"we are almost done. you, my dear - ". miss prue looked at laurene and took a paper from the white hat - have as your assignment - "romantic comedy"
"oh!" laurene clapped her hands. "you didn't say anything about romantic comedy! all right!"
"and your romantic comedy will be done in the style of - dickens."
"whatever. romantic comedy. ha, ha!"
the adventures of pandora paddington
by laurene de lampeduse
illustrated by roy dismas and rhoda penmarq
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
there once lived, in a remote area of the kingdom of ireland, a gentleman named john paddington, who, having inherited the most modest estate imaginable to support a gentleman in a condition just above that of total poverty, and being wholly devoid of energy or ambition, resolved to live out his days sitting in his front parlor and gazing out at the weather, which in that particular place was generally very dreary indeed.
besides looking out the window, his chief amusements were reading old plays, particularly those of massinger, and of beaumont and fletcher, and taking an occasional sip of very weak claret (weak to begin with, and made even weaker by the depredations - and infusions of water to cover up the depredations - made by his rascally manservant ).
all this was well enough - who are you or i, dear reader, to condemn or even comment on the worthy gentleman's mode of existence? except for a pair of curious events which transpired as mr paddington was approaching his forty-fourth year.
perhaps i should say trio of curious events, for the first noteworthy event only occurred because of a circumstance which may seem unremarkable in itself, but was quite exceptional in the particular situation - namely, that mr paddington suddenly decided to go for a walk.
exactly why mr paddington decided to go for a walk - though no doubt "not beyond all conjecture" - might not easily be determined, mr paddington himself being of a decidedly unreflective nature and not given to analyzing his actions or disclosing his thoughts, even had he someone to disclose them to. in any case, it was an exceptionally overcast day and a sudden wind had come up, bending the bare trees outside the window, an indication of a possibly violent storm. he rang for his manservant, and that personage appeared forthwith.
on being informed that the master was going for a walk - no timetable or itinerary being provided - he made no comment and betrayed no surprise. as indeed he almost never made any comment beyond "yes sir" or "very good sir" and absolutely never betrayed any surprise at anything.
perhaps at this point it would be proper to introduce this worthy to the reader, as well as the one other servant mr paddington retained, as they will play some part in at least the early stages of our narrative.
the manservant's name was bikes - bob bikes. though mr paddington's establishment was located in the wildest and most distant regions of hibernia, neither of his servants was native to the region, or even to britain's sister island. both had sought out the remote region for the same reason, which the reader may easily guess - they were escaping from civilization and its laws. bikes was a native of london's east end and was wanted by the police of london and of liverpool for a pair of atrocious murders.
the maidservant and cook , sal slatterly, was a native of liverpool and had prenticed as a pickpocket before running afoul of "bad ben" wilkins, the leader of the "blue mob" who had singled her out as a sop and an offering to the local police. escaping over the water she had made her way across the island before coming to roost and "laying low" in the uncurious mr paddington's lonely little estate.
the reader needs hardly be told that both these worthies regularly robbed mr paddington of what little he had to be robbed of. and, all told, they both had found as snug a berth as they were likely to find in the three kingdoms.
bill, at least, still talked, in front of the downstairs fire, of returning to the wide world and making a grand re-entrance - confounding his enemies and making a great fortune. but the months went by, and the years. and the wind howled, and the rain and leaves fell, and the trees shook , and like their master, they were increasingly content to watch and let it all go by.
until the fateful day when mr paddington went for his walk.
"a walk, sir?" bikes asked tonelessly. "of course, i will fetch your hat and coat." he looked out the window at the bending trees. "will you be wanting your umbrella?"
"an umbrella, bikes? do i own an umbrella?"
"indeed you do, sir. it has been in the back of your closet as long as i can remember. i takes it and checks it regularly, to see if the mice has been at it."
mr paddington considered this. "in my day, bikes - in my day, things may be done differently now - a gentleman only carried an umbrella in order to offer it to a lady if the need arose." he coughed. "do you think i am likely to meet a lady on my promenade?"
"i am sure i don't know, sir. it is always best to be prepared for any eventuality, innit now?"
"yes, yes, i am sure. very well, bring me the umbrella as well as my hat and coat."
"very well, sir. should dinner be prepared at the usual time?"
mr paddington considered this carefully. "i do not see why not."
"very good, sir."
and so mr paddington went for his walk. bikes watched him through the window, as he went down the overgrown walk into the overgrown lane. a few large raindrops hit the window. though curious, bikes was nowhere so curious as to risk his master's displeasure by following him. he turned aside with a yawn and made his way downstairs.
he found sal in the kitchen, looking out the back window at the muddy back yard. though they had little commerce with persons other than mr paddington and each other, the pair were neither close nor contentious. they tolerated each other much as a cat and a dog will tolerate each other, when there are no other cats or dogs around.
"you'll never guess what the master's done."
"gone for a walk."
"yer don't say." like bikes, sal was not much for expressing surprise at anything. "more fool him, he's like to get proper drowned." and indeed, the rain had started to increase.
bikes just shrugged.
"will he be back for dinner?"
"he says he will."
"fair enough." sal had just finished cleaning up according to her lights. reader, suffice to say her efforts would not have passed muster from a housekeeper in grosvenor square.
they looked out at the rain. "yer know what i'd like right now?" sal asked after a while.
"no my lady, what would you like?"
"a nice bit of tincture of opium, that's what i'd like."
"exactly. that's what i'd like ter do."
"and i'd like a nice thick rare beefsteak. and a pitcher of hot rum. and a cigar from jamaica or cuba."