"I thought they were nice, respectable people."
"O, perfectly nice and respectable,--very good people, in fact, so far as that goes. But then you must see the difficulty."
"My dear cousin, I am afraid you must explain."
"Why, their _color_, to be sure. Don't you see?"
"Oh!" said the Colonel. "That's it, is it? Excuse me, but I have been living in France, where these distinctions are wholly unknown, and I have not yet got myself in the train of fashionable ideas here."
"Well, then, let me teach you," said Miss Katy. "You know we go for no distinctions except those created by Nature herself, and we found our rank upon color, because that is clearly a thing that none has any hand in but our Maker. You see?"
"Yes; but who decides what color shall be the reigning color?"
"I'm surprised to hear the question! The only true color--the only proper one--is _our_ color, to be sure. A lovely pea-green is the precise shade on which to found aristocratic distinction. But then we are liberal;--we associate with the Moths, who are gray; with the Butterflies, who are blue-and-gold colored; with the Grasshoppers, yellow and brown;--and society would become dreadfully mixed if it were not fortunately ordered that the Crickets are black as jet. The fact is, that a class to be looked down upon is necessary to all elegant society, and if the Crickets were not black, we could not keep them down, because, as everybody knows, they are often a great deal cleverer than we are. They have a vast talent for music and dancing; they are very quick at learning, and would be getting to the very top of the ladder if we once allowed them to climb. But being black is a convenience, --because, as long as we are green and they are black, we have a superiority that can never be taken from us. Don't you see now?"
"Oh, yes, I see exactly," said the Colonel.
"Now that Keziah Cricket, who just came in here, is quite a musician, and her old father plays the violin beautifully; by the way, we might engage him for our orchestra."
And so Miss Katy's ball came off, and the performers kept it up from sundown till daybreak, so that it seemed as if every leaf in the forest were alive. The Katy-dids, and the Mosquitoes, and the Locusts, and a full orchestra of Crickets made the air perfectly vibrate, insomuch that old Parson Too-whit, who was preaching a Thursday evening lecture to a very small audience, announced to his hearers that he should certainly write a discourse against dancing, for the next weekly occasion.
The good Doctor was as good as his word in the matter, and gave out some very sonorous discourses, without in the least stopping the round of gayeties kept up by these dissipated Katy-dids, which ran on, night after night, till the celebrated Jack Frost epidemic, which occurred somewhere about the first of September.
Poor Miss Katy, with her flimsy green satin and point-lace, was one of the first victims, and fell from the bough in company with a sad shower of last year's leaves. The worthy Cricket family, however, avoided Jack Frost by emigrating in time to the chimney-corner of a nice little cottage that had been built in the wood that summer.
There good old Mr. and Mrs. Cricket, with sprightly Miss Keziah and her brothers and sisters, found a warm and welcome home; and when the storm howled without, and lashed the poor naked trees, the Cricket on the warm hearth would chirp out cheery welcome to papa as he came in from the snowy path, or mamma as she sat at her work-basket.
"Cheep, cheep, cheep!" little Freddy would say. "Mamma, who is it says 'cheep'?"
"Dear Freddy, it is our own dear little cricket, who loves us and comes to sing to us when the snow is on the ground."
So when poor Miss Katy-did's satin and lace were all swept away, the warm home-talents of the Crickets made for them a welcome refuge.
THE BEECH AND THE OAK
By Carl Ewald
It all happened long, long ago. There were no towns then with houses and streets, and church steeples domineering over everything.
There were no schools, for there were not many boys, and those that there were learnt from their father to shoot with the bow and arrow, to hunt the stag in his covert, to kill the bear in order to make clothes out of his skin, and to rub two pieces of wood together till they caught fire. When they knew this perfectly, they had finished their education.
There were no railways either, and no cultivated fields, no ships on the sea, no books, for there was nobody who could read them.
There was scarcely anything except Trees. But Trees there were in plenty. They stood everywhere from coast to coast; they saw themselves reflected in all the rivers and lakes, and stretched their mighty boughs up towards heaven. They leaned out over the shore, dipped their boughs in the black fen water, and from the high hills looked out proudly over the land.
They all knew each other, for they belonged to a great family, and were proud of it.
"We are all _Oak_ Trees," they said. "We own the land, and rule over it."
And they were right. There were only a few human beings there in those days, and those that there were were nothing better than wild animals. The Bear, the Wolf, and the Fox went out hunting, while the Stag grazed by the edge of the fen. The Field Mouse sat outside his hole and ate acorns, and the Beaver built his artistic houses by the river banks.
One day the Bear came trudging along and lay down at full breadth under a great Oak Tree, "Are you there again, you robber?" said the Oak, and shook a lot of withered leaves down over him.
"You should not squander your leaves, my old friend," said the Bear, licking his paws. "That is all the shade you can give against the sun."
"If you are not pleased with me, you can go," answered the Oak proudly. "I am lord in the land, and whatever way you look you find my brothers and nothing else."
"True," muttered the Bear. "That is just what is so sickening. I have been for a little tour abroad, I may tell you, and am just a little bit spoilt. It was in a land down towards the south--there I took a nap under the Beech Trees. They are tall, slim Trees, not crooked old things like you. And their tops are so dense that the sunbeams cannot creep through them. It was a real pleasure there to take a midday nap, I assure you."
"Beech Trees?" said the Oak inquisitively. "What are they?"
"You might well wish you were half as pretty as a Beech Tree," said the Bear. "But I don't want to chatter any more with you just now.
I have had to trot a mile on account of a confounded hunter who struck me on one of my hind legs with an arrow. Now I should like to have a sleep, and perhaps you will be kind enough to leave me at peace, since you cannot give me shade." The Bear stretched himself out and closed his eyes; but he got no sleep _that_ time, for the other Trees had heard his story, and they began chattering and talking and rustling their leaves in a way never known in the wood before.
"What on earth can those Trees be?" said one of them.
"It is, of course, a mere story; the Bear wishes to impose upon us," said the other.
"What kind of Trees can they be whose leaves sit so close together that the sunbeams cannot creep between them?" asked a Little Oak, who was listening to what the big ones were talking about.
But by his side stood an old gnarled Tree, who gave the Little Oak a clout on the head with one of his lowest boughs. "Hold your tongue," he said, "and don't talk till you have something to talk about. You need none of you believe a word of the Bear's nonsense.
I am much taller than you, and I can see far out over the wood. But so far as ever I can see, there is nothing but Oak Trees."
The Little Oak was shamefaced, and held his tongue; and the other big Trees spoke to one another in low whispers, for they had great respect for the old one.
But the Bear got up and rubbed his eyes. "Now you have disturbed my midday nap," he growled angrily, "and I declare that I will have my revenge. When I come back I will bring some Beech nuts with me, and I vow you will all turn yellow with jealousy when you see how pretty the new Trees are."
Then he made off. But the Oaks talked the whole day long one to another about the funny Trees he had told them about. "If they come, I will kill them," said the Little Oak Tree, but directly afterwards he got one on the head from the Old Oak.
"If they come, you shall treat them politely, you young dog," said he. "But they will not come."
But in this the Old Oak was wrong, for they did come.
Towards autumn the Bear came back and lay; down under the Old Oak.
"My friends down there wish me to present their compliments," he said, and he picked some funny things out of his shaggy coat. "Here you may see what I have for you."
"What is it?" asked the Oak.
"That is _Beech_" answered the Bear--"the Beech nuts which I promised you." Then he trampled them into the ground and prepared to go back.
"It is a pity I cannot stay and see how angry you will be," he growled, "but those confounded human beings have begun to press one so hard. The day before yesterday they killed my wife and one of my brothers, and I must see about finding a place where I can live in peace. There is scarcely a spot left where a self-respecting Bear can stay. Goodbye, you old, gnarled Oak Trees!"
When the Bear had shambled off, the Trees looked at one another anxiously.
"Let us see what comes of it," said the Old Oak.
And after this they composed themselves to rest. The winter came and tore all their leaves off them, the snow lay high over the whole land, and every Tree stood deep in his own thoughts and dreamt of the spring.