Gateway to the Classics: The Seasons: Autumn by Jane Marcet
The Seasons: Autumn by  Jane Marcet

Dancing Shadows

John, soon after, brought in the lamp, which he placed on the table, and Willy said, "I do think that Ann has forgotten to call me to go to bed; I never staid up till candle-light before."

"It is not yet eight o'clock," replied his Mother; "you forget that the days have been growing shorter and shorter for a long time past, ever since the middle of summer; and they will go on doing so till the middle of winter."

"O!" cried Willy, "I remember now that I used to sit up after candle-light every night last winter; and I will tell you why I remember it, because I danced with Emily and Maria against the door."

His Mother did not at first understand what he meant. At length she recollected that he had been very fond of dancing with his own shadow, and calling it Emily or Maria, in fun.

"I will go and see if they are there now," said he; so he ran up to the door. The lamp could not shine on that part of the door against which Willy stood. He was like a screen, for the light could not pass through him; so, where the light could not reach the door, there was a shadow; it was the shadow that Willy made by standing between the lamp and the door; but he laughed, and made believe that it was his cousin Emily.

"Oh! there you are, Emily," cried he; "I am very glad you are come; will you dance with me?"

He stretched out his arms, and the shadow stretched out its arms also; then he began to dance, and the shadow danced about opposite to him.

"Now let us hop on one foot."

Willy began to hop, and the shadow did just the same; in short, whatever Willy did the shadow copied him.

"How good-natured make-believe Emily is;" said Willy; "she always does just exactly like me; and when real Emily is here, she tells me what to do, and I do like her. Look, Mamma, how she obeys me. Now, Emily," said he, in a commanding tone of voice, "lift up your hand as I do;" and the shadow lifted up its hand.

"Try if she will obey when you do not lift up your hand," said his Mother.

Willy again gave the word of command, but without raising his hand, and the shadow no longer obeyed.

"Oh, Emily, you are naughty now," said Willy; "come, do as you are bid directly!"

It was all in vain; so long as Willy stood still the shadow did not move.

"Make-believe Emily is very stupid," said Willy; "she does not know how to lift up her hand, unless I show her."

"Do you not think that it is, perhaps, Willy who is stupid?" said his Mamma, smiling archly.

"Why, Mamma?" asked he, surprised.

"Do you not see, Willy, that it is your own shadow you are dancing with? When you lift up your hand the light from the lamp cannot get through it to the door, and that makes the shadow of your hand on the door; and the whole shadow which you call Emily, is nothing but your own shadow."

"I only call it Emily in fun, Mamma."

"Yes, but then you must recollect that Emily in fun can do nothing but what you do first."

Willy turned about to look at the lamp; he could not well understand it. His Mother then gave him a hand screen, and bade him hold it up against the door, but not near enough to touch it.

"There," said she, "do you not see the shadow of the screen upon the door, just the shape of the screen? What makes that shadow?"

"The screen," replied Willy.

"And how does it make it?"

Willy thought a little, and then answered,—"Because it screens the door, I mean a bit of the door, from the lamp, and so the light cannot shine there—and that makes a shadow."

"Very well," replied his Mother; "then do you not see that you are the screen that makes the shadow on the door, which you call make-believe Emily?"

"Oh yes, Mamma, I know it is my shadow; but I like best to call it Emily, though it is but make-believe. I understand it now," continued Willy; "but where is Maria? there used to be two shadows last winter."

"Because there were two lamps; there are always as many shadows as there are lights."

Papa soon after came in with another lamp.

"Oh! here is Maria, come with the other lamp," cried Willy; and he was so delighted to have two shadows to dance with, that he never thought of asking his Mamma why two lights made two shadows. His Mamma was very glad he did not, for she found that it was difficult to explain how one shadow was produced, and to explain two would have been still more so.

Willy would make his Papa and Mamma stand before the door to see their shadows; then he drew his cart and horses before the door, to see what sort of a shadow they made.

Every thing makes a shadow, I think, Mamma," said he.

"No, not every thing, Willy."

"Why, what can there be that makes no shadow? Look," said he, holding up a book, "there is the shadow of the book; and this basket makes the shadow of a basket, and—"

"Oh, Willy," said his Mother, interrupting him, "there are plenty of things that cast shadows; the difficulty is to find some that do not."

"What can they be, Mamma? I cannot think."

There was a very pretty fire-screen in the drawing-room, made of a large piece of glass, set in a frame of rose wood. Willy was very fond of looking through this screen at the fire; he could see its blaze without danger of burning himself. His Mother placed this screen between the lamp and the door.

"Now," said she, "what shadow does that make?"

"Why, Mamma, there is the shadow of the frame all round the screen and the shadow of the feet."

"But there is no shadow of the glass screen," said she.

"No, Mamma, because the light comes through the glass, just as if there was no glass at all."

"Well, then, Willy, is not glass something that gives no shadow?"

Willy thought, and looked, and wondered.

"Every thing," continued his Mother, "that the light can pass through gives no shadow. Look at this pretty bright stone in the middle of my brooch; it is a diamond, and you can see the light through it."

"Oh yes," said Willy, "it looks just like a little bit of glass."

"Every thing that the light can pass through, like that screen and this diamond, are called transparent."

"And is there any thing else that light can pass through besides the glass screen and your brooch?"

"Oh yes, a great many."

John now brought in the tea things; but Papa said that he was so thirsty that he should like to have some wine and water before tea. So John went and fetched a waiter, with some bottles and glasses. Papa then took up a glass tumbler.

"Oh, that is transparent!" cried Willy.

"And what is this?" said his Father, taking hold of a decanter of water, and pouring some into the glass.

"Why, water must be transparent, as well as the glass, for there looks as if there was nothing in the glass."

Papa then poured some red wine into the glass, which coloured all the water.

"Oh! now, Papa, you have spoilt it; the water is not transparent any more."

"Not so transparent as it was before," said his Father; "but the wine does not destroy all the transparency; you can see the light through it still," said he, holding the tumbler up to the lamp.

Whilst they were talking, Mamma had made tea, and as she was pouring it into the tea-cups, Willy observed that tea was as transparent as wine and water, only it was yellow, and not red; "but as for the cream," said he, "you can see nothing through that; it is not transparent at all."

His Mamma then held an empty china cup up to the lamp, and told Willy to look at it.—"You can see the light through it a little," said she.

"A little, but very little, indeed," replied Willy; "that is the least transparent of all."

"Of all the things that are transparent you mean, Willy; for it is much more transparent than wood or iron, or any thing which the light cannot pass through at all."

Ann now came to call Willy to bed; he kissed his Papa and Mamma, and then went away, eating a piece of bread and butter which he had not had time to finish.

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