Chapter 16: In the Tennis-Court
Athletic sports were in high favour at Plumfield; and the river where the old punt
used to wabble about with a cargo of small boys, or echo to the shrill screams of
little girls trying to get lilies, now was alive with boats of all kinds, from the slender
wherry to the trim pleasure-craft, gay with cushions, awnings, and fluttering
pennons. Everyone rowed, and the girls as well as the youths had their races,
and developed their muscles in the most scientific manner. The large, level
meadow near the old willow was now the college playground, and here baseball
battles raged with fury, varied by football, leaping, and kindred sports fitted to
split the fingers, break the ribs, and strain the backs of the too ambitious
participants. The gentler pastimes of the damsels were at a safe distance from
this Champ de Mars; croquet mallets clicked under the elms that fringed the field,
rackets rose and fell energetically in several tennis-courts, and gates of different
heights were handy to practise the graceful bound by which every girl expected
to save her life some day when the mad bull, which was always coming but never
seemed to arrive, should be bellowing at her heels.
One of these tennis grounds was called 'Jo's Court', and here the little lady ruled
like a queen; for she was fond of the game, and being bent on developing her
small self to the highest degree of perfection, she was to be found at every
leisure moment with some victim hard at it. On a certain pleasant Saturday
afternoon she had been playing with Bess and beating her; for, though more
graceful, the Princess was less active than her cousin, and cultivated her roses
by quieter methods.
'Oh dear! you are tired, and every blessed boy is at that stupid baseball match.
'What shall I do?' sighed Josie, pushing back the great red hat she wore, and
gazing sadly round her for more worlds to conquer.
'I'll play presently, when I'm a little cooler. But it is dull work for me, as I never
win,' answered Bess, fanning herself with a large leaf.
Josie was about to sit down beside her on the rustic seat and wait, when her
quick eye saw afar off two manly forms arrayed in white flannel; their blue legs
seemed bearing them towards the battle going on in the distance; but they never
reached the fray; for with a cry of joy, Jo raced away to meet them, bent on
securing this heaven-sent reinforcement. Both paused as she came flying up,
and both raised their hats; but oh, the difference there was in the salutes! The
stout youth pulled his off lazily and put it on again at once, as if glad to get the
duty over; the slender being, with the crimson tie, lifted his with a graceful bend,
and held it aloft while he accosted the rosy, breathless maid, thus permitting her
to see his raven locks smoothly parted, with one little curl upon the brow. Dolly
prided himself upon that bow, and practised it before his glass, but did not
bestow it upon all alike, regarding it as a work of art, fit only for the fairest and
most favoured of his female admirers; for he was a pretty youth, and fancied
himself an Adonis.
Eager Josie evidently did not appreciate the honour he did her, for with a nod she
begged them both to 'come along and play tennis, not go and get all hot and dirty