W E all have our treasure-boxes. Misers have strong iron-bound chests full of gold; stately ladies, pearl inlaid caskets for their jewels; and even you and I, dear child, have our own. Your little box with lock and key, that aunt Lucy gave you, where you have kept for a long time your choicest paper doll, the peacock with spun-glass tail, and the robin's egg that we picked up on the path under the great trees that windy day last spring,—that is your treasure-box. I no less have mine; and, if you will look with me, I will show you how the trees and flowers have theirs, and what is packed away in them.
Come out in the orchard this September day, under the low-bowed peach-trees, where great downy-cheeked peaches almost drop into our hands. Sit on the grassy bank with me, and I will show you the peach-tree's treasure-box.
What does the peach-tree regard as most precious? If it could speak in words, it would tell you its seed is the one thing for which it cares most; for which it has worked ever since spring, storing food, and drinking in sunshine. And it is so dear and valued, because, when the peach-tree itself dies, this seed, its child, may still live on, growing into a beautiful and fruitful tree; therefore, the mother tree cherishes her seed as her greatest treasure, and has made for it a casket more beautiful than Mrs. Williams's sandal-wood jewel-box.
See the great crack where this peach broke from the bough. We will pull it open; this is opening the cover of the outside casket. See how rich was its outside color, but how wonderfully beautiful the deep crimson fibres which cling about the hard shell inside. For this seed cannot be trusted in a single covering; moreover, the inner box is locked securely, and, I am sorry to say, we haven't the key: so, if I would show you the inside, we must break the pretty box, with its strong, ribbed walls, and then at last we shall see what the peach-tree's treasure-box holds.
Here, too, are the apples, lying on the grass at our feet; we will cut one, for it too holds the apple-tree's treasure. First comes the skin, rosy and yellow, a pretty firm wrapping for the outside; but it sometimes breaks, when a strong wind tosses the apples to the ground, and sometimes the insects eat holes in it: so, if this were the only covering, the treasure would hardly be very safe. Therefore, next we come to the firm, juicy flesh of the apple,—seldom to be broken through by a fall, not often eaten through by insects; but lest even this should fail, we come at last, far in the middle, to horny sheaths, or cells, built up together like a little fortress, surrounding and protecting the brown, shining seeds, which we reach in the very centre of all.
One thing more let us look at before we leave the apple. Cut it horizontally through the middle with a sharp knife, and try how thin and smooth a slice you can make; hold it up to the light, and we shall see something very beautiful. There in the centre of the round slice is the delicate figure of a perfect apple-blossom, with all its petals spread; for it was that lovely pink-and-white blossom from which the apple was formed,—a tiny green ball at first, which you may see in the spring, if you look where the blossoms have just fallen. As this little green apple grew, it kept in its very heart always the image of the fair blossom; and now that the fruit has reached this ripe perfection, we may still see the same form.
The pears, too, the apricots and plums, you may see for yourselves; you do not need me to tell their stories.
But come down to the garden, for there I have some of the oddest and prettiest boxes to show. The pease and beans have long canoes, satin-lined and waterproof. On what voyage they are bound, I cannot say.
The tall milk-weed that grew so fast all summer, and threatened to over-run the garden, now pays well for its lodging by the exquisite treasure which its rough-covered, pale-green bag holds. Press your thumb on its closed edges; for this casket opens with a spring, and, if it is ripe and ready, it will unclose with a touch, and show you a little fish, with silver scales laid over a covering of long, silken threads, finer and more delicate than any of the sewing-silk in your mother's work-box. This silk is really a wing-like float for each scale; and the scales are seeds, which will not stay upon the little fish, but long to float away with their silken trails, and, alighting here and there, cling and seek for a good place to plant themselves.
See, too, how the poppy has provided herself with a deep, round box of a delicate brown color; the carved lid might have been made by the Chinese, it looks so much like their fine work. Full to the brim, this box is. The poppy is rich in the autumn; brown seeds by the hundred, packed away for another year's use.
Here are the balsams,—touch-me-nots, we used to call them when I was a child; for, poor things, so slightly have they locked up their treasure, that even the baby's little finger will open the rough-feeling oblong casket with a snap and a spring, and send the jewels flying all over the garden-bed, where you will scarcely be able to find them again.
Roses have beautiful round, red globes to hold their precious seeds; and so firm and strong are they, that the winter winds and snows even do not break or open them. I have found them dashed with sea-spray, or on dusty roadsides; everywhere strong and safe, making the dullest day bright with their cheery color.
If we go to the wet meadows and stream-sides, we shall find how the scarlet cardinal has packed away its minute seeds in a pretty little box with two or three partings inside; and the cowslip has a cluster of oval bags as full as they can hold.
Among the rocks, harebells have their tiny five-parted chests; and the columbine, its standing group of narrow brown sacks, which show, if we open them, hundreds of tiny seeds.
But in the woods, the oak has stored her treasures in the acorn; the chestnut, in its bur which holds the nut so safely. The walnut and beech trees have also their hard, safe caskets, and the boys who go nutting know very well what is inside.
Autumn is the time to open these treasures. It takes all the spring and summer to prepare them, and some even need all of September too, before they are ready to open the little covers. But go into the garden and orchard, into the meadows and woods, and you have not far to look before finding enough to prove that the plants, no less than the children, have treasures to keep, and often most charming boxes to keep them in.