The Man Upstairs and Other Stories/Archibald's Benefit
Archibald Mealing was one of those golfers in whom desire outruns performance. Nobody could have been more willing than Archibald. He tried, and tried hard. Every morning before he took his bath he would stand in front of his mirror and practise swings. Every night before he went to bed he would read the golden words of some master on the subject of putting, driving, or approaching. Yet on the links most of his time was spent in retrieving lost balls or replacing America. Whether it was that Archibald pressed too much or pressed too little, whether it was that his club deviated from the dotted line which joined the two points A and B in the illustrated plate of the man making the brassy shot in the Hints on Golf book, or whether it was that he was pursued by some malignant fate, I do not know. Archibald rather favoured the last theory.
The important point is that, in his thirty-first year, after six seasons of untiring effort, Archibald went in for a championship, and won it.
Archibald, mark you, whose golf was a kind of blend of hockey, Swedish drill, and buck-and-wing dancing.
I know the ordeal I must face when I make such a statement. I see clearly before me the solid phalanx of men from Missouri, some urging me to tell it to the King of Denmark, others insisting that I produce my Eskimos. Nevertheless, I do not shrink. I state once more that in his thirty-first year Archibald Mealing went in for a golf championship, and won it.
Archibald belonged to a select little golf club, the members of which lived and worked in New York, but played in Jersey. Men of substance, financially as well as physically, they had combined their superfluous cash and with it purchased a strip of land close to the sea. This land had been drained—to the huge discomfort of a colony of mosquitoes which had come to look on the place as their private property—and converted into links, which had become a sort of refuge for incompetent golfers. The members of the Cape Pleasant Club were easygoing refugees from other and more exacting clubs, men who pottered rather than raced round the links; men, in short, who had grown tired of having to stop their game and stand aside in order to allow perspiring experts to whiz past them. The Cape Pleasant golfers did not make themselves slaves to the game. Their language, when they foozled, was gently regretful rather than sulphurous. The moment in the day's play which they enjoyed most was when they were saying: 'Well, here's luck!' in the club-house.
It will, therefore, be readily understood that Archibald's inability to do a hole in single figures did not handicap him at Cape Pleasant as it might have done at St. Andrews. His kindly clubmates took him to their bosoms to a man, and looked on him as a brother. Archibald's was one of those admirable natures which prompt their possessor frequently to remark: 'These are on me!' and his fellow golfers were not slow to appreciate the fact. They all loved Archibald.
Archibald was on the floor of his bedroom one afternoon, picking up the fragments of his mirror—a friend had advised him to practise the Walter J. Travis lofting shot—when the telephone bell rang. He took up the receiver, and was hailed by the comfortable voice of McCay, the club secretary.
'Is that Mealing?' asked McCay. 'Say, Archie, I'm putting your name down for our championship competition. That's right, isn't it?'
'Sure,' said Archibald. 'When does it start?'
'Good for you. Oh, Archie.'
'A man I met today told me you were engaged. Is that a fact?'
'Sure,' murmured Archibald, blushfully.
The wire hummed with McCay's congratulations.
'Thanks,' said Archibald. 'Thanks, old man. What? Oh, yes. Milsom's her name. By the way, her family have taken a cottage at Cape Pleasant for the summer. Some distance from the links. Yes, very convenient, isn't it? Good-bye.'
He hung up the receiver and resumed his task of gathering up the fragments. Now McCay happened to be of a romantic and sentimental nature. He was by profession a chartered accountant, and inclined to be stout; and all rather stout chartered accountants are sentimental. McCay was the sort of man who keeps old ball programmes and bundles of letters tied round with lilac ribbon. At country houses, where they lingered in the porch after dinner to watch the moonlight flooding the quiet garden, it was McCay and his colleague who lingered longest. McCay knew Ella Wheeler Wilcox by heart, and could take Browning without anaesthetics. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that Archibald's remark about his fiancee coming to live at Cape Pleasant should give him food for thought. It appealed to him.
He reflected on it a good deal during the day, and, running across Sigsbee, a fellow Cape Pleasanter, after dinner that night at the Sybarites' Club, he spoke of the matter to him. It so happened that both had dined excellently, and were looking on the world with a sort of cosy benevolence. They were in the mood when men pat small boys on the head and ask them if they mean to be President when they grow up.
'I called up Archie Mealing today,' said McCay. 'Did you know he was engaged?'
'I did hear something about it. Girl of the name of Wilson, or—'
'Milsom. She's going to spend the summer at Cape Pleasant, Archie tells me.'
'Then she'll have a chance of seeing him play in the championship competition.'
McCay sucked his cigar in silence for a while, watching with dreamy eyes the blue smoke as it curled ceiling-ward. When he spoke his voice was singularly soft.
'Do you know, Sigsbee,' he said, sipping his Maraschino with a gentle melancholy—'do you know, there is something wonderfully pathetic to me in this business. I see the whole thing so clearly. There was a kind of quiver in the poor old chap's voice when he said: "She is coming to Cape Pleasant," which told me more than any words could have done. It is a tragedy in its way, Sigsbee. We may smile at it, think it trivial; but it is none the less a tragedy. That warm-hearted, enthusiastic girl, all eagerness to see the man she loves do well—Archie, poor old Archie, all on fire to prove to her that her trust in him is not misplaced, and the end—Disillusionment—Disappointment—Unhappiness.'
'He ought to keep his eye on the ball,' said the more practical Sigsbee.
'Quite possibly,' continued McCay, 'he has told her that he will win this championship.'
'If Archie's mutt enough to have told her that,' said Sigsbee decidedly, 'he deserves all he gets. Waiter, two Scotch highballs.'
McCay was in no mood to subscribe to this stony-hearted view.
'I tell you,' he said, 'I'm sorry for Archie! I'm sorry for the poor old chap. And I'm more than sorry for the girl.'
'Well, I don't see what we can do,' said Sigsbee. 'We can hardly be expected to foozle on purpose, just to let Archie show off before his girl.'
McCay paused in the act of lighting his cigar, as one smitten with a great thought.
'Why not?' he said. 'Why not, Sigsbee? Sigsbee, you've hit it.'
'You have! I tell you, Sigsbee, you've solved the whole thing. Archie's such a bully good fellow, why not give him a benefit? Why not let him win this championship? You aren't going to tell me that you care whether you win a tin medal or not?'
Sigsbee's benevolence was expanding under the influence of the Scotch highball and his cigar. Little acts of kindness on Archie's part, here a cigar, there a lunch, at another time seats for the theatre, began to rise to the surface of his memory like rainbow-coloured bubbles. He wavered.
'Yes, but what about the rest of the men?' he said. 'There will be a dozen or more in for the medal.'
'We can square them,' said McCay confidently. 'We will broach the matter to them at a series of dinners at which we will be joint hosts. They are white men who will be charmed to do a little thing like that for a sport like Archie.'
'How about Gossett?' said Sigsbee.
McCay's face clouded. Gossett was an unpopular subject with members of the Cape Pleasant Golf Club. He was the serpent in their Eden. Nobody seemed quite to know how he had got in, but there, unfortunately, he was. Gossett had introduced into Cape Pleasant golf a cheerless atmosphere of the rigour of the game. It was to enable them to avoid just such golfers as Gossett that the Cape Pleasanters had founded their club. Genial courtesy rather than strict attention to the rules had been the leading characteristics of their play till his arrival. Up to that time it had been looked on as rather bad form to exact a penalty. A cheery give-and-take system had prevailed. Then Gossett had come, full of strange rules, and created about the same stir in the community which a hawk would create in a gathering of middle-aged doves.
'You can't square Gossett,' said Sigsbee.
McCay looked unhappy.
'I forgot him,' he said. 'Of course, nothing will stop him trying to win. I wish we could think of something. I would almost as soon see him lose as Archie win. But, after all, he does have off days sometimes.'
'You need to have a very off day to be as bad as Archie.'
They sat and smoked in silence.
'I've got it,' said Sigsbee suddenly. 'Gossett is a fine golfer, but nervous. If we upset his nerves enough, he will go right off his stroke. Couldn't we think of some way?'
McCay reached out for his glass.
'Yours is a noble nature, Sigsbee,' he said.
'Oh, no,' said the paragon modestly. 'Have another cigar?'
In order that the reader may get the mental half-Nelson on the plot of this narrative which is so essential if a short story is to charm, elevate, and instruct, it is necessary now, for the nonce (but only for the nonce), to inspect Archibald's past life.
Archibald, as he had stated to McCay, was engaged to a Miss Milsom—Miss Margaret Milsom. How few men, dear reader, are engaged to girls with svelte figures, brown hair, and large blue eyes, now sparkling and vivacious, now dreamy and soulful, but always large and blue! How few, I say. You are, dear reader, and so am I, but who else? Archibald was one of the few who happened to be.
He was happy. It is true that Margaret's mother was not, as it were, wrapped up in him. She exhibited none of that effervescent joy at his appearance which we like to see in our mothers-in-law elect. On the contrary, she generally cried bitterly whenever she saw him, and at the end of ten minutes was apt to retire sobbing to her room, where she remained in a state of semi-coma till an advanced hour. She was by way of being a confirmed invalid, and something about Archibald seemed to get right in among her nerve centres, reducing them for the time being to a complicated hash. She did not like Archibald. She said she liked big, manly men. Behind his back she not infrequently referred to him as a 'gaby'; sometimes even as that 'guffin'.
She did not do this to Margaret, for Margaret, besides being blue-eyed, was also a shade quick-tempered. Whenever she discussed Archibald, it was with her son Stuyvesant. Stuyvesant Milsom, who thought Archibald a bit of an ass, was always ready to sit and listen to his mother on the subject, it being, however, an understood thing that at the conclusion of the seance she yielded one or two saffron-coloured bills towards his racing debts. For Stuyvesant, having developed a habit of backing horses which either did not start at all or else sat down and thought in the middle of the race, could always do with ten dollars or so. His prices for these interviews worked out, as a rule, at about three cents a word.
In these circumstances it was perhaps natural that Archibald and Margaret should prefer to meet, when they did meet, at some other spot than the Milsom home. It suited them both better that they should arrange a secret tryst on these occasions. Archibald preferred it because being in the same room as Mrs Milsom always made him feel like a murderer with particularly large feet; and Margaret preferred it because, as she told Archibald, these secret meetings lent a touch of poetry to what might otherwise have been a commonplace engagement.
Archibald thought this charming; but at the same time he could not conceal from himself the fact that Margaret's passion for the poetic cut, so to speak, both ways. He admired and loved the loftiness of her soul, but, on the other hand, it was a tough job having to live up to it. For Archibald was a very ordinary young man. They had tried to inoculate him with a love of poetry at school, but it had not taken. Until he was thirty he had been satisfied to class all poetry (except that of Mr George Cohan) under the general heading of punk. Then he met Margaret, and the trouble began. On the day he first met her, at a picnic, she had looked so soulful, so aloof from this world, that he had felt instinctively that here was a girl who expected more from a man than a mere statement that the weather was great. It so chanced that he knew just one quotation from the classics, to wit, Tennyson's critique of the Island-Valley of Avilion. He knew this because he had had the passage to write out one hundred and fifty times at school, on the occasion of his being caught smoking by one of the faculty who happened to be a passionate admirer of the 'Idylls of the King'.
A remark of Margaret's that it was a splendid day for a picnic and that the country looked nice gave him his opportunity.
'It reminds me,' he said, 'it reminds me strongly of the Island-Valley of Avilion, where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow, nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies deep-meadow'd, happy, fair, with orchard lawns….'
He broke off here to squash a hornet; but Margaret had heard enough.
'Are you fond of the poets, Mr Mealing?' she said, with a far-off look.
'Me?' said Archibald fervently. 'Me? Why, I eat 'em alive!'
And that was how all the trouble had started. It had meant unremitting toil for Archibald. He felt that he had set himself a standard from which he must not fall. He bought every new volume of poetry which was praised in the press, and learned the reviews by heart. Every evening he read painfully a portion of the classics. He plodded through the poetry sections of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Margaret's devotion to the various bards was so enthusiastic, and her reading so wide, that there were times when Archibald wondered if he could endure the strain. But he persevered heroically, and so far had not been found wanting. But the strain was fearful.
The early stages of the Cape Pleasant golf tournament need no detailed description. The rules of match play governed the contests, and Archibald disposed of his first three opponents before the twelfth hole. He had been diffident when he teed off with McCay in the first round, but, finding that he defeated the secretary with ease, he met one Butler in the second round with more confidence. Butler, too, he routed; with the result that, by the time he faced Sigsbee in round three, he was practically the conquering hero. Fortune seemed to be beaming upon him with almost insipid sweetness. When he was trapped in the bunker at the seventh hole, Sigsbee became trapped as well. When he sliced at the sixth tee, Sigsbee pulled. And Archibald, striking a brilliant vein, did the next three holes in eleven, nine, and twelve; and, romping home, qualified for the final.
Gossett, that serpent, meanwhile, had beaten each of his three opponents without much difficulty.
The final was fixed for the following Thursday morning. Gossett, who was a broker, had made some frivolous objection about the difficulty of absenting himself from Wall Street, but had been overruled. When Sigsbee pointed out that he could easily defeat Archibald and get to the city by lunch-time if he wished, and that in any case his partner would be looking after things, he allowed himself to be persuaded, though reluctantly. It was a well-known fact that Gossett was in the midst of some rather sizeable deals at that time.
Thursday morning suited Archibald admirably. It had occurred to him that he could bring off a double event. Margaret had arrived at Cape Pleasant on the previous evening, and he had arranged by telephone to meet her at the end of the board-walk, which was about a mile from the links, at one o'clock, supply her with lunch, and spend the afternoon with her on the water. If he started his match with Gossett at eleven-thirty, he would have plenty of time to have his game and be at the end of the board-walk at the appointed hour. He had no delusions about the respective merits of Gossett and himself as golfers. He knew that Gossett would win the necessary ten holes off the reel. It was saddening, but it was a scientific fact. There was no avoiding it. One simply had to face it.
Having laid these plans, he caught the train on the Thursday morning with the consoling feeling that, however sadly the morning might begin, it was bound to end well.
The day was fine, the sun warm, but tempered with a light breeze. One or two of the club had come to watch the match, among them Sigsbee.
Sigsbee drew Gossett aside.
'You must let me caddie for you, old man,' he said. 'I know your temperament so exactly. I know how little it takes to put you off your stroke. In an ordinary game you might take one of these boys, I know, but on an important occasion like this you must not risk it. A grubby boy, probably with a squint, would almost certainly get on your nerves. He might even make comments on the game, or whistle. But I understand you. You must let me carry your clubs.'
'It's very good of you,' said Gossett.
'Not at all,' said Sigsbee.
Archibald was now preparing to drive off from the first tee. He did this with great care. Everyone who has seen Archibald Mealing play golf knows that his teeing off is one of the most impressive sights ever witnessed on the links. He tilted his cap over his eyes, waggled his club a little, shifted his feet, waggled his club some more, gazed keenly towards the horizon for a moment, waggled his club again, and finally, with the air of a Strong Man lifting a bar of iron, raised it slowly above his head. Then, bringing it down with a sweep, he drove the ball with a lofty slice some fifty yards. It was rarely that he failed either to slice or pull his ball. His progress from hole to hole was generally a majestic zigzag.
Gossett's drive took him well on the way to the green. He holed out in five. Archibald, mournful but not surprised, made his way to the second tee.
The second hole was shorter. Gossett won it in three. The third he took in six, the fourth in four. Archibald began to feel that he might just as well not be there. He was practically a spectator.
At this point he reached in his pocket for his tobacco-pouch, to console himself with smoke. To his dismay he found it was not there. He had had it in the train, but now it had vanished. This added to his gloom, for the pouch had been given to him by Margaret, and he had always thought it one more proof of the way her nature towered over the natures of other girls that she had not woven a monogram on it in forget-me-nots. This record pouch was missing, and Archibald mourned for the loss.
His sorrows were not alleviated by the fact that Gossett won the fifth and sixth holes.
It was now a quarter past twelve, and Archibald reflected with moody satisfaction that the massacre must soon be over, and that he would then be able to forget it in the society of Margaret.
As Gossett was about to drive off from the seventh tee, a telegraph boy approached the little group.
'Mr Gossett,' he said.
Gossett lowered his driver, and wheeled round, but Sigsbee had snatched the envelope from the boy's hand.
'It's all right, old man,' he said. 'Go right ahead. I'll keep it safe for you.'
'Give it to me,' said Gossett anxiously. 'It may be from the office. Something may have happened to the market. I may be needed.'
'No, no,' said Sigsbee, soothingly. 'Don't you worry about it. Better not open it. It might have something in it that would put you off your stroke. Wait till the end of the game.'
'Give it to me. I want to see it.'
Sigsbee was firm.
'No,' he said. 'I'm here to see you win this championship and I won't have you taking any risks. Besides, even if it was important, a few minutes won't make any difference.'
'Well, at any rate, open it and read it.'
'It is probably in cipher,' said Sigsbee. 'I wouldn't understand it. Play on, old man. You've only a few more holes to win.'
Gossett turned and addressed his ball again. Then he swung. The club tipped the ball, and it rolled sluggishly for a couple of feet. Archibald approached the tee. Now there were moments when Archibald could drive quite decently. He always applied a considerable amount of muscular force to his efforts. It was in that direction, as a rule, he erred. On this occasion, whether inspired by his rival's failure or merely favoured by chance, he connected with his ball at precisely the right moment. It flew from the tee, straight, hard, and low, struck the ground near the green, bounded on and finally rocked to within a foot of the hole. No such long ball had been driven on the Cape Pleasant links since their foundation.
That it should have taken him three strokes to hole out from this promising position was unfortunate, but not fatal, for Gossett, who seemed suddenly to have fallen off his game, only reached the green in seven. A moment later a murmur of approval signified the fact that Archibald had won his first hole.
'Mr Gossett,' said a voice.
Those murmuring approval observed that the telegraph boy was once more in their midst. This time he bore two missives. Sigsbee dexterously impounded both.
'No,' he said with decision. 'I absolutely refuse to let you look at them till the game is over. I know your temperament.'
'But they must be important. They must come from my office. Where else would I get a stream of telegrams? Something has gone wrong. I am urgently needed.'
Sigsbee nodded gravely.
'That is what I fear,' he said. 'That is why I cannot risk having you upset. Time enough, Gossett, for bad news after the game. Play on, man, and dismiss it from your mind. Besides, you couldn't get back to New York just yet, in any case. There are no trains. Dismiss the whole thing from your mind and just play your usual, and you're sure to win.'
Archibald had driven off during this conversation, but without his previous success. This time he had pulled his ball into some long grass. Gossett's drive was, however, worse; and the subsequent movement of the pair to the hole resembled more than anything else the manoeuvres of two men rolling peanuts with toothpicks as the result of an election bet. Archibald finally took the hole in twelve after Gossett had played his fourteenth.
When Archibald won the next in eleven and the tenth in nine, hope began to flicker feebly in his bosom. But when he won two more holes, bringing the score to like-as-we-lie, it flamed up within him like a beacon.
The ordinary golfer, whose scores per hole seldom exceed those of Colonel Bogey, does not understand the whirl of mixed sensations which the really incompetent performer experiences on the rare occasions when he does strike a winning vein. As stroke follows stroke, and he continues to hold his opponent, a wild exhilaration surges through him, followed by a sort of awe, as if he were doing something wrong, even irreligious. Then all these yeasty emotions subside and are blended into one glorious sensation of grandeur and majesty, as of a giant among pygmies.
By the time that Archibald, putting with the care of one brushing flies off a sleeping Venus, had holed out and won the thirteenth, he was in the full grip of this feeling. And as he walked to the fifteenth tee, after winning the fourteenth, he felt that this was Life, that till now he had been a mere mollusc.
Just at that moment he happened to look at his watch, and the sight was like a douche of cold water. The hands stood at five minutes to one.
Let us pause and ponder on this point for a while. Let us not dismiss it as if it were some mere trivial, everyday difficulty. You, dear reader, play an accurate, scientific game and beat your opponent with ease every time you go the links, and so do I; but Archibald was not like us. This was the first occasion on which he had ever felt that he was playing well enough to give him a chance of defeating a really good man. True, he had beaten McCay, Sigsbee, and Butler in the earlier rounds; but they were ignoble rivals compared with Gossett. To defeat Gossett, however, meant the championship. On the other hand, he was passionately devoted to Margaret Milsom, whom he was due to meet at the end of the board-walk at one sharp. It was now five minutes to one, and the end of the board-walk still a mile away.
The mental struggle was brief but keen. A sharp pang, and his mind was made up. Cost what it might, he must stay on the links. If Margaret broke off the engagement—well, it might be that Time would heal the wound, and that after many years he would find some other girl for whom he might come to care in a wrecked, broken sort of way. But a chance like this could never come again. What is Love compared with holing out before your opponent?
The excitement now had become so intense that a small boy, following with the crowd, swallowed his chewing-gum; for a slight improvement had become noticeable in Gossett's play, and a slight improvement in the play of almost anyone meant that it became vastly superior to Archibald's. At the next hole the improvement was not marked enough to have its full effect, and Archibald contrived to halve. This made him two up and three to play. What the average golfer would consider a commanding lead. But Archibald was no average golfer. A commanding lead for him would have been two up and one to play.
To give the public of his best, your golfer should have his mind cool and intent upon the game. Inasmuch as Gossett was worrying about the telegrams, while Archibald, strive as he might to dismiss it, was haunted by a vision of Margaret standing alone and deserted on the board-walk, play became, as it were, ragged. Fine putting enabled Gossett to do the sixteenth hole in twelve, and when, winning the seventeenth in nine, he brought his score level with Archibald's the match seemed over. But just then—
'Mr Gossett!' said a familiar voice.
Once more was the much-enduring telegraph boy among those present.
'T'ree dis time!' he observed.
Gossett sprang, but again the watchful Sigsbee was too swift.
'Be brave, Gossett—be brave,' he said. 'This is a crisis in the game. Keep your nerve. Play just as if nothing existed outside the links. To look at these telegrams now would be fatal.'
Eye-witnesses of that great encounter will tell the story of the last hole to their dying day. It was one of those Titanic struggles which Time cannot efface from the memory. Archibald was fortunate in getting a good start. He only missed twice before he struck his ball on the tee. Gossett had four strokes ere he achieved the feat. Nor did Archibald's luck desert him in the journey to the green. He was out of the bunker in eleven.
Gossett emerged only after sixteen. Finally, when Archibald's twenty-first stroke sent the ball trickling into the hole, Gossett had played his thirtieth.
The ball had hardly rested on the bottom of the hole before Gossett had begun to tear the telegrams from their envelopes. As he read, his eyes bulged in their sockets.
'Not bad news, I hope,' said a sympathetic bystander.
Sigsbee took the sheaf of telegrams.
The first ran: 'Good luck. Hope you win. McCay.' The second also ran: 'Good luck. Hope you win. McCay.' So, singularly enough, did the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh.
'Great Scott!' said Sigsbee. 'He seems to have been pretty anxious not to run any risk of missing you, Gossett.'
As he spoke, Archibald, close beside him, was looking at his watch. The hands stood at a quarter to two.
Margaret and her mother were seated in the parlour when Archibald arrived. Mrs Milsom, who had elicited the fact that Archibald had not kept his appointment, had been saying 'I told you so' for some time, and this had not improved Margaret's temper. When, therefore, Archibald, damp and dishevelled, was shown in, the chill in the air nearly gave him frost-bite. Mrs Milsom did her celebrated imitation of the Gorgon, while Margaret, lightly humming an air, picked up a weekly paper and became absorbed in it.
'Margaret, let me explain,' panted Archibald. Mrs Milsom was understood to remark that she dared say. Margaret's attention was riveted by a fashion plate.
'Driving in a taximeter to the ferry this morning,' resumed Archibald, 'I had an accident.'
This was the result of some rather feverish brainwork on the way from the links to the cottage.
The periodical flopped to the floor.
'Oh, Archie, are you hurt?'
'A few scratches, nothing more; but it made me miss my train.'
'What train did you catch?' asked Mrs Milsom sepulchrally.
'The one o'clock. I came straight on here from the station.'
'Why,' said Margaret, 'Stuyvesant was coming home on the one o'clock train. Did you see him?'
Archibald's jaw dropped slightly.
'Er—no,' he said.
'How curious,' said Margaret.
'Very curious,' said Archibald.
'Most curious,' said Mrs Milsom.
They were still reflecting on the singularity of this fact when the door opened, and the son of the house entered in person.
'Thought I should find you here, Mealing,' he said. 'They gave me this at the station to give to you; you dropped it this morning when you got out of the train.'
He handed Archibald the missing pouch.
'Thanks,' said the latter huskily. 'When you say this morning, of course you mean this afternoon, but thanks all the same—thanks—thanks.'
'No, Archibald Mealing, he does not mean this afternoon,' said Mrs Milsom. 'Stuyvesant, speak! From what train did that guf—did Mr Mealing alight when he dropped the tobacco-pouch?'
'The ten o'clock, the fellow told me. Said he would have given it back to him then only he sprinted off in the deuce of a hurry.'
Six eyes focused themselves upon Archibald.
'Margaret,' he said, 'I will not try to deceive you—'
'You may try,' observed Mrs Milsom, 'but you will not succeed.'
Archibald fingered his collar.
'There was no taximeter accident.'
'Ah!' said Mrs Milsom.
'The fact is, I have been playing in a golf tournament.'
Margaret uttered an exclamation of surprise.
Archibald bowed his head with manly resignation.
'Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you arrange for us to meet on the links? I should have loved it.'
Archibald was amazed.
'You take an interest in golf, Margaret? You! I thought you scorned it, considered it an unintellectual game. I thought you considered all games unintellectual.'
'Why, I play golf myself. Not very well.'
'Margaret! Why didn't you tell me?'
'I thought you might not like it. You were so spiritual, so poetic. I feared you would despise me.'
Archibald took a step forward. His voice was tense and trembling.
'Margaret,' he said, 'this is no time for misunderstandings. We must be open with one another. Our happiness is at stake. Tell me honestly, do you like poetry really?'
Margaret hesitated, then answered bravely:
'No, Archibald,' she said, 'it is as you suspect. I am not worthy of you. I do not like poetry. Ah, you shudder! You turn away! Your face grows hard and scornful!'
'I don't!' yelled Archibald. 'It doesn't! It doesn't do anything of the sort! You've made me another man!'
She stared, wild-eyed, astonished.
'What! Do you mean that you, too—'
'I should just say I do. I tell you I hate the beastly stuff. I only pretended to like it because I thought you did. The hours I've spent learning it up! I wonder I've not got brain fever.'
'Archie! Used you to read it up, too? Oh, if I'd only known!'
'And you forgive me—this morning, I mean?'
'Of course. You couldn't leave a golf tournament. By the way, how did you get on?'
'Rather well,' he said modestly. 'Pretty decently. In fact, not badly. As a matter of fact, I won the championship.'
'The championship!' whispered Margaret. 'Of America?'
'Well, not absolutely of America,' said Archibald. 'But all the same, a championship.'
'You won't be wanting me for a while, I guess?' said Stuyvesant nonchalantly. 'Think I'll smoke a cigarette on the porch.'
And sobs from the stairs told that Mrs Milsom was already on her way to her room.