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Among the Trees at Elmridge by Ella Rodman Church

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[Illustration: GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE.]

"'If you visit that garden and look upon its old olive trees, the
keeper of the place will tell you that you are in Gethsemane, the spot
of our Saviour's betrayal. He will point out the "Grotto of the Agony,"
the place where the disciples slumbered, and that where Judas, before
his brethren, ceased publicly to be a follower and became the betrayer
of Jesus. Some things you very naturally may question as the guardian of
the enclosure tells his story. Whether any one of the venerable olive
trees ever threw its shadow across the prostrate form of Jesus is more
than doubtful, but that these trees are burdened with the history of
centuries all must concede. "Gethsemane" means "oil-press," and olive
trees long ago gave Olivet its name. That somewhere in this neighborhood
the Saviour suffered cannot be doubted, and within that closed wall may
have been the very spot where he bowed in his agony, and where he heard
the tongue of Judas utter his treacherous "Rabbi!" and where he felt the
serpent-breath of the traitor as that traitor kissed him.'"

Miss Harson read of this solemn spot in a low, reverent tone; and the
little audience were very quiet, until at last Clara said,

"Whenever we see an ash tree or olives, how much there will be to think
of!"

CHAPTER VII.

_THE USEFUL BIRCH_.

"Oh, Miss Harson!" called out Clara, in great excitement, as she caught
up with her governess on a run; "hasn't Edie poisoned herself? She has
been eating this twig."

Edith, of course, at once began to cry.

"You are not poisoned, dear," said Miss Harson, very quickly, after
trying the twig herself; "for this is birch-wood, and it cannot possibly
hurt you. But remember, Edie, that this must not happen again; _never_
put anything to your mouth unless you know it to be harmless. The birds
and squirrels and other animals that are obliged to pick up their own
living as soon as they are able to use their limbs have the faculty
given them of knowing what is good for them to eat, but little girls are
not intended to live in the woods, and they cannot tell whether or not
the things they find there are fit to eat."

"I took only a little bit," sobbed Edith; "Clara snatched it away as
soon as it tasted good."

Malcolm laughingly tossed his little sister into a sort of evergreen
cradle where the branches grew low--for they were enjoying an afternoon
in the woods--and held her there securely, while their governess
replied,

"'A little bit' is too much of a thing that might be harmful. You must
remember to 'touch not, taste not, handle not,' until you have asked
permission. But I am going to let you all chew as many birch-shoots as
you want, and I too shall chew some; for when I was a little girl, I
used to think they were 'puffickly d'licious.'"

The children were much amazed to think that Miss Harson had ever talked
like Edith--indeed, the two older ones could scarcely believe that they
once did so themselves; but all soon had their hands full of
birch-twigs, and they began gnawing like so many squirrels. All approved
of the "birchskin," as Edith called it, and Malcolm declared that "it
would be grand fun to live in the woods all the time."

"Couldn't we have a tent, Miss Harson," asked Clara, "and try it?"

"I have no doubt," was the reply, "that your indulgent papa would have a
tent put up here for you if he thought it would make you happier, but I
have my doubts as to whether it would do so. In the first place, I
should object very much to living in the tent with you, and how could
you possibly live there alone?"

Clara and Edith were quite sure that they could not get along without
their friend and governess, but Malcolm thought he would like to try
being a hermit or an Indian, he was not quite ready to say which.

"While you are deciding," said Miss Harson, with a smile, "it may be as
well for us to go on as usual; but I think that a little tent could be
put up here somewhere, which we might enjoy for an hour or so on
pleasant days. I will see about it."

The little girls were delighted, and Malcolm finally condescended to be
pleased with the idea.

"This is a very young birch," continued their governess, "and you see
how slender and graceful it is; also that the bark, or 'skin,' is very
dark. For this reason it is called the black, or cherry, birch, and also
because the tree is very much like the black cherry. It is also called
sweet birch and mahogany birch; the _sweet_ part you can probably
understand, and it gets its other name from the color of the wood, which
often resembles mahogany and at one time was much used for furniture.
There are larger trees of the same kind all around us, and I should like
to know if anything else has been noticed besides the twigs of this
little one."

"_I_ see something," replied Malcolm: "there are flowers--purple and
yellow."

"And what is the particular name for these tree-blossoms?" asked Miss
Harson.

"Isn't it _catkins_?" inquired Clara, timidly.

"Yes, catkins, or aments. They hang, as you see, like long tassels of
purple and gold, and are as fragrant as the bark. Bryant's line,

"'The fragrant birch above him hung her tassels in the sky,'

"was written of this same black birch. Some of these trees are sixty or
seventy feet high, and all are very graceful, this species being
considered the most beautiful of the numerous birch family. The leaves,
which are just coming out, are two or three inches long and about half
as wide; they taper to a point and have serrate, or sawlike, edges. The
wood is firm and durable, and is much used for cattle-yokes as well as
for bedsteads and chairs. The large trees yield a great quantity of
sweetish sap, which makes a pleasant drink. The trees are tapped just as
the sugar-maples are, and in some parts of the country gathering this
sap, which is sometimes used to make vinegar, is quite an
important event."

"Oh! oh! _oh_!" screamed Edith, and began to run.

"Oh! oh! oh!" echoed Clara; and Malcolm declared that she was just like
"Jill," who "came tumbling after."

"What is the matter, children?" asked their governess, in dismay; but
she stood perfectly still.

"Only a poor little garter-snake," said Malcolm, "putting his head out
to see if it's warm enough for him yet. But he has gone back into his
hole frightened to death at such dreadful noises. Hello! what's the
matter with Edie now?"

The little sister had fallen, tripped up by some rough roots, and,
expecting the poor startled garter-snake to come and make a meal off
her, she was calling loudly for help.

Miss Harson had her in her arms in a moment, and it was soon found that
one foot had quite a bad bruise.

"If only you had not run away!" said her governess. "He was such an
innocent little snake to make all this fuss about, and very pretty too,
if you had stopped to look at him."

"Are snakes ever pretty?" asked Edith, in great surprise.

"Certainly they are, dear, and this one had lovely stripes. I wish you
could have seen him."

The little girl began to wish so too, it was so funny to think of a
snake being pretty, and she felt quite ashamed that she had scampered
away in such a silly fashion.

"What a goose I was!" said Clara, doing her thinking aloud. "But I
thought it must be something dreadful, when Edie screamed so."

"How much better it would have been to have found out before you
screamed!" replied Miss Harson.--"But come, Edith; see what a nice cane
Malcolm has just cut to help your lame foot with. He is offering you his
arm, too, on the other side, and between the two I think you will get
along finely."

Edith thought the same thing, and enjoyed being helped home in this
fashion. Her foot was quite painful, though, and considerably swollen;
and Clara bathed it with arnica when the little girl had been
comfortably established on the schoolroom sofa.

"Perhaps," said Miss Harson, "our little invalid will not care to hear
about trees this evening?"

But the little invalid did care, and it was decided to take a further
ramble among the birches.

"I want to hear about birch-bark," said Malcolm--"not the kind we've
been eating, but the kind that canoes and things are made of."

[Illustration: THE CUT-LEAVED WHITE BIRCH.]

"You have already heard about the black birch," replied his governess,
"and, besides this, we have the white, or gray, birch, the bark of which
is white, chalky and dotted with black; the red birch, with bark of a
reddish or chocolate color; the yellow birch, bark yellowish, with a
silvery lustre; and the canoe birch, which has a white bark with a
pearly lustre. There is also a dwarf, or shrub, birch. The list, you
see, is quite a long one."

"What kind grow in _our_ woods?" asked Clara.

"You certainly know of one kind," was the reply--"the black, or sweet,
birch, which we have all tried and like so well. Besides this, there is
the white, or little gray, birch, which is seldom over twenty-five or
thirty feet high. It is, however, a graceful and beautiful object,
enjoying to an eminent decree the lightness and airiness of the birch
family, and spreading out its glistening leaves on the ends of a very
slender and often pensile spray with an indescribable softness. An
English poet has called this tree the

"'most beautiful
Of forest-trees, the lady of the woods.'"

The children laughed at the idea of calling a tree a _lady_, it seemed
so comical; but Miss Harson said that she thought this was a very good
description of a slender, graceful tree.

[Illustration: WHITE-BIRCH LEAF.]

"Four or five inches," she continued, "will span its waist, or trunk,
and this seems a very good reason for calling it _little_. Another name
for this tree is poplar birch, because the triangular-shaped leaves,
which taper to a very long, slender point, have a habit of trembling
like those of the poplars. The branches are of a dark chocolate color
which contrasts very prettily with the grayish-white trunk, and their
extreme slenderness causes them to droop somewhat like those of the
willow. The white birch will spring up in the poorest kind of soil, and
it is found in the highest latitude in which any tree can live. Its leaf
is 'deltoid' in shape and indented at the edge. The bark of this species
is said to be more durable than any other vegetable substance, and a
piece of birch-wood was once found changed into stone, while the outer
bark, white and shining, remained in its natural state,"

"I don't see how it could," said Malcolm. "What kept it from turning
into stone too?"

"Its peculiar nature," was the reply, "which is a thing that we cannot
explain, and we shall have to take the story just as it is. We certainly
know that the wood has been proved to be very strong, and it is much
used for timber."

"Is the red birch really red, Miss Harson?" asked Clara, who thought
that this promised to be the prettiest member of the family.

"The bark has a reddish tinge, and it is so loose and ragged-looking
that it has been said to roll up its bark in coarse ringlets, which are
whitish with a stain of crimson. The red birch, which is more rare than
any of the other kinds, is a much larger tree than the white birch, but,
like all its relations, it is very graceful. The wood is white and hard
and makes very good fuel, while the twigs are made into brooms for
sweeping streets and courtyards."

"But there isn't very much red about it, after all," said Malcolm.

"It wasn't red," murmured Edith; "it was green;" and the next moment
"the baby" was fast asleep, but Miss Harson was afraid that she had
taken the snake with her to the land of Nod, so restless was her sleep.

"I hope the yellow birch is yellow," said Clara again.

"We will see what is said of its color," replied her governess, "and
here it is: 'Distinguished by its yellowish bark, of a soft silken
texture and silvery or pearly lustre,' It is a large tree, and has been
named _excelsa_--'lofty'--because of its height. The slender, flowing
branches are very graceful, and the tree is often as symmetrical as a
fine elm, but droops less. The roots of the yellow birch seem to enjoy
getting above the ground and twisting themselves in a very fantastic
manner, and, taken altogether, it is a strikingly handsome and
ornamental tree. The wood was at one time much liked for fuel, and many
of the logs were of immense size."

"Now," said Malcolm, gleefully, "the canoe birch has _got_ to come next,
because there isn't anything else to come."

"That is an excellent reason," replied Miss Harson, "and the canoe birch
it shall be. There is more to be said of it than of any of the others,
and it also grows in greater quantities. Thick woods of it are found in
Maine and New Hampshire--for it loves a cold climate--and in other
Northern portions of the country. The tall trunks of the trees resemble
pillars of polished marble supporting a canopy of bright-green foliage.
The leaves are something of a heart-shape, and their vivid summer green
turns to golden tints in autumn. The bark of the canoe birch is almost
snowy white on the outside, and very prettily marked with fine brown
stripes two or three inches long, which go around the trunk. This bark
is very smooth and soft, and it is easily separated into very thin
sheets. For this reason the tree is often called the paper birch, and
the smooth, thin layers of bark make very good writing-paper when none
other can be had."

"Oh, Miss Harson!" exclaimed Clara; "did you ever see any that was
written on?"

"Yes," was the reply; "I once wrote a letter on some myself."

"Did you _really_?" cried two eager voices. "How _could_ you? Oh, do
tell us about it!"

"I was making a visit at a village in Maine," said their governess,
"where the beautiful trees are to be seen in all their perfection, and I
thought it would be appropriate to write a letter from there on birch
bark. So I split my bark very thin and got a respectable sheet of it
ready; then I cut another piece, to form an envelope, and gummed it
together. I had quite a struggle to write on it decently with a steel
pen, because the pen would go through the paper; but I persevered, and
finally I accomplished my letter. It seemed odd to put a postage-stamp
on birch bark, and I smiled to think how surprised the home-people
would be to get such a letter. They _were_ surprised, and they told me
afterward that the postman laughed when he delivered it."

The children thought this very interesting, and they wished that there
were canoe-birch trees growing at Elmridge, that they might be enabled
to try the experiment for themselves.

"Now," continued Miss Harson, "I am going to read you an account of
canoe-making, and of some other uses to which the bark is put:

"'In Canada and in the district of Maine the country-people place large
pieces of the bark immediately below the shingles of the roof, to form a
more impenetrable covering for their houses. Baskets, boxes and
portfolios are made of it, which are sometimes embroidered with silk of
different colors. Divided into very thin sheets, it forms a substitute
for paper, and placed between the soles of the shoes and in the crown of
the hat it is a defence against dampness. But the most important purpose
to which it is applied, and one in which it is replaced by the bark of
no other tree, is in the construction of canoes. To procure proper
pieces, the largest and smoothest trunks are selected. In the spring two
circular incisions are made, several feet apart, and two longitudinal
ones on opposite sides of the tree; after which, by introducing a wooden
wedge, the bark is easily detached. These plates are usually ten or
twelve feet long and two feet nine inches broad. To form the canoe, they
are stitched together with fibrous roots of the white spruce about the
size of a quill, which are deprived of the bark, split and suppled in
water. The seams are coated with resin of the balm of Gilead.

"'Great use is made of these canoes by the savages and by the French
Canadians in their long journeys into the interior of the country; they
are very light, and are easily transported on the shoulders from one
lake or river to another, which is called the _portage_. A canoe
calculated for four persons, with their baggage, weighs from forty to
fifty pounds; some of them are made to carry fifteen passengers.'

"And now let me show you a picture of the Kentucky pioneer in a
birch-bark canoe."

"Why, Miss Harson, the Indians are trying to kill him!" exclaimed
Malcolm.

"Yes," she replied; "when you read the history of the United States, you
will find that not only Daniel Boone, but the most of the early settlers
of these Western lands, had trouble with the Indians. Nor is this
strange. These pioneers were often rough men, and were looked upon by
the natives as invaders of their country and treated as enemies. But to
come back to the uses of the bark of the birch:

"'In the settlements of the Hudson Bay Company tents are made of the
bark of this tree, which for that purpose is cut into pieces twelve feet
long and four feet wide. These are sewed together by threads made of the
white-spruce roots; and so rapidly is a tent put up that a circular one
twenty feet in diameter and ten feet high does not occupy more than half
an hour in pitching. Every traveler and hunter in Canada enjoys these
"rind-tents," as they are called, which are used only during the hot
summer months, when they are found particularly comfortable.'"

[Illustration: IN THE BIRCH-BARK CANOE]

"Well, that's the funniest thing yet!" exclaimed Malcolm. "'Rind-tents'!
I wish I could see one. Did they have any in Maine where you were,
Miss Harson?"

"No," was the reply, "I did not even hear of such a thing there, and to
see it you would probably have to go far to the north. The English
birch, which is found also in many parts of Europe, is put to a great
many uses; the leaves produce a yellow dye, and the wood, when mixed
with copperas, will color red, black and brown. An old birch tree that
is supposed to be giving an account of itself says,

"'How many are the uses of my bark! Thrifty men who sit beside the
blazing hearth when my branches throw up a clear bright flame, and
follow the example of their fathers in making their own shoes and those
of their families, tan the hides with my bark. Kamschadales construct
from it both hats and vessels for holding milk, and the Swedish
fisherman his shoes. The Norwegian covers with it his low-roofed hut
and spreads upon the surface layers of moss at least three or four
inches thick, and, having twisted long strips together, he obtains
excellent torches with which to cheer the darkness of his long nights.
Fishermen, in like manner, make great use of them in alluring their
finny prey. For this purpose they fit a portion of blazing birch in a
cleft stick and spear the fish when attracted by its flickering light.'"

The children exclaimed at this queer way of fishing, but Malcolm was
very much taken with the idea of doing it by night with blazing torches,
and he thought that he would like to be a Norwegian fisherman even
better than a hermit or an Indian.

"The old tree goes on to say," continued Miss Harson, "that 'Finland
mothers form of the dried leaves soft, elastic beds for their children,
and from me is prepared the _mona_, their sole medicine in all diseases.
My buds in spring exhale a delicious fragrance after showers, and the
bark, when burnt, seems to purify the air in confined dwellings.'

"In Lapland the twigs of the birch, covered with reindeer-skins, are
used for beds, but they cannot be so comfortable, I should think, as the
leaves. The fragrant wood of the tree makes the fires which have to be
kept up inside the huts even in summer to drive away the mosquitoes, and
the people of those Northern regions would find it hard to get along
without the useful birch."

"I like to hear about it," said Clara. "Can you tell us something more
that is done with it, Miss Harson?"

"There is just one thing more," replied her governess, with a smile,
"which I will read out of an old book; and I desire you all to pay
particular attention to it."

Little Edith was wide awake again by this time, and her great blue eyes
looked as if she were ready to devour every word.

"Birch rods," continued Miss Harson, "are quite different from birch
_twigs_, and the uses to which they were put were not altogether
agreeable to the boys who ran away from school or did not get their
lessons. 'My branches,' says the birch, 'gently waving in the wind,
awakened in those days no feelings of dread with truant urchins--for
_all_ might be truants then, if so it pleased them--but at length a
scribe arose who thus wrote concerning my ductile twigs: "The civil uses
whereunto the birch serveth are many, as for the punishment of children
both at home and abroad; for it hath an admirable influence upon them to
quiet them when they wax unruly, and therefore some call the tree
_make-peace_"'" Malcolm and Clara both laughed, and asked their young
governess when the birch rods were coming; but Edith did not feel quite
so easy, and, with her bruised foot and all, it took a great deal of
petting that night to get her comfortably to bed.

CHAPTER VIII.

_THE POPLARS_.

The bruised foot was not comfortable to walk on for two or three days,
and Edith was settled in the great easy arm-chair with dolls and toys
and picture-books in a pile that seemed as if it would not stop growing
until every article belonging to herself and Clara had been gathered
there. "We can go on with our trees," said Miss Harson, "even if we do
not see them just yet; and this evening I should like to tell you
something about the poplar, a large tree with alternate leaves which is
often found in dusty towns, where it seems to flourish as well as in its
favorite situation by a running stream. An old English writer calls the
poplars 'hospitable trees, for anything thrives under their shade.' They
are not handsomely-shaped trees, but the foliage is thick and pretty. In
the latter part of this month--April--the trees are so covered with
their olive-green catkins that large portions of the forests seem to be
colored by them."

[Illustration: IN THE EASY CHAIR]

"Are there any poplars at Elmridge?" asked Malcolm.

"Not nearer than the woods," was the reply, "where we must go and look
for them when Edith's foot is quite well again, though there are a good
many in the city. The poplar is often planted by the roadside because it
grows so rapidly and makes a good shade. The _Abele_, or silver poplar,
is an especial favorite for this purpose.

"The balm of Gilead, or Canada poplar, is the largest of the species,
and really a handsome tree, often growing to the height of fifty or
sixty feet, with a trunk of proportionate size. It has large leaves of a
bright, glossy green, which grow loosely on long branches, A peculiarity
of this tree is that before the leaves begin to expand the buds are
covered with a yellow, glutinous balsam that diffuses a penetrating but
very agreeable odor unlike any other. The balsam is gathered as a
healing anodyne, and for many ailments it is a favorite remedy in
domestic medicine. All the poplars produce more or less of this
substance.

"The river poplaris found on the banks of rivers and brooks and in wet
places, and is a noble and graceful tree. The trunk is light gray in
color, and the young trees have a smooth, leather-like bark. The broad
leaves, of a very rich green, grow on stems nearly as long as
themselves, and the flowering aments are of a light-red color. The
leaf-stalks and young branches are also brightly tinted. Another of
these trees has a very singular name: it is called the necklace poplar."

[Illustration: LOMBARDY POPLAR.]

"Do the flowers grow like real necklaces?" asked Clara.

"Not quite," replied her governess, "but the reason given is something
like it. The tree is so called from the resemblance of the long ament,
before opening, to the beads of a necklace. In Europe it is known as the
Swiss poplar and the black Italian poplar. Its timber is much valued
there for building. There are also the black poplar and that queer,
stiff-looking tree the Lombardy poplar. Cannot one of you tell me where
there are some tall, narrow trees that look almost as if they had been
cut out of wood and stuck there?"

"I know where there are some," said Malcolm: "right in front of Mrs.
Bush's old house; and I think they're miserable-looking trees."

"When old and rusty, they are not in the least cheerful," replied Miss
Harson; "and it is so long since Lombardy poplars were admired that few
are found except about old places. The tree is shaped like a tall spire,
and in hot, calm weather drops of clear water trickle from its leaves
like a slight shower of rain. It was once a favorite shade-tree, and a
century ago great numbers of Lombardy poplars were planted by village
waysides, in front of dwelling-houses, on the borders of public
grounds, and particularly in avenues leading to houses that stand at
some distance from the high-road.

[Illustration: A GROUP OF POPLARS IN CASHMERE]

"The poplar is found in many lands. The Lombardy poplar, as its name
indicates, was brought from Italy, where it grows luxuriantly beside the
orange and the myrtle; but after one of our cold winters many of its
small branches will decay, and this gives it a forlorn appearance. When
fresh and green, the Lombardy poplar is quite handsome. Some one wrote
of it long ago: 'There is no other tree that so pleasantly adorns the
sides of narrow lanes and avenues, and so neatly accommodates itself to
limited enclosures. Its foliage is dense and of the liveliest verdure,
making delicate music to the soft touch of every breeze. Its
terebinthine odors scent the vernal gales that enter our open windows
with the morning sun. Its branches, always turning upward and closely
gathered together, afford a harbor to the singing-birds that make them a
favorite resort, and its long, tapering spire that points to heaven
gives an air of cheerfulness and religious tranquillity to village
scenery.'"

"I wish we had some," said Edith, "with singing-birds in 'em."

"Why, my dear child," replied her governess, "have we not the beautiful
elms, in which the birds build their nests and where they fly in and out
continually? They are the very same birds that build in the
Lombardy poplars."

"I thought that singing-birds always lived in cages," said the little
queen in the easy-chair.

"And did you think they were hung all over the Lombardy poplars?" asked
Malcolm, in a broad grin.

Edith laughed too, and Miss Harson said smilingly.

"I thought that the birds about Elmridge did a great deal of singing,
and the blue-birds and robins kept it up all day. But I should not like
to see the old Lombardy poplars hung with gilded cages, and the birds
which should happen to be prisoners in the cages would like it
still less."

"Well," said Edith, contentedly, as she settled herself again to
listen.

"The poplar," continued Miss Harson, "has a great many insect enemies,
and the Lombardy is not often seen now, because a great many of these
trees were destroyed on account of a worm, or caterpillar, by which they
were infested. Poplar-wood is soft, light and generally of a pale-yellow
color; it is much used for toy-making and for boarded floors, 'for which
last purpose it is well adapted from its whiteness and the facility with
which it is scoured, and also from the difficulty with which it catches
fire and the slowness with which it burns. A red-hot poker falling on a
board of poplar would burn its way without causing more combustion than
the hole through which it passed.'"

"I should think, then," said Malcolm, "that all wooden things would be
made of poplar."

"It is generally thought not to be durable," was the reply, "but it is
said that if kept dry the wood will last as long as that of any tree.
Says the poplar plank,

"'Though heart of oak be ne'er so stout,
Keep me dry and I'll see him out.'

"The poplar has been highly praised, for every part of this tree answers
some good purpose. The bark, being light, like cork, serves to support
the nets of fishermen; the inner bark is used by the Kamschadales as a
material for bread; brooms are made from the twigs, and paper from the
cottony down of the seeds. Horses, cows and sheep browse upon it.

"And now," said Miss Harson, when the children were wondering if that
were the end, "we have come to the most interesting tree of the whole
species--the aspen, or trembling poplar. It is a small, graceful tree
with rounded leaves having a wavy, toothed border, covered with soft
silk when young, which remains only as a fringe on the edge at maturity,
supported by a very slender footstalk about as long as the leaf, and
compressed laterally from near the base. They are thus agitated by the
slightest breath of wind with that quivering, restless motion
characteristic of all the poplars, but in none so striking as this. 'To
quiver like an aspen-leaf has become a proverb. The foliage appears
lighter than that of most other trees, from continually displaying the
under side of the leaves.

"The aspen has been called a very poetical tree, because it is the only
one whose leaves tremble when the wind is apparently calm. It is said,
however, to suggest fickleness and caprice, levity and irresolution--a
bad character for any tree. The small American aspen, which is quite
common, has a smooth, pale-green bark, which gets whitish and rough as
the tree grows old. The foliage is thin, but a single leaf will be
found, when examined, uncommonly beautiful. A spray of the small aspen,
when in leaf, is very light and airy-looking, and the leaves produce a
constant rustling sound. 'Legends of no ordinary interest linger around
this tree. Ask the Italian peasant who pastures his sheep beside a grove
of _Abele_ why the leaves of these trees are always trembling in even
the hottest weather when not a breeze is stirring, and he will tell you
that the wood of the trembling-poplar formed the cross on which our
Saviour suffered.'"

"Oh, Miss Harson!" said Clara, in a low tone. "Is that _true_?"

"We do not know that it is, dear, nor do we know that it is not. Here
are some verses about it which I like very much:

"'The tremulousness began, as legends tell,
When he, the meek One, bowed his head to death
E'en on an aspen cross, when some near dell
Was visited by men whose every breath
That Sufferer gave them. Hastening to the wood--
The wood of aspens--they with ruffian power
Did hew the fair, pale tree, which trembling stood
As if awestruck; and from that fearful hour
Aspens have quivered as with conscious dread
Of that foul crime which bowed the meek Redeemer's head.

"'Far distant from those days, oh let not man,
Boastful of reason, check with scornful speech
Those legends pure; for who the heart may scan
Or say what hallowed thoughts such legends teach
To those who may perchance their scant flocks keep
On hill or plain, to whom the quivering tree
Hinteth a thought which, holy, solemn, deep,
Sinks in the heart, bidding their spirits flee
All thoughts of vice, that dread and hateful thing
Which troubleth of each joy the pure and gushing spring?'"

CHAPTER IX.

_ALL A-BLOW: THE APPLE TREE_.

It certainly was a beautiful sight, and the children exclaimed over it
in ectasy. It was now past the middle of April, and Miss Harson had
taken her little flock to visit an apple-orchard at some distance from
Elmridge, and the whole place seemed to be one mass of pink-and-white
bloom.

"And how deliciously _sweet_ it is!" said Malcolm as he sniffed the
fragrant air.

"Oh!" exclaimed Edith, turning up her funny little nose to get the full
benefit of all this fragrance; "I can't breathe half enough at once."

"That is just my case," said her governess, laughing, "but I did not
think to say it in that way. Get all you can of this deliciousness,
children; I wish that we could carry some of it away with us."

"And so you shall," replied a hearty voice as Mr. Grove, the owner of
the orchard, came up with a knife in his hand and began cutting off
small branches of apple--blossoms. "I like to see folks enjoy things."

"I hope you don't mind our trespassing on your grounds?" said Miss
Harson. "I can engage that my little friends will do no injury, and I
particularly wished them to see your beautiful orchard in bloom; it is
almost equal to a field of roses."

"Don't mind it at all, miss," was the reply--"quite the contrary; and I
think, myself, it's a pretty sight. Smells good, too. Now, here's a
nosegay big enough for you three young ladies, and Bub there can
carry it."

Malcolm, who was quite proud of his name, felt so indignant at being
called "Bub" that he almost forgot the farmer's generosity; but his
governess acknowledged it, very much to the worthy man's satisfaction.

Edith, however, was rather shocked.

"I thought it was wicked," said she, "to cut off flowers from fruit
trees? Won't these make apples?"

"Not them particular ones, Sis," replied Mr. Grove, with a laugh;
"they're done for now. But it ain't wicked to cut off your own apple
blows when there's too many on the tree to make good apples, and there's
plenty to spare yet." He was very much amused at the little girl's
serious face over this wholesale destruction of infant apples, and he
invited them all to come to the house and get a drink of fresh milk. The
children thought this a very pleasant invitation, and Miss Harson was
quite willing to gratify them.

The farmer led his guests into a very cheerful and wonderfully clean
kitchen, where Mrs. Groves was busy with her baking, and the loaves of
fresh bread looked very inviting. She was as pleasant and hospitable as
her husband, and after shaking up a funny-looking patchwork cushion in a
rocking-chair for the young lady to sit down on she told the little
girls that she would get them a couple of crickets if they would wait a
minute, and disappeared into the next room.

The two little sisters looked at each other in dismay and wondered what
they could do with these insects, but before they could consult Miss
Harson good Mrs. Grove had returned carrying in each hand a small flat
footstool. The girls sat down very carefully, for they were not
accustomed to such low seats; but the whole party were tired with their
walk and glad to rest for a short time. Malcolm, being a boy, was
expected to sit where he could, and he speedily established himself in
the corner of a wooden settle.

In spite of the apple-blossoms, the kitchen fire was very comfortable;
and, as the baking was just coming to an end, Mrs.

Grove said that "she would be ready to visit with them in a minute:" she
did not seem to allow herself more than a "minute" for anything. Besides
the milk, some very nice seed-cakes in the shape of hearts were
produced, and Edith thought them the most delightful little cakes she
had ever tasted. Clara and Malcolm, too, were quite hungry, and Miss
Harson enjoyed her glass of milk and seed-cake as well as did the young
people. The farmer and his wife seemed really sorry to part with their
guests when they rose to go, but Miss Harson said that it was time for
them to be at home, and the children were obedient on the instant.

"Well," said the worthy couple, "you know now where to come when you
want more apple-blows and a drink of milk."

Malcolm was quite laden with the mass of rosy flowers which Mr. Grove
piled up in his arms, and he enjoyed the delicious scent all the
way home.

"I must get out the big jar," said Miss Harson as she surveyed their
treasures, "and there are so many buds that I think we may be able to
keep them for some days.--What would you say, Edith, if I told you that
people cut off not only the blossoms, but even the fruit itself, while
it is green, to make what is left on the tree handsomer and better?"

Edith looked her surprise, and the other children could not understand
why all the fruit that formed should not be left on the tree to ripen.

"It is very often left," replied their governess, "but, although the
crop is a large one, it will be of inferior quality; and those who
understand fruit-raising thin it out, so that the tree may not have more
fruit than it can well nourish. But now it is time for papa to come, and
after dinner we will have a regular apple-talk."

"How nice it was at Mrs. Grove's to-day!" said Clara, when they were
gathered for the talk. "I think that kitchens are pleasanter to sit in
than parlors and school-rooms."

"So do I," chimed in Edith; "but I was afraid about the crickets at
first. I thought we'd have to hold 'em in our hands, and I didn't
like that."

Why _would_ people always laugh when there was nothing to laugh at? The
little girl thought she had a very funny brother and sister, and Miss
Harson, too, was funny sometimes.

"Have you so soon forgotten about the real insect-crickets, dear?" asked
her governess, kindly. "Why, it will be months yet before we see one.
Besides, I thought I told you that in some places a little bench is
called a 'cricket'?--Do you know, Clara, why you thought Mrs. Grove's
kitchen so pleasant? It is larger and better furnished than kitchens
usually are, there were pleasant people in it, and you were tired and
hungry and ready to enjoy rest and refreshments; but I am quite sure
that, on the whole, you would like your own quarters best, because you
are better fitted for them, as Mrs. Grove is for hers. We had a very
pleasant visit, though, and some day we may repeat it--perhaps when the
apples are ripe."

"Good! good!" cried the children, clapping their hands; and Malcolm
added that he "would like to be let loose in that apple-orchard."

"Perhaps you would like it better than Farmer Grove would," was the
reply. "But we haven't got to the apples yet; we must first find out a
little about the tree. We learn in the beginning that it was one of the
very earliest trees planted in this country by the settlers, because it
is both hardy and useful. There is a wild species called the Virginia
crab-apple, which bears beautiful pink flowers as fragrant as roses, but
its small apples are intensely sour. The blossoms of the cultivated
apple tree are more beautiful than those of any other fruit; they are
delicious to both sight and scent."

"And do look, Miss Harson," said Clara, "at these lovely half-open buds!
They are just like tiny roses, and _so_ sweet!"

Down went Clara's head among the clustered blossoms, and then Edith had
to come too; and Malcolm declared that between the two they would smell
them to death.

"It seems," continued Miss Harson, "that the apple tree grows wild in
every part of Europe except in the frigid zone and in Western Asia,
China and Japan. It is thought to have been planted in Britain by the
Romans; and when it was brought here, it seemed to do better than it had
done anywhere else. It is said that 'not only the Indians, but many
indigenous insects, birds and quadrupeds, welcomed the apple tree to
these shores. The butterfly of the tent-caterpillar saddled her eggs on
the very first twig that was formed, and it has since shared her
affections with the wild cherry; and the canker-worm also, in a measure,
abandoned the elm to feed on it. As it grew apace the bluebird, robin,
cherry-bird, king-bird, and many more, came with haste and built their
nests and warbled in its boughs, and so became orchard-birds and
multiplied more than ever. It was an era in the history of their race in
America. The downy woodpecker found such a savory morsel under its bark
that he perforated it in a ring quite round the tree before he left it.
It did not take the partridge long to find out how sweet its buds were,
and every winter eve she flew, and still flies, from the wood to pluck
them, much to the farmer's sorrow. The rabbit, too, was not slow to
learn the taste of its twigs and bark; and when the fruit was ripe, the
squirrel half rolled, half carried, it to his hole. Even the musquash
crept up the bank from the brook at evening, and greedily devoured it,
until he had worn a path in the grass there; and when it was frozen and
thawed, the crow and the jay were glad to taste it occasionally. The owl
crept into the first apple tree that became hollow, and fairly hooted
with delight, finding it just the place for him; so, settling down into
it, he has remained there ever since.'

"Speaking of these buds, Clara," said her governess, "I think I forgot
to tell you that the apple tree belongs to the family Rosaceae, and
therefore the half-opened blossoms have a right to look like roses. The
tree is not a handsome one, being a small edition of the oak in its
sturdy outline, but it is less graceful or picturesque-looking, being
often broader than it is high and resembling in shape a half globe. The
leaves are not pretty except when first unfolded, and their color is
then a beautiful light tint known as apple-green. But the foliage soon
becomes dusty and shabby-looking. An old apple tree, with its gnarled,
and often hollow, trunk, is generally handsomer than a young one, unless
in the time of blossoms; for only a young apple-orchard is covered with
such a profusion of bloom as that we saw to-day."

"I am glad," said Clara, "that it belongs to the rose family, for now
the dear little buds seem prettier than ever."

"The apples are prettier yet," observed

Malcolm; "if there's anything I like, it's apples."

"I am afraid that you eat too many of them for your good," replied his
governess; "I shall have to limit you to so many a day."

"I have eaten only six to-day," was the modest reply, "and they were
little russets, too."

"Oh, Malcolm, Malcolm!" said Miss Harson, laughing; "what shall I do
with you? Why, you would soon make an apple-famine in most places. Three
apples a day must be your allowance for the present; and if at any time
we go to live in an orchard, you may have six."

"Why, _we_ have only one," exclaimed little Edith, "and we don't want
any more.--Do we, Clara?"

[Illustration: Apple Blossoms.]

"If you don't want 'em," said Malcolm, "there's no sense in eating
'em.--But I'll remember, Miss Harson. I suppose three at one time ought
to be enough."

Malcolm's expression, as he said this, was so doleful that every one
laughed at him; and his governess continued:

"The apple tree is said to produce a greater variety of beautiful fruit
than any other tree that is known, and apples are liked by almost every
one. They are a very wholesome fruit and nearly as valuable as bread and
potatoes for food, because they can be used in so many different ways,
and the poorer qualities make very nourishing food for nearly
all animals."

"Rex fairly snatches the apple out of my hand when I go to give him
one," said Malcolm.

"So does Regina," added Clara, who trembled in her shoes whenever she
offered these dainties to the handsome carriage-horses.

Edith had not dared to venture on such a feat yet, and therefore she had
nothing to say.

"All horses are fond of apples," said Miss Harson, "and the fruit is
very thoroughly appreciated. Ancient Britain was celebrated for her
apple-orchards, and the tree was reverenced by the Druids because the
mistletoe grew abundantly on it. In Saxon times, when England became a
Christian country, the rite of coronation, or crowning of a king, was in
such words as these: 'May the almighty Lord give thee, O king, from the
dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth, abundance of corn and wine
and oil! Be thou the lord of thy brothers, and let the sons of thy
mother bow down before thee. Let the people serve thee and the tribes
adore thee. May the Almighty bless thee with the blessings of heaven
above, and the mountains and the valleys with the blessings of the deep
below, with the blessings of grapes and _apples_! Bless, O Lord, the
courage of this prince, and prosper the work of his hands; and by thy
blessing may his land be filled with _apples_, with the fruit and dew of
heaven from the top of the ancient mountains, from the _apples_ of the
eternal hills, from the fruit of the earth and its fullness!' You will
see from this how highly apples were valued in England in those
ancient times."

"I should like to pick them up when they are ripe," said Clara, and
Malcolm expressed a desire to hire himself out by the day to Mr. Grove
when that time arrived.

"An apple-orchard in autumn," continued their governess, "is often a
merry scene. Ladders are put against the trees, and the finest apples
are carefully picked off, but such as are to be used for cider-making
are shaken to the ground. Men and boys are at work, and even women and
children are there with baskets and aprons spread out to catch the
fruit; and they run back and forth wherever the apples fall thickest,
with much laughter at the unexpected showers that come down upon their
heads and necks. Large baskets filled with these apples are carried to
the mill, where, after being laid in heaps a while to mellow, they are
crushed and pressed till their juice is extracted; and this, being
fermented, becomes cider. From this cider, by a second fermentation, the
best vinegar is made."

[Illustration: THE APPLE-HARVEST.]

"Miss Harson," asked Edith, as the talk seemed to have come to an end,
"isn't there any more about apple trees? I like 'em."

"Yes, dear," was the reply; "there is more. I was just looking over, in
this little book, some queer superstitions about apple trees in England,
and here is a strange performance which is said to take place in some
very retired parts of the country:

"'Scarcely have the merry bells ushered in the morning of Christmas than
a troop of people may be seen entering the apple-orchard, often when the
trees are powdered with hoarfrost and snow lies deep upon the ground.
One of the company carries a large flask filled with cider and
tastefully decorated with holly-branches; and when every one has
advanced about ten paces from the choicest tree, rustic pipes made from
the hollow boughs of elder are played upon by young men, while Echo
repeats the strain, and it seems as if fairy-musicians responded in low,
sweet tones from some neighboring wood or hill. Then bursts forth a
chorus of loud and sonorous voices while the cider-flask is being
emptied of its contents around the tree, and all sing some such words
as these:

"'"Here's to thee, old apple tree!
Long mayest thou grow.
And long mayest thou blow, and ripen the apples that hang on
thy bough!

"'"This full can of apple wine,
Old tree, be thine:
It will cheer thee and warm thee amid the deep snow;

"'"Till the goldfinch--fond bird!--
In the orchard is heard
Singing blithe 'mid the blossoms that whiten thy bough."'"

"But what did they do it for?" asked Malcolm, who enjoyed the account as
much as the others. "There doesn't seem to be any sense in it."

"There _is_ no sense in it," replied his governess, "but these ignorant
people had inherited the custom from their fathers and grandfathers, and
they really believed--and perhaps still believe--that this attention
would be sure to bring a fine crop of apples. We are distinctly told,
though, that 'it is God that giveth the increase;' and to him alone
belong the fruits of the earth. Sometimes the crop is so great that the
trees fairly bend over with the weight of the fruit, and there is an old
English saying: 'The more apples the tree bears, the more she bows to
the folk.'"

"How funny!" laughed Edith. "Does the apple tree move its head, Miss
Harson?"

"It cannot go quite so far as that," was the reply; "it just stays bent
over like a person carrying a heavy burden. The branches of overladen
fruit trees are sometimes propped up with long poles to keep them from
breaking. There is another strange custom, which used to be practiced on
New Year's eve. It was called 'Apple-Howling,' and a troop of boys
visited the different orchards--which would scarcely have been desirable
when the apples were ripe--and, forming a ring around the trees,
repeated these words:

"'Stand fast, root! bear well, top!
Pray God send us a good howling crop--
Every twig, apples big;
Every bough, apples enow.'

"All then shouted in chorus, while one of the party played on a cow's
horn, and the trees were well rapped with the sticks which they carried.
This ceremony is thought to have been a relic of some heathen sacrifice,
and it is quite absurd enough to be that."

"What is 'a howling crop,' Miss Harson?" asked Clara. "That name sounds
so queer!"

"I don't know what it can be," replied her governess, "unless it refers
to the strange expression sometimes used, 'howling with delight.' We
hear more commonly of 'howling with pain,' but 'a howling crop' must be
one that makes the owner scream, as well as dance for joy."

"Why, _I_ scream only when I'm frightened," said Edith, who began to
think that there were much sillier people in the world than herself.

"At garter-snakes," added Malcolm, giving his sister a sly pinch; but
Edith did not mind his pinches, because he always took good care not
to hurt her.

Miss Harson said that the best way was not to scream at all, as it was
both a silly and a troublesome habit, and the sooner her charges broke
themselves of it the better she should like it. Clara and Edith both
promised to try--just as they had promised before, when the ants were so
troublesome; but they were nine months older now, and seemed to be
getting a little ashamed of the habit.

"Are apples mentioned anywhere in the Bible?" asked Miss Harson,
presently.

Clara and Malcolm were busy thinking, but nothing came of it, until
their governess said,

"Turn to the book of Proverbs, Clara, and find the twenty-fifth chapter
and the eleventh verse."

Clara read very carefully:

"'A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.' But
what does it mean?" she asked.

"It probably means 'framed in silver' or 'in silver frames[11],'" was
the reply; "and then it is easy to understand how important our words
are, and that 'fitly-spoken' ones are as valuable and lasting as golden
apples framed in silver. The apple tree is mentioned in Joel, where it
is said that 'all the trees of the field are withered[12],' and both
apple trees and apples are mentioned in several places of the Old
Testament. But, to tell the whole truth, scholars are not agreed as to
whether the Hebrew word denotes the apple or some other fruit that grew
in the land of Israel."

[11] The Revised Version renders the phrase "in baskets of silver."

[12] Joel i. 12.

The children had all enjoyed the "apple-talk," and they felt that the
fruit which they were so accustomed to seeing would now have a new
meaning for them.

CHAPTER X.

_A FRUITFUL FAMILY: THE PEACH, ALMOND, PLUM AND CHERRY_.

Snowdrops, crocuses, hyacinths and tulips were blooming out of doors and
in-doors; the grass looked green and velvety, and the fruit trees were,
as John expressed it, "all a-blow." The peach trees, without a sign of a
leaf, looked, as every one said of them, like immense bouquets of pink
flowers, while pear, cherry and plum trees seemed as if they were
dressed in white.

One cloudy, windy day, when the petals fell off in showers and strewed
the ground, Edith declared that it was snowing; but she soon saw her
mistake, and then began to worry because there would be no blossoms left
for fruit.

"If the flowers stayed on, there would be no fruit," said Miss Harson.
"Let me show you just where the little green germ is."

"Why, of course!" said Malcolm; "it's in the part that stays on the
tree."

Edith listened intently while her governess showed her the ovary of a
blossom safe on the twig where it grew, and explained to her that it was
this which, nourished by the sap of the tree, with the aid of the sun
and air, would ripen into fruit, while the petals were merely a fringe
or ornament to the true blossom.

At Elmridge, scattered here and there through garden and grounds, as Mr.
Kyle liked to have them, there were some fruit trees of every kind that
would flourish in that part of the country, but there was no orchard;
and for this reason Miss Harson had taken the children to see the grand
apple-blossoming at Farmer Grove's. Two very large pear trees stood one
on either side of the lawn, and there were dwarf pear trees in
the garden.

"I think pears are nicer than apples," said Clara as they stood looking
at the fine trees, now perfectly covered with their snowy blossoms.

But Malcolm, who found it hard work to be happy on three apples a day,
stoutly disagreed with his sister on this point, and declared that
nothing was so good as apples.

"How about ice-cream?" asked his governess, when she heard this sweeping
assertion.

The young gentleman was silent, for his exploits with this frozen luxury
were a constant subject of wonder to his friends and relatives.

"You will notice," said Miss Harson, "that the shape of these trees is
much more graceful than that of the apple tree. They are tall and
slender, forming what is called an imperfect pyramid. Standard pear
trees, like these, give a good shade, and the long, slender branches are
well clothed with leaves of a bright, glossy green. This rich color
lasts late into the autumn, and it is then varied with yellow, and often
with red and black, spots; so that pear-leaves are not to be despised in
gathering autumn-leaf treasures. The pear is not so useful a fruit as
the apple, nor so showy in color; but it has a more delicate and spicy
flavor, and often is of an immense size."

"Yes, indeed!" said Clara. "Don't you remember, Miss Harson, that
sometimes Edith and I can have only one pear divided between us at
dessert because they are so large?"

"Yes, dear; and I think that half a duchess pear is as much as can be
comfortably managed at once."

"Well," observed Malcolm, "I don't want half an apple.--But, Miss
Harson, do they ever have 'pear-howlings' in England?"

"I have never read of any," was the reply, "and I think that strange
custom is confined to apple trees. And there is no mention made of
either pears or pear trees in the Scriptures."

"What are prickly-pears?" asked Clara. "Do they have thorns on 'em?"

"There is a plant by this name," replied her governess, "with large
yellow flowers, and the fruit is full of small seeds and has a crimson
pulp. It grows in sandy places near the salt water; it is abundant in
North Africa and Syria, and is considered quite good to eat; but neither
plant nor fruit bears any resemblance to our pear trees: it is
a cactus."

"Won't you have a story for us this evening, Miss Harson?" asked Edith,
rather wistfully.

"Perhaps so, dear--I have been thinking of it--but it will not be about
pear trees."

"Oh, I don't care," with a very bright face; "I'd as soon have it about
cherry trees, or--'Most anything!"

Miss Harson laughed, and said,

"Well, then, I think it will be about cherries; so you must rest on
that. This morning we will go around among the fruit trees and see what
we can learn from seeing them."

Of course it was Saturday morning and there were no lessons, or they
would not have been roaming around "promiscuous," as Jane called it; for
the young governess was very careful not to let the getting of one kind
of knowledge interfere with the getting of another.

"How do you like these pretty quince trees?" asked Miss Harson as they
came to some large bushes with great pinkish flowers.

"I like 'em," replied Edith, "because they're so little. And oh what
pretty flowers!"

"Some more relations of the rose," said her governess. "And do you
notice how fragrant they are? The tree is always low and crooked, just
as you see it, and the branches straggle not very gracefully. The under
part of the dark-green leaves is whitish and downy-looking, and the
flowers are handsome enough to warrant the cultivation of the tree just
for their sake, but the large golden fruit is much prized for preserves,
and in the autumn a small tree laden down with it is quite an ornamental
object. The quince is more like a pear than an apple. As the book says,
'it has the same tender and mucilaginous core; the seeds are not
enclosed in a dry hull, like those of the apple; and the pulp of the
quince, like that of the pear, is granulated, while that of the apple
displays in its texture a firmer and finer organization.' The fruit,
however, is so hard, even when ripe, that it cannot be eaten without
cooking. It is said to be a native of hedges and rocky places in the
South of Europe."

[Illustration: PEACH-BLOSSOM.]

"These peach trees," said Clara, "look like sticks with pink flowers all
over 'em." "They are remarkably bare of leaves when in bloom," was the
reply: "the leaves burst forth from their envelopes as the blossoms pass
away; but how beautiful the blossoms are! from the deepest pink to that
delicate tint which is called peach-color. But do you know that we have
left the apple and rose family now, and have come to the almond family?"

The children were very much surprised to hear this, and they looked at
the peach trees with fresh interest.

"Yes," continued Miss Harson, "the family consists of the almond tree,
the peach tree, the apricot tree, the plum tree and the cherry tree; and
one thing that distinguishes them from the other families is the gum
which is found on their trunks.--Look around, Malcolm, at the peach,
plum and cherry trees, which are the only members of the family that we
have at Elmridge, and you will find gum oozing from the bark, especially
where there are knotholes."

Malcolm not only found the gum, but succeeded in helping himself to some
of it, which he shared with his sisters. It had a rather sweet taste,
and the children seemed to like it, having first obtained permission of
their governess to eat it.

"That is another of the things that I thought 'puffickly d'licious' when
I was a child," said the young lady, laughing. "But there is another
peculiarity of this family of trees which is not so innocent, and that
is that in the fruit-kernel, and also in the leaves, there is a deadly
poison called prussic acid."

"O--h!" exclaimed the children, drawing back from the trees as though
they expected to be poisoned on the spot.

"But, as we do not eat either the kernels or the leaves," continued
their governess, "we need not feel uneasy, for the fruit never yet
poisoned any one. Here are the cherry trees, so covered with blossoms
that they look like masses of snow; and the smaller plum trees are also
attired in white. We will begin this evening with the almond tree, and
see what we can find out about the family."

"Do almond trees and peach trees look alike?" asked Clara, when they
were fairly settled by the schoolroom fire; for the evenings were too
cool yet for the piazza.

"Very much alike," was the reply; "only the almond tree is larger and it
has white instead of pink blossoms. Then it is the _fruit_ of the peach
we eat, but of the almond we eat the kernel of the stem. I will read you
a little account of it:

"'The common almond is a native of Barbary, but has long been
cultivated in the South of Europe and the temperate parts of Asia. The
fruit is produced in very large quantities and exported in to northern
countries; it is also pressed for oil and used for various domestic
purposes. There are numerous varieties of this species, but the two
chief kinds are the bitter almond and the sweet almond. The sweet almond
affords a favorite article for dessert, but it contains little
nourishment, and of all nuts is the most difficult of digestion. The
tree has been cultivated in England for about three centuries for the
sake of its beautiful foliage, as the fruit will not ripen without a
greater degree of heat than is found in that climate. The distilled
water of the bitter almond is highly injurious to the human species,
and, taken in a large dose, produces almost instant death.' The prussic
acid which can be obtained from the kernel of the peach is found also in
the bitter almond."

[Illustration: THE ALMOND.--BRANCH AND FRUIT.]

"But what do they want to find it for," asked Malcolm, "when it kills
people?"

"Because," replied his governess, "like some other noxious things, it
can be made valuable when used moderately and in the right way. But it
is often employed to give a flavor to intoxicating liquors, and this is
_not_ a right way, as it makes them even more dangerous than before. But
we will leave the prussic acid and return to our almond tree. It
flourishes in Palestine, where it blooms in January, and in March the
ripe fruit can be gathered."

This seemed wonderfully strange to the children--flowers in January and
fruit in March; and Miss Harson explained to them that in that part of
the world they do not often have our bitter cold weather with its ice
and snow to kill the tender buds.

"This tree," continued Miss Harson, "is occasionally mentioned in the
Old Testament. In Jeremiah the prophet says, 'I see a rod of an almond
tree[13];' also in Ecclesiastes it is said that 'the almond tree shall
flourish[14].'"

[13] Jer. i. II.

[14] Eccl. xii. 5.

"Are there ever many peach trees growing in one place," asked Clara,
"like the apple trees in Mr. Grove's orchard?"

"Yes," was the reply, "for in some places there are immense
peach-orchards, covering many acres of ground; and when the trees in
these are in blossom, the spring landscape seems to be pink with them.
These great peach-fields are found in Delaware and Maryland, where the
fruit grows in such perfection, and also in some of the Western States.
We all know how delicious it is, but, unfortunately, so does a certain
green worm, who curls up in the leaves which he gnaws in spite of the
prussic acid. This insect will often attack the finest peaches and lay
its eggs in them when the fruit is but half grown. In this way the young
grubs find food and lodging provided for them all in one, and they
thrive, while the peach decays."

"What a shame it is," exclaimed Malcolm, in great indignation, "to have
our best peaches eaten by wretched little worms who might just as well
eat grass and leave the peaches for us!"

"Perhaps they think it a shame that they are so often shaken to the
ground or washed off the trees," replied Miss Harson; "and, as to their
eating grass, they evidently prefer peaches. 'Insects as well as human
beings have discriminating tastes, and the poor plum tree suffers even
more than the peach from their attentions. In some parts of the country
it has been entirely given up to their depredations, and farmers will
not try to raise this fruit because of these active enemies. The whole
almond family are liable to the attacks of insects. Canker-worms of one
or of several species often strip them of their leaves; the
tent-caterpillars pitch their tents among the branches and carry on
their dangerous depredations; the slug-worms, the offspring of a fly
called _Selandria cerasi_, reduce the leaves to skeletons, and thus
destroy them; the cherry-weevils penetrate their bark, cover their
branches with warts and cause them to decay; and borers gnaw galleries
in their trunks and devour the inner bark and sap-wood.' So you see
that, with such an army of destroyers, we may be thankful to get any
fruit at all."

"I'm glad to know the name of that fly," said Malcolm, who considered it
an additional grievance that it should have such a long name, "but I
won't try to call him by it if I meet him anywhere."

"I think it's pretty," said Clara, beginning to repeat it, and making a
decided failure.

"Fortunately," continued their governess, after reading it again for
them, "there are other things much more important for you to remember
just now, and I could not have said it myself without the book. And now
let us see what else we can learn about the plum. It is a native, it
seems, of North America, Europe and Asia, and many of the wild species
are thorny. The cultivated plums, damsons and gages are varieties of
the _Prunus domestica_, the cultivated plum tree. These have no thorns;
the leaves are oval in shape, and the flowers grow singly. The most
highly-valued cultivated plum trees came originally from the East, where
they have been known from time immemorial. In many countries of Eastern
Europe domestic animals are fattened on their fruits, and an alcoholic
liquor is obtained from them; they also yield a white, crystallizable
sugar. The prunes which we import from France are the dried fruit of
varieties of the plum which contain a sufficient quantity of sugar to
preserve the fruit from decay."

"Do prunes really grow on trees, Miss Harson?" asked Edith, who was
rather disposed to think that they grew in pretty boxes.

"Yes, dear," was the reply; "they grow just as our plums do, only they
are dried and packed in layers before they reach this country. We have
two species of wild plum in North America--the beach-plum, a low shrub
found in New England, the fruit of which is dark blue and about the
size of damsons; while the other is quite a large tree, and very showy
when covered with its scarlet fruit. In Maine it is called plum-granate,
probably from its red color," "I know what's coming next," said
Clara--"cherries; because all the rest have been used up. And then we're
to have the story."

"But they're all interesting," replied Malcolm, gallantly, "because Miss
Harson makes them so."

"I hope that is not the only reason," said his governess, laughing, "for
trees are always beautiful and interesting and it is a privilege to be
able to learn something of their habits and history.--Like most fruit
trees, the cherry has many varieties, but it is always a handsome tree,
and less spoiled by insects than others of the almond family. The black
cherry is the most common species in the United States, and is both wild
and cultivated. The garden cherry has broad, ovate, rough and serrate
leaves, growing thickly on the branches, and this, with the height of
the tree, makes a fine shade. Some old cherry trees have huge trunks,
and their thick branches spread to a great distance. The branches of the
wild cherry are too straggling to make a beautiful tree, and the leaves
are small and narrow. The blossoms of the cultivated cherry are in
umbels, while those of the wild cherry are borne in racemes."

"I remember that, Miss Harson," said Clara, pleased with her knowledge.
"'Umbel' means 'like an umbrella,' and 'raceme' means 'growing along
a stem.'"

"Very well indeed!" was the reply; "I am glad you have not forgotten
it.--Of our cultivated cherries, we have here at Elmridge, besides the
large black ones, which are so very sweet about the first of July, the
great ox-hearts, which look like painted wax and ripen in June, and
those very acid red ones, often called pie-cherries, which are used for
pies and preserves. The cherry is a beautiful fruit, and one that is
popular with birds as well as with boys. The great northern cherry of
Europe, which was named by Linnaeus the 'bird-cherry,' is encouraged in
Great Britain and on the Continent for the benefit of the birds, which
are regarded as the most important checks to the over-multiplication of
insects. The fact not yet properly understood in America--that the birds
which are the most mischievous consumers of fruit are the most useful as
destroyers of insects--is well known by all farmers in Europe; and while
we destroy the birds to save the fruit, and sometimes cut down the
fruit-trees to starve the birds, the Europeans more wisely plant them
for the food and accommodation of the birds."

"Isn't it wicked to kill the poor little birds?" asked Edith.

"Yes, dear; it is cruel to kill them just for sport, as is often done,
and very foolish, as we have just seen, to destroy them for the sake of
the fruit, which the insects make way with in much greater quantities
than the birds do."

"Miss Harson," asked Clara, "do people cut down real cherry trees to
make the pretty red furniture like that in your room?"

"It is the wood of the wild cherry," replied her governess, "that is
used for this purpose. It is of a light-red or fresh mahogany color,
growing darker and richer with age. It is very close-grained, compact,
takes a good polish, and when perfectly seasoned is not liable to shrink
or warp. It is therefore particularly suitable, and much employed, for
tables, chests of drawers, and other cabinet-work, and when polished and
varnished is not less beautiful for such articles than are inferior
kinds of mahogany."

"'Cherry' sounds pretty to say," continued Clara. "I wonder how the tree
got that name?"

"That wonder is easily explained," said Miss Harson, "for I have been
reading about it, and I was just going to tell you. 'Cherry comes from
'Cerasus,' the name of a town on the Black Sea from whence the tree is
supposed to have been introduced into Italy, and it designates a genus
of about forty species, natives of all the temperate regions of the
northern hemisphere. They are trees or shrubs with smooth serrated
leaves, which are folded together when young, and white or reddish
flowers growing in bunches, like umbels, and preceding the leaves or in
terminal racemes accompanying or following the leaves. A few species,
with numerous varieties, produce valuable fruits; nearly all are
remarkable for the abundance of their early flowers, sometimes rendered
double by cultivation. And now," added the young lady, "we have arrived
at the story, which is translated from the German; and in Germany the
cherries are particularly fine. A plateful of this beautiful fruit was,
as you will see, the cause of some remarkable changes."

CHAPTER XI.

_THE CHERRY-STORY._

On the banks of the Rhine, in the pleasant little village of Rebenheim,
lived Ehrenberg, the village mayor. He was much respected for his
virtues, and his wife was greatly beloved for her charity to the poor.
They had an only daughter--the little Caroline--who gave early promise
of a superior mind and a benevolent heart. She was the idol of her
parents, who devoted their whole care to giving her a sound religious
education.

Not far from the house, and close to the orchard and kitchen-garden,
there was another little garden, planted exclusively with flowers. The
day that Caroline was born her father planted a cherry tree in the
middle of the flower-garden. He had chosen a tree with a short trunk, in
order that his little daughter could more easily admire the blossoms
and pluck the cherries when they were ripe.

When the tree bloomed for the first time and was so covered with
blossoms that it looked like a single bunch of white flowers, the father
and mother came out one morning to enjoy the sight. Little Caroline was
in her mother's arms. The infant smiled, and, stretching out her little
hands for the blossoms, endeavored at the same time to speak her joy,
but in such a way as no one but a mother could understand:

"Flowers! flowers! Pretty! pretty!"

The child engaged more of the parents' thoughts than all the
cherry-blossoms and gardens and orchards, and all they were worth. They
resolved to educate her well; they prayed to God to bless their care and
attention by making Caroline worthy of him and the joy and consolation
of her parents. As soon as the little girl was old enough to understand,
her mother told her lovingly of that kind Father in heaven who makes the
flowers bloom and the trees bud and the cherries and apples grow ruddy
and ripe; she told her also of the blessed Son of God, once an infant
like herself, who died for all the world.

The cherry tree in the middle of the garden was given to Caroline for
her own, and it was a greater treasure to her than were all the flowers.
She watched and admired it every day, from the moment the first bud
appeared until the cherries were ripe. She grieved when she saw the
white blossoms turn yellow and drop to the earth, but her grief was
changed into joy when the cherries appeared, green at first and smaller
than peas, and then daily growing larger and larger, until the rich red
skin of the ripe cherry at last blushed among the interstices of the
green leaves.

"Thus it is," said her father; "youth and beauty fade like the blossoms,
but virtue is the fruit which we expect from the tree. This whole world
is, as it were, a large garden, in which God has appointed to every man
a place, that he may bring forth abundant and good fruit. As God sends
rain and sunshine on the trees, so does he send down grace on men to
make them grow in virtue, if they will but do their part."

In the course of time war approached the quiet village which had
hitherto been the abode of peace and domestic bliss, and the battle
raged fearfully. Balls and shells whizzed about, and several houses
caught fire. As soon as the danger would permit, the mayor tried to
extinguish the flames, while his wife and little daughter were praying
earnestly for themselves and for their neighbors.

In the afternoon a ring was heard at the door, and, looking out of the
window, Madame Ehrenberg saw an officer of hussars standing before her.
Fortunately, he was a German, and mother and daughter ran to open
the door.

"Do not be alarmed," said the officer, in a friendly tone, when he saw
the frightened faces; "the danger is over, and you are quite safe. The
fire in the village, too, is almost quenched, and the mayor will soon be
here. I beg you for some refreshment, if it is only a morsel of bread
and a drink of water. It was sharp work," he added, wiping the
perspiration from his brow, "but, thank God, we have conquered,"
Provisions were scarce, for the village had been plundered by the enemy,
but the good lady brought forth a flask of wine and some rye bread, with
many regrets that she had nothing better to offer. But the visitor, as
he ate the bread with a hearty relish, declared that it was enough, for
it was the first morsel he had tasted that day.

Caroline ran and brought in on a porcelain plate some of the ripest
cherries from her own tree.

"Cherries!" exclaimed the officer. "They are a rarity in this district.
How did they escape the enemy? All the trees in the country around are
stripped."

"The cherries," said the mother, "are from a little tree which was
planted in Caroline's flower-garden on her birthday. It is but a few
days since they became ripe; the enemy, perhaps, did not notice the
little tree."

"And is it for me you intend the cherries, my dear child?" asked the
officer. "Oh no; you must keep them. It were a pity to take one of them
from you."

"How could we refuse a few cherries," said Caroline, "to the man that
sheds his blood in our defence? You must eat them all," said she, while
the tears streamed down her cheeks. "Do, I entreat you! Eat them all."

He took some of the cherries and laid them on the table, near his
wine-glass; but he had scarcely placed the glass to his lips when the
trumpet sounded. He sprang up and girded on his sword.

"That is the signal to march," said he. "I cannot wait one instant."

Caroline wrapped the cherries in a roll of white paper and insisted that
he should put them in his pocket.

"The weather is very warm," said she, "and even cherries will be some
refreshment."

"Oh," said the officer, with emotion, "what a happiness it is for a
soldier, who is often obliged to snatch each morsel from unwilling
hands, to meet with a generous and benevolent family! I wish it were in
my power, my dear child, to give you some pledge of my gratitude, but I
have nothing--not so much as a single groat. You must be content with my
simple thanks." With these words, and once more bidding Caroline and her
mother an affectionate farewell, he took his departure, and walked
rapidly out of sight.

The joy of the good family for their happy deliverance was, alas! of
short continuance. Some weeks after, a dreadful battle was fought near
the village, which was reduced to a heap of ruins. The mayor's house was
burned to the ground and all his property destroyed. Alas for the
horrors of cruel war! Father, mother and daughter fled away on foot, and
wept bitterly when they looked back on their once happy village, now but
a mass of blazing ruins.

The family retired to a distant town, and lived there in very great
distress. The mayor endeavored to obtain a livelihood as a scrivener, or
clerk; his wife worked at dressmaking and millinery, and Caroline, who
soon became skillful in such matters, faithfully assisted her.

A lady in town--the Countess von Buchenhaim--gave them much employment,
and one day Caroline went to this lady's house to carry home a bonnet.
She was taken to the garden, where the countess was sitting in the
summer-house with her sister and nieces, who had come to visit her. The
young ladies were delighted with the bonnet, and their mother gave
orders for three more, particularly praising the blue flowers, which
were the work of Caroline's own hands.

The Countess von Buchenhaim spoke very kindly of the young girl to her
sister, and related the sad story of the worthy family's misfortunes.
The count was standing with his brother-in-law, the colonel, at some
little distance from the door of the summer-house, and the colonel, a
fine-looking man in a hussar's uniform and with a star on his breast,
overheard the conversation. Coming up, he looked closely at Caroline.

"Is it possible," said he, "that you are the daughter of the mayor of
Rebenheim? How tall you have grown! I should scarcely have recognized
you, though we are old acquaintances."

Caroline stood there abashed, looking full in the face of the stranger,
her cheeks covered with blushes. Taking her by the hand, the colonel
conducted her to his wife, who was sitting near the countess.

"See, Amelia," said he; "this is the young lady who saved my life ten
years ago, when she was only a child."

"How can that be possible?" asked Caroline, in amazement.

"It must indeed appear incomprehensible to you," answered the colonel,
"but do you remember the hussar-officer that one day, after a battle,
stood knocking at the door of your father's house in Rebenheim? Do you
remember the cherries which you so kindly gave him?"

"Oh, was it you?" exclaimed Caroline, while her face beamed with a smile
of recognition. "Thank God you are alive! But how I could have done
anything toward saving your life I cannot understand."

"In truth, it would be impossible for you to guess the great service
you did me," said he, "but my wife and daughters know it well; I wrote
to them of it at once. And I look upon it as one of the most remarkable
occurrences of my life."

"And one that I ought to remember better than any other event of the
war," said his lady, rising and affectionately embracing Caroline.

"Well," said the countess, "neither I nor my husband ever heard the
story. Please give us a full account of it."

"Oh, it is easily told," said the colonel. "Hungry and thirsty, I
entered the house in which Caroline and her parents dwelt, and, to tell
the plain truth, I begged for some bread and water. They gave me a share
of the best they had, and did not hesitate to do so, though their
village and themselves were in the greatest distress. Caroline robbed
every bough on her cherry tree to refresh me. Fine cherries they
were--the only ones, probably, in the whole country. But the enemy did
not give me time to eat them; I was obliged to depart in a hurry.
Caroline insisted, with the kindest hospitality, that I should take them
with me, but that was no easy matter: my horse had been shot under me
the day before. I took from my knapsack whatever articles I could in a
hurry, and, thrusting them into my pockets, I fought on foot until a
hussar gave me his horse. All that I was worth was in my pockets, so
that to make room for the cherries I was obliged to take the pocket-book
out of my pocket and place it here beneath my vest. The enemy, who had
been driven back, made a feint of advancing on us, and I led down my
hussars in gallant style. But suddenly we found ourselves in front of a
body of infantry concealed behind a hedge. One of them fired at me, and
the fellow had taken good aim, for the ball struck me here on the
breast. But it rebounded from the pocket-book; otherwise, I should have
been shot through the body and fallen dead on the spot. Tell me," said
he, in a tone of deep emotion; "was not that little child an instrument
in the hand of God to save me from death? Am I right or not when I give
Caroline the credit, under God, of having saved my life? Her must I
thank that my Amelia is not a widow and my daughters orphans."

All agreed with him. His wife, who had Caroline's hand locked in her own
during the whole narrative, now pressed it affectionately and with tears
in her eyes.

"You, then," said she, "were the good angel that averted such a terrible
misfortune from our family?"

Her two daughters also gazed with pleasure at Caroline.

"Every time we ate cherries," said the younger, "we spoke of you without
knowing you."

All had kind and grateful words for the young girl, but the colonel soon
bade her farewell for the present, and said that he had some business to
attend to with his brother-in-law. This business was to urge the count
to appoint Ehrenberg his steward in place of the one who had died a few
months before. A better man, he said, could not be found; for when he
had visited Rebenheim to make inquiries for the family, although none
could tell where they had gone, all were loud in their praise, and the
mayor was pronounced a pattern of justice, honor and charity.

The count drew out the order, signed it, and gave it to his
brother-in-law, who wished himself to take it to Mr. Ehrenberg; and he
went at once to the house and saluted him as "master-steward of
Buchenhaim."

"Read that," he said to the astonished man as he handed him the paper in
which he was duly appointed steward of Buchenhaim, with a good salary of
a thousand thalers and several valuable perquisites.

"And you," said the colonel to Caroline and her mother, "must prepare to
remove at once. Your lodgings are so confined! But you will find it very
different in the house which you are to occupy in Buchenhaim. The
dwelling is large and commodious, with a fine garden attached, well
stocked with cherry trees. Next Monday you will be there, and this very
day you must start. What a happy feast we shall have there!--not like
the hasty meal you gave the hussar-officer amid the thunder of cannon
and the blazing roofs of Rebenheim. Do not forget to have cherries, dear
Caroline, for dessert; I think they will be fully ripe by that time."

With these words the colonel hurried away to escape the thanks of this
good family, and, in truth, to conceal his own tears. So rapidly did he
disappear that Ehrenberg could scarcely accompany him down the steps.

"Oh, Caroline," said the happy father when he returned, "who could have
imagined that the little cherry tree I planted in the flower-garden the
day you were born would ever produce such good fruit?"

"It was the providence of God," exclaimed the mother, clasping her
hands. "I remember distinctly the first time the blossoms appeared on
that tree, when you and I went out to look at it, and little Caroline,
then an infant in my arms, was so much delighted with the white flowers.
We resolved then to educate our daughter piously, and prayed fervently
to God that she, who was then as full of promise as the blossoms on the
tree, might by his grace one day be the prop of our old age. That prayer
is now fulfilled beyond our fondest anticipations. Praise for ever be to
the name of God!"

Edith declared that this was one of the very sweetest stories Miss
Harson had ever told them, and Clara and Malcolm were equally well
pleased with it.

"Were those cherries like ours?" asked Clara.

"They were larger and finer than ours generally are, I think," was the
reply, "being the great northern cherry, or bird-cherry, of Europe,
which grows in Germany to great perfection. And the little German girl's
plate of cherries, which she so generously urged upon a stranger when
food of any kind was so scarce, is a beautiful illustration of the first
verse of the eleventh chapter of Proverbs: 'Cast thy bread upon the
waters; for thou shalt find it after many days.'"

CHAPTER XII.

_THE MULBERRY FAMILY_.

"There is a fruit tree," said Miss Harson, "belonging to an entirely
different family, which we have not considered yet; and, although it is
not a common tree with us, one specimen of it is to be found in Mrs.
Bush's garden, where you have all enjoyed the fruit very much. What
is it?"

"Mulberry," said Clara, promptly, while Malcolm was wondering what it
could be.

"Oh yes," said Edith, very innocently; "I like to go and see Mrs. Bush
when there are mulberries."

Mrs. Bush was not a cheerful person to visit, as she was quite old and
rather hard of hearing, and she lived alone in the gloomy old house with
the Lombardy poplars in front, where everything looked dark and shut up.
A queer woman in a sunbonnet, nearly as old as Mrs. Bush, lived close
by, and "kept an eye on her," as she said.

Mrs. Bush's great enjoyment was to have visitors of all ages, to whom
she talked a great deal, and cried as she talked, about a daughter who
had died a few years ago. The little Kyles did not care to go there
except when, as Edith said, there were ripe mulberries; but Mrs. Bush
liked very much to have them, and Miss Harson took her little charges
there occasionally, because, as she explained to them, it gave pleasure
to a lonely old woman, and such visits were just as much charity, though
of a different kind, as giving food and clothes to those who need them.
The children delighted in the mulberries just because they did not have
them at home, although they had fruit that was very much nicer; but Miss
Harson never wished even to taste them, although she too had liked them
when a little girl.

"The mulberry tree," continued their governess, "belongs to the
bread-fruit family, but the other members of this remarkable family,
except the Osage orange, are found only in foreign countries. The
bread-fruit tree itself, the fig, the Indian fig, or banyan tree, and
the deadly upas tree, are all relations of the mulberry."

"Well, trees are queer things," exclaimed Malcolm, "to belong to
families that are not a bit alike."

"They are alike in important points, when we examine them carefully,"
was the reply. "The bread-fruit genus consists, with a single exception,
of trees and shrubs with alternate, toothed or lobed or entire leaves
and milky juice. This reminds me that the famous cow tree of South
America, which yields a large supply of rich and wholesome milk, is one
of the members; and you see what a number of famous trees we have on
hand now. There are several kinds of mulberries--the red, black, white
and paper mulberry, which are all occasionally found in this country,
and they were once quite popular here for their shade. The fruit is
unusually small for tree-fruit, and very soft when ripe, as you all
know; it is not unlike a long, narrow blackberry, and forms, like it, a
compound fruit, as though many small berries had grown together. The
tree in Mrs. Bush's garden is the black mulberry, as any one might know
by the stained lips and hands that sometimes come from there; and it has
been cultivated from ancient times for its fine appearance and shade. It
is found wild in the forests of Persia, and is thought to have been
taken from there to Europe. The tree is more beautiful than useful, for
the silkworms do not thrive well on the leaves and the wood is neither
strong nor durable."

"Why, I thought," said Clara, "that silkworms always lived on
mulberry-leaves?"

"The white mulberry is their favorite food; and another species, called
the _Morus multicaulis_--for _Morus_ is the scientific name of the
family--has more delicate leaves than any other, and produces a finer
quality of silk. These trees are natives of China, and the white
mulberry grows very rapidly to the height of thirty or forty feet. The
paper mulberry is so called because in China and Japan--of which it is a
native--its bark is manufactured into paper. In the South-Sea Islands,
where it is also found, the bark is made into the curious dresses which
we sometimes see imported thence. It is a low, thick-branched tree with
large light-colored downy leaves and dark-scarlet fruit."

"I wonder," said Malcolm, "if the bark is like birch-bark?"

"It does not look like it," replied Miss Harson, "but it seems to be
very much of the same nature. The red mulberry and black mulberry are
the most hardy of these trees, and the red mulberry will thrive farther
north than any of the family. The wood is valuable for many purposes for
which timber is used, and especially in boat-building. And now, as we
learned something about silkworms and their cocoons in our talks about
insects[15], there is little more to be said of the mulberry tree which
any but learned people would care to know."

[15] See _Flyers and Crawlers_. Presbyterian Board of Publication.

"I want to hear about the bread tree," said little Edith, "and how the
loaves of bread grow on it."

"Do they, Miss Harson?" asked Clara, not exactly seeing how this could
be.

"I don't believe they're very hot," remarked Malcolm, who was puzzled
over the bread-fruit tree himself, but who laughed at his little
sister's idea in a very knowing way. It was not an ill-natured laugh,
though, and a glance from his governess always quieted him.

"No, dear," replied Miss Harson, answering Clara; "loaves of bread do
not grow on any tree. But I will tell you about the bread-fruit
presently; let us finish the _Morus_ family and their kindred in our own
country before we go to their foreign relations. The Osage orange is so
much used in the United States, and in this part of it, for hedges, on
account of its rapid growth and ornamental appearance, that we really
ought to know something about it. 'It is a beautiful low, spreading,
round-headed tree with the port and splendor of an orange tree. Its
oval, entire, polished leaves have the shining green of natives of
warmer regions, and its curiously-tesselated, succulent compound fruit
the size and golden color of an orange. It was first found in the
country of the Osage Indians, from whom it gets its name, and it has
since been cultivated in many parts of this country and in Europe. The
Osages belonged to the Sioux, or Dacotah, tribe of Indians, and their
home was in the south-western part of the old United States. The Osage
orange--a tree from thirty to forty feet high with leaves even more
bright and glossy than those of the ordinary orange--was first found
growing wild near one of their villages."

"But what a very high hedge it would make!" said Malcolm.

"Yes, if left to its natural growth, it would be a very absurd fence
indeed. But this is not the case; the branches spread out very widely,
and by cutting off the tops and trimming the remainder twice in a season
a very handsome thickset hedge is produced, with lustrous leaves and
sharp, straight thorns. Another name for this tree is yellow-wood, or
bow-wood, because the wood is of a bright-yellow color, and the grain is
so fine and elastic that the Southern Indians have been in the habit of
using it to make their bows. The experiment of feeding silkworms upon
the leaves has been tried, but it was not very successful."

"I suppose the worms didn't know that it belonged to the mulberry
family," said Clara, "and I don't see now why it does."

For reply, her governess read:

"'The sap of the young wood and of the leaves is _milky_ and contains a
large proportion of caoutchouc.'"

"Oh!" exclaimed Malcolm; "that sounds just like sneezing. What is it,
Miss Harson?"

"Something that you wear on your feet and over your shoulders in wet
weather; so now guess."

"Overshoes!" replied Clara, in a great hurry.

"How many of them do you wear over your shoulders at once?" asked her
brother. "And it must be a queer kind of sap that has overshoes in it.
Why couldn't you say 'India-rubber'?"

"And why couldn't _you_ say it before Clara put it into your head by
saying 'Overshoes?" asked Miss Harson. "Clara has the right idea, only
she did not express it in the clearest way. The sap of the caoutchouc,
or India-rubber, tree is the most valuable yet discovered, and, as it is
of a milky nature, it can very properly be brought into the present
class of trees."

"Is _that_ a mulberry too?" asked Clara, who thought that the size of
the family was getting beyond all bounds.

"It is not really set down as belonging to the bread-fruit family," was
the reply, "but it certainly has the peculiarity of their milky sap.
However, as I know that you are all eager to hear about the bread-fruit
tree, we will take that next. This tree is found in various tropical
regions, but principally in the South-Sea Islands, where it is about
forty feet high. The immense leaves are half a yard long and over a
quarter wide, and are deeply divided into sharp lobes. The fruit looks
like a very large green berry, being about the size of a cocoanut or
melon, and the proper time for gathering it is about a week before it is
ripe. When baked, it is not very unlike bread. It is cooked by being
cut into several pieces, which are baked in an oven in the ground. It is
often eaten with orange-juice and cocoanut-milk. Some of the South-Sea
islanders depend very much upon it for their food. The large seeds, when
roasted, are said to taste like the best chestnuts. The pulp, which is
the bread-part, is said to resemble a baked potato and is very white and
tender, but, unless eaten soon after the fruit is gathered, it grows
hard and choky."

[Illustration: THE BREAD-FRUIT.]

"So Edie's 'loaves of bread' are green?" said Malcolm, rather
teasingly.

"That's because they grow on a tree," replied Clara. "Our loaves of
bread are raw dough before they're baked, and they are grains of wheat
before they are dough."

"That is quite true, dear," replied her governess, laughing, "and we
must teach Malcolm not to be quite so critical.--The bread-fruit is a
wonderful tree, and it certainly does bear uncooked loaves of bread, at
least, for they require no kneading to be ready for the oven. The fruit
is to be found on the tree for eight months of the year--which is very
different from any of our fruits--and two or three bread-fruit trees
will supply one man with food all the year round."

"Put what does he do when there is no fresh fruit on them?" asked
Malcolm. "You told us that it was not good to eat unless it was fresh."

"We should not think it good, but the native makes it into a sour paste
called _mahe_, and the people of the islands eat this during the four
months when the fresh fruit is not to be had. The bread-fruit is said
to be very nourishing, and it can be prepared in various ways. The
timber of this tree, though soft, is found useful in building houses and
boats; the flowers, when dried, serve for tinder; the viscid, milky
juice answers for birdlime and glue; the leaves, for towels and packing;
and the inner bark, beaten together, makes one species of the
South-Sea cloth."

"What a very useful tree!" exclaimed Clara.

"It is indeed," replied Miss Harson; "and this is the case with many of
the trees found in these warm countries, where the inhabitants know
little of the arts and manufactures, and would almost starve rather than
exert themselves very greatly. There is another species of bread-fruit,
called the jaca, or jack, tree, found on the mainland of Asia, which
produces its fruit on different parts of the tree, according to its age.
When the tree is young, the fruit grows from the twigs; in middle age it
grows from the trunk; and when the tree gets old, it grows from
the roots."

[Illustration: JACK-FRUIT TREE.]

There was a picture of the jack tree with fruit growing out of the
trunk and great branches like melons, and the children crowded eagerly
around to look at it. All agreed that it was the very queerest tree they
had yet heard of.

"The fruit is even larger than that of the island bread-fruit,"
continued their governess, "but it is not so pleasant to our taste, nor
is it so nourishing. It often weighs over thirty pounds and has two or
three hundred seeds, each of which is four times as large as an almond
and is surrounded by a pulp which is greatly relished by the natives of
India. The seeds, or nuts, are roasted, like those of smaller fruit, and
make very good chestnuts. The fruit has a strong odor not very agreeable
to noses not educated to it."

"Miss Harson," said Malcolm, "what is the upas tree like, and why is it
called _deadly_?"

"It is a tree eighty feet high, with white and slightly-furrowed bark;
the branches, which are very thick, grow nearly at the top, dividing
into smaller ones, which form an irregular sort of crown to the tall,
straight trunk. There is no reason for calling it _deadly_ except a
foolish notion and the fact that a very strong poison is prepared from
the milky sap. The tree grows in the island of Java, and for a long time
many fabulous stories were told of its dangerous nature. Travelers in
that region would send home the wildest and most improbable stories of
the poison tree, until the very name of the upas was enough to make
people shudder. It is said that a Dutch surgeon stationed on the island
did much to keep up the impression. He wrote an account of the valley in
which the upas was said to be growing alone, for no tree nor shrub was
to be found near it. And he declared that neither animal nor bird could
breathe the noxious effluvia from the tree without instant death. In
fact, he called this fatal spot 'The Valley of Death.'"

"And wasn't it true, Miss Harson?"

"Not all true, Clara; some one who had spent many years in Java proved
these stories to be entirely false. Instead of growing in a dismal
valley by itself, the graceful-looking upas tree is found in the most
fertile spots, among other trees, and very often climbing plants are
twisted round its trunk, while birds nestle in the branches. It can be
handled, too, like any other tree; and all this is as unlike the Dutch
surgeon's account as possible. One of his stories was that the criminals
on the island were employed to collect the poison from the trunk of the
tree; that they were permitted to choose whether to die by the hand of
the executioner or to go to the upas for a box of its fatal juice; and
that the ground all about the tree was strewed with the dead bodies of
those who had perished on this errand."

"Oh," exclaimed Edith, "wasn't that dreadful?"

"The story was dreadful, dear, but it was only a story, you know: the
upas tree did not kill people at all; and to turn the milky juice into a
dangerous poison took a great deal of time and trouble. It was mixed
with various spices and fermented; when ready for use, it was poured
into the hollow joints of bamboo and carefully kept from the air. Both
for war and for the chase arrows are dipped in this fatal preparation,
and the effect has been witnessed by naturalists on animals, and also on
man. The instant it touches the blood it is carried through the whole
system, so that it may be felt in all the veins and causes a burning
sensation, especially in the head, which is followed by sickness
and death."

"Well," said Clara, drawing a long breath, "I'm glad that I don't live
in Java."

"The poisoned arrows are not constantly flying about in Java, dear,"
replied her governess, with a smile, "and I do not think you would be in
any danger from them; but there are a great many other reasons why it is
not pleasant, except for natives, to live in Java. There are a number of
Dutch settlers there, because the island was conquered by the Dutch
nation, but while war with the natives was going on they suffered
terribly from these poisoned arrows; so that the very name of upas
caused them to tremble. The word 'upas,' in the language of the natives,
means poison, and there is in the island a valley called the upas, or
poison, valley. It has nothing, however, to do with the tree, which does
not grow anywhere in the neighborhood. That valley may literally be
called 'The Valley of Death.' We are told that it came to exist in this
way: The largest mountain in Java was once partly buried in a very
dreadful manner. In the middle of a summer night the people in the
neighborhood perceived a luminous cloud that seemed wholly to envelop
the mountain. They were extremely alarmed and took to flight, but ere
they could escape a terrific noise was heard, like the discharge of
cannon, and part of the mountain fell in and disappeared. At the same
moment quantities of stones and lava were thrown to the distance of
several miles. Fifteen miles of ground covered with villages and
plantations were swallowed up or buried under the lava from the
mountain; and when all was over and people tried to visit the scene of
the disaster, they could not approach it on account of the heat of the
stones and other substances piled upon one another. And yet as much as
six weeks had elapsed since the catastrophe. This upas valley is about
half a mile in circumference, and the vapor that escapes through the
cracks and fissures is fatal to every living thing. Here, indeed, are to
be seen the bones of animals and birds, and even the skeletons of human
beings who were unfortunate enough to enter and were overpowered by the
deadly vapor. And now," added Miss Harson, "I have given you this
account to make you understand that the famous upas valley of Java is
not a valley of upas trees, but one of poisonous vapors."

"And the deadly upas," said Malcolm, "is not deadly, after all! I think
I shall remember that."

"And I too," said Clara and Edith, who had listened with great interest
to the description.

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