: 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 ther
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


"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


"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


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.