We both chatted, enjoying the delightful tranquility of the evening that was being made, and which, in these countries, is short, but delightful after the ardor of the day, when our attention was awakened by a slow, heavy step which resounded among dry leaves.
“An anteater! … Hide yourself!” Said Double-Spine, hurriedly.
And, joining the example to the warning, he huddled under a leaf, among the herbs. I did the same.
“What do you have?“ I asked him in a whisper.
“What I have, unhappy? But here comes the greatest and most terrible enemy of our race.“
“This big animal?“
“Yes. It’s the anteater.“
“Well, what does it do to me?“
“This species of bear feeds with ants only, not anything else. Judge what he consumes! It is a chasm … Moreover, if he does not see you or do not feel you, you can attend the representation of what he knows how to do, because he does not come here for anything other than to attack the Saüba nest.
“God thank you! … Let‘s go, he will pass … God grant that he does not guess us and does not dart us a lick! … It would take us away like flies …“
“Come on, then! you’re kidding … Such a big animal would pick up two ants on its way! It seems unlikely to me.“
“Alas! Alas! this is only too true, and this is a female; she carries her child on her back … If the little one guesses us, he will dart us too … For God, talkative, shut up.“
Poor Double-Spine was shaking like a leaf in the breeze …
At this moment, the monster passed close to us. I put my head between two sheets and saw him only too well, because he nearly crashed me with one of his hands. So I call his front members; they are not legs. He has such large nails that he is obliged to fold them inside his hand by closing his fingers and to walk on the side and the back of this hand; so he looks clumsy and awkward.
“Patience,” whispered Double-Spine, who saw what I was curiously examining, “patience; you will see how he will use it later.“
Now that the beast had passed, I got up and could study him at my ease. He was an animal as tall as a strong dog, but more massive in body, terminated in front by a small pointed head, and back by a huge tail straightened on his back in plume. What strikes me is that his hair, blackish-brown, a little scrawled with white, is very short on the head and on the muzzle, but is always increasing towards the tail, where it is long, coarse and rough like that wild boar. This hair forms a kind of mane to which clung the boy on the back of his mother. As for the hairs of the tail, they are large, thick, very dry, flattened; it looks like brown grass.
The anteater swayed from one leg to the other, with a lazy motion; he went straight to the Saüba. As he went away, Double-Spine came out of his hiding place, showed himself and regained his assurance. We are soon at the top of two weeds, dominating the theater and waiting for what could happen.
However, the anteater had set to work. It seemed as if the anthill of Saüba was boiling; inside it was moving so much that a rustle like distant thunder could be heard. Who, then, had warned the poor ants of the presence of their enemy? Instinct? The smell? … Some scouts entered suddenly? …
Suddenly the monster crouched in the center of the clearing; and, making his long claws shine in the moonlight, he suddenly strikes the crust composed of earth and leaves that we had seen build and which had already become very hard. Soon an opening is practiced; because, with each stroke of the leg, the splinters of the roof fly away.
At this moment, a brave troupe of Saüba gushes through the opening of their house. I saw the Big Heads, the soldiers and the workers, who brought balls of earth and cut leaves to repair the damage.
But the aggressor had lain quietly on his stomach, his child had descended and lay down beside him; then both of them had brought out, by the end of their muzzle, an enormous tongue fifty to sixty centimeters long, as big as the finger of a man, and had walked it in the middle of the crowd … This perfidious language is covered with sticky saliva, and all the ants she touches remain attached … When it is black of prey, the animal enters it in its mouth and swallows, without chewing, all the ants that he reported. That done, he begins again, sweeping the surface of attack and carrying everything in the same meal. The little one was sweeping as bravely as his mother ….
There was really something horrible and satanic about this systematic and silent carnage, which was going on right here in front of us, with automatic precision and threatening to last a long time. Indeed, the two monsters did not hurry …
When the workers of the colony understood who they were dealing with, they no longer showed themselves in the breach. Then the anteater, pushing his long snout in the opening, plunged his tongue in the corridors, the rooms, the floors, carrying all the inhabitants back in his mouth.
It was carnage without mercy. After a first hole, the ants having retreated to the bottom of their retreat, the mother went to practice another breach a few steps closer to the edge of the clearing, and, calling her little one by a significant groan, she placed him good place and returned to its first opening, whose longer tongue reached the bottom.
At this moment a newcomer came out into the big clearing. He arrived with a wolf step – we’d better say with the step of a cat – no sound had signaled his presence; but, on perceiving the anteater so well occupied, he stopped, lay down on the ground, and remained there motionless like the cat that will jump on the mouse he watches. He was very close to us: I saw his big red tongue pass over his black lips and a horrible grin discovered long white canines that gleamed in the rays of the moon … His fawn eyes seemed to shine like flames ….
Poor mother! beware of your little one! … This is where the puma is aimed! …
Suddenly, a double movement is executed at once; with a rapidity which I would have been far from suspecting in the indolent anteater, with a stroke of the paw the mother seizes the little one and brings it back to her; in the twinkling of an eye, she is riding under his big turned-up tail which hides her from all eyes. At the same time, the puma leaped and fell in the place that the young anteater had just left.
A little disappointed with this adventure, the feline remained motionless for a moment, indecisive, preparing to take flight to the mother. That moment was enough for her to stand up and mate against a tree … Then we saw her huge nails relax, separate, and, like menacing knives, move towards her adversary.
Obviously the puma was hungry. He rushed forward …
Quick as lightning, the paw of the anteater closed on him, by a gigantic cap, and turned him rolling on all fours, the open flank and bathed in his blood … So, before the cat could get up, the mother came up to him, with both her hands clasped her throat, which she crossed through her interlaced nails… In spite of the claws which the puma distributed on the right and on the left, but which bore in the long, rough fleece; despite a few bites, she held on and, in five minutes, the feline was dead …
We paid the greatest attention to this wild tragedy, and we were far from thinking that we were going to run, of its fact, an extreme danger …
Here is what happened:
At the moment when the nurse mother felt between her paws the puma that was dying, she half opened her claws, pulling them out of the flesh with great difficulty, and, repulsing with a violent blow, her dying enemy, she sent him rolling to the ground. opposite end of the clearing. Alas! it was precisely on our side! Arriving, like an irresistible mass, on our grass that shocks, we fall from a great height and, at the same moment, the ugly beast rolls on us …
It was a terrible suffering! At each thrill that agony impressed the cougar, we also felt life leaving us; its enormous weight broke our limbs … As for me, I felt my bones creak, and without the providential chance that made me fall between two stalks of hard straw, as it was produced in that country, I arrived at the end of my life and my adventures.
Alas! how do we get out of this awful position? What to do? How to get out of there?
I felt myself dying: goodbye, France! Goodbye, my country!
O happiness! in a last convulsion, the puma rolled a few centimeters lower …
A ray of light came to caress us!
However, unable to move, I remained there all night, without strength or courage … In the morning, I get up a little, and, what do I see, arriving like clouds? insects of all colors, all eager for the cure! … There were necrophores there that were already cutting up the puma’s hair and making balls to enclose their eggs; there were ants in quantity and most different species, huge flies coming to lay on the lips and nostrils … What do I know? …
Frightened by all this hubbub, I got up as best I could and, groaning with my bruises, I tried to withdraw a little apart.
No answer! …
“Double-Spine where are you? … poor companion! …“
A low moan is heard ten steps from me … It sounds like a distant echo …
I run there, as far as my pains permit, and what a sad sight presents to my eyes! … Caught between the mass of the puma and a beam on which it fell, my poor Double-Spine has the broken kidneys. ..
I went up to him, bringing him my consolations and offering him my care; he painfully opens his eyes and says to me:
“Stranger … thank you for your care … my life is over … go! … I feel myself dying … I return to the center of the great whole, to the one who created all beings. Be happy … and if you want to believe me, flee this cursed country where life is only a fight in all forms, night and day. Flee …“
She dropped her head and died …
I stood down beside him, repeating his last words:
“Flee,” he said. Escape! … But where? … and how? …
I tried to find and, therefore, to start upside down the path we had taken together to reach the Saübas; and I did it well enough to find the gardens of the city. It was for me, I admit, a real satisfaction to leave the mato virgem, the virgin forest. There are too many animals in there, swarming, devouring, jumping, lying, squealing, bellowing … what do I know? It’s a hell simply for a poor ant friend of comfort and of far-niente life.