And we walked, with me carried, in front of the liberators!
“Urbain!“ said one of the young men, laughing, “deliverance is near!“
“And bites too!“ replied the brave captain.
Soon we arrived at the crest of a hill that was crossing the road, when the captain’s companions uttered a cry of surprise.
Curious as any insect that wants to learn, I slipped between the two drawers of the cigarette case and I won the captain’s sleeve to snuggle safely behind one of the buttons of his jacket.
Really the show was worth it.
A hundred meters from the road, in a direction almost parallel and passing under a very light wood, advanced slowly like a long piece of black cloth, of dark carpets unfolding of itself without interruption. I could see the head perfectly, but a hundred yards back there was nothing to distinguish between the leaves and the bushes. It seemed as if these leaves and scrub themselves were weaving this mysterious canvas.
There were millions of ants there, walking in order about four and five meters in front!
The three young men had stopped. At the head of the column were some scouts who seemed to be guarding others with vigilance. On the sides, officers, continually running back and forth to make sure that no one was moving apart, that the whole army was advancing in good order.
They were recognizable by their enormous white head, which swayed up and down relentlessly as they raced through their looming work.
“What do you call these ants?“ asked one of the captain’s companions.
“Eciton drepanophora, or forage ant.“
“I would like to see one closely.“
“Ah! That, no! Let’s go in now, and quickly! I’ll show you at home. But, to go get some today, no! Be content not to have met their vanguard, and take a serious flight; it could happen to us misfortune. What proves it, you see it, is that we are alone … everyone fled! …“
“Let’s move on!“
Needless to say, I had seen enough of them and hastened to leave my observation post to get into my case.
On arriving at his house, my brave captain chose a superb fruit-dish, absolutely like the one that served me prison on board, put in a handful of leaves, some delicious fruits of his garden, and shut me up there.
Then he disappeared for a moment and returned a few moments later, holding in his hand a little box of glass which he placed on his desk.
“You have before you, my friends,” he said, “one of the greatest workers, labourers, of Ecitons.“
“But it’s a great insect!“
-Yes. The difference in size between the workers, in this species, is very remarkable. The copy you see is nearly a centimeter and a quarter in length, not counting the legs; while I’m going to show you one next door that is not half as long and looks a lot like the black ant (Formica nigra) of our country.
“And where does this come from?“
“We do not know anything. It may be a question of age. See the big man’s head, how round, polite, and fat! It is armed with a pair of enormous mandibles, curved almost as strongly as horns of chamois and very sharp at their point. Wait! We will place one of these weapons under the microscope. See?“
“Certainly. Which scimitars? But they are surrounded by silks that are implanted as rings!“
“What strikes me,” said the other, “is how much the thorax and the abdomen of these officers are slender.“
“The animal is much darker than those we saw running sometimes.“
“Obviously; here everything looks yellow-brown, more or less pale. Alive, the head is almost white. The eyes, of this genre, are incredibly small. You see them, like two small round dots, on each side of the head.“
“I do not see them …“
“Take the magnifying glass.“
“Are these eyes?“
“Here is one, under the microscope.“
“Look! They are oval and convex … sunk in a small hollow in very deep orbit … Are they projectable forward? …“
“So, the Eciton does not see very well?“
“That is my opinion. Especially since, if that interests you, we will look here, in the campaign, another perfectly blind species … and that does not prevent them from living and from living well, because they are big and fat …“
At this moment a little negro entered the house, and going up the stairs four to four, burst into Urbain’s office.
“Massa! Tanoca! …“
“Down … they are coming! Open everything! Massa. They will clean the house! What happiness!“
“Are you sure they come here?“
“Oh! massa, I have seen the column in the garden … and … hold!…” the young child said, stooping and showing the captain an eciton he had just picked on his calf, where he was stung by his mandibles …“
“Devil! Gentlemen, it’s time to go! Save who can! …“
I wanted to shout:
“And me? … you forget me! ungrateful!…“
But they had come down at a gallop, opening the cupboards, the doors of the buffets, the cabinets …
I stayed alone.
A silence of death reigned for a few minutes.
Then there was a terrible noise in the house … a tremendous roar from below, spread everywhere. It sounded like a rustle of leaves, a rolling water that slips …
Then burst into Urbain’s office all the beasts of creation in rout, running, jumping, crawling, sliding, mingling, pushing each other …
How! There were so many animals in the house!
There were thousands of feet, scorpions, snakes, lizards, rats, crazy, mad mice, turning on themselves, cockroaches flying in a compact cloud …
At that moment, at the door, appeared the black army which was mounting the assault. It was a slow, continuous, indescribable, implacable movement that this rising lava enveloped everything that twisted, jumped, frolicked on the floor … A few last convulsions, and everything calmed down … It was like a struggle of a few minutes, silent struggle, without ceasefire or thanks … then it subsided … and the living sheet, black and yellow, covered everything.
Many insects were jumping on Urbain’s desk and flooding him with their disordered troops. But, along each foot, mounted and unearthed a column of big heads leading the infantry, and the butcher began again …
At that moment, I was afraid!
In front of me, behind me, side by side, everywhere, the terrible Ecitons surrounded my glass prison …
Everything was dead around them: I alone was still alive, safe from the fruit bowl; and the hooked mandibles opened and closed with a terrible sound of castanets turning to my side …
A phalanx tried to climb my glass jail, but she could not reach it … I breathed! the blessed vase was a half-ball mounted on a thin foot. No way to reach the edge … and besides, my cover was protecting me.
Some of the Ecitons went up on the salient objects around my blessed prison; they tried to jump in … only one succeeds. But even if they would have been ten and twenty of his fellows, they could not have lifted this mass of crystal. I was saved!
So I turned my attention to what was happening around me. I felt that in a few minutes I would be the only living being in the house.
Indeed, the Ecitons gave themselves to a domiciliary visit which did not forget a crevasse, or a crack. The cockroaches, the insects, pulled out by five or six ants, were pitilessly put to death.
At last the carnage ceased, for lack of victims. The harried Ecitons, full of blood, finally put the sword back in their sheaths, taking in their terrible sting, and carried on the spoils. All that could be carried away by them was. I saw myself organizing noiselessly before me a triumphal march worthy of barbarous times. Everyone resumed his place in the ranks, laden with booty, and the black torrent, folding back on itself, disappeared little by little on the stairs …
Some, on retiring, cast a glance of covetousness and regret on my side. It was repugnant to them to leave a being alive behind them!
Then silence spread over the whole house …