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An Idyll Of The Wood
by [?]

“Tell us a story,” said the children, “a sad one, if you please, and a little true. But, above all, let it end badly, for we are tired of people who live happily ever after.”

“I heard one lately,” said the old man who lived in the wood; “it is founded on fact, and is a sad one also; but whether it ends badly or no I cannot pretend to say. That is a matter of taste: what is a bad ending?”

“A story ends badly,” said the children with authority, “when people die, and nobody marries anybody else, especially if it is a prince and princess.”

“A most lucid explanation,” said the old man. “I think my story will do, for the principal character dies, and there is no wedding.”

“Tell it, tell it!” cried his hearers, “and tell us also where you got it from.”

“Who knows the riches of a wood in summer?” said the old man. “In summer, do I say? In spring, in autumn, or in winter either. Who knows them? You, my children? Well, well. Better than some of your elders, perchance. You know the wood where I live; the hollow tree that will hold five children, and Queen Mab knows how many fairies. (What a castle it makes! And if it had but another floor put into it, with a sloping ladder–like one of the round towers of Ireland–what a house for children to live in! With no room for lesson-books, grown-up people, or beds!)

“You know the way to the hazel copse, and the place where the wild strawberries grow. You know where the wren sits on her eggs, and, like good children, pass by with soft steps and hushed voices, that you may not disturb that little mother. You know (for I have shown you) where the rare fern grows–a habitat happily yet unnoted in scientific pages. We never add its lovely fronds to our nosegays, and if we move a root it is but to plant it in another part of the wood, with as much mystery and circumspection as if we were performing some solemn druidical rite. It is to us as a king in hiding, and the places of its abode we keep faithfully secret. It will be thus held sacred by us until, with all the seed its untouched fronds have scattered, and all the offshoots we have propagated, it shall have become as plentiful as Heaven intends all beautiful things to be. Every one is not so scrupulous. There are certain ladies and gentlemen who picnic near my cottage in the hot weather, and who tell each other that they love a wood. Most of these good people have nevertheless neither eyes nor ears for what goes on around them, except that they hear each other, and see the cold collation. They will picnic there summer after summer, and not know whether they sit under oaks or ashes, beeches or elms. All birds sing for them the same song. Tell them that such a plant is rare in the neighbourhood, that there are but few specimens of it, and it will not long be their fault if there are any. Does any one direct them to it, they tear it ruthlessly up and carry it away. If by any chance a root is left, it is left so dragged and pulled and denuded of earth, that there is small chance that it will survive. Probably, also, the ravished clump dies in the garden or pot to which it is transplanted, either from neglect, or from ignorance of the conditions essential to its life; and the rare plant becomes yet rarer. Oh! without doubt they love a wood. It gives more shade than the largest umbrella, and is cheaper for summer entertainment than a tent: there you get canopy and carpet, fuel and water, shade and song, and beauty–all gratis; and these are not small matters when one has invited a large party of one’s acquaintance. There are insects, it is true, which somewhat disturb our friends; and as they do not know which sting, and which are harmless, they kill all that come within their reach, as a safe general principle. The town boys, too! They know the wood–that is to say, they know where the wild fruits grow, and how to chase the squirrel, and rob the birds’ nests, and snare the birds. Well, well, my children; to know and love a wood truly, it may be that one must live in it as I have done; and then a lifetime will scarcely reveal all its beauties, or exhaust its lessons. But even then, one must have eyes that see, and ears that hear, or one misses a good deal. It was in the wood that I heard this story that I shall tell you.”