The next day was Saturday. Fern stood at the kitchen sink drying the breakfast dishes as her mother washed them. Mrs. Arable worked silently. She hoped Fern would go out and play with other children, instead of heading for the Zuckermans' barn to sit and watch animals.
"Charlotte is the best storyteller I ever heard," said Fern, poking her dish towel into a cereal bowl.
"Fern," said her mother sternly, "you must not invent things. You know spiders don't tell stories. Spiders can't talk.""Charlotte can," replied Fern. "She doesn't talk very loud, but she talks.""What kind of story did she tell?" asked Mrs. Arable.
"Well," began Fern, "she told us about a cousin of hers who caught a fish in her web. Don't you think that's fascinating?""Fern, dear, how would a fish get in a spider's web?" said Mrs. Arable. "You know it couldn't happen. You're making this up.""Oh, it happened all right," replied Fern. "Charlotte never fibs. This cousin of hers built a web across a stream. One day she was hanging around on the web and a tiny fish leaped into the air and got tangled in the web. The fish was caught by one fin, Mother; its tail was wildly thrashing and shining in the sun. Can't you just see the web, sagging dangerously under the weight of the fish? Charlotte's cousin kept slipping in, dodging out, and she was beaten mercilessly over the head by the wildly thrashing fish, dancing in, dancing out, throwing...""Fern!" snapped her mother. "Stop it! Stop inventing these wild tales!""I'm not inventing," said Fern. "I'm just telling you the facts.""What finally happened?" asked her mother, whose curiosity began to get the better of her.
"Charlotte's cousin won. She wrapped the fish up, then she ate him when she got good and ready. Spiders have to eat, the same as the rest of us.""Yes, I suppose they do," said Mrs. Arable, vaguely.
"Charlotte has another cousin who is a balloonist. She stands on her head, lets out a lot of line, and is carried aloft on the wind. Mother, wouldn't you simply love to do that?""Yes, I would, come to think of it," replied Mrs. Arable. "But Fern, darling, I wish you would play outdoors today instead of going to Uncle Homer's barn. Find some of your playmates and do something nice outdoors. You're spending too much time in that barn--it isn't good for you to be alone so much.""Alone?" said Fern. "Alone? My best friends are in the barn cellar. It is a very sociable place. Not at all lonely."Fern disappeared after a while, walking down the road toward Zuckermans'. Her mother dusted the sitting room. as she worked she kept thinking about Fern. It didn't seem natural for a little girl to be so interested in animals. Finally Mrs. Arable made up her mind she would pay a call on old Doctor Dorian and ask his advice. She got in the car and drove to his office in the village.
Dr. Dorian had a thick beard. He was glad to see Mrs. Arable and gave her a comfortable chair.
"It's about Fern," she explained. "Fern spends entirely too much time in the Zuckermans' barn. It doesn't seem normal. She sits on a milk stool in a corner of the barn cellar, near the pigpen, and watches animals, hour after hour. She just sits and listens."Dr. Dorian leaned back and closed his eyes.
"How enchanting!" he said. "It must be real nice and quiet down there. Homer has some sheep, hasn't he?""Yes," said Mrs. Arable. "but it all started with that pig we let Fern raise on a bottle. She calls him Wilbur. Homer bought the pig, and ever since it left our place Fern has been going to her uncle's to be near it.""I've been hearing things about that pig," said Dr. Dorian, opening his eyes. "The say he's quite a pig.""Have you heard about the words that appeared in the spider's web?" asked Mrs. Arable nervously.
"Yes," replied the doctor.
"Well, do you understand it?" asked Mrs. Arable.
"Understand what?""do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?""Oh, no," said Dr. Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.""What's miraculous about a spider's web?" said Mrs. Arable. "I don't see why you say a web is a miracle--it's just a web.""Ever try to spin one?" asked Dr. Dorian.
Mrs. Arable shifted uneasily in her chair. "No," she replied. "But I can crochet a doily and I can knit a sock.""Sure," said the doctor. "But somebody taught you, didn't they?""My mother taught me.""Well, who taught a spider? A young spider knows how to spin a web without any instructions from anybody. Don't you regard that as a miracle?""I suppose so," said Mrs. Arable. "I never looked at it that way before. Still, I don't understand it, and I don't like what I can't understand.""None of us do," said Dr. Dorian, sighing. "I'm a doctor. Doctors are supposed to understand everything. But I don't understand everything, and I don't intend to let it worry me."Mrs. Arable fidgeted. "Fern says the animals talk to each other. Dr. Dorian, do you believe animals talk?""I never heard one say anything," he replied. "But that proves nothing. It is quite possible that an animal has spoken civilly to me and that I didn't catch the remark because I wasn't paying attention. Children pay better attention than grownups. If Fern says that the animals in Zuckerman's barn talk, I'm quite ready to believe her. Perhaps if people talked less, animals would talk more. People are incessant talkers--I can give you my word on that.""Well, I feel better about Fern," said Mrs. Arable. "You don't think I need worry about her?""Does she look well?" asked the doctor.
"Oh, yes.""Appetite good?""Oh, yes, she's always hungry.""Sleep well at night?""Oh, yes.""Then don't worry," said the doctor.
"Do you think she'll ever start thinking about something besides pigs and sheep and geese and spiders?
"How old is Fern?
"She's eight.""Well," said Cr. Dorian, "I think she will always love animals. But I doubt that she spends her entire life in Homer Zuckerman's barn cellar. How about boys--does she know any boys?""She knows Henry Fussy," said Mrs. Arable brightly.
Dr. Dorian closed his eyes again and went into deep thought. "Henry Fussy," he mumbled. "Hmm. Remarkable. Well, I don't think you have anything to worry about. Let Fern associate with her friends in the barn if she wants to. I would say, offhand, that spiders and pigs ,were fully as interesting as Henry Fussy. Yet I predict that the day will come when even Henry will drop some chance remark that catches Fern's attention. It's amazing how children change from year to year. How's Avery?" he asked, opening his eyes wide.
"Oh, Avery," chuckled Mrs. Arable. "Avery is always fine. Of course, he gets into poison ivy and gets stung by wasps and bees and brings frogs and snakes home and breaks everything he lays his hands on. He's fine.""Good!" said the doctor.
Mrs. Arable said goodbye and thanked Dr. Dorian very much for his advice. She felt greatly relieved.