Senior Skip

Young love encounters the gr-r-r-and old game and a gr-r-r-and old hero

BEN AMES WILLIAMS January 1 1936

Senior Skip

Young love encounters the gr-r-r-and old game and a gr-r-r-and old hero

BEN AMES WILLIAMS January 1 1936

Senior Skip


Young love encounters the gr-r-r-and old game and a gr-r-r-and old hero

THE SPORT of curling is, to the uninformed spectator, fair subject for humorous comment; and especially if the spectator be feminine. To see two or three able-bodied, middle-aged to elderly men vigorously sweeping ice which is already polished till it shines, in an effort to persuade a forty-pound piece of granite to slide a few inches farther, must always amuse womenkind; and particularly if the sweepers are their own men folk, who at home display no such domestic zeal.

Carol Daly had come to the St. Martin’s rinks this afternoon to take her grandfather home after his daily game; and young Bill Stuart was here to fetch his father—or perhaps because he had known Carol would be here. They sat side by side, in the spectators’ seats at the end of the rinks, behind plate glass that protected them against the cold; and Carol was smiling quietly, and Bill was watching her more closely than he watched the game.

“It’s ridiculous, isn’t it,” he commented; “to see grown men—father’s about the youngest man on the ice today, and he’s forty-eight—sweeping and shouting over a flock of boulders?”

“But they enjoy it so,” she retorted. “Look at grandfather. He’s fairly bristling with excitement. Hear him yell.”

Old Andy Forbes was her grandfather. He stood now, leaning on his broom at the end of the rink nearest them; a tall, spare figure, crisp grey mustache, grizzled grey brows, tam-o’-shanter on his head; and there was a beam of pleasure in his blue, blue eye. For the briefest of moments he considered the stones on the ice about his feet; then touched one with his broom, and called something down the length of the rink to Charlie Plaisted, and held his broom as a mark at which Charlie was to aim. Charlie curled and old Andy watched the stone; and Carol heard his ringing shout. “Bring her! Bring her! Bring her!” Brooms instantly were busy. The stone found its mark and old Andy called jubilantly;

“Fine! You’re a curler, Charlie!” Then, as Charlie came toward him, he himself with a step and a slide, a step and a slide, went down the ice to curl in his turn.

“The darling!” Carol whispered; and she said: “Mother and father and Dr. Featherstone are trying to persuade him to give it up, but I think it’s a shame. He’s been curling thirty years, and he does love it so.”

“I should think it was time he did stop,” Bill declared. “He must be dose to eighty. Father says the old chap can hardly get a stone down the ice now.”

Carol cried indignantly: “Oh, is that so? Well, he’s a better curler than your father ever will be. He’s the best curler in St. Martin’s.”

Her eyes were hot, and Bill chuckled and touched her hand. “Whoa!” he protested. “Don’t shoot. I’ll come down.”

“Sh-h,” she whispered. “They’ve finished. Here they come.”

She and Bill rose to greet the curlers as they emerged from the rink. Old Andy and John Codman, who had been the opposing skip, came first; and Carol heard John Codman say:

“Well, Andy, you had your eye today.”

The old man nodded with an honest pleasure. “Yes, I did,” he agreed. “First time this season. I was beginning to think I’d have to drop out of the Rimmon Cup.”

Carol caught his arm in a quick affectionate sympathy, deeply understanding how even the possibility of surrendering to his years must grieve him; and she cried loyally:

“Nonsense, darling. St. Martin’s wouldn’t have a chance without you.”

He chuckled. “Oh, hello, Carol.” Then he saw young Bill Stuart beside her. “Hello, Bill.” His eyes twinkled. “You stick to Carol like the tail on the dog, son.”

BILL grinned. “Long as she doesn’t wag me off, yes, sir.” “Good judgment, I call that,” Andy agreed. He approved Bill, liked him—as did Carol.

John Codman urged: “You mustn’t think of dropping out, Andy. Even on your bad days you’re better than the best of us.”

“Thanks, John.” Andy chuckled. “But I haven’t felt I had the touch this year until today. Each year it takes me longer to get it back.”

Codman nodded understanding^. He too was old. Andy said to his granddaughter: “I'll be right with you, Carol.” He departed to the locker room. Bill Stuart looked alter him affectionately, shook his head.

“Did you notice how flushed he was?” he asked quietly. “It can’t be good for him, Carol.”

“Whatever he wants to do is good for him, Bill,

she retorted. “Don’t you dare go taking their side.”

He grinned, said softly: “Your side’s my side, sweet.” But he added then, provokingly: “Unless, of course, I think you’re wrong.”

She tossed her head, eyes twinkling. “You might as well understand right now, my dear, that when we don’t agree, you’re the one who’s wrong. Here he is! Good night, Bill.” And she slipped her arm through her grandfather’s and they turned away.

Driving home through the bright starlit winter dusk, she said to the old man fondly: “Had a good time today, didn’t you, darling?”

“Yes, fine,” he agreed; and he said, half to himself: “I’ve been curling over thirty years, and I love the grand game and the good fellowship that goes with it.” He chuckled at himself, confessed: “And I love to curl well, love to vvin; but every year it’s a little harder to stand up to it. I use light stones and play them on the keen side, and 1 quack them so that they run better. I can still lay a guard or draw to the

button; but to curl a fast stone is beyond me now.”

She touched his arm affectionately. “Don’t admit it, darling,” she urged. “I warn you, there s to be a family conclave after dinner. Mother and father and Dr. Featherstone are going to tell you that you ought to give it up. They’ll say that if you don’t, you’re likely to just—drop dead on the ice some day. But don’t you let them get you down.”

He smiled, shook his head. “I won’t,” he promised. “Curling’s been the breath of life to me for years. If it’s to be the sigh of death, too, I shan’t complain.”

THE FAMILY conclave failed of its purpose. Andy would not be shaken. “As long as I can curl a winning game, I’ll never quit,” he said flatly.

So, persuasion failing, Carol’s mother and father conspired to compel him. Tom Daly was a curler too, and on the committee in charge of the activity at St. Martin s. He enlisted Duncan Stuart, Bill’s father, in the plot; and he consulted the committee, shaped the plan. . t

Each Wednesday evening, curlers at St. Martin s dined around a long table at the club. It was at one of these dinners that Tom Daly chose to open his oblique attack, so when the port had gone round, he caught Duncan Stuart s eye, and Duncan rose.

“Gentlemen,” he began, in ominous tones, “it is time St. Martin’s won back the Rimmon Cup.”

He looked challengingly up and down the long table. At one end old Andy sat in the place of honor, Mat Cameron there beside him, and John Codman, and two or three other skips, and a dozen lesser curlers.

“Martin Rimmon gave the cup,” Duncan reminded them. “He and St. Martin’s held it till he died. But since then what have we done?”

“Won it three times,” Mat Cameron stoutly answered him.

“And lost it nine,” Duncan retorted. “And, gentlemen, I’ll tell you why. We need younger men on our teams. Andy Forbes is a grand curler. So is Mat Cameron and John Codman. But there are younger men here who are grand curlers, too.”

Old Andy called: “Speaking for yourself, Duncan?” And laughter ran down the long table.

Duncan flushed, but—this was for old Andy’s own good. So he stuck to his guns.

“Yes, for myself, for one,” he declared. And he said: “I put it to the committee. Who is going to skip the teams for the Rimmon Cup this year? The same gentlemen whose teams have lost for these six years past—or someone new?”

And he sat down, and saw Tom Daly’s nod of thanks; and then old Andy came briskly to his feet, his eyes twinkling.

“Fellow curlers,” he said. “If you’ll look down the table at my son-in-law, you will see that Tom, like Cassius, has a lean and hungry look. He takes devious ways to gain his ends. This is a plot between him and my daughter and the doctors to make me give up curling.”

Laughter ran again.

“But for all that,” said Andy more seriously, “there’s merit in what Duncan says. We want our best teams in the Rimmon Cup bonspiel. I’m ready to give way to any team that can beat mine.”

He sat down, and Tom Daly rose. He said mildly:

“I’m speaking for the committee, gentlemen. We’ve thought to let Andy Forbes and Mat Cameron and John Codman pick their own teams; but for the fourth place, we plan an open competition, the winning team to play in the Rimmon Cup bonspiel.”

There was applause at that; but Daly went on. “And we propose,” he said, “to let the three defeated semi-final teams

in the open competition challenge either Andy or Mat or. John Codman—and if they win, to replace the seeded team.”

He sat down, and the discussion ran. Always goodhumoredly. There is something about the pursuit of curling which mellows men and softens their asperities. But Tom Daly, riding home later with old Andy, said, almost in apology:

“You don't mind my bringing this thing out into the open, do you, sir? The younger men are anxious for a chance.”

Andy Forbes shook his head. "Not at all, Tom. You know Mat and John and the rest of us—we love the game; but we like to see the club w i n matches, too.” He added, chuckling: “Of course I know you’re hoping someone will challenge my team and put me out of it.”

“Yes, sir; frankly, I am. For your own sake.”

The old man said stoutly: “They can’t

do it, Tom. Not if I’m on my game!”

BUT IF old Andy faced the situation calmly. Carol was furious when she knew. Her father reported the matter at the breakfast table, and her mother approved, and Carol cried:

“I think you’re both the most underhanded, disloyal, cruel things! He loves it so, and you’re just plotting to—to humiliate him.”

And she resented the fact that Duncan Stuart had been one of the conspirators. Later she told Bill so, and Bill retorted:

“Shucks, Carol ! They’re doing it for his own good.” He added: “As a matter of fact, father says Mr. Forbes is slipping this year. He says St. Martin’s won’t have a chance to win till they get some younger men on the teams.”

“He’s just trying to boost himself,” she said scornfully. “And taking this sneaking way to do it.”

Bill flushed. “Them’s harsh words, gal,” he protested. “Well, they’re true,” she declared.

He hesitated. “Well, you and I don’t have to fight about it. After all, we’re not curlers.”

“If your father can do such a thing—”

“It was your father who persuaded him.”

“Well, mother made father do it. I think they’re wrong, but at least they’re grandfather’s flesh and blood. There’s some excuse for them. But your father. .

The discussion, following normal lines, developed from an argument into a quarrel that left scars. “If your father’s that kind of a man, maybe you’ll get to be like him,” Carol

said icily. “I certainly shouldn’t like that. Maybe it’s a good thing I found it out in time.”

And Bill retorted furiously: “You’re the most unreasonable, stubborn, darned nut! I’d like to turn you over mv knee.”

“I wouldn’t be in the least surprised,” she assured him, and walked away.

But the friendly plot against old Andy was doomed to fail. Bill’s father organized a team to go into the competition for a place in the Rimmon Cup bonspiel; and Tom Daly curled number three for him. They hoped to win through to the semi-finals, intending then to challenge Andy’s team and beat him if they could. But fate, or good curling, bestowed on them an almost unwelcome success. Not only did they reach the semi-finals; they went into the finals, too. And rather to their own surprise, they won.

And having won, they could not challenge for a place that was already theirs. Chet Frame, who had skipped the other team in the finals, did under Tom’s persuasion challenge the old man; but Andy trounced him soundly, and Chet, at the end grasped Andy’s hand with a generous grin.

“Congratulations, sir,” he said, “and well skipped. You outthought me and you outcurled us, right straight through.” Andy beamed. The victory was a sweet one. When, that evening, his daughter and Tom and Dr. Featherstone again urged him to withdraw, he said stoutly:

“No. You’ve tried to scare me, and you’ve tried to beat me; but you can’t do either. No matter what you say, I’m going to Montreal for the Rimmon Cup curling.” He hesitated. “I'd go,” lie said simply, “even if I knew I wouldn’t come home.”

rT"'IIIS CURLING is an ancient game and hoary with traditions, yet in its essence simple enough. Think of pitching pennies on a Gargantuan scale. The pennies are made of polished granite, a foot in diameter, six inches or so from top to bottom, thirty-six to forty-two jxiunds of weight. The mark at which you shoot is well over a hundred feet away down smooth ice; a dot called the tee, around which a circle called the house, and of seven-foot radius, is inscribed. Four men on a team. Each team slides eight stones, alternating, down the ice. At the end, all stones belonging to one side and nearer the tee than any stone belonging to the other side are scored.

And that is absolutely all. Perhaps the charm of the game arises from the fact that a stone requires about ten seconds to pass down the ice to the house, so that there is an element of suspense in every shot. While the stone in motion cannot be retarded or deflected, yet it may be coaxed to go a little farther, or a little straighter, if with busy brooms the ice be polished in its path. So one man in the hack to curl the stone, and two down the rink to sweep it, are required; and a fourth in the house, the skip, to direct curler and sweepers alike. And the skip, having absolute command, gets the credit or tire blame. If his team wins a match, it is he who wins; if it loses, it is he who lost.

Carol went with her father and grandfather to Montreal to be a spectator at the great March bonspiel for the Rimmon Cup; and Bill went too. They met at the train, but the scars of that old quarrel had not yet healed, and she said coldly:

“Oh, are you going? I didn’t know you were interested in curling.”

Bill chuckled in an infuriating way. “I’m going along to cheer,” he explained. “With father to carry the load, I think St. Martin’s has a chance to win this year.”

She cried in a wrrathful scorn: “Carry the load ! You make me so mad.”

“Want to bet?” he challenged.

“That they win? Of course they’ll win.”

“That my father pulls them through.”

Her eyes flamed. “I don’t care to discuss it with you.” “All right,” he agreed. “We’ll talk about the weather.” “Nor to discuss anything else with you,” she assured him; and during the trip east, she avoided him, or pretended not to see him, and for the emphasis of contrast she was particularly gracious and charming to everyone else.

But when St. Martin’s won its first matches, she was so glad that she began to relent. And in the semi-finals, Duncan Stuart’s team with Carol’s father at number three did save St. Martin's from defeat. Andy and Mat Cameron and John Codman each lost their matches, but it is total scores that count, and Duncan smashed through to win, nineteen to seven. His twelve-point margin was enough for victory.

When Carol met Bill afterward, she said generously: “I’m so glad for w'hat your father did today, Bill.”

But Bill grinned. “Yes,” he said casually. “It looks as though he might carry the old boys through. If your grandfather pulls his weight, isn’t too much of a load—”

“Oh, must you be so cocky?” she cried. “You make me tired.”

YET—because by this time her emotions were at high pitch, so that she was tense with hopes—she clung to Bill, kept him near her in a sort of armed truce; and next day when the final matches were played, they were at first side by side among the spectators. The sides of the rinks,

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the rows of seats, the balconies and galleries alike were jammed, and with a critical audience of experts all. Men—and women, too— who not only knew the game but played it. Four rinks, side by side, yet with runways between, on which a wall of spectators in double row stood back to back.

Duncan’s team and Andy’s were on the outer rinks; Mat Cameron and John Codman between them. But all the drama of that great and famous match centred on Andy’s rink. The old man began, incredibly, by losing eight points on the first end! For a curling team’s eight stones all to count may not happen to a man in twenty years of curling. It was this disaster which burst upon Andy’s head; a plague of ill luck combined with poor curling by his team, so that when he himself went down to the hack, the enemy had six scoring stones.

His first shot was almost incredibly accurate, to lie nearer the tee than any other; but a moment later his stone was driven out of the house, and Andy’s last stone was off line, succeeded only in driving the last enemy stone ahead far enough to score.

Carol, sick with sorrow for him, watched the old man walk down the ice to look at the fatal house. So did everyone else, curious to see how he would meet this crushing blow. But his voice rose strong and steady.

“Second time I’ve lost an eight end in thirty years at the game,” he said cheerfully. “But we won the other match twentyone to eleven.”

And, his head unbowed, he walked down the rink to his post again.

But Bill said to Carol: “Shucks! There goes the ball game. Let’s go watch father’s team, Carol. I don’t want to see the old man blow up.”

Carol said furiously : “Quitter! Go if you like. I’ll stay. He needs me worse than ever now.”

Bill flushed; and he worked his way through the crowd to the rink where his father curled. But Carol stayed; and for the next hour and a half, as end after end was bitterly fought, she watched at first with a tender pity, then with a thrilling excitement

For Andy was pulling up! In the ninth end he went into the lead, 11 to 10, and a roar of applause arose, a tribute to that great uphill fight; and Carol left her place and went to find Bill, to triumph over him.

But she could not find him in the crowd; so she came back to watch the battle through.

THE MATCHES in the Rimmon Cup bonspiel run for seventeen ends, and total scores made by the four teams competing on each side decide the issue. After the fifteenth end, St. Martin’s was four points ahead; but each team lost the sixteenth, Mat Cameron by two points. With one end remaining to be played, old Andy, despite that original catastrophe, stood leading 19-12; John Codman was behind at 9-11; Mat Cameron trailed at 12-17, and Duncan Stuart, with Carol’s father at number three, was one point behind at 11-12. Total scores, 51-52; St, Martin’s one point behind.

Yet each St. Martin’s team held the advantage of last shot, worth one point in perfect curling; and one point in each match would win for St. Martin’s now.

Mat Cameron got his point, to tie the total score; and felt a great relief, and knew that he was old. But the other rinks were still in play. The spectators made room for him to see John Codman finish. Codman lost two points. Fifty-one for St. Martin’s, fifty-three the enemy.

And good John Codman stood white and still and weary.

“They had the devil’s luck to do it, John,” Mat said stoutly, gripped the other’s hand. “They beat us both today. But Andy and Duncan will carry us through.”

Duncan Stuart’s rink was surrounded by

a breathless wall of spectators. The two old men could not get near enough to see. They stood together, trying to guess what was happening by what they heard. Duncan, before playing his last shot, waited for the results of the two matches already finished; and mentally he computed the score. Fiftyone, St. Martin’s. Fifty-three, the enemy!

And he looked down the ice and Tom Daly touched a stone with his broom, called:

“Here’s the shot against us, Duncan. Can you come to it with the out-turn?”

“Yes,” said Duncan stoutly.

“If you just take the place of it, we’ll lie four,” said Tom Daly, and held his broom as an aiming point.

Young Bill Stuart, in the overhead gallery, watching his father, watching the stones on the ice, felt a deep thrill of pride. The shot Duncan had to make was simple. Bill had not the least doubt that his fatter would make it, to score four and give St. Martin’s two points lead. Then if old Andy held the enemy to one point, the match would be won.

And Bill remembered that yesterday his father’s fine curling had saved the day; and he thought proudly that here again Duncan Stuart’s eye and hand would pass on the margin of victory secure. A pulse of excitement beat in him; he looked around for Carol, wished she might be here to see.

Then, down on the ice, Duncan crouched above the stone, delivered it; and Bill’s heart fell sickly in his breast. For, palpably, the stone was wide of the broom. Sweeping could not save it. Nothing could save it.

Worse, it might curve far enough to promote an enemy stone. Duncan and Tom Daly in the house cried together;

“Sweep! Oh, sweep!”

Tom came to meet the stone, Duncan loped after it. Four brooms labored, but without hope or use. The stone rumbled, reached its mark; and then arose a long tumult of many cheers. But not for St. Martin’s.

Young Bill stared at the result with a horrified dismay. His father should have scored four points for St. Martin’s. As it was, Duncan Stuart had lost those four and given the enemy two. Fifty-one St. Martin’s ! Fifty-five the enemy !

Bill was sick with despair. The Rimmon Cup was gone, and by his father’s fault. No hope remained. Old Andy had still to finish; but a five end was needed to win, and such things at so opportune a time do not occur.

Bill began to work his way toward the door, to escape. He did not want to see Carol or anyone else just now.

BUT EVERYONE else was pressing toward old Andy’s rink. It is the nature of the genus spectator to receive a tremendous emotional stimulus from one of those situations likely to arise in any sport when with the game lost but for some miracle— Casey comes to bat !

This was such a moment. Wherever curlers meet in years to come to eat their beef and greens in the old tradition—or other tare if they prefer—and to recall old splendid memories, the tale will be retold; and someone who was there that day will take pencil and paper to diagram, for those who did not see, the shot old Andy tried when he curled his last great match.

For it is not so much performance as effort which moves the heart of man; and a valiant hopeless try may be a more stirring thing to see than a hard task well and safely done.

Will Fant skipped against Andy that day. Fie likes to tell the story.

“Andy had the last shot, you understand. When the end began, I knew the score was close and I must shut him off from a draw to the button at the end.

“So I built up the front of the house. Our lead got shot, and we guarded it well. And had his men try for it; and they drew all

around it. but never touched it. When Andy and 1 went down the ice, we still lay shot, and I laid a guard that Andy could only cuff away. I laid another guard. This one was a little wide, but still lie could not come at the shot any way that I could see.

“And I stood aside for him to make his try, and he waited for Charlie Plaisted to tell him what to do. Andy Forbes was never a man to skip from the hack. He’d leave it to his number three, even at a time like that.

“And Charlie looked at the house. The other rinks were all done by now, so we had the scores. We were four points ahead. Man, I was pleased. Here we lay the shot, well guarded. Only one stone to come, and—they needed five to win.

“And then Charlie called Andy down the ice. .

Carol, breathless in the gallery, saw her

grandfather go down the ice with that step and slide, step and slide which were his habit, to see what he must do. The rink lay in a rectangular pit of spectators, those nearest kneeling or crouching so that those behind could see. The galleries were draped with folk like swarming bees; and they were all so silent and intent that Carol could hear what was said on the ice below.

“You might promote our stone that’s guarding theirs, till it would lie the shot,” said Charlie Plaisted. “That’s all I see to do.”

Andy shook his head calmly. “Not enough!” he retorted. “One point won’t help us. We need five.” And he said: “I’ll have to promote ours hard enough to knock theirs through. We’ve four stones inside their second; so if ours stopped on theirs,

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we’d lie five. Give me the in-tum. Narrow.

I 11 try that.”

He spoke in crisp decision, and Charlie Plaisted stared at the house and shook his head and said :

“You can’t do it. Andy.”

His.voice was low, but Carol heard him plain. Andy had already turned to go; he swung again, his cheek flaming, his eye like a sword, his mustache bristling.

“I’ve got to do it to win !” he said.

And he trotted off down the ice, step and slide, step and slide, step and slide; and in the gallery Carol went blind with tears of pride in him; and along the terraced rows of spectators, a whisper ran, of admiration for his valor, yet of pity for its hopelessness.

FOR WHAT he sought to do was surely as hopeless as a thing well could be. His own stone must traverse a hundred feet of ice so accurately that it would pass between two enemy stones with not an inch to spare on either side. It must then hit another stone at exactly the right angle to drive it ahead a lull four feet, and so accurately that it would hit the enemy stone an inch to the right of centre, and hard enough to drive that enemy stone through an opening between two St. Martin’s stones that lay behind it.

The thing, simply and plainly, could not be done. A young man, strong and clear of eye, might have done it once in fifty tries. But a man eighty years old... It would require the maximum effort of which Andy was capable merely to deliver a stone hard enough to make the shot. And to deliver a stone as accurate as a rifle bullet, with every ounce of his strength, was not in any man’s power.

But old Andy yonder, with no more preamble than if this had been a practice match, was trying it. Carol, for her tears, could not see. I íe cleaned his stone, he eyed the broom Charlie Plaisted held as a sighting point, his stone took the ice. Whirling on its

rim like a twirled plate, it settled and I

seemed to pick up speed.

And someone cried: “He's narrow!” And someone cried: “He’s wide!” And brooms j were ready: but old Charlie Plaisted said through pale stiff lips:

“Don’t touch it. Don’t touch it!”

Then stone struck stone, and a woman screamed and a man shouted; and then a thousand men shouted and there was for a while plain bedlam here.

Old Andy did not sec the finish of his own great shot. As it passed down the ice. the spectators crowded in behind it to watch it. to the end. shutting off his view. But he heard the shouts, and then people were pressing toward him, and he saw their faces, their eyes streaming tears, men laughing and crying together. So he knew !

Bill was at the door when that .great cry and tumult of applause summoned him back; and he heard what had happened and fought his way toward Andy to grip the old man’s hand. Carol was there before him, and she saw him coming and struggled through the pack to meet him and caught his hands and clung to him.

“Did you see it, Bill? Oh, did you see it?” she cried.

Bill said sheepishly: “No, I was going. After father missed, and I knew we were I four behind—”

“Missed?” she asked, puzzled.

“He had an easy shot for a four end. and lost two instead.”

“Oh, bless his heart!” she cried. And when Bill stared, bewildered, she explained: “Don’t you see, if he'd made it. grandfather wouldn’t have had a chance to do what IK* did?”

“Just the same. I wish dad had made it.” Bill insisted: and Carol said happily:

“If we had. if he’d won for us two days in a row, you’d have been so cocky I’d never j have spoken to you again.”

He grinned. “Will you now?”

She laughed softly. “Why. I might.” she j promised. “If there were any particular thing you wanted me to say.”