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THE TALK OF THE TREES THAT STAND IN THE VILLAGE STREET

from The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children





How still it is! Nobody in the village street, the children all at
school, and the very dogs sleeping lazily in the sunshine. Only a south
wind blows lightly through the trees, lifting the great fans of the
horse-chestnut, tossing the slight branches of the elm against the sky
like single feathers of a great plume, and swinging out fragrance from
the heavy-hanging linden-blossoms.

Through the silence there is a little murmur, like a low song. It is the
song of the trees: each has its own voice, which may be known from all
others by the ear that has learned how to listen.

The topmost branches of the elm are talking of the sky,--of those
highest white clouds that float like tresses of silver hair in the far
blue, of the sunrise gold and the rose-color of sunset that always rest
upon them most lovingly. But down deep in the heart of the great
branches you may hear something quite different, and not less sweet.

"Peep under my leaves," sings the elm-tree, "out at the ends of my
broadest branches. What hangs there so soft and gray? Who comes with a
flash of wings and gleam of golden breast among the dark leaves, and
sits above the gray hanging nest to sing his full, sweet tune? Who
worked there together so happily all the May-time, with gray honeysuckle
fibres, twining the little nest, until there it hung securely over the
road, bound and tied and woven firmly to the slender twigs? so slender
that the squirrels even cannot creep down for the eggs; much less can
Jack or Neddy, who are so fond of birds'-nesting, ever hope to reach the
home of our golden robin.

"There my leaves shelter him like a roof from rain and from sunshine. I
rock the cradle when the father and mother are away and the little ones
cry, and in my softest tone I sing to them; yet they are never quite
satisfied with me, but beat their wings, and stretch out their heads,
and cannot be happy until they hear their father.

"The squirrel, who lives in the hole where the two great branches part,
hears what I say, and curls up his tail, while he turns his bright eyes
towards the swinging nest which he can never reach."

The fanning wind wafts across the road the voice of the old horse-
chestnut, who also has a word to say about the birds'-nests.

"When my blossoms were fresh, white pyramids, came a swift flutter of
wings about them one day, and a dazzlingly beautiful little bird thrust
his long, delicate bill among the flowers; and while he held himself
there in the air without touching his tiny feet to twig or stem, but
only by the swift fanning of long, green-tinted wings, I offered him my
best flowers for his breakfast, and bowed my great leaves as a welcome
to him. The dear little thing had been here before, while yet the sticky
brown buds which wrap up my leaves had not burst open to the warm
sunshine. He and his mate, whose feather dress was not so fine as his,
gathered the gum from the outside of the buds, and pulled the warm wool
from the inside; and I could watch them as they flew away to the maple
yonder, for then the trees that stand between us had no leaves to hide
the maple, as they do now.

"Back and forth flew the birds from the topmost maple-branch to my
opening buds; and day by day I saw a little nest growing, very small and
round, lined warmly with wool from my buds, and thatched all over the
outside with bits of lichen, gray and green, to match what grew on the
maple-branches about it; and this thatch was glued on with the gum from
my brown buds. When it was finished, it was delicate enough for the
cradle of a little princess, and the outside was so carefully matched to
the tree by lichens, that the sharpest eyes from below could not detect
it. What a safe, snug home for the humming-birds!

"By the time the two tiny eggs were laid, I could no longer see the
nest, for the thick foliage of other trees had built up a green wall
between me and it. But for many days the mother-bird staid away, and the
father came alone to drink honey from my blossom-cups: so I knew that
the eggs were hatching under her warm folded wings, for I have seen such
things before among my own branches in the robins' nests and the
bluebirds'.

"Now my flowers are all gone, and in their place the nuts are growing in
their prickly balls. I have nothing to tempt the humming-bird, and he
never visits me: only the yellow birds hop gayly from branch to branch,
and the robins come sometimes." And the horse-chestnut sighed, for he
missed the humming-bird; and he flapped his great leaves in the very
face of the linden-blossoms, and forgot to say "Excuse me." But the
linden is now, and for many days, full of sweetness, and will not answer
ungraciously even so careless a touch.

Yes, the linden is full of sweetness, and sends out the fragrance from
his blossoms in through the chamber windows, and down upon the people
who pass in the street below. And he tells all the time his story of how
his pink-covered leaf-buds opened in the spring mornings, and unfolded
the fresh green leaves, which were so tender and full of green juices
that it was no wonder the mother-moth had thought the branches a good
place whereon to lay her eggs; for as soon as they should be all laid,
she would die, and there would be no one to provide food for her babies
when they should creep out.

"So the nice mother-moth made a toilsome journey up my great trunk,"
sung the linden, "and left her eggs where she knew the freshest green
leaves would be coming out by the time the young ones should leave the
eggs.

"And they came out indeed, somewhat to my sorrow; for instead of being,
like their mother, sober, well-behaved little moths, they were green
canker-worms, and such hungry little things, that I really began to fear
I should have not a whole leaf left upon me; when one day they spun for
themselves fine silken ropes, and swung themselves down from leaf to
leaf, and from branch to branch, and in a day or two were all gone.

"A little flaxen-haired girl sat on the broad doorstep at my feet, and
caught the canker-worms in her white apron. She liked to see them hump
up their backs, and measure off the inches of her white checked apron
with their little green bodies. And I, although I liked them well enough
at first, was not sorry to lose them when they went. I heard the child's
mother telling her that they had come down to make for themselves beds
in the earth, where they would sleep until the early spring, and wake to
find themselves grown into moths just like their mothers, who climbed up
the tree to lay eggs. We shall see when next spring comes if that is so.
Now, since they went, I have done my best to refresh my leaves, and keep
young and happy; and here are my sweet blossoms to prove that I have yet
within me vigorous life."

The elm-tree heard what the linden sung, and said, "Very true, very
true. I, too, have suffered from the canker-worms; but I have yet leaves
enough left for a beautiful shade, and the poor crawling things must
surely eat something." And the elm bowed gracefully to the linden, out
of sympathy for him.

But the linden has heard the voices of the young robins who live in the
nest among his highest boughs; and he must yet tell to the horse-
chestnut how sad it was the other day in the thunder-storm, when the
wind upset the nest, and one little bird was thrown out and killed;
while the father and mother flew about in the greatest distress, until
Charley came, climbed the tree, and fitted the nest safely back into its
place.

How much the trees have to say! And there is the pine, who was born and
brought up in the woods,--he is always whispering secrets of the great
forest, and of the river beside which he grew. The other trees can't
always understand him: he is the poet among them, and a poet is always
suspected of knowing a little more than any one else.

Sometime I may try to tell you something of what he says; but here ends
the talk of the trees that stood in the village street.





Next: HOW THE INDIAN CORN GROWS

Previous: THE NEW LIFE



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