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CHAPTER VIII.

A PANTOMIME-A PARTY—A LETTER FROM

AUSTRALIA—AND A PROMISED VISIT.

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HE longed-for evening arrived, and

the excitement was tremendous. On pantomime nights it is a known fact that all the clocks must be at least an hour slow, and that such a commonplace meal as tea is superfluous. The only things worth doing are dressing and watching for the carriage to come

to the door. Three very pretty little girls in white frocks, and very warm fur-lined cloaks were peering out of the chink they had unfastened of the dining-room shutters, seeing nothing but faring gas lamps, and a dark, gusty-looking square, the railings and bare shrubs of which were faintly visible. On the hearth-rug, stood two of England's rising youths, upon whom more advanced wisdom was dawning, and they kept away from the windows. In a large arm-chair sat their father, upon whose face rested placid contentment and absolute comfort, as he sedulously kept himself warm up to the last moment.

“Here's the carriage !” cried Lily.
Off flew Gerty, calling, “Mama, Mama!”

“Here I am, Miss Impatience!” and Mrs Morton entered, well wrapped up, and then the party started. The carriage would not hold all, so the gentlemen took a hansom, and met the party at the door of the theatre.

I can remember now the great attraction all the lamp-lit streets used to have for me, when as a child I was taken to a pantomime. And those beautiful bottles in the chemist's windows! Where is the child who does not connect these wonders with the London drive on a winter's evening ? and who that has admired the green, and red, and yellow has not asked what the bottles were filled with ? and who, oh! tell me, has ever heard the right story?

Crowds of poor, ragged children, dirty faced, and barefooted, pressed forward eagerly for a sight of the rosy, happy little ladies who rode in a carriage, and had dinner every day! And these excited little girls did not know or think then of the sad hearts that were beating under ragged frocks; they thought only, as in childhood is natural, of what they were going to see the pantomime.

When they were all seated, the youngest in front, in the box; and when Daisy and Lily had a little recovered from the sensation of amazement at the big painted curtain, and the squeaking of the violins which were tuning up in the orchestra, they ventured to emulate Gerty and the boys who were leaning comfortably on the velvet cushion in front of the box, and looking round the house.

“What a lot of children !” exclaimed Daisy.

“That's what the pantomime's for, my love,” said Hubert, and then Daisy gave a sudden start, for the orchestra struck up a lively tune which she had by no means expected.

When the performance once began, it certainly would have cheered anyone to hear the peals of childish laughter! To old folks who have warm hearts this cheery echo of their long-past careless childhood, this unconventional, blythesome merriment is music!

With a deep sigh the children ventured to draw their breath after a most intense spell of admiration. Was ever the fairyland of their dreams as beautiful as that transformation scene, where Autumn leaves of golden tint fell slowly, and the song of countless birds filled the air! And there too, amid the falling leaves, and fairies rising one by one, the dear little babes in the wood are sleepingnot dead, but safe in fairy-land! What peace to many a baby-heart to know this happy ending to the saddest tragedy of baby lore.

When they went home, the appetites which had deserted them at tea-time were of double keenness at supper; and very sleepy voices said good-night; and

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