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The Life of the Spider

The Garden Spiders: My Neighbour
Age does not modify the Epeira’s talent in any essential feature. As the young worked,
so do the old, the richer by a year’s experience. There are no masters nor apprentices in
their guild; all know their craft from the moment that the first thread is laid. We have
learnt something from the novices: let us now look into the matter of their elders and see
what additional task the needs of age impose upon them.
July comes and gives me exactly what I wish for. While the new inhabitants are twisting
their ropes on the rosemaries in the enclosure, one evening, by the last gleams of twilight,
I discover a splendid Spider, with a mighty belly, just outside my door. This one is a
matron; she dates back to last year; her majestic corpulence, so exceptional at this season,
proclaims the fact. I know her for the Angular Epeira (Epeira angulata, WALCK.), clad
in grey and girdled with two dark stripes that meet in a point at the back. The base of her
abdomen swells into a short nipple on either side.
This neighbour will certainly serve my turn, provided that she do not work too late at
night. Things bode well: I catch the buxom one in the act of laying her first threads. At
this rate my success need not be won at the expense of sleep. And, in fact, I am able,
throughout the month of July and the greater part of August, from eight to ten o’clock in
the evening, to watch the construction of the web, which is more or less ruined nightly by
the incidents of the chase and built up again, next day, when too seriously dilapidated.
During the two stifling months, when the light fails and a spell of coolness follows upon
the furnace-heat of the day, it is easy for me, lantern in hand, to watch my neighbour’s
various operations. She has taken up her abode, at a convenient height for observation,
between a row of cypress-trees and a clump of laurels, near the entrance to an alley
haunted by Moths. The spot appears well-chosen, for the Epeira does not change it
throughout the season, though she renews her net almost every night.
Punctually as darkness falls, our whole family goes and calls upon her. Big and little, we
stand amazed at her wealth of belly and her exuberant somersaults in the maze of
quivering ropes; we admire the faultless geometry of the net as it gradually takes shape.
All agleam in the lantern-light, the work becomes a fairy orb, which seems woven of
moonbeams.
Should I linger, in my anxiety to clear up certain details, the household, which by this
time is in bed, waits for my return before going to sleep:
‘What has she been doing this evening?’ I am asked. ‘Has she finished her web? Has
she caught a Moth?’
I describe what has happened. To-morrow, they will be in a less hurry to go to bed: they
will want to see everything, to the very end. What delightful, simple evenings we have
spent looking into the Spider’s workshop!
 
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