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A Very Gallant Gentleman
by Dave Powell

It was an enormous hit struck firmly in the middle of the bat, the ball lofted high over third man and wicket keeper, landing in the duck pond opposite the bowlers end.
‘Do you like cricket, Mrs Gillibrand?’ Birchall enquired, lifting his left buttock from the park bench, fetchingly swinging a richly corduroyed leg over his right knee.

‘I can’t say as I do,’ Mrs Gillibrand replied, picking at a slice of stale bread she’d taken earlier from the dining room table.

‘Quintessentially English, cricket,’ Birchall continued, admiring the elegant tooling of his brown brogues. ‘Quintessentially English…’
but his voice trailed off as his thoughts became distant, and clutching his walking stick, his bottom lip began to quiver.

‘Leave it alone, Chubby!’ Mrs Gillibrand scolded, as an enterprising Eider duck lunged at a piece of bread, floating in the water. ‘I threw that for Goldie, not for you. No wonder you’re so fat.'

‘Corinthian!’ Birchall erupted, seemingly refreshed from his mental excursion. ‘Play up, play up and play the game, old chap. Captain Oats, a very gallant gentleman. Do not leave the igloo brave captain,’ he implored as a man in flannel trousers, rolled up to the knees, waded into the duck-pond.

‘Irish I think,’ Mrs Gillibrand declared, placing the stale bread on the bench beside her. ‘He served in an Irish regiment, I’m sure of it.’


‘Captain Oats, he was a captain in the army.’

‘I always thought he was in the navy,’ Birchall mused, swishing the end of his walking stick across some blades of grass. ‘He was a damn fine fellow, wherever he came from; damn fine fellow.’
‘You look, erm, rather nice this afternoon, Mrs Gilibrand. Not too shabby, if I might say.’

Mrs Gillibrand straightened, and retrieving the slice of bread, placed it on her lap.
‘Thank you, Mr Birchall.’

‘Prerequisite,’ Birchall chuckled, nervously fingering his jacket lapel. ‘Prerequisite in being a gentleman, gallantry. A gentleman would never hit a lady with his hat on, for example. Not that I would dream of striking you Mrs Gillibrand,’ he added with alacrity. ‘I was in the navy myself, destroyers.’

‘That must have been nice for you,’ Mrs Gillibrand said. ‘During the war?’

‘Yes, convoys, in the north Atlantic. They were good chaps in the wardroom, decent lot. I remember once we had a competition to find a suitable phrase with which to present ones desires in courtship, something to dignify the intent. The winner got five pounds.’

‘Do you remember any of them?’ Mrs Gillibrand asked, beginning to feel a little more at ease.

‘What were they now?’ Birchall thought for a moment. ‘Oh yes, I remember. “Would madam care to pluck a rose”, was one.’

‘That’s rather sweet.’ Mrs Gillibrand demurred.

“Would one permit one to mount one”, was another. That was the padre’s, if I remember right.’
‘And yours?’ Mrs Gillibrand asked coyly. ‘What was yours, Mr Burchall?’

“Would madam care to savour the Cumberland,” he said with relish, adding with a glint in his eye. ‘I still have the fiver.'

’The man in flannels stooped to pick up the ball, as Chubby and Goldie fought over a rich tea biscuit that had fallen from his shirt pocket.

‘We must be getting back to the home,’ Mrs Gillibrand sighed. ‘I think it’s pilchards for tea.’

‘Oh, that’ll be nice,’ Birchall said, stiffening as he rose from the bench.

Mrs Gillibrand linked her arm through his, helping him to his feet. ‘I doubt there’ll be any Cumberland on the menu tonight, Mr Birchall,’ she said, smiling.