|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
ND, in fact, it was very hot when Uncle Paul and Jules
started out. With a burning sun, they were sure to find the
caterpillars in their silk bag, where they do not fail to
take refuge to shelter themselves from a light that is too
glaring for them; at an earlier or later hour, the nests
might be empty, and the journey a fruitless one.
His heart full of the naïve joys proper to his age, his mind
preoccupied by the caterpillars and their processions, Jules
walked at a good pace, forgetting heat and fatigue. He had
untied his cravat and thrown his blouse back on his
shoulders. A holly stick, cut by his uncle from the hedge,
served him as a third leg.
In the meantime the crickets chirped louder than usual;
frogs croaked in the ponds; flies became teasing and
persistent; sometimes a breath of air all at once blew along
the road and raised a whirling column of dust. Jules did not
notice these signs, but his uncle did, and from time to time
looked up at the sky. Masses of reddish mist in the south
seemed to give him some concern. "Perhaps we shall have
rain," said he; "we must hurry."
About three o'clock they were at the pine wood.
 Uncle Paul
cut a branch bearing a magnificent nest. He had guessed
right: all the caterpillars had returned to their lodging,
perhaps in prevision of bad weather. Then they sat in the
shade of a group of pines, to rest a little before
returning. Naturally they talked about caterpillars.
"The processionaries, you told me," said Jules, "leave their
nests to scatter over the pines and eat the leaves. There
are, in fact, a great many branches almost reduced to sticks
of dry wood. Look at that pine I am pointing at; it is half
stripped of leaves, as if fire had passed over it. I like
the way the processionaries travel, but I can't help pitying
those fine trees that wither under the miserable
"If the owner of these pines understood his interests
better," returned Uncle Paul, "he would, in the winter, when
the caterpillars are assembled in their silk bags, have the
nests collected and burn them, in order to destroy the
detestable breed that will gnaw the young shoots, browse the
buds, and arrest the tree's development. The harm is much
greater in our orchards. Various caterpillars live in
companies on our fruit trees and spin nests in the same way
as the processionaries. When summer comes, the starveling
vermin scatter all over the trees, destroying leaves, buds,
shoots. In a few hours the orchard is shorn and the crop is
destroyed in its budding. So it is necessary to keep a
careful lookout for caterpillar nests, remove them from the
tree before spring, and burn them, so that nothing can
escape; the future of the crop depends on it. It is
for-  tunate that several kinds of creatures, little birds
especially, come to our aid in this war to the death between
man and the caterpillar; otherwise the worm, stronger than
man on account of its infinite number, would ravage our
crops. But we will talk of the little birds another time;
the weather is threatening, we must go."
See how the reddish mist in the south, thicker and darker
every moment, has become a large black cloud visibly
invading the still clear part of the sky. Wind precedes it,
bending the tops of the pines like a field of grain. There
rises from the soil that odor of dust which the dry earth
gives forth at the beginning of a storm.
"We must not think of starting now," cautioned Uncle Paul.
"The storm is coming; it will be upon us in a few minutes.
Let us hurry and find shelter."
Rain forms in the distance like a dim curtain extending
clear across the sky. The sheet of water advances rapidly;
it would beat the fastest racing horse. It is coming, it has
come. Violent flashes of lightning furrow it, thunder roars
in its depths.
At a clap of thunder heavier than the others Jules starts.
"Let us stay here, Uncle," says the frightened child; "let
us stay under this big bushy pine. It doesn't rain here
"No, my child," replies his uncle, who perceives that they
are in the very heart of the storm; "let us get away from
this dangerous tree."
And, taking Jules by the hand, he leads him hastily through
the hail and rain. Beyond the wood Uncle Paul knows of an
excavation hollowed out in the
 rock. They arrive there just
as the storm breaks with all its force.
They had been there a quarter of an hour, silent before the
solemn spectacle of the tempest, when a flash of fire, of
dazzling brightness, rent the dark cloud in a zigzag line
and struck a pine with a frightful detonation that had no
reverberation or echo, but was so violent that one would
have said the sky was falling. The fearful spectacle was
over in the twinkling of an eye. Wild with terror, Jules had
let himself fall on his knees, with clasped hands. He was
crying and praying. His uncle's serenity was undisturbed.
"Take courage, my poor child," said Uncle Paul as soon as
the first fright had passed. "Let us embrace each other and
thank God for having kept us safe. We have just escaped a
great danger; the thunderbolt struck the pine under which we
were going to take shelter."
"Oh, what a scare I had, Uncle!" cried the boy. "I thought I
should die of it. When you insisted on hurrying away in
spite of the rain, did you know that the bolt would strike
"No, my dear, I knew nothing about it, nor could any one
know; only certain reasons made me fear the neighborhood of
the big branching pine, and prudence dictated the search for
a less dangerous shelter. If I yielded to my fears, if I
listened to the voice of prudence, let us give thanks to
God, who gave me presence of mind at that moment."
"You will tell me what made you avoid the dangerous shelter
of the tree, will you not?"
 "Very willingly; but when we are all together, so that each
one may profit by it. No one ought to ignore the danger one
runs in taking shelter under a tree during a storm."
In the meantime the rain-cloud with its lightnings and
thunders had moved on into the distance. On one side, the
sun was setting radiant; on the opposite side, in the wake
of the storm, the rainbow bent its immense bright arch of
all colors. Uncle Paul and Jules started on their way,
without forgetting the famous caterpillars' nest which might
have cost them so dear.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics