Read EVEN THREES of Murder in Any Degree, free online book, by Owen Johnson, on ReadCentral.com.

I

Ever since the historic day when a visiting clergyman accomplished the feat of pulling a ball from the tenth tee at an angle of two hundred and twenty-five degrees into the river that is the rightful receptacle for the eighth tee, the Stockbridge golf-course has had seventeen out of the eighteen holes that are punctuated with possible water hazards. The charming course itself lies in the flat of the sunken meadows which the Housatonic, in the few thousand years which are necessary for the proper preparation of a golf-course, has obligingly eaten out of the high, accompanying bluffs. The river, which goes wriggling on its way as though convulsed with merriment, is garnished with luxurious elms and willows, which occasionally deflect to the difficult putting-greens the random slices of certain notorious amateurs.

From the spectacular bluffs of the educated village of Stockbridge nothing can be imagined more charming than the panorama that the course presents on a busy day. Across the soft, green stretches, diminutive caddies may be seen scampering with long buckling-nets, while from the river-banks numerous recklessly exposed legs wave in the air as the more socially presentable portions hang frantically over the swirling current. Occasionally an enthusiastic golfer, driving from the eighth or ninth tees, may be seen to start immediately in headlong pursuit of a diverted ball, the swing of the club and the intuitive leap of the legs forward forming so continuous a movement that the main purpose of the game often becomes obscured to the mere spectator. Nearer, in the numerous languid swales that nature has generously provided to protect the interests of the manufacturers, or in the rippling patches of unmown grass, that in the later hours will be populated by enthusiastic caddies, desperate groups linger in botanizing attitudes.

Every morning lawyers who are neglecting their clients, doctors who have forgotten their patients, business men who have sacrificed their affairs, even ministers of the gospel who have forsaken their churches, gather in the noisy dressing-room and listen with servile attention while some unscrubbed boy who goes around under eighty imparts a little of his miraculous knowledge.

Two hours later, for every ten that have gone out so blithely, two return crushed and despondent, denouncing and renouncing the game, once and for all, absolutely and finally, until the afternoon, when they return like thieves in the night and venture out in a desperate hope; two more come stamping back in even more offensive enthusiasm; and the remainder straggle home moody and disillusioned, reviving their sunken spirits by impossible tales of past accomplishments.

There is something about these twilight gatherings that suggests the degeneracy of a rugged race; nor is the contamination of merely local significance. There are those who lie consciously, with a certain frank, commendable, whole-hearted plunge into iniquity. Such men return to their worldly callings with intellectual vigor unimpaired and a natural reaction toward the decalogue. Others of more casuistical temperament, unable all at once to throw over the traditions of a New England conscience to the exigencies of the game, do not burst at once into falsehood, but by a confusing process weaken their memories and corrupt their imaginations. They never lie of the events of the day. Rather they return to some jumbled happening of the week before and delude themselves with only a lingering qualm, until from habit they can create what is really a form of paranoia, the delusion of greatness, or the exaggerated ego. Such men, inoculated with self-deception, return to the outer world, to deceive others, lower the standards of business morality, contaminate politics, and threaten the vigor of the republic. R.N. Booverman, the Treasurer, and Theobald Pickings, the unenvied Secretary of an unenvied hoard, arrived at the first tee at precisely ten o’clock on a certain favorable morning in early August to begin the thirty-six holes which six times a week, six months of the year, they played together as sympathetic and well-matched adversaries. Their intimacy had arisen primarily from the fact that Pickings was the only man willing to listen to Booverman’s restless dissertations on the malignant fates which seemed to pursue him even to the neglect of their international duties, while Booverman, in fair exchange, suffered Pickings to enlarge ad libitum on his theory of the rolling versus the flat putting-greens.

Pickings was one of those correctly fashioned and punctilious golfers whose stance was modeled on classic lines, whose drive, though it averaged only twenty-five yards over the hundred, was always a well-oiled and graceful exhibition of the Royal St. Andrew’s swing, the left sole thrown up, the eyeballs bulging with the last muscular tension, the club carried back until the whole body was contorted into the first position of the traditional hoop-snake preparing to descend a hill. He used the interlocking grip, carried a bag with a spoon driver, an aluminium cleek, three abnormal putters, and wore one chamois glove with air-holes on the back. He never accomplished the course in less than eighty five and never exceeded ninety four, but, having aimed to set a correct example rather than to strive vulgarly for professional records, was always in a state of offensive optimism due to a complete sartorial satisfaction.

Booverman, on the contrary, had been hailed in his first years as a coming champion. With three holes eliminated, he could turn in a card distinguished for its fours and threes; but unfortunately these sad lapses inevitably occurred. As Booverman himself admitted, his appearance on the golf-links was the signal for the capricious imps of chance who stir up politicians to indiscreet truths and keep the Balkan pot of discord bubbling, to forsake immediately these prime duties, and enjoy a little relaxation at his expense.

Now, for the first three years Booverman responded in a manner to delight imp and devil. When standing thirty-four for the first six holes, he sliced into the jungle, and, after twenty minutes of frantic beating of the bush, was forced to acknowledge a lost ball and no score, he promptly sat down, tore large clutches of grass from the sod, and expressed himself to the admiring delight of the caddies, who favorably compared his flow of impulsive expletives to the choice moments of their own home life. At other times he would take an offending club firmly in his big hands and break it into four pieces, which he would drive into the ground, hurling the head itself, with a last diabolical gesture, into the Housatonic River, which, as may be repeated, wriggles its way through the course as though convulsed with merriment.

There were certain trees into which he inevitably drove, certain waggish bends of the river where, no matter how he might face, he was sure to arrive. There was a space of exactly ten inches under the clubhouse where his balls alone could disappear. He never ran down a long put, but always hung on the rim of the cup. It was his adversary who executed phenomenal shots, approaches of eighty yards that dribbled home, sliced drives that hit a fence and bounded back on the course. Nothing of this agreeable sort had ever happened or could ever happen to him. Finally the conviction of a certain predestined damnation settled upon him. He no longer struggled; his once rollicking spirits settled into a moody despair. Nothing encouraged him or could trick him into a display of hope. If he achieved a four and two twos on the first holes, he would say vindictively:

“What’s the use? I’ll lose my ball on the fifth.”

And when this happened, he no longer swore, but said gloomily with even a sense of satisfaction: “You can’t get me excited. Didn’t I know it would happen?”

Once in a while he had broken out, “If ever my luck changes, if it comes all at once ”

But he never ended the sentence, ashamed, as it were, to have indulged in such a childish fancy. Yet, as Providence moves in a mysterious way its wonders to perform, it was just this invincible pessimism that alone could have permitted Booverman to accomplish the incredible experience that befell him.

II

Topics of engrossing mental interests are bad form on the golf-links, since they leave a disturbing memory in the mind to divert it from that absolute intellectual concentration which the game demands. Therefore Pickings and Booverman, as they started toward the crowded first tee, remarked de rigueur:

“Good weather.”

“A bit of a breeze.”

“Not strong enough to affect the drives.”

“The greens have baked out.”

“Fast as I’ve seen them.”

“Well, it won’t help me.”

“How do you know?” said Pickings, politely, for the hundredth time. “Perhaps this is the day you’ll get your score.”

Booverman ignored this set remark, laying his ball on the rack, where two predecessors were waiting, and settled beside Pickings at the foot of the elm which later, he knew, would rob him of a four on the home green.

Wessels and Pollock, literary representatives, were preparing to drive. They were converts of the summer, each sacrificing their season’s output in a frantic effort to surpass the other. Pickings, the purist, did not approve of them in the least. They brought to the royal and ancient game a spirit of Bohemian irreverence and banter that offended his serious enthusiasm.

When Wessels made a convulsive stab at his ball and luckily achieved good distance, Pollock remarked behind his hand, “A good shot, damn it!”

Wessels stationed himself in a hopefully deprecatory attitude and watched Pollock build a monument of sand, balance his ball, and whistling nervously through his teeth, lunge successfully down. Whereupon, in defiance of etiquette, he swore with equal fervor, and they started off.

Pickings glanced at Booverman in a superior and critical way, but at this moment a thin, dyspeptic man with undisciplined whiskers broke in serenely without waiting for the answers to the questions he propounded:

“Ideal weather, eh? Came over from Norfolk this morning; ran over at fifty miles an hour. Some going, eh? They tell me you’ve quite a course here; record around seventy-one, isn’t it? Good deal of water to keep out of? You gentlemen some of the cracks? Course pretty fast with all this dry weather? What do you think of the one-piece driver? My friend, Judge Weatherup. My name’s Yancy Cyrus P.”

A ponderous person who looked as though he had been pumped up for the journey gravely saluted, while his feverish companion rolled on:

“Your course’s rather short, isn’t it? Imagine it’s rather easy for a straight driver. What’s your record? Seventy-one amateur? Rather high, isn’t it? Do you get many cracks around here? Caddies seem scarce. Did either of you gentlemen ever reflect how surprising it is that better scores aren’t made at this game? Now, take seventy-one; that’s only one under fours, and I venture to say at least six of your holes are possible twos, and all the rest, sometime or other, have been made in three. Yet you never hear of phenomenal scores, do you, like a run of luck at roulette or poker? You get my idea?”

“I believe it is your turn, sir,” said Pickings, both crushing and parliamentary. “There are several waiting.”

Judge Weatherup drove a perfect ball into the long grass, where successful searches averaged ten minutes, while his voluble companion, with an immense expenditure of force, foozled into the swale to the left, which was both damp and retentive.

“Shall we play through?” said Pickings, with formal preciseness. He teed his ball, took exactly eight full practice swings, and drove one hundred and fifty yards as usual directly in the middle of the course.

“Well, it’s straight; that’s all can be said for it,” he said, as he would say at the next seventeen tees.

Booverman rarely employed that slogan. That straight and narrow path was not in his religious practice. He drove a long ball, and he drove a great many that did not return in his bag. He glanced resentfully to the right, where Judge Weatherup was straddling the fence, and to the left, where Yancy was annoying the bullfrogs.

“Darn them!” he said to himself. “Of course now I’ll follow suit.”

But whether or not the malignant force of suggestion was neutralized by the attraction in opposite directions, his drive went straight and far, a beautiful two hundred and forty yards.

“Tine shot, Mr. Booverman,” said Frank, the professional, nodding his head, “free and easy, plenty of follow-through.”

“You’re on your drive to-day,” said Pickings, cheerfully.

“Sure! When I get a good drive off the first tee,” said Booverman discouraged, “I mess up all the rest. You’ll see.”

“Oh, come now,” said Pickings, as a matter of form. He played his shot, which came methodically to the edge of the green.

Booverman took his mashy for the short running-up stroke to the pin, which seemed so near.

“I suppose I’ve tried this shot a thousand times,” he said savagely. “Any one else would get a three once in five times any one but Jonah’s favorite brother.”

He swung carelessly, and watched with a tolerant interest the white ball roll on to the green straight for the flag. All at once Wessels and Pollock, who were ahead, sprang into the air and began agitating their hats.

“By George! it’s in!” said Pickings. “You’ve run it down. First hole in two! Well, what do you think of that?”

Booverman, unconvinced, approached the hole with suspicion, gingerly removing the pin. At the bottom, sure enough, lay his ball for a phenomenal two.

“That’s the first bit of luck that has ever happened to me,” he said furiously; “absolutely the first time in my whole career.”

“I say, old man,” said Pickings, in remonstrance, “you’re not angry about it, are you?”

“Well, I don’t know whether I am or not,” said Booverman, obstinately. In fact, he felt rather defrauded. The integrity of his record was attacked. “See here, I play thirty-six holes a day, two hundred and sixteen a week, a thousand a month, six thousand a year; ten years, sixty thousand holes; and this is the first time a bit of luck has ever happened to me once in sixty thousand times.”

Pickings drew out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead.

“It may come all at once,” he said faintly.

This mild hope only infuriated Booverman. He had already teed his ball for the second hole, which was poised on a rolling hill one hundred and thirty-five yards away. It is considered rather easy as golf-holes go. The only dangers are a matted wilderness of long grass in front of the tee, the certainty of landing out of bounds on the slightest slice, or of rolling down hill into a soggy substance on a pull. Also there is a tree to be hit and a sand-pit to be sampled.

“Now watch my little friend the apple-tree,” said Booverman. “I’m going to play for it, because, if I slice, I lose my ball, and that knocks my whole game higher than a kite.” He added between his teeth: “All I ask is to get around to the eighth hole before I lose my ball. I know I’ll lose it there.”

Due to the fact that his two on the first brought him not the slightest thrill of nervous joy, he made a perfect shot, the ball carrying the green straight and true.

“This is your day all right,” said Pickings, stepping to the tee.

“Oh, there’s never been anything the matter with my irons,” said Booverman, darkly. “Just wait till we strike the fourth and fifth holes.”

When they climbed the hill, Booverman’s ball lay within three feet of the cup, which he easily putted out.

“Two down,” said Pickings, inaudibly. “By George! what a glorious start!”

“Once in sixty thousand times,” said Booverman to himself. The third hole lay two hundred and five yards below, backed by the road and trapped by ditches, where at that moment Pollock, true to his traditions as a war correspondent, was laboring in the trenches, to the unrestrained delight of Wessels, who had passed beyond.

“Theobald,” said Booverman, selecting his cleek and speaking with inspired conviction, “I will tell you exactly what is going to happen. I will smite this little homeopathic pill, and it will land just where I want it. I will probably put out for another two. Three holes in twos would probably excite any other human being on the face of this globe. It doesn’t excite me. I know too well what will follow on the fourth or fifth. Watch.”

“Straight to the pin,” said Pickings in a loud whisper. “You’ve got a dead line on every shot to-day. Marvelous! When you get one of your streaks, there’s certainly no use in my playing.”

“Streak’s the word,” said Booverman, with a short, barking laugh. “Thank heaven, though, Pickings, I know it! Five years ago I’d have been shaking like a leaf. Now it only disgusts me. I’ve been fooled too often; I don’t bite again.”

In this same profoundly melancholic mood he approached his ball, which lay on the green, hole high, and put down a difficult put, a good three yards for his third two.

Pickings, despite all his classic conservatism, was so overcome with excitement that he twice putted over the hole for a shameful five.

Booverman’s face as he walked to the fourth tee was as joyless as a London fog. He placed his ball carelessly, selected his driver, and turned on the fidgety Pickings with the gloomy solemnity of a father about to indulge in corporal punishment.

“Once in sixty thousand times, Picky. Do you realize what a start like this three twos would mean to a professional like Frank or even an amateur that hadn’t offended every busy little fate and fury in the whole hoodooing business? Why, the blooming record would be knocked into the middle of next week.”

“You’ll do it,” said Pickings in a loud whisper. “Play carefully.”

Booverman glanced down the four-hundred-yard straightaway and murmured to himself:

“I wonder, little ball, whither will you fly?
I wonder, little ball, have I bid you good-by?
Will it be ’mid the prairies in the regions to the west?
Will it be in the marshes where the pollywogs nest?
Oh, tell me, little ball, is it ta-ta or good-by?”

He pronounced the last word with a settled conviction, and drove another long, straight drive. Pickings, thrilled at the possibility of another miracle, sliced badly.

“This is one of the most truly delightful holes of a picturesque course,” said Booverman, taking out an approaching cleek for his second shot. “Nothing is more artistic than the tiny little patch of putting-green under the shaggy branches of the willows. The receptive graveyard to the right gives a certain pathos to it, a splendid, quiet note in contrast to the feeling of the swift, hungry river to the left, which will now receive and carry from my outstretched hand this little white floater that will float away from me. No matter; I say again the fourth green is a thing of ravishing beauty.”

This second shot, low and long, rolled up in the same unvarying line.

“On the green,” said Pickings.

“Short,” said Booverman, who found, to his satisfaction, that he was right by a yard.

“Take your time,” said Pickings, biting his nails.

“Rats! I’ll play it for a five,” said Booverman.

His approach ran up on the line, caught the rim of the cup, hesitated, and passed on a couple of feet.

“A four, anyway,” said Pickings, with relief.

“I should have had a three,” said Booverman, doggedly. “Any one else would have had a three, straight on the cup. You’d have had a three, Picky; you know you would.”

Pickings did not answer. He was slowly going to pieces, forgetting the invincible stoicism that is the pride of the true golfer.

“I say, take your time, old chap,” he said, his voice no longer under control. “Go slow! go slow!”

“Picky, for the first four years I played this course,” said Booverman, angrily, “I never got better than a six on this simple three-hundred-and-fifty-yard hole. I lost my ball five times out of seven. There is something irresistibly alluring to me in the mosquito patches to my right. I think it is the fond hope that when I lose this nice new ball I may step inadvertently on one of its hundred brothers, which I may then bring home and give decent burial.”

Pickings, who felt a mad and ungolfish desire to entreat him to caution, walked away to fight down his emotion.

“Well?” he said, after the click of the club had sounded.

“Well,” said Booverman, without joy, “that ball is lying about two hundred and forty yards straight up the course, and by this time it has come quietly to a little cozy home in a nice, deep hoof track, just as I found it yesterday afternoon. Then I will have the exquisite pleasure of taking my niblick, and whanging it out for the loss of a stroke. That’ll infuriate me, and I’ll slice or pull. The best thing to do, I suppose, would be to play for a conservative six.”

When, after four butchered shots, Pickings had advanced to where Booverman had driven, the ball lay in clear position just beyond the bumps and rills that ordinarily welcome a long shot. Booverman played a perfect mashy, which dropped clear on the green, and ran down a moderate put for a three.

They then crossed the road and arrived by a planked walk at a dirt mound in the midst of a swamp. Before them the cozy marsh lay stagnant ahead and then sloped to the right in the figure of a boomerang, making for those who fancied a slice a delightful little carry of one hundred and fifty yards. To the left was a procession of trees, while beyond, on the course, for those who drove a long ball, a giant willow had fallen the year before in order to add a new perplexity and foster the enthusiasm for luxury that was beginning among the caddies.

“I have a feeling,” said Booverman, as though puzzled but not duped by what had happened “I have a strange feeling that I’m not going to get into trouble here. That would be too obvious. It’s at the seventh or eighth holes that something is lurking around for me. Well, I won’t waste time.”

He slapped down his ball, took a full swing, and carried the far-off bank with a low, shooting drive that continued bounding on.

“That ought to roll forever,” said Pickings, red with excitement.

“The course is fast dry as a rock,” said Booverman, deprecatingly.

Pickings put three balls precisely into the bubbling water, and drew alongside on his eighth shot. Booverman’s drive had skimmed over the dried plain for a fair two hundred and seventy-five yards. His second shot, a full brassy, rolled directly on the green.

“If he makes a four here,” said Pickings to himself, “he’ll be playing five under four no, by thunder! seven under four!” Suddenly he stopped, overwhelmed. “Why, he’s actually around threes two under three now. Heavens! if he ever suspects it, he’ll go into a thousand pieces.”

As a result, he missed his own ball completely, and then topped it for a bare fifty yards.

“I’ve never seen you play so badly,” said Booverman in a grumbling tone. “You’ll end up by throwing me off.”

When they arrived at the green, Booverman’s ball lay about thirty feet from the flag.

“It’s a four, a sure four,” said Pickings under his breath.

Suddenly Booverman burst into an exclamation.

“Picky, come here. Look look at that!”

The tone was furious. Pickings approached.

“Do you see that?” said Booverman, pointing to a freshly laid circle of sod ten inches from his ball. “That, my boy, was where the cup was yesterday. If they hadn’t moved the flag two hours ago, I’d have had a three. Now, what do you think of that for rotten luck?”

“Lay it dead,” said Pickings, anxiously, shaking his head sympathetically. “The green’s a bit fast.”

The put ran slowly up to the hole, and stopped four inches short.

“By heavens! why didn’t I put over it!” said Booverman, brandishing his putter. “A thirty-foot put that stops an inch short did you ever see anything like it? By everything that’s just and fair I should have had a three. You’d have had it, Picky. Lord! if I only could put!”

“One under three,” said Pickings to his fluttering inner self. “He can’t realize it. If I can only keep his mind off the score!”

The seventh tee is reached by a carefully planned, fatiguing flight of steps to the top of a bluff, where three churches at the back beckon so many recording angels to swell the purgatory lists. As you advance to the abrupt edge, everything is spread before you; nothing is concealed. In the first plane, the entangling branches of a score of apple-trees are ready to trap a topped ball and bury it under impossible piles of dry leaves. Beyond, the wired tennis-courts give forth a musical, tinny note when attacked. In the middle distance a glorious sycamore draws you to the left, and a file of elms beckon the sliced way to a marsh, wilderness of grass and an overgrown gully whence no balls return. In front, one hundred and twenty yards away, is a formidable bunker, running up to which is a tract of long grass, which two or three times a year is barbered by a charitable enterprise. The seventh hole itself lies two hundred and sixty yards away in a hollow guarded by a sunken ditch, a sure three or a sure six.

Booverman was still too indignant at the trick fate had played him on the last green to yield to any other emotion. He forgot that a dozen good scores had ended abruptly in the swale to the right. He was only irritated. He plumped down his ball, dug his toes in the ground, and sent off another long, satisfactory drive, which added more fuel to his anger.

“Any one else would have had a three on the six,” he muttered as he left the tee. “It’s too ridiculous.”

He had a short approach and an easy put, plucked his ball from the cup, and said in an injured tone:

“Picky, I feel bad about that sixth hole, and the fourth, too. I’ve lost a stroke on each of them. I’m playing two strokes more than I ought to be. Hang it all! that sixth wasn’t right! You told me the green was fast.”

“I’m sorry,” said Pickings, feeling his fingers grow cold and clammy on the grip.

The eighth hole has many easy opportunities. It is five hundred and twenty yards long, and things may happen at every stroke. You may begin in front of the tee by burying your ball in the waving grass, which is always permitted a sort of poetical license. There are the traps to the seventh hole to be crossed, and to the right the paralleling river can be reached by a short stab or a long, curling slice, which the prevailing wind obligingly assists to a splashing descent.

“And now we have come to the eighth hole,” said Booverman, raising his hat in profound salutation. “Whenever I arrive here with a good score I take from eight to eighteen, I lose one to three balls. On the contrary, when I have an average of six, I always get a five and often a four. How this hole has changed my entire life!” He raised his ball and addressed it tenderly: “And now, little ball, we must part, you and I. It seems a shame; you’re the nicest little ball I ever have known. You’ve stuck to me an awful long while. It’s a shame.”

He teed up, and drove his best drive, and followed it with a brassy that laid him twenty yards off the green, where a good approach brought the desired four.

“Even threes,” said Pickings to himself, as though he had seen a ghost. Now he was only a golfer of one generation; there was nothing in his inheritance to steady him in such a crisis. He began slowly to disintegrate morally, to revert to type. He contained himself until Booverman had driven free of the river, which flanks the entire green passage to the ninth hole, and then barely controlling the impulse to catch Booverman by the knees and implore him to discretion, he burst out:

“I say, dear boy, do you know what your score is?”

“Something well under four,” said Booverman, scratching his head.

“Under four, nothing; even threes!”

“What?”

“Even threes.”

They stopped, and tabulated the holes.

“So it is,” said Booverman, amazed. “What an infernal pity!”

“Pity?”

“Yes, pity. If only some one else could play it out!”

He studied the hundred and fifty yards that were needed to reach the green that was set in the crescent of surrounding trees, changed his brassy for his cleek, and his cleek for his midiron.

“I wish you hadn’t told me,” he said nervously.

Pickings on the instant comprehended his blunder. For the first time Booverman’s shot went wide of the mark, straight into the trees that bordered the river to the left.

“I’m sorry,” said Pickings with a feeble groan.

“My dear Picky, it had to come,” said Booverman, with a shrug of his shoulders. “The ball is now lost, and all the score goes into the air, the most miraculous score any one ever heard of is nothing but a crushed egg!”

“It may have bounded back on the course,” said Pickings, desperately.

“No, no, Picky; not that. In all the sixty thousand times I have hit trees, barns, car-tracks, caddies, fences, ”

“There it is!” cried Pickings, with a shout of joy.

Fair on the course, at the edge of the green itself, lay the ball, which soon was sunk for a four. Pickings felt a strange, unaccountable desire to leap upon Booverman like a fluffy, enthusiastic dog; but he fought it back with the new sense of responsibility that came to him. So he said artfully: “By George! old man, if you hadn’t missed on the fourth or the sixth, you’d have done even threes!”

“You know what I ought to do now I ought to stop,” said Booverman, in profound despair “quit golf and never lift another club. It’s a crime to go on; it’s a crime to spoil such a record. Twenty-eight for nine holes, only forty-two needed for the next nine to break the record, and I have done it in thirty-three and in fifty-three! I ought not to try; it’s wrong.”

He teed his ball for the two-hundred-yard flight to the easy tenth, and took his cleek.

“I know just what’ll happen now; I know it well.”

But this time there was no varying in the flight; the drive went true to the green, straight on the flag, where a good but not difficult put brought a two.

“Even threes again,” said Pickings, but to himself. “It can’t go on. It must turn.”

“Now, Pickings, this is going to stop,” said Booverman angrily. “I’m not going to make a fool of myself. I’m going right up to the tee, and I’m going to drive my ball right smack into the woods and end it. And I don’t care.”

“What!”

“No, I don’t care. Here goes.”

Again his drive continued true, the mashy pitch for the second was accurate, and his put, after circling the rim of the cup, went down for a three.

The twelfth hole is another dip into the long grass that might serve as an elephant’s bed, and then across the Housatonic River, a carry of one hundred and twenty yards to the green at the foot of an intruding tree.

“Oh, I suppose I’ll make another three here, too,” said Booverman, moodily. “That’ll only make it worse.”

He drove with his midiron high in the air and full on the flag.

“I’ll play my put carefully for three,” he said, nodding his head. Instead, it ran straight and down for two.

He walked silently to the dreaded thirteenth tee, which, with the returning fourteenth, forms the malignant Scylla and Charybdis of the course. There is nothing to describe the thirteenth hole. It is not really a golf-hole; it is a long, narrow breathing spot, squeezed by the railroad tracks on one side and by the river on the other. Resolute and fearless golfers often cut them out entirely, nor are ashamed to acknowledge their terror. As you stand at the thirteenth tee, everything is blurred to the eye. Near by are rushes and water, woods to the left and right; the river and the railroad; and the dry land a hundred yards away looks tiny and distant, like a rock amid floods.

A long drive that varies a degree is doomed to go out of bounds or to take the penalty of the river.

“Don’t risk it. Take an iron play it carefully,” said Pickings in a voice that sounded to his own ears unrecognizable.

Booverman followed his advice and landed by the fence to the left, almost off the fair. A midiron for his second put him in position for another four, and again brought his score to even threes.

When the daring golfer has passed quaking up the narrow way and still survives, he immediately falls a victim to the fourteenth, which is a bend hole, with all the agonies of the preceding thirteenth, augmented by a second shot over a long, mushy pond. If you play a careful iron to keep from the railroad, now on the right, or to dodge the river on your left, you are forced to approach the edge of the swamp with a cautious fifty-yard-running-up stroke before facing the terrors of the carry. A drive with a wooden club is almost sure to carry into the swamp, and only a careful cleek shot is safe.

“I wish I were playing this for the first time,” said Booverman, blackly. “I wish I could forget rid myself of memories. I have seen class A amateurs take twelve, and professionals eight. This is the end of all things, Picky, the saddest spot on earth. I won’t waste time. Here goes.”

To Pickings’s horror, the drive began slowly to slice out of bounds, toward the railroad tracks.

“I knew it,” said Booverman, calmly, “and the next will go there, too; then I’ll put one in the river, two the swamp, slice into ”

All at once he stopped, thunderstruck. The ball, hitting tire or rail, bounded high in the air, forward, back upon the course, lying in perfect position; Pickings said something in a purely reverent spirit.

“Twice in sixty thousand times,” said Booverman, unrelenting. “That only evens up the sixth hole. Twice in sixty thousand times!”

From where the ball lay an easy brassy brought it near enough to the green to negotiate another four. Pickings, trembling like a toy dog in zero weather, reached the green in ten strokes, and took three more puts.

The fifteenth, a short pitch over the river, eighty yards to a slanting green entirely surrounded by more long grass, which gave it the appearance of a chin spot on a full face of whiskers, was Booverman’s favorite hole. While Pickings held his eyes to the ground and tried to breathe in regular breaths, Booverman placed his ball, drove with the requisite back spin, and landed dead to the hole. Another two resulted.

“Even threes fifteen holes in even threes,” said Pickings to himself, his head beginning to throb. He wanted to sit down and take his temples in his hands, but for the sake of history he struggled on.

“Damn it!” said Booverman all at once.

“What’s the matter?” said Pickings, observing his face black with fury.

“Do you realize, Pickings, what it means to me to have lost those two strokes on the fourth and sixth greens, and through no fault of mine, neither? Even threes for the whole course that’s what I could do if I had those two strokes the greatest thing that’s ever been seen on a golf-course. It may be a hundred years before any human being on the face of this earth will get such a chance. And to think I might have done it with a little luck!”

Pickings felt his heart begin to pump, but he was able to say with some degree of calm:

“You may get a three here.”

“Never. Four, three and four is what I’ll end.”

“Well, good heavens! what do you want?”

“There’s no joy in it, though,” said Booverman, gloomily. “If I had those two strokes back, I’d go down in history, I’d be immortal. And you, too, Picky, you’d be immortal, because you went around with me. The fourth hole was bad enough, but the sixth was heartbreaking.”

His drive cleared another swamp and rolled well down the farther plateau. A long cleek laid his ball off the green, a good approach stopped a little short of the hole, and the put went down.

“Well, that ends it,” said Booverman, gloomily.

“I’ve got to make a two and a three to do it. The two is quite possible; the three absurd.”

The seventeenth hole returns to the swamp that enlivens the sixth. It is a full cleek, with about six mental hazards distributed in Indian ambush, and in five of them a ball may lie until the day of judgment before rising again.

Pickings turned his back, unable to endure the agony of watching. The click of the club was sharp and true. He turned to see the ball in full flight arrive unerringly hole high on the green.

“A chance for a two,” he said under his breath. He sent two balls into the lost land to the left and one into the rough to the right.

“Never mind me,” he said, slashing away in reckless fashion.

Booverman with a little care studied the ten-foot route to the hole and putted down.

“Even threes!” said Pickings, leaning against a tree.

“Blast that sixth hole!” said Booverman, exploding. “Think of what it might be, Picky what it ought to be!”

Pickings retired hurriedly before the shaking approach of Booverman’s frantic club. Incapable of speech, he waved him feebly to drive. He began incredulously to count up again, as though doubting his senses.

“One under three, even threes, one over, even, one under ”

“Here! What the deuce are you doing?” said Booverman, angrily. “Trying to throw me off?”

“I didn’t say anything,” said Pickings.

“You didn’t muttering to yourself.”

“I must make him angry to keep his mind off the score,” said Pickings, feebly to himself. He added aloud, “Stop kicking about your old sixth hole! You’ve had the darndest luck I ever saw, and yet you grumble.”

Booverman swore under his breath, hastily approached his ball, drove perfectly, and turned in a rage.

“Luck?” he cried furiously. “Pickings, I’ve a mind to wring your neck. Every shot I’ve played has been dead on the pin, now, hasn’t it?”

“How about the ninth hole hitting a tree?”

“Whose fault was that? You had no right to tell me my score, and, besides, I only got an ordinary four there, anyway.”

“How about the railroad track?”

“One shot out of bounds. Yes, I’ll admit that. That evens up for the fourth.”

“How about your first hole in two?”

“Perfectly played; no fluke about it at all once in sixty thousand times. Well, any more sneers? Anything else to criticize?”

“Let it go at that.”

Booverman, in this heckled mood, turned irritably to his ball, played a long midiron, just cleared the crescent bank of the last swale, and ran up on the green.

“Damn that sixth hole!” said Booverman, flinging down his club and glaring at Pickings. “One stroke back, and I could have done it.”

Pickings tried to address, but the moment he swung his club, his legs began to tremble. He shook his head, took a long breath, and picked up his ball.

They approached the green on a drunken run in the wild hope that a short put was possible. Unfortunately the ball lay thirty feet away, and the path to the hole was bumpy and riddled with worm-casts. Still, there was a chance, desperate as it was.

Pickings let his bag slip to the ground and sat down, covering his eyes while Booverman with his putter tried to brush away the ridges.

“Stand up!”

Pickings rose convulsively.

“For heaven’s sake, Picky, stand up! Try to be a man!” said Booverman, hoarsely. “Do you think I’ve any nerve when I see you with chills and fever? Brace up!”

“All right.”

Booverman sighted the hole, and then took his stance; but the cleek in his hand shook like an aspen. He straightened up and walked away.

“Picky,” he said, mopping his face, “I can’t do it. I can’t put it.”

“You must.”

“I’ve got buck fever. I’ll never be able to put it never.”

At the last, no longer calmed by an invincible pessimism, Booverman had gone to pieces. He stood shaking from head to foot.

“Look at that,” he said, extending a fluttering hand. “I can’t do it; I can never do it.”

“Old fellow, you must,” said Pickings; “you’ve got to. Bring yourself together. Here!” He slapped him on the back, pinched his arms, and chafed his fingers. Then he led him back to the ball, braced him into position, and put the putter in his hands.

“Buck fever,” said Booverman in a whisper. “Can’t see a thing.”

Pickings, holding the flag in the cup, said savagely:

“Shoot!”

The ball advanced in a zigzag path, running from worm-cast to a worm-cast, wobbling and rocking, and at the last, as though preordained, fell plump into the cup!

At the same moment, Pickings and Booverman, as though carried off by the same cannon-ball, flattened on the green.

III

Five minutes later, wild-eyed and hilarious, they descended on the clubhouse with the miraculous news. For an hour the assembled golfers roared with laughter as the two stormed, expostulated, and swore to the truth of the tale.

They journeyed from house to house in a vain attempt to find some convert to their claim. For a day they passed as consummate comedians, and the more they yielded to their rage, the more consummate was their art declared. Then a change took place. From laughing the educated town of Stockbridge turned to resentment, then to irritation, and finally to suspicion. Booverman and Pickings began to lose caste, to be regarded as unbalanced, if not positively dangerous. Unknown to them, a committee carefully examined the books of the club. At the next election another treasurer and another secretary were elected.

Since then, month in and month out, day after day, in patient hope, the two discredited members of the educated community of Stockbridge may be seen, accompanied by caddies, toiling around the links in a desperate belief that the miracle that would restore them to standing may be repeated. Each time as they arrive nervously at the first tee and prepare to swing, something between a chuckle and a grin runs through the assemblage, while the left eyes contract waggishly, and a murmuring may be heard,

“Even threes.”

The Stockbridge golf-links is a course of ravishing beauty and the Housatonic River, as has been said, goes wriggling around it as though convulsed with merriment.