26. Paddington Saves The Day
“You wouldn’t think,” said Mrs Brown, looking hard at her husband, “that it would be possible to get lost in such a short space of time. We’ve only been in France half a day.”
“Are you sure you don’t know where we are, Paddington?” asked Mr Brown for the umpteenth time.
Paddington shook his head sadly. “I think we must have taken the wrong turning by mistake, Mr Brown,” he admitted.
The Browns looked gloomily at one another. Until that moment their first day in France had been very jolly and exciting. With so many new things to see, the time had passed very quickly and Paddington in particular had been kept busy following the route with his paw and making notes as they went along.
On the journey along the coast they had passed through a number of towns and he’d been most impressed by the sight of all the bustling traffic on the wrong side of the road and the people sitting at tables on the pavement outside cafés.
Between the towns they had driven along miles of straight country roads lined on either side by tall poplar trees and past tiny villages full of men in blue overalls and women hurrying to and fro carrying long loaves of bread.
Nicest of all, every now and then as they turned a corner, they’d had a glimpse of the blue sea and heard the distant roar of waves breaking on the shore.
And then, as they crossed into Brittany, not only had the countryside gradually become much wilder, but things had started to go wrong as well.
First the wide black road had suddenly changed into a narrow lane covered in stones. Then the lane had become a cart-track. Finally the cart-track had come to an end on a piece of common land, and as a final blow the car had punctured one of its back tyres.
Being in charge of the itinerary, Paddington felt very upset at what had happened and he peered hard at the maps while the Browns gathered anxiously round him.
“What was the name of the last place we went through, Paddington?” asked Mr Brown. “Perhaps that’s where we went wrong.”
“I think it was called Gravillons, Mr Brown,” said Paddington. “But I can’t see it on any of the maps.”
“Gravillons,” repeated Mr Brown. “That’s funny. I seem to remember seeing that written up somewhere too. Are you sure you can’t find it?” He bent over and looked at the map while Paddington examined Mrs Bird’s old tea towel hopefully.
“Crikey!” exclaimed Jonathan suddenly, as he looked up from his dictionary. “No wonder you can’t find it on the map. Gravillons isn’t a place — it’s a road sign — it means ‘loose chippings’!
“What?” exclaimed Paddington hotly. “Loose chippings!”
“That’s where all those stones were,” said Judy. “They must have been repairing the road.”
Mrs Bird snorted. “Gravillons indeed!” she exclaimed. “No wonder that poor bear went wrong. It’s a mercy we didn’t all end up in the sea.” Mrs Bird firmly believed that everything abroad should be written in good, plain English.
“Oh, well,” said Mr Brown, as he folded the map. “At least we know where we’re not, even if we don’t know where we are. He looked down at the pile of luggage which hid the spare wheel in the boot of the car. “Everything will have to come out so I vote we make the best of it and have a picnic while I change the wheel.”
Mrs Brown and Mrs Bird, who had been looking forward to having a rest and a nice meal in a comfortable hotel, didn’t look very pleased at the idea, but Jonathan, Judy and Paddington were most excited. Paddington in particular thought it was a very good idea of Mr Brown’s. He liked picnics and it was a long time since he’d had one.
“It’s a good thing I brought some food along,” said Mrs Bird, as she opened her travelling bag and began to take out an assortment of tins and packets together with a loaf of bread and some knives and forks. “I had a feeling we might need it.”
“I tell you what,” said Mr Brown. “We’ll have a competition. You can each cook one of the courses and I’ll give a prize for the best one.”
Mr Brown was very keen on competitions. He had a vague idea that it kept people out of mischief.
“Wizzo!” exclaimed Jonathan. “Bags we have a campfire.”
“I’ll collect some firewood if you like, Mr Brown,” said Paddington, waving his paw in the direction of a wood at the top of a nearby hill. “Bears are good at collecting firewood.”
“Don’t go too far,” called Mrs Brown anxiously, as Paddington picked up his suitcase and hurried off. “We don’t want you getting lost as well.”
But Paddington was already out of earshot. He was still feeling guilty that the Browns had lost their way and he was anxious to make amends by gathering as much firewood as possible; so he hurried up the hill as fast as his legs would carry him.
But looking around and sniffing the air as he made his way across the springy turf, Paddington decided that perhaps being lost wasn’t quite such a bad thing after all.
To start with there was a nice, warm smell about everything which he liked very much indeed. It was an interesting smell — not at all like the one in England, or even in Peru for that matter. It seemed to be made up of coffee and newly baked bread as well as several other things he couldn’t quite place, and for some strange reason it was getting stronger every minute.
It wasn’t until Paddington reached the top of the hill and looked down over the other side that he discovered the reason for it, and when he did so he had to rub his eyes several times in order to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
For there, only a short distance away at the bottom of the hill and looking exactly like one of the pictures in Mr Brown’s pamphlets, was a cluster of houses, and beyond the houses he could see a beach and a small harbour full of boats.
Running up from the harbour there was a narrow street which led into a square where there were a number of gaily-coloured stalls laden with fruit and vegetables.
Paddington waved his paws wildly in the Browns’ direction and called out several times but they were much too far away for him to make them hear, and so he took out his opera-glasses and sat down for a moment to consider the matter.
As he peered through his glasses at the village a thoughtful expression gradually came over his face, and when he stood up again a few minutes later there was an excited gleam in his eyes as well. Apart from the fact that it was all very strange and definitely needed investigating, Paddington had an idea starting in the back of his mind and the more he thought about it the more anxious he became to test it out, As he hurried down the hill into the village and made his way towards the square which he’d seen from the top of the hill, Paddington looked around with interest. He liked new places and this one seemed particularly nice.
On his right there was a large building with a veranda and a sign outside which said Hotel du Centre, and on the other side of the square there was a Post Office and a butcher’s shop as well as several cafés and a grocery store.
Best of all, next door to the hotel he spied a baker’s shop. Paddington liked bakers’ shops and this one was most interesting, for it had loaves of every shape and size in its window — long ones, short ones, fat ones, round ones — in fact, he grew quite dizzy trying to count them all.
After consulting Mr Gruber’s phrasebook, Paddington made his way across the square in the direction of the shop. In the past he had often found bakers were most understanding as far as bears’ problems were concerned — Mr Gruber always said it was something to do with their sharing an interest but whatever the reason, in buns Paddington decided he couldn’t do better than pay the owner a visit and seek his advice about the surprise he had in mind for the Browns.
“Paddington’s being very mysterious all of a sudden,” said Mr Brown, some while later.
“If you ask me,” said Mrs Bird, “that bear’s got something up his paw. He was gone a very long time when he went for the firewood and he’s had a funny look on his face ever since.”
The Browns were in the middle of their meal and there was a slight hold-up while Paddington prepared his contribution.
Jonathan and Judy had already made some soup in Mr Brown’s billy-can, and Mrs Bird had followed that with a special salad which everyone had enjoyed enormously.
There had been rather a long pause when it came to Paddington’s turn and the Browns were beginning to get impatient. Paddington had explained that it was a very secret dish and so they’d had to turn their backs on the camp-fire and promise not to look while he cooked it.
There seemed to be a lot of stirring and clanking going on behind them, not to mention some very heavy breathing, but the smell which wafted on the breeze was certainly making their mouths water and they were all looking forward to discovering what was his secret dish.
Mrs Brown cheated and stole an anxious glance over her shoulder to where Paddington was bending over his saucepan. He had a large recipe book in one paw and he appeared to be poking something cautiously with a stick while he sniffed it.
“I hope he doesn’t set light to his whiskers,” she said. “He’s awfully near the flames.”
“It doesn’t smell like burning whiskers,” said Mr Brown. “In fact I must say it smells rather good. I wonder what it is.”
“Perhaps it’s something he found in his suitcase,” replied Mrs Bird.
Mr Brown looked slightly less enthusiastic at Mrs Bird’s remark. “Something he found in his suitcase,” he repeated.
“Well, I can’t think what else it can be,” said Mrs Bird. “I haven’t given him anything to cook and we haven’t stopped near a shop.”
“I bet it’s got marmalade in it,” said Jonathan. “Paddington’s things always have marmalade.”
Fortunately for everyone’s peace of mind, before they had time to think too much about it Paddington stood up and announced that everything was ready and they could all turn round.
Mrs Brown looked suspiciously at Paddington as they gathered round the saucepan. There were one or two gravy splashes sticking to his whiskers and something which looked remarkably like flour, but otherwise everything seemed quite normal.
Paddington looked most important as the Browns queued up with their plates. “It’s a special French recipe,” he explained as he served them all with generous helpings. “I found it in Mr Gruber’s cookery book.”
He listened with pleasure to the gasps of delight from the others as they tasted his dish. Although he’d had several goes on Mrs Bird’s stove at one time and another it was the first time he had ever cooked anything over a camp-fire — especially anything quite so complicated as a French recipe and although he had followed the instructions most carefully he was anxious in case he’d done something wrong. But first one and then another of the Browns congratulated him, and even Mrs Bird was full of praise.
“I don’t know what it is,” she said, “but I couldn’t have done better myself!” Which, from Mrs Bird, was high praise indeed.
“Delicious,” said Mr Brown. “Very meaty and done to a turn.”
“In fact,” he continued, as he held out his plate for a second helping, “I don’t know when I’ve tasted anything quite so nice before.
“Most unusual,” he went on, as he wiped his plate clean with a piece of bread and looked hopefully at the saucepan once again.
“What was it called, Paddington?”
“They’re called esca… esca… Mr Brown,” said Paddington, consulting his cookery book. “Escargots.”
“Escargots?” repeated Mr Brown, dabbing at his moustache. “Very nice too. We must get some of those when we’re back in England, Mary…” His voice trailed away as he looked at his wife. Mrs Brown’s face seemed to have gone a rather odd shade of green.
“Is anything the matter?” he asked, looking most concerned. “You look quite ill.”
“Henry!” exclaimed Mrs Brown. “Don’t you know what escargots are?”
“Er… no,” said Mr Brown. “Sounds familiar but I can’t say that I do. Why?”
“They’re snails,” said Mrs Brown.
“What?” exclaimed Mr Brown. “Snails? Did you say snails?”
“Crikey!” groaned Jonathan. “Snails.”
“But where on earth did you get them, Paddington?” asked Mr Brown, voicing all their thoughts.
“Oh, they didn’t cost very much, Mr Brown,” said Paddington hurriedly, misunderstanding the look of alarm on everyone’s face. “The man in the shop let me have them cheap because the shells were cracked. I think they were a very good bargain.”
Much to Paddington’s surprise his remark was greeted by renewed groans from the Browns, and he looked most upset at the sight of them all rolling on the grass holding their stomachs.
“To think I had a second helping,” said Mr Brown. “I’m sure I’ve been poisoned. There’s a funny thumping noise in my head.”
“Did you say the man in the shop?” asked Mrs Bird suddenly.
“That’s a point,” said Mr Brown as he sat up. “What shop?”
Paddington thought for a moment. He had been hoping to save his news of the village until after the meal as a special surprise for the Browns and he was most disappointed at the thought of having to tell them straight away, but before he had time to answer, Mrs Bird suddenly began waving her sunshade in the air and pointing in the direction of the hill.
“Gracious me!” she exclaimed. “What on earth’s going on over there?”
“Good heavens! No wonder I had a thumping noise in my head,” said Mr Brown, as he followed the direction of Mrs Bird’s sunshade to where an enormous tractor was coming over the brow of the hill, followed by a long line of people.
“It looks like a procession of some kind.”
The Browns watched in fascination as the crowd drew nearer and nearer and finally came to a halt in front of them. The leader, a fat, jolly-looking man in white overalls and a tall chef’s hat, bowed low in Paddington’s direction.
“Ah, Monsieur le Bear,” he exclaimed, beaming all over his face as he held out his hand. “We meet again!”
“Hallo, Mr Dupont,” cried Paddington, hurriedly wiping the gravy stains off his paw before offering it.
“Would someone mind pinching me?” said Mr Brown, as he looked at the others. I think I must be dreaming.”
“Welcome to St Castille,” said Monsieur Dupont, as he advanced on Mr Brown. “Please, we have come to see the stage-coach which has lost its wheel. Monsieur le Bear has already explained to us all about the matter and we are most anxious to help.”
“The stage-coach?” repeated Mr Brown, looking more and more mystified. “What stage-coach?”
Paddington took a deep breath. “I think perhaps I must have got my phrases mixed up by mistake, Mr Brown,” he said. “There wasn’t a chapter on motor cars having a puncture so I used the one on stage-coaches instead.”
It was all a bit difficult to explain, and Paddington wasn’t quite sure where to start first.
“I think,” said Mr Brown, turning to Monsieur Dupont, the baker, “we had better sit down. I have a feeling this may take rather a long time.”
“You know,” said Mr Brown much later that evening as they sat outside the hotel in Paddington’s village taking a nightcap before going to bed, “I’ll say this for Paddington, things may get complicated now and then but they have a habit of turning out right in the end.”
“Bears always fall on their feet,” said Mrs Bird darkly. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.”
“I vote we stay here,” said Mr Brown. “It wasn’t on the itinerary, but I don’t think we could find anything nicer.”
“Hear, hear!” said Mrs Bird.
After all the excitement of the afternoon everything seemed particularly quiet and peaceful. The stars were shining in a cloudless sky, the sound of gay music from a nearby café filled the air and at the end of the street leading down to the harbour they could see the lights from the fishing boats as they bobbed up and down in the water.
In fact, apart from the music, the only sound to disturb the night air was the steady scratching of the old nib on Paddington’s pen and the occasional sigh as he dipped a paw into his marmalade jar.
When the Browns had discovered where Paddington bought his snails they had suddenly felt much better. It was a most respectable looking shop and Monsieur Dupont assured them it was noted for its snails, so by popular vote Paddington had been given the prize for the best dish of the day.
After a great deal of thought and peering in shop windows he had used the money in order to buy some stamps and two picture postcards, one for his aunt Lucy in Peru and one for Mr Gruber.
They were big postcards — two of the biggest he had ever seen. Apart from having a space on which to write, they each had eleven different pictures on the front which showed scenes of the village and the surrounding countryside. One of the pictures showed Monsieur Dupont’s bakery and by looking at it very hard Paddington could see some buns in the window which he thought Mr Gruber would find very interesting.
There was even a picture of the hotel, and he carefully drew a large cross against one of the windows and wrote the words MY ROOM at the side.
Looking at the cards, Paddington decided they were very good value indeed and he felt sure his Aunt Lucy would be most surprised to get one all the way from France.
All the same had been so many happenings that day, and some of them were so difficult to explain, he felt it was going to be a job getting them all in — even on a bargain-size postcard.