Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Childhood's End : Bad Wednesday

“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” he said sadly. “I grew up long ago.” 

“Then why, then what – oh, I don’t understand. Where am I?” cried Jane, gazing about her in terror.

“Far from home, my child, far from home,” croaked the Great-Grandfather. “You are back in the Past – back where Christina and the boys were young sixty years ago!” 

Through her tears Jane saw his old eyes burning fiercely. “Then – how can I get home?” she whispered.

“You cannot. You will stay here. 

There is no other place for you. 

You are back in the Past, remember! 

The Twins and Michael, even your Father and Mother, are not yet born; Number Seventeen is not even built. 

You cannot go home!” 

“No, no!” cried Jane. “It’s not true! It can’t be.”

Her heart was thumping inside her. Never to see Michael again, nor the Twins, nor her Father and Mother and Mary Poppins! 

And suddenly she began to shout, lifting her voice so that it echoed wildly through the stone corridors.

“Mary Poppins! I’m sorry I was cross! Oh, Mary Poppins, help me, help me!” 

“Quick! Hold her close! Surround her!” She heard the Great-Grandfather’s sharp command. She felt the four children pressing close about her. She shut her eyes tight.

“Mary Poppins!” she cried again, “Mary Poppins!” A hand caught hers and pulled her away from the circling arms of Christina, Valentine, William and Everard.

“Heh! Heh! Heh!” The Great-Grandfather’s cackling laugh echoed through the room. The grasp on her hand tightened and she felt herself being drawn away. She dared not look for fear of those frightening eyes, but she pulled fiercely against the tugging hand. 

“Heh! Heh! Heh!” The laugh sounded again and the hand drew her on, down stone stairs and echoing corridors. She had no hope now. Behind her the voices of Christina and the Triplets faded away. 

No help would come from them. She stumbled desperately after the flying footsteps and felt, though her eyes were closed, dark shadows above her head and damp earth under her foot. What was happening to her? Where, oh, where was she going? If only she hadn’t been so cross – if only! The strong hand pulled her onwards and presently she felt the warmth of sunlight on her cheeks and sharp grass scratched her legs as she was dragged along. Then, suddenly, a pair of arms, like bands of iron, closed about her, lifted her up and swung her through the air.

“Oh, help, help!” she cried, frantically twisting and turning against those arms. She would not give in without a struggle, she would kick and kick and kick and. . .

 “I’ll thank you to remember,” said a familiar voice in her ear, “that this is my best skirt and it has to last me the Summer!”

Jane opened her eyes. A pair of fierce blue eyes looked steadily into hers.

The arms that folded her so closely were Mary Poppins’ arms and the legs she was kicking so furiously were the legs of Mary Poppins.

“Oh!” she faltered. “It was you! I thought you hadn’t heard me, Mary Poppins! I thought I should be kept there for ever. I thought—” 

“Some people,” remarked Mary Poppins, putting her gently down, “think a great deal too much. Of that I’m sure. Wipe your face, please!” 

She thrust her blue handkerchief into Jane’s and began to get the Nursery ready for the evening. Jane watched her, drying her tear-stained face on the large blue handkerchief.

She glanced round the well-known room. There were the ragged carpet and the toy cupboard and Mary Poppins’ armchair. At the sight of them she felt safe and warm and comforted. She listened to the familiar sounds as Mary Poppins went about her work, and her terror died away. A tide of happiness swept over her.

“It couldn’t have been I who was cross,” she said to herself. “It must have been somebody else.” And she sat there wondering who the Somebody was. . . “But it can’t really have happened!” scoffed Michael a little later when he heard of Jane’s adventure.  

“You’re much too big for the Bowl.” She thought for a moment. Somehow, as she told the story, it did seem rather impossible. “I suppose it can’t,” she admitted. “But it seemed quite real at the time.” 

“I expect you just thought it. You’re always thinking things.” He felt rather superior because he never thought at all.  

“You two and your thoughts!” said Mary Poppins crossly, pushing them aside as she dumped the Twins into their cots.

“And now,” she snapped, when John and Barbara were safely tucked in, “perhaps I shall have a moment to myself.”

She took the pins out of her hat and thrust it back into its brown-paper bag. She unclipped the locket and put it carefully away in a drawer. Then she slipped off her coat, shook it out, and hung it on the peg behind the door. 

“Why, where’s your new scarf?” said Jane.

“Have you lost it?” 

“She couldn’t have!” said Michael. “She had it on when she came home. I saw it.” Mary Poppins turned on them. “Be good enough to mind your own affairs,” she said snappily, “and let me mind mine!” 

“I only wanted to help—” Jane began.

“I can help myself, thank you!” said Mary Poppins, sniffing. Jane turned to exchange looks with Michael. But this time it was he who took notice. He was staring at the mantelpiece as if he could not believe his eyes. “What is it, Michael?” 

“You didn’t just think it, after all!” he whispered, pointing. Jane looked up at the mantelpiece.

There lay the Royal Doulton Bowl with the crack running right across it. There were the meadow grasses and the wood of alders. And there were the three little boys playing horses, two in front and one running behind with the whip.

But – around the leg of the driver was knotted a small, white handkerchief and, sprawling across the grass, as though someone had dropped it as they ran, was a red-and-white checked scarf.

At one end of it was stitched a large white label bearing the initials: M.P. “So that’s where she lost it!” said Michael, nodding his head wisely.

“Shall we tell her we’ve found it?” Jane glanced round. Mary Poppins was buttoning on her apron and looking as if the whole world had insulted her.

“Better not,” she said softly. “I expect she knows.” 

For a moment Jane stood there, gazing at the cracked Bowl, the knotted handkerchief and the scarf. 

Then with a wild rush she ran across the room and flung herself upon the starched white figure.  

“Oh,” she cried. “Oh, Mary Poppins! I’ll never be naughty again!” 

A faint, disbelieving smile twinkled at the corners of Mary Poppins’ mouth as she smoothed out the creases from her apron.

was all she said.

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