The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

Author:Christina Baker Kline
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2020-08-25T00:00:00+00:00

Unlike Lady Franklin, Sir John seemed to genuinely enjoy Mathinna’s company. He taught her cribbage—which she called the kangaroo game because of how the stick markers jumped up and down the crib board—and often summoned her to play it with him in the late afternoons. He invited her to join him and Eleanor in the garden before breakfast, under the shade of the gum trees and sycamores that dotted the property, for his daily morning constitutional, as he called it. On these strolls he taught her to identify the flowers they’d imported from England: pink-and-white tea roses, daffodils, purple lilacs with tiny, tubular flowers.

One morning when Mathinna arrived in the garden, Sir John was standing next to a box draped in a sheet. With a magician-like flourish he removed the sheet to reveal a wire cage containing a formidable black bird with patches of yellow on its cheeks and tail. “Montagu gave me this blasted cockatoo and I don’t know what to do with it,” he said, shaking his head. “No one wants to go near it. Now and then it makes a dreadful sound, a sort of . . . caterwaul.”

As if on cue, the bird opened its beak and emitted a piercing kee-ow, kee-ow.

Sir John winced. “See what I mean? I’ve done a bit of research, and it turns out that a British naturalist named George Shaw discovered this species. Named it Psittacus funereus because, well, as you can see, it appears dressed for a funeral. Though there is some question about the Latin name of the eastern versus southern yellow-tailed cockatoo . . . well, never mind. At any rate, it appears that I am stuck with it.”

“Why don’t you let it go?” Mathinna asked.

“I’m tempted, believe me.” He sighed. “But apparently creatures like this, raised in captivity, lose the ability to survive in the wild. And I can ill afford to insult Montagu while he’s overseeing the question of convict discipline. You seem to have tamed that . . .” He gestured toward Mathinna’s pocket, at the lump of Waluka’s body. “The truth is, your people are more naturally attuned to wildlife than we Europeans. Closer to the earth, and so on. I hereby grant this bird to your care.”

“To me?” Mathinna asked. “What do you want me to do with it?” She peered through the bars at the sullen-looking cockatoo as it hopped from one foot to the other. She watched it lift a green cone with its foot and root around with its beak for the seeds. Its crest, short and ink black, gave it an intimidating air. Kee-ow.

“Just . . . I don’t know. We’ll find a maid to feed it and clean its cage. You can . . . talk to it, I suppose.”

“You can’t talk to it?”

Sir John shook his head. “I tried, Mathinna, I really did. The two of us don’t speak the same language.”


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