23. Paddington Prepares.
Paddington was in a mess. As he was the sort of bear who often got himself into trouble he wasn’t really surprised – but as he stood up and looked round his bedroom even he had to admit that it was worse than usual.
There were maps and pieces of paper everywhere, not to mention several nasty looking marmalade stains and a long trail of paw prints. The paw prints started on a map which was spread across the eiderdown on his bed. It was a large map of London and in the middle, by the first paw mark, there was a circle which marked the position of the Browns’ house at number thirty-two Windsor Gardens.
The trail led from the Browns’ house across the map in a southerly direction, over the end of the bed and on to another map which lay on the floor at the foot. From there it carried on, still going south, until it reached the English Channel, and yet a third map by the window which showed the north coast of France. There the trail ended in a soggy mess made up of old cake crumbs, a small pile of marmalade and a blob of red ink.
Paddington gave a deep sigh as he dipped his paw absent-mindedly into the concoction. He tried kneeling on the floor and peering at his room through half-closed eyes, but if anything, the mess looked even worse because from so low down all he could see were the bumps and ridges.
Just as he was about to lie back and consider the matter he was suddenly brought back to life by the sound of clinking plates and footsteps on the stairs.
Jumping up with a guilty expression on his face, Paddington hurriedly began sweeping everything under the bed. Although he had some very good explanations for the mess he was in he felt sure neither Mrs Brown nor Mrs Bird would be very keen on hearing them – especially at breakfast time when everyone was usually in a great hurry.
“Are you awake, Paddington?” called Mrs Brown as she knocked on the door.
“ No – not yet, Mrs Brown,” cried Paddington in a muffed voice, as he tried to push his marmalade jar under the wardrobe. “I think my lids are stuck.”
Being a truthful bear at heart, Paddington closed his eyelids and snored several times while he gathered up the rest of his belongings. Feeling around for the pen and ink, he hastily put them into his old hat which he pulled down over his head, and then, gathering up the last of the maps, he groped his way across the room.
“Whatever’s going on, Paddington?” exclaimed Mrs Brown, as the door suddenly opened and Paddington appeared.
Paddington nearly fell over backwards with surprise when he saw Mrs Brown standing there with his breakfast tray.
“I thought you were a cupboard, Mrs Brown,” he exclaimed, as he hurriedly put a pawful of maps behind him and backed towards the bed. “I must have gone the wrong way by mistake.”
“I should think you did,” said Mrs Brown as she followed him into the room. “I’ve never heard so much banging and crashing.”
Mrs Brown looked suspiciously round the room but everything appeared to be in its place so she turned her attention back to Paddington who was now sitting up in bed with a very odd expression on his face.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” she asked anxiously, as she placed the tray in front of him. For one nasty moment Mrs Brown thought she saw a trickle of red running down Paddington’s left ear, but before she could look into the matter he had pulled his old hat even further down over his head. All the same she didn’t like the look of it at all, and she hesitated at the door in case something was wrong.
Paddington, in his turn, rather wished Mrs Brown would hurry up and go. In his haste to clear up the mess he had forgotten to put the stopper back on the bottle of ink and the top of his head was beginning to feel quite soggy.
Mrs Brown sighed as she closed the door. She knew from past experience that it was hopeless trying to get an explanation out of Paddington when he was in one of his difficult moods.
“If you ask me,” said Mrs Bird, when Mrs Brown joined her in the kitchen and told her all about Paddington’s strange behaviour, “that young bear isn’t the only one in this house who’s acting in a funny manner. It’s all to do with you know what!”
With that Mrs Brown had to agree. Things had been very much upside down in the Brown household ever since the previous evening. It had all started when Mr Brown arrived home carrying a large pile of maps and brightly coloured pamphlets and announced that he was taking them to France for their summer holiday.
In a matter of moments the normal peace and quiet of number thirty-two Windsor Gardens had disappeared completely, never to return.
The holiday had been the one topic of conversation from dinner time until last thing at night. Old beach balls and bathing-costumes had been searched for in disused cupboards, plans had been discussed, and Mrs Bird had already begun washing and ironing a small mountain of clothes ready for the big day.
Paddington in particular had been most excited at the news. Since he had been a member of the Brown family they had taken him on a number of day trips which he had enjoyed no end, but he had never before been away for a real holiday and he was looking forward to it. To add to his excitement Mr Brown, in a generous moment, had put him in charge of all the maps and a thing called an itinerary.
At first Paddington hadn’t been at all sure about being in charge of anything which sounded as important as an itinerary, but after Judy had explained to him that it was simply a list of all the places they would visit and the things they would do he had quickly changed his mind. Paddington was keen on lists and a ‘doings list’ sounded most interesting.
“Mind you,” said Mrs Bird darkly, as she discussed the matter with Mrs Brown over the washing-up, “if that young bear’s going to be in charge of the maps we shall need all of a fortnight. It’s asking for trouble. There’s no knowing where we might end up.”
Mrs Brown sighed again. “Oh, well,” she said, turning her attention to other things, “at least it keeps him happy. You know how keen he is on writing things.”
“Hmm!” said Mrs Bird. “It’ll be all over the sheets if I know anything. Itineraries indeed!”
She snorted and cast a dark glance up at the ceiling in the direction of Paddington’s room on the second floor.
Mrs Bird knew from past experience and much washing of sheets that ink and Paddington were two things best kept apart. But as it happened for once she needn’t have worried for Paddington had just that moment stopped writing. In fact he was sitting up in bed carefully studying a large sheet of drawing-paper which he held in his paws.
At the top of the paper in big, red capital letters was the heading:
EYETINNERY BY PADINGTUN
followed by his special paw mark to show that it was genuine.
Paddington wasn’t quite sure about the spelling of itinerary, but though he had looked through all the ‘E’s in Mr Brown’s dictionary the night before he hadn’t been able to find it anywhere. On the whole, Paddington wasn’t surprised. He didn’t think much of dictionaries and he often found that when he wanted to look up a particularly difficult word it was nowhere to be found.
The first item on the list was:
7 oh clock – Large Breckfast
and then came
8 oh clock – Leave Home (32 Windsor Gardens)
9 oh clock – Snak
11 oh clock – Elevenses
Paddington read through the list several more times and then, after adding the words
12 oh clock – arrive at Airplane – Lunch
he folded the paper and packed it away in the secret compartment of his suitcase. Planning a holiday – especially a holiday abroad – was much more complicated than he had imagined, and he decided the only thing to do was to consult his friend Mr Gruber on the subject.
A few minutes later, after a quick wash, he hurried downstairs, collected the shopping list from Mrs Bird and his basket on wheels and disappeared out of the house with a purposeful gleam in his eyes.
Pausing only to call in at the baker’s, where he had a standing order for freshly baked buns, Paddington soon rounded the corner into the Portobello Road and made his way in the direction of Mr Gruber’s shop with its familiar windows bursting at the seams with antiques of every shape and size.
Mr Gruber shared Paddington’s liking for cocoa and buns, and they often had long chats together over their elevenses. He had travelled a great deal in his younger days and Paddington felt sure he would know all there was to know about holidays abroad.
Mr Gruber was as excited as Paddington when he heard the news and he quickly led the way to the horsehair sofa at the back of the shop which he reserved for all their important discussions.
“What a nice surprise, Mr Brown,” he said, as he busied himself at the stove with a saucepan of milk. “I don’t suppose there are many bears able to take their holidays abroad, so you must make the most of it. If there’s anything I can do to help, you must let me know.”
Mr Gruber listened carefully to all Paddington’s explanations while he made the cocoa and his face took on a serious expression.
“I must say being in charge of an itinerary sounds a heavy responsibility for a young bear’s shoulders, Mr Brown,” he exclaimed as he handed Paddington a steaming mug of cocoa in exchange for a bun. “I shall have to see what I can do.”
And without further ado he got down on his hands and knees and began sorting through a pile of old books in a box behind the sofa.
“Everyone seems to be taking their holidays abroad at the moment, Mr Brown,” he said, as he began handing some of the books up to Paddington. “I’ve had rather a run on books about France, but I hope you’ll find these useful.”
Paddington’s eyes got larger and larger as the pile by his side got higher, and he nearly fell off his seat with surprise when Mr Gruber suddenly stood up holding an old black beret in his hands.
“It’s rather large,” said Mr Gruber apologetically, as he held it up to the light, “and there seem to be one or two moth holes. But it’s a real French one and you’re very welcome to use it.”
“Thank you very much, Mr Gruber,” said Paddington gratefully. “I expect the moth holes will do for my ears. Bears’ ears don’t fold very easily.”
“Well, I hope you find everything useful,” said Mr Gruber, looking very pleased at the expression on Paddington’s face. “You’ll need a lot of books if you’re going to plan an itinerary and it’s as well to be on the safe side. You never know what might happen when you’re abroad, Mr Brown.”
Mr Gruber went on to explain about some of the things Paddington would see while he was away, and it was some while before Paddington wiped the last of the cocoa stains from his whiskers and stood up to go. Time passed very quickly when he was with Mr Gruber because he always made things sound so much more interesting than other people did.
“I expect you’ll find lots to write in your scrapbook, Mr Brown,” said Mr Gruber as he helped Paddington load his shopping basket. “I shall look forward to reading all about it.”
Paddington felt more and more excited as he waved goodbye and staggered along the Portobello Road under the weight of all his belongings. The shopping basket was so heavy it was quite difficult to steer, and several times he nearly ran into one or other of the barrows which lined the street.
Apart from that there were so many things on his mind he didn’t know which to think about first. He was particularly anxious to try out his new beret, and some of Mr Gruber’s books looked most interesting. In the end he decided to sit down for a rest and investigate both.
He put his old hat on the ground, carefully adjusted the beret and then began taking the books out of his shopping basket one by one.
First there was a dictionary. Then there was a French cookery book – full of recipes and coloured pictures of food which made his mouth water. After that came one packed with maps and instructions about things to see and do, and this was followed by several more books full of pictures.
Last of all Paddington came to a very important-looking leather-bound volume which had the words ‘Useful Phrases for the Traveller Abroad’ written in gold letters on its cover.
Before he took it out of the basket Paddington hurried across the road and dipped his paws in a nearby horse-trough. Mr Gruber had explained that the book was very old and he’d asked him to take especial care of it.
When he returned Paddington sat down again and began to examine the book. It was most unusual and he didn’t remember ever having seen one quite like it before. Just inside the front cover there was a drawing which showed what looked like a very old-fashioned car being drawn by four white horses, and it was full of sentences showing how to ask for things in French, with pictures explaining matters as it went along.
In no time at all he became so lost in the book he quite forgot where he was. There was one particularly interesting phrase in a section marked ‘Travel’ which caught his eye at once. It said ‘My Grandmother has fallen out of the stage-coach and needs attention.’
Paddington felt sure it would come in very useful if Mrs Bird happened to fall out of Mr Brown’s car while they were going along and he tested it several times, waving his paws in the air as the man in the picture seemed to be doing.
To his surprise, when he looked up, Paddington discovered he was surrounded by a small crowd of people who were watching him with interest.
“If you asks me,” said one man, who was leaning on a bicycle studying Paddington intently, “I reckon he’s one of them onion bears. They come over every year from Brittany,” he added knowledgeably as he turned to the crowd. “They ‘as their onions on a piece of string. You must ‘ave seen ‘em. That’s why ‘e was spouting French.”
“Garn,” said another man. “That wasn’t French. He was ‘aving some sort of spasm. Waving ‘is paws about something shocking ‘e was. Besides,” he added triumphantly, ‘if he’s an onion bear, where’s his onions?”
“Perhaps he’s lost them,” said someone else. “That’s why he’s upset. I expect his string broke if the truth be known.”
“It’s enough to give anyone a spasm,” said a lady, “coming all this way and then losing your onions.”
“That’s what I said,” exclaimed the first man. “I expect he was ‘aving a French spasm. They’re the worst of the lot. Very excitable, them foreigners.”
“I shouldn’t touch him, dear,” said another lady, turning to her small boy who had his eye on Paddington’s beret. “You don’t know where he’s been.”
Paddington’s eyes had been getting larger and larger as he listened to the crowd and he looked most offended at the last remark.
“An onion bear!” he exclaimed at last. “I’m not an onion bear. I’m a going abroad bear and I’ve just been to see Mr Gruber!”
With that he gathered up his belongings and hurried off up the road, leaving behind him a buzz of conversation.
Rounding the corner into Windsor Gardens, Paddington gave the crowd several hard stares over his shoulder, but as he got nearer to the familiar green front door of number thirty-two a thoughtful expression came over his face.
As he stood on the doorstep and heard the footsteps of Mrs Bird coming along the hall Paddington decided that perhaps it had been a very good morning’s work after all.
Thinking things over he felt rather pleased at having been mistaken for a French bear – even if it had only been one who sold onions. In fact the more he thought about the matter the better pleased he became, and he felt sure that with the help of all the maps and pamphlets and Mr Gruber’s books he would be able to plan some very good holiday ‘doings’ indeed for the Browns.