An April Holiday  (1896) 
by Phil Robinson

Extracted from English Illustrated magazine, Vol 15, 1896, pp. 21-24. Accompanying illustrations by Cecil Aldin omitted.



I HAD no one to make an April Fool of, for I was all alone in the country with my work. So I made an April Fool of my work.

Over-night I carefully arranged my books on my table, freshened up the inkstand with a little more ink, laid out all my pens in a row, and put on the very middle of the blotting-paper (a nice new clean sheet on the top) a tempting little pile of scribbling paper. Then I turned down the lamps and began to knock the ashes out of my pipe.

"He always does this overnight," said the fat, little, old, conceited inkstand to a new quill-pen, "when he is going to work extra hard next day. What a time you will have! Scratch, scratch, scratch!"

"Shall I?" said the new quill pen. "What shall I do?"

"Oh, you'll see soon enough!" said the inkstand in a tone of voice that made the clean sheet of blotting-paper feel so uncomfortable all over that it turned pinker than ever. "And now I'm going to sleep. We'll have a hard day of it to-morrow, and I shall have to keep my lid open from morning till night. Oh, you'll see!" And then the inkstand shut down its lid with an obstinate little snap, and they all went to sleep.

I heard all this as plainly as ever Hans Andersen heard the tin soldier talking, while I was knocking out the ashes of my pipe on to the ashes of the log in the fireplace. I always burn a wood fire in my study, and you have no idea how nice it is, especially if you have cut the wood yourself. How they do burn, those little round brown logs, sawn off a young spruce fir that has been lying in the spinney all the year quite dead, while the ivy, like the robins in the story of "The Babes in the Wood" was covering it over with leaves! I like these best, and next to them I like the split beech-boughs, that crackle and talk so that the canary begins to sing and the cat can't go to sleep on the rug.

So I went to bed. And next morning, when I woke up, it was April Fool's Day, and the sun was shining on a dewdrop at the end of a leaf just outside the window, and it sparkled blue and green and orange: and a cock-sparrow was looking at it with his head on one side, as if he were not quite sure whether the dewdrop was fit to drink or not. That was how the dewdrop made an April Fool of the sparrow the first thing in the morning, but the sparrow did not care; he sat and chirped and chirped so hard that I was quite afraid he might do himself some mischief inside.

So I got up and went downstairs very quietly, so that my books and the inkstand and other things should not hear me, and put on my boots and gaiters, because of the dew on the grass, and went into the dairy for a long drink of fresh milk, and then out into the garden. A glorious morning, and all the birds out, singing and flying about together.

The wood-pigeons in the spinney were purring and cooing, but not all for love of each other, for I could hear the angry beating of wings in the Scotch fir where two were quarrelling.

The woodpecker was flying from tree to tree with a ringing laugh as he flew, and overhead the rooks, the labouring men of the birds, were flying, full of talk, to their work among the furrows. A hare went comfortably limping across the paddock, well content with itself, for it had made a rare breakfast in the kitchen-garden, and nobody had frightened it all the morning. The squirrels were busy in the spruce husking fir-cones and spitting out the shells. You could hear the pieces come pattering down on the broad laurel leaves beneath. A pair of long-tailed tits were scrambling about on a yew, shaking out little puffs of yellow dust wherever they went. What a beautiful sight a yew-tree is in full flower, with the pale golden blooms against the glossy dark leaves! But the tits were not thinking of that; they were thinking only about the spider's webs which they wanted to fasten the lichens on to the nest that they were building under a drooping branch of the tree. It is beautiful to be out at this time! The birds are never so tame as they are now—never show themselves so freely.

And so to breakfast, and then out again into the air.

How puzzled the pompous old inkstand in the study must be getting! and what, I wonder, does the quill-pen think of him after what he said last night.

"You wait a bit," perhaps he said, "I have often known him be quite as late as this before. But he'll come in by and by and work all the harder: you see if he doesn't. And won't you have to work! You wait a bit." And the new quill-pen would think that of course the old inkstand knew all about it; and every time he heard anyone coming near the study door his little nibs would begin to chatter together with fright, and spots came out on the pink blotting paper with waiting and anxiety.

But I was out in the garden in the sunshine, and the key of the study was fast asleep on the nail. The sun was well up now, and the bees were all in the elm together. This another very pretty tree when it is in bloom, for the little puffs of rosy-brown flowers are set along in so that when you see the boughs the sky they look like branching ferns with chocolate-coloured fronds, and the bees delight in them, just as they do in the lime-trees later on in summer. What portmanteaus these bees make of themselves! they fill their bodies with honey, stick plates of wax between their scales, and carry on each of their legs a package of pollen. They are, like omnibuses, full inside and full out, plying backward and forwards all day long from "the Bank" (where the wild thyme grows) to the the hive. Even the fur on their backs they fill with pollen as they scramble in and out out of the flowers, and when they get home after each journey they are carefully tooth-combed out.

The crocuses are planted in patches all about, and the sun finds them out and worms them wide open, and then the bumble-bees come and clumsily plunder them, and the first butterflies, glad to see anything bright hover about them, and then sit and sun themselves on the terrace.

Hark! the greenfinch has a nest close by. You can tell that by the long-drawn note of caution that it will keep on repeating as long as you are near it: an exasperating sound and a very foolish one for the greenfinch to make, as you can always find its nest by it. The chaffinch, too, has a secret about a little round ball of moss and hair and fluff that is tucked into the fork of a tree and stuck all over outside with lichens taken, perhaps, from the very tree the nest is in, so that it needs very quick eyes to find it. Nor does he tell you where it is, as the greenfinch does, but sits on a high bough, crying "Spink! Spink!" till you go. The missel-thrush flies close past you scolding, and, if you look up, you see its great untidy nest in the sycamore; and yet, in everything else except the place it chooses for its nest, the missel-thrush is a very shy and clever bird. Can you hear the bullfinches? No? listen again. And a quiet, plaintive little call falls on the ear. They are rambling about, doing mischief to the fruit-buds and keeping in touch with each other as they go by this pretty note. It is very difficult to hear at first, but, once accustomed to it, the ear catches the sound immediately, and you can follow them without seeing them once all round the orchard. In that laurel there a thrush is sitting on her eggs, and in that ivy-covered ash a blackbird has already got young ones.

And so homeward through the fields to lunch. The daffodils are out, and the dog-violets in pretty tufts along the banks, and the primroses in glorious bunches. There is coltsfoot, too, in golden abundance, and patches of dead-nettle in bloom. But the time of flowers has not come yet.

And then a long drive in the afternoon in the mellow sun, letting the horse walk half the way, for the sake of watching the hares in the fields and along the hedges, and the pheasants dotting the turf like birds of polished copper, and of listening to the sunset song of blackbird and thrush.

Then home again with the shadows of evening creeping across the paddock. A rabbit steals out from the shrubbery and trips across the lawn; the bats are in the air. The crescent moon is up, and the stars are already showing, though the sky in the west is still rosy with the promise of a fair to-morrow. And as I go in, I hear the owl pass, crying to its mate, and eager to reach the stockyard, where the mice are scampering. And so to dinner, and drawn curtains, and the cheerful lamp and a book.

Not once in the study all day! The inkstand has given up answering the quill-pen's questions long ago, and it was very grumpy at being wrong, after all.

"Just wait till to-morrow," was the last thing said.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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