Liberty, March 13, 1926
THE young man in the heather-mixture plus fours flung himself into a chair and uttered a snort of anguish.
“Women,” said the young man, “are the limit.”
The Oldest Member, ever ready to sympathize with youth in affliction, turned a courteous ear.
“What,” he inquired, “has the sex been pulling on you now?”
“My wife is the best little woman in the world.”
“I can readily believe it.”
“But,” continued the young man, “I would like to bean her with a brick and bean her good. I told her, when she wanted to play a round with me this afternoon, that we must start early, as the days are drawing in. What did she do? Having got into her things, she decided that she didn’t like the look of them and made a complete change. She then powdered her nose for ten minutes. And when finally I got her on to the first tee an hour late, she went back into the clubhouse to phone to her dressmaker. It will be dark before we’ve played six holes. If I had my way golf clubs would make a rigid rule that no wife be allowed to play with her husband.”
The Oldest Member nodded gravely.
“Until this is done,” he agreed, “the millennium cannot but be set back indefinitely. And since we are on this topic it may interest you to hear a story.”
“I have no time to listen to stories now.”
“If your wife is telephoning to her dressmaker you have ample time,” replied the sage. “The story I am about to relate deals with a man named Bradbury Fisher.”
“You told me that one.”
“I think not.”
“Yes, you did. Bradbury Fisher was a Wall Street millionaire who had an English butler named Blizzard who had been ten years with an earl. Another millionaire coveted Blizzard and they played a match for him and Fisher lost. But just as he was wondering how he could square himself with his wife, who valued Blizzard very highly, Mrs. Fisher turned up from England with a still finer butler named Vosper who had been fifteen years with a duke. So all ended happily.”
“Yes,” said the sage. “You appear to have the facts correctly. The tale I am about to relate is a sequel to that story, and runs as follows:
You say [began the Oldest Member] that all ended happily. That was Bradbury Fisher’s opinion, too. It seemed to Bradbury in the days that followed Vosper’s taking of office as though Providence, recognizing his sterling merits, had gone out of its way to smooth the path of life for him. The weather was fine; his handicap, after remaining stationary for many years, had begun to decrease; and his old friend Rupert Worple had just come out of Sing Sing, where he had been taking a postgraduate course, and was paying him a pleasant visit at his house in Goldenville, Long Island.
The only thing, in fact, that militated against Bradbury’s complete tranquillity was the information he had just received from his wife that her mother, Mrs. Lora Smith Maplebury, was about to infest the home for an indeterminate stay.
Bradbury had never liked his wives’ mothers. His first wife, he recalled, had had a particularly objectionable mother. So had his second, third, and fourth. And the present holder of the title appeared to him to be scratch. She had a habit of sniffing in a significant way whenever she looked at him, and this can never make for a spirit of easy comradeship between man and woman.
As he sat in his Louis Quinze library on the evening on which this story opens, there was a knock at the door and Vosper entered.
“Might I have a word, sir?” said the butler.
“Certainly, Vosper. What is it?”
Bradbury Fisher beamed upon the man. For the hundredth time, as he eyed him, he reflected how immeasurably superior he was to the departed Blizzard. Blizzard had been ten years with an earl, and no one disputes that earls are all very well in their way. But they are not dukes. About a butler who has served in a ducal household there is a something which cannot be duplicated by one who has passed the formative years of his butlerhood in humbler surroundings.
“It has to do with Mr. Worple, sir.”
“What about him?”
“Mr. Worple,” said the butler, gravely, “must go. I do not like his laugh, sir.”
“It is too hearty, sir. It would not have done for the Duke.”
BRADBURY FISHER was an easy-going man but he belonged to a free race. For freedom his fathers had fought and, if he had heard the story correctly, bled. His eyes flashed.
“Oh!” he cried. “Oh, indeed!”
“Is zat so?”
“Well, let me tell you something, Bill . . .”
“My name is Hildebrand, sir.”
“Well, let me tell you, whatever your scarlet name is, that no butler is going to boss me in my own home. You can darned well go yourself.”
“Very good, sir.”
Vosper withdrew like an ambassador who has received his papers; and presently there was a noise without like hens going through a hedge and Mrs. Fisher plunged in.
“Bradbury,” she cried, “are you mad? Of course Mr. Worple must go if Vosper says so! Don’t you realize that Vosper will leave us if we don’t humor him?”
“I should worry about him leaving!”
A strange, set look came into Mrs. Fisher’s face.
“Bradbury,” she said, “if Vosper leaves us I shall die. And, what is more, just before dying I shall get a divorce. Yes, I will!”
“But, darling!” he gasped. “Rupert Worple! Old Rupie Worple! We’ve been friends all our lives.”
“I don’t care.”
“We were freshers at Sing Sing together.”
“I don’t care.”
“We were initiated into the same frat, the dear old Cracka-Bitta-Rock, on the same day.”
“I don’t care. Heaven has sent me the perfect butler, and I’m not going to lose him.”
There was a tense silence.
“Ah, well!” said Bradbury Fisher with a deep sigh.
That night he broke the news to Rupert Worple.
“I never thought,” said Rupert Worple sadly, “when we sang together in the glee club at the old alma mater, that it would ever come to this.”
“Nor I,” said Bradbury Fisher. “But so it must be. You wouldn’t have done for the Duke, Rupie, you wouldn’t have done for the Duke.”
“Good-by, Number 8097564,” said Rupert Worple in a low voice.
“Good-by, Number 8097565,” whispered Bradbury Fisher.
And with a silent handclasp the two friends parted.
With the going of Rupert Worple a gray cloud seemed to settle upon the glowing radiance of Bradbury Fisher’s life. Mrs. Lora Smith Maplebury duly arrived: and, having given a series of penetrating sniffs as he greeted her in the entrance-hall, dug herself in and settled down to what looked like the visit of a lifetime. And then, just as Bradbury’s cup seemed to be full to overflowing, Mrs. Fisher drew him aside one evening.
“Bradbury,” said Mrs. Fisher, “I have some good news for you.”
“Is your mother leaving?” asked Bradbury eagerly.
“Of course not. I said good news. I am taking up golf again.”
Bradbury Fisher clutched at the arms of his chair and an ashen pallor spread itself over his clean-cut face.
It was many years since he had played with his wife; but like an old wound the memory of it still troubled him occasionally.
“It was Vosper’s idea.”
A sudden seething fury gripped Bradbury. This pestilent butler was an absolute home-wrecker.
“Vosper says I need exercise. He says he does not like my wheezing.”
“My wheezing. I do wheeze, you know.”
“Well, so does he.”
“Yes; but a good butler is expected to wheeze. A wheezing woman is quite a different thing. My wheezing would never have done for the Duke, Vosper says.”
Bradbury Fisher breathed tensely.
“Ha!” he said.
“I think it’s so nice of him, Bradbury. It shows he has our interests at heart, just like a faithful old retainer. He says wheezing is an indication of heightened blood pressure and can be remedied by gentle exercise. So we’ll have our first round tomorrow morning, shall we?”
“Just as you say,” said Bradbury dully.
Bradbury Fisher’s emotions as he stood by the first tee watching his wife prepare to drive off were far beyond my poor powers to describe.
Most women golfers are elaborate wagglers, but none that Bradbury had ever seen had made quite such a set of Swedish exercises out of the simple act of laying the club-head behind the ball and raising it over the right shoulder. Then she drove and the ball trickled down the hill into a patch of rough some five yards distant.
“Tee-hee!” said Mrs. Fisher.
Bradbury uttered a sharp cry. He was married to a golfing giggler.
It was at the fourth hole that further evidence was afforded the wretched man of how utterly a good, pure woman may change her nature when once she gets out on the links. Mrs. Fisher had played her eleventh and, having walked the intervening three yards, was about to play her twelfth when, behind them, grouped upon the tee, Bradbury perceived two of his fellow members of the club. Remorse and shame pierced him.
“ONE minute, honey,” he said as his life’s partner took a stranglehold on her mashie and was about to begin the movements. “We’d better let these men through.”
“We’re holding up a couple of fellows. I’ll wave to them.”
“You will do nothing of the sort,” cried Mrs. Fisher. “The idea!”
“Why should they go through us? We started before them.”
“They shall not pass!” said Mrs. Fisher. And raising her mashie she dug a grim divot out of the shrinking turf. With bowed head Bradbury followed her on the long, long trail.
Bradbury Fisher was a man of steel. He endured for a week. But on the last day of the week Mrs. Fisher insisted on taking as a companion on the round Alfred, her pet Airedale. In vain Bradbury spoke of the Greens Committee and their prejudice against dogs on the links.
So Alfred came along—barking at Bradbury as he endeavored to concentrate on the smooth pronation of the wrists, bounding ahead to frolic round distant players who were shaping for delicate chip shots, and getting a deep toe hold on the turf of each successive green. Hell, felt Bradbury, must be something like this; and he wished that he had led a better life.
But that retribution which waits on all, both small and great, who defy Greens Committees had marked Alfred down. Taking up a position just behind Mrs. Fisher as she began her down swing on the seventh, he received so shrewd a blow on his right foreleg that with a sharp yelp he broke into a gallop, raced through a foursome on the sixth green, and, charging across country, dived headlong into the water hazard on the second; where he remained until Bradbury, who had been sent in pursuit, waded in and fished him out.
Mrs. Fisher came panting up, full of concern.
“What shall we do? The poor little fellow is quite lame! I know—you can carry him, Bradbury.”
Bradbury Fisher uttered a low, bleating sound. The water had had a bad effect on the animal. Even when dry Alfred was always a dog of powerful scent. Wet he had become definitely one of the six best smellers. His aroma had what the advertisement writers call “strong memory value.”
“Carry him? To the car, do you mean?”
“Of course not. Round the links. I don’t want to miss a day’s golf. You can put him down when you play your shots.”
For a long instant Bradbury hesitated. The words “Is zat so?” trembled on his lips.
“Very well,” he said, swallowing twice.
THAT night, in his du Barry bedroom, Bradbury Fisher lay sleepless far into the dawn. A crisis, he realized, had come in his domestic affairs. Things, he saw clearly, could not go on like this.
The sun was gilding Goldenville in its morning glory when Bradbury made up his mind. He would play with her no more.
He had got everything neatly arranged. He would plead business in the city and sneak off each day to play on another course five miles away.
“Darling,” he said at breakfast, “I’m afraid we shan’t be able to have our game for a week or so. I shall have to be at the office early and late.”
“Oh, what a shame!” said Mrs. Fisher.
“I thought you had retired from business,” said Mrs. Lora Smith Maplebury, sniffing.
Bradbury Fisher looked at her coldly.
“Not altogether,” he said. “I still retain large interests in this and that, and I am at the moment occupied with affairs which I cannot mention without revealing secrets that might—that would—that are—well, anyway I’ve got to go to the office.”
“Oh, quite,” said Mrs. Maplebury.
“What do you mean quite?” demanded Bradbury.
“I mean just what I say. Quite!”
“Why not quite? I suppose I can say ‘Quite!’ can’t I?”
“Oh, quite,” said Bradbury.
He kissed his wife and left the room. He felt a little uneasy. There had been something in the woman’s manner that had caused him a vague foreboding.
Had he been able to hear the conversation that followed his departure he would have been still more uneasy.
“Suspicious!” said Mrs. Maplebury.
“What is?” asked Mrs. Fisher.
“That man’s behavior.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you observe him closely while he was speaking?”
“The tip of his nose wiggled. Always distrust a man who wiggles the tip of his nose.”
“I am sure Bradbury would not deceive you.”
“So am I. But he might try to.”
“I don’t understand, mother. Do you mean you think Bradbury is not going to the office?”
“I am sure he is not.”
“You are suggesting—?”
“You would imply—?”
A moan escaped Mrs. Fisher.
“Oh, mother, mother,” she cried, “if I thought Bradbury was untrue to me, what I wouldn’t do to that poor clam!”
“I certainly think that the least you can do as a good womanly woman is to have a capable lawyer watching your interests.”
“But we can easily find out if he is at the office. We can ring them up on the phone and ask.”
“And be told that he is in conference. He will not have neglected to arrange for that.”
“Then what shall I do?”
“Wait,” said Mrs. Maplebury. “Wait and be watchful.”
The shades of night were falling when Bradbury returned to his home. He was fatigued but jubilant. He had played forty-five holes in the society of his own sex. He had kept his head down and his eye on the ball. He had sung Negro spirituals in the locker-room.
“I trust, Bradbury,” said Mrs. Maplebury, “that you are not tired after your long day?”
“A little,” said Bradbury. “Nothing to signify.” He turned radiantly to his wife. “Honey,” he said, “you remember the trouble I was having with my iron? Well, today——”
He stopped, aghast. Like every good husband it had always been his practice hitherto to bring his golfing troubles to his wife and in many a cozy after-dinner chat he had confided to her the difficulty he was having in keeping his iron shots straight. And he had only just stopped himself now from telling her that today he had been hitting ’em sweetly on the meat right down the middle.
“Er—ah—yes. I have large interests in Iron—as also in Steel, Jute, Woolen Fabrics, and Consolidated Peanuts. A gang has been trying to hammer down my stock. Today I fixed them.”
“You did, did you?” said Mrs. Maplebury.
“I said I did,” retorted Bradbury defiantly.
“So did I. I said you did, did you?”
“What do you mean did you?”
“Well, you did, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Exactly what I said. You did. Didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Yes, you did!” said Mrs. Maplebury.
Once again Bradbury felt vaguely uneasy. There was nothing in the actual dialogue which had just taken place to cause him alarm—indeed, considered purely as dialogue it was bright and snappy and well calculated to make things gay about the home. But once more there had been a subtle something in his mother-in-law’s manner that had jarred upon him. He mumbled and went off to dress for dinner.
SUCH, then, was the position of affairs in the Fisher home. And now that I have arrived thus far in my story and have shown you this man systematically deceiving the woman he had vowed—at one of the most exclusive altars in New York—to love and cherish, you, if you are the sort of husband I hope you are, must be saying to yourself: “But what of Bradbury Fisher’s conscience?” Remorse, you feel, must long since have begun to gnaw at his vitals; and the thought suggests itself to you that surely by this time the pangs of self-reproach must have interfered seriously with his short game, even if not as yet sufficiently severe to affect his driving off the tee.
You are overlooking the fact that Bradbury Fisher’s was the trained and educated conscience of a man who had passed a large portion of his life in Wall Street, and years of practice had enabled him to reduce the control of it to a science. Many a time in the past, when an active operator on the Street, he had done things to the Small Investor that would have caused raised eyebrows in the foc’sle of a pirate sloop—and done them without a blush. He was not the man, therefore, to suffer torment merely because he was slipping one over on the Little Woman.
Besides, at this point his golf suddenly underwent a remarkable improvement. Two weeks after he had started on his campaign of deception he amazed himself and all who witnessed the performance by cracking a hundred for the first time in his career. And every golfer knows that in the soul of the man who does that there is no room for remorse.
I WILL do Bradbury Fisher justice. He did regret that he was not in a position to tell his wife all about that first ninety-nine of his. And the forlorn feeling of being unable to confide his triumphs to a sympathetic ear deepened a week later when, miraculously achieving ninety-six in the medal round, he qualified for the sixth sixteen in the annual invitation tournament of the club to which he had attached himself.
“Shall I?” he mused, eyeing her wistfully across the Queen Anne table in the Crystal Boudoir to which they had retired to drink their after-dinner coffee.
“Better not, better not,” whispered Prudence in his ear.
“Bradbury,” said Mrs. Fisher.
“Have you been hard at work today?”
“Yes, precious. Very, very hard at work.”
“You do have to slave at the office, don’t you?” said Mrs. Fisher.
“I do, indeed.”
“It must be a great strain.”
“A terrible strain. Yes, yes, a terrible strain.”
“Then you won’t object to giving it up, will you?”
Bradbury started. “Giving it up?”
“Giving up going to the office. The fact is, dear,” said Mrs. Fisher, “Vosper has complained.”
“About you going to the office. He says he has never been in the employment of anyone engaged in commerce and he doesn’t like it. The Duke looked down on commerce very much. So I’m afraid, darling, you will have to give it up.”
Bradbury Fisher stared before him, a strange singing in his ears. If the office was barred to him, on what pretext could he sneak away from home? And sneak he must, for tomorrow and the day after the various qualifying sixteens were to play the match rounds for the cups.
For the first time in his life he had before him the prospect of winning a cup; and, highly though the poets have spoken of love, that emotion is not to be compared with the frenzy that grips a twenty-four-handicap man who sees himself within reach of a cup.
Blindly he tottered from the room and sought his study. He wanted to be alone. He had to think, think!
The evening paper was lying on the table. Automatically he picked it up and ran his eye over the front page. And as he did so he uttered a sharp exclamation.
He leaped from his chair and returned to the boudoir, carrying the paper.
“Well, what do you know about this!” said Bradbury Fisher in a hearty voice.
“We know a great deal about a good many things,” said Mrs. Maplebury.
“What is it, Bradbury?” said Mrs. Fisher.
“I’m afraid I shall have to leave you for a couple of days. Great nuisance, but there it is. But of course I must be there.”
“At Sing Sing. I see in the paper that tomorrow and the day after they are inaugurating the new Osborne Stadium. All the men of my class will be attending and I must go too.”
“Must you really?”
“I certainly must. Not to do so would be to show a lack of college spirit. The boys are playing Yale and there is to be a big dinner afterward. I shouldn’t wonder if I had to make a speech. But don’t worry, honey,” he said, kissing his wife affectionately; “I shall be back before you know I’ve gone.”
He turned sharply to Mrs. Maplebury.
“I beg your pardon?” he said stiffly.
“I did not speak.”
“I thought you did.”
“I merely inhaled. I simply drew in air through my nostrils. If I am not at liberty to draw in air through my nostrils in your house, pray inform me.”
“I would prefer that you didn’t,” said Bradbury between set teeth.
“Then I would suffocate.”
“Yes,” said Bradbury Fisher.
OF all the tainted millionaires who, after years of plundering the widow and the orphan, have devoted the evening of their life to the game of golf, few can ever have been so boisterously exhilarated as was Bradbury Fisher when, two nights later, he returned to his home.
He was the possessor of a small pewter cup, value three dollars, which he had won by beating a spavined old gentleman in the final match of the competition for the sixth sixteen at the Squashy Hollow Golf Club Invitation Tournament.
He entered the house radiant.
“Tra-la!” sang Bradbury Fisher. “Tra-la!”
“I beg your pardon, sir?” said Vosper, who had encountered him in the hall.
“Eh? Oh, nothing. Just tra-la.”
“Very good, sir.”
Bradbury Fisher looked at Vosper. For the first time it seemed to sweep over him like a wave that Vosper was an uncommonly good fellow. The past was forgotten and he beamed upon Vosper like the rising sun.
“Vosper,” he said, “what wages are you getting?”
“I regret to say, sir,” replied the butler, “that, at the moment, the precise amount of the salary of which I am in receipt has slipped my mind. I could refresh my memory by consulting my books, if you so desire it, sir.”
“Never mind. Whatever it is, it’s doubled.”
Bradbury curvetted past him through the baronial hall and into the Crystal Boudoir. His wife was there alone.
“Mother has gone to bed,” she said. “She has a bad headache.”
“You don’t say!” said Bradbury. It was as if everything was conspiring to make this a day of days. “Well, it’s great to be back in the old home.”
“Did you have a good time?”
“You saw all your old friends?”
“Every one of them.”
“A very big dinner, I suppose?”
“How was the football game?”
“Best I’ve ever seen. We won. Number 432986 made a hundred-and-ten-yard run for a touchdown in the last five minutes.”
“And that takes a bit of doing with a ball and chain around your ankle, believe me!”
“Bradbury,” said Mrs. Fisher, “where have you been these last two days?”
Bradbury’s heart missed a beat.
“Been? Why, I’m telling you.”
“BRADBURY,” said Mrs. Fisher, “just one word. Have you seen the paper this evening?”
“Then you have not seen that the inauguration of the new Stadium at Sing Sing was postponed on account of an outbreak of mumps in the prison?”
“There was no dinner, no football game, no gathering of old grads—nothing! So—where have you been, Bradbury?”
Bradbury gulped again.
“You’re sure you haven’t got this wrong?” he said at length.
“I mean, sure it wasn’t some other place?”
“Sing Sing? You got the name correctly?”
Mrs. Fisher coughed dryly.
“I merely ask out of curiosity. The facts will, of course, come out in court.”
“Naturally I propose to place this affair in the hands of my lawyer immediately.”
Bradbury started convulsively.
A shudder shook Bradbury from head to foot.
“I will tell you all,” he muttered.
Bradbury clenched his hands and, as far as that could be managed, avoided her eye.
“I’ve been playing golf,” he said in a low, toneless voice.
“Yes.” Bradbury hesitated. “I don’t mean it in an offensive spirit, and no doubt most men would have enjoyed themselves thoroughly; but I—well, I am curiously constituted, angel, and the fact is if I had played another round with you, my darling, I think that I should have begun running round in circles, biting my best friends. So I thought it all over; and, not wanting to hurt your feelings by telling you the truth, I stooped to what I might call a ruse. I said I was going to the office; and instead of going to the office I went off to Squashy Hollow and played there.”
Mrs. Fisher uttered a cry.
“You were there today and yesterday?”
In spite of his trying situation, the yeasty exhilaration that had been upon him when he entered the room returned to Bradbury.
“Was I!” he cried. “You bet your Russian boots I was! Only winning a cup, that’s all!
“Do you know what happened in the semi-final? I’m about fifteen feet off the green. The other fellow lying dead. Best I could hope for was a half, you’ll say, eh? Well, listen. I just walked up to that little ball and I gave a little flick and, believe me or believe me not, that little white ball never stopped running till it plunked into the hole.”
SHE looked at him fondly, her eyes dim with happy tears.
“I should have known you better, Bradbury. I suspected you. How foolish I was!”
“There, there,” said Bradbury.
“It was mother’s fault. She put ideas into my head.”
There was much that Bradbury would have liked to say about her mother, but he felt that this was not the time.
“And you really forgive me for sneaking off and playing at Squashy Hollow?”
“Then why not a little round tomorrow?”
“No, Bradbury; I shall never play again. Vosper says I mustn’t.”
“He saw me one morning on the links and he came to me and told me—quite nicely and respectfully—that it must not occur again. He said with the utmost deference that I was making a spectacle of myself and that this nuisance must now cease. So I gave it up. But it’s all right. Vosper thinks that gentle massage will cure my wheezing, so I’m having it every day and really I do think there’s an improvement already.”
“Where is Vosper?” said Bradbury hoarsely.
“You aren’t going to be rude to him, Bradbury? He is so sensitive.”
But Bradbury Fisher had left the room.
“You rang, sir?” said Vosper, entering the Byzantine smoking-room some few minutes later.
“Yes,” said Bradbury. “Vosper, I am a plain, rugged man and I do not know all that there is to be known about these things. So do not be offended if I ask you a question.”
“Not at all, sir.”
“TELL me, Vosper, did the Duke ever shake hands with you?”
“Once only, sir—mistaking me in a dimly lit hall for a visiting archbishop.”
“Would it be all right for me to shake hands with you now?”
“If you wish it, sir, certainly.”
“I want to thank you, Vosper. Mrs. Fisher tells me that you have stopped her playing golf. I think that you have saved my reason, Vosper.”
“That is extremely gratifying, sir.”
“Your salary is trebled.”
“Thank you very much, sir. And, while we are talking, sir, if I might— There is one other little matter I wished to speak of, sir.”
“It concerns Mrs. Maplebury, sir.”
“What about her?”
“If I might say so, sir, she would scarcely have done for the Duke.”
A sudden wild thrill shot through Bradbury.
“You mean—?” he stammered.
“I mean, sir, that Mrs. Maplebury must go. I make no criticism of Mrs. Maplebury, you will understand, sir. I merely say that she would decidedly not have done for the Duke.”
Bradbury drew in his breath sharply.
“Vosper,” he said, “the more I hear of that Duke of yours, the more I seem to like him. You really think he would have drawn the line at Mrs. Maplebury?”
“Very firmly, sir.”
“Splendid fellow, splendid fellow! She shall go tomorrow, Vosper.”
“Thank you very much, sir.”
“Your salary. It is quadrupled.”
“I am greatly obliged, sir.”
“Tra-la, sir. Will that be all?”
“That will be all. Tra-la!”
“Tra-la, sir,” said the butler.