The eternal duffer.
That remakr might be considered to bear on the sacrilegious, in view of the occasion, but none of the other pallbearers objected, and they were all old friends of Barnaby Jessup, men in their 60s or higher, all but one of them, and Barnaby Jessup had been 76 when laid to rest.
The six pallbearers walked back across the gravel path to the car to take them back to town, and on the sidelines their names were spoken in hushed tones. For one of them, some years before, had been a candidate for rpesident of the United States; one was a great surgeon in the land; a third, the young man of the lot, was a lean and tanned golf professional, winner of the Open, and it was he who had made the remark about golf.
The men got into the car, and as was natural, they talked about Barnaby Jessup on the ride back to town. But they did not reminisce about the time back in the '20s that Jessup had made a million in the stock market, not about the way he had juggled railroads; it was of quite different matters that they talked.
The man who had almost become president said, "I was with Barnaby the day he put eight straight balls in the lake hole."
The surgeon, his eyes reflective, said thoughtfully, "I played with him the day he took a 27 on a par-three, 110-yard hole."
The mildest man of the group, the man who was simply the head of one of the late Jessup's holding companies, said, "I saw him wrap all of his clubs around a tree one afternoon," and no one commented, because that had been commonplace.
The car hummed across the black ribbon of road, and there was a silence while the men privately considered their friend; and finally the golf professional looked up at the warm, blue sky and spoke quietly.
"I hope Barnaby finds a golf course," he said.
The gate before which barnaby Jessup found himself was highly ornamental, of a curiously intricate wrought iron, and the pillars were of marble, but a marble that Jessup had never seen, marble with the luster of a pearl.
"Ought to look into this," Jessup said. "The trustees could use it for the art museum."
And so saying, he passed through the gate and was presently standing in the registrar's office, where in due time he gave his name to the clerk, who worte it in gold letters.
"Glad to have you with us, Mr. Jessup," the clerk said. "A good many of the inmates like to know why they've been able to come here. In your case----"
Jessup stopped him with a wave of the hand.
Like many men who have achieved great wealth and prominence, he was inclined to be autocratic. "I left an art museum behind," he said. "I divided my fortune among colleges and institutions----"
"Not for any of those things did you enter here," said the clerk.
Jessup was momentarily startled. "Well," he said, "I built the finest hospital in my state, equipped it with the best that money could buy and brought some of the greatest medical men in the world----"
The clerk said, "That it entered on page 3, 149 under the heading 'Superficial trivia.'"
Jessup was jarred right down to his heels by that one. He though a minute and then began a recital of what he had done with his money, the charities he had supported. Before he had gotten under way with the list, the clerk was shaking his head negatively.
"You remember Jim Dolan?" said the clerk.
Jessup thought back down the years. "Jim Dolan," Jessup said slowly. "Must have been 30 years ago, that was. He was a caddie at the club. Killed in an accident."
"You went to see his mother," the clerk said, reading aloud from a page in the ledger. "You had a meeting that was worth thousands to you, and you turned it down to go and see his mother."
"I didn't give her a dime," Jessup said. "Just called to pay my respects and tell her what a fine boy Jim had been. That's all I did."
"That's all," said the clerk gently, and smiled, and Barnaby Jessup scratched his head and wondered--but not for long, because he was a man of action and unaccustomed to being introspective.
"Look, son," he said, "all my life I've been on the go. I don't mean any offense, but tell me this: Do I have to sit around on a cloud? I mean, just sit? And I've no ear for music. I can't play a harmonica, let alone a harp."
"Why, no," the clerk said. "You can do about anything you like; anything within reason, that is."
Barnaby hesitated and said in a low voice, "No gold courses in these parts, I suppose?"
"No country clubs," the clerk said. "There's no discrimination up here. But we have a very fine public course."
Barnaby Jessup smiled and then said, "I didn't bring my clubs. I----"
"Last door down on your left," the clerk said.
Barnaby had another question, but he kep it back because he didn't like to take too much of the clerk's time. And like Pete Tyson wouldn't be up here anyway. Barnaby and tyson had been business competitors and had fought each other with no rules and no holds barred, but most of all they had battled on the golf course. Ten years before, Barnaby had fought back the tears while he watched the clods go down over the mortal remains of his dearest enemy and closest friend.
He's sure like to see old Pete. But a man can's have everything, he thought, and he went on down the hall to the last room on the left. A man sat a bench inside and Barnaby stopped and stared, for he had never seen so many golf clubs. They lined the walls, clubs of every description.
"Help yourself," the man at the bench said without looking up.
Barnaby thanked him and selected a likely-looking driver from a case along one wall. It had the right feel with the weight in the head where he liked it. He tried the rest of the clubs and found them perfectly matched, and finally he put the set ina golf bag and a half dozen balls in the pocket.
"What do I owe you?" he said, taking out his wallet and extracting two $100 bills, for these were hand-designed bench-mace clubs and he was ready to pay 200 for all he had there--but not a penny more, because he had always made it a practice not to let people take advantage of him because of his wealth.
"No charge," the man said. "They're your clubs. Look on the shaft."
Barnaby glanced down and saw his name stenciled there. "Well," he said in wonder, "but look here, I want to give you something. I don't doubt all employees up here are well treated, but just the same----"
The man squinted down the shaft of a club. "I'm no employee," he said. "I'm a permanent resident and a busy man."
Barnaby Jessup thanked him and walked to the door. Then he said, "Can you tell me how to reach the course?"
"Six miles due nothr."
"Is there a cab for hire?"
Barnaby couldn't understand what he said. It sounded like "Fly," and he didn't repeat the question, for the man was plainly eccentric, although a genius at his craft. He went outside to look for a cruising taxi. Then he felt something at his back when he slung the golf bag over his shoulders and discovered that the strap was tangled up with a protuberance growing out of his shoulders.
He wiggled his shoulder blades, and the next thing he knew he was three feet off the ground and treading air, with both wings flapping.
"Well, I'll be," Jessup said, then sighted on the sun, got a bearing on what he considerd to be due north and took off, flying at a steady, even clip about ten feet above the ground.
It was a trifle awkward; he got out of balance somehow while trying to shift the golf bag, went into a tailspin and landed on his chin in a gully, but it didn't hurt. Presently he was airborne again. Finally he saw a long stretch of green ahead of him. He flew over the entire 18 holes and surveyed the layout.
When he had finished he knew he had just seen the ultimate in golf courses. The fairways were gently undulating, lush with grass, the greens with huge emeralds. It was a sporty course, too, not too flat, and yet not too hilly.
Getting quite excited, he flew back to the first tee, eager to swing a club, for although he had been one of the world's most successful men, it is said that no man achieves everything he wants in life, and Barnaby Jessup had been a success at everything he turned his hand to with the exception of gold. A not inconsiderable part of his fortune had been spent on the game, but he had remained a duffer. He had in his home a comprehensive library of golf from the earlier works down to the most modern tomes. He had studied under the greatest professionals in the world and had built in the cellar of his home a cage where he could practice on such days that inclement weather kept him off the course. But he had remained a divot digger and a three-putter down the years.
He made a neat two-point landing on the tee, and as if by magic a caddie bobbed up, a small, freckled boy, with a missing front tooth, who relieved him of his bag and handled him his driver.
"Howdy, Mr. Jessup," the boy said. "Nice day for it."
Jessup stared at him. "Jim Dolan," he said. He couldn't see any mark on the boy from the truck. "Like old days, Jim," he said.
"Smack 'er out there, Mr. Jessup," the boy said.
Jessup took the one wood the boy handed him and then reached into his pocket for a tee. He leaned over and jabbed the tee into the soft ground. He stepped forward and waggled his club a moment.
Jessup stood at the tree, addressing the ball and sighting toward the green, 400 yards distant. Then he ran through the rules, cautioning himself not to press, to keep his head down, to start the club back low to the ground, to let the left arm do the work, to cock his wrists and to shift his weight to the right foot with most of the weight on the heel.
He thought of all these things and then struck the ball, wincing a little as he always did, expecting either a hook or a slice. But he heard a musical little click, and the ball bounced on the fairway about 260 yards away.
"Good shot," Jim said.
"Best one I ever hit," Jessup cried. "By juniper, I had it that time. I think I've figured this game out."
They walked forward to the ball and Jessup selected a brassie, sure that he was going to miss because never in his life had he put together two consecutive good shots.
He swung the brassie and that click sounded again. Jessup rubbed his eyes and said in awed tones, "It's on the green."
The caddie was already walking forward, handing Jessup his putter.
"I never made a par in my life," JEssup said. "I have a chance for a birdie. Oh, I suppose I'll three-put."
On the green he surveyed the situation, noticing the slope toward the pin. He jabbed at the ball and tightened up, but it rolled forward and fell into the cup.
Barnaby Jessup mopped his brow with a handkerchief and sat down on the apron at the edge of the green.
"Well," he said finally, "accidents will happen. Let's go, Jim. But maybe, at that, I will break 100 today."
The second was a water hole. The lake sparkled a bright sapphire in the sun, and the distance across the water was 180 yards.
Jessup selected a spoon. "I should have brought more than six balls," he said. "Don't know why I didn't. I lose at least six every time I play. I'll put at least three in that lake."
He swung, then listened for the whoosh as the water received his offering. But he failed to hear it and neither did he see drops of water splashing upward.
"Lost sight of it," Jessup said.
"Good shot," the caddie said. "It's in the cup. It's a hole in one, Mr. Jessup."
"Now wait a minute, Jim," Jessup said. "You're not supposed to lie up here. Besides, I'm an old man and--"
"It's in the cup," the caddie repeated.
Jessup was looking for a path around the lake when the boy took off and flew across, and JEssup sailed after him. They landed on the green, and sure enough the ball was in the cup.
He was too shocked to say anything but assumed that every once in a while this kind of thing happened to everyone--a superlatively good day. But of course he'd go blooie any minute; he always had, he always would.
The next hole was 380 yards, and his drive was straight and far. They came up to it, and the caddie handed him a seven iron.
"I usually use a five this far away," Jessup said.
"You can make it with the seven," Jim said.
Jessup didn't think so, but although he invariably took the hide off people wo tried to advise him at business, he'd never somehow been able to disregard a caddie's advice.
Meekly he took the seven and swung. The ball landed twice, rolled forward and fell into the cup. Jessup removed his glasses, blew on them and put them back on.
"You're playing a nice, steady game," the caddie said. "Even twos at this point."
"I am not," Jessup said. "Don't be ridiculous, Jim. I can't possibly have played three holes and only taken six shots. Nobody could, no golfer in the world."
He took the scorecard from the boy and counted it, and counted it again on his fingers. The boy was right--there was o disputing it. He had a three and a one and a two. There was no getting away from it. It wasn't possible, but there it was. He was even twos.
He had started out with the eternal hope of breaking 100. Now he was afraid to think about it. But still, he told himself, he'd go blooie any moment now.
And when they stood on the fourth tee he was sure of it. Despite the fact that he was in heaven, this hole might have been designed by the devil himself.
The fairway was perhaps 40 yards wide, with a dogleg in the distance. On the left was a gorge, the fairway ended abruptly and beyond it was a vast nothingness; he could see clouds below it. A hooked ball was a goner.
"What happens to the ball if you hook it over the gorge?" Jessup said.
The boy's face was serious. "It goes all the way down," he said. "All the way."
"To the earth?" Jessup said.
And Jim Dolan shook his head. "All the way down."
Jessup took a second look and the clouds parted. He got a faint whiff of brimstne and saw a red glow burn madly for a moment.
"The only golf balls they get are the ones hooked over that gorge," the caddie said. "Poor devils."
Jessup placed his ball on the tee. On the right were the densest woods he had ever seen, and the fairway itself was sprinkled with traps. He took careful aim at a grassy spot between two traps and swung. He was afraid to look, and automatically he was reaching in his hip pocket for a second ball when the caddie said, "Nice shot."
And there was the ball, dead in the middle of the fairway.
They walked toward it and Jessup was shaking as though he had the ague, although it was as nice a day as a golfer could find--no breeze and not too hot, just warm enough to make a man's muscles feel loose.
They had almost reached the ball when they heard a sound in the woods to the right; a moment later a handful of dirt and pebbles came down out of the sky, and then a ball dropped out of nowhere and landed in front of them.
Barnaby stopped and looked around at a lean, lank figure coming out of the woods. He had a turned-down mouth and a bald and wrinkled pate, and he was talking to himself. "By Saturn," he said, "by Venus, that was a shot."
Barnaby stared in amazement and then finally he found his tongue. "Pete Tyson, you old horse thief," he said.
"Well," Tyson cackled, "I never expected to see you here. Wht did you do, bribe the authorities?"
They shook hands and grinned at each other. Then Tyson addressed his ball. He hadn't changed at all, Barnaby saw. Tyson wound himself into a pretzel until he was next door to strangling himself. Then the club came down, and the ball hopped across the fairway and disappeared over the edge of the gorge and down toward the licking red flames.
But his old partner had become philosophical--Barnaby had to admit that. "If it weren't for me," Tyson muttered, "they'd have a hell of a time down there," And he took another ball from his hip pocket, placed it on the turf and hit it toward the pin.
It was like old times playing with Pete Tyson, and Barnaby was so puffed up he could scarcely wait to hit his ball. He could hardly contain himself, waiting to see the look on Tyson's face when he showed him how he was hitting the ball now.
Jim Dolan handed him a brassie, and Barnaby stepped up and swung. When he raised his head the ball was lying on the green. He turned and looked at his friend and waited for him to say something.
But Tyson hadn't even opened his mouth. He just granted and moved on down the fairway, and Barnaby stared him, his face getting red.
They went along to the green. Barnaby sank a 40-foot putt and he looked up--and still Tyson didn't say a word. That was the last straw.
They went toward the next tee, and Barnaby exploded. "Why don't you be a man?" he said. "I always knew I was the better golfer and now I've proved it. Why can't you be man enough to admit it? Just standing there and sulking like the cantankerous old goat you are."
"Hit the ball," Tyson growled. "If there's anything I hate it's a gabby golfer. You always did talk too much."
His face purple now, Barnaby stepped up without another word and hit the longest drive ever seen in the solar system. The ball went practically out of sight and then came down on the green. Jim Dolan handed him his putter.
And still Tyson's expression hand't changed. Barnaby stood there, choking, while Pete hit his usual 100-yard drive into the rough. They plodded along. Barnaby couldn't figure how Tyson had gotten up here, but it was obviously a mistake, and somebody had slipped up somewhere; some mix-up in the celestial filing system that probably explained it. And instead of being grateful, Tyson was more ornery here than he'd ever been down below, which was saying a good deal. And maybe Tyson wouldn't admit it, but anyway, Barnaby was going to beat the tar out of him.
And he did. They finished the first nine and Barnaby totted up his score.
Pete Tyson said, "Gives me a 63. Couple of bad holes, but I'll do better on the back nine. Let's have an ambrosia before we start out."
They walked up the terrace. A waiter flew out with two tall and misty-looking glasses.
Barnaby put his scorecard down on the table. "I have a 23," he said defiantly. "The caddie will vouch for it. I'll shoot about a 45 for the 18."
He shoved the card under Tyson's nose, but the old goat just yawned and said nothing.
Barnaby sat there and told himself that he was the champion golfer of the universe. But somehow it left him cold, and suddenly he felt old and tired and even the ambrosia tasted flat. He sighed, put down his half-empty glass and got up slowly from the table.
"In a hurry?" Tyson said, grunting.
Barnaby said sadly, "Sorry, Pete, but somehow I don't feel so good. I'm going to turn in my clubs. Don't think I'll pay any more golf." And he thought that even if Tyson had congratulated him, he still wouldn't want to play any more.
Pete's wise old eyes squinted up at him and he chuckled dryly.
"Barnaby, you old fool," he said, "I shot a 46 myself the first round I played here. It's one of the house rules."
"House rules?" Barnaby said, bewildered.
"They let you have up here what you don't get below," Tyson said. "You always wanted to be a perfect golfer. So did I. But somehow, most of the residents prefer to go back to being themselves. You can make your choice."
Barnaby didn't have to think twice for the answer to that one. And suddenly the sun came out, his loneliness was gone and he was itching to get out on the tee again.
"Tell you what," Tyson said. "On this back nine I'll play you for the ambrosia at the 19th. I'll give you three strokes."
"You'll give me strokes!" Barnaby's face was purple again.
"You've gotton hogfat since I saw you," Tyson said. "And besides, I've had lessons from Macpherson."
"Sandy Macpherson is up here?" said Tyson. "So it's only fair I give you strokes. I wouldn't take advantage of you."
Barnaby's jowls shook with his laughter. "You'll give me strokes! Do I look like a man who takes candy from a baby? I never saw the day when I had to take strokes from a string bean of a man put together with baling wire. Strokes! Come on," he said. "I'm going to play you even!"
"Man, you'll rue the day," said Tyson, and their scowls wavered for a minute and became broad grins as the love they had for each other came through.
The caddies came up and they hurried across to the tenth tee. "Start it off," Barnaby said. "Give me something to shoot at."
Tyson wound up and he missed the ball on his first try. He swung again and got himself bunkered behind the ladies' tee.
"If I couldn't do better than that," Barnaby said with a chuckle, "I'd quit."
He took his stance. Then he saw a stranger watching him, a hawk of a man with a blade for a nose, a man with sandy red hair, shrewd gray eyes, a pipe in his mouth and a contemptuous, dour look on his face.
"Meet Sandy Macpherson, our pro," Tyson said.
"Too bad we didn't meet earlier," Barnaby said. "I'd have liked a lesson from you, but I'll not be needing one now, for I've finally grooved may swing."
"Then swing, laddie, and dinna talk sae much," said Macpherson.
Barnaby waggled his club over the ball and ran over the rules in his mind. He started back with the left hand, kept his eye on the ball, pivoted with the hips and shoulders and did everything according to the book--or so he thought. But there was a whoosing sound like a wet sock falling on a concrete floor, and the ball blooped into the air and came down in a meadow to the right of the fairway.
"You'll have to hit another," Tyson cackled. "The Elysian fields are out of bounds."
Hit another he did, a topped, dribbling shot. He turned to Sandy Macpherson.
"I'd better have a lesson tomorrow," Barnaby said. "I must have done something wrong."
"Something!" said Macpherson with a laugh like a rusty safe door operning. "Ye dinna keep yere head doon."
"No, sir," said Barnaby, humble and ashamed.
"Ye swing like an old witch wi' a broomstick."
"I suppose I do," Barnaby said meekly, bowing his head for shame
"Hoot", said Machperson, "I'll hae to throw yere game away, mon. I'll hae to start from scratch and see if there's aught to be done wi' ye. Ten o'clock sharp tomorrow."
"Yes, sir," said Barnaby. "I'll be there." He grinned at Tyson, who was grinning back at him, and then started out to hunt for his ball in the Elysian fields, whistling a tune of his youth, and happy as a lark.
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|Title Annotation:||short story|
|Publication:||Saturday Evening Post|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1984|
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