H ERE Uncle Paul caught Claire looking at him thoughtfully. It was evident that some change was taking place in her mind: the spider was no longer a repulsive creature, unworthy of our regard. Uncle Paul continued:
"With its legs, armed with sharp-toothed little claws like combs, the spider draws the thread from its spinnerets as it has need. If it wishes to descend, like the one this morning that came down from the ceiling on to Mother Ambroisine's shoulder, it glues the end of the thread to the point of departure and lets itself fall perpendicularly. The thread is drawn from the spinnerets by the weight of the spider, and the latter, softly suspended, descends to any depth it wishes, and as slowly as it pleases. In order to ascend again, it climbs up the thread by folding it gradually into a skein between its legs. For a second descent, the spider has only to let its skein of silk unwind little by little.
"To weave its web, each kind of spider has its own method of
procedure, according to the kind of game it is going to
hunt, the places it frequents, and according to its
particular inclinations, tastes, and instincts. I will
merely tell you a few words about the epeiræ, large
spiders magnificently speckled with yellow, black, and
silvery white. They are
hunters of big game,—of green or
"An epeira has found a good place for hunting: the
"Build a bridge from one side to the other, without crossing the water or moving away from its place? If the spider can do that it is cleverer than I am." Thus spoke Jules.
"Than I, too," chimed in his brother.
"If I did not already know," said Claire, "since you have just told us, that the spider does accomplish it, I should say that its bridge is impossible."
Mother Ambroisine said nothing, but by the slackening of the
"Animals often have more intelligence than we," continued
Uncle Paul; "the epeira will prove it to us. With its hind
legs it draws a thread from its spinnerets. The thread
lengthens and lengthens; it floats from the top of the
branch. The spider draws out more and more; finally, it
stops. Is the thread long enough? Is it too short? That is
what must be looked after. If too long, it would be wasting
the precious silky liquid; if too short, it would not fulfil
the given conditions. A glance is thrown at the distance to
be crossed, an exact glance, you may be sure. The thread is
found too short. The spider lengthens it by drawing out a
little more. Now all goes well: the thread has the
"Oh, how simple!" cried Jules. "And yet not one of us would have thought of it."
"Yes, my friend, it is very simple, but at the same time very ingenious. It is thus with all work: simplicity in the means employed is a sign of excellence. To simplify is to have knowledge; to complicate is to be ignorant. The epeira, in its kind of construction, is science perfected."
"Where does it get that science, Uncle?" asked Claire. "Animals have not reason. Then who teaches the epeira to build its suspension bridges?"
"No one, my dear child; it is born with this knowledge. It
has it by instinct, the infallible inspiration of the Father
of all things, who creates in the least of His creatures,
for their preservation, ways of acting before which our
reason is often confounded. When the epeira, from the top of
the willow, gets ready to spin its web, what inspires it
with the audacious project of the bridge; what gives it
patience to wait for the floating end of the thread to
entwine in the branches of the other bank; what assures it
of the success of a labor that it is performing perhaps for
the first time, and has never seen done? It is the universal
Reason that watches over creation, and takes among men the
Uncle Paul had won his case: in the eyes of all, even of Mother Ambroisine, spiders were no longer frightful creatures.