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Mark Twain > A Tramp Abroad > Chapter III

A Tramp Abroad

Chapter III


Baker's Bluejay Yarn
[What Stumped the Blue Jays]

"When I first begun to understand jay language correctly,
there was a little incident happened here. Seven years ago,
the last man in this region but me moved away. There stands
his house--been empty ever since; a log house, with a plank
roof--just one big room, and no more; no ceiling--nothing
between the rafters and the floor. Well, one Sunday
morning I was sitting out here in front of my cabin,
with my cat, taking the sun, and looking at the blue hills,
and listening to the leaves rustling so lonely in the trees,
and thinking of the home away yonder in the states,
that I hadn't heard from in thirteen years, when a bluejay
lit on that house, with an acorn in his mouth, and says,
'Hello, I reckon I've struck something.' When he spoke,
the acorn dropped out of his mouth and rolled down the roof,
of course, but he didn't care; his mind was all on the
thing he had struck. It was a knot-hole in the roof.
He cocked his head to one side, shut one eye and put the
other one to the hole, like a possum looking down a jug;
then he glanced up with his bright eyes, gave a wink
or two with his wings--which signifies gratification,
you understand--and says, 'It looks like a hole,
it's located like a hole--blamed if I don't believe it IS
a hole!'

"Then he cocked his head down and took another look;
he glances up perfectly joyful, this time; winks his wings
and his tail both, and says, 'Oh, no, this ain't no fat thing,
I reckon! If I ain't in luck! --Why it's a perfectly
elegant hole!' So he flew down and got that acorn,
and fetched it up and dropped it in, and was just tilting
his head back, with the heavenliest smile on his face,
when all of a sudden he was paralyzed into a listening
attitude and that smile faded gradually out of his
countenance like breath off'n a razor, and the queerest
look of surprise took its place. Then he says, 'Why, I
didn't hear it fall!' He cocked his eye at the hole again,
and took a long look; raised up and shook his head;
stepped around to the other side of the hole and took
another look from that side; shook his head again.
He studied a while, then he just went into the Details--
walked round and round the hole and spied into it from every
point of the compass. No use. Now he took a thinking
attitude on the comb of the roof and scratched the back
of his head with his right foot a minute, and finally says,
'Well, it's too many for ME, that's certain; must be
a mighty long hole; however, I ain't got no time to fool
around here, I got to "tend to business"; I reckon it's
all right--chance it, anyway.'

"So he flew off and fetched another acorn and dropped
it in, and tried to flirt his eye to the hole quick
enough to see what become of it, but he was too late.
He held his eye there as much as a minute; then he raised
up and sighed, and says, 'Confound it, I don't seem
to understand this thing, no way; however, I'll tackle
her again.' He fetched another acorn, and done his level
best to see what become of it, but he couldn't. He says,
'Well, I never struck no such a hole as this before;
I'm of the opinion it's a totally new kind of a hole.'
Then he begun to get mad. He held in for a spell,
walking up and down the comb of the roof and shaking
his head and muttering to himself; but his feelings got
the upper hand of him, presently, and he broke loose
and cussed himself black in the face. I never see a bird
take on so about a little thing. When he got through he
walks to the hole and looks in again for half a minute;
then he says, 'Well, you're a long hole, and a deep hole,
and a mighty singular hole altogether--but I've started
in to fill you, and I'm damned if I DON'T fill you, if it
takes a hundred years!'

"And with that, away he went. You never see a bird work
so since you was born. He laid into his work like a nigger,
and the way he hove acorns into that hole for about
two hours and a half was one of the most exciting and
astonishing spectacles I ever struck. He never stopped
to take a look anymore--he just hove 'em in and went
for more. Well, at last he could hardly flop his wings,
he was so tuckered out. He comes a-dropping down, once more,
sweating like an ice-pitcher, dropped his acorn in and says,
'NOW I guess I've got the bulge on you by this time!'
So he bent down for a look. If you'll believe me,
when his head come up again he was just pale with rage.
He says, 'I've shoveled acorns enough in there to keep
the family thirty years, and if I can see a sign of one
of 'em I wish I may land in a museum with a belly full
of sawdust in two minutes!'

"He just had strength enough to crawl up on to the
comb and lean his back agin the chimbly, and then he
collected his impressions and begun to free his mind.
I see in a second that what I had mistook for profanity
in the mines was only just the rudiments, as you may say.

"Another jay was going by, and heard him doing his devotions,
and stops to inquire what was up. The sufferer told him
the whole circumstance, and says, 'Now yonder's the hole,
and if you don't believe me, go and look for yourself.'
So this fellow went and looked, and comes back and says,
"How many did you say you put in there?' 'Not any less
than two tons,' says the sufferer. The other jay went
and looked again. He couldn't seem to make it out, so he
raised a yell, and three more jays come. They all examined
the hole, they all made the sufferer tell it over again,
then they all discussed it, and got off as many leather-headed
opinions about it as an average crowd of humans could
have done.

"They called in more jays; then more and more, till pretty
soon this whole region 'peared to have a blue flush about it.
There must have been five thousand of them; and such
another jawing and disputing and ripping and cussing,
you never heard. Every jay in the whole lot put his
eye to the hole and delivered a more chuckle-headed
opinion about the mystery than the jay that went there
before him. They examined the house all over, too.
The door was standing half open, and at last one old jay
happened to go and light on it and look in. Of course,
that knocked the mystery galley-west in a second.
There lay the acorns, scattered all over the floor..
He flopped his wings and raised a whoop. 'Come here!'
he says, 'Come here, everybody; hang'd if this fool hasn't
been trying to fill up a house with acorns!' They all came
a-swooping down like a blue cloud, and as each fellow
lit on the door and took a glance, the whole absurdity
of the contract that that first jay had tackled hit him
home and he fell over backward suffocating with laughter,
and the next jay took his place and done the same.

"Well, sir, they roosted around here on the housetop
and the trees for an hour, and guffawed over that thing
like human beings. It ain't any use to tell me a bluejay
hasn't got a sense of humor, because I know better.
And memory, too. They brought jays here from all over
the United States to look down that hole, every summer
for three years. Other birds, too. And they could all
see the point except an owl that come from Nova Scotia
to visit the Yo Semite, and he took this thing in on
his way back. He said he couldn't see anything funny
in it. But then he was a good deal disappointed about
Yo Semite, too."

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