The Battle of
Aiken by Gouverneur Morris
At the Palmetto Golf Club one bright, warm day in January they held
a tournament which came to be known as the Battle of Aiken. Colonel
Bogey, however, was not in command.
Each contestant's caddie was provided with a stick cleft at one end
and pointed at the other. In the cleft was stuck a square of white
card-board on which was printed the contestant's name, Colonel Bogey's
record for the course, the contestant's handicap, and the sum of these
A. B. Smith
78 + 9 = 87
And the winner was to be he who travelled farthest around the links
in the number of strokes allotted to him.
Old Major Jennings did not understand, and Jimmy Traquair, the
Do you know what the bogey for the course is? said he. It's
seventy-eight. Do you know what your handicap is? It's twenty.
Old Major Jennings winced slightly. His handicap had never seemed
quite adequate to him.
Well? he said.
Well, said Jimmie, who ever tempered his speech to his hearer's
understanding, what's twenty added to seventy-eight?
Eighty-eightninety-eight, said old Major Jennings (but not
Right, said Jimmie. Well, you start at the first tee and play
ninety-eight strokes. Where the ball lies after the ninety-eighth, you
plant the card with your name on it. And that's all.
Suppose after my ninety-eighth stroke that my ball lies in the
pond? said old Major Jennings with a certain timid conviction. The
pond hole is only the twelfth, and Jimmie wanted to laugh, but did not.
If that happens, he said, you'll have to report it, I'm afraid,
to the Green Committee. Who are you going around with?
I haven't got anybody to go around with, said the major. I didn't
know there was going to be a tournament till it was too late to ask any
one to play with me.
This conversation took place in the new shop, a place all windows,
sunshine, labels, varnishes, vises, files, grips, and clubs of
exquisite workmanship. At one of the benches a grave-eyed young negro,
aproned and concentrated, was enamelling the head of a driver with
shellac. Sudden cannon fire would not have shaken his hand. In one
corner a rosy lad with curly yellow hair dangled his legs from the
height of a packing-case and chewed gum. He had been born with a golden
spoon in his mouth, and was learning golf from the inside. Sometimes he
winked with one eye. But these silent comments were hidden from the
I don't care about the tournament, said the latter, his loose lip
trembling slightly. I'll just practice a little.
Don't be in a hurry, sir, said Jimmie sympathetically; General
Bullwigg hasn't any one to go around with either. And if you don't
Bullwigg, said the major vaguely; I used to know a Bullwigg.
He's a very fine gentleman indeed, sir, said Jimmie. Same
handicap as yourself, sir, and if you don't mind
Where is he from? asked the major.
I don't know, sir. Mr. Bowers extended the privileges of the club
to him. He's stopping at the Park in the Pines.
Oh! said the major, and then with a certain dignity and
resolution: If Mr. Bowers knows him, and if he doesn't mind,
I'm sure I don't. Is he here?
He's waiting at the first tee, said Jimmie, and he averted his
At the first tee old Major Jennings found a portly, red-faced
gentleman, with fierce, bushy eyebrows, who seemed prepared to play
golf under any condition of circumstance and weather. He had two
caddies. One carried a monstrous bag, which, in addition to twice the
usual number of clubs, contained a crook-handled walking-stick and a
crook-handled umbrella; the other carried over his right arm a
greatcoat, in case the June-like weather should turn cold, and over his
left a mackintosh, in case rain should fall from the cloudless, azure
heavens. The gentleman himself was swinging a wooden club, with pudgy
vehemence, at an imaginary ball. Upon his countenance was that
expression of fortitude which wins battles and championships. Old Major
Jennings approached timidly. He was very shy. In the distance he saw
two of his intimate friends finishing out the first hole. Except for
himself and the well-prepared stranger they had been the last pair to
start, and the old major's pale blue eyes clung to them as those of a
shipwrecked mariner may cling to ships upon the horizon. Then he pulled
himself together and said:
General Bullwigg, I presume.
The very man, said the general, and the two gentlemen lifted their
plaid golfing caps and bowed to each other. Owing to extreme
diffidence, Major Jennings did not volunteer his own name; owing to the
fact that he seldom thought of anything but himself, General Bullwigg
did not ask it.
Major Jennings was impatient to be off, but it was General
Bullwigg's honor, and he could not compel that gentleman to drive until
he was quite ready. General Bullwigg apostrophized the weather and the
links. He spoke at some length of My game, My swing,
My wrist motion, My notion of getting out of a
bunker. He told an anecdote which reminded him of another. He touched
briefly upon the manufacture of balls, the principle of imparting pure
back-spin; the best seed for Northern greens, the best sand for
Southern. And then, by way of adding insult to injury, he stepped up to
his ball and, with due consideration for his age and stomach, drove it
far and straight.
Fine shot, sir, was Major Jennings's comment.
I've seen better, sir, said General Bullwigg. But I won't take it
Major Jennings teed up his ball, and addressed it, and waggled, and
shifted his feet, and had just received that sudden inner knowledge
that the time was come to strike, when General Bullwigg interrupted
My first visit to Aiken, said he, was in the 60's. But that was
no visit of pleasure. No, sir. Along the brow of this hill upon which
we are standing was an earthwork. In the pines yonder, back of the
first green, was a battery. In those days we did not fight it out with
the pacific putter, but with bullets and bayonets.
Were you in the battle of Aiken? asked the major, so quietly as to
make the question sound purely perfunctory.
General Bullwigg laughed, as strong men laugh, from the stomach, and
with a sweeping gesture of his left hand appeared to dismiss a hundred
I have heard men say, said he, that I was the battle of
With an involuntary shudder Major Jennings hastily addressed his
ball, swung jerkily, and topped it feebly down the hill. Then, smiling
a sickly smile, he said:
Get a good one? asked General Bullwigg. I wasn't looking.
Not a very good one, said Major Jennings, inwardly writhing, but
straightperfectly straight. A little on top.
They sagged down the hill, the major in a pained silence, the
general describing, with sweeping gestures, the positions of the
various troops among the surrounding hills at the beginning of the
battle of Aiken.
In those days, he went on, I was second lieutenant in the gallant
Twenty-ninth; but it often happens that a young man has an old head on
his shoulders, and as one after the other of my superior
officerssuperior in rankbit the dustThat ball is badly cupped.
You will hardly get it away with a brassy; if I were you I should play
my niblick. Well out, sir! A fine recovery! On this very spot I saw a
bomb burst. The air was filled with arms and legs. It seemed as if they
would never come down. I shall play my brassy spoon, Purnell, the one
with the yellow head. I see you don't carry a spoon. Most invaluable
club. There are days when I can do anything with a spoon. I used to own
one of which I often said that it could do anything but talk.
Major Jennings shuddered as if he were very cold; while General
Bullwigg swung his spoon and made another fine shot. He had a perfect
four for the first hole, to Major Jennings's imperfect and doddering
The enemy, said General Bullwigg, had a breastwork of pine logs
all along this line. I remember the general said to me: 'Bullwigg,' he
said, 'to get them out of that timber is like getting rats out of the
walls of a house.' And I said: 'General'
It's your honor, the major interrupted mildly.
But General Bullwigg would not drive until he had brought his
anecdote to a self-laudatory end. And his ball was not half through its
course before he had begun another. The major, compelled to listen,
again foozled, and a dull red began to mantle his whole face. And in
his peaceful and affable heart there waxed a sullen, feverish rage
against his companion.
The battle of Aiken was on.
Sing, O chaste and reluctant Muse, the battle of Aiken! Only don't
sing it! State it, as is the fashion of our glorious times, in humble
and perishable prose. Fling grammar of which nothing is now known to
the demnition bow-wows, and state how in the beginning General Bullwigg
had an advantage of many strokes, not wasted, over his self-effacing
companion. State how, because of the general's incessant chatter, the
gentle and gallant major foozled shot after shot; how once his ball hid
in a jasmine bower, once behind the stem of a tree, and once in a sort
of cavern over which the broom straw waved. But omit not, O truthful
and ecstatic one, to mention that dull rage which grew from small
beginnings in the major's breast until it became furious and
all-consuming, like a prairie fire. At this stage your narrative
becomes heroic, and it might be in order for you, O capable and
delectable one, to switch from humble stating to loud singing. Only
don't do it. State on. State how the rage into which he had fallen
served to lend precision to the major's eye, steel to his wrist, rhythm
to his tempo, and fiery ambition to his gentle and retiring soul. He is
filled with memories of daring: of other battles in other days. He
remembers what times he sought the bubble reputation in the cannon's
mouth, and spiked the aforementioned cannon's touch-hole into the
bargain. And he remembers the greater war that he fought single-handed
for a number of years against the demon rum.
State, too, exquisite Parnassian, and keep stating, how that General
Bullwigg did incessantly talk, prattle, jabber, joke, boast, praise
himself, stand in the wrong place, and rehearse the noble deeds that he
himself had performed in the first battle of Aiken. And state how the
major answered him less and less frequently, but more and more loudly
and curtlybut I see that you are exhausted, and, thanking you kindly,
I shall resume the narrative myself.
They came to the pond hole, which was the twelfth; the general,
still upon his interminable reminiscences of his own military glory,
stood up to drive, and was visited by his first real disaster. He
swungand he looked up. His ball, beaten downward into the hard clay
tee, leaped forward with a sound as of a stone breaking in two and dove
swiftly into the centre of the pond. The major spoke never a word. For
the first time during the long dreary round his risibles were tickled
and he wanted to laugh. Instead he concentrated all his faculties upon
his ball and made a fine drive.
Not so the general with his second attempt. Again he found water,
and fell into a panic at the sudden losing of so many invaluable
strokes (not to mention two brand-new balls at seventy-five cents
It was at the pond hole that the major's luck began to ameliorate.
For the first time in his life he made it in threea long approach
close to the green; a short mashie shot that trickled into the very
cup. And it was at the pond hole that the general, who had hitherto
played far above his ordinary form, began to go to pieces. He was a
little dashed in spirit, but not in eloquence.
Going to the long fourteenth, they found the first evidence of those
who had gone before. In the very midst of the fair green they saw,
shining afar, like a white tombstone, stuck in its cleft stick, the
card of the first competitor to use up the whole of his allotted
strokes. They paused a moment to read:
Sacred to the Memory of
W. H. Lands
78 + 6 = 84
Who Sliced Himself
Forty yards beyond, another obituary confronted them:
In Loving Memory of
J. C. Nappin
78 + 10 = 88
Died of a Broken Mashie
And of Such is the
Kingdom of Heaven
Ha! said General Bullwigg. He little realizes that here where he
has pinned his little joke in the lap of mother earth I have seen the
dead men lie as thick as kindlings in a wood-yard. Sir, across this
very fair green there were no less than three desperate charges,
unremembered and unsung, of which I may say without boasting that Magna
Pars Fui. But for the desperation of our last charge the battle must
have been lost
Damn the memory of
78 + 10 = 88
78 + 10 = 88
A Fool and His Money Are Soon Parted
The little tombstones came thick and fast now. The fairway to the
seventeenth, most excellent of all four-shot holes, was dotted with
them, and it actually began to look as if General Bullwigg or Major
Jennings (they were now on even terms) might be the winner.
It was that psychological moment when of all things a contestant
most desires silence. Major Jennings was determined to triumph over his
boastful companion. And he was full of courage and resolve. They had
reached the seventeenth green in the same number of strokes from the
first tee. That is to say, each had used up ninety-five of his allotted
ninety-eight. Neither holed his approach put, and the match, so far as
they two were concerned, resolved itself into a driving contest. If
General Bullwigg drove the farther with his one remaining stroke he
would beat the major, and vice versa. As for the other competitors,
there was but one who had reached the eighteenth tee, and he, as his
tombstone showed, had played his last stroke neither far nor well.
For the major the suspense was terrible. He had never won a
tournament. He had never had so golden an opportunity to down a
boaster. But it was General Bullwigg's honor, and it occurred to him
that the time was riper for talk than play.
You may think that I am nervous, he said. But I am not. During
one period of the battle of Aiken the firing between ourselves on this
spot and the enemy intrenched where the club-house now stands, and
spreading right and left in a half-moon, was fast and furious. Once
they charged up to our guns; but we drove them back, and after that
charge yonder fair green was one infernal shambles of dead and dying.
Among the wounded was one of the enemy's general officers; he whipped
and thrashed and squirmed like a newly landed fish and screamed for
water. It was terrible; it was unendurable. Next to me in the trench
was a young fellow namednamed Jennings
Jennings? said the major breathlessly. And what did he do?
He, said General Bullwigg. Nothing. He said, however, and he was
careful not to show his head above the top of the trench: 'I can't
stand this,' he said; 'somebody's got to bring that poor fellow in.' As
for me, I only needed the suggestion. I jumped out of the trench and
ran forward, exposing myself to the fire of both armies. When, however,
I reached the general officer, and my purpose was plain, the firing
ceased upon both sides, and the enemy stood up and cheered me.
General Bullwigg teed his ball and drove it far.
Major Jennings bit his lip; it was hardly within his ability to hit
so long a ball.
ThiserJennings, said he, seems to have been a coward.
General Bullwigg shrugged his shoulders.
Have I got it straight? asked Major Jennings. It was you who
brought in the general officer, and noterthiserJennings who did
I thought I had made it clear, said General Bullwigg stiffly. And
he repeated the anecdote from the beginning. Major Jennings's comment
was simply this:
So that was the way of it, was it?
A deep crimson suffused him. He looked as if he were going to burst.
He teed his ball. He trembled. He addressed. He swung back, and then
with all the rage, indignation, and accuracy of which he was
capableforward. It was the longest drive he had ever made. His ball
lay a good yard beyond the General's. He had beaten all competitors,
but that was nothing. He had beaten his companion, and that was worth
more to him than all the wealth of Ormuzd and of Ind. He had won the
second battle of Aiken.
In silence he took his tombstone from his caddie's hand, in silence
wrote upon it, in silence planted it where his ball had stopped.
General Bullwigg bent himself stiffly to see what the fortunate winner
had written. And this was what he read:
Sacred to the Memory of
E. O. Jennings
78 + 20 = 98
Late Major in the Gallant 29th, Talked to
Death by a Liar
As for the gallant major (still far from mollified), he turned his
back upon a foe for the first time in his life and made offalmost