Story type: Literature
Into the basking warmth of the day there had crept, with the approach of evening, that heartening crispness which heralds the advent of autumn. Already, in the valley by the ninth tee, some of the trees had begun to try on strange colours, in tentative experiment against the coming of nature’s annual fancy dress ball, when the soberest tree casts off its workaday suit of green and plunges into a riot of reds and yellows. On the terrace in front of the club-house an occasional withered leaf fluttered down on the table where the Oldest Member sat, sipping a thoughtful seltzer and lemon and listening with courteous gravity to a young man in a sweater and golf breeches who occupied the neighbouring chair.
“She is a dear girl,” said the young man a little moodily, “a dear girl in every respect. But somehow–I don’t know–when I see her playing golf I can’t help thinking that woman’s place is in the home.”
The Oldest Member inclined his frosted head.
“You think,” he said, “that lovely woman loses in queenly dignity when she fails to slam the ball squarely on the meat?”
“I don’t mind her missing the pill,” said the young man. “But I think her attitude toward the game is too light-hearted.”
“Perhaps it cloaks a deeper feeling. One of the noblest women I ever knew used to laugh merrily when she foozled a short putt. It was only later, when I learned that in the privacy of her home she would weep bitterly and bite holes in the sofa cushions, that I realized that she did but wear the mask. Continue to encourage your fiancee to play the game, my boy. Much happiness will reward you. I could tell you a story—-“
A young woman of singular beauty and rather statuesque appearance came out of the club-house carrying a baby swaddled in flannel. As she drew near the table she said to the baby:
“Chicketty wicketty wicketty wipsey pop!”
In other respects her intelligence appeared to be above the ordinary.
“Isn’t he a darling!” she said, addressing the Oldest Member.
The Sage cast a meditative eye upon the infant. Except to the eye of love, it looked like a skinned poached egg.
“Unquestionably so,” he replied.
“Don’t you think he looks more like his father every day?”
For a brief instant the Oldest Member seemed to hesitate.
“Assuredly!” he said. “Is your husband out on the links today?”
“Not today. He had to see Wilberforce off on the train to Scotland.”
“Your brother is going to Scotland?”
“Yes. Ramsden has such a high opinion of the schools up there. I did say that Scotland was a long way off, and he said yes, that had occurred to him, but that we must make sacrifices for Willie’s good. He was very brave and cheerful about it. Well, I mustn’t stay. There’s quite a nip in the air, and Rammikins will get a nasty cold in his precious little button of a nose if I don’t walk him about. Say ‘Bye-bye’ to the gentleman, Rammy!”
The Oldest Member watched her go thoughtfully.
“There is a nip in the air,” he said, “and, unlike our late acquaintance in the flannel, I am not in my first youth. Come with me, I want to show you something.”
He led the way into the club-house, and paused before the wall of the smoking-room. This was decorated from top to bottom with bold caricatures of members of the club.
“These,” he said, “are the work of a young newspaper artist who belongs here. A clever fellow. He has caught the expressions of these men wonderfully. His only failure, indeed, is that picture of myself.” He regarded it with distaste, and a touch of asperity crept into his manner. “I don’t know why the committee lets it stay there,” he said, irritably. “It isn’t a bit like.” He recovered himself. “But all the others are excellent, excellent, though I believe many of the subjects are under the erroneous impression that they bear no resemblance to the originals. Here is the picture I wished to show you. That is Ramsden Waters, the husband of the lady who has just left us.”
The portrait which he indicated was that of a man in the early thirties. Pale saffron hair surmounted a receding forehead. Pale blue eyes looked out over a mouth which wore a pale, weak smile, from the centre of which protruded two teeth of a rabbit-like character.
“Golly! What a map!” exclaimed the young man at his side.
“Precisely!” said the Oldest Member. “You now understand my momentary hesitation in agreeing with Mrs. Waters that the baby was like its father. I was torn by conflicting emotions. On the one hand, politeness demanded that I confirm any statement made by a lady. Common humanity, on the other hand, made it repugnant to me to knock an innocent child. Yes, that is Ramsden Waters. Sit down and take the weight off your feet, and I will tell you about him. The story illustrates a favourite theory of mine, that it is an excellent thing that women should be encouraged to take up golf. There are, I admit, certain drawbacks attendant on their presence on the links. I shall not readily forget the occasion on which a low, raking drive of mine at the eleventh struck the ladies’ tee box squarely and came back and stunned my caddie, causing me to lose stroke and distance. Nevertheless, I hold that the advantages outnumber the drawbacks. Golf humanizes women, humbles their haughty natures, tends, in short, to knock out of their systems a certain modicum of that superciliousness, that swank, which makes wooing a tough proposition for the diffident male. You may have found this yourself?”
“Well, as a matter of fact,” admitted the young man, “now I come to think of it I have noticed that Genevieve has shown me a bit more respect since she took up the game. When I drive 230 yards after she had taken six sloshes to cover fifty, I sometimes think that a new light comes into her eyes.”
“Exactly,” said the Sage.
* * * * *
From earliest youth (said the Oldest Member) Ramsden Waters had always been of a shrinking nature. He seemed permanently scared. Possibly his nurse had frightened him with tales of horror in his babyhood. If so, she must have been the Edgar Allan Poe of her sex, for, by the time he reached men’s estate, Ramsden Waters had about as much ferocity and self-assertion as a blanc mange. Even with other men he was noticeably timid, and with women he comported himself in a manner that roused their immediate scorn and antagonism. He was one of those men who fall over their feet and start apologizing for themselves the moment they see a woman. His idea of conversing with a girl was to perspire and tie himself into knots, making the while a strange gurgling sound like the language of some primitive tribe. If ever a remark of any coherence emerged from his tangled vocal cords it dealt with the weather, and he immediately apologized and qualified it. To such a man women are merciless, and it speedily became an article of faith with the feminine population of this locality that Ramsden Waters was an unfortunate incident and did not belong. Finally, after struggling for a time to keep up a connection in social circles, he gave it up and became a sort of hermit.
I think that caricature I just showed you weighed rather heavily on the poor fellow. Just as he was nerving himself to make another attempt to enter society, he would catch sight of it and say to himself, “What hope is there for a man with a face like that?” These caricaturists are too ready to wound people simply in order to raise a laugh. Personally I am broad-minded enough to smile at that portrait of myself. It has given me great enjoyment, though why the committee permits it to–But then, of course, it isn’t a bit like, whereas that of Ramsden Waters not only gave the man’s exact appearance, very little exaggerated, but laid bare his very soul. That portrait is the portrait of a chump, and such Ramsden Waters undeniably was.
By the end of the first year in the neighbourhood, Ramsden, as I say, had become practically a hermit. He lived all by himself in a house near the fifteenth green, seeing nobody, going nowhere. His only solace was golf. His late father had given him an excellent education, and, even as early as his seventeenth year, I believe, he was going round difficult courses in par. Yet even this admirable gift, which might have done him social service, was rendered negligible by the fact that he was too shy and shrinking to play often with other men. As a rule, he confined himself to golfing by himself in the mornings and late evenings when the links were more or less deserted. Yes, in his twenty-ninth year, Ramsden Waters had sunk to the depth of becoming a secret golfer.
One lovely morning in summer, a scented morning of green and blue and gold, when the birds sang in the trees and the air had that limpid clearness which makes the first hole look about 100 yards long instead of 345, Ramsden Waters, alone as ever, stood on the first tee addressing his ball. For a space he waggled masterfully, then, drawing his club back with a crisp swish, brought it down. And, as he did so, a voice behind him cried:
Ramsden’s driver wabbled at the last moment. The ball flopped weakly among the trees on the right of the course. Ramsden turned to perceive, standing close beside him, a small fat boy in a sailor suit. There was a pause.
“Rotten!” said the boy austerely.
Ramsden gulped. And then suddenly he saw that the boy was not alone. About a medium approach-putt distance, moving gracefully and languidly towards him, was a girl of such pronounced beauty that Ramsden Waters’s heart looped the loop twice in rapid succession. It was the first time that he had seen Eunice Bray, and, like most men who saw her for the first time, he experienced the sensations of one in an express lift at the tenth floor going down who has left the majority of his internal organs up on the twenty-second. He felt a dazed emptiness. The world swam before his eyes.
You yourself saw Eunice just now: and, though you are in a sense immune, being engaged to a charming girl of your own, I noticed that you unconsciously braced yourself up and tried to look twice as handsome as nature ever intended you to. You smirked and, if you had a moustache, you would have twiddled it. You can imagine, then, the effect which this vision of loveliness had on lonely, diffident Ramsden Waters. It got right in amongst him.
“I’m afraid my little brother spoiled your stroke,” said Eunice. She did not speak at all apologetically, but rather as a goddess might have spoken to a swineherd.
Ramsden yammered noiselessly. As always in the presence of the opposite sex, and more than ever now, his vocal cords appeared to have tied themselves in a knot which would have baffled a sailor and might have perplexed Houdini. He could not even gargle.
“He is very fond of watching golf,” said the girl.
She took the boy by the hand, and was about to lead him off, when Ramsden miraculously recovered speech.
“Would he like to come round with me?” he croaked. How he had managed to acquire the nerve to make the suggestion he could never understand. I suppose that in certain supreme moments a sort of desperate recklessness descends on nervous men.
“How very kind of you!” said the girl indifferently. “But I’m afraid—-“
“I want to go!” shrilled the boy. “I want to go!”
Fond as Eunice Bray was of her little brother, I imagine that the prospect of having him taken off her hands on a fine summer morning, when all nature urged her to sit in the shade on the terrace and read a book, was not unwelcome.
“It would be very kind of you if you would let him,” said Eunice. “He wasn’t able to go to the circus last week, and it was a great disappointment; this will do instead.”
She turned toward the terrace, and Ramsden, his head buzzing, tottered into the jungle to find his ball, followed by the boy.
I have never been able to extract full particulars of that morning’s round from Ramsden. If you speak of it to him, he will wince and change the subject. Yet he seems to have had the presence of mind to pump Wilberforce as to the details of his home life, and by the end of the round he had learned that Eunice and her brother had just come to visit an aunt who lived in the neighbourhood. Their house was not far from the links; Eunice was not engaged to be married; and the aunt made a hobby of collecting dry seaweed, which she pressed and pasted in an album. One sometimes thinks that aunts live entirely for pleasure.
At the end of the round Ramsden staggered on to the terrace, tripping over his feet, and handed Wilberforce back in good condition. Eunice, who had just reached the chapter where the hero decides to give up all for love, thanked him perfunctorily without looking up from her book; and so ended the first spasm of Ramsden Waters’s life romance.
* * * * *
There are few things more tragic than the desire of the moth for the star; and it is a curious fact that the spectacle of a star almost invariably fills the most sensible moth with thoughts above his station. No doubt, if Ramsden Waters had stuck around and waited long enough there might have come his way in the fullness of time some nice, homely girl with a squint and a good disposition who would have been about his form. In his modest day dreams he had aspired to nothing higher. But the sight of Eunice Bray seemed to have knocked all the sense out of the man. He must have known that he stood no chance of becoming anything to her other than a handy means of getting rid of little Wilberforce now and again. Why, the very instant that Eunice appeared in the place, every eligible bachelor for miles around her tossed his head with a loud, snorting sound, and galloped madly in her direction. Dashing young devils they were, handsome, well-knit fellows with the figures of Greek gods and the faces of movie heroes. Any one of them could have named his own price from the advertisers of collars. They were the sort of young men you see standing grandly beside the full-page picture of the seven-seater Magnifico car in the magazines. And it was against this field that Ramsden Waters, the man with the unshuffled face, dared to pit his feeble personality. One weeps.
Something of the magnitude of the task he had undertaken must have come home to Ramsden at a very early point in the proceedings. At Eunice’s home, at the hour when women receive callers, he was from the start a mere unconsidered unit in the mob scene. While his rivals clustered thickly about the girl, he was invariably somewhere on the outskirts listening limply to the aunt. I imagine that seldom has any young man had such golden opportunities of learning all about dried seaweed. Indeed, by the end of the month Ramsden Waters could not have known more about seaweed if he had been a deep sea fish. And yet he was not happy. He was in a position, if he had been at a dinner party and things had got a bit slow, to have held the table spellbound with the first hand information about dried seaweed, straight from the stable; yet nevertheless he chafed. His soul writhed and sickened within him. He lost weight and went right off his approach shots. I confess that my heart bled for the man.
His only consolation was that nobody else, not even the fellows who worked their way right through the jam and got seats in the front row where they could glare into her eyes and hang on her lips and all that sort of thing, seemed to be making any better progress.
And so matters went on till one day Eunice decided to take up golf. Her motive for doing this was, I believe, simply because Kitty Manders, who had won a small silver cup at a monthly handicap, receiving thirty-six, was always dragging the conversation round to this trophy, and if there was one firm article in Eunice Bray’s simple creed it was that she would be hanged if she let Kitty, who was by way of being a rival on a small scale, put anything over on her. I do not defend Eunice, but women are women, and I doubt if any of them really take up golf in that holy, quest-of-the-grail spirit which animates men. I have known girls to become golfers as an excuse for wearing pink jumpers, and one at least who did it because she had read in the beauty hints in the evening paper that it made you lissome. Girls will be girls.
Her first lessons Eunice received from the professional, but after that she saved money by distributing herself among her hordes of admirers, who were only too willing to give up good matches to devote themselves to her tuition. By degrees she acquired a fair skill and a confidence in her game which was not altogether borne out by results. From Ramsden Waters she did not demand a lesson. For one thing it never occurred to her that so poor-spirited a man could be of any use at the game, and for another Ramsden was always busy tooling round with little Wilberforce.
Yet it was with Ramsden that she was paired in the first competition for which she entered, the annual mixed foursomes. And it was on the same evening that the list of the draw went up on the notice board that Ramsden proposed.
The mind of a man in love works in strange ways. To you and to me there would seem to be no reason why the fact that Eunice’s name and his own had been drawn out of a hat together should so impress Ramsden, but he looked on it as an act of God. It seemed to him to draw them close together, to set up a sort of spiritual affinity. In a word, it acted on the poor fellow like a tonic, and that very night he went around to her house, and having, after a long and extremely interesting conversation with her aunt, contrived to get her alone, coughed eleven times in a strangled sort of way, and suggested that the wedding bells should ring out.
Eunice was more startled than angry.
“Of course, I’m tremendously complimented, Mr.—-” She had to pause to recall the name. “Mr.—-“
“Waters,” said Ramsden, humbly.
“Of course, yes. Mr. Waters. As I say, it’s a great compliment—-“
“Not at all!”
“A great compliment—-“
“No, no!” murmured Ramsden obsequiously.
“I wish you wouldn’t interrupt!” snapped Eunice with irritation. No girl likes to have to keep going back and trying over her speeches. “It’s a great compliment, but it is quite impossible.”
“Just as you say, of course,” agreed Ramsden.
“What,” demanded Eunice, “have you to offer me? I don’t mean money. I mean something more spiritual. What is there in you, Mr. Walter—-“
“Mr. Waters. What is there in you that would repay a girl for giving up the priceless boon of freedom?”
“I know a lot about dried seaweed,” suggested Ramsden hopefully.
Eunice shook her head.
“No,” she said, “it is quite impossible. You have paid me the greatest compliment a man can pay a woman, Mr. Waterson—-“
“Waters,” said Ramsden. “I’ll write it down for you.”
“Please don’t trouble. I am afraid we shall never meet again—-“
“But we are partners in the mixed foursomes tomorrow.”
“Oh, yes, so we are!” said Eunice. “Well, mind you play up. I want to win a cup more than anything on earth.”
“Ah!” said Ramsden, “if only I could win what I want to win more than anything else on earth! You, I mean,” he added, to make his meaning clear. “If I could win you—-” His tongue tied itself in a bow knot round his uvula, and he could say no more. He moved slowly to the door, paused with his fingers on the handle for one last look over his shoulder, and walked silently into the cupboard where Eunice’s aunt kept her collection of dried seaweed.
His second start was favoured with greater luck, and he found himself out in the hall, and presently in the cool air of the night, with the stars shining down on him. Had those silent stars ever shone down on a more broken-hearted man? Had the cool air of the night ever fanned a more fevered brow? Ah, yes! Or, rather, ah no!
There was not a very large entry for the mixed foursomes competition. In my experience there seldom is. Men are as a rule idealists, and wish to keep their illusions regarding women intact, and it is difficult for the most broad-minded man to preserve a chivalrous veneration for the sex after a woman has repeatedly sliced into the rough and left him a difficult recovery. Women, too–I am not speaking of the occasional champions, but of the average woman, the one with the handicap of 33, who plays in high-heeled shoes–are apt to giggle when they foozle out of a perfect lie, and this makes for misogyny. Only eight couples assembled on the tenth tee (where our foursomes matches start) on the morning after Ramsden Waters had proposed to Eunice. Six of these were negligible, consisting of males of average skill and young women who played golf because it kept them out in the fresh air. Looking over the field, Ramsden felt that the only serious rivalry was to be feared from Marcella Bingley and her colleague, a 16-handicap youth named George Perkins, with whom they were paired for the opening round. George was a pretty indifferent performer, but Marcella, a weather-beaten female with bobbed hair and the wrists of a welterweight pugilist, had once appeared in the women’s open championship and swung a nasty iron.
Ramsden watched her drive a nice, clean shot down the middle of the fairway, and spoke earnestly to Eunice. His heart was in this competition, for, though the first prize in the mixed foursomes does not perhaps entitle the winners to a place in the hall of fame, Ramsden had the soul of the true golfer. And the true golfer wants to win whenever he starts, whether he is playing in a friendly round or in the open championship.
“What we’ve got to do is to play steadily,” he said. “Don’t try any fancy shots. Go for safety. Miss Bingley is a tough proposition, but George Perkins is sure to foozle a few, and if we play safe we’ve got ’em cold. The others don’t count.”
You notice something odd about this speech. Something in it strikes you as curious. Precisely. It affected Eunice Bray in the same fashion. In the first place, it contains forty-four words, some of them of two syllables, others of even greater length. In the second place, it was spoken crisply, almost commandingly, without any of that hesitation and stammering which usually characterized Ramsden Waters’s utterances. Eunice was puzzled. She was also faintly resentful. True, there was not a word in what he had said that was calculated to bring the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty; nevertheless, she felt vaguely that Ramsden Waters had exceeded the limits. She had been prepared for a gurgling Ramsden Waters, a Ramsden Waters who fell over his large feet and perspired; but here was a Ramsden Waters who addressed her not merely as an equal, but with more than a touch of superiority. She eyed him coldly, but he had turned to speak to little Wilberforce, who was to accompany them on the round.
“And you, my lad,” said Ramsden curtly, “you kindly remember that this is a competition, and keep your merry flow of conversation as much as possible to yourself. You’ve got a bad habit of breaking into small talk when a man’s addressing the ball.”
“If you think that my brother will be in the way—-” began Eunice coldly.
“Oh, I don’t mind him coming round,” said Ramsden, “if he keeps quiet.”
Eunice gasped. She had not played enough golf to understand how that noblest of games changes a man’s whole nature when on the links. She was thinking of something crushing to say to him, when he advanced to the tee to drive off.
He drove a perfect ball, hard and low with a lot of roll. Even Eunice was impressed.
“Good shot, partner!” she said.
Ramsden was apparently unaware that she had spoken. He was gazing down the fairway with his club over his left shoulder in an attitude almost identical with that of Sandy McBean in the plate labelled “The Drive–Correct Finish”, to face page twenty-four of his monumental work, “How to Become a Scratch Player Your First Season by Studying Photographs”. Eunice bit her lip. She was piqued. She felt as if she had patted the head of a pet lamb, and the lamb had turned and bitten her in the finger.
“I said, ‘Good shot, partner!’” she repeated coldly.
“Yes,” said Ramsden, “but don’t talk. It prevents one concentrating.” He turned to Wilberforce. “And don’t let me have to tell you that again!” he said.
“Wilberforce has been like a mouse!”
“That is what I complain of,” said Ramsden. “Mice make a beastly scratching sound, and that’s what he was doing when I drove that ball.”
“He was only playing with the sand in the tee box.”
“Well, if he does it again, I shall be reluctantly compelled to take steps.”
They walked in silence to where the ball had stopped. It was nicely perched up on the grass, and to have plunked it on to the green with an iron should have been for any reasonable golfer the work of a moment. Eunice, however, only succeeded in slicing it feebly into the rough.
Ramsden reached for his niblick and plunged into the bushes. And, presently, as if it had been shot up by some convulsion of nature, the ball, accompanied on the early stages of its journey by about a pound of mixed mud, grass, and pebbles, soared through the air and fell on the green. But the mischief had been done. Miss Bingley, putting forcefully, put the opposition ball down for a four and won the hole.
Eunice now began to play better, and, as Ramsden was on the top of his game, a ding-dong race ensued for the remainder of the first nine holes. The Bingley-Perkins combination, owing to some inspired work by the female of the species, managed to keep their lead up to the tricky ravine hole, but there George Perkins, as might have been expected of him, deposited the ball right in among the rocks, and Ramsden and Eunice drew level. The next four holes were halved and they reached the club-house with no advantage to either side. Here there was a pause while Miss Bingley went to the professional’s shop to have a tack put into the leather of her mashie, which had worked loose. George Perkins and little Wilberforce, who believed in keeping up their strength, melted silently away in the direction of the refreshment bar, and Ramsden and Eunice were alone.
* * * * *
The pique which Eunice had felt at the beginning of the game had vanished by now. She was feeling extremely pleased with her performance on the last few holes, and would have been glad to go into the matter fully. Also, she was conscious of a feeling not perhaps of respect so much as condescending tolerance towards Ramsden. He might be a pretty minus quantity in a drawing-room or at a dance, but in a bunker or out in the open with a cleek, Eunice felt, you’d be surprised. She was just about to address him in a spirit of kindliness, when he spoke.
“Better keep your brassey in the bag on the next nine,” he said. “Stick to the iron. The great thing is to keep ’em straight!”
Eunice gasped. Indeed, had she been of a less remarkable beauty one would have said that she snorted. The sky turned black, and all her amiability was swept away in a flood of fury. The blood left her face and surged back in a rush of crimson. You are engaged to be married and I take it that there exists between you and your fiancee the utmost love and trust and understanding; but would you have the nerve, could you summon up the cold, callous gall to tell your Genevieve that she wasn’t capable of using her wooden clubs? I think not. Yet this was what Ramsden Waters had told Eunice, and the delicately nurtured girl staggered before the coarse insult. Her refined, sensitive nature was all churned up.
Ever since she had made her first drive at golf, she had prided herself on her use of the wood. Her brother and her brassey were the only things she loved. And here was this man deliberately…. Eunice choked.
Before they could have further speech George Perkins and little Wilberforce ambled in a bloated way out of the clubhouse.
“I’ve had three ginger ales,” observed the boy. “Where do we go from here?”
“Our honour,” said Ramsden. “Shoot!”
Eunice took out her driver without a word. Her little figure was tense with emotion. She swung vigorously, and pulled the ball far out on to the fairway of the ninth hole.
“Even off the tee,” said Ramsden, “you had better use an iron. You must keep ’em straight.”
Their eyes met. Hers were glittering with the fury of a woman scorned. His were cold and hard. And, suddenly, as she looked at his awful, pale, set golf face, something seemed to snap in Eunice. A strange sensation of weakness and humility swept over her. So might the cave woman have felt when, with her back against a cliff and unable to dodge, she watched her suitor take his club in the interlocking grip, and, after a preliminary waggle, start his back swing.
The fact was that, all her life, Eunice had been accustomed to the homage of men. From the time she had put her hair up every man she had met had grovelled before her, and she had acquired a mental attitude toward the other sex which was a blend of indifference and contempt. For the cringing specimens who curled up and died all over the hearthrug if she spoke a cold word to them she had nothing but scorn. She dreamed wistfully of those brusque cavemen of whom she read in the novels which she took out of the village circulating library. The female novelist who was at that time her favourite always supplied with each chunk of wholesome and invigorating fiction one beetle-browed hero with a grouch and a scowl, who rode wild horses over the countryside till they foamed at the mouth, and treated women like dirt. That, Eunice had thought yearningly, as she talked to youths whose spines turned to gelatine at one glance from her bright eyes, was the sort of man she wanted to meet and never seemed to come across.
Of all the men whose acquaintance she had made recently she had despised Ramsden Waters most. Where others had grovelled he had tied himself into knots. Where others had gazed at her like sheep he had goggled at her like a kicked spaniel. She had only permitted him to hang round because he seemed so fond of little Wilberforce. And here he was, ordering her about and piercing her with gimlet eyes, for all the world as if he were Claude Delamere, in the thirty-second chapter of “The Man of Chilled Steel”, the one where Claude drags Lady Matilda around the smoking-room by her hair because she gave the rose from her bouquet to the Italian count.
She was half-cowed, half-resentful.
“Mr Winklethorpe told me I was very good with the wooden clubs,” she said defiantly.
“He’s a great kidder,” said Ramsden.
He went down the hill to where his ball lay. Eunice proceeded direct for the green. Much as she told herself that she hated this man, she never questioned his ability to get there with his next shot.
George Perkins, who had long since forfeited any confidence which his partner might have reposed in him, had topped his drive, leaving Miss Bingley a difficult second out of a sandy ditch. The hole was halved.
The match went on. Ramsden won the short hole, laying his ball dead with a perfect iron shot, but at the next, the long dog-leg hole, Miss Bingley regained the honour. They came to the last all square.
As the match had started on the tenth tee, the last hole to be negotiated was, of course, what in the ordinary run of human affairs is the ninth, possibly the trickiest on the course. As you know, it is necessary to carry with one’s initial wallop that combination of stream and lake into which so many well meant drives have flopped. This done, the player proceeds up the face of a steep slope, to find himself ultimately on a green which looks like the sea in the storm scene of a melodrama. It heaves and undulates, and is altogether a nasty thing to have happen to one at the end of a gruelling match. But it is the first shot, the drive, which is the real test, for the water and the trees form a mental hazard of unquestionable toughness.
George Perkins, as he addressed his ball for the vital stroke, manifestly wabbled. He was scared to the depths of his craven soul. He tried to pray, but all he could remember was the hymn for those in peril on the deep, into which category, he feared, his ball would shortly fall. Breathing a few bars of this, he swung. There was a musical click, and the ball, singing over the water like a bird, breasted the hill like a homing aeroplane and fell in the centre of the fairway within easy distance of the plateau green.
“Nice work, partner,” said Miss Bingley, speaking for the first and last time in the course of the proceedings.
George unravelled himself with a modest simper. He felt like a gambler who has placed his all on a number at roulette and sees the white ball tumble into the correct compartment.
Eunice moved to the tee. In the course of the last eight holes the girl’s haughty soul had been rudely harrowed. She had foozled two drives and three approach shots and had missed a short putt on the last green but three. She had that consciousness of sin which afflicts the golfer off his game, that curious self-loathing which humbles the proudest. Her knees felt weak and all nature seemed to bellow at her that this was where she was going to blow up with a loud report.
Even as her driver rose above her shoulder she was acutely aware that she was making eighteen out of the twenty-three errors which complicate the drive at golf. She knew that her head had swayed like some beautiful flower in a stiff breeze. The heel of her left foot was pointing down the course. Her grip had shifted, and her wrists felt like sticks of boiled asparagus. As the club began to descend she perceived that she had underestimated the total of her errors. And when the ball, badly topped, bounded down the slope and entered the muddy water like a timid diver on a cold morning she realized that she had a full hand. There are twenty-three things which it is possible to do wrong in the drive, and she had done them all.
Silently Ramsden Waters made a tee and placed thereon a new ball. He was a golfer who rarely despaired, but he was playing three, and his opponents’ ball would undoubtedly be on the green, possibly even dead, in two. Nevertheless, perhaps, by a supreme drive, and one or two miracles later on, the game might be saved. He concentrated his whole soul on the ball.
I need scarcely tell you that Ramsden Waters pressed….
Swish came the driver. The ball, fanned by the wind, rocked a little on the tee, then settled down in its original position. Ramsden Waters, usually the most careful of players, had missed the globe.
For a moment there was a silence–a silence which Ramsden had to strive with an effort almost physically painful not to break. Rich oaths surged to his lips, and blistering maledictions crashed against the back of his clenched teeth.
The silence was broken by little Wilberforce.
One can only gather that there lurks in the supposedly innocuous amber of ginger ale an elevating something which the temperance reformers have overlooked. Wilberforce Bray had, if you remember, tucked away no fewer than three in the spot where they would do most good. One presumes that the child, with all that stuff surging about inside him, had become thoroughly above himself. He uttered a merry laugh.
“Never hit it!” said little Wilberforce.
He was kneeling beside the tee box as he spoke, and now, as one who has seen all that there is to be seen and turns, sated, to other amusements, he moved round and began to play with the sand. The spectacle of his alluring trouser seat was one which a stronger man would have found it hard to resist. To Ramsden Waters it had the aspect of a formal invitation. For one moment his number II golf shoe, as supplied to all the leading professionals, wavered in mid-air, then crashed home.
“How dare you kick my brother!”
Ramsden faced her, stern and pale.
“Madam,” he said, “in similar circumstances I would have kicked the Archangel Gabriel!”
Then, stooping to his ball, he picked it up.
“The match is yours,” he said to Miss Bingley, who, having paid no attention at all to the drama which had just concluded, was practising short chip shots with her mashie-niblick.
He bowed coldly to Eunice, cast one look of sombre satisfaction at little Wilberforce, who was painfully extricating himself from a bed of nettles into which he had rolled, and strode off. He crossed the bridge over the water and stalked up the hill.
Eunice watched him go, spellbound. Her momentary spurt of wrath at the kicking of her brother had died away, and she wished she had thought of doing it herself.
How splendid he looked, she felt, as she watched Ramsden striding up to the club-house–just like Carruthers Mordyke after he had flung Ermyntrude Vanstone from him in chapter forty-one of “Gray Eyes That Gleam”. Her whole soul went out to him. This was the sort of man she wanted as a partner in life. How grandly he would teach her to play golf. It had sickened her when her former instructors, prefacing their criticism with glutinous praise, had mildly suggested that some people found it a good thing to keep the head still when driving and that though her methods were splendid it might be worth trying. They had spoken of her keeping her eye on the ball as if she were doing the ball a favour. What she wanted was a great, strong, rough brute of a fellow who would tell her not to move her damned head; a rugged Viking of a chap who, if she did not keep her eye on the ball, would black it for her. And Ramsden Waters was such a one. He might not look like a Viking, but after all it is the soul that counts and, as this afternoon’s experience had taught her, Ramsden Waters had a soul that seemed to combine in equal proportions the outstanding characteristics of Nero, a wildcat, and the second mate of a tramp steamer.
* * * * *
That night Ramsden Walters sat in his study, a prey to the gloomiest emotions. The gold had died out of him by now, and he was reproaching himself bitterly for having ruined for ever his chance of winning the only girl he had ever loved. How could she forgive him for his brutality? How could she overlook treatment which would have caused comment in the stokehold of a cattle ship? He groaned and tried to forget his sorrows by forcing himself to read.
But the choicest thoughts of the greatest writers had no power to grip him. He tried Vardon “On the Swing”, and the words swam before his eyes. He turned to Taylor “On the Chip Shot”, and the master’s pure style seemed laboured and involved. He found solace neither in Braid “On the Pivot” nor in Duncan “On the Divot”. He was just about to give it up and go to bed though it was only nine o’clock, when the telephone bell rang.
“Is that you, Mr. Waters? This is Eunice Bray.” The receiver shook in Ramsden’s hand. “I’ve just remembered. Weren’t we talking about something last night? Didn’t you ask me to marry you or something? I know it was something.”
Ramsden gulped three times.
“I did,” he replied hollowly.
“We didn’t settle anything, did we?”
“I say, we sort of left it kind of open.”
“Well, would it bore you awfully,” said Eunice’s soft voice, “to come round now and go on talking it over?”
“We shall be quite alone,” said Eunice. “Little Wilberforce has gone to bed with a headache.”
Ramsden paused a moment to disentangle his tongue from the back of his neck.
“I’ll be right over!” he said huskily.