William Henry Hudson and Rima

William Henry Hudson grew up on the Pampas of Argentina, where his father was a sheepherder. It was there that he became interested in nature. Known for his romantic novel, the 1904 ``Green Mansions,'' from which we excerpt, he was also a respected ornithologist. His character, Rima the bird-girl, was sculpted by Jacob Epstein and still stands in a bird sanctuary dedicated to Hudson in Hyde Park, London. ``Is it silk?'' I asked. Then, as she remained silent, I continued, ``Where did you get this dress, Rima? Did you make it yourself? Tell me.''

She answered not in words, but in response to my question a new look came into her face; no longer restless and full of change in her expression, she was now as immovable as an alabaster statue; not a silken hair on her head trembled; her eyes were wide open, gazing fixedly before her; and when I looked into them they seemed to see and yet not to see me. They were like the clear, brilliant eyes of a bird, which reflect as in a miraculous mirror all the visible world but do not return our look, and seem to see us merely as one of the thousand small details that make up the whole picture. Suddenly she darted out her hand like a flash, making me start at the unexpected motion, and quickly withdrawing it, held up a finger before me. From its tip a minute gossamer spider, about twice the bigness of a pin's head, appeared suspended from a fine, scarcely visible line three or four inches long.

``Look!'' she exclaimed, with a bright glance at my face.

The small spider she had captured, anxious to be free, was falling, falling earthward, but could not reach the surface. Leaning her shoulder a little forward, she placed the finger-tip against it, but lightly, scarcely touching, and moving continuously, with a motion rapid as that of a fluttering moth's wing; while the spider, still paying out his line, remained suspended, rising and falling slightly at nearly the same distance from the ground. After a few moments she cried, ``Drop down, little spider.'' Her finger's motion ceased, and the minute captive fell, to lose itself on the shaded ground.

``Do you not see?'' she said to me, pointing to her shoulder. Just where the finger-tip had touched the garment a round shining spot appeared, looking like a silver coin on the cloth; but on touching it with my finger it seemed part of the original fabric, only whiter and more shiny on the grey ground, on account of the freshness of the web of which it had just been made.

And so all this curious and pretty performance, which seemed instinctive in its spontaneous quickness and dexterity, was merely intended to show me how she made her garments out of the fine floating lines of small gossamer spiders!

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