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An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

I can't look any more. My eyes are screwed tight shut. I am comforting Anne - touching the soft skin of her neck. Anne's clinging on to me too - she is pulling at the taffeta of my best, coral pink gown, which father insisted I wear for this occasion. While all the while, in another room below...

The last thing I saw before I closed my eyes was Arabella, my bird, frantically beating her white wings against the glass, while that lunatic - father calls him a professor - gabbled on about his experiment. The professor smells, too! Of aniseed, old cloth and Dutch tobacco.

'Come and watch this,' father had said earlier. 'You will be astonished - it will pass the time - for all of us.'
He had said that while Anne and I were crouching by the door of mother's bedroom. Then he had lifted Anne up in his strong arms, and chivvied me.
'Come on, Margery, come on, my love. Everyone's waiting for you!'
I listened - all was quiet now. So we ascended the narrow, wooden stairs to the attic, and as father had said, there was my sister Pamela and her beau, and my brother George, opening the cage to take out my bird.
'You see, Margery, the principle is, without air, we die. The professor here will use an air-pump to remove the air from the glass bowl. But your bird will not die, because just in the nick of time I'll tell the professor to stop, and -.' My father broke off to greet two of his friends. My younger brother Ralph was pulling on the Experimenter's gown, asking him to explain how his evil contraption worked.
Still, I cannot look. But I can hear. There's the creak of the rope behind me. George is holding onto the rope which is attached to the cage. When father says the word and the Experimenter stops, George will lower the cage so my bird can be put back inside it. But what if that vile Experimenter cannot bear to stop and my bird dies - trapped, straining to breathe, its little heart burst asunder?
Hark! I can hear something else! There's movement downstairs - hurried footsteps. Is it the nurse? Has mother's time come at last?
My poor bird - such a rare bird. My uncle brought it back from his journey to Malacca - it's a cockatoo. There is no other like it in our county. And yet - please God, listen to me - if it is Your will that the Experimenter takes the life of Arabella, and spares the lives of those below, I will submit.

So. I will sacrifice my bird, my darling bird. She will die, and downstairs my mother, who has lain in her bed for two days, crying, sobbing with pain, will survive the birth, and the baby too, will live.
And then there is a cry from beneath us which freezes our blood.

A cry such as I never heard before...
Image of quote from Sherry's story.This is Sherry's story page.
Image of quote from Diane's story.Click here for Diane's story.
Image of student.Click here for Student Responses.
Image of 'An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump' by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768. Click here for About the Painting.
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