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- PICCOLISSIMA - 2/6 -
might suck it up. It was a pleasant thing to see his lips swell out, and press, handle, and knead, as it were, the amber surface of the sugar in order to make it melt sooner, and enable him to draw it up faster. After having examined all these proceedings for some time, with great amusement, the little apprentice naturalist cried out, "Well, my little guest has a remarkable talent for eating barley sugar."
The other fly, timid, wet, and with his wings folded, so that he seemed naked, remained behind upon the frame of the window. "Come, poor little wet chicken as thou art," cried the elder fly; "thou wast complaining just now of having found in life only discomfort and cold; dost thou not see these rays of the sun? dost thou not perceive the perfume of this delicious food?" The young, inexperienced fly was disposed to take Piccolissima, the dictionary, and the barley sugar for a chain of mountains. However, when the little girl turned her gentle, child-like face towards him, the insect felt the pleasant warmth of her breath; it reanimated him, and gave him courage, and with one bound he flew upon the arm of Piccolissima. With a sudden familiarity he murmured in a low voice, "Art thou, perhaps, an elder sister of mine? Thou warmest me. Art thou placed in the sun to strengthen thy wings? Relate to me, quickly, thy metamorphosis whilst I dry myself. Let us see, hast thou been a caterpillar, a worm? How many feet didst thou once have? I will lay a wager thou didst not have any. For me, I had three rows of feet, forty-two in all, at least. Come, then, speak, and tell me; answer my question."
Usually Piccolissima did not require to be urged to speak; but these questions were of such an extraordinary nature, so unexpected, that the little girl remained silent. "Whether I have been a caterpillar or a worm? A queer question at the commencement of an acquaintance."
In the mean time the questioner was silent. Occupied with the comfort of exposing all his little person to the sun, he extended his wings, which, intersected with nerves, became every moment more substantial, without losing any of their delicacy. This transparent network, divided like stained glass windows, by dark lines, resembled isinglass, sometimes decomposing the sun's rays, and showing the colors of the rainbow.
The head of the insect, as it dried, became shiny like satin; the eyes, of a reddish brown, glowed in a circle of silver. Over a little jet band, on the top of his head, three little soft eyes peeped out like those which the young observer had already noticed in the other fly. The brown trunk of this one seemed more delicate; his bronze corselet, reflecting like emerald, was garnished with fine hairs, like the down which the fresh morning spreads over beautiful fruits. The belly of the insect, which showed itself between and through the transparent wings, was of a beautiful shining black set off by six white crescents, symmetrically placed on the right and left. The legs appeared to Piccolissima brown, and very delicate. As she examined them, she remembered that the young boaster had vaunted itself of having forty-two of them; and she was upon the point of venturing to inquire what had become of the superfluous ones, when the lively fly, finding itself dry and strengthened, raised two of its legs and examined them very closely, and crossing them with great dexterity rubbed the soles of his feet one against the other. Piccolissima was tempted so to call the two balls of flesh covered with hair, and armed with two nails which terminated the foot bones. The fly, having cleaned his brushes or sponges,--for they were as much like one as the other,--employing his trunk very skilfully, began to rub them over and under his wings, and over his little face, his eyes, and his antennae. He combed, brushed, sponged, and cleaned himself all over. Hardly had he finished one side before he began upon the other, using those of his six feet which were the most convenient. At last, he seemed weary of being watched by Piccolissima; and, shaking himself, he just grazed the eyelids of the little girl with his wings, and all of a sudden flew away, and alighted on the window pane, where he marched backward and forward with his head now up, and now down, quite indifferent to the laws of gravity.
Piccolissima followed him with her eyes with less surprise than curiosity; not being able to contain herself any longer, she determined to speak to the old fly.
"How does your companion contrive to walk with his head down in that way?"
The old fly, satiated with sugar, turned half round to the right, and with one spring placed himself opposite the little girl, and stared at her with such a stupefied look, that Piccolissima, although her good sense refused to believe it, thought for a moment that the ten or twelve thousand eyes were all fixed on her, forgetting, in her confusion at being thus stared at, that though each eye had thousands of faces to mirror all surrounding objects, still there was behind them all only one power of seeing, only one fly.
"What matters it, in the name of all that is sweet in the world? Of what consequence is it, when one walks, whether the head is on one side or the other, up or down? Poor infirm creature that thou art," said the fly; "dost thou see any difference?"
Piccolissima, somewhat mortified at having always walked with her head upward, remained stupened and silent. It seems necessary, thought she, that every surface, in whatever direction it is placed, should have the same power to attract and support the feet of the flies as the ground and the floor to retain mine.
Ignorant as she was, the little girl had not yet heard of the gummy liquid which the wise ones had at one time supposed to be placed in the sponges of the flies, nor of the vacuum, by means of which the learned of the present day suppose these little cushions can adhere to the most polished surfaces; and she had not yet seen flies enough to form any opinion for herself.
"I see," said the little girl, in a small flute voice, "that you know much more than I; do not refuse, then, to instruct me. I cannot explain how it is you speak and breathe. Since you have kept your trunk in its case, I perceive above it your lips closed, and I do not see them move." Piccolissima, fearing she might be laughed at, did not dare to add, that she had supposed that the voice of the fly came from under his wings.
"I speak as all well-formed people speak," answered the haughty insect, "with four voices;" and four puffs of air issued from the oval breathing holes on both sides of his breast, giving a tremulous motion to his two little egg-shell wings, his two balance wings, and the roots of his two other wings. "I breathe through these openings of my corselet, and I have, in order to enable me to take in the inspiring air which was created to bear me up, as many mouths as rings to my corselet."
He then swelled out with a proud air his brown abdomen, which seemed formed of rings of shell; and while he was indulging in the admiration of himself and his powers, the sharp eyes of Piccolissima discovered that these circles were not, as we should say, soldered together, but were lying on a flexible membrane, or thin skin, which held them in their place, and which was folded up or extended at the will of the insect. On either side, between each ring, there was in this membrane a little oval hole, smaller than those which, near the cavities of the corselet, emitted and modulated the buzzing sound which Piccolissima had just heard; these openings enabled the insect to breathe.
"You have many ways of speaking," the little girl said at last, with a sigh; "but covered as you are all over with brilliant armor, how can you touch any thing?"
The fly, who was at this moment digesting his dinner, and who did not like any interruption in any of his affairs, put forth his trunk without making any reply, shook a little the small beard that grew upon it, did the same with his antennae, rounded at the ends like little cushions, and furnished with feathery hair; then stretched forth his legs, as if yawning. Piccolissima comprehended that the two little cushions which ornamented the extreme end of the foot of the fly, in which she counted five joints, might easily possess the sense of touch, and that this also rendered them more useful for motion, and for the toilet; it was like so many intelligent brushes, all ready to perceive and sweep away the least grain of dust. The little beards she also thought might have the power of taste, like the antennae, at the same time that they listened to sounds.
"This young fly is doubtless your son," said Piccolissima to the insect which had taken his place on her neck, in order that the warmth might help digestion, without asking whether or not his nails might tickle the little girl.
"What! hast thou not seen directly that we were not relations? but I see how it is; I pity you, poor imperfect being with only two eyes and one mouth, and no trunk," answered the fly. "It is natural that thou hast only a superficial knowledge. This little upstart who devours the sugar as if he did not mean to leave any of it for any one else, this little person, who has but a few minutes ago escaped from his shell, yet hanging to a dead rose leaf long since forgotten as it lay there on the window, has not, as I have, four beautiful black streaks on his corselet. The white spots on his back offend the eye; I prefer the modest color of my brown rings, and the soft shade of the color of the faded leaf on a portion of my wings does not contribute less to the majesty of my aspect than the colored feathers which ornament my antennae. As for me, I am the domestic fly."
"I was wrong not to have remarked the differences which strike me now," said the child; "but what does this young scapegrace mean by what he says of metamorphoses, and countless legs?"
"Yes, yes; that is well known; his race lives upon hairy prey; in my opinion there is nothing to boast of in that. Although thou knowest, it seems to me, very few things, still I think thou art not ignorant, of course, that parents place their offspring where it is best. The mother of this fly of the rose bush laid her egg in the midst of the flock which was to nourish her little one. This one came into the world in the shape of a worm."
"Why dost thou shudder?" grumbled angrily the fly. "This form is as good as any other; call this worm larva if it suits thy fancy; he has still to each of his fourteen rings three little feet; but he has not such elegant members as mine, a haunch, a thigh, a leg, and an instep with five joints." While speaking, the old fly displayed pompously one of his legs, which he began immediately to caress with the edge of his lips, because he saw a grain of dust on one of the small hairs.
"But," perseveringly asked Piccolissima, who wished to hear the history of the fly to the end, "who are these little flocks in the midst of which your friend has passed his early days?"
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