Among the Climbing Roses

by Selma Lagerlof

Invisible Links

I could wish that the people with whom I have spent my summer would let their glance fall on these lines. Now when the cold, dark nights have come, I should like to carry their thoughts back to that bright, warm season.

Above all, I should like to remind them of the climbing-roses that enclosed the veranda, of the delicate, somewhat thin foliage of the clematis, which in the sunlight as well as in the moonlight was drawn in dark gray shadows on the light gray stone floor and threw a light lace-like veil over everything, and of its big, bright blossoms with their ragged edges.

Other summers remind me of fields of clover, or of birch-woods, or of apple-trees and berry bushes, but that summer took its character from the climbing-roses. The bright, delicate buds, that could resist neither wind nor rain, the light, waving, pale-green shoots, the soft, bending stems, the exuberant richness of blossoms, the gaily humming hosts of insects, all follow me and rise up before me in their glory, when I think of that summer, that rosy, delicate, dainty summer.

Now, when the time for work has come, people often ask me how I passed my summer. Then everything glides from my memory, and it seems to me as if I had sat day in and day out on the veranda behind the climbing roses and breathed in fragrance and sunshine. What did I do? Oh, I watched others work.

There was a little upholsterer bee which worked from morning till night, from night till morning. From the soft, green leaves it sawed out a neat little oval with its sharp jaws, rolled it together as one rolls up a real carpet, and with the precious burden pressed to it, it fluttered away to the park and lighted on an old tree stump. There it burrowed down through dark passage-ways and mysterious galleries, until at last it reached the bottom of a perpendicular shaft. In its unknown depths, where neither ant nor centipede ever had ventured, it spread out the green leaf roll and covered the uneven floor with the most beautiful carpet. And when the floor was covered, the bee came back for new leaves to cover the walls of the shaft, and worked so quickly and eagerly, that there was soon not a leaf in the rose hedge that did not have an oval hole which bore testimony that it had been forced to assist in the adorning of the old tree-stump.

One fine day the little bee changed its occupation. It bored deep in among the ragged petals of the full-blown roses, sucked and drank all it could in those beautiful larders, and when it had got its fill, it flew quickly away to the old stump to fill the freshly-papered chambers with brightest honey.

The little upholsterer bee was not the only one who worked in the rose-bushes. There was also a spider, a quite unparalleled spider. It was bigger than any spider I have ever seen; it was bright orange with a clearly marked cross on its back, and it had eight long, red-and-white striped legs, all equally well marked. You ought to have seen it spin! Every thread was drawn out with the greatest precision from the first ones that were only for supports to the last fine connecting thread. And you should have seen it balance its way along the slender threads to seize a fly or to take its place in the middle of the web, motionless, patient, waiting for hours.

That big, orange spider won my heart; he was so patient and so wise. Every day he had his little encounter with the upholsterer bee, and he always came out of the affair with the same unfailing tact. The bee who took his way close by him caught time and time again in his net. Instantly it began to buzz and tear; it dragged at the fine web and behaved like a mad thing, which naturally resulted in its being more and more entangled and getting both legs and wings wound up in the sticky net.

As soon as the bee was exhausted and weakened, the spider came creeping out to it. It kept always at a respectful distance, but with the extreme end of one of the beautiful, red striped legs it gave the bee a little push, so that it swung round in the web. When the bee had again buzzed and raged itself tired, it received another gentle shove, and then another and yet another, until it spun round like a top and did not know what it was doing in its fury, and became so confused that it could not defend itself. But during the whirling the threads that held it fast twisted ever more tightly, till the tension became so great that they broke, and the bee fell to the ground. Yes, that was what the spider had wished, of course.

And that performance could they repeat, those two, day after day as long as the bee had work in the rose-bushes. Never could the little bee learn to look out for the spider-web, and never did the spider show anger or impatience. I liked them both; the little, eager, furry worker, as well as the big, crafty, old hunter.

Very few great events happened in the garden of the climbing roses. Between the espaliers one could see the little lake lying and twinkling in the sunlight. And it was a lake which was too little and too shut in to be able to heave in real waves, but at every little ripple on the gray surface thousands of small sparkles that glistened and played on the waves flew up; it seemed as if its depths had been full of fire that could not get out. And it was the same with the summer life there; it was usually so quiet, but if there came the slightest, little ripple—oh, how it could shine and glitter!

We needed nothing great to make us happy. A flower or a bird could make us merry for several hours, not to speak of the upholsterer bee. I shall never forget what pleasure I had once on his account.

The bee had been in the spider-web as usual, and the spider had as usual helped him out; but it had been fastened so securely that it had had to buzz a dreadfully long time and had been very tamed and subdued when it had flown away. I bent forward to see if the spider-web had suffered much damage. Fortunately it had not; but on the other hand a little yellow larva was caught in the web, a little threadlike monster, which consisted of only jaws and claws, and I was agitated, really agitated, at the sight of it.

I knew them, those May-bug larvae, that in thousands crawl up on the flowers and hide themselves under their petals. Did I not know them and yet admire them, those bold, cunning parasites, that sit hidden and wait, only wait, even if it is for weeks, until a bee comes, in whose yellow and black down they can hide. And did I not know their hateful skill just when the little cell-builder has filled a room with honey and on its surface laid the egg from which the rightful owner of the cell and the honey will come forth, just then to creep down on the egg and with careful balancing sit on it as on a boat; for if they should come down into the honey; they would drown. And while the bee covers the thimble-like cell with a green roof and carefully shuts in its young one, the yellow larva tears open n the egg with its sharp jaws and devours its contents, while the egg-shell has still to serve as craft on the dangerous honey-sea.

But gradually the little yellow larva grows flat and big and can swim by itself on the honey acid drink of it, and in the course of time a fat, black beetle comes out of the bee-cell. It is certain that this is not what the little bee wished to effect by its work, and however cunningly and cleverly the beetle may have behaved, it is nevertheless nothing but a lazy parasite, who deserves no sympathy.

And my bee, my own little, industrious bee, bad flown about with such a yellow hanger-on in its down. But while the spider had spun round with it, the larva had loosened and fallen down on the spider-web, and now the big, orange spider came and gave it a bite and transformed it in a second into a skeleton without life or substance.

When the little bee came again, its humming was like a hymn to life.

"Oh, thou beauteous life," it said. "I thank thee that happy work among roses and sunshine has fallen to my lot. I thank thee that I can enjoy thee without anxiety or fear.

"Well I know that spiders lie in wait and beetles steal, but happy work is mine, and brave freedom from care. Oh, thou beauteous life, thou glorious existence!"