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“Ah! Maria, there is the short, sweet note of the Robinred-breast already!” cried Mr. Paulett to his wife, as he turned from one of the open French windows toward the breakfast-table, at Burford Cottage, one fine morning, last autumn: we are now only at the beginning of October, and yet the Robin appears to be growing sociable, and as if willing to establish himself among us, against the season of winter frosts. I have heard him once or twice before, at this time and in the evening, out of that fir, beyond the maple.”
“O, papa, where is the Robin ?” cried little Emily, now in her eighth year; “where is the Robin ? Let me see him! Shall I carry him some crumbs?”
“ Don't be too much in a hurry, Emily,” said Mrs. Paulett: “wait till the weather grows colder, and all the leaves have fallen; and then he will leave his hiding-places, and come to you himself, and hop upon the window-sill, and even into the room, if you do but save him from the cat; but, if you disturb him now, you will frighten him away, and he will go to some other garden, where there are no impatient children to tease him; and we shall never hear his pretty note, nor see his smooth olive back, and large dark eye, and orange breast, in the bright frosty mornings, or under the dull gray skies of the long winter that is coming !”
“What a very foolish girl Emily is, mamma,” burst forth her presumptuous brother, Richard, who had lived two years longer than herself: “she is always so impatient ; she never stays for anything," he concluded, echoing and enlarging upon the word which had been made use of by his mother.
“And are you much wiser or more patient than your sister, Mr. Grave-airs?” said Mrs. Paulett, checking, though with a laugh, the tone of superiority assumed by the young heir-apparent. “You were upon the start, and with an exclamation of an ‘O! at the very moment when your sister thought it best to ask her papa where the bird was to be found, before she sprang away with her crumbs!”
“Yes, mamma,” added Emily, with much satisfaction; “ Richard is always ready to talk of my faults, but never of his own! Is he not, now, mamma?”
“Ah! you are both alike,” finished Mrs. Paulett; “ you are as ready to find fault with Richard as he with you; and, perhaps, it is all very well, so long as you are not ill-natured to each other. Both of you are quick-sighted to see the little slips of each; and, perhaps, by your so doing, both of you are improved, and your papa and I are saved a great deal of trouble !"
The Robin warbled his sweet note again; but, with the exception of one short-lived moment, the children were soon occupied too seriously with their breakfasts, to do more than look with fitful curiosity at the red and yellow leaves of the trees and shrubs that rose above the flowers, and were grouped around the grass; in the vain hope of distinguishing the little bird that wore the same colours as the leaves, and moved as gently and as silently as the lightest of those which, slightly burdened with the dew, were every moment floating, one after the other, from the spray above, to the littered herbage underneath.
“I am glad, however,” said Mrs. Paulett, to her husband, “ that the Robin has found us out again, or come back to his old quarters; for I dare to say that it is the same which we had with us last winter; and now, that all the gayer song-birds of the spring and summer are quite gone, we shall begin to know again the value of the little songs, at evening, and in the morning, of the Wren and Red-breast !"
“I am thinking, my love,” returned Mr. Paulett, “ of the real value of song-birds, in the list of human enjoyments; and therefore quite agree with you. The colours and odours of flowers, and of trees and herbs, and the songs of birds, are certainly substantial points for administering to human use and pleasure.”
“We are to judge so, perhaps,” replied Mrs. Paulett, “ if it were only from the lively interest which is and ever has been taken in them by all mankind. Witness poets, historians, philosophers, statesmen, and their followers and admirers, men and women, young and old!"
“ Yes; and from the dejection and complaints," resumed her husband, “ of those who, unlike ourselves, have ever been placed in situations to make them know what it really is to be without them! I observe, that in the latest book which we have seen concerning New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, the author seriously advises emigrants to carry with them English singing-birds; in order, says he, to promote the breaking of the ' borrid silence which so often reigns in the vast forests of those countries !""
“ No singing-birds !" interrupted Emily; “ why, I never heard of such countries in all my life! I would not live in them, if they were the prettiest countries in the world ;—that is, unless I had a nice aviary, like Miss Fosbrooke's, or a beautiful greenhouse, with little birds flying in it, and gold and silver fish swimming in large globes, like that beautiful new building at Lady Eddington's.”
“ Well done, little chatterbox,” pursued her papa ; “and now I will tell you, that you may the better understand what you have to be thankful for, in the charming prospect from our windows, and in the delicious walks and drives about our village; in the paths over the green fields; in the clear brooks and little bridges; in the slopes, and hills, and valleys; in the cooing of the wood-pigeons; in the songs of the lin. nets, blackbirds, and thrushes; in the chatter of the furze-chat, and even in the cackle of the poultry, and the crow of the gallant cock;-I will tell you that much of those countries is described as being no less dismal to the eye, than empty to the ear; but especially dull and melancholy, because of the absence of songbirds, and of their consequent excessive silence : for, though we sometimes complain of you and your
brother for making more than your share of noise; yet it is true that silence, carried to excess, is one of the things which, if, in civilized life, and in ordinary situations, it could ever fall to our lot to feel it, most distressful to human nature, and probably, therefore, as injurious. This author, whom I am reading, though he talks of occasional magnificence of prospect, and even of Alpine scenery, in New South Wales; yet paints its interior, and even its coasts, and the coasts of all New Holland, as, in the most remarkable degree, flat, naked, solitary, and dreary. Ascending a hill, it must be confessed, of respectable height, he says, that from its summit, he beholds, even to the horizon, or like the prospect of an ocean, immense plains, of the greenest verdure, it is true, but without a single tree! One of the plains, not wholly seen from the hill, was known to be at least twenty-five miles in length, and from five to ten in breadth; and in the whole flat, there must have been at least a hundred thousand acres of land: “It would be in vain,' he continues, ‘for me to attempt to convey an idea of the effect of a view over these vast solitudes. The extreme silence which prevails here, almost exceeds wbat the imagination can conceive. It is true that some emooes, or perhaps a solitary bustard (?), can sometimes be distinguished; but they are generally afar off; and the traveller may frequently ride many miles without seeing a living creature.' Speaking of the shores of New Holland generally (and it is known that New South Wales is a part of New Holland, or, as it is sometimes called, Australia), he says, that they have a most dreary and inhospitable appearance. The circumference of New Holland is about six thousand miles; and he offers descriptions, from part to part, in order, says he, to give the reader some slight idea.