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The New Life by Jane Andrews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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