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I am about to die, — here all alone in a dark box. I am so weak that I cannot spin a thread, and, if I could, my legs are not strong enough to support me on the web. I should not care so much if I could only lay the eggs which, I am sure, are in my body, and cover them up warm with soft silk, and hang the cocoon under a leaf so as to be shielded from sun and rain and greedy birds: then I could die content.
My only hope is that my master, the Doctor, (to whose desire for information on certain matters my fatal illness is due,) understands my condition, and will care enough for the eggs to open my poor body after my death and take them out and keep them until they hatch. I think he will ; and this induces me to write for the benefit of you, my five hundred little spider-children who may in time come from these eggs.
I say for your benefit; for although as soon as you are hatched you will know all that would be necessary to know in your native woods, yet, as it will be your fate, and probably the fate of all your descendants, to live in captivity here at the North, there are many things that will be strange and perplexing, and may, as in my own case, be the cause of injury and death. Indeed, my own experience gives me some ground for apprehension lest your captivity and unnatural condition may so affect coming generations that, although you now understand as well as I could tell you how to behave toward your sisters and brothers, – which ones it is prudent for you to try to eat, and which, on the other hand, you must submit to be eaten by, - how to twist your legs and swell your little bodies when the times come for casting off your skins, - how to make your webs and catch and eat your food, yet in course of time all these may be as lost arts, and a complete account of them become desirable.
And so, if my failing strength will permit, I shall speak not only of those things which are to be sought or avoided by you in your state of bondage, but also of those which, though now most familiar, may be less well understood by your great-great-grandchildren.
I think, too, that without conceit I am as well fitted for the work as any one. I am quite old, — seven months yesterday, for I was hạtched on the 4th of October, 1865, and to-day is the 5th of May, 1866. Moreover, I have seen much of life, and passed through many remarkable scenes and adventures; I am sure, too, that the Doctor thought a great deal of me, especially after I lost three and a half of my legs; for he had to put some extra pages into his note-book of spiders to finish my record, while the others never covered the space allowed them.
I say this, because, although these memoirs are especially designed for you, my own children, yet they may be found useful to strangers, and they might wish to know the authority and reputation of their informant and adviser. Of course I have made mistakes, - one of them is the direct cause of my death; but this experience may help others to avoid similar errors.
But, though this is intended to give warning and advice, yet I know too
well the temper of young spiders to expect such solemn matters to be greatly esteemed for their own sake. Like solid food, they need some flavoring to be acceptable, and so I shall not hesitate to make this history as interesting as I can consistently with the truth.
For this reason, instead of beginning at my own birth, when, of course commenced my first personal acquaintance with spiders, men, and things, I will relate what I have heard in various ways concerning my parents, their neighbors, and the country where they lived.
I am sorry so much of this information comes through men; for men never seem content with simple truth, which to simple minds is always strange and interesting, but, even in the fairy tales they write for their little children, are unable to restrain their fancy, and are led from one figment to another, until there is no end to the stories they tell of innocent plants and animals, whose real lives are far more wonderful than all that ever was imagined of them by men.
But it could not be helped. We spiders have no books or records ; for, though we can communicate with each other, yet, as all are born knowing exactly what will be essential to their comfort, there has never been felt the need of preserving knowledge. We have not even traditions ; for such is our nature that young and old do not associate. The latter generally perish soon after their eggs are laid, and before their children are hatched. But it was our good fortune to live for some time in the little paper box where my mother died; so we read all the many interesting things that were written on the inside, and from them I select the more important to transmit to you, her grandchildren.
It appears that our kind of spider (which men call Nephila plumipes or
feather-footed Nephila) is found in but one small place, named Long Island, a little south from Charleston, on the coast of South Carolina,
Fig. 2. Map of Charleston, S. C. between James and Folly Islands. It is said that some have been seen in other places, but we have always felt that Long Island was specially adapted for us. We are very peculiar, and need a great deal of water both to drink and to keep the air soft and moist ; and this island lies in the middle of a great swamp, and is covered with trees and vines and bushes, so that it is nice and damp. Indeed, we cannot live in a dry atmosphere, and this, we think, is the reason why we are not found in other parts of the State.
We are fond of the sunlight too, and do not avoid the light, as do our ugly black cousins, that live in holes in houses and on the ground, but always make our webs on the trees, so that the sun may reach us in the morning at
least, while at noon we are sheltered from the great heat by the leaves. The only neighbors on Long Island were great mosquitoes, who were so good as to attack their common enemies, but never troubled our race. They were better off than the spiders ; for though we have eight eyes on the front of our heads, yet we cannot see each other, or anything else at all, but merely distinguish light from darkness. Our hearing and touch, however, are very acute and almost make up for the poorness of our eyes.
[NOTE BY THE TRANSLATOR. – She is right in saying that their hearing is acute ; but we are inclined to think that, for some of the particulars of her capture, our cripple's mother depended upon what she had heard from ourself and others, as much as upon her own perception of what was going on. It would seem, that, although most spiders evidently can see very well, yet this kind only sees about as much as a man does with his eyelids shut.] My mother says that one day in April, more than a year ago, while she
and her sisters were enjoying the shade of the leaf that supported their cocoon, and wondering how soon it would be proper for them to leave their close nursery, where they had been cooped up for several weeks after they left
the eggs, there came along Fig. 3. Cocoon of Spider.
the path two men, one of whom carried a gun, and the other a little paper box, into which he dropped cocoons which he picked off the bushes. The little spiders trembled for fear their house would share the same fate ; but, thanks to the friendly leaf, the horrid strangers passed them by.
But, though spared this time, yet when they came out of the cocoon, and separated, each to make a house for itself, my mother took pains to climb up into a tree by the side of the path, and make her web in a secure position. During the summer, most of her sisters were, one by one, either devoured by birds, or drowned by the rain, or swept away by the wind, till only six were left; but, as these were the largest and strongest of all, they made bigger and bigger webs, even three feet across, and every day caught great bugs, locusts, and flies, on which they grew fat and comfortable, and they hoped no cocoon-hunter would ever come that way again.
But alas ! one day in August there came striding along the terrible man with the box ; only this time he had no box, but carried in one hand a stick, with which he broke down the webs across his path, while the other he flourished about to keep away the mosquitoes, who had already taken the alarm and were attacking him on every side ; so that, though he shook his head and stamped his feet and threw about his hands, he was evidently much tormented. He looked tired, too, and hot, and was covered with mud to the
waist, but his lips moved steadily, as if he was counting how many spiders there were. Suddenly he stopped, and with his stick entangled one of them in her web, took off his hat and dropped her into it, then brought together the edges of the rim, so that she could not escape. He tried to carry it in his hand, but the mosquitoes now attacked him with such fury that he was obliged to hold the hat in his teeth, and my mother hoped the captive would find her way out and bite him in the face.
He was soon gone, apparently satisfied with a single specimen ; but after this my mother and the others lived a life of fear and trembling, lest this pirate, who had come through such deep mud for one spider, should come again and kidnap the entire population of the island.
Their worst fears were realized ; on the last day of August the enemy
again appeared, but this time in greater force. The leader carried a long stick as before, then came a man holding a little paper box, while behind him was a boy carrying some trays filled with these boxes. When they came to a spider the leader tore down her web, and quickly dropped her into the box, which was ready to shut and be exchanged for an empty one. So, one by one, her neighbors were taken; and, though the valiant mosquitoes stung them at every step, even through their clothes, crawled down their backs and into their ears, the invaders came steadily on and stopped under the tree where my mother had made her web. She had gone so high that she hoped they either would not notice her or would not be able to reach her ; but, after a few trials, a stick thrown by the leader came crashing through her web and brought her to the earth. Her efforts to escape were in vain, (for our legs are so slender, that, though we are quick enough on our webs, yet on the
ground we move quite slowly,) and she was soon confined in a space so small that she could hardly stretch herself.
But she was the last captive ; for the clouds, which had for some time looked very black at this intrusion upon the peaceful regions under their care, now opened upon the invaders their heaviest batteries of thunder and lightning, blasts of wind, and heavy drops of rain ; whereupon, as they said, lest the boxes should be wet, but, as we think, stricken with remorse and terror, they began a retreat, and, having gained their boat, put off with all haste. But even now the good clouds pursued them, and when they tried to row, the winds blew them backward faster than they could go forward ; and when they raised a sail, tipped them over, and would have spilled them into the water if the sail had not split into ribbons; and all this time the rain drenched them, the thunder and lightning terrified them, and the wind blew from every point against them as they turned in the creeks. They grounded on oyster-beds, and stuck fast upon mud-fats, and each moment my mother expected to hear wicked words and threats to cast overboard the box of captives, as Jonah was cast in ancient time.
But no; they seemed anxious only lest their precious freight should be lost; and their leader spoke so confidently of the beautiful silk he should get from them, as he had done the year before, and the year before that, when he first found a stray spider on Folly Island, that my mother and her companions forgot their hate, and soon the clouds too were appeased, and the moon came out and lighted them home; and so, though the rough harbor had to be crossed, and it was nearly midnight, yet they finally arrived safely at Mt. Pleasant, near Charleston.
My mother was kept in her box; but every morning it was opened, and she was examined, and a few words written on the cover. During the night of the third day of her captivity, she made a soft cushion of silk upon the lower side of the cover by pulling threads out of her spinners with her hind feet, and curling them up, and then, pressing the under side of her body against it, deposited upon it four or five hundred little yellow eggs. These she covered with another cushion, and then spun strong threads over it all, so that they should be secure from injury, and never fall out. (Fig. 3.)
The next morning, when the Doctor (for so he was called) opened her box, he was much pleased, and spoke to his friends of the young spiders that would be hatched from the eggs ; but, though he might have known my mother was faint and weary, he offered her no water. The following day, however, he brought her, on a pin, a little bit of Aesh, so soft and juicy that it was nearly as good as her favorite dish, - a fly with dewdrop sauce; and, as she took this eagerly, it was given her every day, and sometimes a drop of water on it made it still more delicious. Still, the air was dry, and very different from that of her dear Long Island ; and gradually my poor mother wasted away, and grew weaker and weaker, till she could not eat, and at last, on the 25th day after her capture, she died.
Two observations which she made were less clear then than now. One was, that almost every day during their quiet stay at Mt. Pleasant she heard