Page images
PDF
EPUB

where the prairie warbler is found. Nor is it only the true songs that delight us. We love to hear the flickers call, and we readily pardon any one of their number which, as occasionally happens, is bold enough to wake us in the early morning by drumming on the shingles of the roof. In our ears the red-winged blackbirds have a very attractive note. We love the screaming of the redtailed hawks as they soar high overhead, and even the calls of the night heron that nest in the tall water maples by one of the wood ponds on our place, and the little green herons that nest beside the salt marsh. It is hard to tell just how much of the attraction in any bird-note lies in the music itself and how much in the associations. This is what makes it so useless to try to compare the bird songs of one country with those of another. A man who is worth anything can no more be entirely impartial in speaking of the bird songs with which from his earliest childhood he has been familiar than he can be entirely impartial in speaking of his own family.

II At Sagamore Hill we like to have the wood-folk and field-folk familiar; but there are necessary bounds to such familiarity where chickens are kept for use and where the dogs are valued family friends. The rabbits and gray squirrels are as plenty as ever. The flying squirrels and chipmunks still hold their own; so do the muskrats in the marshes. The woodchucks, which we used to watch as we sat in rocking-chairs on the broad veranda, have disappeared; but recently one has made

· From Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt. Copyright, 1913. Charles Scribner's Sons, publishers.

himself a home under the old barn, where we are doing our best to protect him. A mink which lived by the edge of the bay under a great pile of lumber had to be killed; its lair showed the remains not only of chickens and ducks, but of two muskrats, and, what was rather curious, of two skates or flatfish. A fox which lived in the big wood lot evidently disliked our companionship and abandoned his home. Of recent years I have actually seen but one fox near Sagamore Hill. This was early one morning, when I had spent the night camping on the wooded shores near the mouth of Huntington Harbor. The younger children were with me, this being one of the camping-out trips, in rowboats, on the Sound, taken especially for their benefit. We had camped the previous evening in a glade by the edge of a low seabluff, far away from any house; and while the children were intently watching me as I fried strips of beefsteak and thin slices of potatoes in bacon fat, we heard a fox barking in the woods. This gave them a delightfully wild feeling, and with refreshing confidence they discussed the likelihood of seeing it next morning; and to my astonishment see it we did, on the shore, soon after we started to row home.1

III

Books are all very well in their way, and we love them at Sagamore Hill; but children are better than books. Sagamore Hill is one of three neighboring houses in which small cousins spent very happy years of childhood. In the three houses there were at one time sixteen of these

1 From Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter. Copyright, 1905. Charles Scribner's Sons, publishers.

small cousins, all told, and once we ranged them in order of size and took their photograph. There are many kinds of success in life worth having. It is exceedingly interesting and attractive to be a successful business man, or railroad man, or farmer, or a successful lawyer or doctor; or a writer, or a President, or a ranchman, or the colonel of a fighting regiment, or to kill grizzly bears and lions. But for unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison. It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone; but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching. And as for a life deliberately devoted to pleasure as an end — why, the greatest happiness is the happiness that comes as a by-product of striving to do what must be done, even though sorrow is met in the doing. There is a bit of homely philosophy, quoted by Squire Bill Widener, of Widener's Valley, Virginia, which sums up one's duty in life: “Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are."

There could be no healthier and pleasanter place in which to bring up children than in that nook of old-time America around Sagamore Hill. Certainly I never knew small people to have a better time or a better training for their work in after life than the three families of cousins at Sagamore Hill. It was real country, and — speaking from the somewhat detached point of view of the masculine parent - I should say there was just the proper mixture of freedom and control in the management of the children. They were never allowed to be disobedient or to shirk lessons or work; and they were encouraged to have all the fun possible. They often went barefoot,

especially during the many hours passed in various enthralling pursuits along and in the waters of the bay. They swam, they tramped, they boated, they coasted and skated in winter, they were intimate friends with the cow, chickens, pigs, and other live stock. They had in succession two ponies, General Grant and, when the General's legs became such that he lay down too often and too unexpectedly in the road, a calico pony named Algonquin, who is still living a life of honorable leisure in the stable and in the pasture - where he has to be picketed, because otherwise he chases the cows. Sedate pony Grant used to draw the cart in which the children went driving when they were very small, the driver being their old nurse Mame, who had held their mother in her arms when she was born, and who was knit to them by a tie as close as any tie of blood. I doubt whether I ever saw Mame really offended with them except once when, out of pure but misunderstood affection, they named a pig after her. They loved pony Grant. Once I saw the then little boy of three hugging pony Grant's forelegs. As he leaned over, bis broad straw hat tilted on end, and pony Grant meditatively munched the brim; whereupon the small boy looked up with a wail of anguish, evidently thinking the pony had decided to treat him like a radish.

The children had pets of their own too, of course. Among them guinea pigs were the stand-bys — their highly unemotional nature fits them for companionship with adoring but over-enthusiastic young masters and mistresses. Then there were flying squirrels, and kangaroo rats, gentle and trustful, and a badger whose temper was short but whose nature was fundamentally

friendly. The badger's name was Josiah; the particular little boy whose property he was used to carry him about, clasped firmly around what would have been his waist if he had had any. Inasmuch as when on the ground the badger would play energetic games of tag with the little boy and nip his bare legs, I suggested that it would be uncommonly disagreeable if he took advantage of being held in the little boy's arms to bite his face; but this suggestion was repelled with scorn as an unworthy assault on the character of Josiah. “He bites legs sometimes, but he never bites faces," said the little boy. We also had a young black bear whom the children christened Jonathan Edwards, partly out of compliment to their mother, who was descended from that great Puritan divine, and partly because the bear possessed a temper in which gloom and strength were combined in what the children regarded as Calvinistic proportions. As for the dogs, of course there were many, and during their lives they were intimate and valued family friends, and their deaths were household tragedies. One of them, a large yellow animal of several good breeds and valuable rather because of psychical than physical traits, was named “Susan” by his small owners, in commemoration of another retainer, a white cow; the fact that the cow and the dog were not of the same sex being treated with indifference. Much the most individual of the dogs and the one with the strongest character was Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay dog. He had a masterful temper and a strong sense of both dignity and duty. He would never let the other dogs fight, and he himself never fought unless circumstances imperatively demanded it; but he was a murderous animal when he did fight. He

« PreviousContinue »