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

The Cabinet of Minerals

One rainy morning, that Willy could not go out, he amused himself with seeing his Mamma arrange some minerals in a pretty cabinet full of little drawers.

"Look, Willy," said she; "all these things are minerals, they are dug out of the earth, and are not so ugly and dirty as you thought."

"Oh no," replied Willy.—"What is this, Mamma, that shines so prettily?"

"That is a piece of silver; such as spoons, and forks, and waiters are made of. There are, besides, some little round things made of silver, that you are very fond of."

Willy could not guess what, till she showed him some shillings, and sixpences, and halfcrowns:—"These are all made of silver," said she.

"Oh do, Mamma, give me a half-crown to spin?" and for some time Willy was so busy spinning the half-crown, that he thought no more of the cabinet of minerals: however, he spun the half-crown so often, and it jumped so often from the table to the floor, that at last he was tired of picking it up, and went to see what his Mamma was doing.—"What a great number of shillings this piece of silver would make," said he; "how many do you think?"

"Indeed I cannot tell; perhaps a hundred."

"And what is this yellow piece?" said Willy, pointing to another mineral.

"It is gold," said she; "and money is made of that too."

"What, the yellow money at one end of your purse, that you say will buy so many more things than shillings?"

"Yes; they are called sovereigns, and are made of gold: gold is also used for other things; the frames of those pictures, and of the looking-glasses, are covered with gold."

"That must take a great deal more gold than to make the sovereigns in your purse, Mamma."

"Yes; but, Willy, other people have sovereigns in their purses as well as me. Besides," said she, "the frames of pictures and glasses are made of wood, and only covered over with very thin gold, to make them look pretty." She then showed him the back of one of the picture frames, and he saw that it was made of wood. "But the sovereigns," said she, "are all gold, inside as well as outside: feel how heavy this is, for such a little thing." She then put a sovereign into one of his hands, and a shilling in the other, and asked him which was heaviest.

"The sovereign," said he.

"That is, because gold is much heavier than silver, and it is worth a great deal more. Suppose you went to the toy shop, to buy a horse that was worth a shilling, they would give you one horse for your shilling, would they not?"

"Yes," replied Willy.

"And how many such horses do you think they would give you for a sovereign?"

"I do not know; perhaps two horses."

"No," replied his Mother; they would give you twenty."

"What a great many!" exclaimed Willy; "I should not know what to do with them all."

"Then you might buy other things, instead of horses; some of one sort, and some of another; I only meant to say, that you may buy twenty times as much for a sovereign, as you can for a shilling."

"Oh, Mamma, I wish you would give me a sovereign, and let me go to the shop."

"No, no," said she, laughing, "shillings are quite enough for buying toys. Then you must wait till we go to London, we have no toy-shops here. Now look at this, Willy; it is a piece of copper: halfpence are made of it: halfpence will not buy so much as shillings."

"I know, Mamma; you can only get a penny whip, or a penny whistle, for two halfpence; but not a horse, or a cart, or any thing large or pretty."

"Copper serves for a great many other purposes, besides money," said his Mamma; "the coal-scuttle is made of copper, and Ann's tea-kettle, and cook's saucepans."

"Then, Mamma," said Willy, "if I could cut the coal-scuttle into little round bits, it would make halfpence."

"No, that would not quite do," replied she; "halfpence must have a stamp upon them, like a seal, which makes this figure;" showing him a new halfpenny.

"Oh! but, Mamma, look; these other halfpence have nothing marked on them."

"They had when they were first made," said she; "but they have been used a long time, and the figure is worn away by the halfpence knocking against each other in people's pockets. Besides, every halfpenny must be exactly of the same size and of the same weight, so that it is not so easy to make halfpence as you imagine."

"But cook has got some nice little saucepans, that are all white, Mamma; those cannot be copper?"

"No, they are made of tin: let me see if we can find any tin;" and she opened another little drawer, and showed him a piece of tin, which looked like a dark shining brown piece of stone.

"Oh, Mamma," said Willy, "that is not at all like the cook's saucepans; they are quite white, like silver."

"And so will this be," replied she; "if it is put into the fire, and made very hot, it will change into bright white tin; but now you see it just as it is when it is dug out of the earth."

"And is money made of tin too, Mamma?"

"No; money is made only of gold, and silver, and copper."

"I think tin would make shillings and sixpences as well as silver, Mamma, when it has been made white."

"Oh no, it is not worth near so much as silver; so you would not be able to buy so many things with it."

"What a number of pretty things come out of the dirty ground," said Willy; "are there any more, Mamma?"

"Oh yes, but I shall show you only one more to-day, it is a piece of iron."

"It is not so pretty as the others," said Willy.

"But it is extremely useful," replied his Mother. "Garden tools,—such as spades, and hoes, and garden rakes, are made of iron."

"Not the handles, Mamma?"

"No, they are made of wood; but that part of the tool which works in the ground is of iron; it is much harder and stronger than wood."

"Oh yes, I know, my little wooden spade is always breaking; if it hits against a stone when I am digging, it breaks directly."

"The stone breaks it," said his Mother, "because it is tougher than the wood; but iron is harder than common stones, therefore stones cannot break iron."

"Well, Mamma, I wish you would let me have a rake for my garden, like Johnny's, with the teeth made of iron; for those tiresome wooden teeth all break, and then I cannot rake any more."

"You are much younger than Johnny; he is already an expert gardener, and knows how to use his spade and his rake properly; but you do not yet well understand it; besides, you are careless, and if you were to hit yourself with the teeth of your rake, or the edge of your spade, they would be much harder than you are, and would hurt you very much."

"Yes," said Willy, feeling his arm; "I am not so hard as iron."

"But, Mamma, next summer I shall be a great deal older; may I not have an iron rake then?"

"Perhaps: we shall see how careful you are grown by that time."

"And is the scythe Mark cuts the grass with made of iron?"

"Yes, the blade, which is the part that cuts."

"He sharpens it with a long stone, Mamma; why does it not cut the stone?"

"Because that is a particular sort of stone that is harder than iron; he rubs the stone against the blade of the scythe, and that rubs away the iron at the edge of the blade, till it becomes quite thin and sharp. If the stone were not harder than the iron, the iron would rub away the stone, instead of the stone rubbing away the iron. The hatchet the men cut wood with is made of iron."

"What a sharp thing iron must be," cried Willy, "to cut so well!"

"Yes, when it has a thin edge to cut with. Knives are made of iron."

"What, the knife I use to cut my meat at dinner?"

"Yes, and Mark's garden knife, and my penknife; in short, knives of all sorts."

"And are scissors made of iron, Mamma?"

"Yes; but, in knives, and scissors, and all very sharp instruments, the iron is mixed up with something else, which makes it harder and its edge sharper than iron by itself; and when it has been mixed up so, it is called steel."

"Oh, Mamma, the grates, and the fenders, and the tongs, and the poker, are all made of steel, Ann says, and that is why they shine so bright; but they are not very sharp."

"No, but they are very hard; and if they had a thin edge, like a knife, they would be as sharp. I have known little boys cut their foreheads, by falling against the fender, though it has not a very thin edge."

"Now, shall I tell you the name for all the things I have shown you this morning?"

"Why, are they not called minerals?"

"Yes, they are; every thing that is dug out of the ground is called a mineral. Do not you remember my telling you that all sorts of earth, and stones, and rocks, were minerals? But they are very different from the minerals I have just shown you."

"Yes," replied Willy; "earth, and mould, and ground, are all dirty ugly things, and crumble to pieces, and make such a litter, and stones are not quite so bad, but they are not pretty."

"Oh, Willy, I could show you some stones which are the most beautiful things you ever saw."

"Indeed!" said Willy; "are they in those drawers, Mamma? do pray show them me."

"No, not now; some other day, when I am at leisure."

"Well but, then, if some stones are pretty, I am sure there are a great many ugly ones: and gold, and silver, and copper, and iron, are all pretty."

"Well, they are called metals, to distinguish them from the other minerals."

"Indeed, Mamma, I like metals much better than the dirty minerals. And are there any other metals in those drawers?"

Yes, there are a great many besides those I have shown you; but you have seen enough to-day. There are also a great many different sorts of earths, and of stones; but I can talk no more about them now. Look, the rain is over, and the sun is coming out; so, if you wish for a run in the garden, this is your time."

"Oh, I will go and see Johnny work with his iron tools, Mamma;" and off he went to the kitchen garden, but Johnny could not be found; he hallooed out, "Johnny, Johnny, where are you?" but no Johnny answered. He went to look for him in the green-house, and all over the melon ground. What can have become of him, thought Willy. At last he found him in the tool-house: but, wonderful to say, Johnny was crying! Willy was so much surprised, that at first he could not speak a word. At length, he said, "What is the matter, Johnny; has Mark been scolding you?"

"No," replied he; "but I have had a letter from my Mother, and she says that Father is very ill with the rheumatism, and she thinks he will be ill all the winter, because he has not blankets enough to keep him warm in bed at night, and she has not money enough to buy any more."

"Why do you not ask Papa to buy him one?" said Willy.

"I do not dare," replied he; "master has given me a new suit of clothes lately, that must have cost him a deal of money, and I should be ashamed to ask him for any thing more."

"Well," cried Willy, suddenly recollecting himself, "how much does a blanket cost? is it more than a hundred shillings?"

"Oh dear no," answered Johnny, "you might buy twenty blankets for a hundred shillings."

"I am glad of that," said Willy. He then asked Johnny to lend him his spade, and said, "Don't cry any more, Johnny; only wait a little, and I will get you something that will buy a blanket." He then hastened to his own garden, and began digging as hard as ever he could, in hopes of finding under ground a piece of silver, which, if it would not make so many as one hundred shillings, would at least make money enough to buy a blanket. He dug and dug, till he had made a deep hole in the ground. Every now and then, the spade struck against some thing hard; he looked earnestly for it, in hopes of its being a piece of silver, like that which his Mamma had shown him, but it was only a stone: no silver was to be found; or gold, or any other metal. "There are nothing but the dirty minerals in my garden," said he, in a sorrowful tone.

His Mamma, who was walking, came up, and asked him what he was digging so hard for.

"Oh, Mamma!" cried he, "I want a piece of silver sadly: I am digging to see if I can find one under the ground."

"What for," said she, smiling; "I believe you will more easily find it in my purse, than under ground."

"Why, Mamma, you told me there was a great deal of silver deep down in the earth; but I cannot get low enough, I suppose, for I can find none."

"There is, my dear, but not in your garden, nor in any part of this country. Silver comes from countries a great way off."

"Then cannot I find a piece of gold, Mamma, if I go on digging? that would do better still, it can buy so many things."

"No," said she; "there is no gold to be found in England, either."

"Well, Mamma, is there any copper?"

"Yes," replied she; "in some parts of the country."

"But then," continued he, "copper makes only halfpence, and halfpence will not buy a blanket will they, Mamma?"

"If you had a great number of halfpence they would; but you will find no copper in your garden, Willy; so you had better tell me why you want to buy a blanket, and if it is for a right purpose, perhaps I may give you some silver, that is already dug up, and cut into money, and stamped, and quite fit to buy a blanket."

"Oh do, dear Mamma; I am sure it is quite right; only Johnny did not dare to ask you for one."

"What, does Johnny want another blanket for his bed, now the cold weather is coming one"

"Oh no, Johnny does not care about blankets for himself; but he is crying so, you cannot think, Mamma, because his father has got the rheumatism, and his Mother has no money to buy a blanket to keep him warm."

Mamma went with Willy to hear all about the poor man's illness from Johnny. Then she said,—"You have been a good and hard working boy, Johnny, and you shall go to London, to see your Father and Mother. The waggon sets out to-morrow, with a load of hay, and you may go with it."

"Oh, how nice that will be, Johnny! you will ride on the top of the hay.—But the blanket, Mamma, don't forget the blanket."

Mamma took out her purse, and gave Johnny a sovereign.

"Mind, Johnny," said Willy, "that is made of gold, and it will buy a great many things, twenty times more than a shilling."

"It will buy blankets for your Father," said Mamma, "and there will be a good deal left, which you may spend as you please."

Willy was overjoyed, and going home, he said to his Mamma, "I wonder what Johnny will buy with the rest of the money; do you think it will be apples and cakes, Mamma, or toys?"

"Neither," replied she; "I should not have given him so much money, if I thought he would spend it on such things as those. When he has bought the blankets, I dare say that he will give the money that is left to his Mother, to buy what his Father may want besides."

"But you gave him but one piece of money, Mamma; so if he pays that at the shop for a blanket, there will be none left."

"You know, Willy, a sovereign is worth as much as twenty shillings; now the blankets will not cost more than ten shillings, and that is just as much as half a sovereign."

"Then will they cut the sovereign in half; Mamma, and give him back one half?"

"No, they will give him back as much as half a sovereign is worth, but they will give it him in shillings. How many shillings are there to make half a sovereign?"

"Why I do not know," said Willy; "I only know that a whole sovereign is worth twenty shillings."

"Well, what is half twenty?"

Willy thought a little, and said "Ten; because two tens make twenty, so one ten must be half twenty."

"You are right," said his Mother. "Now run on, Willy, for it is beginning to rain, and we cannot take shelter under the trees; they have no more leaves to prevent the rain from falling on us. Besides, it is very cold, and a good run will warm you. Winter is coming now, Willy; there are no more flowers, no more fruit, no more leaves."

"Oh, but when winter is come, we shall have nice snow to make snowballs, and ice to slide upon; do not you remember all that, Mamma? I long for winter to come."

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