The Elder Brother
H E was one of a big, big family living on a hilly road near a white house.
The people in this house, who wore funny pink dresses and pink sunbonnets and thick shoes, called his mother "That Beautiful Oak"; and his mother smiled at the name, for she liked the pink sunbonnets and knew that they were friends.
Near by were the children of a plump neighbor whom the pink sunbonnets called "Our Maple"; and, for companions, the sunshine that came and went, and the rain that splashed over them; and, above all, there was the family itself. So big a household could never be lonely, and at almost any hour of the day or night one who listened could hear a soft murmur, which meant that most of the children were trying to talk at once.
All the time they talked and laughed they were growing up, with many stretching and twisting, into bigger and bigger children; and one day this especial Elder brother—for they were all Elder Brothers, when you stop to think—felt something pressing against his foot. He knew just what it was and what was coming, so he stopped his talk and listened.
Presently he heard a wee, wee voice.
"Elder Brother, Elder Brother," it called, "you are standing on my head."
"I know it," said Elder Brother, "and it's good for your head."
"But I want to get out."
"You can't; it isn't time."
"But I want to see the world."
"You will when you are old enough."
"When will that be?"
"Oh, by and by, when you've grown more and we have changed our dresses."
"Will you tell me when it is time?"
"Yes, Little Brother; now go to sleep and grow."
So Little Brother cuddled down into quiet, and the weeks went by. Then, when he had had a nice long nap, he called out:
"Elder Brother, Elder Brother, is it time?"
And Elder Brother answered cheerily: "Not yet. The birds haven't gone and the nights are warm, and our dresses are still green. Sleep some more."
So Little Brother cuddled down again and more weeks went by. And then he roused once more.
"Elder Brother, Elder Brother," he called, "is it time?"
And Elder Brother answered cheerily: "Not quite yet. The apples are red, and the winds are sharp at night, and some of us have begun to change our dresses, but I haven't. Just a little longer."
Again Little Brother cuddled down and slept, and this time it was Elder Brother who spoke first.
"Little Brother, Little Brother," he called, "wake up! It is time. My dress is all scarlet and yellow, and the wind is calling me. Wake up!"
Little Brother roused. "Is it really time to go?"
"Yes; I am going to leave you."
"Oh," said Little Brother, "is that the way?"
"Yes," said Elder Brother, "that's the way."
"But I shall miss you," said Little Brother.
"No, you won't, for there is so much to see; and, besides, you will be an Elder Brother yourself. But, before I go, let me tell you something. You must only peep out at the world for a long time yet, remember that. After many months there will come a soft wind telling you it is spring, and no doubt a sunbeam will try to persuade you, but be careful. Sometimes they don't know, and while they are talking wet snow will scurry around. Be patient and wait until you feel all warm inside and your brothers and sisters look fat and pink, and the snow is all gone from the shady hollows; then it will be time to put on your first dress. Good-bye, and good luck to you, Little Brother. I'm off to try my fortune."
Little Brother felt something stretch and lift about his head, and in another moment the light was shining down upon him, and he knew he was out in the world at last. He laughed aloud with pleasure.
"Elder Brother, Elder Brother," he called, "it is good to grow, and I am very happy. Are you happy?"
"Yes," came from far down the road, where Elder Brother was dancing and romping along. Several grown people, who saw him as he went, said: "What a beautiful oak leaf!" But one of the wearers of the pink sunbonnet picked him up. She knew that he was an Elder Brother; and, looking at the base of the slender stem, she found, sure enough, a tiny hollow, round as a cap, in which Little Brother had snuggled as he grew.