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Dog and Duck by Arthur Machen

 

Not long ago, I remember reading that a Stool Ball match had been played at Lord's Cricket Ground. I said to a man I know, a person learned in games:

'What is Stool Ball? Is it the same thing as Knurr and Spell?'

He rebuked my ignorance. He explained the two games. He explained further that even to hit the ball at Knurr and Spell a man must be northern born. He said it was one of the most difficult games that had ever been invented.

But this is merely by the way; it is an illustration of the fact that many of the old English games linger on, half-forgotten, played vehemently perhaps; but only by a few initiates.

So I dare say that many of my readers will not even have heard of the game of Dog and Duck. Yet, within ten minutes' walk of Lord's, the faithful few know where to find the headquarters of the M.D.D.C.—the historic Alley of the Marylebone Dog and Duck Club.

At first sight, entering the alley, one would say that here was a quiet London garden, of the old-fashioned kind, with an old-fashioned house at the back of it. Roughly, the extent of the alley—which includes, as I shall presently explain, the 'Grounds' and the 'Greens'—is twenty yards by ten. It is overhung by old trees and ivy-covered walls, and seems the very place for an old-world game. Bowls, once the favourite game of the clergy and of dignified and elderly persons generally, used to be played in just such surroundings. And Dog and Duck, like Bowls, is a game for the leisurely, a game of amenities.

I said the alley was like a garden. Well, imagine a lawn, shaped somewhat like a capital D. About it goes what we may call the garden path, this is the actual alley. On the right hand are flower beds—the 'grounds'—and to right and left the path is separated from grounds and greens by tiles: these are the 'walls.'

Note one point. You entered by a door, which may be imagined to be in the middle of the top of the D. Here the alley widens to right and left, making a sort of bay in front of the door. This space, marked off by a white line, is called 'Bocardo,' in humorous allusion to a mode of the Fourth Figure in Scholastic Logic. If you got into this figure, you had considerable difficulty in getting out again, in getting back into the more natural first figure. There used to be a prison at Oxford called Bocardo. Facing Bocardo, the lawn, or greens, is marked off by three posts. These are the three 'chaces,' or scoring marks.

Now, suppose you are standing in the middle of the green, watching a match at Dog and Duck. The first man to play—'first troller' as he is called—stands in the alley on a slightly raised platform, two feet square, at the right-hand bottom corner of the D. The right foot must be on the platform—'the trap'; the left foot on the alley behind. He takes the ball, which is a hollow india-rubber ball of two inches diameter, and begins the 'bump': a bump is the delivery of five balls in succession. His object is to bowl, or serve, the ball on the alley as far as possible round the top of the D. If the ball rests between chaces one and two, he scores five. If it rests between the second and third chace, he scores ten. If it turns the corner and rests in the return alley, the trailer's score is twenty. If it passes the Duck which marks the fourth chace, the player scores forty.

But there are penalties and difficulties. The ball must not leave the alley. It may, indeed, skim on the edge of the tiles, or walls; but if it touches the earth on the right, or the lawn at the left, for a moment, the umpire, standing in the middle of the lawn, calls out 'grounds' or 'greens,' and the scorer deducts five from the player's total: 'lack five.'

Then, there is Bocardo. The ball that stays within the white line which marks Bocardo fails to score.

Here then, are the two great difficulties of the game. The tyro, a cricketer, possibly, possibly a distinguished amateur of bowls, smiles in a superior way as he takes his stand on the trap. He is to bowl a child's ball round a garden path. Very good! and then, to his astonishment, the ball has jumped 'walls,' and is revelling in 'grounds,' or more rarely is disporting itself on the lawn.

The fact is that a ball, with sufficient force behind it to round the left-hand corner of the D and score twenty, is apt, save in the hands of the most skilful players, to 'break alley,' to 'go to earth,' as that famous old professional, Harry Gunter, used to put it. It takes the best part of a lifetime to learn how to impart that peculiar swirling motion to the ball which will carry it down the alley, cause it to impinge on the right wall at exactly the right angle, and then 'bring it low,' make it come round the D close to the top wall, and at last swing it triumphantly round the corner, perhaps to Chace IV, the Duck, and a score of forty.

The supercilious beginner comes to grief over walls; Bocardo is the terror of the experienced player. Old James Henry Messiter, who invented the 'railway service,' used to groan and say that 'Bocardo beats all.' A ball may be well held, well placed, well played, well bungled, and yet some infinitesimal error at the last moment may spoil everything. It may be only the variation of a hundredth of an inch in the ball's position as it leaves the player's fingers. But look, it swings down the alley, a free, a gallant ball; it impinges on the wall low down at the exact spot which the player has marked for it; and then, instead of coming down low it rolls up and abides placidly in Bocardo, and, as Dickens says of another game, the player's score is as blank as his face.

Bocardo lies in wait for every good player, no matter what his service may be. I have seen it bring low the hopes of a distinguished Prebendary of the Church who had studied Dog and Duck under Messiter; and I have seen it foil a well-known actor, who fancied himself extremely, as the sole possessor of the secret of Jack Toplady's 'straight slows.'

Toplady, by the way, was the only player who was ever able to score consistently with the 'white ball.' This, it may be explained, is the ball which never touches 'walls' at all, to left or right, but wheels round the curve of the D in a perfect orbit. Old players who have seen Toplady at work, have assured me that these white balls of his looked as if they were running in tapes.

The game of Dog and Duck—sometimes, in earlier days, known as Chase Mallard—makes its rare appearances in our literature. So far as I know, there has been no scientific treatise on the sport; but there are some odd allusions to it scattered up and down in old half-forgotten books. Thus, in modernized English, the mediaeval poet, traditionally known as Nicholas Scrope—his identity is uncertain—in his House of Mirth:

When men in their dalliance
Would have of mirth some pastance,
Then go they to a fair ground,
With the green tree well get around,
And green grass in abundance
To a place that is a gay pleasaunce.
And there is a pathway measured well,
This is their alley, as they tell.
And so with ball in place of bow,
They chase the mallard that may not go
One jot or whit from his station,
But abideth still in his fashion.
But though alway his stand be stable,
Yet is that ball most variable,
And departeth sudden from his right way
And all gates ever will stray;
Till men cry out, 'Benedicite,
Ye foul ball, whither will ye flee?'

And then, the seventeenth-century moralist, some 'seraphical' divine of King Charles II days, speaking of the vanity of human pursuits and occupations:

So have I seen the sun break forth from the cloudy dungeons of the night and climb high in the heavens, giving gladness to the hearts of men and gently unfolding the blossom of a rose, and affording light for all our toils and salutary labours and exemplary endeavours, that we be justified, if it be but a little, before the evening cometh, and the dull curtain of darkness shut in all our scene, and it is time for a reckoning and strict account of all that we have performed. And yet within this brief allotted space of salvation which may be the last accorded to anyone, his life concluding with the day, and sinking into the gloomy retirements of the grave; yet have I seen men go forth in their madness and unthriftiness, and waste the hours of grace and of the sun, rendering to idleness and wantonness and vain sport and pleasure the sum of all they owe to God and to man. For such proceed to the places of their fond diversion, and chase a painted bird with a painted ball, till the sun vanishes under the cloud of the night, and darkness encompasses all things and the game is ended, and they have their pains for their labours, and the remorse of runagates for their choicest cogitations, and the babble of fools in their ears in place of the comfortable whisper of the angels as they lay them down to rest and to that sleep which is the quotidian prophecy of the tomb.

And so, at about the same period, Davenant doggerelizes over the game in a different spirit:

But Husband grey now comes to stall,
For Prentice notch'd he strait does call;
Where's Dame, quoth he—quoth son of shop,
She's gone her cake in milk to sop:
Ho! Ho! to Islington; enough!
Fetch Job my son and hearty stuff.
For there in sport we'll shout for luck,
And cry hay duck, there Dog, hay Duck.

And in the old song-books of ninety and a hundred years ago you may still occasionally come across—

THE TROLLERS' CATCH.

Trowl the ball slowly,
So it pass wholly
The mark where the Duck would catch 'em;
Thus shall it go
Both sure and slow,
And that's the way to match 'em.
Trollollilollilo.

And finally, Dog and Duck makes an odd casual appearance in one of the most remarkable trials of the eighteenth century, the famous case in which Anthony Mullins, citizen and haberdasher, was accused of the wilful murder of Thomas Jenkyns, a retired merchant, living at Enfield Wash. The body of Thomas Jenkyns was found in a pool of blood in a lonely field near Highbury; his throat being cut from ear to ear and, as one of the men who found the body declared: 'We were hard put to it to know what to do, for it seemed as if the poor man's head was almost cut away from his body, and I said to my friend, Richard Staple, who was with me: "Why, Dick," said I, "this is a villainous to-do; for if we make shift to raise the body 'tis a great chance that the man's head will fall apart, and I cannot abide the thought of it." "Why, Tom," says he, "I am much of your mind in the business. What if we leave ill work as it lies and go peaceably home by another way?" But I would not have that neither, lest, as I said, we should both be nabbed for the fact and come to Deadly Nevergreen (Tyburn) at last. And so we made shift to raise the dead man tenderly, I holding his head to his shoulders and trembling a great deal, and in this way brought him as far as Islington without any misadventure, it being late of a dark night without a moon and scarce anyone abroad.'

This murder, naturally enough, became the town talk of the day, the murdered man having many good friends in the city, and being both wealthy and hospitable. It may be mentioned by the way that the business of Mr. Thomas Brown and Mr. Richard Staple, the two men who found the body on that dark moonless night, was more than dubious, and it was conjectured that if the author of Tom Jones had been still alive, he could have furnished some interesting particulars as to their antecedents. However, no one suspected them of the actual murder, since the dead man's watch was on his body and ten guineas were found in his purse, and that was a good defence, so far as Tom and Dick were concerned. But there was a great buzz of rumour everywhere, and more especially in the northern parts of London, and all the taverns were full of strange talk and whispers of those who could tell strange tales, and at last, at the end of the week, Anthony Mullins was arrested and charged with the murder, on the evidence of three persons who swore that they had seen Mullins and the murdered man together on the afternoon of the day on which the crime was committed.

The three witnesses were: Simon Murchison, a Scot, who kept a snuffshop in Norton Folgate; William Frost, a brassfounder, of Clerkenwell; and Abraham Lewis, a clockmaker of Devizes. These three persons, it appeared, met at the Bowl and Sword tavern in Islington, not having been previously acquainted with one another, and, warming over their cups, struck up an acquaintance, and spoke, as they declared, of ill trade and the decay of good old customs and the insolence of apprentices—they were all men in late middle age.

'We all grew to be pretty dismal over the bad times,' said Abraham Lewis in his evidence, 'till at last I said: "Why, neighbours, this will never end it or mend it. Come! let us go and bump it at Dog and Duck, and I will be surety for the first bowl of punch, the lowest score of the three to be debtor for the second." And so we went out into the alley behind the tavern, and Mr. Murchison ordered pipes and a plate of tobacco, and Mr. Frost bade the drawer bring brandy to hearten the bowl, and so we set to. Mr. Frost played the game very well and crossed the Duck three times and won the match, and I was second, so it fell to Mr. Murchison to call for the second bowl. And while we were in the arbour at the side of the alley, drinking our punch and smoking tobacco, and talking of the game, two men came out of the back door of the tavern and sat on a bench by the wall, speaking together very seriously, but not as we could hear what they said. They called for liquor, and drank two glasses apiece, and so went out, and we saw no more of them.'

And the witness swore that of these two men one was Mullins, the prisoner at the bar, and the other Jenkyns, the murdered man.

'I know him,' said Lewis, pointing to Mullins, 'by his great beaked nose, and the dead man I could swear to any day, for as he lifted his glass I saw that his little finger, was crooked back, as if it had been broken; and I saw the body, and the little finger was crooked as I saw it on the live man.'

Lewis's evidence was corroborated in all essential details by his two tavern acquaintances. Murchison had noted that the prisoner had coughed, 'in a soft sort of fashion,' three or four times in the middle of his talk, and everybody in court had observed this peculiarity in Mullins as he stood in the dock. Frost described how he had seen the prisoner read a paper which the dead man had given him, and how Mullins had drawn out a very rich gold and tortoise-shell spectacle-case from his pocket, and had put on his spectacles to read the paper, and just such a spectacle-case, of an uncommon pattern, was found on Mullins, when he was arrested. And then Nancy Wilcox, who was making merry with some gay friends on ale and cheese-cakes at one of the Islington taverns on the way to Highbury Fields, feeling, as she said, a little heavy and stifled with the heat of the place and the number of the company, went out to take the air and stood by the tavern door. And Nancy swore that she saw the prisoner pass close beside her, walking with another man towards Highbury, but she would not swear that the other man was Jenkyns, though she vowed he was much like him.

Those in the court, barristers and spectators alike, were confident that the noose was already tight about Mullins' neck, when the great surprise of the trial startled them all. The prisoner's two clerks, Osborne and Nichols, swore that their master had been with them the whole afternoon, from three o'clock till eight in the evening. And as the evidence of the three men who played Dog and Duck and drank punch, showed that they were at the 'Crown and Bowl' tavern between three and five, while Nancy Wilcox fixed her coming out to take the air as 'just a little after the clock had struck four; for I said out loud, "There goes the stroke of four, and there go four cups of ale too many,"' it became of the utmost importance to the Crown to shake the evidence of Osborne and Nichols.

Osborne, it was explained, sat at a high desk directly facing Mr. Mullins' private counting-house, where he sat apart, in a place glazed in. Nichols' desk was under a window, and looked the other way, towards the door.

'I was busy with a great account,' said Osborne in court, 'but ever and again I looked up from my book, and there sat my master as he was always accustomed, but very still.'

Counsel. 'Was he not used, then, to sitting still in the counting-house?'

Osborne. 'Why, not so. He would rise now and again commonly and walk a littll to and fro, and so sit down again. And twice or thrice in an hour he would come out and speak with us about the occasions of the day.'

Counsel. 'And did he not stir at all on this afternoon?'

Osborne. 'He sat still at his desk and never moved till it was past eight in the evening.'

Counsel. 'And what did he then?'

Osborne. 'Why, he came forth with a very slow step as if he were weary, and stood awhile in the midst of the counting-house gazing about him. And so, looking about him, he saw that Nichols' place was empty, and he spoke to me in a very sunken voice, little louder than a whisper, and said to me: "Where, then, is thy fellow?" Now the truth was that Mr. Nichols had come softly to me where I sat with a candle on my desk, for it began to grow dark, and he said to me, speaking low: "Alas! my heart is very heavy. I know not what it may be, but I am sadly oppressed." I perceived that he shook a great deal as he spoke, and his face was of a pale colour, he being a ruddy man of his habit. So to cheer him, I spoke hearty, but not loud, and said, "Why, Jack, what's this? Never be downhearted. Go you softly to the 'Mitre' and drink a cup of ale and so defy the devil and the dumps." Whereon he looked fearfully to the place where Mr. Mullins sat, with no candle by him, and so crept out. Then, a little while after, when my master came forth and spoke as I have told it, I gave him the truth, that Jack had the black dog on his shoulders and I had counselled him to go out to the "Mitre" and drink some ale to warm his stomach and raise his spirits. "Alas!" said Mr. Mullins, "poor child! He might do worse than drink a cup of ale." And then came Nichols, and we two went away.'

Counsel. 'Did not the prisoner at the bar speak more with either of you?'

Osborne. 'No word more, but nodded his head as we went out.'

Counsel. 'And what did you then?'

Osborne. 'Why, I made such haste as I could away, for I was appointed to meet with one at Marylebone Gardens to view the fireworks, and it was very late.'

Counsel. 'Did you then part from Nichols?'

Osborne. 'Aye, for he told me that there was a supper of tripe waiting for him at his lodging by Pedlar's Acre an hour agone, and he feared lest all should be undone. "And so," quoth he, "since I won a wager of half a guinea but yesterday over the man that reads in the dark,[1] I'll e'en take water and begone with all speed." And so he fell to running very fast, and I saw him no more that night.'

All this was amply corroborated by Nichols. He was quite sure that Mullins had been in the counting-house all the afternoon, for, said he, 'My place was by the door, and I could not have failed to see him pass, if he had gone forth.' And then Counsel for the Crown, already hopeless of hanging the prisoner in the face of such evidence, asked him at hazard, what had been amiss with him on the afternoon of the murder. 'Are such fits common with you?' asked the Serjeant. 'You have the countenance of a hearty man.'

'Why, please you, so I am,' answered Nichols; 'and Hockley-in-the-Hole can answer for it. But on this afternoon there came quite suddenly a great trembling upon me, and a dread on my heart and a sickness in my stomach, and I did not know what ailed me, and I feared very much. And so I looked round on my stool, to see if my fellow, Osborne, was in his place, and looking down on the floor of the counting-house, I could have sworn that there was a great pool of blood there, with bubbles of blood in it, and I had almost swooned away for fear.'

Serjeant Munsey asked the witness no more questions, thinking him an idiot most likely, and the jury presently returned a verdict of 'not guilty,' and the prisoner, Mullins, was discharged.

There were rumours of an old and very bitter enmity between the murdered man and Mullins; but in face of the evidence of the two clerks that was nothing to the purpose. The murder of Thomas Jenkyns remains to this day as profound a mystery as the Campden Wonder—and that, after all, may be one of the inventions of Daniel Defoe.

Of late years, it is true, our occultists have been investigating the case from their peculiar viewpoint, and are satisfied, as far as I can make out, that Anthony Mullins was in two places at once. While the natural body of Anthony was engaged in committing murder at Highbury, his 'astral body'—whatever that may be—sat, or appeared to sit, in the accustomed chair in the counting-house. Possibly; but my own opinion is that the two clerks, Osborne and Nichols, perjured themselves to save their master, to whom, it afterwards appeared, they were much attached.

Footnote

[1] This must have been Jacob Courland, or Crowland, a foreigner. He had lost one eye in childhood, but possessed, as he declared, the power of seeing and reading in pitch darkness as well as in the brightest light. When in London he gave exhibitions of this singular faculty in a darkened room at the 'Sir Hugh Myddelton' tavern, Sadler's Wells, and afterwards at Salters' Hall.
 
 
 

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