Read an Excerpt
Every Goose a Swan
The summer day was hot and still. The cherry-trees that bordered the Lane could feel their cherries ripening—the green slowly turning to yellow and the yellow blushing red.
The houses dozed in the dusty gardens with their shutters over their eyes. “Do not disturb us!” they seemed to say. “We rest in the afternoon.”
And the starlings hid themselves in the chimneys with their heads under their wings.
Over the Park lay a cloud of sunlight as thick and as golden as syrup. No wind stirred the heavy leaves. The flowers stood up, very still and shiny, as though they were made of metal.
Down by the Lake the benches were empty. The people who usually sat there had gone home out of the heat. Neleus, the little marble statue, looked down at the placid water. No goldfish flirted a scarlet tail. They were all sitting under the lily-leaves—using them as umbrellas.
The Lawns spread out like a green carpet, motionless in the sunlight. Except for a single, rhythmic movement, you might have thought that the whole Park was only a painted picture. To and fro, by the big magnolia, the Park Keeper was spearing up rubbish and putting it into a litter-basket.
He stopped his work and looked up as two dogs trotted by.
They had come from Cherry-Tree Lane, he knew, for Miss Lark was calling from behind her shutters.
“Andrew! Willoughby! Please come back! Don’t go swimming in that dirty Lake! I’ll make you some Iced Tea!”
Andrew and Willoughby looked at each other, winked, and trotted on. But as they passed the big magnolia, they started and pulled up sharply. Down they flopped on the grass, panting—with their pink tongues lolling out.
Mary Poppins, neat and prim in her blue skirt and a new hat trimmed with a crimson tulip, looked at them over her knitting. She was sitting bolt upright against the tree, with a plaid rug spread on the lawn around her. Her hand-bag sat tidily by her side. And above her, from a flowering branch, the parrot umbrella dangled.
She glanced at the two thumping tails and gave a little sniff.
“Put in your tongues and sit up straight! You are not a pair of wolves.”
The two dogs sprang at once to attention. And Jane, lying on the lawn, could see they were doing their very best to put their tongues in their cheeks.
“And remember, if you’re going swimming,” Mary Poppins continued, “to shake yourselves when you come out. Don’t come sprinkling us!”
Andrew and Willoughby looked reproachful.
“As though, Mary Poppins,” they seemed to say, “we would dream of such a thing!”
“All right, then. Be off with you!” And they sped away like shots from a gun.
“Come back!” Miss Lark cried anxiously.
But nobody took any notice.
“Why can’t I swim in the Park Lake?” asked Michael in a smothered voice. He was lying face downwards in the grass watching a family of ants.
“You’re not a dog!” Mary Poppins reminded him.
“I know, Mary Poppins. But if I were—” Was she smiling or not?—he couldn’t be sure, with his nose pressed into the earth.
“Well—what would you do?” she enquired, with a sniff.
He wanted to say that if he were a dog he would do just as he liked—swim or not, as the mood took him, without asking leave of anyone. But what if her face was looking fierce! Silence was best, he decided.
“Nothing!” he said in a meek voice. “It’s too hot to argue, Mary Poppins!”
“Out of nothing comes nothing!” She tossed her head in its tulip hat. “And I’m not arguing, I’m talking!” She was having the last word, as usual.
The sunlight caught her knitting-needles as it shone through the broad magnolia leaves on the little group below. John and Barbara, leaning their heads on each other’s shoulders, were dozing and waking, waking and dozing. Annabel was fast asleep in Mary Poppins’ shadow. Light and darkness dappled them all and splotched the face of the Park Keeper as he dived at a piece of newspaper.
“All litter to be placed in the baskets! Obey the rules!” he said sternly.
Mary Poppins looked him up and down. Her glance would have withered an oak-tree.
“That’s not my litter,” she retorted.
“Oh?” he said disbelievingly.
“No!” she replied, with a virtuous snort.
“Well, someone must ’ave put it there. It doesn’t grow—like roses!”
He pushed his cap to the back of his head and mopped behind his ears. What with the heat, and her tone of voice, he was feeling quite depressed.
“’Ot weather we’re ’avin’!” he remarked, eyeing her nervously. He looked like an eager, lonely dog.
“That’s what we expect in the middle of summer!” Her knitting-needles clicked.
The Park Keeper sighed and tried again.
“I see you brought yer parrot!” he said, glancing up at the black silk shape that hung among the leaves.
“You mean my parrot-headed umbrella,” she haughtily corrected him.
He gave a little anxious laugh. “You don’t think it’s goin’ to rain, do you? With all this sun about?”
“I don’t think, I know,” she told him calmly. “And if I,” she went on, “were a Park Keeper, I wouldn’t be wasting half the day like some people I could mention! There’s a piece of orange peel over there—why don’t you pick it up?”
She pointed with her knitting-needle and kept it pointed accusingly while he speared up the offending litter and tossed it into a basket.
“If she was me,” he said to himself, “there’d be no Park at all. Only a nice tidy desert!” He fanned his face with his cap.
“And anyway,” he said aloud, “it’s no fault of mine I’m a Park Keeper. I should ’ave been a Nexplorer by rights, away in foreign parts. If I’d ’ad me way I wouldn’t be ’ere. I’d be sittin’ on a piece of ice along with a Polar Bear!”
He sighed and leaned upon his stick, falling into a daydream.
“Humph!” said Mary Poppins loudly. And a startled dove in the tree above her ruffled its wing in surprise.
A feather came slowly drifting down. Jane stretched out her hand and caught it.
“How deliciously it tickles!” she murmured, running the grey edge over her nose. Then she tucked the feather above her brow and bound her ribbon round it.
“I’m the daughter of an Indian Chief. Minnehaha, Laughing Water, gliding along the river.”
“Oh, no, you’re not,” contradicted Michael. “You’re Jane Caroline Banks.”
“That’s only my outside,” she insisted. “Inside I’m somebody quite different. It’s a very funny feeling.”
“You should have eaten a bigger lunch. Then you wouldn’t have funny feelings. And Daddy’s not an Indian Chief, so you can’t be Minnehaha!”
He gave a sudden start as he spoke and peered more closely into the grass.
“There he goes!” he shouted wildly, wriggling forward on his stomach and thumping with his toes.
“I’ll thank you, Michael,” said Mary Poppins, “to stop kicking my shins. What are you—a Performing Horse?”
“Not a horse, a hunter, Mary Poppins! I’m tracking in the jungle!”
“Jungles!” scoffed the Park Keeper. “My vote is for snowy wastes!”
“If you’re not careful, Michael Banks, you’ll be tracking home to bed. I never knew such a silly pair. And you’re the third,” snapped Mary Poppins, eyeing the Park Keeper. “Always wanting to be something else instead of what you are. If it’s not Miss Minnie-what’s-her-name, it’s this or that or the other. You’re as bad as the Goose-girl and the Swineherd!”
“But it isn’t geese or swine I’m after. It’s a lion, Mary Poppins. He may be only an ant on the outside but inside—ah, at last, I’ve got him!—inside he’s a man-eater!”
Michael rolled over, red in the face, holding something small and black between his finger and thumb.
“Jane,” he began in an eager voice. But the sentence was never finished. For Jane was making signs to him, and as he turned to Mary Poppins he understood their meaning.
Her knitting had fallen on to the rug and her hands lay folded in her lap. She was looking at something far away, beyond the Lane, beyond the Park, perhaps beyond the horizon.
Carefully, so as not to disturb her, the children crept to her side. The Park Keeper plumped himself down on the rug and stared at her, goggle-eyed.
“Yes, Mary Poppins?” prompted Jane. “The Goose-girl—tell us about her!”
Michael pressed against her skirt and waited expectantly. He could feel her legs, bony and strong, beneath the cool blue linen.
From under the shadow of her hat she glanced at them for a short moment, and looked away again.
“Well, there she sat—” she began gravely, speaking in the soft accents that were so unlike her usual voice.
“There she sat, day after day, amid her flock of geese, braiding her hair and unbraiding it for lack of something to o. Sometimes she would pick a fern and wave it before her like a fan, the way the Lord Chancellor’s wife might do, or even the Queen, maybe.
Copyright 1952 by P. L. Travers
Copyright renewed 1980 by P. L. Travers
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