網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

ants hastening on their way to battle, and the leaf-cutters plodding along, with chlorophyll hods over their shoulders, exactly as they did last year, and the year preceding, and probably a hundred thousand years before that. The Colony Egos of army and leaf-cutters may quite reasonably be classified, at least according to kingdom. The former, with carnivorous, voracious, nervous, vitally active members, seems an intangible, animal-like organism; while the stolid, unemotional, weatherswung Attas resemble the flowing sap of the food on which they subsistvegetable.

Yet, whatever the simile, in the case of both of these colonies of ants, the net of unconscious precedent is too closely drawn, the mesh of instinct is too fine, to hope for any initiative. This was manifested by the most significant and spectacular occurrence I have ever observed in the world of insects. Some two years or more ago I studied, and reported upon, a nest of Ecitons, or Army Ants. Eighteen months later, apparently the same army appeared and made a similar nest of their own bodies, in the identical spot above the door of the outhouse, where I had found them before. Again we had to break up the temporary resting-place of these nomads, and killed about three quarters of the colony with various deadly chemicals.

In spite of the tremendous slaughter, the Ecitons, in late afternoon, raided a small colony of Wasps-of-the-Painted-Nest. These little chaps construct a round, sub-leaf carton-home, as large as a golf-ball, which carries out all the requirements of counter-shading and ruptive markings. The flattened, shadowed under-surface was white, and most of the sloping walls dark brown, down which extended eight white lines, following the veins of the leaf overhead. The side close to the stem of the leaf,

1 See the Atlantic for October, 1919.

and consequently always in deep shadow, was pure white. The eaves, catching high lights, were black.

All this marvelous merging with leaf-tones went for naught when once an advance Eciton scout located the nest. As the deadly mob approached, the wasplets themselves seemed to realize the futility of offering battle, and the entire colony of forty-four gathered in a forlorn group on a neighboring leaf, while their little castle was rifled - larvæ and pupa torn from their cells, and rushed down the stems to the chaos that was raging in the Ecitons' own home. The wasps could guard against optical discovery, but the blind Army Ants had senses which transcended vision, if not even scent.

Late that night, our lanterns showed the remnants of the Eciton army wandering aimlessly about, making near approach impossible, but apparently lacking any definite concerted action.

At six o'clock the next morning I was starting for a swim, when, at the foot of the laboratory steps, I saw a swiftly moving, broad line of Army Ants on safari, passing through the compound to the beach. I traced them back under the servants' quarters, through two clumps of bamboos, to the out-house. Later, I followed along the column down to the river sand, through a dense mass of underbrush, through a hollow log, up the bank, back through light jungle-to the out-house again; and on a large fallen log, a few feet beyond the spot where their nest had been, the ends of the circle actually came together. It was the most astonishing thing, and I had to verify it again and again before I could believe the evidence of my eyes. It was a strong column, six lines wide in many places, and the ants fully believed that they were on their way to a new home; for most were carrying eggs or larvæ, although many had food, including the

larvæ of the Painted-Nest wasplets. For an hour at noon, during heavy rain, the column weakened and almost disappeared; but when the sun returned, the lines rejoined, and the revolution of the vicious circle continued.

There were several places which made excellent points of observation, and here we watched and marveled. Careful measurement of the great circle showed a circumference of twelve hundred feet. We timed the laden Ecitons, and found that they averaged two to two and three quarters inches a second. So a given individual would complete the round in about two hours and a half. Many guests were plodding along with the ants- mostly staphylinids, of which we secured five species: a brown Histerid beetle, a tiny Chalcid, and several Phorid flies, one of which was winged.

The fat Histerid beetle was most amusing, getting out of breath every few feet, and abruptly stopping to rest, turning around in its tracks, standing almost on its head, and allowing the swarm of ants to run up over it and jump off. Then on it would go again, keeping up the terrific speed of two and a half inches a second, for another yard. Its color was identical with the Ecitons' armor, and when it folded up, nothing could harm it. Once a worker stopped and antennæd it suspiciously; but aside from this, it was accepted as one of the line of marchers.

All the afternoon the insane circle revolved; at midnight, the hosts were still moving; the second morning many had weakened and dropped their burdens and the general pace had very appreciably slackened. But still the blind grip of instinct held them. On, on, on they must go! Always before in their nomadic life there had been a goal - a sanctuary of hollow tree, snug heart of bamboos; surely this terrible grind must end somehow. In this crisis, even the

Spirit of the Army was helpless. Along the normal paths of Eciton life he could inspire endless enthusiasm, illimitable energy; but here his material units were bound upon the wheel of their perfection of instinct. Through sun and cloud, day and night, hour after hour, there was found no Eciton with individual initiative enough to turn aside an ant's breadth from the circle that he had traversed perhaps fifteen times.

Fewer and fewer now came along the well-worn path; burdens littered the line of march, like the arms and accoutrements thrown down by a retreating army. At last, a scanty single line struggled past tired, hopeless, bewildered, idiotic, and thoughtless to the last. Then some half-dead Eciton straggled from the circle along the beach, and threw the line behind him into confusion. The desperation of total exhaustion had accomplished what necessity and opportunity and normal life could not. Several others followed his scent instead of that leading back toward the out-house; and as an amoeba gradually flows into one of its own pseudopodia, so the forlorn hope of the great Eciton army passed slowly down the beach and on into the jungle. Would they die singly and in bewildered groups, or would the remnant draw together, and, again guided by the supermind of its Mentor, lay the foundation of another army, and again come to nest in my out-house?

Thus was the ending still unfinished, the finale buried in the future — and in this we find the fascination of Nature and of Science. Who can be bored for a moment in the short existence vouchsafed us here, with dramatic beginnings barely hidden in the dust, with the excitement of every moment of the present, and with all of cosmic possibility lying just concealed in the future, whether of Betelgeuse, of Amœba, or of ourselves? Vogue la galère!

ERANT ENIM PISCATORES

BY HARRISON COLLINS

THE last rays of the setting sun gilded the distant camel-hump of Hieizan; up the valleys crept the soft fingers of a Japanese night. Spring was abroad in the air, in the bat fluttering over the surrounding paddy-fields, in the yellow evening-primroses already abloom; everywhere save in the young foreign teacher Addison's heart. On his shoulders rested a terrible responsibility; and as the bell for evening prayers clanged through the dormitory, the perpendicular cleft in his conscientious forehead deepened, and he grappled anew with his latest disciplinary problem.

How to present the matter in the most favorable, most compelling light - that was the question. He watched the shadows outside lengthen. Well, he'd put it up to these Japanese boys just as he had to the fellows at the College 'Y' six months before, at home. They'd understand. Things certainly could n't continue to go on as at present, from difficult bad to intolerable

worse.

Below stairs, stumbling to a chair beyond the ping-pong table and babyorgan, he sat down on a baseball glove, that may or may not have got there by mistake, just as Yagi San screwed a new bulb into its socket and flooded the disorderly room with light. He watched the boys absently, as with tattered hymnals and much flapping of indoor sandals they drew up into the usual circle, giggled, and subsided into vivid silence.

There were ten, in all, present. First, to the left wriggled the Koyama cous

ins, Jusan and Eisan, - thirteen and twelve years old respectively; Jusan so fat that his eyes were completely invisible behind horizontal slits; Eisan, tiny, wraithlike, the dormitory's inimitable mimic (when Addison was not present), charter-member of that universal brotherhood of contemporaries whose idea of the last word in humor calls for the intimate association of a chair, a dignified older person, and a tack or a pin. Hirose San, an overgrown, somewhat stupid-looking boy of seventeen-big-headed, moon-faced, thick-lipped-loomed beyond. Then Kuroda San, baseball fan and fielder, sat silent and somewhat bored by his friend Ouye San, also seventeen and fellow admirer of Mr. Babe Ruth. The pair, with their sun-baked hawk countenances, would have made excellent American Indians, had they worn blankets instead of kimonos. Yagi San, of the same age, — a pretty boy, pale, with almost infantile features, was finding the place in the hymnal for little Fujimura San—a newcomer from Osaka, apple-checked, fourteen years old. Kawazura San, tall, lean, humorless, a good student, carrying his sixteen years as a Buddha carries his centuries, sat sphinx-like, ready to begin, his large eyes staring. Stunted Inouye San, his neighbor, fifteen years of age, at seven o'clock was already nodding, half asleep. Last, completing the circle, sat good, faithful, handsome, manly Suzuki. (The adjectives were all applicable, thought Addison.) He was nineteen and would be graduated next

year: Not a bad bunch, not half a bad bunch, mused their teacher, while waiting for the meeting to come fully to order and life.

'To-night we'll sing no hymns. I want to talk. What I say Suzuki here will translate. All right?'

Suzuki blushed and everybody laughed, Addison loudest. Then, remembering his solemn duty, he resolutely banished his smile and summoned again the difficult frown.

'Fellows,' he began threateningly (his manner had been much admired in similar meetings at home), and thumping his closed hymn-book, 'awfully sorry, and all that, but you and I have got to go to the mat now on at least two counts.'

He glared round on all present, and the boys, who knew him in private life as a being not wholly impossible to propitiate, and also as a corking good baseball pitcher, registered appropriate and sympathetic solemnity, without understanding one word. Sotto voce: 'Shoot 'em that, Suzuki!'

Suzuki, politely, deprecatingly, in Japanese: 'Honorable everyone! Pardon me, but the Sensei says we're going to the jiu-jitsu room to meet two counts.'

Interested surprise manifested everywhere, but gravity still maintained, since the occasion and the Sensei's face seemed to demand it.

'Number one,' holding up a long forefinger, 'hereafter we've got to cut out all late hours.'

Suzuki, hesitating: "The first count says we must operate on ourselves. That is uncertainly so the Sen

sei says.'

Puzzlement on part of audience; but foreigners are funny creatures anyhow even Sensei.

Addison, warming up: "That's right, that's right, Suzuki; give it to 'em straight, give it to 'em straight!'

Then, fixing a baleful eye on trembling twelve-year-old Eisan Koyama, he shouted in a voice of thunder, 'MEN'

'Males,' courteously murmured the faithful Suzuki.

'MEN, things can't go on here as they are at present. The Antis in school already say you can tell a Christian dormitory boy by his sleepy face!'

Suzuki: 'Males, in school (in America?) there are kind aunts who give a present to every Christian boy who has a sleepy face.' Then, hurriedly, in the same tone of voice, with unnecessary anxiety lest Addison discover any linguistic blunder: 'So he says, but perhaps I'm not getting all this.'

Addison (in his best manner, with infinite and scathing contempt): ‘Such a condition, men, turns your stomach and fills you with disgust.'

Suzuki: 'Such a condition, males, turns your stomach over and fills it with dust.'

Addison held up another accusing finger beside the first: 'Count two.' "The second count.'

(Recrudescence of interest on the part of the audience.)

"This count is of even greater importance.'

"This count is of even higher rank.' 'MEN, we are losing our vitality in getting across our propaganda.'

Here, Suzuki was forced into surrender and begged for further enlightenment. A conference ensued, and he interpreted:

'In spreading our propaganda we are losing our lives.'

(Visible consternation on every face except that of Inouye, who was by this time asleep.)

'Pep, pep, PEP! We must show more pep. To win out we've got to get a wiggle on. (No, Suzuki, afraid you can't make that one get a move on, I mean.) In a school of eight hundred

boys we ought to rope in more than fifty!' And so on, the translation of his remarks illustrating anew what always happens when enterprising young Westerners try to hustle the East.

He drew for them, he thought, a picture of what the dormitory was and of what it ought to be. He told them, in racy Yankee, what, if they worked, it surely would become. He closed with a forceful appeal, begging them thence forth to toil like yeomen (though that was not his word), like fishers tugging at the nets, and constrain, constrain members to come in.

It was a splendid effort. But perhaps, after all, it was just as well that the boys did n't understand it quite especially the forceful example at the end; because, except for Fujimura San, all of them hailed from the mountainous country of Tamba, in whose rapid rivers custom dictated that gentlemen should not fish at all, but lie in canopied boats at pillowed ease and merely watch other men wield the nets.

'Now, fellows,' he said in his ordinary voice, taking the silence for approbation and permanently dropping his frown, 'now, fellows, as a sign of our turning over a new leaf, I suggest that we all go to the Heian Church to-night for the midweek service. We have n't been there for months. It'll mean a fine hike, some good words from Mr. Nishio, and an early snooze.'

What Suzuki made of this, I leave you to puzzle out. But they were going somewhere, that they knew, and they guessed it was to church.

[blocks in formation]

not! - the Reverend Mr. Nishio at once recalled and expressed three illustrious characters: he was as good as Pickwick, as unctuous as Pecksniff, as hopeful as Micawber - - and stouter than any of the three. And so, figuratively, if not literally, - being a Japanese, - he welcomed Addison and his nimble flock with open arms. He smiled, and winked his Jusan-like eyes, and rubbed his dimpled hands. Indeed, there was much bowing and intaking of breath on both sides.

They were just in time, it seemed; for, as they entered the main room of the church, a young lady in spectacles and dun-colored kimono had just begun an attack on an asthmatic organ. They sat in a row on the front bench, and even in their wriggling silence lent the otherwise middle-aged and demure congregation the vividness of youth. They made even the minister and organist feel their grateful aura, and turned what had begun as a very drowsy prayermeeting into something akin to life.

'He is taking Sensei's text,' whispered Suzuki to Addison, when Mr. Nishio, rubbing his hands, and winking and smiling more heartily than ever, began his little talk. And, as it went on, though Addison could grasp scarcely a word, in the voice, the gestures, the rising passion of the preacher, most of all in the open-eyed attention of all the boys, including even sleepy Inouye, he realized what was being said.

[blocks in formation]
« 上一頁繼續 »