Far and Near
T HE next morning Willy looked at the sun with great pleasure. He almost fancied that it was an old friend come back after a long journey; and he only wished that the sun could speak, to tell him whether he had seen the idle little negro boys who had no school to go to; and what the copper-coloured people were like. He looked up at the sun, but it shone so bright that he was dazzled with the light, and obliged to put his hands before his eyes. Presently a thin cloud passed over the sun.
"Now you may look at it," said his Mother; "how large do you think it is?"
"Why, I don't know," said Willy, and he hesitated;—"I think it is about as big as a little plate."
"It is a great deal larger," said his Mother.
"Larger than a great plate, Mamma?"
"Oh, yes; larger than the round table; larger than the house. You would not believe me, Willy, if I told you how very, very large the sun was."
"Yes, I should, Mamma, if you were in real earnest; but are you sure you are not joking?"
"Well, then, is it as big as the church?"
"Yes, and a great deal bigger; it is larger than the world."
"What!" cried Willy, "the great big world that you have been telling me about? Oh, Mamma, you are making fun now—you must be."
"No," said she; "it is quite true, I assure you."
"Then why does it look so little?"
"Because it is so far off," said his Mamma. The carriage just then drove up to the door. "Come, with me, Willy," added she, "and we will look at some things a great way off, and observe whether they do not appear smaller than they really are."
Willy was soon ready; for it was the month of May, and the weather was so warm and fine, that he had nothing to put on but his straw hat. He did not call Ann to fetch it, for he was now four years old, and his Mamma told him he must begin to do things for himself as much as he could, and not want a nurse to help him for every thing, as he did when he was a baby. When they had driven into the country, they went up a hill, and got out to walk; for his Mamma observed, that they could see a great deal farther from this hill than they did before, because they were higher up.
"Look at that small white house, with little trees on each side, a great way off," said his Mother; "how large do you think it is?"
"It looks like a doll's house, Mamma; but I believe it is a real house, for I see all the trees and houses about there look little; but," added he, "it must be a very tiny house, I think."
"It is Ash Grove," said his Mother, smiling.
"No, indeed, Mamma! are you in earnest? why, Ash Grove is a great big house, you know."
"Pray, Willy, what does great mean? do you know?"
"Oh, yes; it is big."
"And what does big mean?" continued she.
"It means great."
"Then," said his Mother, "if great means big, and big means great, they both mean the same thing, do they not?"
"Yes," answered Willy.
"Then," continued she, "there is no use in saying a great big house: one of the two words will do as well; and, now that you are four years old, you must try not to talk nonsense."
Willy said he would; but he thought that great big was bigger than great by itself, or big by itself. "Well, but is that house, that very little house, really great Ash Grove?"
"It is, indeed, and it looks so small only because it is very far off."
They then walked all the way down the hill, to a village on the other side, and the carriage followed them: when they got to the bottom, Willy turned round to look at the hill, and observe how high it was; his Mother pointed out to him a person coming down the hill, and asked him what it was."
"A little boy, Mamma."
"He will come nearer to us soon," said she, "and then we shall see whether he is a little boy or not."
"Oh, but I can see his hat and his coat, and his legs; I am sure he is a little boy."
His Mother said no more; but she smiled, as much as to say, you may be mistaken. They just then passed a tinman's shop in the village.
"Look, Mamma," said Willy, "at that great big—no, I mean that very big weathercock, standing outside the shop."
"If it was on the top of a house you would not think it so very large, because it would be far off. Look at the weathercock on the church steeple."
"Oh, Mamma, that is quite a little one."
His Mamma asked the tinman, who was standing at his shop door, which was the larger of the two.
"Oh, that on the church-steeple," said he, "by a great deal. This one in my shop is made for the top of a summer-house; it is quite a small one."
"I am sure it looks like quite a large one," said Willy.
"Things look different from what they really are, Master, sometimes."
"But," said Willy, "there is no cock to this weathercock, nor to that upon the church, neither."
"No, Sir," replied the man, cocks are gone out of fashion; we cut the tin into other shapes now, that look prettier; and they point out which way the wind blows as well as the cock, and better."
"But, then, do you call them weathercocks?" said Willy.
"Yes, all the same; or vanes that is the best name for them."
Willy now pulled his Mamma by the gown, and said: "Look at the little boy that was walking down the hill; now he is come near, he is turned into a great man."
"Do you think that he is grown from a boy into a man, whilst he was walking down the hill?" said she, laughing.
"No, Mamma; but it is very odd that he should look so little when he was far off."
"Not at all odd, Willy; for you see that every thing else does so too. The weathercock looks little at the top of the church; Ash Grove looks little; the trees look like little shrubs; and every thing looks little at a distance."
"Oh! and the sun, Mamma, we forgot the sun; is that farther off than Ash Grove?"
"A great deal farther off."
"To be sure," said Willy, thoughtfully, "it must be; for you say that it is larger than the great world;—mind, I only said great, Mamma," continued Willy (interrupting himself); "so it must be a very, very long way off, to look so small."
"It is," said his Mamma, "so very distant that I shall not attempt to explain it to you; for you could not understand it."
"Well, but then, Mamma, tell me what makes the sun, and the man, and Ash Grove, look so little when they are far off."
"And every thing else, you may say, my dear, for they all look small at a distance; and the farther they are off, the smaller they look. If you make use of your eyes to observe as well as to see, you will know it well."
"But, why, Mamma? Why?" cried Willy, rather impatiently.
"Oh, Willy! you must have patience before I can explain it to you: it is so difficult that I do not think you could understand it before you were—let me see,—twelve years old, I believe," said she, laughing: "Do you think your patience will last out so long?"
Willy could not laugh, he was disappointed that his Mamma would not tell him how it was now; but he did not tease her about it; for he knew that she never would be persuaded to tell him what she thought was too difficult for him to understand. But twelve years old: why, that was too bad! he should forget it all before then. He did not wait till he was twelve years old to forget it; for the next day he was busy about something else, and thought no more of distant things looking smaller than they really are.