Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Doing A Service by Ashley Sterne

This story was a reprint that found its way to the Traralgon Record newspaper (December 19, 1919) serving Traralgon, Victoria, Australia. It's a breezy story with Ashley Sterne's characteristic touch of playfulness.

I found the story on a website that posts pictures of old, barely readable newspaper sheets.  The website has a computer program that performs pattern recognition on the articles and yields a text rendering that is about 75% accurate.  By squinting at the monitor and comparing what I saw with the computer's textual attempt, I was able to restore the story to its pristine state (unless the lady Gladys Paggs is not described as a "rabbit" in the third paragraph, but as some entirely different entity with a two syllable name -- robot? rivet? ratchet? rocket?).


How a Giddy Game of Tennis Ended

By Ashley Sterne

Gladys Paggs is really a very kind-hearted girl, and when she told me that she was organising a tournament at her lawn tennis club on behalf of the friends of the Society for Promoting Kindness to Electric Eels, I at once said I would enter.

I freely admit that I'm not a great player; Norman Brooks could possibly owe me fifteen and still keep his end up. My real game is table-croquet. But I still maintain that my form is good enough for charitable purposes.

On the day of the tournament I discovered that by an unhappy coincidence I had drawn Miss Paggs as partner. She is quite a rabbit at the game, and I had some thought of requesting the drawing committee to raffle her again.

However, I didn't care to make a fuss, and after all she had sold the most tickets, and was morally entitled (as I impressed upon her) to a superior partner.

Served Eight Faults Running

Our opponents were two quite ordinary people, the gentleman being chiefly remarkable for the fact that he had a huge red moustache, and the lady because she hadn't. The first service fell to Miss Paggs, and the fact that she served eight faults running she subsequently attributed to my putting her off her stroke by asking if she played the "heart convention," and whether she discarded from strength or weakness. But this, of course, was a poor excuse for a most incompetent performance. The lady without a red moustache served next, and succeeded twice in baffling Miss Paggs, who never attempted to return either service.

When I suggested that she should be dummy and let me take her ball for her, she really got most unreasonable. I myself found no difficulty in returning our opponent's services, and the fact that I sent them both into the net is entirely explained by the net's being too high at my side of the court.

Besides, when I was on the point of taking the first service, Miss Paggs thoughtlessly chose that moment to sneeze, and one really can't shape properly for a stroke while one's partner is indulging in a series of unseemly and ill-timed contortions.

I missed the next service I received because I expected Miss Paggs to sneeze and she didn't.

It was then my turn to serve.  My service is really very attractive; it is known as the American service, though I introduce a touch of Patterson into it just to make it more deadly.

My first ball, however, unaccountably went somewhere over my head and fell into an adjoining field, where it was at once gored by a startled and choleric cow.

The Ball Rose Like a Rocket

My next ball I hit too hard, with the result that it likewise left the club premises without a stain upon its character, achieving in its flight the height record for the tournament.

The club grounds abut on to the railway line, and my third ball fell into the truck of a passing goods train, and was whisked off to Herne Bay without a ticket.
My fourth ball hit Miss Paggs, who was standing rather in the line of fire, a resounding blow between the shoulder blades.

My fifth went crash into the pavilion, and smashed up a tray of iced drinks, while my sixth I served with great violence on to my own foot - the American service being very tricky to deliver.

I miscued the seventh ball, which again hit Miss Paggs, this time behind the ear. As I pointed out to her, she had no business to be wandering aimlessly about the court while the game was in progress. If she wanted to ramble, she ought to have become a beagle or a harrier or something, not joined a tennis club.

Said I Did It On Purpose
When she had recovered, I suggested that she should got well up to the net where I could see her, and thus minimize the chance of accidents. I then rallied all my efforts and launched my eighth ball into space. At the same moment Miss Paggs foolishly turned round, and a fraction of a second later she collapsed with a dull, sickening thud. 

Her accusation that I did it on purpose was, of course, totally unjust. As I explained to her that evening, when I was carrying the booby-prize home for her, the American service is very difficult to perform, and the reason why I had failed with it was merely that I hadn't got my eye in.

"And is that," remarked Miss Paggs coldly, "any reason why you should try to knock mine out?"

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