34. A Sticky Time
Mrs Bird paused for a moment and sniffed the air as she and Mrs Brown turned the corner into Windsor Gardens. “Can you smell something?” she asked. Mrs Brown stopped by her side. Now that Mrs Bird mentioned it there was a very peculiar odour coming from somewhere near at hand. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant but it was rather sweet and sickly and it seemed to be made up of a number of things she couldn’t quite place.
“Perhaps there’s been a bonfire somewhere,” she remarked as they picked up their shopping and continued along the road.
“Whatever it is,” said Mrs Bird darkly, “it seems to be getting worse. In fact,” she added, as they neared number thirty-two, “it’s much too close to home for my liking.”
“l knew it!” she exclaimed, as they made their way along the drive at the side of the house. “Just look at my kitchen windows!”
“Oh dear,” said Mrs Brown as she followed the direction of Mrs Bird’s gaze. “What on earth has that bear been up to now?”
Looking at Mrs Bird’s kitchen windows it seemed just as if, in some strange way, someone had changed them for frosted glass while they had been out. Worse still, not only did the glass have a frosted appearance, but there were several tiny rivers of a rather nasty looking brown liquid trickling down them as well, and from a small, partly open window at the top there came a steady cloud of escaping steam.
While Mrs Bird examined the outside of her kitchen windows Mrs Brown hurried round to the back of the house. “I do hope Paddington’s all right,” she exclaimed when she returned. “I can’t get in through the back door. It seems to be stuck.”
“Hmm,” said Mrs Bird grimly. “If the windows look like this from the outside heaven alone knows what we shall find when we get indoors.”
Normally the windows at number thirty-two Windsor Gardens were kept spotlessly clean, with never a trace of a smear, but even Mrs Bird began to look worried as she peered in vain for a gap in the mist through which she could see what was going on.
Had she but known, the chances of seeing anything at all through the haze were more unlikely than she imagined, for on the other side of the glass even Paddington was having to admit to himself that things were getting a bit out of hand.
In fact, as he groped his way across the kitchen in the direction of the stove, where several large saucepans stood bubbling and giving forth clouds of steam, he decided he didn’t much like the look of the few things he could see.
Climbing up on a kitchen chair he lifted the lid off one of the saucepans and peered hopefully inside as he poked at the contents with one of Mrs Bird’s table spoons. The mixture was much stiffer than he had expected and it was as much as he could manage to push the spoon in let alone stir with it.
Paddington’s whiskers began to droop in the steam as he worked the spoon back and forth, but it wasn’t until he tried to take it out in order to test the result of his labours that a really worried expression came over his face, for to his surprise however much he pulled and tugged it wouldn’t even budge. The more he struggled the hotter the spoon became and after a moment or two he gave it up as a bad job and hurriedly let go of the handle as he climbed back down off the chair in order to consult a large magazine which was lying open on the floor.
Making toffee wasn’t at all the easy thing the article in the magazine made it out to be and it was all most disappointing, particularly as it was the first time he’d tried his paw at making sweets. The magazine in question was an old one of Mrs Brown’s and he had first come across it earlier in the day when he’d been at a bit of a loose end. Normally Paddington didn’t think much of Mrs Brown’s magazines. They were much too full of advertisements and items about how to keep clean and look smart for his liking, but this one had caught his eye because it was a special cookery number.
On the cover there was a picture showing a golden brown roast chicken resting on a plate laden with bright green peas, bread sauce and roast potatoes. Alongside the chicken there was a huge sundae oozing with layer upon layer of fruit and ice-cream, while beyond that was a large wooden board laden with so many different kinds of cheese that Paddington had soon lost count of the number as he lay on his bed licking his whiskers.
The inside of the magazine had been even more interesting and it had taken him some while to get through the coloured photographs alone. But it was the last article of all which had really made him sit up and take notice. It was called TEN EASY WAYS WITH TOFFEE, and it was written by a lady called Granny Green who lived in the country and seemed to spend all her time making sweets.
Granny Green appeared in quite a number of the pictures and whenever she did it was always alongside a pile of freshly made Old Fashioned Humbugs, a dish of coconut ice or a mound of some other sweet-meat.
Paddington had read the article several times with a great deal of interest for although in the past he’d tried his paw at cooking various kinds of dinner he’d never before heard of anyone making sweets at home and it seemed a very good idea indeed.
All Granny Green’s recipes looked nice but it was the last one of all, for Olde Fashioned Butter Toffee, that had really made Paddington’s mouth water. Even Granny Green herself seemed to like it best for in one picture she was actually caught helping herself to a piece behind her kitchen door when she thought no one was watching.
It not only looked very tempting but Paddington decided it was very good value for money as well, for apart from using condensed milk and sugar, all that was needed was butter, treacle, and some stuff called vanilla essence, all of which Mrs Bird kept in her store cupboard.
After checking carefully through the recipe once more Paddington took another look at the magazine in the hope of seeing where he’d gone wrong but none of the photographs were any help at all. All Granny Green’s saucepans were as bright as a new pin with not a trace of anything sticky running down the sides, and even her spoons were laid out neat and shining on the kitchen table. There was certainly no mention of any of them getting stuck in the toffee.
In any case her toffee was a light golden brown colour and it was cut into neat squares and laid out on a plate, whereas, from what he’d been able to make out of his own through the steam it was more the colour of dark brown boot polish, and even if he had been able to get it out of the saucepans he couldn’t for the life of him think what he could cut it with.
Paddington rather wished he’d tried one of the other nine recipes instead and after heaving a deep sigh he groped his way across the kitchen, stretching up a paw and rubbed a hole in the steam on one of the window pane. As he did so he jumped back into the middle of the room with a gasp of alarm, for there, on the other side of the glass, was the familiar face of Mrs Bird.
Mrs Bird appeared to be saying something and although he couldn’t make out the actual words he didn’t like the look of some of them at all. Fortunately, before she was able to say very much the glass clouded over again and Paddington sat down in the middle of the kitchen floor with a forlorn expression on his face as he awaited developments.
He hadn’t long to wait for a few moments later there came the sound of footsteps in the hall, “What on earth’s been going on?” cried Mrs Bird, as she burst through the door.
“I’ve been trying my paw at toffee making, Mrs Bird,” explained Paddington sadly.
“Toffee making!” exclaimed Mrs Brown, as she flung open the window. “Why, you could cut the air with a knife.”
“That’s more than you can say for the toffee,” said Mrs Bird, as she pulled at the end of the spoon Paddington had left in the saucepan. “It looks more like glue.”
“I’m afraid it is a bit thick, Mrs Bird,” said Paddington. “I think I must have got my Granny Greens mixed up by mistake.”
“I don’t know about your Granny Greens,” said Mrs Bird grimly, as she surveyed the scene. “It looks as if you’ve got the whole pantry mixed up. I only cleaned the kitchen this morning and now look at it!”
Paddington half stood up and gazed around the room. Now that most of the steam had cleared it looked in rather more of a mess than he had expected. There were several large pools of treacle on the floor and a long trail of sugar leading from the table to the stove, not to mention two or three half-open tins of condensed milk lying on their side where they had fallen off the draining board.
“It’s a job to know where to start,” said Mrs Brown, as she stepped gingerly over one of the treacle pools. “I’ve never seen such a mess.”
“Well, we shan’t get it cleared up if we stand looking at it, that’s a certainty,” said Mrs Bird briskly as she bustled around sweeping everything in sight into the sink. “I suggest a certain young bear had better get down on his paws and knees with a scrubbing brush and a bowl of water before he’s very much older, otherwise we shall all get stuck to the floor.”
Mrs Bird paused. While she’d been talking a strange expression had come over Paddington’s face, one which she didn’t like the look of at all. “Is anything the matter?” she asked.
“I’m not sure, Mrs Bird,” said Paddington, as he made several attempts to stand up and then hurriedly sat down again holding his stomach with both paws. “I’ve got a bit of a pain.”
“You haven’t been eating this stuff have you?” exclaimed Mrs Brown, pointing to the saucepans.
“Well, I did test it once or twice, Mrs Brown,” said Paddington.
“Gracious me!” cried Mrs Bird. “No wonder you’ve got a pain. It’s probably set in a hard lump in your inside.”
“Try standing up again,” said Mrs Brown anxiously.
“I don’t think I can,” gasped Paddington, as he lay back on the floor. “I think it’s getting worse.”
“That poor bear,” cried Mrs Bird, all thoughts of the mess in the kitchen banished from her mind as she hurried into the hall. “We must ring for Doctor MacAndrew at once.”
Mrs Bird was only gone a moment or so before the door burst open again. “The doctor’s out on his rounds,” she said. “They don’t know when he’ll be back and they can’t even find his locum.”
“They can’t find his locum!” repeated Paddington, looking more worried than ever.
“That’s his assistant,” explained Mrs Brown. “There’s nothing to get upset about.”
“We could try a strong dose of castor oil, I suppose,” she continued, turning to Mrs Bird.
“I’ve a feeling it’ll need more than castor oil,” said Mrs Bird ominously, as Paddington jumped up hurriedly with a “feeling better” expression on his face and then gave a loud groan as he promptly sat down again.
“I’ve sent for the ambulance.”
“The ambulance!” cried Mrs Brown, going quite pale. “Oh dear.”
“We should never forgive ourselves,” said Mrs Bird wisely, “if anything happened to that bear.”
So saying she put her arms underneath Paddington and lifting him gently, carried him into the dining room and placed him on the sofa where he lay with his legs sticking up in the air. Leaving Paddington where he was, Mrs Bird disappeared upstairs and when she returned she was carrying a small leather suitcase, “I’ve packed all his washing things,” she explained to Mrs Brown “And I’ve put in a jar of his special marmalade in case he needs it.”
Mrs Bird mentioned the last item in a loud voice in the hope that it would cheer Paddington up but at the mention of the word marmalade a load groan came from the direction of the sofa. Mrs Brown and Mrs Bird exchanged glances. If the thought of marmalade made Paddington feel worse then things must be very bad indeed.
“I’d better ring Henry at the office,” said Mrs Brown as she hurried out into the hall. “I’ll get him to come home straight away.”
Fortunately, as Mrs Brown replaced the telephone receiver, and before they had time to worry about the matter anymore, there came the sound of a loud bell ringing outside followed by a squeal of brakes and a bang on the front door.
“Oh dear,” said the ambulance man as he entered the dining room and saw Paddington lying on the sofa. “What’s this? I was told it was an emergency. Nobody said anything about it being a bear.”
“Bears have emergencies the same as anyone else,” said Mrs Bird sternly. “Now just you bring your stretcher and hurry up about it.”
The ambulance man scratched his head. “I don’t know what they’re going to say back at the hospital,” he said doubtfully. “They’ve got an ‘out-patients’ and an ‘In-patients’ department, but I’ve never come across a ‘bear-patients’ department before.”
“Well, they’re going to have one now,” said Mrs Bird. “And if that bear isn’t in it by the time five minutes is up I shall want to know the reason why.”
The ambulance man looked nervously at Mrs Bird and then back at the sofa as Paddington gave another loud groan. “I must say he doesn’t look too good,” he remarked.
“He’s all right when he’s got his legs in the air,” explained Mrs Brown. “It’s when he tries to put them down it hurts.”
The ambulance man came to a decision. The combination of Mrs Bird’s glares and Paddington’s groans was too much for him. “Bert,” he called through the open door. “Fetch the number one stretcher. And look slippy. We’ve a young bear emergency in here and I don’t much like the look of him.”
Nobody spoke in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Mrs Bird, Mrs Brown and the man in charge travelled in the back with Paddington, and all the while his legs got higher and higher until by the time the ambulance turned in through the hospital gates they were almost doubled back on themselves.
Even the ambulance man looked worried. “Never seen anything like it before,” he said.
“I’ll cover him over with a blanket, Ma’m,” he continued to Mrs Bird as they came to a stop. “It’ll save any explanations at the door. We don’t want too many delays filling in forms.”
Mrs Brown and Mrs Bird hurried in after the stretcher but the ambulance man was as good as his word and in no time at all Paddington was being whisked away from them down a long white corridor. In fact he only had time to poke a paw out from under the blanket in order to wave goodbye before the doors at the end of the corridor closed behind him and all was quiet again.
“Oh dear,” said Mrs Brown, as she sank down on a wooden bench. “I suppose we’ve done all we can now.”
“We can only sit and wait,” said Mrs Bird gravely as she sat down beside her. “Wait and hope.”
The Browns and Mr Gruber sat in a miserable group in the corridor as they watched the comings and goings of the nurses. Mr Brown had arrived soon after the ambulance, bringing with him Jonathan and Judy, and shortly after that Mr Gruber had turned up carrying a bunch of flowers and a huge bag of grapes.
“They’re from the traders in the market,” he explained. “They all send their best wishes and hope he soon gets well.”
“It won’t be long now,” said Mr Brown as several nurses entered the room at the end of the corridor. “I think things are beginning to happen.”
As Mr Brown spoke a tall, distinguished-looking man dressed from head to foot in green came hurrying down the corridor and with a nod in their direction disappeared through the same door.
“That must be Sir Mortimer Carroway,” said Judy knowledgeably. “That ambulance man said he’s the best surgeon they have.”
“Crikey!” said Jonathan in a tone of awe. “Fancy Paddington having him!”
“Quite right too,” said Mrs Bird decidedly. “There’s nothing like going to the top. People at the top are always more understanding.”
“I feel so helpless,” said Mrs Brown, voicing the thoughts of them all as they sat on the bench and prepared themselves for a long wait. They were each of them busy with their own thoughts and although not one of them would have admitted it to the others, even the knowledge that such a famous person as Sir Mortimer Carroway was in charge didn’t help matters.
“Good heavens!” exclaimed Mr Brown a few minutes later as the door at the end of the corridor opened once again and the figure of Sir Mortimer appeared.
“That was quick.”
Mrs Brown clutched her husband’s arm. “You don’t think anything’s gone wrong do you, Henry?” she asked.
“We shall soon know,” said Mr Brown, as Sir Mortimer caught sight of them and came hurrying along the corridor holding a piece of fur in his hand.”
“Are you that young bear’s … erm, next of kin?” he asked.
“Well, he lives with us,” said Mrs Brown.
“He is going to be all right?” exclaimed Judy, looking anxiously at the piece of fur.
“I should think,” said Sir Mortimer in a grave voice, but with the suspicion of a twinkle in his eyes, “there’s every chance he’ll pull through.”
“Gracious me!” exclaimed Mrs Bird as there was a sudden commotion at the end of the corridor. “There is Paddington, Don’t tell me he’s up already.”
“A bad case of galloping toffee drips,” said Sir Mortimer. “Most unusual. On the stomach too. Worst possible place.”
“Galloping toffee drips?” repeated Mr Brown.
“I think I must have spilt some on my fur when I was testing it, Mr Brown,” explained Paddington as he joined them.
“They probably set when he was sitting down,” said Sir Mortimer. “No wonder he couldn’t get up again.”
Sir Mortimer chuckled at the look on everyone’s face. “I’m afraid he’ll have a bare patch for a week or so but I don’t doubt if you keep him on a diet of marmalade for a while it’ll start to grow again. It should be all right by Christmas.”
“If you don’t mind, bear,” he said as he made to leave, “I’d like to keep this piece of fur as a souvenir. I’ve done a good few operations in my time but I’ve never had a bear’s emergency before.”
“What a good job Sir Mortimer had a sense of humour,” said Mrs Brown as they all drove home in Mr Brown’s car.
“I can’t imagine what some surgeons would have said.”
“Fancy keeping Paddington’s fur as a souvenir,” said Judy. “I wonder if he’ll have it framed.”
Looking out from behind Mr Gruber’s bunch of grapes Paddington gave the rest of the carload one of his injured expressions. He felt very upset that everyone was taking his operation so lightly now that it had turned out all right, especially as he had a cold spot in the middle of his stomach where Sir Mortimer had removed the fur.
“Perhaps,” said Mr Gruber, as they turned into Windsor Gardens, “he just likes bears.”
“After all, Mr Brown,” he added, turning to Paddington, “joking aside, it might have been serious and it’s nice to know there are people like that in the world you can turn to in times of trouble.”
And to that remark even Paddington had to nod his wholehearted agreement.