31. Mr Gruber’s Outing
Most mornings when he wasn’t busy in the garden Paddington visited his friend Mr Gruber, and the day after his adventure with the motor mower he made his way in the direction of the Portobello Road even earlier than usual.
He was particularly anxious not to see Mr Curry for a few days and he agreed with Mrs Bird when she said at breakfast that it was better to let sleeping dogs lie. Not that Mr Curry showed much sign of sleeping. From quite an early hour he’d been on the prowl, peering at the hole in his fence in the intervals between glaring across at the Brown’s house, and Paddington cast several anxious glances over his shoulder as he hurried down Windsor Gardens pushing his shopping basket on wheels. He heaved a sigh of relief when he at last found himself safely inside Mr Gruber’s shop among all the familiar antiques and copper pots and pans.
Apart from a few grass cuttings stuck to his fur Paddington was none the worse for his adventure, and while Mr Gruber made the cocoa for their elevenses he sat on the horsehair sofa at the back of the shop and sorted through the morning supply of buns.
Mr Gruber chuckled as they went over the previous day’s happenings together while they sipped their cocoa. “Hearing about other people’s adventures always makes me restless, Mr Brown,” he said, as he looked out of his window at the bright morning sun.
“Particularly when it’s a nice day. I’ve a good mind to shut up shop after lunch and take the afternoon off.”
Mr Gruber coughed. “I wonder if you would care to accompany me, Mr Brown,” he said. “We could go for a stroll in the park and look at some of the sights.”
“Ooh, yes, please, Mr Gruber,” exclaimed Paddington. “I should like that very much.” Paddington enjoyed going out with Mr Gruber for he knew a great deal about London and he always made things seem interesting.
“We could take Jonathan and Judy,” said Mr Gruber, “and make a picnic of it.”
Mr Gruber became more and more enthusiastic as he thought the matter over. “All work and no play never did anyone any good, Mr Brown,” he said. “And it’s a long time since I had an outing.”
With that he began to bustle round his shop tidying things up and he even announced that he wouldn’t be putting his “knick-knacks” table outside that day, which was most unusual, for Mr Gruber always had a table on the pavement outside his shop laden with curios and knick-knacks of all kinds at bargain prices.
While Mr Gruber busied himself at the back of the shop Paddington spent the time drawing out a special notice in red ink to hang on the shop door while they were away. It said:
THIS SHOP WILL BE CLOSED FOR THE ANNULE
STAFF OUTING THIS AFTERNOON!!!!
After underlining the words with the remains of the Cocoa lumps Paddington carefully wiped his paws and then waved goodbye to Mr Gruber before hurrying off to finish the morning shopping.
When she heard the news of the forthcoming outing Mrs Bird quickly entered into the spirit of things and she made a great pile of sandwiches—ham and two kinds of jam for Mr Gruber, Jonathan, and Judy, and some special marmalade ones for Paddington.
These, together with a tin of freshly made fairy cakes and some bottles of lemonade soon filled Jonathan’s rucksack to the brim.
“Sooner Mr Gruber than me,” said Mrs Bird after lunch as she watched the heavily laden party set off up the road led by Mr Gruber carrying a large guide-book and Paddington with his suitcase, opera glasses, and a pile of maps.
“Paddington did say they’re going to the park, didn’t he?” asked Mrs Brown. “It looks rather as if they’re off to the North Pole,”
“Knowing Paddington,” said Mrs Bird darkly, “perhaps it’s as well they’re prepared for any emergency!”
In Mrs Bird’s experience an outing with Paddington was more likely than not to end up in some kind of disaster and she wasn’t sorry to be out of the way for a change.
All the same Mrs Bird would have been hard put to find fault with the orderly procession which neared the park some while later, and even the policeman on point duty nodded approvingly when Mr Gruber signalled that they wanted to cross the road. He at once held up the traffic with one hand and touched his helmet with the other when Paddington raised his hat as they went by.
It had taken them quite a long time to reach the park for there had been a great many shop windows to look in on the way, and Mr Gruber had stopped several times in order to point out some interesting sights he didn’t want them to miss.
Although Paddington had been in a number of parks before, it was the first time in his life he had ever seen a really big one and as Mr Gruber led the way through the big iron gates he decided he was going to enjoy himself. Apart from the grass and trees there were fountains, swings, deck chairs, and in the distance he could even see a lake shimmering in the afternoon sun.
In fact there was so much to see he had to blink several times in order to make sure he was still in London.
Mr Gruber beamed with pleasure at the look on Paddington’s face. “It might be an idea to go and sit by the lake first of all, Mr Brown,” he said. “Then you can dip your paws in the water to cool off while we have our sandwiches.”
“Thank you very much, Mr Gruber,” said Paddington gratefully. The hot pavements always made his feet tired and the thought of being able to cool them and have a marmalade sandwich at the same time seemed a very good idea.
For the next few minutes Mr Gruber’s party was very quiet indeed and the only sound apart from the distant roar of the traffic was an occasional splash as Paddington dipped his paws in the water and the clink of a marmalade jar as he made some extra sandwiches to be on the safe side.
When they had finished their picnic Mr Gruber led the way towards a small enclosure where the swings and slides were kept and he stood back while Paddington, Jonathan and Judy hurried inside to see what they could find. Paddington in particular was very keen on slides and he was anxious to test a large one which he had seen from a distance.
It was when the excitement was at its height that Mr Gruber suddenly cupped one hand to his ear and called for quiet.
“I do believe there’s a band playing somewhere,” he said.
Sure enough, as the others listened they could definitely hear strains of music floating across the park. It seemed to be coming from behind a clump of trees and as Mr Gruber led the way across the park it gradually got louder and louder.
Then, as they rounded a corner, another large enclosure came into view. At one end of it there was a bandstand and in front of that there were rows and rows of seats filled with people listening to the music.
Mr Gruber pointed excitedly at the bandstand. “We’re in luck, Mr Brown,” he exclaimed. “It’s the Guards!”
While Mr Gruber went on to explain that the Guards were a very famous regiment of soldiers who kept watch over Buckingham Palace and other important places, Paddington peered through the fence at the men on the platform. They all wore brightly coloured uniforms with very tall black hats made of fur and their instruments were so highly polished they sparkled in the sun like balls of fire.
“It’s a good many years since I went to a band concert, in the park, Mr Brown,” said Mr Gruber.
“I’ve never been to one, Mr Gruber,” said Paddington.
“That settles it then,” replied Mr Gruber. And as the item came to an end and the audience applauded he led the way to the entrance and asked for four five pence tickets. They just managed to squeeze themselves into four seats near the back before the conductor, a very imposing man with a large moustache, raised his baton for the next item.
Paddington settled himself comfortably in his seat.
They had done so much walking that day he wasn’t at all sorry to be able to sit down and rest his paws for a while and he applauded dutifully and cheered several times when, with a flourish, the conductor at last brought the music to an end and turned to salute the audience.
Judy nudged Paddington. “You can see what they’re going to play next,” she whispered, pointing towards the bandstand. “It’s written on that board up there.”
Paddington took out his opera glasses and leaned out into the aisle as he peered at the board with interest. There were several items called “Selections” which he didn’t immediately recognize. These were followed by a number of regimental marches, one of which had just been played. After that came another selection from something called a “Surprise Symphony” which sounded very good value.
But it was as he peered at the last item that a strange expression suddenly came over Paddington’s face. He breathed heavily on his glasses several times, polished them with a piece of rag which he got from his suitcase, and then looked through them again at the board.
“That’s called a selection from Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony,” explained Judy in a whisper as the music started up again.
‘What?” exclaimed Paddington hotly as his worst suspicions were confirmed. “Mr Gruber’s paid five pence each for our tickets and they haven’t even finished it!”
“He died a long time ago,” whispered Judy, “and they never found the rest of it.”
“Five pence each!” exclaimed Paddington bitterly, not listening to Judy’s words. “That’s twenty pence!”
“Ssh!” said someone in the row behind.
Paddington sank back into his seat and spent the next few minutes giving the conductor some hard stares through his opera glasses. Gradually, as the music reached a quiet passage, everyone closed their eyes and began to sink lower and lower in their seats until within a matter of moments the only movement came from somewhere near the back of the audience as a small brown figure got up from its seat by the gangway and crept towards the exit.
Paddington felt very upset about the matter of the Unfinished Symphony, particularly as it was Mr Gruber’s treat, and he was determined to investigate the matter.
“ere,” said the man at the entrance. “If you goes out you won’t be allowed in again. It’s against the rules and regulations.”
Paddington raised his hat. “I’d like to see Mr Schubert, please,” he explained.
“Sherbet?” repeated the man. He cupped one hand to his ear. The band had reached a loud passage and it was difficult to hear what Paddington was saying.
“You’d better try over there,” he exclaimed, pointing to a small kiosk. “I believe they ‘as some dabs.”
“Dabs?” exclaimed Paddington, looking most surprised.
“That’s right,” said the man. “But you’ll ‘ave to look Slippy,” he called as Paddington hurried across the grass with an anxious expression on his face. “Otherwise I shall have to charge you another five pence.”
The lady in the kiosk looked rather startled when Paddington tapped on the side. “Oh dear,” she said, as she peered over the counter. “One of them soldiers has dropped his busby.”
‘I’m not a busby!” exclaimed Paddington hotly. “I’m a bear and I’ve come to see Mr Schubert.”
“Mr Schubert?” repeated the lady, recovering from her shock. “I don’t know anyone of that name, dear. There’s a Bert what sees to the deck chairs but it’s his day off today.”
She turned to another lady at the back. “Do you know a Mr Schubert, Glad?” she queried. “There’s a young bear gentleman asking after him.”
“Sounds like one of them musicians,” said the second lady doubtfully. “They usually ‘as fancy names.”
“He wrote a symphony,” explained Paddington. “And he forgot to finish it.”
“Oh dear,” said the first lady. “Well, if I were you I’d go and wait under the bandstand. You’re bound to catch them when they come off then.”
“There’s a door at the back,” she added helpfully. “If you wait in there it’ll save disturbing all the people in the audience.”
After thanking the ladies for all their help Paddington hurried back across the grass towards some steps which led down to a small door marked STRICTLY PRIVATE at the rear of the bandstand.
Paddington liked anything new and he’d never been inside a bandstand before. It sounded most interesting and he was looking forward to investigating the matter.
The door opened easily when he put his paw against it but it was when he closed it behind him that he made the first of several nasty discoveries, for it shut with an ominous click and as he might he couldn’t pull it open again.
After poking at it for several minutes with an old broom handle which he found on the floor Paddington groped around until he found an upturned box and then he sat down in order to consider the matter.
Apart from the fact that it was dark inside the bandstand it was also very dusty and every time the band played a loud passage a shower of dust floated down and landed on his whiskers making him sneeze. In fact the more Paddington thought about things the less he liked the look of them, and the less he liked the look of things the more he thought something would have be done.
“Oh dear,” groaned Judy. “I’ve never known such a bear for disappearing.”
Mr Gruber, Jonathan, and Judy had opened their eyes at the end of the piece of music only to discover that Paddington’s chair was empty and he was nowhere in sight.
“He’s left his fairy cakes behind,” said Jonathan, “so he can’t have gone far.”
Mr Gruber looked worried. “They’re just about to play the “Surprise Symphony,” he said. “I do hope he’s back in time for that.” Mr Gruber knew how keen Paddington was on surprises and he felt sure he would enjoy the item.
But before they had time to discuss the matter any further the conductor brought the band to attention with a wave of his baton and quiet descended on the audience once again.
It was when the band had been playing for about five minutes that a puzzled look gradually came over Mr Gruber’s face. “It seems a very unusual version,” he whispered to Jonathan and Judy. “I’ve never heard it played like this before.”
Now that Mr Gruber mentioned it there did seem to something odd about the music. Other people in the audience were beginning to notice it as well and even the conductor was twirling his moustache with a worried expression on his face. It wasn’t so much the way the music was being played as a strange thumping noise which seemed to be coming from the bandstand itself and which seemed to be getting louder every minute.
Several times the conductor glared at the man who was playing the drums until at last, looking most upset, the man raised his sticks in the air to show that he had nothing to do with the matter.
It was at that moment that an even stranger thing happened. One moment the conductor was standing in front of the band glaring at the musicians, the next moment there was a splintering noise and before everyone’s astonished gaze he appeared to rise several inches into the air before he toppled over clutching at the rail behind him.
“Crikey!” exclaimed Jonathan as a loud sneeze broke the silence that followed. “I’d know that sneeze anywhere!”
Mr Gruber, Jonathan and Judy watched with growing alarm as a board in the floor of the bandstand gradually rose higher and higher and after some more splintering noises a broom handle came into view and waved about in the air. A few seconds later the broom handle was followed by a familiar looking hat and some even more familiar looking whiskers.
“Excuse me,” said Paddington, raising his hat politely to the conductor. “I’m looking for Mr Schubert.”
“Bears in my bandstand!” spluttered the conductor.
“Thirty years I’ve been conducting and never once fallen off my podium, let alone been knocked off by a bear!”
Whatever else the conductor had been about to say was drowned in a burst of applause. First one person started to clap, then another, until finally the whole audience was on its feet applauding. Several people shouted “Bravo!” and a number of others echoed it with cries of “Encore!”
“They call it the ‘Surprise Symphony’,” said a man sitting next to Mr Gruber, “but I don’t think I’ve ever been more surprised in my life as when that young bear came up through the floor.”
“Very good value for five pence,” said someone else.
“What will they think of next?”
It was some while before the applause died down and by that time the conductor had recovered himself and he even began to look quite pleased at the way the audience was clapping.
“Very good timing, bear,” he said gruffly as he returned Paddington to his seat and gave him a smart military salute. “It would have done credit to a Guardsman.”
“All the same,” said Jonathan some while later as they walked home through the park, “it’s a jolly good thing someone started the clapping off or there’s no knowing what might have happened. I wonder who it was?”
Judy looked at Mr Gruber but he appeared to be examining one of the nearby trees and if there was a twinkle in his eye it was hard to see. In any case, before they had time to discuss the matter any further the quiet of the afternoon was broken by the sound of music and marching feet.
“It must be the band on their way back to the barracks,” said Mr Gruber. “If we hurry we may be in time to see them.” So saying he quickly led the way in the direction of the music until they reached the side of the road just as a long line of soldiers came swinging into view led by the officer in charge.
“I’m glad you’ve seen the Guards marching, Mr Brown,” said Mr Gruber some moments later as the music died away and the last of the soldiers disappeared from view. “It’s a lovely sight.”
Paddington nodded his agreement as he replaced his hat. He’d been most impressed by the sight and although when they’d passed by the soldiers had all been staring very smartly straight ahead he was almost sure the man in charge had turned his eyes in their direction for a fraction of a second.
“I had a feeling he did too, Mr Brown,” said Mr Gruber when Paddington mentioned it. “And I should certainly make a note of it in your scrap book. I don’t suppose it’ll ever happen again and it’s a very good way to round off a most enjoyable day.”