In the corner of the barnyard was a pile of manure which was to be put upon the garden and plowed in. This would make the ground better for all the good things growing in it, but now it was waiting behind the high board fence, and many happy insects lived in it. There were big Bugs and little Bugs, fat Bugs and slim Bugs, young Bugs and old Bugs, good Bugs and—well, one does not like to say that there were bad Bugs, but there were certainly some not so good as others.
Among all these, however, there were none who worked harder or thought more of each other than the Tumble-bugs. One couple, especially, were thrifty and devoted. They had been married in June, when each was just one day old. June weddings were the fashion among their people.
Mr. Tumble-bug believed in early marriages. “I have known Tumble-bugs,” he said, “who did not marry until they were two days old, but I think that was a great mistake. Each becomes so used to having his own way that it is very hard for husband and wife to agree on anything. Now Mrs. Tumble-bug and I always think alike.” Then he smiled at Mrs. Tumble-bug and Mrs. Tumble-bug smiled at him. They were nearly always together and busy. Perhaps it was because they worked together every day that they cared so much for each other. You know that it makes a great difference, and if one had worked all the time while the other was playing, they would soon have come to care for other things and people.
One hot summer morning, Mrs. Tumble-bug said to her husband, who was just finishing his breakfast, “I have found the loveliest place you ever saw for burying an egg-ball. Do hurry up! I can hardly wait to begin work.”
Mr. Tumble-bug gulped down his last mouthful and answered, “I’m ready now.”
“Follow me then,” she cried, and led the way over all sorts of little things which littered up the ground of the barnyard. No Horse was there just then, and she felt safe. Mr. Tumble-bug followed close behind her, and a very neat-looking couple they made. Both were flat-backed and all of shining black. “We do not dress so showily as some Bugs,” they were in the habit of saying, “but black always looks well.” And that was true. Although they spent most of their days working in the earth, they were ever clean and shining, with smiling, shovel-shaped faces.
“There!” said Mrs. Tumble-bug, as she stopped for breath and pointed with her right fore-leg to the ground just ahead of her. “Did you ever see a finer place?” She could point in this way, you know, without falling over, because she had five other legs on which to stand. There are some very pleasant things about having six legs, and the only tumbling she and her husband did was part of their work.
“Excellent!” exclaimed Mr. Tumble-bug. “And the ground is so soft that it will not tire you very much to dig in it.” He did not have to think whether it would tire him, because he never helped in that part of the work. His wife always liked to do that alone.
Then both Tumble-bugs scurried back to the manure heap. “I cannot see why some of our neighbors are so silly,” said she. “There is a Beetle now, laying her eggs right in this pile. She will leave them there, too, and as likely as not some hungry fellow will come along before the sun goes down and eat every one of them. She might much better take a little trouble, put her egg in a mass of food, and roll it away to a safe place. When my children hatch out into soft little Grubs, I intend they shall have a chance to grow up safely and comfortably. Such Beetles do not deserve to have children.”
“Well, they won’t have many,” said her husband. “Perhaps only a small little family of twenty or thirty.”
“Now,” exclaimed Mrs. Tumble-bug, “We must get to work. Help me roll this ball of manure. I have laid an egg in it while we were talking, so that time was not wasted.”
Together they rolled a ball which was bigger than both of them when it started, and grew larger and larger as they got it away from the heap and the dust of the ground stuck to it and crusted it over.
Mrs. Tumble-bug stood on top of the ball, and, creeping far out on it, pulled it forward with her hind feet, while he stood on his head behind it and pushed with his hind legs. Of course if Mrs. Tumble-bug had not been climbing backward all the time, the ball would have rolled right over her. To pull forward with part of your legs and climb backward with all of them at the same time, and that when your head is a good deal lower than your heels, is pretty hard work and takes much planning. Mrs. Tumble-bug had very little breath for talking, but she did not lose her temper. And that shows what an excellent Bug she was. “Harder!” she would call out to Mr. Tumble-bug. “We are coming to a little hill.”
Then Mr. Tumble-bug, who, you will remember, had to stand on his head all the time, and really did the hardest part of the work, would brace himself more firmly and push until it seemed as though his legs would break. He could never see just where they were going unless he let go of the ball, and Mrs. Tumble-bug did not believe in turning out for anything.
“What if there is a hill?” she often said. “Can’t we go over it?” And over it they always went, although they might much more easily have gone around it. Mrs. Tumble-bug did not want anybody to think she was afraid of work, and she knew her husband would have a chance to rest while she was burying the ball. Once in a while, when the ball came down suddenly on the farther side of a twig or chip, it rolled quite on top of her, and Mr. Tumble-bug would be greatly alarmed. Some people thought this served her quite right for insisting that they should go over things instead of around them. Still, one hardly likes to say a thing like that.
If it were much of a hill, she would climb down from the ball and talk with him. Then they would put their shovel-shaped heads together under the back side of the ball, and, pushing at the same time, send it over. “Two heads are better than one,” they would say, “and this needs a great deal of head-work.”
At last the ball had reached the spot where they intended to have it buried. Both were hot and tired. “Many legs make light work,” said Mrs. Tumble-bug, as she carefully cleaned hers before eating dinner, “and if there is anything I enjoy, it is finishing a good job like this!”
Mr. Tumble-bug sighed heavily and said he thought he would go for a walk with some of his friends that afternoon. “All work and no play would make me a dull Bug,” he said. Then he called out “Good-by” to his wife, and told her not to work too hard.
Mrs. Tumble-bug looked after him lovingly. “Now, isn’t he good?” she said to herself. “There are not many Bugs who will help their wives at all, and most of them never look at an egg, much less see to getting it well placed.” And that is true, for the Tumble-bugs are the model Bug fathers.
Now, indeed, Mrs. Tumble-bug was at her best. She hurried down her dinner, taking mouthfuls which were much too large for good manners, and began plowing the earth around the ball as it lay there. She plowed so deep that sometimes she was almost buried in the loose earth. At last she came up, took a good look around, knocked some grains of dust off her shining back, then dived in again upside down, and pulled the ball in after her by holding it tightly with her middle legs. All the time she was kicking the earth away with her two hind legs and her two front ones, which were stout diggers, so that little by little she sank deeper into the ground.
She made a much larger hole for the ball than it really needed. “I might just as well, while I am about it,” she said. “And I should so dislike to have anyone think I am afraid of work.”
At last she finished and crawled away, covering the place neatly over, so that nobody could see where she went in or out. “There!” she said. “Now I am ready to play.”
A stray Chicken came along and she hurried under a chip to be safe. The Chicken was lost and calling to his mother. “Mother!” he cried. “Mother Hen, I want to get home and go to sleep under your wings.”
“Dear me!” exclaimed Mrs. Tumble-bug. “Is it time for Chickens to go to sleep?” She looked through a crack in the fence and across the lawn to the big house. The shadows lay long upon the short grass. “It certainly is,” she said. “And here I have spent all day burying that egg properly. I think it is very strange that I cannot get more time for rest and play.” So she had to eat her supper and go straight to bed to get rested for the next day’s work.
Mrs. Tumble-bug did not understand then, and perhaps never will learn, that if she would stop doing things in the hardest way and begin doing them in the easiest way, she might get a great deal of work done in a day and still have time to rest. If one were to tell her so, she might think that meant laziness, but it would not, you know. It is always worthwhile to make one’s head save one’s feet, and when a single head could save six feet it would certainly be worthwhile. Still, although Mrs. Tumble-bug never dreamed of such a thing, she probably enjoyed work about as much as her neighbors enjoyed play.