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Children's Story Garden  >  The Mud Wasp

Girl standing in wild undergrowth, casting milkwood seeds to the breeze.

The Children's Story Garden

The Mud Wasp


MOLLY lay in the hammock on the shady end of the porch and scowled at the sun shining between the morning-glory leaves. She was usually a happy little girl, and the frown did not come naturally to her face. Now the ugly line between her eyes made her look very unhappy. The whole trouble was that her mother, who was making currant jelly, had asked her to pick a few more currants from the bushes in the garden, The evening before Molly had thought it was fun to help pick, but now the garden was hot and sunny. Mother, too busy in the kitchen to come herself, wanted three more boxes to fill a kettle. Molly said that she was tired of picking currants, and the more she thought about it the more tired she grew. She decided that her back ached with bending over so much, though she hadn't noticed the ache before.

"Next winter, will you want currant jelly with your roast meat or hot cakes, Molly?" Mother's voice came from the kitchen. Molly did not answer.

"Because if you do, now is the time to get ready for it," the voice went on.

Molly lay and considered. Was there any use in thinking about winter now, in hot summertime, or in bothering to prepare for it if you didn't feel like working?

Suddenly her rebellious thoughts were disturbed by a sharp, high, buzzing sound, very thin, and continuing for some time without a pause. It was not like the buzz or hum of any insect she had ever heard. She looked around carefully all over the vines near her head, but the sound seemed to come from the other side. Finally she discovered three peculiar objects arranged side by side on the wooden shutter of the porch window. They looked like tiny clay tunnels, larger around than lead pencils, fastened flat to the rough wood and so close to each other that their walls touched. A black wasp appeared to be nibbling at the lower end of one clay tunnel, and as it moved its head from side to side it made the queer shrill buzzing noise. Molly lay very quiet and watched. The wasp was close enough to her head for her to see each movement. Its little black head, feelers and first pair of legs all together seemed to be working at the edge of the tunnel. She noticed the clay at the edge was darker, as if wet, and that instead of nibbling it away, as she first thought, the wasp was adding to it, pressing and fingering it into shape.

Molly often talked with animals and flowers, and now she was about to ask the wasp what it was doing when the buzzing noise stopped and it flew away. She had forgotten all about currants and backaches by this time, and sat breathlessly waiting, hoping the wasp would return. Sure enough, in a minute back it came, long legs hanging, and firmly clutching in its jaws a round ball of dark mud larger than its own head. Molly had learned long ago, when she first talked with outdoor things, not to startle them with a sudden noise, so now, though she was very eager, she only whispered softly, "Wasp, what in the world are you doing?"

The wasp flitted its wings nervously and almost dropped the ball.

"Don't speak to me, Molly, till I get this spread. It dries horribly in this heat," it mumbled irritably, as though its mouth was full of hot mush.

Molly watched in patient silence while the wasp, with the same shrill buzzing as before, smeared the fresh mud neatly along the edge of the tunnel and patted it into shape.

"Now, what is it you want to know?" it asked a little wearily, pausing to wipe its feelers with its forelegs. "I just asked what you are making. I would like to know all about it," Molly murmured very meekly.

"There's not much to tell, I'm sure. I am a Mud Wasp and I'm building a mud house to lay my eggs in. I put them in these cells — seal up the ends — there they are, safe over the winter."

"What becomes of the eggs then, and why do you worry about winter now, when it's only July?" asked Molly.

The wasp waved a disdainful feeler. "I'm not worrying about winter, I am just getting ready for it. Everyone has to do that, even people — unless they are lazy little girls. Next spring my eggs will hatch into young wasps, who will bore their way out of their clay house into the warm sunlight. Buzz, buzz! — mustn't waste time this way! The mud at the edge of the lily pond is in fine condition this morning."

"Mud Wasp," cried Molly, sitting up straight in the hammock as the wasp raised its wings to be off, "does every thing work so hard, even when it is hot, to make all safe for wintertime? What makes them do it?"

"Don't ask me. Something tells me to build my clay tunnels and lay my eggs, so I obey. Good-bye, Molly."

"Molly sat for several moments thinking very hard. As she saw the wasp returning, loaded with another ball of mud, she jumped from the hammock and ran into the house.

"Mother," she called eagerly, "where are the berry boxes? I'm going to pick currants and help you get ready for next winter."

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In The Children's Story Garden. Stories collected by a committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting — Anna Pettit Broomell, Emily Cooper Johnson, Elizabeth W. Collins, Alice Hall Paxson, Annie Hillborn, and Anna D. White. Illustrated by Katharine Richardson Wireman and Eugénie M. Wireman. Published in 1920 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Notes and links

The Mud Wasp
One of the "stories written by members of our committee." (Introduction.)