University of Virginia Library


Page 108


The excellent lady, Mrs. Foster, was quite dissatisfied
at the result of the race. Perhaps she might have been
still more so, had the victory been obtained by “Ferraunt,”
instead of “Sorella;” by the horse of Hammond
in place of that of his friend. She did not conceal her
mortification, which vented itself in expressions of strong
sympathy with Jones Barry, even in the presence of his
conqueror. He, however, either was, or affected to be,
wholly indifferent to the result. He had various excuses
for the defeat, which he could ascribe to any and everything,
always excepting his mare's ability and his own

“I'll go you a thousand any day, Miles Henderson,
on `Geraldine,' against `Sorella.' I know what my
mare can do. But she wasn't groomed properly. That
little rascal Sam Perkins would give her water, though
I told him not; and he girt her in so tightly, that the
poor thing could hardly draw a decent breath.”

“And you're a little too heavy for your mare, Barry,”
added Nettles; who, having pocketed a clever share of
the money of the other, could afford to do the amiable.

“There's something in that,” was the admission of
Barry. “But, Tom, didn't I ride her beautiful?”

“You can ride,” was the liberal acknowledgment of
the other, with just the sort of emphasis and look, in
the right place, to render the admission satisfactory.

Meanwhile, Henderson and Hammond had both been
conversing with the ladies; though the latter could not
but perceive that Geraldine manifested, in his case,
a more than usual degree of reserve and distance. He


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was not long at a loss to what influence to ascribe this
deportment, since Mrs. Foster, though outwardly civil,
was yet not altogether capable of suppressing all shows
of that spirit by which she was secretly animated towards
him. True, however, to his maxim, he betrayed
no particular concern, but was only the more studious
to overlook none of the formal and becoming courtesies
which society had established as proper from the one sex
to the other. He was not only scrupulously polite and
attentive, but particularly graceful and spirited. His
conversation rose in force and animation with the consciousness
of his equivocal position; and the vivacity
and freedom of his dialogue and manner were only restrained
by an overruling resolution to permit to himself
no such liberties as might incur censure or provoke
offence. He played the diplomate with a rare excellence;
and Mrs. Foster leaned back in the carriage, heartily
vexed with a person whom she longed to wound, yet who
gave her no advantage; and who, in spite of all her
malice, still contrived, seemingly without exertion, to
win the ears, and compel the sympathies of her protégé.
The carriage, meanwhile, was got in readiness; the
horses were geared in, and the lady proceeded to invite
the gentlemen to return with her to dinner. Hammond
and Henderson declared their pleasure in escorting the
ladies home; while Jones Barry and Nettles excused
themselves by alleging that, with them, the business of
the day was very far from being over. There were
several races yet to be run. “Glaucus” was again to
try his heels against some other nags, which were yet
to be brought forward; and there was to be a “scrub
race for sweepstakes, in which more than twenty horses
had been already entered. The interest of Nettles in
these events, though he ran no horse himself, was not
less great than that of Jones Barry, while his profits
were likely to be much greater.

“Besides,” says Barry; “there's the circus, Mrs.
Foster, the circus;” and he rubbed his hands. “And
I never saw the circus in my life. I'm told they do all


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sorts of things. There's a man there that jumps through
the eye of a needle!”

“Oh, Mr. Barry, how can you believe such nonsense?”

“It's true, by the pipers! here's the advertisement;
here's the picture itself; the man and the needle.”

“As large as life!” said Nettles.

And Barry pulled out of his pocket one of those enormous
bills of the circus, which one sees at times, in the
South and West, covering the sides of a court-house.
As he held it up, it fairly covered him from head to foot.

“I don't see why he shouldn't jump through the eye
of such a needle, Mr. Barry; the needle seems a great
deal larger than the man.”

“So it does,” said Barry.

“Oh! but that's only to show it to the people, Miss
Geraldine; that's only the picture; for I saw the needle,
the real needle itself; and I assure you that it's not
much larger than those you ladies work with. It isn't
exactly a cambric needle, I grant you; but then again,
it's nothing near like a bagging-needle.”

“You saw it, Tom?” asked Barry.

“To be sure I did!” was the reply.

“And you believe, Mr. Barry, that any man could
go through such a needle?” queried Mrs. Foster.

“I don't see how he can,” said the other, gravely;
“it would break out the eye.”

A roar of laughter from Henderson followed this oracular
opinion, of which Miss Geraldine herself indulged
in a moderate imitation. Mrs. Foster lay back in the
carriage, frowning and mortified. Nettles continued:—

“But that's not all; the clown who goes through the
needle uncorks a bottle with his eye, sets fire to a wheelrocket
with his whiskers, and afterwards swallows his
own head.”

“Ah! Tom,” says Barry, “that won't do! Nobody
can make me believe that. It may be that he
could draw a cork with his eye; and, as for setting off
wheelrockets with his whiskers, that, I suppose, isn't


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altogether impossible; but I'll be d—d if I believe a
word about swallowing his own head. Swallowing his
own head! Why, who the deuce could ever think of doing
such a thing? Oh no, Tom Nettles; that cock
won't fight! It's likely he may make a show of doing
something of the kind, by sleight of hand.”

“Of mouth, rather.”

“Well, mouth then; but I know it's all make b'lieve
—don't you think so, Mrs. Foster?”

“I don't think about it, Mr. Barry. It's all trick
and humbug. Circuses are all vulgar places. I have
no interest in them.”

“Vulgar! why, Lord bless you, Mrs. Foster, the
whole country's to be there. Don't you see the carriages
coming in already? There'll be a matter of three
hundred ladies, I reckon.”

“Ladies, indeed!” said the lady. “Perhaps so, sir.
We sha'n't be among them, however. Scipio,” to the
driver, “are you ready?”

“All ready, ma'am.”

“Well, Mr. Barry, we leave you. Mr. Nettles, we
shall always be glad to see you at the lodge. Gentlemen,”
to Hammond and Henderson, “do you still keep
your purpose of riding with us, or have the charms of
the clown, as we have heard them described, persuaded
you to think better of it, and stay for the circus?”

“If one could be sure that the clown would act honestly,
and really make a gulp of his own head,” mused
Hammond, with gravity.

Barry looked up bewildered, his mouth wide open, as
Nettles proceeded to assert that the thing was really
done in a most lifelike and natural manner; though, as
the clown reappeared always the next day with his head
on, looking quite as well as usual, he concluded, with
his friend Barry, that it was only “make b'lieve,” mere
sleight of hand or mouth, the clever trick of a clever
juggler—“though,” added the speaker, with admirable
gravity, “it certainly takes in everybody—everybody
believes it.”


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“Drive on, Scipio,” said the lady, imperiously, as if
anxious to escape from the confiding, yet dubious gaze
of Barry.

The carriage whirled away, Hammond and Henderson
taking opposite sides, the former beside the window
near which Geraldine sat, while his friend was the particular
escort of the mother. We will leave them on
their homeward progress, and return to our companions,
Jones Barry and Tom Nettles.

These two worthies at once proceeded with proper
diligence to business. Under the counsel of the latter,
Barry employed, as the rider of “Glaucus,” the little
gypsy, who had lifted “Sorella” so handsomely over
the track; and the result was an improvement in the
events of the contest. But it is not our purpose to
pursue the history of the turf at Hillabee. Ours is not
a racing calendar, and we must leave such histories to
those who are more perfect in the history of the stud.
It is enough that we say that the day continued one of
great excitement to the close. Some small winnings, at
the winding up, served somewhat to console Barry for
his heavier losses; and he was rendered particularly
happy, as Tom Nettles introduced him to a couple
of the chief men of the circus, by whom he was invited
into the hippodrome itself, and permitted, while
yet the day lasted, to behold the vacant scene upon
which such wonders were so soon to be enacted. He
was particularly anxious to get a sight of the clown,
but did not express his desire; as he felt that one who
was destined so shortly to swallow his own head might
very naturally desire to have all the interval to himself,
that he might prepare himself for the impending catastrophe.
Here, a table being spread extempore, some
cold baked meats were brought forth from a curtained
interior; and, with the help of a ham and a loaf, which
Nettles gathered from the booths of one of his acquaintance,
and a stout quart-decanter of French brandy,
which the equestrians had brought with them, Jones
Barry was very soon reconciled to the absence of the


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ladies. The decanter was soon emptied and replenished,
and this in time disappearing, the place was occupied
by a couple of bottles of tolerable wine. Nettles was
fond of strong drink, but he had one of those indurated
heads which could bear any degree of soaking without
betraying their owners. Jones Barry was much less of
a veteran, though he loved good liquors, after a gentlemanly
fashion. Enough, however, that, before he left
the table, he had become captious and somewhat unruly;
and it was only by adroit management that Nettles
could conduct him out of the tabernacle, so as to afford
to the manager an opportunity for preparing for the
performance of the night. In the open air, Barry was
more manageable, though it required an additional supply
of stimulus to keep his stomach from entire subjugation
to the hostile power which he had thrown into
the territory. Nettles was not unwilling to indulge
him. He was a fellow of fun, and found his capital in
this excellent subject. He had set out to enjoy a spree,
and he was resolved to make a night of it. An hour's
wandering about the encampment, for such had the race-course
at Hillabee become for the occasion, and there
were a thousand ways for getting up and letting off
steam, to employ the slang phraseology of the region.
Wagons were to be upset, drunken men stripped, the tails
and manes of horses cropped; these, with other practices,
in which the humorists were quite as “rough as ready,”
served to beguile the interval between the close of the
race and the opening of the circus. But it was the
fortune of Jones Barry to make himself conspicuous
in a more important enterprise. The wanderings of our
companions in search of adventures led them, with a
crowd of others, to an amphitheatre, about three hundred
yards from the race-course, where they witnessed
a sport in progress, to which it seemed that all they
had hitherto beheld was mere child's-play, tame and
spiritless. This was a “Gander-pulling!

Reader, do you know what a gander-pulling is? If
you do not, it is quite as well that you should form some


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idea of the sources of pleasure to the purely vulgar and
uncultivated nature. Man is undoubtedly a beast, unless
you contrive some process for making him a gentleman;
and there is no question but that, as he has a
natural appetite for recreation and pleasure, if you do
not contrive for him such as will not be unacceptable to
the Deity, the devil will more liberally provide with
such as will make the man acceptable only to himself.
Gander-pulling, accordingly, is one of those sports
which a cunning devil has contrived to gratify a human
beast. It appeals to his skill, his agility, and strength;
and is therefore in some degree grateful to his pride:
but, as it exercises these qualities at the expense of his
humanity, it is only a medium by which his better qualities
are employed as agents for his worser nature.
Gander-pulling has been described as a sort of tournament
on horseback; the only difference is that the
knight has a goose for his opponent, instead of a person
like himself. The man is mounted on horseback,
while the goose is mounted upon poles. These poles,
or saplings, are thrust firmly into the ground, some
twelve feet apart; but they are united by a cord at the
top, which hangs loosely, while, pendent from the extremity,
the living gander is fastened by the legs.
Here he swings his head, hanging downwards just above
the path, between the two saplings, and just high
enough to be within reach of the man on horseback.
The achievement of the rider is to run his horse, at full
speed, at the bird, and, grasping him by the neck, to
wring his head off as he passes on. This is not so easy
a performance. The neck of the gander has been previously
stripped of all its feathers, and has then been
thickly coated with grease or oil. Nothing can be made
more slippery; and, shining and warming in the sun,
the glittering neck of the unhappy bird looks like that
of a young boa, for the first time practising from the
bough, under which he expects the rabbit or the rat to
glide. To increase the difficulty of the exploit, and to
prevent any unfair delay in the approach of the assailant,


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four men are stationed, armed with flails of hickory,
on each side of the track, and at proper intervals.
These, as the horse approaches, lay their hickories upon
his flanks; and so unmercifully, as not only to make him
go headlong forward, but frequently to make him bolt
the track in order to escape such unfriendly treatment.
The course is laid out on the exterior of a circle some
two hundred feet in diameter; which circuit the rider
must necessarily make before reaching the goose, starting
from a post which is properly watched by judges.
He is not expected to go at full speed except when within
twenty yards of the game. Thus guarded, the victim
is not so easily decapitated. It is only the experienced
horseman, and the experienced sportsman, who
can possibly succeed in the endeavor. Young beginners,
who look on the achievement as rather easy, are constantly
baffled; many find it impossible to keep the
track; many lose the saddle, and, even where they succeed
in passing beneath the saplings without disaster,
they either fail altogether in grasping the goose, which
keeps a constant fluttering and screaming; or, they find
it impossible to retain their grasp, at full speed, upon
the greasy and eel-like neck and head which they have
seized. Meantime, their failure is by no means sauce
for the gander. The tug, from which he at length
escapes, makes him feel excessively uncomfortable while
it lasts. The oil without does not protect him from severe
sore-throat within. His voice becomes hoarse with
screaming; and, long before his head is fairly off, he
has lost those nicer sensibilities which teach him exactly
how the event took place. The beating and bolting of
the horses, the emptying of the saddles, the failures of
the “pullers,” the screams, and wild wing-flapping of
the bird—these constitute the glory of the entertainment;
every point in the tilting being watched with
eager anxiety, and announced with screams and yells
from the multitude, which form no bad echoes to the
cries of the goose.

So much for the sport in general. It had been some


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time in progress, when Nettles and Jones Barry drew
nigh. The moment the latter beheld the scene, he at
once declared himself the man to take the gander's head.
Nettles was very far from discouraging him from an adventure
which promised fun; the more particularly as
his companion, if not absolutely drunk, was, as they
phrase it in Mississippi, “in a state of betweenity,” i. e.
neither drunk nor sober. A dozen had already tried
their hands without success; but, evidently, to the perfect
disquiet of the gander. There he swung aloft; his
wings flapping furiously at intervals, and, every now
and then, his throat pouring forth a sharp sudden scream,
the moment he became conscious of a horse in motion.
Barry fixed his eyes upon the shining neck, and shook
his hands at the bird, the fingers spreading out, like
claws, as he cried to the victim: “Here's the claws
that'll have you off, my beauty! You're shining there
for me! Who goes a V against Jones Barry? Who, I
say? Let him show himself, and be —!”

It is to the credit of Nettles that, though willing to
see the fun, he would not suffer his companion to be
fleeced. He interposed, that his bets should be trifles
only, though, in this friendly interposition, he incurred
the denunciations of the person whom he saved. Already
had he paid for his “matriculation,” and little
Logan Whitesides was dispatched for “Glaucus;” for,
though fuddled, Barry was not prepared to employ the
“Fair Geraldine,” his favorite, for such ignoble purposes.

“Hurrah for Jones Barry,” said Ben Burg; “He
ain't too proud to jine in the pleasures of the poor

“He's jest drunk enough for any sort of pleasure,
poor or rich,” was the comment of Lazy Jake Owens.

“I'll lay you a quarter, Jake,” said Burg, “that
he'll take the gander.”

“That'll be because he's near kin to him, then.”

“If he does,” said a third, “it'll be owing to his
liquor. He couldn't do it sober.”


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“Shall we go a quarter on him?” said Burg; a conscientious
feeling prompting him to vindicate, to this
extent, the ability of a person from whom he had contrived
to borrow a couple of half eagles but a few hours

“Make it a half, Burg.”

“D-o-n-e!” said the latter, rather slowly.

The vulgar look with respect, even while they sneer,
at the doings of those above them in fortune or position.
It was the fortune of Jones Barry to provoke a sensation
always among this class of people. They watched
and waited his movements. The gander obtained a
brief respite, while the boy went for “Glaucus”—
settled down into a drooping quiet, and hushed for a
period his screams. Our sprightly little gypsy was
not long before appearing with the horse. He was
ready saddled and bridled for the heat, and it was with
more ambition than agility that our hero contrived to
vault into the seat. Then it was that the uproar grew.

“Hurrah for Barry!” cried Nettles, at the top of his

“Who goes a picayune against Barry?”

“Done, with you, 'Squire Nettles.”

“And here's another! He's no more the chap to take
off a gander's head than I am to put it on.”

“Hurrah for the captain!” cried Burg.

“You may hurrah till your throat aches, but that
goose will never catch that gander,” was the unseemly
echo of Lazy Jake Owens.

A hundred voices joined in the shouting. The boys
rolled, and roared, and tumbled, throwing the dust up
fifty feet in air, as the knight of the goose prepared
to make his passage at arms. The men with the flails
did not need to use their hickories. Barry came on at
full speed, and, amidst shouts of congratulation, he kept
his horse steadfast along the track, and through the saplings,
from whose united tops the gander was suspended.
The bird flounced and shrieked, flapping his wings with
immense violence. Barry, dropping his bridle in his


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excitement, threw up both hands, and grasped, not the
goose, but the rope by which it was suspended. The
horse passed instantly from under him, and, for a moment,
he hung in air, the wings of the gander playing
the devil's tattoo rather rapidly upon his face, breast,
and shoulders. It was but for an instant, however. The
cord, calculated to sustain one goose only, broke under
double weight, and down came the pair together, the
gander uppermost. Never had such a scene been witnessed
before, in the whole annals of gander-pulling,
even from the first dawn of its discovery among our European
ancestors. The field rang with shouts of merriment;
a most royal delirium seized upon the republican.
Some rolled on the earth in convulsions; some clapped
their hands and shouted; while the boys shot off their
guns, to the great confusion and disorder of horseflesh.

Barry rose half-stunned and thoroughly bewildered.
The gander had revenged himself on our luckless
adventurer for all the assaults he had himself sustained.
His wings had been busy, from the first moment of their
encounter and fall, to that when the parties were separated,
and chiefly upon the face of our hero. His cheeks
were scraped rather than scratched; his nose and mouth
were bleeding. His shirt bosom was equally torn and
soiled, and his hair was lifted in as much disorder as
was Job's when he beheld the vision of the night.
Nettles came to his relief, and had his face washed,
while little Logan Whitesides ran after and recovered
the horse “Glaucus.” Ludicrous as had been the
scene, and much beyond any that the multitude had
expected, they were still, now that the first burst of
merriment was over, in no mood to lose their usual fun.
The gander was re-hoisted, newly greased, and set
aloft, screaming with new disquiet as he rose in air.
There were twenty gallant youngsters all ready to undertake
the feat at which Jones Barry had so ingloriously
failed; but a proper courtesy required that he
should be permitted to recover his laurels. But when
the thing was proposed to him, he shook his head. He


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had not quite recovered from the unavoidable confusion
of ideas which resulted from the twofold influence of
the cognac and the concussion.

“No, I think not,” said he. “Goose, eh! Nettles;
we've had dinner.” Such was the seemingly inconsequential
reply; in which, however, Nettles detected the
latent meaning.

“Yes,” said he, “and ate very heartily, both of us;
why should we want the goose?”

“Shall we go, Tom?” asked Barry, sobering by degrees,
and feeling rather sham-faced.

“No!” said the other; “here's Meredith's wagon.
He keeps good liquor; we'll take a consoler.” And they
went aside together to the wagon, where they both obtained
an apple-toddy, the saccharine property being
derived from the best mountain honey, while the apple-brandy
was as good as ever filled up the corn-rows at
election time. Barry felt better after the beverage,
and the two returned to the gander-tournament together.
The game was already resumed and in full blast. Three
or four assailants had been baffled. But they usually
came up a second and a third time to the scratch. The
only discouraging circumstance which finally arrested
their efforts being the repeated charges for new entries.
The gander was one of fortunate fates; his owner was
delighted to perceive that the instincts of the bird
enabled him to anticipate the moment of danger, and to
exercise his most rapid movements, just as the grasp
was made upon his neck. He eluded several fingers;
but some clutched him, and the “scrag” paid severely
from the jerk which followed, even though it finally
slipped from the gripe of the enemy. But his voice
was suffering, and his action was greatly diminished.
It was then that Nettles found himself plucked by the
sleeve, and drawn aside by our gypsy boy, Logan Whitesides.

“Well! what now, Logan?”

“Why, Squire, ef you'll only ax the capper to let me


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ride `Gloccus' at the gander, I'm a thinking I can ease
off that head thar, ef 'twas never done afore.”

Nettles found it no difficult matter to persuade Barry,
and almost the next assailant of the goose was our
urchin. He certainly looked less like one to “ease off
the head” than those who had preceded him. He
was the smallest of all the adventurers; rode squat, with
a stoop, doubling up like a frog or monkey on the leap.
But if he lacked in size, he was possessed of rare agility.
He was all wire and spring; and, a fact not generally
known, he had been trained to the sport in another
county, and when much younger. His ability in riding
we have already seen. Nettles was a judge of boys as
well as horses.

“Who covers an X against little Logan Whitesides.”

“I'll do that same,” cried Lazy Jake Owens, and
there were other customers for similar amounts. Nettles
soon found that he had nearly a hundred upon the
fate of the gander. It was not long in suspense.

“Go ahead, Logan!” was the cry of Nettles.

The boy obeyed him. The boys rushed after their
hero with a shout. He himself shouted, and the descending
flails of the men of hickory scarcely grazed
the haunches of the fleetly-hurrying “Glaucus.” In a
moment, he had reached the foot of the scaffolding from
the top of which hung the victim. The bird uttered
tremendous screams, and flapped his wings wide and
heavily. Then could the gypsy boy be seen to crouch,
then to shoot upwards like an arrow, and the next moment
he was through the saplings, bearing aloft the
head, windpipe, and all of the gander but his body;—
the segregated throat continuing to pour scream upon
scream, convulsively, as the urchin waved the head of
the bird in triumph over his own. The field shook with
the uproar of rejoicing, and little Logan Whitesides promised
to become the hero of the county. He won not
a little in more solid coin than praises. He too had his
bets abroad, and was calling in his fips and picayunes,
his bits and quarters, from a considerable space around


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him, while Nettles, with equal satisfaction, was reminding
sundry of his neighbors of a certain handsome letter
of the alphabet whose name was X. Barry, too, was
in a high state of exultation, for was it not his “Glaucus”
by whom the victory was won?