It was one of those mornings when everything looks very neat and bright and shiny, as though the world had been tidied up overnight.
In Cherry-Tree Lane the houses blinked as their blinds went up, and the thin shadows of the cherry-trees fell in dark stripes across the sunlight. But there was no sound anywhere, except for the tingling of the Ice Cream Man’s bell as he wheeled his cart up and down. “Stop Me and Buy One” said the placard in front of the cart. And presently a Sweep came round the corner of the Lane and held up his black sweepy hand.
The Ice Cream Man went tingling up to him.
“Penny one,” said the Sweep. And he stood leaning on his bundle of brushes as he licked out the Ice Cream with the tip of his tongue. When it was all gone he gently wrapped the cone in his handkerchief and put it in his pocket.
“Don’t you eat cones?” said the Ice Cream Man, very surprised.
“No. I collect them!” said the Sweep. And he picked up his brushes and went in through Admiral Boom’s front gate because there was no Tradesman’s Entrance.
The Ice Cream Man wheeled his cart up the Lane again and tingled, and the stripes of shadow and sunlight fell on him as he went.
“Never knew it so quiet before!” he murmured, gazing from right to left, and looking out for customers.
At that very moment a loud voice sounded from Number Seventeen. The Ice Cream Man cycled hurriedly up to the gate, hoping for an order.
“I won’t stand it! I simply will not stand any more!” shouted Mr. Banks, striding angrily from the front door to the foot of the stairs and back again.
“What is it?” said Mrs. Banks anxiously, hurrying out of the dining-room. “And what is that you are kicking up and down the hall?”
Mr. Banks lunged out with his foot and something black flew half-way up the stairs.
“My hat!” he said between his teeth. “My Best Bowler Hat!”
He ran up the stairs and kicked it down again. It spun for a moment on the tiles and fell at Mrs. Banks’ feet.
“Is anything wrong with it?” said Mrs. Banks, nervously. But to herself she wondered whether there was not something wrong with Mr. Banks.
“Look and see!” he roared at her.
Trembling, Mrs. Banks stooped and picked up the hat. It was covered with large, shiny, sticky patches and she noticed it had a peculiar smell.
She sniffed at the brim.
“It smells like boot-polish,” she said.
“It is boot-polish,” retorted Mr. Banks. “Robertson Ay has brushed my hat with the boot-brush—in fact, he has polished it.”
Mrs. Banks’ mouth fell with horror.
“I don’t know what’s come over this house,” Mr. Banks went on. “Nothing ever goes right—hasn’t for ages! Shaving water too hot, breakfast coffee too cold. And now—this!”
He snatched his hat from Mrs. Banks and caught up his bag.
“I am going!” he said. “And I don’t know that I shall ever come back. I shall probably take a long sea-voyage.”
Then he clapped the hat on his head, banged the front door behind him and went through the gate so quickly that he knocked over the Ice Cream Man, who had been listening to the conversation with interest.
“It’s your own fault!” he said crossly. “You’d no right to be there!” And he went striding off towards the City, his polished hat shining like a jewel in the sun.
The Ice Cream Man got up carefully and, finding there were no bones broken, he sat down on the kerb, and made it up to himself by eating a large Ice Cream. . . .
“Oh, dear!” said Mrs. Banks as she heard the gate slam. “It is quite true. Nothing does go right nowadays. First one thing and then another. Ever since Mary Poppins left without a Word of Warning everything has gone wrong.”
She sat down at the foot of the stairs and took out her handkerchief and cried into it.
And as she cried, she thought of all that had happened since that day when Mary Poppins had so suddenly and so strangely disappeared.
“Here one night and gone the next—most upsetting!” said Mrs. Banks gulping.
Nurse Green had arrived soon after and had left at the end of a week because Michael had spat at her. She was followed by Nurse Brown who went out for a walk one day and never came back. And it was not until later that they discovered that all the silver spoons had gone with her.
And after Nurse Brown came Miss Quigley, the Governess, who had to be asked to leave because she played scales for three hours every morning before breakfast and Mr. Banks did not care for music.
“And then,” sobbed Mrs. Banks to her handkerchief, “there was Jane’s attack of measles, and the bath-room geyser bursting and the Cherry-Trees ruined by frost and——”
“If you please, m’m——!” Mrs. Banks looked up to find Mrs. Brill, the cook, at her side.
“The kitchen flue’s on fire!” said Mrs. Brill gloomily.
“Oh, dear. What next?” cried Mrs. Banks. “You must tell Robertson Ay to put it out. Where is he?”
“Asleep, m’m, in the broom-cupboard. And when that boy’s asleep, nothing’ll wake him—not if it’s an Earthquake, or a regiment of Tom-toms,” said Mrs. Brill, as she followed Mrs. Banks down the kitchen stairs.
Between them they managed to put out the fire but that was not the end of Mrs. Banks’ troubles.
She had no sooner finished luncheon than a crash, followed by a loud thud, was heard from upstairs.
“What is it now?” Mrs. Banks rushed out to see what had happened.
“Oh, my leg, my leg!” cried Ellen, the housemaid.
She sat on the stairs, surrounded by broken china, groaning loudly.
“What is the matter with it?” said Mrs. Banks sharply.
“Broken!” said Ellen dismally, leaning against the banisters.
“Nonsense, Ellen! You’ve sprained your ankle, that’s all!”
But Ellen only groaned again.
“My leg is broken! What will I do?” she wailed, over and over again.
At that moment the shrill cries of the Twins sounded from the nursery. They were fighting for the possession of a blue celluloid duck. Their screams rose thinly above the voices of Jane and Michael, who were painting pictures on the wall and arguing as to whether a green horse should have a purple or a red tail. And through this uproar there sounded, like the steady beat of a drum, the groans of Ellen the housemaid. “My leg is broken! What shall I do?”
“This,” said Mrs. Banks, rushing upstairs, “is the Last Straw!&...