The Summer House
I like to garden. Most of the time my flowers and shrubs are left to do their own thing, but sometimes I have to straighten out the tangles. One day, while down on my knees struggling with a particularly stubborn root, I met a handsome black and red Carrion Beetle. You know the kind, they bury dead things and then have a feast. I watched him emerge from the ground and set about cleaning his mandibles. I had gone back to tugging at my root when I accidentally dumped a clod of dirt onto his immaculate carapace. I apologized and to my surprise he spoke to me:
“Oh, that’s all right,” he said graciously. “that root needs to be dealt with, it’s getting far too uppity. I could hardly get past it! But you look tired. Why don’t you sit down and rest for awhile and have a chat. Or I could tell you a story if you like.”
How could I resist such an offer? “Oh a story please,” I said.
“All right, story it is. Hmm, let’s see. Oh yes, I will tell you about what happened to my cousin, Victor Wiggins. We in the burying trade call him VW for short. He’s a good-looking beetle, as all my species are, and engaged to a very nice lady beetle. But certainly not so elegant as I, he’s as round as a barrel. Still, he has his good points, as one who had her eye on him perceived. He makes his home at the bottom of that very tidy garden down the street. Not to cast aspersions on your own efforts, of course, but I must say it is a picture. VW likes to keep a low profile, but even so he tells me the owners are not the types to run around with a can of spray every time they see a bug. Much like you, if I may say so.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I consider that a compliment.”
“You’re welcome,” my beetle replied. “But to go on. VW has lived in that garden for a very long time, at least thirty days. Lots of tasty things there needed to be buried and life would have been very good if it hadn’t been for Arabella …”
“Arabella? Who’s she?” I asked, but he ignored me.
“Arabella lived near the wall of the house, so VW was able to keep a close eye on her, and he needed to because Arabella would dearly loved to catch VW and eat him.”
“Who is Arabella?” I asked again, hating to interrupt but unable to envision this terrible character.
“A spider, you ninny!” retorted my beetle. “Who but a spider would be named Arabella?”
“Oh, a spider!” I said. (Of course, a spider named Arabella. After a beetle named VW, what else?)
“One day,” my beetle went on, “while out on a bit of a scrounge, and not paying attention to how close to the wall of the house he had come, VW happened to look up. And just in time, for he caught Arabella’s eight beady little eyes staring hungrily at him, even though her web was full of flies and other such riff raff. ‘Victor, my delicious little friend,’ she said, grinning wickedly — VW never allowed HER to take liberties with his nickname —’One of these days you are mine!’ And her fat little body trembled in anticipation,— (I could see that my beetle was warming to his story) — as she set about mending her web against that eventful day.
“Now, like most of our tribe, my cousin VW is a dependable fellow, very conservative in his habits — not like that scabby family of Blue-bottle Flies I live next door to. Oh yes indeed, Blue-bottles, always trying to lay their eggs on my dinner! I tell you….”
“But what happened to VW?” I asked, interrupting his reverie.
“”VW? Oh yes … well he really was afraid that Arabella would catch him one day, while out on his rounds. He might have left the garden if he’d known much about the world — like me, for instance. But this was his home and he didn’t want to leave it. Besides, he had his wedding to think about. It isn’t that Arabella was such a bad spider, she had to eat, after all; it’s just that she was greedy. She had plenty of those nasty Blue-bottles and such, but she was always wanting something she thought she thought might be a tiny bit tastier.
‘I’m tired of the same old flies,’ she grumbled to her neighbour, Granny Elder — she’s the oldest spider in the garden, you know. Very wise too; we often talked about the goings on in her garden.
‘Be satisfied, my dear,’ old Gran advised, ‘I’ve lived to a ripe old age by taking only what the good Lord has put in my web. Be careful you do not despise it, it is much safer that way.’ But Arabella would not listen. She wandered off until she found what she thought was the perfect spot. And disdaining old Gran’s advice she built her web larger and larger until it nearly covered the whole side side of the house. But it got so big it was shredded by one of those Hummy-Bird things, and it nearly got her too! So she had to had to find another place for her web. Now near the end of the garden stands a small summer house, all open to the air …”
“Oh, you mean a pavilion!” I enthused. “I’ve always wanted a pavilion! Is it pretty?”
“Yes, I have to admit it is an attractive place,” returned my beetle. “Gingerbread on the eaves and roses hanging from the trellises. And shaded by a giant chestnut tree, a truly grand old dame that has stood there for many human lifetimes, I can tell you! Or at least, so I am told. So who should decide to try her luck there but Arabella. Shortsighted as she was, she still noticed the way the roses drooped nearly to the ground. (“You keep saying WAS!”I interjected. “Yes indeed, WAS it is!” my beetle retorted. “Now don’t interrupt!”).
‘Perfect!’ she thought, and after testing the breeze, she spun a long thread and throwing it to the wind, sailed over to the pavilion. ‘I’m sure to catch him this time!’ she said, and though Granny Elder had warned her again to be careful, Arabella still did not listen. She spun a new web on the little summer house.
“So far nothing but a few small moths and tiny flies flew into her now newly built web, but she considered these only as appetizers to the main meal, and that was VW! As it happened VW was especially fond of the little summer house and he spent a good deal of time scavenging there. But it’s also a favourite haunt of Mud Dauber Wasps. The eaves are a fine place to build their nests,.
“Now, at the time a few friends and I were spending the night with VW. He had discovered a dead mouse which was in need of a decent burial and he had kindly invited us to the service — (my beetle had a rather GRAVE sense of humour, ha ha!)— and we did the mouse justice. We left only bones and a drumstick and covered them up carefully. Then, our stomachs full, we dozed off on a bed of soft moss.
The next day, after we had left, VW trotted round to the summer house with expectations of brunch under the eaves. But, preoccupied as he was with his own thoughts, he didn’t notice a stealthy movement in the rosebushes above. With eight beady eyes closely following his every move, her small brain calculating every step he took, Arabella waited her chance. Peering through the roses she could just see him coming down the path, humming snatches of ‘John Brown’s Body Lies A’moulderin’ in The Grave’ to himself. She hung out as far as she could, ready to snatch him up … and tumbled into a Crab Spider camouflaged against the rose petals.
‘Git yer own flower!’ he snarled, nipping at her toes. ‘I ain’t about t’ share!’
‘Well I wouldn’t share it with you if you asked me!’ she retorted, and after leaving blob of spit on his flower, she went back to her post in the centre of her web. But by this time, VW had disappeared under the summer house.
‘Well darn!’ she exclaimed. ‘It’s all that crabby spider’s fault! I’ll sue!’ But before she could do any such thing, VW had reappeared; he had forgotten his knife and fork.
“Knife and fork?” I repeated, somewhat nonplussed.
“Oh yes, we Carrion Beetles are very meticulous you know, very clean,” my beetle said primly. “We always eat with a knife and fork. Don’t you?”
“Uh … yes, of course.”
“Well, there you are! Now don’t interrupt, I’m getting to the good part. VW headed back down the path, directly under Arabella’s clutching little claws. With a leap, all eight legs outstretched, she dropped on him like a stone. VW reared backward in a terrible fright I can tell you! Snapping at her with his mandibles, he beat a hasty retreat and ran back under the pavilion.
“Arabella hung there empty clawed, cursing and spinning in the air. There she might have stayed until she felt like hauling herself back up to her web, when a terrified squeak made VW turn, just in time to see Arabella plop onto the grass. Obsessed with catching VW, her greed had done her in, so to speak. Her silk was so thin by this time it wouldn’t hold her corpulent little body any longer and down she went. A Mud Dauber Wasp spotted her there, struggling in the grass as she tried to get back up to her web. Darting in, it stung her quickly and carried her paralyzed body back to its mud nest in the eaves.
“Do wasps Eat spiders?”I asked, a little sorry for Arabella.
“No, but they do lay an eggs on them and when their young hatch … well, you know …”
“Oh dear,” I said, “Poor Arabella!”
“Yes, that’s what VW thought too. ‘What a fate!’ he said to me later. ‘I wouldn’t have wished it on my worst enemy (which she was!) but she brought it on herself! Maybe now I’ll have some peace!’
I had to admit VW was right, Arabella HAD brought it on herself. I thanked my new friend for his interesting, if somewhat gruesome, story.
“Think nothing of it, my dear. Remind me sometime to tell you about Josephine.”
“Josephine! Is she a spider too?”
“Ah, but that is another story, my friend. I mustn’t keep you from your work any longer. Some other day perhaps.” And he disappeared under the root I hadn’t yet been able to coax out of the ground.