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St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls, Vol. V, August, 1878, No 10. online

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be, she flew away. In a moment her strong wings had taken her quite out
of sight but it was not long before she re-appeared. Back and forth she
hastened, at one moment flying through the grape-arbor, at the next
wheeling above the cabbage-bed. All this time the object of her search,
a fat young locust, was quietly sitting on a gate-post, quite
forgetting, as even locusts sometimes will, that he had an enemy in the
world.

A moment later and the wasp's sharp eyes had found him out; and then,
quick as lightning, she darted down upon him, and pierced him with her
sting. When the locust lay perfectly still, the wasp seized him and flew
off. Arrived at her hole, she tumbled him head foremost in at the door,
expecting him, of course, to fall quite to the bottom. But her
calculations had been slightly at fault; the locust was too fat to go
in, and there he stuck with his head and shoulders in the hole and his
body in the air. Here was a dilemma! But my wasp friend was evidently
not one to be overcome by difficulties of this sort. She flew off again,
and this time returned with two other wasps; they crowded round the
hole, and began digging away the earth which pressed close about the
locust. In a short time they seemed satisfied, for they stood up and
pushed at the object of their toils. Slowly he slid down out of sight,
and she who had brought him hurried after. She laid an egg close to him
in her house; then, hurrying up, began to carry back the earth she had
before taken out, and in a short time the door was securely closed. Then
she scraped away, and patted down all the loose earth, till she had made
it quite impossible for any evil-minded creature to find any traces of
her home.

The wasp knew very well that her egg would soon hatch out; that the
little white grub, her chick, would at once begin to feed upon the
locust, which would supply food till the young one was full-grown.

The following morning I again visited the garden, to see how the
home-making progressed. Soon a handsome wasp came running toward my
seat, under the lilac, near which was a newly made hole.

"She knows me! she is no longer afraid!" But no; she stopped short and
raised her long, delicate antennæ, evidently on the lookout for danger.
She could not be the same wasp I had watched yesterday; but how was I to
make sure? They seemed all exactly alike.

I was all this time as motionless as if I had been turned to stone.

She came a step or two nearer, and, at last, quite re-assured, hurried
down into her hole. What a long time she stayed! but, at last, on
watching the opening intently, I saw something coming toward daylight.
It was a great ball of earth, quite filling the hole, that the wasp was
forcing up by her hind legs. With one mighty heave the ball rolled out,
scattering itself in all directions, as it broke apart.

[Illustration: MAKING A HOME.]

I noticed at this time, and afterward, that as the depth of the holes
increased and it took longer journeys to reach the surface, the wasps
always pressed the earth they wished to get rid of into these compact
balls, and so managed to bring up a much greater quantity at once than
would otherwise be possible. The wasp now walked entirely round the
hole, pushing carefully back the loose sand which seemed likely to fall
in again. This done, she was up and away. She was in search now of the
insect near which to lay her egg, but although she came in sight of
several, she could get no nearer.

The inhabitants of our garden were learning how dangerous these new
settlers might be, and kept well out of her way. At last, as she poised
herself high in the air, and rested on her broad, strong wings for an
instant, she spied, far beneath her, a small grasshopper. It was the
work of only a second to pounce upon him, and to lay him out on his back
perfectly insensible.

But now a difficulty arose. How could she, borne down by this heavy
weight, manage to rise into the air? The locust of the day before had
been caught upon a high post, and in order to carry him the wasp had
only to fly down. This was a wholly different case. At last an idea
seemed to occur to her: she jumped astride of the grasshopper, seized
its head with her fore feet, and ran along the ground.

Ha! This was famous; but hard work, nevertheless, and she had often to
let go and rest. She entered the broad path in which her house was, but
somehow she had become bewildered, and mistook a neighbor's hole for her
own. As she dismounted before it, and looked in, the owner angrily
darted out, buzzing in a frightful manner. Our poor friend, much
abashed, proceeded to the next house, and the next, everywhere meeting
with the same reception.

"How stupid of her," I thought, "not to know her own home!" but just
then she saw the entrance, ran swiftly toward it, and in another minute
she and her burden were both safely in-doors.

Presently she came out and again flew off. She had laid her egg close to
the grasshopper, but the amount of provision was not enough, so she had
now gone in search of another insect, with which to fill her larder.

As soon as she was out of sight, a tiny creature flew down into the
hole. She, too, had her egg to lay, and here was just the opportunity.
Inside of the digger-wasp's egg the little ichneumon fly placed another
and a very much smaller one, after which she darted away, just in time
to escape meeting the returning mother, who, coming back laden with a
second grasshopper, placed it close to the first, and set about closing
the door. But all her careful work would be of no avail; no child of
hers would ever come out of this house a perfect full-grown insect like
herself.

This is what happened:

In time the two eggs hatched. The young digger-wasp set to work upon the
grasshopper, and the little ichneumon began to eat the wasp-grub. At
last the young wasp died, and at that moment there flew out from his
body a little fly.

[Illustration: AT THE WRONG HOUSE.]

It rested a minute, then turned and pushed its way through the soft
earth till it reached daylight. It waved its wings gently up and down a
few times, and darted away and out of sight.

The digger-wasps had been living for some weeks in our garden, when,
one afternoon, there came up a fearful thunder-storm. The rain poured
down in torrents. Where had been shortly before neatly kept paths about
our house, we saw now rapid little rivers tearing up sand and gravel as
they raced down-hill, and doing all the damage their short lives would
allow. But all of a sudden the sun burst out from the clouds, the rain
stopped, and the water which had fallen sank into the ground.

I did not waste many minutes in reaching the garden. What a sight met my
eyes! The broad path stretched itself out before me smooth and wet; not
a single hole remained, - all were buried deep under the sand. Instead of
the air being, as was usual, fairly alive with busy, happy creatures,
there was now, here and there, a miserable mud-covered insect clinging
to a leaf, and wearily trying to clean its heavy wings.

What a sad ending to the gay, bright summer!

The next day, however, I found a few survivors hard at work digging
again; but this time every hole was sloping instead of perpendicular.
After much thought, I came to the conclusion that these clever little
creatures had found the way to prevent such another calamity as had
overtaken them the day before. Formerly, the first drops of an unusually
hard shower filled the holes instantly, drowning the inmates. Now, this
could not happen, especially if the openings were placed, as most of
them were, under the shelter of the big grape-leaves which at many
points rested on the edge of the path. This all took place two years
ago; but each summer since then has brought with it some of our old
friends, the digger-wasps.

[Illustration: AFTER THE RAIN-STORM.]




THE EMERGENCY MISTRESS.

(_A Fairy Tale._)

BY FRANK R. STOCKTON.


Jules Vatermann was a wood-cutter, and a very good one. He always had
employment, for he understood his business so well, and was so
industrious and trustworthy, that every one in the neighborhood where he
lived, who wanted wood cut, was glad to get him to do it.

Jules had a very ordinary and commonplace life until he was a
middle-aged man, and then something remarkable happened to him. It
happened on the twenty-fifth of January, in a very cold winter. Jules
was forty-five years old, that year, and he remembered the day of the
month, because in the morning, before he started out to his work, he had
remarked that it was just one month since Christmas.

The day before, Jules had cut down a tall tree, and he had been busy all
the morning sawing it into logs of the proper length and splitting it up
and making a pile of it.

When dinner-time came around, Jules sat down on one of the logs and
opened his basket. He had plenty to eat, - good bread and sausage, and a
bottle of beer, for he was none of your poor wood-cutters.

As he was cutting a sausage, he looked up and saw something coming from
behind his wood-pile.

At first, he thought it was a dog, for it was about the right size for a
small dog, but in a moment he saw it was a little man. He was a little
man indeed, for he was not more than two feet high. He was dressed in
brown clothes and wore a peaked cap, and he must have been pretty old,
for he had a full white beard. Although otherwise warmly clad, he wore
on his feet only shoes and no stockings and came hopping along through
the deep snow as if his feet were very cold.

When he saw this little old man, Jules said never a word. He merely
thought to himself: "This is some sort of a fairy-man."

But the little old person came close to Jules, and drawing up one foot,
as if it was so cold that he could stand on it no longer, he said:

"Please, sir, my feet are almost frozen."

"Oh, ho!" thought Jules, "I know all about that. This is one of the
fairy-folks who come in distress to a person, and if that person is kind
to them, he is made rich and happy; but if he turns them away, he soon
finds himself in all sorts of misery. I shall be very careful." And then
he said aloud: "Well, sir, what can I do for you?"

[Illustration: JULES AND THE LITTLE MAN.]

"That is a strange question," said the dwarf. "If you were to walk by
the side of a deep stream, and were to see a man sinking in the water,
would you stop and ask him what you could do for him?"

"Would you like my stockings?" said Jules, putting down his knife and
sausage, and preparing to pull off one of his boots. "I will let you
have them."

"No, no!" said the other. "They are miles too big for me."

"Will you have my cap or my scarf in which to wrap your feet and warm
them?"

"No, no!" said the dwarf. "I don't put my feet in caps and scarfs."

"Well, tell me what you would like," said Jules. "Shall I make a fire?"

"No, I will not tell you," said the fairy-man. "You have kept me
standing here long enough."

Jules could not see what this had to do with it. He was getting very
anxious. If he were only a quick-witted fellow, so as to think of
exactly the right thing to do, he might make his fortune. But he could
think of nothing more.

"I wish, sir, that you would tell me just what you would like for your
cold feet," said Jules, in an entreating tone, "for I shall be very glad
to give it to you, if it is at all possible."

"If your ax were half as dull as your brain," said the dwarf, "you would
not cut much wood. Good-day!" - and he skipped away behind the wood-pile.

Jules jumped up and looked after him, but he was gone. These
fairy-people have a strange way of disappearing.

Jules was not married and had no home of his own. He lived with a good
couple who had a little house and an only daughter, and that was about
the sum of their possessions. The money Jules paid for his living helped
them a little, and they managed to get along. But they were quite poor.

Jules was not poor. He had no one but himself to support, and he had
laid by a sum of money for himself when he should be too old to work.

But you never saw a man so disappointed as he was that evening as he sat
by the fire after supper.

He had told the family all about his meeting with the dwarf, and
lamented again and again that he had lost such a capital chance of
making his fortune.

"If I only could have thought what it was best to do!" he said, again
and again.

"I know what I should have done," said Selma, the only daughter of the
poor couple, a girl about eleven years old.

"What?" asked Jules, eagerly.

"I should have just snatched the little fellow up, and rubbed his feet
and wrapped them in my shawl until they were warm," said she.

"But he would not have liked that," said Jules. "He was an old man and
very particular."

"I would not care," said Selma; "I wouldn't let such a little fellow
stand suffering in the snow, and I wouldn't care how old he was."

"I hope you'll never meet any of these fairy-people," said Jules. "You'd
drive them out of the country with your roughness, and we might all
whistle for our fortunes."

Selma laughed and said no more about it.

Every day after that, Jules looked for the dwarf-man, but he did not see
him again. Selma looked for him, too, for her curiosity had been much
excited; but as she was not allowed to go to the woods in the winter, of
course she never saw him.

But, at last, summer came; and, one day, as she was walking by a little
stream which ran through the woods, whom should she see, sitting on the
bank, but the dwarf-man! She knew him in an instant, from Jules'
descriptions. He was busily engaged in fishing, but he did not fish like
any one else in the world. He had a short pole, which was floating in
the water, and in his hand he held a string which was fastened to one
end of the pole.

When Selma saw what the old fellow was doing, she burst out laughing.
She knew it was not very polite, but she could not help it.

"What's the matter?" said he, turning quickly toward her.

"I'm sorry I laughed at you, sir," said Selma, "but that's no way to
fish."

"Much you know about it," said the dwarf. "This is the only way to fish.
You let your pole float, with a piece of bait on a hook fastened to the
big end of the pole. Then you fasten a line to the little end. When a
fish bites, you haul in the pole by means of the string."

"Have you caught anything yet?" asked Selma.

"No, not yet," replied the dwarf.

"Well, I'm sure I can fish better than that. Would you mind letting me
try a little while?"

"Not at all - not at all!" said the dwarf, handing the line to Selma. "If
you think you can fish better than I can, do it by all means."

Selma took the line and pulled in the pole. Then she unfastened the hook
and bait which was on the end of the pole, and tied it to the end of the
line, with a little piece of stone for a sinker. She then took up the
pole, threw in the line, and fished like common people. In less than a
minute she had a bite, and, giving a jerk, she drew out a fat little
fish as long as her hand.

"Hurrah!" cried the little old man, giving a skip in the air; and then,
turning away from the stream, he shouted, "Come here!"

Selma turned around to see whom he was calling to, and she perceived
another gnome, who was running toward them. When he came near, she saw
that he was much younger than the fisher-gnome.

"Hello!" cried the old fellow, "I've caught one."

Selma was amazed to hear this. She looked at the old gnome, who was
taking the fish off the hook, as if she were astonished that he could
tell such a falsehood.

"What is this other person's name?" said she to him.

"His name," said the old gnome, looking up, "is Class 60, H."

"Is that all the name he has?" asked Selma, in surprise.

"Yes. And it is a very good name. It shows just who and what he is."

"Well, then, Mr. Class 60, H," said Selma, "that old - person did not
catch the fish. I caught it myself."

"Very good! Very good!" said Class 60, H, laughing and clapping his
hands. "Capital! See here!" said he, addressing the older dwarf, and he
knelt down and whispered something in his ear.

"Certainly," said the old gnome. "That's just what I was thinking of.
Will you mention it to her? I must hurry and show this fish while it is
fresh," - and, so saying, he walked rapidly away with the little fish,
and the pole and tackle.

"My dear Miss," said Class 60, H, approaching Selma, "would you like to
visit the home of the gnomes, - to call, in fact, on the Queen Dowager of
all the Gnomes?"

"Go down underground, where you live?" asked Selma. "Would it be safe
down there, and when could I get back again?"

"Safe, dear miss? Oh, perfectly so! And the trip will not take you more
than a couple of hours. I assure you that you will be back in plenty of
time for supper. Will you go, if I send a trusty messenger for you? You
may never have another chance to see our country."

Selma thought that this was very probable, and she began to consider the
matter.

As soon as Class 60, H, saw that she was really trying to make up her
mind whether or not to go, he cried out:

"Good! I see you have determined to go. Wait here five minutes and the
messenger will be with you," and then he rushed off as fast as he could
run.

"I didn't say I would go," thought Selma, "but I guess I will."

In a very few minutes, Selma heard a deep voice behind her say: "Well,
are you ready?"

Turning suddenly, she saw, standing close to her, a great black bear!

Frightened dreadfully, she turned to run, but the bear called out:
"Stop! You needn't be frightened. I'm tame."

The surprise of hearing a bear speak overcame poor Selma's terror; she
stopped, and looked around.

"Come back," said the bear; "I will not hurt you in the least. I am sent
to take you to the Queen Dowager of the Gnomes. I don't mind your being
frightened at me. I'm used to it. But I am getting a little tired of
telling folks that I am tame," and he yawned wearily.

"You are to take me?" said Selma, still a little frightened, and very
certain that, if she had known a bear was to be sent for her, she never
would have consented to go.

"Yes," said the bear. "You can get on my back and I will give you a nice
ride. Come on! Don't keep me waiting, please."

There was nothing to be done but to obey, for Selma did not care to have
a dispute with a bear, even if he were tame, and so she got upon his
back, where she had a very comfortable seat, holding fast to his long
hair.

The bear walked slowly but steadily into the very heart of the forest,
among the great trees and the rocks. It was so lonely and solemn here
that Selma felt afraid again.

"Suppose we were to meet with robbers," said she.

"Robbers!" said the bear, with a laugh. "That's good! Robbers, indeed!
You needn't be afraid of robbers. If we were to meet any of them, you
would be the last person they'd ever meet."

"Why?" asked Selma.

"I'd tear 'em all into little bits," said the bear, in a tone which
quite restored Selma's confidence, and made her feel very glad that she
had a bear to depend upon in those lonely woods.

It was not very long before they came to an opening in a bank of earth,
behind a great tree. Into this the bear walked, for it was wide enough,
and so high that Selma did not even have to lower her head, as they
passed in. They were now in a long winding passage, which continually
seemed as if it was just coming to an end, but which turned and twisted,
first one way and then another, and always kept going down and down.
Before long they began to meet gnomes, who very respectfully stepped
aside to let them pass. They now went through several halls and courts,
cut in the earth, and, directly, the bear stopped before a door.

"You get off here," said the bear; and, when Selma had slid off his
back, he rose up on his hind legs and gave a great knock with the iron
knocker on the door. Then he went away.

In a moment, the door opened, and there stood a little old gnome-woman,
dressed in brown, and wearing a lace cap.

"Come in!" she said; and Selma entered the room. "The Queen Dowager will
see you in a few minutes," said the little old woman. "I am her
housekeeper. I'll go and tell her you're here, and, meantime, it would
be well for you to get your answers all ready, so as to lose no time."

Selma was about to ask what answers she meant, but the housekeeper was
gone before she could say a word.

The room was a curious one. There were some little desks and stools in
it, and in the center stood a great brown ball, some six or seven feet
in diameter. While she was looking about at these things, a little door
in the side of the ball opened, and out stepped Class 60, H.

"One thing I didn't tell you," said he, hurriedly. "I was afraid if I
mentioned it you wouldn't come. The Queen Dowager wants a governess for
her grandson, the Gnome Prince. Now, please don't say you can't do it,
for I'm sure you'll suit exactly. The little fellow has had lots of
teachers, but he wants one of a different kind now. This is the
school-room. That ball is the globe where he studies his geography. It's
only the under part of the countries that he has to know about, and so
they are marked out on the inside of the globe. What they want now is a
special teacher, and after having come here, and had the Queen Dowager
notified, it wouldn't do to back out, you know."

"How old is the Prince?" asked Selma.

"About seventy-eight," said the gnome.

"Why, he's an old man," cried Selma.

"Not at all, my dear miss," said Class 60, H. "It takes a long time for
us to get old. The Prince is only a small boy; if he were a human boy,
he would be about five years of age. I don't look old, do I?"

"No," said Selma.

"Well, I'm three hundred and fifty-two, next Monday. And as for Class
20, P, - the old fellow you saw fishing, - he is nine hundred and sixty."

"Well, you are all dreadfully old, and you have very funny names," said
Selma.

"In this part of the world," said the other, "all gnomes, except those
belonging to the nobility and the royal family, are divided into
classes, and lettered. This is much better than having names, for you
know it is very hard to get enough names to go around, so that every one
can have his own. But here comes the housekeeper," and Class 60, H,
retired quickly into the hollow globe.

"Her Majesty will see you," said the housekeeper; and she conducted
Selma into the next room, where, on a little throne, with a high back
and rockers, sat the Queen Dowager. She seemed rather smaller than the
other gnomes, and was very much wrinkled and wore spectacles. She had
white hair, with little curls on each side, and was dressed in brown
silk.

[Illustration: "'ROBBERS!' SAID THE BEAR. 'THAT'S GOOD! ROBBERS,
INDEED!'"]

She looked at Selma over her spectacles.

"This is the applicant?" said she.

"Yes, this is she," said the housekeeper.

"She looks young," remarked the Queen Dowager.

"Very true," said the housekeeper, "but she cannot be any older at
present."

"You are right," said Her Majesty; "we will examine her."

So saying, she took up a paper which lay on the table, and which seemed
to have a lot of items written on it.

"Get ready," said she to the housekeeper, who opened a large blank-book
and made ready to record Selma's answers.

The Queen Dowager read from the paper the first question:

"What are your qualifications?"

Selma, standing there before this little old queen and this little old
housekeeper, was somewhat embarrassed, and a question like this did not
make her feel any more at her ease. She could not think what
qualifications she had. As she did not answer at once, the Queen Dowager
turned to the housekeeper and said:

"Put down, 'Asked, but not given.'"

The housekeeper set that down, and then she jumped up and looked over
the list of questions.

"We must be careful," said she, in a whisper, to the Queen Dowager,
"what we ask her. It won't do to put all the questions to her. Suppose
you try number twenty-eight?"

"All right," said Her Majesty; and, when the housekeeper had sat down
again by her book, she addressed Selma and asked:

"Are you fond of children?"

"Yes, ma'am," said Selma.

"Good!" cried the Queen Dowager; "that is an admirable answer."

And the housekeeper nodded and smiled at Selma, as if she was very much
pleased.

"'Eighty-two' would be a good one to ask next," suggested the
housekeeper.

Her Majesty looked for "Eighty-two," and read it out:

"Do you like pie?"

"Very much, ma'am," said Selma.


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Online LibraryVariousSt. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls, Vol. V, August, 1878, No 10. → online text (page 5 of 11)