The Seasons: Winter  by Jane Marcet

Sliding on the Ice

The next morning, Harry came to play with Willy. He was very glad to see his little friend; but yet he looked downcast, for he could not help thinking of his snowball. He told Harry the disasters that had happened to his two snowballs; and then added, "It was to show it to you, Harry, I wished so much it should not be melted; and I thought how nicely we could have rolled it about together. It was so  large, Harry; you cannot think how large!"

His mother then told his father (who just then came in) how well Willy had behaved upon the loss of his snowball; and Willy was pleased to see his father look at him smiling, and his eyes shining bright, as he knew they did when he was happy.

"Well, Willy," said he, "since you are a good boy, I shall take you and Harry to a place where you will be amused."

"Where is it?" cried the two boys at once; "where can it be?"

"Patience!" cried Papa: "you will know in good time. Go, Willy, and put on your things: you see Harry is ready, for he has not taken off his."

Willy tripped away, and was equipped for his walk in a few minutes; and off they set, full of impatience to know where they were going. But they could not get on fast on account of the quantity of snow: in some places it was so deep, being drifted by the wind, that they were up to their knees, and Papa was obliged to lift them out. They now and then stopped to gather up snow to make into snowballs, and throw at each other; but they were too impatient to see where they were going, to detain Papa on the way. They turned first to the right, then to the left; at length they came to a turning in the road which the boys recollected, because it led to a pretty round pond; which Harry said always put him in mind of his book of verses; and he repeated to Willy—

"There was a round pond, and a pretty pond too,

And about it wild daisies and buttercups grew."

"And can you read that in your book?" said Willy.

"Oh, yes," replied Harry; "and a great many other pretty verses."

"How I wish I were four years and a half old," cried Willy, "that I might read pretty story-books!"

"But," replied Harry, "you will not read at four and a half years old unless you try to learn. There's old Ralph, who works in our garden—I dare say he is near forty years old, and he cannot read, because he never learnt; and he sends all his children to school, that they may learn. He says he is so sorry not to be able to read himself."

"Poor old man!" said Willy. "But I learn to read though I do not go to school: Mamma teaches me."

"And why cannot you read, then?" asked Harry.

"Oh, because I only learn my letters; but I know them all now pretty well; and I begin to spell some little tiny words, such as cat, hat, bat."

"You are a fine scholar, indeed!" cried Harry, laughing "if you do not make more haste, you will never be able to read story-books when you are as old as I am."

"Well, I will try to take more pains when I am at my lesson. Mamma says that my head turns like a whirligig when I am reading, and that I look at every thing but my lesson."

"That is not the way to learn to read," said Harry.

"Well, Harry, you shall see how quiet I will be, and what pains I will take when we go home, and Mamma hears me my lesson."

They now came within sight of the pond.—"Oh! Papa," cried Willy, "I know now where you are going to take us; it is to the pond yonder, to play at ducks-and-drakes (a game which both the boys were very fond of); but why did you not bring Mamma too? she plays at ducks-and-drakes better than any body; she can make the stone jump in and out of the water five or six times running."

"But I am not going to take you to play at ducks-and-drakes, Willy."

"Oh, do, pray, Papa," said Willy, in a supplicating tone: "only just for a little while; we are so near the pond; and Harry is as fond of throwing stones into the water as I am. Are you not, Harry?"

Harry readily assented. Then Papa smiled, and said—"Well, boys, you may play at ducks-and-drakes if you can."

"We can, a little, Papa. I can make a stone jump up out of the water once, sometimes, but not always, I know; but Harry can do it better than I can, because, you know, he is older."

"Well, we shall see," said Papa, laughing; "but I doubt your making a stone rebound from the water  either of you to-day."

As they approached the pond, they observed there were a great many people standing round about it; and, when they got very near, Willy cried out in a tone of affright—"Oh, dear Papa, look at all those boys in the pond!—they will be drowned! I am sure they will be drowned!" And the tears rushed to his eyes.

His Papa said, "Don't be afraid, Willy; I assure you there is no danger."

Then Willy (who had not dared to look at them) opened his eyes as wide as they could stretch, to be sure that what he saw was real; for it looked as if the boys were walking on the water, just as if it had been dry ground. "How can it be, Papa?" cried Willy: "is the water hard, and can they really walk upon it and not fall in?"

"Yes," said his father; "the cold weather has frozen the water, and turned it into ice; and ice is solid and hard, so that you may walk upon it; and it is very slippery, so that you may slide upon it also. Look at those little fellows!—they set off with a run, and then slide away."

Willy's fear was by this time so completely gone, that he not only looked at the boys walking, running, and sliding, but begged his Papa to let him also go on the hard water.

"It is true that it is hard water," said his Papa; "but it is much shorter to call it ice."

He then took them on the pond: and Willy, when he felt how slippery it was, held fast by his Papa's coat; but Harry, who had often walked on ice before, could manage very well for himself.

"And is all the water in the pond hard, Papa?"

"No," replied his father; "only the surface; that is, the upper part of the water. When first the weather is cold enough to freeze water, it is called a frost: but, then, no one could venture to walk on the ice; for it is so thin, that, if you stepped on it, it would break, and you would fall into the water underneath. But, every day, a little more, and a little more of the water freezes; till, after several days, the ice grows thick enough to bear your weight. That is the case now: the frost has lasted about a week, and you see the ice is thick and strong enough to support the weight not only of boys but of men also."

His Papa then showed him a piece of the ice which had been broken, on purpose to see how thick it was: and he took hold of his hand, and ran with him as the other boys did, and finished the run with a slide. Harry followed, and could run and slide alone.

"What fun this is!" cried Willy; "I like it much better than playing at throwing stones in the water. Don't you, Harry?"

But Harry did not hear what he said; or, if he heard, he did not attend to it, for he was busy looking at a great boy who was fastening something on his feet, over his shoes: it looked like pieces of iron; and, when he had finished, he got up and began sliding on the ice, quite in a different manner from the others. He did not begin by a run, but fell sliding first on one foot, then on the other; and went so fast, and it looked so pretty, that Willy began jumping and laughing, as he always did when he was much pleased.

"Oh, do look at that man, Papa, how funny he is: he leans so much on one side, that I fancy he is just going to tip over; then he stretches out one of his arms, and that brings him back again."

"Yes," replied his father: "when he leans so much, he is too heavy on one side, and would certainly fall if he did not stretch out his arm on the other side: that makes him heavier on that side, and so brings him upright again."

"But, look, Harry, he seems as if he was always going to fall on one side or the other."

"Yet he never does," replied Harry: "so you may see he knows how to manage it; and it looks very pretty to see him swing about so."

"Is it those iron things which he has fastened to his feet that make him slide about in that manner?"

"Yes," said his Papa: "it is called skating, and the irons are called skates. Look, now! he is moving on the ice in the form of an S."

"Oh, what a great big S!" exclaimed Willy. Then turning to Harry, he said—"You see, Harry, I know the shape of an S."

"Indeed," replied Harry, "if that is all, you are but a bit of a dunce."

Willy coloured, and well he might; for was it not foolish, knowing so little, to boast of what he knew?

He wanted sadly to have a pair of skates. "You would not know how to use them if you had," said his father: "it requires more strength and more cleverness than you have, my dear. Some things are fit for little boys, and others for great boys, and others for men: it is quite enough for you to slide, I think."

So off Willy set for a slide: he was in too great a hurry, and down he fell. He scarcely hurt himself (I believe only bruised his elbow a little), and he was up on his feet again in an instant.

"So, Willy, you want to learn to skate before you know how to slide," said Papa, laughing; and he patted him on the head, and showed him how he should manage to slide without falling. When they had had a few more slides, he told them it was time to go home: and, indeed, it was full time; for what with the sliding, and what with walking through the deep snow, when they reached home they were quite tired. They were very eager, however, to tell Mamma all they had seen, and all they had done too; for, if he could not skate, Willy was not a little proud of being able to slide, though it had cost him a fall or two.

When they had finished their story, Mamma said that it was now time for Willy to say his lesson.

"What! now that I am tired, Mamma?"

"Well, then, rest a little first."

But just then he recollected what he had said to Harry about taking pains to learn to read. So he ran and fetched his book immediately; and did not look off from it to see what was passing in the room, above once or twice: once when the door opened. How could he help turning round to see who it was came in? It was only the footman, who came to put some coals on the fire. "It was not worth while to look off for that," thought he; "so if the door opens again, I will not turn my head." But, soon after, a carriage stopped before the house; and, as he was standing close by the window, he could not help taking a peep to see what carriage it was.

However, when the lesson was over, his Mamma said he had been much more steady than usual, and that he was a good child.

"It was all because I want so much to read in story-books by myself, Mamma, like Harry."

"That is a very good reason," said his mother; "but I hope you wish to mind your lessons to please me also."

"Oh yes; I will another time, dear Mamma," said he, stretching out his little arms to embrace her; "but to-day I was thinking so much about Harry's story-books, that I thought about nothing else."