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TISH PLAYS THE GAME
We met Nettie Lynn on the street the other day, and she cut us all dead. Considering the sacrifices we had all made for her, especially our dear Tish, who cut a hole in her best rug on her account, this ungrateful conduct forces me to an explanation of certain events which have caused most unfair criticism. Whatever the results, it is never possible to impugn the motives behind Tish's actions.
As for the janitor of Tish's apartment house maintaining that the fruit jar buried in the floor was a portion of a still for manufacturing spirituous liquors, and making the statement that Tish's famous blackberry cordial for medicinal use was fifty per cent alcohol—I consider this beneath comment. The recipe from which this cordial is made was originated by Tish's Greataunt Priscilla, a painting of whom hangs, or rather did hang, over the mantel in Tish's living room.
The first notice Aggie and I received that Tish was embarked on one of her kindly crusades again was during a call from Charlie Sands. We had closed our cottage at Lake Penzance and Aggie was spending the winter with me. She had originally planned to go to Tish, but at the last moment Tish had changed her mind.
"You'd better go with Lizzie, Aggie," she said. "I don't always want to talk, and you do."
As Aggie had lost her upper teeth during an unfortunate incident at the lake, which I shall relate further on, and as my house was near her dentist's, she agreed without demur. To all seeming the indications were for a quiet winter, and save for an occasional stiffness in the arms, which Tish laid to neuritis, she seemed about as usual.
In October, however, Aggie and I received a visit from her nephew, and after we had given him some of the cordial and a plate of Aggie's nut wafers he said, "Well, revered and sainted aunts, what is the old girl up to now?"
We are not his aunts, but he so designates us. I regret to say that by "the old girl" he referred to his Aunt Letitia.
"Since the war," I said with dignity, "your Aunt Letitia has greatly changed, Charlie. We have both noticed it. The great drama is over, and she is now content to live on her memories."
I regret to say that he here exclaimed, "Like — she is! I'll bet you a dollar and a quarter she's up to something right now."
Aggie gave a little moan.
"You have no basis for such a statement," I said sternly. But he only took another wafer and more of our cordial. He was preventing a cold.
"All right," he said. "But I've had considerable experience, and she's too quiet. Besides, she asked me the other day if doubtful methods were justifiable to attain a righteous end!"
"What did you tell her?" Aggie inquired anxiously.
"I said they were not; but she didn't seem to believe me. Now mark my words: After every spell of quiet she has she goes out and gets in the papers. So don't say I haven't warned you."
But he had no real basis for his unjust suspicions, and after eating all the nut wafers in the house he went away.
"Just one thing," he said: "I was around there yesterday, and her place looked queer to me. I missed a lot of little things she used to have. You don't suppose she's selling them, do you?"
Well, Tish has plenty of money and that seemed unlikely. But Aggie and I went around that evening, and it was certainly true. Her Cousin Mary Evans' blue vases were gone from the mantel of the living room, and her Grandaunt Priscilla's portrait was missing from over the fireplace. The china clock with wild roses on it that Aggie had painted herself had disappeared, and Tish herself had another attack of neuritis and had her right arm hung in a sling.
She was very noncommittal when I commented on the bareness of the room.
"I'm sick of being cluttered up with truck," she said. "We surround our bodies with too many things, and cramp them. The human body is divine and beautiful, but we surround it with—er—china clocks and what not, and it deteriorates."
"Surround it with clothes, Tish," I suggested, but she waved me off.
"Mens sana in corpore sano," she said.
She had wrenched her left knee, too, it appeared, and so Hannah let us out. She went into the outside corridor with us and closed the door behind her.
"What did she say about her right arm and her left leg?" she inquired.
When we told her she merely sniffed.
"I'll bet she said she was sick of her aunt's picture and that clock, too," she said. "Well, she's lying, that's all."
"I call it that. She's smashed them, and she's smashed her Grandfather Benton and the cut-glass salad bowl, and a window. And the folks below are talking something awful."
"Hannah! What do you mean?"
"I don't know," Hannah wailed, and burst into tears. "The things she says when she's locked me out! And the noise! You'd think she was killing a rat with the poker. There's welts an inch deep in the furniture, and part of the cornice is smashed. Neuritis! She's lamed herself, that's all."
"Maybe it's a form of physical culture, Hannah," I suggested. "They jump about in that, you know."
"They don't aim to kick the ceiling and break it, do they?"
Well, that was quite true, and I'll admit that we went away very anxious. Aggie was inclined to return to the unfortunate incident of the janitor and the furnace pipe when Tish was learning to shoot in the basement some years ago, and to think that she had bought a muffler or whatever it is they put on guns to stop the noise, and was shooting in her flat. I myself inclined toward a boomerang, one of which Tish had seen thrown at a charity matinee, and which had much impressed her. In fact, I happened to know that she had tried it herself at least once, for on entering her sitting room one day unexpectedly my bonnet was cut off my head without the slightest warning. But Hannah had known about the boomerang, and there would have been no need of secrecy.
However, it was not long before Tish herself explained the mystery, and to do so now I shall return to the previous summer at Lake Penzance. When we arrived in June we found to our dismay that a new golf course had been laid out, and that what was called the tenth hole was immediately behind our cottage. On the very first day of our arrival a golf ball entered the kitchen window and struck Hannah, the maid, just below the breast bone, causing her to sit on the stove. She was three days in bed on her face and had to drink her broth by leaning out over the edge of the bed. This was serious enough, but when gentlemen at different times came to the cottage with parcels wrapped to look like extra shoes, and asked Tish to keep them in the refrigerator on the back porch, we were seriously annoyed. Especially after one of them broke and leaked into the ice-tea pitcher, and Aggie, who is very fond of iced tea, looked cross-eyed for almost half an hour.
Some of the language used, too, was most objectionable, and the innocent children who carried the clubs learned it, for I cannot possibly repeat what a very small urchin said to Tish when she offered him a quarter if he would learn the Shorter Catechism. And even our clergyman's wife—the Ostermaiers have a summer cottage near us—showed what we had observed was the moral deterioration caused by the game. For instance, one day she knocked a ball directly into our garbage can, which happened to have its lid off. Owing to the vines she could not see us, and she hunted for some time, tearing at Aggie's cannas as though they were not there, and finally found her ball in the can.
"Do I pick it out or play it out, caddie?" she called.
"Cost you a shot to pick it out," said the caddie.
"I'll play it," she said. "Give me a spoon."
Well, it appeared that she did not mean a table spoon, although that was certainly what she needed, for he gave her a club, and she began to dig after the ball. She made eleven jabs at it, and then the can overturned.
"Oh, damn!" she said, and just then Aggie sneezed.
"Darn!" said Mrs. Ostermaier, trying to pretend that that was what she had said before. "Are you there, Miss Carberry?"
"I am," Tish replied grimly.
"I suppose you never expected to see me doing this!"
"Well," Tish said slowly, "if anyone had told me that I would find my clergyman's wife in my garbage can I might have been surprised. Hannah, bring Mrs. Ostermaier the coal shovel."
Looking back I perceive that our dear Tish's obsession dated from that incident, for when Mrs. Ostermaier had cleaned up and moved angrily away she left the old ball, covered with coffee grounds, on the path. I am inclined, too, to think that Tish made a few tentative attempts with the ball almost immediately, for I found my umbrella badly bent that night, and that something had cracked a cane left by Charlie Sands, which Aggie was in the habit of using as a pole when fishing from the dock. Strangely enough, however, her bitterness against the game seemed to grow, rather than decrease.
For instance, one day when Aggie was sitting on the edge of our little dock, fishing and reflecting, and Tish was out in the motor boat, she happened to see a caddie on the roof looking for a ball which had lodged there. She began at once to shout at him to get down and go away, and in her indignation forgot to slow down the engine. The boat therefore went directly through the dock and carried it away, including that portion on which Aggie was sitting. Fortunately Aggie always sat on an air cushion at such times, and as she landed in a sitting position she was able to remain balanced until Tish could turn the boat around and come to the rescue. But the combination of the jar and of opening her mouth to yell unfortunately lost Aggie her upper set, as I have before mentioned.
But it was not long before dear Tish's argus eye had discovered a tragedy on the links. A very pretty girl played steadily, and always at such times a young man would skulk along, taking advantage of trees et cetera to keep out of her sight, while at the same time watching her hungrily. Now and then he varied his method by sitting on the shore of the lake. He would watch her until she came close, and then turn his head and look out over the water. And if ever I saw misery in a human face it was there.
Aggie's heart ached over him, and she carried him a cup of tea one afternoon. He seemed rather surprised, but took it, and Aggie said there was a sweetheart floating in it for him.
"A mermaid, eh?" he said. "Well, I'm for her then. Mermaids haven't any legs, and hence can't play golf, I take it." But he looked out over the lake again and resumed his bitter expression. "You can't tell, though. They may have a water variety, like polo." He sighed and drank the tea absently, but after that he cheered somewhat and finally he asked Aggie a question.
"I wish you'd look at me," he said. "I want an outside opinion. Do I look like a golf hazard?"
"A what?" said Aggie.
"Would you think the sight of me would cut ten yards off a drive, or a foot off a putt?" he demanded.
"You look very nice, I'm sure," Aggie replied. But he only got up and shook the sand off himself and stared after the girl.
"That's it," he said. "Very nice! You've hit it." Then he turned on her savagely, to her great surprise. "If I weren't so blamed nice I'd set off a dozen sticks of dynamite on this crazy links and blow myself up with the last one."
Aggie thought he was a little mad.
We saw him frequently after that, never with the girl, but he began to play the game himself. He took some lessons, too, but Tish had to protest for the way he and the professional talked to each other. Mr. McNab would show him how to fix his feet and even arrange his fingers on the club handle. Then he would drive, and the ball would roll a few feet and stop.
"Well, I suppose I waggled my ear that time, or something," he would say.
"Keep your eye on the ball!" Mr. McNab would yell, dancing about. "Ye've got no strength of character, mon."
"Let me kick it, then. I'll send it farther."
After that they would quarrel, and Tish would have to close the windows.
But Tish's interest in golf was still purely that of the onlooker. This is shown by the fact that at this time and following the incident of the dock she decided that we must all learn to swim. That this very decision was to involve us in the fate of the young man, whose name was Bobby Anderson, could not have been foreseen, or that that involvement would land us in various difficulties and a police station.
Tish approached the swimming matter in her usual convincing way.
"Man," she said, "has conquered all the elements—earth, air and water. He walks. He flies. He swims—or should. The normal human being to-day should be as much at home in water as in the air, and vice versa, to follow the great purpose."
"If that's the great purpose we would have both wings and fins," said Aggie rather truculently, for she saw what was coming. But Tish ignored her.
"Water," she went on, "is sustaining. Hence boats. It is as easy to float the human body as a ship."
"Is it?" Aggie demanded. "I didn't float so you could notice it the night you backed the car into the lake."
"You didn't try," Tish said sternly. "You opened your mouth to yell, and that was the equivalent of a leak in a ship. I didn't say a leaking boat would float, did I?"
We thought that might end it, but it did not. When we went upstairs to bed we heard her filling the tub, and shortly after that she called us into the bathroom. She was lying extended in the tub, with a Turkish towel covering her, and she showed us how, by holding her breath, she simply had to stay on top of the water.
"I advise you both," she said, "to make this experiment to-night. It will give you confidence to-morrow."
We went out and closed the door, and Aggie clutched me by the arm.
"I'll die first, Lizzie," she said. "I don't intend to learn to swim, and I won't. A fortune teller told me to beware of water, and that lake's full of tin cans."
"She was floating in the tub, Aggie," I said to comfort her, although I felt a certain uneasiness myself.
"Then that's where I'll do my swimming," Aggie retorted, and retired to her room.
The small incident of the next day would not belong in this narrative were it not that it introduced us to a better acquaintance with the Anderson boy, and so led to what follows. For let Charlie Sands say what he will, and he was very unpleasant, the truth remains that our dear Tish's motives were of the highest and purest, and what we attempted was to save the happiness of two young lives.
Be that as it may, on the following morning Tish came to breakfast in a mackintosh and bedroom slippers, with an old knitted sweater and the bloomers belonging to her camping outfit beneath. She insisted after the meal that we similarly attire ourselves, and sat on the veranda while we did so, reading a book on the art of swimming, which she had had for some time.
Although she was her usual calm and forceful self both Aggie and I were very nervous, and for fear of the chill Aggie took a small quantity of blackberry cordial. She felt better after that and would have jumped off the end of the dock, but Tish restrained her, advising her to wet her wrists first and thus to regulate and not shock the pulse.
Tish waded out, majestically indifferent, and we trailed after her. Of what followed I am not quite sure. I know, when we were out to our necks, and either I had stepped on a broken bottle or something had bitten me, she turned and said:
"This will do. I am going to float, Lizzie. Give me time to come to the surface."
She then took a long breath and threw herself back into the water, disappearing at once. I waited for some time, but only a foot emerged, and that only for a second. I might have grown anxious, but it happened that just then Aggie yelled that there was a leech on her, sucking her blood, and I turned to offer her assistance. One way and another it was some time before I turned to look again at Tish—and she had not come up. The water was in a state of turmoil, however, and now and then a hand or a leg emerged.
I was uncertain what to do. Tish does not like to have her plans disarranged, and she had certainly requested me to give her time. I could not be certain, moreover, how much time would be required. While I was debating the matter I was astonished to hear a violent splashing near at hand, and to see Mr. Anderson, fully dressed, approaching us. He said nothing, but waited until Tish's foot again reappeared, and then caught it, thus bringing her to the surface.
For some time she merely stood with her mouth open and her eyes closed. But at last she was able to breathe and to speak, and in spite of my affection for her I still resent the fact that her first words were in anger.
"Lizzie, you are a fool!" she said.
"You said to give you time, Tish."
"Well, you did!" she snapped. "Time to drown." She then turned to Mr. Anderson and said, "Take me in, please. And go slowly. I think I've swallowed a fish."
I got her into the cottage and to bed, and for an hour or two she maintained that she had swallowed a fish and could feel it flopping about inside her. But after a time the sensation ceased and she said that either she had been mistaken or it had died. She was very cold to me.
Excerpted from Tish Plays the Game by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Copyright © 1926 Mary Roberts Rinehart. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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Posted March 31, 2014
I read this many years ago off my Grandmother's bookshelf, still just as funny today.
Three late middle aged spinsters reeling from one near disaster to another. Trying to further young love with the best of intentions and dubious ploys.
Sympathize with Lizzie and Aggie as they try to hold on to their Health, Sanity and Respectability while following the lead of "Tish" and often slip.
Humorous writings from America's premiere grand dame of mystery.