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LINES TO A SPIDER


 

Pray, busy, hunchback friend, where did you learn
To spin that pretty web? One need not spurn
To copy such fine lace, so rare, complete,
Hand-woven, I might say, but that your feet

Spun out, instead, the wondrous warp and woof;
And with what cunning skill—behold the proof
In these strong silken threads, that stretch across,
From side to center, bright as shining floss.

 

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How innocent you seem,—how modest, shy;
I’m sure I should be caught were I a fly;
For when with luring tone you whispered low
“Please walk into my parlor,” I should go.

Weave on, weave on, my patient, hunchback friend;
For soon your work, like mine, will have an end.
But in your cunning craft I claim no share;
For I but spin a tale — you spin a snare.
 

DO YOU BELIEVE IT?

   One day in summer time, I saw some boys very busily at work on the edge of a little stream.
   As I came upon them, I noticed that they were putting some long, white horsehairs in the water, and were trying to keep them down with a large stone.
   When I asked them why they did this, one of the lads promptly replied, “Why, don’t you see? We are going to raise some hair snakes.”
   “Do you believe that you can do it?” said I.
   “I know it,” he answered, and went on with his work.
   Now it is plain that some ignorant person had told these boys that hair snakes were produced in

 

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that manner; for say what I might to the contrary, the lads would not listen to me.
   The truth of the whole thing is this: The hair worm—for it is not a snake—lives mostly in the bodies of certain insects, such as the water beetle, the grasshopper, and the cricket; because the eggs of the worm are taken, by accident, into the stomach of the insect with its food and drink.
   But both the eggs and the worm have been known to pass through water pipes into the faucets of dwelling houses; and although such worms will not live in the human stomach, yet it is far better that drinking water should be carefully filtered before it is used.
   I once saw a large grasshopper give a sudden leap, and than fall helplessly over upon his back. I picked him up by the head; when, lo, his head separated from his body!
   As I held it up in my hand, there hung from it a very slender hair worm, several times the length of the insect. The worm had lain coiled up within his body, and had gnawed at his vitals until he died.
   When these worms become full-grown, they leave the body of the insect and go to the water, where they lay their eggs in a long chain.

 

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   And it is at such times that we often see them in the water, looking like real hairs from the tail of a horse.
   A strange thing about them is that they may be left in the hot sunshine till they are completely dried up, and until they appear to be dead; but if placed in water for a short time, they will come to life, and be as active as ever.
   I have walked along the borders of that little stream many a time since that day, and have always found the heavy stone on duty, holding the horsehairs down.
   But alas! if those simple-hearted lads live long enough, they will find that their labors were in vain; for those hairs were never so much alive as when they were actively employed in brushing off flies and other insects from the poor horse’s back and sides.
 

WINTER FRIENDS

I. THE CHICKADEE

Do you know the little titmouse
In his brownish-ashen coat,
With a cap so black and jaunty,
And a black patch at his throat?

   Why yes, of course, we all know him; for he is the brave little chickadee that always has a word of

 

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cheer for us, even in the coldest winter weather; and he is no more afraid of the ice and snow than we are.

   His body measures about five and a half inches in length, from the point of his short, black bill to the tip of his tail.
   He wears a black, jaunty cap upon his head; but from the base of his bill there is a narrow white band that runs all along the sides of his neck. His pretty wings are also edged with white, while his slender legs are of a light-blue color.

 

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   And what an active, noisy little creature he is! His loud twitter is full of sharp notes, but it can not well be called a song.
   His mate wears a suite very much like his own and she is quite as lively as he.
   In summer time, she builds a nest of soft grasses and wool, and within it she lays six small, white eggs, marked with specks of red.
   This nest is usually made in a knot hole on the limb or trunk of a tree; sometimes it is a hole that a squirrel or some other animal has dug out and left.
   But if the little chickadees can not find a hole of this kind, they will cut one in the tree, with their strong, sharp bills.
   These birds like to flit about among the evergreen trees in winter, where they can pick up seeds, or draw forth a larval insect from its hiding place under the loose bark of the trunk.
   So you see, these small winter visitors are our friends; for they feed upon the hungry larvæ that destroy the fruit and foliage of our gardens and fields.

 

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   And now, in return for this good service of theirs, let us scatter a few crumbs here and there, upon the snow-covered ground. They will not be long in finding out where the feast is spread, and their little hearts will be gladdened at the sight; and I am sure that our hearts will be gladdened too, when we hear their sharp twitter of joy and surprise at such unexpected good luck.

II. THE NUTHATCH
  Do you know the pretty nuthatch in his suit of ashen blue,
     With his dainty bib of white, and his hose of modest brown?
  You may hear him sing, sometimes, though his notes are harsh and few;
     But you’ll know him when you see him, by the black upon his crown.

   This bird is a boon companion of the little chickadee; and they are often seen hopping about, side by side, trying to pick up an honest living wherever they find it.
   The nuthatch is fond of rooming upstairs; so, in springtime, he finds a hole in the top of a tree, and there he helps his little mate build her nest.
   Then she lays from four to eight white, rose-tinted eggs, specked with brown.
   Under the bark of the tree, and among the cracks, he finds many a rare tidbit, such as the

 

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eggs and the larvæ of different insects; so he often comes creeping down the tree, head foremost, in his search for them.
   Sometimes he finds a small, broken acorn that has a plump grub inside of it; this he will crowd tightly into a deep crack of the bark, so that it will stay secure; and then he can easily pick out the choice morsel that he loves so well, when he wants it.
   But if his mate is confined to her nest, he will carry the rich prize to her, instead of eating it himself. Is he not generous?
   He is a cheerful little fellow, and sings quite as merrily among the branches of the leafless woods in winter time, as when he is sitting in some leafy bower on a bright summer day.
   But when the trunk of the tree becomes smooth

 

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and slippery, from frozen rain, then our little nuthatch has quite a hard time of it; for he can not very well make his way along the smooth, icy surface of the trunk, neither can he get at the fat larvæ that are so safely shut in beneath their icy covering.
   Then it is, that you may see him flying about the door, the barn or other outhouses, in search of a crumb to satisfy his hungry craving for food.
   If he happens to find a fallen nut, he will soon break it open by means of the quick, hard strokes of his bill. But it is not the nut inside of the shell that he cares so much about; he knows when there is a fat maggot within it, and wants to get at that!
   It is because of this habit of hammering, or hatching, the shells of some kinds of nuts, that he has received the name of “nuthatch.”
 

III. THE RED-HEADED WOODPECKER
  Do you know that stylish fellow that stands rapping at the door
     Of the helpless larval infants in that tree?
  Now he turns his head and listens, then raps louder than before,
     Just as if to say, “Why don’t you answer me?”

   That is the handsome red-headed woodpecker. He is clad in a suit of bluish black, trimmed with bands of white.

 

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   He wears a white vest, also, but his head and neck are clothed in crimson red. Is he not a beautiful bird?
   With his strong bill he raps loudly upon the trunk of the tree; and as soon as he hears the larval insects within begin to move, he says to himself, “Ah, yes, I knew I was at the right door,—glad to find you all at home.”
   Then he forces an entrance with his bill, and darts in his long, barbed tongue.
   He brings out a fat morsel every time; and the thievish jays that are searching about in vain for something to satisfy their hungry crops, look upon him with envy. If he were a smaller bird, they would pounce upon him, and rob him on the spot. But they are afraid of him, so they leave him alone.
   His mate wears quite as fine a suit as his own;

 

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in fact, these red-headed woodpeckers are very handsome birds, clad in a three-colored plumage of red, white, and black, glossed over with a rich shade of steel blue.
   They make their nests either in the body or in the limbs of a tree, and they do not line it with hair and moss, as most birds do; but they make it very smooth. In this nest, the mother bird lays six pure white eggs.
   In winter time, they may be seen flying from tree to tree, and they are always very careful indeed not to chill their feet by lighting upon the snow-covered ground.
   They are fond of making a dinner of larval insects; but they often seem to be quite as well pleased when they come upon a ripe, sweet apple, or a fine, juicy pear. They are easily contented, you see, and take whatever they can get.
   They know, too, how to open the husks of the ripening corn with their sharp, wedge-shaped bills; for they like the rich milk that they find within its kernels.
   But as these birds feed largely upon the insect world, we must look upon them as our friends; and so we will permit them to share with the chickadee and the nuthatch the scattered crumbs that fall from our table.

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