Gateway to the Classics: The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children by Jane Andrews
The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children by  Jane Andrews

The Hidden Light

T HERE were plenty of gold-green beetles in the forest. Their violet-colored cousins also held royal state there; and scarlet or yellow with black trimmings was the uniform of many a gay troop that careered in splendor through the vine-hung aisles of the hot, damp woods. But clinging to the gray bark of some tree, or lying concealed among the damp leaves in a swamp, was the gayest and fairest of them all, if the truth be told.

A little blackish-brown bug, dingy and hairy, not pleasant to look upon, you will say; surely not related to such winged splendors as play in the sunlight. Yet he is true first cousin to the green and gold, or to the royal violet; has as fair a title to a place in your regard, and will prove it, if you will only wait his time. He is like those plain people whom we pass every day without notice, until some great trial or difficulty calls out a hidden power within them, and they flash into greatness in some noble action, and prove their kinship to God.

We need not wait long; for as soon as the sun has set, our dull, blackish bug unfolds his wings and reveals his latent glory. He becomes a star, a spark from the sun's very self. If you can prevail upon him to condescend to attend you, you may read or write by his light alone.

But come with me to this Indian's hut, where instead of lamp, candle, or torch, three or four of these luminous insects make all the dwelling bright. See the Indian hunter preparing for a journey, or a raid upon the forest beasts, by fastening to his hands and feet the little lantern-flies that shall make the pathway light before him.

When the Indian wants his brilliant little servants, he goes out on some little hillock, waving a lighted torch and calling them by name, "cucuie, cucuie;" and quickly they crowd around him in troops.

And here I must tell you a little Japanese story. The young lady fire-fly is courted by her many suitors, who themselves carry no light. She is shy and reserved. She will not accept the attentions; but when so importuned that she sees no other escape, she cries, "Let him who really loves me, go bring me a light like my own, as a proof of his affection." Then the daring lovers rush blindly at the nearest fire or candle, and perish in the flame.

But to return to the Indian. Not only do his lantern-flies illuminate his path, but they go on before him, like an advance guard, to clear the road of its infecting mosquitoes, gnats, and other troublesome insects, which they seize and devour on the wing.

No harm would the Indian do to his little torch-bearer; for, besides the service he renders, does he not embody a portion of the sun god, the holy fire? And there are times, when, with reverent awe, these simple forest children think they see in the cucuie the souls of their departed friends.

And now if we leave the forest and enter the gay ball-room of some tropical city, we shall find that the cucuie is a cosmopolitan, at home alike in palace and in hut, in forest and city. Not only does he, as a wise little four-year-old friend of mine said, "light the toads to bed," but, restrained by invisible folds of gauze, he flutters in the hair of the fairest ladies, and rivals those earth-stars the diamonds.

But it is hardly fair to show only the bright side, even of a cucuie; and in justice I must tell that the sugar-planters see with dismay their little torches among the canes. For although mosquitoes and gnats will do for food in the forests where sugar is not to be had, who would taste them when a field of cane is all before you, where to choose?

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