Once upon a time, long, long ago, the birds whose job it was to make the woods merry with their songs, decided to go on strike. They said, "We have sung all day, all springtime, and half way through the summer, but now we are moulting, the weather is frightfully hot; we need a rest, and we are going to stop singing, to take a holiday."
Then Dame Nature, who is sometimes called the All-mother, or Mother Carey, said: "Dear me, this will never do! No son
Then up at that question got a long-winged insect like a big fly, and a long-legged insect like a green grasshopper, and both said at once, "I will." Amid low murmurs of "Scab! Scab!" from many of the Wood-birds.
"You. I forgot that you two had any voices at all!" said Mother Carey.
Then the long-winged creature, whose name is Cicada, began, "True, my voice isn't much, but I have invented a most successful musical Castanet. Listen!"
Then he began an extraordinary racket like an alarm clock, a threshing machine, and a buzz-saw all going together. He filled the grove with his noise, and set all the woodfolk laughing with his funny performance. Though, of course, he didn't mean to be funny; he thought it was fine.
Then as the Cicada ceased, Mother Carey said to the Green Hopper, whose name was Katy, "Now, Katy, what can you do?"
"I do not brag of my voice, dear Mother," said she, "but I am a thrilling performer on the violin."
Then she humped herself up over a green fiddle that she had under her cloak, and nearly deafened them with its hoarse screechings.
There was no doubt that these two could make as much noise as a wood full of birds; both were eager to take sole charge, and a bitter dispute arose as to whose idea it was first.
But Mother Carey settled it by dividing the time. "You," she said to Cicada, "can take charge of the music by day, and you," she said to the Green one, "must take it up at sundown in place of the nightingale, and keep it up, till the night breaks, and both of you continue till the frost comes, or until the birds are back on the job."
That is how it all came about.
But there is considerable feeling yet among the Katies, that they should get all the night work, and never be seen performing. They think that their ancestor was the original inventor of this cheap substitute for bird song. And it is made all the worse by a division among themselves. Some say "she did" and some say "she didn't." If you notice in early August, they are nearly all shouting, "Katy-did." Then by the end of the month, "Katy-didn't" is stronger. In September it is still mixed. In October their work is over, the chorus ended, but you hear an occasional "Katy-did" and finally as late as Indian Summer, which is Hallowe'en, I have heard the last of the fiddlers rasp out "she did"; and do it in daytime, too, as though to flout the followers of Cicada. And, if the last word be truth, as they say, we may consider it settled, that Katy really and truly did. And yet I believe next year the same dispute will arise, and we shall have the noisy argument all over again.
If you look at the portraits of Cicada, the Hotweather-bug or Locust, and of the Katydid, you will not see their musical instruments very plainly, but believe me they have them; and you can hear them any late summer hot-weather time, in any part of the Eastern States and some parts of southern Canada.
And now let me finish with a secret. Katy is not a lady at all, but a he-one disguised in green silk stockings, and a green satin dress.