It was a beautiful day in the late summer. Tommy Grasshopper, Johnny Cricket and Willy Ladybug were playing on a high bank of the river, and watching the little fish jumping after tiny flies and bugs that fell upon the surface of the stream.
“Let’s go up higher so that we can see them (1) better,” Willy Ladybug said.
“Yes, let’s climb up on the tall reeds so that we (2) can look right down in the water,” Johnny Cricket said. “But we must be very careful and not fall, for the fish would soon swallow us (3), and that would not be very much fun!” he laughed.
So Tommy Grasshopper and Johnny Cricket caught hold of Willy Ladybug’s four little hands and helped him to climb up the tall reeds, for Willy was not as old as the other Bug Boys, and might fall in the water if they (4) did not help him.
From the tall reeds the three Bug Boys could look down in the water and see the pretty little sun fish and the long slim pickerel darting around and turning their shiny sides so that the sun would reflect its rays on them, just as if they were looking glasses.
The Bug Boys watched the fish until they grew tired, and they were just starting down the tall reed when a great big dragon fly flew upon the top of the reed and called to them.
Of course all the Bug Boys knew old Gran’pa Skeeterhawk–for it (5) was he (6) –so the three returned to the reed and sat down again to pass the time of day with Gran’pa.
Presently Willy Ladybug saw a strange fish in the water.
“What kind of a fish is that, Gran’pa Skeeterhawk?” he asked.
“That’s a catfish!” Gran’pa replied. “Queer looking fish, the catfish are; they do most of their feeding at night since Omasko, the elk, flattened their heads.”
“Dear me! Are their heads flat?” Johnny Cricket asked.
“Flat as a pancake!” Gran’pa Skeeterhawk replied, and then told them (7) this story:
“I’ve heard my Gran’pa tell that once the catfish had heads that were shaped like sunfish,” Gran’pa Skeeterhawk said, “and they thought that they were not only the most beautiful fish but the fiercest fighters in the world, although they would always swim away as fast as they could whenever anything came near them. You (8) see, they really were not even a teeney, weeney bit brave.
“But when the catfish got by themselves (9) and they thought there was no one else to overhear them, they would make up fairy tales of wonderful adventures they had gone through, and fierce monsters they had destroyed. One would say ‘I wish I (10) were large enough to drag home the enormous giant eel I killed today. He was sixteen feet long, and weighed five hundred pounds.’ Another would say, ‘Pooh, that is nothing! Why, you ought to see an Indian who (11) tried to catch me (12) in a net! Why, I not only pulled him in the water and dragged him all over the bottom, but I made him (13) promise he would never disturb any of the catfish tribe after this!’
“Just then a little bird flew over the water and his shadow so startled the boastful catfish, they buried themselves in the mud at the bottom of the stream.
“After a while,” Grand’pa Skeeterhawk continued, “They got up courage to peek out of the mud, and as they saw nothing to frighten them, they (14) formed in a circle and told more tales of their fighting qualities.
“One old catfish who had been the leader because he could tell the biggest tales and hide under the mud quicker than any of the others finally said: ‘We are the best fish in the water, as you (15) all know, so I think it will be a good plan to fight everything that comes near the water from the land!’
“’Shall we fight the big hawk who wades in the water and catches some of us (16)?’ asked a little kitten fish.
“’Kitten fish should be seen and not heard!’ the old chief catfish answered quickly. I do not believe we should harm the hawk. He is not large enough. I was thinking of the large beast who comes wading along the shores and eats the grasses that grow beneath the surface. You know he has to raise his head every once-in-a-while in order to breathe, so if we (17) should all hang on to him we could pull him under the water.’
“So the catfish, although they were so frightened that their fins grew stiff, decided that they (18) would follow their chief, for they expected he would be the first to hide under the mud when the big beast came.
“Finally old Omasko, the elk, came down to the river to feed, and the old chief catfish swam out and pulled on Omasko’s whiskers, and all the other catfish cried: ‘See how brave and fearless the mighty catfish are!’ and they all swam out and pulled Omasko’s whiskers, too. This made Omasko very angry, for he never harmed any fish in his life.
“He began jumping and pawing with his heavy hoofs, and smashed all the catfish down in the mud and when they finally came out again, which was not until two or three days later, their heads were as flat as they are now!
“That is why all catfish have flat heads,” Grandfather Skeeterhawk finished.
“It served them (19) right for being so boastful!” Johnny Cricket said.
“It served them right for trying to harm someone who (20) never harmed them!” Gran’pa Skeeterhawk replied, as he darted up in the air and flew over the tall cat-tails.