Page images
PDF
EPUB

6

Well, those brown-backed robins hopping along the verandah there seem to me like very happy middle class people who mind their own business and let other people do the same. He always looks carefully dressed, his bit of white linen is immaculate, his manners unpretentious but pleasing, all but his habit of displaying a bit of the red bandana he carries in the pocket of his coat tail ; while she is the embodi. ment of personal neatness and modesty in public. He is very fond of his little wife too, for he calls her * Dearest' and 'Sweet' and sings his prettiest songs to her. But I really think she is not a very good housekeeper, for their nest seems more like temporary lodgings than a home. In this respect they are something like those Bohemians that Dickens describes in Little Dorrit' as 'Dwellers in Hampton Court Tents.””

“But you must confess that they are at least happy in the present even if they do not build for the future, and if Mrs. Robin does not make a nest that you collectors can carry away to your glass cases, what does it matter ? You men expect too much of us women,” the Girl replied with some spirit. those sunbirds Aitting about among the quisqualis blossoms are light-hearted summer girls, dressed to charm and please, accomplished, and as graceful as butterflies, light-hearted and merry.

Very good, but Mrs. Sunbird builds a curious rubbish-bag of a nest, lines it with moss and downeiderdowns and cushions I suppose—and then covers it all with a light but very useful little waterproof sunshade."

“I daresay Mr. Sunbird was responsible for the bits of rubbish in the nest, and she had to make the best of it without hurting his feelings, poor dear. Do you remember that delightful little picture of family difference

“I suppose

see

Ernest Thomson Seton draws in his story of the homemaking of two sparrows? One insisted upon feather beds and the other hair mattresses. But is there such a thing as a useful family man among birds? The beauty and talents seem to be monopolized by the men of birdsociety, while their wives are plain bodies with all the responsibility of housekeeping and the care of the family."

" Indeed yes. There is the paradise-flycatcher who sits with his long-plumed tail hanging over the edge of the nest while his wife goes out for a bit of air and a change,” triumphantly replied the Philosopher. · You that being handsome need not imply uselessness and lack of consideration for one's wife" with a sly glance at the Girl as he rose from his chair.

“ I am not so sure, The paradise-flycatcher had probably had a jolly good meal on the wing, was tired and a bit sleepy, and relished the soft easy chair of a а Think so?"

II. “I am so sorry to have kept you waiting, Philo, I thought I would at least get some flowers arranged for the chhoti-haziri table, but I got so interested in a little garden romance that I really couldn't come away. These wont look bad as they are, will they?"

The Girl came gaily down the garden path to the west verandah where the Philosopher, the bearer, and the chhoti-haziri table awaited her. Giving her generous rimmed sola topi to the servant she placed her little wicker flower basket with its motley array of garden treasures in the centre of the table, seeming with a touch of her deft-fingers to inspire every pansy, rose and Shirley poppy with a determination to look its

nest.

sweetest and prettiest. It was a knack the girl had of making the flowers look happy, and during the summer months when she was in the hills and the mali proudly presented the Philosopher with precise and proper bouquets each day, the sahib sighed and longed for the Girl or storined vehemently as his mood determined,

“A romance ?” queried the Philosopher as he pushed the girl's chair under the table.

"Yes, and a very pretty one from out of the middle ages somewhere. I was gathering the roses along the path that surrounds the circular grassplot when I noticed a dapper little hoopoo running briskly along ahead of me. He would pause as if to listen, then with absolute assurance make for a spot a few feet in front of him, thrust in his needle-like bill with remarkable precision and bring up an insect. You don't scent the mediæval romance yet ? Well, whenever he brought up an especially nice titbit, he flew to the other side of the plot where his lady-love was seeking her chhoti haziri in like manner. But as he alighted he spread his wings and raised his crest as if bowing in very courtly fashion before her; then when she looked

up,
he

very merrily, though with rather mincing steps, advanced to her and gave her the titbit. Then he would fly away in search of another. It was most charming."

“They are both exceedingly neat in their appearance and precise in their movements; but don't you think them a trifle too proper and business-like for the middle ages ? To me he is rather like a painstaking, alert stock broker, one who keeps his eye on the market and knows just when to strike and secure the best returns. see him in Threadneedle Street ? Besides, Mrs. Hoopoo

Can't you

looks far more like a tailored twentieth century woman than like Guineveve or Enid or Elaine,” replied the Philosopher as he took his

сир

of tea. 'Oh! Philo, how can you ? Then the courtly bow goes only for commercial suavity such as characterizes Japanese merchants. But his courtesy was all for his lady-love, with others he would be most shy. Besides Imam-ud-din told me how he got his crest and the tale points to a state of morals which quite agrees with the standards held by the Knights of the Round Table.

· Who loved one only and who clave to her,
And worshipped her by years of noble needs

Until they won her.' You see Imam-ud-din was holding the basket for me and noticing that I was watching the hoopoos he asked If I would not like to hear a story he knew about them. Of course I assented and he said that once when Solomon was going to bring to his palace another wife, presumably the Egyptian princess who was black but comely, he asked the birds to hover about her palanquin to protect her from the sun's rays. All the birds came and flying along above her made a most effective screen—all but the hoopoos who refused to obey the king's command. When they were called into the royal presence to receive the sentence of death for disobedience, the king asked them their reason for refusing to assist him. One cannot deny that they had the courage of their convictions, for they replied that a man should have but one wife and that they would not aid or abet such immorality as Solomon practised. The king was astonished at their boldness, but was so pleased with their sincerity that he not only pardoned them but gave them a crest as a reward.”

“Well done, my Dear. I withdraw my references to the Exchange. A bird that was knighted by King Solomon certainly deserved something better,” agreed the Philosopher.

The girl smiled triumphantly and then continued, “ Do you know when I first made the acquaintance of the hoopoo ? It was at Cambridge. One winter during my study there they gave The Birds of Aristophanes. I confess my knowledge of Greek at no time would have enabled me to appreciate a Greek play without the aid of an English libretto, but with that one got on very well. Chanticler is exceedingly clever, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I did The Birds. The music, staging and costumes were modern, all the rest as true to classic Greek as possible. Sometimes I think the ancients must smile at the self-satisfied complacency of us moderns who think cleverness was born

However the hoopoo was there, crest and all, and when I came to India, I at once recognized him as a dear acquaintance. Someone told me it was a wood

. pecker, but I insisted that it was not

No, a good many people confuse them, but the woodpecker is a gaudy bird who dresses in extremely bad taste and who has a most unpleasantly harsh laugh. He is always to be found about trees for his bill is so hard that he can penetrate the bark in search of food. The hoopoo, on the other hand, dresses quietly and neatly, has a liquid though rather monotonous note and has an exceedingly soft bill, suited only to working in sand or soft earth. But don't you think the naming of the bird is solely a matter of imitation, the name being an effort to imitate its note?"

"I hadn't thought of it before but of course it is, just as cuckoo, or the Hindustani kawa. I have

with us.

« PreviousContinue »