Gateway to the Classics: Jack's Insects by Edmund Selous
Jack's Insects by  Edmund Selous

Inside the Book

I T was getting quite near bed-time, and Jack and Maggie were both tired, for they had been up late the night before, because it was Jack's birthday. On that day Jack had only had time to look at the cover and illustrations of the new book on natural history which his mother had given him, and, even now, several important things, such as meals, walks and games, had prevented his reading it, in a proper way, till the evening; so that he was still in the first chapter, and so sleepy that, even if there had been time, he would not have been able to get to the end of it. But nothing would have made either him or his sister Maggie want to go to bed before the hands of the clock had got to the right place, and the proper remarks about it had been made.


It was getting quite near bed-time.

This book was mostly about insects, because, as the rest of the animal kingdom had been exhausted, upon previous birthdays, only insects and spiders, and things of that sort, were left. This was one very good reason for having them now, for a new book ought to be about something new, but a still better one, perhaps, was that, just at that time, Jack was more interested in insects than in anything else, so that he had bought a butterfly-net, and was trying to make Maggie interested in them too.

"I think you might be, Maggie," he said, "because they are  very interesting, you know, insects are."

"I am interested in butterflies," said Maggie, looking at a picture of some, which Jack had come to—"that is, they're pretty, but I don't like killing them."

"But that's entomology, you know, Maggie," said Jack.

"I  think it's cruelty," said Maggie sententiously—she was a little older than her brother, but not so scientific.

"No; but it isn't, Maggie, really—not in that way," Jack answered. "Just to throw one's cap at them, and kill them and leave them there, without making any use of them, that's cruelty, of course; but to catch them in a net, properly, and put them in a killing-bottle without hurting them—I mean without rubbing their wings—and then pin them out on cork, with their Latin names underneath them, that isn't, because—because it's important, you know."

"Important!" cried Maggie. "Oh, Jack, how can it be?"

"But it is, Maggie, really, if you understood it," explained Jack, "because—because it's entomology, you see, and that's  important."

"Is it? Oh, well, I don't see why, and I don't like it."

"But it isn't only that, you know," Jack went on. "There's setting them, and arranging them by families, and finding out about their habits, in books—in a book like this, you know—all insects, I mean, of course—entomology's about all insects, you know."

"I should never like all insects," said Maggie.

"But you would like knowing about them," persisted Jack. "Entomology's"—he had learnt the word in the last week and thought a great deal of it—"tremendously  interesting, really. I wish you'd read the book with me, Maggie. I'm sure if you were once to get into it——"

"I wish one could  get into books," said Maggie, yawning.

"Why, but so you can," said Jack, yawning too (for it makes one yawn to see someone else doing it). "Of course you can. I'm just getting into this one."

"Yes, but I don't mean in that way," Maggie explained. "I mean if you could get inside them, as you go inside a room, and meet the people that there are in them, and find that they were real, and begin to talk to them, and—and go through them—through the book, you know—in that way."

"Oh, Maggie," said Jack, "what  an idea! But it would be nice, though."

"Wouldn't  it!" said Maggie. "It would make reading things ever so much more interesting—even one's school books. Fancy if, instead of just reading in one's history, 'Richard the Third, surnamed Crook-back,' you could get inside the book and meet him, and see if he had a crooked back or not—because, you know, it says somewhere else that he hadn't really, but was only short and had one shoulder higher than the other, and then, after saying how he killed his nephews in the Tower, it says that it's doubtful if he really did kill them. But if one were to meet him in the book, one could ask him and find out, and——"

"No, but you couldn't, Maggie," said Jack; "at least not to be sure, because first he mightn't say, or not say right, and, besides, if you met him in the book he'd have to be what he was there, and so he'd just keep changing, and you'd never really know."

"Oh dear," said Maggie, "I never thought of that; but that would make it all the more fun, you know, because they'd be contradicting one another, and then, of course, they'd have to fight, because they did in those times. Fancy one Richard the Third who was only short, with one high shoulder, challenging another because he  was a real hunchback."

"Oh, Maggie," said Jack, "what nonsense you're talking!"

"And then," continued Maggie, "there'd be a Shakespeare's Richard the Third, they always mention him as something different, and he'd have to fight, too, of course, and I believe he'd  win; and besides they'd all want to kill each other so that only one of them should come to the crown, because they couldn't all reign. How could they?"

"But they all do in the books," said Jack, "so they'd all have to. There couldn't be a king, you know, that didn't come to the crown."

"Oh, well, that would make it all the more curious," said Maggie, "and it would be the same with all the other ones—or nearly all of them—and the great people too. There'd be several Cromwells and Straffords, and a Charles the First who was right, and wrong. Then there'd be a good Henry the Eighth and a bad one, and one that wasn't quite good or quite bad—I believe there'd be a lot of Henry the Eighths—and two Mary Queen of Scots, anyhow, one that killed Darnley and was wicked and another that didn't, and wasn't; and that would make two Queen Elizabeths, too, you know, because——"

"Because it wouldn't be fair if there weren't," said Jack. "It would be two to one, you know, only she'd behead them both."

"No, I don't mean that," said Maggie; "but there'd be a Queen Elizabeth who was  justified in beheading her and a Queen Elizabeth who wasn't justified—because there must be one for each kind of Mary, you know, and they'd all be arguing and disputing."

"I wish I could get into this  book in that way," said Jack, "only we never could, really, because we're too big; and it wouldn't really be nice either, because there'd be no real countries or places, but only paper with their names written on it."

"Oh no, Jack," said Maggie eagerly, "it wouldn't be like that. Why should it? You might just as well say that the people—or the insects, if it was this one—would be only names written down. But if they  were real why shouldn't the places be too—and as for being too big, why, how could we get into the book at all without getting small first?"

"Of course if we did  get small——" said Jack.

"We'd have to, you know," said Maggie, "so that settles it. And then as the things that were written about had got real, going from one page or chapter to another would be like going from one place or country to another place or country, and, of course, as they would be much nearer together, it would be natural to get there ever so much quicker, and without steamboats or anything. It would be absurd to have a steamboat to go to America or India in, when Europe was only a few lines or paragraphs away from them. We could walk there easily."

"Of course we could," said Jack. "That would be the natural way then."

"And then," continued Maggie, "if we were small enough to talk to one person or animal in a book, it would be just as natural to get a little smaller, or larger, so as to talk to another, you know, because they're of different sizes. So then we should always be the right size whoever we were talking to—and an animal, or even an insect, can  talk in a book, so that would make it natural too."

"It would  be fun," said Jack.

"Yes," said Maggie, "and I don't see any reason at all why it shouldn't happen."

"Nor do I, now," said Jack, and then they neither of them said anything for a little while.

"Oh, Maggie," cried Jack, all of a sudden, and in a half-surprised tone of voice, "I believe I am  getting inside the book."

"Are  you?" said Maggie.

"Yes, I am, really," Jack answered; "do come too."

"I don't know if I can," said Maggie. "It's because your head's on the book, I think."

"Your head's quite near it too," said Jack, "and it's touching mine. And it was you who thought of it, you know, Maggie, so you might come."

"I'd much rather go into my history book," said Maggie. "It would be much nicer talking to historical characters than to insects."

"Not if you liked entomology better than you did history," said Jack—"and besides, that book's not here. Oh!"

"What?" said Maggie, and directly afterwards she called out, "Oh, Jack, I believe I am  going into it."

"Then we both are," said Jack, "because—oh!"

"Oh, what was  that?" said Maggie. "Something flashed."

"A butterfly, I think it was," said Jack, "because it flashed blue, and——"

"Oh! oh!! oh!!!" cried Maggie. "What flashes and what a wonderful colour! Oh, it can't be a butterfly."

"It is," said Jack. "I'm sure it is. It's the Great Morpho Butterfly that I'd just got to, and you can see the flashes he  makes a quarter of a mile off. Oh, there! You saw him then, Maggie, didn't you?"

"Yes, that  was a butterfly, I think," said Maggie.

"He may come nearer soon," said Jack. "Then this must be a forest in South America, because that's where the Great Morpho—oh, Maggie, what trees! Oh, and there are more butterflies. What beauties! Oh, Maggie, do look! Oh, there! That was the Great Morpho again. He's coming nearer. I believe he's going to settle. By Jingo,  he is  settling. How beautiful! and"—this was in a tone of deep disappointment—"I haven't brought my net or my killing-bottle."


By Jingo, he is settling.

"I'm glad of that," said Maggie. "Oh, Jack, how can you want to kill such beautiful creatures?"

There were flashes all about now, and everything was getting plainer. They were certainly in a forest, and it was a tropical forest too—that was quite clear, because of the trees and the butterflies—so as there were no tropical forests at all near them, except in the book, there could be no doubt whatever that somehow they had got into the book, because, as Maggie said, there was no other way of explaining it.

Perhaps that was why things didn't seem quite so strange as one might have expected, because the trees were just like they were drawn in the pictures—only quite real—so that it would only be waste of time to describe them, because everybody knows what a tropical forest in a picture looks like. But as for the butterflies, it seemed to both Jack and Maggie that ones in a book never could have been so bright or so beautiful, but, of course, they must have been, because there they were. They wondered, too, for a little, how they could be flying about, but soon they found out that it was the descriptions more than the pictures that they were like, and it was the same, before long, with everything, and then they began to forget that they were in a book at all. It was quite  real, even when one of the butterflies—it was the one that Jack had said was the Great Morpho Butterfly, the most beautiful, or, at any rate, the most splendid one of all—began to say something—in English, too—in fact, to make an answer to Maggie's last remark.

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