The Sportsman’s Club in the Saddle

The Sportsman’s Club in the Saddle

Which is the pleasantest season of the year, boy reader? No doubt you have written more than one composition on the subject, and perhaps you will say, as most boys do, that you like winter best. If you live in the city you can spend your leisure hours at the skating-rink; or it may be that your father owns an ice-boat, and you take great delight in riding in it. Your cousin Tom, who lives in the country, will tell you that winter is the time for him, for he is fond of sleigh-riding, and sees any amount of sport at quiltings, apple-bees, corn-huskings and surprise parties. If you had asked Walter and Eugene Gaylord what
 they thought about it, Eugene, who was a lively, talkative fellow, would have answered you something like this:
“We see more real fun in one week during the winter time than in all the rest of the year. The quails, that have been rearing their broods in these fields during the summer, are in prime condition then, and if you ever handled a shot-gun or owned a setter, you know there is no sport in the world like shooting on the wing. Wild turkeys are plenty, also. They come into the hills about here to feed on the beech-nuts. It is time then to set traps for minks and to go coon-hunting. Minks are abundant about here, and their skins are worth two dollars apiece. And then, is there any music in the world that can equal the baying of a hound of a clear, frosty morning? That brier patch down there covers more than two hundred acres—father calls it his preserves—it is literally filled with rabbits and foxes, and our club owns a pack of the best hounds in the state. That sheet of water you see over there is an arm of the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I have seen it black with wild geese and ducks. They stay around here during the fall and winter.
 All the shooting we can do will not frighten them away, for the bay is an excellent feeding-ground, and it never freezes over. You know the winters are not as cold down here as they are up North. Deer are plenty in the swamp, bears are so abundant that they are really troublesome, wild hogs you can find any day, and panthers are killed on our plantation every winter. And then, if every other source of excitement should fail us, there are Bayard Bell and his crowd of fellows, who are bound that the members of our club shall not enjoy a minute’s peace if they can help it. You see, while we were students at the Academy at Bellville last summer, our club defeated Bayard and his crew in a four-oared race for the championship, and that made him very angry. More than that, he wanted to be commodore of the academy squadron, but when the election came off he was badly beaten, and that was another thing that made him mad. He has promised to square yards with every one of us this winter, and we are waiting to see what he will do. I like these long evenings, too. When the wind is whistling dismally without, and the rain and sleet are rattling against the window-panes, isn’t it jolly to draw up in front of a warm fire,
 and while away the hours with a game of chess or backgammon with some good fellow, or listen to the stories of Uncle Dick, who has travelled over every portion of the habitable globe? O, we always see plenty of sport during the winter.”
Two better boys than Walter and Eugene Gaylord never lived, and none ever had a pleasanter home or a kinder father and mother. When we say that they were good boys, we do not mean that they were perfect. We would not give a fig for an army of perfect boys, even if there were such impossible things in the world; but, thank goodness, they do not exist outside of story-books. Walter and Eugene had their faults, and some glaring ones, too, like all other live, wide-awake boys. They had done things they were sorry for and did not mean to do again; and, on more than one occasion—we regret to say it, but candor compels us—they had been seen with very long faces walking reluctantly into the library, whither they were followed by their father, who carried in his hand something that looked very much like an apple-tree switch. But, for all that, they were first-rate fellows—kind, obliging, and good-tempered.
There was a year’s difference in their ages, and a great deal of difference in their tastes, dispositions and habits. Walter, the older, thoroughly enjoyed himself in a quiet way, and thought more of a good book and a pair of slippers than he did of the ball club and debating society. He owned a splendid double-barrel, and was an excellent shot on the wing; but he had been known to sit for hours behind his brush-blind on the banks of the bayou, and watch a flock of canvas-backs, which were sporting about in the water within easy range of his gun, without firing a shot at them. He was studying their habits, he said. Eugene, on the other hand, was a wild, uneasy fellow, and he could not possibly enjoy himself without plenty of noise. He was a capital sailor, and nothing suited him better than to stand at the helm of the Banner (that was the name of the yacht he and his brother owned, and a swift, beautiful little craft she was) while she was bounding over the waves of the bay before a stiff breeze with all her canvas spread. He was an enthusiastic and skilful fisherman, a good shot, and woe to the squirrel or duck that showed its head within range of his Smith & Wesson rifle. It made no difference to him what the
 “habits” of the game were, so long as he secured a respectable bunch to carry home. He had more than once been capsized in the bay; had broken his arm in an attempt to climb one of the lofty elm trees in the yard; had tumbled over cliffs while searching for sea-gulls’ nests; and had fallen into quick-sands, while stalking pelicans in the swamp, and narrowly escaped with his life; but he was hale and hearty still, and none the worse for his adventures.
Walter and Eugene lived in the state of Louisiana, about forty miles from the thriving village of Bellville, in a large stone house which was so completely concealed by the thick shrubbery and trees that surrounded it, that not even its chimneys could be seen from the road. A gravelled carriage-way led from the gate to the dwelling, and then turning abruptly to the right ran down a steep bank to the boat-house. In front of the boat-house a stone jetty extended out into the water; and at the end of it was anchored a buoy, to which, had you been a visitor at the Gaylord mansion during the summer, you would have seen moored a rakish little schooner that held a high place in the estimation of our young friends. And had you seen that same
 schooner under way, you would have noticed that a Commodore’s broad pennant floated from her mast-head; for Walter Gaylord was commander of the Columbia Yacht Club, and the Banner was his flagship. At the time our story begins, however, the yachting season was over, and the schooner, being too large to be stowed away in the boat-house, had been hauled into a neighboring bayou and hidden among the bushes, where she would be effectually protected from the fury of the storms that visited the coast during the winter. She had sailed many a race during the previous summer, and the pair of gold-mounted field-glasses which occupied a prominent place on the centre-table in the boy’s room, and which they never neglected to show to visitors, proved that she had been victorious in at least one of them. Her young masters thought that her work for the year was over, but it turned out otherwise. She was destined before the winter was ended, to accomplish something that far surpassed all her former exploits, and to sail in waters and visit countries that none of her crew had ever seen before.
On the floor of the boat-house lay a long narrow object covered with canvas to protect it from
 the damp and dust. It was a four-oared shell, the property of the Sportsman’s Club. There were people in the village who could say that they had seen the schooner beaten in a fair race, but not one who could say the same of the Spray. Whether her success was owing to the boat itself, or to the muscle and long wind of those who handled the oars, is a question. The club gave all the credit to the boat; and you would have had hard work to make them believe that she did not go faster, and skim more lightly over the waves, ever since that memorable afternoon in August when she wrested the champion colors from the Emma, which everybody imagined to be the swiftest boat about the village. Bayard Bell, the owner and stroke of the Emma, was highly enraged over his defeat. He forthwith challenged the Spray to another trial of speed, and sent to New Orleans for his cousins Will and Seth Bell, who belonged to a boat club there, and who considered themselves crack oarsmen, to come down and train his crew and pull in the race. The contest came off in the presence of the village people and all the students of the Academy, and the Spray walked away from the Emma and her picked crew as easily as though the latter
 had been standing still. Then Bayard was angrier than ever, and his city cousins, who had expected to win an easy victory over the “country bumpkins,” were astonished. The former declared that the Spray had been rowed in a race for the last time, and Will and Seth said that if they could not beat her by fair means they could by foul, and that when the next season opened the village people would see the champion colors restored to the Emma, to which they rightfully belonged. This threat reached the ears of Walter and his crew, who, knowing what a vindictive, persevering fellow they had to deal with, kept a close watch over their beloved boat, and never allowed a day to pass without spending half an hour in swinging their Indian clubs and dumb-bells.
Outside the boat-house, and turned up against it, was the skiff which Walter and Eugene used when they went hunting on the bay. On the ground near it lay a pile of bushes which were used as a blind to conceal the hunters when they were pulling toward the game. The window of their room looked out upon the bay, and if they discovered a flock of geese or ducks near the shore, it was but the work of a few minutes to launch the
 skiff, put up the blind, and be off. In this way they had obtained many an excellent dinner.
About a hundred yards further up the bank, to the left of the boat-house, were the stables where Mr. Gaylord kept his riding and some of his farm-horses, and the kennels which afforded shelter to his hounds. Horses and hounds were made much of in those days, and Mr. Gaylord and his brother, Uncle Dick, took as much pride in theirs as any old English huntsman. Walter and Eugene were well provided for in this particular, and their saddle-nags and dogs were the envy of all the young hunters in the parish. Walter rode a large, milk-white charger, which was like his master in more respects than one. He was as steady as a plough-horse, afraid of nothing, was generally very deliberate in his movements, and on ordinary occasions went along at a snail’s pace, his head down, his eyes half-closed, and his ears bobbing back and forth with every step he made. But, after all, there was plenty of spirit in him. Let him once hear the hounds in full cry, or let his rider tighten the reins and give him even the slightest touch with the spur, and the old horse’s head would come up, and he would step off in a way that made it
 exceedingly difficult for any but a fleet-footed nag to keep pace with him. Eugene’s horse was a different sort of animal altogether. He was a small, light-bodied roan, fiery and vicious, and so restless that he never would stand still long enough for his rider to become fairly seated in the saddle. But the two got along very well together. The horse always wanted his own way, and Eugene was quite willing that he should have it.
There were seven dogs in their pack. Six of them were common deer-hounds—large tan-colored animals, staunch and swift; and when they once opened on a trail, how they would make the woods ring with their music! The other was an Irish greyhound, a present from Uncle Dick. He stood nearly three feet high at the shoulders, and was as fleet as the wind. He was good-natured enough generally, but savage when aroused.
The country about Mr. Gaylord’s plantation was but thinly populated, and wild in the extreme. His nearest neighbor, Mr. Bell, lived three miles away, and the nearest settlement was at Bellville, forty miles distant. Mr. Gaylord’s family had but little intercourse with the family of Mr. Bell. The younger members engaged in a pitched battle occasionally;
 and their fathers, when they met on the road, merely saluted each other in a dignified manner, and passed without speaking. Mr. Bell did not seem to be on good terms with anybody except a brother who lived in New Orleans (Will’s father and Seth’s), and who was equally unpopular with himself. He had at one time stood high in the community (the village of Bellville was named after him), but of late he had gone down hill rapidly in the estimation of his former associates. There was a mystery surrounding him that none could penetrate. He was engaged in business of some kind, but no one knew what it was. For two years he had been making money rapidly—much faster than he could have made it by cultivating his orange plantation—and the settlers had at last become suspicious, and hinted that he was engaged in some traffic that the authorities would one day put a stop to.
Walter and Eugene were students at the Bellville Academy—or rather they had been until a few weeks ago when the Fire King stepped in and destroyed the buildings, and gave the scholars a long vacation. Our heroes regarded this as a great calamity, and so did every one of the students, for
 they loved the Academy and all its surroundings. It was no wonder that they held the institution in high esteem, for the faculty were men who understood the nature of boys, and knowing how to combine profit with pleasure, they had made the school a sort of modern Athens, where muscles were cultivated as well as brains. So varied were the exercises and amusements that the most exacting students could not fail to find something to interest them. For the sober, studious ones who preferred quiet sport, there was the yacht club, and also the classes in Geology, Botany, and Natural History, the members of which spent a portion of each school term camping out in the woods with their professors; and for the active boys, who delighted in violent exercises, there were ball clubs, boat clubs, a gymnasium, and boxing and fencing masters. Walter and Eugene were lonesome in their country home, and looked forward with impatience to the coming summer, when the new buildings would be ready for occupation. Uncle Dick, however, hinted that it would be a long time before they, or any of the members of the Sportsman’s Club, would enter the new academy as students; but when the boys asked him what he meant, he
 poked them in the ribs with his finger, looked very wise, and said nothing.
The house in which Walter and Eugene lived looked like any other ordinary country house on the outside, and on the inside too, for that matter, except in one particular. Away up in the third story, next to the roof, was a room, the like of which, we venture to say, was never seen in any other dwelling. It belonged to Uncle Dick. It was a neat, cosy apartment, and if you had been conducted into it blindfolded, you would have thought, when you were permitted to use your eyes again, that you were in the cabin of some splendid vessel. Indeed, Uncle Dick intended that it should look as much like one as possible. He was an old sailor, cherishing an affection for the blue water that nothing could change, and he had been so long accustomed to life on shipboard that he found it hard work to stay ashore. His cabin reminded him of his ocean home, and it did not require a very great stretch of imagination for him to fancy himself still on board his vessel.
The apartment was just about the size of the cabin of an ordinary merchantman. There were three small windows on one side of it, and under
 them was a sofa, upon which Uncle Dick took his after-dinner nap as regularly as he did while he was the commander of a whaler. The windows on the other two sides were “bull’s eyes”—round, thick plates of glass enclosed in iron frames and set into the wall. Uncle Dick always kept these bull’s eyes open in fair weather, but as surely as a storm came up he would close and fasten them. One would hardly suppose that a great deal of rain could come in at these small openings, let the tempest be never so furious; but Uncle Dick always thought of the waves he had seen on the ocean. He said he did not want the sea to come rushing into his cabin and spoiling all his fine furniture. When we remind you that the house was three stories high, and tell you that it stood upon the top of a hill at least five hundred yards from the bay, you will know how much probability there was that salt water would ever wash in at those bull’s eyes.
There were no doors in the cabin; at least such doors as we have in our houses. A small ladder on one side of the room led up to a trap-door in the roof (the “deck,” Uncle Dick always called it), and that was the only way one could go in and out of the cabin. There was one door that opened into
 Uncle Dick’s state-room, but that was not hung on hinges; it worked on a slide.
The old sailor turned up his nose at a bedstead, and always slept in a bunk. His looking-glass was fastened to the wall; his wash-stand was held firmly in its place by screws; his centre-table, on which was always to be found Bowditch’s Navigator, a chart or two, and a telescope, was also screwed fast to the floor, and provided with a raised edge to keep the articles from falling off when the old mansion was rocking and tumbling about in a gale. Walter and Eugene always laughed when they saw this contrivance. The idea that a solid stone house, that had withstood the storms of a quarter of a century, could so far forget itself as to rock about in the wind sufficiently to displace any of Uncle Dick’s furniture, was highly amusing to them. But it was no laughing matter with the old sailor. He was in earnest about it; and if he had been on the point of starting with the mansion on a voyage across the Atlantic, he could not have taken more pains to get everything in his cabin in readiness for the storms he would be likely to meet on the way.
There was one thing that did not look exactly ship-shape, and that was a huge book-case which
 occupied one side of the cabin. A portion of it was filled with books, and the rest with what Uncle Dick called his “relics.” There were at least a hundred articles of every description in that book-case, and there was not one among them that was not associated in the mind of the old sailor with some exciting event. For example, there was a harpoon, such as whalers use, with a long rope attached, which was laid down in Flemish coil on the bottom of the book-case. Whenever Uncle Dick looked at those articles it recalled to his mind the time when that harpoon was buried in the side of a huge sperm whale, and that rope caught around his leg and he was dragged into the water, and down, down, it seemed to him, almost to the bottom of the ocean. There was a condor of the Andes, stuffed and mounted, and looking so life-like that one almost expected to see it spread its immense wings and come crashing through the glass doors of the book-case. That reminded Uncle Dick of a startling adventure in South America. In the same compartment was a lance, with a bright iron head, and a long, slender shaft, ornamented with a portion of a horse’s tail. That lance had come from the desert of Sahara; and if you could have examined Uncle Dick’s
 right arm, you would have found, among the flags, ships, anchors and other emblems with which it was decorated, a long, ragged scar from a wound made by that very lance. A little further on hung the bridle, saddle and turban of the Bedouin who had handled the weapon when Uncle Dick received that wound. There were the snow-shoes on which he had travelled over the plains of the Red River of the North, and under them was the Indian canoe that had carried him and a companion from Fort Churchill, one of the most northern posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company, to the Red River settlement. In the next compartment was the Esquimaux sled in which he had traversed many a mile of the ice-fields of Greenland. Further on was the dragoon’s carbine he had shouldered at the breaking out of the Mexican war, and the major’s sword and sash he had worn when he entered the city of Mexico with General Scott. And so we might go on for a whole chapter, and still not notice all the different articles in the book-case. Besides these, there were numerous others scattered about the room. In every corner, hung upon the walls, and suspended from the ceiling, the eye rested on tomahawks, bows and arrows, and scalping-knives from
 the plains; sharks’ teeth and pearl-oyster shells from the South Pacific; reindeers’ antlers and harpoons from Hudson’s Bay; and relics from Herculaneum and Pompeii, which Uncle Dick had succeeded in smuggling out in spite of the vigilance of the guard. In short, the cabin was a perfect curiosity shop, and was a never-failing source of amusement and instruction to the boys who were permitted to enter it, for at every visit they found something new to admire and wonder at. The Sportsman’s Club regarded the room as their headquarters. They visited it almost every night to listen to the old sailor’s stories; and that was a privilege they prized highly, for it was one that Uncle Dick granted to none except his nephews and their most intimate friends.

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