list of chapters (incomplete beyond 3)
1 Peter goes to Uncle C.
2 Buying trousers from Charity shop.
3 Walk in woods.[ Uncle hops on trunk. Peter spills coca-cola in coffee bar.]
4 Football with children next door. Diana & Stephen
5 Boating [Rescue when P.falls in water,but C.takes off trousers before jumping in.]
6 swimming [Someone takes trousers, but unwittingly brings them back.]
7.Kicking the man who kicks dog, then kicking P.C. [Magistrate astonished. Thump.Pays with money from trousers.]
8, Finding out surprise is not astonishment [P. tries on trousers.]
9. Going home. [Using bottle bank,normally taking out as well as deposits. Getting bitten by clothes bank – roar.]
ONE:. A HOLIDAY IS ARRANGED.
“Look, my son,” said his father to Peter, plumping himself down in the chair opposite Peter’s.
Peter didn’t look, because he knew this was his father’s way of starting a conversation. What he didn’t know was why his father always called him “my son,” and never seemed to use his name, just as though he’d forgotten it. Still, he was his son, so he couldn’t say very much.
In the same way, his mother always called him “Peter, dear” as though his full name was Peter Dear and not Peter Mablethorpe. But that’s grown-ups for you. Peter didn’t say: “Look, my father,” but called him Dad, which was quite the usual thing to do, he felt.
For he was quite a usual, ordinary sort of boy, was Peter. He did wear clothes, which his mother always thought were too creased and dirty, and he didn’t wear glasses. He wasn’t fair and he wasn’t dark; not very tall for his age, and not too short. He liked his father giving him pocket-money every Saturday, and hated his Mother brushing his hair for him in public. He liked football very much, and school not very much. And he was superior to all the girls he knew.
Oh, and he was coming up to ten. I’m not sure if that’s normal or not, but I suppose it is for a ten-year old boy.
So you can see, he was quite a normal sort of boy, – the sort you could easily miss in a crowd. Fortunately for this story, we haven’t missed him, we’ve caught him not looking, but listening to his father.
“Look, my son,” his father was saying, as though I hadn’t interrupted him,”I expect you know your Mother’s been in hospital for this operation, and she’s coming out soom, and she’s going to need a good rest when she comes out. So we thought you might like to go and stay with your Uncle Cecil for a while.”
Well, that was fairly right. He did know she’d been in hospital,of course, and he did know she’d be coming out soon. He wasn’t sure he’d been told about needing a rest, but he understood that. The bit about “liking to go and stay with your Uncle Cecil” was new, and he knew that what Dad meant was “you’re going to stay with your Uncle Cecil, whether you like it or not.”
Actually, that wasn’t quite fair, because he quite enjoyed his visits to his uncle’s, and what he meant was: that’s the way grown-ups talk again. Like the grown-ups who don’t know what to say to you, and always start by saying with surprise “Haven’t you grown!”, when really they’d be much more surprised if you hadn’t. Or “How’s school going?”, as though school was a sort of great big machine with a powerful engine. If it had been, Peter would probably have started it up and sent it rapidly down hill. But it wasn’t, so he didn’t.
“How long will it be for, Dad?” he asked.
“Oh, I should think two or three weeks, perhaps. – Just till we get your Mother back on her feet.”
You’ll begin to imagine that every time anyone spoke to him, Peter started thinking. He didn’t think this time so much as have a quick picture in his mind of Mum being like some toy model of Bionic Woman whose feet had broken off, and they were trying to stick her together again. But then he thought “that’s no way to think of your Mother”, and he said: “That’s O.K.,Dad; of course I’ll go if it helps Mum get better. And I usually quite enjoy it at Uncle Cecil’s.”
Which he did.
Uncle Cecil was Dad’s elder brother, and very different. Peter’s father was a big, strong active man; – what people called “outgoing”, presumably because he kept going out to work or golf, or some such activity.
Uncle Cecil, on the other hand, was a small, mild, quiet little man. It sometimes seemed to Peter that his grandparents had had two goes at having a son, and the first was so small and quiet that they thought they ought to try for something bigger and stronger next time, which turned out to be Dad.
But don’t get me wrong: he did like his uncle, different as he was. He had a little moustache, little hair and a big wife <- that was Aunt Hilda>. He also liked his little joke, which is perhaps appropriate for a little man, and they sometimes were very little jokes. You always knew when he was making one, because he had a little smile <well, he would, wouldn’t he?>, and a bit of a twinkle in his eye, and he always followed them up with “Nnnnn?”, just to make sure you knew.
He didn’t call Peter “my son”, of course; not even “my nephew.” For Peter he had invented one of his little jokes.
“Well, Peter Mablethorpe,” he said one day; “your initials are P.M., aren’t they. P.M., – that’s afternoon, so that’s what I shall call you. And when, or if, you-re especially well behaved, you’ll be Good Afternoon, nnnn?”
So it was all arranged.
School broke up the following Tuesday. Fortunately, nobody asked Peter when he was breaking up, otherwise he’d have been off thinking again, or having a mental picture of himself being all divided up into little pieces. All he had to do was to get ready for his holiday, and pack his case.
This was something he and Dad managed together, and it was probably just as well that Mum wasn’t coming home till Friday, because by then the case was packed, and Mum didn’t have to worry that boys and their fathers just can’t fold and pack clothes properly like their mothers can. Well, she did have to worry, but by then it was too late to do anything about it, and she just spent part of Friday feeling sure Peter’s clothes would look more creased than ever when he arrived.
Peter went with his father to fetch her home, and of course was very pleased to see her, and sorry he was going off straight away, but he could see she wasn’t on her feet yet, even if they didn’t appear to need glueing back on, but Dad did have to help her into the car.
So as she obviously needed a good rest, he saw it was a good idea for him to have a holiday away, and he began to really look forward to going to his uncle’s.
“Goodbye, Peter dear,” said his mother as he went out of the door.
“Have a nice time, and be a good boy.”
“Good afternoon” thought Peter, already thinking of his uncle, and off they went.
Now it so happened that one Mr.Mablethorpe lived south of London, and the other lived north of London, so the drive to his uncle’s right round London took much longer than it would have done if they’d been able to drive straight there.
And I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get Peter to his uncle’s, for only a little bit of that was taken up by the journey, but I felt you’d like to know something about the people involved in some strange goings-on on Peter’s holiday.
And now we’ve only got one person to go.
TWO: SOME TROUSERS ARE BOUGHT,
And that is Aunt Hilda.
All we know so far is that she was a big woman, and what you might call a dominant one. You wouldn’t miss her in a crowd.
“In that household, what Hilda says goes,”Peter’s Dad used to say.
In a way he was right; it often went in one of Uncle Cecil’s ears, and straight out of the other. For what Peter’s Dad didn’t appreciate was that mild and seemingly weak little people have their own way of not doing things they don’t want to, and perhaps they postpone things, or forget you’ve asked, or leave it so long that the other prople have changed their minds, and the other people often don’t seem to notice.
And Uncle Cecil wasn’t nearly as bullied as Dad seemed to think he was.
She was also quite a fidgety woman, and was always changing the positions of furniture or pictures.
“We have moving pictures in our house,” Uncle Cecil used to say, with a flicker of a smile; “Nnnnn?”
Plants in the garden also got moved, often at quite the wrong time of year, Uncle Cecil used to protest, but I suppose the plants were too frightened not to grow where they were put, and they always seemed to survive.
It kept Uncle Cecil busy in the garden, and sore about the shins in the house, because he often walked into chairs or stools that hadn’t been there the day before. For these requests for changes Aunt Hilda never forgot, and many of them, of course, she was quite big and strong enough to do for herself.
“It’s no good waiting for you to do it,” she used to grumble, very often much to Uncle Cecil’s relief.
One of the things, of course, that Aunt Hilda did change was her name, for when she married Uncle Cecil she went from being Miss Ecclestone and became Mrs. Mablethorpe. That made her, Uncle Cecil soon realised, Hilda Mablethorpe, and her intials became H.M. That translated, according to Uncle Cecil, as “Her Majesty”, but he never called her that in her hearing. But you knew, if you saw one of those little smiles flicker across his face, that that was what he was thinking.
Still, they did get on quite well together, and Peter actually did enjoy staying with them. They were what is known as a childless couple, which somehow sounds as though they were missing an arm or a leg. Actually, they would probably have given an arm or a leg to have had a son when they were younger, but these things don’t always happen, and perhaps it made them even more glad to give Peter his little holidays.
They came out of the house as soon as Dad’s car drew up, so they must have been looking out for him.
“Hallo, Peter, dear,” said Aunt Hilda, putting an arm round his shoulder. This was quite demonstrative for Aunt Hilda, who didn’t usually show her feelings very much, but she felt sorry for Peter being sent away from home when his mother was not well.
“Afternoon, sir,” said his uncle, and pretended to touch his forelock, but as he hadn’t got much hair anywhere, let alone a forelock, he just touched his forehead with a knuckle.
“Come and see your room,” said Aunt Hilda, leading the way. “We’ve moved the bed since you were last here, but I hope you like it.”
“Oh, yes, that’s very nice, Aunt Hilda, thank you,” replied Peter, tactfully. Very tactfully actually, because he couldn’t for the life of him remember how it was before. And he unpacked his clothes, and put them away in the drawers, and managed to crease them just a little bit more as he did it.
The next morning was Saturday, as it so often is after Friday, so that was one more pretty normal thing. And Uncle Cecil and Aunt Hilda normally popped to the shops on Saturday mornings, so that was what they did. At least, Aunt Hilda always called it “popping to the shops;” as far as Peter was concerned it was a very long pop, and he used to nearly pop with boredom when they went, but he knew his holiday proper would start when they’d got this popping out of the way, so he put up with it.
This time the popping would be slightly different.
One of the things Aunt Hilda used to like changing was her clothes. I don’t mean putting something different on at the end of the day, but actually getting rid of some of the things she’d got tired of wearing.
“I can’t be seen out with that old thing any more,” she used to say, and at first Uncle Cecil thought she meant him. But it was usually a skirt, or a dress, or a jumper that she had had for some time, and she used to explain that the fashions had changed, though it’s doubtful if they changed as often as Aunt Hilda did.
Anyway, she usually very kindly took the out-of-favour garments round to the local Charity Shop, and that’s where they were bound for this morning. Uncle Cecil used to look out sometimes for people wearing old-fashioned clothes that had been passed to the Charity Shop, but as he wouldn’t have known a fashionable dress if he saw one, he never managed to identify anyone.
Peter and Uncle Cecil were walking a bit ahead of Aunt Hilda this morning. Usually she strode majesterially in front, while Uncle Cecil almost trotted behind, but when they were popping to the shops she
would stop and look in the shop windows that interested her <“Which doesn’t seem to miss out many,” thought Peter>.
At last they came to the Charity Shop that Aunt Hilda used to
support, which, like all Charity Shops was rub ny little old
grey-haired ladies, who did all the selling and helping, and this one was no exception.
“Thank you so much,” said one of these to Aunt Hilda, as she handed over the “old things she was tired of.” They were just about to all troop out again, when Uncle Cecil suddenly spoke.
“Just a minute, Hilda,” he said. “There’s a pair of trousers that have caught my eye.”
If he had known Peter better he would have found another way of putting it, for of course Peter had already got a mental picture of Uncle Cecil’s eye floating round the shop, and a pair of trousers flicking out a leg and catching it.
“These look rather smart,”went on Uncle Cecil, picking up a pair of trousers hanging at the front of a row of trousers; “and I think they might well go with that jacket of mine that nothing seems to match.”
They had a notice on them – œ3.
“And they’re an astonishing bargain,” he went on.
“If I were you, I should try them on,” said another elderly grey-haired lady. “Several people have said they like them, but foumd they didn’t quite fit for some reason.”
“Yes, I think I’ll do that, Hilda,” said Uncle Cecil. “I’ll just pop them on.”
“If you like,” answered Aunt Hilda, shortly. By which I mean rather grumpily and disapprovingly, not briefly. Sometimes Aunt Hilda could talk shortly for a very long time.
So Uncle Cecil popped behind a little screen which they kept for that sort of thing. <It was obviously a morning for popping, thought Peter, but not of the exciting, explosive kind.>
“They’re a perfect fit!” exclaimed Uncle Cecil, and popped out again, carrying the new trousers under his arm. He paid his œ3 to elderly grey-haired lady No.3 who managed the till, and they left the shop.
“Well, I never thought when we went in there that you’d come out with a second-hand pair of trousers,” said Aunt Hilda when they were outside.
“Well, Hilda, they’re a very good bargain, so I’m quite happy. The shop’s made a sale, so they’re happy; and the money goes to the charity, so I suppose they’re happy. – Everybody must be happy.”
“Except the man who lost the trousers in the first place,” said Aunt Hilda, still displeased.
“Well, he didn’t exactly lose them because they fell down in the street,”answered Uncle Cecil. “He did give them to the shop, just as you gave your clothes.”
“Oh, you always think you’re right!” she said, even more shortly this time.
There was a time when Uncle Cecil had replied to that by saying, with his flicker of a smile: “I always am.” But Hilda hadn’t seen the flicker, and wouldn’t have taken much notice if she had, and his remark didn’t go down at all well.
This time he tried something slightly different.
“Well, if I didn’t think I was right, I wouldn’t say it would I?”
That seemed to him a bit of good logic, and Peter saw the point of it, too. Hilda didn’t so much see the point of it as think it a very pointed remark, and her only reply was to stalk majesterially ahead, so that they had to save their breath for trying to keep up with her.
At least they all got home fairly quickly that way, and when they were back Uncle Cecil thought he would just try the trousers on again at his leisure, and make sure they went with the jacket he had in mind.
They did, and they fitted – well, not like a glove, because you can’t really compare two legs with five fingers, but very comfortably. And the pockets were – well, the pockets did surprise him a little, because when he put his hand in the left-hand one he found three one-pound coins.
“They must have been left in there by the original owner,” he thought, and without wishing to be greedy, he did feel in the other pockets as well; but of course there was nothing there.
He went downstairs and reported to Hilda.
“They were obviously left there by accident,” she said. “You must take them back to the shop. You can’t expect to get the trousers free.”
“Of course I shall, ” said Uncle Cecil. “That would make them a truly astonishing bargain. – Fancy a walk, Peter?”
So Uncle Cecil and Peter set off back to the Charity shop. Not quite popped this time, because you can’t keep popping to and fro to the same shop, but they soon got there and explained why they were there.
“I don’t understand it,” said elderly grey-hairerd lady No.2, who remembered them coming in earlier. “We’re always very careful to go through everything. – Not that we expect to find money in all the pockets,” she added with a smile.
“No more do I,” said Uncle Cecil. “But I’m quite prepared to pay œ3 for those trousers, so you’d better have this anyway,” and he handed over the œ3.
They both went home, and that was that.
Or so Uncle Cecil thought.
The only thing was that that evening, when he folded up the trousers to put them in the wardrobe, he found three one-pound coins on the bed.
At first he thought – but then he thought, no, they must have dropped there previously and he hadn’t noticed. He didn’t want to stir up any more trouble with Hilda, and he didn’t want to keep on popping to the Charity shop, so he kept quiet.
He did just take the precaution of asking Peter the next morning if he had been into the bedroom for any reason the evening before.
“No,” said Peter, “Why?”
“Oh, I thought not,” went on Uncle Cecil; “It’s just that when I folded the trousers up last night, I found three pound coins on the bed. I’m not going back to the shop again, so I shan’t say anything to Hilda. Anyway, they’d obviously dropped there before, somehow. But it did seem strange, as though they’d got there by magic. But I don’t believe that, any more than I expect you do.”
“No, of course not,” answered Peter, who was quite old enough not to believe in magic, and just young enough to rather wish he did.
THREE: A WALK IS TAKEN.
After that the week-end went normally enough for the next day to be Sunday.
And a lovely Sunday, too, with bright, warm sunshine that made you feel better, even if you didn’t know you were feeling worse beforehand.
“It’s a lovely day!” exclaimed Uncle Cecil. “How about going out for a walk? We can go through the woods to that little cafe for a coffee, and be back in nice time for lunch.”
Any other day, Aunt Hilda would have said:”All very well for you; but who has to get the lunch when we get back?” But then she thought it was, after all, the beginning of Peter’s holiday, so she just said:”Well, if I’m going to get back in time to cook lunch, we’d better start straight away.”
So straight away they started.
The woods were no distance from Uncle Cecil’s home, and they were soon walking along a tree-lined pathway, with the sun shining through the occasional gap in the trees.
“It really is an astonishingly lovely day,”said Uncle Cecil, and he couldn’t help doing a little skip of happiness. When I say he couldn’t help it, he did really feel he couldn’t, and that he wasn’t entirely in control of his skipping or his walking. But he thought it was just excitement at a lovely summer’s day, and thought no more about it.
Then they turned a corner round some trees, and there stretched right across their path was a tree-trunk that must have fallen there some time ago, completely blocking their way. Before he knew it, Uncle Cecil had jumped on top of the trunk, and stood there as though he was playing “King-of-the-Castle.”
Aunt Hilda was flabbergasted. Skipping was one thing; – jumpimg on top of tree trunks was quite another.
“Cecil!” she exclaimed.”I’m surprised at you!”
To tell the truth, Uncle Cecil was surprised at himself. Jumping on top of tree trunks was something he had long ago given up, and he wasn’t too sure how he’d got there.
Peter thought it might help if he got up there too, and jumped up beside his uncle, but that only made things worse.
“Really, Cecil,” went on Aunt Hilda; “Be your age!”
By which people generally mean “be someone else’s age, – a little bit older and more sensible.” So Uncle got down rather sheepishly, and helped her very sensibly round the end of the tree. And he walked on very carefully after that, because he was wondering what his legs were going to make him do next, and just a bit wondering why his legs seemed to have a mind of their own when he was wearing his new trousers.
Soon after that they got to the cafe in the woods, and Uncle Cecil ordered coffees for himself and Aunt Hilda, and Peter had a Coke.
It was a lovely day, but a little bit breezy, and a couple at a nearby table were enjoying a piece of cake with their coffee when the paper serviette blew off their plate and fluttered across towards Peter’s table. He made a dive for it in his best goal-keeping style, forgetting that when you’re in goal you don’t have small tables near your feet. His toe caught the table just enough to tip his Coke right into Uncle Cecil’s lap.
“Oh, what’s the boy done now!” exclaimed Aunt Hilda.
Peter had always noticed that if anything happened to his credit, he was always a good boy – “There’s a good boy|” or “what a clever boy!” they used to say; but if anything went wrong, he was always the boy – like “tell the boy he’ll have to do better” or “what’s the boy done now!”
“It was an accident,” said Uncle Cecil; “no harm done.” But he did have a nasty dark stain right in his lap.
Nobody enjoyed their coffee very much after that, and Peter refused the offer of any more Coke. He even forgot to take the serviette back to the other table, and was quite relieved when they all got up and started the walk back.
Peter felt pretty miserable. He didn’t feel he deserved a telling-off for an accident, he hadn’t even asked to come on holiday, and if it ws going to be like this the sooner it was over the better. And he slouched along behind his uncle and aunt.
Presently Uncle Cecil, who felt sorry for him, dropped back a little to walk with him.
“Cheer up, my nephew,” he said. “You couldn’t help it. It was a good save, too, wasn’t it?” he added with a little smile. “Aunt Hilda’s just a bit embarassed having to walk along with someone with a wet patch on their trousers. It looks a bit as though I’ve had an accident, doesn’t it? She’ll soon come round. And I’d be astonished if these trousers didn’t dry off quite quickly, especially in this sunshine.”
Almost as he spoke he looked down to examine the stain, and his astonishment came a lot quicker than he had thought, for as he looked the last traces of Coke seemed to vanish from his trousers, and they now felt quite dry. He was astonished and delighted, because they hadn’t been all that comfortable.
“There you are!” he exclaimed. “It’s all cleared up noe, Hilda,” he called out.
“Astonishing is one of your favourite words, isn’t it, Uncle?” said Peter, beginning to think his Uncle was someone who lived in a state of continual surprise.
“Well, the world’s an astonishing place, Peter, don’t you think? Isn’t it astonishing that a thing as blind as a bat can fly rapidly around without banging its head on everything? Or an ugly, creepy-crawly caterpillar can turn itself into a beautiful butterfly? or a tiny little human cell can grow into a baby, and on to a boy as big as you, and then on to a great big man like me,nnnnn? And that cell is so small it can’t be seen by the naked eye! I think it’s all astonishing.”
“I suppose your eye that those trousers caught must have been a naked eye,” said Peter; “and the trousers thought it needed dressing.”
He though that was quite a good joke, and nearly added “Nnnnn?” afterwards.
Uncle Cecil thought it quite a good joke, too, and by the time they got home everyone was in a much better mood, and the rest of the day was as good as it ought to have been.
Uncle Cecil didn’t say anything, but he did have just one litle niggle. He couldn’t help being a bit astonished at how astonishing he had found those trousers, and rather feeling they seemed to have a life of their own. But it was just a thought, and he soon dismissed it. He might have been a bit more astonished if he had known what more astonishing effects they would have…