This week however has been difficult. And today is Mayday so that might be excused.
Mrs. Minton wipes a steamy tear from her eye. “It’s all very well,” she says to Lucy, the only one left in the kitchen, “but in a few more days Miss Annabell will be with Mr. Edward. The guests will be going, perhaps even the Squire and her Ladyship, and then what will we all do.
“Have a rest,” replies Lucy.
Mrs. Minton laughs. “Well today, Woolly and me are
going to spend a good day relaxing. If weather holds as it’s
promising, we’ll take a stroll.”
“A stroll, Mrs. Minton?” Lucy has never heard of such
“See what delights hedgerows have sprung, my love.”
“All alone, just the two of you!”
“Woolly knows a lot about plants. Then we put our feet
up. Everyone will be gone. Including you and I suppose
that Tom Hopkins.” Mrs. Minton smiles.
“He’s racing in the point-to-point. I told him he has to
“Oh! you did. On that pony he rides?”
“’Em! She’s got some spunk in her, Tom says. Says he’s
going to win the race.”
“Good for him!”
McBride grunts pushing open the servant’s kitchen door.
“What is it, love,” asks Mrs. Minton placing slices of
cold ham on the table.
“The breakfast tables in the solarium are all anyhow,”
the butler glares at Lucy. “Just because we’re not using
the dining room doesn’t mean we don’t have standards.” With no answer forthcoming, Mr. McBride goes seeking
for items he needs to place on his tray.
Back from the solarium, Meg and Lucy push through the kitchen door giggling. “Shall I tell Nelly, breakfast is ready?” Lucy asks the cook.
“If you would, dear.”
Lucy opens the scullery door, shouts, “Nelly.” Cook can hear a muffled, “I’m not deaf.”
Nelly emerging from the scullery, Mrs. Minton remarks:
“You do look nice today. Came all prepared in your fancies.
You fix yourself well when you like.” Cook cannot help
thinking how grown the girl looks.
“You excited are you love?” then comprehension comes
over the cook’s face. “You and Jimmy, that’s it!”
Nelly reddens. “Might be.” Few secrets Nelly has from
Bella pushes through the door and Mrs. Minton tells her
two-farthings is almost ready, ‘two-farthings-of-a-breakfast’
is how Mrs. Minton has come to refer to her resplendent
“Will you be going into Weatherby, dear?”
Bella, hoping to see Lawrence, replies that she is.
All but Miss Hooper and the dog, and they’ll be up
front, thinks Mrs. Minton. That does leave Woolly and me
alone. Alone with nothing to do. I’ll be glad for it.
. . .
Constance smiles: “I don’t know about you, Knobs,?” Ronald, George, Arthur and she together in the carriage to Weatherby, Ronald’s fool’s costume red and gold with a red cock’s comb hat flopping over his head might well be the bag of wind that has some meaning. “At last the speech is done, I see!”
Ronald leans over so that his nose nudges Constance’s
ear, whispers, “But you know I cannot tell a lie. All I can
be is the fool!”
“Oh Knobs!” Constance kisses him.
“What do you think, Arthur?” Ronald asks coming up
“Thought you would say that.”
“Better than last time.”
“Plaid wool fore-and-aft with earflaps. Very modish!”
Constance has to laugh.
The Squire pulls out his speech. “A piece Shakespeare
might have wrote had he known better.” Ronald places
his hand on his chest, holds his speech out in front of him:
“There is so much in our world.”
“Good! Very good!” says George.
“I haven’t gotten to it yet. There is so much that only
a fool can tell you, and that is I.”
“This is Shakespeare!”
“Sounds better on stage!”
Constance leans back, then decides to lean right into
the Squire, “I do love you.”
They finish kissing just as the carriage arrives outside
the inn in Weatherby.
A stifled panic has Thomas Davie, the village Alderman
in a dither. “Magistrate, they’re waiting for you.”
“I timed it right then,” the Squire stepping out of the
coach, the Alderman leads him towards the stage, shouts
from the side, “Magistrate Bexfield!”
A big cheer from those on the blankets and rugs and
varied pieces of clothing placed on the grass.
“Well, it’s Mayday again!” The Squire waits because a
great laughter erupts as the audience take in his costume.
Pointing to the old birch tree decorated with garlands
and streamers. “What a history, Mayday has.”
Everyone turns towards the tree.
“Those garlands that weave round. Mayday trees have
been decorated back beyond the days of writing, back to
the days of dragon slayer, St George as we know him now. Ah! That was a time when the evil dragon creatures were
prevented from doing harm to this island’s people.”
A great cheering accompanies this statement.
“Mayday and Maypole show us spring has arrived. It
used to be in the times of living in the woods by a stream,
people decorated their homes with leaves, with tree boughs
and budding flower petals. Then the people would go ‘a-Maying’ to hang their blossoms around a special tree.”
Cheers, lots of cheers.
“‘Ye merry Morris, dance with ye nimble spirit.’” Linen
handkerchief taken from his trousers, the Squire wipes his
face. “The fairies they will be a dancing.”
Cheers and more cheers.
“No longer we choose to see them now, not as we once
did, but still they walk amongst us.” The Squire glances
across at his lady who is nodding.
“And so I say to you here. All of you, I say. A time is
coming when our sense will again be quickened.”
The Squire’s eyes rove among the people, those seated
on the grass in front of him, those behind them standing.
“Listen well to the play the children perform today. A
message if you can catch, will bring you your dreams.
“On to Mayday learning my friends. The children wait. The songs are ready. And the dancing for all.”
He tucks the paper, the speech that he has written but
hasn’t given, into his jacket. “Ponder these words of a fool! Thank you!”
A huge applause breaks out.
About to step down from the stage, a pause. “Oh! Men!
Don’t gamble your wife on the point-to-point.”
As laughter bellows, the Magistrate waves, jumps down
the side steps. Constance is there for him. “Our room at
the back of the inn, Knobs.” She holds up a large iron key
hands it to him. “Private garden, the Alderman tells me.”
With that, arm tucked into his, they both stroll away,
hidden by the food tents, by the many stalls.
. . .
Annabell has perched herself halfway in the window
looking over the stage. The room Emily and she have been
given is not large. The view of the village green however is
spectacular. Annabell can almost reach out and touch the
young men in their Morris dress practising their dancing.
The queue at the brandy-snap stall, the balloon-selling
lady, Annabell is right in the heart of the village festivities.
Now if only those below would be a little quieter.
Yesterday at the school on the estate, Bear and she had
been presented with a delightful wedding gift. The children
giving a decked Spanish Galleon in a bottle with full square
and lateen sails.
The school uses both the small church on the estate,
St. Domna Ebba, and an adjoining room built next to the
church. All of them were in the adjoining room and it was
For the past months, the children have been working on a play they are about to perform here on the green. Æthelred
the young church deacon and assistant teacher is the author
of the play. How her uncle became involved she does not
know but Æthelred has been coming to the manor spending
hours with uncle Ronald after dinner in the evening.
Mr. Deegan who runs the school mentioned the children
were doing a final rehearsal after the presentation. She
asked Mr. Deegan if they could stay to watch.
So the play they are to perform she has already seen,
but some amusing upsets at the rehearsal make her want
to see what happens this time.
At the bottom of the stage Mr. Deegan is going purple
in the face.
“Jack! Anyone seen Jack?” Jack, the orator is first on and he’s nowhere to be seen.
Elfrida, always the bossy one, has been running around
in circles trying to round the children up. Ben is grabbed,
one of the smaller ones.
“Where’s the drummer?” Mr Deegan shouts.
“I’ll get him!” says the discovered Jack returned in his
clown costume. Then he tears off.
Ben is here however. Ben in his kilt. Ben, ruddy faced,
bright green eyes, is Cherokee in the pageant. Mr. Deegan
had planned for Ben to be wearing a loincloth, only his
mother must have been confused for she sent him in a kilt
to the rehearsal yesterday. He is still in the kilt so it is
going to have to do.
Clarence the drummer returns. Clarence has the loudest drum in the village band and his pounding when
the animals fall into the pit is impressive.
“William! I can’t see William?” Mr. Deegan calls with a growing sense of futility.
“There he is,” shouts Albert, five and a half, hale and
hearty in his mouse suit.
Mr Deegan follows where Albert is pointing. William, a
plump boy, plays the lion. The lion is clutching the sailor’s
hornpipe he’d been asked to bring from home.
Clara tugs at his jacket. Miss Serpent Flower has a
“Oh Clara! Very good, you are here.”
“What if I fall off Splendid Mane, like I did yesterday?”
asks the eight-year-old.
The plan is to have Miss Serpent Flower and Mr. Goh Kheng, the mouse, climb onto the back of the robust lion. There was a tumble yesterday.
“Hold on a little tighter, dear, and you won’t.” Looking around, all the cast seem to have returned. “Elfrida, watch them while I get Jack started.”
A signal to Jack from Æthelred who is at the back of the
stage making sure everything is working with the ropes. This relayed to Mr. Deegan causes a prompting to Jack to run up the steps. Mr. Deegan follows.
Jack is ready, poised in front of the Comet pit at the
centre of the stage.
Making one last plea to the heavens to see this through,
Mr. Deegan shouts out: “Honourables, Ladies, Gentleman. The Comet Pit
a special Centennial Mayday performance by the children of St. Domna Ebba.”
The teacher now at the second step off the stage, hears
Jack in his clown costume begin.
“This is a story about helping each other,” the 13-year-old bellows in his more than capable young man’s voice.
“This is a story where a large chunk of rock comes swooping
down from a comet.”
The boy waves his arms: “Sooozzzzze it comes through
the air. Soooooooozzzzzzzze, Soooooooozzzzzzzze and falls,
A large paper dart streaks across the stage, sent
very accurately by big William who has acquired a knack
for such things. As the comet falls into the middle of the
circle of stones centre stage, a very loud firework is set off
by the drummer who is in front of the stage close to the
The unexpected flash created by the firecracker startles
the audience so that suddenly there is complete silence.
Good! Mr. Deegan is beginning to feel that Æthelred
and he might yet come through this years presentation unscathed.
Jack the orator points at the round circle of stones. “This is the pit.” Turning full circle three times: “And
there the dead comet rock lays, and lays, and lays at the
bottom of the pit until it cools, and cools, and cools.”
Now a flurry as three of the children dance around the pit: one dressed in yellow to represent the Sun, one dressed
in white to represent the moon, and one dressed in brown to represent Earth.
Arms outstretched, they begin to swirl blue, green, red, white, yellow, and ochre streamers. As they finish and run off the stage, flashes of more fireworks.
“A million years go by, then another million. Then!”
Jack puffs up his chest, pulls out every vocal cord he can
“Then, wouldn’t you know,” Jack, a born orator, softens
his voice just low enough so the audience still hears, “but
a mouse comes by.”
At this point, five-year-old Albert in his mouse costume
races up the steps, runs behind the clown.
“Now this mouse is in a hurry,” Jack puts his hand to his mouth as if to disclose a secret. “And if you were chased by a lion, a huge lion, a lion with the fiercest roar in the world, you would be also!”
“Roooooaaaaaaaaaa! Roooooaaaaaaaaaa!” big William
in his lion costume shouts as he clambers up on the stage.
“And a lions roar,” booms the orator to the audience,
“being the King of the jungle, even the fearsomest roar is
the most regal in manner and deportment.”
Back and forth around the stage Albert the mouse races, chased by big William.
“The lion’s roar is the mightiest sound of all creation,” the orator turns to watch the chase. “For when the lion speaks, all cry, all howl, all bellow, all shriek, all bark, all growl, all and every creature are in agreement.”
From the bottom of either side of the stage, where the
rest of the children of the school are gathered, a sudden
mighty cacophony takes place: Yowling and hissing and
cawing and clacking and every sound imaginable.
“For when the King roars, all creatures are commanded
Around and around the comet pit the lion chases the
“Always the lion is known to be chief,” Jack booms.
At that moment Albert the tiny mouse dashes into the
“Down the mouse falls.” Jack whoops gleefully.
“Down little mouse falls!”
This is where the drummer makes a mighty Bang! Bang!
with the big drum, startling once again the audience.
“The mouse is lucky,” shouts the orator. “For a hundred
thousand years, would you know, trees have been growing
at the edge.” Strolling to the paper trees at the back of
the stone circle, Jack plucks a paper leaf, holds it up for
the audience to see, then drops it. “Each year the wind
bloweth. Each year a leaf, then two, then three, falling,
falling, to give the pit a cushion so that those who might
drop inside don’t break all their bones.”
Annabell, engaged in the performance, barely hears the
knock. “Come inside!” she shouts.
“You’re alone!” Edward’s kiss has more than a hint of
porter. “Where’s Emily?”
“Down there somewhere. She wanted to explore. I’m
watching the play. Watch with me.”
“Well, if you move a little.” The two attempt to squeeze
into the space which doesn’t work, so Annabell perches herself on his lap.
The mouse crouched in the pit, the lion clambering
down off the stage steps, the half-sized orator announces: “As so happens, a hedgehog at this moment is now being
chased by a snake.”
Placing his hand to his mouth, Jack gives an aside: “Hedgehogs usually chase snakes, but this
is a contentious one. No one gets to eat this snake. Not
that the hedgehog has anything to fear. Who wants to eat
The audience laughing and clapping, Alice, bright eyes,
as she’s called, ten years old, dressed in a finely tailored
bister coloured hedgehog suit her mother has made, runs
up the stairs, followed by Elfrida with her freckles. Around and around they go, the lady hedgehog sometimes seeming to try to catch the snake as they both skirt around the pit stones.
Then suddenly the snake runs into the pit and so does
Jack leans back as if astonished: “Over the edge of the
pit the TWO go.”
Boom! Boom! Boom! — resounds the drum.
The clown raises his hands: “Then wouldn’t you know,
not minutes later a squirrel is being chased by a fox.”
Now it’s Ben the squirrel’s turn to run up the steps
chased magnificently by Horace the fox.
Around and around the pit the two dash until Elfrida
the snake, already inside, tires of the performance, reaches
out, grabs the poor squirrel by his kilt and pulls it in.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! goes the gallithumpian drum.
Jack the orator waiting until the booing and laughing
from the audience settles, announces in his confidential
voice: “Fox ever weary, seeing squirrel disappear, misses
the pit, but,” Jack leans back, shakes his head. “Fox skids
into a tree.”
Horace the fox suddenly bowls himself over, spread-eagles himself onto the ground.
The drummer being somewhat confused, makes a half-hearted attempt at a bang.
Now big William the lion scurries up the stage steps
chased by Æthelred, the young teacher, a dragons mask, a
robe where his arms have flapping wings. Hands waving up
and down he does looks as if he’s flying after the lion.
Big William tripping over Horace, tumbles over stones
falls into the pit.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! goes the drum.
“So there they are!” calls out Jack. “So there you are,
ladies and gentlemen.” The orator in his clown costume
points to the five all crouched inside the pit. “All but the
fox, all caught in the elephant pit and unable to get out.”
The orator points his hand at the dragon, as Æthelred
and his wings, slink away.
All five animals in the pit begin to shiver.
Annabell turns to Edward. “These children try so hard. I want to set up a burse so that two perhaps more can go
on to a university, a college of their choice.”
They turn back to watch. On the stage Elfrida the snake
is speaking: “I wish I could sliver up the side of this pit to
“Do you think the lion will eat me?” the squirrel asks.
“I have to get away from all these big, big, creatures!”
says the mouse.
Then mighty lion speaks: “The dragon has betrayed me. Even my roar won’t save me.”
Bright eyed little Alice, who is wearing two costumes,
one on top of the other, speaks fast to get her words out: “I wonder if I should tell them I am not a hedgehog, but a
fairy-witch in disguise.”
Jack points to the five: “Fearful to move, the creatures
press against the pit wall. Life is dangerous and who knows
what dreadful things might befall.” The orator opens his arms, seeks compassion from the audience. “But we cannot cling to walls, forever. Can WE!”
Now the lion is speaking: “Oh! Oh! We are all pitiful creatures. Shall we make a
sacrifice to the dragon? Shall we prostrate ourselves?”
“A sacrifice? Who will we sacrifice,” Elfrida the snake
hisses. “Woooh-wpooohh! Wpooohh-woooh! Who is going
“Not me,” says Ben the squirrel.
“Nor me,” speaks little Albert the mouse
“But someone has to be sacrificed,” roars big William,
Silence for a moment. Then the kilted squirrel gets up,
addresses the hedgehog. “What about you. You haven’t
“We could start to get to know who we are,” Alice the
lady hedgehog announces loudly.
“I know who I am,” they shout back in chorus.
“Are you sure,” asks the fairy hedgehog.
Jack the orator steps to the front of the stage: “She isn’t
going to tell them she can also fly. Not yet!” he booms.
The orator moves aside. The lady hedgehog stepping
to the centre of the stones makes a low curtsy. “My name
is Plinyramus. I am a Stickly-Prickly hedgehog. Knowing
each person’s name is better then not knowing.”
Plinyramus stepping back, the lion roars: “My name
is Splendid Mane. I have been given that because of the
splendour of my hair.”
“My name is Cherokee,” announces the squirrel moving
to the centre of the circle and bowing. “My family are a
long, long, long way away.”
“I am Serpent Flower,” hisses the snake.
“Oh, you are a lady like me,” beams Plinyramus. “So
glad to meet you, Serpent Flower.”
“I am Mr. Goh Kheng,” squeaks the little mouse. “I am
“Oh! Mr. Goh Kheng,” squeals Plinyramus. “I am so
glad to meet you. As a hedgehog I am a sacred in China. I am worshipped there as you know. Not one can kill me.”
Small Mr. Goh Kheng sticks his chest out. “That is true.
All hedgehogs are... Are...”
Elfrida the snake comes to the rescue whispering not so
softly, “...holy in China.”
“I KNOW,” Alfred the mouse places both hands on his
waist, looks most perturbed. “I KNOW.”
With that, Ben knocks him on the head, which makes
the five-year-old sit down quickly. “...sacred in China,” he
mumbles in a flurry.
“Who wrote this,” Edward asks Annabell.
“Æthelred,” Annabell answers, pressing her hand against
his thigh. “But with uncle Ronald’s help.”
“I can kill you as sacrifice, stickly-prickly hedgehog,”
roars the lion. “And I will if the rest here agree. Then the
dragon will allow us our freedom.”
Jack the orator booms out. “And the lion is King.”
He opens his arms out wide. “He has lots of money given
to him by all who bow to him. He can easily order the
sacrifice. If I were a stickly-prickly hedgehog, I wouldn’t
wait. She can fly you know.”
Alfred the mouse, in his timid voice says, “We do not
want to be sacrificed, Mr. Lion, sire.”
Little Alice the secret fairy, squeals in her best hedgehog
squeal. “If you want something, and do not wish to hurt
another, to get that something, you have to believe.”
“To believe!” responds Ben the squirrel. He stands up,
does a jig in his kilt.
“To believe!” hisses Serpent Flower, who slides around
the centre of the pit.
“To believe!” squeals small Mr. Goh Kheng, dashing
everywhere he is able.
“To believe!” roars the lion, who stays where he is.
Jack the orator booms out at the audience: “But will
they take the advice of a stickly-prickly hedgehog? That is
“Shall we try it, then?” Plinyramus, the fairy hedgehog
smiles with her best fairy smile.
A lot of mutterings begin, not only inside the circle but
outside from the children sitting either side of the stage.
“Why not?” Squeaks the mouse when the mutterings
“Why not!” hisses Serpent Flower.
“Why not!” squeals Mr. Goh Kheng.
Plinyramus looks around. “What about you, Mr. Lion?”
“What about the dragon?” roars the lion.
Plinyramus clasps her hands together: “All right then. Everyone close their eyes and we will begin.” Plinyramus
steps out of the pit, rushes to the back of the stage to the cluster of paper trees.
Jack points upwards: “She flies to the tallest tree.”
Attached to a piece of wood, the tree is now moved up
and down by a string that Æthelred holds behind the stage.
The effect is quite strange as the fairy dances around.
“Just as the fairy hedgehog believed,” announces Jack.
“A long, thin liana is wrapped among the trees branches.” Jack faces the audience. “For those who do not know, a liana is a rope that grows.” Holding his hands to his waist, he continues. “Lianas become bridges. In the forest canopy anyone can use them: monkeys, squirrels. It’s easy to get
around up there.”
With little Alice continuing to dance and the paper tree
continuing to bob up and down, Jack booms out: “They
can also be uncoiled, and that is just what Plinyramus does. She uncoils the long liana so that it reaches not just to the
ground, but reaches down, down, down, down. Reaches all
the way to the bottom of the pit.”
Alice jumps back into the circle, and as she does, Jack
throws a long, thin, papier-mâché liana after her. Alice,
discarding her hedgehog clothing, uprights the liana. In
fairy speak she calls softly, “You can open your eyes now.”
All stare in amazement at what they see. At the centre
of the pit is a rope, a rope that sticks straight upwards.
“We can climb out!” announces Cherokee the squirrel.
“But I can’t climb,” squeaks Mr. Goh Kheng.
“Nor me,” hisses Miss Serpent Flower. “At least not that high, and up a rope!”
“If it holds, then I’ll be able to do it,” roars Splendid Mane. “You can both go with me.”
“We can! Oh, thank you,” squeaks Mr. Goh Kheng. “You are very kind.”
“Are you sure!” hisses Miss Serpent Flower, who is not
at all sure about sliding onto a lion.
As Cherokee the squirrel jumps out of the pit, and the
mouse and the snake clamber onto the bulk of Splendid
Mane, and the lion steps out, Jack turns to the audience,
booms: “From this time onwards, Mr. Goh Kheng, the mouse,
Miss Serpent Flower, the snake, both have forever been
friends with Splendid Mane, the lion king.”
Jack looking back at the animals. “All you have to do
Plinyramus calls to the audience. “All you have to do
Then the half-sized, fourteen-year-old orator winks at
the audience. “That might be true with those who follow
And with that everyone including Horace, the fox, who
until now has been peacefully sleeping clamber off the