|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 |
THE LENGTH OF ANIMAL LIFE
ULES and Claire could not get over the astonishment caused
by their uncle's story of the old trees to which centuries
are less than years are to us. Emile, with his usual
restlessness, led the conversation to another subject:
"And animals, Uncle," asked he, "how long do they live?"
"Domestic animals," was the reply, "seldom attain the age
that nature allows them. We grudge them their nourishment,
overtire them, and do not give them proper shelter. And then,
we take from them their milk, fleece, hide, flesh, in fact
everything. How can you ever grow old when the butcher is
waiting for you at the stable door with his knife? Useless
to speak of these poor victims of our need: to give us long
life, they do not live out their time. Supposing that an
animal is well treated, that it suffers neither hunger nor
cold, that it lives in peace without excessive fatigue,
without fear of knacker or butcher; under these good
conditions, how many years will it live?
"Let us begin with the ox. Here is a robust one, I hope.
What chest and shoulders! And then that big square forehead,
with its vigorous horns around which the strap of the yoke
goes; those eyes shining
 with the serene majesty of
strength. If old age is the portion of the strong, the ox
ought to live for centuries."
"I should think so too," assented Jules.
"Quite wrong, my dear children; the ox, so big, strong,
massive, is old, very old, at twenty or thirty years. What
to us would be verdant youth is for it decrepit old age.
"Let us pass on to the horse. You see I do not take my
examples from among the weak; I choose the most vigorous.
Well, the horse, as well as its modest companion, the ass,
scarcely reaches more than thirty or thirty-five years."
"How mistaken I was!" Jules exclaimed. "I thought the horse
and ox strong enough to live at least a century. They are so
big, they take up so much room!"
"I do not know, my little friend, whether you can understand
me, but I want to inform you that to take up a great deal of
room in this world is not the way to live in peace and to
enjoy a long life. There are people who take up a lot of
space, not in the body—they are no bigger than we—but in
their pretensions and their ambitious manœuvers. Do
they live in peace, are they preparing for themselves a
venerable old age? It is very doubtful. Let us remain small;
that is to say, let us content ourselves with the little
that God has given us; let us beware of the temptations of
envy, the foolish counsels of pride; let us be full of
activity, of work, and not of ambition. That is the only way
we are permitted to hope for length of days.
 "Let us return without delay to our animals. Our other
domestic animals live a still shorter time. A dog, at twenty
or twenty-five years, can no longer drag himself along; a
pig is a tottering veteran at twenty; at fifteen at the
most, a cat no longer chases mice, it says good-by to the
joys of the roof and retires to some corner of a granary to
die in peace; the goat and sheep, at ten or fifteen, touch
extreme old age, the rabbit is at the end of its skein at
eight or ten; and the miserable rat, if it lives four years,
is looked upon among its own kind as a prodigy of longevity.
"Would you like me to tell you about birds? Very well. The
pigeon may live from six to ten years; the guinea fowl, hen,
and turkey, twelve. A goose lives longer; it is true that in
its quality of goose it does not worry. The goose attains
twenty-five years, and even a good deal more.
"But here is something better. The goldfinch, sparrow, birds
free from care, always singing, always frisking, happy as
possible with a ray of sunlight in the foliage and a grain
of hemp-seed, live as long as the gluttonous goose, and
longer than the stupid turkey. These very happy little birds
live from twenty to twenty-five years, the age of an ox. As
I told you, taking up a lot of room in this world is not the
way to prepare oneself for a long life.
"As to man, if he leads a regular life, he often lives to
eighty or ninety. Sometimes he reaches a hundred or even
more. But should he attain only the ordinary age, the
average age, as they say, that is about forty, then he is to
be considered a
privi-  leged creature as to length of life;
the foregoing facts show it. And besides, for man, my dear
children, length of life is not measured exactly according
to the number of years. He lives most who works most. When
God calls us to Him, let us take with us the sincere esteem
of others and the consciousness of having done our duty to
the end; and, whatever our age, we shall have lived long
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