Exeunt children, and re-enter stewards, each with a blue plate in his hand. The band plays a lively air; the majority of the company put their hands in their pockets and look rather serious; and the noise of sovereigns, rattling on crockery, is heard from all parts of the room.
After a short interval, occupied in singing and toasting, the secretary puts on his spectacles, and proceeds to read the report and list of subscriptions, the latter being listened to with great attention. 'Mr. Smith, one guinea--Mr. Tompkins, one guinea--Mr. Wilson, one guinea--Mr. Hickson, one guinea--Mr. Nixon, one guinea--Mr. Charles Nixon, one guinea--[hear, hear!]--Mr. James Nixon, one guinea--Mr. Thomas Nixon, one pound one [tremendous applause]. Lord Fitz Binkle, the chairman of the day, in addition to an annual donation of fifteen pounds--thirty guineas [prolonged knocking: several gentlemen knock the stems off their wine- glasses, in the vehemence of their approbation]. Lady, Fitz Binkle, in addition to an annual donation of ten pound--twenty pound' [protracted knocking and shouts of 'Bravo!'] The list being at length concluded, the chairman rises, and proposes the health of the secretary, than whom he knows no more zealous or estimable individual. The secretary, in returning thanks, observes that HE knows no more excellent individual than the chairman--except the senior officer of the charity, whose health HE begs to propose. The senior officer, in returning thanks, observes that HE knows no more worthy man than the secretary--except Mr. Walker, the auditor, whose health HE begs to propose. Mr. Walker, in returning thanks, discovers some other estimable individual, to whom alone the senior officer is inferior--and so they go on toasting and lauding and thanking: the only other toast of importance being 'The Lady Patronesses now present!' on which all the gentlemen turn their faces towards the ladies' gallery, shouting tremendously; and little priggish men, who have imbibed more wine than usual, kiss their hands and exhibit distressing contortions of visage.
We have protracted our dinner to so great a length, that we have hardly time to add one word by way of grace. We can only entreat our readers not to imagine, because we have attempted to extract some amusement from a charity dinner, that we are at all disposed to underrate, either the excellence of the benevolent institutions with which London abounds, or the estimable motives of those who support them.
CHAPTER XX--THE FIRST OF MAY
'Now ladies, up in the sky-parlour: only once a year, if you please!' YOUNG LADY WITH BRASS LADLE.
'Sweep--sweep--sw-e-ep!' ILLEGAL WATCHWORD.
The first of May! There is a merry freshness in the sound, calling to our minds a thousand thoughts of all that is pleasant in nature and beautiful in her most delightful form. What man is there, over whose mind a bright spring morning does not exercise a magic influence--carrying him back to the days of his childish sports, and conjuring up before him the old green field with its gently- waving trees, where the birds sang as he has never heard them since--where the butterfly fluttered far more gaily than he ever sees him now, in all his ramblings--where the sky seemed bluer, and the sun shone more brightly--where the air blew more freshly over greener grass, and sweeter-smelling flowers--where everything wore a richer and more brilliant hue than it is ever dressed in now! Such are the deep feelings of childhood, and such are the impressions which every lovely object stamps upon its heart! The hardy traveller wanders through the maze of thick and pathless woods, where the sun's rays never shone, and heaven's pure air never played; he stands on the brink of the roaring waterfall, and, giddy and bewildered, watches the foaming mass as it leaps from stone to stone, and from crag to crag; he lingers in the fertile plains of a land of perpetual sunshine, and revels in the luxury of their balmy breath. But what are the deep forests, or the thundering waters, or the richest landscapes that bounteous nature ever spread, to charm the eyes, and captivate the senses of man, compared with the recollection of the old scenes of his early youth? Magic scenes indeed; for the fancies of childhood dressed them in colours brighter than the rainbow, and almost as fleeting!
In former times, spring brought with it not only such associations as these, connected with the past, but sports and games for the present--merry dances round rustic pillars, adorned with emblems of the season, and reared in honour of its coming.