Wherein a tennis hero meets a tennis hound and a lady picks a winner
WHEN I arrived at the tennis club after a month’s absence I noticed Ernie Gilfeather first, and I marvelled at the change that had come over that once dapper young man.
Thirty days previously he had been the club’s model member. His poise, polish and engaging personality had been famous. "Watch Mr. Gilfeather,” fond daddies used to say to their young hopefuls when introducing them to tennis. ‘ Not only how he plays but how he conducts himself.”
Others might appear occasionally in slightly soiled flannels but Gil never did. Ordinary tennis hounds might toss out soggy old balls and say, "Guess these’ll do for another set”—either that or suggest that the loser should pay for new ones but our shining example of all that a tennis player should be always had new ones fresh from the tissue paper.
In calling shots he would say, "Good one,” when anyone else could see that the ball was an inch out, and if his opponent hesitated ever so slightly over a ball from Gil’s educated racket Gil would be sure to call, “Out; I could see it from here.”
When a pair of dubs got all fussed up over which should rank number twenty-seven on the board and concluded in their dubbish way that their match demanded an umpire, Gilfeather was always the man whom they approached first. “Glad to oblige,”he would reply, and then he would sit on a hard seat for an hour or more helping them decide which was the more awful player.
Toward kids who were learning the game and flappers who never would learn he showed the kindly consideration
that usually is reserved for visiting stars. “Glad to play you,” he would say to a youngster whose bat was strung as loosely as a lacrosse stick, and "A pleasure. I'm sure.” he would lie to some plain Jane when she brazenly suggested that maybe he wouldn’t mind giving her a few pointers.
And in the matter of arranging tournaments and collecting locker dues and so on—how that young man loved to work ! Only occasionally did he get a chance to play men in his own class. He usually beat them when he did, because he knew tennis and possessed the greyhound physique that enabled him to utilize his knowledge.
And now—what a change !
The flannels of the club's one-time social mentor appeared to have been used as pyjamas. A cloth cap was pulled down over one eye in the style made popular by our best thugs. When he flipped his cigarette over his shoulder and it failed to clear the verandah, he let it lie smoldering.
“Want a game?” he growled at me, and when I remarked that it would take me ten minutes to get dressed he snapped, “Nev’ mind—get some other dub.”
Rough and rude, that’s what he was, and no two ways about it. His etiquette, ethics and equable temper had vanished.
“Out !” I heard him call a little later when I was sure the ball had ticked his line; and again, when his opponent complained that he hadn’t been ready for service, “Wha’s matter? Asleep at the switch?”
I couldn’t understand such conduct, so I asked Eddie Flicker about it because he and Gilfeather had once been pals.
Eddie said, “Haven’t you heard?”
“What happened to Gil’s love affair because he was too gentlemanly.”
Eddie told me the story, then, and here it is—moral, advice to the lovelorn, and everything.
"pRNIE GILFEATHER and Eddie Flicker secured their vacation at the same time and went to a summer hotel in Northern Ontario; one of those wilderness palaces where you wear lumberjack boots in the morning and a dinner jacket at night, where the swimming is wonderful and moose can be seen on the farther shore, where the courts and fairway are perfect and wolves howl under your windows in the moonlight.
They secured a nice room overlooking the lake, and spied out a few likely looking damsels, and dined on fresh trout that can’t be secured in the city any more than tennis balls can be bought in a blacksmith shop. They learned that a tennis tournament would be held in a few days and Gilfeather decided that he might as well cop the cup.
“Let’s get out early in the morning and practise,” said he. “The air is so exhilarating I don’t want to lie in bed a minute longer than necessary.”
“Oke,” said Eddie.
When six a.m. rolled around, however, Eddie made grumpy remarks to the effect that he was getting plenty of fresh air right where he was, so Gilfeather sauntered out to the courts alone.
He expected to find another tennis nut, but he didn’t.
The spacious grounds were as empty of life as a baseball park in winter. The only other living thing that felt frisky was a fish that plopped in the water.
Gil practised anyhow. He cracked a few dozen cannonball services over the net, sat on the bench, and was about to return to the hotel for a change of attire and a dip in the lake when, lo and behold, as the poets say, a vision appeared.
The vision possessed the brownest and shapeliest pair of legs that Gilfeather had ever seen, and he was a frequenter of musical comedies, too. Above the legs were bare brown arms, slim shoulders, and a face so prepossessing that Gil whacked his racket against his shin to make sure he wasn’t still in bed and dreaming.
The nifty dame was as much alone as he was. It seemed incredible that such a feminine knockout could be wandering around unescorted at a summer resort, yet such was the luck-laden case. Gilfeather hung around and waited for fate to do something in the way of an introduction.
The girl seemed unconcerned about fate, however, and even more so about Mr. Ernest Gilfeather. She walked to the far side of the net, essayed a service that didn’t get across, whacked another ball and watched it roll to Gilfeather’s feet.
Courtesy naturally demanded that he should knock it back, and as yet Gil was as full of courtesy as a tennis ball is of air. He patted it back so skilfully that it practically hit her racket. She couldn’t resist the temptation to take a swipe at it, and in a moment they were knocking the ball back and forth like old acquaintances.
“Let’s play a game,” suggested Gil.
“I’ll play till my friend arrives,” said the girl.
No friend intruded. They finished a set and sat on a bench, Gilfeather in a state of rapture because this fair frail was just the sort he had been hoping to meet, the girl with lovely eyes more or less fixed upon the hotel.
“I enjoyed that,” he said. “Let’s play again tomorrow morning.”
"Maybe,” said the girl.
“You’re practising for the tournament, I suppose?”
“Let’s team up for the mixed doubles. I’d be honored and delighted to act as your partner.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“My name’s Gilfeather—”
“Thanks for the set,” she said and flitted away with abruptness, grace, and not too much courtesy.
Rambling around with Eddie Flicker later in the day, Gilfeather sighted the girl again, but the sight brought him no joy. She was an island of loveliness entirely surrounded by men. They gave her swimming lessons that she didn’t need and paddled her canoe; they fetched and carried and hung around in a way that gave Gil a pain in the neck. He had no more chance to horn in on her society than a horse has to do high diving.
One of them — addressed as Wick by the others—appeared on the tennis court that afternoon and flashed a brand of tennis that pleased Gilfeather because it definitely assured him of some real competition.
Eddiehad learned all about Gilfeather’s somewhat goofy state of mind and now he made irritating remarks.
“Her flaming Wick,” he jibed. “The light of your lady’s lantern. Do you think you can trim him?”
“He’ll take a lot of turning down,"
“You’ve got to do it, old kid. Can’t win the girl without cleaning up the opposition. Remember your movies.”
“In real life,” retorted the gentlemanly Mr. Gilfeather, “no one ever wins a girl by licking anybody at anything.”
Xj EXT morning he betook himself courtward in a state of shivering apprehension. Would Miss Brown Legs be there? She wasn’t. No one was. There wasn’t even a friendly fish to go plop in the lake. The grey dawn was cold
and dreary, fog hung about the adjacent treetops, the court was soggy.
And then suddenly the fog lifted and birds began to sing. The treetops crooned a lullaby, the sun shone, the court looked just moist enough to prevent dust from rising. Miss Brown Legs was coming through the flower beds !
“I’m so glad to find you here, Mr. Gilfeather,” she said. “I was afraid you’d disappoint me.”
“You remember my name!”
“Of course. Mine’s Geraldine Bonner. My friends call me Bunny. Shall we play?”
“By all means.”
They finished a set and sat on the bench.
“How about letting me be your partner in the mixed doubles. Bunny?”
“Certainly, if you want to risk losing with a mediocre player.”
“I’d rather have you for a partner than Betty Nuthall.” “Flatterer.”
“I mean it, Bunny. Listen. How about a bit of canoeing this afternoon?”
“If you wish.”
“Do I ! Let’s explore one of those little islands out in the lake.”
“I’d love to.”
Ten minutes later Gilfeather was tossing pillows about his and Eddie’s room in an ecstasy of delight.
“The one and only,” he warbled. “The sweetest girl that ever lived. I’m crazy about her?”
“Yeah?” said Eddie, and when Gil refused to let him snooze in peace he became sourly cynical.
“Don’t let that dame kid you too much,” he warned. “I’ve seen her kind before. Can’t be contented unless a mob of men are chasing her. A flirt. Yesterday Wick was burning high, today you are, tomorrow will be some other boob’s flaming day. I know women.”
Came the glorious afternoon.
“I learned who you were last night,” said Bunny. “You’re the Ernie Gilfeather who plays in big tournaments. I’ve seen your name in the papers.”
“I wish I’d won one of them. Then I’d be sure we could clean up in the mixed doubles.”
“How sweetly unselfish. So different from the attitude of that odious Mr. Wick. He thinks only of winning the singles. I hope you beat him.”
“Was he the friend you were expecting on the court yesterday morning?”
Day of a thousand delights !
And yet when Gilfeather reported progress that evening, Eddie Flicker was even more cynical than before.
“Huh ! Wick didn’t want her for a partner, so she grabbed you. But not immediately. Oh, no. Not until after she learned that you’re Gilfeather of the sporting columns. One good player turned her down, so she grabbed another.”
“I know women. Yesterday morning she was pretty cold, today she’s kittenish as a golddigger. It isn’t your personality that got her, old kid; it’s your tennis rep.”
“You make me ill.”
Any temporary indisposition induced by Eddie’s gloomy prognostications was more than compensated for, however, by Bunny’s angelic amiability. Mr. Wick became only a faint glow in the background; her other admirers abandoned the quest entirely and were forced to content themselves with the common or verandah run of summer-resorting sirens.
In the tournament they progressed so nicely that on the fifth day they were scheduled to meet another pair in the final. One more victory and Gilfeather would achieve the desire nearest his heart—to make a local tennis heroine of the girl who had come to mean so much in his somewhat inexperienced life.
“Chump,” said woman-wise Eddie. “The surest way to lose any girl is to make her a celebrity. You ought to concentrate on winning the singles.”
“I've dropped out of that.”
“Because I was scheduled for a five-set match this afternoon. That would tire me out too much to do my best in the doubles final, immediately afterward.”
“You’re crazy. With you out, Wick will win, and then your pet rabbit—pardon me, Miss Bunny —will regard him as a hero. She’ll forget that you helped her win the mixed doubles. I know women. ” “You don’t know Bunny, and you don’t like her. She’ll realize that I sacrificed any personal glory I might win, for her sake and will honor me accordingly.” “Don’t like her is right. She’s a mental featherweight; good enough for a lakeside flirtation but not to be taken seriously.” “I want to marry her.” “Because I don’t wish you any bad luck, I hope she turns you down.” Wick won the right to play in the singles final, and then
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Coniinued from page 13
he sat on the side lines with his gang, to cheer Bunny on to victory.
Gilfeather did four-fifths of the playing for the team, but so far as the male spectators were concerned, he might as well have been invisible. His net-skimming drives into the comers for points, his volleying at the net, his smashing from mid-court—all were taken for granted. But when Bunny pulled off a good shot, after netting or driving out three or four times in succession, the applause was shattering.
Bunny and Gilfeather won.
Instantly the girl was surrounded by congratulating men and women, leaving I only a few nice old ladies to tell the male ' partner that he hadn’t done half badly. Gil did not retain energy enough to battle his j way through the mob to Bunny’s side; he i just gathered up his rackets and walked off with Eddie.
“Wonderful triumph,” jeered the latter. “You make me think of the gasoline that 'carries an aviator across the Atlantic; it does all the work and then it’s non-existent.”
“Bunny understands,” said Gil.
She did, too. She said so. Naturally, with so many men besieging her on the ballroom floor that evening, she couldn’t give Gilfeather more than three dances, two of which were broken into by Wick and his gang, but she whispered that he was a darling partner and truly noble.
"I can’t tell you how sorry I am that you weren’t strong enough to play in the singles, too,” she said.
“Having a good time?” queried Eddie,
who was flitting from chicken to chicken, dancing himself dizzy and caring no more for any one of them than a bee cares for the blossom it caresses.
“Wonderful,” said Gilfeather. “She understands, just as I told you she would.”
“Glad to hear it. This is your big night, so make the most of it. Tomorrow Wick will outshine you the way an arc lamp outshines a candle.”
Gil escorted Bunny to the benches for the singles final next day. Her attitude was beyond criticism. She repeated her previous statement that he was a good fellow for having helped her win a championship, and again she sympathized with his unfortunate lack of stamina which had prevented him from playing two hard matches in one day.
Naturally, Mr. Wick, on the court, was claiming more of her attention than the Nature’s nobleman who sat beside her. Gilfeather noticed it but did not think it amiss. Everybody was noticing Mr. Wick. Of course Bunny could not really respect the fellow. Gilfeather knew now that Wick had practically refused to play with her in the mixed doubles because such playing might jeopardize his success in the singles, and if that didn’t stamp Wick as an odious egg in her mind, what could? The bounder was furnishing entertainment, that was all. Gilfeather hoped that Wick would get licked to a frazzle, but, being a gentleman, he did not say so. Bunny wanted the fellow to win, so Gil pretended that he did, too.
Bunny rushed out on the court to con-
gratulate him, leaving Gilfeather sitting on the bench, but that was all right. All the spectators were congratulating Wick. It was the natural thing to do. Gilfeather trampled the baser side of his nature under foot and followed their example. He experienced a slight pang as he reflected that if he had cared less about helping Bunny he might now be the object of all the fuss and hero worship, but he quickly throttled it. Bunny understood. Bunny rated him higher than she rated Wick, and it was only her opinion that counted.
At the dance that evening, however, the fellow began to get on Gilfeather’s nerves. The way he came butting in on Gil’s dances with Bunny, slapping him on the back before Gil got nicely started, was even more annoying than it had been the previous evening. And Wick seemed to be egging his pals on to do the same thing, so that all the dancing Gilfeather was able to get with his adored one wouldn’t have satisfied a doddering grandfather.
He wandered out on the verandah by himself and ran into Eddie.
“Not getting much ankle exercise, eh?” said the latter. “I told you this would be Wick’s night. Your grand gesture of yesterday looms up about as big as a penny in a mudhole, doesn’t it?”
“Aw, dry up,” said Gilfeather with something less than his customary gentility. “I’m the one she really respects.”
“Yeah? Well, it’s an honor for any girl to dance with Wick tonight and that girl sure is a hellion for grabbing honors.”
“He’s got a lot of pals to help him hang on to her, while you won’t do a darned thing to help me.”
"I don’t want to dance with her. I don’t like her and I don’t trust her. I said she’d do you dirt and I still say it.”
“You make me sick.”
“Heh, heh!” protested Eddie. “That isn’t talking like a gentleman. Gentility is all you’ve got tonight, old kid, so hang
GILFEATHER went back to the floor, whanged Wick on the back and took Bunny away from him, but the exploit did him little good. A Wick adherent barged in at once and Gil lost her again.
He strode outside, kicking gravel off the path, and made his way to a solitary bench that stood beside a clump of shrubbery. He scratched a match on the painted surface, took a few vehement puffs at his cigarette, and assured himself for the hundredth time that his default had been chivalrous.
Presently he heard voices on the far side of the shrubbery. He ground his cigarette under his heel ashe recognized them and rose to go, then decided that, just for a change, he would drop gentility for a moment or two and see what would happen.
“Bunny, dear,” said the tennis champion, “now that the tournament is all over, let’s get back to where we were. You know I’ve always loved you.”
“You certainly didn’t act like it,” Bunny replied. “You refused to play with me in the doubles; you know you did.”
“I did not. You didn’t give me a chance to ask you. Right off the bat you teamed up with that Gill y loo bird.”
“You didn’t come out to practise that first morning when you said you would.” "I couldn’t help it. I overslept.”
“Mr. Gilfeather didn’t oversleep any morning that I had a date with him. He’s a gentleman. The most unselfish man I ever met. He deliberately threw away his chance to win the singles in order to help me win the doubles.”
Shamelessly listening, Gilfeather chuckled to himself. “I’ll say she appreciates what I did,” he told himself. “I made a hit with her all right.”
He wanted to creep away then because his faith in courtesy and nobility of spirit had been fully restored, but he feared that he could not do so without attracting
on to it."
attention, so he remained where he was, an unwilling listener to what followed.
It proved to be an earful.
“Listen, girl,” said Wick with no gentility whatever. “I know you’re dumb in some ways, but you can’t be so dumb as all that. That Gilhooley guy, or whatever his name is was playing a game on you. ”
“What do you mean?” asked Bunny. “This. That business of tossing away his chance to win the singles in order to help you win the doubles was a gesture. A bluff, pure and not so simple. He knew he couldn’t possibly win the final, even if he came through in the semi-final. He knows I can lick him on the court any day in the week. So what does he do? Fight it out like a man and take his licking, as a real tennis player would? No. He made a pretense of selfsacrifice. Sacrifice, my eye ! The yellow dog dropped out because he didn’t dare face me. That’s what ! He pulled the wool over your eyes but not over mine. I’ve seen that tricky kind before.”
Clenching his fists but still remaining quiet as a cast-iron deer on a lawn, Gilfeather heard Bunny gasp.
“Goodness! I never thought of that.
“It’s true, Bunny. Ask any of the gang. They all got wise right away. The fellow is a yellow bounder.”
For perhaps the first time in his life, real anger flamed through Gilfeather’s tense figure. He rose, stepped around the shrubbery, and faced the man who had won the local title.
“Mr. Wick,” he said, “your charge isn't true. I didn’t fear you and I don’t.”
Bunny gave a little cry.
“Oh-ho, my gentlemanly friend,” said Mr. Wick. “Nature’s nobleman is snooping.
“No! I was here first. Why should I run when you show up?”
“You ran out of the tournament.”
“That’s a lie. To prove it, I’ll play you tomorrow.”
“Really. What for?”
“To see who’s the better player.”
“Ridiculous. You were in the tournament. You dropped out. Who ever heard of a champion playing one of the ‘also rans’?” “You’re afraid to play me.”
“Not at all. It simply wouldn’t be worth my while.”
Bunny was staring from one moonlightrevealed man to the other without saying a word.
“Not worth your while, eh? All right. If you’re so sure you can trim me. I’ll make it worth your while. I’ll bet you a hundred dollars you can’t.”
Silence for a moment, then Wick spoke, not to Gilfeather but to the girl.
“You see, Bunny? Now you’ve got the low-down on this pseudo-gentleman. He’s a common gambler just like the touts you see around race tracks. Let’s go back to the dance.”
The girl did not move or speak, and Gilfeather said nothing further. In a flash he realized that if Bunny refused to support his claim for a match without further argument on his part, she was not the kind of girl he had thought she was.
She sighed and looked at Gilfeather; then, slowly and deliberately, she put her hand on Wick’s arm and walked off.
'T'HAT’S the sorrowful saga of Ernest Gilfeather’s love affair. No one dares ask him to umpire dub matches nowadays. Anyone not quite in his class who suggests a set gets a curt refusal. He doesn’t waste a minute on the club’s clerical work. He makes cynical remarks to the effect that being a good fellow is the bunk: that winning matches is all that counts. His I game has improved fifty per cent, but no one I likes him very much. He knows it but doesn’t care. He says they’ll like him well enough for all practical purposes when he wins the Dominion championship.