They are motionless; but, if I only blow upon them, they stampede as nimbly as though a hurricane were passing. Hurriedly, they disperse; hurriedly, they reassemble: a proof that, without material nourishment, the little animal machine is always at full pressure, ready to work. When the shade comes, mother and sons go down again, surfeited with solar emanations. The feast of energy at the Sun Tavern is finished for the day. It is repeated in the same way daily, if the weather be mild, until the hour of emancipation comes, followed by the first mouthfuls of solid food.
CHAPTER VI: THE NARBONNE LYCOSA: THE CLIMBING-INSTINCT
The month of March comes to an end; and the departure of the youngsters begins, in glorious weather, during the hottest hours of the morning. Laden with her swarming burden, the mother Lycosa is outside her burrow, squatting on the parapet at the entrance. She lets them do as they please; as though indifferent to what is happening, she exhibits neither encouragement nor regret. Whoso will goes; whoso will remains behind.
First these, then those, according as they feel themselves duly soaked with sunshine, the little ones leave the mother in batches, run about for a moment on the ground and then quickly reach the trellis-work of the cage, which they climb with surprising alacrity. They pass through the meshes, they clamber right to the top of the citadel. All, with not one exception, make for the heights, instead of roaming on the ground, as might reasonably be expected from the eminently earthly habits of the Lycosae; all ascend the dome, a strange procedure whereof I do not yet guess the object.
I receive a hint from the upright ring that finishes the top of the cage. The youngsters hurry to it. It represents the porch of their gymnasium. They hang out threads across the opening; they stretch others from the ring to the nearest points of the trellis-work. On these foot-bridges, they perform slack-rope exercises amid endless comings and goings. The tiny legs open out from time to time and straddle as though to reach the most distant points. I begin to realize that they are acrobats aiming at loftier heights than those of the dome.
I top the trellis with a branch that doubles the attainable height. The bustling crowd hastily scrambles up it, reaches the tip of the topmost twigs and thence sends out threads that attach themselves to every surrounding object. These form so many suspension-bridges; and my beasties nimbly run along them, incessantly passing to and fro. One would say that they wished to climb higher still. I will endeavour to satisfy their desires.
I take a nine-foot reed, with tiny branches spreading right up to the top, and place it above the cage. The little Lycosae clamber to the very summit. Here, longer threads are produced from the rope-yard and are now left to float, anon converted into bridges by the mere contact of the free end with the neighbouring supports. The rope-dancers embark upon them and form garlands which the least breath of air swings daintily. The thread is invisible when it does not come between the eyes and the sun; and the whole suggests rows of Gnats dancing an aerial ballet.