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Among the Meadow People by  Clara Dillingham Pierson
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[Illustration]

[134] THIS is the story of a venturesome young Spider, who left his home in the meadow to seek his fortune in the great world.

He was a beautiful Spider, and belonged to one of the best families in the country around. He was a worker, too, for, as he had often said, there wasn't a lazy leg on his body, and he could spin the biggest, strongest, and shiniest web in the meadow. All the young people in the meadow liked him, and he was invited to every party, or [135] dance, or picnic that they planned. If he had been content to stay at home, as his brothers and sisters were, he would in time have become as important and well known as the Tree Frog, or the fat, old Cricket, or even as the Garter Snake.

But that would not satisfy him at all, and one morning he said "Good-by" to all his friends and relatives, and set sail for unknown lands. He set sail, but not on water. He crawled up a tree, and out to the end of one of its branches. There he began spinning a long silken rope, and letting the wind blow it away from the tree. He held fast to one end, and when the wind was quite strong, he let go of the branch and sailed off through the air, carried by his rope balloon, and blown along by the wind.

The meadow people, on the ground below, watched him until he got so far away that he looked about as large as a Fly, and then he looked no bigger than an Ant, [136] and then no bigger than a clover seed, and then no bigger than the tiniest egg that was ever laid, and then—well, then you could see nothing but sky, and the Spider was truly gone. The other young Spiders all wished that they had gone, and the old Spiders said, "They might much better stay at home, as their fathers and mothers had done." There was no use talking about it when they disagreed so, and very little more was said.

Meanwhile, the young traveller was having a very fine time. He was carried past trees and over fences, down toward the river. Under him were all the bright flowers of the meadow, and the bushes which used to tower above his head. After a while, he saw the rushes of the marsh below him, and wondered if the Frogs there would see him as he passed over them.

Next, he saw a beautiful, shining river, and in the quiet water by the shore were [137] great white water-lilies growing, with their green leaves, or pads, floating beside them. "Ah," thought he, "I shall pass over the river, and land on the farther side," and he began to think of eating his rope balloon, so that he might sink slowly to the ground, when—the wind suddenly stopped blowing, and he began falling slowly down, down, down, down.

How he longed for a branch to cling to! How he shivered at the thought of plunging into the cold water! How he wished that he had always stayed at home! How he thought of all the naughty things that he had ever done, and was sorry that he had done them! But it was of no use, for still he went down, down, down. He gave up all hope and tried to be brave, and at that very minute he felt himself alight on a great green lily-pad.

This was indeed an adventure, and he was very joyful for a little while. But he got hungry, and there was no food near. [138] He walked all over the leaf, Lily-Pad Island he named it, and ran around its edges as many as forty times. It was just a flat, green island, and at one side was a perfect white lily, which had grown, so pure and beautiful, out of the darkness and slime of the river bottom. The lily was so near that he jumped over to it. There he nestled in its sweet, yellow centre, and went to sleep.

When he fell asleep it was late in the afternoon, and, as the sun sank lower and lower in the west, the lily began to close her petals and get ready for the night. She was just drawing under the water when the Spider awakened. It was dark and close, and he felt himself shut in and going down. He scrambled and pushed, and got out just in time to give a great leap and alight on Lily-Pad Island once more. And then he was in a sad plight. He was hungry and cold, and night was coming on, and, what was worst of all, in [139] his great struggle to free himself from the lily he had pulled off two of his legs, so he had only six left.

He never liked to think of that night afterward, it was so dreadful. In the morning he saw a leaf come floating down the stream; he watched it; it touched Lily-Pad Island for just an instant and he jumped on. He did not know where it would take him, but anything was better than staying where he was and starving. It might float to the shore, or against one of the rushes that grew in the shallower parts of the river. If it did that, he would jump off and run up to the top and set sail again, but the island, where he had been, was too low to give him a start.

He went straight down-stream for a while, then the leaf drifted into a little eddy, and whirled around and around, until the Spider was almost too dizzy to stand on it. After that, it floated slowly, very slowly, toward the shore, and at last [140] came the joyful minute when the Spider could jump to some of the plants that grew in the shallow water, and, by making rope bridges from one to another, get on solid ground.

After a few days' rest he started back to the meadow, asking his way of every insect that he met. When he got home they did not know him, he was so changed, but thought him only a tramp Spider, and not one of their own people. His mother was the first one to find out who he was, and when her friends said, "Just what I expected! He might have known better," she hushed them, and answered: "The poor child has had a hard time, and I won't scold him for going. He has learned that home is the best place, and that home friends are the dearest. I shall keep him quiet while his new legs are growing, and then, I think, he will spin his webs near the old place."

And so he did, and is now one of the [141] steadiest of all the meadow people. When anybody asks him his age, he refuses to tell, "For," he says, "most of me is middle-aged, but these two new legs of mine are still very young."


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