The Strand Magazine - October 1919
N a fine day in the spring, summer, or early autumn, there are few spots more delightful than the terrace in front of the Woodhaven Golf Club. It is a vantage-point peculiarly fitted to the man of philosophic mind: for from it may be seen that varied, never-ending pageant, which men call Golf, in a number of its aspects. To your right, on the first tee, stand the cheery optimists who are about to make their opening drive, happily conscious that even a topped shot will trickle a measurable distance down the steep hill. Away in the valley, directly in front of you, is the lake hole, where these same optimists will be converted to pessimism by the wet splash of a new ball. At your side is the ninth green, with its sinuous undulations which have so often wrecked the returning traveller in sight of home. And at various points within your line of vision are the third tee, the sixth tee, and the sinister bunkers about the eighth green—none of them lacking in food for the reflective mind.
It is on this terrace that the Oldest Member sits, watching the younger generation knocking at the divot. His eye is calm and dreamy—the eye of a man who, as the poet says, has seen Golf steadily and seen it whole. He sips absently from the glass on the table beside him. His gaze wanders from Jimmy Fothergill’s two-hundred-and-twenty-yard drive down the hill to the silver drops that flash up in the sun, as young Freddie Woosley’s mashie-shot drops weakly into the waters of the lake. Returning, it rests upon Peter Willard, large and tall, and James Todd, small and slender, as they struggle up the fairway of the ninth.
Love (says the Oldest Member) is an emotion which your true golfer should always treat with suspicion. Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that love is a bad thing, only that it is an unknown quantity. I have known cases where marriage improved a man’s game, and other cases where it seemed to put him right off his stroke. There seems to be no fixed rule. But what I do say is that a golfer should be cautious. He should not be led away by the first pretty face. I will tell you a story that illustrates the point. There have been, no doubt, a thousand others of exactly the same kind; but this one came under my immediate notice, and I can speak of it at first hand. It is the story of those two men who have just got on to the ninth green—Peter Willard and James Todd.
There is about great friendships between man and man (said the Oldest Member) a certain inevitability that can only be compared with the age-old association of ham and eggs. No one can say when it was that these two wholesome and palatable foodstuffs first came together, nor what was the mutual magnetism that brought their deathless partnership about. One simply feels that it is one of the things that must be so. Similarly with men. Who can trace to its first beginnings the love of Damon for Pythias, of David for Jonathan, of Swan for Edgar? Who can explain what it was about Crosse that first attracted Blackwell? We simply say, “These men are friends,” and leave it at that.
In the case of Peter Willard and James Todd, one may hazard the guess that the first link in the chain that bound them together was the fact that they took up golf within a few days of each other, and contrived, as time went on, to develop such equal form at the game that the most expert critics are still baffled in their efforts to decide which is the worse player. I have heard the point argued a hundred times without any conclusion being reached. Supporters of Peter claim that his driving off the tee entitles him to an unchallenged pre-eminence among the world’s most hopeless foozlers—only to be discomfited later when the advocates of James show, by means of diagrams, that no one has ever surpassed their man in absolute incompetence with the spoon. It is one of those problems where debate is futile.
Few things draw two men together more surely than a mutual inability to master golf, coupled with an intense and ever-increasing love for the game. At the end of the first few months, when a series of costly experiments had convinced both Peter and James that there was not a tottering grey-beard nor a toddling infant in the neighbourhood whose downfall they could encompass, the two became inseparable. It was pleasanter, they found, to play together, and go neck and neck round the eighteen holes, than to take on some lissome youngster who could spatter them all over the course with one old ball and a cut-down cleek stolen from his father; or some spavined elder who not only rubbed it into them, but was apt, between strokes, to bore them with personal reminiscences of the Crimean War. So they began to play together early and late. In the small hours before breakfast, long ere the first faint piping of the waking caddie made itself heard from the caddie-shed, they were half-way through their opening round. And at close of day, when bats wheeled against the steely sky and the “pro’s” had stolen home to rest, you might see them in the deepening dusk, going through the concluding exercises of their final spasm. After dark, they visited each other’s houses and read golf books.
If you have gathered from what I have said that Peter Willard and James Todd were fond of golf, I am satisfied. That is the impression I intended to convey. They were real golfers, for real golf is a thing of the spirit, not of mere mechanical excellence of stroke.
It must not be thought, however, that they devoted too much of their time and their thoughts to golf—assuming, indeed, that such a thing is possible. Each was connected with a business in the metropolis; and often, before he left for the links, Peter would go to the trouble and expense of ringing up the office to say he would not be coming in that day; while I myself have heard James—and this not once, but frequently—say, while lunching in the club-house, that he had half a mind to get Gracechurch Street on the ’phone and ask how things were going. They were, in fact, the type of men of whom England is proudest—the back-bone of a great country, toilers in the mart, untired businessmen, keen red-blooded men of affairs. If they played a little golf besides, who shall blame them?
So they went on, day by day, happy and contented. And then the Woman came into their lives, like the Serpent in the Links of Eden, and perhaps for the first time they realized that they were not one entity—not one single, indivisible Something that made for topped drives and short putts—but two individuals, in whose breasts Nature had implanted other desires than the simple ambition some day to do the dog-leg hole on the second nine in under double figures. My friends tell me that, when I am relating a story, my language is inclined at times a little to obscure my meaning; but, if you understand from what I have been saying that James Todd and Peter Willard both fell in love with the same woman—all right, let us carry on. That is precisely what I was driving at.
I have not the pleasure of an intimate acquaintance with Grace Forrester. I have seen her in the distance, watering the flowers in her garden, and on these occasions her stance struck me as graceful. And once, at a picnic, I observed her killing wasps with a teaspoon, and was impressed by the freedom of the wrist-action of her back-swing. Beyond this, I can say little. But she must have been attractive, for there can be no doubt of the earnestness with which both Peter and James fell in love with her. I doubt if either slept a wink the night of the dance at which it was their privilege first to meet her.
The next afternoon, happening to encounter Peter in the bunker near the eleventh green, James said:—
“That was a nice girl, that Miss What’s-her-name.”
And Peter, pausing for a moment from his trench-digging, replied:—
And then James, with a pang, knew that he had a rival, for he had not mentioned Miss Forrester’s name, and yet Peter had divined that it was to her that he had referred.
Love is a fever which, so to speak, drives off without wasting time on the address. On the very next morning after the conversation which I have related, James Todd rang Peter Willard up on the ’phone and cancelled their golf engagements for the day, on the plea of a sprained wrist. Peter, acknowledging the cancellation, stated that he himself had been on the point of ringing James up to say that he would be unable to play owing to a slight headache. They met at tea-time at Miss Forrester’s house. James asked how Peter’s headache was, and Peter said it was a little better. Peter inquired after James’s sprained wrist, and was told it seemed on the mend. Miss Forrester dispensed tea and conversation to both impartially.
They walked home together. After an awkward silence of twenty minutes, James said:—
“There is something about the atmosphere—the aura, shall I say?—that emanates from a good woman that makes a man feel that life has a new, a different meaning.”
When they reached James’s door, James said:—
“I won’t ask you in to-night, old man. You want to go home and rest and cure that headache.”
“Yes,” said Peter.
There was another silence. Peter was thinking that, only a couple of days before, James had told him that he had a copy of Sandy MacBean’s “How to Become a Scratch Man Your First Season by Studying Photographs” coming by parcel-post from town, and they had arranged to read it aloud together. By now, thought Peter, it must be lying on his friend’s table. The thought saddened him. And James, guessing what was in Peter’s mind, was saddened too. But he did not waver. He was in no mood to read MacBean’s masterpiece that night. In the twenty minutes of silence after leaving Miss Forrester he had realized that “Grace” rhymes with “face”, and he wanted to sit alone in his study and write poetry. The two men parted with a distant nod. I beg your pardon? Yes, you are right. Two distant nods. It was always a failing of mine to count the score erroneously.
It is not my purpose to weary you by a minute recital of the happenings of each day that went by. On the surface, the lives of these two men seemed unchanged. They still played golf together, and during the round achieved towards each other a manner that, superficially, retained all its ancient cheeriness and affection. If—I should say—when, James topped his drive, Peter never failed to say “Hard luck!” And when—or, rather, if Peter managed not to top his, James invariably said “Great!” But things were not the same, and they knew it.
It so happened, as it sometimes will on these occasions, for Fate is a dramatist who gets his best effects with a small cast, that Peter Willard and James Todd were the only visible aspirants for the hand of Miss Forrester. Right at the beginning young Freddie Woosley had seemed attracted by the girl, and had called once or twice with flowers and chocolates, but Freddie’s affections never centred themselves on one object for more than a few days, and he had dropped out after the first week. From that time on it became clear to all of us that, if Grace Forrester intended to marry anyone in the place, it would be either James or Peter; and a good deal of interest was taken in the matter by the local sportsmen. So little was known of the form of the two men, neither having figured as principal in a love-affair before, that even money was the best you could get, and the market was sluggish. I think my own flutter of twelve golf-balls, taken up by Percival Brown, was the most substantial of any of the wagers. I selected James as the winner. Why, I can hardly say, unless that he had an aunt who contributed occasional stories to the Woman’s Sphere. These things sometimes weigh with a girl. On the other hand, George Lucas, who had half-a-dozen of ginger-ale on Peter, based his calculations on the fact that James wore knickerbockers on the links, and that no girl could possibly love a man with calves like that. In short, you see, we really had nothing to go on.
Nor had James and Peter. The girl seemed to like them both equally. They never saw her except in each other’s company. And it was not until one day when Grace Forrester was knitting a sweater that there seemed a chance of getting a clue to her hidden feelings.
When the news began to spread through the place that Grace was knitting this sweater there was a big sensation. Had it happened during the war there would of course have been nothing in it, for in those days all the Woodhaven girls were knitting sweaters for our brave troops, who notoriously fear nothing. But in peace-time the thing seemed to us practically to amount to a declaration.
That was the view that James Todd and Peter Willard took of it, and they used to call on Grace, watch her knitting, and come away with their heads full of complicated calculations. The whole thing hung on one point—to wit, what size the sweater was going to be. If it was large, then it must be for Peter; if small, then James was the lucky man. Neither dared to make open inquiries, but it began to seem almost impossible to find out the truth without them. No masculine eye can reckon up purls and plains and estimate the size of chest which the garment is destined to cover. Moreover, with amateur knitters there must always be allowed a margin for involuntary error. There were many cases during the war where our girls sent sweaters to their sweethearts which would have induced strangulation in their young brothers. The amateur sweater of those days was, in fact, practically tantamount to German propaganda.
Peter and James were accordingly baffled. One evening the sweater would look small, and James would come away jubilant; the next it would have swollen over a vast area, and Peter would walk home singing. The suspense of the two men can readily be imagined. On the one hand, they wanted to know their fate; on the other, they fully realized that whoever the sweater was for would have to wear it. And, as it was a vivid pink and would probably not fit by a mile, their hearts quailed at the prospect.
In all affairs of human tension there must come a breaking point. It came one night as the two men were walking home.
“Peter,” said James, stopping in mid-stride. He mopped his forehead. His manner had been feverish all the evening.
“Yes?” said Peter.
“I can’t stand this any longer. I haven’t had a good night’s rest for weeks. We must find out definitely which of us is to have that sweater.”
“Let’s go back and ask her,” said Peter.
So they turned back and rang the bell and went into the house and presented themselves before Miss Forrester.
“Lovely evening,” said James, to break the ice.
“Superb,” said Peter.
“Delightful,” said Miss Forrester, looking a little surprised at finding the troupe playing a return date without having booked it in advance.
“To settle a bet,” said James, “will you please tell us who—I should say, whom—you are knitting that sweater for?”
“It is not a sweater,” replied Miss Forrester, with a womanly candour that well became her. “It is a sock. And it is for my cousin Juliet’s youngest son, Willie.”
“Good night,” said James.
“Good night,” said Peter.
“Good night,” said Grace Forrester.
It was during the long hours of the night, when ideas so often come to wakeful men, that James was struck by an admirable solution of his and Peter’s difficulty. It seemed to him that, were one or the other to leave Woodhaven, the survivor would find himself in a position to conduct his wooing as wooing should be conducted. Hitherto, as I have indicated, neither had allowed the other to be more than a few minutes alone with the girl. They watched each other like hawks. When James called, Peter called. When Peter dropped in, James invariably popped round. The thing had resolved itself into a stalemate.
The idea which now came to James was that he and Peter should settle their rivalry by an eighteen-hole match on the links. He thought very highly of the idea before he finally went to sleep, and in the morning the scheme looked just as good to him as it had done overnight. And I am bound to say that I myself consider that it was a masterly solution. I am not one of those people who object to games of chance.
James was breakfasting next morning, preparatory to going round to disclose his plan to Peter, when Peter walked in, looking happier than he had done for days.
“ ’Morning,” said James.
“ ’Morning,” said Peter.
Peter sat down and toyed absently with a slice of bacon.
“I’ve got an idea,” he said.
“One isn’t many,” said James, bringing his knife down with a jerk-shot on a fried egg. “What is your idea?”
“Got it last night as I was lying awake. It struck me that, if either of us was to clear out of this place, the other would have a fair chance. You know what I mean—with Her. At present we’ve got each other stymied. Now, how would it be,” said Peter, abstractedly spreading marmalade on his bacon, “if we were to play an eighteen-hole match, the loser to leg out of the neighbourhood and stay away long enough to give the winner the chance to find out exactly how things stood?”
James started so violently that he struck himself in the left eye with his fork.
“That’s exactly the idea I got last night, too.”
“Then it’s a go?”
“It’s the only thing to do.”
There was silence for a moment. Both men were thinking. Remember, they were friends. For years they had shared each other’s sorrows, joys, and golf-balls, and sliced into the same bunkers.
Presently Peter said:—
“I shall miss you.”
“What do you mean, miss me?”
“When you’re gone. Woodhaven won’t seem the same place. But of course you’ll soon be able to come back. I sha’n’t waste any time proposing.”
“Leave me your address,” said James, “and I’ll send you a wire when you can return. You won’t be offended if I don’t ask you to be best man at the wedding? In the circumstances it might be painful to you.”
Peter sighed dreamily.
“We’ll have the sitting-room done in blue. Her eyes are blue.”
“Remember,” said James, “there will always be a knife and fork for you at our little nest. Grace is not the woman to want me to drop my bachelor friends.”
“Touching this match,” said Peter. “Strict Royal and Ancient rules, of course?”
“I mean to say—no offence, old man—but no grounding niblicks in bunkers.”
“Precisely. And, without hinting at anything personal, the ball shall be considered holed-out only when it is in the hole, not when it stops on the edge.”
“Undoubtedly. And—you know I don’t want to hurt your feelings—missing the ball counts as a stroke, not as a practice-swing.”
“Exactly. And—you’ll forgive me if I mention it—a player whose ball has fallen in the rough, may not pull up all the bushes within a radius of three feet.”
“In fact, strict rules.”
They shook hands without more words, like two knights of King Arthur’s Round Table making an appointment to joust at the next tournament. And presently Peter walked out, and James, with a guilty look over his shoulder, took down Sandy MacBean’s great work from the bookshelf and began to study the photograph of the short approach-shot showing Mr. MacBean swinging from Point A., through dotted line B–C, to Point D, his head the while remaining rigid at the spot marked with a cross. He felt a little guiltily that he had stolen a march on his friend, and that the contest was as good as over.
I cannot recall a lovelier summer day than that on which the great Todd-Willard eighteen-hole match took place. It had rained during the night, and now the sun shone down from a clear blue sky on to turf that glistened more greenly than the young grass of early spring. Butterflies flitted to and fro; birds sang merrily. In short, all Nature smiled. And it is to be doubted if Nature ever had a better excuse for smiling—or even laughing outright: for matches like that between James Todd and Peter Willard do not occur every day.
Whether it was that love had keyed them up, or whether hours of study of Braid’s “Advanced Golf” and the Badminton Book had produced a belated effect, I cannot say; but both started off quite reasonably well. Our first hole, as you can see, is a bogey four, and James was dead on the pin in seven, leaving Peter, who had twice hit the United Kingdom with his mashie in mistake for the ball, a difficult putt for the half. Only one thing could happen when you left Peter a difficult putt; and James advanced to the lake hole one up, Peter, as he followed, trying to console himself with the thought that many of the best golfers prefer to lose the first hole and save themselves for a strong finish.
Peter and James had played over the lake hole so often that they had become accustomed to it, and had grown into the habit of sinking a ball or two as a preliminary formality with much the same stoicism displayed by those kings in ancient and superstitious times who used to fling jewellery into the sea to propitiate it before they took a voyage. But today, by one of those miracles without which golf would not be golf, each of them got over with his first shot—and not only over, but dead on the pin. Our “pro.” himself could not have done better.
I think it was at this point that the two men began to go to pieces. They were in an excited frame of mind, and this thing unmanned them. You will no doubt recall Keats’s poem about stout Cortez staring with eagle eyes at the Pacific while all his men gazed at each other with a wild surmise, silent upon a peak in Darien. Precisely so did Peter Willard and James Todd stare with eagle eyes at the second lake hole, and gaze at each other with a wild surmise, silent upon a tee in Woodhaven. They had dreamed of such a happening so often and woke to find the vision false, that at first they could not believe that the thing had actually occurred.
“I got over!” whispered James, in an awed voice.
“So did I!” muttered Peter.
“With my very first!”
They walked in silence round the edge of the lake, and holed out. One putt was enough for each, and they halved the hole with a two. Peter’s previous record was eight, and James had once done a seven. There are times when strong men lose their self-control, and this was one of them. They reached the third tee in a daze, and it was here that mortification began to set in.
The third hole is another bogey four, up the hill and past the tree that serves as a direction-post, the hole itself being out of sight. On his day, James had often done it in ten and Peter in nine; but now they were unnerved. James, who had the honour, shook visibly as he addressed his ball. Three times he swung and only connected with the ozone; the fourth time he topped badly. The discs had been set back a little way, and James had the mournful distinction of breaking a record for the course by playing his fifth shot from the tee. It was a low, raking brassey-shot, which carried a heap of stones twenty feet to the right and finished in a furrow. Peter, meanwhile, had popped up a lofty ball which came to rest behind a stone.
It was now that the rigid rules governing this contest began to take their toll. Had they been playing an ordinary friendly round, each would have teed up on some convenient hillock and probably been past the tree with their second, for James would, in ordinary circumstances, have taken his drive back and regarded the strokes he had made as a little preliminary practice to get him into mid-season form. But to-day it was war to the niblick, and neither man asked nor expected quarter. Peter’s seventh shot dislodged the stone, leaving him a clear field, and James, with his eleventh, extricated himself from the furrow. Fifty feet from the tree James was eighteen, Peter twelve; but then the latter, as every golfer does at times, suddenly went right off his game. He hit the tree four times, then hooked into the sand-bunkers to the left of the hole. James, who had been playing a game that was steady without being brilliant, was on the green in twenty-six, Peter taking twenty-seven. Poor putting lost James the hole. Peter was down in thirty-three, but the pace was too hot for James. He missed a two-foot putt for the half, and they went to the fourth tee all square.
The fourth hole follows the curve of the road, on the other side of which are picturesque woods. It presents no difficulties to the expert, but it has pitfalls for the novice. The dashing player stands for a slice, while the more cautious are satisfied if they can clear the bunker that spans the fairway and lay their ball well out to the left, whence an iron shot will take them to the green. Peter and James combined the two policies. Peter aimed to the left and got a slice, and James, also aiming to the left, topped into the bunker. Peter, realizing from experience the futility of searching for his ball in the woods, drove a second, which also disappeared into the jungle, as did his third. By the time he had joined James in the bunker he had played his sixth.
It is the glorious uncertainty of golf that makes it the game it is. The fact that James and Peter, lying side by side in the same bunker, had played respectively one and six shots, might have induced an unthinking observer to fancy the chances of the former. And no doubt, had he not taken seven strokes to extricate himself from the pit, while his opponent, by some act of God, contrived to get out in two, James’s chances might have been extremely rosy. As it was, the two men staggered out on to the fairway again with a score of eight apiece. Once past the bunker and round the bend of the road, the hole becomes simple. A judicious use of the cleek put Peter on the green in fourteen, while James, with a Braid iron, reached it in twelve. Peter was down in seventeen, and James contrived to halve. It was only as he was leaving the hole that the latter discovered that he had been putting with his niblick, which cannot have failed to exercise a prejudicial effect on his game. These little incidents are bound to happen when one is in a nervous and highly-strung condition.
The fifth and sixth holes produced no unusual features. Peter won the fifth in eleven, and James the sixth in ten. The short seventh they halved in nine. The eighth, always a tricky hole, they took no liberties with, James, sinking a long putt with his twenty-third, just managing to halve. A ding-dong race up the hill for the ninth found James first at the pin, and they finished the first nine with James one up.
As they left the green James looked a little furtively at his companion.
“You might be strolling on to the tenth,” he said. “I want to get a few balls at the shop. And my mashie wants fixing up. I sha’n’t be long.”
“I’ll come with you,” said Peter.
“Don’t bother,” said James. “You go on and hold our place at the tee.”
I regret to say that James was lying. His mashie was in excellent repair, and he still had a dozen balls in his bag, it being his prudent practice always to start out with eighteen. No! What he had said was mere subterfuge. He wanted to go to his locker and snatch a few minutes with Sandy MacBean’s “How to Become a Scratch Man.” He felt sure that one more glance at the photograph of Mr. MacBean driving would give him the mastery of the stroke and so enable him to win the match. In this I think he was a little sanguine. The difficulty about Sandy MacBean’s method of tuition was that he laid great stress on the fact that the ball should be directly in a line with a point exactly in the centre of the back of the player’s neck; and so far James’s efforts to keep his eye on the ball and on the back of his neck simultaneously had produced no satisfactory results.
It seemed to James, when he joined Peter on the tenth tee, that the latter’s manner was strange. He was pale. There was a curious look in his eye.
“James, old man,” he said.
“Yes?” said James.
“While you were away I have been thinking. James, old man, do you really love this girl?”
James stared. A spasm of pain twisted Peter’s face.
“Suppose,” he said in a low voice, “she were not all you—we—think she is!”
“What do you mean?”
“Miss Forrester is an angel.”
“Yes, yes. Quite so.”
“I know what it is,” said James, passionately. “You’re trying to put me off my stroke. You know that the least thing makes me lose my form.”
“You hope that you can take my mind off the game and make me go to pieces, and then you’ll win the match.”
“On the contrary,” said Peter. “I intend to forfeit the match.”
“I give up.”
“But—but——” James shook with emotion. His voice quavered. “Ah!” he cried. “I see now! I understand! You are doing this for me because I am your pal. Peter, this is noble! This is the sort of thing you read about in books. I’ve seen it in the movies. But I can’t accept the sacrifice.”
“Do you mean this?”
“I give her up, James, old man. I—I hope you will be happy.”
“But I don’t know what to say. How can I thank you?”
“Don’t thank me.”
“But, Peter, do you fully realize what you are doing? True, I am one up, but there are nine holes to go, and I am not right on my game today. You might easily beat me. Have you forgotten that I once took forty-seven at the dog-leg hole? This may be one of my bad days. Do you understand that if you insist on giving up I shall go to Miss Forrester tonight and propose to her?”
“And yet you stick to it that you are through?”
“I do. And, but the way, there’s no need for you to wait till to-night. I saw Miss Forrester just now outside the tennis court. She’s alone.”
James turned crimson.
“Then I think perhaps——”
“You’d better go to her at once.”
“I will.” James extended his hand. “Peter, old man, I shall never forget this.”
“That’s all right.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Now, do you mean? Oh, I shall potter round the second nine. If you want me, you’ll find me somewhere about.”
“You’ll come to the wedding, Peter?” said James, wistfully.
“Of course,” said Peter. “Good luck.”
He spoke cheerily, but, when the other had turned to go, he stood looking after him thoughtfully. Then he sighed a heavy sigh.
James approached Miss Forrester with a beating heart. She made a charming picture as she stood there in the sunlight, one hand on her hip, the other swaying a tennis racket.
“How do you do?” said James.
“How are you, Mr. Todd? Have you been playing golf?”
“With Mr. Willard?”
“Yes. We were having a match.”
“Golf,” said Grace Forrester, “seems to make men very rude. Mr. Willard left me without a word in the middle of our conversation.”
James was astonished.
“Were you talking to Peter?”
“Yes. Just now. I can’t understand what was the matter with him. He just turned on his heel and swung off.”
“You oughtn’t to turn on your heel when you swing,” said James; “only on the ball of the foot.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Nothing, nothing. I wasn’t thinking. The fact is, I’ve something on my mind. So has Peter. You mustn’t think too hardly of him. We have been playing an important match, and it must have got on his nerves. You didn’t happen by any chance to be watching us?”
“Ah! Then you didn't see me at the lake hole. I wish you had seen me at the lake-hole. I did it one under par.”
“Was your father playing?”
“You don’t understand. I mean I did it in one better than even the finest player is supposed to do it. It’s a mashie-shot, you know. You mustn’t play too light, or you fall in the lake; and you mustn’t play it too hard, or you go past the hole into the woods. It requires the nicest delicacy and judgment, such as I gave it. You might have to wait a year before seeing anyone do it in two again. I doubt if the “pro.” often does it in two. Now, directly we came to this hole to-day, I made up my mind that there was going to be no mistake. The great secret of any shot at golf is ease, elegance, and the ability to relax. The majority of men, you will find, think it important that their address should be good.”
“How snobbish! What does it matter where a man lives?”
“You don’t absolutely follow me. I refer to the waggle and the stance before you make the stroke. Most players seem to fix in their minds the appearance of the angles which are presented by the position of the arms, legs, and club shaft, and it is largely the desire to retain these angles which results in their moving their heads and stiffening their muscles so that there is no freedom in the swing. There is only one point which vitally affects the stroke, and the only reason why that should be kept constant is that you are enabled to see your ball clearly. That is the pivotal point marked at the base of the neck, and a line drawn from this point to the ball should be at right angles to the line of flight.”
James paused for a moment for air, and as he paused Miss Forrester spoke.
“This is all gibberish to me,” she said.
“Gibberish!” gasped James. “I am quoting verbatim from one of the best authorities on golf.”
Miss Forrester swung her tennis racket irritably.
“Golf,” she said, “bores me pallid. I think it is the silliest game ever invented!”
The trouble about telling a story is that words are so feeble a means of depicting the supreme moments of life. That is where the artist has the advantage over the historian. Were I an artist, I should show James at this point falling backwards with his feet together and his eyes shut, with a semicircular dotted line marking the progress of his flight and a few stars above his head to indicate moral collapse. There are no words that can adequately describe the sheer, black horror that froze the blood in his veins as this frightful speech smote his ears.
He had never inquired into Miss Forrester’s religious views before, but he had always assumed that they were sound. And now here she was polluting the golden summer air with the most hideous blasphemy. It would be incorrect to say that James’s love was turned to hate. He did not hate Grace. The repulsion he felt was deeper than mere hate. What he felt was not altogether loathing and not wholly pity. It was a blend of the two.
There was a tense silence. The listening world stood still. Then, without a word, James Todd turned and tottered away.
Peter was working moodily in the twelfth bunker when his friend arrived. He looked up with a start. Then, seeing that the other was alone, he came forward hesitatingly.
“Am I to congratulate you?”
James breathed a deep breath.
“You are!” he said. “On an escape!”
“She refused you?”
“She didn’t get the chance. Old man, have you ever sent one right up the edge of that bunker in front of the seventh and just not gone in?”
“I did once. It was my second shot, from a good lie, with the light iron, and I followed well through and thought I had gone just too far, and, when I walked up, there was my ball on the edge of the bunker, nicely teed up on a chunk of grass, so that I was able to lay it dead with my mashie-niblick, holing out in six. Well, what I mean to say is, I feel now as I felt then—as if some unseen power had withheld me in time from some frightful disaster.”
“I know just how you feel,” said Peter, gravely.
“Peter, old man, that girl said golf bored her pallid. She said she thought it was the silliest game ever invented.” He paused to mark the effect of his words. Peter merely smiled a faint, wan smile. “You don’t seem revolted,” said James.
“I am revolted, but not surprised. You see, she said the same thing to me only a few minutes before.”
“It amounted to the same thing. I had just been telling her how I did the lake-hole to-day in two, and she said that in her opinion golf was a game for children with water on the brain who weren’t athletic enough to play Animal Grab.”
The two men shivered in sympathy.
“There must be insanity in the family,” said James at last.
“That,” said Peter, “is the charitable explanation.”
“We were fortunate to find it out in time.”
“We mustn’t run a risk like that again.”
“I think we had better take up golf really seriously. It will keep us out of mischief.”
“You’re quite right. We ought to do our four rounds a day regularly.”
“In spring, summer, and autumn. And in winter it would be rash not to practise most of the day at one of those indoor schools.”
“We ought to be safe that way.”
“Peter, old man,” said James, “I’ve been meaning to speak to you about it for some time. I’ve got Sandy MacBean’s new book, and I think you ought to read it. It is full of helpful hints.”
Silently the two men clasped hands. James Todd and Peter Willard were themselves again.
And so (said the Oldest Member) we come back to our original starting-point—to wit, that, while there is nothing to be said definitely against love, your golfer should be extremely careful how he indulges in it. It may improve his game or it may not. But, if he finds that there is any danger that it may not—if the object of his affections is not the kind of girl who will listen to him with cheerful sympathy through the long evenings, while he tells her, illustrating stance and grip and swing with the kitchen poker, each detail of the day’s round—then, I say unhesitatingly, he had better leave it alone. Love has had a lot of press-agenting from the oldest times; but there are higher, nobler things than love. A woman is only a woman, but a hefty drive is a slosh.
The text previously posted here was the version as collected in The Clicking of Cuthbert, which is slightly shorter than the Strand version above. The book version is available for USA residents at Project Gutenberg for comparison.