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Polo at St Brutus's

A sample of the polo action from the book:

From Chapter Ten: The Mirror Erased

[ . . . ]

The two umpires on horseback, who were always chosen from the upper forms of the two houses not engaged in the match, took their places on either side of the two teams. Maggie Rainwater, the Hucklebuck Number Four, rolled the ball between Drake and Seraphina, and the game was on. Drake charged past it, and with a windmill motion of his mallet sent the ball backwards toward his teammates, where Terrence Hogg, Serpentine’s Number Two, retrieved it. Drake, who did not hesitate but continued riding toward the Grifter goal, had momentum and thus was able to sprint past David Dubois, playing the Number Four position for Grifter, who, turning, had to try to catch him. Terrence, meanwhile, with a long, smooth stroke, sent the ball far out in front of Drake and the trailing Dubois, just past a lunging Walsey, who attempted in vain to break up the pass.

The play had been designed as a means of taking advantage of the opposition’s unfamiliarity with Drake’s abilities as a horseman and Elvis’s superiority as a sprinter, and it worked to perfection. Grifter clearly wasn’t prepared for so aggressive a maneuver by the diminutive first-year, and was caught momentarily flat-footed. It was just enough. Because of his considerable head start, Drake had no difficulty in arriving at the ball first, where he sent it on ahead with another strike without at all breaking stride. He had one hundred and fifty yards to cover, or half the length of the field, and Elvis responded brilliantly. His horse was the finest animal on the field, so it was up to Drake not to misplay the ball and allow Dubois to recover the ground Drake had on him. He didn’t fail. He caught up to the ball and sent it on again without a hitch. Dubois and his teammates being still too far behind to catch him, Drake loped forward, struck the ball once more with a satisfying “thwack,” and watched it sail in to the unattended goal for the game’s, and Drake’s, first point.

The Serpentine fans erupted into a roar of joy, while, from the Grifter side of the field, a collective moan registered their anguish. The Serpentine cheers evolved into a rhythmic chant of “Moll -y, Moll-y, Moll – ify’s our Man!” as the teams changed sides of the field and lined up once more for the throw-in. Drake’s blush was visible to all in the stands, but his grin testified to his enjoyment of the moment. This produced some rather loud booing from the Grifter student section. Seamus Lannigan was heard making some extremely loud bathroom noises to signal his contempt, while Juan Walsey cried repeatedly, “He left too early! He left too early! Foul! Penalty!” The play was allowed to stand, however, and the crowd was still buzzing on both sides of the field as the teams lined up for the ensuing throw-in.

Harry Palmer was silent from his lonely outpost at the top of the grandstand, however. But after the goal had been scored and the teams changed ends, which apparently he hadn’t been expecting, he furtively moved down the entire length of the row, to the extreme end of the last bench, putting himself again closest to the Grifter goal.

The ball was rolled in again, but this time, because they had changed sides and everyone is required to play with the mallet in their right hand, Seraphina had a slight advantage. She sent the ball back to one of the Walseys, but there wasn’t any break-away, and the game settled in to a series of charges and take-aways which, though pulse quickening for player and spectator alike, didn’t result in any scoring for a few moments.

There perhaps was a reason for the sudden dearth of scoring. Every time Drake would receive a pass from the teammates behind him and turn toward the goal, he seemed to hesitate and shake his head as if to throw off an insect that had flown into his eyes, allowing defenders to arrive and ride him off of a clear path to the goal. This happened three successive times when he got the ball and looked to be in a position to make a charge. The third time, it was one of the Walsey’s who caught up to him just after he’d blinked and threw up his hand to cover his eyes momentarily, before attempting to make his run toward a score.

After he hooked Drake’s mallet somewhat violently, trying simultaneously to slide his own up the shaft of Mollify’s in order to whack him on the fingers and perhaps cause him to drop it, he said, “What’s happened, Molly? Not so fast anymore, are you?”

But Drake had an idea just what the problem was. He looked over toward the Grifter stands, and saw Palmer, aloof from the rest of the spectators, closing his jacket hurriedly as if to conceal something. The first chukka was just coming to an end, and the score remained Serpentine 1, Grifter 0. As the teams made their way to the sidelines for their five-minute break (three minutes between chukkas is customary, but since the school cannot afford to supply each player with a string of polo ponies the same horses are used for all four chukkas, and therefore need the extra rest), Drake decided to use the time to seek out Denis or Geoffrey and commission him to subvert whatever it was Palmer was up to. He apparently had a large mirror, and was directing a dazzling ray of sunlight into Drake’s eyes at critical moments.

He spotted Geoffrey Galle and made a sign to him to come over and talk to him behind the grandstand, where the players took their break. “What’s happening, Drake? You seem to have lost your touch.”

“I think Palmer’s trying to blind me every time I touch the ball. Don’t make yourself obvious, but when you leave here, go over to the Grifter side and put a stop to him, would you?”

“I’m on it,” said Geoffrey, who despite his small stature had a lot of courage.

When the second chukka began, Geoffrey and Denis Crumbe, who he had engaged to come and help him, removed their Serpentine scarves and waited until after the throw-in to enter the Grifter stands, so the crowd’s attention would be concentrated on the action of the game and they would be less conspicuous. They mounted to about half-way up the grandstand, and toward midfield. They saw that Palmer had switched ends again, and was focusing so intently on Drake that he remained unaware of Geoffrey and Denis’s approach. Still, to reach him without being noticed was nearly impossible, with his being so isolated.

Denis had a brain storm. “Let’s see if we can get at him from underneath the stands.”

They walked back down the steps and went around to the back of the grandstand, where they could look up underneath where everyone was sitting. There were a series of long steel bars and crossbars which formed the structure’s support. This would allow them perhaps to climb up and have access to Palmer’s feet, but what then? In the meantime they heard a groan from the Serpentine stands, indicating perhaps that Palmer had succeeded in distracting Drake yet again. As Denis was climbing up to determine what kind of havoc he could wreak with Palmer to foil him from below, however, a tumultuous cheer arose from the Grifter fans, whose team apparently just scored a goal. They were celebrating so boisterously that the entire grandstand was shaking and Denis felt as though he was in serious danger of falling off of the scaffolding. He climbed back down, and he and Geoffrey consulted.

“Why don’t we just confront him?” asked Denis.

The idea was beautiful in its simplicity. They climbed up the steps to the top row, and took seats a mere ten feet or so from Palmer, who was visibly discountenanced to see them so near. “What are you two doing on our side?” he asked. “Go on back to Serpentine.”

“We like it over here,” said Geoffrey. “Sitting this high up, you see certain flashes of brilliance that aren’t so obvious from down below.”

[ . . . ]

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A video sample of an Arena Polo match

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