Read Mary Poppins Online

Authors: P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins (6 page)

He turned the pages.

"There's nothing at all, your Majesty, except the story of the Cow Who Jumped Over the Moon, and you know all about that."

The King rubbed his chin, because that helped him to think.

He sighed irritably and looked at the Red Cow.

"All I can say," he said, "is that
you'd
better try that too."

"Try what?" said the Red Cow.

"Jumping over the moon. It might have an effect. Worth trying, anyway."

"Me?" said the Red Cow, with an outraged stare.

"Yes, you — who else?" said the King impatiently. He was anxious to get to the Barber's.

"Sire," said the Red Cow, "I beg you to remember that I am a decent, respectable animal and have been taught from my infancy that jumping was no occupation for a lady."

The King stood up and shook his sceptre at her.

"Madam," he said, "you came here for my advice and I have given it to you. Do you want to go on dancing for ever? Do you want to go hungry for ever? Do you want to go sleepless for ever?"

The Red Cow thought of the lush sweet taste of dandelions. She thought of meadow grass and how soft it was to lie on. She thought of her weary capering legs and how nice it would be to rest them. And she said to herself: "Perhaps, just for once, it wouldn't matter and nobody — except the King — need know."

"How high do you suppose it is?" she said aloud as she danced.

The King looked up at the Moon.

"At least a mile, I should think," said he.

The Red Cow nodded. She thought so, too. For a moment she considered, and then she made up her mind.

"I never thought that I should come to this, your Majesty. Jumping — and over the moon at that. But — I'll try it," she said and curtseyed gracefully to the throne.

"Good," said the King pleasantly, realising that he would be in time for the Barber, after all. "Follow me!"

He led the way into the garden, and the Red Cow and the Courtiers followed him.

"Now," said the King, when he reached the open lawn, "when I blow the whistle — jump!"

He took a large golden whistle from his waistcoat pocket and blew into it lightly to make sure there was no dust in it.

The Red Cow danced at attention.

"Now — one!" said the King.

"Two!"

"Three!"

Then he blew the whistle.

The Red Cow, drawing in her breath, gave one huge tremendous jump and the earth fell away beneath her. She could see the figures of the King and the Courtiers growing smaller and smaller until they disappeared below. She herself shot upwards through the sky, with the stars spinning around her like great golden plates, and presently, in blinding light, she felt the cold rays of the moon upon her. She shut her eyes as she went over it, and as the dazzling gleam passed behind her and she bent her head towards the earth again, she felt the star slip down her horn. With a great rush it fell off and went rolling down the sky. And it seemed to her that as it disappeared into the darkness great chords of music came from it and echoed through the air.

In another minute the Red Cow had landed on the earth again. To her great surprise she found that she was not in the King's garden but in her own dandelion field.

And she had stopped dancing! Her feet were as steady as though they were made of stone and she walked as sedately as any other respectable cow. Quietly and serenely she moved across the field, beheading her golden soldiers as she went to greet the Red Calf.

"I'm so glad you're back!" said the Red Calf. "I've been
so
lonely."

The Red Cow kissed it and fell to munching the meadow. It was her first good meal for a week. And by the time her hunger was satisfied she had eaten up several regiments. After that she felt better. She soon began to live her life just exactly as she had lived it before.

At first she enjoyed her quiet regular habits very much, and was glad to be able to eat her breakfast without dancing and to lie down in the grass and sleep at night instead of curtseying to the moon until the morning.

But after a little she began to feel uncomfortable and dissatisfied. Her dandelion field and her Red Calf were all very well, but she wanted something else and she couldn't think what it was. At last she realised that she was missing her star. She had grown so used to dancing and to the happy feeling the star had given her that she wanted to do a Sailor's Hornpipe and to have the star on her horn again.

She fretted, she lost her appetite, her temper was atrocious. And she frequently burst into tears for no reason at all. Eventually, she went to my Mother and told her the whole story and asked her advice.

"Good gracious, my dear!" my Mother said to her. "You don't suppose that only one star ever fell out of the sky! Billions fall every night, I'm told. But they fall in different places, of course. You can't expect two stars to drop in the same field in one lifetime."

"Then, you think — if I moved about a bit—?" the Red Cow began, a happy eager look coming into her eyes.

"If it were me," said my Mother, "I'd go and look for one."

"I will," said the Red Cow joyously, "I will indeed."

Mary Poppins paused.

"And that, I suppose, is why she was walking down Cherry-Tree Lane," Jane prompted gently.

"Yes," whispered Michael, "she was looking for her star."

Mary Poppins sat up with a little start. The intent look had gone from her eyes and the stillness from her body.

"Come down from that window at once, sir!" she said crossly. "I am going to turn on the lights." And she hurried across the landing to the electric light switch.

"Michael!" said Jane in a careful whisper. "Just have one look and see if the cow's still there."

Hurriedly Michael peered out through the gathering dusk.

"Quickly!" said Jane. "Mary Poppins will be back in one minute. Can you see her?"

"No-o-o," said Michael, staring out. "Not a sign of her. She's gone."

"I do hope she finds it!" said Jane, thinking of the Red Cow roaming through the world looking for a star to stick on her horn.

"So do I," said Michael as, at the sound of Mary Poppins's returning footsteps, he hurriedly pulled down the blind….

CHAPTER 6

BAD TUESDAY (Revised version)

IT WAS NOT very long afterwards that Michael woke up one morning with a curious feeling inside him. He knew, the moment he opened his eyes, that something was wrong but he was not quite sure what it was.

"What is today, Mary Poppins?" he enquired, pushing the bedclothes away from him.

"Tuesday," said Mary Poppins. "Go and turn on your bath. Hurry!" she said, as he made no effort to move. He turned over and pulled the bedclothes up over his head and the curious feeling increased.

"What did I say?" said Mary Poppins in that cold, clear voice that was always a Warning.

Michael knew now what was happening to him. He knew he was going to be naughty.

"I won't," he said slowly, his voice muffled by the blanket.

Mary Poppins twitched the clothes from his hand and looked down upon him.

"I WON'T."

He waited, wondering what she would do and was surprised when, without a word, she went into the bathroom and turned on the tap herself. He took his towel and went slowly in as she came out. And for the first time in his life Michael entirely bathed himself. He knew by this that he was in disgrace, and he purposely neglected to wash behind his ears.

"Shall I let out the water?" he enquired in the rudest voice he had.

There was no reply.

"Pooh, I don't care!" said Michael, and the hot heavy weight that was within him swelled and grew larger. "I
don't
care!"

He dressed himself then, putting on his best clothes, that he knew were only for Sunday. And after that he went downstairs, kicking the banisters with his feet — a thing he knew he should not do as it waked up everybody else in the house. On the stairs he met Ellen, the housemaid, and as he passed her he knocked the hot-water jug out of her hand.

"Well, you
are
a clumsy," said Ellen, as she bent down to mop up the water. "That was for your father's shaving."

"I meant to," said Michael calmly.

Ellen's red face went quite white with surprise.

"
Meant
to? You
meant
—well, then, you're a very bad heathen boy, and I'll tell your Ma, so I will—"

"Do," said Michael, and he went on down the stairs.

Well, that was the beginning of it. Throughout the rest of the day nothing went right with him. The hot, heavy feeling inside him made him do the most awful things, and as soon as he'd done them he felt extraordinarily pleased and glad and thought out some more at once.

In the kitchen Mrs. Brill, the cook, was making scones.

"No, Master Michael," she said, "you
can't
scrape out the basin. It's not empty yet."

And at that he let out his foot and kicked Mrs. Brill very hard on the shin, so that she dropped the rolling-pin and screamed aloud.

"You kicked Mrs. Brill? Kind Mrs. Brill? I'm ashamed of you," said his Mother a few minutes later when Mrs. Brill had told her the whole story. "You must beg her pardon at once. Say you're sorry, Michael!"

"But I'm not sorry. I'm glad. Her legs are too fat," he said, and before they could catch him he ran away up the area steps and into the garden. There he purposely bumped into Robertson Ay, who was sound asleep on top of one of the best rock plants, and Robertson Ay was very angry.

"I'll tell your Pa!" he said threateningly.

"And I'll tell him you haven't cleaned the shoes this morning," said Michael, and was a little astonished at himself. It was his habit and Jane's always to protect Robertson Ay, because they loved him and didn't want to lose him.

But he was not astonished long, for he had begun to wonder what he could do next. And it was no time before he thought of something.

Through the bars of the fence he could see Miss Lark's Andrew daintily sniffing at the Next Door lawn and choosing for himself the best blades of grass. He called softly to Andrew and gave him a biscuit out of his own pocket, and while Andrew was munching it he tied Andrew's tail to the fence with a piece of string. Then he ran away with Miss Lark's angry, outraged voice screaming in his ears, and his body almost bursting with the exciting weight of that heavy thing inside him.

The door of his Father's study stood open — for Ellen had just been dusting the books. So Michael did a forbidden thing. He went in, sat down at his Father's desk, and with his Father's pen began to scribble on the blotter. Suddenly his elbow, knocking against the inkpot, upset it, and the chair and the desk and the quill pen and his own best clothes were covered with great spreading stains of blue ink. It looked dreadful, and fear of what would happen to him stirred within Michael. But, in spite of that, he didn't care — he didn't feel the least bit sorry.

"That child must be ill," said Mrs. Banks, when she was told by Ellen — who suddenly returned and discovered him — of the latest adventure. "Michael, you shall have some syrup of figs."

"I'm not ill. I'm weller than you," said Michael rudely.

"Then you're simply naughty," said his Mother. "And you shall be punished."

And, sure enough, five minutes later, Michael found himself standing in his stained clothes in a corner of the nursery, facing the wall.

Jane tried to speak to him when Mary Poppins was not looking, but he would not answer, and put out his tongue at her. When John and Barbara crawled along the floor and each took hold of one of his shoes and gurgled, he just pushed them roughly away. And all the time he was enjoying his badness, hugging it to him as though it were a friend, and not caring a bit.

"I
hate
being good," he said aloud to himself, as he trailed after Mary Poppins and Jane and the perambulator on the afternoon walk to the Park.

"Don't dawdle," said Mary Poppins, looking back at him.

But he went on dawdling and dragging the sides of his shoes along the pavement in order to scratch the leather.

Suddenly Mary Poppins turned and faced him, one hand on the handle of the perambulator.

"You," she began, "got out of bed the wrong side this morning."

"I didn't," said Michael. "There is no wrong side to my bed."

"Every bed has a right and a wrong side," said Mary Poppins, primly.

"Not mine — it's next the wall."

"That makes no difference. It's still a side," scoffed Mary Poppins.

"Well, is the wrong side the left side or is the wrong side the right side? Because I got out on the right side, so how can it be wrong?"

"Both sides were the wrong side, this morning, Mr. Smarty!"

"But it has only one, and if I got out the right side—" he argued.

"One word more from you—" began Mary Poppins, and she said it in such a peculiarly threatening voice that even Michael felt a little nervous. "One more word and I'll—"

She did not say what she would do, but he quickened his pace.

"Pull yourself together, Michael," said Jane in a whisper.

"You shut up," he said, but so low that Mary Poppins could not hear.

"Now, Sir," said Mary Poppins. "Off you go — in front of me, please. I'm not going to have you stravaiging behind any longer. You'll oblige me by going on ahead." She pushed him in front of her. "And," she continued, "there's a shiny thing sparkling on the path just along there. I'll thank you to go and pick it up and bring it to me. Somebody's dropped their tiara, perhaps."

Against his will, but because he didn't dare not to, Michael looked in the direction in which she was pointing. Yes — there
was
something shining on the path. From that distance it looked very interesting and its sparkling rays of light seemed to beckon him. He walked on, swaggering a little, going as slowly as he dared and pretending that he didn't really want to see what it was.

He reached the spot and, stooping, picked up the shining thing. It was a small round sort of box with a glass top and on the glass an arrow marked. Inside, a round disc that seemed to be covered with letters swung gently as he moved the box.

Jane ran up and looked at it over his shoulder.

"What is it, Michael?" she asked.

"I won't tell you," said Michael, though he didn't know himself.

"Mary Poppins, what is it?" demanded Jane, as the perambulator drew up beside them. Mary Poppins took the little box from Michael's hand.

"It's mine," he said jealously.

"No, mine," said Mary Poppins. "I saw it first."

"But I picked it up." He tried to snatch it from her hand, but she gave him such a look that his hand fell to his side.

She tilted the round thing backwards and forwards, and in the sunlight the disc and its letters went careering madly inside the box.

"What's it for?" asked Jane.

"To go round the world with," said Mary Poppins.

"Pooh!" said Michael. "You go round the world in a ship, or an aeroplane. I know that. The box thing wouldn't take you round the world."

"Oh, indeed — wouldn't it?" said Mary Poppins, with a curious I-know-better-than-you expression on her face. "You just watch!"

And holding the compass in her hand she turned towards the entrance of the Park and said the word "North!"

The letters slid round the arrow, dancing giddily. Suddenly the atmosphere seemed to grow bitterly cold, and the wind became so icy that Jane and Michael shut their eyes against it. When they opened them the Park had entirely disappeared — not a tree nor a green-painted seat nor an asphalt footpath was in sight. Instead, they were surrounded by great boulders of blue ice and beneath their feet snow lay thickly frosted upon the ground.

The compass

"Oh, oh!" cried Jane, shivering with cold and surprise, and she rushed to cover the Twins with their perambulator rug. "What
has
happened to us?"

Mary Poppins sniffed. She had no time to reply, however, for at that moment a white furry head peered cautiously round a boulder. Then, a huge Polar Bear leapt out and, standing on his hind legs, proceeded to hug Mary Poppins.

"I was afraid you might be trappers," he said. "Welcome to the North Pole, all of you."

He put out a long pink tongue, rough and warm as a bath towel, and gently licked the children's cheeks.

They trembled. Did Polar Bears eat children, they wondered?

"You're shivering!" the Bear said kindly. "That's because you need something to eat. Make yourselves comfortable on this iceberg." He waved a paw at a block of ice. "Now, what would you like? Cod? Shrimps? Just something to keep the wolf from the door."

"I'm afraid we can't stay," Mary Poppins broke in. "We're on our way round the world."

"Well, do let me get you a little snack. It won't take me a jiffy."

He sprang into the blue-green water and came up with a herring. "I wish you could have stayed for a chat." He tucked the fish into Mary Poppins's hand. "I long for a bit of gossip."

"Another time perhaps," she said. "And thank you for the fish."

"South!" she said to the compass.

It seemed to Jane and Michael then that the world was spinning round them. As they felt the air getting soft and warm, they found themselves in a leafy jungle from which came a noisy sound of squawking.

"Welcome!" shrieked a large Hyacinth Macaw who was perched on a branch with outstretched wings. "You're just the person we need, Mary Poppins. My wife's off gadding, and I'm left to sit on the eggs. Do take a turn, there's a good girl. I need a little rest."

He lifted a spread wing cautiously, disclosing a nest with two white eggs.

"Alas, this is just a passing visit. We're on our way round the world."

"Gracious, what a journey! Well, stay for a little moment so that I can get some sleep. If you can look after all those creatures" — he nodded at the children—"you can keep two small eggs warm. Do, Mary Poppins! And I'll get you some bananas instead of that wriggling fish."

"It was a present," said Mary Poppins.

"Well, well, keep it if you must. But what madness to go gallivanting round the world when you could stay and bring up our nestlings. Why should
we
spend our time sitting when you could do it as well?"

"Better, you mean!" sniffed Mary Poppins.

Then, to Jane and Michael's disappointment — they would dearly have liked some tropical fruit — she shook her head decisively and said, "East!"

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