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Jane Marcet

Animals and Vegetables

"I DO think, Willy," said his Mother to him one morning, "that the trees will soon be in leaf."

"Oh, how glad I am! for then it will be summer, and we shall go to Ash Grove."

"Not yet," replied his Mother; "we cannot jump at once from winter to summer; the spring comes between." Willy enquired what the spring meant; and his Mamma told him, that in the spring the weather was neither so cold as in winter nor so hot as in summer; and that the green leaves come out in spring.

"I thought," said Willy, "that the spring was made of water; for I remember John said one day, that he had been to the spring to fetch a pailful of water."

"That is quite another thing," said his Mother: "a spring of water is a little stream of water which comes out of the ground; and sometimes it rushes out so fast, that it seems to spring up, just as you spring up, when you jump into my arms: and that is the reason it is called a spring of water."

"Oh, do take me to see one, Mamma," cried Willy.

"I will, my dear, when we go into the country. But you see that a spring of water is quite another thing from the spring of the year, which is the time when the leaves and the flowers come out."

"But, Mamma, the trees look as if they were nothing but dry sticks, just as they have been all the winter. I cannot see any thing on them like leaves or flowers."

"I can see something," said his Mother, smiling, "that tells me there will soon be leaves, and then flowers."

"Whereabouts, Mamma? Can your eyes see better than mine?"

"I believe that you can see as well as I can; but then you are not so much used to observe, that is, to take notice of what you see; besides, you have not seen so many springs as I have. There is but one spring in every year: can you tell me how many springs you have seen?"

"You know, Mamma, that I am four years old; that is, very nearly, so I have seen four springs; but you are a great woman, very old: how many springs have you seen?"

"I am so very old," replied his Mamma, laughing, "that I have seen twenty-four springs."

"Oh, what a great number!" exclaimed Willy.

"Well," continued his Mother, "when I was a little child like you, I did not observe what happened in the spring, but when I grew older I did; and I saw that every spring the trees, which had looked all the winter as if they had been dead, came out into leaf. The next spring I watched the trees to see when would they come into leaf again; and then I observed, that, at the end of the dry branches, there were little round buds, not much bigger than a pin's head, and when the weather was warm, these little buds grew larger."

"And are these little buds upon the trees now, Mamma?"

His Mamma then opened the window, and took Willy out upon the balcony, and showed him some very small buds upon a tree that was near.—"Oh, I see them now very well, indeed," said Willy.

"You saw them just as well before I pointed them out to you, my dear; but you did not observe them, because you did not know that they would turn to leaves, and, therefore, you did not care about them."

"But I shall care about them now, Mamma, and look at them every day, to see when they will turn to leaves."

"If you observe them so well," said his Mother, "you will see that they will grow larger and larger every day, till at last they will burst open, and you will see all the little leaves withinside."

"Oh, what little tiny leaves they must be! I should like to have some of the buds now, and open them."

"You like to see the inside of every thing, Willy: but remember that you would see the inside of your toy of two little men sawing, and when you opened it, you spoiled it; and if you gather the buds now, and open them, they will die, and never turn to leaves."

"But there are so many, Mamma, that it won't signify if a few are spoiled."

"That is true, my dear; and when we go out we will gather some, and we will cut them open with a knife."

"Poor little buds!" said Willy; "but they cannot feel: they are not alive, are they, Mamma?"

"They are alive, my dear; for they grow, and nothing will grow that is not alive. But they cannot feel."

"Then they are not alive, like the sparrow that squeaked so much when the cat got hold of it; nor like the poor little mouse that was so frightened when Ann caught it; nor like Alpin, who growls when I pull his ears; nor like all those sort of things?"

"Shall I teach you a word that means all those sort of things?"

"Yes," said Willy; "I dare say it must be a long hard word to mean so many, many things: for there are the cows, Mamma, and the horses, and our donkey; oh, and all the sheep in the field, I was just going to forget them; and then the pigs,—I am sure they feel, they squeak and grunt so if you touch them: well, what are they all called?"

"They are all called animals;  but you have forgotten some of the best of them Willy, some of the cleverest, and those you love best."

"What can that be?" said Willy, trying to guess. "Oh, I dare say it is the chickens, or the ducks, or perhaps the rabbits: I like them all."

"Yes, but you do not think them very clever, do you?" His Mamma then gave him a pinch on his arm, and laughed, and said, "Do you feel, Willy?"

"Mamma, how you hurt me!" cried he, rather peevishly. Then his Mamma took him up on her knees, and gave him a kiss. "Perhaps you would rather feel that," said she; "you like to feel what gives you pleasure, and not what gives you pain."

Willy then, suddenly finding out what his Mamma meant, said, "Oh, yes, I feel; I felt the pinch, and I felt the kiss: and am I an animal, Mamma? and are you and Papa animals?"

"We are all animals," replied she; "and I hope you love us more than you do chickens or ducks."

"That I do, but I never thought you and Papa were animals. Then Ann, and Betty, and Harry, and cousin Mary, and little Sophy are all animals,—animals,"  repeated he, laying an emphasis on the word: "it is not such a long hard word as I thought it would be."

"There is another word, both longer, and rather more difficult to pronounce, which means all things that are alive and do not feel."

"That must be trees and flowers, and fruits: let me see, is there any thing else? Yes, there's the grass we walk on in the garden. I am sure it grows, Mamma, because the gardener mows it so often, and it always grows up again; and it cannot feel, or at least I hope it cannot, or how he would hurt it when he mows it!"

"No, it cannot feel; and all those things which grow and cannot feel are called—now listen well, Willy, for it is a long, hard name—they are called vegetables."

"Vegetables," repeated Willy: "yes, that is longer and harder than animals.  I wish there was a shorter name, Mamma; I don't think I shall ever be able to remember such a long one."

"Well, then, I will tell you one which has pretty nearly the same meaning, and it has only one syllable: it is plants."

"Oh, that is very easy," said Willy; "and so a tree is a plant, and a rose is a plant, and an orange is a plant."

"No, the rose tree, on which the flower grows, is a plant, but the rose itself is only part of it, and so is the orange."

"Yes," said Willy; "the orange is a bit of a plant, gathered from the whole tree."

"Well, which do you like best, plants or animals?"

"Why, I like apples and oranges very much, they are so nice; and I like flowers too, they are so pretty. I think I like plants best:" then, interrupting himself, he said, "Oh no, I don't; I like the dog, and the cat, and the chickens best, because they can run about, and play with me."

"And don't you like me and Papa best, Willy, whether we play with you or not?"

"Oh yes," said Willy, "I love  you best of all."

"Then," Mamma said, "the trees and grass, and all the vegetables, cannot play with you, because they are fixed in the ground, and cannot move about."

"The branches of the trees move about a great deal, Mamma, when the wind blows them."

"Yes, they can be moved, if any thing or any one moves them; but they cannot move of themselves, nor go from one place to another."

"No," said Willy; "they cannot fly, like the birds; nor swim, like the fish in water; nor walk and run, like dogs and horses, and little boys and girls. Oh, poor plants! I should not like to be a plant, stuck in the ground, and not able to run about."

"You need not pity them, Willy, for you know they cannot feel."

"Oh, I forgot that: I am very glad they cannot feel; because, if they did, they would be so sorry not to be able to move."

His Mother then repeated to him the following lines:—

"Plants, then, were only made to grow;

They cannot feel, or walk, you know:

But animals, as dogs and men,

Feel whips and pinches, now and then;

And when they do not like to stay,

They turn about and run away."

Willy was much amused with these verses, which his Mamma repeated till he learnt them by heart.