Gateway to the Classics: Among the Night People by Clara Dillingham Pierson
Among the Night People by  Clara Dillingham Pierson


The Humming‑Bird and the Hawk‑Moth

T HE Hawk-Moths are acquainted with nearly everybody and are great society people. They are invited to companies given by the daylight set, and also to parties given at night by those who sleep during the day. This is not because the Hawk-Moths are always awake. Oh dear, no! There is nobody in pond, forest, meadow, marsh, or even in houses, who can be well and strong and happy without plenty of sleep.

The Hawk-Moths were awake more or less during the day, but it was not until the sun was low in the western sky that they were busiest. When every tree had a shadow two or three times as long as the tree itself, then one heard the whir-r-r of wings and the Hawk-Moths darted past. They staid up long after the daylight people went to bed. The Catbird, who sang from the tip of the topmost maple tree branch long after most of his bird friends were asleep, said that when he tucked his head under his wing the Hawk-Moths were still flying. In that way, of course, they became acquainted with the people of the night-time.

There was one fine large Hawk-Moth who used to be a Tomato Worm when he was young, although he really fed as much upon potato vines as upon tomato plants. He was handsome from the tip of his long, slender sucking-tongue to the tip of his trim, gray body. His wings were pointed and light gray in color, with four blackish lines across the hind ones. His body was also gray, and over it and his wings were many dainty markings of black or very dark gray. On the back part of it he had ten square yellow spots edged with black. There were also twenty tiny white spots there, but he did not care so much for them. He always felt badly to think that his yellow spots showed so little. That couldn't be helped, of course, and he should have been thankful to have them at all.

Another thing which troubled him was the fact that he couldn't see his own yellow spots. He would have given a great deal to do so. He could see the yellow spots of other Hawk-Moths who had been Tomato Worms when he was, but that was not like seeing his own. He had tried and tried, and it always ended in the same way—his eyes were tired and his back ached. His body was so much stouter and stiffer than that of his butterfly cousins that he could not bend it easily.

When he got to thinking about his yellow spots he often flew away to the farmer's potato-fields, where the young Tomato Worms were feeding. He would fly around them and cry out: "Look at my yellow spots. Are they not fine?" Then he would dart away to the vegetable-garden and balance himself in the air over the tomato plants. The humming of his wings would make the Tomato Worms there look up, and he would say: "If you are good little Worms and eat a great deal, you may some day become fine Moths like me and have ten yellow spots apiece."

Sometimes he even went down to the corner where the farmer had tobacco plants growing, and showed his yellow spots to the Tomato Worms there. He never went anywhere else, for these worms do not care for other things to eat. Everywhere that he went the Tomato Worms exclaimed: "Oh! Oh! What beautiful yellow spots! What wonderful yellow spots!" When he flew away they would not eat for a while, but rested on their fat pro-legs, raised the front part of their bodies in the air, folded their six little real legs under their chins, and thought and thought and thought. They always sat in that position when they were thinking, and they had a great many cousins who did the same thing. It was a habit which ran in the family.

When other people saw them sitting in this way, with their real legs crossed under their chins, they always cried: "Look at the Sphinxes!" although not one of them knew what a Sphinx really was. And that was just one of their habits. This was why the Hawk-Moths were sometimes called Sphinx-Moths.

It was not kind in the Hawk-Moth to come and make the Tomato Worms discontented. If he had stayed away, they would have thought it the loveliest thing in the world to be fat green Tomato Worms with two sorts of legs and each with a horn standing up on the hind end of his body. That is not the usual place for horns, still it does very well, and these horns are worn only for looks. They are never used for poking or stinging.

Before the Hawk-Moth came to visit them, the Tomato Worms had thought it would be quiet, and restful, and pleasant to lie all winter in their shining brown pupa-cases in the ground, waiting for the spring to finish turning them into Moths. Now they were so impatient to get their yellow spots that they could hardly bear the idea of waiting. They did not even care about the long, slender tongue-case which every Tomato-Worm has on his pupa-case, and which looks like a handle to it.

One day the Tomato Worms told the Ruby-throated Humming-Bird about all this. The Humming-Bird was a very sensible fellow, and would no doubt have been a hard-working husband and father if his wife had not been so independent. He had been a most devoted lover, and helped build a charming nest of fern-wool and plant-down, and cover it with beautiful gray-green lichens. When done it was about as large as half of a hen's egg, and a morning-glory blossom would have more than covered it. The lichens were just the color of the branch on which it rested, and one could hardly see where it was. That is the nicest thing to be said about a nest. If a bird ever asks you what you think of his nest, and you wish to say something particularly agreeable, you must stare at the tree and ask: "Where is it?" Then, when he has shown it to you, you may speak of the soft lining, or the fine weaving, or the stout way in which it is fastened to the branches.

After this nest was finished and the two tiny white eggs laid in it, Mrs. Humming-Bird cared for nothing else. She would not go honey-hunting with her husband, or play in the air with him as she used to do. He tried to coax her by darting down toward her as she sat covering her eggs, and by squeaking the sweetest things he could think of into her ear, but she acted as though she cared more for the eggs than for him, and did not even squeak sweet things back. So, of course, he went away, and let her hatch and bring up her children as she chose. It was certainly her fault that he left her. She might not have been able to leave the eggs, but she could have squeaked.

Now that the Ruby-throated Humming-Bird had no home cares, he made many calls on his friends. They were very short calls, for he would seldom sit down, yet he heard and told much news while he balanced himself in the air with his tiny feet curled up and his wings moving so fast that one could not see them.

When the Tomato Worms told him how they felt about the Hawk-Moth's yellow spots, he became very indignant. "Those poor young worms!" he said to himself. "It is a shame, and something must be done about it."

The more he thought, the angrier he became, and his feathers fairly stood on end. He hardly knew what he was doing, and ran his long, slender bill into the same flowers several times, although he had taken all the honey from them at first.

That night, when the sun had set and the silvery moon was peeping above a violet-colored cloud in the eastern sky, the Ruby-throated Humming-Bird sat on the tip of a spruce-tree branch and waited for the Hawk-Moth.

"I hope nobody else will hear me talking," said he. "It would sound so silly if I were overheard." He sat very still, his tiny feet clutching the branch tightly. It was late twilight now and really time that he should go to sleep, but he had decided that if he could possibly keep awake he would teach the Hawk-Moth a lesson.

"I wish he would hurry," said he. "I can hardly keep my eyes open." He did not yawn because he had not the right kind of mouth for it. You know a yawn ought to be nearly round. His beak would have made one a great, great many times higher than it was wide, and that would have been exceedingly unbecoming to him.

Yellow evening primroses grew near the spruce-tree, and the tall stalks were opening their flowers for the night. Above the seed-pods and below the buds on each stalk two, three, or four blossoms were slowly unfolding. The Ruby-throated Humming-Bird did not often stay up long enough to see this, and he watched the four smooth yellow petals of one untwist themselves until they were free to spring wide open. He had watched five blossoms when he heard the Hawk-Moth coming. Then he darted toward the primroses and balanced himself daintily before one while he sucked honey from it.

Whir-r-r-r! The Hawk-Moth was there. "Good evening," said he. "Rather late for you, isn't it?"

"It is a little," answered the Humming-Bird. "Growing a bit chilly, too, isn't it? I should think you'd be cold without feathers. Mine are such a comfort. Feel as good as they look, and that is saying a great deal."


The humming‑bird and the hawk‑moth.

The Hawk-Moth balanced himself before another primrose and seemed to care more about sucking honey up his long tongue-tube than he did about talking.

"I think it is a great thing to have a touch of bright color, too," said the Humming-Bird. "The beautiful red spot on my throat looks particularly warm and becoming when the weather is cool. You ought to have something of the sort."

"I have yellow spots—ten of them," answered the Hawk-Moth sulkily.

"You have?" exclaimed the Humming-Bird in the most surprised way. "Oh yes! I think I do remember something about them. It is a pity they don't show more. Mrs. Humming-Bird never wears bright colors. She says it would not do. People would see her on her nest if she did. Excepting the red spot, she is dressed like me—white breast, green back and head, and black wings and tail. Green is another good color. You should wear something green.

The Hawk-Moth murmured that he didn't see any particular use in wearing green.

"Oh," said the Humming-Bird, "it is just the thing to wear—neat, never looks dusty" (here the Hawk-Moth drew back, for his own wings, you know, were almost dust color), "and matches the leaves perfectly."

The Hawk-Moth said something about having to go and thinking that the primrose honey was not so good as usual.

"I thought it excellent," said the Humming-Bird. "Perhaps you do not get it so easily as I. Ah yes, you use a tongue-tube. What different ways different people do have. Now I like honey, but I could not live many days on that alone. What I care most for is the tiny insects that I find eating it. And you cannot eat meat. What a pity! I must say that you seem to make the best of it, though, and do fairly well. Oh, must you go? Well, good night."

The Hawk-Moth flew away feeling very much disgusted. He had always thought himself the most beautiful person in the neighborhood. He rather thought so still. Yet it troubled him to know that others did not think so, and he began to remember how many times he had heard people admire the Ruby-throated Humming-Bird. He never liked him after that. But neither did he brag.

The young Tomato Worms soon forgot what the Hawk-Moth had said to them, and became happy and contented once more. The Ruby-throated Humming-Bird never cared to talk about it, yet he was once heard to say that he would rather offend the Hawk-Moth and even make him a little unhappy than to have him bothering the poor little Tomato Worms all the time.


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