27. Paddington And The Pardon
The Browns soon settled down in the village and in no time at all it seemed as if they had always lived there. The news that a young English bear gentleman was staying at the hotel quickly spread, and Paddington was soon a popular figure in the streets, especially before going down to the beach.
He paid a visit to his new friend, Monsieur Dupont, most days. Monsieur Dupont spoke very good English and they had several chats together on the subject of buns. Monsieur Dupont not only showed Paddington round his ovens but he also promised to bake some special English buns for his elevenses into the bargain.
“After all,” he explained, “it is not every day we have a bear staying in St Castille.” And he put a notice in his shop window saying that in future special buns made to the recipe of a young English bear of quality would be on sale.
There were so many new and interesting things to see and do that Paddington had to sit up late in bed several nights running in order to write everything in his scrapbook while it was still fresh in his mind.
One morning he was wakened early by the sound of shouting and banging outside the hotel and when he looked out of the window he discovered to his astonishment that a great change had come over the village.
It was always busy, with people hurrying to and fro about their daily tasks, but on this particular morning it seemed to be twice as busy as usual. Even the people were dressed in quite a different way. Instead of their blue overalls and red jerseys the fishermen all had on their best suits, and the women and girls were wearing dresses covered in stiff white lace with tall lace hats to match.
Nearly all the fruit and vegetable stalls had gone and their place had been taken by other stalls decorated with coloured flags and striped awnings, and laden with boxes of sweets and row upon row of wax candles.
It was all most unusual, and after a quick wash Paddington hurried downstairs to investigate the matter.
Madame Penet, the owner of the hotel, was at her desk in the entrance hall when Paddington entered and she looked at him rather doubtfully when he consulted his phrase-book. Madame Penet’s English was no better than Paddington’s French and things always seemed to go wrong when they tried to talk to each other.
“It is,” she began, in reply to his question, “ow do you say? … a pardon.”
“That’s all right,” said Paddington politely.
“I only wondered what was happening. It looks very interesting.”
Madame Penet nodded.
Paddington gave Madame Penet a hard stare as he backed away. Although he was a polite bear he was beginning to get a bit fed up with raising his hat and saying ‘pardon’ in return, and so he hurried outside and across the square in order to consult Monsieur Dupont on the subject.
To his surprise when he entered the shop he made an even more startling discovery, for in place of the white smock and hat which he usually wore, Monsieur Dupont had on a very smart dark blue uniform covered in gold brain.
Monsieur Dupont laughed when he saw the expression on Paddington’s face. “It is all to do with the pardon, Monsieur le Bear,” he said. And he went on to explain that in France pardon was the name given to a very special festival, and that in Brittany in particular there were pardons for many different reasons. There were pardons for fishermen and farmers, and there was even a pardon for the birds not to mention horses and cattle.
“In the morning,” said Monsieur Dupont, “there is always a procession, when everyone goes to church, and afterwards there is much celebration. This year, we have a Fair and a firework display. Why, there is even a parade of the village band!”
Monsieur Dupont drew himself up to his full height. “That is why I am in uniform, Monsieur le Bear,” he exclaimed proudly. “For I am the leader of the band!”
Paddington looked most impressed as he listened to Monsieur Dupont, and after thanking him for all his trouble he hurried back to the hotel in order to tell the others.
Most days the Browns went down to the beach, but when they heard Paddington’s news they quickly changed their plans. After a hurried breakfast they joined the rest of the villagers in going to church, and that afternoon, by popular vote, they made their way towards a field just outside the village where the Fair was taking place.
Paddington stood in a trance as he gazed at the sight which met his eyes. It was the first time he had been to a Fair and he didn’t remember ever having seen or heard anything quite like it before.
There were huge wheels soaring up into the sky. There were gaily-painted swings and slides. There were roundabouts carrying dozens of shrieking, laughing people round and round as they clung to wooden horses painted all the colours of the rainbow. There were coconut-shies and side-shows.
Everywhere there were coloured lights flashing on and off, and in the centre of it all there was a huge organ playing gay music as it let out clouds of steam. In fact there were so many things crammed into such a small space it was difficult to decide what to do first.
In the end, after testing the slides and swings a number of times, Paddington turned his attention to one of the roundabouts, and when he discovered that bears under sixteen were allowed on for half-price on pardon days he had several more goes for good measure.
It was when he came off the roundabout for the last time and stood watching Mr Brown, Jonathan and Judy while they had a go, that he suddenly spied for the first time a most interesting-looking small striped tent which stood slightly apart from the rest of the Fair. There were several notices pinned to the outside, most of them printed in foreign languages, but there was one written in English which caught his eye at once and he read it carefully. It said:
International Fortune Teller
Pasted across the bottom was a smaller notice which had the words ENGLISH SPOKEN printed in red.
Mrs Brown followed Paddington’s gaze as he lifted up the tent flap and peered inside. “It says she reads palms,” she remarked doubtfully, “but I should be careful – paws might be more expensive.”
Mrs Brown wasn’t at all sure it would be a good thing for Paddington to have his fortune told – he got into enough trouble as it was without looking into the future. But before she had time to make him change his mind the tent flap had closed behind him.
Paddington had never before heard of anyone having their paw read and he was anxious to investigate the matter.
After the strong sunlight it was dark inside the tent, and as he groped his way forward he had to blink several times before he could make out a shadowy figure sitting behind a small, velvet-covered table.
Madame Zaza had her eyes closed and she was breathing heavily. After waiting impatiently for a few moments Paddington gave her a poke with his paw and then raised his hat.
“Please,” he announced, “I’ve come to have my paw read.”
Madame Zaza jumped. “Comment!” she exclaimed hoarsely.
“Come on?” said Paddington, looking puzzled. There was hardly space inside the tent for the two of them, let alone room to go anywhere, so he tried climbing on the table as he explained once again what he had come for.
“Mind my crystal ball,” cried Madame Zaza, breaking into English as the table rocked. “They’re very expensive.”
“I didn’t realise you were a foreigner,” she continued. “Otherwise I would have spoken to you in your own language.”
“A foreigner!” exclaimed Paddington hotly. “I’m not a foreigner. I’ve come from England.”
“You’re a foreigner when you’re in another country,” said Madame Zaza sternly. “And ‘comment’ doesn’t mean you’re supposed to climb all over my table!”
Paddington sighed as he climbed down off the table. He didn’t think much of French as a language. Everything seemed to have the opposite meaning to the one he was used to.
“Anyway, I don’t usually do bears,” said Madame Zaza cautiously. “But as you’re on holiday, if you like to cross my palm with silver I’ll see what I can do to oblige.”
Paddington undid his suitcase and taking out ten pence passed it over Madame Zaza’s outstretched hand before quickly putting it away again. Having his paw read was much cheaper than he had expected.
Madame Zaza gave Paddington a startled look. “You’re supposed to stop half-way and drop it in,” she exclaimed.
Paddington gave Madame Zaza one of his special hard stares in return before he undid his suitcase once again and handed back the ten pence.
“I don’t usually take foreign coins either,” said Madame Zaza, biting the ten pence to make sure it was good, “but it seems to be all right. Let me see your paw. I’ll read the lines on that first.”
As Paddington held out his paw, Madame Zaza took it in her hand. After staring at it disbelievingly for a moment she rubbed her eyes and then took a magnifying glass out of her pocket.
“You seem to have a very long life-line,” she said, “even for a bear. I’ve never seen such a thick one before, and it runs the whole length of your paw.”
Paddington followed her gaze with interest.
“I don’t think it is a life-line,” he said. “I think it’s an old marmalade chunk.”
“An old marmalade chunk?” repeated Madame Zaza in a dazed voice.
“That’s right,” said Paddington. “It got stuck on at breakfast and I must have forgotten to wash it off.”
Madame Zaza passed a trembling hand across her brow. It seemed to be getting very hot inside the tent. “Well,” she said, “I certainly can’t read your paw if it’s covered in old marmalade peel. I’m afraid you’ll have to pay extra and have the crystal ball.”
Paddington looked at her suspiciously as he withdrew another ten pence from his case. He was beginning to wish he hadn’t thought of having his fortune told.
Madame Zaza snatched the money from him and then drew the crystal ball towards her. “First you must tell me when your birthday is,” she said.
“June and December,” replied Paddington.
“June and December?” repeated Madame Zaza. “But you can’t have two birthdays. Nobody has more than one.”
“Bears do,” said Paddington firmly. “Bears always have two birthdays.”
“Then that makes it more difficult,” said Madame Zaza. “And I certainly can’t guarantee results.”
She waved her hands through the air several times and then stared hard at the ball.
“It says you are going on a journey,” she began, in a strange, distant voice, “quite soon!” She looked up at Paddington and added hopefully, “I think you ought to start right away.”
“I’m going on a journey?” exclaimed Paddington, looking most surprised. “But I’ve only just been on one. I’ve come all the way from Windsor Gardens! Does it say where I’m going?”
Madame Zaza consulted her glass once more, and as she did so a crafty look came over her face. “No,” she said, “but wherever it is things will certainly go off with a bang!”
Madame Zaza had remembered the firework display that was due to take place that evening, and it seemed a very good answer to Paddington’s question. But as she gazed at her crystal ball a puzzled look gradually came over her face. After breathing on the glass she gave it a polish with the end of her shawl. “I don’t remember this ever happening before,” she exclaimed excitedly. “I can see another bear!”
“I don’t think it’s another one,” said Paddington, as he stood on his suitcase and peered over Madame Zaza’s shoulder. “I think it’s me. But I can’t see anything else.”
Madame Zaza hastily covered the crystal ball with her shawl. “It’s fading,” she said crossly. “I think my palm needs crossing again.”
“But it’s only just been crossed!” said Paddington suspiciously.
“Again,” said Madame Zaza firmly. “Ten pence doesn’t last very long.”
Paddington looked very disappointed as he backed away from Madame Zaza, and he hurriedly dropped the tent flap before she could ask for any more money.
The Browns were standing by the roundabout chatting with Monsieur Dupont when Paddington came out of the tent and they looked up inquiringly as he hurried across to join them.
“Well, dear?” asked Mrs Brown. “How did you get on?”
“Not very well, Mrs Brown,” said Paddington sadly. “It wasn’t very good value. I think my lines must have been crossed.”
Monsieur Dupont raised his hands in sympathy. “Ah, Monsieur le Bear,” he exclaimed. “If only our troubles could be solved by looking into a crystal ball life would be very simple. I, too, would like to see into the future!”
Monsieur Dupont had a very worried look on his face and he had just been explaining to the Browns all about a problem which had to do with the celebrations that evening.
“Once a year,” he said, as he repeated the story for Paddington’s benefit, “we have a parade of the village band and tonight, of all nights, the man who plays the big drum has been taken ill!”
“What a shame,” said Mrs Brown. “It must be very disappointing.”
“Can’t you find anyone else?” asked Mr Brown.
Monsieur Dupont shook his head sadly.
“They are all much too busy enjoying themselves at the Fair,” he said. “And already we are late for rehearsals.”
As he listened to the others talking Paddington’s eyes got larger and larger, and several times he looked over his shoulder at Madame Zaza’s tent as if he could hardly believe his ears.
“Perhaps I could help, Mr Dupont,” he said excitedly when the baker had finished talking.
“You, Monsieur le Bear?” said Monsieur Dupont, looking most surprised. “But what could you do?”
Everyone listened with growing astonishment as Paddington explained about his ‘fortune’ and how Madame Zaza had said he would be going on a journey and that everything would go off with a bang.
When he had finished, Monsieur Dupont stroked his chin thoughtfully. “It is certainly most strange,” he said. “It is extraordinaire!”
Monsieur Dupont grew more and more enthusiastic as he considered the matter. “I have never before heard of a bear playing in a band,” he said. “It would be a great attraction.”
The Browns exchanged glances. “I’m sure it’s a very great honour,” said Mrs Brown doubtfully. “But is it wise?”
“What is a band,” cried Monsieur Dupont, waving his arms dramatically in the air, “without someone at the back who can go boum, boum, boum?” The Browns were silent. There didn’t seem to be any answers to Monsieur Dupont’s question.
“Oh, well,” said Mr Brown. “It’s your band!”
“In that case,” said Monsieur Dupont briskly, “the matter is settled.”
The Browns watched anxiously as Monsieur Dupont and Paddington hurried off to start their rehearsals. The idea of Paddington becoming a member of the village band gave rise to thoughts of all sorts of awful possibilities.
But as the afternoon wore on, despite their first misgivings, they became quite excited at the idea and by the time night fell and they settled themselves on the hotel balcony in readiness for the grand march past even Mr Brown kept repeating how much he was looking forward to it all.
In the distance they could hear the musicians tuning up their instruments, and several times there was a loud bang as Paddington tested his drum for the last time.
“I only hope he doesn’t make a mistake and ruin everything,” said Mrs Brown. “He’s not really very musical.”
“If some of the banging that goes on at home is anything to go by,” said Mrs Bird, looking up from her knitting, “there’s nothing to worry about!”
Suddenly, after a short pause, there was a great flurry of sound and a cheer went up from the waiting villagers as the band, led by Monsieur Dupont, entered the square to the tune of a rousing march.
Monsieur Dupont himself looked very impressive as he threw his stick in the air with a flourish and caught it with one hand as it came down, but the biggest cheer of all was reserved for Paddington as he came into view behind a very large drum. The news that the young English bear gentleman had stepped in at the last moment to save the day had quickly done the rounds and a large crowd had turned out to witness the event.
Paddington felt most important when he heard the applause, and he waved his paws several times in acknowledgement in between hitting the drum, reserving a special wave for the Browns as he passed the hotel.
“Well,” said Mrs Bird proudly, as the band disappeared from view up the street, “that bear may only be bringing up the rear, but I thought he was better than all the rest put together!”
“I’ve managed to get some pictures,” said Mr Brown, lowering his camera, “but I’m afraid they’re only back views.”
“You’ll be able to get some front ones in a minute, Dad,” said Jonathan. “I think they’re on their way back.”
Mr Brown hurriedly reloaded his camera as the sound of the music got louder again. Having finished off the first tune with a series of loud crashes, the band had broken into another march and was heading back towards the square.
“Paddington doesn’t seem quite so loud now,” said Mrs Brown as they settled back in their seats.
“I hope he isn’t having trouble with his sticks.”
“Perhaps his paws are getting tired,” said Judy.
“Crikey!” exclaimed Jonathan, jumping up as the band came into view again. “He isn’t with them anymore.”
“What’s that?” exclaimed Mr Brown, lowering his camera. “Not there! But he must be.”
The Browns peered anxiously over the edge of the balcony, and even Monsieur Dupont glanced over his shoulder several times before he brought the band to a halt in the middle of the square, but Paddington was nowhere to be seen.
“That’s funny,” said Mr Brown, cupping a hand to his ear as the music stopped. “I can still hear something.”
The others listened intently. The sound Mr Brown had heard seemed to be coming from the far side of the village. It was getting fainter and fainter all the time, but it was definitely that of a drum.
“Crumbs! I bet that’s Paddington,” said Judy. “He must have carried straight on by mistake when the others turned back.”
“We’d better go after him then,” said Mr Brown urgently. “There’s no knowing where he might end up.”
The Browns began to look worried as the full meaning of the situation sank in. Even Paddington himself, had he been in a position to see what was going on, would have agreed that things looked rather black, but as it was he plodded on his way blissfully unaware of the turn of events.
All in all, what with the Fair and the band rehearsal he had spent a most enjoyable day, but now that the first excitement of the march past was over he was beginning to wish it would soon come to an end.
To start with, the drum was much too large and heavy for his liking, and having short legs made it difficult to keep in step.
The drum was strapped to his front and during rehearsals he had been able to rest it on his suitcase, but now he was on the march it was much higher and he couldn’t even begin to see over the top. Apart from having no idea where he was, it was getting very hot inside his duffel coat and the jogging had made the hood fall over his ears so that he couldn’t hear the other musicians.
Monsieur Dupont had taken great pains to explain how important an instrument the drum was and that even when the band stopped playing it still had to be banged so that the others could keep in step, but as far as Paddington could make out for the past five minutes it had been all drum and no band and he was beginning to get a bit fed up.
The farther along the road he went the heavier it became and, to add to his troubles, as his knees began to sag under the weight, the duffel coat hood fell completely over his head and stayed there.
Just as he was trying to make up his mind whether or not to call out for help, matters were suddenly decided for him. One moment he was plodding along the road, the next moment his foot met nothing but air. In fact, he hardly had time to let out a gasp of surprise before everything seemed to turn upside down, and before he knew where he was he found himself lying on his back with what seemed like a ton weight on top of him.
Paddington lay where he was for some moments gasping for breath before he cautiously pulled back his duffel coat hood and peered out. To his surprise, neither Monsieur Dupont nor the rest of the band were anywhere in sight. In fact, the only things he could see at all were the moon and the stars in the sky above him. Worse still, when he tried to get up again he found he couldn’t, for the drum was resting on his stomach and try as he might he couldn’t move it.
Paddington let out a deep sigh as he lay back in the road. “Oh, dear!” he said, addressing the world in general. “I’m in trouble again!”
“What a good thing you kept on banging the drum,” said Mrs Brown thankfully. “You might have stayed there all night.”
It was some while later and everyone had gathered in the hotel lounge in order to hear Paddington’s explanations of the evening’s events and how he had come to be rescued.
Monsieur Dupont in particular was very relieved to see Paddington again for he felt responsible for the whole affair.
“I think I must have put my paw in a pot-hole by mistake, Mrs Brown,” said Paddington. “Then I couldn’t get up again because the drum was on top of me.”
Mrs Brown wanted to ask Paddington why he hadn’t tried undoing the straps, but she tactfully kept silent. As it was, far too many people were talking at once and quite a crowd had collected in order to congratulate Paddington and Monsieur Dupont on their march past.
In any case Paddington was much too busy with his own problems and from a distance he looked as if he was trying to turn himself inside out.
“It’s all right, Mrs Brown,” he said hurriedly, when he saw her look of concern. “I was only testing the lines on my paw.”
“Well, I hope you found something interesting after all that,” said Mrs Bird. “It looked most uncomfortable.”
“I’m not sure,” said Paddington hopefully, “but it looked like a firework!”
“H’mm!” said Mrs Bird darkly as a sudden ‘woosh’ came from outside and the first rocket of the evening lit up the sky. “It sounds suspiciously like a bear’s wishful thinking to me!”
But her words fell on deaf ears for Paddington had already disappeared outside, closely followed by Jonathan and Judy, with Mr Brown and Monsieur Dupont bringing up the rear.
Paddington liked fireworks and now that he had recovered from his adventure with the drum he was looking forward to the evening display. Judging by the noise going on in the square outside the hotel, he had a feeling French fireworks might be very good value indeed and he didn’t want to miss a single moment of the fun.