MARY GAY'S WORK IN AUTUMN.
BEECHNUTS are very good nuts. They have a rich flavor, very similar to that of the walnut, but the gathering and eating of them are attended with certain great disadvantages, which detract very much from the value of them.
One of the principal of these disadvantages is the cold fingers you must get in gathering them. Beechnuts are never ripe until late in the fall, and the burrs that they grow in do not usually crack open and let the nuts fall to the ground, where you can get them, until the frost comes.
The boys say that it is the frost which cracks the burrs open and lets the nuts fall out. Whether it is really the frost that does this, or whether it is some change in the internal condition of the burr, produced by the advancing ripeness at about the same time that the frost comes, which makes the boys think that the frost is the cause of the opening when it is in fact only the accompaniment of it, I cannot say.
Accompaniments are very often mistaken for causes by people that do not observe carefully.
However this may be, the boys all think that it is the frost that opens the burrs, and that accordingly a frosty morning is a good time to go a-beechnutting. In fact, at the time of the year when the beechnuts are ripe, almost all the clear and pleasant mornings are frosty, so that generally when boys go to gather beechnuts -the ground is either covered with frost, or else it is at least very cold, and this makes it extremely cold work to gather them. For every individual nut must; be picked up from among the grass and moss and wild herbage that grows under the trees, and you cannot have any protection for your fingers, for it is impossible to pick up such little things with gloves or mittens on.
Still children like beechnuts so much that they are always very ready to go into the woods to gather them, even though it is such cold work.
One Saturday morning in October John and his little brother Benny came to his cousin Mary Gay's, to invite her and her sister Luly to go a-beechnutting with them.
Of course they were very ready to go. So taking some small tin pails with them, to bring the beechnuts home in, they all set off together.
They were going to a grove of beech-trees which grew on high and dry ground near Mrs. Gay's wood lot. The way to this piece of ground was either by a lane which led along outside the garden fence, or through the garden. The children went through the garden, in order that Mary and Luly might show John how fast the seeds of their flowers were ripening.
" We are going to begin to gather our seeds pretty soon," said Luly. " I mean to gather some now."
So saying, Luly broke off the head of a poppy which looked as if it might be ripe, and poured the seeds out into her hand.
" I am going to keep these seeds till next summer," said Luly, " and then plant them in my garden, and so I shall get some more beautiful poppies."
" Yes," said John, " it is an excellent plan to save your flower-seeds for next summer. But now we must go on and gather our beechnuts, or else the squirrels will get them all before we come."
" And eat them all up ? " said Luly.
" No" said John; " put them away in their holes. They always lay up a store of beechnuts, and hazel-nuts, and acorns, and corn, in their nests and boles, for them to eat in the winter, when the ground is all covered with snow, so that they cannot find anything to eat in the woods."
Talking in this way the children walked along together through the garden, and then out by a gate into the lane, — Luly keeping her poppy-seeds in her hand all the way, because she had no paper to put them in. At length she began to be tired of carrying them, and she asked Mary what she should do with them.
"I think you had better throw them away," said Mary.
" No," replied Luly; " I am going to keep them to plant in my garden next summer. I mean to put them in my pocket."
"Well," said Mary, "I will hold it open for you."
So Mary held the pocket open, and Luly tried to pour the seeds in. Some of them did actually go in, though I should think that considerably more than half of them slipped through her fingers and fell to the ground.
How much probability there was that those that were saved would ever find their way out of the depths of the pocket again, and be kept until the next spring, and so planted and produce more poppies, the reader can judge.
" Don't you think it is a good plan, John, for us to save our flower-seeds," asked Luly " to plant next year ? "
" Yes," said John, " if you do it systematically ; but if you do it unsystematically, it is all time and labor thrown away." " I don't know what you mean, John" rejoined Luly, "when you talk such hard words."
" Then I will explain it" said John.
" First I will tell you how to do it unsystematically. Once there was a girl who had a flower-garden, and she thought she would save the seeds. So one day when she was in her garden, she saw that the seeds of one of her flowers were ripe, and she rubbed them out into her hand. Then she did not know what to do with them. Finally she laid them down upon a bench, while she went into the house to get a piece of paper to wrap them up in.
" She tore a piece off from the corner of a newspaper which she found in the house, and then came out to the bench. She found that half of the seeds bad been blown away by the wind. She put the rest in the paper, and put the paper in her pocket. A few days after this, when she was clearing out her pocket, she came to this paper. She forgot that there were seeds in it, but supposed that it was only some old scrap that had somehow or other found, its way into her pocket, and so she threw it away."
" Oh, what a silly girl ! " said Luly.
"A day or two after this she remembered that there were seeds in that paper, and that she had thrown them away. 'Dear me!' says she, ' I have thrown away all my garden-seeds! '
" So she determined to gather some more seeds, and take better care of them. She went into the house, to get some pieces of paper, and then went into the garden. She rubbed out the seeds that she found were ripe, and put them in the papers— each kind in a separate paper. She folded them up and carried them into the house, and put them on a shelf in the china-closet. They lay there some time, and then her mother put them in a drawer where various things were kept, and there they remained all winter. Caroline had forgotten all about them."
" Was her name Caroline ? " asked Luly.
" Yes," replied John. " Did not I tell you that before " "
" No," replied Luly.
" When the next spring came her mother told her that there were some flower-seeds of hers in a drawer in the china-closet, and asked her if she wanted them. So Caroline went to get them, but she found that half of them had been spilled out of the papers ; and as for those that remained she did not know what kinds they were, for she had not marked the papers; and so she threw them all away."
Mary and Luly laughed.
" And now," said Luly, " tell us how to do it systematically."
" The first thing is," said John, " to go into the garden and see how many different kinds of seeds you are going to have, and make a list of them. Then go to work regularly, and make a number of little paper bags to hold the seeds. The bags ought to be made of some light-colored wrapping-paper, that you can write upon."
" How do we make the bags ? " asked Mary.
" They are made a good deal like envelopes for letters," said John. " You take a long strip of paper, as wide as you are going to have your bags, and about twice as long. You then lay the strip down upon the table before you, and fold it double, so as to make a kind of square with two leaves. Then you cut away with the scissors about a half an inch from the edge of one of the leaves all around, except at the place where it is folded. In this way the edges of the leaf which is not cut can be folded down over the other, and gummed down. Yon fold over the two side edges when you make the bags, but you leave the top as a sort of flap, to be folded down and gummed after the seeds are put in."
" I don't understand it very well," said Luly.
" When we get home," said John, " I will make you a pattern out of pasteboard, and then you can cut them out very easily."
" I wish you would," said Mary.
" After the set of bags are made," said John, " and the side edges where they are gummed over are dry, then you turn them over and write upon the back of each one the name of the kind of flower-seed that you are going to put in it. You must have as many bags, of course, as there are names upon your list, and write one name on each bag."
" What, before we put the seeds in ? " said Mary.
"Yes," replied John. "You can write the names on the backs a great deal more conveniently before you. put the seeds in, than afterward. But then you must be careful afterward to put the seeds in right, according to the names.
" If you wish to have any seeds to give away to your friends, then you must make another set of bags for them. Sometimes when they have seeds enough in their gar- dens, people make a number of sets of bags. And if they have a great many more seeds of one kind than they have of others, especially if it is a very pretty flower, they write that name on the backs of a good many bags, and fill them all, so as to have a great many of that kind to give away."
'' Yes," said Mary, " that is an excellent plan. I mean to make a good many bags for Morning-Glory seeds."
" When you have got your bags all made," continued John, " you must then have a large table in some sunny place, to spread your seeds upon and let them dry."
" Yes," said Mary. " The elephant table in the playroom will be just the thing."
The elephant table was so called on account of the bigness of its legs. It was originally a carpenter's bench, and had been transformed into a table.
" Yes," rejoined John, " you could not have anything better than that. You must cut out a great many pieces of paper, to put the different flower-seeds upon, while they are drying. Newspapers will do to make these pieces. You can fold one or two newspapers into quarters, and then cut through the folds with a paper-knife, and so you will got sheets of the right size. You must place these on the table, in order, in regular rows, with the margin of white paper for each on the upper side. And you must write on these margins, in pencil, the names of all the flower-seeds in your list.
" Then, as fast as your flower-seeds get ripe," continued John, " you must gather them in a large plate, and rub out the seeds and blow away the chaff, and put the seeds upon the papers, — each kind according to the name marked upon the margin of the paper. You leave them there to dry."
" How long ? " asked Mary.
" Oh, two or three weeks," said John.
" Seeds ought to be thoroughly dry before they are put away.
" When they have stayed long enough in the papers," said John, " you put them in the bags. But you must take great care to put them in right, according to the names written on them. When they are all in, then you gum down the little flap that comes over the top, and the work is done."
" That is an excellent way, Luly," said Mary. " That is the way we will do with our seeds."
" You can afterward, if you choose," said John, " take out one bag of each kind, to make a complete set, and tie them up by themselves and put them away. You might make two sets, if you please, one for you and one for Luly."
"Yes," said Luly. "Let us do that, Mary."
" We will" said Mary.
Thus it was agreed between Mary and Luly, that in gathering their seeds they would proceed in the systematic manner that John had described, and that they would make two fall sets, one for Mary and one for Luly, and that they would also put up as many as they could besides, to give to their friends.
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