After dinner Henry and Benjamin set off in the carriage with the other children and Martha for Dempsey’s Field where the game was to commence at one o’clock. They left the carriage a safe distance from the playing area and tethered the horses. Dozens of people had already gathered. The Wakefields walked past a trestle where the Artisans and their supporters had beer and muffins – dinner for many of them – and went to a marquee erected earlier by servants of the Gentlemen’s team. Inside were a bar and a table with a lavish spread. Waiters served drinks and food to men in top hats and tails. Henry, in similar dress, acknowledged them and took a drink and some savouries, despite having just eaten. He liked aristocratic food and his waistline showed it.
Like Benjamin, the other players in the Gentlemen’s team were young and had played cricket at school. Some were clad in special tight-fitting clothes that moved with the body. The Artisans, most of whom were inexperienced cricketers, had on the same garments they wore every day.
Several people shooed away some cows to the far side of the field. Somebody pushed three sticks into the ground for the wicket and took twenty-two paces to determine the spot where the bowlers were to bowl from, and drove a single stick into the ground at this point. The umpire, a master at one of the local schools, called the opposing captains to the centre of the ground and tossed a coin to see who batted first. The Gentlemen won the toss and their first two batsmen walked out and readied themselves. The fielders took up their positions and the game began.
A strapping young fellow for the Artisans tore in to bowl the first ball. He took a big back swing and slung it down hard, close to the ground. It bounced just in front of the batsman, who took a wild swipe, missed and almost fell over. This brought laughter from the Artisan supporters and gasps from those of the Gentlemen. The next ball was faster still and shorter. It jagged off at an angle after it bounced and went out of the batsman’s reach. The umpire checked the pitch and ruled the ball hit a cow pat and ordered the bowler to remove it, which he did, but he left a small piece, hoping to get the ball to hit it and deflect slightly before reaching the batsman. After the bowler sent down four balls, the umpire called ‘over’ and another bowler had a turn. A cheer went up when the first run was scored, a streaky shot that came off the edge of the bat and went just wide of the wicket-keeper.
Not long after, one of the batsmen hit the ball way past the fielders and it was lost in long grass a good seventy yards distant. Both batsmen kept running.
‘You can’t do that,’ a fielder shouted at them.
But the batsmen didn’t stop. The Artisan supporters hurled rubbish onto the ground and insults at the umpire. Finally the ball was found and returned to the middle.
‘That’s nine runs,’ the batsman said, puffing hard.
The Artisan captain, whose fielding position was nearby, came up to the umpire. ‘That shouldn’t count.’
‘Yes, it should,’ the batsman said. ‘It’s not our fault your rabble couldn’t find it.’
‘A ball could be hit into the creek and lost altogether,’ the captain said. ‘What happens then? Do you keep running till it’s dusk and time to go home?’
‘Umpire, it’s nine runs. You saw them.’
The umpire held up nine fingers to the scorer. Applause came from the Gentlemen’s team and supporters, including Henry, while raucous booing erupted among the Artisan group.
‘That’s not fair,’ the Artisan captain said.
‘Play!’ the umpire said.
‘How much are they paying you?’ the captain muttered as he returned to his position.
The umpire blushed. He did his best to look dignified and said nothing.
Two quick wickets had the Artisan group yelling and cheering and waving their arms for more. They thought they had a third wicket when the batsman appeared to nick a ball to the keeper, but the umpire, seeing the anger of certain Gentlemen barrackers on the sideline, gave it not out. A few deliveries later, a fielder caught the ball close in, low to the ground. Again it was ruled not out and the Artisans accused the umpire of bias. The next ball got through the batsman’s defence and knocked middle stump out of the ground. This time, the umpire gave him out.
Benjamin was next batsman in.
‘Good luck,’ Henry called to him.
The first ball he faced, Benjamin belted straight back over the bowler’s head and it came to rest at the feet of a cow, some eighty yards away. He ran two by the time the nearest fielder got to it. The umpire considered it had gone far enough to be called a four and signalled it as such. Cheers came from the marquee. Henry clapped wildly. The Artisans hooted.
Again the fielding captain came up to the umpire. ‘That should’ve been three at most.’
‘I deem the cows are outside the playing area and it should be a four.’
The bowler steamed in again and this time Benjamin hit the ball along the ground to a fielder, but the other batsman had set off for a run and was halfway down the pitch. Benjamin hesitated before setting off. He was a yard short when the bowler caught the ball thrown by the fielder. To the amazement of the fielding side, the umpire ruled in Benjamin’s favour. Jeers came from the Artisans. Then, on fourteen, he scooped a ball to a fielder and was out.
Eventually the Gentlemen were all out for sixty, a total their supporters boasted would be twice what the Artisans could hope to score. Three quick wickets had the Artisans in trouble, until a tall, naturally gifted batsman hit a four off every ball of an over. The Gentlemen’s captain brought on his fastest bowler who, after whisperings and hand signals from his captain, heaved the ball straight at the batsman. It hit him full on the ankle and he hopped about in pain. He could no longer run and was forced to retire hurt, limping from the ground. This caused much shouting and remonstrating between the two groups.
A new batsman strode to the middle and hit the first ball for four. He belted the next one in the air and it fell just short of a fielder who stopped it and claimed a catch. It was hard for the umpire to see what happened as the grass was quite long where the alleged catch was taken. He sided with the fielder.
The Artisans made forty-six. It was time for refreshments before the second innings. Henry went over to the scorer, a large man sitting on a stool near the marquee. In front of him was a table with sheets of paper and a pencil. The scores were on one sheet while other pieces had names of people who had placed bets with him, together with details of the bet, the amount and the odds.
‘Scorer,’ Henry said, ‘what’s your price for an Artisan win?’
The scorer looked quizzically at him. ‘An Artisan win?’ He chuckled. He made sure no one was in hearing range and said: ‘You know that can’t happen.’
‘They’re only fourteen behind.’
‘It may as well be a hundred and fourteen.’
‘So you’ll offer me good odds?’
‘I can give you excellent odds on the winning margin by the Gentlemen, or who will top score for them, or who will take most wickets.’
Henry was unmoved. ‘What odds the Artisans?’
‘What odds do you want?’ The scorer threw his hands up.
‘How about ten to one on five pounds?’
‘It’s a deal.’
Henry gave a fiver to the scorer who wrote the particulars on some paper and tore part of it off and gave it to him. When Henry walked away, the scorer gaped at the note, kissed it, put it in his pocket and rubbed his hands together with delight.
‘My lucky day,’ he said to himself.
Henry returned to where Martha and the children sat around a tablecloth she had laid out on a grassy slope. They each had a plate with a piece of cake and Martha took a bottle from the basket and poured water into cups.
‘Benjamin,’ he said, ‘over here a moment.’
They moved to a quiet spot.
‘Son, who do you think will win this game?’
‘Are we the better side?’
‘Some bad decisions?’
‘How would you like to help the better side win?’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I’ll give you ten shillings if you get out without scoring, or for one or two.’
The Wakefields had lots of money, but Benjamin never saw any of it. ‘A whole ten shillings?’
‘Don’t ask questions,’ Henry said, taking a wad of ten shilling notes from his pocket.
Benjamin wondered why his father had so many notes on him. ‘I’ll do it, but it hardly seems fair to the team.’
‘The entire game’s unfair.’
Next, Henry approached other Gentlemen batsmen – boys and young men who came from wealthy families, but who never had money themselves – and quietly enticed most for ten shillings to let the ball hit their stumps or to spoon up a catch very early in their innings. One by one the batsmen walked to the middle, got out quickly and trudged off the ground. The Gentlemen lost five wickets for eight runs. Meanwhile he spoke to the main Gentlemen bowlers, convincing each with ten shillings to bowl slower to the Artisan batsmen in their second innings.
Just then, a local priest happened to be passing by in his carriage. He stopped and got out and yelled at the players and the crowd. ‘This is the Lord’s day. I demand you stop.’
Henry walked over to him. ‘Father, I meant to put this in the plate this morning,’ he said, handing him a ten shilling note and winking.
The priest smiled and bowed and went on his way.
The Gentlemen were all out for seventeen, leaving the Artisans needing only thirty-two for victory. Henry sat with Martha and the children, grinning, dipping his hat to everyone who walked past. Just when the first two Artisan batsmen made their way onto the field, the sun went in for the first time that day. Henry wasn’t worried. It would be light for a few more hours. But he turned and noticed a dark grey cloud behind him. It climbed higher into the sky and got larger. His smile gone, he studied the cloud after each ball. The wind blew the cloud nearer and the Artisan batsmen struggled in fading light. Their ability to stand up straight and hit the ball was in question too. Many had been scoffing muffins and beer when they weren’t on the field and the drink was affecting them.
The match became a farce. Bowlers sent down gentle deliveries that bounced halfway along the pitch, while drunken batsmen swung their bats and almost fell over without making contact. By the time the Artisans lost four wickets for nineteen runs, rain was in the air and the wind blustery. On the hill, people packed their things, folded their tablecloths and held onto their hats. And then, down it came. Players ran from the field and everybody retreated, except Henry.
‘What’s wrong with you all?’ he called to the players. ‘Umpire, make them go back. A little rain never hurt anyone.’
‘Sorry, rain and bad light have stopped play,’ the umpire said.
‘It’s only temporary.’
‘It looks like it’s set in, to me.’
‘Nonsense. Where’s everyone going?’ He watched as the well-to-do set off in their carriages and the poor fled on foot as the rain got heavier.
‘Home, I suppose.’
‘What about the match?’
‘It’s abandoned, so it’s a draw.’
‘You’ve sided with the scorer, haven’t you?’ Henry said, poking an accusing finger at the umpire.
‘I beg your pardon, Sir?’
‘What’s your cut? A few shillings? A pound?’
‘Sir, I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘Yes, you do. You’ve called off the game deliberately.’
Rain poured down.
‘If you’ll excuse me, I must be off before I get soaked.’
‘Oh no you don’t.’ Henry grabbed him by the coat.
‘What’s all this about?’ the umpire said, trying to free himself.
‘How much did he give you?’
In his struggle to break Henry’s grip, the umpire fell to the ground. ‘Now look what you’ve done,’ he said. He got up and wiped mud from his trousers. ‘I should report you to the authorities.’
‘Nothing. I put sixpence in the collection plate this morning and I’ve just enough for this week’s rent and groceries. I’m only a teacher. Good day, Sir.’ He pulled his collar up and hurried away.
Henry noticed a scrap of paper in the wet where the umpire had fallen. He picked it up. It was an IOU for ten shillings, signed JB, and he wondered if this was the scorer. He looked over to where the scorer had been, but there was no sign of him. ‘Damn! Fifty pounds.’