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The Rabbit's Fete by Mrs. E. P. Perrin

 

"Good-night, little girl. Go to nurse, and ask her to pop you right into bed."

The front door was shut, and Ellie hurried up stairs to the great hall window, and looked out to see her mamma and pretty Aunt Janet get into the sleigh and drive off. "Hark!" she says to herself, "how nice the bells sound! They keep saying,

'Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh!'

It's just as light as day out-doors. The moon makes the snow look like frosted cake. I can see the croquet ground as plain as can be, and it looks like a great square loaf. There's the arbor, and the seats in it have white cushions on them. How funny it would be to play croquet on the ice! Only the balls would go so fast we should have to put on skates to catch them. I can see ever and ever so far—'way over to the woods where Jack sets his traps. He says they are chock-full of rabbits; but I don't believe him, for he never catches any. What's that moving on the edge of the grove? What can it be? Oh, it's lots of them! They are coming this way, and I can hear them laughing and talking."

Ellie watched, and soon saw a troop of rabbits hopping along toward the lawn.

"Why, I do believe it is a rabbit party. How lucky it is I haven't gone to bed!"

On they came, chattering in the funniest way, and dressed in the top of the fashion. One who seemed to be the leader said: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the spot. You see how level it is for dancing, and we can have a game at croquet if you choose. The band will now strike up; and take partners, if you please, for a waltz."

Ellie wondered where the band was, but the strains of "Sweet Evelina, dear Evelina," came floating on the air, and, looking up, she saw two crows perched on the bar from which the swing hung in summer. One had a little fiddle, and the other a flute.

"That's the queerest thing yet," thought Ellie. "The idea of a crow being able to play on anything, when they make such a horrid noise cawing! The night crows must be different from the day ones."

After the waltz was ended, and the couples were promenading, Ellie took a good look at the young ladies and their lovely dresses. There was one so beautiful she was charmed by her. She was as fair as a lily, and so gentle and sweet Ellie called her the belle of the ball. A little gray fellow never left her side, and could not do enough for her. He called her Alicia, and Ellie did not wonder he seemed so fond of her. She noticed, too, a tall young lady who had a white face with a black nose. She looked very cross, but was much dressed in a scarlet silk, with a long train, which gave her no end of trouble, for it was always in the way. Ellie heard her say, in the crossest way: "I suppose Alicia thinks she looks well to-night with that high comb in her head. I call her a perfect fright."

"You only say so because you haven't one," answered her companion. "I think it is very becoming, and it makes her veil float out beautifully behind."

The leader called out, "Take partners for the Lancers!" and they quickly formed into sets.

They danced to perfection; even the "grand square" was got through without a blunder. The leader was unlucky enough to step upon the scarlet train, and its wearer turned upon him, crying out: "I do wish, Mr. Hopkins, you wouldn't be so clumsy! You will tear my dress off me."

He humbly begged her pardon, but told his partner he should look out and not get in the same set with Matilda again; she was as disagreeable as ever. "Just because her grandmother was French, she gives herself great airs. She is no better than the rest of us."

After the Lancers was finished, Matilda went to the arbor to get her train pinned up. It was sadly torn. While one of the matrons was at work upon it, Ellie listened to the conversation.

"Why isn't Mrs. Gray here to-night?" asked one.

"Don't you know she has eight little ones a week old to-day?"

"Oh, indeed! Her hands must be full. I have been so busy with my own affairs, I know nothing about my neighbors'. But who is that who has just arrived? Mr. Hopkins will surely break his neck trying to get to him."

"That must be Lord Lepus; he belongs to the Hare family, one of the most aristocratic in England. I heard he was to be invited. What an honor!—a nobleman at our New-Year's fête."

Matilda grew impatient, and pulled her dress away, saying, "That will do; I hope you've been long enough about it," and without a word of thanks hurried to join the young people.

"How very rude she is!" thought Ellie. "I always thought that French people were polite."

Her attention was drawn to the new arrival. "He must be what Jack calls a swell," thought she, "with that long coat almost touching his heels, and his button-hole bouquet of carnations, heliotrope, and smilax. How does he keep that one eyeglass in his eye? It never moves, and yet he skips about like a grasshopper."

"Shall I present your lordship to one of the ladies?" asked Mr. Hopkins. "Any of them will be only too happy to dance with you."

"Aw, really now!" answered Lord Lepus. "'Pon my word, they are all such charming creatures, it is hard to choose. Who is the little one with the blue veil standing with the gentleman in demi-toilet of gray?"

"That is Alicia. The gentleman is Mr. Golightly. They are to be married soon."

"How extremely interesting! Pray present me."

His lordship secured the blushing Alicia for a waltz, and was so well pleased with his partner he danced with her again and again.

After the last dance, Ellie saw Mr. Hopkins setting out the wickets for croquet. The balls were lady apples with different colored ribbons tied to the stems, and the mallets were cat-o'-nine-tails, with the pussy end going the other way.

"Well," thought she, "I don't see but that rabbits know as much as people. I wonder how they will play."

She did not have to wonder long, for they were at it almost before she had done thinking. Lord Lepus was a fine player. Alicia was his partner, and with his help her balls went flying through the wickets in a twinkling. Golightly and Matilda were in the same game, and did their prettiest; but his lordship was too much for them.

At last when Alicia sent Matilda's ball spinning, and struck the stake for her partner and then for herself, Matilda flew in a rage, and lifting her mallet, struck Alicia a blow on the head, which drove the teeth of her comb down into the pretty white skin. Poor Alicia gave one cry, and dropped senseless. Golightly was beside himself with grief, and pushing Lord Lepus aside as he sprang to her aid, cried, "Away! away! You took her from me in life: she is mine in death."

"I beg pardon—" politely began his lordship, but was interrupted by Mrs. Muff, Alicia's chaperon, who calmly ordered Golightly to stop his noise, and help Mr. Hopkins carry her charge to the arbor.

"Oh, what shall we do?" groaned Golightly, beating his brow with his hand.

"Do," repeated Mrs. Muff; "why, send for a porous plaster. Here, Skipjack, run to Dr. Pine as fast as you can, and fetch me one."

In a moment he was back with it, and Mrs. Muff quickly clapped it upon Alicia's head. Ellie looked on with breathless interest, and soon Alicia slowly opened her eyes, and looking up, said, in a soft voice, "Dear Golightly!"

Mrs. Muff skillfully jerked off the plaster, and Ellie saw the teeth of the comb sticking to it.

"Bless my soul! it's the most extraordinary thing," cried his lordship.

"Oh, that's nothing," replied Mrs. Muff; "I always use them when my children are teething, with great success. But where is Matilda?"

"The poor girl was terribly cut up, you know, and ran away toward the woods," answered Lord Lepus. "How does the charming Alicia find herself? Well enough to join us, I hope."

"She must rest awhile. A short nap will entirely restore her," said Mrs. Muff.

At that moment Mr. Hopkins put his head in the arbor, and announced supper was served.

"Now," said Mrs. Muff, "while you are at supper Alicia shall go to sleep, and I will watch her."

Ellie looked out, and saw a table spread on the croquet ground. "Well, well, how quick rabbits are! I wonder what they have to eat;" and she ran along with the rest of the party to find out. The table was loaded with nice things—apples and celery in abundance, and piles and piles of popped corn. Lord Lepus had never seen any before, and was so much pleased with it, Mr. Hopkins ordered a waiter to fill a bag and give it to his lordship when he left. "How strange," thought Ellie; "mamma says it is very impolite to carry away anything to eat when you go to parties. But perhaps it is different with rabbits."

When they had finished supper, Mr. Cawkins and son—the band—came flapping down and picked up everything that was on the table. "I suppose that playing makes them hungry," thought Ellie; "but how fast they do eat!"

When the last kernel of popped corn had disappeared, the crows flew back to their perch and began to play the liveliest, merriest tune Ellie had ever heard. Mr. Hopkins said to Lord Lepus, "Will your lordship join us in dancing the merry-go-round? It is our national dance, and we always have it on New-Year's Eve."

"I shall be most happy; and here comes the fair Alicia, looking as fresh as a daisy. I will secure her for my partner."

But Mr. Hopkins formed them into a circle, and they began to dance around, singing as they went. Ellie listened, and caught the words,

"Come dance, come dance the merry-go-round,
With sprightly leap and joyous bound.
We'll grasp each hand with right good cheer,
And welcome in the glad new year.
Oh, the merry-go-round, the merry-go-round,
We'll dance till day is dawning."

They flew around fast and faster, till Ellie could not tell one from another. They looked like a streak on the snow.

"Dear me, how dizzy they will get! Poor Alicia will certainly have the headache," thought Ellie; but still quicker went the music, and still faster flew the dancers. All of a sudden Ellie was startled by a loud "caw." She felt some one shaking her shoulder, and a voice in her ear said, "Wake up, Miss Ellie, wake up. The hall clock has just struck half past nine, and to think of your being out of bed at this hour! What will your mamma say? That giddy-pate Sarah told me she would undress you, for I was called away."

"I am so glad," said sleepy little Ellie, "for I have seen the merry-go-round."

Nurse gathered her up in her arms, and bore her to the nursery.

"Nursey," asked Ellie, "are English hares better than our rabbits?"

"Yes, miss, much better for soup."

"Soup!" cried Ellie; "how dreadful, when he was so beautifully dressed!"

"Yes," said nurse, "we like to have them dressed; they are so hard to skin."

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Ellie. "He wore such a beautiful long coat, and had on a locket and three rings."

"Dear me," thought nurse, "she has been in the moonlight so long I am afraid it has turned her brain. She certainly seems a little looney. The sooner she is undressed and in her bed, the better."

"Oh, nursey, the next time baby has any teeth coming, put on a porous plaster, and it will pull them right through his gums."

"Bless the child! What is she talking about now? Hares and plasters! The moon is a dangerous thing, and Sarah shall be well scolded for her neglect."

As Ellie laid her head on the pillow, she said, "They danced the merry-go-round, and at the end of every verse they sang, 'Oh, the merry-go-round, the merry-go-round, we'll—dance—till—day—'"

Nurse looked, and saw that little Ellie was fast asleep.