Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE NIGHT MOTH'S PARTY
 FROM the time when she was a tiny golden-green Caterpillar,
Miss Polyphemus had wanted to go into society. She
began life on a maple leaf with a few brothers and
sisters, who hatched at the same time from a cluster of
flattened eggs which their mother had laid there ten
days before. The first thing she remembered was the
light and color and sound when she broke the shell open
that May morning. The first thing she did was to eat
the shell out of which she had just crawled. Then she
got acquainted with her brothers and sisters, many of
whom had also eaten their eggshells, although two had
begun at once on maple leaves. It was well that she
 took time for this now, for the family were soon
scattered and several of her sisters she never saw
She found it a very lovely world to live in. There was
so much to eat. Yes, and there were so many kinds of
leaves that she liked,—oak, hickory, apple,
maple, elm, and several others. Sometimes she wished
that she had three mouths instead of one. In those
days she had few visitors. It is true that other
Caterpillars happened along once in a while, but they
were almost as hungry as she, and they
without stopping eating. They could, of course, if
they talked with their mouths full, but she had too
good manners for that, and, besides, she said that if
she did, she couldn't enjoy her food so much.
You must not think that it was wrong in her to care so
much about eating. She was only doing what is expected
of a Polyphemus Caterpillar, and you would
 have to do the same if you were a Polyphemus
Caterpillar. When she was ten days old she had to weigh
ten times as much as she did the morning that she was
hatched. When she was twenty days old she had to weigh
sixty times as much; when she was a month old she had
to weigh six hundred and twenty times as much; and when
she was fifty days old she had to weigh four thousand
times as much as she did at hatching. Every bit of
this flesh was made of the food she ate. That is why
eating was so important, you know, and if she had
chosen to eat the wrong kind of leaves just because
they tasted good, she would never have become such a
fine great Caterpillar as she did. She might better
not eat anything than to eat the wrong sort, and she
Still, she often wished that she had more time for
visiting, and thought that she would be very gay next
 she got her wings. "I'll make up for it then," she
said to herself, "when my growing is done and I have
time for play." Then she ate some more good, plain
food, for she knew that there would be no happy
Moth-times for Caterpillars who did not eat as they
She had five vacations of about a day each when she ate
nothing at all. These were the times when she changed
her skin, crawling out of the tight old one and
appearing as fresh and clean as possible in the new one
which was ready underneath. After her last change she
was ready to plan her cocoon, and she was a most
beautiful Caterpillar. She was about as long as a
small cherry leaf, and as plump as a Caterpillar can
be. She was light green, with seven slanting yellow
lines on each side of her body, and a purplish-brown
V-shaped mark on the back part of each side. There
were many little orange-colored bunches on
 her body, which showed beautiful gleaming lights when
she moved. Growing out of these bunches were tiny
tufts of bristles.
She had three pairs of real legs and several pairs of
make-believe ones. Her real legs were on the front
part of her body and were slender. These she expected
to keep always. The make-believe ones were called
pro-legs. They grew farther back and were fat,
awkward, jointless things which she would not need
after her cocoon was spun. But for them, she would
have had to drag the back part of her body around like
a Snake. With them, the back part of her body could
walk as well as the front, although not quite so fast.
She always took a few steps with her real legs and then
waited for her pro-legs to catch up.
As the weather grew colder the Polyphemus Caterpillar
hunted around on the
 ground for a good place for her cocoon. She found an
excellent twig lying among the dead leaves, and decided
to fasten to that. Then began her hardest work,
spinning a fluffy mass of gray-white silk which clung
to the twig and to one of the dry leaves and was almost
exactly the color of the leaf. Other Caterpillars came
along and stopped to visit, for they did not have to
eat at cocoon-spinning time.
"Better fasten your cocoon to a tree," said a pale
bluish-green Promethea Caterpillar. "Put it inside a
curled leaf, like mine, and wind silk around the stem
to strengthen it. Then you can swing every time the
wind blows, and the silk will keep the leaf from
"But I don't want to swing," answered the Polyphemus
Caterpillar. "I'd rather lie still and think about
"Fasten to the twig of a tree," advised a pale green
Cecropia Caterpillar with red, yellow, and blue
 the wind just moves you a little. Fasten it to a twig
and taper it off nicely at each end, and then—"
"Yes," said the Polyphemus Caterpillar, "and then the
Blue-Jays and Chickadees will poke wheat or corn or
beechnuts into the upper end of it. I don't care to
turn my sleeping room into a corn-crib."
Just here some other Polyphemus Caterpillars came along
and agreed with their relative. "Go ahead with your
tree homes," said they. "We know what we want, and
we'll see next summer who knew best."
The Polyphemus cocoons were spun on the ground where
the dead leaves had blown in between some stones, and
no wandering Cows or Sheep would be likely to step on
them. First a mass of coarse silk which it took half a
day to make, then an inside coating of a kind of
varnish, then as much silk as a Caterpillar could spin
in four or five days, next
an-  other inside varnishing, and the cocoons were done. As
the Polyphemus Caterpillars snuggled down for the long
winter's sleep, each said to himself something like
this: "Those poor Caterpillars in the trees! How cold
they will be! I hope they may come out all right in
the spring, but I doubt it very much."
And when the Cecropia and Promethea Caterpillars dozed
off for the winter, they said: "What a pity that those
Polyphemus Caterpillars would lie around on the
ground. Well, we advised them what to do, so it
isn't our fault."
They all had a lovely winter, and swung or swayed or
lay still, just as they had chosen to do. Early in the
spring, the farmer's wife and little girl came out to
find wild flowers, and scraped the leaves away from
among the stones. Out rolled the cocoon that the first
Polyphemus Caterpillar had spun and the farmer's wife
picked it up and carried it off. She
 might have found more cocoons if the little girl had
not called her away.
This was how it happened that one May morning a little
girl stood by the sitting-room window in the white
farmhouse and watched Miss Polyphemus crawl slowly out
of her cocoon. A few days before a sour, milky-looking
stuff had begun to trickle into the lower end of the
cocoon, softening the hard varnish and the soft silken
threads until a tiny doorway was opened. Now all was
ready and Miss Polyphemus pushed out. She was very wet
and weak and forlorn. "Oh," said she to herself, "it
is more fun to be a new Caterpillar than it is to be a
six legs left, and it will be very
hard worrying along on these. I shall have to give up
It was discouraging. You can see how it would be. She
had been used to having so many legs, and had looked
forward all the summer before to the time when
 she should float lightly through the air and sip honey
from flowers. She had dreamed of it all winter. And
now here she was—wet and weak, with only six legs
left, and four very small and crumpled wings. Her body
was so big and fat that she could not hold it up from
the window-sill. She wanted to cry—it was all so
sad and disappointing. She would have done so, had she
not remembered how very unbecoming it is to cry. When
she remembered that, she decided to take a nap instead,
and that was a most sensible thing to do, for crying
always makes matters worse, while sleeping makes them
When she awakened, she felt much stronger and more
cheerful. She was drier and her body felt lighter.
This was because the fluids from it were being pumped
into her wings. That was making them grow, and the
beautiful colors began to show more brightly on them.
 "I wonder," she said to herself, "if Moths always feel
so badly when they first come out?"
If she had but known it, there were at that very time
hundreds of Moths as helpless as she, clinging to
branches, leaves, and stones all through the forest.
There were many Polyphemus Moths just out, for in their
family it is the custom for all to leave their cocoons
at just about such a time in the morning. Perhaps she
would have felt more patient if she had known this, for
it does seem to make hard times easier to bear when one
knows that everybody else has hard times also. Of
course other people always are having trouble, but she
was young and really believed for a time that she was
the only uncomfortable Moth in the world.
All day long her wings were stretching and growing
smooth. When it grew dark she was nearly ready to fly.
 the farmer's wife lifted her gently by the wings and
put her on the inside of the wire window-screen. When
the lights in the house were all put out, the moonbeams
shone in on Miss Polyphemus and showed her beautiful
sand-colored body and wings with the dark border on the
front pair and the lighter border on the back pair.
On the back ones were dark eye-spots with clear places
in the middle, through which one could see quite
"I would like to fly," sighed Miss Polyphemus, "and I
believe I could if it were not for this horrid screen."
She did not know that the farmer's wife had put her
there to keep her safe from night birds until she was
The wind blew in, sweet with the scent of wild cherry
and shad-tree blossoms, and poor Miss Polyphemus looked
over toward the forest where she had lived when she was
a Caterpillar, and wished
 herself safely there. "Much good it does me to have
wings when I cannot use them," said she. "I want
something to eat. There is no honey to be sucked out
of wire netting. I wish I were a happy Caterpillar
again, eating leaves on the trees." She was not the
first Moth who had wished herself a Caterpillar, but
she soon changed her mind.
There fluttered toward her another Polyphemus Moth, a
handsome fellow, marked exactly as she was, only with
darker coloring. His body was more slender, and his
feelers were very beautiful and feathery. She was fat
and had slender feelers.
"Ah!" said he. "I thought I should find you soon."
"Indeed?" she replied. "I wonder what made you think
"My feelers, of course," said he. "They always tell me
where to find my friends. You know how that is
 "I?" said she, as she changed her position a little.
"I am just from my cocoon. This was my coming-out
"And so you have not met any one yet?" he asked. "Ah,
this is a strange world—a very strange world. I
would advise you to be very careful with whom you make
friends. There are so many bad Moths, you know."
"Good-evening," said a third voice near them, and
another Polyphemus Moth with feathery feelers alighted
on the screen. He smiled sweetly at Miss Polyphemus
and scowled fiercely at the other Moth. It would have
ended in a quarrel right then and there, if a fourth
Moth had not come at that minute. One after another
came, until there were nine handsome fellows on the
outside and Miss Polyphemus on the inside of the screen
trying to entertain them all and keep them from
quarrelling. It made her very proud to think so many
were at her coming-out party. Still,
 she would have enjoyed it better, she thought, if some
whom she had known as Caterpillars could be there to
see how much attention she was having paid to her.
There was one Caterpillar whom she had never liked.
She only wished that she could see her now.
Still, society tires one very much, and it was hard to
keep her guests from quarrelling. When she got to
talking to one about maple-trees, another was sure to
come up and say that he had always preferred beech when
he was a Caterpillar. And the two outside would glare
at each other while she hastily thought of something
else to say.
At last those outside got to fighting. There was only
one, the handsomest of all, who said he thought too
much of his feelers to fight anybody. "Supposing I
should fight and break them off," said he. "I
couldn't smell a thing for the rest of my life." He was very
sensible, and really
 the eight other fellows were fighting on account of
Miss Polyphemus, for whenever they thought she liked
one best they began to bump up against him.
THEY LIVED IN THE FOREST AFTER THAT.
Toward morning the farmer's wife awakened and looked at
Miss Polyphemus. When she saw that she was strong
enough to fly, she opened the screen and let her go.
By that time three of those with feathery feelers were
dead, three were broken-winged and clinging helplessly
to the screen, and two were so busy fighting that they
didn't see Miss Polyphemus go. The handsome great
fellow who did not believe in fighting
went with her, and they lived in the forest
after that. But she never cared for society again.