A Billiard Lesson by A. A. Milne

I was showing Celia a few fancy strokes on the billiard-table. The other members of the house-party were in the library, learning their parts for some approaching theatricals–that is to say, they were sitting round the fire and saying to each other, “This is a rotten play.” We had been offered the position of auditors to several of the company, but we were going to see Parsifal on the next day, and I was afraid that the constant excitement would be bad for Celia.

“Why don’t you ask me to play with you?” she asked. “You never teach me anything.”

“There’s ingratitude. Why, I gave you your first lesson at golf only last Thursday.”

“So you did. I know golf. Now show me billiards.”

I looked at my watch.

“We’ve only twenty minutes. I’ll play you thirty up.”

“Right-o. What do you give me–a ball or a bisque or what?”

“I can’t spare you a ball, I’m afraid. I shall want all three when I get going. You may have fifteen start, and I’ll tell you what to do.”

“Well, what do I do first?”

“Select a cue.”

She went over to the rack and inspected them.

“This seems a nice brown one. Now then, you begin.”

“Celia, you’ve got the half-butt. Put it back and take a younger one.”

“I thought it seemed taller than the others.” She took another. “How’s this? Good. Then off you go.”

“Will you be spot or plain?” I said, chalking my cue.

“Does it matter?”

“Not very much. They’re both the same shape.”

“Then what’s the difference?”

“Well, one is more spotted than the other.”

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“Then I’ll be less spotted.”

I went to the table.

“I think,” I said, “I’ll try and screw in off the red.” (I did this once by accident and I’ve always wanted to do it again.) “Or perhaps,” I corrected myself, as soon as the ball had left me, “I had better give a safety miss.”

I did. My ball avoided the red and came swiftly back into the left-hand bottom pocket.

“That’s three to you,” I said without enthusiasm.

Celia seemed surprised.

“But I haven’t begun yet,” she said. “Well, I suppose you know the rules, but it seems funny. What would you like me to do?”

“Well, there isn’t much on. You’d better just try and hit the red ball.”

“Right.” She leant over the table and took long and careful aim. I held my breath…. Still she aimed…. Then, keeping her chin on the cue, she slowly turned her head and looked up at me with a thoughtful expression.

“Oughtn’t there to be three balls on the table?” she said, wrinkling her forehead.

“No,” I answered shortly.

“But why not?”

“Because I went down by mistake.”

“But you said that when you got going, you wanted—- I can’t argue bending down like this.” She raised herself slowly. “You said—- Oh, all right, I expect you know. Anyhow, I have scored some already, haven’t I?”

“Yes. You’re eighteen to my nothing.”

“Yes. Well, now I shall have to aim all over again.” She bent slowly over her cue. “Does it matter where I hit the red?”

“Not much. As long as you hit it on the red part.”

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She hit it hard on the side, and both balls came into baulk.

“Too good,” I said.

“Does either of us get anything for it?”

“No.” The red and the white were close together, and I went up the table and down again on the off-chance of a cannon. I misjudged it, however.

“That’s three to you,” I said stiffly, as I took my ball out of the right-hand bottom pocket. “Twenty-one to nothing.”

“Funny how I’m doing all the scoring,” said Celia meditatively. “And I’ve practically never played before. I shall hit the red hard now and see what happens to it.”

She hit, and the red coursed madly about the table, coming to rest near the top right-hand pocket and close to the cushion. With a forcing shot I could get in.

“This will want a lot of chalk,” I said pleasantly to Celia, and gave it plenty. Then I let fly….

“Why did that want a lot of chalk?” said Celia with interest.

I went to the fire-place and picked my ball out of the fender.

“That’s three to you,” I said coldly. “Twenty-four to nothing.”

“Am I winning?”

“You’re leading,” I explained. “Only, you see, I may make a twenty at any moment.”

“Oh!” She thought this over. “Well, I may make my three at any moment.”

She chalked her cue and went over to her ball.

“What shall I do?”

“Just touch the red on the right-hand side,” I said, “and you’ll go into the pocket.”

“The right-hand side? Do you mean my right-hand side, or the ball’s?”

“The right-hand side of the ball, of course; that is to say, the side opposite your right hand.”

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“But its right-hand side is opposite my left hand, if the ball is facing this way.”

“Take it,” I said wearily, “that the ball has its back to you.”

“How rude of it,” said Celia, and hit it on the left-hand side, and sank it. “Was that what you meant?”

“Well … it’s another way of doing it.”

“I thought it was. What do I give you for that?”

You get three.”

“Oh, I thought the other person always got the marks. I know the last three times—-“

“Go on,” I said freezingly. “You have another turn.”

“Oh, is it like rounders?”

“Something. Go on, there’s a dear. It’s getting late.”

She went, and left the red over the middle pocket.

“A-ha!” I said. I found a nice place in the “D” for my ball. “Now then. This is the Gray stroke, you know.”

I suppose I was nervous. Anyhow, I just nicked the red ball gently on the wrong side and left it hanging over the pocket. The white travelled slowly up the table.

“Why is that called the grey stroke?” asked Celia with great interest.

“Because once, when Sir Edward Grey was playing the German Ambassador–but it’s rather a long story. I’ll tell you another time.”

“Oh! Well, anyhow, did the German Ambassador get anything for it?”

“No.”

“Then I suppose I don’t. Bother.”

“But you’ve only got to knock the red in for game.”

“Oh!… There, what’s that?”

“That’s a miss-cue. I get one.”

“Oh!… Oh well,” she added magnanimously, “I’m glad you’ve started scoring. It will make it more interesting for you.”

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There was just room to creep in off the red, leaving it still over the pocket. With Celia’s ball nicely over the other pocket there was a chance of my twenty break. “Let’s see,” I said, “how many do I want?”

“Twenty-nine,” replied Celia.

“Ah,” I said … and I crept in.

“That’s three to you,” I said icily. “Game.”

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