To continue: I needed a diurnal moth or butterfly: not the Lesser Peacock, which came too late, when I had nothing to ask of it, but another, no matter what, provided it was a prompt guest at the wedding feast. Was I to find such an insect?
THE OAK EGGAR, OR BANDED MONK
Yes: I was to find it. I even had it already in my possession. An urchin of seven years, with an alert countenance, not washed every day, bare feet, and dilapidated breeches supported by a piece of string, who frequented the house as a dealer in turnips and tomatoes, arrived one day with his basket of vegetables. Having received the few halfpence expected by his mother as the price of the garden-stuff, and having counted them one by one into the hollow of his hand, he took from his pocket an object which he had discovered the day before beneath a hedge when gathering greenstuff for his rabbits.
“And this—will you have this?” he said, handing me the object. “Why, certainly I will have it. Try to find me more, as many as you can, and on Sunday you shall have lots of rides on the wooden horses. In the meantime here is a penny for you. Don’t forget it when you make up your accounts; don’t mix it with your turnip-money; put it by itself.” Beaming with satisfaction at such wealth, little touzle-head promised to search industriously, already foreseeing a fortune.
When he had gone I examined the thing. It was worth examination. It was a fine cocoon, thick and with blunt ends, very like a silkworm’s cocoon, firm to the touch and of a tawny colour. A brief reference to the text-books almost convinced me that this was a cocoon of the Bombyx quercus. If so, what a find! I could continue my inquiry and perhaps confirm what my study of the Great Peacock had made me suspect.
The Bombyx of the oak-tree is, in fact, a classic moth; indeed, there is no entomological text-book but speaks of its exploits at mating-time. It is said that a female emerged from the pupa in captivity, in the interior of an apartment, and even in a closed box. It was far from the country, amidst the tumult of a large city. Nevertheless, the event was known to those concerned in the woods and meadows. Guided by some mysterious compass, the males arrived, hastening from the distant fields; they went to the box, fluttered against it, and flew to and fro in the room.
These marvels I had learned by reading; but to see such a thing with one’s own eyes, and at the same time to devise experiments, is quite another thing. What had my penny bargain in store for me? Would the famous Bombyx issue from it?
Let us call it by its other name, the Banded Monk. This original name of Monk was suggested by the costume of the male; a monk’s robe of a modest rusty red. But in the case of the female the brown fustian gives place to a beautiful velvet, with a pale transversal band and little white eyes on the fore pair of wings.