Read Mary Poppins Online

Authors: P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins (12 page)

"But how can tree be stone? A bird is not me. Jane is not a tiger," said Michael stoutly.

"You think not?" said the Hamadryad's hissing voice. "Look!" and he nodded his head towards the moving mass of creatures before them. Birds and animals were now swaying together, closely encircling Mary Poppins, who was rocking lightly from side to side. Backwards and forwards went the swaying crowd, keeping time together, swinging like the pendulum of a clock. Even the trees were bending and lifting gently, and the moon seemed to be rocking in the sky as a ship rocks on the sea.

"Bird and beast and stone and star — we are all one, all one—" murmured the Hamadryad, softly folding his hood about him as he himself swayed between the children.

"Child and serpent, star and stone — all one."

The hissing voice grew softer. The cries of the swaying animals dwindled and became fainter. Jane and Michael, as they listened, felt themselves gently rocking too, or as if they were being rocked….

Soft, shaded light fell on their faces.

"Asleep and dreaming — both of them," said a whispering voice. Was it the voice of the Hamadryad, or their Mother's voice as she tucked them in, on her usual nightly round of the Nursery?

"Good." Was that the Brown Bear gruffly speaking, or Mr. Banks?

Jane and Michael, rocking and swaying, could not tell… could not tell….

"I had such a strange dream last night," said Jane, as she sprinkled sugar over her porridge at breakfast. "I dreamed we were at the Zoo and it was Mary Poppins's birthday, and instead of animals in the cages there were human beings, and all the animals were outside—"

"Why, that's
my
dream.
I
dreamed that, too," said Michael, looking very surprised.

"We can't both have dreamed the same thing," said Jane. "Are you sure? Do you remember the Lion who curled his mane and the Seal who wanted us to—"

"Dive for orange-peel?" said Michael. "Of course I do! And the babies inside the cage, and the Penguin who couldn't find a rhyme and the Hamadryad—"

"Then it couldn't have been a dream at all," said Jane emphatically. "It must have been
true.
And if it was—" She looked curiously at Mary Poppins, who was boiling the milk.

"Mary Poppins," she said, "could Michael and I have dreamed the same dream?"

"You and your dreams!" said Mary Poppins, sniffing. "Eat your porridge, please, or you will have no buttered toast."

But Jane would not be put off. She
had
to know.

"Mary Poppins," she said, looking very hard at her, "were you at the Zoo last night?"

Mary Poppins's eyes popped.

"At the Zoo? In the middle of the night? Me? A quiet, orderly person who knows that early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise?"

"But
were
you?" Jane persisted.

"I have all I need of Zoos in this nursery, thank you," said Mary Poppins, uppishly. "Hyenas, orangoutangs, all of you. Sit up straight, and no more nonsense."

Jane poured out her milk.

"Then it must have been a dream," she said, "after all."

But Michael was staring, open-mouthed, at Mary Poppins, who was now making toast at the fire.

"Jane," he said in a shrill whisper, "Jane, look!" He pointed, and Jane, too, saw what he was looking at.

Round her waist Mary Poppins was wearing a belt made of golden scaly snake-skin, and on it was written in curving, snaky writing:

"A Present From the Zoo."

CHAPTER 11

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

I SMELL SNOW," said Jane, as they got out of the Bus.

"I smell Christmas trees," said Michael.

"I smell fried fish," said Mary Poppins.

And then there was no time to smell anything else, for the Bus had stopped outside the Largest Shop in the World, and they were all going into it to do their Christmas shopping.

"May we look at the windows first?" said Michael, hopping excitedly on one leg.

"I don't mind," said Mary Poppins with surprising mildness. Not that Jane and Michael were
really
very surprised, for they knew that the thing Mary Poppins liked doing best of all was looking in shop windows. They knew, too, that while they saw toys and books and holly-boughs and plum cakes, Mary Poppins saw nothing but herself reflected there.

"Look, aeroplanes!" said Michael, as they stopped before a window in which toy aeroplanes were careering through the air on wires.

"And look there!" said Jane. "Two tiny black babies in one cradle — are they chocolate, do you think, or china?"

"Just look at
you!
" said Mary Poppins to herself, particularly noticing how nice her new gloves with the fur tops looked. They were the first pair she had ever had, and she thought she would never grow tired of looking at them in the shop windows with her hands inside them. And having examined the reflection of the gloves she went carefully over her whole person — coat, hat, scarf and shoes, with herself inside — and she thought that, on the whole, she had never seen anybody looking quite so smart and distinguished.

But the winter afternoons, she knew, were short, and they had to be home by tea-time. So with a sigh she wrenched herself away from her glorious reflection.

"Now we will go in," she said, and annoyed Jane and Michael very much by lingering at the Haberdashery counter and taking great trouble over the choice of a reel of black cotton.

"The Toy Department," Michael reminded her, "is in
that
direction."

"I know, thank you. Don't point," she said, and paid her bill with aggravating slowness.

But at last they found themselves alongside Father Christmas, who went to the greatest trouble in helping them choose their presents.

"That will do nicely for Daddy," said Michael, selecting a clockwork train with special signals. "I will take care of it for him when he goes to the City."

"I think I will get this for Mother," said Jane, pushing a small doll's perambulator which, she felt sure, her Mother had always wanted. "Perhaps she will lend it to me sometimes."

After that, Michael chose a packet of hairpins for each of the Twins and a Meccano set for his Mother, a mechanical beetle for Robertson Ay, a pair of spectacles for Ellen whose eyesight was perfectly good, and some bootlaces for Mrs. Brill who always wore slippers.

Jane, after some hesitation, eventually decided that a white dickey would be just the thing for Mr. Banks, and she bought
Robinson Crusoe
for the Twins to read when they grew up.

"Until they are old enough, I can read it myself," she said. "I am sure they will lend it to me."

Mary Poppins then had a great argument with Father Christmas over a cake of soap.

"Why not Lifebuoy?" said Father Christmas, trying to be helpful and looking anxiously at Mary Poppins, for she was being rather snappy.

"I prefer Vinolia," she said haughtily, and she bought a cake of that.

"My goodness," she said, smoothing the fur on her right-hand glove. "I wouldn't half like a cup of tea!"

"Would you quarter like it, though?" asked Michael.

"There is no call for you to be funny," said Mary Poppins, in such a voice that Michael felt that, indeed, there wasn't.

"And it is time to go home."

There! She had said the very words they had been hoping she wouldn't say. That was so like Mary Poppins.

"Just five minutes longer," pleaded Jane.

"Ah do, Mary Poppins! You look so nice in your new gloves," said Michael wilily.

But Mary Poppins, though she appreciated the remark, was not taken in by it.

"No," she said, and closed her mouth with a snap and stalked towards the doorway.

"Oh, dear!" said Michael to himself, as he followed her, staggering under the weight of his parcels. "If only she would say 'Yes' for once!"

But Mary Poppins hurried on and they had to go with her. Behind them Father Christmas was waving his hand, and the Fairy Queen on the Christmas tree and all the other dolls were smiling sadly and saying, "Take me home, somebody!" and the aeroplanes were all beating their wings and saying in bird-like voices, "Let me fly! Ah, do let me fly!"

Jane and Michael hurried away, closing their ears to those enchanting voices, and feeling that the time in the Toy Department had been unreasonably and cruelly short.

And then, just as they came towards the shop entrance, the adventure happened.

They were just about to spin the glass door and go out, when they saw coming towards it from the pavement the running, flickering figure of a child.

"Look!" said Jane and Michael both together.

"My gracious, goodness, glory me!" exclaimed Mary Poppins, and stood still.

And well she might, for the child had practically no clothes on, only a light wispy strip of blue stuff that looked as though she had torn it from the sky to wrap round her naked body.

It was evident that she did not know much about spinning doors, for she went round and round inside it, pushing it so that it should spin faster and laughing as it caught her and sent her whirling round and round. Then suddenly, with a quick little movement she freed herself, sprang away from it and landed inside the shop.

She paused on tip-toe, turning her head this way and that as though she were looking for someone. Then, with a start of pleasure, she caught sight of Jane and Michael and Mary Poppins as they stood, half-hidden behind an enormous fir-tree, and ran towards them joyously.

"Ah,
there
you are! Thank you for waiting. I'm afraid I'm a little late," said the child, stretching out her bright arms to Jane and Michael. "Now," she cocked her head on one side, "aren't you glad to see me? Say yes, say yes!"

"Yes," said Jane smiling, for nobody, she felt, could help being glad to see anyone so bright and happy. "But who are you?" she enquired curiously.

"What is your name?" said Michael, gazing at her.

"Who am I? What is my name? Don't say you don't know me? Oh, surely, surely—" The child seemed very surprised and a little disappointed. She turned suddenly to Mary Poppins and pointed her finger.

"
She
knows me. Don't you? I'm sure you know me!"

There was a curious look on Mary Poppins's face. Jane and Michael could see blue fires in her eyes as though they reflected the blue of the child's dress and her brightness.

"Does it — does it," she whispered, "begin with an M?"

The child hopped on one leg delightedly.

"Of course it does — and you know it. M-A-I-A. I'm Maia." She turned to Jane and Michael.

"
Now
you recognise me, don't you? I'm the second of the Pleiades. Electra — she's the eldest — couldn't come because she's minding Merope. Merope's the baby, and the other five of us come in between — all girls. Our Mother was very disappointed at first not to have a boy, but now she doesn't mind."

The child danced a few steps and burst out again in her excited little voice:

"Oh, Jane! Oh, Michael — I've often watched you from the sky, and now I'm actually talking to you. There is nothing about you I don't know. Michael doesn't like having his hair brushed, and Jane has a thrush's egg in a jam-jar on the mantelpiece. And your Father is going bald on the top. I like him. It was he who first introduced us — don't you remember? He said one evening last summer:

'"Look, there are the Pleiades. Seven stars all together, the smallest in the sky. But there is one of them you can't see.'

"He meant Merope, of course. She's still too young to stay up all night. She's such a baby that she has to go to bed very early. Some of them up there call us the Little Sisters, and sometimes we are called the Seven Doves, but Orion calls us 'You girls' and takes us hunting with him."

"But what are you doing here?" demanded Michael, still very surprised.

Maia laughed. "Ask Mary Poppins. I am sure she knows."

"Tell us, Mary Poppins," said Jane.

"Well," said Mary Poppins snappily, "I suppose you two aren't the only ones in the world that want to go shopping at Christmas—"

"That's it," squealed Maia delightedly. "She's quite right. I've come down to buy toys for them all. We can't get away very often, you know, because we're so busy making and storing up the Spring Rains. That's the special job of the Pleiades. However, we drew lots and I won. Wasn't it lucky?"

She hugged herself happily.

"Now, come on. I can't stay very long. And you must come back and help me choose."

And dancing about them, running now to one and now to another, she shepherded them back to the Toy Department. As they went the crowds of shoppers stood and stared at them and dropped their parcels with astonishment.

"So cold for her. What can her parents be thinking of!" said the Mothers, with voices that were suddenly soft and gentle.

"I mean to say—!" said the Fathers. "It shouldn't be allowed. Must write to
The Times
about it." And their voices were unnaturally gruff and gritty.

The shop-walkers behaved curiously, too. As the little group passed they bowed to Maia as though she were a Queen.

But none of them — not Jane, nor Michael, nor Mary Poppins, nor Maia — noticed nor heard anything extraordinary. They were too busy with their own extraordinary adventure.

"Here we are!" said Maia, as she pranced into the Toy Department. "Now, what shall we choose?"

An Assistant, with a start, bowed respectfully as soon as he saw her.

"I want something for each of my sisters — six of them. You must help me, please," said Maia, smiling at him.

"Certainly, madam," said the Assistant agreeably.

"First — my eldest sister," said Maia. "She's very domestic. What about that little stove with the silver saucepans? Yes. And that striped broom. We are so troubled with star-dust, and she will love having that to sweep it up with."

The Assistant began wrapping the things in coloured paper.

"Now for Taygete. She likes dancing. Don't you think, Jane, a skipping-rope would be just the thing for her? You'll tie them carefully, won't you?" she said to the Assistant. "I have a long way to go."

She fluttered on among the toys, never standing still for a moment, but walking with a light quicksilver step, as though she were still twinkling in the sky.

Mary Poppins and Jane and Michael could not take their eyes off her as she flickered from one of them to another asking their advice.

"Then there's Alcyone. She's difficult. She's so quiet and thoughtful and never seems to want anything. A book, do you think, Mary Poppins? What is this Family — the
Swiss-Robinsons
? I think she would like that. And if she doesn't, she can look at the pictures. Wrap it up!"

She handed the book to the Assistant.

"I know what Celaeno wants," she went on. "A hoop. She can bowl it across the sky in the day-time and make a circle of it to spin about her at night. She'll love that red and blue one." The Assistant bowed again and began to wrap up the hoop.

"Now there are only the two little ones left. Michael, what would you advise for Sterope?"

"What about a top?" said Michael, giving the question his earnest consideration.

"A humming-top?
What
a good idea! She will love to watch it go waltzing and singing down the sky. And what do you think for Merope, the baby, Jane?"

"John and Barbara," said Jane shyly, "have rubber ducks!"

Maia gave a delighted squeak and hugged herself.

"Oh, Jane, how wise you are! I should never have thought of that. A rubber duck for Merope, please — a blue one with yellow eyes."

The Assistant tied up the parcels, while Maia ran round him, pushing at the paper, giving a tug to the string to make sure that it was firmly knotted.

"That's right," she said. "You see, I mustn't drop anything."

Michael, who had been staring steadily at her ever since she first appeared, turned and said in a loud whisper to Mary Poppins:

"But she has no purse. Who will pay for the toys?"

"None of your business," snapped Mary Poppins. "And it's rude to whisper." But she began to fumble busily in her pocket.

"What did you say?" demanded Maia with round, surprised eyes. "Pay? Nobody will pay. There is nothing to pay — is there?"

She turned her shining gaze upon the Assistant.

"Nothing at all, madam," he assured her, as he put the parcels into her arms and bowed again.

"I thought not. You see," she said, turning to Michael, "the whole point of Christmas is that things should be
given
away, isn't it? Besides, what could I pay with? We have no money up there." And she laughed at the mere suggestion of such a thing.

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