Players by P. G.
Quite without meaning it, I really won the Gentlemen v.
Players match the summer I was eighteen. They don't say anything
about me in the reports, but all the time I was really the thingummy
— the iron hand behind the velvet glove, or something. That's not it,
but it's something of the sort. What I mean is, if it hadn't been for
me, the Gentlemen would never have won. My cousin Bill admits this.
I cut the report of the match out of the Telegraph. The part
where I come into it begins like this: '. . . After lunch, however, a
complete change comes over the game. A change frequently comes over a
game of cricket after lunch, but it is usually to the disadvantage of
the batting side. In this case, however, the reverse happened. Up to
the interval the Gentlemen, who had gone in to make three hundred and
fourteen in the fourth innings of the match, had succeeded in
compiling one hundred and ten, losing in the process the valuable
wickets of Fry, Jackson, Spooner, and MacLaren. As N. A. Knox, who had
been sent in first on the previous evening to play out the twenty
minutes that remained before the drawing of stumps, had succumbed to a
combination of fading light and one of Hirst's swervers in the last
over on Friday, the Gentlemen, with five wickets in hand, were faced
with the task of notching two hundred and four runs in order to secure
the victory. At lunchtime the position seemed hopeless. Two hundred
and four is not a large score as scores go nowadays; but against this
had to be placed the fact that Batkins, the Sussex professional, who
had been drafted into the team at the eleventh hour, was scoring the
proverbial success which attends eleventh-hour choices. From the press
box, indeed, his bowling during the half-dozen overs before lunch
appeared literally unplayable. The ball with which he dismissed
MacLaren must have come back three inches. The wicket, too, was giving
him just that assistance which a fast bowler needs, and he would have
been a courageous man who would have asserted that the Gentlemen might
even yet make a game of it. Immediately upon the re-start, however,
the fortunes of the game veered completely round, Batkins' deliveries
were wild and inaccurate, and the two batsmen, Riddell and James
Douglas, speedily took advantage of this slice of luck. So much at
home did they become that, scoring at a rapid rate, they remained
together till the match was won, the Oxonian making the winning hit
shortly before a quarter to six. The crowd, which was one of the
largest we have ever seen at a Gentlemen v. Players match,
cheered this wonderful performance to the echo. Douglas, the
alteration in whose scholastic duties enabled him for the first time
to turn out for the Gentlemen, made a number of lovely strokes in the
course of his eighty-one. But even his performance was eclipsed by
Riddell's great century. Without giving the semblance of a chance, he
hit freely all round the wicket, two huge straight drives off
successive balls from Batkins landing among the members' seats. When
next our cousins from "down under" pay us a visit, we shall be
surprised if Riddell does not show them . . .'
The rest is all about what Bill will do when he plays against
Australia. Riddell is Bill. He is Aunt Edith's son, He is at New
College, Oxford. Father says he is the best bat Oxford have had since
he was up. But if you had seen him at lunch that day, you would never
have dreamed of his making a century, or even double figures.
If you read what I wrote once about a thing that happened at our
cricket week, you will remember who Batkins is. He came down to play
for Sir Edward Cave's place against Much Middleford last year, and got
everybody out except father, who made forty-nine not out. And he
didn't get father out because I got my maid Saunders, whom he was in
love with, to get him to bowl easy to father so that he could make
fifty. He didn't make fifty, because the last man got out before he
could; but it was all right. Anyhow, that's who Batkins was.
Perhaps you think that I tried the same thing again, and got
Saunders to ask him to bowl easy to my cousin Bill in the Gentlemen
v. Players match. But I didn't. I don't suppose he would have
bowled badly in a big match like that for anyone, even Saunders.
Besides, he and Saunders weren't on speaking terms at the time.
And that's really how the whole thing happened.
I really came into the story one night just before I was going to
bed. Saunders was doing my hair. I was rather sleepy, and I was half
dozing, when suddenly I heard a sort of curious sound behind me — a
kind of mixture of a sniff and a gulp. I looked in the glass, and
there was the reflection of Saunders with a sort of stuffed look about
the face. Just then she looked up, and our eyes met in the glass. Hers
were all reddy.
I said: 'Saunders!'
'What's the matter?'
'Matter, miss? Nothing, miss.'
'Why are you crying?'
She stiffened up and tried to look dignified. I wish she hadn't
because she was holding a good deal of my hair at the time, and she
pulled it hard.
'Crying, miss! I wouldn't demean myself — no, I wouldn't.'
So I didn't say anything more for a bit, and she went on brushing
After about half a minute there was another gulp, I turned round.
'Look here, Saunders,' I said, 'you might as well tell me. You'll
hurt yourself if you don't. What is up?'
(Because Saunders had always looked after me, long before I had my
hair up — when I had it right down, not even tied half-way with a
black ribbon. So we were rather friends.)
'You might say. I won't tell a soul.'
Then there was rather a ghark. A ghark is anything that makes you
feel horrid and uncomfortable. It was a word invented by some girls I
know, the Moncktons, and it supplied a long-felt want. It is a ghark
if you ask somebody how somebody else is, and it turns out that they
hate them or that they're dead. If you hurt anybody's feelings by
accident, it is a ghark. This was one, because Saunders suddenly gave
up all attempt at keeping it in, and absolutely howled. I sat there,
not knowing what to do, and feeling wretched.
After a bit she got better, and then she told me what was the
matter. She had had a quarrel with Mr Batkins, and all was over, and
he had gone off, and she had not seen him since.
'I didn't know, miss, he'd take on so about me talking to Mr Harry
Biggs when we met in the village. But he says: "Ellen," he says, "I
must ask you to choose between that" — then he called him names, miss
— "and me." "William," I says to him, "I won't 'ave such language
from no man, I won't," I says, "not even if he is my fiance," I
says. So he says: "Promise me you won't speak to him again." So I
says: "I won't, and don't you expect it." "Won't what?" he says,
"won't speak?" "No," I says, "won't promise." "Ho!" he says, "so this
is the end, is it? All's over, is it?" So I says: "Yes, William
Batkins," I says, "all is over; and here's your ring what you gave me,
and the photograph of yourself in a locket. And very ugly it is," I
says; "and don't you come 'anging round me again," I says. And so he
rushed out and never came back.'
She broke down once more at the thought of it.
This was the worst ghark I had ever had; because I couldn't think
how I could make the thing better.
'Why don't you write to him?' I asked.
'I wouldn't demean myself, miss, And I don't know his address.'
'He plays for a county, so I suppose a letter addressed care of the
county ground would reach him. I remember being told which county, but
I've forgotten it. Do you know?'
'No, miss. He told me it was a first-class one, but I don't
remember which it was.'
'Well, I'll look at the paper tomorrow, and see. He is sure to be
But though I looked all through the cricket page, I could not find
That was Wednesday. On Thursday, my brother Bob arrived from
London, bringing with him a friend of his, a Mr Townend, who said he
was an artist, but I had never seen any of his pictures. He explained
this at dinner. He said that he spent the winter thinking out schemes
for big canvases, and in the summer he was too busy playing cricket to
be able to get to work on them.
'I say, we've been up at Lord's today,' he said. He was a long,
pleasant-looking young man, with a large smile and unbrushed hair.
'Good game, rather. Er — um — Gentlemen'll have all their work cut
out to win, I think.'
'Ah!' said father. 'Gentlemen v. Players, eh? My young
nephew Willie is playing. Been doing well for Oxford this season — W.
'Oh, I say, really? Good field. Players batted first. Fiery wicket,
but it'll wear well, I think. Er — um — Johnny Knox was making them
get up at the nursery end rather, but Tyldesley seems to be managing
'em all right. Made fifty when we left. Looked like stopping. By the
way, friend of yours was playing for the pros — Billy Batkins, the
Sussex man. Bob was telling me that you knocked the cover off him down
here last summer.
'Oh!' he said. 'Good deal of luck in it, of course. I managed to
make a few.'
'Forty-nine not out,' I said, 'and a splendid innings, too.'
'Oh, I say, really?' said Mr Townend, stretching out a long, thin
hand in the direction of the strawberries. 'Takes some doing, that.
You know, they only put him into the team at the last moment. But if
anyone's going to win the match for them, it'll be he. Just suit him,
the wicket ought to, on the last day.'
'Regular Day of Judgment for the Gentlemen,' said Bob. 'Somebody
ought to run up to town and hold Bill's hand while he bats, to
I said: 'Father, mayn't I go up to London tomorrow? You know Aunt
Edith said only the other day that she wished you would let me. And I
should like to see Bill bat.'
Father looked disturbed. Any sudden proposal confuses him. And I
could see that he was afraid that if I went, he might have to go too.
And he hates London.
I didn't say anything more just then; but after dinner, when Bob
and Mr Townend were playing billiards, I went to his study and asked
'I should love to go,' I said, sitting on the arm of his chair.
'There's really no need for you to come, if you don't want to.
Saunders could go with me.'
'It's uncommonly short notice for your aunt, my dear,' said father
'She won't mind. She's always got tons of room. And she said
come whenever I liked. And Bill would be awfully pleased, wouldn't
'Only make him nervous.'
I said: 'Oh, no. He'd like it. Well, may I?'
I kissed father on the top of the head, and he said I might.
So next day up I went with Saunders, feeling like a successful
I got there just before dinner. I found my cousin Bill rather
depressed. He had come back from Lord's, where the Gentlemen had been
getting the worst of it. The Players had made three hundred and thirty
something, and the Gentlemen had made two hundred and twenty-three.
Then the Players had gone in again and made two hundred and six, which
wasn't good, Bill said, but left the Gentlemen more than three hundred
'And we lost one wicket tonight,' he said, 'for nine; and the pitch
is getting beastly. We shall never make the runs.'
'How many did you make, Bill?'
'Ten. Run out. And I particularly wanted to get a few. Just like my
I asked Aunt Edith afterwards why Bill had been so keen on making
runs in this match more than any other, and she said it was because it
was the biggest match he had ever played in. But Bill told me the real
reason before breakfast the next morning. He was engaged, and she had
come to watch him play.
'And I made a measly ten!' said Bill, 'If I don't do something this
innings, I shall never be able to look her in the face again. And I
know she thinks a lot of my batting. She told me so. It's probably
been an eye-opener for her.'
'Poor old Bill!' I said. 'Perhaps you'll do better today.'
'I feel as if I should never make a run again,' he said.
But he did.
I thought it all over that night. Of course, the difficult part was
how to let Mr Batkins know that Saunders wanted everything to be
forgiven and forgotten. Because he would be out in the field all the
I said to Bill: 'You'll be seeing Mr Batkins, the bowler, tomorrow,
He said: 'Yes, worse luck, I shall.'
'Then look here, Bill,' I said, 'will you do me a favour? I want to
speak to him particularly. Can I, do you think? Can you make him come
and talk to me?'
'You can take a man from the pavilion,' said Bill, 'but you can't
make him talk. What do you want him for?'
'You're not after his autograph, are you?'
'Of course I'm not. Why should I want his autograph?'
'Some kids would give their eyes for it. They shoot in
picture-postcards to all the leading pros, and make them sign 'em.'
I said nothing, but I did not like Bill hinting that I was a kid;
because I'm not. I've had my hair up more than a year now.
I said: 'Well, I don't, anyhow. I simply want to speak to him.'
'Shy bird, Batkins. Probably if he hears that there's a lady
waiting to see him, he'll lock himself in the changing-room and refuse
to come out. Still, I'll have a try. During the lunch interval would
be best — just before they go onto the field.'
Then I arranged it with Saunders.
I said: 'I shall be seeing Mr Batkins tomorrow, Saunders. If you
like, I'll give him a note from you, and wait for an answer.'
'Oh, miss!' said Saunders.
'Then you can say what you like about wanting to make it up,
without the ghark of doing it to his face. And if it's all right,
which it's certain to be, I'll tell him to come round to Sloane Street
after the match, and have some supper, and it'll all be ripping. I'm
sure Aunt Edith won't mind.'
Then there was another ghark. Saunders broke down again and got
quite hysterical, and said I was too good to her, and she wouldn't
demean herself, and she didn't know what to write, and she was sure
she would never speak to him again, were it ever so, and she'd go and
get the note ready now, and heaps of other things. And when she was
better, she went downstairs to write to Mr Batkins.
I believe she found it very difficult to make up the letter,
because I didn't see her again that night, and she only gave it to me
when we came home for lunch next day. We had decided to take Bill home
in the motor to lunch, unless he had gone in in the morning and was
not out, when he wouldn't have time. We sat in the seats to the right
of the pavilion. The girl Bill was engaged to was there, with her
mother, and I was introduced to her. She was very anxious that Bill
should make lots of runs. She was a very nice girl. I only wished I
could use my influence with Mr Batkins, as I had done before, to make
him bowl badly. But he did just the opposite. They put him on after
about half an hour, and everybody said he was bowling splendidly. It
got rather dull, because the batsmen didn't seem able to make any
runs, and they wouldn't hit out. I thought our matches at home were
much more interesting. Everybody tries to hit there.
Bill was in the pavilion all the morning; but when the umpires took
the bails off, he came out to us, and we all went back in the motor.
Bill was more gloomy than I had ever seen him.
'It's a little hard,' he said. 'Just when Hirst happens to have an
off-day — he was bowling tosh this morning — and the wicket doesn't
suit Rhodes, and one thinks one really has got a chance of taking a
few, this man Batkins starts and bowls about fifty per cent above his
proper form. Did you see that ball that got MacLaren? It was the sort
of beastly thing you get in nightmares. Fast as an express and coming
in half a foot. If Batkins doesn't get off his length after lunch,
we're cooked. And he's a teetotaller, too!'
I tried to cheer him up by talking about the girl he was engaged
to, but it only made him worse.
'And it's in front of a girl like that,' he said, 'who believes in
a chap, too, mind you, that I'm probably going to make a beastly
exhibition of myself. That ball of Billy Batkins'll get me five times
out of six. And the sixth time, too.'
Saunders gave me the letter as I was going out. I reminded Bill
that he had promised to get hold of Mr Batkins for me.
'I'd forgotten,' he said. 'All right. When we get to the ground,
come along with me.'
So we left Aunt Edith in the covered seats and walked round to
behind the pavilion.
'Wait here a second,' said Bill. 'I'll send him out. You'll have to
hurry up with whatever you're going to say to him, because the Players
will be taking the field in about three minutes.'
I waited there, prodding the asphalt with my parasol, and presently
Mr Batkins appeared, blushing violently and looking very embarrassed.
'Did you want to see me, miss?' he said. I said 'Yes,' feeling
rather gharked and not knowing how to begin.
'You're Mr Batkins, aren't you?' I said at last. It was rather
silly, because he couldn't very well be anybody else.
'You played against us last summer,' I said, 'for Sir Edward Cave,
at Much Middlefold.'
He started. I suppose the name made him think of Saunders.
The bell began ringing in the pavilion. He shuffled his feet. The
spikes made a horrid noise on the asphalt, like a squeaking
'Was there anything?' he said. 'I shall have to be going out in a
minute to bowl.' He pronounced it as if it rhymed with 'fowl'.
So I saw there was no time to waste, and I plunged straight into
I said: 'You know Saunders doesn't really care a bit for Mr Harry
Biggs. She told me so.'
He turned crimson, He had been rather red before, but nothing to
'Me and Ellen, miss —' he began.
'Oh, I know,' I said. 'She has told me all about it. She's awfully
miserable, Mr Batkins. And she would have written long before, to make
it up, only she didn't know your address. I've got a letter from her
here, which —'
He simply grabbed the letter and tore it open. I wish I knew what
was in it. He read it again and again, breathing very hard, and really
looking almost as if he were going to cry.
'Can I tell Saunders it's all right?' I said.
He wouldn't answer for an age. He kept on reading the letter. Then
he said: 'Oh, yes, miss,' very fervently. He was what Bob calls
'absolutely rattled.' I suppose he must have been fretting awfully all
the time, really, only he wouldn't write and tell Saunders so, but let
concealment, like a worm i' the bud, feed on his damask cheek.
(I used to know the whole bit once, to say by heart, I learned it
when I did lessons, before I put my hair up. But I've forgotten all
but that one piece now.)
'And you'll come to supper tonight? You've got the address on the
letter. It's on the right-hand side of Sloane Street, as you go down.'
'Oh, yes, miss. Thank you, miss.'
And off he dashed in a great hurry, because the Players were just
going out into the field.
So that's why Batkins' deliveries were 'wild and inaccurate' after
lunch. Poor man, he was so flurried by the whole thing that he could
hardly bowl at all. The bowler at the other end got a man caught in
his first over, and then Bill went in. And Bill hit him in all
directions. It was a lovely innings. I don't think I ever enjoyed one
more — not even father's forty-nine not out against the Cave men.
They took poor Mr Batkins off after a time, but Bill was set by then,
and they couldn't get him out. He went on and on, till at last he got
his century and won the match. And everybody rushed across the ground
from the cheap seats, and stood by the pavilion railings, yelling. And
Bill had to lean out of a window and bow.
'I withdraw what I said about friend Batkins being a teetotaller,'
said Bill after dinner that night to me. 'No man could have bowled as
rottenly as he did after lunch, on lemonade. It was the sort of stuff
you get in a village game — very fast and beautifully inaccurate,'
Then I told him how it had happened, and he owned that his
suspicions were unjust. We were in the drawing-room at the fire. The
drawing-room is just over the kitchen. Bill stretched out his hands,
palms downwards, and looked at the floor.
'Bless you, my children!' he said.
Bill is really an awfully good sort. When I was leaving Aunt
Edith's, he came up and gave me a mysterious little paper parcel. I
opened it, and inside it was a jeweller's cardboard box. And inside
that, in cotton wool, was the duckiest little golden bat.
'A presentation bat,' he explained, 'because you made a century
for Gentlemen v. Players.'