: The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children
"How dark it is here, and how difficult for one to make his way through
the thick atmosphere!" so thought little Alba, as he pushed and pushed
slowly into the soft mud. Presently a busy hum sounded all about him;
and, becoming accustomed to the darkness, he could see little forms
moving swiftly and industriously to and fro.
You children who live above, and play about on the hillsides and in the
no idea what is going on all the while under your feet; how
the dwarfs and the fairies are working there, weaving moss carpets and
grass blades, forming and painting flowers and scarlet mushrooms,
tending and nursing all manner of delicate things which have yet to grow
strong enough to push up and see the outside life, and learn to bear its
cold winds, and rejoice in its sunshine.
While Alba was seeing all this, he was still struggling on, but very
slowly; for first he ran against the strong root of an old tree, then
knocked his head upon a sharp stone, and finally, bruised and sore,
tired, and quite in despair, he sighed a great sigh, and declared he
could go no farther. At that, two odd little beings sprang to his side;
the one brown as the earth itself, with eyes like diamonds for
brightness, and deft little fingers, cunning in all works of skill.
Pulling off his wisp of a cap, and making a grotesque little bow, he
asked, "Will you take a guide for the under-world tour?"--"That I will,"
said Alba, "for I no longer find myself able to move a step."--"Ha, ha!"
laughed the dwarf, "of course you can't move in that great body, the
ways are too narrow; you must come out of yourself before you can get on
in this journey. Put out your foot now, and I will show you where to
step."--"Out of myself?" cried Alba. "Why, that is to die! My foot, did
you say? I haven't any feet; I was born in a cradle, and always lived in
it until now, and could never do any thing but rock and roll."
"Ha, ha, ha!" again laughed the dwarf, "hear him talk! This is the way
with all of them. No feet, does he say? Why, he has a thousand, if he
only knew it; hands too, more than he can count. Ask him, sister, and
see what he will say to you."
With that a soft little voice said cheerfully, "Give me your hand, that
I may lead you on the upward part of your journey; for, poor little
fellow, it is indeed true that you do not know how to live out of your
cradle, and we must show you the way!" Encouraged by this kindly speech,
Alba turned a little towards the speaker, and was about to say (as his
mother had long ago taught him that he should in all difficulties),
"I'll try," when a little cracking noise startled the whole company;
and, hardly knowing what he did, Alba thrust out, through a slit in his
shiny brown skin, a little foot reaching downward to follow the dwarf's
lead, and a little hand extending upward, quickly clasped by that of the
fairy, who stood smiling and lovely in her fair green garments, with a
tender, tiny grass-blade binding back her golden hair. Oh, what a thrill
went through Alba as he felt this new possession,--a hand and a foot! A
thousand such, had they not said? What it all meant he could only
wonder; but the one real possession was at least certain, and in that he
began to feel that all things were possible.
And now shall we see where the dwarf led him, and where the fairy, and
what was actually done in the underground tour?
The dwarf had need of his bright eyes and his skilful hands; for the
soft, tiny foot intrusted to him was a mere baby, that had to find its
way through a strange, dark world; and, what was more, it must not only
be guided, but also fed and tended carefully: so the bright eyes go
before, and the brown fingers dig out a roadway, and the foot that has
learned to trust its guide utterly follows on. There is no longer any
danger: he runs against no rocks; he loses his way among no tangled
roots; and the hard earth seems to open gently before him, leading him
to the fields where his own best food lies, and to hidden springs of
sweet, fresh water.
Do you wonder when I say the foot must be fed? Aren't your feet fed? To
be sure, your feet have no mouths of their own; but doesn't the mouth in
your face eat for your whole body, hands and feet, ears and eyes, and
all the rest? else how do they grow? The only difference here between
you and Alba is, that his foot has mouths of its own, and as it wanders
on through the earth, and finds any thing good for food, eats both for
itself and for the rest of the body; for I must tell you, that, as the
little foot progresses, it does not take the body with it, but only
grows longer and longer and longer, until, while one end remains at home
fastened to the body, the other end has travelled a distance, such as
would be counted miles by the atoms of people who live in the under-
world. And, moreover, the foot no longer goes on alone: others have come
by tens, even by hundreds, to join it; and Alba begins to understand
what the dwarf meant by thousands. Thus the feet travel on, running some
to this side, some to that; here digging through a bed of clay, and
there burying themselves in a soft sand-hill, taking a mouthful of
carbon here, and of nitrogen there. But what are these two strange
articles of food? Nothing at all like bread and butter, you think.
Different, indeed, they seem; but you will one day learn that bread and
butter are made in part of these very same things, and they are just as
useful to Alba as your breakfast, dinner, and supper are to you. For
just as bread and butter, and other food, build your body, so carbon and
nitrogen are going to build his; and you will presently see what a fine,
large, strong body they can make. Then, perhaps, you will be better able
to understand what they are.
Shall we leave the feet to travel their own way for a while, and see
where the fairy has led the little hand?