30. Paddington Breaks The Peace
“I know I keep on saying it,” exclaimed Mrs Brown, as she placed an extremely large vegetable marrow on the kitchen scales, “but I’m sure Paddington must have been born with green paws. Have you seen this one? He’s beaten his best by over half a pound.”
“Hmm,” said Mrs Bird. “Well, I’ll grant you one thing, green paws are better than idle ones and at least gardening keeps him busy. We haven’t had an upset for weeks now.”
The Browns’ housekeeper hastily touched wood as her eyes followed the progress of a small brown figure clad in a shapeless hat and an equally disreputable looking duffle coat as it made its way down the garden path before disappearing into a potting shed behind the raspberry canes.
Mrs Bird was never very happy about any of Paddington’s activities which took him out of her sight for too long at a time, and Paddington’s interest in gardening had lasted much too long for her peace of mind.
All the same, even Mrs Bird had to admit that for some time past things had been remarkably peaceful at number thirty-two Windsor Gardens. It had all started when Paddington arrived home from the market one day carrying a giant packet of assorted seeds which he’d bought for the bargain price of five pence. At the time it had seemed such good value for money that Mr Brown had been only too pleased to let him have a corner of the garden, and for several evenings afterwards Paddington had been kept very busy counting the seeds, making sure none of them were stuck to his paws as he sorted them into separate piles in order of size before he planted them.
Only Mrs Bird had been full of forebodings. “Woe betide the man in the shop if they don’t all come up,” she remarked when she noticed the seed packet had been marked down from twelve pence. “I can see there’ll be some nasty scenes.”
But despite Mrs Bird’s misgivings, within a week or two the first of the seeds began to sprout and in no time at all “Paddington’s Patch” was such a blaze of colour it soon put the rest of the garden to shame. From that moment on Paddington spent most of his spare time out of doors, and when he began supplying the household with vegetables as well as flowers everyone had to agree with Mrs Brown that he must have been born with green paws.
“I must say the garden is a picture at the moment,” she continued, as she turned to help Mrs Bird with the washing-up. “Even Mr Curry called out this morning and said how nice it looks.”
“If I know Mr Curry,” said Mrs Bird darkly, “he was probably after something. He doesn’t say things like that without a very good reason.”
“Perhaps he wants some cheap vegetables,” said Mrs Brown. “You know how mean he is.”
“He’ll be lucky with that bear,” replied Mrs Bird.
“And quite right too, seeing the state his own garden’s in. It’s a disgrace.”
Mr Curry’s lawn was very overgrown with weeds and Mrs Bird held strong views about the way the seeds blew over the fence whenever there was a strong wind.
“Funnily enough,” said Mrs Brown, “I think he was just getting his lawnmower out when he spoke to me. Perhaps he’s going to make a start.”
“Not before time,” snorted Mrs Bird. “And I shall believe it when I see it, He’s much more likely to give the job to some poor bob-a-job-week scout than do it himself.”
Mrs Bird gave the washing-up several nasty jabs with her mop, but if she had been able to see Mr Curry as she spoke she would probably have snorted even louder, for at that moment the Browns’ neighbour was peering over the fence at Paddington with a very cunning expression on his face.
Unaware of the danger he was in, Paddington was sitting on a patch of ground behind the raspberry canes busy with his accounts. Mrs Bird paid him strict market rates for all his vegetables and although she kept a careful note of all his sales Paddington wasn’t the sort of bear to take chances and he liked to make doubly sure by keeping his own record. He had just finished entering the words “MARROWS—VERRY LARGE —ONE” in his notebook when Mr Curry’s voice shattered the morning air.
“Bear!” he roared. “What are you doing, bear? Resting on your laurels?”
Paddington jumped up in alarm at the sound of Mr Curry’s voice. “Oh no, Mr Curry,” he exclaimed, when he had recovered from the shock. “I was only sitting on my begonias.”
Mr Curry looked at him suspiciously but Paddington returned his gaze very earnestly.
The cunning expression returned to Mr Curry’s face as he looked round Paddington’s garden. “I’m glad to see you’re all up to date, bear,” he said. “I was wondering if you would like to earn yourself fifty pence if you’ve a few moments to spare.”
“Yes, please, Mr Curry,” said Paddington doubtfully. From past experience he felt sure that any job for which Mr Curry was willing to pay fifty pence would take far longer than a few minutes, but he was much too polite to say so.
‘Are you any good at climbing frees?” asked Mr Curry.
“Oh yes,” said Paddington importantly. “Bears are good at climbing things.”
“That’s good,” said Mr Curry, waving a hand in the direction of a large tree near his house. “In that case perhaps you’d like to pick a few apples for me.”
“Thank you very much, Mr Curry,” said Paddington, looking most surprised at the thought of being paid fifty pence just for picking a few apples.
“Oh, and while you’re up there,” said Mr Curry casually, “there’s a dangerous branch that needs cutting down. I’m afraid I have to go out but it’s very kind of you to offer, bear. Very kind indeed.”
Before Paddington had time to open his mouth Mr Curry produced a saw and a length of rope from behind his back and pointed to the branch in question.
“Now don’t forget,” he said, as he handed the bits and pieces over the fence, “you tie one end of this rope to the branch, then you loop the other end over the top of the tree and tie it back down to something heavy on the ground. That’s most important, otherwise the branch might fall down too quickly and cause a nasty accident. I don’t want to come back and find any broken windows.”
“And if you finish before I get back,” continued Mr Curry, “perhaps you’d like to cut my grass. I’ve put the mower all ready and if you make a good job of it there might even be another fifty pence.”
With that Mr Curry turned on his heels and disappeared in the direction of the house leaving Paddington anxiously holding the rope between his paws. He felt sure he hadn’t said anything to Mr Curry about cutting down his branches, let alone uttered a word about mowing the grass. But the Browns’ neighbour had a way of twisting things so that other people were never quite sure what they had said.
If it had simply been a matter of cutting the grass Paddington might have pretended that he’d got something stuck in his ear by mistake and hadn’t heard properly, but as he studied Mr Curry’s tree he began to look more and more thoughtful.
A few moments later he jumped up and began hurrying around as he made his preparations. Paddington liked climbing trees and he was also very keen on sawing. To be able to do both at the same time seemed a very good idea indeed, especially when it was in someone else’s garden.
All the same, as he looked around for something heavy to tie the rope to he soon decided that it was easier said than done. The nearest object was Mr Curry’s fence and that was so rickety a piece of it came away in his paw when he tested it with one of his special knots.
In the end Paddington settled on Mr Curry’s lawnmower, which looked much more solid, and after making a double knot round the handle to be on the safe side he began to climb the apple tree armed with the saw and a jar of his favourite marmalade.
Mr Curry’s tree was rather old and Paddington didn’t like the way it creaked, but at long last he settled himself near the branch that had to be cut down and after making sure the other end of the rope was properly tied he dipped his paw in the marmalade jar and got ready for the big moment.
Paddington was a great believer in marmalade. He’d often used it for all sorts of things besides eating, and now that he took a closer look at Mr Curry’s saw he felt sure it might come in very useful for greasing the blade in an emergency. There weren’t many teeth left, but of those that were still intact most were rusty and the rest stuck out at some very odd angles.
Taking a final look round to make sure everything was as it should be Paddington gripped the saw with both paws, closed his eyes and began jumping up and down as he pushed it back and forth across the branch. In the past he’d usually found any kind of sawing hard work, but for once everything seemed to go smoothly. If anything, Mr Curry’s tree was in an even worse state than his saw and within a few minutes of starting work there came a loud crack followed almost immediately afterwards by a splintering noise as the branch broke away from the tree.
When the shaking stopped Paddington opened his eyes and peered down at the ground. To his delight the branch was lying almost exactly where he had planned it to be and he felt very relieved as he scrambled back down the tree to view the result of his labours. It wasn’t often that any jobs he did for Mr Curry went right first time and he spent some moments sitting on the sawn-off branch with a pleased expression on his face while he got his breath back.
Turning his attention to the lawn, Paddington began to wish more than ever that he hadn’t heard Mr Curry’s remark about cutting it. Apart from the fact that there seemed to be an awful lot, the grass itself was so long it came almost up to his knees and even when he stood up it was a job to see where the lawn finished and the rest of the garden began.
It was as he looked round for the mower in order to make some kind of a start that Paddington received his first big shock of the day. For although there was a long trail leading down through the grass from the shed and although there were two deep wheel marks to show where it had been left standing, Mr Curry’s lawnmower was no longer anywhere in sight.
Paddington’s shocks never came singly, and as he nearly fell over backwards with surprise at the first one he promptly received his second. Rubbing his eyes, he peered upwards again in the hope that it had all been part of a bad dream, but everything was exactly as it had been a few seconds before. If anything it was worse, for having rubbed his eyes he was able to make out even more clearly the awful fact that far from having disappeared into thin air Mr Curry’s lawnmower was hanging as large as life from a branch high above his head.
Paddington tried pulling on the rope several times but it was much too tight to budge and after a few more half-hearted tugs he sat down again with his chin between his paws and a very disconsolate look on his face as he considered the matter.
Thinking it over he couldn’t for the life of him see a way out of the problem. In fact the more he thought about it the worse it seemed, because now Mr Curry’s lawnmower was up the tree he couldn’t even make amends by cutting the grass for him. Mr Curry wasn’t very understanding at the best of times and from whatever angle Paddington looked at the tree even he had to admit that it was one of the worst times he could remember.
“Paddington’s very quiet this morning,” said Mrs Brown. “I hope he’s all right.”
“He was poking around in Mr Brown’s garage about an hour ago,” said Mrs Bird. “Looking for some shears. But I haven’t seen him since. If you ask me there’s something going on. I met him coming up the garden path just now with a spanner in his paw and he gave me a very guilty look.”
“A spanner?” said Mrs Brown. “What on earth does he want with a spanner in the garden?”
“I don’t know,” said Mrs Bird grimly. “But I’ve a nasty feeling he’s got one of his ideas coming on. I know the signs.”
Almost before the words were out of Mrs Bird’s mouth there came a series of loud explosions from somewhere outside. “Gracious me!” she cried, as she rushed to the french windows. “There’s a lot of smoke behind the raspberry canes.”
“And that looks like Paddington’s hat,” exclaimed Mrs Brown as a shapeless looking object suddenly began bobbing up and down like a jack-in-the-box. “Perhaps he’s having a bonfire. He looks as if he’s trodden on something hot.”
“Hmm,” said Mrs Bird. “If that’s a bonfire I’m a Dutchman.”
Mrs Bird had had a great deal of practice at putting two and two together as far as Paddington was concerned, but before she could put her thoughts into words the banging became a roar and Paddington’s hat, which had disappeared for a few seconds, suddenly shot up in the air only to hurtle along behind the top of the canes at great speed.
Any doubts in Mrs Bird’s mind as to what was going on were quickly settled as Mr Brown’s motor mower suddenly came into view at the end of the raspberry canes, carrying with it the familiar figure of Paddington as he held on to the handle with one paw and clutched at his hat with the other.
The mower hit Mr Curry’s fence with a loud crash and then disappeared again as quickly as it had come, leaving behind it a large hole and a cloud of smoke.
If Mrs Brown and Mrs Bird were astonished at the strange turn of events in the garden Paddington was even more surprised. In fact so many things had happened in such a short space of time he would have been hard put to explain matters even to himself. Mr Brown’s motor mower was old and rather large and although Paddington had often watched from a safe distance when Mr Brown started it up he had never actually tried his paw at it himself.
It had all been much more difficult than he had expected and after several false starts he had almost given up hope of ever getting it to go when suddenly the engine had burst into life. One moment he’d been bending over it pulling levers and striking matches as he peered hopefully at the works, the next moment there had been a loud explosion and with no warning at all the mower had moved away of its own accord.
The next few minutes seemed like a particularly nasty nightmare. Paddington remembered going through Mr Curry’s fence, and he remembered going round the lawn several times as the mower gathered speed. He also remembered feeling very pleased that Mr Curry had left his side gate open as he shot through the opening and out into the road, but after that things became so confused he just shut his eyes and hoped for the best.
There seemed to be a lot of shouting coming from all sides together with the sound of running feet. Once or twice Paddington thought he recognized the voices of Mrs Brown and Mrs Bird in the distance, but when he opened his eyes it was only to see a large policeman looming up ahead.
The policeman’s eyes were bulging and he had his hand up to stop the traffic. Paddington just had time to raise his hat as he shot past and then he found himself being whisked round a corner in the direction of the Portobello market, with the sound of a heavy pair of boots adding itself to the general hubbub.
He tried pulling on several of the levers but the more he pulled the faster he seemed to go and in no time at all the noise of his pursuers became fainter and fainter. It felt as if he had been running for hours when suddenly, for no apparent reason, the engine began to splutter and slow down. As the motor mower came to a stop, Paddington opened one eye cautiously and found to his surprise that he was standing in the middle of the Portobello Road, only a few yards away from the antique shop belonging to his friend Mr Gruber.
“Whatever’s going on, Mr Brown ?” cried Mr Gruber as he came running out of his shop and joined the group of street traders surrounding Paddington.
“I think I must have pulled the wrong lever by mistake, Mr Gruber,” said Paddington sadly.
“Good job for you your hat fell over the carburettor,” said one of the traders who knew Paddington by sight. “Otherwise there’s no knowing where you’d have ended up. It must have stopped the air getting…”
“What?” exclaimed Paddington anxiously. “My hat’s fallen over the carburettor?” Paddington’s hat was an old and very rare one which had been given to him by his uncle shortly before he left Peru and he felt very relieved when he saw that apart from a few extra oil stains there was no sign of damage.
“If I were you,” said someone in the crowd, nodding in the direction of a group of people who had just entered the market, “I should make yourself scarce. The law’s on its way.”
With great presence of mind Mr Gruber pushed the motor mower on to the pavement by his shop. “Quick, Mr Brown,” he cried, pointing to the grass box. “Jump in here!”
Mr Gruber barely had time to cover Paddington with a sack and chalk “Today’s Bargain” on the outside of the box before there was a commotion in the crowd and the policeman elbowed his way through.
“Well,” he demanded, as he withdrew a notebook from his tunic pocket and surveyed Mr Gruber. “Where is he?”
‘Where is he?” repeated Mr Gruber innocently.
“The young bear that was seen driving a motor mower down the Queen’s Highway a moment ago,” said the policeman ponderously. “Out of control he was and heading this way.”
“A young bear?” said Mr Gruber, carefully placing himself between the policeman and Mr Brown’s mower, “Driving a motor mower. What sort of bear?”
“Dressed in a duffle coat that’s seen better days,” replied the policeman. “And wearing a funny kind of hat. I’ve seen him around before.”
Mr Gruber looked about him. “I can’t see anyone answering to that description,” he said gravely.
The policeman stared long and hard at Mr Gruber and then at the other traders, all of whom carefully avoided catching his eye.
“I’m going for a short walk,” he said at last, with the suspicion of a twinkle in his eye. “And when I get back, if I see a certain “bargain” still outside a certain person’s shop I shall make it my duty to look into the matter a bit further.”
As the crowd parted to let the policeman through Mr Gruber mopped his brow. “That was a narrow squeak, Mr Brown,” he whispered. “I hope I did the right thing. Not knowing the facts I didn’t know quite what to say.”
“That’s all right, Mr Gruber,” said Paddington as he peered out from under the sacking. “I’m not very sure of them myself.”
Mr Gruber and the other traders listened carefully while Paddington went through the morning’s events for their benefit. It took him some time to relate all that had taken place and when he’d finished Mr Gruber rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“First things first, Mr Brown,” he said briskly, as he locked the door to his shop, “It sounds as though you’ll need a hand getting Mr Curry’s lawn-mower down from his tree before he gets home so I think I’d better push you back to Windsor Gardens as quickly as possible. Unless, of course, you’d rather walk?”
Paddington sat up in the grass box for a moment while he considered the matter. “I think if you don’t mind, Mr Gruber,” he announced gratefully, as he pulled the sack back over his head, “I’d much rather ride.”
Apart from not wishing to see Mr Curry or the policeman again that morning, Paddington had a nasty feeling Mrs Brown and Mrs Bird must be somewhere around and he didn’t want to delay matters any further by going all through his explanations once again before he’d had time to think them out properly.
In fact, all in all, Paddington was only too pleased to have the chance of a comfortable ride home in the dark and safety of a boxful of grass clippings, especially as he’d just discovered the remains of a marmalade sandwich which he’d fastened to the inside of his hat with a piece of sticky tape for just such an emergency.