ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
“OF COURSE,” asserted Hiddgens, “Lexington “ will win this Elimination Contest. He was high gun at Cincinnati, Chicago and Buffalo; broke a hundred straights at the traps yesterday.”
His companion nodded and went on with his breakfast.
Hiddgens was agent for the DuLond Powder Company and undoubtedly had the right dope on the shooters. Jennings, however, was too much of an American to allow such a bald statement to stand unchallenged.
“Luck,” he mumbled, with his mouth full.
“Luck nothing!” Hiddgens leaned across the table and tapped his friend’s arm with a long finger. “Listen, son, I know ’em all. Don’t you let anyone hear you pull that luck stuff in connection with trap-shooting; if you do, you’re going to be shut away in a padded cell. Í tell you when it comes to smashing blue-rocks—it’s steady nerve and accuracy of eye that counts.”
Jennings pushed back his chair from the table. The manner in which his jaw shot out as he hit the end from a cigar signified his desire to carry the argument further.
“I’ll bet you one hundred round dollars this chap Lexington doesn’t win,” he said. “Wait,” as the other opened his mouth to accept, “better not take me up till you hear what I have to say.
You profess to know all the crack shots on the continent, don’t you? Now just let me ask you— are you sure you do?”
Hiddgens’ face flushed at this unwonted reflection on his professional knowledge.
“Billy,” he said seriously, “I would be a mighty poor powder salesman if I didn’t know all the high average shooters. It’s my business to know ’em, just as it is your business, as an automobile salesman, to know all race winners. You profess to know .all the dare-devil drivers in the world, don’t you?”
“Now that’s just it,” interposed Jennings. “For a long time I kidded myself into thinking that I did. Then I found out that I didn’t, and right then I began to realize that it wasn’t so blamed essential that I knew speed-artists as it was that I knew the car I was selling. Right now I cannot tell you whether Barney Oldfield is still driving, retired or dead; but I do know that I am selling more cars than I ever did in my life.”
“But,” explained Hiddgens, “with me it’s different, Lexington uses our powder; a great many high-average shooters use it. Every time a DuLond user wins, it’s a feather in our cap, don’t you see?”
“After all,” observed Jennings dryly, “I don’t suppose the DuLond Company cares a hoot whether your customer uses their powder to break clay birds or blow up stumps, so long as you sell the blamed stuff. Most companies are queer that way; their desire to get rid of their product seems to warp their sporting propensities woefully. I remember when Franks won the big road race with one of our specials, and I telegraphed the good news to the old man, he wired straight back, ‘Never mind Franks. Evidently he knows a good thing. You get after the fellows who don’t.’ ”
HIDDGENS laughed. “Quite a lot in it, too,” he admitted. “Still, I’m inclined to watch the scoreboard pretty closely; besides, I like the sport myself and spend many a happy hour at the traps. Well,” he glanced up suddenly, “how about that little bet? does it still stand?"
“A veritable Giberalter,” nodded Jennings. “And just to show you that a guy superstitious enough to believe in Luck may be a real game sport on occasion, I’ll pick the
man to beat Lexington. Furthermore,” as Hiddgens sat back and surveyed him commiseratingly, “just so that there may be no misunderstanding, I’ll pick him now. Glance over your left shoulder, and you’ll see him—that little chap who is making a breakfast off toast and milk, seated near the shade of the sheltering palm, yonder. Know him?” he asked, as Hiddgens, on pretext of signalling the waiter for his check, glanced at the lone diner.
Hiddgens made no reply. He took the check from the waiter and led the way from the grill.
Not until they were in Jennings’ car and gliding smoothly across the park did he speak. Then, as though to himself, he exclaimed, “By George, that’s funny.”
“(jh it is, is it?” rejoined Jennings. “Well it may be funny to lose good money, and that, old dear —if you’ll pardon the poetry—is exactly what you are about to do.” “I mean, Jimmy, it’s odd you picking the little Doc to beat Lexington. You see those two are competitors in a bigger thing than the Grand American Handicap.”
“Oh, I know all about that too,” Jennings said. “But if you’re sparring to cover possible losses by inveigling me into backing my little man to win in the great and glorious competition, Love, you might as well save your breath. Love and transatlantic flights, my boy, are two things I simply won’t wager one cent on. I’ll admit I understand neither.”
“But seriously," said Hiddgens, as the car drew up before his office, “I believe you’ve picked the one man who stands a chance of beating Lexington in the big shoot; not that I think he’ll do it, remember, but it’s possible.
Now, as for the other —” “As for the other,” put in Jennings, “what I said about transatlantic flights and love goes. I’m taking no chances. See you at the Woolsley to-morrow night at seven,” he called aver his shoulder, as he glided away. “And come lined.”
JENNINGS drove straight back to the Winto Grill. Entering, he made his way to the Palm Room, and on across to where a slight, tweed-clad man was buried in the morning paper. Doctor Notingham glanced around enquiringly, as a hand was placed on his shoulder. Then he stood up, his fair face flushing and his mild blue eyes beaming with pleasure, as he grasped the hand extended to him.
“Why, Jimmy,” he exclaimed. “It’s good to see you again.” He signalled to the watching waiter. “Sit down, old man, and have some breakfast; I’ve just finished mine.”
Jennings gazed down at the little man from his six foot one. “Ingie,” he said, using the old college appellation, “I’ve already had one breakfast with you, only you didn’t know it.” He pulled his friend into a chair and took one beside hlm. “I was back in the grill yonder, with another chap,” he explained. “For certain reasons I couldn’t make my presence known to you at the time. This gent I was with has a lot of worth-while dope on the shooters. Naturally he wouldn’t have unbosomed himself to me so freely had he guessed that I had grown up, so to speak, with the fellow who bids fair to beat the champion. And, Ingie,” he said earnestly, “I want you to beat Lexington.”
The other glanced at him quick ly. “Why?”
“Because I have a bet on you.” Doctor Notingham pressed the tips of his long, slender fingers together and gazed thoughtfully before him.
“Knowing how slight a value you set on money, Jimmy, I would say that is not the real reason,” he laughed.
“Well, supposing there’s another reason? How about it, will you do your best? That’s why I came back, Ingie,” he continued, as his friend remained silent. “I guessed that you intend to let Lexington win. And I know why; you think she wants him to win.” Still the little doctor did not speak.
“You see, Jimmy,” the little man spoke at length, “to be high gun in the Elimination Contest does not mean so much to me, but it means quite a lot to Lexington. He has counted on it. He believes he can’t lose—and he has made others believe it. He raised his eyes to Jennings’. “And,” he added, “she does want him to win.”
“How do you know that?” Jennings shot back. “Did she say so?”
“No; oh no; but naturally any girl would wish the man she is going to marry—”
“But she isn’t going to marry Lexington,” Jennings interrupted, “not by a large demijohn-full, she isn t; she s going to marry you, Ingie.”
“Me?” repeated his friend weakly. “Oh no, you re wrong, positively wrong. If you knew Helen Graydon, you couldn’t imagine anything more preposterous than her marrying a little shrimp like me, when she can have a big, handsome chap like Lexington.”
“Oh, hell!” exploded Jennings, “you make me tired. Just the other day I saw an article in a medical journal which said that you were the most famous eye-specialist on the continent. You are too; you know it. And you could be even more famous if you weren t everlastingly letting some other fellow steal your thunder. You know that blamed well. And do you mean to tell me that
intellect doesn’t count more for than anything else with a woman of Miss Graydon’s stamp? Say! did she tell you it did when you proposed?” he flashed. “Did she?”
"Why, Jimmy,” said the little doc,
"I have never proposed to her.”
“What?” Jennings sat back in his chair and fixed his steel grey eyes accusingly on his friend. “Never proposed to her? Well, holy smoke! what have you been thinking about?
You’ve been in love with her for more than a year and have never—”
“Tell me then, how in the name of goodness do you know that she prefers another man to yourself?” he asked.
“How do you know that?”
“Oh, I simply know it, Jimmy.”
The eyes that sought Jennings' were pleading, suffering.
“All right,” he said gently, ashamed of his insistence, “we won’t say any more about it. From what I’ve heard outside I just put two and two together, that’s all. Naturally, I wanted to help if I could, but I guess I can’t do much. I just want to say another word and then we’ll call it quits,
Ingie. When we went to school together, you used to be a good fighter;
I don’t remember you ever lying down.
Well, that’s what you’re doing now, no doubt of it; lying down to this cock-sure egotist, Lexington. Now listen, I’m willing to gamble a year’s sales-commissions that you can lick your rival, and while I don’t profess to know much about women, I do know that most of them prefer ä winner to a quitter. Get me?”
“I—I think so, Jimmy.”
“All right son, fere’s your cue.
Now then, come along; and I’ll drop you where you want to go.”
“I was thinking of going down to the traps, said the little doc, “I take my practice in the mornings, generally.”
“Then traps it is. I’ll go down with you and watch you make a straight score.”
' i 'HEY drove out to the club-ground and Jennings saw his friend pulverize fifty straight clay birds without a miss. He had half expected to meet Hiddgens and the crack Lexington at the traps. A few inquiries elicited the information that the champion usually took his practice shoot between the hours of five and six in the evening.
“Perhaps we’ll come back then,” he said to the doctor, as they purred cityward. “I’m curious to see this favorite in action.”
“It will be worth “He possesses all the essentials that go to make a trapshooter. Clear eye, cool nerve, confidence.”
your while,” returned the other.
“Particularly confidence, I understand,” said Jennings meaningly.
“Oh, Lexington’s avery decentchap,” defended the Doc,
“and a clean sport all through.”
“Of course; but he’s somewhat spoiled by success, isn’t he? Overrates himself just a trifle. I’m told, and under-rates the other chap. Eh?”
“Well,” the Doc observed reluctantly, “he has made a wonderful record, don’t you see. Any other man in his place would, perhaps, feel quite as he feels about it.
He’s the best shot in America. It’s something to be proud of — don’t you think so?”
He had known the man beside him since they were boys. He had never quite understood his queer loyalty and fairmindedness, his willingness to step aside and allow the other fellow to reap all the laurels. He remembered how it had been at college. Notingham had towered head and shoulders over his class-mates in the unravelling of intricate logarithms; and yet somehow nobody seemed to realize it—least of all Notingham himself.
The realization of what the man beside him had uselessly sacrificed and was still sacrificing, stirred a childish anger within him. A little modesty was all right—but an over-supply of it was a millstone. Jennings had not
achieved the place as best salesman in the State without learning that the world considers the over-rating of one’s human powers human, the underrating of them suicidal.
And here was Notingham, the wizard eye-specialist, who had for years performed marvelous operations for which others got the credit, standing aside as was his wont, in this, the biggest event that can come into a man’s life. He loved Helen Graydon and was too modest to telL her so. He overrated Lexington and underrated himself. He was standing aside —as he had always stood aside. He intended allowing Lexington to outshoot him, and he intended Lexington to win Helen Graydon from him. And he was the little Notingham who had never lain down tp an opponent in the old scrapping days.
“The devil!” Jennings uttered the word fervently. The little Doc started.
“I beg your pardon,” he said, “what’s the matter?”
“You!” Jennings grumbled, and threw the gear into high.
' I 'HEY shot up along an incline into *■ a wide avenue shaded with maples. It was not until the needle of the speedometer hovered about sixty that the little Doc spoke mildly.
“There’s a cop on a motor cycle, behind us—”
“Iknow,” returned Jennings. “I’m going to give him a chance to test his machine out.”
He leaned a little forward and the purr of the bigcar became a shrill hum.
“How far out is Colonel Graydon’s
Notingham’s eyes were on the speedometer. “Sixty-seven—seventytwo—we’re almost there,” he shivered. Why—?”
“Just remembered that I’ve got to
“But I should get back to the office,” protested Notingham. “There will be patients waiting.”
“Let ’em wait. It’s their turn to wait. You’re through giving yourself over to others; it’s time you were getting something for yourself.”
“Shut up! Just glance back and see if that cop is gaining any, will you?”
“He’s turning, and is going back.”
Jennings chuckled. “He’s got my number then. That means four fines this week, and the week is still
Five minutes later they turned into a wide, gravelled drive-way twisting between huge chestnuts. Colonel Graydon, wealthiest man in the state andtrue southerner, certainly had an eye for beauty, Jennings told himself. Those spacious grounds of velvet green beneath leafy shadow^ gemmed with marble fountains which tinkled a little song as they threw rainbows to happy birds, might have been lifted from a mountain-hemmed valley of the South and placed here in defiance of the busy mart whose throbbing pulse-beat could not molest it.
In fact the whole effect was typically southern. Huge palms lifted from sheltering ho’thouses graced the drive-way. Glorious Cont’d on page 45
Continued from page 12
magnolias, and flowers of every hue and shade gleamed up in the morning sunlight.
AS THE car swept soundlessly about a curve, Jennings caught his breath and whistled softly. Before them was a picture; such a picture!
! Beside a big marble basin, evidently an aquarium, stood a girl. She was dressed iin white. Her arms were bare, as was her 'head, on which a sunbeam rested to kiss to :life the red-gold of her waving hair. She I was feeding the fish.
I Seated on the edge of the basin was a man, whom Jennings guessed at once was Colonel Graydon. He looked up, observed the car, and with a word to the girl arose.
A strange awe possessed Jennings as he followed his friend to where father and daughter waited. Colonel Graydon was a big man, well on past middle age. Jennings would have known him for a Southerner anywhere. But the girl? Jennings laughed in his_ heart as he looked at her. She was certainly beautiful, a prize well worth any man’s winning. Her face was grave and sweet; her eyes large, grey, and as enquiring as grey eyes can be.
“I wished to behold your wonderful home,” Jennings told her, the introductions over. “The doctor had been telling me about it, you see.”
Í She smiled and in its dazzling radiance le renewed a yow he had that morning made. Unconsciously he murmured, “He’s »imply got to win, that’s all.”
“I beg your pardon.” They were standing alone beside the aquarium now, her slim fingers dropping bits of food to the flashing trout. Her father and Doctor Notingham had gone across to a seat beneath a palm and were deep in conversation.
Jennings came out of his abstraction with a start.
r “It is I who beg yours, Miss Graydon,” he said. “I was thinking of my friend, yonder.”
Again her lips parted and her big eyes strayed across to where the object of their conversation sat slumped on the bench. Jennings thought those grey eyes softened ever so little as she looked, but that might only be his imagination.
! “The doctor has often spoken of you,” she said. “You see,” she explained, “he is—he is almost one of us, here.”
• “Yes?” spoke Jennings absently.
. “Yes, ever since he saved father from blindness,” she said softly. Jennings started. SoNotingham had done that too, had he? And he had never mentioned it to him. Well, it was like him.
“Miss Graydon,” he said abruptly, groping like one unsure of his ground, “I told you I came to see your wonderful home. Well, that was only partly true I came out to see you and—if possible— have a word or two with you privately. If what I say seems to you audacious I trust you will forgive me. It’s like this,” he stumbled on.“I’ve known Notingham all my life. We were brought up together, went through school together—and all that. At college he was known among the boys as I.M. Nat. You can guess why. He was always more or less of a negative quantity. He had a way of stepping aside and allowing others to get the cream of things.”
HE PAUSED to glance apprehensively at his listener. She stook looking away. The smile, he noted, was still on her lips, and this augured well.
“I don’t have to tell you—who know him well—what kind of man he is,” he continued. "I’m not going to laud him. He wouldn’t thank me for that—and I’d only make a mess of it anyway. But there’s just this. In the old days he was always on hand to administer first aid to myself and others when we needed bandaging after a football skrimmage, or help of any kind. It’s natural that I should wish to reciprocate now I have the opportunity, isn’t it?”
“Is he in trouble then?” she asked, her eyes dancing.
“Deep trouble,” sighed his friend. “You see, Miss Graydon, he’s in love.” “Oh!”
“Yes. And he won’t let the girl know that he loves her.”
Her wide eyes were raised to his. “But rby?”
“Because he, so lowly, has placed her on . pedestal, and because he believes she oves'another man. That’s why.”
She was silent. “And why?” she said it length, “do you tell me this, Mr. ’ennings?”
; “Because you're the girl.”
I There, it was all out now.
■lis brow and sighed relievedly. íe whistled, "I’m glad that’s done; and I >ope you will pardon my presumption, ft simply had to let you know, because it ¡teems—he couldn’t."
j: He stood back and, cramming his hands •into his pockets, stood looking at her. l: For one long moment their eyes met, tdien slowly her smile deepened, and ¡throwing back her head she laughed.
¡■‘He gazed at her ruefully and suddenly the realization of what he had done assailed ud overwhelmed him.
“What must you think of me?” he said miserably.
“I think you must be quite as great a talesman as I have been led to believe,” Mie answered. Then, her face grown £nous, she added: “And I think you would I» the right sort of friend for anybody to [¡lössess. And—” as hope illumed his lice—“I think your zeal in behalf of your liiend has for once led you to form an inaccurate deduction.”
'*■ Then before he could say more her hand pas upon his arm and she was leading him Kross to where her father and the doctor pere seated.
A S THEY drove back to the city T* Jennings was strangely silent. Even phen the trafficpoliceman, whom they had Outdistanced going out, stopped them and Crisply demanded his name and address, Jennings gave it simply in brief, ungarnishQd style. As they drew up before Notingham’s office the little Doc spoke.
\ “You didn’t try to sell the Colonel a car, after all, Jimmy.”
“No,” admitted Jennings. “You see, there was no use of attempting the imlossible. Better men than I have tried him—and failed. He doesn’t like our car. It would be a mighty fine plume in |iny cap if I could sell him—but what’s the .úse?”
• “I was telling him of how we touched the aeventy mark going out,” said the doctor. "That interested him hugely.” f=, “You don’t say. I didn’t know that
reed would have cut any ice with him.
understand he’s a staid, easy-going old ¡gent.”
‘ “He is, but he tells me he’s a great lover 8Í power. He’s not after speed, he says, |jut he likes to know if he wants it — it’s
“Well, our car has it over his cherished ■Bronx 8 there, at least. ”
: “So I told him. Well, shall I see you »ter? Why not drop around and have dinner with me at the Lennox to-night?”
“I’ll ring you up later, during the day, pnd let you know.”
As Jennings swung his car about and awept up the wide avenue, another car Passed him swiftly. He had a brief glimpse » the driver. It was Lexington. His face was pale, his eyes gazing straight ahead.
“Now what the-—?” Jennings drove on, pondering.
PROM Hiddgens he learned that same *■ evening what was wrong with Lexington. Jennings and Notingham had dined together at the Lennox and were just leaving the grill when Hiddgens came in. He danced about him, saw Jennings and his mend and came straight over to them. His usually cheerful face was worried lookmg. They took chairs at a table and Hiddgens ordered drinks.
“What’s wrong with the world?” queried Jennings.
“It’s Lexington,” said Hiddgens.
Haven’t you fellows heard?”
“Heard. Heard what?”
“Why, he has gone all to pieces, that’s *11. Went out to the traps this afternoon to break his usual fifty straight, and missed flret five birds—clean.”
“Good lord! you don’t tell me.” Jennings Was genuinely appalled at the intelligence.
Missed the first five!” he exclaimed.
“It’s true. I was there.”
Hiddgens glanced at the little doc. He sat twisting his glass in his long fingers, and now came out of his meditation to ask.
_ “Did he seem nervous? Anything about him to indicate that he was not in his usual fettle?”
“No, not a thing. When he stepped up to the line it was with all his old cocksureness. He simply shook his head when he missed the first bird, but when he had missed the second and third he stepped back. He cut a shell open and examined it. Then he sent for his other gun, a mate to the single barrel Ithica he always shoots.
“There was no excuse for his missing the next bird. It was a straight-away, hedge-high one; but miss it he did. And then—”
Hiddgens sighed and gulped his drink.
“And then,” finished Jennings, “he went to pieces.”
Hiddgens nodded. “He called me over. ‘Joe,’ he says, ‘you saw. I’m through. There’s always an end to this game; but mine came sooner than I expected. Of course, I won’t shoot to-morrow.’ ”
A strained silence fell upon the three. Jennings broke it to ask. “Where did he go?”
“Back to his hotel. “I’ve been trying to get to him all evening, but he won’t see me, nor anybody.”
“That’s ■ natural enough,” sighed Jennings. “And by the way, Hiddgens, that little bet you led me into making with you is off. Now shut up,” as the other raised a protesting hand. “It’s off—and stays off. Hang it, I’m mighty sorry for poor old Lexington. Isn’t there anything we can do?”
“Nothing except leave him to fight it out by himself,” returned Hiddgens. “It’s going hard with him, of course. Had he won this shoot it would have put him up among the eligibles for the Olympic tourney. Besides this win would have assured for him a remunerative position he has long desired. You see, he’s in love with a certain girl and—”
He checked himself as Jennings’ foot touched his beneath the table.
Notingham arose. “If you’ll excuse me —” he said, hesitatingly, “I have a professional call to make. I—I might join you later, perhaps.”
“Go along—don’t mind us,” cried Jennings. “Hiddgens and I will play billiards till you get back. If you find you can’t come, just phone us here.”
Notingham went away and Hiddgens and Jennings passed into the billiard room. For an hour they played, and then came a call boy looking for Jennings. He was wanted at the phone.
He came back after a time and picked up his cue. “It was the Doc,” he told Hiddgens. “He won’t be back. He’s on an important case and will have to work nearly all night. It’s hell, being a doctor, eh?”
"Or a blue-rock ex-champ,” returned Hiddgens, his thoughts on his friend.
DOCTOR NOTINGHAM went direct to the Waverly Hotel. “See if Mr. Lexington is in, please,” he said to the room clerk. That gentleman shook his head. “He’s in, but he won’t see anybody,” he informed the doctor. “At least a dozen people wanted to see him this evening. Just wait a minute and I’ll try though. What name please?” “Notingham.”
The clerk called Lexington’s room. He turned slowly back to the counter. “He won’t see you sir; but he sent you a message,” he informed Notingham. “It is ‘Tell Doctor Notingham that I can’t see anybody, but that I wish him the best of luck to-morrow.’ ”
Notingham turned away without a word. Ten minutes later he was standing outside the door of Lexington’s room.
“Lexington,” he called softly.
"Who’s that?” came sharply from within.
“It’s Notingham. Open please.”
“I’m waiting, old man.”
“I can’t let you in Doc,” came the stifled voice. “I simply can’t face anybody to-night.”
“Give me five minutes only. I’ll go then if you wish,” persisted the doctor.
There came the sound of a bolt being withdrawn. The door opened and Notingham stepped inside.
Lexington was in his shirt-sleeves. A pair of suitcases lay on the bed, half packed for a journey. His eyes followed
his visitor’s. “I’m going to slip away,” he said with a short laugh. “Can’t stand the gaff. Of course,” he said jerkily, '‘you’ve heard?”
“Well, it gives you a clear field, my hoy.
Youll win this shoot easily now.”
Th’e little Doc sat down on the edge of the bod.
“Tell me all about it, Lexington,” he
Lexington was pacing up and down the floor. His face was colorless and drawn. He wheeled suddenly, his tensed muscles relaxing, perspiration springing out on his forehead.
“There’s not much to tell. I'm through, that’s all.”
He sank into a chair. “It came suddenly—this thing; came to me as I have seen it come to others. I was sure, sure, sure. I can’t explain it. I lost everything in a second’s time; nerve, control, everything. And now,” he added drearily, —“I’m only a ‘has-been.’ ” He stood up, his hands opening and shutting spasmodi-
“It was decent of you to come,” he went on, speaking with an effort, “particularly as you have no reason to feel very friendly toward me. Oh,” as the other murmured protest. “I’ve never considered your feelings in the least, and you know it. I came between you and the best girl in the world, and I hadn’t any right to do it. It wasn’t fair sportsmanship, because I knew you were too fine to make a contest of the biggest thing you—or I—have ever known.
“But that’s at an end, too, Doc. Everything is at an end, my chances which loomed so big this morning; my rosy future; all gone! I’m going to creep away now and leave you the field. ”
He smiled wanly and held out his hand.
"^■OTINGHAM took it in his slender 1 * white one. His mild blue eyes lifted slowly to the burning eyes looking down upon him, and held them. “Lexington,” he said softly, “ you can’t run away. You’ve got to stay here, and win, just as you intended doing.”
(i A groan burst from Lexington’s lips. “Win! man! there isn’t one chance in a thousand. I tell you, I’m done, done.” “Sit down,” said the doctor. “Now,” as Lexington sank back in his seat, “just allow your head to fall back slowly against the back of that chair. Gaze straight up at the ceiling. Now, please, let your eyes drop to a focus on my finger point—no, not suddenly, slowly. That’s right. Ah Y ou may sit up now. Do you know what made you miss this afternoon?” The little doctor was leaning toward the other man smiling.
Do you know?” gasped Lexington wonderingly.
Yes. It was astigmatism. Your eyes have suddenly gone back on you. Here.” He had lifted Lexington’s coat from its hanger. “Put that on, and come with me.’ „Lexington’s lips were working dumbly. Where?” he managed to gasp.
“To my office. We’ve got a big job ahead of us, old man.”
“But what—what are we going to do?” “Do?” The doctor stood up. There ,Tas ,a fiKhting glow in the mild eyes now.
Do.' We re going to work on those eyes
of yours, that’s what we’re going to do We re going to show those shooting-fans that you re still the champion. Now then come along.” ’
Lexington put on his coat like a man in a dream. He followed the doctor from the room. Not until they were outside the « ,a-nd on th,elr way to Notingham’s office did he speak again. Then his fingers gripped his companion’s arm. “Doc ” he declared, “I’ll be hanged if I’ll accept this big thing from you. I’m going back ”
“You’re coming on. You’re under orders.
itÄsake‘:Ve ** t0 g° thr°Ugh with
Lexington’s head dropped. He stumbled forward beside the little doctor.
Half an hour later they were in Notingdrawn SUrgery with the hlinds closely
* . it.was the third and last day of the Elimination Contest. Jennings, standing on the edge of the crowd of interested spectators, whistled softly as the official referee
Notingham was silent.
made the announcement. His eyes were on the tall, broad shouldered shooter, who had just pulverized a quartering clay disk, and was nonchalantly blowing the smoke from his gun-barrel.
“That makes his four hundred and eightysixth bird out of a possible five hundred,” spoke somebody close beside him.
Jennings turned to encounter the admiration-filled eyes of Hiddgens. “Lexington has never shot as well as he has in this tournament,” that gentleman added. “He has still ten birds at which to shoot. If he breaks them, he makes a new world’s record.”
Jennings frowned. “And he’s the guy who went all to pieces three days ago,” he said. “How do you account for it, Hiddgens?”
Hiddgens shrugged. “Grand stand play I guess,” he laughed. "Leave old Lex alone for getting all there’s to get. He’s going to be high gun at this shoot, all hunky.”
Jennings’ jaw shot out. “Oh, is that so? Now my friend, let me ask you something. Do you happen to know that there’s another shooter who has made quite as good a score as your unbeatable Lexington? Do you know that?”
“Oh, you mean the little Doc. Well, yes, he has done splendidly; I’ll say that for him. But he’s going to fall down at the finish—like he always does. You see he has still got twenty birds before him. There he is now, first of the fresh squad. This is usually the time when he starts shooting wild. Just watch him. There,” as at the word “pull” the trap threw a swift curving ground bird—“he’ll never get that one, never—he’s bound—”
“No?” drawled Jennings, as the sharp tack of the shooter’s gun sounded, and the darting bird was cast to the four winds in pulverized atoms. “No?”
“By George!” whispered Hiddgens in awed tones. “That’s wonderful shooting.”
The little Doc had stepped to the second trap. “There goes another beaut,” growled Jennings, as the black, yellowrimmed disk shot out high and obliquely across the field. “Dead bird,” announced the scorer. The third and fourth birds were equally erratic fliers, but were broken evenly. The fifth went up in a puff of dust when only fifty feet from the trap.
“They’re even,” grinned Jennings.
“Even,” repeated Hiddgens. “The next five birds will tell the tale. By George! but the little Doc is certainly at himself. Come on!”
They elbowed their way through the crowd to where Lexington and Notingham were standing together talking. Lexington welcomed them with his old smile of assurance. “I’m trying to buy the Doc off,” he laughed. “He’s out to get me, so it seems.”
Notingham shook his head. “I almost believe he would like me to achieve the impossible—and beat him,” he smiled.
L_I E WITHDREW a little way to watch A A the active squad of lesser lights busy now in a striving to crumple the illusive disks, and Jennings, after a word or two to Lexington, joined him.
“Lexington’s wearing glasses, I see,” he said. “What’s wrong? Eye-strain?” “Sun, likely,” returned the doctor. Then, as if anxious to switch the conversation > from dangerous ground, “Hello there’s a soft bird—and lost through the shooter using chilled shot. Hit all right; I saw it jump. Too bad.”
Jennings linked his arm in that of his friend and led him through the crowd to a bench near the club-house.
“Now, Doc, let’s get down to cases,” he said. “Do you intend to beat Lexington, or don’t you?”
“Well, you see,” said the Doc, “It’s just this way. Lexington has a lot staked on this shoot. More than you are aware. If he’s high gun here he’s made, so to speak.”
“Why, Jimmy, I’m satisfied with the pleasure I get out of it. I’m not caring
“But supposing she want’s you to win?” The little Doc’s blue eyes opened wide. “That’s it, Jimmy. She want’s him to win, naturally. Now please don’t say any more about it,” as Jennings drew in his breath to explode. “I’m pretty sure I couldn’t beat Lexington if I wanted to— and I’m surer that I don’t want to.”
Jennings jumped up and grasped his
•■Come. Back to the maddening crowd we go, lest I obey the impulse to murder you here now where there are no witnesses. You're throwing away a big opportunity, mv hoy. Lord! if I was only in your place wouldn’t I teach that cock-sure Lexington a lesson.”
“I think ours will be the next squad,” said the little Doc, casually; “yes, there you are.” The referee was heard calling Lexington to score. “Notingham on deck.” Moodily, .Jennings watched Lexington take his place before the traps, moodily witnessed him break three birds in succession. Two more would give him a straight score.
Then as Lexington stepped from the third to the fourth position something happened. His eyeglasses became loosened and in falling struck his gun-stock and splintered into fragments. Jennings saw him gaze stupidly down, saw his shoulders heave. Then he stepped jauntily into position and gave the word “pull.”
The fourth and fifth birds were clean misses. Lexington turned, and, with lowered head, made straight for the clubhouse. Jennings caught his breath. “Doc,” he whispered. “Doc—get him, get him.”
NOTINGHAM was shooting now. Jennings, his nails biting his palms, saw the first two difficult birds splintered in mid-air. The third was a hedge-high, straight-away one. At the sound of the Doc’s gun the scorer’s voice automatically droned—"de—” then ascended in a shrill cry of wonder “Lost bird!”
A hoarse murmur surged through the crowd of spectators. Jennings groaned. The shooter had stepped to the fourth trap. Again the scorer announced “Lost!” Jennings waited for no more. “The damned fool,” he kept saying as he plunged through the crowd, and made for his car.
He intended to climb into that car and beat it straight away for Chicago. Noting* ham could go hang. He was disgusted with him.* He hoped he might never see him again. Any man who would deliberately pass up an opportunity such as he had passed up didn’t deserve a friend. He was sorry now he had ever obeyed a reckless impulse to come to the hanged tournament. Yes, sir, he was going to beat it, and beat it quick.
But Jennings didn’t beat it. As he backed his big car from its parking place, a voice hailed him. He glanced up fretfully. Coming toward him was Colonel Graydon, and on his arm, fresh-faced as a rose, and as sweet, was the girl who by all the rules of the big game belonged to Notingham.
“Mr. Jennings, sah,” boomed the Colonel’s voice, as they came up, “we caught you like old Uncle Jeff caught the opossum —just in time for dinner. And,” he added, with a laugh, “the dinner’s at our place.” “And don’t say you cannot come,” chimed in Helen, “because you’ve simply got to.”
“I'm sorry,” commenced Jennings. But the Colonel laid his big hand on his arm. ‘No excuses, sah,” he roared, “or I’ll have you pinched for attempting to steal my car.” His eyes were running along the graceful lines of the blue machine.
“You sçe,” interpolated the daughter. It really is dad’s car now. Maybe vou didn’t know that?”
She laughed at Jennings’ look of wonder. “I bought it not twenty minutes ago,” the Colonel informed him, “from Doctor Notingham. Couldn’t find you, you see. He didn t know the exact price, however, so sah—if you’ll just mention it—” He drew a check book from his pocket and produced a fountain pen.
“Seven thousand,” said Jennings, likel one in a dream.
The Colonel filled out the check.
“There you are, Mr. Jennings. Seven thousand, plus twenty for your fare tç Chicago. I feel I’m playing a sort of dirty trick on you, sah, depriving you of thé drive back to your city, but I simply had to—couldn’t allow a machine that could touch seventy to get away. I’m a crank for speed, by heavens, I am, sah.”
“Poor old dad,” laughed Helen. “He’i a crank for speed all right, even if he never drives over fifteen miles an hour.”
“Young lady,” frowned the Colonel “that’s quite enough from you. Climt into your new car immediately. And you sah,” turning to Jennings, “will ride witt me and show me the run of the thine We’ll pick up Notingham on the way out.” Jennings was still of the opinion that h» was dreaming. Had he, he wondered sold the erratic Colonel Graydon a carafter all. He folded the check and put i’ in his pocket. He would go on dreaming i while longer. The waking, he felt, worn« come soon enough. Funny the Colone hadn’t said anything about Lexington Of course he would be going along.
DUT Lexington did not go along. Thej AA dined that night—just the four o them—in a rustic nook adjoining the con servatory, beneath soft, subdued lights with the perfume of sweet southern flower wafting through the open windows. And n« flower among that mass of bloom, though Jennings, could match the rare beauty o the girl who sat at the foot of the table He and his host talked; talked car, horse golf. Doctor Notingham sat silent; Helei interposed a word only now and again It was after cigars were lit that th Colonel suggested to Jennings that he g with him and have a look at the dogs.
“All Irish setters, sah; and why I kee] ’em God only knows. There isn’t a quai or a growse left in the whole state. Bu egad, sah, they’re great dogs. Just com and see ’em for yourself.”
Left alone Helen leaned a little closer t the little doctor. “A penny,” she smile« resting her chin in cupped hands.
He looked up slowly. “It’s Lexington,’ he said. “I didn’t understand that he in tended leaving so soon.”
“Oh,” she smiled. ’
“No. He—I—that is—”
He paused, confused.
She did not attempt to help him, an« so the silence deepened.
She broke it at length to say, “He tol me everything.”
“He told me how you had helped him worked on his poor eyes all night so—s that he might win.”
“Oh I say—he promised, you know—' “Yes, I know that too. But this after noon when his glasses slipped and broke and he would have lost—”
The little Doc was on his feet. “Please,’ he said miserably.
“All right. But tell me,” she asked “why did you do it?”
He raised his blue eyes to hers.
“Because I knew you wanted him to win Helen.”
“That’s right. I did. It meant s« much to him, you see. ”
“And that’s why I can’t understand—’ “Why he went away?” She arose an« went over beside him. Her white hand fell very softly on his shoulders. He look ed slowly up, and what he read in tho» big grey eyes was to him a revelation in deed.
“Helen,” he whispered, “you surelj t mean—you—”
“Oh, little Doc,” she cried, her voie« choking, “you, too, must have astigma