41. Paddington Saves The Day
“It’s all highly irregular,” said Jonathan’s headmaster, as he addressed the small group of people standing on the cricket pitch. “He’s not even an old bear let alone an old boy.”
He looked distastefully towards the boundary where a small brown figure in an odd and rather disreputable looking hat sat dipping a paw into what looked like a large earthenware jar.
“The old boys are one man short, sir,” said the sportsmaster. “And the crowd’s getting a bit restive. If we don’t start soon there won’t be time for a match at all.”
“We could ask him, I suppose,” said the headmaster grudgingly. “He might not want to play, of course,” he added, brightening slightly at the thought. “He looks very comfortable where he is.”
“Oh, he will,” said Jonathan loyally. “Old Paddington likes anything new and he’s never played cricket before.”
“We can but try,” said the sportsmaster, interrupting hastily as he led the way across the field, “After all, nothing ventured – nothing gained.”
As organiser-in-chief of the afternoon’s cricket match in aid of the new school pavilion the sportsmaster wore a worried look on his face. In the beginning it had promised to be a particularly enjoyable occasion. A team of old boys, captained by Mr Brown, had challenged a team from the sixth form, and no less a person than Mr Alf Duckham, the famous England cricketer, had agreed to act as umpire.
Viewing the large crowd that had turned up to see the event the sportsmaster had had high “hopes of raising a lot” of money and the last minute news that the old boys were one player short had come as a bitter blow. Like a drowning man clutching at a straw he had eagerly seized on Jonathan’s suggestion that Paddington might like to turn out for the game, but as they neared the boundary line even he began to have second thoughts on the matter.
Paddington looked most surprised when he saw the party approaching his deck chair. After the first excitement of arriving at Farrowfield had died down he’d been glad of the chance to sit down and rest. Although it was only Jonathan’s first term at his father’s old school Paddington’s fame had gone before him and his paws felt quite limp after all the shaking and making marks in autograph books they had done. Apart from that he was beginning to feel the effects of several visits to the school tuck shop, not to mention two extra-large helpings of suet pudding which he’d eaten at lunch.
“How do you do, bear,” said the headmaster, taking hold of Paddington’s outstretched paw rather gingerly.
“Very well, thank you,” replied Paddington politely, raising his hat with his other paw.
The headmaster returned Paddington’s gaze doubtfully. It was a warm afternoon and there were a number of very odd and sticky looking stains about Paddington’s person, as well as some old suet pudding crumbs, which he didn’t like the look of at all.
“Er… we were wondering if you’d care to turn out for the old boys this afternoon,” he said gruffly.
“Turn out for the old boys?” exclaimed Paddington, looking even more surprised.
“They’re one man short in their team,” explained Jonathan.
“Ooh, yes please,” said Paddington eagerly. “I think I should like that. I’ve never played cricket before.”
“Eureka!” cried the sportsmaster, slapping him on the back.
“What!” exclaimed Paddington hotly, as he staggered forward. “I reeka? But I had a bath yesterday.”
“It’s all right, Paddington,” said Jonathan hastily, as the sportsmaster jumped back looking most confused.
“He didn’t mean you smell. It’s a Greek word. It means… er…”
“Well, Brown,” said the headmaster sternly, “What does it mean?”
“Er… it means we’re all very pleased he can play, sir,” said Jonathan brightly.
Mr Alf Duckham gave a cough from somewhere at the back of the group. “Perhaps we’d better toss up to see who’s going in first,” he said, taking a coin from his pocket. “Would you care to do it, bear?”
“Thank you very much, Mr Duckham,” said Paddington gratefully. “It’s a bit difficult with paws but I’ll have a go.”
While the others stood back and watched Paddington took the coin and after placing it carefully on top of one of his paws gave it a quick flick.
“A very good toss, bear,” said Alf Duckham approvingly, as he bent down and peered at the ground. “Quite professional. Now all we have to do is find it again.”
“It must be somewhere,” said the headmaster crossly a moment or so later as he got down on his hands and knees and joined the others on the grass.
“It’s all right,” cried Paddington suddenly. When the excitement was at its height. “I’ve got it. It was stuck to my paw by mistake.”
“Stuck to your paw by mistake,” repeated the headmaster, breathing heavily. “Am I hearing right?”
“I’m afraid I had some marmalade on it,” explained Paddington, holding up his paw for everyone to see.
“I forgot to wipe it off after breakfast.”
“I think,” said the sportsmaster tactfully, as a loud snort came from the headmaster’s direction, “we’d better adjourn to the pavilion and make a start. Though where we’re going to find any pads to fit,” he added, taking a closer look at Paddington, “is quite another matter.”
If anything the sportsmaster looked even more worried than he had done a few minutes before. He had a nasty feeling in the back of his mind that if there was one thing worse than having a team of only ten old boys it might well prove to be that of having a team made up of ten old boys plus a young bear into the bargain.
The Browns sat in a glum group on the boundary. Things were beginning to look very black indeed for the old boys in their match against the school. Farrowfield had batted first and by the middle of the afternoon they had declared, leaving their opponents one hundred and fifty runs to score in a little over two hours. Now, with less than twenty minutes to go wickets were falling fast and furiously and a number of the spectators were already beginning to leave the ground. Even Mrs Bird, who knew less about cricket than any of them, could see that things were far from well.
“Perhaps Paddington will be able to score a few,” she remarked hopefully, as she looked up from her knitting.
“What, with over twenty needed?” said Jonathan.
“He’s last man in. The old boys don’t stand a chance.”
With both Paddington and his father in the old boys team Jonathan wasn’t quite sure which side to applaud, but even he managed to raise a genuine groan a few minutes later as yet another loud “Howzat” from the field was followed by a burst of clapping from the school supporters.
“Crikey! That’s it!” he exclaimed. “There goes Dad’s wicket. It’s Paddington’s turn now. Seventeen needed and only fifteen minutes to go.”
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs Brown nervously. “I do hope he doesn’t stand in the way of the ball. It looks very hard to me.”
“Don’t worry,” replied Jonathan ominously. “It’s ‘Smasher’ Knowles the Demon of the Upper Sixth bowling. He’s a nasty piece of work, nobody likes him but he’s a jolly fast bowler. Paddington won’t even see the ball.”
“There he is now,” said Mrs Brown, as a familiar figure came hurrying down the pavilion steps and another much louder burst of applause went round the ground.
“I do wish he wouldn’t insist on wearing that old hat of his,” said Mrs Bird. “I’m sure it isn’t quite the thing in an old boys’ cricket match.”
“Best of luck, Paddington,” said Mr Brown, as he met him on the way in. “Now, don’t forget, watch the ball and whatever you do, keep a straight bat. And have a good look round the field. See where the captain’s placed his men. There’s a silly mid-off and he’s got a short leg.”
Paddington began to look more and more confused as he listened to Mr Brown’s advice and he nearly fell over backwards at the last piece of information.
“What!” he exclaimed, looking round at the other players with interest. “The silly mid-off’s got a short leg?”
Mr Brown opened his mouth as if he was about to say something but changed his mind. “Good luck!” he called as Paddington hurried off in the direction of the wicket with a determined expression on his face.
“Say when you’re ready, bear,” said Alf Duckham encouragingly, as Paddington took his guard at the wicket.
“l think I’m all right, Mr Duckham,” said Paddington doubtfully, looking round the field.
All in all. Paddington didn’t think much of cricket as a game. He had spent over two hours in the field when the other side had been batting and the ball had only come near him twice. The first time it had been so far over his head he’d hardly been able to see it, and the second time it had taken him completely by surprise when it had landed in his lap while he was busy testing a jar of marmalade.
Despite several pleas from the older spectators that he’d managed to get a paw to it Alf Duckham had been forced to say that it wasn’t really a catch and Paddington had been most upset.
Now that he was actually standing at the wicket he was beginning to have second and even third thoughts on the subject. Everything looked much bigger than it had done from the pavilion. There were far too many people standing nearby ready to catch him out for his liking, and when he caught sight of the look on “Smasher” Knowles’s face as he stood fingering the ball he felt even less keen on the whole affair.
Paddington crouched down and as the Demon bowler of the Upper Sixth thundered down the pitch towards him he hurriedly filled the gap between his pads with the bat and closed his eyes while he waited for the worst to happen.
“Smasher” Knowles stopped in his run. “I can’t bowl if he hides behind his pads,” he exclaimed crossly. “I can’t even see the batsman let alone the wicket.”
Alf Duckham signalled the bowler back to his place.
“Everyone has their own way of playing the game,” he said sternly, “This young bear is entitled to his.”
Unaware of the reason for the delay the Browns sat anxiously watching the events on the field as the bowler turned and once again hurled himself down the pitch towards Paddington.
“He looks in a jolly bad temper,” said Jonathan.
“This is it, I can’t watch,” said Mrs Bird. “I know something awful is going to happen.”
Just as Mrs Bird closed her eyes there was a loud click of a ball hitting wood and a roar of surprise swept round the ground. “Good Heavens!” cried someone behind her. “That young bear’s hit a six. Bravo!”
Everyone rose to their feet and stared in amazement at the sight of the ball soaring over the heads of the crowd on the far side of the field. It had taken everyone completely by surprise and for some odd reason even the fieldsmen were looking in the wrong direction.
Paddington, as he picked himself up from the ground, looked the most surprised of all. Apart from feeling as if he’d been kicked by a mule he wasn’t at all sure what had happened, but a pleased expression came over his face as he listened to the applause and he raised his hat several times to the crowd.
“He’s got his bat the wrong way round,” yelled ‘Smasher’ Knowles, pointing an accusing finger at Paddington. “How can you tell where the ball’s going if he doesn’t hold his bat properly? It might go anywhere.”
Alf Duckham scratched his head. “I don’t know that there’s anything in the rules saying you must hit the ball with the flat side of the bat,” he said. “Can’t say as I’ve ever come across it before. I think we’d best play on.”
‘Smasher’ Knowles glared at Paddington and then turned and made his way back up the pitch. “He didn’t even hit the ball,” he grumbled. “I hit the bat!”
“Two more balls to this over,” said Jonathan. “I wonder if Paddington can hold out.”
“Crikey!” he exclaimed, jumping to his feet again as another burst of applause swept the ground. “A four! Good old Paddington!”
Even Mrs Bird was sitting on the edge of her chair with excitement at the sudden change in the game. “He can’t possibly do it again,” she exclaimed, as ‘Smasher’ Knowles turned to make his run for the last ball of the over.
“He jolly well has,” cried someone over the applause. “Another four! Fourteen off one over, Bravo bear! Best innings of the day.”
“There’s just time for two more overs,” said Jonathan excitedly, as he looked at the pavilion clock. “And the old boys only need three runs to win. If the other chap can keep the bowling away from Paddington they stand a chance.”
“I’m sure Paddington could hit another of those fours,” said Mrs Bird vaguely. “He seems very good at those.”
“It’s old Parkinson bowling now,” said Jonathan.
“He’s a spin bowler. Even Paddington won’t get any fours off him.”
The crowd relaxed as the field settled down and the bowler ran up to deliver the first ball of the over. Gradually an air of gloom descended once again as Paddington’s partner made a wild swing at the first four balls and missed them completely.
“I know Paddington could do better,” said Mrs Brown.
“He’s hit one,” cried Jonathan excitedly. “Come on Paddington – run!”
The crowd watched with bated breath as the two figures ran between the wickets. Paddington seemed to be having some kind of trouble with his pads and he was still only halfway down the pitch when his partner was safely home. Paddington’s pads had been something of a problem right from the start. Bears’ legs being rather short there had been none of the right size and in the end the sportsmaster had trimmed the ends off an old pair he’d found in the pavilion. But even so they were far from satisfactory and the tops flapped up and down banging Paddington on his knees as he struggled to make his run.
“Whew!” said Jonathan, sinking back to the ground as Paddington reached his crease in the nick of time.
“That was a near thing. Two more wanted to win.”
“Mercy me,” said Mrs Bird. “I’ve dropped all my stitches.”
“Best of luck, bear,” whispered Alf Duckham, as Paddington took up his position. “And be careful. It’s young Parkinson bowling. They tell me he comes from Australia so watch his googlies.”
“Watch his googlies?” repeated Paddington peering down the pitch with interest as the bowler ran towards him “How do you do,” he called out, raising his hat politely “I’m Paddington Brown and I come from Darkest Peru.”
The crowd fell silent as the ball left the bowler’s hand and then a murmur of surprise went round the ground.
“That’s funny,” said Jonathan, “What’s happened to it?”
Everyone craned their necks in an effort to see what was going on as first the fieldsmen and then Alf Duckham began searching the ground round the wicket.
“It must be somewhere,” said Alf Duckham. “A ball can’t just disappear into thin air. Any idea where you hit it, bear?”
Paddington reached up and felt the top of his head.
“I don’t think I did hit it, Mr Duckham,” he said vaguely. “I think it must have hit me. I’ve got a bruise under my hat.”
“A bruise under your hat?” repeated Alf Duckham, looking most concerned. “Here, let me see.”
As he felt under Paddington’s hat a strange look came over Alf Duckham’s face. “That isn’t a bruise,” he exclaimed, withdrawing his hand. “It’s the ball!”
“Oh, dear,” said Paddington. “It must have gone inside my hat by mistake when I raised it just now.”
Alf Duckham took a deep breath. “End of the over,” he called, signalling the players to change again.
“That’s torn it,” groaned Jonathan. “Trust old Paddington to do a thing like that. Now there’s only time for one over and it’s ‘Smasher’ Knowles’s turn again.”
“And they say cricket’s a dull game,” exclaimed Mrs Bird.
“Not when Paddington’s playing,” said Mr Brown.
“If only they can get another two runs.” Mr Brown stood with his hands ready to applaud as play began but they got noticeably lower and lower as first one ball and then another whistled past Paddington’s partner untouched by the bat.
“Last ball of the day coming up,” he groaned. “He must hit this one.”
“He has too!” cried Jonathan, as a loud click came from the field. “Come on, Paddington – run. One more for a tie – two for a win!”
Other voices added themselves to Jonathan’s and within a matter of moments the whole ground was in an uproar. From his position in the centre of the pitch Paddington struggled on oblivious to it all. Amongst the general hub-bub he could vaguely catch the sound of his name and he remembered seeing his partner pass him several times going in opposite directions, but he was much too busy trying to stand up let alone run as his pads slipped lower and lower down his legs.
Once he even felt someone pick him up and point him in the right direction but beyond that everything seemed like a bad dream as he tried to move his legs and nothing happened. No one on the field was more surprised than he was when at long last the wickets loomed up ahead and he found himself safely home.
“Well.” said Mrs Brown. “What happens now? Paddington’s run one and his partner’s run three.”
“It’ll be a tie,” said Mr Brown. “They’ll just have to count Paddington’s one.”
But on the field Alf Duckham, entering into the spirit of the game, was having different ideas on the subject.
“l think,” he announced, holding up his hand for silence, “in view of all the circumstances, we’ll award the old boys one and a half runs and give them the game.”
Mr Duckham’s announcement was greeted by a storm of applause from spectators and players alike, and even ‘Smasher’ Knowles was seen to be clapping with the rest.
“Hear! Hear!” echoed the headmaster, as he came on to the field. “A very fair decision. A trifle unusual and not quite in the book of rules. But very fair.”
The headmaster of Farrowfield looked very pleased with himself at the unexpected success of the day’s activities. The excitement towards the end had been so great that contributions towards the new Cricket Pavilion Fund were pouring in, and he hurried over to shake Paddington by the paw.
“I was wondering, bear,” he said hopefully, when the applause had died down, “if you would care to turn out for the old boys next year. We’re sadly in need of a new swimming pool.”
Paddington stood mopping his brow for a moment while he considered the matter from all angles. Although he had enjoyed parts of the game very much indeed the ball had come much too close to his whiskers at times for his liking and on the few occasions when he’d actually touched it, it had felt very hard indeed.
In the end it was Alf Duckham who came to his rescue and decided matters for him. “If you want my advice, bear,” he said wisely. “I should retire while you’re still at your peak. After all, there aren’t many cricketers who can say they’ve scored an average of fourteen runs a match, especially off one over, and you don’t want to spoil a record like that!”
“Perhaps,” said Paddington, “I could come down next year and be the interval man.”
“The interval man?” echoed the headmaster, looking puzzled.
“I think he means the man who brings the lemonade on during the break,” said Alf Duckham “A most important job. In fact,” he continued, voicing everyone’s thoughts as he led the way back to the pavilion, “it’s such an important job I think you should get a bit of practice in right now. Speaking for myself, a long glass of bears’ lemonade would round the day off perfectly.”