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An essay by Elizabeth Brightwen


Title:     Verdant
Author: Elizabeth Brightwen [More Titles by Brightwen]

One day in early summer I found on a gravel walk a poor little unfledged birdie, sitting calmly looking up into the air, as if he hoped that some help would come to him, some pitying hand and heart have compassion upon his desolate condition.

I carried him indoors, and "mothered" the little helpless thing as well as I could, by feeding him with hard-boiled yolk of egg mixed with brown bread and water. Being a hard-billed bird, I supposed that would be suitable food, and certainly he throve upon it. The little blue quills began to tell of coming feathers, his vigorous chirpings betokened plenty of vocal power, and in due time he grew into a young greenfinch of the most irrepressible and enterprising character. His lovely hues of green and yellow led to the name of Verdant being bestowed upon him, and his early experiences made it a somewhat suitable name.

Poor little man! he had no parents to instruct him, and he consequently got into all manner of scrapes. He only learnt the nature of windows and looking-glasses by bitter experience; flying against them with great force, he was often taken up for dead; but his solid little skull resisted all these concussions, and by pouring cold water upon his head and some down his throat, he always managed to recover. He once overbalanced into a bath, and was nearly drowned; he fell behind a wardrobe, and was nearly suffocated; later on he almost squeezed himself to death between the bars of his cage--in fact, he had endless escapes of various kinds. He was very amusing in his early youth. Whilst I was dressing he would delight in picking up my scissors, pins, buttonhook, and anything else he could lift, and would carry them to the edge of the dressing-table and throw them down, turning his sly little head to see where they had fallen. He delighted in mischief, and was ever on the watch to carry off or misplace things; and yet he was a winning little pet, fearless in his confidence, perching on one's head or shoulder, and hindering all dressing operations by calmly placing his little body in the way, regardless of consequences.

He lived in his cage during the day, and next to him, on the same table, lived a bullfinch--a very handsome bird, but heavy and lethargic to a degree; he sang exquisitely, and for that gift I suppose Verdant admired him, for his delight was to be as near him as possible. Perched on the top of his cage, he gazed down at his friend, and in great measure imitated his singing. Bully, on the contrary, hated Verdant, and would have nothing to do with him. The two characters were a great source of amusement to us.

Verdant was always let out at meal-times to fly about and enjoy his liberty, and I am sorry to say he was always on the look-out for any mischief that might be possible. Bully's water-jar was fastened outside by a small pin; this Verdant discovered was movable, and before long we were startled by the fall of the said water-jar, the greenfinch having pulled out the pin; he then began upon the seed-box, and that also fell, to his great delight; he was then talked to and scolded, and up went his pretty yellow wings with angry flappings, and his open beak scolded back again in the most hardened manner. He was greatly interested in watching the numerous birds frequenting a basket filled with fat which hung outside the window, and he would swing backwards and forwards on the tassel of the blind, chirping to the outsiders, and watching all their little squabbles. Sunflower seeds were his greatest dainty; he would perch upon the hand to receive one, or if it were held between the lips he would flutter and poise upon the wing to take it. A sort of swing with a chain and movable wheel was provided, upon which Verdant soon learned to perch and swing, whilst he amused himself by pecking at the chain till he disengaged the sunflower seeds I had fixed in the links. When he was more than a year old, and I thought he might be depended upon, I tried the rather anxious experiment of letting him out of doors. He soon became quietly happy, investigating the wonders of tree branches, inquiring into the taste of leaves and all kind of novelties, when two or three sparrows flew at him and scared him considerably. Away he went, followed by the sparrows, and I began to repent my experiment, and feared he might go beyond my ken and lose himself. He was out nearly an hour, but at last he returned and went quietly into his cage. It seemed strange that the wild birds should so soon discover that he was not one of their clique, but I suppose Verdant revealed the secret by looking frightened, and the others could not resist the fun of chasing him. For more than a year and a half my birdie was a constant pleasure. Whenever he entered the dining-room my first act was to open Verdant's cage, when he would always fly to the bullfinch's cage and greet him with a chirp, then look to see if his friend had any provender that he could get at--a piece of lettuce between the bars, or a spray of millet to which he could help himself; no matter that Bully remonstrated with open beak, Verdant calmly feasted on stolen goods _con gusto_, and then scouted around for any dainties on the carpet, where he sometimes found a stray sunflower seed, always his greatest delight. After his summer moulting he became wonderfully vigorous, and would fly round the room with such velocity that I often felt afraid he might some day fly against the plate-glass windows and injure himself.

That mournful day came at last! He had been out as usual at breakfast-time, came on my finger for a seed, had his bath, and went on the little swing for more seeds, and flew about with all his joyous life and vigour. We had only left the room for a few moments, when, on returning, the dear little bird lay dead beneath the window, against which he had flown with such force as to break his neck and cause instant death.

The sorrow of that moment will never be forgotten; indeed, I cannot even now think of my little pet with undimmed eyes--he was a moment before so full of life and beauty, so fearless, such a "sonsie" little fellow; and then to hold the little golden green body in my hand and watch the fast-glazing eye, and think that I should never again have my cheery little friend to greet me and be glad at my coming, was one of those sharp pangs that true lovers of nature alone can understand. From all such I know I shall have sympathy in the tragic death of my much-loved little Verdant.

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Elizabeth Brightwen's essay: Verdant