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The battle of Squashy Hollow.

In his office on the premises of Popgood and Grooly, publishers of the Book Beautiful, Cyril Grooly, the firm's junior partner, was practicing putts into a tooth glass and doing rather badly even for one with a 24 handicap, when Patricia Binstead, Mr. Popgood's secretary, entered, and, dropping his putter, he folded her in a close embrace. This was not because all publishers are warm-hearted, impulsive men and she was a very attractive girl, but because they had recently become betrothed. On his return from his summer vacation at Paradise Valley, due to begin this afternoon, they would step down to the Little Church Around the Corner and become man--if you can call someone with a 24 handicap a man--and wife.

"A social visit?" he asked, the embrace concluded. "Or business?"

"Business. Popgood's had to go out to see a man about subsidiary rights, and Count Dracula has blown in. Well, when I say Count Dracula, I speak loosely. He just looks like him. His name is Professor Pepperidge Farmer, and he's come to sign his contract."

"He writes books?"

"He's written one. He calls it Hypnotism as a Device to Uncover the Unconscious Drives and Mechanism in an Effort to Analyze the Functions Involved That Give Rise to Emotional Conflicts in the Waking State, but the title's going to be changed to Sleepy Time. Popgood thinks it's snappier."

"Much snappier."

"Shall I send him in?"

"Do so, queen of my soul."

"And Popgood says be sure not to go above $200 for the advance," said Patricia, and a few moments later the visitor made his appearance.

It was an appearance, as Patricia had hinted, of a nature to chill the spine. "Sinister" was the adjective that automatically sprang to the minds of those who met Professor Pepperidge Farmer for the first time. His fce was gaunt and lined and grim, and as his burning eyes bored into Cyril's, the young publisher was conscious of a feeling of relief that this encounter was not taking place down a dark alley or in some lonely spot in the country. But a man accustomed to mingling with authors, few of whom look like anything on earth, is not readily intimidated, and he greeted the Professor with his customary easy courtesy.

"Come right in," he said. "You've caught me just in time. I'm off to Paradise Valley this afternoon."

"A golfing holiday?" said the Professor, eyeing the putter.

"Yes, I'm looking forward to getting in some golf."

"How is your game?"

"Horrible," Cyril was oblied to confess. "Mine is a sad and peculiar case. I have the theory of golf at my fingertips, but once out in the middle I do nothing but foozle."

"You should keep your head down."

"So Tommy Armour tells me, but up it comes. There's no keeping it down."

"That's life."

"Or shall we say hell?"

"If you prefer it."

"It seems more apt, somehow. But now to business. Miss Binstead tells me you have come to sign your contract. I have it here. It all appears to be in order, except that the amount of the advance has not been decided."

"And what are your views on that?"

"I was thinking of $100. You see," said Cyril, falling smoothly into his stride, "a book like your always involves a serious risk for the publisher, owing to the absence of the sex motif, which renders it impossible for him to put a nude female of impressive vital statistics on the jacket, and no hope of getting banned in Boston. Add the growing cost of paper and the ever increasing demands of printers, compositors, binders and . . . why are you waving your hands like that?"

"I have French blood in me. On the mother's side."

"Well, I wish you wouldn't. You're making me sleepy."

"Oh, am I? How very interesting. Yes, I can see that your eyes are closing. You are becoming drowsy. You are falling asleep . . . you are falling asleep . . . asleep . . . asleep . . . asleep. . . ."

It was getting on for lunchtime when Cyril awoke. When he did so, he found that the recent gargoyle was no longer with him. Odd, he felt, that the fellow should have gone before they had settled the amount of his advance, but no doubt he had remembered some appointment elsewhere. Dismissing him from his mind, Cyril resumed his putting, and soon after lunch he left for Paradise Valley.

On the subject of Paradise Valley the public-relations representative of the Paradise Hotel has expressed himself very frankly. It is, he says in his illustrated booklet, a dream world of breathtaking beauty, and its noble scenery, its wide-open spaces, its soft mountain breezes and its sun-drenched pleasances impart to the jaded city worker a new vim and vigor and fill him so full of red corpuscles that before a day has elapsed in these delightful surroundings he is conscious of a je ne sais quoi and a bienetre and goes about with his chin up and both feet on the ground, feeling as if he had just come back from the cleaner's. And, what is more, only a step from the hotel lies the Squashy Hollow golf course, of whose amenities residents can avail themselves on payment of a greens fee.

What, however, the booklet omits is that the Squashy Hollow course is one of the most difficult in the country, frequently causing disgruntled holiday makers to describe it as a stinker. It was constructed by an exiled Scot who, probably from some deep-seated grudge against the human race, has modeled the 18 holes on the nastiest and most repellent of his native land, so that after negotiating--say--the Alps at Prestwick, the pleasure seeker finds himself confronted by the Station-Master's Garden at Saint Andrews, with the Eden and the Redan lurking ominously ahead.

The type of golfer it attracts, therefore, is the one with high ideals and an implicit confidence in his ability to overcome the toughest obstacles; the sort who plays in amateur championships and mutters to himself," Why this strange weakness?" if he shoots worse than a 75, and one look at it gave Cyril that uncomfortable feeling known to scientists as the heebie-jeebies. He had entered for the medal contest, which was to take place tomorrow, for he always entered for medal contests, never being able to forget that he had once shot a 98 and that this, if repeated, would, with his handicap, give him a sporting chance of success. But the prospect of performing in front of all these hardened experts created in him the illusion that caterpillars were parading up and down his spinal cord. He shrank from exposing himself to their bleak, contemptuous stares. His emotions when he did would, he knew, be similar in almost every respect to those of a mongrel that has been rash enough to wander into the Westminster Kennel Show.

As, then, he sat on the porch of the Paradise Hotel on the morning before the contest, he was so far from being filled with bien-entre that he could not even achieve je ne sais quoi, and at this moment the seal was set on his despondency by the sight of Agnes Flack.

Agnes Flack was a large young woman who on the first day of his arrival had discovered that he was a partner in a publishing firm and had immediately begun to speak of a novel that she had written and would be glad to have his opinion of when he had a little time to spare. And experience had taught him that when large young women wrote novels, they were either squashily sentimental or so frank, fearless and forthright that it would be necessary to print them on asbestos, and he had spent much of his leisure avoiding her. She seemed now to be coming in his direction, so, rising hastily, he made on winged feet for the bar. Entering it at a rapid gallop, he collided with a solid body, and this proved on inspection to be none other than Professor Pepperidge Farmer, looking more sinister than ever in Bermuda shorts, a shirt like a sunset, and a Panama hat with a pink ribbon round it.

Cyril stood amazed. There was, of course, no reason by the other should not have been there, for the hotel was open to all whose purses were equal to the tariff, but somehow he seemed out of place, like a ghoul at a garden party or a vampire bat at a picnic.

"You!" he exclaimed. "What ever became of you that morning?"

"You allude to our previous meeting?" said the Professor. "I saw you had dozed off, so I tiptoed out without disturbing you. I thought it would be better to resume our acquaintance in these more agreeable surroundings. For if you are thinking that my presence here is due to one of those coincidences that are so strained and inartistic, you are wrong. I came in the hope that I might be able to do something to improve your golf game. I feel I owe you a great deal."

"You do? Why?"

"We can go into that some other time. Tell me, how is the golf going? Any improvement?"

If he had hoped to receive confidences, he could not have put the question at a better moment. Cyril did not habitually bare his soul to comparative strangers, but now he found himself unable to resist the urge. It was as though the Professor's query had drawn a cork and brought all his doubts and fears and inhibitions foaming out like ginger pop from a ginger-pop bottle. As far as reticence was concerned, he might have been on a psychoanalyst's couch at $50 the half-hour. In burning words he spoke of the coming medal contest, stressing his qualms and the growing coldness of his feet, and the Professor listened attentively, clicking a sympathetic tongue from time to time. It was plain that though he looked like something Charles Addams might have thought up when in the throes of a hangover--if Mr. Addams ever does have hangovers--he had a feeling heart.

"I'm paired with a fellow called Sidney McMurdo, who they tell me is the club champion, and I fear his scorn. It's going to take me at least 115 shots for the round, and on each of those 115 shots Sidney McMurdo will look at me as if I were something slimy and obscene that had crawled out from under a flat stone. I shall feel like a crippled leper, and so," said Cyril, concluding his remarks, "I have decided to take my name off the list of entrants. Call me weak if you will, but I can't face it."

The Professor patted him on the shoulder in a fatherly manner and was about to speak, but before he could do so Cyril heard himself paged and was told that he was wanted on the telephone. It was some little time before he returned, and when he did the dullest eye could see that something had occurred to ruffle him. He found Professor Farmer sipping a lemonade, and when the Professor asked him if he would care for one of the same, he thundered out a violent No.

"Blast and damn all lemonades?" he cried vehemently. "Do you know who that was on the phone? It was Popgood, my senior partner. And do you know what he said? He wanted to know what had got into me to make me sign a contract giving you $5,000 advance on that book of yours. He said you must have hypnotized me."

A smile, probably intended to be gentle but conveying the impression that he was suffering from some internal disorder, played over the Professor's face.

"Of course I did, my dear fellow. It was one of the ordinary business precautions an author has to take. The only way to get a decent advance from a publisher is to hypnotize him. That was what I was referring to when I said I owed you a great deal. But for you, I should never have been able to afford a holiday at a place like Paradise Valley, where even the simplest lemonade sets you back a prince's ransom. Was Popgood annoyed?"

"He was."

"Too bad. He should have been rejoicing to think that his money had been instrumental in bringing a little sunshine into a fellow creature's life. But let us forget him and return to this matter of your golfing problems."

He had said the one thing capable of diverting Cyril's thoughts from his incandescent partner. No 24-handicap man is ever deaf to such an appeal.

"You told me you had all the theory of the game at your fingertips. Is that so? Your reading has been wide?"

"I've read every golf book that has been written," Cyril said.

"You mentioned Tommy Armour. Have you studied his preachings?"

"I know them by heart."

"But lack of confidence prevents your putting them into practice?"

"I suppose that's it."

"Then the solution is simple. I must hypnotize you again. You should still be under the influence, but the effects may have worn off, and it's best to be on the safe side. I will instill into you the conviction that you can knock spots off the proudest McMurdo. When you take club in hand, it will be with the certainty that your ball is going to travel from Point A to Point B by the shortest route and will meet with no misadventures on the way. Whose game would you prefer yours to resemble? Arnold Palmer's? Ben Hogan's? Sam Snead's? Palmer's is the one I would recommend. Those spectacular finishes of his. You agree? Palmer it shall be, then. So away we go. Your eyes are closing. You are feeling drowsy. You are falling asleep . . . asleep . . . asleep. . . ."

Paradise Valley was at its best the next day, its scenery just as noble, its mountain breezes just as soft, its spaces fully as wide and open as the public-relations man's booklet had claimed them to be, and Cyril, as he stood beside the first tee of the Squashy Hollow course awaiting Sidney McMurdo's arrival, was feeling, as he had confided to the caddy master when picking up his clubs, like a million dollars. He would indeed scarcely have been exaggerating if he had made it 2 million. His chin was up, both his feet were on the ground, and the red corpuscles of which the booklet had spoken coursed through his body like students rioting in Saigon, Moscow, Cairo, Panama and other centers. Professor Farmer, in assuring him that he would become as confident as Arnold Palmer, had understated it. He was as confident as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus all rolled into one.

He had not been waiting long when he beheld a vast expanse of man approaching and presumed that this must be his partner for the round. He gave him a sunny smile.

"Mr. McMurdo? How do you do? Nice day. Very pleasant, those soft mountain breezes."

The newcomer's only response was a bronchial sound such as might have been produced by an elephant taking its foot out of a swamp in a teak forest. Sidney McMurdo was in a dark and sullen mood. On the previous night Agnes Flack, his fiancee, had broken their engagement owing to a trifling disagreement they had had about the novel she had written. He had said it was a lot of prune juice and advised her to burn it without delay, and she had said it was not, either, a lot of prune juice, adding that she never wanted to see or speak to him again, and this had affected him adversely. It always annoyed him when Agnes Flack broke their engagement, because it made him overswing, particularly off the tee.

He did so now, having won the honor, and was pained to see that his ball, which he had intended to go due north, was traveling nor'-nor'east. And as he stood scowling after it, Cyril spoke.

"I wonder if you noticed what you did wrong there, Mr. McMurdo," he said in the friendliest way. "Your backswing was too long. Length of backswing does not have as much effect on distance as many believe. You should swing back only just as far as you can without losing control of the club. Control is all-important. I always take my driver to about the horizontal position on the backswing. Watch me now."

And so saying, Cyril, with effortless grace, drove 280 yards straight down the fairway.

"See what I mean?" he said.

It was on the fourth green, after he had made an eagle, that he spoke again. Sidney McMurdo had had some difficulty in getting out of a sand trap, and Cyril hastened to give him the benefit of his advice. There was nothing in it for him except the glow that comes from doing an act of kindness, but it distressed him to see a quite promising player like McMurdo making mistakes of which a wiser head could so easily cure him.

"You did not allow for the texture of the sand," he said. "Your sand shot should differ with the texture of the sand. If it is wet, hard or shallow, your club head will not cut into it as deeply as it would into soft and shifting sand. If the sand is soft, try to dig into it about two inches behind the ball, but when it is hard, penetrate it about one-and-a-half inches behind the ball. And because firm sand will slow down your club considerably, be sure to give your swing a full follow-through."

The game proceeded. On the 12th Cyril Warned his partner to be careful to remember to bend the knees slightly for greater flexibility throughout the swing, though--on the 16th--he warned against bending them too much, as this often led to topping. When both had holed out at the 18th, he had a word of counsel to give on the subject of putting.

"Successful putting, Sidney," he said, for he felt that they might now consider themselves on firstname terms, "depends largely on the mental attitude. Confidence is everything. Never let anxiety make you tense. Never for an instant harbor the thought that your shot may miss. When I sank that last 50-foot putt, I knew it was going in. My mind was filled with a picture of the ball following a proper line to the hole, and it is that sort of picture I should like to encourage in you. Well, it has been a most pleasant round. We must have another soon. I shot a 62, did I not? I thought so. I was quite on my game today, quite on my game."

Sidney McMurdo's eyebrows, always beetling, were beetling still more darkly as he watched Cyril walking away with elastic tread. He turned to a friend who had just come up.

"Who is that fellow?" he asked hoarsely.

"His name's Grooly," said the friend. "One of the summer visitors."

"What's his handicap?"

"I can tell you that, for I was looking at the board this morning. It's 24."

"Air!" cried Sidney McMurdo, clutching his throat. "Give me air!"

Cyril, meanwhile, had rounded the clubhouse and was approaching the practice green that lay behind it. Someone large and female was engaged there in polishing her chip shots, and as he paused to watch he stood astounded at her virtuosity. A chip shot, he was aware, having read his Johnny Farrell, is a crisp hit with the club head stopping at the ball and not following through. "Open your stance," says the venerable Farrell, "place your weight on the left foot and hit down at the ball," and this was precisely what this substantial female was doing. Each ball she struck dropped on the green like a poached egg, and as she advanced to pick them up he saw that she was Agnes Flack.

A loud gasp escaped Cyril. The dream world of breath-taking beauty pirouetted before his eyes as if Arthur Murray were teaching it dancing in a hurry. He was conscious of strange, tumultuous emotions stirring within him. The the mists cleared and, gazing at Agnes Flack, he knew that there before him stood his destined mate. A novelist she might be, and no doubt as ghastly a novelist as ever set finger to typewriter key, but what of that? Quite possibly she would grow out of it in time, and in any case he felt that, as a man who went about shooting 62s in medal contests, he owed it to himself to link his lot with a golfer of her caliber. Theirs would be the ideal union.

In a situation like this, no publisher hesitates. Ask Macmillan, ask Harper & Row, ask Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and they will all tell you that hesitating is the last thing that would occur to them. A moment later, Cyril was on the green, his arms as far around Agnes Flack as they would go.

"Old girl," he said, "you're a grand bit of work!"

Two courses were open to Agnes Flack. She could draw herself to her full height, say, "Sir!" and strike this clinging vine with her number-seven iron, or, remembering that Cyril was a publisher and that she had a top copy and two carbons of a novel in her suitcase, she could cooperate and accept his addresses. She chose the latter alternative, and when Cyril suggested that they should spend the honeymoon in Scotland, playing all the famous courses there, she said that that would suit her perfectly. If, as she plighted her troth, a thought of Sidney McMurdo came into her mind, it was merely the renewed conviction that he was an oaf and a fathead temperamentally incapable of recognizing good literature when it was handed to him on a skewer.

These passionate scenes take it out of a man, and it is not surprising that Cyril's first move on leaving Agnes Flack should have been in the direction of the bar. Arriving there, he found Professor Farmer steeping himself, as was his custom, in lemonade. The warm weather engendered thirst, and since the Professor had come to the Paradise Hotel the straw had seldom left his lips.

"Ah, Cyril, if you don't mind my calling you Cyril, though you will be the first to admit that it's a hell of a name," said the Professor, "how did everything come out?"

"Quite satisfactorily, Pepperidge. The returns are not all in, but I think I must have won the medal. I shot a 62, which, substracting my handicap, gives me a 38. I doubt if anyone will do better than 38."

"Most unlikely."

"Thirty-four under par takes a lot of beating."

"Quite a good deal. I congratulate you."

"And that's not all. I'm engaged to the most wonderful girl."

"Really? I congratulae you again. Who is she?"

"Her name is Agnes Flack."

The Professor started and dislodged a drop of lemonade from his lower lip.

"Agnes Flack?"


"You couldn't be mistaken in the name?"



"Why do you say H'm?"

"I was thinking of Sidney McMurdo."

"How does he get into the act?"

"He is--or was--betrothed to Agnes Flack, and I am told he has rather a short way with men who get engaged to his fiancee, even if technically ex. Do you know a publisher called Pickering?"

"Harold Pickering? I've met him."

"He got engaged to Agnes Flack, and it was only by butting Sidney McMurdo in the stomach with his head and disappearing over the horizon that he was able to avoid being torn by McMurdo into little pieces. But for his ready resource, he would have become converted into, as one might say, a sort of publishing hash, though of course McMurdo might simply have jumped on him with spiked shoes."

It was Cyril's turn to say H'm, and he said it with a good deal of thoughtful fervor. He had parted so recently from Sidney McMurdo that he had not had time to erase from his mental retina what might be called the overall picture of him. The massive bulk of Sidney McMurdo rose before his eyes, as did the other's rippling muscles. The discovery that, in addition to possessing the physique of a gorilla, he had also that animal's easily aroused temper was not one calculated to induce a restful peace of mind. Given the choice between annoying Sidney McMurdo and stirring up a nest of hornets with a fountain pen, he would unhesitatingly have cast his vote for the hornets.

And it was as he sat trying to think what was to be done for the best that the door flew open and the bar became full of McMurdo. He seemed to permeate its every nook and cranny. Nor had Professor Farmer erred in predicting that his mood would be edgy. His eyes blazed, his ears wiggled, and a clicking sound like the manipulation of castanets by a Spanich dancer told that he was gnashing his teeth. Except that he was not beating his chest with both fists, he resembled in every respect the gorilla to which Cyril had mentally compared him.

"Ha!" he said, sighting Cyril.

"Oh, hello, Sidney."

"Less of the Sidney!" snarled McMurdo. "I don't want a man of your kidney calling me Sidney," he went on, rather surprisingly dropping into poetry. "Agnes Flack tells me she is engaged to you."

Cyril replied nervousely that there had been some informal conversation along those lines.

"She says you hugged her."

"Only a little."

"And kissed her."

"In the most respectful manner."

"In other words, you have sneaked behind my back like a slithery serpent and stolen from me the woman I love. Perhaps, if you have a moment to spare, you will step outside."

Cyril did not wish to step outside, but it seemed that there was no alternative. HE preceded Sidney McMurdo through the door, and was surprised, on reaching the wide-opn spaces, to find that Professor Farmer had joined the party. The Professor was regarding Sidney with that penetrating gaze of his, which made him look like Boris Karloff in a peevish frame of mind.

"Might I ask you to look me in the eye for a moment, Mr. McMurdo?" he said. "Thank you. Yes, as I thought. You are drowsy. Your eyes are closing. You are falling asleep."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

"By Jove, I belive you're right," said Sidney McMurdo, sinking slowly into a conveniently placed deck chair. "Yes, I think I'll take a nap."

The Professor continued to weave arabesques in the air with his hands, and then suddenly Sidney McMurdo sat up. His eye rested on Cyril, but it was no longer the flaming eye it had been. Almost affectionate it seemed, and when he spoke his voice was mild.

"Mr. Grooly."

"On the spot."

"I have been thinking it over, Mr. Grooly, and I have reached a decision, which, though painful, i am sure is right. It is wrong to think only of self. There are times when a man must make the great sacrifice, no matter what distress it causes him. You love Agnes Flack, Agnes loves you and I must not come between you. Take her, Mr. Grooly. I yield her to you, yield her freely. It breaks my heart, but her happiness is all that matters. Take her, Grooly, and if a broken man's blessing is of any use to you, I give it without reserve. I think I'll go to the bar and have a gin and tonic," said Sidney McMurdo, and proceeded to do so.

"A very happy conclusion to your afternoon's activities," said Professor Farmer as the swing door closed behind him. "I often say that there is nothing like hypnotism for straightening out these little difficulties. I thought

McMurdo's speech of renunciation was very well phrased, didn't you? In perfect taste. Well, as you will now no longer have need of my services, I suppose I had better dehypnotize you. It will not be painful, just a momentary twinge," said the Professor, blowing a lemonade-charged breath in Cyril's face, and Cyril was aware of an odd feeling of having been hit by an atom bomb while making a descent in an express elevator. He found himself a little puzzled by his companion's choice of the expression "momentary twinge," but he had not leisure to go into what was, after all, a side issue. With the removal of the hypnotic spell, there had come to him the realization of the unfortunate position in which he had placed himself, and he uttered a sharp "Oh, golly!"

"I beg your pardon?" said the Professor.

"Listen," said Cyril, and his voice shook like a jelly in a high wind. "Does it count if you ask a girl to marry you while you're hypnotized?"

"You are speaking of Miss Flack?"

"Yes. I proposed to her on the practice green, carried away by the super-excellence of her chip shots, and I can't stand the sight of her. And, what's more, in about three weeks I'm supposed to be marrying someone else. You remember Patricia Binstead, the girl who showed you into my office?"

"Very vividly."

"She holds the copyright. What am I to do? You couldn't go and hypnotize Agnes Flack and instill her, as you call it, with the idea that I'm the world's leading louse, could you?"

"My dear fellow, nothing easier."

"Then do it without an instant's delay," said Cyril. "Tell her I'm scratch and pretended to have a 24 handicap in order to win the medal. Tell her I'm sober only at the rarest intervals. Tell her I'm a Communist spy. Tell her I've two wives already. But you'll know what to say."

He waited breathlessly for the Professor's return.

"Well?" he cried.

"All washed up, my dear Cyril. I left her reunited with McMurdo. She says she wouldn't marry you if you were the last publisher on earth and wouldn't let you sponsor her novel if you begged her on bended knees. She says she is going to let Simon and Schuster have it, and she hopes that will be a lesson to you."

Cyril drew a deep breath.

"Pepperidge, you're wonderful!"

"One does one's best," said the Professor, modestly. "Well, now that the happy ending has been achieved, how about returning to the bar? I'll buy you a lemonade."

"Do you really like that stuff?"

"I love it."

It was on the tip of Cyril's tongue to say that one would have thought he was a man who would be more likely to share Count Dracula's preference for human blood when thirsty, but he refrained from putting the thought into words. It might, he felt, be lacking in tact, and after all, why criticize a man for looking like something out of a horror film if his heart was so patently of the purest gold? It is the heart that matters, not the features, however unshuffled.

"I'm with you," he said. "A glass of lemonade would be most refreshing."

"They serve a very good lemonade here."

"Probably made from contented lemons."

"I shouldn't wonder," said the Professor.

He smiled a hideous smile. It had just occurred to him that if he hypnotized the waiter, he would be spared the necessity of disbursing money, always a consideration to a man of slender means.
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Wodehouse, P.G.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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