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from The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children





It is May,--almost the end of May, indeed, and the Mayflowers have
finished their blooming for this year. It is growing too warm for those
delicate violets and hepaticas who dare to brave even March winds, and
can bear snow better than summer heats.

Down at the edge of the pond the tall water-grasses and rushes are
tossing their heads a little in the wind, and swinging a little, lightly
and lazily, with the motion of the water; but the water is almost clear
and still this morning, scarcely rippled, and in its beautiful, broad
mirror reflecting the chestnut-trees on the bank, and the little points
of land that run out from the shore, and give foothold to the old pines
standing guard day and night, summer and winter, to watch up the pond
and down.

Do you think now that you know how the pond looks in the sunshine of
this May morning?

If we come close to the edge where the rushes are growing, and look down
through the clear water, we shall see some uncouth and clumsy black bugs
crawling upon the bottom of the pond. They have six legs, and are
covered with a coat of armor laid plate over plate. It looks hard and
horny; and the insect himself has a dull, heavy way with him, and might
be called very stupid were it not for his eagerness in catching and
eating every little fly and mosquito that comes within his reach. His
eyes grow fierce and almost bright; and he seizes with open mouth, and
devours all day long, if he can find any thing suited to his taste.

I am afraid you will think he is not very interesting, and will not care
to make his acquaintance. But, let me tell you, something very wonderful
is about to happen to him; and if you stay and watch patiently, you will
see what I saw once, and have never forgotten.

Here he is crawling in mud under the water this May morning: out over
the pond shoot the flat water-boatmen, and the water-spiders dance and
skip as if the pond were a floor of glass; while here and there skims a
blue dragon-fly, with his fine, firm wings that look like the thinnest
gauze, but are really wondrously strong for all their delicate
appearance.

The dull, black bug sees all these bright, agile insects; and, for the
first time in his life, he feels discontented with his own low place in
the mud. A longing creeps through him that is quite different from the
customary longing for mosquitoes and flies. "I will creep up the stem of
this rush," he thinks; "and perhaps, when I reach the surface of the
water, I can dart like the little flat boatmen, or, better than all,
shoot through the air like the blue-winged dragon-fly." But, as he
crawls toilsomely up the slippery stem, the feeling that he has no wings
like the dragon-fly makes him discouraged and almost despairing. At
last, however, with much labor he has reached the surface, has crept out
of the water, and, clinging to the green stem, feels the spring air and
sunshine all about him. Now let him take passage with the boatmen, or
ask some of the little spiders to dance. Why doesn't he begin to enjoy
himself?

Alas! see his sad disappointment. After all this toil, after passing
some splendid chances of good breakfasts on the way up, and spending all
his strength on this one exploit, he finds the fresh air suffocating
him, and a most strange and terrible feeling coming over him, as his
coat-of-mail, which until now was always kept wet, shrinks, and seems
even cracking off while the warm air dries it.

"Oh," thinks the poor bug, "I must die! It was folly in me to crawl up
here. The mud and the water were good enough for my brothers, and good
enough for me too, had I only known it; and now I am too weak, and feel
too strangely, to attempt going down again the way I came up."

See how uneasy he grows, feeling about in doubt and dismay, for a
darkness is coming over his eyes. It is the black helmet, a part of his
coat-of-mail; it has broken off at the top, and is falling down over his
face. A minute more, and it drops below his chin; and what is his
astonishment to find, that, as his old face breaks away, a new one comes
in its place, larger, much more beautiful, and having two of the most
admirable eyes!--two, I say, because they look like two, but each of
them is made up of hundreds of little eyes. They stand out globe-like on
each side of his head, and look about over a world unknown and wonderful
to the dull, black bug who lived in the mud. The sky seems bluer, the
sunshine brighter, and the nodding grass and flowers more gay and
graceful. Now he lifts this new head to see more of the great world; and
behold! as he moves, he is drawing himself out of the old suit of armor,
and from two neat little cases at its sides come two pairs of wings,
folded up like fans, and put away here to be ready for use when the
right time should come: still half folded they are, and must be
carefully spread open and smoothed for use. And while he trembles with
surprise, see how with every movement he is escaping from the old armor,
and drawing from their sheaths fine legs, longer and far more
beautifully made and colored than the old; and a slender body that was
packed away like a spy-glass, and is now drawn slowly out, one part
after another; until at last the dark coat-of-mail dangles empty from
the rushes, and above it sits a dragon-fly with great, wondering eyes,
long, slender body, and two pairs of delicate, gauzy wings,--fine and
firm as the very ones he had been watching but an hour ago.

The poor black bug who thought he was dying was only passing out of his
old life to be born into a higher one; and see how much brighter and
more beautiful it is!

And now shall I tell you how, months ago, the mother dragon-fly dropped
into the water her tiny eggs, which lay there in the mud, and by and by
hatched out the dark, crawling bugs, so unlike the mother that she does
not know them for her children, and, flying over the pond, looks down
through the water where they crawl among the rushes, and has not a
single word to say to them; until, in due time, they find their way up
to the air, and pass into the new winged life.

If you will go to some pond when spring is ending or summer beginning,
and find among the water-grasses such an insect as I have told you of,
you may see all this for yourselves; and you will say with me, dear
children, that nothing you have ever known is more wonderful.





Next: THE TALK OF THE TREES THAT STAND IN THE VILLAGE STREET

Previous: THE STORY OF THE AMBER BEADS



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