Parkhurst Boys And other stories of School Life
By Talbot Baines Reed This is a collection of short stories and articles, mostly about boys at school. There are four groups of these stories: seven about a school called Parkhurst, detailing major events such as matches and boat races.
The second section consists of eleven discourses on different types of boy, such as "The Sneak". The third section contains twelve stories about boys who have played their part in English History, such as the two young "Princes in the Tower", Dick Whittington, Edward the Sixth, and so on.
The final section consists of seven general stories of greater length than the foregoing.
The whole book, though not really long, is quite amusing, though of course very dated. You'll enjoy it. I personally prefer to listen to these books. NH.
PARKHURST BOYS AND OTHER STORIES OF SCHOOL LIFE
BY TALBOT BAINES REED
Part one. Parkhurst Sketches.
MY FIRST FOOTBALL MATCH.
It was a proud moment in my existence when Wright, captain of our football club, came up to me in school one Friday and said, "Adams, your name is down to play in the match against Craven to-morrow."
I could have knighted him on the spot. To be one of the picked "fifteen," whose glory it was to fight the battles of their school in the Great Close, had been the leading ambition of my life—I suppose I ought to be ashamed to confess it—ever since, as a little chap of ten, I entered Parkhurst six years ago. Not a winter Saturday but had seen me either looking on at some big match, or oftener still scrimmaging about with a score or so of other juniors in a scratch game. But for a long time, do what I would, I always seemed as far as ever from the coveted goal, and was half despairing of ever rising to win my "first fifteen cap." Latterly, however, I had noticed Wright and a few others of our best players more than once lounging about in the Little Close, where we juniors used to play, evidently taking observations with an eye to business. Under the awful gaze of these heroes, need I say I exerted myself as I had never done before? What cared I for hacks or bruises, so only that I could distinguish myself in their eyes? And never was music sweeter than the occasional "Bravo, young 'un!" with which some of them would applaud any special feat of skill or daring.
So I knew my time was coming at last, and only hoped it would arrive before the day of the Craven match, the great match of our season— always looked forward to as the event of the Christmas term, when victory was regarded by us boys as the summit of all human glory, and defeat as an overwhelming disgrace.
It will therefore be understood why I was almost beside myself with delight when, the very day before the match, Wright made the announcement I have referred to.
I scarcely slept a wink that night for dreaming of the wonderful exploits which were to signalise my first appearance in the Great Close—how I was to run the ball from one end of the field to the other, overturning, dodging, and distancing every one of the enemy, finishing up with a brilliant and mighty kick over the goal. After which I was to have my broken limbs set by a doctor on the spot, to receive a perfect ovation from friend and foe, to be chaired round the field, to be the "lion" at the supper afterwards, and finally to have a whole column of the Times devoted to my exploits! What glorious creatures we are in our dreams!
Well, the eventful day dawned at last. It was a holiday at Parkhurst, and as fine a day as any one could wish.
As I made my appearance, wearing the blue-and-red jersey of a "first fifteen man" under my jacket, I found myself quite an object of veneration among the juniors who had lately been my compeers, and I accepted their homage with a vast amount of condescension. Nothing was talked of during the forenoon but the coming match. Would the Craven fellows turn up a strong team? Would that fellow Slider, who made the tremendous run last year, play for them again this? Would Wright select the chapel end or the other, if we won the choice? How were we off behind the scrimmage?
"Is Adams to be trusted?" I heard one voice ask.
Two or three small boys promptly replied, "Yes"; but the seniors said nothing, except Wright, who took the opportunity of giving me a little good advice in private.
"Look here, Adams; you are to play half-back, you know. All you've got to take care of is to keep cool, and never let your eyes go off the ball. You know all the rest."
A lecture half an hour long could not have made more impression. I remembered those two hints, "Keep cool, and watch the ball," as long as I played football, and I would advise every half-back to take them to heart in like manner.
At noon the Craven team came down in an omnibus, and had lunch in hall with us, and half an hour later found us all in a straggling procession, making for the scene of conflict in the Great Close. There stood the goals and the boundary-posts, and there was Granger, the ground-keeper, with a brand-new lemon-shaped ball under his arm.
"Look sharp and peel!" cried our captain.
So we hurried to the tent, and promptly divested ourselves of our outer garments, turned up the sleeves of our jerseys, and tied an extra knot in our bootlaces. As we emerged, the Craven men were making their appearance on the ground in battle array. I felt so nervous myself that I could not, for the life of me, imagine how some of them could look so unconcerned, whistling, and actually playing leapfrog to keep themselves warm!
An officer in the Crimean War once described his sensation in some of the battles there as precisely similar to those he had experienced when a boy on the football field at Rugby. I can appreciate the comparison, for one. Certainly never soldier went into action with a more solemn do-or-die feeling than that with which I took my place on the field that afternoon.
"They've won the choice of sides," said somebody, "and are going to play with the wind."
"Take your places, Parkhurst!" shouted our captain.
The ball lies in the centre of the ground, and Wright stands ten yards or so behind it, ready for the kick-off. Of our fifteen the ten forwards are extended in a line with the ball across the field, ready to charge after it the moment it goes flying. The two best runners of our team are stationed quarter-back, where they can skirmish on the outskirts of the scrimmage. I am posted a little in rear of them at half-back—an unusual post for so young a player, but one which was accorded to me by virtue of my light weight and not inconsiderable running powers. Behind me are the two backs, on whom, when all else fails, the issue of the conflict depends. The Craven players are similarly disposed, and waiting impatiently for our captain's kick.
"Are you ready?" he shouts.
Silence gives consent.
He gives a quick glance round at us, then springs forward, and in an instant the ball is soaring high in the direction of the Cravens' goal amid the shouts of onlooking friend and foe.
Our forwards were after it like lightning, but not before a Craven back had got hold of it and run some distance in the direction of our goal. He did not wait to be attacked, but by a clever drop-kick, a knack peculiar to all good backs, sent it spinning right over the forwards' heads into the hands of one of our quarter-backs. He, tucking it under his arm and crushing his cap on to his head, started to run. Going slowly at first, he steered straight for the forwards of the enemy till within a pace or two of them, when he doubled suddenly, and amid the shouts of our partisans slipped past them and was seen heading straight for the Craven goal. But although he had escaped their forwards, he had yet their rearguard to escape, which was far harder work, for was not one of that rearguard the celebrated Slider himself, who by his prowess had last year carried defeat to our school; and the other, was it not the stalwart Naylor, who only a month ago had played gloriously for his county against Gravelshire?
Yet our man was not to be daunted by the prestige of these distinguished adversaries, but held on his way pluckily, and without a swerve. It was a sight to see those two cunningly lay wait for him, like two spiders for a fly. There was nothing for it but to plunge headlong into their web in a desperate effort to break through. Alas! brave man! Naylor has him in his clutches, the Craven forwards come like a deluge on the spot, our forwards pour over the Craven, and in an instant our hero and the ball have vanished from sight under a heap of writhing humanity.
"Down!" cries a half-choked voice, from the bottom of the heap. It was rather an unnecessary observation, as it happens, but it served as a signal to both parties to rise to their feet and prepare for a "scrimmage."
Now, if truth must be told, our school always had the reputation of being second to none in "going through a scrimmage," so while the players are scrambling to their feet, and waiting for the ball to be "grounded," I will explain what our method of doing the thing was.
It was nothing more nor less than a carrying out of the principle of the wedge. The ball formed the apex; the fellows got up close to it, so as never to let it out of reach of their four feet. Behind these two came three with locked arms, and behind the three, four. The men in the middle pushed straight ahead, and those at the sides inwards towards the ball, while the two or three remaining forwards lent their weight to one side or other of the base, according as the exigencies of the scrimmage demanded. Thus our wedge, embodying a concentrated pressure in the direction of the ball, the farther it advanced the farther it scattered asunder the foe, who fell off from its gradually widening sides without hope of getting again within reach of the ball except by retreating to the rear and beginning the struggle over afresh. When this manoeuvre was well executed, it was almost certain to carry the ball through the scrimmage, and when that happened, then was the time for us half and quarter-backs to look out for our chance.
Our men went at it with their customary vigour and address, and presently the ball emerged on the far side of the scrimmage. In an instant it was caught up by one of the Craven quarter-backs, and in an instant our men were upon him again before he could get a start for a run. Scrimmage after scrimmage ensued, the ball was constantly in Chancery, but each crush brought us a yard or so nearer the enemy's goal than we had been before.
All this time I was little better than a spectator, for the ball never once came within reach of my fingers, and I was beginning to think that, after all, a big match was not so exciting a thing as one is apt to imagine.
At last, however, after one scrimmage more desperate than any that had gone before, the ball flew out suddenly, and bounded off one of the Craven men into my grasp. Now was my chance. "If only I could—"
The next thing I was conscious of was that about twenty people had fallen to the ground all of a heap, and that I and the ball were at the bottom.
"Down!" I cried.
"Pack up there, Parkhurst!" sang out Wright.
I extricated myself as quickly as I could, and got back to my place in the rear, thinking to myself, after all, there was some little excitement in football.
At last the ball got well away from the scrimmage, and who should secure it but the redoubtable Slider! I felt a passing tremor of deep despair, as I saw that hero spring like the wind towards our goal.
"Look out, Adams!" shouted Wright.
Sure enough he was coming in my direction! With the desperation of a doomed man I strode out to meet him. He rushed furiously on—swerving slightly to avoid my reach, and stretching out his arm to ward off my grasp. I flung myself wildly in his path. There was a heavy thud, and the earth seemed to jump up and strike me. The next moment I was sprawling on my back on the grass. I don't pretend to know how it all happened, but somehow or other I had succeeded in checking the onward career of the victorious Slider; for though I had fallen half stunned before the force of his charge, he had recoiled for an instant from the same shock, and that instant gave time for Wright to get hold of him, and so put an end for the time to his progress.
"Well played!" said some one, as I picked myself up. So I was comforted, and began to think that, after all, football was rather a fine game.
Time would fail me to tell of all the events of that afternoon—how Wright carried the ball within a dozen yards of our opponents' goal; how their forwards passed the ball one to another, and got a "touch-down" behind our line, but missed the kick; how Naylor ran twenty yards with one of our men hanging on his back; how our quarter-back sent the ball nearly over their goal with as neat a drop-kick as ever it has been my lot to witness.
The afternoon was wearing. I heard the time-keeper call out, "Five minutes more!" The partisans of either side were getting frantic with excitement. Unless we could secure an advantage now, we should be as good as defeated, for the Craven had scored a "touch-down" to our nothing. Was this desperate fight to end so? Was victory, after all, to escape us? But I had no time for reflection then.
"Now, Parkhurst," sang out Wright, "pull yourselves together for once!"
A Craven man is standing to throw the ball out of "touch," and either side stands in confronting rows, impatient for the fray. Wright is at the end of the line, face to face with Naylor, and I am a little behind Wright.
"Keep close!" exclaims the latter to me, as the ball flies towards us.
Wright has it, but in an instant Naylor's long arms are round him, bearing him down.
"Adams!" ejaculates out captain, and in a trice he passes the ball into my hands, and I am off like the wind. So suddenly has it all been done that I have already a yard or two start before my flight is discovered. There is a yelling and a rush behind me; there is a roar from the crowds on either side; there is a clear "Follow up, Parkhurst!" from Wright in the rear; there is a loud "Collar him!" from the Craven captain ahead. I am steering straight for their goal; three men only are between me and it—one, their captain, right back, and Slider and another man in front of him.
I see at a glance that my only hope is to keep as I am going and waste no time in dodging, or assuredly the pursuing host will be upon me. Slider and his companion are closing in right across my path, almost close together. With a bound I dash between them. Have they got me, or have I escaped them? A shout louder than ever and a "Bravo!" from Wright tell me I am clear of that danger, and have now but their last defence to pass. He is a tall, broad fellow, and a formidable foe to encounter, and waits for me close under their goal. The pace, I feel, is telling on me; the shouting behind sounds nearer, only a few yards divides us now. Shall I double, shall I venture a kick, or shall I charge straight at him?
"Charge at him!" sounds Wright's voice, as if in answer to my thought. I gather up all my remaining force, and charge. There is a flash across my eyes, and a dull shock against my chest. I reel and stagger, and forget where I am. I am being swept along in a torrent; the waters with a roar rush past me and over me. Every moment I get nearer and nearer the fatal edge—I am at it—I hang a moment on the brink, and then—
"Down!" shouts a voice close at my ear, and there is such a noise of cheering and rejoicing that I sit up and rub my eyes like one waking bewildered from a strange dream.
Then I find out what has happened. When I charged at the Craven captain the shock sent me back staggering into the very arms of Wright and our forwards, who were close at my heels, and who then, in a splendid and irresistible rush, carried me and the ball and the half of the other side along with them right behind the enemy's goal-line, where we fall en masse to the earth—I, with the ball under me, being at the bottom.
Even if I had been hurt—which I was not—there was no time to be wasted on condolences or congratulations. The time-keeper held his watch in his hand, and our goal must be kicked at once, if it was to be kicked at all. So the fifteen paces out were measured, the "nick" for the ball was carefully made, the enemy stood along their goal-line ready to spring the moment the ball should touch the earth. Wright, cool and self-possessed, placed himself in readiness a yard or two behind the ball, which one of our side held an inch off the ground. An anxious moment of expectation followed; then came a sharp "Now!" from our captain. The ball was placed cunningly in the nick, the Craven forwards rushed out on it in a body, but long before they could reach it, Wright's practised foot had sent it flying straight as an arrow over the bar, and my first football match had ended in a glorious victory for the Old School.
The terms used here describe the Rugby game as it used to be played prior to 1880.
THE PARKHURST PAPER-CHASE.
"The meet is to be at one o'clock, sharp, in the Dean's Warren—don't forget!"
So said Forwood, the "whipper-in" of the Parkhurst Hare and Hounds Club, to me, one March morning in the year 18—. I had no need to be reminded of the appointment; for this was the day of the "great hunt" of the year, always held by the running set at Parkhurst School to yield in interest to no other fixture of the athletic calendar.
In fine weather, and over good country, a paper-chase is one of the grandest sports ever indulged in—at least, so we thought when we were boys—and the "great hunt" was, of course, the grandest run of the year, and looked forward to, consequently, with the utmost eagerness by all lovers of running in our school.
This year, too, I had a special interest in the event, for it was my turn to run "hare"—in other words, to be, with another fellow, the object of the united pursuit of some twenty or thirty of my schoolfellows, who would glory in running me down not a whit less than I should glory in escaping them.
For some weeks previously we had been taking short trial runs, to test our pace and powers of endurance; and Birch (my fellow-"hare") and I had more than once surveyed the course we proposed to take on the occasion of the "great hunt," making ourselves, as far as possible, acquainted with the bearings of several streams, ploughed fields, and high walls to be avoided, and the whereabouts of certain gaps, woods, and hollows to be desired. We were glad afterwards that we had taken this precaution, as the reader will see.
I can't say if the Parkhurst method of conducting our "hunts" was the orthodox one; I know we considered it was, as our rules were our own making, or rather a legacy left to us by a former generation of runners at the school.
We were to take, in all, a twelve miles' course, of nearly an oval shape, six miles out and six miles home. Any amount of dodging or doubling was to be allowed to us hares, except crossing our own path. We were to get five minutes' clear start, and, of course, were expected to drop our paper "scent" wherever we went.
Luckily for me, Birch was an old hand at running hare, and up to all sorts of dodges, so that I knew all it was needful for me to do was to husband my "wind," and run evenly with him, leaving him to shape our course and regulate our pace.
It was a lively scene at the Dean's Warren, when we reached it a few minutes before the appointed time that afternoon. The "pack"—that is, the twenty or thirty fellows who were to run as "hounds"—were fast assembling, and divesting themselves of everything but their light flannels. The whipper-in, conspicuous by the little bugle slung across his shoulders, and the light flag in his hand, was there in all the importance of his office; and, as usual, the doctor and a party of visitors, ladies and gentlemen, had turned out to witness the start.
"Five minutes, hares!" shouts Forwood, as Birch and I came on the spot.
We use the interval in stripping off all unnecessary apparel, and girding ourselves with our bags of "scent," or scraps of torn-up paper, which we are to drop as we run. Then we sit and wait the moment for starting. The turf is crisp under our feet; the sun is just warm enough to keep us from shivering as we sit, and the wind just strong enough to be fresh. Altogether it is to be doubted if a real meet of real hounds to hunt real hares—a cruel and not very manly sport, after all—could be much more exciting than this is.
"Half a minute!" sings out the whipper-in, as we spring to our feet.
In another thirty seconds we are swinging along at a good pace down the slope of the warren, in the direction of Colven meadows, and the hunt has begun.
As long as we were in sight of the pack we kept up a good hard pace, but on reaching cover we settled down at once to a somewhat more sober jog- trot, in anticipation of the long chase before us.
We made good use of our five minutes' start, for by the time a distant bugle note announced that the hounds were let loose on our track we had covered a good piece of ground, and put several wide fields and ditches and ugly hedges between us and our pursuers.
Now it was that Birch's experiences served us in good stead. I never knew a fellow more thoroughly cunning; he might have been a fox instead of a hare. Sometimes he made me run behind him and drop my scent on the top of his, and sometimes keep a good distance off, and let the wind scatter it as much as it could. When we came to a gap, instead of starting straight across the next field he would turn suddenly at right angles, and keep close up under the hedge half-way round before striking off into the open. Among trees and bushes he zigzagged and doubled to an alarming extent, so that it seemed as if we were losing ground every moment. So we should have been if the chase had been by sight instead of by scent; but that would have been against all rules.
If the hounds were to see the hares twenty yards in front of them, and the scent lay half a mile round, they would be bound, according to our rules, to go the half-mile, however tempting the short cut might seem.
It was after a very wide circuit, ending up on the top of a moderate rise, that we first caught sight of our pursuers. As they were a full six minutes behind us, we agreed to sit down under cover for a minute and watch them.
At that moment they had evidently lost the scent, and were ferreting about among some low trees and bushes in search of it. We saw the flag of the whipper-in marking the spot where it was last visible, and round this, on all sides, the hounds were exploring busily in search of the "new departure." Then, presently, came a cry of "Forward!" and off they all started in our direction; and as the scent after that seemed to lie pretty clear we considered it high time for us to resume our flight.
So we made off again, and being refreshed by our brief halt, made over a couple of ploughed fields, which Birch suggested "would make a few of the hounds look foolish"; and so on till we reached the first water we had encountered since the start. This was a trout-stream, well known to some of us who were fond of fishing—nowhere more than half a foot deep, and in some places easily passable, dry shod, on stepping-stones. Birch, however, avoided these, and boldly splashing into the stream over his ankles, bade me follow.
"We'll soon dry up," he said, "and this will gain us a minute or two."
Instead of going straight across, the wily hare began to paddle up the middle of the stream for twenty or thirty yards, and, of course, in so doing our scent was soon drifted away down the current. So we flattered ourselves, when we at last did make the opposite bank, that our pursuers would be puzzled for a minute or two to know what had become of us.
After a further quarter of a mile we thought we might venture to take another brief halt on the strength of this last manoeuvre. We were unable to do so where we could command a view of the hounds, but as we reckoned we had at least gained three minutes, we felt we could quite afford to take it easy for that length of time.
Fancy, then, our horror when, after about a couple of minutes, we heard a cry of "Forward!" close to us, and evidently on this side of the stream.
Off we dashed like mad, in a regular panic, and never checked our pace till we had put three ploughed fields and a couple of wide ditches to our credit. We did not discover till it was all over how it was our cunning scheme to perplex the hounds had thus miscarried. Then we were told that some of the scent, instead of dropping into the water, as we intended, had lodged on the top of some stones in mid-stream, and this had at once betrayed our dodge to the practised eyes of the foremost hounds. It was a caution to be more careful another time.
We had to work hard to make up for the ground we had lost by this mistake, but our next sight of the hounds showed that we were fairly ahead again, and that the ploughed fields had (as Birch predicted) told on a good portion of the pack, who now (at least, those of them who were at all well up) scarcely numbered a dozen.
Half a mile farther brought us to Wincot village, down the main street of which we sped, greatly to the admiration of the inhabitants, who turned out in force to see the sport.
By this time we had fairly got our "second winds," and began to realise the benefit of the steady training of the past fortnight. At an ordinary pace, with the second wind well laid on, we felt we ought to be able to hold out for the run home, unless some very unexpected accident should intervene.
Past the village, we rattled on till we came to the railway embankment, across which we trespassed, not without some difficulty, as it was steep and railed off on either side by high palisades. Once over this, we turned at right angles, and ran for half a mile close alongside the line, and past Wincot station. Here it was necessary to recross the line (down a cutting this time), and as we were doing so we caught sight, on our left, of the leading hounds scrambling to the top of the embankment, which we had passed only a minute or two before.
Clear of the railway, there remained a good steady piece of work cut out for us to reach home, across an awful country, full of hedges and ditches, and as hilly as a pie-crust.
But Birch and I were well in the humour of the thing by this time, and determined it should not be our fault if the "great hunt" of this year ended in a victory for the hounds. So we spurted for nearly a mile, jumping most of the narrow ditches and low hedges that crossed our path, and making as straight a course as the hilly ground allowed of. But, despite all our efforts, the occasional glimpses which we caught of our pursuers showed us that we were unable to shake off four or five of the leading hounds, who, with Forwood at their head, were coming on at a great pace, and, if not gaining on us, at least not losing ground.
This would never do. It would be all up if things went on so, we could see; so the cunning Birch had once again to resort to his dodges to gain time.
Suddenly altering our track, and leaving the fields, he struck a dusty lane, which wound in and out in the direction of Parkhurst. Now, as this was a very dusty and a very chalky lane, and as the wind was blowing the dust about very freely, it was easy to see why the artful Birch made use of it on the present occasion. Our white scraps of paper, falling on the white road, and being fallen on by the white dust, had a good chance of escaping detection, unless looked after very carefully; and to make matters more secure, we dodged off into the fields, and back again into the lane, pretty often, leaving our pursuers a ditch to jump each time.
This manoeuvre answered fairly well, for the next time we saw the hounds they were searching about by the side of a ditch for our track, a good way to the rear.
We had now to face the hardest bit of work of the afternoon. The last two miles home were over a perfectly flat bit of country—so flat that the hounds would have us in view nearly all the way, and, consequently, to dodge or double would be simply useless. Our only course was a straight hard run for it, trusting to our legs and our wind to pull us through. So we settled down to the task with a will. Scarcely had we emerged into the open ground for a couple of minutes, when we saw a figure dash out of the lane in full cry after us.
It was Forwood, the whipper-in, a terrible "scud" across country, and he was only fifty yards or so ahead of three others, also celebrated for their pace. So we hares had our work cut out for us, and no mistake!
For a mile we ran as hard as we well could, turning neither to right nor left, and halting neither at ditch nor dyke. Parkhurst Towers rose before us in the distance, and more than one boy was already strolling out in our direction to witness the finish.
How we wished we were as fresh as they!
"Put it on, hares!" shouted the first who met us, "you'll do it yet."
"Hounds are gaining!" cried the next we passed—a young urchin sitting on a bank and eating toffee.
And now there met us not single spectators only, but groups, who cheered loudly, backing, some the hares and some the hounds, till we hardly knew where we were. Some even began to run along with us, at a respectful distance, in order to be "in at the death."
The playground wall was now visible only half a mile away, on the other side of the Gravelshire Canal, which had to be crossed by a bridge which we were fast approaching.
I gave a rapid look back. Forwood was now only a hundred yards behind us, with lots of running still in him. He would certainly run us down in the next half-mile.
"Birch," I said, as I ran beside him, "are you good for a swim?"
"Rather!" he exclaimed; "if you are. Quick!"
We swerved suddenly in our course, and, to the amazement of all spectators, left the bridge on our left. In another minute we were on the margin of the canal, and the next moment the splash of a double "header," and the shouts of the assembled onlookers, proclaimed that we had made a plunge for it. The canal was only about thirty feet wide, and we were across it in a twinkling, our light flannel clothes scarcely interfering with our swimming, and certainly not adding much to the weight we carried after being soaked through.
Three hundred yards now! Ah! that cheer behind means that Forwood has followed our plunge. What are they laughing at, though? Can he have foundered? No! Another shout! That means he is safe over, and hard at our heels.
For the last three hundred yards we run a regular steeplechase. The meadows are intersected with lines of hurdles, and these we take one after another in our run, as hard as we can. Only one more, and then we are safe!
Suddenly I find myself on my face on the grass! I have caught on the last hurdle, and come to grief!
Birch in an instant hauls me to my feet, just as Forwood rises to the leap. Then for a hundred yards it is a race for very life. What a shouting there is! and what a rushing of boys and waving of caps pass before our eyes! On comes Forwood, the gallant hound, at our heels; we can hear him behind us distinctly!
"Now you have them!" shouts one.
"One spurt more, hares!" cries another, "and you are safe!"
On we bound, and on comes the pursuer, not ten yards behind—not ten, but more than five. And that five he never makes up till Birch and I are safe inside the school-gates, winners by a neck—and a neck only—of that famous hunt.
The pack came straggling in for the next hour, amid the cheers and chaffing of the boys. Three of them, who had kept neck and neck all the way, were only two minutes behind Forwood; but they had shirked the swim, and taken the higher and drier course—as, indeed, most of the other hounds did—by way of the bridge. Ten minutes after them one other fellow turned up, and a quarter of an hour later three more; and so on until the whole pack had run, or walked, or limped, or ridden home—all except one, little Jim Barlow, the tiniest and youngest and pluckiest little hound that ever crossed country. We were all anxious to know what had become of this small chap of thirteen, who, some one said, ought never to have been allowed to start on such a big run, with his little legs. "Wait a bit," said Forwood; "Jim will turn up before long, safe and sound, you'll see."
It was nearly dusk, and a good two hours after the finish. We were sitting in the big hall, talking and laughing over the events of the afternoon, when there came a sound of feet on the gravel walk, accompanied by a vehement puffing, outside the window.
"There he is!" exclaimed Forwood, "and, I declare, running still!"
And so it was. In a minute the door swung open, and in trotted little Jim, dripping wet, coated with mud, and panting like a steam-engine, but otherwise as self-composed as usual.
"How long have you fellows been in?" he demanded of us, as he sat down and began to lug off his wet boots.
"Two hours," replied Birch.
The little hero looked a trifle mortified to find he was so far behind, and we were quite sorry for him.
"Never mind," he said, "I ran on the scent every inch of the way, and only pulled up once, at Wincot, for five minutes."
"You did!" exclaimed one or two voices, as we all stared admiringly at this determined young hound.
"Yes; and a nice dance you gave a chap my size over the railway and across those ditches! But I didn't miss a single one of them, all the same."
"But what did you do at the canal?" asked Forwood.
"Why, swam it, of course—obliged to do it, wasn't I, if the hares went that way? I say, is there any grub going?"
Plucky little Jim Barlow! After all, he was the hero of that "big hunt," though he did come in two hours late.
This was the last big "hare and hounds" I ever ran in. I have many a time since ridden with a real hunt over the same country, but never have I experienced the same thrill of excitement or known the same exultation at success as when I ran home with Birch, two seconds ahead of the hounds, in the famous Parkhurst Paper-chase of 18 hundred and something.
THE PARKHURST BOAT-RACE.
"Adams is wanted down at the boat-house!" Such was the sound which greeted my ears one Saturday afternoon as I lolled about in the playground at Parkhurst, doing nothing. I jumped up as if I had been shot, and asked the small boy who brought the message who wanted me.
"Blades does; you've got to cox the boat this afternoon instead of Wilson. Look sharp!" he said, "as they're waiting to start."
Off I went, without another word, filled with mingled feelings of wonder, pride, and trepidation. I knew Wilson, the former coxswain of the school boat, had been taken ill and left Parkhurst, but this was the first I had ever heard of my being selected to take his place. True, I had steered the boat occasionally when no one else could be got, and on such occasions had managed to keep a moderately good course up the Two Mile Reach, but I had never dreamed of such a pitch of good fortune as being called to occupy that seat as a fixture.
But now it wanted only a week of the great race with the Old Boys, and here was I summoned to take charge of the rudder at the eleventh hour, which of course meant I would have to steer the boat on the occasion of the race! No wonder, then, I was half daft with excitement as I hurried down to the boathouse in obedience to the summons of Blades, the stroke of the Parkhurst Four.
I should explain that at Parkhurst we were peculiarly favoured in the matter of boating. The River Colven flowed through the town only half a mile from the school boundaries, and being at that place but a short distance from the sea, it was some fifty yards broad, a clear, deep stream, just the sort of water one would choose for rowing. There was no lock for six miles or so up, and the few craft which came in from the sea rarely proceeded beyond Parkhurst; so that we had a long, uninterrupted stretch of water for our boats, which, as soon as ever the spring set in, and the weather became too hot for football and hare and hounds, appeared in force every half-holiday on its surface.
Some of the fellows on such occasions used to amuse themselves by starting off for a long, leisurely grind up-stream; or else with set sail to tack down the lower reaches towards the sea; but most of us who laid claim in any degree to the name of enthusiastic oarsmen, confined our operations mainly to the Two Mile Reach, on which most of the club races were rowed, chief of which was the Old Boys' Race, already referred to.
This race had been instituted some years before my time at the school, by an old Parkhurstian, who presented a cup, to be rowed for annually, between the best four-oared crew of the present school, and any crew of old pupils who had been at Parkhurst within two years.
This race was the all-absorbing topic in our boat-club for several weeks before the event. How carefully the crew were selected, how strictly they trained, how patiently Mr Blunt, one of the masters, and an old Cambridge oar, "coached" or tutored them; how regularly the boat went over the course morning after morning, before breakfast; how eagerly the fellows criticised or commended the rowers; how impatiently we all looked forward to the coming contest!
This year our prospects were doubtful. The Old Boys had got together a strong crew, who were reported by some who had been over to see them to be very fast, and in splendid form; while we, at the last moment, had had the disadvantage to lose our coxswain and have to fill his place with a less experienced hand. Still, the school "four" was a good one, carefully drilled, with plenty of power; one which Mr Blunt pronounced ought to hold its own with any other average crew. So, on the whole, there was no saying how the chances stood.
I found I had all my work before me to get accustomed to my new duties before the day of the race. Daily I was out with the four, and several times besides I was taken over the course in a punt, and carefully shown all the shallows, and bends, and eddies of the stream, and made familiar with the ins and outs of either bank.
Luckily, I was a light weight to begin with, so that I did not lose much by my limited period of training, being indeed not so heavy as the former coxswain of the boat, whom I had succeeded.
Well, the eventful day came at last. The Old Boys arrived the day before, and from the two trial rows which they took over the course, we could see they were a first-rate crew and formidable opponents. Still our "coach," who had watched them minutely, told us we had the better stroke of the two, and if we could only hold out, ought to win after all. This was comforting information, for the showy style of our opponents had struck terror into not a few of those whose sympathies were on the side of the present boys.
The school turned out in force to witness the event. The towing-path was lined with spectators, many of them from a distance, attracted by the prospect of an exciting race. A goodly muster of old fellows revisited the haunts of their school days, and congregated about the winning-post, while others, of a more athletic turn, prepared to run along with the race from beginning to end.
Meanwhile, in the boat-house, we had stripped for action and launched our boat. As we were ready to put off, and make for the starting-point, Mr Blunt came up and said to Blades, our "stroke",—
"Now remember, row a steady stroke all through. Don't be flurried if they get the best of the start. If you can stick to them the first half of the way, you ought to be able to row them down in the last; and mind, Adams," he said, addressing me, "don't let them force you out of your straight course, and don't waste time in trying to bother them. Keep as straight as an arrow, and you can't go wrong."
As our fellows put off for the starting-place, their long clean stroke elicited no little admiration from the onlookers, who saw much in it that augured well for the success of our boat. Thanks to Mr Blunt, our crew had learned to master that steady, strong sweep of the oars which is universally admitted to be the perfection of rowing style and the most serviceable of all strokes. Rowed well through from first to last, gripping the water the instant the oar is back and the body and arms forward, and dragged clean through without jerk or plunge, the swing of the bodies regular as clockwork, the feather clear and rapid—this essentially is the kind of rowing which not only puts most pace into the boat, but is capable of being sustained far longer than any other.
Not long after us our opponents embarked, and we had an opportunity of criticising their style as they paddled up to where we lay waiting for them. It certainly looked pretty and taking. The stroke was quicker than ours, and equally regular, but it seemed to end in a spasmodic jerk as the oars left the water, which, though it succeeded in making the boat travel quickly, appeared to try the powers of the rowers rather more than our style did. Still, there was no mistaking that they were a fast and a powerful crew, and I remember to this day the passing thought, "I wish we were at the end of it!" that flashed through my mind as I gathered my rudder lines together, ready for the start.
Mr Blunt is to act as starter, and is coming towards us in a boat, with his watch in his hand. Our rivals' boat is lying close beside ours, and I can see their stroke is leaning forward and saying something to the coxswain. I wonder it it's about me? Perhaps he is telling him to push me out of my course, or perhaps they are saying how nervous I am looking! Well, I am nervous. I begin to think I shall forget which way I have to go. Perhaps I shall pull the right-hand line instead of the left; or possibly I shall omit to pull either line at all! What lasting disgrace will then be mine! Then suddenly I remember what Mr Blunt said, that it's all up with a race if the "cox" loses his head, and by a violent effort I banish my qualms, and resolve, come what may, nothing shall unsteady me. Still, my hands tremble as I grasp the lines.
"Adams," says Blades, "make my stretcher fast, will you?"
The voice of a human being close to me, somehow, has the effect of helping me to recover my wits completely; and as I kneel and make fast the stretcher, and then once again take my seat in the stern of the boat, I feel quite myself again, and wonder at myself for being such an ass.
"Back water half a stroke!" calls out Mr Blunt to us from his skiff.
We obey him, and then find the other boat is a little in front of us. We therefore move a quarter of a stroke forward. Still the boats are not quite level. The other boat must come back a foot or two. Not quite enough; our boat must advance a few inches. There, now they are level.
"Are you ready?" No, our boat has drifted forward again, and must be moved back. All this takes time, but presently we are once again level, and the question is repeated—
"Are you ready?"
The only answer this time is the leaning forward of both crews, with arms stretched and oars well back, in readiness for the signal.
What ages it seems! And there I actually the wind has blown our rivals' bows across the stream, and before we start another two minutes must be spent in manoeuvring her back into position. Once again—
"Are you ready?"
No answer, save the quick reach forward and silent suspense.
"Then go!" and I feel the boat half lifted in the water under me. The first stroke is rather a scramble, and so is the second, but by the third the boat has begun to get its "way" on, and in a stroke or two more our men have settled down to their customary swing.
But what of our opponents? At the first stroke their boat had dashed away an inch or two in advance of ours, at the third that distance had become a foot, and presently they were far enough ahead to enable me to catch sight of their coxswain's back. As we both settled down to work, they were rowing at a considerably quicker pace than we, wrenching the boat forward at each stroke, and inch by inch improving their advantage.
All this I noticed before the shout with which the spectators hailed the start had died away. I had a dim vision of a body of runners starting along with us on the banks, and of eager cries to one crew or the other from sympathising onlookers; but I had enough to do to keep my eye fixed ahead, without gaping at the crowd.
Remembering Mr Blunt's advice, I selected a landmark in front, and steered our course direct for it; a plan of which I had cause to be glad pretty early in the race. For the Old Boys' boat, drawing steadily ahead to about half a boat's length, began very gradually to insinuate its nose a little over in our direction, so that, had I not had a fixed point on which to steer, I should have been strongly tempted to give way unwittingly before it, and so abandon an inch or two of the water that fairly belonged to our boat. As it was, however, I was able both to detect and defeat this manoeuvre, for, keeping on a perfectly straight course, the others were obliged to draw in their horns, and return to a straight course too, having lost some little ground in the process. Still, they seemed to be forging ahead, and the shouts from the banks announced that thus far, at any rate the Parkhurst boat was getting the worst of it.
I stole a look at Blades. His face was composed and unconcerned, and it was easy to see he knew what he was about. He kept up his long steady swing, being well backed up by the three men behind him, and lifted the boat well at the beginning of the stroke, never letting it down till the end. I could see that he knew exactly how far the others were ahead, and at what rate they were rowing; and yet he neither quickened nor altered his stroke, but plodded on with such a look of easy confidence that I at once felt quite satisfied in my own mind as to the result. It was not long before our opponents gave indication of abating somewhat the quick stroke they had hitherto maintained, and by virtue of which they had already got nearly a boat's length ahead. At the same moment Blades slightly quickened his stroke, and instantly our boat began to crawl up alongside that of our rivals, amid the frantic cheers of the onlookers. Slowly and surely we forged ahead, till our stroke's oar was level with their coxswain. Then a spurt from the Old Boys kept the two boats abreast for a few seconds, but it died away after a little, and once more their boat travelled slowly back, as we drew level, and began in our turn to take the lead. Now was our time to—
What is that ahead on the water, drifting right across the bows of our boat? A shout from the banks apprises me that others besides myself have taken the sudden alarm. An empty boat, insecurely moored to the bank, has got adrift, and is calmly floating up with the tide in mid- stream along our very course! What is to be done? The other boat, being on the opposite side, can easily clear the obstacle, but not so ours. Either we must put our bows across our enemy's water, and so run the risk of a "foul," and consequent defeat, or else we must lose ground by slackening our pace and going out of our course to avoid the unlucky boat. There are not ten seconds in which to decide; but that suffices me to choose the latter alternative, trusting to the rowing powers of our crew to make up the disadvantage.
"Look to your oars, stroke side!" I cry, and at the same time pull my rudder line quickly.
It was as I expected. The boat lost ground instantly, and I could see, out of the corner of my eye, the Old Boys' boat shoot forward with a quickened stroke, and hear the triumphant shouts of their partisans.
A second or two sufficed to get past the obstructing boat, our oars on the stroke side just scraping it as we did so; but as we headed again into our proper course, we saw our opponents two clear boats' lengths in front, their men pulling with all the energy of triumph and confidence.
It was a sight to make one despair. How were we ever to make up that tremendous gap?
"How much?" Blades inquires, as he swings forward towards me.
"Two!" I reply.
He sets his face determinedly, and quickens his stroke. The men behind him do not at first get into the altered swing, and for a moment or two the rowing is scrambling, and our boat rolls unsteadily, a spectacle hailed with increased joy by the partisans of the Old Boys' boat.
"Steady now!" cries Blades, over his shoulder, and next moment the boat rights itself; the four oars dip and feather simultaneously. I, sitting in the stern, can feel the swing as of one man, and the boat dashes forward like a machine. Our fellows on the banks mark the change and cheer tremendously.
"Well spurted, Parkhurst!" "Put it on now!" "You're gaining!" "Rowed indeed!" Such were the cries which, as I heard them, set my blood tingling with excitement.
It was a long time before any perceptible gain was noticeable from where I sat. The Old Boys had taken advantage of their lead to come across into our water, and all I could see of them was the blades of their oars on in front, which rose and fell swiftly and with a regular beat.
Still the shout from the bank was, "You're gaining!" and presently I saw their boat edging off again into their own water, by which I concluded we had pulled up sufficiently to make this necessary to avoid a foul.
Our men pulled splendidly. Cool, determined, and plucky, each rowed his best, his eyes fixed on the back of the man before him, keeping perfect time, and pulling each stroke through with terrible energy. I could see by their pale looks that they shared the common excitement, but there was no sign of flurry or distress, nothing but a quiet determination, which augured better for the result of their efforts than all the shouts of the onlookers.
Where are we now? Those willows on my left are, I know, just half a mile from the winning-post. Shall we, in that distance, be able to pull up the length which now divides us and our rivals? There is a chance yet! The leading boat is not going as fast as it was a minute ago. I can tell that by the eddies from their oars which sweep past.
"How much?" inquired Blades again, as he swung forward.
"One!" I replied.
I could see by the gleam in his eyes that he had hope still of making that one length nothing before the winning-post was reached.
That shout from the bank means something, surely!
"Well rowed indeed, Parkhurst!"
Yes, those who could see it were watching the little pink flag at the prow of our boat creeping, inch by inch, up the stern of our rivals'. The eddies from their oars came past nearer now, and the "thud" of their outriggers sounded closer.
Yes, we are gaining without doubt; but shall we overtake them in time to avoid defeat? I can see a mass of people ahead on the banks, and know that they are gathered opposite the winning-post. It can't be a quarter of a mile off now!
Again that shout from the bank. Ah, yes, our bow oar is level with their stroke. "Now you have it!" shout our fellows.
Blades turns his head for half a second, and cries to his men as he quickens up to his final spurt.
What a shout then rent the air! Our boat no longer crawled up beside the Old Boys, but began to fly. On, on! Their coxswain seems to be gliding backwards towards me. In vain they attempt to answer our spurt; they have not the rowing left in them to do it. Nothing can stop us! In another moment we are abreast, and almost instantly there come such cheers after cheers from the bank that even the dash of the oars was drowned in it.
"Ah, well rowed!"
"Now, Old Boys!"
"It's a win!"
On, on! What sensation so glorious, so madly exciting, as that of one of the crew of a winning boat within twenty yards of the goal? I am tempted to shout, to wave my hat, to do something ridiculous, but I set my teeth and sit still, holding my breath. Four strokes more will do it. One! I am level with the stroke of the Old Boys' boat. Two! Our fellows pull as if they had another half-mile to go still. Three! The judge at the winning-post is lifting his hand and cocking his pistol. Four! Crack goes the signal! and as our men cease rowing, and the boat shoots forward with the impetus of that last terrific stroke, amid the cheers and shouts of the assembled crowd, I breathe again, knowing that the Parkhurst boat has won, by three yards, the grandest race in which it was ever my lot to take part.
PARKHURST VERSUS WESTFIELD.
"Now, Parkhurst, turn out sharp! They are going in first." So shouted Steel, the captain of our eleven, putting his head in at the door of the tent in which we were arraying ourselves in flannels and spiked shoes, and otherwise arming for the great match against Westfield School, which was now about to commence.
We always looked upon these Westfield fellows as our most dangerous rivals on the cricket field (much in the light in which we esteemed Craven where football was concerned), and the match in which our respective pretensions were yearly settled was, I need hardly say, regarded as the match of the season, and made the object of untiring practice and feverish excitement.
Year after year, for twelve years, our rival elevens had met, always on the last Saturday of June, one year at Parkhurst and the next at Westfield, and so far the result had been that each school had won six matches. Fancy then the state of our feelings this year, as we started off in the early morning on our omnibus from Parkhurst, to engage in the decisive contest which (unless it ended in a draw) must turn the balance either in favour of our school, or to the glorification of our rivals. We could not bear to think of the possibility of a defeat; it would be too tragical, too shameful. So as we drove over to Westfield that morning, we talked of nothing but victory, and felt very like those determined old Spartans who, when they went to the wars, made a vow they would return either with their shields or on them.
Of course there was a regular swarm of people to see the match. Old Parkhurst "bats," who had played in the first match, thirteen years ago, were there, with big beards, and very majestic to look at; Old Boys, now settled in life, were there with their wives and children; carriages full of our own and Westfield's fathers and mothers; and shoals of young brothers and sisters, crammed the space beyond the flags; the "doctors," as usual, had driven over; and almost gave offence to some of our most enthusiastic partisans by "chumming up" publicly with the head master of our rivals! And then, besides, there was a host of outsiders, drawn together by simple curiosity or love of cricket; so that altogether, as we emerged from our tent in our snow-white flannels and pink belts, we felt that the eyes of the world were upon us, and were more convinced than ever that anything short of victory would be the most terrible of all calamities which could fall on our youthful heads.
Our great hope was in Steel, our captain, one of the best cricketers Parkhurst had ever produced; and for coolness and self-confidence without his equal anywhere. We all adored him, for he never snubbed youngsters, or made light of their doings. If, during practice, a fellow bowled, batted, or fielded well, Steel took care to encourage him; but if any one played carelessly, or bungled, Steel scowled, and that unlucky man's name disappeared for a season from the list of candidates for a place in the first eleven.
See him now stroll up to the wickets, with his wicket-keeping pads on, talking on the way to one of the two men who are to officiate first with their bats on behalf of Westfield.
We youngsters can't understand such coolness, and keep our eyes on him, as if every moment we expected to see him fell his rival to the earth. It's a great matter to be used to a thing. I, who was now making my first appearance in the first eleven, felt as if the world began, continued, and ended within the area of this Westfield meadow; but here was some one who, to all appearances, made no more of the great match than he would of his dinner.
But away now with all thoughts but cricket! The ball we have been tossing about idly is taken into custody by the umpire; Steel is behind the wickets, looking round to see if we fielders are all in our places, and motioning one or two of us to stand deeper or closer in, as he deems advisable. The Westfield batsman who is to receive the first over is getting "middle"; our bowler is tucking up his sleeves, and gripping the brand-new ball in his hand; the ground-keeper is chasing a few small boys back behind the ropes; and the scorers in the big tent are dipping their pens in the ink.
Altogether, it is a critical moment in my life—a moment that seems as long as a whole day.
"Play!" cries the umpire; and our bowler delivers his first ball—not a very alarming one, and evidently meant more as a test of the ball and the pitch than as a serious attack on the enemy's wicket. My readers of course do not expect me to give a full, true, and particular account of every ball bowled on that eventful day. That would be as tedious for them as for me. But I shall do my best to recall the chief features of the game as they presented themselves to me from my post, first at cover-point, and (while our side was batting) from the tent and the wickets.
The first few overs were not eventful. They rarely are. Our men had to get used to the ground and the ball; and the batsmen chose to be exceedingly careful how they hit out at first. In the third over a single run was made, and of course the Westfield fellows cheered as if the match were already won. Then gradually came one or two more singles, a two, another one, a three, and then, just as the two batsmen were getting into good humour and fancying they might lay about them a little more freely, down went the first wicket amid the cheers of our fellows, and we saw the figures 12 posted up on the telegraph, as indicating the score so far standing to the credit of Westfield.
We had not long to wait for the next man in, and still less long to see him out, poor fellow! for the very first ball sent his bails flying over Steel's head, and he had to trudge back to the tent and take off his pads almost before he had got used to the feel of them on his legs.
In the over following the arrival of his successor an easy catch by point disposed of another wicket.
"This is something like!" I exclaimed to myself. "Three men out for fourteen runs. If it goes on like this, we shall have it all our own way"; and in my satisfaction I ventured to communicate my ideas to the man fielding at point.
"Adams, will you attend to the game?" It was Steel who spoke, and at the sound of his voice I started like one shot, and discovered that the next man was in and ready to begin. I stepped back to my place in an instant, and would sooner have had one of Hurley's swiftest balls catch me on the bare shin than be thus publicly called to order before the whole field. I can safely say that never in my life since that moment have I caught myself talking during "play" in a cricket match.
I felt in disgrace, and got nervous; I dared not look at Steel, for fear of meeting his eye. I wished myself a mile away, and repented of my satisfaction of being in the first eleven. Most devoutly I hoped no ball would chance near me, as I should assuredly miss it. As the thought passed my mind the man who was batting cut a ball hard and low in my direction. It was so hard and so low that under any circumstances it would have been a most difficult ball to field, still more to catch. It flew towards me a few inches from the ground, and I was in despair. I knew every eye in the field was on me—Steel's in particular. Here would be some hundreds of witnesses to my utter imbecility! Would that the ground would swallow me! I sprang forward and tripped as I sprang. In my fall the ball dashed into my hand, and fell from it to the earth. I had missed the catch, and my disgrace was complete. Fancy then my astonishment when I heard Steel's awful voice cry, "Well tried, sir!" and when a distant sound of clapping reached me from the tents! I could not understand it at first; but I afterwards found out that by my lucky trip I had more nearly succeeded in catching the ball than a more experienced player would have done had he kept his balance, and so I got credit for a good piece of play which I did not in the least deserve. However, it served to recover me from my nervousness and bad spirits, and incite me to a desire to accomplish something for which I could honestly take credit.
Never was such a determination more called for than now. Driver, the captain of the Westfield eleven, was at the wickets, a most tremendous hitter. All bowling came alike to him. The swifter the ball the happier he was; sending one over the bowler's head, another nearly into the scorers' tent, another among the spectators behind the ropes. The score, hitherto so slow, began to fly up. Forty, fifty, sixty, seventy we saw posted up in rapid succession, and wondered how it all would end. He seemed to have as many lives as a cat. Some easy catches were missed, and some "runs out" were only just avoided. Still he scored, no matter who his partner was (and one or two came and went while he was in); he hit away merrily, and the cheers of Westfield grew almost monotonous from their frequency.
We on the "off" side, however, had not much to do, for nearly all Driver's hits were to the "on," and, curiously enough, nearly all found their way between two of our men, the "mid-wicket on" and the "long on," just out of the reach of either. I could not help wondering why neither of these fellows altered his place, so as to guard the weak point.
It is curious how sometimes in cricket the same thing occurs to two people at the same time. While I was inwardly speculating on the result of this change of position, Steel appeared to become aware of the same necessity, for I saw him behind the batsman's back silently motioning "mid-wicket on" to stand farther back, and "mid on" to come round to a "square" position. This manoeuvre, however, did not escape the wily Driver, who sent his next ball to leg, and the next to the identical spot "mid-wicket on" had just quitted. Still, Steel motioned to them to remain in their new posts. He knew well enough that if a man has a habit of hitting in any one direction, however studiously he tries to avoid the place. Nature will sooner or later assert herself, and the ball will fly where it has been wont to fly. So it was in this case. He could not resist an impulse to lift one specially tempting ball in the direction of his old haunt, and sure enough in so doing he sent it clean into "long on's" hands, and with his own innings ended, to our great relief, the innings of his side, for a total score of 174, of which he had contributed quite the odd 74.
It was a good round score to overtake, and things did not promise cheerfully for us at the commencement of our innings. The Westfield men were happy in possessing two swift bowlers, who made havoc of the first two or three on our side who presented themselves. I was one of these.
When I started for the wickets, armed with pads and gloves and bat, I did not feel happy; still, I was in hopes I might at least succeed in "breaking my duck's egg," which was more than could be said for either of my predecessors.
I felt rather important as I requested the umpire to give me "middle," and hammered the mark a little with my bat. Still, my feet fidgeted; there was a sort of "cobwebby" feeling on my face, and a tickling sensation in the small of my back, as I stood ready for my first ball, which convinced me I was by no means at home in my new position.
"Play!" cries the umpire.
The bowler starts to run, with arm extended. He makes a sort of curve round the wicket, and balances himself on one foot as he discharges his ball. It comes like lightning, right on to my bat, twisting it in my grasp, and then is snatched up in an instant by "point," who tosses it to the wicket-keeper, who returns it to the bowler. All this is very alarming. Here are eleven men banded together with the one object of putting me out, and they are all so quiet and determined about it that I feel like a guilty thing as I stand there to defend my wicket.
The bowler starts again for his sinuous run, and again the ball whizzes from his hand. I lift my bat in an attempt to strike it; it slips under it; there is a little "click" behind my back, and then the ball flies aloft, and I discover that my services at the wicket are no longer required.
So ended my first innings. Happily for our side, some of the men who went in afterwards made a better show than we three unfortunates who had opened the ball had done. Steel made forty, and two others about twenty each, which, added to the odds and ends contributed by the rest of our side, brought the Parkhurst score up to 102—72 runs behind our competitors.
There was great jubilation among the Westfield partisans, as their heroes entered on their second innings under such promising auspices, especially when the redoubtable Driver went in first with the bat which had wrought such wonders in the former innings. There seemed every probability, too, of his repeating his late performance with even greater vigour, for the first ball which reached him he sent flying far and high right over the tents for six, a magnificent hit, which fairly deserved the praise it received, not from the Westfield fellows only, but from ours, who for a moment could forget their rivalry to admire a great exploit. The next three balls were delivered to his partner at the wickets, who blocked carefully, evidently bent on acting on the defensive while his companion made the running. From the fifth ball of that over a bye was scored, which brought Driver once again to the end facing the bowler. The next ball came slightly to the "off," and he tried to cut it. Either he miscalculated, or was careless about the direction he gave it, for he lodged it clean into my hands, a safe and easy catch, but a catch of enormous importance to our side, as it disposed once and for all of our most dreaded opponent.
Bereft of their champion, the Westfield fellows only succeeded in putting together the moderate score of fifty in their second innings, of which twenty-four were contributed by one man. So our spirits revived somewhat, as we discovered we had only 123 to make to win. That was indeed plenty against such bowling, but it was a good deal less than we had dreaded.
Well, the decisive innings began, as soon as we had fortified ourselves with lunch, provided for us by our hospitable rivals. The afternoon was getting on, but still the crowd of spectators kept together patiently, determined to see the end of the match.
"Shall we do it?" I heard some one ask of Steel.
"Do what?" was the evasive reply.
"Win," said the other.
"How do I know?" was our captain's curt answer.
If there was one thing that annoyed Steel above others, it was to be asked foolish questions.
He sent in two steady men first, with orders not to be in a hurry to score, but to "break the back" of the bowling. And this advice they faithfully acted upon. For over after over there was nothing but blocking. In vain the bowlers strained every nerve to get round or under those stubborn bats. They could not do it! Runs came few and far between—the field had nothing to do—and altogether the game became very monotonous. But those fellows did better service to our side than many who scored more and played in more brilliant style. We could see their prolonged stand was not without its effect on the Westfield bowlers. Their bowling became less and less steady, and their style seemed to lose its precision, as ball after ball fell hopelessly off those obstinate bats. This was evidently just what Steel wanted, and we could tell by his frequent "Played, sir!" how thoroughly he approved of the steady discipline of his men. After a time the very monotony of the game seemed to excite the spectators, who answered each neat "block" with a cheer, which showed they, too, could appreciate the tactics of our captain.
It was getting desperate for Westfield, and humiliating too, when one of their bowlers happened to change his style. Instead of the slashing round-arm balls which he had hitherto sent in, he suddenly and without warning put in an underhand lob—an easy, slow, tempting ball, apparently bound to rise exactly on the player's bat.
Our man fell into the snare. I could hear Steel, who was near me, groan, as we watched him lift the bat which had till now remained so well under control, and stepping forward prepare for a terrific "slog." Alas! the deceitful ball never rose at all, but pitching quietly a foot before the crease, shot forward along the ground, and found its way at last to the wicket, amid the tremendous shouts of all the crowd.
A parting being thus made between the two steady partners, the survivor, as is so often the case, did not long remain behind his companion, and when Steel went in, three wickets had already fallen with only fifteen runs.
Will our captain save us from defeat? See him stand coolly at the wicket—how sure of himself he seems!—how indifferent to that imposing combination of bowlers and fielders which surround him! He takes his time to get comfortably settled at his wicket, and kneels down to tighten a shoestring, as if nobody was waiting for him. Then pulling down the peak of his cap to shade his eyes from the sun, he leisurely turns his face to the bowler, and announces himself ready for the worst that desperate character can do to him.
We watched breathlessly the result of his first over, and with an excitement strangely in contrast with the indifferent and apparently careless demeanour of the batsman himself. It was soon apparent, however, that we might dismiss all anxiety from our minds as to his safety, for he set briskly to work, punishing every ball that came to him, yet never giving a single chance. I have rarely seen such good "all-round play." Unlike the Westfield captain, who was strong only on the leg side of the wicket, he was thoroughly at home from whatever side the attack was delivered. Some balls he hit to "leg," and some he cut with terrific force past "cover-point." No ball came amiss to him; he was up to "twisters," and "lobs," and "thunderbolts," and walked into them all with faultless dexterity.
Up went our score. Twenty grew to forty, and forty to fifty. It was all a matter of time now. If the five remaining men still to go in could together make a stand long enough to enable him to overtake the enemy's score, he would assuredly do it, unless some unforeseen accident prevented it. Of these five I was next in order; nor was it long before my turn arrived, and I found myself sallying forth to join my captain at the wickets. Remembering the poor figure I had cut in the first innings, I was not very sanguine of distinguishing myself on this occasion. Still, there was something in being opposite Steel which gave me confidence, and relieved me of the nervous sensations which marked my late debut.
The first ball or two after my arrival fell to the lot of Steel, who sent them flying promptly, and gave me some running to do in consequence. This helped still more to make me comfortable, so that when at last my turn came to be bowled at, I experienced none of the desolate feeling which had rendered my former brief innings so unhappy.
I manage to block the first ball, and the second also. Then comes a third, under which I contrive to get my bat and send it flying.
"Come!" shouts Steel, and I run.
"Another!" he cries; and I run again, and am safe back before the ball returns to the wicket-keeper's hands.
Positively I had scored two! I felt as proud as if I had been elected an M.P. The next ball went for two more, and I could hear a cheer from the tent, which made me feel very valiant. I glanced to the signal- board; our score was ninety-six, only twenty-seven to win! Why should not I be able to hold out until Steel made up the figure, and so defeat Westfield by four wickets? At any rate I would try; and I sent my next ball for a single.
Then it was Steel's turn to bat. Of course he would send it flying.
Horrors! He has missed it! A deafening shout proclaims that his glorious innings is at an end, and I feel like an orphan as I watch him, with his bat under his arm, quitting the wicket at which he had put together sixty-six runs in as fine a style as any player ever did. It was good to hear the applause which welcomed him back to the tent.
But what was to become of us? Here were twenty-six runs to get, and the four weakest batsmen of our side to play. However, one can but do his best.
So I played as carefully as I could, becoming gradually accustomed to the bowling, and knocking an occasional one or two on to the score. My new companion, however, kept me company but a short time, and his successor shorter still. This fellow coming in now is our last man. Will he and I ever be able to stick together till these fifteen runs which are now required can be made up?
"Steady, Tom," I whisper, as he passes me on the way to his wicket. He winks his answer.
It is a responsible thing for us two youngsters, with the whole fate of the school depending on us. But we keep cool, and play our very best. One by one the score runs up. Ten to win—now eight, seven. It is getting exciting. The crowd hangs eagerly on the result of each ball. Another two from my companion. The Westfield fellows look nervously at the signal-board, as if by watching it they could make our figure grow less. But, no! Another two, from my bat this time, and then a single. Only two to win! The next ball gets past my comrade's bat, and skims within a hair's-breadth of his bails.
"Steady, now!" cries Steel, cheerily. "Mind what you're at!"
Steady it is. The next two balls are blocked dead.
Then my companion makes a single. Hurrah! We are equal now. At any rate defeat is averted! Now for victory! It is my turn to bat; but this ball is not the sort of one to play tricks with; so with an effort I keep my bat square, and stop it without hitting.
"Played, sir!" cries some one, approvingly, and I feel my self-denial rewarded.
But the next ball is not so dangerous. I can see it is a careless one, which I may safely punish. Punish it I will; so I step forward, and catching it on the bound, bang it I know not and care not where.
What shouting! what cheering as we run, one, two, three, four, five times across the wickets! The match is ours, with a wicket to spare; and as we ride back that evening to Parkhurst, and talk and laugh and exult over that day's victory, we are the happiest eleven fellows, without exception, that ever rode on the top of an omnibus.
A BOATING ADVENTURE AT PARKHURST.
Once, and once only, did I play truant from Parkhurst, and that transgression was attended with consequences so tragical that to this day its memory is as vivid and impressive as if the event I am about to record had happened only last week, instead of a quarter of a century ago.
I shall recall it in the hope of deterring my readers from following my foolish example—or at least of warning them of the terrible results which may ensue from a thoughtless act of wrong-doing.
I have already mentioned that Parkhurst stood some two or three miles above the point at which the River Colven flows into the sea. From the school-house we could often catch the hum of the waves breaking lazily along the shore of Colveston Bay; or, if the wind blew hard from the sea, it carried with it the roar of the breakers on the bar mouth, and the distant thunder of the surf on the stony beach.
Of course, our walks and rambles constantly took the direction of the shores of this bay; and though, perhaps, a schoolboy is more readily impressed with other matters than the beauties of nature, I can remember even now the once familiar view from Raven Cliff as if my eyes still rested upon it.
I can see, on a hot summer afternoon, the great curve of that beautiful bay, bounded at either extremity by headlands, bathed in soft blue haze. I can see the cliffs and chines and sands basking, like myself, in the sun. On my right, the jagged outline of a ruined sea-girt castle stands out like a sentinel betwixt is land and water. On my left I can detect the fishermen's white cottages crouching beneath the crags. I can see the long golden strip of strand beyond; and, farther still, across the wide estuary of the Wraythe, the line of shadowy cliffs that extend like a rugged wall out to the dim promontory of Shargle Head.
Above all, I can see again the sea, bluer even than the blue sky overhead; and as it tumbles languidly in from the horizon, fringing the amphitheatre of the bay with its edge of sparkling white, my ears can catch the murmur of its solemn music as they heard it in those days long gone by.
Well I remember, too, the same bay and the same sea; but oh, how changed!
Far as the eye could reach the great white waves charged towards the land, one upon another, furious and headlong; below us they thundered and lashed and rushed back upon their fellows, till we who watched could not hear so much as our own voices. In the distance they leapt savagely at the base of the now lowering headlands, and fought madly over the hidden rocks and sands. They sent their sleet and foam-flakes before them, blinding us where we stood on the cliff-top; they seethed and boiled in the hollows of the rocks, and over the river bar they dashed and plunged till far up the stream their fury scarcely spent itself.
At such times no ship or boat ventured willingly into Colveston Bay; or if it did, it rarely, if ever, left it again.
But such times were rare—very rare with us. Indeed, I had been months at Parkhurst before I witnessed a real storm, and months again before I saw another. So that my acquaintance with the bay was almost altogether connected with its milder aspects, and as such it appeared both fascinating and tempting.
It was on a beautiful August holiday morning that four of us were lounging lazily in a boat down at the bar mouth, looking out into the bay and watching the progress of a little fishing smack, which was skipping lightly over the bright waves in the direction of Shargle Head. Her sails gleamed in the sunlight, and she herself skimmed so lightly across the waters, and bounded so merrily through their sparkling ripples, that she seemed more like a fairy craft than a real yacht of boards and canvas. "I'd give a good deal to be in her!" exclaimed Hall, one of our party, a sea captain's son, to whom on all nautical matters we accorded the amplest deference. "So would I," said Hutton. "How jolly she looks!"
"Ever so much more fun than knocking about on this stupid old river," chimed in I.
"I say, you fellows," cried Hall, struck by a sudden idea, "why shouldn't we have a little cruise in the bay? It would be glorious a day like this!"
"I'm not sure old Rogers," (that was the disrespectful way in which, I regret to say, we were wont to designate Dr Rogers, our head master) "would like it," I said; "he's got some notion into his head about currents and tides, and that makes him fidgety."
"Currents and fiddlesticks!" broke in Hall, with a laugh; "what does he know about them? I tell you, a day like this, with a good sailing breeze, and four of us to row, in case it dropped, there'd be no more difficulty in going over there and back than there would in rowing from here back to Parkhurst."
"How long would it take to get to Shargle?" inquired Hutton.
"Why, only two hours, and perhaps less. The wind's exactly right for going and coming back too. We can be back by four easily, and that allows us an hour or two to land there."
It certainly was tempting; the day was perfection, and Colveston Bay had never looked more fascinating. The headlands stood out so distinctly in the clear air that it was hard to imagine Shargle Head was five miles distant from where we sat.
When the proposition had first been made I had felt a passing uncomfortableness as to the lawfulness of such an expedition without the distinct sanction of the head master; but the more I gazed on the bay, and the more Hall talked in his enthusiastic manner of the delights of a cruise, and the longer I watched the fairy-like progress of the little white-sailed fishing-boat, the less I thought of anything but the pleasure which the scheme offered.
So when Hall said, "Shall we go, boys? What do you say?" I for one replied, "All serene."
All this while one of our party had been silent, watching the fishing- boat, but taking no part in our discussion. He was Charlie Archer, a new boy at Parkhurst, and some years our junior. But from the first I had taken a remarkable fancy to this clever, good-humoured, plucky boy, who henceforth had become my frequent companion, and with me the companion of the others who now composed our party. He now looked up and said, greatly to our surprise—
"I say, I don't want to go!"
"Why not?" we all asked.
"Oh, it doesn't matter," he replied, in evident confusion. "I don't want to spoil your fun, you know, but I'd rather not go myself."
"Why, what on earth's the matter with you, Charlie?" I asked. "I thought you were always ready for an adventure."
"I'd rather not go, please," he repeated. "You can put me ashore."
"Why not?" again inquired Hall, this time testily. He never liked Charlie quite as much as Hutton and I did, and was evidently displeased to have him now putting forward objections to a proposition of his own making. "Why not?"
"Because—because," began the boy hesitatingly—"because I don't want to go."
Hall became angry. Like most boys not sure of the honesty of their own motives, he disliked to have it suggested that what he was urging was wrong. He therefore replied, with a taunt keener than any persuasion—
"Poor little milksop, I suppose he's afraid of getting drowned, or of doing something his mamma, or his grandmamma, or somebody wouldn't like their little pet to do. We'd better put him ashore, boys; and mind his precious little boots don't get wet while we're about it!"
It was a cruel blow, and struck home at Archer's one weak point.
Plucky and adventurous as he was, the one thing he could not endure was to be laughed at. And his face flushed, and his lips quivered, as he heard Hall's brutal speech, and marked the smile with which, I am ashamed to say, we received it.