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

The Harvest

It was now the beginning of August, and the reapers were in the fields cutting down the corn. This was a great treat to Willy, who fancied he could cut it down himself. "Look what little tiny scythes they have, Mamma," said he; "they seem more fit for little boys than for grown up men."

"They are not called scythes," replied she, "but reaping hooks, or sickles. The wheat must be cut down with much greater care than grass; it is not food for cattle, Willy, but for ourselves."

"Oh, yes," said Willy; "wheat makes bread, I know; but it does not look like bread at all."

His Mamma then gathered an ear of wheat, and showed him the seeds it contained; she rubbed it in her hands, and all these seeds fell out of their husks. "Look," said she, "these husks are small leaves which covered the seed; they grow upon the stalks close together, and make this long thing which is called an ear. Now, if wheat were mown down like grass, it would be shaken in falling on the ground, and many of these seeds or grains of corn would be shaken out of the husks, and be lost on the ground. So the reapers hold the wheat with one hand, whilst they cut it with the other; and then lay it upon the ground very carefully, that the grains may not fall out." She then gave him a few of the grains to taste, and he observed that they were much harder than bread. "We shall see, by and by," said she, "what is done to make them softer."

A little while after the reapers left off their work, and went and seated themselves under the shade of some large spreading trees, to eat their dinner. "How funny," said Willy, "to dine out of doors! I should like to dine with them." But when he saw them unpack their baskets of provisions, and take out some dark brown bread, a piece of fat lard, and some cord meat, and potatoes very much broken, he no longer wished to join their party.

"What a bad dinner, Mamma!" whispered he; "do let me go to the cook, and ask her for something nice to give them. I am sure they do not like to eat that black, dirty-looking bread."

"It is not dirty, my dear; but it is made of coarse brown flour, instead of fine white flour."

"I am sure it cannot be so good, Mamma, as white bread."

"No; that is true," said she; "yet look, now they are eating it, how they seem to like it."

"Yes, indeed," said Willy, "they eat it as if they were very hungry, and thought it very good; and that white stuff they spread upon the bread, Mamma, it does not look nice like butter;—and then only cold meat, and the potatoes all broken to pieces. Oh, the poor men!"

"Which do you think enjoy their dinner most, Willy—you or these reapers?"

"Oh, me, a great deal, Mamma; my dinner is so much nicer; then I have pudding and meat too."

"But you have not worked so hard as they have, when you eat your dinner, and are not half so hungry as they are. Now, being so hungry makes them like their dinner more than you do yours. Do not you remember one day, when you had been taking a long walk, that you were very hungry and impatient for your dinner; and when it came, you cried out, 'Oh, what a nice dinner!' and enjoyed eating it more than usual?"

"Yes," said Willy, "I thought it a much better dinner than other days."

"That was only because you were so very hungry. Now, these men who work hard are always very hungry at dinner-time, and so I do believe they like their dinner better than you do yours."

"Well, I am very glad they like their bad dinner," said Willy, "as they have not got any better. But look at that little girl and boy, Mamma; they do not give them any dinner."

"Those children brought the dinner for the reapers, and, I dare say, ate their own before they left home; but if you like to give them something for a treat, you may go and ask cook; she can spare you something for them, but she would not have enough to give to so many as all those reapers."

Willy was delighted with this permission; he scampered away, and soon returned with his pinafore laden with provisions.

"I have brought them some bread, Mamma, because I thought that white bread would be a treat to them, as cake is to me. Then here is some cold pudding, and a bit, but a little bit, of chicken for each: I could hardly persuade cook to give it me; she said it was for your luncheon. But I told her I knew you would rather the poor children should eat it than your own self. Now, was I not right, Mamma? they will think it so nice—perhaps they never tasted chicken before; and you know you eat chicken as often as ever you like."

Mamma was not at all displeased that Willy had given her luncheon to the poor children. They were very thankful, but would not eat it then, as they said they had already dined, and were not hungry; but they would take it home to their mothers. Willy was disappointed; he wanted to see them enjoy the good things he had brought them.

"They might eat the chicken now," said he to his Mother; "it is so nice that they would like it without being hungry."

"But they will like it much better when they are hungry; so if you make them eat it now, you will not give them so much pleasure as they would have in eating it to-morrow."

"Well, but I went to fetch it for them, Mamma."

"And so, because you brought it them, you think they ought to mind pleasing you better than pleasing themselves. They feel so much obliged to you that I dare say they will do so if you desire it; but would it be right, Willy, to think of your own pleasure instead of theirs?"

"Oh, no; I was thinking of nothing but their pleasure when I went to fetch the things."

"Then think of their pleasure still, and do not ask them to eat when they are not hungry."

When the men had finished their meal, and rested themselves, they returned to their reaping; and the children picked up all that was left, put it into their baskets, and carried it home. Willy asked his mother whether that dark bread was made of wheat, as well as white bread.

"Yes," replied she; "I will show you what it is that makes the difference of colour. She then took a grain of wheat, and showed him that the outside was brown. "Brown bread," said she, "is made of the whole of these seeds, and white bread is made of the inside only, which is quite white." She cut open the grain, and he saw it was quite white.

They now went to another part of the field, where there were both men and women at work. They took up the corn which the reapers had left lying on the ground, and tied it up in bundles with bands of twisted straw; the ears were all at one end of each bundle, and the stalks at the other. They then placed a number of them upright on the ground, but leaning a little against each other that they might not fall.

Willy watched how they twisted the straw, and taking up a few straws, tried to do it himself; but he found it much more difficult than he supposed.

"It looks so easy when they do it," said he.

"And it is easy," replied his Mother, "to them, because they have done it very often, and have learned how to do it. You can do nothing well without learning, Willy. Besides, these men and women are older and stronger than you are, and are, therefore, able to do more than you can."

"And what will they do with these bundles of wheat afterwards, Mamma?"

"These bundles are called sheaves," said she; "and when all the wheat is made up into sheaves, the cart will come and carry them away to the rick yard, where they will be made into a rick, as the hay was."

"But must not they stay in the field first for the wind and the sun to dry them?"

"Corn does not want so much drying as hay, for it is almost dry before it is reaped; look, it is yellower than the hay when it has been made, and feel how dry it is already."

"Yes," said Willy, squeezing up some of the straw in his hand, "hear how it crackles."

"That is very lucky; for if they were obliged to toss about the wheat to dry it as they do the hay, the seeds would fall out into the ground."

"They are stacking a rick now, Ma'am," said one of the reapers, "if you like to take young master to see it."

"Do, pray, Mamma," said Willy; and away they went to the rick yard. There they saw men piling the sheaves one upon another. "Look, Mamma, they move them much more carefully than they did when they made the rick of hay; that is for fear of losing the seeds." He observed that the men put the head of the sheaf—that is, the end at which the ears were—inside the rick, and left the stalks outside. His Mamma told him, that if the ears were left outside, the birds would come and pick out all the grains, and there would be none left to make bread.

"You know how fond birds are of seeds."

"Yes; but are the grains of wheat, seeds?"

"Certainly," replied she, "they are the seeds of the wheat; and the stalk, when it is dry and yellow, as you see it now is, is called straw."

"Oh! what, the straw that is put into the stables for the horses to lie down upon?"

"Yes; so you see, Willy," said she, smiling, "we keep the seeds for ourselves, and give the stalks to the cattle."

"Is that fair, Mamma?" asked Willy, doubtingly.

Yes, my dear; men and women are better than cows and horses; besides, cattle eat hay."

"But horses eat corn too, Mamma."

"True; but not this sort of corn. There are many different kinds of corn. This is called wheat. The corn the horses eat is called oats. She then took him to a field of oats, and gave him a handful to look at.

"Oh, this is quite another sort of corn," said Willy; "it is not the same shape as wheat; I think it is much prettier; and see how nicely it shakes about."

"The grains of oats," said his Mother, "do not grow close together in the form of an ear, like wheat, but in bunches. Each little grain has, you see, a little stalk of its own; and it is that which makes them shake so easily. But," continued she, "it is not so good to eat as wheat is. In some countries, where there is not plenty of wheat, the poor people make bread of oats; but it is not so nice as wheaten bread."

"Oh!" cried Willy, squeezing his fingers together, "oats have thorns that prick."

"They are not thorns, my dear, but these long stiff hairs which pricked you; they are called beards."

"What, because they hurt like Papa's beard sometimes when he kisses me."

"Or rather," said she, "because they grow in long hairs like the beards of animals."

In returning home they passed through a field of barley. Here," said his Mother, "is another sort of corn that grows in ears like wheat, and yet it is bearded. This is called barley."

"What great beards this corn has, Mamma; I am afraid it will prick me if I touch it."

"The beard all points the same way so that if you take care how you handle the barley, it will not hurt you." She then gathered an ear, and showed him how to hold it with safety.

"And is barley for men and women to eat, or for horses?" asked Willy.

"For us," replied his Mother; "it is sometimes made into bread, but not often in this country. What do you think we do with it here? we do not eat it, we drink it."

"Oh, Mamma, you are joking; you cannot drink things that are not like water or milk, or those sort of things."

"Those sort of things," replied she, "are called liquids and it is true that you cannot drink things that are not liquid."

"Well! I am sure this barley is not liquid; besides, it would stick in your throat and prick you."

"I will tell you," replied his Mother, "how it is managed. The grains of barley are soaked for a long while in warm water, and we drink the water the barley has been soaked in."

"That is like making tea," said Willy "for you soak the tea leaves in hot water, and then pour it out and drink it. Is it called barley tea, Mamma?"

"No, it is called beer; the beer you drink at dinner is made of barley soaked in water, and some other things added to it. The first time we brew, I will show you how it is done."

Willy wondered. Barley, he thought, looked so little like beer: he chewed some of the grains; they did not taste the least like beer: but he saw that his Mamma was in earnest, so he knew that what she said must be true.

As they were walking home, Willy exclaimed,—"How many sorts of corn there are, Mamma! and how many names they have got! There is wheat, and oats, and barley."

"They must each have a different name, to distinguish them one from the other," replied she.

"And besides that, Mamma, they are all called corn."

"Yes, my dear; that name shows that they are all a good deal like each other."

"How funny," cried Willy, "to have one name to show they are alike, and another to show they are not alike!"

"It is to show they are not quite alike," said his Mother; "for if they were not at all alike, they would not all be called corn."

"Oh, but, Mamma," said Willy, with eagerness, as if he had just made a discovery, "they have got another name besides those two. They are vegetables; so they have three names, as well as animals."

"Both animals and vegetables," said his Mother, "have not only three names, but often many more; but three are quite enough for you to know, at your age, Willy."

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