The Seasons: Winter  by Jane Marcet

The Thaw

One morning, Mamma called Willy, and said, "I promised, my dear, to show you when a cloud was falling: look out at the window, and you will see one now."

Willy ran to the window, in a great hurry, to see what he thought must be so strange a sight. He looked first up in the skies; then he looked to the right, and then to the left: nowhere could he see any thing falling.

"Why, Willy, where are your eyes?" said Mamma: "I  see a great many things falling."

"Where?" enquired Willy, eagerly: "I can see nothing at all but drops of rain."

"Well; and what are drops of rain made of?"

"They are made of water," replied Willy.

"And what are the clouds made of?"

"Why, you said, Mamma, they were made of water too."

"Well, then, my dear, when a cloud falls, it does not come down plump upon your head like a pail of water, as you were afraid it did, but it falls in drops, and those drops are called rain."

"How funny!" cried Willy. "Then rain is a cloud tumbling down to the ground?"

"Yes, it is, my love; but it is called a cloud only when it is up in the skies; and rain, when it falls to the ground."

"And, up in the clouds, is it in drops, Mamma; or all in one, like a pail of water?"

"In drops," replied his mother, "much smaller drops than rain: it is more like the little drops that we caught in the teaspoon when we held it over the steam."

"Oh yes, I remember," cried Willy; "and I said, how many things are made of water; and now I see there are a great many more things made of water, Mamma: there are the clouds, and rain, ay, and tea, too; I was forgetting that: but the steam put me in mind of it."

"And can you remember what were the other things made of water?"

"Oh yes, I think so," said Willy: "there is steam, and ice, and snow." Willy then thought a moment, and afterwards said, "Why, Mamma, you said that snow came from the clouds; so snow is a cloud falling as well as rain, is it not?"

"Yes," replied Mamma; "snow is a cloud falling when the weather is so cold that it freezes the rain, and turns it into snow; and rain is a cloud falling to the ground when the weather is warmer, so that water will not freeze."

"Oh then, Mamma, the weather must be warmer to-day, for you see the clouds come down in rain, and not in snow, as they did yesterday?"

"That is true, my dear: the weather is warmer to-day; and all the frozen water, that is, all the snow and ice, is beginning to melt."

"Oh, what a pity!" cried Willy: "I shall not be able to play with snowballs any more."

"Perhaps it may freeze again some other day," said Mamma: besides, there is so much snow on the ground now, that it will take a long time to melt the whole of it. The warm weather melts it little by little, as the sunbeams melted your snowball by degrees; and I dare say it will be many days before all the ice and snow is thawed."

"Thawed!" repeated Willy; what does that mean?"

"To thaw means to melt something that is frozen. When the weather is warm enough to melt frozen water, it is called a thaw; and when it is cold enough to freeze water, it is called a frost."

"I like a frost better than a thaw," said Willy, "because of the snowballs, and sliding on the ice."

"You cannot tell yet, Willy, till you know what you may find to like in a thaw."

"Look, Mamma!" said Willy, "what a number of little holes the drops of rain make in the snow; it does not look half so pretty, and white, and smooth, as it did when there was a frost."

"The rain melts the snow," said his Mother: "every drop that falls on it melts a little bit of snow; and that makes all those little holes in it."

Willy asked Mamma to open the window; and he was surprised to find how much warmer it felt out of doors than it was the day before. "Do you remember," said he, "when we opened the window yesterday, what a cold wind came in?—and now there comes in a warm wind."

"Yesterday it was a frost, Willy, and the weather was cold; and to-day it is a thaw, so the weather is warmer."

Willy then stretched his right hand as far as he could out of the window. His Mamma asked what he was doing; and he replied that he was trying to catch some drops of rain to feel if they were warm. After trying for some time, he caught a few drops. "No; they are not warm," said he: "how, then, can they melt the snow? I know that the warm nursery, and the warm chimney-piece, and the warm sunbeams, melted my snowball; but how can these drops of rain, which feel quite cold to my hand, melt the snow?"

"The rain feels cold to your hand, because your hand is warmer than the rain; but it would feel warm to the snow, if snow could feel," said Mamma, laughing, "because the snow is colder than the rain."

Mamma then took a little snow, and put it into Willy's left hand, and asked him which felt warmest, the snow or the rain.

"Oh, they are both cold," said Willy; "but the rain is not so cold as the snow."

"That is to say, the rain is the warmer of the two," said his Mamma: "and, being the warmer, it thaws the snow; and the warm air which you felt blowing in at the window thaws the snow also."

"And if the sun shone, that would thaw the snow too, Mamma?"

"Yes," answered Mamma. She then showed Willy a great number of carts, and of men who were very busy shovelling up the snow, which they put into the carts; and as soon as one of the carts was full, the driver cried out, "Gee-ho, Dobbin!" and the horse trotted off with the load of snow.

"I think those men are very foolish," said Willy, "to take so much trouble to carry away the snow: if they would but wait a little, till the warm air, and the rain, and the sunshine had melted it into water, it would run away of itself, as the water runs down the gutters in the street."

"I am afraid, Willy," said his Mamma, "if the men heard you they would say, 'That little boy must be very foolish to think he knows better than grown-up men; and to fancy that we should do all this hard work if it was not wanted. I think it would be better to ask the reason why we take away the snow.' "

"Why,  then, Mamma?" said Willy, colouring at having made so silly a speech.

"Because, my dear, when all this snow is melted, it will make such a great quantity of water that the gutters will not be large enough to hold it; so it would overflow all the streets, and run down the areas into the kitchens, and the kitchens would get half full of water. What would the cook say to that, do you think, Willy?"

"Perhaps, she would cry out that she was afraid of being drowned, Mamma."

"Oh, no; she would get all her pots and kettles, and fill them with water, to empty the kitchen. Well, but don't you think it better all those poor men should carry away the snow before it melts?"

"Oh, yes," replied Willy; "only the poor men must be sadly tired, it seems such hard work. I am sure, if I was helping them with my little spade, I should give up before now, I should be so tired."

"But those men are much older and much stronger than you, Willy; so they are not tired so easily as you would be. Then, when you work it is to amuse yourself, and when you are tired you leave off; but these men work to get money: they are paid for the hard work they do."

"And what do they want money for, Mamma? They are too big to play with toys; so I think they would not go to the toy-shop to buy toys."

"They want the money for things that men want as well as children; they buy meat and potatoes for their dinner, and milk and bread for their little children's breakfast and supper: so they are very glad to work that they may earn money to buy food for themselves and their children; and the more they work, the more money they get."

"And the more dinner they can buy," said Willy: "so I don't wonder now that they work so hard, and that they don't leave off even if they are a little tired."

Willy now observed that the icicles, which hung down from the roofs of the houses and the doorways, were all dripping with wet. "Ah! the rain and the air is melting them, I suppose," said he; "and, as they melt, the water comes, dribble, dribble, from them: they will be all gone soon, like my snowball."