|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 |
A JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE WORLD
SMALL boy, of Jules's age and, like him, desirous to
learn, one morning was making his preparations for a
journey. Never had a navigator getting ready for a voyage
over distant seas shown more zeal. Provisions, the first
necessity in long expeditions, were not forgotten. Breakfast
was doubled. There were in the basket six nuts, a
bread-and-butter sandwich, and two apples! Where can one not
go with all that? The family was not informed: they might
have dissuaded the audacious traveler from his project by
acquainting him with the perils of the expedition. For fear
of softening before his mother's tears, he kept silent.
Basket in hand, without saying good-by to any one, he takes
his departure. Soon he is in the country. To left or right
makes no difference to him; all roads lead whither he wishes
"Where does he want to go?" asked Emile.
"To the end of the world. He takes the right-hand road,
which is bordered by a hawthorn hedge where golden green
beetles rustle and shine. But the beautiful insects do not
stop him for a moment, nor yet the little red-bellied fish
that play in the streamlet. The day is so short and the
journey so long! He keeps on walking straight ahead,
some-  times shortening the distance by cutting across fields.
At the end of an hour the sandwich, chief item in the
provisions, had been eaten, although the eating of it was
regulated by the wise economy of a prudent traveler. Quarter
of an hour later an apple and three nuts were gone. Appetite
comes quickly to those who tire themselves. It comes so
quickly that at a turn of the road, in the shade of a large
willow, the second apple and the three remaining nuts are
taken out of the basket. The provisions were exhausted, and
(no less grave a matter) legs refused to go. Just imagine
the situation. The journey had lasted two hours, and the end
proposed was no nearer, not a bit. The little boy retraced
his steps, persuaded that with better legs and more
provisions he would succeed another time in his project."
"What was this project?" Jules asked.
"I told you: the audacious child wished to reach the end of
the world. According to his ideas, the sky was a blue vault,
which kept getting lower until it rested on the edge of the
earth, so that, if ever he arrived there, he would have to
walk bent over so as not to bump his head against the
firmament. He started with the idea that he should soon be
able to touch the sky with his hand; but the blue vault,
retiring as he advanced, was always at the same distance.
Fatigue and want of provisions made him renounce further
continuance of his journey."
"If I had known that little boy," said Emile, "I would have
dissuaded him from his expedition. It is impossible, however
far one goes, to touch the sky
 with the hand, even with the
help of the tallest ladder."
"If I remember aright, Emile has not always been of that
opinion," said his uncle.
"That is true, Uncle. Like the little boy you have been
telling about, I believed that the sky was a large blue
cover resting on the earth. By good walking one ought to
reach the edge of the cover and the end of the world. I
thought, too, that the sun rose behind these mountains, and
set behind those on the opposite side, where there was a
deep well that the sun plunged into and remained hidden
during the night. One day you took me to the mountains where
the edges of the blue cover seem to rest. It was a long way
off, I remember; you lent me your cane, which helped me in
walking. I did not see any well for the sun to plunge into;
everything looked just as it does here. The edge of the sky
still seemed to rest on the earth, only much farther away.
And you told me that by going to the end of what we saw,
then farther and farther still, we should find the same
appearance everywhere, without ever seeing the end of a
vault that does not really exist."
"Nowhere, as all three of you know, does the sky rest on the
earth; nowhere is there any danger of striking one's head
against the firmament; everywhere the blue vault has the
same appearance as here. You know, too, that in always going
ahead you meet with plains, mountains, valleys,
watercourses, seas; but nowhere are there any barriers
marking the limits of the world.
 "Imagine a large ball suspended in the air by a thread, and
on this ball a gnat. If this gnat should take a notion to go
all over the surface, is it not true that it could come and
go over the ball, above, below, on the side, without ever
encountering an obstacle, without ever seeing a barrier rise
up to block its passage? Is it not equally true that if it
always kept on in the same direction, the gnat would end by
making the tour of the ball and would come back to its
starting-point? So it is with us on the surface of the
earth, though we are far more insignificant when compared
with the globe that bears us than is the tiniest gnat in
comparison with the biggest ball you can imagine.
Without ever encountering a barrier, without ever touching
the cupola of the sky, we come and go in a thousand
different directions, we accomplish the most distant
journeys, even make the tour of the earth and return to our
starting-point. The earth, then, is round; it is an immense
ball that swims without support in celestial space. As to
the blue vault that arches above us, it is mere appearance
caused by the blue color of the air enveloping the earth on
"The ball on which your imaginary gnat travels is suspended
by a thread. By what chain is the enormous ball of the earth
hung?" asked Jules.
"The earth is not suspended from the firmament by any
celestial chain, nor does it rest upon any support, like a
geographical globe on its pedestal. According to an Indian
legend the terrestrial globe is borne upon four bronze
 "And what do the four columns rest on, in their turn?"
"They rest on four white elephants."
"And the white elephants?"
"They rest on four monstrous turtles."
"And the turtles?"
"Well, they swim in an ocean of milk."
"And the ocean of milk?"
"The legend says nothing about that, and it is right to be
silent. It would have been better not to imagine all these
various supports, resting one on another, to hold the earth up.
Suppose a pedestal for the earth, then a second to uphold
the first, then a third, then a fourth, thousandth, if you
like; it is only postponing the question without answering
it, since finally, after having erected all the supports
imaginable, one must ask what will the last one rest on.
Perhaps you are thinking of the vault of the heavens, which
might well sustain the earth; but know that this vault has
no reality, that it is nothing but an appearance caused by
the air. Besides, thousands of travelers have gone over the
earth in every direction, and nowhere have they seen either
a suspending chain or a pedestal of any kind. Everywhere
they see only what is to be seen here. The earth is isolated
in space; it swims in a void without any support, just as do
the moon and the sun."
"But, then, why doesn't it fall?" persisted Jules.
"To fall, my little friend, is to rush earthward as a stone
does when raised in the hand and then left to itself. How
can the large ball rush to the earth,
 when it is the whole
earth? Is it possible for a thing to rush toward
"Well, then! Besides, imagine this. All is the same around
the terrestrial globe; properly speaking, there is no up or
down, no right or left. We call up the direction toward
adjacent space, or toward the sky; but remember that there
is sky also on the other side of the earth, that there it is
just the same as we see it here, and that this is true for
all parts of the earth's surface. If it seemed to you quite
simple that the earth does not rush toward the sky which is
above us, why should you expect it to rush toward the
opposite sky? To fall toward the opposite sky would be to
rise, as the lark rises here, when with one stroke of the
wing it takes flight and soars above us."
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