It was natural that the boy who was always ready to go berrying and
apple-gathering, who was even ready to gather Deacon Scudder's apples
and "Aunt" Dolly's pears when those proved more alluring
than fruit in the home orchards, should when a man, and tired of
working for Uncle Sam, turn to fruit-farming as a means of livelihood.
While he was Treasury clerk he had to deal with such sordid things as
figures and bank notes, but when he worked for himself, he would work
with things worthwhile -- apples and pears, berries, currants, grapes.
While still in the Currency Bureau in Washington, John Burroughs had
written Benton that he felt like a fowl with no gravel in its
gizzard; that he was hungry for the earth, could eat it like a horse,
if he could only get at it. But the work as receiver of that broken
bank in Middletown held him pretty closely for a while, postponing
for many months his longing to get back to the soil.
After leaving Washington he had also been appointed National Bank
Examiner for certain banks in the Hudson River counties, which work
occupied him for four or five months of each year up till 1885 when
President Cleveland's election happily ousted him from government
employ. At last he was free to indulge his craving to engage in
fruit-farming on a considerable scale.
As the work with the banks did not occupy all of his time, he began,
a few months after going to Middletown, to cast about for a place in
the country. Looking first on Long Island, then in various places
along the Hudson, he finally bought a nine-acre farm near Esopus,
about eighty miles north of New York City, on the west shore of the
river. At that time the nearest post office was two miles away, but
later one was located near him, at West Park, N. Y. This place has
since been his home.
Most of the country-seats round about had houses of brick or of pine,
but he wanted a house of stone with timber finish to the gables of
unstained wood. So when he found a stone-heap near the farm which he
was considering, that strongly influenced his decision.
The land slopes east by south down to the river's brim -an ideal
exposure for fruit-growing. And here he began to raise, on a small
scale, berries, peaches, pears, and Concord grapes. Because of its
location so near the river, he named his place Riverby, later giving
the title to one of his books.
In the summer of 1873 he began building his house, and in late
November of the next year moved into it. What a good time he had
getting out the stones! He would spy them beneath the moss and
leaves; their warm grey tones delighted his eye. The master mason
used to declare "the boss" to be worth six men in hunting
stone. He often says that he built into his house every one of those
superb autumn days which he spent in the woods thus occupied. The
lintels to the windows and the doorsills, formed of the
"wild" or undressed stone, came from the nearby ledges.
He had to scheme to prevent the masons from making the stone work too
smooth and finished; he would let them get the walls ready to point
up, but would not let them do the pointing; and he made them close
the joints with just as little mortar showing as possible, sprinkling
that with grey sand to tone it down.
The wood used in the house was personally selected. Climbing the
mountains in search of the choicest trees, he helped saw them down
and haul them to the planing-mill. Some came from nearby woods, and
some from the home woods in the Catskills-chiefly butternut, cherry,
curly maple, ash, and oak.
While his house was building, noticing one day in Poughkeepsie a
picturesque stone house that pleased him, after scanning it on the
outside from various points, he rang the door-bell and asked if he
might be shown about. It did not occur to him to tell who he was, or
just why he made the request. He had on his old clothes, and a recent
cut on his thumb was wrapped in a soiled rag. The butler, on
listening to his request, said he would speak to the madam. Madam
came, and after one hasty look, closed the door in his face.
" I shall never forget my mortification. She must have thought I
was a burglar. Evidently thinking better of it, a moment later, she
called out that I might look around outside if I wished; but giving
only a hasty glance, I retreated, covered with confusion."
One day when his chimney was nearing completion, the Scottish mason
failed to appear, having decided to take a day off for something more
than a "wee drap. " Impatient at the delay, Mr. Burroughs
climbed upon the roof and began himself to complete the chimney. The
tipsy Scot, who lived over at Hyde Park, on looking across the river
and seeing a man engaged on the chimney, thought some other mason had
got his job, a thought which sobered him so much that he hired a man
to row him across. Appearing upon the scene, he was dumbfounded, yet
relieved, to see it was "the boss" who had supplanted him;
and on critically inspecting his work, declared admiringly, "
Weel, sir, you are a hahndy mon! "
Trees, vines, and bushes were soon growing around the stone house and
it was not long before it had a settled, homey look; the work indoors
consumed the time of the busy housewife, while the outdoor work
engrossed the happy husbandman.
When at last his house was done, he wrote Myron Benton, whose advice
as an architect he had frequently sought: "My place doesn't look
so well from the river, but, what concerns me more, the river looks
well from it." Yet through the years there have often been times
when he wished that he had planted his house by a smaller stream; for
then he could have made a companion of it, walked with it, and
lounged on its banks. Often when callers expatiate on the glories of
the lordly Hudson as seen from the summer-house, or other vantage
points at Riverby, he acquiesces only half-heartedly, sometimes
pointing out to them its chief fault: " It is a long arm of the
sea, and keeps me at arm's length." Clearly the Hudson can never
flow through his affections as would a lesser stream, for example,
the Pepacton of his boyhood home.
Nevertheless, he has, throughout the six and forty years of dwelling
by the river, had much companionship with it. It has been the great
highway for the migrating birds. Many a spring morning he has seen a
line of swan, or a harrow of wild geese, above his barn, or high
against the sky on their way North-" an express train for
Labrador." In fancy he follows these migrants as, launched for
an all night's pull, they sail the aerial seas, swaying this way and
that, en route for Hudson's Bay.
The living, wide awake river has yielded him much, even if not the
closer companionship of a smaller stream. But in December he regards
it with dread, when Winter pulls an icy coverlid over it, and one
hears the enchained giant moaning and groaning in his long sleep.
Watching the harvesting of the ice on the broad white fields of the
river has afforded him many an interesting hour. Sometimes two
hundred men and boys are busy there, marking, planing, scraping,
chiselling, and hauling in the ice. Even the big ugly ice-house below
Riverby has times of being the centre of attraction-when the
elevators are in operation and the huge crystal blocks, in pairs,
slowly ascend in unbroken procession. And many a happy hour he has
had skating on the river, alone, or when his son, Julian, was old
enough, skating there with him, gliding exultingly over the great expanse.
Best of all is the ice-boating, whether seen from the shore, or when
lying at full length, wrapped in blankets, on the low broad platform.
Mr. Burroughs calls the ice-boat a disembodied yacht, a sail on
skates. Its speed is more than a mile a minute. Leaping like a
greyhound over the ice, it clears wide crevasses at a bound, yet can
be brought up to the wind so suddenly as sometimes to send its
passengers skating on their noses.
It is always a glad time in the spring when the river slips off its
icy fetters and becomes a free flowing stream. The event is preceded
by cries and groans, as the river-god stirs in his shroud. Later it
is a wild chaotic scene when the ice-floes jostle and crumple against
one another. Sometimes the river steals a march on you. On a bright
morning in late March or early April, you may see only the white
motionless expanse that has stretched below you all winter; and then,
chancing to look again, you see the sparkling, moving waters-the
river is born anew!
Late in March when the ice is breaking up in the river, our Fruit
Farmer's thoughts turn to sugar-making. There on the brow of the hill
overlooking the river, midway between The Nest and the Bark Study, at
each spring's return he builds a fire under a large rectangular pan
and boils sap gathered from the scattered maples, almost feeling
himself a boy again in the old "sap-bush" in the Catskills.
Then come the bewitching April days, when the rye greens on the
slopes and the buds swell, when he finds the first flowers, the first
nests, and when the first shad come up the river; days when, as he
says, the door of the seasons stands open, giving us a peep beyond.
Sparrow days! Days when robins laugh and carol and run on the grass,
when Downy drums, and meadow larks and flickers call; days when the
soil calls for the plough, the garden for the spade, the vineyard for
the hoe; when arbutus from the woods calls also, and her devotee
responds, even though the vineyard is calling simultaneously for the
hoe; there under the evergreens he finds her peeping out from her
leafy covering; finds the bloodroot along the' lanes, the young one
folded in the leaf, "the bud emerging like the head of a papoose
protruding from its mother's blanket." On these magic days he
hears the long-drawn-out and trilling song of the toad, and the
piping hylas in the marshes. In fact, in spite of work in garden and
vineyard, he manages to be on hand at most of the thrilling acts in
Nature's varied drama.
And it has been these and countless other invitations on every hand,
recurring with the seasons, that have been the forerunners of the
long list of nature books published throughout the years since our
Fruit Farmer settled down contentedly in his home by the river,
deciding to "let the empty artificial world go by." Still,
in his solitude, during those early years, he was often hungry for
companionship, especially craving some one to talk books with; but
consoled himself with the thought that he had the birds, and that one
couldn't have everything. And then it was not long before his son was
old enough to share his saunterings.
In those years before the schools and clubs and hosts of callers
found him out, there was leisure to saunter and dream and write, and
still have time for work in garden and vineyard. All the long list of
his books, except the first three, have been written since he has
dwelt at Riverby. Walt Whitman used to visit him there, and other
literary men from our own country, and from Great Britain, came in
those earlier years.
At that time his writing was bringing in very little money. His fruit
farm, helped out by the few hundred he earned as bank examiner, was
his chief source of income. And yet, though busy with his few acres,
he managed many an excursion away from home. He went to the
Centennial, to the oil regions of Pennsylvania, to Canada, made
occasional visits to the large cities, visited Whitman in Camden
often, visited often his old home in the Catskills, made his summer
voyage on the Pepacton, camped in the Maine woods, in Snyder Hollow,
on the Rondout at Furlow Lake and on Auchmoody Pond, with Myron
Benton and Aaron Johns, with Richard Watson Gilder, and others.
In 1881, he built himself a little detached study on a bench of land
a dozen or more rods below his dwelling. The Study commands an
extended view of the river -- a little one-room structure, covered
with chestnut bark, whose walls are lined with books. It has a huge
cobble stone chimney. Wide windows look out upon the river. From the
tough native oak he fashioned its simple furniture. Here with books
and open fire, the river, and the birds in the nearby trees, he has
loafed and invited his soul, and written many of his earlier books.
Shortly after completing his Bark Study he wrote to Benton:
Come over, and like two mice we will nibble away on such cheese rinds
as my poor board, literary and other, offers. I am alone with my
books and my thoughts, beyond the orbit of household matters. I have
the solitude of Bruin in my den, and suck my paws pretty industriously.
Fresh fields were soon to be explored. In the spring of 1882, in
company with wife and son, he sailed for Scotland. He visited the
Carlyle country, and the homes of Burns and Wordsworth. In Tennyson's
country he sought the nightingale, but saw neither Tennyson nor the
bird, though William Sloane Kennedy, referring to his "Hunt for
the Nightingale," has said that Mr. Burroughs got more out of
not hearing the nightingale than most of us would in hearing it.
From the Auld Brig of Doon, across which Tam o' Shanter rode, he
wrote to Benton of the impression made upon him by the scenery as
they entered the mouth of the Clyde, saying he expected to carry it
with him to the other world-if he should carry anything there. Coming
from the wilderness of the ocean into a paradise of green shores,
with trees, birds, flowers, cattle, sheep, and castles, the tender
beauty and repose of it all delighted his soul.
One day in the woods near an old castle, he encountered a young Scot
with whom he began conversing about the birds. From European birds,
the talk drifted to birds of America, and what was his surprise to
hear the Scot quote his own name and some published statement of his
concerning the birds! Imagine the surprise of the Scot when he
learned that this stranger was John Burroughs!
In the years following we find Mr. Burroughs writing to friends that
he is getting more and more like a turtle and wants to crawl about in
his own little field, and yet, in tracing him in his frequent jaunts
from home we see that he has not been so very closely confined to his
own little field. He camped on Slide and the Wittenberg, visited
Walden Pond, strolled the beach at Ocean Grove with Whitman,
occasionally went to Smith and Holyoke for walks and talks with the
students, journeyed to the Blue Grass region and the Mammoth Cave, to
Niagara Falls and the Middle West.
The year of the triple eights found our Fruit Farmer increasing his
acres, making with the new purchase, twenty in all, after which he
engaged in grape-growing on a larger scale. He set out more Concords,
Campbell's Early, Moore's Early, Delawares, Niagaras, and some fancy
varieties, more than twenty-four hundred vines in all, besides two
thousand currant bushes between the vines, and two thousand hills of raspberries.
In the work of clearing the land, draining it, blasting out rocks and
stumps, and setting out the vines, he found a new delight. His health
was better, his sleep sweeter. He wrote with enthusiasm in his diary
of how he had soaked up the sunshine till he glowed all over; how his
whole being had had an earth bath, and there was a feeling of
freshly-ploughed land in every cell of his brain. The hoe handle
seemed better to him then than did the pen.
And after that, for several years, the "grape war" absorbed
the major part of his time. There were posts to set out and -wire to
string; there was ploughing, fertilizing, spraying, trimming, tying
up, pruning, and harvesting. In all this work he, of course, had
help, but for many years bore an active part himself, his writing
then confined chiefly to the late fall and winter months. Still, the
saunterings, and the reports of them, grew into essays, and the
essays grew into books.
At Walden Pond, Thoreau had made the earth say "beans." At
Riverby, John Burroughs has made it say "grapes," and
"currants." Thoreau's venture had been engaged in chiefly
that he might brag to his neighbours of his economy, but the aim of
John Burroughs was to support himself and family comfortably, send
his son to college, and make enough from his fruit farm so that he
might write when and what he pleased, regardless as to whether his
writing brought him any very considerable addition to his income. He
realized this aim. Forty tons of grapes was the average yield for
many years and the Riverby grapes always found a good market.
After the vineyards were well established, there was the routine work
in which " Hud " and the faithful horse were indispensable;
and as Julian grew up he, too, took his turn at anything and
everything a boy could do. The spraying, which began in May, had to
be continued every two weeks till harvest time -- to combat the
"black rot." The summer pruning, a tedious job, consisted
of disentangling the vines and pinching off the ends of the new
shoots. In midsummer crimson clover was sown, and later ploughed
under, to supply nitrogen; and in winter they trimmed and tied up the
vines and kept up the supply of crates.
Rain storms, hail, drought, and the birds often played havoc with the
grape crop. The orioles, who stole so many grapes, and pecked so many
that they did not steal, were bold in their thefts. But the boys in
the neighbourhood, and skilled grape-thieves across the river, made
sadder inroads than birds or rain or hail.
One day, on finding the vines stripped in places and a wasteful mess
of grapes upon the ground, the Fruit Farmer decided to learn, if
possible, who was the thief. Putting on a long black oilcloth coat,
he went out and lay in the shadow of the vines. It was a warm
moonlight night and he fell asleep. Awaking suddenly, he sprang up
just as a boy, coming in at the end of that row, saw him rise from
the ground. Terrified at the sudden appearance of that strangely
arrayed figure looming up in the moonlight, the boy rushed forth and
tried to scramble over the stone wall, but was grabbed by his
pursuer. In wrenching himself away the culprit nearly tore his
trouser leg off, but let out such an unearthly yell that his captor,
startled, let go his hold. Up the road rushed the frightened boy, and
up the road went the Fruit Farmer. At the top of the lane, seizing
his bicycle, the culprit started to ride away, but on looking back
and seeing his pursuer hot on his heels, wobbled, lost his hat,
tumbled off, and fell down in a heap; but scrambling up, abandoning
wheel and hat, he scooted for dear life.
The next day a sheepish-looking lad appeared at Riverby and humbly
said, " Mr. Burroughs, may I have my hat and wheel?" He
declared he had never been there to "swipe" grapes before,
and never would try it again. He confessed that when he saw that dark
figure rise from the ground, and felt himself seized from behind, he
thought Satan had him sure. After they had had a good laugh over the
fracas, the Fruit Fanner took the contrite lad down in the vineyard
and, filling his hat with grapes, told him to come and ask for some
the next time he was grape hungry.
One season, to protect the cherries, he placed a stuffed owl in his
trees. Such a racket as followed! Orioles and robins shrieked their
protests. The news spread, and every bird around Riverby came to see
and scold the owl, and as every bird carried away a cherry, he lost
more than he gained by the ruse. Next season he tried a different
means of outwitting the birds: Rigging up the dinner-bell in one of
his cherry trees, he reversed the usual order of thingsits clanging
was not to summon to a feast, but to cut short their repasts.
Chuckling to himself, he sat in the shade holding the string attached
to the bell, and pulled it vigorously whenever he saw a bird enter
the tree. The neighbours, hearing the frequent peals of that bell,
thought they were having a perpetual feast at Riverby. By this means
he actually saved enough so they had some cherry pies, and Mrs.
Burroughs's cherry pies were worth scheming for.
For years Julian and his father had roamed the woods and swamps in a
wild, picturesque region back in the hills, more than a mile from
home. The Old Silurian rocks, the primitive forest, the waterfalls,
and Black Pond held many a lure for boy and man. Finally there came a
time when, wearied with the noise of steamboat and railway, the broad
expanse of the Hudson, and the routine and exactions of domestic
life, the dweller by the river craved something more primitive and
homely than Riverby offered -- " something with the bark on"
-- so decided to build a retreat in that secluded place.
His farmer's eye saw that if that rich swamp land, once an old lake
bottom, were drained and cultivated, the wilderness would blossom
into garden produce. Amassa, a young farmer, eagerly undertook the
task, Mr. Burroughs advancing the money for the hundred acres and
taking a portion of them in part payment, the twenty acres he
reserved forming the now well-known Slabsides region.
In 1895 the land was bought. Then they made a road over the mountain,
prepared the land, and built the cabin. They blasted through the rim
of rock, drained the land dug up stumps and roots, cut off the
undergrowth, pulled out weeds and vines, and burned the rubbish.
Skinning the swamp, as it were, they took off more than a foot of it,
getting down to the rich black muck. A pine log, sound and hard, was
found deeply buried in the muck, having lain there probably since
Columbus discovered America. Sticks cut by beavers, some cord wood, a
stone bottle, and a wooden mallet were found many feet below the
surface. After it was cleared and drained, and ploughed and harrowed,
the soil looked like velvet, and in due time long green lines of
celery and lettuce gave a touch of the domestic to the wild, untamed
region. With the help of a good carpenter Mr. Burroughs hewed the
trees and built his homely cabin, building it on a rock on the edge
of the swamp, the rugged, verdure-clad cliffs partly encircling it.
The cabin looks much like a log cabin. It is built of slabs, or the
first cut off the logs, the bark being left on. The roomy veranda
with rustic railing, shaggy cedar posts, and sloping roof, and the
great stone chimney add to the picturesqueness, while the clambering
woodbine lends beauty to the rugged exterior. On the wide rustic door
is a latch-string, and a curiously twisted knob for a handle.
The bark was also left on the beams and rafters of the interior, but
the little wood-borers have since removed most of it, leaving their
delicate traceries instead.
The cabin is a two-storied structure. The planed boards of its inner
walls have the seams covered with split birch saplings. A satiny
yellow birch partition partly divides the one room below into
living-room and bedroom; stairs lead to the loft where there is a
comfortable bedroom and a roomy attic. In one corner of the
living-room is a window-seat with books and writing table; in a niche
under the stairs the dining table is placed; in another corner is the
culinary department-cupboard, washbench, a table with the oil stove,
and an array of kitchen utensils.
The bedsteads are built of birch limbs with the bark on, and most of
the furniture is home-made, the legs to tables, stands, and
window-seats have a curiously twisted effect due to the climbing
bitter sweet winding about the sumac limbs.
In looking about the sparsely furnished cabin the visitor sees that
his host is untrammelled by things. Old blue coverlids, which grew on
the backs of the Roxbury sheep, are on the beds, patch-work quilts,
pieced by his mother, upon the cots, and carpet rag rugs upon the
floor. From a swinging crane in the wide fireplace hangs a smoky iron
tea-kettle, and on the wide stone hearth are old-time andirons and
tongs. Some clever maiden has appropriately embroidered an oven bird
on a mahogany-coloured holder that hangs close by. Trophies from the
woods, birds' nests, and other natural history specimens are on the
stone mantel, and the rustic book shelves are overflowing with books.
When the little mountain retreat was finished, its builder, wondering
what he should name it, considered Crag Foot, Rock Haven, and Echo
Lodge, but when a neighbour suggested "Slabsides," he at
once "cottoned" to that, and Slabsides it has since been called.
When it was ready for occupancy in April, 1896, its owner and his
brother Hiram moved in and began their simple house-keeping, dwelling
there in contentment in the spring, summer and fall, for the next
three years. Hiram pottered about with his chickens and his bees, his
brother did the simple cooking, dreamed and roamed the woods, and
wrote when the mood for writing came. Coming in with his hat full of
eggs which he had gathered from the nests on the rocks, Hiram would
sit by the hour near the hearth, drumming softly with his fingers on
the arm of his chair. Silly Sally purred on the hearth, or on her
master's lap, when not engaged in her pursuit of the birds, and often
for hours at a time the three sat together in quiet, wordless companionship.
Daily walks down to the post office, and to oversee affairs in the
vineyard, perhaps to levy on the larder at Riverby, kept the Hermit
of Slabsides from being too much of a hermit in this retreat.
Often as he sat on the ;veranda in the sweet solitude, watching
phoebes and bluebirds building near, he would exclaim, "Blessed
Slabsides! it is indeed a house of refuge to me!" There he
listened to the mournful plaint of the turtle dove, the love notes of
the chickadee, the song of the shy water thrush. In the spring
twilights he heard the hoot of owls and calls of whippoorwills. He
had occasional calls from a partridge and her brood. Some mornings on
a dead pine tree on the cliff above the spring, he would spy a bald
eagle sitting and preening himself, his white head gleaming in the
sun. In the leafless woods arbutus, shyly peeped at him, bloodroots
and liverworts smiled, Jack in the pulpit preached daily sermons, and
in the distant bogs, the regal cypripedium compelled his homage.
Joyous days! and fruitful of much besides what was passing from dawn
till night; for in that sequestered place many of his books were
first lived by the man, then later translated by the writer to the page.
At about this time he began to slip off some of the burdens from his
pack, turning much of the vineyard work over to others, loafing and
inviting his soul more and more, and with the happy result his
readers know. At this time, too, people began to hunt him out in his
woodland retreat. The way to have people seek a thing is evidently to
hide it. No sooner had he got nicely hidden away in the hills than
visitors from far and near began to come, friends and strangers, the
renowned and the obscure, students, writers, artists, photographers,
lecturers, reporters. They came singly, in pairs, in groups, in
clubs, in schools. It is doubtful if there is a literary landmark in
our country that has had so many visitors as has Slabsides; and those
who have tasted its homely hospitality can well understand the
appropriateness of the Indian name given to their host by a clever
guest -- Man-notafraid-of-Company. First to come of all the clubs
were members of the Wake Robin Club at Vassar; their annual picnic
and woodland ramble with the Sage of Slabsides is now a time-honoured
institution. On a certain day in May Slabsides is afloat with pretty
girls. Inundating his cabin, they sit at his feet before the fire if
the day is cold, or, if fair, follow his lead through the woods.
Countless other clubs and schools have followed suit, until now, on
any fine Saturday or Sunday in spring, early summer, and fall, merry
flocks of girls and women, and often boys and men, may be seen
wending their way along the country road and through the woods to
Slabsides. It is often Hamlet with Hamlet left out these later years;
they by no means always find the Hermit there, for it has been many
years since he has dwelt at Slabsides, nowadays only going up there
for an occasional hour of solitude, or for a picnic with his friends.
Along with the hosts of visitors, there came frequent demands to
lecture before schools and clubs-to give informal talks on birds, or
other phases of nature; and for a time in the late eighties and early
nineties he yielded to these requests; till, finding it too much of a
task, he declined all further inducements, thereby gaining leisure
for the things he really wanted to do. As his pen has grown more and
more productive, on the advent of each magazine article and book, his
readers have sought closer personal relations with him, through
correspondence, and in pilgrimages to his home.
John Muir was one of the earliest Slabsides guests. Thither he came
on one of his trips to the Atlantic coast. He was rowed across the
river by his host and son, and entertained, as he preferred, in the
rustic cabin, rather than in the fine stone house at Riverby. There
at Slabsides, till far into the night, before the singing hickory
logs, John of Mountains sat and talked to John o' Birds, and to
Julian; talked of his wanderings in the high Sierras, and in Alaska,
and told them of his dog, Stickeen, and their perilous adventures on
Alaskan glaciers. Then, after basking awhile in the friendly eastern
woods, he went back across the continent, to his Red Woods and his
mountain fastnesses in Yosemite.
One day many years later (to jump ahead a little) President and Mrs.
Roosevelt came up the Hudson in The Sylph and spent the day at
Slabsides. It was a hot day in July. The tramp along the road, then
the steep climb through the woods, was the sort of thing the
Strenuous One liked, and Mrs. Roosevelt was "a good sport,"
too. Up they climbed, the shorter and steeper way, the President
talking with his accustomed vigour, and mopping his forehead as he
followed Oom John up Breakneck Stairs. Nothing halted them in their
rapid march but an orchard oriole, and a yellow-breasted chat, to
which they gave the countersign, and passed on.
They were charmed with the quiet and simplicity of Slabsides. "It
seems so good to get away from people," said Mrs.
Roosevelt-" Oyster Bay is as bad as Washington." The
President browsed among the books, explored the cave where the butter
was kept, and brought fresh water from the spring, pronouncing it the
best he-had ever drunk.
While Mr. Burroughs was preparing dinner, he attended to the lively
and varied talk of the President, putting in a few words now and
then, but not to the detriment of his task. He placed the potatoes
and onions in the ashes to roast, dressed the broilers, and in due
time broiled them over the coals. Mrs. Roosevelt and Julian shelled
the peas. Amassa brought in lettuce from the muck garden, and they
had a huckleberry pie which Mrs. Burroughs had sent up from Riverby.
Shortly before dinner, some reporters, who had got wind of the event,
suddenly appeared in the clearing, hot on the President's tracks,
puffing and mopping their brows, but looking triumphant at having
stalked their big game so successfully. But their quarry, scenting
their errand, called out: "No, Gentlemen, I have nothing to say
to you. Good day!" And as they climbed up the steps at one end
of the veranda, he, waving a farewell, went down at the other end and
off into the woods. Mr. Burroughs explained that the President wanted
this one day free from the Public Eye, and, somewhat mollified, they
put up their fountain pens and disappeared beyond the trees.
A neighbour from one of the nearby cottages also came bouncing in.
The President regarded her sternly until, learning that she was just
a neighbour, his sternness changed to affability. She stayed long
enough to prepare their salad and to get his autograph, then slipped away.
When all was in readiness, they sat down to the oilclothcovered
table, with appetites well whetted from having watched the
preparation of the meal. Roosevelt ate like a soldier, jumping up
several times to help himself from the tin dipper-the glass of water
at his place proving entirely inadequate. He told of a guest being
asked by his hostess if he was hungry.
" 'No, Madam, I'm not hungry -- I'm greedy.' Well, that is my
case to-day," he added.
He was full of anecdotes. He told of a friend upbraiding him for some
grievous mistake in public life which he had made, and of his reply:
"My dear fellow, where you know of one mistake I have made, I
know of ten-" a thoroughly Rooseveltian way of disarming a critic.
A friend of Mr. Burroughs, a Congressman from Poughkeepsie, was there
also. The President talked politics with him, and natural history
with Julian, quoting to him things from his (Julian's) father's
books. "I've read them so much I could pass an examination in
them," he declared.
Mrs. Burroughs drove up in the afternoon to greet the distinguished
guests. Dressed in her best, as though to compensate for her
husband's old clothes and the homely rusticity of Slabsides, she
invited the guests to Riverby for ice cream and cake, and took Mrs.
Roosevelt back with her in the carriage, the others following behind.
The entirely different scene at Riverby interested the guests. They
admired the river view, the handsome wellappointed stone house;
praised the housewife's immaculate kitchen, and enjoyed their
ice-cream in the breezy summerhouse. The President glanced rapidly
over the books in the Bark Study, and was especially charmed with the
little brown cottage where Julian and family then lived. They had
just been talking about the elegant Italian villa across the river,
but when Roosevelt stepped into the big living room of the cottage,
he rushed out, calling "Edith! Edith! Come here! I want you to
see this-something original and American!"
Mr. Burroughs introduced his guests to the neighbours and villagers
who were lingering at the dock as they boarded the yacht, and
Roosevelt in his happiest mood greeted each with a personal word-even
the little girl with her pet kitten in her arms.
As The Sylph slowly moved away, Mrs. Roosevelt stood, serene and
smiling, while the President waved his broad panama and shouted,
" Good-bye, Oom John! Good-bye! We've had a bully time!"