The bird woman
«May be, she won’t be there,» said Michael.
«Yes, she will,» said Jane. «She’s always there.»
Mary Poppins and the children were on the way to the Bird Woman! Mary Poppins walked between Jane and Michael. She had a new hat on and looked into every shop window. Was the hat OK? Didn’t the pink roses turn into daisies?
At last they came to St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was built a long time ago by a man with a bird’s name — Sir Christopher Wren. That was why so many birds and the Bird Woman lived near Sir Christopher Wren’s Cathedral.
«There she is!» cried Michael suddenly.
«She’s saying it! She’s saying it!» cried Jane.
And she was saying it.
«Feed the birds, tuppence a bag! Feed the birds, tuppence a bag! Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!» she said it again and again in a high singing voice.
In her hands the Bird Woman had a lot of little bags full of breadcrumbs. She was selling them. There were many birds around her. They were flying or walking or eating something. Mary Poppins didn’t like them. She always called them «sparrows.» But they were not sparrows, they were pigeons. There were grey pigeons like Grandmothers; and brown pigeons like Uncles; and grey-green, noisy pigeons like Fathers. And the silly soft blue pigeons were like Mothers. That’s what Jane and Michael thought about them.
They flew round and round the head of the Bird Woman, and when the children came up to her, they suddenly flew away and sat on the top of St. Paul’s, laughing and looking down.
It was Michael’s turn to buy a bag. Jane bought one the day before. He came up to the Bird Woman and gave her money.
«Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!» said the Bird Woman, and she put a bag of crumbs into his hand.
Michael knew it was no good asking her any questions. He and Jane often tried, but she always said, «Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!» and nothing more. Just as a cuckoo can only say «Cuckoo,» no matter what questions you ask it.
Jane and Michael and Mary Poppins spread the crumbs in a circle on the ground, and one by one, the birds came down from St. Paul’s.
The birds were eating the crumbs and making a great noise. They left no crumbs on the ground because it is not polite for a pigeon to leave anything on the plate. When the meal was finished the birds flew up and went flying round and round the Bird Woman’s head. One of them sat on her hat and looked like a hat decoration. And one bird sat on Marry Poppins’s hat and took a flower off it. Mary Poppins got very angry and shook an umbrella at the bird: «I’ll put you in a pie!» said Mary Poppins. Then she called to Jane and Michael.
«It is time to go,» she said.
«Good-bye,» said Jane and Michael to the Bird Woman.
«Feed the birds,» she replied, smiling.
They left her, walking with Mary Poppins between them.
«What happens when everybody goes away?» said Michael to Jane.
He knew well what happened, but asked Jane because it was her story.
«At night when everybody goes to bed,» began Jane, «all the birds come down from the top of St. Paul’s and run very carefully all over the ground just to see there are no crumbs left. And when -»
«You’ve forgotten the baths.»
«Oh, yes — they have a bath and clean their wings. And when they fly three times round the head of the Bird Woman, they…»
«Do they sit on her shoulders?»
«Yes, and on her hat.»
«And some on her knee. Then she looks at them and smiles at them and tells them to be good birds.»
«In the bird language?»
«Yes. And when they are all sleepy and it is time to go to sleep, she spreads out her skirts, as a mother hen spreads out her wings, and the birds go under the skirts and they sleep there till morning.»
Michael looked at his sister happily. He loved the story and was never tired of hearing it.
«And it’s all true, isn’t it?» he said, just as he always did.
«No,» said Mary Poppins, who always said «No.»
«Yes,» said Jane, who always knew everything…