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The Rotifers   By: (1924-1990)

The Rotifers by Robert Abernathy

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BY Robert Abernathy

Beneath the stagnant water shadowed by water lilies Harry found the fascinating world of the rotifers but it was their world, and they resented intrusion.

Illustrated by Virgil Finlay

Henry Chatham knelt by the brink of his garden pond, a glass fish bowl cupped in his thin, nervous hands. Carefully he dipped the bowl into the green scummed water and, moving it gently, let trailing streamers of submerged water weeds drift into it. Then he picked up the old scissors he had laid on the bank, and clipped the stems of the floating plants, getting as much of them as he could in the container.

When he righted the bowl and got stiffly to his feet, it contained, he thought hopefully, a fair cross section of fresh water plankton. He was pleased with himself for remembering that term from the book he had studied assiduously for the last few nights in order to be able to cope with Harry's inevitable questions.

There was even a shiny black water beetle doing insane circles on the surface of the water in the fish bowl. At sight of the insect, the eyes of the twelve year old boy, who had been standing by in silent expectation, widened with interest.

"What's that thing, Dad?" he asked excitedly. "What's that crazy bug?"

"I don't know its scientific name, I'm afraid," said Henry Chatham. "But when I was a boy we used to call them whirligig beetles."

"He doesn't seem to think he has enough room in the bowl," said Harry thoughtfully. "Maybe we better put him back in the pond, Dad."

"I thought you might want to look at him through the microscope," the father said in some surprise.

"I think we ought to put him back," insisted Harry. Mr. Chatham held the dripping bowl obligingly. Harry's hand, a thin boy's hand with narrow sensitive fingers, hovered over the water, and when the beetle paused for a moment in its gyrations, made a dive for it.

But the whirligig beetle saw the hand coming, and, quicker than a wink, plunged under the water and scooted rapidly to the very bottom of the bowl.

Harry's young face was rueful; he wiped his wet hand on his trousers. "I guess he wants to stay," he supposed.

The two went up the garden path together and into the house, Mr. Chatham bearing the fish bowl before him like a votive offering. Harry's mother met them at the door, brandishing an old towel.

"Here," she said firmly, "you wipe that thing off before you bring it in the house. And don't drip any of that dirty pond water on my good carpet."

"It's not dirty," said Henry Chatham. "It's just full of life, plants and animals too small for the eye to see. But Harry's going to see them with his microscope." He accepted the towel and wiped the water and slime from the outside of the bowl; then, in the living room, he set it beside an open window, where the life giving summer sun slanted in and fell on the green plants.

The brand new microscope stood nearby, in a good light. It was an expensive microscope, no toy for a child, and it magnified four hundred diameters. Henry Chatham had bought it because he believed that his only son showed a desire to peer into the mysteries of smallness, and so far Harry had not disappointed him; he had been ecstatic over the instrument. Together they had compared hairs from their two heads, had seen the point of a fine sewing needle made to look like the tip of a crowbar by the lowest power of the microscope, had made grains of salt look like discarded chunks of glass brick, had captured a house fly and marvelled at its clawed hairy feet, its great red faceted eyes, and the delicate veining and fringing of its wings.

Harry was staring at the bowl of pond water in a sort of fascination. "Are there germs in the water, Dad? Mother says pond water is full of germs."

"I suppose so," answered Mr. Chatham, somewhat embarrassed. The book on microscopic fresh water fauna had been explicit about Paramecium and Euglena , diatomes and rhizopods, but it had failed to mention anything so vulgar as germs... Continue reading book >>

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