Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/842

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NO fairy of the old tales ever conferred upon her favorite magic gifts more potent than a weapon whose slightest touch is death, and a thread becoming as needed a ladder to scale a wall, a balloon to navigate the air, a net to supply food, and a tent or a nursery for its possessor. Yet these are the common endowments of a whole family of fellow-creatures whom we—we despise.

No being that lives is more universally detested, more remorselessly destroyed, than one who exists only to serve us, whose whole life is undying war upon our most powerful enemies. Well indeed is it for us that she possesses the two magical gifts, and that, do our worst in our blind and stupid way, we can not exterminate the race—the industrious, the patient, the silent "daughter of Arachne"—the spider. Mysterious and solitary being, dumb, probably deaf, of strong though not varied emotions, with enemies countless as the leaves of the forest, who shall penetrate the secret of her life?

Is it not enough that every bird that flies, ruthlessly robs her nursery, devours her babies, and even snatches her own soft body from the very sanctum of home; that gauzy flies steal their greedy young into her nursery to fatten upon her infants; that to monkeys, squirrels, and lizards her plump body is a sweet morsel they never resist; that frogs and toads snap her up without ceremony; that centipeds seize her in resistless grasp; that wasps paralyze and bury her alive? Are not these enough, without man joining the hosts of exterminators? Man, too—in whose service she lives!

Consider for a moment her usefulness. Count, if you can, the thousands of flies and mosquitoes eaten by one common house or garden spider in a summer. Then remember her harmlessness. Other servants we must pay: birds eat our cut-worms, our caterpillars, and our potato-beetles, but we have to pay a tax—small, it is true—in fruits, in berries, in green peas, in corn; owls and hawks, while they destroy moles and mice, indulge now and then in young chickens. But the daughter of Arachne asks no reward, neither fruit nor vegetable suffers from her touch, no humming or buzzing attends her movements. Steadily, faithfully she goes on her way doing her appointed work; and we, so wise, so far above her in the scale of being,—we murder her!

Not content with that, we call her "horrid," while in truth she is a beauty, if we only had eyes to see. The largest of the family, the Miygales, clothed in furs, and always spoken of as "monsters,"