"C OME," said Mamma Bat, flying toward her home in the cave, "it is time that you children went to bed. The eastern sky is growing bright, and I can see the fleecy clouds blush rosy red as the sun looks at them."
The little Bats flitted along after her, and Papa Bat came behind them. They had been flying through the starlit forest all night, chasing the many small insects that come out after the sun has gone down, and passing in and out of the tangled branches without ever touching one. Indeed, Mamma Bat would have been ashamed if children of hers flew against anything in the dark. There might be some excuse for such a mistake in the daytime, for Bats' eyes do not see well then, but in the night-time! She would have scolded them well, and they would have deserved it, for Bats have the most wonderful way of feeling things before they touch them, and there are no other people in the forest who can do that. There are no other people who can tell by the feeling of the air when something is near, and the Bats made much fun of their friend, the Screech Owl, once, when he flew against a tree and fell to the ground.
And now the night was over and their mother had called them to go home. One of the little Bats hung back with a very cross look on his face, and twice his father had to tell him to fly faster. He was thinking how he would like to see the forest in the daytime. He had never seen the sun rise, and he wanted to do that. He had never seen any of the day-birds or the animals that awaken in the morning. He thought it was pretty mean to make poor little Bats go off to bed the minute the stars began to fade. He didn't believe what his father and mother said, that he wouldn't have a good time if he did stay up. He had coaxed and coaxed and teased and teased, but it hadn't made a bit of difference. Every morning he had to fold his wings and go to sleep in a dark crack in the rock of the cave, hanging, head downward, close to the rest of the family. Their father said that there never was a better place to sleep than in this same crack, and it certainly was easy to catch on with the hooks at the lower ends of their wings when they hung themselves up for the day. But now he just wouldn't go to bed, so there!
"It is your turn next," said Mamma Bat to him, when the rest of the children had hung themselves up.
"I'm not going to bed," the little Bat answered.
"Not going to bed!" said his father. "Are you crazy?"
"No," said the little Bat, "I'm not."
"I don't believe the child is well," said Mamma Bat. "He never acted like this before. I'm afraid he has overeaten." And she looked very anxious.
"I am well, and I haven't eaten too much," said the little Bat. "I think you might let a fellow have some fun once in a while. I've never seen the sun in my life, and there are whole lots of birds and animals in the forest that I've only heard about."
Papa and Mamma Bat looked at each other without speaking.
"I won't go to bed!" said the little Bat.
"Very well," said his father. "I shall not try to make you. Fly away at once and let us go to sleep."
After he had gone, Mamma Bat said, "I suppose you did right to let him go, but it seems too bad that children have to find out for themselves the trouble that comes from disobedience."
The little Bat flew away feeling very brave. He guessed he knew how to take care of himself, even in daylight. He felt sorry for his brothers who were in the cave, but he made up his mind that he would tell them all about it the next night.
The eastern sky grew brighter and brighter. It hurt his eyes to look at it, and he blinked and turned away. Then the song-birds awakened and began to sing. It was very interesting, but he thought they sang too loudly. The forest at night is a quiet place, and he didn't see the sense of shouting so, even if the sun were coming up. The night-birds never made such a fuss over the moon, and he guessed the moon was as good as the sun.
Somebody went scampering over the grass, kicking up his heels as he ran. "That must be a Rabbit," thought the little Bat. "The Screech Owl told me that Rabbits run in that way. I wish I could see him more plainly. I don't know what is the matter with my eyes."
Just then a sunbeam came slanting through the forest and fell on his furry coat as he clung to a branch. "Ow!" he cried. "Ow! How warm it is! I don't like that. The moonbeams do not feel so. I must fly to a shady corner." He started to fly. Just what was the matter, he never knew. It may have been because he couldn't see well, it may have been because he was getting very tired, or it may have been because the strangeness of it all was beginning to frighten him; but at all events, he went down, down, down until he found himself pitching and tumbling around in the grass.
A Crow had seen him fall, and cried loudly, "Come! Come! Come!" to his friends. The Rabbits, who were feeding near by, came scampering along, making great leaps in their haste to see what was the matter. The Goldfinches, the Robins, the Orioles, the Woodpeckers, and many other birds came fluttering up. Even a Blue Jay sat on a branch above the Bat and shrieked, "Jay! Jay! Jay!" to add to the excitement. And last of all, the Ground Hog appeared, coming slowly and with dignity, as a person who can remember his grandfather should do.
"What is the cause of all this commotion?" he asked. He might have said, "What is the matter?" and then they would have understood him at once, but he was too haughty for that. He thought he had to use big words once in a while to show that he could. If people didn't understand them, he was willing to explain what he meant.
"We've found such a queer bird, sir," said the biggest little Rabbit, without waiting to find out what a "commotion" was. "Just see him tumble around!"
"Bird? That is no bird," said a Woodpecker. "Look at his ears and his nose. He hasn't even a bill."
"Well, he flies," said the biggest little Rabbit, "because I saw him, so he must be a bird."
"Humph!" said a Chipmunk. "So does my cousin, the Flying Squirrel, in a way, yet he is no more bird than I am."
"And this fellow hasn't a feather to his skin!" cried an Oriole.
"I don't say that my son is right," said Papa Rabbit, "but this creature has wings." And he gave the Bat a poke that made him flutter wildly for a minute.
"Yes, but what kind of wings?" asked the Goldfinch. "A pair of skinny things that grow on to his legs and have hooks on both ends."
"He must be a very stupid fellow, at all events," said the Ground Hog. "He doesn't talk, or walk, or eat, or even fly well. He must come of a very common family. For my part, I am not interested in persons of that kind." And he walked away with his nose in the air.
Now the other forest people would have liked to watch the Bat longer, but after the Ground Hog had gone off in this way, they thought it would show too much curiosity if they stayed. So one after another went away, and the little Bat was left alone. He fluttered around until he reached the branch where the Blue Jay had been, and there he hung himself up to wait until night.
"Oh dear!" he said, "I wonder how long a day is. I am hot and blind and sleepy, and if any more of the forest people come and talk about me, I don't know what I shall do. They don't think me good-looking because my wings grow to my legs. I only wish I could see what they look like. I believe they are just as homely."
And then, because he was a very tired little Bat, and cross, as people always are when they have done wrong, he began to blame somebody else for all his trouble.
"If my father and mother had cared very much about me," he said, "they would never have let me stay up all day. Guess if I were a big Bat and had little Bats of my own, I'd take better care of them!" But that is always the way, and when, long afterward, he was a big Bat with little Bats of his own, he was a much wiser person.