Beneath some young weeping willows at the
edge of the melon field there was a makeshift shelter. Sheaves of dried
reeds tied to four poles served as walls on two sides, and the roof was
simply a mat anchored down against the wind with rocks.
"Well, here we are!" Rakhim-aga announced, settling down in the shade beneath the shelter on an old felt carpet. "I'm thirsty. Bring me a melon, lad."
Bubenchik rose up from his resting place beneath the willows ready to follow after his master, but Arslan motioned to him with a wave of his hand:
"Stay there! I'm not going far."
The kid obeyed, but lay back down only when it saw Arslan was on his way back.
"Look at this giant, Grandfather! I can barely carry it!"
Arslan dropped the watermelon onto the ground and rolled it beneath the shelter.
"Look, Grandpa!" Arslan said, pointing to a dried-up stalk. "It was probably cut by a mole cricket."
"There are a lot of crickets around here," Grandfather said in agreement. "But there are two sides to the problem. They do a lot of damage by boring through stalks and roots, but they do good as well."
"What good could they possibly do?" Arslan asked in surprise.
Rakhim-aga pulled out a knife and looked at his grandson with a sly squint in his eyes.
"Let's see if you can guess the answer to this riddle: 'Green on the outside, but red on the inside'."
"A watermelon!" Arslan blurted out. Then his eyes widened in fear: "But what if it's white?"
"Impossible!" Rakhim-aga pronounced, slicing the melon in half.
"Look, it's red as a flame. Only it's not hot, but sweet. You can have the first bite - try it!"
Arslan took a bite out of the crimson half-crescent and squeezed his eyes shut in delight..
"Sweeter than honey!" Then, remembering suddenly about his pet, he said: "Grandfather, we have to give some to Bubenchik too. He's probably thirsty."
The kid received its portion of the sweet melon. Its bell jingled in approval.
"Grandfather, you still haven't told me what good comes from the mole crickets," Arslan said.
"Just this: sometimes you'll look and the sprouts all seem to be growing fine, and then all of a sudden you'll notice that some of them have begun to wither and others look as if someone had taken a pair of scissors and cut them off. It the salt - the scourge of our soil. The subsoil water brings salt up from deep in the ground and the plants begin to die off. The other scourge is the sun. And this is where the mole crickets help out. They hollow out tunnels
beneath the ground so that air filters into the soil and enriches it. It's easier for plants to breathe in such soil. The crickets are real engineers when it comes to building tunnels. They dig them in a straight path, and if a root happens to fall in their path, they'll sever it off, or if it's a tree - they'll bore right through it. If the crickets grow especially abundant the cuckoo bird comes to the farmer's aid. For the cuckoo, the mole cricket is a tasty morsel. The other birds have a hard time catching the cricket, but the cuckoo can spot them out as if it could see right through the ground.
It makes two or three holes to reach the tunnel with its beak and catches its prey every time."
Arslan finished eating his melon and ran off to gather twigs for a fire. Grandfather took out a narrow-necked jug and went off after water.