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Hum, the Son of Buz

At Rye Beach, during our summer's vacation, there came, as there
always will to seaside visitors, two or three cold, chilly, rainy
days,--days when the skies that long had not rained a drop seemed
suddenly to bethink themselves of their remissness, and to pour down
water, not by drops, but by pailfuls. The chilly wind blew and
whistled, the water dashed along the ground and careered in foamy
rills along the roadside, and the bushes bent beneath the constant
flood. It was plain that there was to be no sea-bathing on such a
day, no walks, no rides; and so, shivering and drawing our blanket-
shawls close about us, we sat down at the window to watch the storm
outside.

The rose-bushes under the window hung dripping under their load of
moisture, each spray shedding a constant shower on the spray below
it. On one of these lower sprays, under the perpetual drip, what
should we see but a poor little humming-bird, drawn up into the
tiniest shivering ball, and clinging with a desperate grasp to his
uncomfortable perch. A humming-bird we knew him to be at once,
though his feathers were so matted and glued down by the rain that he
looked not much bigger than a honey-bee, and as different as possible
from the smart, pert, airy little character that we had so often seen
flirting with the flowers. He was evidently a humming-bird in
adversity, and whether he ever would hum again looked to us
exceedingly doubtful. Immediately, however, we sent out to have him
taken in. When the friendly hand seized him, he gave a little,
faint, watery squeak, evidently thinking that his last hour was come,
and that grim death was about to carry him off to the land of dead
birds. What a time we had reviving him,--holding the little wet
thing in the warm hollow of our hands, and feeling him shiver and
palpitate! His eyes were fast closed; his tiny claws, which looked
slender as cobwebs, were knotted close to his body, and it was long
before one could feel the least motion in them. Finally, to our
great joy, we felt a brisk little kick, and then a flutter of wings,
and then a determined peck of the beak, which showed that there was
sonic bird left in him yet, and that he meant at any rate to find out
where he was.

Unclosing our hands a small space, out popped the little head with a
pair of round brilliant eyes. Then we bethought ourselves of feeding
him, and forthwith prepared him a stiff glass of sugar and water, a
drop of which we held to his bill. After turning his head
attentively, like a bird who knew what he was about and didn't mean
to be chaffed, he briskly put out a long, flexible tongue, slightly
forked at the end, and licked off the comfortable beverage with great
relish. Immediately he was pronounced out of danger by the small
humane society which had undertaken the charge of his restoration,
and we began to cast about for getting him a settled establishment in
our apartment. I gave up my work-box to him for a sleeping-room, and
it was medically ordered that he should take a nap. So we filled the
box with cotton, and he was formally put to bed, with a folded
cambric handkerchief round his neck, to keep him from beating his
wings. Out of his white wrappings he looked forth green and grave as
any judge with his bright round eyes. Like a bird of discretion, he
seemed to understand what was being done to him, and resigned himself
sensibly to go to sleep.

The box was covered with a sheet of paper perforated with holes for
purposes of ventilation; for even humming-birds have a little pair of
lungs, and need their own little portion of air to fill them, so that
they may make bright scarlet little drops of blood to keep life's
fire burning in their tiny bodies. Our bird's lungs manufactured
brilliant blood, as we found out by experience; for in his first nap
he contrived to nestle himself into the cotton of which his bed was
made, and to get more of it than he needed into his long bill. We
pulled it out as carefully as we could, but there came out of his
bill two round, bright scarlet, little drops of blood. Our chief
medical authority looked grave, pronounced a probable hemorrhage from
the lungs, and gave him over at once. We, less scientific, declared
that we had only cut his little tongue by drawing out the filaments
of cotton, and that he would do well enough in time,--as it
afterwards appeared he did, for from that day there was no more
bleeding. In the course of the second day he began to take short
flights about the room, though he seemed to prefer to return to us;
perching on our fingers or heads or shoulders, and sometimes choosing
to sit in this way for half an hour at a time. "These great giants,"
he seemed to say to himself, "are not bad people after all; they have
a comfortable way with them; how nicely they dried and warmed me!
Truly a bird might do worse than to live with them."

So he made up his mind to form a fourth in the little company of
three that usually sat and read, worked and sketched, in that
apartment, and we christened him "Hum, the son of Buz." He became an
individuality, a character, whose little doings formed a part of
every letter, and some extracts from these will show what some of his
little ways were:-

"Hum has learned to sit upon my finger, and eat his sugar and water
out of a teaspoon with most Christian-like decorum. He has but one
weakness--he will occasionally jump into the spoon and sit in his
sugar and water, and then appear to wonder where it goes to. His
plumage is in rather a drabbled state, owing to these performances.
I have sketched him as he sat to-day on a bit of Spiraea which I
brought in for him. When absorbed in reflection, he sits with his
bill straight up in the air, as I have drawn him. Mr. A- reads
Macaulay to us, and you should see the wise air with which, perched
on Jenny's thumb, he cocked his head now one side and then the other,
apparently listening with most critical attention. His confidence in
us seems unbounded: he lets us stroke his head, smooth his feathers,
without a flutter; and is never better pleased than when sitting, as
he has been doing all this while, on my hand, turning up his bill,
and watching my face with great edification.

"I have just been having a sort of maternal struggle to make him go
to bed in his box; but he evidently considers himself sufficiently
convalescent to make a stand for his rights as a bird, and so
scratched indignantly out of his wrappings, and set himself up to
roost on the edge of the box, with an air worthy of a turkey, at the
very least. Having brought in a lamp, he has opened his eyes round
and wide, and sits cocking his little head at me reflectively."

When the weather cleared away, and the sun came out bright, Hum
became entirely well, and seemed resolved to take the measure of his
new life with us. Our windows were closed in the lower part of the
sash by frames with mosquito gauze, so that the sun and air found
free admission, and yet our little rover could not pass out. On the
first sunny day he took an exact survey of our apartment from ceiling
to floor, humming about, examining every point with his bill--all the
crevices, mouldings, each little indentation in the bed-posts, each
window-pane, each chair and stand; and, as it was a very simply
furnished seaside apartment, his scrutiny was soon finished. We
wondered at first what this was all about; but on watching him more
closely, we found that he was actively engaged in getting his living,
by darting out his long tongue hither and thither, and drawing in all
the tiny flies and insects which in summer time are to be found in an
apartment. In short, we found that, though the nectar of flowers was
his dessert, yet he had his roast beef and mutton-chop to look after,
and that his bright, brilliant blood was not made out of a simple
vegetarian diet. Very shrewd and keen he was, too, in measuring the
size of insects before he attempted to swallow them. The smallest
class were whisked off with lightning speed; but about larger ones he
would sometimes wheel and hum for some minutes, darting hither and
thither, and surveying them warily, and if satisfied that they could
be carried, he would come down with a quick, central dart which would
finish the unfortunate at a snap. The larger flies seemed to
irritate him, especially when they intimated to him that his plumage
was sugary, by settling on his wings and tail; when he would lay
about him spitefully, wielding his bill like a sword. A grasshopper
that strayed in, and was sunning himself on the window-seat, gave him
great discomposure. Hum evidently considered him an intruder, and
seemed to long to make a dive at him; but, with characteristic
prudence, confined himself to threatening movements, which did not
exactly hit. He saw evidently that he could not swallow him whole,
and what might ensue from trying him piecemeal he wisely forbore to
essay.

Hum had his own favourite places and perches. From the first day he
chose for his nightly roost a towel-line which had been drawn across
the corner over the wash-stand, where he every night established
himself with one claw in the edge of the towel and the other clasping
the line, and, ruffling up his feathers till he looked like a little
chestnut-burr, he would resign himself to the soundest sleep. He did
not tuck his head under his wing, but seemed to sink it down between
his shoulders, with his bill almost straight up in the air. One
evening one of us, going to use the towel, jarred the line, and soon
after found that Hum had been thrown from his perch, and was hanging
head downward, fast asleep, still clinging to the line. Another
evening, being discomposed by somebody coming to the towel-line after
he had settled himself, he fluttered off; but so sleepy that he had
not discretion to poise himself again, and was found clinging, like a
little bunch of green floss silk, to the mosquito netting of the
window.

A day after this we brought in a large green bough, and put it up
over the looking-glass. Hum noticed it before it had been there five
minutes, flew to it, and began a regular survey, perching now here,
now there, till he seemed to find a twig that exactly suited him; and
after that he roosted there every night. Who does not see in this
change all the signs of reflection and reason that are shown by us in
thinking over our circumstances, and trying to better them? It
seemed to say in so many words: "That towel-line is an unsafe place
for a bird; I get frightened, and wake from bad dreams to find myself
head downwards; so I will find a better roost on this twig."

When our little Jenny one day put on a clean white muslin gown
embellished with red sprigs, Hum flew towards her, and with his bill
made instant examination of these new appearances; and one day, being
very affectionately disposed, perched himself on her shoulder, and
sat some time. On another occasion, while Mr. A was reading, Hum
established himself on the top of his head just over the middle of
his forehead, in the precise place where our young belles have lately
worn stuffed humming-birds, making him look as if dressed out for a
party. Hum's most favourite perch was the back of the great rocking-
chair, which, being covered by a tidy, gave some hold into which he
could catch his little claws. There he would sit, balancing himself
cleverly if its occupant chose to swing to and fro, and seeming to be
listening to the conversation or reading.

Hum had his different moods, like human beings. On cold, cloudy,
gray days he appeared to be somewhat depressed in spirits, hummed
less about the room, and sat humped up with his feathers ruffled,
looking as much like a bird in a great-coat as possible. But on hot,
sunny days, every feather sleeked itself down, and his little body
looked natty and trim, his head alert, his eyes bright, and it was
impossible to come near him, for his agility. Then let mosquitoes
and little flies look about them! Hum snapped them up without mercy,
and seemed to be all over the ceiling in a moment, and resisted all
our efforts at any personal familiarity with a saucy alacrity.

Hum had his established institutions in our room, the chief of which
was a tumbler with a little sugar and water mixed in it, and a spoon
laid across, out of which he helped himself whenever he felt in the
mood--sitting on the edge of the tumbler, and dipping his long bill,
and lapping with his little forked tongue like a kitten. When he
found his spoon accidentally dry, he would stoop over and dip his
bill in the water in the tumbler; which caused the prophecy on the
part of some of his guardians that he would fall in some--day and be
drowned. For which reason it was agreed to keep only an inch in
depth of the fluid at the bottom of the tumbler. A wise precaution
this proved; for the next morning I was awaked, not by the usual hum
over my head, but by a sharp little flutter, and found Mr. Hum
beating his wings in the tumbler--having actually tumbled in during
his energetic efforts to get his morning coffee before I was awake.

Hum seemed perfectly happy and satisfied in his quarters; but one
day, when the door was left open, he made a dart out, and so into the
open sunshine. Then, to be sure, we thought we had lost him. We
took the mosquito netting, out of all the windows, and, setting his
tumbler of sugar and water in a conspicuous place, went about our
usual occupations. We saw him joyous and brisk among the
honeysuckles outside the window, and it was gravely predicted that he
would return no more. But at dinner-time in came Hum, familiar as
possible, and sat down to his spoon as if nothing had happened.
Instantly we closed our windows and had him secure once more.

At another time I was going to ride to the Atlantic House, about a
mile from my boarding-place. I left all secure, as I supposed, at
home. While gathering moss on the walls there, I was surprised by a
little green humming-bird flying familiarly right towards my face and
humming above my head. I called out, "Here is Hum's very brother."
But, on returning home, I saw that the door of the room was open, and
Hum was gone. Now certainly we gave him up for lost. I sat down to
painting, and in a few minutes in flew Hum, and settled on the edge
of my tumbler in a social, confidential way, which seemed to say,
"Oh, you've got back then." After taking his usual drink of sugar
and water, he began to fly about the ceiling as usual, and we gladly
shut him in.

When our five weeks at the seaside were up, and it was time to go
home, we had great questionings what was to be done with Hum. To get
him home with us was our desire; but who ever heard of a humming-bird
travelling by railroad? Great were the consultings. A little basket
of Indian work was filled up with cambric handkerchiefs, and a bottle
of sugar and water provided, and we started with him for a day's
journey. When we arrived at night the first care was to see what had
become of Hum, who had not been looked at since we fed him with sugar
and water in Boston. We found him alive and well, but so dead asleep
that we could not wake him to roost; so we put him to bed on a toilet
cushion, and arranged his tumbler for morning. The next day found
him alive and humming, exploring the room and pictures, perching now
here and now there; but as the weather was chilly, he sat for the
most part of the time in a humped-up state on the tip of a pair of
stag's horns. We moved him to a more sunny apartment; but, alas! the
equinoctial storm came on, and there was no sun to be had for days.
Hum was blue; the pleasant seaside days were over; his room was
lonely, the pleasant three that had enlivened the apartment at Rye no
longer came in and out; evidently he was lonesome, and gave way to
depression. One chilly morning he managed again to fall into his
tumbler, and wet himself through; and notwithstanding warm bathings
and tender nursings, the poor little fellow seemed to get diphtheria,
or something quite as bad for humming-birds.

We carried him to a neighbouring sunny parlour, where ivy embowers
all the walls and the sun lies all day. There he revived a little,
danced up and down, perched on a green spray that was wreathed across
the breast of a Psyche, and looked then like a little flitting soul
returning to its rest. Towards evening he drooped; and, having been
nursed and warmed and cared for, he was put to sleep on a green twig
laid on the piano. In that sleep the little head drooped--nodded--
fell; and little Hum went where other bright dreams go--to the Land
of the Hereafter.


Harriet Beecher Stowe