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

The Steam-Boat

Part I

One morning Willy was told by his Mamma that they were going to Richmond to spend a few days with his uncle, and that they were to go part of the way in the steam-boat. This delighted him.

"I remember how very large the steam-boat was, Mamma," said he, "when we went to Richmond in it last summer. It was as big as a house; and it had rooms in it, and great wheels that made such a splashing as they went along!"

They went from Ash Grove in the carriage to the river side, to meet the steam-boat. When they got there it was not yet arrived. They got out of the carriage to wait for it, and looked down the river to see if it was coming; but nothing was to be seen but a few small boats, some rowing, and others sailing about. Soon after Papa called out,—"There is the steam-boat."

"Where?" asked Willy; "I can see nothing but a little boat down there."

"That is it," replied Papa; "it looks little, because it is so far off; you will see it more distinctly, and it will look larger, as it comes nearer to us."

"Oh, but it can never be large enough to have rooms in it!"

"Remember the sun, Willy," said his Mother, "which looks so small; and you know it is really larger than the whole world."

"But, Mamma, the steam-boat is not so far off as the sun is."

"No, nor is it so large as the sun is."

As they were talking, the steam-boat approached, and Willy observed that it seemed to grow bigger and look darker.—"Now," said he, "I can see the tall black chimney, and the smoke coming out—such a quantity! It looks like clouds. See, Mamma, how it goes up high in the sky; it will stay there, and make a cloud, I dare say."

"Do you remember what clouds are made of, Willy?"

"Oh!" cried he, "I had quite forgotten; clouds are made of water, and smoke is made from coals burning; so smoke cannot make clouds. Then where does the smoke go to, Mamma, up in the skies?"

"It is blown about by the wind, and spread so thin in the skies that you can no longer see it; but it comes down again at last." Willy began now to be struck by the increasing size of the steam-boat.

"How big it gets, Mamma!" cried he; "I do believe it has rooms in it, for I think I see some little tiny windows."

Papa then called a small rowing-boat, and they all got into it, and a man rowed them with two oars towards the steam-boat.

Willy observed that every time the man dipped the oars into the water, he seemed to push hard against the water, and that made the boat go on; and once, when the man stopped rowing (to turn round and look how near the steam-boat was), the small boat stood still. When they had proceeded a little way, Willy called out,—"It gets large faster now than it did before. See, Mamma, it looks like a house."

"We are going to the steam-boat, and the steam-boat is coming to us," said his Mother; "so that we approach each other quicker, and shall meet sooner, than if we had waited for it on shore; and, the nearer we get, the larger it looks."

"I can see the men and women in it, now!" cried Willy; "they seem to be no bigger than dolls, but I know they are real people, and they look so tiny only because they are far off." After a short pause, he continued; "There, now they look as big as the boy did at the top of the hill, who was a man, after all, when he came close to us."

"And these little people will turn out to be men and women, after all, when they are close to us," said his Mother.

In a few minutes more the rowing-boat reached the steam-boat; Willy was lifted up into it and when he was set down on the deck he was so much pleased and surprised with all he saw, that he stood quite still, with his mouth wide open, but without saying a word. His silence, however, did not last long, for he soon exclaimed,—"Oh, Papa, look, how funny! all the trees and houses there are going along."

"And what is the steam-boat doing?" said his Father.

"It seems as if it stood still," replied he.

"Do you think it is not moving, Willy? look at this wheel, how fast it goes round!" His Father then showed him one of the great wheels, which was moving at such a rate that it made the water splash about, and get so frothy and white, that Willy thought it was turned into milk.

"No," said his Father, "water and milk are quite different things; water cannot be turned into milk, but it looks like it, because it has a white froth, as beer has when John lifts the jug very high to pour it into the glass."

"But nobody pours the water up high there to make it froth," said Willy, pointing to the water about the wheel.

"It is the wheel moving round so fast in the water that makes it froth and splash about so."

"Yes," said Willy, "just like the carriage wheels when they make the mud splash up against the windows; and one day, Papa, only think! the window was open, and all the dirt came in upon my frock; but Ann was not angry, because you know it was not my fault."

"Do you think the wheels of the steam-boat are like the wheels of a carriage, Willy?"

"To be sure, they go round just the same."

"Would these wheels do to fasten on to a carriage?"

"Oh, no; they would be a great deal too large; and then they would not do to go along the road, because they have not got a great hoop round their outside, like carriage wheels; besides," continued he, after a pause, "all those things that go splashing into the water, one after the other, are not at all like spokes; they would stick into the ground, and make the carriage stand still instead of making it go on."

"But the turning of carriage wheels does not make the carriage go on Willy."

"Oh, no," replied he; "I remember it is the horses pulling the carriage on that makes the wheels go round."

"Now, the wheels of the steam-boat," said his Father, "are what make the vessel go on. Those things which dip into the water are called paddles; they strike against the water just as the oars of the rowing-boat struck against it, and made it go on."

"But the wheel is not at all like the oar," said Willy; "the oar was a great long stick, and the wheel is round."

"The wheel moves round," said his Father; "but the paddles are like a number of short broad oars which go into the water one after the other as fast as they can go."

"Oh, yes," said Willy, "I see them; they do not look like oars, but they do the same as oars. What a great number there are in the wheel, Papa! And there is another wheel on the other side too," said he, "with as many more paddles; yet we had but two oars in the little boat, Papa."

His Father told him to observe how much larger and heavier the steam-boat was than the rowing-boat.

"And besides, Papa, it goes a great deal faster. Look how fast we do go!" said he, fixing his eyes on the water.

"Why, just now, you said, Willy, that the steam-boat seemed to be standing still!"

"But did the wheels go round then, Papa?"

"Yes, just the same as they do now."

Willy was puzzled; he raised his eyes from the water to look on the land, and there he again thought he saw the houses and trees moving along, while the boat he was in seemed to be standing still. He looked back again at the water, and the boat seemed to be going on. "I wish I could look at both at once," said he: but that was impossible; so he kept turning his eyes first to one, and then to the other, till he was quite confused.

"What are you about, Willy?" said his Mother; "your head turns like a whirligig."

"I want to see which it is that really moves, Mamma—the houses and trees, or the steam-boat and I cannot look at both at once."

His Mamma then explained to him that it was the steam-boat that really moved, and moved very quickly, much more so than a carriage; but that when the wheels of a carriage went over any rough ground, the carriage was jolted, and you felt the motion.

"To be sure," said Willy, interrupting her, "there are no stones in the water for the wheels to knock against and jolt—and yet, Mamma, I often throw stones into the water, and so do all the boys; so I do not know why there should not be stones in the water: what becomes of them?"

"You can find out that by yourself, Willy, if you think a little; and I shall not answer your questions when they are too easy, any more than when they are too difficult."

Willy thought a little, and then said,—"Oh yes, to be sure, all the stones that fall into the water go through it to the bottom; the water is not strong enough to hold them up, excepting just for a minute, when we play at ducks and drakes."

"Certainly," replied she, "stones are much heavier than water, and the heaviest things go to the bottom. Well, then, as there are no stones swimming about in the water for the wheels to knock against, and no rough ground for them to roll over, the steam-boat glides so smoothly along that you cannot feel it move, as you do the carriage. When you look at the water splashing round the wheels, and the stream the boat leaves behind, you see very well that we are going on fast; but when you do not look at the water, as you feel no motion, you fancy the boat is standing still, and that all the trees and houses you pass by are moving on, and going the other way."

"Well, Mamma, but now that you have explained it to me, I don't think that the houses and trees move half so much—hardly at all; and I am sure that the boat is moving very fast."

"Think a little more, Willy, and you will be as sure that the houses and trees are not moving at all, but standing quite still. You know that plants cannot move about, nor houses either, for they are not even alive."

She then sent Willy to play about with some little girls and boys who were in the steam-boat; for she began to be tired of answering his questions, and thought that if he asked any more then, he would not be able to remember the answers; and that a little play would be better for him.

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