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Baxter’s Second Innings
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Swifts: and the Story of the Captain’s Shilling

“YES, my boy,” began the Captain, sitting down beside his sofa, “you made a fool of yourself; but you did not know. Some one should have put you up to it. If you will not think me bumptious, I will tell you something about that fellow’s bowling.”

“Thank you,” said the boy, “I believe I could do better if I only knew his form. He’s a regular demon.”

“I shall begin by telling you his name,” said the Captain. “It is Temptation.”

“Tim who?” said the boy.

“Temptation,” repeated the Captain.

“Oh!” said the boy, “I hope you’re not going to be religious. I thought we were talking about games.”

“So we are,” replied the Captain, cheerily. “We are talking of the game of Life. You know you asked me last night if you were going to live. If you are to live I had better tell you something about the game. Life is simply a cricket match—with Temptation as Bowler. He’s the fellow who takes nearly every boy’s wicket some time or other. But perhaps you can’t stand this, Baxter. I’ll stop it.”

“No,” said Baxter, “I’m as right as a trivet. Please go on. I know you won’t preach.”

“Well,” continued the Captain, “stop me if I bore you. You see every boy has three wickets to defend. The first is Truth, the second Honour, the third Purity. I—”

“That looks mightily like preaching,” interrupted Baxter. “Sermon with three heads: First Truth, Second—”

“No, my boy, I’m not in that line—I am going to tell you about the bowling. I have three heads, but not these.”

“What are they?”

“Swifts, Slows, and Screws.”

“That’s better. Excuse me,” apologised the boy.

“Now here is what I call a swift. Last winter I was ordering some lemons for a football match at S— the grocer’s. By mistake I dropped some loose silver on the floor, and the pieces went scurrying all over the place. One piece—a shilling —rolled over to where the message-boy was filling a basket, and quick as lightning he covered it with his foot and began to back against the sugar barrels till he had it safely stowed away. Presently, after I had gathered up the seven or eight other pieces and was completing my purchase, he stooped down and pretended to tie his shoe. Then he whisked the coin into his pocket, whistled “Rule Britannia,” and went on with his work.

“I said nothing though I saw the whole game. There stood the culprit with his middle stump—Honour—as clean bowled as I ever saw it done. It was a downright ugly theft, and but for one thing I should have exposed him there and then. That one thing was that the ball which took him was a swift. The best of boys are sometimes taken with swifts. It was a swift that bowled out Peter when the girl sprang that question on him the night the cock crowed. As a matter of fact I found out that this boy was a fairly decent fellow, and a Sunday-school scholar. I waited two days to let the thing right itself—for that often happens with “swift” catastrophes. Then I waylaid the boy where I could talk to him without being seen. It was as I expected. The poor soul had spent the two most miserable days of his life. If he had had ten seconds to think what he was doing instead of the tenth of a second he would never have done it. As for the shilling, this penitent thief had bought twelve stamps with it and was watching his chance to post them to my house.”

“How to play swifts?” the Captain went on, “that’s not so easily said. You see the situation is something like this: A boy will tell a sudden lie where he would have spoken the truth if he had had a minute to consider. Well, this means that he is really two boys, a good boy and a bad boy. Now, the bad boy is usually on the spot first. It takes a few seconds for the other, as it were, to come up, and before he arrives the mischief is done. The thing to do, therefore, is to hurry up the good boy.”

“But why should the bad boy turn up first?”

“You will understand it if we call them the new boy and the old boy. I suspect the bad boy has the start at birth. The new boy is born later. The thing is to grow the new boy and starve the old one till he is too thin and broken down to do much harm. We all know boys who could not do a mean thing. It is no effort to them not to do it; they have so nourished the better nature that it would be impossible to do it. What helps a cricketer in playing swifts is largely the sort of physical man he is . All his muscles are so up to the mark, and his faculties so alive and braced that he can rise to anything at a moment’s notice. He plays a ball by instinct rather than by premeditation.”

“You mean that swifts must be prepared for beforehand rather than when they come.”

“Pretty much. The time to get ready a ship for the storm is not when the hurricane is on, but when the planks are being picked, and the bolts driven home in the dockyard. Build a boy of sound timber and he’ll weather most things.”

“But what if the swifts come straight at your head like that one yesterday,” suggested Baxter.

“Ah,” said the Captain, “it’s almost too ignominious to say it, but when that happens you had better get out of the way. It may look cowardly, but it is not really. There are temptations so awful that the strong thing to do is simply to step aside and let them pass. A lion won’t face a blaze, though any ignorant baby will. No, Baxter, some balls you can score off, and some you can only stand still and block; some you can slip for two and some you can drive over the ropes for four. But some—well, the best thing you can do is simply to duck your head.”

“Pity we couldn’t be all over pads,” laughed Baxter. “Head pads wouldn’t be bad.”

“And forget to put them on,” smiled the Captain. “Yes, there are lots of safeguards and we cannot put on too many, but unfortunately they don’t cover everything. I like pads because they have a sort of defensive feel. You seem rather to look down on them, Baxter.”

“Yes,” said Baxter ruefully, “because I’m an ass!”

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