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A Mersey Maiden

A Mersey Maiden

Book excerpt

Chapter 1 - Quintessentially British

“Oh, I say. Well hit sir!”

The time honoured cliché burst forth from the lips of an ageing, bespectacled gentleman, dressed in tweed jacket with leather reinforcements on the cuffs, white shirt and club tie and beige flannel trousers. Sitting in his deck chair, basking in the warmth of a sunny June afternoon, the old man could have been a contemporary of the great W.G. Grace himself, with his long, flowing beard adding to the appearance of a cricketing great from the past.

As applause rippled around the ground, the ball sailed gracefully over the boundary, the umpire duly raising both arms to signal another six runs to the university team. Nothing gave Andrew Montfort greater pleasure than spending an afternoon watching his beloved cricket; the sound of willow on cork as the batsmen amassed the best score they could being almost like music to his ears.

This particular Sunday afternoon was a little special for Montfort, as the team from The University of Liverpool was engaged in the annual Montfort Trophy match against their fierce rivals from the University of Manchester, the trophy being named for his grandfather, Sir Michael Montfort who had instituted the annual match soon after the end of the Great War in 1918.

Sir Michael had studied at the university before going on to become one of the leading industrialists of the early twentieth century. His business interests stretched from the city of Liverpool to Manchester and beyond, and the trophy was his way of encouraging the post-war youth to enjoy his favourite sport whilst studying for their futures.

Having played cricket for the university he'd also later played for the local amateur club, Liverpool Cricket Club, an old established amateur club formed in 1807 and playing at the Aigburth Cricket Ground. The ground holds a singular claim to fame in that it possesses the oldest pavilion in the country at a first class cricket ground.

Now, the bowler completed his run up and another ball sped down the wicket towards the batsman who again made a solid contact, the thwack as bat connected with ball being greeted by yet more applause. This time, the ball was successfully fielded and the batsmen completed a single run.

A tall, mustached figure dressed in cricket whites walked up and stood beside Andrew Montfort's deck chair.

“He's quite a find, young Decker, don't you think, Mr. Montfort?” asked team captain, Simon Dewar.

“Indeed he is, Simon,” Montfort replied. “Who'd have thought a Yank would become one of your best batsmen in years, eh?”

“Obviously, his experience playing baseball back home in the States gave him a good grounding, and don't forget his bowling prowess too,” said Dewar, a tall, rangy student of accountancy and finance.

“Yes, I heard he was something of a star for his college team.”

“It was our good luck when his father was transferred to the UK, and Aaron came over with his parents. Even more so that he chose us for his post-grad studies.”

“A student of modern history, I believe, Simon?”

The team captain nodded as Montfort returned the conversation to his first love.

“How many centuries did he score last season, Simon? Was it seven, or eight?”

“Eight, sir, and got out in the nineties twice.”

“It's a wonder the professional county cricket clubs haven't tried to tempt him.”

“Oh, but they have, sir. Lancashire tried to coax him into joining them last summer, and Durham and Worcestershire made approaches, but he was adamant he wants to remain an amateur, free to play or not play as he chooses, and, as he rightly told them all, if his father has to relocate again, he may have to leave the country at short notice.”

“Well then Simon. We must make the most of young Aaron Decker while we have him, eh?”

“Definitely, sir, I couldn't agree more.”

“Oh, yes, good shot, young Decker,” Montfort suddenly exclaimed, applauding as he did so.

“I'd better go, sir. Soon be time to break for tea.”

“Right you are, Simon. How many more do the university need to win? My damned eyes aren't what they were, even with the specs. Can't make out the scoreboard from here.”

Simon Dewar glanced across at the scoreboard.

“We need fifty five to win, sir. If Aaron can stay at the wicket, we should cruise it after tea.”

“Jolly good, Simon. Be nice to see the trophy stay at the old alma mater for another year. Been a while since you chaps won it two years running.”

“Ten years since we achieved that honour, sir. I wouldn't have thought it mattered to you. You have as much influence in Manchester as you do here, don't you, as your grandfather did?”

“True, Simon, but I must admit, keep it under your hat mind; I always have a slight bias for you chaps. Probably because my wife hails from the area.”

“Thanks a lot, Mr. Montfort. I shan't breathe a word,” Simon smiled at the old man, and then wandered off towards the pavilion as another over ended. Simon Dewar retained a quiet air of confidence that the day would end with another triumph, thanks to Aaron Decker and his uncanny eye, which seemed to guide his bat to make contact at the precise moment required to achieve maximum contact with the ball. American or not, he was a damn fine cricketer.

Following another single from Decker, and with Darren Oates now at the receiving end, the rest of the over played out without the addition of further runs, Darren being content to block the last two balls, after which the umpires signalled the tea interval and the players trooped off the field of play and into the pavilion, where refreshments awaited.

“It's going well, Aaron,” Simon Dewar said as he handed Aaron Decker a refreshing glass of iced lemonade.

“Sure is, skipper,” Decker replied. “Got to watch their fast bowlers though. They're not bad at all. The red-haired guy almost got me a couple of overs ago.”

“Speaking of bowling, old Andrew Montfort has been watching you closely today. He was well impressed with your bowling figures earlier today. Six maiden overs from ten overs bowled is damn fine going.”

“Hell, it was just good luck and poor batting,” Aaron said, making light of his impressive bowling statistics. “Still, if it's giving the old guy a good afternoon, I'm real pleased.”

Andrew Montfort chose that moment to walk up behind the two young men, and spent five minutes chatting to the pair, finally departing to speak to one of the lecturers he was friendly with, who'd just entered the pavilion.

“I thought he'd never leave you alone,” said the beautiful long-haired blonde who walked up to the two men as Montfort walked away, wrapping her arms around Aaron's waist from behind, and reaching up to kiss the back of his neck. Dressed in a plain white, short-sleeved blouse with a fairly low cut v-neck and pale blue pleated mini skirt, her long legs bare, and with a pair of low-heeled white pumps on her feet, Sally Metcalfe exuded confidence, and Aaron spun round to take her in his arms and promptly kissed her on the lips before standing back to admire his girlfriend, who'd only just arrived at the ground, having spent the majority of the day at a family barbecue at her parents' home in Lancaster, some sixty miles north of Liverpool. Sally could have attended the university in her own town, but had chosen Liverpool in order to gain a degree of independence from her father, who she described as believing they still lived in the Victorian era.

“Hey, gorgeous,” Aaron responded. “I was thinking you weren't gonna make it to see us lift that trophy again.”

“I wouldn't have missed it for the world, Aaron. It's just, well you know how it is at home. I couldn't not go to the stupid barbecue; even if it was populated mostly by old farts and Daddy's cronies from the stupid transportation and pharmaceutical industries with their boring trophy wives, or worse still, their hired tarts.”

“Ah, so young and yet so cynical,” Aaron laughed. “I'm sure they were all perfectly charming as you English folks like to say.”

“As charming as a nest of vipers, perhaps, and old man Roper, the local undertaker tried to grope my bottom too, the weasel-faced little pervert.” Sally smiled back at him. “So, anyway, are we winning, darling?”

“Well, we need less than fifty to win after the interval. Roper the groper eh? Want me to go up there and challenge him to a duel?”

Sally giggled.

“You really would, I think, wouldn't you?”

“Sure thing,” said Aaron. “A lady's honour and all that, eh?”

His attempt at an upper-crust British accent gave Sally another fit of the giggles. She then returned to the game.

“You're still batting?”

He grinned in the affirmative.

“Oh well, in that case they might as well start engraving Liverpool's name on the trophy now then. You're bound to win.”

“Hey, this is sport, honey. Anything can happen out there, you know. I'm not invincible, not by a long chalk.”

“No, but you're the very best player we have, my darling and I'm sure Simon has every faith in you to see out the game, don't you Simon?” Sally grabbed hold of Dewar's arm and pulled him close, so close he could actually see down the front of her blouse to her cleavage. Embarrassed, Simon Dewar politely extricated himself from Sally's grip as he replied, “Let's say I very much hope Aaron will do the job for us, Sally.”

“Oh, I say,” Sally giggled. “I've got faith, Simon's got hope, but I hope you won't show their bowlers any charity when you get started again, Aaron, darling. Get it? Faith, hope and charity?”

“Very clever, darling, and very witty. Did you also know that during the German's siege of Malta during World War Two, the RAF used three old Gloster Gladiator biplanes to defend the island against massed attacks by the Luftwaffe and they named those airplanes Faith, Hope and Charity too?”

“Oh, really, how interesting,” said Sally, who despite caring deeply for Aaron, couldn't care less about his other great passion, history. Aaron thought the world of Sally, but sometimes wished she'd realise that a working knowledge of history is, as he thought, our passport to building a better future. Still, she was great in almost every other aspect, even turning up regularly to watch him play cricket, a game he knew she barely understood, a fact that applied to most people outside the game. Trying to explain the intricacies of being 'in' or 'out' or the various fielding positions, including the odd sounding 'silly mid-on' or 'off,' square leg, long leg and so on, could be a baffling task, not to mention attempting to instruct someone in the difference between 'the wicket' and 'wickets' and just what the heck L.B.W. stood for, or what 'leg before wicket' actually meant was hard enough for a native, but when Aaron had tried to get the rules across to his father, Jerome Decker the third, it had turned into a session of much mirth as the elder Decker felt he was suddenly in the presence of an alien being, speaking an unknown language, rather than listening to his own son. All he said, having become totally lost as Aaron had tried to explain what the meaning of a 'maiden over' was, “Heck, son, don't tell me any more, just you go out there and enjoy yourself and show these Brits how to play their own game.”

Aaron himself had known little about the game himself upon his arrival in Liverpool just over a year ago, but when team captain, Simon Dewar heard that the new American student had been something of a college star at baseball back home, he'd persuaded Aaron to try his hand at the quintessentially British game, with startling results. Aaron was a natural at both batting and bowling, and once he'd received a crash course in the rules of the game, he'd become an instant hit with players and spectators alike.

* * *

With the tea interval over, the match was resumed and with able support from Darren Oates, who was caught out with twelve to his name, and Miles Perry, Aaron was still there at the end, striking the ball cleanly for another boundary, a 'four' this time to take Liverpool past the Manchester total. Miles had added eight runs and Aaron ended with a total of fifty-five, out of the team's total of 211 for the loss of seven wickets, the last boundary taking them two runs past the opposition's quite respectable 209 all out.

The Montfort Trophy was duly presented to the winning captain by guest of honour, Andrew Montfort, and in his victory speech, Simon Dewar paid high praise to the team's star player, their superbly talented 'American cousin,' Aaron Decker, who received the man of the match award, a small silver salver, engraved with his name and the year of the award, and decorated with two crossed cricket bats overlaying a set of wickets.

As the applause died down and the crowd slowly departed, some by car, others on foot or bicycle, the two teams enjoyed a half hour of socialising in the pavilion before the coach carrying the Manchester team departed and at last, Aaron Decker relaxed as Sally sat on his knee, her crossed legs showing them off to perfection.

“Thank God that's over,” Aaron whispered into her ear.

“I thought you loved it, Aaron,” Sally said in quiet surprise at his comment.

“I do, honey, I do,” he replied, “but I had some bad news earlier this morning and it's been on my mind all day.”

“Oh, no, sweetie, what is it? Can I help?”

“Heck, no, Sally. It's just some news I’d rather not have heard. I don't really want to talk about it, if you don't mind.”

“Sure, okay Aaron. Whatever you want. Listen, why don't we go to the pub, have a couple of drinks and then go back to my place?”

Aaron seemed to be deep in thought for a few seconds and then snapped out of it and replied, “Yes, why not? Sounds good to me.”

“You can stay the night if you like? If we're quiet, no one will know.” Sally whispered, tantalisingly. She was lucky in that her father's money had paid for her to jointly rent a house in the city with a friend and was currently considering buying her an apartment in one of the new building complexes along Liverpool's renovated waterfront. Aaron, despite his father's position at the U.S Embassy in London, had preferred to throw himself into university life in every way and currently shared a house in Wavertree with two other students. He and Sally often spent the night together, usually at his place, though he preferred the privacy of staying at her place where they couldn't be heard enjoying themselves through the walls. This was despite her landlord, prudishly in Aaron’s opinion, frowning on overnight visitors of the opposite sex.

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