THE DEVIL HEADED SOUTH
This is a story about, Miguel, a fictional parrot's life.
It is reprinted from Collier’s, The National Weekly, for December 17, 1927, and is from Sally Blanchard's Parrot Files.
Please do not reprint this story. Thank you.
By GUY GILPATRIC
Here’s a parrot who deserves a place on the perch of fame beside Long John Silver’s bird, Cap’n Flint
HIS name was Miguel de Cordoba, and he was thirty-five years old, had seen a good bit of the world, and was therefore considerably annoyed when Mrs. Vittery rechristened him “Polly” and referred to him as “she.”
As a matter of fact, his entire new surroundings were distasteful. At first the change of scene had served to heal his sorrow over the death of Captain Pierce; but after a month or so he longed to be back in the little office on the dock, in sight of the vessels on which he and the captain had been shipmates before they retired and from which the officers still used to come and talk to him. Sometimes they would converse in his native Spanish and give him fruits which awakened in him vague, disquieting memories of his youth. He missed the occasional jorums of rum and sugar that used to make him feel so garrulous and expansive, for whenever Captain Pierce was opening a bottle he would say, “How about a little snort, Miguel?” And Migael would answer, Snort! Snort! Snort! Bottoms up and carramba to the bartender!” And all the men in the office would laugh as he flapped his wings. Then he would climb down from his perch, beak-over-claws, and clamber up on the table for his drink, which was always served in his own private tobacco can.
Here it was dreadfully boresome. There were no ships, no men, no cigar smoke, no rum. There wasn’t even a harbor— nothing but a garden outside, with wilted hollyhocks along the edge and beyond them a great cornfield which stretched away to meet some blackish woods. When he arrived he tried to forget his sorrow and be a good mixer; he ran through his extensive vocabulary, which included English, Spanish, Swedish, and the profanity of all three, and was astonished— nay, dismayed— when Mrs. Vittery hastily covered him over, and declared to the company from down the road that he (or rather “she”) was an “unregenerate limb of the devil.” And then, still striving to please, he had shouted, “Devil! Devil! Hell’s afire and who in hell cares?”—an epigram which had earned him the appreciative guffaws of a thousand audiences — and Mrs. Vittery had blushingly carried him up to the attic and left him there all night.
With one thing and another, the situation’ became unbearable. He was afraid to say a word, so unreasonable was the censorship in this drab and colorless house.
The cat was just one more annoyance. Señor de Cordoba prided himself on his generally tolerant nature, but he had never cared for cats and could see no reason why at his age he should go out of his way to be civil to this one. Further, he suspected the cat’s sincerity. Once or twice, when he had been engaged in counting up to ten or singing “Que Volumen” for his own amusement, he had glanced over his shoulder just in time to see the cat’s yellow eyes gleaming balefully at him from the shadows beneath the whatnot.
For a week or so he found a certain sardonic pleasure in calling, “Here, Kitty-kitty-kitty,” in the syrupy accents used by Mrs. Vittery to her pet and then greeting the poor dupe with a peal of mocking laughter as he came trotting in with his mind on milk and liver. But then the thing began to pall, like everything else in this depressing place, so one day Miguel determined to take more drastic measures.
Assuming Mrs. Vittery’s most honeyed tones, he summoned the cat to the very foot of his perch. Then spreading his wings, he swooped down and with his huge hooked beak neatly removed the cat’s left ear — which, incidentally, he found rather tasty. Except for a general sense of satisfaction, he thought no more of the matter until that evening, when he heard Mrs. Vittery screaming into the telephone and threatening somebody with the law unless that ferocious dog was kept chained up.
A few days later the cat, his head swathed in bandages, went through the room — close to the floor and at high speed. Miguel gave him the ha-ha and a few choice words in Spanish, but as the cat had never traveled and was at best an ignorant fellow, it is probable that the really masterly sarcasms were wasted.
A FEW weeks more and the nights became cooler, and Miguel found that somehow there had been added to his other worries a strange, unaccountable desire to go somewhere. This was peculiar; he could not remember ever having felt it before, but at the same time there came to his mind a memory of a fair, green country where parrots said and did what they pleased. The thought of this country was at once exhilarating, as when one had been drinking rum, and painful, as when one had been incarcerated in the attic in the cause of free speech.
He pondered the thing at length, until one day his ruminations were interrupted by a strange sound. Cocking his head sidewise, he looked through the window and up into the cold afternoon sky, and saw a score or so of black dots flapping slowly past. At first, he took them for sea gulls, but then he realized that their flight was much too awkward. Also, they didn’t mew, like sea gulls, but emitted a cry which was a distinct “caw,” and so he decided that they were Norse.
Next morning quite a few of these birds flew into the cornfield beyond the hollyhocks; and although they showed an extremely courteous interest in his remarks, couched in excellent Norse, that “the arrack is rare and the women are fair in Oslo,” it was evident that they were not familiar with the Scandinavian tongues.
They seemed to be friendly, though extremely cautious, and after a lengthy discussion among themselves, of which Miguel sensed that he was the subject, they posted several scouts and flew to the hollyhocks beneath his window.
They were fine, lusty fellows with a sort of care-free, swashbuckling look about them, but their speech was so rasping and primitive that Miguel decided that they must be American Indians. Sea gulls, being cosmopolites, were comparatively easy to talk to, but these chaps were really rather provincial. Fine physical specimens, without a doubt, but — provincial.
MIGUEL tried various languages on them—human as well as ornithological — but the wild black fellows only grinned and answered “Caw.” Then, although he did not wish to appear pedantic, he spoke a few words in a dialect which he had learned from an albatross who had once been his guest on the ship. The albatross, whose name was Jannsen, claimed to have traveled from Pole to Pole, and he said that this particular dialect had been of great assistance to him on his journeys.
Carefully choosing his words and enunciating clearly, Miguel said, ‘I judge that you gentlemen are strangers. What are your impressions of our glorious country?”
The visitors evidently understood him, but they snickered sheepishly among themselves and seemed embarrassed. At length, just as the silence was becoming awkward for all concerned, there was a whir of wings, and a most distinguished-looking member of their clan alighted full on Miguel’s window sill and made a formal bow.
In a few well-chosen words he introduced himself as Colin MacPherson, of the Province of Nova Scotia, Dominion of Canada, stated that he was of the species known as the Crows, and that his associates were mostly French Canadians who had joined his party when he was traversing Quebec.
“They are faithful fellows, though a bit uncouth,” he said. “They are all in my employ. I find them invaluable as an advance guard — the poor chaps have been shot at so much that they can hear a gun go off before it’s loaded.” He laughed with the confident air of one who has delivered himself of a mot; so Miguel laughed too, although he didn’t quite get the point.
Mr. MacPherson went on to say that he was in charge of a large party of crows who were on their way south for the winter. It seemed that he made a practice of conducting these tours each year, starting from his country place in Canada and picking up groups along the way. “I might almost say that I pick them by hand,” he explained. “One can’t be too careful in arranging a trip of this sort to get the proper traveling companions. This is strictly a first- class tour — I don’t cater to the riffraff.”
Miguel was interested in MacPherson’s project because he had been in the shipping business himself. The crow went on to say that he would remain in the neighborhood for a week or ten days, until several parties, aggregating possibly three thousand birds, had come to join him. This year they were going further south than usual—clear to Florida, in fact—because from all accounts things down there were picking up.
After further talk of this and that, MacPherson took his leave, promising to look in on Miguel during the next day or two.
He bowed and fluttered up over the hollyhocks. Then he cawed, and his French-Canadian attendants flapped into the air behind him. Circling over the garden, the formation took shape and followed their leader across the fields and into the black woods in the distance.
Miguel watched them with a wistful eye. In the old days, he had never envied the wild birds; his own life had been so pleasant. Once or twice he had dreamed of places which he had known in his youth, and then had come just a touch of longing. But the memories soon passed, and he settled back to the enjoyment of his life with Captain Pierce.
But this Vittery woman was a dreadful person. Try as he would, Miguel simply could not make friends with her. He was losing his appetite. He spent whole days in somber silence, simply because he never knew when his well-meant efforts would give offense. He was unhappy — terribly unhappy. And he wanted to go …
He was glad to see Cohn MacPherson swing down from the sky and land on his window sill a few days later. There was something about the big black fellow which Miguel liked immensely, and he flattered himself that the regard was mutual. This day they began at once to call each other by their first names.
“The party is filling up nicely,” said the crow. “Nearly eight hundred more joined us yesterday—mostly from New York State. There are some who are mighty prominent socially, I want to tell you!”
Miguel politely tossed a beakful of sunflower seeds out on the sill to Colin and deliberately cracked one for himself. “Do you know,” he said, “I’d like awfully to join you, old man. But I haven’t flown a nonstop mile for the past. fifteen years. But” — and here he dropped his voice and glanced apprehensively over his shoulder — “this old fool Mrs. Vittery has clean forgotten to clip my wings. Look here.”
He spread his wings — a really noble pair they were — and held them extended for Colin’s inspection.
“U’m!” said the crow, squinting at them with an expert eye and strutting back and forth across the sill, with his head on one side. “H’m. Not bad — not at all. Tertiary feathers a bit underdeveloped and muscles a trifle flabby. You’re ‘way overweight for that wing area — but of course, your surface loading per unit of area is naturally much more than ours.”
I DON’T know anything about that technical stuff,” replied Miguel. “But as a transportation expert, do you think I could exercise and train down and get myself in shape for the trip?”
Colin was silent for a minute. “Well,” he said slowly, “I can see no reason why not. Of course, I would have to give you some mighty intensive training. I’d have to work you so hard that you’d probably wish you’d never come.
Every nerve and muscle in you would ache like a birdshot wound. And the trip itself will be a hard one. The danger is — well, frankly, I wouldn’t ‘want my party to know it, but the danger is perpetual. Last year we were shot at a hundred and seventy times. We lost fifty-three killed and two hundred missing. Think it over, Miguel!”
Miguel looked into Colin’s earnest, handsome face, ‘and said, “I’ve made up my mind, old man. Fly close and coach me while I try to make those woods. Here goes!”
He took a long breath, dived from his perch through the open window, and flew out across the hollyhocks — his gorgeous plumage becoming living flames in the autumn sun. “Slower — I slower,” came Colin’s voice, from behind him. “There — one, two — one, two—depress your tail a little—there now, let’s clear this tree. Attaboy, we’ve plenty of room to spare — never take a yard when a foot will do!”
Miguel felt that his wings were lead and that his lungs were fire, but Colin said they were, high enough to glide a bit, and the rest did him good. And when they started to beat their wings again they had almost reached the woods.
Miguel was faint and dizzy as he clutched at a twig and came to rest. He had made the woods! Colin was beside him, giving him words of advice and praise. But Miguel could hardly hear him. His eyes were still filled with that brownish-green panorama of fields which had slid along beneath him; and his throbbing heart was filled with the wild joy of being free! Then, tired as he was, he flapped his wings and shouted, “Snort! Snort! Snort! Bottoms up and carramba to the bartender!”— which caused a panic in the crow-filled trees around him.
And when Colin returned from reassuring his tourists, he found Miguel with his head beneath his wings, deep in the slumber of exhaustion.
MacPherson introduced him next morning to a number of really worthwhile crows and they invited him to breakfast. He led the way to a fallen log at the edge of the woods. The meal consisted of pumpkin, decayed to a turn, and garnished on its under side with a delicious species of insect.
“Go easy, old chap,” he cautioned as Miguel tore into the food with an eagerness which he had not felt for months. “We’ve got to work off some of the extra weight you’re carrying. This morning I’m going to give you a little flying training.”
And so each day Miguel went through hours of practice in the air, until he began really to enjoy it. His wing muscles limbered up, and he could control the balancing feathers at the tips so accurately that he could fly through the thick-eat part of the woods at top speed without brushing a twig.
HIS speed caused much favorable comment among the crows, but Colin said that it wasn’t nearly so important as endurance and climbing power. “In a few days,” he went on, “I’m going to take various divisions up for practice and I want you to go along. Next Sunday, you know, we’re starting south.”
Miguel acquitted himself nobly in the formation practice, covering some forty miles between dawn and dusk, with only four short rest periods. And most of the flying was at five hundred feet — higher than he had ever been before.
Toward dusk, when his group was wearily flapping its way back to the rendezvous, Miguel was panting along and muttering to himself. From somewhere above came a menacing swish, and Miguel saw old Mr. Reilly, who was flying directly ahead of him, dive downward with a small, white-crested bird pecking at his head. There was great confusion and a volley of “caws” as the flock circled, and Miguel cursed as he realized that all this would delay the homecoming and the rest which he so greatly needed.
Mr. Reilly was some distance from the flock now, and perhaps a hundred feet below it. He zigzagged and zoomed and dived, and that fierce little white-crested kingbird darted right along with him. Every attack was followed by a flurry of feathers and a frenzied “caw.”
The thing was too much for Miguel’s patience. Losing his temper entirely, and screaming a word which has caused many duels in Spain, he folded his wings until they were little more than fins, and plunged down to attack. Even Cohn MacPherson, who was behind, could never explain exactly what happened. Miguel seemed to fly right through the kingbird, whose mangled body dropped to earth like a plummet. But when Miguel rejoined the awestruck crows, he opened that great cruel beak of his to emit a victorious, “Snort! Snort! Snort!” and out of it came a whisp of bloody feathers …
That night he was so tired that he was sound asleep as soon as he found his limb. But on the morrow he was waited upon by Messrs. Reilly, MacPherson and a large delegation who thanked him, praised him, made speeches and otherwise embarrassed him, over the kingbird incident.
As Sunday dawned the dark woods were seething with activity. Fully three thousand crows fluttered and cawed above the rookery, and MacPherson was here, there and everywhere — directing the formation like a born leader. Despite his masterful efforts, the sun was high in the heavens and a distant church bell was tolling through the crisp clear Sabbath air before the mighty black cloud wheeled up into the sky and headed south.
Miguel, flying at the head of the army among the staff officers, looked back in wonder at the sight. Almost as far as the eye could reach stretched that undulating, flurrying mist of black dots. Once or twice he dropped back into the mass to pass the time of day with certain of his friends, and he found that he had to shout to make himself heard above the tumult of wings.
They passed over the villages and towns and forests and rivers; and late in the afternoon, when lights began to twinkle in the houses and on the roads, and here and there long red glowing streaks marked fires in dry leaves and brush, Colin gave the signal to stand by while he reconnoitered their resting place for the night. Although it was still light at the altitude at which the flock circled and swung, it was almost dark below, and Colin dived into the gloom with his trusty Canadians. After several minutes the rear guard caught up with the van, and the entire army milled about in the air and gradually settled lower.
Then in the darkness below came two quick flashes, and a Bang! Bong! “Fly!” came MacPhersoa’s voice, and as they fell into formation and headed south once more, he joined them and took his place at their head. “They got Jacques,” he said briefly. “The poor chap was just settling on a fence rail when two shots came from behind a haystack and caught him square. That’s the trouble, landing when it’s dark on the ground — you make a regular target against the sky. And now I’ve got to go and tell his wife — just a bride, she is — back with No. 3 Section. Mr. Van Buskirk, the course lies straight to the finger of that lake. Take command until I return.”
A few minutes later, when he took his place at the head of the flock, Miguel could see that he was profoundly moved. “Too bad — too bad,” he kept saying. “And on the first day, at that! We’ve lost several hundred stragglers, but I never worry about them — if they lag behind or go down to eat, it’s their own lookout.”
Miguel was growing very-tired. Hour after hour he had plunged along, with never a complaint, and although he was dying to ask Colin how much longer they would fly, pride kept him silent. The leader turned his head and looked at him admiringly. “You’re doing fine, Miguel, old boy. Just try a longer, slower upstroke, and save the kick for the down beat — there — that’s the way! You’ll be surprised how much easier it is. Well, the moon will be up in a bit and then we’ll be across the lake. In half an hour we make camp. I wish I’d made for it in the first place.”
THE next day Colin broke the flight into a number of easy stages. They had reached a stretch of safe country — a sparsely settled region in which they saw but few houses. They swarmed along in open order; the first two divisions would land, rest and feed until the rear guard passed overhead and landed further on; then they would take to the air, and the process would be repeated. “Leapfrogging,” it was called in military parlance, and Miguel found it more to his liking than the long, wing-breaking flight of the previous day.
“It would be fine if we could travel like this all the way,” said Colin as the staff lolled comfortably about after a sumptuous luncheon of woodchuck. “But we’ve a long stretch of tough country before us. Houses, towns. Heavy, smoky air near the ground and lots of shotguns. Just between you and me, Miguel, we had quite a casualty list along that stretch last year.”
“Twenty-four shot down,” volunteered Mr. Quilty, who commanded the second division. “I lost eight out of my section from a single shot. I warned them to spread out, near the ground, but they wouldn’t listen. It was awful — awful!” And his voice broke as he thought of it.
“Poor chap’s wife was among ‘em,” whispered the crow on Miguel’s right, and he nodded sympathetically.
The hostile country which Cohn had worried about was traversed with very little difficulty. The flights were long, terribly long, for Miguel, but the food was good and the casualties few.
One afternoon a drizzling rain set in, and Cohn gave the landing signal several hours earlier than usual. They circled around him, and he led the way down to a dense woods in the center of which stood a handsome stone house. As it was still light, Miguel took a short turn over the roof and caught a whiff of something which he was sure was mutton chops. Now, mutton chops had always been a weakness of his, so he circled lower and dropped down to a graveled roadway which led to the veranda steps. Climbing up with beak and claws, he found the front door closed, so he flew through a near-by window and found himself in a large dining-room. The family was at table, and Miguel could see at once that they were quality folk — real first-class passengers, and not like the bony Mrs. Vittery. A butler was serving the mutton chops, so Miguel crowded his way between the curtains and said, “Grub time gents! Wake up that damned cook!” Someone screamed, and a chair was overturned. Then a little girl came running toward him.
“Polly! It’s a Polly!” she exclaimed. “Pretty Polly! Polly want a cracker?”
“Snort! Snort! Snort!” shouted Miguel, fluttering to the table and stepping toward a mutton chop on the plate of the jolly fat gentleman at the head. “My word! Where in the world did you come from, Polly?” inquired the man. “And where’d you get the appetite? Look at him go for that chop, people!”
Miguel paid no attention to the crowd around him, but devoted himself to the destruction of the chop. It was delicious — done to a turn, just the way the captain’s steward used to cook them. And when he had finished he helped himself to a good honest bumper of wine which he found in a near-by glass. He would have preferred rum, but an exanimation of all the glasses on the table showed him that there wasn’t any.
The wine sent a grateful, warm tingle through him — he relaxed in the luxury of being indoors and full of good cooked food again. Squatting down in the center of the table, he chuckled to himself and counted up to ten.
His audience roared with laughter, and plied him with food and praise. He permitted the little girl to scratch his head, and he climbed playfully to the shoulder of the pretty lady who was evidently her mother. And then, because he was simply dog-tired, he flew up to the great carved stone mantel and went to sleep.
So considerate was the family that they had the servants turn down the lights, and a few minutes later they left the room on tiptoe.
MIGUEL awoke at his usual hour, along toward dawn, and couldn’t quite remember where he was. Then he saw the dining-room table below him and gratefully recalled the meal he had eaten on it. He felt that he could be very happy with this family, that he would lead an easy, care-free life. Also, he knew that he would be more than welcome.
Evidently the family had expected him to stay. They could not imagine a domestic bird preferring the wild state. And he made up his mind that he didn’t prefer it. It would seem like rank desertion to leave Colin and the rest of them, but — he would stay.
There was a great bowl of fruit on the sideboard, and he sailed down to it and began a luxurious breakfast. It would be like this every morning! No more long, cold flights with one’s wings nigh to breaking. No more shotguns! He - wondered if the flock had started on the day’s flight.
“Caw! Caw! Caw!”
It was Colin’s powerful voice, just above the house. Miguel dropped the banana he had been holding in his claw, and stood stock still.
“Caw! Caw!” the voice came through the open window.
It was the voice of a wild thing — but the voice of a dear friend. And just then Miguel heard another voice, which came from within him — and it said: “Go!”
Never hesitating, he flew to the window, passed between the curtains, and soared skyward to join his friend.
“Thank God, I’ve found you!” said Cohn, choking a little as side by side they headed for the pines. “I was afraid that something had happened — I was afraid, oh, I was afraid of a thousand things! Are you all right, old friend?”
“Fit as a fiddle!” Miguel reassured him. “Just some people I wanted to look up, and they insisted that I spend the night.”
AND as the rest of the flock came up to meet them — a swirl of black dots in the morning mist — the sound of human voices rose up to them.
“It’s impossible, I tell you. Who ever heard of a parrot traveling with a flock of crows!”
“I’d of said so too, sir — but I seen it with my own eyes.”
Majestically the army wheeled higher and took the air lane southward. A great red bird was in the lead.
Followed days and weeks of travel and adventure, until at length they left the morning frosts behind and flew over land that was still green. It was safe country, with few towns and no big farms — only tumble-down shacks here and there, with sleepy horses browsing in the pastures.
In a couple of weeks we’ll be there,” said Cohn. “From here on it’s a cinch. All in all, it’s been a pretty good trip.”
“Indeed it has,” agreed Miguel, just a bit absently. He had been sniffing the warm breeze for the last few days, and he found it disturbingly reminiscent of something — of what, he was not quite sure. His nights had been filled with those strange dreams of green lands too — not the tame, polite green of summer as he had learned to know it, but the savage, tangled green of a land where summer was always.
Later that day they landed in a wood beside the remains of a cornfield, and broke up into little chattering parties to spend the evening. Miguel, with a group of several hundred crows, settled down in the corner of a lot in which an old mule was dozing. The mule opened his eyes when he heard their banter and came slowly over to join them, scratching himself against the fence as he came.
“Evenin’ you-all,” he said, in his heavy Southern dialect. “Jes’ make yo’seff to home in mah pore lot hyah.”
“Thank you,” said Miguel, though with some dignity, as he never permitted undue familiarity from colored people, “I trust you have no objection to our passing the night on your fence?”
“No, sah — none whatsoevah. Jes.’ you-all unjoint yo’seffs an’ sleep whar you’ fancy dictates. But ah mus’ warn you to keep yo’ eye peeled fo’ mah boss. He’s a dead shot wif dat ten-gauge gun he’s got!”
Miguel was just about to remark that1 some of the best shots in America had wasted thousands of dollars’ worth of ammunition in efforts to bring him down, when Colin’s voice screamed in the gloom — screamed the signal to fly!
As they sprang into the air, there came a flash and an ear-splitting bang. And they saw Colin hurtle earthward into the field. Even in the face of danger they circled about with dismayed “caws,” looking down at the agonies of their wounded lender.
Colin tried to rise — did rise — and then the other barrel blazed away at him, and he fell fluttering down, still screaming his warning to the flock. Miguel took to the air with the rest them, but he saw a great mangy dog bounding across the field to where Colin lay dying, and he could not go on.
Wheeling, he swooped down in a steeply banked turn, and as the dog was almost on his prey he lunged twice like two stabs of lightning, full in the animal’s face. There was a yelp — it was more of a scream — and the dog rushed away in a series of stumbling circles, colliding with cornstalks and falling helpless in his blind flight.
Miguel stepped close to Colin’s side. “Old man,” he said huskily—”old man — can you fly?”
“No, Miguel,” Colin’s voice came chokingly, and blood dropped from his shattered bill. “I guess I’m finished. Take the flock, won’t you, and see them through. They need you, old-timer.
God, how those bullets burn. Burn! Burn! Ah-h-h. So — long — Mi — guel.” And very slowly his beautiful, black wings relaxed, and he was dead.
Bang! A rain of buckshot pattered around Miguel and as he tore into the air in a white fury there was another flash, and he heard the charge swish by him! Over there in the field, he saw the dark bulk of a man, and he headed for it. An instant later, that man was sitting in the field moaning and screaming for help, his hands pressed against his face, and blood seeping between his fingers. From somewhere overhead a voice was loud in ribald song:
Maderm’selle from Armenteers,
Maderm’selle from Armenteers,
The voice grew fainter, and finally, it died away in the distance.
THAT night there were heavy hearts in the camp of the crows, and to Miguel the pain was bitter indeed. Colin, his friend, was dead — Colin, the only bird for whom Miguel had ever felt more than a patronizing regard. A sterling soul had passed, and Miguel prepared to obey his friend’s last wish.
First, he offered up a simple prayer for the departed and then, his emotions getting the better of him, he delivered an address which carried his audience into the very depths of sorrow. But his voice took on a note of cheer, and he spoke of the glory which death had brought to Colin, and he prayed that each of them when his time came, might die as gloriously. Then he modestly spoke of Colin’s last wish, and amid deafening cheers, he formally took his oath of office as commander.
They found him a stern leader but a wonderful one. Utterly fearless, he battled with hawks and other buccaneers of the air rather than deviate a single inch from his course. In less than aweek, he was an ace. If the feed was scanty, he killed the smaller animals of fields and woods in the most remorseless fashion. And once when there were mutinous murmurs among certain malcontents in the flock, he dropped back from the lead for a moment and decapitated three of them — snap, snap, snap.
The Negroes who lived in the little shacks in the clearings told stories of a great red bird that cursed and jeered at them, and shouted wild songs in the voice of a drunken man. From all accounts, the devil was headed south.
At last came a day when Miguel, lapping along at the head of his army, spied on the horizon the bright blue of the sea; and he knew that the journey was over. Giving the landing signal, he spiraled down and gathered his black legions around him.
Briefly, he told them that the time had come when he must take his leave. He said that up until that very day he had intended to stay with the flock, to make their lot his own. But today he had sensed in the air a strange something which bade him carry on. He knew, as they knew, that there was nothing ahead but the ocean and that death lay in its depths.
And who could blame him for puffing out his chest a bit and striking a heroic attitude when the sobbing crows surged forward and begged him to desist?
It was a great moment when Miguel stood poised with his wings spread in benediction over the flock and then soared up into the sunlight and headed for the sea! As they watched him, with tear-filled eyes, his mighty voice came down to them in solemn chant:
Maderm’selle from Armenteers,
Maderm’selle from Armenteers,
A great sob came from the crows, and when they looked again, they could see only a tiny speck far out over the ocean. And from it came faintly words of blessing which they would remember and treasure always:
Hinky, dinky, parley-voo!
By every rule of probability, Miguel should have flown seaward until he became tired, flopped into the wave, and drowned.
As a matter of fact, that was what almost happened. By sundown, he was so tired that he could scarcely spare the breath to mutter a curse on his own quixotic foolishness.
Darkness came, and still, there was no land in sight. Then, straight ahead of him, his straining eye caught the twinkle of lights. Almost with his last breath he reached the ship; and flopped down unconscious on something friendly and solid.
Then it grew terribly hot and Miguel felt a choking sensation in his throat. Opening his eyes, he saw that it was broad daylight and that he was lying on the canvas cover of a lifeboat on which the sun was beating. Overhead loomed a great ship’s funnel from which poured clouds of black smoke. He recognized the funnel markings as those of the West Indies Mercantile Transport Company.
Waddling into the shade of a davit on the outboard side of the lifeboat, Miguel considered the situation. Although he was hungry and thirsty, he decided not to present himself on the bridge except as a last resort. He wondered how long he would have to play the stowaway — and then there came to him a delightful but disturbing scent — a soft, balmy, spicy odor of tropic land! Craning his neck, he saw, only a few miles off, a white city which blazed in the sun, and nearer a white beach fringed with those feathery trees he had seen in dreams. The veil of thirty years fell from his memory, and he recognized his home!
He heard the jingle of the engine room telegraph as the quartermaster rang for half speed, and then stop. He saw the pilot boat come alongside, and a deckhand only a few feet from him threw out the line.
THEN, in his best bosun’s manner, he screamed, “Lively, there you swab,” and spread his wings for shore.
He soared across the pounding surf on the beach, and the red-tiled roofs, and the wide streets and plazas of the town. From a shaded patio came the sound of a guitar and a soft voice singing in a dear familiar tongue. Beyond he saw the forest, and in the trees were colorful birds — his own feathered people.
Then the trees were below him, and on the limb of one of them, he saw a young lady parrot — scarcely more than a girl—holding a ripe zapote in her claw and coyly smiling up at him.
“Snort! Snort! Snort!” shouted Miguel, as with great fuss and flutter he settled down beside her.