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tion long after I had parted from Mr Deputy and wooden-legged Giles; but the object that clung to my memory, and haunted it, was the hideous old bedridden man of money, who passed months abed in his trousers, living on raw rum and saveloys.
THE ART AND MYSTERY OF SONG-BIRD
In all my spring morning experience of country rambling, I never before had heard such distinct and emphatic bird-music, crisp, sharp, and ringing out at regular intervals, as though the tiny creature from whose throat the sounds proceeded was actuated by duty rather than pleasure. No wasteful and extravagant flourishes of melody—no whimsical jumble of notes short and notes long, with wanton twitterings between, such as a free bird among green boughs delights to indulge in by way of demonstrating what a happy and independent fellow he is; but a shrewdly calculated and systematic performance, as though after every renewed effort, he wound himself up for the next, and was bound to deliver himself to the instant of a certain quality and quantity of music, as per contract. I knew just enough of bird vocalisation to be aware that it was a chaffinch that was discoursing, and stood up on the stile where I had been sitting to see if my methodical little feathered friend might be discovered. My elevated position enabled me to see over the hedge; and on a bank on the other side, with their noses to the grass, and their slip-shod, broken-toed, down-at-heel boots lazily flourishing in the air, there reclined two individuals of a sort one might least of all expect to encounter at peaceful Highgate early on a Sunday morning.
Least of all, because their appearance was so glaringly
uncountrified. Bethnal Green announced itself in the mangy-looking caps they wore, in the short pipes they smoked, in the ingrained grime with which their expressive countenances were dusky, in the bulky wisp of dirty-white cloth that enveloped their throats and a considerable portion of their close-cropped polls. They were sturdily built fellows, an old man and a young man, and resting between them was a square parcel tied up in a blue “birdseye” pocket-handkerchief.
What might be their business in these peaceful regions at seven o'clock on a Sunday morning? Was it a case for the police? Were they a couple of burglars ? Were they lurking at this secluded spot until what they thought was a good time to sheer off with the “swag”? Was that the swag tied up in the blue “ birdseye”?
"Chirp to him, Carrots,” growled the old man to the young one ; "keep his pipes agoin'."
Whereat the young man made a noise with his lips, and the "swag "in the handkerchief promptly responded with a burst of bird-music similar to that which had previously astonished me.
“There's a note for yer !” ejaculated Carrots, proudly patting the blue birdseye bundle with his dirty paw. “Talk about yer Middlesex rubbish, with their toll-lollloll-kiss-me-dears; they don't touch yer reg'ler good 'chuck-wee-dos' by any number of chalks. Bust me, if I wouldn't back him agin anythink as ever sung atween wood and wire!”
The secret was out now.' Mr Carrots and his friend were not burglars, but bird-catchers; and, curious to make the acquaintance of a “chuck-wee-do,” who was such a “reg'ler good ’un” that making a portable bundle of him did not put his pipes out, I made my way through a gap in the hedge, and, by means of an offering of tobacco in exchange for a pipe-light, at once established friendly communications.
I now discovered that there was a second cage, in the wooden top of which was a hole fitted with part of the leg of a woollen stocking that dangled loose inside. This, I was told, was the “store-cage,” but there were no captives within it at present. Outside the store-cage, however, and temporarily attached to the wires of it, was a stuffed chaffinch mounted on a stick, in one end of which was a sharp spike.
“That there's the stale,” Mr Carrots civilly explained; "and these yer is the pegs, and this yer is the lime." The latter was contained in a tin box, and had the appearance of thick flour paste. “It's innercent-lookin' ain't it?” said Mr Carrots, “ but it'll hold tighter than glue. See here."
On which he took a small portion between his finger and thumb to demonstrate the lime's superior sticky qualities; after which he wiped his finger and thumb on his red hair. The “pegs” were slips of whalebone of about the stoutness of the thin end of a tobacco-pipe, and furnished, like the stick the stuffed bird was mounted on, with a spike at one end. But I was chiefly curious respecting the “chuck.wee-do,” who, during our conversation, had been making punctual delivery of rattling, loud-sounding notes from the confines of the pockethandkerchief.
“Why is he called a ' Chuck-wee-do,'” I inquired.
"Why is he?" replied the old man, with good-natured pity for my ignorance; "why am I called Nosey Warren? Why's he called Carrots ? 'Cos it's the name of him, to be sure.”
“But some one must have given him that name.” “There you're wrong agin,” said Mr Carrots with a grin ; "he give himself the name. There you are; hark at that! Don't he say "toll-loll-loll-chuck-wee-do,' as plain as possible? Werry well, then; that's wot he means, and wot he'll stand by, agin any battling finch as comes in his way. It's the natur' of him.”
“Just the same," put in old Master Nosey Warren ; just the same as the Middlesex finch calls hisself tollloll-loll-kiss-me-dear; it's the natral note of 'em.”
“I should imagine that the Middlesex finch's note was the prettiest of the two," I ventured to remark.
"It's the most bouncable,” growled Mr Carrots contemptuously, “and aggrawating, but he's nowhere when it comes to battlin'. There's a battler in that there hank’sher as 'll do your 'art good, if you'll only stay and hear him."
And Mr Carrots shook a corner of the “hank’sher" as the hand of a friend in whom he had every confidence, and snorted defiance at the surrounding country.
“I suppose it would put him out if you were to let me have a peep at him?”.
“Not a bit on it,” remarked the obliging old man; “he'd no more mind it than I should mind drinking your 'elth in a pot o' beer; he don't care."
So saying, he whipped off the handkerchief, and exposed the little bird in its cage. A prim-built finch, with a deal of Bethnal Green in the set of its rakish, wire-rubbed tail; but the eyes in its sharp-looking little head, though open, were dull and blank.
“What a pity that it is blind,” said I.
“It ain't blind,” said the old man, artfully winking one of his own bleared optics; he looks it, but he ain't; his eyes is only scaled.”
“An accident, eh ?” “No; a purpose. I scaled 'em. It makes 'em stiddier