Read Mary Poppins Online

Authors: P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins (10 page)

"I
won't
be like the others. I tell you I won't. They," he jerked his head towards the Starling and Mary Poppins, "can say what they like. I'll never forget,
never]
"

Mary Poppins smiled, a secret, I-know-better-than-you sort of smile, all to herself.

"Nor I," answered Barbara. "Ever."

"Bless my tail-feathers — listen to them!" shrieked the Starling, as he put his wings on his hips and roared with mirth. "As if they could help forgetting! Why, in a month or two — three at the
most
—they won't even know what my name is — silly cuckoos! Silly, half-grown, featherless cuckoos! Ha! Ha! Ha!" And with another loud peal of laughter he spread his speckled wings and flew out of the window….

It was not very long afterwards that the teeth, after much trouble, came through as all teeth must, and the Twins had their first birthday.

The day after the birthday party the Starling, who had been away on holiday at Bournemouth, came back to Number Seventeen, Cherry-Tree Lane.

"Hullo, hullo, hullo! Here we are again!" he screamed joyfully, landing with a little wobble upon the window-sill.

"Well, how's the girl?" he enquired cheekily of Mary Poppins, cocking his little head on one side and regarding her with bright, amused, twinkling eyes.

"None the better for
your
asking," said Mary Poppins, tossing her head.

The Starling laughed.

"Same old Mary P.," he said. "No change out of
you\
How are the other ones — the cuckoos?" he asked, and looked across at Barbara's cot.

"Well, Barbarina," he began in his soft, wheedling voice, "anything for the old fellow today?"

"Be-lah-belah-belah-belah!" said Barbara, crooning gently as she continued to eat her arrowroot biscuit.

The Starling, with a start of surprise, hopped a little nearer.

"I said," he repeated more distinctly, "is there anything for the old fellow today, Barbie dear?"

"Ba-loo — ba-loo — ba-loo," murmured Barbara, staring at the ceiling as she swallowed the last sweet crumb.

The Starling stared at her.

"Ha!" he said suddenly, and turned and looked enquiringly at Mary Poppins. Her quiet glance met his in a long look.

Then with a darting movement the Starling flew over to John's cot and alighted on the rail. John had a large woolly lamb hugged close in his arms.

"What's my name? What's my name? What's my name?" cried the Starling in a shrill anxious voice.

"Er-umph!" said John, opening his mouth and putting the leg of the woolly lamb into it.

With a little shake of the head the Starling turned away.

"So — it's happened," he said quietly to Mary Poppins.

She nodded.

The Starling gazed dejectedly for a moment at the Twins. Then he shrugged his speckled shoulders.

"Oh, well — I knew it would. Always told 'em so. But they wouldn't believe it." He remained silent for a little while, staring into the cots. Then he shook himself vigorously.

"Well, well. I must be off. Back to my chimney. It will need a spring-cleaning, I'll be bound." He flew on to the window-sill and paused, looking back over his shoulder.

"It'll seem funny without them, though. Always liked talking to them — so I did. I shall miss them."

He brushed his wing quickly across his eyes.

"Crying?" jeered Mary Poppins. The Starling drew himself up.

"Crying? Certainly not. I have — er — a slight cold, caught on my return journey — that's all. Yes, a slight cold. Nothing serious." He darted up to the windowpane, brushed down his breast-feathers with his beak and then, "Cheerio!" he said perkily, and spread his wings and was gone….

CHAPTER 10

FULL MOON

ALL DAY LONG Mary Poppins had been in a hurry, and when she was in a hurry she was always cross.

Everything Jane did was bad, everything Michael did was worse. She even snapped at the Twins.

Jane and Michael kept out of her way as much as possible, for they knew that there were times when it was better not to be seen or heard by Mary Poppins.

"I wish we were invisible," said Michael, when Mary Poppins had told him that the very sight of him was more than any self-respecting person could be expected to stand.

"We shall be," said Jane, "if we go behind the sofa. We can count the money in our money-boxes, and she may be better after she's had her supper."

So they did that.

"Sixpence and four pennies — that's tenpence, and a halfpenny and a threepenny-bit," said Jane, counting up quickly.

"Four pennies and three farthings and — and that's all," sighed Michael, putting his money in a little heap.

"That'll do nicely for the poor-box," said Mary Poppins, looking over the arm of the sofa and sniffing.

"Oh no," said Michael reproachfully. "It's for myself. I'm saving."

"Huh — for one of those aeryoplanes, I suppose!" said Mary Poppins scornfully.

"No, for an elephant — a private one for myself, like Lizzie at the Zoo. I could take you for rides then," said Michael, half-looking and half-not-looking at her to see how she would take it.

"Humph," said Mary Poppins, "what an idea!" But they could see she was not quite so cross as before.

"I wonder," said Michael thoughtfully, "what happens in the Zoo at night, when everybody's gone home?"

"Care killed a cat," snapped Mary Poppins.

"I wasn't
caring,
I was only wondering," corrected Michael. "Do
you
know?" he enquired of Mary Poppins, who was whisking the crumbs off the table in double-quick time.

"One more question from you — and spit-spot, to bed you go!" she said, and began to tidy the Nursery so busily that she looked more like a whirlwind in a cap and apron than a human being.

"It's no good asking her. She knows everything, but she never tells," said Jane.

"What's the good of knowing if you don't tell anyone?" grumbled Michael, but he said it under his breath so that Mary Poppins couldn't hear….

Jane and Michael could never remember having been put to bed so quickly as they were that night. Mary Poppins blew out the light very early, and went away as hurriedly as though all the winds of the world were blowing behind her.

It seemed to them that they had been there no time, however, when they heard a low voice whispering at the door.

"Hurry, Jane and Michael!" said the voice. "Get some things on and hurry!"

They jumped out of their beds, surprised and startled.

"Come on," said Jane. "Something's happening." And she began to rummage for some clothes in the darkness.

"Hurry!" called the voice again.

"Oh dear, all I can find is my sailor hat and a pair of gloves!" said Michael, running round the room pulling at drawers and feeling along shelves.

"Those'll do. Put them on. It isn't cold. Come on."

Jane herself had only been able to find a little coat of John's, but she squeezed her arms into it and opened the door. There was nobody there, but they seemed to hear something hurrying away down the stairs. Jane and Michael followed. Whatever it was, or whoever it was, kept continually in front of them. They never saw it, but they had the distinct sensation of being led on and on by something that constantly beckoned them to follow. Presently they were in the Lane, their slippers making a soft hissing noise on the pavement as they scurried along.

"Hurry!" urged the voice again from a near-by corner, but when they turned it they could still see nothing. They began to run, hand in hand, following the voice down streets, through alley-ways, under arches and across Parks until, panting and breathless, they were brought to a standstill beside a large turnstile in a wall.

"Here you are!" said the voice.

"Where?" called Michael to it. But there was no reply. Jane moved towards the turnstile, dragging Michael by the hand.

"Look!" she said. "Don't you see where we are? It's the Zoo!"

A very bright full moon was shining in the sky and by its light Michael examined the iron grating and looked through the bars. Of course! How silly of him not to have known it was the Zoo!

"But how shall we get in?" he said. "We've no money."

"That's all right!" said a deep, gruff voice from within. "Special Visitors allowed in free tonight. Push the wheel, please!"

Jane and Michael pushed and were through the turnstile in a second.

"Here's your ticket," the gruff voice said, and looking up, they found that it came from a huge Brown Bear who was wearing a coat with brass buttons and a peaked cap on his head. In his paw were two pink tickets which he held out to the children.

"But we usually
give
tickets," said Jane.

"Usual is as usual does. Tonight you receive them," said the Bear, smiling.

Michael had been regarding him closely.

"I remember you," he said to the Bear. "I once gave you a tin of golden syrup."

"You did," said the Bear. "And you forgot to take the lid off. Do you know, I was more than ten days working at that lid? Be more careful in the future."

"But why aren't you in your cage? Are you always out at night?" said Michael.

"No — only when the Birthday falls on a Full Moon. But — you must excuse me. I must attend to the gate." And the Bear turned away and began to spin the handle of the turnstile again.

Jane and Michael, holding their tickets, walked on into the Zoo grounds. In the light of the full moon every tree and flower and shrub was visible, and they could see the houses and cages quite clearly.

"There seems to be a lot going on," observed Michael.

And, indeed, there was. Animals were running about in all the paths, sometimes accompanied by birds and sometimes alone. Two wolves ran past the children, talking eagerly to a very tall stork who was tip-toeing between them with dainty, delicate movements. Jane and Michael distinctly caught the words "Birthday" and "Full Moon" as they went by.

In the distance three camels were strolling along side by side, and not far away a beaver and an American vulture were deep in conversation. And they all seemed to the children to be discussing the same subject.

"Whose Birthday is it, I wonder?" said Michael, but Jane was moving ahead, gazing at a curious sight.

Just by the Elephant Stand a very large, very fat old gentleman was walking up and down on all fours, and on his back, on two small parallel seats, were eight monkeys going for a ride.

"Why, it's all upside down!" exclaimed Jane.

The old gentleman gave her an angry look as he went past.

"Upside down!" he snorted. "Me! Upside down? Certainly not. Gross insult!" The eight monkeys laughed rudely.

"Oh, please — I didn't mean you — but the whole thing," explained Jane, hurrying after him to apologise. "On ordinary days the animals carry human beings and now there's a human being carrying the animals. That's what I meant."

But the old gentleman, shuffling and panting, insisted that he had been insulted, and hurried away with the monkeys screaming on his back.

Jane saw it was no good following him, so she took Michael's hand and moved onwards. They were startled when a voice, almost at their feet, hailed them.

"Come on, you two! In you come. Let's see
you
dive for a bit of orange-peel you don't want." It was a bitter, angry voice, and looking down they saw that it came from a small black Seal who was leering at them from a moonlit pool of water.

"Come on, now — and see how
you
like it!" he said.

"But — but we can't swim!" said Michael.

"Can't help that!" said the Seal. "You should have thought of that before. Nobody ever bothers to find out whether I can swim or not. Eh, what? What's that?"

He spoke the last question to another Seal who had emerged from the water and was whispering in his ear.

"Who?" said the first Seal. "Speak up!"

The second Seal whispered again. Jane caught the words "Special Visitors — Friends of—" and then no more. The first Seal seemed disappointed, but he said politely enough to Jane and Michael:

"Oh, beg pardon. Pleased to meet you. Beg pardon." And he held out his flipper and shook hands limply with them both.

"Look where you're going, can't you?" he shouted, as something bumped into Jane. She turned quickly and gave a little frightened start as she beheld an enormous Lion. The eyes of the Lion brightened as he saw her.

"Oh, I say—" he began. "I didn't know it was you! This place is so crowded tonight and I'm in such a hurry to see the humans fed I'm afraid I didn't look where I was going. Coming along? You oughtn't to miss it, you know—"

"Perhaps," said Jane politely, "you'd show us the way." She was a little uncertain of the Lion, but he seemed kindly enough. "And after all," she thought, "everything is topsy-turvy tonight."

"Dee-lighted!" said the Lion in rather a mincing voice, and he offered her his arm. She took it, but to be on the safe side she kept Michael beside her. He was such a round, fat little boy, and after all, she thought, lions are lions—

"Does my mane look nice?" asked the Lion as they moved off. "I had it curled for the occasion."

Jane looked at it. She could see that it had been carefully oiled and combed into ringlets.

"Very," she said. "But — isn't it rather odd for a lion to care about such things? I thought—"

"What! My dear young lady, the Lion, as you know, is the King of the Beasts. He has to remember his position. And I, personally, am not likely to forget it. I believe a lion should
always
look his best no matter where he is. This way."

And with a graceful wave of his forepaw he pointed towards the Big Cat House and ushered them in at the entrance.

Jane and Michael caught their breaths at the sight that met their eyes. The great hall was thronged with animals. Some were leaning over the long bar that separated them from the cages, some were standing on the seats that rose in tiers opposite. There were panthers and leopards, wolves, tigers and antelopes; monkeys and hedgehogs, wombats, mountain goats and giraffes; and an enormous group composed entirely of kittiwakes and vultures.

"Splendid, isn't it?" said the Lion proudly. "Just like the dear old jungle days. But come along — we must get good places."

And he pushed his way through the crowd crying, "Gangway, gangway!" and dragging Jane and Michael after him. Presently, through a little clearing in the middle of the hall, they were able to get a glimpse of the cages.

"Why," said Michael, opening his mouth very wide, "they're full of human beings!"

And they were.

In one cage two large, middle-aged gentlemen in top-hats and striped trousers were prowling up and down, anxiously gazing through the bars as though they were waiting for something.

Children of all shapes and sizes, from babies in long clothes upwards, were scrambling about in another cage. The animals outside regarded these with great interest and some of them tried to make the babies laugh by thrusting their paws or their tails in through the bars. A giraffe stretched his long neck out over the heads of the other animals and let a little boy in a sailor-suit tickle its nose.

In a third cage three elderly ladies in raincoats and galoshes were imprisoned. One of them was knitting, but the other two were standing near the bars shouting at the animals and poking at them with their umbrellas.

"Nasty brutes. Go away. I want my tea!" screamed one of them.

"Isn't she funny?" said several of the animals, and they laughed loudly at her.

"Jane — look!" said Michael, pointing to the cage at the end of the row. "Isn't that—?"

"Admiral Boom!" said Jane, looking very surprised.

And Admiral Boom it was. He was ramping up and down in his cage, coughing, and blowing his nose, and spluttering with rage.

"Blast my gizzard! All hands to the Pump! Land, ho! Heave away there! Blast my gizzard!" shouted the Admiral. Every time he came near the bars a tiger prodded him gently with a stick and this made Admiral Boom swear dreadfully.

"But how did they all get in there?" Jane asked the Lion.

"Lost," said the Lion. "Or rather, left behind. These are the people who've dawdled and been left inside when the gates were shut. Got to put 'em somewhere, so we keep 'em here. He's dangerous — that one there! Nearly did for his keeper not long ago. Don't go near him!" And he pointed at Admiral Boom.

"Stand back, please, stand back! Don't crush! Make way, please!" Jane and Michael could hear several voices crying these words loudly.

"Ah — now they're going to be fed!" said the Lion, excitedly pressing forward into the crowd. "Here come the keepers."

Four Brown Bears, each wearing a peaked cap, were trundling trolleys of food along the little corridor that separated the animals from the cages.

"Stand back, there!" they said, whenever an animal got in the way. Then they opened a small door in each cage and thrust the food through on pronged forks.