The deceptive parrot of 1872

An excerpt from the 1872 book called:

From The Life and Adventures of Signor Blitz (Also known as Fifty Years in the Magic Circle) 

Being an Account of the Author's Professional Life; His Wonderful Tricks and Feats; With Laughable Incidents, and Adventures as a Necromancer, and Ventriloquist (1871) by Antonio Blitz (Signor Blitz)


From the chapter Incidents in Edinburg:

How a Polly Parrot Paid the Rent

One day my attention was directed to a shop of rather humble appearance, from the circumstance of seeing the owner of it always sitting at his work, and a group of pretty, happy children playing about the floor, who, from the dark color of their dresses, were evidently motherless. I discovered from the sign over the door that the poor tradesman was named John Penny, and that he exercised the art and craft of boot and shoe making. He was tall and thin, with a rude visage, and long hair, combed straight down his cheeks; his countenance was thoughtful, not to say serious, but there was an air of meek resignation about him very touching; and having a wife and family of my own, I gazed on the thoughtless children, and could not help thinking of my "ain Mary, and the wee bit bairns I left at hame." I found it impossible to resist giving poor Penny a turn, and to improve my "understandings" at the same time, by ordering a pair of boots. The humble tradesman, who was, as usual, at his work, gratefully acknowledged the order, but in answer to the very natural question - when I could have the boots, replied, with a deep sigh, that he did not exactly know; the order would be executed as soon as possible. From my knowledge of the world, I thought perhaps the poor fellow had not the means to purchase the materials, as there was a sad blank air of poverty about the shop.

"I will leave you half a sovereign as a deposit, only have them done as soon as possible," said I.

To my surprise John Penny refused to take my advance. "It will be time to pay when you get the boots," said he, significantly.

I was perplexed, and looked earnestly at the son of St. Crispin, whose countenance was more thoughtful, and his look more sorrowful than ordinarily.

"Don't think me impertinent," I said, "but is anything the matter; you seem unhappy."

"No, nothing in particular."

"Nay, nay, I'm convinced there is," I replied, my sympathy beginning to be much awakened;" come, tell me what it is."

"Well, sir, you are pressing, " returned Penny, sighing deeply;” I will confess there is - my rent. I was one of the congregation of the Rev. Mr. Tramp, the minister of our local chapel. I am some back in my rent."

"You don't mean you were one of the Millerites?" I remarked, scarcely able to conceal a smile.

"I confess that I was," replied Penny. "I stood high in favor with that singularly pious man. All his congregation dealt with me for boots and shoes; I thought I had received a special call to furnish the jumpers with uppers and soles; but, alas one fine morning the holy man was translated (so his followers called it), for he was nowhere to be found. This sad defalcation caused me to go back, and I could not meet my payments."

(NOTE: The Millerites were followers of William Miller, who predicted the second coming of Jesus and hoped to be translated into heaven. A defalcation is an embezzlement of funds.)

"Why, how much do you owe?" I inquired.

"I am now nearly three quarters in arrears; it will soon be upward of thirty pounds."

"Who is your landlord?"

"Why, Squire Summer."

"What, of the Legion Mills?"


"Why, he is one of the cotton lords, and very wealthy; now, if I was to become your surety, would he give you time?"

"He has been very patient; I cannot complain of him; but he is a man of business - a man of money. Never having known want himself, he cannot conceive it to spring from any cause than improvidence, and therefore has little sympathy for me. The last time he was here he said he should call once more, and then, if the money was not forthcoming, the law must take its course. I expected him yesterday, and - "

"Eh, mercy, man I what's the matter with you?" I said. "You tremble."

"Yes, I see he is coming; he has that fellow Broadman, the broker, with him."

I looked out and saw, indeed, the squire, his footman, and a very shabby, suspicious-looking man, apparently an employee of the broker. I had scarcely time to cast a rapid glance around the scantily-furnished shop, and call my thoughts together, ere the party were at the door, and had entered.

"Let them come," cried Penny, with an air of despairing resignation. "I have struggled, Heaven knows, as long as I was able, and can do no more."

"Well, Mr. Penny," observed the squire, leisurely advancing to the counter, "you know of course the cause of my visit - "

Here a huge, staring poll-parrot, sitting in its cage, which formed one of the few articles of furniture in the shop, began to whistle" Call again to-morrow!" to the astonishment of all present, excepting myself, which she followed by," I know a bank." The squire, however, resumed:

"You are of course provided, Mr. Penny?"

"Alas! no, sir," said the poor tradesman;" it is useless to deceive you any further. I cannot pay you at this moment, nor do I know how soon I can; take my little property; let it pay so far as it will; I will do the best I can. Providence will not forsake me."

"What's the time?" interrupted the parrot; Polly wants her breakfast."

The children, who had by this time stolen silently in, anxious to know what was going on, were as much surprised as their father at Polly's sudden loquacity; their little round eyes dilated with wonder and twinkled with delight; but the awful presence of the great man somewhat repressed them.

"Well," continued the prudent man of cotton, after a short pause," if' that's the case, I may as well have the things as anybody else. John Broadman, you will do what is necessary;"

"Polly! poly! polly!" here exclaimed poll.

"That's a fine bird," remarked the squire, his attention being attracted to it.

"I must leave a man in possession," said the broker; "but before I go, I may as well make out the inventory, for I suppose there is no chance of matters being settled without a sale, Mr. Penn?"

"None whatever."

"Then I'll proceed to my work at once. Item one, Dutch clock."

"What's o’clock? what's o'clock? Polly wants her breakfast," said the bird.

Poor Penny looked stupefied; the children, who had been regarding the scene, as I have said, half with curiosity, and half' with fear, could not help clapping their hands at poll's way of talking; but a look from their father restrained them. Broadman continued:

"One high desk and counter; one chair; one shoemaker's bench and tools; three chairs; two tin candlesticks; six boot-trees - "

"Woodman, spare that tree," sang polly.

"Clever bird, that," said the squire." You put the parrot down, I suppose, Mr. Broadman - "

"Oh, no, we never mention her," sang the parrot, twisting her head very knowingly.

"Answers quite like a Christian, and seems to understand everything," said the squire.

"What's o'clock?" cried Poll.

"Wonderful, upon my honor," ejaculated the squire.

"Now I think of it," said he, "my daughter Cecilia has been worrying my life out the last six months to get her such a bird as this; one that can talk, sing, and whistle. I'll tell you what I'll do, Penny: I don't want to be hard upon you; let me have the parrot, and give me a note of hand for ten pounds balance, and I'll withdraw the distress, and give a receipt for fifteen pounds."

"Don't you wish you may get it," saucily chattered poll, as if she understood what the landlord was talking about.

"Such a bird as that is worth more money," I observed. "I'll give that much myself."

"Whistle and I'll come to thee, my lad," whistled poll.

"Wonderful!" said the squire." I must have that bird; I'll take it as payment for the rent in full. Penny, will that suit you - "

Poor Penny seemed thunderstruck; he hesitated as if he had some compunction. The squire observed it, and quickly said: "That's not enough? Well, then, I'll make it twenty pounds. Here's a receipt for the rent, and there's five sovereigns - will that do for you? Broadman, withdraw your man."

"You don't lodge here, Mr. Ferguson, with your ninepence," added polly.

The squire was delighted; I thought the arrangement honorable to all parties, and poor Penny, apparently unwilling, delivered the bird to the squire.

"Good-by, poll," cried all the children.

"Good-by! 'My native land, good night!'" sang poll, appearing very grave, and turning her head first on one side and then on the other, placing herself in her swing and violently rocking backward and forward, seeming to give the signal for her departure.

As soon as the shop was fairly clear of the squire's party, Penny turned to me, and with an air of perplexity, begged I would look in the following morning, when he would have some skins from which I could choose the leather for my boots, for, just at that moment, he felt quite bewildered.

Highly delighted that John Penny had got so well through his difficulties, I did not intrude, but considerately took my leave. I was, however, a punctual visitor at John's the following morning, and found the honest cordwainer had laid out the five pounds he received over and above his rent the preceding afternoon to the very best advantage. He had stocked his shop with a good supply of leather and other articles necessary for his trade, and now only wanted customers.

While I was selecting the material for my boots, the squire suddenly made his appearance, followed by his footman, bearing poll.

"Well, Mr. Penny," said the great cotton lord," we have brought back your parrot, and it is very extraordinary that it has never spoken a single word since I took it away, - never sung a single song, nor whistled a single tune; it has done nothing but squeak, squeak, and scream, till my head has been ready to burst; in fact, without any wish to offend you, she is a perfect nuisance. Return me the five pounds I paid you, and I'll forfeit the rent."

"I am sorry to say," said the conscientious John Penny," that I have laid out the five pounds; but, however, as the bird don't suit you, if you will take my note of hand for the five pounds - "

"Why, stay! stay!" I said." Parrots very seldom talk in a strange place at first. Put poll in her usual place, and then see."

The cage was accordingly restored to its former place, when, to the utter astonishment of all present, poll immediately began to sing - "Home, sweet home; be it ever so humble, there is no place like home."

"Well, I declare!" said the squire, lifting up his hands, "this is wonderful; but I've heard of such things before. What a sensible, intelligent creature she is! I must give her another trial. Take her back, John."

"I'll gang nae mair to yon town," whistled poll; but, however, to no effect, for she was borne off, crying, "What's o'clock? what's o’clock?"

"You appear to be surprised at my amazement, sir," said honest John Penny, when the party was out of sight, "but will not be so long, when I tell you that until yesterday, I never heard that bird utter a single syllable. As Mr. Sumner has said, she had never done anything but squeal and scream, disturbing the whole neighborhood; but they got used to it at last, although they threatened at first to break my windows and wring her neck. It was a long time before I could get to like it myself; but use reconciles us to anything, and I think now I shall miss her, disagreeable as she was."

I called again the next morning, and while there, who should appear but Squire Sumner, accompanied, as on the previous day, by his man, with poll.

"Bless me, sir!" said Penny; "is it you?"

"Yes, Mr. Penny, I have come again, "returned the squire, "with this diabolical bird, for not a moment's peace have we had."

"What! do you find her too talkative, sir?" inquired the shoemaker, with great simplicity.

"Talk too much? Why, the obstinate brute - confound her - she has never talked at all! Put her in her old place again, John."

"Don't I look spruce on my noddy?" whistled poll.

"You have found your tongue, have you?" said the squire;" but I am not to be done a third time. Keep your bird, Mr. Penny; I wish you joy of her."

"But I have spent the money you gave me for her," said honest John, "and I don't know when I shall be able to pay it back again."

"Oh! never mind the money; only release me from such a torment as this, and I'll put up with the loss the best way I can."

Poor John was somewhat reluctantly prevailed upon to take back the bird, and as soon as the squire had departed, and was fairly out of' hearing, said, "It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Had I not been seized for my rent, my parrot might never have spoken."

I could not refrain from having a good laugh, as I disclosed the secret to Penny, and explained to him how I, as a ventriloquist, had talked and whistled instead of the bird, and, as it appeared, to a very good purpose.

"I see it all," said John. "May God bless you!"

(NOTE - Remember that this is a story from an autobiography. It is a good story, a great "laughable incident," and it may be based on the truth that Signor Blitz was a magician and ventriloquist.)

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