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Clara Dillingham Pierson

The Young Minnow Who Would Not Eat When He Should

"W HEN I grow up," said one young Minnow, "I am going to be a Bullhead, and scare all the little fishes."

"I'm not," said his sister. "I'm going to be a Sucker, and lie around in the mud."

"Lazy! Lazy!" cried the other young Minnows, wiggling their front fins at her.

"What is the matter?" asked a Father Minnow, swimming in among them with a few graceful sweeps of his tail, and stopping himself by spreading his front fins. He had the beautiful scarlet coloring on the under part of his body which Father Minnows wear in the summer-time. That is, most of them do, but some wear purple. "What is the matter?" he asked again, balancing himself with his top fin and his two hind ones.

Then all the little Minnows spoke at once. "He says that when he grows up he is going to be a Bullhead, and frighten all the small fishes; and she says that she is going to be a Sucker, and lie around in the mud; and we say that Suckers are lazy, and they are  lazy, aren't they?"

"I am surprised at you," began the Father Minnow severely, "to think that you should talk such nonsense. You ought to know——"

But just then a Mother Minnow swam up to him. "The Snapping Turtle is looking for you," she said. Father Minnow hurried away and she turned to the little ones. "I heard what you were saying," she remarked, with a twinkle in her flat, round eyes. "Which of you is going to be a Wild Duck? Won't somebody be a Frog?" She had had more experience in bringing up children than Father Minnow, and she didn't scold so much. She did make fun of them though, sometimes; and you can do almost anything with a young Minnow if you love him a great deal and make fun of him a little.

"Why-ee!" said the young Minnows. "We wouldn't think of being Wild Ducks, and we couldn't be Frogs, you know. Frogs have legs—four of them. A fish couldn't be a Frog if he wanted to!"

"No," said Mother Minnow. "A fish cannot be anything but a fish, and a Minnow cannot be anything but a Minnow. So if you will try to be just as good Minnows as you can, we will let the little Bullheads and Suckers do their own growing up."

She looked at them all again with her flat, round eyes, which saw so much and were always open, because there was nothing to make them shut. She saw one tiny fellow hiding behind his brother. "Have you torn your fin again?" she asked.

"Yes'm, just a little," said he. "A boy caught me when he was in wading, and I tore it when I flopped away from him."

"Dreadful!" said she. "How you do look! If you are so careless, you will soon not have a whole fin to your back—or your front either. Children, you must remember to swim away from boys. When the Cows wade in to drink, you may stay among them, if you wish. They are friendly. We pond people are afraid of boys, although some of them are said not to be dangerous."

"Pooh!" said one young Minnow. "All the pond people are not so afraid! The Bloodsuckers say they like them."

The Mother Minnow looked very severe when he said this, but she only replied, "Very well. When you are a Bloodsucker you may stay near boys. As long as you are a Minnow, you must stay away."

"Now," she added, "swim along, the whole school of you! I am tired and want a nap in the pondweed." So they all swam away, and she wriggled her silvery brown body into the soft green weeds and had a good sleep. She was careful to hide herself, for there were some people in the pond whom she did not want to have find her; and, being a fish, she could not hear very distinctly if they came near. Of course her eyes were open even when she was asleep, because she had no eyelids, but they were not working although they were open. That is an uncomfortable thing about being a fish—one cannot hear much. One cannot taste much either, or feel much, yet when one has always been a fish and is used to it, it is not so hard.

She slept a long time, and then the whole school of young Minnows came to look for her. "We feel so very queerly. We can't know how we feel, either, and that is the worst part of it. It might be in our stomachs, or it might be in our fins, and perhaps there is something wrong with our gill-covers. Wake up and tell us what is the matter."

The Mother Minnow awakened and she felt queerly too, but, being older, she knew what was the matter. "That," she said, "is the storm feeling."

"But," said the young Minnows, "there isn't any storm."

"No," she answered wisely. "Not now."

"And there hasn't been any," they said.

"No," she answered again. "The storm you feel is the storm that is going to be."

"And shall we always feel it so?" they asked.

"Always before a storm," she said.

"Why?" asked the young Minnows.

"Because," said she. "There is no answer to that question, but just 'because.' When the storm comes you cannot smell your food and find it, so you must eat all you can before then. Eat everything  you can find and be quick." As she spoke she took a great mouthful of pondweed and swallowed it.

All but one of the young Minnows swam quickly away to do as she had told them to. This young Minnow wanted to know just how and why and all about it, so he stayed to ask questions. You know there are some questions which fishes cannot answer, and some which Oxen cannot answer, and some which nobody can answer; and when the Mother Minnow told the young Minnows what she did, she had nothing to tell. But there are some young Minnows who never will be satisfied, and who tease, and tease, and tease, and tease.

"Hurry along and eat all you can," said the Mother Minnow to him again.

"I want to know," said he, opening his mouth very wide indeed and breathing in a great deal of water as he spoke, "I want to know where I feel queerly."

"I can't tell," said the Mother Minnow, between mouthfuls. "No fish can tell."

"Well, what makes me feel queerly there?"

"The storm," said she.

"How does it make me feel queerly?"

"I don't know," said the Mother Minnow.

"Who does know?" asked the young Minnow.

"Nobody," said she, swallowing some more pondweed of one kind and then beginning on another. "Do eat something or you will be very hungry by and by."

"Well, why does a storm make me feel so?" asked he.

"Because!" said she. She said it very firmly and she was quite right in saying it then, for there was a cause, yet she could not tell what it was. There are only about seven times in one's life when it is right to answer in this way, and what the other six are you must decide for yourself.

Just then there was a peal of thunder which even a Minnow could hear, and the wind blew until the slender forest trees bent far over. The rain came down in great drops which pattered on the water of the pond and started tiny circles around each drop, every circle spreading wider and wider until it touched other circles and broke. Down in the darkened water the fishes lay together on the bottom, and wondered how long it would last, and hoped it would not be a great, great while before they could smell their food again.

One little fellow was more impatient then the others. "Didn't you eat enough to last you?" they said.

"I didn't eat anything," he answered.

"Not anything!" they exclaimed. "Why not?"

"Because!" said he. And that was not right, for he did know the reason. His mother looked at him, and he looked at her, and she had a twinkle in her round, flat eyes. "Poor child!" she thought. "He must be hungry." But she said nothing.