But the throng has finished its preparations; the hour has come to disperse in swarms. We now see, from the crest of the brushwood, a continuous spray of starters, who shoot up like microscopic projectiles and mount in a spreading cluster. In the end, it is like the bouquet at the finish of a pyrotechnic display, the sheaf of rockets fired simultaneously. The comparison is correct down to the dazzling light itself. Flaming in the sun like so many gleaming points, the little Spiders are the sparks of that living firework. What a glorious send-off! What an entrance into the world! Clutching its aeronautic thread, the minute creature mounts in an apotheosis.
Sooner or later, nearer or farther, the fall comes. To live, we have to descend, often very low, alas! The Crested Lark crumbles the mule-droppings in the road and thus picks up his food, the oaten grain which he would never find by soaring in the sky, his throat swollen with song. We have to descend; the stomach’s inexorable claims demand it. The Spiderling, therefore, touches land. Gravity, tempered by the parachute, is kind to her.
The rest of her story escapes me. What infinitely tiny Midges does she capture before possessing the strength to stab her Bee? What are the methods, what the wiles of atom contending with atom? I know not. We shall find her again in spring, grown quite large and crouching among the flowers whence the Bee takes toll.
CHAPTER IX: THE GARDEN SPIDERS: BUILDING THE WEB
The fowling-snare is one of man’s ingenious villainies. With lines, pegs and poles, two large, earth-coloured nets are stretched upon the ground, one to the right, the other to the left of a bare surface. A long cord, pulled, at the right moment, by the fowler, who hides in a brushwood hut, works them and brings them together suddenly, like a pair of shutters.
Divided between the two nets are the cages of the decoy-birds—Linnets and Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Yellowhammers, Buntings and Ortolans—sharp-eared creatures which, on perceiving the distant passage of a flock of their own kind, forthwith utter a short calling note. One of them, the Sambe, an irresistible tempter, hops about and flaps his wings in apparent freedom. A bit of twine fastens him to his convict’s stake. When, worn with fatigue and driven desperate by his vain attempts to get away, the sufferer lies down flat and refuses to do his duty, the fowler is able to stimulate him without stirring from his hut. A long string sets in motion a little lever working on a pivot. Raised from the ground by this diabolical contrivance, the bird flies, falls down and flies up again at each jerk of the cord.
The fowler waits, in the mild sunlight of the autumn morning. Suddenly, great excitement in the cages. The Chaffinches chirp their rallying-cry: