THE UNFORTUNATE FIREFLIES
Several very large families of Fireflies lived in the marsh and were much admired by their friends who were awake at night. Once in a while some young Firefly who happened to awaken during the day would go out and hover over the heads of the daylight people. He never had any attention paid to him then, however, for during the day he seemed like a very commonplace little beetle and nobody even cared to look at him a second time. The only remarkable thing about him was the soft light that shone from his body, and that could only be seen at night.
The older Fireflies told the younger[Pg 149] ones that they should get all the sleep they could during the daytime if they were to flutter and frisk all night. Most of them did this, but two young Fireflies, who cared more about seeing the world than they did about minding their elders, used to run away while the rest were dreaming. Each thought herself very important, and was sure that if the others missed her they wouldn’t sleep a wink all day.
One night they planned to go by daylight to the farthest corner of the marsh. They had heard a couple of young Muskrats talking about it, and thought it might be different from anything they had seen. They went to bed when the rest did and pretended to fall asleep. When she was sure that the older Fireflies were dreaming, one of them reached over with her right hind leg and touched the other just below the edge of her left wing-cover. “Are you ready?” she whispered.
“Yes,” answered the friend, who happened to be the smaller of the two.
“Come on, then,” said the larger one, picking her way along on her six tiptoes. It was already growing light, and they could see where they stepped, but, you know, it is hard to walk over rough places on two tiptoes, so you can imagine what it must be on six. There are some pleasant things about having many legs. There are also some hard things. It is a great responsibility.
When well away from their sleeping relatives, they lifted their wing-covers, spread their wings, and flew to the farthest corner of the marsh. They were not afraid of being punished if caught, for they were orphans and had nobody to bring them up. They were afraid that if the other Fireflies awakened they would be called “silly” or “foolish young bugs.” They thought that they were old enough to take care of themselves, and did not want advice.
“Oh, wouldn’t they make a fuss if they knew!” exclaimed the Larger Firefly.
“They think we need to be told every single thing,” said the Smaller Firefly.
“Guess we’re old enough now to go off by ourselves,” said the Larger Firefly.
“I guess so,” answered the Smaller Firefly. “I’m not afraid if it is light, and I can see pretty near as well as I can at night.”
Just then a Flycatcher darted toward them and they had to hide. He had come so near that they could look down his throat as he flew along with his beak open. The Fireflies were so scared that their feelers shook.
“I wish that bird would mind his own business,” grumbled the Larger Firefly.
“That’s just what he was doing,” said a voice beside them, as a Garter Snake drew himself through the grass. Then their feelers shook again, for they knew that snakes do not breakfast on grass and berries.
“Did you ever see such luck?” said the Smaller Firefly. “If it isn’t birds it is snakes.”
“Perfectly dreadful!” answered the other. “I never knew the marsh to be so full of horrible people. Besides, my eyes are bothering me and I can’t see clearly.”
“So are mine,” said the Smaller Firefly. “Are you going to tell the other Fireflies all about things to-night?”
“I don’t know that I will,” said the Larger Firefly. “I’ll make them ask me first.”
Then they reached the farther corner of the marsh and crawled around to see what they could find. Their eyes bothered them so that they could not see unless they were close to things, so it was useless to fly. They peeped into the cool dark corners under the skunk cabbage leaves, and lay down to rest on a bed of soft moss. A few stalks of last year’s teazles stood, stiff and brown, in the corner of the fence. The Smaller Firefly landed on one and let go in such a hurry that she fell to the ground. “Ouch!” she cried. “It has sharp hooks all over it.”
While they were lying on the moss and resting, they noticed a strange plant growing near. It had a flower of green and dark red which was unlike any other blossom they had ever seen. The leaves were even stranger. Each was stiff and hollow and grew right out of the ground instead of coming from a stalk.
“I’m going to crawl into one of them,” said the Larger Firefly. “There is something sweet inside. I believe it will be lots better than the skunk cabbage.” She balanced herself on the top of a fresh green leaf.
“I’m going into this one,” said the other Firefly, as she landed on the edge of a brown-tipped leaf. “It looks nice and dark inside. We must tell them about this at the party to-night, even if they don’t ask us.”
Then they repeated together the little verse that some of the pond people use when they want to start together:
“Tussock, mud, water, and log,
Muskrat, Snake, Turtle, and Frog,
Here we go into the bog!”
When they said “bog” each dropped quickly into her own leaf.
For a minute nobody made a sound. Then there was a strange sputtering, choking voice in the fresh green leaf and exactly the same in the brown-tipped one. After that a weak little voice in the green leaf said, “Abuschougerh! I fell into water.”
Another weak voice from the brown-tipped one replied, “Gtschagust! So did I.”
On the inside of each leaf were many stiff hairs, all pointing downward. When the Fireflies dropped in, they had brushed easily past these hairs and thought it rather pleasant. Now that they were sputtering and choking inside, and wanted to get out, these same hairs stuck into their eyes and pushed against their legs and made them exceedingly uncomfortable. The water, too, had stood for some time in the leaves and did not smell good.
Perhaps it would be just as well not to tell all the things which those two Fireflies said, for they were tired and out of patience. After a while they gave up trying to get out until they should be rested. It was after sunset when they tried the last time, and the light that shone from their bellies brightened the little green rooms where they were. They rested and went at it carefully, instead of in the angry, jerky way which they had tried before. Slowly, one foot at a time, they managed to climb out of the doorway at the top. As they came out, they heard the squeaky voice of a young Mouse say, “Oh, where did those bright things come from?”
They also heard his mother answer, “Those are only a couple of foolish Fireflies who have been in the leaves of the pitcher-plant all day.”
After they had eaten something they flew toward home. They knew that they would be late for the party, and they expected to surprise and delight everybody when they reached there. On the way they spoke of this. “I’m dreadfully tired,” said one, “but I suppose we shall have to dance in the air with the rest or they will make a fuss.”
“Yes,” said the other. “It spoils everything if we are not there. And we’ll have to tell where we’ve been and what we’ve done and whom we have seen, when we would rather go to sleep and make up what we lost during the daytime.”
As they came near the middle of the marsh they were surprised to see the mild summer air twinkling with hundreds of tiny lights as their friends and relatives flew to and fro in the dusk. “Well,” said the Larger Firefly, “I think they might have waited for us.”
“Humph!” said the Smaller Firefly. “If they can’t be more polite than that, I won’t play.”
“After we’ve had such a dreadfully hard time, too,” said the Larger Firefly. “Got almost eaten by a Flycatcher and scared by a Garter Snake and shut up all day in the pitcher-plant. I won’t move a wing to help on their old party.”
So two very tired and cross young Fireflies sat on a last year’s cat-tail and sulked. People didn’t notice them because they were sitting and their bright bellies didn’t show. After a long time an elderly Firefly came to rest on the cat-tail and found them. “Good evening,” he said. “Have you danced until you are tired?”
They looked at each other, but before either could speak one of their young friends landed beside them and said the same thing. Then the Smaller Firefly answered. “We have been away,” she said, “and we are not dancing to-night.”
“Going away, did you say?” asked the elderly Firefly, who was rather deaf. “I hope you will have a delightful time.” Then he bowed and flew off.
“Don’t stay long,” added their young friend. “We shall be so lonely without you.”
After he also was gone, the two runaways looked into each other’s eyes. “We were not even missed!” they cried. “We had a bad time and nobody makes any fuss. They were dancing without us.” Poor little Fireflies!
They were much wiser after that, for they had learned that two young Fireflies were not so wonderfully important after all. And that if they chose to do things which it was never meant young Fireflies should do, they would be likely to have a very disagreeable time, but that other Fireflies would go on eating and dancing and living their own lives. To be happy, they must keep the Firefly laws.