52. Paddington Hits Out
“I know it’s none of my business,” said Mrs Bird, pausing for a moment as she cleared the breakfast table, “but do you think Mr Curry’s suddenly come into some money?” She nodded towards the next-door garden. “He’s out there practising with his golf clubs again this morning. That’s the third time this week.”
“I must say it’s very strange,” agreed Mrs Brown, as the clear sound of a ball being hit by a club greeted her housekeeper’s remarks. “He seemed to be turning his lawn into a putting green yesterday and he’s got some plus-fours hanging on the line.”
Paddington, who until that moment had been busily engaged in finishing up the last of the toast and marmalade before Mrs Bird removed it from the table, suddenly gave vent to a loud choking noise. “Mr Curry’s plus-fours are hanging on the line!” he exclaimed when he had recovered himself.
He peered through the window with interest, but Mr Curry’s clothes line seemed very little different from any other day of the week. In fact, apart from a tea-towel and jerseys the only unusual item was a pair of very odd-looking trousers which hung limp and bedraggled in the still morning air.
“Those are plus-fours,” explained Mrs Brown. “They’re special trousers people used to wear when they played golf. You don’t often see them nowadays.”
Mrs Brown looked just as puzzled as her housekeeper as she considered Mr Curry’s strange behaviour. Apart from having a reputation for meanness, the Brown’s neighbour was also noted for his bad temper and unsportsmanlike attitude generally. The idea of his taking up any sort of game was hard to picture and when it was an expensive one like golf then it became doubly so.
“That reminds me,” she continued, turning away from the window. “Henry asked me to get his golfing things out for him. There’s an “open day” at the golf club on Saturday and he wants to go. They’re expecting quite a crowd. Arnold Parker’s putting in a special appearance and he’s judging one or two competitions. I don’t know whether Henry’s going in for any of them but apparently there are some quite big prizes.
There’s a special one for the person whose ball travels the farthest and…”
“Hmm,” said Mrs Bird as Mrs Brown’s voice trailed away. “There’s no need to say any more. That’s one mystery solved!”
Although she wasn’t in the habit of interesting herself in other people’s affairs Mrs Bird liked to get to the bottom of things. “Trust Mr Curry to be around when there’s a chance of getting something for nothing,” she snorted as she disappeared towards the kitchen with her tray.
As Mrs Brown picked up the remains of the crockery and followed her housekeeper out of the room Paddington climbed up on to his chair and looked hopefully out of the window. But Mr Curry was nowhere in sight and even the sound of shots being practised seemed to have died away, so he climbed back down again and a few minutes later hurried out into the garden in order to investigate the matter more closely.
In the past he’d several times come across Mr Brown’s golf clubs in the cupboard under the stairs, but he’d never watched the game being played before and the possibility of seeing Mr Curry practising on his lawn and being able to take a closer look at his plus-fours into the bargain seemed an opportunity too good to be missed.
Crouching down to the ground behind Mr Brown’s shed he put his eye to a special knot-hole in the fence which usually gave a very good view of the next-door garden, but to his surprise there was nothing to be seen but a wall of blackness.
Looking most disappointed Paddington picked up one of Mr Brown’s old bean sticks and poked it hopefully through the hole in an attempt to unblock it. As he did so a loud cry of pain suddenly rang out and he nearly fell over backwards with surprise as the familiar figure of the Browns’ neighbour suddenly rose into view on the other side of the fence.
“Bear!” roared Mr Curry as he danced up and down clutching his right eye. “Did you do that on purpose, bear?
Hastily letting go of the stick Paddington jumped back in alarm. “Oh, no, Mr Gurry,” he exclaimed. “I was only trying to unblock the hole. If I’d known you were there I’d have done it much more gently. I mean…”
“What’s that?” bellowed Mr Curry. “What did you say?”
Paddington gave up trying to explain what he meant as the face on the other side of the fence turned a deep purple.
“I wanted to see your sum trousers, Mr Curry,” he said unhappily.
“My what trousers?” repeated Mr Curry.
“Your sum trousers, Mr Curry,” said Paddington, “The ones you play golf in.”
Mr Curry gave Paddington a searching look with his good eye. “If you mean my plus-fours why don’t you say so, bear,” he growled. Removing his hand from the other eye he glared suspiciously across the fence. “I was looking for my golf ball. It went over into your garden.”
Anxious to make amends Paddington looked around Mr Brown’s garden and almost immediately spied a small white object nestling among the tomato plants.
“Here it is, Mr Curry,” he called. “I think it’s broken one of Mr Brown’s stems.”
“If people don’t take the trouble to build their fences high enough they must expect these things,” said Mr Curry nastily as he took the ball.
He examined it carefully to make sure it wasn’t damaged and then looked thoughtfully at Paddington.
“I didn’t realise you were interested in golf, bear,” he remarked casually.
Paddington returned his gaze doubtfully. “I’m not sure if I am yet, Mr Curry,” he said carefully.
On more than one occasion in the past he’d been caught napping by a casual remark from the Browns’ neighbour and had no wish to find himself agreeing by mistake to build a golf course for sixpence.
Mr Curry looked over his shoulder in order to make sure no one else was around and then he signalled Paddington to come closer. “I’m-looking for someone to act as caddie for me in the golf competition tomorrow,” he said, lowering his voice. “I have some very expensive equipment and I need someone reliable to take charge of it all. If I find the right person,” he continued meaningly, “I might not report whoever it is for nearly poking my eye out with a stick.”
“Thank you very much, Mr Curry,” began Paddington even more doubtfully.
Almost before the words were out of his mouth Mr Curry rubbed his hands together. “Good! That’s settled then,” he said briskly. “I’ll see you on the links at two o’clock sharp.
“Mind you,” he added sternly as he turned to go. “If I let you do it, I shall hold you responsible for everything. If any of my balls get lost, you’ll have to buy me some new ones.”
Paddington stared unhappily after the retreating figure in the next-door garden. He wasn’t at all sure what duties a caddie had on a golf course but from the tone of Mr Curry’s last remarks he had a nasty feeling that not for the first time he was getting the worst of the bargain.
In the event his worst fears were realised and any ideas he might have entertained of actually having a go himself were quickly dashed the following day when he met Mr Curry at the entrance to the golf course.
The Browns’ neighbour wasn’t in a very good mood, and as the afternoon wore on and Paddington laboured wearily up hill and down dale, struggling with the bag of clubs, his hopes grew fainter still.
Mr Curry seemed to spend most of his time climbing in and out of one or other of the many bunkers scattered about the eighteen holes on the golf course, his temper getting shorter and shorter, and Paddington was thankful when at long last the spot where the big competition of the day was being held came into view and they stood awaiting their turn to start.
“You’ll have to keep your eyes skinned here, bear,” growled Mr Curry, surveying the fairway. “I shall be hitting the ball very hard and you mustn’t lose sight of it. I don’t want it getting mixed up with anyone else’s.”
“It’s all right, Mr Curry,” said Paddington eagerly. “I’ve put a special mark on the side with some marmalade peel.”
“Marmalade peel?” echoed Mr Curry. “Are you sure it won’t come off?”
“I don’t think so, Mr Curry,” replied Paddington confidently. “It’s some of my special marmalade from the cut-price grocers in the market. Mrs Bird always says their chunks never come off anything.”
Paddington glanced around while he was explaining what he’d done. Quite a large crowd had assembled to watch the event and he felt most important as he leaned nonchalantly on Mr Curry’s club in the way that he’d seen Arnold Parker do in some of the many posters advertising the event.
Even Mr Curry himself began to look slightly better pleased with things in general as he took in the scene around them.
“Of course, bear,” he announced in a loud voice for the benefit of some near-by spectators, “I’ve only been practising so far. Getting my hand in so to speak. It’s a long time since I played golf so I’ve been saving myself for this event. Now, when I go up to get my prize I’d like you to…”
Mr Curry’s voice broke off and whatever else he’d been about to say was lost for posterity as a loud crack rent the air and Paddington suddenly rolled over on to the grass clutching a short length of stick in his paw.
“Bear!” bellowed Mr Curry. For once words deserted him as he pointed a trembling finger at the broken end of his golf club.
Paddington sat up and peered unhappily at the two jagged pieces. “Perhaps you could tie them together, Mr Curry,” he said hopefully.
“Tie them together!” spluttered Mr Curry. “Tie them together! My best driver! I’ll… I’ll.”
“Look here,” a voice at Mr Curry’s elbow broke into the argument. “If anyone is owed an apology it’s this young bear. From the way you were playing earlier on I’m not surprised that club snapped. It’s a wonder there wasn’t a nasty accident. And if this is your best one, I must say I wouldn’t care to see your worst. It’s all rusty!”
The owner of the voice looked distastefully at the remains of Mr Curry’s club and then bent down to give Paddington a hand. “My name’s Parker,” he announced. “Arnold Parker. I’m acting as judge here this afternoon.”
“Thank you very much, Mr Parker,” said Paddington, looking most impressed at having such a famous person help him to his feet. “My name’s Brown. Paddington Brown.”
“Arnold Parker?” repeated Mr Curry. The cross expression on his face disappeared as if by magic. “I was only joking,” he said, creasing his face into a smile as he reached into his golf bag. “These things happen. I do have another driver. It’s a much heavier one, of course I really only keep it for when I’m playing in important matches but still. Remind me to give you sixpence when we get home, bear,” he added in a loud voice for the benefit of Arnold Parker.
Paddington blinked at the Browns’ neighbour in amazement. It was most unlike him to want to pay out sixpence at the end of a hard day’s work let alone offer one without so much as being asked.
“Do you happen to have my tee handy, bear?” asked Mr Curry, as he took up his position at the start.
“Your tea, Mr Curry?” repeated Paddington. Taken even more by surprise at this sudden request, he reached hastily under his hat in an effort to make amends for his accident, and withdrew a marmalade sandwich.
Mr Curry took the sandwich, looked at it for a moment as if he could hardly believe his eyes, and then threw it on the ground. “I don’t mean that sort of tea, bear,” he growled, his smile becoming even more fixed than before. “I mean the kind you place the ball on.”
Taking a deep breath, he reached into his pocket and withdrew a small object made of yellow plastic which he pushed into the ground in front of him. Balancing Paddington’s specially marked ball on top of the tee, Mr Curry stood back, took careful aim along the fairway, swung the new club over his shoulder, and then to everyone’s surprise gave a loud yell as in one continuous movement he turned head over heels like a Catherine wheel.
“Oh, dear,” said Arnold Parker. He bent down and examined something on the ground. “I think you must have accidentally trodden on Mr Brown’s marmalade sandwich!”
The golf club was situated close to a railway line and fortunately for the ears of the onlookers in general, and Paddington in particular, Mr Curry’s remarks for the next few minutes as he sat digesting this piece of information were drowned by the noise of a passing train.
“Marmalade!” he exclaimed. “All over my best plus-fours!” He sat up rubbing his leg. “And I’ve hurt myself,” he groaned. “Now I shan’t be able to play.”
Arnold Parker began to look rather concerned as Mr Curry screwed up his face. “If I were you, I’d go along to the First Aid tent,” he said. “It may be serious.”
“Bear!” roared Mr Curry. “It’s all your fault, bear. Leaving marmalade sandwiches lying around like that.”
“Nonsense!” said Arnold Parker, coming to Paddington’s rescue again. “If you hadn’t thrown it down in the first place it would never have happened. It’s a judgement.”
“Perhaps I could have a go for you, Mr Curry,” said Paddington eagerly.
Arnold Parker looked at him thoughtfully. “There’s no reason why not,” he said, turning to Mr Curry. “It doesn’t say anything in the rules about bears being barred and it’ll save you losing your entrance money.”
Mr Curry pricked up his ears at this last piece of information. He glared at Paddington and then, swallowing hard, handed over his club. “All right, bear,” he said, ungraciously. “I suppose it’s better than nothing. But mind you make a good job of it. And make sure you address the ball properly,” he barked, as Paddington took up his position.
“Make sure I address the ball properly, Mr Curry?” exclaimed Paddington, looking most surprised. “I don’t even know where it’s going!”
“I think he’s worried about your stance, Mr Brown,” said Arnold Parker soothingly.
“My stamps!” echoed Paddington, growing more and more confused. Looking at Mr Curry’s ball there didn’t seem much room for even a short address let alone a stamp as well and he was most relieved when Arnold Parker explained that addressing the ball was only another way of saying you were getting ready to hit it and that “stance” simply described the way you stood.
Paddington looked round at the crowd. It seemed to him that golfers used a lot of very long and complicated words to describe the simple act of hitting a small white ball with a club.
Taking hold of Mr Curry’s club, he closed his eyes, and to the accompaniment of a gasp of alarm from some of the nearby spectators, swung the club with all his might.
“Perhaps you could try standing a little nearer,” said Arnold Parker, after a few minutes and quite a number of goes had passed by without anything happening. He looked at his watch and then at the queue of waiting competitors. “It must be a bit difficult with paws,” he added encouragingly.
Paddington mopped his brow and stared at the ball in disgust. He felt there were several improvements he could make to the game of golf, not the least of which would be to have a bigger ball. All the same he was a determined bear and after deciding to have one last try he closed his eyes again, gripped the club as hard as he could, and took a final swing.
This time there was a satisfying crack as the end of the club made contact with the ball.
“Fore!” shouted someone in the crowd behind him.
“Five!” exclaimed Paddington, nearly falling over in his excitement.
“Congratulations!” said Arnold Parker, as he picked himself up off the ground. “Did anyone see where it went? ”
“I did,” shouted Mr Curry above the noise of a passing goods train. “Over there!” He pointed towards a large patch of scrubland between the tee and the railway line and then turned back to Paddington.
“Bear,” he said slowly and carefully, “I’m going to the First Aid tent now to get my leg seen to. If you haven’t found my ball by the time I get back I’ll…”
The Browns’ neighbour left his sentence unfinished as he hobbled away, but the expression on his face more than made up for any lack of words and Paddington’s heart sank as he bade goodbye to Arnold Parker and made his way slowly in the direction of the railway line.
From a distance the piece of land had looked bad enough, full of long grass and brambles, but now that he was close to it Paddington decided he wouldn’t fancy his chances of finding a football let alone anything as small as a golf ball, and even the friendly sight of the train driver waving in his direction as the engine disappeared round a bend failed to cheer him up as he settled down to his unwelcome task.
Mr Curry sat up in bed in the Casualty Ward of the hospital and stared in amazement at the shiny new bag of golf clubs. “Do you mean to say I won these?” he said.
“Paddington won them,” replied Mrs Bird firmly.
“And now he’s very kindly giving them to you.”
“And I’ve brought you a ‘get well’ present too, Mr Curry,” said Paddington, handing over a small white plastic object with holes in the side. “It’s a special practice ball which doesn’t go very far so it won’t get lost.”
“Thank you very much, bear,” said Mr Curry gruffly.
He stared first at Paddington and then at his presents.
“It’s very kind of you. I was going to give you a good talking to but I shan’t now.”
“I should think not indeed!” exclaimed Mrs Bird fiercely.
“Fancy you hitting a ball farther than anyone else,” said Mr Curry, still hardly able to believe his eyes or his ears.
“He didn’t exactly hit it farther,” said Jonathan, nudging his sister. “It only travelled farther. But Arnold Parker said it was probably a world record all the same.”
“Especially for a bear,” added Judy, squeezing Paddington’s paw.
“A world record!” Mr Curry began to look even more impressed as he listened to the others. “Very good, bear. Very good indeed!” He fingered his new clubs and then looked thoughtfully at the new practice ball. “It makes me want to have a go.”
“I shouldn’t if I were you,” said Mrs Brown anxiously, reading Mr Curry’s thoughts. “You don’t want another accident.”
“Nonsense!” exclaimed Mr Curry, sticking his legs out of the bed. “They’re letting me out soon. I feel better already.” He bent down, placed the ball in the middle of the polished floor, and then, before anyone could stop him, took careful aim with one of his new clubs. “One go won’t do any…”
Mr Curry’s voice broke off and for a second he seemed to disappear in a flurry of arms and legs. Then a loud crash shook the ward.
“Crikey!” exclaimed Jonathan. “Not again!”
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs Brown. “We did warn you.”
“Nurse!” bellowed Mr Curry, as he sat up rubbing his injured leg. “Nurse. Where are you? Who left all this polish on the floor?”
The Browns exchanged glances as the doors burst open and a crowd of figures in white led by a lady in a Sister’s uniform rushed into the ward.
“I think we’d better beat a hasty retreat,” said Mr Brown, voicing the thoughts of them all.
“It certainly wasn’t Paddington’s fault that time,” said Mrs Bird firmly.
“You know what Mr Curry’s like,” said Mrs Brown.
“Can’t we tell him the rest of the story?” asked Jonathan.
Mr Brown shook his head. “I think it’ll have to wait,” he said, trying to make himself heard above the hubbub. “Anyway, I don’t suppose he’ll believe us.”
Mrs Brown took one last look at the crowd round Mr Curry’s bed as she led the way up the ward. “Nine miles does sound a long way for a golf ball to go,” she agreed. “What a good job the rules didn’t “say anything about how it travelled.”
“Fancy landing in the cab of a railway engine,” said Jonathan. “No wonder the driver was waving at you.”
“It was jolly good of him to have sent it back,” added Judy. “What do you think, Paddington?”
Paddington considered the matter for a moment. He gave a final wave of his paw in the direction of Mr Curry’s bed and then, as the familiar voice of the Browns’ neighbour rang out, he hastily followed the others through the door. “I think,” he said, amid general agreement, “it’s a good job I put a marmalade chunk on the side of the ball to mark it. Otherwise, no-one would have known it was mine!”
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