The wind has changed, said little Jenny, looking up from Master Banks leather half-boots, which had to be polished with champagne blacking every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Nonsense, said Cook stoutly, without looking, because she was doing something very delicate indeed with the insides of a goose. And besides, the newspaper had said that the weather would be settled for the week, and everyone knew the newspaper was always right.
Jenny put the boots on the mat sole-side down and nose to tail, and stood on tiptoe to peer out from the scullery window. It really has, she said. All the trees are bending their heads, and Robinson Ay is tying up the sweet peas.
Oh, criminy, said Cook, and tied up the goose with a vicious knot of twine. Clean up those boot brushes, Jenny. And when youve done that, polish the potatoes, pink the cabbage leaves, and make sure the sprouts are all the same size. Mary Poppins, Cook said, is particular."
Mary Poppins was not the sort of woman who ran her fingers over the mantelpiece to check for dust. She did not sound the keys on the piano lest any dared be sharp, nor did she inspect the rosebushes for irregularity, examine the nursery room library for disorder, or sniff the tea to be certain it was fresh. Mary Poppins merely expected everything to be in its place.
From attic to cellar, Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Road breathed in, flattened its stomach, and straightened its back. The cherry trees combed their branches and shuffled into line. The tiles straightened themselves into neatly edged rows. The patch of dandelions by the rubarb suddenly realised that the grass was much greener at Number Fifteen. The mice in cellar groomed their fur and curled their whiskers. The kitchen cat honed her claws. Every knife in the drawer was as sharp as a skewer: every skewer as straight as a plumb line. All the teapots twiddled their lids and puffed out their sides, while the saucers danced along the dresser shelves until they were perfectly figured. The kettle whistled, the saucepans clanked, and the steam press hissed gently in the corner. Even the stove polished its handles and ironed out the kinks in its chimney.
Upstairs in the parlour, Mrs Banks frowned over the post, while behind her the sofa quietly unwrinkled its antimacassar and plumped its cushions. The clock on the mantelpiece caught three errant seconds and wound them back into place with a single tock, while all the pictures on the walls looked sidelong at each other and slid themselves set-square to the wainscoting. The rug flattened out one rumpled corner, the fire tongs wriggled back to their hook, and the poker stood to attention against the fireplace tiles. Every single speck of coal dust whisked under the grate, and the windows winked and sparkled.
Must Cousin Clarice be so very concerned about flannel? Mrs Banks mourned, holding a battered scrap of notepaper between finger and thumb. Im sure the climate is not at all conducive, and the natives seem most unconvinced.
Quietly, the globe in the corner oiled its pivot, and in the watercolour over the mantelpiece three dolphins practised double axels with tail flips.
Mrs Banks put down her letter, sighed, and reached for her writing case. Thats odd, she said. Im sure I was nearly out of ink. Oh, well.
She did not see the ink pot quiver in relief.
Across the hall, in Mr Banks study, all the bookcases squared their corners, and the desk straightened its drawers with an inelegant tug. The blotter rounded its spots, the newspapers ordered their headlines, and the books, in a helter-skelter of page and print, fluttered themselves dust free. From Accounts of the Borgia to Zadig the Barbarian in its brown paper jacket, each spine was upright, each page unbent, and even Mr Banks very particular My Secret Life was exactly in line with its peers. And in a vinegar-bath on the hearth, every battered, street-urchin tram-lined pocket-worn coin in the house washed themselves clean all over, until they all shone new-minted as stars.
In Mr and Mrs Banks bedroom, the bed twirled its springs and twiddled its legs. The dressing table smoothed down its skirts, the dressing gowns combed out their tasselled cords, and the slippers danced into line. The hat boxes on top of the wardrobe tweaked their stripes and fluffed up their ribbons: the hairpins on the dresser lined up nose to tail, and from under the bed one solitary brass button rolled as fast as a spinning wheel to the sewing box caddy. Every sleeve of every dress pointed its pleats; every hem of every skirt tightened its stitches, and every coat shivered away the tiniest spots of dirt. Mr Banks gardening socks knitted up their ragged edges and Mrs Banks Sunday lace gloves doubled-checked their patterns. In the closet, Mr Banks' Jermyn Street shirts starched their points to steeples and his suits bespoke all twenty-one points of their tailored seams, while Mrs Banks' lavender-scented silk-ribboned wedding-day stockings sighed and shivered in their quilted case.
Ting! said Mr Banks' alarm clock, wound tight, and Hush, said Mrs Banks' satin eiderdown, slithering pink and smooth over the edges of the bed. Tap tap, said the heels of her Sunday shoes, and in the darkest, deepest crevice of Mr Banks bottom drawer, Snap! said his secret, stashed, hoar-candy sweets.
In the nursery, Michael cocked his head on one side. Jane, he said. Can you hear something strange? As if - And when he looked around, the fire guard was quivering in front of the fire and all his toy soldiers were standing to attention outside his fort with their rifles primed and their belt-buckles shined. The twins were absolutely quiet in their cradles, and the sheets on every bed were tucked in so neatly at the corners he could have used the creases for a ruler. Oh, Michael said, and he stood up and stared out from the window. Look. Look, Jane, look! The winds changed!
Jane smiled. I thought she was coming, she said. Her picture winked at me this morning.
By the side of her bed, Mary Poppins picture pursed its frame and tightened its screws at the very thought, but under Michaels pillow his compass pointed valiantly, not north, but four hundred and five and a half degrees upside down.
And the mirror? The mirror burnished its shine and buffed its gleam, and just at the spot where Mary Poppins buttoned-up boots might stand it added the twinkliest shimmer in London.
The house was very, nearly, ready. Downstairs in the hall, the doormat brushed out every bristle. The umbrella stand shuffled, the coat hooks twirled, and the bannisters braced themselves against the stairs.
And outside the front gate, Mary Poppins furled her parrot headed umbrella, and smiled.