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The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's/Chapter XIV

Never had a Sixth versus School Match been looked forward to with more excitement at Saint Dominic’s than the present one. Party feeling had been running high all the term, intensified on the one hand by the unpopularity of some of the monitors, and on the other by the defiant attitude of the Fifth and the tone of their organ, the Dominican.

The lower school naturally looked on with interest at this rivalry between the two head forms, the result of which, as might have been expected, was the reverse of beneficial for the discipline of the school generally. If the big boys set a bad example and disregard rules, what can one expect of the little ones?

So far, anything like conflict had been avoided. The Fifth had “cheeked” the Sixth, and the Sixth had snubbed the Fifth; but with the exception of Loman’s assault on Oliver, which had not led to a fight, the war had been strictly one of words. Now, however the opposing forces were to be ranged face to face at cricket; and to the junior school the opportunity seemed a grand one for a display of partisanship one side or the other.

The School Eleven, on this occasion, moreover, consisted exclusively of Fifth Form boys—a most unusual circumstance, and one which seemed to be the result quite as much of management as of accident. At least so said the disappointed heroes of the Fourth.

The match was, in fact—whatever it was formally styled—a match between the Sixth and the Fifth, and the partisans of either side looked upon it as a decisive event in the respective glories of the two top forms.

And now the day had come. All Saint Dominic’s trooped out to the meadows, and there was a rush of small boys as usual for the front benches. Stephen found himself along with his trusty ally, Paul, and his equally trusty enemy, Bramble, and some ten other Guinea-pigs and Tadpoles, wedged like sardines upon a form that would comfortably hold six, eagerly canvassing the prospects of the struggle.

“The Sixth are going to win in a single innings, if you fellows want to know,” announced Bramble, with all the authority of one who knows.

“Not a bit of it,” replied Paul. “The Fifth are safe to win, I tell you.”

“But they’ve got no decent bowlers,” said Raddleston.

“Never mind,” said Stephen. “Loman’s not going to play for the Sixth. He’s sprained his wrist.”

“Hip, hip, hurrah!” yelled Paul, “that is jolly! They are sure to be licked now. Are you sure he’s out of it?”

“Yes. Look at him there with his arm in a sling.”

And Stephen pointed to where Loman stood in his ordinary clothes talking to some of his fellows.

“Well that is a piece of luck!” said Paul. “Who’s to take his place?”

“Baynes, they say. He’s no use, though.”

“Don’t you be too cock-sure, you two,” growled Bramble. “I say we shall beat you even if Loman don’t play. Got any brandy-balls left, Greenfield?”

Similar speculations and hopes were being exchanged all round the field, and when at last the Fifth went out to field, and Callonby and Wren went in to bat for the Sixth, you might have heard a cat sneeze, so breathless was the excitement.

Amid solemn silence the first few balls were bowled. The third ball of the first over came straight on to Wren’s bat, who played it neatly back to the bowler. It was not a run, only a simple block; but it was the first play of the match, and so quite enough to loosen the tongues of all the small boys, who yelled, and howled, and cheered as frantically as if a six had been run or a wicket taken. And the ice once broken, every ball and every hit were marked and applauded as if empires depended on them.

It was in the midst of this gradually rising excitement that Loman slipped quietly and unobserved from the scene, and betook himself to the errand on which we accompanied him in the preceding chapter.

The two Sixth men went quickly to work, and at the end of the second over had scored eight. Then Callonby, in stepping back to “draw” one of Wraysford’s balls, knocked down his wicket.

How the small boys yelled at this!

But the sight of Raleigh going in second soon silenced them.

“They mean hard work by sending in the captain now,” said Paul. “I don’t like that!”

“No more do I,” said Stephen. “He always knocks Oliver’s bowling about.”

“Oh, bother; is your brother bowling?” said Master Paul, quite unconscious of wounding any one’s feelings. “It’s a pity they’ve got no one better.”

Stephen coloured up at this, and wondered what made Paul such a horrid boy.

“Better look out for your eyes,” said Bramble, cheerily. “The captain always knocks up this way, over square-leg’s head.”

There was a general buzz of youngsters round the field, as the hero of the school walked up to the wicket, and coolly turned to face Oliver’s bowling.

The scorer in the tent hurriedly sharpened his pencil. The big fellows, who had been standing up to watch the opening overs, sat down on the grass and made themselves comfortable. Something was going to happen, evidently. The captain was in, and meant business.

Oliver gripped the ball hard in his hand, and walked back to the end of his run. “Play!” cried the umpire, and amid dead silence the ball shot from the bowler’s hand.

Next moment there rose a shout loud enough to deafen all Saint Dominic’s. The ball was flying fifty feet up in the air, and Raleigh was slowly walking, bat in hand, back to the tent he had only a moment ago quitted!

The captain had been clean bowled, first ball!

Who shall describe the excitement, the yelling, the cheering, the consternation that followed? Paul got up and danced a hornpipe on the bench; Bramble kicked the boy nearest to him. “Well bowled, sir!” shouted some. “Hard lines!” screamed others. “Hurrah for the Fifth!”

“You’ll beat them yet, Sixth!” such were a few of the shouts audible above the general clamour.

As for Stephen, he was wild with joy. He was a staunch partisan of the Fifth in any case, but that was nothing to the fact that it was his brother, his own brother, and nobody else, who had bowled that eventful ball, and who was at that moment the hero of Saint Dominic’s. Stephen felt as proud and elated as if he had bowled the ball himself, and could afford to be absolutely patronising to those around him, on the head of his achievement.

“That wasn’t a bad ball of Oliver’s,” he said to Paul. “He can bowl very well when he tries.”

“It was a beastly fluke!” roared Bramble, determined to see no merit in the exploit.

“Shut up and don’t make a row,” said Stephen, with a bland smile of forgiveness.

Bramble promised his adversary to shut him up, and after a little more discussion and altercation and jubilation, the excitement subsided, and another man went in.

All this while the Fifth were in ecstasies. They controlled their feelings, however, contenting themselves with clapping Oliver on the back till he was nearly dead, and speculating on the chances of beating their adversaries in a single innings.

But they had not won the match yet.

Winter was next man in, and he and Wren fell to work very speedily in a decidedly business-like way. No big hits were made, but the score crawled up by ones and twos steadily, and the longer they were at it the steadier they played. Loud cheers announced the posting of thirty on the signal-board, but still the score went on. Now it was a slip, now a bye, now a quiet cut.

“Bravo! well played!” cried Raleigh, and his men frequently. The captain, by the way, was in excellent spirits, despite his misfortune.

Thirty-five, forty! The Fifth began to look hot and puzzled. The batsmen were evidently far too much at home with the bowling. A change must be made, even though it be to put on only a second-rate bowler.

Tom Senior was put on. He was nothing like as good a bowler as either Wraysford, or Oliver, or Ricketts. He bowled a very ordinary slow lob, without either twist or shoot, and was usually knocked about plentifully; and this appeared likely to be his fate now, for Wren got hold of his first ball, and knocked it right over into the scorer’s tent for five. The Fifth groaned, and could have torn the wretched Tom to pieces. But the next ball was more lucky; Winter hit it, indeed, but he hit it up, sky-high, over the bowler’s head, and before it reached the ground Bullinger was safe underneath it. It was with a sigh of relief that the Fifth saw this awkward partnership broken up. The score was at forty-eight for three wickets; quite enough too!

After this the innings progressed more evenly. Men came in and went out more as usual, each contributing his three or four, and one or two their ten or twelve. Among the latter was Baynes, who, at the last moment, it will be remembered, had been put into the eleven to replace Loman. By careful play he managed to put together ten, greatly to his own delight, and not a little to the surprise of his friends.

In due time the last wicket of the Sixth fell, to a total of eighty-four runs.

The small boys on the bench had had leisure to abate their ardour by this time. Bramble had recovered his spirits, and Paul and Stephen looked a little blue as they saw the total signalled.

“Eighty-four’s a lot,” said Stephen.

Paul nodded glumly.

“Ya, ha! How do you like it, Guinea-pigs?” jeered Bramble. “I hope you’ll get half as much. I knew how it would be.”

The two friends listened to these taunts in silent sorrow, and wished the next innings would begin.

It did presently, and not very brilliantly either. The Fifth only managed to score fifty-one, and to this total Wraysford was the only player who made anything like good scoring. Oliver got out for six, Ricketts for nine, and Tom Senior and Braddy both for a “duck’s egg.” Altogether it was a meagre performance, and things looked very gloomy for the Fifth when, for a second time, their adversaries took the wickets.

Things never turn out at cricket as one expects, however, and the second innings of the Sixth was no exception to the rule. They only made thirty-six runs. Stephen and Paul were hoarse with yelling, as first one wicket, then another, went down for scarcely a run. Raleigh and Baynes seemed the only two who could stand up at all to the bowling of Oliver and Wraysford, but even their efforts could not keep the wickets up for long.

Every one saw now that the final innings would be a desperate struggle. The Fifth wanted sixty-nine to be equal and seventy to win, and the question was, Would they do it in time?

Stephen and his confederate felt the weight of this question so oppressive that they left the irritating company of Mr. Bramble, and walked off and joined themselves to a group of Fourth Form fellows, who were watching the match with sulky interest, evidently sore that they had none of their men in the School Eleven.

“They’ll never do it, and serve them right!” said one. “Why didn’t they put Mansfield in the eleven, or Banks? They’re far more use than Fisher or Braddy.”

“For all that, it’ll be a sell if the Sixth lick,” said another.

“I wouldn’t much care. If we are going to be sat upon by those Fifth snobs every time an eleven is made up, it’s quite time we did go in with the Sixth.”

“Jolly for the Sixth!” retorted the other; whereupon Stephen laughed, and had his ears boxed for being cheeky. The Fourth Senior could not stand “cheek.”

But Saint Dominic’s generally was “sweet” on the Fifth, and hoped they would win. When, therefore, Tom Senior and Bullinger went in first and began to score there was great rejoicing.

But the Fourth Form fellows, among whom Stephen now was, refused to cheer for any one; criticism was more in their line.

“Did you ever see a fellow hit across wickets more horribly than Senior?” said one.

“Just look at that!” cried another. “That Bullinger’s a downright muff not to get that last ball to leg! I could have got it easily.”

“Well, with that bowling, it’s a disgrace if they don’t score; that’s all I can say,” remarked a third.

And so these Fourth Form grandees went on, much to Stephen’s wrath, who, when Oliver went in, removed somewhere else, so as to be out of ear-shot of any offensive remarks.

Oliver, however, played so well that even the Fourth Form critics could hardly run him down. He survived all the other wickets of his side, and, though not making a brilliant score, did what was almost as useful—played steadily, and gradually demoralised the bowling of the enemy.

As the game went on the excitement increased rapidly; and when at length the ninth wicket went down for sixty-one, and the last man in appeared, with nine to win, the eagerness on both sides scarcely knew bounds. Every ball, every piece of fielding, was cheered by one side, and every hit and every piece of play was as vehemently cheered by the other. If Raleigh and Wren had been nervous bowlers, they would undoubtedly have been disconcerted by the dead silence, followed by terrific applause, amid which every ball—even a wide—was delivered. But happily they were not.

It was at this critical juncture that Loman reappeared on the scene, much consoled to have the interview with Cripps over, and quite ready now to hear every one lament his absence from the match.

The last man in was Webster, a small Fifth boy, who in the last innings had signalised himself by making a duck’s egg. The Fifth scarcely dared hope he would stay in long enough for the nine runs required to be made, and looked on now almost pale with anxiety.

“Now,” said Pembury, near whom Loman, as well as our two Guinea-pigs, found themselves, “it all depends on Oliver, and I back Oliver to do it, don’t you, Loamy?”

Loman, who since the last Dominican had not been on speaking terms with Pembury, did not vouchsafe a reply.

“I do!” said Stephen, boldly.

“Do you, really?” replied Pembury, looking round at the boy. “Perhaps you back yourself to talk when you’re not spoken to, eh, Mr. Greenhorn?”

“Bravo! bravo! Well run, sir! Bravo, Fifth!” was the cry as Oliver, following up the first ball of the over, pilfered a bye from the long-stop.

“Didn’t I tell you!” exclaimed Pembury, delighted; “he’ll save us; he’s got down to that end on purpose to take the bowling. Do you twig, Loamy? And he’ll stick to that end till the last ball of the over, and then he’ll run an odd number, and get up to the other end. Do you comprehend?”

“You seem to know all about it,” growled Loman, who saw the force of Pembury’s observations, but greatly disliked it all the same.

“Do I, really?” replied the lame boy; “how odd that is, now—particularly without a crib!”

Loman was fast losing patience—a fact which seemed to have anything but a damping effect on the editor of the Dominican. But another hit for two by Oliver created a momentary diversion. It was quite clear that Pembury’s version of Oliver’s tactics was a correct one. He could easily have run three, but preferred to sacrifice a run rather than leave the incompetent and flurried Webster to face the bowling.

“Six to win!” cried Stephen; “I’m certain Oliver will do it!”

“Yes, Oliver was always a plodding old blockhead!” drily observed Pembury, who seemed to enjoy the small boy’s indignation whenever any one spoke disrespectfully of his big brother.

“He’s not a blockhead!” retorted Stephen, fiercely.

“Go it! Come and kick my legs, young ’un; there’s no one near but Loamy, and he can’t hurt.”

“Look here, you lame little wretch!” exclaimed Loman, in a passion; “if I have any more of your impudence I’ll box your ears!”

“I thought your wrist was sprained?” artlessly observed Pembury. “Here, young Paul, let’s get behind you, there’s a good fellow, I am in such a funk!”

Whether Loman would have carried out his threat or not is doubtful, but at that moment a terrific shout greeted another hit by Oliver—the best he had made during the match—for which he ran four. One to tie, two to win! will they do it?

It was a critical moment for Saint Dominic’s. Had the two batsmen been playing for their lives they could not have been more anxiously watched; even Pembury became silent.

And now the last ball of the over is bowled in dead silence. Onlookers can even hear the whizz with which it leaves Wren’s hand.

It is almost wide, but Oliver steps out to it and just touches it. Webster is half across the wickets already—ready for a bye. Oliver calls to him to come on, and runs. It is a desperate shave—too desperate for good play. But who cares for that when that run has pulled the two sides level, and when, best of all, Oliver has got up to the proper end for the next over?

Equal! What a shout greets the announcement! But it dies away suddenly, and a new anxious silence ensues. The game is saved, but not won; another run is wanted.

No one says a word, but the Fifth everywhere look on with a confidence which is far more eloquent than words.

Raleigh is the bowler from the lower end, and the Sixth send out their hearts to him. He may save them yet!

He runs, in his usual unconcerned manner, up to the wicket and delivers the ball. It is one which there is but one way of playing—among the slips.

Oliver understands it evidently, and, to the joy of the Fifth, plays it. But why does their cheer drop suddenly, and why in a moment is it drowned, over and over and over again, by the cheers of the Sixth and their partisans, as the crowd suddenly breaks into the field, and the ball shoots high up in the air?

A catch! Baynes, the odd man, had missed a chance a few overs back from standing too deep. This time he had crept in close, and saved the Sixth by one of the neatest low-catches that had ever been seen in a Dominican match.