Below the Medicinal Hundred
Below the Medicinal Hundred
By Holworthy Hall
FOR sixty-five years, nothing had pleased Mr. Samuel Hobgood quite so much as his freedom from criticism, whether public or private. His successes had been so pronounced, his methods so conservative, his errors of judgment so purely incidental, that among his contemporaries he passed as a very Daniel of the leather market—a man who habitually did the right thing seven times out of ten; and this percentage is enough to make millionaires out of office-boys.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Hobgood had begun as an office-boy, and at age fifty he had found himself a millionaire. He had also found himself the parent of a son who was frequently recognized, across the street, by distinguished people who had never met the son, nor even heard of the father. Mr. Hobgood took prompt steps to avoid criticism.
“I think you'll find, Richard,” he said kindly, “that most prominent young men fall down hard, sooner or later, on account of the same qualities that made 'em prominent. I don't believe a young man ought to be noticed hardly at all before he's thirty-five or forty, except as a good, hard, steady worker. If folks keep thinking of you as a football player, and then a pool player and then a golf player, you'll find it's going to be awful hard to talk business when you want to. And when you go out representing Hobgood and Company this fall, I want you should be regarded as a representative of Hobgood and Company, and not as an athlete with his picture in the papers. What do you really want out of life, Richard? So far, you're a great game-player, and you never made a penny of your own. When I was your age, I didn't know how many men there was on a football nine, or whether you played polo on a horse or a donkey, or what the names of a pack of cards are—and I don't yet. So in the trade, Hobgood means just one thing, and that's leather. When you start working for us, I want it to keep on meaning leather, and not golf. I've thought it all out, Richard. If you want to work with us, your name can't be in the papers to advertise anything but Hobgood leather. We can't afford it, and you can't. From the day you start, you ain't Hobgood, the famous quarterback from Yale; you ain't Hobgood, the golf champion; you're Hobgood, of the city sales force of Hobgood and Company. Everybody'd criticize us if it was different. I'm not going to harsh. You've had a long vacation, and it's time you got serious. All I'll say is, in five years, if you work hard. I'll make you junior partner and then you can do anything you like. Nobody criticizes what you do after you've succeeded. In the meantime, no tournaments of any kind whatsoever, no titles, nothing to pull attention away from the one fact that Hobgood means leather. Is it a bargain?”
Richard was very nearly dead-centered in his mind, but because he was enjoined from competition only, and not from practise, and because a junior partnership meant complete independence after the five-year interlude, he finally succumbed. He loved his polo almost as much as he loved his golf, but the sacrifice would plainly be justified by the reward.
As a city salesman he began like a whirlwind, and his father was filled with platitudinous misgivings. “Up like a rocket; down like a stick,” said Mr. Hobgood, warningly. “Besides, I don't call it exactly selling when you take a man that used to belong sell to your same society twenty years ago out to Garden City, and shoot a game of golf with him, and then pry loose an order. You mustn't be disappointed when you begin to fall down, Richard. And I'd rather lose the order, any time, than have you make a sale based on anything in the world but the quality of the goods. In fact, I guess we'll have to make it a rule that when you have to play games with a man to get his business, that don't count on your sheet. Richard.”
Nevertheless, the son of his father, applying to business all that tremendous vitality and eager concentration which had made him a splendid athlete, continued to break sales records. Doggedly, relentlessly, he put golf out of his mind, and set up for himself an artificial perspective which was limited by the hide of a cow and the number of uses to which it could be put. In two months he led the squadron of city salesmen by so wide a margin that to prevent actual friction, Mr. Hobgood had to send him on the road. Six months later the sales manager, who was fat and sensitive, resigned abruptly, and Richard, who had set too hot a pace for him, stepped into the vacant office.
The son of his father, once weaned from the out-of-doors, had settled down to a life which permitted the intrusion of nothing unprofitable. He discovered that without the intoxicant of competition ahead, there was little charm in informal practise, considering that his time was steadily growing precious. Therefore he didn't even practise,
A year's absence from Meadowbrook and Garden City had put him into the journalistic discard. He had ceased to be news, except to the extent of casual mention among those ancient heroes present at the Princeton game. To his father's delight, and to his own rather bewildered but at the same time flattered realization, Hobgood now meant leather exclusively.
In time, he became as dynamic a figure in the trade as once he had been in sport. At the end of another year of triumph, old Mr. Hobgood, doing the right thing eight times in that particular ten, took him away from sales to be assistant manager. “Only going to show, Mr. Hobgood ingenuously, “that business and play don't mix. And just to show, I'll give you a twentieth interest in the company right now.”.
“A tenth,” said Richard gently, thinking that the medallist at Garden City this year had done seventy-eight and seventy-seven. Richard had once shot eleven consecutive rounds under seventy-eight. He was resigned to his status, but the original agreement had provided that he should be paid for it.
“All right. A tenth. And if you keep on going——”
Obligingly, Richard kept on going. It was almost a year now since he had spent a part of Sunday afternoon in polishing his irons for the sheer pleasure of having them in good condition. A little of the buoyancy went out of him, but the hide of the cow was still as a blazing star to guide him. In the fourth year, when he acquired the general managership, and a quarter interest in the company, it never occurred to him that once his ambition had been to play regularly, at this time, on the Meadowbrook Four, and to have won the Met, and been a semi-finalist in the National Amateur. He was too busy writing his speech for the national convention.
There came a July, however, when Richard, gazing out over the hot roofs of the lower city, was startled to realize that his sentence had scarcely three months to run. He wasted fully a quarter-hour in contemplation of the respite, and that night, at home, he hunted up his golf-clubs. The majority of the shafts were warped, but it made much less difference to Richard than he would have imagined. He resolved to send the bag out to Garden City and have the set completely overhauled; but in the morning something distracted his attention, and he forgot all about it.
His attention had been distracted by happenings on the continent of Europe. The export problem instantly became so vexatious that Richard had no stomach whatever for play. Then, of a sudden, the country was overrun with foreign purchasing agents, and Richard could have lived on twice as many hours a day as Mr. Arnold Bennett has prescribed.
At this juncture, old Mr. Hobgood, who had never learned how to live at all, wrote his name to a Russian contract after a terrific contest of wills with Richard, and immediately fainted at his desk. He had fallen down hard by virtue of the exact qualities which had made him rich; he had never refreshed himself by any exercise or any hobby; he had burned out his carbons, and he was done. Richard quietly put the contract in his pocket and, a few hours later, when the doctors had agreed on his father's future, tore it up.
Mr. Hobgood, too feeble to protest, was presently shipped to the seashore; and, still in ignorance that the Russian orders weren't on the books, made Richard an equal partner with himself, and managing partner at that. There followed fireworks. No contract was made with the Russian agents, or with any others; and Richard drew to himself, within a very brief space, more criticism than his father had excited in sixty-five years. The echo of it rolled even to Seaview, where old Mr. Hobgood had a relapse, and bit a clinical thermometer in half. He would have summarily ejected his son that very day if the nurses hadn't refused to transmit his messages, let him have a fountain pen, or even listen to him rail. He wasn't to think of business, they said.
Mr. Hobgood thought, and the trade thought, that for Richard to refuse war-orders when the profits were never so high, was direct evidence of insanity. But the nurses, although they couldn't save his father from another nervous collapse, saved Richard from expulsion.
In the spring, Richard was still too busy to play any golf, even though the ban was now removed. He was accumulating stocks of raw material, and spending the company's hard-earned surplus for more factory space, and more machinery. Suddenly the trade changed its point of view. Old Mr. Hobgood was suddenly stricken with hysterical remorse. Seven nations came into the market with frantic appeals for war-material at any price, and Hobgood and Company, standing alone with vast facilities, vast stocks, and no entangling alliances, wrote its own ticket while its competitors, glutted with those earlier orders at a third the price, frothed impotently, and hailed Richard as the wizard son of a fairly successful and fortunately superannuated father.
At twenty-eight, Richard was not only forced to accept deferred classification in the draft; he was also persuaded not to enter service voluntarily. The Government, through the Ordnance Department, convinced him that as the head of the third largest leather company in the country, he was more valuable to the Allies than as a potato-peeler in a cantonment.
At thirty, when the war was over, he went down to Pinehurst, after much correspondence, to spend a reluctant week with his father.
THE train arrived before breakfast, but old Mr. Hobgood was down at the station to meet it. He was wearing sprightly knickerbockers and a plaid cap, and to his son he presented a very ludicrous appearance.
“Come on, Richard,” said Mr. Hobgo briskly. “I drew for time last night, and we've got 9.15 on Number Two.”
Richard stared at him blankly. The old gentleman had long since written that golf had been prescribed for him, but Richard couldn't remember exactly how long ago it was. “Drew for what?” he asked.
“For starting time. There's so many people here you have to get your time the night before.”
Richard glanced at the heavy brief-case under his arm, and then at the sky.
“It looks pretty much like rain to me,” he said. “And I haven't any clubs with me, and——”
Mr. Hobgood stopped short.
“Didn't bring your clubs?”
“Why, no. I couldn't find 'em.”
Mr. Hobgood followed him into the bus. “That's funny. Well, we can fix it up all right, I guess. The shop's fine. Say, Richard! I've shot one hundred and one four times. John Peacock says I'll break a hundred before the season's over! Anything over a hundred, I say, don't count as golf; it just counts for health. When you score in three figures you've got to fall back on what a good day it is, and how much better you feel. But I'm going to get so I won't have to call it medicinal. By gravy, if I'd taken up this game when I was your age, I could play it now. Yes, sir!”
“That's good,” said Richard absently.
His father surveyed him, and seemed cooled. “You've been here before, haven't you?”
“Yes—part of Christmas vacation in Junior year.”
“Wha'd you make on Number Two? Your best, I mean.”
Richard shrugged his shoulders. “I've forgotten. Seventy-one or seventy-two—somewhere around there.”
Mr. Hobgood regarded him with reverence. “Richard, I want to say to you right now I never appreciated you. All the things you've done. I——”
Richard's eyes had depths in them. “Did I write you we added a million and a half to surplus account the last quarter?”
Old Mr. Hobgood glanced sharply at him, and sighed “Well, here we are! I've got your room. Don't take too much time, now. We've got to hustle and get out there.”
Richard, in the hotel lobby, looked pained. “I'm awfully sorry, father. But I've got two or three contracts with me I've simply got to go over, so I can send 'em back to New York to-night.”
“Oh—you have! Couldn't you've done 'em on the train?”
“I did three. There's four left.”
“Well, let 'em slide. This is your vacation, and I want you should——”
Richard looked shocked. “There's a hundred thousand profit in 'em, father. As a matter of fact, I ought not to have come down here at all. We're awfully busy. But you insisted so——”
Mr. Hobgood became insistent. “But you need a vacation, boy! You haven't had a day off since you went into the business.”
“It'll be vacation enough to work in a different climate. I've got to clean this stuff up first. Business before pleasure, always. I tell you what. You go without me this morning, and to-morrow I'll see if I can't fit it in somehow.”
Old Mr. Hobgood's shoulders drooped. “Couldn't you manage it just this once? Why, Richard, you and I never played any kind of a game together in our lives. You mustn't wear yourself out working, like I did. You——”
“Can't be done,” said Richard firmly, He paused at the desk. “Any mail for me?”
The clerk produced a few letters and a dozen telegrams. Richard looked up from them to inquire: “Where's the public stenographer?” Old Mr. Hobgood, his mouth curved downward, softly muttered: “Damn!”
It was Richard's first vacation in a decade, and he celebrated it by working seven hours in his bedroom while his father went around the championship course in what he called a medicinal one hundred and three.
“But just as sure as you're a foot high,” declared Mr. Hobgood exultantly, “I'll get under a hundred, Richard, and forget the medicine part of it before the season's over. Oh, I do hope it's when I'm out with you. If I'd ever had the sense to take up this game twenty years ago— Say, why aren't you playing at Garden City any more? I'd like to try that course some time. There was a man I beat in the semi-finals of the thirteenth division consolation in the Spring Tournament—he said Garden City has the best traps you ever saw anywhere.”
“Oh, I resigned from Garden City four or five years ago. No use paying the dues when I never go there. One of my wires to-day was from Skinner. He thinks we ought to incorporate. I told him——”
“Listen, Richard! Speaking about traps. Remember the one on the right of the third hole on Number Two? Well, I was in there on my drive this morning, and I played out hole high with a midiron. With a midiron! What do you know about that?”
“Fine!” said Richard indulgently. “I hope things'll work out so I can get a round in with you before I leave.”
His father stared at him, and in that stare there was understanding, contrition, and fear. “Boy,” he said, “boy, have you lost all your interest in games?”
“Pretty nearly,” laughed Richard. “I'm too infernally busy. It's sort of funny, when you think of it——”
Mr. Hobgood shook his head. “No, not funny—not a bit funny. It's serious. First thing you know, you'll break down, and——”
“Oh, no I won't. When I get stale. I'll retire,” said Richard.
Mr. Hobgood shook his head again. “You can't. Nobody can—nobody that doesn't have to. One of these days you'll be retired—but that's different. Now, to-morrow morning, I want you should promise me you'll go out and play golf with me. I'm just as like as not to break a hundred. Won't you promise me that much?”
“I will if I can, father. But one or two things have come up this afternoon—I'm carrying a pretty heavy load just now. We'll wait and see.”
“My God!” said Mr. Hobgood bitterly “I don't believe you want to play any golf, Richard.”
Richard deliberated. “Yes,” he said sincerely but without enthusiasm. “I think I should. It ought to be rather amusing. I certainly will try to go out with you before I leave.”
For the next three days it rained doggedly, and poor Mr. Hobgood, diverting himself with bridge and cowboy pool, felt more and more estranged from his unfamiliar son, who was making the most of the opportunity, and laboring diligently up-stairs. After the rain, the weather turned cold. It was Saturday morning before Mr. Hobgood dared to go out again—Saturday morning, and Richard had announced that he must positively return to New York on Saturday night,
Mr. Hobgood, standing in the shop while Richard bought half a dozen clubs, remarked his son's tenseness of expression, his tautness of muscle, his nervous little mannerisms. “It's a judgment,” said Mr. wearily to himself. “It's a judgment! Games and business do mix!”
On the first tee, it was the father's hands which trembled. It had spontaneously come to him that he had forfeited more than twenty years of the durable satisfactions of life. This was his first moment of true companionship with his boy. And all at once, he was as eager and excited as Richard might once have been on Yale Field, waiting for the kick-off. Mr. Hobgood had made commercial success his fetish; his only ambitions had been success for himself and success for Richard. This morning, while he was vaguely conscious that each of them was worth four or five million dollars, he realized that the most important thing in all his life, so far, was that Richard should enjoy the round, and shouldn't he ashamed of his father's game. Mr. Hobgood steeled himself to die as hard as possible.
“Want to drive first, Richard?”
“No; go ahead.” Richard had surreptitiously extracted a business letter from his pocket, and was reading it. Reading a business letter on the first tee!
Now Mr. Hobgood had been soundly taught, but his awe of Richard's quondam reputation was enough to wipe mind clean of instructions. His stance was wrong, but he didn't dare to change it, for fear that Richard might be impatient. As he swung, he knew that he was stiff and constrained; he would have liked to try a few practise swings first, but he hadn't the courage to make Richard wait. Whatever happened, he mustn't let Richard think he was a dawdler. Richard probably wouldn't remember that for a man of seventy to average, say, one hundred and five, day in and day out, was no small achievement. So that Mr. Hobgood hooked feebly into the railroad track, and felt the need of apology. “I'm not generally as bad as that, Richard. Most always I keep straight, no matter what else I do.”
“That's all right.” Richard had teed a ball, addressed it, and sliced it a hundred and eighty yards while he was speaking.
They parted company at once. Mr. Hobgood, somewhat steadied by the interval between them, remembered Peacock's formulas, and came out pleasantly to the fairway. There he watched his son rip out a mighty divot with a brassy.
Hr. Hobgood put his hands to his mouth. “Don't—try—to take—turf!” he shrilled. “You got to hit 'em clean.”
“All right,” said Richard cheerfully, and hammered a long iron diagonally across the course to the rough on the other side. He appeared to be very little affected by the error.
Old Mr. Hobgood was visited by a glorious idea. Richard was still in trouble. A five would certainly beat him. Even a six might do. To beat Richard, who used to be such a champion, at the very first hole! To be sure, Richard hadn't played for several years, but before that, his handicap in the Metropolitan was four. Mr. Hobgood was seventy years old, and had played no games at all, not even croquet until two seasons ago. For his age, he was as good a golfer as Richard had been. Disability for disability, alibi for alibi! He flexed his jaw, got his wrists in order, and swung in accordance with his four hundred dollars' worth of lessons. The shot was as nearly perfect as Mr. Hobgood could ever expect—short, but mathematically straight; not on the green, but only a few yards distant.
“Nice one!” said Richard, and old Mr. Hobgood blushed like a débutante. Richard overplayed his mashie, and went on in five. Mr. Hobgood, fighting down a wild impulse to hurry, rolled his ball within two feet of the hole, and, feeling very Napoleonic, fluttered amazingly about the heart.
“Give it to you,” said Richard carelessly, tapping down his own ball with one hand.
“I'm—I'm one up on you!”
“All right. Go ahead.”
Mr. Hobgood, cumulatively chilled by his son's diffidence, prepared to drive.
“I expect to see Central Leather Common, above par by June,” observed Richard soberly. “Want to buy some with me?”
Mr. Hobgood lowered his driver. “The only kind of a par that interests me right now is the par on this next hole,” he stated flatly. “I didn't bring you out here to keep blatting about leather all the time; I brought you out here to play golf!” In the resultant silence, he drove creditably. Richard, bathed in deep thought, sent a fast grounder hopping into the nearest trap, and never used an expletive.
“I hope,” said Mr. Hobgood, speaking the grievance to his immortal soul, “he don't get out of it, either!”
Richard, however, clawed back to the course and played three. It was a flash of olden form; a low, whistling brassy shot which ran as though it would never stop.
“My!” said Mr. Hobgood. His smile was paternally proud. He looked at Richard, expecting to find him happy, but Richard was merely abstracted. Mr. Hobgood shut his teeth, and played a fair second, and a fair third. Both men approach-putted, and left themselves four-foot putts. Mr. Hobgood, with all the painstaking zeal of a surveyor, found the line, and breathlessly sank the putt. “Five!” he carolled. Then his eyes bulged, for Richard had lifted. “That's close enough,” said Richard. “Call it a five.”
His father opened his mouth wide. “Call that a five, do you? Humph. I call it a ladies' five. Without the putt. So you claim a half, do you? All right—all right.”
Richard laughed. “What earthly difference does it make?”
“Difference!” choked Mr. Hobgood. Failing a satisfactory vocabulary, he turned, and stalked wrathfully to the third tee. “And I used to think you were a regular sport!” In his unseeing anger, he topped fearfully. “Well, if you did that, I suppose you'd want to take it over again! You make me sick. Go on—shoot!”
Obediently and in a state of mild astonishment at his father's outburst Richard shot. He shot forty-five degrees to the left, deep into the pine woods. “Out of bounds?” he inquired, without passion.
“Aren't any bounds,” snapped his father. “You go on in there and play it out—and kindly don't tee it up in there, either. I don't.”
As his son disappeared among the trees, Mr. Hobgood allowed himself the full luxury of his emotions. For many weeks he had looked avidly forward to the joyousness of this occasion; and the present discovery that Richard couldn't even take an interest in it was demoralizing. It was more than that; it was tragic. And it harassed Mr. Hobgood for more reasons than one; he knew that he saw in Richard symptoms of that same arbitrariness of disposition, that same disregard for everything but business attainment, which had put Mr. Hobgood himself on the list of incapables at age sixty-five. The worst of it was that Richard, let alone, would have retained his diversions. If Richard ever worked himself into uselessness it would be Mr. Hobgood's own fault. It was palpably Mr. Hobgood's duty to get Richard out of the frame of mind into which Mr. Hobgood himself had put him. He must arouse his son's old enthusiasms—but how?
Naturally, while his mind was filled with sorrow and reproach, there was little room for golf. He pecked sharply at the ball and sent it nosing against a stump, where there was no possible stance. He tried standing ahead of the stump, then standing behind it, then standing with one foot on it. Eventually he prodded it a few feet into the open, and promptly hooked it back into the woods; upon which he opened the flood-gates of his mood, and opened his caddy's eyes with envious admiration. He staggered onto the green in six, and cast about him for Richard. Richard was just emerging from agricultural pursuits, and indulging in what has inelegantly, but aptly, been termed the tragedy of the hoisted bean. But Richard was as imperturbable as ever.
“How many?” demanded Mr. Hobgood, gruffly.
“Oh, five or six. Somewhere along there.”
Richard, perceiving his father's irritation, counted thoughtfully on his fingers. “Five. I was under a tree over there, and——”
“Never mind the post-mortems. Call it medicinal. It keeps us out in the open air, anyway. I'm on in six. See if you can't get a half.”
They halved in a gallant eight. “What I'd call a club-house five,” explained Mr. Hobgood. “Meaning when I get back to the club-house I could say if I'd had a decent drive, and then everything else had gone the same way, I'd have had a real five. Well, I'm still one up. Here's where a long drive won't hurt you any. Do you s'pose you can remember you're playing golf long enough to hit one in the eye?”
He had the pleasure of watching Richard whip out a beautiful shot which headed his own best effort by a hundred yards. Mr. Hobgood, however, played warily short of the pits on his second, and chipped to the green in three. Richard fumbled shamefully into a trap, overplayed, and came back in four. Mr. Hobgood won the hole by a stroke, but Richard displayed no chagrin. He halved the next in six, and the short hill hole in four. On the seventh Richard again triangulated to the woods, and wanted to pick up.
“Merciful Heaven!” snapped old Mr. Hobgood. “Who'd ever have said there's a rank yellow quitter in my family! Go play it.”
“But, father, I haven't been playing. There's no sense in my spending half a day hunting around in the underbrush, is there? And there's somebody there on the tee wants to come through, and——”
“Let 'em. Let 'em.” Mr. Hobgood waved authority. “Play it out. I would. Good Lord, anybody'd think I was the Yale football man and you were the nervous wreck. I'd think you'd be ashamed of yourself to let an old man like me crucify you. Go on in there and whang it out.” He was obsessed by the realization that he must arouse his son's ambition, but not yet did he see the way out. “By gravy!” said Mr. Hobgood fearfully to himself. “He'll break down in a year if he don't get some recreation!”
He won the hole in seven to eight, halved the eighth in four, and won the ninth in a par three to a sloppy four for Richard. Then he turned to the caddies. “You boys go up to the next tee and wait till we come. Richard, I want you to come over here and sit down a minute.”
Mr. Hobgood nodded rapidly.
“Yes, I am! Tired of this cussed way you're acting.” He made himself comfortable on the slope, and lighted a slender cigar. “You don't seem to be able to put your mind on the game.”
“No,” said Richard frankly. “I can't.”
“Still thinking of business?”
Old Mr. Hobgood puffed slowly. “Would you ever be willing to go to work for any other company but ours?”
“Will you make me a solemn promise on your word of honor that you'll never work for anybody else?”
“Why, of course. I don't see the point, but if it'll please you any, of course I'll promise.”
“Shake hands on it. There! Now.” He sat up straighter. “Richard, I used to be an awful fool about these things—games like golf; recreations. I pretty nearly killed myself. The biggest mistake I ever made was when I had you give it up. If I'd had sense enough to take some fun and exercise as I went along, I wouldn't be a broken-down old fool now. And we wouldn't have made near as much money, either. That ain't the point. But you're doing the same thing. You look awful peaked! You ain't the boy you used to be; you're a machine, just like I was. You're a strong man; but you can't stand the strain much longer. Don't dream, there; listen! You've got so you can't even realize you're out supposed to be having a good time with your father. You can't even brace up so's not to get licked by an old man. Well, you've got to. You've got to get some relief from business, or—— Why don't you enjoy this, Richard? Why don't you like it the way you used to? Why don't you begin to play at Garden City again?”
Richard had managed to pay sufficient attention to give a coherent answer.
“The competition was what I used to like, father. Something at stake. Tournaments, you know. Some kind of stimulus. But the Hobgood Company means so much more than——”
Old Mr. Hobgood reached out to touch his son's knee. “All right, boy. You've got to get some diversion, or you'll go all to pieces. And you say it takes competition to get you excited. A stake. All right. Listen to me. In 1915, when I put you in to run the company, the partnership agreement was that you'd be the managing partner, but I'd be the directing partner wasn't it? And while I was so sick, you acted as directing partner, too; and after your work on the Russian situation, I let you keep on with it, and I never said a word. But, according to that agreement, I can put you out any minute I choose to—as an executive, I mean; of course I can't put you out of your interest. Richard, you look at me. I'm an old man, but I'm your father. I'm four up on you for nine holes. And you say that Hobgood and Company's all you're interested in. Listen! If I beat you this match, so help me God, I'll fire you!”
Richard laughed. “Don't be silly, father.”
“Silly!” roared Mr. Hobgood. “You look at me!”
Richard looked. “You certainly don't expect me to take that seriously.”
“Did I ever break a promise to you yet? You want a stake, do you? And you want to stay with Hobgood and Company, do you? And you won't even show enough energy to give me a decent match the only time we've played together in all our lives, won't you? Well, then, by gravy, I'll make you! And it's my fault I've got to make you, too. I don't forget that, not for a holy second. But as sure as you sit there, Richard, if I trim you to-day—you big, hulking money-grubber, you—you're out of Hobgood and Company on Monday morning! If you think that's a bluff—call it!”
There was a long pause. Richard knew his father. He was overwhelmed with disgust at his father's idiosyncrasies, but he knew that his father's word wasn't subject to discount. It was a terrible and a grotesque threat. Unbelievable. Hardly sane. Yet old man Hobgood had the expression of a Daniel. He was palpably sincere. Yes, and well-meaning. Besides, Richard had formerly been ranked among the leading golfers of the country. It was a sickening performance; still, it might be better to humor the old gentleman for the present. Richard's gorge rose, but he had sense enough not to tell his father exactly what he thought of him.
“Is that your final statement?” he asked coldly. “If it is, of course I'm under your control—commercially.”
“It's my promise, boy. And I'll keep it if it's the last thing I ever do.”
Richard, red to the ears, got to his feet. “Very well. Quite a happy little thought. Quite. Come on and play the match out, then. I believe it's your honor.”
NOW after Mr. Hobgood had driven just over the pond on the tenth, putting into that drive the best that there was in him, he stood aside for Richard, who was some distance away, swinging viciously at grass-tops. Mr. Hobgood observed, with a sudden thrill of joy, that Richard was very much concentrated, and that already, in practise, he had lengthened his swing. Mr. Hobgood knew that Richard was secretly loathing him, but he also knew that Richard was blessed with the spirit of the vikings. Once fully aroused, Richard would fight until he couldn't stand up. That was precisely why he was killing himself in business. When he finally drove, it was with greater abandon than ever, but it was with the carefully applied abandon which brings results. The ball was hooked, but Richard had cared, for once, what happened to it. His reaction of annoyance made Mr. Hobgood want to chant a hymn of praise, but he compromised by murmuring, so that Richard could hear him: “Pretty punk!”
They crossed the isthmus in silence. Richard halted to watch his father play. “This'll make me five up,” said Mr. Hobgood bravely. “You ought to be ashamed yourself.” He hit a very respectable shot past the corner of the deep trap, almost to the green. “I bet if I'd gone to Yale, I'd have made the football team myself.”
Richard gave him a sour smile. He was writhing inwardly at the mere thought of the awful farce in which he was a conscripted actor. He wondered if he ought to ask the courts to appoint a guardian for his poor old father. Still, it wouldn't be politic to antagonize him now. He'd better play it out and argue afterward—if necessary.
But after Richard had chipped up within striking distance, and his poor old father proceeded to miss the hole—and a birdie three—by hitting the flag-stick from off the green, Richard stopped smiling. He was reminded that the short game on sand isn't to be acquired quickly after a ten-year lapse. He gaged the distance carefully, and played ten feet from the cup. He still had a chance for a half, but he made his stroke too gingerly.
“Five up,” said Mr. Hobgood. “And a man who's always short on his putts has got a yellow streak in him a yard wide. Who did you ever beat in the Metropolitan, Richard—cripples? Five up and eight to go.”
He played the eleventh cautiously, and got his usual six. Richard, in deep trouble and outspoken profanity from the tee, emerged from the rough in four, put his fifth on the edge of the green, and sank a twenty-footer for the half only. The long putt consoled him somewhat for having betrayed his feelings after the drive. Not for worlds would he voluntarily have let his father know that he intended to hand him the worst walloping he could. His purpose was to simulate the utmost indifference, and to play his best.
“Lucky putt,” said Mr. Hobgood. “I ought to've been——”
“Lucky!” demanded Richard. “How do you make that out?”
“Well, it kept you in the game a while longer. If you'd missed it, you'd have been out of a job.”
Richard shut his teeth hard. “That's all right. You've been putting on these confounded sand greens season. Your ideas of a fair match are sort of humorous.”
“I'll give you a week's practise, and putt you a round on the clock for a hundred dollars a hole. Darn it!” said Mr. Hobgood, dolefully, “I'm beginning to wonder whether you were always a four-flusher!”
“Keep still when I'm driving!” said Richard furiously. “If you expect to hold me to your crazy wild ideas, for Heaven's sake don't play mucker golf, father! Keep still and give me a chance!” He smote powerfully, straight and true; and thereafter achieved a beautiful second shot. He was dead to the hole in three, and took a four to Mr. Hobgood's labored half dozen. “My honor!” To save himself he couldn't keep a grin of triumph off his face.
“Well,” observed his father, “the time to gloat's when you've got the chance. That's what I say. That's the first hole you've won, and it's about the first one you couldn't call medicinal.”
He was cheered to note that there was increased confidence in Richard's bearing—a dim reflection of the youthful swagger Mr. Hobgood had almost forgotten. He was inspired by a swelling hope that his stratagem, desperate as it was, would prove victorious. He had risked everything, first, on Richard's fighting blood, and secondly, on the belief that if Richard ever once got the germ into his system again, he could never get it out. He was even prepared to throw away a stroke or two, if necessary to insure his own defeat; but at all odds, Richard must become absorbed in golf again. It would save him from the dry-rot which had already fallen to Mr. Hobgood's portion.
On the thirteenth, however, there was no need to throw away a stroke. Richard was slowly finding the ball and, with all his attention riveted on it, kept in the course. His approach was too heavy, and his first putt too strong, but he went down in five to his father's six, and became three down with five to go.
“I didn't see you outputting me there so very much,” said Richard icily.
“Everybody finds a horseshoe sometime,” retort Mr. Hobgood.
Richard's drive at the fourteenth was herculean; Mr. Hobgood was transfigured as he watched it. Mr. Hobgood himself duffed badly, and came along by short marches to an inglorious seven. Richard put an approach squarely on the flag, and gathered a par four. He was more relaxed now, and his expression was far less dramatic.
“Speaking of the leather market,” began Mr. Hobgood.
“Keep still!” said Richard. “What are you trying to do—put me off my game deliberately?”
“I didn't know you had any game,” said old Mr. Hobgood innocently. “You certainly haven't showed any of it to me.”
On the short fifteenth, Richard caught the green with a full iron. His father, playing the driver, was barely over the traps. But they halved the hole, and Mr. Hobgood, whose short game was deadly, chuckled aloud. “I'm two up and three to go,” he remarked, “and I can play the seventeenth and eighteenth just as good as you can. I guess you won't talk about stakes to me after this!”
Richard said nothing, but he was humming to himself as he walked to the tee. Before he played, he looked up momentarily at the sky, and drew a long breath. Mr. Hobgood's heart bounded. “You're doing mighty well, coming in. I bet if you had a week down here, you'd shoot around eighty-five most any time.”
“Eighty-five!” said Richard contemptuously. “What do you think I am—a baby? I've played this course in eighty with a jigger alone.” He sent out a cracking drive which put a sparkle into his eyes. “Beat that!”
“I don't have to. Where I catch you is around the green.”
But he didn't. Richard won handily in five to six, and took the seventeenth, by virtue of a sterling drive, in a par three. “All square,” he said relieved, “and one to go.” Feeling that he was freed from all danger, he regarded his father more tolerantly. He even experienced a moment of positive affection for the old gentleman, who took his pleasures and his games so seriously. He comprehended something of his father's motive for this unequal combat, and because he was now in a position to see the lighter side of it, he could even credit his father with Machiavellian diplomacy. “You put up a good fight, father,” he conceded pleasantly.
He drove magnificently at the last hole, and made no attempt to conceal his delight. “There, by George! It wouldn't take so very long to get back in form if I can hit 'em like that now.”
Mr. Hobgood topped into the rough. “Bless my sinful soul!”
“Tough luck, father. You're not swinging back far enough.”
“Yes, I am, too. John Peacock tells me——”
“But you're breaking at the elbow. Look! Like this.”
“That's all right. You look at this!” Mr. Hobgood recovered nicely “Now you're away. Show me yourself. Put her right up to the pin.”
Richard nodded gaily. He had a good lie; it was only a full mashie to the green, with an insignificant trap in the middle distance. Confidence was strong within him. He swung the club easily, efficiently, in practise. “Now that we're this far—you wouldn't really have stuck to that impossible idea of yours, would you, if you'd won?”
Mr. Hobgood bristled. “Impossible? What's impossible about it?”
“Quixotic, I should have said.”
“Well, don't you know me well enough by this time to see when I'm joking and when I'm not?” Mr. Hobgood was long since heartily sorry for his vow, but he held that it was weaker to retreat from it than to go ahead.
“Yes, but I can't believe it. I——”
“Don't you recall what a blamed fool way I let you come in the company? Would you put it beyond me to make up for it by letting you out on a blameder fool way? Especially when it's for your own good? Anyhow, you've put up some sort of a contest, this nine.”
“I know; but if I'd lost——”
“If you'd lost! You don't think you've won yet, do you?”
Richard's smile faded slowly. He realized, uncomfortably, that he was beginning almost to be afraid of his father again. He was having sensations which he had imagined, several years ago, that he had lost forever.
“Would you have stuck to it?”
“I will,” said Mr. Hobgood sternly “Shoot!”
Richard, not quite so confident, played the mashie. It was a high, keen shot, of just the right distance. Both of them saw, at the same instant, that it was too far to the left. “The other trap!” gasped Mr. Hobgood. Fascinated, they watched the ball descend, strike the turf and bound forward. “Safe!” breathed Richard. His father caught his arm. “Not yet!”
The ball was running more and more slowly, straight for the trap beside the green. On the very brink it seemed to pause; to stop. Then it disappeared.
Both men knew that it was lying almost under the bank.
“Sweet—spirits—of niter!” said Richard, aghast.
Mr. Hobgood mechanically went to his own ball. He struck it blindly, awkwardly, with little purpose, and instantly he lost it in flight. As he strained forward to search, he heard his son exclaim aloud.
“W-where is it, caddie?” stammered Mr. Hobgood.
“On 'e green, seh!”
On the edge of the eighteenth green Mr. Hobgood, outwardly nonchalant, stood to watch his son descend to the abyss of the trap. Richard was lying two; he would do wonders if he got out in three—if he got out at all, to say nothing of landing on the green. The best he could conceivably get was a five. But probably he wouldn't get it. Probably he couldn't even get out of the trap in three. It was a wicked lie, at the bottom of a three-foot sheer pitch of sand. He would very likely be compelled to waste a shot, play back, and come out in four. Mr. Hobgood's mood was very low. Richard had rallied splendidly, and he should have won.
“Can you play it, Richard?”
“Don't know yet. You lie three, do you?”
“Three to here.”
From the club-house a little group of men had wandered over to watch the play. One of them, a newcomer to Pinehurst, blurted out to his companions, solemnly that Mr. Hobgood overheard: “Who's that over there in the trap?”
“That? Young Hobgood—leather business, you know.” .
“The devil it is! That's Dick Hobgood who was runner-up in the Met ten years ago! I thought he'd quit the game for good! Gamest up-hill fighter I ever saw in my life! Watch him come out of here, now!”
Old Mr. Hobgood swelled with pride. That was his boy they were talking about. His boy—in an unplayable lie—and those who had seen him before were calmly expecting him to come out of it!
To Mr. Hobgood's eyes, a dozen years fell away from Richard. He looked positively immature; and that was curious, because the muscles of his face were solid with a particularly mature expression.
“Fore!” said Richard, all but inaudibly.
Mr. Hobgood started. So the boy was going after it, was he? Not playing safe, and sidewise, but pitching almost vertically out of soft sand—one chance in a hundred that he would get out at all—and immediate defeat, then and there, if he didn't.
Richard was handling his niblick suggestively, and humming again. Mr. Hobgood's eyes stole over to his own putt. It was a twelve-footer, and if he dropped it, it would give him the only par four he had ever made on the eighteenth. He could surely underwrite a five—he couldn't miss it. And that would mean that he must keep his solemn promise, and do a very remarkable thing. He had figured, of course, that Richard would beat him easily, if he tried. And if Mr. Hobgood won, then whether he maintained his ground, or backed down, Richard would misunderstand him and despise him equally in either case. Mr. Hobgood grew warm. He felt that he was in an equivocal position, no matter what happened. Six holes ago he had felt like a judicious, if Spartan, parent; now he felt very foolish and melodramatic. If Richard would only hurry up and play! Instead. Richard was speaking to him:
“Suppose we finish all square?”
“In that case,” said old Mr. Hobgood, trying to master his voice, “I win. That's because you really didn't earn your half on the second hole. You've got to beat me, Richard.”
His son appeared curiously juvenile to him. He remembered that Richard, as a boy, had always looked pathetic under punishment. He said to himself that it would have been worth half his fortune if he and Richard could have had this last decade of golf together. Why, they could have been playing in the Pater-Filius tournaments at Sleepy Hollow! Richard might perfectly well have been the Amateur Champion by now. Mr. Hobgood caught his breath. He had conceivably robbed his only son of a championship. And he himself had lived sixty-eight years before he had realized what it meant to have a champion in the family.
There was a staccato of applause from the little group of spectators, and Mr. Hobgood, coming violently to himself, saw Richard the storm-center of a cloud of sand, in which a very white ball seemed suspended. Involuntarily, Mr. Hobgood. ducked. The ball ran gaily up to the edge of the green and stopped. Richard had accomplished a remarkable out, but he was still thirty feet from the hole. He lighted a cigaret, while his father surveyed him, and debated whether praise would be the best thing for Richard just then, or not.
From the little gallery: “Plays just as careful as though it was a big match, don't he?”
Richard was bending over for the putt. His father could see fine lines on his forehead—could see the rigid determination about his eyes and mouth. Mr. Hobgood's heart almost stopped beating as he watched the try.
“You're always short,” he said gruffly. “You've still left yourself a shot for it! Well, I've got this for the hole——”
Merciless, for Richard's sake, he threw every atom of his resolve into the task. He told himself that he would beat Richard and then bargain with him. Offer to rescind the promise if Richard would guarantee to take regular exercise, say, two afternoons a week. With this in mind, he putted the best he knew how. To his horror, his head lifted before the stroke was played. He felt it; he knew it; but it was too late. The putt was half-topped; Mr. Hobgood overran by two good yards.
“This for the half,” he said unsteadily.
He didn't look at Richard. He was wondering, as judges will, whether his judgment had been unnecessarily severe. It had been, of course, an emergency. It had been to compel Richard to wash his brain free of business details, and to infect him again with the incurable itch for golf. He believed that Richard, once bitten, would be unable to stay away from the links. But would Richard ever forgive him for the test? Would Richard ever understand that it had been merely one of those desperate attempts of a parent to meet with justice a situation which apparently couldn't be met without the grossest injustice?
What if Richard, regardless of the outcome, never forgave him?
Mr. Hobgood, squinting at the line of his putt, automatically added Richard's score for the second nine. Five, six, four, five, four, three, five, three—and a putt for a five here. A putt for a 40; a putt that he couldn't possibly miss—his first golf since 1909. Mr. Hobgood breathed hard. Talk about your up-hill fighters! That was his boy—a champion. And Mr. Hobgood wanted him to be a champion again.
He resolutely closed his eyes tight, and putted. He opened his eyes, and saw that he had missed the hole, just as he had intended, by about a foot. He walked tremendously over, and topped the ball in for a six.
“Now,” he said, “if you've got the courage of a house mouse, you ought to win the hole, Richard.”
Richard barely rimmed the cup, but his ball, following around the curve of the hole, slipped in through the back door for a five and the match, one up.
“Bull luck!” said Mr. Hobgood austerely. “Get off the green—we're holding up the whole course, Richard.”
SIMILARLY uncommunicative, they went in to the lockers, and, shortly afterward, to lunch.
“You won't want to go out again this afternoon, I suppose?” said Mr. Hobgood casually.
“Why, I was just thinking about that, father.”
“I could go nine more holes with you.”
“Well, let's see how we feel after lunch. Here Mr. Hobgood almost fell off his chair for he could have sworn that Richard had winked at him. But neither of them mentioned the terms, or the outcome, of the morning's round.
“Haven't added up my medal yet,” said Mr. Hobgood suddenly.
“I did. You were forty-seven and forty-eight for a ninety-five.”
Mr. Hobgood quivered. “Honest? No! It can't be! Wait—by George, it is!” He sank back, radiant. “Well, I'll be hanged! Ninety-five! Well, I will be hanged! Why, Richard!”
Richard was smiling his commendation.
“You wasted a lot of shots, too. You putted like a child on the eighteenth——” He paused, and Mr. Hobgood grew faintly pink. He wondered whether Richard had seen him shut his eyes on the last green. It was an awful thought. It would destroy all Richard's trust in him. “Still, I can't say very much about putting, myself. I made a ninety-two—fifty-two and forty.” Richard looked sober. “Thunder! I bet I could shoot ten strokes better this afternoon. And with a week's practise——”
“And the North and South the week after that—” suggested Mr. Hobgood slyly.
“Hm.” Richard frowned. “Of course my timing's 'way off. But it's queer how the game does get hold of you again. If Alec Ross could give me a couple of hours—and I've got to get used to these new clubs. You can't take a bit of turf here, can you?”
“Not a mite. And you shouldn't chip your approaches, either, unless you have to. Run 'em up, like I do.”
“Yes. I remember. There's a trick to it, though.”
After lunch, Mr. Hobgood, craving for an interlude for introspection, waved his son away. “Now let me alone for an hour, Richard. I just want to sit out in the sun. 1 don't want to talk or do anything. You just go and tend to your own business and write letters or something for about an hour, and then you come back and we'll decide what's best for us to do this afternoon.”
Accordingly, Richard vanished. Mr. Hobgood. inhaling deeply, went out to the terrace, and sat down to bask in the sunshine. Ninety-five! None of your medicinal hundreds for old man Hobgood any more; he could break a hundred any time he wanted to. It was easy!
“Telephone, Mr. Hobgood.”
“What say? Oh, all right—I'll be right in.” Nevertheless, he paused for a moment at the corner of the veranda, and looked over to the west, and smiled to himself very thoroughly and with great self-esteem before he answered the call.
“Hello. … Yes, this is Hobgood. … Oh, hello, Skinner! Where are you—in New York? … I guess you wanted to talk to Richard, didn't you?” Here Mr. Hobgood craned his neck, in order to peer out of the western windows. “No; he's busy. … No, I can't call him just now. … Well, what is it?”
In the course of half a minute, Mr. Hobgood took to shaking his head peremptorily. “No, Skinner. He won't be coming up to-night. … No. Not possibly. … Why, I'd judge in about two weeks. … Well, we won't take the contracts, then. … Look here, Skinner, don't forget I'm still alive; I don't like to have my young men talk like. … Sure, I'll accept your apology, but you better be a little careful how you talk to … No, you can't get Richard on the line, and it wouldn't do any good if you did. Two weeks is what I said. …. You just have to get along without him He'll send the contracts up by mail to-night and you can see to 'em just as well as he could—or if you can't, you ought to be afraid to admit it. … Say, Skinner, I made a ninety-five to-day! … Yes … Oh, you don't play golf? … You talk like a fool, Skinner. … Well, he'll be up in about two weeks. … That's right. … Good-by.”
Smiling broadly, Mr. Hobgood stood for a moment, gazing out of the window to the practise-greens, where Richard was absorbed with a putter and a dozen new balls. He observed that Richard was vibrant with energy, and that his expression was happier than Mr. Hobgood could remember. And Richard was putting exceptionally well.
“Joe,” said Mr. Hobgood to the sable doorman, “go get my putter and some balls. I better warm up for my match this afternoon. Got a good man to play with, too. … Yes, he's my son. … Did I tell you I shot a ninety-five to-day, Joe? Yes, sir. I bet I break ninety before the season's over, Joe. It's a cinch. Here's a dollar for you.”
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.