The lawn at Clairmont made a brilliant spectacle, all laid out with different croquet sets. The turf was like velvet, and adjoining every ground was a pretty tent, with seats and every commodious provision for repairing at once any temporary derangement of the feminine toilet. The fluttering of gay flags and pennons from these various tents gave an airy and breezy look to the scene, and immediately we formed ourselves into sets, and the games began. It had been arranged that the preliminary playing should take place immediately, and the match game be reserved till after lunch. The various fancy costumes of the players, lit up by the bright sunshine, and contrasted with the emerald green of the lawn, formed a brilliant and animated picture, watched with interest by groups of non-combatants from rustic seats under the trees. Of course everybody was a little nervous in the trial games, and there was the usual amount of ill luck, and of "Ohs and Ahs" of success or failure. I made myself a "booby" twice, in that unaccountable way that seems like fatality. Then suddenly, favored of the fates, made two wickets at once, seized an antagonist's ball, and went with it at one heat through the side wicket, the middle and other side wicket up to the stake and down again, through the middle wicket to the stake again, and then struck back a glorious rover to join my partner. It was one of those prodigiously lucky runs, when one's ball goes exactly where it is intended, and stops exactly in the right place, and though it was mostly owing to good luck, with the usual prestige of success I was covered with glory and congratulations, and my partner, Miss Sophie Elmore, herself a champion at croquet, was pleased to express most unbounded admiration, especially as our side came out decidedly victorious.

Miss Sophie, a neat little vigorous brunette, in a ravishing fancy croquet-suit, entered into the game with all that whole-hearted ardor which makes women such terrible combatants.

"Oh, I do hope that we shall be in at that final match-game!" she said, with a charming abandon of manner. "I should so like to beat Eva Van Arsdel. Those Van Arsdels always expect to carry all before them, and it rather provokes me, I confess. Now, with you to help me, Mr. Henderson, I am sure we could beat."

"Don't put too much faith in my accidental run of luck," I said; "'one swallow does not make a summer.'"

"Oh, I'm quite sure by the way you managed your game that it wasn't luck. But you see I want to try with Eva Van Arsdel again, for she and I were held to be the best players at Newport last summer, and she beat in the last 'rubber' we played. It was so provoking—just one slip of the mallet that ruined me! You know, sometimes, how your mallet will turn in your hands. She made just such a slip and took the stroke over again. Now that is what I never will do, you see," &c., &c.

In short, I could see that for pretty Miss Sophie, at present, croquet was to all intents and purposes, the whole game of life, that every spangle and every hair-pin about her were vital with excitement to win.

After lunch came the ballot for the combatants who were to play the deciding game, and the parties elected were: Miss Sophie Elmore, Miss Eva Van Arsdel, Mr. Sydney, and myself.

"Miss Van Arsdel," said Mr. Sydney, "you must be my captain. After the feats that you and Mr. Henderson have been performing it would be impossible to allow you both on one side."

"I think just as likely as not you will be worsted for your pains," said Eva. "I know Sophie of old for a terrible antagonist, and when she pulls on her croquet-gloves like that, it means war to the knife, and no quarter. So, my dear, begin the tournament."

The wickets were arranged at extra distances upon this trial ground, and it was hardly prudent to attempt making two wickets at once, but Miss Sophie played in the adventurous style, and sent her ball with a vigorous tap not only through both the first wickets, but so far ahead that it was entangled in the wires of the middle wicket, in a way that made it impossible to give it a fair stroke.

"Now, how vexatious!" she cried.

"I have two extra strokes for my two wickets, but I shall make nothing by it." In fact, Miss Sophie, with two nervous hits, succeeded only in placing her ball exactly where with fair luck the next player must be sure to get it.

Eva now came through the two first wickets, one at a time, and with a well-directed tap took possession of Miss Sophie, who groaned audibly, "Oh, now she's got me! well, there's no saying now where she'll stop."

In fact, Miss Eva performed very skillfully the rôle of the "cat who doth play, and after—slay." She was perfect mistress of the tactics of split-shots, which sent her antagonist's ball one side the wicket and hers the other, and all the other mysteries of the craft, and she used them well, till she had been up and hit the stake and come down to the middle wicket, when her luck failed.

Then came my turn, and I came through the first two wickets, struck her ball and used it for the two next wickets, till I came near my partner, when with a prosperous split-shot I sent her off to distant regions, struck my partner's ball, put it through its wicket, and came and stationed myself within its reach for future use.

Then came Mr. Sydney with a vigorous succession of hits, and knocked us apart; sent one to one side of the ground, and one to the other, and went gallantly up to his partner. By this time our blood was thoroughly up, and the game became as Eva prophesied, "war to the knife." Mohawk indians could not have been more merciless in purposes of utter mischief to each other than we, and for a while it seemed as if nothing was done but to attack each other's balls, and send them as far as possible to the uttermost part of the grounds. As each had about equal skill in making long shots the re-union however was constantly effected, and thus each in turn were beaten back from the wickets, till it seemed for a while that the game would make no progress.

At last, however, one slip of our antagonists threw the power into our hands, and Miss Sophie used it to take herself and me up through three wickets to the stake, and thence down again till the intricate middle wicket stopped our course.

A burst of cheering greeted her success, and the dark little lady seemed to glow like a coal of fire. I wasn't sure that sparks did not snap from her eyes as she ended her performance with a croquet that sent Eva's ball spinning to the most inaccessible distances.

A well-pointed shot from Wat Sydney again turned the tide of battle, and routed the victors, while he went to the rescue of the banished princess, and took her back to position.

Every turn of the tide, and every good shot was hailed with cheers, and the excitement became intense. There were points in the battle as hard to carry as the Malakoff, and we did nothing but fight, without advancing a step. It seemed for a while that none of us would ever so far get the advantage of another as to pass that downward middle wicket. Every successive step was won by battles. The ladies were so excited that they seemed two flames of fire. Every nerve in them was alive, and we men felt ourselves only clumsy instruments of their enkindled ardor. We were ordered about, commanded, rebuked, encouraged, and cheered on to the fray with a pungency and vigor of decision that made us quite secondary characters in the scene. At last a fortunate stroke gave Miss Sophie the command of the game, and she dashed through the middle wicket, sent Eva's ball to farthest regions up, and Mr. Sydney's down to the stake, took mine with her in her victorious race through wicket after wicket, quite through to the stake, and then leaving me for a moment she croqueted Sydney's ball against the stake, and put it out. A general cheer and shouts of "victory" arose.

"We've got it! We're quite sure to go out the next move!" she said, in triumph, as she left her ball by my side. "She never can hit at that distance."

"I can try, though," said Eva, walking across the ground, and taking her place by her ball, pale and resolved, with a concentrated calmness. She sighted the balls deliberately, poised her mallet, took aim, and gave a well-considered stroke. Like a straight-aimed arrow the ball flew across the green, through the final wicket, and struck Sophie's ball!

A general cheering arose, and the victorious markswoman walked deliberately down to finish her work. One stroke put Sophie out of the combat, the next struck upon me and then from me up to the head of the two last wickets that yet remained to be made. She came through these with one straight stroke, and hit me again.

"Now for it," she said, setting her red-slippered foot firmly on the ball, and with one virulent tap, away flew my ball to the other end of the ground, while at the same time hers hit the stake and the victory was won.

A general shout, and three cheers, and all the spectators started from their seats like a troop of gay tropical birds, and came flocking around the victors.

I knelt down, and laid my mallet at her feet. "Beautiful princess!" said I, "behold your enemies, conquered, await your sentence."

"Arise, Sir Knight," she said, laughing; "I sentence you to write a ballad describing this battle. Come, Sophie," she added, turning gayly to the brunette, "let's shake hands on it. You shall have your revenge of me at Newport this summer," and the two rival fair ones shook hands in all apparent amity.

Wat Sydney now advancing presented the prize with a gallant bow, and Eva accepted it graciously, and fastened the blue scarf that floated over her shoulder with it, and then the whole party adjourned to another portion of the lawn, which had been arranged for dancing; the music struck up and soon we were all joining in the dance with a general hilarity.

And so ended the day at Clairmont, and we came home under a broad full moon, to the sound of music on the waters.

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