THE MATCH WITH DOWNING'S
It is the curious instinct which prompts most people to rub a thing in
that makes the lot of the average convert an unhappy one. Only the very
self-controlled can refrain from improving the occasion and scoring off
the convert. Most leap at the opportunity.
It was so in Mike's case. Mike was not a genuine convert, but to Mr.
Downing he had the outward aspect of one. When you have been impressing
upon a noncricketing boy for nearly a month that (_a_) the school is
above all a keen school, (_b_) that all members of it should play
cricket, and (_c_) that by not playing cricket he is ruining his chances
in this world and imperiling them in the next; and when, quite
unexpectedly, you come upon this boy dressed in cricket flannels,
wearing cricket boots and carrying a cricket bag, it seems only natural
to assume that you have converted him, that the seeds of your eloquence
have fallen on fruitful soil and sprouted.
Mr. Downing assumed it.
He was walking to the field with Adair and another member of his team
when he came upon Mike.
"What!" he cried. "Our Jackson clad in suit of mail and armed for the
This was Mr. Downing's No. 2 manner--the playful.
"This is indeed Saul among the prophets. Why this sudden enthusiasm for
a game which I understood that you despised? Are our opponents
Psmith, who was with Mike, took charge of the affair with a languid
grace which had maddened hundreds in its time, and which never failed to
ruffle Mr. Downing.
"We are, above all, sir," he said, "a keen house. Drones are not
welcomed by us. We are essentially versatile. Jackson, the archaeologist
of yesterday, becomes the cricketer of today. It is the right spirit,
sir," said Psmith earnestly. "I like to see it."
"Indeed, Smith? You are not playing yourself, I notice. Your enthusiasm
"In our house, sir, competition is fierce, and the Selection Committee
unfortunately passed me over."
* * * * *
There were a number of pitches dotted about over the field, for there
was always a touch of the London Park about it on Mid-Term Service Day.
Adair, as captain of cricket, had naturally selected the best for his
own match. It was a good wicket, Mike saw. As a matter of fact the
wickets at Sedleigh were nearly always good. Adair had infected the
groundsman with some of his own keenness, with the result that that
once-leisurely official now found himself sometimes, with a kind of mild
surprise, working really hard. At the beginning of the previous season
Sedleigh had played a scratch team from a neighboring town on a wicket
which, except for the creases, was absolutely undistinguishable from the
surrounding turf, and behind the pavilion after the match Adair had
spoken certain home truths to the groundsman. The latter's reformation
had dated from that moment.
* * * * *
Barnes, timidly jubilant, came up to Mike with the news that he had won
the toss, and the request that Mike would go in first with him.
In stories of the "Not Really a Duffer" type, where the nervous new boy,
who has been found crying in the changing room over the photograph of
his sister, contrives to get an innings in a game, nobody suspects that
he is really a prodigy till he hits the Bully's first ball out of the
ground for six.
With Mike it was different. There was no pitying smile on Adair's face
as he started his run preparatory to sending down the first ball. Mike,
on the cricket field, could not have looked anything but a cricketer if
he had turned out in a tweed suit and hobnail boots. Cricketer was
written all over him--in his walk, in the way he took guard, in his
stand at the wicket. Adair started to bowl with the feeling that this
was somebody who had more than a little knowledge of how to deal with
good bowling and punish bad.
Mike started cautiously. He was more than usually anxious to make runs
today, and he meant to take no risks till he could afford to do so. He
had seen Adair bowl at the nets, and he knew that he was good.
The first over was a maiden, six dangerous balls beautifully played. The
fieldsmen changed over.
The general interest had now settled on the match between Outwood's and
Downing's. The facts in Mike's case had gone around the field, and, as
several of the other games had not yet begun, quite a large crowd had
collected near the pavilion to watch. Mike's masterly treatment of the
opening over had impressed the spectators, and there was a popular
desire to see how he would deal with Mr. Downing's slows. It was
generally anticipated that he would do something special with them.
Off the first ball of the master's over a leg-bye was run.
Mike took guard.
Mr. Downing was a bowler with a style of his own. He took two short
steps, two long steps, gave a jump, took three more short steps, and
ended with a combination of step and jump, during which the ball emerged
from behind his back and started on its slow career to the wicket. The
whole business had some of the dignity of the old-fashioned minuet,
subtly blended with the careless vigor of a cakewalk. The ball, when
delivered, was billed to break from leg, but the program was subject to
If the spectators had expected Mike to begin any firework effects with
the first ball, they were disappointed. He played the over through with
a grace worthy of his brother Joe. The last ball he turned to leg for
His treatment of Adair's next over was freer. He had got a sight of the
ball now. Halfway through the over a beautiful square cut forced a
passage through the crowd by the pavilion, and dashed up against the
rails. He drove the sixth ball past cover for three.
The crowd was now reluctantly dispersing to its own games, but it
stopped as Mr. Downing started his minuet-cakewalk, in the hope that it
might see something more sensational.
This time the hope was fulfilled.
The ball was well up, slow, and off the wicket on the on-side. Perhaps
if it had been allowed to pitch, it might have broken in and become
quite dangerous. Mike went out at it, and hit it a couple of feet from
the ground. The ball dropped with a thud and a spurting of dust in the
road that ran along one side of the cricket field.
It was returned on the installment system by helpers from other games,
and the bowler began his maneuvers again. A half volley this time. Mike
slammed it back, and mid on, whose heart was obviously not in the thing,
failed to stop it.
"Get to them, Jenkins," said Mr. Downing irritably, as the ball came
back from the boundary. "Get to them."
"Sir, please, sir--"
"Don't talk in the field, Jenkins."
Having had a full pitch hit for six and a half volley for four, there
was a strong probability that Mr. Downing would pitch his next
The expected happened. The third ball was a slow long hop, and hit the
road at about the same spot where the first had landed. A howl of
untuneful applause rose from the watchers in the pavilion, and Mike,
with the feeling that this sort of bowling was too good to be true,
waited in position for number four.
There are moments when a sort of panic seizes a bowler. This happened
now with Mr. Downing. He suddenly abandoned science and ran amok. His
run lost its stateliness and increased its vigor. He charged up to the
wicket as a wounded buffalo sometimes charges a gun. His whole idea now
was to bowl fast.
When a slow bowler starts to bowl fast, it is usually as well to be
batting, if you can manage it.
By the time the over was finished, Mike's score had been increased by
sixteen, and the total of his side, in addition, by three wides.
And a shrill small voice, from the neighborhood of the pavilion, uttered
with painful distinctness the words, "Take him off!"
That was how the most sensational day's cricket began that Sedleigh had
A description of the details of the morning's play would be monotonous.
It is enough to say that they ran on much the same lines as the third
and fourth overs of the match. Mr. Downing bowled one more over, off
which Mike helped himself to sixteen runs, and then retired moodily to
cover point, where, in Adair's fifth over, he missed Barnes--the first
occasion since the game began on which that mild batsman had attempted
to score more than a single. Scared by this escape, Outwood's captain
shrank back into his shell, sat on the splice like a limpet, and,
offering no more chances, was not out at lunchtime with a score of
eleven. Mike had then made a hundred and three.
* * * * *
As Mike was taking off his pads in the pavilion, Adair came up.
"Why did you say you didn't play cricket?" he asked abruptly.
When one has been bowling the whole morning, and bowling well, without
the slightest success, one is inclined to be abrupt.
Mike finished unfastening an obstinate strap. Then he looked up.
"I didn't say anything of the kind. I said I wasn't going to play here.
There's a difference. As a matter of fact, I was in the Wrykyn team
before I came here. Three years."
Adair was silent for a moment.
"Will you play for us against the Old Sedleighans tomorrow?" he said at
Mike tossed his pads into his bag and got up.
There was a silence.
"Above it, I suppose?"
"Not a bit. Not up to it. I shall want a lot of coaching at that end net
of yours before I'm fit to play for Sedleigh."
There was another pause.
"Then you won't play?" asked Adair.
"I'm not keeping you, am I?" said Mike, politely.
It was remarkable what a number of members of Outwood's house appeared
to cherish a personal grudge against Mr. Downing. It had been that
master's somewhat injudicious practice for many years to treat his own
house as a sort of Chosen People. Of all masters, the most unpopular is
he who by the silent tribunal of a school is convicted of favoritism.
And the dislike deepens if it is a house which he favors and not merely
individuals. On occasions when boys in his own house and boys from other
houses were accomplices and partners in wrongdoing, Mr. Downing
distributed his thunderbolts unequally, and the school noticed it. The
result was that not only he himself, but also--which was rather
unfair--his house, too, had acquired a good deal of unpopularity.
The general consensus of opinion in Outwood's during the luncheon
interval was that having got Downing's up a tree, they would be fools
not to make the most of the situation.
Barnes's remark that he supposed, unless anything happened and wickets
began to fall a bit faster, they had better think of declaring somewhere
about half past three or four, was met with a storm of opposition.
"Declare!" said Robinson. "Great Scot, what on earth are you talking
"Declare!" Stone's voice was almost a wail of indignation. "I never saw
such a chump."
"They'll be rather sick if we don't, won't they?" suggested Barnes.
"Sick! I should think they would," said Stone. "That's just the gay
idea. Can't you see that by a miracle we've got a chance of getting a
jolly good bit of our own back against those Downing's ticks? What we've
got to do is to jolly well keep them in the field all day if we can, and
be jolly glad it's so beastly hot. If they lose about a dozen pounds
each through sweating about in the sun after Jackson's drives, perhaps
they'll stick on less side about things in general in future. Besides, I
want an innings against that bilge of old Downing's, if I can get it."
"So do I," said Robinson.
"If you declare, I swear I won't field. Nor will Robinson."
"Well, I won't then," said Barnes unhappily. "Only you know they're
rather sick already."
"Don't you worry about that," said Stone with a wide grin. "They'll be a
lot sicker before we've finished."
And so it came about that that particular Mid-Term Service-Day match
made history. Big scores had often been put up on Mid-Term Service Day.
Games had frequently been one-sided. But it had never happened before in
the annals of the school that one side, going in first early in the
morning, had neither completed its innings nor declared it closed when
stumps were drawn at 6.30. In no previous Sedleigh match, after a full
day's play, had the pathetic words "Did not bat" been written against
the whole of one of the contending teams.
These are the things which mark epochs.
Play was resumed at 2.15. For a quarter of an hour Mike was
comparatively quiet. Adair, fortified by food and rest, was bowling
really well, and his first half dozen overs had to be watched carefully.
But the wicket was too good to give him a chance, and Mike, playing
himself in again, proceeded to get to business once more. Bowlers came
and went. Adair pounded away at one end with brief intervals between the
attacks. Mr. Downing took a couple more overs, in one of which a horse,
passing in the road, nearly had its useful life cut suddenly short.
Change bowlers of various actions and paces, each weirder and more
futile than the last, tried their luck. But still the first-wicket stand
The bowling of a house team is all head and no body. The first pair
probably have some idea of length and break. The first-change pair are
poor. And the rest, the small change, are simply the sort of things one
sees in dreams after a heavy supper, or when one is out without
Time, mercifully, generally breaks up a big stand at cricket before the
field has suffered too much, and that is what happened now. At four
o'clock, when the score stood at two hundred and twenty for no wicket,
Barnes, greatly daring, smote lustily at a rather wide half volley and
was caught at short slip for thirty-three. He retired blushfully to the
pavilion, amidst applause, and Stone came out.
As Mike had then made a hundred and eighty-seven, it was assumed by the
field, that directly he had topped his second century, the closure would
be applied and their ordeal finished. There was almost a sigh of relief
when frantic cheering from the crowd told that the feat had been
accomplished. The fieldsmen clapped in quite an indulgent sort of way,
as who should say, "Capital, capital. And now let's start _our_
innings." Some even began to edge toward the pavilion.
But the next ball was bowled, and the next over, and the next after
that, and still Barnes made no sign. (The conscience stricken captain of
Outwood's was, as a matter of fact, being practically held down by
Robinson and other ruffians by force.)
A gray dismay settled on the field.
The bowling had now become almost unbelievably bad. Lobs were being
tried, and Stone, nearly weeping with pure joy, was playing an innings
of the "How-to-brighten-cricket" type. He had an unorthodox style, but
an excellent eye, and the road at this period of the game became
absolutely unsafe for pedestrians and traffic.
Mike's pace had become slower, as was only natural, but his score, too,
was mounting steadily.
"This is foolery," snapped Mr. Downing, as the three hundred and fifty
went up on the board. "Barnes!" he called.
There was no reply. A committee of three was at that moment engaged in
sitting on Barnes's head in the first eleven changing room, in order to
correct a more than usually feverish attack of conscience.
"Please, sir," said Stone, some species of telepathy telling him what
was detaining his captain. "I think Barnes must have left the field. He
has probably gone over to the house to fetch something."
"This is absurd. You must declare your innings closed. The game has
become a farce."
"Declare! Sir, we can't unless Barnes does. He might be awfully annoyed
if we did anything like that without consulting him."
"He's very touchy, sir."
"It is perfect foolery."
"I think Jenkins is just going to bowl, sir."
Mr. Downing walked moodily to his place.
In a neat wooden frame in the senior day room at Outwood's, just above
the mantlepiece, there was on view, a week later, a slip of paper.
The writing on it was as follows:
OUTWOOD'S _v_. DOWNING'S
_Outwood's. First innings_.
J.P. Barnes, _c_. Hammond, _b_. Hassall 33
M. Jackson, not out 277
W.J. Stone, not out 124
Total (for one wicket) 471
Downing's did not bat.