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In comparison with the Minims, these queens were as a human being one hundred feet in height.
I selected one large queen as she appeared, and watched her closely. Slowly and with great effort she climbed the steep ascent into the blazing sunlight. Five tiny Minims were clinging to her body and wings, all scrubbing and cleaning as hard as they could. She chose a clear space, spread her wings wide and flat, stood high upon her six legs, and waited. I fairly shouted at this change, for slight though it was, it worked magic, and the queen Atta was a queen no more, but a miniature, straddle-legged aeroplane, pushed into position, and overrun by a crowd of mechanics, putting the finishing touches, tightening the wires, oiling every pliable crevice. A Medium came along, tugged at a leg, and the obliging little plane lifted it for inspection. For three minutes this kept up, and then the plane became a queen and moved restlessly. Without warning, as if some irresponsible mechanic had turned the primed propellers, the four mighty wings whirred and four Minims were hurled head over heels a foot away, snapped from their positions. The sound of the wings was almost too exact an imitation of the snarl of a starting plane the comparison was absurd in its exactness of timbre and resonance.
It was only a test, however, and the moment the queen became quiet, the upset mechanics clambered back. They crawled beneath her, scraped her feet and antennæ, licked her eyes and jaws, and went over every shred of wingtissue. Then again she buzzed, this time sending only a single Minim sprawling. Again she stopped, after lifting herself an inch, but immediately started up, and now rose rather unsteadily, but without pause, and slowly ascended above the nest and the primroses. Circling once, she passed through green
leaves and glowing balls of fruit into the blue sky.
Thus I followed the passing of one queen Atta into the jungle world, as far as human eyes would permit, and my mind returned to the mote which I had detected at an equally great height the queen descending after her marriage, as isolated as she had started.1
We have seen how the little blind roaches occasionally cling to an emerging queen and so are transplanted to a new nest. But the queen bears something far more valuable. More faithfully than ever virgin tended temple fires, each departing queen fills a little pouch in her mouth with a pellet of the precious fungus, and here it is carefully guarded until the time comes for its propagation in the new nest.
When she has descended to earth and excavated a little chamber, she closes the entrance, and for forty days and nights labors at the founding of a new colony. She plants the little fungus cutting, and tends it with the utmost solicitude. The care and feeding in her past life have stored within her the substance for vast numbers of eggs. Nine out of ten that she lays she eats, to give her the strength to go on with her labors; and when the first larvæ emerge, they too are fed with surplus eggs. In time they pupate, and at the end of six weeks the first workers all tiny Minimshatch. Small as they are, born in darkness, yet no education is needed. The Spirit of the Attas infuses them. Play and rest are the only things incomprehensible to them, and they take charge at once of fungus, of excavation, of the care of the queen and eggs, the feeding of the larvæ. As soon as the huskier Mediums appear, they break through into the upper world, and one day the first bit of green leaf is carried down into the nest.
The queen rests. Henceforth, as far 1 See Atlantic for July, 1921, p. 52.
as we know, she becomes a mere eggproducing machine, fed mechanically by mechanical workers, the food transformed by physiological mechanics into yolk, and then deposited. The aeroplane has become transformed into an incubator.
As we have seen, an Atta worker is a member of the most implacable laborunion in the world; he believes in a twenty-four hour day, no pay, no play, no rest he is a cog in a machinedriven good-for-the-greatest-number. After studying these beings for a week, one longs to go out and shout for kaisers and tsars, for selfishness and crime anything as a relief from such terrible unthinking altruism. All Atta workers are born free and equal-which is well; and they remain so which is what a Buddhist priest once called gashang (or so it sounded), and which he explained as a state where plants and animals and men were crystal-like in growth and existence. What a welcome sight it would be to see a Medium mount a bit of twig, antennæ a crowd of Minims about him, and start off on a foray of his own!
We may jeer at or condemn the Attas for their hard-shell existence, but there comes to mind, again and again, the wonder of it all. Are the hosts of little beings really responsible; have they not evolved into a pocket, a mental cul-desac, a swamping of individuality, pooling their personalities?
And what is it they have gained what pledge of success in food, in safety, in propagation? They are not separate entities; they have none of the freedom of action, of choice, of individuality, of the solitary wasps. They are the somatic cells of the body politic, while deep within the nest are the guarded sexual cells the winged kings and queens, which, from time to time, exactly, as in
isolated organisms, are thrown off to found new nests. They, no less than the workers, are parts of something more subtle than visible Attas and their material nest. Whether I go to the ant as sluggard, or myrmecologist, or accidentally via Pterodactyl Pups, a day spent with them invariably leaves me with my whole being concentrated on this mysterious Atta Ego. Call it Vibration, Aura, Spirit of the Nest, clothe ignorance in whatever term seems appropriate, we cannot deny its existence and power.
As with the army ants, the flowing lines of leaf-cutters always brought to mind great arteries, filled with pulsating, tumbling corpuscles. When an obstruction appeared, as a fallen leaf, across the great sandy track, a dozen or twenty, or a hundred workers gathered gathered-like leucocytes and removed the interfering object. If I injured a worker who was about to enter the nest, I inoculated the Atta organism with a pernicious foreign body. Even the victim himself was dimly aware of the law of fitness. Again and again he yielded to the call of the nest, only to turn aside at the last moment. From a normal link in the endless Atta chain, he had become an outcast!snapped at by every passing ant, selfbanished, wandering off at nightfall, to die somewhere in the wilderness of grass. When well, an Atta has relations, but no friends; when ill, every jaw is against him.
As I write this seated at my laboratory table, by turning down my lamp and looking out, I can see the star-dust of Orion's nebula, and without moving from my chair, Rigel, Sirius, Capella, and Betelgeuze and Betelgeuze the blue, white, yellow, and red evolution of so-called lifeless cosmic matter. A few slides from the aquarium at my side reveal an evolutionary sequence to the heavenly host the simplest of earthly organ
isms playing fast and loose with the borderland, not only of plants and animals, but of the-one and of the manycelled. First, a swimming lily, Stentor, a solitary animal bloom, twenty-five to the inch; Cothurnia, a double lily; and Gonium, with a quartette of cells clinging tremulously together-progressing unsteadily, materially, toward the rim of my field of vision, and, in the evolution of earthly life, toward sponges, peripatus, men, and ants.
I was interrupted in my microcosmus just as it occurred to me that Chesterton would heartily approve of my approximation of Sirius and Stentor, of Capella and Cothurnia - the universe balanced. My attention was drawn from the atom Gonium, whose brave little spirit was striving to keep his foursome one a primordial struggle toward unity of self and division of labor; my consciousness climbed the microtube and came to rest upon a slim scope glass of amber liquid on my laboratory
table. A servant had brought a cocktail, for it was New Year's Eve (now the thought came that there were a number of worthy people who would also approve of this approximation!). I looked at the small spirituous luxury, and I thought of my friends in New York, and then of the Attas in front of the laboratory. With my electric flash I went out into the starlight, and found the usual hosts struggling nestward with their chlorophyll burdens, and rushing frantically out into the black jungle for more and yet more leaves. My mind swept back over evolution from star-dust to Kartabo compound, from Gonium to man, and to these leafcutting ants. And I wondered whether the Attas were any better for being denied the stimulus of temptation, or whether I was any the worse for the opportunity of refusing a second glass. I went into the house, voiced a toast to tolerance, to temperance, and to pterodactyls, and drank my cocktail.
don't know; she was certainly not bred in those parts; no one there had ever seen her like. Had she been in society or on the stage, her beauty would have made her famous; but her fellow townspeople merely thought her odd, she was so amazingly unconventional and so astonishingly unprovincial. She did as she chose, as a duchess might have done.
'One wonders where the little chap she married ever found her, or why she appealed to him. He was a good little chap enough, absorbed in his work and in the life of the town, delighted with his house, and heartbroken because no children had ever come to it. Ugly little man he was, too, and quite typical of his class; repeated your name when he met you; said, "Pleased to meet you," and "Excuse my glove," just where, according to his lights, he should have.
'And she - she was like a wild bird caged, a woods-flower set in a border of zinnias and asters, a well-kept border where one would not expect to find a weed, however rare. She was slender, and long-limbed, shapeless as a young boy; her neck was slim and white, and her head small and wonderfully set. She had a great mass of reddish hair, short, thick, curly hair,- but her lashes were long and black.
'No wonder the townspeople disapproved of her; they bored her, and when her husband insisted that they should continue to bore her by forcing her into their society, she became extremely ill. Then he became almost frantic, for he adored her and would trust her to none but the greatest doctor he could discover; and the doctor proved himself great by his diagnosis, for he told the man that nothing ailed his wife but that her life did n't suit her, and that she must be left freer, to choose one more congenial. So after that she was let alone, free to find the country that surrounded the town, to walk, to run, to read. The townspeople
thought she was "touched," and were kinder to her than she knew. They ceased to criticize her and made it easy for her to be alone. In the summer-time she would take her book and her lunchbasket and tramp the fields and woods till she found some spot she could love, and spend the days with her dreams and her long, long thoughts. But the evenings belonged to her man; though what they found in common I cannot guess.
'But one day on her walk she had an adventure. She found a field she liked
liked because it was flushed with hardhack and white with meadow-sweet, and inhabited by a man whose type was unknown to her. Any of you would have placed him quickly enough; his riding togs and English boots would have marked him for you a young blood who had come a cropper among the hardhack and meadow-sweet. But to her he was new; his looks and his clothes and his opening remark to her were all quite different.
""I've lost my horse," he said genially. She looked curious, which apparently encouraged him. "I don't mind," he said. "He was a horrid horse." She looked about her. "You won't see him," said the man; "he could run most awfully fast."
'It occurred to her that he had fallen off. "Are you hurt?" she asked.
“Thanks, not a bit. This is a jolly field, is n't it?"
""I like it," she said.
""Oh, no, you don't; I read it to you."
'So he began and read for a while; and he read delightfully, for he had a pleasant voice and he loved what he read. But by and by he put down the book and they talked for a while, of books and of themselves again. It was a wonderful day for her a surprise to find the things she cared for were loved by others, and that she was not really "odd" at all. By and by it was time to go home, before her man should come from his work. But they made plans for the morrow, or, should the morrow not be fine, for the day after.
'It happened they were in for a spell of fair weather, and they spent long hours together in the fields and in the woods. They read books together, and he told her of cities and of life in the cities, and of people he knew, people who would not have bored her and made her ill. He told her of music, and art and architecture, and stories of hunting and balls and dinner-parties, and about the women who hunted and
danced and dined. But oftener he told her about herself - how lovely she was, and how lovable. They were very much in love before long, and she showed a curious courage in her determination that, having missed so much, this should not pass her by.
'So they lived to the utmost while the fair weather lasted. The third day he met her, he brought her a yellow rose from the garden of his hostess.
"I searched the garden," he told her, "to find what flower you are like. This is it."
'So every day she wore a yellow rose tucked in her gown.
'At last the weather broke, and he went back to the city, and she no longer could roam the fields and woods. She drooped like a flower in the long wet autumn, confined to the house; and though nothing ever ailed her very much, she died before the winter was half through!
'Her husband was beside himself with grief, and the neighbors who had bored her came and looked on her when she was dead. Her husband had filled her hands with yellow roses.
""She loved them so," he told his friends; "all summer long she wore them in her dress.""