An Unexpected Party
Paddington paused on the stairs of number thirty-two Windsor Gardens and sniffed the morning air. A few moments later, having consulted the Browns’ calendar through the banisters, he hurried on his way with a puzzled expression on his face. There was definitely something mysterious going on that morning and he couldn’t for the life of him make out what it was. Unless Mrs Bird had made a mistake when she’d changed the date, which would have been most unusual; and unless he’d also overslept by two or three days, which seemed even more unlikely, it should have been a Thursday – and yet all the signs were Sunday ones.
To start with there was a strong smell of freshly baked cakes coming from the direction of the kitchen and although Mrs Bird occasionally did her baking during the week she was much more inclined to do it on a Sunday. In any case she never made cakes quite so early in the morning.
Then there was the strange behaviour of Mr Brown.
Mr Brown worked in the City of London and in the mornings he followed a strict time-table. Breakfast was served punctually at half past eight and before that, come rain or shine, he always took a quick stroll round the garden in order to inspect the flower beds. On this particular morning Paddington had nearly fallen over backwards with surprise when he’d drawn back his curtains and peered out of the window only to see a very unkempt-looking Mr Brown pushing a wheelbarrow down the garden path.
“I was wondering when you were going to put in an appearance,” said Mrs Bird, as Paddington poked his head round the kitchen door with an inquiring look on his face. “I’ve never known such a bear for smelling out things.”
Mrs Bird hastily closed the oven door before Paddington could see inside and then began dishing up his breakfast. “Don’t go eating too much,” she warned. “We’re having a party this afternoon and I’ve enough to feed a regiment of bears.”
“A party!” exclaimed Paddington, looking more and more surprised. Paddington liked parties. Since he’d been with the Browns they’d had quite a number of Christmas and birthday ones, but it was most unusual to have a party in between times.
“Never you mind,” said Mrs Bird mysteriously, when he inquired what it was all about, “It’s a party – that’s all you need to know. And don’t go getting egg all over your whiskers,” she warned. “Mr Gruber’s been invited, and Mr Curry – not to mention quite a few other people.”
Paddington carried his plate of bacon and eggs into the dining-room and settled himself at the table with a thoughtful expression on his face. The more he considered the matter the more mysterious it seemed. The most surprising thing of all was that the Browns’ next-door neighbour had received an invitation and Paddington decided it must be a very important occasion indeed. Mr Curry often turned up at the Browns’ parties but almost always it was because he’d asked himself and very rarely because he’d actually been invited. Jonathan and Judy were most unhelpful as well. They came into the dining-room to say good morning while Paddington was having his breakfast but as soon as he asked what was going on, they both hurried out of the room again.
“It’s a special party, Paddington,” said Judy, squeezing his paw as she left. “Just for you. But don’t worry – you’ll find out all about it later on.”
Even Mr Gruber quickly changed the subject when Paddington asked him all about it later that morning, “I think it’s meant to be a bit of a surprise, Mr Brown,” was all he would say. “And a surprise wouldn’t be a surprise if you knew what it was.”
Before any more questions could be asked Mr Gruber hastily broke a bun in two and gave one half to Paddington before disappearing into the darkness at the back of his shop in order to make the morning cocoa. When he returned he was carrying a large book on the cocoa tray. “I expect we shall be having fun and games this afternoon, Mr Brown,” he said, as he handed the book to Paddington. “I thought you might like to have a browse through this. It’s a bumper book of party tricks.”
Paddington thanked Mr Gruber, and after he had finished his cocoa he hurried back in the direction of Windsor Gardens. Mrs Bird had warned him that with a party in the offering there would be a lot of work to do and he didn’t want to be late home. Apart from that Mr Gruber’s fun book looked very interesting and he was anxious to test some of the tricks before lunch.
But as it happened all thoughts of party games passed completely out of his mind as he reached home. While he had been out everyone else had been busy and a great change had come over the dining-room. An extra leaf had been put in the table and the snow-white cloth was barely visible beneath all the food.
Paddington’s eyes grew larger and larger as he took in the dishes of jelly, fruit and cream, and the plates laden with sandwiches and cakes, not to mention mounds of biscuits and piles of jam and marmalade. In the middle of it all, in a place of honour, was a large iced cake. The cake had some foreign words written across the top but before he had time to make out what they were Mrs Bird discovered him and drove him up to the bathroom.
“You’ll have to be at the front door to welcome your guests,” she warned. “You can collect as many marmalade stains as you like this afternoon but not before.”
With that Paddington had to be content. But as the time for the party drew near he became more and more excited. The Brown had invited not only Mr Gruber and Mr Curry but a number of the traders from the Portobello Road as well. Despite his habit of driving a hard bargain Paddington was a popular bear in the market and by the time all the guests had arrived the Browns’ dining-room was full almost to overflowing.
When the last of the visitors had settled themselves comfortably Mr Brown called for silence.
“As you all know,” he began, “this is Paddington’s party. I have an important announcement to make later on, but first of all I think Paddington himself wants to entertain you with a few special tricks he has up his paw.”
Everyone applauded while Paddington took his place on the rug in front of the fireplace and-consulted Mr Gruber’s book of party games. There was one chapter in particular which he’d had his eye on. It was called ONE HUNDRED DIFFERENT WAYS OF TEARING PAPER and he was looking forward to some of them out.
“I like paper-tearing tricks,” said Mr Curry, when Paddington explained what he was going to do. “I hope they’re good ones, bear.”
“I think the first one is, Mr Curry,” replied Paddington. “It’s called the MYSTERY OF THE DISAPPEARING TEN POUND NOTE!”
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs Brown nervously “Must it be a ten pound note? Couldn’t you use something else?” Paddington peered at his book again. “It doesn’t say you can,” he replied doubtfully. “But. I expect I could make do with a five pound one. “
“I’m afraid I’ve left my wallet in my other jacket,” said Mr Brown hastily
“And I’ve only got silver,” said Mr Gruber, taking the hint as all Paddington’s other friends from the market hurriedly buttoned their jackets.
Everyone turned and looked towards Mr Curry. “You did say you like paper-tearing tricks,” said Mr Brown meaningly. “And it is Paddington’s party.”
Mr Curry took a deep breath as he withdrew his purse from an inside pocket and undid the clasp. “I hope you know what you’re doing, bear,” he growled, handing Paddington a five pound note.
“Crikey! So do I,” whispered Jonathan as Paddington took the note and after consulting his book once more folded it in half and began tearing pieces out. The Browns watched anxiously while Paddington folded the note yet again and Mr Curry’s face got blacker and blacker at the sight of all the pieces fluttering to the floor.
After a slight pause Paddington took another look at his book and as he did so his expression changed. Whereas a moment before he had seemed full of confidence, now his whiskers drooped and a worried look came over his face.
“What are you doing now, bear?” growled Mr Curry as Paddington hurried over and began peering in his ear.
“I’m afraid something’s gone wrong with my trick, Mr Curry,” said Paddington unhappily.
“What!” bellowed Mr Curry, jumping to his feet.
“What do you mean – something’s gone wrong with it?”
“The note’s supposed to turn up in your ear,” explained Paddington, looking more and more unhappy.
“Perhaps it’s in the other one, dear,” said Mrs Brown hopefully.
“I don’t think so,” replied Paddington. “l think I must have turned over two pages at once in my instructions. “I’ve been doing the paper doily trick by mistake.”
“The paper doily trick,” repeated Mr Curry bitterly, as Paddington unfolded the remains of his note and held it up for everyone to see. “My five pound note turned into a bear’s doily!”
“Never mind,” said Mrs Bird, bending down to pick up the pieces, “If you stick them together perhaps they’ll change it at the bank.”
“It looks very pretty,” said Judy.
Mr Curry snorted several times as he helped himself to a cake. “I’ve had enough of bear’s paper-tearing tricks for one day,” he exclaimed.
Mr Gruber gave a slight cough. “Perhaps you could try one of the other chapters, Mr Brown,” he said. “I believe there’s a very good one at the end of the book.”
“Thank you very much, Mr Gruber,” said Paddington gratefully. Mr Curry wasn’t the only one who was tired of paper-tearing tricks. Tearing paper, especially banknotes when they were folded, was much more difficult than it sounded, and his paws were beginning to ache.
“There’s a very good trick here,” he announced after a short pause. “It’s called REMOVING A GUEST’S WAISTCOAT WITHOUT TAKING OFF HIS COAT.”
“It sounds rather a long trick,” said Mrs Brown doubtfully. “Isn’t there anything shorter?”
“Nonsense!” said Mr Curry, from behind a plate of sandwiches. “It’s a very good trick. I saw it done once years ago in the theatre. I’d like to see it again.”
Mr Brown and Mr Gruber exchanged glances. “I’m afraid it’ll have to be your waistcoat then,” said Mr Brown. “You’re the only person who’s wearing one.”
Mr Curry’s jaws dropped. “What!” he exclaimed. “If you think that bear’s going to remove my waistcoat you’re…”
Whatever else Mr Curry had been about to say was drowned in a roar of protests from the others.
“You said you wanted to see it again,” called out the man from the cut price grocers. “Now’s your chance.”
With very bad grace Mr Curry got up from his chair and knelt on the rug in front of the fireplace with his arms raised while Paddington put his paws down behind his neck.
“I thought you said you were going to remove my waistcoat, bear,” he gurgled, “not choke me with it.”
“Well, it’s half off anyway,” said Mr Brown, as Paddington pulled the waistcoat over Mr Curry’s head until it rested under his chin. “What happens now?”
Paddington put his paw up one of Mr Curry’s sleeves and began searching. “I’m not quite sure, Mr Brown,” he gasped, “I haven’t practised this trick before and I can’t see the book from where I am.”
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs Brown, as there came a loud tearing noise and Paddington pulled something out of Mr Curry’s sleeve. “That looks like a piece of lining.”
“What!” bellowed Mr Curry, struggling to see what was going on. “Did you say lining?”
Mr Brown picked up the book of party games and adjusted his glasses, “Perhaps I’d better give you a hand, Paddington,” he said.
After a moment he put the book down again and knelt on the rug. “You’re quite right,” he said, feeling up Mr Curry’s sleeve. “It definitely says you should pull the end of the waistcoat down the sleeve, but it doesn’t say how you do it. It’s very odd.”
Mr Gruber joined the others on the rug. “Perhaps if we work backwards it might help,” he suggested.
“I think you ought to do something quickly,” said Mrs Brown anxiously as Mr Curry gave another loud gurgle.
Mr Gruber studied Paddington’s book carefully. “Oh, dear,” he exclaimed. “I hate to tell you this, Mr Brown, but one of the pages appears to be missing.”
Mr Curry’s eyes bulged and he gave a loud spluttering noise as he took in Mr Gruber’s words. “What’s that?” he bellowed, jumping to his feet. “I’ve never heard of such a thing!”
“I don’t think you should have done that,” said Mr Gruber reprovingly. “It sounded as though you split your coat.”
Mr Curry danced up and down with rage as he examined the remains of his jacket. “l split it!” he cried. “I like that. And what was that bear doing at the time I’d like to know?”
“He wasn’t anywhere near,” said Mrs Bird.
“I was looking for my missing page, Mr Curry,” explained Paddington. “I think I must have used it by mistake when I was practising one of my paper-tearing tricks.”
Mr Brown held up his hand for silence. Mr Curry’s face had changed from red to purple back to an even deeper shade of red again and it looked very much as if it was high time to call a halt to the proceedings. “I’m sure Mrs Bird can mend it for you later on,” he said.
“But now I think we ought to get down to the business in hand.”
“Here! Here!” echoed a voice in the audience.
Mr Brown turned to Paddington. “Do you know how long you’ve been with us now?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Mr Brown,” said Paddington, looking most surprised at the question. “It feels like always.”
“Nearly three years,” replied Mr Brown. “Which is quite a long time considering you only came to tea in the first place.
“Now,” he continued, when the laughter had died down, “we have a surprise for you. The other day we had a cable all the way from the Home for Retired Bears in Lima. It seems that Aunt Lucy is celebrating her hundredth birthday very soon and the warden thought it would be a nice idea if all her family could be there with her.”
“Fancy being a hundred!” exclaimed Jonathan.
“That’s jolly old.”
“Bears” years are different,” said Mrs Bird.
“They have two birthdays a year for a start,” said Judy.
“Anyway, Paddington,” said Mr Brown, “however many years it is she’s obviously very old and it’s a big occasion, so we wondered if you would like to go.”
“Speech!” cried someone at the back of the room, Paddington thought for a moment. “Will I have to travel in a lifeboat and live on marmalade like I did when I came?” he asked.
“No,” said Mr Brown, amid more laughter. “I’ve been to see one of the big shipping companies and they’ve promised to give you a cabin all to yourself this time at special bear rates and a steward who knows all about these things to look after you.”
Paddington sat down on his chair and considered the matter. Everything had come as such a surprise and his mind was in such a whirl he didn’t know quite what to say apart from thanking everyone.
“I shouldn’t say anything,” said Mrs Bird. “I should have a piece of cake instead. I’ve made one specially.”
“It’s got bon voyage written on it,” explained Judy.
“That means we all hope you have a good journey.”
“Come on,” said the man from the cut price grocers, as Paddington began cutting the cake. “Let’s have a chorus of “For he’s a jolly good bear cub”.
For the next few minutes, number thirty-two Windsor Gardens echoed and reechoed to the sound of singing as Paddington handed round pieces of cake and it was noticeable that even Mr Curry sang “And so say all of us” as loudly as anyone.
“It’ll seem quiet without you, bear,” he said gruffly. When he paused at the front door some time later and shook Paddington’s paw. “I don’t know who’ll do my odd jobs for me.”
“Oh, dear,” sighed Mrs Brown, as one by one the guests departed until only Mr Gruber was left, “Everything feels so flat now. I do hope we’ve done the right thing.”
“No more marmalade stains on the walls,” said Mr Brown, trying to sound a cheerful note, but failing miserably as Paddington hurried upstairs leaving the others to make their way back to the dining-room.
“I shall leave them on,” said Mrs Bird decidedly. “I’m not having them washed off for anyone.
“Well, I think you’re doing the right thing,” said Mr Gruber wisely. “After all, Paddington’s Aunt Lucy did bring him up and if it hadn’t been for her sending him out into the world we should never have met him.”
“l know what you’re thinking, Mary,” said Mr Brown taking his wife’s arm. “But if Paddington does decide to stay in Peru, we can’t really stand in his way.”
The Browns fell silent. When the cable from Peru first arrived it had seemed a splendid idea to let Paddington go back there for the celebrations, but now that things were finally settled an air of gloom descended over everyone.
In the few years he’d spent with them Paddington had become so much a part of things it was almost impossible to picture life without him. The thought of them perhaps never seeing him again caused their faces to grow longer and longer.
Their silence was suddenly broken into by a familiar patter of feet on the stairs and a bump as the dining-room door was pushed open and Paddington entered carrying his leather suitcase.
“I’ve packed my things,” he announced. “But I’ve left my flannel out in case I want a wash before I go.”
“Your things?” repeated Mrs Bird. “But what about all the rest of the stuff in your room?”
“You’ll need a trunk for that,” said Judy.
Paddington looked most surprised. “I’m only taking my important things,” he explained. “I thought I’d leave the rest here for safety.”
The Browns and Mr Gruber exchanged glances. “Paddington,” said. Mrs Brown. “Come and sit down. You may not have made much of a speech at the party but you couldn’t have chosen anything nicer to say to us now. You’ll never know what it means.”
“I know one thing it does mean,” said Mrs Bird. “I can wash those marmalade stains off the walls now with a clear conscience.”
“After all,” she added, “we shall need plenty of room for fresh ones when Paddington gets back. That’s most important.”
In the general agreement which followed Mrs Bird’s remark Paddington’s voice was the loudest of all. There was a contented expression on his face as he settled back in his arm-chair. Although he was most excited at the thought of seeing Aunt Lucy again he was already looking forward to his return, and he felt sure that on a journey all the way to Peru and back he would be able to collect some very unusual stains indeed.