37. A Most Unusual Ceremony
One morning, just as the Browns were sitting down to breakfast, a loud rat-tat-tat sent Mrs Bird hurrying to the front door.
“I didn’t want to push these through the letter box, ma’am.” said the postman, handing her two large, snow-white envelopes, “in case anything happened to them. One of them is addressed to that young bear of yours.”
The Browns’ postman had once got one of Aunt Lucy’s postcards stuck in their front door and Paddington had given him some hard stares through the letter box for several days afterwards.
Thanking the man for his trouble, Mrs Bird hurried back into the dining-room clutching the letters. Paddington nearly dropped the marmalade into his tea when he saw that one was addressed to him. He often received a postcard from Peru, and at least once a week a catalogue arrived bearing his name, but he’d never had anything quite as impressive before.
“Here, let me,” said Mr Brown, picking up a knife and coming to his rescue. “You don’t want to get marmalade all over it.”
“Thank you very much, Mr Brown,” said Paddington gratefully. “Envelopes are a bit difficult with paws.”
A gasp of surprise went up from the rest of the family as Mr Brown cut open the envelope and withdrew a large gold-edged card, which he held up for everyone to see.
“Whatever can it be?” exclaimed Mrs Brown. “It looks most important.”
Mr Brown adjusted his glasses. “Sir Huntley Martin,” he read, “requests the pleasure of Mr Paddington Brown’s company at two o’clock on Monday 20th February. There will be a tour of the factory followed by an important ceremony and a special tea.”
“Sir Huntley Martin,” echoed Mrs Bird. “Isn’t he that nice man we met at the Porchester that day Paddington had trouble with his onions?”
“That’s right,” said Judy. “He’s the marmalade king. He said at the time he wanted Paddington to pay him a visit, but that was ages ago.”
“How nice of him to remember,” said Mrs Brown, opening the other envelope.
“Trust old Paddington to get himself invited to a marmalade factory,” said Jonathan. “It’s like taking coals to Newcastle. I wonder what the ceremony is?”
“Whatever it is,” replied Mrs Brown, holding up another card, “he must have known it’s half term, He’s invited the rest of us to see it later in the afternoon.”
“Hmm,” said Mrs Bird, looking at Paddington. “It’s less than a week away. I can see a certain person’s going to have a lot of cleaning up to do.”
“Perhaps it’s a sticky ceremony, Mrs Bird,” said Paddington hopefully.
Mrs Bird began clearing away the breakfast things.
“Sticky it may be,” she said sternly. “But no bear goes visiting from this house in the state you’re in at the moment – least of all to a ceremony. You’ll have to have a bath and a good going over with the vacuum.”
Paddington sighed. He always enjoyed going out but he sometimes wished it didn’t involve quite so much fuss being made.
All the same, it was noticeable during the next few days that he paid several trips to the bathroom without once being asked, and as a result his fur became gradually shinier and silkier. By the time the following Monday arrived even Mrs Bird’s eagle eyes could find no fault with his appearance.
It had been arranged that as a special treat Paddington should go on ahead of the others and he felt very excited when he climbed into a specially ordered taxi and settled himself in the back seat, together with his suitcase, the invitation card, several maps and a large Thermos of hot cocoa.
It was the first time he had ever been quite so far afield on his own and after waving good-bye to the others he consulted his map and peered out of the window with interest as the taxi gathered speed on its way through the London streets.
On the map the journey to the factory looked no distance at all, only a matter of inches, but Paddington soon found it was much farther than he had expected.
Gradually, however, the tall grey buildings gave way to smaller houses and the familiar red buses grew less in number, until at long last the driver turned a corner and brought the taxi to a halt in a side street near a group of large buildings
‘Here we are, guv’,” he said. “Can’t get right up to the gates, I’m afraid. There’s a bit of an obstruction. But it’s only a few yards up the road, Can’t miss it. Just follow yer nose.”
The driver paused and looked down out of his cab with growing concern as Paddington, after stepping down on to the pavement, began twisting about for several seconds and then suddenly fell over and landed with a bump in the gutter.
‘Ere,” he called anxiously. “Are you all right?”
“l think so,” gasped Paddington, feeling himself to make sure. “I was only trying to follow my nose, but it kept disappearing.”
“Well, you as to point it in the right direction to start with,” said the driver, as he helped Paddington to his feet and began dusting him down. “You’re in a right state and no mistake.”
Paddington examined himself sadly. His fur, which a moment before had been as clean and shiny as a new brush, was now covered in a thick layer of dust and there were several rather nasty-looking patches of oil on his front as well. Worse still, although he still had tight hold of his suitcase with one paw, the other was completely empty.
“I think I’ve dropped my invitation card down the drain,” he exclaimed bitterly.
The driver climbed back into his cab. “It’s not your day, mate,” he said sympathetically, “If I were you I’d get where you’re going to as quickly as possible before anything else happens.”
Paddington thanked the driver for his advice and then hurried off down the road in the direction of an imposing looking building with a large illuminated jar on its side. As he drew near the entrance he sniffed several times. There was a definite smell of marmalade in the air, not to mention one or two kinds of jam, and he quickened his step as he approached a small office to one side of the gates where a man in uniform was standing.
The man eyed Paddington up and down. “We’re not taking on any bears at the moment,” he said sternly. “I should try the ice-cream factory next door.”
“l haven’t come to be taken on,” exclaimed Paddington hotly, giving the man a hard stare. “I’ve come to see Sir Huntley Martin.”
“Ho, yes,” said the gatekeeper sarcastically. “And who are you, pray? Lord Muck “isself?”
“Lord Muck?” repeated Paddington. “I’m not a Lord. I’m Paddington Brown.”
“Ave you seen yourself in a mirror lately?” asked the gatekeeper. “Lord you may not be – but mucky you certainly are. I suppose you’ve left yer Rolls round the corner?”
“My rolls?” said Paddington, looking most surprised, “I didn’t bring any rolls. Only some cocoa. I thought I was going to eat here.”
“Ere, ere,” said the gatekeeper, taking a deep breath. “l don’t want no cheek from the likes of you. There’s an important ceremony taking place this afternoon. They’re opening a new factory building and I’ve strict instructions to keep the gates clear. We don’t want no young unemployed bears hanging about letting the place down.
“If you want a job,” he continued, picking up a telephone inside his office, “I’ll call the foreman. Though what he’ll think of it all I don’t know. It says ‘Hands Wanted’ on the board. It doesn’t say anything about paws.”
Paddington looked more and more upset as he listened to the gatekeeper. “But I haven’t come about a job,” he exclaimed, when at long last he could get a word in. “I’ve been invited to Sir Huntley’s ceremony.”
“Ho, yes,” said the gatekeeper disbelievingly. “And I suppose you’ll tell me next you’ve lost yer invitation card?
“That’s right,” said Paddington. “I had a bit of an accident when I got out of my taxi and it fell down a drain.”
“Look,” said the gatekeeper crossly. “Pull the other leg – it’s got bells on. I’ve met your sort before. After a free tea, no doubt. The only way you’ll get into this factory, my lad, is through the works entrance like anyone else.”
He turned as a figure came hurrying out of the main building. “Here’s the foreman. And I’d advise you to watch your step. He doesn’t stand any nonsense.”
“There’s a young out of-work bear here, Fred,” he called, as the foreman reached the gate. “I was wondering if you could fix him up.”
“I told the Labour Exchange we’re a bit short-handed,” said the foreman, looking Paddington up and down, “but I reckon they must be in a worse state than we are.”
“Do you know anything about marmalade?” he added, not unkindly.
“Oh, yes,” said Paddington eagerly, “I eat a lot of it at home. Mrs Bird’s always grumbling about my jars.”
“Well, I don’t know what to suggest,” said the foreman, as Paddington returned his gaze very earnestly.
“Is there anything in particular you’d like to try your paw at?”
Paddington thought for a moment. “I think perhaps I’d like to see the chunks department first,” he announced. “That sounds very interesting.”
“Chunks department,” said the foreman, glancing at the gatekeeper. “I don’t know that we’ve got what you might call a chunks department. But I could start you off in the barrel section if you like There’s no one working there today.
“It’s where we keep the empty Seville Orange barrels,” he explained, as he led the way across the factory square past several rows of seats and a flower decorated stand. “They all have to be scrubbed out before they’re sent back to Spain and I daresay you’ll find plenty of old chunks left in them if you’re interested.”
Paddington, who thought the foreman had said they kept several orange barrels, nearly fell over backwards with astonishment as the man led him into a yard at the side of the factory and he took in the sight before him. There were big barrels, small barrels, barrels to the left and right of him, barrels in front of him, and barrels which seemed to be piled almost as high as the eye could see. In fact, there were so many he soon became dizzy trying to count them.
“You don’t have to scrub them all,” said the foreman encouragingly. “Only as many as you can. We pay five pence each for the big ones, two pence for the smalls, so the more you clean the more you earn. It’s what we call ‘piece work’.”
“Five pence each!” repeated Paddington, hardly able to believe his ears. He’d once scrubbed out Mr Brown’s water butt at Windsor Gardens, It had taken him most of one weekend but at least at the end of it all Mr Brown had given him ten pence extra bun money, “I think perhaps I’d like to try my paw in the testing department instead,” he exclaimed.
The foreman gave him a look. “You’ll be lucky,” he said. “You have to work your way up to a job like that. Your best plan is to start at the bottom.”
He pointed towards a corner of the yard as he turned to go. “There’s a brush in that bucket over there and you’ll find a hosepipe in the corner. Only no playing about squirting people. There’s a famous film star coming to make his footprint in the ceremonial cement today and if I catch you wandering about it’ll be straight back to the Labour Exchange and no mistake.”
Paddington stared after the foreman as he disappeared through the open gates. In the past he had often found there were days when things seemed to go wrong for no reason at all, but he couldn’t remember a day when things had gone quite so badly. In fact they had not only gone badly but they seemed to be getting steadily worse with every passing minute.
He gave a deep sigh as he looked round the yard at all the barrels and then gradually a thoughtful expression came over his face. He felt sure that when the Browns arrived later in the afternoon things would begin to sort themselves out, but in the meantime he wasn’t the sort of bear to let a good opportunity slip through his paws. Paddington believed in making the most of things and it wasn’t often he was allowed to play with a hosepipe let alone be paid to do it, even if it was only five pence a large barrel.
A few moments later the steady hiss of escaping water began to mingle with the distant roar from the factory, and shortly after that the sound of rolling barrels added itself to the general noises as Paddington went about his task.
Several times during the next hour the foreman poked his head round the gates to see how things were going and on the last occasion he brought the gatekeeper along as well, “We’ve got a good lad there,” he said approvingly “Makes a change from some of the layabouts we’ve been getting lately.”
The gatekeeper surveyed the small figure inside the yard. “Hmm,” he said darkly. “I can see something else that’s going to need a good “ose down before the day’s out.” He nodded towards the factory square where a large crowd had assembled in readiness for the ceremony. “I only hope he doesn’t show himself in front of that lot. Sir Huntley’ll be making his speech any moment now and he won’t want no young bears covered in wet chunks roaming about.”
The gatekeeper addressed his last remarks in a loud voice towards the yard, but Paddington was much too busy to notice what was going on outside. Working in a marmalade factory was a lot more enjoyable than he had expected. Already most of the small two-penny barrels had been cleaned and stacked neatly to one side and he was feeling very pleased with himself as he sat on his suitcase and made a careful note of the number on a piece of label from an old jar.
As the foreman and the gatekeeper hurried back across the square Paddington took a long drink of cocoa from his Thermos flask and then turned his attention to the huge mound of five-penny barrels at the back of the yard.
He looked up at them doubtfully. Cleaning the two-penny barrels had been fairly easy. Apart from the odd few with particularly difficult chunks stuck to the bottom it had been mostly a matter of climbing inside and splashing about with the hosepipe. But the five-penny ones looked much more difficult.
Not only were they a lot bigger but as far as he could see there wasn’t even so much as a pair of steps in sight let alone a ladder which would enable him to reach the topmost ones.
Laying the hosepipe on the ground he picked up a long piece of wood and poked it between two barrels at the bottom of the pile. Things had happened so quickly earlier in the day he hadn’t been able to take it all in, but he distinctly remembered the foreman advising him that the best place of all to start in a marmalade factory was at the bottom.
As he levered the wood to and fro several loud rumbling noises came from somewhere overhead. Paddington wasn’t too keen on thunder and he looked anxiously up at the sky as he quickened his pace. Some of the claps sounded much too close for his liking and he wanted to get as much work as possible done before the storm finally broke.
Had he but known it, Paddington wasn’t the only one to feel uneasy about the sudden change in the weather. From his position on the platform Sir Huntley Martin himself cast several glances skywards as he tried to speak. Although it was a warm day for the time of year thunder in February was most unusual and he didn’t like the look of things at all.
“Upon my soul,” he boomed into the microphone. “That’s all we need!”
Sir Huntley Martin was beginning to look more and more unhappy at the way things were going, The day had started badly when the famous film star who had promised to perform the opening ceremony had fallen ill and now to have a thunderstorm into the bargain seemed the final straw.
Several times he tried to continue with his speech but each time he opened his mouth a loud rumble came from somewhere near at hand. Even the audience began to look uneasy and from her position in the front row Mrs Bird placed her umbrella at the ready.
“I wish someone would tell me where Paddington has got to,” she said. “I knew he should have brought his mackintosh,”
“If you ask me,” said Mr Brown, “he’s probably still inside the factory digging into the marmalade store.”
“If he doesn’t hurry up,” said Mrs Brown, “he’ll miss the ceremony. And he’ll be most upset if that happens.”
Mr Brown turned his attention back to the platform. “If this thunder gets any worse,” he said, “there won’t be any ceremony to miss!”
“Crikey!” exclaimed Jonathan suddenly, pointing across the square towards the yard. “Look!”
“Good Heavens!” boomed Sir Huntley, following the direction of Jonathan’s hand. “It isn’t thunder at all. It’s barrels!”
Everyone stared in amazement as they took in the sight which met their eyes. Several barrels were already bumping their way across the square towards them and even as Sir Huntley spoke a number of others detached themselves from the top of the pile in the yard and fell with a loud crash to the ground.
“Look out!” shouted the foreman. “The whole lot’s going in a minute!”
Almost before the words were out of his mouth the rumble became a roar and before the astonished gaze of the onlookers the mountain of barrels collapsed and came cascading out through the yard gates. Most of them stopped some distance away but several bounced dangerously near to the audience and one in particular seemed to have a life of its own as it spun round a number of times and finally ended up with a loud crash against the side of the platform.
“Mercy me!” cried Mrs Bird, as a familiar hat followed by some equally familiar whiskers peered out of the wreckage. “It’s Paddington!”
“That’s the young bear I took on this morning,” exclaimed the foreman with surprise.
“The young bear you took on?” repeated Sir Huntley, looking as if he could hardly believe his ears. “But he’s one of my guests!”
“Thank goodness you’re safe, bear,” he continued, stepping down from the platform. “I don’t know what’s gone wrong but I should never have forgiven myself if you’d had a nasty accident on my premises.”
“What a blessing you had the presence of mind to get inside one of the barrels,” said Mrs Bird. “Otherwise there’s no knowing what might have happened.”
“Oh, I was inside already, Mrs Bird,” said Paddington. “I heard some claps so I climbed inside in case I got struck by a bolt.”
“But what on earth happened?” asked Sir Huntley.
“I think I started at the bottom by mistake,” said Paddington sadly, as he rose to his feet and dusted himself. He felt very much as if he’d been for a ride on a helter-skelter, a scenic railway and a dodgem car all rolled into one, and now that he was actually standing it seemed even worse, for his paws felt as if they were sinking deeper and deeper into the ground with every step.
“Careful!” cried Mrs Brown. “Mind Sir Huntley’s ceremonial cement.”
“Sir Huntley’s ceremonial cement!” echoed Paddington, looking most surprised as he peered down at his feet.
Sir Huntley Martin stepped forward hastily and lifted Paddington carefully out of the small square of wet concrete. “I think, ladies and gentlemen,” he boomed, holding up his hands for silence, “this is a good moment to declare our new factory extension well and truly open. After all,” he added, amid applause, “lots of factories in the world have been opened by film stars making their footprints in the cement outside but I don’t suppose there are many that can boast some genuine bear’s paw marks.”
As the applause died away Paddington examined the patch of cement again with interest. “I could make a few more marks if you like, Sir Huntley,” he said hopefully “Bears are good at paw marks.”
“Thank you, bear,” replied Sir Huntley tactfully. “But I think we have enough to be going on with. Enough’s as good as a feast. And talking of feasts,” he added, looking at his watch, “we’re already late for tea and we don’t want to miss that. We’ve made some special new Director’s Marmalade in honour of the occasion.”
“Director’s Marmalade?” exclaimed Paddington with interest. “l don’t think I’ve tasted any of that before.”
“More chunks,” said Sir Huntley confidentially, as he led Paddington across the square towards the main building. “I’d very much like your opinion on it, bear.”
Mrs Bird looked at the others as they followed on behind picking their way through the maze of broken barrels. “I know bears usually fall on their feet,” she said. “But it takes a bear like Paddington to land slap bang in the middle of a patch of ceremonial concrete.”
“And get a reward of some special Director’s Marmalade to test into the bargain,” said Judy. “Don’t forget that.”