THE Sad Nettle and the Beautiful Butterfly
It was one of those summery days when the air is heavy and warm and nobody wants to do very much. Jonathan and Robbit were resting on top of one of Moley's hummocks; relaxing and watching the rest of the world go by. Jonathan could feel the sun's warmth through his shell and it was making him feel comfortable and drowsy. He wriggled contentedly. Last night, before he'd gone to bed, Jonathan had taken off his shell and given it a special polish, and this morning it gleamed in the sunlight. Beside him on the soft warm molehill, Robbit lay on his back, his paws behind his head, gazing up at the clear blue sky, thinking about things in his own rabbity way.
"Why do nettles have stings?" He asked suddenly
Jonathan had just begun to doze off, and woke with a start
"Why do nettles have what?" He asked, not quite awake.
"Stings," Robbit scratched one of his ears in a comfortable, absent-minded sort of way.
Jonathan pondered, his head tilted to one side as he thought.
"I suppose," He said eventually, "They have stings so nobody will eat them."
"That's silly," Said Robbit, "Nobody'd want to eat a rotten old nettle, anyway: they're all tough and stringy."
Jonathan had never tried eating a nettle, so he couldn't think of a good answer. Besides, he was still feeling sleepy and just wanted to curl up quietly inside his shell.
Robbit bounced up, his nose twitching.
"I've an idea," He said.
Jonathan sighed; sometimes he wished Robbit would just relax and enjoy the sunshine.
Robbit was hopping around Moley's hummock
"Let's ask Farmer Jack."
"But," Jonathan protested, "The Old Farmhouse is miles away."
"No it's not, it's just at the top of the hill."
"Feels like miles when you're a snail," Grumbled Jonathan, "Why don't you go and ask him yourself?" He suggested, "Then you can come back and tell me."
Robbit sat down, flipping his fingers impatiently
"It's no fun on my own," He said, "Besides, that's what a friend is for; to come with you when you're going somewhere."
Jonathan felt suddenly rather happy, as if a little glow had lit up inside him: it was nice when someone said you were their friend, he thought, even if they did bounce rather a lot.
He slithered down off Moley's hill
"All right," He agreed, "I'll come with you."
"Goody, " Said Robbit, jumping backwards and forwards over Jonathan's head.
"But remember," Jonathan reminded him, "I'm not as quick as you."
"Doesn't matter, I can stop for a nibble or a scratch while you slide and glide."
They set off, Robbit leaping happily from one clump of grass to another, while, beside him, Jonathan's little round shell glinted in the sunlight as they wound their way slowly up the hill towards the Old Farmhouse, two of the best friends in the meadow.
Farmer Jack was digging his potato patch when he noticed the pair arrive.
"Hallo Robbit," Farmer Jack stopped digging and rested on the handle of his spade, "And Jonathan."
"Hallo Farmer Jack," Robbit sniffed hopefully at the basket of potatoes at Farmer Jack's feet: he didn't much like potatoes, but he did like the green leaves that came with them, "Can I eat the leaves?" He asked.
Farmer Jack smiled
"Go ahead," He said, "Help yourself."
Jonathan sidled up
"Can I have some, too, please?" Jonathan's spectacles glinted in the sunlight as he squinted up at Farmer Jack
"Course you can."
Jonathan slid off in the direction of a particularly appetising leaf.
"My Goodness, Jonathan," Farmer Jack called after him, "Your shell's looking very shiny this morning."
"I polished it," Said Jonathan proudly, pleased that Farmer Jack had noticed, "Last night, before I went to bed."
"Must have taken you a long time to clean all the little whorl bits."
"M'mm," Agreed Jonathan, "Ages."
Robbit was busy nibbling, taking care not to tread on any of the potatoes. Farmer Jack's wife didn't like muddy paw prints on her new potatoes.
"Farmer Jack," He asked, just about to munch on a particularly bright green leaf, "If potato leaves taste nice and don't sting, why do nettles?"
"Why do nettles what?"
"Fting," Said Robbit, his mouth full of leaf.
Farmer Jack scratched his head.
"Not quite sure that I really know why, " He replied, "But I did hear an old story once that seemed to make sense."
Robbit stopped chewing.
"Can you tell us?" He asked.
"If I can remember it," Farmer Jack, and settled down on a nearby tree stump.
"Long ago," He began, "There was a nettle growing in a meadow."
"Just one?" Robbit was picking at a piece of potato leaf that had got stuck between his big front teeth, "There are lots in our meadow: especially in the shady bit."
"Maybe there were lots in this meadow as well," Said Farmer Jack, "The story didn't say."
Jonathan slid across and began to climb up the stump, a great big leaf hanging from the back of his shell.
"I'm bringing it with me," He explained, "Just in case it's a long story and I get hungry while you're talking."
"The story, "Robbit tugged at Farmer Jack's trouser leg, "Tell us the story."
"Well," Farmer Jack began again, "This nettle was really sad."
"Why?" Demanded Robbit.
"Probably because he was lonely," Puffed Jonathan, half way up the side of the stump, "I hate being lonely."
Farmer Jack could see it was going to take some time to tell the story.
"He was sad," He sighed, "Because nobody liked him."
"That's 'cos he stung them, "Muttered Robbit.
"M'mm," Agreed farmer Jack, "But he couldn't help it: that's the way he was made."
"Then," Farmer Jack continued, "One day, a beautiful butterfly settled on one of the nettle's leaves and, instead of saying 'ow!' and flying away again, the butterfly just sat there and unfolded her lovely coloured wings and rested there in the sunshine."
Jonathans' eyes were big as saucers behind his spectacles.
"Well," Farmer Jack went on, "The nettle was just bursting with excitement and hardly dared move, in case he frightened the butterfly away."
Eventually the butterfly spoke.
"Why are you so quiet?" She asked the nettle.
"I don't know what to say," He replied," Nobody's ever sat on one of my leaves before."
"I wonder why?" Asked the butterfly.
"Because I sting them," Said the nettle, then added sadly, "I can't help it."
"Well," Declared the butterfly, "I think your leaves are very comfortable."
She paused for a moment, deep in thought.
"I was wondering," The butterfly said eventually, "If I could ask you a special favor."
The nettle blushed: nobody had ever asked him a favor before.
"Of course you can," He whispered.
"I need somewhere safe for my eggs during the winter."
"Would you like me to look after them?"
"Yes, please," The butterfly answered, "It would mean taking care of them for the whole winter. Could you do that?"
The nettle quivered with pleasure.
"I'd be honored," He said.
And so, that winter, the nettle guarded the butterfly's eggs. All through the rain and the snow and storms, the nettle kept the eggs safe and dry under its leaves, where no animal would dare try to eat them.
In the spring, as the weather grew warmer, the eggs hatched out into caterpillars and, later, each of these caterpillars turned into a chrysalis. Finally, at long last, in the middle of the summer, each chrysalis hatched into a beautiful new butterfly. It looked so pretty, the nettle could hardly believe his eyes.
"Oh," The beautiful new butterfly stretched its fresh new wings out to dry in the sunshine, "I do feel hungry."
"Where will you eat?" Asked the nettle.
The beautiful new butterfly flicked its glorious wings lightly. They were a deep red colour, with beautiful patterns along the edges, and had four great big eyes eyes painted on them, blue and white and yellow and black.
"My favorite place," She said, her wings shimmering in the sunlight, "is the flower of a Buddleia bush."
There were lots of Buddleia bushes in the meadow, their enormous lilac-coloured flower-cones waving gently in the breeze. The butterfly flitted gracefully over to the nearest of them.
The nettle watched, then looked down at his own plain green leaves. They seemed so dull and boring next to the butterfly, he felt very humble.
As if reading his thoughts, the butterfly looked up and spoke.
"Thank you," She said, "For looking after me all winter. I think your leaves are the strongest and safest leaves in the whole wide world."
The nettle blushed with pride. Suddenly, he didn't feel sad at all.
"What's your name?" He asked her.
"Why," She said, settling down to feed, "I'm called a Peacock butterfly."
Farmer Jack turned to Jonathan and Robbit.
"And, do you know," He said, "From that day on, every winter the nettle has looked after the eggs of the beautiful Peacock butterfly."