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sensible conversation on the door-step, go into the house, the door of which closed with a spring directly they got on the inside of it, and then presently to see their heads pop out of the chimneys, as if their owners were wondering what sort of weather it was; to see the first villain of the company hop upon the cart in which the popgun was fixed, and hop upon a slip of wood which in some mysterious manner acted upon the gun, and caused it to go off—and then to see the desperado watch for dreadful consequences which never followed ; to see that cold blooded and desperate bird jump briskly down, as if it were not disappointed, and place its neck in a ring in the shafts, and hop away to another battlefield ; to see the two military birds march up and down in front of the house, holding little wooden swords in their beaks, as who should say to an advancing foe, ' Approach if you dare, and meet your doom !' to see the climbing-bird hop up the steps of the ladder, and then hop down again triumphantly, as if it had performed a feat of which birdkind might be proud; and to know that the birds enjoyed the fun and delighted in it: were pleasant things to see and know, and could do no one any harm. Of course there were hitches in the performances : occasionally the birds were dull or obstinate; but, as a rule, they were tractable and obedient; and if they did sometimes bungle their tricks they might well be excused, for they were but feeble creatures after all.
So Dan passed his time innocently and loved his pets, and his pets loved him. Joshua grew to love them too. He learned all their pretty little vocal tricks, and could imitate the different languages of the birds in such a wonderful manner that they would stop and listen to his warbling, and would answer it with similar joyful notes of their own.
And when Dan and he were in a merry mood—which was not seldom-they and the birds would join in a concert which was almost as good, and quite as enjoyable, as the scraping of fiddles and the playing of flutes. Sometimes, in the evening, Joshua would play soft music upon his second-hand accordion; and directly he sounded the first note the birds would hop upon the table and stand in a line, with their heads inclined on one side, listening to Joshua's simple melodies with the gravity of connoisseurs, and would not flutter a feather of their little wings for fear they should disturb the harmony of sound.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF GOLDEN CLOUD.
THERE was one canary which they had christened Golden Cloud. It was one of the two canaries that Dan had first trained ; and for this and other reasons Golden Cloud was a special favourite with the lads. Dan used to declare that Golden Cloud literally understood every word he spoke to it. And it really appeared as if Dan were right in so declaring and so believing; it was certainly a fact that Golden Cloud was a bird of superior intelligence. The other birds were of that opinion, or they would not have accepted its leadership. When they marched, Golden Cloud was at the head of them and very proud it appeared to be of its position; when the performances took place, Golden Cloud was the first to commence; if anything very responsible and very particular were to be done, Golden Cloud was intrusted with it; and if any new bird was refractory, it devolved upon Golden Cloud to assist Dan to bring that bird to its senses. The birds did not entertain a particle of envy towards Golden Cloud because it had attained an eminence more distinguished than their own; and this fact was as apparent, as it must have been astonishing, to any reflective human being who enjoyed the happy privilege of being present now and then at the performances of Dan's clever troupe. Even when old
age crept upon it—it was in the prime of life when Dan first took it in hand—the same respect was paid to the sagamore of the company. Its sight grew filmed, its legs grew scaly, its feathers grew ragged. What matter? Had it not been kind and gentle to them when in its prime? Should they not be kind and gentle to it now that Time was striking it down? And was it not, even in its decrepitude, the wise bird of them all?
Notwithstanding that it grew more and more shaky every hour almost, the old sense of duty was strong in the heart of Golden Cloud ; and it strove to take part in the performances to the last. Golden Cloud had evidently learnt the lesson, that to try always to do one's duty is the sweetest thing in life. In that respect it was wiser than many human beings, who should have been wiser than it. It was a melancholy sight, yet a comical one withal, to see Golden Cloud lift a sword with its beak, and try to hold it there, and hop with it at the head of the company. It staggered here and there, and, being almost blind, sometimes hit an inoffensive bird across the beak, which caused a momentary confusion; but everything was set right as quickly as could be. The other birds bore with Golden Cloud's infirmities, and made its labours light for it. Even the tomtit—that saucy beautiful rascal, with its crown of Cambridge blue, who had been the most refractory bird that Golden Cloud ever had to deal with, who would turn heels over head in the midst of a serious lesson, and who would hop and twist about and agitate its staid companions with its restless tricks-even the tomtit, whose greatest delight was to steal things and break things, but whose spirit had been subdued and tamed by Golden Cloud's firmness, assisted the veteran in its old age, and did not make game of it.