Read Mary Poppins Online

Authors: P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins (13 page)

"Now we must go," she went on, taking Michael's arm. "We must all go home. It's very late, and I heard your Mother telling you that you must be home in time for tea. Besides, I must get back, too. Come." And drawing Michael and Jane and Mary Poppins after her, she led the way through the shop and out by the spinning door.

Outside the entrance Jane suddenly said:

"But there's no present for
her.
She's bought something for all the others and nothing for herself. Maia has no Christmas present." And she began to search hurriedly through the parcels she was carrying, to see what she could spare for Maia.

Mary Poppins gave a quick glance into the window beside her. She saw herself shining back at her, very smart, very interesting, her hat on straight, her coat nicely pressed and her new gloves just completing the whole effect.

"You be quiet," she said to Jane in her snappiest voice. At the same time she whipped off her new gloves and thrust one on to each of Maia's hands.

"There!" she said gruffly. "It's cold today. You'll be glad of them."

Maia looked at the gloves, hanging very large and almost empty upon her hands. She said nothing, but moving close to Mary Poppins she reached up her spare arm and put it round Mary Poppins's neck and kissed her. A long look passed between them, and they smiled as people smile who understand each other. Maia turned then, and with her hand lightly touched the cheeks of Jane and Michael. And for a moment they all stood in a ring at the windy corner gazing at each other as though they were enchanted.

"I've been so happy," said Maia softly, breaking the silence. "Don't forget me, will you?"

"
'Ere! Come down! We can't 'ave this kind of thing!
"

They shook their heads.

"Good-bye," said Maia.

"Good-bye," said the others, though it was the last thing they wanted to say.

Then Maia, standing poised on tip-toe, lifted up her arms and sprang into the air. She began to walk up it, step by step, climbing ever higher, as though there were invisible stairs cut into the grey sky. She waved to them as she went, and the three of them waved back.

"What on earth is happening?" somebody said close by.

"But it's not possible!" said another voice.

"Preposterous!" cried a third. For a crowd was gathering to witness the extraordinary sight of Maia returning home.

A Policeman pushed his way through the throng, scattering the people with his truncheon.

"Naow, naow. Wot's all this? A Naccident or wot?"

He looked up, his gaze following that of the rest of the crowd.

"'Ere!" he called angrily, shaking his fist at Maia. "Come down! Wot you doing up there? 'Olding up the traffic and all. Come down! We can't 'ave this kind of thing — not in a public place. 'Tisn't natural!"

Far away they heard Maia laughing and saw something bright dangling from her arm. It was the skipping-rope. After all, the parcel had come undone.

For a moment longer they saw her prancing up the airy stair, and then a bank of cloud hid her from their eyes. They knew she was behind it, though, because of the brightness that shone about its thick dark edge.

"Well, I'm jiggered!" said the Policeman, staring upwards, and scratching his head under its helmet.

"And well you might be!" said Mary Poppins, with such a ferocious snap that anyone else might have thought she was really cross with the Policeman. But Jane and Michael were not taken in by that snap. For they could see in Mary Poppins's eyes something that, if she were anybody else but Mary Poppins, might have been described as tears….

"Could we have imagined it?" said Michael, when they got home and told the story to their Mother.

"Perhaps," said Mrs. Banks. "We imagine strange and lovely things, my darling."

"But what about Mary Poppins's gloves?" said Jane. "We saw her give them away to Maia. And she's not wearing them now. So it must be true!"

"What, Mary Poppins!" exclaimed Mrs. Banks. "Your best fur-topped gloves! You gave them away!"

Mary Poppins sniffed.

"My gloves are my gloves and I do what I like with them!" she said haughtily.

And she straightened her hat and went down to the Kitchen to have her tea….

CHAPTER 12

WEST WIND

IT WAS THE first day of Spring.

Jane and Michael knew this at once, because they heard Mr. Banks singing in his bath, and there was only one day in the year when he did that.

They always remembered that particular morning. For one thing, it was the first time they were allowed to come downstairs for breakfast, and for another Mr. Banks lost his black bag. So that the day began with two extraordinary happenings.

"Where is my
BAG
?" shouted Mr. Banks, turning round and round in the hall like a dog chasing its tail.

And everybody else began running round and round too — Ellen and Mrs. Brill and the children. Even Robertson Ay made a special effort and turned round twice. At last Mr. Banks discovered the bag himself in his study, and he rushed into the hall with it, holding it aloft.

"Now," he said, as though he were delivering a sermon, "my bag is always kept in one place. Here. On the umbrella-stand. Who put it in the study?" he roared.

"You did, my dear, when you took the Income Tax papers out of it last night," said Mrs. Banks.

Mr. Banks gave her such a hurt look that she wished she had been less tactless and had said she had put it there herself.

"Humph — Urrumph!" he said, blowing his nose very hard and taking his overcoat from its peg. He walked with it to the front door.

"Hullo," he said more cheerfully, "the Parrot TUlips are in bud!" He went into the garden and sniffed the air. "H'm, wind's in the West, I think." He looked down towards Admiral Boom's house where the telescope weathercock swung. "I thought so," he said. "Westerly weather. Bright and balmy. I won't take an overcoat."

And with that he picked up his bag and his bowler hat and hurried away to the City.

"Did you hear what he said?" Michael grabbed Jane's arm.

She nodded. "The wind's in the West," she said slowly.

Neither of them said any more, but there was a thought in each of their minds that they wished was not there.

They forgot it soon, however, for everything seemed to be as it always was, and the Spring sunlight lit up the house so beautifully that nobody remembered it needed a coat of paint and new wall-papers. On the contrary, they all found themselves thinking that it was the best house in Cherry-Tree Lane.

But trouble began after luncheon.

Jane had gone down to dig in the garden with Robertson Ay. She had just sown a row of radish-seed when she heard a great commotion in the Nursery and the sound of hurrying footsteps on the stairs. Presently Michael appeared, very red in the face and panting loudly.

"Look, Jane, look!" he cried, and held out his hand. Within it lay Mary Poppins's compass, with the disc frantically swinging round the arrow as it trembled in Michael's shaking hand.

"The compass?" said Jane, and looked at him questioningly.

Michael suddenly burst into tears.

"She gave it to me," he wept. "She said I could have it all for myself now. Oh, oh, there must be something wrong! What is going to happen? She has never given me anything before."

"Perhaps she was only being nice," said Jane to soothe him, but in her heart she felt as disturbed as Michael was. She knew very well that Mary Poppins never wasted time in being nice.

And yet, strange to say, during that afternoon Mary Poppins never said a cross word. Indeed, she hardly said a word at all. She seemed to be thinking very deeply, and when they asked questions she answered them in a far-away voice. At last Michael could bear it no longer.

"Oh, do be cross, Mary Poppins! Do be cross again! It is not like you. Oh, I feel so anxious." And indeed, his heart felt heavy with the thought that something, he did not quite know what, was about to happen at Number Seventeen, Cherry-Tree Lane.

"Trouble trouble and it will trouble you!" retorted Mary Poppins crossly, in her usual voice.

And immediately he felt a little better.

"Perhaps it's only a feeling," he said to Jane. "Perhaps everything is all right and I'm just imagining — don't you think so, Jane?"

"Probably," said Jane slowly. But she was thinking hard and her heart felt tight in her body.

The wind grew wilder towards evening, and blew in little gusts about the house. It went puffing and whistling down the chimneys, slipping in through the cracks under the windows, turning the Nursery carpet up at the corners.

Mary Poppins gave them their supper and cleared away the things, stacking them neatly and methodically. Then she tidied up the Nursery and put the kettle on the hob.

"There!" she said, glancing round the room to see that everything was all right. She was silent for a minute. Then she put one hand lightly on Michael's head and the other on Jane's shoulder.

"Now," she said, "I am just going to take the shoes down for Robertson Ay to clean. Behave yourselves, please, till I come back." She went out and shut the door quietly behind her.

Suddenly, as she went, they both felt they must run after her, but something seemed to stop them. They remained quiet, with their elbows on the table waiting for her to come back. Each was trying to reassure the other without saying anything.

"How silly we are," said Jane presently. "Everything's all right." But she knew that she said it more to comfort Michael than because she thought it was true.

The Nursery clock ticked loudly from the mantelpiece. The fire flickered and crackled and slowly died down. They still sat there at the table, waiting.

At last Michael said uneasily: "She's been gone a very long time, hasn't she?"

The wind whistled and cried about the house as if in reply. The clock went on ticking its solemn double note.

Suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of the front door shutting with a loud bang.

"Michael!" said Jane, starting up.

"Jane!" said Michael, with a white, anxious look on his face.

They listened. Then they ran quickly to the window and looked out.

Down below, just outside the front door, stood Mary Poppins, dressed in her coat and hat, with her carpet bag in one hand and her umbrella in the other. The wind was blowing wildly about her, tugging at her skirt, tilting her hat rakishly to one side. But it seemed to Jane and Michael that she did not mind, for she smiled as though she and the wind understood each other.

She paused for a moment on the step and glanced back towards the front door. Then with a quick movement she opened the umbrella, though it was not raining, and thrust it over her head.

The wind, with a wild cry, slipped under the umbrella, pressing it upwards as though trying to force it out of Mary Poppins's hand. But she held on tightly, and that, apparently, was what the wind wanted her to do, for presently it lifted the umbrella higher into the air and Mary Poppins from the ground. It carried her lightly so that her toes just grazed along the garden path. Then it lifted her over the front gate and swept her upwards towards the branches of the cherry-trees in the Lane.

"She's going, Jane, she's going!" cried Michael, weeping.

"Quick!" cried Jane. "Let us get the T\vins. They must see the last of her." She had no doubt now, nor had Michael, that Mary Poppins had gone for good because the wind had changed.

They each seized a Twin and rushed back to the window.

Mary Poppins was in the upper air now, floating away over the cherry-trees and the roofs of the houses, holding tightly to the umbrella with one hand and to the carpet bag with the other.

The Twins began to cry quietly.

With their free hands Jane and Michael opened the window and made one last effort to stay Mary Poppins's flight.

"Mary Poppins!" they cried. "Mary Poppins, come back!"

But she either did not hear or deliberately took no notice. For she went sailing on and on, up into the cloudy, whistling air, till at last she was wafted away over the hill and the children could see nothing but the trees bending and moaning under the wild west wind….

"She did what she said she would, anyway. She stayed till the wind changed," said Jane, sighing and turning sadly from the window. She took John to his cot and put him into it. Michael said nothing, but as he brought Barbara back and tucked her into bed he was sniffing uncomfortably.

Floating away over the roofs of the houses

"I wonder," said Jane, "if we'll ever see her again?"

Suddenly they heard voices on the stairs.

"Children, children!" Mrs. Banks was calling as she opened the door. "Children — I am very cross. Mary Poppins has left us—"

"Yes," said Jane and Michael.

"You knew, then?" said Mrs. Banks, rather surprised. "Did she tell you she was going?"

They shook their heads, and Mrs. Banks went on:

"It's outrageous. One minute here and gone the next. Not even an apology. Simply said, 'I'm going!' and off she went. Anything more preposterous, more thoughtless, more discourteous — What is it, Michael?" She broke off crossly, for Michael had grasped her skirt in his hands and was shaking her. "What
is
it, child?"

"Did she say she'd come back?" he cried, nearly knocking his Mother over. "Tell me — did she?"

"You will
not
behave like a Red Indian, Michael," she said, loosening his hold. "I don't remember
what
she said, except that she was going. But I certainly shan't have her back if she does want to come. Leaving me high and dry with nobody to help me and without a word of notice."

"Oh, Mother!" said Jane reproachfully.

"You are a very cruel woman," said Michael, clenching his fist, as though at any minute he would have to strike her.

"Children! I'm ashamed of you — really I am! To want back anybody who has treated your Mother so badly. I'm utterly shocked."

Jane burst into tears.

"Mary Poppins is the only person I want in the world!" Michael wailed, and flung himself on to the floor.

"Really, children, really! I don't understand you. Do be good, I beg of you. There's nobody to look after you tonight. I have to go out to dinner and it's Ellen's Day Off. I shall have to send Mrs. Brill up." And she kissed them absentmindedly, and went away with an anxious little line on her forehead….

"Well, if I ever did! Her going away and leaving you poor dear children in the lurch like that," said Mrs. Brill, a moment later, bustling in and setting to work on them.

"A heart of stone, that's what that girl had
and
no mistake, or my name's not Clara Brill. Always keeping herself to herself, too, and not even a lace handkerchief or a hatpin to remember her by. Get up, will you please, Master Michael!" Mrs. Brill went on, panting heavily.

"How we stood her so long, I
don't
know — with her airs and graces and all. What a lot of buttons, Miss Jane! Stand still, do now, and let me undress you, Master Michael. Plain she was, too, nothing much to look at. Indeed, all things considered, I don't know that we won't be better off, after all. Now, Miss Jane, where's your nightgown — why, what's this under your pillow—?"

Mrs. Brill had drawn out a small nobbly parcel.

"What is it? Give it to me — give it," said Jane, trembling with excitement, and she took it from Mrs. Brill's hands very quickly. Michael came and stood near her and watched her undo the string and tear away the brown paper. Mrs. Brill, without waiting to see what emerged from the package, went in to the Twins.

The last wrapping fell to the floor and the thing that was in the parcel lay in Jane's hand.

"It's her picture," she said in a whisper, looking closely at it.

And it was!

Inside a little curly frame was a painting of Mary Poppins, and underneath it was written, "Mary Poppins by Bert."

"That's the Match-Man — he did it," said Michael, and took it in his hand so that he could have a better look.

Jane found suddenly that there was a letter attached to the painting. She unfolded it carefully. It ran:

DEAR JANE,

Michael had the compass so the picture is for you. Au revoir.

MARY POPPINS

She read it out loud till she came to the words she couldn't understand.

"Mrs. Brill!" she called. "What does 'au revoir' mean?"

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