The Secret of Everyday Things Fire by Jean Henri Fabre
(1) “We do not know how man first procured fire. Did he take advantage
of some blaze
started by a thunderbolt, or did he kindle
his first firebrand
in the crater
of a volcano
? No one can tell. Whatever may have been its source
, man has enjoyed the use of fire from the earliest times; but as the means of relighting it if it went out were very imperfect or even lacking altogether, the utmost
care was taken to maintain
it, and a few live coals were always kept over from one day to the next.
(3) “Did they really bury
her alive for letting the fire go out?” asked Jules.
(4) “Yes, my boy. This terrible punishment
inflicted on the keepers of the fire shows you the importance they attached to keeping at least one hearth alight
so that others could be kindled from it.”
(5) “One of our matches that we buy at a cent a hundred,” said Claire, “would have saved the life of the careless
(7) “Many centuries passed before it was discovered how to procure
fire easily. In my young days, when I was about your age, keeping coals alive to be used for relighting the fire next day was still the rule in the country. In the evening before the family went to bed, the embers were carefully covered with hot ashes to prevent
their burning out and to keep them alive. If, despite this precaution
, the hearth
was cold next morning, someone had to hasten
to the nearest neighbor
’s to borrow
some fire, that is to say a few live coals, which were carried home in an old wooden shoe to keep the wind from blowing them away.”
(8) “But I should think the old wooden shoe would have caught fire,” said Emile.
(9) “No, for care was taken to put a layer
of ashes in first. I have told you how some children would put a few ashes in the hollow
of their hand, and on the ashes lay live coals. They carried fire thus
just as you would carry
a handful of sugarplums.
(10) “The layer
of ashes arrested the heat
of the embers and prevented its reaching the hand. Remember what I have already told you about the poor conducting power
of ashes, their refusal
to transmit heat
, a characteristic
they have in common
with all powdery substances. The little fire-borrowers knew that well enough.”
(11) “But who taught them to do it that way?” asked Emile.
(12) “The great teacher of all things, necessity
. Caught without shovel or wooden shoe, some one of them, knowing this peculiarity of ashes in arresting heat
, made use of the ingenious device
I have described, and his example
was sooner or later followed by others.
(13) “Fire-producing devices are, as a rule, based on the principle
is generated by friction
. We all know that we can warm our hands by rubbing them against each other.”
(14) “That’s what I always do in winter when my hands are frozen from making snowballs,” said Jules.
(15) “That is one of the oldest illustrations of the effect
, and I will add another. Hold this round-headed metal button
by the shank and rub it briskly on the wood of the table
; it will become warm enough to produce
a decided feeling on the skin.”
(16) Claire took the button
, rubbed it on the wood of the table
, and then applied it quickly to her hand, uttering a little cry of surprise
and even of pain as she did so.
(17) “Oh, how hot the button
is, Uncle!” she exclaimed. “If I had rubbed any longer I should have scorched my hand.”
(19) “For my part,” said Marie, “if I had nothing but a pointed stick and a piece of wood with a hole in it for lighting a fire, I should despair
of ever managing it.”
(20) “I should not even try it,” Claire confessed, “it seems so difficult
, although the button
that I rubbed came near burning me.”
(21) “What would be impossible
for us is mere
play for the natives of Australia. The operator sits on the ground, holding between his feet the piece of wood with the little hole, and twirling the pointed stick rapidly between his hands. He soon obtains a spark
with which he kindles a few dry leaves.
(23) “I pass on to other methods of producing fire. Iron and steel, especially the latter
, if rubbed against a very hard stone give out sparks made by tiny
scales of metal
that become detached
and are sufficiently heated to turn red and burn
in the air. Thus the scissors-grinder’s revolving stone, although constantly moistened with water, throws out a shower of sparks under the steel knife or other tool
that is being sharpened. In like manner the cobblestone struck by the horse’s iron
shoe emits sudden and brilliant
(24) “The common
acts in the same way. It consists of a piece of steel that is struck against the edge
of a very hard stone called silex or flint. Particles of steel are detached
from the metal
and, made red-hot by the friction
, set fire to the tinder
. This latter
is a very combustible substance
obtained by cutting a large mushroom into thin
slices and drying them, the mushroom being of the kind known as touchwood, which grows on tree trunks.”
The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes by Padraic Colum
FIRE FOR THE KING’S SON
(1) In the morning, she rose up early, opened wide the door, and let the Goats go through
. She milked a little from the brown Goat and drank the milk for her breakfast. Then she let the seven Goats go by themselves off to the high places and the rocky places.
(2) She went down to the stream
and she washed her face and her hands. Then she stood on the bank
and the two starlings flew down, lighting one on each shoulder, and they began to sing to her. The song they sang was of the Little Brown Jug that she washed every day and left in the center
place on the dresser:
(3) Little Brown Jug,
Don’t I love thee?
Bright and brown
Like a kept penny!
I’ll fill thee with honey,
I’ll fill thee with spice,
I’ll leave pewter below thee,
And delph at thy back.
I’ll fill thee with spice,
And I’ll fill thee with honey,
And I’d not part with thee
For a kettle-full of money.
Little Brown Jug,
Don’t I love thee?
Bright and brown
Like a kept penny.
And when the starlings had sung to her, Girl-go-with-the-Goats was not as heavy at heart
as she had been before.
(4) After a very busy day, her stepmother, Dame Dale was at the door. She told Girl-go- with-the-Goats to eat her dinner off the board
at the gable
end of the house and then go and bring back the seven Goats from the high places and the rocky places.
(5) She at her dinner of bread and milk and an egg. Then she brought the Goats home. Her step-mother told her she need
not milk them as she had to go to a certain
place before the dark of the night came down. And where had she to go to? To the Forge in the Forest. And what had she to go for? For a pot of fire, no less.
(6) For all that morning Buttercup and Berry-bright, after washing their hands with new milk, sat dizening themselves as before. And Dame Dale, being wearied from her journey
, stayed in bed. The consequence
of it all was that the fire on the hearth
had gone out, and there was no way now of kindling
a fire. And the only place to get fire was at the Forge in the Forest which was more like a moorland than a forest
because all the trees had been cut down.
(7) And now Girl-go-with-the-Goats was bidden take a pot in her hands and go to the Forge in the Forest for fire for her step-mother’s hearth
. She started off, and no sooner had she turned the loaning when the starlings again flew down on her shoulders. And as she went along the path through
the wood the two starlings sang to her; whatever she thought
of, that they sang to her. She came out on the moorland and when she went a furlong
she saw the black forge
. Two Dwarfs with earrings in their ears were within. They took two pieces of glowing wood out of their fire and put them in her pot.
(8) Back she went, hurrying now across the moorland because dark clouds were gathering. As she went along the path through
the wood the starlings on her shoulders twittered their nesting song. The wood was dark around her and she hurried, hurried on. And on the outskirts
of the wood, she saw a youth gathering kindlings for a fire. She came face to face with him and she knew him, He was the King’s son.
(9) She put down the pot and at once she began gathering kindlings with him. She brought them where he was bringing his. She laid hers down and built up a fire for him. “This the night when, according
to my father’s councillors, I have to sleep on the moorland,” said the King’s son. He searched in his wallet. “I had flint and steel,” he said, “but I have lost
the flint and steel that was to make my fire.”
(10) “I have embers,” said Girl-go-with-the-Goats. She took the burning embers out of the pot and put them under the wood. A fire began to crackle. “Leave me now,” said the King’s son. “Would you not give me an ember
out of the fire I have kindled?” said Girl-go-with- the-Goats. “I will give you an ember
, but not two embers,” said the King’s son.
(11) She took an ember
from the fire. It was not a weighty ember
like one of the two the Dwarfs had given her. It was a light and a waning ember
. She took it and put it in the pot, thinking she would find kindling
on the wayside.
(12) She went on and on but she found no kindling
. And when she looked into her pot again the ember
had died out. What was she to do? She walked back, and she saw the fire she had lighted blazing up. She saw the King’s son standing beside the fire. She went nearer, but she could hear his voice as he said to her, “I will give you an ember
, but not two embers.” She was afraid to go near him and have him speak to her again.