You must know in the beginning that Virginia wore feathers. But she had as many trials with her suitors as though she dressed in silks, and she displayed so much of what we call “ human nature ” that her story is as interesting as that of half the Ethels and Marguerites of the romances.
She came of a good old family, the Cardinals, and, belonging to the Virginia branch, was called properly Virginia Cardinal, or, in scientific fashion, Cardinalis Virginianus. She was a beauty, too. It is well known that the cardinal himself has a full suit of the most brilliant red, but it is not so familiar a fact that the dames of the tribe are more modest, and wear the family colors simply as linings and in subdued tints: rich rose - colored wing - facings, light coral-hued beak, delicate pink crest, all toned down by the soft olive brown of breast and back, over which is everywhere a lovely suggestion of red.
The home of Virginia, when she came to the bird-room, was a large cage by the window; that of the cardinal being next to it, equally commodious, hut a little farther from the light. This personage, her first admirer, made the mistake that larger suitors sometimes fall into, with equally disastrous results, — he took things for granted.” Between the cages was a door, hut, to try the temper of the birds, it was at first closed. The cardinal was evidently pleased with his lovely neighbor ; he went as near to her as he could get, and uttered some low remarks, to which she listened, but did not reply. Later, when a meal-worm was given to him. he did not eat it, but held it in his beak, hopped over to her side, tried to get through the wires, and plainly thought of offering it to her. His disposition appearing so friendly, a human hand interposed, and opened the door. Instantly he went into her cage, and apparently thinking better of the intended offering he ate it himself, and proceeded to investigate her food-dislies and try the seed, then hopped back and forth between the two cages, and at last selected the perch he preferred, and took possession. Pie paid no attention to her in the way of recognizing her ownership, which he would naturally do to another bird ; lie assumed that whatever belonged to the cardinal family belonged to him ; perhaps he even thought she went with the house, — it certainly looked as though he did.
But the little dame had a mind of her own. On his first intrusion, she vacated her home, and passed into his. When he appeared in his cage, she quietly hopped back ; on his return, she changed cages with equal alacrity ; when he settled himself on her perch, she was quite contented on his. There was no dispute, no warfare; she simply said, in manner, “All right, my friend; select your abode, and I ’ll take the other. I 'm satisfied with either, but I intend to have it to myself.” After awhile it seemed to strike his lordship that she avoided him, and he resolved to settle that matter ; here making his second mistake, in trying to force instead of to win. He entered the cage where she sat quietly, and flew at her. She dodged him, and took refuge in the other apartment; he followed.; and thus they rushed back and forth several times, till she stopped for breath on a lower perch, while he was on an upper one in the same cage. Then he leaned far over and fixed his eyes on her, crest raised to its greatest height, wings held slightly out, and addressed her in a very low but distinct song, which resembled the syllables “ Cur-dle-e ! cur-dle-e ! cr-r-r ; ” the latter sounding almost like a cat’s purr. After singing this several times, and being slighted by her leaving the cage, he laid his crest flat down, muttered something so low that it could not be noted, and looked very much put out. Soon, however, he shook his feathers violently, flung himself at her, and she dodged, as before. When both happened to be for a moment in their own cages, the door was suddenly closed between, and each had his own, as at first. Madam was delighted, but the cardinal resented it; he tried to remove the obnoxious barrier, pecked at it, shook it, and could not be reconciled. He grew hungry, and was obliged to eat, but between every two seeds he returned to struggle with the bars that kept him from her. Meanwhile, Virginia had apparently forgotten all about him, eating and making her toilet for the night, as cheerful as usual.
The next morning, the outside doors of the two cages were opened, and both birds at once came out into the room. The cardinal, not yet over his tiff of the evening before, took wing for the trees outside the windows, and brought up, of course, against the glass. He was greatly disappointed. He alighted on top of the lower sash, tested, examined, and tried to solve the mystery. Virginia, too, tried to go through the pane, but learned in one lesson that it was useless. She did not care much about it any way, for she was perfectly contented inside. She went around the room, hovering slowly under the ceiling, which is always of interest to birds, and then set herself to work, in a most systematic manner, to find out all about the new world she was in. She examined the outside perches and tried each one; she explored the bathing table, flirted out a little water from the dishes, and at last thought it time to make acquaintance with her neighbors.
She began with the robin, and flew to his roof. The robin was not pleased, snapped at her, opened his mouth, uttered a queer low robin-cry, “ Seep,” and pecked at her feet, while she stood quietly looking down at the show from above, as much interested as though it were arranged to amuse her. At length she proceeded to make the more formal visit. She dropped to the door-perch, and approached the entrance. The inhospitable owner met her there ; not to welcome and invite her in, but to warn her out! He lowered his head, opened his beak, and bowed to her, looking very wicked indeed. It was plain that he was “ not receiving ” that morning. But Virginia had come to call, and call she would. Nothing daunted by his coolness, she hopped in. The robin was amazed ; then declared war in his peculiar way, — first a hop of six inches, with wings spread, then a savage clatter of the bill. His guest met this demonstration quite calmly. She lowered her head, to defend herself if necessary, but made no other movement. Her calmness filled the robin with horror ; he fled the cage. Then she went all over it, and satisfied herself that it was much like her own, only the food-dish was filled with some uneatable black stuff, instead of the vegetarian food she preferred. She soon departed.
Meanwhile, the cardinal was wasting his time over the window problem, touching the glass with his beak, flying up a few inches before it, gently tapping the pane as he went. It was two or three days before he made up his mind he could not get through. After that he was as indifferent to the outside as any bird in the room, and turned his attention once more to Virginia. Whenever they were in their cages, with the door open between, he assumed the lord-andmastership of the two : he drove her away from her own food-cups, usurped her perch and her cage, and made himself disagreeable generally. Finally, one day when she was sitting quietly on the upper perch of his deserted cage, he came into the same cage, and, resting on the low perch close to the door, his tail hanging outside, began a low call, a curious sort of “e-up,” with a jerk on the second syllable. Though a common enough sound for a cardinal, this plainly meant more than was apparent to human spectators. Virginia at once grew uneasy, hopped across the upper perches, and when her nervousness became too great dashed down past him, though he was partly in the doorway, and into her own cage, where she resumed her restless jumps. He was not pleased with her reception of his attentions ; he sat a long time in that attitude, perfectly still, perhaps meditating what step he should take next, glancing at her meanwhile over his shoulder, but not stirring a feather. Time passed, and he came to a decision of some sort, which was shown by a change of position. He turned around, and took nis seat on the corresponding perch in her cage, just before the door.
This impressed Virginia; she stopped her hopping, and looked over at him with an air of wondering what he would do next. What he did was to hop one step nearer, to the middle perch. Upon this she abandoned her place, came to the floor, and began to eat in the most indifferent manner ; then passed into his cage, then back to the floor of her own, still eating, while he sat silent and motionless on the middle perch, evidently much disturbed by her conduct. After an hour of this performance, he retired to her upper perch, and stayed there.
The same day, the jealousy of the unsuccessful wooer was aroused by a fine, fresh-looking cardinal whom he saw in the looking-glass. In flying past it he caught a glimpse of his reflection, and at once turned, alighted before it, and began calling vehemently; holding out and quivering his wings, and flying up against the figure again and again in the most savage way. The next day he began to mope, and refused to come out of the cage; whether because of illness, or disappointed affections, who shall say ?
The time of her tormentor’s retirement was one of great happiness to Virginia. She paid her usual visit to the robin, and he, as at first, vacated his cage, this having become the regular morning programme. Now, too, she went on to extend her acquaintance by entering the cage of another neighbor, a scarlet tanager, a shy, unobtrusive fellow, who asked nothing but to be let alone. This bird also did not reciprocate her neighborly sentiments ; he met her with open beak, but finding that did not awe her, nor prevent her calmly walking in, he hastily left the cage himself. During the time that her persecutor was sulking, and not likely to bother, she had leisure for the bath, which she enjoyed freely, coming out with her long breast feathers hanging in locks, and looking like a bundle of rags. Her last experimental call was now made upon another household, the Baltimore orioles, and there she met with something new, — perfect indifference. Even when both of the birds were at home, they did not resent her coming in. She went to the upper perch with them ; the cage was big, there was plenty of room, and they were willing. Their manners, in fact, were so agreeable that if their cups had been supplied with seed, I think she would have taken up her abode with them ; as it was, she frequently spent half an hour at a time there. On this eventful day Virginia began to sing, for in her family the musical performances are not confined to the males.
After several days of retirement, the cardinal plucked up spirit to resume his annoyance of Virginia, and for a few nights a queer sort of game was played by the two, explain it who can. If the barrier between the cages was removed after the outside doors were shut for the night, he at once went to her cage and to the middle perch. Virginia, on the upper perch, waited till he reached that spot, then dropped to the floor, slipped through the door into his cage, and went to the upper perches there, where she hopped back and forth, while he did the same in her cage. Suddenly, after a few moments, down he came again through the door to his own middle perch, when instantly, as before, she retreated into her cage. Thus they went on an hour at a time ; he apparently following her from one cage to another, and she declining to occupy the same apartment with him. Occasionally it was not so calm ;. he lost his temper, or grew tired of trying to please; once or twice, without warning, he lowered his head, looked ugly, and fairly burst into her cage and flung himself at her. She dived under or bounded over a perch, any way to escape him, and took refuge in the other cage.
This could not go on long ; the cardinal lost interest in everything, took to moping, and at last died, — disappointed affection, shall we say, or what? Virginia was relieved ; she sang more and in a louder tone, hopping around her cage with a seed in her mouth, flying through the room, or splashing in the bath; in fact, she was bubbling over with song all the time, as if she were so happy she could not keep still. She paid her daily visits to the cages, forcing the robin to take an outing, which he did not care to do while moulting and not very sure of his powers.
Many birds show emotions by raising the feathers on different parts of the body, but this bird was remarkable in the expression of her crest alone. When she peeped into a strange cage, and was somewhat uncertain of her reception, the crest laid flat down, her very head seemed to shrink; she stepped in at the door, excited, for it might be peace and it might be war ; the feathers rose and fell alternately; if suddenly startled, the crest sprang to its highest point; and when singing, or passing peacefully about the room, it dropped carelessly back on her head.
Virginia was allowed a week’s solitary enjoyment of the two cages, and then one day a new tenant appeared in the cardinal’s quarters. She was out in the room when he arrived, but she instantly came over and alighted on his roof, to have a look at him. Most expressive was her manner. She stood in silence and gazed upon him a long time ; all her liveliness and gayety were gone, and she appeared to be struck dumb by this new complication of her affairs. It was plain that she was not pleased. Perhaps her dislike was evident to the new bird, for suddenly he flew up and snapped at her, which so surprised her that she hopped a foot into the air. When the time came to open the door into her cage, the stranger was delighted to go in, but Virginia dodged him, exactly as she had done his predecessor. He did not lose his temper, and condescend to the vulgarity of flying at her, as the first admirer had done. He looked interested to see that she avoided him, but after all he did not take it much to heart. This cardinal, like the other, was not yet acclimated — if one may call it so — to life in a house, and after a week he also took his departure.
Now Virginia, free again, became at once very gay. She sang all the time ; she kept the robin stirring ; she bathed ; she waxed fat. But her time was approaching. Spring came on, and with the first warm weather the birds began to disappear from the room. First the tanager expressed a desire to mingle with society once more, and went his way ; then the orioles were sent to carry on their rough wooing in the big world outside ; the robin followed ; and at last Virginia was left with several big empty cages and only two birds, a reserved and solitude loving Mexican clarin, and a saucy goldfinch, so long a captive that he had no desire for freedom. Now for the first time Virginia was lonely; the strange quiet of the once lively room worked upon her temper. She snapped at her little neighbor ; she haunted the window-sill, and gazed out; while nothing hindered her passage excepting the weather, our climate being rather cool for her.
At last July, with its great heat, arrived, and the restless bird was carried by a kind friend, who offered to do this good deed, to a place in Central Park, New York, where a small colony of her kind have established themselves, and build and nest every year. Here she was set free, and here she met her third suitor. The place and the season were propitious, and Virginia was ready to look with favor on a smart young cardinal in the brightest of coats, who came in response to her calls the moment she found herself on a tree, really out in the world. A little coaxing, a few tender words, and she flew away with him, and we saw her no more.
Olive Thorne Miller.