Let me hire you as a nurse for my poor children," said a butterfly to a quiet caterpillar, who was strolling along a cabbage leaf in her old lumbering way. "See these little eggs," continued the butterfly, "I don't know how long it will be before they come to life, but I feel very sick and poorly, and if I should die, who will take care of my baby butterflies? When I am gone, will you, kind, mild, green caterpillar? They cannot, of course, live on your rough food; you must mind what you give them to eat, caterpillar. You must give them early dew, and honey from the flowers; and you must let them fly about, only a little way at first, for of course one can't expect them to use their wings all at once. Dear me! it is a sad pity you cannot fly yourself. But I have no time to look for another nurse now, so you will do your best, I hope. I cannot think what made me come and lay my eggs on a cabbage leaf! What a place for young butterflies to be born upon! Still, you will be kind, will you not, to the poor little ones? Here, take this gold dust from my wings, as a reward. Oh! how dizzy I am! Caterpillar, you will remember about the food?"
With these words the butterfly closed her eyes and died; and the green caterpillar, who had not had the opportunity of even saying "yes" or "no" to the request, was left standing alone by the side of the butterfly's eggs. "A pretty nurse she has chosen, indeed, poor lady!" exclaimed she; "and a pretty business I have on hand! Why, her senses must have left her, or she never would have asked a poor, crawling creature like me to bring up her dainty little ones! Much they'll mind me, truly, when they feel the gay wings on their backs, and can fly away out of my sight whenever they choose! Oh! how silly some people are, in spite of their painted clothes and the gold dust on their wings!"
However, the poor butterfly was dead, and there lay the eggs on the cabbage leaf, and the green caterpillar had a kind heart, so she resolved to do her best. But she got no sleep that night—she was so very uneasy. She made her back quite ache with walking all night Iong, round her young charges, for fear some harm should happen to them. In the morning she said to herself, "Two heads are better than one; I will consult some wise animal upon the matter, and get advice. How should a poor, crawling creature like me, know what to do without asking my betters?" But still there was a dithculty. Whom should the caterpillar consult? There was the shaggy dog, who sometimes came into the garden, but he was so rough, he would most likely whisk all the eggs off the cabbage leaf, with one brush of his tail, if she should call him near to talk to her, and then she should never forgive herself. There was the Tom cat, to be sure, who would sometimes sit at the foot of the apple-tree, basking himself and warming his fur in the sunshine, but he was so selfish and indifferent, there was no hope of him giving himself the trouble to think about butterflies' eggs! "I wonder which is the wisest of all animals I know?" sighed the caterpillar, in great distress, and then she thought and thought, till at last she thought of the lark; she fancied because he was up so high, and nobody knew where he went to, that he must be very clever and know a great deal; for to go up very high (which she could never do) was the caterpillar's idea of perfect glory. Now, in the neighboring cornfield there lived a lark, and the caterpillar sent a message to him, to beg him to come and talk to her. Then she told him all her difficulties, and asked him what she was to do, to feed and rear the little creatures, so different from herself. "Perhaps, you will be able to inquire, and hear something about it, next time you go up high," observed the caterpillar, timidly. The lark said perhaps he should, but he did not satisfy her curiosity any farther. Soon afterwards, however, he went singing upward into the bright blue sky. By degrees, his voice died away in the distance, till the green caterpillar could not hear a sound. It is nothing to say she could not see him, for, poor thing, she never could see far at any time, and had a difficulty in looking upward at all, even when she reared herself most carefully, which she did now; but it was of no use, so she dropped upon her legs again, and resumed her walk round the butterfly's eggs, nibbling a bit of the cabbage leaf now and then, as she moved along.
"What a time the lark has been gone!" she cried at last. "I wonder where he is just now? I would give all my legs to know! He must have flown up higher than usual this time, I do think! How I should like to know where he goes to, and what he hears in that curious blue sky! He always sings in going up, and. coming down, but he never lets any secret out."
Then the green caterpillar took another turn, around the butterfly's eggs. At last, the lark's voice began to be heard again. The caterpillar almost jumped for joy, and it was not long before she saw her friend descend, with hushed note, to the cabbage bed.
"News! news! glorious news! friend caterpillar," sang the lark; "but the worst of it is, you won't believe me!"
"I believe everything I am told," observed the caterpillar, hastily.
"Well, then, first of all, I will tell you what these little creatures are to eat;" and the lark nodded towards the eggs. "What do you think it is to be? Guess."
"Dew and the honey out of flowers," sighed the caterpillar.
"No such thing, old lady. Something simpler than that; something that you can get at, quite easily."
"I can get at nothing, quite easily, but cabbage leaves," murmured the caterpillar in distress.
"Excellent! my good friend, you have found it out. You are to feed them with cabbage leaves."
"Never!" said the caterpillar, indignantly. "It was their dying mother's last request that I should do no such thing."
"Their dying mother knew nothing about the matter," persisted the lark. "But why do you ask me, if you will not believe what I say?" "Oh, I believe everything you say," said the caterpillar.
"No, you do not," replied the lark; "you won't even believe about the food, and yet that is but a beginning of what I have to tell you. Why, caterpillar, what do you think those little eggs will turn out to be?"
"Butterflies, to be sure," said the caterpillar.
"Caterpillars!" sang the lark, "and you'll find it out in time." Then the lark flew away, for he did not want to stay, and contest the point with his friend.
"I thought the lark had been kind," observed the mild green caterpillar, once more beginning to walk around the eggs, "but I find, he is foolish and unkind. Perhaps he went up too high, this time. Ah! it's a pity, when people who soar so high are silly and rude, nevertheless. Dear! I still wonder whom he sees, and what he does up yonder."
"I would tell you, if you would believe me," sang the lark, descending once more.
"I believe everything I am told," reiterated the caterpillar, with as grave a face, as if it were a fact.
"Then I'll tell you something else," cried the lark, "for the best of my news remains untold—you will one day be a butterfly yourself!"
"Wretched bird!" exclaimed the caterpillar; "you jest with my inferiority. Now you are cruel, as well as foolish. Go away! I will ask your advice no more."
"I told you that you would not believe me," cried the lark, nettled in his turn.
"I believe everything I am told," persisted the caterpillar; "that is," and she hesitated, "everything that is reasonable to believe. But to tell me butterflies' eggs are caterpillars, and that caterpillars leave off crawling and get wings and become butterflies! Lark, you are too wise to believe such nonsense yourself, for you know it is impossible."
"I know no such thing," said the lark, warmly. "Whether I hover over the cornfields of earth, or go up into the sky, I see so many wonderful things, I know no reason why that should not be true. Oh! caterpillar, it is because you crawl, because you never get beyond your cabbage leaf, that you call everything impossible."
Just at that moment, the caterpillar felt something at her side. She looked around. Eight or ten little green caterpillars were moving about, and had already made a show of a hole in the cabbage leaf. They had broken from the butterfly's eggs. Shame and amazement filled our green friend's heart, but joy soon followed, for as the first wonder was possible, the second one might be so, too. "Teach me your lesson, lark," she would say, and the lark sang to her of the wonders of the earth below, and of the heavens above. The caterpillar talked all the rest of her life to her relatives, of the time, when she should be a butterfly. But none of them believed her. She, however, had learned to believe, and when she was going into her chrysalis, she said, "I know I shall be a butterfly some day."
The Lark and the Caterpillar
A Fictional Short Story by
Agnes Taylor Ketchum & Ida M. Jorgensen