THE HAMPDENSHIRE WONDER (2)
February 25, 2022
HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize J.D. Beresford’s 1911 proto-sf novel The Hampdenshire Wonder for HILOBROW’s readers. The first sf novel of real importance about intelligence, it’s the ancestor of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and A.E. Van Vogt’s Slan.
NOTES FOR A BIOGRAPHY OF GINGER STOTT
Ginger Stott is a name that was once as well known as any in England. Stott has been the subject of leading articles in every daily paper; his life has been written by an able journalist who interviewed Stott himself, during ten crowded minutes, and filled three hundred pages with details, seventy per cent. of which were taken from the journals, and the remainder supplied by a brilliant imagination. Ten years ago Ginger Stott was on a pinnacle, there was a Stott vogue. You found his name at the bottom of signed articles written by members of the editorial staff; you bought Stott collars, although Stott himself did not wear collars; there was a Stott waltz which is occasionally hummed by clerks, and whistled by errand-boys to this day; there was a periodical which lived for ten months, entitled Ginger Stott’s Weekly; in brief, during one summer there was a Stott apotheosis.
But that was ten years ago, and the rising generation has almost forgotten the once well-known name. One rarely sees him mentioned in the morning paper now, and then it is but the briefest reference; some such note as this “Pickering was at the top of his form, recalling the finest achievements of Ginger Stott at his best,” or “Flack is a magnificent find for Kent: he promises to completely surpass the historic feats of Ginger Stott.” These journalistic superlatives only irritate those who remember the performances referred to. We who watched the man’s career know that Pickering and Flack are but tyros compared to Stott; we know that none of his successors has challenged comparison with him. He was a meteor that blazed across the sky, and if he ever has a true successor, such stars as Pickering and Flack will shine pale and dim in comparison.
It makes one feel suddenly old to recall that great matinée at the Lyceum, given for Ginger Stott’s benefit after he met with his accident. In ten years so many great figures in that world have died or fallen into obscurity. I can count on my fingers the number of those who were then, and are still, in the forefront of popularity. Of the others poor Captain Wallis, for instance, is dead — and no modern writer, in my opinion, can equal the brilliant descriptiveness of Wallis’s articles in the Daily Post. Bobby Maisefield, again, Stott’s colleague, is a martyr to rheumatism, and keeps a shop in Ailesworth, the scene of so many of his triumphs. What a list one might make, but how uselessly. It is enough to note how many names have dropped out, how many others are the names of those we now speak of as veterans. In ten years! It certainly makes one feel old.
No apology is needed for telling again the story of Stott’s career. Certain details will still be familiar, it is true, the historic details that can never be forgotten while cricket holds place as our national game. But there are many facts of Stott’s life familiar to me, which have never been made public property. If I must repeat that which is known, I can give the known a new setting; perhaps a new value.
He came of mixed races. His mother was pure Welsh, his father a Yorkshire collier; but when Ginger was nine years old his father died, and Mrs. Stott came to live in Ailesworth where she had immigrant
relations, and it was there that she set up the little paper-shop, the business by which she maintained herself and her boy. That shop is still in existence, and the name has not been altered. You may find it in the little street that runs off the market place, going down towards the Borstal Institution.
There are many people alive in Ailesworth today who can remember the sturdy, freckled, sandy-haired boy who used to go round with the morning and evening papers; the boy who was to change the fortunes of a county.
Ginger was phenomenally thorough in all he undertook. It was one of the secrets of his success. It was this thoroughness that kept him engaged in his mother’s little business until he was seventeen. Up to that age he never found time for cricket — he certainly had remarkable and very unusual qualities.
It was sheer chance, apparently, that determined his choice of a career.
He had walked into Stoke-Underhill to deliver a parcel, and on his way back his attention was arrested by the sight of a line of vehicles drawn up to the boarded fencing that encloses the Ailesworth County Ground. The occupants of these vehicles were standing up, struggling to catch a sight of the match that was being played behind the screen erected to shut out non-paying sightseers. Among the horses’ feet, squirming between the spokes of wheels, utterly regardless of all injury, small boys glued their eyes to knot-holes in the fence, while others climbed surreptitiously, and for the most part unobserved, on to the backs of tradesmen’s carts. All these individuals were in a state of tremendous excitement, and even the policeman whose duty it was to move them on, was so engrossed in watching the game that he had disappeared inside the turnstile, and had given the outside spectators full opportunity for eleemosynary enjoyment.
That tarred fence has since been raised some six feet, and now encloses a wider sweep of ground–alterations that may be classed among the minor revolutions effected by the genius of that thick-set, fair-haired youth of seventeen, who paused on that early September afternoon to wonder what all the fuss was about. The Ailesworth County Ground was not famous in those days; not then was accommodation needed for thirty thousand spectators, drawn from every county in England to witness the unparalleled.
Ginger stopped. The interest of the spectacle pierced his absorption in the business he had in hand. Such a thing was almost unprecedented.
“What’s up?” he asked of Puggy Phillips.
Puggy Phillips — hazarding his life by standing on the shiny, slightly curved top of his butcher’s cart — made no appropriate answer. “Yah — ah — AH!” he screamed in ecstasy. “Oh! played! Pla-a-a-ayed!!”
Ginger wasted no more breath, but laid hold of the little brass rail that encircled Puggy’s platform, and with a sudden hoist that lifted the shafts and startled the pony, raised himself to the level of
“’Ere!” shouted the swaying, tottering Puggy, “What the… are yer rup to?”
The well-drilled pony, however, settled down again quietly to maintain his end of the see-saw, and, finding himself still able to preserve his equilibrium, Puggy instantly forgot the presence of the intruder.
“What’s up?” asked Ginger again.
“Oh! Well ’it, WELL ’IT!” yelled Puggy. “Oh! Gow on, gow on agen! Run it aht. Run it AH-T.”
Ginger gave it up, and turned his attention to the match.
It was not any famous struggle that was being fought out on the old Ailesworth Ground; it was only second-class cricket, the deciding match of the Minor Counties championship. Hampdenshire and Oxfordshire, old rivals, had been neck-and-neck all through the season, and, as luck would have it, the engagement between them had been the last fixture on the card.
When Ginger rose to the level of spectator, the match was anybody’s game. Bobby Maisefield was batting. He was then a promising young colt who had not earned a fixed place in the Eleven. Ginger knew him socially, but they were not friends, they had no interests in common. Bobby had made twenty-seven. He was partnered by old Trigson, the bowler, (he has been dead these eight years,) whose characteristic score of “Not out… O,” is sufficiently representative of his methods.
It was the fourth innings, and Hampdenshire with only one more wicket to fall, still required nineteen runs to win. Trigson could be relied upon to keep his wicket up, but not to score. The hopes of Ailesworth centred in the ability of that almost untried colt Bobby Maisefield — and he seemed likely to justify the trust reposed in him. A beautiful late cut that eluded third man and hit the fence with a resounding bang, nearly drove Puggy wild with delight.
“Only fifteen more,” he shouted. “Oh! Played; pla-a-a-yed!”
But as the score crept up, the tensity grew. As each ball was delivered, a chill, rigid silence held the onlookers in its grip. When Trigson, with the field collected round him, almost to be covered with a sheet, stonewalled the most tempting lob, the click of the ball on his bat was an intrusion on the stillness. And always it was followed by a deep breath of relief that sighed round the ring like a faint wind through a plantation of larches. When Bobby scored, the tumult broke out like a crash of thunder; but it subsided again, echoless, to that intense silence so soon as the ball was “dead.”
Curiously, it was not Bobby who made the winning hit but Trigson. “One to tie, two to win,” breathed Puggy as the field changed over, and it was Trigson who had to face the bowling. The suspense was torture. Oxford had put on their fast bowler again, and Trigson, intimidated, perhaps, did not play him with quite so straight a bat as he had opposed to the lob-bowler. The ball hit Trigson’s bat and glanced through the slips. The field was very close to the wicket, and the ball was travelling fast. No one seemed to make any attempt to stop it. For a moment the significance of the thing was not realised; for a moment only, then followed uproar, deafening, stupendous.
Puggy was stamping fiercely on the top of his cart; the tears were streaming down his face; he was screaming and yelling incoherent words. He was representative of the crowd. Thus men shouted and stamped and cried when news came of the relief of Kimberley, or when that false report of victory was brought to Paris in the August of 1870….
The effect upon Ginger was a thing apart. He did not join in the fierce acclamation; he did not wait to see the chairing of Bobby and Trigson. The greatness of Stott’s character, the fineness of his genius is displayed in his attitude towards the dramatic spectacle he had just witnessed.
As he trudged home into Ailesworth, his thoughts found vent in a muttered sentence which is peculiarly typical of the effect that had been made upon him.
“I believe I could have bowled that chap,” he said.
In writing a history of this kind, a certain licence must be claimed. It will be understood that I am filling certain gaps in the narrative with imagined detail. But the facts are true. My added detail is only intended to give an appearance of life and reality to my history. Let me, therefore, insist upon one vital point. I have not been dependent on hearsay for one single fact in this story. Where my experience does not depend upon personal experience, it has been received from the principals themselves. Finally, it should be remembered that when I have, imaginatively, put words into the mouths of the persons of this story, they are never essential words which affect the issue. The essential speeches are reported from first-hand sources. For instance, Ginger Stott himself has told me on more than one occasion that the words with which I closed the last section, were the actual words spoken by him on the occasion in question. It was not until six years after the great Oxfordshire match that I myself first met the man, but what follows is literally true in all essentials.
There was a long, narrow strip of yard, or alley, at the back of Mrs. Stott’s paper-shop, a yard that, unfortunately, no longer exists. It has been partly built over, and another of England’s memorials has thus been destroyed by the vandals of modern commerce….
This yard was fifty-three feet long, measuring from Mrs. Stott’s back door to the door of the coal-shed, which marked the alley’s extreme limit. This measurement, an apparently negligible trifle, had an important effect upon Stott’s career. For it was in this yard that he taught himself to bowl, and the shortness of the pitch precluded his taking any run. From those long studious hours of practice he emerged with a characteristic that was — and still remains — unique. Stott never took more than two steps before delivering the ball; frequently he bowled from a standing position, and batsmen have confessed that of all Stott’s puzzling mannerisms, this was the one to which they never became accustomed. S. R. L. Maturin, the finest bat Australia ever sent to this country, has told me that to this peculiarity of delivery he attributed his failure ever to score freely against Stott. It completely upset one’s habit of play, he said: one had no time to prepare for the flight of the ball; it came at one so suddenly. Other bowlers have since attempted some imitation of this method without success. They had not Stott’s physical advantages.
Nevertheless, the shortness of that alley threw Stott back for two years. When he first emerged to try conclusions on the field, he found his length on the longer pitch utterly unreliable, and the effort necessary to throw the ball another six yards, at first upset his slowly acquired methods.
It was not until he was twenty years old that Ginger Stott played in his first Colts’ match.
The three years that had intervened had not been prosperous years for Hampdenshire. Their team was a one-man team. Bobby Maisefield was developing into a fine bat (and other counties were throwing out inducements to him, trying to persuade him to qualify for first-class cricket), but he found no support, and Hampdenshire was never looked upon as a coming county. The best of the minor counties in those years were Staffordshire and Norfolk.
In the Colts’ match Stott’s analysis ran:
and reference to the score-sheet, which is still preserved among the records of the County Club, shows that six of the seven wickets were clean bowled. The Eleven had no second innings; the match was drawn, owing to rain. Stott has told me that the Eleven had to bat on a drying wicket, but after making all allowances, the performance was certainly phenomenal.
After this match Stott was, of course, played regularly. That year Hampdenshire rose once more to their old position at the head of the minor counties, and Maisefield, who had been seriously considering Surrey’s offer of a place in their Eleven after two years’ qualification by residence, decided to remain with the county which had given him his first chance.
During that season Stott did not record any performance so remarkable as his feat in the Colts’ match, but his record for the year was eighty-seven wickets with an average of 9.31; and it is worthy of notice that Yorkshire made overtures to him, as he was qualified by birth to play for the northern county.
I think there must have been a wonderful esprit de corps among the members of that early Hampdenshire Eleven. There are other evidences beside this refusal of its two most prominent members to join the ranks of first-class cricket. Lord R—, the president of the H.C.C.C., has told me that this spirit was quite as marked as in the earlier case of Kent. He himself certainly did much to promote it, and his generosity in making good the deficits of the balance sheet, had a great influence on the acceleration of Hampdenshire’s triumph.
In his second year, though Hampdenshire were again champions of the second-class counties, Stott had not such a fine average as in the preceding season. Sixty-one wickets for eight hundred and sixty-eight (average 14.23) seems to show a decline in his powers, but that was a wonderful year for batsmen (Maisefield scored seven hundred and forty-two runs, with an average of forty-two) and, moreover, that was the year in which Stott was privately practising his new theory.
It was in this year that three very promising recruits, all since become famous, joined the Eleven, viz.: P. H. Evans, St. John Townley, and Flower the fast bowler. With these five cricketers Hampdenshire fully deserved their elevation into the list of first-class counties. Curiously enough, they took the place of the old champions, Gloucestershire, who, with Somerset, fell back into the obscurity of the second-class that season.
I must turn aside for a moment at this point in order to explain the “new theory” of Stott’s, to which I have referred, a theory which became in practice one of the elements of his most astounding successes.
Ginger Stott was not a tall man. He stood only 5 ft. 5 1/4 in. in his socks, but he was tremendously solid; he had what is known as a “stocky” figure, broad and deep-chested. That was where his muscular power lay, for his abnormally long arms were rather thin, though his huge hands were powerful enough.
Even without his “new theory,” Stott would have been an exceptional bowler. His thoroughness would have assured his success. He studied his art diligently, and practised regularly in a barn through the winter. His physique, too, was a magnificent instrument. That long, muscular body was superbly steady on the short, thick legs. It gave him a fulcrum, firm, apparently immovable. And those weirdly long, thin arms could move with lightning rapidity. He always stood with his hands behind him, and then — as often as not without even one preliminary step — the long arm would flash round and the ball be delivered, without giving the batsman any opportunity of watching his hand; you could never tell which way he was going to break. It was astonishing, too, the pace he could get without any run. Poor Wallis used to call him the “human catapult”; Wallis was always trying to find new phrases.
The theory first came to Stott when he was practising at the nets. It was a windy morning, and he noticed that several times the balls he bowled swerved in the air. When those swerving balls came they were almost unplayable.
Stott made no remark to any one — he was bowling to the groundsman — but the ambition to bowl “swerves,” as they were afterwards called, took possession of him from that morning. It is true that he never mastered the theory completely; on a perfectly calm day he could never depend upon obtaining any swerve at all, but, within limits, he developed his theory until he had any batsman practically at his mercy.
He might have mastered the theory completely, had it not been for his accident — we must remember that he had only three seasons of first-class cricket — and, personally, I believe he would have achieved that complete mastery. But I do not believe, as Stott did, that he could have taught his method to another man. That belief became an obsession with him, and will be dealt with later.
My own reasons for doubting that Stott’s “swerve” could have been taught, is that it would have been necessary for the pupil to have had Stott’s peculiarities, not only of method, but of physique. He used to spin the ball with a twist of his middle finger and thumb, — just as you may see a billiard professional spin a billiard ball. To do this in his manner, it is absolutely necessary not only to have a very large and muscular hand, but to have very lithe and flexible arm muscles, for the arm is moving rapidly while the twist is given, and there must be no antagonistic muscular action. Further, I believe that part of the secret was due to the fact that Stott bowled from a standing position. Given these things, the rest is merely a question of long and assiduous practice. The human mechanism is marvellously adaptable. I have seen Stott throw a cricket ball half across the room with sufficient spin on the ball to make it shoot back to him along the carpet.
I have mentioned the wind as a factor in obtaining the swerve. It was a head-wind that Stott required. I have seen him, for sport, toss a cricket ball into the teeth of a gale, and make it describe the trajectory of a badly sliced golf-ball. This is why the big pavilion at Ailesworth is set at such a curious angle to the ground. It was built in the winter following Hampdenshire’s second season of first-class cricket, and it was so placed that when the wickets were pitched in a line with it, they might lie south-west and north-east, or in the direction of the prevailing winds.
The first time I ever saw Ginger Stott, was on the occasion of the historic encounter with Surrey; Hampdenshire’s second engagement in first-class cricket. The match with Notts, played at Trent Bridge a few days earlier, had not foreshadowed any startling results. The truth of the matter is that Stott had been kept, deliberately, in the background; and as matters turned out his services were only required to finish off Notts’ second innings. Stott was even then a marked man, and the Hampdenshire captain did not wish to advertise his methods too freely before the Surrey match. Neither Archie Findlater, who was captaining the team that year, nor any other person, had the least conception of how unnecessary such a reservation was to prove. In his third year, when Stott had been studied by every English, Australian, and South African batsman of any note, he was still as unplayable as when he made his début in first-class cricket.
I was reporting the Surrey match for two papers, and in company with poor Wallis interviewed Stott before the first innings.
His appearance made a great impression on me. I have, of course, met him, and talked with him many times since then, but my most vivid memory of him is the picture recorded in the inadequate professional dressing-room of the old Ailesworth pavilion.
I have turned up the account of my interview in an old press-cutting book, and I do not know that I can do better than quote that part of it which describes Stott’s personal appearance. I wrote the account on the off chance of being able to get it taken. It was one of my lucky hits. After that match, finished in a single day, my interview afforded copy that any paper would have paid heavily for, and gladly.
Here is the description:
Stott — he is known to every one in Ailesworth as ‘Ginger’ Stott — is a short, thick-set young man, with abnormally long arms that are tanned a rich red up to the elbow. The tan does not, however, obliterate the golden freckles with which arm and face are richly speckled. There is no need to speculate as to the raison d’être of his nickname. The hair of his head, a close, short crop, is a pale russet, and the hair on his hands and arms is a yellower shade of the same colour. ‘Ginger’ is, indeed, a perfectly apt description. He has a square chin and a thin-lipped, determined mouth. His eyes are a clear, but rather light blue, his forehead is good, broad, and high, and he has a well-proportioned head. One might have put him down as an engineer, essentially intelligent, purposeful, and reserved.”
The description is journalistic, but I do not know that I could improve upon the detail of it. I can see those queer, freckled, hairy arms of his as I write — the combination of colours in them produced an effect that was almost orange. It struck one as unusual….
Surrey had the choice of innings, and decided to bat, despite the fact that the wicket was drying after rain, under the influence of a steady south-west wind and occasional bursts of sunshine. Would any captain in Stott’s second year have dared to take first innings under such conditions? The question is farcical now, but not a single member of the Hampdenshire Eleven had the least conception that the Surrey captain was deliberately throwing away his chances on that eventful day.
Wallis and I were sitting together in the reporters’ box. There were only four of us; two specials,—Wallis and myself,—a news-agency reporter, and a local man.
“Stott takes first over,” remarked Wallis, sharpening his pencil and arranging his watch and score-sheet—he was very meticulous in his methods. “They’ve put him to bowl against the wind. He’s medium right, isn’t he?”
“Haven’t the least idea,” I said. “He volunteered no information; Hampdenshire have been keeping him dark.”
Wallis sneered. “Think they’ve got a find, eh?” he said. “We’ll wait and see what he can do against first-class batting.”
We did not have to wait long.
As usual, Thorpe and Harrison were first wicket for Surrey, and Thorpe took the first ball.
It bowled him. It made his wicket look as untidy as any wicket I have ever seen. The off stump was out of the ground, and the other two were markedly divergent.
“Damn it, I wasn’t ready for him,” we heard Thorpe say in the professionals’ room. Thorpe always had some excuse, but on this occasion it was justified.
C. V. Punshon was the next comer, and he got his first ball through the slips for four, but Wallis looked at me with a raised eyebrow.
“Punshon didn’t know a lot about that,” he said, and then he added, “I say, what a queer delivery the chap has. He stands and shoots ’em out. It’s uncanny. He’s a kind of human catapult.” He made a note of the phrase on his pad.
Punshon succeeded in hitting the next ball, also, but it simply ran up his bat into the hands of short slip.
“Well, that’s a sitter, if you like,” said Wallis. “What’s the matter with ’em?”
I was beginning to grow enthusiastic.
“Look here, Wallis,” I said, “this chap’s going to break records.”
Wallis was still doubtful.
He was convinced before the innings was over.
There must be many who remember the startling poster that heralded the early editions of the evening papers:
FOR 13 RUNS.
For once sub-editors did not hesitate to give the score on the contents bill. That was a proclamation which would sell. Inside, the headlines were rich and varied. I have an old paper by me, yellow now, and brittle, that may serve as a type for the rest. The headlines are as follows:—
SURREY AND HAMPDENSHIRE.
EXTRAORDINARY BOWLING PERFORMANCE.
SURREY ALL OUT IN 35 MINUTES FOR 13 RUNS.
STOTT TAKES 10 WICKETS FOR 5.
The “double hat-trick” was six consecutive wickets, the last six, all clean bowled.
“Good God!” Wallis said, when the last wicket fell, and he looked at me with something like fear in his eyes. “This man will have to be barred; it means the end of cricket.”
I need not detail the remainder of the match. Hampdenshire hit up ninety-three — P. H. Evans was top scorer with twenty-seven — and then got Surrey out a second time for forty-nine.
I believe Stott did not bowl his best in the second innings. He was quite clever enough to see that he must not overdo it. As Wallis had said, if he were too effective he might have to be barred. As it was, he took seven wickets for twenty-three.
That was Stott’s finest performance. On eight subsequent occasions he took all ten wickets in a single innings, once he took nineteen wickets in one match (Hampdenshire v. Somerset at Taunton), twice he took five wickets with consecutive balls, and any number of times he did the “hat-trick,” but he never afterwards achieved so amazing a performance as that of the celebrated Surrey match.
I am still of opinion that Stott deliberately bowled carelessly in the second innings of that match, but, after watching him on many fields, and after a careful analysis of his methods — and character — I am quite certain that his comparative failures in later matches were not due to any purpose on Stott’s part.
Take, for instance, the match which Hampdenshire lost to Kent in Stott’s second season — their first loss as a first-class county; their record up to that time was thirteen wins and six drawn games. It is incredible to me that Stott should have deliberately allowed Kent to make the necessary one hundred and eighty-seven runs required in the fourth innings. He took five wickets for sixty-three; if he could have done better, I am sure he would have made the effort. He would not have sacrificed his county. I have spoken of the esprit de corps which held the Hampdenshire Eleven together, and they were notably proud of their unbeaten record.
No; we must find another reason for Stott’s comparative failures. I believe that I am the only person who knows that reason, and I say that Stott was the victim of an obsession. His “swerve” theory dominated him, he was always experimenting with it, and when, as in the Kent match I have cited, the game was played in a flat calm, his failure to influence the trajectory of the ball in his own peculiar manner, puzzled and upset him. He would strive to make the ball swerve, and in the effort he lost his length and became playable. Moreover, when Stott was hit he lost his temper, and then he was useless. Findlater always took him off the moment he showed signs of temper. The usual sign was a fast full pitch at the batsman’s ribs.
I have one more piece of evidence, the best possible, which upholds this explanation of mine, but it must follow the account of Stott’s accident.
That accident came during the high flood of Hampdenshire success. For two years they had held undisputed place as champion county, a place which could not be upset by the most ingenious methods of calculating points. They had three times defeated Australia, and were playing four men in the test matches. As a team they were capable of beating any Eleven opposed to them. Not even the newspaper critics denied that.
In this third year of Hampdenshire’s triumph, Australia had sent over the finest eleven that had ever represented the colony, but they had lost the first two test matches, and they had lost to Hampdenshire. Nevertheless, they won the rubber, and took back the “ashes.” No one has ever denied, I believe, that this was due to Stott’s accident. There is in this case no room for any one to argue that the argument is based on the fallacy of post and propter.
The accident appeared insignificant at the time. The match was against Notts on the Trent Bridge ground. I was reporting for three papers; Wallis was not there.
Stott had been taken off. Notts were a poor lot that year and I think Findlater did not wish to make their defeat appear too ignominious. Flower was bowling; it was a fast, true wicket, and Stott, who was a safe field, was at cover.
G. L. Mallinson was batting and making good use of his opportunity; he was, it will be remembered, a magnificent though erratic hitter. Flower bowled him a short-pitched, fast ball, rather wide of the off-stump. Many men might have left it alone, for the ball was rising, and the slips were crowded, but Mallinson timed the ball splendidly, and drove it with all his force. He could not keep it on the ground, however, and Stott had a possible chance. He leaped for it and just touched the ball with his right hand. The ball jumped the ring at its first bound, and Mallinson never even attempted to run. There was a big round of applause from the Trent Bridge crowd.
I noticed that Stott had tied a handkerchief round his finger, but I forgot the incident until I saw Findlater beckon to his best bowler, a few overs later. Notts had made enough runs for decency; it was time to get them out.
I saw Stott walk up to Findlater and shake his head, and through my glasses I saw him whip the handkerchief from his finger and displayhis hand. Findlater frowned, said something and looked towards the pavilion, but Stott shook his head. He evidently disagreed with Findlater’s proposal. Then Mallinson came up, and the great bulk of his back hid the faces of the other two. The crowd was beginning to grow excited at the interruption. Every one had guessed that something was wrong. All round the ring men were standing up, trying to make out what was going on.
I drew my inferences from Mallinson’s face, for when he turned round and strolled back to his wicket, he was wearing a broad smile. Through my field glasses I could see that he was licking his lower lip with his tongue. His shoulders were humped and his whole expression one of barely controlled glee. (I always see that picture framed in a circle; a bioscopic presentation.) He could hardly refrain from dancing. Then little Beale, who was Mallinson’s partner, came up and spoke to him, and I saw Mallinson hug himself with delight as he explained the situation.
When Stott unwillingly came into the pavilion, a low murmur ran round the ring, like the buzz of a great crowd of disturbed blue flies. In that murmur I could distinctly trace the signs of mixed feelings. No doubt the crowd had come there to witness the performances of the phenomenon — the abnormal of every kind has a wonderful attraction for us — but, on the other hand, the majority wanted to see their own county win. Moreover, Mallinson was giving them a taste of his abnormal powers of hitting, and the batsman appeals to the spectacular, more than the bowler.
I ran down hurriedly to meet Stott.
“Only a split finger, sir,” he said carelessly, in answer to my question; “but Mr. Findlater says I must see to it.”
I examined the finger, and it certainly did not seem to call for surgical aid. Evidently it had been caught by the seam of the new ball; there was a fairly clean cut about half an inch long on the fleshy underside of the second joint of the middle finger.
“Better have it seen to,” I said. “We can’t afford to lose you, you know, Stott.”
Stott gave a laugh that was more nearly a snarl. “Ain’t the first time I’ve ’ad a cut finger,” he said scornfully.
He had the finger bound up when I saw him again, but it had been done by an amateur. I learnt afterwards that no antiseptic had been used. That was at lunch time, and Notts had made a hundred and sixty-eight for one wicket; Mallinson was not out, a hundred and three. I saw that the Notts Eleven were in magnificent spirits.
But after lunch Stott came out and took the first over. I don’t know what had passed between him and Findlater, but the captain had evidently been over-persuaded.
We must not blame Findlater. The cut certainly appeared trifling, it was not bad enough to prevent Stott from bowling, and Hampdenshire seemed powerless on that wicket without him. It is very easy to distribute blame after the event, but most people would have done what Findlater did in those circumstances.
The cut did not appear to inconvenience Stott in the least degree. He bowled Mallinson with his second ball, and the innings was finished up in another fifty-seven minutes for the addition of thirty-eight runs.
Hampdenshire made two hundred and thirty-seven for three wickets before the drawing of stumps, and that was the end of the match, for the weather changed during the night and rain prevented any further play.
I, of course, stayed on in Nottingham to await results. I saw Stott on the next day, Friday, and asked him about his finger. He made light of it, but that evening Findlater told me over the bridge-table that he was not happy about it. He had seen the finger, and thought it showed a tendency to inflammation. “I shall take him to Gregory in the morning if it’s not all right,” he said. Gregory was a well-known surgeon in Nottingham.
Again one sees, now, that the visit to Gregory should not have been postponed, but at the time one does not take extraordinary precautions in such a case as this. A split finger is such an everyday thing, and one is guided by the average of experience. After all, if one were constantly to make preparation for the abnormal, ordinary life could not go on….
I heard that Gregory pursed his lips over that finger when he had learned the name of his famous patient. “You’ll have to be very careful of this, young man,” was Findlater’s report of Gregory’s advice. It was not sufficient. I often wonder now whether Gregory might not have saved the finger. If he had performed some small operation at once, cut away the poison, it seems to me that the tragedy might have been averted. I am, I admit, a mere layman in these matters, but it seems to me that something might have been done.
I left Nottingham on Saturday after lunch — the weather was hopeless — and I did not make use of the information I had for the purposes of my paper. I was never a good journalist. But I went down to Ailesworth on Monday morning, and found that Findlater and Stott had already gone to Harley Street to see Graves, the King’s surgeon.
I followed them, and arrived at Graves’s house while Stott was in the consulting-room. I hocussed the butler and waited with the patients. Among the papers, I came upon the famous caricature of Stott in the current number of Punch — the “Stand-and-Deliver” caricature, in which Stott is represented with an arm about ten feet long, and the batsman is looking wildly over his shoulder to square leg, bewildered, with no conception from what direction the ball is coming. Underneath is written “Stott’s New Theory — the Ricochet. Real Ginger.” While I was laughing over the cartoon, the butler came in and nodded to me. I followed him out of the room and met Findlater and Stott in the hall.
Findlater was in a state of profanity. I could not get a sensible word out of him. He was in a white heat of pure rage. The butler, who seemed as anxious as I to learn the verdict, was positively frightened.
“Well, for God’s sake tell me what Graves said,” I protested.
Findlater’s answer is unprintable, and told me nothing.
Stott, however, quite calm and self-possessed, volunteered the information. “Finger’s got to come off, sir,” he said quietly. “Doctor says if it ain’t off to-day or to-morrer, he won’t answer for my ‘and.”
This was the news I had to give to England. It was a great coup from the journalistic point of view, but I made up my three columns with a heavy heart, and the congratulations of my editor only sickened me. I had some luck, but I should never have become a good journalist.
The operation was performed successfully that evening, and Stott’s career was closed.
I have already referred to the obsession which dominated Stott after his accident, and I must now deal with that overweening anxiety ofhis to teach his method to another man.
I did not see Stott again till August, and then I had a long talk with him on the Ailesworth County Ground, as together we watched the progress of Hampdenshire’s defeat by Lancashire.
“Oh! I can’t learn him nothing,” he broke out, as Flower was hit to the four corners of the ground, “’alf vollies and long ’ops and then a full pitch — ’e’s a disgrace.”
“They’ve knocked him off his length,” I protested. “On wicket like this….”
Stott shook his head. “I’ve been trying to learn ’im,” he said, “but he can’t never learn. ’E’s got ’abits what you can’t break ’im of.”
“I suppose it is difficult,” I said vaguely.
“Same with me,” went on Stott, “I’ve been trying to learn myself to bowl without my finger” — he held up his mutilated hand — “or left-’anded; but I can’t. If I’d started that way…. No! I’m always feeling for that finger as is gone. A second-class bowler I might be in time, not better nor that.”
“It’s early days yet,” I ventured, intending encouragement, but Stott frowned and shook his head.
“I’m not going to kid myself,” he said, “I know. But I’m going to find a youngster and learn ’im. On’y he must be young.”
“No ’abits, you know,” he explained.
The next time I met Stott was in November. I ran up against him, literally, one Friday afternoon in Ailesworth.
When he recognised me he asked me if I would care to walk out to Stoke-Underhill with him. “I’ve took a cottage there,” he explained, “I’m to be married in a fortnight’s time.”
His circumstances certainly warranted such a venture. The proceeds of matinee and benefit, invested for him by the Committee of the County Club, produced an income of nearly two pounds a week, and in addition to this he had his salary as groundsman. I tendered my congratulations.
“Oh! well, as to that, better wait a bit,” said Stott.
He walked with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground. He had the air of a man brooding over some project.
“It is a lottery, of course…” I began, but he interrupted me.
“Oh that!” he said, and kicked a stone into the ditch; “take my chances of that. It’s the kid I’m thinking on.”
“The kid?” I repeated, doubtful whether he spoke of his fiancée, or whether his nuptials pointed an act of reparation.
“What else ’ud I tie myself up for?” asked Stott. “I must ’ave a kid of my own and learn ’im from his cradle. It’s come to that.”
“Oh! I understand,” I said; “teach him to bowl.”
“Ah!” replied Stott as an affirmative. “Learn ’im to bowl from his cradle; before ’e’s got ’abits. When I started I’d never bowled a ball in my life, and by good luck I started right. But I can’t find another kid over seven years old in England as ain’t never bowled a ball o’ some sort and started ’abits. I’ve tried….”
“And you hope with your own boys…?” I said.
“Not ’ope, it’s a cert;” said Stott. “I’ll see no boy of mine touches a ball afore he’s fourteen, and then ’e’ll learn from me; and learn right. From the first go off.” He was silent for a few seconds, and then he broke out in a kind of ecstasy. “My Gawd, ’e’ll be a bowler such as ’as never been, never in this world. He’ll start where I left orf. He’ll….” Words failed him, he fell back on the expletive he had used, repeating it with an awed fervour. “My Gawd!”
I had never seen Stott in this mood before. It was a revelation to me of the latent potentialities of the man, the remarkable depth and quality of his ambitions….
I intended to be present at Stott’s wedding, but I was not in England when it took place; indeed, for the next two years and a half I was never in England for more than a few days at a time. I sent him a wedding-present, an inkstand in the guise of a cricket ball, with a pen-rack that was built of little silver wickets. They were still advertised that Christmas as “Stott inkstands.”
Two years and a half of American life broke up many of my old habits of thought. When I first returned to London I found that the cricket news no longer held the same interest for me, and this may account for the fact that I did not trouble for some time to look up my old friend Stott.
In July, however, affairs took me to Ailesworth, and the associations of the place naturally led me to wonder how Stott’s marriage had turned out, and whether the much-desired son had been born to him. When my business in Ailesworth was done, I decided to walk out to Stoke-Underhill.
The road passes the County Ground, and a match was in progress, but I walked by without stopping. I was wool-gathering. I was not thinking of the man I was going to see, or I should have turned in at the County Ground, where he would inevitably have been found. Instead, I was thinking of the abnormal child I had seen in the train that day; uselessly speculating and wondering.
When I reached Stoke-Underhill I found the cottage which Stott had shown me. I had by then so far recovered my wits as to know that I should not find Stott himself there, but from the look of the cottage I judged that it was untenanted, so I made inquiries at the post-office.
“No; he don’t live here, now, sir,” said the postmistress; “he lives at Pym, now, sir, and rides into Ailesworth on his bike.” She was evidently about to furnish me with other particulars, but I did not care to hear them. I was moody and distrait. I was wondering why I should bother my head about so insignificant a person as this Stott.
“You’ll be sure to find Mr. Stott at the cricket ground,” the postmistress called after me.
Another two months of English life induced a return to my old habits of thought. I found myself reverting to old tastes and interests. The reversion was a pleasant one. In the States I had been forced out of my groove, compelled to work, to strive, to think desperately if I would maintain any standing among my contemporaries. But when the perpetual stimulus was removed, I soon fell back to the less strenuous methods of my own country. I had time, once more, for the calm reflection that is so unlike the urgent, forced, inventive thought of the American journalist. I was braced by that thirty months’ experience, perhaps hardened a little, but by September my American life was fading into the background; I had begun to take an interest in cricket again.
With the revival of my old interests, revived also my curiosity as to Ginger Stott, and one Sunday in late September I decided to go down to Pym.
It was a perfect day, and I thoroughly enjoyed my four-mile walk from Great Hittenden Station.
Pym is a tiny hamlet made up of three farms and a dozen scattered cottages. Perched on one of the highest summits of the Hampden Hills and lost in the thick cover of beech woods, without a post-office or a shop, Pym is the most perfectly isolated village within a reasonable distance of London. As I sauntered up the mile-long lane that climbs the steep hill, and is the only connection between Pym and anything approaching a decent road, I thought that this was the place to which I should like to retire for a year, in order to write the book I had so often contemplated, and never found time to begin. This, I reflected, was a place of peace, of freedom from all distraction, the place for calm, contemplative meditation.
I met no one in the lane, and there was no sign of life when I reached what I must call the village, though the word conveys a wrong idea, for there is no street, merely a cottage here and there, dropped haphazard, and situated without regard to its aspect. These cottages lie all on one’s left hand; to the right a stretch of grass soon merges into bracken and bush, and then the beech woods enclose both, and surge down into the valley and rise up again beyond, a great wave of green; as I saw it then, not yet touched with the first flame of autumn.
I inquired at the first cottage and received my direction to Stott’s dwelling. It lay up a little lane, the further of two cottages joined together.
The door stood open, and after a moment’s hesitation and a light knock, I peered in.
Sitting in a rocking-chair was a woman with black, untidy eyebrows, and on her knee, held with rigid attention, was the remarkable baby I had seen in the train two months before. As I stood, doubtful and, I will confess it, intimidated, suddenly cold and nervous, the child opened his eyes and honoured me with a cold stare. Then he nodded, a reflective, recognisable nod.
“‘E remembers seein’ you in the train, sir,” said the woman, “‘e never forgets any one. Did you want to see my ‘usband? ‘E’s upstairs.”
So this was the boy who was designed by Stott to become the greatest bowler the world had ever seen….
RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.
SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable |
Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit”.