I remained a few days in the orchard; but, by two or three adventures which nearly happened to me, I judged that the stay in the midst of those big oxen which blindly trampled all this campaign, was unhealthy for us he other ants. It made me think again of our little quiet wood, of our beautiful heath of Para, stretching out in front of the maternal house, to France, in a word.
“Enough America and adventures! … Let’s go back to the country, if God allows it! On the way … courage and return to port; the Rapide will carry us away!“
And here I am walking at full speed along the interminable street that I had already traveled the week before …
And the Rapide!
Gone!!! … oh woe!
“Now, where to go? To remain prowling on the port, it is very dangerous; enemies abound … only one ship is at the dock. Where is he going? Let’s reach the placards … In Senegal! Good Lord!!! in Africa! … No! I will never dare! Let’s wait for some other boat, he can not miss…“
I waited in the midst of tribulations of all kinds, anxieties of night and day, the dangers of every moment. No ship appeared, and, to make matters worse, the Senegalese sailed!
“Lord! Lord!“ I shouted like Jeremiah, “what party to take? Africa! … A poor ant will not be alive after five minutes … Alas! cursed curiosity … where did you lead me? …“
It had to decide.
I embarked !!! …
That’s how I am, right now, on the San Jacobæo, en route to St. Louis, where it will load peanuts. The hold feels bad to give you an illness, and, moreover, the place is by no means safe … Always cockroaches; but, moreover, a lot of centipedes, and horrible animals that run like frenzied ghosts in the night and recall the shape of spiders; but so big, so big …
I managed to slip into the captain’s cabin. A first time, with Master Urbain, I found there the salvation, maybe I will save myself there still today. What a difference! as much as the French ship was clean and well kept, so much was it … dirty and neglected!
My first care, on entering this cabin, was to find a favorable place to take up residence among the enemies who surrounded me on all sides. Trying to appropriate a crevasse, a crack, a corner of any kind, there was no need to think, and a circular look cast around me told me that all the places were taken and occupied for a long time. Enter a drawer? Useless! the cockroaches were everywhere. Time was pressing, however, it was necessary to decide. I had traveled all the places within my reach … nothing! nothing! Looking up, I saw a series of wooden boxes on one of the shelves of the cabin …
“If I could do it? Perhaps I would discover there a refuge!“
And while I was saying that, I saw such a procession of cockroaches on the angle of the small joists of the ceiling, that I shook my head sadly … Of course, there were still more of these horrible animals on top than in low … How to? …
I got out of the captain’s cabin and came back in a sort of small square that served as an antechamber or dining room. What do I see in a corner? A beautiful white wooden case, well closed, well circled.
“Ah! good Lord! that I would be at ease there!“
I am going around the beautiful box, looking with scrupulous attention if there would not be a hole, a crack, a solution of any continuity. It takes so little room to house an ant!
I inspected everything with a meticulous care, not without bad meetings behind the box. More than once I was happy to sneak under it … Exactly, I was there, when, trying to get out my head, i hit the wood; then, next to her, there was a void. I could stand up. Immediately, standing on my legs, along the walls, I see that I am in a wood slot. I push, I push … it’s paper that is on my head … The gnawing was a business of five minutes. Victory! I pass … and I find myself in the beautiful box, in the middle of a quantity of dry foam, among which I huddle.
Once again I was saved!
I was there, I was told, on landing – in a box of samples and curiosities that the captain of the San Jacobæo brought to his correspondent near St. Louis. I lived there perfectly sheltered, thanks to the smallness of my hole, during the seven weeks that lasted our crossing, a little at the expense of what was around me. There were very good things there.
It was therefore groping that I landed at Saint-Louis, and it was groping that I was carried away to the peanut dealer at N’dien, a few leagues from the city, in the midst of an admirable campaign; I did not leave my box until it was demolished from above to remove what it contained. It was necessary to leave, and I did it as quickly as possible, a little dazzled by the day, and at random … which almost made me devour twenty times before having been able to reach the garden, if one can call garden the inextricable clutter of plants that surrounded the house.
Ah! what company in this mess … These are just scorpions, snakes and other similar animals …
I had scarcely taken ten steps in these haunted groves, that at some distance, and between the grass, I see a silhouette that makes my heart beat.
“A sister! … a red ant! … oh happiness! how is she here?“
I ran to meet her …
She was an ant … that looked very much like us; but it was not a Red Polyergue!
I had a movement of disappointment which she noticed, for I was near her:
“What is the matter you?“ she says to me … “You come to me; well! come! I do not know you, but you resemble us very much, it seems to me; we can be friends, if you want it …“
“If I want it! Great God! How much I thank you for not repelling me by attacking me, as so many ants have done in the world.“
“In the world? you say. Who are you?“
“A French reddish Polyergue, traveler a bit in spite of herself, and seeking to return to her homeland …“
“By where did you come here?“
“In a box brought a moment ago from the boat San Jacobæo, arrived yesterday at St. Louis.“
“Yes, I know all that.“
“Who are you in your turn?“
“Scout? Is this the word?“
“Espion, if you want it. I belong to the species of hunter ants, which men have named Anomma arcens. We want to do an expedition here and I’m waiting for an answer from the army that I believe in walking.“
“How many are you here?“
“Ahead, we were ten or twelve … I sent more than half in front of the column; I’m going there myself.“
“Do you want to allow me to join you?“
“You’re welcome. But I must inform you of certain signs of gathering, without which you would be immediately attacked and devoured. With these signs, you are ours; we will respect you. Besides, do not leave me, I like you; you will attend our raid and you will have fun.“
“Great, thank you, cousin.“
And she showed me how to place my antennas and my palps. Once in possession of these passwords, I followed her very willingly.
“If it’s a matter of fighting,” I said to her, “you will see that the French have hearts!“
“I do not doubt it for a moment,” she said to me. “Here are our comrades who join us.“
I was terrified.
I came to meet half a dozen individuals very similar to us, it is true, but some offered a size of which I had no idea. Certainly, in my tribe, I was recognized as a very handsome person, and I was flattered to see coming a smaller soldier than me; but I had three in front of me whose size reached that of an earwig: more than fifteen millimeters! what a giant !!
I made the desired signs; my friend introduced me to them and I became of the band.
I was, I confess, very much intrigued by what they were doing in the neighborhood of the peanut dealer’s house; my friend’s explanations did not satisfy me.
“We came to visit the barnyard.“
“To do what?“
“To discover the chickens and then the pigs. We will get there now one of these days, when we want.“
“What do you want to do?“
“But yes. At this moment the army must trace its path.“
“How! to chart his way?“
“You will see that, cousin,” said my friend, “and you will admire our labors. We have to run away from the sun!“
“You are running away from the sun, this beneficent star that makes us live!“
“It kills us. We love the night.“
“Is that why you do not leave the grassy leaves under which we have been walking since our meeting?“
“Without a doubt? Does this surprise you? … You will see many others.“
Indeed, I saw many others.
After having walked all night with no other guide than the smell of our companions, a sense of smell that never seemed to deceive us, we encamped under the large leaves of the foot of a butter tree whose nuts had fallen all around. we. We found there a good meal and a good lodging for the whole day, for we only resumed our journey at dusk in the evening. At that moment, my companions were awakened, as well as I, by the dull growls of the hippopotamuses, who were coming out of a nearby river to go to pasture in the reeds. These noises, in the stillness of the night that was being mingled with the distant cries of the hyena, with the majestic voice of the lion, with the yelps of the monkeys and with the thousand sighs of this grandiose nature, gave me the thrill. And yet, what did I have to fear? There were no longer any anteaters, much more dangerous for us than all the lions and hippopotamuses of the earth.
For several hours we had passed a mountain of rocks, and I was not the most reassured when we arrived at a deep marigot, which seemed to offer an insurmountable obstacle to our passage. Not at all! my guides knew no obstacles! After having followed the shore as best they could, they continued until they found great reeds with folding leaves, which advanced far on the water and intertwined with grasses of all kinds. It was this trembling path that they chose, and, at the risk of drowning us twenty times, it was necessary to go up and down this devilish road. We thus arrived in the middle of the marigot, and, walking on a real floor of a kind of water lens, we soon arrive at the opposite bank. No, nothing in France, nothing in Para itself, can give an idea of the admirable exuberance of vegetation in these humid places.
It was very close to the morning when we fell on the sentinels of the huntresses; we crossed the antennas according to the password; some of them looked at me a little, and pretended to threaten me with their gigantic pincers; if they had hit me, I was cut in half! It was not so. I had become an adopted child.
The next day rose hazy, for we were approaching the rainy season; so everyone was working. We made the way.
This is what I saw:
There were workers in huge numbers, small, not bigger than me; who must always, under penalty of death, avoid the rays of the sun; therefore, are absolutely lucifugous. In addition, there were soldiers like my friends; those much bigger and able to withstand the brightness of the day without much harm. Never, during all the time that I spent among these intelligent animals, I could not manage to see a winged one, nor a male, nor a female, nor a queen … nothing that could give an idea of the how they reproduce. I lost my Latin! …
But suddenly all the soldiers arrive by hundreds; then, entangled in each other, they post themselves in a certain fashion, and form with their dark brown bodies, almost black, an extended arch, under which the twilight is almost darkness. The widely spread jaws, their long, spreading legs, their antennae in front, all intertwine, and the column of workers passes underneath under cover. That an alarm be given, the ark is destroyed in an instant, the soldiers join their fellows on the outside of the line, where they seem to exercise a kind of command, and all rush furiously to the pursuit of the enemy. If the alarm is found to have no object, or if, after the fight, the victory is won, the danger erased, the country liberated, the arch is strongly reformed and the compact column moves forward, as first of all, observing a true military discipline.
When the layout of the ground makes it absolutely essential, the hunters build a vaulted passage on the ground, by means of clay loosened by their saliva and brought by the workers. They then all pass in their covered way, bringing earth to lengthen it as they advance. This arch is very little visible on the ground, but their passage is perfectly distinct everywhere they go, because of the devastated appearance of the surroundings and the disappearance of every living being.
This necessity of an opaque building is, moreover, only a worse one; if they find, in the direction they wish to follow, a thick bush, they will pass beneath without constructing anything; likewise, if they encounter a crack, or a crevice in the ground, a passage under the stones, the shelter of a fallen tree trunk, they adopt it eagerly and abandon their arch.
It had been more than a week since we had worked so well; I put myself in the ranks of the soldiers and did what they did, except the arch, for which I was too small. Nobody was quarreling with me, I was very happy. Obviously, I passed for an abortion, a disgraced nature, as size and color. I was far from possessing the inconceivable force of these admirable soldiers. I have seen many of them stack, without fatigue, pieces of wood four or five times larger than themselves, and employ, for the sake of success, a means which springs from the singular length of their legs. They carry their burden between their legs, lengthwise, holding it by means of their mandibles and their paws.
What the workers take away is not intended to build, it is simply to clear the way, which becomes black like a garden path. We had already done more than two hundred yards, and we continued, when some soldiers arrived in haste, and a large council was formed.
I hurried to my friends.
“What is there?“ I asked them.
“A beautiful prey in sight.“
“Who is it?“
“An antelope, crushed and fresh, which a great python has abandoned to us.“
“What do you know?“
“Ah! my friend, we are sure of it. You know that big snakes get drunk when they have swallowed their prey … It’s very unfortunate that the python who killed this gazelle did its rounds and we felt, because we would have found asleep with his prey in the belly, and we would have eaten the two together. It’s good the python.“
“Yes; I have eaten more than once.“
“And how do you kill those huge snakes?“
“It’s easy. We throw ourselves two thousand on the eyes, that we eat in an instant, even when it takes us with him … We never let go. Once blind, we all fall on him; he is soon dead, he cannot flee.“
“It’s very ingenious, true!“
We do the same for monkeys, yams, all animals; even to the men we meet.
“Well done to them.“
“Is it not?”
“Without a doubt. We also must eat.“
It was the business of two hours for the whole column to finish its meal. What remained on the ground was a gazelle skeleton admirably cleansed. When they devour a python, the scales, besides the bones, remain intact.