by Carl Ewald
By Carl Ewald
THE DANISH BY
ALEXANDER TEIXEIRA DE MATTOS
THORNTON BUTTERWORTH LTD
15 BEDFORD ST LONDON WC2
THE ROYAL ROAD
THE CARL EWALD BOOKS
ALEXANDER TEIXEIRA DE MATTOS
* * * * *
2. THE OLD WILLOW TREE
and other stories
6. THE POND
THE NETTA SYRETT BOOKS
3. TOBY &THE ODD BEASTS
4. RACHEL &THE SEVEN WONDERS
8. MAGIC LONDON
THE W. H. KOEBEL BOOKS
5. THE BUTTERFLIES' DAY
7. THE PAGEANT OF THE FLOWERS
* * * * *
THE ROYAL ROAD LIBRARY
CHAPTER I. The
CHAPTER II. A
Man of The World
CHAPTER III. A
CHAPTER IV. The
CHAPTER V. The
CHAPTER VII. The
CHAPTER IX. The
CHAPTER XI. The
Worst Day of All
CHAPTER XII. The
[Illustration: THE CRAYFISH DROPPED OFF p. 105]
CHAPTER I. The Beginning
One day in early spring, a young reed-warbler sat in a bush in Italy
and hung his beak.
This was not because he really had anything to complain of. The sun
was shining; there were flies in plenty; and no one was doing him harm.
A little while before, a pretty girl, with jet-black eyes, had sat
under the bush and listened to his song and kissed her hand to him.
And yet he wanted something.
He was tired of the Italian flies. He had a feeling in his wings as
if he could do hundreds of miles at a stretch. There were notes in his
throat which he was unable to get out and his little heart was filled
with a longing which he could not understand and which would have made
him cry, if a reed-warbler knew how to cry. But he can only sing and he
sings just alike on all days, whether he be glad or sorry.
So he sang. And, when he stopped, he heard a voice, from a bush
close by, which resembled his own to a nicety, only it was not so
He was off in a moment and alighting on a twig gazed at the sweetest
little lady reed-warbler that one could wish to set eyes on.
There was no one to introduce them to each other and so they
introduced themselves. For there is not the same stiff etiquette among
birds as at a court ball. Also things move more quickly; and, when they
had chatted for five minutes or so, the reed-warbler said:
Now that I have seen you, I know what's the matter with me. I am
longing to go back to the land where I was born. I have a distinct
recollection of a quiet pond, with reeds and rushes and green beeches
I am longing to go there, too, said the little reed-warbler. I
remember it also.
Then the best thing that we can do is to get engaged, said he. As
soon as we come to the pond, we will celebrate our marriage and build a
Will you love me till I die? she asked.
I can't answer for more than the summer, he replied. But I
promise you that.
Then she said yes. They had no one to announce the engagement to,
for they had seen none of their relations since the autumn. So they had
a little banquet to themselves. He treated her to some fat flies; and
they sang a little duet and started on their journey.
They flew for many days.
Sometimes they rested a little, when they came to a green valley,
and they also made travelling-acquaintances. For there were many birds
going the same way and they often flew in flocks and flights. But the
two reed-warblers always kept close together, as good sweethearts
should. And, when they were tired, they cheered each other with tales
of the quiet pond.
At last they arrived.
It was a beautiful morning towards the end of May. The sun was
shining; and white clouds floated slowly through the sky. The beeches
were quite out and the oaks nearly. The reeds and rushes were green,
the little waves danced merrily in the sun and all things wore a look
of sheer enjoyment.
Isn't it lovely? asked the reed-warbler.
Yes, she said. We will live here.
Close to the shore they found a place which they liked. They bound
three reeds together with fine fibres, a yard above the water, and then
wove the dearest little basket, which they lined with nice down. When
the reeds swayed in the wind, the nest swayed too, but that did not
matter, for it was bound fast and reed-warblers are never seasick.
It took them eight days to build it; and they were awfully happy
together all the time. They sang, so that they could be heard right
across the pond; and, in the evening, when they were tired, they hopped
about in the reeds and smiled upon each other or peeped at their
neighbours on either side and opposite.
There's the water-lily shooting up through the water, said little
Mrs. Reed-Warbler. I remember her well; she is so stately and so
There is the green frog sitting on the edge, said he. He catches
flies and grubs, just as I do, but there are enough here for both of
us, so we shan't fall out.
Look at the cray-fish crawling down below! cried she. And there's
the roach ... and the perch ... and oh, look, there's quite a green
wood at the bottom of the pond and fish swimming between the branches
and caddis-grubs rocking in their cases!...
Yes, it's charming here, he said, in a tone as though it all
belonged to him.
And they all look so nice, she said, and so happy. I feel sure
they are all newly married like ourselves.
Of course, said the reed-warbler. Every one gets married in the
spring. But I don't believe there's anybody in the wide world as happy
as we are.
And then he stretched out his neck and sang, for all to hear:
There's not in the wide world a sweetheart like mine,
So fair, so fine,
And no singer on earth sings better!
Let others go worship whomever they will,
I'm true to my beautiful sweetheart still
And shall never, forget her.
And so you're only going to love me for the summer? she said.
That's just a way of talking, said he.
CHAPTER II. A Man of The World
Little Mrs. Reed-Warbler heaved five deep sighs and, at each sigh,
she laid an egg. Then she sat down on the eggs and sighed again.
And the reeds swayed in the balmy wind and the nest swayed and the
eggs swayed that lay in the nest and the dear little brown bird that
sat on the eggs. Even the husband swayed. For, when one rush sways, the
other sways too; and he was sitting on one just beside the nest.
You're no worse off than others, darling, he said. Look down into
the water and see for yourself.
I can see nothing, she said sadly.
Fiddlesticks! said the reed-warbler. You can peep over for a
minute, if you sit down again at once.
And so she peeped over.
It was certainly very busy down below.
The pond-snail was swimming with her pointed shell on her back. She
stood right on her head in the water and made a boat of her broad foot,
which lay level with the surface of the pond and supported the whole
fabric. Then she stretched out her foot and the boat was gone and she
went down to the bottom and stuck a whole heap of slimy eggs to the
stalk of a water-lily.
The pike came and laid an egg in a water-milfoil bush. The carp did
the same; and the perch hung a nice nest of eggs in between the reeds
where the warblers had built their nest. The frog brought her eggs, the
stickleback had almost finished his nest and hundreds of animals that
were so small that one could hardly see them ran about and made ready
for their young ones.
Just then, the eel put his head up out of the mud:
If you will permit me, madam ... I have seen a bit of the world
Mrs. Reed-Warbler gave a faint scream.
I can't stand that person, she said to her husband. He's so like
the adder, who ate my little sister last year, when she fell to the
ground as she was learning to fly. He has the same offensive manners
and is just as slippery.
Oh, said the eel, it's a great misfortune for me if I meet with
your disapproval, madam, on that account. And it's quite unjust. I am
only a fish and not the slightest relation to the adder, who took that
little liberty with your sister, madam. We may have just a superficial
resemblance, in figure and movement: one has to wriggle and twist. But
I am really much more slippery. My name, for that matter, is Eel ... at
My wife is hatching her eggs, said the reed-warbler. She can't
stand much excitement.
Thank you for telling me, Mr. Reed-Warbler, said the eel. I did
not mean to intrude.... But as I have travelled considerably myself,
like you and your good lady, I thought I might venture to address you,
in the hope that we may hold the same liberal opinions concerning the
petty affairs of the pond.
So you are a traveller. Can you fly? asked the reed-warbler.
Not exactly, said the eel. I can't fly. But I can wriggle and
twist. I can get over a good stretch of country, which is more than
most fish are able to say. I feel grand in the damp grass; and give me
the most ordinary ditch and you'll never hear me complain. I come
straight from the sea, you know. And, when I've eaten myself fat here,
I shall go back to the sea again.
That's saying a good deal, said the reed-warbler.
Yes, said the eel, modestly. And just because I have seen
something of the world, all this fuss about children in the pond here
strikes me as a bit absurd.
You're talking rather thoughtlessly, my good Eel, said the
reed-warbler. I can see you have neither wife nor children.
Oh, said the eel, making a fine flourish with his tail, that
depends on how you look at it! Last year, I brought about a million
eels into the world.
Goodness gracious me! said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Aren't you exaggerating? asked her husband, who was equally
impressed, but did not wish to show it.
Possibly, replied the eel. That's easily done, with such large
figures. But it's of no consequence. You can divide it by two, if that
eases your conscience.
And what about your own conscience, as the father of such an
I never really consulted it, said the eel.
And how's your wife? asked little Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Can't say. I never saw her.
You never saw your wife?
No, madam. Nor my children either.
Indeed, you do your friends an injustice, said the reed-warbler.
For, only a moment ago, with my own eyes I saw how the stickleback
built a nest down there for his children.
The stickleback! said the eel, with a sneer. I can't stand
sticklebacks: they prick me so horribly in the neck. But that has
nothing to do with the case. What is a stickleback, I ask you? I
remember once when I was caught and about to be skinned. I was very
small at the time and the cook, who was going to put a knife into me,
said 'No bigger than a stickleback'!
Were you caught? Were you about to be skinned? asked the
reed-warbler. How on earth did you escape?
I slipped away from the cook, replied the eel. Thanks to my
slipperiness, which your good lady disliked. Then I got into the sink
... out through the gutter, the gutter-pipe, the ditch and so on. One
has to wriggle and twist.
You may well say that! said the reed-warbler.
One goes through a bit of everything, you see, said the eel. But
to return to what we were saying, take us eels, for instance. We fling
our young into the sea and, for the rest, leave them to their own
resources. Like men of the world that we are, we know what life is
worth and therefore we fling them out wholesale, by the million, as I
said just now: I beg pardon, by the half-million; I don't want to
offend your love of accuracy. In this way, the children learn to shift
for themselves at once. I was brought up in this way myself and learnt
to wriggle and twist.
I can't understand it, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Very sorry, said the eel. Perhaps my conversation is rather too
much for a lady who is sitting on her eggs.
I think children are the sweetest things in the world, she said.
One can't help being fond of them, whether they're one's own or
The ladies are always right, said the eel, eating a couple of
caddis-grubs and a little worm. But am I mistaken, or did I see you
eat a grub just now, madam, which your husband brought you?
Yes ... isn't that a child too?
I shall faint in a minute, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler; and she did.
Wriggle and twist! said the eel; and off he went.
The reed-warbler brought his wife back to life with three fat flies,
seven sweet songs and a jog on her neck.
You ought to appreciate me, at any rate! he said, when she was
sufficiently recovered for him to speak to her. The way I feed you and
sing to you! Think what other husbands are like.
So I do, she replied.
CHAPTER III. A Mother
Time passed and all respectable bird-wives were sitting on their
eggs and wearing a serious look in their eyes, while their husbands
went hunting for flies or sang to them.
It was the same at the Reed-Warblers'. But there was no denying that
the husband was sometimes a little tired and cross. Then he would
reflect upon the easy time which the Eel husband had and the Frog
husband and the Perch husband and all the others.
One evening he sat in the nest and sang:
Now spring is here, to God all praise!
Though in hard work I'm up to the eyes.
For billing and cooing I'd just seven days;
Now I've to flutter about after flies
For my little wife, who our eggs is hatching;
And don't those flies just take some catching!
And each chick will want food for the good of its voice.
Aha, I have every right to rejoice!
If you're tired of it, why did you do it? said little Mrs.
Reed-Warbler. You took pains enough to curry favour with me at first.
How smart you used to look. I believe you're already beginning to lose
It's weary work, he said. When a fellow has to go after flies
like this, in all weathers, his wedding-finery soon wears out.
I don't think you're singing as nicely as you did, said she.
Really? Well, I can just as easily stop. It's for your sake that I
pipe my tune. Besides, you can see for yourself that I'm only joking.
I'm tremendously glad of the children. It will be an honour and a
pleasure to me to stuff them till they burst. Perhaps we might have
been satisfied with three.
You ought to be ashamed of yourself! she said.
So I am, dear, because of the other two. But, as I don't know which
two those are, it makes no difference.
She put on a very serious face. But he caught a fat fly that was
passing, popped it into her mouth and struck up so pretty a trill that
she fell quite in love with him again.
At that moment a deep sigh rose from the water under the bank.
That came from a mother, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. I could hear
That's what it did, said a hoarse voice.
The Reed-Warblers peeped down and beheld a cray-fish, who sat in the
mud staring with her stalked eyes.
Dear me, is that you, Goody Cray-Fish? said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
It is indeed, dear madam, said the cray-fish. It's myself and no
other. I was just sitting down here in my dirt listening to what the
quality were saying. Heavens, what a good time a fine lady like you
enjoys, compared with another!
Every one has his burden, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. Believe me,
it's no joke sitting here and perspiring.
The cray-fish crossed her eyes and folded her antennæ.
Yes, you may well talk, said she. How long does it last with you?
Four or five weeks, I should say. But I have to go for six months with
Goodness gracious! But then you can move about.
Oh, said Goody, moving is always a rather slow matter for a
cray-fish. And then you have only five eggs, ma'am, but I have two
Dear me! said the reed-warbler. Then your poor husband has to
slave to provide food for that enormous family.
He? The monster! replied the cray-fish. He knows too much for
that. I haven't so much as seen him since the wedding.
Then you must have a huge, big nest for all those eggs, said the
It's easy to see that you don't know poor folks' circumstance, dear
madam, said the cray-fish. People of our class can't afford nests.
No, I just have to drag the eggs about with me as best I may.
Where are they, then, Goody Cray-Fish?
I carry them on my hind legs, lady. I have ten little hind legs,
you see, besides my eight proper legs and my claws, which are very
necessary to bite one's way through this wicked world with. And on each
of my hind legs there is a heap of twenty eggs. That makes two hundred
in all. I'll show them to you, if you like. The eggs are worth looking
So saying, the cray-fish turned over on her back and stuck out her
tail as far as she could. And there the eggs were, just as she had
said, on ten little back legs.
That comes of having too many hind-legs, said the reed-warbler.
For shame! To poke fun at the poor woman! said his wife.
But the cray-fish slowly turned round again and said, quietly:
Gentlemen are always so witty. We women understand one another
better. And I shouldn't so much mind about the eggs, if it wasn't that
one can't change one's clothes.
Change your clothes? asked Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Yes, ma'am ... you change yours too, from time to time, I know. I
have seen the feathers with my own eyes, floating on the water. And it
goes so easily and quickly: a feather here, a feather there and it's
done. But other people, who wear a stiff shirt, have to take it all off
at once. And I can't do that, you see, as long as I am carrying the
eggs about. Therefore, since I have been married, I change only once a
year. Now one always grows a bit stouter, even though one is but a
common woman; and so I feel pretty uncomfortable sometimes, I assure
Mrs. Reed-Warbler was greatly touched; and her husband began to
sing, for he was afraid lest all this sadness should make the eggs
melancholy and spoil the children's voices.
But, at that moment, the cray-fish screamed and struck out with her
claws and carried on like a mad woman.
Look!... Ma'am ... do look!... There comes the monster!
Mrs. Reed-Warbler leant so far over the edge of the nest that she
would have plumped into the pond if her husband had not given her a
good shove. But he had no time to scold her, for he was curious
himself. They both stared down into the water.
And there, as she had said, came Goody Cray-Fish's husband slowly
creeping up to her backwards.
Good-day, mother, he said. I'm going to change.
Oh, are you? she screamed. Yes, that's just like you. You can run
and change at any moment while your poor lawfully-wedded wife has to go
about in her old clothes. You would do better to think of me and the
Why should I, mother? he replied, calmly. What good would it do
if I thought of you? And what need have I to meddle with women's work?
What must be must be. Hold your tongue now, while it lasts, for this is
Then the reed-warblers saw how he raised himself on his tail and
split across the middle of his back. Then he bent and twisted and
pulled off his coat over his head.
That's that, he said, puffing and blowing. Now for the trousers!
Mrs. Reed-Warbler drew back her head, but immediately peeped down
again. And the cray-fish stretched and wriggled until, with a one, two,
three, the shell of his tail was shed as well.
Now he was quite naked and funny to look at and talked with a very
Good-bye, mother, he said. Give the young ones my love, for they
will be gone, I daresay, before I come back again. I am retiring for
ten days or so and shall be at home to nobody.
You monster! yelled Goody. Just look at him ... now he'll creep
into his hole and lie there idle. In ten days' time he'll come out
again, in brand-new clothes, looking most awfully arrogant. She wrung
her claws and glared terribly with her stalked eyes. I should really
like to crawl into the hole after him and bite him to death, she
continued. His life isn't worth twopence in his present condition. But
I loved him once. And one is and remains just a silly woman.
Yes, Goody Cray-Fish, and then you have the children, said little
That's true, she replied. And, indeed, they are my only comfort.
The dear little things, I feel as if I would love to eat them. You
should just see, ma'am, how they hang on to my skirts during the first
week. They are so fond of me that they simply can't leave me.
How nice that is! said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Yes. And afterwards I have no trouble with them at all. You may
believe me or not, as you please, dear lady, but, as soon as they are a
week old, they go into the world and look after themselves. It's in
their blood. It has never been known in the pond for a twelve-day-old
cray-fish to be a burden on his family. And then you're done with them;
and that may be rather sad, but, of course, it's a relief as well: two
hundred children like that, in a small household! But you shall see
them, ma'am, when they come ... I really have to control myself in
order not to eat them, they're such dears!
Well, I'll tell you something, Goody Cray-Fish, said Mrs.
Reed-Warbler. When my young ones are out, you shall have the shells.
Oh, how good of you, ma'am! said the cray-fish. You could not
possibly do me a greater kindness. For I promise you I shall eat them.
I eat as much chalk as I can get hold of against the time when I change
my things, for that puts starch into the new shirt. But then, also, you
must really promise me, ma'am, to look at my young ones. They are so
sweet that, goodness knows, I should like to eat them....
At that moment, a large carp appeared in the water, with a sad,
You do eat them, he said.
Oh! yelled Goody, and went backwards into her hole and showed
herself no more.
But Mrs. Reed-Warbler fainted on her five eggs and the carp swam on
with his sad, weary face.
CHAPTER IV. The Water-Spider
Little Mrs. Reed-Warbler was not feeling very well.
She was nervous and tired from sitting on the eggs and she had just
a touch of fever. She could not sleep at night, or else she dreamt of
the cray-fish and the carp and the eel and screamed so loud that her
husband nearly fell into the pond with fright.
I wish we had gone somewhere else, she said. Obviously, there's
none but common people in this pond. Just think how upset I was about
Goody Cray-Fish. Do you really believe she eats her children?
Before he could reply, the eel stuck his head out of the mud and
made his bow:
Absolutely, madam, he said, ab-so-lutely. That is to say, if she
can get hold of them. They decamp as soon as they can, for they have an
inkling, you know, of what's awaiting them. Children are cleverer than
But that's terrible, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Oh, well, said the eel, one eats so many things from year's end
to year's end! I don't condemn her for that. But, I admit, it doesn't
look well amid all that show of affection.... Hullo, there's the
pike!... Forgive me for retiring in the middle of this interesting
He was off.
And the pike appeared among the reeds with wide-open mouth and rows
of sharp teeth and angry eyes.
Oof! said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Come down here and I'll eat you, said the pike, grinning with all
Please keep to your own element, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler,
I eat everything, said the pike, ev-e-ry-thing. I smell eel, I
smell cray-fish, I smell carp. Where are they? Tell me at once, or I'll
break your reed with one blow of my tail!
[Illustration: THE PIKE APPEARED AMONG THE REEDS [p. 38 ]
The reed-warblers were silent for sheer terror. And the pike struck
out with his tail and swam away. The blow was so powerful that the
reeds sighed and swayed and the birds flew up with startled screams.
But the reeds held and the nest remained where it was. Mrs.
Reed-Warbler settled down again and her husband began to sing, so that
no one should see how frightened he had been. Then she said:
A nice place this!
You take things too much to heart, said he. Life is the same
everywhere; and we must be satisfied as long as we can get on well
together. I am very much afraid that all this excitement will hurt the
children's voices and then they will disgrace us at the autumn concert.
Pull yourself together and control yourself!
It's easy for you to talk, she said. And I know well enough what
life is worth. My innocent little sister was eaten by an adder and my
mother was caught by a hawk, just after she had taught us to fly. I
myself had to travel in hot haste to Italy, last autumn, if I didn't
want to die of hunger. Then you came; and I have already learnt that
marriage is not an unmixed blessing. After all, one would be glad of
peace just after the children are born. And then, of course, I think of
what the children will grow up like in this murderers' den. Children
take after others. And such examples as they see before them here!
Really, it might end in their eating their parents!
Yes, why not, if they taste good? asked a ladylike voice on the
surface of the water.
Mrs. Reed-Warbler shrank back and hardly dared look down.
A little water-spider sat on the leaf of a water-lily and smoothed
her fine velvet dress.
You're looking very hard at me, Mrs. Reed-Warbler, but you won't
eat me, she said. I lie too heavy on the stomach. I am a bit
poisonous ... just poisonous enough, of course, and no more. Apart from
that, I am really the most inoffensive woman in the water.
And you say that one ought to eat one's parents? asked Mrs.
Maybe that was a rather free way of talking to a bird, said the
spider. What suits one doesn't necessarily suit another. I only know
that I ate my mother last year and a fine, fat, old lady she was.
Sing to me, or I'll die! screamed Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Her husband sang. And, meanwhile, they looked down at the
She plunged head foremost into the water. For a moment, she let her
abdomen float on the surface of the pond and distended her spinnerets
till they were full of air. Then the creature sank and shone like
silver as she glided down to the bottom.
That's very, very pretty, said the reed-warbler.
Be quiet, said his wife and stared till she nearly strained her
Deep down in a bush, the spider had spun a bell, which she filled
with air. The bell was built of the finest yarn that she was able to
supply and fastened on every side with strong, fine threads, so that it
could not float away. And round about it was a big web for catching
insects.... Just now a water-mite was hanging in it and the spider took
her into the bell and sucked her out.
It's really remarkable, said little Mrs. Reed-Warbler. She has a
nest just as we have, hung up between the reeds. For all we know, she
may sit on her eggs.
Ask her, said the reed-warbler.
I want first to get to the bottom of that story about her mother,
said she, sternly.
Soon after, the spider came up again and sat on the leaf of the
water-lily and smoothed herself out.
You were looking down at me, weren't you? she said. Yes ... I
have quite a nice place, haven't I? A regular smart little parlour. You
must know I am an animal that loves fresh air, like Mr. Reed-Warbler
and yourself. And, as my business happens to lie in the water, it was
easiest for me to arrange it this way. It's thoroughly cosy down there,
I assure you. And, in the winter, I lock the door and sleep and snore
the whole day long.
Have you any eggs? asked Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Rather! said the spider. I have everything that belongs to a
well-regulated household. I have any number of eggs. As I lay them, by
degrees, I hang them up in bundles from the ceiling of my parlour.
Don't you hatch them?
No, dear lady. My heart is not so warm as that. And it's not
necessary either. They come out nicely by themselves.
Did your husband help you build the parlour? asked Mrs.
He had enough to do building for himself, the booby! she said.
You needn't think I would have him in my parlour, He made himself a
little room beside it; and then there was the tunnel between us and
that was really more than enough.
Was? asked Mrs. Reed-Warbler. Is he no longer with you,
then?... Oh, you mustn't take my question amiss, if it pains you. I
find it so difficult to understand the domestic conditions of the lower
classes.... Perhaps you don't even know where he is?
Why, I should just think I did know! replied the spider. More or
less. For I ate him last Wednesday.
Goodness gracious me! said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
He was in my way, said the spider. I tumbled over him wherever I
went. And what was I to do with him? So I ate him up; and a tough
little brute he was!
She ate her husband on Wednesday and she ate her mother last year,
said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. Sing to me, or that terrible woman will be the
death of me!
But the reed-warbler himself was so frightened that he could not get
out a note. And the spider did not care in the least.
Yes ... mother, she said. That was only out of hunger. I didn't
eat her alone, either. My brothers and sisters shared in the feast. We
were famishing and there was nothing else to eat, for it was well in
the autumn. Then mother came along, just in the nick of time, and so we
She jumped into the water again.
But Mrs. Reed-Warbler did not sleep a wink that night. She kept on
whispering to herself:
She ate her mother ... she ate her husband on Wednesday....
Come, don't think about it, said the reed-warbler. Why, your own
mother was eaten by the hawk; and, if you eat me, it will be for love!
[Illustration: 'HE WAS IN MY WAY,' SAID THE SPIDER]
You ought to be ashamed to jest in such times as these, said she.
I think all times are alike, he said. Those we live in always
seem the worst.
Then morning came and the sun shone and he sang to his little brown
wife until she recovered her spirits.
CHAPTER V. The Bladder-Wort
Little Mrs. Reed-Warbler's babies were now expected any day.
There was no end to her nervousness and unreasonableness. Her
husband simply could not satisfy her. If he brought her a fly, she
shook her head and asked how could he think her capable of eating
immediately before the most important event in her life. If he brought
her none, she said it was evidently his intention to starve her. If he
sang, it was unbearable to listen to him. If he was silent, she could
plainly see that he no longer cared for her.
You don't appreciate me as I deserve, he said. You ought to be
married to the eel for a bit, or to the cray-fish's husband; then you
would know what's what.
And you ought to have taken the spider, said she. Then you would
have been eaten.
Dear lady! Dear lady! cried the cray-fish from down in the mud.
Well? said the reed-warbler.
I can't stand this! said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
I only wanted to ask you, dear lady, not to forget me and those
shells, said the cray-fish.
I won't have anything to do with an odious woman like you, who eats
her own children, replied Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Oh, dear!... Surely, ma'am, you don't believe that mean carp who
was here the other day? A horrid, malicious fellow like that! He
doesn't even belong to the pond, you know. He's a regular man's fish.
They only put him here to fatten him up and eat him afterwards ... I
saw it myself last year; he was a mere spawn then; now he has grown big
and stout on men's food; and he has plenty of time, too, since he
doesn't have to work like another; and so he runs round and slanders
poor people and robs them of the sympathy of kind ladies like
Stop your chattering, Goody Cray-Fish, said the reed-warbler.
You'll drive my wife quite silly with your silly talk.
Oh, dear!... Well, I beg a thousand pardons, said the cray-fish.
I only want to remind the lady about the egg-shells.
Then she went backwards into her hole.
Why will you think so much about all that rabble? said the
reed-warbler to his wife. There are other things in the world besides
cray-fish and eels and spiders. Find something pretty to look at. That
would do you good just now.
Show me something, she said, languidly.
Look at the beautiful white flower down below there, said he. See
how charmingly he rises above the water. He surely can be neither a
robber nor a cut-throat.
It was really a beautiful white flower that grew up from the bottom
of the pond on a long, thin stalk and looked exceedingly sweet and
innocent. Mrs. Reed-Warbler glanced at him kindly:
What's your name, you pretty flower? she asked. May I look at you
Look as much as you please, replied the flower. My name's
Bladder-Wort, and I have no time to waste in talking to you. I have
things to attend to and must hurry.
Mrs. Reed-Warbler stretched her neck and peeped down into the water.
That horrid spider has her nest between his leaves, she said.
Well, the bladder-wort can't help that, replied her husband. It's
a flower's fate to stand where he stands and take things as they come.
He sucks his food calmly out of the ground, has no stains on his
flowers, and no blood on his leaves. That's what makes him so poetic
and so refined.
Hush! she said. They are talking together.
And talk together they did, with a vengeance.
Have you caught anything? asked the bladder-wort.
Indeed I have, replied the water-spider. I don't go to bed
fasting. This is a good time of year for water-mites, and so I don't
complain. And how have you done?
Nicely, thank you, said the bladder-wort. I have caught a hundred
and fifty midge-grubs and forty carp-spawn this afternoon. But I'm not
satisfied. I don't believe I could ever be satisfied.
What's that he's saying! whispered little Mrs. Reed-Warbler, and
looked at her husband in dismay.
Be quiet, he said. Let us hear more.
The spider went into her parlour, hung seven eggs from the ceiling,
swallowed a mouthful of air and came out again.
You're really a terrible robber, she said. If it wasn't that I
had come to lodge with you, I should be furious with you. Why, you take
the bread out of my mouth!
Nonsense! said the bladder-wort. Surely there's plenty for the
two of us! I am quite pleased to have a lodger who drives the same
trade as myself. It gives one something to talk about.
It's really odd that a flower like yourself should have turned
robber, said the spider. It's not in your nature, generally
What am I to say? replied the flower. These are hard times. There
are a great many of us, and the earth is quite exhausted. So I hit upon
this and it goes swimmingly. But then I have got my apparatus just
right. Would you like to see it?
Very much, said the spider. But you won't hurt me, will you?
Be easy, said the bladder-wort, with a laugh. You're too big for
me. Run along one of my stalks and I'll explain the whole thing to
The spider crept cautiously for some way down the branch and then
stopped and looked at a little bladder there.
That's tight, said the bladder-wort. That is one of my traps. I
catch my prey in them. I have a couple of hundred of them.
So you can eat two hundred water-mites at a time? said the spider,
I can. If they come. But I'm never so jolly lucky as all that. Now
just look: beside the bladder you will see a little flap, which is
quite loose. When some fool or other knocks up against it, it goes in
andslap, dash!the fool tumbles into the bladder. He can't get out;
and then I eat him at my leisure.
Do you hear? whispered Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Yes, said the reed-warbler, with a very serious face.
The spider could not resist fumbling at the flap with one of her
Ow! she yelled suddenly.
She darted back with a jerk and the leg remained caught in the
bladder. It was drawn inside in a twinkling and the flap closed and the
leg was gone.
Give me back my leg, please, said the spider, angrily.
Have I your leg? asked the bladder-wort. Well then, you must have
touched the flap. What did you do that for, dear friend? I made a point
of warning you!
You said I was too big.
So you are, worse luck! But, of course, I can easily eat you in
bits, like this.
It's not nice of you, seeing that you're my landlord, said the
spider. But as I have seven legs left, I suppose I must forgive you.
Do, dear friend, said the bladder-wort. I must tell you, I am not
really master of myself when those flaps are meddled with. Then I have
to eat what is inside of them. So be careful next time!
You may be sure of that, said the spider. One has to be cautious
with a fellow like you. Would you think it indiscreet if I asked you
what my leg tastes like?
Oh, well, said the bladder-wort, there wasn't much on it. For
that matter, I've finished, in case you care to see what's left of it.
Just then the flap was opened, and a tiny little hard stump was
flung out into the water.
Is that my leg? asked the spider.
Don't you recognise it?
The bladder-wort laughed contentedly. The spider stood and looked at
the stump for a little while. Then she said good-night and limped sadly
into her parlour.
Good-night, said the bladder-wort, pleasantly. And good luck to
your hunting in the morning.
I shall never survive this, said little Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
But, at that moment, she felt something alive under her:
The children! she screamed.
She was up on the edge of the nest in a second. On the opposite side
sat her husband, watching just as eagerly as she.
One egg was quite in two and one of the others was burst. A wee,
blind, naked youngster lay in the nest; and from the other egg
protruded the dearest little leg of a chick.
Did you ever see anything like it? cried she. Isn't it charming?
Delightful! said he.
Then they began carefully to peck at the other eggs. And, inside,
the young chicks pecked with their little beaks and five minutes later,
they were all five out.
Help me to clear up, she said.
Out flew the shells, on every side, down into the water.
God bless you, kind lady! cried Goody Cray-Fish from down below.
She was out for an evening stroll. But no one heard her. The
reed-warblers were mad with delight over their children and had no
thought for anything else in the world.
What are you thinking of? said the husband. They'll perish with
cold. Sit on them at once!
And she sat on them and covered them up and peeped at them every
But he stayed up half the night, singing, on the top of the reed.
CHAPTER VI. Summer
The whole pond was alive.
There were not only great, horrid pikes and great mannerly carp and
roach and perch and sticklebacks and eels. There were cray-fish and
frogs and newts, pond-snails and fresh-water mussels, water-beetles and
daddy-long-legs, whirligigs and ever so many others.
There was the duck, who quacked at her ducklings, and the swan, who
glided over the water with bent neck and rustling wings, stately and
elegant. There was the dragon-fly, who buzzed through the air, and
there were the dragon-fly's young, who crawled upon the water-plants
and ate till they burst. But that did not matter; they just had to
burst, if they were to come to anything.
There was the bladder-wort, who had his innocent white flowers above
the water and his death-traps down at the bottom; the spider, who was
still his lodger and now had the whole ceiling full of eggs, and
hundreds of thousands of midge-grubs, who lay on the surface of the
water and stuck up their air-vessels and hurried down to the bottom the
moment a shadow fell over the pond. There were hundreds of thousands of
midges, who danced in the air, and there was the water-lily, who knew
how beautiful she was, and who was unapproachable for self-conceit.
There were many more, whom you could not count without getting
dizzy. And then there were the tadpoles, who were ever so many and ever
so merry. And you only had to take a drop of water and examine it
through a magnifying-glass to see how it swarmed with tiny little
animals, who all danced about and ate one another without the least
But just under the reed-warblers' nest there was a little May-fly
grub, who was in a terrible state of fright.
She had entered into conversation with little Mrs. Reed-Warbler one
day, when the latter had gone all the way down the reed to find food
for her five youngsters, who were simply insatiable and kept on crying
for more. Just at that moment, the May-fly grub had come up to the
surface; and now the bird's beak was exactly over her.
Let me live, said she.
That's what they all say, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. My children
have to live, too!
So saying she tried to snatch her. But the grub wriggled so and
looked so queer that she could not.
Listen to me for a moment, said the grub; then I'm sure that you
won't hurt me. I am so small and so thin and fill so little space in a
Well, what is it? asked Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
I have lived here a long time, said the grub. I have heard you
talk to your husband and to the cray-fish and the eel and the spider.
It was all so beautiful, what you said. I am certain that you have a
I don't know about my heart, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. But I know I
have five hungry children.
I am a child myself, said the grub. And I should so awfully like
to live till I grow up.
Do you think that life is so pleasant?
I don't know. I am only a child, you see. I crawl about down here
and wait. When I am grown up, I shall have wings and be able to fly
You don't surely imagine that you're a bird? asked Mrs.
Oh, no! I certainly don't aim so high as that. I shall just become
I know them, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. I have eaten lots of them.
They taste very good.
Oh, well, in that case, do wait for me to grow up, before you eat
me. I shall only live for a few hours, you know, when I get my wings. I
shall just have time to fly once round the pond and lay my eggs in the
water. Then I must die. And then you may eat me and welcome. But let me
go now. And tell your husband also. He has been after me twice.
Very well, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler, though it's foolish of me.
You'll probably cheat me and let someone else eat you first.
I shall do my best to escape, said the grub. And, now, thank you
ever so much.
Before the grub had done speaking, little Mrs. Reed-Warbler was up
in the nest again, with six midge-grubs, which she had caught in one
bite. Her husband was there too with a dragon-fly, which the children
tore to pieces and ate up amid cries of delight.
There's nothing the matter with their appetites or with their
voices either, he said. If only they could shift for themselves! I am
as lean as a skeleton.
And what about me? said she. But the children are thriving and
that is the great thing.
He sighed and flew away and came home and flew away again; and so it
went on till evening. Then they both sat wearily on the edge of the
nest and looked out across the smooth pond:
It is curious how the life exhausts one, she said. Sometimes,
when I feel thoroughly tired, I can almost understand those animals who
let their children look after themselves. Did you notice the eel the
other day? How fat and gay he is.
Are you talking of me, madam? asked the eel, sticking his head out
of the mud.
Oh, you're always there! said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
More or less. One has to wriggle and twist.
Have you any news of your children?
No, thank goodness!
Oh, really? said the perch. I have an idea that I ate a couple of
them at breakfast.... Excuse me for being so frank!
Not at all, not at all! said the eel. The family is large enough
How on earth did they come up here from the sea? asked the roach.
Just as I did, I imagine, said the eel. They've got scent of
something to be made here; and two or three miles are nothing to them.
Heigho! said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Are you sighing because of all this fuss with the children? Well,
madam, what did I tell you?
Not at all, replied Mrs. Reed-Warbler. I could never behave like
[Illustration: 'OH! REALLY,' SAID THE PERCH [p. 64 ]
One has one's duties, said the reed-warbler. And the loftier
one's station in life, the heavier the duties.
Thank goodness, then, that I am of lowly station, said the eel. I
have a capital time in the mud.
Then, again, one is interested in preserving a certain amount of
poetry in the world. There is plenty of rabble, plenty of ugliness, I
admit. All the more reason why we higher animals should do something to
promote the ideal. And I can't imagine anything more ideal than a
father's labours on behalf of his family, even though they do become
rather fatiguing at times.
You're tremendously up in the clouds to-day, Mr. Reed-Warbler,
said the eel. Every one to his taste. But, as for poetry, I must
confess that I have not seen much of it in my life. And yet I have
wriggled and twisted about the world a good deal. The great question,
everywhere, is eating and eating and eating. And those who have
children to care for are the worst robbers of the lot. Good-bye.
That's a disgusting fellow, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. It was very
nice of you to give him a piece of your mind. I quite agree with you.
Besides, I myself performed a really fine action to-day.
She ran to the reed and looked into the water:
Are you there, my little grub? she asked.
Yes, thank you, said the May-fly grub.
And how are you?
Fairly. The eel almost caught sight of me; and I was nearly getting
into the bladder-wort's prison; and the water-spider was after me
before that. Otherwise, I'm all right.
What's this now? asked the reed-warbler.
Oh, answered his wife, it's a protegée of mine! A little May-fly
grub. I promised that I wouldn't eat her. She is so happy at the
thought of being grown-up ... and that only for a couple of hours, poor
She said nothing about her intention of eating the grub when she was
grown up; and the reed-warbler was seriously angry.
What sentimental gammon! he said. It's unseemly for a woman with
five children to commit such follies.
I thought it so poetic to give her leave to live, said she.
Fiddlesticks! said her husband. Poetry doesn't apply to one's
food. If it did, we should all die of hunger. Besides you can't take a
creature like that into consideration.
Thereupon he ran down the reed and hunted eagerly for the grub, to
But she heard what he said and had gone down to the bottom with
terror in her little heart.
CHAPTER VII. The Carp
The summer wore on and things grew worse and worse.
No end of young had come out of the eggs and they filled the whole
pond. Out in the middle it was quite green with millions of little
water-weeds, which died and rotted and reeked till seven big perch died
of it and floated on their backs.
The pond's blossoming! sneered the rushes.
There's a horrid smell here, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
I think, considering all things, that it's delightful here, said
The carp swam a little way in among the reeds. He had made a friend
there, in the shape of the fresh-water mussel, who waded ever so slowly
through the mud, or else settled on the bottom and yawned.
They suited each other, these two, for they were quiet and sedate
people, who led the same sort of life.
I don't care to go hunting wildly for food, said the carp. I open
my mouth where the water is moderately thick and let whatever there is
run in. Something always sticks. Then one needn't kill people and one
doesn't see all that misery.
It's just so with us, said the fresh-water mussel. I employ
exactly the same methods. It's more gentlemanly and I have grown stout
Then the two sat and talked and yawned all the time and amused
themselves capitally notwithstanding.
Mind you don't go too near them, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler to the
Yes, I will; thanks very much, said the grub.
The carp and the mussel are nicer than the others, I think, said
Mrs. Reed-Warbler to her husband.
Really? And why, pray, madam? asked the eel, who was always where
he was least expected. Surely they do just the same as all of us ...
only the animals which they eat are smaller.
There is a difference, my good fellow, said the reed-warbler.
It's only your lack of refinement that prevents your seeing it.
Yes, wriggle and twist! said the eel.
The reed-warbler did not condescend to answer him, but turned to the
carp and the mussel, struck up a little trill and said politely:
My wife and I have the honour to bid you good-morning, gentlemen.
We are delighted to observe that you lead your lives in a more mannerly
way than most of the other inhabitants of the pond. We have suffered
greatly at the sight of the extraordinary cruelty ... he paused,
caught a blue-bottle, and tossed it to his children in the nest ... of
the extraordinary cruelty that prevails in society here. It cannot but
be extremely unpleasant for well-bred people to witness the cynical and
unveiled brutality with which every one satisfies his app... Here he
seized a caddis-fly, ate it, wiped his mouth, and continued, satisfies
his appetite. You, gentlemen, are different. If you had wings, I should
be inclined to believe that originally you did not belong to this
company at all.
Your presumption is absolutely correct, replied the carp, waving
his fins complacently.
You are quite right, said the mussel, yawning politely.
I was born in another pond, said the carp, but I must confess
that I have no distinct recollection of it. I only know that they did
not lead such a wild, brigand's life there as here. For instance, I
don't think there were any fish but carp in the pond, which, of course,
improved the tone, you know. No doubt it was a nobleman's carp-pond. We
were fed five times a day and everything was removed that could
inconvenience us in any way. Until I came here, I had never set eyes on
such things as pikes, water-spiders or that horrible bladder-wort.
It must have been idyllic there, said the reed-warbler. May I
ask, were there no reed-warblers?
Oh, yes! said the carp, I think they had permission to build in
the reeds. And then there were a good many frogs, probably to cheer us
up with their croaking.
Then how did you come here?
A-ah, said the carp, that's not an easy question for me to
answer. You see, we came in a basket, I and a large number of my
friends. And then we were tilted out into the pond. I can't think of
any other reason than that they wished to improve the tone here. We had
nothing to complain of where we were before. Did you hear anything
about well-bred people in this place expressing such a wish?
No, said the reed-warbler. It didn't happen in my time. But I
have only been here since the spring.
Oh, I see, said the carp. Yes, I've been here four years. I wish
I were anywhere else. One lives in everlasting terror of the pike. A
number of my friends have disappeared in an utterly incomprehensible
manner and, I believe, saving your presence, that the pike has eaten
them. And then, as you very properly observed, the prevailing tone here
is rather ill-bred. But it doesn't matter much to you. I presume you go
away in the autumn?
A little trip to Italy, said the reed-warbler, with my family.
The carp waited and thought for a while. He yawned once or twice,
You might be able to do me a service ... it occurred to me when I
saw that nice, pointed beak of yours.
Delighted, I'm sure, said the reed-warbler.
You see, every one has his cross to bear and mine is in my gills.
Would you care to see?...
He opened one of his gill-lids and the reed-warbler ran down the
reed and peeped in:
Yes, upon my word, he said, there's a cross there.
That's the double-animal, said the carp with a deep sigh.
The double-animal. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I brought
him with me from the otherwise first-rate, high-class carp-pond which I
was telling you about. The pain he caused me even then was great, but
lately it has become almost unendurable. You must know, the animal
consists originally of two worms ... of the kind, you know, that don't
care to work for themselves, but take up their quarters with
respectable people and suck at them. I have a couple of dozen of those
in my stomach, but they don't inconvenience me anything like so much as
the double-animal. You see, to increase the meanness of the proceeding,
these scoundrels have a trick of fastening together in pairs,
cross-wise. They suck themselves firmly on to each other, until they
grow into one, and then they suck at me with united strength.
I never heard anything like it! said the reed-warbler.
I have one like it on the other side of my head, in my other gill,
said the carp. We can talk about him later. Meanwhile, may I ask you
if you would kindly try to remove the brute with your beak? I should be
exceedingly grateful to you. I am in such pain that I would rather die
than go on living like this.
At that moment, it was as though the world were coming to an end.
The reed-bank heaved and swayed, the reeds snapped. The
reed-warblers screamed, all the seven of them; the water spurted up;
the mussel rolled over; the spider's parlour was smashed.
At last!... At last!...
It was the pike's voice.
Spare my life! Spare my life! yelled the carp.
What happened next no one was ever able properly to describe.
The carp cracked and crunched between the pike's teeth, and all who
were near thought their last day had come. But, a little after, it grew
still and, when the reed-warblers had recovered themselves, the pike
was gone, and the carp's tail-fin lay and floated on the water.
The reed-warblers' nest had dropped down on one side and they had to
work for some time before they got it right. However, all the children
were safe and sound and gradually they recovered from their alarm. The
water grew clear again and the mussel sat down below and yawned.
That was a noble character, that friend of yours who has been taken
from us, said the reed-warbler.
Yes, said the mussel. For that matter, I have had experiences of
We shall look forward to hearing your story to-morrow, said the
reed-warbler. We are too much upset to talk any more to-day.
Just then, the carp's tail sank to the bottom.
Goody Cray-Fish caught it and dragged it to her hole.
Poor people must be content with crumbs from the rich man's table,
CHAPTER VIII. The Mussel
The next evening, the reed-warbler peeped down into the water.
The fresh-water mussel was sitting there and yawning as usual. There
was nothing out of the way about him.
Good-evening, said the reed-warbler. How are you, after your
friend's unhappy end?
Thank you, replied the mussel. It has not disturbed my composure
in the least. Generally speaking, nothing disturbs my composure. Only,
if any one sticks something between my shells, I become furious and I
I should do the same in your place, said the reed-warbler. And
your equanimity is really quite enviable. But still I think that the
misfortune of one's neighbour ... of your intimate friend.
I have no neighbour, said the mussel. And the carp was not my
intimate friend. We were not rivals, that is all. In a case like that,
it's easy to be friends. I was often amused at the carp's way of
talking. But I never contradict, except when any one sticks something
between my shells. The carp had had to do with human beings; that's
what it was. It always makes animals so ridiculous. You're the same,
for that matter.
I look upon that as a compliment, said the reed-warbler, who was a
little offended but did not wish to show it. However, I have nothing
to do with human beings, except that they protect me and have not the
heart to do me harm, because of my pretty voice. They stop and listen
to me as they pass. Many a poet has written beautiful lines about me.
Oh, really? said the mussel. Upon my word, they did something of
the sort about me too. But what they said was lies.
What did they say?
There was a lot of rubbish about pearls.
Oh, have you pearls? Wife! Wife! The mussel has pearls!
Not a bit of it, said the fresh-water mussel. Do stop shouting
like that. You can be heard all over the pond. If any one overheard
you, I should be in danger of being fished up. Thank goodness, there
are no pearls formed on me!
O-oh! said the reed-warbler, in a disappointed tone.
It's just the pearls the poets talk their nonsense about. They sing
of how happy the mussel is with the precious pearl he guards, and all
that sort of thing.... Do you know what a pearl is?
No, said the reed-warbler.
It's a nasty, pushing parasite ... something like the double-animal
that hurt the carp. When it comes into us, it hurts us, of course. Then
we cover the brute with mother of pearl till it dies. And then it sits
on our shell and plays at being a pearl.
Oh! said the reed-warbler. Do you hear that, wife? All our
illusions are vanishing one by one. Soon there will be nothing but
vacancy around us.
Oh, it won't be vacant so long as we have those five greedy
children! said she. They are crying for more.
They shall have no more to-day, he answered, crossly. You and I
have been running and flying about for them all day long. Now, upon my
word, I intend to be left in peace to have a chat with the neighbours.
Let's give them a flogging.
And a flogging they got. And then they cried still more and then
they went to sleep.
You hinted last night that you were not born here, in the pond,
said the reed-warbler. Tell us where you come from.
With pleasure, replied the mussel. I am fond of a gossip in the
evening myself. And no one will believe that I have had any experience,
because I move about so little.... But wait a bit. There's a saucy
person there I want a word with....
It was no other than Goody Cray-Fish.
She had crawled nearer and was fumbling at the mussel with her legs.
Now he slammed his shell down upon one of them and cut it off in the
middle. Goody screamed like one possessed and hammered away at the
mussel with her claws, but he only laughed.
[Illustration: 'HE SLAMMED HIS SHELL DOWN']
What a common fellow! cried Goody. Can't he leave a respectable
Aye, said the mussel, when she doesn't go for me!
A wretched mussel like that! she screamed. A mollusc! He is much
lower in rank than I and he dares to be impertinent. I have twenty-one
pairs of legs and he knows it: how many has he?
Come along, with all the one-and-twenty! said the mussel.
Goody went on scolding and then the reed-warbler interfered:
Drop that strong language now, he said. It doesn't matter about
those legs. I have only two myself.
I should be sorry to be found lacking in respect for you, Mr.
Reed-Warbler, said the cray-fish. I know who are my betters, right
enough. But I can't understand how a fine gentleman like you can care
to talk to one of those molluscs.
Scolding and grumbling, she withdrew to her hole, but left her head
and claws hanging outside. The mussel opened his shell, but kept four
or five of his eyes constantly fixed on Goody. These eyes were on the
edge of the mantle which lay in the slit between the shells. As soon as
the cray-fish made the slightest movement, he closed his shells at
One's soft inside all right, he said. But one shows the hard
shell to the world.
Go on with your story, said the reed-warbler.
I was born in another pond, far from here, said the mussel. I
can't give you a detailed description of it, because, as you will
understand, one in my position does not have many opportunities of
looking about him. It was not as grand as in the high-class carp-pond,
that's sure enough. To be honest with you, I think it was much the same
as herean awful heap of rabble of every kind, but lots of mussels in
particular. They sat in the mud as close as paving-stones and took the
bread out of one another's mouths. If you had a mouthful of water, it
was generally mere swipes. Some one else had sucked all the goodness
out of it, you see.
What did you do then? asked the reed-warbler.
I did nothing, replied the mussel. I never do anything, except
when any one sticks something between my shells. Then I become furious
and I pinch.... Hullo, are you there again, Goody Cray-Fish? Do you
want one of your little legs amputated, eh?
The wind-bag! said the cray-fish.
But you might have died of hunger, said the reed-warbler.
One doesn't die so easily as that, replied the mussel. Unless an
accident befalls one, as in the case of our poor carp. In fact, I once
lay for a whole year on a table in a room.
Goodness gracious! said the reed-warbler. How did you get there?
I was fished up by a student or somebody. He wrapped me in a piece
of paper and put me on the table. He wanted to see how long I could
live. Every Saturday, he unpacked me and poured a little water over me;
and that was enough to keep me alive.
But how did you escape from him?
Well, said the mussel, it was when he got engaged. People used to
come and see him sometimes, you know, and, of course, they all had to
look at the wonderful mussel that refused to die. There was a young
girl among them who was very cross with him for teasing me so. But he
only laughed at her. Well, when I had been there a year, he got engaged
to her.... They were sitting on the sofa just by me, when it happened,
and I was not so dead but that I could lift my shells a little and see
the whole thing: they're funny creatures, those human beings! Well,
then he asked her if there was anything she would like on that joyful
day. Yes, she would like me to be put back in the water again. He
laughed at her. But off they went with me to the very pond where I was
fished up and threw me in. Then I settled down among the other fellows
and began all over again.
Yes ... love! said the reed-warbler, looking round at his wife.
Ah ... love! said she, returning his glance.
I have nothing to say against it, said the mussel. But, as a
matter of fact, I have no personal experience of it.
Surely you have a wife, said the reed-warbler. Or, perhaps ...
perhaps you are a lady ...?
I am neither one or the other. I am just a mussel. And I lay my
eggs and then that's done!
Do you look after your children nicely? asked the reed-warbler.
What next! exclaimed the mussel. My children are very remarkable
individuals. They are sailors.
Yes, they are indeed. As soon as they come out of the egg, they
hoist a great sail and put out. It's only when they grow older, if they
haven't been eaten by that time, that they settle down as decent
mussels with shells upon them and philosophy in their constitutions.
Don't let us talk about children, said the reed-warbler. It
always upsets my wife so. Tell us now how you found your way to this
Ah, said the mussel, that comes of a peculiarity I possess of
becoming furious when any one sticks something between my shells. I
don't know if I told you that I possess that peculiarity?
You've told me several times, answered the reed-warbler. I shall
never forget it; I shall take care, be sure of that.
Mind you do, said the mussel. You know, it was one of your sort
that managed my removal.
I don't exactly know if it was a reed-warbler. I can't see very
well outside the water.... Good-day to you, good-day to you, Goody
Cray-Fish! I can always see you!... And to me one bird is much like
another. However, it must have been a gull. Well, I was sitting at the
bottom and yawning, as I usually do. Just above me was a little roach.
Then, suddenly, splash came the gull and seized the roach. He swooped
down at such a pace that he plumped right to the bottom. One of his
little toes stuck between my shells and I pinched. The gull tugged and
pulled, but I am strong when I become furious and I held tight. He was
the stronger, in a way, nevertheless. For he pulled me off the bottom
and then I went up through the water and into the air.
Why, it's quite a fairy-tale! said the reed-warbler.
We flew a good distance, the mussel continued, high above the
fields and woods. I could just peep out, for my shells were ajar
because of the bird's toe. We lost the fish on the way, but I held on,
however much the gull might struggle and kick. Of course, I did not
mean to hang on for ever, you know, but I wanted to have my say as to
where we should alight. Suppose I had been dropped into a tall tree and
had to hang there and wait until a student came and got engaged....
He would have come all right, said the reed-warbler. I've
travelled a great deal, but I have never been anywhere that there
wasn't a student who got engaged.
Well, in my case, it would have been rather uncertain, said the
mussel. And so, when I looked down and saw that there was blue
underneath me, I let go and fell here, into the pond.
And are you satisfied?
Yes, for the present. I have seen no other mussels, so it is a good
deal pleasanter than in the other place.
That's a curious story, said the reed-warbler.
Then he sat and fell a-thinking and night came.
But Mrs. Reed-Warbler ran down the reed and peered into the dark
Are you there, my little grub? she asked.
Yes, thank you, said the May-fly grub.
Have you had a good time to-day?
Yes, thank you. I was only nearly eaten up by the perch; and then
there was a duckling after me and a horrid dragon-fly grub and a
water-beetle. Otherwise everything was very nice indeed.
CHAPTER IX. The Water-Lily
Don't you think we shall be able to let the children out soon?
asked the reed-warbler.
Certainly not! said his wife. There can be no question of the
little dears standing on their legs for quite a month yet.
They can stand on their legs as it is, said he, for they nearly
trample one another to death when I come along with a silly fly. I tell
you, it's getting a bit difficult to provide food for everybody. There
are such an awful lot of us after it now. There are children all over
the neighbourhood and they are all crying out for food.
Are you beginning to see the truth of what I said, madam? asked
the eel, sticking his head out of the mud.
Hold your tongue and mind your own business, you ugly fish, said
Your husband has come round to my views long ago, said the eel. I
can see that plainly. He would give anything to be able to roam about
as a free bird, instead of wearing himself out with a big family.
You're quite mistaken, my good fellow, said the reed-warbler. I
certainly admit ...
You'd better mind what you're admitting! screamed his wife and
pecked at him.
Wriggle and twist! said the eel; and off he went.
That afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Reed-Warbler sat discussing the
If only we can hold out, said he. Just now, I was fighting like
mad with my old friend, the flycatcher, for a ridiculous little grub. I
got it, but he will never forgive me. When poverty comes in at the
door, love flies out at the window, as the human beings say. It will
end in screaming and quarrelling all over the pond.
It cannot be worse than it is, said she. Do as I do and think of
all the beautiful things the poets have sung about us. It always helps
to keep one's spirits up.
I wish I had a couple of nice little poets here to feed the
children with, said he, grumpily.
They sat again for a while, plunged in gloomy thoughts. The young
ones were having their mid-day nap. Then he said:
Things are queerly divided in this world. The number of sorrows and
cares that we have, we free birds, to whom the whole world is open!
Look at the water-lily. She's bound to her place. She has to struggle
up through the dark water for ever so many days before she reaches the
surface. Then she's there and unfolds her white flower and is happy.
She hasn't a care ... look at her, lying and rocking and dreaming. I
wish we were water-lilies!
Yes, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. And her seeds ripen in her lap and
then glide down in the water and take root and grow up and, next year,
they blossom around her. Oh, how delightful it must be!
Yes, but think of the bladder-wort and how he took us in! said he.
Pooh! she replied. Of course, it was that horrid spider who lived
with him that led him into evil courses. No one will make me believe
that there is anything but peace and contentment in the water-lily's
Hush! he said. She's talking to that pretty little spear-wort
The two anxious birds bent their heads and listened.
You spiteful minx! said the water-lily. You enticed two
bumble-bees away from me to-day, though you haven't a farthing's-worth
of honey in your withered calices.
Scold away! said the spear-wort. All your fine clothes won't help
you in the least. Things go by merit, you see. No respectable
bumble-bee will look at a frivolous person like you. And you may be
sure that I have more honey in one of my flowers than you in your whole
Here I stand with all my pollen ripe, said the water-lily, and
can't get rid of it. How can any one care to look at a beggar like you?
But I shall find a way of revenging myself. You annoyed me long ago,
when we were growing up through the water. Your nasty thin stalks
swarmed over me and would have choked me, if they could. You, with your
pretence! In the autumn, there won't be a particle of you left. It's
too funny, that you should be allowed to stand in the way of
In the autumn, my seeds will be ripe and sown, Water-Lily dear,
replied the spear-wort. And, next spring, I shall grow up and tease
you, just as I'm doing now. Trust me for that.
Unless they come and clean out the pond first, said the
water-lily. For then they'll take you and leave me here because of my
The spear-wort could say nothing to this, for it was true.
Did you hear? whispered Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Hush, answered the reed-warbler. Here comes a bumble-bee.
And a big, buzzing bumble-bee came and whirred upon her wings and
hung for a while in the air, above the two flowers.
This way, please, dear Bumble-Bee! cried the water-lily and
displayed her white petals to the best advantage. I keep the freshest
honey in the whole district. Pray come nearer. I have combs and combs
full. And here is pollen in fancy wrappers. And I have laid out my
broad green leaves on the water for you to rest on, if you are tired.
See for yourself ... it is quite dry here ... pray ...
Don't mind that humbug, said the spear-wort. This is the real old
shop for honey. I scorn to advertise in that silly way, with big white
petals and all that pretence. I put all I know into my honey and my
pollen. I only have a little white flower for you to know me by.
You must on no account be seen going into that common shop,
screamed the water-lily. Your honoured children will simply be
poisoned by the stuff she keeps. If indeed she has any, for there were
two big bumble-bees with her this morning and they looked very
dissatisfied when they flew away.
Don't you believe her, cried the spear-wort. It's sheer jealousy
makes her talk like that. The bumble-bees were exceedingly pleased and
they have produced a quantity of honey. Mother Water-Lily's is
yesterday's. No one will have anything to say to it; I swear it's all
[Illustration: THE WATER LILY]
Buzz ... buzz ...! said the bee and flew away.
You humbug! said the water-lily.
You idiot! said the spear-wort.
That's the worst of keeping bad company, said the water-lily.
It comes of your mountebank ways, of course, said the spear-wort.
They're enough to drive respectable people from the pond.
They could think of nothing more to say and lay on the water and
looked angrily at each other.
Oh dear! said little Mrs. Reed-Warbler. Where on earth is one to
go to find poetry?
Where can one find a fly? said her husband.
We must take life as it is, said the mussel, and meddle with it
as little as possible. That's what I do; and there's nothing to prevent
my remaining here and growing to be a hundred.
A boy stood on the edge of the pond. He had a big stone in his hand.
Suddenly, he flung it into the water with all his might. Then he went
on and thought no more about it.
But the stone had hit the mussel and smashed him to pieces.
There! he said. That's the end of me. Both shells smashed ...
there's nothing to be done. Good-bye and thank you for your pleasant
One by one all the eyes on his mantle grew dim; and then he was
Goodness knows who will be the next! said the reed-warbler.
But Goody Cray-Fish came slowly crawling and took the dead mussel in
Now I shall get my leg back with interest, said she.
CHAPTER X. [Illustration]
The Cray-Fish's Journey
How is my dear grub? asked little Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Pretty well, thanks, replied the May-fly grub. There was a roach,
who wanted to eat me; and two caddis-grubs, who tugged at me; and a
whirligig, who bit me in one of my legs. Otherwise, I've had a capital
Aren't you almost ready?
To-day or to-morrow, I think.
Take care you don't meet with an accident first, said Mrs.
Goody Cray-Fish crept round restlessly:
Food's scarce, she said. Oh, if I were only a smart bird and
could fly away! But, it's true, you're angry with me, ma'am, and I
hardly dare speak to you.
I was very angry with you, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. But, since
then, I have experienced such horrors that I've almost forgotten it. I
have made the acquaintance of a spider who ate her own mother.
Oh dear, oh dear! said the cray-fish. That's enough to upset any
So it is. She also ate her husband.
I don't say that's right, said the cray-fish. But at any rate
it's more excusable, for men are neither more nor less than monsters.
Oh, of course, I make an exception of your own husband, ma'am.
Is it true, Goody Cray-Fish? said Mrs. Reed-Warblertell me, did
you really eat your children?
I had the misfortune to eat seven of them, replied the cray-fish,
with a woebegone face. But it was out of sheer love. They were so
nice. And, as I was patting them with my claws, I happened to touch
them too hard. So I had to eat them myself, rather than let them go to
It's terrible to listen to, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Yes, it's sad, said the cray-fish. But their troubles are over
now, poor little dears, while their hundred and ninety-three brothers
and sisters have to go on struggling through this wicked world!
Goodness alone knows how many of them are still alive and how they are
Yes, it's a wicked world, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Would you mind telling me, ma'am? asked the cray-fish, don't you
think a body might get away from the pond?
We shall leave in the autumn, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler, for Italy.
But you have no wings, Goody Cray-Fish, so I don't see how you can go.
That's just it. If one had wings, one would soon be off. But they
might be in one's way in the water. However, there are other people who
travel, though they have no wings. What about the eel, ma'am, for
Yes ... the eel, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. He can wriggle and
twist. You can't, you see.
No, replied the cray-fish looking very sadly out of her stalked
eyes. I can't do that at all. Because of my stiff shirt, you know.
Though I may be thankful for it, too, or I should have been done for
What do you propose, then?
The cray-fish crawled right under the reeds, where the nest hung,
and asked, in a low whisper:
What do you think of the mussel, ma'am?
Yes, the mussel. You see, I sit here in the mud and hear such a lot
of things and turn them over in my mind. And I heard the story with
which the mussel was diverting you and Mr. Reed-Warbler the other day.
Do you think it's to be depended on?
Of course I do.
Well, I don't take much account of the mussel, said the cray-fish.
A mollusc like that! And then he insulted me, besides. But I've eaten
him now and I don't like to speak harm of what I've eaten myself. And,
if the story is genuine, another person might possibly save herself in
the same manner.
Why, you have no shells to pinch with, Goody Cray-Fish!
No, but I have my claws, replied the cray-fish. And, believe me,
ma'am, they can pinch too.
The reed-warbler came home from hunting and his wife told him about
the cray-fish's plan. They both laughed at it, but Goody Cray-Fish
stuck to her guns.
She did not go to her hole all the morning, but crawled around and
swam on the surface of the water, to see if no opportunity offered.
About the middle of the day, a little roach came skimming along.
Look out, grub! cried Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
I've hidden under a leaf and I'm all right, replied the May-fly
Here's the roach, said the cray-fish. Now we only want the gull.
She kept just under the roach and looked out eagerly, in every
direction, with her long eyes.
What do you want, you ugly cray-fish? said the roach, and struck
out with his tail.
I sha'n't hurt you, Mr. Fish, said she. The pond is meant for
everybody, I should think. Surely a person's entitled to go and take
the air outside her own door.
The eel put his head out of the mud:
That's right, Goody Cray-Fish, stick to it! he said. Wriggle and
And the reed-warblers laughed and peeped down to see what on earth
was going to come of it; and the youngsters were told as much of it as
their little brains could take in, and they peeped too. The spider ran
up and looked on, the May-fly grub was nearly jumping out of her cocoon
with curiosity. The bladder-wort forgot to catch insects, the
water-lily and the spear-wort stopped quarrelling; they all stared at
the cray-fish and the roach. For they had all heard something of what
was at hand, one from the other. But none of them said a word, lest
they should frighten away the roach; he was the only one who had not
the least suspicion. Only the reeds whispered softly to one another.
But this they always do, so nobody minds them.
Just then a gull swooped down upon the roach.
It made such a splash in the water that no one could quite see what
happened. But the roach was gone, and presently the reed-warblers
Look!... Look!... There's the gull flying with the roach ... and
the cray-fish is hanging on to his hind-toe!
The water-lily and the spear-wort shouted the news and the rushes
whispered it on and soon there was not a midge-grub in the pond but
knew all about the extraordinary thing that had happened.
So she had her way, said the reed-warblers.
And they discussed for quite an hour where she would be likely to
arrive, but no one could work that out and none of those in the pond
ever got to know.
Only the woman who lived by the pond knew. For, when the gull came
above the chimney of her little cottage, he gave such a kick with his
leg that the cray-fish dropped off. She went right down the woman's
chimney; and there stood a pot of boiling water, which she fell into.
Oh dear! said the cray-fish. That was a silly business.
It was so silly that she turned as red as fire all over her body and
died then and there. But, when the woman took her pot and was going to
make herself a drop of coffee, she stared in amazement at that fine big
Well, I never! she said. Best thanks to whoever sent you.
Then she ate her.
That same evening, the May-fly broke through her cocoon.
She flew up, on tiny little thin, transparent wings and with three
long threads hanging from her abdomen to help her keep her balance.
I say, isn't this lovely? she cried. How delicious life is! It's
worth while living for ever so many days as a poor grub, if only one is
permitted to gaze upon this splendour for an hour.
Oh, so you're there, are you? said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. You look
Thank you, said the May-fly. Now I must just go round the pond
and lay my eggs. Then I'll come back and sit down in the reeds and die;
and then you can eat me. And a thousand thanks to you for sparing my
life that time and for warning me when I was in danger. If you hadn't
done that, I should never have beheld this glorious sight.
If only you don't over-eat yourself on the way and forget your
promise! said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
There's no danger of that, replied the May-fly. I have eaten all
I need. I haven't even a mouth! I shall just enjoy an hour or two of
this delightful life and then lay my eggs. That's my lot; and I don't
Life is not so delightful as you think, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
If I were a true friend to you, I would save you from seeing all your
How can you say that life is not delightful? said the May-fly.
Look ... and look ... and look....
I will be a true friend to you, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. You shall
be spared disappointment. I will eat you straight away.
Then she caught her and ate her.
Good-evening, madam, said the eel. Are you sitting and
contemplating the poetry of Nature? I just saw you destroying a bit of
it ... for the May-fly.... That's poetry, if you like! Well, did she
You're a horrid, vulgar fellow, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
You talk like one who is chock-full of poetry, retorted the eel.
I rejoice to see you making such smart progress as a murderess. You
were shockingly squeamish at first!
CHAPTER XI. The Worst Day of All
The summer was drawing to an end.
The beeches were quite yellow with the heat; and the pond was
overgrown with plants almost right up to the middle. All the tadpoles
had turned into frogs; all the young animals were growing and wanted
more food. The water-lily and the spear-wort had stopped quarrelling,
for they had nothing more to quarrel about. Both of them had lost their
white blossoms and their heads were full of seeds.
The reed-warblers' children were now so big that they had begun to
leave the nest and flutter about in the weeds. But they were not quite
sure of themselves and still dangled after their parents. They never
went so far away but that they could easily return to the nest; and
they lay in it every evening and fought for room and bit and kicked one
another, while their half-starved parents sat beside them and hushed
Oh, mummy ... do get me that fly! said one.
I can't catch these horrid midges, said the second.
Boo-hoo!... Boo-hoo!... The dragon-fly flew away from me! said the
I daren't take hold of the daddy-long-legs, said the fourth.
But the fifth said nothing, for he was a poor little beggar, who
always hung his beak.
We'll never make a proper reed-warbler of him, said the father.
And, when they were being drilled in flying and hopping and
scrambling in the reeds, or examined in singing, the fifth was always
behind the rest.
We shall never be able to drag him with us to Italy, said the
And little Mrs. Reed-Warbler sighed.
In the water below, the duck splashed about with her grown-up
The end is near, she said. I am sure of it. I have a horrid
presentiment all over my body.
What harm can happen to you? asked Mrs. Reed-Warbler. You don't
travel, so you're not exposed to as many dangers as the rest of us.
One can never tell, said the duck. I feel it in my back.
Then she paddled on and quacked to her children with her anxious old
voice and wore a distressful look in her eyes.
One day something happened that set the whole pond in commotion.
The pike was suddenly hauled up out of the water.
The reed-warbler saw it himself. The pike hung and sprawled terribly
at the end of a thin line, flew through the air in a great curve and
fell down on the grass. At the other end of the line was a rod, and at
the other end of the rod a boy, who was crimson in the face with
delight at the big fish he had caught.
It serves him right, the highwayman! said the perch.
Thank goodness, he's gone! croaked the frogs.
And all the little roach and carp danced round the water with
He had not many friends, said the reed-warbler.
He had not one, said the perch. He was the worst robber in the
He never did anything to me, said the water-lily. He was a brave
and distinguished gentleman, who hadn't his equal among the lot of you.
It was always a real pleasure to me when he came sweeping past my
Well, I have seen many go sweeping down his throat, said the eel.
And they did not think that so amusing. But he did just what I should
have done in his place! Now that he's gone, I suppose I'm the biggest
in the pond.
He stretched himself to his full length.
You have grown big and stout, said the reed-warbler.
I have had a good year, said the eel. But I shall soon be going
to sea now and working off my fat.
On the evening of the same day a man stood at the edge of the pond,
just where the reed-warblers lived. He wore high boots with wooden
soles and whetted a scythe till the sound of it whizzed through the
What's going to happen now? said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Quack! Quack! cried the duck in terror.
But the man spat on his hands and took hold of the scythe. Then he
walked out into the water and began to cut down the reeds, close in, at
the edge, and right out, as far as they grew. They fell into the water,
with a soft sigh; and then, when he had finished, he stood on the bank
and contemplated his work.
That was a fine clearing, he said. Duck-hunting begins
Then he went a bit farther with his scythe and made another
But he had caused terrible misfortunes. He had torn the
water-spider's nest and crushed the spider herself. He had broken the
bladder-wort at the root with his heavy wooden boots. And the
reed-warblers' nest lay overturned among the cut reeds.
The reed-warblers flew round the nest with loud screams:
The children! The children! they cried.
The children had saved themselves. Four had fluttered on land and
sat there and looked thoroughly bewildered. The fifth was half-buried
under the reeds and could not get out.
The two old ones with difficulty brought it in to the others:
Oh dear! oh dear! said little Mrs. Reed-Warbler, in despair. What
are we to do now?
It might have been worse, replied her husband. Suppose it had
happened a month ago! Now the youngsters are able to look after
themselves, all except that one there.
Oh, it was a terrible place to come to! said she. It was a great
shame of you to drag me here. I would much rather have remained in
Italy, even if I had never got married.
Don't talk nonsense, wife, said he. You wanted to come here just
as much as I did. This is where we were born and where our home is and
where we had to build our nest. We can't help it; it's in our blood.
Besides, we have had a very good time, and have shared each other's
joys and sorrows. Don't let us squabble now in our old age, but rather
see that we get the children's travelling-suits ready and then be off.
Then she became sensible and they sat late into the night and talked
about it. The youngsters ran round in the grass and ate ants and
thought the whole thing great fun, for children know no better. Only
the fifth one hung about disconsolately.
What are we to do with the poor little wretch? said Mrs.
Reed-Warbler, pushing a mouthful to him.
We shall never get him to Italy alive, said her husband.
Quite early next morning there was a tremendous uproar round the
Men shouted and dogs barked. They put out the boat and rowed her
with difficulty through the thick weeds. The woman of the pond stood
outside her cottage, curtseying and pouring out tea.
Whatever is this? asked the reed-warbler.
It's the world coming to an end, said the duck. Quack! Quack!
To the bottom! To the bottom! said the eel. Wriggle and twist!
The terrified reed-warbler family pressed close together in the
grass. But then the two old ones grew inquisitive and could not keep
still. They warned the youngsters to stay quiet, whatever happened, and
sat down, a little way from each other, on the tops of the reeds beside
Bang! Bang! went the guns over the pond. Bang! Bang! Bang!
And there were lots of ducks quacking and lots of small birds who
flew out of their hiding-places in terror. Great ugly dogs, with their
tongues hanging out of their mouths, swam round and barked. The leaves
of the water-lily dived right under the water and the spear-wort
disappeared entirely and never came back again.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
There lies our duck, said the reed-warbler.
And there she lay on her back, dead, only waiting for the dogs to
come and fetch her.
I must get away, I can stand it no longer, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
Let us fly back to the children.
She received no answer and, when she looked round, her husband was
She stared at the reed on which he had been sitting and up in the
air and down at the water. Then she gave a frightful scream:
Oh, poor forlorn widow that I am! What shall I do? What shall I
He lay in the water, hit by a stray shot, dead, stiff.
[Illustration: 'HE LAY IN THE WATER, HIT BY A STRAY SHOT']
Children! Children! Your father is dead!
The four looked at her in dismay, when she brought the news; the
fifth stared vacantly and stupidly, as usual. The uproar continued, out
in the pond. The six reed-warblers sat in a row on the edge and were at
their wits' end what to do.
Then, gradually, it became quiet again.
The smoke of the powder lifted and the water calmed down. The men
with the guns sat up above in the wood and ate their lunch; and the
woman of the pond counted the money she had made.
That was a terrible business, said the water-lily.
My husband is dead, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler and sang a dirge that
would have moved a stone.
My respectful condolences, madam, said the eel and came up out of
the mud. But will you admit that I was right? Think how much care and
sorrow one escapes by keeping out of all this domesticity. I don't know
my wife, as I once had the honour of telling you; I have never seen
her. It wouldn't occur to me to shed a tear if anyone told me that she
You horrid, heartless person! said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. To talk
like that to a widow with five children, all unprovided for, and one of
them a cripple too!
Oh, those women! said the eel and disappeared.
That evening, little Mrs. Reed-Warbler sat and thought things over.
We must go, she said, this very night. There's nothing else for
us to do. If we fly and hop as well as we can and work hard and behave
sensibly, we shall be all right.
I can't keep up with you, said the crippled child.
I was forgetting you, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler.
She looked at the poor child for a while. Then she shook her wings
and took a quick resolve:
No, you can't keep up with us, she said. And we can't stay here
and be ruined for your sake. If I leave you behind, you'll be eaten by
a fox or a cat or those greedy ants. It would be a pity for you to be
tortured, you poor little fellow. It's better that I should kill you
myself and have done with it.
Then and there, she rushed at the youngster and pecked away at his
head until he was dead:
Now let's be off! she said.
Madam, said the eel, you must not go without allowing me to say
good-bye to you. You are a charming woman and you know how to adapt
yourself to circumstances. You were incensed at the horrid robbers in
the pond; and you yourself ate innocent flies from morning till night.
You loved poetry; but you ate the poor May-fly, though you promised her
that she should be allowed to live her poetic life for an hour. You
were furious with the spider who ate her mother, and with the
cray-fish, who ate her children; and now, of your own accord you have
pecked your sick child to death, so that you may go to Italy.
Thank goodness, I sha'n't see you any more, you detestable,
spiteful fellow! said Mrs. Reed-Warbler. But I may as well tell you
that I killed my child for pity.
And the spider ate her mother from hunger and the cray-fish her
children from love, said the eel. And I let mine shift for themselves
from common sense!
My dears, said Mrs. Reed-Warbler, that eel was positively created
to live in this horrible pond!
Then they flew away.
I don't think I shall stay here, for all that, said the eel. I am
longing for the sea.
He looked round warily, then crept up into the grass and wriggled
and twisted quickly to the nearest ditch.
CHAPTER XII. The End
November came and was no different from what it usually is.
The trees stood with bare branches. The leaves rustled over the
earth or floated on the pond. The reeds were all cut down; the
water-lily's leaves withered away, with stalks and all, while she, deep
down at the bottom, slept her winter sleep and dreamt of her next white
And down at the bottom lay all the frogs, buried deep in the mud, so
that only their noses stuck out. It looked as though the pond were
paved with frogs' noses. The plants in the water were as leafless as
the plants on land. Hidden among the stalks and withered leaves, under
the stones and in the mud lay animals sleeping, or eggs waiting for the
spring to come and hatch them.
All the birds had flown, except the chaffinch and a few others, who
hopped about and managed as best they could. The flies were all gone
and the dragon-flies and spiders and midges and butterflies and all the
rest. There were only a few grumpy fish left in the pond.
And the storm raged among the trees, till they cracked and creaked,
and whipped the pond up into tall waves with foam on their crests.
It is really horrid here in winter, said the woman of the pond, as
she stuffed her windows with moss. Such a howling in the chimney and a
creaking and cracking in the wood and a roaring and rushing in the
pond! I wish we had the glorious summer again. That is a happy time and
peaceful time. Then it's pleasant living by the pond.
A poet, accompanied by seven ladies, walked on the path around the
He wore a fur-lined coat and turned the collar over his ears; and
the ladies were wrapped up so that nothing showed but the tips of their
noses. For it was very cold.
Ladies, said the poet, when you look at that wild unsightly pond
now, you have simply no idea how charming it can be in summer. Now, all
these elements have been let loose. Waves rage against waves, the storm
rushes round and the trees stand naked and disconsolate. It is a real
picture of strife and sorrow and cruelty. But, ladies, come out here on
a summer's day and you shall see a different sight. Then the reeds grow
along the banks in all their elegance; water-lily and spear-wort float
side by side upon the surface of the water and nod smilingly to each
other with their white flowers. The midges hover in the air and the
frogs croak and glad birds sing. Deep in the water swim beautiful fish
disporting themselves gaily. The mussels in the mud dream of beautiful
pearls, the cray-fish crawl slowly round and round and enjoy life and
happiness. Ladies, you simply cannot imagine what a picture of peace
and happiness the pond offers. It is, as it were, an abstract of all
the wonderful harmonies of Nature, the sight of which consoles us poor
mortals, who strive and wrangle from morn till dewy eve and envy and
slander and persecute one another. Remember, ladies, to come out to the
pond when summer is here. It braces a mortal for his bitter fight to
see the peace and gladness in which God's lower creatures live ...
those of His creatures which have not received our great intellectual
gifts, but a purer and deeper happiness instead.
Thus spake the poet. And seven ladies listened respectfully to his
words ... and nobody laid violent hands upon him.
BRISTOL: BURLEIGH LTD., AT THE BURLEIGH PRESS