THE BEETLE 759
to the rain, and have had to lie upon linen, and cleanliness is a thing that greatly exhausts me. I have also pains in one of my wings, from standing in a draught under a fragment of pottery. It is really quite refreshing to be among one's companions once more.'
' Perhaps you come from a muck-heap ? ' observed the oldest of them.
' From higher up,' replied the Beetle. ' I come from the Emperor's stable, where I was born with golden shoes on my feet. I am travelling on a secret embassy. You must not ask any questions, for I may tell you nothing.'
With this the Beetle stepped down into the rich mud. There sat three young maiden Beetles ; and they tittered, because they did not know what to say.
' Not one of them is engaged yet,' said their mother ; and the Beetle maidens tittered again, this time from embarrassment.
* I have never seen greater beauties in the royal stables,' exclaimed the travelling Beetle.
' Don't spoil my girls,' said the mother ; ' and don't talk to them, please, unless you have serious intentions. But of course your intentions are serious, and therefore I give you my blessing.'
' Hurrah !' cried all the other Beetles together ; and our friend was engaged. Immediately after the betrothal came the marriage, for there was no reason for delay.
The following day passed very pleasantly, and the next in tolerable comfort; but on the third it was time to think of food for the wife, and perhaps also for children.
11 have allowed myself to be taken in,' said our Beetle to himself. ' So I must just take them in, in turn/
So said, so done. Away he went, and he stayed away all day, and stayed away all night; and his wife sat there, a forsaken widow.
1 Oh,' said the other Beetles, ' this fellow whom we received into our family is nothing more than a thorough vagabond. He has gone away, and has left his wife a burden upon our hands.'
' Well, then, she shall be unmarried again, and sit here among my daughters,' said the mother. ' Fie on the villain who forsook her ! '