“My dear,” said Jeremy, as he folded back his paper at the sporting page, “I have some news for you. Cricket is upon us once again.”
“There’s a nasty cold upon Baby once again,” said Mrs Jeremy. “I hope it doesn’t mean measles.”
“No child of mine would ever have measles,” said Jeremy confidently. “It’s beneath us.” He cleared his throat and read, “‘The coming season will be rendered ever memorable by the fact that for the first time in the history of the game–‘ You’ll never guess what’s coming.”
“Mr Jeremy Smith is expected to make double figures.”
Jeremy sat up indignantly.
“Well of all the wifely things to say! Who was top of our averages last year?”
“Plummer. Because you presented the bat to him yourself.”
“That proves nothing. I gave myself a bat too, as it happens; and a better one than Plummer’s. After all, his average was only 25. Mine, if the weather had allowed me to finish my solitary innings, would probably have been 26.”
“As it was, the weather only allowed you to give a chance to the wicket-keeper off the one ball you had.”
“I was getting the pace of the pitch,” said Jeremy. “Besides, it wasn’t really a chance, because our umpire would never have given the treasurer out first ball. There are certain little courtesies which are bound to be observed.”
“Then,” said his wife, “it’s a pity you don’t play more often.”
Jeremy got up and made a few strokes with the poker.
“One of us is rather stiff,” he said. “Perhaps it’s the poker. If I play regularly this season will you promise to bring Baby to watch me?”
“Of course we shall both come.”
“And you won’t let Baby jeer at me if I’m bowled by a shooter.”
“She won’t know what a shooter is.”
“Then you can tell her that it’s the only ball that ever bowls father,” said Jeremy. He put down the poker and took up a ball of wool. “I shall probably field somewhere behind the wicket-keeper, where the hottest drives don’t come; but if I should miss a catch you must point out to her that the sun was in father’s eyes. I want my child to understand the game as soon as possible.”
“I’ll tell her all that she ought to know,” said his wife. “And when you’ve finished playing with my wool I’ve got something to do with it.”
Jeremy gave himself another catch, threw the wool to his wife and drifted out. He came back in ten minutes with his bat under his arm.
“Really, it has wintered rather well,” he said, “considering that it has been in the boot cupboard all the time. We ought to have put some camphor in with it, or–I know there’s SOMETHING you do to bats in the winter. Anyhow, the splice is still there.”
“It looks very old,” said Mrs Jeremy. “Is that really your new one?”
“Yes, this is the one that played the historic innings. It has only had one ball in its whole life, and that was on the edge. The part of the bat that I propose to use this season will therefore come entirely fresh to the business.”
“You ought to have oiled it, Jeremy.”
“Oil–that was what I meant. I’ll do it now. We’ll give it a good rub down. I wonder if there’s anything else it would like?”
“I think, most of all, it would like a little practice.”
“My dear, that’s true. It said in the paper that on the County grounds practice was already in full swing.” He made an imaginary drive. “I don’t think I shall take a FULL swing. It’s so much harder to time the ball. I say, do YOU bowl?”
“Very badly, Jeremy.”
“The worse you bowl the more practice the bat will get. Or what about Baby? Could she bowl to me this afternoon, do you think, or is her cold too bad?”
“I think she’d better stay in to-day.”
“What a pity. Nurse tells me she’s left-handed, and I particularly want a lot of that; because Little Buxted has a very hot left-hand bowler called–“
“You don’t want your daughter to be an athletic girl, do you?”
Jeremy looked at her in surprise and then sat down on the arm of her chair.
“Surely, dear,” he said gravely, “we decided that our child was going to play for Kent?”
“Not a girl!”
“Why not? There’s nothing in the rules about it. Rule 197 (B) says that you needn’t play if you don’t like the Manager, but there’s nothing about sex in it. I’m sure Baby would love the Manager.”
Mrs Jeremy smiled and ruffled his hair.
“Well,” said Jeremy, “if nobody will bowl to me, I can at least take my bat out and let it see the grass. After six months of boots it will be a change for it.”
He went out into the garden, and did not appear again until lunch. During the meal he read extracts to his wife from “The Coming Season’s Prospects,” and spoke cheerfully of the runs he intended to make for the village. After lunch he took her on to the tennis lawn.
“There!” he said proudly, pointing to a cricket pitch beautifully cut and marked with a crease of dazzling white. “Doesn’t that look jolly?”
“Heavenly,” she said. “You must ask someone up to-morrow. You can get quite good practice here with these deep banks all round.”
“Yes, I shall make a lot of runs this season,” said Jeremy airily. “But, apart from practice, don’t you FEEL how jolly and summery a cricket pitch makes everything?”
Mrs Jeremy took a deep breath. “Yes, there’s nothing like a bucket of whitening to make you think of summer.”
“I’m glad you think so too,” said Jeremy with an air of relief, “because I upset the bucket on the way back to the stables–just underneath the pergola. It ought to bring the roses on like anything.”
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