THE GARDEN SPIDERS: THE QUESTION OF PROPERTY





A dog has found a bone. He lies in the shade, holding it between his

paws, and studies it fondly. It is his sacred property, his chattel. An

Epeira has woven her web. Here again is property; and owning a better

title than the other. Favoured by chance and assisted by his scent, the

Dog has merely had a find; he has neither worked nor paid for it. The

Spider is more than a casual owner, she has created what is hers. Its

substance issued from her body, its structure from her brain. If ever

property was sacrosanct, hers is.



Far higher stands the work of the weaver of ideas, who tissues a book,

that other Spider's web, and out of his thought makes something that

shall instruct or thrill us. To protect our 'bone,' we have the police,

invented for the express purpose. To protect the book, we have none but

farcical means. Place a few bricks one atop the other; join them with

mortar; and the law will defend your wall. Build up in writing an

edifice of your thoughts; and it will be open to any one, without serious

impediment, to abstract stones from it, even to take the whole, if it

suit him. A rabbit-hutch is property; the work of the mind is not. If

the animal has eccentric views as regards the possessions of others, we

have ours as well.



'Might always has the best of the argument,' said La Fontaine, to the

great scandal of the peace-lovers. The exigencies of verse, rhyme and

rhythm, carried the worthy fabulist further than he intended: he meant to

say that, in a fight between mastiffs and in other brute conflicts, the

stronger is left master of the bone. He well knew that, as things go,

success is no certificate of excellence. Others came, the notorious evil-

doers of humanity, who made a law of the savage maxim that might is

right.





We are the larvae with the changing skins, the ugly caterpillars of a

society that is slowly, very slowly, wending its way to the triumph of

right over might. When will this sublime metamorphosis be accomplished?

To free ourselves from those wild-beast brutalities, must we wait for the

ocean-plains of the southern hemisphere to flow to our side, changing the

face of continents and renewing the glacial period of the Reindeer and

the Mammoth? Perhaps, so slow is moral progress.



True, we have the bicycle, the motor-car, the dirigible airship and other

marvellous means of breaking our bones; but our morality is not one rung

the higher for it all. One would even say that, the farther we proceed

in our conquest of matter, the more our morality recedes. The most

advanced of our inventions consists in bringing men down with grapeshot

and explosives with the swiftness of the reaper mowing the corn.



Would we see this might triumphant in all its beauty? Let us spend a few

weeks in the Epeira's company. She is the owner of a web, her work, her

most lawful property. The question at once presents itself: Does the

Spider possibly recognize her fabric by certain trademarks and

distinguish it from that of her fellows?



I bring about a change of webs between two neighbouring Banded Epeirae.

No sooner is either placed upon the strange net than she makes for the

central floor, settles herself head downwards and does not stir from it,

satisfied with her neighbour's web as with her own. Neither by day nor

by night does she try to shift her quarters and restore matters to their

pristine state. Both Spiders think themselves in their own domain. The

two pieces of work are so much alike that I almost expected this.



I then decide to effect an exchange of webs between two different

species. I move the Banded Epeira to the net of the Silky Epeira and

vice versa. The two webs are now dissimilar; the Silky Epeira's has a

limy spiral consisting of closer and more numerous circles. What will

the Spiders do, when thus put to the test of the unknown? One would

think that, when one of them found meshes too wide for her under her

feet, the other meshes too narrow, they would be frightened by this

sudden change and decamp in terror. Not at all. Without a sign of

perturbation, they remain, plant themselves in the centre and await the

coming of the game, as though nothing extraordinary had happened. They

do more than this. Days pass and, as long as the unfamiliar web is not

wrecked to the extent of being unserviceable, they make no attempt to

weave another in their own style. The Spider, therefore, is incapable of

recognizing her web. She takes another's work for hers, even when it is

produced by a stranger to her race.



We now come to the tragic side of this confusion. Wishing to have

subjects for study within my daily reach and to save myself the trouble

of casual excursions, I collect different Epeirae whom I find in the

course of my walks and establish them on the shrubs in my enclosure. In

this way, a rosemary-hedge, sheltered from the wind and facing the sun,

is turned into a well-stocked menagerie. I take the Spiders from the

paper bags wherein I had put them separately, to carry them, and place

them on the leaves, with no further precaution. It is for them to make

themselves at home. As a rule, they do not budge all day from the place

where I put them: they wait for nightfall before seeking a suitable site

whereon to weave a net.



Some among them show less patience. A little while ago, they possessed a

web, between the reeds of a brook or in the holm-oak copses; and now they

have none. They go off in search, to recover their property or seize on

some one else's: it is all the same to them. I come upon a Banded

Epeira, newly imported, making for the web of a Silky Epeira who has been

my guest for some days now. The owner is at her post, in the centre of

the net. She awaits the stranger with seeming impassiveness. Then

suddenly they grip each other; and a desperate fight begins. The Silky

Epeira is worsted. The other swathes her in bonds, drags her to the non-

limy central floor and, in the calmest fashion, eats her. The dead

Spider is munched for twenty-four hours and drained to the last drop,

when the corpse, a wretched, crumpled ball, is at last flung aside. The

web so foully conquered becomes the property of the stranger, who uses

it, if it have not suffered too much in the contest.



There is here a shadow of an excuse. The two Spiders were of different

species; and the struggle for life often leads to these exterminations

among such as are not akin. What would happen if the two belonged to the

same species? It is easily seen. I cannot rely upon spontaneous

invasions, which may be rare under normal conditions, and I myself place

a Banded Epeira on her kinswoman's web. A furious attack is made

forthwith. Victory, after hanging for a moment in the balance, is once

again decided in the stranger's favour. The vanquished party, this time

a sister, is eaten without the slightest scruple. Her web becomes the

property of the victor.



There it is, in all its horror, the right of might: to eat one's like and

take away their goods. Man did the same in days of old: he stripped and

ate his fellows. We continue to rob one another, both as nations and as

individuals; but we no longer eat one another: the custom has grown

obsolete since we discovered an acceptable substitute in the mutton-chop.



Let us not, however, blacken the Spider beyond her deserts. She does not

live by warring on her kith and kin; she does not of her own accord

attempt the conquest of another's property. It needs extraordinary

circumstances to rouse her to these villainies. I take her from her web

and place her on another's. From that moment, she knows no distinction

between _meum_ and _tuum_: the thing which the leg touches at once

becomes real estate. And the intruder, if she be the stronger, ends by

eating the occupier, a radical means of cutting short disputes.



Apart from disturbances similar to those provoked by myself, disturbances

that are possible in the everlasting conflict of events, the Spider,

jealous of her own web, seems to respect the webs of others. She never

indulges in brigandage against her fellows except when dispossessed of

her net, especially in the daytime, for weaving is never done by day:

this work is reserved for the night. When, however, she is deprived of

her livelihood and feels herself the stronger, then she attacks her

neighbour, rips her open, feeds on her and takes possession of her goods.

Let us make allowances and proceed.



We will now examine Spiders of more alien habits. The Banded and the

Silky Epeira differ greatly in form and colouring. The first has a

plump, olive-shaped belly, richly belted with white, bright-yellow and

black; the second's abdomen is flat, of a silky white and pinked into

festoons. Judging only by dress and figure, we should not think of

closely connecting the two Spiders.



But high above shapes tower tendencies, those main characteristics which

our methods of classification, so particular about minute details of

form, ought to consult more widely than they do. The two dissimilar

Spiders have exactly similar ways of living. Both of them prefer to hunt

by day and never leave their webs; both sign their work with a zigzag

flourish. Their nets are almost identical, so much so that the Banded

Epeira uses the Silky Epeira's web after eating its owner. The Silky

Epeira, on her side, when she is the stronger, dispossesses her belted

cousin and devours her. Each is at home on the other's web, when the

argument of might triumphant has ended the discussion.



Let us next take the case of the Cross Spider, a hairy beast of varying

shades of reddish-brown. She has three large white spots upon her back,

forming a triple-barred cross. She hunts mostly at night, shuns the sun

and lives by day on the adjacent shrubs, in a shady retreat which

communicates with the lime-snare by means of a telegraph-wire. Her web

is very similar in structure and appearance to those of the two others.

What will happen if I procure her the visit of a Banded Epeira?



The lady of the triple cross is invaded by day, in the full light of the

sun, thanks to my mischievous intermediary. The web is deserted; the

proprietress is in her leafy hut. The telegraph-wire performs its

office; the Cross Spider hastens down, strides all round her property,

beholds the danger and hurriedly returns to her hiding-place, without

taking any measures against the intruder.



The latter, on her side, does not seem to be enjoying herself. Were she

placed on the web of one of her sisters, or even on that of the Silky

Epeira, she would have posted herself in the centre, as soon as the

struggle had ended in the other's death. This time there is no struggle,

for the web is deserted; nothing prevents her from taking her position in

the centre, the chief strategic point; and yet she does not move from the

place where I put her.



I tickle her gently with the tip of a long straw. When at home, if

teased in this way, the Banded Epeira--like the others, for that

matter--violently shakes the web to intimidate the aggressor. This time,

nothing happens: despite my repeated enticements, the Spider does not

stir a limb. It is as though she were numbed with terror. And she has

reason to be: the other is watching her from her lofty loop-hole.



This is probably not the only cause of her fright. When my straw does

induce her to take a few steps, I see her lift her legs with some

difficulty. She tugs a bit, drags her tarsi till she almost breaks the

supporting threads. It is not the progress of an agile rope-walker; it

is the hesitating gait of entangled feet. Perhaps the lime-threads are

stickier than in her own web. The glue is of a different quality; and

her sandals are not greased to the extent which the new degree of

adhesiveness would demand.



Anyhow, things remain as they are for long hours on end: the Banded

Epeira motionless on the edge of the web; the other lurking in her hut;

both apparently most uneasy. At sunset, the lover of darkness plucks up

courage. She descends from her green tent and, without troubling about

the stranger, goes straight to the centre of the web, where the telegraph-

wire brings her. Panic-stricken at this apparition, the Banded Epeira

releases herself with a jerk and disappears in the rosemary-thicket.



The experiment, though repeatedly renewed with different subjects, gave

me no other results. Distrustful of a web dissimilar to her own, if not

in structure, at least in stickiness, the bold Banded Epeira shows the

white feather and refuses to attack the Cross Spider. The latter, on her

side, either does not budge from her day shelter in the foliage, or else

rushes back to it, after taking a hurried glance at the stranger. She

here awaits the coming of the night. Under favour of the darkness, which

gives her fresh courage and activity, she reappears upon the scene and

puts the intruder to flight by her mere presence, aided, if need be, by a

cuff or two. Injured right is the victor.



Morality is satisfied; but let us not congratulate the Spider therefore.

If the invader respects the invaded, it is because very serious reasons

impel her. First, she would have to contend with an adversary ensconced

in a stronghold whose ambushes are unknown to the assailant. Secondly,

the web, if conquered, would be inconvenient to use, because of the lime-

threads, possessing a different degree of stickiness from those which she

knows so well. To risk one's skin for a thing of doubtful value were

twice foolish. The Spider knows this and forbears.



But let the Banded Epeira, deprived of her web, come upon that of one of

her kind or of the Silky Epeira, who works her gummy twine in the same

manner: then discretion is thrown to the winds; the owner is fiercely

ripped open and possession taken of the property.



Might is right, says the beast; or, rather, it knows no right. The

animal world is a rout of appetites, acknowledging no other rein than

impotence. Mankind, alone capable of emerging from the slough of the

instincts, is bringing equity into being, is creating it slowly as its

conception grows clearer. Out of the sacred rushlight, so flickering as

yet, but gaining strength from age to age, man will make a flaming torch

that will put an end, among us, to the principles of the brutes and, one

day, utterly change the face of society.





THE GARDEN SPIDERS: THE LIME-SNARE THE GARDEN SPIDERS: THE TELEGRAPH-WIRE facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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