51. A Day To Remember
Mrs Brown stared at Paddington in amazement. “Harold Price wants you to be an usher at his wedding?” she repeated. “Are you sure?”
Paddington nodded. “I’ve just met him in the market, Mrs Brown,” he explained. “He said he was going to give you a ring as well.”
Mrs Brown exchanged glances with the rest of the family as they gathered round to hear Paddington’s news.
Harold Price was a young man who served on the preserves counter at a large grocery store in the Portobello Road, and the events leading up to his forthcoming marriage to Miss Deirdre Flint, who worked on the adjacent bacon and eggs counter, had been watched with interest by the Browns, particularly as it was largely through Paddington that they had become engaged in the first place.
It had all come about some months previously when Paddington had lent a paw at a local drama festival in which Miss Flint had played the lead in one of Mr Price’s plays.
A great many things had gone wrong that evening, but Mr Price always maintained afterwards that far from Paddington causing a parting of the ways, he and Miss Flint had been brought even closer together. At any event, shortly afterwards they had announced their engagement.
It was largely because of Paddington’s part in the affair, and the numerous large orders for marmalade he’d placed with Mr Price over the years, that all the Browns had been invited to the wedding that day; but never in their wildest dreams had it occurred to any of them that Paddington might be one of the officials.
During the silence which followed while everyone considered the matter, he held up a small, bright metal object. “Mr Price has given me the key to his flat,” he announced importantly. “He wants me to pick up the list of guests on the way to the church.”
“Well, I must say it’s rather a nice idea,” said Mrs Brown, trying to sound more enthusiastic than she actually felt.
“It’s really a case history repeating itself.”
“Remembering what happened last time,” murmured Mr Brown, “I only hope it doesn’t repeat itself too faithfully.”
“Everything turned out all right in the end,” Mrs Brown broke in hastily, as Paddington gave one of his hard stares. “Harold’s play did win first prize and he was very glad of Paddington’s help when the sound effects man let him down.”
“I think he’s been let down again, Mrs Brown,” said Paddington earnestly. “He’s got no one to keep quiet during the ceremony,”
“No one to keep quiet?” echoed Jonathan. Paddington’s thought processes were sometimes rather difficult to follow, and his present one was no exception.
“I’ve no doubt that bear will do as well as anyone if he sets his mind to it,” said Mrs Bird, the Browns’ housekeeper, as Paddington, having startled everybody by announcing that he was going to have a special bath in honour of the occasion, disappeared upstairs in order to carry out his threat. “No doubt at all. After all, it’s only a matter of lending a paw and showing people to their right places in the church.”
“Knowing the usual state of Paddington’s paws,” replied Mr Brown, “I think I’d sooner find my own way.”
“He is having a bath, Daddy,” reminded Judy. “He’s just said so.”
“He may be having a bath,” retorted Mr Brown grimly. “But he’s still got to get to the church. All sorts of things can happen before then.”
“Ush!” cried Jonathan suddenly. “I bet he thinks being an Usher means he has to keep “ush during the service.”
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs Brown, as Jonathan’s words sank in. “I do hope he doesn’t tell Deirdre to be quiet when she’s making her responses. You know what a quick temper she’s got and I expect she’ll be all on edge as it is.”
Mrs Brown began to look somewhat less happy about the whole affair as she turned the matter over in her mind, but at that moment the shrill sound of the telephone bell broke into her thoughts.
“It’s Harold Price,” she hissed, putting her hand over the receiver. “He wants to know if it’s all right. What shall I say? “
Mr Brown looked up at the ceiling as the sound of running water came from somewhere overhead.
“Whatever we say it had better not be ‘no’,” he replied. “Not at this stage. We shall never hear the last of it if Paddington’s had a bath for nothing. Especially one he’s volunteered for.
“All the same,” he continued, giving his suit a passing flick with the clothes-brush, “I can’t help feeling it isn’t the best of ways to start married life. I don’t think I should have been very keen on having a bear as an usher at my wedding – even if I had been let down.”
Mr Brown wasn’t over enthusiastic about weddings at the best of times, and the thought of attending one at which Paddington was lending a paw filled him with foreboding.
Nevertheless, even Mr Brown’s fears were gradually set at rest as the day wore on, for Paddington’s behaviour seemed beyond reproach.
When they arrived at the church, he was busily engaged with a long and important-looking list of names which enabled him to check the invitations and sort out the friends of the bride from those of the groom, and as he led them down the aisle towards their allotted places they couldn’t help noticing how spick and span he looked. His fur had a newly-brushed, glistening appearance, and his whiskers were so shiny they made the large white carnation which he wore tied round his neck look almost dowdy by comparison.
If the Browns had any criticism at all it was that he was taking his job a little over seriously. Jonathan’s earlier theory proved all too correct and as soon as anyone so much as parted their lips he hurried up to them with his paw raised and gave them a hard stare.
Some of his stares, which had been handed down to him by his Aunt Lucy in Peru, were very powerful indeed and in no time at all it would have been possible to have heard the proverbial pin drop.
Even the vicar looked most impressed when he came into the church and saw the attentive state of his congregation.
“I don’t see how we can explain now,” hissed Mr Brown. “It’s a bit difficult when you’re not allowed to say anything.”
The others contented themselves with a nod of agreement, for at that moment Paddington, having carefully checked the list of guests for the last time to make certain everyone was present, settled himself down in a nearby pew in order to consult his programme and enjoy the forthcoming ceremony in comfort.
In any case, they soon had other matters to occupy their minds for a moment or so later Mr Price and his best man arrived and took up their places near the front.
They both looked unusually agitated, even for such a nerve-racking occasion as a wedding, and Mr Price in particular, kept jumping up and down like a jack-in-the-box. He seemed to want to speak to Paddington, but each time he turned round and opened his mouth Paddington put a paw firmly to his lips.
“I don’t remember Harold having that nervous twitch before,” whispered Mrs Brown, uneasily.
“I think it’s got something to do with the ring,” whispered Judy, passing on what little bit of information she’d been able to glean from those in front. “They’re having to make do with a brass one off Mr Price’s bedroom curtains. Apparently the real one’s disappeared.”
“Disappeared!” echoed Mrs Brown. For a moment she quite forgot Paddington’s presence in the nearby pew, but as it happened, she needn’t have worried, for Paddington seemed even more affected than anyone by this latest piece of news. His whiskers sagged, his face took on a sudden woebegone expression, and even the carnation round his neck seemed to wilt in sympathy.
“Deirdre’s not going to be very pleased when she hears,” murmured Mr Brown. “I shouldn’t like to be the person who’s got it!”
“Ssh!” hissed Mrs Brown. “Here she comes!”
The Browns fell silent as there was a rustle of silk behind them and Deirdre, resplendent in a snow-white wedding gown, sailed past on the arm of Mr Flint. Only Paddington failed to join in the general gasps of admiration which greeted her entrance. For some reason best known to himself he appeared to be engaged in a kind of life and death struggle on the floor of the church. Several times he was lost to view completely and each time he rose again he was breathing more and more heavily and his expression looked, if possible, unhappier than before.
However, unhappy though it was, it seemed almost gay by comparison with the grim one which came over Miss Flint’s face a moment or so later when she took in the whispered aside from her husband-to-be.
For one brief moment indeed, it looked as if for two pins Miss Flint would have called the whole thing off, and when it came to the time for her to say “I do”, there was quite a nasty pause before she managed to get the words out.
When the ceremony finally came to an end both she and Harold hurried towards the vestry in order to sign the register rather as if they had a bus to catch, and not a bit like two people who had just agreed to spend the rest of their lives together.
“I’m glad I’m not in Harold’s shoes,” said Mr Brown, as the door closed behind them. “Deirdre looked as black as thunder.”
“Ssh!” began Mrs Brown. “We don’t want Pad…”
She was about to say that one upset was enough and they didn’t want to add to the confusion by having Paddington take up his ‘ushing duties again, but as she looked round the church it was only to discover that Paddington was nowhere in sight.
“There he is!” cried Judy suddenly, as she looked back over her shoulder.
Turning round to follow her gaze the rest of the Browns were just in time to catch a glimpse of a familiar figure hurrying up the aisle in the direction of the entrance doors.
“Perhaps he wants to be in the front of the photograph,” said Mrs Brown hopefully, as Paddington, after casting an anxious glance over his shoulder, picked up his suitcase and hat from behind a nearby pillar and disappeared from view. “He’s always very keen on anything like that for his scrap-book, and he looks as if he’s got something on his mind.”
“Hmm,” said Mrs Bird. “That’s as may be. But if you ask me that young bear’s mind is not the only thing he’s got something on.”
Mrs Bird’s sharp eyes had noticed a momentary gleam from one of Paddington’s paws as he’d gone out into the sunshine. It was the second time within the space of a few minutes she’d spotted the strange phenomenon. The first occasion had been during the service itself, when the vicar had asked the assembly if anyone present knew of any good reason why Deirdre and Harold shouldn’t get married. Paddington had half raised his paw and then, much to her relief, he’d changed his mind at the last moment.
Mrs Bird was good at adding two and two together as far as Paddington was concerned, but wisely she kept the result of her calculations to herself for the time being.
In any case, before the others had time to question her on the subject a rather worried looking churchwarden hurried up the aisle and stopped at their pew in order to whisper something in Mr Brown’s ear.
Mr Brown rose to his feet. “I think we’re wanted in the vestry,” he announced ominously. “It sounds rather urgent.”
Mr Brown was tempted to add that the churchwarden had also asked if Paddington could accompany them, but in the event he decided not to add to their worries.
All the same, as he led the way into the vestry, he began to look more and more worried, and if he’d been able to see through the stone walls into the churchyard outside, the chances are that he would have felt even more so.
For Paddington was in trouble. Quite serious trouble.
One way and another he was used to life having its ups and downs, but as he held his paw up to the light in order to examine it more closely even he had to admit he couldn’t remember a time when his fortunes had taken quite such a downward plunge.
Sucking it had made no difference at all; jamming it in the rails which surrounded the churchyard only seemed to have made matters worse; and even the application of a liberal smear of marmalade from an emergency jar which he kept in his suitcase had been to no avail.
As far as paws went, his own was looking unusually smart and well cared for. Apart from the remains of the marmalade it wouldn’t have disgraced an advertisement for fur coats in one of Mrs Brown’s glossy magazines. Even the pad had an unusual glow about it, not unlike that of a newly polished shoe.
However, it wasn’t the pad or its surroundings which caused Paddington’s look of dismay, but the sight of a small gold wedding-ring poking out from beneath his fur; and the longer he looked at it the more unhappy he became.
He’d found the ring lying on the dressing-table when he’d gone to Harold Price’s room in order to pick up the wedding list, and at the time it had gone on one of his claws easily enough. But now it was well and truly stuck, and nothing he could do would make it budge one way or the other.
In the past he had always kept on very good terms with Mr Price. Even so, he couldn’t begin to imagine what his friend would have to say about the matter. Nor, when he considered it, could he picture Deirdre exactly laughing her head off when she heard the news that her wedding-ring was stuck round a bend on a bear’s paw, From past experience he knew that Deirdre had a very sharp tongue indeed when even quite minor things went wrong with her bacon-slicer, and he shuddered to think what she would have to say about the present situation.
As if to prove how right he was, his thoughts were broken into at that very moment, as the sound of Deirdre’s voice raised in anger floated out through the open window above his head.
By climbing on top of his suitcase and standing on tiptoe Paddington was just able to see inside the vestry and when he did so he nearly fell over backwards again in alarm, for not only was Deirdre there, laying down the law to a most unhappy-looking Mr Price; but the best man, sundry relatives, the Browns and quite a number of other important-looking people were there as well.
Indeed, so great was the crowd and so loud the argument, it gave the impression that more people were attending the signing of the register than had been present at the actual ceremony.
Paddington was a hopeful bear at heart but the more he listened to Deirdre the more his spirits dropped and the more he realised the only thing they had in common was a wish that he’d never been invited to the wedding in the first place, let alone act as an usher.
After a moment or two he clambered back down again, took a deep breath, picked up his suitcase and headed towards a large red box just outside the churchyard.
It wasn’t often that Paddington made a telephone call – for one thing he always found it a bit difficult with paws – but he did remember once reading a poster in a phone box about what to do in times of an emergency and how it was possible to obtain help without paying.
It had seemed very good value at the time and as far as he could make out it would be difficult to think of a situation which was more of an emergency than his present one.
His brief appearance at the window didn’t go entirely unnoticed, but fortunately the only person who saw him was Judy, and by the time she’d passed the message on to Jonathan he’d disappeared again.
“Perhaps it was a mirage,” said Jonathan hopefully.
“It wasn’t,” said Judy. “It was Paddington’s hat.”
“Paddington!” echoed Deirdre, catching the end of Judy’s reply. “Don’t mention that name to me.”
“Look!” she announced dramatically, holding up her wedding finger for what seemed to her audience like the hundredth time. “A curtain ring! A brass curtain ring!”
“I thought it would be better than nothing,” said the best man, hastily cupping his hands under Deirdre’s in case the object of her wrath fell off. “I was hoping you might have big fingers.”
Deirdre gave the best man a withering glare and then turned her attention back to the unfortunate Harold. “Don’t just stand there,” she exclaimed. “Do something!”
“Look here,” broke in Mr Brown. “I still don’t see why you’re blaming Paddington.”
“My room’s on the fifth floor, said Mr Price, briefly. And there are only two keys. Paddington had the
“Fancy asking a bear to be an usher,” said Deirdre, scornfully. “You might have known something would happen. I shall never be able to show my face in the shop again. Practically all our best customers are here.”
The new Mrs Price broke off as quite clearly above her words there came the sound of a fire-bell, at first in the distance, and then gradually getting closer and closer.
The vicar glanced nervously out of his vestry window. Quite a crowd seemed to have collected outside the church and even as he watched, a large, red fire-engine, its bell clanging furiously, screamed to a halt and several men in blue uniform jumped off, their hatchets at the ready.
“That’s all I need,” said Deirdre bitterly, as the vicar excused himself and hurried off to investigate the matter. “A fire! That’ll round off the day nicely!”
The room fell silent as Mr Price’s bride, having exhausted the topic of the things she would like to do, embarked on a long list of the things she wasn’t going to do under any circumstances until she got her wedding-ring back; including signing the register, having her photograph taken and going on her honeymoon.
It was just as she reached the last item, and Mr Price’s face had fallen to its longest ever, that the door burst open and the vicar hurried back into the room closely followed by a man in fireman’s uniform, and behind him, Paddington himself.
“There you are, Paddington,” said Mrs Brown thankfully. “Where have you been?”
“Having a bit of a sticky time of it, if you ask me, ma’am,” began the fireman, “what with one thing and another.”
“My ring!” broke in Deirdre, catching sight of a shiny object in Paddington’s outstretched paw.
“I’m afraid it got stuck round a bend, Mrs Price,” explained Paddington.
“Stuck round a bend?” repeated Deirdre disbelievingly. “How on earth did that happen?”
Paddington took hold of the ring in his other paw in order to demonstrate exactly what had gone wrong.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted truthfully. “I just slipped it on for safety and when I tried to take it off again The fireman gave a groan. “Don’t say you’ve done it again!” he exclaimed. “I only just got it off.”
“Bears!” groaned Deirdre. “I’m not meant to get married.”
“What I can’t understand,” said Mr Price, “is why you put it on your paw in the first place, Mr Brown.”
“You said you were going to give Mrs Brown a ring,” said Paddington unhappily. “I thought I’d save you the bother.”
“I said I was going to give Mrs Brown a ring?” repeated Harold, hardly able to believe his ears.
“I think you did,” said Mrs Brown. “Paddington probably didn’t realise you meant a ring on the telephone.”
“Quite a natural mistake,” said Mrs Bird in the silence which followed. “Anyone might have made it in the circumstances.”
“Never mind,” said the fireman. “What goes on must come off – especially the second time.”
“I tell you what,” he continued, sizing up the situation as he got to work on Paddington’s paw with a pair of pliers, “if the happy couple would like to sign the register while I do this, I’ll get my crew to form a guard of honour outside the church.”
“A guard of honour!” exclaimed Deirdre.
“With axes,” said the fireman.
The new Mrs Price began to look slightly better pleased. “Well, I don’t know really.” she simpered, patting her hair.
“It’s a bit irregular,” whispered the fireman in Padington’s ear, “and we don’t normally do it for people outside the service, but we’ve a big recruiting drive on at the moment and it’ll be good publicity. Besides, it’ll help calm things down a bit.”
“Thank you very much,” said Paddington gratefully.
“I shall ask for you if ever I have a real fire.”
“It’ll make a lovely photograph,” said Harold persuasively, taking Deirdre’s hand and leading her across the room. “And it’ll be something to show the girls back in the shop.”
“If the ring won’t come off, perhaps I could come on the honeymoon with you, Mrs Price,” said Paddington hopefully. “I’ve never been on one of those before.”
Deirdre’s back stiffened as she bent down to sign the register.
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” said the fireman hastily, as he removed the ring at long last and handed it to Mr Price for safe keeping.
“Tell you what, though,” he added, seeing a look of disappointment cross Paddington’s face. “As you can’t go on the honeymoon perhaps we’ll give you a lift to the wedding breakfast on our way back to the station instead.
“After all,” he continued, looking meaningly at Mrs Price, “if this young bear hadn’t had the good sense to call us when he did he might still be wearing the ring and then where would you be?”
And to that remark not even Deirdre could find an answer.
“Gosh!” said Jonathan, as the Browns made their way back up the aisle. “Fancy riding on the back of a fire-engine!”
“I don’t suppose there are many bears who can say they’ve done that,” agreed Judy.
Paddington nodded. A lot of things seemed about to happen all at once, and he wasn’t quite sure which he was looking forward to most. Apart from the promised ride he’d never heard of anyone having their breakfast in the afternoon before, let alone a wedding one, but it sounded a very good way of rounding things off.
“If you and Mrs Price ever want to get married again,” he announced, as Harold led Deirdre out of the church and paused for the photographers beneath an archway of raised fire axes, “I’ll do some more “ushing for you if you like.”
Deirdre shuddered. “Never again,” she said, taking a firm grip on Harold’s arm. “Once is quite enough.”
Mr Price nodded his agreement. “It’s as I said in the beginning,” he remarked, from beneath a shower of confetti, “young Mr Brown has a habit of bringing people closer together in the end, and this time it’s for good!”
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