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
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
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
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.