The birds are moulting. If man could only moult also—his mind once a year its errors, his heart once a year its useless passions! How fine we should all look if every August the old plumage of our natures would drop out and be blown away, and fresh quills take the vacant places! But we have one set of feathers to last us through our threescore years and ten—one set of spotless feathers, which we are told to keep spotless through all our lives in a dirty world. If one gets broken it stays; if one gets blackened, nothing will cleanse it. No doubt we shall all fly home at last, like a flock of pigeons that were once turned loose snow-white from the sky, and made to descend and fight one another and fight everything else for a poor living amid soot and mire. If then the hand of the unseen Fancier is stretched forth to draw us in, how can he possibly smite any one of us, or cast us away, because we came back to him black and blue with bruises and besmudged and bedraggled past all recognition?
To-day, the 7th of September, I made a discovery. The pair of red-birds that built in my cedar-trees last winter got duly away with the brood. Several times during summer rambles I cast my eye about, but they were not to be seen. Early this afternoon I struck out across the country towards a sinkhole in a field two miles away, some fifty yards in diameter, very deep, and enclosed by a fence. A series of these circular basins, at regular distances apart, runs across the country over there, suggesting the remains of ancient earth-works. The bottom had dropped out of this one, probably communicating with the many caves that are characteristic of this blue limestone.
Within the fence everything is an impenetrable thicket of weeds and vines—blackberry, thistle, ironweed, pokeweed, elder, golden-rod. As I drew near, I saw two or three birds dive down, with the shy way they have at this season; and when I came to the edge, everything was quiet. But I threw a stone at a point where the tangle was deep, and there was a great fluttering and scattering of the pretenders. And then occurred more than I had looked for. The stone had hardly struck the brush when what looked like a tongue of vermilion flame leaped forth near by, and, darting across, stuck itself out of sight in the green vines on the opposite slope. A male and a female cardinal flew up also, balancing themselves on sprays of the blackberry, and uttering excitedly their quick call-notes. I whistled to the male as I had been used, and he recognized me by shooting up his crest and hopping to nearer twigs with louder inquiry. All at once, as if an idea had struck him, he sprang across to the spot where the first frightened male had disappeared. I could still hear him under the vines, and presently he reappeared and flew up into a locust-tree on the farther edge of the basin, followed by the other. What had taken place or took place then I do not know; but I wished he might be saying: “My son, that man over there is the one who was very good to your mother and me last winter, and who owns the tree you were born in. I have warned you, of course, never to trust Man; but I would advise you, when you have found your sweetheart, to give he a trial, and take her to his cedar-trees.”