We have always made it a matter of justice that we should feed the magpies as well as the other and lowlier birds about this little clearing in the forest.
We are meticulous about this, because we know that appearances are often deceptive, and, although magpies generally, with their aggressive aspect and fearless habit, seem well able to look after and fend for themselves, one never knows what injustice may be done by making distinctions in one's charity to the birds.
So we fed the magpies regularly, but they received little of our sympathy until there came upon the scene one cold, autumn day, John Silver and his mate, Limpy.
I don't know whether fellow feeling had drawn these two strange birds together, or whether they had been mates before disaster overtook them; but the curious fact remained that they were each possessed of only one leg.
In each case, it was to be surmised, a barbarous rabbit-trap had accounted for the other limb. John Silver's had been severed high up so that nothing remained but a pathetic stump. His wife, Limpy, had lost little more than a foot.
Of course, the sentimentalist of the household was roused to loud wailings when she first she first beheld this pair of avian cripples, and I will admit that they certainly did look forlorn - or else they were putting up a rather good bluff. It was hard to say which.
John Silver's method of approaching sustenance was especially provoking of pity. On his one good leg he would hop rather painfully to within striking distance of some proffered morsel of food; then he would sit down on his stomach and, by some strange means that I have never been able to discover, wriggle forward to the food.
Limpy was more spry on her remaining limb; nor did her brown eye hold that piteous glance of appeal that came into John Silver's whenever he chanced to catch the ye of the almoner.
Well, of course, special arrangements had to be made for these two pensioners. They had, for instance, to have separate feeding time when other, younger and stronger magpies were not there to bully them.
Yet, in spite of all precautions, brawls and piratical raids were frequent, and frequently, too, a wild and angry squawking in the back paddock brought us hurriedly out of doors to the rescue of our pair of invalids. Or rather, that is what we thought at the time.
"We shall never be able to save them!" said the sentimentalist. "Those hefty young ones will kill them eventually. The law of the wild is atrociously cruel."
I was of much the same opinion and had foreseen for Silver and Limpy a very brief remainder to their mortal span, until -
Well, yesterday morning, I happened to be strolling through the rather dense scrub that adjoins this clearing when I heard a wild hullabaloo that told of magpies in dire distress -- almost in mortal agony.
"This is the end," thought I, "of Silver and Limpy." And I crept slowly through the scrub to see what I could see.
What I did see was this: John Silver, full of rage and fury, on top of a hefty young bird who was yelling for mercy, while, a few yards away, Limpy was dealing with another aggressor even more strenuously! Severed feet or missing limbs seemed to incommode them not in the least.
These indiscreet interlopers had raided Silver's private and particular feeding grounds. They had to be dealt with. They were being dealt with.
I have not yet said anything at home concerning what I witnessed yesterday. And I doubt I ever shall.
For that look which John Silver gives me out of his brown eye every time we meet has lost all its pathetic appeal.
I says now unmistakably, eloquently: "Now, see here, between friends -- between mates, don't say anything about what you saw. It would absolutely cruel my pitch. And you know what a good wicket I'm on."
Well, who'd do that to a magpie -- even to an arrant hypocrite of a magpie? Not I. Or is it "Not me"?
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003|