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Chapter 9 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

I often used to hear the Morrises speak about vessels that ran between Fairport and a place called the West Indies, carrying cargoes of lumber and fish, and bringing home molasses, spices, fruit, and other things. On one of these vessels, called the “Mary Jane,” was a cabin boy, who was a. friend of the Morris boys, and often brought them presents.

One day, after I had been with the Morrises' for some months, this boy arrived at the house with a bunch of green bananas in one hand, and a parrot in the other. The boys were delighted with the parrot, and called their mother to see what a pretty bird she was.

Mrs. Morris seemed very much touched by the boy's thoughtfulness in bringing a present such a long distance to her boys, and thanked him warmly. The cabin boy became very shy and all he could say was, “Go way!” over and over again, in a very awkward manner.

Mrs. Morris smiled, and left him with the boys. I think that she thought he would be more comfortable with them.

Jack put me up on the table to look at the parrot. The boy held her by a string tied around one of her legs. She was a gray parrot with a few red feathers in her tail, and she had bright eyes, and a very knowing air.

The boy said he had been careful to buy a young one that could not speak, for he knew the Morris boys would not want one chattering foreign gibberish, nor yet one that would swear. He had kept her in his bunk in the ship, and had spent all his leisure time in teaching her to talk. Then he looked at her anxiously, and said, “Show off now, can't ye?”

I didn't know what he meant by all this, until afterward. I had never heard of such a thing as birds talking. I stood on the table staring hard at her, and she stared hard at me. I was just thinking that I would not like to have her sharp little beak fastened in my skin, when I heard some one say, “Beautiful Joe.” The voice seemed to come from the room, but I knew all the voices there, and this was one I had never heard before, so I thought I must be mistaken, and it was some one in the hall. I struggled to get away from Jack to run and see who it was. But he held me fast, and laughed with all his might. I looked at the other boys and they were laughing, too. Presently, I heard again, “Beautiful Joe, Beautiful Joe.” The sound was close by, and yet it did not come from the cabin boy, for he was all doubled up laughing, his face as red as a beet.

“It's the parrot, Joe!” cried Ned. “Look at her, you gaby.” I did look at her, and with her head on one side, and the sauciest air in the world, she was saying: “Beau-ti-ful Joe, Beau-ti-ful Joe!”

I had never heard a bird talk before, and I felt so sheepish that I tried to get down and hide myself under the table. Then she began to laugh at me. “Ha, ha, ha, good dog sic 'em, boy. Rats, rats! Beau-ti-ful Joe, Beau-ti-ful Joe,” she cried, rattling off the words as fast as she could.

I never felt so queer before in my life, and the boys were just roaring with delight at my puzzled face. Then the parrot began calling for Jim. “Where's Jim, where's good old Jim? Poor old dog. Give him a bone.”

The boys brought Jim in the parlor, and when he heard her funny, little, cracked voice calling him, he nearly went crazy: “Jimmy, Jimmy, James Augustus!” she said, which was Jim's long name.

He made a dash out of the room, and the boys screamed so that Mr. Morris came down from his study to see what the noise meant. As soon as the parrot saw him, she would not utter another word. The boys told him though what she had been saying, and he seemed much amused to think that the cabin boy should have remembered so many sayings his boys made use of, and taught them to the parrot. “Clever Polly,” he said, kindly; “good Polly.”

The cabin boy looked at him shyly, and Jack, who was a very sharp boy, said quickly, “Is not that what you call her, Henry?”

“No,” said the boy; “I call her Bell, short for Bellzebub.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Jack, very politely.

“Bell short for Bellzebub,” repeated the boy. “Ye see, I thought ye'd like a name from the Bible, bein' a minister's sons. I hadn't my Bible with me on this cruise, savin' yer presences an' I couldn't think of any girls' names out of it: but Eve or Queen of Sheba, an' they didn't seem very fit, so I asked one of me mates, an' he says, for his part he guessed Bellzebub was as pretty a girl's name as any, so I guv her that. 'Twould 'a been better to let you name her, but ye see 'twouldn't 'a been handy not to call her somethin', where I was teachin' her every day.”

Jack turned away and walked to the window, his face a deep scarlet. I heard him mutter, “Beelzebub, prince of devils,” so I suppose the cabin boy had given his bird a bad name.

Mr. Morris looked kindly at the cabin boy “Do you ever call the parrot by her whole name?”

“No, sir,” he replied; “I always give her Bell but she calls herself Bella.”

“Bella,” repeated Mr. Morris, “that is a very pretty name. If you keep her, boys, I think you had better stick to that.”

“Yes, father,” they all said; and then Mr. Morris started to go back to his study. On the doorsill he paused to ask the cabin boy when his ship sailed. Finding that it was to be in a few days, he took out his pocket-book and wrote something in it. The next day he asked Jack to go to town with him, and when they came home, Jack said that his father had bought an oil-skin coat for Henry Smith, and a handsome Bible, in which they were all to write their names.

After Mr. Morris left the room, the door opened and Miss Laura came in. She knew nothing about the parrot and was very much surprised to see it. Seating herself at the table, she held out her hands to it. She was so fond of pets of all kinds, that she never thought of being afraid of them. At the same time, she never laid her hand suddenly on any animal. She held out her fingers and talked gently, so that if it wished to come to her it could. She looked at the parrot as if she loved it, and the queer little thing walked right up and nestled its head against the lace in the front of her dress. “Pretty lady,” she said, in a cracked whisper, “give Bella a kiss.”

The boys were so pleased with this and set up such a shout, that their mother came into the room and said they had better take the parrot out to the stable. Bella seem to enjoy the fun. “Come on, boys,” she screamed, as Henry Smith lifted her on his finger. “Ha, ha, ha come on, let's have some fun. Where's the guinea pig? Where's Davy, the rat? Where's pussy? Pussy, pussy, come here. Pussy, pussy, dear, pretty puss.”

Her voice was shrill and distinct, and very like the voice of an old woman who came to the house for rags and bones. I followed her out to the stable, and stayed there until she noticed me and screamed out, “Ha, Joe, Beautiful Joe! Where's your tail? Who cut your ears off?”

I don't think it was kind in the cabin boy to teach her this, and I think she knew it teased me, for she said it over and over again, and laughed and chuckled with delight. I left her and did not see her till the next day, when the boys had got a fine, large cage for her.

The place for her cage was by one of the hall windows; but everybody in the house got so fond of her that she was moved about from one room to another.

She hated her cage, and used to put her head close to the bars and plead, “Let Bella out; Bella will be a good girl. Bella won't run away.”

After a time the Morrises did let her out, and she kept her word and never tried to get away. Jack put a little handle on her cage door so that she could open and shut it herself, and it was very amusing to hear her say in the morning. “Clear the track, children! Bella's going to take a walk,” and see her turn the handle with her claw and come out into the room. She was a very clever bird, and I have never seen any creature but a human being that could reason as she did. She was so petted and talked to that she got to know a great many words, and on one occasion she saved the Morrises from being robbed.

It was in the winter time. The family was having tea in the dining room at the back of the house, and Billy and I were lying in the hall watching what was going on. There was no one in the front of the house. The hall lamp was lighted, and the hall door closed, but not locked. Some sneak thieves, who had been doing a great deal of mischief in Fairport, crept up the steps and into the house, and, opening the door of the hall closet laid their hands on the boys' winter overcoats.

They thought no one saw them, but they were mistaken. Bella had been having a nap upstairs and had not come down when the tea bell rang. Now she was hopping down on her way to the dining room, and hearing the slight noise below, stopped and looked through the railing. Any pet creature that lives in a nice family hates a dirty, shabby person. Bella knew that those beggar boys had no business in that closet.

“Bad boys!” she screamed, angrily. “Get out get out! Here, Joe, Joe, Beautiful Joe. Come quick. Billy, Billy, rats Hie out, Jim, sic 'im boys. Where's the police. Call the police!”

Billy and I sprang up and pushed open the door leading to the front hall. The thieves in a terrible fright were just rushing down the front steps. One of them got away, but the other fell, and I caught him by the coat, till Mr. Morris ran and put his hand on his shoulder.

He was a young fellow about Jack's age, but not one-half so manly, and he was sniffling and scolding about “that pesky parrot.” Mr. Morris made him come back into the house, and had a talk with him. He found out that he was a poor, ignorant lad, half starved by a drunken father. He and his brother stole clothes, and sent them to his sister in Boston, who sold them and returned part of the money.

Mr. Morris asked him if he would not like to get his living in an honest way, and he said he had tried to, but no one would employ him. Mr. Morris told him to go home and take leave of his father and get his brother and bring him to Washington street the next day. He told him plainly that if he did not he would send a policeman after him.

The boy begged Mr. Morris not to do that, and early the next morning he appeared with his brother. Mrs. Morris gave them a good breakfast and fitted them out with clothes, and they were sent off in the train to one of her brothers, who was a kind farmer in the country, and who had been telegraphed to that these boys were coming, and wished to be provided with situations where they would have a chance to make honest men of themselves.

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