I know now how dull this must have made the evenings for my mother, and that it was very selfish of me to wait till my father was asleep (for fear he should say “no"), and then to ask her leave to take the Penny Numbers down to the farm and sit with Cripple Charlie.
Now and then she would go too, and chat with Mrs. Wood, whilst the school-master and I were turning the terrestrial globe by Charlie’s sofa; but as a rule Charlie and I were alone, and the Woods went round the homestead together, and came home hand in hand, through the garden, and we laughed to think how we had taken him for a tramp.
And sometimes on a summer’s evening, when we talked and read aloud to each other across a quaint oak table that had been the miser’s, of far-away lands and strange birds of gorgeous plumage, the school-master sat silent in the arm-chair by the open lattice, resting his white head against the mullion that the ivy was creeping up, and listened to the blackbirds and thrushes as their songs dropped by odd notes into silence, and gazed at the near fields and trees, and the little homestead with its hayricks on the hill, when the grass was apple-green in the gold mist of sunset: and went on gazing when that had faded into fog, and the hedgerow elms were black against the sky, as if the eye could not be filled with seeing, nor the ear with hearing!
“Who, doomed to go in company
Turns his necessity to glorious gain.”
“Jack,” said Charlie, “listen!”
He was reading bits out of the numbers to me, whilst I was rigging a miniature yacht to sail on the dam; and Mrs. Wood’s husband was making a plan of something at another table, and occasionally giving me advice about my masts and sails. “It’s about the South American forests,” said Charlie. “’There every tree has a character of its own; each has its peculiar foliage, and probably also a tint unlike that of the trees which surround it. Gigantic vegetables of the most different families intermix their branches; five-leaved bignonias grow by the side of bonduc-trees; cassias shed their yellow blossoms upon the rich fronds of arborescent ferns; myrtles and eugenias, with their thousand arms, contrast with the elegant simplicity of palms; and among the airy foliage of the mimosa the ceropia elevates its giant leaves and heavy candelabra-shaped branches. Of some trees the trunk is perfectly smooth, of others it is defended by enormous spines, and the whole are often apparently sustained by the slanting stems of a huge wild fig-tree. With us, the oak, the chestnut, and the beech seem as if they bore no flowers, so small are they and so little distinguishable except by naturalists; but in the forests of South America it is often the most gigantic trees that produce the most brilliant flowers; cassias hang down their pendants of golden blossoms, vochisias unfold their singular