Read Mary Poppins Online

Authors: P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins (8 page)

CHAPTER 8

MRS. CORRY

TWO POUNDS OF sausages — Best Pork," said Mary Poppins. "And at once, please. We're in a hurry."

The Butcher, who wore a large blue-and-white striped apron, was a fat and friendly man. He was also large and red and rather like one of his own sausages. He leant upon his chopping-block and gazed admiringly at Mary Poppins. Then he winked pleasantly at Jane and Michael.

"In a Nurry?" he said to Mary Poppins. "Well, that's a pity. I'd hoped you'd dropped in for a bit of a chat. We Butchers, you know, like a bit of company. And we don't often get the chance of talking to a nice, handsome young lady like you—" He broke off suddenly, for he had caught sight of Mary Poppins's face. The expression on it was awful. And the Butcher found himself wishing there was a trapdoor in the floor of his shop that would open and swallow him up.

"Oh, well—" he said, blushing even redder than usual. "If you're in a Nurry, of course. Two pounds, did you say? Best Pork? Right you are!"

And he hurriedly hooked down a long string of the sausages that were festooned across the shop. He cut off a length — about three-quarters of a yard — wound it into a sort of garland, and wrapped it up first in white and then in brown paper. He pushed the parcel across the chopping-block.

"
AND
the next?" he said hopefully, still blushing.

"There will be
no
next," said Mary Poppins, with a haughty sniff. And she took the sausages and turned the perambulator round very quickly, and wheeled it out of the shop in such a way that the Butcher knew he had mortally offended her. But she glanced at the window as she went so that she could see how her new shoes looked reflected in it. They were bright brown kid with two buttons, very smart.

Jane and Michael trailed after her, wondering when she would have come to the end of her shopping-list but, because of the look on her face, not daring to ask her.

Mary Poppins gazed up and down the street as if deep in thought, and then, suddenly making up her mind, she snapped:

"Fishmonger!" and turned the perambulator in at the shop next to the Butcher's.

"One Dover Sole, pound and a half of Halibut, pint of Prawns and a Lobster," said Mary Poppins, talking so quickly that only somebody used to taking such orders could possibly have understood her.

The Fishmonger, unlike the Butcher, was a long thin man, so thin that he seemed to have no front to him but only two sides. And he looked so sad that you felt he had either just been weeping or was just going to. Jane said that this was due to some secret sorrow that had haunted him since his youth, and Michael thought that the Fishmonger's Mother must have fed him entirely on bread and water when he was a baby, and that he had never forgotten it.

"Anything else?" said the Fishmonger hopelessly, in a voice that suggested he was quite sure there wouldn't be.

"Not today," said Mary Poppins.

The Fishmonger shook his head sadly and did not look at all surprised. He had known all along there would be nothing else.

Sniffing gently, he tied up the parcel and dropped it into the perambulator.

"Bad weather," he observed, wiping his eye with his hand. "Don't believe we're going to get any summer at all — not that we ever did, of course.
You
don't look too blooming," he said to Mary Poppins. "But then, nobody does—"

Mary Poppins tossed her head.

"Speak for yourself," she said crossly, and flounced to the door, pushing the perambulator so fiercely that it bumped into a bag of oysters.

"The idea!" Jane and Michael heard her say as she glanced down at her shoes. Not looking too blooming in her new brown kid shoes with two buttons — the idea! That was what they heard her thinking.

Outside on the pavement she paused, looking at her list and ticking off what she had bought. Michael stood first on one leg and then on the other.

"Mary Poppins, are we
never
going home?" he said crossly.

Mary Poppins turned and regarded him with something like disgust.

"That," she said briefly, "is as it may be." And Michael, watching her fold up her list, wished he had not spoken.

"
You
can go home, if you like," she said haughtily. "
We
are going to buy the gingerbread."

Michael's face fell. If only he had managed to say nothing! He hadn't known that Gingerbread was at the end of the list.

"That's your way," said Mary Poppins shortly, pointing in the direction of Cherry-Tree Lane. "If you don't get lost," she added as an afterthought.

"Oh no, Mary Poppins,
please,
no! I didn't mean it, really. I — oh — Mary Poppins, please—" cried Michael.

"Do let him come, Mary Poppins!" said Jane. "I'll push the perambulator if only you'll let him come."

Mary Poppins sniffed. "If it wasn't Friday," she said darkly to Michael, "you'd go home in a twink — an absolute Twink!"

She moved onwards, pushing John and Barbara. Jane and Michael knew that she had relented, and followed wondering what a Twink was. Suddenly Jane noticed that they were going in the wrong direction.

"But, Mary Poppins, I thought you said gingerbread — this isn't the way to Green, Brown and Johnson's, where we always get it—" she began, and stopped because of Mary Poppins's face.

"Am I doing the shopping or are you?" Mary Poppins enquired.

"You," said Jane, in a very small voice.

"Oh, really? I thought it was the other way round," said Mary Poppins with a scornful laugh.

She gave the perambulator a little twist with her hand and it turned a corner and drew up suddenly Jane and Michael, stopping abruptly behind it, found themselves outside the most curious shop they had ever seen. It was very small and very dingy. Faded loops of coloured paper hung in the windows, and on the shelves were shabby little boxes of Sherbet, old Liquorice Sticks, and very withered, very hard Apples-on-a-stick. There was a small dark doorway between the windows, and through this Mary Poppins propelled the perambulator while Jane and Michael followed at her heels.

Inside the shop they could dimly see the glass-topped counter that ran round three sides of it. And in a case under the glass were rows and rows of dark, dry gingerbread, each slab so studded with gilt stars that the shop itself seemed to be faintly lit by them. Jane and Michael glanced round to find out what kind of a person was to serve them, and were very surprised when Mary Poppins called out:

"Fannie! Annie! Where are you?" Her voice seemed to echo back to them from each dark wall of the shop.

And as she called, two of the largest people the children had ever seen rose from behind the counter and shook hands with Mary Poppins. The huge women then leant down over the counter and said, "How de do?" in voices as large as themselves, and shook hands with Jane and Michael.

"How do you do, Miss—?" Michael paused, wondering which of the large ladies was which.

"Fannie's my name," said one of them. "My rheumatism is about the same; thank you for asking." She spoke very mournfully, as though she were unused to such a courteous greeting.

"It's a lovely day—" began Jane politely to the other sister, who kept Jane's hand imprisoned for almost a minute in her huge clasp.

"I'm Annie," she informed them miserably. "And handsome is as handsome does."

Jane and Michael thought that both the sisters had a very odd way of expressing themselves, but they had not time to be surprised for long, for Miss Fannie and Miss Annie were reaching out their long arms to the perambulator. Each shook hands solemnly with one of the Twins, who were so astonished that they began to cry.

"Now, now, now, now! What's this, what's this?" A high, thin, crackly little voice came from the back of the shop. At the sound of it the expression on the faces of Miss Fannie and Miss Annie, sad before, became even sadder. They seemed frightened and ill at ease, and somehow Jane and Michael realised that the two huge sisters were wishing that they were much smaller and less conspicuous.

"What's all this I hear?" cried the curious high little voice, coming nearer. And presently, round the corner of the glass case the owner of it appeared. She was as small as her voice and as crackly, and to the children she seemed to be older than anything in the world, with her wispy hair and her sticklike legs and her wizened, wrinkled little face. But in spite of this she ran towards them as lightly and as gaily as though she were still a young girl.

"Now, now, now — well, I do declare! Bless me if it isn't Mary Poppins, with John and Barbara Banks. What — Jane and Michael, too? Well, isn't this a nice surprise for me? I assure you I haven't been so surprised since Christopher Columbus discovered America — truly I haven't!"

She smiled delightedly as she came to greet them, and her feet made little dancing movements inside the tiny elastic-sided boots. She ran to the perambulator and rocked it gently, crooking her thin, twisted, old fingers at John and Barbara until they stopped crying and began to laugh.

"That's better!" she said, cackling gaily. Then she did a very odd thing. She broke off two of her fingers and gave one each to John and Barbara. And the oddest part of it was that in the space left by the broken-off fingers two new ones grew at once. Jane and Michael clearly saw it happen.

"Only Barley-Sugar — can't possibly hurt 'em," the old lady said to Mary Poppins.

"Anything
you
give them, Mrs. Corry, could only do them good," said Mary Poppins with most surprising courtesy.

"What a pity," Michael couldn't help saying, "they weren't Peppermint Bars."

"Well, they are, sometimes," said Mrs. Corry gleefully, "and very good they taste, too. I often nibble 'em myself, if I can't sleep at night. Splendid for the digestion."

"What will they be next time?" asked Jane, looking at Mrs. Corry's fingers with interest.

"Aha!" said Mrs. Corry. "That's just the question. I never know from day to day what they will be. I take the chance, my dear, as I heard William the Conqueror say to his Mother when she advised him not to go conquering England."

"You must be
very
old!" said Jane, sighing enviously, and wondering if she would ever be able to remember what Mrs. Corry remembered.

Mrs. Corry flung back her wispy little head and shrieked with laughter.

"Old!" she said. "Why, I'm quite a chicken compared to my Grandmother. Now, there's an old woman
if
you like. Still, I go back a good way. I remember the time when they were making this world, anyway, and I was well out of my teens then. My goodness, that
was
a to-do, I can tell you!"

She broke off suddenly, screwing up her little eyes at the children.

"But, deary me — here am I running on and on and you not being served! I suppose, my dear" — she turned to Mary Poppins, whom she appeared to know very well—"I suppose you've all come for some Gingerbread?"

"That's right, Mrs. Corry," said Mary Poppins politely.

"Good. Have Fannie and Annie given you any?" She looked at Jane and Michael as she said this.

Jane shook her head. Two hushed voices came from behind the counter.

"No, Mother," said Miss Fannie meekly.

"We were just going to, Mother—" began Miss Annie in a frightened whisper.

At that Mrs. Corry drew herself up to her full height and regarded her gigantic daughters furiously. Then she said in a soft, fierce, terrifying voice:

"Just going to? Oh,
indeed
! That is
very
interesting. And who, may I ask, Annie, gave you permission to give away
my
gingerbread—?"

"Nobody, Mother. And I didn't give it away. I only thought—"

"You only thought! That is
very
kind of you. But I will thank you not to think. I can do all the thinking that is necessary here!" said Mrs. Corry in her soft, terrible voice. Then she burst into a harsh cackle of laughter.

"Look at her! Just look at her! Cowardy-custard! Cry-baby!" she shrieked, pointing her knotty finger at her daughter.

Jane and Michael turned and saw a large tear coursing down Miss Annie's huge, sad face, but they did not like to say anything, for, in spite of her tininess, Mrs. Corry made them feel rather small and frightened. But as soon as Mrs. Corry looked the other way Jane seized the opportunity to offer Miss Annie her handkerchief. The huge tear completely drenched it, and Miss Annie, with a grateful look, wrung it out before she returned it to Jane.

"And you, Fannie — did
you
think, too, I wonder?" The high little voice was now directed at the other daughter.

"No, Mother," said Miss Fannie trembling.

"Humph! Just as well for you! Open that case!"

With frightened, fumbling fingers, Miss Fannie opened the glass case.

"Now, my darlings," said Mrs. Corry in quite a different voice. She smiled and beckoned so sweetly to Jane and Michael that they were ashamed of having been frightened of her, and felt that she must be very nice after all. "Won't you come and take your pick, my lambs? It's a special recipe today — one I got from Alfred the Great. He was a very good cook, I remember, though he did once burn the cakes. How many?"

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