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HOW QUERCUS ALBA WENT TO EXPLORE THE UNDER-WORLD: WHAT CAME OF IT

from The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children





Quercus Alba lay on the ground, looking up at the sky. He lay in a
little brown, rustic cradle which would be pretty for any baby, but was
specially becoming to his shining, bronzed complexion; for although his
name, Alba, is the Latin word for white, he did not belong to the white
race. He was trying to play with his cousins Coccinea and Rubra; but
they were two or three yards away from him, and not one of the three
dared to roll any distance, for fear of rolling out of his cradle: so it
wasn't a lively play, as you may easily imagine. Presently Rubra, who
was a sturdy little fellow, hardly afraid of any thing, summoned courage
to roll full half a yard, and, having come within speaking distance,
began to tell how his elder brother had, that very morning, started on
the grand underground tour, which to the Quercus family is what going to
Europe would be for you and me. Coccinea thought the account very
stupid; said his brothers had all been, and he should go too sometime,
he supposed; and, giving a little shrug of his shoulders which set his
cradle rocking, fell asleep in the very face of his visitors. Not so
Alba: this was all news to him,--grand news. He was young and
inexperienced, and, moreover, full of roving fancies: so he lifted his
head as far as he dared, nodded delightedly as Rubra described the
departure, and, when his cousin ceased speaking, asked eagerly, "And
what will he do there?"

"Do?" said Rubra, "do? Why, he will do just what everybody else does who
goes on the grand tour. What a foolish fellow you are, to ask such a
question!"

Now, this was no answer at all, as you see plainly; and yet little Alba
was quite abashed by it, and dared not push the question further for
fear of displaying his ignorance,--never thinking that we children are
not born with our heads full of information on all subjects, and that
the only way to fill them is to push our questions until we are utterly
satisfied with the answers; and that no one has reason to feel ashamed
of ignorance which is not now his own fault, but will soon become so if
he hushes his questions for fear of showing it.

Here Alba made his first mistake. There is only one way to correct a
mistake of this kind; and it is so excellent a way, that it even brings
you out at the end wiser than the other course could have done. Alba, I
am happy to say, resolved at once on this course. "If," said he, "Rubra
does not choose to tell me about the grand tour, I will go and see for
myself." It was a brave resolve for a little fellow like him. He lost no
time in preparing to carry it out; but, on pushing against the gate that
led to the underground road, he found that the frost had fastened it
securely, and he must wait for a warmer day. In the mean time, afraid to
ask any more questions, he yet kept his ears open to gather any scraps
of information that might be useful for his journey.

Listening ears can always hear; and Alba very soon began to learn, from
the old trees overhead, from the dry rustling leaves around him, and
from the little chipping-birds that chatted together in the sunshine.
Some said the only advantage of the grand tour was to make one a perfect
and accomplished gentleman; others, that all the useful arts were taught
abroad, and no one who wished to improve the world in which he lived
would stay at home another year. Old grandfather Rubra, standing tall
and grand, and stretching his knotty arms, as if to give force to his
words, said, "Of all arts, the art of building is the noblest, and that
can only be learned by those who take the grand tour; therefore, all my
boys have been sent long ago, and already many of my grandsons have
followed them."

Then there was a whisper among the leaves: "All very well, old Rubra;
but did any of your sons or grandsons ever COME BACK from the grand
tour?"

There was no answer; indeed, the leaves hadn't spoken loudly enough for
the old gentleman to hear, for he was known to have a fiery temper, and
it was scarcely safe to offend him. But the little brown chipping-birds
said, one to another, "No, no, no, they never came back! they never came
back!"

All this sent a chill through Alba's heart, but he still held to his
purpose; and in the night a warm and friendly rain melted the frozen
gateway, and he boldly rolled out of his cradle forever, and, slipping
through the portal, was lost to sight.

His mother looked for her baby; his brothers and cousins rolled over and
about, in search for him. Rubra began to feel sorry for the last
scornful words he had said, and would have petted his little cousin with
all his heart, if he could only have had him once again; but Alba was
never again seen by his old friends and companions.





Next: THE UNDER-WORLD

Previous: THE INDIANS



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