Written by Clara D. Pierson.
Now that spring had come and all the green things were growing, the Cut-Worms crawled out of their winter sleeping-places in the ground, and began to eat the tenderest and best things that they could find. They felt rested and hungry after their quiet winter, for they had slept without awakening ever since the first really cold days of fall.
There were many different kinds of Cut-Worms, brothers and sisters, cousins and second cousins, so, of course, they did not all look alike. They had hatched the summer before from eggs laid by the Owlet Moths, their mothers, and had spent the time from then until cold weather in eating and sleeping and eating some more. Of course they grew a great deal, but then, you know, one can grow without taking time especially for it. It is well that this is so. If people had to say, “I can do nothing else now. I must sit down and grow awhile,” there would not be so many grown up people in the world as there are. They would become so interested in doing other things that they would not take the time to grow as they should.
Now the Cut-Worms were fine and fat and just as heedless as Cut-Worms have been since the world began. They had never seen their parents, and had hatched without any one to look after them. They did not look like their parents, for they were only worms as yet, but they had the same habit of sleeping all day and going out at night, and never thought of eating breakfast until the sun had gone down. They were quite popular in underground society, and were very much liked by the Earthworms and June Bug larvæ, who enjoyed hearing stories of what the Cut-Worms saw above ground. The June Bug larvæ did not go out at all, because they were too young, and the Earthworms never knew what was going on outside unless somebody told them. They often put their heads up into the air, but they had no eyes and could not see for themselves.
The Cut-Worms were bold, saucy, selfish, and wasteful. They were not good children, although when they tried they could be very entertaining, and one always hoped that they would improve before they became Moths. Sometimes they even told the Earthworms and June Bug larvæ stories that were not so, and that shows what sort of children they were. It was dreadful to tell such things to people who could never find out the difference. One Spotted Cut-Worm heard a couple of Earthworms talking about Ground Moles, and told them that Ground Moles were large birds with four wings apiece and legs like a Caterpillar’s. They did not try to be entertaining because they wanted to make the underground people happy, but because they enjoyed hearing them say: “What bright fellows those Cut-Worms are! Really exceedingly clever!” And doing it for that reason took all the goodness out of it.
One bright moonlight night the Cut-Worms awakened and crawled out on top of the ground to feed. They lived in the farmer’s vegetable garden, so there were many things to choose from: young beets just showing their red-veined leaves above their shining red stems; turnips; clean-looking onions holding their slender leaves very stiff and straight; radishes with just a bit of their rosy roots peeping out of the earth; and crisp, pale green lettuce, crinkled and shaking in every passing breeze. It was a lovely growing time, and all the vegetables were making the most of the fine nights, for, you know, that is the time when everything grows best. Sunshiny days are the best for coloring leaves and blossoms, but the time for sinking roots deeper and sending shoots higher and unfolding new leaves is at night in the beautiful stillness.
Some Cut-Worms chose beets and some chose radishes. Two or three liked lettuce best, and a couple crawled off to nibble on the sweet peas which the farmer’s wife had planted. They never ate all of a plant. Oh, no! And that was one way in which they were wasteful. They nibbled through the stalk where it came out of the ground, and then the plant tumbled down and withered, while the Cut-Worm went on to treat another in the same way.
“Well!” exclaimed one Spotted Cut-Worm, as he crawled out from his hole.
“I must have overslept! Guess I stayed up too late this morning.”
“You’d better look out,” said one of his friends, “or the Ground Mole will get you. He likes to find nice fat little Cut-Worms who sleep too late in the evening.”
“You needn’t tell me,” answered the Spotted Cut-Worm. “It’s the early Mole that catches the Cut-Worm. I don’t know when I have overslept myself, so. Have you fellows been up ever since sunset?”
“Yes,” they answered; and one saucy fellow added: “I got up too early. I woke up and felt hungry, and thought I’d just come out for a lunch. I supposed the birds had finished their supper, but the first thing I saw was a Robin out hunting. She was not more than the length of a bean-pole from me, and when I saw her turn her head on one side and look toward me, I was sure she saw me. But she didn’t, after all. Lucky for me that I am green and came up beside the lettuce. I kept still and she took me for a leaf.”
“Sh!” said somebody else. “There comes the Ground Mole.” They all kept still while the Mole scampered to and fro on the dewy grass near them, going faster than one would think he could with such very, very short legs. His pink digging hands flashed in the moonlight, and his pink snout showed also, but the dark, soft fur of the rest of his body could hardly be seen against the brown earth of the garden. It may have been because he was not hungry, or it may have been because his fur covered his eyes so, but he went back to his underground run-way without having caught a single Cut-Worm.
Then the Cut-Worms felt very, very relieved. They crawled toward the hole into his home and made faces at it, as though he were standing in the doorway. They called names after him and pretended to say them very loudly, yet really spoke quite softly.
Then they began to boast that they were not afraid of anybody, and while they were boasting they ate and ate and ate and ate. Here and there the young plants drooped and fell over, and as soon as one did that, the Cut-Worm who had eaten on it crawled off to another.
“Guess the farmer will know that we’ve been here,” they said. “Ah! We don’t care. He doesn’t need all these vegetables. What if he did plant them? Let him plant some more if he wants to. What business does he have to have so many, anyhow, if he won’t share with other people?” You would have thought, to hear them, that they were exceedingly kind to leave any vegetables at all for the farmer.
In among the sweet peas were many little tufts of purslane, and purslane is very good to eat, as anybody knows who has tried it. But do you think the Cut-Worms ate that? Not a bit of it. “We can have purslane any day,” they said, “and now we shall eat sweet peas.”
One little fellow added: “You won’t catch me eating purslane. It’s a weed.” Now, Cut-Worms do eat weeds, but they always seem to like the best things which have been carefully planted and tended. If the purslane had been set out in straight rows, and the sweet peas had just come up by themselves everywhere, it is quite likely that this young Cut-Worm would have said: “You won’t catch me eating sweet peas. They are weeds.”
As the moon rose higher and higher in the sky, the Cut-Worms boasted more and more. They said there were no Robins clever enough to find them, and that the Ground Mole dared not touch them when they were together, and that it was only when he found one alone underground that he was brave enough to do so. They talked very loudly now and bragged dreadfully, until they noticed that the moon was setting and a faint yellow light showed over the tree-tops in the east.
“Time to go to bed for the day,” called the Spotted Cut-Worm. “Where are you going to crawl in?” They had no regular homes, you know, but crawled into the earth wherever they wanted to and slept until the next night.
“Here are some fine holes already made,” said a Green Cut-Worm, “and big enough for a Garter Snake. They are smooth and deep, and a lot of us can cuddle down into each. I’m going into one of them.”
“Who made these holes?” asked the Spotted Cut-Worm; “and why are they here?”
“Oh, who cares who made them?” answered the Green Cut-Worm. “Guess they’re ours if we want to use them.”
“Perhaps the farmer made them,” said the Spotted Cut-Worm, “and if he did I don’t want to go into them.”
“Oh, who’s afraid of him?” cried the other Cut-Worms. “Come along!”
“No,” answered the Spotted Cut-Worm. “I won’t. I don’t want to and I won’t do it. The hole I make to sleep in will not be so large, nor will it have such smooth sides, but I’ll know all about it and feel safe. Good-morning.” Then he crawled into the earth and went to sleep. The others went into the smooth, deep holes made by the farmer with his hoe handle.
The next night there was only one Cut-Worm in the garden, and that was the Spotted Cut-Worm. Nobody has ever seen the lazy ones who chose to use the smooth, deep holes which were ready made. The Spotted Cut-Worm lived quite alone until he was full-grown and then he made a little oval room for himself in the ground and slept in it while he changed into a Black Owlet Moth. He always told other worms when he saw them to not be very lazy but make sure that they took time to make their own sleeping holes and not rely on anyone else to help them or they might never be able to become an Owlet Moth.