If you asked me about my days, I would say that I let them pass in the middle of the most charming races in the woods, the moor and the surroundings. My slaves worked perfectly: our larvae were well cared, the buildings maintained in good condition, the season mild and lenient; I was never so happy, so every morning I imagined a new trip.
This is how I discovered the carpenter ants, which I did not know, and to which, I believe, we give the Latin name of Formica fuliginosa. Their work is marvelous and much more considerable than that of many other carpentry insects I had seen at work, and yet, like wasps and carpenter bees, their only tools are their mandibles. Mandibles very simple and which approach however neither of the construction of the auger or lime of the Cicada, nor of the saw of the Tenthredinidae.
These little carpenters seem, contrary to us, to be a people of inferior nature, and who knows pleasure only to work. They are in a perpetual movement: it is true that life must be so painful for them, that I can only pity them to stubbornly hide themselves as they do in the woods of trees, instead of being built a palace in the open air by enslaved slaves.
I went to the door, just to go inside this house of a new species. I had no bad intentions, but here is a sentry who is blocking me. It would be a mistake not to believe them brave and strong for their size.
As I did not want to hurt her, I take her delicately by the waist and, putting her over my head, I just throw her simply behind me … Ah well! It was then the occasion of an infernal racket. In less than nothing, I had ten, twenty on my hands! In the distance the reminder beat, I saw that I was going to have all the aftermath after me …
I wished to parley: impossible; these madmen spoke a shapeless patois and did not hear by reason. I could not, decently, retreat before such pygmies before seeing what I wanted to see. So I took a little half a dozen, one after the other, and sent them, flying, to join the first one.
I was still advancing in the midst of the crowd that pressed me on all sides, and thus reached the end of the vestibule; but there a bitter disappointment was waiting for me … the door was too small for me! …
It is not surprising, these narrow-minded people are not used to receiving people of our importance!
I went back so nobly, not without a long glance on the interior of the house through the door and the windows of the first floor, which I reached very easily.
The people followed me a few steps outside the stock of the willow in which the republic was established, but I stopped, and all hastened to return: they fear the big day as well as the air. Nevertheless, I had acquired some knowledge of their organization.
On one side, I discovered horizontal galleries, but the look could not long embrace the development, because the walls followed the circular direction of the layers of wood, and, on the other hand, because the parallel galleries were separated by very thin partitions having communications between them only by rare oval openings. I must admit that these works were remarkable for their delicacy and lightness.
At first, I had time to see separate rooms, made in the galleries by means of small transverse partitions raised here and there. I saw doors prepared by a round hole between two pillars carved in the wall. But, later, the sculptors were at work: the pillars, originally bent at both ends, became regular columns. What seems most remarkable to me on this floor is the way in which the pillars, which must support it, and which are taken in the partitions of the parallel galleries, which are assembled to make a great hall, are arranged.
What surprised me at the last point is that all the wood that these ants cut is dyed black, as by smoke. Where does it come from? … Well, I do not know. Is it a gas emanating from ants? Is it a dye provided by their saliva?
For some time now I have been hearing footsteps of men around me, for we have so fine an ear that we hear them, as well as other animals, long before they can see us. I turn around and see two men who seem to be looking for something in the wood, looking down on the ground, counting a number of steps in different directions.
“Pest of old podagra,” said one, “he had lost his head of terror, and we will never find anything!…“
“Who knows?” respond the other one, “he was not so stupid as you think.“
“Peuh! To take a tree as a clue, it’s already stupid …. It can be cut … but to not mark it, to not designate it in a safe way, it’s insane!“
“The fact is…“
“Where does he now want us to find his tree?“
“It’s true, … it’s not easy …“
“Not easy! … Impossible! do you mean. There are ten here that respond to the description.“
“Remove a little these bushes …“
“Ah !!! …“
“Here it is!!! The ants brought him to the surface of the ground !!!“
I hastily returned to the anthill, for evening was coming at a great pace, but the rest did not come for me.
Hardly the night was done, that violent blows aroused the echoes of the woods, our house shattered, the shovel and the pickaxe searched our beautiful construction so laboriously high … The larvae loaded on our slaves were the precious good that we tried to save.
You would have seen our faithful slaves run on all sides, in the middle of the night, helping one another, trying to put the hope of our race in safe place. Oh! The terrible night! What a lamentable sight, these poor insects fleeing desperately under the pale rays of the lamp of the researchers!
“Ah! The damn ants!“ said one, “as they bite!“
“Please yourself! Without them, you would never have found our business.“
“It’s equal, they pinch like devils. By the way, does it matter to them the grandfather’s money! …“
“But their nest that you upset, their larvae that you destroy …“
“Hedge! … Hedge! … Tape and hard! …“
Soon, under the blazes of the lantern, came out of the ground, in the midst of an admirable tablecloth of gold damask and crimson silk, a cassette and beautifully carved silver vases... All this shone in the dark shadow of the wood. and of the night, it was magnificent!
“Do you have the key to happiness?“
“Here it is, brother!“
“Give! … By God, grandfather had a famous idea to leave it in his room with his manuscript.“
He opened the box, the gold and the diamonds streaming under his fingers.
“It’s good, close it and let’s leave!“
They hastily closed the cassette, wrapped the whole thing in the tablecloth, then the tablecloth itself in one of their coats, extinguished the lantern and disappeared into the moor.