Upon Watching Mary Poppins (again)…
Excerpted from the diary of Mr. George Banks, 17 Cherrytree Lane
June 8th, 1910
I had the most extraordinary encounter today that it would seem prudent to relate it here, despite my objections to anecdotes on principle, as they are by nature frivolous affair and any overindulgence in their practice leads, unerringly, towards moral degradation and an intolerable erosion of one’s natural dignity. Nevertheless, as I say, this particular encounter was noteworthy enough to be recorded for posterity, as I should like to recall it perhaps at some date in the distant future, and do not find it prudent to rely exclusively upon memory. Therefore, I have decided to forego the usual financial narratives that hitherto have occupied these pages in favor of a tale somewhat more dramatic in nature.
I was in to work at precisely eight-oh-two, as per usual. As a manager at the bank, it is occasionally my duty to keep appointments with notable investors who rate somewhat more expert service than can be commonly accomodated by our tellers, as skilled as they may be. It is therefore my habit (as has been recorded herein before) to check these appointments first thing. I saw that I had one, at quarter-past eight, with a Mr. Michael Tibbs. I did not immediately recognize the name, but upon retrieving the account in question, I noticed that the account itself was in the name of one Admiral Arthur Bume (Ret.). This gentleman is my neighbor of some years now at number 15 Cherrytree Lane, and has the peculiar habit of firing off a cannon at various hours of the day to mark the time. I have, on several occasions in the past, complained at this eccentricity, as it has done some quantity of damage to my property in the form of falling vases, broken windows, and a piano that is perpetually out of tune. Up until this time, no complaint has had any effect; the local constabulary has spoken with the Admiral on several occasions and has informed me that the honorable gentlemen refuses, upon any account, to cease his ritual, nor will he consent to dismantling the ridiculous edifice of a naval ship built upon his roof.
As a man who appreciates the service of His Majesty’s Navy, I have never pressed the issue much beyond this. However, at the prospect of having Mr. Tibbs in my office, I thought perhaps I might make a more diplomatic attempt to restore a certain degree of peace to my home and regain the capacity to possess a piano capable of hitting the proper notes in the proper combinations. I realize I do not play, but a man has standards one must maintain in my position, and a properly functioning insturment is one of them. Of course, I digress.
Mr. Tibbs came, much to my surprise, dressed in a fine jacket and waistcoat, a gold pocket watch, and wore a hat every bit as well made as my own. Were it not for his mutton-chop sideburns and swarthy complexion, I would never have recognized the chap. I had rather expected the fawning, simpering idiot in a boatswain’s uniform, a tin signal whistle dangling from his neck. He had a serious expression, a sharp eye, and he shook my hand with the firm grip of a naval officer. “Mr. Banks, I am very pleased to see you, sir. The Admiral sends his thanks.”
“Of course, of course – won’t you sit down?” I offered him a chair, and he took it. We got straight to business. The Admiral has a substantial account through his pension from the navy, in addition to various parcels of land owned by himself in both Britain and India. Mr. Tibbs was seeking to move some funds about from account to account, liquify some assets, and see about securing a small loan. None of this was terribly complex work, and we finished the lion’s share of the effort in a matter of minutes. Soon we found ourselves sipping tea as we waited for the clerks to finish drawing up the papers. This was to be my opportunity.
“I take it, sir, that you live with Admiral Bume?”
Tibbs nodded. “Indeed, sir.”
“Is he your benefactor? Are you some relation?”
Tibbs frowned. “No, sir.”
Noting his frown, I smiled. “My apologies if I pry into private business, sir. It’s just that…”
“No need, Mr. Banks.” Tibbs waved away my apology. “I imagine it is a challenge living next door to the Admiral. You’re bound to be curious.”
I sighed. “Well, surely sir you can see my confusion. You have the look of a gentleman of means and, if the Admiral is neither benefactor or relation, then…”
“Then why would I live with him, eh?” Tibbs stiffened. “Why would I act as a man before the mast, when I retired from Her Majesty’s Navy as a Lieutenant? Why would I swab the deck, wash his windows from a longboat, and load an old cannon for him each hour?”
I shrugged. “I…of course I mean no offense, but…”
Tibbs shook his head. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand, Banks.”
“I should say not. Forgive me, Mr. Tibbs, but he appears, by all accounts, to be quite mad.”
Tibbs’ face darkened like a thundercloud. “I’ll not have you say that of the Admiral.”
“I…” I found myself quite at a loss for words. I could see what, to my mind, seemed to be an irrational storm of anger brewing atop Mr. Tibbs bristling eyebrows. I could only stand and prepare for it to break upon me, as I imagined I had likely deserved for my violation of good manners.
The storm did not break so much as rumble in the distance, echoed behind Tibbs every word. “I joined the navy in ’65. I was fifteen years old, sailing before the mast on Reliant, under the Admiral, then Captain Bume. You never knew him then, sir, so you don’t really know what he was like – a giant of a man, voice like a lion, chest and shoulders broad as two men. Strode the deck like a God, like the sea itself rolled beneath him at his wish, and the wind blew on his command. We were off the coast of Africa, hunting pirates. Thing was that the pirates found us – four ships to our one, outgunned us, faster than us, more men. I don’t mind telling you sir that I was terrified, but there was Bume, fire blazing from his lips sharper and fiercer than anything they were throwing. Still, odds were against us. When the mast came down, it landed on my legs, sir. The pirates were swarming aboard a moment later – hotentots and savages all, kinves in their teeth, come to murder us. Thought I was a dead man – I was, or should have been. Saw my killer in his black eyes, crouched over me, mean little smile on his thin lips, his dirk pointed at my eye.”
Tibbs paused, and I found myself leaning forward, mouth hangning open. “Yes? What happened?”
“Close your mouth, Banks – we are not codfish.”
I snapped it closed. “Mr. Tibbs, go on – the pirate was over you. What happened?”
“Captain Bume struck his head from the his shoulders in one swipe of his saber. A second later he was rolling the mast off of me and fighting pirates at the same time, striking them down left and right. He was like Samson himself, sir, knocking men down like they were bowling pins. Threw me over his shoulder and took the time to slap me in the face and yell ‘Mr Tibbs, I’ll have you awake if you please!’ as we leapt from our ship to the pirates’ vessel. Bume had them beat, and left our crippled ship to sieze theirs, and then used their ship to sink the others with all the tenacity of a bulldog. Gave him the Victoria Cross for that; the Queen herself pinned it to his chest.”
I sat staring, breathless from the tale. “And, so you care for him…”
“The man saved my life, Banks. Saved all our lives, and that wasn’t the last time. I went on to a respectable career, retired in good standing, and then I found the Admiral – alone, drifting into his dotage, a sad little sunken shell of the great man I remembered.” Tibbs fixed me in the eye. “I knew what he needed – he needed a ship, a crew, to feel like a man again. I swore him I’d be that crew – I built that ship up there with these two hands. I’ve lived with him ever since, and while he may not quite know where he is or what’s going on anymore, I’ll be damned if I leave him in some bed somewhere to rot. He gave me a wonderful life; I’ll see to it that he has a wonderful death, his crew at his side, and a cannon shot over the bow as the sun sets.”
Tibbs shook his head and took up his hat. “No, you don’t. But you’re a good sort, Banks, or at least the Admiral seems to think so. Just next time you send a policeman round, remember what I’ve told you about him.”
He left at that, saying he’d come to sign the documents another time. I think the story took a sort of toll on him; I daresay his eyes looked a trifle glassy.
In any event, in light of Admiral Bume’s fine service to the Empire, I am resolved not to complain about his artillery exercises ever again. There are some discomforts one should bear for those who have done the rest of us such honor. It is, I daresay, the British way.