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- Two Festivals - 1/7 -




With Illustrations by Billings and others


It is the evening before the first of May, and the boys are looking forward to a May-day festival with the children in the neighborhood. Mrs. Chilton read aloud these beautiful lines of Milton:--

Now the bright morning star, Day's harbinger, Comes dancing from the east, and loads with her The flowery May, who from her green lap throws The yellow cowslip, and the pale primrose. Hail beauteous May that dost inspire Mirth, and youth, and warm desire; Woods and groves arc of thy dressing, Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing. Thus we salute thee with our early song, And welcome thee, and with thee long.

"How beautiful!" said Frank and Harry. "Suppose, Mother," said Harry, "it should rain, and hail, and snow to-morrow, for it looks like it now, and then you know we cannot go into the woods and gather flowers; and all our plans will be spoiled." "Why, then, my dear, we must enjoy May morning as the great poet did, after he lost his sight, with our mind's eye; and you must bear your disappointment patiently." "Easier said than done, Mother," said Harry. "Why, only think of all our preparations, and the beautiful wreath you made for Lizzy Evans, who is to be queen of the May, and how pretty she would look in it, and then think of the dinner in the woods, we all sitting round in a circle, and she and the king of the May in the midst of us, and Ned Brown playing on his flageolet; and then you know we are all to walk home in procession, and have a dance at his mother's after tea." "You will not lose your dance, Harry," said his mother, "if it should hail, and rain, and snow; but, on the contrary, enjoy it all the more, for then you will riot be fatigued by a long walk; and Lizzy can wear the wreath at any rate." "I don't care for the fatigue, Mother; I want to be in the woods and gather the flowers with my own hands, and smell them as I gather them in the fresh air, and hear the birds sing; and to scream as loud as I please, and kick up my heels, and not hear any one say, 'Don't make such a noise, Harry.' I guess Milton did not take as much pleasure in writing poetry about the spring after he became blind. But please read his May Song again, Mother." She read it again.

"I think he must have felt as glad when he wrote it," said Harry, "as I hope to feel tomorrow.--'Comes dancing from the east'--how beautiful it is! What a pity he ever lost his sight!" "Milton," said the mother, "made such a good use of his eyes while he could see, that he laid up stores of beautiful images, which he remembered when he could no longer use his bodily eyes. The poetry he wrote when he was blind shows the most accurate observation of the outward appearances of things, of shades of color, and of all those beauties which only sight could have taught him. It is worth while, boys, for you to imitate him in this, while you admire his poetry."

May morning came. It did not hail, or rain, or snow. The sun shone brightly. The birds seemed to know as well as the children that it was the first of May. The country village in which Mrs. Chilton lived was as noisy as a martin box, at break of day, when doubtless, though we poor wingless bipeds don't understand what the birds are chattering about, they are planning their work and their amusements for the day--and why not?

Soon after sunrise, all the children from far and near, dressed in their holiday clothes, with little baskets of provisions, all assembled on a little green before Mrs. Grey's house, and were ready to set out for the woods, about two miles distant. Ned Brown had his flageolet, and another boy had a drum. Lizzy Evans received the wreath which made her queen of the May, and Frank, being the tallest boy, was chosen king. And now off they all set, in high glee, happy as only children can be.

Mrs. Chilton, and the teacher of the village school had promised the children to join them at the dinner hour, which was twelve. Just about eleven, the clouds began to gather. Nevertheless, the ladies kept their promise, and set out for the wood. The threatened shower came up, and they took refuge in an old empty barn, where they had not been many minutes before all the children, one after the other, came dripping in, some laughing, some small ones crying. Soon, however, the laughers prevailed; and, after showing their flowers, of which they had collected many, they set themselves to work to spread out the dinner, in the most attractive way possible, and make what amends they could for the unlucky chance of the rain. An old milk stool was appropriated to the queen. It had not even the accustomed number of three legs to support it, so that the poor queen had to endure the anxiety of a tottering throne, and learned experimentally some of the pains of royalty. The king took possession of an old barrel that had lost both ends, and sitting astride upon it, Bacchus fashion he took his place by the side of the poor queen on her two-legged stool, upon which she was exercising all the art of balancing that she had acquired in one quarter at dancing school, hoping against hope that she might keep her dignity from rolling on the barn floor. Just as his May-majesty was fairly seated on the barrel, it, all at once, fell in, smash, and he was half covered with old hoops and slaves. Whereupon the queen laughed so immoderately as to lose her balance, and thus both rolled in the dust. In the mean time, the other children, who had no dignity to support, had spread their little repast on an old sledge. Mrs. Chilton, who had brought a table-cloth, assisted them. Dinner was now announced. The queen declared she could support her throne no longer, and she and the king, both forgetting their royalty, sat down with the others on the hay-strewn floor, and discussed apples, cake, &c., &c.

Unfortunately the rain lasted longer than the dinner; every scrap that was eatable of their provisions was consumed; and now the children all looked around with that peculiar, beseeching, half- discontented look, which is their wont to have on such occasions, as much as to say, "What shall we do next?" Grown people who have been much with children, know full well that there is no peace when such symptoms appear, under such circumstances, unless, before the king of misrule begins his reign, something is proposed of a composing tendency for turbulent spirits. Accordingly, Mrs. Chilton asked the children if they had ever heard of the Mayday ball which is given every year to the children in Washington. "No," was the answer. She said she had been at one, and she would tell all about it.

"It is held in a large public hall, decorated for the purpose. All the children in Washington and Georgetown are invited to attend; all have an equal right to go, ignorant and educated, poor and rich; no matter how poor, if the girls can get a neat white frock, and the boys a decent dress, they are all admitted; every one wears a wreath of flowers, or has a bouquet in his hand or bosom. The children assemble very early, and dance as much as they please, to the music of a fine band, and all partake of some simple refreshment, provided for them, before they return home. They number often over a thousand, and as they are all moving together to the music, they look like a dancing flower garden. I said all the children, rich and poor, in Washington. I wish it were so; but there are many poor children who are never invited to this festival. No one dresses one of them in a nice white frock on May morning, and puts a wreath of flowers on her head, and a nosegay in her hands, and says to her, 'Go, dance, sing, and rejoice with the other children in God's beautiful world.'"

"Why not?" asked the listening children.

"They are slaves--they are negroes!" replied Mrs. Chilton.

"It is a shame; it is wicked," cried Frank and Harry, and all the rest.

"When you are men and women," said Mrs. Chilton, "you may do much for the poor slaves. Remember them then, and do not forget them now. All can do something for them, even little children.

Now I will tell you a story that was related to me by a gentlemen who knew it to be true. I knew, he said, a little boy, who was one of the best little fellows that ever lived. He was gentle and kind to his companions, obedient to his parents, good to all. His home was in a small country village, but he was very fond of wandering into the neighboring fields, when his tasks were all over. There, if he saw a young bird that had fallen to the ground before it could fly, he would pick it up gently, and put it back in its nest. I have often seen him step aside, lest he should tread on an anthill, and thus destroy the industrious little creatures' habitation. If a child smaller than he was carrying a heavy bundle or basket, Harry would always offer to help him. Was any one hurt, or unhappy, Harry was quick to give aid and sympathy; ever ready to defend the weak, feared not the strong. For every harsh word, Harry gave a kind one in return. I have known him to carry more than half his breakfast to a little lame boy whose mother was very poor. Harry was brave and true; he would confess his own faults, he would hide those of others. He had a thirst for knowledge. He got all his lessons well at school, and he stood high in his class. But what he was particularly remarkable for, was his love of all beautiful things, and most especially of wild flowers. He would make wreaths of them and give them to his mother, and he was very fond of putting one on my study table, when he could contrive to place it there without my seeing him. Harry knew all the green nooks where the houstonia was to be found in the early spring, and it was he that ever brought me the beautiful gentian that opens its fringed petals in the middle of the chilly October day. On Sunday, and on all holidays, Harry always had a flower or a bit of green in the button-hole of his jacket. Every sunny window in his mother's house had an old teapot or broken pitcher in it, containing one of Harry's plants whose bright blossoms hid defects and infirmities. He also loved music passionately; he whistled so sweetly that it was a delight to hear him. Yet there was something in his notes that always went to your heart and made you sad, they were so mournful.

Often in the summer time, he would go, towards evening, into the fields and lie down in the long grass; and there he would look straight up into the clear deep blue sky, and whistle such plaintive tunes, that, beautiful as they were, it made your heart ache to hear

Two Festivals - 1/7

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