Read Mary Poppins Online

Authors: P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins (5 page)

Andrew barked lazily, but did not move.

"What do you mean, Andrew? Come in at once!" said Miss Lark.

Andrew barked again.

"He says," put in Mary Poppins, "that he's not coming in."

Miss Lark turned and regarded her haughtily. "How do
you
know what my dog says, may I ask? Of course he will come in."

Andrew, however, merely shook his head and gave one or two low growls.

"He won't," said Mary Poppins. "Not unless his friend comes, too."

"Stuff and nonsense," said Miss Lark crossly. "That
can't
be what he says. As if I could have a great hulking mongrel like that inside my gate."

Andrew yapped three or four times.

"He says he means it," said Mary Poppins. "And what's more, he'll go and live with his friend unless his friend is allowed to come and live with him."

"Oh, Andrew, you can't — you can't, really — after all I've done for you and everything!" Miss Lark was nearly weeping.

Andrew barked and turned away. The other dog got up.

"Oh, he
does
mean it!" cried Miss Lark. "I see he does. He is going away." She sobbed a moment into her handkerchief, then she blew her nose and said:

"Very well, then, Andrew. I give in. This — this common dog can stay. On condition, of course, that he sleeps in the coal-cellar."

Another yap from Andrew.

"He insists, ma'am, that that won't do. His friend must have a silk cushion just like his and sleep in your room too. Otherwise he will go and sleep in the coal-cellar with his friend," said Mary Poppins.

"Andrew, how could you?" moaned Miss Lark. "I shall never consent to such a thing."

Andrew looked as though he were preparing to depart. So did the other dog.

"Oh, he's leaving me!" shrieked Miss Lark. "Very well, then, Andrew. It will be as you wish. He
shall
sleep in my room. But I shall never be the same again, never, never. Such a common dog!"

She wiped her streaming eyes and went on:

"I should never have thought it of you, Andrew. But I'll say no more, no matter what I think. And this — er — creature — I shall call Waif or Stray or—"

At that the other dog looked at Miss Lark very indignantly, and Andrew barked loudly.

"They say you must call him Willoughby and nothing else," said Mary Poppins. "Willoughby being his name."

"Willoughby! What a name! Worse and worse!" said Miss Lark despairingly. "What is he saying now?" For Andrew was barking again.

"He says that if he comes back you are never to make him wear overcoats or go to the Hairdresser's again — that's his last word," said Mary Poppins.

There was a pause.

"Very well," said Miss Lark at last. "But I warn you, Andrew, if you catch your death of cold — don't blame me!"

And with that she turned and walked haughtily up the steps, sniffing away the last of her tears.

Andrew cocked his head towards Willoughby as if to say: "Come on!" and the two of them waltzed side by side slowly up the garden path, waving their tails like banners, and followed Miss Lark into the house.

"He isn't a ninkypoop after all, you see," said Jane, as they went upstairs to the nursery and Tea.

"No," agreed Michael. "But how do you think Mary Poppins knew?"

"I don't know," said Jane. "And she'll never, never tell us. I am sure of that…"

CHAPTER 5

THE DANCING COW

JANE, WITH HER head tied up in Mary Poppins's bandanna handkerchief, was in bed with earache.

"What does it feel like?" Michael wanted to know.

"Like guns going off inside my head," said Jane.

"Cannons?"

"No, pop-guns."

"Oh," said Michael. And he almost wished he could have earache, too. It sounded so exciting.

"Shall I tell you a story out of one of the books?" said Michael, going to the bookshelf.

"No. I just couldn't bear it," said Jane, holding her ear with her hand.

"Well, shall I sit at the window and tell you what is happening outside?"

"Yes, do," said Jane.

So Michael sat all the afternoon on the window-seat telling her everything that occurred in the Lane. And sometimes his accounts were very dull and sometimes very exciting.

"There's Admiral Boom!" he said once. "He has come out of his gate and is hurrying down the Lane. Here he comes. His nose is redder than ever and he's wearing a top-hat. Now he is passing Next Door—"

"Is he saying 'Blast my gizzard!'?" enquired Jane.

"I can't hear. I expect so. There's Miss Lark's second housemaid in Miss Lark's garden. And Robertson Ay is in
our
garden, sweeping up the leaves and looking at her over the fence. He is sitting down now, having a rest."

"He has a weak heart," said Jane.

"How do you know?"

"He told me. He said his doctor said he was to do as little as possible. And I heard Daddy say if Robertson Ay does what his doctor told him to he'll sack him. Oh, how it bangs and
bangs
!" said Jane, clutching her ear again.

"Hull
oh
!" said Michael excitedly from the window.

"What is it?" cried Jane, sitting up. "Do tell me."

"A very extraordinary thing. There's a cow down in the Lane," said Michael, jumping up and down on the window-seat.

"A cow? A real cow — right in the middle of a town? How funny! Mary Poppins," said Jane, "there's a cow in the Lane, Michael says."

"Yes, and it's walking very slowly, putting its head over every gate and looking round as though it had lost something."

"I
wish
I could see it," said Jane mournfully.

"Look!" said Michael, pointing downwards as Mary Poppins came to the window. "A cow. Isn't that funny?"

Mary Poppins gave a quick, sharp glance down into the Lane. She started with surprise.

"Certainly not," she said, turning to Jane and Michael. "It's not funny at all. I know that cow. She was a great friend of my Mother's and I'll thank you to speak politely of her." She smoothed her apron and looked at them both very severely.

"Have you known her long?" enquired Michael gently, hoping that if he was particularly polite he would hear something more about the cow.

"Since before she saw the King," said Mary Poppins.

"And when was that?" asked Jane, in a soft encouraging voice.

Mary Poppins stared into space, her eyes fixed upon something that they could not see. Jane and Michael held their breath, waiting.

"It was long ago," said Mary Poppins, in a brooding, story-telling voice. She paused, as though she were remembering events that happened hundreds of years before that time. Then she went on dreamily, still gazing into the middle of the room, but without seeing anything.

The Red Cow — that's the name she went by. And very important and prosperous she was, too (so my Mother said). She lived in the best field in the whole district — a large one full of buttercups the size of saucers and dandelions rather larger than brooms. The field was all primrose-colour and gold with the buttercups and dandelions standing up in it like soldiers. Every time she ate the head off one soldier, another grew up in its place, with a green military coat and a yellow busby.

She had lived there always — she often told my Mother that she couldn't remember the time when she hadn't lived in that field. Her world was bounded by green hedges and the sky and she knew nothing of what lay beyond these.

The Red Cow was very respectable, she always behaved like a perfect lady and she knew What was What. To her a thing was either black or white — there was no question of it being grey or perhaps pink. People were good or they were bad — there was nothing in between. Dandelions were either sweet or sour — there were never any moderately nice ones.

She led a very busy life. Her mornings were taken up in giving lessons to the Red Calf, her daughter, and in the afternoon she taught the little one deportment and mooing and all the things a really well brought up calf should know. Then they had their supper, and the Red Cow showed the Red Calf how to select a good blade of grass from a bad one; and when her child had gone to sleep at night she would go into a corner of the field and chew the cud and think her own quiet thoughts.

All her days were exactly the same. One Red Calf grew up and went away and another came in its place. And it was natural that the Red Cow should imagine that her life would always be the same as it always had been — indeed, she felt that she could ask for nothing better than for all her days to be alike till she came to the end of them.

But at the very moment she was thinking these thoughts, adventure, as she afterwards told my Mother, was stalking her. It came upon her one night when the stars themselves looked like dandelions in the sky and the moon a great daisy among the stars.

On this night, long after the Red Calf was asleep, the Red Cow stood up suddenly and began to dance. She danced wildly and beautifully and in perfect time, though she had no music to go by. Sometimes it was a polka, sometimes a Highland Fling and sometimes a special dance that she made up out of her own head. And in between these dances she would curtsey and make sweeping bows and knock her head against the dandelions.

"Dear me!" said the Red Cow to herself, as she began on a Sailor's Hornpipe. "What an extraordinary thing! I always thought dancing improper, but it can't be since I myself am dancing. For I am a model cow."

And she went on dancing, and thoroughly enjoying herself. At last, however, she grew tired and decided that she had danced enough and that she would go to sleep. But, to her great surprise, she found that she could not stop dancing. When she went to lie down beside the Red Calf, her legs would not let her. They went on capering and prancing and, of course, carrying her with them. Round and round the field she went, leaping and waltzing and stepping on tip-toe.

"Dear me!" she murmured at intervals with a ladylike accent. "How very peculiar!" But she couldn't stop.

In the morning she was still dancing and the Red Calf had to take its breakfast of dandelions all by itself because the Red Cow could not remain still enough to eat.

All through the day she danced, up and down the meadow and round and round the meadow, with the Red Calf mooing piteously behind her. When the second night came, and she was still at it and still could not stop, she grew very worried. And at the end of a week of dancing she was nearly distracted.

"I must go and see the King about it," she decided, shaking her head.

So she kissed her Red Calf and told it to be good. Then she turned and danced out of the meadow and went to tell the King.

She danced all the way, snatching little sprays of green food from the hedges as she went, and every eye that saw her stared with astonishment. But none of them were more astonished than the Red Cow herself.

At last she came to the Palace where the King lived. She pulled the bell-rope with her mouth, and when the gate opened she danced through it and up the broad garden path till she came to the flight of steps that led to the King's throne.

Upon this the King was sitting, busily making a new set of Laws. His Secretary was writing them down in a little red note-book, one after another, as the King thought of them. There were Courtiers and Ladies-in-Waiting everywhere, all very gorgeously dressed and all talking at once.

"How many have I made today?" asked the King, turning to the Secretary. The Secretary counted the Laws he had written down in the red note-book.

"Seventy-two, your Majesty," he said, bowing low and taking care not to trip over his quill pen, which was a very large one.

"H'm. Not bad for an hour's work," said the King, looking very pleased with himself. "That's enough for today." He stood up and arranged his ermine cloak very tastefully.

"Order my coach. I must go to the Barber's," he said magnificently.

It was then that he noticed the Red Cow approaching. He sat down again and took up his sceptre.

"What have we here, ho?" he demanded, as the Red Cow danced to the foot of the steps.

"A Cow, your Majesty!" she answered simply.

"
What have we here, ho?
"

"I can see
that,
" said the King. "I still have my eyesight. But what do you want? Be quick, because I have an appointment with the Barber at ten. He won't wait for me longer than that and I
must
have my hair cut. And for goodness' sake stop jigging and jagging about like that!" he added irritably. "It makes me quite giddy."

"Quite giddy!" echoed all the Courtiers, staring.

"That's just my trouble, your Majesty. I
can't
stop!" said the Red Cow piteously.

"Can't stop? Nonsense!" said the King furiously. "Stop at
once\
I, the King, command you!"

"Stop at once! The King commands you!" cried all the Courtiers.

The Red Cow made a great effort. She tried so hard to stop dancing that every muscle and every rib stood out like mountain ranges all over her. But it was no good. She just went on dancing at the foot of the King's steps.

"I
have
tried, your Majesty. And I can't. I've been dancing now for seven days running. And I've had no sleep. And very little to eat. A white-thorn spray or two — that's all. So I've come to ask your advice."

"H'm — very curious," said the King, pushing the crown on one side and scratching his head.

"Very curious," said the Courtiers, scratching their heads, too.

"What does it feel like?" asked the King.

"Funny," said the Red Cow. "And yet," she paused, as if choosing her words, "it's rather a pleasant feeling, too. As if laughter were running up and down inside me."

"
Extraordinary,
" said the King, and he put his chin on his hand and stared at the Red Cow, pondering on what was the best thing to do.

Suddenly he sprang to his feet and said:

"Good gracious!"

"What is it?" cried all the Courtiers.

"Why, don't you see?" said the King, getting very excited and dropping his sceptre. "What an idiot I was not to have noticed it before. And what idiots
you
were!" He turned furiously upon the Courtiers. "Don't you see that there's a fallen star caught on her horn?"

"So there is!" cried the Courtiers, as they all suddenly noticed the star for the first time. And as they looked it seemed to them that the star grew brighter.

"That's what's wrong!" said the King. "Now, you Courtiers had better pull it off so that this — er — lady can stop dancing and have some breakfast. It's the star, madam, that is making you dance," he said to the Red Cow. "Now, come along, you!"

And he motioned to the Chief Courtier, who presented himself smartly before the Red Cow and began to tug at the star. It would not come off. The Chief Courtier was joined by one after another of the other Courtiers, until at last there was a long chain of them, each holding the man in front of him by the waist, and a tug-of-war began between the Courtiers and the star.

"Mind my head!" entreated the Red Cow.

"Pull harder!" roared the King.

They pulled harder. They pulled until their faces were red as raspberries. They pulled till they could pull no longer and all fell back, one on top of the other. The star did not move. It remained firmly fixed to the horn.

"Tch, tch, tch!" said the King. "Secretary, look in the Encyclopaedia and see what it says about cows with stars on their horns."

The Secretary knelt down and began to crawl under the throne. Presently he emerged, carrying a large green book which was always kept there in case the King wanted to know anything.

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