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An essay by Elizabeth Brightwen

Dick The Starling

Title:     Dick The Starling
Author: Elizabeth Brightwen [More Titles by Brightwen]

Few people would think a cat could possibly be a tender nurse to young birds! but such was really the case with a very interesting bird I possessed some years ago.

A young starling was brought up from the nest by the kind care of our cook and the cat! Both were equally sympathetic, and pitied the little unfledged creature, who was by some accident left motherless in his early youth. Cook used to get up at some unheard-of hour in the morning to feed her clamorous pet, and then would bring him down with her at breakfast-time and consign him to pussy's care; she, receiving him with a gentle purr of delight, would let him nestle into her soft fur for warmth.

As Dick became feathered, he was allowed the run of the house and garden, and used to spend an hour or so on the lawn, digging his beak into the turf, seeking for worms and grubs, and when tired he would fly in at the open window and career about until he could perch on my shoulder, or go in search of his two foster-mothers in the kitchen.

His education was carried on with such success that he could soon speak a few words very clearly. Strangers used to be rather startled by a weird-looking bird flying in from the garden, and saying, "Beauty dear, puss, puss, miaow!" But it was still more strange to see Dick sitting on the cat's back and addressing his endearments to her in the above words. Pussy would allow him to investigate her fur with exemplary patience, only objecting to his inquisitive beak being applied to her eyelids to prize them open when she was enjoying her afternoon nap. Dick's love of water led him to bathe in most inconvenient places. One morning, when I returned to the dining-room after a few minutes' absence, I found him taking headers into a glass filter and scattering the contents on the sideboard. After dinner, too, he would dive into the finger-glasses with the same intention, and when hindered in that design would visit the dessert dishes in succession, stopping with an emphatic "Beauty dear!" at the sight of some coveted dainty, to which he would forthwith help himself liberally.

In summer Dick had to resist considerable temptation from wild birds of his own kind, who evidently made matrimonial overtures to him, but though he "camped out" for a few nights now and then, he never seemed to find a mate to his mind, and elected to remain a bachelor and enjoy our society instead of that of his own kith and kin.

Dick was certainly a pattern of industrious activity, never still for two minutes. He seemed haunted by the idea that caterpillars and grubs existed all over the house, and his search for them was carried on under all possible circumstances--every plait of one's dress, every button-hole, would be inquired into by his prying little beak in case some choice morsel might chance to be lurking there. Dick lived for a few happy years, and then his bathing propensities most unhappily led to his untimely death. One severely cold day in winter he was missed and searched for everywhere, and after some hours his poor little body was found stiff and cold in a water-tank in the stable-yard, where the ice had been broken. He had as usual plunged in for a bath, and we can only suppose the intense cold had caused an attack of cramp, so that he could not get out again, and thus was drowned. Many tears were shed for the loss of the cheery little bird, who seemed like a bright ubiquitous sunbeam about the house, and our only consolation was the thought that, as far as we knew, he had never had a sorrow in his life, and we can only hope that if there are "happy hunting-grounds" for birds our Dick may be there, bright and happy still.

[The end]
Elizabeth Brightwen's essay: Dick The Starling