Part 4 out of 7
The next number of the _Advance_ was set by linotype, a circumstance of
which one of its columns spoke feelingly, and set, moreover, in the
presence of as many curious persons as could crowd about the operator.
Among these none was so fascinated as Wilbur Cowan. He hung lovingly
about the machine, his fingers itching to be at its parts. When work for
the day was over he stayed by it until the light grew dim in the
low-ceilinged, dusty office. He took liberties with its delicate
structure that would have alarmed its proud owner, playing upon it with
wrench and screw driver, detaching parts from the whole for the pure
pleasure of putting them back. He thus came to an intimate knowledge of
the contrivance. He knew what made it go. He early mastered its mere
operation. Sam Pickering felt fortified against the future.
Then it developed that though Dave Cowan could perform ably upon the
instrument while it retained its health he was at a loss when it
developed ailments; and to these it was prone, being a machine of
temperament and airs, inclined to lose spirit, to sulk, even irritably
to refuse all response to Dave's fingering of the keyboard. Dave was
sincerely startled when his son one day skillfully restored tone to the
thing after it had disconcertingly rebelled. Sam Pickering, on the point
of wiring for the mechanic who had installed his treasure, looked upon
the boy with awe as his sure hands wrought knowingly among the weirdest
of its vitals. Dave was impressed to utter lack of speech, and resumed
work upon the again compliant affair without comment. Perhaps he
reflected that the stern processes of his favourite evolution demanded
more knowledge of this machine than even he had acquired.
* * * * *
There ensued further profitable education for the young mechanic from
the remarkable case of Sharon Whipple's first motor car. Sharon, the
summer before, after stoutly affirming for two years that he would never
have one of the noisy things on the place, even though the Whipple New
Place now boasted two--boasting likewise of their speed and
convenience--and even though Gideon Whipple jestingly called him a
fossilized barnacle on the ship of progress, had secretly bought a motor
car and secretly for three days taken instructions in its running from
the city salesman who delivered it. His intention was to become daringly
expert in its handling and flash upon the view of the discomfited
Gideon, who had not yet driven a car. He would wheel carelessly up the
drive to the Whipple New Place in apparently contemptuous mastery of the
thing, and he would specifically deny ever having received any driving
lessons whatever, thus by falsehood overwhelming his brother with
In the stable, therefore, one afternoon he had taken his place at the
wheel. Affecting a jovial ease of mind, he commanded the company of his
stableman, Elihu Titus, on the seat beside him. He wished a little to
show off to Elihu, but he wished even more to be not alone if something
happened. With set jaws and a tight grip of the wheel he had backed from
the stable, and was rendered nervous in the very beginning by the
apparent mad resolve of the car to continue backing long after it was
wished not to. Elihu Titus was also rendered nervous, and was safely on
the ground before the car yielded to the invincible mass of a boxwood
hedge that had been forty years in growing. Sharon pointed his eyebrows.
"It makes you feel like a helpless fool," he confided to his hireling.
"She's all right on this side," said Elihu Titus, cannily peering at the
nether mechanism in pretense that he had left his seat to do just that.
The next start was happier in results. Down the broad driveway Sharon
had piloted the monster, and through the wide gate, though in a sudden
shuddering wonder if it were really wide enough for his mount; then he
had driven acceptably if jerkily along back streets for an exciting
hour. It wasn't so bad, except once when he met a load of hay and
emerged with frayed nerves from the ordeal of passing it; and he had
been compelled to drive a long way until he could find space in which to
turn round. The smarty that had sold the thing to him had turned in a
narrow road, but not again that day would Sharon employ the whimsically
treacherous gear of the retrograde.
He came at last to a stretch of common that permitted a wide circle, and
took this without mishap. A block farther along he had picked up the
Cowan boy. He was not above prizing the admiration of this child for his
mechanical genius. Wilbur exclaimed his delight at the car and lolled
gingerly upon its luxurious back seat. He was taken full into the
grounds of the Whipple Old Place, because Sharon had suddenly conceived
that he could not start the car again if he stopped it to let down his
guest. The car entered the wide gateway, which again seemed dangerously
narrow to its driver, and purred on up the gravelled drive. When half
the distance to the haven of the stable had been covered it betrayed
symptoms of some obscure distress, coughing poignantly. Sharon pretended
not to notice this. A dozen yards beyond it coughed again, feebly,
plaintively, then it expired. There could be no doubt of its utter
extinction. All was over. The end had come suddenly, almost painlessly.
They got out and blankly eyed the lifeless hulk. After a moment of this,
which was fruitless, Sharon spoke his mind concerning the car. For all
the trepidation it had caused him, the doubts and fears and panics, he
took his revenge in words of biting acidity--and he was through with the
"Let's get it out of sight," he said at last, and the three of them
pushed it on along the drive to the shelter of the stable.
Elihu Titus then breathed a long sigh and went silently to curry a horse
in a neighbouring box stall. He knew when to talk and when not to. But
Wilbur Cowan, wishing motor cars were in build more like linotypes,
fearlessly opened the hood.
"My shining stars!" murmured Sharon at this his first view of his car's
more intimate devices. "She's got innards like a human, ain't she?" He
instantly beheld a vision of the man in the front of the almanac whose
envelope is neatly drawn back to reveal his complicated structure in
behalf of the zodiacal symbols. "It's downright gruesome," he added. But
his guest was viewing the neat complexities of metal with real pleasure
and with what seemed to the car's owner a practiced and knowing eye.
"Understand 'em?" demanded Sharon.
The boy hesitated. What he wished more than anything was freedom to
take the thing apart, all that charming assemblage of still warm metal
and pipes and wires. He wanted to know what was inside of things, what
made them go, and--to be sure--what had made them stop.
"Well, I could if I had a chance," he said at last.
"You got it," said Sharon. "Spend all your born days on the old cadaver
if you're so minded." Already to Sharon it was an old car. He turned
away from the ghastly sight, but stopped for a final warning: "But don't
you ever tell anybody. I ain't wanting this to get out on me."
"No, sir," said Wilbur.
"Maybe we ought to----" began Sharon, but broke off his speech with a
hearty cough. He was embarrassed, because he had been on the point of
suggesting that they call Doc Mumford. Doc Mumford was the veterinary.
The old man withdrew. Elihu Titus appeared dimly in the background.
"Ain't she one gosh-awful crazy hellion?" he called softly to Wilbur,
and returned to the horse, whose mechanism was understandable.
The boy was left sole physician to the ailing monster. He drew a long
breath of gloating and fell upon it. For three days he lived in grimed,
greased, and oiled ecstasy, appeasing that sharp curiosity to know what
was inside of things. The first day he took down the engine bit by bit.
The clean-swept floor about the dismantled hulk was a spreading turmoil
of parts. Sharon, on cool afterthought, had conceived that his purchase
might not have suffered beyond repair, but returning to survey the
wreck, had thrown up his fat hands in a gesture of hopeless finality.
"That does settle it," he murmured. He pointed to the scattered members.
"How in time did you ever find all them fiddlements in that little
space?" Of course no one could ever put them back.
He picked up the book that had come with the car, a book falsely
pretending to elucidate its mechanism, even to minor intelligences. The
book was profuse in diagrams, and each diagram was profuse in letters
of the alphabet, but these he found uninforming. For the maker of the
car had unaccountably neglected to put A, B, or C on the parts
themselves, which rendered the diagrams but maddening puzzles. He threw
down the book, to watch the absorbed young mechanic who was frankly
puzzled but still hopeful.
"It's an autopsy," said Sharon. He fled again, in the buggy drawn by the
roan. "A fool and his money!" he called from the sagging seat.
The second day passed with the parts still spread about the floor. Elihu
Titus told Sharon the boy was only playing with them. Sharon said he was
glad they could furnish amusement, and mentally composed the beginning
of what would be a letter of withering denunciation to the car's maker.
But the third day the parts were unaccountably reassembled. Elihu Titus
admitted that every one of them was put back, though he hinted they were
probably by no means where they had been. But Sharon, coming again to
the dissecting room at the day's end, was stricken with awe for the
astounding genius that had put back all those parts. He felt a gleam of
"She'd ought to go now," said the proud mechanic.
"You ought to know," said Sharon. "You been plumb into her gizzard."
"Only other thing I can think of," continued the mechanic, "mebbe she
needs more of that gasoline stuff." He raised the cushion of the front
seat and unscrewed a cap. "We might try that," he suggested, brightly.
"This tank looks like she's empty."
"Try it," said Sharon, and the incredulous Elihu Titus was dispatched to
the village for a five-gallon tin of the gasoline stuff. Elihu was
incredulous, because in Newbern gasoline was until now something that
women cleaned white gloves with. But when the tank was replenished the
car came again to life, throbbing buoyantly.
"I'll be switched!" said Sharon.
A day later he was telling that his new car had broke down on him, but
Buck Cowan had taken her all apart and found out the trouble in no time,
and put her gizzard and lights and liver back as good as new. And Buck
Cowan himself came to feel quite unjustifiably a creator's pride in the
car. It was only his due that Sharon should let him operate it; perhaps
natural that Sharon should prefer him to. Sharon himself was never to
become an accomplished chauffeur. He couldn't learn to relax at the
So it was that the boy was tossed to public eminence on a day when
Starling Tucker, accomplished horseman, descended into the vale of
ignominy by means of the Mansion House's new motor bus. Starling had
permitted the selling agents to instruct him briefly in the operation of
the new bus, though with lordly condescension, for it was his conviction
that a man who could tame wild horses and drive anything that wore hair
could by no means fail to guide a bit of machinery that wouldn't r'ar
and run even if a newspaper blew across its face. He mounted the seat,
on his first essay alone, with the jauntiness becoming a master of
vehicular propulsion. There may have been in his secret heart a bit of
trepidation, now that the instructor was not there. In fact, one of the
assembled villagers who closely observed his demeanour related afterward
that Star's face was froze and that he had hooked onto the wheel like he
was choking it to death. But the shining structure had glided off toward
the depot, its driver's head rigid, his glance strained upon the road's
centre. As it moved away Wilbur Cowan leaped to the rear steps and was
carried with it. He had almost asked Starling Tucker for the privilege
of a seat beside him, but the occasion was really too great.
Five blocks down Geneseo Street Starling had turned out to permit the
passing of Trimble Cushman's loaded dray--and he had inexplicably,
terribly, kept on turning out when there was no longer need for it.
Frozen with horror, helpless in the fell clutch of circumstance, he sat
inert and beheld himself guide the new bus over the sidewalk and through
the neat white picket fence of the Dodwell place. It demolished one
entire panel of this, made deep progress over a stretch of soft lawn,
and came at last--after threatening a lawless invasion of the sanctity
of domicile--to a grinding stop in a circular bed of pansies that would
never be the same again. There was commotion within the bus. Wild-eyed
faces peered from the polished windows. A second later, in the speech of
a bystander, "she was sweating passengers at every pore!"
Then came a full-throated scream of terror from the menaced house, and
there in the doorway, clad in a bed gown, but erect and defiant, was the
person of long-bedridden Grandma Dodwell herself. She brandished her
lace cap at Starling Tucker and threatened to have him in jail if there
was any law left in the land. Excited citizens gathered to the scene,
for the picket fence had not succumbed without protest, and the crash
had carried well. Even more than at the plight of Starling, they
marvelled at the miracle that had been wrought upon the aged
sufferer--her that hadn't put foot to floor in twenty years. There were
outcries of alarm and amazement, hasty suggestions, orders to Starling
Tucker to do many things he was beyond doing; but above them all rose
clear-toned, vigorous denunciation from the outraged owner of the late
pansy bed, who now issued from the doorway, walked unsupported down the
neat steps, and started with firm strides for the offender. Starling
Tucker beheld her approach, and to him, as to others there assembled, it
was as if the dead walked. He climbed swiftly down upon the opposite
side of his juggernaut, pushed a silent way through the crowd, and
strode rapidly back to town. Starling's walk had commonly been a
loose-jointed swagger, his head up in challenge, as befitted a hero of
manifold adventure with wild horses. He now walked head down with no
But the crowd ceased to regard him, for now a slight boyish figure--none
other than that of Wilbur Cowan--leaped to the seat, performed swift
motions, grasped the fateful wheel, and made the bus roar. The smell of
burned gasoline affronted the pretty garden. Wheels revolved savagely
among the bruised roots of innocent pansies. Grandma Dodwell screamed
anew. Then slowly, implacably hesitant, ponderous but determined, the
huge bus backed along the track it had so cruelly worn in the sward--out
through the gap in the fair fence, over the side-walk and into the road,
rocking perilously, but settling level at last. Thereupon the young hero
had done something else with mysterious handles, and the bus glided
swiftly on to the depot, making the twelve-two in ample time.
Great moments are vouchsafed only to those souls fortified to survive
them. To one who had tamed the proud spirit of Sharon Whipple's hellion
it was but lightsome child's play to guide this honest and amiable new
bus. To the Mansion he returned in triumph with a load of passengers,
driving with zest, and there receiving from villagers inflamed by tales
of his prowess an ovation that embarrassed him with its heartiness. He
hastened to remove the refulgent edifice, steering it prudently to its
station in the stable yard. Then he went to find the defeated Starling
Tucker. That stricken veteran sat alone amid the ruins of his toppled
empire in the little office, slumped and torpid before the cold, rusty
stove. He refused to be comforted by his devotee. He said he would never
touch one of them things again, not for no man's money. The Darwinian
hypothesis allows for no petty tact in the process of evolution.
Starling Tucker was unfit to survive into the new age. Unable to adapt
himself, he would see the Mansion's stable become a noisome garage,
while he performed humble and gradually dwindling service to a few
Wilbur Cowan guided the Mansion's bus for two days. He longed for it as
a life work, but school was on and he was not permitted to abandon this,
even for a glorious life at the wheel. There came a youth in neat
uniform to perform this service--described by Starling Tucker as a young
squirt that wouldn't know one end of a hawse from the other. Only on
Saturdays--on Saturdays openly and clandestinely on Sundays--was there
present on the driver's seat a knowing amateur who could have sat there
every day but for having unreasonably to learn about compound fractions
Now school was over for another summer and Trimble Cushman's dray could
be driven at a good wage--by a boy overnight become a man. There were
still carpers who would regard him as a menace to life and limb. Judge
Penniman was among these. A large truck in sole charge of a boy--still
in his teens, as the judge put it--was not conducive to public
tranquillity. But this element was speedily silenced. The immature
Wilbur drove the thing acceptably, though requiring help on the larger
boxes of merchandise, and Trimble Cushman, still driving horses on his
other truck, was proud of his employee. Moreover, the boy became in high
repute for his knowledge of the inner mysteries of these new mechanisms.
New cars appeared in Newbern every day now, and many of them, developing
ailments of a character more or less alarming to their purchasers, were
brought to his distinguished notice with results almost uniformly
gratifying. He was looked up to, consulted as a specialist, sent for to
minister to distant roadside failures, called in the night, respected
It was a new Newbern through whose thoroughfares the new motor truck of
Trimble Cushman was so expertly propelled. Farm horses still professed
the utmost dismay at sight of vehicles drawn by invisible horses, and
their owners often sought to block industrial progress by agitation for
a law against these things, but progress was triumphant. The chamber of
commerce recorded immense gains in population. New factories and mills
had gone up beside the little river. New people were on the streets or
living in their new houses. New merchants came to meet the new demand
The homy little town was putting on airs of a great city. There was
already a Better Newbern club. The view down River Street from its
junction with State, Masonic Hall on the left and the new five-story
Whipple block on the right, as preserved on the picture postcards sold
by the Cut-Rate Pharmacy, impressed all purchasers with the town's
vitality. The _Advance_ appeared twice a week, outdoing its rival, the
_Star_, by one issue; and Sam Pickering, ever in the van of progress,
was busy with plans for making his journal a daily.
Newbern was coming on, even as boys were coming on from bare feet to
shoes on week-days. Ever and again there were traffic jams on River
Street, a weaving turmoil of farmers' wagons, buggies, delivery carts,
about a noisy, fuming centre of motor vehicles. High in the centre would
be the motor truck of Trimble Cushman, loaded with cases and nursed
through the muddle by a cool, clear-eyed youth, who sat with delicate,
sure hands on a potent wheel. Never did he kill or maim either citizen
or child, to the secret chagrin of Judge Penniman. Traffic jams to him
were a part of the day's work.
When he had performed for a little time this skilled labour for Trimble
Cushman it was brought to him one day that he was old indeed. For he
observed, delivering a box to Rapp Brothers, jewellery, that from the
sidewalk before that establishment he was being courted by a small boy;
a shy boy with bare feet and freckles who permanently exposed two front
teeth, and who followed the truck to the next place of delivery. Here,
when certain boxes had been left, he seated himself, as if
absentmindedly, upon the remote rear of the truck and was borne to
another stopping place. The truck's driver glanced back savagely at him,
but not too savagely; then pretended to ignore him.
The newcomer for an hour hung to the truck leechlike, without winning
further recognition. Then by insensible gradations, by standing on the
truck bed as it moved, by edging forward toward the high seat, by
silently helping with a weighty box, it seemed he had acquired the right
to mount to the high seat of honour itself. He did this without spoken
words, yet with an ingratiating manner. It was a manner that had been
used, ages back, by the lordly driver of the present truck, when he had
formed alliances with drivers of horse-drawn vehicles. He recognized it
as such and turned to regard the courtier with feigned austerity.
"Hello, kid!" he said, with permitting severity. But secretly he
rejoiced. Now he was really old.
* * * * *
Winona viewed the latest avocation of her charge with little enthusiasm.
It compelled a certain measure of her difficult respect, especially when
she beheld him worm his truck through crowded River Street with a
supreme disregard for the imminent catastrophe--which somehow never
ensued. But it lacked gentility. At twenty-eight Winona was not only
perfected in the grammar of morals, more than ever alert for infractions
of the merely social code, but her ideals of refinement and elegance had
become more demanding. She would have had the boy engage in a pursuit
that would require clean hands and smart apparel and bring him in
contact with people of the right sort. She stubbornly held out to him
the shining possibility that he might one day rise to the pinnacle of a
clerical post in the First National Bank.
True, he had never betrayed the faintest promise of qualifying for this
eminence, and his freely voiced preferences sweepingly excluded it from
the catalogue of occupations in which he might consent to engage. But
Winona was now studying doctrines that put all power in the heart's
desire. Out of the infinite your own would come to you if you held the
thought, and she serenely held the better thought for Wilbur, even in
the moment of mechanical triumphs that brimmed his own cup of desire.
She willed him to prefer choicer characters than the roughs he consorted
with, to aspire to genteel occupation that would not send him back at
the day's end grimed, reeking with low odours, and far too hungry.
His exigent appetite, indeed, alarmed her beyond measure, because he
cried out for meat, whereas Winona's new books said that meat eaters
could hope for little reward of the spirit. A few simple vegetables,
fruits, and nuts--these permitted the soul to expand, to attain harmony
with the infinite, until one came to choose only the best among ideals
and human associates. But she learned that she must in this case
compromise, for a boy demanding meat would get it in one place if not
another. If not at the guarded Penniman table, then at the low resort
next to Pegleg McCarron's of one T-bone Tommy, where they commonly
devoured the carcasses of murdered beasts and made no secret of it.
He even rebelled at fabrications, highly extolled in the gospel of clean
eating, which were meant to placate the baser minded by their
resemblances to meat--things like nut turkey and mock veal loaf and
leguminous chicken and synthetic beefsteak cooked in pure vegetable
oils. These he scorned the more bitterly for their false pretense,
demanding plain meat and a lot of it. The nations cited by Winona that
had thrived and grown strong on the produce of the fields left him
unimpressed. He merely said, goaded to harshness, that he was not going
to be a Chinese laundryman for any one.
Of what avail to read the lyrics of a great Hindu vegetarian poet to
this undeveloped being? Still Winona laboured unceasingly to bring light
to the dark place. Teaching a public school for eight years had
developed a substratum of granite determination in her character. She
would never quit. She was still to the outer eye the slight, brown
Winona of twenty--perky, birdlike, with the quick trimness of a winging
swallow, a little sharper featured perhaps, but superior in acuteness of
desire and persistence, and with some furtive, irresponsible girlishness
lurking timorously back in her bright glance.
She still secretly relished the jesting address of Dave Cowan, when at
long intervals he lingered in Newbern from cross-country flights. It
thrilled her naughtily to be addressed as La Marquise, to be accused of
goings-on at the court of Louis XVIII, about which the less said the
better. She had never brought herself to wear the tan silk stockings of
invidious allure, and she still confined herself to her mother's
plainest dressmaking, yearning secretly for the fancy kind, but never
with enough daring. Lyman Teaford still came of an evening to play his
flute acceptably, while Winona accompanied him in many an amorous
morceau. Lyman, in the speech of Newbern, had for eight years been going
with Winona. But as the romantically impatient and sometimes a bit
snappish Mrs. Penniman would say, he had never gone far.
* * * * *
Winona rejoiced a year later when golf promised, at least for a summer,
to snatch Wilbur Cowan from the grimy indistinction of a mechanic's
career. For thriving and aspiring Newbern had eased one of its growing
pains with a veritable golf course, and the whilom machinery enthusiast
became smitten with this strange new sport. Winona rejoiced, because it
would bring him into contact with people of the better sort, for of
course only these played the game. Her charge, it is true, engaged in
the sport as a business, and not as one seeking recreation, but the
desired social contact was indubitable. To carry over the course a bag
or two of clubs for the elect of Newbern was bound to be improving.
And it was true that he now consorted daily through a profitable summer
with people who had heretofore been but names to him. But Winona had
neglected to observe that he would meet them not as a social equal but
as a hireling. This was excusable in her, because she had only the
vaguest notions of golf or of the interrelations between caddie and
player. One informed in the ways of the sport could have warned her that
caddies inevitably become cynical toward all people of the sort one
cares to meet. Compelled by a rigid etiquette to silent, unemotional
formality, they boil interiorly with contempt for people of the better
sort, not only because their golf is usually atrocious--such as every
caddie brilliantly surpasses in his leisure moments--but because the
speech provoked by their inveterate failures is commonly all too human.
So the results of Wilbur Cowan's contact with people Winona would
approve, enduring for a mercifully brief summer and autumn, were not
what Winona had fondly preconceived. He had first been attracted to the
course--a sweet course, said the golf-architect who had laid it out over
the rolling land south of town--by the personality of one John Knox
McTavish, an earnest Scotchman of youngish middle age, procured from
afar to tell the beginning golfers of Newbern to keep their heads down
and follow through and not to press the ball. As John spoke, it was
"Don't pr-r-r-r-ess th' ball." He had been chosen from among other
candidates because of his accent. He richly endowed his words with r's,
making more than one grow where only one had grown before. It was this
vocal burriness that drew the facile notice of Wilbur. He delighted to
hear John McTavish talk, and hung about the new clubhouse, apparently
without purpose, until John not only sanctioned but besought his
presence, calling him Laddie and luring him with tales of the monstrous
gains amassed by competent caddies.
The boy lingered, though from motives other than mercenary. His cup was
full when he could hear John's masterful voice addressed to Mrs. Rapp,
Junior, or another aspirant.
"R-r-remember, mum, th' ar-r-r-um close, th' head down--and don't
pr-r-r-ress th' ball."
Yet he was presently allured by a charm even more imperious, the charm
of the game itself. For John at odd moments would teach him the use of
those strange weapons, so that he had the double thrill of standing
under the torrential r's addressed to himself and of feeling the sharp,
clean impact of the club head upon a ball that flew a surprising
distance. His obedient young muscles soon conformed to the few master
laws of the game. He kept down, followed through and forebore, against
all human instinct, to press the ball.
By the end of Newbern's golfing season he was able to do almost
unerringly what so many of Newbern's better sort did erratically and at
intervals. And the talk of John Knox McTavish about the wealth accruing
to alert caddies had proved to be not all fanciful. In addition to the
stipend earned for conventional work, there were lost balls in abundance
to be salvaged and resold.
"Laddie," said John McTavish, "if I but had the lost-ball pur-r-rivilege
of yon sweet courr-r-se and could insu-r-r-e deliver-r-r-y!"
For the better sort of Newbern, despite conscientious warnings for which
they paid John McTavish huge sums, would insist upon pressing the ball
in the face of constant proof that thus treated it would slice into the
rough to cuddle obscurely at the roots of tall grass.
Wilbur Cowan became a shrewd hunter and a successful merchandiser of
golf balls but slightly used. Newbern's better sort denounced the
scandal of this, but bought of him clandestinely, for even in that far
day, when golf balls in price were yet within reach of the common
people, few of them liked to buy a new ball and watch it vanish forever
after one brilliant drive that would have taken it far down the fairway
except for the unaccountable slice.
* * * * *
On the whole his season was more profitable than that of the year
before, when he had nursed the truck of Trimble Cushman through the
traffic jams of River Street, and he was learning more about the world
of men if less about gas engines. Especially did the new sport put him
into closer contact with old Sharon Whipple. Having first denounced the
golf project as a criminal waste of one hundred and seventy-five acres
of prime arable land, Sharon had loitered about the scene of the crime
to watch the offenders make a certain kind of fools of themselves. From
the white bench back of the first tee this cynic would rejoice
mirthfully at topped or sliced drives or the wild swing that spends all
its vicious intent upon the imponderable air. His presence came to be a
trial to beginning players, who took no real pleasure in the game until
they reached the second tee, beyond the ken of the scoffer.
But this was perilous sport for Sharon Whipple. Day after day, looking
into the whirlpool, he was--in a moment of madness--himself to leap over
the brink. On an afternoon had come his brother Gideon and Rapp, Senior,
elated pupils of John McTavish, to play sportingly for half a ball a
hole. They ignored certain preliminary and all-too-pointed comments of
the watcher. They strode gallantly to the tee in turn and exhibited the
admirable form taught them by John. They took perfect practice swings.
They addressed the ball ceremoniously, waggled the club at it, first
soothingly, then with distinct menace, looked up to frown at a spot far
down the fairway, looked back, exhaled the breath, and drove. Rapp,
Senior, sliced into the rough. Gideon Whipple hooked into the rough.
Sharon Whipple mocked them injuriously. His ironic shouts attracted the
notice of arriving players. Gideon Whipple stayed placid, smiling
grimly, but Rapp, Senior, was nettled to retort.
"Mebbe you could do a whole lot better!" he called to Sharon in tones
Sharon's reply, in a voice eminently soothing and by that calculated
further to irritate the novice, was in effect that Rapp, Senior, might
safely wager his available assets that Sharon Whipple could do better.
"Well, come on and do it then if you're so smart!" urged Rapp, Senior.
"Come on, once--I dare you!"
Sharon scorned--but rather weakly--the invitation. Secretly, through his
hostile study of the game, he had convinced himself that he by divine
right could do perfectly what these people did so clumsily. Again and
again his hands had itched for the club as he watched futile drives. He
knew he could hit the ball. He couldn't help hitting it, stuck up the
way it was on a pinch of sand--stuck up like a sore thumb. How did they
miss it time after time? He had meant to test his conviction in
solitude, but why not put it to trial now, and shame this doubting and
inept Rapp, Senior?
"Oh, well, I don't mind," he said, and waddled negligently to the tee.
Rapp, Senior, voiced loud delight. Gideon Whipple merely stood safely
back without comment, though there was a malicious waiting gleam in his
"You folks make something out of nothing," scolded Sharon, fussily.
Grasping the proffered club he severely threatened with it the new ball
which Rapp, Senior, had obligingly teed up for him. In that moment he
felt a quick strange fear, little twinges of doubt, a suspicion that all
was not well. Perhaps the sudden hush of those about him conduced to
this. Even newly arrived players in the background waited in silence.
Then he recovered his confidence. There was the ball and there was the
club--it was easy, wasn't it? Make a mountain out of a mole hill, would
they? He'd show them!
Amid the hanging silence--like a portent it overhung him--he raised the
strange weapon and brought it gruntingly down with all the strength of
his stout muscles.
* * * * *
In the fading light of seven o'clock on that fair summer's evening John
McTavish for the hundredth time seized the heavy arms of Sharon Whipple
and bent them back and up in the right line. Then Sharon did the thing
faithfully in his own way, which was still, after an hour's trial, not
the way of John McTavish.
"Mon, what have I told ye?" expostulated John. He had quit calling
Sharon Sir-r-r. Perhaps his r's were tired, and anyway, Sharon called
him Sandy, being unable to believe that any Scotchman would not have
this for one or another of his names. "Again I tell ye, th' body must
bend between th' hips an' th' neck, but ye keep jer-r-rkin' the head to
"But, Sandy, I've sprained my back trying to bend from the hips,"
protested the plaintive Sharon.
"Yer-r-r old car-r-r-cass is musclebound, to be sur-r-e," conceded
John. "You can't hope to bend it the way yon laddie does." He pointed to
Wilbur Cowan, who had been retrieving balls--from no great distance--hit
out by the neophyte.
"Can he do it?" questioned Sharon.
"Show 'um!" ordered John.
And Wilbur Cowan, coming up for the driver, lithely bent to send three
balls successively where good golf players should always send them.
Sharon blinked at this performance, admiring, envious, and again
hopeful. If a child could do this thing----
"Well, I ain't giving up," he declared. "I'll show some people before
He paused, hearing again in his shamed ears the ironic laughter of Rapp,
Senior, at the three wild swings he had made before--in an excess of
caution--he had struck the ground back of the immune ball and raked it a
pitiful five feet to one side. He heard, too, the pleased laughter in
the background, high, musical peals of tactless women and the
full-throated roars of brutal men. He felt again the hot flush on his
cheeks as he had slunk from the dreadful scene with a shamed effort to
brazen it out, followed by the amused stare of Gideon Whipple. And he
had slunk back when the course was cleared, to be told the simple secret
of hitting a golf ball. He would condescend to that for the sake, on a
near day, of publicly humiliating a certain vainglorious jewellery
dealer. But apparently now, while the secret was simple enough to
tell--it took John McTavish hardly a score of burry words to tell it
all--it was less simple to demonstrate. It might take him three or even
"Ye've done gr-r-rand f'r-r a beginnerr-r," said John McTavish, wearily,
"I'll tell you," said Sharon. "I ain't wanting this to get out on me,
that I come sneaking back here to have you teach me the silly game."
"Mon, mon!" protested the hurt McTavish.
"So why can't Buck here come up and teach me in private? There's open
space back of the stables."
"Ye cud do wor-r-rse," said John. "And yer-r-r full hour-r-'s lesson now
will be two dollar-r-rs."
"Certainly, McTavish," said Sharon, concealing his amazement. He could
no longer address as Sandy one who earned two dollars as lightly as
There was a spacious opening back of the stable on the Whipple Old
Place--space and the seclusion which Sharon Whipple considered
imperative. Even Elihu Titus was sent about his business when he came to
observe; threatened with an instant place in the ranks of the unemployed
if he so much as breathed of the secret lessons to a town now said to be
composed of snickering busybodies. The open space immediately back of
the stable gave on wider spaces of pasture and wood lot.
Archaeologists of a future age will doubtless, in their minute
explorations of this region, come upon the petrified remains of golf
balls in such number as will occasion learned dispute. Found so
profusely and yet so far from any known course, they will perhaps give
rise to wholly erroneous surmises. Prefacing his paper with a reference
to lost secrets once possessed by other ancients, citing without doubt
that the old Egyptians knew how to temper the soft metal of copper, a
certain scientist will profoundly deduce from this deposit of balls, far
from the vestiges of the nearest course, that people of this remote day
possessed the secret of driving a golf ball three and a half miles, and
he will perhaps moralize upon the degeneracy of his own times, when the
longest drive will doubtless not exceed a scant mile.
For three days Sharon sprayed out over the landscape, into ideal
golf-ball covert, where many forever eluded even the keen eyes of Wilbur
Cowan, one hundred balls originally purchased by the selecter golfing
set of Newbern. Hereupon he refused longer to regard the wooden driver
as a possible instrument of precision, and forever renounced it. Elihu
Titus heard him renounce it balefully in the harness room one late
afternoon, and later entering that apartment found the fragments of a
It remained for Wilbur Cowan to bring Sharon into the game by another
avenue. A new campaign was entered upon, doubtfully at first by Sharon,
at length with dawning confidence. He was never to touch a wooden club.
He was to drive with an iron, not far, but truly; to stay always in the
centre of the fairway and especially to cultivate the shorter approach
shots and the use of the putter. The boy laboured patiently with his
pupil, striving to persuade him that golf was more than a trial of
strength. From secret lessons back of the stable they came at length to
furtive lessons over the course at hours when it was least played. John
Knox McTavish figured at these times as consulting expert.
"It's th' shor-r-t game that tells th' stor-r-r-y," said John; and
Sharon, making his whole game a short game, was presently telling the
story understandably, to the vast pride of the middle man who provided
endless balls for his lessons.
It was a day of thrills for them both when Rapp, Senior, publicly
challenged and accepting with dreams of an easy conquest, bent down
before the craft of Sharon Whipple. Sharon, with his competent iron in a
short half-arm swing--he could not, he said, trust the utensil beyond
the tail of his eye--sent the ball eighteen times not far but straight,
and with other iron shots coaxed it to the green, where he sank it with
quite respectable putting. Rapp, Senior, sliced his long drives
brilliantly into shaded grassy dells and scented forest glades, where he
trampled scores of pretty wild flowers as he chopped his way out again.
Rapp, Senior, made the course excitingly in one hundred and
thirty-eight; Sharon Whipple, playing along safe and sane lines, came
through with one hundred and thirty-five, and was a proud man, and
looked it, and was still so much prouder than he looked that he
shuddered lest it get out on him. Later he vanquished, by the same
tactics, other men who used the wooden driver with perfect form in
Contests in which he engaged, however, were likely to be marred by
regrettable asperities rising from Sharon's inability to grasp the nicer
subtleties of golf. It seemed silly to him not to lift his ball out of
some slight depression into which it had rolled quite by accident; not
to amend an unhappy lie in a sand trap; and he never came to believe
that a wild swing leaving the ball untouched should be counted as a
stroke. People who pettishly insisted upon these extremes of the game he
sneeringly called golf lawyers. When he said that he made a hole in
nine, he meant nine or thereabouts--approximately nine; nice people, he
thought, should let it go at that. So he became feared on the course,
not only for his actual prowess but for his matchless optimism in
casting up his score. He was a pleased man, and considered golf a good
game; and he never forgot that Wilbur Cowan had made him the golfer he
was. More than ever was he believing that Harvey D. Whipple had chosen
wrongly from available Cowans. On the day when he first made the Newbern
course in, approximately, one hundred and twenty--those short-arm iron
shots were beginning to lengthen down the centre of the fairway--he was
sure of it.
* * * * *
It must be said that Sharon was alone in this conviction. The others
most concerned, had he allowed it to be known, would have been amazed by
it--Winona Penniman most of all. Winona's conviction was that the
rejected Cowan twin conspicuously lacked those qualities that would make
him desirable for adoption by any family of note, certainly not by
Whipples. He had gone from bad to worse. Driving a truck had been bad.
There had been something to say in its favour in the early stages of his
career, until the neophyte had actually chosen to wear overalls like any
common driver. In overalls he could not be mistaken for a gentleman
amateur moved by a keen love for the sport of truck driving--and golf
was worse. Glad at first of this change in his life work, Winona had
been shocked to learn that golf kept people from the churches. And the
clothes, even if they did not include overalls, were not genteel. Wilbur
wore belted trousers of no distinction, rubber-soled sneakers of a
neutral tint, and a sweater now so low in tone that the precise
intention of its original shade was no longer to be divined. A rowdyish
cap completed the uniform. No competent bank president, surveying the
ensemble, would have for a moment considered making a bookkeeper out of
the wearer. He was farther than ever before, Winona thought, from a
career of Christian gentility in which garments of a Sabbath grandeur
are worn every day and proper care may be taken of the hands.
It was late in this summer that she enforced briefly a demand for
genteel raiment, and kept the boy up until ten-thirty of a sleepy
evening to manicure his nails. The occasion was nothing less than the
sixteenth birthday of Merle Whipple, to be celebrated by an afternoon
festivity on the grounds of his home. The brothers had met briefly and
casually during Merle's years as a Whipple; but this was to be an affair
of ceremony, and Winona was determined that the unworthy twin should--at
least briefly--appear as one not socially impossible.
She browbeat him into buying a suit such as those that are worn by
jaunty youths in advertisements, including haberdashery of supreme
elegance, the first patent-leather shoes worn by this particular Cowan,
and a hat of class. He murmured at the outlay upon useless finery. It
materially depleted his capital--stored with other treasure in a tin box
labelled "Cake" across its front. But Winona was tenacious. He murmured,
too, at the ordeal of manicuring, but Winona was insistent, and laboured
to leave him with the finger tips of one who did not habitually engage
in a low calling.
He fell asleep at the final polishing, even after trying to fix his gaze
upon the glittering nails of the hand Winona had relinquished, and while
she sought to impress him with the importance of the approaching
function. There would be present not only the Whipples, but their
guests, two girl friends of Patricia from afar and a school friend of
Merle's; there would be games and refreshment and social converse, and
Winona hoped he would remember not to say "darn it" any time in such of
the social converse as he provided; or forget to say, on leaving, what a
charming time it was and how nice every one had been to ask him. He
dozed through much of this instruction.
Yet Winona, the next day, felt repaid for her pains. Arrayed in the new
suit, with the modish collar and cravat, the luminous shoes and the hat
of merit, the boy looked entirely like those careless youths in the
pictures who so proudly proclaim the make of their garments. No one
regarding him would have dreamed that he was at heart but a golf caddie
or a driver of trucks for hire. Winona insisted upon a final polish of
his nails, leaving them with a dazzling pinkish glitter, and she sprayed
and anointed him with precious unguents, taking especial pains that his
unruly brown hair should lie back close to his head, to show the wave.
When he installed her beside him in Sharon Whipple's newest car, pressed
upon the youth by its owner for this occasion, she almost wished that
she had been a bit more daring in her own dress. It was white and neat,
but not fancy dressmaking in any sense of the word. She regretted for a
moment her decision against pink rosebuds for the hat, so warmly urged
by her mother, who kept saying nowadays that she would be a girl but
once. Winona was beginning to doubt this. At least you seemed to be a
girl a long time. She had been a little daring, though. Her stockings
were white and of a material widely heralded as silkona. Still her skirt
was of a decent length, so that she apprehended no scandal from this
When her genteel escort started the car and guided it by an apparently
careless winding of the wheel she felt a glow that was almost pride in
his appearance and nonchalant mastery of this abstruse mechanism. She
was frightened at the speed and at the narrow margin by which he missed
other vehicles and obtruding corners. When he flourished to an
impressive halt under the Whipple porte-cochere she felt a new respect
for him. If only he could do such things at odd moments as a gentleman
should, and not continuously for money, in clothes unlike those of the
She descended from the car in a flutter of pretense that she habitually
descended from cars, and a moment later was overjoyed to note that her
escort sustained the greetings of the assembled Whipples and their
guests with a practiced coolness, or what looked like it. He shook hands
warmly with his brother and Patricia Whipple; was calm under the ordeal
of introductions to the little friends Winona had warned him of--two
girls of peerless beauty and a fair-haired, sleepy-looking boy with long
eyelashes and dimples.
[Illustration: "THE GIRL WAS ALREADY READING WILBUR'S PALM, DISCLOSING
TO HIM THAT HE HAD A DEEP VEIN OF CRUELTY IN HIS NATURE. PATRICIA
WHIPPLE LISTENED IMPATIENTLY TO THIS AND OTHER SINISTER REVELATIONS."]
These young people were dressed rather less formally than Winona had
expected, being mostly in flannels and ducks and tennis shoes not too
lately cleaned. She was instantly glad she had been particular as to
Wilbur's outfit. He looked ever so much more distinguished than either
Merle or his friend. She watched him as he stood unconcerned under the
chatter of the three girls. They had begun at once to employ upon him
the oldest arts known to woman, and he was not flustered or "gauche"--a
word Winona had lately learned. Beyond her divining was the truth that he
would much rather have been talking to Starling Tucker. She thought he was
merely trying to look bored, and was doing it very well.
The little friends of Patricia, and Patricia herself, could have told
her better. They knew he was genuinely bored, and redoubled their
efforts to enslave him. Merle chatted brightly with Winona, with such a
man-of-the-world air that she herself became flustered at the memory
that she had once been as a mother to him and drenched his handkerchief
with perfume on a Sabbath morning. The little male friend of Merle stood
by in silent relief. Patricia and her little guests had for three days
been doing to him what they now tried doing to the new boy; he was glad
the new boy had come. He had grown sulky under the incessant onslaughts.
The girl with black hair and the turquoise necklace was already reading
Wilbur's palm, disclosing to him that he had a deep vein of cruelty in
his nature. Patricia Whipple listened impatiently to this and other
sinister revelations. She had not learned palm reading, but now resolved
to. Meantime, she could and did stem the flood of character portrayal by
a suggestion of tennis. Patricia was still freckled, though not so
obtrusively as in the days of her lawlessness. Her skirt and her hair
were longer, the latter being what Wilbur Cowan later called rusty. She
was still active and still determined, however. No girl in her presence
was going to read interminably the palm of one upon whom she had, in a
way of speaking, a family claim, especially one of such distinguished
appearance and manners--apparently being bored to death by the attention
of mere girls.
Tennis resulted in a set of doubles, Merle and his little friend playing
Patricia and one of her little friends--the one with the necklace and
the dark eyes. The desirable new man was not dressed for tennis, and
could not have played it in any clothes whatever, and so had to watch
from the back line, where he also retrieved balls. Both girls had
insisted upon being at his end of the court. Their gentlemen opponents
were irritated by this arrangement, because the girls paid far more
attention to the new man than to the game itself. They delayed their
service to catch his last remark; delayed the game seriously by pausing
to chat with him. He retrieved balls for them, which also impeded
When he brought the balls to the dark-eyed girl she acknowledged his
courtesy with a pretty little "Thanks a lot!" Patricia varied this. She
said "Thanks a heap!" And they both rather glared at the other girl--a
mere pinkish, big-eyed girl whose name was Florrie--who lingered
stanchly by the new man and often kept him in talk when he should have
been watchful. Still this third girl had but little initiative. She did
insinuatingly ask Wilbur what his favourite flower was, but this got her
nowhere, because it proved that he did not know.
The gentlemen across the net presently became unruly, and would play no
more at a game which was merely intended, it seemed, to provide their
opponents with talk of a coquettish character. Wilbur ardently wished
that Winona could have been there to hear this talk, because the
peerless young things freely used the expletive "Darn!" after inept
strokes. Still they bored him. He would rather have been on the links.
He confessed at last to his little court that he much preferred golf to
tennis. Patricia said that she had taken up golf, and that he must coach
her over the Newbern course. The dark-eyed girl at once said that she
was about to take up golf, and would need even more coaching than
Patricia. Once they both searched him--while the game waited--for class
pins, which they meant to appropriate. They found him singularly devoid
of these. He never even knew definitely what they were looking for.
He was glad when refreshments were served on the lawn, and ate
sandwiches in a wholehearted manner that disturbed Winona, who felt that
at these affairs one should eat daintily, absently, as if elevated
converse were the sole object and food but an incident. Wilbur ate as if
he were hungry--had come there for food. Even now he was not free from
the annoying attentions of Patricia and her little friends. They not
only brought him other sandwiches and other cake and other lemonade,
which he could have condoned, but they chattered so incessantly at him
while he ate that only by an effort of concentration could he ignore
them for the food. Florrie said that he was brutal to women. She was
also heard to say--Winona heard it--that he was an awfully stunning
chap. Harvey D. Whipple was now a member of the party, beaming proudly
upon his son. And Sharon Whipple came presently to survey the group. He
winked at Wilbur, who winked in return.
After refreshments the young gentlemen withdrew to smoke. They withdrew
unostentatiously, through a pergola, round a clump of shrubbery, and on
to the stables, where Merle revealed a silver cigarette case, from which
he bestowed cigarettes upon them. They lighted these and talked as men
of the world.
"Those chickens make me sick," said the little friend of Merle quite
"Me, too!" said Wilbur.
They talked of horses, Merle displaying his new thoroughbred in the box
stall, and of dogs and motor boats; and Merle and the other boy spoke
in a strange jargon of their prep school, where you could smoke if you
had the consent of your parents. Merle talked largely of his possessions
and gay plans.
They were presently interrupted by the ladies, who, having withdrawn
beyond the shrubbery clump to powder their noses from Florrie's gold
vanity box, had discovered the smokers, and now threatened to tell if
the gentlemen did not instantly return. So Merle's little friend said
wearily that they must go back to the women, he supposed. And there was
more tennis of a sort, more chatter. As Mrs. Harvey D. said, everything
moved off splendidly.
Winona, when they left, felt that her charge had produced a favourable
impression, and was amazed that he professed to be unmoved by this
circumstance, even after being told, as the noble car wheeled them
homeward, what the girl, Florrie, had said of him; and that Mrs. Harvey
D. Whipple had said she had always known he was a sweet boy. He merely
sniffed at the term and went on to disparage the little friends of
"You told me not to say 'darn,'" he protested, "but those girls all said
it about every other word."
"Not really?" said Winona, aghast.
"Darn this and darn that! And darn that ball! And darned old thing!"
insisted the witness, imitatively.
"Oh, dear!" sighed Winona.
She wondered if Patricia could be getting in with a fast set. She was
further worried about Patricia, because Miss Murtree, over the ice
cream, had confided to her that the girl was a brainless coquette; that
her highest ambition, freely stated, was to have a black velvet evening
gown, a black picture hat, and a rope of pearls. Winona did not impart
this item to Wilbur. He was already too little impressed with the
Whipple state. Nor did she confide to him the singular remark of Sharon
Whipple, delivered to her in hoarsely whispered confidence as Merle
spoke at length to the group about his new horse.
"Ain't he the most languageous critter!" had been Sharon's words.
And Winona had thought Merle spoke so prettily and with such easy
confidence. Instead of regaling Wilbur with this gossip she insinuated
his need for flannel trousers, sport shirts with rolling collars, tennis
shoes of white. She found him adamant in his resolve to buy no further
clothes which could have but a spectacular value.
To no one that day, except to Wilbur Cowan himself, had it occurred that
Merle Whipple's birthday would also be the birthday of his twin brother.
* * * * *
Winona hoped that some trace of the day's new elegance would survive
into Wilbur's professional life, but in this she suffered
disappointment. He refused to wear, save on state occasions, any of the
beautiful new garments, and again went forth in the cap and dingy
sneakers, the trousers without character, and the indeterminate sweater
which would persist in looking soiled even after relentless washing.
Not even for golf with Patricia Whipple would he sound a higher note in
apparel. Patricia came to the course, accompanied by the dark girl, who
said she was mad about golf, and over the eighteen holes each strove for
his exclusive attention. They bored him vastly. He became mad about golf
himself, because they talked noisily of other subjects and forgot his
directions, especially the dark girl, who was mad about a great many
things. She proved to be a trial. She was still so hopeless at the sport
that at each shot she had to have her hands placed for her in the
correct grip. The other two were glad when she was called home, so that
Patricia could enjoy the undivided attention of the coach. The coach was
glad, but only because his boredom was diminished by half; and Patricia,
after two mornings alone with him, decided that she knew all of golf
that was desirable.
The coach was too stubbornly businesslike; regarded her, she detected,
merely as someone who had a lot to learn about the game. And the going
of her little friend had taken a zest from the pursuit of this
determinedly golfing and unresponsive male. He was relieved when she
abandoned the sport and when he knew she had gone back to school.
Sometimes on the course when he watched her wild swings a trick of
memory brought her back to him as the bony little girl in his own
clothes--she was still bony, though longer--with her chopped-off hair
and boyish swagger. Then for a moment he would feel friendly, and smile
at her in comradeship, but she always spoiled this when she spoke in her
grand new manner of a grown-up lady.
Only Winona grieved when these golf sessions were no more. She wondered
if Patricia had not been shocked by some unguarded expression from
Wilbur. She had heard that speech becomes regrettably loose in the heat
of this sport. He sought to reassure her.
"I never said the least wrong thing," he insisted. "But she did, you
bet! 'Darn' and 'gosh' and everything like that, and you ought to have
heard her once when she missed an easy putt. She said worse than 'darn!'
She blazed out and said--"
"Don't tell me!" protested shuddering Winona. She wondered if Patricia's
people shouldn't be warned. She was now persuaded that golf endangered
the morals of the young. It had been bad enough when it seemed merely to
encourage the wearing of nondescript clothes. But if it led to
Yet she was fated to discover that the world offered worse than golf,
for Wilbur Cowan had not yet completed, in the process of his desultory
education, the out-of-doors curriculum offered by even the little world
of Newbern. He was to take up an entirely new study, with the
whole-hearted enthusiasm that had made him an adept at linotypes, gas
engines, and the sport of kings. Not yet, in Winona's view, had he
actually gone down into the depths of social obliquity; but she soon
knew he had made the joyous descent.
The dreadful secret was revealed when he appeared for his supper one
evening with a black eye. That is, it would have been known technically
as a black eye--even Winona knew what to call it. Actually it was an eye
of many colours, shading delicately from pale yellow at the edge to
richest variegated purple at the centre. The eye itself--it was the
right--was all but closed by the gorgeously puffed tissue surrounding
it, and of no practical use to its owner. The still capable left eye,
instead of revealing concern for this ignominy, gleamed a lively pride
in its overwhelming completeness. The malign eye was worn proudly as a
badge of honour, so proudly that the wearer, after Winona's first outcry
of horror, bubbled vaingloriously of how he had achieved the stigma by
stepping into one of Spike Brennon's straight lefts. Nothing less than
Winona, conceiving that this talk was meant to describe an accident of
the most innocent character, demanded further details; wishing to be
told what a straight left was; why a person named Spike Brennon kept
such things about; and how Wilbur had been so careless as to step into
one. She instinctively pictured a straight left to be something like an
open door into which the victim had stepped in the dark. Her
enlightenment was appalling. When the boy had zestfully pictured with
pantomime of the most informing sort she not only knew what a straight
left was, but she knew that Wilbur Cowan, in stepping into one--in
placing himself where by any chance he could step into one--had flung
off the ultimate restraint of decency.
It amounted to nothing less, she gathered, than that her charge had
formed a sinister alliance with a degraded prize-fighter, a low bully
who for hire and amid the foulest surroundings pandered to the basest
instincts of his fellowmen by disgusting exhibitions of brute force. As
if that were not enough, this low creature had fallen lower in the
social scale, if that were possible, by tending bar in the unspeakable
den of Pegleg McCarron. It was of no use for Wilbur to explain to her
that his new hero chose this humble avocation because it afforded him
leisure for training between his fights; that he didn't drink or smoke,
but kept himself in good condition; that it was a fine chance to learn
how to box, because Spike needed sparring partners.
"Oh, it's terrible!" cried Winona. "A debased creature like that!"
"You ought to see him stripped!" rejoined the boy in quick pride.
This closed the interview. Later she refused more than a swift glance of
dismay at the photograph of the bully proudly displayed to her by the
recipient. With one eye widened in admiration, he thrust it without
warning full into her gaze, whereupon she had gaspingly fled, not even
noting the inscription of which the boy was especially proud: "To my
friend, Mr. Wilbur Cowan, from his friend, Eddie--Spike--Brennon, 133
lbs. ringside." It was a spirited likeness of the hero, though taken
some years before, when he was in the prime of a ring career now, alas,
tapering to obscurity.
Spike stood with the left shoulder slightly raised, the left foot
advanced, the slightly bent left arm with its clenched fist suggestively
extended. His head was slanted to bring his chin down and in. The right
shoulder was depressed, and the praiseworthy right arm lay in watchful
repose across his chest. The tense gaze expressed absolute singleness of
purpose--a hostile purpose. These details were lost upon Winona. She had
noted only that the creature's costume consisted of the flags of the
United States and Ireland tastefully combined to form a simple loin
cloth. Had she raised the boy for this?
* * * * *
The deplored intimacy had begun on a morning when Wilbur was early
abroad salvaging golf balls from certain obscure nooks of the course
where Newbern's minor players were too likely to abandon the search for
them on account of tall grass, snakes, poison ivy, and other deterrents.
Along the course at a brisk trot had come a sweatered figure, with cap
pulled low, a man of lined and battered visage, who seemed to trot with
a purpose, and yet with a purpose not to be discerned, for none
pursued him and he appeared to pursue no one.
[Illustration: "THE MALIGN EYE WAS WORN SO PROUDLY THAT THE WEARER
BUBBLED VAINGLORIOUSLY OF HOW HE HAD ACHIEVED THE STIGMA BY STEPPING
INTO ONE OF SPIKE BRENNON'S STRAIGHT LEFTS."]
He had stopped amiably to chat with the boy. He was sweating profusely,
and chewed gum. It may be said that he was not the proud young Spike
Brennon of the photograph. He was all of twenty-five, and his later
years had told. Where once had been the bridge of his nose was now a
sharp indentation. One ear was weirdly enlarged; and his mouth, though
he spoke through narrowly opened lips, glittered in the morning sun with
the sheen of purest gold. Wilbur Cowan was instantly enmeshed by this
The runner wished to know what he was looking for. Being told golf
balls, he demanded "What for?" It seemed never to have occurred to him
that there would be an object in looking for golf balls. He curiously
handled and weighed a ball in his brown and hairy hand.
"So that's the little joker, is it? I often seen 'em knockin' up flies
with it, but I ain't never been close to one. Say, that pill could hurt
you if it come right!"
He was instructed briefly in the capacity of moving balls to inflict
pain, and more particularly as to their market value. As the boy talked
the sweating man looked him over with shrewd, half-shut eyes.
"Ever had the gloves on, kid?" he demanded at last.
It appeared in a moment that he meant boxing gloves; not gloves in which
to play golf.
"No, sir," said Wilbur.
"You look good. Come down to the store at three o'clock. Mebbe you can
give me a work-out."
Quite astonishingly it appeared then that when he said the store he was
meaning the low saloon of Pegleg McCarron; that he did road work every
morning and wanted quick young lads to give him a work-out with the
gloves in the afternoon, because even dubs was better than shadow boxing
or just punching the bag all the time. If they couldn't box-fight they
So Wilbur had gone to the store that afternoon, and for many succeeding
afternoons, to learn the fascinating new game in a shed that served
McCarron as storeroom. The new hero had here certain paraphernalia of
his delightful calling--a punching bag, small dumb-bells, a skipping
rope, boxing gloves. Here the neophyte had been taught the niceties of
feint and guard and lead, of the right cross, the uppercut, the straight
left, to duck, to side-step, to shift lightly on his feet, to stop
protruding his jaw in cordial invitation, to keep his stomach covered.
He proved attentive and willing and quick. He was soon chewing gum as
Spike Brennon chewed it, and had his hair clipped in Brennon manner. He
lived his days and his nights in dreams of delivering or evading blows.
Often while dressing of a morning he would stop to punish an invisible
opponent, doing an elaborate dance the while. It was better than
linotypes or motor busses.
In the early days of this new study he had been fearful of hurting Spike
Brennon. He felt that his blows were too powerful, especially that from
the right fist when it should curve over Spike's left shoulder to stop
on his jaw. But he learned that when his glove reached the right place
Spike's jaw had for some time not been there. Spike scorned his efforts.
"Stop it, kid! You might as well send me a pitcher postcard that it's
comin'. You got to hit from where you are--you can't stop to draw back.
Use your left more. G'wan now, mix it! Mix it!"
They would mix it until the boy was panting. Then while he sat on a beer
keg until he should be in breath again the unwinded Spike would skip the
rope--a girl's skipping rope--or shadow-box about the room with
intricate dance steps, raining quick blows upon a ghostly boxer who was
invariably beaten; or with smaller gloves he would cause the inflated
bag to play lively tunes upon the ceiling of its support. After an hour
of this, when both were sweating, they would go to a sheltered spot
beyond the shed to play cold water upon each other's soaped forms.
There had been six weeks of this before the boy's dreadful secret was
revealed to Winona; six weeks before he appeared to startle her with one
eye radiating the rich hues of a ripened eggplant. It had been simple
enough. He had seen his chance to step in and punish Spike, and he had
stepped--and Spike's straight left had been there.
"You handed yourself that one, kid," Spike had said, applying raw beef
to it after their rubdown.
Wilbur had removed the beef after leaving the store. He didn't want the
thing to go down too soon. It was an honourable mark, wasn't it? Nothing
to make the fuss about that Winona had made. Of course you had to go to
Pegleg McCarron's to do the boxing, but Spike had warned him never to
drink if he expected to get anywhere in this particular trade; not even
to smoke. That he had entirely abandoned the use of tobacco at Spike's
command should--he considered--have commended his hero to Winona's
favourable notice. He wore the eye proudly in the public gaze; regretted
its passing as it began to pale into merely rainbow tints.
But Winona took steps. She was not going to see him die, perish morally,
without an effort to save him. She decided that Sharon Whipple would be
the one to consult. Sharon liked the boy--had taken an interest in him.
Perhaps words in time from him might avert the calamity, especially
after her father had refused to be concerned.
"Prize fighting!" said the judge, scornfully. "What'll he be doing next?
Never settles down to anything. Jack-of-all-trades and good at none."
It was no use hoping for help from a man who thought fighting was
foolish for the boy merely because he would not earnestly apply himself
She went to Sharon Whipple, and Sharon listened even more
sympathetically than she had hoped he would. He seemed genuinely shocked
that such things had been secretly going on in the life of his young
friend. He clicked deprecatingly with his tongue as Winona became
detailed in her narrative.
"My great glory!" he exclaimed at last. "You mean to say they mix it
down there every afternoon?"
"Every single day," confirmed Winona. "He's been going to that low dive
for weeks and weeks. Think of the debasing associations!"
"Just think of it!" said Sharon, impatiently. "Every afternoon--and me
not hearing a word of it!"
"If you could only say a word to him," besought Winona. "Coming from you
it might have an influence for good."
"I will, I will!" promised Sharon, fervently, and there was a gleam of
honest determination in his quick old eyes.
That very afternoon, in Pegleg McCarron's shed, he said words to Wilbur
that might have an influence for good.
"Quit sticking your jaw out that way or he'll knock it off!" had been
his first advice. And again: "Cover up that stomach--you want to get
killed?" He was sitting at one end of the arena, on a plank supported by
the ends of two beer kegs, and he held open a large, thick, respectable
gold watch. "Time!" he called.
Beside him sat the red-eyed and disreputable Pegleg McCarron, who
whacked the floor with the end of his crutch from time to time in
testimony of his low pleasure.
The round closed with one of Wilbur Cowan's right crosses--started from
not too far back--landing upon the jaw of Spike Brennon with what seemed
to be a shattering impact. Sharon Whipple yelled and Pegleg McCarron
pounded the floor in applause. Spike merely shook his head once.
"The kid's showing speed," he admitted, cordially. "If he just had
something back of them punches!"
"It was a daisy!" exclaimed Sharon. "My suffering stars, what a daisy!"
"'Twas neatly placed!" said Pegleg.
"I'm surprised at you!" said Sharon later to the panting apprentice.
"I'm surprised and grieved! You boys mixing it here every day for weeks
and never letting on!"
"I never thought you'd like it," said Wilbur.
"Like it!" said Sharon. He said it unctuously. "And say, don't you let
on to Miss Penniman that I set here and held the watch for you. I ain't
wanting that to get out on me."
"No, sir," said Wilbur.
Later Sharon tried to avoid Winona one day on River Street, but when he
saw that she would not be avoided he met her like a man.
"I've reasoned with the boy from time to time," he confessed, gloomily,
"but he's self-headed, talking huge high about being a good lightweight
and all that. I don't know--mebbe I haven't taken just the right tack
with him yet."
Winona thought him curiously evasive in manner. She believed that he
feared the worst for the boy, but was concealing it from her.
"His eye is almost well where that cowardly bully struck him," she told
Sharon. "If only we could get him into something where he could hold his
"He does that too much now," began Sharon, impulsively, but stopped,
floundering. "I mean he ain't enough ashamed," he concluded feebly, and
feigned that someone had called him imperatively from the door of the
First National Bank.
From time to time Spike's boxing manner grew tense for a period of days.
He tightened up, as Sharon put it, and left a sore and battered
apprentice while he went off to some distant larger town to fight,
stepping nonchalantly aboard the six-fifty-eight with his fighting
trunks and shoes wrapped in a copy of the Newbern _Advance_, and
shifting his gum as he said good-bye to Wilbur, who would come down to
see him off.
Sometimes Spike returned from these sorties unscathed and with money.
Oftener he came back without money and with a face--from abrasive
thrusts--looking as if a careless golfer had gone over him and neglected
to replace the divots. After these times there were likely to follow
complicated episodes of dentistry at the office of Doctor Patten. These
would render the invincible smile of Spike more refulgent than ever.
The next birthday of Merle Whipple was celebrated at a time when Spike
had been particularly painstaking in view of an approaching combat. Not
only did he leave his young friend with an eye that compelled the
notice, an eye lavishly displaying all the tints yet revealed by
spectroscopic analysis, and which by itself would have rendered him
socially undesirable, but he bore a swollen nose and a split and puffy
lip; bore them proudly, it should be said, and was not enough cast down,
in Winona's opinion, that his shameful wounds would deter him from
mingling with decent folk. Indeed, Winona had to be outspoken before she
convinced him that a birthday party was now no place for him. He would
have gone without misgiving, and would have pridefully recounted the
sickening details of that last round in which Spike Brennon had
permitted himself to fancy he faced a veritable antagonist. Still he
cared little for the festivity.
He saw Patricia from a distance in River Street, but pulled the dingy
cap lower and avoided her notice. She was still bony and animated and
looked quite capable of commanding his attendance over eighteen holes of
the most utterly futile golf in all the world. His only real regret in
the matter of his facial blemishes was that Spike came back with the
mere loser's end of an inconsiderable purse, and had to suffer another
infliction of the most intricate bridge work at the hands of Doctor
Patten before he could properly enjoy at the board of T-bone Tommy that
diet so essential to active men of affairs.
Once more the aging Wilbur Cowan stood alone by night thrillingly to
watch the arched splendour of stars above and muse upon the fleeting
years that carried off his youth. The moment marked another tremendous
epoch, for he was done with school. Now for all the years to come he
could hear the bell sound its warning and feel no qualm; never again
need sit confined in a stuffy room, breathing chalk dust, and compel his
errant mind to bookish abstractions. He had graduated from the Newbern
High School, respectably if not with distinguished honour, and the
superintendent had said, in conferring his rolled and neatly tied
diploma, that he was facing the battle of life and must acquit himself
with credit to Newbern.
The superintendent had seemed to believe it was a great moment; there
had been a tremor in his voice as he addressed the class, each in turn.
He was a small, nervous, intent man whose daily worries showed plainly
through the uplift of the moment, and Wilbur had wondered what he found
to be so thrilled about. His own battle with life--he must have gone out
to the fight years ago under much the same circumstances--had apparently
brought him none of the glory he was now urging his young charges to
strive for. He had to stay in a schoolroom and breathe chalk dust.
Whatever the battle of life might be, he was going to fight it
out-of-doors; not like imprisoned school-teachers and clerks and
bookkeepers in First National banks. Only when alone under that splatter
of stars did he feel the moment big with more than a mere release from
textbooks. Then at last he knew that he had become a man and must put
away childish things, and his mind floated on the thought, off to those
distant stars where other boys had that night, perhaps unwittingly,
He wished that people would not pester him with solemn questions about
what he now meant to make of himself. They seemed to believe that he
should be concerned about this. Winona was especially insistent. She
said he stood at the parting of the ways; that all his future hung upon
his making a seemly choice; and she said it gloomily, with frank
foreboding, as one more than half expecting him to choose amiss.
Judge Penniman was another who warned him heavily that it was time to
quit being a Jack-of-all-trades. The judge spoke as from a topless tower
of achievement, relating anecdotes of his own persistence under
difficulties at the beginning of a career which he allowed his hearer to
infer had been of shining merit, hampered, it is true, by the most
trying ill health. Even Mrs. Penniman said that they were expecting
great things of him, now that he had become a man.
The boy dimly felt that there was something false in all this urgency.
The superintendent of schools and Winona and the judge and Mrs. Penniman
seemed to be tightly wound up with expectancy about him, yet lived their
own lives not too tensely. The superintendent of schools was not
inspiring as a model; the judge, for all his talk, lived a life of fat
idleness, with convenient maladies when the Penniman lawn needed mowing.
Mrs. Penniman, it is true, fought the battle of life steadily with her
plain and fancy dressmaking, but with no visible glory; and Winona
herself was becoming a drab, sedate spinster, troubled about many
things. He wondered why they should all conceive him to be meant for so
much more than they had achieved. Why couldn't he relax into a life such
as they led, without all this talk of effort and planning? It seemed to
him that people pretty much allowed life to make itself for them, and
lived it as it came. He was not going to bother about it. Let it come.
He would find a way to live it. People managed. Judge Penniman was never
so ailing that he couldn't reach the harness shop for his game of
checkers. The only person he knew who had really worked hard to make
something of himself was Spike Brennon.
* * * * *
So he resorted to the golf links that summer, heedless and happy.
"Without ideals so far as one can read him," wrote Winona in her
journal, underlining the indictment and closing it with three bold
exclamation points. He was welcomed effusively to the golf course by
John Knox McTavish.
"Good!" said John on the morning of his appearance, which was effusive
for any McTavish.
He liked the boy, not only because he drove a sweet ball, but because
you could talk to him in a way you couldn't to par-r-r-rties you was
teaching to hold a club proper-r-r-r and to quit callin' it a stick.
He caddied that summer only for golfers of the better sort, and for
Sharon Whipple, choosing his employ with nice discrimination. John had
said golf was a grand game, because more than any other game it showed
how many kinds of fool a man could be betwixt his mind and his muscles.
His apprentice was already sensitive to the grosser kinds. In addition
to caddying he taught the secrets of the game when pupils came too
plenteously for John. But he lacked John's tried patience, and for the
ideal teacher was too likely to utter brutal truths instead of polite
and meandering diplomacies. He had caught perhaps a bit too much of
Spike Brennon's manner of instruction, a certain strained brusquerie,
out of pace with people who are willing to pay largely for instruction
which they ignore in spite of its monotonous repetition. John warned him
that he must soften his clients--butter-r-r 'em up with nice words--or
they wouldn't come back. He must say they was doing gr-r-rand. He did
say it now and then, but with no ring of conviction.
Still it was a good summer. Especially good, because all the time he
knew he was waiting for that morning in early September when the school
bell would ring and he would laugh carelessly at what had once been the
imperious summons. He thought that after this high moment he might be
able to plan his life at least a little--not too minutely.
* * * * *
Late that summer Merle and Patricia Whipple came by appointment to play
the course with him. Merle, too, had become a man--he would enter
college that fall. Apparently no one was bothering about the plan of his
life. And Patricia had become, if not a woman, at least less of a girl,
though she was still bony and utterly freckled. They drove off, Patricia
not far but straight, and Merle, after impressive preliminaries that
should have intimidated any golf ball, far but not straight. After his
shot he lectured instructively upon its faults. When he had done they
knew why he had sliced into the miry fen on the right. Then with an
expert eye he studied his brother's stance and swing. The ball of Wilbur
went low and straight and far, but the shot was prefaced, apparently, by
no nice adjustment of the feet or by any preliminary waggles of the
"No form," said Merle. "You ought to have form by this time, but you
don't show any; and you put no force into your swing. Now let me show
you just one little thing about your stance."
With generous enthusiasm he showed his brother not only one little
thing, but two or three that should be a buckler to him in time of need;
and his brother thanked him, and so authoritative was the platform
manner of Merle that he nearly said "Yes, sir." After which Patricia
played a brassy shot, and they all went to find Merle's ball among the
oaks. After that they went on to Wilbur's ball, which--still without a
trace of form--he dropped on the green with a mashie, in spite of
Merle's warning that he would need a mid-iron to reach it.
They drove, and again Merle lectured upon the three reasons why his ball
came to rest in a sand trap that flanked the fairway. He seemed to feel
this information was expected from him, nor did he neglect a generous
exposition of his brother's failure to exhibit form commensurate with
his far, straight drive. His brother was this time less effusive in his
thanks, and in no danger whatever of replying "Yes, sir!" He merely
retorted, "Don't lunge--keep down!" advice which the lecturer received
with a frowning, "I know--I know!" as if he had lunged intentionally,
with a secret purpose that would some day become known, to the confusion
of so-called golf experts. Wilbur and Patricia waited while Merle went
to retrieve his ball. They saw repeated sand showers rise over the top
of a bunker. From where they stood the player seemed to be inventing a
new kind of golf, to be played without a ball. A pale mist hung over the
"I know just what he's saying," Patricia told Wilbur.
"Shame on you!" said he, and they both laughed, after which Patricia
glanced at him oftener.
It should be said that he was now arrayed as Winona would have him, in
summer sports attire of careless but expensive appearance, including a
silk shirt alleged by the maker to be snappy, and a cap of real
character. The instinct of the male for noticeable plumage had at last
worked the reform that not all of Winona's pleading had sufficed for.
Wilbur Cowan at the moment might, but for his excellent golf, have been
mistaken for a genuine Whipple.
Merle's homilies continued after each shot. He subjected his own drives
to a masterly analysis, and strove to incite his brother to correct
form, illustrating this for his instruction with practice swings that
were marvels of nicety, and learnedly quoting Braid and Vardon.
It was after one of these informative intervals, succeeding a
brilliantly topped drive by the lecturer, that Patricia Whipple, full in
the flooding current of Merle's discourse, turned her speckled face
aside and flagrantly winked a greenish eye at Wilbur Cowan; whereupon
Wilbur Cowan winked his own left eye, that one being farthest from the
speaker. The latter, having concluded his remarks for the moment, went
to find his ball, and the two walked on.
"He just ought to be taken down," suggested Patricia, malevolently.
"Think so?" demanded Wilbur.
"Know so!" declared the girl. "'Tisn't only golf. He's that way about
everything--telling people things--how to do it and everything. Only no
one at our house dares come down on him. Harvey D. and Ella and even
grandfather--they all jump through hoops for him, the cowards! I give
him a jolt now and then, but I get talked to for it."
"The boy needs some golf talk--he certainly does," conceded the other.
"Too bad you're afraid to do it," Patricia said, resignedly.
She looked sadly away, then quickly back at him to see if it had taken.
She thought it hadn't. He was merely looking as if he also considered it
too bad. But on the next tee he astonishingly asserted himself
as---comparatively--a golfing expert. He wasn't going to have this
splendid brother, truly his brother for all the change of name, making a
fool of himself before a girl. Full in the tide of Merle's jaunty
discourse he blazed out with an authority of his own, and in tones so
arrogant that the importance of the other oozed almost pitiably from
"Quit that! Listen! We've played ten holes, and you haven't made one
clean drive, and I've got off every one clean. I make this course in
seventy-three, and you'd never make it in one hundred and twenty the way
you're going. But every time you stand there and tell me things about
your drive and about mine as if you could really play golf."
"Well, but my dear chap--" Merle paused, trying to regain some lost
spiritual value--"I'm merely telling you some little things about form."
"Forget it!" commanded the other. "You haven't any form yourself; you
don't have form until you can play the game, and then you don't think
about it. Maybe my form doesn't stick out, but you bet it must be tucked
in there somewhere or I couldn't hit the ball. You don't want to think
I haven't any just because I don't stand there and make a long speech to
the ball before swatting it."
"Well, I was only saying----" Merle began again, but in meekness such as
Patricia had never observed in him.
Hearing a sound in the background Wilbur turned. She was staging a
pantomime of excessive delight, noiselessly clapping her thin brown
hands. He frowned at her--he was not going to have any girl laughing at
his brother--and returned his attention to the late exponent of Braid
"Here"--he teed a ball--"you do about every wrong thing you could. You
don't overlook a single one. Now I'll show you. Take your stance,
address the ball!"
He had forgotten, in the heat of his real affection, all the difference
in their stations. He was talking crisply to this Whipple as if he were
merely a Cowan twin. Merle, silent, dazed, meek, did as he was directed.
"Now take your back swing slower. You've been going up too quick--go up
slow--stay there! Wait--bend that left wrist under your club--not out
but under--here"--he adjusted the limp wrist. "Now keep your weight on
the left foot and come down easy. Don't try to knock the ball a mile--it
can't be done. Now up again and swing--easy!"
Merle swung and the topped ball went a dozen feet.
"There, now I suppose you're satisfied!" he said, sulkily, but his
instructor was not, it seemed, satisfied.
"Don't be silly! You lifted your head. You have to do more than one
thing right to hit that ball. You have to stay down to it. Here"--he
teed another ball--"take your stance and see if you can't keep down.
I'll hold you down." In front of the player he grasped his own driver
and rested it lightly upon the other's head. "Just think that club
weighs a hundred pounds, and you couldn't lift your head if you wanted
to. Now swing again, turn the left wrist under, swing easy--there!"
They watched the ball go high and straight, even if not far.
"A Texas leaguer," said Wilbur, "but it's all right. It's the first
time this afternoon you've stayed in the fairway. Now again!"
He teed another ball, and the threesomes had become a mere golf lesson,
plus a clash of personalities. Wilbur Cowan did all the talking; he was
grim, steely eyed, imperious. His splendid brother was mute and
submissive, after a few feeble essays at assertion that were brutally
stifled. Patricia danced disrespectfully in the background when neither
brother observed her. She had no wish to incur again the tightly drawn
scowl of Wilbur. The venom of that had made her uncomfortable.
"See now how you hit 'em out when you do what I tell you!" said the
instructor at last, when Merle had a dozen clean drives to his credit.
But the sun had fallen low and the lesson must end.
"Awfully obliged, old chap--thanks a heap!" said Merle, recovering
slightly from his abjectness. "I dare say I shall be able to smack the
little pill after this."
The old chap hurled a last grenade.
"You won't if you keep thinking about form," he warned. "Best way to
forget that--quit talking so much about it. After you make a shot, keep
still, or talk to yourself."
"Awfully good of you," Merle responded, graciously, for he was no longer
swinging at a ball, but merely walking back to the clubhouse, where one
man was as good as another. "There may be something in what you say."
"There is," said Wilbur.
He waved them a curt farewell as they entered the latest Whipple car.
"But, you know, the poor kid after all hasn't any form," the
convalescent Merle announced to Patricia when they were seated.
"He has nice hair and teeth," said the girl, looking far ahead as the
car moved off.
"Oh, hair--teeth!" murmured Merle, loftily careless, as one possessing
hair and teeth of his own. "I'm talking about golf."
"He lines 'em out," said Patricia, cattishly.
"Too much like a professional." Merle lifted a hand from the wheel to
wave deprecation. "That's what the poor kid gets for hanging about that
clubhouse all the time."
"The poor kid!" murmured Patricia. "I never noticed him much before."
"Beastly overbearing sort of chap," said Merle.
"Isn't he?" said Patricia. "I couldn't help but notice that." She
shifted her eyes sidewise at Merle. "I do wish some of the folks could
have been there," she added, listlessly.
"Is that so?" he demanded, remembering then that this girl was never to
be trusted, even in moods seemingly honeyed. He spurted the new roadster
in rank defiance of Newbern's lately enacted ordinance regulating the
speed of motor vehicles.
Yet the night must have brought him counsel, for he appeared the next
afternoon--though without Patricia--to beseech further instruction from
the competent brother. He did this rather humbly for one of his station.
"I know my game must be pretty rotten," he said. "Maybe you can show me
one or two more little things."
"I'll show you the same old things over again," said Wilbur, overjoyed
at this friendly advance, and forthwith he did.
For a week they played the course together, not only to the betterment
of Merle's technic, but to the promotion of a real friendliness between
this Whipple and a mere Cowan. They became as brothers again, seeming to
have leaped the span of years during which they had been alien. During
those years Wilbur had kept secret his pride in his brother, his
exultation that Merle should have been called for this high eminence and
not found wanting. There had been no one to whom he could reveal it,
except to Winona, perhaps in little flashes. Now that they were alone in
a curious renewal of their old intimacy, he permitted it to shine forth
in all its fullness, and Merle became pleasantly aware that this
sharp-speaking brother--where golf was concerned--felt for him something
much like worship. The glow warmed them both as they loitered over the
course, stopping at leisure to recall ancient happenings of their
boyhood together. Far apart now in their points of view, the expensively
nurtured Merle, and Wilbur, who had grown as he would, whose education
was of the street and the open, they found a common ground and rejoiced
in their contact.
"I don't understand why we haven't seen more of each other all these
years," said Merle on a late day of this renewed companionship. "Of
course I've been away a lot--school and trips and all that."
"And I'm still a small-towner," said Wilbur, though delightedly. It was
worth being a small-towner to have a brother so splendid.
"We must see a lot of each other from now on," insisted Merle. "We must
get together this way every time I come back."
"We must," said Wilbur. "I hope we do, anyway," he added, reflecting
that this would be one of those things too good to come true.
"What I don't understand," went on Merle, "you haven't had the
advantages I have, not gone off to school or met lots of people, as I'm
always doing, not seen the world, you know, but you seem so much older
than I am. I guess you seem at least ten years older."
"Well, I don't know." Wilbur pondered this. "You do seem younger some
way. Maybe a small town makes people old quicker, knocking round one the
way I have, bumping up against things here and there. I don't know at
all. Sharon Whipple says the whole world is made up mostly of small
towns; if you know one through and through you come pretty near knowing
the world. Maybe that's just his talk."
"Surly old beggar. Somehow I never hit it off well with him. Too
sarcastic, thinking he's funny all the time; uncouth, too."
"Well, perhaps so." Wilbur was willing to let this go. He did not
consider Sharon Whipple surly or uncouth or sarcastic, but he was not
going to dispute with this curiously restored brother. "Try a brassy on
that," he suggested, to drop the character of Sharon Whipple.
Merle tried the brassy, and they played out the hole. Merle made an
"I should have had a six at most," he protested, "after that lovely long
"John McTavish says the should-have-had score for this course is a
mar-r-rvel. He says if these people could count their should-have-hads
they'd all be playing under par. He's got a wicked tongue, that John."
"Well, anyway," insisted Merle, "you should have had a four, because you
were talking to me when you flubbed that approach shot; that cost you a
"John says the cards should have another column added to write in
excuses; after each hole you could put down just why you didn't get it
in two less. He says that would be gr-r-r-and f'r th' dubs."
"The hole is four hundred and eighty yards, and you were thirty yards
from the green in two," said Merle. "You should have had--"
"I guess I should have had what I got. Sharon Whipple says that's the
way with a lot of people in this life--make fine starts, and then flub
their short game, fall down on easy putts and all that, after they get
on the lawn. He calls the fair greens lawns."
"Awful old liar when he counts his own score," said Merle. "I played
with him just once."
Wilbur grinned again. He would cheerfully permit this one slander of his
"You certainly can't trust him out of sight in a sand trap," he
conceded. "You'll say, 'How many, Mr. Whipple?' and he'll say, 'Well,
let me see--eight and a short tote--that's it, eight and a tote.' He
means that he made eight, or about eight, by lifting it from the rough
about ten feet on to the fairway."
"Rotten sportsmanship," declared Merle.
"No, no, he's a good sport, all right! He'd expect you to do the same,
or tee up a little bit for a mid-iron shot. He says he won't read the
rules, because they're too fine print. I like the old boy a lot," he
concluded, firmly. He wanted no misunderstanding about that, even if
Merle should esteem him less for it.
They drove from the next tee. One hundred and fifty yards ahead the
fairway was intersected by a ditch. It was deep, and its cruel maw
yawned hungrily for golf balls. These it was fed in abundance daily.
"Rottenly placed, that ditch!" complained Merle as he prepared to drive.
"Only because you think so," replied his brother. "Forget it's there,
and you'll carry it every time. That's what Sharon Whipple does. It's
what they call psychology. It's a mental hazard. Sharon Whipple says
that's another thing about golf that's like real life. He says most all
things that scare us are just mental hazards."
"Stuff!" said Merle. "Stuffy stuffness! The ditch is there, isn't it,
psychology or no psychology? You might ignore a hungry tiger, but
calling him a mental hazard wouldn't stop him from eating you, would it?
Sharon Whipple makes me tired." He placed a drive neatly in the ditch.
"There!" he exploded, triumphantly. "I guess that shows you what the old
gas bag knows about it."
"Oh, you'll soon learn to carry that hole!" his brother soothed. "Now
let's see what you can do with that niblick." He grinned again as they
went on to the ditch. "Sharon Whipple calls his niblick his 'gitter'."
Merle, however, would not join in the grin. Sharon Whipple still made
In the course of their desultory playing they discussed the other
"Of course they're awfully fond of me," said Merle.
"Of course," said Wilbur.
"I guess Harvey D.--Father--would give me anything in the world I asked
for, ever since I was a kid. Horses, dogs, guns, motor cars--notice the
swell little roadster I'm driving? Birthday! You'd almost think he looks
up to me. Says he expects great things of me."
"Why wouldn't he?" demanded the other.
"Oh, of course, of course!" Merle waved this aside. "And Grandfather
Gideon, he's an old brick. College man himself--class of sixty-five.
Think of that, way back in the last century! Sharon Whipple never got to
college. Ran off to fight in the Civil War or something. That's why he's
so countrified, I s'pose. You take Gideon now--he's a gentleman. Any one
could see that. Not like Sharon. Polished old boy you'd meet in a club.
And Mrs. Harvey D.--Mother--say, she can't do enough for me! Bores me
stiff lots of times about whether I'm not going to be sick or something.
And money--Lord! I'm supposed to have an allowance, but they all hand me
money and tell me not to say anything about it to the others. Of course
I don't. And Harvey D. himself--he tries to let on he's very strict
about the allowance, then he'll pretend he didn't pay me the last
quarter and hand me two quarters at once. He knows he's a liar, and he
knows I know it, too. I guess I couldn't have fallen in with a nicer
bunch. Even that funny daughter of Sharon's, Cousin Juliana, she warms
up now and then--slips me a couple of twenties or so. You should have
seen the hit I made at prep! Fellows there owe me money now that I bet I
never do get paid back. But no matter, of course."
"That Juliana always makes me kind of shiver," admitted Wilbur. "She
looks so kind of--well, kind of lemonish."
"She's all of that, that old girl. She's the only one I never do get
close to. Soured old maid, I guess. Looks at you a lot, but doesn't say
much, like she was sizing you up. That nose of hers certainly does stand
out like a peak or something. You wouldn't think it, either, but she
reads poetry--mushiest kind--awful stuff. Say, I looked into a book of
hers one day over at the Old Place--Something-or-Other Love Lyrics was
the title--murder! I caught two or three things--talk about raw
stuff--you know, fellows and girls and all that! What she gets out of
it beats me, with that frozen face of hers."
A little later he portrayed the character of Patricia Whipple in terms
that would have incensed her but that moved Wilbur to little but mild
"You never know when you got your thumb on that kid," he said. "She's
the shifty one, all right. Talk along to you sweet as honey, but all the
time she's watching for some chance to throw the harpoon into you.
Venomous--regular vixen. No sense of humour--laughs at almost anything a
fellow says or does. Trim you in a minute with that tongue of hers. And
mushy! Reads stories about a young girl falling in love with strange men
that come along when her car busts down on a lonely road. Got that bug
now. Drives round a whole lot all alone looking for the car to go blooey
and a lovely stranger to happen along and fix it for her that turns out
to be a duke or something in disguise. Sickening!
"Two years ago she got confidential one night and told me she was going
to Italy some day and get carried off to a cave by a handsome bandit in
spite of her struggles. Yes, she would struggle--not! Talk about mental
hazards, she's one, all right! She'll make it lively for that family
some day. With Harvey D. depending on me a lot, I'm expecting to have no
end of trouble with her when she gets to going good. Of course she's
only a kid now, but you can plot her curve easy. One of these kind
that'll say one thing and mean another. And wild? Like that time when
she started to run off and found us in the graveyard---remember?"
They laughed about this, rehearsing that far-off day with its
vicissitudes and sudden fall of wealth.
"That was the first day the Whipples noticed me," said Merle. "I made
such a good impression on them they decided to take me."
At another time they talked of their future. Wilbur was hazy about his
own. He was going to wait and see. Merle was happily definite.
"I'll tell you," said he when they had played out the last hole one
day, "it's like this. I feel the need to express my best thoughts in
writing, so I've decided to become a great writer--you know, take up
literature. I don't mean poetry or muck of that sort--serious
literature. Of course Harvey D. talks about my taking charge of the
Whipple interests, but I'll work him round. Big writers are
somebody--not bankers and things like that. You could be the biggest
kind of a banker, and people would never know it or think much about it.
Writers are different. They get all kinds of notice. I don't know just
what branch of writing I'll take up first, but I'll find out at college.
Anyway, not mucky stories about a handsome stranger coming along just
because a girl's car busts down. I'll pick out something dignified, you
"I bet you will," said his admiring brother. "I bet you'll get a lot of
"Oh"--Merle waved an assenting hand--"naturally, after I get started
On a certain morning in early September Wilbur Cowan idled on River
Street, awaiting a summons. The day was sunny and spacious, yet hardly,
he thought, could it contain his new freedom. Despairing groups of
half-grown humans, still in slavery, hastened by him to their hateful
tasks. He watched them pityingly, and when the dread bell rang, causing
stragglers to bound forward in a saving burst of speed, he halted
leisurely in sheer exultation. The ecstasy endured a full five minutes,
until a last tap of the bell tolled the knell of the tardy. It had been
worth waiting for. This much of his future he had found worth planning.
He pictured the unfortunates back in the old room, breathing chalk dust,
vexed with foolish problems, tormented by discipline. He was never again
to pass a public school save with a sensation of shuddering relief. He
had escaped into his future, and felt no concern about what it should
offer him. It was enough to have escaped.
Having savoured freedom another ten minutes, he sauntered over to the
_Advance_ office as a favour to Sam Pickering. A wastrel printer had the
night before been stricken with the wanderlust, deciding at five-thirty
to take the six-fifty-eight for other fields of endeavour, and Wilbur
Cowan had graciously consented to bridge a possible gap.
He strolled into the dusty, disordered office and eased the worry from
Sam Pickering's furrowed brow by attacking the linotype in spirited
fashion. That week he ran off the two editions of the paper. A spotted
small boy sat across the press bed from him to ink the forms. He
confided impressively to this boy that when the last paper was printed
the bronze eagle would flap its wings three times and scream as a
signal for beer to be brought from Vielhaber's. The boy widened eyes of
utter belief upon him, and Wilbur Cowan once more felt all his years.
But he was still lamentably indecisive about his future, and when a new
printer looked in upon the _Advance_ he stepped aside. Whatever he was
going to make of himself it wouldn't be someone who had to sit down
indoors. He would be slave to no linotype until they were kept in the
open. He told Sam Pickering this in so many words.
The former Mansion's stable at length engaged his wandering fancy. The
stable's old swinging sign--a carefully painted fop with flowing side
whiskers and yellow topcoat swiftly driving a spirited horse to a neat
red-wheeled run-about--had been replaced by First-Class Garage. Of its
former activities remained only three or four sedate horses to be driven
by conservatives; and Starling Tucker, who lived, but lived in the past,
dazed and unbelieving--becoming vivacious only in speech, beginning, "I
These memories dealt with a remote time, when a hawse was a hawse, and
you couldn't have it put all over you by a lot of slick young smarties
that could do a few things with a monkey wrench. Starling, when he thus
discoursed, sat chiefly in the little office before the rusty stove,
idly flicking his memory with a buggy whip from the rack above his head,
where reposed a dozen choice whips soon to become mere museum pieces.
Wilbur's connection with this thriving establishment was both profitable
and entertaining. Judge Penniman divined the truth of it.
"He don't work--he just plays!"
He played with disordered motors and unerringly put them right. But he
seemed to lack steadiness of purpose. He would leave an ailing car to
help out Sam Pickering, or he would leave for a round of golf with
Sharon Whipple, Sharon complaining that other people were nothing but
doggoned golf lawyers; and he would insist upon time off at three
o'clock each afternoon to give Spike Brennon his work-out. Spike had
laboured to develop other talent in Newbern, but with ill success. When
you got 'em learned a little about the game they acted like a lot of
sissies over a broken nose or a couple of front teeth out or something.
What he wanted was lads that would get the beak straightened, pretty
near as good as new, or proper gold ones put in, and come back looking
for more trouble. Wilbur Cowan alone he had found dependable.
Even so, the monotony of mere car repairing began to irk him. It was
then he formed a pleasant alliance with old Porter Howgill, whose repair
shop was across the street from the First-Class Garage. Porter's
swinging sign, weathered and ancient like that of the Mansion's stable,
said in bold challenge, "Ask me! I do everything!" And once Porter had
done everything. Now there were a number of things he couldn't do, even
when asked. He was aging and knotted with rheumatism, and his failing
eyes did not now suffice for many of the nicer jobs.
Wilbur Cowan came to him and, even as had Porter in the days when the
sign was bright, did everything. It was a distinct relief to puzzle over
a sewing machine after labouring with too easily diagnosed motor
troubles, or to restore a bit of marquetry in a table, or play at a feat
of locksmithing. The First-Class Garage urged him to quit fiddling round
and become its foreman, but this glittering offer he refused. It was too
much like settling down to your future.