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Tony Faust was a very large man. Never a placid or contemplative outplayer, he would pace and fidget the entire time he waited when his opponent was on the lawn. When seen across the court, Tony in his whites resembled a small tent in a wind storm. The wait was usually for a fair amount of time, since although Tony had been a croquet player for some 15 years his improvement was, well, limited. The one thing he seemed to have learned in all those years was that when he missed those three-foot roquets he should not beat his mallet on the lawn and exclaim loudly and colorfully against cruel fate. This behavior had gotten him thrown out of several clubs, so that now we was forced to travel an hour-and-one-half each way to the Dogwood Croquet Club, the nearest club where he could still secure playing privileges.

On a spring morning filled with the promise that a perfect day was at hand, all the players at Dogwood save one were in the best of spirits. That one, poor Tony, had just lost his first game 26/0 to a +18 handicapper. Tony was thinking about a new record he had just set: seven straight missed roquets from less than three feet. In the gloomiest of moods, he sat and contemplated the foul spring sun, the hideous blue sky and the noxious bouquet thrown up by the banks of forget-me-nots and roses blooming round the court.

"A penny for your thoughts," said an unfamiliar voice behind him.

"You must be Tony Faust," she said. "I've been looking for you."
Tony snorted loudly and spilled half the contents of a silver flask which he had been pouring into his coffee cup. He screwed round his head, glanced up from this deck chair and stared into the smoldering black eyes of a tall blond woman in a black silk dress. "The Devil you say. Well, I'm afraid you won't get good value for your penny," he said.

"You must be Tony Faust," she said. "I've been looking for you. Heard you might be looking for a bit of help with your game."

Tony was enthralled. It had been so long since anyone had voluntarily initiated a conversation with himn, particularly a lady whose looks would raise even St. Paul from the dead. Over lunch they jabbered away. By the end of the meal a clear change was present in the massive croquet player. Gone was the usual gloom that followed his four-martini lunches. In its place was a good humor and confidence that quite befuddled his opponent at the beginning of the second game of the match. An hour after the beginning of the game Tony pegged out both balls, having used none of his dozen bisques. The third game of the match took Tony only forth-five minutes.

Throughout the rest of that year Tony was suddenly the winner of any contest he entered. Soon his small cottage was filled with silver. Plates, platters, goblets, tureens, loving cups, and champagne coolers, at first displayed proudly, soon became the clutter that filled his closets.

He played his first dodecapeel in the Hicks Memorial Championships that year.

During the following year Tony was no longer content with mere winning. His now routine and always successful sextuples gave way to more and more esoteric ploys. He played his first dodecapeel in the Hicks Memorial Championships that year. This he followed in the nationals with a dodecapeel on opponent while peeling his partner as well. This he did on the third turn, so when he pegged out all three balls he had completed the first croquet game ever to end with no balls left on the lawn.

Over the next couple of years, many of the tournaments that Tony entered went undersubscribed. Fewer players enjoyed being beaten in new and arcane ways. A number of tournaments were held where the second place trophy was actually much more grand than the first place one, the thought amongst the promoters being that whoever came in second would have won had it not been for Tony. Some second place trophies actually bore the appellation, "BFT Winner." This, of course, stood for "but for Tony." But Tony was undismayed. He actually liked the smaller trophies since they took up less space in his now-bulging house. Occasionally, just to show off, he would take a second place by peeling both opponent's balls out in the finals.

Five years to the day after first meeting the mysterious woman in black, Tony was back at the Dogwood CrC for the annual spring opening tournament. The weather was unseasonably warm for April. A dark storm front moved into the area as Tony, his large plus fours flapping in the wind, walked confidently onto the lawn. His opponent, in a vain effort to score a hoop before Tony could peg out everything in sight, had attempted to shoot the first hoop from the A balk. He had failed, instead bouncing the ball back to within three feet of the balk line. As Tony bent to set his first ball on the A balk, a flash of lightening struck and a thunderous report rattled the whisky glasses and tea cups in the clubhouse.

When Tony opened his eyes, nothing seemed changed. He got up, brushed himself off, and prepared to hit the three-foot roquet. His ball missed by six inches. Across the lawn a lady in black laughed.

--by Lucky Roquet

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