Hush, whisper! Did you ever meet a Hickory Horn-devil? No! Well I did, and I tell you he is a terror. Look at this picture of him. It is true, only he is not quite so big as that, though he looks as if he might be. And I was not quite so small as that, only I felt as if I were! And everything about him looked horribly strong, poisonous and ugly. He was a real devil.
I did not know his history then; I did not learn it for a long time after, but I can tell it to you now.
Once upon a time there was a little, greenish, blackish worm. He loved pretty things, and he hated to be ugly, as he was. No one wanted him, and he was left all alone, a miserable little outcast. He complained bitterly to Mother Carey, and asked if she would not bless him with some grace, to help him in his troubles.
Mother Carey said: "Little ugly worm; you are having a hard time, because in your other life, before you came into this shape, you had an ugly, hateful spirit. You must go through this one as you are, until the Great Sleep comes; after that, you will be exactly what you have made of yourself."
Then the little ugly worm said: "Oh Mother Carey, I am as miserable as I can be; let me be twice as ugly, if, in the end, I may be twice as beautiful."
Mother Carey said gravely, "Do you think you could stand it, little worm? We shall see."
From that time the worm got bigger and uglier, no creature would even talk to him. The birds seemed to fear him, and the Squirrels puffed out little horror-snorts, when they saw him coming, even the other worms kept away from him.
So he went on his lonely life, uglier and more hated than ever. He lived chiefly on a big hickory tree, so men called him the Hickory Horn-devil.
One day as he was crawling on a fence, a hen with chickens came running after him, to eat him. But when she saw how ugly he was she cried: "Oh, Lawk, lawk! Come away, children, at once!"
At another time he saw a Chipmunk teaching its little ones to play tag. They looked so bright and happy, he longed, not to join them because he could only crawl, but to have the happiness of looking on. But when he came slowly forward, and the old Chipmunk saw him waving his horns and looking like a green poisonous reptile, she screamed, "Run, my children!" and all darted into their hole while Mother Chipmunk stuffed up the doorway with earth.
But the most thrilling thing of all that he saw was one day as the sun went down, a winged being of dazzling beauty alighted for a moment on his hickory tree. Never had the Horn-devil seen such a dream of loveliness. Her slender body was clad in rose velvet, and her wings were shining with gold. The very sight of her made him hate himself, yet he could not resist the impulse to crawl nearer, to gaze at her beauty.
But her eyes rested a moment on his horrible shape, and she fled in fear, while a voice near by said: "The Spangled Queen does not love poisonous reptiles." Then the poor little Horn-devil wished he were dead. He hid away from sight for three days. Hunger however forced him out, and as he was crawling across a pathway, a man who came along was going to crush him underfoot, but Mother Carey whispered, "No, don't do it." So the man let him live, but roughly kicked the worm aside, and bruised him fearfully.
Then came Mother Carey and said: "Well, little ugly worm! Is your spirit strong, or angry?"
The worm said bravely, though feebly: "Mother, Mother Carey, I am trying to be strong. I want to win."
The breezes were losing their gentle warmth when Mother Carey came to him one day, and said: "Little one, your trial has been long, but it is nearly over.
"Prepare to sleep now, my little horny one, you have fought a brave fight; your reward is coming. Because your soul has been made beautiful by your suffering, I will give you a body blazing with such beauty as shall make all stand in adoration when you pass." Then Mother Earth said, "Our little one shall have extra care because he has had extra trials." So the tired little Horn-devil did not even have to make himself a hammock, for Mother Earth received him and he snuggled into her bosom. As Mother Carey waved her wand, he dropped off asleep. And he slept for two hundred days.
Then came the great Awakening Day, the resurrection day of the woods. Many new birds arrived. Many new flowers appeared. Sleepers woke from underground, as Mother Carey's silent trumpeters went bugling ahead of her, and her winged horse, the Warm Wind, came sweeping across the meadows, with the white world greening as he came.
The bundle-baby of the Horn-devil woke up. He was cramped and sleepy, but soon awake. Then he knew that he was a prisoner, bound up in silken cords of strength. But new powers were his now, he was able to break the cords and crawl out of his hole. He put up his feelers to find those horrible horns, but they were gone, and his devil form fell off him like a mask. He had wings, jewelled wings! on his back now. Out he came to fluff the newfound wings awhile, and when they were spread and supple he flew into the joyful night, one of the noblest of all the things that fly, gorgeous in gold and velvet, body and wings; filled with the joy of life and flight, he went careering through the soft splendour of the coming night. And as he flew, he glimpsed a radiant form ahead, a being like himself, with wings of velvet and gold. At first he thought it was the Princess of the Hickory Tree, but now his eyes were perfect, and he could see that this was a younger and more beautiful Spangled Princess than the one of his bygone life, and all his heart was filled with the blazing fire of love. Fearlessly now he flew to overtake her; for was she not of his own kind? She sped away, very fast at first, but maybe she did not go as fast as she could, for soon he was sailing by her side. At first she turned away a little, but she was not cross or frightened now. She was indeed inclined to play and tease. Then in their own language, he asked her to marry him, and in their own language she said, "yes." Away they flew and flew on their wedding flight, high in the trees in the purple night, glorious in velvet and gold, more happy than these printed words can tell.
The wise men who saw them said, "There go the Royal Citheronia and his bride." And Mother Carey smiled as she saw their bliss, and remembered the Hickory Horn-devil.