At the Sixth Tee
AT THE SIXTH TEE
By Rupert Hughes
HOW such a foreordained duffer ever came to take up golf was the pet problem of the St. Niblick Club. It must have been simply his monumental masterfulness of will. He came East, he saw golf, and decided to conquer it. He had that instinct observable in certain men and other insects which impels the surmounting of every obstacle, by the hardest route, if necessary, rather than to go round, however primrose the path.
The very first week of his admission to the club he entered a tournament. He was given the largest handicap possible, but even after subtracting this from his total his score was the worst ever recorded in the history of the game. The card he had turned in was at first regarded with mere amusement by the other members. Later it was preserved and prized as one of the club's chief treasures. Visiting golfers were shown this card before the cups and trophies, and it always roused their risibles and made them feel at home.
Now, ridicule of the Duffer had two effects: it hurt his feelings and strengthened his determination. That first tournament was a crucifixion of his pride, but he stuck it out to the end. He felt now more than ever convinced that golf was a pastime only for idiots, but to quit a field of defeat with cheap raillery at the victor did not suit his ideals. So he met the laughter of the other members with a quiet grin of confession and a gentle admonition:
"Just wait and see; I'll beat the best of you yet!"
The Duffer noted that one girl on the outskirts of the crowd about him was especially amused. He had seen her play past him with clean, long shots that mocked his own awkwardness pitilessly. He had noted how pretty she was, and had resolved to make her acquaintance. Now that he saw her laughing, his resolve took on immediateness. He asked a fellow-member of the club to introduce him, and this man, after obtaining permission, pronounced the banns of acquaintance.
"Miss Hamilton, let me present to you Mr. Wickham, Mr. Bernard Wickham."
Common decency compelled the Girl to try to keep from laughing in his face; common humanity forbade her complete success as she remembered the great clods of turf he had sent flying with his clubs and the puny distance the ball traveled, in spite of all his brawn. But when she laughed in spite of herself she saw that Wickham was laughing too, and quite heartily. The man who can laugh with the world when the world is laughing at him bids fair to conquer it.
The Girl liked the Duffer both for the fact and the manner of his laugh. She felt that he would be a very good fellow—away from the links.
When, a few moments later, the founder of the club, who was also the Girl's old Scottish father, strolled up, arm in arm with the Champion of the Club, who was also the Girl's devoted admirer, she introduced the Duffer to them. The Father held golf too sacred to be able to smile on a heathen, so he was blunt to the point of gruffness; the Champion held the Girl too dear to be able to smile on any man she smiled on, so he was sarcastic to the verge of insult. Then the Girl, bitterly chagrined, saw the Duffer's smile tangle into a look of wrath that was hardly repressed. And, woman-like, she sympathized with him in his resentment.
If a man has stature and shoulders, a sense of the ridiculous and a quick temper, what more can a woman ask?
The Girl decided at once that the Duffer was worth while. She planned to ask him to call when she knew him better. He took care that the acquaintance should ripen, and before long he was asked to call. Which he did. Early and often.
The friendship of the two flourished so famously that Wickham grew rash enough to ask to play golf with her. Once more he had the indescribable humiliation of being beaten by a woman—such a slip of a girl, too!—and the one girl in the world to whom he would fain appear all-powerful, all-skilful. He could laugh at his first foozles, but the mirth was soon a sorry cackle; glumness followed, and then that little insanity which is slangily designated as "the rattles." He boiled with silent rage, and swallowed choking profanity till he had to give up the game in sheer distraction.
But the prestige he lost on the links he soon regained in other places. His devotion to the Girl was so marked that the whole club gossiped of it. Of course, the Girl herself was the first to see that he was very fond of her, but she was by no means the first in the club to see that she was also very fond of him.
When she happened on this secret nestling in a corner of her heart the Girl felt a deep distress; she saw many a hazard in such a course. For this simple game of golf, this mere pastime, had somehow gathered to itself a broad importance in her affairs. Of course, she herself could give it up forever with hardly a pang if it interfered with her heart's happiness. But there stood the Father and the Champion.
The Girl's father was an uncanny Scot. When he came to America he was nel mezzo del catnmin di nostra vita, which, if Dante had been, like Pilate, a Scotchman, would have been written in the equivalent for "at the ninth tee." Having spent the first half of his life in an atmosphere as thick with golf as a Scotch mist, the Father—Gavin Hamilton, Esq., by name, a descendant, as he would always and soon inform a stranger, of the great friend of Bobbie Burrnrns—I say, having spent the first half of his life at golf, Mr. Hamilton was fair pining away at the thought of spending the latter half as a golf-less exile in America.
Then that virulent microbe, the golf-club bacillus, got loose in America, and the infection caused the heart of the old Scot to rejoice mightily. He organized a club among his neighbors, and soon the whole region thereabout was as mad as Ophelia, and the dialect was altered with a rapidity that would have bleached a philologist's hair in a single night. To the old man's joy, his daughter Jean appeared to have inherited an aptitude for the game. To his complete delight, her chief companion was a young Edinburgher, James Creech, Esq., who had come to New York to represent a Scotch firm. Creech was a fellow of considerable address—particularly with a golf club—and the goodly income he earned was supplemented by a goodlier inheritance. He soon took the first place among the club's players. Best of all, in the old man's opinion, the friendship of the Girl and the Champion was not of the sort that finds gratification in moony tête-à-têtes; they were willing to spend hours with him in triangular conference on such vital questions as the best make and weight of clubs, the proper laying of a links, the nicety of greens, the elusiveness of bogey, the reasons why such and such shots were sliced or topped, and such like. Before long, under her father's tuition, the Girl became the champion among the clubwomen, and she and Jamie Creech won most of the mixed foursomes. The old Scotchman looked forward to an Eden-like old age with a doting son-in-law and a pious daughter, both gifted in the game and the gossip thereof.
It is true that Jean and Creech were eternally wrangling, but they quarreled like a married couple; and, besides, the disagreements are almost the best part of the game to the doubly disputatious souls of the Dissenters from the Protestants.
It is true, too, that the Girl never felt a jot of actual love for the Champion. She had, indeed, once accidentally hit him a smashing blow with a driver, as he stood too near and caught the full force of her upswing on his forehead. She was bitterly sorry as she saw him faint at the sight of his own blood, and with deep solicitude she had emptied over his face the contents of the bucket of water set beside the tee for the purpose of wetting the sand, which vigorous measure brought him up spluttering. Thereafter the Girl had felt that she ought to love the man, for the womanish reason that she had hurt him; since she had given him a scar that he would carry to his grave, she felt that she ought also to give him her heart for the same destination.
But she could never make up her mind to accept him definitely, though he proposed to her almost every time they traveled the links together. She was content to let their relationship drift on as a sort of golf-betrothal.
And then the Duffer came along, and insisted on introducing a new discord into the blissful disagreement of the Triple Alliance. Her father and the Champion first despised him, because he could not play golf; then they learned to hate him, because the Girl took an interest in him. And by the same token, because they hated him, the Girl took a deeper interest in him. Their opposition waxed, and with it a feeling in the Girl's heart that seemed to her chiefly defiance, until one day she realized that the greater part of her emotion was not defiance for the golfers, but affection for the Duffer.
She had at first been surprised that a man could avoid talking of the game and still keep up an interesting conversation. The Duffer had both wit and experience as a storehouse for small-talk. After the ease and comfort of his Yale days he had ranched it in the West, and his accounts of bronco-busting and steer-roping, and all the obsolescent glory of the cow-puncher, fascinated her. When he told her of the terrors of a stampede or a prairie fire she was thrilled as by a melodrama. She was stirred to greater depths when he told her of the long agony of a day and a night in a blizzard, when the Arctic wind had the rush of a football eleven in a flying wedge, and the storm of snowflakes had the impact of a shrapnel of nettles. In the bitter chill and the blindness and the bewilderment the huge, snow-clad field of cattle had begun to drift like a Sargasso. He, the Duffer, was one of the cowboy sentinels. The others froze and perished, with hundreds of tormented cattle. He, somehow, weathered the thirty hours of tempest and lived to win the pity, and thence the love, of this girl.
Telling his adventures, the Duffer was like Othello, and he charmed the heart of Desdemona to forgetfulness of his alien golflessness. Finally, on an evening when her father was from home, she had been moved to tears by one of his stories of hardship and prairie loneliness. Before she realized it, as she kept her eyelids clenched tight to hold the tears in, she felt that he had caught her hand in his great grasp, and she heard him saying, very fervently:
"I could stand that life no longer. My ambitions for wealth and for human society dragged me back to the East. And now that I am here, I don't care for either any more. All I want now is one little girl for my chum."
Before he could tell her what he did not need to tell her—who that girl was—her father came bustling in. Seeing the Duffer there, he greeted him with all of a Scotchman's bluntness and sat down with evident inclinations toward a freeze-out.
The Duffer saw the hopelessness of the situation, and rose to go. The Girl would have gone with him to the door to steal a last word, but the Father revealed an intention to stay by to the last, so she bade Wickham good-night, and when he, despairing of seeing her sooner otherwise, presumed to ask her to play golf with him the next morning, she consented, in spite of her pater's grunt of disatisfaction, and remembrance of the fact that she had promised to go round the links with Creech.
When the Duffer had gone, she hastened up the stairs to avoid the scene that her father's aspect threatened. In her own room a new complexion came upon the affair. She felt that if she gave her heart and hand to this Duffer it would mean a serious breach with her father, the ruination of the home, the beginning of an eternal family rancor. So she actually rejoiced that her father had come in when he did and had saved her from herself; and she determined that the next time the Duffer resumed his proposal she would tell him, tenderly but finally, that he was disqualified in her tournament of love.
And sleep blessed the piety of her daughterly resolve.
The next morning, bright and early, the Duffer appeared at the club house determined to go round the links with the Girl if he had to be her caddie. Soon the Champion came and looked with undisguised ridicule at the Duffer and his golf rig. The Duffer felt a keen desire to wring Creech's neck, but possessed his soul in impatience till Jean appeared with her father.
Jean had intended to greet the Duffer with forbidding coolness, but he looked so braw in his blue sweater and his knickerbockers, and there was such an optimistic bonhomie about the early morning air, that she bent upon him a most cordial gaze. She decided that she would give him one last chance. If he could only learn golf, the objection to her marrying him would disappear.
Being a woman, and having resolved upon a plan, she ignored the painfulness of the means to her end, and, with the mercilessness of the gentler sex, commanded Creech not only to relinquish his claim to be her opponent in the game, but even to coach his deadly rival! Creech was almost prostrated with rage, but she fastened such a despotic look on him that he acquiesced. Wickham was angry, too, because Creech insisted on tagging along. The Father accompanied them to the first tee, irate because his daughter had not ignored the Duffer; and Jean was the only one of them all that had a strain of morning music in her heart.
At the first tee Jean took the honor and led off with a neat and soaring drive. That warmed her father's heart back to her. Creech most grumpily offered to give the Duffer an object-lesson, and said, magnificently:
"Watch me drive, and do just as I do."
Whereupon he made a great flourish and swing, missed the grinning ball entirely and almost floated off his feet on the very whiff and wind of his stroke. The expression of amazement in his eyes was nearly audible as he prepared to redeem himself. This time he dug his club into the tee most ruinously, and the very knitting of his brows was profane. The third time he found the ball, but it stopped short even of Jean's drive.
The irony of the situation was too keen for laughter. It was high tragedy, and the Duffer was so unnerved that he quite forgot himself and his efforts at form: and, handling his club as if it were a baseball bat, somehow caught the ball smack and true, and sent it like a falcon clear to the putting green.
It would be hard to say which of the group—Duffer, Girl, Champion, Father or the caddies—felt the most amazement. Everybody knew that it was an accident, and yet none could resist the beauty of the drive. The Father, before he thought of it, shook the Duffer by the hand, the Girl crowed with joy, and even the Champion started after the white hawk's flight in æsthetic homage. Then he returned to his senses and was madder than ever, and darted on ahead. The caddies hurried after him and the Father turned back to the club house to lose what remnant of a reputation for veracity his golf-stories had left him by recounting the Duffer's drive.
Jean and Wickham, when they came back to earth, found themselves alone. As they strolled slowly on, her praises led the Duffer to resume the proposal of the evening before, and he was just coaxing her heart away from its resolves when, for all their dawdling, they perforce overtook the fuming Creech. Jean found her golf ball in a beautiful brassie lie and sent it humming to the green. The fascination of a long, clean drive melted her heart still more to acquiescence in Wickham's pleading. And when he made a neat, and holed out ahead of her, she was so glad of his superiority that she would have accepted him on the spot if Creech had not been at hand!
At the second tee Creech said, sneeringly:
"Go ahead, Wickham, and drive; you don't seem to need any coaching from me."
Whereupon Jean brought him to terms icily with a quiet:
"Well, then, you needn't trouble to go round the course with us."
To which he quickly answered:
"Oh, I don't mind. I'd like to see how well Wickham keeps up the gait."
That was the finger-thrust that broke the bubble of the Duffer's success, for, now that he had a responsibility upon him, he swished and whacked away dismally without being able to hit the ball at all for seven actual strokes. When he finally drove off he landed in a patch of tangled weeds, whence he escaped after three more shots only to find the ball against the post of a barbed wire fence. After four vain jabs at it, he whaled away with a brassie, and though he knocked the ball a decent distance, his club splintered in two against the fence. He thought for the moment that he was "busting" broncos again, and his language was such that conversation was impossible for some time, in spite of his abject apologies.
The next two holes were played in bitter silence, Creech alone feeling cheerful. His manner was so offensive that his first remark was squelched sharply by the miserable Jean, who looked upon the despairing Duffer as a fallen and shattered idol, an irrevocable dream, a lost soul—or something hopelessly irredeemable. To Wickham, similarly, Jean was an escaped thrush, a pearl lost in the vinegar of fate, a will-o'-the-wisp never to be overtaken.
So the two stumbled along over the links in mutual resignation and regret, blaming the demon of Golf for their separation, and yet feeling powerless to exorcise him. Each wished to quit the harrowing play, and neither dared to make the first offer.
Wickham's foozles grew more and more appalling until he passed the fifth hole. While a tee had been placed for women more advantageously, the sixth teeing ground for men was a little platform on the side of a steep hill. It was no bigger than a dinner table, and the rules of the course demanded a long drive across a strip of rough land and a winding gully, on to a fair green that seemed to the novice as far away as the fields of Elysium. The position and the necessity were such as gave even the veteran an anxious moment. The Duffer had an attack of positive stage fright.
Creech had suggested that he might better drive from the women's tee, for which Wickham would gladly have punched the Champion's nose. After three "fan shots," he sliced the ball far to the right; he decided to tee another ball, and managed to pull this equally far to the left; a third ball barely rolled over the edge of the teeing ground; a fourth reached just to the gully.
Jean's heart was burning with pity for the wretch on the rack, but Creech was childish with delight. He sat down on the fair green and pretended to go to sleep; he yawned; he called aloud cheap persiflage that was like pepper on the raw edges of Wickham's pride. Finally, after fifteen misses, the Duffer gave up, and going round to the flight of wooden steps, descended with the meekness of a whipped poodle and brought his giant's strength and his proud manhood to the depths of infamy; he teed a ball on the women's tee, and the hole—for which bogey was three—he finished in twenty-one shots.
"That ball's old enough to vote," chortled Creech, as Wickham stooped to take it out of the cup. Wickham said to his frantic soul, "Men have died for less!" but to Creech he said never a word.
It is curious how close our pastimes lie to our passions. We are most often more sensitive of our sportsmanship than of our intellects or our more serious virtues. Here were three people out for a little junket, and the ragged young man working in a near-by field stopped whistling to covet their luxury and their enjoyment, though one of the envied trio, the man in the scarlet sweater, was at best only happy with a malicious glee in a rival's misery; the rival in dark blue was humiliated to the point of suicide, and the girl in the brave pink coat was sorrowful to the brink of tears!
At the seventh tee, Jean, after making a fine far drive—though somewhat too much "heeled" for her liking—paused to say to the Duffer:
"You mustn't drive into that field on the right, you know. That's the field owned by the old brute that quarreled with the club." Then she hurried on with her caddie.
Being thus warned, the Duffer, of course, drove the ball straight into the forbidden field. Whereupon Creech giggled and informed Wickham that he lost the ball, the stroke and the distance. But Wickham's caddie, who, strangely enough, had a certain liking for the Duffer, in spite of his bad play, sidled up and said:
"Say, boss, I'll git de ball fur ye. It's agin de rules for us fellers to go in de field, but de old man'll never know de difference."
Wickham, glad of even this little recognition of his right to live, acquiesced smilingly, and the urchin soon crawled through the fence and advanced a little way into the field, only to come flying out again and scramble through the barbs, regardless of their clutches.
"Geeminy-whiz, boss!" he howled, "dey's a real live bull in dere. I seen him! an' he seen me! an' he's bigger'n a house! De old man must 'a' put him dere to keep us kids out."
Creech grew very solemn suddenly, and said, "I hope that fence is strong."
But Wickham only smote the other ball he had teed. He foozled, as usual, and made a pathetically short drive. He hacked and scooped the ball doggedly along little by little. His temper was growing ugly now, and it only needed one more straw of sarcasm from Creech to break down his self-control. This the unwitting Creech speedily produced; and he was startled to see the meek and lowly Duffer turning on him with sudden fury.
"Look here, Creech, I may not be a big enough jackass to play this fool game, but there's one thing I can do, and that is, knock some of the insolence out of you. If you don't believe me, just make one more remark, and, by the Lord Harry! I won't leave enough of you to bait a mouse trap with."
Creech, enraged at this ultimatum, replied in kind, at the same time snatching an iron lofter from Wickham's caddy-bag and brandishing it like a battle-axe.
Wickham, glancing over his shoulder, noted that Jean and her caddie were far away, busily hunting a lost ball, and he said to Creech:
"Come behind this bunker and we'll settle this little matter right now."
Since Creech seemed disposed to keep his club, Wickham selected another iron, a mashie. They went behind the high barrier of the artificial bunker, and the caddie followed, in all the romantic delight of a second in a duel.
After a little preliminary fencing, in which Creech acted on the defensive, not to say the evasive, Wickham, insane with battle-mania, was about to charge on him, parry the blow with one arm and send his club home with the other. Creech, alert to make the most of his one blow, saw a sudden horror in Wickham's eyes. His enemy stopped short and lowered his weapon. Creech, seizing the chance, brought down his club viciously. If Wickham had not thrust up his arm instinctively he would have brought away a broken head as his share of the combat he had begun.
Without heeding the pain of the bruise on his arm, Wickham, staring past Creech, muttered:
"Look behind you!"
"Oh, no," laughed the canny Scot; "you don't catch me off my guard so easily."
"Look behind you, I say," commanded Wickham.
"And what'll I see?" sneered Creech, suspiciously.
"You'll see the biggest and the maddest bull you ever saw," said Wickham.
Creech cast a quick glance over his shoulder and saw a monster whose engine-like energy and magnificence of power he was in no position to appreciate. The caddie had seen it while the two were fencing and had scuttled away to safety without hesitation, his yell of warning being unnoticed in the excitement of the duelists.
"What in the Lord's name can I do?" gasped Creech.
"Take off that damned red sweater, for the first thing," said Wickham.
As Creech was worming himself frantically out of it, he heard Wickham excitedly announce:
"He sees you; here he comes."
In the midst of his struggles Creech felt the tug of a powerful hand, and as he came out of the tangle to daylight again, blinded and dizzy, he felt himself dragged along by Wickham. who got him to the other side of the bunker just as the low thunder of the bull's hoofs became audible.
Wickham peered over the top of the earthen parapet and announced, in a whisper:
"He's tearing your red sweater to shreds, trampling it and tossing it like mad."
"He'll come for us in a minute," moaned the terrified Creech. "And what'll we do?"
"That's the question," whispered Wickham, and he swept his eye around the broad field in whose very centre they were. In the distance he saw Jean, her eyes still fastened on the ground as she searched for the elusive ball. Then he exclaimed: "My God! there's Jean, and she has a pink coat on. Oh, you fools! you bright red fools! How can we get her out of this? If the bull sees her he can catch her long before she can reach the wall. What—what—what can we do?"
"Oh, she's beyond our help," whined Creech; "don't worry over her. What are we to do? Can we beat him off with these clubs, do you think?"
"Huh," grunted Wickham, "he'd think we were tickling him with a straw. I've got to warn Jean somehow." And he put up his hands to call to her; but Creech clapped his palm over his mouth, pleading:
"Don't, don't; he'll hear you and attack us."
Wickham shook him loose contemptuously and cried aloud Jean's name again and again, mentally cursing a word that had so little carrying power. She did not hear.
The bull did, however, and after a moment's sniffing wonderment, sauntered round the bunker. Creech, with a wail of terror, leaped up and straddled the parapet, prepared to take either side of it, as the bull's course might direct.
Wickham, seizing the opportunity while the bull was puzzling over Creech, dodged round the end of the bunker and ran with all his speed, directing his course so that he might come as near as possible to Jean without losing the bunker as a shield from the bull's discovery. As he ran he kept calling Jean's name; finally she heard him, looked up, and, with all the stupidity of an innocent party to such a crisis, started toward him. He waved and stormed at her in vain.
After pondering the curious behavior of Creech, who was on the other side of the bunker, saying his prayers backward the while, the animal decided to go round after him, but suddenly he made out the red-jacketed girl upon his horizon. Whereupon he waxed wroth at the hated color and moved toward Jean with deliberate majesty, finally breaking into a trot preparatory to the final charge.
Creech, after waiting what seemed a long time for the bull to come and gore him to death, opened his eyes and saw the beast scampering away. Then he crawled cautiously to the ditch that traversed one part of the field, rolled over into it, and sneaked rapidly away along the muddy channel.
Wickham, glancing over his shoulder, saw Jean's immediate danger, and cried to her like Stentor to throw off her jacket. Without understanding why, she obeyed the authority in his voice, and whipping off the red coat, threw it to the ground.
"Now run! Run, for your life!"
And she did, aware only that some vague terror pursued both of them, and expecting to be overtaken by Wickham. But the bull ran, too, and losing sight of the coat in the grass, made after the fleeing girl at increased speed.
Jean's caddie had grasped the danger in a jiffy and had shinned up a near-by tree like a squirrel, concealing himself in the branches.
For a painful moment Wickham felt himself helpless to protect the girl. Then he turned and ran to cross the bull's path. Without checking his speed he snatched up from the grass the red coat Jean had thrown down. Waving this wildly, he caught the eye of the bull, and the animal stopped short.
He stood stock still a moment pawing the ground, snorting in brutish annoyance. And confronting him was Wickham, the coat hanging from his limp hand, while he wondered what to do next; and wondered also if his heart was simply pounding a hole through his ribs or was making complete revolutions like a fly-wheel.
And now, to rob poor Wickham of even this little chance to gain his breath, Jean stopped running, looked about, saw the two adversaries, and decided that her place was at the side of the man she loved. So she started back toward Wickham, who, seeing her lovely lunacy, almost expired before the combined bravery and madness of her deed.
"If you'll only get out of the way, I'll escape, too!" he called, loudly. "Run!"
She obeyed after a second's mutiny, and turning, scampered for the wall. Just as Wickham blessed her for permitting him the last word for once, the bull charged him with leaps of tremendous momentum.
The only bull-fights he had ever seen were in kinetoscopes, but he bided his time and stepped expertly aside, while the bull dashed past like an express locomotive. Then he faced about and waited the next charge. The pauses grew shorter and shorter, and the bull's thick head grew more and more aware of the gadfly's tactics; but Wickham had time to regain his breath somewhat and to lay out a plan of battle, which was to zigzag his way gradually to the distant wall and then vault it quickly.
But, like many another battle plan, this failed to work in practice. The bull was not so naïve as Wickham hoped; he refused to make futile dashes always in straight lines; he began to follow up cautiously and make short lunges, harder and harder to avoid. He got between Wickham and the wall, and the man could find no way to flank him.
Back and forth they wove, turning and twisting, both stumbling over the natural and artificial roughnesses of the field. Once Wickham slipped and fell, and managed only by a quick roll to escape the catapult of the bull's head. He threw the coat away once, but the bull paused only a moment to worry it.
In one of his agonizing dashes Wickham sought the bunker behind which he had left Creech, but the bull followed him round and round, till the man grew giddy and broke away at a tangent, his fidus Achates close after him. This brought him to the edge of a steep hill, which he surmounted with the utmost difficulty.
There Jean, running along the lee side of the wall, saw him from afar, outlined against the sky and reeling with fatigue. The pursuer now cut off every direction but one, and the Duffer had not the strength of mind to begin the dodging strategy again. So he jogged down to the sharp declivity over whose edge hung the sixth tee. When he got there he saw that he was now truly between the devil and the deep sea, and he cursed his stupidity drearily. The wooden stairway was the only safe way down, and the bull covered the approach to that. He was so utterly fagged and beaten that it occurred to him that it would be a happy way out of all his difficulties just to throw himself on the horns of the bull and be tossed into oblivion. So he faced about and called out, with sickly cheer:
"Come on, old boy; my jig's up. You win!"
But the bull only glared at him with red eyes, gloatingly, waiting to collect breath enough for a finishing assault. In this teasing pause a scheme occurred to Wickham. He began to taunt the bull with rude epithets and cheap banter, and flaunt the red flag at him defiantly.
After a moment of incredulous indignation the bull lowered his head to the charge and hurled himself down the incline.
Standing on the little table space, young Wickham waited for him with nerves and muscles taut and the red coat held just in front of his feet. If he stepped aside half a second too soon, the bull would turn and catch him and carry him over the cliff; if he paused half a second too long——
He did neither. At the very nick of the opportunity he leaped away, and the horns of the bull tore the coat from his hands as the great engine of rage plunged past him and crashed on the rocks below like a falling oak.
Wickham almost followed, but managed to save himself. One look showed that the bull had broken his bones and was dead on the instant.
Now, all the props of courage fell from under Wickham, and he sank down on the teeing ground in a limp heap. He flopped over on his back and rested. Just rested.
So Jean, after seeing the climax of the adventure from a distance, found the Duffer, supine, informal, toes up, arms out, and smiling foolishly and happily. She knelt down at his side and laid her hand on his hot forehead; but he was too tired to speak—to more than bestow upon her a grateful glance.
After a time she thought she saw a movement in the bushes at the edge of the gully beneath. Then she saw the scared face of Jamie Creech peer out. She called to him with arch raillery that it was safe to appear now. And he scrambled up to daylight, muddy and begrimed and soaked to the knees. His first words were:
"Where's that beast of a bull?"
She simply pointed to the silent mass, whence all the wrath was flown, and added:
"You'd better run along home and change your shoes, or you'll catch cold."
Creech, from where he stood, could not see the form of the oblivious Wickham. To his eyes Jean was simply a sardonic little witch perched aloft to tantalize him. But he obeyed her directions and wearily plodded his homeward way.
Suddenly Wickham came out of his stupor of blissful weariness. He rose to his feet and helped her to hers. He was about to begin anew his protestations of idolatry, but she said, hastily:
"Hush! here come some people."
Vague rumors of the adventure had, indeed, spread among such golfers as were about so early in the morning, and a flock of club members, having learned that all danger was past, hastened to the scene of the conflict. Jean's father was among them, and he came forward on seeing her to ask, anxiously:
"What's the matter, my child? What has happened?"
"Oh, nothing," she sang out, cheerfully, "only Bernard—I mean Mr. Wickham—has just broken all records for a drive from the sixth tee."
The old man did not quite understand, but he beamed upon the Duffer with sudden cordiality, shook both his hands violently, and exclaimed:
"I congratulate you, my boy! You'll be a true golfer yet."