14. Paddington and the Christmas Shopping
“I suppose I shouldn’t say it,” remarked Mrs Bird, “but I shall be glad when Christmas is over.”
The few weeks before Christmas were usually busy ones for Mrs Bird. There were so many mince-pies, puddings, and cakes to be made that much of her time was spent in the kitchen. This year matters hadn’t been helped by the fact that Paddington was at home for most of the day ‘convalescing’ after his illness. Paddington was very interested in mince-pies, and if he had opened the oven door once to see how they were getting on, he’d done it a dozen times.
Paddington’s convalescence had been a difficult time for the Browns. While he had remained in bed it had been bad enough, because he kept getting grape-pips all over the sheets, but if anything, matters had got worse once he was up and about. He wasn’t very good at ‘doing nothing’ and it had become a full-time occupation keeping him amused and out of trouble. He had even had several goes at knitting something – no one ever quite new what – but he’d got in such a tangle with the wool, and it had become so sticky with the marmalade, that in the end they had to throw it away. Even the dustman had said very nasty things about it when he came to collect the rubbish.
“He seems very quiet at the moment,” said Mrs Brown. “I think he’s busy with his Christmas list.”
“You’re not really taking him shopping with you this afternoon, are you?” asked Mrs Bird. “You know what happened last time.”
Mrs Brown sighed. She had vivid memories of the last time she had taken Paddington shopping. “I can’t not take him,” she said. “I did promise and he’s been looking forward to it so much.”
Paddington liked shopping. He always enjoyed looking in the shop windows and since he had read in the paper about all the Christmas decorations, he had thought of very little else. Besides, he had a special reason for wanting to go shopping this time. Although he hadn’t told anyone, Paddington had been saving hard for some while in order to buy the Browns and his other friends some presents.
He had already bought a frame for his picture and sent it, together with a large jar of honey, to his Aunt Lucy in Peru, because presents for overseas had to be posted early.
He had several lists marked ‘SEACRET’ which were locked away in his case, and he had been keeping his ears open for some time listening to conversation in the hope of finding something they all needed.
“Anyway,” said Mrs Brown, “it’s so nice having him around again, and he’s been so good lately, I think he ought to have a treat.”
“Besides,” she added, “I’m not taking him to Barkridges this time – I’m taking him to Crumbold and Ferns.”
Mrs Bird put down her baking tray. “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing taking him there?” she exclaimed. “You know what they’re like.”
Crumbold and Ferns was a very old-established shop where everyone spoke in whispers and all the assistants wore frockcoats. Only the best people went to Crumbold and Ferns.
“It’s Christmas,” said Mrs Brown recklessly. “It’ll be a nice treat for him.”
And when Paddington set off with Mrs Brown after lunch, even Mrs Bird had to admit he looked smart enough to go anywhere. His duffle coat, which had just come back from the cleaners, was clean, and even his old hat – which Paddington always insisted on wearing when he went on shopping expeditions – looked unusually neat.
All the same, as Paddington waved his paw at the corner, and Mrs Bird turned to go back indoors, she couldn’t help feeling glad she was staying at home.
Paddington enjoyed the journey to Crumbold and Ferns. They went by bus and he managed to get a front seat downstairs. By standing on the seat he could just see through the little hole in the screen behind the driver’s back. Paddington tapped on the glass several times and waved his paw at the man behind the wheel, but he was much too busy with the traffic to look round – in fact they drove a long way without stopping at all.
The conductor was cross when he saw what Paddington was doing. “Oi!” he shouted. “Stop that there tapping! It’s bears like you what get buses a bad name. We’ve gone past three queues already.”
But he was a kindly man and when Paddington said he was sorry, he explained to him all about the signals for making buses stop or go on, and he gave him the end of a roll of tickets as a present. When he had collected all the fares, he came back again and pointed out some buildings of interest to Paddington as they passed them. He even presented him with a large bulls-eye which he found in his money bag. Paddington liked seeing new places and he was sorry when the journey came to an end and he had to say good-bye to the conductor.
There was another slight upset when they reached Crumbold and Ferns. Paddington had an accident with the revolving door. It wasn’t really his fault, but he tried to follow Mrs Brown into the store just as a very distinguished-looking gentleman with a beard came out the other side. The man was in a great hurry and when he pushed the revolving door it started going round at great speed, taking Paddington with it. He went round several times until he found to his astonishment that he was outside on the pavement once more.
He had a brief glimpse of the man with the beard waving to him from the back of a large car as it drove away. The man also appeared to be shouting something, but Paddington never knew what it was, for at that moment he trod on something sharp and fell over backwards again.
He sat in the middle of the pavement examining his foot and found to his surprise that it had a tie-pin sticking in it. Paddington knew it was a tie-pin because Mr Brown had one very like it – except that his was quite ordinary, whereas this one had something big and shiny fixed to the middle of it. Paddington pinned it to the front of his duffle coat for safety and then suddenly became aware that someone was speaking to him.
“Are you all right, sir?” It was the doorkeeper – a very dignified man in a smart uniform with lots of medals.
“I think so, thank you,” said Paddington, as he stood up and dusted himself, “but I’ve lost my bulls-eye somewhere.”
“Your bulls-eye?” said the man. “Dear me!” If he felt surprised he showed no signs of it. Doorkeepers at Crumbold and Ferns were always very well trained. All the same he couldn’t help wondering about Paddington. When he noticed the tie-pin with the enormous diamond in the middle, he realized at once that he was dealing with someone very important. “Probably one of these society bears,” he thought to himself. But when he caught sight of Paddington’s old hat he wasn’t quite so sure. “Perhaps he’s a huntin’, shootin’, and fishin’ bear up from the country for the day,” he decided. “Or even a society bear that’s seen better days.”
So he held up the passers-by with a stern wave of the hand while they searched the pavement. As he guided Paddington back through the revolving door to Mrs Brown, who was waiting anxiously on the other side, he tried hard to look as if helping a young bear of quality find his bulls eye was an everyday event at Crumbold and Ferns.
Paddington returned his salute with a wave of the paw and then looked around. The inside of the shop was most impressive. Everywhere they went, tall men in frock-coats bowed low and wished them good afternoon. Paddington’s paw was quite tired by the time they reached the Household department.
As they both had some secret shopping to do, Mrs Brown left Paddington with the assistant and arranged to meet him outside the entrance to the shop in a quarter of an hour.
The man assured Mrs Brown that Paddington would be quite safe. “Although I don’t recall any actual bears,” he said, when she explained that Paddington came from Darkest Peru, “we have a number of very distinguished foreign gentlemen among our clients. Many of them do all their Christmas shopping here.”
He turned and looked down at Paddington as Mrs Brown left, brushing an imaginary speck of dust from his frock-coat.
Secretly Paddington was feeling rather overawed by Crumbold and Ferns, and not wishing to disgrace Mrs Brown by doing the wrong thing, he gave his own coat a passing tap with his paw. The assistant watched with fascination as a small cloud of dust rose into the air and then slowly settled on his nice, clean counter.
Paddington followed the man’s gaze. “I expect it came off the pavement,” he said, by way of explanation. “I had an accident in the revolving door.”
The man coughed. “Oh dear,” he said. “How very unfortunate.” He gave Paddington a sickly smile and decided to ignore the whole matter. “And what can we do for you, sir?” he asked, brightly.
Paddington looked round carefully to make sure Mrs Brown was nowhere in sight. “I want a clothes-line,” he announced.
“A what?” exclaimed the assistant.
Paddington hurriedly moved the bulls-eye to the other side of his mouth. “A clothes-line,” he repeated, in a muffled voice. “It’s for Mrs Bird. Her old one broke the other day.”
The assistant swallowed hard. He found it impossible to understand what this extraordinary young bear was saying.
“Perhaps,” he suggested, for a Crumbold and Ferns assistant rarely bent down, “you wouldn’t mind standing on the counter?”
Paddington sighed. It really was most difficult trying to explain things sometimes. Climbing up on to the counter he unlocked his suitcase and withdrew an advertisement which he’d cut from Mr Brown’s newspaper several days before.
“Ah!” The assistant’s face cleared. “You mean one of our special expanding clothes-lines sir.” He reached up to a shelf and picked out a small green box. “A very suitable choice, if I may say so, sir. As befits a young bear of taste. I can thoroughly recommend it.”
The man pulled a piece or rope through a hole in the side of the box and handed it to Paddington. “This type of expanding clothes-line is used by some of the best families in the country.”
Paddington looked suitably impressed as he climbed down, holding on to the rope with his paw. “You see,” continued the man, bending over the counter, “it is all quite simple. The clothes-line is all contained inside this box. As you walk away with the rope, it unwinds itself. Then, when you have finished with it, you simply turn this handle…” A puzzled note came into his voice.
“You simply turn this handle,” he repeated, trying again. Really, it was all most annoying. Instead of the clothes-line going back into the box as it was supposed to, more was actually coming out.
“I’m extremely sorry, sir,” he began, looking up from the counter. “Something seems to have jammed…” His voice trailed away and a worried look came into his eyes, for Paddington was nowhere in sight.
“I say,” he called, to another assistant farther along the counter. “Have you seen a young bear gentleman go past – pulling on a clothes-line?”
“He went that way,” replied the other man, briefly. He pointed towards the china department. “I think he got caught in the crowd.”
“Oh dear,” said Paddington’s assistant, as he picked up the green box and began pushing his way through the crowd of shoppers, following the trail of the clothes-line. “Oh dear! Oh dear!”
As it happened, the assistant wasn’t the only one to feel worried. At the other end of the clothes-line Paddington was already in trouble. Crumbold and Ferns was filled with people doing their Christmas shopping, and none of them seemed to have time for a small bear. Several times he’d had to crawl under a table in order to avoid being trodden on.
It was a very good clothes-line, and Paddington felt sure Mrs Bird would like it. But he couldn’t help wishing he’d chosen something else. There seemed to be no end to it, and he kept getting it tangled round people’s legs.
He went on and on, round a table laden with cups and saucers, past a pillar, underneath another table, and the clothes-line trailed after him. All the time the crowd was getting thicker and thicker and Paddington had to push hard to make any headway at all. Once or twice he nearly lost his hat.
Just as he had almost given up hope of ever finding his way back to the Household Department again, he caught sight of the assistant. To Paddington’s surprise, the man was sitting on the floor, looking very red in the face. His hair was all ruffled and he appeared to be struggling with a table leg.
“Ah, there you are!” he gasped, when he caught sight of Paddington. “I suppose you realize, young bear, I’ve been following you all round the China Department. Now you’ve tied everything up in knots.”
“Oh dear,” said Paddington, looking at the rope. “Did I do that? I’m afraid I got lost. Bears aren’t very good in crowds, you know. I must have gone under the same table twice.”
“What have you done with the other end?” shouted the assistant.
He wasn’t in the best of tempers. It was hot and noisy under the table and people kept kicking him. Apart from that, it was most undignified.
“It’s here,” said Paddington, trying to find his end of the rope. “At least – it was a moment ago.”
“Where?” shouted the assistant. He didn’t know whether it was simply the noise of the crowd, but he still couldn’t understand a word this young bear uttered. Whenever he did say anything it seemed to be accompanied by a strong crunching noise and a strong smell of peppermint.
“Speak up,” he shouted, cupping a hand to his ear. “I can’t hear a word you say.”
Paddington looked at the man uneasily. He looked rather cross and he was beginning to wish he had left his bulls-eye on the pavement outside. It was a very nice bulls-eye but it made talking most difficult.
It was as he felt in his dune coat pocket for a handkerchief that it happened.
The assistant jumped slightly and the expression on his face froze and then gradually changed to one of disbelief.
“Excuse me,” said Paddington, tapping him on the shoulder, “but I think my bulls-eye has fallen in your ear!”
“Your bulls-eye?” exclaimed the man, in a horrified tone of voice. “Fallen in my ear?”
“Yes,” said Paddington. “It was given to me by a bus conductor and I’m afraid it’s got a bit slippery where I’ve been sucking it.”
The assistant crawled out from under the table and drew himself up to his full height. With a look of great distaste, he withdrew the remains of Paddington’s bulls-eye from his ear. He held it for a moment between thumb and forefinger and then hurriedly placed it on a nearby counter. It was bad enough having to crawl around the floor untangling a clothes-line – but to have a bulls-eye in his ear – such a thing had never been known before in Crumbold and Ferns.
He took a deep breath and pointed a trembling finger in Paddington’s direction. But as he opened his mouth to speak he noticed that Paddington was no longer there. Neither, for that matter, was the clothes-line. He was only just in time to grab the table as it rocked on its legs. As it was, several plates and a cup and saucer fell to the floor.
The assistant raised his eyes to the ceiling and made a mental note to avoid any young bears who came into the shop in future. There seemed to be a commotion going on in the direction of the entrance hall. He had his own ideas on the possible cause of it, but wisely he decided to keep his thoughts to himself. He had had quite enough to do with bear customers for one day.
Mrs Brown pushed her way through the crowd which had formed on the pavement outside Crumbold and Ferns.
“Excuse me,” she said, pulling on the doorkeeper’s sleeve. “Excuse me. You haven’t seen a young bear in a blue duffle coat, have you? We arranged to meet here and there are so many people about I’m really rather worried.”
The doorkeeper touched his cap, “That wouldn’t be the young gentleman in question, ma’am?’ he asked, pointing through a gap in the crowd to where another man in uniform was struggling with the revolving door. “If it is – he’s stuck. Good and proper. Can’t get in and can’t get out. Right in the middle he is, so to speak.”
“Oh dear,” said Mrs. Brown. “That certainly sounds as if it might be Paddington.”
Standing on tip-toe, she peered over the shoulder of a bearded gentleman in front of her. The man was shouting words of encouragement as he tapped on the glass and she just caught a glimpse of a familiar paw as it waved back in acknowledgement.
“It is Paddington,” she exclaimed. ‘Now how on earth did he get in there?”
“Ah,” said the doorkeeper. “That’s just what we’re trying to find out. Something to do with ‘is getting a clothes-line wrapped round the ‘inges, so they say.”
There was a ripple of excitement from the crowd as the door started to revolve once more. Everyone made a rush for Paddington, but the distinguished man with the beard reached him first. To everyone’s surprise, he took hold of his paw and began pumping it up and down.
“Thank you, bear,” he kept saying. “Glad to know you, bear!”
“Glad to know you,” repeated Paddington, looking as surprised as anyone.
“I say,” exclaimed the doorkeeper respectfully, as he turned to Mrs Brown. “I didn’t know he was a friend of Sir Gresholm Gibbs.”
“Neither did I,” said Mrs Brown. “And who might Sir Gresholm Gibbs be?”
“Sir Gresholm,” repeated the doorkeeper, in a hushed voice. “Why, he’s a famous millionaire, He’s one of Crumbold and Ferns’s most important customers.”
He pushed back the crowd of interested spectators to allow Paddington and the distinguished man a free passage.
“Dear lady,” said Sir Gresholm, bowing low as he approached. “You must be Mrs Brown. I’ve just been hearing all about you.”
“Oh?” said Mrs Brown, doubtfully.
“This young bear of yours found a most valuable diamond tie-pin which I lost earlier this afternoon,” said Sir Gresholm. “Not only that, but he’s kept it in safe custody all this time.”
“A diamond tie-pin?” exclaimed Mrs Brown, looking at Paddington. It was the first she had heard of any diamond tie-pin.
“I found it when I lost my bulls-eye,” said Paddington, in a loud stage whisper.
“An example to us all,” boomed Sir Gresholm, as he turned to the crowd and pointed at Paddington.
Paddington waved a paw modestly in the air as one or two people applauded.
“And now, dear lady,” continued Sir Gresholm, turning to Mrs Brown. “I understand you intend showing this young bear some of the Christmas decorations.”
“Well,” said Mrs Brown. “I was hoping to. He hasn’t seen them before and it’s really his first trip out since he was ill.”
“In that case,” said Sir Gresholm, waving to a luxurious car which was parked by the side of the pavement, “my car is at your disposal.”
“Ooh,” said Paddington. “Is it really?’ His eye glistened. He’d never seen such an enormous car before, let alone ever dreamt of riding in one.
“Yes,’ indeed.” said Sir Gresholm, as he held the door open for them. “That is,” he added, as he noticed a worried expression cross Paddington’s face, “if you would do me the honour.”
“Oh yes,” said Paddington, politely. “I would like to do you the honour very much indeed.” He hesitated. “But I’ve left my bulls-eye on one of the counters in Crumbold and Ferns.”
“Oh dear,” said the gentleman, as he helped Paddington and Mrs Brown into the car. “Then there’s only one thing we can do.”
He tapped on the glass window behind the driver with his stick. “Drive on, James,” he said. “And don’t stop until we reach the nearest sweet shop.”
“One with bulls-eyes, please, Mr James,” called Paddington.
“Definitely one with bulls-eyes,” repeated Sir Gresholm. “That’s most important.” He turned to Mrs Brown with a twinkle in his eye. “You know,” he said, “I’m looking forward to this.”
“So am I,” said Paddington earnestly, as he gazed out of the window at all the lights.
As the huge car drew away from the kerb he stood on the seat and gave a final wave of his paw to the crowd of open-mouthed spectators, and then settled back, holding on to a long gold tassel with his other paw.
It wasn’t every day a bear was able to ride round London in such a magnificent car and Paddington wanted to enjoy it to the full.
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