Damsel in Distress
∙ next chapter
Your true golfer is a man who, knowing that life is short and
perfection hard to attain, neglects no opportunity of practising
his chosen sport, allowing neither wind nor weather nor any
external influence to keep him from it. There is a story, with an
excellent moral lesson, of a golfer whose wife had determined to
leave him for ever. "Will nothing alter your decision?" he says.
"Will nothing induce you to stay? Well, then, while you're packing,
I think I'll go out on the lawn and rub up my putting a bit."
George Bevan was of this turn of mind. He might be in love; romance
might have sealed him for her own; but that was no reason for
blinding himself to the fact that his long game was bound to suffer
if he neglected to keep himself up to the mark. His first act on
arriving at Belpher village had been to ascertain whether there was
a links in the neighbourhood; and thither, on the morning after his
visit to the castle and the delivery of the two notes, he repaired.
At the hour of the day which he had selected the club-house was
empty, and he had just resigned himself to a solitary game, when,
with a whirr and a rattle, a grey racing-car drove up, and from it
emerged the same long young man whom, a couple of days earlier, he
had seen wriggle out from underneath the same machine. It was
Reggie Byng's habit also not to allow anything, even love, to
interfere with golf; and not even the prospect of hanging about the
castle grounds in the hope of catching a glimpse of Alice Faraday
and exchanging timorous words with her had been enough to keep him
from the links.
Reggie surveyed George with a friendly eye. He had a dim
recollection of having seen him before somewhere at some time or
other, and Reggie had the pleasing disposition which caused him to
rank anybody whom he had seen somewhere at some time or other as a
"Hullo! Hullo! Hullo!" he observed.
"Good morning," said George.
"Waiting for somebody?"
"How about it, then? Shall we stagger forth?"
George found himself speculating upon Reggie. He was unable to
place him. That he was a friend of Maud he knew, and guessed that
he was also a resident of the castle. He would have liked to
question Reggie, to probe him, to collect from him inside
information as to the progress of events within the castle walls;
but it is a peculiarity of golf, as of love, that it temporarily
changes the natures of its victims; and Reggie, a confirmed babbler
off the links, became while in action a stern, silent, intent
person, his whole being centred on the game. With the exception of
a casual remark of a technical nature when he met George on the
various tees, and an occasional expletive when things went wrong
with his ball, he eschewed conversation. It was not till the end of
the round that he became himself again.
"If I'd known you were such hot stuff," he declared generously, as
George holed his eighteenth putt from a distance of ten feet, "I'd
have got you to give me a stroke or two."
"I was on my game today," said George modestly. "Some times I slice
as if I were cutting bread and can't putt to hit a haystack."
"Let me know when one of those times comes along, and I'll take you
on again. I don't know when I've seen anything fruitier than the
way you got out of the bunker at the fifteenth. It reminded me of
a match I saw between--" Reggie became technical. At the end of his
observations he climbed into the grey car.
"Can I drop you anywhere?"
"Thanks," said George. "If it's not taking you out your way."
"I'm staying at Belpher Castle."
"I live quite near there. Perhaps you'd care to come in and have a
drink on your way?"
"A ripe scheme," agreed Reggie
Ten minutes in the grey car ate up the distance between the links
and George's cottage. Reggie Byng passed these minutes, in the
intervals of eluding carts and foiling the apparently suicidal
intentions of some stray fowls, in jerky conversation on the
subject of his iron-shots, with which he expressed a deep
"Topping little place! Absolutely!" was the verdict he pronounced
on the exterior of the cottage as he followed George in. "I've
often thought it would be a rather sound scheme to settle down in
this sort of shanty and keep chickens and grow a honey coloured
beard, and have soup and jelly brought to you by the vicar's wife
and so forth. Nothing to worry you then. Do you live all alone
George was busy squirting seltzer into his guest's glass.
"Yes. Mrs. Platt comes in and cooks for me. The farmer's wife next
An exclamation from the other caused him to look up. Reggie Byng
was staring at him, wide-eyed.
"Great Scott! Mrs. Platt! Then you're the Chappie?"
George found himself unequal to the intellectual pressure of the
"The Chappie there's all the row about. The mater was telling me
only this morning that you lived here."
"Is there a row about me?"
"Is there what!" Reggie's manner became solicitous. "I say, my dear
old sportsman, I don't want to be the bearer of bad tidings and
what not, if you know what I mean, but didn't you know there was a
certain amount of angry passion rising and so forth because of you?
At the castle, I mean. I don't want to seem to be discussing your
private affairs, and all that sort of thing, but what I mean is...
Well, you don't expect you can come charging in the way you have
without touching the family on the raw a bit. The daughter of the
house falls in love with you; the son of the house languishes in
chokey because he has a row with you in Piccadilly; and on top of
all that you come here and camp out at the castle gates! Naturally
the family are a bit peeved. Only natural, eh? I mean to say,
George listened to this address in bewilderment. Maud in love with
him! It sounded incredible. That he should love her after their one
meeting was a different thing altogether. That was perfectly
natural and in order. But that he should have had the incredible
luck to win her affection. The thing struck him as grotesque and
"In love with me?" he cried. "What on earth do you mean?"
Reggie's bewilderment equalled his own.
"Well, dash it all, old top, it surely isn't news to you? She must
have told you. Why, she told me!"
"Told you? Am I going mad?"
"Absolutely! I mean absolutely not! Look here." Reggie hesitated.
The subject was delicate. But, once started, it might as well be
proceeded with to some conclusion. A fellow couldn't go on talking
about his iron-shots after this just as if nothing had happened.
This was the time for the laying down of cards, the opening of
hearts. "I say, you know," he went on, feeling his way, "you'll
probably think it deuced rummy of me talking like this. Perfect
stranger and what not. Don't even know each other's names."
"Mine's Bevan, if that'll be any help."
"Thanks very much, old chap. Great help! Mine's Byng. Reggie Byng.
Well, as we're all pals here and the meeting's tiled and so forth,
I'll start by saying that the mater is most deucedly set on my
marrying Lady Maud. Been pals all our lives, you know. Children
together, and all that sort of rot. Now there's nobody I think a
more corking sportsman than Maud, if you know what I mean,
but--this is where the catch comes in--I'm most frightfully in love
with somebody else. Hopeless, and all that sort of thing, but
still there it is. And all the while the mater behind me with a
bradawl, sicking me on to propose to Maud who wouldn't have me if I
were the only fellow on earth. You can't imagine, my dear old chap,
what a relief it was to both of us when she told me the other day
that she was in love with you, and wouldn't dream of looking at
anybody else. I tell you, I went singing about the place."
George felt inclined to imitate his excellent example. A burst of
song was the only adequate expression of the mood of heavenly
happiness which this young man's revelations had brought upon him.
The whole world seemed different. Wings seemed to sprout from
Reggie's shapely shoulders. The air was filled with soft music.
Even the wallpaper seemed moderately attractive.
He mixed himself a second whisky and soda. It was the next best
thing to singing.
"I see," he said. It was difficult to say anything. Reggie was
regarding him enviously.
"I wish I knew how the deuce fellows set about making a girl fall
in love with them. Other chappies seem to do it, but I can't even
start. She seems to sort of gaze through me, don't you know. She
kind of looks at me as if I were more to be pitied than censured,
but as if she thought I really ought to do something about it. Of
course, she's a devilish brainy girl, and I'm a fearful chump.
Makes it kind of hopeless, what?"
George, in his new-born happiness, found a pleasure in encouraging
a less lucky mortal.
"Not a bit. What you ought to do is to--"
"Yes?" said Reggie eagerly.
George shook his head.
"No, I don't know," he said.
"Nor do I, dash it!" said Reggie.
"It seems to me it's purely a question of luck. Either you're lucky
or you're not. Look at me, for instance. What is there about me to
make a wonderful girl love me?"
"Nothing! I see what you mean. At least, what I mean to say is--"
"No. You were right the first time. It's all a question of luck.
There's nothing anyone can do."
"I hang about a good deal and get in her way," said Reggie. "She's
always tripping over me. I thought that might help a bit."
"It might, of course."
"But on the other hand, when we do meet, I can't think of anything
"Deuced funny thing. I'm not what you'd call a silent sort of
chappie by nature. But, when I'm with her--I don't know. It's
rum!" He drained his glass and rose. "Well, I suppose I may as well
be staggering. Don't get up. Have another game one of these days,
"Splendid. Any time you like."
"Well, so long."
George gave himself up to glowing thoughts. For the first time in
his life he seemed to be vividly aware of his own existence. It
was as if he were some newly-created thing. Everything around him
and everything he did had taken on a strange and novel interest. He
seemed to notice the ticking of the clock for the first time. When
he raised his glass the action had a curious air of newness. All
his senses were oddly alert. He could even--
"How would it be," enquired Reggie, appearing in the doorway like
part of a conjuring trick. "If I gave her a flower or two every now
and then? Just thought of it as I was starting the car. She's fond
"Fine!" said George heartily. He had not heard a word. The
alertness of sense which had come to him was accompanied by a
strange inability to attend to other people's speech. This would no
doubt pass, but meanwhile it made him a poor listener.
"Well, it's worth trying," said Reggie. "I'll give it a whirl.
Reggie withdrew, and presently came the noise of the car starting.
George returned to his thoughts.
Time, as we understand it, ceases to exist for a man in such
circumstances. Whether it was a minute later or several hours,
George did not know; but presently he was aware of a small boy
standing beside him--a golden-haired boy with blue eyes, who wore
the uniform of a page. He came out of his trance. This, he
recognized, was the boy to whom he had given the note for Maud. He
was different from any other intruder. He meant something in
George's scheme of things.
"'Ullo!" said the youth.
"Hullo, Alphonso!" said George.
"My name's not Alphonso."
"Well, you be very careful or it soon may be."
"Got a note for yer. From Lidy Mord."
"You'll find some cake and ginger-ale in the kitchen," said the
grateful George. "Give it a trial."
"Not 'arf!" said the stripling.