The Fifth of November
It was one of those bleak and chilly mornings that remind you winter is coming. Cherry-Tree Lane was quiet and still. The mist hung over the Park like a shadow. All the houses looked exactly alike as the grey fog wrapped them round. Admiral Boom’s flagstaff, with the telescope at the top of it, had entirely disappeared.
The Milkman, as he turned into the Lane, could hardly see his way.
“Milk Be-l-o-o-ow!” he called, outside the Admiral’s door. And his voice sounded so queer and hollow that it gave him quite a fright.
“I’ll go ’ome till the fog lifts,” he said to himself. “’Ere! Look where you’re goin’!” he went on, as a shape loomed suddenly out of the mist and bumped against his shoulder.
“Bumble, bumble, bum-bur-um-bumble,” said a gentle, muffled voice.
“Oh, it’s you!” said the Milkman, with a sigh of relief.
“Bumble,” remarked the Sweep again. He was holding his brushes in front of his face to keep his moustache dry.
“Out early, aren’t you?” the Milkman said.
The Sweep gave a jerk of his black thumb towards Miss Lark’s house.
“Had to do the chimbley before the dogs had breakfast. In case the soot gave them a cough,” he explained.
The Milkman laughed rudely. For that was what everybody did when Miss Lark’s two dogs were mentioned.
The mist went wreathing through the air. There was not a sound in the Lane.
“Ugh!” said the Milkman, shivering. “This quiet gives me the ’Orrors!”
And as he said that, the Lane woke up. A sudden roar came from one of the houses and the sound of stamping feet.
“That’s Number Seventeen!” said the Sweep. “Excuse me, old chap. I think I’m needed.” He cautiously felt his way to the gate and went up the garden path. . . .
Inside the house, Mr. Banks was marching up and down, kicking the hall furniture.
“I’ve had about all I can stand!” he shouted, waving his arms wildly.
“You keep on saying that,” Mrs. Banks cried. “But you won’t tell me what’s the matter.” She looked at Mr. Banks anxiously.
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“Everything’s the matter!” he roared. “Look at this!” He waggled his right foot at her. “And this!” he went on, as he waggled his left.
Mrs. Banks peered closely at the feet. She was rather short-sighted and the hall was misty.
“I—er—don’t see anything wrong,” she began timidly.
“Of course you don’t!” he said, sarcastically. “It’s only imagination, of course, that makes me think Robertson Ay has given me one black shoe and one brown!” And again he waggled his feet.
“Oh!” said Mrs. Banks hurriedly. For now she saw clearly what the trouble was.
“You may well say ‘Oh!’ So will Robertson Ay when I give him the sack tonight.”
“It’s not his fault, Daddy!” cried Jane, from the stairs. “He couldn’t see—because of the fog. Besides, he’s not strong.”
“He’s strong enough to make my life a misery!” said Mr. Banks angrily.
“He needs rest, Daddy!” Michael reminded him, hurrying down after Jane.
“He’ll get it!” promised Mr. Banks, as he snatched up his bag. “When I think of the things I could have done if I hadn’t gone and got married! Lived alone in a Cave, perhaps. Or I might have gone Round the World.”
“And what would we have done, then?” asked Michael.
“You would have had to fend for yourselves. And serve you right! Where’s my overcoat?”
“You have it on, George,” said Mrs. Banks, meekly.
“Yes!” he retorted. “And only one button! But anything’s good enough for me! I’m only the man who Pays the Bills. I shall not be home for dinner.”
A wail of protest went up from the children.
“But it’s Guy Fawkes’ Day,” wheedled Mrs. Banks. “And you so good at letting off rockets.”
“No rockets for me!” cried Mr. Banks. “Nothing but trouble from morning till night!” He shook Mrs. Banks’ hand from his arm and dashed out of the house.
“Shake, sir!” said the Sweep in a friendly voice as Mr. Banks knocked into him, “It’s lucky, you know, to shake hands with a Sweep.”
“Away, away!” said Mr. Banks wildly. “This is not my lucky day!”
The Sweep looked after him for a moment. Then he smiled to himself and rang the door-bell. . . .
“He doesn’t mean it, does he, Mother? He will come home for the fireworks!” Jane and Michael rushed at Mrs. Banks and tugged at her skirt.
“Oh, I can’t promise anything, children!” she sighed, as she looked at her face in the front hall mirror.
And she thought to herself—Yes, I’m getting thinner. One of my dimples has gone already and soon I shall lose the second. No one will look at me any more. And it’s all her fault!
By her, Mrs. Banks meant Mary Poppins, who had been the children’s nurse. As long as Mary Poppins was in the house, everything had gone smoothly. But since that day when she had left them—so suddenly and without a Word of Warning—the family had gone from Bad to Worse.
Here am I, thought Mrs. Banks miserably, with five wild children and no one to help me. I’ve advertised. I’ve asked my friends. But nothing seems to happen. And George is getting crosser and crosser; and Annabel’s teething; and Jane and Michael and the Twins are so naughty, not to mention that awful Income Tax——
She watched a tear run over the spot where the dimple had once been.
“It’s no good,” she said, with sudden decision. “I shall have to send for Miss Andrew.”
A cry went up from all four children. Away in the Nursery, Annabel screamed. For Miss Andrew had once been their Father’s governess and they knew how frightful she was.
“I won’t speak to her!” shouted Jane, in a rage.
“I’ll spit on her shoes if she comes!” threatened Michael.
“No, no!” wailed John and Barbara miserably.
Mrs. Banks clapped her hands to her ears. “Children, have mercy!” she cried in despair.
“Beg pardon, ma’am,” said Ellen the housemaid, as she tapped Mrs. Banks on the shoulder. “The Sweep is ’ere for the Drawing-room Chimbley. But I warn you, ma’am, it’s my Day Out! And I can’t clean up after ’im. So there!”