A LUCKY STROKE
"Mr. Munchausen," said Ananias, as he and the famous warrior drove off from the first hole at the Missing Links, "you never seem to weary of the game of golf. What is its precise charm in your eyes, — the health-giving qualities of the game or its capacity for bad lies?"
"I owe my life to it," replied the Baron. "That is to say to my precision as a player I owe one of the many preservations of my existence which have passed into history. Furthermore it is ever varying in its interest. Like life itself it is full of hazards and no man knows at the beginning of his stroke what will be the requirements of the next. I never told you of the bovine lie I got once while playing a match with Bonaparte, did I?"
"I do not recall it," said Ananias, foozling his second stroke into the stone wall.
"I was playing with my friend Bonaparte, for the Cosmopolitan Championship," said Munchausen, "and we were all even at the thirty-sixth hole. Bonaparte had sliced his ball into a stubble field from the tee, whereat he was inclined to swear, until by an odd mischance I drove mine into the throat of a bull that was pasturing on the fair green two hundred and ninety-eight yards distant. 'Shall we take it over?' I asked. 'No,' laughed Bonaparte, thinking he had me. 'We must play the game. I shall play my lie. You must play yours.' 'Very well,' said I. 'So be it. Golf is golf, bull or no bull.' And off we went. It took Bonaparte seven strokes to get on the green again, which left me a like number to extricate my ball from the throat of the unwelcome bovine. It was a difficult business, but I made short work of it. Tying my red silk handkerchief to the end of my brassey I stepped in front of the great creature and addressing an imaginary ball before him made the usual swing back and through stroke. The bull, angered by the fluttering red handkerchief, reared up and made a dash at me. I ran in the direction of the hole, the bull in pursuit for two hundred yards. Here I hid behind a tree while Mr. Bull stopped short and snorted again. Still there was no sign of the ball, and after my pursuer had quieted a little I emerged from my hiding place and with the same club and in the same manner played three. The bull surprised at my temerity threw his head back with an angry toss and tried to bellow forth his wrath, as I had designed he should, but the obstruction in his throat prevented him. The ball had stuck in his pharynx. Nothing came of his spasm but a short hacking cough and a wheeze — then silence. 'I'll play four,' I cried to Bonaparte, who stood watching me from a place of safety on the other side of the stone wall. Again I swung my red-flagged brassey in front of the angry creature's face and what I had hoped for followed. The second attempt at a bellow again resulted in a hacking cough and a sneeze, and lo the ball flew out of his throat and landed dead to the hole. The caddies drove the bull away. Bonaparte played eight, missed a putt for a nine, stymied himself in a ten, holed out in twelve and I went down in five."
"Jerusalem!" cried Ananias. "What did Bonaparte say?"
"Again I swung my red-flagged brassey in front of the angry creature's face, and what I had hoped for followed."
"He delivered a short, quick nervous address in Corsican and retired to the club-house where he spent the afternoon drowning his sorrows in Absinthe high-balls. 'Great hole that, Bonaparte,' said I when his geniality was about to return. 'Yes,' said he. 'A regular lu-lu, eh?' said I. 'More than that, Baron,' said he. 'It was a Waterlooloo.' It was the first pun I ever heard the Emperor make."
"We all have our weak moments," said Ananias drily, playing nine from behind the wall. "I give the hole up," he added angrily.
"Let's play it out anyhow," said Munchausen, playing three to the green.
"All right," Ananias agreed, taking a ten and rimming the cup.
Munchausen took three to go down, scoring six in all.
"Two up," said he, as Ananias putted out in eleven.
"How the deuce do you make that out? This is only the first hole," cried Ananias with some show of heat.
"You gave up a hole, didn't you?" demanded Munchausen.
"And I won a hole, didn't I?"
"You did — but — "
"Well that's two holes. Fore!" cried Munchausen.
The two walked along in silence for a few minutes, and the Baron resumed.
"Yes, golf is a splendid game and I love it, though I don't think I'd ever let a good canvasback duck get cold while I was talking about it. When I have a canvasback duck before me I don't think of anything else while it's there. But unquestionably I'm fond of golf, and I have a very good reason to be. It has done a great deal for me, and as I have already told you, once it really saved my life."
"Saved your life, eh?" said Ananias.
"That's what I said," returned Mr. Munchausen, "and so of course that is the way it was."
"I should admire to hear the details," said Ananias. "I presume you were going into a decline and it restored your strength and vitality."
"No," said Mr. Munchausen, "it wasn't that way at all. It saved my life when I was attacked by a fierce and ravenously hungry lion. If I hadn't known how to play golf it would have been farewell forever to Mr. Munchausen, and Mr. Lion would have had a fine luncheon that day, at which I should have been the turkey and cranberry sauce and mince pie all rolled into one."
"It's easy enough to laugh at my peril now," said Mr. Munchausen, "but if you'd been with me you wouldn't have laughed very much. On the contrary, Ananias, you'd have ruined what little voice you ever had screeching."
"I wasn't laughing at the danger you were in," said Ananias. "I don't see anything funny in that. What I was laughing at was the idea of a lion turning up on a golf course. They don't have lions on any of the golf courses that I am familiar with."
"That may be, my dear Ananias," said Mr. Munchausen, "but it doesn't prove anything. What you are familiar with has no especial bearing upon the ordering of the Universe. They had lions by the hundreds on the particular links I refer to. I laid the links out myself and I fancy I know what I am talking about. They were in the desert of Sahara. And I tell you what it is," he added, slapping his knee enthusiastically, "they were the finest links I ever played on. There wasn't a hole shorter than three miles and a quarter, which gives you plenty of elbow room, and the fair green had all the qualities of a first class billiard table, so that your ball got a magnificent roll on it."
"What did you do for hazards?" asked Ananias.
"Oh we had 'em by the dozen," replied Mr. Munchausen. "There weren't any ponds or stone walls, of course, but there were plenty of others that were quite as interesting. There was the Sphynx for instance; and for bunkers the pyramids can't be beaten. Then occasionally right in the middle of a game a caravan ten or twelve miles long, would begin to drag its interminable length across the middle of the course, and it takes mighty nice work with the lofting iron to lift a ball over a caravan without hitting a camel or killing an Arab, I can tell you. Then finally I'm sure I don't know of any more hazardous hazard for a golf player — or for anybody else for that matter — than a real hungry African lion out in search of breakfast, especially when you meet him on the hole furthest from home and have a stretch of three or four miles between him and assistance with no revolver or other weapon at hand. That's hazard enough for me and it took the best work I could do with my brassey to get around it."
"You always were strong at a brassey lie," said Ananias.
"Thank you," said Mr. Munchausen. "There are few lies I can't get around. But on this morning I was playing for the Mid-African Championship. I'd been getting along splendidly. My record for fifteen holes was about seven hundred and eighty-three strokes, and I was flattering myself that I was about to turn in the best card that had ever been seen in a medal play contest in all Africa. My drive from the sixteenth tee was a simple beauty. I thought the ball would never stop, I hit it such a tremendous whack. It had a flight of three hundred and eighty-two yards and a roll of one hundred and twenty more, and when it finally stopped it turned up in a mighty good lie on a natural tee, which the wind had swirled up. Calling to the monkey who acted as my caddy — we used monkeys for caddies always in Africa, and they were a great success because they don't talk and they use their tails as a sort of extra hand, — I got out my brassey for the second stroke, took my stance on the hardened sand, swung my club back, fixed my eye on the ball and was just about to carry through, when I heard a sound which sent my heart into my boots, my caddy galloping back to the club house, and set my teeth chattering like a pair of castanets. It was unmistakable, that sound. When a hungry lion roars you know precisely what it is the moment you hear it, especially if you have heard it before. It doesn't sound a bit like the miauing of a cat; nor is it suggestive of the rumble of artillery in an adjacent street. There is no mistaking it for distant thunder, as some writers would have you believe. It has none of the gently mournful quality that characterises the soughing of the wind through the leafless branches of the autumnal forest, to which a poet might liken it; it is just a plain lion-roaring and nothing else, and when you hear it you know it. The man who mistakes it for distant thunder might just as well be struck by lightning there and then for all the chance he has to get away from it ultimately. The poet who confounds it with the gentle soughing breeze never lives to tell about it. He gets himself eaten up for his foolishness. It doesn't require a Daniel come to judgment to recognise a lion's roar on sight.
"I should have perished myself that morning if I had not known on the instant just what were the causes of the disturbance. My nerve did not desert me, however, frightened as I was. I stopped my play and looked out over the sand in the direction whence the roaring came, and there he stood a perfect picture of majesty, and a giant among lions, eyeing me critically as much as to say, 'Well this is luck, here's breakfast fit for a king!' but he reckoned without his host. I was in no mood to be served up to stop his ravening appetite and I made up my mind at once to stay and fight. I'm a good runner, Ananias, but I cannot beat a lion in a three mile sprint on a sandy soil, so fight it was. The question was how. My caddy gone, the only weapons I had with me were my brassey and that one little gutta percha ball, but thanks to my golf they were sufficient.
"Carefully calculating the distance at which the huge beast stood, I addressed the ball with unusual care, aiming slightly to the left to overcome my tendency to slice, and drove the ball straight through the lion's heart as he poised himself on his hind legs ready to spring upon me. It was a superb stroke and not an instant too soon, for just as the ball struck him he sprang forward, and even as it was landed but two feet away from where I stood, but, I am happy to say, dead.
"It was indeed a narrow escape, and it tried my nerves to the full, but I extracted the ball and resumed my play in a short while, adding the lucky stroke to my score meanwhile. But I lost the match, — not because I lost my nerve, for this I did not do, but because I lifted from the lion's heart. The committee disqualified me because I did not play from my lie and the cup went to my competitor. However, I was satisfied to have escaped with my life. I'd rather be a live runner-up than a dead champion any day."
"A wonderful experience," said Ananias. "Perfectly wonderful. I never heard of a stroke to equal that."
"You are too modest, Ananias," said Mr. Munchausen drily. "Too modest by half. You and Sapphira hold the record for that, you know."
"I have forgotten the episode," said Ananias.
"Didn't you and she make your last hole on a single stroke?" demanded Munchausen with an inward chuckle.
"Oh — yes," said Ananias grimly, as he recalled the incident. "But you know we didn't win any more than you did."
"Oh, didn't you?" asked Munchausen.
"No," replied Ananias. "You forget that Sapphira and I were two down at the finish."
And Mr. Munchausen played the rest of the game in silence. Ananias had at last got the best of him.