Mr. Harvey's boys had a very fine fig tree, which had been presented to them by a friend of their father, and of which they took great care. It was kept in a large box, so that it might be placed in the house during the winter. The boys expected it would bear fruit next year. One day John burst into the room where Thomas, Samuel, and his father were sitting, and exclaimed with a doleful voice:
"Oh, father, it is dead—eaten by the locusts—I found a dozen on it."
"What's the matter, John?" said Mr. Harvey. "What have the locusts eaten?"
"Our fig tree," replied John. "It is gone past all remedy. Only come with me, and you'll see it."
They followed him down the garden walk. On reaching the fig tree, Mr. Harvey saw that nearly all its leaves had been eaten off, with most of the bark and young branches. Thomas and Samuel were very sorry, and John said he would kill every locust he met, from that day forward. Mr. Harvey examined the tree, and found, that although much damage had been done to it, yet with proper care, it might be restored. "We ought to have covered it with a net," he said to the boys.
While his father was talking with Thomas and his cousin, John was stooping on the ground, hammering something with a stone. At last Mr. Harvey turned round, and asked John what he was doing.
"I am killing these fine locusts that I have caught," replied John.
"Stop, my son," said Mr. Harvey, "that is foolish conduct, and very wicked. You are giving way to anger and revenge, two of the worst passions that a youth can indulge."
"But, father, they will eat more trees."
"The damage that a few locusts can do, is not much," answered his father; "and if we had taken proper care with the fig tree, they would not have reached it. Let those under your hat go, and when we go into the house, I will tell you about the locusts of the Eastern countries, of which you might kill as many as you chose, if you were there." John did as his father bade him, and said he was sorry for having acted so foolishly. Then Mr. Harvey trimmed the fig tree with his knife, and said he would send a servant to place a screen over it. When they came to the house, John reminded his father of his promise concerning the locusts. Mr. Harvey took from a shelf several large pictures of insects, and laying one on the table, asked his son what he thought it was.
"It looks like a large grasshopper," said John.
"It is the locust of the East," replied his father. "These locusts are shaped almost exactly like the long-winged grasshoppers that fly about our fields; but they are two or three times larger. What do you think this picture is?"
"It seems to be a great cloud of dust."
"It is a swarm of Eastern locusts. Hundreds of thousands fly thus together, darkening the air, and driving everything before them. When alighting they cover the earth for more than a mile round, and eat every green thing to the very roots. The noise of their wings is like thunder. They leave the country like a desert, so that the terrified people look forward to misery and famine. Men, women, and children, turn out with guns and stones, to kill them; and sometimes large fires are kindled for the same purpose. The dead ones are taken by cart loads to markets, and sold for food."
"To be eaten, sir!" said Samuel.
"Yes," replied Mr. Harvey, "mixed with butter, and fried in a pan, they form almost all the meat that the poorer classes in those countries get."
"Its a shocking meal" said John.
"Not so bad as you suppose," said his father. "Perhaps, if it were not the custom in this country to eat lobsters or hogs, we would look upon them with as much disgust as you do upon locusts. What do you think of dining off of spiders?"
"Horrible," said John. His father continued:
"I have read of a man who ate nothing else, when he could get spiders. So you see that people's tastes differ. You know that John Baptist's food was locusts and wild honey."
"Do the people kill all the locusts in a swarm?" asked Thomas.
"No," said his father, "a swarm is so large that after hundreds of cart loads are taken from it, it seems no smaller. Generally, the wind drives them into the sea, where they perish."
"I wish," said John, "that the wind would drive all we have into the sea, or else a good distance from our fig tree. Who would think that such little animals could do so much mischief."
"Is it true that locusts return after every seventeen years?" asked Samuel.
"Yes," said Mr. Harvey; "but not the common kind, such as ate the fig tree. All locusts come from eggs. In first coming from the egg, they are not winged, but look like grub worms. After a while these grubs cast off their skins, and become locusts. Now, there is a kind of locust which is seventeen years in changing from the egg to the full insect. It is this kind which is so numerous every seventeen years. If you go into the field when they are coming from the ground, you will see the grass and plants covered with them."
"Father," said John, "why did the locusts strip all the leaves from the fig tree, without touching any of the flowers or bushes around?""I suppose," said Mr. Harvey, "it is because the fig tree is very tender. It comes, you know, from warm countries, and is there the proper food of the locust. Had there been figs on the tree, they would, no doubt, have been eaten also."