«Now we are going to buy some gingerbread,» said Mary Poppins to the children. They were doing shopping that morning.
The next moment Mary Poppins turned the corner and suddenly stopped. Jane and Michael saw a strange shop. It was very small and very dark. There was a small dark door between the windows, and through it Mary Poppins, Jane and Michael came in.
There wasn’t any lamp inside. The golden light came from paper stars lying all around the shop. They were gingerbread decorations. Mysterious — that’s the right word for that shop.
«Fannie! Annie! Where are you?» Mary Poppins called.
And the next moment two of the largest people in the world appeared and shook hands with Mary Poppins and the children.
«What’s this, what’s this?» A high, thin, little voice came from the back of the shop. The next moment Fannie and Annie became frightened.
«What’s going on?» cried the voice. And the woman appeared. She was as small and thin as her voice. She looked very old with thin hair and a little face. But she ran up to them as quickly as a young girl.
«Mary Poppins, with John and Barbara. What — Jane and Michael, too? I haven’t been so surprised since Christopher Columbus discovered America!»
She smiled at the Twins so nicely that they stopped crying and began to laugh.
«That’s better!» she said and then she did a very strange thing. She broke off two of her fingers and gave them to John and Barbara. And the strangest thing was that the next moment she had two new fingers on her hand. Jane and Michael saw it.
«What a pity,» Michael said, «they aren’t chocolate.»
«Well, they are, sometimes,» said Mrs. Corry, «I often eat them, if I can’t sleep at night. I think, my dear» — she turned to Mary Poppins, «I think you want some gingerbread. Now, my darlings,» said Mrs. Corry in a soft voice and smiled sweetly at Jane and Michael, «won’t you come and take some? It’s very special today. How many?»
«Four each,» said Mary Poppins. «That’s twelve. One dozen.»
«I’ll make it a Baker’s Dozen — take thirteen,» said Mrs. Corry.
So Jane and Michael chose thirteen bars of gingerbread, each with a golden paper star. Michael tried one of them.
«Good?» asked Mrs. Corry, and then she cried in her thin voice: «Hooray, hooray!» Then she stopped and her face grew serious.
«But remember — you must pay.»
Mary Poppins opened her bag and took out three coins. She gave them to Jane and Michael.
«Now,» said Mrs. Corry. «Stick the coins on my coat! They won’t come off!»
Mary Poppins was the first to stick her coin on the Mrs. Corry’s coat. And it stuck. Then Jane and Michael put theirs on — Jane’s on the right shoulder and Michael’s on the left one.
«How strange!» said Jane.
«I’m afraid we must be off now, Mrs. Corry,» said Mary Poppins.
«Well, my dear Miss Poppins, it has been a very pleasant visit. And you’ll come again soon, won’t you, with Jane and Michael and the Twins?»
They nodded. Then Mrs. Corry came closer to the children with a curious look on her face.
«I wonder,» she said, «what you will do with the paper stars?»
«Oh, we’ll keep them,» said Jane. «We always do.»
«Ah — you keep them! And I wonder where you keep them?»
«Well,» Jane began, «my paper stars are all in the box under the table and…»
«My stars are in a shoe-box on the first shelf of the wardrobe,» said Michael.
«Box under the table and shoe-box in the wardrobe,» said Mrs. Corry and looked at Mary Poppins. You could see some secret passed between them.
«Well,» said Mrs. Corry, «that is very interesting. And now, good-bye!»
Suddenly Jane and Michael found themselves outside. They turned and didn’t see the shop.
«How strange!» said Jane, «but the gingerbread is very good.»
And they were so busy eating their gingerbread that they forgot how very strange it was. They remembered it again that night when they were in bed.
«Jane!» called Michael. «I can hear someone coming up the stairs!»
The door opened and somebody came into the room. It was Mary Poppins. She moved about the room softly with quick secret movements. First she took Jane’s box, opened it and shut it quickly. Then she opened the wardrobe and took something out. Then she went out.
In the garden somebody was speaking in a low voice. There were some people there. Jane and Michael got out of bed and came up to the window. They saw a little figure and two gigantic ones near their gate.
«Mrs. Corry with Fannie and Annie,» said Jane.
Fannie had two long ladders on her shoulder and Annie had a large pail of something that looked like glue and a large brush. Then the front door opened and Mary Poppins came to meet them. She had a basket on her arm, and in the basket there was something. It gave out a soft, mysterious light.
«Come on, we must hurry! We haven’t much time,» said Mrs. Corry.
Jane and Michael saw them go down Cherry Tree Lane, and then they turned to the left and went up the hill. When they got to the top of the hill, where there were no houses but only grass and flowers, they stopped.
«What are they going to do?» asked Michael. But there was no need for Jane to answer because they could see what was happening.
Annie and Fannie fixed the ladder with its one end on the ground and the other in the sky. Mrs. Corry took the brush and the pail of glue and climbed the ladder. Mary Poppins with her basket climbed the other ladder.
Then the most surprising thing happened — Mrs. Corry started covering the sky with the glue and Mary Poppins took something shiny from her basket and fixed it to the glue. She was sticking the gingerbread stars to the sky! They understood it when she took her hand away. When the star was placed on the sky it began to shine brightly.
«They are our stars!» said Michael.
At last it was over. Then Mary Poppins and Mrs. Corry came down and started their way back.
Jane and Michael looked at each other. Then without a word they went to their boxes where they usually kept the paper stars. They were empty.
«But why? But why?» said Michael looking surprisingly at his sister.
Jane said nothing. She thought and thought and thought.
«What I want to know,» she said, «is this: are the stars made of gold paper or is the gold made of paper stars?»
But there was no answer.