Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

its escape:

liberty of every citizen was at the mercy ing hymenopteræ. A tiny hill of sand, reof his “ little bell,” even so did the Grand cently thrown out, caught his eye. It masked Sachem of Tammany rule the minor the orifice of a deep passage, which he traced slaves of the Ring.

by cautiously working with a spade. Soon The treachery of a discontented confede- he saw sparkling the brilliant wing-cases of rate has at last laid bare to the world the a much-coveted buprestis; soon afterwards history of the most extraordinary system a whole buprestis; and then three and four of fraud and spoliation that blots the page entire buprestes delighted his gaze with of history, and the eyes of Europe are now their emeralds and gold. He could not anxiously watching the efforts of the in- believe his eyes. And that was only the behabitants of the Empire City to free them- ginning of his discoveries. Out of the ruins selves from the thraldom of the fatal Ring, of the mine there crept a hymenopterous which has so long enclosed them in its insect, which he captured as it tried to make circle of corruption.

In it he recognised the Cerceris bupresticide.

The entomologist's hot blood was up. DESIGN OR DEVELOPMENT ?

It was not enough to have found the

murderer and the victims; he must know In many parts of France the walks and who were the consumers of all this rare alleys in parks and gardens are merely the and valuable prey. It was as if he had natural loam beaten hard, sometimes mixed found a human larder stocked with golden or coated over with road scrapings. In pheasants and birds of paradise. Having wet weather this forms a sticky, slippery exhausted this first buprestiferous vein, surface, so inconvenient as to lead to the which he had followed to the depth of a insertion of a line of small flags or step- foot, he tried other soundings." In less ping-stones along the principal walks, to than an hour he disinterred three cerceris render the passage along them possible dens, and his reward was fifteen whole after heavy rains. But in hot dry seasons buprestes, with the fragments of a still they become hard and smooth, attaining greater number. Here was a perspective the consistency of a compact stucco. In to look forward to! In that locality he this state, their only defect is a tendency could catch in a few hours fifty or sixty to cracking; but as the cracks are never female cerceres on the blossoms of various wide nor deep enough to serve as pitfalls species of garlic. Their nests must be in to the smallest babe, the fault offends the the neighbourhood, provisioned in the same eye rather than the foot of those who walk luxurious style. In them he would find,

by hundreds, rare buprestes of which he Besides the cracks, these plaster-like had never been able to catch a single in. walks are often perforated with holes, ont dividual during thirty long years of assiof which earth has been thrown by some duous hunting. And this dream soon agent within. By watehing a hole, you became a reality. will see issuing from and entering it, a bee- Some days afterwards, while visiting the like insect, of mild and innocent mien-it estate of one of his friends, in the midst actually feeds itself on the pollen of flowers of forests of maritime pines, he set about —but which provides a store of fresh another cerceris hunt. Their dens were insect-meat for its young, in a way which easily recognised. They were exclusively would make the late Mr. Burke hide his excavated in the principal alleys of the diminished head. A medical man, Doctor garden, where the compact and wellLéon Dufour, discovered the crime, but trodden soil offered the necessary condifailed to detect the real secret of the tions of solidity for the establishment of creature's operations. He calls the culprit the insect's domicile. He examined, in the Cerceris bupresticide-Cerceris, the bu- sweat of his brow, about twenty nests; for prestis-slayer.

the work is not so easy as might be In July, 1840, while going his rounds, a imagined. The treasuries, and patient suffering under some small ailment quently the treasures, are never less than a which few people die of kept him waiting foot underground. The best plan to effect To

pass the time he went into the garden, the burglary is to thrust into the orifice of and took his post in an alley on the look- the mine a straw or a long stem of grass, out for something. But seeing no more to serve as a conducting clue, and then to than Sister Anne did at first, he searched sap round it with a garden spade, so as to the pathway for the habitations of burrow- lift out the central lump of earth in one or

upon them.

conse

two pieces, and then break it up circum- with her quarry between her paws, she spectly on the ground.

alights at the door of her underground Lively were the perspiring huntsman's lodging, and deposits it there for half a transports every time he exposed to view a moment. Entering the gallery backwards, fresh collection of beetles blazing with she seizes the helpless victim in her jaws, copper, emeralds, and gold, and which and drags it to the very bottom. Her glittered all the brighter for the burning visits are not confined to the time of prosunshine. Never, during his long career as viding her family with food. About the a naturalist, had he gazed on such a spec- middle of August, when the buprestes are tacle, or enjoyed such a treat. He knew devoured, and the larvæ are hermetically not which to admire most—the brilliant sealed in their cocoons, the cerceris is coleopteræ, or the wonderful sagacity of seen to enter her gallery without bringing the cerceres who had put them in store. anything with her. It is clear that the Incredible as it may seem, amongst more anxious mother wishes to make sure, by than four hundred individuals so ware- repeated visits, that no enemy or accident housed, the closest investigation could threatens to destroy her progeny. not find the smallest fragment which did But by what inconceivable impulse is the not belong to the genus Buprestis. The cerceris, who feeds herself on nothing but learned collectors, though simple hymen- the pollen of flowers, urged to procure, in opteræ, had not once committed the most spite of a thousand difficulties, a total diftrifling mistake.

ferent diet for descendants whom she will The cerceres show themselves to be no never behold, and to lie in wait on trees so fools, by the way in which they shape and dissimilar as oaks and pines, for the insects stock their subterranean nurseries. We which are destined to become her prey ? have seen that they select hard, solid soil, What entomological tact compels her well beaten, and exposed to sunshine. This strictly to confine herself, in the choice of choice implies an intelligence, or, if you her game, to one single generic group of prefer it, an instinct, which we might feel insects of which she seems the born foe, and inclined to believe the result of experience. all the while capturing species which differ Light or sandy soils would undoubtedly be considerably amongst themselves in length, much easier to perforate, but they would be dimensions, and configuration ? continually apt to give way and cave in. The innate propensity which induces the Our insect digs her gallery by means of her cerceris to construct a nest for her young mandibles and her anterior tarsi, which, for deep in the ground, manifests an instinct this purpose, are garnished with teeth, like at once marvellous and sublime. That those of a rake. She makes the entrance depth indicates that the tender larve will wider than the diameter of her body, be have to pass the winter snug in their cause it has to admit a prey of larger burrows. Her maternal solicitude places dimensions than herself. The gallery is them out of the reach of the inclemency not vertical, which would make it liable to of winter. And yet this careful mother be filled up by the wind and other causes. will never see her offspring. Nor has Not far from its origin it makes a bend, experience given her the slightest hint which usually runs, for seven or weight that such things as winter and its frosts inches from south to north, returning then exist, since she came into the world during to its first direction. Beyond the termina- the great heats of summer, and after tion of this final gallery the careful mother having provided for the future destinies of places her progeny's cradles. These latter her family, she dies before the temperature are five separate and independent cells, is sensibly lowered. How can such facts disposed in a sort of semicircle, hollowed be accounted for by any imaginable prointo the form and size of an olive, polished cess of natural selection or progressive and solid in their interior. Each cell is development? The phenomena are inexlarge enough to contain three buprestes, plicable, except by a belief in Divine Prothe ordinary ration allowed to each larva. vidence and Creative Wisdom. It appears that the mother fly lays one egg The unearthing of the nests of the in the midst of the three victims, and then cerceris reveals a very singular fact. The closes the cell with earth in such a way buried buprestes, though showing no signs that when the provisioning of the whole of of life, are always perfectly fresh, as though the brood is concluded, all communication killed that very day. Their colours are bright with the gallery ceases to exist.

and life-like; their legs, antennæ, and the When the cerceris returns from hunting membranes which unite the segments of their body are perfectly supple and flexible. it is difficult to believe in the action of an It was at first supposed that their preser- antiseptic liquid. Life, we feel assured, vation was owing to the coolness of the must still be there, although latent and soil, and the absence of light and air. But passive. Life only, still resisting the dethere must be some other cause of their instructive invasion of chemical forces, can corruptibility, since twenty-four hours after thus preserve an organism from decompothe death of a beetle in summer its internal sition. Life is still there, minus sensibility organs are either dried up or decomposed. and motion. We have before us a marvel The female cerceris, like the great majority which neither ether nor chloroform are of the hymenoptere, is furnished with a capable of effecting, and for whose cause sting and a poison-bag, and the guess was we must refer to the mysterious laws of the natural that the subtle liquid which in nervous system. flicted death possessed antiseptic properties, The important point was to ascertain the preventing putrefaction. No one suspected way in which the murder was committed. that the captured and doomed buprestes With some difficulty, M. Fabre succeeded were not really dead.

in surprising the assassin in the fact. The real truth was discovered by M. cerceris thrust her poisoned dart two or Fabre, while observing the proceedings of three times into the joint of the weevil's the tuberculated cerceris, the largest Euro prothorax, between the first and second pean species, and divulged by him in the pair of legs. In the twinkling of an eye Annales des Sciences Naturelles. This the deed was done. Without the slightest cerceris excavates its burrows, and stores convulsive pang, without any of those them with food during the last half of twitchings of the limbs which accompany September. Instead of a flat footpath, it an animal's dying agony, the victim fell selects a vertical bank, but is not particular motionless forever, as if struck by lightning. about the quality of the soil if it be but The stroke was terrible and admirable in dry, and have a sunny aspect. The gal- its rapidity. Instantly the victor turned leries are entirely the work of the females, the vanquished on its back, seized it and who do not disdain to save themselves flew off with it to her hidden den. By the trouble by repairing burrows of the pre- effect of a microscopic puncture and an ceding year.

imperceptible drop of liquid, the weevil inThe victim selected by this cerceris is stantly lost all power of motion. But a large species of the weevil tribe, the chemistry possesses no such subtle poison; Cleonis ophthalmicus. If the Bupresticide consequently, we must inquire for the cerceris, without going beyond the limits cause at the hands of anatomy and physiof a genus, indiscriminately captures any ology. And to comprehend the mystery of the species of that genus, the tuber we must consider not so much the subtlety culated cerceris, more exclusive, confines of the inoculated venom as the importance itself to a single species. One is curious of the wounded organs, which are precisely to know the motives which influence so the thoracic ganglions, whence spring the singular and decided a choice. There may nerves which preside over all the motions be differences of flavour and of nutritious of the creature's wings and legs. qualities in the respective game, which the The cerceres who, with a single stroke, larve doubtless appreciate, but the mother benumb the animal functions of their prey, insect is probably guided by anatomical select precisely those species in which this rather than gastronomical considerations. nervous centralisation is the most com

After what M. Dufour has told us re- plete. The buprestes suit them, because specting the wonderful preservation of the the nervous centres of the mesothorax insects destined to feed carniverous larvæ, and the metathorax are confounded in it is needless to add that the weevils de- one single mass; the weevil suits them, posited in the burrows or captive in the because the three thoracic ganglions lie claws of their mortal enemy, although de- very close together, the two last even prived for ever of all power of motion, are touching each other. The grand puzzle as completely untainted as when alive and still remains unsolved: Who taught the active. Vivid hues, supple joints, healthy assassin cerceres these refined secrets of viscera, all conspire to make us doubt that anatomy? the inert body lying before us is a veritable The cerceres are not the conly insects corpse, and we look at it with the expecta- who display a like manifestation of martion that we shall see the insect get up and vellous foresight. The wasp family includes, walk away.

In the presence of such facts, I besides the species which live in large communities and build complex nests, like the metamorphosis, tears open his chrysalis hornet and the common wasp, others which shell with his teeth, shakes, unfolds, and lead a solitary life. One of these, the essays his wings, and then launches boldly Odynerus spinipes, performs its task be- into air and sunshine. tween the end of May and the beginning of “What admirable maternal instinct!" July. Its first operation is to excavate a some will exclaim. Others, looking further, burrow, in clayey soil or stiff loam, at the will add, “What marvellous providential further end of which it fashions a cell, combination !" plastering it neatly with home - made mortar. Each cell receives one egg.

AN AUTUMN DAWN. The odynerus is a jack-of-all-trades.

THE sun-mist spreads a woof of quivering gold After working as a mason, it now plays On the blue mountain-tops, and o'er the crest the sportsman, beating the lucerne fields Of mighty Skiddaw, seamed with many a scar for the larvæ of a weevil. As soon as

By the fierce storms of ages, lies a cloud,

A crimson cloud, gold-fringed, and beautiful, caught, it inflicts on each a wound which, As is Aurora's brow, when from her couch without killing, paralyses them, arrests

She, rosy-fingered, rises radiant,

Veiling her white limbs from the God of Day. their growth, and retains them in the con

Upon the armoured furze the cunning work dition of living prey, incapable of resist

Of spiders spreads its silver tracery, ing the worm which is to feed on them. At

Glistening with morning dew; and yellowing tufts the bottom of each nest, close to the Of brake-grass, withered by the early frosts, odynerus's egg, you will find a dozen green

Give covert to the lark, whose clear shrill pipe

Wakes the hill-echoes with its melody, caterpillars rolled head and tail together, Sole minstrel of these wilds. stuck by the back against the walls of the

The autumn tints, cell, without the possibility of moving,

Purple, and red, and chrome, are on the fells,

With scarce an eye, save that of shepherd boy, The reason for this arrangement is clear. To drink their wondrous beauty. On the wing, The odynerus lays only one egg in each In solitary state, the goss-hawk skims

The vast expanse of sky. Fair, bright, and pure, cell. From that egg will issue a carnivo

Sweet, calm, and mellow, holy, grand, and still, rous worm who would disdain to eat stale Voiceless, yet speaking with a thousand tongues, or tainted meat. He must have fresh, Breaks forth the radiance of this autumn dawn. tender, juicy, living game. His mother knows his peculiar tastes, and takes “ EXCEPT THE MAYOR." measures beforehand to indulge them. She fills the cell with animals which he will Who told me, I wonder, and when and only have to devour one after the other, where was I told, a preposterous story, although their size enormously exceeds his with nothing in it, but which tickled me own when he first comes forth from his egg. strangely at the time, and which has never He eats the larva nearest at hand, without failed so to titillate my risible sense, to this troubling himself about the future. He day? The tale went this wise. Some then proceds to the second, then to the four decades since, when the Municipal third, and so on till the twelfth course is Corporations Reform Act was passed, a eaten. Twelve caterpillars, one per day, number of respectable towns in England neither more nor less, are his precise allow became boroughs, and were not only priance. His mother, well aware of the re- vileged to return members to parliament, quired number, never exceeds it. Her but likewise received charters of incorentomological knowledge is still more sur- poration, and were consequently empowered prising. She hunts after one single species to elect a mayor, aldermen, and town counof larvæ, and, what is still more curious, cil for purposes of local self-government. selects them all of nearly the same age. I can remember, indeed, when Brighton the Disdaining larvæ that are too small for her magnificent was destitute of such dignipurpose, she spares herself no trouble to taries, and was only the Hundred of Herfind up those who are old and strong ringbone, governed by a high constable i enough to bear a fast without perishing. but the town of which I am about to speak, If they died in the nest, and putrefied and which I will discreetly allude to under there, the stench would render it unbear- the name of Frogborough, was distant at able. Thanks to the peculiar wound she least a hundred and fifty miles from the inflicts, their vital functions are instantly queen of watering-places, and was situate suspended; but life exists in a degree in quite a different part of the island. It sufficient to preserve them from decay was a very small town; but had become, until they have satisfied the wants of the mentally, so prodigiously inflated by its young odynerus, who then undergoes his accession of importance as the seat of a

[ocr errors]

66

mayor and corporation, that the Gazetteers Except whom ?" roared the traveller. might have changed its name to Oxborough; “The mayor-his worship the mayor of and if it went on swelling in its own esti- Frogborough—he's a supping now, the mation in a proportionate ratio, I should landlord, still deeply agitated, but still denot be surprised to hear that it had burst termined, replied. long ago. There alighted, one evening, at Hang the mayor of Frogborough !" the principal hotel at Frogborough-it had shouted the Irreverent Traveller; "and tell only been an inn prior to the passing of the him, with my compliments, that he may go Mayor-giving Act – a certain personage to Bath." whom I will call the Irreverent Traveller. The landlord gazed for an instant at the He was a hungry travel ler, too, and im- iconoclast, and then rushed from his premediately after he had flung his baggage sence, calling for the constables. to the boots, demanded supper in a voice They locked the Irreverent Traveller up of thunder. It was the landlord who con in the cage; and the next day they brought descended to bring his repast, and to wait him up before the borough bench, charging upon him while he partook of it; and for him with fearful crimes. The country was two good reasons did mine host so stoop to in a disturbed state just then, and a vinous conquer. In the first place, his only waiter postboy came forward to swear that the was assisting at an entertainment given traveller had confided to him his complete that very evening by his worship the approval of the principles contained in mayor of Frogborough; in the next, the cobbett's Register. It was currently relandlord could not but think that a traveller ported, too-being market-day—that the with such a loud voice as that possessed prisoner had been discovered lurking under by the Irreverent one, must be a personage the lee of a hayrick with a tinder-box and of some importance. The traveller par- matches in one pocket, and an air-gun in took of a dishful of eggs and ham; two the other, and at the farmers' ordinary

helps” of cold roast beef; a considerable the rumour ran that he was SWING. amount of pie, and a prodigious quan- The end of the judicial investigation tity of pickles; and made no more of a was the discharge, “ with a caution,” of the crusty quartern loaf than though it had traveller; whereupon the Irreverent one, been a French roll. He drank a pint and planting his hat firmly on his head, dea half of strong ale, and two glasses of livered himself of the following seditious brandy-and-water; and then, flicking the words: crumbs off his knees with a great bandana “I shall be cautions, indeed, before I handkerchief, he drew a deep breath, and venture into this poky hole of a town slapping the landlord on the back-I warned again; and allow me to add, that of all the you that he was an Irreverent Traveller stupid old fools I ever met with, the landexclaimed:

lord of your hotel is the greatest-except “ There ! no man in England could have the mayor." a better supper than I've had this night." He turned and fled, and justice was

The landlord didn't mind being slapped robbed of her prey. on the back, for the guest looked like one How often, and in how many countries, who could afford to pay for such fami- has this idle jest occurred to me, often withliarities. Still

, there was something in the out rhyme or reason, and, in most instances, dogmatical manner of the traveller that without any effort of volition on my part. pained him, and he gave an “ahem !" in a But who has not his particular

“ tickledeprecating tone.

ment?" The old story of the man at “What's that?” cried the guest, in a Stoney Stratford, who was so terribly bitten voice like unto the sound of a trumpet. by fleas, and the older one still, of the

“I beg your pardon, sir,” the landlord ruined gamester who kicked his valet began in a tone subdued but firm.

for always tying his shoe, will never want “WHAT?” repeated the traveller in sten- laughers. torian accents.

* Except the mayor." I should be ashamed “You said,” the landlord wenton, politely to revert to this Frogborough story in this but seriously, “that no man in England place, but that it has some tangible relation to conld have supped better than you have certain circumstances in which I found mydone this night.”

self on the evening of the Ninth of Novem. “Of course I did,” retorted the guest. ber last. I should have been in bed, for I “No man could have supped better." was ill; but by a strange turn of Fortune's

Except the mayor, said the host, whirligig I found myself arrayed in that quietly but solemnly.

solemn mockery of woe which is known as

« AnteriorContinua »