Vanity Fair, August 1915
 

THE EIGHTEENTH HOLE

A Very Modern Golfing Romance

By Melrose Granger
 

WHEN William John Maxwell received the note and recognized on the envelope the handwriting of B. Rockleigh Derrick, the father of his Genevieve, hope, for the first time in many days—for the first time, in fact, since that painful interview in Mr. Derrick’s study, when the life-romance of two loving young hearts had hit the resin with a thud, as if it had been sand-bagged—began to stir within him.

It was true that at the interview referred to, Mr. Derrick, basing his refusal on some trivial ground, such as the stunted nature of William’s annual income, had declined, with considerable violence, to give his consent to what William regarded as a most suitable match; but, if he had not relented, why was he writing notes in this way.

It is not too much to say that, as he tore open the envelope, William expected a Father’s Blessing to jump out at him. He was even surprised to find no tear-stains of remorse on the epistle.

And all it was—and in the third person, at that—was an invitation to play golf. Mr. Derrick begged to inform Mr. Maxwell that, by defeating Mr. Saul Potter, he had qualified for the final round of the Rockport Golf Tournament, in which, he understood, Mr. Maxwell, who had also survived the opening rounds, was to be his opponent.

If it would be convenient for Mr. Maxwell to play off the match on the following afternoon, Mr. Derrick would be obliged if he would be at the club-house at half-past two. If this hour and day were unsuitable, would he kindly arrange others. The bearer would wait.

The bearer did wait, and then trudged off with a note, in which Mr. Maxwell begged to inform Mr. Derrick that he would be at the clubhouse at the hour mentioned.

“And,” added Mr. Maxwell, after the bearer had departed, “I will give him such a licking that he’ll brain himself with a cleek.”

It is painful to write of the lower emotions, especially when exhibited by otherwise estimable young men, but the fact must be faced that, on the following afternoon, William John Maxwell looked forward to a gruesome revenge on Mr. Derrick. The prospect brought a wan, faint smile to his lips.

 

MR. DERRICK was one of those Merchant Princes who have taken to golf in middle age, of whose golf the best one can say is that they take pains. Mr. Derrick took exquisite pains. He lived for golf, and it was the ambition of his life to win the Rockport Championship. He came to Rockport every year, and always went in for the Cup; and such is the magic of perseverance that for two years in succession he had been runner-up.

It was a galling thought to him, that, if it had not been for the presence of William Maxwell, this year he would have brought the thing off. Nor did it make it better to remember that the presence of William Maxwell was directly due to the fact that he himself was at Rockport—for, though William had no great love for Mr. Derrick, he always went where he knew Genevieve to be.

All this William knew, and he was conscious of a moody joy at the prospect of snatching the prize from Mr. Derrick. He knew that he could do it. Even allowing for bad luck—and he was never a very unlucky golfer—he could rely with certainty on crushing his rival.

But he did not intend to do it abruptly. It was his intention to nurse Mr. Derrick—to play with him. The contest would be decided to match play, which would give him ample scope for toying with the victim. He proposed to allow Mr. Derrick to get ahead, and then to catch him up. He would then forge ahead himself, and let Mr. Derrick catch him up.

They would race neck and neck together to the very end, and then, when Mr. Derrick’s hair had turned white with the strain and he had lost forty pounds in weight and his eyes were starting out of his head, he would go ahead and beat him by a hole.

He felt ruthless towards Mr. Derrick. He knew that to one whose soul is in the game, as Mr. Derrick’s was, the agony of being just beaten in an important match exceeds in bitterness all other agonies.

He knew that, in days to come, Mr. Derrick would wake from fitful slumber moaning that, if he had only used his iron at the tenth, all would have been well; that, if he had putted more carefully on the seventh green, life would not be drear and blank; that a more judicious manipulation of his mashie throughout might have given him something to live for. All these things he knew, but they did not touch him. He was adamant.

 

WILLIAM drove off from the first tee. It was a splendid drive, and it intimidated Mr. Derrick. He addressed the ball at twice his usual length, waggling his club over it as if he were about to perform a conjuring trick. Then he struck, and topped it. The ball rolled two yards. He got to work with a brassey. This time he hit a bunker, and the ball rolled back. He repeated the maneuver twice.

“I shall pick my ball up,” he said huskily, and they walked in silence to the second tee.

Mr. Derrick did the second hole in four, which was good. William did it in three, which—unfortunately for Mr. Derrick—was better.

William won the third hole.

William won the fourth hole.

William won the fifth hole.

Beads of perspiration stood out on Mr. Derrick’s forehead. His play became wilder and wilder at each hole in arithmetical progression. If he had been a plow, he could hardly have turned up more soil. The imagination recoiled from the thought of what he would be doing in another half-hour if he deteriorated at his present speed.

A feeling of calm and content stole over William. He was not sorry for Mr. Derrick. Once, when the latter missed the ball clean at the tee, their eyes met, but William saved his life by not smiling.

The sixth hole on the Rockport links involves the player in a tricky piece of cross-country work. There is a nasty ditch to be negotiated. Many an optimist has been reduced to blank pessimism by this ditch. “All hope abandon, ye who enter here,” might be written on a notice board over it.

Mr. Derrick entered there. The unhappy man sent his ball into its very jaws, and then madness seized him. The merciful laws of golf, framed by kindly men who do not wish to see the asylums of the country overcrowded, enact that in such a case the player may take his ball and throw it over his shoulder, the same to count as one stroke. But vaulting ambition is apt to try to drive out of the ditch, thinking thereby to win through without losing a stroke. This way madness lies.

“Sixteen!” said Mr. Derrick at last between his teeth. And he stooped and picked up his ball. “I give you this hole.”

They walked on.

William won the seventh hole.

William won the eighth hole.

The ninth hole they halved, for in the black depths of William’s soul a plan of fiendish subtlety had formed. He intended to allow Mr. Derrick to win eight holes in succession, then, when hope was once more strong within him, he would win the last, and Mr. Derrick would go mad.

 

WILLIAM watched his opponent carefully as they trudged on. Emotions chased one another over the latter’s face. When Mr. Derrick won the tenth hole, he merely refrained from oaths. When he won the eleventh, a sort of sullen pleasure showed in his face.

Mr. Derrick won the twelfth. It was at the thirteenth that William detected the first dawning of hope. When, with a sequence of shocking shots, he took the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth and when he took the seventeenth hole in eight, he was in a parlous condition. He wanted, as it were, to flap his wings and crow. William could see dignity wrestling with talkativeness.

When he brought off an excellent drive from the eighteenth tee, Mr. Derrick seemed to forget everything.

“My dear boy,” he began, and stopped abruptly in some confusion. Silence once more brooded over the pair as they played themselves up the fairway and onto the green.

Mr. Derrick was on the green in four. William reached it in three. Mr. Derrick’s sixth stroke took him out.

William putted carefully to the very mouth of the hole. He walked up to his ball, and paused. He looked at Mr. Derrick. Mr. Derrick looked at him.

“Go on,” said Mr. Derrick hoarsely.

And then, at the eleventh hour, William’s better nature asserted itself. A wave of compassion flooded over him. He made up his mind.

“Mr. Derrick,” he said.

“Go on.”

“That looks a simple shot,” said William, eyeing him steadily, “but I might easily miss it.”

Mr. Derrick started.

“And then you would win the championship.”

Mr. Derrick dabbed at his forehead with a wet ball of a handkerchief.

“Go on,” he said for the third time, but there was a note of hesitation in his voice.

“Sudden joy,” said William, “would almost certainly make me miss it. If, for instance, you were suddenly to give your consent to my marriage with Genevieve——”

Mr. Derrick looked from William to the ball, from the ball to William, and back again to the ball. It was very, very near the hole.

 

“ WHY not?” said William.

Mr. Derrick looked up, and burst into a roar of laughter.

“You young devil,” he said, “you’ve beaten me.”

“On the contrary,” said William, “you have beaten me, Mr. Derrick.”

He swung his putter, and drove his ball far beyond the green.