After this our little friend with half a tail became a greater favorite than ever, because we recognized that he was protector as well as friend.
TOBY THE WISE
By General Rush C. Hawkins
The chief subject of this truthful history is a jet-black, middle-aged bird, commonly known in England as a rook, but nevertheless a notable specimen of the crow family.
In his babyhood he was, in the language of the ancient chroniclers, grievously hurt and wounded full sore, and particularly so in the left wing. He was so badly disabled that he had to forego the pleasure of flying through the air, and was obliged to content himself as best he could with trudging about on the rough surface of mother earth.
In his sad plight, with the maimed wing dragging painfully along, he chanced to pass the window of a library belonging to and occupied by a charming old English gentleman, a perfect example of the old school, learned, benevolent, and very fond of animals and feathered pets. No one can tell what chance it was that brought the unhappy and wounded young rook to the window of this good man. But possibly it was a real inspiration on the part of the young bird.
Toby was wet, weary, wounded and hungry, and as he looked in upon the cheerful wood fire and the kindly face of the master of the house, his longing expression was met by a raising of the window and an invitation to walk in to a breakfast of corn and meal that had been hastily prepared for him. He gazed and thought, and thought and gazed, upon the joys within and still he doubted; but, finally, appetite and curiosity got the better of his discretion, and, as he walked cautiously in, the window was closed behind him.
So the wounded bird entered upon a new life.
At first he was a little shy and cautious and it took considerable time for him to convince himself that his protector was his friend.
After a few weeks, however, he realized the value of his new position, and consented to the establishment of intimate relations.
In fact, Toby became so attached to his master, that he was not happy out of his presence.
During the first month of his captivity, his wounded wing was bound close to his body for the purpose of giving the fractured bone an opportunity to unite, and during most of that time he would walk by his master's side, cawing and looking up into his face as if asking for recognition. When the wing got well, and his ability to fly was re-established, he would anticipate the direction of the promenades by flying in advance from shrub to bush, alighting and awaiting the arrival of his master.
The most singular part of Toby's domestication was his exclusive loyalty to a single person. He had but one intimate friend, and to him his loyalty was intense. He would tolerate the presence of other members of the household, but when strangers appeared he was decidedly offish, and scolded until they disappeared.
Three times a day Toby is decidedly funny, and goes through a comical performance. In his master's study there is a contrivance which, on a small scale, resembles the old New England well-pole.
At one end, which rests upon the floor, Toby commences his ascent with a great flapping of wings and uproarious cawing. When he arrives at the upper end of the pole, some eight or nine feet from the floor, it falls and lands him upon a platform, beside a plate containing his food. This climbing up the pole precedes each meal, and takes place punctually at the same hour and minute of each day.
In the spring of 1890 Toby was tempted from his loyalty, and flew off with a marauding flock of his kind. He remained away all summer. He was missed but not mourned, for his master felt certain he would return; and, sure enough, one bleak cold morning in November, Toby was found looking longingly into the room where he had first seen his good master. The window was opened, he walked in and mounted his pole, and after him came a meek, modest and timid young rook, more confiding than Toby, and differing from him in many other respects. He, too, was duly adopted, and was christened Jocko. He was easily domesticated and soon became a part of the household of one of the finest old Bedfordshire manorial homes.
With age Toby has taken on quite an amount of dignity. He is neither so noisy nor so companionable as formerly, but is more staid and useful. One of his favorite resting places, where he enjoys his after-breakfast contemplations and his afternoon siestas, is among the branches of a fine old English oak, whose protecting shades, in the far-off past, were the scene of the stolen love meetings of Amy Wentworth and the Duke of Monmouth.
Neither of these knowing birds has been able to understand the mystery of a looking-glass. They spend many hours of patient investigation before a mirror in their master's room, but all to no purpose, for the puzzle seems to remain as great as ever. They usually walk directly up to it, and betray great surprise when they find two other rooks advancing to meet them. For a while they remain silent and motionless, looking at the strangers, and waiting, apparently, for some sign of recognition. Then they go through a considerable flapping of wings and indulge in numerous caws, but after long waiting for an audible response they give up the useless effort, only to return next day as eager as ever to solve the mystery. The older bird and his admiring junior are perfectly contented with their home, and never leave it. They often look out from their perches upon wandering flocks of vagrant rooks, but are never tempted to new adventures. The old fellow is very wise. Like a fat old office-holder, he knows enough to appreciate a sinecure in which the rewards are liberal and the service nominal.
His devoted follower never falters in his dutiful imitation of his benefactor.
Toby proves by his actions that he appreciates the advantages of the situation, and in his simple way makes some return for the pleasures he enjoys.
During a considerable portion of the pleasant days of the year he is really the watchman upon the tower, ever on the lookout to give notice of the approach of visitors to his castle, and no one can intrude upon the premises under his self-appointed watchmanship without exciting vigorous caws, which are enthusiastically reinforced by those of his faithful subordinate. Aside from his affectionate devotion to his master, this duty of "chief watchman of the castle" is Toby's most substantial return for favors received.
In a letter of last May, the master wrote: "My two crows are sitting on chairs close to me, and cawing to me that it is time for me to let them out of the window, so I must obey." This quotation gives but a faint intimation of the exceptionally friendly relations existing between these devoted friends. Blessed are the birds that can inspire such affection in the heart of a noble old man, and doubly blessed is he who is the object of such loving appreciation. Long may they all live to enjoy the fulness of their mutual attachments!
This brief sketch is not intended for an amusing story. It is only a narrative of facts in support of an often repeated theory, viz.: that the humblest creatures are worthy of our tender consideration, and, when properly treated, will make pleasing returns for the affection we may bestow upon them.
By Ruth Landseer
Many will wonder how I managed to keep order in the schoolroom and give proper attention to the lessons with three baby woodchucks, a turtle, two squirrels and a young crow about the place. My fellow teachers will be inclined to say that the children would have eyes and ears for nothing else.
In point of fact it made little difference after my pupils became accustomed to the sight and sound of these "pets." Moreover, they were a source of endless pleasure and, I think, profit, for I gave little talks upon the habits and history of all these creatures, and sought to inculcate sentiments of compassion and love toward all living things.
This was my first school, however, and people wondered. The supervisor also wondered, and was skeptical. Several of the parents, who did not understand very well, complained to him that I kept a menagerie instead of a school. There were some, even, who did not wish to have their children taught natural history, because they came home and asked questions. They did not like it and deemed it quite unnecessary. They desired to have their children attend strictly to their "school studies."
It came about, therefore, that at the end of the second term the position was given to another teacher, and for one whole term my occupation was gone.
Yet my former pupils lamented so openly and said so much at home, that their small voices wrought a change of opinion, and at the beginning of the second year the school was given to me again. The teacher who had taken my place said a little spitefully, on leaving, that I had spoiled the school for any one else. She was a very worthy young lady, but one of those who scream at the sight of a spider, a mouse or a harmless snake.
Blackamoor came to school one morning in July, head downward, in the hands of one of my larger boys, named Wiggan Brown, who was a little inclined to thoughtless cruelty. On the part of children, indeed, cruelty is usually thoughtless. They are rarely cruel after they have been taught to think on the subject.
Wiggan and his older brother had taken Blackamoor from a nest in the top of a hemlock-tree. By this time the reader will have guessed that Blackamoor was the young crow which became one of our schoolhouse pets.
At first we built a pen for him at the farther corner of the schoolyard, where we kept him until he could fly. After that he was released, to stay with us or depart. He chose to stay, and during school hours usually sat on the ridge of the schoolhouse roof. At night he often accompanied me home, and lingered about the farmhouse or barns till school-time the next day. At the recesses he swaggered and hopped about with the children at play, often cawing uproariously.
If a dog or cat approached during school hours, Blackamoor would cry, _"Har-r-r!"_ from the roof, and drive the intruder away.
If it was a person, he cried _"Haw!"_ quite sharply, on a different key. If another crow or large bird flew past, he turned up an eye and said _"Hawh!"_ rather low. In fact, he kept us posted on all that was going on out-of-doors, for we soon came to know most of his signal-cries. The boys would glance up from their books and smile when they heard him.
Blackamoor had certain highly reprehensible traits. He was thievish, and we were obliged to keep an eye on him, or he would steal all our lead-pencils, pocket-handkerchiefs and other small objects. What he took he secreted, and was marvelously cunning in doing it.
He fell finally into a difficulty with a gang of Italian laborers who were excavating for a new railroad line that passed within a quarter of a mile of the schoolhouse. There were fifty-five of these Italians, and they had their camp in a grove of pines within plain sight of us. My pupils were afraid of these swarthy men, for they jabbered fiercely in an unknown tongue, and each one was armed with a sheath-knife.
On the whole, I thought it better that my boys should not go to their camp. But Blackamoor went there, and indeed became a constant visitor. There were probably titbits to be secured about their cooking-fires. For a time he nearly deserted the schoolhouse for the Italian camp in the pines, or at least was flying back and forth a great deal, "hawing" and "harring."
All appeared to go well for a while. Then one forenoon I heard loud shouts outside, and on going to the door, saw a hatless Italian pursuing Blackamoor across the pasture below the house. He was a very active young man, and was filling the air with stones and cries.
Blackamoor, however, was taking it all easily, flying low, but keeping out of reach. He had something in his beak.
Catching sight of me in the doorway, the Italian stopped, but gesticulated eagerly, pointing to the crow; and he said much that I failed utterly to comprehend.
I conjectured that Blackamoor had purloined something, and felt that I must keep him from going to the camp; but that was not easily accomplished. We tied him by the leg, but he tugged at the string till it was frayed off or came untied, and flew away.
But a crisis was at hand. The second morning afterward an alarming commotion began, as I was hearing a class in mental arithmetic. The house was surrounded by excited Italians. Stones rattled on the roof. Angry shouts filled the air. It was a mob. The children were terrified, and I was sufficiently alarmed myself, for a pane of glass crashed and clubs banged against the sides of the house.
Hastily locking the door, I peered out of the window. Certainly wild Indians could hardly have looked more savage than did those Italians, hurling stones and clubs at the house.
Yet through it all I had a suspicion that the demonstration was directed at Blackamoor rather than against us; for I fancied that I had heard our bird say _"Haw!"_ a moment before the hubbub burst forth. Still it was decidedly alarming while it lasted, and continued for a much longer time than was pleasant. I judged it more prudent to keep the door locked than to go forth to remonstrate.
Finally, after a great bombardment, the outcries and racket subsided, and with a vast sense of relief, I saw the Italians retiring across the pasture to their camp. As a matter of course the children carried home terrible accounts of what had occurred, and our small community waxed indignant over what was deemed an outrage by lawless foreigners.
The suspicion, however, remained with me that Blackamoor was at the bottom of all the trouble. I had the boys catch him and make him fast again, this time with a small dog-chain, which he could not bite off. He cawed vigorously, but we kept him at anchor for a week or more. And meanwhile the Italian camp was moved to a point six miles farther along the line of the new railway.
At a schoolhouse in the country it is often difficult to get small repairs made. Early that season the boys had broken a pane of glass in the low attic window at the front end of the house. I had been trying to get it replaced for two months; and now we had two panes broken. At last I bought new glass and a bit of putty and with the aid of Wiggan and another boy, set the panes myself one night after school.
But while setting the attic pane we made a singular discovery. In the low, dark loft, just inside the hole of the broken pane, lay a heap of queer things which caused us first to stare, then to laugh.
The like, I am sure, was never found in the loft of a New England sehoolhouse before. I made a list. There were:
The much soiled photograph of an Italian baby.
Three photographs of pretty Italian girls.
Four very villainous old pipes.
Many straws of macaroni.
An old felt hat.