The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes and The Secret of Everyday Things Fire
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 border thee with flowers
Of every device.
I’ll not let befall thee
A chip or a crack;
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 ate 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-gowith- 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.
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.
(2) “So calamitous would have been the simultaneous extinction of the fires in all
the dwellings that, in order to guard against such a disaster, the priesthood took fire under its special protection. In ancient Rome, many centuries ago, an order of priestesses called Vestals was charged with the guarding of the sacred fire night and day. The unfortunate one who let it go out was punished with horrible torture: she was buried alive!”
(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 Vestal.”
(6) “Yes, to abolish those barbarous severities it needed only a match, a thing which unfortunately was at that time unknown.
(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 it's 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 that heat 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 of friction, 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.”
(18) “It is by similar means that certain savage tribes procured and still procure fire. They twirl very rapidly between their hands, a slender stick of hard wood with its pointed end inserted in a cavity hollowed in soft and very inflammable wood. If the friction is brisk enough and the operation properly carried out, the soft wood catches fire. This process, I admit, would fail of success in our hands for lack of skill.”
(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.
(22) “Even in our own country you may see, in any wood-turner’s shop, this friction process employed successfully. To obtain the brown ornamental lines on certain objects turned in a lathe, the operator presses with some force the point of a bit of wood on the piece in rapid rotation. The line thus impressed by friction begins to smoke in a few moments, and soon becomes carbonized.
(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 flashes.
(24) “The common flint-and-steel apparatus 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.”