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THE RETURN OF THE BIRDS.
I know the trusty almanac
On their due days, of the birds.
I greet with joy the choral trains
Here weave your chamber weather-proof,
Forgive our harms, and condescend
And, generous, teach his awkward race
RALPH WALDO EMERSON.
Certainly the Dickens children's parties were shining facts in our early London days; nothing else came near them. There were other parties and they were very nice - but nothing to compare to these; not nearly so light, not nearly so shining, not nearly so going round and round.
Perhaps it was not all so brilliantly wonderful as I imagined it; but most assuredly the spirit of mirth and kindly jollity was a reality to every one present, and the master of the house had that wondrous fairy gift of leadership. I know not what to call that power by which he inspired every one with spirit and interest.
One special party I remember, which seemed to me to go on for years with its kind, gay hospitality, its music, its streams of children passing and repassing.
We were a little shy coming in alone in all the consciousness of new shoes and ribbons, but Mrs. Dickens called us to sit by her till the long sweeping dance was over, and talked to us as if we were grown up, —which is always flattering to little girls.
Then Miss Hogarth found us partners, and we, too, formed part of the throng. I remember watching the white satin shoes and long flowing sashes of the little Dickens girls, who were just about our own age, but how much more graceful and beautifully dressed!
Our sashes were bright plaids of red and blue. These were tributes from one of my father's Scotch admirers. Is it ungrateful to confess now, after all, that we could not bear them? Our shoes were only bronze. Shall I own to this passing shadow amid all that radiance? But when people are once dancing. they are all equal again and happy.
Somehow, after the music, we all floated into the long supper-room, and I found myself sitting near the head of the table by Mr. Dickens, with another little girl much younger than myself; she wore a necklace and pretty little sausage curls all round her head.
Mr. Dickens was very kind to the little girl, and presently I heard him persuading her to sing, and he put his arm round her to encourage her; and then, wonderful to say, the little girl stood up (she was little Miss Huldah) and began very shyly, trembling and blushing at first, but as she blushed and trem
bled she sang more and more sweetly; and then all the gay youth, consisting of the little Dickens boys and their friends, ranged along the supper-table, clapped and clapped, and Mr. Dickens clapped, too, smiling and applauding her.
And then he made a little speech, with one hand on the table; I think it was thanking the boys for their applause, and they again clapped and laughed -but here my memory fails me, and everything grows very vague and like a dream.
Only this much I do remember very clearly: that we danced and supped and danced again, and that we were all standing in a hall lighted and hung with bunches of Christmas green, and, as I have said, everything seemed altogether magnificent and important, more magnificent and important every minute, for as the evening went on more and more people kept arriving.
The hall was crowded, and the broad staircase was lined with little boys, whose heads and legs and arms were waving about together. They were making a great noise, and talking and shouting, and the eldest son of the house seemed to be marshaling them.
Presently their noise became a cheer, and then another, and we looked up and saw that our own father had come to fetch us, and that his white head was there above the others. Then came a third, final, ringing cheer, and some one went up to him, it was