|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
AD news was circulating from house to house in the village.
Here is what they were saying:
That day they had put little Louis into his first trousers.
They had pockets and shiny buttons. In his new costume Louis
was a little awkward, but much pleased. He admired the
buttons that shone in the sun; he kept turning his pockets
inside out to see if there was room enough for all his
playthings. What made him the happiest was a tin watch,
always marking the same hour. His brother, Joseph, two years
older, was also much pleased. Now that Louis was dressed
like him, nothing prevented his taking him to the woods,
where there were birds' nests and strawberries. They owned
in common a lamb whiter than snow, with a pretty little bell
at its neck. The two brothers were to take it to the meadow.
Some lunch was packed in a basket. They kissed their mother,
who advised them not to go far. "Take care of your brother,"
said she to Joseph; "hold him by the hand and come back
soon." They started. Joseph carried the basket, Louis led
the lamb. From the door their mother watched them going off,
herself happy in their joy. Every now and then the children
turned to smile at her; then they disappeared at the turn of
 They reach the meadow. The lamb frolics on the grass; Joseph
and Louis run after butterflies in the midst of a clump of
"Oh, the beautiful cherries!" exclaimed Louis, suddenly;
"see how big and black they are! Cherries, cherries! We are
going to have a feast. Let us pick some to eat."
There were, in fact, some large berries of a dark violet hue
on low plants.
"How small these cherry-trees are!" answered Joseph. "I have
never seen any like them. We shan't have to climb the tree
for them, and you won't tear your new trousers."
Louis picked one of the berries and put it into his mouth.
It was insipid and sweetish.
"These cherries are not ripe," says little Louis, spitting
"Take this one," answers Joseph, giving him one that felt
very soft. "It is ripe."
Louis tastes it and spits it out.
"No, they are not at all good," repeats the little boy.
"Not good, not good?" says Joseph; "you will see." He eats
one, then another, then another still, then a fourth, then a
fifth. At the sixth he is obliged to stop. Decidedly they
were not good.
"It is true, they are not very ripe. But
let's pick some,
all the same.
We'll let them ripen in the basket."
They gathered a handful or two of these black berries, then
began running after butterflies. The cherries were
 An hour later, Simon, who was returning from the mill with
his donkey, found two little children seated at the foot of
the hedge, crying aloud and clasping each other. At their
feet a lamb was lying and bleating plaintively. And the
younger was saying to the other: "Joseph, get up; we will go
home." The elder tried to rise, but his legs, seized with a
convulsive trembling, could not support him. "Joseph,
Joseph, speak to me," said the poor little one; "speak to
me." And Joseph, his teeth chattering, looked at his brother
with eyes so big they frightened him. "There is one more
apple in the basket; would you like it? I will give you all
of it," went on the little fellow, his cheeks bathed in
tears. And the elder trembled and then became rigid, by fits
and starts, and stared fixedly with eyes growing ever larger
It was then that Simon passed. He put the two children on
the donkey, took the basket, and, followed by the lamb,
hastened to the village.
When the unhappy mother saw Joseph, her dear Joseph, so well
a few hours before, so rejoiced at taking his brother for a
walk, and now unconscious, dying, it was a scene to melt the
heart. "My God, my God!" cried she, crazed with grief, "take
me and leave my son! Oh, my Joseph! Oh, my poor Joseph!"
And, covering him with kisses, she burst into cries of
The doctor was summoned; the basket in which were still some
of the black berries mistaken for cherries explained to him
the cause of the sad event. "Deadly nightshade, great God!"
un-  der under his breath. "Alas! It is too late."
Broken-hearted, he ordered a potion, the efficacy of which
he could not count on, for the poison had made irreparable
progress. And, in fact, an hour later, while the mother, on
her knees at the foot of the bed, was praying and weeping, a
little hand was stretched out from under the coverings and
placed all cold in hers. It was the last good-by: Joseph was
The nest day they buried the poor little one. The whole
village attended the funeral. Emile and Jules returned from
the cemetery so sad that for several days they did not think
of asking their uncle the cause of this lamentable accident.
Since then, in the house of mourning, little Louis stops
playing every now and then and begins to cry, despite his
beautiful tin watch. He has been told that Joseph has gone
far away and that he will come back some day. "Mother," he
says sometimes, "when will Joseph come back? I am tired of
playing alone." His mother kisses him and, covering her face
with a corner of her apron, sheds hot tears. "Don't you love
Joseph any more, and is that why you cry when I speak of
him?" asks the poor little innocent. And his mother,
overwhelmed, tries in vain to stifle her sobs.
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