A strange voice

Mona B. Bickerstaffe, Down Among the Waterweeds or Marvels of Pond Life, Johnstone, Edimbourg Hunter & Co., 1867.

Down among the Water Weeds


“There, I do believe that wild fellow has come again,” said Mrs. Spider one morning, when, feeling her tent shaking from side to side, she looked out of her window, and was not at all surprised to see young Tadpole darting too and fro, as careless as ever. “Oh! I thought it was you,” said she. “ But, dear me, how you have grown!”
‘ “So they tell me. And it is true, too, for I have actually grown out of my skin. Look at my head, it is as big again as it was. And, you see, I have two lovely little legs near my tail, and Instinct tells me I shall have two more in front by and by.”
‘ “Well, my young friend, as you are so much altered for the better, I hope your manners have improved too, and that you will not be pulling at the Anacharis, and bringing my tent about my ears.”
‘ “ Indeed, I have no inclination to pull at it, for my appetite for vegetable food is becoming very bad. I consulted Instinct about it, and she tells me that I shall soon give up vegetables altogether, and only take animal food – flies and other insects. I fancy the taste must be coming upon me now; for even while I talk to you, Mrs Spider, I feel such a longing to eat you.”
‘ “ You do, do you? Oh! You ravenous thing, go away directly. I’ll do my best to poison you, if you come near me.”
‘ “ Oh dear! What fun!” laughed the teasing young Tadpole. “I have given you a fright, old lady, have I? But you need not fear me now, for I could not attack you if I would. My teeth are scarcely cut, and my tongue ( which I hope to use skilfully by and by) is as yet not half formed.”
‘ “Now good-bye, Mrs. Spider. I am going to have a talk with Mr. Caddis, the architect, whom I see coming this way.”
‘ “Where? Who is he?” asked Mrs. Spider.
‘ “Look out and you will see,” answered the teasing young Tad, as he flourished away. Then, turning back again, “Well, I don’t mind telling you, if you will only try to look amiable – just for a change, you know.”
‘Poor Mrs. Spider! Her temper was sorely tried; but as she very much wished to hear about Mr. Caddis, she tried to conceal her annoyance. So, causing her little eyes her young friend to tell her all about the Caddis family.
‘ “ The Caddises,” said he, “ are not a family themselves; they are only the junior members of the family of Phryganea. That one now coming this way, is Phryganea grandis, son of a Mrs. May-fly, who used to live here some time ago ( she was found dead near your nets, if I remember right).”
‘Mrs. Spider looked vicious. “ Go on,” said she, impatiently. “ Do you mean to say that young Caddis built that pretty house he is in himself?”
‘ “ Yes I do; all his tribe are great builders. He, as you see, has used shells and pebbles for the outward adornment of his tiny mansion . I have met another of the family who had thatched his house quite neatly with straw; while Phryganea rhombica uses no clayey foundation for his, which is simply woven like wickerwork. Indeed they are all most talented young people, and seem to make the best use of time while they are young, which is wise considering that mature age is a very brief state of existence with them, particularly so if they happen to go near nets!”
‘ “Go away!” cried Mrs. Spider in a rage. “You don’t make good use of your time.”
‘ “No, ma’am; but I do of my eyes, and my powers of observation.”
‘ Mrs. Spider made a dart out of her house; but of course Tadpole was out sight in an instant. “ I wish my temper was not so hasty,” said she, as she sat down again near her window. “He is off now, before I have heard half I wanted to know of the Phryganea family.”
‘Young Caddis was walking close to her tent; so she watched him with all her eyes, and noticed how he stopped to seize and devour more than one little insect that happened to come within his reach.
‘ “ Our tastes appear to be similar,” said she; “ for he feeds upon living prey. I wonder, is he good to eat? He is a curious-looking fellow; his head and six legs appear to be very well formed, while the rest of his body seems to be in a very helpless state.”
‘ “Good morning, Mr Caddis. Where are you going so fast?”
‘ “ A strange voice,” muttered young Caddis, as he cautiously drew in his head, and retreated to the farther end of his house. “Oh! it is you, Mrs. Spider; and you want to know where I am going? Well, the fact is, Instinct says I have been long enough in the larva state, so I am looking out for some stone, or something to which I may anchor my house. When that is done, I shall become a pupa, and lie by for a while.”
‘ “ Indeed!” said Mrs. Spider. “I thought you were to have wings, and become a May-fly.”
‘ “ So I shall, after a while. That will be my third and most perfect state, to which I look forward with great pleasure. The idea of soaring in the air is something so delightful!”
‘ “Yes, indeed,” sighed Mrs. Spider. “If to be envious were a part of my disposition, I could almost envy you. I only wish I could spin myself a pair of wings.”
‘ “What’s the use of sighing after the impossible?” said young Caddis. “For my part, I am very glad you are not winged; for though I am well protected from you now, I fear, if you had wings, my perfect state would soon tempt you to pursue me. “
‘ “Poor creature!” said Mrs. Spider, contemptuously. “I am sure I don’t want to hurt you; you will have plenty of enemies without me. That beautiful creature, LIbelula the dragon-fly, for instance: I saw him the other day quietly resting on the top of the Anácharis; and hearing him crunching away at something, I looked out to see what it was. There he had got an unlucky relative of yours fast in his great claws. Firs, he ate off his legs on one side, then on the other, then the head, and so on. He seemed to enjoy his meal, I can tell you;” and Mrs. Spider smacked her lips (spider fashion0, as if she could have enjoyed it too.
‘ “That is not all either,” said she; “for when you have attained the height of your ambition, and are indeed a member of the great Neuroptera tribe, you will have to take care where you fly; for in the air swallows and dragon-flies will pursue you, and if you venture near the surface of your old element, you will be sure to be snapped up by a fish. Trout are particularly fond of May-flies; and after they have devoured a quantity of your unfortunate family, they become of a golden hue, and are themselves eagerly caught, and, in their turn, eaten by the human creatures.”
‘ “ A pleasant prospect you have sketched for me, “ said Mr. Caddis; “but I believe you have only done it out of spite. At any rate, I am not going to make myself unhappy. Instinct tells me to enjoy life while I may, and not anticipate misfortunes that may never happen.”
‘ “ You are quite a philosopher,” said Mrs. Spider, sarcastically. She was, in truth, envious at the winged future in store for young Caddis; so she tried to poison his cup of pleasure by her gloomy sketch of the dangers to which he would be liable, forgetting that every state of life is attended with danger of some kind. Finding that she could not succeed in making her young friend miserable, she retired into her tent, while he pursued his way to the nearest stone, to which, with silken threads, he attached his little tube-shaped house, sealed up the front door and the back, and, obeying to commands of Instinct, quietly resigned himself to the repose of his pupa state. I dare say that, at the right time, he cut his way out of his case, rose to the surface of the water, spread out his beautiful wings, and, it is to be hoped, thoroughly enjoyed his little day of life.
‘Now, I think that we too have enjoyed our quiet rest upon this mossy bank; and as Mrs. Spider is probably too sulky to make any more acquaintances “ down among the water weeds,” we shall leave her to her reflections, and bestir ourselves to go and see what success has attended out three fishers in yonder ditch.’