MR. DEPUITREY LEADS
Some men can settle a world war with two teaspoons and a salad fork; others can establish a sound economic policy for a country without moving from a Pullman chair. But when Reggie DePuitrey, who had never played tennis, said he could lick a champion, he backed himself with $100,500. People said: “It is to laugh!” It is, too
FORREST!” “Yes, sir.” Mr. Reginald DePuitrey, reclining exquisitely beneath a lacebordered sheet, yawned generously and with an articulation distinctly bovine.
For a moment or two with a mildly blue and contemplative eye, he watched his valet strop a razor.
“Forrest,” said Mr. DePuitrey at length, “I am going out to the Davis Cup matches this afternoon.”
“Very good, sir,” said Forrest. He critically drew the edge of the razor along his thumb. “In that case, sir, you’ll be wanting your tennis clothes, will you not, sir?”
Mr. Reginald DePuitrey did not at once reply.
Stretching his arms luxuriously above his head, he yawned again even more generously and more bovinely than before.
Then he lowered his arms and rolled sideways out of bed. Revealed unblushingly in the full glory of brilliant pink pajamas, he strolled over to a far corner of the room, where a very light bar-bell leaned against the wall.
Picking this up, he performed a few exercises in a desultory and perfunctory way, much in the manner of a man playing golf on his doctor’s prescription.
Restoring the bar-bell to the corner, he placed a hand over his heart, stood a moment in an attitude of attention, and then sauntered into the bathroom where he carefully inserted a laboratory thermometer in the bath which Forrest had drawn.
“About ten degrees warmer, Forrest,” he said, gazing pensively at the mercury. “I wish from now on to take tepid baths in the morning. I think they are better for my heart.”
“Very good, sir,” said Forrest, squeezing out a long ribbon of shaving cream. “And shall I lay out your tennis clothes, sir?”
Reginald DePuitrey seated himself in a chair and tilted up his chin to receive the towel preparatory to being lathered.
“Forrest,” he drawled, “you are a man of the utmost perception. You have the readiest wit of anyone of my acquaintance. It is extraordinary how profligate nature was at your birth. I’ve forgotten how long ago it was that I informed you it is my whim to be attired in the garb of a participant, whenever I attend those sporting events in which, unfortunately, the condition of my heart prevents my engaging. Yet, each time that I have announced my intention of attending a tennis match, you have asked me if I wish to wear my tennis clothes. I am patient, but it is getting rather irksome.”
“Begging your pardon, sir,” said Forrest, carefully spreading the lather as though it were frosting and his master’s face a cake, “since the day when you expressed your desire to attend a baseball game and I laid out a baseball player’s uniform, which I had been at a deal of trouble, sir, to procure, and then only through the good fortune of my paternal uncle’s being a purveyor to the gentlemen who play that game—”
“Paternal great-grandmother!” interrupted Reginald irritably. “It isn’t necessary to tell me that story every other day in the week. And I say, Forrest,” he added more gently, reacting to the mollifying caress of the razor deftly wielded in the valet’s practiced hand, “be sure, will you, like a good fellow, to go over the trousers with a bit of that cleaning fluid . . . I’m taking Miss Eddington with me. And I shan’t want Vickers to drive. Just ’phone him to bring round the roadster at eleven sharp.”
Shaved and cold-creamed, Reginald DePuitrey sauntered back to the bedroom and relaxed once more against the pillows. Sighing profoundly, he watched Forrest at the bath, through drooping eyelashes . . .
“OALLY, you are the most beautiful girl in New York!” ^ So sang Mr. Reginald DePuitrey, as he and Miss Eddington whirled dizzily around the Grand Central, skidded across Forty-Second Street, and slipped, like a sunbeam, into Park Avenue.
The Most Beautiful Girl in New York extracted a white-paper tablet from her case and, with a dainty, goldchased pencil, made a mark on it.
“What are you doing?” inquired Reggie, missing a bus by a sixteenth of an inch.
“You tell me that so many times,” replied Miss Eddington demurely, “that from now on I’m going to keep a record of them.”
“All right,” said Reggie, gauging the next corner with a critical eye. “Better chalk up a few hundred and save yourself some energy in the immediate future.”
He swept the car into Fifth Avenue, lightly brushing a traffic-officer’s trousers with a mudguard. “The shin you love to touch,” breathed Reggis, closing the incident with a genial smile and a cordial wave of his hand.
Arrived at Forest Hills, he contrived to find parkingspace and they clambered up the concrete slope of the stadium to their seats.
“I don’t see anybody here I know,” complained Reggie He squinted anxiously about. “Oh, yes—there’s Vincent Tresham. Hullo, Vin!”
He stood up, flourishing his panama, and bumped the knees of someone behind him. He glanced round. It was a perfect stranger. “Sorry,” burbled Reggie, and sat down again.
“Tennis,” he observed to Miss Eddington, after a particularly protracted rally, “is really, in the final analysis, an exceedingly silly game.”
“Yes?” said Miss Eddington, a mischievous twinkle in her round eyes. She loved to draw Reggie out.
“Exceedingly silly,” repeated Reggie, focussing a gaze of tolerant disapproval on the contortions of the receiver in trying to return a cannon ball serve. “Frivolous, in fact. Notice how rarely the players do the right thing and how slavishly they follow time-worn and conventional methods of play. Nothing new has been developed in the game since the overhead serve. Really, it’s kksome.”
Miss Eddington laughed. “You talk like an expert, Reggie, old dear, but I don’t believe you know the least thing about it. Did you ever play the game?”
“Never,” said Reggie with emphasis. “And even if the condition of my heart permitted it, I shouldn’t care to take it up. But mark you this”—he faced her—“Ah, but you are the most ... I didn’t say it”—-catching her hand as it was reaching for the pad and pencil—“Mark you this well: if I did take up the game, I could develop a stroke that would have even the champion crying for mercy.”
“Rot!” came in a low distinct voice from the rear.
Reggie turned slowly and cast a coldly inquiring eye at the two men behind him, one of whom was the stranger whose knee he had bumped.
“I beg your pardon?” said Reggie.
They paid no attention to him. “Rotterdam,” said one to the other, “is unquestionably a port of the very first importance. Its freighters, I am told, carry immense loads of diamonds. The traffic is said to be most profitable.”
Reggie stared suspiciously and then turned back to Miss Eddington.
“As I said,” he continued, raising his voice, “it would be very simple for a man of intelligence to develop a new stroke in tennis—something that has never been seen before. With a modicum of study and practice, I could do it.” He paused defiantly.
Reggie spun round. His eyes flashed.
“Did you say ‘rot’ to me, sir?” he demanded.
The two men looked at him amusedly. The one whom he had bumped whispered gently, “Naughty, naughty, mother’s little lamb chop mustn’t get excited.”
Reggie trembled. He claimed his fists. And the blood of the DePuitreys, that blood which had crossed the Channel with the Conqueror, which had spent itself freely for Bonnie Prince Charlie, which had helped Washington stem the rout at Monmouth Court House, which had stood beside Grant at Richmond —that blood now gushed with surprising vigor (considering its ill-conditioned source) into the neck, and thence spilled, like tomato catsup, into the pale countenance of this last representative of a famous line.
“Reggie!” cried Miss Eddington in alarm.
The adjacent spectators were becoming intensely interested. Somebody opined that Reggie was drunk.
Another called for an usher. There was a general chorus of “Sit downs.”
Reggie held his ground, his fists poised for instant action. He hadn’t the slightest idea what to do with them. But the effect was rather impressive. To Miss Eddington it was terrifying.
“Reggie, Reggie!” she implored, plucking at his sleeve, “Oh, do sit down. Remember your heart!”
“Ah!” Reggie involuntarily clapped a hand over the organ indicated.
He gazed fiercely at the offending gentlemen and then relinquished his bellicose attitude. He was satisfied with the impression he had produced.
But the honor of the DePuitreys demanded atonement.
“I don’t know either of you gentlemen,” he remarked in a low, intense voice, his teeth clicking on the words like a hedge-trimmer, “but I will lay you a thousand dollars—«ven, that I enter the National Singles, next month, and win the first set I play—
I don’t care who my opponent is— and I’ve never had a racquet in my hand!”
He stooped and patted her shoulder reassuringly. “It’s all right, Sally.
If these pikers are such heroes, they’ll take the bet.” He glared at them.
“Oh, Reggie!” Miss Eddington had never before heard him use such language.
Vincent Tresham came up.
“What the Sam Hill, Reg?” he remarked, winking at Miss Eddington and squeezing her hand. “What’s the matter—drunk again? Need any help, old man?”
“Go to the devil!” said Reggie fiercely. He explained the situation. “I’ve offered them a thousand each, even. If they’re not yellow, they’ll take it.”
Mr. Tresham regarded his friend with an admixture of admiration and dismay. “Really, Reg—” he began, soothingly.
Mr. DePuitrey cut him short. He turned toward the two gentlemen. He laughed unpleasantly, harshly and cynically, like the villain in the old melodramas. “You’re quitters,” he observed, tilting up his nose as if he were sniffing a disagreeable odor. The two gentlemen glared back at him. They flushed angrily, but not with the blood of the De Puitreys. One of them, despite the proximity of ladies, swore. The other said, “Yes, we’ll take your bet, you little brass monkey!”
“Ah,” said Reggie, in a tone of immense satisfaction.
He glanced round the seats. “Any other gentleman like to take the bet—same odds?”
Several of the other gentlemen laughed. There were cries of, “Sure,” “Right here.” Hands flourished. Reggie beamed enormously. “Splendid,” he murmured.
Mr. Tresham was viewing the proceedings in openmouthed astonishment. Mr. DePuitrey clapped him on the back. “Vin,” he exclaimed, “this is rare—positively it’s priceless! I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”
“Not a bit of it.” Reggie patted his shoulder. “Look here, I want you to see this through for me. Sally and I’ve got to hurry away—-Tommy Tuttle’s wedding. Will you stay here and book these bets? Tell ’em who I am. Insist they deposit cash in your bank. I’ll cover it with my check. See you later. Thanks awfully, old man.”
Mr. Reginald DePuitrey drew himself up stiffly, haughtily. He allowed his gaze to travel slowly around him, like an orchestra conductor about to start a symphony. “Tell these people,” he said, with a magnificent gesture, “that I invite them all to be present on the opening day of the National Singles Tournament — here — next month.”
THE evening before the National Singles were scheduled to start, Mr. Vincent Tresham sat in his cozy study, pulling lugubriously on a meerschaum pipe and staring at the sporting page of the Evening Hurrah.
It was plain to be seen that Mr. Tresham was not in a happy frame of mind.
As he sat thus, he heard with indifference the door-bell ring and the maid trip down the corridor to answer it. Lest there be those who might cavil at a bachelor’s having a maid, let me rise to remark that Mr. Tresham lived with his mother and was a very proper person. The next moment a firm step approached and Mr. Reginald DePuitrey pushed the table lamp to one side and sat down in its place.
Mr. Tresham gazed at him with dour reproach. “You’re a nice sort of a fellow, you are,” he observed scornfully.
“What’s the matter?” queried Reggie, opening a humidor and helping himself to a handful of Havana cigars.
“Where’ve you been?”
“Why didn’t you let me know?” Mr. Tresham spoke as a man with a grievance.
Reggie waved a hand deprecatingly. “My dear fellow,” he said, “time was of the utmost essence. I couldn’t stop for anything, not even to tell you where I was going. I fled the city incontinent. I even uprooted Forrest in my haste. He will never be the same again. And when I got to the country club, I hadn’t a moment to spare from my lessons, practice, and training.”
“ ‘Lessons, practice, and training!’ ” echoed Mr. Tresham.
“Precisely. As you are aware,” explained Reggie, “I knew nothing about the game of tennis, except the smattering of knowledge I had picked up as a spectator. Furthermore, I was soft. These deficiencies had to be corrected. The tennis instructor —a deuced obliging chap, who thought at first I was crazy—took care of the former. A prize-fighter I imported from Jersey City took care of the latter. By going easy and watching my heart carefully, I managed to get myself in pretty good trim. Here, feel that.”
Reggie slid off the table and extended his biceps for Mr. Tresham to feel. Mr. Tresham did so without conviction.
“Humph!” he grunted, “you’ll need something more than that. Do you know whom you’ve drawn?”
“No. Haven’t seen a paper since I went away. No time for anything of that sort. Why, my dear fellow, you’ve no idea—■”
“You play Till Bilden!”
For an instant, Reggie appeared a little startled. Then he burst out laughing. Mr. Tresham regarded him in amazement. “I don’t see anything funny about it.”
“Of course not,” chortled Reggie. “But you will, tomorrow. Why, listen—I’ve got a shot that will make the Champion look like an egg. The idea came to me on the way to the country club. Worked it out with the pro. and got it down fine. But a good deal will depend on the wind. If there’s a nice, young, sea-going breeze at Forest Hills to-morrow, this match is going to be invaluable. And another thing—I’ve got to win the first game. It’s absolutely essential. If I win the toss, I’m all right. If I don’t, then I’ve got to work Bilden into errors, somehow. Have you any ideas about it?”
Reggie sprawled comfortably into a leather armchair. Mr. Tresham puffed disdainfully. He sniffed. “Yes,” said he, with pointed emphasis. “I’ve got some ideas, and the best one is that you’re the biggest damned fool since the Flood. You haven’t any more chance against Bilden than a grape under a steam-roller, and you know it.” He blew contemptuously into his pipe stem.
Reggie joined his hands behind his head. “I’m not so sure,” he remarked serenely, and smiled a mysterious smile.
Mr. Tresham snorted. “Do you know,” he demanded fiercely, “what the bets amount to?”
"Haven’t given it a thought.”
“A hundred thousand dollars!”
Mr. DePuitrey sprang up and grasped his friend by the hand. “Vin, my little— what the devil was it that chap called me? —lamb chop? Yes, that was it—damned clever, I think. Vin, my little lamb chop, you’re a wonder. But I knew you’d come through handsomely. Did you get their money?”
“Yes. And I covered it with the telephone shares I bought for you just before you cleared out. You didn’t leave me a check or make arrangements of any sort.” “Frightfully sorry, old man. It was due to my hurry getting away and trying to soothe Forrest.”
“You don’t seem much disturbed over the amount you’re going to lose.”
“Going to lose? Going to lose?” Mr. DePuitrey confronted Mr. Tresham. “I’ll bet you five hundred, here and now, that I win the first game.”
“You’re on,” said Mr. Tresham.
They made entries in their date books. Then Reggie yawned, apologized, and said urbanely, “Must ease along, Tresh. The Wedgewood Kid—that’s the spiffy name of my trainer—ordered me to bed to-night by eleven, and I want to buzz round and see Sally a few minutes. She doesn’t even known I’m back. See you to-morrow.” He waved his hand and hurried off.
PROMPTLY at three-thirty, the hour set for Reggie’s match, the Champion strolled casually out on one of the oustside courts, to the accompaniment of a burst of handclapping. The fringe of spectators which congregates at a champion’s court regardless of the quality of the opposition, was augmented in this instance by Reggie’s friends and “guests,” the latter forming a bloc at one end of the net, the former in an equally compact group on the opposite side of the court. The affair had much the aspect of a highschool football game, with rival cheeringsections.
The Champion had made some inquiries about his opponent, without learning much, except that Mr. DePuitrey was new at the game and had bet rather heavily on himself to take the first set. At this information, the Champion had been vastly amused.
He sauntered over to the umpire’s stand and chatted with him. The umpire didn’t know anything about Mr. DePuitrey. Very likely one of the rising young players. Wasn't it too bad that the formality of these early matches couldn’t in some way be dispensed with?
The Champion thought that perhaps they served a useful purpose in giving the younger players experience. He tried out several racquets, swishing them ferociously through the air and tapping them edgewise against his palm. He set aside three that seemed to suit him.
Suddenly, a chorus of laughs and cheers caused him to glance around.
Across the velvet greensward stalked Mr. Reginald DePuitrey, dressed, reading from the ground up, in white sneakers, red baseball stockings, green silk “shorts,” an orange and black blazer over a blue outing shirt, and, to crown the ensemble, a black jockey-cap set rakishly over one ear. Behind him dragged Forrest bearing a long, oddly shaped suitcase of pigskin.
At this astounding apparition on the hallowed ground of Forest Hills, the laughter rose to anguished howls of mirth.
Spectators at distant points heard the tumult, looked, saw, and deserted their chosen matches in droves to join the raPidly growing fringe about Reggie’s
Rumor became garbled, as rumor will. And, at the report that Larry Semon had come over to do a burlesque with Till Bilden for a new film, the Stadium itself emptied, and laughing, pushing crowds gathered about and stood on stools and chairs, even, climbed on one another’s shoulders, in order to get a view of the proceedings.
The Champion himself was speechless His jaw dropped. A racquet clattered from his hand.
The cause of all the commotion walked unconcernedly across the court. Nodding to the umpire, he shook hands cordially and familiarly with the astonished Bilden, and with a lordly gesture, motioned Forrest to deposit the suitcase under the umpire’s stand. Then he posed for the several representatives of the press who had pushed forward with their faces buried in their cameras.
Reggie’s friends gave him a regular Yale cheer and started to sing the Undertaker Song. The Champion, somewhat put out at this diversion of interest withdrew sulkily to a baseline and practised his famous cannon ball serve.
The umpire, meanwhile, from under his umbrella, had been viewing the proceedings with the frankest disapproval. He was an elderly veteran of many a famous tournament joust. To him tennis was as something sacred. He leaned forward and said coldly, “Are you Mr. DePuitrey?”
“Oh, yes,” chirruped Reggie, beaming upon him.
The umpire transfixed Reggie with a glacial eye. “We have been waiting some time for you,” he said curtly. “Will you please get ready?”
“I’m all ready,” replied Reggie affably. He wrestled with the straps of the suitcase. “As soon, that is, as I can get this thing open. What the devil did you do to it, Forrest?”
Forrest approached and lent a hand. Reggie stood up and leaned against the umpire’s hip. “You see,” he explained confidentially, “I’ve got to win the first game. It’s absolutely essential. There’s a hundred thousand five hundred dollars at stake. Don’t you think,” he added, catching himself, as the umpire suddenly withdrew his hip, “that this costume’s got Mr. Bilden just a little—you know— razoozoo already?”
The umpire made no reply. He appeared to have some trouble with his larynx. Reggie sighed and turned to the suitcase, which Forrest had succeeded in opening.
From it Reggie extracted three implements, that, in general, resembled the accepted form and make of tennis racquets. In particular, they looked more like clubs, with long handles, extremely stout, round heads, and gut so closely strung that it looked like a solid surface.
While Reggie was making a meticulous selection from these weapons, the umpire, having got his voice measurably under control, called with great dignity, “Are the linesmen ready?”
The linesmen shuffled forward and took their places. They gazed at Reggie as though fascinated.
The latter, swinging his racquet like a cane, stepped jauntily forward to where the Champion was waiting to toss for the choice of service or court. Regarding Reggie’s equipment with undisguised contempt, the Champion twirled his racquet in the air.
“Rough!” cried Reggie.
“Smooth ’tis,” said Mr. Bilden, scrutinizing the strings. “I’ll take the serve You can have your choice of court.”
“Hum,” said Reggie.
He contemplated the position of the celestial orb. Then he moistened a finger with his tongue and extended it to the breeze. Not satisfied, he drew from the pocket of his blazer a large handkerchief with enormous black and white checks rioting all over it, and let it flutter.
“Come, come,” said the umpire, impatiently. “Tut, tut,” chided Reggie. He wrapped the umpire in one of his sweetest smiles. “The position of the wind and the direction of the sun—I mean to say, the position of the sun and the direction of the wind are of the utmost impor—■”
“Will you proceed to play!” cried the umpire, leaning forward under his canopy and thrusting his face savagely toward Reggie.
“There is no occasion for impatience,” said Reggie soothingly.
The umpire sank back in his chair and mopped his face with a limp and trembling hand.
Reggie turned to the Champion. “I will take this court, Mr. Bilden,” motioning toward the side of the net which would put the sun in his own eyes. “Thanks,” growled the Champion sarcastically, and strode out to his position. Reggie went over and stood just back of the receiving line, his toes all but touching it.
“Want to rally?” called the Champion. Reggie shook his head. Mr. Bilden seemed somewhat baffled. He shrugged his shoulders and turned to receive some balls from the ball boys. Reggie edged a little closer to the receiving line. A roar of laughter swept the gallery. Nobody ever dared stand in close to the Champion’s service. It was freely predicted that if the ball hit Mr. DePuitrey, it would kill him.
Mr. DePuitrey, however, seemed quite indifferent to his danger. He smiled and waved his hand at Miss Eddington and Mr. Tresham, who occupied front row oeats. The Most Beautiful Girl in New York was gazing at him spellbound.
“Linesmen ready?” bellowed the umpire. “Mr. Bilden ready?” (graciously) —“Mr.—urn—Mr. DePuitrey ready?” (disdainfully )—“ Play! ’ ’
The Champion tossed a ball neatly in the air; his racquet flashed. There was a devastating “thud!”
“Out!” cried a linesman. Reggie had not moved.
Again the Champion flung up an arm. The ball crashed into the net.
“Love fifteen,” sang the umpire.
Reggie ambled over to the opposite receiving court and leaned on his racquet, a posture which produced a sharply angular effect at the base of his spine. The Champion scowled. The crowd guffawed. Reggie smiled sweetly.
The next ball streaked past him like a ray of light. A puff of chalk kicked up at his feet.
“Fif-teen awl!” cried the umpire. Reggie trotted back to the right hand court.
The Champion served two balls into the net. The position of the receiver so close to the line had apparently disturbed his judgment of distance.
The next ball was an out. As the Champion started his racquet up for the second, Reggie suddenly ran to the sidelines and began to drink noisily out of the pitcher of ice-water supplied for the players.
Disconcerted by his opponent’s act and the suddenly vacated court, the Champion took his eye off the ball and it dug into the ground half-way to the net. His angry glance embraced both Reggie and the umpire.
“Let,” called the latter.
“Why let?” said Reggie, sinking his teeth in a large piece of ice.
The umpire glared. “You called for time out, didn’t you?”
“Oh, no,” replied Reggie urbanely. He wiped his mouth on a towel, smacking his lips.
The umpire’s countenance rivalled a July sunset. “You left the court!”
“Quite so.” Reggie spoke soothingly, as one does sometimes to a child. “But I didn’t call for time. I hadn’t any thought of it. I’ve a perfect right to leave the court whenever I want to. If Mr. Bilden had got his serve in, it would have been his point. I shouldn’t have protested it.”
The umpire seemed about to burst a blood vessel, several blood vessels in fact. He turned toward the Champion, who, being an excellent sportsman, and beginning to appreciate the situation, waved an expansive hand and shook his head.
“Mr. Bilden declines to take the point,” said the umpire, glowering at Reggie, and making a mark on his score-pad.
“I don’t see how he could do otherwise,” retorted Reggie agreeably. The umpire’s face became purple.
The Champion’s next serve whistled over the net like a tornado. On the bounce the ball would have smitten Reggie on the nose, had he not automatically flung up his racquet in self-defense. The ball struck the frame and looped softly back over the net. As it died, not three feet over the barrier, the Champion made a desperate lunge for it. He was too late.
“Game!” called the umpire, “Mr. DePuitrey leads, one to love, first set.”
Cheers and laughter greeted the announcement.
The competitors exchanged courts and presently it became clear why Reggie had chosen to have the sun in front of him to start the match and why it was so important for him to win the first game.
As he took the server’s position, an expectant hush fell upon the spectators. Reggie had the manner and expression of a man about to spring a surprise. He did.
With an awkward but powerful scoop of his arm, he swung his racquet on the ball. Aided by the additional impetus supplied by the long handle, the ball, with incredible speed, soared into the air. Up it went until it became a faint speck against the autumn haze. The spectators craned their necks. The linesmen bent back as if to view an airplane, while the Champion ran uncertainly about, his nose in the air.
As the ball began to drop on the freshening breeze, it swerved and yawed like a football. Down it catapulted directly in front of the rapidly revolving Mr. Bilden.
The Champion, blinded by the sun, swung frantically at it, missed, and the ball, bounding high over his head, rolled against the backstop.
At this juncture, a crash sounded from the direction of the umpire’s stand. That unhappy official, having leaned out too far, was seen crawling painfully away from the towels, racquets, and ice-water. The crowd became hysterical and the stout gentlemen, who previously had clutched their stomachs, now rolled in agony on the grass. Amid all the confusion, Reggie walked the baseline as calmly as Farragut at Mobile Bay.
When the umpire had readjusted himself on his perch, Reggie made ready to serve again. The point was a repetition of the first. Except that, the ball this time not happening to bound so high, the Champion managed to get his racquet on it. But what with the sun and the dizzy strain of trying to gauge the course of the flying sphere, he was off balance and the return sailed over the backstop.
Thirty-love for Reggie, and the Champion plainly disconcerted!
The next ball struck on the side line and the wind, having suddenly shifted and blowing across-court, carried it on a tremendous bounce over the umpire’s stand. The Champion raced determinedly after it. But the ball floated into the next court, leaving Mr. Bilden dazed and panting against the side barrier.
The last soaring lob of this game, veering crazily in the gusts, thumped down squarely on the august, championship pate.
“Game,” feebly called the umpire, and then, mechanically, “Mr. DePuitrey leads—two games to love—first set.”
The hundred bettors cast sour and anxious glances at one another. Reggie’s strategy was now apparent. If he could maintain the uncanny accuracy which so far had attended his astounding lobs, he could afford to lose all the Champion’s service games and still win the set at 6-4.
The next game went to Mr. Bilden at love—two steaming aces and two childlike returns by Reggie. With the score 2-1, they changed courts. The wind had veered once more and was blowing from its original quarter; that is, toward Reggie.
Someone suggested that it would be different now, because the wind would slow up the lobs and prevent the ball’s bouncing over Mr. Bilden’s head.
It was different.
Reggie’s new contribution to tennis reversed beautifully.
The Champion, gazing skyward, saw the ball emerge from the empyrean, slant sideways down the wind, and strike just over the net in his court. As the rules require the receiver to stand back of the receiving line, he could do nothing until the ball had landed. The situation was then hopeless, for the ball, borne on the wind, bounded each time half-way back into Reggie’s court.
After two or three futile attempts to rush up to the ball, Mr. Bilden appealed to the umpire for a ruling as to the legality of the shot.
The umpire fumbled with the rules book. He shook his head, glaring at Reggie, who had sat down on the grass with a pop-bottle and a straw.
“But,” protested the Champion, “I can’t reach the ball. It doesn’t give me a chance!”
“I’m sorry,” said the umpire, still glaring at Reggie, whose straw had become boisterous. “I appreciate your predicament. But there’s nothing in the rules about it. I suppose the—the damned shot’s a lob, and the rules put no restrictions on its height. But,” he added sympathetically, as though to ameliorate the harshness of his decision, “I will say, Mr. Bilden, that this is the damndest tennis match I ever hope to see . . . Will you get up and play, Mr. DePuitrey!”
“Ready any time you are,” said Reggie blithely. He strolled over to the section occupied by his hundred guests and ceremoniously handed the empty popbottle to a white-haired old sportsman with whom he chanced to have acquaint-
ance. The old gentleman flung the bottle to the ground and stamped on it.
Returning to the match, Reggie proceeded to inundate the Champion with a succession of soaring lobs, which bounced and bounded about him like hailstones; and took the game and the set.
Nor did he stop there. Before the astonished gallery had had time to recover, he had won the first game of the second set, breaking through the Champion’s service in some indescribable fashion. From then on, he was unbeatable.
The wind had increased by now to the proportions of a gale, and into it, and down it, Reggie, undismayed by the sudden acquisition of a hundred thousandfive hundred dollars, shot lob after lob.
Sometimes he banged them straight above his head, where, caught by the wind they swept the length of the court to strike on Mr. Bilden’s baseline. At other times he shot them hard into the eye of the gale, to hover like hawks over the opposite backstop and then, turning, drive down into the Champion’s court like bombs.
Against them, the Champion could do nothing. Vainly did his long legs romp about the court. He was as helpless as an oyster on the half-shell.
Aghast and incredulous, the gallery hung upon his desperate efforts to turn the tide of defeat; while from Cape Town to Dawson City, from Davenport, Iowa, to Irkutsk, telegraph keys ticked the startling news that the King was at last yielding his throne to a new genius of the racquet.
All this was as manna to Reginald DePuitrey. He envisioned the newshungry mobs devouring the extra editions. He saw himself a world celebrity. His picture would be flashed on the silvered screen in a thousand cities. His name would be household property. Crowds would troop after him as though he were Douglas Fairbanks. The thought raised the blood of the DePuitreys to fever pitch and spurred him on to a ferocity of lobbing that left the Champion limp and gasping. When it was all over, both Mr. Bilden and the umpire collapsed and had to be removed to the clubhouse. The hundred bettors had long since risen as one man and departed.
For an instant, the gallery, now numbering thousands, was silent, stunned, unable at first to apprehend what had happened.
Then somebody shouted, “WThoop!” and threw his hat in the air. This broke the charm. Others shouted “Whoop,” and threw their hats in the air. In a trice, the air was filled with whoops and hats.
In the face of all the tumult, stood Reggie, tired but happy, bowing serenely, as becomes a conquering DePuitrey. He caught sight of Miss Eddington among the milling multitudes. On her lovely face was an ecstatic smile. Her pearly fingers were clasped together rapturously. She waved to him. Reggie flung her a kiss, while the spectators bellowed their approval and the movie-men cranked furiously.
Then, as he started to leave the court, a mighty roar went up. He felt as though he were walking on air. The roar grew louder and louder. It filled his ears. It seemed to fill the universe. The din became terrific. He put his hands to his ears to shut it out. And then, suddenly, the court and the towering Stadium, the gesticulating, bellowing mass of people, vanished . . . There was Forrest bending over the bath, into which a tap was noisily spouting.
Reggie stared, rubbed his eyes, and stared again. Then a spasm of pain crossed his features
“For heaven’s sake, shut off that damned water. What do you want to make such an infernal racket for, waking me up?”
The faithful and accustomed Forrest turned reproachfully. “Very sorry, sir. But you told me to raise the temperature ten degrees, and I did not know, sir, that you desired further sleep.”
Reggie stared, incredulous. “Haven’t I been to Forest Hills? Didn’t I play Bilden?”
“I’m sure, sir, I don’t know what you mean.” Forrest touched the surface of the water delicately with his finger-tips; “I think you’ll find the bath quite right now, sir.”