ELIXIR OF LIES
Unless you happen to be numbered among the elect who take their winter sports in the South, golf can be little more than a longing for three months to come. And if you can't play golf, the next best thing is to read about golf. You'll agree—when you read this story.
THE annual tournament of the Heath Hills Gclf Club reached its high point about eleven o’clock in the morning. At that hour, on qualifying day, the first tee, roped off like a prize-ring, was surrounded, three and four deep, by waiting contestants. The secretary, important as a train-starter, sat at a table under a huge white scoresheet, while the terrace above was filled with a banked mass of gaily dressed spectators.
It was exactly the kind of crowd which a dour philosopher might have described as typical of "pleasure-mad America,” but there was one member who was certainly not pleasure-mad. Standing well back among the contestants, his sleeves rolled up and his clubs at his feet,
Walter Sanders was awaiting events with about the same emotions that he might have felt in the anteroom of an oldfashioned dentist. Without hope, without heart, he asked but one thing—that he and his partner, Bob Reising, might be allowed to start their match with the least possible amount of attention, be duly qualified for the fourth, or lowest, division, and then be permitted to sink into harmless oblivion for the rest of the week.
Yes, tournament play was a tragic thing to poor Walter Sanders. He was one of golf’s most cringing, terrorized slaves; but to his partner, fat Bob Reising, it was all a huge joke. A noisy boisterous man, Reising regarded himself as the club’s favorite buffoon. He actually enjoyed his reputation of being the club’s worst player. The moment his match with Walter was called he pushed through the ropes and crossed the tee with jocose importance. He took a huge handful of sand and, with dainty mock-feminine gestures, patted it into a tee as big as a pie plate; then stood up, feet wide apart, and waved his club with the strokes of a wood-chopper. A direction flag far down the course took his eye and he turned around to the secretary’s table.
“Say Nick,” he demanded, "how far is that flag?”
“A hundred and forty yards, for a guess,” replied the secretary. "Want us to move it?”
The fat man, who had never driven a hundred yard in his life, studied the flag in affected concern. “Well, perhaps I can get around it.” “Give you five dollars if you land within twenty feet of it,” laughed the secretary.
“You’re on,” snapped Reising.
Without even taking a regular stance, and holding his club like a flail, he made a wild swipe at the ball. To the utter amazement of every one, including himself, there came a sharp crack, the ball went far in the air, and came to rest three or four feet beyond the flag. A spontaneous cheer arose from the crowd, and Reising bowed right and left.
“Lay-dees and gentle-mun,” he announced, “I am happy to say that I am playing in top form to-day and the challenge cup will remain in Heath Hills.”
In the laughter that followed Bob Reising’s unexpected coup, Walter Sanders had lost for a moment, his own trepidation but as he stepped out on the tee there came a little stir in the crowd, and the secretary stepped quickly inside the ropes.
“Walter,” he asked, “do you mind standing aside and letting another player go through? Mr. Mallcck, the state amateur champion, has just arrived. He came too late to be paired with any one, so we are going to let him qualify alone, with a scorer.”
As Walter fell willingly back to the edge of the tee, he saw, approaching, a wiry, keen-looking player of about his own age, with quick, decisive movements and the tanned, deeply lined face of the man who makes a life-work of sport. The spectators above craned eagerly to watch, while the secretary fawned over him effusively.
With no ceremony whatsoever the champion teed up his ball and gave a swift, whip-like motion with his driver. With a whiz and a leap totally different from anything seen all the morning, the ball shot straight out on a long, even line, and found its ultimate home far down the centre of the fairway.
The champion stepped briskly off the tee. “Thanks a lot,” he tossed casually, then suddenly he caught sight of Walter’s long, brooding face and be stopped in surprise, but Walter wras ret even looking, and, apparently concluding that he had made some mistake in recognition, the champion nodded again and passed on his way.
And that was the player whom poor Walter had to follow! Nobody but the state champion! His hands like ice and his lips like sandpaper, Walter slowly teed up his ball. WTith forced deliberation he measured his distance, addressed his ball—and let go with a terrible wallop. But as he had made his back swing a queer gray shadow had seemed to sweep over his mind. As if he were coming out of a shock, he felt his arms pulled hard in their sockets, and under his eyes, still neatly teed up, remained his brand-new white ball. He had missed it clean—by a good six inches.
A girl in the crowd above him tittered involuntarily and Walter himself smiled in a forced, mirthless way. He again took his stance and went through his deliberate, studied motions. This time his club took an ugly slice from the tee, but it did at least hit the ball, and the latter went bouncing dully away for fifty or sixty yards. Like a whipped dog Sanders picked up his clubs, and as he stepped off the tee he could hear an amused hum of conversation start up behind him.
LATE that afternoon, Walter’s wife, returning from a picnic at the lake, found the house uncannily quiet, with a suspicious and eerie silence. In vague apprehension she went at once to the study, and at the door gave a little cry of alarm, for, in the gathering shadows, she found her husband crouched low in his chair like a man in a chill. His hair was mussed, his shoulders bowed, and his lips were moving in a strange, nervous way. His wife leaped forward and put her hand on his shoulder.
“Walter! Walter, darling!” she cried. “What in the world has happened? Are you ill?”
Her husband straightened painfully in his chair and forced his lips into a hard, dry smile.
“Don’t worry,” he answered. “Nothing is the matter. I’m just feeling a little blue, that’s all.”
Betty Sanders was a small, pretty, capable girl, nearly ten years younger than her husband, but the difference in their ages had the paradoxical effect of making her unusually motherly. In wide-eyed concern she took a seat on the arm of Walter’s chair and put her hand over his listless, extended fingers. She found them as cold as ice, and instinctively began to warm them by holding them between both her palms.
To her caresses Walter responded only in a sluggish and dutiful way.
“But, dearie,” she argued, “I know there’s something.” As he made no response, her own instinct and her own experience told her the truth. “Walter, is it that wretched golf?”
Sanders answered reluctantly. “Not really that. Or only partly that. That’s merely typical of the whole blooming business. I’ve simply decided that I’m a pretty poor specimen. I’m a hopeless excuse for a man.”
“Oh, you fool!” blurted out Betty, but the way in which she said it was in itself a caress. She leaned over and pressed her lips to his tousled hair. Walter straightened slightly as he put his arm around her waist.
“No, honestly, Betty,” he argued. His voice was breaking and he was almost in tears. “It isn’t just golf itself. It’s the whole idea of the thing. I feel like such a silly ass.”
His wife gently tightened her grip on his fingers. “Sweetheart,” she asked, “aren’t you making a mountain out of a molehill? Does it ever occur to you that if a stranger had gone up to the club this morning and looked over every one present, the name of Walter Hale Sanders would probably have been the only one that he would have ever heard of?”
“As an essayist and a critic—yes,” muttered Walter in deep self-contempt, “as a namby-pamby, little velvet-coat poet, read only by women and adored at tea-parties. A sissy, a mollycoddle, that’s what they think. Can’t you see what it means to me—not to be any good at physical things? It s an awful phrase but it’s just what I’m not a man among men.
Betty remained a moment in silence, then she asked quietly: “Tell me aboutit. What happened? Didn’t you even qualify?”
Walter groaned. “Oh, yes, I qualified -because I couldn’t help it. There were only sixty-two players entered for all four divisions, and all of them had to qualify unless they dropped dead. But I made the worst score I ve ever made in my life—the worst score that any one ever made. One hundred and twenty-four. And I was beaten by fat Bob Reising. He beat the pants off me.”
Even Betty could realize the horror of being beaten by Bob Reising. For a moment she was again reduced to silence, but she gave no other sign of attaching any importance.
“Walter,” she said at last, slowly, “I was talking to Harry Short the other day about your golf, and he says that there is no reason on earth why you should not become one of the best players in the club.”
“No reason,” grunted her husband, “except that it isn’t in me.”
“It is in you,” retorted Betty sharply. “You know you play an awfully good game when you’re alone or just playing friendly matches. When you don’t get excited you’re a long, hard driver. Even Harry himself has never driven the eighth green—and you have.”
“Yes,” replied Walter cynically, “and then took five putts to hole out. I knew I’d do it.”
“That’s just the trouble!” retorted Betty quietly. “That’s just what Harry says! You always think you’re going to miss and so you do miss. He has watched you and he knows the signs. When you draw your club back
for a stroke you are thinking to yourself: ‘Now suppose I should hit the turf.’ And of course you do hit the turf. I believe Harry’s right, because you know you’re like that in most things. The trouble with you is.that you have too much imagination.”
Walter shook his head. “No, Betty,” he answered glumly. “That may be true to a certain extent, but it isn’t the real truth. I know the real truth. The real truth is that I’m a quitter. I’m yellow.”
His wife leaped to her feet with flashing eyes. “If you say that again,” she commanded, “I’ll leave you tomorrow. You yellow? You a quitter? Do you suppose that a man who was yellow would leap into a blazing car and drive it out into the road when even the regular garage men were running away in every direction?”
“That’s different,” grumbled Walter. “It was my own car. I knew it wouldn’t explode—and it didn’t.”
“And do you think,” continued his wife, “that a quitter would have taken over my father’s debts, given his own notes in exchange, and paid them cff inch by inch? Twelve thousand dollars. When you yourself had to go three years without a new winter overcoat? No, thank you! That’s not my idea of a quitter.”
Again her voice assumed a sudden tenderness. Again she put her hand on his forehead and began to stroke it down over his wearied eyes.
“Walter, old sweetheart, I know you better than you know yourself. Your only trouble is that you’re overtired and you’re overstrained and you’re sensitive as a baby. You’ve fretted over this golf for so long that you’ve lost all perspective. Now just sit back in your chair and doze and smoke, and in the meantime I’m going to get you something.”
Fifteen minutes later Walter was sitting gloomy and motionless, in his chair, when he heard a faint knock at his door and muttered: “Come in.”
A second later he started in surprise. “What the—?” And well he might, for the most perfect imitation of a hospital nurse was standing in the doorway, looking at him demurely. First Betty had changed into a starched blue print dress and over her shoulders she had draped a white table-spread for a kerchief. On her head was a napkin skilfully folded into an imitation of a nurse’s cap with even a red cross cut out of paper and pinned to the front. In her hand she carried a silver card-tray with a tumbler, a bottle, and a spoon.
In spite of himself Walter laughed and Betty came into the room. She bobbed a courtsey.
Nurse Hallam reports for duty,” she announced.
The doctor has ordered you to take this prescription now—and again when you go to bed.”
Without further ado, she put the tray on the table and began to measure out some sort of potion. A druggy, aromatic odor came from the glass as she handed it to her husband.
‘Take this,” she commanded. “Honestly, I mean it.” Walter smiled in the same forced, humorless way. “What in the world is this nonsense?”
Betty still held the glass before her, unflinching. “It isn’t nonsense at all. It is just what you need. It is merely some of that nerve-quieting medicine that Anne used to take when she broke down on her concert tour.”
“What is it? An opiate?” asked Walter sharply. He had sudden suspicions of his sister-in-law, a statuesque soprano and a very worldly individual.
“Opiate nothing!” retorted his wife. “Do you suppose that Anne would take opiates? Or that old Doctor Rosenthal would let her? No. Anne was just like you—an artist and a mass of temperament. She’d simply go all to pieces toward the end of a tour, and Doctor Rosenthal gave her this prescription. He’s doctor to half the singers in the Metropolitan Opera and knows how to handle them. I suppose it’s really bromides or something, but Anne said it was wonderful. This was a bottle she left when she was up here two years ago.”
Walter picked up the bottle suspiciously and now that he looked at it, it was perfectly familiar. It had stood for months in the medicine-cabinet in his own bathroom and had been allowed to remain there largely because the label had struck him rather humorously. It always reminded him of the florid, fussy Anne. It bore the name of a druggist in a well-known theatre building in New York City and of Doctor Rosenthal, together with these directions:
Two teaspooniuis in hart a grass oí water thirty minutes before a performance. Not for use at any other time.
“But this stuff is two years old,” persisted Walter.
“We don’t know what is in ic. By this time it may be rank poison.”
“In that case we die together,” retorted Betty. “I’ve just taken a dose to see what would happen.” Her husband looked at her in alarm. “Dearie, you shouldn’t have done that. But all right. If you go, I go. Here. Let me have it.”
He took from her hand the half-tumbler of greenish pearl-colored liquid, while Betty cautioned him, “Better take it all at a gulp, for it tastes like fury. Anne always used to have a crust of bread ready. But it makes you feel fine, once you’ve got it down.”
With a single gesture Walter swallowed the dose and immediately made a grimace, for the stuff was as bitter as wormwood. Just the same, it did give a warm, comforting feeling, away down inside. He and Betty grinned at each other like fellow conspirators, or like two little boys just learning to smoke.
“I hope that it isn’t dope,” repeated Walter guardedly; “but I have to confess that it does warm the tummy.”
“I told you it would,” replied Betty. “I feel like a princess.” She whisked up the bottle and spoon and went out of the door with a final caution. “Now just sit back and relax and give it a real chance to work. In half an hour you’ll be ready to go out and sing ‘Tosca.’ ”
And, sitting back in the twilight, Walter Sanders did have to admit that the tonic was potent. The warm glow increased inside him, and all at once his nerves seemed to relax. Presently the humorous side of it struck him, and he began to chuckle. Then he began to think of his match that morning, and that also appeared to him indescribably funny. He lit a pipe, leaned back in his chair, and when Betty came to call him for dinner he was dreaming away, an old, beloved volume of Gibbon before him, and on his lips an expression of sardonic enjoyment.
"^AEVERTHELESS, on the following morning when -L ^ Walter picked up his clubs to go up to the links, certain ominous signs began to return, but Betty said nothing until he was actually starting, when, at the very doorway, she appeared again with the bottle and spoon.
“Come on, now,” she ordered firmly. “Open your mouth. Take it down like a man, and then go up there and play like a whirlwind.”
I In only the faintest manner her husband protested. “Oh, look here, Betty. You don’t want to make a dope fiend out of me.”
“I guess if it didn’t hurt Anne, it won’t you—a man with your constitution.” Estimatingly Betty held the bottle up to the light. “I’ve stopped taking it myself,” she remarked, “so I guess there’s just enough here to see you through the tournament. I’ll give you three teaspoonfuls the day you get into the finals.”
“The finals!” laughed Walter, but'at the same time an odd and exultant idea crept into his brain. The finals of the fourth division! After all, the fourth division was composed mostly of young boys and old men. The finals. Why not?
Almost eagerly he gulped down the glass of bitter liquid, and as he walked up to the club-house he began to feel the same mellow warmth oi well-being creep through his veins.
As a matter of fact the club-house terrace, as he faced
it this morning, was not nearly as formidable as it had been on the previous day. The bystanders were mostly other players, already engrossed in their own matches and completely unconcerned with Walter Sanders. Glancing at the score-card, which had been arranged on the basis of yesterday’s qualifications, Walter found that he was paired with a stranger named Dorgan, a pleasant young man with red hair and compact athletic figure. A stranger is always formidable to a doubtful player, especially a red-haired stranger, and at first Walter regarded him with some trepidation, but the warm dose from Betty’s bottle was still coursing good-humoredly through him, and as Dorgan came up with his clubs Walter suddenly caught the true gist of the matter.
“After all,” he thought to himself, “any man who would be in the fourth division can’t be very much better than I am. Possibly he’s worse.”
His confidence was still further restored when Dorgan stepped up to drive and, to his amazement, Walter, saw that he was using an iron. The principles of golf, if not the practice, were thoroughly familiar to Walter Sanders, and he knew that only one motive could ever induce a player to drive from this clear, open tee with an iron. Either he had never learned to use his wooden clubs or else he was afraid to do so. With a feeling of al most contemptuous superiority Walter fondled his driver, for he himself used wooden clubs better than irons. He was perfectly composed as he teed up his ball, and this time he did not make his usual attempt to drive around the world. With Dorgan’s ball lying only a scant hundred yards down the course, there was no need to do so, Taking an easy, good-humored swing, Walter laid his ball straight out for a hundred and seventy yards, and as they walked down the Íairway Dorgan looked at him in some amazement.
“Say, Mr. Sanders,” he demanded, “who in the world ever put you in the fourth division?”
He wondered still more and more as Walter took hole after hole with comparative ease, and on the twelfth green he held out his hand in humorous resignation. Slinging their bags over their shoulders, they cut back across the course to the club-house, and for the first time in his life Walter had the thrill of which he had so often dreamed, the thrill of seeing the secretary write on the score-board: “Sanders 7 up, 6 to go.”
Almost immediately Betty, who had been waiting all the morning in anxious trepidation, heard a ring at the phone, and Walter’s voice, trembling with excitement, came over the wire.
“Well, Betty, I cleaned him up. I won!”
Betty gave a shriek which brought the cook from the kitchen. “You won?” she exclaimed. "You won the tournament?”
In his booth at the club-house Walter laughed. “No. Hardly. But I won my first match.”
“Then, Walter Sanders, come right home and kiss me.” "I’d like to, Betty. You certainly deserve it, but I’m scheduled to play Doctor Winters in the second round at two o’clock. I think I’d better just snatch a bite here at the club. Do you mind very much?”
“N-no,” replied Betty, slowly, “if you think I can trust you that long out of my sight. But, sweetheart, promise me faithfully just one thing. I’m going up past the club myself at quarter of two, and I want you to wait for me. I’ve got something here I want to show you.”
A shade of anxiety crept into her husband’s voice. “What is it? Bad news?”
“Oh, quite the contrary,” laughed Betty. “You wait and you’ll see.”
At five minutes to two, as Walter and his new partner were walking out for their match, the former heard the familiar rattle of his own car on the driveway, and Betty came running up the steps of the terrace. In her hand were a bottle, a tumbler, and a spoon.
“Here is your medicine,” she announced, quite regardless of the startled onlookers. “I’ve got the water and everything right here in the glass.”
“Oh, come, Betty,” argued Walter, blushing; but already his hand was reached out for the tumbler, and he gulped down the familiar dose.
Doctor Winters, who was a clergyman and not a physician, protested in amusement. “Look here, Mrs. Sanders. That’s not fair. You're doping your man.” “Well, what of it?” laughed Walter. He waved his driver belligerently. “After all, everything’s fair in love and golf.”
The wise old clergyman glanced in fatherly fashion from one to the other. “Particularly in love, I should say, by the looks of it.”
Doctor Winters was immeasurably a better player than
Dorgan, but on the seventeenth tee he also turned to Walter with an odd look in his eyes.
“Walter,” he remarked, “I don’t know what was in that bottle, but it’s done the trick. This gives you the match. Congratulations.”
So for the second time in one day Walter watched his name go up on the scoreboard: “Second round, WintersSanders. Sanders 2 up.” He was now in the semi-finals, but during the club dinner after the first day’s play Doctor Winters laughingly spread the story of Betty’s potion, and by the next morning it had become one of the current yarns of the tournament. Bob Reisind, whose phenomenal spurt had not survived the first round of match play, got up an elaborate story to the effect that Betty’s uncle had been an old sea-captain who had brought from the South Sea Islands a strange herb so powerful that when the most timid native took even a nibble he would run amuck and smash up three or four hostile villages. Bob explained that only by taking a triple dose of the potion had Betty herself ever got up the nerve to marry a man like Walter. When Walter himself appeared on the links in the semi-finals, he was greeted as “the drugged marvel” or “the bottle-fed wonder,” and a dozen players begged longingly for a swig at his private stock.
For while his sister-in-law’s nerve tonic was undoubtedly working wonders with Walter’s play, it was, at the same time, having a subtle, undermining effect on that of his opponents. No matter how much of a joke it may be in the beginning, no one can play his best game against a man who regards himself as invincible. The story certainly got on the nerves of young Aldrich, a sixteen-year-old boy who was Walter’s opponent in the semi-finals. On the first hole he drove three times out of bounds, and on the fifteenth he missed a putt of eight inches. Walter himself drew a long breath, hummed a little song, and sank his ball from the edge of the green. He was now in the finals.
npHE next twenty-four hours, however, were to put a A hard test on Betty’s tonicand on Walter’s confidence, foronThursdaynightbothofthemshowed signsof running low. According to the schedule the finals in the second, third, and fourth divisions and all the consolation finals were to have been played on Friday, leaving the whole links open on Saturday lor the finals of the first division, in which Mallock, the state champion, had easily climbed to the top on one side of the card and a brilliant player from Lakemont had done the same thing on the other. But on Friday morning it was raining hard. It rained hard all day. On Saturday morning the greens were still slow and soggy, and as a result four final matches and four consolation finals were all crowded into Saturday afternoon.
Thus had accumulated for Walter Sanders all the conditions which were most disastrous to his natural temperament. All day Friday he was obliged to sit around the house, mooning and fretting. He was unable to read, he was unable to work.
He did not even dare to smoke very much for fear of upsetting his nerves still further. In the late afternoon he went up to Betty’s room and gave a furtive glance at the bottle of medicine.
“What do you think—?” he suggested tentatively. “Don’t you believe that perhaps—?”
Betty seized the bottle with vigorous grasp and put it up on the top shelf of her closet. “Not on your life!” she retorted firmly. “Not a drop do you get until to-morrow morning. In the first place, this isn’t going to be your life’s work, you know—taking this stuff. In the second place, there are only three teaspoonfuls left in the bottle.”
On Saturday afternoon Walter walked up to the club-house to face conditions which, normally, would have been even more appalling. A huge striped marquee had been erected on the lawn, gay banners were flying on staffs all over the club-house, a noisy jazz orchestra was tuning up for dancing on the piazzas, and a much larger crowd was assembled than that which had watched his ignominious downfall on the first day of the tournament. The presence of Mallock, the state champion, had been the original attraction, but before he had been five minutes on the terrace Walter began to grasp the fact that his own was really the popular match of the day. His spectacular rise after years of hopeless defeat had struck keenly home to the sportsmanship of the crowd. It gave new hope to all thG dubs in the place. In the eyes of the gallery he had become a sort of golf Walter Johnson.
In addition to the popular good-will which desired a victory for Walter, there was also a large group in the club which hoped with eager malicious eyes for the sound defeat of his opponent, old Colonel Badget. For Colonel
Badget, a retired private banker, was one of the most detested men in Heath Hills. He was one of those disagreeable, carping little martinets who have played slow golf for twenty years, making it more and more of a religion to themselves and more and more of a nuisance to every one with whom they come in contact. He was the kind of man who shouts “Fore!” the instant that any one ahead of him shows the slightest signs of having lost a ball, and he always insisted on the rights of a slow twosome to keep ahead of a fast foursome. If his opponent accidentally touched his ball in addressing it, he insisted on counting it as a stroke. He kept his opponent’s score— aloud—as well as his own, and even in the most informal, friendly matches, if his opponent lost a ball, he would claim the hole.
The colonel’s tactics were well known to Walter; but three whole teaspoonfuls of the tonic were now nestled warmly under his belt and three good wins lay behind him. With the utmost composure he placed his first ball for a straight, sure two hundred yards, and the gallery applauded. The colonel followed with a scant hundred and fifty, and from the midst of the crowd Bob Reising suddenly leaped to his feet.
“Look here!” he exclaimed. “This is the match that I’m going to follow!”
“And, by George, so am I!” responded another player who had been defeated by Colonel Badget on a series of technicalities. At the same time the modest Dorgan rose to his feet, Doctor Winters followed suit with a humorous twinkle, and when Walter stopped for his second shot he found himself followed by an eager gallery, almost as large as that which was left for the champion. He calmly studied his distance and the turf and took out his brassie. Waiting a moment until he was coolly certain of just what he wished to do and just how he wished to do it, he allowed his muscles consciously to relax and gave a long sweeping swing. There was a clean, thrilling whish and the ball soared up in a beautiful, high, traveling arc. It landed plunk on the green, took a splendid back kick, and lay within three feet of the pin. And the par of that hole was five! Disregarding all caution, the crowd broke into applause, and Colonel Badget, who was getting ready for his third shot, looked up snappishly.
“Unless we can have quiet for our shots,” he announced, “I shall request that the course be cleared for the remainder of our match.”
“You can’t do it,” shouted Bob Reising hotly, but others in the crowd warned him to be silent, and at the second tee all but a few of the followers vanished in contempt. The afternoon was too fine to waste on a man like Colonel Badget.
At the disappearance of his followers Walter tried to settle down into easy efficient golf, but the ultimate goal now lay so closely before him that he began to get nervous again. After his glorious fluke on the first hole he was forced to realize that he had no easy match. Colonel Badget played exactly the kind of game that would have
been expected from his nature and his age. He seldom lifted the ball more than three feet from the ground and seldom sent it more than a hundred yards. On the other hand, he putted like a machine, and he never went an inch out of the fairway. He played, in short, a kind of glorified croquet, but in a long, dragging match this glorified
croquet can be ominously effective. After all, Walter’s last name was not yet Hagen. He had not become Sarazen overnight. In the norma] course of events he ought to have won all the long holes and Colonel Badget most of the short ones, but when, as twice happened, Walter tried to repeat his spectacular shot on the first and drove into the woods, the colonel dribbled up grimly and gathered both holes. Nevertheless, the confidence of the last three matches had not entirely disappeared, and, although Walter was not playing the game that he should,’ he managed by his long shots to keep a shifting lead from one to four holes.
As they passed the club-house between the ninth green and the tenth tee Walter looked up and saw Betty standing on the piazza with anxious eyes. He knew perfectly well that only by Spartan control had she stifled her longing to follow the match, and Walter himself had known that her presence would have made him selfconscious; but at this last moment the appeal of her questioning eyes was too much to be resisted. He beck®oned to her to come down and continue beside him.
“Well, how are you coming?” she asked. She was not any too cheery, herself.
“Pretty well,” answered Walter gruffly; but this was too much for Bob Reising, who had followed the match all the way largely out of defiance of Colonel Badget.
“Pretty well nothing!” he broke in angrily. “Old Walter s got the match in his pocket. He’s got him three down.”
But Betty knew her husband too well to accept this reassurance. She studied Walter’s tight lips and a strange, faint pallor that was beginning to display itself even under his tan. Unconsciously she realized a fact that Walter himself had begun to realize very acutely indeed. For some men of imaginative type it is actually harder to keep their nerve while winning than it is while losing. Almost any man with good blood in his veins can fight a hard up-hill battle. All the traditions of his race have taught him to do that, regardless. The realization that there is everything to gain and nothing to lose will stimuate his brilliancy and enable him to draw out the contest. It is when actual victory is hanging by a hair just before one s eyes, but when, at the same time, one knows how easy it will be to lose, that comes the real test of a champion.
Hardly indeed had the tenth hole started when fate itself seemed to emphasize this unhappy realization. A perfectly good straight shot of Walter’s took a bad bound, rolled into the rough and cost him a stroke, while an attempt to play it out brought his mashie against a hidden root and cost him another. On the other hand, Colonel Badget played almost identically the same shot and landed in identically the same place, but his ball continued true and rolled far on down the centre of the fairway. The next hole was -tied, but in spite of every effort to keep his control Walter felt himself slipping. On the thirteenth hole he was only one up and, at this crucial point, all his morbid forebodings swept back. He began to wonder whether he really could be one of those men destined to climb just so far up every ladder and then, within sight of the top, fall hopelessly back again. Once more to his restless mind there began to return all the deadly black imps of his own imagination.
“Now,” he began to think to himself, ‘if I lose this hole, we will be all even, and if Colonel Badget wins the next he will be one up and the balance will have shifted. That would mean that I should have to get three holes out of the final remaining four. Could I possibly do it?”
The unfortunate part was that the climax of these thoughts came to Walter just as he was lifting his mashie. The result was that the mashie came down to earth like a feeble hoe. It cut a large section of turf, the ball rolled a sickly few inches, and the hole was Colonel Badgets’.
As they walked up the hill to the fourteenth tee, Walter’s face was like that of a man going to be sentenced, and poor little Betty, trudging behind him, was almost crying. At the same time both of them realized that if Walter were going to win the match at all, now was the exact time to do it. The fourteenth tee faced a wide, deep ravine with water at the bottom, and Colonel Badget, with his fussy little strokes, could never possibly drive over. The only question was: In his present state of mind, could Walter do . it?
To make matters worse, at this fourteenth tee they ran into a long delay, which prolonged the agony. Two players in a consolation match were still on the tee waiting for two others who were just ahead of them. The
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deadly ravine always checked the whole field, and while Walter was sitting under a tree with Betty beside him, the champion, Mallock, came up from the last green followed by his usual crowd of spectators.
An easy, invincible winner like Mallock was the last thing that Walter wanted to see at that moment. It made him think too much of what he was himself. He remained staring moodily at the ground until suddenly he felt a nudge from Betty and, looking up, he realized that Mallock himself was coming straight toward him. The great man held out his hand and Walter rose slowly.
“I beg your pardon,” asked Mallock, smiling, “but aren’t you Mr. Sanders?”
Bewildered, Water nodded, and the champion continued. “Didn’t you go to Beaufort College years ago and weren’t you on the track team?”
“Many years ago,” admitted Walter, “and I was a very humble member of the track team.”
Mallock nodded. “I was sure I remembered you when I saw you the other morning. I was a Colton University man myself and I once ran against you in a quarter mile run on our own field. I shall never forget it. You and I were fighting it out for third place with the others ’way out ahead of us. I can see the back of your neck now. I don’t think I ever hated any man as I hated you at that moment. You stuck two feet ahead of me all around the track, and any minute I expected to catch you. Then suddenly, when we turned into the stretch, you looked around and realized I was there. You reached outyour stride and gave a spurt and left me as if I had been hitched to a pole. You gave me the worst trimming I ever had in my life. My legs felt just like two tallow candles.”
Walter laughed, and as Betty rose from her seat on the ground to be introduced she noticed that her husband’s eyes again sparkled. The drooping, hangdog look was gone from his lips, and his shoulders were no longer twitching nervously. The incident of which Mallock had spoken had been only a tiny athletic meet half a generation before, between two tiny New England colleges—annual rivals. In athletic circles it would have ranked about on the same level as Walter’s golf, and Walter himself only barely remembered it; but to Mallock, apparently, it still bad the outlines of heroism, and Walter began to feel an odd little straightening of his spine. He was conscious that the spectators around the tee were watching them curiously, eager to catch any golden words of the champion, and when Mallock had spoken the phrase “You gave me the worst trimming I ever had in my life,” a little thrill of amazed curiosity had run around the group.
Of course it couldn’t have been at golf. Even the spectators must have known that. But he had beaten the champion at
something. It didn’t matter what, so long as he had beaten him. He must have the winning gift just as much as anybody else —if he would only cease being so silly about it. It was an idea that appealed to his manhood and his sense of humor in about equal proportions. After all, use common sense. There was no magic in this ability to win something. For Walter Sanders at that moment it was absolutely the ideal tonic, even better than the one in Betty’s bottle. 'Watching her husband like an eager trainer, Betty herself was fully conscious of the change. Hoping to continue the stimulus as long as possible, she turned to the champion.
“You must have a wonderful memory, Mr. Mallock.”
The champion laughed. “Better than your husband’s, Mrs. Sanders. But then, isn’t that always the way? The man whom you beat you seldom remember. It’s the man who beats you that always sticks in your crop.”
A command for silence rose from the tee, and, looking up, they found that Colonel Badget was preparing to drive. Watching his fussy, precise little motions, the champion looked at Walter and winked. His wink was prophetic, for. badly hit and weakly followed, the ball rolled hopelessly, pitifully down into the water at the foot of the ravine. Another ball followed the first, and a third clung merely on the nearer bank. With a nod to the champion and a wave of his hand to Betty, Walter himself walked calmly out on the tee, quietly placed his own ball, gave a free, easy, confident swing, and, like a bird, the ball sailed cleanly over to the other side of the ravine.
“Good work!” exclaimed Mallock in shrewd, professional respect. “I see you’ve still got your spurt in the pinches.”
At the same moment Colonel Badget gave his driver to his caddy, and came up to Walter with outstretched hand. Walter looked at him in amazement.
“Why, Colonel, aren’t you going to play it?”
The older man grunted testily, while behind him Bob Reising’s eyes were nearly popping out of his head.
“No, Walter,” replied the colonel, “you’re too young for ire and too good. It would be a waste of time. The next three holes are all long and all over water and I couldn’t touch you. I knew you had me beaten before we had played five minutes, but I wasn’t sure whether you knew it yourself. You’ve no business in the fourth division. I was going to quit back there when you had me three down, but I said to myself that I would just ding along and see whether you cracked when you came to the big ravine. If you had, I might have got you. But—congratulations, boy. I know when I’m whipped.”
“It seems a shame—” began Walter heartily, but already Bob Reising and
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Betty were merely waiting for a chance to spring on his neck.
And, by some strange quirk in the human mind, Colonel Badget’s sudden collapse on the fourteenth hole was the most popular thing he had ever done in Heath Hills. A genuine burst of good feeling greeted him that evening at the tournament dance when he was called out for the runner-up prize in the fourth division, but nothing like the ovation that overwhelmed Walter when he went up with the winners.
For her own part, little Betty never did witness the actual conclusion of that ceremony. Her own tears forced her to seek the darkness of the piazza before it was over.
SHE was still in the shadows, by an open window, when Mallock, who had broken the record for the course that afternoon, but who still found himself rather alone in his greatness, came out and hailed her as one of the few individuals who were not too awed to talk.
“Mrs. Sanders,” he began, as he sat down beside her, “I am beginning to wonder whether I have not done a dreadful thing. I believe that I made your acquaintance under false pretences. Has your husband a younger relative wholooks a lot like him?”
Betty regarded him in sudden uneasiness. “Why, yes,” she admitted; “Hal Sanders. He is a cousin. They do look alike.”
“And did the cousin also go to Beaufort College and also run on the track team?” “All the Sanders family went to Beaufort,” replied Betty, “and Hal was probably on some of the teams. He was always much more of an athlete than Walter, although Walter did run a little in college, too.”
“Then that explains it,” exclaimed Mallock. “I got to talking with another man here this evening, and he didn’t see how your husband and I could possibly have been in college at the same time. Later, when I got to thinking it over, it did seem to me that the man I ran against was called ‘Harry Sanders,’ or something like that.”
“That was probably it,” replied Betty weakly. She looked up suddenly. “Mr. Mallock, do you want to do me a favor? Please don’t ask Walter anything about it—at least not to-night.”
Mallock looked at her, puzzled for a moment, then, being himself a champion, he slowly realized what she meant.
“You’re right, Mrs. Sanders. Don’t worry. I understand. He mustn’t think of anything but wins this evening. But, look here; while we are on the subject, I have something on my own mind that I want to ask you. What is'this wild story about some sort of wonderful nerve medicine that your husband takes before his matches? I have been hearing about it all the week. Some one told me that it was some dope that singers and actors take before big first nights. You know golf is very largely a matter of nerves and confidence. I’ve got to play myself in the National Open Championshipnextmonth. It’s my first try at the big show and I know I’ll be as frightened as a schoolboy. Is this stuff really worth anything? And is it harmless? I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t use it myself.”
“I’ll send you a bottle very gladly,” replied Betty, laughing. “If it does you as much good as it did Walter, you’ll be the champion of the world.”
“But what, in the name of Time is in the blamed stuff?” insisted Mallock “I don’t want to fill myself up with some drug that will send me to sleep in the middle of the course.”
Betty laughed again. “I don’t think there’s any danger. I can’t tell you what was originally in the bottle because it was all dried up, so I washed it out and threw it away. What Walter got was a combination of rose-water, table salt, essence of ginger, bay rum, and imagination. Oh, yes! And I also put in six drops of horse liniment to make it stronger. I knew that if it wasn’t hot and bitter, it would never work.”
In his chair beside her, the champion lay back and roared. Betty waited until he had stopped and then she warned sharply:
“Now, mind you, that was merely the dose I gave Walter. But let me tell you, Mr. Mallock, that if Walter ever learns the truth about that race in college, the bottle I send you will be filled with white lead and arsenic!”