It was the holiday season, and during the holidays the Greens Committees have decided that the payment of twenty guineas shall entitle fathers of families not only to infest the course themselves, but also to decant their nearest and dearest upon it in whatever quantity they please. All over the links, in consequence, happy, laughing groups of children had broken out like a rash. A wan-faced adult, who had been held up for ten minutes while a drove of issue quarrelled over whether little Claude had taken two hundred or two hundred and twenty approach shots to reach the ninth green sank into a seat beside the Oldest Member.
"What luck?" inquired the Sage.
"None to speak of," returned the other, moodily. "I thought I had bagged a small boy in a Lord Fauntleroy suit on the sixth, but he ducked. These children make me tired. They should be bowling their hoops in the road. Golf is a game for grownups. How can a fellow play, with a platoon of progeny blocking him at every hole?"
The Oldest Member shook his head. He could not subscribe to these sentiments.
No doubt (said the Oldest Member) the summer golf-child is, from the point of view of the player who likes to get round the course in a single afternoon, something of a trial; but, personally, I confess, it pleases me to see my fellow human beings--and into this category golf-children, though at the moment you may not be broad-minded enough to admit it, undoubtedly fall--taking to the noblest of games at an early age. Golf, like measles, should be caught young, for, if postponed to riper years, the results may be serious. Let me tell you the story of Mortimer Sturgis, which illustrates what I mean rather aptly.
Mortimer Sturgis, when I first knew him, was a care-free man of thirty-eight, of amiable character and independent means, which he increased from time to time by judicious ventures on the Stock Exchange. Although he had never played golf, his had not been altogether an ill-spent life. He swung a creditable racket at tennis, was always ready to contribute a baritone solo to charity concerts, and gave freely to the poor. He was what you might call a golden-mean man, good-hearted rather than magnetic, with no serious vices and no heroic virtues. For a hobby, he had taken up the collecting of porcelain vases, and he was engaged to Betty Weston, a charming girl of twenty-five, a lifelong friend of mine.
I like Mortimer. Everybody liked him. But, at the same time, I was a little surprised that a girl like Betty should have become engaged to him. As I said before, he was not magnetic; and magnetism, I thought, was the chief quality she would have demanded in a man. Betty was one of those ardent, vivid girls, with an intense capacity for hero-worship, and I would have supposed that something more in the nature of a plumed knight or a corsair of the deep would have been her ideal. But, of course, if there is a branch of modern industry where the demand is greater than the supply, it is the manufacture of knights and corsairs; and nowadays a girl, however flaming her aspirations, has to take the best she can get. I must admit that Betty seemed perfectly content with Mortimer.
Such, then, was the state of affairs when Eddie Denton arrived, and the trouble began.
I was escorting Betty home one evening after a tea-party at which we had been fellow-guests, when, walking down the road, we happened to espy Mortimer. He broke into a run when he saw us, and galloped up, waving a piece of paper in his hand. He was plainly excited, a thing which was unusual in this well-balanced man. His broad, good-humoured face was working violently.
"Good news!" he cried. "Good news! Dear old Eddie's back!"
"Oh, how nice for you, dear!" said Betty. "Eddie Denton is Mortimer's best friend," she explained to me. "He has told me so much about him. I have been looking forward to his coming home. Mortie thinks the world of him."
"So will you, when you know him," cried Mortimer. "Dear old Eddie! He's a wonder! The best fellow on earth! We were at school and the 'Varsity together. There's nobody like Eddie! He landed yesterday. Just home from Central Africa. He's an explorer, you know," he said to me. "Spends all his time in places where it's death for a white man to go."
"An explorer!" I heard Betty breathe, as if to herself. I was not so impressed, I fear, as she was. Explorers, as a matter of fact, leave me a trifle cold. It has always seemed to me that the difficulties of their life are greatly exaggerated--generally by themselves. In a large country like Africa, for instance, I should imagine that it was almost impossible for a man not to get somewhere if he goes on long enough. Give me the fellow who can plunge into the bowels of the earth at Piccadilly Circus and find the right Tube train with nothing but a lot of misleading signs to guide him. However, we are not all constituted alike in this world, and it was apparent from the flush on her cheek and the light in her eyes that Betty admired explorers.
"I wired to him at once," went on Mortimer, "and insisted on his coming down here. It's two years since I saw him. You don't know how I have looked forward, dear, to you and Eddie meeting. He is just your sort. I know how romantic you are and keen on adventure and all that. Well, you should hear Eddie tell the story of how he brought down the bull bongo with his last cartridge after all the pongos, or native bearers, had fled into the dongo, or undergrowth."
"I should love to!" whispered Betty, her eyes glowing. I suppose to an impressionable girl these things really are of absorbing interest. For myself, bongos intrigue me even less than pongos, while dongos frankly bore me. "When do you expect him?"
"He will get my wire tonight. I'm hoping we shall see the dear old fellow tomorrow afternoon some time. How surprised old Eddie will be to hear that I'm engaged. He's such a confirmed bachelor himself. He told me once that he considered the wisest thing ever said by human tongue was the Swahili proverb--'Whoso taketh a woman into his kraal depositeth himself straightway in the wongo.' Wongo, he tells me, is a sort of broth composed of herbs and meat-bones, corresponding to our soup. You must get Eddie to give it you in the original Swahili. It sounds even better."
I saw the girl's eyes flash, and there came into her face that peculiar set expression which married men know. It passed in an instant, but not before it had given me material for thought which lasted me all the way to my house and into the silent watches of the night. I was fond of Mortimer Sturgis, and I could see trouble ahead for him as plainly as though I had been a palmist reading his hand at two guineas a visit. There are other proverbs fully as wise as the one which Mortimer had translated from the Swahili, and one of the wisest is that quaint old East London saying, handed down from one generation of costermongers to another, and whispered at midnight in the wigwams of the whelk-seller! "Never introduce your donah to a pal." In those seven words is contained the wisdom of the ages. I could read the future so plainly. What but one thing could happen after Mortimer had influenced Betty's imagination with his stories of his friend's romantic career, and added the finishing touch by advertising him as a woman-hater? He might just as well have asked for his ring back at once. My heart bled for Mortimer.
* * * * * * *
I happened to call at his house on the second evening of the explorer's visit, and already the mischief had been done.
Denton was one of those lean, hard-bitten men with smouldering eyes and a brick-red complexion. He looked what he was, the man of action and enterprise. He had the wiry frame and strong jaw without which no explorer is complete, and Mortimer, beside him, seemed but a poor, soft product of our hot-house civilization. Mortimer, I forgot to say, wore glasses; and, if there is one time more than another when a man should not wear glasses, it is while a strong-faced, keen-eyed wanderer in the wilds is telling a beautiful girl the story of his adventures.
For this was what Denton was doing. My arrival seemed to have interrupted him in the middle of narrative. He shook my hand in a strong, silent sort of way, and resumed:
"Well, the natives seemed fairly friendly, so I decided to stay the night."
I made a mental note never to seem fairly friendly to an explorer. If you do, he always decides to stay the night.
"In the morning they took me down to the river. At this point it widens into a kongo, or pool, and it was here, they told me, that the crocodile mostly lived, subsisting on the native oxen--the short-horned jongos--which, swept away by the current while crossing the ford above, were carried down on the longos, or rapids. It was not, however, till the second evening that I managed to catch sight of his ugly snout above the surface. I waited around, and on the third day I saw him suddenly come out of the water and heave his whole length on to a sandbank in mid-stream and go to sleep in the sun. He was certainly a monster--fully thirty--you have never been in Central Africa, have you, Miss Weston? No? You ought to go there!--fully fifty feet from tip to tail. There he lay, glistening. I shall never forget the sight."
He broke off to light a cigarette. I heard Betty draw in her breath sharply. Mortimer was beaming through his glasses with the air of the owner of a dog which is astonishing a drawing-room with its clever tricks.
"And what did you do then, Mr. Denton?" asked Betty, breathlessly.
"Yes, what did you do then, old chap?" said Mortimer.
Denton blew out the match and dropped it on the ash-tray.
"Eh? Oh," he said, carelessly, "I swam across and shot him."
"Swam across and shot him!"
"Yes. It seemed to me that the chance was too good to be missed. Of course, I might have had a pot at him from the bank, but the chances were I wouldn't have hit him in a vital place. So I swam across to the sandbank, put the muzzle of my gun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. I have rarely seen a crocodile so taken aback."
"But how dreadfully dangerous!"
"Oh, danger!" Eddie Denton laughed lightly. "One drops into the habit of taking a few risks out there, you know. Talking of danger, the time when things really did look a little nasty was when the wounded gongo cornered me in a narrow tongo and I only had a pocket-knife with everything in it broken except the corkscrew and the thing for taking stones out of horses' hoofs. It was like this----"
I could bear no more. I am a tender-hearted man, and I made some excuse and got away. From the expression on the girl's face I could see that it was only a question of days before she gave her heart to this romantic newcomer.
* * * * * * *
As a matter of fact, it was on the following afternoon that she called on me and told me that the worst had happened. I had known her from a child, you understand, and she always confided her troubles to me.
"I want your advice," she began. "I'm so wretched!"
She burst into tears. I could see the poor girl was in a highly nervous condition, so I did my best to calm her by describing how I had once done the long hole in four. My friends tell me that there is no finer soporific, and it seemed as though they may be right, for presently, just as I had reached the point where I laid my approach-putt dead from a distance of fifteen feet, she became quieter. She dried her eyes, yawned once or twice, and looked at me bravely.
"I love Eddie Denton!" she said.
"I feared as much. When did you feel this coming on?"
"It crashed on me like a thunderbolt last night after dinner. We were walking in the garden, and he was just telling me how he had been bitten by a poisonous zongo, when I seemed to go all giddy. When I came to myself I was in Eddie's arms. His face was pressed against mine, and he was gargling."
"I thought so at first. But he reassured me. He was merely speaking in one of the lesser-known dialects of the Walla-Walla natives of Eastern Uganda, into which he always drops in moments of great emotion. He soon recovered sufficiently to give me a rough translation, and then I knew that he loved me. He kissed me. I kissed him. We kissed each other."
"And where was Mortimer all this while?"
"Indoors, cataloguing his collection of vases."
For a moment, I confess, I was inclined to abandon Mortimer's cause. A man, I felt, who could stay indoors cataloguing vases while his fiancee wandered in the moonlight with explorers deserved all that was coming to him. I overcame the feeling.
"Have you told him?"
"Of course not."
"You don't think it might be of interest to him?"
"How can I tell him? It would break his heart. I am awfully fond of Mortimer. So is Eddie. We would both die rather than do anything to hurt him. Eddie is the soul of honour. He agrees with me that Mortimer must never know."
"Then you aren't going to break off your engagement?"
"I couldn't. Eddie feels the same. He says that, unless something can be done, he will say good-bye to me and creep far, far away to some distant desert, and there, in the great stillness, broken only by the cry of the prowling yongo, try to forget."
"When you say 'unless something can be done,' what do you mean? What can be done?"
"I thought you might have something to suggest. Don't you think it possible that somehow Mortimer might take it into his head to break the engagement himself?"
"Absurd! He loves you devotedly."
"I'm afraid so. Only the other day I dropped one of his best vases, and he just smiled and said it didn't matter."
"I can give you even better proof than that. This morning Mortimer came to me and asked me to give him secret lessons in golf."
"Golf! But he despises golf."
"Exactly. But he is going to learn it for your sake."
"But why secret lessons?"
"Because he wants to keep it a surprise for your birthday. Now can you doubt his love?"
"I am not worthy of him!" she whispered.
The words gave me an idea.
"Suppose," I said, "we could convince Mortimer of that!"
"I don't understand."
"Suppose, for instance, he could be made to believe that you were, let us say, a dipsomaniac."
She shook her head. "He knows that already."
"Yes; I told him I sometimes walked in my sleep."
"I mean a secret drinker."
"Nothing will induce me to pretend to be a secret drinker."
"Then a drug-fiend?" I suggested, hopefully.
"I hate medicine."
"I have it!" I said. "A kleptomaniac."
"What is that?"
"A person who steals things."
"Oh, that's horrid."
"Not at all. It's a perfectly ladylike thing to do. You don't know you do it."
"But, if I don't know I do it, how do I know I do it?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I mean, how can I tell Mortimer I do it if I don't know?"
"You don't tell him. I will tell him. I will inform him tomorrow that you called on me this afternoon and stole my watch and"--I glanced about the room--"my silver matchbox."
"I'd rather have that little vinaigrette."
"You don't get either. I merely say you stole it. What will happen?"
"Mortimer will hit you with a cleek."
"Not at all. I am an old man. My white hairs protect me. What he will do is to insist on confronting me with you and asking you to deny the foul charge."
"Then you admit it and release him from his engagement."
She sat for a while in silence. I could see that my words had made an impression.
"I think it's a splendid idea. Thank you very much." She rose and moved to the door. "I knew you would suggest something wonderful." She hesitated. "You don't think it would make it sound more plausible if I really took the vinaigrette?" she added, a little wistfully.
"It would spoil everything," I replied, firmly, as I reached for the vinaigrette and locked it carefully in my desk.
She was silent for a moment, and her glance fell on the carpet. That, however, did not worry me. It was nailed down.
"Well, good-bye," she said.
"Au revoir," I replied. "I am meeting Mortimer at six-thirty tomorrow. You may expect us round at your house at about eight."
* * * * * * *
Mortimer was punctual at the tryst next morning. When I reached the tenth tee he was already there. We exchanged a brief greeting and I handed him a driver, outlined the essentials of grip and swing, and bade him go to it.
"It seems a simple game," he said, as he took his stance. "You're sure it's fair to have the ball sitting up on top of a young sand-hill like this?"
"I mean, I don't want to be coddled because I'm a beginner."
"The ball is always teed up for the drive," I assured him.
"Oh, well, if you say so. But it seems to me to take all the element of sport out of the game. Where do I hit it?"
"Oh, straight ahead."
"But isn't it dangerous? I mean, suppose I smash a window in that house over there?"
He indicated a charming bijou residence some five hundred yards down the fairway.
"In that case," I replied, "the owner comes out in his pyjamas and offers you the choice between some nuts and a cigar."
He seemed reassured, and began to address the ball. Then he paused again.
"Isn't there something you say before you start?" he asked. "'Five', or something?"
"You may say 'Fore!' if it makes you feel any easier. But it isn't necessary."
"If I am going to learn this silly game," said Mortimer, firmly, "I am going to learn it right. Fore!"
I watched him curiously. I never put a club into the hand of a beginner without something of the feeling of the sculptor who surveys a mass of shapeless clay. I experience the emotions of a creator. Here, I say to myself, is a semi-sentient being into whose soulless carcass I am breathing life. A moment before, he was, though technically living, a mere clod. A moment hence he will be a golfer.
While I was still occupied with these meditations Mortimer swung at the ball. The club, whizzing down, brushed the surface of the rubber sphere, toppling it off the tee and propelling it six inches with a slight slice on it.
"Damnation!" said Mortimer, unravelling himself.
I nodded approvingly. His drive had not been anything to write to the golfing journals about, but he was picking up the technique of the game.
"What happened then?"
I told him in a word.
"Your stance was wrong, and your grip was wrong, and you moved your head, and swayed your body, and took your eye off the ball, and pressed, and forgot to use your wrists, and swung back too fast, and let the hands get ahead of the club, and lost your balance, and omitted to pivot on the ball of the left foot, and bent your right knee."
He was silent for a moment.
"There is more in this pastime," he said, "than the casual observer would suspect."
I have noticed, and I suppose other people have noticed, that in the golf education of every man there is a definite point at which he may be said to have crossed the dividing line--the Rubicon, as it were--that separates the golfer from the non-golfer. This moment comes immediately after his first good drive. In the ninety minutes in which I instructed Mortimer Sturgis that morning in the rudiments of the game, he made every variety of drive known to science; but it was not till we were about to leave that he made a good one.
A moment before he had surveyed his blistered hands with sombre disgust.
"It's no good," he said. "I shall never learn this beast of a game. And I don't want to either. It's only fit for lunatics. Where's the sense in it? Hitting a rotten little ball with a stick! If I want exercise, I'll take a stick and go and rattle it along the railings. There's something in that! Well, let's be getting along. No good wasting the whole morning out here."
"Try one more drive, and then we'll go."
"All right. If you like. No sense in it, though."
He teed up the ball, took a careless stance, and flicked moodily. There was a sharp crack, the ball shot off the tee, flew a hundred yards in a dead straight line never ten feet above the ground, soared another seventy yards in a graceful arc, struck the turf, rolled, and came to rest within easy mashie distance of the green.
"Splendid!" I cried.
The man seemed stunned.
"How did that happen?"
I told him very simply.
"Your stance was right, and your grip was right, and you kept your head still, and didn't sway your body, and never took your eye off the ball, and slowed back, and let the arms come well through, and rolled the wrists, and let the club-head lead, and kept your balance, and pivoted on the ball of the left foot, and didn't duck the right knee."
"I see," he said. "Yes, I thought that must be it."
"Now let's go home."
"Wait a minute. I just want to remember what I did while it's fresh in my mind. Let me see, this was the way I stood. Or was it more like this? No, like this." He turned to me, beaming. "What a great idea it was, my taking up golf! It's all nonsense what you read in the comic papers about people foozling all over the place and breaking clubs and all that. You've only to exercise a little reasonable care. And what a corking game it is! Nothing like it in the world! I wonder if Betty is up yet. I must go round and show her how I did that drive. A perfect swing, with every ounce of weight, wrist, and muscle behind it. I meant to keep it a secret from the dear girl till I had really learned, but of course I have learned now. Let's go round and rout her out."
He had given me my cue. I put my hand on his shoulder and spoke sorrowfully.
"Mortimer, my boy, I fear I have bad news for you."
"Slow; back--keep the head---- What's that? Bad news?"
"About Betty? What about her? Don't sway the body--keep the eye on the----"
"Prepare yourself for a shock, my boy. Yesterday afternoon Betty called to see me. When she had gone I found that she had stolen my silver matchbox."
"Stolen your matchbox?"
"Stolen my matchbox."
"Oh, well, I dare say there were faults on both sides," said Mortimer. "Tell me if I sway my body this time."
"You don't grasp what I have said! Do you realize that Betty, the girl you are going to marry, is a kleptomaniac?"
"That is the only possible explanation. Think what this means, my boy. Think how you will feel every time your wife says she is going out to do a little shopping! Think of yourself, left alone at home, watching the clock, saying to yourself, 'Now she is lifting a pair of silk stockings!' 'Now she is hiding gloves in her umbrella!' 'Just about this moment she is getting away with a pearl necklace!'"
"Would she do that?"
"She would! She could not help herself. Or, rather, she could not refrain from helping herself. How about it, my boy?"
"It only draws us closer together," he said.
I was touched, I own. My scheme had failed, but it had proved Mortimer Sturgis to be of pure gold. He stood gazing down the fairway, wrapped in thought.
"By the way," he said, meditatively, "I wonder if the dear girl ever goes to any of those sales--those auction-sales, you know, where you're allowed to inspect the things the day before? They often have some pretty decent vases."
He broke off and fell into a reverie.
* * * * * * *
From this point onward Mortimer Sturgis proved the truth of what I said to you about the perils of taking up golf at an advanced age. A lifetime of observing my fellow-creatures has convinced me that Nature intended us all to be golfers. In every human being the germ of golf is implanted at birth, and suppression causes it to grow and grow till--it may be at forty, fifty, sixty--it suddenly bursts its bonds and sweeps over the victim like a tidal wave. The wise man, who begins to play in childhood, is enabled to let the poison exude gradually from his system, with no harmful results. But a man like Mortimer Sturgis, with thirty-eight golfless years behind him, is swept off his feet. He is carried away. He loses all sense of proportion. He is like the fly that happens to be sitting on the wall of the dam just when the crack comes.
Mortimer Sturgis gave himself up without a struggle to an orgy of golf such as I have never witnessed in any man. Within two days of that first lesson he had accumulated a collection of clubs large enough to have enabled him to open a shop; and he went on buying them at the rate of two and three a day. On Sundays, when it was impossible to buy clubs, he was like a lost spirit. True, he would do his regular four rounds on the day of rest, but he never felt happy. The thought, as he sliced into the rough, that the patent wooden-faced cleek which he intended to purchase next morning might have made all the difference, completely spoiled his enjoyment.
I remember him calling me up on the telephone at three o'clock one morning to tell me that he had solved the problem of putting. He intended in future, he said, to use a croquet mallet, and he wondered that no one had ever thought of it before. The sound of his broken groan when I informed him that croquet mallets were against the rules haunted me for days.
His golf library kept pace with his collection of clubs. He bought all the standard works, subscribed to all the golfing papers, and, when he came across a paragraph in a magazine to the effect that Mr. Hutchings, an ex-amateur champion, did not begin to play till he was past forty, and that his opponent in the final, Mr. S. H. Fry, had never held a club till his thirty-fifth year, he had it engraved on vellum and framed and hung up beside his shaving-mirror.
* * * * * * *
And Betty, meanwhile? She, poor child, stared down the years into a bleak future, in which she saw herself parted for ever from the man she loved, and the golf-widow of another for whom--even when he won a medal for lowest net at a weekly handicap with a score of a hundred and three minus twenty-four--she could feel nothing warmer than respect. Those were dreary days for Betty. We three--she and I and Eddie Denton--often talked over Mortimer's strange obsession. Denton said that, except that Mortimer had not come out in pink spots, his symptoms were almost identical with those of the dreaded mongo-mongo, the scourge of the West African hinterland. Poor Denton! He had already booked his passage for Africa, and spent hours looking in the atlas for good deserts.
In every fever of human affairs there comes at last the crisis. We may emerge from it healed or we may plunge into still deeper depths of soul-sickness; but always the crisis comes. I was privileged to be present when it came in the affairs of Mortimer Sturgis and Betty Weston.
I had gone into the club-house one afternoon at an hour when it is usually empty, and the first thing I saw, as I entered the main room, which looks out on the ninth green, was Mortimer. He was grovelling on the floor, and I confess that, when I caught sight of him, my heart stood still. I feared that his reason, sapped by dissipation, had given way. I knew that for weeks, day in and day out, the niblick had hardly ever been out of his hand, and no constitution can stand that.
He looked up as he heard my footstep.
"Hallo," he said. "Can you see a ball anywhere?"
"A ball?" I backed away, reaching for the door-handle. "My dear boy," I said, soothingly, "you have made a mistake. Quite a natural mistake. One anybody would have made. But, as a matter of fact, this is the club-house. The links are outside there. Why not come away with me very quietly and let us see if we can't find some balls on the links? If you will wait here a moment, I will call up Doctor Smithson. He was telling me only this morning that he wanted a good spell of ball-hunting to put him in shape. You don't mind if he joins us?"
"It was a Silver King with my initials on it," Mortimer went on, not heeding me. "I got on the ninth green in eleven with a nice mashie-niblick, but my approach-putt was a little too strong. It came in through that window."
I perceived for the first time that one of the windows facing the course was broken, and my relief was great. I went down on my knees and helped him in his search. We ran the ball to earth finally inside the piano.
"What's the local rule?" inquired Mortimer. "Must I play it where it lies, or may I tee up and lose a stroke? If I have to play it where it lies, I suppose a niblick would be the club?"
It was at this moment that Betty came in. One glance at her pale, set face told me that there was to be a scene, and I would have retired, but that she was between me and the door.
"Hallo, dear," said Mortimer, greeting her with a friendly waggle of his niblick. "I'm bunkered in the piano. My approach-putt was a little strong, and I over-ran the green."
"Mortimer," said the girl, tensely, "I want to ask you one question."
"Yes, dear? I wish, darling, you could have seen my drive at the eighth just now. It was a pip!"
Betty looked at him steadily.
"Are we engaged," she said, "or are we not?"
"Engaged? Oh, to be married? Why, of course. I tried the open stance for a change, and----"
"This morning you promised to take me for a ride. You never appeared. Where were you?"
"Just playing golf."
"Golf! I'm sick of the very name!"
A spasm shook Mortimer.
"You mustn't let people hear you saying things like that!" he said. "I somehow felt, the moment I began my up-swing, that everything was going to be all right. I----"
"I'll give you one more chance. Will you take me for a drive in your car this evening?"
"Why not? What are you doing?"
"Just playing golf!"
"I'm tired of being neglected like this!" cried Betty, stamping her foot. Poor girl, I saw her point of view. It was bad enough for her being engaged to the wrong man, without having him treat her as a mere acquaintance. Her conscience fighting with her love for Eddie Denton had kept her true to Mortimer, and Mortimer accepted the sacrifice with an absent-minded carelessness which would have been galling to any girl. "We might just as well not be engaged at all. You never take me anywhere."
"I asked you to come with me to watch the Open Championship."
"Why don't you ever take me to dances?"
"I can't dance."
"You could learn."
"But I'm not sure if dancing is a good thing for a fellow's game. You never hear of any first-class pro. dancing. James Braid doesn't dance."
"Well, my mind's made up. Mortimer, you must choose between golf and me."
"But, darling, I went round in a hundred and one yesterday. You can't expect a fellow to give up golf when he's at the top of his game."
"Very well. I have nothing more to say. Our engagement is at an end."
"Don't throw me over, Betty," pleaded Mortimer, and there was that in his voice which cut me to the heart. "You'll make me so miserable. And, when I'm miserable, I always slice my approach shots."
Betty Weston drew herself up. Her face was hard.
"Here is your ring!" she said, and swept from the room.
* * * * * * *
For a moment after she had gone Mortimer remained very still, looking at the glistening circle in his hand. I stole across the room and patted his shoulder.
"Bear up, my boy, bear up!" I said.
He looked at me piteously.
"Stymied!" he muttered.
He went on, speaking as if to himself.
"I had pictured--ah, how often I had pictured!--our little home! Hers and mine. She sewing in her arm-chair, I practising putts on the hearth-rug----" He choked. "While in the corner, little Harry Vardon Sturgis played with little J. H. Taylor Sturgis. And round the room--reading, busy with their childish tasks--little George Duncan Sturgis, Abe Mitchell Sturgis, Harold Hilton Sturgis, Edward Ray Sturgis, Horace Hutchinson Sturgis, and little James Braid Sturgis."
"My boy! My boy!" I cried.
"What's the matter?"
"Weren't you giving yourself rather a large family?"
He shook his head moodily.
"Was I?" he said, dully. "I don't know. What's bogey?"
There was a silence.
"And yet----" he said, at last, in a low voice. He paused. An odd, bright look had come into his eyes. He seemed suddenly to be himself again, the old, happy Mortimer Sturgis I had known so well. "And yet," he said, "who knows? Perhaps it is all for the best. They might all have turned out tennis-players!" He raised his niblick again, his face aglow. "Playing thirteen!" he said. "I think the game here would be to chip out through the door and work round the club-house to the green, don't you?"
* * * * * * *
Little remains to be told. Betty and Eddie have been happily married for years. Mortimer's handicap is now down to eighteen, and he is improving all the time. He was not present at the wedding, being unavoidably detained by a medal tournament; but, if you turn up the files and look at the list of presents, which were both numerous and costly, you will see--somewhere in the middle of the column, the words:
STURGIS, J. MORTIMER.
Two dozen Silver King Golf-balls and one patent Sturgis Aluminium Self-Adjusting, Self-Compensating Putting-Cleek.
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