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The Cricket Match: An Incident At A Private School
by [?]

To Winston Churchill

It was a Saturday afternoon in June. St. James’s School was playing a cricket match against Chippenfield’s. The whole school, which consisted of forty boys, with the exception of the eleven who were playing in the match, were gathered together near the pavilion on the steep, grassy bank which faced the cricket ground. It was a swelteringly hot day. One of the masters was scoring in the pavilion; two of the boys sat under the post and board where the score was recorded in big white figures painted on the black squares. Most of the boys were sitting on the grass in front of the pavilion.

St. James’s won the toss and went in first. After scoring 5 for the first wicket they collapsed; in an hour and five minutes their last wicket fell. They had only made 27 runs. Fortune was against St. James’s that day. Hitchens, their captain, in whom the school confidently trusted, was caught out in his first over. And Wormald and Bell minor, their two best men, both failed to score.

Then Chippenfield’s went in. St. James’s fast bowlers, Blundell and Anderson minor, seemed unable to do anything against the Chippenfield’s batsmen. The first wicket went down at 70.

The boys who were looking on grew listless: three of them, Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor, wandered off from the pavilion further up the slope of the hill, where there was a kind of wooden scaffolding raised for letting off fireworks on the 5th of November. The headmaster, who was a fanatical Conservative, used to burn on that anniversary effigies of Liberal politicians such as Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Chamberlain, who was at that time a Radical; while the boys whose politics were Conservative, and who formed the vast majority, cheered, and kicked the Liberals, of whom there were only eight.

Smith, Gordon, and Hart minor, three little boys aged about eleven, were in the third division of the school. They were not in the eleven, nor had they any hopes of ever attaining that glory, which conferred the privilege of wearing white flannel instead of grey flannel trousers, and a white flannel cap with a red Maltese cross on it. To tell the truth, the spectacle of this seemingly endless game, in which they did not have even the satisfaction of seeing their own side victorious, began to weigh on their spirits.

They climbed up on to the wooden scaffolding and organised a game of their own, an utterly childish game, which consisted of one boy throwing some dried horse chestnuts from the top of the scaffolding into the mouth of the boy at the bottom. They soon became engrossed in their occupation, and were thoroughly enjoying themselves, when one of the masters, Mr. Whitehead by name, came towards them with a face like thunder, biting his knuckles, a thing which he did when he was very angry.

“Go indoors at once,” he said. “Go up to the third division school-room and do two hours’ work. You can copy out the Greek irregular verbs.”

The boys, taken completely by surprise, but accepting this decree as they accepted everything else, because it never occurred to them it could be otherwise, trotted off, not very disconsolate, to the school-room. It was very hot out of doors; it was cool in the third division school-room.

They got out their steel pens, their double-lined copy books, and began mechanically copying out the Greek irregular verbs, with which they were so superficially familiar, and from which they were so fundamentally divorced.

“Whitey,” said Gordon, “was in an awful wax!”

“I don’t care,” said Smith. “I’d just as soon sit here as look on at that beastly match.”

“But why,” said Hart, “have we got to do two hours’ work?”

“Oh,” said Gordon, “he’s just in a wax, that’s all.”

And the matter was not further discussed. At six o’clock the boys had tea. The cricket match had, of course, resulted in a crushing and overwhelming defeat for St. James’s. The rival eleven had been asked to tea; there were cherries for tea in their honour.