One of the incidents connected with Edward Bok that Theodore Roosevelt never forgot was when Bok’s eldest boy chose the colonel as a Christmas present. And no incident better portrays the wonderful character of the colonel than did his remarkable response to the compliment.
A vicious attack of double pneumonia had left the heart of the boy very weak—and Christmas was close by! So the father said:
“It’s a quiet Christmas for you this year, boy. Suppose you do this: think of the one thing in the world that you would rather have than anything else and I’ll give you that, and that will have to be your Christmas.”
“I know now,” came the instant reply.
“But the world is a big place, and there are lots of things in it, you know.”
“I know that,” said the boy, “but this is something I have wanted for a long time, and would rather have than anything else in the world.” And he looked as if he meant it.
“Well, out with it, then, if you’re so sure.”
And to the father’s astonished ears came this request:
“Take me to Washington as soon as my heart is all right, introduce me to President Roosevelt, and let me shake hands with him.”
“All right,” said the father, after recovering from his surprise. “I’ll see whether I can fix it.” And that morning a letter went to the President saying that he had been chosen as a Christmas present. Naturally, any man would have felt pleased, no matter how high his station, and for Theodore Roosevelt, father of boys, the message had a special appeal.
The letter had no sooner reached Washington than back came an answer, addressed not to the father but to the boy! It read:
“The White House, Washington.
“November 13th, 1907.
“Your father has just written me, and I want him to bring you on and shake hands with me as soon as you are well enough to travel. Then I am going to give you, myself, a copy of the book containing my hunting trips since I have been President; unless you will wait until the new edition, which contains two more chapters, is out. If so, I will send it to you, as this new edition probably won’t be ready when you come on here.
“Give my warm regards to your father and mother.
Here was joy serene! But the boy’s heart had acted queerly for a few days, and so the father wrote, thanked the President, and said that as soon as the heart moderated a bit the letter would be given the boy. It was a rare bit of consideration that now followed. No sooner had the father’s letter reached the White House than an answer came back by first post—this time with a special-delivery stamp on it. It was Theodore Roosevelt, the father, who wrote this time; his mind and time filled with affairs of state, and yet full of tender thoughtfulness for a little boy:
“Dear Mr. Bok:—
“I have your letter of the 16th instant. I hope the little fellow will soon be all right. Instead of giving him my letter, give him a message from me based on the letter, if that will be better for him. Tell Mrs. Bok how deeply Mrs. Roosevelt and I sympathize with her. We know just how she feels.
“That’s pretty fine consideration,” said the father. He got the letter during a business conference and he read it aloud to the group of business men. Some there were in that group who keenly differed with the President on national issues, but they were all fathers, and two of the sturdiest turned and walked to the window as they said: “Yes, that is fine!”
Then came the boy’s pleasure when he was handed the letter; the next few days were spent inditing an answer to “my friend, the President.” At last the momentous epistle seemed satisfactory, and off to the busy presidential desk went the boyish note, full of thanks and assurances that he would come just as soon as he could, and that Mr. Roosevelt must not get impatient!
The “soon as he could” time, however, did not come as quickly as all had hoped!—a little heart pumped for days full of oxygen and accelerated by hypodermic injections is slow to mend. But the President’s framed letter, hanging on the spot on the wall first seen in the morning, was a daily consolation.
Then, in March, although four months after the promise—and it would not have been strange, in his busy life, for the President to have forgotten or at least overlooked it—on the very day that the book was published came a special “large-paper” copy of The Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter, and on the fly-leaf there greeted the boy, in the President’s own hand:
“To Master Curtis Bok,
“With the best wishes of his friend,
“March 11, 1908.”
The boy’s cup was now full, and so said his letter to the President. And the President wrote back to the father: “I am really immensely amused and interested, and shall be mighty glad to see the little fellow.”
In the spring, on a beautiful May day, came the great moment. The mother had to go along, the boy insisted, to see the great event, and so the trio found themselves shaking the hand of the President’s secretary at the White House.
“Oh, the President is looking for you, all right,” he said to the boy, and then the next moment the three were in a large room. Mr. Roosevelt, with beaming face, was already striding across the room, and with a “Well, well, and so this is my friend Curtis!” the two stood looking into each other’s faces, each fairly wreathed in smiles, and each industriously shaking the hand of the other.
“Yes, Mr. President, I’m mighty glad to see you!” said the boy.
“I am glad to see you, Curtis,” returned Mr. Roosevelt.
Then there came a white rose from the presidential desk for the mother, but after that father and mother might as well have faded away. Nobody existed save the President and the boy. The anteroom was full; in the Cabinet-room a delegation waited to be addressed. But affairs of state were at a complete standstill as, with boyish zeal, the President became oblivious to all but the boy before him.
“Now, Curtis, I’ve got some pictures here of bears that a friend of mine has just shot. Look at that whopper, fifteen hundred pounds—that’s as much as a horse weighs, you know. Now, my friend shot him”—and it was a toss-up who was the more keenly interested, the real boy or the man-boy, as picture after picture came out and bear adventure crowded upon the heels of bear adventure.
“Gee, he’s a corker, all right!” came from the boy at one point, and then, from the President: “That’s right, he is a corker. Now you see his head here”—and then both were off again.
The private secretary came in at this point and whispered in the President’s ear.
“I know, I know. I’ll see him later. Say that I am very busy now.” And the face beamed with smiles.
“Now, Mr. President—” began the father.
“No, sir; no, sir; not at all. Affairs can wait. This is a long-standing engagement between Curtis and me, and that must come first. Isn’t that so, Curtis?”
Of course the boy agreed.
Suddenly the boy looked around the room and said:
“Where’s your gun, Mr. President? Got it here?”
“No,” laughingly came from the President, “but I’ll tell you”—and then the two heads were together again.
A moment for breath-taking came, and the boy said:
“Aren’t you ever afraid of being shot?”
“You mean while I am hunting?”
“Oh, no. I mean as President.”
“No,” replied the smiling President. “I’ll tell you, Curtis; I’m too busy to think about that. I have too many things to do to bother about anything of that sort. When I was in battle I was always too anxious to get to the front to think about the shots. And here—well, here I’m too busy too. Never think about it. But I’ll tell you, Curtis, there are some men down there,” pointing out of the window in the direction of the capitol, “called the Congress, and if they would only give me the four battleships I want, I’d be perfectly willing to have any one take a crack at me.” Then, for the first time recognizing the existence of the parents, the President said: “And I don’t know but if they did pick me off I’d be pretty well ahead of the game.”
Just in that moment only did the boy-knowing President get a single inch above the boy-interest. It was astonishing to see the natural accuracy with which the man gauged the boy-level.
“Now, how would you like to see a bear, Curtis?” came next. “I know where there’s a beauty, twelve hundred pounds.”
“Must be some bear!” interjected the boy.
“That’s what it is,” put in the President. “Regular cinnamon-brown type”—and then off went the talk to the big bear at the Washington “Zoo” where the President was to send the boy.
Then, after a little: “Now, Curtis, see those men over there in that room. They’ve travelled from all parts of the country to come here at my invitation, and I’ve got to make a little speech to them, and I’ll do that while you go off to see the bear.”
And then the hand came forth to say good-by. The boy put his in it, each looked into the other’s face, and on neither was there a place big enough to put a ten-cent piece that was not wreathed in smiles. “He certainly is all right,” said the boy to the father, looking wistfully after the President.
Almost to the other room had the President gone when he, too, instinctively looked back to find the boy following him with his eyes. He stopped, wheeled around, and then the two instinctively sought each other again. The President came back, the boy went forward. This time each held out both hands, and as each looked once more into the other’s eyes a world of complete understanding was in both faces, and every looker-on smiled with them.
“Good-by, Curtis,” came at last from the President.
“Good-by, Mr. President,” came from the boy.
Then, with another pump-handly shake and with a “Gee, but he’s great, all right!” the boy went out to see the cinnamon-bear at the “Zoo,” and to live it all over in the days to come.
Two boy-hearts had met, although one of them belonged to the President of the United States.
Did you happen to miss the previous chapter? Read Chapter 24