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


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


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


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.