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THE STICKLEBACK FATHER
OBODY can truthfully say that the Sticklebacks are not good
fathers. There are no other fish fathers who work so
hard for their children as the Sticklebacks do. As to
the Stickleback Mothers—well, that is different.
This particular Stickleback Father had lived, ever
since he had left the nest, with a little company of
his friends in a quiet place near the edge of the pond.
Sometimes, when they tired of staying quietly at home,
they had made short journeys up a brook that emptied
into the pond. It was a brook that flowed gently over
an even bed, else they would never have gone there, for
Sticklebacks like quiet waters. When they swam in this
 stream, they met the Brook Trout, who were much larger
than they, and who were the most important people
Now this Stickleback was a year old and knew much more
than he did the summer before. When the alder tassels
and pussy willows hung over the edge of the pond in the
spring-time, he began to think seriously of life. He
was no longer really young, and the days were past in
which he was contented to just swim and eat and sleep.
It was time he should build a home and raise a family
if he wanted to ever be a grandfather. He had a few
relatives who were great-grandfathers, and one who was
a great-great-grandfather. That does not often happen,
because to be a Stickleback Great-great-grandfather,
one must be four years old, and few Sticklebacks live
to that age.
As he began to think about these things, he left the
company of his friends and went to live by himself. He
chose a place near
 the edge of the pond to be his home; and he brushed the
pond-bottom there with his tail until he had swept away
all the loose sticks and broken shells. He told some
Pond Snails, who were there, that they must move away
because he wanted the place. At first
they didn't want
to go, but when they saw how fierce he looked,
they thought about it again and decided that perhaps
there were other places which would suit them quite as
well—indeed, they might find one that they liked even
better. Besides, as one of them said to his brother,
they had to remember that in ponds it is always right
for the weak people to give up to the strong people.
"It will take us quite a while to move," they said to
him, "for you know we cannot hurry, but we will begin
All the rest of that day each Snail was lengthening and
shortening his one foot, which was his only way of
 can see how slow that must be, for a Snail cannot lift
his foot from one place and put it down in another, or
he would have nothing to stand on while he was lifting
it. This was a very hard day for them, yet they were
cheerful and made the best of it.
"Well," said one, as he stopped to rest his
foot, "I'm glad
we don't have to build a home when we do find the
right place. How I pity people who have to do that!"
"Yes," said his brother. "There are not many so sure
of their homes as we. And what people want of so much
room, I can't understand! A Muskrat told me he wanted
room to turn around in his house. I don't see what use
there is in turning round, do you?"
"No," answered the other Snail, beginning to walk
again. "It is just one of his silly ideas. My shell
is big enough to let me draw in my whole body, and that
is house room enough for any person!"
 The Stickleback had not meant to look fierce at the
Pond Snails. He had done so because he couldn't help
it. All his fins were bristling with sharp points of
bone, and he had extra bone-points sticking out of his
back, besides wearing a great many of his flat bones on
the outside. All his family had these extra bones, and
that was why they were called Sticklebacks. They were
a brave family and not afraid of many things, although
they were so small. There came a time when the
Stickleback Father wanted to look fierce, but that was
later. Now he went to work to build his nest.
First he made a little hollow in the pond-bottom, and
lined it with watergrass and tiny pieces of roots.
Next, he made the side-walls of the same things, and
last of all, the roof. When it was done, he swam
carefully into it and looked around. Under and beside
and over him were soft grasses and roots. At each end
 open doorway. "It is a good nest," he said, "a very
good nest for my first one. Now I must ask some of my
friends to lay eggs in it for me."
Before doing this, he went to look at the homes built
by his neighbors. After he left the company in the
quiet pool, many others did the same, until the only
Sticklebacks left there were the dull-colored ones, the
egg-layers. The nest-builders had been dull-colored,
too, but in the spring-time there came beautiful red
and blue markings on their bodies, until now they were
very handsome fellows. It is sad to tell, still it is
true, that they also became very cross at this time.
Perhaps it was the work and worry of nest-building that
made them so, yet, whatever it was, every
bright-colored Stickleback wanted to fight every other
bright-colored Stickleback. That was how it happened
that, when this one went to look at the nest of an old
friend, with whom he had
 played ever since he was hatched, this same friend
called out, "Don't you come near my nest!"
The visiting Stickleback replied, "I shall if I want
to!" Then they swam at each other and flopped and
splashed and pushed and jabbed until both were very
tired and sore, and each was glad to stay by his own
home. This was the time when they wanted to look
THEN THEY SWAM AT EACH OTHER.
Soon the dull-colored Sticklebacks came swimming past,
waving their tails gracefully, and talking to each
other. Now this fine fellow, who had sent the Snails
away and built his nest, who had fought his old friend
and come home again, swam up to a dull-colored
Stickleback, and said, "Won't you lay a few eggs in my
nest? I'm sure you will find it comfortable."
She answered, "Why, yes! I wouldn't mind laying a few
there." And she tried to look as though she had not
expected the invitation. While she was
 carefully laying the eggs in the nest, he stood ready
to fight anybody who disturbed her. She came out after
a while and swam away. Before she went, she said,
"Aren't you ashamed to fight so? We dull-colored ones
never fight." She held her fins very stiff as she
spoke, because she thought it her duty to scold him.
The dull-colored Sticklebacks often did this. They
thought that they were a little better than the others;
so they swam around together and talked about things,
and sometimes forgot how hard it was to be the
nest-builder and stay at home and work. Then they
called upon the bright-colored Sticklebacks, for they
really liked them very much, and told them what they
should do. That was why this one said, "We
dull-colored ones never fight."
"Have you ever been red and blue?" asked the
"N-no," said she. "But I don't see what difference
 "Well, it does make a difference," said he. "When a
fellow is red and blue, he can't help
fighting. I'll be
as good-natured as any of you after I stop being red
Of course she could not say anything more after that,
so she swam off to her sisters. The bright-colored
Stickleback looked at the eggs she had laid. They were
sticky, like the eggs of all fishes, so that they stuck
to the bottom of the nest. He covered them carefully,
and after that he was really a Stickleback Father. It
is true that he did not have any Stickleback children
to swim around him and open their dear little mouths at
him, but he knew that the eggs would hatch soon, and
that after he had built a nest and covered the eggs in
it, the tiny Sticklebacks were beginning to grow.
However, he wanted more eggs in his nest, so he watched
for another dull-colored Stickleback and called her in
 help him. He did this until he had almost an hundred
eggs there, and all this time he had fought every
bright-colored Stickleback who came near him. He
became very tired indeed; but he had to fight, you
know, because he was red and blue. And he had covered
all the eggs and guarded them, else they would never
The dull-colored Sticklebacks were also tired. They
had been swimming from nest to nest, laying a few eggs
in each. Now they went off together to a quiet pool
and ate everything they could find to eat, and visited
with each other, and said it was a shame that the
bright-colored Sticklebacks had fought so, and told how
they thought little Sticklebacks should be brought up.
And now the red and blue markings on the Stickleback
Father grew paler and paler, until he did not have to
fight at all, and could call upon his friends and
 see how their children were hatching. One fine day,
his first child broke the shell, and then another and
another, until he had an hundred beautiful
Stickleback babies to feed.
He worked hard for them, and some nights, when
he could stop and rest, his fins ached as though they
would drop off. But they never did.
As the Stickleback children grew stronger, they swam
off to take care of themselves, and he had less to do.
When the last had gone, he left the old nest and went
to the pool where the dull-colored Sticklebacks were.
They told him he was not looking well, and that he
managed the children right, and that they thought
he tried to do too much.
He was too tired to talk about it, so he just said,
"Perhaps," and began to eat something. Yet, down in
his fatherly heart he knew it was worth doing. He
knew, too, that when spring should come once more, he
would become red and blue
 again, and build another nest, and fight and work and
love as he had done before. "There is nothing in the
world better than working for one's own little
Sticklebacks," said he.