by HOLWORTHY HALL
IT WAS five o'clock, and rapidly shading into dusk. The September sun, which earlier had set the air to simmering in tremulous heat-waves, now moved reluctant to ambush behind the hills, and, as though sullen at the exigency of its time, gave warning by its bloodshot eye of pitiless heat to be renewed with to-morrow's dawn. From the curving line of trees—thin elms and maples, bordering upon the hard-packed road, long, soothing shadows edged out into the fresh green of the fairway, measuring with their deeper green the flight of hours, and the peaceful ebbing of the afternoon.
From the distant Sound, a transient breeze, shy as a maiden in the manner of its coming, ventured out from the protection of the ridge, hesitated, wavered, and passed across the sward so fleetingly that almost before it seemed assured a fact, it was a memory.
Then, from the trees at the roadside, and from the trees beyond, and from the little brook dawdling along from east to west, and from the reeded lake far over to the right, a breath of evening crept out upon the lawns, and there was silence.
In a clearing at the southern end of the sinuous line of maples there was a trim plateau, close-shorn of grass, and sharply defined by boundaries of sedge and stubble. From this spot forward an expansive belt of untrimmed land stretched northward for a hundred yards, to merge presently with the more aristocratic turf of the fairway.
Thereafter, between the trees and a long alinement of pits, the wide trail of adventure ran through rolling country, skirted a grove of locusts, dipped down to ford the brook, climbed past a pair of shallow trenches which glistened with coarse sand, and finally found refuge on a terraced green, protected by towering chestnuts and flanked by the arm of a Colonial house which rested comfortably beneath the trees.
From clearing to terrace the crow, flying as crow's are popularly supposed to fly, would have accomplished five hundred and forty-five yards. It was the eighteenth hole at Kenilworth,
The trim plateau, which was the eighteenth tee, now marked the apex of a human letter, a V of which a thousand men and women formed each stroke. Converging sharply toward that rectangle in the sedge, two thousand men and women—twin lines of white, slashed here and there with burning color—restrained and held in check by twisted ropes, leaned out and gaped and wondered, breathless; now standing hushed by things already seen, now vibrant to the future, uneasy, murmuring.
And as in recompense for toiling through the humid afternoon two thousand men and women held this privilege: to stand, and wait, and watch until a boy, a sturdy, laughing boy, and then a man, a grayed and quiet man, played, stroke by stroke, the eighteenth hole at Kenilworth.
And silhouetted in the background, nervous on the tee, there stood the man and the boy, the finalists for the Amateur Championship; two wizards of the links whose faces had gone rigid, whose palms were suddenly wet and cold, whose souls were newly strung upon the natural laws which govern flying objects. For of these two, the man—Hargrave, the present champion—was dormie one.
He was fifty-five, this Hargrave; in commercial life he had known bankruptcy at forty. Golf, which had been heretofore diversion, he made the solace of his penury; it had then made itself his religion. Within the decade he had snatched the national title for his keepsake; subsequently he had lost it, struggled for it desperately, regained, and defended it. The gold medal meant in finitely more to him than a mere visible token of success at golf: it was suggestive of success elsewhere. It was the embodiment of conquests he had never made, of victories he never might accomplish. In other years wealth had eluded him, power had been alien to him, social distinction was to be classed among the impossibilities; but when he stepped morosely out upon the course, he vaunted in his heart that he was high-born to the purple.
Granted that he was poor indeed in purse, he knew no multimillionaire in all the world who could undertake to meet him on equal terms; he could concede six strokes, and still administer a beating, to the finest gentleman and the finest golfer in the Social Register. And so, while golf was his theology and arbitrary par his creed, he played the Scottish game as though it symbolized the life he had proved incapable of mastering—and he mastered the game instead.
To win was the wine of his existence; to surmount obstacles was the evidence of his regeneration; to come from behind, to turn impending downfall into disconcerting triumph, was compensation for the days and months and years when the man in him had cried out for recognition, and the weakling in him had earned his failure. And he was dormie one—and it was Stoddard's honor at the last hole.
THE man stiffened perceptibly as Stoddard, nodding to the referee, took a pinch of sand from the box, and teed for the final drive. Then, in accordance with the grimmest of his grim theories of golf, he squarely turned his back on his opponent, and stared fixedly at the ground. He had trained himself to this practise for two unrelated reasons: the moral effect upon his adversary; and the opportunity to detach himself from the mechanics of his surroundings, and to visualize himself in the act of playing his next stroke.
He conjured up a vision of the ball, the club, himself in the address, the swing, the attack. He compelled his faculties to rivet upon a superb ideal. And it was largely by virtue of this preliminary concentration that he was enabled to bring off his shots with such startling absence of delay: the orders were transmitted to his muscles in advance; his swing was often started when, to the open-mouthed observer, he had hardly reached the ball. And it was by virtue of his utter disregard of his opponent that he was never discouraged, never unnerved, never disheartened. He was neither cheered by the disaster of the enemy, nor cast down by the enemy's good fortune. He was contemptuous not of the personality of the opponent, but of his entity. He played his own game, and his best game, quite ignoring the fact that it was competitive.
But as he formally prepared to shut Stoddard out of his consciousness, and exerted his determination to picture himself in yet another perfect illustration of golfing form, he discovered that his will, though resolute, was curiously weak. It missed of its usual persistence. The ideal came and went, as though reflected on a motion film at lowered speed. There was no continuity; there was no welding of motor impulses. According to his theory, Hargrave-should have been purely mechanical. On the contrary, he was thinking.
He entertained no sense of actual antagonism toward Stoddard. Indeed, from the inception of the finals, at ten o'clock this morning, the boy had shown himself considerate and generous, quick of applause and slow of alibi, a dashing, brilliant, dangerous golfer with the fire of an adventurer and the grace of a cavalier. He was confident, yet modest, and he had performed a score of feats for which his modesty was not that inverted conceit of mediocrity in luck, but literal modesty, sheer lack of self-aggrandizement. He was dogged while he smiled; he was still smiling with his lips when his eyes betrayed his chastened mood; and the smile faded and vanished only when he saw that Hargrave was in difficulty.
The gallery, nine-tenths of it, was with him boisterously. The gallery was frankly on the side of youth and spontaneity. The mass, unresponsive to the neutral tints of Hargrave's character, thrilled to the star ascendent.
The gray-haired champion, introspective on the tee, frowned and grimaced, and toyed with his dreadnaught driver. Early in the morning he had confessed guiltily to himself that Stoddard was the sort of lad he should have liked to call his son. And yet he knew that if he had ever married, if he had ever glowed to the possession of a son, the boy couldn't conceivably have been in the least like Stoddard. Four generations forbade the miracle. The mold of ancestry would have stamped out another failure, another charge upon the good opinion of the world. The child would have been the father of the man. And Stoddard—witness his behavior and his generosity—was of no varnished metal. He was without alloy. He was a gentleman because his great-grandfathers had been gentlemen. He was rich because they had made him so. But Hargrave had allowed himself to experience an anomalous and paternal emotion toward Stoddard—Stoddard who at twenty was higher in rank, higher in quality, higher in the affection of the people than Hargrave at fifty-five. He had nourished this emotion by trying to imagine what he could have made of himself if, at his majority, he had been of the type of Stoddard.
AND now, recalling this quondam sentiment, he shuddered in a spasm of self-pity; and simultaneously, in one of those racking bursts of humanity which come to men unloving and unloved, he longed to whirl about, to stride toward Stoddard, to grip his hand and say—well, one of the common platitudes; “May the best man win”—something of that sort; anything to show that he, too, was living rapidly in the crisis.
In another moment he might have yielded; he might have bridged the fearful chasm of self-imposed restraint. But he was slothful to the impulse. Behind him there was the sharp, pistol-like crack of a clean and powerful drive; and before him, brought clear by reflex and by the will that had been lagging, the ghostly mirage of a ball, and of himself swinging steadily and hard, and of a tremendous carry and run, true to the flag. The champion had remembered that he was dormie one. A voice, low but distinct, came to him through a volume of incoherent sound: “Mr. Hargrave!”
The man turned slowly. He saw neither the referee, who had spoken to him, nor Stoddard, who had stepped aside; he saw no caddies; he saw no fairway. Both lines of the V were agitated, electric; on the faces of the men and women nearest him he perceived beatific, partisan delight. The thousand-tongued shout which had gone up in praise of Stoddard was dwindling to a hum, which throbbed mercilessly in Hargrave's ears and challenged him. He knew, as he had known for hours, how earnestly the public hoped for his defeat. He knew that if he bettered Stoddard's drive his sole reward would be a trifling ripple of applause, smirched by a prayer that he might spoil his second shot.
He grinned sardonically at the throng. He rubbed his palms together, drying them. He teed a ball, and took his stance; glanced over the course, took back the club a dozen inches, carried it ahead, and rested for the fraction of a second; then, accurate, machine-like to the tiniest detail, swung up, hit down, and felt his body carried forward in the full, strong finish of a master drive.
“Good ball!” said Stoddard in a voice that trembled slightly. From the V, sporadic handclapping. Hargrave, the national champion, had driven two hundred and fifty yards.
Ahead of him, as he walked defiantly through the rough, the fairway bobbed with men and women who, as they chattered busily, stumbled over the undulations of the turf. Now and then a straggler threw a look of admiration over his shoulder, and, meeting the expressionless mask of the amateur champion, insouciantly shrugged that shoulder and resumed his march.
Hargrave's caddy, as dour and uncommunicative as the champion himself, stalked abreast, the clubs rattling synchronously to his stride. Hargrave was studying the contour of the land in front; he glowered at the marshals who had suffered the gallery to break formation and overflow the course; and he was tempted to ask his caddy how, when the entire middle distance was blocked by spectators, the Golf Association thought a finalist could judge the hole. But he denied himself the question; it was seven years since he had condescended to complain of, or to criticize, the conditions of a tournament. Nevertheless he was annoyed; he was certain that the ground sloped off just where his second shot should properly be placed; his memory was positive.
Still, he was impatient, irritated. He wanted to verify his scheme of play. The muscles of his neck twitched spasmodically. Without warning, even to himself, his annoyance flared into red hate. His eyes flashed venomously. And when it seemed that unless that crowd dispersed, and gave him room, his nerves would shatter in a burst of rage, he saw the marshals tautening their lines, the gallery billowing out into a wide and spacious funnel, and felt the caddy's touch upon his sleeve.
“ LOOK out, Mr. Hargrave! Stoddard's away!”
The champion halted, and without a glance toward Stoddard, stared at his own ball. It was an excellent lie; he nodded imperceptibly and took a brassey which the caddy, without waiting for instructions, put into his outstretched hand. His fingers closed around the grip; he tested the spring of the shaft, and focused his whole attention upon the ball. He strove to summon that mental cinema of Hargrave, cool, collected, playing a full brassey to the green. But Stoddard again intruded.
In the morning round Hargrave had won the first three holes, and he had brought in his man three down. He had made a seventy-four, one over par, and Stoddard had scored a seventy-eight. And in the afternoon Hargrave had won the first two holes, and stood five up with sixteen more to play. Then Stoddard had begun his spurt. Hargrave scowled at the toe of a brassey as he recounted errors which, if they could have been eliminated from his total, would have erased five strokes, and ended the match long since.
Cruelly, three of those errors were on successive holes. On the fifteenth he had missed a simple putt for the win; on the sixteenth he had over-approached and thrown away a half; on the seventeenth he had topped an iron and still accomplished a par four—but Stoddard had made a three.
The champion felt his heart flutter and his knees yield a trifle as he reflected what havoc one more ineffectual shot would work upon his nerves. He was slipping, and he knew it. He realized, not in cowardice but in truth and in fact, that if the match should go to an extra hole, he, and not Stoddard, would be the loser. His customary command of his muscles was satisfactory, but his control of his nerves was waning. He was overgolfed; overstrained; stale. He could bear the strain of this hole, but that was all. His stamina had neared its limit; his fortitude could stand no more. He could gage it to a nicety; he had a debilitating intuition which told him that if he had to drive again from the first tee, he should founder wretchedly.
If Stoddard won the eighteenth, it would be the fourth consecutive godsend for Stoddard, and Stoddard's game was improving, not deteriorating; he had moral courage behind him, he had the savage delight of metamorphosing a forlorn chance into a certainty, he had the stimulus and the impetus of his grand onrush, he had the gallery with him. It was inevitable that Stoddard, if he won the eighteenth, would win the next. So that the champion, who was dormie one, must have a half—he must divide this hole with Stoddard. He must!
The champion grew restive. It needed the supreme effort of his career to force himself to inertia, to refrain from wheeling swiftly, and shrieking aloud to Stoddard, to demand why he didn't play! Was the boy asleep? Dead? Had he succumbed to paralysis? Hargrave wet his lips, and swallowed dustily.
A tremor ran through his body, and his wrists tightened in palsied fear. His eyes pained him; they reminded him of a doll's eyes, turning inward; he was aware that his face was drawn. He wondered stupidly whether the spoon would be safer than the brassey. He liked the spoon—but was the cleek surer yet? He caught his breath in a gasp, and at the same moment his spine was chilled in a paroxysm of futile terror. He essayed to swallow and thought that he was strangling. His soul cried heart-breakingly out to Stoddard: “Shoot! For God's sake, shoot!”
THE tension snapped. A roar of jubilance went up from twice a thousand throats, a roar which, dying momentarily, swelled up in glory, and hung, and splintered into a thousand reverberations against the hills. Hargrave cleared his throat. For the life of him he couldn't maintain his principles; his nature revolted; and he was gazing at a tiny fleck of white ten feet to the side of the terrace, which was the eighteenth green. Stoddard was hole high in two! A lucky kick from the stones of the brook! Five hundred and forty-five yards in two! Hargrave went white, and looked despairingly at his caddy.
He needed a half, and Stoddard was hole high. There was an outside possibility, then, that Stoddard could make a four—one under par. And Hargrave was nearly three hundred yards away. Could he, too, make a four—for the half?
The champion, with two alternatives looming bold before him, shivered in exquisite incertitude. He could attempt a heroic stroke with the brassey, sacrificing accuracy for distance, or he could play his normal shot, which was practically sure to clear the brook, but still leave him at a critical disadvantage. In the latter instance he could guarantee himself a five, but already Stoddard was morally assured of his four. And that four, if he achieved it, meant a squared match for Stoddard, and his resultant victory. Hargrave could halve the hole only if Stoddard blundered; and for an hour and more Stoddard's golf had been flawless, wonderful.
But if Hargrave should risk his crown on a mighty endeavor to equal Stoddard's titanic brassey shot, he would have the odds of war alarmingly against him. The trajectory must be perfect to the fifth degree from a surveyor's line. The ball must either fall short of the brook by ten yards, or clear it by ten, and bounding neither to the left, among the trees, nor to the right, among the sand-pits, surmount the grade. An unfortunate angle of consequence, a mere rub of the green, would be doubly fatal. The ball might even be unplayable. There would yet be a hazardous last chance for a five; but again, there was no reason to expect that. Stoddard had been deadly, uncannily deadly, on those short, running approaches. Stoddard would make his four.
Hargrave closed and unclosed his fingers around the grip of the brassey. A rim of ice, pressing inward, surrounded his heart. His brain was delicately clouded, as though he had just awakened out of the slumber of exhaustion, and looked upon the world without comprehending it, sensed it without perceiving its physiology. He passed a hand over his forehead, and found it damp with perspiration.
A YEAR ago he had promised himself that, as champion, he would withdraw from competition. It was his dream to retire at the height of his prowess, to go down in the history of games as one of that rare company who have known when to file their resignations. Indeed, he had vowed not to defend his title this year. But when he had sniffed the atmosphere of a club grill, and after he had tested his strength in a practise round or two, he had diffidently entered for the Atlantic City tournament, and won it. Infectiously, the old ardor had throbbed in his veins. He was keenly alive to his dominant tenure; his nostrils dilated, his jaws set.
He would add one consummating honor to those that had gone before; he would take his third successive championship with him into history. And so at Deal, at Apawamis, at Sleepy Hollow and at Garden City, at Montclair and Wykagyl and Piping Rock, he had groomed himself, thoroughly and deliberately, for the climax. The metropolitan supremacy was his for the fifth time; he had finish fourth in the Metropolitan Open, third in the National Open. In the handicap list of the great central association he stood proudly aloof at scratch.
And now, with six days of irreproachable golf behind him, with the greatest prize of a lifetime shining in his very eyes, he looked at a distant red flag, drooping on its staff, and looked at a ball lying in tempting safety on the fairway, and felt his chin quiver in the excess of his passionate longing, and felt a white-hot band searing his forehead, and penetrating deep.
He kept the brassey. And as he took his stance, and essayed to concentrate upon the problem of combining vast length with absolute precision, his mind became so acutely receptive to impression, so marvelously subjective, that he found himself repeating over and over to himself the simple maxims he had learned painfully by heart when he was a novice, striving to break through the dread barrier which divides those who play over and those who play under a hundred strokes for the single round.
He experienced, for the first time in years, a subtle premonition of ineptitude. He was again a tyro, whose margin of error was ninety-five per cent. Where was the ball going? It was incredibly small, that sphere in the fairway; it was incredible that he should smite it so truly and so forcibly that it would fly even so far as half a dozen furlongs. Suppose he, a champion, with a champion's record, should slice, or pull, or top—or miss the ball completely?
Hargrave's teeth came grindingly together. His eyes dulled and narrowed. He took the club back for a scant foot, raised it, took it forward, past the ball in the line of the hole, brought it to its original position, pressed it gently into the yielding turf with infinitesimal exertion of the left wrist, and swung. Wrists, forearms, shoulders and hips—his whole anatomy coordinated in that terrific assault. The click of the wood against the ball hadn't yet reached his ears when he knew, with exultation so stupendous that it sickened him, that the shot had come off. His eager eyes picked up the ball in flight; and as he paused momentarily at the finish of his terrific drive, he was filled with a soft and yet an incongruously fierce content. Again he had foiled the gallery, and Stoddard! He saw the ball drop, across the brook; saw it leap prodigiously high in air, and fall again, and bound, and roll, slower and slower, and cease to roll—a good club's length from the lower pit, twenty yards from the green.
The champion and the challenger were on even terms.
UNLIKE the average man of gregarious instincts, Hargrave never sought proximity to his opponent during a match. His procedure was exactly as though, instead of playing against a flesh-and-blood antagonist, he were going around alone. He went his independent way, kept his peace, entertained no thought of courtesy or conversation. If fortuitously, at this moment, he had to walk a parallel course to that of his opponent, and even if the interval between them were a matter of a scant rod or so, the champion was invariably thin-lipped, reflective, incommunicative.
He observed, with a little flicker of amusement, that Stoddard was eyeing him sidewise, and he felt that Stoddard was not a little affected by that enormous brassey, as well as by Hargrave's outward indifference toward it. Hargrave, however, appraised his own flinty exterior as one of his championship assets. He seldom praised the other man, or even noticed him; and if the other man chose to burst into fervid eulogy, the champion's manner was so arctic, so repelling, that not infrequently he gained a point on the very next shot through the adversary's dazed inefficiency.
He knew that he was unpopular, he knew that he was affirmatively disliked; he knew that the public, the good-natured and friendly public, yearned for Stoddard's triumph rather as a vindication of gentility than as a proof of might. But as he observed that Stoddard showed premonitory symptoms of increased nervousness, and that Stoddard was impelled to speak, and yet held his tongue to save himself from sure rebuff, the champion's breast expanded with golden hope.
Stoddard, after all, was a mere boy: a veteran golfer—yes, but immature in the mentality of golf. And Hargrave some times won his matches, especially from younger men, in the locker-room before he put on his shoes. If Stoddard praised him now, he could send Stoddard into catastrophe with a word. But Stoddard didn't speak.
In addition to his other reasons, he was anxious to beat Stoddard because of his very youth. It had galled Hargrave to be forced, by the luck of the draw, to meet five of the youngest experts of the country in this tournament; it had galled him, not because he was loath to win from younger men, but because the public naturally discounted his victories over them.
On Tuesday he had overwhelmed a Western prodigy, a freckled schoolboy who had blushingly donned full-length trousers for this great event. On Wednesday he had won, three up and two to go, from a Harvard freshman, a clubbable youngster who had succumbed to Hargrave primarily because his optimism had slowly been destroyed by Hargrave's rude acerbity.
On Thursday he had met, and easily defeated, the junior champion of Westchester—defeated him by the psychology of the locker-room, by knocking him off balance at the outset, much as the gladiator Corbett once shook the poise of the gladiator Sullivan. In the semi-finals yesterday he had beaten his man—browbeaten him—by diligently creating an atmosphere of such electric stress that a too-little-hardened Southron, sensitive as a girl, had gone to pieces at the ninth, capitulated at the twenty-seventh hole.
And Hargrave, whose bitterness toward the golfing public had progressed arithmetically through these earlier rounds, had come up to the finals in a mood of acid which, in the true analysis, was a form of specious envy and regret. He realized that in comparison with any of the men he had removed from brackets, he was unattractive, aged, cynical, repugnant. He envied youth—but how could he regain his own? How could he crystallize at fifty-five the secret ambitions of a boy of twenty? He couldn't stand before this fashionable gallery and, indicating Stoddard, cry out to them: “But I want to be like him! I want to be. And it's too late! It's too late!”
A GREAT wave of self-glorification swept over him, and left him calmer, more pragmatical. After all, he was Hargrave, phenomenon of the links, the man who, beginning serious golf at the age of forty, unaided by professional tutoring, untrained by previous experience in the realm of sport, had already wrenched three amateur championships and unnumbered lesser prizes from the world. He was the invincible Hargrave; the man who had victoriously invaded France, England, Austria, Canada, Scotland. He had averaged under seventy-five for the previous three years on all courses and at all seasons. He had been six down with nine to play in the finals of the English Amateur, and come romping home to triumph, four under par. It was said of him that he was never beaten until the last putt on the last hole. Better than that, it was true.
By this time the gallery was massed rows deep around the eighteenth green. Hargrave crossed the little foot-bridge over the brook and permitted the shadow of a smile to temper the sternness of his face. They hoped to see him lose, did they? Well, he often disappointed them in the past; he could disappoint them now! All he required was a half, and he was barely off the green in two.
But even in the vanity which somewhat relieved the strain upon his equilibrium he was conscious of a burdening weariness which wasn't solely physical. He was impatient, not only to end this match, but also to end his tournament golf forever. He was sure now that, winner or loser, he should never enter an important contest again. His nerves were weakening. He was losing that essential balance without which no man, however skilful in the academics of the game, may be renowned for his examples.
Next year he should unquestionably play with less nerve, less animation. Some unknown duffer would catch him unawares and vanquish him; and after that the descent from scratch would be rapid—headlong. It had been so with the greatest golfers of the past; it would be so with Hargrave. Great as he was, he wasn't immune to the calendar. But to retire as merely a runner-up—that was unthinkable! To retire in favor of a slim boy whose Bachelorhood of Arts was yet a fond delusion—that was impossible! He must win—and on the eighteenth green, after he had holed out, he would break his putter over his knee, and he would say to the gallery—and it ought to be dramatic …
He brought himself to a standstill. His heart pounded suffocatingly. A lump rose in his throat, and choked him, and his whole intellect seemed to melt into confusion and feeble horror; there was a crushing weight on his chest. slow, insistent cacophony poured through his brain, and for an instant his universe went black. The ball, which had appeared to carry so magnificently, and roll so well, had found a bowl-shaped depression in the turf, a wicked concavity perhaps two inches and a half in depth, two in diameter; and there it lay, part in the sunlight, part nestling under the shelter of a dry leaf, a ball accursed and sinister.
Blindly, and apprehensive, the champion turned to look at Stoddard. The boy was struggling to conceal the manifestation of his hopes; the muscles of his lower face were flexed and unrelenting. Between him and the flag was level turf, untroubled by the slightest taint of trickery or unevenness. He knew, and Hargrave knew, that nothing short of superhuman skill could bring the like to Hargrave. He knew, and Hargrave knew, that at the play-off of a tie the champion was doomed. The champion had faltered on the last few holes; his game was destined to collapse as surely as Stoddard's game was destined to rise supreme. As Hargrave paused, aghast, there came a rustle and a murmur from the gallery. A clear voice—a woman's voice—said ecstatically, “Then Bobby'll win—won't he?”
Hargrave glared in the direction of that voice. The veil of horror had gradually dissolved, but Hargrave, as he weighed the enigma of the shot, was visited by a cold apathy which staggered him. It wasn't a phlegmatic calm which sat upon him; it was inappetency—as though he had just wakened to a sense of proportionate values.
The matter of coaxing a golf ball out of a casual depression—what significance had it? To-morrow would yet be to-morrow; with breakfast, and the newspapers, and all the immaterial details of living and breathing. Why all this pother and heartache about it? What was golf, that it should stir a man to the otherwise unprobed depths of his soul? Why should he care, why should he squander so much mental torture as could be computed by one tick of a clock, why should he tremble at this ridiculous experiment with a little white ball and a bit of iron on the end of a shaft of hickory?
For one elemental moment he was almost irresistibly impelled to pick that ball out of its lie, and dash it in the face of the gallery, hurl his clubs after it, and empty himself of the accumulated passion of fifty-five years. Sulphurous phrases crowded to his lips.
And then he realized that all this time he had been glaring in the direction of a woman's voice. He exhaled slowly, and held out his hand to the caddy.
“Niblick!” said Hargrave thickly.
THE distance to the hole was greater than he had fancied. The lie of the ball was worse than he had feared. His calculation intimated that he must strike hard, and stiffly, with a pronounced up-and-down swing to get at the back of the ball. The force of the extricating stroke must be considerable; the green, however, was too keen, too fine, to permit liberty in the manner of approaching it. The ball, if it were to carry the full thirty yards to the pin, couldn't possibly receive sufficient reverse power to fall dead. It must, therefore, be played to reach the nearer rim of the green, and to drift gently on to the hole.
Hargrave caught his breath. The knowledge that he distrusted himself was infinitely more demoralizing than any other factor in the personal equation; he was shocked and baffled by his own uncertainty. Through his brain ran curiously the first principles of the kindergarten of golf. He didn't imagine himself playing this shot: he speculated as to how Braid, or Vardon, or Ray, or Duncan would play it. He was strangely convinced that for any one else in the world it would be the simplest of recoveries, the easiest of pitches to the green.
He glanced at his caddy, and in that glance there was hidden an appeal which bespoke genuine pathos. Hargrave wasn't merely disturbed and distressed: he was palpitatingly timid. He was afraid to strike, and he was afraid not to strike. His mind had lost its jurisdictive functions; he felt that his muscles were in process of revolt against his will. He was excruciatingly perceptive of people watching him; of Stoddard regarding him humorously.
The collective enmity of the gallery oppressed and befuddled him. He was crazily fearful that when he swung the niblick upright, some one would snatch at it and divert its orbit. His ears strained for a crashing sound from the void; his overloaded nerves expected thunder. He knew that the fall of an oak-leaf would reverberate through his aching head like an explosion of maximite and make him strike awry. His vitals seemed suddenly to slip away from his body, leaving merely a febrile husk of clammy skin to hold his heart-beats.
The niblick turned in his perspiring hands. He gripped more firmly, and as his wrists reacted to the weight of the club-head, he was automatic. The niblick rose, and descended, smashing down the hinder edge of the bowl-like cavity, and tearing the ball free. A spray of dust sprang up, and bits of sod and dirt. The ball shot forward, overrunning the hole by a dozen feet. Almost before it came to rest, Stoddard played carefully with a jigger, and landed ten inches from the hole.
HAVRGRAVE'S sensation was that he was encompassed with walls which were closing in to stifle and crush him. That they were living walls was evident by the continuous whisper of respiration, and by the cross-motion of the sides. He was buried under the tremendous bulk of thousands of personalities in conflict with his own. He tottered on the verge of hysteria. He was nervously exhausted, and yet he was upheld, and compelled to go on, to play, to putt, by nervous energy which by its very goad was unendurable. Hargrave looked at the green under his feet, and fought back a mad impulse to throw himself prone upon it, to scream at the top of his lungs, and writhe, to curse and blaspheme, and claw the grass with his nails. Each breath he drew was cousin to a sob.
He stood behind the ball to gage the line, and realized that he was seeing neither the ball nor the hole. He couldn't see clearly the grass itself. He was stricken, as far as his environment was concerned, with utter ophthalmia. And although the boy Stoddard was outside the field of Hargrave's vision, the champion saw Stoddard's face, as he had seen it just now, before Stoddard turned away.
He despised Stoddard; unreasonably but savagely he despised him, because of the light he had seen in Stoddard's eyes. The boy wasn't a philosopher, like Hargrave: he was a baby, a whining infant grasping for the moon. He had no sense of proportion. That expression in his eyes had convicted him. This tournament was to him the horizon of his life. It was his life!
HARGRAVE'S mouth was parched and bitter. He tried to moisten his lips. Details of the green began to develop in his consciousness as in a photographic negative. He saw the zinc-lined hole twelve feet away. His eye traced an imaginary line, starting from his ball and leading, not straight to the cup, but perceptibly to the left, then curving in along the briefest of undulations, swerving past a tiny spot where the grass was sun-scorched, and so to the haven of the hole.
If he could sink that curling putt, nothing could deprive him of his victory. He would be down in four, and Stoddard now lay three. He would have a half—and the match by one up in thirty-six holes. He would be the Amateur Champion of the United States—and he could quit! He could quit as the only man who ever won three years consecutively. And if he missed, and Stoddard took the hole in four to five, Hargrave knew that even if his legs would support him to the first tee, his arms would fall at the next trial. He doubted if sanity itself would stay with him for another hole.
The murmur of the gallery appalled him with its vehemence. The noise was as the rushing of the falls of Niagara. Hargrave stood wearily erect, and eyed that section of the crowd which was before him. He was puzzled by the excitement, the anxiety of that crowd. He was violently angered that no smile of encouragement, of good-fellowship, met his inquiring gaze. The misanthrope in him surged to the surface, and he was supercilious—just for a second!—and then that sense of impotence, of futility, of shaken poise fell upon him once more, and his throat filled.
He needed the half. He must hole this putt. He was thinking now not so much of the result of holing it as of the result of missing it. He could fancy the wretched spectacle he would make of himself on the play-off; he could fancy the explosive, tumultuous joy of the gallery; he could picture the dumb, stunned radiance of Stoddard. And Stoddard was so young. Hargrave wouldn't have minded defeat at the hands of an older man, he told himself fiercely—but at the hands of a boy! To be beaten by a lad hardly old enough for the ballot! Hargrave, the man who had made more whirlwind finishes than any other two players of the game, beaten by a stripling who had come from behind!
ON THE sixteenth and seventeenth holes the champion had reviled himself, scourged himself, between shots. He had clenched his teeth and sworn to achieve perfection. He had persuaded himself that each of his errors had been due to carelessness; and he had known in his heart that each of them was one to a fault, a palpable fault of execution. On the eighteenth hole he had reverted to sincerity with himself. He was harrowed and upset, and in confessing the weakness he had removed at least the crime of over-confidence. But this was far worse! He was doubting his own judgment now: he had determined upon the line of his putt, and he was reconsidering it.
He peered again and, blinking, discovered that there were tears in his eyes. The hole seemed farther away than ever, the green less true, the bare spot more prominent, the cup smaller. He wondered dully if he hadn't better putt straight for the hole. He braced himself, and tremblingly addressed the ball with his putter. This was the shot that would take stomach! This was the end!
He had a vision of to-morrow, and the day after, and the day after that. If he missed this putt, and lost the match, how could he exonerate himself? He had no other pleasure in life, he had no other recreation, no other balm for his wasted years. If he tried again next season, he would lose in the first round. He knew it. And he might live to be seventy—or eighty—always with this gloomy pall of failure hanging over him. Another failure—another Waterloo! And this time he would be to himself the apotheosis of failure! Why—Hargrave's heart stopped beating—he wouldn't be champion!
With a final hum, which was somehow different from those that had preceded it. the gallery faded from his consciousness. Stoddard was as though he had never existed. Hargrave bent over the putter, and a curious echo rang rot unpleasantly in his ears. He saw a white ball in the sunlight, a stretch of lawn, a zinc-lined hole in shadow. There was no longer an objective world in which he lived; there were no longer men and women. He himself was not body. His brain, his judgment, were lost in the abysmal gulf of nothingness. He was physically a part of geometric space; he was an atom of that imaginary line between two points. His whole being was, for the moment, the essence of the linear standard.
In a blank detachment—for he had no recollection of having putted—he saw the ball spinning on a course to the left of the hole. A terrible agony seized him, and for the second time a black curtain shut him off from actuality. It lifted, leaving him on the brink of apoplexy, and he saw that the ball had curved correctly to the fraction of an inch, and was just dropping solidly and unerringly into the cup.
AND from the morning paper:
“Hargrave was dormie one. Both men drove two hundred and fifty yards straight down the course. Stoddard banged away with his brassey, and nearly got home when the ball caromed off a stone in the brook. Hargrave, playing with that marvelous rapidity which characterizes his game, wouldn't be downed, and promptly sent off a screaming two-hundred and-seventy-yard brassey which found a bad lie, but after studying it fully ten seconds—twice his usual allowance—he chipped out with a niblick to the green. Stoddard ran up, dead. Hardly glancing at the line of his fifteen-footer, Hargrave confidently ran down the putt for a birdie four, and his third consecutive championship. Probably no man living would have played the hole under similar conditions, with such absence of nerves and such abnormal assurance. From tee to green Hargrave barely addressed the ball at all: he simply walked up to it, and hit it. And certainly in the United States, if not in the world, there is no man who can compete with Hargrave when the champion happens to be in a fighting mood.
“To our reporter Hargrave stated positively after the match that he will defend his title next year.”
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.