O F COURSE you have blown a bubble, yourself, and watched the rainbow colors glimmer until the hollow beauty burst. But you never blew an air castle of bubbles and lived in it. Phil did, though, really and truly; and that is why his story is worth telling.
Phil lived in an air castle like one of these.
At first Phil was inside an egg his mother left all winter in Holiday Meadow. Although the thermometer went down to zero and the wind blew from the north, the egg was not injured in the least. It hatched just as well the next May, after being brooded by the winter snow and the spring sunshine, as the eggs of a fussy old biddy do, after being snuggled by a warm feathered breast for three weeks.
That seems a strange beginning; and the rest of Phil's life was no less wonderful. So we need not be surprised to find him, early in June, already dwelling in his air castle.
He was an orphan, living alone in his bubble house. He had brothers and sisters, plenty of them, and all were the same age as himself. But they did not live together. Each one lived alone in a bubble house within a stone's throw of Phil. Not that he ever did throw a stone at any of them! He did not even look at them. As a matter of fact he did not know that he had brothers and sisters. He did no real thinking of any sort.
Not that Phil was brainless, you know; for he had a brain and nerves quite as useful for his needs as yours are for human purposes. He had a heart, too, a queer one shaped like a tube and lying along the middle of his back. When his blood flowed out of his heart it went loose almost anywhere in his body, like a stream in an open channel and not in veins and arteries like yours. His breathing was different, too. When he breathed he did not get his air through two holes in his head; but through a number of openings along the sides of his body. His muscles were rather strong, and the very strange thing about them was that they were fastened to a skeleton on the outside of his body instead of inside.
It was this skeleton of Phil's that gave him his only really troublesome moments; for the inside of his body grew faster than the outside could stretch. So he became squeezed somewhat as a person does whose clothes are too tight. If a person in that plight is sensible, he gets out of that snug suit and uses a bigger one. That is what Phil did with his skeleton when it pinched him too much.
It is not the easiest thing in the world to wriggle out of a skeleton; but all insects that grow up must molt several times in their lives, and so, of course, Phil managed to do it. He pushed with his body and the skeleton tore at the back. Then he pulled his head out of his skull and his six legs out of their boots. After that he crept out of his shell and stretched. When he had rested for a while he felt hungry and hardly stopped eating until his new skeleton had, in its turn, become too tight. Then he molted again.
Except at molting time Phil had nothing to trouble him and he spent the hours sipping his food and blowing his house.
Phil never chewed his food. He sucked it, somewhat as you drink lemonade through a straw. His mouth was a long hollow tube. It was jointed so that he could fold it against the under side of his body when he was not using it.
This little insect did not step outside of his bubble house at mealtime. When he was thirsty, which was nearly every minute, he thrust the sharp tip of his long mouth into the grass stem in the midst of his castle.
When you are walking out of doors, do you sometimes pull a stem of grass and nibble the sweet tender part at the tip? The sap that gives the grass stem a pleasant taste is the kind of juice Phil drank day after day while he was growing.
That juice is a wonderful liquid. It is the sap of life that flows in a grass stem and nourishes the growing plant from the time it is a tiny seedling until it is old enough to blossom and have seeds of its own. That seems enough for one kind of juice to do but it can do even more. When drawn into the beak of a little creature like Phil, the juice can nourish the body of the insect from the time it hatches from an egg until it grows to be about a month old.
The juice in the grass stem which Phil drank would not have made very good bubbles just by itself; but by the time it had been sucked into Phil's mouth and passed out of an opening at his tail it was mixed with something from inside his body and was exactly right for bubbles. Phil did not make bubbles with his mouth. He made them with his tail. He would stick the tip of his tail out to the edge of the bubble house and, after getting some air, would draw it back and mix the air with the juice and make bubbles that way. The bubbles piled up somewhat as they do in the white of an egg when your mother whips it with an egg beater.
The next time you see a mass of white froth on a grass stem, you will know that there is a young insect inside making bubbles. Some people have not stopped to see what made such froth but have tried to guess without doing any real thinking. That is why it happens that there are silly names for the froth. In America some of these names are "cow-spit" and "frog-spit" and "snake-spit"; and in England one name is "cuckoo-spittle."
I am not going to tell you much about the size and shape of the bubble blowers that make the froth that is common in meadows and other places where grass grows tall; because you can easily look and see for yourself some day. It is perhaps enough to say that Phil was little and yellow and soft. Indeed his body was so tender that he needed cool moist bubbles next his skin to save him from the sunshine of hot dry weather.
Phil needed his house of bubbles all the time he was a baby insect; but suddenly one day, when he was about a month old, counting from the time he was hatched, he walked out of his air castle and never went back. From that day forth he did not blow another bubble.
The sun shone upon him but he did not seek shelter. The strong wind hit against him and he only clung the tighter to the swaying grass. If a hunting spider came near him, he jumped lightly to another stem. When a bird reached to grab him, he lifted his own tiny wings and sailed out of reach.
He could do these things because a great change had come to his body and he was now a grown insect. He was nearly one fifth of an inch long. His last wingless molted skin was beside the mass of bubbles that had once been his home; and his pretty air castle was now no more to him than his cast-off skin. He no longer needed to soak in a bubble bath. His skin was now tough enough so that the sun did not harm it. He was at last an active little creature. His hind legs were strong for jumping. His gray wings were whitish near the edges and had blackish lines for trimming.
Phil and Phyllis, many times larger than they really were.
One day when Phil was leaping among the grass stems and flying here and there, he met Phyllis; and they became mates. In time Phil was the father of a large family of eggs which Phyllis left, one in a place, in Holiday Meadow. She did not brood them. They were at the mercy of winter snows and freezing winds. Of course Phyllis must not be blamed for flying away from her eggs. That is the habit of her kind.
A good enough habit it proved to be, for one year from the day when Phil and Phyllis had hatched, their young ones broke their eggshells. Each of the numerous brothers and sisters began a solitary air castle. If you wish to know what went on in each little bubble house, you may read this story over again. Or, better yet, you may go into a meadow some day in June and find out for yourself.