24. A Visit To The Bank
“Paddington looks unusually smart this morning,” said Mrs Bird.
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs Brown. “Does he? I hope he’s not up to anything.”
She joined Mrs Bird at the window and followed the direction of her gaze up the road to where a small figure in a blue duffel coat was hurrying along the pavement.
Now that Mrs Bird mentioned it Paddington did seem to have an air about him. Even from a distance his fur looked remarkably neat and freshly combed, and his old hat, instead of being pulled down over his ears, was set at a very rakish angle with the brim turned up, which was most unusual. Even his old suitcase looked as if it had had some kind of polish on it.
“He’s not even going in his usual direction,” said Mrs Brown as Paddington, having reached the end of the road, looked carefully over his shoulder and then turned right and quickly disappeared from view. “He always turns left.”
If you ask me,” said Mrs Bird, “that young bear’s got something on his mind. He was acting strangely at breakfast this morning. He didn’t even have a second helping and he kept peering over Mr Brown’s shoulder at the paper with a very odd look on his face.”
I’m not surprised he had an odd look if it was Henry’s paper,” said Mrs Brown. “I can never make head or tail of it myself.”
Mr Brown worked in the City of London and he always read a very important newspaper at breakfast time, full of news about stocks and shares and other money matters, which the rest of the Browns found very dull.
“All the same,” she continued, as she led the way into the kitchen, “it’s very strange. I do hope he hasn’t got one of his ideas coming on. He spent most of yesterday evening doing his accounts and that’s often a bad sign.”
Mrs Brown and Mrs Bird were hard at work preparing for the coming holiday, and with only a few days left there were a thousand and one things to be done. If they hadn’t been quite so busy they might well have put two and two together, but as it was the matter of Paddington’s strange behaviour was soon forgotten in the rush to get everything ready.
Unaware of the interest he had caused, Paddington made his way along a road not far from the Portobello market until he reached an imposing building which stood slightly apart from the rest. It had tall, bronze doors which were tightly shut, and over the entrance, in large gold letters, were the words FLOYDS BANK LIMITED.
After carefully making sure that no one was watching, Paddington withdrew a small cardboard-covered book from under his hat and then sat down on his suitcase outside the bank while he waited for the doors to open.
Like the building the book had the words FLOYDS BANK printed on the outside, and just inside the front cover it had P BROWN ESQ, written in ink.
With the exception of the Browns and Mr Gruber not many people knew about Paddington’s banking account as it was a closely kept secret. It had all started some months before when Paddington came across an advertisement in one of Mr Brown’s old newspapers which he cut out and saved. In it a very fatherly-looking man smoking a pipe, who said he was a Mr Floyd, explained how any money left with him would earn what he called ‘interest’, and that the longer he kept it the more it would be worth.
Paddington had an eye for a bargain and having his money increase simply by leaving it somewhere had sounded like a very good bargain indeed.
The Browns had been so pleased at the idea that Mr Brown had given him fifty pence to add to his Christmas and birthday money, and after a great deal of thought Paddington had himself added another ten pence which he’d carefully saved from his weekly bun allowance. When all these sums were added together they made a grand total of five pounds and twenty-five pence, and one day Mrs Bird had taken him along to the bank in order to open an account.
For several days afterwards Paddington had hung about in a shop doorway opposite casting suspicious glances at anyone who went in or out. But after having been moved on by a passing policeman he’d had to let matters rest.
Since then, although he had carefully checked the amount in his book several times, Paddington had never actually been inside the bank. Secretly he was rather overawed by all the marble and thick polished wood, so he was pleased when at long last ten o’clock began to strike on a nearby church clock and he was still the only one outside.
As the last of the chimes died away there came the sound of bolts being withdrawn on the other side of the door, and Paddington hurried forward to peer eagerly through the letter-box.
“’Ere, ‘ere,” exclaimed the porter, as he caught sight of Paddington’s hat through the slit. “No hawkers ‘ere, young feller-me-lad. This is a bank — not a workhouse. We don’t want no hobbledehoys hanging around here.”
“Hobbledehoys?” repeated Paddington, letting go of the letter-box in his surprise.
“That’s what I said,” grumbled the porter as he opened the door. “Breathing all over me knockers. I ‘as to polish that brass, yer know.”
“I’m not a hobbledehoy,” exclaimed Paddington, looking most offended as he waved his bank book in the air. “I’m a bear and I’ve come to see Mr Floyd about my savings.”
“Ho, dear,” said the porter, taking a closer look at Paddington. “Beggin’ yer pardon, sir. When I saw your whiskers poking through me letter-box I mistook you for one of them bearded gentlemen of the road.”
“That’s all right,” said Paddington sadly. “I often get mistaken.” And as the man held the door open for him he raised his hat politely and hurried into the bank.
On several occasions in the past Mrs Bird had impressed on Paddington how wise it was to have money in the bank in case of a rainy day and how he might be glad of it one day for a special occasion. Thinking things over in bed the night before, Paddington had decided that going abroad for a holiday was very much a special occasion, and after studying the advertisement once again he had thought up a very good idea for having the best of both worlds, but like many ideas he had at night under the bedclothes it didn’t seem quite such a good one in the cold light of day.
Now that he was actually inside the bank, Paddington began to feel rather guilty and he wished he’d consulted Mr Gruber on the matter, for he wasn’t at all sure that Mrs Bird would approve of his taking any money out without first asking her.
Hurrying across to one of the cubby-holes in the counter, Paddington climbed up on his suitcase and peered over the edge. The man on the other side looked rather startled when Paddington’s hat appeared over the top and he reached nervously for a nearby alarm bell.
“I’d like to take out all my savings for a special occasion, please,” said Paddington importantly, as he handed the man his book.
Looking rather relieved, the man took Paddington’s book from him and then raised one eyebrow as he held it up to the light. There were a number of calculations in red ink all over the cover, not to mention blots and one or two rather messy-looking marmalade stains.
“I’m afraid I had an accident with one of my jars under the bedclothes last night,” explained Paddington hastily as he caught the man’s eye.
“One of your jars?” repeated the man. “Under the bedclothes?”
“That’s right,” said Paddington. “I was working out my interest and I stepped back into it by mistake. It’s a bit difficult under the bedclothes.”
“It must be,” said the man distastefully.
“Marmalade stains indeed! And on a Floyds bank book!”
He hadn’t been with the branch for very long, and although the manager had told him they sometimes had some very odd customers to deal with nothing had been mentioned about bears’ banking accounts.
“What would you like me to do with it?” he asked doubtfully.
“I’d like to leave all my interest in, please,” explained Paddington. “In case it rains.”
“Well,” said the man in a superior tone of voice as he made some calculations on a piece of paper. “I’m afraid you won’t keep very dry on this. It only comes to ten pence.”
“What?” exclaimed Paddington, hardly able to believe his ears. “Ten pence! I don’t think that’s very interesting.”
“Interest isn’t the same thing as interesting,” said the man. “Not the same thing at all.”
He tried hard to think of some way of explaining matters for he wasn’t used to dealing with bears and he had a feeling that Paddington was going to be one of his more difficult customers.
It’s… it’s something we give you for letting us borrow your money,” he said. “The longer you leave it in the more you get.”
“Well, my money’s been in since just after Christmas,” exclaimed Paddington. “That’s nearly six months.”
“Ten pence,” said the man firmly.
Paddington watched in a daze as the man made an entry in his book and then pushed a five-pound note and some silver across the counter. “There you are,” he said briskly. “Five pounds and twenty-five pence.”
Paddington looked suspiciously at the note and then consulted a piece of paper he held in his paw. His eyes grew larger and larger as he compared the two.
“I think you must have made a mistake,” he exclaimed. “This isn’t my note.”
“A mistake?” said the man stiffly. “We of Floyds never make mistakes.”
“But it’s got a different number,” said Paddington hotly.
“A different number?” repeated the man.
“Yes,” said Paddington. “And it said on mine that you promised to pay bear five pounds on demand.”
“Not bear,” said the assistant. “Bearer. It says that on all notes. Besides,” he continued, you don’t get the same note back that you put in. I expect yours is miles away by now if it’s anywhere at all. It might even have been burnt if it was an old one. They often burn old notes when they’re worn out?”
“Burnt?” repeated Paddington in a dazed voice. “You’ve burnt my note?”
“I didn’t say it had been,” said the man, looking more and more confused. “I only said it might have been.”
Paddington took a deep breath and gave the assistant a hard stare. It was one of the extra special hard ones which his Aunt Lucy had taught him and which he kept for emergencies.
“I think I should like to see Mr Floyd,” he exclaimed.
“Mr Floyd?” repeated the assistant. He mopped his brow nervously as he looked anxiously over Paddington’s shoulder at the queue which was already beginning to form. There were some nasty murmurings going on at the back which he didn’t like the sound of at all. “I’m afraid there isn’t a Mr Floyd,” he said.
“We have a Mr Trimble,” he added hastily, as Paddington gave him an even harder stare. “He’s the manager. I think perhaps I’d better fetch him — he’ll know what to do.”
Paddington stared indignantly after the retreating figure of the clerk as he made his way towards a door marked MANAGER. The more he saw of things the less he liked the look of them. Not only did his note have a different number but he had just caught sight of the dates on the coins and they were quite different to those on the ones he had left. Apart from that his own coins had been highly polished, whereas these were old and very dull.
Paddington climbed down off his suitcase and pushed his way through the crowd with a determined expression on his face. Although he was only small, Paddington was a bear with a strong sense of right and wrong, especially when it came to money matters, and he felt it was high time he took matters into his own paws.
After he had made his way out of the bank Paddington hurried down the road in the direction of a red kiosk. Locked away in the secret compartment of his suitcase there was a note with some special instructions Mrs Bird had written out for him in case of an emergency, together with ten pence. Thinking things over as he went along, Paddington decided it was very much a matter of an emergency, in fact he had a job to remember when he’d had a bigger one, and was glad when at long last the telephone kiosk came into view and he saw it was empty.
“I don’t know what’s going on at the bank this morning,” said Mrs Brown as she closed the front door. “There was an enormous crowd outside when I came past.”
“Perhaps there’s been a robbery,” said Mrs Bird. “You read of such nasty goings on these days.”
“I don’t think it was a robbery,” said Mrs Brown vaguely. “It was more like an emergency of some kind. The police were there and an ambulance and the fire-brigade.”
“H’mm!” said Mrs Bird. “Well, I hope for all our sakes it isn’t anything serious. Paddington’s got all his money there and if there has been a raid we shall never hear the last of it.”
Mrs Bird paused as she was speaking and a thoughtful expression came over her face.
“Talking of Paddington, have you seen him since he went out?” she asked.
“No,” said Mrs Brown. “Good heavens!” she exclaimed. “You don’t think…”
“I’ll get my hat,” said Mrs Bird. “And if Paddington’s not somewhere at the bottom of it all I’ll eat it on the way home!”
It took Mrs Brown and Mrs Bird some while to force their way through the crowd into the bank, and when they at last got inside their worst suspicions were realised, for there, sitting on his suitcase in the middle of a large crowd of officials was the small figure of Paddington.
“What on earth’s going on?” cried Mrs Brown, as they pushed their way through to the front.
Paddington looked very thankful to see the others. Things had been going from bad to worse since he’d got back to the bank.
“I think my numbers have got mixed up by mistake, Mrs Brown,” he explained.
“Trying to do a young bear out of his life’s savings, that’s what’s going on,” cried someone at the back.
“Set fire to his notes, they did,” cried someone else.
“‘Undreds of pounds gone up in smoke, so they say,” called out a street trader who knew Paddington by sight and had come into the bank to see what all the fuss was about.
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs Brown nervously. “I’m sure there must be some mistake. I don’t think Floyds would ever do a thing like that on purpose.”
“Indeed not, madam,” exclaimed the manager as he stepped forward.
“My name’s Trimble,” he continued.
“Can you vouch for this young bear?”
“Vouch for him?” said Mrs Bird. “Why, I brought him here myself in the first place. He’s a most respectable member of the family and very law-abiding.”
“Respectable he may be,” said a large policeman, as he licked his pencil, “but I don’t know so much about being law-abiding. Dialling 999 he was without proper cause. Calling out the police, not to mention the fire-brigade and an ambulance. It’ll all have to be gone into in the proper manner.”
Everyone stopped talking and looked down at Paddington.
“I was only trying to ring Mrs Bird,” said Paddington.
“Trying to ring Mrs Bird?” repeated the policeman slowly, as he wrote it down in his notebook.
“That’s right,” explained Paddington.
“I’m afraid I got my paw stuck in number nine, and every time I tried to get it out someone asked me what I wanted so I shouted for help.”
Mr Trimble coughed. “I think perhaps we had better go into my office,” he said. “It all sounds most complicated and it’s much quieter in there.”
With that everyone agreed wholeheartedly. And Paddington, as he picked up his suitcase and followed the others into the manager’s office, agreed most of all. Having a banking account was quite the most complicated thing he had ever come across.
It was some while before Paddington finally got through his explanations, but when he had finished everyone looked most relieved that the matter wasn’t more serious. Even the policeman seemed quite pleased.
“It’s a pity there aren’t more public-spirited bears about,” he said, shaking Paddington by the paw. “If everyone called for help when they saw anything suspicious we’d have a lot less work to do in the long run.”
After everyone else had left, Mr Trimble took Mrs Brown, Mrs Bird and Paddington on a tour of the strong-room to show them where all the money was kept, and he even gave Paddington a book of instructions so that he would know exactly what to do the next time he paid the bank a visit.
“I do hope you won’t close your account, Mr Brown,” he said. “We of Floyds never like to feel we’re losing a valued customer. If you like to leave your twenty-five pence with us for safe keeping, I’ll let you have a brand-new five-pound note to take away for your holidays.”
Paddington thanked Mr Trimble very much for all his trouble and then considered the matter. “If you don’t mind,” he said at last, “I think I’d like a used one instead.”
Paddington wasn’t the sort of bear who believed in taking any chances, and although the crisp new note in the manager’s hand looked very tempting he decided he would much prefer to have one that had been properly tested.