Excelsior (short story)
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"Excelsior" is a short story by P. G. Wodehouse, which first appeared in the U.K. edition of Argosy magazine on July 1, 1948 under the title "The Hazards of Horace Bewstridge", and was later included in the collection Nothing Serious (1951). It is one of Wodehouse's many golf stories, told by the Oldest Member.
The story displays Wodehouse's excellent use of language and humor. It begins with the Oldest Member discussing people who lack the proper golfing spirit ("I have known Bream to concede a hole for the almost frivolous reason that he had sliced his ball into a hornet's nest and was unwilling to play it from where it lay"). He mentions a fine example of a devoted golfer, Horace Bewstridge, and proceeds to tell the man's story.
Bewstridge was in love with a woman named Vera Witherby, the niece of Ponsford Botts. Before proposing marriage, however, he intended to acquaint himself with her family, to ensure a good reception. (The Oldest Member began the story with himself finding Bewstridge's list of how to pander to each one of the Bottses: Laugh at Ponsford Botts' Pat and Mike jokes, talk about the pixies and flowers in Mrs. Botts' books, praise the girl of Irwin Botts' affections, etc.)
The local golf course had scheduled a tournament for the President's Cup. On the day before the competition, however, Bewstridge's boss, R. P. Crumbles, tells Bewstridge that he must not win the match. Bewstridge's main opponent, Sir George Copstone, owned a chain of stores that Crumbles wanted to buy, so Crumbles thought Copstone would be more willing to sell if he had just won the President's Cup. Bewstridge was reluctant, so Crumbles informed him that if he failed to do as asked, he would be fired.
The next day, Bewstridge and Copstone do indeed find themselves opposed in the final round. Bewstridge, though required by his boss to lose the game, decides to play for as long as possible before resigning. As the heated game progresses (with Copstone losing a few holes due to a beetle in his coat), however, with the prospect of finally winning the President's Cup within his grasp, Bewstridge becomes more and more determined to win. R. P. Crumbles appears after the ninth hole to remind Bewstridge of his orders. Bewstridge says, "Nuts to you, R. P. Crumbles! Fire me, if you will. This is the only chance I shall ever have of winning the cup, and I'm going to do it."
A tense back-and-forth struggle led slowly to an equal position at the eighteenth hole. A group consisting of Ponsford Botts, Irwin Botts, and the Botts dog, Alfonse, came to watch the remainder of the match. Bewstridge's ball landed two feet from the hole on top of the hill. Copstone, a fighter to the last, hit his ball several feet beyond it. Bewstridge, after lining up his shot, had to re-line-up his shot after the dog Alphonse had picked up his ball and dropped it several yards away. He considered the paths the ball might take, but was unable to concentrate. He ascribed this to the fact that Alphonse was barking madly in his ear. The Oldest Member could guess his thoughts.
"This dog, he was saying to himself, was the apple of Irwin Botts' eye. It was also the apple of Ponsford Botts' eye. To seek it out and kick it in the slats, therefore, would be to shoot that system of his to pieces beyond repair. Irwin Botts would look at him askance. Ponsford Botts would look at him askance. And if they looked at him askance, Vera Witherby would look at him askance, too, for they were presumably the apples of her eye, just as Alfonse was the apple of theirs.
On the other hand, he could not putt with a noise like that going on."
Bewstridge decided that it would be bad to lose Vera Witherby, but not as bad as losing the President's Cup. Therefore, he removed the inhibitant to his attentions, drop-kicking Alphonse off the hill and into the chasm next to it. He was still unable to concentrate, due to Irwin and Ponsford shouting protests in his ears. Bewstridge decided to add them to the contents of the chasm as well. R. P. Crumbles came along and started scolding Bewstridge for a) sending them into the chasm and b) not having lost already to Copstone. He met the same fate, which also came to Mrs. Botts, who began a loud conversation with the chasm's inmates consisting mostly of "What? I can't hear."
Bewstridge was finally able to concentrate. He swung his club, and swung it convulsively when the unexpected voice of Vera Witherby said "Horace!" in his ear. The ball landed directly in the hole. Bewstridge had won the President's Cup. He had also, however, lost his job, and probably all hope of ever marrying the woman he loved. (This is where the Excelsior reference comes in: Excelsior was the name of a poem in which the main character gives up everything just to climb a mountain.)
However, Vera actually thanks Bewstridge for what he did. She agrees to marry him, but Bewstridge protests that he no longer has a job and can't support her. Copstone hears this and offers him a job supervising his chain of stores. Bewstridge accepts, and the three happily go to lunch to discuss details.
- A full list of Wodehouse's golf stories