36. Paddington And The Cold Snap.
Paddington stood on the front door step of number thirty-two Windsor Gardens and sniffed the morning air. He peered out through the gap between his duffle coat hood and a brightly coloured scarf which was wound tightly about his neck. On the little that could be seen of his face behind some unusually white-looking whiskers there was a mixture of surprise and excitement as he took in the sight which met his eyes.
Overnight a great change had come over the weather whereas the day before had been mild, almost spring-like for early January, now everything was covered by a thick white blanket of snow which reached almost to the top of his Wellington boots.
Not a sound disturbed the morning air. Apart from the clatter of breakfast things in the kitchen, where Mrs Brown and Mrs Bird were busy washing-up, the only sign that he wasn’t alone in the world came from a row of milk bottle tops poking through the snow on the step and a long trail of footprints where the postman had been earlier that day.
Paddington liked snow, but as he gazed at the view in the street outside he almost agreed with Mrs Bird, the Brown’s housekeeper, that it was possible to have too much of a good thing. Since he’d been living with the Brown family there had been several of Mrs Bird’s “cold snaps”, but he couldn’t remember ever seeing one before in which the snow had settled quite so deep and crisp and evenly.
All the same, Paddington wasn’t the sort of bear to waste a good opportunity and a moment or so later he closed the door behind him and made his way down the side of the house as quickly as he could in order to investigate the matter. Apart from the prospect of playing snowballs he was particularly anxious to test his new Wellingtons which had been standing in his bedroom waiting for just such a moment ever since Mrs Brown had given them to him at Christmas.
After he reached Mr Brown’s cabbage patch Paddington busied himself scooping the snow up with his paws and rolling it into firm round balls which he threw at the clothes post. But after several of the larger ones narrowly missed hitting the next-door greenhouse instead, he hastily turned his attention to the more important task of building a snowman and gradually peace returned once again to Windsor Gardens.
It was some while later, just as he was adding the finishing touches to the snowman’s head with some old lemonade bottle tops, that the quiet was suddenly shattered by the sound of a nearby window being flung open.
“Bear!” came a loud voice. “Is that you, bear?”
Paddington jumped in alarm as he lifted his duffle coat hood and caught sight of the Brown’s next door neighbour leaning out of his bedroom window. Mr Curry was dressed in pyjamas and a dressing gown and half of his face seemed to be hidden behind a large white handkerchief.
“I’ve finished throwing snowballs, Mr Curry,” explained Paddington hastily. “I’m making a snowman instead.”
To his surprise Mr Curry looked unusually friendly as he lifted the handkerchief from his face. “That’s all right, bear,” he called in a mild tone of voice. “I wasn’t grumbling. I just wondered if you would care to do me a small favour and earn yourself ten pence bun money into the bargain.”
“I’ve caught a nasty cold in my dose,” he continued, as Paddington climbed up on a box and peered over the fence.
“A cold in your dose, Mr Curry,” repeated Paddington, looking most surprised. He had never heard of anyone having a cold in their dose before and he stared up at the window with interest.
Mr Curry took a deep breath. “Not dose,” he said, swallowing hard and making a great effort. “Dnose. And as if that isn’t enough, my system is frozen.”
Paddington became more and more upset as he listened to Mr Curry and he nearly fell off his box with alarm at the last piece of information. “Your system’s frozen!” he exclaimed. “I’ll ask Mrs Bird to send for MacAndrew.”
Mr Curry snorted. “I don’t want a doctor, bear,” he said crossly. “I want a plumber. It’s not my own pipes are frozen. It’s the water pipes. There isn’t even enough left in the tank to fill my hot-water bottle.”
Paddington looked slightly disappointed as a heavy object wrapped in a piece of paper landed at his feet.
“That’s my front door key,” explained Mr Curry. “I want you to take it along to Mr James, the odd job man. Tell him he’s to come at once. I shall be in bed but he can let himself in. And tell him not to make too much noise – I may be asleep. And no hanging about round the bun shop on the way otherwise you won’t get your ten pence.”
With that Mr Curry blew his nose violently several times and slammed his window shut.
Mr Curry was well known in the neighbourhood for his meanness. He had a habit of promising people a reward for running his errands but somehow whenever the time for payment arrived he was never to be found. Paddington had a nasty feeling in the back of his mind that this was going to be one of those occasions and he stood staring up at the empty window for some moments before he turned and made his way slowly in the direction of Mr James’s house.
“Curry!” exclaimed Mr James, as he stood in his doorway and stared down at Paddington. “Did you say?”
“That’s right, Mr James,” said Paddington, raising his duffle coat hood politely. “His systems frozen and he can’t even fill his hot-water bottle.”
“Hard luck,” said the odd job man unsympathetically. “I’m having enough trouble with me own pipes this morning let alone that there Mr Curry’s. Besides, I know him and his little jobs. He hasn’t paid me yet for the last one I did – and that was six months ago. Tell him from me, I want to see the colour of his money before I do anything else and even then I’ll have to think twice.”
Paddington looked most disappointed as he listened to Mr James. From the little he could remember of Mr Curry’s money it was usually a very dirty colour as if it had been kept under lock and key for a long time, and he felt sure Mr James would be even less keen on doing any jobs if he saw it.
“Tell you what,” said the odd job man, relenting slightly as he caught sight of the expression on Paddington’s face. “Hang on a tick. Seeing you’ve come a long way in the snow I’ll see what I can do to oblige.”
Mr James disappeared from view only to return a moment later carrying a large brown paper parcel. “I’m lending Mr Curry a blowlamp,” he explained. “And I’ve slipped in a book on plumbing as well. He might find a few tips in it if he gets stuck.”
“A blowlamp!” exclaimed Paddington, his eyes growing larger and larger. “I don’t think he’ll like that very much,”
“You can take it or leave it,” said Mr James. “It’s all the same to me. But if you want my advice, bear, you’ll take it. This weather’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.”
So saying, Mr James bade a final good morning and closed his door firmly, leaving Paddington standing on the step with a very worried expression on his face as he stared down at the parcel in his paws.
Mr Curry didn’t have a very good temper at the best of times and the thought of waking him in order to hand over a blowlamp or even a book on plumbing, especially when he had a bad cold, filled him with alarm.
Paddington’s face grew longer and longer the more he thought about it but by the time he turned to make his way back to Windsor Gardens his whiskers were so well covered by flakes that only the closest passer-by would have noticed anything amiss.
Mrs Brown paused in her housework as a small figure hurried past the kitchen window. “I suppose,” she said with a sigh, “we can look forward to paw prints all over the house for the next few days.”
“If this weather keeps on that bear’ll have to watch more than his paws,” said Mrs Bird as she joined her. “He’ll have to mind his p’s and q’s as well.”
The Browns’ housekeeper held very strict views on the subject of dirty floors, particularly when they were the result of bears “goings on” in the snow, and she followed Paddington’s progress into Mr Brown’s garage with a disapproving look.
“I think he must be helping out next door,” said Mrs Brown as Paddington came into view again clutching something beneath his duffle coat. “It sounds as if Mr Curry’s having trouble with his pipes.”
“I hope that’s all he’s having trouble with,” said Mrs Bird. “There’s been far too much hurrying about this morning for my liking.”
Mrs Bird was never very happy when Paddington helped out and several times she’d caught sight of him going past the kitchen window with what looked suspiciously like pieces of old piping sticking out of his duffle coat.
Even as she spoke a renewed burst of hammering came from the direction of Mr Curry’s bathroom and echoed round the space between the two houses, First there were one or two bangs, then a whole series which grew louder and louder, finally ending in a loud crash and a period of silence broken only by the steady hiss of a blowlamp.
“If it sounds like that in here,” said Mrs Brown, “goodness only knows what it must be like next door.”
“It isn’t what it sounds like,” replied Mrs Bird grimly, “it’s what it looks like that worries me.”
The Browns’ housekeeper left the window and began busying herself at the stove. Mrs Bird was a great believer in letting people get on with their own work and the activities of Mr Curry’s plumber were no concern of hers. All the same, had she waited a moment longer she might have changed her views on the matter, for at that moment the window of Mr Curry’s bathroom opened and a familiar looking hat followed by some equally familiar whiskers came into view.
From the expression on his face as he leant over the sill and peered at the ground far below it looked very much as if Paddington would have been the first to agree with Mrs Bird’s remarks on the subject.
Paddington was an optimistic bear at heart but as he clambered back down from the window and viewed Mr Curry’s bathroom even he had to admit to himself that things were in a bit of a mess. In fact, taking things all round he was beginning to wish he’d never started on the job in the first place.
Apart from Mr James’s blowlamp and a large number of tools from Mr Brown’s garage, the floor was strewn with odd lengths of pipe, pieces of solder and several saucepans, not to mention a length of hosepipe which he’d brought up from the garden in case of an emergency.
But it wasn’t so much the general clutter that caused Paddington’s gloomy expression as the amount of water which lay everywhere. In fact, considering the pipes had been completely frozen when he’d started, he found it hard to understand where it had all come from. The only place in the whole of the bathroom where there wasn’t some kind of pool was in a corner by the washbasin where he’d placed one of his Wellington boots beneath a leaking pipe in the hope of getting enough water to fill Mr Curry’s hot-water bottle.
Paddington was particularly anxious to fill the bottle before Mr Curry took it into his head to get up. Already there had been several signs of stirring from the direction of his bedroom and twice a loud voice had called out demanding to know what was going on.
Both times Paddington had done his best to make a deep grunting noise like a plumber hard at work and each time Mr Curry’s voice had grown more suspicious.
Paddington hastily began scooping water off the floor with his paw in order to help matters along, but as fast as he scooped the water up it soaked into his fur and ran back up his arm. Hopefully squeezing a few drops from his elbow into the Wellington boot Paddington gave a deep sigh and turned his attention to the book Mr James had lent him.
The book was called The Plumber’s Mate by Bert Stilson, and although Paddington felt sure it was very good for anyone who wanted to fit pipes in their house for the first time there didn’t seem to be a great deal on what to do once they were in and frozen hard. Mr Stilson seemed to be unusually lucky with the weather whenever he did a job, for in nearly all the photographs it was possible to see the sun shining through windows.
There was only one chapter on frozen pipes and in the picture that went with it Mr Stilson was shown wrapping them in towels soaked in boiling water. Without any water to boil Paddington had tried holding Mr Curry’s one and only towel near the blowlamp in order warm it, but after several rather nasty brown patches suddenly appeared he’d hastily given it up as a bad job.
Another picture showed Mr Stilson playing the flame of a blowlamp along a pipe as he dealt with a particularly difficult job and Paddington had found this method much more successful. The only trouble was that as soon as the ice inside the pipe began to melt a leak appeared near one of the joints. Paddington tried stopping the leak with his paw while he read to the end of the chapter, but on the subject of leaking pipes Mr Stilson was even less helpful than he had been on frozen ones. In a note about lead pipes he mentioned hitting them with a hammer in order to close the gap, but whenever Paddington hit one of Mr Curry’s gaps at least one other leak appeared farther along the pipe so that instead of the one he’d started with there were now five and he’d run out of paws.
For some while the quiet of the bathroom was broken only by the hiss of the blowlamp and the steady drip, drip, drip of water as Paddington sat lost in thought.
Suddenly, as he turned over a page near the end of the book his face brightened. Right at the end of the very last chapter Mr Stilson had drawn out a chart which he’d labelled “Likely Trouble Spots.” Hurriedly unfolding the paper Paddington spread it over the bathroom stool and began studying it with interest.
According to Mr Stilson most things to do with plumbing caused trouble at some time or another, but if there was one place which was more troublesome than all the others put together it was where there was a bend in the pipe. At the bottom of the chart Mr Stilson explained that bends shaped like the letter “U” always had water inside them and so they were the very first places to freeze when the cold weather came.
Looking around Mr Curry’s bathroom Paddington was surprised to see how many “U” bends there were. In fact, wherever he looked there appeared to be a bend of one kind or another.
Holding Mr Stilson’s book in one paw Paddington picked up the blowlamp in the other and settled himself underneath the washbasin where one of the pipes made itself into a particularly large “U” shape before it entered the cold tap.
As he played the flame along the pipe, well back in case he accidentally singed his whiskers, Paddington was pleased to hear several small cracking noises coming from somewhere inside. In a matter of moments the crackles were replaced by bangs, and his opinion of Mr Stilson went up by leaps and bounds as almost immediately afterwards a loud gurgling sound came from the basin over his head and the water began to flow.
To make doubly sure of matters Paddington stood up and ran the blowlamp flame along the pipe with one final sweep of his paw. It was as he did so that the pleased expression on his face suddenly froze almost as solidly as the water in Mr Curry’s pipes had been a second before.
Everything happened so quickly it all seemed to be over in the blink of an eyelid, but one moment he was standing under the basin with the blowlamp, the next moment there was a hiss and a loud plop and before his astonished gaze Mr Curry’s “U” bend disappeared into thin air. Paddington just had time to take in the pool of molten lead on the bathroom floor before a gush of cold water hit him on the chin, nearly bowling him over.
Acting with great presence of mind he knocked the hot flexible remains of the pipe and turned it back into Mr Curry’s bath, leaving the water to hiss and gurgle as he turned to consult Mr Stilson’s book once more.
There was a note somewhere near the back telling what to do in cases of emergency which he was particularly anxious to read.
A few seconds later he hurried downstairs as fast as his legs would carry him, slamming the front door in his haste. Almost at the same moment as it banged shut there came the sound of a window being opened somewhere overhead and Mr Curry’s voice rang out.
“Bear!” he roared. “What’s going on, bear?”
Paddington gazed wildly round the snow covered garden. “I’m looking for your stop-cock,” he exclaimed.
“What?” bellowed Mr Curry, putting a hand to his ear to make sure he’d heard alright. “Cock? How dare you call me cock! I shall report you to Mrs Bird.”
“I didn’t mean you were to stop, cock,” explained Paddington desperately. “I meant…”
“Stop?” repeated Mr Curry. “I most certainly will not stop. What’s going on? Where’s Mr James?”
“You’re having trouble with your “U” bends, Mr Curry,” cried Paddington.
“Round the bend!” spluttered Mr Curry. “Did I hear you say I’m round the bend?”
Mr Curry took a deep breath as he prepared to let forth on the subject of bears in general and Paddington in particular, but as he did so a strange look came over his face and before Paddington’s astonished gaze he began dancing up and down, waving his arms in the air.
“Where’s all this water coming from, bear?” he roared. “I’ve got ice cold water all over my feet. Where’s it all coming from?”
But if Mr Curry was expecting an answer to his question he was unlucky for a second later the sound of another front door being slammed punctuated his remarks, only this time it was the one belonging to number thirty-two.
Paddington had been thinking for some while that he’d had enough of plumbing for one day and the expression on Mr Curry’s face quite decided him in the matter.
Mr Brown looked up from his morning paper as a hammering shook the dining-room. “I shall be glad when they’ve finished next door,” he said. “They’ve been at it for days now. What on earth’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” said Mrs Brown, as she poured out the coffee. “Mr Curry’s got the builders in. I think it’s something to do with his bathroom. He’s been acting strangely all the week. He came round specially the other evening to give Paddington ten pence and several mornings he’s sent the baker round with a bun.”
“Mr Curry gave Paddington ten pence?” echoed Mr Brown, lowering his paper.
“I think he had a nasty accident during the cold weather,” said Mrs Bird. “He’s having a complete new bathroom paid for by the insurance company.”
“Trust Mr Curry to get it done for nothing,” said Mr Brown, “Whenever I try to claim anything from my insurance company there’s always a clause in small print at the bottom telling me I can’t.”
“Oh,” said Mrs Bird. “l have a feeling this was more of a paws than a clause. It’s what Mr Curry calls an ‘act of bear’.”
“An act of bear?” repeated Mr Brown. “I’ve never heard of that one before.”
“It’s very rare,” said Mrs Bird. “Very rare indeed. In fact it’s so rare I don’t think we shall hear of it again, do you, Paddington?”
The Browns turned towards Paddington, or what little could be seen of him from behind a large jar of his special marmalade from the cut-price grocer in the market. But the only sound to greet them was that of crunching toast as he busied himself with his breakfast.
Paddington could be very hard of hearing when he chose. All the same, there was a look about him suggesting that Mrs Bird was right and that as far as one member of the household was concerned bathrooms were safe from ‘acts of bear’ for many winters to come.