The Strand Magazine/Volume 67/Issue 400/The Heart of a Goof
P. G. WODEHOUSE
ILLUSTRATED BY A. WALLIS MILLS
IT was a morning when all Nature shouted "Fore!" The breeze, as it blew gently up from the valley, seemed to bring a message of hope and cheer, whispering of chip-shots holed and brasses landing squarely on the meat. The fairway, as yet unscarred by the irons of a hundred dubs, smiled greenly up at the azure sky; and the sun, peeping above the trees, looked like a giant golf-ball perfectly lofted by the mashie of some unseen god and about to drop dead by the pin of the eighteenth. It was the day of the opening of the course after the long winter, and a crowd of considerable dimensions had collected at the first tee. Plus fours gleamed in the sunshine, and the air was charged with happy anticipation.
In all that gay throng there was but one sad face. It belonged to the man who was waggling his driver over the new ball perched on its little hill of sand. This man seemed careworn, hopeless. He had the aspect of one who knows that he is shortly about to receive it in the gizzard from a remorseless Fate. He gazed down the fairway, shifted his feet, waggled, gazed down the fairway again, shifted the dogs once more, and waggled afresh. He waggled as Hamlet might have waggled, moodily, irresolutely. Then, at last, he swung, and taking from his caddie the niblick which the intelligent lad had been holding in readiness from the moment when he had walked on to the tee, trudged wearily off to play his second.
The Oldest Member, who had been observing the scene with a benevolent eye from his favourite chair on the terrace, sighed.
"Poor Jenkinson," he said, "does not improve."
"No," agreed his companion, a young man with open features and a handicap of six. "And yet I happen to know that he has been taking lessons all the winter at one of those indoor places."
"Futile, quite futile," said the Sage, with a shake of his snowy head. "There is no wizard living who could make that man go round in an average of sevens. I keep advising him to give up the game."
"You!" cried the young man, raising a shocked and startled face from the driver with which he was toying. "You told him to give up golf! Why, I thought——"
"I understand and approve of your horror," said the Oldest Member gently. "But you must bear in mind that Jenkinson's is not an ordinary case. You know and I know scores of men who have never broken a hundred and twenty in their lives and yet contrive to be happy, useful members of society. However badly they may play, they are able to forget. But with Jenkinson it is different. He is not one of those who can take it or leave it alone. His only chance of happiness lies in complete abstinence. Jenkinson is a goof."
"A goof," repeated the Sage. "One of those unfortunate beings who have allowed this noblest of sports to get too great a grip upon them, who have permitted it to eat into their souls like some malignant growth. The goof, you must understand, is not like you and me. He broods. He becomes morbid. His goofery unfits him for the battles of life. Jenkinson, for example, was once a man with a glowing future in the hay, corn, and feed business; but a constant stream of hooks, tops, and slices gradually made him so diffident and mistrustful of himself that he let opportunity after opportunity slip, with the result that other, sterner hay, corn, and feed merchants passed him in the race. Every time he had the chance to carry through some big deal in hay, or to execute some flashing coup in corn and feet, the fatal difference generated by a hundred rotten rounds would undo him. I understand his bankruptcy may be expected at any moment."
"My golly!" said the young man, deeply impressed. "I hope I never become a goof. Do you mean to say there is really no cure except giving up the game?"
The Oldest Member was silent for a while.
"It is curious that you should have asked that question," he said at last, "for only this morning I was thinking of the one case in my experience where a goof was enabled to overcome his deplorable malady. It was owing to a girl, of course. The longer I live, the more I come to see that most things are. But as you will no doubt wish to hear the story from the beginning——"
The young man rose with the startled haste of some wild creature which, wandering through the undergrowth, perceives the trap in his path.
"I should love to," he mumbled, "only I shall be losing my place at the tee."
"The goof in question," said the Sage, attaching himself with quiet firmness to the youth's coat-button, "was a man of about your age, by name Ferdinand Dibble. I knew him well. In fact, it was to me——"
"Some other time, eh?"
"It was to me," proceeded the Sage, placidly, "that he came for sympathy in the great crisis of his life, and I am not ashamed to say that when he had finished laying bare his soul to me there were tears in my eyes. My heart bled for the boy."
"I bet it did. But——"
The Oldest Member pushed him gently back into his seat.
"Golf," he said, "is the Great Mystery. Like some capricious goddess——"
The young man, who had been exhibiting symptoms of feverishness, appeared to become resigned. He sight softly.
"Did you ever read 'The Ancient Mariner'?" he said.
"Many years ago," said the Oldest Member. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I don't know," said the young man. "It just occurred to me."
GOLF (resumed the Oldest Member) is the Great Mystery. Like some capricious goddess, it bestows its favours with what would appear an almost fatheaded lack of method and discrimination. On every side we see big two-fisted he-men floundering round in three figures, stopping every few minutes to let through little shrimps with knock knees and hollow cheeks who are tearing off snappy seventy-fours. Giants of finance have to accept a stroke per from their junior clerks. Men capable of governing empires fail to control a small white ball which presents no difficulties whatever to others with one ounce more brain than a cuckoo-clock. Mysterious, but there it is. There was no apparent reason why Ferdinand Dibble should not have been a competent golfer. He had strong wrists and a good eye. Nevertheless, the fact remains that he was a dub. And on a certain evening in June I realized that he was also a goof. I found it out quite suddenly as the result of a conversation which we had on this very terrace.
I was sitting here that evening, thinking of this and that, when by the corner of the club-house I observed young Dibble in conversation with a girl in white. I could not see who she was, for her back was turned. Presently they parted, and Ferdinand came slowly across to where I sat. His air was dejected. He had had the boots licked off him earlier in the afternoon by Jimmy Fothergill, and it was to this that I attributed his gloom. I was to find out in a few moments that I was partly but not entirely correct in this surmise. He took the next chair to mine and for several minutes sat staring moodily down into the valley.
"I've just been talking to Barbara Medway," he said, suddenly breaking the silence.
"Indeed?" I said. "A delightful girl."
"She's going away for the summer to Marvis Bay."
"She will take the sunshine with her."
"You bet she will!" said Ferdinand Dibble, with extraordinary warmth, and there was another long silence.
Presently Ferdinand uttered a hollow groan.
"I love her, dammit!" he muttered, brokenly. "Oh, golly, how I love her!"
I was not surprised at his making me the recipient of his confidences like this. Most of the young folk in the place brought their troubles to me sooner or later.
"And does she return your love?"
"I don't know. I haven't asked her."
"Why not? I should have thought the point not without its interest for you."
Ferdinand gnawed the handle of his putter distractedly.
"I haven't the nerve," he burst out at length. "I simply can't summon up the cold gall to ask a girl, least of all an angel like her, to marry me. You see, it's like this. Every time I work myself up to the point of having a dash at it, I go out and get trimmed by someone giving me a stroke a hole. Every time I feel I've mustered up enough pep to propose, I take a ten on a bogey three. Every time I think I'm in good mid-season form for putting my fate to the test, to win or lose it all, something goes all blooey with my swing and I slice into the rough at every tee. And then my self-confidence leaves me. I become nervous, tongue-tied, diffident. I wish to goodness I knew the man who'd invented this infernal game. I'd strangle him. But I suppose he's been dead for ages. Still, I could go and jump on his grave."
It was at this point that I understood all, and the heart within me sank like lead. The truth was out. Ferdinand Dibble was a goof.
"Come, come, my boy," I said, though feeling the uselessness of any words. "Master this weakness."
"I have tried."
He gnawed his putter again.
"She was asking me just now if I couldn't manage to come to Marvis Bay, too," he said.
"That surely is encouraging? It suggests that she is not entirely indifferent to your society."
"Yes, but what's the use? Do you know," he said, a gleam coming into his eyes for a moment, "I have a feeling that if I could ever beat some really fairly good player—just once—I could bring the thing off." The gleam faded. "But what chance is there of that?"
It was a question which I did not care to answer. I merely patted his shoulder sympathetically, and after a little while he left me and walked away. I was still sitting there, thinking over his hard case, when Barbara Medway came out of the club-house.
She, too, seemed grave and preoccupied, as if there was something on her mind. She took the chair which Ferdinand had vacated and sighed wearily.
"Have you ever felt," she asked, "that you would like to bang a man on the head with something hard and heavy? With knobs on?"
"I said I had sometimes experienced such a desire, and asked if she had any particular man in mind. She seemed to hesitate for a moment before replying, then apparently made up her mind to confide in me. My advanced years carry with them certain pleasant compensations, one of which is that nice girls often confide in me. I frequently find myself enrolled as a father confessor on the most intimate matters by beautiful creatures from whom many a younger man would give his eye-teeth to get a friendly word. Besides, I had known Barbara since she was a child. Frequently—though not recently—I had given her her evening bath. These things form a bond.
"Why are men such chumps?" she exclaimed.
"You still have not told me who it is that has caused these harsh words. Do I know him?"
"Of course you do. You've just been talking to him."
"Ferdinand Dibble? But why should you wish to bang Ferdinand Dibble on the head with something hard and heavy with knobs on ?"
"Because he's such a goop."
"You mean a goof?" I queried, wondering how she could have penetrated the unhappy man's secret.
"No, a goop. A goop is a man who's in love with a girl and won't tell her so. I am as certain as I am of anything that Ferdinand is fond of me."
"Your instinct is unerring. He has just been confiding in me on that very point."
"Well, why doesn't he confide in me, the poor fish?" cried the high-spirited girl, petulantly flicking a pebble at a passing grasshopper. "I can't be expected to fling myself into his arms unless he gives some sort of a hint that he's ready to catch me."
"Would it help if I were to repeat to him the substance of this conversation of ours?"
"If you breathe a word of it, I'll never speak to you again," she cried. "I'd rather die an awful death than have any man think I wanted him so badly that I had to send relays of messengers begging him to marry me."
I saw her point.
"Then I fear," I said, gravely, "that there is nothing to be done. One can only wait and hope. It may be that in the years to come Ferdinand Dibble will acquire a nice lissom wristy swing with the head kept rigid and the right leg firmly braced and——"
"What are you talking about?"
"I was toying with the hope that some sunny day Ferdinand Dibble would cease to be a goof."
"You mean a goop?"
"No, a goof. A goof is a man who——" And I went on to explain the peculiar psychological difficulties which lay in the way of any declaration of affection on Ferdinand's part.
"But I never heard of anything so ridiculous in my life," she ejaculated. "Do you mean to say that he is waiting till he is good at golf before he asks me to marry him?"
"It is not quite so simple as that," I said, sadly. "Many bad golfers marry, feeling that a wife's loving solicitude may improve their game. But they are rugged, thick-skinned men, not sensitive and introspective like Ferdinand. Ferdinand has allowed himself to become morbid. It is one of the chief merits of golf that non-success at the game induces a certain decent humility which keeps a man from pluming himself too much on any petty triumph he may achieve in other walks of life; but in all things there is a happy mean, and with Ferdinand this humility has gone too far. It has taken all the spirit out of him. He feels crushed and worthless. He is grateful to caddies when they accept a tip instead of drawing themselves up to their full height and flinging the money in his face."
"Then do you mean that things have got to go on like this for ever?"
I thought for a moment.
"It is a pity," I said, "that you could not have induced Ferdinand to go to Marvis Bay for a month or two."
"Because it seems to me, thinking the thing over, that it is just possible that Marvis Bay might cure him. At the hotel there he would find collected a mob of golfers—I use the term in its broadest sense, to embrace the paralytics and then men who play left-handed—whom even he would be able to beat. When I was last at Marvis Bay, the hotel links were a sort of Sargasso Sea into which had drifted all the pitiful flotsam and jetsam of golf. I have seen things done on that course at which I shuddered and averted my eyes—and I am not a weak man. If Ferdinand can polish up his game so as to go round in a fairly steady hundred and five, I fancy there is hope. But I understand he is not going to Marvis Bay."
"Oh, yes, he is," said the girl.
"Indeed! He did not tell me that when we were talking just now."
"He didn't know it then. He will when I have had a few words with him."
And she walked with firm steps back into the club-house.
IT has been well said that there are many kinds of golf, beginning at the top with the golf of professionals and the best amateurs and working down through the golf of ossified men to that of Scotch University professors. Until recently this last was looked upon as the lowest possible depth; but nowadays, with the growing popularity of summer hotels, we are able to add a brand still lower, the golf you find at places like Marvis Bay.
To Ferdinand Dibble, coming from a club where the standard of play was rather unusually high, Marvis Bay was a revelation, and for some days after his arrival there he went about dazed, like a man who cannot believe it is really true. To go out on the links at this summer resort was like entering a new world. The hotel was full of stout, middle-aged men who, after a mis-spent youth devoted to making money, had taken to a game at which real proficiency can only be acquired by those who start playing in their cradles and keep their weight down. Out on the course each morning you could see representatives of every nightmare style that was ever invented. There was the man who seemed to be attempting to deceive the ball and lull it into a false security by looking away from it and then making a lightning slash in the apparent hope of catching it off its guard. There was the man who wielded his mid-iron like one killing snakes. There was the man who addressed his ball as if he were stroking a cat, the man who drove as if he were cracking a whip, the man who brooded over each shot like one whose heart is bowed down by bad news from home, and the man who scooped with his mashie as if he were ladling soup. By the end of the first week Ferdinand Dibble was the acknowledged champion of the place. He had gone through the entire menagerie like a bullet through a cream puff.
First, scarcely daring to consider the possibility of success, he had taken on the man who tried to catch his ball off its guard and had beaten him five up and four to play. Then, with gradually growing confidence, he tackled in turn the Cat-Stroker, the Whip-Cracker, the Heart Bowed Down, and the Soup-Scooper, and walked all over their faces with spiked shoes. And as these were the leading local amateurs, whose prowess the octogenarians the men who went round in bath-chairs vainly strove to emulate, Ferdinand Dibble was faced on the eighth morning of his visit by the startling fact that he had no more worlds to conquer. He was monarch of all he surveyed, and, what is more, had won his first trophy, the prize in the great medal-play handicap tournament, in which he had nosed in ahead of the field by two strokes, edging out his nearest rival, a venerable old gentleman, by means of a brilliant and unexpected four on the last hole. The prize was a handsome pewter mug about the size of the old oaken bucket, and Ferdinand used to go to his room immediately after dinner to croon over it like a mother over her child.
You are wondering, no doubt, why in these circumstances, he did not take advantage of the new spirit of exhilarated pride which had replaced his old humility and instantly propose to Barbara Medway. I will tell you. He did not propose to Barbara because Barbara was not there. At the last moment she had been detained at home to nurse a sick parent and had been compelled to postpone her visit for a couple of weeks. He could, no doubt, have proposed in one of the daily letters which he wrote to her, but somehow, once he started writing, he found that he used up so much space describing his best shots on the links that day that it was difficult to squeeze in a declaration of undying passion. After all, you can hardly cram that sort of thing into a postscript.
He decided, therefore, to wait till she arrived, and meanwhile pursued his conquering course. The longer he waited the better, in one way, for every morning and afternoon that passed was adding new layers to his self-esteem. Day by day in every way he grew chestier and chestier.
MEANWHILE, however, dark clouds were gathering. Sullen mutterings were to be heard in corners of the hotel lounge and the spirit of revolt was abroad. For Ferdinand's chestiness had not escaped the notice of his defeated rivals. There is nobody so chesty as a normally unchesty man who suddenly becomes chesty, and I am very sorry to say that the chestiness which had come to Ferdinand was the aggressive type of chestiness which breeds enemies. He had developed a habit of holding the game up in order to give his opponent advice. The Whip-Cracker had not forgiven, and never would forgive, his well-meant but galling criticism of his back-swing. The Scooper, who had always scooped since the day when, at the age of sixty-four, he subscribed to the Correspondence Course which was to teach him golf in twelve lessons by mail, resented being told by a snip of a boy that the mashie-stroke should be a smooth, unhurried swing. The Snake-Killer——But I need not weary you with a detailed recital of these men's grievances; it is enough to say that they all had it in for Ferdinand, and one night after dinner they met in the lounge to decide what was to be done about it.
A nasty spirit was displayed by all.
"A mere lad telling me how to use my mashie!" growled the Scooper. "Smooth and unhurried my left eyeball! I get it up, don't I? Well, what more do you want?"
"I keep telling him that mine is the old full St. Andrews swing," muttered the Whip-Cracker, between set teeth, "but he won't listen to me."
"He ought to be taken down a peg or two," hissed the Snake-Killer. It is not easy to hiss a sentence without a single "s" in it, and the fact that he succeeded in doing so shows to what a pitch of emotion the man had been goaded by Ferdinand's maddening air of superiority.
"Yes, but what can we do?" queried an octogenarian, when this last remark had been passed on to him down his ear-trumpet.
"That's the trouble," sighed the Scooper. "What can we do?" And there was a sorrowful shaking of heads.
"I know!" exclaimed the Cat-Stroker, who had not hitherto spoken. He was a lawyer, and a man of subtle and sinister mind. "I have it! There's a boy in my office—young Parsloe—who could beat this man Dibble hollow. I'll wire him to come down here and we'll spring him on this fellow and knock some of the conceit out of him."
There was a chorus of approval.
"But are you sure he can beat him?" asked the Snake-Killer, anxiously. "It would never do to make a mistake."
"Of course I'm sure," said the Cat-Stroker. "George Parsloe once went round in ninety-four."
"Many changes there have been since 'ninety-four," said the octogenarian, nodding sagely. "Ah, many, many changes. None of these motor-cars then, tearing about and killing——"
Kindly hands led him off to have an egg-and-milk, and the remaining conspirators returned to the point at issue with bent brows.
"Ninety-four?" said the Scooper, incredulously. "Do you mean counting every stroke?"
"Counting every stroke."
"Not conceding himself any putts?"
"Wire him to come at once," said the meeting with one voice.
That night the Cat-Stroker approached Ferdinand, smooth, subtle, lawyer-like.
"Oh, Dibble," he said, "just the man I wanted to see. Dibble, there's a young friend of mine coming down here who goes in for golf a little. George Parsloe is his name. I was wondering if you could spare time to give him a game. He is just a novice, you know."
"I shall be delighted to play a round with him," said Ferdinand, kindly.
"He might pick a pointer or two from watching you," said the Cat-Stroker.
"True, true," said Ferdinand.
"Then I'll introduce you when he shows up."
"Delighted," said Ferdinand.
He was in excellent humour that night, for he had a letter from Barbara saying that she was arriving on the next day but one.
IT was Ferdinand's healthy custom of a morning to get up in good time and take a dip in the sea before breakfast. On the morning of the day of Barbara's arrival, he arose as usual, donned his flannels, took a good look at the cup, and started out. It was a fine, fresh morning, and he glowed both externally and internally. As he crossed the links, for the nearest route to the water was through the fairway of the seventh, he was whistling happily and rehearsing in his mind the opening sentences of his proposal. For it was his firm resolve that night after dinner to ask Barbara to marry him. He was proceeding over the smooth turf without a care in the world when there was a sudden cry of "Fore!" and the next moment a golf ball, missing him by inches, sailed up the fairway and came to rest fifty yards from where he stood. He looked round and observed a figure coming towards him from the tee.
The distance from the tee was fully a hundred and thirty yards. Add fifty to that, and you have a hundred and eighty yards. No such drive had been made on the Marvis Bay links since their foundation, and such is the generous spirit of the true golfer that Ferdinand's first emotion, after the not inexcusable spasm of panic caused by the hum of the globule past his ear, was one of cordial admiration. By some kindly miracle, he supposed, one of his hotel acquaintances had been permitted for once in his life to time a drive right. It was only when the other man came up that there began to steal over him a sickening apprehension. The faces of all those who hewed divots on the hotel course were familiar to him, and the fact that this fellow was a stranger seemed to point with dreadful certainty to his being the man he had agreed to play.
"Sorry," said the man. He was a tall, strikingly handsome youth with brown eyes and a dark moustache.
"Oh, that's all right," said Ferdinand. "Er—do you always drive like that?"
"Well, I generally get a bit longer ball, but I'm off my drive this morning. It's lucky I came out and got this practice. I'm playing a match to-morrow with a fellow named Dibble, who's a local champion or something."
"Me," said Ferdinand, humbly.
"Eh? Oh, you?" Mr. Parsloe eyed him appraisingly. "Well, may the best man win."
As this was precisely what Ferdinand was afraid was going to happen, he nodded in a sickly manner and tottered off to his bathe. The magic had gone out of the morning. The sun still shone, but in a silly feeble way; and a cold and depressing wind had sprung up. For Ferdinand's inferiority complex, which had seemed cured for ever, was back again, doing business at the old stand.
HOW sad it is in this life that the moments to which we have looked forward with the most glowing anticipation so often turn out on arrival flat, cold, and disappointing! For ten days Barbara Medway had been living for that meeting with Ferdinand, when getting out of the train she would see him popping about on the horizon with the love-light sparkling in his eyes and words of devotion trembling on his lips. The poor girl never doubted for an instant that he would unleash his pent-up emotions inside the first five minutes, and her only worry was lest he should give an embarrassing publicity to the sacred scene by falling on his knees on the station platform.
"Well, here I am at last," she cried, gaily.
"Hullo!" said Ferdinand, with a twisted smile.
The girl looked at him, chilled. How could she know that his peculiar manner was due entirely to the severe attack of cold feet resultant upon his meeting with George Parsloe that morning? The interpretation which she placed upon it was that he was not glad to see her. If he had behaved like this before, she would of course have put it down to ingrowing goofery, but now she had his written statements to prove that for the last ten days his golf had been one long series of triumphs.
"I got your letters," she said, persevering bravely.
"I thought you would," said Ferdinand, absently.
"You seem to have been doing wonders."
There was a silence.
"Have a nice journey?" said Ferdinand.
"Very," said Barbara.
She spoke coldly, for she was madder than a wet hen. She saw it all now. In the ten days since they had parted, his love, she realized, had waned. Some other girl met in the romantic surroundings of this picturesque resort, had supplanted her in his affections. She knew how quickly Cupid gets off the mark at a summer hotel, and for an instant she blamed herself for ever having been so ivory-skulled as to let him come to this place alone. Then regret was swallowed up in wrath, and she became so glacial that Ferdinand, who had been on the point of telling her the secret of his gloom, retired into his shell and conversation during the drive to the hotel never soared above a certain level. Ferdinand said the sunshine was nice and Barbara said yes it was nice, and Ferdinand said it looked pretty on the water and Barbara said yes it did look pretty on the water, and Ferdinand said he hoped it was not going to rain and Barbara said yes it would be a pity if it rained. And then there was another lengthy silence.
"How is my uncle?" asked Barbara at last.
I omitted to mention that the individual to whom I have referred as the Cat-Stoker was Barbara's mother's brother and her host at Marvis Bay.
"His name is Tuttle. Have you met him?"
"Oh, yes. I've seen a good deal of him. He has got a friend staying with him," said Ferdinand, his mind returning to the matter nearest his heart. "A fellow named Parsloe."
"Oh, is George Parsloe here? How jolly!"
"Do you know him?" barked Ferdinand, hollowly. He would not have supposed that anything could have added to his existing depression, but he was conscious now of having slipped a few rungs farther down the ladder of gloom. There had been a horribly joyful ring in her voice. Ah, well, he reflected morosely, how like Life it all was! We never know what the morrow may bring forth. We strike a pretty good patch and are beginning to think pretty well of ourselves, and along comes a George Parsloe.
"Of course I do," said Barbara. "Why, there he is."
The cab had drawn up at the door of the hotel, and on the porch George Parsloe was airing his graceful person. To Ferdinand's fevered eye he looked like a Greek god, and his inferiority complex began to exhibit symptoms of elephantiasis. How could he compete at love or golf with a fellow who looked as if he had stepped out of the movies and considered himself off his drive when he did a hundred and eighty yards?
"Geor-gee!" cried Barbara, blithely. "Hullo, George!"
"Why, hullo, Barbara!"
They fell into pleasant conversation, while Ferdinand hung miserably about in the offing. And presently, feeling that his society was not essential to their happiness, he slunk away.
GEORGE PARSLOE dined at the Cat-Stoker's table that night, and it was with George Parsloe that Barbara roamed in the moonlight after dinner. Ferdinand, after a profitless hour at the billiard-table, went early to his room. But not even the rays of the moon, glinting on his cup, could soothe the fever in his soul. He practised putting sombrely into his tooth-glass for a while; then, going to be, fell at last into a troubled sleep.
BARBARA slept late the next morning and breakfasted in her room. Coming down towards noon, she found a strange emptiness in the hotel. It was her experience of summer hotels that a really fine day like this one was the cue for half the inhabitants to collect in the lounge, shut all the windows, and talk about conditions in the jute industry. To her surprise, though the sun was streaming down from a cloudless sky, the only occupant of the lounge was the octogenarian with the ear-trumpet. She observed that he was chuckling to himself in a senile manner.
"Good morning," she said, politely, for she had made his acquaintance on the previous evening.
"Hey?" said the octogenarian, suspending his chuckling and getting his trumpet into position.
"I said 'Good morning!'" roared Barbara into the receiver.
"Ah! Yes, it's a very fine morning, a very fine morning. If it wasn't for missing my bun and glass of milk at twelve sharp," said the octogenarian, "I'd be down on the links. That's where I'd be, down on the links. If it wasn't for missing my bun and glass of milk."
This refreshment arriving at this moment, he dismantled the radio outfit and began to restore his tissues.
"Watching the match," he explained, pausing for a moment in his bun-mangling.
The octogenarian sipped his milk.
"What match?" repeated Barbara.
The octogenarian began to chuckle again and nearly swallowed a crumb the wrong way.
"Take some of the conceit out of him," he gurgled.
"Out of who?" asked Barbara, knowing perfectly well that she should have said "whom."
"Yes," said the octogenarian.
"Who is conceited?"
"Ah! This young fellow, Dibble. Very conceited. I saw it in his eye from the first, but nobody would listen to me. Mark my words, I said, that boy needs taking down a peg or two. Well, he's going to be this morning. Your uncle wired to young Parsloe to come down, and he's arranged a match between them. Dibble——"—here the octogenarian choked again and had to rinse himself out with milk—"Dibble doesn't know that Parsloe once went round in ninety-four!"
Everything seemed to go black to Barbara. Through a murky mist she appeared to be looking at a negro octogenarian sipping ink. Then her eyes cleared, and she found herself clutching for support at the back of a chair. She understood now. She realized why Ferdinand had been so distrait, and her whole heart went out to him in a spasm of maternal pity. How she had wronged him!
"Take some of the conceit out of him," the octogenarian was mumbling, and Barbara felt a sudden sharp loathing for the old man. For two pins she could have dropped a beetle in his milk. Then the need for action roused her. What action? She did not know. All she knew was that she must act.
"Oh!" she cried.
"Hey?" said the Octogenarian, bringing his trumpet to the ready.
But Barbara had gone.
IT was not far to the links, and Barbara covered the distance on flying feet. She reached the club-house, but the course was empty except for the Scooper, who was preparing to drive off the first tee. In spite of the fact that something seemed to tell her subconsciously that this was one of the sights she ought not to miss, the girl did not wait to watch. Assuming that the match had started soon after breakfast, it must by now have reached one of the holes on the second nine. She ran down the hill, looking to left and right, and was presently aware of a group of spectators clustered about a green in the distance. As she hurried towards them they moved away, and now she could see Ferdinand advancing to the next tee. With a thrill that shook her whole body she realized that he had the honour. So he must have won one hole, at any rate. Then she saw her uncle.
"How are they?" she gasped.
Mr. Tuttle seemed moody. It was apparent that things were not going altogether to his liking.
"All square at the fifteenth," he replied gloomily.
"Yes. Young Parsloe," said Mr. Tuttle, with a sour look in the direction of that lissom athlete, "doesn't seem to be able to do a thing right on the greens. He has been putting like a sheep with the botts."
FROM the foregoing remark of Mr. Tuttle you will no doubt have gleaned at last a clue to the mystery of how Ferdinand Dibble had managed to hold his long-driving adversary up to the fifteenth green, but for all that you will probably consider that some further explanation of this amazing state of affairs is required. Mere bad putting on the part of George Parsloe is not, you feel, sufficient to cover the matter entirely. You are right. There was another very important factor in the situation—to wit, that by some extraordinary chance Ferdinand Dibble had started right off from the first tee playing the game of a lifetime. Never had he made such drives, never chipped his chips so shrewdly.
About Ferdinand's driving there was a general thing a fatal stiffness and over-caution which prevented success. And with his chip-shots he rarely achieved accuracy owing to his habit of rearing his head like the lion of the jungle just before the club struck the ball. But to-day he had been swinging with a careless freedom and his chips had been true and clean. The thing had puzzled him all the way round. It had not elated him, for, owing to Barbara's aloofness and the way in which she had gambolled about George Parsloe like a young lamb in the springtime, he was in too deep a state of dejection to be elated by anything. And now, suddenly, in a flash of clear vision, he perceived the reason why he had been playing so well to-day. It was just because he was not elated. It was simply because he was so profoundly miserable.
That was what Ferdinand had told himself as he stepped off the sixteenth after hitting a screamer down the centre of the fairway, and I am convinced that he was right. Like so many indifferent golfers, Ferdinand Dibble had always made the game hard for himself by thinking too much. He was a deep student of the works of the masters, and whenever he prepared to play a stroke he had a complete mental list of all the mistakes which it was possible to make. He would remember how Taylor had warned against dipping the right shoulder, how Vardon had inveighed against any movement of the head; he would recall how Ray had mentioned the tendency to snatch back the club, how Braid had spoken sadly of those who sin against their better selves by stiffening the muscles and heaving.
The consequence was that when, after waggling in a frozen manner till mere shame urged him to take some definite course of action, he eventually swung, he invariable proceeded to dip his right shoulder, stiffen his muscles, heave, and snatch back the club, at the same time raising his head sharply as in the illustrated plate (Some Frequent Faults of Beginners—No. 3, Lifting the Bean) facing page thirty-four of James Braid's "Golf Without Tears." To-day he had been so preoccupied with his broken heart that he had made his shots absently, almost carelessly, with the result that at least one in every three had been a lallapaloosa.
Meanwhile, George Parsloe had driven off and the match was progressing. George was feeling a little flustered by now. He had been given to understand that this bird Dibble was a hundred-at-his-best man, and all the way round the fellow had been reeling off fives in great profusion and had once actually got a four. True, there had been an occasional six, and even a seven, but that did not alter the main fact that the man was making the dickens of a game of it. With the haughty spirit of one who had once done a ninety-four, George Parsloe had anticipated being at least three up at the turn. Instead of which he had been two down and had had to fight strenuously to draw level. Nevertheless, he drove steadily and well, and would have certainly have won the hole had it not been for his weak and sinful putting. The same defect caused him to halve the seventeenth after being on in two, with Ferdinand wandering in the desert and only reaching the green with his fourth. Then, however, Ferdinand holed out from a distance of seven yards, getting a five, which George's three putts just enabled him to equal.
BARBARA had watched the proceedings with a beating heart. At first she had looked on from afar; but now, drawn as by a magnet, she approached the tee. Ferdinand was driving off. She held her breath. Ferdinand held his breath. And all around one could see their respective breaths being held by George Parsloe, Mr. Tuttle, and the enthralled crowd of spectators. It was a moment of the acutest tension, and it was broken by the crack of Ferdinand's driver as it met the ball and sent it hopping along the ground for a mere thirty yards. At this supreme crisis in the match Ferdinand Dibble had topped.
George Parsloe teed up his ball. There was a smile of quiet satisfaction on his face. He snuggled the driver in his hands and gave it a preliminary swish. This, felt George Parsloe, was where the happy ending came. He would drive as he had never driven before. He would so drive that it would take his opponent at least three shots to catch up with him. He drew back his club with infinite caution, poised it at the top of the swing——
"I always wonder——" said a clear girlish voice, ripping the silence like the explosion of a bomb.
George Parsloe started. His club wobbled. It descended. The ball trickled into the long grass in front of the tee. There was a grim pause.
"You were saying, Miss Medway——" said George Parsloe.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," said Barbara. "I'm afraid I put you off."
"A little perhaps. Possibly the merest trifle. But you were saying you wondered about something. Can I be of any assistance?"
"I was only saying," said Barbara, "that I always wonder why tees are called tees."
George Parsloe swallowed once or twice. He also blinked a little feverishly. His eyes had a dazed, staring expression.
"I am afraid I cannot tell you off-hand," he said. "But I will make a point of consulting some good encyclopaedia at the earliest opportunity."
"Thank you so much."
"Not at all. It will be a pleasure. In case you were thinking of inquiring at the moment when I am putting why greens are called greens, may I venture the suggestion now that it is because they are green?"
And, so saying, George Parsloe stalked to his ball and found it nestling in the heart of some shrub of which, not being a botanist, I cannot give you the name. It was a close-knit, adhesive shrub and it twined its tentacles so lovingly around George Parsloe's niblick that he missed his first shot altogether. His second made the ball rock, and his third dislodged it. Playing a full swing with his brassie and being by now a mere cauldron of seething emotions, he missed his fourth. His fifth came to within a few inches of Ferdinand's drive, and he picked it up and hurled it from him into the rough as if it had been something venomous.
"Your hole and match," said George Parsloe, thinly.
FERDINAND DIBBLE sat beneath the glittering ocean. He had hurried off the course with swift strides the moment George Parsloe had spoken those bitter words. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts.
They were mixed thoughts. For a moment joy at the reflection that he had won a tough match came irresistibly to the surface, only to sink again as he rememberd that life, whatever its triumphs, could hold nothing for him now that Barbara Medway loved another.
He looked up. She was standing at his side. He gulped and rose to his feet.
There was a silence.
"Doesn't the sun look pretty on the water?" said Barbara.
Ferdinand groaned. This was too much.
"Leave me," he said, hollowly. "Go back to your Parsloe, the man with whom you walked in the moonlight beside this same water."
"Well, why shouldn't I walk with Mr. Parsloe in the moonlight beside this same water?" demanded Barbara, with spirit.
"I never said," replied Ferdinand, for he was a fair man at heart, "that you shouldn't walk with Mr. Parsloe beside this same water. I simply said you did walk with Mr. Parsloe beside this same water. And what I mean is, go back to him."
"I've a perfect right to walk with Mr. Parsloe beside this same water," persisted Barbara. "He and I are old friends."
Ferdinand groaned again.
"Exactly! There you are! As I suspected. Old friends! Played together as children and what not, I shouldn't wonder."
"No, we didn't. I've only known him five years. But he is engaged to be married to my greatest chum, so that draws us together."
Ferdinand uttered a strangled cry.
"Parsloe engaged to be married!"
"Yes. The wedding takes place next month."
"But look here." Ferdinand's forehead was wrinkled. He was thinking tensely. "Look here," said Ferdinand, a close reasoner; "if Parsloe's engaged to your greatest chum, he can't be in love with you."
"And you aren't in love with him?"
"Then, by gad," said Ferdinand, "how about it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Will you marry me?" bellowed Ferdinand.
"Of course I will."
"Darling!" cried Ferdinand.
"THERE is only one thing that bothers me a bit," said Ferdinand, thoughtfully, as they strolled together over the scented meadows, while in the trees above them a thousand birds trilled Mendelsohn's Wedding March.
"What is that?"
"Well, I'll tell you," said Ferdinand. "The fact is, I've just discovered the next great secret of golf. You can't play a really hot game unless you're so miserable that you don't worry over your shots. Take the case of a chip-shot, for instance. If you're really wretched, you don't care where the ball is going and so you don't raise your head to see. Grief automatically prevents pressing and over-swinging. Look at the top-notchers. Have you ever seen a happy pro?"
"No, I don't think I have."
"But pros are all Scotsmen," argued Barbara.
"It doesn't matter. I'm sure I'm right. And the darned thing is that I'm going to be so infernally happy all the rest of my life that I suppose my handicap will go up to thirty or something."
Barbara squeezed his hand lovingly.
"Don't worry, precious," she said, soothingly. "It will be all right. I am a woman, and, once we are married, I shall be able to think of at least a hundred ways of snootering you to such an extent that you'll be fit to win the Amateur Championship."
"You will?" said Ferdinand, anxiously. "You're sure?"
"Quite, quite sure, dearest," said Barbara.
"My angel!" said Ferdinand.
He folded her in his arms, using the interlocking grip.