Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE RUNAWAY WATER SPIDERS
HEN the little Water Spiders first opened their eyes, and
this was as soon as they were hatched, they found
themselves in a cosy home of one room which their
mother had built under the water. This room had no
window and only one door. There was no floor at all.
When Father Stickleback had asked Mrs. Spider why she
did not make a floor, she had looked at him in great
surprise and said, "Why, if I had built one, I should
have no place to go in and out." She really thought
him quite stupid not to think of that. It often
happens, you know, that really clever people think each
other stupid, just because they live in different
 ways. Afterward, Mrs. Water Spider saw Father
Stickleback's nest, and understood why he asked that
When her home was done, it was half as large as a big
acorn and a charming place for Water Spider babies.
The side walls and the rounding ceiling were all of the
finest Spider silk, and the bottom was just one round
doorway. The house was built under the water and
fastened down by tiny ropes of Spider silk which were
tied to the stems of pond plants. Mrs. Water Spider
looked at it with a happy smile. "Next I must fill it
with air," said she, "and then it will be ready. I am
out of breath now."
She crept up the stem of the nearest plant and sat in
the air for a few minutes, eating her lunch and
resting. Next she walked down the stem until just the
end of her body was in the air. She stood so, with her
head down, then gave a little jerk and dived to her
home. As she
 jerked, she crossed her hindlegs and caught a small
bubble of air between them and her body. When she
reached her home, she went quickly in the open doorway
and let go of her bubble. It did not fall downward to
the floor, as bubbles do in most houses, and there were
two reasons for this. In the first place, there was no
floor. In the second place, air always falls upward in
the water. This fell up until it reached the rounded
ceiling and had to stop. Just as it fell, a drop of
water went out through the open doorway. The home had
been full of water, you know, but now that Mrs. Spider
had begun to bring in air something had to be moved to
make a place for it.
She brought down thirteen more bubbles of air and then
the house was filled with it. On the lower side of the
open doorway there was water and on the upper side was
air, and each stayed where it should. When Mrs. Spider
came into her
 house, she always had some air caught in the hairs
which covered her body, even when she did not bring a
bubble of it in her hindlegs. She had to have plenty
of it in her home to keep her from drowning, for she
could not breathe water like a fish. "Side doors may
be all right for Sticklebacks," said she, "for they do
not need air, but I must have bottom doors, and I will
have them too!"
After she had laid her eggs, she had some days in which
to rest and visit with the Water-Boatmen who lived
near. They were great friends. Belostoma used to ask
the Water-Boatmen, who were his cousins, why they were
so neighborly with the Water Spiders. "I don't like to
see you so much with eight-legged people," he said.
"They are not our kind." Belostoma was very proud of
"We know that they have rather too many legs to look
well," said Mrs. Water-Boatman, "but they are pleasant,
 are interested in the same things. You know we both
carry air about with us in the water, and so few of our
neighbors seem to care anything for it." She was a
sensible little person and knew that people who are
really fond of their friends do not care how many legs
they have. She carried her air under her wings, but
there were other Water-Boatmen, near relatives, who
spread theirs over their whole bodies, and looked very
silvery and beautiful when they were under water.
One day, when Mrs. Water Spider was sitting on a
lily-pad and talking with her friends, a Water-Boatman
rose quickly from the bottom of the pond. As soon as
he got right side up (and that means as soon as he got
to floating on his back), he said to her, "I heard
queer sounds in your house; I was feeding near there,
and the noise startled me so that I let go of the stone
I was holding to, and came up. I think your eggs must
AS SOON AS HE GOT TO FLOATING ON HIS BACK.
 "Really?" exclaimed Mrs. Water Spider. "I shall be so
glad! A house always seems lonely to me without
children." She dived to her house, and found some very
fine Water Spider babies there. You may be sure she
did not have much time for visiting after that. She
had to hunt food and carry it down to her children, and
when they were restless and impatient she stayed with
them and told them stories of the great world.
Sometimes they teased to go out with her, but this she
never allowed. "Wait until you are older," she would
say. "It will not be so very long before you can go
safely." The children thought it had been a long, long
time already, and one of them made a face when his
mother said this. She did not see him, and it was well
for him that she did not. He should have been very
much ashamed of himself for doing it.
The next time Mrs. Water Spider went
 for food, one of the children said, "I tell you what
let's do! Let's all go down to the doorway and peek
out." They looked at each other and wondered if they
dared. That was something their mother had forbidden
them to do. There was no window to look through and
they wanted very much to see the world. At last the
little fellow who had made a face said, "I'm going to,
anyway." After that, his brothers and sisters went,
too. And this shows how, if good little Spiders listen
to naughty little Spiders, they become naughty little
All the children ran down and peeked around the edge of
the door, but they had seen that before. They were
sadly disappointed. Somebody said, "I'm going to put
two of my legs out!" Somebody else said, "I'll put
four out!" A big brother said, "I'm going to put six
out!" And then another brother
"I'll put eight out! Dare you to!"
You know what naughty little Spiders would be likely to
do then. Well, they did it. And, as it happened, they
had just pulled their last legs through the open
doorway when a Stickleback Father came along.
rather young to be out of the nest?" said he, in
his most pleasant voice.
Poor little Water Spiders! They didn't know he was
one of their mother's friends, and he seemed so big to
them, and the bones on his cheeks made him look so
queer, and the stickles on his back were so sharp, that
every one of them was afraid and let go of the wall of
the house—and then!
Every one of them rose quickly to the top, into the
light and the open air. They crawled upon a lily-pad
and clung there, frightened, and feeling weak in all
their knees. The Dragon Flies flew over
 them, the Wild Ducks swam past them, and on a log not
far away they saw a long row of Mud Turtles sunning
themselves. Why nothing dreadful happened, one cannot
tell. Perhaps it was bad enough as it was, for they
were so scared that they could only huddle close
together and cry, "We want our mother."
Here Mrs. Water Spider found them. She came home with
something for dinner, and saw her house empty. Of
course she knew where to look, for, as she said, "If
they stepped outside the door, they would be quite sure
to tumble up into the air." She took them home, one at
a time, and how she ever did it nobody knows.
When they were all safely there and had eaten the food
that was waiting for them, Mrs. Spider, who had not
scolded them at all, said, "Look me straight in the
eye, every one of you! Will you promise never to run
 Instead of saying at once, "Yes, mother," as they
should have done, one of them answered, "Why, we
run away. We were just peeking around the edge of
the doorway, and we got too far out, and somebody came
along and scared us so that we let go, and then we
couldn't help falling up into the air."
"Oh, no," said their mother, "you couldn't help it
then, of course. But who told you that you might peep
out of the door?"
The little Water Spiders hung their heads and looked
very much ashamed. Their mother went on,
"You needn't say
that you were not to blame.
You were to blame, and you began to run
away as soon as you took the first step toward the
door, only you didn't know that you were going so far.
Tell me," she said, "whether you would ever have gone
to the top of the water if you had not taken that first
 The little Water Spiders were more ashamed than ever,
but they had to look her in the eye and promise to be
It is very certain that not one of those children even
peeped around the edge of the doorway from that day
until their mother told them that they might go into
the world and build houses for themselves. "Remember
just one thing," she said, as they started away.
"Always take your food home to eat." And they always
did, for no Water Spider who has been well brought up
will ever eat away from his own home.