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CHAPTER X Sport
The Americans are all “sports.” But to their credit, they are one and all “dead games.” They have a sporting tradition which extends back to the time when their great-grandfathers gambled for negresses and went trailing for Indians in pretty much the same way that an Englishman goes shooting wild duck.

It is said, with what truth I know not, that the Americans hunt the fox in red coats and top-hats, and that they are yachtsmen and fishermen and big game killers. I have met a considerable number of Americans—well-to-do and otherwise—but I never yet came across one whom I could conscientiously figure in any of the latter connections. Of course, there is the America Cup Race to confound me, and there are the redoubtable doings of President Roosevelt on the rolling prairie and in the Rockies, and there is young Mr. Jay Gould’s defeat of our Mr. Eustace Miles at Rackets or Ping Pong or some such game. All the same, I will never believe that the modern American is leisurely[92] enough or uncommercial enough to know much about real sport.

That they play games in America even as we play games in England appears to be fairly evident. The game of white man’s games, namely, cricket, is, however, a game they do not understand. Baseball and football on the other hand are exercises which they are alleged to have cultivated out of all recognition. Baseball I know nothing about. And when I come to consider it closely, I could wish that I knew nothing about American football.

Pugilism without the gloves having been forbidden by law in America, the free and equal inhabitants thereof must e’en look round for a form of sport which would allow of their “lamming the hides off one another” without being pulled up short by the police; and they settled on football. The essence of American football is not to kick or punch the ball, but to kick, punch, break up, deface and destroy the next man. On all American football fields a squad of surgeons, bonesetters, and nurses have to be in continual attendance. The crushing of a player’s ribs, the gouging out of his eye, or the splitting open of his head are regarded as trifling matters among American sportsmen, and when the football player goes forth to the[93] fray, he makes a point of taking a fond farewell of his relations and friends in case of even more serious accident. Here, again, you have a distinct instance of the American tendency to outrage and excess. They have overdone football to such an extent that they themselves consider it in the light of something which approximates closely to a murderous affray. So much for games.

As Indians are no longer shootable, and negroes can no longer be hunted with dogs, and the buffalo is extinct, and the grizzly a “rare proposition” and difficult of access, the modern American sport has to be content with smaller deer, such as possum and bobolink and wild turkey. And when he goes gunning for these trophies he is a sight to see. Nobody can rival him in the magnificence of his outfit. He insists upon donning cow-boy attire and proceeding to the field of action on a fiery mustang, with a magazine of guns slung all over him, and enough ammunition to take Port Arthur. The whole of this equipment has been purchased at store prices, and he acquires it not because it is likely to be useful to him but because he thinks that it makes him look smart. When it comes to yachting or fishing or racing you can depend upon him to display an equal gaiety of demeanour and to[94] “dress” and “swank” the part to perfection.

For the fox-hunting I shall say nothing. The indigenous American fox does not run straight, the imported fox has lost some of the best qualities of his English forbears, and the American variety of foxhound is a romping, ill-mannered, and indiscreet quadruped.

The national sport of America is horse racing, qualified with a considerable dash of trotting. And here, of course, the American temperament in all its aspects is made to shine. The head quarters of American horse racing—the Epsom, Ascot and Sandown of the United States—is a place called Saratoga, where the trunks come from. Here you find the American horse, the American racing man, and the American sport in their highest and lowest and most perfect expression. It is said that a Saratoga horse is poison-proof; being so accustomed to profound potations of laudanum, bromide, and other sedatives that he can quaff any quantity of them without turning a hair. The people who live at Saratoga are all horsey and dishonest. They speak the most degraded form of Anglo-Saxon—a sort of Americo-Negroid flash talk—and what they do not know in the way of knavery and[95] brutality has yet to be invented. It goes without saying that all American racing men do not necessarily dwell in this sublime spot. But a quite considerable contingent of them have learnt lessons out of the Saratoga book, and are consequently as dangerous to deal with as it is possible to conceive that white men could be.

The American sportsmen we are privileged to see in England have, with some notable exceptions, failed signally to secure our confidence. There are honest men among them—though never by any chance a “jay”—and there are sheep of a blackness which would do no discredit to the nether pit. On the whole their connection with the English turf has been unfortunate for the English turf. We are most of us quite old enough to remember the unpleasant things that happened when an organised gang of these gentry descended upon our innocent English rings and racecourses some three years ago. They got their hands well into the English pockets, depleted us of much glittering money, raised what they were pleased to consider “general h—l” in the scandal way, and left us outraged and aghast. Up to this period in our history the astute English racing-man had regarded himself as the last word in craft and wariness; but the[96] Americans despoiled him as easily as if he had been a “tenderfoot,” and when he discovered it, Mr. Englishman was very shocked. The racing interests of these realms is still suffering from the shaking it received during the exciting period to which I refer. The only profit the poor Britishers got out of the deal was a new-fashioned way of riding, which still remains in vogue, and a lesson in caution which will last us a good century.

What the American jockey really means was forcibly borne in upon us by the vagaries of a Mr. Tod Sloan. By dint of the usual advertising and bluff, coupled indeed with no ordinary gifts as a horseman, Mr. Sloan made his early career in England a success at the first blush. He was soon in receipt of an income of ridiculous dimensions, and hob-nobbing with the best blood of the country. He got found out, as Americans will, and ended up feebly by smacking a waiter across the head with a champagne bottle. Luck does not appear to have looked his way since. He went back to America a disgraced man, even for America; and took to giving tips for a New York paper. At the present moment he is said to be engaged in the gentle art of billiard-marking at a salary running to at least ten dollars a week. I recite[97] the history of Mr. Sloan to encourage the others. Our experiences with the American racing-man in this country justify us in assuming that he is an exceptionally sad dog at home. America is overrun with him, and while she has done everything that lay in her power to corral and exterminate him he still continues merrily on his wicked way.

It only remains to point out that the Americans as a people are frantic gamblers, and that they are infatuated enough to regard gambling as a form of sport. Probably more gambling at cards goes on in the United States than in the whole of the countries of Europe put together. The proper American is everlastingly playing at poker, which is a bluffing game, and which he will assure you trains him for his business. The American card-sharper has been famous in song and story time out of mind. For sheer coolness, audacity, and skill at the job, he has never had an equal. Occasionally he lands on these shores, with a picturesque entourage, takes a flat in the West End of London, and relieves the adolescent gentry of the neighbourhood of their little alls. Then he is up and off, on the wings of the morning.

Among themselves, too, the Americans play a great deal of roulette, petit chevaux,[98] and kindred fascinations. They count also amongst the most enthusiastic patrons of Monte Carlo, where season after season many of them turn up with very little money and make a fat thing of it. Last season a long-haired gentleman from Kansas City scooped up between two and three hundred louis a night for twenty nights running by the simple process of walking from table to table and backing 17. He told me that he and his wife were there for a little trip, and that he had hit on the 17 idea because 17 was the number of their cabin on the liner which brought them over. Of course 17 can refuse to come up at Monte Carlo for hours at a time. But whenever this raw-boned large-handed citizen of Kansas chose to put money on it, up it came inside two or three spins.

There are American gamblers at Monte Carlo, however, who are not by any means so consistently lucky as my friend. The money some of them get through when they are having a bad time would probably astonish the old folks at home. But it is only fair to them to say that they take their losses with an unruffled, if rather moist, brow and go off solemnly to cable for further supplies.

When a certain sort of American[99] millionaire turns up in the Mediterranean paradise there are sure to be merry doings. I have seen such a one mop his wet face after handing the bank a bundle of notes that would have made a tidy year’s income for a man with a large family, and remark, a little feebly, “Gee whizz!” Then he was led gently away by a number of pretty ladies.

It is in what one may term hard gambles such as he gets at Monte Carlo that the American shows his most sportsmanlike qualities. At roulette, or trente et quarente, it is almost impossible for him to cheat, and consequently he wins or loses more or less calmly and with perfect honour. But at poker—tut—tut!


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