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À mon chevet: 'The Old Man and the Boy'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
"Well, now," he continued, "a gentleman starts down at his boots and works up to his hat. A gentleman is, first of all, polite. A gentleman never talks down to nobody, or even to anybody that says 'anybody' instead of 'nobody'. A gentleman ain't greedy. A gentleman don't holler at anybody else's dogs. A gentleman pays his score as he goes. He don't take what he can't put back, and if he borrows he borrows from banks. He never troubles his friends with his troubles."

"What is a sportsman?" The Old Man wasn't even asking me this. He nodded his head, as if he was giving himself a vote of confidence. "A sportsman," he said to nobody, "is a gentleman first. But a sportsman, basically, is a man who kills what he needs, whether it's a fish or a bird or an animal, or what he wants for a special reason, but he never kills anything just to kill it. And he tries to preserve the very same thing that he kills a little bit of from time to time. The books call this conservation. It's the same reason we don't shoot that tame covey of quail down to less'n ten birds."

This I could understand. We trained the puppies on those birds, and the birds always stayed put.

"I never knew a bad man who was what I'd call a sportsman," he said. "I never knew a true sportsman who wasn't a gentleman. So if you are a gentleman and a sportsman, you can't be a bad man. Is that clear?"

It wasn't, but I said it was. It seemed to save an argument.

"I ain't going to live forever," the Old Man went on. "So I would like to think that I cut a few scars on your carcass that maybe you could remember me by, like the old beaver trappers blazed trees to mark their passage. This is why I'm such a windy old bore. But up to now you ain't shot anybody or busted into a store, and you haven't even been expelled from school. If they keep exposing you to education, you might even realize some day that man becomes immortal only in what he writes on paper, or hacks into rock, or slabbers onto a canvas, or pulls out of a piano. You know," he said, "I really am getting old. I ask your tolerance and forgiveness for the lecture. I reckon I've started talking to myself."

-- Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy, pp. 196-97
This is one of my dad's favorite books, and when he was ready to teach me how to shoot a gun, he had me read it. Now that Master Ionarts is nearing that age, I am reading it with him and enjoying it all over again. Ruark published these stories originally in a series for Field & Stream, and they are largely autobiographical, mostly about his maternal grandfather and his life growing up on the coast of North Carolina. The Old Man teaches his grandson how to fish, shoot, and hunt, while also imparting lessons about love of nature, conservation, respect for the danger of guns, and how to live life. Ruark worked as a journalist here in Washington, D.C., before writing some other great books about his years on safari.

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