Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

see much in it all, nothing but a struggling mass of boys, and a leather ball, which seems to excite them all to great fury, as a red rag does a bull. My dear sir, a battle would look much the same to you, except that the boys would be men, and the bails iron; but a battle would be worth your looking at for all that, and so is a football match. You can't be expected to appreciate the delicate strokes of play, the turns by which a game is lost and won, - it takes an old player to do that, but the broad philosophy of football you can understand if you will. Come along with me a little nearer, and let us consider it together.

The ball has just fallen again where the two sides are thickest, and they close rapidly around it in a scrummage; it must be driven through now by force or skill, till it flies out on one side or the other. Look how differently the boys face it. Here come two of the bull-dogs, bursting through the outsiders; in they go, straight to the heart of the scrummage, bent on driving that ball out on the opposite side. That is what they mean to do. My sons, my sons ! you are too hot; you have gone past the ball, and must struggle now right through the scrummage, and get round and back again to your own side, before you can be of any further use.

Here comes young Brooke ; he goes in as straight as you, but keeps his head, and backs and bends, holding himself still behind the ball, and driving it furiously when he gets the chance. Take a leaf out of his book, you young chargers. Here come Speedicut, and Flashman, the school-house bully, with shouts and great

THE FIRST CHECK.

119

action. Won't you two come up to young Brooke, after locking-up, by the school-house fire, with “ Old fellow, wasn't that just a splendid scrummage by the three trees !” But he knows you, and so do we. You don't really want to drive that ball through that scrummage, chancing all hurt for the glory of the school-house, but to make us think that's what you want - a vastly different thing, and fellows of your kidney will never go through more than the skirts of a scrummage, where it's all push and no kicking. We respect boys who keep out of it, and don't sham going in; but you - we had rather not say what we think of you.

Then the boys who are bending and watching on the outside, mark them — they are most useful players, the dodgers; who seize on the ball the moment it rolls out from amongst the chargers, and away with it across to the opposite goal; they seldom go into the scrummage, but must have more coolness than the chargers; as endless as are boys' characters, so are their ways of facing or not meeting a scrummage at football.

Three-quarters of an hour are gone; first winds are failing, and weights and numbers beginning to tell. Yard by yard the school-house have been driven back, contesting every inch of ground. The bulldogs are the colour of mother earth from shoulder to ankle, except young Brooke, who has a marvellous knack of keeping his legs. The school-house are being penned in their turn, and now the ball is behind their goal, under the Doctor's wall. The Doctor and some of his family are there looking on,

120

YOUNG BROOKE'S RUSH.

are

and seem as anxious as any boy for the success of the school-house. We get a minute's breathing time before old Brooke kicks out, and he gives the word to play strongly for touch, by the three trees. Away goes the ball, and the bull-dogs after it, and in another minute there is a shout of “In touch," “ Our ball.” Now's your time, old Brooke, while your men are still fresh. He stands with the ball in his hand, while the two sides form in deep lines opposite one another; he must strike it straight out between them. The lines are thickest close to him, but young Brooke and two or three of his men shifting up further, where the opposite line is weak. Old Brooke strikes it out straight and strong, and it falls opposite his brother. Hurra! that rush has taken it right through the school line, and away past the three trees, far into their quarters, and young Brooke and the bull-dogs are close upon it. The school leaders rush back shouting “Look out in goal,” and strain every nerve to catch him, but they are after the fleetest foot in Rugby. There they go straight for the goal-posts, quarters scattering before them. One after another the bull-dogs go down, but young Brooke holds on. “He is down." No! a long stagger, but the danger is past; that was the shock of Crew, the most dangerous of dodgers. And now he is close to the school goal, the ball not three yards before him. There is a hurried rush of the school fags to the spot, but no one throws himself on the ball, the only chance, and young Brooke has touched it right under the school goal-posts.

[blocks in formation]

The school leaders come up furious, and administer toco to the wretched fags nearest at hand; they may well be angry, for it is all Lombard street to a China orange that the school-house kick a goal with the ball touched in such a good place. Old Brooke of course will kick it out, but who shall catch and place it ? Call Crab Jones. Here he comes, sauntering along with a straw in his mouth, the queerest, coolest fish in Rugby: if he were tumbled into the moon this minute, he would just pick himself up without taking his hands out of his pockets or turning a hair. But it is a moment when the boldest charger's heart beats quick. Old Brooke stands with the ball under his arm motioning the school back; he will not kick-out till they are all in goal, behind the posts; they are all edging forwards, inch by inch, to get nearer for the rush at Crab Jones, who stands there in front of old Brooke to catch the ball. If they can reach and destroy him before he catches, the danger is over, and with one and the same rush they will carry it right away to the school-house goal. Fond hope, it is kicked out and caught beautifully. Crab strikes his heel into the ground, to mark the spot where the ball was caught, beyond which the school line may not advance; but there they stand five deep, ready to rush the moment the ball touches the ground. Take plenty of room! don't give the rush a chance of reaching you! place it true and steady! Trust Crab Jones he has made a small hole with his heel for the ball to lie on, by which he is resting on one knee, with his eye on old Brooke. « Now!

[ocr errors]

122

A GOAL

GRIFFITI'S BASKETS.

Crab places the ball at the word, old Brooke kicks, and it rises slowly and truly as the school rush forward.

Then a moment's pause, while both sides look up at the spinning ball. There it flies straight between the two posts, some five feet above the cross-bar, an unquestioned goal; and a shout of real genuine joy rings out from the school-house players-up, and a faint echo of it comes over the close from the goalkeepers under the Doctor's wall. A goal in the first hour — such a thing hasn't been done in the schoolhouse match this five years.

“ Over!is the cry: the two sides change goals, and the school-house goal-keepers come threading their way across through the masses of the school; the most openly triumphant of them, amongst whom is Tom, a school-house boy of two hours' standing, getting their ears boxed in the transit. Tom indeed is excited beyond measure, and it is all the sixthform boy, kindest and safest of goal-keepers, has been able to do to keep him from rushing out whenever the ball has been near their goal. So he holds him by his side, and instructs him in the science of touching.

At this moment Griffith, the itinerant vendor of oranges from Hill Morton, enters the close with his heavy baskets; there is a rush of small boys upon the little pale-faced man, the two sides mingling together subdued by the great goddess Thirst, like the English and French by the streams in the Pyre

The leaders are past oranges and apples, but some of them visit their coats, and apply inno.

ennees.

« VorigeDoorgaan »