FICTION

The Ishmaelite

LESLIE ROBERTS February 15 1933
FICTION

The Ishmaelite

LESLIE ROBERTS February 15 1933

The Ishmaelite

LESLIE ROBERTS

“So Snake-Hyps McCartney is out and Old Man Bannon lives up to his promise that there won’t be any rounders with the Bears this year. The news comes like a bolt from Somewhere or other, wherever bolts come from, and right on the heels of the club’s first game at that! “Well, maybe the O. M. is right. He loses a defense man who hasn’t a peer when he’s in shape, but when has Hips been in shape? Certainly the Main Stem has known him for a party boy all summer, and the story goes that he was not so hot in camp. So it’s back to the sticks for a kid who couldn’t stand the electric lights, and a lesson for some other members of the hired help who know now that the Big Boss isn’t kidding. Incidentally, the grapevine telegraph tells your diligent listener-in that you won’t see McCartney in another uniform, for the sufficient reason that Prexy Grantham will suspend him from Organized Hockey. “So long, Snake-Hips. You were a good guy while you had it!” -—Culled from Brent O’Malley’s “Gist and Guessed of It” in the Daily Era.

BUT very few wiseacres along the Rue de Rumor know the inside story, before and after. All they know is what came out in the papers. Here’s what really happened: The Skating Snake went haywire during the play-offs last spring and couldn’t be used in the last game against the Pups. The newspaper boys, with the blessing of Manager Art McKenzie, said it was a pulled tendon, but if so it was the kind of tendon you pull out of the neck of a bottle, and the reason McCartney didn’t play is because you have to be in a standing position to carry the puck.

What O’Malley said about bright lights is right, but there was another story back of that and its name is Girl. The Girl didn’t have a thing to do with McCartney’s banging around, except as hypoteneuse of one of these isosceles love triangles, with a college boy trimming the third side. Who she was I had from Hips himself, but a blind man ought to have seen it if he was around much with the Bears.

When the boy reported for conditioning practice in October he wasn’t in shape, and he was no better when the team broke camp and headed for home. What happened that first night is common knowledge.

Hips got a call to the Old Man’s office the next morning, and when he walked in the Boss was fingering a slip of blue cheque paper. McCartney stood on the far side of the desk, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, running his fingers through his hair and tugging at the band of his collar. The Old Man did the talking.

“McCartney,” he said, shoving the blue paper along the mahogany, “you’re all washed up and here’s your cheque. After you drink it up I hope you get a job. But nobody in hockey will give you one because I’ve attended to that, and nobody wants you around even if I hadn’t.”

“But listen, boss—” Hips began.

Bannon shook his head.

“I’ve done the last of my listening,” he said. “Both McKenzie and myself spoke to you before you reported. I talked to you twice in camp, and Art warned you at least three other times. But you were too smart. Well, last night you came into the rink with an afternoon hangover. Art saw you with your head in your locker before we went out for the second period. In the third you were in no shape to play and you had to be sent to the showers. Just a great, big, lovable boy, aren’t you? Well, that doesn’t go with us, and there aren’t going to be any playboys on the Bears’ payroll. It’s your own business what you do with yourself because from now on I want no part of you. There’s no such word as indispensable in this office. That’s all. Now get out.”

On that high note of dismissal, what had been the best left defense man under the Big Top picked the little blue paper off the desk, folded it carefully, tore it into thirty-two pieces and tossed the pieces on the Old Man’s blotter. Then he crammed his hat down over his eyes, and flung himself out of Bannon’s sanctum and across the waiting room with his eyes glued on the far door and a look in them that spelled mayhem and manslaughter for anybody who so much as said “Hello.” Exit Snake-hips McCartney.

The Boss picked up the pieces of paper and rang the bell for Kegan.

“Cancel that cheque of McCartney’s,” he said, “and carry the amount to his credit. That’s all.”

BUT THAT wasn’t all. There was more that the Old Man didn’t know. There was Dora Bannon— daughter of the Boss, blonde and something to knock your eye out—who didn’t want any part of Snake-hips McCartney either; Dora Bannon who had played

around with him most of last season, but who told him

that she couldn’t take seriously anybody who thought more of stud-poker parties than he did about the girl he wanted to talk diamonds to. McCartney took that hard and sulked like a big kid. Then, just to show her he was man-size, he began to step around in wider swoops and to advertise his bad-man qualifications. Wiser men than Hips McCartney have tried the same system, and usually all that happened was that they got slammed into the boards.

Hips crossed the street from Mother Ginty’s place next morning, heading for the ticket office. Mother had said, “There now, kid, take a ride to New York. The Amerks can use you.” But Simpson wired back :

“No can do. I guess you’re out. Sorry.”

McCartney knew then that the Old Man hadn’t been fooling. He felt like a licked pup and told himself that he’d been framed out of hockey, that his life was ruined and he hadn’t a friend in the world.

He left the train about three days later beside a huddle of frame buildings, elevators, general stores and a water tower called Rat Prairie. He checked in at the Farmers’ House, and after dark walked aimlessly up and down the street. It was mid-November. He had sixty-three dollars in his pocket. The town lay bleakly outlined to the stars against the white backdrop of snow-clad prairie. Pretty soon the tank-town rinks would be busy, but that didn’t mean a thing to McCartney. Nothing did.

Snake-hips was lying fallow. All his values had turned topsy-turvy and his mental processes had gone numb. Sometimes he walked down the street, bought cigarettes at Johnson’s General Emporium and came back to the hotel lobby to slump into a chair and just sit again. Once or twice he turned into the yard behind the United Church and watched Hy Walters putting up the sideboards and, later, freezing the rink. But he talked to nobody and nobody knew him. Denonville, who runs the hotel, is as curious as most people, but a week after McCartney’s arrival all he knew about the newcomer was the information that the register gave—that he was E. McCartney and came from Three Rivers, P.Q. Just what anybody from Three Rivers, P.Q., could be doing in a hotel lobby in Rat Prairie was something to interest the townsmen, but McCartney wasn’t telling. One story that got around pictured him as a fugitive from justice with the police hot on his trail, probably for robbing a bank.

It was the third week in December before the mystery began to clear up, and then only for one member of the community. Hips asked Johnson, of the General Emporium, for a job. Johnson said he was sorry, but if hard times kept up much longer he wouldn’t have one himself. McCartney’s pace was slow as he made his way back to his room. Two or tnree times that night he filled telegraph blanks with an enquiry about the tom-up cheque, but each time he tore the form into bits and on the Friday, before it was noon and time to settle his week’s bill, he called Denonville aside and told him he wouldn’t be able to make the grade. The hotelkeeper put on his glasses, looked over the top of them at his boarder and said :

“Come into the office, Mr. McCartney.”

They sat down and Denonville fell to tapping the table with his fingers. Finally he said:

“Well, what do you want to do about it?”

McCartney said he didn’t know. He’d been trying to get a job in town, but there weren’t any around. Nobody had anything for him and he was broke, all but four dollars. It looked like Denonville’s move.

The hotel man’s fingers drummed another tattoo. “Listen,” he said, “who are you anyway, McCarmey?” Hips replied that he couldn’t see that his identity had anything to do with the case. Denonville said he wasn’t so sure; there had been a lot of funny talk around. Then Hips looked him square in the eyes and said:

“Ever hear of McCartney who used to play defense for the Bears?”

Denonville said he couldn’t be expected to believe that. He wanted to know what a big league hockey player who lost his job would be doing in a one-horse tow'n in the West. McCartney said, “Come up to the room and I’ll prove it.” He did. And that was how it happened.

THE HOTEL MAN was as excited as a hysterical gopher.

Denonville was a hockey fan; Rat Prairie was a hockey town, and its luck had been out for many years. Denonville wasn’t greatly concerned about the championship of the five-towns Southeast Prairie League, but he was absorbed in the possibility that the neighboring community of Koemgsberg might be taken for a ride. He would fix it for McCartney to coach the local team. McCartney, in exchange for such service, would get room and board at the hotel and could do odd jobs around the house for spending money. Was that a go?

McCartney said:

“You’re on, on one condition.” “And what’s that?”

I here am t a reason in the world why I should talk if you say not to.” McCartney grinned for the first time since Old Man Bannon had given him the gate and a cheque which he had torn into ribbons.

THEY play true amateur hockey in the Southeast Prairie League. Nobody imports players and gives them jobs, because there are no jobs to give in the five towns—not these days. No player feels in his trouser pockets to see if the management put the pay-off in its rightful place while the team was on the ice. Sticks ride high and sometimes are laid aside that their owners may use their clenched hands for other purposes. A puck carrier’s first duty to himself is to refrain from getting between an opposing defense man and the boards at the psychological moment. Towns turn out en tnasse, and stand at rinksides in sub-zero weather any evening and all evening for the privilege of calling the referee a robber, and there are usually those among the spectators who are not averse to settling disputes in the timehonored fashion. A robustious institution, this Southeast Prairie League.

The opening game was played without practice, and it was the first time that Hips had seen any of his men on skates. He opened against the town of Rambeau with the first string six from the previous season, and five minutes later called his forwards in for a rest and sent the second stringers out. Connor and Kirby, the wings, skated in, but Powers sent his relief back with a message that he wasn’t tired, didn’t need a rest and didn’t plan to take one. No high-falutin’ outsider need expect he was going to tell Cy Powers what he was going to do, nor when. That was the gist of the message. Play went on, but with the next whistle McCartney was over the boards and alongside his star play-maker.

“I guess you didn’t get my message straight when I sent Slater out to relieve you. Powers,” he said.

“Yeah, I got the message,” the player came back, “but I ain’t tired and I ain’t coming off.”

“No?” from McCartney.

“No,” from Powers.

Snake-hips reached up from his boots and socked the player on the point of his chin. Powers toppled backward and the ice transported him to the realm of dreams. Loving hands removed him from the scene and to the shanty, where subsequently he was able to don formal street attire and go home, complaining of a headache. Rat Prairie dropped the game. The Powers incident was a kite to hoist them high in the air, and they didn’t come down all night;

That settled the little item of discipline for all time. At practice next day, McCartney gathered the players around him, told them that his job was to coach and manage and the players’ job was to play. Hips and Powers shook hands. McCartney set to work to teach his defense men the fine art of blocking and his forwards the intricate business of going up to score as a trio and not as single human umts, and of getting back with their covers as play turned toward the Rat Prairie goal-mouth.

Continued on page 50

Continued from page 11

Sedgwick was beaten four-nothing on Prairie ice on the seventh of January. Canton took a seven-to-one lacing on the eleventh. Then the boys went over to Koenigsberg and, despite the persistent belief that not only the team but the town as well had to be beaten, McCartney’s troupe came home from the Burgers’ eyrie with a two-goal shut-out to their credit.

The Rat Prairie squad began to look like a hockey team and Hips McCartney to feel like a man. Not a drink had slipped down his throat in three months. Something of that old-time, flashy, daredevil spirit returned. The town and the team were behind him to a man, and big Cy Powers had become his ice captain and chief aide. Rat Prairie had gone hockey mad. Old Charlie Burgess, the town savant, even went so far, in the hotel lobby one night, as to suggest that Mac ought to run for the Provincial Legislature next election, and the Reverend Dean preached a Sunday morning homily on clean sport and leadership. Snake-hips McCartney may have been a corpse along the Bright Way, but in Rat Prairie he was a man among men.

More than once the boy came within an ace of writing to Dora to tell her about his place of residence and his improved condition of living. But somehow the idea didn’t make sense when it came to putting pen to paper. So nobody back East, girl or exemployer or friends, heard a word regarding his whereabouts. Hips used to wonder if, between parties with college boys and the like, Dora ever gave thought to an itinerant hockey player who had wanted to marry her, but went haywire, lost his job and disappeared. Then he’d stick out his tongue at his reflection in the cracked mirror up in his room, and guess aloud that he was through and might as well like it.

RAT PRAIRIE and Koenigsberg came down the stretch to their final game on Prairie ice, neck and neck. The Rats had dropped that opening game at home, but won every other. The Burgs had dropped one decision to the Rats and were yearning j for Der Tag. The final game on Prairie ice would set the seal on Koenigsberg’s hopes if the Rats could win or draw. Hence all Koenigsberg—Mayor Schmidt and the corporation, women, children and virtually every male adult in the town—poured into Rat Prairie during the hours immediately preceding the event. They came in cutters and pungs. They came with double teams, and bobs carrying twenty passengers buried in blankets and riding in the straw. They came and talked turkey in the Farmers’ House lobby with their wallets out, and Prairie fans talked back with three-to-two odds on the home team’s chances. At supper ; time Denonville came to McCartney in the ; kitchen and said:

“Listen, kid. Here’s what I think of you;

! Seventy-five of my dollars get fifty of Herb. McAfee’s that we win, and the fifty’s yours J if we do !”

! Bu t M cCa rtney sa id :

“Forget it, boss. We made our deal and j everything else is out.”

That shows you how good these kids go, , once they set out to reform.

What a game of hockey that was! Five minutes after the start. Powers picked up a loose puck near his own goal, swung around behind the net and went eeling down the ice with a gait that must have reminded McCartney of himself. He passed the first blue line, cleared the Koenigsberg centre’s hook-check, split Jones and DeGruchy clean at the defense, and crowded in on Bert Rainer in the cage. Rainer did a swan dive. Powers held his fire, and as the Burgers’ goalie hit the ice he lifted the puck across him into the net.

But the rubber bounded out. Zeke Shields, Koenigsberg’s goal umpire, let it go without raising his arm for the score. DeGruchy picked it up on his stick and set sail toward the Rats’ defense. Then the whistle blew and Blane, the Big Town official imported for the crucial game, skated over to centre ice and signalled for the puck. The teams crowded round the referee. DeGruchy skated down behind the Burgers’ net and conferred with Shields, returning to centre to inform all and sundry in a loud voice that the goal umpire averred the disc had not gone in. Blane skated over to the scorer and told him to tally the goal and credit it to Powers, unassisted. The whistle blew again and Blane dropped the rubber into play.

Powers hooked the puck from the face-off and, as he skirted the boards, a Koenigsberg fan leaned over and belted the Prairie centre with his fist. Then the ructions began. A dozen Burg fans came over the boards. Rat Prairie advanced to meet them. On the first exchange Charlie Burgess assimilated a black eye. Another visitor tapped Denonville’s claret. Hy Walters and other local notables stopped haymakers with assorted sections of their anatomies, and fifteen minutes elapsed before bedlam could be stilled and peace restored. But the score stood. One to nothing for the Prairie.

Early in the second period Kirby sniped a pretty-looking counter for the home team, but Blane called it offside and Prairie fans were ready and willing to fight for what they considered their rights as freemen. Before a blow was struck, however, McCartney had lined up beside the referee, pushing back his own men who crowded in, shouting to them to get back to their places and that Kirby was as offside as sin. The trouble died down as quickly as it flared and Hips returned to the bench, making a speech as he went, the gist of which was that Blane was right, that most people don’t know an offside when they see one, and would Rat Prairie, for the love of Golly, mind its business and let the boys win this game of hockey. The crowd cheered. That’s how Hips McCartney stood in Rat Prairie.

The remainder of that second spasm passed without incident, with each playing for a break. The score was still one-nothing at the two-thirds mark.

BUT the end was not yet. You’ve seen j teams that threw everything they had into the closing minutes of a game to try and tie the score? That’s what Koenigsberg did, but they did it over the full route of the third frame, not merely for five minutes. Their power line went out to begin the session and they stayed out. They hacked at the Prairie defense. They came down four abreast and pelted Lanthier with shots from the boards, with shots from close in, and with rifle-fire through the defense. They hemmed in the local squad at its own blue line, and piled them up in heaps in the Prairie goal-mouth. McCartney directed cagily from the bench and gave his harassed forwards relief after relief, sending each switch out with sharp orders to defend and to attack only if wide-open opportunity offered. Lanthier gave a performance the like of which is seen seldom in any league.

Those last two minutes will never be forgotten on the plains. Though Koenigsberg’s first-string forwards were almost out on their skates, they continued to force the pace and hemmed the play within the four walls of the attacking zone. Fists were flying as freely as sparrows toward a heap of biscuit crumbs. Koenigsberg gave it and took it, fifty-fifty. This was war to the knife and Blane let it ride, because to call every infringement of the rules would have left no one on the ice but the goalers. Then the visitors pulled one that was too raw, and the referee called them for that. Going into the last minute, after Connor had relieved the pressure on the Prairie net briefly with a one-man foray down-ice, O’Donahue came back with the puck for Koenigsberg, flanked by DeGruchy. The Prairie defense looked for a pass as the duo came in, but instead O’Donahue flared into the mêlée and DeGruchy swung to the side and into the goal-mouth to fell Lanthier with his stick as his teammate slapped the puck into the twine.

Blane’s whistle shrilled. Play stopped. Players paused to trade punches. Powers and Kirby picked up the limp, slack hulk that was the kayoed Prairie goaler and carried him to the side. The referee skated to the scorers’ bench and proclaimed it no goal. The offender was chased with a match foul.

McCartney, down on one knee beside Lanthier on the floor of the dressing shanty, tugged at the straps of pads and protector and sent for Powers.

“Get into these, Cy,” he ordered, pointing to the equipment on the floor. “How is he, doc?”

“All right, far as I can see,” grunted Manners, the medico, “but the man who did it ought to be killed for it.”

“You said it,” from McCartney. “But not now, gang. Get that straight. Win this game, then do what you like with DeGruchy. Now, let’s go!”

There were worried frowns a-plenty as the big centre skated clumsily out to the nets. The Koenigsbergers, rested by the tenminute breather, flung themselves back into the attack like wildcats, but time was against them. The Prairie men fought in front of their goal, smothering the rubber under their bodies, lifting it down the rink length, holding it against the boards, and doing everything in the human repertory to keep it away from the goal. Four times in those closing sixty seconds the rubber flared into big Powers’s pads, but four times he flung it clear. Then the whistle blew. The Prairie had won, not just a championship but their second game in a row from the well-hated Koenigsberger Sassenach !

That was McCartney Night in Rat Prairie.

THE Rats copped the Provincial Intermediate crown. Then they played the senior champions and became hockey overlords of the province. Subsequently they disposed of the Far Westerners, and moved east to the I lead of the Lakes toward the next stage in the Cup race. Soon they were descending on Toronto.

About that time McCartney was having an attack of the mental jitters every time he thought of the possibility of hitting the big towns with his squad of rip-roaring bushers and of what might happen if ever he came within the vision of a blonde goddess whose folks had named her, Dora.

The Rats copped the semi-final in Toronto, and their coach kept himself incognito by dint of staying in the dressing room and having Denonville occupy the bench. The morning after the final game in the Gardens, the squad slipped off the sleepers in the suburbs of Beartown. rested behind locked doors in the Princess Royal and pulled into the Arena the next night for the first game

of the championship series for the Cup.

There had been a passage-at-arms between the hotelkeeper and his young protégé that day. Denonville had said: “Now, listen, Mac, you ain’t running no team from no dressing room in this series. Tins opera-star business of yours pretty near cost us our chances in Toronto. Now lay off!”

McCartney said there was nothing doing on that. If Denonville tried to force him to show his head then he, McCartney, would quit. They argued back and forth and in the end McCartney capitulated. That night he sat on the bench, but when he went out with the team his hat was pulled over his eyes and he kept his head low.

But Brent O’Malley might as well finish the story he started. Here’s the way Brent told it next morning in his column in the Era.

TEN BRAVE young men and true, with small-town prairie lingo on their lips and the light of battle in their eyes, paid a call on our Regals at the Arena last night and played the first of the finals for the amateur crown.

“That was a game! Never has dramatic setting been more complete. Here were these Roaring Raiders of the Wheat Belt slapping down the smooth, svelte, big-town team and making them take it, four goals to one.

“But you ain’t heard nothin’ yet! Wise men. these many days, have been circulating about the whispering galleries and chancelleries of hockey, asking how could you account for such a phenomenon as this. What master mind had planned this villagers’ raid on the Big Time altars? Your diligent observer knew the answer a week ago. but for reasons of state has held it back from the Rue de Rumor, just to please Old Man Bannon of the Bears.

“Last night two civilians sat on the Rats’ bench. One was an elderly man with grey hair, specs and a slight stoop. He was Alphonse Denonville, proprietor of the Farmers’ House in Rat Prairie and Grand High Counsellor to the home town team. The other was a certain Eric McCartney, chief roustabout of the aforesaid Farmers’ House and manager and coach of the hockey team. You may remember young Mister McCartney. He used to play for your Bears, until John Barleycorn caught him offside and Old Man Bannon gave him the gate. Nobody knew what had become of Snakehips McCartney. Well, they know today.

“Just before the game you may have seen an elderly gentleman, accompanied by divinity in sealskin, walk along the promenade to the Rats’ bench. That was Old Man Bannon and Daughter Dora. You may have seen the men shake hands and AÍ Denonville acknowledge an introduction. You may have seen Old Man Bannon pass an envelope to Snake-hips. That was the pay cheque he forgot to take with him when lie went away last fall. You may have seen McCartney stand up and fidget around while he talked with divinity. Well, that was Snake-hips’ girl, the selfsame Dora Bannon, and she was whispering to the Snake that she had been writing letters and saving them against his return, the young man having gone away without leaving a forwarding address.

“And the dénouement?

“Right after this series, no matter who wins the hockey crown, Snake-hips will win another championship and it will be staged in front of a parson. Before that there’ll be a new contract between the Bears and one Eric (Snake-hips) McCartney, just as soon as President Grantham hoists an existing suspension. Add to all this, the fact that the coach of the Rat Prairie Rats, this same McCartney, says he has a brace of performers in Powers at centre and Lanthier in goal who will look good in Bear uniforms after a seasoning year in the Canam Loop, and it begins to look as though Old Maestro Bannon has solved the secret of how to throw bread crumbs on the water and have chocolate cake come floating back.

“Not bad, Snake-hips, not bad ! Who says they never come back?”—The End.