(A Cricket Sketch.)
Punch, August 19, 1903
The last man took guard carefully, as if he proposed to stay at the wickets for ever. He scratched the turf with a bail, looked carefully round him to take note of the position of the fieldsmen, and settled his cap over his eyes. The bowler, who had been bowling well all through the innings, despatched him first ball, and he retired, trying to look as if that was what he meant to do all along.
The bowler strolled over to where the Philosopher and I were sitting. The Philosopher had made his customary duck’s-egg, and seemed to me to be taking rather a jaundiced view of things.
“Eight for forty-one,” said the bowler cheerfully. “Not bad. What?”
“You were on the spot,” I assented.
The Philosopher eyed him thoughtfully.
“You don’t mean to say that you’re glad about it?” he said.
“Why not? I don’t get eight for forty-one every day.”
“That,” said the Philosopher, “is a mitigating circumstance, I allow, but it does not alter the fact that you’ve done it on this occasion. Man, how can you sit there gloating over it in that ghoulish manner?”
“Here, I say,” protested the bowler.
“Even now,” continued the Philosopher, warming to his subject, “you don’t seem to realise what you have done. Can’t you see what blank, hopeless misery you have sown broadcast this afternoon? Not that I mind personally. I have trained myself to bear this type of trial. But what of the other seven? What, indeed! Take the case of Smith. Let us examine it. You got Smith leg before wicket when he had made three. What happens? Smith goes home a changed man. He came on to this field to-day buoyant, hopeful, bubbling over with optimism and faith in his fellow-man. He will go back soured, full of dark suspicions, and burning with a sense of his wrongs. What’s that you say? His leg was right in front? What does that matter? Do you think that he believes that? No one believes in the justice of an adverse leg before wicket decision. David would have doubted Jonathan if he had given him out l.b.w. Smith will go home brooding. He will quarrel with his wife, send his children to bed early, possibly to the accompaniment of smacks. He will bore all his friends for the next week by telling them that the ball broke a yard, and that he hit it and it didn’t strike him on the leg at all but on the chest, and all the other things usual in such contingencies. Thus, you see, in the case of Smith you will have broken up a happy home, and caused him to be shunned for days, perhaps for weeks, by friends formerly true to him. Now, how do you feel with regard to that eight for forty-one?”
“Oh, come,” said the bowler uneasily.
“Oakum?” said the Philosopher. “Possibly so. Very possibly. But not in the ease of Smith. That enters rather into the future of Jones. Oakum-picking will—or I shall be surprised—take up a great deal of his time in the near future. You know what Jones is. Passionate, hot-headed, prone to violent anger if thwarted. And you got him caught at the wicket. Now Jones—I know, though he has not confided in me—is absolutely certain that he did not hit that ball. He had made twelve when he was given out. Consequently he feels that he had just got set, and would have made a century if he had gone on. And that will so embitter Jones’s mind that he will go out tonight to a music-hall to try and forget. There he will take too much to drink. His head is weak, though he is headstrong. Subsequently he will assault a policeman, and go to prison for a fortnight without the option of a fine. Jones, my friend, has a white-haired mother. The disgrace will send that white-haired mother into a decline. She will die while Jones is still serving his sentence. He, on coming out of prison, will go completely to the bad, commit a sensational burglary, and get fourteen years’ penal servitude. Now how do you feel with regard to that eight for forty-one?”
The bowler writhed.
“In the case of Robinson,” continued the Philosopher, “financial ruin will be the result. Robinson, as you are doubtless aware, is a rising author of more than average ability. You bowled him first ball. What happens? Robinson goes home full of that fatal yorker. He finds waiting for him on his table a letter from the editor of a popular weekly, asking for an article by return of post on ‘Marquises I have met.’ It is the opportunity he has longed for for months. Let him succeed in this, and regular and lucrative work will fall to him. But his mind is so full of that yorker, so full of aching remorse that he tried to pull it instead of smothering it, so full of vain yearnings for another opportunity, that ‘Marquises I have met’ remains unwritten. The editor, not receiving the MS., writes informing him that all is over between them, and gives the regular and lucrative work to Robinson’s rival, Brown. Robinson goes from bad to worse, and dies in the workhouse. We now proceed to the case of Simpson. Simpson——”
But the bowler had heard enough. With the wail of a lost spirit, he fled.
Next day the following advertisement appeared in the papers:—
“To be Sold.—Bat, pads, and other cricket apparatus. As good as new. Splendid bargain. The property of a cricketer who is about to collect Picture Postcards.”
The name attached to the advertisement was the bowler’s.
Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 125 of Punch.