And fine fat blackbirds he made of those youngsters, too, in the end, I want to tell you, for he stuck to ’em like a brick.
UNDER THE YELLOW FLAG
A little past noon each day the sun covered a crack between two boards on the summer-house floor, and up through that aperture, for three days, had come a leggy, racy-looking, wolfish black spider. Each day, as it grew hotter, she extended her sphere of jerky investigation, vanishing down the crack again when the sun passed from it.
To-day she prolonged her roamings right up the wall of the summer-house and along a joist bare of all save dust, and—well, the spider walked straight on, moving with little jerks as if by intermittent clockwork, and she seemed to stroll right on top of the wasp lying curled up on her side. Only when one of the latter’s delicate feelers shifted round towards her, as though in some uncanny way conscious of her approach, did she leap back as if she had touched an electric wire. Then she froze—flat. The wasp was lying curled up, as we have said, upon her side, her head tucked in, her wings drawn down, her jaws tight shut upon a splinter of wood. She had been there half-a-year, asleep, hibernating, and in that state, without any other protection than the summer-house roof and walls, had survived the frosts of winter.
The wasp did not move further.
The spider appeared to be taking things in, measuring her chances, weighing the risk against her famished hunger—possibly her late husband had been her last meal, months ago—marking the vital spot upon her prey, aiming for the shot, which must be true, for one does not miss in attacking a wasp—and live. Only, she would not have risked it at all, perhaps, if the wasp had seemed alive, or more alive, at any rate.
Then came the shot—one cannot in justice call it a spring; it was too instant to be termed that. The spider simply was upon the wasp without seeming to go there; but the wasp was not there, or, rather, her vital spot wasn’t. She had kicked herself round on her side, like a cart-wheel, lying flat, with her feet, and the spider’s jaws struck only hard cuirass. Before the spider, leaping back, wolf-like, could lunge in her lightning second stroke, the wasp was on her feet, a live thing, after all.
The warmth had been already soaking the message of spring into her cold-drugged brain, and now this sudden attack had finished what the warmth had begun. She was awake, on her feet, a live and dangerous proposition; groggy, it is true; dazed, half-working, so to speak; but a force to be reckoned with—after half-a-year. And one saw, too, at a glance that she was different from ordinary wasps—would make two, in fact, of any ordinary wasp; and her great jaws looked as if they could eat one and comfortably deal with more; whilst her dagger-sting, now unsheathed and ready—probably for the first time—could deliver a wound twice as deep and deadly as the ordinary wasp. She was, in short, a queen-wasp; a queen of the future, if Fate willed; a queen as yet without a kingdom, a sovereign uncrowned, but of regal proportions and queenly aspect, for all that; for in the insect world royalties are fashioned upon a super-standard that marks them off from the common herd.