A sacrifice?   Who will we sacrifice?
Woooh-wpooohh!   Wpooohh-woooh!
Who is going to die!
Chapter Ten — Mayday
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he time being after eight in the morning, the back of the house should be having their breakfast.  When the Squire is given all supervision of the Manor by his mother he took it upon himself to issue a breakfast time order: Breakfast for employees at eight!
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 a thing.
“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 win.”
“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 Mrs. Minton.
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 morning offering.
“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 for air.
“Most appropriate.”
“Thought you would say that.”
“Better than last time.”
“Before India!”
“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 crowded.
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 question.
“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, 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 audience
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 muster.
“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 to obey!”
Around and around the comet pit the lion chases the mouse.
“Always the lion is known to be chief,” Jack booms.
At that moment Albert the tiny mouse dashes into the pit.
“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 spikes.”
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 the hedgehog.
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 the top.”
“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 to die!”
“Not me,” says Ben the squirrel.
“Nor me,” speaks little Albert the mouse
“But someone has to be sacrificed,” roars big William, the lion.
Silence for a moment.  Then the kilted squirrel gets up, addresses the hedgehog.  “What about you.  You haven’t said anything!”
“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 Chinese.”
“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 the question.”
“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 stop.
“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 is believe.”
Plinyramus calls to the audience.  “All you have to do is believe.”
Then the half-sized, fourteen-year-old orator winks at the audience.  “That might be true with those who follow good fairies.”
And with that everyone — including Horace, the fox, who until now has been peacefully sleeping — clamber off the stage.
© Kewe   All rights reserved.