“I have caught them,” said Mr. James, “but it was many years ago, and perhaps they have grown wiser; but we can try if you like. Only remember, no killing; we sailors think it very unlucky!”
“It would be very cruel, because very useless,” said Mrs. Lee; “but are they not also called Stormy Petrels?”
“Yes, ma’am, in books, I believe; but come, Tom, fetch some good strong cotton, such as your mother sews with, and I will show you how to catch some of Old Mother Carey’s brood.”
Off ran Tom, and soon returned with a reel from Annie’s work-box; Mr. James fastened together at one end a number of very long needlefulls, which he tied to the stern of the vessel, where they were blown about by the wind in all directions. Tom and Annie were very curious to know how these flying strands could possibly catch birds, but their father and mother could not explain, and Mr. James seemed determined to keep the secret. So they had no alternative but to await the event. As they leaned over the stern to fasten their threads, they were surprised to see the frothy waves which the vessel left behind shine with a bright clear light, and yet the moon cast the great black shadow of the ship over that part of the sea. Their astonishment was increased, when their father told them that this luminous appearance was produced by a countless number of insects, whose bodies gave forth the same kind of lustre as that of the glow-worm, and Mr. James assured them that he had seen the whole surface of the ocean, as far as the eye could reach, glittering with this beautiful light.
“And now, children,” said Mrs. Lee, “I think it is bed-time—say good night to Mr. James.”
“And kiss father!” cried Annie, as she jumped at his neck, and was caught in his ever-ready arms.
The children were beginning to doubt Mr. James’s power of catching Stormy Petrels, when early one morning, as they were dressing, they heard the three knocks he always gave on the deck when he wanted to show them something. They hurried up, and to their delight found him-untwisting the cotton strands from the wings of a brownish-black bird, which had entangled itself in them during the night.
“Oh! what a funny little thing!” cried Annie; “what black eyes! and what black legs it has!”
“Is that one of Mother Carey’s chickens?” asked Tom; “I thought they were much larger.”
“Yes,” replied Mr. James, “this is one of the old lady’s fowls, and a fine one, too; her’s are the smallest web-footed birds known. Just feel how plump it is—almost fat enough for a lamp.”
“For a lamp!” cried Tom. “What do you mean, Mr. James?”
“Just what I say. Master Tom. I once touched at the Faroe Islands, and saw Petrels often used as lamps there. The people draw a wick through their bodies, which is lighted at the mouth; they are then fixed upright, and burn beautifully.”
“How curious they must look!” said Annie.