Man by P. G.
Neville-Smith's theory, arrived at after careful thought, was that
the supreme governing powers of the universe had taken a sudden
dislike to Bray Lench. He refused to listen to any other.
"Look at the evidence," he said, as we sat over our coffee. "Jimmy
couldn't come. Got the flu. So far, nothing to grumble about. Anybody
might get the flu, even our only decent three-quarter on the eve of
our big match. Very well. Then young Thorn goes and falls off a
ladder. Sprains his ankle. On top of that, Giles, our best forward,
trips over his feet as he's going to church and crocks his wrist. And
on top of that, Somers, who's pretty nearly as useful in the pack as
Giles, gets a spill from his bicycle and has to go to bed for a week.
It's spite, that's what it is. Petty spite."
"What are you going to do about it?" I asked.
He took the question literally, and instead of explaining how he
was going to get back at Fate, told me how he proposed to reconstruct
the team, which I had heard before.
I was staying with Smith on purpose for this match. I was not
particularly keen on the match — it seemed to me a very ordinary
village game — but he had apparently no other object in life than to
steer Bray Lench to victory against the neighbouring village, Chalfont
St. Peter's. We went for long spins in the daytime, or practiced with
the Bray Lench team, who struck me as a distinctly ragged lot, and in
the evenings he talked to me about the match till I began to wish that
Rugby football had not been included in the curriculum of our mutual
school. He even went to the length of suggesting that, as the day of
the match was so close at hand, I had better knock off smoking,
pastry, and potatoes, and drink only water at dinner. It was at this
point that I asked him where he kept his Bradshaw, as I wished
to look out a train; and he withdrew the suggestion. But in other
respects he remained disgustingly keen. At the end of a couple of days
I had the whole inner history of the annual game by heart, and had
learned that what embittered Smith particularly was the fact that
Chalfont St. Peter's were in the habit of enlisting outside talent in
their ranks from Ealesbury, the local town. It struck me, though I did
not say so, that his own habit of bringing down men from Cambridge to
play for Bray Lench was just as bad. Jimmy, for instance, the
three-quarter who had been stricken with influenza at the eleventh
hour, had taken three tries off his own bat against Oxford at Queen's
Club earlier in the season. It seemed to me that Smith's guilt was far
blacker than that of Chalfont St. Peter's selection committee. Theirs
appeared to me almost lemon-coloured in comparison. But I did not say
so. I sat and smoked and reflected that, after all, Nemesis could
usually do her own work, and that the series of accidents which had
befallen his team were ample retribution.
For there was no doubt that the Bray Lench fifteen was in a bad
way. Even with substitutes our numbers only reached fourteen, and it
seemed likely that we should have to take the field one short.
Possibly even — galling thought — be reduced to applying to
Ealesbury for a last man.
"There's lots of them would like to play," said Smith, but what's
the use of putting an absolute rotter into the team? He'd only spoil
what little combination we've got. Much better to play fourteen men
who know the game fairly decently. But, by Gad! it's been a bit hard
to be let down like this after all the trouble I've taken to knock a
little football into them."
And then — for we had reached that well-defined after-dinner stage
when man tells man his innermost sorrows — he told me for the first
time the full tragedy. And as I listened I became sympathetic — also
for the first time, and understood the true importance of the match we
were to play in two days. It seemed that the county was keen on
football, that Chalfont St. Peter's had had a club for some years,
that they had presumed on that fact, gloating over it, given
themselves airs on the strength of it, that the inhabitants of Bray
Lench, after having courted some village beauty with fair success
through the summer, would find themselves completely cut out in the
winter by a blade from Chalfont St. Peter's, purely on the strength of
the latter's football. In short, that, owing to being clubless, Bray
Lench had for years groaned beneath the scorn of its neighbour. Then
Neville-Smith, aided by the curate, had started the club, and
challenged Chalfont St. Peters. And when, after two seasons of
frightful disaster, they had at last got a team which had a chance of
beating the rival fifteen, Fate had stepped in and removed their best
"Why didn't you tell me this before?" I said, when he had finished.
"I'd have knocked off smoking like a shot. We must win. We'll play
"Oh, yes," he replied despondently, "we'll have a shot at it. But
I'm afraid we're booked. And anyhow, now I come to think of it, it
wouldn't have been much good your knocking off smoking, as you're to
play full-back. Have another of these; they aren't bad."
I lit another cigar. As he had said, they were not bad.
"Don't you think you'll be able to get another man in time?" I
said. "Why not wire to a 'Varsity man. How about Maurice, for
"I asked Maurice before we came down. He's gone abroad. No, it's no
good; we'll have to get along with fourteen. Come in!"
Somebody was fumbling with the door-handle.
"Hello, Randall!" Come along in. Try one of these; they aren't
Randall, the curate, an old Trinity man, came in and sat down.
"Well, Smith," he said, "I've got news for you."
"Don't tell me anybody else —"
"No, no; good news. Jack Williams has come back."
The curate beamed. Smith and I looked politely interrogatory.
"Who's Jack Williams?" asked Smith.
"Brother of Tom Williams, the carpenter. Do you mean to tell me
that you have really never heard of him?"
"Why should I? Any use at footer?"
The curate struck a match and relit his cigar. I suppose this must
have been one of the most dramatic moments of his life.
"Any use?" he said between the puffs. "Oh — yes. Centre —
three-quarter. He was — reserve, if you — remember, for — England
There was a dead silence, and then Neville-Smith sprang up and
danced a few steps.
"Saved!" he shouted.
"That Williams?" I said. "I've seen him play. By Jove! we
shall win that match, Smith."
"I met Tom Williams just outside," said the curate, "and he told
me. I remember Jack dimly. He was rather a wild youth, I recollect —
poaching and so on; but everybody liked him, and old Rawlins got him a
job of some sort in Devonshire somewhere. I suppose he learned his
football there. He's now come home for a holiday, just in time."
"Have you told him about the match? Have you seen him?"
"I told Tom to tell him. So it will be all right."
"Yes; but I think I'd just like to see him. I must get him to keep
himself in hand till the match is over. These men drink too much. All
right if you've nothing to do, but no good just before a match. Can
you reach that bell with your foot?"
I straightened my leg and pressed the electric bell.
"Croome," he said, when the butler appeared. "I want somebody sent
to the village to ask Jack Williams to come up here for a minute. I
want to speak to him."
"We ought to whack those fellows with Williams," said Smith. "Have
you any idea what sort of a team they are?"
"Much the same as usual, I think," said the curate. "Strong and
energetic, and equally clumsy. A good man like Jack Williams should
run through them. We must get the ball out, though."
"Thank goodness," said Smith, "our fellows do know something about
heeling. I've taught 'em that. We shall be all right, if we aren't
shoved off our feet."
"How are you going to get to the ground?"
"I shall go in the motor. Care for a lift? I can seat four."
"No, thanks. I think I had better go in the brake. My presence
exercises a certain restraint which is sometimes a good thing on these
occasions. Ah! this must be Jack."
We all turned as the door opened, but it was only Croome.
"Well," said Smith, "has he come?"
"Sir," said Croome, "no."
"Why not? Couldn't they find him?"
"He was unable to come, sir."
We waited in silence for further information. "Having been locked
up in the police-station by Constable Sibley," proceeded Croome, with
a certain sad relish, "for intoxication and violent assaulting of the
* * * * * *
"Smith! Really!" protested Randall a minute later.
"Sorry, old man. I forgot you were there, for the moment. But
really, this is the last straw."
"It's vile luck," I said.
"How did it happen, Croome?"
"I gather, sir, from James, who took your message, that Williams
was in the 'Bunch of Grapes' standing treat to everybody who come in,
and what with a glass with this one, and a glass with that one, and a
glass with everyone else, pretty soon he was standing on the table
trying how to do a conjuring-trick with three bottles and a jug. And
then Sibley come in, and he said he was going to show them the new
Japanese wrestling that he'd read about; and then Sibley went and
locked him up. And he's going to take him to Ealesbury to-morrow, I
'ear, to be tried."
"What on earth does Sibley want to make such a fuss for about an
ordinary affair like this?" I asked.
"Sibley's only too jolly glad to get a case at all," said Smith
gloomily. "He wants advertisement to help him get on to his stripes,
and it's only once in a blue moon he gets anything to do here. So you
bet he isn't going to let a thing like this slip."
"So he'll really take him to Ealesbury?" I said, when Randall had
gone off for the night, and we were left alone again.
"Unless we prevent it."
I opened my eyes.
"Get him out before. Are you on?"
"How do you mean?"
"We must have him for the match. I don't care what happens
afterwards. But if it comes to burning the station down, we must bring
him up to scratch. Well, we can't do anything to-night. Let's go to
bed and think it over. Good night."
* * * * * *
"I've got it," said somebody.
"All right," I murmured, "leave it on the mat."
"Wake up, you old ass!"
"I sat up and rubbed my eyes. Smith, clad in a dressing-gown, and
carrying sponge and towel, was standing by my bed. A wintry sunbeam
wandered in through the window.
"Wake up," said Smith, hitting me in the face with the sponge,
"I've got it."
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"About Jack Williams. Are you listening?"
"We must lure Sibley away from the station somehow."
"Never mind that yet. While he's away I shall nip down, collar his
keys, let Jack out of the jug, smuggle him up here, keep him dark
until to-morrow, whang him over to Chalfont St. Peter's in the motor
— give him a pair of goggles and a coat, and nobody'll spot him —
and cart him off by train to Ealesbury directly after the game. How's
My head swam. From what I could gather I was being invited to
become an accomplice in a plot of a sort that made any of
Machiavelli's seem like the tentative efforts of a raw beginner.
"Look here," I said.
But Smith had disappeared.
A bath cleared my head, and thereby enabled me to see with even
greater minuteness the lurid depths of villainy into which I was
invited to plunge.
"Look here Smith," I protested at breakfast, "it's all very well,
and I want to win this match, and so forth; but hang it! Why we should
get years for contempt of court, or burglary, or something of that
sort, shouldn't we?"
"Why should we get anything? Why the deuce should we even be
suspected. I've thought it all out. There's very seldom anybody near
the police-station. It stands by itself outside the main street. So I
shan't be seen letting Jack out."
I liked that little word, "I." Neville-Smith was quite capable of
making me do the rescue work. I listened with an easier mind as he
"All you've got to do is to stay here and talk to that solemn ass,
"What's the idea? What am I to talk to him about?"
"Tell him you've lost something. Valuable for choice. Hint
delicately that you think it might have been stolen. He'll lap it up.
It'll be meat and drink to him. Then in a day or two, before he starts
arresting people and searching the servant's boxes, you'll find the
thing again. See?"
"All right," I said despondently. "I suppose there's a sort of
sporting chance that we may pass the rest of our lives outside prison
walls. And in any case, the judge will probably let us off lightly, as
"I'll send James down to fetch Sibley," said Smith.
After my first quarter of an hour with Constable Sibley, I began to
have a great respect for Smith's powers of description. If ever there
was a solemn ass in this England of ours, Constable Sibley was that
solemn ass. We discussed the case of my lost diamond tiepin in a
series of circles, always getting back to where we started. He asked
me questions, and took down the answers in full, very slowly, in a
black notebook. At the conclusion of the first half-hour Neville-Smith
interrupted the seance, and shortly after his arrival the
policeman went away.
"It's all right," said Smith, "I've got him. Easiest job I ever
struck. Door hadn't got a lock at all. Just a bar. Lifted bar,
explained thing to Jack — he understood in two minutes; he's a clever
chap — smuggled him up here, and he's shaving off his moustache
upstairs, in case of accidents. So our team is now complete. Get on
all right with Sibley?"
"Moderately. I believe he suspects Croome, but I suppose we can't
help that. Let's hope he doesn't arrest him."
"Oh, Sibley's all right. He won't make any move in a hurry. He'll
think it over for the next day or so."
"What'll he do when he finds his man gone?"
"Get a headache. I should think, trying to find out how he got off.
I put the bar back in its place."
That afternoon, as I was passing the 'Bunch of Grapes,' I came upon
the constable addressing a rather ribald knot of villagers.
"I name no names," he was saying, "but I says this: Whoever's been
and took it upon himself to try and baffle Justice will find himself
wishing he 'adn't. That's what I've got to say to you. I name no
names, but I 'ave my suspicions, and I says: Whoever's been and took
From which I deduced that the flight of the captive had been
After this, matters went with that perfect smoothness which renders
Crime a luxury. The gaol-bird, swathed in a fur-coat and disguised by
a mask, was conveyed to the Chalfont St. Peter's ground in the car,
and presently took the field in football costume lent for the occasion
by Smith, the knickerbockers much too tight for him.
It was obvious to me from the start of the game that my post at
full-back was to be no sinecure. The forwards of Chalfont St. Peter's
towered over our pack. Our substitutes were boys, and small at that,
whereas our opponents were men, some of them even bearded. There was
one colossal forward, who wore braces over his football shirt, whom I
hoped I should not have to tackle. I was beginning to feel nervous
when my eyes lit on our fifteenth man, and hope came back to me.
Against that background of local talent he stood out in bold relief.
In the very way he walked there was something that gave the spectator
the impression of Form. I do not suppose the crowd on the touchline
noticed him particularly before the game started, but to me he was so
patently first-class that I wondered he attracted so little attention.
The giant in braces kicked off, and Smith, who had dropped back
from the forward line, caught the ball and punted into touch a few
yards beyond the half-way line. The first scrum was formed in what the
sporting reporter loves to call neutral ground.
The next moment a great mass of forwards collapsed over our line,
and the ball being discovered underneath, the referee ruled that a try
had been scored. The man in braces took the kick, and converted.
So far our star had had no chance of showing us how International
reserve men scored tries. He had tackled like a machine, but the
superior weight of our opponents had prevented up to the present
anything in the shape of attack. Smith had been exhorting his forwards
all the time to heel, and it was plain that the poor men were doing
their best; but so far they had not succeeded. At last, however, more
owing to the enemy kicking through than to our heeling, the ball came
out on our side of the scrum, and our half flicked it out to his
colleague, who handed it on to the Expert. And the Expert ran.
Even in International football I have never seen a finer run.
Quicksilver was stagnant compared with him, eels adhesive. Bearded men
flew at his head. He ducked and ran on. Moustached men dived for his
ankles. He jumped over them. Clean-shaven men tried to spring on to
his back. He was yards away when they arrived. And after a dozen
joyful seconds of ducking, jumping, and swerving he grounded the ball
between the opposition posts.
Smith's kick put us level. One goal all was the score. The whistle
blew for half-time, and almost at the same moment a roar of
indignation from the touchline smote upon our ears.
I looked up. A stout figure in blue was pounding across the field
in our direction. It was Constable Sibley.
Smith went to meet him, disturbed but intrepid.
"What's this, Sibley, what's this?" he said. "You mustn't come on
the field during the game!"
Respect for the speaker struggled with duty. Duty won.
"Begging your pardon, sir, I must do my dooty. That's my man
"What are you talking about? Pull yourself together, Sibley. I've a
jolly good mind to report this to headquarters."
"I can't help it, Mr. Neville-Smith, sir. That man in the breeches,
sir, is my man what escaped from the station yesterday."
Here I entered the discussion.
"There must be some mistake," I said. "I understood him to say that
he was an Ealesbury man."
"He's my feller."
"Now I come to look at him," I said, "there is a
resemblance. Slight, but still a resemblance. Something about the left
"Confound it, Sibley," said Smith, "your man had a moustache."
Now, thought I, you have done for yourself. How should Smith
know whether he had a moustache or not?
But Sibley, honest fellow, overlooked the suspicious point. Instead
of encouraging, it staggered him. "It's quite true," he said blankly.
"So he had."
"I tell you what, Sibley," said Smith, "wait until the game's over
and the man has changed back into his ordinary clothes, and talk to
him then. Just now we want to go on with the match, and you're in the
The Law retired slowly, as one wrapped in thought.
The second half of the game was a repetition of the first. Their
forwards broke through and rushed down the field, and very nearly
scored again; but towards the end they tired, and we got the ball with
tolerable regularity. And by virtue of playing solely to our great
three-quarter we smote our opponents hip and thigh. Four more tries
were obtained by our expert. Neville-Smith got another. I dropped a
goal, and when the whistle blew for no side, the scutcheon of Bray
Lench was wiped as clean as a new slate.
The end of it was rather tame. I had looked for a dramatic rescue,
a once-on-board-the-lugger business which should be a fitting
termination to our career of lawlessness. As a matter of fact, we got
Jack Williams into his clothes, wrapped him as before in his fur coat,
put on his goggles, and led him past the unsuspecting Sibley to the
"Your man, if he is your man, which I deny," said Smith, "will be
coming out soon, Sibley. Good night."
"Good night, sir."
* * * * * *
We met Sibley in the village next day. "Well," I said, "what about
"You'll 'ardly believe it, sir," he replied — "a mysterious thing,
if ever I see one. I watched that door for a good 'arf-hour, and he
didn't come out. And I went in, and he wasn't there. He's disappeared,
"Rummiest thing I ever heard," said Smith.