By HOLWORTHY HALL
Author of "Henry of Navarre, Ohio," etc.
LET it be understood that every stranger at Warwick is presumed innocent until he steps out on the turf. It is only when he accepts a starting-card from the caddy-master that he becomes an object of suspicion and interest. No fairway was ever seriously injured by club-house conversation, so that an alien's claim of eighty-five rests undisputed up to the point of trial; but statistics show that the man who in the grill-room prophesies eighty-five or better for his first round at Warwick generally scores one hundred and ten or worse; and this average includes both the golfer who can excavate more rapidly with a spoon than a longshoreman with a shovel and the experienced man who ordinarily could proceed from one strategic position to another, chosen carefully in advance. They may know golf, but they don't know Warwick; and as they lag wearily to the players' entrance, they are mentally competent to appreciate the fugitive verse painted in small letters above the door. The underlying thought is one which a circuit judge is said to have conceived with respect to Miss Muller. It is n't humorous.
Seen from the elevation of the veranda, the course is beautiful rather than suggestive of good golf; it presents the cultivated appearance of a millionaire's lawn, landscaped by the king of expert gardeners. Trees by Corot and brooks by Inness lie in a background of charming composition; vast reaches of lawn in the middle distance temper the glare of sunlight; far to the east a Maxfield Parrish harbor sleeps peacefully beneath a blanket of clouds by Elmer Garnsey. The sheer sweep of turf is nowhere marred by unsightly sand-pits; the ungainly cop-bunker is visible not at all. Save for an occasional oasis for a putting-green, an occasional direction-flag whipping in the breeze, the course might be a deer-park or a national reservation. Obviously, to the stranger on the veranda, it is too well manicured to offer sport. It is too refined. It lacks the complications without which no true golfer can be content. It should be maintained exclusively for poets and artists; surely it is n't a test course for a red-blooded human being equipped with a dreadnought driver and a heavy mashy which scars the ground at every shot. Why, for a man to take turf at Warwick would be equivalent to mayhem!
But the professional who supervised the engineering was by birth a seer and a bushwhacker by education. To judge from the craftiness displayed in his handiwork, he could probably have ambushed an Apache in broad daylight in the middle of a field as level and unobstructed as a billiard-table. Not merely against par does one compete at Warwick; not against the decrepit and outlawed colonel; not even against an opponent in the flesh: the game is played against the fiendish imagination and ingenuity of Donald Ross. Witness the unexpected, hanging side-hill lies; witness the undulating greens of almost impossible keenness; witness the paucity of hazards, the infrequency of rough, the astonishing presence of both whenever a shot wanders fitfully from the line of geometrical progress. The dainty brook by Inness, the trees by Corot, so stand that to avoid them the study of triangulation is utterly essential. That soft strip of grass, which seemed the most inconsequential species of rough, proves to be the falsest of beards concealing the identity of swale and swamp. An impenetrable morass masquerades, from the club-house, as a Japanese garden. Neither bunker nor trap impedes the player in his journey from tee to green; everywhere his gaze falls upon the natural coloring of a lawn, but in some places the blades rise three inches higher than they do in other places. So the amateur record is still seventy-five.
On a certain particularly attractive morning in July, Mr. Robert Corbett, President, and Mr. Samuel Bowker, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, met in the New York office of a real-estate corporation. Five minutes later they were staring first at each other, then at the diffident gentleman who temporarily controlled their golfing destinies. This was a gentleman of tremendous ideas; one could easily discern the fact from the frown which he wore as a business adjunct, and from the ineffable forward thrust of his shoulders, which brought his chest into deserved prominence.
"Unfortunately—for you," said Mr. Farwell, again breaking the silence, "our purpose in conducting this company is to sell real property. The Warwick Estates is n't an eleemosynary institution in any sense of the word. Already we 've renewed the lease of the golf club two years beyond the limit we originally set; we can't renew it further. Of course, if you care to buy—"
"What I can't understand," mused Corbett, "is what prevented you from giving us a little notice."
Mr. Farwell spread his hands, intentionally expressive.
"It may have been an oversight, but you should have realized the conditions. As I said before, our business is n't to publish notices; it's to sell real property-"
"What's the price?" demanded Bowker, compressing his jaws.
"The price is five hundred thousand dollars."
"The exact amount," said Mr. Farwell, complacently, "that we should expect to receive, gross, after developing the property and selling it at acreage figures."
"And you won't take into consideration the desirability of having the club in Warwick? You've still got three or four hundred acres. Won't the club help you sell them? Is n't it worth something to your company to keep the club alive?"
"Not a nickel," denied Mr. Farwell. "Land is land. The only price I can make is the one I quoted, and the very best I can do is to give you an option until the first of September."
"Mortgage?" asked Corbett.
"Two hundred thousand, the balance in cash."
"But, look here, you must know the status of the club tract. In the market it is n't worth more than sixty per cent, of what you ask for it. We could n't get a second mortgage of any size; you 're virtually demanding three hundred and fifty thousand cash!"
"Precisely," agreed Mr. Farwell, without enthusiasm.
Bowker reflected upon the terms.
"Out of the question," he stated flatly. "The club is n't a bank, Mr. Farwell. We've very few wealthy members. We want men who play golf; it's been something of a strain to pay the overhead as it is. Even so, I think we might come to some agreement on the basis of an increased rental—"
"No," said Mr. Farwell, yawning slightly; "we 're selling the property. It's immaterial whether you or some one else takes it off our hands; but we 're selling. If you want a little leeway, if you want to put it up to your members, we 'll arrange for a formal option. Unless you decide to buy, we shall have to make arrangements to begin developing in the near future. Just one thing more: please don't come to us with counter-propositions, because we can't entertain them. We 'll take a first mortgage at two hundred thousand, and four hundred thousand cash. If you like, we 'll undertake to secure a second mortgage for you on commission, but we can't carry it ourselves. That, I think, covers it."
Corbett drew a long, long breath.
"It seems so. I suppose you want real money for your option, too?"
Mr. Farwell was pained.
"My dear Mr. Corbett, you misunderstand me completely. This is nothing but a straightforward business plan to sell land which we own; you 're taking it as a personal matter. On the contrary, you can have your option at the minimum legal consideration—one dollar, technical, nominal."
"Have it drawn," said Bowker.
"Now? Why sha'n't I mail it to you?"
"We'd better take it with us," said Bowker. "We'd better show it to the governing board. If we told 'em your price, and had nothing in the way of proof, they'd think we were joking."
"Just as you like," conceded Mr. Farwell, smiling faintly. "If you'll wait perhaps ten minutes—" He summoned a stenographer; Corbett looked at Bowker, Bowker glared at Corbett.
"I was going out to play," said the president under his breath. "Wonder if we ought to go down town and see the banks?"
"Wait until it rains," advised Bowker. "Too good a day to see bankers. Are you made up for the afternoon?"
"We need a man. Want to come in?"
"Gladly. What are you doing?"
"Oh, around eighty-five."
"I have n't had a club in my hand for two weeks, but I 'll do about ninety."
"Bet you the caddy hire you don't."
"No-o," declined the president, cautiously; "I have n't touched a club for so long. But I 'll tell you what I will do: I 'll bet the caddy hire you are n't under a hundred."
"No," said Bowker. "You see, I just bought a new mid-iron; I'm likely to be a bit off this afternoon. Oh, are you ready for us?"
"Sign here, please," said Mr. Farwell, cheerfully.
By the first of August the Warwick Club was gloomily contemplating the prospect of dissolution. Committees and subcommittees were appointed and disbanded with the celerity which obtains in Balkan politics; money was subscribed, pledges were taken, promises were made, and the total amount involved was n't a quarter of the amount required. Bowker had toured the banks, and returned in discomfiture.
"They all admit," he said savagely, "that in a few years the land will be worth that much, but they can't see it now. I'm through, fellows. I 've done everything I can. It's no use. The best thing for us to do is to get our names up for some other club as soon as we can."
"I'm afraid so," granted Horton, the club champion. "There really was n't much use trying; you can't raise four hundred thousand among four hundred members in a club of this kind."
"When you 're all through talking," said Corbett, "I 'll tell you something I 've been holding back. I know one man—a person—who might finance the whole thing for us; he has the money."
"Don't wake me up," said Bowker, softly.
"Perfectly true," insisted Corbett. "And the reason I'm waiting is because I don't know what to do."
"It ought to be easy," said Horton. "Simply go in and ask him for a loan of four hundred thousand for a few years. What's simpler than that?"
"Sarcasm aside," reprimanded the president, "nothing could be simpler than that."
"You mean you know a possible way out of this mess, and you have n't even begun to negotiate?"
"That's exactly what I mean. The man happens to be a sort of relative of my wife. Nine or ten million, I suppose—retired a few years ago. He was in steel. Incidentally, he's buying nothing but real-estate just now."
Bowker sat up.
"Well, what have you been doing?"
"Thinking," said Corbett. "I don't doubt for a minute that if I could get my man out here, let him look over the land, investigate values, and all that, he'd help us out—at a profit to himself. Of course I can't say what he would do, but I think he'd be willing to give us cash and take a bond and mortgage. Perhaps he'd even buy the property outright and keep on leasing it to us. It's only a chance—"
"Then why have n't you done something about it?"
Corbett grinned in deprecation.
"He plays golf."
"Well, is n't that all the better?"
"Hardly. Let me explain. Cuyler—that's the man's name—Cuyler's sixty-seven years old. He took up the game ten years ago. Up to that time he could n't even talk about it intelligently; to-day his improvement is inconceivable."
"Plays well, does he?"
"No," said Corbett; "talks. Honestly, he could give Jerry Travers two adjectives a hole, and beat him without half trying. You listen to him before he goes out or after he comes back, and you 'll think he broke the course record. But in the meantime—"
"I 've played this game for a good many years," said Corbett, "and I 've seen some wonderful exhibitions. I 've seen men lose their tempers, and I 've seen them break their clubs. I 've heard some alibis that would have given Ananias material for another couple of centuries. But when John Cuyler gets up to the tee—well, it's a new chapter."
"Still, I don't see your argument."
"If I brought him out here," explained Corbett, patiently, "he'd have to be entertained. He's been a big man, an important man; he's always had attention, and he loves it. There'd have to be a luncheon before the game—incidentally, he never plays in the morning. If he were n't entertained, he'd never forget it; so that it would n't do to prejudice him unfavorably before the start. All right. During luncheon he'd begin to talk. He'd talk some of the best golf you ever heard in your life; and he's so constituted that he sees the events of last month through a golden haze. If he made a certain hole in seven, he 'll estimate that if he'd putted another inch to the right, he'd have been down in six. Morally he's sure it was six. Fine! Then a little later he 'll remember that his drive was a few yards in the rough, and it cost him a stroke to get out. If his drive had been straight, he'd have saved the stroke. Good! He knows he could have made a five instead of a six if he'd tried a little harder. Morally at least a five. Then if his approach had been thirty yards farther—you ought to get the idea by this time. I 've played Montclair with him when he made a hundred and twenty-one; two weeks afterward it was ninety-nine; about this time he 'll say he did Montclair in eighty-three, and he'll describe every stroke in detail!"
"He's on the road to be a regular player," said Bowker.
"To continue. He recites these things and then goes out, and for three or four holes he 'll put in a string of alibis that 'll stagger you. Then when he sees that it won't do—sky-high! What he 'll say or what he 'll do is beyond me to imagine. I 'll tell you this much: he invests in a good many schemes, he plays a good deal of golf, but there is n't a case on record when he was sold on the links. It can't be done. Furthermore, he's never yet done business with a man he played with beforehand. He's too much chagrined and mortified and full of conscience. And certainly he would n't consider buying this golf property without playing here. If he does, and if he plays his best game, he won't better a hundred and twenty, because this is the stiffest course in the district. During the round he 'll say some things that'll stop business right there. I know. Why, we were playing Montclair with a man who thought he was persuading Cuyler to come in with him on a scheme which would, and eventually did, net three hundred per cent. Before we got off, Cuyler talked in the low eighties. He was twenty-nine for four holes. On the fifth he accused the other man of sneezing so as to spoil a putt, and It was all over. Now, that's the only chance I have. Remember, we 're not asking for a loan of personalty; we want cash. If you want to risk your peace of mind, I 'll risk mine, and we 'll have him out here—"
"If he happened to have some luck," said Horton, slowly, "it would n't hurt us, would it?"
"We might use the ladies' tees," added Bowker. "That would cut ten strokes off his score."
"What's the best he's ever done?"
"Why, a hundred and four or five."
"That's at least a hundred and twenty on this course," said Horton.
"A hundred and ten from the short tees, though," persisted Bowker.
Corbett, who had been drumming on the table with his fountain-pen, suddenly ceased.
"Wait a second."
"A mortal thought, is it?"
"Possibly. I wonder—"
"Don't disturb him!" said Horton.
Corbett brought his hand in startling contact with the champion's knee.
I' ve got it!"
"I realize that; you did n't need to flatten it out entirely."
"No, listen! All we need is a thousand dollars and three weeks' time—"
"I 'll contribute the time," said Bowker.
The president beamed beatifically upon them.
"Both of you be here at nine o'clock Monday morning without fail. By the way, how much confidence do you think the club has in me?"
"All there is. Why?"
"Because on Sunday night," stated Corbett, "the club-house and the links close up tight for three weeks by virtue of the authority vested in me—for the good of the people and all that sort of thing. The club-house and course will close for three solid weeks, and I don't intend to give anybody any reasons."
From the moment that they sat down to lunch with Mr. Cuyler both Horton and Bowker recognized the truth of the president's description of him. He was a short, stout man, forceful and incisive; his manner invited, and yet defied, contradiction.
"A pretty course—a pretty course from up here," he began. "Looks too easy, though; not enough trouble. Par seventy-two? That's fair enough. Suppose you young fellows crack eighty right along. I'm not in your class; I'm satisfied with eighty-five or so. Bob, did you hear I 've got to quit?"
"Not golf?" inquired Corbett.
"Yes, sir; doctors say so. Say it's hurting me. I can't see it, but I look at it this way: what do they gain by making me quit? Answer, nothing at all. Can't be mercenary. Next reason, I'm not fool enough to pay a doctor—best doctor in the world—thirteen or fourteen hundred a year for advice, and then not take it. So pretty soon I 'll have to stop."
Bowker kicked Horton under the table.
"Er—you'll be glad to have played Warwick," said Horton, desperately.
"I dare say, sir. Heard a lot about it; very hard, they say. Long carries."
"Corbett tells us you 're a long driver, though," remarked Bowker.
"Very long at times, very long indeed. Out at Montclair I was driving well—remember it, Bob?"
"You surely were," said Corbett.
"What was it I made? Eighty-nine, I think. It was a bad day, extremely bad. It's an easy course; ought to have been eighty-one or two. I'm likely to play very well or very badly, gentlemen. Don't be alarmed whatever happens. If I'm on my game, I may give you a rub."
"A great many good players do poorly the first time around Warwick," said Corbett, gravely. "There's no doubt that it's the hardest course in the East, anyway."
"Let's be at it!" said Cuyler, impatiently.
As the quartet emerged from the club-house, the capitalist paused.
"How much of this is yours?" he queried.
"Over two hundred acres. The land across the road is held at three thousand an acre, but of course, that's developed."
"Looks like a good buy. We 'll talk business later, Bob. It's better than I expected. Would n't mind having it in my own family. Well, where do we begin?"
"The first hole," said Horton, "is just over the brow of the first hill. You have a card, have n't you?"
"Thanks. Three hundred and ninety yards. How far does that rough go?"
"A hundred and eighty. It is n't the sort of rough you're probably used to; it's simply good grass about four inches high," cautioned Horton.
"Shoot!" said Mr. Cuyler.
The champion drove prettily; Corbett and Bowker followed; the capitalist stood on the tee and waved his driver threateningly.
"I have n't had a club in my hands for nineteen days," he said, "and my hands are cold. Never mind; I 'll scratch along somehow." He drove clear across the taller grass, and was delighted to find his ball within twenty yards of Horton's.
"Beautiful drive, Mr. Cuyler," said Bowker in his ear. "Horton's champion of the club,—handicapped four in the national,—and he hit his ball perfectly, too."
"Oh, I get 'em off now and then. Brassy, boy!" He topped it badly, but the ball rolled to the summit of the little hill, and dipped toward the hollow.
"On!" called Horton. "Good shot!"
They all made fours; as they proceeded to the second tee, Mr. Cuyler was moved to eloquence.
"Any man who takes more than four on that hole," he said, "ought to be put off the course. Three hundred and ninety yards is a short hole. I could have made it with a drive and a mashy. Can't expect to use the right clubs when I don't know where the flag is." He imbedded his ball in an immense cone of sand. "Don't suppose any of you brought a pair of gloves? Well, never mind; only it ends me. Can't hold on to a club without 'em; it turns right over in my hand." He lunged powerfully, and surveyed the result for several seconds. "Well, that's a shot any lady'd be proud of."
"Lady!" said Bowker. "You're half-way to the green!"
"Look at it! It did n't carry far, but it must have rolled a hundred and fifty yards."
"I don't know what it is," said Mr. Cuyler, speaking gently, in order that Corbett would not overhear him, "but usually I get an enormous roll on the ball. Have n't the least idea what does it. Something I do to it, I suppose."
"You keep on hitting 'em the same way," said Horton, sagely, "and you 'll make a good score."
"It's a fearful handicap; I don't know the distances," said Mr. Cuyler. "Play to left or right of the green?"
"Left, by all means, and well to the left."
Mr. Cuyler sliced thirty degrees to the right.
"I knew it," he said bitterly. "The caddy stood just where I could see him out of the tail of my eye. Boy, are you on exhibition? Did you mark that ball? Know where it is?" He went forward, elucidating the caddy's pedigree to him as he went. The others played up to the green; Mr. Cuyler found himself hole high, in grass to his shoe-tops. "If I only had a mashy-niblick," he accused the caddy. "This thing is n't balanced right. Still—" He chipped out to the green, and took two putts; and overcome by the realization that his score was good, he regarded the ball for several seconds and stole furtive glances at his partners. Once he made as though to speak to Corbett, but chose the part of discretion, and endeavored to look diffident.
"Did you see him play his third?" said Horton to Bowker, very loudly. "He talks about playing in the eighties. I don't believe he ever made an eighty in his life; he makes seventies." The capitalist, who had started angrily, became calmer at the conclusion of the last sentence.
"I should have been on in two," he asserted, still holding Corbett with his eye. "Absolutely threw away a stroke. My regular game, though—throw away one stroke every hole. Well, I got a five; should have been a four. I was saying, if I had a mashy-niblick I'd have had a four. Well, I'm one over four for two holes. Where's the next one?"
They showed it to him. On the right, parallel with the line, ran a row of trees cunningly planted in echelon; a boundary wall of jagged stones. Curling delicately around the green, a brook offered lodging to any transient ball which left the straightest route or overran. Between this and the tee lay luxuriant grass that was evidently meant to be retentive.
"Not having had a club in my hands for nineteen days," said Mr. Cuyler, "I may not make it. I see you 've got to land on the green, and stick. I may not do it; probably I won't." He did n't; but the ball bobbed and bobbed until at last it trickled within a dozen feet of the hole and came to rest. He looked at the divot he had slashed; he examined critically the head of his driver. "Little muscular strain in my shoulder," he confessed. "Had a touch of neuritis last night. It's a wonder I can get 'em off the ground."
"If there had n't been power behind it," said Bowker, "you would n't have. That's what got you through." He pitched squarely on the flag; the ball bounded into the brook.
"You hesitate at the top of your swing," said Mr. Cuyler. "You'll pardon me for saying so, but it's very noticeable." He marched dignifiedly down to his ball, and took three skittish putts. "One over four for three holes," he stated, fighting down his pride. "If your course has correct architecture, the next hole ought to be a long one."
"Five hundred and thirty yards," said Corbett. "You want to clear the brook on your drive, that's all."
"He'd better play safe," objected Bowker.
Mr. Cuyler addressed his ball gingerly. His hands trembled, and his shoulders sagged limply. His mouth was firmly set; his eyes showed indomitable resolution, mixed with unholy fear.
"If you gentlemen will stop talking," he mumbled. "It throws me off; it always throws me off." In his anxiety he touched the ball, so that it toppled from its nest of sand. "There!" he snapped. "That's what I get for it! Took my mind off it! Enough to rattle anybody. It makes you stiffen up—and—" Here he drove with admirable precision into the second brook. There was a silver splash in the sunshine, a dot of white on the fairway ahead.
"Out, by George!" breathed Bowker.
"You hit that hard," said Horton.
"Right on your drive to-day," said Corbett.
The capitalist faced them frowningly.
"I don't know what it is," he admitted; "it's beyond me. No matter how I hit 'em, they go! I must put something on the ball." He clipped the heads from a pair of misplaced daisies. "It was the follow through that saved me," he reported. "The shot was rotten—all but the follow through. That saved it. That always comes when I need it. And it's funny, because I don't feel like playing golf to-day. I don't believe I slept three hours last night." He followed the flight of Horton's ball, a perfectly straight, clean drive which escaped the water hazard by the barest of margins. "How far do you estimate that shot?" he demanded.
"He averaged two hundred and thirty off the tee in the championship," said Corbett.
"My reason for asking," said Mr. Cuyler, smiling a trifle cynically as Bowker pulled into trouble, "is that I wondered how far mine went. I think I could do better if my shoulders were n't so stiff with neuritis." He topped savagely, and analyzed the effort with a wealth of imagery. His third attempt was successful enough to justify a putter on the fourth. "Down in five," he announced, beaming rapturously and breathing hard.
"Four," said Horton.
"Four," said Corbett.
"Six," said Bowker.
"I am almost sorry," proclaimed the capitalist, drying the moisture from his clammy hands, "that I'm starting so well. Of course it's nothing extraordinary, but I seem to be one over par for four holes. It's too good; it distresses me. Ought not to keep medal scores at all—that's my theory. Now I'll probably press; natural for anybody. I wish I had n't lost a stroke on the second; I'd be even with par."
"Steady as a church," said Corbett.
"Only one mistake in four holes," said Bowker.
"I thought I was a long driver," said Horton, aggrievedly, "but you 're right with me every shot."
Mr. Cuyler stared at the lofty hill which confronted him.
"There's one thing about it," he proclaimed through chattering teeth. "I—I 've got nerve enough, but against this wind, with a heavy ball—well, it's all in the day's work. What difference does it make?"
"Not the least," Bowker assured him heartily. "We all play for the fun of it."
Here Mr. Cuyler hooked viciously; almost before the club-head had passed the ball he was scrutinizing it with every symptom of apoplexy.
"Oh, the idiots!" he rasped. "The miserable, lying, cheating, swindling idiots! Look! Look at that! Feel of that club! It's new; just had it made. Took it out of the bag to-day for the first time. Feel where the balance is! There's two ounces too much lead back there. Feel it turn over of its own weight at the top of the swing! The idea of trying to play golf with a stuffed mallet like that! Now I'm mad! I 'll tell you exactly what 'll happen: I 'll dub every shot from here to the finish. Watch me!"
Accordingly, they watched him dub two of them, and run down an approach putt for a par four.
"That's the principle of it," praised Bowker.
"Good recovery, Mr. Cuyler!" said Horton.
"You can't beat him," declared Corbett.
But the capitalist was shaking from head to foot. Despite his theory, he had requisitioned a card from his caddy, and recorded his own score; twice, as he was making the entries, the pasteboard fluttered from his palsied fingers.
"Four," he whispered. "One over four, one over four, two over four, two over four. I'm two over four for five holes."
"Your shot, Mr. Cuyler."
"Where?" he inquired weakly. They indicated a yellow flag which, to his disordered fancy, marked a hill at least a mile and a half to westward. "My wrists have gone back on me," he muttered. "Broke one of 'em a few years ago. They 've gone back; afraid to hit a ball any more. If I try to spare it, I 'll fluff it. Hardest shot for anybody in the world's a spared shot." The mere weight of the club carried the ball out in soaring flight; Mr. Cuyler sat down on the tee-box and mopped his glistening countenance. His expression, as he looked at Corbett, was the harbinger of speech, but he thought better of it, and kept silence, although the effort must have tortured him.
"Bully!" said Bowker. "You'll be under forty for nine holes!"
"Oh, no I won't. You don't know me. You 're a young man. I can't climb around these hills; all out of breath when I come to my second shot. I 'll miss it sure.
He topped it, but it rolled miraculously to the green. He putted, and the ball sank with a gratifying tinkle.
"Three for me," he said, fumbling for the card and dropping his pencil. "Three, and it's a par four! It's three hundred and sixty yards; it's uphill—a birdie three. I'm one over four for six holes." He stretched his arms wide, and inhaled deeply. "Gad! what a wonderful course!" he said. "A wonderful course! It's the hardest in the metropolitan district,—everybody says so,—and I'm one over four for six holes! Did n't expect me to be going so strong, did you? Where's the next? Where's the seventh?"
"Foot of the hill," Bowker told him. "Long, but very easy. All you have to do is swipe it; she 'll roll indefinitely."
Obediently, Mr. Cuyler swiped it. He caught the ball on the toe of the club; it glanced to the right, found the slope, and leaped amazingly downward. Mr. Cuyler, posing rigidly in the attitude in which all experts are photographed, waited until his muscles ached.
"Foundered," he said, "but it rolled. "I don't know what it but I put some stuff on 'em. They certainly do roll for me."
The other three all outdrove him, but his soul was beyond envy. He found his ball in a hanging lie. Wild-eyed and panting, he sclaffed badly; but it was beyond his power to nullify the influence of a twenty-per-cent. grade, and he had a short putt for a three. The ball hung on the lip of the cup; Mr. Cuyler whirled toward his caddy.
"There you go again!" he roared. "You coughed! You do that once more—"
"In!" cried Bowker behind him.
"What? Did it go down?"
"It fiddled around and then dropped. Look in the cup!"
"A three for Mr. Cuyler," said Horton, noting it.
"Even fours to here," commented Corbett. "That's remarkable, especially for a man who never saw the place before to-day."
"But I'm so sore at that caddy," growled Mr. Cuyler, "I'm likely to go all to pieces any minute. Just my luck, anyway. Wish I'd had some gloves. Well, now for a short slice and a merry one! Take me ten strokes now, I suppose; lucky if I get around under fifty."
As a matter of fact, he finished the first nine holes in thirty-seven, and took stimulants more from necessity than from inclination.
It was an hour before they could persuade him back to the course.
"I'm satisfied," he said. "You gentlemen go ahead. I'm tired now; I'd probably hold you back. I'm tired. Nine holes is plenty for an old man, anyway."
"Not by the wildest stretch of the imagination," said Horton, gallantly, "can a man be considered old when he can go out in thirty-seven at Warwick!"
Eventually they led him out, and again he paused to admire the landscape.
"What rent do you pay?" he asked.
"Twenty thousand," said Corbett.
"I should want thirty; that's six per cent. on the investment. Where's the next hole?"
Joyously they chorused directions for reaching the tenth, which was guarded by another of the Inness brooks and by a semicircle of trees.
"Almost wish I had n't said I'd play," the man of money told them. "Sat too long in the house; got cold." Thus armed with a reasonable excuse, he drove almost at right angles to the course.
"Too bad!" said Horton, sorrowfully.
"You bet it's too bad," murmured Corbett.
"Just cold—nothing but cold," explained Mr. Cuyler. "Serves me right; ought to have had more sense. Now I can't relax in the swing." He took four shots in the rough, gouged four tremendous clots of sod, approached execrably, putted miserably, and was down in nine. His subsequent monologue was illuminating. The three conspirators stole covert glances at one another as they walked to the eleventh tee.
"We think we 're extravagant if we play for a ball a hole," whispered Corbett to Bowker. "It's possible that we played the tenth for half a million—and lost!"
"Give him a chance!" said Bowker, mirthlessly.
The eleventh was rated on the card as a par five; Mr. Cuyler, assisted by a flat stone at the root of a tree, accomplished it in seven, broke his putter over his knee, and kicked his tweed hat into the brook.
"Now I 've strained my thumb!" he said pathetically. "Never mind; come ahead! Everything breaks against me. I don't care; I play for the fun of it. It keeps me out in the open air. If that caddy eats another apple as loudly as he did the last one, I 'll brain him."
The twelfth was a simple iron shot; he played it perfectly, got his three, and smiled wearily.
"Nineteen for three holes," he observed. "Great golf! One over six! And now I've got to putt with a cleik!"
"Lend you my putter," said three voices in unison.
He shook his head.
"Oh, no. No use, anyway. I'm done. My nerves are all shot to pieces. First time in my life I ever had a stimulant between rounds. No chance now. Is this a long one?"
"Straight out," said Horton, and a moment later he added: "That's absolutely perfect. Two degrees off that line, and you'd have been either out of bounds or in the rough."
"But—but that was a hook!"
"Exactly. Placed perfectly."
"But I was playing off to the right more!"
"You were standing just as I'm going to. I'd have told you if you were n't."
"It may be all right," said Mr. Cuyler, mournfully, "but if I've got to play these holes without even knowing where I'm to shoot, I 'll be so muddled I can't hit a balloon." Nevertheless, he brought off another shot which Horton characterized as perfect. An approach and two putts gave him his five.
The fourteenth tee was on the edge of a sickening swamp, inhabited by bullfrogs that croaked malevolently. Once more a battery of trees was placed to penalize a slice; on the left an artistic rockery glinted in the sun.
"If those darned frogs would keep quiet," said Mr. Cuyler, warmly, "perhaps I could give some attention to this ball. How far is it across the Gulf of Mexico?"
"A good, full shot."
"And a good, full shot is something a man of seventy—I'm nearly seventy—could n't make to save his life. Well, here goes. If I miss it, somebody'll have to lend me a dredge!" He drove neatly across the swamp; the ball rolled easily to the green. One after the other, Corbett, Bowker, Horton topped among the frogs.
"Twenty-seven for five holes," said Mr. Cuyler, tremulously, "and I beat all three of you! Are there any more Everglades, or do you play the rest of the way on dry land? Say, I'm shivering! This place is n't malarial, is it?"
"We go right back across it," said Corbett; "but this time it's shorter. Don't take any chances. Use a high tee, and slam it."
Mr. Cuyler annihilated him with a single glance.
"If there's anything that puts me off my game quicker than anything else," he lectured, "it's to have a man advise me. I wish you had n't said that. From my friends I want friendship only; when I need advice, I go to a professional." While the trio stood motionless, agonized, he drove a dead, high ball, which missed the water by an eyelash, and permitted him to make his four even with a poor second shot. "You pretty nearly made me spoil that hole," he said severely. "I beg of you, don't do it again."
Bowker and Corbett were shaking hands when the capitalist, in the act of driving, turned quickly upon them.
"Confound it!" he said wrathfully. "What are you two trying to do? Do you want to throw me off my game? Can't anybody in this whole crowd stand still when I'm going to shoot?"
"I'm sorry," said Corbett, hastily.
"You ought to be!" He returned to the ball. "Confound it!" he repeated. "Something's wrong every hole. First it's a caddy, and then it is n't. You 've got me shaking like a convict. Look at me!"
Indeed, his hands were strikingly unsteady.
"There's no hurry," soothed Horton. "Take your time, Mr. Cuyler."
"Oh, another counselor!" He breathed hard, and swung his club. "If I were n't a guest here—" Choking incontinently, he slashed at the ball, and saw it disappear over a near-by ridge. "Is it safe?" he asked anxiously.
"Could n't be better."
"You really should n't disturb a man who's driving, you know."
"We 're very sorry, Mr. Cuyler."
"I'm going badly enough as it is without being disturbed."
"You 're doing excellently."
"I'm glad you think so—"
"All you need is a four to be even fives for this round."
"Yes, but the way to have a man get fours is n't to touch up his nerves until they 're all on edge." In evident irritation he topped two brassy shots; the second was a yard from the green.
"Play it safe!" said Corbett, unthinking.
Mr. Cuyler, gritting his teeth, struck blindly with his mashy, and the ball ran unerringly to the cup and dropped. He looked at the cup, looked at Corbett, opened his mouth, closed it again, and said nothing.
"Fives!" said Horton, jubilantly. "You need two fours for an eighty!"
The capitalist went through the motions of addressing, but his legs shook, and in the waggle he could n't bring the face of his driver within six inches of the ball.
"How—how far is it?" he faltered.
"Four hundred and twenty-five—a good four."
His face was ashen, and his mouth was working grotesquely as he swung. He heeled the ball; it wandered casually down a gentle slope, and found a cozy seat in a boot-mark
"All over," he said. "I'm all through. Did the best I could; too much for me. I don't believe I can even lift the club."
"Try!" begged Horton. "You can make it up—"
"No, it's too late! I wasted two strokes in the first nine; they'd have helped me here! It's too late now." He swung half-heartedly.
"Only one more!" urged Bowker at his elbow. "Just an ordinary iron. Get a five here and a three on the home hole, and you'll still have your eighty."
"No, I never have any luck." He could hardly hold the club the caddy gave him; he stared at it stupidly; when he finally used it, the stroke was feeble, unorthodox, clumsy, and yet effective. It left him so close to the hole that he went down in two putts, one of a foot, the other of two inches; and he remained crouching until Corbett took him tenderly by the arm and escorted him to the last tee.
"Lots of nerve, Mr. Cuyler," he encouraged. "It's only a hundred and sixty yards. Just hit it cleanly; that's all you need. Don't bother about the brook or anything else. Just one more hole, please! You've done magnificently. I know you 're tired, but you 'll want to remember this. Take a few practice swings."
Bowker, who had been talking violently to Horton, joined them, and stepped on Corbett's toe.
"They've changed the hole, Mr. Cuyler," he said. "It's only about a hundred yards. Take a wooden club, and merely tap it. You can't fall down now."
"Never mind about the practice swings; let him drive!" warned Horton. "Hurry up! Speed! Make him shoot, or he'll faint!"
Mr. Cuyler regarded his driver dispassionately.
"You know," he said almost inaudibly, "I'm an old man—little bit of vertigo. If I'd had my gloves with me—and my regular putter—"
There was a click of wood against rubber; three men shaded their eyes. Horton emitted a yell of triumph, and without delaying to play his own ball, dashed for the green. Corbett and Bowker had the capitalist between them; they guided him carefully over the tiny foot-bridge, set him firmly in position, gave him a club—any club!
"Two putts, Mr. Cuyler!"
"Don't try to sink it; get near the hole."
"Play it right for here—where my hand is now. Easy!"
"Not too hard, whatever you do! It's a fast green!"
"Don't hurry! Lots of time!"
"Get his club in line, Corbett!"
"It's in line now."
"For Heaven's sake! that's a deep-faced mashy he's got!"
"That's fair enough; let it alone!"
"Don't let him hit it too hard!"
"No; just easy, Mr. Cuyler! Take two for it!"
Mr. Cuyler putted with a potent shove. The ball, traveling swiftly, struck the back of the tin, hopped nimbly upward, and was abruptly swallowed by the metallic haven of victory.
"Seventy-nine!" gasped Horton, falling recumbent upon the turf. That made it unanimous.
It was eight o'clock before the guest of honor had recovered sufficiently to be helped into the private dining-room; and it was ten o'clock before he was able to return thanks for the initial toast.
"Boys," he said, "it was a fine day. I'm glad it was, because it's my last. I guess the doctors were right. My heart won't stand it. I'm sorry, because if I had time to practise, I might be pretty good. It is n't usual to drag business into pleasure, but I'm going to this time. Bob Corbett here has been trying to get me interested in the club property. It looks good to me—as an investment, I mean. I understand you've been in danger of losing your club. That won't happen. It's a lovely club; it's the best and the hardest course I ever played over. I made my best score on it, and I had a couple of bad holes, too. Some of your holes are too short, but you 've got to play 'em with deadly accuracy. That's how I made my score to-day—I was deadly accurate. Well, it's too lovely a club to let go by. default. So I'm going to take it over, and lease it to you for a term of years. All I ask from you, to please an old man's vanity, is your affidavits about my card. You'll do that, won't you?"
"Certainly we will," said Bowker, clearing his throat. "Is it—is it absolutely definite that you 're through with golf?"
"He gave all his clubs to the caddy," said Corbett to Bowker.
"And never," said Mr. Cuyler, impressively—"never in my life did I ever give anything away until I was mighty sure I was all through with it."
Bowker made for the door.
"I 'll be with you in a couple of minutes. I'm going to telephone the papers."
"Not about this purchase!" snapped Mr. Cuyler.
"No, sir; about your record."
The capitalist actually blushed.
"Well, in that case you might hint—only hint, of course—that—ah—I had n't played Warwick before, and that—ah—unfortunately, I was suffering somewhat from rheumatism."
"I 'll have a paragraph on it," said Bowker, vanishing.
They took the financier to the station for the last train. After it had gone, the three sat on a baggage-truck and laughed themselves into hysteria.
"Obtaining money under false pretenses," said Horton, when he had recovered a fraction of his poise. "And there 'll be murder if he ever finds it out."
"He can't. For two reasons; the other one is—sentimental."
"That's so," said Bowker, sobering. "You know, I really think he cried a little—from pure joy."
"No harm to anybody; it's a good investment, really."
"When 'll the course be ready, Bob?"
"Day after to-morrow," said Corbett. "All we've got to do is to cover up our tracks, put those temporary tees out of commission, change the flags back, change all the cups, and that sort of thing."
"If he ever comes out again—"
"Tell him we 've rebuilt the links. That's simple."
"Has any one the least idea how long that course was?"
"I don't know how long it was," said Horton, "but I played it in sixty-one the day before yesterday, and fifty-nine yesterday. A stranger would n't suspect the card; those hills and water hazards are too deceptive. The only thing I was afraid of was that he'd spot the cups. Good Lord! they were as big as bushel-baskets! An extra half-inch in diameter! Why, they were n't cups; they were craters!"
"What got me," chuckled Bowker, "was the way you could take a perfectly free, natural swing at that ball, and not get more than a hundred and forty yards with it!"
"Why not?" said Horton, surprisedly. "I had every one of those darned clubs built specially for this afternoon; there was n't one of them that weighed more than eight ounces!"
Perhaps it was best for Mr. Cuyler's peace of mind that after buying the Warwick property and leasing it to the club he never saw it again. Undoubtedly it was best for him that he never played around the regular course. Because if he had done that, he would certainly have been in a frame of mind to appreciate the verse painted in small letters above the players' entrance to the club-house. As has been said before, it is n't humorous.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1936, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 86 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.