At Work In The Dark Soil
( Originally Published 1891 )
"BUT what can little raindrops do ? " piped a robin redbreast next morning, as he dipped his bill in the clear cool water.
"Do ? " bubbled the brook; " you should see us at work ! "
" Chip, chip, che-chip ! " chattered a saucy chip-monk who was listening to the story.
"Chuck, chuck, the-chuck ! " barked an old gray squirrel, and he snapped his teeth and shook his bushy tail at the thought of a raindrop doing any work.
All at once crack went the dead branch on which they sat, and splash they went into the water. How they did sputter and chatter as they scram-bled ashore, and ran to hide in the old stone wall.
A merry ripple went up and down the brook. The little wild-flower would have smiled too, but it was afraid that the gray squirrel would come and snip off its head. So it only nodded its pretty blossom, as the brooklet went on with its story.
"Yes; we all went merrily to work, for there are no lazy raindrops. The ground was full of cracks and holes, where our cousin Jack had been before us.
" What ! you do not know Jack Frost? 0, he is a merry fellow, bright and full of life. Sometimes he is mischievous, too. He likes to nip the flowers and fruits, — yes, and the toes and ears of little girls and boys.
" But he is very useful, for all that. Every year he comes to loosen the soil with his little icy ploughs, so that the raindrops can reach the roots and seeds in early springtime.
" Down, down, we ran into the thirsty ground, — down into rich loam that held fast nearly half our band, — down through sandy soil which could not stop our flowing, — down to a bed of clay whose doors were closed against us.
" How dark it was in those tiny cells. Not one ray of light to show us the way ; not a sunbeam to cheer us on.
" We met cold earthworms crawling along in their slender caves. Brave little creatures they are, toiling there in the dark. Day after day they gnaw the leaves, and change them into loam. Then back to the surface they crawl, and bring their rich load.
"' The tiny mounds by earthworms cast, —
-A. E. F.
"We passed by families of queer little ants, building their pretty hills. How busy they were, carrying the soil to light and air. All over the hillside, you can now see hundreds of their rich mounds, waiting for the raindrops to come and spread them over the surface.
"We took the loam wherever we went, and placed it near the roots and seeds. We even carried it into the plants and trees. The sun sent down -its warm rays, and soon all nature was awake once more.
"We ran into little grass culms, where tender blades had hidden from cold winter storms. Soon the fields were green again. We stole up into each sleeping bud, and rosy leaflets unfolded in the warm sunshine. We waked up every seed in the garden, and their pretty heads came peeping through the dark soil. The air was filled with sweet songs of birds, and spring had come.
"'Whether we look, or whether we listen,
"Soon the snowy blossoms on the apple-trees hung like clouds. The violets in the meadow looked like the clear blue sky above. Still we toiled on in the dark ground.
"Day after day, merry showers pattered down. One morning, as the silver drops came singing from the clouds, we heard them shout, 'Catch us, if you can ! '
"Away they scampered down the hill, for the soil had water enough.
"'Wait for me!' cried one little fellow, and where do you think it was ? It had fallen straight into the tiniest buttercup on the whole hillside, and could not get out. It looked just like a diamond set in a little golden crown, only it was much prettier. Perhaps a passing sunbeam helped it out next day, but no one waited to see.
"Weeks passed. The apple-blossoms sifted down like snow. Golden grain waved in the meadow. Rich yellow corn flung out its silken tassels along our brookside.
"' All the long August afternoon,
-W. D. HOWELL9.
" At length the branches hung low with ripe fruit. Yellow sheaves dotted the stubbly meadow. Long ears of corn stood ripening in the sun. Out in the grain fields we heard happy voices singing —
"'Heap high the farmer's wintry hoard !
"Through vales of grass, and meads of flowers,
"'We dropped the seed o'er hill and plain,
"'All through the long bright days of June,,
"'And now with Autumn's moonlit eves,
" At length our long, cold journey was ended, and we could come out of the dark soil, as other little raindrops had every day, and could play with the sunbeams once more. Soon we should be home again ! How happy we were !
"Have you ever seen a spring ? You should have been there to see us burst from ground. I will tell you what it was like.
Go all the way up the hillside where we have, been flowing. Gather up every merry ripple, every silver bubble, every sparkling sunbeam.
" Take even the tiny whirlpools with their flakes of foam, — the gliding sheets and flying spray. Over all sprinkle a dozen of the brightest rainbows you have ever seen.
"Now carry them to yonder green spot on the hillside, where the pretty flowers love to cluster round ; and there beneath the branches of the graceful willow, bury them deep in the dark, cold ground.
" Then, when the sweet-voiced birds are awake, and the air is heavy with perfume, — there, where the sunbeams seem to beckon, let them all burst forth like a Jack-in-a-box, and run sparkling, bubbling, prattling, dancing, dashing down the hillside, and you will see our spring. Now
"' I'm hastening from the distant hills,
"'The willows cannot stay my course,
"'I kiss the pebbles as I pass,
"'So onward through the meads and dells
As the voice of the brooklet seemed to die away in soft ripples along the banks, two nimble squirrels sprang from the old stone wall, and ran down to the edge of the water. Can you guess what they whispered to the little brook ?
This was the kind and gentle answer : " 0 yes, be sure to come ! We know that you meant no harm. But remember that —
"Small service is true service while it lasts ;
- WORDS WORTH.
" We like to see you sporting among the branches, and we have helped to fill a great oak with sweet acorns for you to store away for the long, cold winter.
" Come early tomorrow, and you shall hear about the beautiful valley in which you live. "Good by!"
" Good by ! "
Surely enough, when the brooklet began its story next morning, there sat Chip and Dick on the bank, looking just as happy as good little squirrels ought to look.