THE OLDEST DRAGON-FLY NYMPH
HEN the Oldest Dragon-Fly Nymph felt that the wings under
her skin were large enough, she said good-bye to her
water friends, and crawled slowly up the stem of a tall
cat-tail. All the other Dragon-Fly Nymphs crowded
around her and wished that their wings were more nearly
ready, and the larvæ talked about the time when
they should become Nymphs. The Oldest Nymph, the one
who was going away, told them that if they would be
good little larvæ, and eat a great deal of plain
food and take care not to break any of their legs, or
to hurt either of their short, stiff little feelers,
they would some day be fine
 great Nymphs like her. Then she crawled slowly up the
cat-tail stem, and when she drew the tenth and last
joint of her body out of the water, her friends turned
to each other and said, "She is really gone." They
felt so badly about it that they had to eat something
at once to keep from crying.
The Oldest Nymph now stopped breathing water and began
to breathe air. She waited to look at the pond before
she went any farther. She had never seen it from
above, and it looked very queer to her. It was
beautiful and shining, and, because the sky above it
was cloudless, the water was a most wonderful blue.
There was no wind stirring, so there were no tiny waves
to sparkle and send dancing bits of light here and
there. It was one of the very hot and still summer
days, which Dragon-Flies like best.
A sad look came into the Nymph's great eyes as she
stood there. "The
 pond is beautiful," she said; "but when one looks at it
from above, it does not seem at all homelike." She
shook her three-cornered head sadly, and rubbed her
eyes with her forelegs. She thought she should miss
the happy times in the mud with the other children.
A Virgin Dragon-Fly lighted on the cat-tail next to
hers. She knew it was a Virgin Dragon-Fly because he
had black wings folded over his back, and there were
shimmering green and blue lights all over his body and
wings. He was very slender and smaller than she.
"Good morning," said he. "Are you just up?"
"Yes," said she, looking bashfully down at her
forefeet. She did not know how to behave in the air,
it was so different from the water.
"Couldn't have a finer day," said he. "Very glad
you've come. Excuse me. There is a friend to whom I must
 Then he flew away with another Virgin Dragon-Fly.
"Hurry up and get your skin changed," said a voice
above her, and there was a fine great fellow floating
in the air over her head. "I'll tell you a secret
when you do."
Dragon-Flies care a great deal for secrets, so she
quickly hooked her twelve sharp claws into the cat-tail
stem, and unfastened her old skin down the back, and
wriggled and twisted and pulled until she had all her
six legs and the upper part of her body out. This made
her very tired and she had to rest for a while. The
old skin would only open down for a little way by her
shoulders, and it was hard to get out through such a
small place. Next she folded her legs close to her
body, and bent over backward, and swayed this way and
that, until she had drawn her long, slender body from
its outgrown covering.
SHE SWAYED THIS WAY AND THAT.
She crawled away from the empty skin
 and looked it over. It kept the shape of her body, but
she was surprised to find how fast she was growing
slender. Even then, and she had been out only a short
time, she was much longer and thinner than she had
been, and her old skin looked much too short for her.
"How styles do change," she said. "I remember how
proud I was of that skin when I first got it, and now I
wouldn't be seen in it."
Her beautiful gauzy wings with their dark veinings,
were drying and growing in the sunshine. She was weak
now, and had them folded over her back like those of
the Virgin Dragon-Fly, but, as soon as she felt rested
and strong, she meant to spread them out flat.
The fine Big Dragon-Fly lighted beside her. "How are
your wings?" said he.
"Almost dry," she answered joyfully, and she quivered
them a little to show him how handsome they were.
"Well," said he. "I'll tell you the
 secret now, and of course you will never speak of it.
I saw you talking with a Virgin Dragon-Fly. He may be
all right, but he isn't really in our set, you know,
and you'd better not have anything to do with him."
"Thank you," she said. "I won't." She thought it very
kind in him to tell her.
He soon flew away, and, as she took her first flight
into the air, a second Big Dragon-Fly overtook her.
"I'll tell you a secret," said he, "if you will never
"I won't," said she.
"I saw you talking to a Virgin Dragon-Fly a while ago.
You may have noticed that he folded his wings over his
back. The Big Dragon-Flies never do this, and you must
never be seen with yours so."
"Thank you," she said. "I won't. But when they were
drying I had to hold them in that way."
"Of course," said he. "We all do things then that we
 Before long she began egg-laying, flying low enough to
touch her body to the water now and then and drop a
single egg. This egg always sank at once to the
bottom, and she took no more care of it.
A third Big Dragon-Fly came up to her. "I want to tell
you something," he said. "Put your head close to
She put her head close to his, and he whispered, "I saw
you flying with my cousin a few minutes ago. I dislike
to say it, but he is not a good friend for you.
Whatever you do, don't go with him again. Go with me."
"Thank you," said she, yet she began to wonder what was
the matter. She saw that just as soon as she visited
with anybody, somebody else told her that she must not
do so again. Down in the pond they had all been
friends. She wondered if it could not be so in the
air. She rubbed her head with her right foreleg, and
frowned as much as she could. You
 know she couldn't frown very much, because her eyes
were so large and close together that there was only a
small frowning-place left.
She turned her head to see if any one else was coming
to tell her a secret. Her neck was very, very slender
and did not show much, because the back side of her
head was hollow and fitted over her shoulders. No
other Dragon-Fly was near. Instead, she saw a Swallow
swooping down on her. She sprang lightly into the air
and the Swallow chased her. When he had his beak open
to catch her as he flew, she would go backward or
sidewise without turning around. This happened many
times, and it was well for her that it was so, for the
Swallow was very hungry, and if he had caught her—well,
she certainly would never have told any of the secrets
The Swallow quite lost his patience and flew away
grumbling. "I won't waste
 any more time," he said, "on trying to catch somebody
who can fly backward without turning around.
Ridiculous way to fly!"
The Dragon-Fly thought it an exceedingly good way,
however, and was even more proud of her wings than she
had been. "Legs are all very well," she said to
herself, "as far as they go, and one's feet would be of
very little use without them; but I like wings better.
Now that I think of it," she added, "I haven't walked
a step since I began to fly. I understand better the
old saying, 'Make your wings save your legs.' They
certainly are very good things to stand on when one
doesn't care to fly."
Night came, and she was glad to sleep on the under side
of a broad leaf of pickerel-weed. She awakened feeling
stupid and lazy. She could not think what was the
matter, until she heard her friends talking about the
weather. Then she
 knew that Dragon-Flies are certain to feel so on dark
and wet days. "I don't see what difference that should
make," she said. "I'm not afraid of rain.
always been careless about getting my feet wet and it
never hurt me any."
"Ugh!" said one of her friends.
"You've never been
wet in spots, or hit on one wing by a great rain-drop
that has fallen clear down from a cloud. I had a
rain-drop hit my second right knee once, and it has
hurt me ever since. I have only five good knees left,
and I have to be very careful about lighting on
It was very dull. Nobody seemed to care about anybody
or anything. The fine Big Dragon-Flies, who had been
so polite to her the day before, hardly said "Good
morning" to her now. When she asked them questions,
they would say nothing but "Yes" or "No" or "I don't
know," and one of them yawned in her
 face. "Oh dear!" she said. "How I wish myself back in
the pond where the rain couldn't wet me.
I'd like to
see my old friends and some of the dear little
larvæ. I wish more of the Nymphs would come up."
She looked all around for them, and as she did so she
saw the shining back-shell of the Snapping Turtle,
showing above the shallow water. "I believe I'll call
on him," she said. "He may tell me something about my
old friends, and anyway it will cheer me up." She
lighted very carefully on the middle of his back-shell
and found it very comfortable. "Good morning," said
she. "Have you—"
"No," snapped he. "I haven't and I don't mean to!"
"Dear me," said she. "That is too bad."
"I don't see why," said he. "Is there any particular
reason why I should?"
 "I thought you might have just happened to," said she,
"and I should like to know how they are."
"What are you talking about?" snapped he.
"I was going to ask if you had seen the Dragon-Fly
children lately," she said. And as she spoke she made
sure that she could not slip. She felt perfectly safe
where she was, because she knew that, no matter how
cross he might be, he could not reach above the edges
of his back-shell.
"Well, why didn't you say so in the first place," he
snapped, "instead of sitting there and talking
nonsense! They are all right. A lot of the Nymphs are
going into the air to-day!" Now that he had said a few
ugly things, he began to feel better natured.
changed a good deal since the last time I saw you."
"When was that?" asked she.
 "It was one day when I came remarkably near sitting
down on a lot of you Dragon-Fly children," he chuckled.
"You were a homely young Nymph then, and you stuck out
your lower lip at me."
"Oh!" said she. "Then you did see us?"
"Of course I did," answered he.
"Haven't I eyes?
I'd have sat down on you, too, if I hadn't wanted to
see you scramble away. The larvæ always are full
of mischief, but then they are young. You Nymphs were
old enough to know better."
"I suppose we were," she said. "I didn't think you
saw us. Why didn't you tell us?"
"Oh," said the Snapping Turtle, "I thought
I'd have a
secret. If I can't keep a secret for myself, I know
that nobody can keep it for me. Secrets can swim
faster than any fish in the pond if you once let them
get away from you.
 I thought I'd better not tell. I might want to sit on
you some other time, you know."
"You'll never have the chance," said she, with a
twinkle in her big eyes. "It is my turn to sit on
you." And after that they were very good friends—as
long as she sat on the middle of his shell.