Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > American
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. I–V: American
 
At the Eighth Tee
College Humor
 
V. C. G., in “The Morningside,” Columbia

BILLY STALLMAN is my cousin, and I have never had any delusions regarding the evenness of his temper. Consequently, in company with his other well-meaning friends, I have always tried to keep him away from golf. You see, Billy is one of the best-hearted fellows in the world, but his disposition is of a decidedly rocket-like nature. He declares that he is the most reasonable man on earth, and asks only that people and things behave in a sensible, logical fashion. But when he runs up against a man who can’t see his reasonable point of view, or against some illogical perversity in inanimate objects, he is really apt to throw things around. Any one who has ever tried a single game of golf will understand why we trembled at the thought of Billy’s taking up the game. We didn’t care to have the air full of hurtling clubs; nor did we wish our caddies—who were really not a very annoying lot, as caddies go—to come to violent and untimely ends.
  1
  But no man who visits the Moreland Country Club can be kept away from the links, and Billy fell at last into the clutches of the game. It was the old story. He was standing one day by the first tee, watching his friend Robertson foozling off some wretched shots, and freely expressing his astonishment over the man’s stupidity at such an apparently simple trick. At last the exasperated Robertson thrust a driver into Billy’s hand and bade him do better himself. Billy grasped the club with the beginner’s gingerly awkwardness, stepped to the tee, and batted at the ground with the fiercest energy. And the ball—most perverse of atoms—“lit out” from the tee in a low, screaming curve, a full hundred and eighty yards, straight over the circular bunker that guards the first green—the finest drive made from that tee in a month.  2
  “You see,” said Billy calmly, “I told you it was easy. Here, take your club; I’ve had enough.”  3
  “No, no, old man,” urged Robertson, yearning for revenge, “try it again. Why, you’re a perfect genius at it! Here’s another ball.”  4
  Thus urged, Billy drew back and struck again, and again, and again—six times, in fact—and plowed up all the tee within a radius of three feet, and fanned the whistling air; while the ball sat calmly and exasperatingly motionless on its little mound of sand. Then Billy paused, and looked up to heaven, and delivered himself of a speech whose ornamentations I will omit.  5
  “Why, confound it all!” he declaimed, “I hit it exactly the same way I did at first. Why don’t it go? There’s no logic in it!”  6
  Then, with careful precision, he smashed the driver over his knee, and hurled it afar.  7
  “Blast the game!” he vowed. “I’ll find out why I can’t hit the thing, if I smash every club in New York!”  8
  So Billy was trapped, you see, just the way so many have been taken. He really got along much better than we had expected. True, his bill at the club-maker’s was abnormally large, and his exclamations in sand-bunkers were not always fit for the public ear; while his wrathful orders to his caddies would have reduced less hardened youths to tears. But he was always so jolly and kind-hearted to these same boys as soon as the round was over, and he used to tip them so generously for club cleaning (quite contrary to the rules of the Green Committee), and present them with so many old clubs, that they became his devoted admirers, and would endure his most violent abuse with entire equanimity, and often a quiet grin. Billy stuck at the game most persistently. He often used to go out for a lonely round before breakfast, and come in quite pale with rage. But at last, as a man can’t stay in a white heat all the time, he got so that he could play with tolerable calmness and real good nature, except under extraordinary circumstances. Though the maddening unreasonableness of the game was still occasionally too much for him, he settled down into a fairly steady golfer, and even won a cup or two.  9
  Thus a year and more passed. Then came an unusually heavy winter, and for weeks the links of the Moreland Country Club were deep in snow or slush. Having thus much idle time on his hands, Billy, who had hitherto never cared much for girls’ society, must needs go and fall in love and get engaged. Whereat all his cynical friends—men, I mean, of course—shook their heads in skeptical despair, and declared that, though a man of Billy’s temper might possibly learn to put up with the unreasonableness of golf, the unreasonableness of woman he could never, never endure. All this was very unfair to Eleanor Markham, for, in the first place, Billy seemed fond enough of her to stand a good deal of illogicality, and then she wasn’t really unreasonable—few women are—but just rather impulsive and hasty.  10
  When the golfing season opened again, Miss Markham, who put up a tolerably good game, naturally proposed that she and Billy should enter the mixed handicap foursome for the pair of silver loving-cups. In case you happen not to know—though that seems hardly possible—let me inform you that in a mixed foursome each pair, which is made up of a man and a woman, has but one ball, and the two strike at it in turn. As one generally spends the time getting the ball into trouble, and the other endeavoring to get it out, the game is very trying on the dispositions of both. But, you see, Miss Markham had never played golf with Billy, and hadn’t a cousin’s knowledge of his temper. So the two entered.  11
  Jack Schuyler and I were paired with them, and up to the eighth hole on the first round the four of us had a very jolly time. Billy’s temper was positively sunny, for both good form and good luck were with him and his partner that day. The first seven holes had cost them only forty-one strokes, which, considering their handicap of ten, gave them a remarkably good chance at the cups—provided only that they kept up a steady game. Now just in front and a little to the right of the eighth tee on the Moreland links is the only water-hazard—a muddy, ominous-looking pond, which has been the death of many a record score. Before Miss Markham and I drove, Billy very foolishly gave his partner some parting instructions.  12
  “Now, Eleanor,” said he cheerily, “we’ve got the best sort of show of winning these cups, and we must get them. All we’ve got to do is to play safe. Now, don’t try to carry the pond. Play over to the left. Just give me a good lie on the fair green there, and I’ll put the ball right up by the hole. To the left, remember!”  13
  When Miss Markham drove she did face to the left, I could see that; but unluckily (you know the way one often does when there’s a hazard in front) she sliced her ball away off to the right. It rose high in one of those sickly, irritating curves, and dropped—chug!—right into the middle of the pond. Miss Markham didn’t say a word; she just shut her lips tight.  14
  There was an ominous silence when Billy came back to have his try at it. Luck was certainly with him, for he carried the pond cleanly with a good, straight ball. Then he turned to Miss Markham.  15
  “Two strokes thrown away!” he groaned. “Good heavens, Eleanor, why did you aim for the pond? Why didn’t you go up to the left, as I told you?”  16
  I started to move away, for I hate quarrels, and I knew Miss Markham’s state of mind.  17
  “My dear Billy,” she returned, with slow, calm sarcasm, “do you suppose I stood up there and deliberately aimed for the middle of the pond and put the ball there because I wanted to?”  18
  Billy gave a disagreeable, sneering little laugh. “Well,” said he quickly, “it looked something like it. Unless you’d turned around and driven backward, you couldn’t very well have sent the ball farther from the direction I told you to put it.”  19
  Miss Markham’s lip curled scornfully. “You surely don’t suppose I’d intentionally disregard the instructions of such an authority as you are. Of course your ball never goes in any other direction than the one you intend it to. You never put balls in the pond.”  20
  She must have heard of Billy’s long catalogue of disasters on that hole.  21
  “I can’t see that that affects the argument,” snapped out Billy, in exasperation. “But, at least, when I aimed for the pond just now I carried it, and didn’t plump the ball into the middle, the way you did.”  22
  “Quite true,” returned Miss Markham freezingly. “When I suggested that we enter together I didn’t appreciate what an accomplished expert I was going to play with. Now that I see you make such drives as this, I appreciate my incompetence. I fear we’re quite unfitted to be partners.” And with this meaning remark she turned her back on Billy and walked on toward the ball, swinging her club haughtily.  23
  The rest of the game was very embarrassing. Jack Schuyler and I tried to keep up some semblance of sociable gaiety, but the other two tramped after their ball in cold silence. Billy soon tried to speak to Miss Markham, but she promptly froze him into discouragement and silence, broken only by an occasional berating of his caddie.  24
  Strangely enough, they continued to make a fairly good score. Billy, especially, played the game of his life just because he didn’t care a straw how he played, I suppose. In spite of his fine strokes, he walked along in melancholy wretchedness. His irritation had, as usual, soon vanished. Though he felt that his position had not been illogical, he knew he oughtn’t to have lost his temper. Besides, he was, as I have remarked, really very fond of Miss Markham, and unspeakably depressed at the thought of a prolonged period of coldness between them. So, during all the first part of the second round, he tried to think of some way of conciliating her. As we were on the seventh hole a fixed idea slowly took possession of his brain.  25
  “Of course,” he reasoned, “it naturally irritates Eleanor to see me play so well after what we’ve said; particularly as she isn’t quite up to her game. I seem to be setting myself up as a sort of infallible golfing prig. And if I make a good drive over the pond this round, after her foozle before, it’ll just be the last straw. Well, I won’t. I’ll just plunk right into the old pond. And then she can pitch into me, and she’ll see I’m not a bit better than she is. That’ll make her feel much better, and we’ll laugh it all off and get on good terms again.”  26
  As we all walked up to the eighth tee, Billy couldn’t help doing some silent calculation. “Fifty-three for the first round, in spite of the two strokes lost, and only forty-two for seven holes of the second. Why, if they got these last two holes in a tolerably low score, they had the cups sure! But never mind,” reasoned Billy, “I’d rather lose the match and be on good terms with Eleanor. I think my plan’s perfectly logical. Now, I’ll just press, and top this ball right into the middle of the pond.”  27
  So Billy stepped on the tee and looked across at the hole, which is about two hundred yards away. Then he deliberately broke every rule of correct driving. He shut his eyes, swung with every ounce of his strength, and jerked frantically upward, intending to hit the ball on top, rolling it into the water in front.  28
  To his horror, he felt a springy snap as his club caught the ball clean and fair, and he opened his eyes to see a white speck whistling over the corner of the pond, straight toward the hole, striking some yards short of the green, bounding, rolling on toward the flag, finally creeping up within three feet of the hole, where it stopped. Billy stood aghast, horror and despair on his face. To think that his most determined efforts for a foozle should be rewarded by the finest drive of the day! Alas! the hideous unreasonableness of golf had ruined his plan. Surely, after this, Eleanor would never forgive him.  29
  As Billy stepped angrily from the tee, Miss Markham at last removed her eyes from the ball, with a gasp of relief and delight; and then (I told you she was impulsive) she threw her arms around Billy’s neck and kissed him. “Oh, Billy, Billy!” she cried. “What a superb, magnificent drive! I’d just been counting up, and I knew that if we got this hole fairly well we’d have the cups surely. Oh, Billy, if you’d sent it into the pond I’d never have forgiven you, never, never!”  30
  For a moment I don’t think Billy was even pleased. He just looked discouraged.  31
  “Good Lord!” he groaned. “What with a combination of golf and girls, what’s the use of a man’s trying to be logical?”  32
  But the next second he realized his good luck; for he was, as I have remarked, really very fond of Miss Markham.  33
  So Jack Schuyler helped me build my tee while they made it all up. The caddies couldn’t see; they were fishing for balls down by the pond.  34
  Miss Markham holed the three-foot put, and, with a two in their score, they naturally won the silver loving-cups, though they really didn’t deserve them. If Jack Schuyler and I hadn’t had such hard luck on the fifth hole—But that’s just the way of golf.  35
  However, I was glad to see Billy’s temper get out of the first break so successfully. But I tremble for the future. Golf and a girl do seem to make a dangerous combination for a man of his disposition.  36
 
 
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