50. Paddington Steps Out
Mrs Brown looked out of the car window. “If you want my opinion,” she said, lowering her voice so that the occupants of the back seat, and one occupant in particular, shouldn’t hear, “bringing Paddington with us is asking for trouble. You know what happened when he went to Jonathan’s school.”
“That wasn’t exactly a disaster,” said Mr Brown mildly. “If I remember rightly he saved the day. If it hadn’t been for him the old boys would never have won their cricket match.”
“Playing in a cricket match isn’t the same as watching ballet,” replied Mrs Brown. “He’ll never sit quietly through a whole afternoon of it. Something’s bound to happen.”
She gave a sigh. Ever since Paddington had taken part in an epic cricket match at Jonathan’s school, Judy had been clamouring for him to visit her school in turn and Mrs Brown knew that she was fighting a losing battle.
Having a bear in the family gave both Jonathan and Judy a certain amount of prestige amongst their fellow pupils and Judy was anxious to catch up on the lead at present held by her brother. All the same, as they drew nearer and nearer to Judy’s school, Mrs Brown began to look more and more worried.
“Good heavens!” exclaimed Mr Brown suddenly as they turned a corner and passed through some wrought iron gates set into a grey stone wall. He waved his hand towards a seething mass of girls in uniform as he brought the car to a halt. “What’s this – some sort of reception committee?”
“What did I tell you?” said Mrs Brown, as the familiar figure of Judy detached itself from the crowd and came forward to greet them. “It’s started already.”
“Nonsense!” said Mr Brown. All the same he cast some anxious glances towards the paintwork on his car as he helped the others out and exchanged greetings with his daughter.
Paddington, as he clambered out of the back seat, looked even more surprised as he stood blinking in the strong sunlight listening to the cheers, and he raised his hat several times in response to the cries.
“Come along, Paddington,” said Judy, grabbing his paw. “You’ve lots of people to meet and we’ve got to pay a visit to the tuck shop. I told Mrs Beedle, the lady in charge, all about you and she’s laid on some special marmalade sandwiches.”
“Mrs Beedle’s laid on some marmalade sandwiches!” exclaimed Paddington, looking most impressed. Although he was very keen on anything to do with marmalade and had several times sat on a sandwich by mistake he’d never met anyone who’d actually done it on purpose before, particularly someone in charge of a tuck shop. However, before he had time to inquire into the matter the throng of girls closed in behind him and he felt himself being propelled gently but firmly in the direction of a small building which stood to one side of the quadrangle in front of the main block.
As the milling crowd of figures disappeared through the door of the tuck shop, Mrs Brown looked towards a large, brightly coloured poster on a board near the main gate. “I thought this Russian dancer they’re having down – Sergei Oblomov – was supposed to be the guest of honour,” she remarked. “I don’t think he’ll like it if he turns up and there’s no one here. I’m sure all these girls were meant for him, not Paddington.”
“Taik of the devil,” said Mr Brown, as a large, important looking black car swept in through the gates and came to a halt a few yards away. “I have a feeling this is him.”
Pretending to study the scenery, the Browns nevertheless watched with interest as the door of the car opened and a tall figure dressed in a black cloak alighted and stood for a moment with one hand in the air looking expectantly all around.
“Crikey!” said Jonathan a few moments later as the sound of a door being slammed echoed round the quadrangle and the car swept past them in a cloud of dust towards the school building. “He didn’t look in a very good mood.”
“Black as ink,” agreed Mr Brown. “It wasn’t exactly what you might call a good entrance. Not so much as a pigeon cooed.”
“I don’t suppose you’d like it,” said Mrs Brown, “if you were a famous dancer and you had your thunder stolen by a bear. Especially one stuffing himself with marmalade sandwiches in a school tuck shop.”
“He doesn’t know it’s a bear,” reasoned Mr Brown.
“He’s never even met Paddington.”
“No,” said Mrs Brown decidedly, as they made their way towards the school buildings, “he hasn’t. And if I have my way he’s not going to either.”
She cast some anxious glances in the direction of the tuck shop as they passed by. Several times the ominous sound of cheering had come from the open windows and one or two of them had been decidedly loud, rather as if things were getting out of control.
All the same, as they seated themselves in the school hall some while later, even Mrs Brown found it hard to fault Paddington’s appearance. Admittedly there were still one or two traces of marmalade on his whiskers and his fur had lost some of its smooth sheen, but all in all he looked unusually well behaved as he settled himself at the end of the row by the gangway and examined his programme with interest.
“You know, I’m really looking forward to this,” said Mrs Bird with enthusiasm, as she made herself comfortable. “I like ballet dancing.”
The others looked at their housekeeper in surprise as a far-away look came into her eyes. “I haven’t seen any good dancing for I don’t know how many years.”
“I’m not sure you’re going to now,” whispered Mr Brown, as the curtain rose to reveal a woodland glade and several small figures dressed as toadstools.
“It’s the Juniors,” whispered Judy. “They’re doing their ‘nature’ dance.”
Paddington opened his suitcase, took out his opera glasses, and peered at the stage with interest.
“Are you enjoying it?” whispered Judy.
Paddington thought for a moment. “It’s all right,” he announced after some thought. “But I can’t hear what they’re saying.”
“People don’t say anything in ballet,” hissed Judy.
“They mime it all. You have to guess what they’re doing by the dancing.”
Paddington sank back into his seat. Although he didn’t want to hurt Judy’s feelings by saying so, he didn’t think much of ballet at all. As far as he could see it was just a lot of people running after each other on the stage, and apart from not saying anything which made it all rather difficult to follow, he began to wonder why they didn’t get taller dancers in the first place as Some of the older girls in particular seemed to spend most of the time standing on their toes. However, he was a polite bear and he applauded dutifully at the end of each item.
“I must say that swan took a long time to die,” said Mr Brown, as the lights went up at long last to herald the interval. “I thought she was never going to get it over with.”
“I liked the flying ballet,” said Mrs Brown, amid general agreement. “I thought that was very well done.”
“I’d like to go up in the air on a wire like that,” said Jonathan. “I bet it’s super,” Judy handed Paddington her programme. “It’s the famous Russian dancer next,” she said. “Look – there’s his picture.”
Paddington peered at the programme with interest.
“Surge Oblomov!” he exclaimed in surprise.
“It’s not Surge,” said Judy. “It’s pronounced Sur-guy.
“Sir Guy Oblomov,” repeated Paddington, looking most impressed as he studied the picture. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Lord doing a ballet dance before.”
“He isn’t a Lord – he’s a…” Judy gave a sigh as she sought for the right words. Sometimes explaining things to Paddington became complicated out of all proportion,
“Well, whatever he is,” said Mrs Bird, coming to her rescue, “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a great treat.”
“Oh, crikey!” exclaimed Judy suddenly, as a girl from the row behind whispered something in her ear. “I’m not sure if he’s going to appear after all. They’re having some trouble back stage.”
“What!” exclaimed Paddington hotly. “Sir Guy Oblomov’s not going to appear!”
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs Bird. “How very disappointing.”
Paddington stared at the drawn curtains on the stage hardly able to believe his ears as everyone began talking at once. Judy’s words had reached several other people nearby and soon a buzz of excitement went round the hall.
“It’s something to do with no one being at the gates to meet him,” explained the girl in the seat behind. “He’s a bit temperamental and it upset him rather.”
Mr and Mrs Brown exchanged glances. “I told you so, Henry,” said Mrs Brown. “I said if we brought Paddington something would happen.”
“Well, you can’t really blame poor old Paddington for this,” replied Mr Brown indignantly. “It’s not his fault if everyone wanted to meet him instead of some blessed ballet dancer chap. After all.” Mr Brown suddenly broke off in mid-sentence. “That’s funny,” he said, as he looked along the aisle. “Talking of Paddington, where’s he got to?”
“He was here a second ago,” said Judy, looking all around.
“Look!” cried Jonathan, pointing down the aisle. “There he is! “
The Browns followed the direction of Jonathan’s arm and were just in time to see a small figure disappear through a door at the side of the stage. From where they were sitting it wasn’t possible to see the expression on Paddington’s face but there was a determined slant to his hat and a look about his duffle coat which seemed to bode ill for anyone who got in his way.
“Don’t you think you’d better go after him, Judy?” said Mrs Brown anxiously.
“Too late,” groaned Judy. “Did you see who was behind the door? Miss Grimshaw!”
Judy sank lower and lower into her seat as she contemplated the awful prospect of Paddington coming face to face with her headmistress, although had she but known, Miss Grimshaw, weighed down by all the worries back stage, seemed almost glad to find someone from outside the school she could talk to.
“Are you Russian?” she asked hopefully, after Paddington had introduced himself.
“Well, I am in a bit of a hurry,” admitted Paddington, raising his hat politely. “I’ve come to see Sir Guy.”
Miss Grimshaw looked at him suspiciously. “I said ‘Russian’,” she explained. “Not rushing. And I’m not at all sure Mr Oblomov will see you. I was hoping you might be Russian so that you could talk to him in his own language and make him feel more at home, but if you’re not I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Mrs Bird’s very upset,” replied Paddington.
“I’m sure she is,” said Miss Grimshaw. “I’m upset. We’re all upset. Mr Oblomov’s upset. Deirdre Shaw’s upset.”
“Deirdre Shaw?” echoed Paddington, looking most surprised.
“She was supposed to partner Mr Oblomov in the Pas de deux,” explained Miss Grimshaw. “Then when Mr Oblomov said he wouldn’t dance she ran off to her dormitory in tears and no one’s seen her since,”
While Miss Grimshaw was speaking, a nearby door opened and a tall, imposing figure in black tights emerged.
“I hov changed my mind,” announced Mr Oblomov, waving his hand imperiously as he did a series of knee-bending exercises. “I will not disappoint my public. First, I will dance my famous solo from the Swan Lake. Then I will perform the Pas de deux. I trust everything is ready, no?”
“No,” exclaimed Miss Grimshaw. “I mean… that is to say… yes. I’m sure it will be.”
Miss Grimshaw’s usual icy calm seemed to have deserted her for once as Sergei Oblomov strode past heading for the stage.
“Oh, dear,” she exclaimed. “Now he’s changed his mind again – and Deirdre Shaw’s disappeared. What he’s going to say when he finds he’s without a partner in the second half I shudder to think.”
As the school orchestra started up and the curtain rose to a tremendous round of applause, Miss Grimshaw rushed off wringing her hands, leaving Paddington staring with a very thoughtful expression on his face indeed in the direction of the open door leading to Sergei Oblomov’s dressing-room.
It was an expression that the Browns, had they been there, would have recognized immediately. But fortunately for their peace of mind they, like practically everyone else in the school, had their attention riveted to the stage.
Even Mr Brown sat up in his seat and clapped as loudly as anyone as Sergei Oblomov executed one perfect pirouette after another, spinning round and round so fast it left the audience breathless. And when he followed this with a series of breath-taking arabesques everyone gasped with admiration and the rafters of the hall fairly shook with the ovation which greeted the end of this item.
As the applause died away and Sergei Oblomov stood for a moment motionless in the beam from a single spotlight, Mrs Bird gave a quick glance at her programme. “It’s the Pas de deux now,” she whispered.
“Golly, I hope they’ve found Deirdre Shaw,” said Judy in a low voice as the music started up. “There’s going to be an awful row if they haven’t.”
“It’s all right,” said Mr Brown. “I think I can see someone lurking at the side of the stage.”
Judy followed the direction of Mr Brown’s gaze and then jumped up from her seat in alarm.
“Crikey!” she exclaimed. “That’s not Deirdre Shaw. That’s… Paddington!” exclaimed the rest of the family, joining her in a chorus as the shadowy figure moved on to the stage and into the light.
“Mercy me!” cried Mrs Bird, “What on earth is that bear up to now?”
Her words were lost in the gasp of astonishment which went up all around them as Paddington advanced towards the centre of the stage, placed his suitcase carefully in front of the footlights, and then raised his hat politely to the several members of the audience in the front row who began half-heartedly to applaud.
“Oh, dear, I wish he wouldn’t wear that old hat,” said Mrs Brown.
“And what on earth’s he got on his legs?” asked Mrs Bird.
“Looks like some kind of sacking to me,” said Mr Brown.
“They’re not sacks,” said Judy. “They’re tights.”
“Tights?” echoed Mr Brown. “They don’t look very tight to me. They look as if they’re going to come down any moment.”
The Browns watched in horror as Paddington, having ventured one bow too many, hurriedly replaced his hat and grabbed hold of the roll of material which hung around his waist in large folds. Now, for the first time since he’d decided to lend a paw with the ballet, he was beginning to wish he’d resisted the temptation to use the pair of tights which he’d found hanging on the back of Mr Oblomov’s dressing-room door.
Bears’ legs being rather short put him at a disadvantage to start with, but as far as he could make out Sergei Oblomov’s legs were twice as long as anyone else’s so that an unusually large amount of surplus material had to be lost at the top.
Apart from tying a piece of string round his waist Paddington had hopefully made use of several drawing pins which he’d found on a notice board at the back of the stage, but most of these seemed to have fallen out so he had to spend some moments making last minute adjustments to a large safety pin which he’d put on in case of an emergency.
It was at this moment that Sergei Oblomov, oblivious to all that had been going on, finished executing a particularly long and difficult pirouette near a pillar at the back of the stage and came hurrying down towards him.
He stood for a moment poised on one foot, his eyes closed as he prepared himself for the big moment. Paddington raised his hat politely once again and then took hold of one of Mr Oblomov’s outstretched hands and shook it warmly with his paw.
“Good afternoon, Sir Guy,” he exclaimed. “I’ve come to do the Pas de deux.”
Sergei Oblomov seemed suddenly to freeze in his position. For a brief moment, in fact, he seemed almost to have turned into stone and Paddington looked at him rather anxiously, but then several things happened to him in quick succession.
First, he opened his eyes, then he closed them and a shiver passed through his body, starting at his toes and travelling up to his head, almost as if he had been shot. Then he opened his eyes again and stared distastefully at his hand. It was warm under the lights and some kind of sticky substance seemed to have transferred itself from Paddington’s paw.
“It’s all right, Sir Guy,” explained Paddington, wiping his paw hastily on one of the folds in his tights. “It’s only marmalade. I forgot to wash it off when I came out of the tuck shop.”
If Mr Oblomov knew what marmalade was or, for that matter, if he’d ever heard of a tuck shop, he gave no sign. A shiver again seemed to pass through his body and as the music reached a crescendo he closed his eyes and with a supreme effort prepared himself once more for the Pas de deux.
Feeling very pleased that things seemed to have turned out all right in the end Paddington took hold of Sergei Oblomov’s outstretched hand and bent down to pick up his suitcase.
The next moment it felt as if he was in the centre of an earthquake, a tornado and a barrage of thunderbolts all rolled into one. First it seemed as if his arm had been torn out of its socket, then he felt himself spinning round and round like a top; finally he landed, still spinning, in a heap on the floor of the stage some distance away from Mr Oblomov.
For a moment he lay where he was gasping for breath and then he struggled to his feet just in time to see a vague figure in tights heading towards him through the glare of the footlights. As he focused on the scene Paddington noticed a nasty-looking gleam in Sergei Oblomov’s eyes which he didn’t like the look of at all and so he hurriedly sat down again.
Mr Oblomov came to a halt and stared down at the figure on the floor. “I cannot go on,” he exclaimed gloomily. “For one zing you hov too much shortness – and for zee second thing – your entrechats – zey are not clean.”
“My entrechats are not clean!” exclaimed Paddington hotly. “But I had a bath last night.”
“I do not mean zey are dirty,” hissed Mr Oblomov. “I mean zey should be clean – snappy – like so!”
Without further ado he threw himself into the air, beat his legs together, crossed them in time to the music, and then uncrossed them again as he landed gracefully on one foot facing the audience.
Paddington looked rather doubtful as the applause rang through the hall. “It’s a bit difficult when you’ve only got paws, Sir Guy,” he exclaimed. “But I’ll have a try.”
Closing his eyes as he’d seen Mr Oblomov do, Paddington jumped into the air, made a half-hearted attempt to cross his legs and then, as his tights began to slip, landed rather heavily on the stage. As he did so, to everyone’s surprise he suddenly shot up into the air again, his legs crossing and uncrossing, almost as if he’d been fired from a cannon.
“Good gracious!” exclaimed someone near the Browns, “that young bear’s done a triple!”
“A sixer,” contradicted another elderly gentleman knowledgeably, as Paddington landed and then shot up in the air again with a loud cry. “Bravo!” he called, trying to make himself heard above the applause.
Even Sergei Oblomov began to look impressed as Paddington executed several more entrechats each one higher and more complicated than the one before.
Then, to show he wasn’t beaten, he himself gave a tremendous leap into the air, changed his legs over, beat them together, changed them back again, beat them together once more, and then, to a roar from the audience crossed them once again before landing.
Paddington, who had been spending the last few seconds sitting on the stage peering at one of his paws jumped up with a loud cry which echoed round the rafters as Sergei Oblomov landed heavily on his other paw.
If the applause for Sergei Oblomov’s entrechat had been loud it was nothing compared to that which greeted Paddington as he shot up into the air once more, waving his paws wildly to and fro, crossing and uncrossing them and bringing them together before he landed and then catapulted up again almost out of sight.
This time Sergei Oblomov himself had to acknowledge he’d met his match and with a graceful bow which brought murmurs of approval from the audience he stood back and joined in the applause as the music finally came to an end, and with Paddington’s leaps growing higher and wilder with every passing second the curtain came down.
“Well,” said Mr Brown as the applause finally subsided. “It may not have been the best ballet I’ve ever seen but it was certainly the most exciting.”
“Haven’t seen anything like it since the Cossacks,” agreed the elderly gentleman nearby. “Five Grand Royales in a row!”
Thoroughly surprised by the events of the afternoon the Browns tried to make their way backstage, but what with the speeches and the crowds of girls who came up to Judy in order to congratulate her on Paddington’s performance, it was some while before they were able to force their way through the door at the side of the stage. When they did finally break through they were even more surprised to find that Paddington had been removed to the school sanatorium for what was called ‘urgent First Aid’.
“Oh, dear, I hope he hasn’t broken anything,” said Mrs Brown anxiously as they hurried across the quadrangle. “Some of those jumps he did were very high.”
“More likely to have slipped on a marmalade chunk,” said Mrs Bird darkly as they hurried into the ward. But even Mrs Bird looked worried when she caught sight of Paddington lying on a bed with his two back paws sticking up in the air swathed in bandages.
“I can’t understand it,” said Miss Grimshaw, as she came forward to greet them. “Both his back paws are full of holes. I really must find matron and see what she’s got to say.”
“Holes?” echoed the Browns.
“Holes,” said Miss Grimshaw. “Quite small ones. Almost as if he’s got woodworm. Not that he could have of course,” she added hastily as a groan came from the direction of the bed.
“Such a shame after the magnificent performance he gave. I doubt if we shall see the like again.”
As Miss Grimshaw hurried off in search of the matron Mrs Bird gave a snort. Something about Paddington’s leaps on the stage had aroused her suspicions and now her eagle eyes had spotted a number of small shiny objects under the bed that so far no one else had seen.
“Bears who try to pin their tights up with drawing pins,” She said sternly, “mustn’t be surprised when they fall out. And,” she added, “they mustn’t be disappointed if they step on them into the bargain and have to stay in hospital and miss the special marmalade pudding that’s waiting for them at home.”
Paddington sat up in bed. “I think perhaps they’re getting better now,” he said hastily.
Being an invalid with everyone fussing around was rather nice. On the other hand, marmalade pudding, particularly Mrs Bird’s marmalade pudding, was even nicer.
“But it’s no good if you want to carry on dancing,” warned Mrs Bird, as he clambered out of bed and tested his paws on the floor. “It’s much too rich and heavy. In fact, I’m not sure that you oughtn’t to go on a diet.”
But Mrs Bird’s words fell on empty air as Paddington disappeared through the door in the direction of the car with remarkable haste for one who’d only just risen from a sick bed.
“Perhaps it’s as well,” said Mr Brown gravely, as the others followed. “I can’t really picture Paddington embarking on a career as a ballet dancer.”
“All those exercises,” agreed Mrs Brown with a shudder.
“And those tights,” said Judy.
“And all that leaping about,” added Mrs Bird. “If you ask me it’s much better to be simply a bear who likes his marmalade.”
“Especially,” said Jonathan, amid general agreement, “If you happen to be a bear called Paddington.”
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