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BY WALTER BESANT, AUTHOR OF "ALL SORTS AND CONDITIONS OF MEN," "THE CHAPLAIN OF THE FLEET," ETC.
THE PRIZE OF THE GOLDEN APPLE.
F the months of the year are feminine, like the fleeting hours, then the most feminine, the most variable, the greatest coquette of the whole twelve, is that nymph whom we call May-fol qui s'y fie. She is inconstant; she never remains of the same mind; she is faithless; she is full of whims; sometimes she is so sweet and charming that she carries all hearts, not by savage assault, but by the mere aspect and sight of her. Sometimes she is so full of smiles and winning ways that men, looking upon each other, wonder how any could be found to speak a word in her dispraise; she sings, and laughs, and crowns herself with flowers, and trips with light foot and careless ease over meadows ankle-deep with buttercups. During these her happy moods we all fall to being happy too; every poet thinks of rhymes to fit a sonnet; every musician reaches down his fiddle; and everywhere there is such a twanging of lyres, singing of madrigals, dancing of ballads, warbling of ditties, and universal chorus of praise, that it is enough to turn the head of any goddess, to say nothing of a mere minor deity and simple country nymph. And all in a moment-lo! -she changes; she frowns; she is cold; she sings no longer; she puts on sad-coloured robes; she is as forbidding as poor Miss February with her sealskins, her red nose, her frozen toes, and the cold in her head. Alas! poor May. Then the lyre, the theorbo, the viol, the bagpipe, the scrannel straw, the
lute, the dulcimer, tabor, and pipe are all, with one consent, silenced and put upon the shelves; the musicians sit down, sad; the poets tear up their unfinished lays; the songs cease; everybody goes home; doors and windows are shut tight, and the poor maid is left out of doors all in the cold, deploring, alone in her gloom to lament her caprice. Yet another hour, and she forgets her ill-humour; we forget it too: she is once more the sweet, the lovely, the blushing, merry, and merry-making month of May; we are grovelling slaves again.
It was in the evening of, perhaps, the most lovely day that this fickle goddess ever vouchsafed to England that four children. were playing together under the trees of an ancient forest. The sun was going down, and the west was already making preparations to receive him with a grand illumination. The young leaves were at their bravest and brightest, and the air was heavy with the fragrance of the May blossom, because there is no such place in the world as this forest for the hawthorn. Three of the playing children were boys of thirteen, the fourth was a girl of about eleven. She ran, and jumped, and played with the boys as if she were a boy herself, being, in fact, as strong and sturdy as any boy of her age, with a length of limb which gave goodly promise for the future, to those who love their mistress and queen to be tall. They had been running and playing the whole afternoon and were now growing a little tired. When a boy begins to feel tired he jumps and runs harder than ever, and becomes rough, just to show that he is not tired at all. But when a girl feels tired she