Story of A Glowworm

by Caroline Stewart

Did you ever see a glowworm? There are plenty of them shining on the grass during the long nights of June and July. Shall we come out on to the lawn one evening and see them? Look! there they are! shining like little fairy lamps all over the grass. If you try to disturb them they will hide their light, for they like to keep quiet. Now you cannot find them, for they are all dark again. I do not think a glowworm is a pretty insect when it has no light. Shall we catch one very quietly while it is shining and place it on a leaf? In the morning you will see it is a rather long insect, with brown scales over its back and it has some tiny legs, in front. You must give it some lettuce leaf, and a few of those little dead flies we found on the window-sill this morning. Do you want to keep it altogether? I think you had better not do so, it would soon die. It can feed itself better than you can. And now, shall I tell you the story of a glowworm while you put this one carefully on a lettuce leaf which I have placed in a pot?

Many years ago, when I was a little girl, I was very fond of pets of all sorts. I was a funny little girl, for I did not even dislike spiders! and I often wished I could catch and tame a little mouse for my very own. There were plenty of them behind the wainscot in our large London house; but the cat would eat them one by one, so that I never got a chance of keeping one to myself. Indeed I do not think old nurse would have let me do so. She hated all such horrid creepy things, she said; but I told her I was sure a mouse was anything but horrid, because I had just been watching one come out of his hole that the carpenter had forgot to stop up.

"And indeed, Nurse," I said, "he ran so prettily about the room, and got into your basket of work. I was so happy to think he had found a warm snug corner this windy day, but directly you came in again he ran away."

You may be sure old nurse looked very frightened on hearing about the mouse in her basket, and the carpenter had no peace till he had brought his tools and put a board neatly across the hole. So I never saw my little mouse again. And it had such a soft little coat of fur too! When I grumbled to Nurse she told me not to be a tiresome little girl; that mousey was all very well to look at, but he was very, very mischievous, and would eat up everything in the cupboard if we would let him.

Well, to return to my story, one evening my eldest brother, who was a great tall fellow fresh from school, and much older than I was, came to the foot of the stairs and called out, "Elsie! I've brought something for you."

Now, I knew he had just returned from a cricket match in the country, where he had gone that morning by train, and I thought it very kind of him to think of me at all.

"What is it, George?" I asked eagerly as I bounded down the nursery stairs.

George stood under the gas-lamp of the second landing waiting for me, and now he pulled out a pocket-handkerchief. Out of the handkerchief he drew a little cardboard box, with air holes pricked in it, and when he opened the lid I stood on tiptoe and looked into it.

"Why, George, you've only brought me a caterpillar!" I said not quite pleased.

"No, it isn't," replied George, "it's a glowworm. After the cricket match we went to supper at the squire's, and on the lawn there were hundreds of these pretty things, so I brought you one."

"But I thought a glowworm had fire in its tail?" said I.

"You are quite right," replied George. "It has; but then you can only see it in the dark, and there is the gas-lamp burning over us. Suppose we take it into the dark greenhouse and put it in a pot?"

I thanked George very much for his trouble in bringing me such a treasure, and we hastened to a sort of glass place we had built out over an extra room, and in which my mother placed all her favourite plants. We put the little creature on to a flower-pot, and true enough when it was left quite quiet it began to shine.

"What is that light for?" I asked George.

"I believe it is a lamp for it to see its food by in the dark as it crawls over the grass. And another thing, nightingales are fond of glowworms, and nightingales too must live, so you see they can easily spy them out, can't they?"

"I'm glad, George, you saved this one from the nightingale," I said. "Now it will shine here every night like a little fairy lamp, and when we give my party it will be of great use, won't it?"

George laughed at me, and said he thought the glowworm would have to grow a good deal larger before it could do that. Nurse now called me to bed, so after we had put some leaves close to the glowworm we left it shining brightly.

The next morning I ran to see if my glowworm was pretty or ugly by daylight, but it was gone!

I looked in every pot, but I could not find anything like a caterpillar.

"Of course it had crawled away somewhere!" said Nurse, and she gave a shudder as she felt sure it would come up to her bed-room. I was very unhappy at my loss. However, nothing could be done. But what was my surprise and delight when, that same evening, as it grew dark, my mother called to me as she was passing the greenhouse, "Elsie! Elsie! is not this your fairy lamp on the floor?"

I ran down quickly, and found my dear little glowworm shining merrily on the stone pavement of the greenhouse. It was walking across to the other side of the wall, "only just to take an airing," as I said to mother.

She said, "Look, it has saved itself because of its light, otherwise I would have put my foot on it when I came to shut the windows." I quickly got a leaf and put "Glowy" back again into the pot till I had got something else.

"You are not going to run away again, my little dear," said I. "No, no, you must go into a cage now." So I got an old tumbler with a chip in it and put some leaves in it, and then tumbled my glowworm in, head-foremost, and covered up the top with a piece of paper.

But my mother said that would not do, as there was no air; so she pricked the paper full of holes as I remembered George had done to his box, and we put on the lid again. The next morning I found my pet quite alive; but it had not eaten any of the lettuce leaf, and I was very sorry. Still it was alive, which was a great deal. I gave "Glowy" some fresh leaves and left it there. George said he thought "Glowy" would not like so much hot sun beating down upon him through the glass roof; but I reminded George that glowworms liked hot countries, for Uncle Bob told me he had seen splendid ones abroad when he went on voyages.

That was all very well, said George, but did I not know that they came out when it was quite cool in the evenings? Still I had my way, and left my little friend in the blue glass tumbler, because he would look so pretty shining through it at night. I was so afraid he would run away again. When evening came there he was crawling on a leaf and shining so brightly. I gave him some mustard and cress to eat, for a change, and felt quite delighted.

The next day I found he had not eaten anything. Perhaps he did not like the green food. I resolved to try him with flies; but after hunting I could not find any that were dead, so he had to go without. The next day I found little "Glowy" all curled up at the bottom of the glass as if he was going to faint. "Oh, George," I said, "I quite forgot he had no water to drink!" and I ran to fetch a few drops in a cup.

"You'll drown him in all that," laughed George; but I was very careful and only dropped a few drops close to him on the leaf. But he would not move. I was so afraid he would get ill that I took him out and placed him on a pot of Virginian creeper to see if he would recover. To my delight he began to crawl again, so I left him to roam about.

I knew I should find him again in the evening by his light, as I did before. But when I came in from my afternoon walk with Miss Smith, our governess, Nurse told me that John the man-servant had been watering all the plants that afternoon, and she hoped there was an end to my funny fancies.

Oh, how silly I was not to tell everybody where "Glowy" was! for, of course, Nurse hoped he was drowned; but John wouldn't have done it if he had known. I hunted by daylight in vain for him; but when evening came to my joy I found him feebly shining, and perched on the edge of the earthenware saucer in which the Virginian creeper pot stood. The saucer was full of water, so I don't know how he had got across; I wondered if glowworms could swim. I pushed little "Glowy" gently on to a leaf with a piece of stick, and put the whole on an orange plant for him to get dry again.

Alas, the next morning poor "Glowy" looked very ill—at least George said he must be, because he had not moved from the spot, and glowworms always like to crawl about in search of food. I looked forward to the evening to see if he would shine again; but no, poor "Glowy" was quite still and would not shine. George said he was dead because I did not feed him properly; but it was not my fault, it was John's for watering him. I was very sorry, because I had had a little pet for a week, and now I did not know where to find another one so pretty. But George after a while showed me it was my fault. You see I had not let the glowworm roam about in the back garden to look for his own food, because I thought I could feed him much better. But it was not so much that; it was the glass cage into which I put poor "Glowy" that he did not like. It was too hot in the greenhouse. So I made a mistake. We learn to do better by experience—we learn that we are often in the wrong. But I would not believe it when George told me so; when I lost my little glowworm I had to believe it, but it was too late, and my fairy lamp had gone out.

George told me he had also learnt the same thing by experience, when he caught three very young blackbirds once. We were living in the country then. He thought he could feed them, though the gardener said they would die, because, while they could not feed themselves, the old blackbird could do it best and not George. So they did die one by one. The bread and milk George gave them was not enough to keep them alive. So I think now, it is very cruel of boys when they take little birds out of their nest, and besides it makes the mother-bird so unhappy.

Well, I had lost my little glowworm. It was an ugly little insect in itself, but you get fond of a thing you have taken care of, and I felt quite sorry when I had no fairy lamp left.

Now that is the end of my story. So, shall we profit by it and take this little one you have found and put it on the lawn again? If we want it to go on shining, night after night, we had better leave it to feed itself. In hot countries they are far more brilliant than in England. I remember them in India, where they are perfectly beautiful; but I never tried to catch one there, as I recalled my experience when I was a little girl in England.