But even croquet has its lighter moments. I witnessed a match some time ago between a well-set-up cavalry officer (retired with the rank of Major-General) and a cub of a lad—a slouching, hulking fellow whose gait showed that he had never had a day's athletic training. The boy won and went grinning off the lawns. His mother received him with grins, and the General walked away in the direction of the river. It occurred to me that people should keep an eye upon him. But he did not even fling his mallet into the stream.

He turned up a little later at another court, and this time he was victorious.

But against whom?

Against a stout elderly lady crippled with rheumatism; and he just managed to beat her through making a lucky shot!

It seems to me to be marvellous that, with the possibilities of such humiliation before players, any except the decrepit should be found willing to take part in tournaments.

There can be no doubt, however, as to the absorbing power of croquet upon certain temperaments. I have met an elderly lady of Early Victorian proportions who, I am positive, can recollect the details of every match she has ever played. If she were not able to do so she would sometimes be compelled to sit in silence, for to her conversation means nothing beyond a recapitulation of her croquet games. Try her as you may upon other topics, it is no use. She seems intensely bored if you touch upon the theatre, and to music and the other arts she is rather more than indifferent. Indifference might be represented as “scratch,” but her attitude can only be represented by a minus sign. On art she should be a -3, on music a -6, and on literature a -20. These are her handicaps, so far as I am capable of judging.

She is the terror of the managers of tournaments, such a hole-and-corner game as she plays. She never leaves anything to chance: she invariably sends herself into a corner. Her most dashing game occupies four hours. It is said that she has strong views on the subject of assimilating the game of croquet with the game of cricket in regard to the duration of a match. If it takes three days to play a cricket match, why should not the same limits be extended to a croquet match? she wishes to know. The reply that is suggested by the people with whom she has played is that even at a three-day match she would complain bitterly that she was hustled by the managers. At present her life seems a perpetual complaint. During the season she grumbles her way from tournament to tournament; and when she seats herself by the side of an unwary person to watch a match, even though it is a final for the cup, she immediately begins to describe one of her games—it may be one that took place five years before—and keeps on giving detail after detail of trivialities, with a complete disregard of the excitements of the court where she is sitting and the applause of the crowd at some brilliant play—on she rumbles, unless her unwilling confidant rises and flies for covert. It takes her even longer to describe one of her games than it does to play it. Her latest complaint is that croquet players are becoming very unsociable, the basis of her charge being that when she approaches a court to sit down and watch a game, the people on the chairs whom she knows quite well get up and go away. She does not believe that in every case they do so, as was suggested, to give her a choice of chairs.

She thinks that those should remain whom she has known for some years. It does not appear ever to have occurred to her that they get up and fly because they have known her for some years.

Another devotée has become so absorbed in her cult as to become upon occasions an embarrassment to her relations. Of course no one makes any remark upon a player thinking of nothing besides croquet: it is assumed that a lady who means to become a player will not waste time thinking about anything else.

“Man's croquet is of man's life a thing apart.

'Tis woman's sole existence.”

That is acknowledged as only reasonable; but it must sometimes be embarrassing to the relations of this lady when at a dinner party she refuses an offered entrée on the ground that she is wired, or when she checks a neighbour for taking a meringue because he or she has previously been playing with the green. It appears quite feasible to me, however, that the green of the salad and the white of the meringue should suggest to a thoughtful croquet player the need for such a caution as is attributed to her on good authority; nor do I think it so very unreasonable that on allowing herself to be carried on a 'bus beyond her destination, through thinking out a croquet problem, she should, on being informed by the conductor that the vehicle went no farther, say—“What a fool I was not to take a bisque sooner!”

It is said that this same lady caused a considerable flutter in a railway carriage one day when she was working out another croquet problem, and was heard to mutter—“Shall I shoot now?”

Any time I chanced to look in at a croquet tournament on the beautiful lawns at Broadminster I came away with a laugh, and upon more than one occasion I found that the laugh was against myself. Long ago I was accustomed to look with a pathetic interest at the reappearance year after year of the beautiful mother of a beautiful daughter at the tournament. Surely, I thought, there could not be a more pathetic sight than that of a mother with a picturesque home and a husband, setting out from both, early in the month of June, when the rosery is becoming a paradise of blossom, and travelling from country town to country town and from one hotel to another, without intermission until October, for the sake of being by the side of a daughter who has given up her life to the game.

The laugh came in when I found that the mother was more devoted to looking on at croquet than the girl was to playing the game! The pathetic figure was really the daughter, who was acting as companion to her mother to enable her with propriety to gratify her passion for watching people play croquet. The daughter complained a little at first, but now she says she has come to see that she should be unselfish and sink her own inclinations so that her mother may have some innocent enjoyment.

She looks very carefully after her mother, and is even able sometimes to exchange a few words with her at intervals during the day's play.

Since I found this out I have never allowed myself to be carried away in pity for one who elects to play the part of onlooker at a game of croquet. People who spend their time looking on at croquet are deserving of no pity.

I have been told that when hospitality is offered to some of the visitors by people in Broadminster during the tournament week, it is now not invariably accepted without caution and preliminary inquiry. A bitter story was imparted to me by a man who had been kindly invited by one of the inhabitants to stay at his house for the croquet week. My friend gratefully accepted, and as the whole of the local family were players, he was brought up to their villa after the first day's play. He found the house a charming one of its class, and he thought himself lucky in his billet. Dinner was served, and then the little rift within the hospitable lute was suggested: there was no wine offered to him! The hissing of syphons round the table gave expression to his views on the subject of such hospitality; but what could he say in reply to his host when the latter turned to him, remarking quite pleasantly—“This is a teetotal household: no strong drink of any kind is allowed to enter it. Will you have soda water or Appolinaris?”

Of course there was nothing to be said by a guest on the subject; but his host, like so many people professing his principles, had a good deal to say respecting the virtue of teetotalism. But so far as I was able to gather from the tone of his narrative, he did not obtain the cordial concurrence of his guest in all his views; for his guest was in the habit of taking half a bottle of claret at his dinner every day of his life and at least one glass of sound port afterwards, and for twenty years he had not gone to bed without wrapping himself round a tumbler of grog at the eleventh hour, and he did not find that an exordium on teetotalism went far to compensate him for the absent decanters. He was ready to greet the discourse with hisses; but the syphons were accommodating: they did their own hissing.

He went to bed in a very bad humour.

In the morning, however, after family prayers, his host said to him—

“I thought I detected an unsatisfied look on your face as you entered the room, my friend. I think I know the reason of it. I dare say you have been accustomed to something which you failed to find on the table in your room. I am sure of it. I have inquired, and I am very sorry for the omission. But make your mind easy; look on your table to-night, and I think you will be satisfied.”

This was not so bad, the visitor thought; though not everything, still a whisky and soda going to bed was better than nothing.

He had his customary claret at his lunch in the pavilion that day, so he did not mind the sibilant but unsatisfying syphons at dinner. But he felt tired that night, he said, and went oft early to bed.

Switching on the light, he hurried to the table for the promised treat.

He found that the table bore nothing except a large Bible, bound in leather!

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