FICTION

The HUMAN HAZARD

GEORGE E. CLOUGH June 15 1932
FICTION

The HUMAN HAZARD

GEORGE E. CLOUGH June 15 1932

The HUMAN HAZARD

A Comedy of Golf and Love

FICTION

GEORGE E. CLOUGH

TWO very queer things happened in our Crocus Vale Golf Club last summer.

First, we acquired a Human Hazard.

“What is a Human Hazard?” you ask me. My reply is unprintable, so wait and see.

His name was Andy. Andy Rouse. He was a more vexatious hazard than any bunker, water, ditch, bush, sand, path or road. He caused us so much grief that we could have brained him with our niblicks and thrown his body into the pond at No. 9. He almost wrecked the club.

Our golf course, let me say, is not a million-dollar golf course. It has no artificial sand traps, no built-up bunkers. Its natural hazards are sufficient, and they cost us nothing. Take a half-section of rough prairie partly overgrown with bush, with a creek whose valley winds and twists; lay out nine possible fairways crossing the stream three times; make your greens of oiled sand; and when a few years’ cutting has improved the turf upon your fairways you'll have a course to provide lots of good golf without needless expense.

Bill Morrison is our star player. A quiet, unassuming fellow, that same Bill, and popular with everyone. So it was strange that in our championship final we were all pulling against him. That was the second queer thing.

Now the story of our human hazard is a good one. but it is so mixed up with the bigger and better story of Bill and Alice’s love affair and Bill and Colonel Bruce’s battle for the club championship that neither can be told without the other. And in their union is strength.

Andy Rouse made his first appearance on our course in company with Alice Bruce. Bill and I had gone out for an early morning round, and we were teeing up at No. 1 when Alice’s coupé arrived.

“We’d better wait,” said Bill. “She may like to come with us.”

But Alice wasn’t alone. She had with her a big, broadshouldered young man with a possessive air that made Bill jealous right away.

“Who’s the new boy friend?” he whispered.

“Stranger to me.” I said, “but we’ll soon know.”

Alice enlightened us at once. "Hello, Bill,” she cried. “Meet my cousin Andy. Andy’s a football player. Tackle, isn’t it? lie’s staying with us for the holidays.”

rT'HK big young fellow grinned and squeezed our fingers.

He was a line-ltx>king tx>y with a merry face, white teeth and the thickest mop of hair 1 ever saw. He bulked so large, he made me feel like a weed.

Oh. well. He might be a dub at golf.

“A foursome?" suggested Bill hopefullv. “You and I, Alice?”

Alice shook her head.

"Andy doesn’t play. I’m going to show him round the course if you don’t mind.”

So we followed them at regulation distance and. believe me. that was a mighty poor game. Bill was so busy watching Alice I had to stop him when he came to his ball. 1 le would have walked right over it.

I’m not saying Alice isn’t worth watching. She’s dark and slim, graceful and full of life, and if she can’t play golf she’s ornamental anyway. She has a vigorous swing and a fault of raising her head that she won’t admit. Whenever she raises her head she swings high. Then she is vexed and perplexed.

Andy thought it was great fun to see her miss the ball. He laughed so loud you could have heard him half a mile

away. So Alice had our sympathy. We knew she would be getting madder and madder.

“Darned fool,” Bill muttered. “I’d like to punch his head.”

That shows how Andy’s laugh affected Bill.

“Better give your mind to your game,” I said. “The colonel will trim you this year if you aren’t careful.”

Bill grinned.

“He’s been trying to do that for the last five years. He’ll have to be content with being president.”

"Don’t be t&ltx> sure of that,” I warned him. “Things are different now.”

Bill knew what I meant.

A g(xxi golfer, the colonel. A cool, determined player; too keen on winning, {perhaps, to be a perfect sportsman. His main objective was the championship, and he had always met defeat when he met Bill. But he had not lost heart, and the previous year’s battle had been a close one. Bill had lost his heart to Alice then, and that had given Alice’s father a psychological advantage. Bill had beaten him only "two and one.”

You'll understand from this that my advice wras needed. Well, we were playing the long eighth when the pair ahead of us came to No. 9.

Our ninth fairway curves right around behind a big pond formed by the creek, and all g&ltxxi golfers drive across the water at an angle to try to reach the green in two. Alice wfas less ambitious, she would play safe; but Andy’s laughter

had so upset her nerves already that she couldn’t steer clear of that hazard. She put three balls, one after another, into the pond.

We heard the boy laugh as vve sank our putts. When we were marking our cards we heard him laugh again ; and then, after some slight delay, we heard an even louder laugh.

Alice was teeing up her fourth ball when Bill and I came strolling down toward the tee ground. She was certainly game. We hung back a little for fear of spoiling her shot.

She swung. There was a splash and a howl of glee. Then we heard something like this;

“What are you laughing at, you big mutt?”

“You! Ha, ha, ho, ho!”

"You think you’re funny, don’t you?”

"What a game, what a game! If I were you, I’d throw my clubs in, too, and jump in after ’em.”

“Oh, keep still.”

Alice looked round just then and saw Bill. The poor girl flushed as red as a rose. Without a word to us, she grabbed her bag and headed for the clubhouse, while Andy, grinning, stayed to see us drive across the pond.

Bill put a beauty exactly where he wanted it. My drive went sky high and came down with a plop. I heard behind me a sound like soda water spurting from a syphon.

I looked reproachfully at Andy.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Gee, that was funny !”

My second drive was good, and off we went. Somehow, we never thought to ask Andy to come along with us. W e

left him gazing at the ripples on the pool.

AS A caddy for Alice, Andy was through. That didn’t seem to worry him at all. He had a roving eye, and there were several pretty girls in the dub.

Day by day he would wait for the girls at No. 9 tee ground. He would keep quite still while one of them wus driving, but he would roar with laughter if her ball found a watery grave.

Anyone else would have been crushed by the remarks some of those girls made for him to hear. Andy enjoyed them. He found them the cream of the joke. Sly shafts of insult tickled him immensely. He had a ready comeback for anything more personal. Not a girl in the club could squelch him; he was such a big, g(xxi-natured fellow and so sure of himself. He knew they couldn’t help admiring him, even when he made them mad.

At first we men were only mildly amused, but as Andy came to know us better he began to laugh at us, too. We realized then how much the girls must have suffered. Of course, as men, we did our best to join in the laughter against ourselves. Still, there was no denying he made our drive at No. 9 more difficult. He cost us many a good ball. Even Bill contributed one or two, and Bill developed a strong dislike for Andy’s laugh. Bill christened him “the human hazard.”

Members of both sexes began to grumble. We didn’t mind losing a few' old balls, but when the old ones were all in the pond we hated paying seventy-five cents to give Andy a laugh.

Some of the girls quit playing. That was serious. So we put the problem up to our executive, and our executive authorized the president to deal with it in whatever way would best promote the interests of the club.

We had a tea at the clubhouse that Thursday—-it was the day of the qualifying round for our club championship— and almost everyone w'as there when tea wras served. As soon as we had finished eating, our president rose from his chair at the head of the table and cleared his throat to speak. We had been a merry party up till then, but the noise subsided at once to an ominous calm. We knew by the colonel’s face that he was going to say something unpleasant.

“I’m delighted,” he began, "to see so many of our members here today. With one exception you are golfers. We have with us a ftxitball st;ir my nephew. Mr. Rouse.” "Hear, hear!” said Andy.

The colonel frowned. His voice began to grate.

“My nephew, I am told, is useful on the gridiron. Whatever he may lack in intelligence, his physique is good. I regret it is necessary to inform him publicly that his habit of loud laughter, excusable on a football field, is most offensive on a golf course. I must request him to control that habit, and if he hasn’t brains enough himself for golf I must ask him to consider the feelings of players whose skin is not as thick as his, and not to spoil their game by the ‘loud laugh that speaks the vacant mind.’ ”

That was pretty strong. I didn’t wonder that Andy lost his temper. His chair went back with a crash as he jumped to his feet.

"Colonel, you’re all wet,” he retorted. “1 liave brains enough for golf, and—-”

“Sit down, sir!” thundered the colonel.

His order was not obeyed, and for a few tense moments uncle and nephew eyed each other with oj>en hostility. Then Andy’s natural g(x>d nature triumphed.

“—and brains enough to see the funny side of golf,” he added slowly. "Maybe I've laughed t&ltxi much. Yes. I can see from all your faces I’ve been a bit of a nuisance. I’m sorry, colonel. Sorry, everyone. Here’s where l quit laughing and start to be a golfer. I’ll play an exhibition game tomorrow, if you like, and give you all a laugh.”

“Spoken like a man and a sportsman,” chimed in Bill. “We’ll all be here to see you drive the pond.”

Andy grinned.

“Who'll I play? Alice? Alice, are you on?"

“I’m on,” said Alice. “I can do with a laugh.”

“You’ll get it, kid, I promise you.”

WELL, this proposal made everybody happy except, of course, the colonel, who wasn’t any too pleased.

I didn’t see that "exhibition game,” but by all accounts it was a scream. Andy came to the course in a comedy costume and with no less than four caddies each of whom staggered under the weight of a load of clubs. His start from No. 1 was a w'hole act in itself. He broke two or three drivers and tried half a dozen different brands of ball before he finally got away with a floater. He had given Alice a ball marked with a dab of red paint so she wouldn’t play his by mistake—or so he said. She was in trouble in the rough all down the fairway, but that was nothing new for Alice and she blamed no one but herself.

Short of the green, Andy went to work with a niblick and made the crowd roar by chopping out divot after divot, till at last the colonel persuaded him to play on with a putter.

Alice reached the green in eleven and did her best to hole out a long putt. Her ball ran in a half-circle and came back to the edge of the green.

“Try another putter,” offered Andy, but Alice picked up the ball and began to scrape off the red paint. She found he had cut a hole in the cover and filled the cavity with solder. “Some bail !” she said.

The joke was on Alice then, and Andy laughed as loud as anyone. He claimed that hole by default with a score of forty-five.

Continued on page 43

Continued from page. 17

That ended the clowning. Andy didn’t try to carry it farther. He played No. 2 like any other dub. But his timing was g(x>d, and on No. 3 he tried a midiron and sent the ball a full 200 yards straight for the green. Its long flight amazed and delighted him. “Jiminy Christmas !” he cried. "I do believe this is a gcxxi game.”

They all tried hard, said Bill, to shake his nerve at No. 9— I fancy he had planned to put at least a dozen balls into the pond but the score was tied and he was out to win. He took an iron and played safely across the water with a neat half-swing. Alice was less fortunate.

That’s how we lost our human hazard, and out of that loss came a whole string of consequences moving swiftly to a dramatic climax. First, the girls discovered that Andy was gxxl company around the course. Then Alice, unwilling to lose him, exerted all her charm to secure a monopoly. Then Bill, busy in winning game after game of the championship contest, began to fear that he was losing Alice. So Bill proposed, and Alice promised to marry him provided that her father would give his consent.

Bill lost no time. He interviewed the colonel that same evening.

Now our championship contest usually drags out over three or four weeks, and the colonel was coming along nicely in the top half of the draw. Bill, in the lower half, would meet him in the final if neither were defeated in an earlier round. Was the colonel going to throw away a tactical advantage; fail, perhaps, to realize his pet ambition, by making Bill’s mind easy about Alice when he could keep the poor boy worried? Nothe! He hummed and hawed, raised various objections, and told Bill he would give the matter serious consideration in the next few weeks.

Bill went all to pieces in his next game.

His opponent, a one-club man, carried him to the eighteenth hole and only the pond ; saved him from inglorious defeat. He hadn’t slept a wink all night.

lie called to see the colonel again, and this time Alice was present. That interview | was loaded with dynamite. The colonel did j his best to reduce Bill to a nervous wreck. I Alice, he said, was too young to think of • marriage. Bill protested. So did Alice. The ! colonel then advised them to test their love by a long engagement, as they might j both change their minds inside of a year. ! And finally he said—well, what he said jx'rhaps conveyed a wrong impression. 1 can’t believe he meant to drive a bargain.

"^^EXT day Bill met the best of our younger players, Harry Denham, and crushed him, six and five, to enter the final.

Alice was starting out alone while that game was on. and 1 took the opportunity of joining her. She was looking anything but cheerful, but she seemed glad to have my company. At the sixth tee ground she sat down on a bench and began to cry.

As Bill’s best friend, 1 knew something of the trouble but not all.

“Tell uncle, kid,” I said quietly.

“Dad’s horrid,” she sobbed. “And Bill and I have quarrelled. Bill wants me to marry him, and dad said -dad said we could c-count on getting married afterafter he had won the championship.”

"Don’t worry about that,” I said. “He’ll win it.”

“Da-dad; not Bill. Bill flared up when i dad said that. Bill said if we waited till dad : was champion we’d never marry, and dad j said that wouldn’t be his fault, as he was trying hard enough. Then I said, ‘Bill, dear, I let him win the old championship,’ and j Bill said, ‘Not on your life.’ And so we j quarrelled. Why shouldn’t Bill let dad be ;

champion? It’s dad's pet ambition, and it wouldn’t hurt Bill to lose.”

“Surely,” I said, "your father didn’t mean to buy the game?”

Alice wrinkled her forehead.

"Bill took it that way. I think dad only ¡ meant to be mean. He meant that he had j waited a long time for what he wanted, and now it was Bill’s turn to wait. But I don’t j see why Bill can’t let him win for once. I i told him so. I t-told him if he thought m-more of golf than he did of me I wouldn’t marry him, and Bill got madder than ever and t-told me that \f I thought more of dad than I did of him, he didn’t want me. Oh, dear. I’m so miserable!”

“Bill wants you. all right,” I consoled her. “He’s crazy over you.”

‘T guess he is.” She brightened. "I guess all lovers quarrel sometimes. But Bill swears he’ll give dad the worst licking he ever had,

; and dad dad will never forgive him.”

“Rubbish,” 1 laughed. “It’s not so serious I as that. Besides, the colonel’s not an easy man to beat, and all this worry will put Bill off his game.”

“I hope it does,” she said. “If dad wins, everything will be all right.”

We played out the round, and afterward I had a word or two with Bill. Bill was savage. He told me I could mind my own business.

That final game was going to be a battle, with bad blood on both sides.

I I had no sympathy for the colonel. He was a fighter by nature and deserved a beating. But I was sorry for Bill and Alice.

Bill’s feeling was natural enough. He despised the colonel for his poor sportsmanship and meant to show his contempt. But Colonel Bruce was much too fine a man to be treated with contempt by any one. Too keen on winning, perhaps, to be a perfect : sportsman, he still commanded our respect. He was our president, a mainstay of our club. Members would resent Bill’s attitude. It was Bill who would be called unsportsmanlike.

Thinking it over, I was convinced that a j victory for the colonel was the one way ¡out of a bad mess. If Bill should win, he would be in the soup. If he should lose, as Alice had said, everything would be all right.

Must it be left to chance? Or could I help to straighten out the tangled threads? Puzzling over that, I remembered Andy.

T FOUND our one time human hazard in *■ the clubhouse.

“Andy,” I said, “we need your help. We ¡have to make Bill lose the championship.” ! “Make Bill lose?”

“Yes; make him lose so he can marry Alice.”

“How will you do that?”

“That’s up to you, Andy. We want you to laugh at him, make fun of him, get him rattled. He’s on edge already. It won’t take j much to put him off his game.”

“See here, my lad,” said Andy, glowering down upon me. “Before I started playing golf I used to laugh. I got a public calling down for my bad manners. Maybe you think I enjoyed that lecture? Well, I didn’t see?”

“Forget it, Andy. This is serious.”

“And so am I. I’m a golfer now, and let me tell you that water hazard is stiff enough for any one without some idiot laughing ; when it costs him two strokes and a ball. Suppose you do the funny work. Bill might take it better from you.”

I tried another method of approach. “Andy.” I said. “You’d like to set' Alice happily married, wouldn’t you?”

The big fellow blushed. “I’m not helping her.” he said bluntly. “I like her well enough as she is.”

“But she’s in love with Bill. This is the only

! “Listen to me. my lad. I txik a lecture from uncle for acting like a clown. Uncle was in the right, but he was mean, and it cost me a pretty penny jto square myself with the crowd. Do you suppose 1 11 help ! him win his game by razzing Bill? No. no! So you can do your own dirty work, and see ! if he thanks you.”

With that he left me. But I had started something, and I meant to finish it. A word here and a word there set everybody whispering. It wasn’t long before the whole club knew how much defended on that, final game.

We all liked Bill. We all liked Alice. We were all agreed that the colonel was in the wrong and we all resolved to give him our moral support. That might be hard on Bill, and he had our sympathy, but Bill could win the championship another year.

Meanwhile the two of them defeated their opponents in the semi-finals, and the ! committee arranged for them to play the ; final on the coming Thursday afternoon.

The situation was ironic. Never had our i president received so many grxxl wishes as were showered upon him at the start of that game. Never had poor Bill been left so out in the cold.

1 he colonel did not know that we were trying to increase his confidence and bring out his best game. Bill did not know why all his friends had suddenly deserted him.

I saw Bill glance at Alice two or three times and make a move as if he were going to speak to her, and I saw her turn away. Andy alone was with him to encourage him. Bill didn’t want to talk to Andy.

They spun a coin for the honor, and Bill lost. The colonel’s swing was as neat and precise as a smart piece of drill. Bill outdrove him fifty yards, and the game was on.

Watching them closely, I thought the colonel looked a little worried, and Bill rather white and strained. They had exchanged no words except a formal greeting.

Right from the start it was evident that Bill was pressing. He overshot the first three greens, landing in trouble every time, and all three holes were taken by the colonel. A useful lead. It looked as if Bill were going to defeat himself.

But he’s a real golfer, is Bill. He knew what was wrong with his game and gave up trying for distance. The next two holes were halved.

On No. 6, a tricky, sloping green, the colonel’s putter failed him badly. Bill won the hole, and aptured No. 7, a short one, with a birdie two.

There was a stiff head wind on No. 8. Bill’s long drive was carried to the rough. The colonel won that hole. They crossed the water jump with a sweet pair of drives, and both were on in two and down in four. Par golf. The colonel made the turn two up.

I guess that was the first time he had led Bill at the end of the first round. You could see he was pleased. This was his day. He even tried to exchange a word with Bill as they walked back to No. 1 tee ground.

“Great day for a game.”

“And a great crowd.” said Bill bitterly.

T> ACK in front of the clubhouse. I noticed ^ that Alice was edging toward Bill. Bill wouldn t look at her, but he must have seen her out of the corner of his eye. Something of the strain left his face.

Off again. And now the colonel, anxious to increase his lead, found trouble. Bill took that hole—and the next-and the next! He smiled as he sank the long putt that gave him his third straight hoie. For the first time in the match, he was one up.

Bill’s smile was not a pleasant one. He 1 looked around as if to say: “All right, you ; fellows who want a change of champions. I’ll show you. And you. Colonel Bruce, you poor sport. Thought you had me licked, didn’t you?”

Only one hole up but consternation spread among the crowd. Bill, in the lead, was a hard man to overtake. Would history repeat itself?

The colonel, grim fighter that he was. j appeared unruffled. He followed Bill’s j straight drive with one as long and straight. Bill played to the green, and the colonel to the cup. Bill sank his putt; the colonel tapped his in. A pretty pair of threes.

They halved another, and another. Bill playing safe and holding on to his lead. Then came that treacherous sloping sixth, and for the second time the colonel had a ; three-putt hole. Two down, and three to go. I

Some of the girls were whispering to Andy. Andy was grinning, but he shook his head. I suppose the boy was the one true sportsman in the crowd that day, if sportsmanship must always mean the love of a straight game.

1 drew Alice aside.

“For gosh sake, use your influence with Andy. Get him to cough or sneeze while Bill is driving, if he won't laugh. Bill only needs this hole to win the match.”

No time. I heard the click of the clubhead on the ball and saw Bill’s shot sailing straight and high. (He had used an iron for that 170-yard drive.) The ball landed just short of the green and ran on toward the cup. It looked the nearest thing you ever saw to a hole in one, but it passed the flag, and we saw it give a little hop as it left the green. Too speedy. I heard the colonel give a sigh of relief. He teed up very carefully, selected a No. 2 iron and drove. His shot was a dead ringer for Bill’s, but it had less roll. We could see a white dot on the green, close to the flag.

“Good drive, colonel!” “Good drive!” We were all excited. The colonel was the coolest man in the whole crowd.

Bill found his ball a few yards beyond the green and made a sporting try for the cup. He came close. The colonel bagged his birdie and gained one precious point.

On the long eighth, Bill’s drive against the wind was in the rough again, but he recovered with a beautiful brassie shot, and both were near the green in two.

Alice was sticking tight to Andy, and I could see her coaxing, begging, arguing, doing all she could to persuade him to act the human hazard if the score was tied. But Andy’s face was set and stubborn.

Bill and the colonel both chipped on. Bill overshot the cup. So did the colonel, but his ball laid Bill a dead stymie. That was tough luck for Bill. It cost him the hole. All even !

And so they came to the big pond—that pond that has wrecked so many good scores. One of them came to it with confidence renewed by the winning of two critical holes, the other with the knowledge that for the first time in his life the loss of that hole would cost him the championship. He had failed already to crush his opponent as he had intended, and he had seen his two-point lead reduced to nothing. Poor Bill !

The colonel’s drive was as steady and methodical as if he had the game already won. He cut across the water hazard and over the rough beyond it to the curving fairway within an easy iron shot of the green.

Bill teed up his ball, took a practice swing or two and waited. Dead silence. I glanced at Andy. Andy was as red as a beet. It seemed that the whole crowd were gazing at him, hopefully, expectantly. But his mouth was shut as tight as a trap.

Bill must have felt that there was something in the air. He took his stance, flashed one quick look at Andy, and drove— a clean, crisp, well-timed shot.

That drive would have been a beauty, but it was just a shade too low to clear the bank of the pool. It hit a rock right at the top and vanished into thin air.

Far down the pool appeared a little ring of ripples. I did not hear the distant plop.

“Hard luck, old man,” cried Andy.

Bill exploded.

“Confound you, Andy ! You made me do that. You put me off my shot.”

ANDY was staggered at the charge.

4* “Why, Bill. I never said a word.” "I know you didn’t. That’s what I was waiting for. Why didn’t, you laugh, you idiot? That laugh of yours was all I needed. When you expect a man to laugh and he doesn’t laugh, it’s worse than when he does.” “All right, all right.” muttered Andy. “That’s gratitude, that is.”

Bill controlled himself. But he couldn’t j regain perfect self-control in a few brief ; seconds. Playing three, he knew that he ' must clear the water with his second or he | might as well concede the game. He hesij ta ted, then he took an iron.

The ball flew high; too high for distance. | There is a lot of rough to cover—long grass j and bush before you reach the fairway ¡ when you cut the comer. And it must have I kicked far off the line, for all Bill’s searching failed to find it.

Everyone joined the hunt, as is our freeand-easy custom. The colonel himself, j secure in almost certain victory, worked , like a retriever. !

It was Andy whose sharp eyes spotted j something white half-buried in thick grass. | “Here you are, Bill.”

Bill considered the lie. The ball was ! almost hidden. A niblick was the club to j bring it out. He looked at the green, 150 yards away. He took his niblick, steadied himself and swung hard. That clubhead picked the ball right out of its nest of grass and sent it sailing in a lovely curve toward the green. It landed just short, gave one high bounce and stopped on the edge of the sand.

Everyone went wild. We felt we could afford to cheer, and all our hidden good-will and sympathy was expressed right there.

The colonel looked surprised. He didn’t understand.

He played a pretty mashie shot well on to the green, and no one cheered. His shoulders sagged a little.

Bill had a long, long putt to make a five. His ball hit the back of the cup, true as a die, and dropped.

A five. The colonel, lying two, could take two to go down.

He was a little overcautious. He left himself a three-foot putt.

We knew that he could sink a dozen putts like that in practice without a mistake. But in a match, putts don’t always drop. And there was something on the colonel’s mind that bothered him. He lwked at his ball and he looked at the cup. I íe took his stance, he drew his putter back; and then he gave the ball a nervous little tap. It moved about six inches. He squared his shoulders and tapped the ball again. Six inches more! Then, with a smile, he put it down decisively.

Bill thought his eyes must have deceived him.

“How many, colonel?”

“Six, Bill, six! I couldn’t sink it, boy. I had you beaten; that’s enough for me. Hang it, I took a mean advantage of you, Bill. I don’t deserve to win this game. Congratulations.”

He stuck out his hand. Bill grasped it. “Hey, wait a minute.” Andy was lifting out the balls. “Say, Bill, that’s not your ball. Y'ou must have played this one out of the rough.”

Bill grinned.

“Two shots with the wrong ball. I lose the hole and the match. Congratulations, colonel! Andy, you’ll be my best man.” “And the bride,” said Alice, “will be given away by the club champion.”