In which a luckless golfer discovers that it is worse to have loved and won than never to have loved at all
IN A downtown office I unwillingly sponsored the dedication of Julian Meredith Scott to things of nobler plane. This lad was lounging in my best mahogany chair, a chair such as every broker reserves for clients only, his long legs stretched out and hands dug deep in his pockets. Well built and possessed of an attractive personality, his six feet one had failed emphatically to outgrow the Lower School sobriquet of “Jems.”
At this moment he paused for breath. His immediate posture indicated deep thought.
It was the day. Insufferably warm, even the street traffic had partially succumbed. I remember wondering how many would be giving business the bye in favor of long iced drinks on the country club verandahs, when the telephone jingled. I reached for the thing and talked, pleasantly enough considering the heat of the day and the untimely interruption.
The telephone call had broken in on a pretty tale by Julian, and another half-hour sped before I could hazard a guess.
It seems that a much-to-be-desired girl had returned lately from the Orient. “Oh, a marvelous creature; the kind one dreams of, Peter.” Accompanied by an elderly aunt she had done the thing up thoroughly, and evidently had been away some time; but now, surfeited with matters Eastern she had tripped back to her native heath. Jems said I must know her, and it happened that I did.
“Now all this, Jems; does it mean I’m cast for the heavy rôle of confidant in a fetching little love story?” I wanted to know as he fished in his vest pocket for a light.
“No, Priceless,” he replied, “you stand clear; not even on the fringe. What worries me is the invitation to her Droopy Hollow tournament three weeks hence. On that occasion the lady presents a cup as a trifling memento of her esteem, and the way matters stand, my historic family name does not as yet adorn the list of those competing.”
“Well,” I ventured, “I have met Rose Singleton in the remote past, but whether or not she’s forgotten I . . .”
“Oh, no,” cut in Jems, “she won’t have forgotten. Now, tonight your part will be . . .”
“My part?” I demanded; “I thought I had none!” “Not after tonight. What you’ll do before that time will be to phone Miss Rose Singleton, late of China and ports unpronounceable, in the course of which you will refer to her forthcoming match in general and the prowess of Julian M. Scott in particular, establishing his virtues in the eyesight of the young Diana and, in due course, subtly recommending him for an invitation.” I agreed in the end.
For the next two weeks I saw little of Jems.
'"PHEN, as I was sitting complacently on the club verandah after a good round, in my own estimation at least, I spotted Julian trudging toward the eighteenth green. His approach shot was fully four or five yards from the pin. He eyed the position carefully; stroked, and the ball rolled smoothly into the cup. I waved my greetings.
Dismissing the caddy he came and dropped into the next chair.
“Peter, old son, I’m riding on the crest of the wave. I’ve plugged for seventeen days and now defy anyone in the country to bag the Droopy Hollow Cup.”
“Why specify country, Jems? Surely we aren’t to be honored by outsiders?” I had not followed the affair closely.
He watched a twosome putting, then spoke.
“The Singletons have a guest. He golfs well, er— extremely well. Met her abroad. I heard that the young lady thinks that only he can play the bally game, and is anxious to pit him against the local talent.”
He paused. “Also, a chit from the young lady says I’ve been drawn to play against him.”
“Well, what of that?” I encouraged, or tried to. “Go in and mix things up. Show the fellow how to go around. Tell him that you know all about push-shots; you read a book about them some place.”
His scowl unnerved me.
“You know nothing of love, Peter,” said he, for all the world as if he were philosophizing to his butler. “All you can appreciate is bonds and things. You think of life in terms of eighths and quarters. Fact is, you simply can’t visualize the aesthetic side of our sojourn on this great planet. Listen, you bondsman, I’m going to win the cup; not by mind over matter, but because I can, by at least seven strokes. Singleton’s guest is undoubtedly good, but I’m just a few mashies ahead. I hear that he never takes a chance, and knowing that, I’m going to play full out.”
“Very nice,” I murmured, very much on the outside and trying my level best to recall any of his last few scores. “The evening of the match Julian Meredith Scott will be banqueted far into the night, but what means that?”
“It gets me on a par for the lady’s heart—means to the end, y’know.”
“Absolutely,” I agreed, having thought myself in love on more remote occasions. “By the way, just what are you making the eighteen in?”
“That, Peter, is one of the things the Book says one shall not ask. It’s a personal, very personal, question, but any afternoon you are free—that’s until Saturday when I lay off—I’ll take you for the regular sumper hole.” With that he rose, stretched his long frame and exhibiting a dashed secretive grin, drifted away for a shower.
The steward caught my eye. “Are you having dinner here, sir?” he asked. I shook my head and, realizing that I should have to hurry, went off to change.
THE day of the match dawned clear and cool. I rolled out early, for to follow the morning round at Droopy Hollow meant a long motor ride.
My housekeeper had just removed the breakfast thin gswhen a gay halloo rang out from the garden, and one Johnny Lyndhurst shortly poked his cheerful countenance into the room.
“Come out, you old sleepy head. Shift around a bit or we shall miss the first of Jems’ bout. Gorgeous morning, isn’t it? Been up since dawn, almost, drinking in the divine air.” All this in a breath.
“Why drink air, Johnny,” I replied, nosing around for a glass; “the Governor at last putting a paternal foot down, or is it disastrous luck at auction?” But he had already quaffed the proffered and jumped out to tune up the car.
We flew along the road that morning, in and out of quaint little villages; up and down hill and dale until the picturesque Droopy Hollow clubhouse hove in sight. Nestled among great locust trees on a knoll overlooking several fairways reaching into a glen, it presented a refreshing panorama and we decided that it had been well named.
Jems was luxuriating on the grass by the first tee. “Greetings,” he cried, as one after another we pushed into sight through the crowd.
“How do you feel, Jems?” I asked, squatting beside him. “Right up on the bit?”
“Absolutely, Peter. Feel like the Bank of England itself. By the way, have you met Shields, my opponent in the lists?”
“No, don’t know the chap. Is he around yet?”
“Yes. At least he was in the locker room. Scan him carefully this morning, there’s a good fellow. Watch how he takes the breaks—I may need a lot to pull me out this afternoon. Ah, here comes the man himself. Cheerio, Peter, till the eighteenth.”
“Good luck, Jems,” I said, gripping his hand hard; “jolly good luck!”
The first hole fell to Julian. A corking drive and an accurate approach across the stream laid the ball seven feet from the pin. A third dropped it in the cup, while Shields, just off the green with his second, took the regulation two putts. The third, fourth and fifth were played in par, both working cautiously, watching each other’s strokes like hawks, and speaking only to their caddies. But at the sixth Jems met trouble.
Both players were evidently very much on with all clubs, yet I was close enough to see a flicker of doubt on Julian’s face as he surveyed the lie for his second. It was a long hole and needed every ounce behind a straight brassie to ensure a successful approach. Moving my position from the rear to the side in line with the ball, I saw that it was overhanging on what was probably an old-time furrow.
The angle was slight but enough to irritate one already somewhat nervous as to the outcome.
Shields, an older man by some years, was leaning on a midiron imperturbably awaiting his opponent’s pleasure.
Julian turned and spoke to the caddie, then accepted the proffered brassie and took his stance.
Shortening his grip, he played through hard, a clot of earth springing up as though to follow the soaring ball. The gallery surged forward and from the crest of the roll I saw the protecting bunkers.
An excellent system perhaps seventy yards out from the green made it imperative that one’s brassie should be free and unencumbered on impact. The weaker players would, of course, play short; the tournament men were expected to overdrive the traps, making the green with their third. Julian trapped himself very well and thus his margin of one was shattered.
Shields dropped his third prettily on the green and was out in four while poor old Jems took two in the sand and an additional stroke on the green.
They were still even on the eighteenth, and on the verandah I waited with a reserved table for two. The strain seemed to be telling on the lad and I wondered if his “ladye faire” was among the throng, drawing my own conclusions as to the general effect her presence might create. I saw her at last, farther down the verandah.
Jems came up. He contributed nothing to the conversation, so I remarked: “I see the future Mrs. Scott in yonder corner. She wears a light-colored frock and a big brimmy hat.”
“Yes,” he conceded glumly, “I had a chat with her this morning. She is with quite a large crowd; most of them, I think, were at her party last night and I suppose they will be stopping over the week-end. Curse this training ... I was tucked away just about the hour the affair was starting to move. Lord, though, I’m mad about her and if I lose—well, me for a veil some place up in the hills.”
“Fiddlesticks,” I said, thereby adding a worthy remark to the conversation. “If she is the kind to drop a man simply because he loses a blithering game, my deductions are all wrong.” I didn’t even convince myself; but dash it all, to begin with, he’d had a crocky nerve to wedge in like that.
At this moment she and her party rose. She was indeed a lovely creature, I reflected, sorry for myself. The movement referred to attracted much attention and
we, with many others, turned frankly to watch the gay, colorful group. The girl was facing us and, catching our gaze, fluttered a handkerchief in a motion asking us to join her. Julian and self strolled up and strummed the usual platitudes.
“Oh, Scott,” she exclaimed, “your game was magnificent this morning. Such dogged perseverance! Neck and neck all the way, weren’t you? I was simply thrilled to death. You can’t appreciate the excitement, can he?” turning to me with a crumb and adding: “How thoughtful you were, Peter, to let me know about him!” I replied in a voice that was not mine: her voice and a delicate sachet were rapidly putting the skids under inconsequential me. Julian’s conversational ability had deserted him for once. What fools we men, what hopes—and oh, I pause to kick myself as I write these lines.
“Carry on the same way this afternoon, there’s a good boy,” she pursued, “it’s absolutely up to you to win. You are on the top of your form and the gallery is solidly yours. I want you to go in and win, Julian Scott, my hand on it.”
For myself, this display of partisanship, this demonstration of unstinted admiration for the man who was pitted against her own choice was perplexing. Or did the fair sex, after all, leave personalities out of golf? My school taught that the man and not the matter in mind was ever the attraction. As for Julian, he seemed to accept the tributes as justly earned.
0 YOU wonder that the afternoon started with tophole golf? Hammer and tongs they were at it again; hole after hole in par or better. Never have I followed any finals so enthusiastically. Both players impelled by some invisible force, or rather by a very visible force—Rose Singleton. Both trying all manner of shots and laying the balls within a foot of the right spot. Jem’s action sent little shivers of joy up and down my back. The lad was giving everything and his muscular right shoulder went through again and again with simian force, the white sphere leaping from his wooden clubs like a streak and all but disappearing.
All afternoon the pair struggled, first one having some slight advantage, then the other. Julian with tremendous luck would capture an eagle, then Shields would extricate himself from a dirty bit of rough with a cracking good iron and even up with a birdie. The gallery was positively the most excited crowd I have ever watched. They were with Julian to a man and though I flayed myself for the thought, I could not for the life of me see how Jems would pull the thing off. Every inch of distance counted and if he could only wangle enough extra feet to cut out a putt on some hole, he might emerge from the heart-breaking round as victor.
At the thirty-second I searched hurriedly for the presiding official and begged his consent to relieve the caddie.
“Go right ahead, Peter,” he exclaimed; “it’s quite within the Honorable and Ancient.” And into the game I went.
“Cheerio, old son,” I remarked, stepping up and motioning the boy out. “You can’t let your colors dip to a rank outsider, even though he can play golf like a Scot. Feeling a bit low? Let me mix you a light highball at the next tee. No? Well, she keeps casting an eye this way as though her future rests with you.”
So it went until the very last hole—still even and only a matter of five hundred yards to decide the winner. Much can happen on a links in that distance and I sent up a prayer to the Gods of the Ancient House of Fair Play that no unlucky mishaps might mar the play. This last hole was a brute and required more than a good drive to navigate the thing in par. A “dog’s leg” in shape, it broke sharply half-way and came back in the same general direction. The space between the two fairways was taken up by a watercourse with steeply sloping, brushcovered sides, and the source, or knee, of the leg was protected by several large trees. This effectually blocked a convenient hook, leaving the open fairway the only sane course.
Shields led off, his stance showing no signs of nervousness and his length indicating great application of power and timing. Far, far away down the fairway his ball slowly rolled to a stop. Every bit of strength had been put behind his swing and well could he afford to step away and light his pipe.
The small white spot appeared close to the third distance stake, which meant that he was in an excellent position for his brassie, and I looked at Jems.
“You will have to carry for three hundred, Jems,” I said. “How about this one, it’s slightly heavier, I think.”
“Thanks, Peter. I’ve made it before, but still that doesn’t . . .”
And he drove.
The gallery was tense, not even a shuffle broke that involuntary silence. As straight as an arrow the ball sped, one hundred, two hundred yards, then smashed its flight in a heart-rending slice. A gasp went up from the crowd; just one long, sympathetic gasp, as though they had been trained.
Julian’s face was white and his lips tightened to a bare line.
What to do?
He was half turned and looking over the ravine toward the distant red flag fluttering gaily in the slight breeze. An advance gallery crowded the green, all looking toward us, and then it struck me odd that Julian hadn’t said a word; seemed to be thinking.
I sensed it then. His ball was out of bounds. A second tee shot meant that he was playing his third stroke. A good drive would place him beside Shield’s ball, but the stroke would be three to one.
“The Pythagoras, Peter, don’t you remember? Your head, man! the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are equal. This fits it to an inch. What’s the distance, quick?”
My brain raced. Never have I figured as I did in those seconds. Couldn’t even stop now to tell him he was wrong about Pythagoras; Euclid gets credit for the isosceles. After the game I’d jolly well tell him, though.
“By the gods, Jems, try the shot. It’s over three hundred, it must be, but you stand a chance to win.”
A subdued clapping was heard as Julian placed his ball and took his stance facing the ravine. The ball rose, a low hard-driven ball, scudding across the space that was all trap and just as we were despairing of its carry, landed on the bare edge of the bank. It hit some hard strata and bounded high, alighting just on the closely cropped green.
The audacity of that shot unnerved the conservative Shields. His second was short and he ran foul of the traps. His third was pitched long. Sportingly he picked up and congratulated Julian.
“A game, indeed,” he said, “well played, and many thanks.”
Off a bit by ourselves I pumped his arms, for everything in me. “Jems,” I said, “there was just one mistake.”
He looked at me from aloft. “And what?” he asked.
“Well, don’t go on giving credit to Pythagoras. Euclid was the lad.”
He beamed. “Then we’ll drink to Euclid. Come on.”
But Rose Singleton slipped along and cut short my single joy, but I gave place willingly for what I felt was about to happen.
“Julian,” she snuggled, “how marvelous of you to win! And that shot! I can’t believe yet it actually did cross the ravine. You deserve no end of praise and I’m the one who’s singing it. Do you know, I was simply terrified that you wouldn’t win; terrified because Allan Shields is an inveterate golfer and so selfishly wrapped up in the game that I wanted someone to beat him more than anything else.”
This seemed my cue to mumble something about getting Jem’s shower in order and I was wandering away when Rose said: “Oh, Peter, I’m so happy you phoned that night. You’ll both be at the party tonight, won’t you? It will sound so funny when I present Julian with the cup while Allan and I make it the opportunity of announcing our engagement and explaining how Julian made it possible.
“You see,” she continued, “losing the match will take away Allan’s conceit and make him a little more human. He has become a bit boring of late, but swore he would lay off tournaments altogether if he did not win this one. And loving him as the best old man in the world, I promised to marry him if he lost. He doesn’t realize yet that I was serious, but I was, and you can’t blame me for not wanting to have a husband who thought golf and talked it ail the time, perhaps in his sleep. Now can you?”
“No,” husked Jems, “I cannot.” He smiled. “Congrats. Miss Singleton— Rose. Be happy.”
And with that we doddered off like landsick tars.
TF NOBODY knew that he leaned heavily on me all the way to the dressing-room, I did. If nobody heard him moan: “Ye gods, I am the parent gooseberry!” I did. If nobody knew better than to mention Pythagoras within his hearing, I did. And if nobody knew how many weeks passed before he put the bottle away and sobered up, I did.
But that’s not a golf story.