine out-of-door
melodies, and put one into an April mood with his sweet, melancholy
Willie could not choose but be happy. So they all sang and
chirruped together the whole winter through, and cheered us in that
cold, sad season. Slowly the earth turned daily more and more
toward the sun, and before we were ready to realize so much joy,
the "willow-wands" were spangled with "downy silver," and the alder
catkins began to unwind their long spirals, and swing pliant in the
first winds of March. Then the melting airs of April set the brooks
free, the frogs began to pipe, and there was rare music! Birds came
in flocks, the soft green grass stole gradually over the land, and
dandelions shone gay in the meadows. When beneath a southern window
the flowering almond blossomed, I kept the windows open during fine
weather, and left the bird cages on the sill the whole day. Little
wild birds came and sat on the grapevine trellis above, and
twittered and talked with the captives, and sometimes alighted on
the cages; the pink almond sprays waved round them, and all were,
or seemed to be, as happy as the day is long.
Willie's little mistress returned about this time, and I only
awaited a proper opportunity to return my charge, safe and well,
into her hands. I congratulated myself on his state of health and
spirits, and thought how glad she would be to see him again. But,
alas! for human calculations. One afternoon I went, as usual, to
take in the cage for the night: there was Dick, the robin; and
Philip, the sparrow; and slender Rupert, my own canary, and his
mate; but Willie of Fayal, the green and golden stranger, was gone,
cage and all. I looked out of the window; there lay the cage upon
the ground, empty. Imagine my consternation! Had some strange,
prowling cat devoured—? I was in despair at the thought.
"If it had been any one but Willie," I said, again and again. He
had been intrusted to my care; what should I say when he was
required of me? In real sorrow I wrote to my youthful friend and
told her all. She mourned her bird as dead, but only for a day; for
what do you think happened? The most surprising thing! You never
will guess; so I shall tell you all, at once.
Willie was not devoured; he escaped from his cage, and flew
unerringly back to his former home, ten miles from mine. The night
after he disappeared from my window, he was heard pecking at the
window of the little girl's chamber, but no one noticed him; so he
stayed about the house till morning, and flew in when the window
was opened, and was found perched on the cage of his old companion.
Great was everybody's astonishment, as you may imagine. There was
no mistaking him,—it was Willie, and no other.
Yes, really and truly. Now, how do you suppose he found his way
over all those miles of unfamiliar country, straight to that
chamber window? What guided him? Did he fly high or low?
Probably not high; for his wings were unused to flying at all, and
consequently not strong; but they bore him over woods and fields,
over streets and people, over hundreds of houses, till at last his
tired eyes beheld the tower and gables of his old dwelling-place
rising from among the pleasant woods, and then he knew he might
rest in safety.
But how could he find the way? Supposing birds to have means
of communicating with each other by speech, how would he have put
his questions, wishing to ask his way? Meeting a thrush, or
sparrow, or any other dainty feathered creature, he might perhaps
have hailed it with,—"Good morrow, comrade;" but he couldn't have
said, "Can you tell me the way to Jamaica Plains?" or, "Do you know
where the little girl lives to whom I belong? Her name is May, and
she has golden hair; can you tell me how to find her?" Do you think
he could? Yet he did find her, and until last summer, was still
living in that pretty chamber among the green trees.
Some time, perhaps, we shall understand those things; but until
then, Willie's journey must remain one of the mysterious incidents
in natural history.