« AnteriorContinua »
and found wanting. How could I return to my home and the friends of my youth whose counsel I had contemned? My existence was now a reproach to myself, and to die would have been inexpressible gain. Would that she had killed me when she struck me in her irrepressible rage; then the pity of the living would have followed me to my virgin tomb.
I resolved to die. Gathering up the shreds of that fabric so hateful to me now, I twisted them into a strong and suitable rope, intending to make the means of triumph the instrument of my death. Yes, I could not help thinking that I was twining together the fond hopes of brighter days the transient realizations of triumph, and the burning thoughts of despair into a threefold cord not easily broken. The deed was soon accomplished. The limb of a blasted oak was a noble gallows-tree. Shrivelled by the withering stroke of the lightning's fork, it was a fit emblem of my blighted anticipations, and of my awakening from my dreams of fame and glory. The gnarled limb, the twisted rope, and the running noose soon ended the brief existence of Arachne.
What followed, when the spirit, houseless and homeless, fled from its earthly abode, must not be told; but Minerva, though unseen by me, witnessed all that happened, and by her immortal touch soon recalled the wandering spirit to its former habitation. O, cruel, cruel Minerva! Her compassion for me was the fulness of inhuman barbarity. Why did she not let me alone?
When I was once more conscious and able to recline on the ground, she bent over me, and hissed forth, in the fulness of her unrighteous triumph: "Cursed be thou, Arachne, for seeking to contend with me. Hearken to thy fate. Day and night this Day and night this shall be thy lot, for thou shalt spin thy life away!" She unravelled the rope, and spread it on the limb and trunk of the tree, when it changed into a spider's web. O! how sadly did I regret my rashness when it was for ever too late! I felt a mighty revolution in body, soul, and spirit. My form and beauty, my desires and affections, were all so changed that I could have put an end to my existence again, if it had been in my power. I looked up, and I thought I could see the once beclouded face of Minerva brighten with a look of demoniac triumph, when I lay before her a miserable,
loathsome insect-for Arachne is now only a spider.
Yet with the dawn of my new life came new desires and other enjoyments. As soon as Minerva had left me to myself I put forth the instincts of my new nature, in order to satisfy the cravings of a voracious appetite. The knowledge of the past was so confused, and the tenderness of my feelings so seared, that what I had considered to be cruel in the spider before, I now thought was both right and proper. I could tear the flies into pieces, or suck their lifeblood, with pleasure and satisfaction instead of wanton cruelty. My greatest trouble was to catch them. If I had been possessed of wings, or if the flies had had none; if I had had opportunities of seizing them at any other time but on the wing, I should have been a terrible scourge to them. As it was, and still is, I have often been without a meal, and know from hard-earned experience what it is to feel the pangs of a gnawing hunger. I soon found that it was safest to live in some dark corner, where the flies would not suspect my presence, and the broom of the thrifty housewife could not reach me. I soon learned also that I could spin beautiful thread, perfect in its fineness and finish, which was a marvel to myself. Minerva had triumphed; her words were true.
What was before a recreation, now became my daily avocation.
My spinning jenny is wonderful and simple—not at all like those intricate machines that I have seen in factories called by that name. I have lived in many of these busy homes, and must say I rather like them, for the din and dust are favourable to my daily work. And, as I have been sitting watching for a passing fly, I have wondered at the enormous size of the threads made, compared with the minuteness of mine. I have even spun my web beside their finest fabrics, so that they might make comparisons; yet no one ever said: "How far Arachne surpasses us all!" Neither did they see the skill of our Divine Creator in enabling me to weave a finer and more perfect texture than the most consummate ingenuity of man could devise. If I had all the cogs, belts, and pulleys within me that a spinning jenny must have, I should never have made a single gossamer snare to entrap the heedless fly. In place of all that dreadful machinery, I have six spinnerets at the lower extremity
of my abdomen, each shaped like a cylinder, and each enclosing about a thousand tubes. From each of these tubes issues a single strand, which, united with all the others, makes what is seen and known as the spider's thread. For the purpose of uniting them, there are little nipples at the end of my abdomen that yield me a substance like glue. With it I can cement the different strands together. It also enables me to fasten the thread to any substance against which the breeze may have blown it. As an instance of this, let me tell you one of the many adventures that I have had in trying to earn an honest and peaceful livelihood:*
Some time ago a naturalist caught me in his garden, where I had spun my web in the bright hope that some of the great fat and lazy flies sporting there might fall to my lot. He carried me, bruised and half dead from fright, into his curiosity-shop of a study, and set me down on a slip of paper. In a little while I mustered courage to look about me. I found to my great dismay that the piece of paper was in a basin of water, and escape seemed impossible. So the thoughtful face bending over me evidently believed, as with a curiosity deepening into interest it watched my every movement. I walked around my prison island, and stretched my arms out as far as I could on every side, but could touch nothing but the water. As the paper sailed about it came to the side of the vessel, and I tried to climb the slippery wall of my dungeon, but found my efforts of no avail. Then I tried another plan, which caused the face above me to pourtray the greatest surprise. I raised myself on my legs, and elevated my spinnerets as much as I could. Then I spun threads which, being quite free at the one end, waved about in the air until they fastened themselves by their stickiness to some books on a stand about twenty inches distant. Finding them all secure, I fastened the other ends to the paper, and embarking on my gossamer pontoon, soon made good my escape. Thus my all-wise Creator has given me a mucilage which has often been my preserver.
For the purpose of uniting the different strands, or of dividing them into two or more threads at pleasure, I use two claws
* Taken from the Family Treasury.
of either of my hinder feet, which are toothed like a comb for the purpose. The third claw on either foot is used whenever I want to wind up any superfluous thread that I do not need, so that none of it may be lost. In common with all others of spiderdom, I have sufficient material within to make at least six or seven good-sized webs, and to keep them in repair. After that is exhausted, I must either die of starvation or rob some of my younger neighbours of what they may have woven. So that with us wilful waste would certainly make woful want.
I often deplore my helplessness, although it is wrong for me to do so when I consider the other insects around me. The fly has its wings, and the beetle its covering and claws. The mosquito has its blood-sucking bill, and the bee its poisonous sting. here am I, wingless and stingless, with many enemies and but few protectors. My skin is so tender I can hardly bear to be pressed. My legs are seemingly so imperfectly attached, that the gentlest pull dismembers them, and the one-half of my body is only united to the other by what would appear to be a slender thread. My main defence is a liquid which I can eject from my mouth, and which has the power of paralyzing insects much stronger and far more formidable than myself:
It has gratified me to think that, even though I am so helpless, I have often been of use to man, the lord of creation.
One instance, I remember, took place years ago, when in my wanderings I happened to be in Scotland. I was living at the time in a little cabin, and had concluded to form my web amongst the rafters. Beneath the chosen spot was a bed, and one day I noticed a soldier reclining upon it. I let myself down a little from the roof by my thread, and then, wanting to reach a rafter some little distance off, began swinging myself backwards and forwards. seemed that as I began, the Scottish chieftain was watching me and counting my movements. I had a trying time of it, but every swing I made brought me nearer to
the beam, so that on the seventh occasion I caught it with a mighty effort, and quietly began my web. It so happened that this soldier had lost six battles in trying to restore Scotia's freedom, and felt like giving up in despair. However, my efforts gave him hope and courage. And as Bruce had never gained a victory before this, so ever afterwards he hardly lost a battle.
Man is said to be born to trouble, and certainly I have been doomed to the same. I have often had to run for my life, and see with sorrow my beautiful web torn from its fastenings by the broom of some meddlesome housewife. On one occasion I happened to stroll into a house where an overpetted monkey was a great source of danger. He was not content with driving us out of the stable where he was kept, but he would often pull out great stones from the wall to get at us. Seeing the vigilance of this horrid monster, the mistress of the house would let him run up the window curtains, and everywhere, so that we had to beat a retreat altogether, for between the maid's broom and the monkey's appetite we had neither peace nor quietness.
I have been driven about from post to pillar all my life, until I know not where a resting place can be found. Once I thought I had succeeded. It was in a fashionable church, and when I heard the artistic choir and a few others singing
"O land of rest, for thee I sigh;
When will the moment come That I shall lay my armour by, And dwell in peace at home?
'No tranquil joys on earth I know,
I thought I had found my rest, my sheltering place and home at last. My retreat, however, was noticed by a young lady* who had the kindness not to disturb me. I give the circumstance in her own words, cheerfully forgiving her for calling me a male, when I am still Arachne :
"Two spiders, so the story goes,
Entered the meeting-house one day,
* Alice Clark.
"Each chose his place and went to work;
"I'll try the pulpit next,' said he,
'There surely is a prize;
The desk appears so neat and clean,
The pastor brushing flies!'
"He tried the pulpit, but alas !
His hopes proved visionary; With dusting-brush the sexton came, And spoilt his geometric game, Nor gave him time or space to claim The right of sanctuary.
"At length, half-starved and weak and lean,
"How is it, friend,' he asked, 'that I Endured such thumps and knocks, While you have grown so very gross ?' 'Tis plain,' he answered; not a loss I've met since first I spun across The contribution box.""
However, I was soon forced to leave my peaceful abode, for the time came when the box was to be emptied of its consecrated
It would certainly, to my own mind, be an interesting study to retrace the steps that I have taken through life. On one occasion I had the pleasure of gazing at the Royal family from behind a gilded cornice in their home at Osborne. I also heard Her Majesty read from Scripture a passage during her devotions that struck me as being remarkable--"The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in king's palaces." In fulfilling Scripture, however, the time is not taken into account, and an officious maid, a few days afterwards, nearly put an end to me, as she was brushing the corners, instead of gathering the gossip at the stair-head. I have no patience with this class of humanity, and I can safely infer they have just as little with Arachne. Better, for me at least, if they would leave the nooks and crannies to their natural occupants, and learn how their neighbours are scandalizing them behind their backs.
But a feeling of aversion towards us is
not peculiar to housemaids alone. I hear remarks continually, about the cruelty and barbarity of the spider, which are certainly unmerited. We are as God made us, and we do what He has commanded us. Consequently, the doing of the righteous will of God cannot be acts of savage cruelty on our part. To man God has not given such a law of nature as wanton cruelty, even though all creation is subject to his control. When, therefore, he is guilty of inhuman. deeds, he breaks God's law; whereas we, in doing what appears the same, are guiltless, but are daily brought under the same condemnation. Not only so, but man represents the insect world as branding us as paragons of cruelty, if the following conversation be true, which is purported to have taken place in a garden not long ago." "How busy you are this morning," said the butterfly to the spider.
"I am spinning, merely spinning," said the spider demurely.
"How good the spider is. She is just like you, always at work. I found her at home just now, on the rose bush, hard at her spinning," cried the butterfly, to a sage old bee that was gathering honey with all his might.
"Like me!" exclaimed the bee. "No, friend, no, I am never idle: I love industry and practise it; so far you may compare me to the spider, but there we part. My labour is spent in preparing sweet food for others; hers is devoted to spinning snares wherewith she catches the unwary for her own devouring. Work and workers are to be judged, not by the skill and pains taken, but by the end proposed. My mission is one of love and life; hers is malignant, and has death for its object."
It may be so, for I do not understand the language of either the butterfly or the bee; but this I know, we are as the creative hand of God made us, and cannot be what we are not. Another instance which fell under my own notice I may give, to show how deep-rooted man's hatred is :+
One day a bee got caught in a remarkably strong web that I had woven in a gentleman's vineyard. I had not looked for such a prize, and felt greatly concerned about the results of my capture. At this juncture,
* Fable in Leisure Hour, 1875. + Krummacher.
just as I was ready to spring upon it, the gentleman's son freed the bee and spoiled my web. His father saw it and said :"How canst thou, my son, so lightly esteem the skill and the industry of the insect as to destroy its toilsome and ingenious work? Didst thou not see the regularity and beauty with which the delicate threads were arranged? How couldst thou, then, be at once so compassionate and so cruel ?"
The boy answered, "Is not the ingenuity of the spider mischievous, and employed for murder and destruction? But the bees gather honey and wax into their cells. For this cause I released the bee, and destroyed the web of the spider."
The father praised the judgment of unsophisticated simplicity, which condemned even the brilliant ingenuity that arises out of selfishness, and aims at mischief and destruction. [O, how unjust I felt these words to be, for why should I be judged so when my very life depended upon such a course of action? Let them who reason thus have a care lest they are found charging their Creator with the same condemnation.] "But," continued the father, "perhaps you have yet done the spider injustice. Observe that she guards our ripening clusters from the flies and the wasps, by the web that she spins about them."
"Does she do this," asked the boy, "for the purpose of guarding them, or is it rather to quench her own thirst for blood?”
"Why, really," answered the father, "she probably troubles herself very little about the grapes."
"Oh," said the boy, "then there is no worth in all the good she does without meaning to do it. The good-will is the whole virtue and beauty of goodness."
"Right," said the father, "the thanks for this are due to nature, who knows how to use even mischievous and malignant things for the preservation of the useful and the good." [If I had my maiden voice I should have asked the gentleman if my "quenching my thirst for blood" did not free him in a great measure from having a perpetual Egyptian plague. My so-called mischief and malignancy came from God. I have perverted no law to acquire them; hence this man's reasoning is vain.]
The boy then asked his father why the spider sits so solitary in its web, while the bees live together in sociable union, and
work in concert. The spiders might make an immense web by working together.
"Dear child," replied the father, "it is only for good ends that many can enter into friendly alliance. The league of selfishness and malice bears in itself the seeds of dissolution. Wise nature, therefore, will not essay that which men often find by experience to be impracticable and pernicious." As they returned to the house the boy said
"I have learned something to-day from that ugly animal."
"And why not?" replied the father. "Nature has placed the malignant side by side with the amiable, the evil with the good, that thus the good may appear the more distinct and beautiful. And thus may men learn something even from the wicked."
What more was said I could not hear, but I felt that I had heard too much. I could not stay in a place where I had been so unjustly reviled. Consequently, after casting a sorrowful look at my shattered web, I left the garden for ever. After a while I became calmer, and reasoned with myself about the man's seeming injustice, and came to the conclusion that he only used the bee and the spider as figures by which to portray the good and the bad amongst men. Nevertheless, I am grieved to know that I and my race are looked upon as terrible monsters of cruelty in the insect world. It was this continual persecution-for it was nothing else --that first induced me to visit other climes. I thought that surely other nations were not our sworn enemies like the whites; but in this I was sometimes mistaken, for, in fact, I was seldom out of hearing of the English language. Like the spider race, you find the speakers of it everywhere.
Shortly after leaving the vineyard I found myself in a low marsh, through which a sluggish stream was slowly forcing its way. The surface of the water was almost covered with a plant called duckmeat, and down in the depths I could see the stargrass growing with rank luxuriance. As I was passing along, discontented with myself and at variance with all mankind, I saw a pale, reddish spider, about my own size, wearing a close nap of hair along his throat and abdomen, in the very act of plunging headlong into the water. My startled cry arrested his attention, and, as I thought, prevented an act of premeditated suicide. I hailed him, and
would have given him some friendly admonitions, but in a free and easy manner he informed me that he was a diver by profession, and could not neglect his trade.
In the course of our conversation, he told me that he lived on boat-flies, water-mites, and the larvæ of gnats, caddice-flies, and dragon-flies, of which there were the greatest abundance. He pressed me to visit his home, which, to my surprise, I found to be amongst the stargrass at the bottom of the stream; so I had to decline. However, on parting, I promised to return and renew our acquaintance, so pleasantly formed, but in the meantime I could only take up my position on a leaf of the duckmeat and watch his aquatic movements. Almost before my sentence was finished he was off, and all at once, plunging headlong into the water, made little ripples which agitated the leaflets around so that the accuracy of my observations was considerably marred. Nevertheless, I soon caught sight of him bearing a bubble of air at the apex of his abdomen, which he had taken with him as he started, and which looked like silver in the water. I saw him select a suitable place to locate it, and watched him fasten it to a branch of stargrass some two or three feet from the surface. When he came up again for another bubble, I asked him what he was intending to do, but all the reply he gave me as he dived down again was, "Fools and bairns shouldna see half dune wark." Determined to see the half-finished work completed, I continued at my post of observation, and was perfectly astonished to see the rapidity with which his visits to the surface for bubbles of air were accomplished. As the air balloon became enlarged he had to tie it by threads which he spun, so that it might not break away from its moorings and rise to the surface. After he had ascended and descended about a dozen times, the air-bell was sufficiently large for his accommodation, and I now saw that all the while he was constructing a home for himself. He wove a covering over the top of it, so as to darken it somewhat, and entering from below turned himself about so that he might be hidden whilst he kept a sharp look-out for game. By-and-by the oxygen in the diving-bell was exhausted by his breathing, and he came up for a fresh supply. I took the opportunity of informing him that I was neither a fool nor a child, for