What is the matter?

Clara Dillingham PiersonAmong the Pond People, New York, E. P. Dutton & Co., 1901.


When the Caddis Fly felt like laying eggs, she crawled down the stalk of one of the pond plants and laid them there. She covered them with something sticky, so that they were sure to stay where she put them. « There! » she said, as she crawled up to the air again. « My work is done. » Soon after this, she lay down for a long, long rest. What with flying, and visiting, and laying eggs, she had become very tired; and it was not strange, for she had not eaten a mouthful since she got her wings.

This had puzzled the Dragon-Flies very much. They could not understand it, because they were always eating. They would have liked to ask her about it, but they went to sleep for the night soon after she got up, and whenever she saw them coming she flew away. « I do not seem to feel hungry, » said she, « so why should I eat? Besides, » she added, « I couldn’t eat if I wanted to, my mouth is so small and weak. I ate a great deal while I was growing—quite enough to last me—and it saves time not to bother with hunting food now. »

When her eggs hatched, the larvæ were slender, soft, six-footed babies called Caddis Worms. They were white, and they showed as plainly in the water as a pond-lily does on the top of it. It is not safe to be white if one is to live in the water; certainly not unless one can swim fast and turn quickly. And there is a reason for this, as any one of the pond people will tell you. Even the fishes wear all their white on the under side of their bodies, so that if they swim near the top of the water, a hungry Fish Hawk is not so likely to see them and pounce down on them.

The Caddis Worms soon found that white was not a good color to wear, and they talked of it among themselves. They were very bright larvæ. One day the biggest one was standing on a stem of pickerel-weed, when his sister came toward him. She did not come very fast, because she was neither swimming nor walking, but biting herself along. All the Caddis Worms did this at times, for their legs were weak. She reached as far forward as she could, and fastened her strong jaws in the weed, then she gave a jerk and pulled her body ahead. « It is a very good way to travel, » said she, « and such a saving of one’s legs. » Now she was in so great a hurry that sometimes when she pulled herself ahead, she turned a half-somersault and came down on her back.

« What is the matter? » called the Biggest Caddis Worm. « Don’t hurry so.

There is lots of time. » That was just him, for he was lazy. Everybody said so.

« I must hurry, » said she, and she breathed very fast with the white breathing hairs that grew on both sides of her body. She picked herself up from her last somersault and stood beside her brother, near enough to speak quite softly. « I have been getting away from Belostoma, » she said, « and I was dreadfully afraid he would catch me. »

« Well, you’re all right now, aren’t you? » asked her brother. And that was also like him. As long as he could have enough to eat and was comfortable, he did not want to think about anything unpleasant.

« No, I’m not, » she answered, « and I won’t be so long as any hungry fish or water-bug can see me so plainly. I’m tired of being white. »

« You are not so white as you were, » said her brother. « None of us children are. Our heads and the front part of our bodies are turning brown and getting harder. » That was true, and he was particularly hard-headed.

« Yes, but what about the rest of us? » said she, and surely there was some excuse for her if she was impatient. « If Belostoma can see part of me and chase that, he will find the rest of me rather near by. »

« Keep quiet then, and see if you don’t get hard and brown all over, » said he.

« I never shall, » said she. « I went to the Clams and asked them if I would, and they said ‘No.’ I’m going to build a house to cover the back part of my body, and you’d better do the same thing. »

The Biggest Caddis Worm looked very much surprised. « Whatever made you think of that? » said he.

« I suppose because there wasn’t anything else to think of, » said she. « One has to think of something. »

« I don’t, » said he.

She started away to where her other brothers and sisters were. « Where are you going? » cried he.

« Going to build my house, » answered she. « You’d better come too. »

« Not now, » said he. « I am waiting to get the rest of my breakfast. I’ll come by and by. »

The Biggest Caddis Worm stood on the pickerel-weed and ate his breakfast. Then he stood there a while longer. « I do not think it is well to work right after eating, » he said. Below him in the water, his brothers and sisters were busily gathering tiny sticks, stones, and bits of broken shell, with which to make their houses. Each Caddis Worm found his own, and fastened them together with a sort of silk which he pulled out of his body. They had nobody to show them how, so each planned to suit himself, and no two were exactly alike.

« I’m going to make my house big enough so I can pull in my head and legs when I want to, » said one.

« So am I, » cried all the other Caddis Worms.

After a while, somebody said, « I’m going to have an open door at the back of my house. » Then each of his busy brothers and sisters cried, « So am I. »

When the tiny houses were done, each Caddis Worm crawled inside of his own, and lay with head and legs outside the front door. The white part of their bodies did not show at all, and, if they wanted to do so, they could pull their heads in. Even Belostoma, the Giant Water-Bug, might have passed close to them then and not seen them at all.

« Let’s hook ourselves in! » cried one Caddis Worm, and all the others answered, « Let’s. »

So each hooked himself in with the two stout hooks which grew at the end of his body, and there they were as snug and comfortable as Clams. About this time the Big Brother came slowly along the stem of pickerel-weed. « What, » said he, « you haven’t got your houses done already? »

« Yes, » answered the rest joyfully. « See us pull in our heads. » And they all pulled in their heads and poked them out again. He was the only white-bodied person in sight.

« I must have a home, » said he. « I wish one of you worms would give me yours. You could make yourself another, you know. There is lots more stuff. »

« Make it yourself, » they replied. « Help yourself to stuff. »

« But I don’t know how, » he said, « and you do. »

« Whose fault is that? » asked his sister. Then she was afraid that he might think her cross, and she added quickly, « We’ll tell you how, if you’ll begin. »

The Biggest Caddis Worm got together some tiny sticks and stones and pieces of broken shell, but it wasn’t very much fun working alone. Then they told him what to do, and how to fasten them to each other with silk. « Be sure you tie them strongly, » they said.

« Oh, that’s strong enough, » he answered. « It’ll do, anyhow. If it comes to pieces I can fix it. » His brothers and sisters thought he should make it stouter, yet they said nothing more, for he would not have liked it if they had; and they had already said so once. When he crawled into his house and hooked himself in, there was not a Caddis Worm in sight, and they were very proud to think how they had planned and built their houses. They did not know that Caddis Worms had always done so, and they thought themselves the first to ever think of such a thing.

The Biggest Caddis Worm’s house was not well fastened together, and every day he said, « I really must fix it to-morrow. » But when to-morrow came, it always proved to be to-day, and, besides, he usually found something more interesting to be done. It took him a great deal of time to change his skin, and that could not be easily put off. He grew so fast that he was likely to awaken almost any morning and find his head poking through the top of his skin, and, lazy as he was, he would not have the pond people see him around with a crack in the skin of his head, right where it showed. So when this happened, he always pulled his body through the crack, and threw the old skin away. There was sure to be a whole new one underneath, you know.

When they had changed their skin many times, the Caddis Worms became more quiet and thoughtful. At last the sister who had first planned to build houses, fastened hers to a stone, and spun gratings across both its front and its back doors. « I am going to sleep, » she said, « to grow my feelers and get ready to fly and breathe air. I don’t want anybody to awaken me. All I want to do is to sleep and grow and breathe. The water will come in through the gratings, so I shall be all right. I couldn’t sleep in a house where there was not plenty of fresh water to breathe. » Then she cuddled down and dozed off, and when her brothers and sisters spoke of her, they called her « the Caddis Nymph. »

They did not speak of her many times, however, for they soon fastened their houses to something solid, and spun gratings in their doorways and went to sleep.

One day a Water-Adder came around where all the Caddis houses were. « Um-hum, » said he to himself. « There used to be a nice lot of Caddis Worms around here, and now I haven’t seen one in ever so long. I suppose they are hidden away somewhere asleep. Well, I must go away from here and find my dinner. I am nearly starved. The front half of my stomach hasn’t a thing in it. » He whisked his tail and went away, but that whisk hit a tiny house of sticks, stones, and bits of broken shell, and a fat sleeping Caddis Nymph rolled out. It was the Biggest Brother.

Soon Belostoma, the Giant Water-Bug, came that way. « What is this? » he exclaimed, as he saw the sleeping Caddis Nymph. « Somebody built a poor house to sleep in. You need to be cared for, young Caddis. » He picked up the sleeping Caddis Nymph in his stout forelegs and swam off. Nobody knows just what happened after that.

When the other Caddis Nymphs awakened, they bit through their gratings and had a good visit before they crawled out of the pond into their new home, the air. « Has anybody seen my biggest brother? » asked one Nymph of another, but everybody answered, « No. »

Each looked all around with his two far-apart eyes, and then they decided that he must have awakened first and left the water before them. But you know that he could not have done so, because he could never be a Caddis Fly unless he finished the Nymph-sleep in his house, and he did not do that. He had stopped being a Caddis Worm when he turned into a Caddis Nymph. Nobody will ever know just what did become of him unless Belostoma tells—and Belostoma is not likely to tell.