The Magic Bat

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The Magic Bat  (1901) 
by Horace Bleackley

From Cassell’s Magazine, volume 31.

A Cricket Story by Horace Bleackley.

Half-a-dozen pipes were smoking fiercely, and the atmosphere of the bar parlour of the Cricketer’s Arms had begun to resemble that of a West Riding cricket ground when the visiting side goes in first and the place is conveniently situated as regards factory chimneys. Half-a-dozen cricketers were in extremely bad tempers, for this morning they all had taken the unprecedented course of going on strike. The most important county match of the season was to take place next day, and, lo and behold! six of the most talented professionals had struck work. No wonder that they smoked and grumbled, and sipped beer more immoderately than usual.

“We’ve landed that blessed committee in a very tight hole,” observed Tim Twister, a well-groomed smart-looking young man, the leader of the movement. “Our friend, the hon. sec.’s, fairly stuck up.”

“Ay, Tim, lad,” said Bails, the ponderous wicket-keeper, approvingly, “you’ve got fairly among their sticks this time.”

“It’s better nor the hat-trick, Tim,” remarked the stonewaller, who was known as Daddy Longlegs. “You’ve bowled ’em all out in a bunch.”

At this moment the door of the bar parlour opened, and there entered an alert, healthy elderly man, who was greeted with loud applause and cries of “Old Davie.”

Davie was the groundsman of the County Club, and had been sent by the committee, who were sitting in solemn conclave in the pavilion at the cricket ground across the way, to have a quiet talk with the mutinous players.

“Now what are you young chaps up to?” inquired Davie, diplomatically, after he had taken a pull at the pewter mug that was at once set before him.

“We’re extremely dissatisfied,” replied Tim Twister, who was usually the chief spokesman.

“Well, I’ll allow the bowlers have a right to grumble,” continued Davie, cynically, “cos they is hardworked! But as for the batters—why two or three overs always settles them! They’re not put upon.”

“I’t ain’t work we complain of, Davie,” interrupted Tim, with a frown. “It’s pay.”

“We pro.’s isn’t treated fair, Davie,” observed the wicket-keeper playfully. “We’re hartists, we are, and we should be tret as sich.” And he favoured the groundsman with a substantial and conciliatory grin.

“Hartist, are you?” said Davie. “You may ha’ been in the bill-sticking line, but that’s as near the picture trade as you’ve ever come, my boy.”

“Why, talking o’ pictures,” broke in Daddy Longlegs, who was a vain person, “there’s been a picture of me three times in the Evenin’ Noos this season. That shows I’m a public man!”

“There’ll be a picture o’ you, Daddy, in the Police Gazette one o’ these days,” said Davie, sorrowfully. “Your boots is sizes too small for you.”

“Well, I say a pro.’s a public man, and he should have the pay of one,” Daddy Longlegs returned sulkily.

“Ay, public man or hartist,” muttered the wicket-keeper. “It’s all t’ same.”

“Why do they treat us different to the amateurs?” demanded Tim Twister, scornfully.

“Why do they treat you different to the scorers?” said Davie. “The poor souls don’t get a quid when you make fifty.”

“Amateurs is paid,” pursued Tim, indignantly.

“So’s policemen,” said Davie—“and generals.”

“Then, why do they call theirsels amateurs?” asked Daddy.

“They don’t—it’s the newspapers that does,” Davie answered. “They call theirsels gentlemen.”

“Well, we mean to have more pay,” growled the crack batsman in the corner. “We pro.’s don’t get no consideration shown us—whatsoever.”

“You’ll all get your reward in t’next world,” remarked Davie, solemnly.

“That’s not much to set store by,” grunted Daddy.

“For such as you, Daddy, maybe not,” said Davie; “ but there’ll not be room for all on us where you’re going to.”

“The Surrey poet earns more nor we,” said Bails, the wicket-keeper.

“They say he got a fiver for his rhyme about my innings v. Notts,” the crack bat remarked enviously.

“We didn’t have poets to flatter us when I was a lad,” observed Davie with a sigh.

“None of you could notch a hundred i’ those days,” retorted the batsman sarcastically.

“Ay, ay; I like to hear you young ’uns swagger about your centuries,” exclaimed Davie contemptuously. “You get all the credit, but who helps you to score your runs?”

“The toffee bowlers,” muttered Bails, whose average was 3.1.

“No, it’s me!” continued Davie, regarding the crack bat as a policeman glances at a crossing sweep. “That’s who it is. Who gets Ranji’s hundreds for him? The groundsman! Who keeps your averages up to forty? Why, the groundsman! Put you on a billiard table, with the sun a-shining and the birds a-singing, and you stop in all day. Take

“‘WHO ARE YOU?’ FALTERED DAVIE, WITH TREMBLING LIPS” (p. 314).

you to Old Trafford, and stick you on bird-lime, with the ball a-talking, and they wipe the floor wi’ you. You can score at Brighton when it’s seventy i’ the shade, and you crumple up at Bramall Lane in an east wind. No, it’s the groundsman, wi’ the aid of Providence and the weather, that makes the averages. Fuller Pilch’s fifties was worth your two hundreds, every bit!”

When Davie returned to the committee room, after an hour’s conversation with the discontented professionals, he was obliged to confess that they were still obdurate, and had firmly resolved to remain on strike until their terms were granted. The committee was in a state of great dismay, and Swears, the secretary, made use of some powerful language.

“Nice show we shall make against Yorkshire to-morrow,” he thundered; “I’m darn’t if we can make up a respectable team.”

“If I thought it were that bad, sir,” said Davie, insinuatingly, “I’d play myself.”

The committee smiled, for it was a relief to see a little humour in the situation. Davie was fifty-seven, and it was ten years since he had played in his last county match.

“Jove, that’s a ripping idea!” roared Swears, with a lusty laugh. “It’d be a rare slap in the face for that skunk Twister.”

The amused expressions on the faces of the gentlemen of the committee did not please the elderly groundsman, who was a man of pride, and still played on Saturday afternoon.

“If I may be bold enough to say so,” he remarked. “I’m not an old duffer yet, gentlemen. I made forty-three last week for the Club and Ground v. Upper Tappleton.”

“Why, you’re in your prime, Davie,” Swears exclaimed; “and we’ll play you to-morrow against Yorkshire!”

Though the secretary was merely joking, and had no intention of putting the old groundsman into the eleven, Davie, being blessed with a “guid conceit,” thought that he was serious, and left the committee room a very proud and happy man. He hurried home to the wife of his bosom; and, after a hearty tea, drank one more glass of whiskey and smoked three more pipes than usual before retiring to bed. He had just dozed off, when he was awakened by a loud “rat-tat” at the street door. Raising himself on his elbow, he had a short and successful struggle with sleep.

“Some o’ them striking pro.’s want me, I reckon,” he growled.

The knocker went again more vigorously than before.

His wife was slumbering peacefully; so slinking out of bed quietly, for he belonged to the numerous tribe of Caudle, Davie stumbled downstairs into the front room, and unlocked the door.

“What d’ye want at this blessed time?” he growled, as he peered outside.

“Let me in, and I will tell you,” exclaimed a sepulchral voice from the darkness.

Then the door was pushed back, and an old man with grey whiskers entered. He had an ancient-looking tall hat, and wore a long black cloak. There was something so uncanny in his appearance that Davie felt nervous. He was commencing some remark about the stranger having the advantage of him, when he was interrupted.

“You are David Tofts, the groundsman,” said the old man hoarsely, turning a steely pair of eyes upon Davie.

Just then there was a “ghost” in the candle, and the light burnt very dim.

“That’s my name and profession,” replied Davie, feeling very uncomfortable, though he knew not why.

The intruder gave a guttural expression of satisfaction, and threw off his cloak. To his intense surprise, Davie saw that the old man was dressed in cricket flannels! He flashed a startled glance upon the tall silk hat, the tight woollen vest with its collar and tie, the braces over the shoulders; and his hair stood on end.

It was such a costume that cricketers used to wear fifty years ago, and his visitor was the very image of old Fuller Pilch!

“Who are you?” faltered Davie, with trembling lips.

“A friend,” was the answer. “You are going to play in the great match against Yorkshire to-morrow?”

“How d’you know?” demanded Davie anxiously.

“That’s no concern of yours,” returned the uncanny old gentleman; “I’ve brought you a valuable present,” and fumbling beneath his cloak he brought forth a cricket bat.

“This is for you,” he mumbled, holding it out.

“I’ve a dozen,” retorted Davie, trying to pluck up courage, but still feeling awed.

“You must play with it to-morrow,” exclaimed the old man, in a commanding voice. “This bat belonged to Fuller Pilch!”

The room seemed to turn topsy-turvy for a minute, and when Davie had recovered his senses the front door was shut and the old fellow had disappeared. Just at that moment he fancied he heard his wife calling to him, so he went upstairs. Scarcely had he laid his head upon the pillow than he fell asleep.

When he awoke again his better half was shaking and scolding him, and the clock was striking nine.

He jumped out of bed, and hurried into his clothes, for it was two hours later than his usual time for rising. The sensation when one awakes after an interview with a ghost the previous evening can never be a pleasant one, and Davie toddled downstairs in a very bewildered condition. The first sight that met his eyes was the bat of old Fuller Pilch reared against the wall!

“Mind you don’t leave your dirty old cricketing bat on my clean table-cloth again,” observed Mrs. Davie, with a look of menace, “or I’ll light the fire wi’ it.”

The old groundsman attacked his breakfast with the voracity of a pelican, and when his wife had left the room to wash up he proceeded to inspect Fuller Pilch’s present. It looked a very gimcrack piece of timber, and was pegged and bound with twine all over. Then he remembered the old gentleman’s words, “You must play with it to-morrow.”

Seizing the handle with a sudden impulse he whirled the bat over his shoulder, and as he did so a wonderful inspiration seemed to come over him. It was as if he had just swallowed a large “B. and S.” The blood seemed to sparkle in his veins, his muscles grew as tough as steel, and he felt twenty years younger.

“Great Scott!” said he to himself. “I must have a knock!”

Clapping his hat upon his head, he trotted off to the cricket ground with Fuller Pilch’s bat still in his hand.

Practice was going on when he arrived, so slipping on his flannels he took a turn at the nets, and then he discovered at once what a marvellous implement he possessed. Fuller Pilch’s bat was as invincible a weapon as the sword of St. George. Every ball he struck flew off the blade like lightning, every stroke was hard and true and all along the carpet. A couple of promising youngsters were bowling at him. He lay back, and cut half a dozen fast length balls through the slips off his middle stump, and then forced a similar number of the same sort to the right and left of cover point. And when, in his mind’s eye, all the fielders had been moved to the off side he commenced hooking round to leg at every conceivable angle.

“THE PACE WAS TERRIBLE” (p. 316).

“Where in the name of fortune did you learn that stroke?” cried a voice at the back of the net, when he had just hit two lightning yorkers on the off stick round to forward long leg.

Davie looked round, and there stood the captain of the county, with Swears and two or three of the committee.

“Oh, it’s one of my favourites,” he replied, gliding an awkward shooter off his pads.

“By jabers, Davie, you shall go in first,” exclaimed the captain.

“Well, I’ll bet odds on my century,” answered Davie, feeling as if he were intoxicated.

An hour later, while he was sitting in the players’ waiting-room still hugging Fuller Pilch’s bat, one of the ground staff came to him with the intelligence:

“We’ve won the toss, Davie, and you are going in first.”

“Well,” answered Davie, complacently, “it’ll show Tim Twister and his lot that we can do without ’em.”

The old groundsman felt a very curious sensation as he walked to the wickets. His feelings were like those of Rip Van Winkle when he returns to his native village. It was ten years since he had appeared before such a vast throng in a county match, and not one of the cricketers who had played with him then were playing to-day. It was as though he were the last of his race. All the faces around were new ones, but the ghosts of his old colleagues seemed now and then to take their places in his imagination.

But these fancies vanished when he came to face the bowling with the magic bat in his hands, and his soul was all aglow with excitement. He stood up eagerly for the first ball, and smote it over the ring. His first three overs from the fast bowler realised thirty-six runs, and the dense masses around the arena roared with applause. There was no need for caution—he was invincible. The cricket ball was entirely at the mercy of Fuller Pilch’s marvellous bat! He cut, he drove, he hooked—the pace was terrible. The fielders flew about the field like torreadors in a bull ring; bowler after bowler was knocked off his length. Batsmen came and went, for the wicket was treacherous; but old Davie remained unconquered, and when the last man of his side was bowled shortly before the luncheon bell rang he had made 150 not out!

He had reached the pavilion enclosure, after a march of triumph from the wickets in the midst of a shouting throng, when his colleague of the ground staff came up and, after slapping him on the back, whispered:

“There’s a pal of yours outside wants a word with you.”

Without troubling to take off his pads or put on his coat, Davie, with his bat under his

“‘TIM TWISER,’ THUNDERED BAILS, ‘YOU’RE A BLACKLEG!’” (p. 318).

arm, strolled outside among the crowd to look for his friend, and he had not walked more than a dozen yards from the gate of the enclosure when he encountered Tim Twister and the five other mutineers.

“Well, you chaps have a cheek to come in here!” cried Davie, aghast at their effrontery.

“And you’ve got a cheek, too, Davie, to Play under such false pretences,” retorted Tim, with a very vicious glance.

“And all the folk saying, too, that such an innings has never been played on a cricket ground,” growled Daddy Longlegs, with evident spite.

“It’s cursed cheating,” roared Bails, ferociously. “If the M.C.C. get to know, they’ll suspend you, like they does t’ jockeys.”

“Yes, you’d be warned off the turf.”

“What the dickens d’ you mean?” demanded poor Davie, very much astonished.

“You know well enough,” cried the crack bat, furiously. “You’ve no right to that innings. It weren’t yours!”

“Whose was it then?” asked Davie, growing very uncomfortable.

“Oh, we know all right,” retorted Tim. “We know that you didn’t make all them runs!”

“Then who did?” cried Davie, defiantly.

“Why, old Fuller Pilch!” answered Tim, with a look of bitter malice.

Davie staggered, and the ground seemed to reel beneath his feet.

“Ay, and that’s Fuller Pilch’s bat you’ve got,” shouted Tim. “Here, give it up!”

And he caught hold of the blade.

A fierce struggle followed. Both Tim and Davie pulled with all their might. But youth must be served, and in less than a minute the mutinous young professional had wrenched the magic bat from the grasp of the old groundsman.

His brother professionals closed around to let him make good his escape, and in an instant he had disappeared among the crowd that had collected at the sight of the disturbance. It was the work of a moment; and poor Davie, breathless and dismayed, was left without his treasure.

“Hi, stop thief!” he murmured, faintly.

“Now then, Davie,” cried the voice of Swears at his elbow. “I’ve been looking for you. Come along with me to the committee room. The president of the club wants to be introduced to you; he’s fairly cracked about your batting. And, by Jove, you are an old marvel!”

“They’ve stolen my bat,” cried poor Davie, distractedly.

“Nonsense, man; we’ll give you a dozen,” replied Swears. “Come along.”

And taking him by the arm he led him away.

During the whole of the luncheon interval Davie remained in a half-demented condition, and was scarcely conscious of what was passing around him, for the loss of his magic bat had been a fearful shock. When play commenced again he went into the field very listless and inert, and he seemed to have no further interest in the game.

One of the first two batsmen on the Yorkshire side was the celebrated stonewaller Philip House, and his usual average speed of run-getting was about ten notches an hour. It was therefore a fearful and wonderful surprise to Davie when he began by making seven fours in his first two overs. But he was not contented with that. He continued to lay about him in terrible style, and made mincemeat of the bowling. In a quarter of an hour he had scored fifty, and among these were three splendid sixes out of the ground. As a display of batting it almost rivalled that of Davie.

“You’re merrier nor usual to-day,” remarked the crestfallen Davie, strolling up to the ex-stonewaller between one of the overs.

“Ay, I seem to be tapping ’em a bit,” replied the late blocker, “I can’t make it out. It must be this new bat o’ mine that suits me.”

“New! It looks old enough,” said Davie, with a casual glance.

“That’s true; but it’s new to me,” answered the ex-stonewaller.

Davie looked down curiously at the string-bound blade, and in an instant the truth flashed upon him.

“You got it from Tim Twister,” he roared.

“Well, what of that?”

“Give it up; it’s mine.”

And the furious Davie rushed upon the astonished Philip, and tried to wrest the willow out of his hands. For most unmistakably it was the bat that old Fuller Pilch had given to him!

They swayed and struggled and fought. The dismayed spectators rose around the ring, and shouted with frenzy. The cricketers crowded around the two combatants and lent their voices to the tumult. Davie gave them no heed, but fought on. At last with a desperate effort he overthrew his opponent, snatched the bat from his grasp, and as the defeated stonewaller lay upon the ground he raised the blade aloft to bring it down upon his skull.

Then suddenly all went dark, and presently a dim confused light seemed to struggle into his eyes. He awoke to find himself upon the floor of his bedroom!

“Dearie, dearie, this is too shocking,” babbled a familiar voice, and he saw the face of his wife bending over him. “I told you, Davie, what that extra glass would do for you.”

Davie picked himself up, still half asleep, and very bewildered.

“Is the Yorkshire match over?” was the first question he asked.

“Davie, this is awful,” said his wife. “Why, you know it begins to-day!”

“What time is it?” was Davie’s next inquiry.

“It’s almost nine o’clock,” replied Mrs. Davie, tartly; “and I’ve scarcely had a wink o’ sleep all night for your snoring.”

“Then, it were all a dream about old Fuller Pilch!” muttered Davie, half aside.

“I don’t know,” answered his wife severely. “But that Mr. Tim Twister’s just called, Davie; and he says he’d like to see you when you think proper to come downstairs.”

The old groundsman felt a keen pang of disappointment. It had been such a vivid dream, and it was very annoying to realise that he had not played a wonderful innings of 150 not out, after all! He dressed quickly, and went down into the sitting-room kitchen. His cold breakfast was on the table, and Tim Twister, looking rather sheepish, was standing in front of the fireplace.

“Hullo, Davie, you’re pretty late,” Tim began.

“Ay,” said Davie, “I’ve had a terrible bad night.”

“So’ve I,” returned Tim, sympathetically. “Nightmare, something shocking!”

Davie started, and looked at the young man very curiously as he poured out his tea.

“I heard last night,” continued Tim, rather anxiously, “as how Swears had said that you was to play to-day v. Yorkshire.”

“Ay,” answered Davie, with a sigh, “so he said.”

“Well,” inquired Tim, eagerly, “are you going to?”

Davie did not answer for a moment, but stirred his tea reflectively. “No,” he replied at last, with a sudden burst. “No, I’m hanged if I’ll turn out again at my age. Last night, I’ll own, I were as keen as mustard; but this morning I can see plain enough I’m too old. That dream o’ mine’s done one good thing—it’s taken down my conceit.”

“What!” cried Tim, “have you been dreaming about cricket?”

“Ay,” replied Davie gloomily, “every blessed bit o’ the night.”

“Holy Moses!” Tim exclaimed, “So’ve I! I thought I were watching the match v. Yorkshire, and I seed you play an extraordinary innings—you made two hundred runs?”

“A hundred and fifty it were,” murmured Davie absently. “But then, you see, I’d got Fuller Pilch’s bat.”

“I dreamt that dream twice over,” Tim continued, not comprehending the last remark.

“Ay, no wonder you chaps dream about cricket,” muttered Mrs. Davie, who was bustling around with a contemptuous toss, “you talk o’ little else.”

“Well, it’s made me think a bit,” proceeded Tim solemnly. “If some of the young ’uns come off to-day, the county may do without the fellows on strike. That’d be a bit awkward.”

“Ay, it would,” said Davie, “for you.”

“Well,” observed Tim anxiously, “I’ve just sent a message round to them five other chaps, saying as I was coming round to your place to talk things over with a view to arranging terms wi’ the committee.”

“Oh,” said Davie, “they’re not revengeful, and if you’re willing I dare say they’ll let you play.”

At that moment there was a buzz of voices outside, and then in walked Bails, and Daddy Longlegs and the crack bat, and the other two.

“Hullo!” said Davie, looking up from his breakfast. “I do call this neighbourly. Are there any more on you?”

“Tim Twister,” thundered Bails, “you’re a blackleg.”

“Bails,” returned Tim, “you’re a fathead.”

“What’s all this, Tim,” cried Daddy Longlegs, “about giving in?”

“Why, it means,” Davie replied, “that Tim’s the only one among you who’s not a fool.”

There was a long and excited discussion, but as Tim Twister adhered firmly to his resolution of throwing himself upon the mercy of the committee the rest were afraid to remain any longer in mutiny. So Davie was deputed to open negotiations with Mr. Swears; and the honorary secretary, learning that the players were now penitent, was only too ready to receive them back into the fold. Thus the famous strike came to an end.

It was fortunate that it did, for that same day Tim Twister played the great innings of his life, and it was mainly through his batting that his county succeeded in beating the splendid Yorkshire eleven.

When he was out old Davie came to him in the players’ dressing-room to offer his congratulations.

“I say, Tim,” he remarked, after they had been talking for a little while, “that must be a splendid bat you’ve got.”

“Oh,” answered the young professional carelessly, “it’s right enough.”

“In those dreams of yours last night,” continued Davie solemnly, and scratching his head, “you don’t recollect meeting wi’ old Fuller Pilch?”

It was a hot and thirsty day, and Tim looked at the old groundsman suspiciously. But Davie was all right.

“No, I don’t remember as I did,” he replied, wonderingly.

“Well,” said Davie, “you couldn’t have played a finer innings if Fuller Pilch had given you his bat!”

Then Davie, whose temperament was as romantic as a Welsh bard’s, told Tim the story of his dream.

Now, in Davie’s county, when any man plays a remarkably fine innings it is always said that he has got Fuller Pilch’s bat.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.


The author died in 1939, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.