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Baxter’s First Innings

“MAN in!” cried the umpire, and the fielders fell into their places. The Bowler stepped back a pace and poised the ball in his fingers. You never saw Power more clearly written on any face—it was almost weird; and his arm worked like a steel spring. The new Batsman, on the other hand, was only a boy. His cricket jacket was painfully new, and so were his cap and his wondrously varnished bat. And the expression on the great Bowler’s face when the “man in” walked to his wicket was strange to see.

This was Baxter’s first great match. I suppose this accounts for it that he did not recognise the Bowler; but to those of the spectators who did, the casual way in which he handled his bat was really ominous. “Does that greenhorn know he’s playing a match?” growled one of them. “If he doesn’t wake up I’ll back the first straight ball to finish him. The ass hasn’t even his pads on.”

At that moment the first ball whizzed down the pitch, and if it had been a hairsbreadth more to the right it would have been all over with the new Batsman. The second ball seemed to the spectators a hundred times swifter than the first, but what exactly happened no one ever quite understood. Whether the ball rose on an inequality of the ground, or glanced off the top of the bat, is not certain, but in any case the boy missed when he struck at it, and it caught him sideways on the head. The next moment he lay motionless across the pitch.

When he became conscious he found himself lying in the Pavilion on a pile of coats. “It was a narrow shave,” he heard the doctor say. “Whatever made the young idiot run in to a ball like that?”

“He did not know the bowling, doctor,” said the Captain, who was holding up his head; “it’s his first match. I hope the wound’s not serious?”

“Just missed the temple,” replied the doctor. “If it had struck there he was a dead man—sure. As it is, it may smart a bit, but that may be all.”

“Doctor,” whispered the patient, suddenly opening his eyes, “shall I be better next Saturday?”

“Why, you young imbecile?”

“Because I would like a second innings.”

“Innings!” exclaimed the doctor, who pretended to be a little gruff sometimes. “You may get a ball—perhaps two: I should not call that an innings.

“It’s about all I deserve,” said the victim, drearily.

“We’ll see,” whispered the Captain. “Perhaps—”

But here the carriage came to carry the disabled cricketer home.

Some think Baxter dreamed what is now to be told, for the Sunday which followed that Saturday afternoon was very hot and the boy lay in a dozy sort of state in the south bedroom. But some think the Captain, who came in to be with him while the others were at church, had something to do with it. The Captain was not only the most brilliant cricketer in the county, but the best man in it, and though he was seldom known to talk like this, Baxter always quoted the Captain as if the interview which follows was a real report of what he said.

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