It was not as difficult as I supposed. I had only to take the path of the cockroaches: they entered the night over the door, I went out the day there. Immediately I reached the leg of a sailor, who took me with him to the boat, and from there to the ground, where I dropped.
I was in Brazil …
What glory for a French Polyergue!
It was not the moment to philosophize in the streets of Para, in the midst of chickens and all the other birds that I saw swarming on all sides; it was necessary, above all, to save my skin; I did so by taking my course, concealing myself as best I could behind the stones and along the houses, until I could reach the gardens and then the countryside.
There I ran a few dangers, but I will not dwell on them, because, with coolness and patience, I escaped to my honor, safe and sound. As soon as I set foot in the grass of the country, I was obliged to confess to myself that I did not know what life was. Never, in my homeland, had I seen a movement, a similar variety. It seemed to me that all the beasts of creation had met together around me. What a crowd! What a hustle and bustle!
Of course, new landed, I did not know any of these species, and besides I was too afraid at the moment to dare to approach some of them. Prudence, in this case, is the mother of safety.
It is by repeating this proverb of cowards – me, a Hercules – that I sought a shelter to take a few moments of rest. This lodging, I found under the umbel spread out with an admirable flower, where a real multitude of winged and flightless insects like myself seemed to have made an appointment.
What struck me at first glance was that no one in my family offered himself to me. Of course, I could easily see many animals that looked like us, but all were so different that I had to classify them in various species of us. I am well aware that the narrow pedicle which connects our abdomen to the corselet is a salient feature of our family, but one of them I take the liberty of reminding our friends is that all the Formicians bear bent antennae. This never deceives.
As I thought about it all at my ease, in the midst of a delicious odor exhaling over my head and scenting the air, I tried to remember in my memory the great divisions of our family.
Two tribes are first admitted to separate the Dorylides from the Formicides. Dorylides have elongated and cylindrical abdomen; moreover, a very small head, and seem to establish the passage of the Sphegians to us. It is believed that they live isolated. It does not matter: we have cousins everywhere!
The Formicides, it’s me, it’s all the rest of the great people; it is all these admirable tribes composed of males, females, and neutrals, workmen or soldiers.
The tribe of Formicides divides itself into three groups: Myrmicites, Ponerites and Formicites. Here, no way to go wrong. All Myrmicites have a spur to females, Ponerites too; the true Formicites, no. We do not need this: we have our gas!
What is still very easy to distinguish is that only the first ones have two nodes in the first segment of the abdomen. Precisely, all the ants that I saw circulating around me – and God knows if there were any sizes and colors! – wore the two knots and, of course, their sting.
I saw especially here Ecitons with small-sized pelions, but with long, very narrow mandibles. There were also Acodermes, easy to recognize because, instead of having a smooth, delicate, well-turned body, like ours, they have bumps and thorns that make them hideous.
My God, how grateful I am for not having born into the midst of such disgraced people!
Now, my friend, I can tell you that the Polyergues belong to the tribe of true ants, since … that is to say, we distinguish ourselves from real ants only because, instead of wearing triangular mandibles and loaded with a mass of teeth, we have them beautiful, narrow as a sword, curved like a scimitar and ended in hooked ends, whose wound is irresistible and deadly. We are, of course, the most beautiful, since our first segment of the abdomen forms only one graceful knot, and we are armed as gentlemen and not, like our cousins, as carpenters!
I was there with my reflections, softly rocked by the breeze, when a great noise was made around us. Negroes ran at full speed towards the city, shouting:
“Tanoca! Tanoca! …“
What did that mean?
“Better,” answered a few white walkers, “they are welcome!
“Tanoca, Tanoca are coming! Pitta in front …“
At the same time I noticed some birds fluttering through the countryside. There was not a moment ago, and I soon realized that their number was growing every minute …
It became worrying.
I dropped from my umbelliferous and, climbing up to the top of the largest tree next to one, I arrived, not without having escaped several lizards, to the last leaf, and from there I saw a cloud. of birds arriving. There were many among them who shone in the most beautiful colors of the rainbow; all were shaped like our big thrushes. It made me think; I knew what I had to fear from thrushes and all their aftermath … It was necessary to warn.
I went down hurriedly and I heard some new cries:
“Here are the briefs! Long live the anteaters!“
Horror! Anteaters are birds that live at our expense. I’m lost!…
Where to flee? where to hide? … They are a multitude; it is impossible to find a refuge against all those hungry. O my God, save me!
“Help yourself, said to be, the sky will help you.”
While, in the most frightful fear, I despaired of my safety, I cast my eyes on the road on which I was. What do I see? … my captain … my brave captain, my friend … who had forgotten me so well in his compotier! …
My faith! Of two evils one must choose the least. The worst thing that can happen to me is to go back to the fruit bowl … Faint!
And, approaching above him, who was walking with two friends, I let myself fall gently on his shoulder and down to his hand … His first move was to shake his hand to throw me on the road …
“Oh! the ugly b …! But no, I’m not mistaken, it’s an ant from France, a red ant from home. But it’s my French ant … Oh! the poor beast … and me who forgot him …“
I looked so calm, stopped between his thumb and the first finger, he took more and more confidence and said turning to his companions:
“In any case, I keep it.“
“But throw that away, Urbain; you bore us with your insects …“
“No, my friend. This is a memory of France, first; and then I think it’s a tame beast that recognized me.“
“You will get stung.“
“The Polyergues do not have a spur, my dear … And besides it seems more confident than aggressive. Let’s go back, on the contrary, I’m going to put her back on board … It must be my red ant … But how did she manage to escape from my fruit bowl?“
At this moment, the briefs arrive in masses, fluttering everywhere. One of them, seeing me on the hand of Urban, plunged with a stroke of the wing and lifted me, if the brave captain had not repulsed it with a sudden movement.
“Ah! ah!“ he said to his friends, “that’s why the poor girl asked me for protection, she feared the anteaters.“
“It is not possible.“
“And the proof … You will see …“
He pulled out his cigarette case, opened it, and introduced it to me. I rushed there; he closed it on me and put it in his pocket. There, I was safe.
“Well, who was right?“
“You, I agree. But what are these briefs, here we are surrounded?“
“They are ant eaters par excellence.“
“Well, what are they doing here today rather than yesterday? …“
“They precede a band of forage ants.“
“Have you not heard, just now, the Negroes fleeing, shouting before the traveling ants, “Tanoca! Tanoca! …”“
“Yes, by Jove! I heard, but I did not understand.“
“We will better do, my dear friend, as the negroes did, although better dressed than them, to flee before the new arrivals.“
“To flee in front of ants! Come on!“
“You prefer to stand up to them! Ok! By the way, we’ll be ok for some bites … we will not die, even though they are very stinging …“
“To flee for some bites! But explain to us while we are walking what we are going to see.“
“Yes. And why everyone looks happy.“
“It’s very simple. Ants will clean everything up.“
“By devouring all the parasites that make life so hard for us, my poor friends.“
“Oh! Blessed be they, in truth.“
“You know as well as I that we are here on the earth of multiplication. Wherever you go, you’ll find insects that bite, insects that kill, insects that scratch, biting insects. Some may leave you alone; on the other hand, they will impress you with the horrible smell they spread in the air or communicate to everything they touch. Some are enclosed in shells as hard as the crab’s breastplate and mock all kinds of violence; others are plump, bulging, fat, wrapped in fine skin, as juicy as an overripe raspberry and crashing at the slightest touch.“
“Oh! Disgusting beasts!“
“Not to mention the big flying insects, the roaches, the cockroaches of primo cartello, who throw themselves into the candle to extinguish it, or, by dint of roasting with the warm glass of a lamp, burn their wings and fall on the table, where they turn hours, in the manner of a frantic uncle …
“No talking about those little flies that have the rage to go over and over on my paper and erase from their paws the last word I just wrote …
“Without speaking thousands of feet armed with venomous hooks, whose poison is hardly less dangerous than that of the viper …
“And cockroaches of all sizes and colors, lizards, scorpions, snakes and so many other hideous and stinking beasts.
“Well, all this will disappear.“
“Marchons then in front of the liberators!“