M. Sullivan, The day of wonders, a medley of sense and nonsense, Ill. W.G. Browne, Londres, Griffith & Farran, 1879.
THE HOUSE THAT WE ARE BUILDING
“ C was a CADDIS-WORM, under the wave”
How beautiful water is, and how merrily the little brook chattered and bubbled on! The waves leaped and danced and frolicked, and tumbled over each other like children at play, only children cannot turn into sparkling foam and beady bubbles when they play at hide and seek; what jolly games they would have if they could do that!
“Do you know how to go downstairs?’ asked C, after several twists and tumbles.
“Oh yes, it is only very little children that do not know how to do that, “ said Harry.
“And pray how do you do it? “
“ Why you put one foot down on the top stair but one, and then you put the next foot on the next stair, and so on till you get to the bottom.”
C laughed until his knees and nose nearly came together, which would have turned him into an O, so he stopped himself quickly, remembering that O was a great deal below him in rank.
“Your education has been very much neglected,” he said, as soon as he could speak seriously; “come with me, and the waves will teach you the proper way to go downstairs.”
They went on till they came to a waterfall, where a flight of steps had been made in the brook, and the waves had to go down from the top to the bottom; and they did it beautifully by not taking any notice of the steps that were coming, but going on all the same, bump, splash, tumble, till they came to the last step, and oh, how lovely they were then. They had become as white as snow, yet they sparkled with changing colours, and they whirled round into beautiful shapes that never rested for a moment.
“There! That is all because they go downstairs the right was,” said C; “ you try that way when you go home again, it’s quite easy, and very simple; all you have to do is to walk straight on, as if there were no steps there at all, and you’ll soon get to the bottom.”
“Yes, I know I should, only I think I like the other way best,” said Harry, doubtfully.
“Every one to his taste,” answered C. “Now what do you do when you are walking out, and there is something just in your way, like that large stone in the middle of the stream?”
“I walk round it,” said Harry.
“Dear me, how stupid! Now see what the waves do.”
They went on at a great rate, as if there was nothing in the way, and so they came on the stone with immense force, and were dashed to little bits a, and they played a pretty little bubbly tune as they came together on the other side; then they went on merrily, and danced in the sunlight.
“That’s what you ought to do,” said C.
Harry wondered whether he should knock himself to pieces if he were to run straight up against a tree, and if so, whether he should come together on the other side, playing a pretty tune all the while. He thought that it was rather risky, and that perhaps it might be better not to try.
Now as he looked down through the clear water at the shining pebbles and the green patches of water-weed, he saw a number of little cases, all about the same size and shape, but each one made of something different. One was made of tiny shells, pink and white, neatly glued together; another was nothing but little pieces of stick; and the one nearest him was made of pebbles of different colours, white, and red, and grey, and yellow beautifully fitted together.
“What are these?” asked Harry.
They are the houses of the caddis-worms,” said C.
“Oh, what beautiful houses!” harry exclaimed.
One of them reminded him of a shell pincushion that his nurse had brought home from the fair, and a little way off there was one all streaked and marbled, with tiny veins on the stones that it was made of. Every case had two entrances, one at each end, like a house with front and back doors.
“If I were to meet one of them out for a walk I should not know him to be a caddis-worm,” said Harry; “I only know them by their fine houses.”
“They think that their fine houses are the best part of them,” C answered, “so when they go for a walk, they take their houses with them.”
Now would it not be nice if rich and grand people could do that? They do something like it, to be sure, by going out in handsome carriages instead of walking on their feet, but the caddis-worms manage much better. They too are vain and proud, so they take their beautiful houses with them everywhere, and never stir a step without them.
Something was coming out of the front-door of the pink and white house; it was a head that turned slowly round and looked at Harry, and then three legs wriggled out, all on one side, and three more on the other side, and the house began to turn quite round as the creature moved in the water.
“May I look at your pretty house?” asked the little boy, when C had introduced him to the strangers.
“With great pleasure,” said the Caddis-worm, graciously. “ The outside is made of shells, as you see, glued together, and sprinkled here and there with shining stones; the inside is lined with silk curtains, and is very soft and snug. But one thing is a great trouble to me, and that is, that after I had made my house of shells, I found out that sticks are more in fashion.”
“But shells are a great deal prettier than sticks,” said Harry.
“Nothing is pretty unless it is in fashion.”
The Caddis-worm made a great mistake, as of course he had, or ladies would not think the same kind of dress pretty one season and ugly the next.
“One of your shells has a live fish inside it,” said C.
“Yes, several of them were alive when I took them, but they have been dying rather fast lately.”
“Oh dear, how cruel!” said Harry; “could you not look about till you found empty shells, and build your house with those?”
“I should lose a great deal of time, and be considered very silly,” the Caddis-worm replied; “and besides, these shell-fish are quite inferior creatures to Caddises, and I am not going to trouble myself with thinking about their feelings, or what they suffer. Is it the fashion for human beings to make themselves smart by sticking themselves over with other creatures, or bits of them?”
“I have seen a few birds and beetles on the ladies’ heads,” said Harry.
“And wings, and skins, and feathers,” added C.
“Ah! They have the same taste and notions out of the water that we have in it,” the Caddis-worm observed.
“But they would not wear a live animal for an ornament,” Harry hastened to say.
“Oh, bless you, yes, that they would if it were to be the fashion to do so; it doesn’t happen to be usual, and so they don’t do it,” the Caddis-worm persisted.
“Now would they do anything so cruel? Would my Mamma wear a live bird on her hat?” asked Harry, turning to C.
“Well, she does wear part of a bird that was shot to please ladies who like to follow the fashion; and it had some young ones, who were starved to death when their father and mother were both killed.”
“But Mamma doesn’t not know anything about that,” said Harry.
“She might know, of course, but she doesn’t not want to know; she never thinks about it al all.”
“Certainly not,” said the Caddis-worm, “those things are very unpleasant to think about, and it is better to pass them over altogether. One must have one’s ornaments, and I suppose that the lower races were made to give us pleasure. I am sure I should never have thought of inventing this fashion of wearing live shell-fish, I only do like all the rest of the world. And as for killing the fish, or sticking anything sharp into it, or scooping it out of its shell, I should turn quite faint at the thought of anything so cruel; I only take it for the sake of its handsome shell, and of course it dies, because it cannot get its living. But I don’t want it to die, any more than your Mamma wanted the brood of birds to be starved to death; we must have the ornaments, and what happens is not our fault at all.”
Harry whispered to C, “I am glad that little boys don’t wear feathers or wings of birds in their hats”
Just then he caught sight of another house belonging to a caddis-worm. And made of straw, like a beehive, but both the entrances were closed.
“Why has he shut up his house?” he asked; “it is not night yet.”
“He has gone to bed for a fortnight,” said C, “he shut and bolted his doors yesterday, that he might not be disturbed, and he would not hear if you were to knock till you were tired on both doors at once.”
“Is he ill, then?”
“No, he is asleep, and when he wakes he will have wings, and be able to fly in the air far over our heads.”
“Like a butterfly?”
“No, he will not be at all like a butterfly.”
“But as beautiful as a butterfly is?”
“Quite as beautiful, but in a different way.”
“What a lot of strange and pretty things there are in the world!” said Harry.
Another caddis-worm was close to him by this time, or was it only an empty house? It was made of sparkling crystals and fine sand; one door was closed, and one was partly open, and something long and slender pushed farther and farther out of it. A very pretty creature, slim and slight, and pale, and timid-looking, with frightened eyes, and silvery wings, crept on the roof of the house, and balanced itself with a great deal of care and shook itself out, just as a lady who has been sitting in a carriage shakes out the folds of her dress before she goes into a ball-room; and as the sun shone upon it, streaks of red began to show upon its slender body, and its wings caught the sunlight, and the silver flamed with patches of gold.
“Are you going to leave your fine house to get spoilt, and full of water?” asked Harry. But the creature was pluming itself in the sun, and did not attend to him.
“He will not care any more about his fine house,” said C, “ because he is so beautiful himself; when people are so proud of their houses, it is because they have nothing else so nice belonging to them.”
“If I could squeeze myself into that empty house, and shut up both the doors, and go to sleep for a fortnight, should I wake up with wings, as he did?” asked the little boy.
“No, you must make a house for yourself; you are doing it now, every day that you live; every time you do anything good, and kind, and helpful you stick on a shining crystal, and whenever you do anything mean, or cruel, or unfair, you stick on a lump of something dirty and rotten.”
Harry thought for a little while, and then he said,
“But just the same beautiful flies come out of the cases, whether they are made of pretty stones and shells, or of dirty sticks and mud.”
“That is because they are only water-worms,” said C, “but you are a little boy, and of more value than many caddises; if you make your case ugly, and dirty, and earthy, an ugly being will come out of it when it is done with and put away.”
“That would be a great pity,” said Harry, thoughtfully, and he wished that he had not teased the parrot the day before, by poking a stick between the bars of its cage, until its feathers puffed out with rage, and it bit the stick with screams of anger. Presently he said, “ Is there any way of taking off the dirty rotten lump, after I have stuck it on?”
“Yes,” C answered, “ you must wish it to come off, and you must go on sticking clean bright stones upon your house every day that you live.”
The little boy was still thinking of this when he and C waded to the bank of the stream, and there C left him.