38. Paddington Makes A Clean Sweep
Paddington stood in the middle of the Browns’ dining room and gazed around with interest. When Mrs Bird had brought him his breakfast in bed that morning he’d had his suspicions that something unusual was going on. Breakfast in bed on a week day was a sure sign Mrs Bird wanted him out of the way. But not even the distant bumping noises, which had been going on from quite an early hour, had in any way prepared him for the sight which met his eyes.
Normally the Brown’s house was tidier than most, but on this particular morning the dining-room looked very much as if a hurricane had recently passed through. The furniture had all been moved to one end.
The carpet had been rolled up and was standing against one of the walls. There were no curtains at any of the windows and the pictures had all been taken down. Even the grate was cold and empty and the only heat came from an electric fire at one end of the room.
“I didn’t know you were cleaning your springs, Mrs Bird,” he exclaimed, looking most surprised.
“Not cleaning our springs,” repeated Mrs Bird. “Spring cleaning – that’s quite a different matter.”
“It means cleaning the whole house out from top to bottom,” explained Mrs Brown. “It’ll be your room next. We can’t leave it a moment longer.”
“And talking of not leaving things a moment longer,” said Mrs Bird, as she hurried out of the room, “if we don’t get a move on and buy that curtain material we shan’t have any dinner tonight.”
“Do you think we ought to take him with us?” asked Mrs Brown, as she followed Mrs Bird into the hall leaving Paddington to investigate the unusual state of affairs in the dining-room by himself, “He’s got a very good eye for a bargain.”
“No,” said Mrs Bird firmly. “Definitely not. It’s bad enough shopping when the spring sales are on at the best of times, but if that bear comes with us there’s no knowing what we shall end up with. Bargain or no bargain he can stay and mind the house.”
Mrs Brown cast a doubtful look after her housekeeper as she disappeared up the stairs. Although from past experience she agreed with Mrs Bird on the subject of Paddington accompanying them on shopping expeditions the thought of him being left in charge of the house when they were in the middle of spring cleaning raised even more serious doubts in her mind.
“I can see it’s going to be one of those days,” she called, as the sound of hammering came from somewhere overhead. “What with the builders mending the roof, Henry wanting to sweep the chimney, and spring cleaning into the bargain anything can happen.”
“And probably will,” said Mrs Bird as she came back down the stairs adjusting her hat. “But worrying about it won’t alter things. Where’s that bear? I haven’t given him his instructions yet.”
“Here I am, Mrs Bird,” called Paddington, hurrying into the hall.
Mrs Bird looked at him suspiciously. There was a gleam in his eyes which she didn’t like the look of at all but fortunately for Paddington she was in too much of a hurry to look deeply into the matter.
“I’ve left you some cold sausages and a salad on a tray,” she said. “And there’s a treacle pudding ready on the stove – only mind you don’t singe your whiskers when you light the gas. And don’t let it boil dry. I don’t want to find any nasty smells when I get home.”
“Thank you very much, Mrs Bird,” said Paddington. “Perhaps I could do some tidying up while you’re out,” he added hopefully, as he followed the others towards the front door. “I’ve never done any spring cleaning before.”
Mrs Brown and Mrs Bird exchanged glances. “You may do some dusting if you like,” said Mrs Brown. “But I shouldn’t do too much tidying up. It’s all rather heavy and you might strain yourself. I’m afraid we shall have to eat in the kitchen for a day or two – at least until Mr Brown has cleaned the chimney. Though goodness knows when that’ll be.”
Mrs Brown gave Paddington one last look as she hurried after Mrs Bird. “l do hope he’ll be all right,” she said.
“Willing paws make light work,” replied Mrs Bird. “And if it keeps him out of mischief there won’t be any great harm done.”
Mrs Brown gave a sigh, but luckily for her peace of mind every step down Windsor Gardens took her farther and farther away from number thirty-two, for if she had been able to see inside her house at that moment she might have felt even less happy about leaving Paddington to his own devices.
After he closed the front door Paddington hurried back down the hall with an excited gleam in his eyes. There was an idea stirring in the back of his mind to do with a large interesting looking box with a Barkridges label tied to the outside which he’d seen standing by the dining-room fireplace.
For some days the word chimney had popped up a number of times in the Brown household. It had all started when Mrs Bird opened the dining-room door one morning and found the room full of smoke.
Shortly afterwards Mr Brown spent some time on the telephone only to announce that all the local chimney sweeps had so much work on their hands they were booked up for weeks to come. At the time Paddington hadn’t given the matter much thought. It seemed rather a lot of fuss to make over a little bit of smoke and after peering up the chimney once or twice he’d decided there wasn’t much to see anyway, even when Mr Brown dropped a chance remark at breakfast one morning about doing it himself he hadn’t paid a great deal of attention.
But the news that operations were about to commence, together with the arrival of the mysterious looking box, had aroused his interest at last. The outside of the box exceeded his wildest dreams. Even the label was exciting. It was made up of a number of brightly coloured pictures called EASY STAGES, and across the top in large capital letters were the words SWEEP-IT-KLEEN. THE ALL-BRITISH DO-IT-YOURSELF CHIMNEY SWEEP OUTFIT.
Underneath, in smaller print, the label went on to say that even a child of ten could make the dirtiest chimney spotless in a matter of moments. To show how easy it all was the first pictures had a small boy fitting the various bits and pieces together as he prepared to sweep his father’s chimney.
Paddington felt a slight pang of guilt as he lifted the lid of the box and peered inside, but he soon lost it again as he settled down in an arm-chair, dipping his paw into a jar of marmalade every now and then as he examined the contents.
Although none of the pictures on the label mentioned anything about bears being able to sweep their chimneys it made everything look so clear and simple he began to wonder why anyone ever bothered to hire a real chimney sweep at all.
One picture even showed a large bag labelled soot standing next to a pile of silver coins and followed it with the inscription MAKE MONEY IN YOUR SPARE TIME BY SELLING SOOT TO YOUR NEIGHBOURS FOR THEIR GARDEN.
Paddington couldn’t quite picture Mr Curry actually paying for someone else’s soot but all the same he began to feel that Mr Brown’s outfit was very good value indeed.
Inside the box there was a large round brush together with a number of long rods with metal ends which screwed together to form one long pole. Underneath the rods was yet another compartment containing a sack for the soot and a sheet with two armholes so that the person sweeping the chimney could fit it to the mantelpiece and work without getting the rest of the room dirty.
Paddington tried putting his paws through the sheet, and after screwing the brush on to one of the rods, he spent several enjoyable minutes while he hurried round the room poking it into various nooks and crannies. It was when he decided to test it up the chimney itself that a thoughtful expression gradually came over his face. The brush went up and down remarkably easily and even with only one rod the grate was full of soot in no time at all.
Paddington grew more and more thoughtful as he shovelled the soot into the sack and then tried fixing a second rod to the first. Although Mrs Brown hadn’t actually mentioned anything about sweeping the chimney he felt sure it could quite easily come under the heading of dusting.
Number thirty-two Windsor Gardens was a tall house and as the bundle of rods by Paddington’s side got smaller and smaller so the pile of soot in the grate grew larger and deeper.
Several times he had to stop and clear it away to make room for his paws as first the sack and then several of Mrs Bird’s old grocery boxes became full to the brim. He was beginning to give up hope of ever reaching the top when suddenly, without any warning, the brush freed itself and he nearly fell over into the grate as he clung to the last of the rods.
Paddington sat in the fireplace for a while mopping his brow with a corner of the sheet and then, after disappearing upstairs for a few moments, he hurried outside carrying his binoculars.
According to a note on the box lid the exciting part about sweeping a chimney was always the moment when the brush popped out of the chimney pot and he was particularly anxious to see it for himself.
Carefully adjusting the glasses he climbed the ladder which Mr Briggs, the builder, had left standing against the side of the house and peered up at the roof with a pleased expression on his face. The view through the binoculars of the brush poking out of Mr Brown’s chimney pot almost exactly matched the picture on the box.
Paddington spent some time drinking in the view and then he climbed back down the ladder and hurried into the house wearing the air of a bear with a job well done. All in all, it had been a good morning’s work and he felt sure the Browns would be very pleased when they reached home and found how busy he’d been.
Pulling the brush back down the chimney proved to be a lot easier than pushing it up had been and it seemed only a matter of moments before he found himself reaching up behind the sheet for the last of the rods.
It was as he disentangled himself from the sheet that a startled expression suddenly came over Paddington’s face, and he nearly fell over backwards with surprise as he stared at the rod in his paw. He rubbed his eyes in case he’d got some soot in them by mistake and then gazed at the end of the rod again. It was definitely the last one of the set, as he’d counted them all most carefully, but of the brush itself there was nothing to be seen.
After peering hopefully up the chimney several times Paddington sat down anxiously in the fireplace in order to consult the instructions on the box.
As he lifted the lid he suddenly caught sight of a large red label pasted to the bottom of the box. It had escaped his notice before and as he read it his eyes grew larger and larger. It said simply:
AFTER SWEEPING THE CHIMNEY GREAT CARE
MUST BE TAKEN WHEN UNSCREWING RODS
OTHERWISE THE BRUSH MAY BECOME DETACHED!
“My brush become detached?” exclaimed Paddington bitterly, addressing the world in general as he gazed at the rod in one paw and the box in the other.
Apart from leaving the warning about the brush becoming detached until it was far too late, the only advice the notice seemed to give for when things did go wrong was contained in the four words, CONSULT YOUR NEAREST DEALER.
Paddington sat in the fireplace with a mournful expression on his face. He felt sure that Barkridges wouldn’t be at all keen if he consulted them on the subject of Mr Brown’s brush being stuck up his chimney, and he was equally certain that Mr Brown himself would be even less happy when he heard the news.
In fact, after giving the matter a great deal of thought, the only way he could see to soften the blow at all was to clear up some of the mess and hope that while he did so, he might get an idea on the subject.
If, earlier in the day, the Browns’ dining-room had given the impression of having been in the path of a hurricane, it now looked as if a belt of thick smog had passed through as well. Despite the dust sheet everything seemed to be covered in a thin layer of soot and looking round the room Paddington decided that in more ways than one he’d never seen things looking quite so black.
Mr Brown took his head out of the chimney and looked round at the others. “I can’t understand it,” he exclaimed. “That’s the third time I’ve tried to light the fire. It keeps going out.”
Mrs Brown picked up a newspaper and began waving some of the smoke away. “There’s obviously been another fall of soot,” she said. “It’s everywhere. If you ask me, the chimney’s blocked. I told you it needed sweeping.”
“How could I sweep it? “ said Mr Brown crossly. “The outfit only arrived this morning.”
The Browns grouped themselves unhappily round the fireplace and stared at the pile of used matches.
“And that’s another thing,” continued Mr Brown, “I’m sending it straight back to Barkridges. It’s filthy dirty and there isn’t even a brush. You can’t sweep a chimney without a brush.”
“Perhaps Paddington’s borrowed it for something,” said Mrs Brown vaguely. “I can’t find him anywhere.”
“Paddington?” echoed Mr Brown. “What would he want with a brush?”
“There’s no knowing,” said Mrs Bird ominously.
Mrs Bird didn’t like the signs of a hurried cleaning up she’d noticed in the dining-room or the various sooty paw marks which she’d discovered during a quick glance round the rest of the house, but in view of the look on Mr Brown’s face she kept her thoughts to herself.
“He hasn’t touched his treacle pudding,” said Mrs Brown. “And that’s most unusual.”
“Blow Paddington’s treacle pudding,” replied Mr Brown. “I’m more worried about the fire.”
Mrs Brown opened the French windows and looked into the garden. “Perhaps Mr Briggs can help,” she said. “He’s just come back.”
In answer to Mrs Brown’s call Mr Briggs, the builder, came into the dining-room and put his ear to the chimney with an experienced air. “Jackdaws!” he said, after a moment. “You’ve got a jackdaw’s nest in yer pot. If you listen you can hear ‘em coughing.”
“Coughing?” exclaimed Mrs Bird. “l didn’t know jackdaws coughed.”
“You’d cough, mum,” said Mr Briggs, “if someone tried to light a fire under your nest, But don’t you worry,” he continued, opening up Mr Brown’s cleaning set. “I’ll have it out in a jiffy.”
The Browns stood back and watched while Mr Briggs began pushing the rods up the chimney, “Good job you had these,” he went on. “Otherwise it might have been a rare old job.”
Mr Briggs’s face became redder and redder as the rods got harder to push, but at long last he gave a final upward heave and there was a loud crashing noise as something heavy landed in the grate.
“There you are,” he announced “What did I tell you?”
Mr Brown adjusted his glasses and peered at the round, black bristly object lying on the hearth. “It looks a funny sort of bird’s nest to me,” he said. “In fact, if you ask me it’s more like the brush out of a chimney sweeping outfit.”
“You’re quite right,” said Mr Briggs, scratching his head. “It’s a brush all right.”
Mr Briggs began to look even more puzzled as he picked up the object and examined it more closely. “It seems to be in some sort of container,” he exclaimed.
‘That’s not a container,” said Mrs Brown. “It’s Paddington’s hat.”
“Good Heavens! So it is,” exclaimed Mr Brown. “But what’s it doing up the chimney – and with my brush inside it?”
“Mercy me!” interrupted Mrs Bird, pointing towards the window. “Look!”
The others turned and followed the direction of her gaze. “I can’t see anything,” said Mr Brown.
“Is anything the matter?” asked Mrs Brown, looking at her housekeeper with some concern. “You’ve
gone quite white.”
“I thought I saw a chimney pot go past the window,” exclaimed Mrs Bird, reaching for her smelling salts. Mr and Mrs Brown exchanged glances. Normally Mrs Bird was the sanest member of the family and it was most unusual for her to have hallucinations.
“I think you’d better sit down,” said Mr Brown, drawing up a chair. “Perhaps the excitement’s been too much for you.”
“It’s all right, Mrs Bird,” came a familiar, if somewhat muffled voice from the dining-room doorway. “It’s only me,”
If Mrs Bird had been taken by surprise a moment before, the others looked even more amazed as they turned and stared at the black object before them. In place of his usual headgear Paddington was wearing what appeared to be half a chimney pot which covered his ears and came down over his eyes like an oversize top hat.
“I’m afraid it broke off when Mr Briggs poked his rods up,” he explained, when the noise had died down.
“But what on earth were you doing up on the roof in the first place?” asked Mr Brown.
“l was dusting the chimney,” said Paddington sadly. “The brush got detached by mistake and I was trying to rescue it.”
“Paddington?” echoed Mr Briggs disbelievingly, as he began levering the pot off. “Did you say Paddington? Looks more like Clapham Junction to me. Proper mess he’s in.”
Paddington looked most offended at Mr Briggs’s words as he sat on the floor rubbing his ears. It had been bad enough losing Mr Brown’s brush up the chimney in the first place, but then to get his head stuck inside the pot and be mistaken for a bird’s nest into the bargain seemed the unkindest cut of all.
“I know one thing,” said Mrs Bird sternly, “You’re going up to the bathroom. We must have the dirtiest bear within fifty miles!”
Mr Briggs gave a sudden chuckle as he looked at the others. “I’ll say this much,” he remarked, pouring oil on troubled waters. “You may not have the cleanest bear within fifty miles but I’m willing to bet there isn’t a cleaner chimney.”
Paddington looked at Mr Briggs gratefully and then hurried out of the room before any more questions could be asked. For once in his life he agreed with Mrs Bird that a nice hot bath with plenty of soap was the best order of the day.
Apart from that he had just remembered that he hadn’t yet eaten his sausage salad, let alone his treacle pudding. Paddington was very keen on treacle pudding and he was anxious to make sure the cooker was turned on so that it would be all ready for him when he got downstairs again.