“Enough Brazil! we would leave our skin … Let’s go … !!!“
Such was the resolution I took one fine morning, when the forces returned to me. I still had, I confess, a leg that worked with a little pain only; I thought that the rest of the crossing would be beneficial to me, attached to a good food that is not lacking for us on the boats.
I went to the port.
There was far, far away … The distance, joined to the suffering, made me see everything in black; I was very sad and very discouraged; the way seemed endless … Fortunately, I saw at the door of a vanda or inn, on the road, a coarse cart laden with bags of sugar and stopped there while the team ate … The opportunity was tempting. But, if the cart did not go to port? … how to get out and find me? …
“Haphazard!“ I said to myself. “Where do you want sugar to be brought in this country, if not to a shop to take it? …“
And on this fine conclusion I climbed with great difficulty on the full wheels of the carriage, and from there entered the sacks by means of a strap which, happily, hung near the axle. Barely safe, I fell asleep …
Happiness led me. When I awoke the next morning, men were unloading the sugar on the harbor. I had only time to go down and hide myself in a huge pile of ox horns waiting for his embarkation for Paris.
“What happiness! I will see France again. I will cross it partly to see my beloved meadow … O my God! Thank you!…“
So everything was decided: I left for France; I had read on a beautiful sign at the top of the pile:
leaving for Paris
But I had neglected a line printed in small print that bore this:
touching Havana and Texas.
It was a new service of small boats which had solved the problem of keeping well the sea and going up the Seine to arrive in Paris without transhipment. So we were leaving for a race that we could call “the great cabotage of Para at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico”.
All this I learned only when we were gone and at sea. I had no way of escaping my destiny, I resigned myself. It was all the easier for me since I had not left my pile of horns, in which I found the living and the cover. I was there all the better because, as the food was exceptionally abundant, the cockroaches themselves – there were a few thousand of them – did not bother to hunt ants. Full belly is good child!
As for rats, I had nothing to fear from them, and God knows if we had a republic!
A month later we were at the dock at San Felipe, to the great amazement of the inhabitants, who never tired of visiting the little Parisian ship. It bothered me a lot, because I was afraid, by venturing on the bridge, to be crushed. One night, however, I took my courage on both legs and crossed the bridge as quickly as possible. Everything remained calm around me.
I went then through the first street that presented itself to me. She was straight like an I, and yet it took me nearly two days of continuous walking to get out of the city. In this space of time, the food did not fail me: it abounds in this country, where all the detritus of the houses are thrown in the streets. These are unfortunately haunted by too many birds! …
Once in the country, I breathed a little more freely; the space was before me, and I was much less afraid of meeting an open beak to serve as a tomb.
Here, the country, as far as the eye could see, was covered with immense forests, composed of pines, cypresses, and oaks: it is as flat as the hand, and interspersed with brooks, rivers, bayoux, that hinder extremely the walk of the ants and should be well modified. Around the city, beautiful plantations of cotton, tobacco, sugar cane and corn. I confess that tears came to my eyes by finding here and there a few fields of wheat which reminded me of my country.
I wandered by chance when I came across the work of an ant who immediately reminded me of the Saüba and who must be her cousin. I have never seen more extraordinary works, better heard and stronger. They are real buildings, they are cities that last without interruption, more than twenty years. So do not be too surprised if builders put the necessary care.
They are large, brownish ants, of a rather unpleasing aspect, with abrupt and unpolished movements; real country people. The ones I found were already living for many years in one of the many orchards that are established far enough from the houses for fishing culture. There was a fairly high hillock formed partly by a large rocky bank. I had gone up there out of curiosity to see a little farther on this flat country, without suspecting that I was going to discover one of the most beautiful spectacles one could wish for: ants farming the land!
No doubt for me, since this discovery, that it was only ants that man learned agriculture! What a great nation that of the ants !!
It was in the layer of sand that covered certain points of the rocks that I noticed the interesting city of agricultural ants. At the entrance of one of the doors stood two or three strong fellows who seemed to be on guard … At my approach, one of them broke off and, feeling my antennae, spoke to me in a very harsh and barbaric language:
“What are you doing here, sir, and where are you from?“
“Where are you from?“
“What you say?…“
“Nothing! Will you let me visit your city? It seems curious to me and I can talk about it when I come back to my country.“
“Talk about it or do not talk about it, it does not matter to us! If you want to learn how a strong and honest people behave, enter among us, nobody will insult you, despite your motley twist. It is true that you are so puny that you will not be noticed!“
“Thank you! And I am a thunderbolt in my country!“
“Poor dwarves then your compatriots.“
And I entered a grand place.
I will never see a population calmer, more noble, more honest in the most beautiful acceptance of these words: work sanctifies everything.
Their city is huge. This is what my companion told me, which followed me by saying:
“Young stranger, the city you are going to travel is located in an absolutely exceptional position: it is certainly to this that it owes its high antiquity. It’s almost a century old! We count this by harvest …“
“By harvest you decimate …“
“No. By harvest we do.“
“I do not understand…“
“Doesn’t matter. When we have chosen a location to establish our farm, it necessarily happens that the land is dry or wet. If it is dry, we dig a depression, around which we raise a circular dike not high but very wide: higher from seven to eight centimeters and sometimes fifteen centimeters, depending on the place.
“This enclosure is often one meter twenty centimeters and more in diameter, and has a very slight inclination from the center to the outer edge. If, on the other hand, the soil is low, flat and wet, exposed to the floods, so frequent in this country, as we need a dry place to work, we start by raising a dike in a cone, pointed as much as possible, forty to fifty centimeters high, more or less. It is at the top that is the entrance of the city.“
“No. Here, it’s different; we are in the middle of the rocks. In plain, all around the low or high rampart, we clean the ground of any obstacle, we unite its surface on a distance of one meter to one meter fifty of the entrance of the city. This is the field of maneuvering, the big place as you see it here. In the middle is the city. Now, it is on this area, sixty centimeters or a meter in a circle, around the center of the dike, that we grow the ant rice, as men say, because our cereal – view with their glasses to make up for the insufficiency and grossness of their eyes – looks absolutely like their rice. We plant our harvest with the care it deserves and we never let any other plant grow in our enclosure. More than fifty centimeters from our farm we recognized that we had to remove any foreign plant, if we do not want to find the seeds in our rice.“
“This grass so alive we cross … it’s your rice? …“
“Yes sir. This will give a beautiful little white seed that we will shake in our stores, after having carefully separated from the straw, and which will serve to feed the colony all year round.“
“And straw, what do you do with it?“
“We carry it off and throw it beyond the limits of our farm.“
“Let’s see! speak frankly, my friend, is it you who plant this herb? It comes everywhere, is it not?“
“Make a search! If you find a compact harvest like this, you’ll come back and tell me what you want. When the harvest is done, the stubble cut and removed, you will see the cleared land wait for the next autumn, and then, the same ant rice will reappear in the same circle, will receive all the proper care and so on … so on every year!“
–Look! do you see that old gentleman walking around with difficulty there?“
“Yes. What is he looking at on the ground?“
“Our work! … that he has been following for twelve years without interruption! We were there before him and we will be there again after him, always young, always active!“
“However, the cattle, my poor farmer friend, must eat with happiness your pretty harvests!“
“Alas! cousin … this is the misfortune of our life! Especially since the oxen, in particular, are very fond of our rice.“
“Well! what are you doing then?“
“We are suffering! we are dying of hunger in the winter. Thus are quickly leaving the beautiful colonies of agricultural ants (Dr. Lyncoeum’s Atta malfaciens); only a few established cities like this one in an inexpugnable site, in an enclosure, can resist, and again! … Once the enclosure is devastated, we will die.“
“But why not run away?“
“To run away! Where? Is there a place where beef, which swarms in this country, cannot come to devour our harvest?“
“What do you do during the wet season?“
“We take care of our stores. As soon as a ray of sunshine shines, everyone brings the grains, which must be dried, and those who are wet are numerous, despite all the taken precautions. If some are sprouted, we never touch them, we carry them away from the enclosure of the farm, and we throw them away. These grains are no longer good for nothing.“
“So you can predict the consequences of what you undertake?“
“You can judge it. This fellow I showed you there is Dr. Lyncœum. One day he received a letter from another man named Darwin, who asked him if he thought the farm ants were planting their grain for the next season. It was absurd, that question. But, however … There are, among men, people who have such singular ideas!“
The man Lyncœum answered him this:
“I have not the slightest doubt about this fact, and my conclusions do not come from hasty or careless observations. I have become convinced that they are doing what they want and that they obviously expect it and know the result. It’s been twelve years since I’ve been watching the same anthill … All I’ve written to you is true. Yesterday, I visited them again. The harvest of ant rice grows perfectly: you would not find, at more than thirty centimeters of the circle, a blade of grass or plant foreign to the crop cultivated by my neighbors. Now, conclude!”