HERE Baxter's beef-tea came in. This was the old cook's institution -- everybody who stayed at home from church had always to take beef-tea. While he was sipping it the monologue went on.
|When the Bowler sees you are up to swifts,| resumed the Captain, |he turns on slows. What makes them deadly is that they look so insufferably stupid. They come dribbling along the pitch and you slog at them gaily -- with the probable alternative of being |caught| if you hit, or |bowled| if you miss. Good slows are about as diabolical as anything in that region can be -- and that's saying a good deal. The average boy is fairly proof against a very big temptation; it is the little ones that play the mischief.|
|How's that?| asked Baxter, laying down his cup.
|We are mostly too proud to go wrong in a big way. Notorious sins are bad form; but when quiet temptations come which no one knows about, even the strongest may break down. Then of course there's the other side. One thing that keeps us up in great matches is the applause of the spectators. But on the week-days, when we are practising alone against the slow monotony of a private sin, there is no crowd to cheer us when we win or hiss at us when we lose. These are really the great days, Baxter. They are the decisive battles of a boy's life.|
|But must a fellow meet every ball,| said Baxter, |every miserable little slow? If he's a good all round man, is that not enough?|
|What do you mean?| said the Captain. |Do you mean that if we are ninety-nine parts good it does not matter if the hundredth part is a little shady?|
|I know I'm wrong,| said Baxter, |but surely we are not meant to be all saint? Take your three wickets, for instance. I'm quite aware that if one is down the rest are down; but suppose a fellow keeps all these fairly standing -- Truth, Honour, Purity -- what more need he care for?|
|Baxter, you have forgotten something. There are more than wickets.|
|Bails,| said the Captain.
Baxter was silent.
|I've lost several matches that way, Baxter. Stumps all standing; only one miserable inch of a bail off. No, we must play a whole game -- no sneaking.
|But I'll tell you something more. I believe Temptation sometimes does nothing but bowl at the bails. Some players are so much on their guard that it would be useless trying anything else. I suppose you know that every boy has some one weak point to which nearly all the bowling is directed.|
|How do you mean?|
|Well, each boy has his own Temptation -- different in different cases, but always some one thing which keeps coming back and back -- back and back day after day till he is tired and sick. What though he score off all the other balls if this one takes him? It's not new sins that destroy a man- it's the drip, drip, drip of an old one.
|Have you ever heard of the Castle that was taken with a single gun? It stood on the Rhine, and its walls were yards thick, and the old knight who lived in it laughed when he saw the enemy come with only a single cannon. But they planted the cannon on a little hill, and all day long they loaded and fired, and loaded and fired, without ever moving the muzzle an inch. Every shot struck exactly the same spot on the wall, but the first day passed and they had scarcely scratched the stone. So the old knight drank up his wine cup and went to his bed in peace. Day after day the cannonade went on, and the more they fired the louder the knight laughed, and the more wine he drank, and the sounder he slept. At the end of a week one stone was in splinters; in a month the one behind it was battered to powder; in ten months a breach was made wide enough for the enemy to enter and capture the castle. That is how a boy's heart is most often taken. If I had any advice to offer anybody I should say |Beware of the slow sins -- the old recurring Temptation which is powerful not so much in what it is or in what it does once, but in the awful patience of its continuance. It is by the ceaseless battery of a commonplace Temptation that the moral nature is undermined and the citadel of great souls won.|
Here the Captain paused. Baxter lay very still, as if he had fallen asleep. His visitor rose gently and made on tiptoe for the door. He was opening it when the boy exclaimed:
|And what about the screws?|
|I thought you were asleep,| said the Captain. |I was afraid I bored you.|
|I was never more awake in my life,| said the boy. |I was thinking. All that's new to me. If you don't mind I should like to hear the rest.|
|I protest.| urged the Captain; | -- but I will at least tell you a story.|