To have a good birthday for a grown-up person is very difficult indeed;
We don't give it up, for Mother says the harder things are, the harder you must try till you succeed.
Still, our birthdays are different; we want so many things, and choosing your own pudding, and even half-holidays are treats;
But what can you do for people who always order the dinner, and never have lessons, and don't even like sweets?
I know Mother does not. Baby put a big red comfit in her mouth, and I saw her take it out again on the sly;
I don't believe she even enjoys going a-gypseying, for she gets neuralgia if she stands about where it isn't dry.
And how can you boil the kettle if you're not near the brook? But it's the last time she shall go there,
I told her so; I said, "What's the good of having five sons, except to mount guard over you, you Queen of all Mothers that ever were?"
But she's not easy to manage, and she shams sometimes, and shamming is a thing I can't bear.
She shammed about the red comfit, when she didn't think Baby could see her;
And (because they're the only things we can think of for birthday presents for her) she shams wearing out a needle-book and a pin-cushion every year.
The only things we can think of for Father are paper-cutters; but there's no sham about his wearing them out;
He would always lose them, long before his next birthday, if Mother did not keep finding them lying about.
Last year's paper-cutter was as big as a sword (not as big as Father's sword, but as big as a wooden one, like ours),
And he left it behind in a railway-carriage, when he'd had it just thirty-six hours;
So we knew he was ready for another. It was Mother's birthday that bothered us so;
And if it hadn't been for Dolly's Major (he's her Godfather, and she calls him "my Major"), what we should have done I really don't know!
He said, "What's the matter?" And Dolly said,
"Mother's birthday's the matter." And I said, "We can't think what to devise
To give her a birthday treat that won't give her neuralgia, and will take her by surprise.
Look here, Major! How can you give people treats who can order what they wish for far better than you?
I wonder what they do for the Queen!--her birthday must be the hardest of all." But he said, "Not a bit of it! They have a review:
Cocked hats and all the rest of it; and a salute, and a feu de joie, and a March-Past.
That's the way we keep the Queen's Birthday; and every year the same as the last."
So I settled at once to have a Mother's Birthday Review; and that she should be Queen, and I should be the General in command.
I thought she couldn't come to any harm by sitting in a fur cloak and a birthday wreath at the window, and bowing and waving her hand.
We did not tell her what was coming, we only asked for leave to have all the seven donkeys for an hour and a half;
(We always hire them from the same old man)--two for the girls, and five for me and my brothers--I told him, "for me and my Staff."
We could have managed with five, if the girls would only have been Maids of Honour, and stayed indoors with the Queen.
Maggie would if I'd asked her; but Dolly will go her own way, and that's into the thick of everything, to see whatever there is to be seen.
She's only four years old, but she's ridiculously like the picture of an ancient ancestress of ours
Who defended an old castle in Cornwall, against the French, for hours and hours.
Her husband was away, so she was in command, and all her household obeyed her;
She made them strip the lead off the roofs, and they did, and she boiled it down and gave it very hot indeed to the
Maggie would have let the French in; she doesn't like me to say so, but I know she would,--you can get anything out of Maggie by talking.
She likes to hire a donkey, and then sham she'd rather not ride, for fear of being too heavy; and to take Spike out for a run, and then carry him to save him the trouble of walking.
But she's very good; she made all our cocked hats, and at the review she and Dolly and Spike were the loyal crowd.
Dick and Tom and Harry were the troops, and I was the General, and Mother looked quite like a Queen at the window, and bowed.
The donkeys made very good chargers on the whole, and especially mine;
Jem's was the only one that gave trouble, and neither fair means nor foul would keep him in line.
Just when I'd dressed all their noses to a nice level (you can do nothing with their ears), then back went Jem's brute,
And Jem caught him a whack with the flat of his sword (a thing you never see done on the Staff), and it rather spoilt the salute;
But the spirit of the troops was excellent, and we'd a feu de joie with penny pistols (Jem's donkey was the only one that shied), and Dolly's Major says that, all things considered, he never saw a better March-Past;
And Mother was delighted with her first Birthday Review, and she is none the worse for it, and says she only hopes that it won't be the last.
They call me Dolly, but I'm not a doll, and I'm not a baby, though Baby is sometimes my name;
I behave beautifully at meals, and at church, and I can put on my own boots, and can say a good deal of the Catechism, and ride a donkey, and play at any boys' game.
I've ridden a donkey that kicks (at least I rode him as long as I was on), and a donkey that rolls, and an old donkey that goes lame.
I mean to ride like a lady now, but that's because I ought, not because I easily can;
For what with your legs and your pommels (I mean the saddle's pommels), it would be much easier always to ride like a man.
Boys look braver, but I think it's really more dangerous to ride sideways, because of the saddle slipping round.
(I didn't cry; I played at slipping round the world, and getting to New Zealand with my head upside down on the ground.)
The reason the saddle is slippery is not because it's smooth, for it's rather rough; and there's a hard ridge behind,
And the horse's hair coming through the donkey's back (I mean through his saddle) scratches you dreadfully; but I tuck my things under me, and pretend I don't mind.
They work out again though, particularly when they are starched, and I think frocks get shorter every time they go to the wash;
But I don't complain; if it's very uncomfortable, I make an ugly face to myself, and say, "Bosh!"
We've all of us had a good deal of practice, so we ought to know how to ride;
We've ridden a great deal since we came to live on the Heath, and we rode a good deal when Father was stationed at the sea-side.
My Major taught me to ride sideways, and at first he would hold me on;
But I don't like being touched; and I don't call it riding like a lady if you're held on by an officer, and I'd rather tumble off if I can't stick on by myself; so I sent him away, and the nasty saddle slipped round directly he was gone.
I only crushed my sun-bonnet, and the donkey stood quite still. (We always call that one "the old stager.")
I wasn't frightened, except just the tiniest bit; but he says he was dreadfully frightened. So I said, "Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself, considering all your medals, and that you're a Major."
He likes me very much, and I like him, and when my fifth birthday comes, he says I'm to choose a donkey, and he'll buy it for me, but the saddle and bridle shall be quite new;
So I've made up my mind to choose the one Brother Bill had for his charger at Mother's Birthday Review;
And Maggie is so glad, she says her life is quite miserable with thinking how miserable other lives are, if only we knew.
Maggie loves every creature that lives; she won't confess to black beetles, but she can't stamp on them (I've stamped out lots in my winter boots), and she doesn't even think a donkey ugly when he brays;
And she says she shall buy a brush, out of her pocket-money, and brush my donkey every day till he looks like a horse, and that it shan't be her fault if there isn't one poor old brute beast who lives happily to the end of his days.
The dew falls over the Heath, Brother Donkeys, and the darkness falls, but still through the gathering night
All around us spreads the Heath Bed-straw in glimmering sheets of white.
Dragged and trampled, and plucked and wasted, it patiently spreads and survives;
Kicked and thwacked, and prodded and over-laden, we patiently cling to our lives.
Hee-haw! for the rest and silence of darkness that follow the labours of light.
Hee-haw! for the hours from night to morning, that balance the hours from morning to night.
Hee-haw! for the sweet night air that gives human beings cold in the head.
Hee-haw! for the civilization that sends human beings to bed.
Rest, Brother Donkeys, rest, from the bit, the burden, the blow,
The dust, the flies, the restless children, the brutal roughs, the greedy donkey-master, the greedier donkey-hirer, the holiday-maker who knows no better, and the holiday-makers who ought to know!
When the odorous furze-bush prickles the seeking nose, and the short damp grass refreshes the tongue,--lend, Brother Donkeys, lend a long and attentive ear!
Whilst I proudly bray
Of the one bright day
In our hard and chequered career.
I've dragged pots, and vegetables, and invalids, and fish, and I've galloped with four costermongers to the races;
I've carried babies, and sea-coal, and sea-sand, and sea-weed in panniers, and been sold to the gypsies, and been bought back for the sea-side, and ridden (in a white saddle-cloth with scarlet braid) by the fashionable visitors. (There was always a certain distinction in my paces,
Though I say it who shouldn't) I've spent a summer on the Heath, and next winter near Covent Garden, and moved the following year to the foot of a mountain, to take people up to the top to show them the view.
But how little we know what's before us! And how little I guessed I should ever be chief charger at a Queen's Birthday Review!
Did I triumph alone? No, Brother Donkeys, no! You also took your place with the defenders of the nation;
Subordinate positions to my own, but meritoriously filled, though a little more style would have well become so great an occasion.
That malevolent old Moke--may his next thistle choke him!--disgraced us all with his jibbing--the ill-tempered old ass!
Young Neddy is shaggy and shy, but not amiss, if he'd held his ears up, and not kept his eyes on the grass.
Nothing is more je-june (I may say vulgar) than to seem anxious to eat when the crisis calls for public spirit, enthusiasm, and an elevated tone;
And I wish, Brother Donkeys, I wish that all had felt as I felt, the responsibility of a March-Past the Throne!
Respect and self-respect delicately blended; one ear up, and the other lowered to salute, as I passed the window from which we were seen
(Unless I grievously misunderstood the young General this morning,) by no less a personage than her Most Gracious Majesty THE QUEEN.
Sleep, Brother Donkeys, sleep! But I fancy you're sleeping already, for you make no reply;
Not a quiver of your ears, not a sign from your motionless drooping noses, dark against the dusky night sky.
As black and immovable as the silent fir-trees you solemnly slumber beneath,
Whilst I wakefully meditate on a glorious past, and painfully ponder the future, as the dews fall over the Heath.