NO MENTION OF BURFORD WOULD BE complete unless two-thirds of the account were given over to its croquet ground and its croquet practitioners.

An exhaustive, or even a perfunctory, reference to sport is out of place in any description of the lighter side of life in the provinces, for people in all levels of life take their games very seriously, and croquet, as played nowadays, is the most serious of pursuits. Clergymen who practise it habitually seek for relaxation from the strain its seriousness imposes on them in the pages of the Fathers. It is a matter of common knowledge that a clergyman in charge of a parish in Burford invariably writes out his sermons during the three-ball breaks of his opponents. It is supposed to be de rigueur for a player who has let his, or her, opponent 'in' to take no interest whatever in that opponent's strokes when making a break. It is supposed that if you pay any attention to your opponent's play you may put him, or her, off; and so scrupulous are some players lest they should put an antagonist off, they occasionally stroll off the court and return with a bored look only when they are sent for. But the chivalry of the habitual croquet players really knows no bounds. Another of their characteristics is absolutely quixotic. It takes the form of walking off the court as if the game were already finished when an opponent has yet to make three or four hoops before pegging-out; the object of such a move being, of course, to give an opponent more confidence at a critical moment.

It is a doubtful point, however, and I have never heard it decided by a referee, if this object is likely to be effected by a losing player breaking the handle of her mallet across her knee when she has failed to shoot in; though one cannot doubt that only a spirit of self-denial actuates such a player as makes a point of placing in the form of pennies on a chair, at the opposite side of the court from where she sits, the bisques to which her opponent is entitled, thus putting herself to the trouble of walking across, interrupting her opponent's play when the latter had taken a bisque, in order to remove one of the pennies.

The people who sneer at croquet are those who have no knowledge of the game as played nowadays on such courts as there are at Broadminster. There is no more scientific game, nor is there one that demands a more unerring judgment, a steadier hand, or a clearer eye.

Croquet seems to be the ideal game for the freak, the cripple, or the aged. One of the best players in the neighbourhood is the chaplain to a lunatic asylum. He has a large amount of practice.

During the past few years the champion lawns have been invaded by schoolboys and schoolgirls, with the result that some of the best prizes have been carried off by them.

I cannot imagine a more melancholy sight than that of half a dozen healthy boys, who should be at cricket or lawn-tennis, solemnly and slowly knocking the balls through the hoops and stolidly going through the operations of “peeling,” “laying up,” “wiring,” and the like.

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