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Roosevelt ordered the turkey brought back and began carving and filling the three extra plates put before him.
“These boys came up here all the way from South Carolina,” he explained to Edith, “and stopped to call on me.”
“We’re on our way to Pennsylvania. Got jobs in the mills there, ma’am, but when we got near this place we just had to see the Colonel, so we hired a rig and come out here. Never thought about its being Christmas.”
“You’re very welcome,” Edith assured them.
“Did you kill any Spaniards in Cuba?” asked Ted, while the visitors helped themselves gratefully to the food being served by the maid.
“Well, we shot at a lot of them, so we must have hit a few,” replied Cricket.
“Anyway, they were shooting at us from up in trees and under bushes, and there were too many trees and bushes for a man to take any chances.”
“Anyway, we licked ’em,” said Lew. “When a Spaniard runs he runs. And yells.”
“Have you got your guns?” Ethel asked.
“No, miss, we were discharged from service so we turned in our rifles.”
“Father has a lot of guns,” observed Kermit. “Ted can shoot, but I can’t.”
“You will be old enough before long,” said his father. “Ted shoots very well for an eleven-year-old.”
“I hit the bull’s eye twice,” Ted bragged, while Edith controlled the little jerk of panic she always felt when she thought of her eldest son with that gun. “Teach him early enough and he’ll know how to handle a weapon wisely,” had been Theodore’s argument when the new light rifle had been brought home.
Edith excused herself when the meal was over and went upstairs but the children refused to follow as she suggested. They followed the men instead, even Alice taking a chair in a corner, tucking her feet up under her, a habit Mame much deplored. Ted sprawled on his stomach on the floor at his father’s feet, chin on palms, while Archie crawled under Roosevelt’s chair and curled up there, half asleep.
The talk was fascinating to the children, even to Ethel, 27who had never showed any female dismay at violence; indeed she was a real little warrior herself, holding her own with two older brothers. All the Roosevelt children had been taught to stand for the right and fight for it if necessary, and there had been times when their mother secretly regretted this branch of her husband’s education, when Ted came home with a split lip and spectacles bent, or all of them engaged in battles in the nursery.
Alice had her own room now and was inclined to stay aloof when violence threatened, but earlier she had been one of the stoutest fighters.
Kermit leaned on his father’s shoulder drinking in the stories of Spanish ambushes and night attacks, of the renegade Cubans who begged food from the Rough Riders and then carried information to the Spanish headquarters.
“I shot one buzzard,” said Cricket. “He begged for some beans and I only had a spoonful and then he drew out a rusty old pistol. I got him before he could cock it.”