What a splash! The Big Fish are off to the hilarious climax of the World's Maddest Marathon
JAMES A. COWAN
At Pop’s training camp for a "stable” of marathon swimmers, Doc, who tells the story, is known as the horse doctor.
Barney Long, world's champion, is training there; and among the other human fish are Will, the sea-going cop, McGonigle, the pocket walrus, and various dark horses.
Irene, an old sweetheart of the champ’s, lives near by. Barney, however, pays less attention to Irene than to a girl named Gwladys from a near-by art camp. He poses for Gwladys and tries to make love to her, and when she laughs at him he develops temperament.
To cheer up the champ, a floating plasterer named Dutch Hill is added to the stable; and this good-natured human cork has the desired effect.
The night before the big race, Gwladys and her arty friends visit the camp and again make fun of Barney. Barney stalks into his cabin, slamming the door. Doc hears a yell, arul Pop arrives on the scene.
PETE," Pop is hollering. "Freddy. Where are you boys? Chase these crooks off of the lot and if they so much as open a mouth to say good-by, break their legs."
He hurries into Barney Long’s cabin, only stopping to yell where is Irene. When I look around again, Gwladys and the ice-cream-pants man and the delicious woman is all gone. Irene comes back, but she does not talk. We just sit and wait for Pop.
“As for you,” Pop remarks at me when he comes out at last, “if I should raise my hand against you in selfdefense at this moment, it would be murder. Do you have to sit there like one of the horrors in the waxworks and let all this go on? Why do you not set fire to the camp when you see them coming?”
“I do not know the answer to such questions, Pop,” I try to say.
“Could you not shoot a couple of them?” he goes on.
“I do not have any gun. Pop,” I explain.
“So you would let a little thing like that stop you?” he yells. “Get out of my sight and be there ready in case I call you.
“Barney says he will not swim tomorrow,” Pop tells Irene. “He quits on me. He says he is through. You got to do something.”
“Not me,” says Irene, very quiet.
“You will let a champ lie down at the last minute and kick himself out of a big race and a big purse and out of his title, and you will not do anything?” Pop yelps. “It is a scandal.”
“This time,” she explains, “there is nothing I can do.” “Y'ou can save this dumb bozo’s skin for him,” Pop argues. “Barney says these people are here making fun of his dignity and also they are going to make some new kind of a fool of him in front of everybody at the race. So he will not swim. You explain to him you cannot tell a lie and he is wrong. That is all you got to do.”
“It is more than that,” this girl insists. “When you are talking about making fools of people, I have made a fool of myself sticking around this way. Why should I try to run Barney? After all, he is the champ.”
“And a cheese champ he is right now,” Pop puts in. “Whatever he is, I am through,” Irene finishes up, “and I hope I never see a swimmer again after tomorrow. I am putting Dutch Hill into the race so that he can get a thrill.
Then I will see to it he goes back to his plastering; and as for me, I will go back to some work of my own, too.”
It is no use to argue with Irene. It is less than no use to argue with Barney. The more we argue, the more he does not budge. I íe is very hurt in his dignity. Even if we drag him down to the start and throw him in, he will not swim.
We do not get much sleep that night if any, and we are up with the sun as we have much to do. There is the hot soup and the hot drinks for every boy of our entries to carry him through the race. There is the blankets and the life preservers. There is our rowers and our helpers and our boats for every swimmer. We must have this whole gang all ready for the start long before it is nine a.m. in the morning. The champ is in his cabin and he does not come out. Pop orders we must leave Barney be. I do not see Irene or Dutch around anywhere.
“We will first get all these freshwater hopes of ours ready,” Pop explains to me, “and we will then drop in on our champ for a second to say good-by to him. And no matter what remarks I may give off at that time, that is your signal to keep quiet.”
The champ is lying there in his cabin with his clothes on, staring at next to nothing.
“Well, kid,” Pop begins his remarks, “wish us luck. If you do not swim, then you do not swim and that is that. You are the champ and you should know your own business.”
Barney does not move.
“After all, I do not mind your quitting this race,” states Pop, “so much as I mind losing this ten bucks to your friend in the fancy pants, this Lawrence D’Allaird. What a pal he has been to you !”
“He is no pal to me,” Barney says, sitting up, “so do not call that louse a friend of mine.”
“All right. All right,” Pop tells him. “Quiet yourself down. I only happen to hear this fried fish tell your girl friend with the snake’s hips that your stories atout swimming long distance is strictly all in your eye. She believes you, but he says she should wait for the race as he has a tip you will not go ten miles even if the water is soup and they tow you behind a scow in the bargain.”
Barney is now up and walking around. I am thinking of asking a question when I remember this will be my signal to keep quiet as Pop orders.
“Do not burn up at this,” Pop tries to calm him down. “It is just that I cannot take any such crack about one of my toys, and so I step up and lay him a buck a mile he is a fourflusher. I bet him |ten bucks on this. And as I am a man of my words even when I have to eat same, I will now walk off and pay.”
“Stick that ten-spot in your vest and get out of my way,” the champ hollers. “So I have not got the stuff to go ten miles, the heck you say? I will swim ten miles, holding this guy by the throat with one hand.”
Away he goes and us after him. I mention to Pop that this is a very lucky bet he makes, but he only asks me what bet am I talking about.
THE START of a big classic race and mammoth, record-breaking crawl is always something to remember and a wonderful sight. It is one of the most elegant things I ever notice during my whole life as a horse doctor in the swimming game. This is certainly the state of affairs at Lake Mara, for I never see a sweller layout anywhere for a gruelling grind.
There is the lake, so blue that if it was any bluer you would know it must be a phoney. There it is, so smooth you would think it had been rolled overnight. It has a nice sparkle on it, but enough clouds in the sky to kill off the glitter. The big triangle course is all buoyed every few yards, and the speed boats and the launches are cutting around it and across it, flying red flags and yellow flags and carrying police and judges and officials and promoters who are all very big stuff on this occasion. Already there is a big batch of skiffs and rowboats atout a half-mile along the shore leg, waiting to pick up the swimmers at this point. Three hospital boats which are big cabin cruisers are ready to go into action, picking up aces and other swimmers who may go to pieces in the water.
The road to the dressing tents is all jammed and all packed with many interested people in crowds. I am sorry that I cannot be with these people, enjoying this great spectacle, instead of having to go to work on it. We fight our way into the tents, while many swimmers and many managers and many coaches call out to us as we check in, and you can also hear everybody saying that here is the champ and how does he look.
Generally such things will please Barney very much, but this time he pushes through, not speaking to a person. It is all I can do to hold him there while I am getting him greased up. I hear certain persons asking some of our toys what is wrong with the champ. As soon as he is greased, Barney is hopping from one foot to the other foot, wanting to know what is holding up the start. Pop tells me to go down to the take-off and make sure all our boats is out and waiting down the course. Pop is handling the champ himself and I am taking Pete Witt, the sea-going cop. I will also keep an eye out for little Freddy McGonigle. the pocket walrus.
When I walk down to the starting pier I see that Irene is sitting there with Dutch, who is greased and dressed’and must be going to start for sure. I have forgot about them in the rush. Irene is very blue and very quiet.
“Hello, doc,” she says, “I am glad to see you now before the gun. As soon as this is over, I will be gone. This is one finish I do not wish to see for different reasons. But I did not want to go without telling you good-by. Also, will you tell Pop from me that some day I will bake him some more pies and I hope he is not sore at me.”
I am so busy trying to take all this in that I do not remember about Barney for a second. Then it hits me. Irene does not know the champ is going to start.
“Listen, kid,” Lsay to her, “I got a big surprise for you. The world champ is not out of this race like you think. He is up at the tents and all ready to go.”
But Irene only shrugs her shoulders, saying: “Oh, I suppose Pop has gone and got that dame and made her put the work on Barney to change his mind. I thought of that myself!”
1 do not have time to explain except to say that she is not right. Irene acts as if she does not care, but the Dutchman’s face lights up like a lamp.
“Tell the champ I know he wins,” says Dutch, “and I will be out there and doing what he has told me so I can be a credit to him.”
Irene will not even come to speak to Barney before he takes off.
“I am through, doc,” she says when I ask her, “but you take Dutch along with you. It will be a thrill for him. You come down to the start with Barney, kid,” she tells the big fellow. “Stay right by Barney. Do not pay attention to the gun. Barney will let the mob hit the water with the flash and get a few' yards out. Then he will watch for a space to open up, when he will dive off and cut through. You dive with Barney w'hen he goes in, and after that you just swim like I told you. Do not pay attention to anybody or to anything. Only sw'im as best you can, and I will be waiting in the boat for you as you come along.”
Irene gets up and starts along the shore and into the crowd. I am sorry to see her go like this and I would like to say something to her, but such remarks are not in my line. I take the plasterer with me and we go up to the tents. Pop is trying to keep everybody av'ay from the champ, who is in a state.
“You look great, champ,” Dutch says to him. “I bet you win by a mile.”
“I bet I teach a certain mug not to bet ten bucks against me,” Barney states. “I w'ill show this certain mug that ten miles is nothing when I am doing my stuff.”
“Sure, champ,” Dutch agrees. “I know you will do that.”
AT THIS point we hear an announcer who is yelling for all sw'immers to go to the starting pier. As is the custom, the champ must wait until nearly the last while all the punks are rushing out first, hoping they will get in the w'ay of newspaper cameras. As is the custom, the other boys from the same stable also wait. We then w-alk along the grass to the pier together while the crowd is cheering and yelling and the announcer is stating that this is a twenty-two-mile marathon race in fresh water and greatest marathon classic race yet staged in the world, which will be seven times around this three-mile triangular course in the finest lake in the world, and with 329 swimmers starting including greatest living human fish in the world and here is Barney Long, world champion at long distance, now coming down to the start.
Barney does not look up at this. Pop is with him, and Dutch is sticking close as Irene orders him. I tell Pete to watch for me at the outside of the course at the half-mile mark. The edge of the pier is crowded with these swimmers in black grease and in yellow grease and in white grease and in no grease at all. I look at my watch and it is two minutes to nine o’clock in the morning, so I figure there will be a finish around sunset if Barney is going good. But some of these guys, by the looks of them, will still be coming in long after dark if they should last that long.
We are all at the gate to the pier when I hear Barney give a loud yell. It is a rule to have guys in silk hats or otherwise dolled up who come to fire the gun for the start of a big classic race. At Lake Mara, these persons are waiting near the gate and they are important persons such as mayors and governors. As is a custom, they have other people with them, and who should we see there when we look but this delicious dame and this Gwladys and this Lawrence D’Allaird, but he is in different pants this trip. They are also acting as if they are important people.
We hear the champ let out this yell, and before we know what he does he makes a break for this guy. Yes, Barney grabs this Lawrence by the seat of his new pants, then hoisting him up over his head the same as you see some rassler holding another grappler up in the air. He runs out on the pier with him. Gwladys turns loose a scream, but Dutch, who is trying to stick by the champ like he is ordered, tells her to never mind and she yells some more. Barney has got this bird by the one leg, swinging him around, after which he lets him go, pitching him into the lake. This whole thing is a sight which goes over very good with the big crowd.
There is much uproar and rumpus and wondering as to what this is all about. It also seems this Lawrence does not swim at all, so it is lucky there are many people around at the time to save his life. They must carry away this Gwladys who has yelled herself hysterical, and they must carry away this boy friend of hers as they must pump him out before he is much use again.
Pop must do much arguing to square us on this matter, but he is very happy indeed, figuring he will not now suffer the headache due to this art ipob trailing Barney every f(X)t of the race as they promise. So he thinks it is even money that he pilots the champ into the money arid also a g(X)d bet he may paddle home the winner.
The crowd is yelling to start the race off, but it is ten minutes before all swimmers line up again. Then it goes very quiet and very still all in a sudden. We know this is the minute. The announcer is asking if all starters is ready and the gun booms. The water is full of these swimmers as fast as they can fall into it. There is still twenty or thirty aces left on the pier, waiting for a clear take-off. These go in one after the other. 1 see Barney there with Dutch beside him. He says something to the plasterer and they dive off. I see Pete Witt and the pocket walrus have gone a second before, but I do not see the Polish Johnny Weismuller at all so figure he is in the water with the first mob.
It is funny when you put 300 swimmers into the water in a batch, because they are strung out in no time at all. You hear the gun and you hear the big splash, and then there is kicking swimmers already spread over 1(X) yards. The speed swimmers will be cutting out to the front and sprinting to get clear. In a minute or two minutes there is three starters in trouble, with lifesavers in little white boats going after them. These swimmers will say they have been kicked in the head or in the stomach and so knocked out of a race they would otherwise win. But that is a question in my mind. They will be taken to the shore groaning and here they will get their pictures taken, still groaning, which is generally all that they want.
I pick out Pete and he is stroking strong and steady. Barney has already passed him and it looks to me as if the champ is swimming faster than as a rule, so maybe he is more powerful than we think. Dutch is only a few yards from the pier and the only swimmer left at this point, so that some of the crowd starts to hoot at him. I then give the plasterer a cheerful yell, at which he turns over on his back and grins, so I holler that he is doing swell and that he should keep it up.
"COR THE first mile, which is along the shore leg before the swimmers turn out into the lake, there is much excitement, with crowds running along the beach and noise and cheering and halloos to different swimmers. Also at the half a mile mark, while the coaches and the managers and the handlers are picking up their entries, they are standing up in the boats, waving and making signals of all kinds. But as soon as they find these entries and the boats are pulling alongside to guide them, they soon settle down to the long grind. Inside of one hour, it is down to the long grind for the most of us.
Pete is hitting his stroke so exact that at one hour or sixty minutes after the gun, we finish two miles and have turned around the outside buoy in the lake. The many human fish has scattered over the course, separating more and more every mile. We have got a few ahead of us but maybe not more than twenty altogether, and some of these will be the flash performers and the short-distance stars and the sprinters who will soon be dropping out. Freddy, the pocket walrus, is 150 yards behind us. I do not know where the others may be.
It is a very fine day for it, as the saying goes. The speed boats race round and round the course in the sun, trailing white water behind them. One of the hospital cruisers is making a run back to shore, so I know they have already pulled a load of punks out of the water and it will not be long till they have many more. Soon this great classic race will narrow down till only the aces and the dark horses is left. The water is nice. It is not too warm, which is an important thing. If it is too warm, a good swimmer who is all greased up may sweat under this grease, tiring himself out. The lake is smooth. The sky is also smooth and soft. It does not smell like heavy wind. So I decide I will settle myself back into the boat, still keeping an eye on Pete. I decide I will make myself comfortable and will while some weary time away with a number of pork sandwiches.
It is now plug, plug, plug. These big marathons are not like the short races where you will have swimmers going neck and neck. In the first ten miles it does not matter if a guy is a mile ahead of you, so long as you know you are hitting a good clip. This is a gruelling grind, and every swimmer is in there by himself and fighting his own battle to beat the water and the distance. In a case of twenty-two miles, the chances are good for a swimmer that, if he can finish, he will be in the money. You are out there with your human fish, putting in the time and moving your two miles per the hour. It is as regular as the clock tick. He keeps up his crawl and you watch him. You will see the little boats and the heads bobbing ahead of you and behind you. Once in a while some person will stand up in a boat and yell. A launch or other boat will race over and you will see a guy being drug out. He may be a quitter or maybe took with the cramps, or maybe he swims himself unconscious.
In these big crawls, the aces will start to lap the floaters and slow swimmers even at six or seven miles or even sooner. But Pete and I lap our first swimmer along the shore leg of our second lap before we finish four miles. I would give you a number of guesses as to who this swimmer might be but you would not need them. Yes, it is the Dutchman. He has a big gallery with him on the shore, whooping at him, having a big laugh and making many comic statements such as what is your hurry. This does not worry Dutch. Irene is in the boat beside him and I hail her.
“Everything okay, doc?” she asks me.
“Sweet and pretty,” I explain. “They giving the boy a ride for his swimming?”
Irene just grins, saying: “He is still in the race and that is more than a flock of them can say.”
1 ask whether Barney has gone by, and she tells me he has gone by but she does not say anything more.
“How is he looking?” I then ask. “What did Pop say?”
“They went right by,” the girl says. “They did not look over.”
Pete does not change his stroke or his time. At six miles I yell out to a scorer to know where we are in the race. We are in the ninth place. That is very good indeed if we can last. I give Pete the sign and he pulls up and treads water.
I toss him a bottle of soup on a line. He drinks this and rests a minute. Then we go again. I also call out to the scorer to know where is the champ. He says the champ is now in the second place and long gone past this point. Eddie Charles is leading. This Eddie Charles is a speed swimmer out of Boston, so I figure the champ is as good as out in front. This speed swimmer will not last. But he and the champ are away and plenty ahead of the field, which means that Barney must still be holding this hot pace of his.
'“THERE IS not any use by this time trying to dope out -*where you are placed in the race by looking up and down the course. Some of the marathoners that you will see ahead of you will really be nearly three miles behind, while a guy may be a mile behind you and two miles ahead of you at the one and the same time.
As we start our third lap some swimmer behind us comes up very fast, and I see it is Walter Grady with his boy from Europe. I decide this is all a grandstand as the boy is stroking too fast. I do not let Pete try to fight him off but I make Pete rest, and when this Europe boy goes by I also give him a large ha-ha at the time, thinking this will do no harm. It will show Walter we do not fall for tricks. It is a practice in the swimming game at long distance to use sprinters for purposes of tiring out dangerous contenders. Should a dangerous contender, such as Pete, try to race some swimmer who is passing him without knowing who this swimmer is, he may very likely learn what it means to be a sucker. After he battles this flash swimmer he may then discover that the real money marathoner from this same stable is laying back behind, waiting to come on and take him when he wears himself down in silly sprints.
This Europe boy lengthens his lead on us to 100-150 yards as we move along out into the lake. Pete turns the outside buoy to finish eight miles and heads to the shore again, when I see something which may mean trouble. I see a hospital boat and officials’ boats and many little boats about a one-quarter mile ahead. There is something going on, but it is hard to know what as all these boats are moving in and out and across, spoiling the view. I check my time. Pete is in the water 4 hours, 18 minutes. I stop him to ask regarding his eyes in case they are sore. The glims are okay with him. He is fresh and strong.
We are coming up on this crowd of boats ahead, and I am trying to dope it out. I see swimmers in these boats who have been pulled out, and it looks to me as if Walter’s Europe boy is in trouble. I say to myself that this will be a very fine joke on him if it is the case, as he was so smart in going past Pete only a little while before. As we get nearer, I see they are taking Walter’s boy out of the water. As he seems to have lots of power when he takes the lead on us, I wonder what it may be that has happened. They are working on him in one of the boats. He is out.
It is because I am very busy considering this unusual matter up ahead that I do not know anything is wrong with Pete till my rower yells at me. Pete is trying to kick off a cramp in his left leg, which must have come on him very sudden as he is okay the second before. I reach to get some nourishment for him when I hear them calling to me from the boats ahead. They are hollering to keep him going, to keep him coming on. Pete is also trying to do this himself, but that leg is not working. The sea-going cop takes much punishment but he is not one to quit as long as he can float. His kick is now so weak he is practically going on his arms only. It is only for fifty yards that he struggles this way, but it seems more like forty miles when you are sitting there asking yourself will he fold up on the next stroke. Then he turns over and floats, waving for food or nourishment.
TN THIS tough fifty-yard stretch we just finish, swimmers drop out like so many flies. It turns out this lake has got funny, shifting cold currents into it. These are very cold currents indeed, and after the start of this big classic race it happens that one of these icy patches moves over and is now cutting across the course. Should a swimmer hit this icy patch all in a sudden, it is liable to cripple him and to knock him out before he knows what hits him. That is what occurs to this Europe boy. One second he is going great guns, and the next second he is gone. But we are lucky. Pete is a very game fish who does not get the panic at a cramp but fights and does not give up. We are also lucky because I am able to go back and tip off the pocket walrus so that he manages to crawl through.
But I can see from the beating that Pete takes in tnis fifty-yard stretch that any guy who has not plenty of heart and the stuff which it takes will get licked by this cold temperature in a minute. It is now the early afternoon, and they tell me there is maybe 140 swimmers left at the last check. But this cold will cut them down as fast as they come along.
I ask whether the champ gets through okay. I learn he goes through without a shiver, acting as if he does not know it is there. He does not slow up or rest or take nourishment since the start of this big splash.
We finish our third lap which is nine miles, and we are now in the fifth place. This is very good. But I check Pete by the watch and he has slowed up. Fighting off this cramp takes a lot out of him. This is not so good. I yell at a scorer, who tells me the champ is leading and he has put a mile between him and the second swimmer. This is very good indeed.
“How is he going?” I yell.
“He is going like a fire-tug on passing this point,” I am told. “If he holds this pace, it is a record.”
I am thinking Barney is certainly swimming a race for the book, when I am surprised to hear a voice from a speedboat which is the voice of Pop. He climbs into the tx)at with me.
“Where is the champ?” I ask him.
“He is in the limbo, doc,” Pop tells me.
“Who is with him there?” I then ask, not knowing of any such place in this neighborhood.
“The forgotten man,” Pop remarks. “Barney and the forgotten man are the one and the same person after this, so far as I am concerned. Oh, well, there is no use crying about spilled milk, especially when it is sour milk at that.”
The champ is out. He quits when he is fresh and strong and when there is not any other contender in sight of him. For ten miles Barney swims the great race of his lifetime. He is eating up the miles and he is stroking too fast, but Pop cannot slow him down. When they are on the shore leg, starting the fourth lap, Pop believes the beach mobs must have gone to Barney’s head. He chases down the course, passing two and three swimmers like they are so many stationary buoys. It is a fine sight to watch for the spectators, especially as there is also Pop to see, who is sitting in his boat having the jitters. When the champ reaches the ten-mile mark, he is going like the finish of some 100-metre dash.
At this point he stops, waving his arms and seeming very pleased. Before Pop can move, the champ sprints for the shore and walks up on the beach. Pop is so mad that he hops out of the boat, wading after Barney. I would say that would be something to watch as nobody sees Pop in any water like this since hs is a boy.
“I guess that will prove can I swim ten miles or not,” Barney tells Pop. “You will never lose no ten bucks on me. No bum can insult a champ unless he wishes to be shown up for a false alarm.”
WELL, there is the honest, true story why Barney Long, world champion at long distance, quits in this big Lake Mara classic at ten miles, which is a thing many persons do not understand. Barney does not even know he is in the race, only remembering he is called a bust who cannot swim ten miles.
“I blame myself, doc,” Pop groans to me, “as I could easy as not have told Barney I bet one hundred bucks because this guy states the champ cannot swim one hundred miles.”
In the state he is in, on this date, both in his mind and in his body, Barney is as likely as not to swim 100 miles, for all I would know, thus setting an all-time record for everywhere.
From these matters, you will see there is no reason for nasty cracks about Barney being a quitter such as are written up in the papers after this great classic race. Also I do not believe those stories regarding Pop, especially that he is standing up in the boat, waving an oar and yelling to get him into range of Barney so that he can make sure the champ never reaches shore alive. I do not believe this, no matter what all those people say they saw.
Continued on page 22
Continued from page 20—Starts on page 18
When I tell Pop about this icy cold water out on the third leg which is freezing swimmers as fast as they hit it, I am expecting more groaning. I am wrong.
“Oho, oho,” Pop remarks. “Oho, oho and also ha-ha.”
Pop then offers to make me a promise if this patch of North Pole water will stay put a few hours more.
"This promise will be that as sure as you are a horse doctor who does not know one end of a horse from its head, there is not any swimmer living on this world who can finish any twenty-two mile stretch in this lake,” he says.
If no swimmer can finish, then the champ is not beaten, as it is a rule you do not beat the champ in a big classic race if you do not finish either. But the important thing is this twenty-five grand and other large money for prizes. Pop gives me many new instructions, telling me to check all swimmers from our stable which we have left. He will stay and handle Pete.
We change our plans, slowing up our swimmers and figuring to keep them in the water by hook and crook till practically all other entries is out. Then Pop can go to the race committee and work himself in a lather, claiming we are robbed and we are gypjxxl and the big classic race is a phoney from the beginning. He will weep over bringing his stable of hopes at great cost for long training, and will state that this marathon is framed by persons who know about these cold currents and so lay out the course to catch the aces. The icy water will kill them off so that there will be no finishers and no winners to get these chunks of prize dough.
After he has done this, Pop will be able to make what is called a complaint or protest in the swimming game. He will also offer to write the papers everywhere regarding this dirty w’ork. This way, Pop figures he will make them come across with a split to the last fish in the race. If we hold our boys back, it will turn out we still have a couple courageous battlers in there when other handlers who is not so smart, find themself with all their boys on the shore and in the hospital.
Pop has certainly called it. This ice current picks them off as neat as if slugged on the head. By four o’clock there is only thirty-five swimmers in the water. We have got three out of these. We have got Pete Witt, the sea-going cop, and we have got Freddy McGonigle, the pocket walrus, and we have got a dark horse who is a farmer boy by the name Honest John. He is miles behind, but he is still in. We are not expecting anything from him at all. In fact, he is only in our stable because he can pay for his board. But there you are. You do not know when it is going to pay you to be kind to some person.
The pocket walrus is not in good shape. I nurse him along, keeping him moving so he will not stiffen up. I keep yelling at the judges and others as these go by: “How many? How many in now?”
The swimmers drop off very fast and there is great excitement on the shore and many spectators putting out in boats. I hear the news that Pop takes Pete through this gruelling ice water okay and that Pete still swims, though very slow indeed. Even so, the sea-going cop is leading. I do not think I can get the pocket walrus through the cold any more. It is only because he is so tough that he has not been pulled out by now. But I keep him in the water till near seven o’clock. He still goes through the motions w’hen he has not the strength left to drive a tack. W’e haul him into the boat and call out for help, as the pocket walrus must go to the shore hospital and get put to bed.
When he goes to pieces, there is only four swimmers left. Honest John is out a few minutes before. Our dark horse is swimming distance via the breast stroke and he must be a very powerful boy indeed to last as long as he does. Supposing there is no finish, this means the pocket walrus takes fifth position and Honest John is seven and both inside the money. Then we still got Pete, the sea-going cop and the leader.
A FTER I take the walrus to the hospital and check up on Honest John, it is getting late. It is beginning to go dark on the shore when I get back to the grind. There are many cars lining up on the beach in rows and turning on their headlights. I hear the race is down to two swimmers. Pete is away in the lead, and a great huge lumberjack from the Pacific Coast by the name Beck is one mile and one-half behind. I go out to be with Pop. Pete is very tired and the leg is no good.
“He is swimming on his nerve,” Pop says, shaking his head. “I call to him to come out, but he does not hear me. Go look over this other swimmer, whoever he is. If he is strong, I will pull Pete out now. He only swims any longer because he has not the sense to quit. I cannot argue with him, but I can settle this matter very quick by hauling him into this boat which is what I will do.”
When I get a slant at this lumberjack in the water, I can see it will all be over for him in a few minutes or less. He is in a terrible state. The lifesavers is standing by, and a judge ye\\s that they should pull this swimmer out as he is floundering. But his coach will not take him out as long as he is on top of the lake. I get a promise they will signal the second he is out, and we get this news almost as fast as I get back to Pop.
We have got the only swimmer that is still in this big classic race and he is Pete Witt, the sea-going cop, a very game boy. There is no way that any ace can beat him because there is nobody left to do it. But it is a cinch that even Pete will not have the strength to finish. So we stand up in the boat and we yell and we holler at Pete, telling him to quit and not take any more punishment. He does not hear us. I throw him a bottle of soup on a line but he does not reach for it.
“Call for a judge’s boat,” Pop orders me, “so it will be official Pete is still in the water at this time and everybody else is out. And as fast as they are alongside, I am pulling Pete out.”
But Pete is too far gone to wait for any judge’s boat to come alongside. All in a second he sinks, and two lifesavers who are watching him very careful, dive overboard the second he goes. The hospital boat is there with blankets and a doctor. They have him wrapped up by the time he is dragged over the side, and they go to work on him. Pete has swum himself unconscious and as far as he knows, when they get him on shore, he is still out there swimming.
There is a terrific crowd when we land and we hear much arguing and talking. This trouble about prize money is already starting.
“The rules is very plain and every swimmer has signed his entry abiding by these rules,” a guy is saying. “To win these prizes, any swimmers must first finish this twenty-two mile course.”
But persons on the committee, so we hear, think it will be a decent thing not to abide by these plain rules in such a case, while people on all sides mention the wonderful performance and endurance of Pete Witt, the sea-going cop. From the way the talk goes. Pop figures that these Lake Mara people will play it on the level and it will be an honest deal. He tells me that in the spot we are in, an honest deal will be the best thing for us.
The committee reports that they will meet and vote regarding this matter But first they call in all scorers, all checkers and observers for their reports on this big classic crawl, so that they can check all swimmers’ standings, speeds and positions at various times. The scorer from the outside buoy in the lake has his big score sheet with names and numbers of all entries and records of all laps. He has checked off all swimmers passing this buoy and they are all out long before except Beck and Pete Witt.
It is now very dark on the shore and on the lake. Some people on the beach are lighting bonfires at different points and having fun. There is still a slather of persons on hand witnessing this mammoth race. The committee orders the police boats to make sure the course is clear. Then they will have this important meeting.
A big searchlight on the pier is turned loose on the lake. It sweeps across the water like a broom. First, it picks up that outside buoy more than a mile out, and then it comes in along the third leg. This leg is as bare as a bam floor. Next, it picks up that buoy again and sweeps along the second leg. But not very far from the buoy it stops, because there is a little boat sitting out there which might be a swimmer’s boat but you cannot tell if there is a swimmer.
“Send out a launch and tell that boat to come off the course,” a judge states.
The launch goes out but it stays there.
“My doctor tells me at different times that I should take voyages for my good health,” Pop remarks to me. “My secret thoughts tell me that this is one of those times. Get us a boat. If that is a swimmer out there, I am laying you odds he is a dark horse without any manager. Right now is when he should get himself a suitable person to look out for his best interests on the percentage system. So let us be there first as the party of the first part.”
Away we go and when we get there, we are very surprised birds indeed. Who is in this little boat, sitting up there with lots of dignity, but Barney Long, the world champion at long distance. And who is beside him in this little boat, looking like many pleasant dreams, but Irene. And who would you say is in the water alongside this little boat? It is the famous floating plasterer, Dutch Hill, and it is nobody else whatever.
T\UTCH HAS been in this great classic race for twelve hours and some extra. So far as I can see, he looks as fresh as he is at the start. For him, he gives a miracle performance because he swims nearly two miles. But it is not any head-work or master-minding that keeps him in this race, as neither Barney and Irene or neither the floating plasterer himself knows what is going on.
When Barney quits, he thinks Pop is acting very dirty after all his talk about swimming ten miles. Also he finds persons on the shore looking at him very queer, while newspaper guys are pouncing on him to ask what is his big idea and what kind of a guy has he turned out to be. The champ is much upset and he is all alone, and these persons around and about are not acting toward him as if he is any world champion at long distance. Such things hurt his dignity. He goes back to the camp. But he is still all alone, and he begins wondering about different things, such as where Irene may be. The more he wonders, the more he would like to see her. Then he wonders if she may still be out on the lake with Dutch, and at last he hunts himself a boat and goes looking for her and finds her.
“If you have already sent along your renewal, please disregard this request entirely.”
This sentence appears at the top of all notices sent you advising that your subscription is due for renewal.
The routine of a large subscription list requires a period of a few days before a renewal can be recorded. A notice, therefore, may in some instances go forward to you even after, remittance actually has reachedus. In such cases, please ignore the notice and accept our regrets and thanks.
There is a lot of talk between Barney and Irene, with both of them doing much of the talking. Dutch is in the water beside the boat at this time, and he says it turns out to be very nice talk indeed. But I will let you figure for yourself what kind of talk it may be. Barney tells Irene how the mob on shore is treating him. Irene says they will go in and beat it quick, and forget about Lake Mara and about everything in connection with it.
But Barney states that he wishes to stay out of people’s way till all crowds are gone. So they sit out in the little boat with each other, and with Dutch moving along a few feet every now and then. As the icy stretch is away off on the third leg, Dutch never gets near it and does not know there is such a thing. When it gets dark, Barney and Irene find it is pleasant to be out in a little boat together, so they do not hurry to come ashore and the champ is becoming a very changed man while these things are going on.
Well, it is a great surprise to them to learn what has happened to the classic marathon crawl. But I would not say it is as great as the shock to us on finding them out there, with Dutch still floating around and Barney a changed man.
“You done a smart job up to now, Irene,” says Pop, “and as I see you are tired, I will take over so you can get a rest.”
“Oh, no,” Irene comes back. “I am afraid you have this wrong. I remember what you say you will do to any person suggesting you have any part of this swimmer. So I will introduce you to his manager, who is Mr. Barney Ivong. Mr. Long retires this afternoon from swimming in the swimming game, and now devotes all his time to his entry who is here in the water alongside. Act like a manager, kid.”
Barney stands up in the boat and looks into the dark, talking like a manager and sounding very wise.
“Head straight for the buoy, Dutch,” he orders the plasterer, who is now floating.
“Okay, champ,” says a voice from the lake.
“I’ll keep the boat headed on the buoy,” he says, “in case you go too fast to watch it. Yes, Pop,” he remarks to us, “it looks as if I pilot my pal here in as the winner.”
“Of course that will take us maybe five and maybe six days more,” Irene puts in, “but that is okay with us as we are not doing anything special just now.”
At this ixfint a riot begins on the lake, as many boats and launches are arriving. It is some minutes before these people understand there is still one swimmer in their big classic race, who is not getting anywhere but does not care and will keep on not getting anywhere for some hours to come.
The judges and officials and the promoters and others are fit to be tied. They yell in different directions, but Barney and Irene sit very tight, pretending to be coaching Dutch and stating that he is a natural for a twenty-two-mile grind, though this will take him many days.
“How are you going, Dutch?” Bc-rney hollers every few minutes.
“Okay, champ,” the plasterer hollers back.
“Can you hold this speed for three or more days?” Barney asks next.
“Okay, champ,” is the answer out of the water.
These judges check the speed Dutch is making, and they find he is doing not quite fifty feet per the half hour. He has twenty miles to go. For all they can tell, he is good for all night and more. They do not wish to sit out there all night with him. Irene tells them that this floater has trained by sitting in a bath tub of water for a week at a time. They do not know what to do. They are hopping.
These committee men hold little meetings on the lake a number of yards away. They send back a message ordering Dutch to quit. He does not quit. Then they send messages back offering cash money if he will get out of the lake. Left to himself, Dutch will get in and out of any lake all day for ten bucks, but he will not move unless Barney and Irene tell him it is okay, and they tell him to stay where he is.
The word goes round the beach regarding the famous floating plasterer who can last for days, and the lake is now crowded with boats. A newspaper guy yells at Dutch to know what he would like most in the world at this minute. The plasterer thinks very hard and then says he would like a nickel cigar, as he does not smoke since he starts in to train. I hear a judge ask what kind of remarks his wife will make to him if he stays out all night, only to come home and say he is on the lake all this time with a floating plasterer. He states this is not one of the better stories in such a case.
It takes nearly 4 hours 10 minutes before it is settled, and then only when Barney and Irene go into a huddle with Pop. They agree they will let Barney quit if this committee will write certain statements on a paper and will sign this paper. There is a large howl over these statements, but what else can they do? So they do it. They are to lump the first and the second prizes together, and split all this money even between Dutch Hill, the floating plasterer and Pete Witt, the sea-going cop. Then all remaining prize moneys are also to be paid according to merit. At this we pull Dutch into the boat, and there is a wonderful uproar on all sides, including much shouting and flares going off and rockets and also several persons firing off guns. That is the finish of the big classic crawl at Lake Mara.
NOW THIS is the honest, true inside story of this great race and, in my experience, it is different from most races. Many persons seem to ask me questions regarding this matter, so I decide I will answer these questions once and for all. This may also explain to you several queer things about the swimming game at long distance, such as why a swimmer who is never heard of before becomes the sensation of a classic crawl but does not swim again in any race but goes back to the building business and stays there. It may also explain why Barney Long, world champion at long distance, retires and is very happy running a gas station with his wife, Mrs. Barney, who is a great hand to bake blueberry pies. It may also explain a certain remark which Barney often makes when the question of the art comes up. This remark is: “I know all about the art, and it is a mug’s game.”
There is only one thing I do not explain to you, and that is because I do not know the answer myself. I still hear argument regarding this point. It is the question as to who wins this classic, whether it is Pete Witt who swims fourteen miles in eleven hours, or whether it is Dutch Hill who swims two miles in sixteen hours. I do not know.
I ask Irene about this matter one time just after she becomes Mrs. Barney, but she does not help me.
“Who is really the winner in this great race?” is my question.
“You wish to know who really wins in this marathon?” Irene says, laughing. “Well, I will tell you a secret, doc. I am the winner.”