22. Paddington Dines Out.
“I vote,” said Mr Brown, “that we celebrate the occasion by visiting a restaurant. All those in favour say ‘aye’.”
Mr Brown’s suggestion had a mixed reception. Jonathan and Judy called out “aye” at once. Mrs Brown looked rather doubtful and Mrs Bird kept her eyes firmly on her knitting.
“Do you think it wise, Henry?” said Mrs Brown. “You know what Paddington’s like when we take him out. Things happen.”
“It is his birthday,” replied Mr Brown.
“And his anniversary,” said Judy. “Sort of.”
The Browns were holding a council of war. It was Paddington’s summer birthday. Being a bear, Paddington had two birthdays every year – one at Christmas and the other in mid-summer. That apart, he had now been with the Browns for a little over a year and it had been decided to celebrate the two occasions at the same time.
“After all, we ought to do something,” said Mr Brown, playing his trump card. ‘If we hadn’t seen him that day on Paddington station we might never have met him and goodness knows where he would have ended up.”
The Browns were silent for a moment as they considered the awful possibility of never having met Paddington.
“I must say,” remarked Mrs Bird, in a voice which really decided the matter, “the house wouldn’t be the same without him.”
“That settles it,” said Mr Brown. “I’ll ring the Porchester right away and reserve a table for to-night.”
“Oh, Henry,” exclaimed Mrs Brown. “Not the Porchester. That’s such an expensive place.”
Mr Brown waved his hand in the air. “Nothing but the best is good enough for Paddington,” he said generously. “We’ll invite Mr Gruber as well and make a real party of it.”
“By the way,” he continued, “where is Paddington? I haven’t seen him for ages.”
“He was peering through the letter-box just now,” said Mrs Bird. “l think he was looking for the postman.”
Paddington liked birthdays. He didn’t get many letters – only his catalogues and an occasional postcard from his Aunt Lucy in Peru – but to-day the mantelpiece in the dining-room was already filled to overflowing with cards and he was looking forward to some more arriving. There had been a card from each of the Browns, one from Mr Gruber, and quite a surprising a number from various people who lived in the neighbourhood. There was even an old one from Mr Curry, which Mrs Bird recognised as one Paddington had sent him the year before, but she had wisely decided not to point this out.
Then there were all the parcels. Paddington was very keen on parcels – especially when they were well wrapped up with plenty of paper and string. In fact he had done extremely well for himself, and the news that they were all going out that evening as well came as a great surprise.
“Mind you,” said Mrs Brown, “you’ll have to have a bath first.”
“A bath!” exclaimed Paddington. “On my birthday?”
Paddington looked most upset at the thought of having a bath on his birthday.
“The Porchester is a very famous restaurant,” explained Mrs. Brown. “Only the best people go there.”
And, despite his protests, he was sent upstairs that afternoon with a bath cube and some soap and strict instructions not to come down again until he was clean.
Excitement in the Browns’ house mounted during the afternoon and by the time Mr Gruber arrived, looking self-conscious in an evening-dress suit which he hadn’t worn for many years, it had reached fever pitch.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to the Porchester before, Mr Brown,” he whispered to Paddington in the hall. ‘So that makes two of us. It’ll be a nice change from cocoa and buns.”
Paddington became more and more excited on the journey to the restaurant. He always enjoyed seeing the lights of London and even though it was summer quite a few of them had already come on by the time they got there.
He followed Mr Brown up the steps of the restaurant and in through some large doors, giving the man who held them open a friendly wave of his paw.
In the distance there was the sound of music and as they all gathered inside the entrance in order to leave their coats at the cloakroom, Paddington looked around with interest at the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and at the dozens of waiters gliding to and fro.
“Here comes the head waiter,” said Mr Brown, as a tall, superior-looking man approached. “We’ve booked a table near the orchestra,” he called. “In the name of Brown.”
The head waiter stared at Paddington. “Is the young… er… bear gentleman with you?” he asked, looking down his nose.
“With us?” said Mr Brown. “We’re with him. It’s his party.”
“Oh,” said the man disapprovingly. “Then I’m afraid you can’t come in.”
“What!” exclaimed Paddington amid a chorus of dismay? “But I went without a second helping at lunch specially.”
“I’m afraid the young gentleman isn’t wearing evening dress,” explained the man. “Everyone at the Porchester has to wear evening dress.”
Paddington could hardly believe his ears and he gave the man a hard stare.
“Bears don’t have evening dress,” said Judy, squeezing his paw. “They have evening fur – and Paddington’s has been washed specially.”
The head waiter looked at Paddington doubtfully.
Paddington had a very persistent stare when he liked, and some of the special ones his Aunt Lucy had taught him were very powerful indeed. He coughed. “I dare say,” he said, “we might make an exception – just this once.”
He turned and led the way through the crowded restaurant, past tables covered with snowy white cloths and gleaming silver, towards a big round table near the orchestra. Paddington followed on close behind and by the time they reached it the man’s neck had gone a funny shade of red.
When they were all seated the head waiter gave them each a huge card on which was printed a list of all the dishes. Paddington had to hold his with both paws and he stared at it in amazement.
“Well, Paddington,” said Mr Brown. “What would you like to start with? Soup? Hors d’oeuvre?”
Paddington looked at his menu in disgust. He didn’t think much of it at all. “I don’t know what I would like, Mr Brown,” he said. “My programme’s full of mistakes and I can’t read it.”
“Mistakes!” The head waiter raised one eyebrow to its full height and looked at Paddington severely. “There is never a mistake on a Porchester menu.”
“Those aren’t mistakes, Paddington,” whispered Judy, as she looked over his shoulder. “It’s French.”
“French!” exclaimed Paddington. “Fancy printing a menu in French!”
Mr Brown hastily scanned his own card. “Er… have you anything suitable for a young bear’s treat?” he asked.
“A young bear’s treat?” repeated the head waiter haughtily. “We pride ourselves that there is nothing one cannot obtain at the Porchester.”
“In that case,” said Paddington, looking most relieved, “I think I’ll have a marmalade sandwich.”
Looking around, Paddington decided a place as important as the Porchester must serve very good marmalade sandwiches, and he was anxious to test one.
“I beg your pardon, sir?” exclaimed the waiter. “Did you say a marmalade sandwich?”
“Yes, please,” said Paddington. “With custard.”
“For dinner?” said the man.
“Yes,” said Paddington firmly. “I’m very fond of marmalade and you said there was nothing you don’t have.”
The man swallowed hard. In all his years at the Porchester he’d never been asked for a marmalade sandwich before, particularly by a bear. He beckoned to another waiter standing nearby. “A marmalade sandwich for the young bear gentleman,” he said. “With custard.”
“A marmalade sandwich for the young bear gentleman – with custard,” repeated the second waiter. He disappeared through a door leading to the kitchens as if in a dream and the Browns heard the order repeated several more times before it closed. They looked around uneasily while they gave another waiter their own orders.
There seemed to be some sort of commotion going on in the kitchen. Several times they heard raised voices and once the door opened and a man in a chef’s hat appeared round the corner and stared in their direction.
“Perhaps, sir,” said yet another waiter, as he wheeled a huge trolley laden with dishes towards the table, “you would care for some hors d’oeuvre while you wait?”
“That’s a sort of salad,” Mr Brown explained to Paddington.
Paddington licked his whiskers. “It looks a very good bargain,” he said, staring at all the dishes. “I think perhaps I will.”
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs Brown, as Paddington began helping himself. “You’re not supposed to eat it from the trolley, Paddington.”
Paddington looked most disappointed as he watched the waiter serve the hors d’oeuvre. It wasn’t really quite such good value as he’d thought. But by the time the man had finished piling his plate with vegetables and pickles, salad, and a pile of interesting looking little silver onions he began to change his mind again. Perhaps, he decided, he couldn’t have managed the whole trolley full after all.
While Mr Brown gave the rest of the orders – soup for the others followed by fish and a special omelette for Mr Gruber – Paddington sat back and prepared to enjoy himself.
“Would you like anything to drink, Paddington?” asked Mr Brown.
“No, thank you, Mr Brown,” said Paddington “I have a bowl of water.”
“I don’t think that’s drinking water, Mr Brown,” said Mr Gruber tactfully. “That’s to dip your paws in when they get sticky. That’s what’s known as a paw bowl.”
“A paw bowl?” exclaimed Paddington. “But I had a bath this afternoon.”
“Never mind,” said Mr Brown hastily. “I’ll send for the lemonade waiter – then you can have an orange squash or something.”
Paddington was getting more and more confused. It was all most complicated and he’d never seen so many waiters before. He decided to concentrate on eating for a bit.
“Most enjoyable,” said Mr Gruber a few minutes later when he had finished his soup. “I shall look forward to my omelette now.” He looked across the table at Paddington. “Are you enjoying your hors d’oeuvre, Mr Brown?”
“It’s very nice, Mr Gruber,” said Paddington, staring down at his plate with a puzzled expression on his face. “But I think I’ve lost one of my onions.”
“You’ve what?” asked Mr Brown. It was difficult to hear what Paddington was saying for the noise the orchestra was making. It had been playing quite sweetly up until a moment ago but suddenly it had started making a dreadful row. It was something to do with one of the saxophone players in the front row. He kept shaking his instrument and then trying to blow it, and all the while the conductor was glaring at him.
“My onion!” exclaimed Paddington. “I had six just now and when I put my fork on one of them it suddenly disappeared. Now I’ve only got five.”
Mrs Brown began to look more and more embarrassed as Paddington got down off his seat and began peering under the tables. “I do hope he finds it soon,” she said. Everyone in the restaurant seemed to be looking in their direction and if they weren’t actually pointing she knew they were talking about them.
“Gosh!” exclaimed Jonathan suddenly. He pointed towards the orchestra. “There is Paddington’s onion.”
The Browns turned and looked at the orchestra. The saxophone player seemed to be having an argument with the conductor.
“How can I be expected to play properly,” he said bitterly, “when I’ve got an onion in my instrument? And I’ve a good idea where it came from too!”
The conductor followed his gaze towards the Browns, who hurriedly looked the other way.
“For heaven’s sake don’t tell Paddington,” said Mrs Brown. “He’ll only want it back.”
“Never mind,” said Mr Gruber, as the door leading to the kitchen opened. “I think my omelette’s just coming.”
The Browns watched as a waiter entered bearing a silver dish which he placed on a small spirit stove near their table. Mr Gruber had ordered an omelette ‘flambé, which meant it was set on fire just before it was served.
“I don’t know when I had one of those last,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“I must say it looks very nice,” said Mr. Brown, twirling his moustache thoughtfully. “I rather wish I’d ordered one myself now.”
“Come along, Paddington,” he called, as the waiter set light to the pan. “Come and see Mr Gruber’s omelette. It’s on fire.”
“What?” cried Paddington, poking his head out from beneath the table. “Mr Gruber’s omelette’s on fire?”
He stared in astonishment at the waiter as he bore the silver tray with its flaming omelette towards the table.
“It’s all right, Mr Gruber,” he called, waving his paws in the air. “I’m coming!”
Before the Browns could stop him. Paddington had grabbed his paw bowl and had thrown the contents over the tray. There was a loud hissing noise and before the astonished gaze of the waiter Mr Gruber’s omelette slowly collapsed into a soggy mess in the bottom of the dish.
Several people near the Browns applauded. “What an unusual idea,” said one of them. “Having the cabaret act sit at one of the tables just like anyone else.”
One old gentleman in particular who was sitting by himself at the next table laughed no end. He had been watching Paddington intently for some time and now he began slapping his knee at each new happening.
“Crikey!” said Jonathan. “We’re for it now.” He pointed towards a party of very important-looking people, led by the head waiter, who were approaching the Browns’ table.
They stopped a few feet away and the head waiter pointed at Paddington. “That’s the one,” he said. “The one with the whiskers!”
The most important-looking man stepped forward. “I’m the manager,” he announced. “And I’m afraid I must ask you to leave. Throwing water over a waiter. Putting onions in a saxophone. Ordering marmalade sandwiches. You’ll get the Porchester a bad name.”
Mr and Mrs Brown exchanged glances. “I’ve never heard of such a thing,” said Mrs Bird. “If that bear goes we all go.”
“Hear! Hear!” echoed Mr Gruber.
“And if you go I shall go too,” came a loud voice from the next table.
Everyone looked round as the old gentleman who had been watching the proceedings rose and waved a finger at the manager. “May I ask why this young bear’s being asked to leave?” he boomed.
The manager began to look even more worried, for the old gentleman was one of his best customers and he didn’t want to offend him. “It annoys the other diners,” he said.
“Nonsense!” boomed the old gentleman. “I’m one of the other diners and I’m not annoyed. Best thing that’s happened in years. Don’t know when I’ve enjoyed myself so much.” He looked down at Paddington. “I should like to shake you by the paw, bear. It’s about time this place was livened up a bit.”
“Thank you very much,” said Paddington, holding out his paw. He was a bit overawed by the old gentleman and he wasn’t at all sure what it was all about anyway.
The old gentleman waved the waiters and the manager to one side and then turned to Mr Brown. “I’d better introduce myself,” he said. “I’m Sir Huntley Martin the marmalade king.”
“I’ve been in marmalade for fifty years,” he boomed, “and been comin’ here for thirty. Never heard anyone ask for a marmalade sandwich before. Does me old heart good.”
Paddington looked most impressed. “Fancy being in marmalade for fifty years!” he exclaimed.
“I hope you’ll allow me to join you,” said Sir Huntley.
“I’ve done a good many things in my life but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a bear’s birthday party before.”
The old gentleman’s presence seemed to have a magical effect on the manager of the Porchester, for he had a hurried conference with the head waiter and in no time at all a procession started from the kitchen headed by a waiter bearing a silver tray on which was another omelette for Mr Gruber.
Even the head waiter allowed himself a smile and he gave Paddington a special autographed menu to take away as a souvenir and promised that in future there would always be a special section for marmalade sandwiches.
It was a hilarious party of Browns who finally got up to go. Paddington was so full of good things he had a job to get up at all. He had a last lingering look at the remains of an ice-cream on his plate but decided that enough was as good as a feast. He’d enjoyed himself no end and after a great deal of thought he left a penny under his plate for the waiter.
Sir Huntley Martin seemed very sad that it had all come to an end. “Most enjoyable,” he kept booming as they left the table. “Most enjoyable. Perhaps,” he added hopefully to Paddington, “you’ll do me the honour of visiting my factory one of these days.”
“Oh, yes, please,” said Paddington. “I should like that very much.”
As they left the restaurant he waved good-bye with his paw to all the other diners, several of whom applauded when the orchestra struck up “Happy Birthday To You.”
Only Mrs Bird seemed less surprised than the others, for she had seen Sir Huntley slip something in the conductor’s hand.
It had become really dark outside while they had been eating their dinner and all the lights in the street were on. After they had said good-bye to Sir Huntley, and because it was a special occasion, Mr Brown drove round Piccadilly Circus so that Paddington could see all the coloured signs working.
Paddington peered out of the car window and his eyes grew larger and larger at the sight of all the red, green and blue lights flashing on and off and making patterns in the sky.
“Have you enjoyed yourself, Paddington?” asked Mr Brown as they went round for the second time.
“Yes, thank you very much, Mr Brown,” exclaimed Paddington.
Altogether Paddington thought it had been a wonderful day and he was looking forward to writing a letter to his Aunt Lucy telling her everything about it.
After giving a final wave of his paw to some passers-by, he raised his hat to a policeman who signalled them on, and then settled back in his seat to enjoy the journey home with Mr Gruber and the Browns.
“I think,” he announced sleepily, as he gave one final stare at the lights, “I would like to have an anniversary every year!”
“And so say all of us, Mr Brown,” echoed Mr Gruber from the back of the car. “And so say all of us.”