The Story of Scraggles

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THE STORY OF SCRAGGLES
GEORGE WHARTON JAMES

The Story of Scraggles

Scraggles and “The ’Fessor.”


The Story of Scraggles

Illustrated from Drawings by Sears Gallagher and from Photographs

Boston
Little, Brown, and Company
1906

Copyright, 1906,
By Edith E. Farnsworth.
———
All rights reserved

Published October, 1906

THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.


INTRODUCTION

Most of our Indians have a tradition that in the days of old animals and man had a common speech. Each was able to understand the other, and thoughts and language were common to all. It was not until man began to regard himself as superior to the animals and think of them as “lower” that this oneness of speech and relationship was lost. Since then envy, jealousy, anger, on one side, and conceit, pride, and contempt on the other have widened the breach, while Love has stood with tearful eyes looking on at the sad and unnatural estrangement.

But in these latter days prophets among the white race have risen up to awaken again within man the desire for brotherhood with the humbler creations of God. Thoreau, John Burroughs, John Muir, Ernest Thompson Seton, W. J. Long, Elizabeth Grinnell, and many others, are showing us our kinship to the birds, buds, bees, blossoms, and beasts. It is with the two thoughts before me of the common speech and understanding existent between the animals and man, and of the kinship that affection shows us does really exist, that I have written the “Story of Scraggles” from her viewpoint, with the confident anticipation that young and old alike will enjoy this truthful record of a sweet and beautiful little life.

While, of course, the thoughts put into Scraggles’ words are mine, the statements of fact are literally true. I have told the story as nearly in accord with the incidents as they actually occurred, as this method of telling the story would permit.

GEORGE WHARTON JAMES

1098 N. Raymond Ave.

Pasadena, California

Feb. 23, 1906


CONTENTS


ILLUSTRATIONS


The Story of Scraggles


Chapter I
How I Came to Live in a House

I was only a little baby song-sparrow, and from the moment I came out of my shell everybody knew there was something the matter with me. I don’t know what it could have been, for my brother and sister were well and strong. Perhaps I was out of the first egg that was laid, and a severe spell of cold had come and partially frozen me; or a storm had shaken the bough in which our nest was, so that I was partly “addled.” Anyhow, no matter what caused it, there was no denying the fact that when I was born I was an ailing little bird, and this made both my father and mother very cross with me. I couldn’t help being so weak, and they might have been kinder to me; but when the other eggs were hatched out and my brother and sister were born, nobody seemed to care for me any more. Of course, my mother gave me something to eat when I cried for it, but the others were so much stronger than I that they pushed me out of the way, and succeeded many a time in getting my share without mother’s knowing anything about it.

I was not active like the others, and when they climbed up to the edge of the nest and stretched out their wings as if they would fly, I felt a dreadful fear come over me. I knew I should fall to the earth if I tried to fly. I don’t know why I felt this, but, do as I would, I could not get rid of the horrible feeling. I tried a number of times to overcome that sickly feeling of fear and dread, but every time I clambered to the nest’s edge I grew dizzy and had to fall back to prevent my pitching headlong forward. My father and mother both scolded me, and taunted me for my cowardice; they urged me to flap my wings more, and again and again showed me how to do it. But my wings were so weak I am sure something was wrong with one of them. And my feathers! I never saw such wretched feathers. In the first place I had no feathers whatever on the under part of my body, and where the feathers did grow they were raggedy and scraggedy and looked for all the world as if they were moth-eaten. So in bird language my father and mother and the others all called me Scraggles, and they treated me as if they felt I was Scraggles—of no use or beauty, and therefore worth “nothing to nobody.”

But in spite of this, I was ill-prepared for the awful fate that came to me one day. My brother and sister had already tried their wings pretty well, and had flown quite a distance, and father and mother were pleased with their progress. Then they came to me and urged me to climb up to the edge of the nest. When I did so, my father came behind me, gave me a sudden push, and over I went. Down, down I fell, through the branches of the tree, fluttering my wings as well as I could, but they would not sustain me. One of them worked so queerly that I went sidewise, and as I struck the ground I rolled over and felt quite dizzy and stunned. When I looked around for my father and mother they were nowhere to be seen. I called aloud, but no answer came, and then I felt so desolate and forlorn that I could have cried. But I thought I had better begin to search for them. So I hopped along to where I saw several birds flying around. All at once I found myself among a number of houses where men and women lived, and I knew there was danger from four-legged creatures they kept, called cats, but, as I saw what seemed to me to be my mother down the street, I hurried along as fast as my weak wing and fluttering heart would let me, until, all at once, I heard quick footsteps behind me. Turning, I saw that it was a large, tall man, with black hair and a black beard, and he walked so quickly that I grew afraid and chirped out to my mother to come and help me. But she paid no attention whatever, and my loud cries arrested the attention of the man. He suddenly stopped, looked at me, and then began to talk to himself. I didn’t understand then what he was saying, but I know I was desperately scared, for my parents had taught me always to keep out of the way of human beings—especially of the little human beings that they called boys and girls. Girls, they said, were not so bad as boys, but it was safest to keep away from all of them. Had I known this big man as I afterwards grew to know him, I shouldn’t have been so scared; but as it was, I tried to get as far away from him as I could. The sidewalk was lined all along with great tall stalks of dandelions and clover, and I tried to push my way through them to where my mother was picking up something to eat on the road. But it was such hard work, and I was so afraid! At last I got through, and then with a cry of joy I hopped as fast as I could to my mother. I felt that surely she would help and protect me, and I was never more surprised and hurt in my life when, without even recognizing me, or saying one single cheep, she flew away so quickly, and so far, that almost immediately I lost sight of her.

What was I to do? For a moment or two my little heart stood still. I was so dreadfully afraid that I couldn’t breathe. Then, before I had recovered, the great tall man, whom I had quite forgotten, came toward me with his quick, decisive strides. I tried to get away from him, and fairly screamed out in my terror; yet it was no use. He was too quick, and I was too weak and helpless, and in less than a minute he had “cornered me” against the trunk of a tree, and I found myself all at once in his strong hand, the fingers of which felt so powerful as they completely surrounded me.

I was too afraid to cry out, and I could only lie still and listen to my heart beat. It went so quick and so hard that I thought I should die; but somehow I was compelled to see that he didn’t hurt me or pinch me, and his voice was all the time talking so softly and gently to me, though it sounded deep and strong like the voice of a storm that once nearly shook me out of our nest. He was carrying me away rapidly, and said something about his wife and “little girlie,” who would surely help him take care of me until I could fly.

Soon we went inside a house. I had never been in such a dark place before, and I was made afraid again, as badly as ever, by two persons, dressed differently from the tall, bearded man, but whose voices were softer and more like a bird’s than his. I heard him tell about seeing me try to reach my mother, and then how she had flown away and deserted me, and he had caught me and brought me home, lest, said he, “some cat should catch the poor little thing and gobble it up.”

That is just how I came to be in a house, and the beginning of my life with human beings,—three of them—a man and two women.


Chapter II
My First Week In-doors

My first week in-doors was very painful and distressing to me. Though my father and mother had never been kind, still they were my father and mother. But now I was all the time with strangers,—great, monstrous, tall human beings, and I was such a tiny little bird! How could I feel at home with them? It scared me just to see them.

Still, scared or not, what was I to do? I had to stay there, for, unlike my home in the nest in the tree, here everything was shut up. The air was warm and close, and it made me feel queer most of the time. It was not fresh and bracing like the out-door air I had been used to. I was shut in,—that was all there was to it; but it took me a long time to learn to make the best of it. For the tall man, now and again, would catch me and put me up onto the window-sill, and I didn’t know that I couldn’t go through the glass. I tried again and again, but always bumped my bill hard against the glass and never got any further. I saw happy little birds outside. They seemed to be strong and well; and how I longed to be with them! I found great pleasure, however, in walking back and forth on the edge of the window sash, and the warm sunshine that shone in upon me was very comforting. When other birds flew near by I used to get very excited, and stretch my legs and neck so hard to see them and get to them, that the “man of the house” would laugh very heartily at me. And then he would call to “Mamma” and “Edith,” and together they would stand and look and laugh at me, while I stretched and chirped and twittered to the birds outside.

“I saw happy little birds outside.”

Of course, I had not been in the house long before I was a very hungry little bird. I don’t think you know how very hungry so tiny a bird can get. I was desperately hungry. How I was going to be fed I did not know. But I chirped, and cheeped, and called out as loudly as I could, and soon the “Fessor”—as the women called the man[1]—came into the room with a saucer in his hand. In the saucer was some white-looking substance that he called bread and milk. But I didn’t know what to do with it. So to let him know how hungry I was I chirped more, and then opened my mouth wide, and wider still, as baby birds do, hoping that he would find some way of getting the food into me. And he did! Instead of putting it into my throat with his bill—he hadn’t one—as my mother did, he caught me when I wasn’t expecting it, and taking some of the white stuff in his fingers, held it close to me. When I opened my bill to cheep, he pushed it in, and my! how strange it tasted. But it was good. It was sweet, and warm, and nice. So I swallowed it and opened my mouth for more, and he gave me another piece. Then he called to Edith, and she and Mamma came and watched me until, as they said, I was “stuffed as full as an egg.” Two or three times that day he fed me in the same fashion, and I began then to get over my fear of him. He didn’t seem to want to hurt me, and he was very, very gentle with me; and I even began, once or twice, to snuggle down in his hand, for it was so large and warm and comfortable. Then that awful fear came, and I sprang out of his reach and ran to the end of his desk, and when he reached out after me, I wildly leaped off the desk, fell to the floor, and then ran as fast as I could behind the desk in order to be safe.

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