|IT'S a good deal blacker than I thought,| said Baxter. |That Bowler knows his business. But I should like to ask a question -- if you're finished.|
|I'm only beginning,| said the Captain, |but I think it's your turn. That bowling would take another month to tell about. I've only mentioned three kinds, and there's heaps more -- sneaks, for instance, and mixtures -- |
|Yes. When the Bowler alternates. He'll send in one ball slow, the next swift, and the third perhaps a wide, to throw you off your guard -- dodgy, Baxter, isn't it?|
|It's downright low,| cried Baxter. |That's just what my question was about. You won't be angry?|
|No,| said the Captain, |go ahead.|
|Well,| said Baxter, |Why do they let him play?|
|They let him play,| replied the Captain, |to make a good game. Every boy who is worth his salt likes to play in a great match, and there cannot be a great match without him.|
|I thought it a disgrace to have anything to do with him.|
|No. It is an honour.|
|Yes, the greatest honour of a boy's life. You have heard of the wise man who counted it joy.'|
|Joy! I count it uncommon hard lines. It's bad enough to call it an honour, but to call it joy -- I find it most disgustingly miserable.|
|Stop,| said the Captain, |we are at cross purposes. You are talking about Sin. I was not.|
|About what then?|
|But they're the same thing.|
|They're as different as night and day! Temptation is no sin.|
|I don't see how that can be,| said Baxter. |I never dreamt it was anything else. Are you quite sure?|
|Positive. You can see for yourself. Did Christ ever sin?|
|Was He ever tempted?|
|No, not sometimes, always. A boy can be tempted every hour of the day, yet he need not sin. Keep that distinction in mind, Baxter; it will save you a lot of trouble. Don't think it's all up because you are tempted. Temptation is only an invitation; it does not become sin till you accept it. The hang-dog sense of being a hopelessly bad lot, the idea that it's no use trying to be any better because we are so often tempted, is a mistake. That's what often turns the finest fellows into sneaks -- fellows who, if they only knew that Temptation was no sin, would hold up their heads and play the man. The guilt of doing wrong, when one does do it, is quite enough to stagger under without feeling that the Temptation is criminal.|
|Even then,| said Baxter, |I don't see where the honour comes in.|
|When I was at school,| replied the Captain, |I was Secretary of the Cricket Club. You may guess my astonishment when one morning the post brought a challenge from the All England Eleven! That was about the biggest day of my life. I suppose, though we did not know it then, they challenged every club in the Kingdom; and though we modestly declined it, there was not a boy in the Eleven who did not feel an inch taller for the rest of the season. This challenge, Baxter, is considerably more honourable. Temptation is the greatest Bowler in the world.|
|All the same, I wish I had not to play him,| said Baxter.
|Then you would never come to anything. You would be a poor weak noodle to the end of the chapter. A boy's only chance of coming to anything is when he is tempted. That's what makes a boy play up. How could you score if there were no bowling?|
This was certainly a conundrum, and the boy thought hard for a minute.
|You write shorthand, Baxter?| resumed the Captain. |I heard you got the prize there?|
|Yes,| said Baxter. |But I don't think I need take down what you've said. Anything that is dead straight like that goes in to a fellow.|
|That's not what I meant,| laughed the Captain. |But how did you win that prize?|
|Practice,| said Baxter. |There's nothing in it. It's all practice.|
|And what made you such a good oar?|
|Who told you I pulled?|
|The mantelpiece,| said the Captain, smiling. |Do you think I don't know the Junior cup when I see it?|
|Well,| blushed Baxter, |I suppose it's the same thing -- Practice. Everything seems practice.|
|I agree,| said the Captain, |everything -- down to tying your necktie. But did you ever think what makes a good man? No? Well, it's the same thing that makes a boy a good oar, or a good shot, or a good anything; it's practice. A boy who never goes to the gymnasium or uses the dumb-bells gets no muscle in his arm. A boy who never pushes against Temptation gets no muscle in his character. Temptation is simply dumb-bells. It is really a splendid thing. The more practice a fellow gets the stronger he can become. Every ball the Bowler sends in is a chance to score.|
|I shouldn't care about scoring,| said the boy, |if I could only keep up my wicket.|
|Baxter,| said the Captain, |that's not Cricket. I see you have never read Grace's book. When you get hold of it, turn up page 222 or somewhere thereabouts -- I was reading it last night.|
|What does he say?| asked the boy.
|He says, The duty of a batsman is to make runs.'|
|I wish I could,| said Baxter. |That's just what I can't do. I'm bowled every time.|
|Oh no, Baxter!|
|It's true,| replied Baxter, |I'm not going to be a humbug to you. I'm a bigger fool than Bob. That Castle that was taken with the single gun -- that's me. Every day almost I'm bowled out. Nobody knows it. I'm the worst fellow ever breathed.| And he turned away his head. I suppose he expected sympathy, but for some minutes the Captain made no reply. Then he looked at the boy almost sternly.
|Baxter, this will be found out.|
|What I've done?| cried the boy.
|Possibly, very likely; but if you go on being bowled out it will certainly be known.|
|There are reporters at every match.|
|No, no! Not in this case. It's a private pitch.|
|But I tell you it's all written down -- all.|
|On the scoring-sheet.|
|Your scoring-sheet. Your character.|
|Oh!| groaned Baxter.
|Yes,| continued the Captain, almost mercilessly, |it's all there, every innings you play and every run you make and every ball you miss. There's not a mistake on that sheet, nor an omission. Character cannot lie. Character cannot be taken in. Character hides nothing. It forgets nothing.
|Centuries ago a soldier scribbled a bad word on the barrack-wall of a Roman city. A mile or two off slumbered a burning mountain. One day the mountain awoke, and the lava poured from its crater, and ashes rained upon the city and covered it up, and it was hidden and forgotten for seventeen hundred years. Then a peasant, digging a well in his garden, struck his shaft into the amphitheatre; the ashes were dug away, and Pompeii was restored. As you walk through the silent streets to-day the guide takes you to that barrack and lets you see the writing on the wall. And as you read, you think of the long dead soldier's living sin. And you shudder as you remember that no sin can ever die, that what one is is the record of what one has been.|
|Oh!| said the boy huskily, |this game is terrible, terrible. I -- I don't see how I can risk it.|
|Another innings. I can't face that bowling. And the past? -- it's a frightful handicap.|
|The past can be forgiven, Baxter,| said the Captain quietly. |Can it?| said the boy. |Thank you for saying that much.| Then he broke out again. |But is there the ghost of a chance? Could I ever win? I might block for a bit perhaps, but I could never score.|
|Baxter,| said the Captain, |I think you will win.|
|You do?| replied the boy. |Why?|
|First, because you are frightened; second, because you are in earnest; third, because your Captain never lost a match.|
|But I can't always have you,| sighed Baxter.
|My boy, I'm not your Captain,| answered his friend, taking him by the hand. |I could not help you much if I would. But you need a Captain, Baxter. You must have one. Do you understand?|
It was nearly ten minutes before Baxter spoke. Then he uncovered his face and pressed his visitor's hand. |Yes,| he whispered, |I know. I was almost funking it. But I think I'll go in.|