Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

The Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes online

. (page 47 of 52)
Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 47 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

included in a knowledge of what the player can make the ball do
by imparting twist of some kind to it. It must not be thought that
a wholesale hacking of the cover of the ball is advocated. A skilful
billiard player uses side with a definite object in each stroke; the
skilful bowler uses spin to get the necessary break ; the expert base-
bailer wants it to enable him to pitch perfectly ; the golfer must use
it to play a perfect slice or push-shot ; even the soccer player uses it,
and by its aid I have seen a clean goal kicked from a corner. The
tennis, fives, and rackets players use it all the time. Why, then,
should the lawn- tennis player think he can play the game by send-
ing down to his opponent ** honest straightforward '* balls of exactly
the same nature every time? No! It will not do. In sport, as in
war, we must meet guile with guile. We must realise that it is not
only necessary for us to know how to make a ball do anything that
it is capable of doing, but we must also, on the instant that the
other man does anything to the ball, be able to recognise what it is
that he does to it; we must as in a flash know what that ball is doing
in the air. So only can we be prepared for what it will do when it
strikes the ground.

We may see the ball swerving away from the right hand of the
server to our right. In all ordinary cases it would also break that
way, but it may not. There is a subtle distinction between the ball
served with forehand cut — that is, a glancing blow from left to right
(of the server) — and one struck with upper cut or lift. The upper
cut produces the American service ; it swerves in the air much as a
forehand-cut service. The unskilful person thinks it will break the
way it is swerving. You saw the upper cut, the hit upwards
instead of across, so you stand wide, let it break into your forehand,
and drive it back smartly, giving the ** sizzling " thing no time to

Digitized by



grip your racket and spoil your stroke ; but if you had not been
asking yourself what the ball was doing in the air you would have
stood up to it expecting a forehand cut and a break away to your
forehand. Then when it pitched nearly in a line with your right
foot and bounded away with a bump to your backhand, you would
have had to make a frantic half pirouette, a wild backhand lash at a
vanishing ball, and then to listen with such equanimity as you could
muster to the inane giggling of the gallery, most of whom had never
exi>erienced the delight themselves, and therefore were entirely
unable to sympathise with you as they might have done.

The ambitious young player must make the groundwork of his
game the forehand drive with lift. Everything else will come in due
course, but he must not attempt to take on cut strokes and American
services before he has mastered the plain-face service and returns,
and acquired a fair degree of accuracy in these.

I cannot conclude this article better than by relating a conver-
sation that took place between an English player and a member of
a visiting team which was here at the time of last All-England
Championship Meeting. The Englishman is really a very good
player. He had been sampling the visitor's quality that morning.
His opponent has a very fine forehand drive with a lot of lift that
makes it quite awkward to play with a plain-face return unless you
understand how to do it. He also has a puzzling reverse American
service with a bound and twist that fairly makes it " squirm '' on the
receiver's racket if he takes it softly.

They were sitting talking it over after the game, and the home
player said : '* Well, it may be lawn-tennis, but I think all this top
and twist and so on takes all the beauty out of the game."

** What makes you say so?" inquired his opponent. "They
really give us all the most beautiful strokes in the game.'*

" That may be so," answered his friend, '* but it takes all the
grace and ease out of it. It makes the other man look such a fool ! "

Of course it does if he doesn't understand it. It may be un-
charitable, but — que voulez-vous, messieurs ?

Digitized by




"If the fishing is as good as the house is quaint," remarked my
wife to the agent, " we shall have no cause of complaint."

The house-agent — a despondent individual — smiled an enig-
matical smile.

"You will not,'* he said, dryly, "be complainin' of the fishing,
Tm thinkin'."

I must say I thought we were lucky to get that house and its
eight miles of river and moor for the very moderate rent we were
asked to pay. High on the mountain side it stood, sheltered from
the winds sweeping down the dale by firs and larches, the river
churning brown and foamy among mighty boulders below. It was
a very ancient mansion of grey rough-cast, with the squat round
chimneys so familiar in the Cumberland and Westmorland dales,
large, low and rambling, with big, odd-shaped panelled rooms, open
hearths, and black oak floors. At one end stood a massive square
tower of weather-beaten red stone, known as " the Pele," containing
a spiral staircase and three rooms, which, however, as we had plenty
of other and more convenient accommodation, we decided not
to use.

Salmon and sea-trout came up the brown river in autumn,
grouse dwelt among the heather, while high among the fells lay a
big wild tarn known as Lyke Water, in which, according to the
agent, trout swarmed, trout which the tenancy of Swayne Keld Pele
gave me the right of fishing for. Altogether, though we were rather
beyond civilisation, we felt distinctly pleased with our bargain when
we came into residence in time for the autumn fishing, which fishing
we discovered fully bore out the grudging commendation of the
gloomy agent.

Digitized by



" Charles," said Eva, one wild October evening, charging into
the gun-room with that inconsequence which is very characteristic
of her happy-go-lucky manner of tumbling through life generally,
" I've found something."

I laid down the gun I was cleaning, with the sweet resignation
of the six-months- married husband, and asked what it was now.
It was comforting to find that her incursion was not due to the cook
having been discovered in a state of intoxication or the bath-room
hot-water supply diverting its course via the drawing-room ceiling.

My wife turned up the lamp and held her find out in my direc-
tion. ** It was in the old lumber-room in the pele tower," she

I took "it" from her gingerly. It was very dusty and rusty,
and cob-webby. ** What is it ? " I asked, viewing it from every
possible aspect. " It looks like a mediaeval stable lantern."

" That's just what it is," said Eva, excitedly. '* It's been stuck
in that mouldy old tower for — oh, centuries, Charles ! I am certain
it is a genuine old thing this time."

Triumph rang in her voice. Eva's finds in the antiquity line
had previously been very far removed from the period assigned to
them, which made the unquestionable venerableness of her present
discovery doubly attractive, and I peered at it with slowly awaken-
ing interest.

It was evidently of great age, made of solid wrought iron, the
spaces between the ironwork filled in with horn. The ironwork was
very well designed, rusty in places, but still strong, and the design
was good.

I put the lantern down on the bench along with the cleaning
rods and gun oil. The fire was low and the room seemed to have
suddenly become bitterly cold.

"Come along," I said to Eva, "we'll look at that thing by
daylight and clean it up. It must be getting on for dinner-time."

Thus was the lantern once more brought to the scene of its
activity. I saw it standing out in dark relief on the bench as we
made for the door, the ruddy embers of the wood fire throwing
weird shadows on and around it as they flickered up before dying
down and going out.

" I don't believe that beastly thing is canny," I said, with a
shiver, as a sudden gust of wind banged the door after us.

" You are a superstitious donkey ! " returned my wife, elegantly,
slipping a small, strong hand protectingly into mine. I felt bound
to lift it to my lips, and in the agitation of being thus discovered by
the butler I for the moment quite forgot Eva's find. Not for long,
though. It took good care of that.

NO. cxxxi. VOL Tuxn.—June 1906 U U

Digitized by




" Charles," said Eva to me next morning as I cut her a slice of
ham at the sideboard, " I didn't sleep well last night/'

I turned round and looked at her. I had slept abominably

"Two of the servants have given notice," she went on, gloomily.
" The kitchenmaid is a native " — she waved an explanatory hand in
the direction of the hamlet below— "and she has been telling them
that the house is haunted, and they — fools — think they have heard
footsteps and doors opening and shutting all night, so they won't

I sympathised with them, though I daren't say so. I, too, had
heard things which I ought not to have heard during the silent
watches of the night, though I knew Eva would crush me if I
acknowledged the fact.

''Did the kitchenmaid happen to mention what the histor}'of
this mansion may be ? " I asked, cautiously.

"There was a scandal and a murder, I believe," replied Eva,
lowering her voice decorously as the butler with a countenance of
funereal gloom brought in some fresh toast. I wondered— from his
face — if he, too, had passed a disturbed night.

I began to comprehend why the agent who let us the house had
appeared so unenthusiastic over our prospects connected therewith,
and my reflections as I went to the gun-room to unearth rods, etc.,
for a contemplated day's sport were not very pleasant. On the
bench Eva's find still stood. It was evidently a really remarkable
curiosity seen by daylight, and before I went out I locked it care-
fully into my safe, the key of which I invariably keep about me.

It was bitterly cold coming home over the moor that night.
Sport had been exceptionally good, and we had stayed much later
than usual, consequently by the time we finally reeled up it was
very nearly dark — the dreary darkness of a moonless night with a sky
heavily overcast with clouds.

" Ugh ! " grumbled Eva, as she stumbled heavily against the
boulders with which the so-called pony track was thickly strewn.
'* Charles, are you sure we are going right ? "

I wasn't at all sure; in fact, I was almost certain we were
wrong. The situation was really unpleasant, and a stinging whirl
of snowflakes by no means improved it. I was extremely relieved
to see, dancing away to the left of us, a swinging, moving light.
Evidently some statesman (yeoman farmer) or shepherd was out
late, seeking perhaps stray sheep before the threatening storm broke.

We hastened our lagging footsteps after the flickering light, and
hope again dawned that we might reach our pele that night.

Digitized by



" He's leading a horse ! " said Eva, in a curious voice, as we
came closer — close enough to make out the figure of a slightly-built
man wrapped in a heavy cloak, leading a big grey horse, on the back
of which was strapped a dark, shapeless bundle. In his left hand
he held a lantern, constructed on lines very similar to those of Eva's
find in an embrasure of the disused pele tower at Swayne Keld.

We shouted to him, but the wind howling past us carried the
sound behind us, and he evidently did not hear, for he held
steadily on his way, and try as we would we could not catch
him up.

** Never mind,'* said Eva, " we shall land somewhere."

As she spoke, with appalling suddenness horse, man, and light
disappeared utterly and completely, and we were left in the darkness
and the blinding snow. I threw myself backwards, wildly clutching
Eva as I did so, for my foot had stepped into nothingness. It was
as by a miracle we had escaped walking over a precipice five hundred
feet sheer down to the valley in which the river thundered. I knew
where we were now though, and going slowly and cautiously we at
last struck the track again, and so wound down the mountain-side
to Swayne Keld.

Before I went to bed I unlocked my safe to look again at the
lantern and compare it with the one which so silently and terribly
had vanished over the crag. It was not there ! Considerably
startled, I lighted my big hurricane lamp and hurried to the disused
pele tower. The clumsy keys grated in the rusty locks, and an icy
air swept past me as I scrambled up the spiral staircase from room
to room. In the top room of the three — a mere lumber-room now,
light and air admitted only by deeply-embrasured loopholes — I
found the lantern back again in its old haunt from which Eva had
taken it ; high up the wall on the deep sill of one of the narrow
loopholes it stood, as doubtless it had stood undisturbed for cen-
turies. On the rude stone floor beneath it a big, dark stain stood out
with startling vividness in the flickering light of my lamp. For a
moment I stared, then I bolted, locking the doors behind me.

Next day I went over to the county town and interviewed the
agent. He did not seem at all surprised to see me.

" Ah, Sir Charles," he said ; ** I thought I should be seein' you
before long. Been turnin' out in the pele tower perhaps ? "

I looked at him angrily; but, reflecting that if I wished to get
to the bottom of things I had better not quarrel with the fellow,
I swallowed my wrath and asked point-blank what he was driving
at, telling him about our misadventure on Grey Crag, without,

U U 2

Digitized by



however, mentioning Eva's find in the pele tower. He listened

" Ye'll have been finding the lantern, Sir Charles," he remarked,
quietly, as I finished.

I stared. ** My wife did,*' I said, helplessly.

" An' doubtless moved it from its appointed place," he went on,
more as if speaking his own deductions aloud than addressing me.

I took the bull by the horns.

" Mr. Wilson," I said, " I do not wish to throw up Swayne
Keld, but I want to know the rights of the mystery upon which we
seem to have stumbled. Unless we do know it we cannot stay on.
You shall not be the loser by telling me the truth."

"Maybe I will then," returned Mr. Wilson, imperturbably;
*' ye appear to be a gentleman of sense. Sir Charles, but then ye are
both a good sportsman and of this country. Previous gentlemen and
ladies have mostly run away — scairt away, one might conclude.
The truth of it is this, sir : leave the lantern alone in its appointed
place, and all will go well. Ye canna' get rid of it. It has bided
in yon niche nigh on three hundred years folks tell, and 'twill bide
there till as close on the judgment day as the pele stands. Folks
have put it in a furnace, droppit it i' the river, but always it is back
next day, and always they are disturbed for their pains. Nay, nay,
leave it alone and it '11 leave you alone."

I stared at him. Was I living in the twentieth century, or was
I back in the superstitions of the middle ages ?

" But why ? " I asked, in blank astonishment. " What is the
story of it ? "

And this is the legend of the dales that Mr. Wilson— a solid
hard-headed North-country man of business — poured into my
astonished ears :

"There lived at Swayne Keld some centuries ago a family
called Wilson — no relation of mine," my informant hurriedly told
me. "They were a bit wild, and one of the daughters, 'twas
said, made a foolish marriage in her youth. However, the man
went off and disappeared, and later on she succeeded to the estates
and married a neighbouring squire, also a Wilson, whose serving-
man, a lad of nineteen, was devotedly attached to both master and^
mistress. He was the young brother of the man Dame Wilson
had been reported to have wedded in her youth, whom Dick had
not seen since he was a child of eight years.

" One wild day, however, a half-starved beggar-man came over
the fell and implored shelter for the night. Squire Wilson, with
northern hospitality, took him in, and he was to sleep in the top
room of the pele ; but next morning it was found that he had re-

Digitized by



warded his host's kindness by making off with his host's favourite
grey horse, taking young Dick with him. This was all that was
ever definitely known.'*

" Well," I said, as old Wilson paused. '* Where does the
lantern come into this very sordid story ? "

" We guess at the rest from the lantern's behaviour," old Wilson
went on. *' Gradually ugly whispers went about the country-side.
Occasionally travellers over Grey Craig moor would meet a man
leading a grey horse, carrying a lantern in his left hand. Once or
twice storm-stayed folk followed the lantern light and fell over Grey

I shuddered. The memory of that footstep into space came
tumbling into my mind with unpleasant vividness.

"What was surmised and pieced together was this," the old man
went on. " Dick recognised in the beggar-man his lost brother,
who had doubtless come to threaten the happiness of master and
mistress ; perhaps, indeed, the elder brother attempted to induce the
younger to throw in his lot with him. At any rate, Dick is supposed
to have killed the elder man as he lay asleep in the tower room, by
the light of the lantern. He then carried the body of his victim
down to the stables, which were then on the ground floor of the
pele, and strapping it on the grey horse, started over Grey Crag
moor with his gruesome burden, which he probably intended to
dispose of in the depths of Lyke Water tarn. Some disaster may,
however, have overtaken him. At any rate he was never seen or
heard of again, and the only thing remaining was the lantern. The
dalesfolk say that Dick, the grey mare, and its load, are doomed to
roam the moor till the Last Day dawns. On that I cannot express
an opinion : such matters are beyond a plain man. Now, Sir
Charles, you know all that I can tell you."

I thanked Mr. Wilson, and thoughtfully descended into the
street. It was something to be thankful for that the pele tower only
was concerned in that bygone tragedy.

I had the entrance to the upper room in the pele tower walled
up, with the lantern in its niche still keeping watch and ward over
the dark stain on the rude stone floor. For all I know it is there
"still, except when occasionally lost travellers over Grey Crag moor
meet a great grey horse with a dark burden on its back, led by a
slim man carrying a lantern in his left hand.

I do not attempt to explain these things. As Mr. Wilson said,
I am a plain man : but I have bought Swayne Keld, and we have
not again been disturbed o' nights.

Digitized by





Italians, as a rule, are not very fond of outdoor pursuits, and
athletically-inclined visitors to the country often lament that they
have little or no opportunity of indulging in open-air pastimes.
This drawback, however, does not exist in Rome, for in the Eternal
City almost every description of sport can be enjoyed. It is true
that gladiatorial contests no longer take place in the Colosseum, but
every reasonable taste is regarded. Thus, one can hunt, race,
shoot, golf, motor, fish, swim, or play tennis, etc., to one's heart's
content, while even ping-pong enthusiasts are provided with a cerck
of their own. Altogether there are no fewer than forty-five separate
sporting clubs within the city's boundaries.

The principal sporting centre of Rome is the huge tract of
country known as the Campagna, which extends for miles in ever}^
direction, just outside the walls. At one time thickly populated and
the site of several large towns, it is now for the most part mere
waste land, or at the best cultivated only in patches. In one por-
tion is a racecourse; in another are some golf links; and in others
excellent hunting is to be had ; while the historic Appian Way that
intersects the southern portion is an ideal road for motoring over.

Digitized by



Indeed, when Appius Claudius Caecus planned it (in 312 B.C.) he might
almost have done so for the special benefit of the motorists who are
skimming along its smooth surface two thousand years later !

The most famous sporting organisation in Rome is undoubtedly
the Roman Hunt. This, which was founded so long ago as the year
1840, is as distinguished in its way as are the historic packs of
England. Its Italian title is the ** Societa Romana della Caccia
alia Volpe,*' and its members and patrons include practically all the
leading families among both the Italian and British residents. The


** Director " (or Master, as we should say) is the Marchese di Rocca-
giovini, and the vice-president is the Marchese Giacomo Mariguoli ;
while on the committee are the Prince Odescalchi (** field-master")
and the Marchese Calabrini. Among the regular attendants at the
meets are the Marchese Casati, Conte di Lazara, Visconte di
Modrone, and Baron Gino di Morpungo, while prominent among
the ladies who ride to hounds are the Principessa de Teano, the
Marchesa di Roccagiovini, and the Contessa di Robilant. The
British and American community, from Sir Edwin Egerton and
the staff of the British Embassy downwards, are all ardent

Digitized by



supporters of the hunt. It may also be remarked that the cadets
from the Tor di Quinto School of Military Equitation are required
to attend the meets as a part of their training. As they ride in full
uniform the appearance of the field is a specially picturesque one.

The kennels are at the Villa Tor Fiorenza, and meets usually
take place within easy distance of the city. Among the different
localities selected for the purpose are Cecchignola, Capannelle, Tre
Fontane, Ostiense, and Acqua Citosa, all to the south ; San Croce,
to the west ; and Bracciano, to the north. At this last spot is the
castle of Prince Odescalchi, who is one of the hunt's strongest
supporters. A feature of the meets is the large number of people
who come out to w^atch the spectacle either in motors or carriages.


Others arrive on bicycles, and others again on foot. Among this
latter contingent there is usually a considerable sprinkling of country
people who have come to marvel at the strange manner in which
** i signori ** enjoy themselves. Sometimes their curiosity leads them
to occasion the worthy Master and the hunt servants a good deal of
annoyance, for they think nothing of pressing hard upon the heels
of the pack in order to get a good view.

Next in importance to the Roman Hunt is the Jockey CJub.
This, which was founded in 1881, is an exceedingly influential
organisation, and looks after all matters relating to the Turf with a
firm hand. It is under the patronage of King Victor Emmanuel,

Digitized by






Digitized by



and the committee of management includes Prince Triulzio, the
Duke of Genoa, the Conte di Torino, and Baron Emilio Angeloni.
Another powerful organisation dealing with racing matters in Italy
is the *' Societa degli Steeplechase d' Italia." To it are affiliated
kindred societies from all over the country, including the well-
known ones of Florence, Milan, and Naples. It was brought into
existence about fourteen years ago, and has a membership limited
to one hundred. Like the older-established Jockey Club already
referred to, the King has honoured it by becoming a patron.

The racecourse for Rome is laid out at Tor di Quinto, on
the other side of the Tiber, to the east of the Ponte Molle.


Between this point and the heart of the town is maintained a ser-
vice of tramcars, but for the last stage of the journey one must
either walk or hire a conveyance. The expedition by cab is rather
expensive; for, the course being outside the walls, drivers are
apt to be more extortionate than usual in their demands. Race
meetings are held at frequent intervals, and usually attract a large
number of entries. Among the well-known gentlemen-riders who
have steered their colours to victory over the course here are the
Marchese Malaspina, Captain Ceresoli, and Signer Coccia.

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 47 of 52)