VII. Taro's Birthday
 

I wish there was room in this book to tell you about all the good times that Taro and Take have, but they have so many holidays and such good times on every one of them that it would take two books to tell about it all.

They have cherry festivals and wistaria festivals and chrysanthemum festivals when everybody goes to picnics and spends the whole day with the flowers.

On the day of the Lotus Festival they go very early in the morning, before the sun is up, to a pond where the lotus flowers bloom. They go with their teacher and all the children.

When they get to the pond, the teacher says, "Listen!" Every one is still as a mouse. Just as the sun comes up, the lotus flowers open. Pop, pop, pop, they go, like fairy guns! The children love to hear them pop. "The flowers salute the sun," they say.

One of the best days of all is New Year's Day, when all the boys and their fathers and grandfathers fly kites. And such wonderful kites! The air is full of dragons and boxes and all sorts of queer shapes. Sometimes the dragons have a battle in the air!

But one day I must tell you about, anyway, and that is Taro's birthday!

It isn't only Taro's birthday, you know. All the boys celebrate together. The girls--even if they are your very own twins--don't have a thing to do with it. And it lasts five days! On the first morning Taro woke very early. He was just as excited as Take was on the day of the Festival of Dolls. But Take didn't stay in bed on Taro's birthday. She flew out early, for she wanted to see all the fun, even if she wasn't in it.

First she went to the Kura with Taro and their Father to get out the flags. The boys' birthday is called the Feast of Flags.

They took Bot'Chan with them to the Kura. Take carried him on her back.

"It's Bot'Chan's birthday, too," she said, "so he must go."

In the Kura was a long bamboo pole. The Twins' Father took the pole and set it up in the street before their house. Then he brought out two great paper fish. They were almost larger than Taro. They had great round mouths and round eyes. A string was fastened to their mouths.

"There's one fish for Taro and one for Bot'Chan," said the Father. "We have two boys in our house."

He tied the fish to the pole. The wind filled the great round mouths and soon away up in the air the two fish were bobbing and blowing about just as if they were alive!

There was a bamboo pole with one or two--and sometimes three or four--fish on it before every house in the street!

"My! how many boys there are in the world!" Take said; "more than I can count!"

The street was as gay as a great flower-garden. There were not only fish flags; there was the flag of Japan, with a great round red disk on it. And there was the flag of the navy, which was a great round red sun like the other, only with red rays around it, and there were banners of all colors waving in the breeze.

"Why are the fish flags all made just like the carp in the pond at the Temple?" asked Take.

"Because the carp is such a plucky fish," the Father answered. "He isn't a lazy fish that only wants to swim downstream, the easy way. He swims up the rivers and jumps up the falls. That's the way we want our Japanese boys to be. Their lives must be brave and strong, like the carp."

"And clean and bright like the sword, too?" Taro said.

"Yes," said his Father. "I'm glad you remember about the sword."

When the fish flags were bobbing about in the air, the Father and children went back into the house.

There were the steps in the side of the room again, just where they were when Take had her birthday. And Taro had his dolls, too. They were not like Take's. They were soldier dolls, enough for a whole army. Taro set them up in rows, as if they were marching! There were General dolls, and officers on horseback, and bands. There were even two nurses, following after the procession. There were toy guns, and ever and ever so many flags all in a row.

Taro was so excited he could hardly eat any breakfast! As soon as he had finished, he sprang up from his cushion. He almost upset his table, he was in such a hurry. He put on a play uniform like a soldier. And he had a wooden sword!

"There's going to be a war!" he said to Take.

"Where?" asked Take; "can I see it?"

"It's going to be in the street. I'm the General," said Taro.

"Oh, how I wish I could be a General," cried Take.

But Taro never even heard her. He was already on his way to join his regiment.

In a few minutes Take heard the "rap- a-tap, tap! rap-a-tap, tap!" of a drum. "They're coming! They're coming!" she called to her Mother and Father. The Mother rolled Bot'Chan on to her back. Take took her Father's hand. They all ran to the gate to see the procession. The servants came out, too, and last of all Grannie. They gave Grannie the best place to see. Soon around the corner came the procession.

First marched a color-bearer with the big Japanese flag. Then came Taro. He looked very proud and straight, walking all alone at the head of the procession. He was the General because he had a sword!

All the boys carried flags. They kept step like little soldiers.

"Oh, doesn't Taro look beautiful?" said Take. She climbed up on the gate-post. She waved a little flag with all her might, but Taro never looked round. He just marched straight along.

Just then "rub-a-dub-dub" came the sound of another drum. Around the next corner came another army of little boys.

They carried flags, too. They marched straight toward Taro's army.

"Now the war is coming! Now the war is coming!" shouted Take.

All at once Taro's soldiers began to run. The other soldiers ran, too. They ran straight toward each other and tried to get each others' flags.

Take saw Taro wave his sword. "On, soldiers, on!" he shouted.

Then there was a great mix-up of boys and flags. It seemed like a bundle of waving arms and legs and banners. Every boy was shouting at the top of his voice.

Take climbed right on top of the gate- post, she was so excited. She stood up on it and waved her arms!

"Look at that child," cried the Mother. "She'll fall."

Take was dancing for joy.

"There they come! There they come!" she cried.

Her Father reached up and held her still. "Be quiet, grasshopper," he said.

"But Taro is coming! They beat, they beat!" cried Take.

Taro and his army were coming up the street on the run. Nearly every little boy had two flags! The other army was running away as fast as it could go. They had only two banners left.

"Beat the drum!" shouted Taro. The drummer boy began, "rat-a-tat- tat," and the whole victorious army marched down the street and right into Taro's garden!

As he passed his Father and Mother and Grannie and Bot'Chan, Taro saluted. His Father saluted Taro, and every one of the family-- Grannie and all--cried "Banzai! Banzai!" That means the same as hurrah!

Then Take tumbled off the gate-post and raced up to the porch after the soldier. At the porch, the soldiers broke ranks.

The General's Mother ran into the house and brought out sweet rice-cakes and sugared beans. She fed the entire army. There were six boys in it.

"Fighting makes a soldier very hungry," Taro said.

Then his Mother went into the house and brought out more cakes and more beans.

The boys ate them all.

The army stayed at Taro's house and played with his soldiers and drilled on his porch until lunch-time, when they all went to their own homes.

After luncheon Taro played with his tops. He had two beautiful ones. One was a singing top.

He was spinning the singing top when all of a sudden there was a great noise in the street. He ran to see what was the matter.

There, almost right in front of his own house, was a real show! There was a man and a little boy and a monkey! The monkey had on a kimono. The monkey and the little boy did tricks together. Then the man and the boy did tricks. The man balanced a ladder on his shoulder. The little boy climbed right up the ladder and hung from the top of it by his toes.

Every boy in the street came running to see them. Take came, too. The little boy, hanging from the top of the ladder, opened a fan and fanned himself! Then he climbed to his feet again and stood on one foot on the top of the ladder. Then he made a bow!

Taro and Take almost stopped breathing, they were so afraid the little boy would fall.

The little boy threw his fan to the monkey. The monkey caught it and fanned himself, while the little boy came down the ladder to the ground, all safe and sound.

The Twins' Mother came out, too. She saw the little boy. She felt sorry for him. She felt sorry for the monkey, too. "Come in and have some rice-cakes," she said.

The man, the boy, and the monkey all came into the garden of the little house. All the other children came, too.

The Mother brought out cakes and tea. Everybody had some. The man and the boy thanked her. They made the monkey thank her, too. He got down on his knees and bowed clear to the ground.

When they had eaten the cakes and drank the tea, the man and the boy said, "Sayonara, Sayonara." The monkey jumped on the man's shoulder, and away they went down the street, with all the boys following after.

Taro and Take did not go with them, because their Mother said, "It is almost time for supper." They watched the others from their gate. Then they came back and sat down on the top step of the porch.

"I think you've had just as good a time on your birthday as I had on mine," Take said.

"Better," said Taro.

"Taro, we are getting very old, aren't we?" Take went on.

"Yes," said Taro, "we are six now."

"What are you going to be when you are seven or eight years old and grown up?" asked Take.

"Well," said Taro, "I'm not sure, but I think I shall be either a general or a juggler," Taro said. "What are you going to be?"

"There's only one thing I can grow to be," said Take. "If I am very, very good, maybe I'll grow to be a mother-in-law sometime."

Just then they heard their Mother's voice calling them to supper. It was very late for supper--it was really almost night.

The shadows in the little garden were growing long. The birds were chirping sleepily to each other in the wistaria vine. The iris flowers were nodding their purple heads to the little goldfish in the pond. Everything was quiet and still.

The Twins stopped to look at the little garden before they went in to their supper.

"Good night, pretty world," they said, and waved their hands.

THE END