In love, as in golf there are times when match scores are settled at the nineteenth hole
WITH the peace “which passeth all understanding” filling our souls, big Bill Thorneycroft was driving me home along the Lakeshore road from the Royal Frontenac Golf Club. An excellent dinner, and the inevitable post-mortem on the verandah, as we submitted sensuously to the purple blush of a June dusk, had drawn the last vestige of canker from the beings of two ordinary mortals who, in workaday moments, have no less than most people.
Ordinary mortals? At least Bill was extraordinary: a consistent seventy-two amateur who, so the sporting editors parroted, would make the other aspirants for championship of the “Open” look to their laurels.
The post-mortem, of course, was not ended. Is it ever?
Said Bill: “If I could have gauged the length of that new mashie-niblick a little more accurately today, I might have shot a seventy. Twice I was short of the green by inches, when I might just as well have laid it dead.”
“Oh, you’ll get the hang of it before long, Bill,” I said, my eyes on a covey of tiny lights— red, yellow, green—that moved slowly over the dark velvety bosom of Lake St. Louis, like a carnival of multi-colored fireflies. Freighters by night are a fascinating mystery to me.
“Hope so,” prayed Bill.
“My old conceit is almost jaded, what with mugs from club and interclub matches.
But golly, I would like the Open—just once,” wistfully.
“Doreen would be so tickled if I won it.”
Doreen is just the sort of girl who would be tickled. But hardly the sort for you, old son, I thought. A fluffy, shallow little thing, who most people knew—except Bill, of course—hung on to him merely to bask in his sun.
It occurred to me vaguely to protest against Bill’s self-impeachment of conceit. For it doesn’t usually follow that a man with a big good-natured face aglow like the back of an old violin, and shocks of wavy brown hair, the color of horse-chestnuts, that will forever rebelliously seek the happy proximity of two deep blue eyes—it doesn’t usually follow that such a man is conceited. Certainly not in Bill’s case. I gazed at his big brown hands on the wheel and shook my head. But I was too drugged with contentment to protest—the soporific purr of the motor and the fireflies. I turned to them again . . .
“Look out!” from Bill.
Crash! . . .
I struggled unsteadily to my feet from among the underbrush down near the shore of the lake, using a young birch for support, and stared about me in bewilderment. The car telescoped against some boulders and Bill jammed against the wheel. On the other side of the road lay a large sport car on its side, the motor still roaring away. I saw a figure emerge from it—the lithe figure of a girl. She came running round the headlights and her left arm seemed peculiarly limp. But I didn’t wait for her. Dazedly I went for Bill, to find his knees pinned against the dashboard by the seat, which had been jolted out of its frame, and when I had freed him, he slumped against me, his big lovable head lolling against my shoulder. Then it was that I saw. A dark stain appeared on my white shirt and spread. About Bill’s eyes were innumerable slashes from fragments of the shattered windshield.
Someone plucked at my sleeve, and I turned my head. “Good lord! was it you, Joyce?”
Joyce Avery shook stray curls of spun bronze out of her dark grey eyes and said huskily through tightened lips: “Yes. But Geoff, who . . . oh, Bill !” she quavered, lifting her right hand to touch his hair timidly as I carried him up to the road. I noticed that her left still hung useless at her side.
“Arm hurt?” I asked. I was saving my breath. Bill weighed a ton—or seemed to.
“ ’M,” she said as though in pain. “My elbow. But, Bill, Geoff, is he—is he . . .?” awed anxiety in her voice.
“Can’t tell. Cut about the eyes and unconscious now. Mph !” I grunted as I took the last step up to the road where a car or two had stopped. “Got to get him into town somehow and as fast as we can.”
I was going to commandeer one of the idling cars when Joyce suggested: “If we can get some of these people to help, we might right mine.” And without waiting for a reply she turned off her motor and soon had four or five men on the job.
A motor cycle cop leaped off his machine and badgered me for details. “See that cussed house?” said I, nodding toward an abandoned Norman farmhouse, whose corner juts out into the road forming a merciless right angle. “Ought to have been expropriated years ago.” He sympathized succinctly and took down names, licenses and so on. By the time he had finished, Joyce had righted her car and come back to me.
“ ’Fraid I can’t drive Geoff,” quietly, but with pain contorting her lovely face.
“All right,” I said, as calmly as I could. I was a bit suspicious that the farmhouse was not entirely to blame. “I’ll manage.”
We put Bill in and made him as comfortable as possible, Joyce taking him in her right arm and cradling him against her. Then I saw the pain leave her face; yet I knew she must be suffering intolerably. And I began to wonder as I drove them home.
“Whose fault?” I asked, knowing that most motorists take that corner at a snail’s pace.
In low voice Joyce answered: “Mine. I was driving like a fiend. Look here, Geoff, you and I have known each other since we were kiddies. Why shouldn’t I tell you! Doreen told me at tea this afternoon that the dance at the club tonight had been cancelled. I found out about half an hour ago that she lied-—that she couldn’t go herself and was afraid I’d steal Bill, I suppose.” Then she laughed a poor little ironical laugh. “And Bill didn’t stay after all.”
“Oh! So it’s like that, is it? Does Bill know?” “About me?” I nodded. “No,” she continued, somewhat forlornly, “I’m afraid not.” Then fiercely, “But you know that Doreen’s the last person on earth he ought to marry.”
“Of course! He ought to marry you.”
Joyce burst into tears.
“All right Joyce, old dear.” I touched her hand. “That wasn’t kindly, I know. I’m sorry. But confound it, do you realize what your wild driving has done to my best friend? God only knows!” I added, agonized beyond imagination.
THE Open was held on our course in August. So I drove Bill out to see it. “See,” however, is a bitterly sardonic verb now that I have it on paper. Bill had lost the sight of one eye completely; while the fate of the other was not to be recorded for months. Meanwhile, it afforded him just enough vision to distinguish objects at very close range—at his feet for instance— and a very hazy impression of the distant terrain, a pair of heavy lensed spectacles assisting.
In the press of the gallery about the first green he turned to me and whispered very queerly: “This is a bit silly for me, old man. . I think I’ll go back to the clubhouse.”
A lump arose in my throat. “I’ll explain the shots, the lies, the scores—everything, Bill !” I implored.
But he shook his head. “No, it’s not that so much. I don’t get any kick out of it, the feel of it, the thrill of struggle. And that’s its big hold on me.” Sighing, he turned to seek a way out of the crowd. “You go on. Don’t mind me.”
“Nothing doing,” I fumed, and we walked back to the verandah in silence. I ordered two drinks—and repeated several times before we were able to speak without cursing.
Then just as our souls were somewhat healed, a shrill laugh flayed my ear drums. And if I had been a giant, I had teed her up and sliced her into a bunker, for once in my life gleefully relishing my slice. Young Doreen, with her blond hair like a golliwog and her staring china blue eyes, tripped up the steps with Carl Featherstone, our most consummate “necker,” and no frail golfer at that. Doreen waved perfunctorily to me and passed into the clubhouse.
I stole a look at Bill’s face. It was expressionless. “Women!” was all he said for fully ten minutes. At length, morosely: “And if it weren’t for Joyce, I might even now be ding-donging it out there with Sandy.”
I knew how bitter he was about Joyce—and she eating her heart out for him. He had submitted to her daily visits to him in hospital merely because his heart was too big to be brutally unkind. But as soon as he escaped his bed he had avoided her like the plague, only to wonder dejectedly why Doreen avoided him. I could have told him. But will a man believe the truth about a sycophant who happens to be the loved one? Least of all from his best friend! Doreen found Bill’s companionship quite superfluous now—Bill upon whom she had fawned while he was a shining light. Now that the light had failed she sought other suns to bask in—other sterling golfers to pull her through.
Something had to be done about his morbid state. So I mused: “Wonder if you could still drive a ball,
Bill? Don’t see why not. Wait.” I tore a page out of a magazine, screwed it up to the size of a golf ball, and laid it at his feet. “There. Can you see that clearly?”
He nodded, and a curious hungry light came into his face. “Golly !” was all he said.
“Then look here, just for a bit of sport, let’s go out to the inner nine and try.”
Out on the tee, while I was giving Bill directions and placing his feet, I happened to see on a knoll up near the clubhouse, a girl in canary yellow, watching us intently. I forgot her, however, in the next moment to whistle in astonishment as Bill cracked à ball for two hundred odd. But after lunch, when we were again ensconced in verandah chairs and I was sitting back dreamily contemplating the gorgeous vista of sunny green valleys, the flashing blue lake beyond, a beautiful figure in a sports dress of canary yellow and small white hat imprisoning bronze curls crossed my vision. Joyce with a putter and mashie-niblick under her rigid left arm. I saw that she was gazing toward us with pained
enquiry in her deep grey eyes. So I shook my head ever so slightly and I think that she understood that Bill was not yet reconciled to her. For she smiled wistfully and moved out beyond the clock. I watched her casually at first. Then sat up spellbound when, with all the nonchalance of a Hagen, she sank a thirty yard approach in one! Click! Plop! Bill sat up, too, all attention at a sound which is as music to the ears of the inveterate golfer.
“By the holy cross of St. Andrew!” I ejaculated.
“What’s up?” asked Bill.
“Girl on the clock here just sank an approach in one.” Click! Put! With solemn wonder I continued, “And it wasn’t any fluke. She just laid that one within inches of the pin.”
“Who is she?”
“I can’t see,” I lied with reason. A crazy idea had just taken hold of me. But I wasn’t prepared to have it squashed by Bill until I had time to work it out. Tiring of approach shots—they were monotonous in their perfection—Joyce came in to the clock and commenced to sink twenty, thirty, even forty footers with the most uncanny precision.
“Bill,” said I, “the girl’s a wizard. She’s sinking the most amazing putts you ever saw.” A steward put down two clinking glasses. I mixed Bill’s hurriedly and handed it to him saying, “Be back in a minute. Someone over here I want to see.”
Out on the clock I demanded, “Where in blazes did you pick that up?”
“Do you mean the technique?” Joyce laughed. “Why, when my elbow healed I tried a game of golf. But,” regretfully, “I couldn’t drive a ball a hundred yards,” indicating the permanently bent elbow. “So I have gone in for grandma’s game. Do you mean to tell me, young man, that you weren’t aware that I won the club championship for clock golf last week?”
“Er—” I faltered. “By jove, it’s wonderful.”
“All right, you dear old thing,” she grinned. “I don’t expect you to keep tab on such namby-pamby exploits. But, Geoff, did you ever see anything so marvellous as the way his driving came back this morning? And that fourth ! . . .”
“Nearly three hundred ! But he’s not getting so much kick out of it as you would imagine. It lacks the punch of competition—and he revels in that as you know.”
“Geoff, dear boy, do tell me. Is he still—so bitter?” I bit my lip. “N-never mind,” she smiled piteously. “Perhaps ...”
“Listen here, Joyce,” I interrupted eagerly, “you’re a good gambler. Do you think there’s anything in this?” And I sketched my pipe dream to her.
At its conclusion she looked at me and laughed, “Geoff, you’re suffering from a touch of the sun.”
“Sunlight is highly recommended,” I defended. “I’m going to put it up to him at the first favorable opportunity.”
“No. You mustn’t. It would be a cruel spectacle.” Yet there was all the yearning of woman since time began, in her voice.
“Rot!” said I. “Are you going to cavil at the method if I bring him into your aching arms?”
It was easier said than done. When I returned to the verandah I informed Bill: “Er—that was Joyce.”
“Oh!” His voice fell.
“She won the club championship for clock golf last week.”
“Yes. You see she’s more or fèss in the same boat as you—can’t play a full game any more. That is, with her crippled elbow, she can’t drive a ball more than seventy or eighty yards. But, lord, how she can putt and approach ! She has apparently gone in for that end of it just to satisfy her craving for the game. But it’s poor satisfaction when you can’t play all out.” And though it may have been wickedly cruel, I shot this barb into his golfing soul: “Just think how rotten it would be for you and me if we had our game lopped off like that. Oh, damn! I’m sorry Bill. Thoughtless blundering ass that I am. I didn’t realize what I was saying.”
He reached over and touched my arm. “All right, old man. I know you didn’t mean to be cruel.” I smiled sardonically to myself and settled back to watch him. He was frowning, thinking furiously. So in a few minutes I left him with his thoughts.
What they were I can only surmise. Two days later, his secretary phoned me; and when he came on the wire, in his voice was pleading. “Geoff, would you mind running me out to the club this afternoon? I’d like to have another go at the wooden ones.”
“Sold.” I grinned into the mouthpiece, “pick you up at four.” Again, but more subtly this time, I reminded him of Joyce’s sorry plight. And so dumbfounded was I when he agreed wholeheartedly—utterly sympathetic—that I almost forgot my brainstorm. And still more dumbfounded was I when he listened interestedly to it.
So that next night I had more or less anticipated the call from Joyce. “Geoff, you’re either the most unprincipled rogue on two feet, or else the sweetest but one. A little of both, perhaps. I have just spent the most mortifying hour while Bill sat here and apologized for being such a poor sport as to ignore me, then commiserated endlessly with me for the loss of my game. But listen, he broached the Two Ball Mixed Foursome. That’s your doing, I know. But it’s a hopeless thought, dear boy. Don’t you see that in all probability I’ll be left stranded on the tee with nothing better than seventy yards in my driver; while Bill—poor Bill will be playing approach shots and putts which he can’t possibly see?”
“Now listen, madame,” I answered a little testily, I’m afraid. “What on earth do you suppose I’ll be doing? I’m going to caddy for you. Generalissimo —that’s my rôle. With a little strategy we can at least make a decent showing. And after all, what do you care if it is a failure? Good Lord, woman, haven’t I provided you with the best opportunity in the world to make yourself amiable to Bill? Why, bless my soul, you’ll be practising together for two whole weeks! No more quibbling now.”
“All right, Geoff; you are a dear, you know. But I’m just a little uncertain about it. Do come round and ta'lk it over —please !”
HPALK did far less for the cause than Bill’s craze for competition. And although his sympathy for Joyce’s plight was deep and compelling, that was merely in the nature of his big sensitive heart. Moreover, I suspect that the prospective joy of another golf battle had a good deal to do with his truce with Joyce. Because his pining for Doreen had not abated in the least.
So that if I had even dreamed that Doreen and Carl Featherstone would be bracketed with them in the second round of the eliminations, I would never have dared the diplomatic rôle I had essayed. When Bill first learned of it he flatly refused to go on; and I had the devil’s own time to change his mind. My appeal was that should he default, the whole club would raise its eyebrows and begin to ask questions. Furthermore, I told him, he was letting Joyce down deplorably. Which was true in more ways than one. Joyce’s grey eyes, on learning who her opponents were, widened and glistened with eagerness; and I knew that a victory would be doubly sweet for her now. Vindictive? Well, yes. But aren’t we all? —at times. And there was more than scant justice in her mood. You see she knew she had failed in her quest for Bill’s affection; knew that his kindness to her was platonic in essence; and suspected that he was still absorbed in memories of Doreen.
So that when the four of them appeared on the first tee, Joyce was in magnificent spirits, keen as a thoroughbred; while Bill, at the sound of Doreen’s voice, became silent and preoccupied. Despite which, however, he laced into a ball for just under two-fifty. You see, I insisted that he take the honor from Joyce in favor of his driving. It is a par four, that first hole; but Joyce with her crippled arm was unable to reach the green with the next. So Bill had to complete the approach which, although I drummed it into his head, he could not judge accurately with his poor sight; and the ball sailed over the green into a bunker. Then Joyce to my delight chipped out beautifully, laying Doreen and Carl a stymie within a foot of the pin. Bill sank the putt, being just able to see it, and the hole was halved in fives. Doreen and Carl, though on in two, had to take three putts on account of the stymie.
Walking over the second tee, Doreen said something to Carl, emphasizing— for our ears, no doubt—the words, “lucky shot.” I looked at Joyce, who frowned slightly, knowing the inference to be untrue. I turned to see Bill’s reaction; but his face was still expressionless. Was Doreen attempting a little subtle psychology to unsettle us? Well, Joyce was safe. But Bill?
He began to show it at the eleventh where Carl and Doreen were one up. It was an excellent chance to draw even— a short 170 yard hole—and Bill’s honor. If he could lay it even twenty feet from the hole we were pretty sure of a birdie, with Joyce’s uncanny putting. I took the utmost pains placing Bill’s feet, and oh—shades of Vardon!—he fanned it! Of course, Joyce was short, and I was a bit perturbed to see her face wince as she put all she could into the stroke. But she would acknowledge nothing when I questioned her. Bill misjudged the rest of the distance and the ball was over—in the rough and hopelessly lost. We conceded the hole. For Carl was on with his tee shot, well up to the pin.
Two down and seven to play.
Walking to the twelfth, I muttered to Bill on the side: “Come on now, pull up your socks. Joyce has seen you through two or three times already and you’re letting her down badly. To show you how staunchly she’s backing you up, she’s hurt her arm overdoing it while trying to recover something of that miss of yours on the last tee. Buck up!”
“Did she!” There was real concern in Bill’s voice and his face lost some of its listlessness. He was just going to call her when I warned: “Not a word. She won’t like it. You know what a stoic she is. Just give her the support she deserves.”
Of course, Joyce had to play off the tee on the twelfth. And I frowned to see her lips pursed in pain as she drove. A pitiful drive—weaker by far than her earlier efforts which, as you know, were woefully weak. But Bill came through with a magnificent brassie, leaving a lie for Joyce whence she could easily reach the green. We were down in five, winning the hole and leaving us but one down.
The sixteenth is another short one. Again Joyce put every ounce of strength into it without reaching the green. And as she gave her mashie to me, I could see that her face was pale and strangely set. “Look here, Joyce,” I whispered, “No heroics now. What’s up?”
“Sh !” was all she said. But she made an involuntary motion with her left arm; and I knew that she must be suffering intensely.
We won the hole more by luck than good play. Because Carl and Doreen found a bunker.
All square with two to go, but bleak prospects for us with Joyce in such obvious distress.
Bill settled his heels into the turf and drove a whistler off the seventeenth, and Joyce attempted desperately to match his efforts. Her face went a trifle paler at the finish of her swing and her left arm fell to her side almost limp. She said nothing; merely set her lips as she turned to help Carl and Doreen find their ball where the latter had sliced into the rough. Before she reached them, though, I saw Doreen go down on all fours to examine a ball. She glanced a little furtively, I thought, in our direction before calling, “Found!” then she stood up to drive a clean midiron to the edge of the green. They won the hole. So I stooped to pick the balls out of the cup.
Now we had been playing with a driver one, and they a driver two; whereas, in my hand lay a driver one and a high-flite !
“Doreen,” I said, as calmly as I could, “You played the wrong ball. If you want the hole you had better try to find your own, or else take the penalty.”
There was bitter malice in the china blue eyes as she snapped: “Are you inferring that I knew it wasn’t ours?” Now if she had apologized or been genuinely astonished I might have doubted my suspicions. But with that question she gave herself away. And despite her indignation, there was a false note in her voice—a little uncertainty. I saw Bill stare in her direction akin to horror in his face—horror and unwillingness to believe.
“I infer nothing,” I said. “But I repeat that if you want the hole—”
Doreen turned on her heel and walked back with Carl to try to find their ball. But by this time they had lost all sense of its whereabouts. So they were left with no alternative but to take the penalty.
While they were driving up, Bill said in slightly awed tones: “You don’t think that was done on purpose?”
I was tired of his childish gullibility where Doreen was concerned. “Bill,” I asked irritably, “how long are you going to be such a stupid ass about Doreen? Just do a little serious thinking on your own hook. The reason that she’s jettisoned you since your accident is that you’re no longer the golf celebrity you were. You’re darn right she knew it wasn’t her ball. I caught her watching us slyly when she found the high-flite— watching us with a half-guilty look. And her answer just now was a dead giveaway. For no one accused her of playing the wrong ball on purpose.” I walked away from him to let him get used to the taste of it.
Carl and Doreen lost the hole, the penalty stroke just turning the trick. Consequently, Doreen glared at me with undisguised hatred; and as we walked to the eighteenth a tense silence enveloped us, everybody seething with unpleasant thoughts. Carl and Doreen were desperately in need of the next hole to tie it up, then play a nineteenth to settle it. And I, as their nemesis, was made to feel exceedingly unnecessary. But I could afford to smile amusedly at them; they were so dangerously near to being beaten by my “crocks.”
When we reached the tee, however, Joyce took her driver and after a preliminary waggle, which looked peculiarly weak to me, went up to Bill and laid her hand on his arm, saying quietly, so that Doreen and Carl could not hear, “I’m sorry, Bill. B—but I can’t go on with it. That last shot—m—my arm’s gone. Oh, it’s so rotten for you just when we’ve a chance. B—but I can’t help it.” She had smiled a tired, pained smile when she began to speak, but now she was weeping softly.
Bill peered at her startled, considerably upset. “Golly!” was all he said. But in that one word was a realization that he’d been playing with a very plucky woman, that she had stuck by him playing herself into a crippled state, all uncomplaining. With characteristic tenderness, he put his arm about her shoulder and led her off the tee, saying to Carl and Doreen: “Joyce can’t finish. Her arm’s given out. Match goes to you by default.” Then, of course, he must abandon Joyce for a moment to go over and shake hands with them!
Joyce had to leave her car at the club that night. For a doctor had strapped up her side and shoulder in adhesive and forbidden her to use her arm. Some ligament or other badly torn.
So with the peace “which passeth all understanding” in our souls, I drove them home under a copper harvest moon. And again I was being fascinated by the carnival of fireflies over the dark velvety bosom of Lake St. Louis when Joyce appealed to me. “Geoff, how am I going to be able to protect myself, all strapped up like this?”
I glanced back to see her head sink on his shoulder. “I don’t think you need any protection,” I said indignantly. And just then we rounded the Norman farmhouse—slowly ! I raised my hat in salute.