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Chapter 9 Wilbur’s Boast

A spider's web is stronger than it looks. Although it is made ofthin, delicate strands, the web is not easily broken. However, a webgets torn every day by the insects that kick around in it, and aspider must rebuild it when it gets full of holes. Charlotte likedto do her weaving during the late afternoon, and Fern liked to sitnearby and watch. One afternoon she heard a most interestingconversation and witnessed a strange event.

  “You have awfully hairy legs, Charlotte,” said Wilbur, as thespider busily worked at her task.

  “My legs are hairy for a good reason,” replied Charlotte.

  “Furthermore, each leg of mine has seven sections—the coxa, thetrochanter, the femur, the patella, the tibia, the metatarsus, andthe tarsus.”

  Wilbur sat bolt upright, “You’re kidding,” he said.

  “No, I’m not, either.”

  “Say those names again, I didn't catch them the first time.”

  “Coxa, trochanter, femur, patella, tibia, metatarsus, andtarsus.”

  “Goodness!” said Wilbur, looking down at his own chubby legs.

  “I don’t think my legs have seven sections.”

  “Well,” said Charlotte, “you and I lead different lives. Youdon't have to spin a web. That takes real leg work.”

  “I could spin a web if I tried,” said Wilbur, boasting. “I'vejust never tried.”

  “Let’s see you do it,” said Charlotte. Fern chuckled softly,and her eyes grew wide with love for the pig.

  “O.K.,” replied Wilbur. “You coach me and I'll spin one. Itmust be a lot of fun to spin a web. How do I start?”

  “Take a deep breath!” said Charlotte, smiling. Wilbur breatheddeeply.

  “Now climb to the highest place you can get to, like this.”

  Charlotte raced up to the top of the doorway. Wilbur scrambled tothe top of the manure pile.

  “Very good!” said Charlotte. “Now make an attachment withyour spinnerets, hurl yourself into space, and let out a dragline asyou go down!”

  Wilbur hesitated a moment, then jumped out into the air. Heglanced hastily behind to see if a piece of rope was following himto check his fall, but nothing seemed to be happening in his rear,and the next thing he knew he landed with a thump. “Ooomp!” hegrunted.

  Charlotte laughed so hard her web began to sway.

  “What did I do wrong?” asked the pig, when he recovered fromhis bump.

  “Nothing,” said Charlotte. “It was a nice try.”

  “I think I’ll try again,” said Wilbur, cheerfully. “Ibelieve what I need is a little piece of string to hold me.”

  The pig walked out to his yard. “You there, Templeton?” hecalled. The rat poked his head out from under the trough.

  “Got a little piece of string I could borrow?” asked Wilbur.

  “I need it to spin a web.”

  “Yes, indeed,” replied Templeton, who saved string. “Notrouble at all. Any thing to oblige.” He crept down into his hole,pushed the goose egg out of the way, and returned with an old pieceof dirty white string. Wilbur examined it.

  “That’s just the thing,” he said. “Tie one end to my tail,will you, Templeton?”

  Wilbur crouched low, with his thin, curly tail toward the rat.

  Templeton seized the string, passed it around the end of the pig'stail, and tied two half hitches. Charlotte watched in delight. LikeFern, she was truly fond of Wilbur, whose smelly pen and stale foodattracted the flies that she needed, and she was proud to see thathe was not a quitter and was willing to try again to spin a web.

  While the rat and the spider and the little girl watched, Wilburclimbed again to the top of the manure pile, full of energy and hope.

  “Everybody watch!” he cried. And summoning all his strength,he threw himself into the air, headfirst. The string trailed behindhim. But as he had neglected to fasten the other end to anything, itdidn't really do any good, and Wilbur landed with a thud, crushedand hurt. Tears came to his eyes. Templeton grinned. Charlotte justsat quietly. After a bit she spoke.

  “You can’t spin a web, Wilbur, and I advise you to put theidea out of your mind. You lack two things needed for spinning aweb.”

  “What are they?” asked Wilbur, sadly.

  “You lack a set of spinnerets, and you lack know-how. But cheerup, you don't need a web. Zucherman supplies you with three bigmeals a day. Why should you worry about trapping food?”

  Wilbur sighed. “You're ever so much cleverer and brighter thanI am, Charlotte. I guess I was just trying to show off. Serves meright.”

  Templeton untied his string and took it back to his home.

  Charlotte returned to her weaving.

  “You needn't feel too badly, Wilbur,” she said. “Not manycreatures can spin webs. Even men aren't as good at it as spiders,although they think they're pretty good, and they'll try anything.

  Did you ever hear of the Queensborough Bridge?”

  Wilbur shook his head. “Is it a web?”

  “Sort of,” replied Charlotte. “But do you know how long ittook men to build it? Eight whole years. My goodness, I would havestarved to death waiting that long. I can make a web in a singleevening.”

  “What do people catch in the Queensborough Bridge—bug?” askedWilbur.

  “No,” said Charlotte. “They don’t catch anything. They justkeep trotting back and forth across the bridge thinking there issomething better on the other side. If they’d hang head-down at thetop of the thing and wait quietly, maybe something good would comealong. But no—with men it’s rush, rush, rush, every minute. I’mglad I’m a sedentary spider.”

  “What does sedentary mean?” asked Wilbur.

  “Means I sit still a good part of the time and don’t gowandering all over creation. I know a good thing when I see it, andmy web is a good thing. I stay put and wait for what comes. Gives mea chance to think.”

  “Well, I’m sort of sedentary myself, I guess,” said the pig.

  “I have to hang around here whether I want to or not. You knowwhere I'd really like to be this evening?”

  “Where?”

  “In a forest looking for beechnuts and truffles and delectableroots, pushing leaves aside with my wonderful strong nose, searchingand sniffing along the ground, smelling, smelling, smelling…”

  “You smell just the way you are,” remarked a lamb who had justwalked in. I can smell you from here. You're the smelliest creaturein the place.”

  Wilbur hung his head. His eyes grew wet with tears. Charlottenoticed his embarrassment and she spoke sharply to the lamb.

  “Leave Wilbur alone!” she said. “he has a perfect right tosmell, considering his surroundings. You're no bundle of sweet peasyourself. Furthermore, you are interrupting a very pleasantconversation. What were we talking about, Wilbur, when we were sorudely interrupted?”

  “Oh, I don't remember,” said Wilbur. “It doesn't make anydifference. Let's not talk any more for a while, Charlotte. I'mgetting sleepy. You go ahead and finish fixing your web and I'lljust lie here and watch you. It's a lovely evening.” Wilburstretched out on his side.

  Twilight settled over Zuckerman's barn, and a feeling of peace.

  Fern knew it was almost suppertime but she couldn't bear to leave.

  Swallows passed on silent wings, in and out of the doorways,bringing food to their young ones. From across the road a bird sang“Whippoorwill, whippoorwill!” Lurvy sat down under an apple treeand lit his pipe; the animals sniffed the familiar smell of strongtobacco. Wilbur heard the trill of the tree toad and the occasionalslamming of the kitchen door. All these sounds made him feelcomfortable and happy, for he loved life and loved to be a part ofthe world on a summer evening. But as he lay there he rememberedwhat the old sheep had told him. The thought of death came to himand he began to tremble with fear.

  “Charlotte?” he said, softly.

  “Yes, Wilbur?”

  “I don’t want to die.”

  “Of course you don’t,” said Charlotte in a comforting voice.

  “I just love it here in the barn,” said Wilbur. “I loveeverything about this place.”

  “Of course you do,” said Charlotte. “We all do.”

  The goose appeared, followed by her seven goslings. They thrusttheir little necks out and kept up a musical whistling, like a tinytroupe of pipers. Wilbur listened to the sound with love in hisheart.

  “Charlotte?” he said.

  “Yes?” said the spider.

  “Were you serious when you promised you would keep them fromkilling me?”

  “I was never more serious in my life. I am not going to let youdie, Wilbur.”

  “How are you going to save me?” asked Wilbur, whose curiositywas very strong on this point.

  “Well,” said Charlotte, vaguely, “I don't really know. ButI'm working on a plan.”

  “ That's wonderful,” said Wilbur. “How is the plan coming,Charlotte? Have you got very far with it? Is it coming along prettywell?” Wilbur was trembling again, but Charlotte was cool andcollected.

  “Oh, it's coming all right,” she said, lightly. “The plan isstill in its early stages had hasn't completely shaped up yet, butI'm working on it.

  “When do you work on it?” begged Wilbur.

  “When I'm hanging head-down at the top of my web. That’s whenI do my thinking, because then all the blood is in my head.”

  “I'd be only too glad to help in any way I can.”

  “Oh, I'll work it out alone,” said Charlotte. “I can thinkbetter if I think alone.”

  “All right,” said Wilbur. “But don't fail to let me know ifthere's anything I can do to help, no matter how slight.

  “Well,” replied Charlotte, “you must try to build yourselfup. I want you to get plenty of sleep, and stop worrying. Neverhurry and never worry! Chew your food thoroughly and eat every bitof it, except you must leave just enough for Templeton. Gain weightand stay well — that’s the way you can help. Keep fit, and don’tlose your nerve. Do you think you understand?

  "Yes, I understand,” said Wilbur.

  “Go along to bed, then,” said Charlotte. “Sleep isimportant.”

  Wilbur trotted over to the darkest corner of his pen and threwhimself down. He closed his eyes. In another minute he spoke.

  “Charlotte?” he said.

  “Yes, Wilbur?”

  “May I go out to my trough and see if I left any of my supper?

  I think I left just a tiny bit of mashed potato.”

  “Very well,” said Charlotte. “But I want you in bed againwithout delay.”

  Wilbur started to race out to his yard.

  “Slowly, slowly!” said Charlotte. “Never hurry and neverworry!”

  Wilbur checked himself and crept slowly to his trough. He founda bit of potato, chewed it carefully, swallowed it, and walked backto bed. He closed his eyes and was silent for a while.

  “Charlotte?” he said, in a whisper.

  “Yes?”

  “May I get a drink of milk?” I think there are a few drops ofmilk left in my trough.”

  “No, the trough is dry, and I want you to go to sleep. No moretalking! Close your eyes and go to sleep!”

  Wilbur shut his eyes. Fern got up from her stool and started forhome, her mind full of everything she had seen and heard.

  “Good night, Charlotte!” said Wilbur.

  “Good night, Wilbur!”

  There was a pause.

  “Good night, Charlotte!”

  “Good night, Wilbur!”

  “Good night!”

  “Good night!”

 

  一张蜘蛛网实质上要比它看上去的样子要结实。虽然它是用精细的丝线织成的,但却不太容易被弄破。可是,一个蜘蛛网每天都要被那些昆虫又撞又踢,所以里面还是会出现残破的地方。如果里面的破洞太多了,蜘蛛就得重新把网织好才行。夏洛喜欢在傍晚织网,芬也喜欢坐在旁边看她织。一天下午,芬听到了一场最有趣的谈话,并目睹了一起奇怪的事件。

  “你长着可怕而又多毛的长腿,夏洛,”当夏洛正在忙着她的工作时,威伯说。

  “我的腿上有毛,是有原因的,”夏洛回答。“此外,我的每条腿都由七节骨头构成——髋骨,坐骨,大腿骨,膝盖骨,胫骨,跗骨,蹠骨。”

  威伯猛地坐了起来。“你骗人。”他说。

  “不,我一点儿也没骗你。”

  “把那几个名字再说一遍,我没记住。”

  “髋骨,坐骨,大腿骨,膝盖骨,胫骨,跗骨,蹠骨。”

  “天哪!”威伯说着,往下看看自己的胖腿。“我不信我的腿上有七根骨头。”

  “哦,”夏洛说,“你和我的生活方式不同。你不用织网,那可全是用腿干的活儿。”

  “如果我学学,也能会织网,”威伯吹嘘道。“我只是从没学过而已。”

  “让我看看你能否学会,”夏洛说。芬圆睁着眼睛满是爱意地看着威伯,偷偷的笑了。

  “O.K,”威伯回答。“你教我织一张网吧。织网一定是特别好玩的。我先要怎么做呢?”

  “深呼吸!”夏洛微笑着说。威伯深吸了一口气。“现在爬到你能到的最高地方去,就像这样。”夏洛跑到了门框的最上端。威伯爬到了牛粪堆的最上面。

  “很好!”夏洛说,“现在用你的丝囊造丝把自己用力抛向空中,下落时把丝线抽出来!”

  威伯犹豫了一下,然后朝空中跳去。他扭身回望,看后面是否有一小根能阻止他下落的粘线,可却发现后部似乎什么变化都没有,接着他便听到了自己重重地撞在地上的声音。“嗷姆!”他咕噜着抱怨道。

  夏洛笑得连她的网都摇晃起来。

  “我哪一步做错了?”清醒过来以后,威伯问道。

  “都没错,”夏洛说,“你练得很好。”

  “我想我该再试一次。”威伯又来劲儿了。“我相信这一次我只需要一段能拴住我的绳子就够了。”

  威伯走到院子里。“你在吗,坦普尔曼?”他喊道。老鼠从食槽下探出了头。

  “ 我能向你借一小根绳子吗?”威伯请求。”我要用它来织网。”

  “好的,可以。”有绳子的坦普尔曼回答。“这事儿很容易,你不必客气。”他推开洞口的那只鹅蛋,钻进了洞里,一会儿就抓着一根脏旧的白绳子出来了。威伯检查了一下。

  “就是这东西,”他说。“坦普尔曼,请你把绳子的一头系到我的尾巴上,好吗?”

  威伯趴下来,把他那根又细又弯的尾巴朝向老鼠那边。坦普尔曼抓住绳子,把它绕到威伯的尾巴尖上,打了两个结。夏洛开心地看着这一切。像芬一样,她也是真心的喜欢威伯,这不只是因为他那肮脏的猪圈与尿的臭味儿能招来她需要的苍蝇,还因为她骄傲地看出他不是一个懦夫,勇于一再的学习织网。

  就在老鼠,蜘蛛和小女孩的注视下,威伯又满怀着活力与希望爬到牛粪堆的顶上。

  “大家看着!”他叫着,拼着全身的力气,头朝前往空中跳去。绳子虽然系在他身后,但是他忘了把另一头拴到什么地方了,这可真糟糕,威伯砰的一声就着了陆,把自己跌伤了。泪水开始在他的眼眶打转了。坦普尔曼呲着牙大笑起来。夏洛沉默了片刻,才开始说话。

  “你不能织网,威伯,我劝你把这念头从脑子里赶出去吧。你缺少织网所必需的两种东西。”

  “那都是什么?”威伯丧气地问。

  “你缺少一副丝囊,你也缺乏织网的技巧。但是振作些,你不需要织网,反正祖克曼先生每天都给你提供三顿大餐。你又何必为捕食的事情操心?”

  威伯悲叹。“你比我要聪明伶俐得多,夏洛。可我也想显一显我的能耐。我这是活该。”

  坦普尔曼把他的绳子解下来,带回了他的家。夏洛又继续她的织网工作了。

  “你不必太难过,威伯,”她说。“不是所有的动物都会织网的。即使人类也不能织得像蜘蛛一样好,虽然他们自认很优秀,可以学会任何事情。你听说过昆斯伯勒大桥(Queensborough)吗①?”

  威伯摇摇头。“那是一张网吗?”

  “有点儿像吧,”夏洛回答。“你知道人们用了多久才建成它的吗?整整八年。我的老天,如果我的网等那么久才能织成,我早饿死了。我只用一个晚上就能织出一张网。”

  “人们在昆斯伯勒大桥上抓什么——虫子吗?”威伯问。

  “不,”夏洛说。“他们什么也不抓。他们只是觉得那上面比别的地方更好,所以就不停地在上面来回疾驰。如果他们头朝下静静地挂在桥上等着,也许会等来一些好东西吧。可他们却不这么做——人们总是在桥上狂奔,狂奔,狂奔,每分钟都是如此。我很高兴我只是一只定居的蜘蛛。”

  “定居是什么意思?”威伯问。

  “就是说,我大部分时间都可以静静地呆着,不必满世界乱跑。当我一眼望去,就会发现什么是好东西,我的网就是一个好东西。因为在织网或等待什么东西飞来时,我总有我充分思考的机会。”

  “哦,那么我也是一种定居的动物,我猜,”威伯说。“因为不管喜不喜欢我都得呆在这儿。你知道今天晚上我最想去哪里吗?”

  “哪里?”

  “我想去大森林里寻找柏子,麦蕈,还有令我开心的树根,用我那奇妙而又强壮的鼻子把腐叶都清走,沿着地面搜索,吸取,闻呀,闻呀,闻呀……"

  “好像你正在森林里闻似的,”刚走进来的羊羔挖苦道,“我从这里就能闻到你的味儿。你是这地方最臭的动物。”

  威伯伤心地垂下了头。他的眼睛被泪水打湿了。看到他难过的样子,夏洛毫不客气地讥讽起羊羔来。

  “用不着你管威伯!”她说。“生活在这种环境里,他已经算是很干净的了。你自己也不是什么甜豌豆。此外,你正在打搅我们之间的愉快谈话。我们谈到哪儿了,威伯,在我们的谈话被无礼打断之前?”

  “噢,我不记得了,”威伯说。“这没什么关系。我们别再谈下去了,夏洛。我有点儿困了。你还是继续把你的网修补完吧,我就躺在这儿看你织。这是一个多么可爱的夜晚。”威伯伸了个懒腰躺下了。

  薄暮的余晖把祖克曼先生的谷仓笼罩在宁静、平和的气氛里。芬知道差不多到晚饭时间了,却还是舍不得离去。燕子无声地拍着翅膀,从门口飞进飞出,一遍遍的给他们的孩子衔来食物。小路那边有一只夜鸱(Whippoorwill)在唱:“威普威噢,威普威噢!”②鲁维坐在一棵苹果树下,吸着他的烟斗;动物们都闻到了那种熟悉的刺鼻的烟草味儿。威伯听到了树蟾的颤音和不时传来的开关厨房门的声音。所有的这些声音都让他感觉惬意而又幸福,因为他热爱生活,愿意成为这夏夜世界的一分子。但是,当他躺在那里时,他忽然记起了老羊告诉过他的话。他开始想到了死,就害怕得哆嗦起来。

  “夏洛?”他轻轻地说。

  “什么事,威伯?”

  “我不想死。”

  “你当然不想,”夏洛安慰道。

  “我爱谷仓。”威伯说。“我爱这里的一切。”

  “当然,”夏洛说。”我们都爱这里。”

  母鹅出现了,身后跟着她的七只小鹅。他们歪着他们的小脖子,哼着同样的旋律,就像一小队吹笛手。威伯满是爱意地听着这种声音。

  “夏洛?”他说。

  “嗯?”蜘蛛说。

  “你曾承诺过不让他们杀我,你是认真的吗?”

  “在我一生中还从没这么认真过呢。我不会让你死的,威伯。”

  “你打算怎么救我呢?”强烈想知道这点的威伯问。

  “唔,”夏洛含混地说,“我还不知道呢。但是我正在制订计划。”

  “好极了,”威伯说,“这计划的开始是怎么样的,夏洛?你已经想出很多步骤了吗?它进展得非常顺利吗?”威伯又打了一个冷战,可夏洛还是非常冷静。

  “哦,计划就快弄好了,”她轻声地说,“这计划还刚刚开头,没有成形,不过我会弄好的。”

  “你什么时候能想好?”威伯乞求。

  “在我倒挂在我的网上的时候吧。那时我才能想事情,因为那时全身的血才会涌到我的脑袋里。”

  “我非常愿意在我力所能及的范围内帮你。”

  “哦,我将一个人解决它,”夏洛说,“我一个人时会想出更好的办法。”

  “好吧,”威伯说,“但是如果有什么我能做的,不管是多么小的事儿,你也别忘了告诉我。”

  “好的,”夏洛回答,“你必需加强你的信心。我要你保持充足的睡眠,不要再担忧了。永远也不要着急和担心!慢慢地吃光你的每一点食物,除了你剩给坦普尔曼的那些。把自己吃胖,好好活着——这就是你能帮我做的。保持健康,不要气馁。你明白了吗?”

  “是的,我懂了,”威伯说。

  “那么上床休息吧,”夏洛说,“睡眠是很重要的。”

  威伯迅速地跑到猪圈里最黑的角落,躺了下来。他闭上了眼睛。几分钟后他又说开了。

  “夏洛?”他说。

  “什么事,威伯?”

  “我可以到食槽去看看是否还有剩下的晚餐吗?我想我还剩了点儿土豆泥。”

  “可以,”夏洛说,“不过吃完你得立刻回来睡觉。”

  威伯颠颠地向他的院子跑去。

  “慢点儿,慢点儿!”夏洛说。“永远不要着急和担心!”

  威伯硬生生的放慢了脚步,开始缓缓地往食槽爬。他找到一小块土豆,便细细地咀嚼,咽下,然后才回到了床上。他闭上眼,沉默了一小会儿。

  “夏洛?”他低语道。

  “什么事?”

  “我可以喝点儿牛奶吗?我想我的食槽里还剩几滴牛奶呢。”

  “不,食槽已经空了,我要你马上睡觉。不许再讲话!闭上眼睡觉!”

  威伯闭上了眼。芬从她的小凳上站起来,开始往家走,她看见、听到的每一件事都装到了脑子里。

  “晚安,夏洛!”威伯说。

  “晚安,威伯!”

  又静了一会儿。

  “晚安,夏洛!”

  “晚安,威伯!”

  “晚安!”

  “晚安!”

 

  注释① 昆斯伯勒大桥(Queensborough),位于纽约皇后区。是曼哈囤中城跨东河(East River)连接皇后区的干桥。在它下游不远还有一条新隧道,但收费不菲。俺们劳动人民到皇后区中国城打牙祭,都走免费的皇后区桥——半山友情提供

  注释② 夜鸱(Whippoorwill),一种北美东部所产的夜间出没的怪鸱。



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