Holiday Hill  by Edith M. Patch

A Strange Cloak

M ANY years ago men often wore sleeveless cloaks or mantles. These garments were long and loose. They were open in front so that the men who wore them could use their arms easily. A Greek name for such a mantle is chlamys.

It has long been a custom of people who study plants and animals to give them Greek names. The name of the small animal in this story is Chlamys. He was called Chlamys because he wore a strange cloak or mantle.

Like the mantles the old Greeks wore, the cloak of little Chlamys was open in front. He thrust his head and his six legs out through this opening and held his cloak over the rest of his body.

If you had met Chlamys walking along Sweet Fern Lane, you might have mistaken him for a very tiny snail. For his mantle was not soft like a piece of cloth but stiff and shell-like. And, although he traveled on six small feet instead of one large foot, his motions seemed somewhat like those of a snail as he went across a leaf.

When Chlamys was disturbed, he had a habit of drawing his head and feet into his mantle. As there was then nothing to hold him to the leaf, he rolled off and fell to the ground.

That was an excellent place for him to hide. He would lie there looking like a little brown pellet among the bits of brown leafy loam under the sweet fern branches. Not even a keen-eyed bird was likely to find him in such a hiding place. He was lost to everything except himself! When all seemed quiet again, out would come his head and six feet, and Chlamys would climb the sweet fern bush and eat a fresh tender leaf for a salad.

In spite of his snail-like manners of carrying his shelter wherever he went, and of pulling himself safely inside when he was touched, Chlamys was not a snail. As of course you know, no snail ever traveled on six feet. He was, indeed, an infant beetle.

Certain young insects make little coverings in which they live while they are in their early stages. Such insects are called "case-bearers" because they carry, or bear, their mantles or cases. When they become grown insects with wings, they put aside these little things and leave them empty like garments that have been thrown away.

Perhaps Chlamys would have eaten certain other kinds of leaves if his mother had put the egg from which he hatched on another sort of bush. Beetles of this species are said to like the leaves of raspberry and blackberry and some other plants. But certainly there is no flavor they like better than that of the sweet fern.

You cannot always tell, by its name, what a thing really is. An oak-apple is not an apple but a large round gall caused by an insect. A high-bush cranberry is not a cranberry but a sour red fruit that grows on a plant closely related to a snowball bush. A guinea pig is not a pig but a cavy. And a sweet fern is not a fern but a bush belonging to the Sweet Gale Family.

Plants that belong to the same family are alike in some ways. Near Holiday Farm there were three kinds of plants of the Sweet Gale Family, and they all had fragrant leaves. One of these was the sweet gale shrub that grew on low boggy ground at one side of Holiday Pond. Another was the bayberry that lived within sight of the sea at Holiday Cove. And the third kind was the sweet fern that thrived on Holiday Hill. The flowers of these three plants grow in catkins. Their fruits are small and dry and nutlike.

Sweet gale flower-catkins come in spring before the leaves are out. If they are boiled, a fragrant wax may be obtained from them. The fruit is covered with particles of wax. In some countries candles have been made from sweet gale wax. Parts of the plant may be used to color different things. Indians, in Canada, liked to use the catkin buds to dye their porcupine quills.

The aromatic wax of the bayberry is more abundant than that of the sweet gale shrub. It forms a rather thick coating over the dry fruit. Even in these days, when paraffin candles are so common, people still make candles of bayberry wax. Perhaps you have had dull green, tapering candles, called "bayberry dips," to burn at Christmas time. When you blow out the light of such a candle, the room is filled with its fragrance. Another name for this shrub and its fruit is candleberry.

Sweet fern shrubs grew in great numbers on Holiday Hill. Indeed, there were so many of them on parts of the hill among the blueberries that they were looked upon as weeds. They shaded the lower bushes too much; and their roots and underground stems crowded those of other plants that were near them. Men sometimes came up from the farm and tore out these bushes to give the blueberries a better chance to grow.

In many places on the hill, however, the sweet ferns were permitted to stay year after year. Some children had a path through them which they called "Sweet Fern Lane." They loved to go along this path because of the spicy scent that filled the air when they brushed against the leaves and bruised them.


Overhanging Sweet Fern Lane

Some one told them that Indians used to gather sweet fern leaves for pillows. So the children made little pillows filled with the fragrant leaves and catkins.

Quite possibly the mother of Chlamys liked the scent of sweet fern as well as people do. Perhaps it had even a stronger attraction for her. It may be that one day when she smelled it she could not keep away from it.

However it came about, this much is certain—the mother beetle put her eggs on the plant that would furnish food for her young. Six-footed mothers have a way of laying their eggs in places that will make good homes for their larval infants; and, of course, the mother of Chlamys was no exception to this rule.


The mother of Chlamys

She was a pretty beetle a little more than an eighth of an inch long. Her colors were green and bronze. The wing-covers, that lay like a curved shield over her back when they were closed, had many tiny humps on them. She glistened like polished metal and looked like an ornament. She would have made a beautiful model for a decoration on a bronze vase.

When anything came too near her, she hid in a way that is called "playing 'possum." Whenever an opossum is afraid, it lies absolutely still as if it were not alive. Most animals in their natural homes are not easily seen unless they are moving. Keeping quiet is one of their best ways of hiding. Animals that do this are said to be "playing 'possum." This habit is also called "freezing," because the animals are stiff and still as if they were frozen.

When she let go of the leaf she rolled off; but she did not even wiggle when she hit the ground. She lay without a motion in the leafy rubbish there. She could not have been any quieter if she had fainted. After a while she crept out of her hiding place; but by that time everything was calm again.

Being so small, herself, you could hardly expect her eggs to be much bigger than specks. I doubt if you could find one without a magnifying glass.

And, of course, the baby Chlamys that hatched from one of her eggs was a tiny creature to begin with. Tiny but capable! Soon after eating his first few sweet fern salads, he had made a little cloak for himself. He made it the right size, too. Think of that! A mere baby beetle could fasten little brown bits together with a sort of gluey silk until he had a mantle that exactly fitted him!

As fast as he grew he added more brown bits to his cloak, so it was always big enough to cover him. He did not need a new one, because he could piece the old one. It did not look as if it had been made of scraps, however, and its edges were always tidy.

All the time Chlamys was a growing larva he had the protection of his cloak. After he had eaten all the sweet fern salads he could hold, he was ready for a rather long rest. But he did not leave his cloak while he took his nap. He fastened it to a twig of sweet fern and closed the opening.

During his sleep, the little mantle, or sac, served as a sort of cocoon. He had stopped being a growing larva. He was not yet a winged beetle. He was now in the stage between a larva and an adult insect. He was a pupa. While an insect is a pupa many changes take place in its body. It loses the legs and mouth and skin it has had from the beginning, and new parts are formed. Its shape is changed in many ways. And its wings grow.

So, when Chlamys woke, he was a different-looking creature altogether. Instead of being a fat little grub, he had become a fully grown beetle a bit more than an eighth of an inch long. Like his mother before him, he looked like a little metal ornament. If some artist wished to find a good model for a decoration on a bronze vase, what better shape could he find than Chlamys?