A spider's web is stronger than it looks. Although it is made of thin, delicate strands, the web is not easily broken. However, a web gets torn every day by the insects that kick around in it, and a spider must rebuild it when it gets full of holes. Charlotte liked to do her weaving during the late afternoon, and Fern liked to sit nearby and watch. One afternoon she heard a most interesting conversation and witnessed a strange event.
“You have awfully hairy legs, Charlotte,” said Wilbur, as the spider 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, the trochanter, the femur, the patella, the tibia, the metatarsus, and the 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, and tarsus.”
“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. You don't have to spin a web. That takes real leg work.”
“I could spin a web if I tried,” said Wilbur, boasting. “I've just 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. It must be a lot of fun to spin a web. How do I start?”
“Take a deep breath!” said Charlotte, smiling. Wilbur breathed deeply.
“Now climb to the highest place you can get to, like this.”
Charlotte raced up to the top of the doorway. Wilbur scrambled to the top of the manure pile.
“Very good!” said Charlotte. “Now make an attachment with your spinnerets, hurl yourself into space, and let out a dragline as you go down!”
Wilbur hesitated a moment, then jumped out into the air. He glanced hastily behind to see if a piece of rope was following him to check his fall, but nothing seemed to be happening in his rear, and the next thing he knew he landed with a thump. “Ooomp!” he grunted.
Charlotte laughed so hard her web began to sway.
“What did I do wrong?” asked the pig, when he recovered from his bump.
“Nothing,” said Charlotte. “It was a nice try.”
“I think I'll try again,” said Wilbur, cheerfully. “I believe what I need is a little piece of string to hold me.”
The pig walked out to his yard. “You there, Templeton?” he called. 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. “No trouble 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 piece of 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's tail, and tied two half hitches. Charlotte watched in delight. Like Fern, she was truly fond of Wilbur, whose smelly pen and stale food attracted 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, Wilbur climbed 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 behind him. But as he had neglected to fasten the other end to anything, it didn't really do any good, and Wilbur landed with a thud, crushed and hurt. Tears came to his eyes. Templeton grinned. Charlotte just sat quietly. After a bit she spoke.
“You can't spin a web, Wilbur, and I advise you to put the idea 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 cheer up, you don't need a web. Zucherman supplies you with three big meals 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 me right.”
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 many creatures 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 it took men to build it? Eight whole years. My goodness, I would have starved to death waiting that long. I can make a web in a single evening.”
“What do people catch in the Queensborough Bridge—bug?” asked Wilbur.
“No,” said Charlotte. “They don't catch anything. They just keep trotting back and forth across the bridge thinking there is something better on the other side. If they'd hang head-down at the top of the thing and wait quietly, maybe something good would comealong. But no—with men it's rush, rush, rush, every minute. I'm glad I'm a sedentary spider.”
“What does sedentary mean?” asked Wilbur.
“Means I sit still a good part of the time and don't go wandering all over creation. I know a good thing when I see it, and my web is a good thing. I stay put and wait for what comes. Gives me a 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 know where I'd really like to be this evening?”
“In a forest looking for beechnuts and truffles and delectable roots, pushing leaves aside with my wonderful strong nose, searching and sniffing along the ground, smelling, smelling, smelling…”
“You smell just the way you are,” remarked a lamb who had just walked in. I can smell you from here. You're the smelliest creature in the place.”
Wilbur hung his head. His eyes grew wet with tears. Charlotte noticed his embarrassment and she spoke sharply to the lamb.
“Leave Wilbur alone!” she said. “he has a perfect right to smell, considering his surroundings. You're no bundle of sweet peas yourself. Furthermore, you are interrupting a very pleasant conversation. What were we talking about, Wilbur, when we were so rudely interrupted?”
“Oh, I don't remember,” said Wilbur. “It doesn't make any difference. Let's not talk any more for a while, Charlotte. I'm getting sleepy. You go ahead and finish fixing your web and I'll just lie here and watch you. It's a lovely evening.” Wilbur stretched 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 tree and lit his pipe; the animals sniffed the familiar smell of strong tobacco. Wilbur heard the trill of the tree toad and the occasional slamming of the kitchen door. All these sounds made him feel comfortable and happy, for he loved life and loved to be a part of the world on a summer evening. But as he lay there he remembered what the old sheep had told him. The thought of death came to him and he began to tremble with fear.
“Charlotte?” he said, softly.
“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 love everything about this place.”
“Of course you do,” said Charlotte. “We all do.”
The goose appeared, followed by her seven goslings. They thrust their little necks out and kept up a musical whistling, like a tiny troupe of pipers. Wilbur listened to the sound with love in his heart.
“Charlotte?” he said.
“Yes?” said the spider.
“Were you serious when you promised you would keep them from killing me?”
“I was never more serious in my life. I am not going to let you die, Wilbur.”
“How are you going to save me?” asked Wilbur, whose curiosity was very strong on this point.
“Well,” said Charlotte, vaguely, “I don't really know. But I'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 pretty well?” Wilbur was trembling again, but Charlotte was cool and collected.
“Oh, it's coming all right,” she said, lightly. “The plan is still in its early stages and hasn't completely shaped up yet, but I'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 when I 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 think better if I think alone.”
“All right,” said Wilbur. “But don't fail to let me know if there's anything I can do to help, no matter how slight.
“Well,” replied Charlotte, “you must try to build yourself up. I want you to get plenty of sleep, and stop worrying. Never hurry and never worry! Chew your food thoroughly and eat every bit of it, except you must leave just enough for Templeton. Gain weight and 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 is important.”
Wilbur trotted over to the darkest corner of his pen and threw himself down. He closed his eyes. In another minute he spoke.
“Charlotte?” he said.
“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 again without delay.”
Wilbur started to race out to his yard.
“Slowly, slowly!” said Charlotte. “Never hurry and never worry!”
Wilbur checked himself and crept slowly to his trough. He found a bit of potato, chewed it carefully, swallowed it, and walked back to bed. He closed his eyes and was silent for a while.
“Charlotte?” he said, in a whisper.
“May I get a drink of milk? I think there are a few drops of milk left in my trough.”
“No, the trough is dry, and I want you to go to sleep. No more talking! Close your eyes and go to sleep!”
Wilbur shut his eyes. Fern got up from her stool and started for home, 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!”