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Chapter 25

The Cricket Match

I think there has not been so much on a cricket match since the
day when Sir Horace Mann walked about Broad Ha'penny agitatedly
cutting down the daisies with his stick. And, be it remembered,
the heroes of Hambledon played for money and renown only, while
David was champion of a lady. A lady! May we not prettily say
of two ladies? There were no spectators of our contest except
now and again some loiterer in the Gardens who little thought
what was the stake for which we played, but cannot we conceive
Barbara standing at the ropes and agitatedly cutting down the
daisies every time David missed the ball? I tell you, this was
the historic match of the Gardens.

David wanted to play on a pitch near the Round Pond with which he
is familiar, but this would have placed me at a disadvantage, so
I insisted on unaccustomed ground, and we finally pitched stumps
in the Figs. We could not exactly pitch stumps, for they are
forbidden in the Gardens, but there are trees here and there
which have chalk-marks on them throughout the summer, and when
you take up your position with a bat near one of these you have
really pitched stumps. The tree we selected is a ragged yew
which consists of a broken trunk and one branch, and I viewed the
ground with secret satisfaction, for it falls slightly at about
four yards' distance from the tree, and this exactly suits my
style of bowling.

I won the toss and after examining the wicket decided to take
first knock. As a rule when we play the wit at first flows free,
but on this occasion I strode to the crease in an almost eerie
silence. David had taken off his blouse and rolled up his shirt-
sleeves, and his teeth were set, so I knew he would begin by
sending me down some fast ones.

His delivery is underarm and not inelegant, but he sometimes
tries a round-arm ball, which I have seen double up the fielder
at square leg. He has not a good length, but he varies his
action bewilderingly, and has one especially teasing ball which
falls from the branches just as you have stepped out of your
ground to look for it. It was not, however, with his teaser that
he bowled me that day. I had notched a three and two singles,
when he sent me down a medium to fast which got me in two minds
and I played back to it too late. Now, I am seldom out on a
really grassy wicket for such a meagre score, and as David and I
changed places without a word, there was a cheery look on his
face that I found very galling. He ran in to my second ball and
cut it neatly to the on for a single, and off my fifth and sixth
he had two pretty drives for three, both behind the wicket.
This, however, as I hoped, proved the undoing of him, for he now
hit out confidently at everything, and with his score at nine I
beat him with my shooter.

The look was now on my face.

I opened my second innings by treating him with uncommon respect,
for I knew that his little arm soon tired if he was unsuccessful,
and then when he sent me loose ones I banged him to the railings.
What cared I though David's lips were twitching.

When he ultimately got past my defence, with a jumpy one which
broke awkwardly from the off, I had fetched twenty-three so that
he needed twenty to win, a longer hand than he had ever yet made.
As I gave him the bat he looked brave, but something wet fell on
my hand, and then a sudden fear seized me lest David should not
win.

At the very outset, however, he seemed to master the bowling, and
soon fetched about ten runs in a classic manner. Then I tossed
him a Yorker which he missed and it went off at a tangent as soon
as it had reached the tree. "Not out," I cried hastily, for the
face he turned to me was terrible.

Soon thereafter another incident happened, which I shall always
recall with pleasure. He had caught the ball too high on the
bat, and I just missed the catch. "Dash it all!" said I
irritably, and was about to resume bowling, when I noticed that
he was unhappy. He hesitated, took up his position at the wicket,
and then came to me manfully. "I am a cad," he said in distress,
"for when the ball was in the air I prayed." He had prayed that
I should miss the catch, and as I think I have already told you,
it is considered unfair in the Gardens to pray for victory.

My splendid David! He has the faults of other little boys, but
he has a noble sense of fairness. "We shall call it a no-ball,
David," I said gravely.

I suppose the suspense of the reader is now painful, and
therefore I shall say at once that David won the match with two
lovely fours, the one over my head and the other to leg all along
the ground. When I came back from fielding this last ball I
found him embracing his bat, and to my sour congratulations he
could at first reply only with hysterical sounds. But soon he
was pelting home to his mother with the glorious news.

And that is how we let Barbara in.

James M. Barrie

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