With illustrations by Gammatt Billings and others
This little story I have translated from the French of Mademoiselle
Montgolfier. If children enjoy it as much as I have, and think it as
pretty, they will not regret that I have preferred it to any thing I
could write for them.
Mademoiselle Montgolfier says in her preface to the little book,
"Notwithstanding the fanciful character of this story, it is, in
fact, simply a little lesson in Natural History," and that "she
would engage for the truth of all that Piccolissima relates of the
manners and customs of the insects with whom she makes acquaintance."
It may also interest our young, and, perhaps, our more advanced
readers, to know, that Mademoiselle Montgolfier is the daughter of
the celebrated Montgolfier who invented balloons, and made the first
ascension. I had, when in France, the pleasure of seeing this very
interesting lady, and know her affection for children; and I am sure
that it will please her to know that her tiny naturalist is welcomed
by the American children. I therefore feel a particular pleasure in
introducing the wonderfully small Piccolissima to their
acquaintance, and recommending her to their affectionate regard.
E. L. F.
BROOKLINE, October, 1857.
Piccolissima was descended on the father's side from the famous Tom
Thumb, so well known to all children. On the mother's side, her
lineage was no less distinguished. Mignonette Littlepin (this was
the family name of Madam Tom Thumb) was the great granddaughter of
the wonderful Princess, who once lodged in a spectacle case, out of
which she came so splendidly attired that the brilliancy of her
little person illuminated all surrounding objects. A trustworthy
biographer tells us that nothing occurred in the history of Mr. and
Mrs. Tom Thumb to disgrace their illustrious parentage, and they
were considered none the less good citizens because they were rather
smaller than other people.
In the mean while, however, our humble couple became suddenly
celebrated by the birth of our heroine; this small creature was so
delicate, so exquisite, so pretty, and so lively and full of spirit,
that from the age of two years she became the object of general
admiration. She was not more than one inch in height, and her
mother, who had prepared the cradle and baby linen for a child of
the usual size, was puzzled to know what to do. Finally, the half of
a cocoanut shell, lined, and furnished with soft cushions of thistle
down, made a good bed for the little wonder; and the nursery maid,
wife of a neighboring clockmaker, and a person of ingenuity,
conceived the admirable idea of suspending the cocoanut cradle from
the pendulum of a great clock, in order that the infant might be
rocked all the time. Madam Tom Thumb was enchanted with the
invention. She adhered to the old-fashioned notions, and could not
suppose it possible that her little one could sleep without rocking.
What the good little mother found the most trouble from, in the
extreme smallness and delicacy of the limbs of her new-born doll
baby, was the impossibility of swathing and dressing it. So she was
forced to resign herself to doing as the birds do, and bring up her
little one on a bed of moss and down. She hardly dared to put upon
the little arm, smaller than her own little finger, a little shift
made of the fine white skin of the inside of an eggshell. The boots
of the little one had soles cut out of the inside husks of the corn;
a poppy leaf made her an ample bonnet. The spider's web which the
dew whitens, and the wind winds up in balls, seemed too coarse too
weave her sheets with, and the cup of an acorn was big enough for
Piccolissima. Her parents obtained all her wardrobe, and all the
small furniture for her use from those thousands of skilful
laborers, so adroit, and yet of whom we think so little, who hide
themselves in all the walls, in the leaves of the trees turned up
like horns, under the bark of the trees; in short, that are found in
all the corners and crevices of creation.
Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb were not people who could be astonished.
Simple themselves, every thing appeared simple to them. Mrs.
Mignonette was at first a little disconcerted at finding that a
drawer of baby linen which she had taken so much pains to make was
of no use, and that one of the stockings which she had knit was big
enough for her child to get into. But, when she was convinced that
the baby could do just as well without stockings, and that the
cushions of thistle down were sufficient to keep it warm, she was no
longer troubled, and she said to her neighbors, who were eager to
see her little wonder, "It is very natural that the little one
should be so very delicate; from the first we called it
Piccolissima; then, neither Mr. Tom Thumb nor I are very large; and
I am told that our ancestors were still more delicately formed; what
then is more natural than that this little one should be such a wee
The tranquillity of Mrs. Tom Thumb had this good effect; it appeased
the curiosity of the neighbors. At last, like her, they came to the
conclusion "that it was very natural that the child was smaller than
the mother." and all went on as usual around our heroine, while she
was quietly rocked by the passing hours, and was amused with the
sound of the silver clock bell. When, however, Piccolissima was two
inches high, and lively as a grasshopper, she became restless in her
cocoanut shell; she was desirous to get out of it, to walk, and to
jump, and she not only deranged the clock, but she was in real
She was now as much as seven years old, and she amused herself with
all sorts of little pranks, and loving ways, with one of her
brothers eighteen months old. The great boy, in a sort of ecstasy at
some of the drolleries of his little sister, seized her and put her
in his mouth, taking into it nearly the whole head of the poor
little thing. Her cry was so shrill that the baby boy opened his
jaws and let the unfortunate Piccolissima fall on the floor. She did
not recover for a long time from this fall. Another time, a large
cat, a great mouser, ran after her, and it was with difficulty they
rescued Piccolissima from the claws of Raminagrobis. The father, Mr.
Thumb, could not repress some anxiety about the fate of his amiable
daughter, who had more than common intelligence, and who, by her
extreme smallness, was exposed to so many dangers.
Piccolissima did her best to acquire knowledge. She had the best
intentions in the world; she desired in every thing to please all
who approached her; but her extreme restlessness led her away in
spite of herself. One evening she lost herself in the solitude of a
drawer in which was kept some tobacco; she came near dying from the
effect of it. Once she was near drowning in a superb salad dish of
frothed eggs, which she may have taken for snow mountains. She had a
passion for discovery, she had a prodigious activity of mind and
body, and yet they could find nothing for her to do, "because," they
said, "she is so little, so delicate." She could not play with
children of her own age, she was not allowed to run about, and
without object, without employment, without means of studying, with
no companions, no sympathy, the poor little thing was in danger of
falling into a state of apathy, more to be feared than the accidents
from which they wished to preserve her.
One day, towards the end of February, Piccolissima had been placed
upon the mantelpiece. Her mother had gone out; her father, who did
not wish to have the trouble of watching over all his little
daughter's movements, seated her upon a pincushion in which there
were no pins, and putting the dictionary as a sort of rampart before
her, he gave her a stick of barley sugar to entertain herself with,
and after the usual admonition, left her to her dreams. Leaving the
sugar to slip down by her side, she remained lost in melancholy
reflections from which she was drawn by a light murmur, such as one
hears sometimes in the silence of the night when persons are
speaking in a low voice in a distant part of the house. Piccolissima
listened with deep attention for some time. Usually she disliked the
sound of conversation; it struck harshly on her organs, and seemed a
sort of mimic thunder; but these sounds had nothing discordant,
nothing disagreeable in them, to her ear. As Piccolissima had been
forced to observe rather than to act, her faculties took a new
direction, and a development of which she was unconscious herself
took place, and her joy and her surprise were great when she found
that, in what had at first appeared to her a confused murmur, she
distinguished, as she listened attentively, intelligible words.
"It was hardly worth while," said a small, sharp voice, "it was
hardly worth the trouble it cost me to leave my cradle. I have come
into the world where all is dead around me. Ah! if I had only known
that this world was so cold and dull, I should not have made efforts
which almost destroyed me, to break the roof and leave my narrow
"Patience," replied another voice, a little quieter, but much like
the other; "I have lived longer than thou, who art only a few
seconds old. I have learned that one minute does not resemble
another; that cold is near to heat, that light is near to darkness,
and that sweet follows bitter. It is now two hundred and twenty-one
thousand, seven hundred and sixty-one minutes, and twenty-four
seconds, since I broke my shell. This sun, which you now see so pale
in the dusk, glowed then with more fervor, and sent every where more
rays and sparkles than I can count seconds in my long life. I was
all wet as you are now—poor, helpless thing; but I turned myself to
some of those brilliant rays, and my wings directly became strong,
as you now see them, embossed and painted with seven different,
changing colors, reflections of the rays of the sun. See! there is
one of these rays now; come forth; spread thy moist wing, already
shrunk and chill; thou shalt take thy part in the blessings which
come from on high."
Piccolissima, all attention and full of curiosity, looked around
her, and saw coming out from the window frame two flies, who
appeared to be talking together. The wings of one of them remained
stuck together on its back, and it made a great effort to extend
them. Delighted at the discovery of companions in her solitude,
companions, too, whose language she could understand, Piccolissima
was eager to make their acquaintance; so she offered them her stick
of candy. One of the flies—it was the elder—having fixed upon the
little prodigy one of the thousand faces of his brown, sparkling
eyes, surrounded with golden eyelashes, he then placed, one by one,
his little black feet upon the stick of sugar candy, stretched forth
his trunk, and began to suck with eagerness.
Piccolissima had now time enough to contemplate a being whose organs
she thought were like her own in their weakness. She found pleasure
in examining the extraordinary form of its almost cylindrical body,
divided into three parts, and a head wider than it was long, an
irregular globe surmounted by two horns, or antennae, as they are
called. The eyes most excited her curiosity. She attempted to count
their numerous little faces, so regular, so finely cut into
hexagons, more polished, more brilliant than diamonds. When
Piccolissima had counted one hundred, she drew from a very small
box, which was a family treasure, some minikin pins, and stuck one
of them into the cushion on which she was seated, intending thus to
mark every hundred that she counted; but she had not counted thus
half a thousand, before she found that breath and knowledge failed
her; in truth, she did not know enough of arithmetic to count the
eyes of a fly. In the very first group which she undertook to count,
that on the right side of the fly, she had not counted a sixteenth
part. Piccolissima, from her education, resembled the flies a little
too much to boast of her perseverance. So she gave up her project.
While bending her small head over these eyes, she distinguished, at
the bottom of these crystals, a moving dark spot, and thousands of
little Piccolissimas, one after the other, smiled upon her from
these little mirrors. O, wonderful! these thousands of crystal
groups on each side of the head were not all; a triangle of three
diamonds crowned the forehead of the fly. Piccolissima did not know
the name they give to these small eyes, nor that a writer on the
subject had said, that the diadem of the fly outshines that of
queens, but she could not refrain from saying aloud, "O, my little
friend, pray tell me what you do with so many eyes?"
"What do I do with them, indeed! why, I look," answered the fly, a
little vexed at being disturbed in his repast. "Are there not
fingers, nails, pins, pincers, jaws, claws, beaks, which menace me
on every side? Do I not want eyes to see at a distance, and eyes to
see near? And do you not know that my head is better put on than
yours, which cannot turn to all points of the compass?"
"What! can you look behind you without turning your head?" replied
Piccolissima, with an air which probably appeared to the fly not
very sensible; for, shrugging up his right wing disdainfully, he
returned to his sugar candy.
After a little reflection, she looked down again, and perceived, to
her great astonishment, upon the stick of candy, which was of an
amber color, a drop of water. She was sure, however, that she had
done the civil thing to the flies, and given it to them first. How,
then, was the candy moist? thought she; but she did not dare again
to ask questions which excited such a rude buzzing in reply. So she
rested her two little elbows on her knees, and her small head upon
one of her hands, and continued to examine the fly. "Is it his
nose?" said she, in a low voice, (for, having very rarely any one to
talk with, she had a habit of talking to herself,) "is it his nose
that he stretches out thus upon my sugar? I have heard papa say that
there are animals, much larger than he, and which they call
elephants, I think, who take up with their noses all the food they
put in their mouths, and that they call this nose a trunk. Perhaps
this is a little person of the family of elephants."
Piccolissima had hardly uttered these words, when the fly, whose
antennae were longer than usual, and were turned towards the little
prattler, gave such a leap that Mademoiselle Tom Thumb trembled. The
wings of the insect fluttered, and made a little sharp noise, which,
however, had nothing terrible in it, and Piccolissima perceived that
her companion was laughing. It was evident that the fly must laugh
with his wings, because he could not laugh in any other way. It was
with his antennae that he had listened; they evidently served him as
ears; and, when he recovered his gravity, he flew on the little
girl's hand, and began to talk with her; then Piccolissima observed
him more intelligently.
"It appears to me, little pet," said the fly, "thou must be very
green to compare my delicate trunk, this instrument so nicely made,
with the enormous and coarse cylinder upon which, in hot weather, I
have often travelled. How can any one suppose that I have any
relationship to the deformed and gigantic monster of which you have
just now spoken?"
Piccolissima thought that the little person was not wanting in
vanity, and, while the fly was taking breath, observed that the
trunk had disappeared, and that there was no possibility of
discovering what the insect had done with it. The look, gloomy, and
a little sullen, of the fly, recalled somewhat the funny mask of a
harlequin, and Piccolissima was on the point of showing how one
laughs with the lips, by laughing in the fly's face, when the latter
forced air slightly through the breathing holes which open under the
wings; the two little double scales, the winglets, which unfold at
birth, began to vibrate; and Piccolissima, who just now remarked
that this was the method that her new acquaintance took to emit
sounds, was eager to listen to what he might say; so she made an
effort to command herself, and became serious.
"Do you not see, with your dull human intelligence, that my trunk is
a pump, a hollow tube, an instrument for sucking which I stretch out
and draw in at my pleasure?"
While speaking thus, the fly thrust half way out from the cavity in
the middle of his head, just under his eyes, a trunk with two or
three joints in it; at the end was an opening like two black lips,
folded over, with grooves or little hollows. The fly, thus urged to
show the use of his trunk, or, more probably, forgetting the sequel
of a discourse upon which he had entered in such a pompous style,
flew upon the sugar, and set himself again to sucking it.
Piccolissima again observed the little drops fall which she had
noticed before. It seems that the fly, being only able to take up
liquids through his trunk, wetted and dissolved the sugar that he
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
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
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
"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 stupefied 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
"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
"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
"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?"
"They are the little red or green grubs which infest the rose bush;
these he pierces and grinds up with his teeth, and sucks them up
with his strange mouth one after another as he moves slowly among
them upon those forty-two roots of feet, of which he is so vain, for
I maintain that they cannot be called legs, or any thing like legs."
"You, then," said the little girl, "have better formed members."
The fly, who remembered that he had not at all better limbs, looked
suddenly wearied with the conversation, and shaking his wings, flew
away to the window.
"Of what color were you formerly?" asked the little girl of her only
remaining companion; "you, who are now of such a pretty shade of
brilliant green and bronze?"
"Me! I was of a pretty tender green. Weary of living on the ground,
I took the resolution to retire from the world. I shut myself up in
my skin, which soon became hard enough to serve for my retreat. My
house was carried, I know not how, to that spot not far from you; I
know not what artificial heat acted on me. I came to the belief that
the time had come for me to spread my wings, and I uncovered the
roof of my house in order that I might know what had been done
during my absence. They call me the rose fly."
As he finished saying these words, the fly, quite satisfied, joined
his companion in the window. Piccolissima was grieved that she could
not follow them; she listened attentively to the noise they made in
flying, and could distinguish musical tones. But, fatigued at last
by this long tension of her mind, gradually her ideas became vague
and wandering, her little blond head fell upon her arms, and she
dropped asleep and dreamed.
She dreamed that her two new friends, the flies, returned,
accompanied by an innumerable troop of winged insects. Each one
carried something, one a blade of grass, another a stalk of a plant,
another a petal, another a pistil. Two large beetles, with immense
horns or talons, dragged along small branches loaded with flowers,
such as Piccolissima had never seen.
All this troop set themselves to work and constructed the most
charming, the lightest little aerial car that one can possibly
imagine. A great fly, bristling with fine hairs, extended four
strong wings, and raising his voice, invited Piccolissima to mount,
and at the same time politely offered her his paw.
The little girl accepted the invitation, and found herself
immediately transported into the corolla of a beautiful white lily.
There she found a throne prepared for her. Very skilful little paws
lightly tickled her arms, and then her feet, in order to call her
attention to the labors of invisible waiting maids, who were about
dressing her in a robe of white velvet, cut out of the petals of a
white camellia, confined round the waist by a turquoise clasp,
borrowed from the myosotis.
A stamen of the lily served her for a sceptre; she took her seat; a
rose leaf hung for a canopy over her head; the bells of the lily of
the valley and the campanula sent forth their joyous chime. The
bladder senna filled the air with the noise of its bursting petards.
The artillery of the prickly furze played on both sides of the
throne as the nations of flies approached to pay their homage to the
To the cries of vivat, uttered with enthusiasm, Piccolissima replied
by inclining her sceptre; a golden rain fell from it, and was
eagerly gathered up by the surrounding crowds of humming courtiers,
whose shouts and acclamations filled the air.
The young sovereign then had to endure a long and grave discourse
from a fat drone bee who did not understand himself.
Ere long the little queen learned that her empire was in danger.
Dreadful enemies menaced the frontiers. "They are spiders," said the
flies. "They are the larvae of the rose bushes," said the grubs.
"They are the ichneumons," cried a crowd of winged insects.
Every one accused some other one. Piccolissima did not know what to
understand, but she hastened to arm herself. Two bees, as her body
guard, placed upon her head for helmet a flower of the snapdragon.
Two wasps, redoubtable hussars, brought her for a shield a piece of
the gold bronze wing shell of a beetle.
At last, she extended her hand to seize her lance, when a clap of
thunder shook the lily, dispersed the court, and the army, and
Piccolissima awoke, and found herself in the hands of her mother,
Mrs. Thomas Thumb, who said, very gently, "Tell me, dear little one,
are you not very weary?"
"It is strange," said Mr. Tom Thumb, some months after, "that I
always find now my ball of soap in its right place."
"It is because Piccolissima no longer rolls it into the corners for a
plaything," replied Mrs. Tom Thumb. "The little creature improves—grows
"I am glad of it," said, a little while afterwards, one of the elder
sisters of the miniature woman; "I am no longer obliged to hunt from
place to place for my thimble and my scissors they are now always in
my work box."
"The reason is, Piccolissima does not now make a well of your
thimble, nor a spade of your scissors," answered her brother; "she
has become tiresome; she no longer frisks around me when I return
home; she has no longer any droll fancies which once amused me so
much; she is now a genuine doll; I really believe that this minikin
is putting on airs."
"Hold your peace, Monsieur," answered the busy chambermaid, in a
scolding tone, while she cleaned the runnels of a chair, upon which the
feet of the young man had left a good portion of the soil of the garden;
"I should like to see the day when you are as well behaved as
Mademoiselle Piccolissima. It was once Mademoiselle Touch-every-thing.
Six months ago, no one dared to leave a drawer in the house open; now
every thing remains quiet in its place; she is neither more nor less
than a reasonable being; she is a waxen image, I tell you."
"Did I say any thing else, Madam Scold?" answered the school boy;
"she is a real Liliputian statue, fit for nothing but to watch the
flies fly. Ah! come, Piccola, Piccolissima!" he cried to the little
one, who was behind the shutter of a half-open window, absorbed in
the contemplation of a gnat who was up the window, singing a little
air through his nasal trumpet, "tell us, Piccola, a little of what
the flies say to you."
Piccolissima, who was always alarmed at a big voice, trembling,
turned round and stared at her brother, who, shouting with laughter,
made a pirouette, jumped over the balcony, which was near the
ground, into the garden.
The complaints of Piccolissima's brother were not quite without
foundation; she had become more reflecting, more observing; she was
less restless and less communicative; more amused, but less amusing.
She did not dare to repeat to her sisters her conversation with the
flies, lest they should laugh at her, and she became more frequently
occupied with her own thoughts, and more silent. Her silver voice
was heard no longer in every corner of the house; she was no longer
under every one's feet; the fragments of her dress were no longer
caught by the nails in her brothers' shoes, under the legs of her
sisters' chairs, or under the castors of the furniture; and her
mother, who had a habit of saying, "This little wild thing gives me
more trouble than all her brothers and sisters," said now, "Truly,
if she does not help me, she does not hinder me." As for Mr. Tom
Thumb, who loved to complete a remark by a proverb, instead of
exclaiming, "It is not strange that she does not grow,—a rolling
stone gathers no moss," murmured, rubbing his hands, "Whoever lives
will see what I have always said: It is only weeds that grow fast."
In order to employ the activity of Piccolissima, her father had at
one time given her some pots of flowers; for a long time, nothing
came of them, for she turned over the earth incessantly, and kept
looking at the roots to see if they began to sprout. Now that she no
longer asked ten questions, one after the other, without waiting for
an answer, and that she left her plants to grow, and no longer took
them up to look at their roots, she had in her garden, just under
the window, one foot of potatoes, three feet of hemp, a bean, and a
strawberry plant, in pots. Her brother, in jumping out of the
window, had broken off some ripe strawberries, which the little girl
had cherished for her mother, and Piccolissima went sorrowfully to
examine the havoc, and pick up the fruit.
She no longer supported herself upon the flexible stalks of the
nasturtiums and the convolvulus, which Mr. Tom Thumb cultivated, and
who more than once had complained at finding them broken. She no
longer seated herself on the branches of the mignonette, and then
let the wind blow her at its will, backwards and forwards, a
dangerous and monotonous amusement, which soon wearied. Now, with
her elbow resting on the edge of the pot of strawberries, under the
shadow of the Persian lilac, she remained in contemplation.
She observed running about some little creatures that she had never
seen before, and which appeared to her so wild that she dared not
begin a conversation.
"O, what is that?" she said at last, stooping down and resting her
head on her hand, and forgetting her lost harvest of strawberries;
"here is something very curious. They are smaller than the flies. A
myosotis could accommodate a number of them in its delicate cup;
their heads are wider than they are long, and on each side I
perceive a sort of fine leg, which has a sort of elbow, and which
the insect does not use in walking; the body is in three parts, all
of a shining black; the head has these two threads, which are always
moving, and which are of a lighter color at the ends; the corselet
is smaller, rounder, and more brilliant than that of the flies; and
the belly is covered with black scales. But these little beasts trot
away, scamper away so fast with their nimble legs, that one cannot
see them. What delicate forms they have! they must have worn corsets
when they were young. Ah! there is a sort of knot in this thread
which fastens the corselet to the belly. Wait, little fellow, wait
while I look at you a little nearer!" The small, thin finger of
Piccolissima caught one of the little creatures, but she found some
difficulty in holding him.
"Ah! at last I have you!" She held between her thumb and finger the
two hind legs of the insect, who stretched himself out stiff and
without motion, just as if he was sitting for his portrait. She then
saw above the arms and hands of the head, (thus she chose to call
the antennae,) two shining eyes, like two black buttons—naturalists
discover three with a microscope. "He has no trunk," said
Piccolissima, as she looked at a formidable mouth. At this moment,
the insect disengaged one of his legs, and twisting himself with
fury, and biting the finger which held him, he showed two jaws,
which worked like a pair of pincers. Piccolissima was not
sufficiently hardened to natural history. She shook her hand
violently, and uttered a cry that brought her brother to her in a
"Ha! ha! the great body," cried he, as he saw the trouble, and the
cause of it; "this is not a worthy enemy; it is only one of the
smallest ants. What would you say if you had to contend with the
herculean wood borer? Your ferocious animal is only a modest
fuliginosa, Madam Piccola; it is Formica fuliginosa, Latin words,
which mean soot-colored ant."
"I should much prefer that they should be called at once by a name
that I could comprehend, 'little blackeys,' instead of these long
words, that it almost takes away your breath to pronounce."
"This is because you are ignorant, sister; but for that, you would
love the Latin names, because they are so fine sounding, and can
express so many things. For example, formica; can you guess? O,
no, you will never guess," added he, with a knowing tone. "Very
well! formica means crumb carriers, because the little cunning
beasts carry all sorts of knickknacks."
Piccolissima, who once had only frisked and frolicked around her
brother, and in whose eyes she had been hitherto a sort of amusing
plaything, listened to him now with an air of intelligence and
satisfaction, with which he was secretly flattered. "Besides the
herculean borer," he continued, "there is another ant in the
forests, much larger than your enemy, and who builds mountains. They
call him rusa, which means russet. It is he who produces the formic
acid, a poison which he sheds with his abdomen into the bite which
he makes with his mandibles or jaws, which makes the wound a little
red, and makes it itch and burn a little." He was going on to add
that mandibula signified jaw bone; abdomen, meant belly. He might,
perhaps, while he was in this mood, have declined all these nouns,
but his little sister had ceased to listen; she was following with
her eye a file of her small black ants, and she saw them go and come
very busily upon a small stick which supported her only bean stalk.
Doubtless the wind had blown into Piccolissima's garden one of the
white cottony tufts which enfold the seeds of the poplar, for it was
a young shoot of poplar which served as support to the plant, and as
a garden for the ants. Upon the white cottony stem was an assemblage
of these little animals, green, brown, yellow, and transparent, all
plump, singularly alike, grave, immovable, like a Roman senate.
Certain active little creatures with fine shapes walked among them,
around them, over them, without appearing to hurt them, or
disturbing their gravity. The ants carried their easy manners still
farther; they struck lightly, rapidly, alternately, with their two
antennae, the backs and the sides of these peaceable animals; they
even went so far as to turn them over with their fore paws, and all
the while the other insects did not move, and allowed them to do as
"Look! look!" cried Piccolissima.
"Beautiful little wonder," answered her brother, "these are grubs,
that's all; and who does not know nowadays, that these are the cows
of the ants?"
"Their cows!" repeated the little girl; and she remained absorbed in
her examination. The ants still continued, in a playful and
irregular manner, to strike their little cows, whose trunks
Piccolissima saw were thrust into the bark of the aspen. Sometimes
an ant gave a little kick, and always one was at hand, with his jaws
extended, and his mouth open, ready to receive a drop of sirup,
which the eye of Piccolissima at last discovered falling from the
extremity of the body of the grub. "I see, I see!" she exclaimed;
"it is their way of milking. O the funny little pastoral people!"
Whilst she was in this ecstasy, the ant with the ends of his
antennae took the transparent little drop into his mouth; and then
carefully cleansed with the brushes of his feet the sugared antennae
which had served for fork and spoon, or rather for fingers.
"I should like to talk with him," said Piccolissima, as she saw the
ant making his toilet, "but these are a very silent, a very reserved
people; perhaps they are dumb."
The ant, who had just swallowed the drop of sirup, now quietly
descended the aspen walk; his belly was well stuffed and shining,
and he stopped now and then to rest, and wash his face. He met, as
he went down, an ant who was ascending the path. The new comer ran
up to him as to an intimate friend, as soon as he saw him, and
eagerly struck him with his antennae. The motion was very rapid; the
ant returned it by shaking his antennae, but more gently, and by
opening his mandibles. "Are they going to dispute, and to bite each
other?" thought Piccolissima. Not at all. The ant who had received
the sirup upon the end of his tongue, now offered a little drop of
it to the one who was hungry, who received it upon his tongue, while
he continued to caress with his antennae, and even with his little
paws, the friend who offered it. The joy of Piccolissima was so
great at the sight of this mutual kindness, that she made one of her
old leaps, and shook the frail stalk. Immediately there was a
violent commotion among the ants, who in great crowds blackened the
end of the twig. They ran hither and thither in the greatest terror,
striking their antennae one against the other. Many of them caressed
the grubs more eagerly, in a violent and impetuous manner, as if to
urge them to some exertion. Some of the grubs submitted to be taken
gently into the jaws of the ants; others, with their trunks in the
wood, looked as if they were too lazy to consent to move.
They were however, at last, (whether they would or not,) all carried
rapidly away. Each ant, loaded with her cow, ran down the tree, and,
following a little narrow path in the ground, reached a small, deep
hole, into which the ants, one after the other, all disappeared.
"O Mimi! O Linette! O Fifine!" cried Piccolissima, running from her
brother to her sisters, "they have carried away all their cows. Each
ant has his cow between his teeth; one holds her by the belly, the
others by the wings; come see! come see!"
"Cows with wings!" cried the astonished little girls. Mimi, who knew
all this, startled his little sister by saying, "The pet is right;
she has good eyes; there are many grubs with wings; come, come, my
small sister, it appears to me that you are discovering many things
already known. My ladies, the ants, ought to choose you for their
The same day, Madam Tom Thumb, who began to feel some confidence in
the reason of Piccolissima, carried her into the garden, to the
great joy of the little creature. It was a delicious place; there
were in it long covered alleys, and even a small wood, where one
might enjoy a sweet freshness in the heat of the day. Around a great
hall, covered with foliage, were seats of soft green moss. It was
there that Madam Tom Thumb used to embroider with her elder
daughters; and there she placed Piccolissima, allowing her to run at
large, only recommending to her prudence and discretion.
The child, who was formerly idle and weary of every thing, was in a
fair way to become a happy young girl, thanks to the attention she
began to give to every thing she saw, and to the interest which the
wonders around her excited in her mind. She was enchanted with the
thousand plants which embellished and covered the earth, and formed
in the smallest flower an object of admiration which filled her
soul. Very soon she met one of those beings who excited in her a
lively curiosity,—an ant much larger than the little black ones of
the shepherd race. The fine antennae, the three eyes, the top of the
head, the legs, the belly of this one were blackish, but less
glistening, and it was by the superiority of his shape, above middle
size, and above all, by the reddish color of a part of his body,
that Piccolissima recognized the russet ant of which her brother had
spoken. The insect carried very laboriously a stick ten or twelve
times as long as himself; a hillock of earth, which he met on his
road, stopped him for some time, and Piccolissima, who was eager to
help him through his difficulties, and who was tormented with a
desire to enter into conversation with him, took it into her head to
assist the insect, and hoped thus to render herself agreeable to
him. She seized one end of the little rafter he was carrying, and in
a tone which she tried to make as soft as possible, she said, "Will
you allow me, little one, to help you?"
The ant, clinging to the earth with his hind legs, stood up
straight, and threw out his antennae with a terrible expression.
Piccolissima was so full of kind feeling that she never thought of
exciting any anger; she thought that it was only a little struggle
of his politeness; therefore she insisted, taking firmly hold of the
bit of wood, and repeated, "I assure you it is a pleasure to me, and
it will not fatigue me." Forced to loosen his burden, the ant opened
his jaws full of formidable teeth, and advanced upon Piccolissima,
walking on his hind legs; the two others stretched out in front, as
well as his antennae, in sign of defiance; his body all bent,
exhaling an odor of vinegar so pungent that Piccolissima, letting go
the little stick, ran away as fast as she could, sneezing violently,
and shutting her eyes. When she opened them and returned, thinking
the ant was at her heels, she found her terrible adversary had again
seized his big stick by one end, and had slid it over the lump of
earth by means of a stone, which served him as a point of support.
She saw him sometimes push it before him, and sometimes drag it
after him, walking backwards till he reached the flat ground, when
he pursued his way very fast.
Piccolissima, who did not forget that her mother had recommended
discretion to her, followed at a distance. As she went on carefully,
she saw long trains of ants resembling her enemy; each one of them
was charged with a burden more or less heavy. All of them took their
way towards a mountain shaped like a cone, full of little openings
which, from a distance, appeared to be semicircular vaults; Roman
architecture Piccolissima would have thought if the multiplicity of
details of little architectural ornaments, all of wood work, had not
given her the idea of an old Gothic fortress. The rapid and violent
motions of the wild mountaineers did not frighten her; she walked up
slowly, hardly touching her feet to the earth, holding her breath,
observing every thing, and she was soon convinced that this little,
busy people took no notice of her. She came nearer and nearer to the
place where two great roads, covered with ants, terminated. She
heard a confused noise, like the hum of a great city, or as the
sound of the rain among the leaves.
"I thought they spoke only by signs which they make with the arms
that come out of their heads," said Piccolissima, still going
nearer; "why, then, this noise?"
The little girl was soon convinced that this noise was produced by
the numerous and busy footsteps of a solemn, austere, and
preoccupied crowd of ants. Not a word was said, but every one ran
rather than walked, and they seemed like a thousand individuals, all
actuated by one purpose. Supported on the lower branch of a chestnut
tree, Piccolissima placed herself a little higher, but very near the
citadel, which was one living mountain.
How can we relate what she saw then? It would take volumes. There
would be as many histories as individuals. Her attention was
attracted by the perseverance of one ant who carried a burden; by
another who was striving to get over some obstacle. She saw them
feed those who arrived laden and out of breath; she saw those who
repaired the doors, who opened and shut the windows, which were not
glazed like ours; others she saw as sentinels, standing on their
hind legs, charged to watch over the general safety. The busiest
carried in their mandibles, caressed with their legs and their
antennae, licked with their delicate tongues, exposed to the sun, or
carried quickly into the shade certain white balls which
Piccolissima took at first for grains of wheat, because they had the
form and size; but she was satisfied at last that these were the
children of the ants in swaddling clothes. Piccolissima was so
anxious to comprehend the mysterious talk, and the pantomime of all
this innumerable crowd, that she became yet more attentive. The
nurses caressed with their antennae in a peculiar way those eggs
which were beginning to show life, and the little observer saw the
slight movement of the incomplete being who, as soon as he was
bidden, raised his head, which was almost imperceptible even to
microscopic eyes, to receive the offered mouthful.
Whilst Piccolissima observed all this nursery work, an ant came and
placed beneath her, in order to fill up a small hole, a sort of
bundle of little sticks, which rolled away as soon as she left it.
The ant took hold of it again, carried it to its place, and arranged
it so as to make it firm; then, satisfied with her work, she went
after something else to do. Shortly after this, a head, then some
legs, then half of the body of a caterpillar came out of the living
little fagot which the ant had mended her house with. It was a dead
leaf in which an egg had been laid and nicely rolled up by the
parent, and which my lady ant had taken for a beam, or something of
the sort, and the vexed hermit scampered away, carrying his house
with him, not caring at all for the hole which he and his house had
been intending to mend.
Much amused at this, Piccolissima tried to find out what a great
number of ants, all with burdens, were carrying. She was, with
painful astonishment, soon convinced that these were the carcasses
of all sorts of insects. "It is a nation of hunters," she said,
"more savage than those which feed their flocks on my aspen."
At this moment, a great ant attracted the attention of the child
towards the lower part of the mountain. An enormous grub of the
cockchafer race, a great white worm, rolled himself over, trying to
liberate himself and to crush the ants, whose number increased on
every side, and who tore off his transparent, soft skin, and pulled
him in every direction. They climbed backward up the side of their
citadel, and in spite of his desperate struggles, carried the poor
insect, writhing with torture, to one of their little air holes.
Piccolissima saw upon his wounds some drops of the sharp poison
thrown by these terrible hunters, and the crowds of ants soon hid
the sufferer from her eyes, which she gladly turned away from such a
With her heart oppressed with fear and pity, the little girl
collected her strength that she might glide down from her branch and
run away, when a sudden alarm attracted a whole squadron of the
insects to the place where she was about to put her foot. She
immediately regained her place, and tried to understand what
important and terrible news was being communicated from antennae to
antennae, drawing together such a number of insects, with their
frightful jaws all opened. The penetrating odor reached the
frightened little girl; presently she perceived a very large ant,
nearly six lines in length, very black, very shining, doubtless a
Hercules who was defending himself against a whole army. His enemies
fastened themselves on to each of his legs, but he still fought; a
brown ant jumped upon his back and tried to break his brilliant
cuirass; another, with his body bent double, covered him with
poison. The Hercules still fought. At last, three of the fiercest of
the ants worked with their sharp teeth upon the middle of his body,
and at last cut him in two. The terrible head of the Hercules still
held in his jaws two of his deadly enemies. Piccolissima screamed,
and putting her hand before her eyes, she perhaps would have fallen
into the midst of this nation of savages, if her mother, who was
anxious about her, had not taken her in her arms and carried her
From this time, Piccolissima became one of the happiest little
creatures in the world. Her brother, instead of considering her only
as a toy to play with, began to respect her. She had no more
conversations with the flies, to be sure. Her mind grew, and she
learned that, small as she was, she was superior to the best
informed fly. She studied the habits and doings of the ants, and
learned a great deal about their different tribes and nations.
Sometimes her brother would take his sister's toilet cushion and put
it on the table before him, and seating Piccolissima upon it, say to
her, "Now, Piccola, dear, listen with both of your little ears to my
big words, and I will read some wonderful stories to you." Once he
read Gulliver's Travels to her. "O!" she exclaimed, as he read of
the Lilliputians, "O, good! good! I am a Lilliputian, and you are
all great, big Brobdignagians. Why did you not tell me this before?"
So she began to dance and skip about, like a jack-o'-lantern. Her
brother, who was delighted at her gambols, whistled a tune for her
to dance by. Presently Piccolissima began to sing, with her small,
fine voice, this song, which she made as she danced:—
Merrily, merrily, dance away!
Merrily laugh, and merrily play!
Though I am a tiny thing,
I can dance, and I can sing;
I can hear, and I can see;
I don't care who laughs at me;
I can learn all things to know;
So sing merrily, merrily, O!
The morning was lovely; the blue shadows, extending over the fields,
made the leaves of the chestnut trees, wet with the morning dew,
still more brilliant. Agitated by a light breeze, they glistened in
the rays of the rising sun. Every blade of grass lifted its dewy
head as soon as a ray fell upon it, and each in its turn was crowned
with its halo of diamonds.
The flowers, in sweet accord, sent up their perfume towards heaven.
Already the lark had saluted the day with his brilliant song,
eternal hymn, ever repeated, never omitted. Every little bird sent
up his clear note and his joyous song from his nest; the insects
were beginning to hum. The sound of the voice of man, slow to join
in the morning prayer of the whole creation, was not yet heard when
Piccolissima, already awake, entered the garden.
She had obtained permission to do so the evening before. Her
mother's confidence had increased with the growing prudence and good
sense of the little girl; qualities which a habit of observation has
the effect of strengthening rapidly.
The child was desirous to witness the morning labors of the ants,
and to see how, when the dew had prepared their mortar, they built
their long galleries. They commenced their work at the top, and
Piccolissima would have liked to see them again raise and make their
walls. She was, however, disappointed in her purpose, either that
the earth dried too quick, as the sun was now high above the
horizon; or the tiny republicans, with six feet, were employed in
their interior halls, in bringing out the young ants, and were busy
tearing off the veils of silk which confined the larvae, and in
developing the wings of the males and females; or, whatever might be
the cause, the ant hills were deserted.
The lazy amazons did not appear. Now and then a single miner might
be seen wandering alone at the entrance of their subterranean
Seated upon a piece of turf near the parterre, the little girl
followed with her eye, all along the stem of a plant, two or three
brown ants who led their flock of grubs to pasture, when a murmuring
sound near her, which seemed to spread all over the beds of
mignonette, attracted her attention to some large flies, of a dull
color, who whirled about among the flowers, darting from one to the
other, and seemed very busy.
"Can these be any of my old acquaintances?" said she; but she could
not be satisfied with this idea; the new comers, much larger, had
also a very different physiognomy from that of her old friends. They
had oval eyes, with a network over them; a protruding jaw; antennae
of twelve olive scales, terminated by a button. Their brown
corselets covered with a tawny fur; their brilliant cuirasses, and
their legs of unequal length,—all these things attracted the
attention of the young observer.
She saw these flies rolling themselves over in the bosom of the
flowers, with a joyous activity which amused her very much, and the
reason of which she desired to understand.
There was, however, in their appearance and manners, something
repulsive which prevented familiarity. Each one of them caused to
vibrate four gauze wings, two large and two small ones. In their
rapid and measured motions, these wings produced sound, and the air,
issuing from little breathing places situated, as in the common fly,
on each side of the corselet, produced a sort of a song.
As if attracted by the song, these insects flew in swarms to the
flower-bed. Very soon it was evident that they were heavier when
they went away than when they came. Two large, round, red and
yellow, or rather golden balls loaded their brilliant brown thighs.
Some of them plunged into the bosom of a lily. Raising herself on
tiptoe, Piccolissima kept them in view. She saw their slanting
teeth, which formed the point of their triangular head, open and
close like two strong pincers, and shake the tops of the stamens.
She had never noticed before, but now she perceived, at the end of
the six threads in the centre of the flower, a sort of little green
box; this was the anther. These flies pressed it and pulled it, till
it opened and scattered a quantity of little yellow pellets, which
covered the insects so thoroughly, that they and the flowers seemed
to have changed garments, so completely were they clothed with it.
Piccolissima could contain herself no longer. She cried out to her
sister, whom she saw coming towards her:
"O, come, come quickly! See the flies putting on their ball dresses,
and making their toilet in the cup of a flower."
Linette, still at a distance, did not hasten her steps,
notwithstanding the exclamations of her sister; and before she came,
Piccolissima was convinced that the flies did not think much of
their brilliant toilet. She saw them push off all their finery by
means of the brushes with which their legs were furnished. These
excellent little square brushes were placed on their hind legs
mostly; they had brown horn backs, and short, stiff hairs, ranged
regularly. These brushes did their work so well, that in less than a
moment every fly had resumed his modest livery.
But what had become of the rich yellow powder? The insect had taken
care to brush himself so rapidly that Piccolissima could but just
see the dust he had collected pass from one part of his body to
another, till the whole came to the third pair of his legs, and was
collected together in a little oval cavity, surrounded by a thick
circle of skin which closed in upon it. Every fly used his middle
legs afterward to press and roll up into his basket his little
"Hast thou forgotten how to walk faster than a snail?" said
Piccolissima to her sister. "These great flies were just now dressed
with a cloak of gold, and now they carry their toilet in a bundle;
look at the third joint of their largest legs, which they join
together and let hang behind them when they fly."
"Nonsense! I know all about them," said Linette, as she saw them fly
away with their burden; "these are bees who make honey, such as I
have brought you for your breakfast;" and the young girl put into
her sister's hand a double slice of bread and honey.
Without noticing her breakfast, Piccolissima eagerly tasted of what
remained of the yellow dust of the stamens of the lily.
"But, Linette," said she, "this does not taste like honey."
"Very true; it is for the bees to entitle it to that name, and not
for me. All that I know is, that they call them honey bees because
they make honey. They also make wax; and I have often seen them
carry away little balls of the dust of flowers. Whether they make it
afterwards into honey or wax, is their business. You have only to
Piccolissima meant to do this as soon as she had courage. Meanwhile,
she rubbed in her fingers the dust of the lily, yellowed the end of
her nose in smelling of it, her lips in tasting of it, still without
finding in it the consistency of wax, or the taste of honey.
"How do the flies do it?" said she. "I have tasted at the bottom of
the tube of a honeysuckle, or of a jasmine, something more like
honey than this powder." While speaking, she was going to her bread
and honey, when she perceived some one had got the start of her. A
number of bees were on the edge of it, and were so busily employed
that Piccolissima had an opportunity of examining them closely
without fear of disturbing them. It was a pleasure to see them. From
under their chins protruded, as far as their teeth, a little case
of shell, opening with two little leaves, whence projected a second
little case, polished and shining, half open, from which was thrust
a transparent tongue, covered with hairs. This tongue was stretched
out and plunged into the honey, and was then moved round and round
and soaked in it; soon it was contracted, and now again it became
larger; the insect seemed to enjoy all these various movements.
Through the hairs and the opening pores, Piccolissima saw the liquid
ascend; and between the teeth of the bee, above its admirable trunk,
she saw a pretty large mouth open to receive the honey.
The little observer was willing to give up all her breakfast to the
little winged gormand for the sake of the satisfaction she received
from seeing how he managed to eat.
"Do not let all your honey be swallowed by those greedy flies," said
Linette, who was the economist of the family.
"O, it is only just that they should have part, if they have made
it," said Piccolissima, still watching them. "These are larger than
those other bees who carry away the golden powder. Are they not
satisfied? How their antennae come down! Does it not seem as if they
were tasting thus the perfume of the honey which their wonderful
trunks draw up?"
"They are just the same flies; they belong to our neighbor Thomas;
one is not larger than another. I have seen them ever since I was
born. I don't see any thing wonderful in them," said Linette. "It is
because you are so little that you are astonished at every thing."
"O Linette, it is true that every thing I see seems to me every day
more curious. All that I look at seems to grow more wonderful and
beautiful as I look at it; but surely these flies that are eating my
breakfast are larger than those that are opening the boxes of
sweetmeats in the flowers. Ah, look! there is one still bigger than
the others, so funny, so hairy, so cross, and he scolds and hums all
around this sweet pea."
"That is a drone; we must chase him away; he is good for nothing; he
never makes any honey." And Linette drove away the shaggy drone bee.
Just at this moment, the greedy flies who were eating the honey, and
their more temperate companions who were gathering the harvest of
the pollen of the flowers, all flew away at once, as if by common
"Ah, you have driven them all away!" said Piccolissima; and without
perceiving that the sky had clouded over, she followed the insects
with her eyes. Presently there began to fall some large drops of
"It rains, it rains! there is a shower coming," cried Linette.
"Can it be that these cunning bees have foreseen it?" asked
"What there is no question of is," said Linette, "that my poor frock
will be spoiled. It is going to rain pitchforks. There will be water
enough to drown you before we reach the house, and your mites of
shoes will be lost; but come along. There, do you think the leaf of
that cabbage will do for a shelter for you?"
"Sorores, sorores!" said a thundering voice; and in a moment Mimi
was between his two sisters, whom he sheltered under a large
umbrella; taking up Piccolissima and hiding her little feet in his
waistcoat pocket, and asking as he went towards the house, what had
kept her out so long.
"I know what you have seen," said he, with the air of a professor.
"Insects of the order hymenopteres; if you ever learn Greek,
Piccolissima, you will know that that means insects with membranous
wings. Imagine what a fine thing it is to understand Greek. Every
word contains in itself many others. For example, honey bees have a
name still longer than the others; they are called mellificae. What
do you say to that? They also call them anthophilai, which means
lovers of flowers."
"Your new friends, in particular the domestic bees, were among the
Egyptians the emblem of royalty. Are you not pleased with that,
Piccolissima? The ancient kings of France had them on their arms;
bees were embroidered on their shields, and on their standards; and
it was very proper that they adopted them. Have they not the royal
prerogative—honey and a sting? They amass treasures, and they know
how to keep them. In truth I agree with you, sisterkin; I love bees
and honey; finish your bread and honey or I shall eat it."
From this day Piccolissima dreamed ever of bees; her most earnest
desire was to go and see a kingdom of apis mellifica, which her
brother Mimi told her was in the possession of their neighbor
Thomas, who kept twenty bee hives.