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´╗┐Title: The Child's Book of the Seasons
Author: Ransome, Arthur, 1884-1967
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Child's Book of the Seasons" ***

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THE CHILD'S BOOK OF THE SEASONS

BY

ARTHUR RANSOME

Author of "The Stone Lady."

NATURE BOOKS FOR CHILDREN.

With Illustrations by Frances Craine


LONDON

ANTHONY TREHERNE & COMPANY, LTD.

II, YORK BUILDINGS, ADELPHI, W.C.

1906



FOR ROBERT AND PHYLLIS.



CONTENTS.

     I. Spring
     II. Summer
     III. Autumn
     IV. Winter



I

SPRING


Spring always seems to begin on the morning that the Imp, in a bright
pink nightgown, comes rushing into my room without knocking, and throws
himself on my bed, with a sprig of almond blossom in his hand. You see,
the almond blossom grows just outside the Imp's window, and the Imp
watches it very carefully. We are none of us allowed to see it until it
is ready, and then, as soon as there is a sprig really out, he picks it
and flies all round the house showing it to everybody. For the Imp loves
the Spring, and we all know that those beautiful pink blossoms mean that
Spring is very near.

"Spring!" shouts the Imp, waving his almond blossoms, and we begin to
keep a little note-book, and write down in it after the almond blossom
day all the other days of the really important things, the day when we
first see the brimstone butterfly, big and pale and golden yellow,
flitting along the hedgerow near the ground, and the day of picking the
first primrose and the finding of the first bird's nest.

And then walks begin to be real fun. No dull jig-jog, jig-jog, just so
many miles before going home to lunch, when all the time you would much
rather have stayed at home altogether. The Imp and the Elf love Spring
walks, and are always running ahead trying to see things. There are such
a lot of things to see, and every one of them means that Summer is a
little nearer. And that is a jolly piece of news, is it not?

The Imp and the Elf have a nurse to take them for walks, and a very nice
old nurse she is, with lots of fairy tales. But somehow she is not much
interested in flowers, or birds, or mice, or even in the Spring, so that
very soon after the day of the apple blossom those two children start
coming to my door soon after breakfast. They knock both at once very
quietly. I pretend not to hear. They knock again, and still I do not
answer. Then they thunder on the door. Do you know how to thunder on a
door? You do it by doubling up your fist and hitting hard with the podgy
part that comes at the end where your thumb is not. You can make a
tremendous noise that way, And then suddenly I jump up and roar out,
"Who's there?" as if I were a terrible giant. And the Imp and the Elf
come tumbling in, and stand in front of me, and bow and say, "Oh, Mr.
Ogre, we hope you are not very really truly busy, because we want you to
come for a walk."

And then we stick our things on, and away we go through the garden and
into the fields, with our three pairs of eyes as wide open as they will
go, so as not to miss anything.

We watch the lark rise high off the ploughed lands and sing up into the
sky. He is a little speckled brown bird with a very conceited head, if
only you can get near enough to see him. The Imp says he ought not to be
so proud just because he has a fine voice. And certainly, if you watch
the way he swings into the air, with little leaps of flying, higher and
higher and higher, you cannot help thinking that perhaps he does think a
little too much of himself. He likes to climb higher than all the other
birds, just as if he were a little choir boy perched up in the organ
loft. He climbs up and up the sky till you can scarcely see him, but he
takes care that you do not forget him even if he is so high as to be out
of sight. He sings and sings and sings. The Imp and the Elf like to wait
and watch him till he drops down again in long jumps, just as if he were
that little choir boy coming down the stairs ten steps at a time. "Now
he's coming," says the Imp, as he sees the lark poise for an instant.
"Now he's coming," the Elf cries, as he drops a foot or two. But we
always think he is coming before he really is.

As we go through the fields we keep a good look out for primroses and
cowslips. The primroses come long before the cowslips. Cowslips really
belong to the beginning of the Summer. But early in the Spring there are
plenty of woods and banks we know, where we are sure of finding
primroses with their narrow, furry, green leaves, and the pale yellow
flowers on a long stalk sprouting out of the heart of the leaves.

In the primrose-wood where we always go in the Spring, we find lots and
lots of primroses, and some of them are not yellow at all, but pale pink
and purple coloured. The Elf collects them for her garden, and she
carries a little trowel and digs deep down into the earth all round them
so as not to hurt their roots and then pulls them up, and puts them in
the basket to plant in her garden at home. You see, they really belong
to gardens, for they are not quite proper primroses, but the children of
primroses and polyanthuses. You know polyanthuses. The Imp says their
names are much too long for them. But you know them quite well, just
like cowslips, they are, only all sorts of colours.

About the same time that the primroses are out the wild dog violets
begin to show themselves. We always know when to look for them, for wild
ones bloom as soon as the sweet ones in our garden are over. The Elf
watches the garden violets and picks the last bunch of them, and ties
them up with black cotton and puts them on my plate ready for me when I
come down late to breakfast. Yes, I do come down late for breakfast. I
know it is naughty, but you see even grown-ups are naughty sometimes.
The Imp thinks I am very naughty indeed, and so one day, when I was
late, he took my porridge, and got on a high chair, and put it on the
top of the grandfather clock for a punishment. You see, whenever the Imp
and the Elf are late they have to go without porridge. That is why they
are very seldom late. Well, as soon as I came down I saw my blue
porridge bowl smiling over the top of the clock, and I just reached up
and took it down and ate it, and very good porridge it was, too. But the
Imp said, "It's horrid of you, Ogre, to be so big," and then he laughed,
and I laughed, and it was all right.

Oh, yes, I was just telling you that the Elf put the last bunch of the
sweet violets on my plate. Well, when that happens we all know that our
next walk will be to the places where the wild violets grow for they are
sure to be just coming out.

The wild violets are just like the sweet ones in liking cool, shady
places for their homes. We find them nestling in the banks under the
hedge that runs along the side of the wood. They cuddle close down to
the ground, with their tiny heart-shaped leaves and wee pale purple
flowers, just like little untidy twisted pansies.

The Elf reminds me that I am to tell you about the daffodils. I had
forgotten all about them. Really, you know it is the Imp and the Elf who
are writing this book. If it were not for them I should be forgetting
nearly everything. There are such a lot of things to remember In the
wood where we find the coloured primroses there are great banks of
daffodils under the green larches. They are just like bright yellow
trumpets growing out of pale yellow stars. The Imp says they are the
golden horns the fairies blow when they go riding through the woodland
in the moonlight on their fairy coaches. I do not know if he is right,
but anyhow they are very pretty. They have lots of long flat leaves
growing close round each flower, like sword blades sticking up out of
the ground, and the buds look at first as if they were two leaves
tightly rolled together. And then the green opens and a pale spike comes
out, and a thin covering bursts off the spike, and the spike opens into
the five-pointed star, leaving the brilliant golden trumpet in the
middle. Gardeners, and that sort of person grow double daffodils that
look like two flowers one inside the other, but the ordinary wild
daffodil is far the prettier. At least the Imp and the Elf think so, and
I think so, too.

We go to the wood and lie down on the dried leaves from last year, and
watch the flowers and talk about them and the little mice who live in
the undergrowth. Sometimes, if we are not too lazy, the Elf makes us
pick primroses and daffodils and violets to send to children we know in
town--pale-faced children who think we must be dull in the country, with
nothing to do, and no pantomimes. Really, of course, there is such a lot
to do in the country that we have always got the next thing planned
before we have done what we are doing. And as for pantomimes this very
wood is just like a theatre, with mice and rabbits and birds for actors,
and the most beautiful transformation scenes. Why, just now in Spring it
is yellow with primroses and daffodils, with pale larches wearing their
new green dresses. But soon all the trees will be green, and the whole
wood will be carpeted in blue, deep rich blue, the colour of the wild
blue-bells, whose leaves we can see coming up all over the place. Spiky
green leaves they are, and the children see them at once. "Blue-bells
are coming," sing the Imp and the Elf, and so they are, and with the
blue-bells comes Summer.

Besides the lark and cuckoo, who is going to be talked about in a
minute, besides the flowers, there are other things we watch for signs
of Summer, and those are the trees themselves.

We watch the trees for flowers and for buds. From the high windows of
the house we can see over the fields to the woods, and see them change
colour from the dead bareness of Winter very early in the Spring. And
when we go to the woods in daffodil time we all three of us watch the
buds coming out on every branch farthest out on the lowest boughs, which
for Imps and Elves are also easiest to see.

Earlier than this we look for catkins on the hazel trees. The Elf calls
the hazels "the little children of the wood" because they grow low, and
the other trees, the oaks, and beeches, and elms, and chest-nuts, and
birches, tower above them. In some parts of the country catkins are
called lambstails, because they hang down just like the flabby little
tails of the Spring lambs. What do you think they really are? The Elf
would not believe me when I told her they were hazel flowers. "Trees
don't have flowers," she said. I reminded her of hawthorns and wild
roses, and she said, "Oh, yes, but these things are greeny-brown and not
like flowers at all." But they _are_ flowers. They are the flowers of
the hazel tree, and they are almost the very first of the Spring things
that we see. If you look about when you are in the woods you will find
that lots of other trees have green flowers, too, and many of them just
the same shape as the lambstails.

The Imp and the Elf are early on the look-out for another tree-flower
that is one of the Spring signs, and that is the flower that people who
know nothing about it call "palm." Hundreds of men and women from the
towns come out into the country to gather it, and a horrible mess they
make of our country lanes and fields. The Elf calls them the
"Ginger-beer-bottle-and-paper-bag-people" and hates them with all her
small heart.

Really, that flower that those people come to gather belongs to the
sallow, which is a kind of willow. You know it quite well, with its
beautiful straight, tall, bendable stems that look as if they were
simply made for bows and arrows. In Spring-time the sallow flowers in
pretty little silvery tufts, soft and silky to touch, clinging all along
its twigs. The Elf always picks the first bit that she can find that is
really out and carries it home in triumph, and puts it in a jampot full
of water to remind her that Winter is really over and gone.

On the way to the woods we have to pass through broad green fields full
of grey sheep with long tangled wool all nibbling at the grass. And very
early in the Spring a day comes when by the side of one of the old grey
sheep there is something small and white. And the Elf says nothing, but
slips her hand into mine, so that I can feel it shaking with excitement.
She touches the Imp, so that he sees the white thing, too, and then we
all three go across the field as quietly as ever we can to see the
little new lamb as near as possible. But little lambs and their grey
mothers are very nervous, and long before we are really close to them
the grey sheep moves away, and the little white lamb jumps up and
scampers after her.

Before the Spring is half through nearly all the grey sheep have one or
two little white woolly children trotting about with them, and we watch the
lambs chasing each other and skipping over tussocks of grass like little
wild mountain goats. The Imp and the Elf are always wondering what they
think about in those queer little heads of theirs, with the big ears and
great round puzzled eyes.

But of all the Spring signs the oldest and sweetest and dearest is the
cry of the cuckoo that comes when Spring is just going to change into
Summer. For hundreds of years English children have listened for the
cuckoo in the Spring, and the very oldest English song that was ever
written down is all about the cuckoo's cry.

     "Summer is a coming in,
         Loudly sing cuckoo.
     Groweth seed and bloweth mead,
     And springeth the wood now.
     Ewe bleateth after lamb,
     Lowth after calf the cow,
     Bullock starteth,
     Buck now verteth,
     Merry sing cuckoo.
         Sing cuckoo,
     Well singeth thou, cuckoo, cuckoo.
     Nor cease thou ever now."

The Imp and the Elf love that little song and know it by heart. It was
written by an old monk in the Spring-time years and years and years ago,
and some of the words he used are difficult to understand now. Verteth
is an old word meaning going on the green grass. Nearly all the other
words I have made as much like our own as I can.

[Illustration]

It is much easier to hear the cuckoo than to see him. He is a biggish
grey gentleman with stripes across his middle, and he is horribly hard
to notice unless we get quite close to him. He is very shy, and that
makes it harder still. But sometimes when you hear him cry, cuckoo,
cuckoo, if you are very quick indeed, you can see him flying across a
field from hedge to hedge.

Mrs. Cuckoo is the laziest mother that ever was. The Elf thinks her
perfectly horrid. I wonder if you know why? She is so gay and fond of
flying about that she finds she has no time to build a nest or bring up
her little ones as all good mothers do. So she just leaves her egg in
someone else's home, and flies happily away, leaving the someone else to
hatch the egg and bring up the little cuckoo. She often chooses quite
small birds like the little greenfinches or even the sparrows. And when
the young cuckoo comes tumbling out of his egg, instead of being kind
and polite to the children to whom his nursery really belongs he just
wriggles his big naked body under them and tumbles them out of the nest.
That is why, though we love to hear the cuckoo, we think him rather a
lazy bird, and his wife a very second-rate kind of mother.

When we come back from the walk on which we have heard the first cuckoo
of the year, we really begin to long for the Summer. All the Spring
signs have come. When we get back to my room, the Imp and the Elf sit on
my table and swing their legs and say, "Brimstone butterfly, palm,
catkins, daffodils, violets, primroses, blue-bells, and cuckoo; Summer
is coming, don't you think, Ogre?" And I say yes. And they say, "Tell us
what Summer is like, do, please." And I tell them, though they know
already, and they sit on the table and wriggle at all the nicest parts
of the telling, and we are all very happy indeed.



II

SUMMER


And what are the things we know the Summer by? Summer clothes say little
girls, and big straw hats say boys. Well, and what do they mean but the
heat? The Imp wears a huge straw hat and a loose holland overall but he
goes about panting, and lies flat on the ground with the straw hat over
his nose to keep the sun from burning his face. And the Elf wears an
overall, too, and a pale blue calico sunbonnet over her curls. All the
same she is often too hot to enjoy anything except sitting in the swing
in the orchard and listening to fairy tales. And I, well, I am often too
hot to tell fairy tales. For fairyland is a cool, comfortable place, and
big, hot Ogres melt it away like an ice palace.

"Yes, yes, yes," you say, "but what do you do? It can't always be too
hot to do anything." I asked the Elf what we do do in Summer time, and
her eyes grew bigger and bigger, and she clapped her hands and said,
"Do? Why, everything." And now I am going to try to tell you a few of
the things that make the everything so delightful.

First of all there are cowslip balls. We go, the three of us, to the
field where the cowslips grow. Little cousins of the primroses the
cowslips are, as you know already. Well, we take a long piece of string
and fasten one end to a bush, and pick piles of flowers close to the
top of the long stalk and hang them over the thread, so that some of the
flowers hang on one side and some on the other. And when we have a great
row hanging on the thread we take its two ends and tie them together.
And all the cowslips tumble into the middle and crowd up against each
other, and when the thread is tied they are packed so close that they
make a beautiful ball, with nothing but cowslip faces to be seen all
over it. And that is a cowslip ball.

Close under the moor, not so very far away from the house, there is a
gate where the lane divides into three or four rough paths that run over
the heather to the moorland farms. And just by the gate there is a
hawthorn tree. The flowers of the hawthorn are not, like the catkins,
over before the hazel shows its leaves. They wait till all the tree is
vivid green, and then sparkle out all over it in brilliant white or
coral colour. We call the hawthorn May. And a long time ago all over
England on May-Day people used to pick the May and make a crown of it
and decorate a high pole in the middle of each village. And then they
danced round the pole, and crowned the prettiest of the girls and called
her the Queen of the May. She had a sprig of hawthorn blossom for a
sceptre, and everybody did what she told them. It must have been rather
nice for the little girl who was chosen Queen.

But now nearly everybody has forgotten about May-Day fun. Perhaps they
would not enjoy it even if they remembered. But here, when the May is
out, the country children from the farms over the moorland and from this
end of the valley choose a fine day and come to the tree. The Imp and
the Elf always take care to find out when they are coming. Then they
bang on the study door for me and away we go, with plenty of buns and
sandwiches in our pockets. And always when we get to the tree we find
that some of the country children are there before us. And soon the fun
begins. They all dance round the tree, and after eating all the buns and
things they choose a King and Queen, and play Oranges and Lemons, the
King and Queen leading off. This year they chose the Imp and the Elf,
and you just can't imagine how proud they were, and how the Imp strutted
about with his hawthorn sceptre, and the Elf kept re-arranging her curls
under her green and starry crown. The sun shone all day, and we were all
as happy as anyone could wish to be.

Then, too, in Summer we go quietly and softly through the little wood at
the back of the house and wait at the other side of it and peep over the
hedge. There is a steep bank on the other side and then a row of little
trees, the remains of an old hedge, and then another bank. And the other
bank is full of holes, and the holes are full of rabbits. And in the
Summer evening we go there and watch the little rabbits skipping about
and nibbling the grass. And of course as the Summer goes on the grass
grows very high, and when we walk through it we can sometimes see
nothing but the ears of the little rabbits peeping up above it. You
can't imagine how funny they look. Once the Imp fell right over the top
of one of them that was hidden in the grass. It jumped out under his
feet and he was so startled that he fell forward, and felt something
warm and furry wriggling in his hands, and found that he had caught a
baby rabbit. The Elf and the Imp patted and stroked it till it was not
frightened any more, and then we put it on the ground and let it go. It
hopped gaily away through the grass and disappeared into its burrow in
the bank. I do not wonder that it was a little afraid and trembly when
the Imp, who must seem a giant to it though he only seems a boy to me,
came bumping down on it out of the sky.

[Illustration]

Besides the rabbits we find all sorts of other charming things in the
long grass that swishes so happily round our ankles. Buttercups are
there which send a golden light over your chin if you hold them near
enough, buttercups, and dandelions, and purple thistles, and wild
orchids. You know thistles and dandelions, of course, but I wonder if
you know an orchid when you see one? They are quite common things, but
lots of even country children do not bother to look for them. Next time
you are in the fields in Summer just look about you for a spike of tiny
purple flowers with speckled lips rising out of a little cluster of
green leaves with brown spots on them. Soon after these have begun to
flower we often find another kind, with speckled flowers too, only far
paler purple. And later still there is a meadow where we can usually
discover just a very few Butterfly orchids. They have a spike of
delicate fluttery flowers, not so close together as the purple kinds,
and with green in the veins of their white petals. They are a great
prize and the Elf always picks one, leaving the rest, and brings it very
carefully home and keeps it in water for as long as she can for it is a
treasure indeed.

In another bank, not so very far from the home of the rabbits, another
little furry creature lives, a pretty little brown-coated, long-tailed
person, a great hunter, and much feared by the rabbits. He has a long,
thin body, and a sharp little head, and a wavy tail. He is a weasel. His
bank is just by the side of a pleasant little trickling beck, and not
very far from the wood where the pheasants live. Some day he will be
shot by the keeper for I am afraid he is rather fond of pheasant. There
are plenty of stories about him among the country people. They say that
if you whistle near his hole he will come running out to see what is
the matter; and if you go on whistling he will come nearer and nearer
until you can catch him with your hands. I have never tried, so I do not
know if this is true. But I should not like to catch him in my hands for
his teeth are as sharp as a rat's. At any rate there is one thing that
is far more certain to bring him out of his hole than any whistle, and
that is want of rabbit. Once, as we walked through the fields in the
Summer twilight, we heard a short squeal and saw a poor little rabbit
hopping feebly away with Mr. Weasel running nimbly along after him. And
the funny thing is that the rabbit instead of scampering away as fast as
he could go, was going quite slowly, and in the end stopped altogether,
when the weasel ran up and killed him. The Elf said it was cruel of the
weasel and silly of the rabbit. The Imp said he did not know about the
weasel, but the rabbit deserved to be killed for being so slow in
getting away. But our old gardener, who is wisest of us all, says that
the weasel has to kill rabbits to keep alive, and that it isn't the
rabbit's fault that it cannot run fast. He says that when a rabbit is
chased by a weasel it cannot help going slower and slower, and being
terribly frightened because it knows that it cannot escape.

The sheep in the fields are just as interesting as the rabbits or the
weasels. One of the most exciting of all the Summer things has to do
with them. Towards the end of May the Elf and the Imp are always
bothering the farmers round about, to find out when shearing and washing
time is going to be. There is an old rhyme that the farmers' wives tell
us, and it says:

     "Wash in May,
     Wash wool away.
     Wash in June,
     The wool's in tune."

What it means is that if the farmers wash the sheep in May the wool is
not so strong and healthy as it is later, and comes off in the water.
While, if they wash them in June the wool is quite crisp and stands on
end, and so is very easy to cut. Usually the farmers wash the sheep in
the beginning of June, and these two children always manage to find out
the day before. They come and bang at my door as usual, but when they
come in they bring my hat and walking-stick with them, for they know
quite well that on sheep-washing day I am sure to want to come with
them. And then off we go along the road that leads by the hawthorn tree,
over the moor and down on the other side, to where a little river runs
between two farms about a mile from each. The river widens into a broad
shallow pool, and here the farmers bring the sheep. The Imp and the Elf
and I have a fine seat in the boughs of a big oak that overhangs the
water. Here we sit in a row and have a splendid view. The sheep are all
crowded together in pens at each side of the water, and the farmers wade
out into the stream taking the sheep between their legs, and wash them
one after the other. I told you there were two farms who use this
washing place. Well, every year they race in their sheep-washing, and
see who can get most sheep washed in the shortest time. The Elf takes
one side and the Imp takes the other, and it is really quite exciting.

When the sheep are all clean they are turned loose in the fields again
for a whole week in which to get properly dry. Then they are driven into
the farmyards or into pens in the fields, and the farmers clip the wool
off them close to the skin. They only shear the old sheep and last
year's lambs; and that is why, after shearing time, the new lambs have
so much finer and longer coats than those of their mothers. We always
wondered why that was, until we found out that the farmers only clip the
tails of the lambs, but leave their coats on, while they take all the
wool off the old sheep, and send it away to be made into nightgowns and
things for Imps and Elves and you and me and everybody else.

After the sheep-shearing comes the haymaking, and that is the piece of
Summer fun that the Imp loves best of all. We watch the grass growing
taller and taller, till the buttercups no longer tower above it, and the
orchids die away. We notice all the different grasses, the beautiful
feathery ones that the fairy ladies use as fans in the warm midsummer
nights, and those like spears, and those like swords, flat and green and
horribly sharp at the edges. We see them all grow up and up, and change
their colour under the Summer sun. And then at last comes the day when
the farmers of the farm across the meadow harness old Susan, the big
brown horse, to a scarlet clattering rattling mowing machine that
glitters in the sunlight. And then we hear it singing down the field,
making a noise like somebody beating two sticks together very fast
indeed. As soon as we hear that, we climb through the hedge at the
bottom of the garden or over it, and run round the field, because if we
came straight across it, we should trample the grass, and then the
farmer would not smile at us so pleasantly. And we shout for Dick the
labourer who sometimes lets the Imp or the Elf ride Susan home from the
fields. We find him sitting on the little round seat at the back of the
mowing machine holding the long ropes which do instead of reins. And
Susan is tramping solidly ahead, and the machine drags after her, and
the hay falls behind flat on the ground in great wisps. And the Imp runs
along by the side of the machine, and tells Dick that he is going to be
a farmer, too, when he is big enough. Do you know I never met a little
boy yet, who did not want to be a farmer when the hay is being cut? I
was quite certain that I was going to be a farmer myself, long ago when
I was a little boy, and not an Ogre at all.

And then, when the hay is cut we toss it and dry it, and that is even
jollier than the cutting. The farmer's daughters and Dick's wife come
into the field and join in tossing the grass and turning it over with
long wooden hayrakes, until it is quite dry. And they laugh at the Elf
and the Imp, and throw great bundles of hay over the top of them. And
the Imp and the Elf throw the hay back at them, and tease them until
they are allowed to do a little raking and tossing for themselves. But
they soon tire of that. Presently the Imp throws a wisp of hay over the
Elf, and the Elf throws hay over the Imp, and then they throw hay over
each other, as much and as fast as they can. And then they creep up to
me, where I am sitting as a quiet comfortable Ogre should, smoking or
reading. And suddenly it seems as if all the hay in all the world were
being tumbled over my head and shoulders. The Imp and the Elf cover me
all over with hay, and then sit on top of me, and pretend that I am a
live mountain out of a fairy tale, and that they are giants, a giant and
a giantess taking a rest. And suddenly the live mountain heaves itself
up in the middle, and upsets the giant and the giantess one on each
side. And then we all get up covered with hay and very warm, and laugh
and laugh until we are too hot to laugh any longer.

[Illustration]

When the sun falls lower in the sky, and the hedge throws a broad cool
shadow over the clipped grass, we all sit under it out of the sunlight,
the farmer's daughters in their bright pink blouses and blue skirts, the
farmer and Dick and I smoking our pipes together, and the Elf and the
Imp in their holland smocks. We all meet under the shadow of the hedge
as soon as we see two figures leave the farmyard and come towards us
over the fields. One of them is the maid who helps in the farm and the
other is the farmer's wife. Each of them carries a big round basket.
They come up to us blinking their eyes against the sun, red in the face,
and smiling and jolly. And we help them to unload the baskets, which are
full of food and drink. Great big slices of bunloaf, dark and full of
soft, juicy raisins, and tea, the best tea you ever tasted, for tea
never tastes so nice as when you drink it under a hedge and out of a
ginger beer bottle.

Haymaking is better fun than sheep-washing and lasts longer. It is not
all over in a day. There are such a lot of things to do. The hay has to
be cut and tossed and dried and piled into haycocks before it is ready
to be heaved high on pitchforks on the top of a waggon that is to carry
it away to the farm. And after all when you have made hay in one field
you can go and make it another. And there are such a lot of fields about
here.

But when the hay is dry and ready in big, lumpy haycocks, the Imp and
the Elf shout for joy to see old Susan harnessed to the big waggon come
lumbering into the field, and to see the men throw the huge bundles of
hay into the cart. One man stands amid the hay in the waggon and takes
each new bundle as soon as it is pitchforked up, and packs it neatly
with the hay already there. The hay rises higher and higher in the
waggon, and the Imp loves to be in the waggon with the man, and to climb
higher with the hay until at last he is high above the hedges, for by
the time the cart is fully loaded you would think it was a great house
of hay, ready to topple over the next minute. But the men do not seem to
be afraid of that. They just fling a rope across the top and fasten it
to keep all safe. And the Imp lies flat on his stomach on the very top
of everything, and hears the farmer below him sing out, "Gee hoa,
Susan!" and Susan swings herself forward and with one great jerk starts
the waggon, and the Elf waves her pocket-handkerchief as they go
rumbling away across the rough field and out on the lane to the farm,
taking the hay that is to keep the cows fat and healthy through the
winter.

When the last of all the carts of hay has rumbled away like that, Dick's
wife, who knows all the old songs, reminds the Elf and the Imp of this
one:

     "With the last load of hay
     Light-heart Summer trips away,
     When the cuckoo's double note
     Chokes within his mottled throat,
     Then we country children say,
     Light-heart Summer trips away."

Though Summer does not go quite yet, there is a sad sound already in the
woods, for the cuckoo who told us that Summer was coming, sings cuckoo
no longer, but only a melancholy cuck, cuck, as if he were too hot and
tired to finish his song. And that means that he is going soon.

     "Cuckoo, cuckoo,
     How do you?
     In April
     I open my bill;
     In May
     I sing by night and day;
     In June
     I change my tune;
     In July
     Away I fly;
     In August
     Away I must."

It is very hard to tell when Summer ends and Autumn begins. But as soon
as we hear the cuckoo drop the last note of his song we know that we
must soon expect the time of golden corn, and after that of crimson
leaves and orange. And when we hear the cuckoo no more at all, the Imp
and Elf and I take marmalade sandwiches and bottled tea for a picnic in
the hazel wood that is now thick with leaves, and so thickly peopled
with caterpillars that they tumble on the Imp's big hat and get
entangled in the Elf's hair as we pick our way through the trees. We
have our picnic on a bank there, the very bank where we find violets and
primroses in the spring, and the Elf lying close to the warm ground
whispers "Good-bye, Summer," and even the cheerful Imp feels a little
sad.

[Illustration]



III

AUTUMN


I told you that we are sad when we know that Summer is passing away; but
that is only because we love the Summer, with her gay flowers and fair
green clothes, and not because we do not like the Autumn. The Imp and
the Elf laugh at me when I tell them that all Ogres and Ogresses, all
people who are grown up and can never be Imps and Elves again, love the
Autumn and the Spring even better than the Summer herself. And then, to
make them understand, I tell them a fairy story, how, once upon a time,
Spring and Summer and Winter and Autumn were four beautiful little
girls. Winter wore a white frock with red berries in her hair; Summer
was dressed in deep green, with a crown of hawthorn and blue hyacinths;
and Spring had a dress of vivid green, the colour of the larches in the
woods, and a beautiful wreath of primroses and violets on her head;
while Autumn was only allowed Summer's old dresses when they were faded
and nearly worn out Autumn was very unhappy, for she loved pretty
dresses like every little girl. But she went about bravely, with a
smiling brown face, and never said anything about it. And then one day a
fairy Godmother, just like Cinderella's, came into the garden, and asked
to see all her little Godchildren. And Spring and Summer and Winter all
put on their best frocks and came to be kissed by her. But poor Autumn
could only tidy up Summer's old dress, which she did as well as she
could, and then came out after the others. But she was shy because she
knew that her dress was only an old faded one, and not so pretty as the
spick and span clothes of her sisters. So she hung back and was kissed
last of all. The Godmother kissed the others on the forehead, but when
she came to Autumn she saw that all was not quite well, and looked at
her very tenderly and said, "Tell me all about it," just as all the
nicest fairy Godmothers do. And Autumn whispered that she was sorry that
she was not looking as pretty as the others, but that she really could
not help it, because she had no frocks of her own.

[Illustration]

The Godmother laughed, and took her in her arms and kissed her on the
lips. And then the Godmother put her arm round Autumn's neck, and,
walking hand in hand, they went together down the garden under the
bending trees to the edge of the pond. "Look into the water, my dear,"
said the Godmother, and Autumn looked and knew that a magic had been
done, for her old faded dress was red and gold, and a rich gold crown
lay on her dark hair. And she turned to thank the Godmother, and found
that she had gone. She only heard a little laugh in the air, and then
she laughed, too, and went away singing happily over the green grass.
She has been happy ever since.

And really that is a true tale, and it happens once every year. You can
see it happening for yourself after the end of the Summer, just as the
Imp and the Elf and I watch it in the fields and woods. First you will
see that Autumn is wearing Summer's old clothes, getting shabbier and
shabbier and shabbier, and then the fairy Godmother comes, and you see
the dusty green grow dim and dark, and then blaze in scarlet and orange,
and even before this you will have seen the green corn pale and turn to
deepening gold. And when these things have happened you can be very
happy, for you will know that Autumn is smiling happily to herself, for
she has her own dress at last.

The cutting of the golden corn is almost as jolly as the haymaking, so
think the Imp and the Elf. Not quite so jolly, but very nearly. As soon
as the hay is cut and tossed and dried and carted away to the stacks we
begin watching the corn turn yellower and yellower while its golden
grains hang heavily down. And at last, when the fields are bright gold
in the sun, and the sky promises us clear weather for a day or two, the
scarlet machine comes out again, and Susan has more work to do. This
time it is not the hay, but the tall corn that falls swishing (with a
noise just like that) behind the machine. And men go behind and bind it
into corn-sheaves, great big bundles of corn, and then the corn-sheaves
are piled into corn shocks. Eight sheaves stand on end in two rows of
four leaning on each other. In some parts of the country they only have
three in each row. As soon as the shocks are made the Imp has some
delightful games. He loves to lie flat on the stubbly ground, and
wriggle his way into the tunnel between the sheaves of corn until he
crawls out at the other end covered with little bits of straw and
prickling all over. The Elf does not like this part of it quite so much,
but she does it sometimes, and once, when I was littler, I used to do
it, too. But that was a very long time ago.

The girls from the farm come into the field to pick up all the stray
corn that the men have dropped in making and carrying the sheaves, so
that none is wasted at all. That is called gleaning. A long time ago
rich farmers used to let poor women come into their fields and keep all
the corn that they could glean, all that the reapers had left. In those
days, instead of one man sitting on a scarlet reaping machine, they had
many reapers, who took the corn in bundles in their arms and cut it off
close to the ground with a curved knife called a sickle. This used to be
done everywhere till the machines came, and even now there is a little
farm we know over the hills where they use the sickle still.

[Illustration]

Autumn is the gathering-in time of all the year. In Spring the farmers
sow their corn. It grows all the Summer and in Autumn is harvested. In
Autumn we gather the garden fruit. In Autumn we pick blackberries, and
is not that the finest fun of all the year?

We go blackberrying with deep baskets, and parcels of sandwiches and
cakes. We have several good blackberry walks. One of them takes us past
the hawthorn tree and along the edge of the moors, and then down into a
valley through a long lane with high banks covered with brambles and
black with the squashy berries. As we pass the hawthorn tree the Elf
always look up at it, and though she says nothing I know she is thinking
of the Mayday and the dancing and the playing at Oranges and Lemons.

We have a basket each when we go blackberrying, and we race to see who
can pick most blackberries. It is a curious thing that the Elf always
wins, though the Imp and I work just as hard. Partly I think it is
because little girls' fingers are so nimble. Perhaps from making doll's
clothes. What do you think?

You see just grabbing blackberries is no use at all. We have to pull
them carefully from their places, so as to get the berries and nothing
else; just the soft black lumps that drop with such nice little plops
into the baskets, and go squish in the mouth with such a pleasant taste.
Oh, yes, pleasant taste, that reminds me of another reason why when we
get home we always find the Elf's basket more full of blackberries than
the Imp's. The Imp is like me, and eats nearly as many as he picks.
Blackberries are easier to carry that way.

Away behind the house there is an orchard, where there are pears and
damsons and apples and quinces, all the very nicest English fruits. And
all along the high wall of the orchard on the garden side grow plums,
broad trees flat against the wall fastened up to it by little pieces of
black stuff with a nail on each side of the boughs.

When the Autumn comes the Imp and the Elf slip slily round the garden
path to the plum trees and pinch the beautiful purple and golden plums
and the round greengages to see if they are soft. For as soon as they
are soft they are ripe, and as soon as they are ripe comes picking time.
And then the old gardener comes with big flat baskets and picks the
plums, taking care not to bruise them. And the Imp and the Elf help as
much as he allows them and he gives them plums for wages. And then they
come to my study with mouths sticky and juicy with ripe plum bringing a
plum or perhaps a couple of greengages for me. "For Ogres like plums
even if they are busy," says the Elf, as she sits on my knee and crams
half a plum and several sticky fingers into my mouth.

[Illustration]

Then come the joyous days of apple-gathering and damson picking. When we
sit on the orchard wall eating the cake that the cook sends out to us
for lunch in the morning we wonder and wonder when the damsons will be
ready. Long ago they have turned from green to violet, and now are deep
purple. And the Imp wriggles down from the wall and climbs up the
easiest of the trees and shouts out that they are quite soft. And at
last the tremendous day comes when the gardener, and the gardener's boy,
and the cook, and the kitchenmaid, and the housemaid all troop into the
orchard with ladders and baskets. And the gardener climbs a ladder into
the highest apple tree and drops the red round apples into the hands of
the maids below. The Imp and the Elf seize the step-ladder from the
scullery and climb up into a beautiful little apple tree that has a
broad low branch that is heavy with rosy-cheeked apples. They wriggle
out along the branch and eat some of the apples and drop the rest into
the basket on the ground beneath them. And other people pluck the
damsons from the damson trees and soon the baskets are full of crimson
apples and purple damsons, and away they go into the house where the
cook takes a good lot of them to make into a huge damson and apple tart
that we shall eat to-morrow.

The old gardener then takes the longest of all the ladders and props it
up against the quince tree, for the quince is the highest of all the
trees in the orchard. One of the maids climbs half-way up below the
gardener and he gathers the green and golden quinces and passes them to
her and she passes them to the kitchenmaid, who stands ready on the
ground to put them into the basket. And the Imp and the Elf sit in their
apple tree and eat apples and laugh and then pretend that they are two
wise little owls and call tuwhit tuwhoo, tuwhit tuwhoo, till I take up a
walking-stick and pretend to shoot them, and then they throw apples at
me and we have a game of catch with the great round red-cheeked balls.
Oh, it is a jolly time, the apple-gathering, as the Imp and the Elf
would tell you.

About now the fairy Godmother works her miracle for Autumn. We look up
to the moors and find them no longer dark and dull for the green
brackens have been turned a gorgeous orange by the early frosts in the
night-times. And when we look over the farm land to the woods we find
the trees no longer green, and the Elf says, "Do you see Ogre, the
Godmother has crowned Autumn now?" and sure enough, for the leaves are
turned like the brackens into a glory of splendid colours. And then we
go and picnic in the golden woods, and sometimes when the sun is hot we
could almost fancy it was summer if it were not for the colour. We
picnic under the trees and do our best to get a sight of a squirrel, and
watch the leaves blowing down from the trees like ruddy golden rain.
Once, before we went to the woods, I asked the Imp and the Elf which
leaves fall first, the leaves on the topmost branches of the trees or
the leaves on the low boughs, The Imp said the top ones, the Elf said
the low, and the Elf was right, although I do not think that either of
them really knew. Usually the Imp is right, and when I said the low
leaves fell the first, he said, "But isn't the wind stronger up above,
and don't the high leaves get blown hardest?" Yes, one would think that
the high leaves would be the first to drop. Can you guess why they are
not? Shall I tell you? Well, you just remember in Spring how the first
buds to open were the low ones. Then you will see why they are the first
to fall. They are the oldest. When we came to the woods we found that
this was just what was happening. All the leaves at the bottom fall, and
sometimes many of the trees in the woods kept little plumes of leaves on
their topmost twigs after all the others had gone fluttering down the
wind.

I am only going to remind you of three more things that belong to
Autumn. And one of them is pretty, and one of them is exciting, and one
of them is a little sad.

The first is a garden happening. Close under the house we have a broad
bed, and for some time before the real Autumn it is full of a very tall
plant with lots and lots of narrow dark green leaves. And after a little
it is covered with buds, rather like daisy buds only bigger. And then
one day the Imp leans out of the window and gives a sudden wriggle.
"Come and hold on to my legs, Ogre, but you must not look." And I hold
on to his round fat legs and keep my eyes the other way. And he leans
farther and farther out of the window, puffing and panting for breath,
until he can reach what he wants. And then the fat legs kick backwards,
and I pull him in, and when he is quite in he says, "The first," and
there in his hand is a beautiful flower like a purple daisy with a
golden middle to it. And sure enough it is the first Michaelmas daisy.
That is the really most autumnal of all flowers, just as the primrose is
the most special flower of Spring.

The second of the three happenings belongs to the moorland. Up on the
high moors, where there is a broad flat place with a little marshy pond
in it, the Elf and the Imp have a few very special friends. There are
the curlews, with their speckly brown bodies and long thin beaks and
whistling screams, and the grouse who make a noise like an old clock
running down in a hurry when they leap suddenly into the air. But these
are not the favourites. The birds that the Imp and the Elf love best of
all on the moorland have a beautiful crest on the tops of their heads,
and they are clothed in white and dark green that looks like black from
a little way off. They cry pe-e-e-e-wi, pe-e-e-e-e-wi, and the Imp cries
"peewit" back to them. Some people call them plovers, and some people
call them lapwings, because of the way they fly, but we always call them
the "peewits." All through the spring and summer they are there, and it
is great fun to watch them, for they love to fly into the air and turn
somersaults, and throw themselves about as if they were in a circus,
just for fun, you know, and because it is jolly to be alive.

But in the Autumn many of the birds do strange things. Some, like the
swallows and martins, fly far away over the seas to warmer countries for
the winter. Some only come here to spend the winter months, living in
cooler countries through the summer. And the peewits, when Autumn comes,
collect in tremendous flocks. All the friends and relations of our
peewits on the moor seem to come and join them, and then they move away
all over the country from place to place, wherever they can get food.
When we go up to the moor just at this time, we see not two or three or
half-a-dozen peewits, but crowds and crowds of them flying low, and
strutting on the ground, with their crests high up over their heads.

The last of the three happenings is the saddest. Do you remember the
haymaking and what the hay was carted away for? You remember how the
farmers stored it to feed the cows in winter. At the end of the Autumn
comes an evening when the cows are driven home for milking, and do not
go back again. The fields are left empty all the Winter, while the red
and white cows are fastened up in the byre (a byre is a nice name for a
cowshed) to eat the hay. When that day comes the Imp and the Elf always
walk home from the fields with the cows, and pat them and say good-bye
to them at the door of the byre, and promise to come and visit them
during the Winter. And then they come home to the house, and knock sadly
on the door of my study, and come in and say, "Ogre, the cows have been
shut up for the Winter, and nurse says we are to begin our thicker
things to-morrow." And then we are all sad, for that means Winter. And I
have to tell all sorts of jolly stories of King Frost and the Snow Queen
before we are cheerful enough to go to bed.



IV

WINTER


In Winter, real Winter, we get up with our teeth chattering to tell each
other how cold it is, and we find the water frozen in the basin, and the
soap frozen to the soap-dish, and the sponge frozen hard. That is what
Winter is like indoors, and it is not very nice. But there is a nice
indoor Winter too, when the fire is burning in the study grate with logs
on it from old broken ships, making blue flames that lick about the
chimney-hole. The Imp and the Elf plant cushions on the floor, and I sit
in a big chair and read stories to them out of a book or tell them out
of my head, making them up as I go along. That is the greatest fun,
because I do not know any better than the children what is going to
happen, whether the green pigmy or the blue will win in the battle in
the water lily, or whether the little boy with scarlet shoes will be
eaten by the giant, or whether he will make friends with him and be
asked to stop to tea. We can make the stories do just what we want, be
happy if we are happy, or full of scrapes if we are feeling naughty.

When we are in the middle of stories like this, we hear a tremendous
screaming, screaming, screaming outside, and a white cloud passes the
window with a great, shrill shriek, and we all jump up crying, "The
gulls, the gulls!"

And in the meadow and in the garden and flying in the air, screaming and
laughing with their weird voices, are hundreds of seagulls, blown inland
from the sea, bringing wild weather with them. You know the place where
we live is only a few miles from the sea, where it runs up into the land
in a broad, sandy bay that ends in wide marshes. There are seagulls in
the bay all the year round, and we sometimes see them in the fields in
Summer before the storms reach us from the west. But in Winter when the
cold and windy weather is coming, they fly in great flocks like clouds
of huge snow-flakes, and we watch them from the window and wonder how
soon the storm will follow them. And the next day or the day after, or
sometimes the very day when they come, the air is white again, this time
with driving snow. It comes flying past the windows, to be whirled up
high by the gale and dropped again till we see the ground speckled with
white, and then white everywhere except close round the big tree trunks.
Even the branches of the trees are heaped with snow, so they look like
white boughs with black shadows beneath them.

It snows all day and all night, and when our eyes are tired of looking
at the shining dazzling white, we come away from the window and sit down
by the fire, and talk about it, and think of children long ago, who used
to tell each other, when it was snowing, that geese were being plucked
in Heaven.

The Imp and the Elf put the matter another way. The Imp says, "It's old
King Frost freezing the rain, isn't it, Ogre?" I say "yes." And the Elf
goes on, "He does it because he wants to run about and play without
hurting the poor little plants. He knows that he is so cold that they
would die, like the children in the story book, if he danced about on
top of them, without covering them with a blanket So he just freezes the
rain into a big cosy white blanket for them and lays It gently down."

Presently, after we have been talking and telling stories for a little,
the Imp cries out, "Ogre, Ogre, we have forgotten all about the
cocoanut," and the Elf shouts, "Oh yes, the cocoanut," and away they
fly, leaving the door open and a horrible draught in the room. But soon
they run back again, with a saw and a gimlet, and a round, hard, hairy
cocoanut. We bore a few holes with the gimlet, to let the cocoanut milk
run out. The Imp likes cocoanut milk, but the Elf hates it, and says it
is just like medicine. Then comes the difficult part. I have to hold the
cocoanut steady on the edge of a chair, and saw away at it, all round
the end, while the Imp and the Elf stand watching, till the hard shell
is cut through. Then we knock the end off and the cocoanut is ready.
Ready for what, you want to know? Look out of the window and then you
will understand. All the ground is covered with snow, and the poor birds
are finding it difficult to find their food. The Imp and the Elf, who
love all live things, and the birds above all, could tell you a little
about that, for every winter day, as soon as breakfast is over, they
collect all the scraps off everybody's plates, and the crumbs off the
bread-board, and throw a great bowl of food out on the snowy lawn. And
then there is a fine clutter and a fuss. Starlings, and jackdaws, and
sparrows, and blackbirds, and thrushes, and sometimes rooks, and once,
one exciting day, a couple of magpies, all squabble and fight for the
food, and of course the sparrows get the best of it, because though they
are so small they are the cheekiest little birds that ever are. When all
the food is done the birds fly away, and leave the snow covered with the
marks of their feet, like very delicate tracery, or like that piece of
embroidery that the Elf is trying to do for a Christmas present, when
she is not busy with something else.

Well, well, but still you have not told us what you want to do with the
cocoanut. Wait just a minute, just half a minute, while I tell you about
the robin. Little Mr. Redbreast does not let us see much of himself
in summer, when he is off to the hedges and the hazel woods, having as
gay a time as a happy little bird knows how to enjoy. But he is a lazy
small gentleman, and as soon as the cold weather comes, he flies back to
the houses where he has a chance of scraps. He even flies in at the
pantry window and chirps at the cook till she gives him some food.

There are some other little birds just like the robin in this and these
are the tits. In the Summer we can see them in the woods if we go to
look for them, but they do not trouble about repaying our call; they do
not come to our gardens very often. But when Winter comes things are on
quite a different footing. They are very fond of suet or fat or the
white inside of a cocoanut, and as soon as the snow comes so do they,
looking for their food. We tie the cocoanut up with string and hang it
outside the study window from a big nail, and before it has been there
very long there is a fluttering of wings and a little blue-capped bird
with a green coat, blue splashes on his wings, and a golden waistcoat,
perches on the top of it. He puts his head first on this side and then
on that, and then he nimbly hops to the end of the cocoanut, just above
the hole, bends over, and peeps in. He flutters off into the air and
perches again, this time in the mouth of the hole; and then suddenly he
plunges his head in and has a good peck at the juicy white stuff inside.
Presently another blue tit comes flying, and then another. They perch on
the top of the cocoanut and quarrel and flap about till the first tit
has finished, and then they both try to get into the hole together and
find that it is not big enough. We all watch them and would like to clap
our hands at the performance but dare not for fear of frightening them.

At the beginning of the Winter the tits are very shy, but later on, if
the window is open, they often alight on the window-sill and have a good
look about the room when they have had their turn at the cocoanut and
are waiting till the others have done to have a second peck.

I think all the Seasons are jolly in their own way, and perhaps it is a
good thing that they are all so different. Do you remember the Autumn
fairy story? Well the Seasons really are just like a family of sisters,
and we should find them very dull if they were all exactly the same.
After the snowstorms, when we go out together, things are quite
different, and we are quite different. The Imp and the Elf wear red
woolly caps instead of sunbonnet and straw hat. They wear thick, fluffy
coats and piles of things underneath them, and thick furry gloves. Why,
the Elf carries a muff just like any grown-up. And the ground has
changed as much as they. It is all white with snow, so that it is
difficult to believe that the hayfield where we played in Summer is
really the same place. We put on our thickest boots, and they go crunch,
crunch in the crisp snow. And we gather the snow in our hands and make
snowballs and throw them at each other. And then we make a giant
snowball, The Imp makes the biggest snowball he can in his hands and
then puts it on the ground and rolls it about. Everywhere it rolls the
snow clings to it, and it gets bigger and bigger till at last it is
nearly as big as the Imp himself and it takes all three of us to roll
it. We roll another and put it on the top of the first, and then a
smaller one and put it on the top of that, and then we roll snow into
long lumps for arms, and there we have our snow-man. We make eyes for
him with little blobs of earth, and a nose and a mouth, and in his mouth
we always put one of my pipes to make the poor fellow comfortable.

When we are tired of making snowballs and snow-men we go out of the
garden and across the road and along the field paths to the wood,
tramping through the shining snow. And we drag something behind us: can
you guess what it is? Do you remember in the fairy stories about the
people who lived near the forests? When the winter came they used to
shiver and rub their cold hands and go to the forests for firewood. And
as there were wolves in the forest they used to take a sledge so that
they could carry the sticks quickly back again before the wolves could
catch them. Well, when we go to the woods in winter we pretend that we
are going to the forests for firewood and we drag the Imp's big wooden
sledge behind us, and keep a bright look-out for wolves, though, of
course, there are no wolves in England now. All the same it is very good
fun to pretend that there are.

A jolly time we have on the way to the woods. The hedges are all bright
with hips and haws, coral colour and scarlet, the fruits of the wild
rose and the hawthorn. They glitter like crimson jewels in the white
hedges, where the birds are eating them as fast as they can. The
sunlight shimmers on the snow of the fields and the snow of the woods,
and the broad white shining slopes of the distant hills. And, of course,
all the way we watch carefully for the tracks of the wolves. We do not
find them, but we find the tracks of birds that have gone hop, hop, hop,
leaving each time the print of their feet in the snow, and the little
paddy tracks of the rabbits, and the flap tracks made by the rooks'
wings as they flag up from the ground.

For a long time the road is all up hill, but then we come to a deep
slope down, when the Elf and the Imp sit on the sledge, and I give them
a push off, and away they slide, quicker and quicker all the way to the
bottom; and then, instead of going straight on to the wood, they drag
the sledge up and go down again, and then once more, and then we all go
down together and sometimes end in a heap on the snow.

[Illustration]

When we leave the sliding hill we go up into the woods, and sometimes
really do find the tracks of a big four-footed animal. The Imp and the
Elf cry, "Wolf, wolf," but we know that really it is not a wolf, but a
big red fox with a bushy tail, who has passed that way in the night,
perhaps after stealing a chicken from the yard of one of the farms.

The woods are like fairy woods now, just as if the fairies had hung them
with glittering jewels, for they are covered with snow and frost, and
icicles, too, when the snow on the boughs has begun to melt and then
been frozen again. We hear crunch, crash, crash, crunch, and then the
woods are very still for a moment, and then we hear a great heavy
crunch, and perhaps see a mass of caked snow tumble off a branch to the
ground.

If it is near Chrismas time we do not bother about looking for sticks
and dead branches. We walk straight along the edge of the wood to where
three stout holly bushes grow close together. You cannot think how
pretty they look, with their dark green leaves and red berries, and the
white snow resting on the leaves, and you just cannot think how prickled
we get in picking the branches of holly. But we think of Christmas fun,
and do not mind the prickles much, while the Elf sings:

     "Get the pale mistletoe,
      And the red holly.
        Hang them up,
        Hang them up,
      We will be jolly.

     "Kiss under mistletoe,
      Laugh under holly,
        Hang them up,
        Hang them up,
      We will be jolly."

[Illustration]

The mistletoe is not so easy to find as the holly. I remember once after
we had piled the sledge with holly and dragged it home, the Elf pouted
her lips and looked very unhappy and said, "There isn't a mistletoe tree
anywhere in all the world, not even in the Long Wood. We shan't have any
mistletoe for Christmas." Things really did look rather sad, so I sent
her off to ask the old gardener about it, and the Imp went too. In about
an hour they came running back all smiles and happiness, and with their
arms as full as they could be. I shouted out to them as they went past
the window, "Where did you get all that mistletoe?" And they laughed
and said that it grew on the apple tree in the orchard, and that the old
gardener had cut it for them, and promised to let them bob for apples in
a bucket in the wood-shed if they were quick back. That is really and
truly the way the mistletoe grows. It is just like a baby that will not
leave its nurse. It pines away and will do nothing by itself, so it has
to be stuck into another tree to grow there more happily.

But you know the snow does not last all the Winter. After Christmas, and
before, there are weeks without any snow at all, and then we find it
rather sorrowful to walk over the bleak bare fields. But the hips and
haws are bright in the hedges, and whenever there is sunshine everything
is made jolly. And then, too, it is great fun to watch them ploughing
the land ready for next year's corn.

"Old Susan isn't pulling hay carts now," says the Elf, and we look up
and there is Susan side by side with another of the farm horses
harnessed to a plough. And a boy, a big strong boy, holds the handles of
the plough and the reins at the same time, and shouts to the horses, and
they cross the field slowly, tramp, tramp, tramp, and the rough earth is
turned over by the steel ploughshare, all dark and earthy, ready for the
seed. In the middle of one of the fields is a special friend of the
Imp's. He wears a battered hat and an old green coat, and a red worsted
scarf that flaps in the wind. He is made of two sticks, one stuck in the
earth and one nailed across it, and he is called Sir John Scarecrow,
because it is his duty to scare the birds from the field. But we have
laughed many a day to see the rooks perched on his broken hat and
tattered arms.

When we think of sowing seeds we think of Spring with the new corn green
on the red ground, and when we think of Spring we think of Summer, when
it is tall and wavy in the wind, and when we think of Summer we think of
Autumn when the corn is golden and cut, and then, why, then we come to
Winter again. And now the Imp and the Elf say that I have told you
enough about our Seasons, and that I must tell them fairy stories till
it is time for them to go to bed. So here is good-bye to you and a piece
of advice. If you have got any grown-ups near at hand and it is not
quite bedtime, if I were you I would ask them to tell you stories, too.





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