OUT-OF-DOOR GAMES AT COUNTRY HOUSES.
THACKERAY, rebuking a young man for complaining of a bad dinner, told him that no dinner was bad, but that some dinners were less good than others. In the same way, we should, no doubt, deserve rebuke were we to say that visits at country houses are ever dull; let it be enough that some are less hilariously exciting than others. If this be conceded— and at a moment when the shooting is over and horses have been hardly worked through a very open hunting season we think it is a concession that may be made—it does not aPpear untimely to look about us and see whether by any reasonable means the visits may be rendered more attractive. By reasonable means it•is perhaps fair to understand means that are not too difficult, elaborate, or expensive, and that do not make too much demand on space. Where space is indefinite the means are virtually unrestricted : we may plan a golf links, a football, cricket, hockey ground; or if the other element of water be the more available, we may make skating and curling rinks, facilities for water polo, trout fisheries, and so on, according to the season. This is all on the magnificent scale. For purposes of general utility it is more helpful to see what we can do when the space and the facilities are more narrow. Even within these limits we may find that a' great deal more may be done than commonly is done in the direction of making the ordinary country-house visit and ordinary country-house life amusing and varied.
To speak first of .the more usual "amenities," as the house- agent's circular might be apt to call them, of the country place, we find few houses in the Country that are without such almost necessary adjuncts as a tennis and a croquet lawn. Granted that these, or at least one of these that may be used alternatively for either game, exist at every Country house to which we go, we yet find the very greatest difference in the value of their existence at different places, according to the facilities that are given us for making use of them. At one house we find the tennis court ready marked out; the net in position, save for the few turns of a handle needed to hoist it to its proper altitude, balls and racquets handy; the croquet hoops set out, and the mallets and balls confronting us in the hall. In such circumstances some few of the party are almost certain to go forth and play if the Weather is at all favourable; and even if they do occupy the court to the exclusion of others, they are at least forming a kind of centre or focus Of atten- tion. They provide something of a display—whether in the nature of the sublime or the ridiculous—for the rest to look at. The party is almost redeemed from dulness already by this very simple means. On the other hand, there are houses where the courts are equally in evidence, but the gardener has not quite finished rolling them, or the lines of the tennis court are not marked, or no one quite knows where the balls are or the croquet hoops. Of course we are told that it will not take a minute to find them and fetch them, and mark out the court; but it all makes a little demand on energy, and we did not come down into the country to be energetic. The end is rather likely to be that we shall not take the necessary small trouble ; the house party in consequence loafs rather than plays', there is no spectacle for spectators,—in b. word, the simple foolish little fact that everything was not arranged plainly and simply for the would-be players has just made all the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful party. Every one has been bored. 'This is a point which has reference to the possible and probable games and diversions that are part of every country house and its "policies." It maybe that they are not games for the moment ; we do not expect weather for croquet and lawn-tennis towards the end of the hunting season. Bat the pint serves jusb as well for those
games that really are appropriate to the occasion; for the garden golf, for that really rather amusing substitute for putting, "clock golf," "ladder golf," and the rest. Let all these be made easy and attractive for people to play, with the flags set out and the ground marked, clubs and balls ready at hand : it makes all the difference. And why not always bowls ?
If you have a lawn-tennis court and a croquet ground, you have of necessity a bowling green. You require only the bo*ls ; and if these are readily available, in the hall or a summer-house, you have an added attraction to your house- party with hardly any trouble at all and hardly any expense.
These are all attractions that you may, in effect, add simply by making them appeal to the laziness of mankind taking its holiday in the country. There are many other additions to the available resources of amusement of the country house that require a good deal more planning-out and trouble in the original management than are involved simply in seeing that all the requirements for lawn-tennis, croquet, garden golf, and the rest are ready at hand ; but the trouble is very much less than is supposed; and some of it is repaid by the amusement which its outlay will afford on that fearful damper of the spirits of a country-house party (now that the insensate rage for bridge at all unreasonable hours seems to be abating), a wet day. If you have anything in the nature of a covered tennis court, or covered lawn-tennis court, or anything that is a compromise between the two, it is very good. If you have anything in the way of a squash fives or racquet court, it is in some ways even better, and the squash racquet court
takes a good deal less room. If people did but realise the ease and the comparatively little expense with which they can, as a rule, convert a couple of walls of the back regions of a country house into a good squash fives or squash racquet court by the addition of a third wall—of a back wall, if you please—and a roof in addition to that— again if you please—they certainly would avail themselves of the opportunity a great deal more readily and more often. There cannot be a greater mistake than to approach the con- sideration of the erection of such a court with any hard-and- fast ideas in your head that it must be this way or that way, so long here and so wide there, with so many walls of so many feet high. It is well to remember in this connection how it vqL.s that all the details of our most classic game of tennis came into being. Was it all thought out beforehand that it would give the best results to have the pent-house here, the dedans there, the grille in another place, and so on ? We know yery well that it was not. All these incidents existed, as we might say—with acknowledgments to Mr. Bob Sawyer's stout in its "native pewter "—by nature. There was the hole in the wall from which to serve out the meats, the gallery beneath which to carry them in shelter from the rain. These incidents were not made in the first place to fit the game; the game and the scoring were made to fit them. And as in a golf course we find the natural bunkers the most admirable of all, so in the back regions of our country houses we may find the "native waterpipe," and other "natural hazards" of a like kind, more amusing, and lending more variety and interest to the game than any that we could plan with artifice. What artifice has to supply us with—and let it supply it as perfectly as it can—is a true front wall, well cemented, so that the ball will come truly off it; a bit of the right- hand wall, at least in the corner, truly cemented, so that the service shall come off truly; and a well-cemented floor. Perhaps we may say that the court should have at least three walls and that the floor should be true, and, giving that as a minimum of requirement, leave the rest to taste, "local option," experiment, and environment. Almost neces- sarily, if you have a roof you will have a back wall. Whether you should have a roof depends on what you want. Even with the clearest of glass roofs you will have less light than if you have no roof; but of course a roof gives you a chance of playing on a wet day. On the other hand, if you have no roof and no back wall (and a back wall is not from every point of view an improvement to the game), you will soon be able to sweep the court so that it will dry, when once the actual rain has stopped; and the advantages of an open-air game, other things being' equal, are very obvious. A slight gradient in the flair, with one or more gratings leading to a drain, makes it more easy for the water to get away. With a back wall, tite game becomes perhaps a little more scientific; without, it becomes a good deal faster, for in the absence of a back wall
you have to get to the ball before it is past you; it will not come back to you again.
Mr. Lancelot Speed has lately invented a new game, a combination of hand-fives and tennis, which may perchance be useful. He calls his game—which has been described in a recent issue of the Times—net-fives. An equally good name for it would be hand-tennis, and the two names taken together perhaps furnish a fairly good idea of what the game is like. It is practically tennis in miniature, the hand being used for the racquet. There is a pent-house and a grille, buttresses, &c.; but Mr. Speed is willing to allow a large elasticity in the matter of details of the kind, and seems to be quite of our opinion that any " natural " peculiarities, so to call them, that are found ready to hand should be retained. The great merit, or one of the great merits, that he claims for his game over ordinary fives is that it is so much cheaper; the court, with four wooden walls and a cemented floor, costing about twenty pounds only. The size is no more than twenty-seven feet by thirteen, inside measurement. The ball is soft, made of pieces of sponge enclosed in a network, weighing three-quarters of an ounce, and being of three-inch diameter. The net is as used in "Badminton." Where space is very • limited, and economy has to be studied, this is a game that might fill "the felt want." At the same time, by the descrip- tion of the net, and also by the fact that the annual champion- ship of "Badminton" has lately been decided at the Crystal Palace, we are reminded that this is itself a game which is capable of exciting interest. But perhaps we have enough. The trouble of the country-house visit, as we have indicated, is less that there are not possibilities of amusement than that the possibilities are not put before the visitor in the most obvious way. At the country house where no trouble is taken to see that the best of the garden games are readily avail. able, no one is likely to take trouble about the less excel- lent games. But from those that are less excellent we have to except squash fives and racquets and all their kind, and there are few houses where the kitchen regions or the stables do not lend themselves to the easy making of a court, which would be a very cheap investment for the many dividends of healthful exercise and pleasure that it would pay.