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
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
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 angry.
"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 verbs."
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 school-room.
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 fundamentally
"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
"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
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 silence.
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 whole school.
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
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 guilty."
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!"