AMONG THE TREES AT ELMRIDGE
ELLA RODMAN CHURCH
CHAPTER I. A SPRING OPENING. CHAPTER II. THE MAPLES. CHAPTER III. OLD ACQUAINTANCES: THE ELMS. CHAPTER IV. MAJESTY AND STRENGTH: THE OAK. CHAPTER V. BEAUTY AND GRACE: THE ASH. CHAPTER VI. THE OLIVE TREE. CHAPTER VII. THE USEFUL BIRCH. CHAPTER VIII. THE POPLARS. CHAPTER IX. ALL A-BLOW: THE APPLE TREE. CHAPTER X. A FRUITFUL FAMILY: THE PEACH, ALMOND, PLUM AND CHERRY. CHAPTER XI. THE CHERRY-STORY. CHAPTER XII. THE MULBERRY FAMILY. CHAPTER XIII. QUEER RELATIONS: THE CAOUTCHOUC AND THE MILK TREE. CHAPTER XIV. HOME AND ABROAD: LINDEN, CAMPHOR, BEECH. CHAPTER XV. THE TENT AND THE LOCUSTS. CHAPTER XVI. THE WALNUT FAMILY AND THE AILANTHUS. CHAPTER XVII. SOME BEAUTIFUL TREES: THE CHESTNUT AND HORSE-CHESTNUT. CHAPTER XVIII. AMONG THE PINES. CHAPTER XIX. GIANT AND NUT PINES. CHAPTER XX. MORE WINTER TREES: THE FIRS AND THE SPRUCES. CHAPTER XXI. THE CEDARS. CHAPTER XXII. THE PALMS.
A SPRING OPENING.
On that bright spring afternoon when three happy, interested children went off to the woods with their governess to take their first lesson in the study of wild flowers, they saw also some other things which made a fresh series of "Elmridge Talks," and these things were found among the trees of the roadside and forest.
"What makes it look so yellow over there, Miss Harson?" asked Clara, who was peering curiously at a clump of trees that seemed to have been touched with gold or sunlight. "And just look over here," she continued, "at these pink ones!"
Malcolm shouted at the idea:
"Yellow and pink trees! That sounds like a Japanese fan. Where are they, I should like to know?"
"Here, you perverse boy!" said his governess as she laughingly turned him around. "Are you looking up into the sky for them? There is a clump of golden willows right before you, with some rosy maples on one side. What other colors can you call them?"
Malcolm had to confess that "yellow and pink trees" were not so wide of the mark, after all, and that they were very pretty. Little Edith was particularly delighted with them, and wanted to "pick the flowers" immediately.
"They are too high for that, dear," was the reply, "and these blossoms—for that is what they really are, although nothing more than fringes and catkins—are much prettier massed on the trees than they would be if gathered. The still-bare twigs and branches seem, as you see, to be draped with golden and rose-colored veils, but there will be no leaves until these queer flowers have dropped. If we look closely at the twigs and branches, we shall see that they are glossy and polished, as though they had been varnished and then brightened with color by the painter's brush. It is the flowing of the sap that does this. The swelling of the bark occasioned by the flow of sap gives the whole mass a livelier hue; hence the ashen green of the poplar, the golden green of the willow and the dark crimson of the peach tree, the wild rose and the red osier are perceptibly heightened by the first warm days of spring."
"Miss Harson," asked Clara, with a perplexed face, "what are catkins?"
"Here," said her governess, reaching from the top bar of the road-fence for the lowest branch of a willow tree; "examine this catkin for yourself, and I will tell you what my Botany says of it: 'An ament, or catkin, is an assemblage of flowers composed of scales and stamens or pistils arranged along a common thread-like receptacle, as in the chestnut and willow. It is a kind of calyx, by some classed as a mode of inflorescence (or flowering), and each chaffy scale protects one or more of the stamens or pistils, the whole forming one aggregate flower. The ament is common to forest-trees, as the oak and chestnut, and is also found upon the willow and poplar.'"
"It's funny-looking," said Malcolm, when he had made himself thoroughly acquainted with the appearance of the catkin, "but it doesn't look much like a flower: it looks more like a pussy's tail."
"Yes, and that is the origin of its name. 'Catkin' is diminutive for 'cat;' so this collection of flowers is called 'catkin,' or 'little cat.'"
"I think I'll call them 'pussy-tails,'" said Edith.
"There is a great deal to be learned about trees," said Miss Harson, when all were comfortably seated in the pleasant schoolroom; "and, besides the natural history of their species, some old trees have wonderful stories connected with them, while many in tropical countries are so wonderful in themselves that they do not need stories to make them interesting. The common trees around us will be our subjects at first; for I suppose that you can scarcely tell a willow from a poplar, or a chestnut tree from either, can you?"
"I can tell a chestnut tree," said Malcolm, confidently.
"When it is not the season for nuts?" asked his governess, smiling.
There was not a very positive reply to this; and Miss Harson continued:
"I do not think that any of us know as much as we ought to know of the trees which we see every day, and of the uses to which many of them are put, to say nothing of many familiar trees that we read about, and even depend upon for some of the necessaries of life."
"Like the cocoanut tree," suggested Clara.
"That is not exactly necessary to our comfort, dear," was the reply, "for people can manage to live without cocoanuts, although in many forms they are very agreeable to the taste, and it is only the inhabitants of the countries where they grow who look upon these trees as necessaries; but we will take them up in their turn. And first let us find out what we can about the willow, because it is the first tree, with us, to become green in the spring, and, of that large class which is called deciduous, the last one to lose its leaves."
"And why are they called deciduous?" asked Malcolm.
"Because they shed their leaves every autumn and are furnished with a new set in the spring: 'deciduous' is Latin for 'falling off.' And this is the case with nearly all our native trees and plants. Persistent, or permanent, leaves remain on the stem and branches all through the changes of season, like the leaves of the pine and box, while evergreens look fresh through the entire year and are generally cone-bearing and resinous trees. 'These change their leaves annually, but, the young leaves appearing before the old ones decay, the tree is always green.'"
"Miss Harson," said Clara, "when people talk about weeping willows, what do they mean? Do the trees really cry? I sometimes read about 'em in stories, and I never knew what they did."
"They cry dreadfully," said Malcolm, "when it rains."
"But only as you do when you are out in it," replied his governess—"by having the water drip from your clothes.—No, Clara, the tree is called 'weeping' because it seems to 'assume the attitude of a person in tears, who bends over and appears to droop.' The sprays of this tree are particularly beautiful, and 'willowy' is often used for 'graceful,' as meaning the same thing. Its language is 'sorrow,' and it is often seen in burial-grounds and in mourning-pictures. 'We remember it in sacred history, associating it with the rivers of Babylon, and with the tears of the children of Israel, who sat down under the shade of this tree and hung their harps upon its branches. It is distinguished by the graceful beauty of its outlines, its light-green, delicate foliage, its sorrowing attitude and its flowing drapery.'"
"Were those weeping willows that we saw to-day?" asked Clara.
"No," replied her brother, quickly; "they just stuck up straight and didn't weep a bit."
"They are called water willows," said Miss Harson, "because they are never found in dry places. They are more common than the weeping willow. The water willow has the same delicate foliage and the same habit, under an April sky, of gleaming with a drapery of golden verdure among the still-naked trees of the forest or orchard. 'When Spring has closed her delicate flowers,' says a bright writer, 'and the multitudes that crowd around the footsteps of May have yielded their places to the brighter host of June, the willow scatters the golden aments that adorned it, and appears in the deeper garniture of its own green foliage.' A group of these golden willows, seen in a rainstorm, will have so bright an appearance as to make it seem as if the sun were actually shining."
"I wish we had them all around here, then," said Edith; "I like to see the sun shining when it rains."
"But the sun is not shining, dear," replied her governess: "it is only the reflection from the willows that makes it look so; and we can make just such sunshine ourselves when it rains, or when there is dullness of any sort, by being all the more cheerful and striving to make others happy. Who loves to be called 'Little Sunshine'?"
"I do," said the child, caressing the hand that had patted her rosy cheek.
"Let's all be golden willows," said Malcolm, in a comical way that made them laugh.
Miss Harson told him that he could not make a better attempt than to be one of those home-brighteners who bring the sunshine with them, but she added that such people are always considerate for others. Malcolm wondered a little if this meant that he was not, but he soon forgot it in hearing the many things that were to be said of the willow.
"The family-name of this tree is Salix, from a word that means 'to spring,' because a willow-branch, if planted, will take root and grow so quickly that it seems almost like magic. 'And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the watercourses,' says the prophet Isaiah, speaking of the children of the people of God. The flowers of the willow are of two kinds—one bearing stamens, and the other pistils—and each grows upon a separate plant. When the ovary, at the base of the pistil, is ripe, it opens by two valves and lets out, as through a door, multitudes of small seeds covered with a fine down, like the seeds of the cotton-plant. This downy substance is greedily sought after by the birds as a lining for their nests, and they may be seen carrying it away in their bills. And in some parts of Germany people take the trouble to collect it and use it as a wadding to their winter dresses, and even manufacture it into a coarse kind of paper."
"What queer people!" exclaimed Clara. "And how funny they must look in their wadded dresses!"
"They are not graceful people," was the reply, "but they live in a cold climate and show their good sense by dressing as warmly as possible. It was quite a surprise, though, to me to find that the willow was of use in clothing people. The more we learn of the works of God, the better we shall understand that last verse of the first chapter of the Bible: 'And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.' The bees, too, are attracted by the willow catkins, but they do not want the down. On mild days whole swarms of them may be seen reveling in the sweets of the fresh blossoms. 'Cold days will come long after the willow catkins appear, and the bees will find but few flowers venturesome enough to open their petals. They have, however, thoroughly enjoyed their feast, and the short season of plenty will often be the means of saving a hive from famine.'"
"Are willow baskets made of willow trees?" asked Malcolm.
"Yes," said Miss Harson. "Basket-making has been a great industry in England from the earliest times; the ancient Britons were particularly skillful in weaving the supple wands of the willow. They even made of these slender stems little boats called 'coracles,' in which they could paddle down the small rivers, and the boats could be carried on their shoulders when they were walking on dry land."
"Just like our Indians' birch-bark canoes," said Malcolm, who was reading about the North American Indians. "But isn't it strange, Miss Harson, that the Indians and the Britons didn't get drowned going out in such little light boats?"
"Their very lightness buoyed them up upon the waves," was the reply; "but it does seem wonderful that they could bear the weight of men. The willow, however, was also used by the Romans in making their battle-shields, and even for the manufacture of ropes as well as baskets. The rims of cart-wheels, too, used to be made of willow, as now they are hooped with iron; so, you see, it is a strong wood as well as a pliant one. The kind used for basket-making is the Salix viminalis, and the rods of this species are called 'osiers.' Let us see now what this English book says of the process of basket-making:
"'The quick and vigorous growth of the willow renders it easy to provide materials for this branch of industry. Osier-beds are planted in every suitable place, and here the willow-cutter comes as to an ample store. Autumn is the season for him to ply his trade, and he cuts the willow rods down and ties them in bundles. He then sets them up on end in standing water to the depth of a few inches. Here they remain during the winter, until the shoots, in the following spring, begin to sprout, when they are in a fit state to be peeled. A machine is used in some places to compress the greatest number of rods into a bundle.
"'Aged or infirm people and women and children can earn money by peeling willows at so much per bundle. The operation is very simple, and so is the necessary apparatus. Sometimes a wooden bench with holes in it is used, the willow-twigs being drawn through the holes. Another way is to draw the rod through two pieces of iron joined together, and with one end thrust into the ground to make it stand upright. The willow-peeler sits down before his instrument and merely thrusts the rod between the two pieces of iron and draws it out again. This proceeding scrapes the bark off one end, and then he turns it and fits it in the other way; so that by a simple process the whole rod is peeled. When the rods are quite prepared, they are again tied up in bundles and sold to the basket-makers.'"
"But how do they make the baskets?" asked Clara and Edith. "That is the nicest part."
"There is little to tell about it, though," said their governess, "because it is such easy work that any one can learn to do it. You saw the Indian women making baskets when papa took us to Maine last summer, and you noticed how very quickly they did it, beginning with the flat bottom and working rapidly up. It is a favorite occupation for the blind, and one of the things which are taught them in asylums."
"I wonder," said Malcolm, "if there is anything else that can be done with the willow?"
"Oh yes," replied Miss Harson; "we have not yet come to the end of its resources. It makes the best quality of charcoal, and in many parts of England the tree is raised for this express purpose. 'The abode of the charcoal-burner,' says an English writer, 'may be known from a distance by the cloud of smoke that hovers over it, and that must make it rather unhealthy. It is sometimes a small dome-shaped hut made of green turf, and, except for the difference of the material, might remind us of the hut of the Esquimaux. Beside it stands a caravan like those which make their appearance at fairs, and that contains the family goods and chattels. A string of clothes hung out to dry, a water-tub and a rough, shaggy dog usually complete the picture.'"
"But how can people live in the hut," asked Malcolm, "if the charcoal is burned in it? Ugh! I should think they'd choke."
"They certainly would," said his governess; "for the charcoal-smoke is death when inhaled for any length of time. But the charcoal-burner knows this quite as well as does any one else, and he makes his fire outside of the house, puts a rude fence around it and lets it smoke away like a huge pipe. The hut is more or less enveloped in smoke, but this is not so bad as letting it rise from the inside would be. A great deal of willow charcoal is made in Germany and other parts of Europe."
"But, Miss Harson," said Clara, in a puzzled tone, "I don't see what they do with it all. It doesn't take much to clean people's teeth."
"No, dear," was the smiling reply, "and I am afraid that the people who make it are rather careless about their teeth.—You need not laugh, Malcolm, because it is 'just like a girl,' for it is quite as much like a boy not to know things which he has never been taught, and you must remember that you have two years the start of your sister in getting acquainted with the world. Perhaps you will kindly tell us of some of the uses to which charcoal is applied?"
"Well," said the young gentleman, after an awkward silence, "it takes lots of it to kindle fires."
"I do not think that Kitty ever uses it in the kitchen," said Miss Harson, "for she is supplied with kindling-wood for that purpose. You will have to think of something else."
But Malcolm could not think, and his governess finally told him that a great deal of charcoal is used for making gun-powder, and still more for fuel in France and the South of Europe, where a brass vessel supplies the place of a grate or stove. Quantities of it are consumed in steel-and iron-works, in preserving meat and other food, and in many similar ways. The children listened with great interest, and Malcolm felt sure that the next time he was asked about charcoal he would have a sensible answer.
"Our insect friends the aphides, or plant-lice, are very fond of the willow," continued Miss Harson, "and in hot, dry weather great masses of them gather on the leaves and drop a sugary juice, which the country-people call 'honey-dew,' and in some remote places, where knowledge is limited, it has been thought to come from the clouds. But we, who have learned something about these aphides, know that it comes from their little green bodies, and that the ants often carry the insects off to their nests, where they feed and 'tend them for the sake of this very juice. The aphis that infests the willow is the largest of the tribe, and the branches and stems of the tree are often blackened by the honey-dew that falls upon them."
 See Flyers and Crawlers, by the author. Presbyterian Board of Publication.
"Do willow trees grow everywhere?" asked Clara.
"They are certainly found in a great many different places," was the reply, "and even in the warmest countries. In one of the missionary settlements in Africa there is a solitary willow that has a story attached to it. It was the only tree in the settlement—think what a place that must have been!—except those the missionary had planted in his own garden, and it would never have existed but for the laziness of its owner. Nothing would have induced any of the natives to take the trouble to plant a tree, and therefore the willow had not been planted. But it happened, a long-time ago, that a native had fetched a log of wood from a distance, to make into a bowl when he should feel in the humor to do so. He threw the log into a pool of water, and soon forgot all about it. Weeks and months passed, and he never felt in the humor to work. But the log of wood set to work of its own accord. It had been cut from a willow, and it took root at the bottom of the pool and began to grow. In the end it became a handsome and flourishing tree."
This story was approved by the young audience, except that it was too short; but their governess laughingly said that, as there was nothing more to tell, it could not very well be any longer.
"The weeping willow," continued Miss Harson, "was first planted in England in not so lazy a way, but almost as accidentally. Many years ago a basket of figs was sent from Turkey to the poet Pope, and the basket was made of willow. Willows and their cousins the poplars are natives of the East; you remember that the one hundred and thirty-seventh psalm says of the captive Jews, 'By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.' 'The poet valued highly the small slender twigs, as associated with so much that was interesting, and he untwisted the basket and planted one of the branches in the ground. It had some tiny buds upon it, and he hoped he might be able to rear it, as none of this species of willow was known in England. Happily, the willow is very quick to take root and grow. The little branch soon became a tree, and drooped gracefully over the river in the same manner that its race had done over the waters of Babylon. From that one branch all the weeping willows in England are descended.'"
"And then they were brought over here," said Malcolm. "But what odd leaves they have, Miss Harson!—so narrow and long. They don't look like the leaves of other trees."
"The leaf is somewhat like that of the olive, only that of the olive is broader. The willow is a native of Babylon, and the weeping willow is called Salix Babylonica. It was considered one of the handsomest trees of the East, and is particularly mentioned among those which God commanded the Israelites to select for branches to bear in their hands at the feast of tabernacles. Read the verse, Malcolm—the fortieth of the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus."
"'And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.'"
"A place called the 'brook of the willows,'" added his governess, "is mentioned in Isaiah xv. 7, and this brook, according to travelers in Palestine, flows into the south-eastern extremity of the Dead Sea. The willow has always been considered by the poets as an emblem of woe and desertion, and this idea probably came from the weeping of the captive Jews under the willows of Babylon. The branches of the Salix Babylonica often droop so low as to touch the ground, and because of this sweeping habit, and of its association with watercourses in the Bible, it has been considered a very suitable tree to plant beside ponds and fountains in ornamental grounds, as well as in cemeteries as an emblem of mourning."
"How much there is to remember about the willow!" said Clara, thoughtfully. "I wonder if all the trees will be so interesting?"
"They are not all Bible trees," replied Miss Harson. "But the wise king of Israel found them interesting, for he 'spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall.'"
"The pink trees next, I suppose," said Malcolm, "since we have had the yellow ones?"
"Real pink trees?" asked Edith, with very wide-open eyes.
"No, dear;" replied her governess; "there are no pink trees, except when they are covered with bloom like the peach trees. Malcolm only means the maples that we saw in blossom yesterday and thought of such a pretty color. There are many varieties of the maple, which is always a beautiful and useful tree, but the red, or scarlet, maple is the very queen of the family. It is not so large as are most of the others; but when a very young tree, its grace and beauty are noticeable among its companions. It is often found in low, moist places, but it thrives just as well in high, dry ground; and it is therefore a most convenient tree. Here is a very pretty description, Malcolm, in one of papa's large books, that you can read to us."
Malcolm read remarkably well for a boy of his age, and he always enjoyed being called upon in this way.
Miss Harson pointed to these lines:
"Coming forth in the spring, like morning in the east, arrayed in crimson and purple; bearing itself, not proudly but gracefully in modest green, among the more stately trees in summer; and ere it bids adieu to the season stepping forth in robes of gold, vermilion, crimson and variegated scarlet,—stands the queen of the American forest, the pride of all eyes and the delight of every picturesque observer of nature, the red maple."
"Why, I never saw such a tree as that!" exclaimed Clara, in great surprise.
"Yes, dear," replied her governess; "you have seen it, but you never thought of describing it to yourself in just this way. When you saw it yesterday, it was coming forth in the spring, like morning in the east, arrayed in crimson and purple,' but you just called it a pink tree. It is much nearer red, however, than it is pink."
"I've seen all the rest of the colors, too," said Malcolm, "when we went out after nuts."
"That is its autumn dress," said Miss Harson, "although a small tree is often seen with no color on it but brilliant red. But first we must see what it is like in spring and summer. It is also called the scarlet, the white, the soft and the swamp maple, and the flowers, as you see from this specimen, are in whorls, or pairs, of bright crimson, in crowded bunches on the purple branches. The leaves are in three or five lobes, with deep notches between, and some of them are very broad, while others are long and narrow. The trunk of the red maple is a clear ashy gray, often mottled with patches of white lichens; and when the tree is old, the bark cracks and can be peeled off in long, narrow strips."
"Is anything done with the bark?" asked Clara.
"Yes, it is used, with other substances, for dyeing, and also for making ink. The sap, too, can be boiled down to sugar, but it is not nearly so rich as that of the proper sugar-maple. The wood, which is very light-colored with a tinge of rose in it, is often made into common furniture, as it takes a fine polish and is easy to work with. It is used, too, for building-purposes. The early-summer foliage of the red maple is of a beautiful yellow green, and the young leaves are very delicate and airy-looking; but the graceful tree is in such a hurry to display her gay autumn colors that she will often put on a scarlet or crimson streamer in July or August. One brilliantly-colored branch will be seen on a green tree, or the leaves of an entire tree will turn red while all the other trees around it are clothed in summer greenness."
"Don't you remember, Miss Harson," said Edith, "the little tree that I thought was on fire and how frightened I was?"
"Yes, dear, I remember it very well—an innocent little red maple that would put on its flame-colored dress when it should have been all in green, like its sisters; but it was too green at heart to be in a blaze. This tree is often used for fuel, but it has to be cut down and dried first. The reddening of the leaf generally begins at the veins and spreads out from them until the whole is tinted. Sometimes it appears in spots, almost like drops of blood, on the green surface; but, come as it will, it is always beautiful. It is said of the red maple that 'it stands among the occupants of the forest like Venus among the planets—the brightest in the midst of brightness and the most beautiful in a constellation of beauty,'"
"Is there such a thing as a silver tree?" asked Clara.
"There is a tree called 'the silver maple,'" was the reply, "and there is also the silver poplar. The silver maple is considered the most graceful of the large and handsome maple family. I have not told you, I think, that the name of the family is Acer, which means 'sharp' or 'hard,' and it was supposed to have been given in old English times when the wood of the maple was used for javelins. The silver maple gets its name from the whitish under-surface of its leaves, and it is a favorite shade-tree; it has a slender trunk and long, drooping branches. The foliage is light and rather dull-looking, and it is not a very bright tree in autumn. The leaves are so deeply notched that they have a fringe-like appearance, and this, with its slender form and bending, swaying habit, gives it a very graceful look."
Little Edith wished to know "if the wood was like silver," and Malcolm asked her how she expected it to grow if it was.
But Miss Harson replied kindly,
"The silver, dear, is all in the leaves, and there is not much of it there. The wood is white and of little use, as it is soft and perishable; but the beauty of the finely-cut foliage, the contrast between the green of the upper surface of the leaves and the silver color of the lower, and the magnificent spread of the limbs of the white maple, recommend it as an ornamental tree; and this is the purpose for which it is intended. It is used very largely in the cities for shade and beauty. It is often called the 'river maple,' because it is so frequently seen on the banks of streams."
"And now," said Malcolm, "I hope there is ever so much about the maple-sugar tree. Can't we get some this spring, Miss Harson, before it's all gone?"
"We can certainly buy the sugar in town, Malcolm, if that is what you mean; but it does not grow on the trees in cakes, and we shall scarcely be able to tap the trunks and go through with the process of preparing the sap, even if it were not too late for that. We will do what we can, though, to become acquainted with the rock maple, that we may be able to recognize it when we see it. When young, it is a beautiful, neat and shapely tree with a rich, full leafy head of a great variety of forms. It is the largest and strongest of the maples, and gives the best shade. It can be distinguished from the other members of the family by its leaves, in which the notch between the lobes is round instead of being sharp, and also by their appearing at the same time with the blossoms, which are of a yellowish-green color. The green tint of the leaves is darker on some trees than it is on others, and in autumn they become, often before the first touch of the frost, of a splendid orange or gold, sometimes of a bright scarlet or crimson, color, each tree commonly retaining from year to year the same color or colors, and differing somewhat from every other. The most beautiful and valuable maple-wood is taken from this tree. It is known as 'curled maple' and 'bird's-eye maple,' and the common variety looks like satin-wood. In the curled maple the fibres are in waves instead of in straight lines, and the surface seems to change with alternate light and shade; in the bird's-eye, irregular snarls of fibres look like roundish projections rising from hollow places, each one resembling the eye of a bird. Buckets, tubs and many useful things are made of the straight variety, and for lasts it is considered better than any other kind of wood. The curled and the bird's-eye are largely used for furniture."
"But isn't it a shame," said Clara, "to spoil the maple-sugar by making the trees into chairs and things?"
"You would not think so," replied her governess, "if you needed the 'chairs and things' more than you need the sugar. But the supply of trees seems to be sufficient for both purposes."
"Does the sugar come right out of the tree when people tap on it with a hammer?" asked Edith, whose ideas of sugar-making were rather crude.
"You blessed baby!" cried Malcolm, with a shout of laughter. Let's take our hammers and go after some maple-sugar right away."
"No, Edie," said Miss Harson as she took her much-loved little pupil on her lap; "we'll stay at home and learn just how the sugar is made. To tap a tree, dear, means to make cuts in the trunk for the sap to flow out, and in the sugar-maple this sap is more like water than sugar. From the middle of February to the second week in March, according to the warmth or the coldness of the locality, is the time for tapping the trees; and when the holes are bored, spouts of elder or sumac from which the pith has been taken are put into them at one end, while the other goes down to the bucket which receives the sap. 'Several holes are so bored that their spouts shall lead to the same bucket, and high enough to allow the bucket to hang two or three feet from the ground, to prevent leaves and dirt from being blown in.' The next thing is to boil the sap, and this is done in great iron kettles, over immense wood-fires, out there among the trees, with plenty of snow on the ground, and only two or three rude little cabins for the men and boys to sleep in. This is called 'the sugar-camp,' and the sap-season lasts five or six weeks."
"And why is it boiled?"
"Boiling drives the water off in vapor, and leaves the sugar behind in the pot."
"And do they stay in the woods there all the time?" asked Malcolm, with great interest. "What lots of fun they must have, with the big fires and the snow and as much maple-sugar as ever they want to eat! I'd like to stay in a sugar-camp in the woods."
"Perhaps not, after trying it and finding how much hard work there is in sugar-making," replied his governess. "'The kettles must be carefully watched and plenty of wood brought to keep them boiling, and during the process the sap, or syrup, is strained; lime or salaeratus is added, to neutralize the free acid; and the white of egg, isinglass or milk, to cause foreign substances to rise in a scum to the surface. When it has been sufficiently boiled, the syrup is poured into moulds or casks to harden.' The sugar with which the most pains have been taken is very light-colored, and I have seen it almost white."
"Have you ever been to a sugar-camp, Miss Harson?" asked Clara, who was wishing, like Malcolm, that she could go to one herself.
"Yes," said Miss Harson; "I did go once, in Vermont, when the family with whom I was staying took me to see the 'sugaring off.' This is putting it into the pans and buckets to harden after it has been sufficiently boiled and clarified; and we younger ones, by way of amusement, were allowed to make jack-wax."
"Oh!" exclaimed three voices at once; "what is that? Is it good to eat?"
"I thought it particularly good," was the reply, "and I am quite sure that you would agree with me. To make it, we poured a small quantity of hot syrup on the snow to cool; and when it was fit to eat, it was just like wax, instead of being hard like the cakes in moulds. It took only a few minutes, too, to make it, and it seemed a great deal nicer because we did it ourselves. I remember that it was the last of March and very cold, but there were big fires to get warmed at, and we had a delightful time."
"Were there any Indians there, Miss Harson?" asked little Edith, after being quiet for some time. Vermont was such a long way off on the map, besides being up almost at the top, that Indians and bears and all sorts of wild things seemed to have a right to live there.
"No," said her governess, smiling at the question; "I did not see one, even at the sugar-camp. Yet the Indians made maple-sugar long before we knew anything about it, and from them the white people learned how to do it."
"Well, that's the funniest thing!" exclaimed Malcolm. "I thought that Indians were always scalping people instead of making maple-sugar."
"They did a great many other things, though, besides fighting, and their life was spent so much out of doors that they studied the nature of every plant and living thing about them. The healing-properties of some of our most valuable herbs were first discovered by the Indians, and, as they never had any grocery-stores, the presence of trees that would supply them with sugar was a blessing not likely to be neglected. The devoted missionary John Brainerd first heard of this tree-sugar from them, and it is said that he used to preach to them when they were thus peacefully employed, and obtained a better hearing than at other times."
"Have we any maple-sugar trees?" asked Clara.
"No," replied Miss Harson; "there are none at Elmridge, and I have seen none anywhere near here. They seem to flourish best in the Northern and North-eastern States, while in Western Canada the tree is found in groves of from five to twenty acres. These are called 'sugar-bushes,' and few farmers in that part of America are without them. In England the maple trees are called 'sycamores,' and the sap is used as a sweet drink. I will read to you from a little English book called Voices from the Woodlands a simple account of a country festival where maple sap was the choicest refreshment:
"'"Take care of that young tree," said Farmer Robinson to his laborer, who was diligently employed in clearing away a rambling company of brambles which had grown unmolested during the time of the last tenant; "the soil is good, and in a very few years we shall have pasturage for our bees, and plenty of maple-wine."
"'The farmer spoke true; before his young laborer had attained middle age the sapling had grown into a fine tree. Its branches spread wide and high, and bees came from all parts to gather their honey-harvests among the flowers; beneath its shade lambkins were wont in spring to sleep beside their dams; and when the time of shearing came, and the sheep were disburdened of their fleeces, you might see them hastening to the sycamore tree for shelter.
"'A kind of rustic festival was held about the same time in honor of the maple-wine. Hither came the farmer and his dame, with their children and young neighbors, each carrying bunches of flowers. Older people came in their holiday dresses, some with baskets containing cakes, others tea and sugar, with which the farmer and his wife had plentifully supplied them; and joyfully did they rest a while on the green sward while young men gathered sticks, and, a bright fire having been kindled, the kettle sent up its bubbling steam.
"'When this was ended, and few of the piled-up cakes remained—when, also, the young children had emptied their cans and rinsed them at the old stone trough into which rushed a full stream—tiny hands joyfully held up the small cans and bright eyes looked anxiously to the stem of the tall tree while the farmer warily cut an incision in the bark.
"'What joy when a sweet watery juice began to trickle! and the farmer filled one small cup, then another, till all were satisfied and a portion sent to the older people, who were contentedly looking on from the grassy slope where they had seated themselves. The farmer's wife knew naught concerning the process for obtaining sugar, or else she might have sweetened her children's puddings from the watery liquid yielded by the sycamore, or greater maple—an art well known to the aboriginal tribes of North America.'"
"Does that mean Indians, Miss Harson?" asked Malcolm, with a wry face at the long word.
"Yes," was the reply; "and I hope that you will feel properly grateful to these aborigines whenever you eat maple-sugar."
OLD ACQUAINTANCES: THE ELMS.
Miss Harson had admonished her little flock that they must use their own eyes and be able to tell her things instead of depending altogether on her to tell them; so now they were all peering curiously among the trees to see which were putting on their new spring suits. The yellow trees and the pink trees had been readily distinguished, but, although the others had not been idle, it was not so easy for little people to discern their leaf-buds.
Clara soon made a discovery, however, of what her governess had noticed for a day or two, and the wonder was found on their own home-elms, those stately trees which had shaded the house ever since it was built, and from which the place got its pretty name—Elmridge.
"Well, dear," said Miss Harson, coming to the upper window from which an eager head was thrust, "what is it that you wish me to see?"
"Those funny flowers on the bare elm trees," was the reply. "Look, Miss Harson! Didn't I see them first?"
"You have certainly spoken of them first, for neither Malcolm nor Edith has said anything about them. But they must both come up here now, where they can see them, and Malcolm and I can manage to reach some of the blossoms by getting out of the broad window on to the little balcony."
Up came the two children kangaroo-fashion in a series of jumps, and presently Miss Harson was holding a cluster of dark maroon-colored flowers in her hand.
"How queer and dark they make the trees look!" said Malcolm; "and they're so thick that they 'most cover up the branches. They're like fringe."
"A very good description," replied his governess. "And now I wish you all to examine the trees very thoroughly and tell me afterward what you have noticed about them; then we will go down to the schoolroom and see what the books will tell us in our talk about the American elm and its cousin of England."
The books had a great deal to tell about them, but Miss Harson preferred to hear the children first.
"What did my little Edith see when she looked out of the window?" she asked.
"Stems of trees," was the reply, "with flowers on 'em."
"A very good general idea," continued Miss Harson, "but perhaps Clara can tell us something more particular about the elms?"
"They are very tall," said Clara, hesitatingly, "and they make it nice and shady in summer; and some of the branches bend over in such a lovely way! Papa calls one of them 'the plume.'"
"And now Malcolm?"
"The trunk—or big 'stem,' as Edie would call it—is very thick, and the branches begin low down, near the ground."
"Some of them do," said his governess, "but many of the elms on your father's grounds are seventy feet high before the branches begin. Sometimes two or three trunks shoot up together and spread out at the top in light, feathery plumes like palm trees. The elm has a great variety of shapes; sometimes it is a parasol, when a number of branches rise together to a great height and spread out suddenly in the shape of an umbrella. This makes a very regular-looking and beautiful tree. For about three-quarters of the way up, the 'plume' of which Clara speaks has one straight trunk, which then bends over droopingly. Small twigs cluster around the trunk all the way from bottom to top and give the tree the appearance of having a vine twining about it. I think that the plume-shape is the prettiest and most odd-looking of all the elms. Another strange shape is the vase, which seems to rest on the roots that stand out above the ground. 'The straight trunk is the neck of the vase, and the middle consists of the lower part of the branches as they swell outward with a graceful curve, then gradually diverge until they bend over at their extremities and form the lip of the vase by a circle of terminal sprays.'"
"Have we any trees that look like vases, Miss Harson?" asked Clara.
"Yes," was the reply; "not far from Hemlock Lodge there is one which we will look at when the leaves are all out. But you must not expect to find a perfect vase-shape, for it is only an approach to it. The dome-shaped elm has a broad, round head, which is formed by the shooting forth of branches of nearly equal length from the same part of the trunk, which gradually spread outward with a graceful curve into the roof or dome that crowns the tree."
"I know something else about our elms," said Malcolm: "some of the roots are on top of the ground. Isn't that very queer, Miss Harson?"
"Not for old elm trees, as this is quite a habit with them. Indeed, in many ways, the elm is so entirely different from other trees that it can be recognized at a great distance. It is both graceful and majestic, and is the most drooping of the drooping trees, except the willow, which it greatly surpasses in grandeur and in the variety of its forms. The green leaves are broad, ovate, heart-shaped, from two to four or five inches long. You can see their exact shape in this illustration. Their summer tint is very bright and vivid, but it turns in autumn to a sober brown, sometimes touched with a bright golden yellow, And now," continued Miss Harson, "we will examine the flowers which we have here, and we see that each blossom is on a green, slender thread less than half an inch long, and that it consists of a brown cup parted into seven or eight divisions, rounded at the border and containing about eight brown stamens and a long compressed ovary surmounted by two short styles. This ripens into a flattened seed-vessel before the leaves are fully out, and the seeds, being small and chaffy, are wafted in all directions and carried to great distances by the wind."
"Where does slippery elm come from?" asked Clara.
"From another American species, dear, which is very much like the white elm that we have been considering. The slippery elm is a smaller tree, does not droop so much, and the trunk is smoother and darker. The leaves are thicker and very rough on the upper side. The inner bark contains a great deal of mucilage—that, I suppose, is the reason for its being called 'slippery'—and it has been extensively used as a medicine. The wood is very strong and preferred to that of the white elm for building-purposes, although the latter is considered the best native wood for hubs of wheels. There is a great elm tree on Boston Common which is over two hundred years old, and another in Cambridge called the 'Washington Elm,' because near it or beneath its shade General Washington is said to have first drawn his sword on taking command of the American army. In 1744 the celebrated George Whitefield preached beneath this tree."
"I'm glad we have elm trees here," said Malcolm, "though I s'pose nobody ever did anything in particular under ours."
"You mean," replied his governess, laughing, "that they are not historical trees; but they are certainly very fine ones. There is another species of elm, the English, which is often seen in this country too. It is a very large and stately tree, but not so graceful as our own elm. It is distinguished from the American elm by its bark, which is darker and much more broken; by having one principal stem, which soars upward to a great height; and by its branches, which are thrown out more boldly and abruptly and at a larger angle. Its limbs stretch out horizontally or tend upward with an appearance of strength to the very extremity; in the American elm they are almost universally drooping at the end. Its leaves are closer, smaller, more numerous and of a darker color. In England this tree is a great favorite with those black and solemn birds the rooks. The poet Hood writes of it as
"'The tall, abounding elm that grows In hedgerows up and down, In field and forest, copse and park, And in the peopled town, With colonies of noisy rooks That nestle on its crown.'
"Some of these English elms are very ancient and of an immense size; one of them, known as the 'Chequer Elm,' measures thirty-one feet around the trunk, of which only the shell is left. It was planted seven hundred years ago. The Chipstead Elm is fifteen feet around; the Crawley Elm, thirty-five. A writer says, 'The ample branches of the Crawley Elm shelter Mayday gambols while troops of rustics celebrate the opening of green leaves and flowers. Yet not alone beneath its shade, but within the capacious hollow which time has wrought in the old tree, young children with their posies and weak and aged people find shelter during the rustic fetes.'"
"Does that mean that people can sit inside the tree?" asked Clara. "I wish we had one to play house in where Hemlock Lodge is."
"That is one of the things, Clara," replied Miss Harson, "that people can have only in the place where they grow. In the South of England there is another great elm tree with a hollow trunk which has fitted into it a door fastened by a lock and key. A dozen people can be comfortably accommodated inside, and there is a story told of a woman and her infant who lived there for a time."
"What a funny house!" said Malcolm. "Just like a woodpecker's."
"Another great elm, near London, has a winding staircase cut within it, and a turret at the top where at least twenty persons can stand. One species of this tree, called the wych-, or witch-, elm, was believed by ignorant people to possess magical powers and to defend from the malice of witches the place on which it grew. Even now it is said that in remote parts of England the dairymaid flies to it as a resource on the days when she churns her butter. She gathers a twig from the tree and puts it into a little hole in the churn. If this practice were neglected, she confidently believes that she might go on churning all day without getting any butter."
"Isn't that silly?" exclaimed Clara.
"Very silly indeed," replied her governess; "but we must remember that the poor ignorant girl knows no better. The wood of the European elm is stronger than ours; it is hard and fine-grained, and brownish in color, and is much used in the building of ships, for hubs of wheels, axletrees and many other purposes. In France the leaves and shoots are used to feed cattle. In Russia the leaves of one variety are made into tea. The inner bark is in some places made into mats, and in Norway they kiln-dry it and grind it with corn as an ingredient in bread. So that the elm tree is almost as useful as it is beautiful."
MAJESTY AND STRENGTH: THE OAK.
"Here," said Miss Harson, "is a small branch from an oak tree containing the young leaves and the catkins, which come out together; for the oak belongs, like the willow and the maple, to the division of amentaceous plants."
"Oh dear!" sighed Clara at the hard name.
But Malcolm repeated:
"Amentaceous—ament. I know, Miss Harson: it's catkins"
"Yes, it means trees which produce their flowers in catkins, or looking as if strung on long drooping stems; and the oak is the monarch of this family, and in Great Britain of all the forest-trees. It is especially an English tree, although our woods contain several varieties. But they do not hold the pre-eminence in our forests that the oaks do in those of England. The oak ordinarily runs more to breadth than to height, and spreads itself out to a vast distance with an air of strength and grandeur. This is its striking character and what gives it its peculiar appearance. Oaks do not always go straight out, but crook and bend to right and left, upward and downward, abruptly or with a gentle sweep.
"The white oak is the handsomest species, and takes its name from the very light color of the bark on the trunk, by which it is easily known. The leaves are long in proportion to the width and deeply divided into lobes, of which there are three or four on each side. There is a great variety in the shape of oak-leaves, those of our white oak being long and slender, while the red oak has very broad ones, and the foliage of the scarlet oak is almost skeleton-like. The chestnut oak has leaves almost exactly like those of the chestnut. The acorns of the different varieties, too, differ in size and shape.
"There is so much to be said of the oak," continued Miss Harson, "it is such an ancient and venerable tree and has so many stories attached to it, that it is not easy to begin an account of it. The blossoms, perhaps, will be the best starting-point: and I should like to have you examine this branch and tell me if you see any difference in the blossoms."
"They are nearly all alike," said Malcolm, "but here at the ends of the twigs are one or two that look like buds."'
"That is just what I wanted you to notice," replied his governess, "for the flowers are of two kinds, one bearing the stamens, and the other the pistils. The flowers that bear the stamens grow on loose scaly catkins, as you may see in this branch. Those with the pistils are also in catkins, but very small, like a bud. The bud spreads into a little branchlet and bears the flowers at the tip. The calyx is not seen at first; it is a mere membrane covering the ovary. By degrees the ovary swells into the acorn and the membrane becomes part of the shell."
"I like acorns," said little Edith, "they're so nice to play with."
"But they're not nice to eat," said Clara.
"Some animals think they are," continued Miss Harson. "If you should come here in October, you would find the squirrels feasting on them. In old times in England the oaks were valued highly on account of their acorns, and great herds of swine were driven into the forests to feed upon them. In the time of the Saxons a crop of acorns often formed a part of the dowry bestowed upon the Saxon queens, and the king himself would be glad to accept a gift or grant of acorns; and the failure of the crop would be considered as a kind of famine. In those days laws were made to protect the oaks from being felled or injured, and a man who cut down a tree under the shadow of which thirty hogs could stand was fined three pounds. The herds of swine were placed under the care of a swineherd, whose sole employment was to keep them together, and they formed a staple part of the riches of the country. But when the Norman kings began to rule, they brought with them a passionate love of hunting and took possession of the forests as preserves for their favorite sport. The herds of swine were forbidden to roam about as heretofore, and their owners were reduced to poverty in consequence."
"Wasn't that wicked, Miss Harson?" asked Malcolm.
"Yes; it was both unjust and cruel, and it was one of the great grievances of the nation. Even at this day the laws for the protection of game are one of the grounds of ill-feeling on the part of the poor toward the nobles. In Spain the acorns have the taste of nuts, and are sold in the markets as an article of food. They grow abundantly in the woods and forests. Once, in time of war, a foreign army subsisted almost entirely on them. Herds of swine range the forests in Spain and feed luxuriously upon acorns, and the salted meats of Malaga, that are famous for their delicate flavor, are thought to owe it to this cause. Some of our American Indians depend upon acorns and fish for their winter food; and when the acorns drop from the tree, they are buried in sand and soaked in water to draw out the bitter taste."
"I shouldn't like them," said Clara, with a wry face at the thought of such food.
"Well, dear," replied her governess, laughing, "as you are not an Indian, you will probably not be called upon to like them; but it would be better to eat acorns than to starve. You may have noticed the trunk and branches of the oak are often gnarled and knotted, and this helps to give the tree its appearance of great strength. It is just as strong as it looks, and for building-purposes it lasts longer than any other wood. Beams and rafters of oak are found in old English houses, showing among the brick-work, and many of these half-timbered houses, as they are called, were built hundreds of years ago.
"Bedsteads and other articles of furniture, too, were 'built' in those days, rather than made, for they were not expected to be moved about; and a heavy oak bedstead is still in existence which is said to have belonged to King Richard III. It is curiously carved, and the king rested upon it the night before the battle of Bosworth Field, where he was killed. Clumsy as the bedstead was, he took it about with him from place to place; but after the fatal battle it passed into the hands of various owners, and nothing remarkable was discovered about it until the king had been dead a hundred years. By that time the bedstead had come into the possession of a woman who found a fortune in it. One morning, says the story, as she was making the bed, she heard a chinking sound, and saw, to her great delight, a piece of money drop on the floor. Of course she at once set about examining the bedstead, and found that the lower part of it was hollow and contained a treasure. Three hundred pounds—a fortune in those days—was brought to light, having remained hidden all those years. As King Richard was not there to claim his gold, the woman quickly possessed herself of it. But, as it happened, she had better have remained in ignorance and poverty. As soon as the matter became known one of her servants robbed her of the gold, and even caused her death. Thus it was said in the neighborhood that 'King Richard's gold' did nobody any good."
The children were very much pleased with this story, and Malcolm said that he always liked to hear about people who found gold and things.
"I think that I do, myself," replied Miss Harson, "although, as in this poor woman's case and in many others, gold is not the best thing to find. It often brings with it so much sorrow and sin as to be a curse to its owner. The only safe treasure is that laid up in heaven, where 'neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal,'
"From the very earliest times the oak has been used for shipbuilding. The Saxons, we are told, kept a formidable fleet of vessels with curved bottoms and the prow and poop adorned with representations of the head and tail of some grotesque and fabulous creature. King Alfred had many vessels that carried sixty oars and were entirely of oak. A vessel supposed to be of his time has been discovered in the bed of a river in Kent, and after the lapse of so many centuries it is as sound as ever and as hard as iron."
"Do oak trees ever have apples on 'em?" asked Clara. "In a story that I read there was something about 'oak-apples.'"
"They are not apples such as we eat, or fruit in any sense," said her governess. "They are the work of a species of fly called Cynips, which is very apt to attack the oak. 'The female insect is armed with a sharp weapon called an ovipositor, which she plunges into a leaf and makes a wound. Here she lays her eggs; and when she has done so, she flies away and we hear no more of her. But the wound she has made disturbs the circulation of the sap. It flows round and round the eggs as though it had met with some foreign body it would fain remove. Very soon the eggs are in the midst of a ball-like and fleshy chamber—the most suitable provision for them, and one which the parent-insect had provided by means of puncturing the leaf. As the eggs are hatched the grubs will find themselves safely housed and in the midst of an abundance of food.'"
"Well," exclaimed Malcolm, in great disgust, "apple is a queer name for a ball full of little flies!"
"It's a very pretty ball, though," said Miss Harson, "with a smooth skin and tinged with red or yellow, like a ripe apple. If it is cut open, a number of granules are seen, each containing a grub embedded in a fruit-like substance. The grub undergoes its transformation, and in due course emerges a perfect insect. These pretty pink-and-white apples used to be gathered by English boys on the twenty-ninth of May, which was called 'Oak-Apple Day.'"
"Did they eat 'em?" asked Edith.
"I do not see how they could, dear," was the reply; "they were probably gathered just to look at. Yet 'May-apples,' which grow, you will remember, on the wild azalea and the swamp honeysuckle, are often eaten, and they are formed in the same way; so we will not be too positive about the oak-apples."
"What are oak-galls, Miss Harson?" asked Malcolm. "Are they the same as oak-apples?"
"Not quite the same," was the reply, although both are produced by the same insect. This is what one of our English books says of them: 'When the acorn itself is wounded, it becomes a kind of monstrosity, and remains on the stalk like an irregularly-shaped ball. It is called a "nut-gall," and is found principally on a small oak, a native of the southern and central parts of Europe. All these oak-apples and nut-galls are of importance, but the latter more especially, and they form an important article of commerce. A substance called "gallic acid" resides in the oak; and when the puncture is made by the cynips, it flows in great abundance to the wound. Gallic acid is one of the ingredients used in dyeing stuffs and cloths, and therefore the supply yielded by the nut-gall is highly welcome. The nut-galls are carefully collected from the small oak on which they are found, the Pyreneean oak. It is easily known by the dense covering of down on the young leaves, that appear some weeks later than the leaves of the common oak. The galls are pounded and boiled, and into the infusion thus made the stuffs about to be dyed are dipped,'"
"I should think," said Clara, "that people would plant oak trees everywhere, when they are so useful. Is anything done with the bark?"
"Yes," said her governess; "the bark, which is very rough, is valuable for tanning leather and for medicine. The element which has the effect of turning raw hide or skin into leather is called tannin; it is also found in the bark of some other trees and in tropical plants."
"Didn't people use to worship oak trees," asked Malcolm—"people who lived ever so long ago?"
"You are thinking of the Druids, who lived in old times in Britain and Gaul," replied Miss Harson, "and whose strange heathen rites were practiced in oak-groves; and they really did consider the tree sacred. These Druids have left their traces in some parts of England and France in rows of huge stones set upright; and wherever an immense stone was found lying on two others, in the shape of a table, there had been a Druid altar, where the priest offered sacrifices, often of human beings. So horrible may be a so-called religion that men themselves devise, and that has not come from the true God.
"It was an article in the Druids' creed, and one to which they strictly adhered, that no temple with a covered roof was to be built in honor of the gods. All the places appointed for public worship were in the open air, and generally on some eminence from which the moon and stars might be observed; for to the heavenly bodies much adoration was offered. But to afford shelter from wind or rain, and also to ensure privacy and shut out all external objects, the place fixed upon, either for teaching their disciples or for carrying out the rites of their idolatrous worship, was in the recess of some grove or wood. An oak-grove was supposed to be the favorite of the gods whom they ignorantly worshiped, and therefore the Druids declared the oak to be a sacred tree. The Druid priest always bound a wreath of oak-leaves on his forehead before he would perform any religious ceremony. One of these ceremonies was to go in search of the mistletoe, which sometimes grows on the oak and was considered as sacred as the tree itself, being much used in their worship. One priest would climb to the branch on which the misletoe was growing and cut it with a golden knife, while another priest stood below and held out his white robe to receive it.
"These sacred groves were all cut down by the Romans, who waged fierce war against the Druids, and nothing is left of them now but the circles of stones that formed their temples. At a place called Stonehenge, 'cromlechs,' or altar-tables, are still standing, and very ancient oaks stood in a circle round these stones for many centuries after the Druids were swept away."
"Miss Harson," said Clara when all had expressed their horror of the Druids and rejoiced that they were swept away, "are there any oak trees in the Bible?"
"Look and see," was the reply; "and first you may find Genesis xxxv. 4."
"'And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hands, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.'"
"In the eighth verse of the same chapter," said Miss Harson, "we read that Rebekah's nurse was buried under an oak at Bethel. We are told in the book of Joshua that 'Joshua took a great stone and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord;' and in Judges, 'There came an angel of the Lord and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah.'—Malcolm, you may read Second Samuel, eighteenth chapter, ninth verse."
 Josh. xxiv. 26.
 Judg. vi. II.
"'And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away.'"
"Poor Absalom!" said Edith, softly. "Wasn't that dreadful?"
"Yes, dear," replied her governess, "it was dreadful; but it is still more dreadful that Absalom was such a wicked man. In Isaiah we read of the oaks of Bashan, that, like the cedars of Lebanon, were 'high and lifted up,' and the oaks of Bashan are mentioned again in Zechariah. Several varieties of the oak are found in Palestine.
 Isa. ii. 13.
 Zech. xi. 2.
"In his Ride Through Palestine, Dr. Dulles tells of a great oak near Hebron known as 'Abraham's oak,' supposed to occupy the ground where the patriarch pitched his tent under the oaks of Mamre. It is an aged tree, and a grand one. Here is a picture of it, from the Ride. The crests and sides of the hills beyond the Jordan are still clothed, as in ancient times, with magnificent oaks.
 See page 85
"We get a good idea of the strength and durability of this wood from the fact that there is an old wooden church near Ongar, in Essex, the nave of which is composed of half logs of oak roughly fastened by wooden pegs. The ancient fabric dates back to the time of King Edmund, who was slain by the robber Leolf in the year A.D. 946. The oaken church was hurriedly put together—according to report—in order to make a temporary receptacle for the body of the murdered prince on its way to burial. Be that as it may, it was afterward used as a parish church, and, though the oaken logs are corroded by the weather, they are still sound, and, having been beaten by the storms of a thousand winters, bid fair to defy those of a thousand more."
"I should think, then," said Malcolm, "that people would always build their houses with oak if it lasts so long."
"Yet they do not do this even in England," was the reply, "where the trees grow to such an immense size and the ancient buildings still in existence prove the great endurance of the oak. Now brick and stone and iron are used, which outlast any wood. And now," continued Miss Harson, "I am going to tell you something about a foreign species of this tree which I am sure will surprise you. It is found in the South of Europe and in Algeria, and is called the cork oak."
"'The cork oak'!" exclaimed Clara, quite as much surprised as she was expected to be. "Do the corks that come in bottles grow on it?"
"Not just in that shape, dear, but they are made from its bark. The outside bark, or epidermis, consists of a thin, transparent, tissue-like substance, which covers not only the bark, but the whole of the tree, stem, leaves and branches, and beneath the epidermis is found a layer of cellular tissue, generally green. It covers the trunk and branches, fills up the spaces between the veins of the leaves and contains the sap, which flows in canals arranged for it in the most beautiful and wonderful manner. In one species of oak this layer—which is called the suber—assumes a peculiar character and is of remarkable thickness. When the tree is some five years old, its whole energy is directed toward the increase of the suber. A mass of cells is formed with great rapidity, and layer upon layer is added, until that part of the trunk grows so unwieldy that it would crack and split of its own accord. But such a thing is rarely allowed to happen: the suber is of too much value to man. After it is taken from the tree and has undergone due preparation, it appears in our shops and houses under the name of cork"
"I should like to see how they get it," said Malcolm.
"The trunk is regularly marked around in deep cuts, which begin close to the branches and go down almost to the roots. A ladder is used to mount to the upper part of the trunk, and the cuts, or incisions, are made with a long knife or with an axe. Then they strip off the sheets of cork between the circles. This operation is a very delicate one, and requires much care and skill lest the inner part should be injured. If the operation is carried out successfully, the cork-like substance will grow again and become as abundant as ever.
"The next thing to be done to the pieces of bark is partially to burn, or char, them, and also to make them quite flat, as they come from the trunk in a rounded shape. The burning makes the pores close up, so that the liquid in a vessel for which it is used as a stopper cannot come through; and this is done over a brisk fire, in what is called a burning-yard. Another process, called rounding, removes every trace of the fire, unless the cork has been too much burned, and then, having already been flattened by the pressure of heavy stones, it is ready for the cork-maker, who cuts the material first into strips and then into squares according to the size of corks wanted.
"Cork is very light and elastic, and can be used successfully in contrivances for the rescue of men from the perils of the deep. The cork jacket and the lifeboat have been the means of saving many lives, for cork will float on the surface of the water and bear up the person wearing the jacket and the shipwrecked people in the lifeboat. 'The shallowness of the boat and the bulk of cork within allow but little room for water; so that even when filled it is in no danger of overturning or sinking, like other crafts. Also, the lifeboat can move across the waves with perfect safety, and can make its way from one object to another in a broken sea as easily as an ordinary boat can pass from one ship to another.'"
The children declared that the cork-oak was the best tree of all, but they agreed with their governess that the entire oak family was made up of grand and useful trees.
"Our American oaks," said Miss Harson, "are very handsome in autumn because of their brilliant foliage; the scarlet oak, which turns to a deep crimson and keeps its leaves longer than any of the other forest trees, is the most showy of the species. But we have no cork oaks, and no oaks that we know to be a thousand years old. There was once a famous oak in this country, called the 'Charter Oak,' which fell to the ground in August, 1856, before any of us were born. I wonder if you would like to hear the story about it?"
This question was thought extremely funny by three such devourers of stories as the little Kyles, and they eagerly assured their governess that they would like it.
"If that is really the case," continued Miss Harson, smiling at the excited faces, "I must tell you the history of
"THE CHARTER OAK.
"This tree grew in Hartford, Connecticut, and it is said that before the English governor Wyllis went there to live his steward, whom he had sent on before to get a house ready for him, came near cutting down this very oak. He was clearing away the trees around it on the hillside when a party of Indians appeared and begged him to leave that particular tree, because, they said, 'it had been the guide of their ancestors for centuries.' So the oak was spared; even then it was old and hollow.
"King Charles II. granted the people of Connecticut a very liberal charter of rights, which was publicly read in the Assembly at Hartford and declared to belong for ever to them and their successors. A committee was appointed to take charge of it, under a solemn oath that they would preserve this palladium of the rights of the people.
"When James II., the tyrannical brother of Charles II., came to the throne, he changed the government of New England and ordered the people of Connecticut to give up their charter. This they refused to do; and when a third command from the king had been sent to them, they called a special meeting of the Assembly, under their own governor, Treat, and resolved to hold on to the charter which had been given them.
"On the 31st of October, 1687, Sir Edmund Andros, attended by members of his council and a bodyguard of sixty soldiers, entered Hartford to take the charter by force. The General Assembly was in session; he was received with courtesy, but with coldness. He entered the assembly-room and publicly demanded the charter. Remonstrances were made, and the session was protracted till evening. The governor and his associates appeared to yield. The charter was brought in and laid upon the table. Sir Edmund thought that he had succeeded, when suddenly the lights were all put out, and total darkness followed. There was no noise, no conflict, but all was quiet. When the candles were again lighted, the charter was gone! Sir Edmund was disconcerted. He declared the government of Connecticut to be in his own hands, and that the colony was annexed to Massachusetts and the other New England colonies, and proceeded to appoint officers. Captain Jeremiah Wadsworth, a patriot of those times, had hidden the charter in the hollow of Wyllis's oak, whence it was afterward known as the Charter Oak."
"Then the English governor couldn't get it!" exclaimed Malcolm, delightedly. "Wasn't that splendid?"
"It was a grand hiding-place, certainly, for no one would think of looking inside a tree for such a thing as that, and they were grand men who preserved their country's liberties in those trying times. But more peaceful years were at hand. About eighteen months after the charter had disappeared so mysteriously, the tyrant James II. was compelled to give up his throne to his daughter and son-in-law, the prince and princess of Orange, and Governor Treat and his associates again took the government of Connecticut under the old charter, which the hollow oak had faithfully kept from harm. No tree in our whole country has received more attention than this historic Hartford oak; and when, at last, its mere shell of a trunk was laid low by a storm, it seemed as if a large part of the city had been swept away.
"Ancient oaks are apt to be almost entirely without branches; the huge trunk, with an opening at the top, and often with one also at the bottom, stands like a maimed giant, just tottering, perhaps, to its fall, because of the decay going on within, while outside all seems fair and sound. It was so with the Charter Oak; and when this monarch of the forest was unexpectedly laid low, rich and poor, great and small, were gathered to mourn its loss. A dirge was played and all the bells in the city were tolled at sundown, for this monument of the past was a link gone that could not be replaced."
"Thank you, Miss Harson," said Clara; "true stories are so nice! But I wish I had seen the Charter Oak before it was blown down."
"You could not have done that, dear," was the reply, "unless you had been born about thirty years sooner."
BEAUTY AND GRACE: THE ASH.
"What tree comes next, Miss Harson?" asked Clara, on an April day that was mild enough for the piazza. "You told us so many interesting things about the oak that I suppose we needn't expect to hear of another tree like that."
"No," was the reply; "not just like that, perhaps, for the oak is grand and venerable above all our familiar trees, but the ash, which is more especially an American tree, belongs to a large and interesting family, and I am quite sure that you will very much like to hear something about it. I have put it next to the oak because there is a sort of rivalry between the two as to which can get on its spring dress the soonest, and an old English rhyme says,
"'If the oak's before the ash, Then you may expect a splash; But if the ash is 'fore the oak, Then you must beware a soak.'"
"That must mean," said Malcolm, after considering this rather puzzling verse, "that it'll rain any way."
"I think it does," replied Miss Harson, with a smile at Malcolm's air of deep thought, "and it is quite safe to say that in England. But, as 'a soak' sounds more serious than 'a splash,' it is to be hoped that the ash will not get ahead of the oak. I do not know what they are doing in England this year, but here the oak is a day or two ahead. The foliage of the ash is entirely different, as it has pinnate leaves, which means leaves arranged in two rows, one on each side of a common stem, or petiole, like—What, Clara?"
"Rose-leaves," was the prompt reply.
"And leaves of the locust trees on the other side of the road," added Malcolm.
"And the sumac," said their governess, "and a number of others that might be mentioned. This kind of foliage is always graceful, and the ash is one of our largest and handsomest trees. It is said to be more common in America than in any other part of the globe. In Europe, because of its beauty, it is called the painter's tree. It is a particularly neat and regular-looking tree, and its smooth gray trunk is higher than that of most trees before any branches appear. Where is there a tree on the grounds answering this description, Malcolm?"
"Down at the end of the vegetable-garden," was the reply, "and close beside the laundry."
"Yes; you are really learning to distinguish trees very well. There are several species—the white, red, black and mountain ash. The white ash is a graceful tree, rising in the forest to the height of seventy or eighty feet, with a straight trunk and a diameter of three feet or more at the base. On an open plain it throws out its branches, with a gentle double curvature, to a distance on every side, and forms a broad, round head of great beauty. The flowers of the ash are greenish white in color and appear with the leaves in loose clusters. 'The trunk of our largest American ash is covered with a whitish bark which in very young trees is nearly smooth; on older trees it is broken by deep furrows into irregular plates, and on very old stems it becomes smooth again, from the rough plates scaling off. The branches are grayish green dotted with gray or white.' Now who can tell me something about this tree?"
"I know that furniture is made of the wood," said Clara, "because that pretty set in the large spare-room is ash. And it is very light-colored."
"The wood is used for a great many things," replied Miss Harson, "and the ash has been called the husbandman's tree because the timber is so much in demand for farming-implements, and for articles that need to be both strong and light. It does not last so long as the oak, but it is more elastic and can better resist sudden shocks and jerks; it is therefore particularly desirable for the spokes of wheels and ladders and the beams of floors. Staircases were made of it in olden times, and they may still be found in some English halls and abbeys. The forest ash makes better oars than any other wood, and the tree has so many good qualities that an old English poet spoke of it as
"'The ash for nothing ill.'
"But Malcolm looks as if he had something to say, and I shall be very happy to hear it."
"It is only about the red berries that they bear in autumn, Miss Harson; it looks queer to see berries growing on a tree."
"The mountain ash is the only one that has berries," replied his governess, "and the bloom is in clusters of white flowers. The berries are sometimes dark red and often of a bright scarlet, and they remain on the tree during the winter, to the great delight of the birds. We should find them very sour, although pretty to look at; but the little feathered wanderers eat them with great relish when the snows of winter make bird-food scarce and the bright-red berries gleam out most invitingly. In some parts of Europe the berries are dried and ground into flour. The rowan, or roan, tree is the English name of the mountain ash, and in some parts of Great Britain it is called witchen, because of its supposed power against witches and evil spirits and all their spells. In old times branches of it were hung about houses and stables and cow-sheds, for it was thought that
"'witches have no power Where there is roan-tree wood.'"
"But that isn't true, is it?" asked Edith.
"No, dear, not true of either the witches or the wood. But ignorant people believe a great many foolish things, and the leaves and twigs of the ash tree were thought to have peculiar virtue. In some places it was once the practice to pluck an ash-leaf in every case where the leaflets were of even number, and to say,
"'Even ash, I do thee pluck, Hoping thus to meet good luck; If no luck I get from thee, Better far be on the tree.'"
"It sounds like what children say on finding a four-leafed clover," said Clara.
"It is on the same principle," was the reply, "for clover-leaves grow naturally in threes and ash-leaves in sevens. Both rhymes are equally silly where luck is concerned, and those who believe God's words—that even 'the hairs of our head are all numbered'—will have no faith in 'luck.' In old times the ash was believed to perform wonderful cures of various kinds, and in remote parts of England a little mouse called the shrew-mouse bore a very bad character. If a horse or cow had pains in its limbs, they were said to be caused by a shrew-mouse running over it. Our forefathers provided themselves with what they called a shrew-ash, in order to meet the case. The shrew-ash was nothing more than an ash tree in the trunk of which a hole had been bored and a poor little shrew-mouse put in, with many charms and incantations happily long since forgotten."
"And couldn't the poor little mouse get out again?" asked Edith.
"I am afraid not, dear; and we can only rejoice that we did not live in those dark days. Among other beliefs in its virtues, the leaves and wood of the ash were regarded throughout Northern Europe as a protection from all manner of snakes, and in harvest-time children were suspended in their cradles from the branches of tall ash trees while their mothers were working in the harvest-field below. Even now serpents are said to dislike the tree so much that they will not come near it, and the leaf is considered a cure for the bite of a poisonous snake. I have been told that an ash-leaf rubbed on a mosquito-bite will at once take out the sting and itching, and no better remedy can be found for the sting of a bee or a wasp."
"It's ever so much nicer than mud," said Clara, who had rather a talent for getting into hornets' nests.
"But the mud, you see, is always to be had," replied Miss Harson, "while ash-leaves do not grow everywhere; and I do not know that they have any power to cure the sting.
"The other species of ash found in this country are not so important as the white, but the black ash is remarkable as the slenderest deciduous tree of its height to be found in the forest. It is often seventy or eighty feet tall, with a trunk not more than a foot around. The color of the trunk is a dark granite-gray and the bark is rough. The wood is remarkable for its toughness, and for making baskets the Indians prefer it to any other, except the trunk of a young white oak.
"The red ash is very much like the white, but the wood is less valuable. It is a spreading, broad-headed tree, and the trunk is erect and branching. It is not so tall as the black ash, yet its trunk is three times as thick.
"A species of ash grows in Sicily that yields a substance called manna which used to be valuable as a medicine, and this manna is obtained in the same way as maple-sap—by making holes or incisions in the bark of the tree. At the proper season the persons whose business it is to collect manna begin to make incisions, one after the other, up the stem. The manna flows out like clear water, but it soon congeals and becomes a solid substance. It has a sweet taste, and while in a liquid state runs into a leaf of the tree that has been inserted in the wound. Afterward it flows into a vessel placed below, from which it is carried away and shipped off to other countries."
"Is there any story about the ash?" asked Malcolm.
"Not much of a story, dear," was the reply—"only a little legend of the manna trees; but, such as it is, you shall have it:
"The king of Naples, it is said, fenced a number of trees round and forbade any to collect the store they yielded unless they paid a tribute. By this means the royal revenue would be largely increased. But, according to the story, the manna trees, as if they disapproved of this ungenerous arrangement, refused to yield any manna, and suddenly became bare and barren. Upon this the king, finding his scheme a failure, revoked the tax and took away the fence. Then the trees poured out their manna, as usual, in the greatest abundance; so that it was said, 'When the king found he could not make a gain of what Providence had freely bestowed, he gave up the attempt and left the manna as free as God had given it.'
"There, now!" said Miss Harson; "after this long talk, you had better run off and see if there is not a tree somewhere on the grounds, with two ropes attached to it, that will bear better fruit than any tree we have studied yet."
The trio laughed and raced for the swing, which was first reached by Clara, who seated herself all ready for the push which Malcolm would not grudge, for he pronounced his sister sweeter than apple or peach; and so she was.
THE OLIVE TREE.
"The ash," said Miss Harson, "has some relations of which, I think, you will be rather surprised to hear. These relations are both trees and shrubs, and the lilac, for instance, is one of them."
"Why, they don't look a bit alike," exclaimed Clara.
"No, they certainly do not; for, although this fragrant shrub often grows as large as a tree, it is quite different from the ash tree. Yet both belong to the olive family."
"The kind of olives that papa likes to eat at dinner, and that you and I don't like, Miss Harson?" asked Malcolm.
"The very same," replied his governess; "only that we are speaking now of the tree on which the olives grow. It is well said that the very name of 'olive' suggests the idea of Palestine and the sunny lands of the East. The olive tree is one of the most prominent trees of the Bible. It is mentioned in the very earliest part of the Scriptures, in the book of Genesis. I wonder if some one can tell me about it?"