I had been of late so absorbed in the affairs of the Fixed Period, that I had altogether forgotten the cricket-match and the noble strangers who were about to come to our shores. Of course I had heard of it before, and had been informed that Lord Marylebone was to be our guest. I had probably also been told that Sir Lords Longstop and Sir Kennington Oval were to be entertained at Little Christchurch. But when I was reminded of this by Jack a few days later, it had quite gone out of my head. But I now at once began to recognise the importance of the occasion, and to see that for the next two months Crasweller, the college, and the Fixed Period must be banished, if not from my thoughts, at any rate from my tongue. Better could not be done in the matter than to have them banished from the tongue of all the world, as I certainly should not be anxious to have the subject ventilated within hearing and speaking of the crowd of thoroughly old-fashioned, prejudiced, aristocratic young Englishmen who were coming to us. The cricket-match sprang to the front so suddenly, that Jack seemed to have forgotten all his energy respecting the college, and to have transferred his entire attention to the various weapons, offensive and defensive, wherewith the London club was, if possible, to be beaten. We are never short of money in Britannula; but it seemed, as I watched the various preparations made for carrying on two or three days' play at Little Christchurch, that England must be sending out another army to take another Sebastopol. More paraphernalia were required to enable these thirty-two lads to play their game with propriety than would have been needed for the depositing of half Gladstonopolis. Every man from England had his attendant to look after his bats and balls, and shoes and greaves; and it was necessary, of course, that our boys should be equally well served. Each of them had two bicycles for his own use, and as they were all constructed with the new double-acting levers, they passed backwards and forwards along the bicycle track between the city and Crasweller's house with astonishing rapidity. I used to hear that the six miles had been done in fifteen minutes. Then there came a struggle with the English and the Britannulists, as to which would get the nearest to fourteen minutes; till it seemed that bicycle-racing and not cricket had been the purpose for which the English had sent out the 4000-ton steam-yacht at the expense of all the cricketers of the nation. It was on this occasion that the track was first divided for comers and goers, and that volunteers were set to prevent stragglers from crossing except by the regular bridges. I found that I, the President of the Republic, was actually forbidden to go down in my tricycle to my old friend's house, unless I would do so before noon. "You'd be run over and made mince-meat of," said Jack, speaking of such a catastrophe with less horror than I thought it ought to have engendered in his youthful mind. Poor Sir Lords was run down by our Jack,—collided as Jack called it. "He hadn't quite impetus enough on to make the turning sharp as he ought," said Jack, without the slightest apparent regret at what had occurred. "Another inch and a half would have saved him. If he can touch a ball from our steam-bowler when I send it, I shall think more of his arms than I do of his legs, and more of his eyes than I do of his lungs. What a fellow to send out! Why, he's thirty, and has been eating soup, they tell me, all through the journey." These young men had brought a doctor with them, Dr MacNuffery, to prescribe to them what to eat and drink at each meal; and the unfortunate baronet whom Jack had nearly slaughtered, had encountered the ill-will of the entire club because he had called for mutton-broth when he was sea-sick.
They were to be a month in Britannula before they would begin the match, so necessary was it that each man should be in the best possible physical condition. They had brought their Dr MacNuffery, and our lads immediately found the need of having a doctor of their own. There was, I think, a little pretence in this, as though Dr Bobbs had been a long-established officer of the Southern Cross cricket club, they had not in truth thought of it, and Bobbs was only appointed the night after MacNuffery's position and duties had been made known. Bobbs was a young man just getting into practice in Gladstonopolis, and understood measles, I fancy, better than the training of athletes. MacNuffery was the most disagreeable man of the English party, and soon began to turn up his nose at Bobbs. But Bobbs, I think, got the better of him. "Do you allow coffee to your club;—coffee?" asked MacNuffery, in a voice mingling ridicule and reproof with a touch of satire, as he had begun to guess that Bobbs had not been long attending to his present work. "You'll find," said Bobbs, "that young men in our air do not need the restraints which are necessary to you English. Their fathers and mothers were not soft and flabby before them, as was the case with yours, I think." Lord Marylebone looked across the table, I am told, at Sir Kennington Oval, and nothing afterwards was said about diet.
But a great trouble arose, which, however, rather assisted Jack in his own prospects in the long-run,—though for a time it seemed to have another effect. Sir Kennington Oval was much struck by Eva's beauty, and, living as he did in Crasweller's house, soon had an opportunity of so telling her. Abraham Grundle was one of the cricketers, and, as such, was frequently on the ground at Little Christchurch; but he did not at present go into Crasweller's house, and the whole fashionable community of Gladstonopolis was beginning to entertain the opinion that that match was off. Grundle had been heard to declare most authoritatively that when the day came Crasweller should be deposited, and had given it as his opinion that the power did not exist which could withstand the law of Britannula. Whether in this he preferred the law to Eva, or acted in anger against Crasweller for interfering with his prospects, or had an idea that it would not be worth his while to marry the girl while the girl's father should be left alive, or had gradually fallen into this bitterness of spirit from the opposition shown to him, I could not quite tell. And he was quite as hostile to Jack as to Crasweller. But he seemed to entertain no aversion at all to Sir Kennington Oval; nor, I was informed, did Eva. I had known that for the last month Jack's mother had been instant with him to induce him to speak out to Eva; but he, who hardly allowed me, his father, to open my mouth without contradicting me, and who in our house ordered everything about just as though he were the master, was so bashful in the girl's presence that he had never as yet asked her to be his wife. Now Sir Kennington had come in his way, and he by no means carried his modesty so far as to abstain from quarrelling with him. Sir Kennington was a good-looking young aristocrat, with plenty of words, but nothing special to say for himself. He was conspicuous for his cricketing finery, and when got up to take his place at the wicket, looked like a diver with his diving-armour all on; but Jack said that he was very little good at the game. Indeed, for mere cricket Jack swore that the English would be "nowhere" but for eight professional players whom they had brought out with them. It must be explained that our club had no professionals. We had not come to that yet,—that a man should earn his bread by playing cricket. Lord Marylebone and his friend had brought with them eight professional "slaves," as our young men came to call them,—most ungraciously. But each "slave" required as much looking after as did the masters, and they thought a great deal more of themselves than did the non-professionals.
Jack had in truth been attempting to pass Sir Kennington on the bicycle track when he had upset poor Sir Lords Longstop; and, according to his own showing, he had more than once allowed Sir Kennington to start in advance, and had run into Little Christchurch bicycle quay before him. This had not given rise to the best feeling, and I feared lest there might be an absolute quarrel before the match should have been played. "I'll punch that fellow's head some of these days," Jack said one evening when he came back from Little Christchurch.
"What's the matter now?" I asked.
"Impudent puppy! He thinks because he has got an unmeaning handle to his name, that everybody is to come to his whistle. They tell me that his father was made what they call a baronet because he set a broken arm for one of those twenty royal dukes that England has to pay for."
"Who has had to come to his whistle now?" asked his mother.
"He went over with his steam curricle, and sent to ask Eva whether she would not take a drive with him on the cliffs."
"She needn't have gone unless she wished it," I said.
"But she did go; and there she was with him for a couple of hours. He's the most unmeaning upstart of a puppy I ever met. He has not three ideas in the world. I shall tell Eva what I think about him."
The quarrel went on during the whole period of preparation, till it seemed as though Gladstonopolis had nothing else to talk about. Eva's name was in every one's mouth, till my wife was nearly beside herself with anger. "A girl," said she, "shouldn't get herself talked about in that way by every one all round. I don't suppose the man intends to marry her."
"I can't see why he shouldn't," I replied.
"She's nothing more to him than a pretty provincial lass. What would she be in London?"
"Why should not Mr Crasweller's daughter be as much admired in London as here?" I answered. "Beauty is the same all the world over, and her money will be thought of quite as much there as here."
"But she will have such a spot upon her."
"Spot! What spot?"
"As the daughter of the first deposited of the Fixed Period people,—if ever that comes off. Or if it don't, she'll be talked about as her who was to be. I don't suppose any Englishman will think of marrying her."
This made me very angry. "What!" I said. "Do you, a Britannulist and my wife, intend to turn the special glory of Britannula to the disgrace of her people? That which we should be ready to claim as the highest honour,—as being an advance in progress and general civilisation never hitherto even thought of among other people,—to have conceived that, and to have prepared it, in every detail for perfect consummation,—that is to be accounted as an opprobrium to our children, by you, the Lady President of the Republic! Have you no love of country, no patriotism, no feeling at any rate of what has been done for the world's welfare by your own family?" I own I did feel vexed when she spoke of Eva as having been as it were contaminated by being a Britannulist, because of the law enacting the Fixed Period.
"She'd better face it out at home than go across the world to hear what other people say of us. It may be all very well as far as state wisdom goes; but the world isn't ripe for it, and we shall only be laughed at."
There was truth in this, and a certain amount of concession had also been made. I can fancy that an easy-going butterfly should laugh at the painful industry of the ant; and I should think much of the butterfly who should own that he was only a butterfly because it was the age of butterflies. "The few wise," said I, "have ever been the laughing-stock of silly crowds."
"But Eva isn't one of the wise," she replied, "and would be laughed at without having any of your philosophy to support her. However, I don't suppose the man is thinking of it."
But the young man was thinking of it; and had so far made up his mind before he went as to ask Eva to marry him out of hand and return with him to England. We heard of it when the time came, and heard also that Eva had declared that she could not make up her mind so quickly. That was what was said when the time drew near for the departure of the yacht. But we did not hear it direct from Eva, nor yet from Crasweller. All these tidings came to us from Jack, and Jack was in this instance somewhat led astray.
Time passed on, and the practice on the Little Christchurch ground was continued. Several accidents happened, but the cricketers took very little account of these. Jack had his cheek cut open by a ball running off his bat on to his face; and Eva, who saw the accident, was carried fainting into the house. Sir Kennington behaved admirably, and himself brought him home in his curricle. We were told afterwards that this was done at Eva's directions, because old Crasweller would have been uncomfortable with the boy in his house, seeing that he could not in his present circumstances receive me or my wife. Mrs Neverbend swore a solemn oath that Jack should be made to abandon his cricket; but Jack was playing again the next day, with his face strapped up athwart and across with republican black-silk adhesive. When I saw Bobbs at work over him I thought that one side of his face was gone, and that his eye would be dreadfully out of place. "All his chance of marrying Eva is gone," said I to my wife. "The nasty little selfish slut!" said Mrs Neverbend. But at two the next day Jack had been patched up, and nothing could keep him from Little Christchurch. Bobbs was with him the whole morning, and assured his mother that if he could go out and take exercise his eye would be all right. His mother offered to take a walk with him in the city park; but Bobbs declared that violent exercise would be necessary to keep the eye in its right place, and Jack was at Little Christchurch manipulating his steam-bowler in the afternoon. Afterwards Littlebat, one of the English professionals, had his leg broken, and was necessarily laid on one side; and young Grundle was hurt on the lower part of the back, and never showed himself again on the scene of danger. "My life is too precious in the Assembly just at present," he said to me, excusing himself. He alluded to the Fixed Period debate, which he knew would be renewed as soon as the cricketers were gone. I no doubt depended very much on Abraham Grundle, and assented. The match was afterwards carried on with fifteen on each side; for though each party had spare players, they could not agree as to the use of them. Our next man was better than theirs, they said, and they were anxious that we should take our second best, to which our men would not agree. Therefore the game was ultimately played with thirty combatants.
"So one of our lot is to come back for a wife, almost immediately," said Lord Marylebone at our table the day before the match was to be played.
"Oh, indeed, my lord!" said Mrs Neverbend. "I am glad to find that a Britannulan young lady has been so effective. Who is the gentleman?" It was easy to see by my wife's face, and to know by her tone of voice, that she was much disturbed by the news.
"Sir Kennington," said Lord Marylebone. "I supposed you had all heard of it." Of course we had all heard of it; but Lord Marylebone did not know what had been Mrs Neverbend's wishes for her own son.
"We did know that Sir Kennington had been very attentive, but there is no knowing what that means from you foreign gentlemen. It's a pity that poor Eva, who is a good girl in her way, should have her head turned." This came from my wife.
"It's Oval's head that is turned," continued his lordship; "I never saw a man so bowled over in my life. He's awfully in love with her."
"What will his friends say at home?" asked Mrs Neverbend.
"We understand that Miss Crasweller is to have a large fortune; eight or ten thousand a-year at the least. I should imagine that she will be received with open arms by all the Ovals; and as for a foreigner,—we don't call you foreigners."
"Why not?" said I, rather anxious to prove that we were foreigners. "What makes a foreigner but a different allegiance? Do we not call the Americans foreigners?" Great Britain and France had been for years engaged in the great maritime contest with the united fleets of Russia and America, and had only just made that glorious peace by which, as politicians said, all the world was to be governed for the future; and after that, it need not be doubted but that the Americans were foreign to the English;—and if the Americans, why not the Britannulists? We had separated ourselves from Great Britain, without coming to blows indeed; but still our own flag, the Southern Cross, flew as proudly to our gentle breezes as ever had done the Union-jack amidst the inclemency of a British winter. It was the flag of Britannula, with which Great Britain had no concern. At the present moment I was specially anxious to hear a distinguished Englishman like Lord Marylebone acknowledge that we were foreigners. "If we be not foreigners, what are we, my lord?"
"Englishmen, of course," said he. "What else? Don't you talk English?"
"So do the Americans, my lord," said I, with a smile that was intended to be gracious. "Our language is spreading itself over the world, and is no sign of nationality."
"What laws do you obey?"
"English,—till we choose to repeal them. You are aware that we have already freed ourselves from the stain of capital punishment."
"Those coins pass in your market-places?" Then he brought out a gold piece from his waistcoat-pocket, and slapped it down on the table. It was one of those pounds which the people will continue to call sovereigns, although the name has been made actually illegal for the rendering of all accounts. "Whose is this image and superscription?" he asked. "And yet this was paid to me to-day at one of your banks, and the lady cashier asked me whether I would take sovereigns. How will you get over that, Mr President?"
A small people,—numerically small,—cannot of course do everything at once. We have been a little slack perhaps in instituting a national mint. In fact there was a difficulty about the utensil by which we would have clapped a Southern Cross over the British arms, and put the portrait of the Britannulan President of the day,—mine for instance,—in the place where the face of the British monarch has hitherto held its own. I have never pushed the question much, lest I should seem, as have done some presidents, over anxious to exhibit myself. I have ever thought more of the glory of our race than of putting forward my own individual self,—as may be seen by the whole history of the college. "I will not attempt to get over it," I said; "but according to my ideas, a nation does not depend on the small external accidents of its coin or its language."
"But on the flag which it flies. After all, a bit of bunting is easy."
"Nor on its flag, Lord Marylebone, but on the hearts of its people. We separated from the old mother country with no quarrel, with no ill-will; but with the mutual friendly wishes of both. If there be a trace of the feeling of antagonism in the word foreigners, I will not use it; but British subjects we are not, and never can be again." This I said because I felt that there was creeping up, as it were in the very atmosphere, a feeling that England should be again asked to annex us, so as to save our old people from the wise decision to which our own Assembly had come. Oh for an adamantine law to protect the human race from the imbecility, the weakness, the discontent, and the extravagance of old age! Lord Marylebone, who saw that I was in earnest, and who was the most courteous of gentlemen, changed the conversation. I had already observed that he never spoke about the Fixed Period in our house, though, in the condition in which the community then was, he must have heard it discussed elsewhere.
The day for the match had come. Jack's face was so nearly healed that Mrs Neverbend had been brought to believe entirely in the efficacy of violent exercise for cuts and bruises. Grundle's back was still bad, and the poor fellow with the broken leg could only be wheeled out in front of the verandah to look at the proceedings through one of those wonderful little glasses which enable the critic to see every motion of the players at half-a-mile's distance. He assured me that the precision with which Jack set his steam-bowler was equal to that of one of those Shoeburyness gunners who can hit a sparrow as far as they can see him, on condition only that they know the precise age of the bird. I gave Jack great credit in my own mind, because I felt that at the moment he was much down at heart. On the preceding day Sir Kennington had been driving Eva about in his curricle, and Jack had returned home tearing his hair. "They do it on purpose to put him off his play," said his mother. But if so, they hadn't known Jack. Nor indeed had I quite known him up to this time.
I was bound myself to see the game, because a special tent and a special glass had been prepared for the President. Crasweller walked by as I took my place, but he only shook his head sadly and was silent. It now wanted but four months to his deposition. Though there was a strong party in his favour, I do not know that he meddled much with it. I did hear from different sources that he still continued to assert that he was only nine years my senior, by which he intended to gain the favour of a postponement of his term by twelve poor months; but I do not think that he ever lent himself to the other party. Under my auspices he had always voted for the Fixed Period, and he could hardly oppose it now in theory. They tossed for the first innings, and the English club won it. It was all England against Britannula! Think of the population of the two countries. We had, however, been taught to believe that no community ever played cricket as did the Britannulans. The English went in first, with the two baronets at the wickets. They looked like two stout Minervas with huge wicker helmets. I know a picture of the goddess, all helmet, spear, and petticoats, carrying her spear over her shoulder as she flies through the air over the cities of the earth. Sir Kennington did not fly, but in other respects he was very like the goddess, so completely enveloped was he in his india-rubber guards, and so wonderful was the machine upon his head, by which his brain and features were to be protected.
As he took his place upon the ground there was great cheering. Then the steam-bowler was ridden into its place by the attendant engineer, and Jack began his work. I could see the colour come and go in his face as he carefully placed the ball and peeped down to get its bearing. It seemed to me as though he were taking infinite care to level it straight and even at Sir Kennington's head. I was told afterwards that he never looked at Sir Kennington, but that, having calculated his distance by means of a quicksilver levelling-glass, his object was to throw the ball on a certain inch of turf, from which it might shoot into the wicket at such a degree as to make it very difficult for Sir Kennington to know what to do with it. It seemed to me to take a long time, during which the fourteen men around all looked as though each man were intending to hop off to some other spot than that on which he was standing. There used, I am told, to be only eleven of these men; but now, in a great match, the long-offs, and the long-ons, and the rest of them, are all doubled. The double long-off was at such a distance that, he being a small man, I could only just see him through the field-glass which I kept in my waistcoat-pocket. When I had been looking hard at them for what seemed to be a quarter of an hour, and the men were apparently becoming tired of their continual hop, and when Jack had stooped and kneeled and sprawled, with one eye shut, in every conceivable attitude, on a sudden there came a sharp snap, a little smoke, and lo, Sir Kennington Oval was—out!
There was no doubt about it. I myself saw the two bails fly away into infinite space, and at once there was a sound of kettle-drums, trumpets, fifes, and clarionets. It seemed as though all the loud music of the town band had struck up at the moment with their shrillest notes. And a huge gun was let off.
"And let the kettle to the trumpet speak, The trumpet to the cannoneer without, The cannons to the heavens, the heavens to earth. Now drinks the king to Hamlet."
I could not but fancy, at these great signs of success, that I was Hamlet's father.
Sir Kennington Oval was out,—out at the very first ball. There could be no doubt about it, and Jack's triumph was complete. It was melancholy to see the English Minerva, as he again shouldered his spear and walked back to his tent. In spite of Jack's good play, and the success on the part of my own countrymen, I could not but be sorry to think that the young baronet had come half round the world to be put out at the first ball. There was a cruelty in it,—an inhospitality,—which, in spite of the exigencies of the game, went against the grain. Then, when the shouting, and the holloaing, and the flinging up of the ball were still going on, I remembered that, after it, he would have his consolation with Eva. And poor Jack, when his short triumph was over, would have to reflect that, though fortunate in his cricket, he was unhappy in his love. As this occurred to me, I looked back towards the house, and there, from a little lattice window at the end of the verandah, I saw a lady's handkerchief waving. Could it be that Eva was waving it so as to comfort her vanquished British lover? In the meantime Minerva went to his tent, and hid himself among sympathetic friends; and I was told afterwards that he was allowed half a pint of bitter beer by Dr MacNuffery.
After twenty minutes spent in what seemed to me the very ostentation of success, another man was got to the wickets. This was Stumps, one of the professionals, who was not quite so much like a Minerva, though he, too, was prodigiously greaved. Jack again set his ball, snap went the machine, and Stumps wriggled his bat. He touched the ball, and away it flew behind the wicket. Five republican Minervas ran after it as fast as their legs could carry them; and I was told by a gentleman who sat next to me scoring, that a dozen runs had been made. He spent a great deal of time in explaining how, in the old times, more than six at a time were never scored. Now all this was altered. A slight tip counted ever so much more than a good forward blow, because the ball went behind the wicket. Up flew on all sides of the ground figures to show that Stumps had made a dozen, and two British clarionets were blown with a great deal of vigour. Stumps was a thick-set, solid, solemn-looking man, who had been ridiculed by our side as being much too old for the game; but he seemed to think very little of Jack's precise machine. He kept chopping at the ball, which always went behind, till he had made a great score. It was two hours before Jack had sorely lamed him in the hip, and the umpire had given it leg-before-wicket. Indeed it was leg-before-wicket, as the poor man felt when he was assisted back to his tent. However, he had scored 150. Sir Lords Longstop, too, had run up a good score before he was caught out by the middle long-off,—a marvellous catch they all said it was,—and our trumpets were blown for fully five minutes. But the big gun was only fired when a ball was hurled from the machine directly into the wicket.
At the end of three days the Britishers were all out, and the runs were numbered in four figures. I had my doubts, as I looked at the contest, whether any of them would be left to play out the match. I was informed that I was expected to take the President's seat every day; but when I heard that there were to be two innings for each set, I positively declined. But Crasweller took my place; and I was told that a gleam of joy shot across his worn, sorrowful face when Sir Kennington began the second innings with ten runs. Could he really wish, in his condition, to send his daughter away to England simply that she might be a baronet's wife?
When the Britannulists went in for the second time, they had 1500 runs to get; and it was said afterwards that Grundle had bet four to one against his own side. This was thought to be very shabby on his part, though if such was the betting, I don't see why he should lose his money by backing his friends. Jack declared in my hearing that he would not put a shilling on. He did not wish either to lose his money or to bet against himself. But he was considerably disheartened when he told me that he was not going in on the first day of their second innings. He had not done much when the Britannulists were in before,—had only made some thirty or forty runs; and, worse than that, Sir Kennington Oval had scored up to 300. They told me that his Pallas helmet was shaken with tremendous energy as he made his running. And again, that man Stumps had seemed to be invincible, though still lame, and had carried out his bat with a tremendous score. He trudged away without any sign of triumph; but Jack said that the professional was the best man they had.
On the second day of our party's second innings,—the last day but one of the match,—Jack went in. They had only made 150 runs on the previous day, and three wickets were down. Our kettle-drums had had but little opportunity for making themselves heard. Jack was very despondent, and had had some tiff with Eva. He had asked Eva whether she were not going to England, and Eva had said that perhaps she might do so if some Britannulists did not do their duty. Jack had chosen to take this as a bit of genuine impertinence, and had been very sore about it. Stumps was bowling from the British catapult, and very nearly gave Jack his quietus during the first over. He hit wildly, and four balls passed him without touching his wicket. Then came his turn again, and he caught the first ball with his Neverbend spring-bat,—for he had invented it himself,—such a swipe, as he called it, that nobody has ever yet been able to find the ball. The story goes that it went right up to the verandah, and that Eva picked it up, and has treasured it ever since.
Be that as it may, during the whole of that day, and the next, nobody was able to get him out. There was a continual banging of the kettle-drum, which seemed to give him renewed spirits. Every ball as it came to him was sent away into infinite space. All the Englishmen were made to retire to further distances from the wickets, and to stand about almost at the extremity of the ground. The management of the catapults was intrusted to one man after another,—but in vain. Then they sent the catapults away, and tried the old-fashioned slow bowling. It was all the same to Jack. He would not be tempted out of his ground, but stood there awaiting the ball, let it come ever so slowly. Through the first of the two days he stood before his wicket, hitting to the right and the left, till hope seemed to spring up again in the bosom of the Britannulists. And I could see that the Englishmen were becoming nervous and uneasy, although the odds were still much in their favour.
At the end of the first day Jack had scored above 500;—but eleven wickets had gone down, and only three of the most inferior players were left to stand up with him. It was considered that Jack must still make another 500 before the game would be won. This would allow only twenty each to the other three players. "But," said Eva to me that evening, "they'll never get the twenty each."
"And on which side are you, Eva?" I inquired with a smile. For in truth I did believe at that moment that she was engaged to the baronet.
"How dare you ask, Mr Neverbend?" she demanded, with indignation. "Am not I a Britannulist as well as you?" And as she walked away I could see that there was a tear in her eye.
On the last day feelings were carried to a pitch which was more befitting the last battle of a great war,—some Waterloo of other ages,—than the finishing of a prolonged game of cricket. Men looked, and moved, and talked as though their all were at stake. I cannot say that the Englishmen seemed to hate us, or we them; but that the affair was too serious to admit of playful words between the parties. And those unfortunates who had to stand up with Jack were so afraid of themselves that they were like young country orators about to make their first speeches. Jack was silent, determined, and yet inwardly proud of himself, feeling that the whole future success of the republic was on his shoulders. He ordered himself to be called at a certain hour, and the assistants in our household listened to his words as though feeling that everything depended on their obedience. He would not go out on his bicycle, as fearing that some accident might occur. "Although, ought I not to wish that I might be struck dead?" he said; "as then all the world would know that though beaten, it had been by the hand of God, and not by our default." It astonished me to find that the boy was quite as eager about his cricket as I was about my Fixed Period.
At eleven o'clock I was in my seat, and on looking round, I could see that all the rank and fashion of Britannula were at the ground. But all the rank and fashion were there for nothing, unless they had come armed with glasses. The spaces required by the cricketers were so enormous that otherwise they could not see anything of the play. Under my canopy there was room for five, of which I was supposed to be able to fill the middle thrones. On the two others sat those who officially scored the game. One seat had been demanded for Mrs Neverbend. "I will see his fate,—whether it be his glory or his fall,"—said his mother, with true Roman feeling. For the other Eva had asked, and of course it had been awarded to her. When the play began, Sir Kennington was at the catapult and Jack at the opposite wicket, and I could hardly say for which she felt the extreme interest which she certainly did exhibit. I, as the day went on, found myself worked up to such excitement that I could hardly keep my hat on my head or behave myself with becoming presidential dignity. At one period, as I shall have to tell, I altogether disgraced myself.
There seemed to be an opinion that Jack would either show himself at once unequal to the occasion, and immediately be put out,—which opinion I think that all Gladstonopolis was inclined to hold,—or else that he would get his "eye in" as he called it, and go on as long as the three others could keep their bats. I know that his own opinion was the same as that general in the city, and I feared that his very caution at the outset would be detrimental to him. The great object on our side was that Jack should, as nearly as possible, be always opposite to the bowler. He was to take the four first balls, making but one run off the last, and then beginning another over at the opposite end do the same thing again. It was impossible to manage this exactly; but something might be done towards effecting it. There were the three men with whom to work during the day. The first unfortunately was soon made to retire; but Jack, who had walked up to my chair during the time allowed for fetching down the next man, told me that he had "got his eye," and I could see a settled look of fixed purpose in his face. He bowed most gracefully to Eva, who was so stirred by emotion that she could not allow herself to speak a word. "Oh Jack, I pray for you; I pray for you," said his mother. Jack, I fancy, thought more of Eva's silence than of his mother's prayer.
Jack went back to his place, and hit the first ball with such energy that he drove it into the other stumps and smashed them to pieces. Everybody declared that such a thing had never been before achieved at cricket,—and the ball passed on, and eight or ten runs were scored. After that Jack seemed to be mad with cricketing power. He took off his greaves, declaring that they impeded his running, and threw away altogether his helmet. "Oh, Eva, is he not handsome?" said his mother, in ecstasy, hanging across my chair. Eva sat quiet without a sign. It did not become me to say a word, but I did think that he was very handsome;—and I thought also how uncommonly hard it would be to hold him if he should chance to win the game. Let him make what orations he might against the Fixed Period, all Gladstonopolis would follow him if he won this game of cricket for them.
I cannot pretend to describe all the scenes of that day, nor the growing anxiety of the Englishmen as Jack went on with one hundred after another. He had already scored nearly 1000 when young Grabbe was caught out. Young Grabbe was very popular, because he was so altogether unlike his partner Grundle. He was a fine frank fellow, and was Jack's great friend. "I don't mean to say that he can really play cricket," Jack had said that morning, speaking with great authority; "but he is the best fellow in the world, and will do exactly what you ask him." But he was out now; and Jack, with over 200 still to make, declared that he gave up the battle almost as lost.
"Don't say that, Mr Neverbend," whispered Eva.
"Ah yes; we're gone coons. Even your sympathy cannot bring us round now. If anything could do it that would!"
"In my opinion," continued Eva, "Britannula will never be beaten as long as Mr Neverbend is at the wicket."
"Sir Kennington has been too much for us, I fear," said Jack, with a forced smile, as he retired.
There was now but the one hope left. Mr Brittlereed remained, but he was all. Mr Brittlereed was a gentleman who had advanced nearer to his Fixed Period than any other of the cricketers. He was nearly thirty-five years of age, and was regarded by them all as quite an old man. He was supposed to know all the rules of the game, and to be rather quick in keeping the wicket. But Jack had declared that morning that he could not hit a ball in a week of Sundays, "He oughtn't to be here," Jack had whispered; "but you know how those things are managed." I did not know how those things were managed, but I was sorry that he should be there, as Jack did not seem to want him.
Mr Brittlereed now went to his wicket, and was bound to receive the first ball. This he did; made one run, whereas he might have made two, and then had to begin the war over. It certainly seemed as though he had done it on purpose. Jack in his passion broke the handle of his spring-bat, and then had half-a-dozen brought to him in order that he might choose another. "It was his favourite bat," said his mother, and buried her face in her handkerchief.
I never understood how it was that Mr Brittlereed lived through that over; but he did live, although he never once touched the ball. Then it came to be Jack's turn, and he at once scored thirty-nine during the over, leaving himself at the proper wicket for re-commencing the operation. I think that this gave him new life. It added, at any rate, new fire to every Britannulist on the ground, and I must say that after that Mr Brittlereed managed the matter altogether to Jack's satisfaction. Over after over Jack went on, and received every ball that was bowled. They tried their catapult with single, double, and even treble action. Sir Kennington did his best, flinging the ball with his most tremendous impetus, and then just rolling it up with what seemed to me the most provoking languor. It was all the same to Jack. He had in truth got his "eye in," and as surely as the ball came to him, it was sent away to some most distant part of the ground. The Britishers were mad with dismay as Jack worked his way on through the last hundred. It was piteous to see the exertions which poor Mr Brittlereed made in running backwards and forwards across the ground. They tried, I think, to bustle him by the rapid succession of their bowling. But the only result was that the ball was sent still further off when it reached Jack's wicket. At last, just as every clock upon the ground struck six with that wonderful unanimity which our clocks have attained since they were all regulated by wires from Greenwich, Jack sent a ball flying up into the air, perfectly regardless whether it might be caught or not, knowing well that the one now needed would be scored before it could come down from the heavens into the hands of any Englishman. It did come down, and was caught by Stumps, but by that time Britannula had won her victory. Jack's total score during that innings was 1275. I doubt whether in the annals of cricket any record is made of a better innings than that. Then it was that, with an absence of that presence of mind which the President of a republic should always remember, I took off my hat and flung it into the air.
Jack's triumph would have been complete, only that it was ludicrous to those who could not but think, as I did, of the very little matter as to which the contest had been raised;—just a game of cricket which two sets of boys had been playing, and which should have been regarded as no more than an amusement,—as a pastime, by which to refresh themselves between their work. But they regarded it as though a great national combat had been fought, and the Britannulists looked upon themselves as though they had been victorious against England. It was absurd to see Jack as he was carried back to Gladstonopolis as the hero of the occasion, and to hear him, as he made his speeches at the dinner which was given on the day, and at which he was called upon to take the chair. I was glad to see, however, that he was not quite so glib with his tongue as he had been when addressing the people. He hesitated a good deal, nay, almost broke down, when he gave the health of Sir Kennington Oval and the British sixteen; and I was quite pleased to hear Lord Marylebone declare to his mother that he was "a wonderfully nice boy." I think the English did try to turn it off a little, as though they had only come out there just for the amusement of the voyage. But Grundle, who had now become quite proud of his country, and who lamented loudly that he should have received so severe an injury in preparing for the game, would not let this pass. "My lord," he said, "what is your population?" Lord Marylebone named sixty million. "We are but two hundred and fifty thousand," said Grundle, "and see what we have done." "We are cocks fighting on our own dunghill," said Jack, "and that does make a deal of difference."
But I was told that Jack had spoken a word to Eva in quite a different spirit before he had left Little Christchurch. "After all, Eva, Sir Kennington has not quite trampled us under his feet," he said.
"Who thought that he would?" said Eva. "My heart has never fainted, whatever some others may have done."