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

The Three Little Trees

Mark took Willy to another part of the grounds, and showed him three very small trees.

"Do you call these trees?" said Willy; "they are not so big as a rose bush."

"They were all sown on the same day," said Mark; "and that was the day you were born; your Papa came and put the seeds into the ground himself."

"How funny," cried Willy; "then that is why you said that they were just as old as I am. But why are they not all the same size, if they were sown all the same day?"

"Because they are trees of different sorts. Look, the largest is a horse-chestnut, it grows quicker than the two others, and so it is taller. You may know it by its great leaves, branching out from the stalk; something like your fingers, when you stretch them out from your hand."

Willy stretched out his fingers, but did not think they looked much like the leaf.

"Do not you see," said Mark, "there are five small leaves joined together at the stalk, to make one large one; that is like the five fingers of your hand."

"Oh, no," said Willy; "I have only four fingers and a thumb."  "Well, that makes five in all; and don't you see that these leaves are some of them shorter than others, as your fingers and thumb are."

"Yes," said Willy, laying hold of one of the shortest of the leaflets, "this is the thumb. But, Mark, this little tiny horse-chestnut-tree has as large leaves as the great tree Mamma is sitting under. To be sure, a young tree has not smaller leaves than an old one; only it has fewer. But the branches of the young tree are much smaller than the branches of the old tree," said Willy; "only look at the old tree, Mark, I am sure it has some branches that are as thick as your body, and thicker too; and as long, Oh! I cannot tell how long, they stretch out so far; but the branches of this little tree are not so thick as my finger hardly."

"Yes," replied Mark; "because the branches grow larger and larger every year, like the stem, and the leaves grow only one year."

"Why do they not grow every year, as well as the branches and the stem?" asked Willy.

"Why, now, Master Willy," said Mark, "that is what I call a silly question; if you will but give yourself the trouble to think a little, I am sure you can tell."

Willy found it more easy to ask questions, than to think for himself and find out what he wanted to know,—however, he was ashamed of Mark's rebuke, and began to think, and then fell a laughing.—"Ha, ha, ha, ha, to be sure," said he; "the leaves cannot grow larger every year, because they die in the Autumn, and they cannot grow when they are dead. Poor little tree," said Willy, in a tone of it; "your leaves are all dropping off, just like the leaves of the great tree, they are not green any more; all yellow, and brown, and in holes, and good for nothing; but never mind, you will have pretty new green leaves in the spring. I want to see whether its horse-chestnuts are as large as those on the great tree,—but it has no horse-chestnuts, Mark?"

"It does not bear fruit yet," said Mark; "it is too young, but when it is old enough to bear fruit, the fruit will be just as large as that of the old tree, only it will not have so much."

"Like the leaves," said Willy; "and not like the branches."

"Yes, for the fruit and the leaves die every year; and new fruit and new leaves grow in their place: but the branches and the stem do not die, they go on growing larger and larger every year."

"Oh, but I have often seen a dead branch on the great trees," said Willy; "and no leaves grow on it all the summer; and if you break it off, it goes snap, just like a piece of dry stick."

"Yes," said Mark; "now and then a branch dies by accident; but it is only one here and there; while the leaves and the fruit die, all of them, regularly, every autumn."

"And what is this little tree?" asked Willy, pointing to the next, which had been planted the day he was born.

"That is an elm; it grows slower than the horse-chestnut, and though it is of the same age, you see it is smaller."

"And what tiny leaves it has, Mark!"

"Yes, but the leaves of the great elms in the avenue are not larger, and its seed is much smaller than its leaves. The third tree," said he, "is an oak, which grows the slowest of any of them."

"It has no nice little cups and balls yet, Mark."

"No, it is too young to bear fruit, and those little balls in the cups are the fruit of the oak, and are called acorns."

"Oh!" cried Willy; "but oaks have apples besides acorns; not good apples, like apple trees, but nasty bitter apples. Ann let me taste a bit one day, but I could not eat it, it was so bad."

"Those are not the fruit of the oak," said Mark "they are round, and look something like an apple, but they are not real apples. They are bumps and swellings, that grow upon the oak when it is ill, or any thing has hurt it."

"What, like the bumps I get upon my forehead, sometimes, when I fall down?"

"A little like it," replied Mark, "but not much."

"How can trees be ill, Mark, for you know they do not feel?"

"No, but they are ill, that is, they have diseases without feeling; you know they die without feeling it."

"Yes," said Willy; "but it does not signify being ill, if you cannot feel it. I should not mind being ill so."

"It does not signify to them, perhaps," said Mark; "but it signifies a great deal to us, for not only trees, but all sorts of vegetables are sometimes diseased. Last summer all the potatoes were so bad, that they were not fit to eat; and it made the people who ate them ill too. Then some of the cherry-trees were blighted, that is a disease which made the fruit good for nothing."

"That does signify a great deal," said Willy; "cherries are so nice."

"Ah, but what would have been worst of all, the wheat had nearly been spoilt by the rot; that is another disease; luckily it was cured, or what should we have done without bread?"

"Oh, I had rather go without bread, than without cherries, a great deal," cried Willy.

"You may think so for a little while, Master Willy; but if you had to eat your dinner every day, without bread, I dare say you would soon be longing for it."

"Oh, no, I should not, Mark; I like meat and potatoes much better than bread; Ann is always telling me to eat my bread at dinner, and if there were no bread, you know, she could not teaze me about it."

"But what would the poor people do?" said Mark; "many of them have no meat, and nothing but bread and cheese for their dinner."

"What would they have done for bread, Mark, if the wheat had been all spoiled?"

"Why, they would have been almost starved."

"Oh, the poor people!" cried Willy; "and Susan and her mother would have had no bread; I am very glad the wheat was cured: and how can you cure potatoes, and cherries, and wheat," said Willy, "when they are ill? you cannot give them medicine, for they have no mouths to drink it."

"No," said Mark; "we can do but little good, but we doctor them as well as we can."

"Oh, I remember," said Willy, "when my flower-pots in London were ill, because I had given them too much water, Ann said you were the doctor for curing plants."

"Well, you see, Master Willy, the plants sucked up the water you gave them, though they have no mouths; so they can suck up any thing I give them to cure them as well; what did you give your plants to cure them?"

"Nothing," said Willy; "Ann said 'they had had too much water,' so she put them out at window for the sun and air to dry up the water that made them ill."

"Well, that was just what they wanted. But plants are often ill for want of water; what must be done then?"

"Why give them some, to be sure!" cried Willy.

The evening was now coming on; it felt cold and damp, and Willy was called into the house: as he drew near, he was surprised to see light shining from the drawing-room windows, though it was not yet dark; when he came in, he found his Mamma sitting beside a fine blazing fire. "Oh, Mamma!" cried he, "what a long time it is, since I have seen a fire; how nice and warm it looks."

"Come here, my dear, and then you will find that it feels warm."

"I am a bigger boy now, than I was last winter," said he; "and you will let me go nearer the fire than the border of the rug, will not you?"

"You are taller, Willy, and older; but are you more wise, and fit to be trusted; do you understand better than you did last winter, how dangerous it is to play with fire; how easily clothes catch fire, and how dreadful it is to be burnt?"

"Oh yes," said Willy; "I know all that."

"Then can I depend on your never touching any thing within the fender? if I find I can do that, I shall allow you to come upon the rug."

Willy stepped upon the rug, and rested himself, leaning against his Mamma's knees. He asked whether it was a log of wood that was burning.

"Yes," said she; "it is part of one of the trees that was cut down."

"But I thought that when trees were cut down, the dead wood was made into boxes, and tables, and chairs, and all sorts of things?"

"So it is, when the wood is fit for such things, but very often it is not large enough, or good enough, for that purpose, and then it does for burning."

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