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A Billiard Lesson
by [?]

I was showing Celia a few fancy strokes on the billiard-table. The other members of the house-party were in the library, learning their parts for some approaching theatricals–that is to say, they were sitting round the fire and saying to each other, “This is a rotten play.” We had been offered the position of auditors to several of the company, but we were going to see Parsifal on the next day, and I was afraid that the constant excitement would be bad for Celia.

“Why don’t you ask me to play with you?” she asked. “You never teach me anything.”

“There’s ingratitude. Why, I gave you your first lesson at golf only last Thursday.”

“So you did. I know golf. Now show me billiards.”

I looked at my watch.

“We’ve only twenty minutes. I’ll play you thirty up.”

“Right-o. What do you give me–a ball or a bisque or what?”

“I can’t spare you a ball, I’m afraid. I shall want all three when I get going. You may have fifteen start, and I’ll tell you what to do.”

“Well, what do I do first?”

“Select a cue.”

She went over to the rack and inspected them.

“This seems a nice brown one. Now then, you begin.”

“Celia, you’ve got the half-butt. Put it back and take a younger one.”

“I thought it seemed taller than the others.” She took another. “How’s this? Good. Then off you go.”

“Will you be spot or plain?” I said, chalking my cue.

“Does it matter?”

“Not very much. They’re both the same shape.”

“Then what’s the difference?”

“Well, one is more spotted than the other.”

“Then I’ll be less spotted.”

I went to the table.

“I think,” I said, “I’ll try and screw in off the red.” (I did this once by accident and I’ve always wanted to do it again.) “Or perhaps,” I corrected myself, as soon as the ball had left me, “I had better give a safety miss.”

I did. My ball avoided the red and came swiftly back into the left-hand bottom pocket.

“That’s three to you,” I said without enthusiasm.

Celia seemed surprised.

“But I haven’t begun yet,” she said. “Well, I suppose you know the rules, but it seems funny. What would you like me to do?”

“Well, there isn’t much on. You’d better just try and hit the red ball.”

“Right.” She leant over the table and took long and careful aim. I held my breath…. Still she aimed…. Then, keeping her chin on the cue, she slowly turned her head and looked up at me with a thoughtful expression.

“Oughtn’t there to be three balls on the table?” she said, wrinkling her forehead.

“No,” I answered shortly.

“But why not?”

“Because I went down by mistake.”

“But you said that when you got going, you wanted—- I can’t argue bending down like this.” She raised herself slowly. “You said—- Oh, all right, I expect you know. Anyhow, I have scored some already, haven’t I?”

“Yes. You’re eighteen to my nothing.”

“Yes. Well, now I shall have to aim all over again.” She bent slowly over her cue. “Does it matter where I hit the red?”

“Not much. As long as you hit it on the red part.”

She hit it hard on the side, and both balls came into baulk.

“Too good,” I said.

“Does either of us get anything for it?”

“No.” The red and the white were close together, and I went up the table and down again on the off-chance of a cannon. I misjudged it, however.

“That’s three to you,” I said stiffly, as I took my ball out of the right-hand bottom pocket. “Twenty-one to nothing.”

“Funny how I’m doing all the scoring,” said Celia meditatively. “And I’ve practically never played before. I shall hit the red hard now and see what happens to it.”

She hit, and the red coursed madly about the table, coming to rest near the top right-hand pocket and close to the cushion. With a forcing shot I could get in.

“This will want a lot of chalk,” I said pleasantly to Celia, and gave it plenty. Then I let fly….