Sacred love of freedom, inspire me! …
Fleeing had become a real nightmare at night, an obsession during the day. Escape … but how?
I was turning in my crystal prison looking for a way out, when I knew better than anyone that it was hermetically closed.
The reflection came with the tiredness of the legs. What does it take to escape? Go out. To go out? Be able to step over the edge of the fruit bowl. To be within reach of the edge? You have to go up there. To go up there? You have to build a ladder or a path … I’ll build it!
Once my resolution was taken, I worked with that patient ardor, that restrained tenacity that is the strength of the prisoner. I could no longer, reasonably, count on an oversight, on an oversight similar to that which had allowed me, on the ship, not to die of hunger. We do not have such a chance twice! And besides, the captain, who had been on board, had examined his cart to make sure of my identity and, having found the lid badly closed, had guessed everything: my flight of death, my fears in the countryside and my return … a little forced … to him.
To avoid a second escapade, whenever he opened the door to give me provisions, he took good care to put the lid back in its groove.
How to do?
I could only escape him by surprise, when he would take off the lid. But, obviously, he had to be trusted.
From that moment I was resolved. All that I could gather of fruit debris, sand that I brought, was by me carefully cemented, attached to each other. I had a hard time. I was not made for this slave labor, me, a soldier! But necessity has bent as big hearts as mine under its yoke! This thought supported me; also, I worked with courage. Urbain seemed to be walking in front of my desires, bringing me some nuts from the country, the fruits of which gave me great pleasure. The shells were accumulating in my prison: the captain, one day, wanted to withdraw a part of it. I expected that. He saw that they were cemented together, that intrigued him for a long time; he tried to understand what my purpose was, and, curious to see what I would do, he closed the jar with a satisfied air.
I breathed happily … From that day I saw the deliverance! …
Gradually my ladder rose in the form of a kind of very steep slope, filled with cavities carefully managed by me, to form steps or rungs. I soon reached the edges of the vase, and already I had climbed and descended my staircase several times by the chosen curve. I was sure of not being mistaken.
It was not all yet. It was necessary to inspire the good Urbain the most absolute security. For that, whenever he approached my table, I ostensibly went out of my fortification and came to meet him on a projecting spot, where I remained absolutely motionless. The excellent man soon believed that I came to meet him out of friendship, he filled me with delicacies. I ate as little as possible so as not to weigh myself down. I needed all my energy.
One morning I thought myself sure enough of myself to try one last and final test: to see the door open and not to run away!
I had to make my master absolutely confident. He took off the lid and was a little surprised to find me motionless at the very top of my building, by the edge of the glass. For a moment he was about to replace the lid hastily, but I did not move … he regained his confidence. He put the lid on the table, examined me closely in silence: a tear, even – I believe – rolled in his eyes at the memory of the absent country and fell on his mustaches.
And I saw only freedom, which I touched.
But I faced punishment: now I was strong! See you soon!
Urbain gave me some sugar, a little honey in a nut shell, some meat fibers, closed the lid, sighed as he turned away, and, lost in his memories, walked silently for a long time around my jar and his desk.
During this time, still playing my part, I did not hasten to leave my post at the edge of the glass, to show my jailer that every place was indifferent to me and that friendship alone would keep me close to him. He believed … Twice, three times, he found me at the top of my artificial rock and left the lid on the table for a long time, while he contemplated me and tried to understand what might have been the purpose of these gigantic work.
Through the transparent walls of my prison, I had carefully studied the topography of the surroundings, because from now on it was of great importance for the success of my project. As soon as I fall from the top of the tower, Urbain would hurriedly bring his hand to me to take me back, it is obvious … If I am not dead or wounded, it is necessary to foil this first danger. I can do it only by throwing myself abruptly behind the foot of the fruit-bowl. Urban will not chase me with his left hand, he does not know how to use it … It seems that it is the fashion, in men, sacrificing a hand and almost a whole side of the body by immobilization! .. Ah! if my jailer ever opened me by placing himself on the same side of the table, I would have built my promontory on his left; but he comes sometimes – as he says – to starboard, sometimes to port. Finally, if he comes by starboard, I’m on his left, the jar embarrasses him to seize me … I have chances.
Once missed, I hide.
Where? … I do not know, but somewhere, anywhere … I must disappear, if only for five minutes … Urbain must lose sight of me; then, suddenly, I will set off at full gallop in the direction of the window on my right, reaching for the door, which he usually leaves open. From there, the stairs; from there … O happiness! I am saved!
Everything happened as I had planned.
My dear captain helped with all his power by approaching me on the starboard side. I slipped between his fingers, which he advanced far too late. I had time to recover my senses after a terrible fall … No broken limbs, only painful bruises. Without losing a moment, I dragged myself under trinkets that formed a clutter on his desk. There I realized immediately that I was almost safe.
As he moved all these things carefully, one after the other, fearing to hurt me, I rested, I regained my strength, and, dodging behind these objects, I reached the edge of the table without he had seen me … He was looking elsewhere … and I was not making any noise. I went down one foot.
I was on the stairs while he was still looking under his desk. O ineffable happiness, I was free!
I was so afraid of being reprimanded that, in one go, I even went out of the garden, throwing myself into the country, and entered a nearby wood.
This wood, I have since learned, was only the entrance to a real virgin forest spreading to enormous distances in the interior of the country. I could have walked there for years without ever seeing the end. I have seen countries, but never since that day have I been in the midst of so many species of my kind! It swarmed on all sides and all were not a pleasant meeting. As I am not very patient myself, I remembered my nickname Hercules, and distributed to the right and to the left a few well-applied bites which gave me a relative rest.
What surprised me most was the size of the singular fruit that seemed to produce some bushes, obviously too weak to bear on one of their branches. Of two things, one: it was necessary that this globular fruit be of an excessive lightness, or it must be supported by several branches at the same time. I was stopped, nose in the air, trying to realize this oddity, when a voice resounded next to me and said:
“Comrade, do you crane to the crows? Be careful, it’s not healthy in this country.”
I turned my eyes to my charitable warner: he was an ant like me, but armed with two spines pointed, raised, which gave him a singular figure.
“Thanks, comrade,” I said to him.
“What are you looking at so closely up there?”
“These singular fruits that hang.”
“Are there any fruits? Are you a stranger to this country, that you do not know the nests of many of our kind?”
“Yes, I admit it to you. I was born far from here.”
“Bah! … You look like a good creature … Come with me, I’ll introduce you to my friends and, at least, for this night, you will not miss lodging, which is dangerous, believe me, in the virgin forests.
“Thank you, cousin … Where do we go from here?”
“Follow me, and be careful not to break your neck!”
He walked in front of me in a path scarcely cleared and went to a bush under which he passed; then, finding an inclined liana-foot with a rough bark, he advanced on it with as much confidence as if he had walked on a solid bridge, while the vine swayed beneath our feet like a swivel. I followed him as best I could, but at a distance, because I was always afraid, when he suddenly turned to talk to me or see if I came, to receive her thorns in the flanks.
So we climbed to a frightening height: at least five meters above the ground. This beautiful path led us to the door of one of those nests which, from below, I took for fruits, and which were globes composed with silky filaments enveloping the pericarp of the fruits of cotton, a beautiful tree that the scholars have named the Bombax ceiba. At first glance, my friend’s nest looked like tinder of my country: it was as sweet and soft as the flesh of the mushroom when prepared by men.
I was perfectly received by the companions of my Double-Spine; unfortunately the place was not abundant in their nest, and at every moment I received attacks of their quills, which did not always make me laugh and threatened to make me like a skimmer in a very near future. Finally, I managed to snuggle in a corner and I spent the night in great tranquility.
From the day, my friend woke me up and took me with her to discover. The first object I saw was a huge barrel on a large tree in front of us, placed between the big branches, but much higher than us.
“What is it again?” I asked my companion.
“It is the nest of a species of our great family, whose individuals are as numerous as the stars of the sky.”
“Like at home!”
“Watch again around us, you will see other nests as well made as ours. Here, in the middle of this palm tree, on the thorns, here are two different species. The men named the first Kibry’s ant (Myrmica Kibrii), named after the one who first distinguished it, and the second, Formica merdicola, in English ant who built excrements.
“My good, it’s the truth. Both of them, do you understand, build, with the excrement of herbivores, those balls that you see hanging on the trees. They choose these materials because they are, in a way, true mincemeat stems of herbs, softened by digestion, and because they have too weak jaws to cut the materials they would need. And…”
“What … do you stop?”
“Yes. It is not good to say bad things about your neighbor.”
“Oh! between us.”
“This is true, it does not matter. Come on, I’ll admit that I believe them too unwise to know how to build like us.”
“You see, they use horse dung; their nest is very close to the ground. You will see others that they build on the stems of the reeds with the same material. It’s their taste, either!”
We had arrived on the ground in the meantime, and my friend led me to some very succulent fruits fell under the tree that produced them. As I passed, I saw, in the neighborhood, species of mushrooms without tails, sponges of sorts, of … I do not know what, lying on the ground, in the middle of dry leaves.
“What is that?” I asked my companion.
“It is still the nest of our cousins, and, what is more, of a species which, like me, bears two sharp thorns.”
‘Thank you,’ I said to myself, ‘here is a nice neighborhood … I think I fall here from fever to hot evil.’ “Really,” I said aloud to make her talk.
“Yes. This is called the Polyrachis hispinosa, and certainly nothing is less like an anthill than the nest it makes.”
“It is true! if the sponges grew in the woods, I would say that we have two or three specimens of different sizes under the eyes! However, to my recollection, to me from overseas, it is more like a kind of footless mushroom called the Wolf Vesper (Lycoperdon utriformis). It would appear, it is true, enormous, but half-decayed.
“Note that their nest is built with the same material as ours and looks like what you call tinder, because it is built with bombax filaments.”
“But I have heard from my captain that the bombax or cotton threads are so short that men can not spin them alone, and that’s a pity, because these threads are very good. He asserted that they were used a great deal in paper factories, and I am no longer surprised by seeing your nests made by reducing these threads into a sort of soft cardboard.”
“It is very soft and very silky.”
“Where is this ant Polyrachis?”
“Hold! here he is! Do you see how black he is, and how all his body is bumpy with protuberances? as on each side of the thorax come long, sharp spines? He is a very pretty animal …”
“Not so pretty you want to say it!”
“But yes, really!”
“Ok! you are a little on that like the fox with the tail cut …”
“Do not pay attention; it’s a reminiscence of a man from home.”
“All in good time!”
“What is this ball? Looks like hair? …”
“It’s still the nest of an ant. This one has been named Formica molestans, because its bite is very painful for big animals like the man. She builds the nests you see with some kind of horsehair, extremely fine plant threads that she knows how to pick from a crowd of plants that I do not know.”