We were together further than I expected. Orienting myself as best as I could, I returned straight to our beautiful anthill, when I met a deserted, mountainous, arid place, in which I had to run the greatest dangers. It was a question of not crossing a valley at the bottom of which, in the middle of a beautiful wood of Dattiers roniers, I felt a marigot or a stream.
My sense of smell guided me as well as my eyes, which showed me a bamboo thicket of prodigious strength passing in a very humid place, as one could judge by the grasses becoming more and more bushy and inextricable as I was approaching. I had to go up and cross the barren ground among the stones and the slates: here and there some baobabs whose enormous fruits hung in the middle of rare and shining leaves.
I looked for the foot if the animals would not have made fall some of these fruits containing a sweet and acid flour which we like very much. Men mix it with milk and form a remedy against dysentery, so common in these countries. In the morning I saw the Yoloffs of Cayor use lallo to season the couscous of my friends the French, I recognized that this lallo was baobab leaf, simply dried and finely spun. The baobab is used for everything in this country, even to provide son of a beautiful color.
I easily found my dinner in the middle of all the debris accumulated under the trees by monkeys and parrots. Then, recovering my courage, I crossed a part of the forest, and before evening I rested in the midst of my adoptive parents.
I was there as near the heath of Pora, I never found myself better outside my native country.
For some time the sky had been covered with heavy black clouds, the day seemed darkened, weakened, gray; my companions exulted; that good, veiled, sweet day did not blind them as the equatorial splendor of ordinary days: the sun had left them, that’s all they asked for. Also, a feverish activity reigned in the anthill. We worked everywhere: not only did we clean, but we enlarged the huge underground already existing, and formed an inferior city of enormous size.
Suddenly, the rain began to fall, thick, tight, continuous. It looked like a sheet of water enveloping the countryside. I had never seen anything like this. In France, such a rain never occurs except in the midst of a violent storm; here, nothing of the sort, it fell straight, tranquil, as if it were no longer to cease. And, indeed, she never stopped …
At the end of two days, the paths among the dry leaves and grasses were impracticable for us; no way out. And the rain was still falling! …
One morning, we were gathered in crowds on the main square of the underground city, I, very bored of this detention already long and that did not seem to come to an end, when a scouting soldier, as one constantly sent to marauding entered at a gallop and exclaimed:
“Save who can!“
“What? who is it? what is it?…“
“The water is coming! … we will be flooded! …..“
It was a moment of confusion and indescribable panic: I approached my friends and asked them:
“What do we do in similar cases?
“My dear, we do what we can … it depends on the walk that takes the water … Let’s see together! …“
We went out, but already the order was re-established among the workmen by the soldiers. The colony was forming a deep column: each one arrived and gained his rank, without confusion, with an incredible quickness and intelligence.
The anthill city had been built, with great skill, on a small eminence sufficient to ward off the danger of a flood. The huntresses were not at their first test, and all denoted, in their coolness and activity, that they had the means to escape this horrible position. Without wasting time, my friend and I reached the edge of the water which was rapidly flowing in front of us; we followed this improvised river, and it was soon easy for us to recognize that it formed two arms absolutely surrounding our hill like an island and meeting below it.
All retreat was closed to us!
We needed four hours to make the journey of our islet, and we returned to our point of departure, when a flood of ants came out of the ground in a hurry, shouting:
“The water is rising! … it is now filtering in the stocks below!“
“What a pity! our provisions! …..“
“Starvation for winter …“
“Courage, child!” cried my friend, “a huntress of hearts can never be discouraged! Take confidence, we will make you a bridge!“
“A bridge?“ I said, interrupting him; “and with what?“
“With us, then!“
“What do you say? I do not understand you…“
“You’ll see. Come with me, you will help us …“
And I followed her.
A good number of soldiers were gathered together and discussed eagerly, as if to elucidate a delicate question. Suddenly the calm became, and a voice commanded aloud:
“Go to the rubber creeper! it’s the best place.“
The whole troop marched towards the point of the islet which was designated this way. The same voice commanded again:
“Workers! be ready to cross the bridge that we will establish without delay. We must flee before the flood. At the maneuver !!! …..“
I followed my friend, and soon we arrived at the foot of a rubber, after which a liana, the numerous branches of which fell like a weeping willow, was wound up, and, in fact, almost entirely traversed the stream of water. who had formed and surrounded us. The place seemed singularly chosen: it was upstream; and the water, distributing it to the right and to the left, was repressed and took a terrible rapidity.
“Follow me, flies, and do what you will see me do!“
Both of us climb the liana, closely followed by the whole band of soldiers and by the people in a long, tight column, but walking with a calm and unhurried step. It was admirable of order and intelligent discipline. Soon our driver found the branch he was looking for: it was the longest and we descended slowly by the creeping vine. Once down, we were about two meters from the water … How to jump? …
A soldier came near me and, clinging strongly, not to the last leaf, but to the end of the perfectly chosen branch on the already solid wood, he let his long legs stretched out all their length. A second cautiously passed over his body, clung to his legs, and let his own hang; then another; then ten hung on one another. I was in awe!…
The chain was still elongating; the point of attachment had been reinforced by four other enormous soldiers: soon she touched the water … that was not enough yet. From time to time the wind lifted the vine and pushed it towards the opposite bank with the bunch of huntresses that prolonged it.
One of the strongest soldiers had taken the last place, the most exposed, the most dangerous … Firmly clutched by the hind legs in the last place, he stretched his front paws and huge mandibles forward, striving, at each oscillation that the wind gives him, to catch some object in passing … Twenty times he misses his shot, but finally he seizes a long grass …
In the twinkling of an eye, ten ants of the band were hung on the grass, the chain was securely closed, the bridge was made … The workers’ people began to pass, flowing beside me. I had descended to the mainland and was busy considering another squad of soldiers who had chosen the other end of the island downstream to establish the bridge: here it was the opposite of the upstream. Just as the water was coming fast and furious at the top, so much was it calm and deep below. It looked like a small lake.
How to pass? The tree closest to the edge and whose branches stretched farthest was very thin: a simple rejection leaning forward, as in all the woods of the world. The chain was already made. I watched again how the last ones were suspended in the absence of the wind, which pushed the chain back inside. Ah! the admirable genius of these admirable insects is great! I never saw anything run so simple, so bold !!…
Near the surface of the water, the last attached spread her great legs away: she was hung by her mandibles. A second was placed next to her, then two in front, then three, then four and always four, all supported on the water by their suspension at the branch and their large legs that do not get wet. Then, the flow of workers passes, but one by one, little by little, so as not to sink the dedicated soldiers who made up the raft. I went there myself and I confess that I was a little afraid on this singularly shaky bridge; but clinging well, he had all the necessary security.
In a few hours all the people passed and stretched out in a long brown column through the wood; the flanks were guided and illuminated by valiant soldiers. Before leaving the bank opposite our anthill, I looked back: the water was gaining, winning … The deepest work was under water; a few ants even had been surprised and drowned … I see their corpses spinning in the torrent !! …
The rain was still falling! We distinctly heard the grunts of the hippopotamus of the neighboring river, who evidently rejoiced at a time so agreeable for them, in that it was going to extend their domain over the whole country.
We were not the only ones to flee the flood. On all sides the most different animals were all fleeing in the same direction … and the water rumbled and invaded more and more the earth. Finally, a stream came overflowing the river by a huge sheet … it was like a torrent that carried everything in its path …
So I attended an admirable show.
They were willing to admit me to share in the common salvation, and I shall have, all my life, an eternal gratitude to my friend.
All the hunting ants were mounted on the tallest grasses, on the tallest trees, and all rose in a line. At the top, an ant was clinging to the mandibles; then, to his limbs and his body, clasped the little ones, the weak, the workmen, until the whole formed a ball the size of an apple. Outside are the forts and the soldiers. I was included among the little ones and put inside. I wore and was worn: the way we were intertwined is so ingenious that the effort is insignificant and that one can hold this position for a long time without feeling a tiredness capable of making you let go.
At the signal given, as soon as the ball was big enough, the first ant released the catch and, the water rising always, we found ourselves afloat, rolling in the midst of the currents of the great overflowing river.
Beside us, ten, twenty, fifty similar balls were made by our comrades and all of them floated, drifting like cork balls, for we were much lighter than water. My companions were saying good-bye to the balls that were going away, carried to the right and to the left, without any hope of seeing them again, for it is quite evident that a similar event is a cause of dissemination for the race of the huntresses. What would destroy any other species is, on the contrary, an opportunity of multiplication for this one.
Our trip was devoid of serious accidents. We had been driving more or less quickly, for several days, on the waters of the river that brought us to St. Louis, avoiding obstacles because of our natural lightness that kept us in the middle of the large flakes of white foam that produces any river in movement. We were gradually approaching the sea, and I was not without anxiety about our fate: however, I said nothing to my companions, not to frighten them in a useless and untimely way. It would be time to see, in the moment of danger, what there would be to do! …
In the meantime, I prayed to God to remove the crocodiles from us, who, feeling a wild ball of insects pass within their reach, could have opened their monstrous jaws and swallowed all of a sudden our group. We had the chance of not hitting any obstacle, because we were on the big current. In the middle of the river we were slowly following a large branch, or rather a fallen tree, against which we were stuck by an abundant layer of foam. The branches that surrounded us were used to parry some small shocks if needed!
We were getting close to the sea, I felt it, not only with the smell of water, but with the slowing down of our walk. The water became almost motionless, and, if we went further, it was because of the weight of our tree and its speed. Suddenly, a tremendous shock was felt in our tree … The rope of an anchor stopped him by the edge; he flips quickly, whips his branches over the ball, and crushes us against the rope, which causes all the trouble!
One moment stunned by the commotion, I float … Alas! that dead and wounded !!! … the water was, all around us, covered with corpses! …
What to do?
The instinct of preservation was more powerful in me than terror. I clung to the cable anchor: I clung to it, and although my limbs were as crippled, I managed to pull myself up, followed by several comrades I helped to take place … O pain ! my friend lay on the surface of the water, her head crushed by the shock of the branch.