In those first days at Riverby, before his son was old enough to be
his companion, Mr. Burroughs had a dog, Rab, the light and life of
the home, who shared his work and play; just a common cur, a mixture
of black and tan terrier and mastiff, he yet had an uncommon amount
of canine intelligence and devotion. The incarnation of youth and
adventure was Rab -- a walking holiday, as it were, and he and John
Burroughs were boon companions.
But the companionship was brief, only a few months. Rab got the dog
distemper and, though seeming to recover, succumbed after a relapse.
With what tenacity, though, he clung to life! For two days and nights
they watched over him before release came, but even when too weak to
lift his head, he recognized the voice of his master.
Rab's grave was made beside the flat rock that leads to the spring,
and at its head his master placed the crooked staff which he had so
often carried to the woods on their rambles. Carving Rab's name upon
it, and the date of his passing, he said on thrusting it into the
ground, "There, Rab! my staff shall be your monument. I shall
not need it again this summer. I shall walk alone and staffless
hereafter in the lonely woods." And leaning on his hoe handle,
he looked across to the hills beyond the river, tenderly musing on
his faithful friend.
Rover, whom he rechristened Rose Mary Rose, though not because of any
real claim to the girlish name, was his next dog friend, the
companion of his walks for two or three years, a spirited black and
tan of good breeding, a slender dog with a tail like a rush, and a
tongue like a roseleaf. Says Mr. Burroughs:
As soon as I would begin to harness the horse, Rose would begin to
bark like mad, and circle around the place. Finally, getting rid of
his superfluous joy, he would sober down a little, and off we would
start. If he saw me putting bread and grapes in my pocket, he knew
that meant a trip to the woods and a joyous adventure.
Rose liked the woods better than the river. Once when they were out
in a rowboat, the river being rough, a queer expression came over his
face. He looked as though he were going to laugh; instead, up came
his dinner, and a more forlorn-looking dog for a few minutes never
wagged a tail.
It was Rose of whom he often speaks as "the hero of the Battle
of Lundy's Lane." Although naturally peaceable, he could defend
himself if need be, and when one day as they traversed the lane of
Neighbour Lundy, two common curs came out and pitched into him, Rose,
supple and spry, cut out right and left, and whipped them both,
routing them-with his master's help. "He and I came off
victorious. I told him I would erect a monument to him to celebrate
Poor Rose was poisoned by some boys who said that he bit them. "
I laid him on a little bed at the foot of the stairs, and there he
died. I kept him a day or two in his little bed, then buried him
under the old gill-flower apple tree."
Lark was the next dog, the most gentle and affectionate of them all;
an unsophisticated little mongrel, a short, shaggy, black and yellow
dog, with a curiously-shaped head:
I had first seen him with a man on the streets of Poughkeepsie, where
we scraped acquaintance. He took a shine to me and I to him, so I
gave the man two or three dollars for him, and we came home together
-a happy pair!
Lark was a little fellow. Many's the time I have carried him on my
shoulders when the snow was too deep for him in the woods. He was my
muse and the inspiration of all my walks. The "Notes of a
Walker" are mainly his. He would sniff out the fact and I, as
his secretary, would chronicle it. He hunted bees with me. "The
Idyl of the Honey Bee" is Lark's as well as mine. He used to
ride in the buggy with me in my trips to Roxbury. Ass he would sit on
the seat beside me, he would unburden his mind threateningly to every
dog we passed, but if I put him down on the ground, he would shrink
back and seem to say, " Oh! I don't want to fight! I don't want
to fight at all." I used to tell him his tail was a flag of
defiance in front, and a flag of truce behind. He couldn't kill a
woodchuck-couldn't kill anything. He had no more fight in him than I
have. He was a pacifist through and through.
I remember one day as we were coming home from the woods, I saw that
Lark had something cornered against a stone wall.
"What have you got there?" I asked.
He danced and barked in glee. His prey was behind a flat stone that
rested against the wall. He barked as much as to say, "You pull
down that stone!" I did, and Lark received in his face the
charge from the masked battery of the enemy in black and white
uniform. Crestfallen, we went home, but the news got there before we
did and for a long time our room was better than our company.
When Lark died, his master mourned him deeply, writing Myron Benton
that he doubted if he should ever give his heart to another dog-it
was too painful to be widowed in that way. And Lark was laid to rest
with the others beside the old drift boulder.
When Julian was a very little fellow his father used to amuse him by
making up doggerel about his dogs:
Hark to the tale of my dog, Lark!
He can bark after dark,
And hit the mark
Way over to Hyde Park.
There was a longer, never-ending one about Rose:
Rose Mary Rose,
Just you suppose,
When the wind blows,
And down come the snows,
You should kick off the clothes
And thus expose
Both your nose and your toes
Until they were froze. .
By this time the child would stop up his ears and plead, Oh, Papa,
Laddie and Ino were two dogs which he had at the same time. Ino, a
big shaggy black dog with a white breast, was a cross between a
setter and some common breed. He was the companion of Julian as well
as of his father. Whenever Mr. Burroughs would return from his trips
of examining banks, Ino would be at the train to meet him, always so
relieved on catching sight of him; but one day when Ino went as usual
to the train, his master disappointed him, and Ino, hanging around
the tracks, got run over by the cars.
Laddie was a mixture of water spaniel and black and tan, with bristly
hair. He and his master once had an exciting adventure on the river
ice toward spring. They started to go across to Hyde Park, but the
ice being very brittle, they were in great danger of breaking
through. While picking his way across, chancing to look up, Mr.
Burroughs saw Laddie running for dear life toward the shore, while
the shore itself was apparently going down stream very fast. The
ice-harvesters had cut a canal twenty feet wide to the opposite
shore, and the flood-tide was carrying the whole body of ice up the
width of that canal. The ice moved up only twenty feet and stopped.
Seeing that when the tide turned, the whole body of ice would go down
the river, Mr. Burroughs said, "Laddie, we must leave our errand
undone, and go back home as fast as we can." His own knees were
shaking, and Laddie was trembling piteously, saying as plainly as a
dog could say, " Dear Master, I beg of you, don't go back across
the ice -- don't -- but if you do, I'll have to go with you."
There was no time to lose, and disregarding Laddie's entreaties, he
again embarked on the ice, Laddie following closely. It was ticklish
business, but they gained the home shore in safety. An hour later,
away went the ice down the river, leaving a great smooth open space
from the shore.
Laddie's fate was a sad one. He followed the butcher off one day, was
attacked by a big Newfoundland dog, and died of the wounds:
When I came back and saw him lying there, wounded, and all but dead,
I cried, "Oh! Laddie, Laddie!" and all his wounds started
and bled afresh. He knew my voice.
And, though so many years have passed, as Laddie's master speaks of
this, the sorrowful voice is choked, and the eyes fill with tears.
"Rab and Rose and Lark and Laddie," he repeats tenderly --
" There they lie under the sod. They filled a need in my life.
It seems as if it had been in some other world -the dear things!''
Nip, the last dog he ever had, was a fox terrier, white with a short
tail, and a black spot on one eye and ear. He was given him by Mrs.
Vanderbilt, his neighbour across the river.
One October day as Mr. Burroughs and Nip were going across the
railroad bridge over Black Creek, as they had gone a hundred times
before, Mr. Burroughs stopped at the end of the bridge to look down
the creek. Nip stopped, too, looked about, and, somehow, forgetting
himself, slipped off the tie and fell through, striking some fifty
feet below on some stones.
He got up and ran crying a few steps, then fell over in his death
agony. His master was stunned. It was one of the worst shocks he ever
had, and for a few minutes the whole universe seemed bereft. Going
down the steep bank, and lifting the limp body of his little friend,
he placed it near the abutment of the bridge, and went sorrowfully
home. All through the night he dreamed of Nip, and the next morning,
carrying the lifeless body home in a basket, put it before the fire,
craving to see him once again in his old place, before the earth
should hide him forever from sight. On making his little grave near
Slabsides, he felt in burying Nip that he was burying a part of himself.
Although he has cherished certain cats also, they were never as
beloved as his canine friends; still Nig, Tom Tinker, and Silly Sally
held warm places in his affections, in spite of the diligence they
showed in pursuing the birds. Silly Sally, especially, was an ardent
ornithologist. No matter how much he remonstrated with her because of
her taste for birds, she pursued them with unabated zeal, and when,
at last, old and decrepit, she went to the happy hunting-grounds
where cats in time must go, he vowed he would have no more pet cats.
Nig, too, was a pet that would bear watching. One day as the Fruit
Farmer was sitting in the summer-house with Nig on his knee, he saw
Stripe Coat come out of his den in the side of a bank near the Study.
Pausing in its doorway, the little rodent glanced nervously about,
leapt to a tussock of grass, put up one foot appealingly, then scam
scampered away to a friendly pile of grape-posts down below. Nig saw
Stripe Coat quite as distinctly as did her master, and jumped to the
floor, but at his sharp command sat down demurely and folded her
paws, regarding the chipmunk dreamily.
Shortly after, the master being called to the house, Nig improved her
opportunity: as he was starting back, he met her coming toward him
with Stripe- Coat hanging limp from her mouth. Angered, he rescued
the victim and reproved Nig roundly. The little creature lay as if
dead in his hand, though showing no marks of the cat's teeth. Soon it
gasped and its heart began to beat perceptibly. Though Nig had choked
it, it had been saved in the nick of time. He put it down by its door
and watched till it had crawled inside. Later, calling to express his
sympathy, he left some corn to atone for Nig's cruelty. Before many
days Stripe Coat was travelling her accustomed ways, though warier
than ever; and in the summer four baby Stripe Coats emerged from the
little round doorway and frisked about in safety, for then the great
black monster with the green eyes had gone where it could trouble
them no more.
At a very early age Julian became his father's comrade, indoors and
out. His father recited nursery rhymes to him, read him fairy tales,
told him stories, and later read him many a tale of adventure and
travel. It was hard to tell which liked best the rhymed tales of
Robin Hood, by Howard Pyle; then there were the stories in Wide Awake
and in the Youth's Companion; the Jack Hazard series by Trowbridge;
Cab and Caboose by Kirk Munroe; Dana's Two Years Before the Mast; and
the First Crossing of Greenland-to name a few of their favourites.
And day by day, they read together in "Nature's infinite book of secrecy."
His father shared the lad's activities; helped him tame his various
pets; make his fish nets, and the keel to his boat; went with him
scapping for herring on the river; snaring for suckers, and ducking
on the Shattega; and rowing and skating on river and pond. Together
they sought the first spring flowers, hunted birds' nests, and traced
the footprints of wild creatures in the snow. Together they tamed
Molly Cotton-Tail, played fostermother to a young marsh hawk, and
danced attendance on their pet 'coon. He taught the lad how to make
basswood whistles and cat-tail penholders, and the lad taught him
many things that he learned by himself, and others found in studying
The American Boy's Handy Book. They fished and hunted together, and
went in quest of wild honey. The joys of the wild creatures were
their joys, the tragedies their tragedies. One day when Julian was a
very small lad, he came in with a pitiful tale: He had seen a blue
jay in one of the spruce trees, close to the nest of a vireo, and
right while he was looking at it, the robber swallowed a just-hatched
bird. As distracted as were the parent birds themselves, who snapped
their beaks almost in the jay's face, the boy ran with the cruel tale
to his father.
When quite a little chap, Julian discovered, as had his father before
him, that the white-faced wasps were stingless, and used to amuse
himself by showing the other boys how he could "tame" wasps
so they wouldn't sting him. Boldly handling the harmless creatures,
he would chuckle to see the others looking on in wonder, as the
impotent wasps would go through all the motions of stinging, yet
leave him unharmed. He never put the other fellows "wise"
to the trick.
What days they had skating on the long still stretches of Black Pond!
In the light covering of snow they would read the records of the wild
creatures -- a fox, a rabbit, a muskrat-gathering much from the
One day they came upon a strange track in the snow, about the size of
a dog's, and traced it to the head of the pool where the creature had
taken to the open water. Ugh! what a cold bath! It proved to be the
little otter, rare in that locality, which tracks fish through the
water as a hound tracks a fox over the hills.
One morning Prince was missing from the pasture and Julian and his
father started out to find him. On coming to the highway, they asked
"Which way-up or down the road?"
Thinking they saw a horse's track going down the road, they followed
it, but presently on coming to where the road led through the woods,
Julian, ahead, called out:
" Papa, Prince hasn't gone this way-see the spider's web across
"Good for you, my boy!" said his father, delighted at the
lad's keen observation and correct deduction. " You've got eyes
instead of buttons in your head!" And turning back they soon
found Prince in the opposite direction.
Once Julian and his father tracked a weasel to its den on the edge of
a tamarack swamp. Trying with mattock and shovel to dig the weasel
out, they nearly got lost themselves in the maze of tunnels which
they found, and, although handling a ton of earth over two or three
times, they could not come upon the store-room where the creature had
put all the mice and moles which they had watched him carry into his den.
One season they found a marsh hawk's nest in the Slabsides region,
and as one of the young hawks was in danger of being starved to
death, Julian brought it home, reviving it with warm milk by means of
a fountain-pen filler. He kept his uncanny pet in a pen in the Bark
Study. It had an old shrunken look, and for a time was helpless
indeed. But not long and it was swallowing bits of meat, and soon
eating ravenously. It kept up a sharp whistling-except when asleep!
Though preferring mice, birds, and squirrels, it would accept
butcher's meat. Julian was kept on the jump to supply the demands of
his voracious boarder. He trapped and hunted and enlisted all the
boys in the neighbourhood; even robbed Tom Tinker of his rightful
prey to feed his hawk. His usefulness as a boy-of-allwork was
" Where's Julian? " his mother would ask, time and again,
"I want him to get a pail of water."
" Gone after a squirrel for his hawk," or "Hunting
chip munks," would be the answer. One day, although its wing had
been clipped, the hawk sailed away on the shoreless aerial seas, and
his foster-parent knew him no more; but before he sailed he had
devoured twenty-one chipmunks, fourteen red squirrels, sixteen mice,
and twelve English sparrows, besides no small amount of butcher's meat.
As Julian and his father sat at dinner one day they heard Ino barking
in a way that told them something was up outside. Something was up-in
one of the spruce trees a few feet from the house. They threw up
sticks and stones and soon, deep in the heavy foliage, espied a bunch
of fur. With a long pole they belaboured that bunch of fur and, in
time, dislodged it. It was a 'coon. A lively time followed. As Mr.
Burroughs grabbed the 'coon by the tail, Ino dashed up and knocked it
out of his hand. A still livelier tussle ensued, however, when, some
days later they tried to put a collar on that 'coon. He proved a
cunning pet, and Julian set great store by him, feeding him grapes,
chestnuts, peanuts, and apples.
It was a sad morning when, going to the coop, Julian found the little
door open and no Mr. Coon inside. He had evidently liberated himself
by loosening the snap that held the little sliding door. That night
the antics of Tom Tinker, and even the rhymes of Robin Hood, failed
to wield their usual charm-the boy's heart was in the highlands
chasing his wandering 'coon.
One day Julian called his father to the garden to see a black snake
swallowing a garter snake. The little victim, though holding back
with all its might, hooking its tail around the raspberry bushes, was
being slowly engulfed, when the black snake, startled by the approach
of man and boy, suddenly ejected his long mouthful and glided away.
Although the little Jonah's head was bleeding, he had not suffered
much from his short stay in the reptilian whale.