Although he could not fly, Balder reflected that he could climb, and that the top of the tree would show him more than he could see now. The birch looked tolerably climbable and was amply high; as to toughness, he thought not about it. Beneath what frivolous disguises does destiny mask her approach! Discretion is a virtue; yet, had Balder been discreet enough to examine the tree before getting into it, the ultimate consequences are incalculable!
As it was (and marvelling why he had not thought of doing it before) he set stoutly to work, and, despite his jack-boots, was soon among the upper branches. The birch trembled and groaned unheeded. The bird (an Egyptian bird,—a hoopoe,—descendant of a pair brought by Doctor Glyphic from the Nile a quarter of a century ago),—the hoopoe was fluttering and warbling and setting its brilliant cap at the young man more captivatingly than ever. A glance over the enclosure showed a beautifully fertile and luxurious expanse, damasked with soft green grass and studded with flowers and trees. A few hundred yards away billowed the white tops of an apple-orchard in full bloom. Southward, half seen through boughs and leaves, rose an anomalous structure of brick, glass, and stone, which could only be the famous house on whose design and decoration old Hiero Glyphic had spent years and fortunes.
The tract was like an oasis in a forbidding land. The soil had none of the sandy and clayey consistency peculiar to New Jersey, but was deep and rich as an English valley. The sunshine rested more warmly and mellowly here than elsewhere. The southern breeze acquired a tropical flavor in loitering across it. The hoopoe had seemed out of place on the hither side the wall, but now looked as much at home as though the Hudson had been the Nile indeed.
“My uncle,” said Balder to himself, as he swayed among the branches of his birch-tree, “has really succeeded very well in transporting a piece of Egypt to America. Were I on the other side of the wall, no doubt I might appreciate it also!”
The hoopoe responded encouragingly, the tree cracked, and Balder felt with dismay that it was tottering beneath him. There was no time to climb down again. With a dismal croak, the faithless birch leaned slowly through the air. There was nothing to be done but to go with it; and Balder, even as he descended, was able to imagine how absurd he must appear. The tree fell, but was intercepted at half its height by the top of the wall. The upper half of the stem, with its human fruit still attached to it, bent bow-like towards the earth, the trunk not being quite separated from the root.
Helwyse had thus far managed to keep his presence of mind, and now, glancing downwards, he saw the ground not eight feet below. He loosed his hold, and the next instant stood in the soft grass. The birch had been his broomstick. Meanwhile the hoopoe, with a triumphant note, flew off towards the house to tell the news.