The Cricket Match, An Incident at A Private
School by Maurice Baring
To Winston Churchill
It was a Saturday afternoon in June. St. James's School was playing a
cricket match against Chippenfield's. The whole school, which
consisted of forty boys, with the exception of the eleven who were
playing in the match, were gathered together near the pavilion on the
steep, grassy bank which faced the cricket ground. It was a
swelteringly hot day. One of the masters was scoring in the pavilion;
two of the boys sat under the post and board where the score was
recorded in big white figures painted on the black squares. Most of
the boys were sitting on the grass in front of the pavilion.
St. James's won the toss and went in first. After scoring 5 for the
first wicket they collapsed; in an hour and five minutes their last
wicket fell. They had only made 27 runs. Fortune was against St.
James's that day. Hitchens, their captain, in whom the school
confidently trusted, was caught out in his first over. And Wormald and
Bell minor, their two best men, both failed to score.
Then Chippenfield's went in. St. James's fast bowlers, Blundell and
Anderson minor, seemed unable to do anything against the
Chippenfield's batsmen. The first wicket went down at 70.
The boys who were looking on grew listless: three of them, Gordon,
Smith, and Hart minor, wandered off from the pavilion further up the
slope of the hill, where there was a kind of wooden scaffolding raised
for letting off fireworks on the 5th of November. The headmaster, who
was a fanatical Conservative, used to burn on that anniversary
effigies of Liberal politicians such as Mr. Gladstone and Mr.
Chamberlain, who was at that time a Radical; while the boys whose
politics were Conservative, and who formed the vast majority, cheered,
and kicked the Liberals, of whom there were only eight.
Smith, Gordon, and Hart minor, three little boys aged about eleven,
were in the third division of the school. They were not in the eleven,
nor had they any hopes of ever attaining that glory, which conferred
the privilege of wearing white flannel instead of grey flannel
trousers, and a white flannel cap with a red Maltese cross on it. To
tell the truth, the spectacle of this seemingly endless game, in which
they did not have even the satisfaction of seeing their own side
victorious, began to weigh on their spirits.
They climbed up on to the wooden scaffolding and organised a game of
their own, an utterly childish game, which consisted of one boy
throwing some dried horse chestnuts from the top of the scaffolding
into the mouth of the boy at the bottom. They soon became engrossed in
their occupation, and were thoroughly enjoying themselves, when one of
the masters, Mr. Whitehead by name, came towards them with a face like
thunder, biting his knuckles, a thing which he did when he was very
"Go indoors at once," he said. "Go up to the third division school-
room and do two hours' work. You can copy out the Greek irregular
The boys, taken completely by surprise, but accepting this decree as
they accepted everything else, because it never occurred to them it
could be otherwise, trotted off, not very disconsolate, to the school-
room. It was very hot out of doors; it was cool in the third division
They got out their steel pens, their double-lined copy books, and
began mechanically copying out the Greek irregular verbs, with which
they were so superficially familiar, and from which they were so
"Whitey," said Gordon, "was in an awful wax!"
"I don't care," said Smith. "I'd just as soon sit here as look on at
that beastly match."
"But why," said Hart, "have we got to do two hours' work?"
"Oh," said Gordon, "he's just in a wax, that's all."
And the matter was not further discussed. At six o'clock the boys had
tea. The cricket match had, of course, resulted in a crushing and
overwhelming defeat for St. James's. The rival eleven had been asked
to tea; there were cherries for tea in their honour.
When Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor entered the dining-room they at
once perceived that an atmosphere of gloom and menacing storm was
overhanging the school. Their spirits had hitherto been unflagging;
they sat next to each other at the tea-table, but no sooner had they
sat down than they were seized by that terrible, uncomfortable feeling
so familiar to schoolboys, that something unpleasant was impending,
some crime, some accusation; some doom, the nature of which they could
not guess, was lying in ambush. This was written on the headmaster's
face. The headmaster sat at a square table in the centre of the
dining-room. The boys sat round on the further side of three tables
which formed the three sides of the square room.
The meal passed in gloomy silence. Gordon, Smith and Hart began a
fitful conversation, but a message was immediately passed up to them
from Mr. Whitehead, who sat at the bottom of one of the tables, to
stop talking. At the end of tea the guests filed out of the room.
The headmaster stood up and rapped on his table with a knife.
"The whole school," he said, "will come to the library in ten minutes'
The boys left the dining-room. They began to whisper to one another
with bated breath. "What's the matter?" And the boys of the second
division shook their heads ominously, and pointing to Gordon, Smith,
and Hart, said: "You're in for it this time!" The boys of the first
division were too important to take any notice of the rest of the
school, and retired to the first division school-room in dignified
Ten minutes later the whole school was assembled in the library, from
which one flight of stairs led to the upper storeys. The staircase was
shrouded from view by a dark curtain hanging from a Gothic arch; it
was through this curtain that the headmaster used dramatically to
appear on important occasions, and it was up this staircase that boys
guilty of cardinal offences were led off to corporal punishment.
The boys waited in breathless silence. Acute suspense was felt by the
whole school, but by none so keenly as by Gordon, Smith, and Hart
minor. These three little boys felt perfectly sick with fear of the
unknown and the terror of having in some unknown way made themselves
responsible for the calamity which would perhaps vitally affect the
Presently a rustle was heard, and the headmaster swept down the
staircase and through the curtain, robed in the black silk gown of an
LL.D. He stood at a high desk which was placed opposite the staircase
in front of the boys, who sat, in the order of their divisions, on
rows of chairs. The three assistant masters walked in from a side
door, also in their gowns, and took seats to the right and left of the
headmaster's desk. There was a breathless silence.
The headmaster began to speak in grave and icily cold tones; his face
was contracted by a permanent frown.
"I had thought," he said, "that there were in this school some boys
who had a notion of gentlemanly behaviour, manly conduct, and common
decency. I see that I was mistaken. The behaviour of certain of you
to-day--I will not mention them because of their exceeding shame, but
you will all know whom I mean. . . ." At this moment all the boys
turned round and looked hard at Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor, who
blushed scarlet, and whose eyes filled with tears. . . . "The less
said about the matter the better," continued the headmaster, "but I
confess that it is difficult for me to understand how any one, however
young, can be so hardened and so wanton as to behave in the callous
and indecent way in which certain of you--I need not mention who--have
behaved to-day. You have disgraced the school in the eyes of
strangers; you have violated the laws of hospitality and courtesy; you
have shown that in St. James's there is not a gleam of patriotism, not
a spark of interest in the school, not a touch of that ordinary common
English manliness, that sense for the interests of the school and the
community which makes Englishmen what they are. The boys who have been
most guilty in this matter have already been punished, and I do not
propose to punish them further; but I had intended to take the whole
school for an expedition to the New Forest next week. That expedition
will be put off: in fact it will never take place. Only the eleven
shall go, and I trust that another time the miserable idlers and
loafers who have brought this shame, this disgrace on the school, who
have no self-respect and no self-control, who do not know how to
behave like gentlemen, who are idle, vulgar and depraved, will learn
by this lesson to mend their ways and to behave better in the future.
But I am sorry to say that it is not only the chief offenders, who, as
I have already said, have been punished, who are guilty in the matter.
Many of the other boys, although they did not descend to the depths of
vulgar behaviour reached by the culprits I have mentioned, showed a
considerable lack of patriotism by their apathy and their lack of
attention while the cricket match was proceeding this afternoon. I can
only hope this may be a lesson to you all; but while I trust the chief
offenders will feel specially uncomfortable, I wish to impress upon
you that you are all, with the exception of the eleven, in a sense
With these words the headmaster swept out of the room.
The boys dispersed in whispering groups. Gordon, Smith, and Hart
minor, when they attempted to speak, were met with stony silence; they
were boycotted and cut by the remaining boys.
Gordon and Smith slept in two adjoining cubicles, and in a third
adjoining cubicle was an upper division boy called Worthing. That
night, after they had gone to bed, Gordon asked Worthing whether,
among all the guilty, one just man had not been found.
"Surely," he said, "Campbell minor, who put up the score during the
cricket match, was attentive right through the game, and wouldn't he
be allowed to go to the New Forest with the eleven?"
"No," said Worthing, "he whistled twice."
"Oh!" said Gordon, "I didn't know that. Of course, he can't go!"