...Charlotte's Web, Continued

“Listen to me!” cried Wilbur. “Charlotte is very ill. She only has 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 reach it, and I can’t climb. You are the only one that can get it. There is not a second to be lost. The people are coming—they’ll be here in no time. Please, please, please, Templeton, climb up and get the egg sac.”

The rat yawned. He straightened his whiskers. Then he looked up at the egg sac.

“So!” he said, in disgust. “So, it’s old Templeton to the rescue again, is it? Templeton do that, Templeton please run down to the dump and get me a magazine clipping, Templeton please lend me a piece of string so I can spin a web.”

“Oh, hurry!” said Wilbur. “Hurry up, Templeton!”

But the rat was in no hurry. He began imitating Wilbur’s voice.

“So, it’s ‘Hurry up, Templeton,’ is it?” he said. “Ho, ho. And what thanks do I ever get for these services, I would like to know? Never a kind word for old Templeton, only abuse and wisecracks and snide remarks. Never a kind word for a rat.”

“Templeton,” said Wilbur in desperation, “if you don’t stop talking and get busy, all will be lost, and I will die of a broken heart. Please climb up!” Templeton lay back in the straw. Lazily he placed his forepaws behind his head and crossed his knees, in an attitude of complete relaxation.

“Die of a broken heart,” he mimicked. “How touching! My, my! I notice that it’s always me you come to when in trouble. But I’ve never heard of anyone’s heart breaking on my account. Oh, no. Who cares anything about old Templeton?”

“Get up!” screamed Wilbur. “Stop acting like a spoiled child!”

Templeton grinned and lay still. “Who made trip after trip to the dump?” he asked. “Why, it was old Templeton! Who saved Charlotte’s life by scaring that Arable boy away with a rotten goose egg? Bless my soul, I believe it was old Templeton. Who bit your tail and got you back on your feet this morning after you had fainted in front of the crowd? Old Templeton. Has it occured to you that I’m sick of running errands and doing favors? What do you think I am, anyway, a rat-of-all-work?

Wilbur was desperate. The people were coming. And the rat was failing him. Suddenly he remembered Templeton’s fondness for food.

“Templeton,” he said. “I will make you a solemn promise. Get Charlotte’s egg sac for me, and from now on I will let you eat first, when Lurvy slops me. I will let you have your choice of everything in the trough and I won’t touch a thing until you’re through.”

The rat sat up. “You mean that?” he said.

“I promise. I cross my heart.”

“All right, it’s a deal,” said the rat. He walked to the wall and started to climb. His stomach was still swollen from last night’s gorge. Groaning and complaining, he pulled himself slowly to the ceiling. He crept along till he reached the egg sac. Charlotte moved aside for him. She was dying, but she still had strength enough to move a little. Then Templeton bared his long ugly teeth and began snipping the treads that fastened the sac to the ceiling. Wilbur watched from below.

“Use extreme care!” he said. “I don’t want a single one of those eggs harmed.”

“Thith thtuff thicks in my mouth,” complained the rat. “It’th worth than caramel candy.”

But Templeton worked away at the job, and managed to cut the sac adrift and carry it to the ground, where he dropped it in front of Wilbur. Wilbur heaved a great sigh of releif.

“Thank you, Templeton,” he said. “I will never forget this as long as I live.”

“Neither will I,” said the rat, picking his teeth. “I feel as though I’d eaten a spool of thread. Will, home we go!”

Templeton crept into the crate and buried himself in the straw. He got out of sight just in time. Lurvy and John Arable and Mr. Zuckerman came along at that moment, followed by Mrs. Arable and Mrs. Zuckerman and Avery and Fern. Wilbur had already decided how he would carry the egg sac—there was only one way possible. He carefully took the little bundle in his mouth and held it there on top of his tongue. He remembered what Charlotte had told him—that the sac was waterproof and strong. It felt funny on his tongue and made him drool a bit. And of course he couldn’t say anything. But as he was being shoved into the crate, he looked up at Charlotte and gave her a wink. She knew he was saying good-bye in the only way he could. And she knew her children were safe.

“Good-bye!” she whispered. Then she summoned all her strength and waved one of her front legs at him.

She never moved again. Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died. The Fair Grounds were soon forlorn. The infield was littered with bottles and trash. Nobody, of the hundreds of people what had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died.

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© Copyright E.B. White, 1980. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system now or hereafter invented, without permission in writing from the Publisher.