Among the Pond People  by Clara Dillingham Pierson

The Crayfish Mother

T HREE Stickleback Mothers and several Clams were visiting under the lily-pads in the early morning. Mother Eel was also there. "Yes," she said, "I am glad to come back and be among my old friends, and the children are happier here. As I often tell Mr. Eel, there is no place like one's home. We had a hard journey, but I do not mind that. We are rested now, and travel does teach people so much. I should think you would get dreadfully tired of being in the water all the time. I want my children to see the world. Now they know grass, and trees, and air, and dry ground. There are not many children of their age who know more than they. We stayed in a brook the one day we were gone, so they have felt running water too. It was clean—I will say that for it—but it was no place for Eels, and so we came back."

There is no telling how long she would have kept on talking if she had not been called away. As soon as she left, the Sticklebacks began to talk about her.

"So she thinks we must be tired of staying in the water all the time," said one. "It doesn't tire me nearly so much as it would to go dragging myself over the country, wearing out my fins on the ground."

"Indeed?" said a Clam, to whom she turned as she spoke.

"Well, I'll tell you what I think," said another Stickleback Mother. "I think that if she didn't care so much for travel herself, she would not be dragging her family around to learn grass and trees. Some night they will be learning Owls or men, and that will be the end of them!"

"I do not believe in it at all," said the first speaker. "I certainly would not want my sons to learn these things, for they must grow up to be good nest-builders and baby-tenders. I have told their fathers particularly to bring them up to be careful housekeepers. With my daughters, it is different."

For a long time nobody spoke; then a Clam said, "What a difference there is in mothers!" It quite startled the Sticklebacks to hear a Clam say so much. It showed how interested he was, and well he might be. The Clam who brings up children has to do it alone, and be both father and mother to them, and of course that is hard work. It is hard, too, because when a little Clam is naughty, his parent can never say that he takes his naughtiness from any one else.

"And there is a difference in fathers too," exclaimed one fine-looking Stickleback Mother. "I  say that a father's place is by the nest, and that if he does his work there well, he will not have much time to want to travel, or to loaf around by the shore." The Clams looked at each other and said nothing. Some people thought that the Stickleback Mothers were lazy.

Just then a Crayfish Mother came swimming slowly along, stopping often to rest. Her legs were almost useless, there were so many little Crayfishes clinging to them.

"Now look at her," said one Stickleback. "Just look at her. She laid her eggs at the beginning of last winter and fastened them to her legs. Said she was so afraid something would happen if she left them, and that this was a custom in her family anyway. Now they have hatched, and her children hang on to her in the same way."

The Crayfish Mother stopped with a sigh. "Isn't it dreadfully warm?" said she.

"We haven't found it so," answered the Sticklebacks, while the Clams murmured "No."

"Let me take some of your children," said one Stickleback. "Perhaps carrying them has made you warm and tired."

The Crayfish stuck her tail-paddles into the mud, and spread her pinching-claws in front of her family. "Oh no, thank you," said she. "They won't be contented with any one but me."

"That must make it hard for you," said another Stickleback politely. She was thinking how quickly she would shake off the little Crayfishes if they were her children.

"It does," answered their mother. "It is hard, for I carried the eggs on my legs all through the cold weather and until it was very warm again; and now that they are hatched, the children hang on with their pinching-claws. Still, I can't bear to shake them off, poor little things!" She held up first one leg and then another to show off her dangling babies.

"I don't know what will happen to them when I cast my shell," said she. "I shall have to soon, for I can hardly breathe in it. My sister changed hers some time ago, and her new one is getting hard already."

"Oh, they'll be all right," said a Stickleback cheerfully. "Their fathers tell me that my children learn remarkably fast how to look out for themselves."

"But my children can't walk yet," said the Crayfish Mother, "and they don't know how to swim."

"What of that?" asked a Stickleback, who was beginning to lose her patience. "They can learn, can't they? They have eight legs apiece, haven't they, besides the ones that have pincers? Isn't that enough to begin on? And haven't they tail-paddles also?"

"I suppose so," said their mother, with a sigh, "but they don't seem to want to go. I must put them to sleep now and try to get a little rest myself, for the sun is well up."

The next night she awakened and remembered what the Sticklebacks had said, so she thought she would try shaking her children off. "It is for your own good," she said, and she waved first one leg and then another. When she had got four of her legs free, and stood on them to shake the other four, her children scrambled back to her and took hold again with their strong little pinching-claws. Then she gave it up. "You dear tiny things!" she said. "But I do wish you would walk instead of making me carry you."

"We don't want to!" they cried; "we don't know how."

"There, there!" said their mother. "No, to be sure you don't."

The next night, though, they had to let go, for their mother was casting her shell. When it was off she lay weak and helpless on the pond-bottom, and her children lay around her. They behaved very badly indeed. "Come here and let me catch hold of you," cried one. "I can't walk," said another, "because I don't know how."

Some of them were so cross that they just lay on their backs and kicked with all their eight feet, and screamed, "I won't  try!" It was dreadful!

The Crayfish Mother was too weak to move, and when the Wise Old Crayfish came along she spoke to him. "My children will not walk," said she, "even when I tell them to." He knew that it was because when she had told them to do things before, she had not made them mind.

"I will see what I can do," said he, "but you must not say a word." He walked backward to where they were, and kept his face turned toward their mother, which was polite of him. "Do you want the Eels to find you here?" he said, in his gruffest voice. "If you don't, you'd better run."

What a scrambling there was! In one way or another, every little Crayfish scampered away. Some went forward, some went sidewise, and some went backward. Some didn't keep step with themselves very well at first, but they soon found out how. Even the crossest ones, who were lying on their backs flopped over and were off.

The Wise Old Crayfish turned to their mother. "It is no trouble to teach ten-legged children to walk," said he, "if you go at it in the right way."

The little Crayfishes soon got together again, and while they were talking, one of their many aunts came along with all her children hanging to her legs. Then the little Crayfishes who had just learned to walk, pointed their pinching-claws at their cousins, and said, "Sh-h-h! 'Fore I'd let my mother carry me! Babies!"