«I wonder what happens in the Zoo at night?» asked Michael.
«Care killed a cat,» said Mary Poppins angrily and sent the children to their beds. Next moment she went away as fast as the wind.
Suddenly the children heard a voice, «Put on some clothes! Quick!» They dressed and opened the door. There was nobody there, but they heard something going down the stairs. Jane and Michael followed. «Quick!» said the voice and they followed it down streets. Finally they were in front of the gate.
«Look!» Jane cried. «It’s the Zoo!»
«Welcome!» said a big Brown Bear. «No money! Here’s your ticket.»
«But we usually give tickets,» said Jane.
«Tonight you get them,» said the Bear and smiled.
Michael looked at the Bear, «I remember you. Once I gave you a tin of syrup.»
«You did,» said the Bear. «But you forgot to open it. Be more careful next time.»
«Are you always out at night?» said Michael.
«No — only when the Birthday falls on a Full Moon.»
Jane and Michael came into the Zoo. The full Moon was up in the sky. It was so bright that the children could see every tree, every flower and every cage too. Zoo animals were out of cages. Suddenly two wolves ran past the children, talking to a very tall stork. In the distance a tiger and a parrot were talking. Near the Elephant House a fat old gentleman was walking up and down on his knees, and on his back there were eight little monkeys. They were having a nice time, laughing and talking!
Suddenly they heard an angry voice.
«Come on! Let’s see how you dive for orange.» There was a pool of water near them and the voice came from it. It was a small black Seal:
«But — but we can’t swim!» said Michael.
«Really? Why didn’t you learn to swim when you were little? Nobody is interested if I can swim or not.»
Suddenly they saw a big Lion.
«Oh,» he began, «I can show you the way! Come quickly, it is beginning!»
At last they came up to the Big Cat House. Inside there were a lot of animals. There were panthers and leopards, wolves, tigers and antelopes, monkeys, goats and giraffes.
«Fantastic, isn’t it?» said the Lion proudly. «Just like the dear old jungle days.»
«Look! The cages are full of people!» said Michael and his mouth fell open, in one cage two gentlemen in hats were standing and waiting for something. Children of all ages were playing in another cage. The animals outside watched them with great interest. Then there were three old ladies in raincoats in another cage. One of ladies was knitting but the other two were standing and shouting at the animals, «Terrible animals. Go away. I want my tea!»
«But how did they all get in there?» Jane asked the Lion.
«Lost,» said the Lion. «We had to put them somewhere for a night. Some are very dangerous. Don’t go near them! Look! The Zookeeper is going to feed them!»
Jane and Michael saw four Brown Bears coming to the cage. They opened a small door in each cage and pushed the food inside. There were bottles of milk for babies, cakes for children, cheese sandwiches for the old ladies, meatballs for gentlemen.
«Well, that’s the end. I’m afraid we must go. You mustn’t be late, it’s her Birthday!»
They left the Big Cat House and soon stopped near another small house. The Lion opened the door and pushed the two children inside. It was the Snake House! All the cages were open and the snakes were out. And in the middle of the hall the children saw Mary Poppins. Jane and Michael could hardly believe their eyes.
Suddenly they heard a hissing voice: «My dear child!» The King Cobra was coming to Mary Poppins. «It is long since your Birthday fell on a Full Moon.»
He turned his head to Jane and Michael.
«And who are these?» he said in his soft voice, looking at the children.
«Jane and Michael Banks,» said Mary Poppins. «My friends.»
«Then they are welcome.»
Jane said in a low voice: «He talks as though he were a great lord.»
«He is. He’s the lord of our world — the cleverest and most terrible of us all,» said the Lion.
The King Cobra smiled, a long, slow, secret smile and turned to Mary Poppins, «Cousin,» hissed the King Cobra, «I am going to give you my own skin. It is a small present, dear Mary, but it may serve for a belt or a pair of shoes — these things are always useful, you know.»
And the King Cobra started to move slowly from side to side. Suddenly he gave a long jump and his golden skin fell on the floor, and in its place he had a new coat of shining silver.
«I will write some nice words on it,» said the King Cobra and he wrote something with his tail on the skin.
«Thank you very much. It’s so kind of you!» Mary Poppins was very pleased to get such a wonderful present.
«Listen!» the King Cobra said. «It is time for the Great Dance! You must be off. Good-bye, till your next Birthday.»
Mary Poppins, Jane, Michael and all the snakes went out. The children could hear the animals singing and shouting. They saw leopards and lions, camels, bears, parrots, antelopes standing around Mary Poppins. Then the animals began to move, wildly crying their Jungle songs and dancing their wild Jungle dances.
Jane and Michael watched the dance. Their friend the Lion was dancing with a Zebra, a Wolf was dancing with a Rabbit, a Tiger — with an Antelope.
«I thought, Sir,» Jane said to the King Cobra, «that lions and birds, and tigers and little animals are natural enemies.»
«You are right. But not on the Birthday,» said the King Cobra. «Tonight the small are free from the great and the great protect the small. Even I can meet a Goose without any thought2 of dinner.»
Birds and animals were now dancing together, round and round Mary Popping. The trees were moving their branches and the Full Moon was also dancing high up in the sky. Jane and Michael felt that soft light fell on their faces.
«They are sleeping and dreaming,» said a soft voice.
Was it the voice of the King Cobra or their mother’s voice? Jane and Michael could not tell… could not tell…
«I had such a strange dream last night,» said Jane in the morning. «I dreamt we were at the Zoo and it was Mary Poppins’ birthday, and animals were out of the cages but the people were inside them-»
«That’s my dream,» said Michael, looking very surprised.
«We couldn’t have the same dreams,» said Jane.
«Are you sure? Do you remember the Lion and the Seal?» said Michael.
«Of course I do! And the babies inside the cage, and the King Cobra…»
«Then it wasn’t a dream at all,» said Jane. «It was true.»
«Mary Poppins,» she said, «were you at the Zoo last night?»
«At the Zoo? In the middle of the night? I have a Zoo in this nursery, thank you,» said Mary Poppins. «Hyenas and orang-utans, all of you. Sit up straight, and no more stupid talk.»
«Then it was a dream,» Jane said.
But Michael was looking with his mouth open at Mary Poppins.
«Jane,» he said, «Jane, look;» and Jane saw what he was looking at. Mary Poppins was wearing a belt made of golden snake skin, and on it there were words, «A Present from the Zoo.»