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The Marathon








From: Still Jim

"I have seen a thing that humans call friendship. It is
clearer, higher, less frequent than the thing they call
love."

MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.


At 66th street, Jim had passed the Californian and caught up with Sara.
He held Sara's pace for the next block. Try as he would, the young Greek
could not throw Jim off and instinct told him that Jim had enough
reserve in him to forge ahead in the final spurt at Columbus Circle, six
blocks away.

But at 63rd street something happened. A fire alarm was turned in from a
store in the middle of the block. The police tried to move the crowd
away without interfering with the race, but just as the runners reached
the point of the fire, the crowd broke into the street. A boy darted in
front of Sara and Jim, and Sara struck at the lad. It was a back-handed
blow and Sara brought his elbow back into Jim's stomach with a force
that doubled Jim up like a closing book. Sara did not look round. A
policeman jerked Jim to his feet.

"After 'em, boy. Ye still can beat the next bunch!" cried the policeman.
But Jim was all in. The blow had been a vicious one and he swayed limply
against the burly bluecoat.

"Dirty luck!" grunted the Irishman, and with his arm under Jim's
shoulders he walked slowly with him to the rooms at Columbus Circle,
where the runners were to dress. There Uncle Denny found Jim, still
white and shaken, dressing slowly.

"What happened to you, me boy?" asked Uncle Denny, looking at him
keenly.

Jim sat limply on the edge of a cot and told Dennis what had happened.

"The low scoundrel!" roared Uncle Denny. "Leave me get at him!"

Jim caught the purple-faced Irishman by the arm. "You are to say nothing
to anyone, Uncle Denny. How could I prove that he meant to do it? And do
you want me to be a loser that bellyaches?"

Uncle Denny looked Jim over and breathed hard for a moment before he
replied: "Very well, me boy. But I always suspected he had a yellow
streak in him and this proves it. Have you seen him do dirty tricks
before?"

"I never had any proof," answered Jim carefully. "And it was always some
money matter and I'm no financier, so I laid it to my own ignorance."

"A man who will do dirt in money matters can't be a clean sport," said
Uncle Denny. "This ends any chance of your going into business with him,
Jim, I hope."

"I gave that idea up long ago, Uncle Denny. Pen is not to hear a word of
all this, remember, won't you?"

At this moment, Saradokis burst in the door. He was dressed and his face
was vivid despite his exhaustion.

"Hey, Still! What happened to you? Everybody's looking for you.
Congratulate me, old scout!"

Jim looked from Sara's outstretched hand to his beaming face. Then he
put his own hand in his pocket.

"That was a rotten deal you handed me, Sara," he said in the drawl that
bit.

"What!" cried Sara.

"What's done's done," replied Jim. "I'm no snitcher, so you know you're
safe. But I'm through with you."

Sara turned to Uncle Denny, injured innocence in his face. "What is the
matter with him, Mr. Dennis?" he exclaimed.

"Still Jim, me boy, go down to the machine while I talk with Sara," said
Dennis.

"No, there is no use talking," insisted Jim.

"Jim," said Dennis sternly, "I ask you to obey me but seldom."

Without a word Jim picked up the suit case containing his running togs
and went down to the automobile where his mother and Penelope were
waiting. To their anxious questions he merely replied that he had
fallen. This was enough for the two women folk, who tucked him in
between them comfortably and his mother held his hand while Pen gave him
a glowing account of the finish of the race.

Jim listened with a grim smile, his gray eyes steadily fixed on Pen's
lovely face. Not for worlds would he have had Penelope know that Sara
had won the race on a foul. Whatever she learned about the Greek he was
determined she should not learn through him. He was going to win on his
own points, he told himself, and not by tattling on his rival.

It was fifteen minutes before Dennis and Sara appeared. Sara's face was
red with excitement and drawn with weariness. He walked directly to the
machine and, looking up into Pen's face, exclaimed:

"If Jim has told you that I gave him a knockout to win the race, it's a
lie, Pen!"

Penelope looked from Jim to Uncle Denny, then back to Sara in utter
bewilderment.

"Why, Sara! He never said anything of the kind! He said he had a bad
fall when the crowd closed in and that it put him out of the race."

"I told you to keep quiet, Sara, that Jim would never say anything!"
cried Uncle Denny.

"Get in, both of you," said Jim's mother quietly. "Don't make a scene on
the street."

"If Saradokis gets in, I'll take the Elevated home," said Jim slowly.

"Don't worry!" snapped Sara. "I'm meeting my father in a moment. Pen,
you believe in me, don't you?"

Pen seized his outstretched hand and gave the others an indignant look.
"Of course I do, though I don't know what it's all about."

Sara lifted his hat and turned away and the machine started homeward.

"Now, what on earth happened?" Pen cried.

Uncle Denny looked at Jim and Jim shook his head. "I'm not going to talk
about it," he said. "I've a right to keep silence."

Pen bounced up and down on the seat impatiently. "You haven't any such
right, Jim Manning. You've got to tell me what you said about Sara."

"Aw, let's forget it!" answered Jim wearily. "I'm sorry I ever even told
Uncle Denny."

He leaned back and closed his eyes and his tired face touched Pen's
heart. "You poor dear!" she exclaimed. "It was awfully hard on you to
lose the race."

Jim's mother patted her boy's hand. "You are a very blind girl,
Penelope," she said. "And I'm afraid it will take long years of trouble
to open your eyes. We all must just stand back and wait."

The little look of pre-knowledge that occasionally made Pen's eyes old
came to them now as she looked at Jim's mother. "Did you learn easily,
Aunt Mary?"

The older woman shook her head. "Heaven knows," she answered, "I paid a
price for what little I know, the price of experience. I guess we women
are all alike."

When they reached the brownstone front, Jim went to bed at once and the
matter of the race was not mentioned among the other three at supper.
Pen was offended at what she considered the lack of confidence in her
and withdrew haughtily to her room. Uncle Denny went out and did not
return until late. Jim's mother was waiting for him in their big,
comfortable bedroom.

Dennis peeled off his coat and vest and wiped his forehead. "Mary," he
said, "I've been talking to the policeman who helped Jim. He says it was
a deliberate knockout Sara gave Jim. He was standing right beside them
at the time."

Jim's mother threw up her hands. "That Greek shall never come inside
this house again, Michael!"

Dennis nodded as he walked the floor. "I don't know what to do about the
matter. As a lawyer, I'd say, drop it. As Jim's best friend, I feel like
making trouble for Saradokis, though I know Jim will refuse to have
anything to do with it."

Jim's mother looked thoughtfully at the sock she was darning. "Jim has
the right to say what shall be done. It means a lot to him in regard to
its effect on Pen. But I think Pen must be told the whole story."

Uncle Denny continued to pace the floor for some time, then he sighed:
"You're right, as usual, Mary. I'll tell Pen meself, and forbid Sara the
house, then we'll drop it. I'm glad for one thing. This gives the last
blow to any hope Sara may have had of getting Jim into business with
him. Jim will take that job with the United States Reclamation Service,
I hope. Though how I'm to live without me boy, Mary, its hard for me to
say."

Uncle Denny's Irish voice broke and Jim's mother suddenly rose and
kissed his pink cheek.

"Michael," she said, "even if I hadn't grown so fond of you for your own
sake, I would have to love you for your love for Jim."

A sudden smile lighted the Irishman's face and he gave the slender
little woman a boyish hug.

"We are the most comfortable couple in the world, Mary!" he cried.

Uncle Denny told the story of the boys' trouble to Penelope the next
morning. Pen flatly refused to believe it.

"I don't doubt that Jim thinks Sara meant it," she said. "But I am
surprised at Jim. And I shall have to tell you, Uncle Denny, that if you
forbid Sara the house I shall meet him clandestinely. I, for one, won't
turn down an old friend."

Pen was so firm and so unreasonable that she alarmed Dennis. In spite of
his firm resolution to the contrary, he felt obliged to tell Jim of
Penelope's obstinacy.

"I wish I'd kept my silly mouth shut," said Jim, gloomily. "Of course
that's just the effect the story would have on Pen. She is nothing if
not loyal. Here she comes now. Uncle Denny, I might as well have it out
with her."

The two men were standing on the library hearth rug in the old way. Pen
came in with her nose in the air and fire in her eyes. Uncle Denny fled
precipitately.

Jim looked at Penelope admiringly. She was growing into a very lovely
young womanhood. She was not above medium height and she was slender,
yet full of long, sweet curves.

"Jim!" she exclaimed, "I don't believe a word of that horrid story about
Sara."

Jim nodded. "I'm sorry it was told you. I'm not going to discuss it with
you, Pen. You were told the facts without my consent. You have a right
to your own opinion. Say, Pen, I can get my appointment to the
Reclamation Service and I'm going out west in a couple of weeks. I--I
want to say something to you."

Jim moistened his lips and prayed for the right words to come. Pen
looked a little bewildered. She had come in to champion Sara and was not
inclined to discuss Jim's job instead. But Jim found words and spoke
eagerly:

"I'm going away, Pen, to make some kind of a name to bring back to you
and then, when I've made it, I'm coming for you, Penelope." He put his
strong young hands on Pen's shoulders and looked clearly into her eyes.
"You belong to me, Penelope. You never can belong to Sara. You know
that."

Pen looked up into Jim's face a little pitifully. "Still Jim, way back
in my heart is a feeling for you that belongs to no one else. You--you
are fine, Jim, and yet--Oh, Jim, if you want me, you'd better take me
now because," this with a sudden gust of girlish confidence, "because,
honestly, I'm just crazy about Sara, and I know you are better for me
than he is!"

Jim gave a joyful laugh. "I'd be a mucker to try to make you marry me
now, Penny. You are just a kid. And just a dear. There is an awful lot
to you that Sara can never touch. You show it only to me. And it's
mine."

"You'd better stay on the job, Still," said Pen, warningly.

Again Jim laughed. "Why, you sent me out west yourself."

Pen nodded. "And it will make a man of you. It will wake you up. And
when you wake up, you'll be a big man, Jimmy."

Pen's old look was on her face. "What do you mean, Pen?" asked Jim.

The girl shook her head. "I don't quite know. Some day, when I've
learned some of the lessons Aunt Mary says are coming to me, I'll tell
you." Then a look almost of fright came to Pen's face. "I'm afraid to
learn the lessons, Still Jim. Take me with you now, Jimmy."

The tall boy looked at her longingly, then he said:

"Dear, I mustn't. It wouldn't be treating you right." And there was a
sudden depth of passion in his young voice as he added, "I'm going to
give you my sign and seal again, beloved."

And Jim lifted Penelope in his strong arms and laid his lips to hers in
a hot young kiss that seemed to leave its impress on her very heart. As
he set her to her feet, Penelope gave a little sob and ran from the
room.

Nothing that life brings us is so sure of itself as first love; nothing
ever again seems so surely to belong to life's eternal verities. Jim
went about his preparations for graduating and for leaving home with
complete sense of security. He had arranged his future. There was
nothing more to be said on the matter. Fate had no terror for Jim. He
had the bravery of untried youth.

The next two weeks were busy and hurried. Pen, a little wistful eyed
whenever she looked at Jim, avoided being alone with him. Saradokis did
not come to the house again. He took two weeks in the mountains after
graduation before beginning the contracting business which his father
had built up for him.

As the time drew near for leaving home, Jim planned to say a number of
things to his Uncle Denny. He wanted to tell him about his feeling for
Pen and he wanted to tell how much he was going to miss the fine old
Irishman's companionship. He wanted to tell him that he was not merely
Jim Manning, going to work, but that he was a New Englander going forth
to retrieve old Exham. But the words would not come out and Jim went
away without realizing that Uncle Denny knew every word he would have
said and vastly more, that only the tender Irish heart can know.

Jim's mother, Uncle Denny and Pen went to the station with him. He
kissed his mother, wrung Pen's and Dennis' hands, then climbed aboard
the train and reappeared on the observation platform. His face was
rigid. His hat was clenched in his fist. None of the watching group was
to forget the picture of him as the train pulled out. The tall, boyish
figure in the blue Norfolk suit, the thick brown hair tossed across his
dreamer's forehead, and the half sweet, half wistful smile set on his
young lips.

There were tears on Jim's mother's cheeks and in Pen's eyes, but Uncle
Denny broke down and cried.

"He's me own heart, Still Jim is!" he sobbed.





Next: The Cub Engineer

Previous: The Sign And Seal



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