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Chapter 21 Last Day

Charlotte and Wilbur were alone. The families had gone to look for Fern. Templeton was asleep. Wilbur lay resting after the excitement and strain of the ceremony. His medal still hung from his neck; by looking out of the corner of his eye he could see it.

  "Charlotte," said Wilbur after a while, "why are you so quiet?""I like to sit still," she said. "I've always been rather quiet.""Yes, but you seem specially so today. Do you feel all right?""A little tired, perhaps. But I feel peaceful. Your success in the ring this morning was, to a small degree, my success. Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Nothing can harm you now. These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, then the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. Then song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur--this lovely world, these precious days..."Charlotte stopped. a moment later a tear came to Wilbur's eye. "Oh, Charlotte," he said. "To think that when I first met you I thought you were cruel and bloodthirsty!"When he recovered from his emotion, he spoke again.

  "Why did you do all this for me?" he asked. "I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.""You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.""Well," said Wilbur. "I'm no good at making speeches. I haven't got your gift for words. But you have saved me, Charlotte, and I would gladly give my life for you--I really would.""I'm sure you would. And I thank you for your generous sentiments.""Charlotte," said Wilbur. "We're all going home today. The Fair is almost over. Won't it be wonderful to be back home in the barn cellar again with the sheep and the geese? Aren't you anxious to get home?"For a moment Charlotte said nothing. Then she spoke in a voice so low Wilbur could hardly hear the words.

  "I will not be going back to the barn," she said.

  Wilbur leapt to his feet. "Not going back?" he cried. "Charlotte, what are you talking about?

  "I'm done for," she replied. "In a day or two I'll be dead. I haven't even strength enough to climb down into the crate. I doubt if I have enough silk in my spinnerets to lower me to the ground."Hearing this, Wilbur threw himself down in an agony of pain and sorrow. Great sobs racked his body. He heaved and grunted with desolation. "Charlotte," he moaned. "Charlotte! My true friends!""Come now, let's not make a scene," said the spider. "Be quiet, Wilbur. Stop thrashing about!""But I can't stand it," shouted Wilbur. "I won't leave you here alone to die. If you're going to stay here I shall stay, too.""Don't be ridiculous," said Charlotte. "You can't stay here. Zuckerman and Lurvy and John Arable and the others will be back any minute now, and they'll shove you into that crate and away you'll go. Besides, it wouldn't make any sense for you to stay. There would be no one to feed you. The fair Grounds will soon be empty and deserted."Wilbur was in a panic. he raced round and round the pen. Suddenly he had an idea--he thought of the egg sac and the five hundred and fourteen little spiders that would hatch in the spring. If Charlotte herself was unable to go home to the barn, at least he must take her children along.

  Wilbur rushed to the front of his pen. He put his front feet up on the top board and gazed around. In the distance he saw the Arables and the Zuckermans approaching. He knew he would have to act quickly.

  "Where's Templeton?" he demanded.

  "He's in that corner, under the straw, asleep," said Charlotte.

  Wilbur rushed over, pushed his strong snout under the rat, and tossed him into the air.

  "Templeton!" screamed Wilbur. "Pay attention!"The rat, surprised out of a sound sleep, looked first dazed then disgusted.

  "What kind of monkeyshine is this?" he growled. "Can't a rat catch a wink of sleep without being rudely popped into the air?""Listen to me!" cried Wilbur. "Charlotte is very ill. She has only a short time to live. She cannot accompany us home, because of her condition. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that I take her egg sac with me. I can't re............

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