The next Saturday was gray and chilly, but the weather did not deter Ernest and Jack Whipple from starting off early for the woods. They carried their chestnut bags as a matter of course, but this time the chestnut trees offered them very little enticement. The ones they knew best had already been robbed of their nuts, and they soon wearied of a somewhat profitless search. It was Jack who voiced what was in the minds of both boys.
"I wish we could run across Sam Bumpus again," he said.
Sam had said they could find him in the woods, but the woods had never seemed so extensive and it was like hunting for a needle in a haystack. They arrived at Beaver Pond and the Trapper's Cave without encountering any sign of the man and his dog.
Chiefly as a matter of habit they built a small fire in front of the Cave and sat down beside it on their log seat to consider the problem of finding an elusive hunter in the wide woods. They did not even open the treasure chest.
"He said anybody could tell us where to find him," 17 said Jack, "but there's no one to ask. People don't live in the woods, do they?"
Ernest sat pondering. "Well," said he at length, "there's that old woman that gave us the doughnuts one day. Do you remember? She had a lot of white hens that went right into her house, and a little dog named Snider that was so old he could hardly breathe."
"Oh, yes," responded Jack, brightening up. "Where does she live?"
"I don't know exactly," said Ernest, mournfully, "but I think it was over that way. We might find her if we hunted."
The boys arose, put out their fire carefully, as all good woodsmen should, and started off through the woods again. They must have tramped for nearly an hour, but the very uncertainty of the outcome of their quest gave it a touch of adventure and kept them going. At last, after following various false clues, they came out unexpectedly and abruptly into the clearing behind the old woman's house. The cackling of fowls and the wheezy barking of little old Snider greeted them. As they approached, the old lady herself appeared in the doorway of her kitchen, clad in a faded blue dress and leaning on her stick. As soon as she saw that it was boys her face broke into a smile.
18 "Come right in," she said, "and I'll get you some cookies."
The boys entered and sat in the kitchen chairs to eat their cookies. They were anxious to be on their way in search of Sam Bumpus, but politeness demanded that they linger a few minutes. Ernest inquired after the health of old Snider. The widow shook her head sadly.
"He's failin'," she replied. "I can see he's failin'. His teeth is all gone so he can't eat much and he has the azmy pretty bad. It's what us old folks has to expect, I s'pose, but I don't know what I'll do when Snider goes. He's all I've got now."
She wiped away a tear with the corner of her apron while the boys fidgeted in their chairs. They felt sorry for her, but they didn't know what to say on an occasion like this. Ernest reached down and patted the little dog's head.
"Poor old Snider," he murmured. Somehow that seemed to comfort the old lady.
At last Ernest found it possible to ask her if she knew Sam Bumpus.
"Lor', yes," she responded. "Queer old codger, Sam is, but the best-hearted man in the world. Many a good turn he's done me. He was here only this mornin' with some bones to make into soup for Snider."
19 "Where did he go?" inquired Ernest.
"He didn't say where he was goin', but I reckon if you was to go over to the Poor Farm you could find out. He was headed that way."
The boys had ridden by the Poor Farm on several occasions but had never visited it, and they felt a slight hesitation about doing so now, but the woman assured them that the inmates were all quite harmless and gave them directions for a short cut. Thanking her for her kindness, and patting Snider good-by, they set off along a rutty woods road and in a little while came to the Poor Farm. They crossed an inclosed field where a small drove of hogs were feeding, and went around to the front of the big white house.
They did not have to inquire for Sam Bumpus, for there he was, as natural as life, sitting on the steps of the veranda with Nan stretched out beside him. As the boys turned the corner of the house he arose with alacrity and held out his hand to them.
"Well, well," he cried in his gruff voice, his face wreathed with smiles, "this is a sight for sore eyes. Come right up and set down here. I can't invite you in because this ain't my house. I'm just a visitor here myself. I have a lot of old cronies here, and besides, I want to get familiar with the place because I may have to come here to live myself sometime."
He rattled on so that the boys didn't have a chance 20 to answer. He led them up on the veranda to an old man who sat in a rocking chair, bundled up in a blanket, smoking a pipe carved wonderfully in the form of a stag's head.
"These are my friends Ernest and Jack Whipple," he said to the old man, "and they like dogs."
At this the old man took his pipe from his mouth with a thin, trembling hand, looked at them out of pink, watery eyes, smiled, and nodded his white head.
"This is Captain Tasker," Sam told the boys. "He don't talk much, but he's forgotten more than you or I ever knew. Some day I'll tell you about his dog that followed him to war. He's a Civil War veteran, and he got wounded at Antietam. Show 'em your Grand Army badge, Captain. See?" he added to the boys. "I told you I was partic'lar who I knew."
Nan got up and stretched herself and looked up at her master inquiringly.
"Yes, old girl," said Sam, "it's time we was gettin' along." Then, noticing that the boys looked disappointed, he added, "Come walk a piece with us, won't you? I'd like to talk with you."
The boys readily acquiesced, and bidding good-by to Captain Tasker, they set out with Sam along a leafy woods road, with Nan ranging ahead. All about them the forest beckoned alluringly, and Sam told them 21 of spots where grouse and quail abounded, or where one might reasonably expect to "jump" a rabbit.
Arriving at length at the Oakdale Road, Sam and the boys seated themselves for a little while on a fallen log, while the former concluded a discourse on bird dogs and hunting.
"Setters," he was saying, "are usually supposed to be the keenest and pointers the strongest, but in my opinion it all depends on the partic'lar dog. Nowadays I hear a good deal about the pointer bein' the best dog, and I've owned some good ones myself. There's nothing prettier than a strong, wiry pointer doublin' and turnin' in the brush and freezin' to a steady point. But for my own part, give me a well-bred Llewellyn setter; they're the humanest dog they is. They've got the bird sense, too. Oh, you can't beat 'em."
"Is it hard to train them?" asked Ernest, who was of a practical turn of mind.
"Not so hard, if you know how," said Sam. "They have so much brains that they learn about as fast as you teach 'em. But you've got to know how to go at it. I've seen good sportsmen make a mess of it. First off, you've got to find out if they've got a nose. That's easy enough if you live with 'em and watch 'em. Hide something they want and see how quick they find it. You've got to take 'em when 22 they're young, of course. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, you know. But a good bird dog has got it bred in him, and he picks it up quick enough if you can only be patient and if you show half as much sense as the dog does."
Then he told, in his own peculiar fashion, how he started with the puppies, teaching them to retrieve objects such as sticks and balls, and later dead birds that they must learn to carry gently without using their teeth.
"Never let 'em think it's just a romp they're havin'," he continued. "I like to play with puppies as well as anyone, but when I'm breakin' 'em I let 'em understand that it's business. Never let 'em have their own way if they want to do the wrong thing, and never give 'em an order without seein' that it's carried out if it takes all day. That's where the patience comes in. Teach 'em to obey, and you can do most anything with 'em."
"Do you whip them if they don't obey?" asked Ernest.
"Never whipped a dog in my life," said Sam, decidedly, "except a fox terrier I had once. They're different. A whipped setter is a spoiled setter, and if you can't make 'em do what you want 'em to without whippin' 'em or bribin' 'em, you'd better get out of the business. Of course, I sometimes give a 23 puppy a piece of cookie or something to show him he's done what he ought to, but I never use the whip. There's other kinds of punishment that work better and don't break their spirits. Just keep 'em from havin' what they want, and tease 'em into wantin' it awful bad, and you can make 'em do most anything."
He then went on to explain his method of teaching a young dog to hold his point in the field. He used a long rope tied to a stout collar, and led the dog to a thicket where a dead bird lay. When the dog got the scent and started to dash in, a sharp jerk on the rope restrained him, and in time he was thus taught to stand rigid when the scent came strong to his nostrils.
"That's one way to teach a dog not to chase chickens, too," he added. "But a puppy born of trained parents gets the pointin' habit almost by instinct, and retrievin', too. The main thing is to make him understand that he's got to do the trick and not something else that happens to pop into his head. After that, you can teach 'em to answer your whistle or a wave of your hand and hunt just where you want 'em to."
"Aren't they afraid of a gun at first?" asked Jack, who had never learned not to jump when a gun went off.
24 "Some of 'em are," said Sam. "If a dog is gun-shy he's got to be broken of that before he's any good in the field. Some folks say you can never break a dog that's really gun-shy, but I never seen one yet that I couldn't cure."
"How do you do it?" asked Ernest.
"Well, one way is to give the dog something he wants every time you shoot off a gun. You can shoot over his dinner, and not let him have any till he comes up to where you and the gun are. Keep at it, and after awhile he begins to connect the sound of the gun with things that he likes. Always take a gun when you go out for a walk with him, and after awhile he will bark and act happy every time you take it from the rack. The whole idea of breakin' a bird dog is to make him think that the thing you want him to do is the thing he wants to do, and never let that idea get away from him."
The boys continued to ply him with questions, for this was a subject that they had never heard about before, and Sam willingly added more details of the process of training. At length he took a big dollar watch from his pocket and consulted it.
"Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!" he exclaimed. "I didn't know it was gettin' so late. I'll have to be hurryin' along. Say," he added, a little wistfully, "come up to my house and see me sometime, won't you? I ain't 25 got anything very elegant up there, but I could show you something in the line o' dogs and guns that might interest you."
"Oh, we'd love to, if our folks'll let us," said Ernest. "Where do you live?"
Sam gave them careful directions.
"First and third Tuesdays used to be my days for callers, but nobody came," said he, as he started up the road with Nan. "So now any old day will do—if I'm home."
"How about next Saturday?" asked Ernest.
"Saturday it is," said Sam Bumpus, and with a wave of his hand he vanished around a bend in the road.
Clothes do not make the man, and boys are apt to overlook certain superficial peculiarities and defects which seem more significant to their elders. In Sam Bumpus they saw only a man of good humor and wonderful wisdom, a man whose manner of life was vastly more interesting than that of the common run of people, whose knowledge of the lore of woods and fields, of dogs and hunting, entitled him to a high place in their estimation. They overlooked the externals, the evidences of poverty and shiftlessness, his lack of education, and saw only his native wit and shrewdness, his kinship with the world of nature, and his goodness of heart. They considered it a piece of rare 26 good fortune to have made the acquaintance of so wise and sympathetic a person and they felt indebted to him for permission to visit him, to hear him talk, and to glean from him something of the knowledge that had come to him through experience.
To Sam Bumpus, however, the obligation seemed to be on the other side. The boys did not know it, but Sam Bumpus was a lonely man and craved human companionship. He lived like a hermit in his little shack in the woods and his peculiarities had set him somewhat apart from the world of men. He had no living relatives, and apart from the old lady in the woods road, the inmates of the Poor Farm, and a few other out-of-the-way people with whom he had been able to win his way through his natural generosity and kindness, he had practically no friends but his dogs. He understood dogs better than he understood men, and, to tell the truth, he esteemed them more highly; yet he sometimes hungered for human comradeship. That two frank-hearted, unspoiled boys should seek him out and seem to desire his company gave him a feeling of unaccustomed satisfaction, and he looked forward to their promised visit fully as eagerly as did the boys themselves.
This proposed visit was such an unusual affair that Ernest Whipple considered it advisable to speak to his father about it. Mr. Whipple was reading his 27 paper and made but little comment, but Mrs. Whipple, who was in the room at the time, raised objections.
"Don't you think it might be unsafe for the boys to go away off there alone?" she asked anxiously. "We don't know anything about this man. He may have a bad influence on them, even if nothing more serious happens to them. He's a very uncouth person, I should say, and hardly a fit companion for little boys."
"Oh, I don't think he'll hurt them," said Mr. Whipple from behind his paper.
But the mother wasn't satisfied, and after the boys had gone to bed she again brought the matter up.
"Well, mother," said Mr. Whipple, "he probably isn't the sort of guide, philosopher, and friend that we would have picked out for the boys, but parents can't always do the picking. They are getting older all the time, and sooner or later they must be thrown on their own resources. Self-reliance doesn't come from constant protection and hemming in. We can't keep them from striking up acquaintances, and before we raise objections we should be sure that they're well grounded; then we shall be able to make our objections count for more."
"But I should think there was good ground for objection in this case," she persisted. "This man seems to be so crude and rough, if nothing worse."
28 "Oh, he's all right," responded the father. "Don't think I'm careless about these things. I've made some inquiries, and though I find that Bumpus is unconventional and queer, as they say, and improvident and uneducated, he's honest and law-abiding. So far as I can find out, the worst thing he ever does is to give tobacco to the inmates of the Poor Farm. I know people right here on Washburn Street that would do the boys more harm. Just because he doesn't live like folks on Washburn Street doesn't make him bad."
"Well," said Mrs. Whipple, doubtfully, "I suppose you know best, but for my part I would much prefer to keep them safe home with me, for some years to come."
"That's because you've never been a boy," said Mr. Whipple, with a smile in his eyes. "I have, and it doesn't seem so very long ago, either."
Mrs. Whipple was not satisfied, but she did not forbid the proposed visit. The next Saturday, therefore, found them early on their way, filled with joyful anticipations.
Sam's shack, when at last they arrived, proved to be a forlorn affair, built of boards of different widths, some red, some white, and some unpainted. The sagging roof was of corrugated iron and the only chimney was built of cement pipe guyed up with wires. But to the eyes of the boys it was a most attractive abode. 29 Never before had they seen such an interesting house. There must be an element of sport in living in a cabin like this, they thought.
Sam heard their footsteps and met them smilingly at the door. He ushered them at once inside, where he had a wood fire roaring in his stove, for the day was chilly, and he promptly set before them glasses of milk and hot corn bread. Though they had breakfasted only two hours before, they fell to with gusto, for that is the way of boys.
"How do you like my corn bread?" asked Sam.
"M-m!" murmured Jack, taking a fresh bite.
"Do you bake it yourself?" inquired Ernest.
"Sure," said Sam.
"Gee!" exclaimed Ernest, looking up at him with admiration.
After they had fully refreshed themselves, Sam took them out through a back door, from which they could see a number of small structures that looked as though they had been made out of dry-goods boxes. The sound of excited barking smote their ears, a chorus of canine cries and yelps. Old Nan came bounding forward to greet the boys, for she knew them now, and behind her loped a big pointer.
"This is Hillcroft Dick," said Sam, by way of introduction. "He's a famous dog, a champion on the bench and at the trials. He ain't my dog, though. 30 I'm just boardin' him for a man that's gone to California. I wish I owned him, though. He's a great dog."
The boys didn't understand the reference to bench shows and field trials, but they gathered that Dick was some sort of nobleman among dogs and they were visibly impressed.
"Now we'll go out to the kennels," said Sam.
There were seven dogs, all told, besides Nan and 31 Dick. There were two cocker spaniels, in the first place, that Sam said he was training for a man in Oakdale.
"I like a bigger dog, myself," said he, "but there's a lot of good dog wrapped up in these small bundles. They're smart as whips, and though I've got to make 'em forget their foolin' and parlor tricks, I'll soon have 'em able to find and retrieve. Sometimes you can even teach a spaniel to point."
The other five were all Sam's dogs, another pointer, a little smaller than Dick, and four beautiful English setters.
"They've got the best blood in the land," said Sam, proudly, "and every one of 'em is letter perfect on his job. This is Rex and this is Robbin and this is Rockaway."
The boys patted and spoke to each in turn, hugely enjoying this introduction to Sam's family.
"And this one over here is the best of all," he continued. "That's Nellie, own sister to Nan, and what she don't know wouldn't hurt a flea. But I guess I'd better keep you away from her to-day. She ain't feelin' very well."
After they had fondled and played with the dogs to their hearts' content, the boys followed Sam again into the house, where they spent the rest of the morning smoothing Nan's silky hair and listening to wonderful 32 stories about the sagacity of Nellie and the other dogs.
So pleasantly was the time employed that it was eleven o'clock by Sam's big watch before they thought it possible, and as they had promised to be home in time for dinner, they were obliged, reluctantly, to take their departure.
As they turned the bend in the road they looked back and saw Sam standing in his low doorway with Nan sitting picturesquely beside him.
"Come again soon," called Sam.
"We will," the boys shouted in reply.