‘The House, The Duchess, and Hogflesh’, by Kenneth Lea
THE DRAWING ROOM
“The weather is set fine?”
“For sure, Your Grace, the wind is fair, skies are blue and grass is green.”
“Some sport then, I think. So, a letter to the Duke in London. I will demand he commandeers his forces from Slindon to face my men, here at the House. He will not seek to avoid my challenge, as a wager of 50 guineas will be at stake. What do you say, Johnson?”
“If it is the sport to which I think Your Grace refers, let the rain stay away.”
“Well said. Now, about your business. You know what I expect of you?”
“Certainly, Your Grace. You will require an additional man of repute to strengthen your team?”
“Indeed, indeed. The wager must be won for The House, ‘elst The Duke will be my uncomfortable companion for many days.”
THE FOLLOWING DAY
The challenge from the Duchess to her husband is accepted by return of post, and the Challenge Cricket Match arranged for play at The House, in two days time.
The coach from Kent rattles to a halt, horses steaming and snorting from their efforts. A man descends, stretching and grumbling at his discomfort from the journey.
“The way, coachman? Which way to my destination?”
A pointed finger directs the man’s eyes, not to a track, of which there are many, but to a signpost, reading GOODWOOD HOUSE. The man nods his understanding, hitches his trousers, lugs his bag and strides off in the direction of The House.
THE REAR ENTRANCE
“At last. At last.. I see The House. A fine one, with a fine driveway. That’s not the way for me, though. Still, I’ve been summoned and here’s my entrance”
He gives the door a rap with its knocker and awaits a servant’s gaze.
“Yes. What of you?”
“Tell him I’m here. if you please.”
“Mr. Johnson, of course. Tell him Hogflesh is here.”
“The Butler will not attend to someone with a false name.”
“’tis not a false name, girl; tell him The Keeper
is here, or face his displeasure at your indifference.”
With a scowl the girl is gone, noisily closing the door in Hogflesh’s face.
“Hogflesh, I’m pleased to see you here safely. Come in man and take a rest. Some food and drink? Aye, I thought you would, a man of your size. Come into the kitchen, we must build up your strength before the encounter. Her Grace is dependent upon your skills as the finest runner-out in the country. You will stay at the “Fox Goes Hunting” at Charlton”
” My pay is secured, Mr. Johnson”?
“You are alone in that repect, Hogflesh, other than John Nyren of Hambledon, who bowls with His Grace’s men from Slindon. All others are local Gentlemen known to their Graces, so mind your uncouth language in their company”.
“Aye, I’ll do that for sure. Usual bonus for excellence, Mr. Johnson?”
“You know of, and have exprienced the Duke of Richmond’s generosity before, Hogflesh. Rest assured that her Grace will match The Duke’s bonus to the letter. Now, as you have supped and eaten,’tis time to guide you to the Inn, and a bed in which to rest.”
THE GOODWOOD FRONT LAWN
” Your Grace, despite Nyren’s endless spinning, you have command over Slindon. Nyren’s top spinner had The Reverend Skelhorn at odds with himself. To see him tumble in such a graceless fashion in his attempts to strike was most amusing. Though I swear that I would have been as flummoxed as he, were I at the wicket. Nevertheless, he struck ten notches of you team’s 41.”
“I am with you there, Mr. Broderick. A splendid response to Nyren’s wiles. You admire my men’s skills? Then we must have a Challenge Match with your Portsmouth men in the late Summer, here at Goodwood. Shall we say a wager of 50 guineas, as was today?”
“Agreed, Your Grace. If the match attracts the Bookmakers, as are attendant here today, and people willing to swell the bookmaker’s pockets, we shall have a fine day out.”
“Now we must look to the reply from the men of Slindon. His Grace, I see, is to take first strike. His presence make Slindon the favourites to win, I fear, Mr. Broderick!”
My dear, your men, and your support of them, have overwhelmed Slindon, and because of my men’s impatience with the strike. They challenged Hogflesh’s skill at the wicket. His run-outs were our downfall. They would not stay in their ground and block, as I wished. They were warned, repeatedly, but my words went unheeded. Hogflesh’s hands care nothing of the hardness and speed of the ball. He feels no pain, I declare. But I was able to take 10 notches from the innings, so the loss is sweetened a little. And you have my fifty guineas. With which you have challenged Broderick’s Men of Portsmouth, I discover? A fine day’s sport to savour. You will choose me as your Captain for the day, perchance?
But now I must leave for London, as I have dealings with a tailor. My Men of Slindon are to have waistcoats, velvet caps with silver trimmings and best breeches to wear, in the future. The name of Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond, will resound around London’s Artillery Ground. Cricket will be played the country over and Goodwood will hear the clack of bat on ball for many a year. Cricket is safe in our hands, My Dear.”