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.