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Title: Edge of the Jungle
Author: Beebe, William, 1877-1962
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                     [Illustration: WILLIAM BEEBE
 Author of Edge of the Jungle, Jungle Days, Gallapagos, World's End,
 The Arcturus Adventure, etc.]



                   BY THE AUTHOR OF "JUNGLE DAYS,"
                   "THE LOG OF THE SUN," ETC.



                             EDGE OF THE

                                JUNGLE



                           By WILLIAM BEEBE

       _Honorary Curator of Birds and Director of the Tropical
        Research Station of the New York Zoological Society._



                        GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK

                   GARDEN CITY PUBLISHING CO., INC.



                           COPYRIGHT, 1921

                      BY HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

       *       *       *       *       *



TO
THE BIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES,
THE ANTS AND TREE-FROGS
WHO HAVE TOLERATED ME IN
THEIR JUNGLE ANTE-CHAMBERS
I OFFER THIS VOLUME OF
FRIENDLY WORDS

       *       *       *       *       *



NOTE


This second series of essays, following those in _Jungle Peace_, are
republished by the kindness of the Editors of _The Atlantic Monthly_,
_Harper's Magazine_ and _House and Garden_.

With the exception of _A Tropic Garden_ which refers to the Botanical
Gardens of Georgetown, all deal with the jungle immediately about the
Tropical Research Station of the New York Zoological Society, situated
at Kartabo, at the junction of the Cuyuni and Mazaruni Rivers, in
British Guiana.

For the accurate identification of the more important organisms
mentioned, a brief appendix of scientific names has been prepared.

       *       *       *       *       *



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                               PAGE

I    THE LURE OF KARTABO                 3

II   A JUNGLE CLEARING                  34

III  THE HOME TOWN OF THE ARMY ANTS     58

IV   A JUNGLE BEACH                     90

V    A BIT OF USELESSNESS              112

VI   GUINEVERE THE MYSTERIOUS          123

VII  A JUNGLE LABOR UNION              149

VIII THE ATTAS AT HOME                 172

IX   HAMMOCK NIGHTS                    195

X    A TROPIC GARDEN                   230

XI   THE BAY OF BUTTERFLIES            252

XII  SEQUELS                           274

     APPENDIX OF SCIENTIFIC NAMES      295

     INDEX                             299

       *       *       *       *       *



EDGE OF THE JUNGLE


"For the true scientific method is this:
To trust no statements without verification,
to test all things as rigorously as possible,
to keep no secrets, to attempt no monopolies,
to give out one's best modestly and plainly,
serving no other end but knowledge."

H. G. WELLS.



I

THE LURE OF KARTABO


A house may be inherited, as when a wren rears its brood in turn
within its own natal hollow; or one may build a new home such as is
fashioned from year to year by gaunt and shadowy herons; or we may
have it built to order, as do the drones of the wild jungle bees. In
my case, I flitted like a hermit crab from one used shell to another.
This little crustacean, living his oblique life in the shallows,
changes doorways when his home becomes too small or hinders him in
searching for the things which he covets in life. The difference
between our estates was that the hermit crab sought only for food, I
chiefly for strange new facts--which was a distinction as trivial as
that he achieved his desires sideways and on eight legs, while I
traversed my environment usually forward and generally on two.

The word of finance went forth and demanded the felling of the second
growth around Kalacoon, and for the second time the land was given
over to cutlass and fire. But again there was a halting in the affairs
of man, and the rubber saplings were not planted or were smothered;
and again the jungle smiled patiently through a knee-tangle of thorns
and blossoms, and the charred clumps of razor-grass sent forth skeins
of saws and hanks of living barbs.

I stood beneath the familiar cashew trees, which had yielded for me so
bountifully of their crops of blossoms and hummingbirds, of fruit and
of tanagers, and looked out toward the distant jungle, which trembled
through the expanse of palpitating heat-waves; and I knew how a hermit
crab feels when its home pinches, or is out of gear with the world.
And, too, Nupee was dead, and the jungle to the south seemed to call
less strongly. So I wandered through the old house for the last time,
sniffing the agreeable odor of aged hypo still permeating the dark
room, re-covering the empty stains of skins and traces of maps on the
walls, and re-filling in my mind the vacant shelves. The vampires had
returned to their chosen roost, the martins still swept through the
corridors, and as I went down the hill, a moriche oriole sent a silver
shaft of song after me from the sentinel palm, just as he had greeted
me four years ago.

Then I gathered about me all the strange and unnameable possessions of
a tropical laboratory--and moved. A wren reaches its home after
hundreds of miles of fast aerial travel; a hermit crab achieves a new
lease with a flip of his tail. Between these extremes, and in no less
strange a fashion, I moved. A great barge pushed off from the Penal
Settlement, piled high with my zoölogical Lares and Penates, and along
each side squatted a line of paddlers,--white-garbed burglars and
murderers, forgers and fighters,--while seated aloft on one of my
ammunition trunks, with a microscope case and a camera close under his
watchful eye, sat Case, King of the Warders, the biggest, blackest,
and kindest-hearted man in the world.

Three miles up river swept my moving-van; and from the distance I
could hear the half-whisper--which was yet a roar--of Case as he
admonished his children. "Mon," he would say to a shirking, shrinking
coolie second-story man, "mon, do you t'ink dis the time to sleep?
What toughts have you in your bosom, dat you delay de Professor's
household?" And then a chanty would rise, the voice of the leader
quavering with that wild rhythm which had come down to him, a vocal
heritage, through centuries of tom-toms and generations of savages
striving for emotional expression. But the words were laughable or
pathetic. I was adjured to

    "Blow de mon down with a bottle of rum,
    Oh, de mon--mon--blow de mon down."

Or the jungle reëchoed the edifying reiteration of

    "Sardines--and bread--OH!
       Sardines--and bread,
    Sardines--and bread--AND!
       Sardines--and bread."

The thrill that a whole-lunged chanty gives is difficult to describe.
It arouses some deep emotional response, as surely as a military band,
or the reverberating cadence of an organ, or a suddenly remembered
theme of opera.

As my aquatic van drew up to the sandy landing-beach, I looked at the
motley array of paddlers, and my mind went back hundreds of years to
the first Spanish crew which landed here, and I wondered whether these
pirates of early days had any fewer sins to their credit than Case's
convicts--and I doubted it.

Across my doorstep a line of leaf-cutting ants was passing, each
bearing aloft a huge bit of green leaf, or a long yellow petal, or a
halberd of a stamen. A shadow fell over the line, and I looked up to
see an anthropomorphic enlargement of the ants,--the convicts winding
up the steep bank, each with cot, lamp, table, pitcher, trunk, or
aquarium balanced on his head,--all my possessions suspended between
earth and sky by the neck-muscles of worthy sinners. The first thing
to be brought in was a great war-bag packed to bursting, and Number
214, with eight more years to serve, let it slide down his shoulder
with a grunt--the self-same sound that I have heard from a Tibetan
woman carrier, and a Mexican peon, and a Japanese porter, all of whom
had in past years toted this very bag.

I led the way up the steps, and there in the doorway was a tenant, one
who had already taken possession, and who now faced me and the
trailing line of convicts with that dignity, poise, and perfect
self-possession which only a toad, a giant grandmother of a toad, can
exhibit. I, and all the law-breakers who followed, recognized the
nine tenths involved in this instance and carefully stepped around.
When the heavy things began to arrive, I approached diffidently, and
half suggested, half directed her deliberate hops toward a safer
corner. My feelings toward her were mingled, but altogether
kindly,--as guest in her home, I could not but treat her with
respect,--while my scientific soul revelled in the addition of _Bufo
guttatus_ to the fauna of this part of British Guiana. Whether
flashing gold of oriole, or the blinking solemnity of a great toad, it
mattered little--Kartabo had welcomed me with as propitious an omen as
had Kalacoon.

       *       *       *       *       *

Houses have distinct personalities, either bequeathed to them by their
builders or tenants, absorbed from their materials, or emanating from
the general environment. Neither the mind which had planned our
Kartabo bungalow, nor the hands which fashioned it; neither the
mahogany walls hewn from the adjoining jungle, nor the white-pine
beams which had known many decades of snowy winters--none of these
were obtrusive. The first had passed into oblivion, the second had
been seasoned by sun and rain, papered by lichens, and gnawed and
bored by tiny wood-folk into a neutral inconspicuousness as complete
as an Indian's deserted _benab_. The wide verandah was open on all
sides, and from the bamboos of the front compound one looked straight
through the central hall-way to bamboos at the back. It seemed like a
happy accident of the natural surroundings, a jungle-bound cave, or
the low rambling chambers of a mighty hollow tree.

No thought of who had been here last came to us that first evening. We
unlimbered the creaky-legged cots, stiff and complaining after their
three years' rest, and the air was filled with the clean odor of
micaceous showers of naphthalene from long-packed pillows and sheets.
From the rear came the clatter of plates, the scent of ripe papaws and
bananas, mingled with the smell of the first fire in a new stove. Then
I went out and sat on my own twelve-foot bank, looking down on the
sandy beach and out and over to the most beautiful view in the
Guianas. Down from the right swept slowly the Mazaruni, and from the
left the Cuyuni, mingling with one wide expanse like a great rounded
lake, bounded by solid jungle, with only Kalacoon and the Penal
Settlement as tiny breaks in the wall of green.

The tide was falling, and as I sat watching the light grow dim, the
water receded slowly, and strange little things floated past
downstream. And I thought of the no less real human tide which long
years ago had flowed to my very feet and then ebbed, leaving, as drift
is left upon the sand, the convicts, a few scattered Indians, and
myself. In the peace and quiet of this evening, time seemed a thing of
no especial account. The great jungle trees might always have been
lifeless emerald water-barriers, rather than things of a few
centuries' growth; the ripple-less water bore with equal disregard the
last mora seed which floated past, as it had held aloft the keel of an
unknown Spanish ship three centuries before. These men came up-river
and landed on a little island a few hundred yards from Kartabo. Here
they built a low stone wall, lost a few buttons, coins, and bullets,
and vanished. Then came the Dutch in sturdy ships, cleared the islet
of everything except the Spanish wall, and built them a jolly little
fort intended to command all the rivers, naming it Kyk-over-al.
To-day the name and a strong archway of flat Holland bricks survive.

In this wilderness, so wild and so quiet to-day, it was amazing to
think of Dutch soldiers doing sentry duty and practising with their
little bell-mouthed cannon on the islet, and of scores of negro and
Indian slaves working in cassava fields all about where I sat. And
this not fifty or a hundred or two hundred years ago, but about the
year 1613, before John Smith had named New England, while the Hudson
was still known as the Maurice, before the Mayflower landed with all
our ancestors on board. For many years the story of this settlement
and of the handful of neighboring sugar-plantations is one of
privateer raids, capture, torture, slave-revolts, disease, bad
government, and small profits, until we marvel at the perseverance of
these sturdy Hollanders. From the records still extant, we glean here
and there amusing details of the life which was so soon to falter and
perish before the onpressing jungle. Exactly two hundred and fifty
years ago one Hendrik Rol was appointed commander of Kyk-over-al. He
was governor, captain, store-keeper and Indian trader, and his salary
was thirty guilders, or about twelve dollars, a month--about what I
paid my cook-boy.

The high tide of development at Kartabo came two hundred and three
years ago, when, as we read in the old records, a Colony House was
erected here. It went by the name of Huis Naby (the house nearby),
from its situation near the fort. Kyk-over-al was now left to the
garrison, while the commander and the civil servants lived in the new
building. One of its rooms was used as a council chamber and church,
while the lower floor was occupied by the company's store. The land in
the neighborhood was laid out in building lots, with a view to
establishing a town; it even went by the name of Stad Cartabo and had
a tavern and two or three small houses, but never contained enough
dwellings to entitle it to the name of town, or even village.

The ebb-tide soon began, and in 1739 Kartabo was deserted, and thirty
years before the United States became a nation, the old fort on
Kyk-over-al was demolished. The rivers and rolling jungle were
attractive, but the soil was poor, while the noisome mud-swamps of the
coast proved to be fertile and profitable.

Some fatality seemed to attach to all future attempts in this region.
Gold was discovered, and diamonds, and to-day the wilderness here and
there is powdering with rust and wreathing with creeping tendrils
great piles of machinery. Pounds of gold have been taken out and
hundreds of diamonds, but thus far the negro pork-knocker, with his
pack and washing-pan, is the only really successful miner.

The jungle sends forth healthy trees two hundred feet in height,
thriving for centuries, but it reaches out and blights the attempts of
man, whether sisal, rubber, cocoa, or coffee. So far the ebb-tide has
left but two successful crops to those of us whose kismet has led us
hither--crime and science. The concentration of negroes, coolies,
Chinese and Portuguese on the coast furnishes an unfailing supply of
convicts to the settlement, while the great world of life all about
affords to the naturalist a bounty rich beyond all conception.

So here was I, a grateful legatee of past failures, shaded by
magnificent clumps of bamboo, brought from Java and planted two or
three hundred years ago by the Dutch, and sheltered by a bungalow
which had played its part in the development and relinquishment of a
great gold mine.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a time we arranged and adjusted and shifted our
equipment,--tables, books, vials, guns, nets, cameras and
microscopes,--as a dog turns round and round before it composes itself
to rest. And then one day I drew a long breath and looked about, and
realized that I was at home. The newness began to pass from my little
shelves and niches and blotters; in the darkness I could put my hand
on flash or watch or gun; and in the morning I settled snugly into my
woolen shirt, khakis, and sneakers, as if they were merely accessory
skin.

In the beginning we were three white men and four servants--the latter
all young, all individual, all picked up by instinct, except Sam, who
was as inevitable as the tides. Our cook was too good-looking and too
athletic to last. He had the reputation of being the fastest sprinter
in Guiana, with a record, so we were solemnly told, of 9-1/5 seconds
for the hundred--a veritable Mercury, as the last world's record of
which I knew was 9-3/5. His stay with us was like the orbit of some
comets, which make a single lap around the sun never to return, and
his successor Edward, with unbelievably large and graceful hands and
feet, was a better cook, with the softest voice and gentlest manner in
the world.

But Bertie was our joy and delight. He too may be compared to a
star--one which, originally bright, becomes temporarily dim, and
finally attains to greater magnitude than before. Ultimately he became
a fixed ornament of our culinary and taxidermic cosmic system, and
whatever he did was accomplished with the most remarkable contortions
of limbs and body. To watch him rake was to learn new anatomical
possibilities; when he paddled, a surgeon would be moved to
astonishment; when he caught butterflies, a teacher of physical
culture would not have believed his eyes.

At night, when our servants had sealed themselves hermetically in
their room in the neighboring thatched quarters, and the last squeak
from our cots had passed out on its journey to the far distant goal of
all nocturnal sounds, we began to realize that our new home held many
more occupants than our three selves. Stealthy rustlings, indistinct
scrapings, and low murmurs kept us interested for as long as ten
minutes; and in the morning we would remember and wonder who our
fellow tenants could be. Some nights the bungalow seemed as full of
life as the tiny French homes labeled, "_Hommes 40: Chevaux 8_," when
the hastily estimated billeting possibilities were actually achieved,
and one wondered whether it were not better to be the _cheval
premier_, than the _homme quarantième_.

For years the bungalow had stood in sun and rain unoccupied, with a
watchman and his wife, named Hope, who lived close by. The aptness of
his name was that of the little Barbadian mule-tram which creeps
through the coral-white streets, striving forever to divorce motion
from progress and bearing the name Alert. Hope had done his duty and
watched the bungalow. It was undoubtedly still there and nothing had
been taken from it; but he had received no orders as to accretions,
and so, to our infinite joy and entertainment, we found that in many
ways it was not only near jungle, it _was_ jungle. I have compared it
with a natural cave. It was also like a fallen jungle-log, and we some
of the small folk who shared its dark recesses with hosts of others.
Through the air, on wings of skin or feathers or tissue membrane;
crawling or leaping by night; burrowing underground; gnawing up
through the great supporting posts; swarming up the bamboos and along
the pliant curving stems to drop quietly on the shingled roof;--thus
had the jungle-life come past Hope's unseeing eyes and found the
bungalow worthy residence.

The bats were with us from first to last. We exterminated one colony
which spent its inverted days clustered over the center of our supply
chamber, but others came immediately and disputed the ownership of the
dark room. Little chaps with great ears and nose-tissue of sensitive
skin, spent the night beneath my shelves and chairs, and even my cot.
They hunted at dusk and again at dawn, slept in my room and vanished
in the day. Even for bats they were ferocious, and whenever I caught
one in a butterfly-net, he went into paroxysms of rage, squealing in
angry passion, striving to bite my hand and, failing that, chewing
vainly on his own long fingers and arms. Their teeth were wonderfully
intricate and seemed adapted for some very special diet, although
beetles seemed to satisfy those which I caught. For once, the
systematist had labeled them opportunely, and we never called them
anything but _Furipterus horrens_.

In the evening, great bats as large as small herons swept down the
long front gallery where we worked, gleaning as they went; but the
vampires were long in coming, and for months we neither saw nor heard
of one. Then they attacked our servants, and we took heart, and night
after night exposed our toes, as conventionally accepted vampire-bait.
When at last they found that the color of our skins was no criterion
of dilution of blood, they came in crowds. For three nights they swept
about us with hardly a whisper of wings, and accepted either toe or
elbow or finger, or all three, and the cots and floor in the morning
looked like an emergency hospital behind an active front. In spite of
every attempt at keeping awake, we dropped off to sleep before the
bats had begun, and did not waken until they left. We ascertained,
however, that there was no truth in the belief that they hovered or
kept fanning with their wings. Instead, they settled on the person
with an appreciable flop and then crawled to the desired spot.

One night I made a special effort and, with bared arm, prepared for a
long vigil. In a few minutes bats began to fan my face, the wings
almost brushing, but never quite touching my skin. I could distinguish
the difference between the smaller and the larger, the latter having a
deeper swish, deeper and longer drawn-out. Their voices were so high
and shrill that the singing of the jungle crickets seemed almost
contralto in comparison. Finally, I began to feel myself the focus of
one or more of these winged weasels. The swishes became more frequent,
the returnings almost doubling on their track. Now and then a small
body touched the sheet for an instant, and then, with a soft little
tap, a vampire alighted on my chest. I was half sitting up, yet I
could not see him, for I had found that the least hint of light ended
any possibility of a visit. I breathed as quietly as I could, and made
sure that both hands were clear. For a long time there was no
movement, and the renewed swishes made me suspect that the bat had
again taken flight. Not until I felt a tickling on my wrist did I know
that my visitor had shifted and, unerringly, was making for the arm
which I had exposed. Slowly it crept forward, but I hardly felt the
pushing of the feet and pulling of the thumbs as it crawled along. If
I had been asleep, I should not have awakened. It continued up my
forearm and came to rest at my elbow. Here another long period of
rest, and then several short, quick shifts of body. With my whole
attention concentrated on my elbow, I began to imagine various
sensations as my mind pictured the long, lancet tooth sinking deep
into the skin, and the blood pumping up. I even began to feel the hot
rush of my vital fluid over my arm, and then found that I had dozed
for a moment and that all my sensations were imaginary. But soon a
gentle tickling became apparent, and, in spite of putting this out of
my mind and with increasing doubts as to the bat being still there,
the tickling continued. It changed to a tingling, rather pleasant than
otherwise, like the first stage of having one's hand asleep.

It really seemed as if this were the critical time. Somehow or other
the vampire was at work with no pain or even inconvenience to me, and
now was the moment to seize him, call for a lantern, and solve his
supersurgical skill, the exact method of this vespertilial
anæsthetist. Slowly, very slowly, I lifted the other hand, always
thinking of my elbow, so that I might keep all the muscles relaxed.
Very slowly it approached, and with as swift a motion as I could
achieve, I grasped at the vampire. I felt a touch of fur and I gripped
a struggling, skinny wing; there came a single nip of teeth, and the
wing-tip slipped through my fingers. I could detect no trace of blood
by feeling, so turned over and went to sleep. In the morning I found a
tiny scratch, with the skin barely broken; and, heartily disappointed,
I realized that my tickling and tingling had been the preliminary
symptoms of the operation.

Marvelous moths which slipped into the bungalow like shadows; pet
tarantulas; golden-eyed gongasocka geckos; automatic, house-cleaning
ants; opossums large and small; tiny lizards who had tongues in place
of eyelids; wasps who had doorsteps and watched the passing from their
windows;--all these were intimates of my laboratory table, whose
riches must be spread elsewhere; but the sounds of the bungalow were
common to the whole structure.

One of the first things I noticed, as I lay on my cot, was the new
voice of the wind at night. Now and then I caught a familiar
sound,--faint, but not to be forgotten,--the clattering of palm
fronds. But this came from Boom-boom Point, fifty yards away (an out
jutting of rocks where we had secured our first giant catfish of that
name). The steady rhythm of sound which rose and fell with the breeze
and sifted into my window with the moonbeams, was the gentlest
_shussssss_ing, a fine whispering, a veritable fern of a sound, high
and crisp and wholly apart from the moaning around the eaves which
arose at stronger gusts. It brought to mind the steep mountain-sides
of Pahang, and windy nights which presaged great storms in high passes
of Yunnan.

But these wonder times lived only through memory and were misted with
intervening years, while it came upon me during early nights, again
and again, that this was Now, and that into the hour-glass neck of Now
was headed a maelstrom of untold riches of the Future--minutes and
hours and sapphire days ahead---a Now which was wholly unconcerned
with leagues and liquor, with strikes and salaries. So I turned over
with the peace which passes all telling--the forecast of delving into
the private affairs of birds and monkeys, of great butterflies and
strange frogs and flowers. The seeping wind had led my mind on and on
from memory and distant sorrows to thoughts of the joy of labor and
life.

At half-past five a kiskadee shouted at the top of his lungs from the
bamboos, but he probably had a nightmare, for he went to sleep and did
not wake again for half-an-hour. The final swish of a bat's wing came
to my ear, and the light of a fog-dimmed day slowly tempered the
darkness among the dusty beams and rafters. From high overhead a
sprawling tarantula tossed aside the shriveled remains of his night's
banquet, the emerald cuirass and empty mahogany helmet of a
long-horned beetle, which eddied downward and landed upon my sheet.

Immediately around the bungalow the bamboos held absolute sway, and
while forming a very tangible link between the roof and the outliers
of the jungle, yet no plant could obtain foothold beneath their shade.
They withheld light, and the mat of myriads of slender leaves killed
off every sprouting thing. This was of the utmost value to us,
providing shade, clear passage to every breeze, and an absolute dearth
of flies and mosquitoes. We found that the clumps needed clearing of
old stems, and for two days we indulged in the strangest of weedings.
The dead stems were as hard as stone outside, but the ax bit through
easily, and they were so light that we could easily carry enormous
ones, which made us feel like giants, though, when I thought of them
in their true botanical relationship, I dwarfed in imagination as
quickly as Alice, to a pigmy tottering under a blade of grass. It was
like a Brobdingnagian game of jack-straws, as the cutting or prying
loose of a single stem often brought several others crashing to earth
in unexpected places, keeping us running and dodging to avoid their
terrific impact. The fall of these great masts awakened a roaring
swish ending in a hollow rattling, wholly unlike the crash and dull
boom of a solid trunk. When we finished with each clump, it stood as a
perfect giant bouquet, looking, at a distance, like a tuft of green
feathery plumes, with the bungalow snuggled beneath as a toadstool is
overshadowed by ferns.

Scores of the homes of small folk were uncovered by our weeding
out--wasps, termites, ants, bees, wood-roaches, centipedes; and
occasionally a small snake or great solemn toad came out from the
débris at the roots, the latter blinking and swelling indignantly at
this sudden interruption of his siesta. In a strong wind the stems
bent and swayed, thrashing off every imperfect leaf and sweeping low
across the roof, with strange scrapings and bamboo mutterings. But
they hardly ever broke and fell. In the evening, however, and in the
night, after a terrific storm, a sharp, unexpected _rat-tat-tat-tat_,
exactly like a machine-gun, would smash in on the silence, and two or
three of the great grasses, which perhaps sheltered Dutchmen
generations ago, would snap and fall. But the Indians and Bovianders
who lived nearby, knew this was no wind, nor yet weakness of stem, but
Sinclair, who was abroad and who was cutting down the bamboos for his
own secret reasons. He was evil, and it was well to be indoors with
all windows closed; but further details were lacking, and we were
driven to clothe this imperfect ghost with history and habits of our
own devising.

The birds and other inhabitants of the bamboos, were those of the more
open jungle,--flocks drifting through the clumps, monkeys occasionally
swinging from one to another of the elastic tips, while toucans came
and went. At evening, flocks of parrakeets and great black orioles
came to roost, courting the safety which they had come to associate
with the clearings of human pioneers in the jungle. A box on a bamboo
stalk drew forth joyous hymns of praise from a pair of little
God-birds, as the natives call the house-wrens, who straightway
collected all the grass and feathers in the world, stuffed them into
the tiny chamber, and after a time performed the ever-marvelous feat
of producing three replicas of themselves from this trash-filled box.
The father-parent was one concentrated mite of song, with just enough
feathers for wings to enable him to pursue caterpillars and
grasshoppers as raw material for the production of more song. He sang
at the prospect of a home; then he sang to attract and win a mate;
more song at the joy of finding wonderful grass and feathers; again
melody to beguile his mate, patiently giving the hours and days of her
body-warmth in instinct-compelled belief in the future. He sang while
he took his turn at sitting; then he nearly choked to death trying to
sing while stuffing a bug down a nestling's throat; finally, he sang
at the end of a perfect nesting season; again, in hopes of persuading
his mate to repeat it all, and this failing, sang in chorus in the
wren quintette--I hoped, in gratitude to us. At least from April to
September he sang every day, and if my interpretation be
anthropomorphic, why, so much the better for anthropomorphism. At any
rate, before we left, all five wrens sat on a little shrub and
imitated the morning stars, and our hearts went out to the little
virile featherlings, who had lost none of their enthusiasm for life in
this tropical jungle. Their one demand in this great wilderness was
man's presence, being never found in the jungle except in an inhabited
clearing, or, as I have found them, clinging hopefully to the
vanishing ruins of a dead Indian's _benab_, waiting and singing in
perfect faith, until the jungle had crept over it all and they were
compelled to give up and set out in search of another home, within
sound of human voices.

Bare as our leaf-carpeted bamboo-glade appeared, yet a select little
company found life worth living there. The dry sand beneath the house
was covered with the pits of ant-lions, and as we watched them month
after month, they seemed to have more in common with the grains of
quartz which composed their cosmos than with the organic world. By day
or night no ant or other edible thing seemed ever to approach or be
entrapped; and month after month there was no sign of change to imago.
Yet each pit held a fat, enthusiastic inmate, ready at a touch to turn
steam-shovel, battering-ram, bayonet, and gourmand. Among the first
thousand-and-one mysteries of Kartabo I give a place to the source of
nourishment of the sub-bungalow ant-lions.

Walking one day back of the house, I observed a number of small holes,
with a little shining head just visible in each, which vanished at my
approach. Looking closer, I was surprised to find a colony of tropical
doodle-bugs. Straightway I chose a grass-stem and squatting, began
fishing as I had fished many years ago in the southern states. Soon a
nibble and then an angry pull, and I jerked out the irate little chap.
He had the same naked bumpy body and the fierce head, and when two or
three were put together, they fought blindly and with the ferocity of
bulldogs.

       *       *       *       *       *

To write of pets is as bad taste as to write in diary form, and,
besides, I had made up my mind to have no pets on this expedition.
They were a great deal of trouble and a source of distraction from
work while they were alive; and one's heart was wrung and one's
concentration disturbed at their death. But Kib came one day, brought
by a tiny copper-bronze Indian. He looked at me, touched me
tentatively with a mobile little paw, and my firm resolution melted
away. A young coati-mundi cannot sit man-fashion like a bear-cub, nor
is he as fuzzy as a kitten or as helpless as a puppy, but he has ways
of winning to the human heart, past all obstacles.

The small Indian thought that three shillings would be a fair
exchange; but I knew the par value of such stock, and Kib changed
hands for three bits. A week later a thousand shillings would have
seemed cheap to his new master. A coati-mundi is a tropical, arboreal
raccoon of sorts, with a long, ever-wriggling snout, sharp teeth, eyes
that twinkle with humor, and clawed paws which are more skilful than
many a fingered hand. By the scientists of the world he is addressed
as _Nasua nasua nasua_--which lays itself open to the twin ambiguity
of stuttering Latin, or the echoes of a Princetonian football yell.
The natural histories call him coati-mundi, while the Indian has by
far the best of it, with the ringing, climactic syllables, _Kibihée!_
And so, in the case of a being who has received much more than his
share of vitality, it was altogether fitting to shorten this to
Kib--Dunsany's giver of life upon the earth.

My heart's desire is to run on and tell many paragraphs of Kib; but
that, as I have said, would be bad taste, which is one form of
immorality. For in such things sentiment runs too closely parallel to
sentimentality,--moderation becomes maudlinism,--and one enters the
caste of those who tell anecdotes of children, and the latest symptoms
of their physical ills. And the deeper one feels the joys of
friendship with individual small folk of the jungle, the more
difficult it is to convey them to others. And so it is not of the
tropical mammal coati-mundi, nor even of the humorous Kib that I
think, but of the soul of him galloping up and down his slanting log,
of his little inner ego, which changed from a wild thing to one who
would hurl himself from any height or distance into a lap, confident
that we would save his neck, welcome him, and waste good time playing
the game which he invented, of seeing whether we could touch his
little cold snout before he hid it beneath his curved arms.

So, in spite of my resolves, our bamboo groves became the homes of
numerous little souls of wild folk, whose individuality shone out and
dominated the less important incidental casement, whether it happened
to be feathers, or fur, or scales. It is interesting to observe how
the Adam in one comes to the surface in the matter of names for pets.
I know exactly the uncomfortable feeling which must have perturbed the
heart of that pioneer of nomenclaturists, to be plumped down in the
midst of "the greatest aggregation of animals ever assembled" before
the time of Noah, and to be able to speak of them only as _this_ or
_that_, _he_ or _she_. So we felt when inundated by a host of pets. It
is easy to speak of the species by the lawful Latin or Greek name; we
mention the specimen on our laboratory table by its common
natural-history appellation. But the individual who touches our pity,
or concern, or affection, demands a special title--usually absurdly
inapt.

Soon, in the bamboo glade about our bungalow, ten little jungle
friends came to live; and to us they will always be Kib and Gawain,
George and Gregory, Robert and Grandmother, Raoul and Pansy, Jennie
and Jellicoe.

Gawain was not a double personality--he was an intermittent
reincarnation, vibrating between the inorganic and the essence of
vitality. In a reasonable scheme of earthly things he filled the
niche of a giant green tree-frog, and one of us seemed to remember
that the Knight Gawain was enamored of green, and so we dubbed him.
For the hours of daylight Gawain preferred the role of a hunched-up
pebble of malachite; or if he could find a leaf, he drew eighteen
purple vacuum toes beneath him, veiled his eyes with opalescent lids,
and slipped from the mineral to the vegetable kingdom, flattened by
masterly shading which filled the hollows and leveled the bumps; and
the leaf became more of a leaf than it had been before Gawain was
merged with it.

Night, or hunger, or the merciless tearing of sleep from his soul
wrought magic and transformed him into a glowing, jeweled specter. He
sprouted toes and long legs; he rose and inflated his sleek emerald
frog-form; his sides blazed forth a mother-of-pearl waist-coat--a
myriad mosaics of pink and blue and salmon and mauve; and from nowhere
if not from the very depths of his throat, there slowly rose twin
globes,--great eyes,--which stood above the flatness of his head, as
mosques above an oriental city. Gone were the neutralizing lids, and
in their place, strange upright pupils surrounded with vermilion lines
and curves and dots, like characters of ancient illuminated Persian
script. And with these appalling eyes Gawain looked at us, with these
unreal, crimson-flecked globes staring absurdly from an expressionless
emerald mask, he contemplated roaches and small grasshoppers, and
correctly estimated their distance and activity. We never thought of
demanding friendship, or a hint of his voice, or common froggish
activities from Gawain. We were content to visit him now and then, to
arouse him, and then leave him to disincarnate his vertebral outward
phase into chlorophyll or lifeless stone. To muse upon his courtship
or emotions was impossible. His life had a feeling of sphinx-like
duration--Gawain as a tadpole was unthinkable. He seemed ageless,
unreal, wonderfully beautiful, and wholly inexplicable.



II

A JUNGLE CLEARING


Within six degrees of the Equator, shut in by jungle, on a cloudless
day in mid-August, I found a comfortable seat on a slope of sandy soil
sown with grass and weeds in the clearing back of Kartabo laboratory.
I was shaded only by a few leaves of a low walnut-like sapling, yet
there was not the slightest hint of oppressive heat. It might have
been a warm August day in New England or Canada, except for the
softness of the air.

In my little cleared glade there was no plant which would be wholly
out of place on a New England country hillside. With debotanized
vision I saw foliage of sumach, elm, hickory, peach, and alder, and
the weeds all about were as familiar as those of any New Jersey
meadow. The most abundant flowers were Mazaruni daisies, cheerful
little pale primroses, and close to me, fairly overhanging the paper
as I wrote, was the spindling button-weed, a wanderer from the
States, with its clusters of tiny white blossoms bouqueted in the
bracts of its leaves.

A few yards down the hillside was a clump of real friends--the rich
green leaves of vervain, that humble little weed, sacred in turn to
the Druids, the Romans, and the early Christians, and now brought
inadvertently in some long-past time, in an overseas shipment, and
holding its own in this breathing-space of the jungle. I was so
interested by this discovery of a superficial northern flora, that I
began to watch for other forms of temperate-appearing life, and for a
long time my ear found nothing out of harmony with the plants. The low
steady hum of abundant insects was so constant that it required
conscious effort to disentangle it from silence. Every few seconds
there arose the cadence of a passing bee or fly, the one low and deep,
the other shrill and penetrating. And now, just as I had become wholly
absorbed in this fascinating game,--the kind of game which may at any
moment take a worth-while scientific turn,--it all dimmed and the
entire picture shifted and changed. I doubt if any one who has been at
a modern battle-front can long sit with closed eyes in a midsummer
meadow and not have his blood leap as scene after scene is brought
back to him. Three bees and a fly winging their way past, with the
rise and fall of their varied hums, were sufficient to renew vividly
for me the blackness of night over the sticky mud of Souville, and to
cloud for a moment the scent of clover and dying grass, with that
terrible sickly sweet odor of human flesh in an old shell-hole. In
such unexpected ways do we link peace and war--suspending the greatest
weights of memory, imagination, and visualization on the slenderest
cobwebs of sound, odor, and color.

But again my bees became but bees--great, jolly, busy yellow-and-black
fellows, who blundered about and squeezed into blossoms many sizes too
small for them. Cicadas tuned up, clearing their drum-heads,
tightening their keys, and at last rousing into the full swing of
their ecstatic theme. And my relaxed, uncritical mind at present
recorded no difference between the sound and that which was vibrated
from northern maples. The tamest bird about me was a big
yellow-breasted white-throated flycatcher, and I had seen this
Melancholy Tyrant, as his technical name describes him, in such
distant lands that he fitted into the picture without effort.

White butterflies flitted past, then a yellow one, and finally a real
Monarch. In my boy-land, smudgy specimens of this were pinned,
earnestly but asymetrically, in cigar-boxes, under the title of
_Danais archippus_. At present no reputable entomologist would think
of calling it other than _Anosia plexippus_, nor should I; but the
particular thrill which it gave to-day was that this self-same species
should wander along at this moment to mosaic into my boreal muse.

After a little time, with only the hum of the bees and the staccato
cicadas, a double deceit was perpetrated, one which my sentiment of
the moment seized upon and rejoiced in, but at which my mind had to
conceal a smile and turn its consciousness quickly elsewhere, to
prevent an obtrusive reality from dimming this last addition to the
picture. The gentle, unmistakable, velvet warble of a bluebird came
over the hillside, again and again; and so completely absorbed and
lulled was I by the gradual obsession of being in the midst of a
northern scene, that the sound caused not the slightest excitement,
even internally and mentally. But the sympathetic spirit who was
directing this geographic burlesque overplayed, and followed the soft
curve of audible wistfulness with an actual bluebird which looped
across the open space in front. The spell was broken for a moment, and
my subconscious autocrat thrust into realization the instantaneous
report--apparent bluebird call is the note of a small flycatcher and
the momentary vision was not even a mountain bluebird but a
red-breasted blue chatterer! So I shut my eyes very quickly and
listened to the soft calls, which alone would have deceived the
closest analyzer of bird songs. And so for a little while longer I
still held my picture intact, a magic scape, a hundred yards square
and an hour long, set in the heart of the Guiana jungle.

And when at last I had to desert Canada, and relinquish New Jersey, I
slipped only a few hundred miles southward. For another twenty minutes
I clung to Virginia, for the enforced shift was due to a great Papilio
butterfly which stopped nearby and which I captured with a lucky sweep
of my net. My first thought was of the Orange-tree Swallow-tail, _née_
_Papilio cresphontes_. Then the first lizards appeared, and by no
stretch of my willing imagination could I pretend that they were
newts, or fit the little emerald scales into a New England pasture.
And so I chose for a time to live again among the Virginian
butterflies and mockingbirds, the wild roses and the jasmine, and the
other splendors of memory which a single butterfly had unloosed.

As I looked about me, I saw the flowers and detected their fragrance;
I heard the hum of bees and the contented chirp of well-fed birds; I
marveled at great butterflies flapping so slowly that it seemed as if
they must have cheated gravitation in some subtle way to win such
lightness and disregard of earth-pull. I heard no ugly murmur of long
hours and low wages; the closest scrutiny revealed no strikes or
internal clamorings about wrongs; and I unconsciously relaxed and
breathed more deeply at the thought of this nature world, moving so
smoothly, with directness and simplicity as apparently achieved
ideals.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then I ceased this superficial glance and looked deeper, and without
moralizing or dragging in far-fetched similes or warnings, tried to
comprehend one fundamental reality in wild nature--the universal
acceptance of opportunity. From this angle it is quite unimportant
whether one believes in vitalism (which is vitiating to our "will to
prove"), or in mechanism (whose name itself is a symbol of ignorance,
or deficient vocabulary, or both). Evolution has left no chink or
crevice unfilled, unoccupied, no probability untried, no possibility
unachieved.

The nearest weed suggested this trend of thought and provided all I
could desire of examples; but the thrill of discovery and the artistic
delight threatened to disturb for the time my solemn application of
these ponderous truisms. The weed alongside had had a prosperous life,
and its leaves were fortunate in the unadulterated sun and rain to
which they had access. At the summit all was focusing for the
consummation of existence: the little blossoms would soon open and
have their one chance. To all the winds of heaven they would fling out
wave upon wave of delicate odor, besides enlisting a subtle form of
vibration and refusing to absorb the pink light--thereby enhancing the
prospects of insect visitors, on whose coming the very existence of
this race of weeds depended.

Every leaf showed signs of attack: scallops cut out, holes bored,
stains of fungi, wreaths of moss, and the insidious mazes of
leaf-miners. But, like an old-fashioned ship of the line which wins to
port with the remnants of shot-ridden sails, the plant had paid toll
bravely, although unable to defend itself or protect its tissues; and
if I did not now destroy it, which I should assuredly not do, this
weed would justify its place as a worthy link in the chain of
numberless generations, past and to come.

More complex, clever, subtle methods of attack transcended those of
the mere devourer of leaf-tissue, as radically as an inventor of most
intricate instruments differs from the plodding tiller of the soil. In
the center of one leaf, less disfigured than some of its fellows, I
perceived four tiny ivory spheres, a dozen of which might rest
comfortably within the length of an inch. To my eye they looked quite
smooth, although a steady oblique gaze revealed hints of concentric
lines. Before the times of Leeuwenhoek I should perhaps have been
unable to see more than this, although, as a matter of fact, in those
happy-go-lucky days my ancestors would doubtless have trounced me
soundly for wasting my time on such useless and ungodly things as
butterfly eggs. I thought of the coming night when I should sit and
strain with all my might, striving, without the use of my powerful
stereos, to separate from translucent mist of gases the denser nucleus
of the mighty cosmos in Andromeda. And I alternately bemoaned my
human limitation of vision, and rejoiced that I could focus clearly,
both upon my butterfly eggs a foot away, and upon the spiral nebula
swinging through the ether perhaps four hundred and fifty light-years
from the earth.

I unswung my pocket-lens,--the infant of the microscope,--and my whole
being followed my eyes; the trees and sky were eclipsed, and I hovered
in mid-air over four glistening Mars-like planets--seamed with
radiating canals, half in shadow from the slanting sunlight, and
silhouetted against pure emerald. The sculpturing was exquisite. Near
the north poles which pointed obliquely in my direction, the lines
broke up into beads, and the edges of these were frilled and
scalloped; and here again my vision failed and demanded still stronger
binoculars. Here was indeed complexity: a butterfly, one of those
black beauties, splashed with jasper and beryl, hovering nearby, with
taste only for liquid nectar, yet choosing a little weed devoid of
flower or fruit on which to deposit her quota of eggs. She neither
turned to look at their beauties nor trusted another batch to this
plant. Somehow, someway, her caterpillar wormhood had carried, through
the mummified chrysalid and the reincarnation of her present form,
knowledge of an earlier, infinitely coarser diet.

Together with the pure artistic joy which was stirred at the sight of
these tiny ornate globes, there was aroused a realization of
complexity, of helpless, ignorant achievement; the butterfly blindly
pausing in her flower-to-flower fluttering--a pause as momentous to
her race as that of the slow daily and monthly progress of the weed's
struggle to fruition.

I took a final glance at the eggs before returning to my own larger
world, and I detected a new complication, one which left me with
feelings too involved for calm scientific contemplation. As if a
Martian should suddenly become visible to an astronomer, I found that
one of the egg planets was inhabited. Perched upon the summit--quite
near the north pole--was an insect, a wasp, much smaller than the egg
itself. And as I looked, I saw it at the climax of its diminutive
life; for it reared up, resting on the tips of two legs and the
iridescent wings, and sunk its ovipositor deep into the crystalline
surface. As I watched, an egg was deposited, about the latitude of New
York, and with a tremor the tiny wasp withdrew its instrument and
rested.

On the same leaf were casually blown specks of dust, larger than the
quartette of eggs. To the plant the cluster weighed nothing, meant
nothing more than the dust. Yet a moment before they contained the
latent power of great harm to the future growth of the weed--four
lusty caterpillars would work from leaf to leaf with a rapidity and
destructiveness which might, even at the last, have sapped the
maturing seeds. Now, on a smaller scale, but still within the realm of
insect life, all was changed--the plant was safe once more and no
caterpillars would emerge. For the wasp went from sphere to sphere and
inoculated every one with the promise of its kind. The plant bent
slightly in a breath of wind, and knew nothing; the butterfly was far
away to my left, deep-drinking in a cluster of yellow cassia; the wasp
had already forgotten its achievement, and I alone--an outsider, an
interloper--observed, correlated, realized, appreciated, and--at the
last--remained as completely ignorant as the actors themselves of the
real driving force, of the certain beginning, of the inevitable end.
Only a momentary cross-section was vouchsafed, and a wonder and a
desire to know fanned a little hotter.

I had far from finished with my weed: for besides the cuts and tears
and disfigurements of the leaves, I saw a score or more of curious
berry-like or acorn-like growths, springing from both leaf and stem. I
knew, of course, that they were insect-galls, but never before had
they meant quite so much, or fitted in so well as a significant
phenomenon in the nexus of entangling relationships between the weed
and its environment. This visitor, also a minute wasp of sorts,
neither bit nor cut the leaves, but quietly slipped a tiny egg here
and there into the leaf-tissue.

And this was only the beginning of complexity. For with the quickening
of the larva came a reaction on the part of the plant, which, in
defense, set up a greatly accelerated growth about the young insect.
This might have taken the form of some distorted or deformed plant
organ--a cluster of leaves, a fruit or berry or tuft of hairs, wholly
unlike the characters of the plant itself. My weed was studded with
what might well have been normal seed-fruits, were they not proved
nightmares of berries, awful pseudo-fruits sprouting from horridly
impossible places. And this excess of energy, expressed in tumorous
outgrowths, was all vitally useful to the grub--just as the skilful
jiu-jitsu wrestler accomplishes his purpose with the aid of his
opponent's strength. The insect and plant were, however, far more
intricately related than any two human competitors: for the grub in
turn required the continued health and strength of the plant for its
existence; and when I plucked a leaf, I knew I had doomed all the
hidden insects living within its substance.

The galls at my hand simulated little acorns, dull greenish in color,
matching the leaf-surface on which they rested, and rising in a sharp
point. I cut one through and, when wearied and fretted with the
responsibilities of independent existence, I know I shall often recall
and envy my grub in his palatial parasitic home. Outside came a rather
hard, brown protective sheath; then the main body of the gall, of firm
and dense tissue; and finally, at the heart, like the Queen's chamber
in Cheops, the irregular little dwelling-place of the grub. This was
not empty and barren; but the blackness and silence of this vegetable
chamber, this architecture fashioned by the strangest of builders for
the most remarkable of tenants, was filled with a nap of long,
crystalline hairs or threads like the spun-glass candy in our
Christmas sweetshops--white at the base and shading from pale salmon
to the deepest of pinks. This exquisite tapestry, whose beauties were
normally forever hidden as well from the blind grub as from the
outside world, was the ambrosia all unwittingly provided by the
antagonism of the plant; the nutrition of resentment, the food of
defiance; and day by day the grub gradually ate his way from one end
to the other of his suite, laying a normal, healthful physical
foundation for his future aerial activities.

The natural history of galls is full of romance and strange
unrealities, but to-day it meant to me only a renewed instance of an
opportunity seized and made the most of; the success of the indirect,
the unreasonable--the long chance which so few of us humans are
willing to take, although the reward is a perpetual enthusiasm for the
happening of the moment, and the honest gambler's joy for the future.
How much more desirable to acquire merit as a footless grub in the
heart of a home, erected and precariously nourished by a worthy
opponent, with a future of unnumbered possibilities, than to be a
queen-mother in nest or hive--cared-for, fed, and cleansed by a host
of slaves, but with less prospect of change or of adventure than an
average toadstool.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus I sat for a long time, lulled by similitudes of northern plants
and bees and birds, and then gently shifted southward a few hundred
miles, the transition being smooth and unabrupt. With equal gentleness
the dead calm stirred slightly and exhaled the merest ghost of a
breeze; it seemed as if the air was hardly in motion, but only
restless: the wings of the bees and the flycatcher might well have
caused it. But, judged by the sequence of events, it was the almost
imperceptible signal given by some great Jungle Spirit, who had tired
of playing with my dreams and pleasant fancies of northern life, and
now called upon her legions to disillusion me. And the response was
immediate. Three great shells burst at my very feet,--one of sound,
one of color, and the third of both plus numbers,--and from that time
on, tropical life was dominant whichever way I looked. That is the way
with the wilderness, and especially the tropical wilderness--to
surprise one in the very field with which one is most familiar. While
in my own estimation my chief profession is ignorance, yet I sign my
passport applications and my jury evasions as Ornithologist. And now
this playful Spirit of the Jungle permitted me to meditate cheerfully
on my ability to compare the faunas of New York and Guiana, and then
proceeded to startle me with three salvos of birds, first physically
and then emotionally.

From the monotone of under-world sounds a strange little rasping
detached itself, a reiterated, subdued scraping or picking. It carried
my mind instantly to the throbbing theme of the Niebelungs,
onomatopoetic of the little hammers forever busy in their underground
work. I circled a small bush at my side, and found that the sound came
from one of the branches near the top; so with my glasses I began a
systematic search. It was at this propitious moment, when I was
relaxed in every muscle, steeped in the quiet of this hillside, and
keen on discovering the beetle, that the first shell arrived. If I had
been less absorbed I might have heard some distant chattering or
calling, but this time it was as if a Spad had shut off its power,
volplaned, kept ahead of its own sound waves, and bombed me. All that
actually happened was that a band of little parrakeets flew down and
alighted nearby. When I discovered this, it seemed a disconcerting
anti-climax, just as one can make the bravest man who has been under
rifle-fire flinch by spinning a match swiftly past his ear.

I have heard this sound of parrakeet's wings, when the birds were
alighting nearby, half a dozen times; but after half a hundred I shall
duck just as spontaneously, and for a few seconds stand just as
immobile with astonishment. From a volcano I expect deep and sinister
sounds; when I watch great breakers I would marvel only if the
accompanying roar were absent; but on a calm sunny August day I do not
expect a noise which, for suddenness and startling character, can be
compared only with a tremendous flash of lightning. Imagine a
wonderful tapestry of strong ancient stuff, which had only been woven,
never torn, and think of this suddenly ripped from top to bottom by
some sinister, irresistible force.

In the instant that the sound began, it ceased; there was no echo, no
bell-like sustained overtones; both ends were buried in silence. As it
came to-day it was a high tearing crash which shattered silence as a
Very light destroys darkness; and at its cessation I looked up and
saw twenty little green figures gazing intently down at me, from so
small a sapling that their addition almost doubled the foliage. That
their small wings could wring such a sound from the fabric of the air
was unbelievable. At my first movement, the flock leaped forth, and if
their wings made even a rustle, it was wholly drowned in the chorus of
chattering cries which poured forth unceasingly as the little band
swept up and around the sky circle. As an alighting morpho butterfly
dazzles the eyes with a final flash of his blazing azure before
vanishing behind the leaves and fungi of his lower surface, so
parrakeets change from screaming motes in the heavens to silence, and
then to a hurtling, roaring boomerang, whose amazing unexpectedness
would distract the most dangerous eyes from the little motionless
leaf-figures in a neighboring treetop.

When I sat down again, the whole feeling of the hillside was changed.
I was aware that my weed was a northern weed only in appearance, and I
should not have been surprised to see my bees change to flies or my
lizards to snakes--tropical beings have a way of doing such things.

The next phenomenon was color,--unreal, living pigment,--which seemed
to appeal to more than one sense, and which satisfied, as a cooling
drink or a rare, delicious fragrance satisfies. A medium-sized, stocky
bird flew with steady wing-beats over the jungle, in black silhouette
against the sky, and swung up to an outstanding giant tree which
partly overhung the edge of my clearing. The instant it passed the
zone of green, it flashed out brilliant turquoise, and in the same
instant I recognized it and reached for my gun. Before I retrieved the
bird, a second, dull and dark-feathered, flew from the tree. I had
watched it for some time, but now, as it passed over, I saw no yellow
and knew it too was of real scientific interest to me; and with the
second barrel I secured it. Picking up my first bird, I found that it
was not turquoise, but beryl; and a few minutes later I was certain
that it was aquamarine; on my way home another glance showed the color
of forget-me-nots on its plumage, and as I looked at it on my table,
it was Nile green. Yet the feathers were painted in flat color,
without especial sheen or iridescence, and when I finally analyzed it,
I found it to be a delicate calamine blue. It actually had the
appearance of a too strong color, as when a glistening surface
reflects the sun. From beak to tail it threw off this glowing hue,
except for its chin and throat, which were a limpid amaranth purple;
and the effect on the excited rods and cones in one's eyes was like
the power of great music or some majestic passage in the Bible. You,
who think my similes are overdone, search out in the nearest museum
the dustiest of purple-throated cotingas,--_Cotinga cayana,_--and
then, instead, berate me for inadequacy.

Sheer color alone is powerful enough, but when heightened by contrast,
it becomes still more effective, and I seemed to have secured, with
two barrels, a cotinga and its shadow. The latter was also a
full-grown male cotinga, known to a few people in this world as the
dark-breasted mourner (_Lipaugus simplex_). In general shape and form
it was not unlike its cousin, but in color it was its shadow, its
silhouette. Not a feather upon head or body, wings or tail showed a
hint of warmth, only a dull uniform gray; an ash of a bird, living in
the same warm sunlight, wet by the same rain, feeding on much the same
food, and claiming relationship with a blazing-feathered turquoise.
There is some very exact and very absorbing reason for all this, and
for it I search with fervor, but with little success. But we may be
certain that the causes of this and of the host of other unreasonable
realities which fill the path of the evolutionist with never-quenched
enthusiasm, will extend far beyond the colors of two tropical birds.
They will have something to do with flowers and with bright
butterflies, and we shall know why our "favorite color" is more than a
whim, and why the Greeks may not have been able to distinguish the
full gamut of our spectrum, and why rainbows are so narrow to our eyes
in comparison to what they might be.

Finally, there was thrown aside all finesse, all delicacy of
presentation, and the last lingering feeling of temperate life and
nature was erased. From now on there was no confusion of zones, no
concessions, no mental palimpsest of resolving images. The spatial,
the temporal,--the hillside, the passing seconds,--the vibrations and
material atoms stimulating my five senses, all were tropical,
quickened with the unbelievable vitality of equatorial life. A
rustling came to my ears, although the breeze was still little more
than a sensation of coolness. Then a deep whirr sounded overhead, and
another, and another, and with a rush a dozen great toucans were all
about me. Monstrous beaks, parodies in pastels of unheard-of blues
and greens, breasts which glowed like mirrored suns,--orange overlaid
upon blinding yellow,--and at every flick of the tail a trenchant
flash of intense scarlet. All these colors set in frames of jet-black
plumage, and suddenly hurled through blue sky and green foliage, made
the hillside a brilliant moving kaleidoscope.

Some flew straight over, with several quick flaps, then a smooth
glide, flaps and glide. A few banked sharply at sight of me, and
wheeled to right or left. Others alighted and craned their necks in
suspicion; but all sooner or later disappeared eastward in the
direction of a mighty jungle tree just bursting into a myriad of
berries. They were sulphur-breasted toucans, and they were silent,
heralded only by the sound of their wings and the crash of their
pigments. I can think of no other assemblage of jungle creatures more
fitted to impress one with the prodigality of tropical nature. Four
years before, we set ourselves to work to discover the first eggs and
young of toucans, and after weeks of heartbreaking labor and
disappointments we succeeded. Out of the five species of toucans
living in this part of Guiana we found the nests of four, and the one
which eluded us was the big sulphur-breasted fellow. I remembered so
vividly the painstaking care with which, week after week, we and our
Indians tramped the jungle for miles,--through swamps and over rolling
hills,--at last having to admit failure; and now I sat and watched
thirty, forty, fifty of the splendid birds whirr past. As the last of
the fifty-four flew on to their feast of berries, I recalled with
difficulty my faded visions of northern birds.

And so ended, as in the great finale of a pyrotechnic display, my two
hours on a hillside clearing. I can neither enliven it with a
startling escape, nor add a thrill of danger, without using as many
"ifs" as would be needed to make a Jersey meadow untenable. For
example, _if_ I had fallen over backwards and been powerless to rise
or move, I should have been killed within half an hour, for a stray
column of army ants was passing within a yard of me, and death would
await any helpless being falling across their path. But by searching
out a copperhead and imitating Cleopatra, or with patience and
persistence devouring every toadstool, the same result could be
achieved in our home-town orchard. When on the march, the army ants
are as innocuous at two inches as at two miles. Had I sat where I was
for days and for nights, my chief danger would have been demise from
sheer chagrin at my inability to grasp the deeper significance of life
and its earthly activities.



III

THE HOME TOWN OF THE ARMY ANTS


From uniform to civilian clothes is a change transcending mere
alteration of stuffs and buttons. It is scarcely less sweeping than
the shift from civilian clothes to bathing-suit, which so often
compels us to concentrate on remembered mental attributes, to avoid
demanding a renewed introduction to estranged personality. In the home
life of the average soldier, the relaxation from sustained tension and
conscious routine results in a gentleness and quietness of mood for
which warrior nations are especially remembered.

Army ants have no insignia to lay aside, and their swords are too
firmly hafted in their own beings to be hung up as post-bellum mural
decorations, or--as is done only in poster-land--metamorphosed into
pruning-hooks and plowshares.

I sat at my laboratory table at Kartabo, and looked down river to the
pink roof of Kalacoon, and my mind went back to the shambles of Pit
Number Five.[1] I was wondering whether I should ever see the army
ants in any guise other than that of scouting, battling searchers for
living prey, when a voice of the jungle seemed to hear my unexpressed
wish. The sharp, high notes of white-fronted antbirds--those
white-crested watchers of the ants--came to my ears, and I left my
table and followed up the sound. Physically, I merely walked around
the bungalow and approached the edge of the jungle at a point where we
had erected a small outhouse a day or two before. But this two hundred
feet might just as well have been a single step through quicksilver,
hand in hand with Alice, for it took me from a world of hyoids and
syrinxes, of vials and lenses and clean-smelling xylol, to the home of
the army ants.

[Footnote 1: See _Jungle Peace_, p. 211.]

The antbirds were chirping and hopping about on the very edge of the
jungle, but I did not have to go that far. As I passed the doorless
entrance of the outhouse I looked up, and there was an immense mass of
some strange material suspended in the upper corner. It looked like
stringy, chocolate-colored tow, studded with hundreds of tiny ivory
buttons. I came closer and looked carefully at this mushroom growth
which had appeared in a single night, and it was then that my eyes
began to perceive and my mind to record, things that my reason
besought me to reject. Such phenomena were all right in a dream, or
one might imagine them and tell them to children on one's knee, with
wind in the eaves--wild tales to be laughed at and forgotten. But this
was daylight and I was a scientist; my eyes were in excellent order,
and my mind rested after a dreamless sleep; so I had to record what I
saw in that little outhouse.

This chocolate-colored mass with its myriad ivory dots was the home,
the nest, the hearth, the nursery, the bridal suite, the kitchen, the
bed and board of the army ants. It was the focus of all the lines and
files which ravaged the jungle for food, of the battalions which
attacked every living creature in their path, of the unnumbered rank
and file which made them known to every Indian, to every inhabitant of
these vast jungles.

Louis Quatorze once said, "_L'Etat, c'est moi!_" but this figure of
speech becomes an empty, meaningless phrase beside what an army ant
could boast,--"_La maison, c'est moi!_" Every rafter, beam, stringer,
window-frame and door-frame, hall-way, room, ceiling, wall and floor,
foundation, superstructure and roof, all were ants--living ants,
distorted by stress, crowded into the dense walls, spread out to
widest stretch across tie-spaces. I had thought it marvelous when I
saw them arrange themselves as bridges, walks, handrails, buttresses,
and sign-boards along the columns; but this new absorption of
environment, this usurpation of wood and stone, this insinuation of
themselves into the province of the inorganic world, was almost too
astounding to credit.

All along the upper rim the sustaining structure was more distinctly
visible than elsewhere. Here was a maze of taut brown threads
stretching in places across a span of six inches, with here and there
a tiny knot. These were actually tie-strings of living ants, their
legs stretched almost to the breaking-point, their bodies the
inconspicuous knots or nodes. Even at rest and at home, the army ants
are always prepared, for every quiescent individual in the swarm was
standing as erect as possible, with jaws widespread and ready, whether
the great curved mahogany scimitars of the soldiers, or the little
black daggers of the smaller workers. And with no eyelids to close,
and eyes which were themselves a mockery, the nerve shriveling and
never reaching the brain, what could sleep mean to them? Wrapped ever
in an impenetrable cloak of darkness and silence, life was yet one
great activity, directed, ordered, commanded by scent and odor alone.
Hour after hour, as I sat close to the nest, I was aware of this odor,
sometimes subtle, again wafted in strong successive waves. It was
musty, like something sweet which had begun to mold; not unpleasant,
but very difficult to describe; and in vain I strove to realize the
importance of this faint essence--taking the place of sound, of
language, of color, of motion, of form.

I recovered quickly from my first rapt realization, for a dozen ants
had lost no time in ascending my shoes, and, as if at a preconcerted
signal, all simultaneously sank their jaws into my person. Thus
strongly recalled to the realities of life, I realized the opportunity
that was offered and planned for my observation. No living thing could
long remain motionless within the sphere of influence of these
six-legged Boches, and yet I intended to spend days in close
proximity. There was no place to hang a hammock, no overhanging tree
from which I might suspend myself spider-wise. So I sent Sam for an
ordinary chair, four tin cans, and a bottle of disinfectant. I filled
the tins with the tarry fluid, and in four carefully timed rushes I
placed the tins in a chair-leg square. The fifth time I put the chair
in place beneath the nest, but I had misjudged my distances and had to
retreat with only two tins in place. Another effort, with Spartan-like
disregard of the fiery bites, and my haven was ready. I hung a bag of
vials, notebook, and lens on the chairback, and, with a final rush,
climbed on the seat and curled up as comfortably as possible.

All around the tins, swarming to the very edge of the liquid, were the
angry hosts. Close to my face were the lines ascending and descending,
while just above me were hundreds of thousands, a bushel-basket of
army ants, with only the strength of their threadlike legs as
suspension cables. It took some time to get used to my environment,
and from first to last I was never wholly relaxed, or quite
unconscious of what would happen if a chair-leg broke, or a bamboo
fell across the outhouse.

I swiveled round on the chair-seat and counted eight lines of army
ants on the ground, converging to the post at my elbow. Each was four
or five ranks wide, and the eight lines occasionally divided or
coalesced, like a nexus of capillaries. There was a wide expanse of
sand and clay, and no apparent reason why the various lines of
foragers should not approach the nest in a single large column. The
dividing and redividing showed well how completely free were the
columns from any individual dominance. There was no control by
specific individuals or soldiers, but, the general route once
established, the governing factor was the odor of contact.

The law to pass where others have passed is immutable, but freedom of
action or individual desire dies with the malleable, plastic ends of
the foraging columns. Again and again came to mind the comparison of
the entire colony or army with a single organism; and now the home,
the nesting swarm, the focus of central control, seemed like the body
of this strange amorphous organism--housing the spirit of the army.
One thinks of a column of foragers as a tendril with only the tip
sensitive and growing and moving, while the corpuscle-like individual
ants are driven in the current of blind instinct to and fro, on their
chemical errands. And then this whole theory, this most vivid simile,
is quite upset by the sights that I watch in the suburbs of this ant
home!

The columns were most excellent barometers, and their reaction to
passing showers was invariable. The clay surface held water, and after
each downfall the pools would be higher, and the contour of the little
region altered. At the first few drops, all the ants would hasten, the
throbbing corpuscles speeding up. Then, as the rain came down heavier,
the column melted away, those near each end hurrying to shelter and
those in the center crawling beneath fallen leaves and bits of clod
and sticks. A moment before, hundreds of ants were trudging around a
tiny pool, the water lined with ant handrails, and in shallow places,
veritable formicine pontoons,--large ants which stood up to their
bodies in water, with the booty-laden host passing over them. Now, all
had vanished, leaving only a bare expanse of splashing drops and wet
clay. The sun broke through and the residue rain tinkled from the
bamboos.

As gradually as the growth of the rainbow above the jungle, the lines
reformed themselves. Scouts crept from the jungle-edge at one side,
and from the post at my end, and felt their way, fan-wise, over the
rain-scoured surface; for the odor, which was both sight and sound to
these ants, had been washed away--a more serious handicap than mere
change in contour. Swiftly the wandering individuals found their
bearings again. There was deep water where dry land had been, but, as
if by long-planned study of the work of sappers and engineers, new
pontoon bridges were thrown across, washouts filled in, new cliffs
explored, and easy grades established; and by the time the bamboos
ceased their own private after-shower, the columns were again running
smoothly, battalions of eager light infantry hastening out to battle,
and equal hosts of loot-laden warriors hurrying toward the home nest.
Four minutes was the average time taken to reform a column across the
ten feet of open clay, with all the road-making and engineering feats
which I have mentioned, on the part of ants who had never been over
this new route before.

Leaning forward within a few inches of the post, I lost all sense of
proportion, forgot my awkward human size, and with a new perspective
became an equal of the ants, looking on, watching every passer-by
with interest, straining with the bearers of the heavy loads, and
breathing more easily when the last obstacle was overcome and home
attained. For a period I plucked out every bit of good-sized booty and
found that almost all were portions of scorpions from far-distant dead
logs in the jungle, creatures whose strength and poisonous stings
availed nothing against the attacks of these fierce ants. The loads
were adjusted equably, the larger pieces carried by the big,
white-headed workers, while the smaller ants transported small eggs
and larvæ. Often, when a great mandibled soldier had hold of some
insect, he would have five or six tiny workers surrounding him, each
grasping any projecting part of the loot, as if they did not trust him
in this menial capacity,--as an anxious mother would watch with
doubtful confidence a big policeman wheeling her baby across a crowded
street. These workers were often diminutive Marcelines, hindering
rather than aiding in the progress. But in every phase of activity of
these ants there was not an ounce of intentionally lost power, or a
moment of time wilfully gone to waste. What a commentary on
Bolshevism!

Now that I had the opportunity of quietly watching the long, hurrying
columns, I came hour by hour to feel a greater intimacy, a deeper
enthusiasm for their vigor of existence, their unfailing life at the
highest point of possibility of achievement. In every direction my
former desultory observations were discounted by still greater
accomplishments. Elsewhere I have recorded the average speed as two
and a half feet in ten seconds, estimating this as a mile in three and
a half hours. An observant colonel in the American army has laid bare
my congenitally hopeless mathematical inaccuracy, and corrected this
to five hours and fifty-two seconds. Now, however, I established a
wholly new record for the straight-away dash for home of the army
ants. With the handicap of gravity pulling them down, the ants, both
laden and unburdened, averaged ten feet in twenty seconds, as they
raced up the post. I have now called in an artist and an astronomer to
verify my results, these two being the only living beings within
hailing distance as I write, except a baby red howling monkey curled
up in my lap, and a toucan, sloth, and green boa, beyond my laboratory
table. Our results are identical, and I can safely announce that the
amateur record for speed of army ants is equivalent to a mile in two
hours and fifty-six seconds; and this when handicapped by gravity and
burdens of food, but with the incentive of approaching the end of
their long journey.

As once before, I accidentally disabled a big worker that I was
robbing of his load, and his entire abdomen rolled down a slope and
disappeared. Hours later in the afternoon, I was summoned to view the
same soldier, unconcernedly making his way along an outward-bound
column, guarding it as carefully as if he had not lost the major part
of his anatomy. His mandibles were ready, and the only difference that
I could see was that he could make better speed than others of his
caste. That night he joined the general assemblage of cripples quietly
awaiting death, halfway up to the nest.

I know of no highway in the world which surpasses that of a big column
of army ants in exciting happenings, although I usually had the
feeling which inspired Kim as he watched the Great White Road, of
understanding so little of all that was going on. Early in the morning
there were only outgoing hosts; but soon eddies were seen in the swift
current, vortexes made by a single ant here and there forcing its way
against the stream. Unlike penguins and human beings, army ants have
no rule of the road as to right and left, and there is no lessening of
pace or turning aside for a heavily laden drogher. Their blindness
caused them to bump squarely into every individual, often sending load
and carrier tumbling to the bottom of a vertical path. Another
constant loss of energy was a large cockroach leg, or scorpion
segment, carried by several ants. Their insistence on trying to carry
everything beneath their bodies caused all sorts of comical mishaps.
When such a large piece of booty appeared, it was too much of a
temptation, and a dozen outgoing ants would rush up and seize hold for
a moment, the consequent pulling in all directions reducing progress
at once to zero.

Until late afternoon few ants returned without carrying their bit. The
exceptions were the cripples, which were numerous and very pitiful.
From such fierce strenuousness, such virile activity, as unending as
elemental processes, it seemed a very terrible drop to disability, to
the utilizing of every atom of remaining strength to return to the
temporary home nest--that instinct which drives so many creatures to
the same homing, at the approach of death.

Even in their helplessness they were wonderful. To see a big
black-headed worker struggling up a post with five short stumps and
only one good hind leg, was a lesson in achieving the impossible. I
have never seen even a suspicion of aid given to any cripple, no
matter how slight or how complete the disability; but frequently a
strange thing occurred, which I have often noticed but can never
explain. One army ant would carry another, perhaps of its own size and
caste, just as if it were a bit of dead provender; and I always
wondered if cannibalism was to be added to their habits. I would
capture both, and the minute they were in the vial, the dead ant would
come to life, and with equal vigor and fury both would rush about
their prison, seeking to escape, becoming indistinguishable in the
twinkling of an eye.

Very rarely an ant stopped and attempted to clean another which had
become partly disabled through an accumulation of gummy sap or other
encumbering substance. But when a leg or other organ was broken or
missing, the odor of the ant-blood seemed to arouse only suspicion
and to banish sympathy, and after a few casual wavings of antennæ,
all passed by on the other side. Not only this, but the unfortunates
were actually in danger of attack within the very lines of traffic of
the legionaries. Several times I noticed small rove-beetles
accompanying the ants, who paid little attention to them. Whenever an
ant became suspicious and approached with a raised-eyebrow gesture of
antennæ, the beetles turned their backs quickly and raised threatening
tails. But I did not suspect the vampire or thug-like character of
these guests--tolerated where any other insect would have been torn to
pieces at once. A large crippled worker, hobbling along, had slipped a
little away from the main line, when I was astonished to see two
rove-beetles rush at him and bite him viciously, a third coming up at
once and joining in. The poor worker had no possible chance against
this combination, and he went down after a short, futile struggle. Two
small army ants now happened to pass, and after a preliminary whiffing
with waving antennæ, rushed joyously into the _mêlée_. The beetles had
a cowardly weapon, and raising their tails, ejected a drop or two of
liquid, utterly confusing the ants, which turned and hastened back to
the column. For the next few minutes, until the scent wore off, they
aroused suspicion wherever they went. Meanwhile, the hyena-like
rove-beetles, having hedged themselves within a barricade of their
malodor, proceeded to feast, quarreling with one another as such
cowards are wont to do.

Thus I thought, having identified myself with the army ants. From a
broader, less biased point of view, I realized that credit should be
given to the rove-beetles for having established themselves in a zone
of such constant danger, and for being able to live and thrive in it.

The columns converged at the foot of the post, and up its surface ran
the main artery of the nest. Halfway up, a flat board projected, and
here the column divided for the last time, half going on directly into
the nest, and the other half turning aside, skirting the board,
ascending a bit of perpendicular canvas, and entering the nest from
the rear. The entrance was well guarded by a veritable moat and
drawbridge of living ants. A foot away, a flat mat of ants, mandibles
outward, was spread, over which every passing individual stepped. Six
inches farther, and the sides of the mat thickened, and in the last
three inches these sides met overhead, forming a short tunnel at the
end of which the nest began.

And here I noticed an interesting thing. Into this organic moat or
tunnel, this living mouth of an inferno, passed all the booty-laden
foragers, or those who for some reason had returned empty-mouthed. But
the outgoing host seeped gradually from the outermost nest-layer--a
gradual but fundamental circulation, like that of ocean currents.
Scorpions, eggs, caterpillars, glass-like wasp pupæ, roaches, spiders,
crickets,--all were drawn into the nest by a maelstrom of hunger,
funneling into the narrow tunnel; while from over all the surface of
the swarm there crept forth layer after layer of invigorated,
implacable seekers after food.

The mass of ants composing the nest appeared so loosely connected that
it seemed as if a touch would tear a hole, a light wind rend the
supports. It was suspended in the upper corner of the doorway, rounded
on the free sides, and measured roughly two feet in diameter--an
unnumbered host of ants. Those on the surface were in very slow but
constant motion, with legs shifting and antennæ waving continually.
This quivering on the surface of the swarm gave it the appearance of
the fur of some terrible animal--fur blowing in the wind from some
unknown, deadly desert. Yet so cohesive was the entire mass, that I
sat close beneath it for the best part of two days and not more than a
dozen ants fell upon me. There was, however, a constant rain of
egg-cases and pupa-skins and the remains of scorpions and
grasshoppers, the residue of the booty which was being poured in.
These wrappings and inedible casing were all brought to the surface
and dropped. This was reasonable, but what I could not comprehend was
a constant falling of small living larvæ. How anything except army
ants could emerge alive from such a sinister swarm was inconceivable.
It took some resolution to stand up under the nest, with my face only
a foot away from this slowly seething mass of widespread jaws. But I
had to discover where the falling larvæ came from, and after a time I
found that they were immature army ants. Here and there a small worker
would appear, carrying in its mandibles a young larva; and while most
made their way through the maze of mural legs and bodies and
ultimately disappeared again, once in a while the burden was dropped
and fell to the floor of the outhouse. I can account for this only by
presuming that a certain percentage of the nurses were very young and
inexperienced workers and dropped their burdens inadvertently. There
was certainly no intentional casting out of these offspring, as was so
obviously the case with the débris from the food of the colony. The
eleven or twelve ants which fell upon me during my watch were all
smaller workers, no larger ones losing their grip.

While recording some of these facts, I dropped my pencil, and it was
fully ten minutes before the black mass of enraged insects cleared
away, and I could pick it up. Leaning far over to secure it, I was
surprised by the cleanliness of the floor around my chair. My clothes
and note-paper had been covered with loose wings, dry skeletons of
insects and the other débris, while hundreds of other fragments had
sifted down past me. Yet now that I looked seeingly, the whole area
was perfectly clean. I had to assume a perfect jack-knife pose to get
my face near enough to the floor; but, achieving it, I found about
five hundred ants serving as a street-cleaning squad. They roamed
aimlessly about over the whole floor, ready at once to attack
anything of mine, or any part of my anatomy which might come close
enough, but otherwise stimulated to activity only when they came
across a bit of rubbish from the nest high overhead. This was at once
seized and carried off to one of two neat piles in far corners. Before
night these kitchen middens were an inch or two deep and nearly a foot
in length, composed, literally, of thousands of skins, wings, and
insect armor. There was not a scrap of dirt of any kind which had not
been gathered into one of the two piles. The nest was nine feet above
the floor, a distance (magnifying ant height to our own) of nearly a
mile, and yet the care lavished on the cleanliness of the earth so far
below was as thorough and well done as the actual provisioning of the
colony.

As I watched the columns and the swarm-nest hour after hour, several
things impressed me;--the absolute silence in which the ants
worked;--such ceaseless activity without sound one associates only
with a cinema film; all around me was tremendous energy, marvelous
feats of achievement, super-human instincts, the ceaseless movement of
tens of thousands of legionaries; yet no tramp of feet, no shouts, no
curses, no welcomes, no chanties. It was uncanny to think of a race
of creatures such as these, dreaded by every living being, wholly
dominant in their continent-wide sphere of action, yet born, living
out their lives, and dying, dumb and blind, with no possibility of
comment on life and its fullness, of censure or of applause.

The sweeping squad on the floor was interesting because of its limited
field of work at such a distance from the nest; but close to my chair
were a number of other specialized zones of activity, any one of which
would have afforded a fertile field for concentrated study. Beneath
the swarm on the white canvas, I noticed two large spots of dirt and
moisture, where very small flies were collected. An examination showed
that this was a second, nearer dumping-ground for all the garbage and
refuse of the swarm which could not be thrown down on the kitchen
middens far below. And here were tiny flies and other insects acting
as scavengers, just as the hosts of vultures gather about the
slaughter-house of Georgetown.

The most interesting of all the phases of life of the ants' home town,
were those on the horizontal board which projected from the beam and
stretched for several feet to one side of the swarm. This platform
was almost on a level with my eyes, and by leaning slightly forward on
the chair, I was as close as I dared go. Here many ants came from the
incoming columns, and others were constantly arriving from the nest
itself. It was here that I realized my good fortune and the
achievement of my desires, when I first saw an army ant at rest. One
of the first arrivals after I had squatted to my post, was a big
soldier with a heavy load of roach meat. Instead of keeping on
straight up the post, he turned abruptly and dropped his load. It was
instantly picked up by two smaller workers and carried on and upward
toward the nest. Two other big fellows arrived in quick succession,
one with a load which he relinquished to a drogher-in-waiting. Then
the three weary warriors stretched their legs one after another and
commenced to clean their antennæ. This lasted only for a moment, for
three or four tiny ants rushed at each of the larger ones and began as
thorough a cleaning as masseurs or Turkish-bath attendants. The three
arrivals were at once hustled away to a distant part of the board and
there cleaned from end to end. I found that the focal length of my
8-diameter lens was just out of reach of the ants, so I focused
carefully on one of the soldiers and watched the entire process. The
small ants scrubbed and scraped him with their jaws, licking him and
removing every particle of dirt. One even crawled under him and worked
away at his upper leg-joints, for all the world as a mechanic will
creep under a car. Finally, I was delighted to see him do what no car
ever does, turn completely over and lie quietly on his back with his
legs in air, while his diminutive helpers overran him and gradually
got him into shape for future battles and foraging expeditions.

On this resting-stage, within well-defined limits, were dozens of
groups of two cleaning one another, and less numerous parties of the
tiny professionals working their hearts out on battle-worn soldiers.
It became more and more apparent that in the creed of the army ants,
cleanliness comes next to military effectiveness.

Here and there I saw independent individuals cleaning themselves and
going through the most un-ant-like movements. They scraped their jaws
along the board, pushing forward like a dog trying to get rid of his
muzzle; then they turned on one side and passed the opposite legs
again and again through the mandibles; while the last performance was
to turn over on their backs and roll from side to side, exactly as a
horse or donkey loves to do.

One ant, I remember, seemed to have something seriously wrong. It sat
up on its bent-under abdomen in a most comical fashion, and was the
object of solicitude of every passing ant. Sometimes there were thirty
in a dense group, pushing and jostling; and, like most of our city
crowds, many seemed to stop only long enough to have a moment's morbid
sight, or to ask some silly question as to the trouble, then to hurry
on. Others remained, and licked and twiddled him with their antennæ
for a long time. He was in this position for at least twenty minutes.
My curiosity was so aroused that I gathered him up in a vial, whereat
he became wildly excited and promptly regained full use of his legs
and faculties. Later, when I examined him under the lens, I could find
nothing whatever wrong.

Off at one side of the general cleaning and reconstruction areas was a
pitiful assemblage of cripples which had had enough energy to crawl
back, but which did not attempt, or were not allowed, to enter the
nest proper. Some had one or two legs gone, others had lost an
antenna or had an injured body. They seemed not to know what to
do--wandering around, now and then giving one another a half-hearted
lick. In the midst was one which had died, and two others, each badly
injured, were trying to tug the body along to the edge of the board.
This they succeeded in doing after a long series of efforts, and down
and down fell the dead ant. It was promptly picked up by several
kitchen-middenites and unceremoniously thrown on the pile of
nest-débris. A load of booty had been dumped among the cripples, and
as each wandered close to it, he seemed to regain strength for a
moment, picked up the load, and then dropped it. The sight of that
which symbolized almost all their life-activity aroused them to a
momentary forgetfulness of their disabilities. There was no longer any
place for them in the home or in the columns of the legionaries. They
had been court-martialed under the most implacable, the most impartial
law in the world--the survival of the fit, the elimination of the
unfit.

The time came when we had to get at our stored supplies, over which
the army ants were such an effective guard. I experimented on a
running column with a spray of ammonia and found that it created
merely temporary inconvenience, the ants running back and forming a
new trail. Formaline was more effective, so I sprayed the nest-swarm
with a fifty-per-cent solution, strong enough, one would think, to
harden the very boards. It certainly created a terrible commotion, and
strings of the ants, two feet long, hung dangling from the nest. The
heart of the colony came into view, with thousands of eggs and larvæ,
looking like heaps of white rice-grains. Every ant seized one or the
other and sought escape by the nearest way, while the soldiers still
defied the world. The gradual disintegration revealed an interior
meshed like a wasp's nest, chambered and honeycombed with living tubes
and walls. Little by little the taut guy-ropes, lathes, braces,
joists, all sagged and melted together, each cell-wall becoming
dynamic, now expanding, now contracting; the ceilings vibrant with
waving legs, the floors a seething mass of jaws and antennæ. By the
time it was dark, the swarm was dropping in sections to the floor.

On the following morning new surprises awaited me. The great mass of
the ants had moved in the night, vanishing with every egg and
immature larva; but there was left in the corner of the flat board a
swarm of about one-quarter of the entire number, enshrouding a host of
older larvæ. The cleaning zones, the cripples' gathering-room, all had
given way to new activities, on the flat board, down near the kitchen
middens, and in every horizontal crack.

The cause of all this strange excitement, this braving of the terrible
dangers of fumes which had threatened to destroy the entire colony the
night before, suddenly was made plain as I watched. A critical time
was at hand in the lives of the all-precious larvæ, when they could
not be moved--the period of spinning, of beginning the transformation
from larvæ to pupæ. This evidently was an operation which had to take
place outside the nest and demanded some sort of light covering. On
the flat board were several thousand ants and a dozen or more groups
of full-grown larvæ. Workers of all sizes were searching everywhere
for some covering for the tender immature creatures. They had chewed
up all available loose splinters of wood, and near the rotten,
termite-eaten ends, the sound of dozens of jaws gnawing all at once
was plainly audible. This unaccustomed, unmilitary labor produced a
quantity of fine sawdust, which was sprinkled over the larvæ. I had
made a partition of a bit of a British officer's tent which I had used
in India and China, made of several layers of colored canvas and
cloth. The ants found a loose end of this, teased it out and unraveled
it, so that all the larvæ near by were blanketed with a gay,
parti-colored covering of fuzz.

All this strange work was hurried and carried on under great
excitement. The scores of big soldiers on guard appeared rather ill at
ease, as if they had wandered by mistake into the wrong department.
They sauntered about, bumped into larvæ, turned and fled. A constant
stream of workers from the nest brought hundreds more larvæ; and no
sooner had they been planted and débris of sorts sifted over them,
than they began spinning. A few had already swathed themselves in
cocoons--exceedingly thin coverings of pinkish silk. As this took
place out of the nest,--in the jungle they must be covered with wood
and leaves. The vital necessity for this was not apparent, for none of
this débris was incorporated into the silk of the cocoons, which were
clean and homogeneous. Yet the hundreds of ants gnawed and tore and
labored to gather this little dust, as if their very lives depended
upon it.

With my hand-lens focused just beyond mandible reach of the biggest
soldier, I leaned forward from my insulated chair, hovering like a
great astral eye looking down at this marvelously important business
of little lives. Here were thousands of army ants, not killing, not
carrying booty, nor even suspended quiescent as organic molecules in
the structure of the home, yet in feverish activity equaled only by
battle, making ready for the great change of their foster offspring. I
watched the very first thread of silk drawn between the larva and the
outside world, and in an incredibly short time the cocoon was outlined
in a tissue-thin, transparent aura, within which the tenant could be
seen skilfully weaving its own shroud.

When first brought from the nest, the larvæ lay quite straight and
still; but almost at once they bent far over in the spinning position.
Then some officious worker would come along, and the unfortunate larva
would be snatched up, carried off, and jammed down in some neighboring
empty space, like a bolt of cloth rearranged upon a shelf. Then
another ant would approach, antennæ the larva, disapprove, and again
shift its position. It was a real survival of the lucky, as to who
should avoid being exhausted by kindness and over-solicitude. I
uttered many a chuckle at the half-ensilked unfortunates being toted
about like mummies, and occasionally giving a sturdy, impatient kick
which upset their tormentors and for a moment created a little swirl
of mild excitement.

There was no order of packing. The larvæ were fitted together anyway,
and meagerly covered with dust of wood and shreds of cloth. One big
tissue of wood nearly an inch square was too great a temptation to be
let alone, and during the course of my observation it covered in turn
almost every group of larvæ in sight, ending by being accidentally
shunted over the edge and killing a worker near the kitchen middens.
There was only a single layer of larvæ; in no case were they piled up,
and when the platform became crowded, a new column was formed and
hundreds taken outside. To the casual eye there was no difference
between these legionaries and a column bringing in booty of insects,
eggs, and pupæ; yet here all was solicitude, never a bite too severe,
or a blunder of undue force.

The sights I saw in this second day's accessible nest-swarm would
warrant a season's meditation and study, but one thing impressed me
above all others. Sometimes, when I carefully pried open one section
and looked deep within, I could see large chambers with the larvæ in
piles, besides being held in the mandibles of the components of the
walls and ceilings. Now and then a curious little ghost-like form
would flit across the chamber, coming to rest, gnome-like, on larva or
ant. Again and again I saw these little springtails skip through the
very scimitar mandibles of a soldier, while the workers paid no
attention to them. I wondered if they were not quite odorless,
intangible to the ants, invisible guests which lived close to them,
going where, doing what they willed, yet never perceived by the
thousands of inhabitants. They seemed to live in a kind of fourth
dimensional state, a realm comparable to that which we people with
ghosts and spirits. It was a most uncanny, altogether absorbing,
intensely interesting relationship; and sometimes, when I ponder on
some general aspect of the great jungle,--a forest of greenheart, a
mighty rushing river, a crashing, blasting thunderstorm,--my mind
suddenly reverts by way of contrast to the tiny ghosts of springtails
flitting silently among the terrible living chambers of the army ants.

On the following morning I expected to achieve still greater intimacy
in the lives of the mummy soldier embryos; but at dawn every trace of
nesting swarm, larvæ, pupæ and soldiers was gone. A few dead workers
were being already carried off by small ants which never would have
dared approach them in life. A big blue morpho butterfly flapped
slowly past out of the jungle, and in its wake came the distant
notes--high and sharp--of the white-fronted antbirds; and I knew that
the legionaries were again abroad, radiating on their silent, dynamic
paths of life from some new temporary nest deep in the jungle.



IV

A JUNGLE BEACH


A jungle moon first showed me my beach. For a week I had looked at it
in blazing sunlight, walked across it, even sat on it in the intervals
of getting wonted to the new laboratory; yet I had not perceived it.
Colonel Roosevelt once said to me that he would rather perceive things
from the point of view of a field-mouse, than be a human being and
merely see them. And in my case it was when I could no longer see the
beach that I began to discern its significance.

This British Guiana beach, just in front of my Kartabo bungalow, was
remarkably diversified, and in a few steps, or strokes of a paddle, I
could pass from clean sand to mangroves and muckamucka swamp, thence
to out-jutting rocks, and on to the Edge of the World, all within a
distance of a hundred yards. For a time my beach walks resulted in
inarticulate reaction. After months in the blindfolded canyons of New
York's streets, a hemicircle of horizon, a hemisphere of sky, and a
vast expanse of open water lent itself neither to calm appraisal nor
to impromptu cuff-notes.

It was recalled to my mind that the miracle of sunrise occurred every
morning, and was not a rather belated alternation of illumination,
following the quenching of Broadway's lights. And the moon I found was
as dependable as when I timed my Himalayan expeditions by her
shadowings. To these phenomena I soon became re-accustomed, and could
watch a bird or outwit an insect in the face of a foreglow and silent
burst of flame that shamed all the barrages ever laid down. But cosmic
happenings kept drawing my attention and paralyzing my activities for
long afterward. With a double rainbow and four storms in action at
once; or a wall of rain like sawn steel slowly drawing up one river
while the Mazaruni remains in full sunlight; with Pegasus galloping
toward the zenith at midnight and the Pleiades just clearing the Penal
Settlement, I could not always keep on dissecting, or recording, or
verifying the erroneousness of one of my recently formed theories.

There was Thuban, gazing steadily upon my little mahogany bungalow,
as, six millenniums ago, he had shone unfalteringly down the little
stone tube that led his rays into the Queen's Chamber, in the very
heart of great Cheops. Just clearing a low palm was the present North
Star, while, high above, Vega shone, patiently waiting to take her
place half a million years hence. When beginning her nightly climb,
Vega drew a thin, trembling thread of argent over the still water,
just as in other years she had laid for me a slender silver strand of
wire across frozen snow, and on one memorable night traced the ghost
of a reflection over damp sand near the Nile--pale as the wraiths of
the early Pharaohs.

Low on the eastern horizon, straight outward from my beach, was the
beginning and end of the great zodiac band--the golden Hamal of Aries
and the paired stars of Pisces; and behind, over the black jungle,
glowed the Southern Cross. But night after night, as I watched on the
beach, the sight which moved me most was the dull speck of emerald
mist, a merest smudge on the slate of the heavens,--the spiral nebula
in Andromeda,--a universe in the making, of a size unthinkable to
human minds.

The power of my jungle beach to attract and hold attention was not
only direct and sensory,--through sight and sound and scent,--but
often indirect, seemingly by occult means. Time after time, on an
impulse, I followed some casual line of thought and action, and found
myself at last on or near the beach, on a lead that eventually would
take me to the verge or into the water.

Once I did what for me was a most unusual thing. I woke in the middle
of the night without apparent reason. The moonlight was pouring in a
white flood through the bamboos, and the jungle was breathless and
silent. Through my window I could see Jennie, our pet monkey, lying
aloft, asleep on her little verandah, head cushioned on both hands,
tail curled around her dangling chain, as a spider guards her
web-strands for hint of disturbing vibrations. I knew that the
slightest touch on that chain would awaken her, and indeed it seemed
as if the very thought of it had been enough; for she opened her eyes,
sent me the highest of insect-like notes and turned over, pushing her
head within the shadow of her little house. I wondered if animals,
too, were, like the Malays and so many savage tribes, afraid of the
moonlight--the "luna-cy" danger in those strange color-strained rays,
whose power must be greater than we realize. Beyond the monkey roosted
Robert, the great macaw, wide-awake, watching me with all that
broadside of intensive gaze of which only a parrot is capable.

The three of us seemed to be the only living things in the world, and
for a long time we--monkey, macaw, and man--listened. Then all but the
man became uneasy. The monkey raised herself and listened, uncurled
her tail, shifted, and listened. The macaw drew himself up, feathers
close, forgot me, and listened. They, unlike me, were not merely
listening--they were hearing something. Then there came, very slowly
and deliberately, as if reluctant to break through the silent
moonlight, a sound, low and constant, impossible to identify, but
clearly audible even to my ears. For just an instant longer it held,
sustained and quivering, then swiftly rose into a crashing roar--the
sound of a great tree falling. I sat up and heard the whole long
descent; but at the end, after the moment of silence, there was no
deep boom--the sound of the mighty bole striking and rebounding from
the earth itself. I wondered about this for a while; then the monkey
and I went to sleep, leaving the macaw alone conscious in the
moonlight, watching through the night with his great round, yellow
orbs, and thinking the thoughts that macaws always think in the
moonlight.

The next day the macaw and the monkey had forgotten all about the
midnight sound, but I searched and found why there was no final boom.
And my search ended at my beach. A bit of overhanging bank had given
way and a tall tree had fallen headlong into the water, its roots
sprawling helplessly in mid-air. Like rats deserting a sinking ship, a
whole Noah's ark of tree-living creatures was hastening along a single
cable shorewards: tree-crickets; ants laden with eggs and larvæ;
mantids gesticulating as they walked, like old men who mumble to
themselves; wood-roaches, some green and leaf-like, others, facsimiles
of trilobites--but fleet of foot and with one goal.

What was a catastrophe for a tree and a shift of home for the tenants
was good fortune for me, and I walked easily out along the trunk and
branches and examined the strange parasitic growths and the homes
which were being so rapidly deserted. The tide came up and covered the
lower half of the prostrate tree, drowning what creatures had not
made their escape and quickening the air-plants with a false rain,
which in course of time would rot their very hearts.

But the first few days were only the overture of changes in this shift
of conditions. Tropic vegetation is so tenacious of life that it
struggles and adapts itself with all the cunning of a Japanese
wrestler. We cut saplings and thrust them into mud or the crevices of
rocks at low tide far from shore, to mark our channel, and before long
we have buoys of foliage banners waving from the bare poles above
water. We erect a tall bamboo flagpole on the bank, and before long
our flag is almost hidden by the sprouting leaves, and the pulley so
blocked that we have occasionally to lower and lop it.

So the fallen tree, still gripping the nutritious bank with a moiety
of roots, turned slowly in its fibrous stiffness and directed its life
and sap and hopes upward. During the succeeding weeks I watched trunk
and branches swell and bud out new trunks, new branches, guided,
controlled, by gravity, light, and warmth; and just beyond the reach
of the tides, leaves sprouted, flowers opened and fruit ripened. Weeks
after the last slow invertebrate plodder had made his escape
shorewards, the taut liana strand was again crowded with a mass of
passing life--a maze of vines and creepers, whose tendrils and suckers
reached and curled and pressed onward, fighting for gangway to shore,
through days and weeks, as the animal life which preceded them had
made the most of seconds and minutes.

The half-circle of exposed raw bank became in its turn the center of a
myriad activities. Great green kingfishers began at once to burrow;
tiny emerald ones chose softer places up among the wreckage of
wrenched roots; wasps came and chopped out bits for the walls and
partitions of their cells; spiders hung their cobwebs between ratlines
of rootlets; and hummingbirds promptly followed and plucked them from
their silken nets, and then took the nets to bind their own tiny
air-castles. Finally, other interests intervened, and like Jennie and
Robert, I gradually forgot the tree that fell without an echo.

In the jungle no action or organism is separate, or quite apart, and
this thing which came to the three of us suddenly at midnight led by
devious means to another magic phase of the shore.

A little to the south along my beach is the Edge of the World. At
least, it looks very much as I have always imagined that place must
look, and I have never been beyond it; so that, after listening to
many arguments in courts of law, and hearing the reasoning of
bolsheviki, teetotalers, and pacifists, I feel that I am quite
reasonable as human beings go. And best of all, it hurts no one, and
annoys only a few of my scientific friends, who feel that one cannot
indulge in such ideas at the wonderful hour of twilight, and yet at
eight o'clock the following morning describe with impeccable accuracy
the bronchial semi-rings, and the intricate mosaic of cartilage which
characterizes and supports the _membranis tympaniformis_ of _Attila
thamnophiloides_; a dogma which halves life and its interests.

The Edge of the World has always meant a place where usual things are
different; and my southern stretch of beach was that, because of
roots. Whenever in digging I have come across a root and seen its
living flesh, perhaps pink or rose or pale green, so far underground,
I have desired to know roots better; and now I found my opportunity. I
walked along the proper trail, through right and usual trees, with
reasonable foliage and normal trunks, and suddenly I stepped down over
the Edge. Overhead and all around there was still the foliage. It shut
out the sun except for greenish, moderated spots and beams. The
branches dipped low in front over the water, shutting out the sky
except along the tops of the cross-river jungle. Thus a great
green-roofed chamber was formed; and here, between jungle and the
water-level of the world, was the Kingdom of the Roots.

Great trees had in their youth fallen far forward, undermined by the
water, then slowly taken a new reach upward and stretched forth great
feet and hands of roots, palms pressing against the mud, curved backs
and thews of shoulders braced against one another and the drag of the
tides. Little by little the old prostrate trunks were entirely
obliterated by this fantastic network. There were no fine fibers or
rootlets here; only great beams and buttresses, bridges and up-ended
spirals, grown together or spreading wide apart. Root merged with
trunk, and great boles became roots and then boles again in this
unreasonable land. For here, in place of damp, black mold and soil,
water alternated with dark-shadowed air; and so I was able for a time
to live the life of a root, resting quietly among them, watching and
feeling them, and moving very slowly, with no thought of time, as
roots must.

I liked to wait until the last ripple had lapped against the sand
beneath, and then slip quietly in from the margin of the jungle and
perch--like a great tree-frog--on some convenient shelf. Seumas and
Brigid would have enjoyed it, in spite of the fact that the
Leprechauns seemed to have just gone. I found myself usually in a
little room, walled with high-arched, thin sheets of living roots,
some of which would form solid planks three feet wide and twelve long,
and only an inch or two in thickness. These were always on edge, and
might be smooth and sheer, or suddenly sprout five stubby, mittened
fingers, or pairs of curved and galloping legs--and this thought gave
substance to the simile which had occurred again and again: these
trees reminded me of centaurs with proud, upright man torsos, and
great curved backs. In one, a root dropped down and rested on the
back, as a centaur who turns might rest his hand on his withers.

When I chanced upon an easy perch, and a stray idea came to mind, I
squatted or sat or sprawled, and wrote, and strange things often
happened to me. Once, while writing rapidly on a small sheet of paper,
I found my lines growing closer and closer together until my fingers
cramped, and the consciousness of the change overlaid the thoughts
that were driving hand and pen. I then realized that, without
thinking, I had been following a succession of faint lines,
cross-ruled on my white paper, and looking up, I saw that a
leaf-filtered opening had reflected strands of a spider-web just above
my head, and I had been adapting my lines to the narrow spaces, my
chirography controlled by cobweb shadows.

The first unreality of the roots was their rigidity. I stepped from
one slender tendon of wood to the next, expecting a bending which
never occurred. They might have been turned to stone, and even little
twigs resting on the bark often proved to have grown fast. And this
was the more unexpected because of the grace of curve and line, fold
upon fold, with no sharp angles, but as full of charm of contour as
their grays and olives were harmonious in color. Photographs showed a
little of this; sketches revealed more; but the great splendid things
themselves, devoid of similes and human imagination, were
soul-satisfying in their simplicity.

I seldom sat in one spot more than a few minutes, but climbed and
shifted, tried new seats, couches, perches, grips, sprawling out along
the tops of two parallel monsters, or slipping under their bellies,
always finding some easy way to swing up again. Two openings just
permitted me to squeeze through, and I wondered whether, in another
year, or ten, or fifty, the holes would have grown smaller. I became
imbued with the quiet joy of these roots, so that I hated to touch the
ground. Once I stepped down on the beach after something I had
dropped, and the soft yielding of the sand was so unpleasant that I
did not afterwards leave this strange mid-zone until I had to return.
Unlike Antæus, I seemed to gain strength and poise by disassociation
with the earth.

Here and there were pockets in the folds of the sweeping draperies,
and each pocket was worth picking. When one tried to paint the roots,
these pockets seemed made expressly to take the place of palette cups,
except that now and then a crab resented the infusion of Hooker's
green with his Vandyke brown puddle, and seized the end of the brush.
The crabs were worthy tenants of such strange architecture, with
comical eyes twiddling on the end of their stalks, and their
white-mittened fists feinting and threatening as I looked into their
little dark rain or tide-pools.

I found three pockets on one wall, which seemed as if they must have
been "salted" for my benefit; and in them, as elsewhere on my beach,
the two extremes of life met. The topmost one, curiously enough,
contained a small crab, together with a large water-beetle at the
farther end. Both seemed rather self-conscious, and there was no hint
of fraternizing. The beetle seemed to be merely existing until
darkness, when he could fly to more water and better company; and the
crab appeared to be waiting for the beetle to go.

The next pocket was a long, narrow, horizontal fold, and I hoped to
find real excitement among its aquatic folk; but to my surprise it had
no bottom, but was a deep chute or socket, opening far below to the
sand. However, this was not my discovery, and I saw dimly a weird
little head looking up at me--a gecko lizard, which called this
crevice home and the crabs neighbors. I hailed him as the only other
backboned friend who shared the root-world with me, and then listened
to a high, sweet tone, which came forth in swinging rhythm. It took
some time for my eyes to become accustomed to the semi-darkness, and
then I saw what the gecko saw--a big yellow-bodied fly humming in this
cavern, and swinging in a small orbit as she sang. Now and then she
dashed out past me and hovered in mid-air, when her note sank to a
low, dull hum. Back again, and the sound rose and fell, and gained ten
times in volume from the echo or reverberations. Each time she passed,
the little lizard licked his chops and swallowed--a sort of vicarious
expression of faith or desire; or was he in a Christian Science frame
of mind, saying, "My, how good that fly tasted!" each time the
dipteron passed? The fly was just as inexplicable, braving danger and
darkness time after time, to leave the sunshine and vibrate in the
dusk to the enormously magnified song of its wings.

With eyes that had forgotten the outside light, I leaned close to the
opening and rested my forehead against the lichens of the wall of
wood. The fly was frightened away, the gecko slipped lower, seemingly
without effort, and in a hollowed side of the cavernous root I saw a
mist, a quivering, so tenuous and indistinct that at first it might
have been the dancing of motes. I saw that they were living
creatures--the most delicate of tiny crane-flies--at rest looking like
long-legged mosquitoes. Deep within this root, farther from the light
than even the singing fly had ventured, these tiny beings whirled
madly in mid-air--subterranean dervishes, using up energy for their
own inexplicable ends, of which one very interested naturalist could
make nothing.

Three weeks afterward I happened to pass at high tide in the canoe and
peered into this pocket. The gecko was where geckos go in the space of
three weeks, and the fly also had vanished, either within or without
the gecko. But the crane-flies were still there: to my roughly
appraising eyes the same flies, doing the same dance in exactly the
same place. Three weeks later, and again I returned, this time
intentionally, to see whether the dance still continued; and it was in
full swing. That same night at midnight I climbed down, flashed a
light upon them, and there they whirled and vibrated, silently,
incredibly rapid, unceasingly.

After a thousand hours all the surroundings had changed. New leaves
had sprouted, flowers faded and turned to fruit, the moon had twice
attained her full brightness, our earth and sun and the whole solar
system had swept headlong a full two-score million miles on the
endless swing toward Vega. Only the roots and the crane-flies
remained. A thousand hours had apparently made no difference to them.
The roots might have been the granite near by, fashioned by primeval
earth-flame, and the flies but vibrating atoms within the granite,
made visible by some alchemy of elements in this weird Rim of the
World.

And so a new memory is mine; and when one of these insects comes to my
lamp in whatever part of the world, fluttering weakly, legs breaking
off at the slightest touch, I shall cease to worry about the
scientific problems that loom too great for my brain, or about the
imperfection of whatever I am doing, and shall welcome the crane-fly
and strive to free him from this fatal passion for flame, directing
him again into the night; for he may be looking for a dark pocket in a
root, a pocket on the Edge of the World, where crane-flies may vibrate
with their fellows in an eternal dance. And so, in some ordained way,
he will fulfil his destiny and I acquire merit.

       *       *       *       *       *

To write of sunrises and moonlight is to commit literary harikiri; but
as that terminates life, so may I end this. And I choose the morning
and the midnight of the sixth of August, for reasons both greater and
less than cosmic. Early that morning, looking out from the beach over
the Mazacuni, as we called the union of the two great rivers, there
was wind, yet no wind, as the sun prepared to lift above the horizon.
The great soft-walled jungle was clear and distinct. Every reed at the
landing had its unbroken counterpart in the still surface. But at the
apex of the waters, the smoke of all the battles in the world had
gathered, and upon this the sun slowly concentrated his powers, until
he tore apart the cloak of mist, turning the dark surface, first to
oxidized, and then to shining quicksilver. Instantaneously the same
shaft of light touched the tips of the highest trees, and as if in
response to a poised bâton, there broke forth that wonder of the
world--the Zoroastrian chorus of tens of thousands of jungle
creatures.

Over the quicksilver surface little individual breezes wandered here
and there. I could clearly see the beginning and the end of them, and
one that drifted ashore and passed me felt like the lightest touch of
a breath. One saw only the ripple on the water; one thought of
invisible wings and trailing unseen robes.

With the increasing warmth the water-mist rose slowly, like a last
quiet breath of night; and as it ascended,--the edges changing from
silvery gray to grayish white,--it gathered close its shredded
margins, grew smaller as it rose higher, and finally became a cloud. I
watched it and wondered about its fate. Before the day was past, it
might darken in its might, hurl forth thunders and jagged light, and
lose its very substance in down-poured liquid. Or, after drifting idly
high in air, the still-born cloud might garb itself in rich purple and
gold for the pageant of the west, and again descend to brood over the
coming marvel of another sunrise.

The tallest of bamboos lean over our low, lazy spread of bungalow; and
late this very night, in the full moonlight, I leave my cot and walk
down to the beach over a shadow carpet of Japanese filigree. The air
over the white sand is as quiet and feelingless to my skin as
complete, comfortable clothing. On one side is the dark river; on the
other, the darker jungle full of gentle rustlings, low, velvety
breaths of sound; and I slip into the water and swim out, out, out.
Then I turn over and float along with the almost tangible moonlight
flooding down on face and water. Suddenly the whole air is broken by
the chorus of big red baboons, which rolls and tumbles toward me in
masses of sound along the surface and goes trembling, echoing on over
shore and jungle, till hurled back by the answering chorus of another
clan. It stirs one to the marrow, for there is far more in it than the
mere roaring of monkeys; and I turn uneasily, and slowly surge back
toward the sand, overhand now, making companionable splashes.

And then again I stop, treading water softly, with face alone between
river and sky; for the monkeys have ceased, and very faint and low,
but blended in wonderful minor harmony, comes another chorus--from
three miles down the river: the convicts singing hymns in their cells
at midnight. And I ground gently and sit in the silvered shadows with
little bewildered shrimps flicking against me, and unlanguaged
thoughts come and go--impossible similes, too poignant phrases to be
stopped and fettered with words, and I am neither scientist nor man
nor naked organism, but just mind. With the coming of silence I look
around and again consciously take in the scene. I am very glad to be
alive, and to know that the possible dangers of jungle and water have
not kept me armed and indoors. I feel, somehow, as if my very daring
and gentle slipping-off of all signs of dominance and protection on
entering into this realm had made friends of all the rare but possible
serpents and scorpions, sting-rays and perai, vampires and electric
eels. For a while I know the happiness of Mowgli.

And I think of people who would live more joyful lives in dense
communities, who would be more tolerant, and more certain of
straightforward friendship, if they could have as a background a
fundamental hour of living such as this, a leaven for the rest of
what, in comparison, seems mere existence.

At last I go back between the bamboos and their shadows, from unreal
reality into a definiteness of cot and pajamas and electric torch. But
wild nature still keeps touch with me; for as I write these lines,
curled up on the edge of the cot, two vampires hawk back and forth so
close that the wind from their wings dries my ink. And the soundness
of my sleep is such that time does not exist between their last
crepuscular squeak and the first wiry twittering of a blue tanager, in
full sunshine, from a palm overhanging my beach.



V

A BIT OF USELESSNESS


A most admirable servant of mine once risked his life to reach a
magnificent Bornean orchid, and tried to poison me an hour later when
he thought I was going to take the plant away from him. This does not
mean necessarily that we should look with suspicion upon all gardeners
and lovers of flowers. It emphasizes, rather, the fact of the
universal and deep-rooted appreciation of the glories of the vegetable
kingdom. Long before the fatal harvest time, I am certain that Eve
must have plucked a spray of apple blossoms with perfect impunity.

A vast amount of bad poetry and a much less quantity of excellent
verse has been written about flowers, much of which follows to the
letter Mark Twain's injunction about Truth. It must be admitted that
the relations existing between the honeysuckle and the bee are basely
practical and wholly selfish. A butterfly's admiration of a flower is
no whit less than the blossom's conscious appreciation of its own
beauties. There are ants which spend most of their life making
gardens, knowing the uses of fertilizers, mulching, planting seeds,
exercising patience, recognizing the time of ripeness, and gathering
the edible fruit. But this is underground, and the ants are blind.

There is a bird, however--the bower bird of Australia--which appears
to take real delight in bright things, especially pebbles and flowers
for their own sake. Its little lean-to, or bower of sticks, which has
been built in our own Zoological Park in New York City, is fronted by
a cleared space, which is usually mossy. To this it brings its
colorful treasures, sometimes a score of bright star blossoms, which
are renewed when faded and replaced by others. All this has, probably,
something to do with courtship, which should inspire a sonnet.

From the first pre-Egyptian who crudely scratched a lotus on his dish
of clay, down to the jolly Feckenham men, the human race has given to
flowers something more than idle curiosity, something less than mere
earnest of fruit or berry.

At twelve thousand feet I have seen one of my Tibetans with nothing
but a few shreds of straw between his bare feet and the snow, probe
around the south edge of melting drifts until he found brilliant
little primroses to stick behind his ears. I have been ushered into
the little-used, musty best-parlor of a New England farmhouse, and
seen fresh vases of homely, old-fashioned flowers--so recently placed
for my edification, that drops of water still glistened like dewdrops
on the dusty plush mat beneath. I have sat in the seat of honor of a
Dyak communal house, looked up at the circle of all too recent heads,
and seen a gay flower in each hollow eye socket, placed there for my
approval. With a cluster of colored petals swaying in the breeze, one
may at times bridge centuries or span the earth.

And now as I sit writing these words in my jungle laboratory, a small
dusky hand steals around an aquarium and deposits a beautiful spray of
orchids on my table. The little face appears, and I can distinguish
the high cheek bones of Indian blood, the flattened nose and slight
kink of negro, and the faint trace of white--probably of some long
forgotten Dutch sailor, who came and went to Guiana, while New York
City was still a browsing ground for moose.

So neither race nor age nor mélange of blood can eradicate the love
of flowers. It would be a wonderful thing to know about the first
garden that ever was, and I wish that "Best Beloved" had demanded
this. I am sure it was long before the day of dog, or cow, or horse,
or even she who walked alone. The only way we can imagine it, is to go
to some wild part of the earth, where are fortunate people who have
never heard of seed catalogs or lawn mowers.

Here in British Guiana I can run the whole gamut of gardens, within a
few miles of where I am writing. A mile above my laboratory up-river,
is the thatched _benab_ of an Akawai Indian--whose house is a roof,
whose rooms are hammocks, whose estate is the jungle. Degas can speak
English, and knows the use of my 28-gauge double barrel well enough to
bring us a constant supply of delicious bushmeat--peccary, deer,
monkey, bush turkeys and agoutis. But Grandmother has no language but
her native Akawai. She is a good friend of mine, and we hold long
conversations, neither of us bothering with the letter, but only the
spirit of communication. She is a tiny person, bowed and wrinkled as
only an old Indian squaw can be, always jolly and chuckling to
herself, although Degas tells me that the world is gradually
darkening for her. And she vainly begs me to clear the film which is
slowly closing over her eyes. She labors in a true landscape
garden--the small circle wrested with cutlass and fire from the great
jungle, and kept free only by constant cutting of the vines and lianas
which creep out almost in a night, like sinister octopus tentacles, to
strangle the strange upstarts and rejungle the bit of sunlit glade.

Although to the eye a mass of tangled vegetation, an Indian's garden
may be resolved into several phases--all utterly practical, with color
and flowers as mere by-products. First come the provisions, for if
Degas were not hunting for me, and eating my rations, he would be out
with bow and blowpipe, or fish-hooks, while the women worked all day
in the cassava field. It is his part to clear and burn the forest, it
is hers to grub up the rich mold, to plant and to weed. Plots and beds
are unknown, for in every direction are fallen trees, too large to
burn or be chopped up, and great sprawling roots. Between these,
sprouts of cassava and banana are stuck, and the yams and melons which
form the food of these primitive people. Cassava is as vital to these
Indians as the air they breathe. It is their wheat and corn and rice,
their soup and salad and dessert, their ice and their wine, for
besides being their staple food, it provides _casareep_ which
preserves their meat, and _piwarie_ which, like excellent wine,
brightens life for them occasionally, or dims it if overindulged
in--which is equally true of food, or companionship, or the oxygen in
the air we breathe.

Besides this cultivation, Grandmother has a small group of plants
which are only indirectly concerned with food. One is _kunami_, whose
leaves are pounded into pulp, and used for poisoning the water of
jungle streams, with the surprising result that the fish all leap out
on the bank and can be gathered as one picks up nuts. When I first
visited Grandmother's garden, she had a few pitiful little cotton
plants from whose stunted bolls she extracted every fiber and made a
most excellent thread. In fact, when she made some bead aprons for me,
she rejected my spool of cotton and chose her own, twisted between
thumb and finger. I sent for seed of the big Sea Island cotton, and
her face almost unwrinkled with delight when she saw the packets with
seed larger than she had ever known.

Far off in one corner I make certain I have found beauty for beauty's
sake, a group of exquisite caladiums and amaryllis, beautiful flowers
and rich green leaves with spots and slashes of white and crimson. But
this is the hunter's garden, and Grandmother has no part in it,
perhaps is not even allowed to approach it. It is the _beena_
garden--the charms for good luck in hunting. The similarity of the
leaves to the head or other parts of deer or peccary or red-gilled
fish, decides the most favorable choice, and the acrid, smarting juice
of the tuber rubbed into the skin, or the hooks and arrows anointed,
is considered sufficient to produce the desired result. Long ago I
discovered that this demand for immediate physical sensation was a
necessary corollary of doctoring, so I always give two medicines--one
for its curative properties, and the other, bitter, sour, acid or
anything disagreeable, for arousing and sustaining faith in my
ability.

The Indian's medicine plants, like his true name, he keeps to himself,
and although I feel certain that Grandmother had somewhere a toothache
bush, or pain leaves--yarbs and simples for various miseries--I could
never discover them. Half a dozen tall tobacco plants brought from
the far interior, eked out the occasional tins of cigarettes in which
Degas indulged, and always the flame-colored little buck-peppers
lightened up the shadows of the _benab_, as hot to the palate as their
color to the eye.

One day just as I was leaving, Grandmother led me to a palm nearby,
and to one of its ancient frond-sheaths was fastened a small brown
branch to which a few blue-green leaves were attached. I had never
seen anything like it. She mumbled and touched it with her shriveled,
bent fingers. I could understand nothing, and sent for Degas, who came
and explained grudgingly, "Me no know what for--_toko-nook_ just
name--have got smell when yellow." And so at last I found the bit of
uselessness, which, carried onward and developed in ages to come, as
it had been elsewhere in ages past, was to evolve into botany, and
back-yard gardens, and greenhouses, and wars of roses, and beautiful
paintings, and music with a soul of its own, and verse more than
human. To Degas the _toko-nook_ was "just name," "and it was nothing
more." But he was forgiven, for he had all unwittingly sowed the seeds
of religion, through faith in his glowing caladiums. But Grandmother,
though all the sunlight seemed dusk, and the dawn but as night, yet
clung to her little plant, whose glory was that it was of no use
whatsoever, but in months to come would be yellow, and would smell.

Farther down river, in the small hamlets of the bovianders--the people
of mixed blood--the practical was still necessity, but almost every
thatched and wattled hut had its swinging orchid branch, and perhaps a
hideous painted tub with picketed rim, in which grew a golden splash
of croton. This ostentatious floweritis might furnish a theme for a
wholly new phase of the subject--for in almost every respect these
people are less worthy human beings--physically, mentally and
morally--than the Indians. But one cannot shift literary overalls for
philosophical paragraphs in mid-article, so let us take the little
river steamer down stream for forty miles to the coast of British
Guiana, and there see what Nature herself does in the way of gardens.
We drive twenty miles or more before we reach Georgetown, and the
sides of the road are lined for most of the distance with huts and
hovels of East Indian coolies and native Guiana negroes. Some are made
of boxes, others of bark, more of thatch or rough-hewn boards and
barrel staves, and some of split bamboo. But they resemble one
another in several respects--all are ramshackle, all lean with the
grace of Pisa, all have shutters and doors, so that at night they may
be hermetically closed, and all are half-hidden in the folds of a
curtain of flowers. The most shiftless, unlovely hovel, poised ready
to return to its original chemical elements, is embowered in a mosaic
of color, which in a northern garden would be worth a king's
ransom--or to be strictly modern, should I not say a labor foreman's
or a comrade's ransom!

The deep trench which extends along the front of these sad dwellings
is sometimes blue with water hyacinths; next the water disappears
beneath a maze of tall stalks, topped with a pink mist of lotus; then
come floating lilies and more hyacinths. Wherever there is sufficient
clear water, the wonderful curve of a cocoanut palm is etched upon it,
reflection meeting palm, to form a dendritic pattern unequaled in
human devising.

Over a hut of rusty oil-cans, bougainvillia stretches its glowing
branches, sometimes cerise, sometimes purple, or allamanders fill the
air with a golden haze from their glowing search-lights, either hiding
the huts altogether, or softening their details into picturesque
ruins. I remember one coolie dwelling which was dirtier and less
habitable than the meanest stable, and all around it were hundreds
upon hundreds of frangipanni blooms--the white and gold temple flowers
of the East--giving forth of scent and color all that a flower is
capable, to alleviate the miserable blot of human construction. Now
and then a flamboyant tree comes into view, and as, at night, the
head-lights of an approaching car eclipse all else, so this tree of
burning scarlet draws eye and mind from adjacent human-made squalor.
In all the tropics of the world I scarcely remember to have seen more
magnificent color than in these unattended, wilful-grown gardens.

In tropical cities such as Georgetown, there are very beautiful
private gardens, and the public one is second only to that of Java.
But for the most part one is as conscious of the very dreadful borders
of brick, or bottles, or conchs, as of the flowers themselves. Some
one who is a master gardener will some day write of the possibilities
of a tropical garden, which will hold the reader as does desire to
behold the gardens of Carcassonne itself.



VI

GUINEVERE THE MYSTERIOUS


Again the Guiana jungle comes wonderfully to the eye and mysteriously
to the mind; again my khakis and sneakers are skin-comfortable; again
I am squatted on a pleasant mat of leaves in a miniature gorge, miles
back of my Kartabo bungalow. Life elsewhere has already become
unthinkable. I recall a place boiling with worried people, rent with
unpleasing sounds, and beset with unsatisfactory pleasures. In less
than a year I shall long for a sight of these worried people, my ears
will strain to catch the unpleasing sounds, and I shall plunge with
joy into the unsatisfactory pleasures. To-day, however, all these have
passed from mind, and I settle down another notch, head snuggled on
knees, and sway, elephant-fashion, with sheer joy, as a musky,
exciting odor comes drifting, apparently by its own volition, down
through the windless little gorge.

If I permit a concrete, scientific reaction, I must acknowledge the
source to be a passing bug,--a giant bug,--related distantly to our
malodorous northern squash-bug, but emitting a scent as different as
orchids' breath from grocery garlic. But I accept this delicate
volatility as simply another pastel-soft sense-impression--as an
earnest of the worthy, smelly things of old jungles. There is no
breeze, no slightest shift of air-particles; yet down the gorge comes
this cloud,--a cloud unsensible except to nostrils,--eddying as if
swirling around the edges of leaves, riding on the air as gently as
the low, distant crooning of great, sleepy jungle doves.

With two senses so perfectly occupied, sight becomes superfluous and I
close my eyes. And straightway the scent and the murmur usurp my whole
mind with a vivid memory. I am still squatting, but in a dark,
fragrant room; and the murmur is still of doves; but the room is in
the cool, still heart of the Queen's Golden Monastery in northern
Burma, within storm-sound of Tibet, and the doves are perched among
the glitter and tinkling bells of the pagoda roofs. I am squatting
very quietly, for I am tired, after photographing carved peacocks and
junglefowl in the marvelous fretwork of the outer balconies, There
are idols all about me--or so it would appear to a missionary; for my
part, I can think only of the wonderful face of the old Lama who sits
near me, a face peaceful with the something for which most of us would
desert what we are doing, if by that we could attain it. Near him are
two young priests, sitting as motionless as the Buddha in front of
them.

After a half-hour of the strange thing that we call time, the Lama
speaks, very low and very; softly:

"The surface of the mirror is clouded with a breath."

Out of a long silence one of the neophytes replies, "The mirror can be
wiped clear."

Again the world becomes incense and doves,--in the silence and peace
of that monastery, it may have been a few minutes or a decade,--and
the second Tibetan whispers, "There is no need to wipe the mirror."

When I have left behind the world of inharmonious colors, of polluted
waters, of soot-stained walls and smoke-tinged air, the green of
jungle comes like a cooling bath of delicate tints and shades. I think
of all the green things I have loved--of malachite in matrix and
table-top; of jade, not factory-hewn baubles, but age-mellowed
signets, fashioned by lovers of their craft, and seasoned by the
toying yellow fingers of generations of forgotten Chinese
emperors--jade, as Dunsany would say, of the exact shade of the right
color. I think too, of dainty emerald scarves that are seen and lost
in a flash at a dance; of the air-cooled, living green of curling
breakers; of a lonely light that gleams to starboard of an unknown
passing vessel, and of the transparent green of northern lights that
flicker and play on winter nights high over the garish glare of
Broadway.

Now, in late afternoon, when I opened my eyes in the little gorge, the
soft green vibrations merged insensibly with the longer waves of the
doves' voices and with the dying odor. Soon the green alone was
dominant; and when I had finished thinking of pleasant, far-off green
things, the wonderful emerald of my great tree-frog of last year came
to mind,--Gawain the mysterious,--and I wondered if I should ever
solve his life.

In front of me was a little jungle rainpool. At the base of the
miniature precipice of the gorge, this pool was a thing of clay. It
was milky in consistence, from the roiling of suspended clay; and
when the surface caught a glint of light and reflected it, only the
clay and mud walls about came to the eye. It was a very regular pool,
a man's height in diameter, and, for all I knew, from two inches to
two miles deep. I became absorbed in a sort of subaquatic mirage, in
which I seemed to distinguish reflections beneath the surface. My eyes
refocused with a jerk, and I realized that something had unconsciously
been perceived by my rods and cones, and short-circuited to my duller
brain. Where a moment before was an unbroken translucent surface, were
now thirteen strange beings who had appeared from the depths, and were
mumbling oxygen with trembling lips.

In days to come, through all the months, I should again and again be
surprised and cheated and puzzled--all phases of delight in the beings
who share the earth's life with me. This was one of the first of the
year, and I stiffened into one large eye.

I did not know whether they were fish, fairy shrimps, or frogs; I had
never seen anything like them, and they were wholly unexpected. I so
much desired to know what they were, that I sat quietly--as I enjoy
keeping a treasured letter to the last, or reserving the frosting
until the cake is eaten. It occurred to me that, had it not been for
the Kaiser, I might have been forbidden this mystery; a chain of
occurrences: Kaiser--war--submarines--glass-shortage for
dreadnoughts--mica port-holes needed--Guiana prospector--abandoned
pits--rainy season--mysterious tenants--me!

When I squatted by the side of the pool, no sign of life was visible.
Far up through the green foliage of the jungle I could see a solid
ceiling of cloud, while beneath me the liquid clay of the pool was
equally opaque and lifeless. As a seer watches the surface of his
crystal ball, so I gazed at my six-foot circle of milky water. My
shift forward was like the fall of a tree: it brought into existence
about it a temporary circle of silence and fear--a circle whose
periphery began at once to contract; and after a few minutes the gorge
again accepted me as a part of its harmless self. A huge bee zoomed
past, and just behind my head a hummingbird beat the air into a froth
of sound, as vibrant as the richest tones of a cello. My concentrated
interest seemed to become known to the life of the surrounding glade,
and I was bombarded with sight, sound, and odor, as if on purpose to
distract my attention. But I remained unmoved, and indications of rare
and desirable beings passed unheeded.

A flotilla of little water-striders came rowing themselves along,
racing for a struggling ant which had fallen into the milky quicksand.
These were in my line of vision, so I watched them for a while,
letting the corner of my eye keep guard for the real aristocrats of
the milky sea--whoever they were. My eye was close enough, my
elevation sufficiently low to become one with the water-striders, and
to become excited over the adventures of these little petrels; and in
my absorption I almost forgot my chief quest. As soaring birds seem at
times to rest against the very substance of cloud, as if upheld by
some thin lift of air, so these insects glided as easily and skimmed
as swiftly upon the surface film of water. I did not know even the
genus of this tropical form; but insect taxonomists have been
particularly happy in their given names--I recalled _Hydrobates_,
_Aquarius_, and _remigis_.

The spur-winged jacanas are very skilful in their dainty treading of
water-lily leaves; but here were good-sized insects rowing about on
the water itself. They supported themselves on the four hinder legs,
rowing with the middle pair, and steering with the hinder ones, while
the front limbs were held aloft ready for the seizing of prey. I
watched three of them approach the ant, which was struggling to reach
the shore, and the first to reach it hesitated not a moment, but
leaped into the air from a take-off of mere aqueous surface film,
landed full upon the drowning unfortunate, grasped it, and at the same
instant gave a mighty sweep with its oars, to escape from its
pursuing, envious companions. Off went the twelve dimples, marking the
aquatic footprints of the trio of striders; and as the bearer of the
ant dodged one of its own kind, it was suddenly threatened by a small,
jet submarine of a diving beetle. At the very moment when the pursuit
was hottest, and it seemed anybody's ant, I looked aside, and the
little water-bugs passed from my sight forever--for scattered over the
surface were seven strange, mumbling mouths. Close as I was, their
nature still eluded me. At my slightest movement all vanished, not
with the virile splash of a fish or the healthy roll and dip of a
porpoise, but with a weird, vertical withdrawing--the seven
dissolving into the milk to join their six fellows.

This was sufficient to banish further meditative surmising, and I
crept swiftly to a point of vantage, and with sweep-net awaited their
reappearance. It was five minutes before faint, discolored spots
indicated their rising, and at least two minutes more before they
actually disturbed the surface. With eight or nine in view, I dipped
quickly and got nothing. Then I sank my net deeply and waited again.
This time ten minutes passed, and then I swept deep and swiftly, and
drew up the net with four flopping, struggling super-tadpoles. They
struggled for only a moment, and then lay quietly waiting for what
might be sent by the guardian of the fate of tadpoles--surely some
quaint little god-relation of Neptune, Pan, and St. Vitus. Gently
shunted into a glass jar, these surprising tads accepted the new
environment with quiet philosophy; and when I reached the laboratory
and transferred them again, they dignifiedly righted themselves in the
swirling current, and hung in mid-aquarium, waiting--forever waiting.

It was difficult to think of them as tadpoles, when the word brought
to mind hosts of little black wrigglers filling puddles and swamps of
our northern country. These were slow-moving, graceful creatures,
partly transparent, partly reflecting every hue of the spectrum, with
broad, waving scarlet and hyaline fins, and strange, fish-like mouths
and eyes. Their habits were as unpollywoglike as their appearance. I
visited their micaceous pool again and again; and if I could have
spent days instead of hours with them, no moment of ennui would have
intervened.

My acquaintanceship with tadpoles in the past had not aroused me to
enthusiasm in the matter of their mental ability; as, for example, the
inmates of the next aquarium to that of the Redfins, where I kept a
herd or brood or school of Short-tailed Blacks--pollywogs of the Giant
Toad (_Bufo marinus_). At earliest dawn they swam aimlessly about and
mumbled; at high noon they mumbled and still swam; at midnight they
refused to be otherwise occupied. It was possible to alarm them; but
even while they fled they mumbled.

In bodily form my Redfins were fish, but mentally they had advanced a
little beyond the usual tadpole train of reactions, reaching forward
toward the varied activities of the future amphibian. One noticeable
thing was their segregation, whether in the mica pools, or in two
other smaller ones near by, in which I found them. Each held a pure
culture of Redfins, and I found that this was no accident, but aided
and enforced by the tads themselves. Twice, while I watched them, I
saw definite pursuit of an alien pollywog,--the larva of the
Scarlet-thighed Leaf-walker (_Phyllobates inguinalis_),--which fled
headlong. The second time the attack was so persistent that the lesser
tadpole leaped from the water, wriggled its way to a damp heap of
leaves, and slipped down between them. For tadpoles to take such
action as this was as reasonable as for an orchid to push a fellow
blossom aside on the approach of a fertilizing hawk-moth. This
momentary co-operation, and the concerted elimination of the undesired
tadpole, affected me as the thought of the first consciousness of
power of synchronous rhythm coming to ape men: it seemed a spark of
tadpole genius--an adumbration of possibilities which now would end in
the dull consciousness of the future frog, but which might, in past
ages, have been a vital link in the development of an ancestral
Ereops.

My Redfins were assuredly no common tadpoles, and an intolerant
pollywog offers worthy research for the naturalist. Straining their
medium of its opacity, I drew off the clayey liquid and replaced it
with the clearer brown, wallaba-stained water of the Mazaruni; and
thereafter all their doings, all their intimacies, were at my mercy. I
felt as must have felt the first aviator who flew unheralded over an
oriental city, with its patios and house-roofs spread naked beneath
him.

It was on one of the early days of observation that an astounding
thought came to me--before I had lost perspective in intensive
watching, before familiarity had assuaged some of the marvel of these
super-tadpoles. Most of those in my jar were of a like size, just
short of an inch; but one was much larger, and correspondingly
gorgeous in color and graceful in movement. As she swept slowly past
my line of vision, she turned and looked, first at me, then up at the
limits of her world, with a slow deliberateness and a hint of
expression which struck deep into my memory. Green came to
mind,--something clad in a smock of emerald, with a waist-coat of
mother-of-pearl, and great sprawling arms,--and I found myself
thinking of Gawain, our mystery frog of a year ago, who came without
warning, and withheld all the secrets of his life. And I glanced again
at this super-tad,--as unlike her ultimate development as the grub is
unlike the beetle,--and one of us exclaimed, "It is the same, or
nearly, but more delicate, more beautiful; it must be Guinevere." And
so, probably for the first time in the world, there came to be a pet
tadpole, one with an absurd name which will forever be more
significant to us than the term applied by a forgotten herpetologist
many years ago.

And Guinevere became known to all who had to do with the laboratory.
Her health and daily development and color-change were things to be
inquired after and discussed; one of us watched her closely and made
notes of her life, one painted every radical development of color and
pattern, another photographed her, and another brought her delectable
scum. She was waited upon as sedulously as a termite queen. And she
rewarded us by living, which was all we asked.

It is difficult for a diver to express his emotions on paper, and
verbal arguments with a dentist are usually one-sided. So must the
spirit of a tadpole suffer greatly from handicaps of the flesh. A
mumbling mouth and an uncontrollable, flagellating tail, connected by
a pinwheel of intestine, are scant material wherewith to attempt new
experiments, whereon to nourish aspirations. Yet the Redfins, as
typified by Guinevere, have done both, and given time enough, they may
emulate or surpass the achievements of larval axolotls, or the
astounding egg-producing maggots of certain gnats, thus realizing all
the possibilities of froghood while yet cribbed within the lowly
casing of a pollywog.

In the first place Guinevere had ceased being positively thigmotactic,
and, writing as a technical herpetologist, I need add no more. In
fact, all my readers, whether Batrachologists or Casuals, will agree
that this is an unheard-of achievement. But before I loosen the
technical etymology and become casually more explicit, let me hold
this term in suspense a moment, as I once did, fascinated by the sheer
sound of the syllables, as they first came to my ears years ago in a
university lecture. There is that of possibility in being positively
thigmotactic which makes one dread the necessity of exposing and
limiting its meaning, of digging down to its mathematically accurate
roots. It could never be called a flower of speech: it is an over-ripe
fruit rather: heavy-stoned, thin-fleshed--an essentially practical
term. It is eminently suited to its purpose, and so widely used that
my friend the editor must accept it; not looking askance as he did at
my definition of a vampire as a vespertilial anæsthetist, or breaking
into open but wholly ineffectual rebellion, at the past tense of the
verb to candelabra. I admit that the conjugation

    I candelabra
    You candelabra
    He candelabras

arouses a ripple of confusion in the mind; but it is far more
important to use words than to parse them, anyway, so I acclaim
perfect clarity for "The fireflies candelabraed the trees!"

Not to know the precise meaning of being positively thigmotactic is a
stimulant to the imagination, which opens the way to an entire essay
on the disadvantages of education--a thought once strongly aroused by
the glorious red-and-gold hieroglyphic signs of the Peking
merchants--signs which have always thrilled me more than the utmost
efforts of our modern psychological advertisers.

Having crossed unconsciously by such a slender etymological bridge
from my jungle tadpole to China, it occurs to me that the Chinese are
the most positively thigmotactic people in the world. I have walked
through block after block of subterranean catacombs, beneath city
streets which were literally packed full of humanity, and I have seen
hot mud pondlets along the Min River wholly eclipsed by shivering
Chinamen packed sardinewise, twenty or thirty in layers, or radiating
like the spokes of a great wheel which has fallen into the mud.

From my brood of Short-tailed Blacks, a half-dozen tadpoles wandered
off now and then, each scum-mumbling by himself. Shortly his
positivism asserted itself and back he wriggled, twisting in and out
of the mass of his fellows, or at the approach of danger nuzzling into
the dead leaves at the bottom, content only with the feeling of
something pressing against his sides and tail. His physical make-up,
simple as it is, has proved perfectly adapted to this touch system of
life: flat-bottomed, with rather narrow, paddle-shaped tail-fins
which, beginning well back of the body, interfere in no way with the
pollywog's instincts, he can thigmotact to his heart's content. His
eyes are also adapted to looking upward, discerning dimly dangers
from above, and whatever else catches the attention of a bottom-loving
pollywog. His mouth is well below, as best suits bottom mumbling.

Compared with these _polloi_ pollywogs, Redfins were as hummingbirds
to quail. Their very origin was unique; for while the toad tadpoles
wriggled their way free from egg gelatine deposited in the water
itself, the Redfins were literally rained down. Within a folded leaf
the parents left the eggs--a leaf carefully chosen as overhanging a
suitable ditch, or pit, or puddle. If all signs of weather and season
failed and a sudden drought set in, sap would dry, leaf would shrivel,
and the pitiful gamble for life of the little jungle frogs would be
lost; the spoonful of froth would collapse bubble by bubble, and,
finally, a thin dry film on the brown leaf would in turn vanish, and
Guinevere and her companions would never have been.

But untold centuries of unconscious necessity have made these
tree-frogs infallible weather prophets, and the liberating rain soon
sifted through the jungle foliage. In the streaming drops which
funneled from the curled leaf, tadpole after tadpole hurtled downward
and splashed headlong into the water; their parents and the rain and
gravitation had performed their part, and from now on fate lay with
the super-tads themselves--except when a passing naturalist brought
new complications, new demands of Karma, as strange and unpredictable
as if from another planet or universe.

Only close examination showed that these were tadpoles, not fish,
judged by the staring eyes, and broad fins stained above and below
with orange-scarlet--colors doomed to oblivion in the native, milky
waters, but glowing brilliantly in my aquarium. Although they were
provided with such an expanse of fin, the only part used for ordinary
progression was the extreme tip, a mere threadlike streamer, which
whipped in never-ending spirals, lashing forward, backward, and
sideways. So rapid was this motion, and so short the flagellum, that
the tadpole did not even tremble or vibrate as it moved, but forged
steadily onward, without a tremor.

The head was buffy yellow, changing to bittersweet orange back of the
eyes and on the gills. The body was dotted with a host of minute
specks of gold and silver. On the sides and below, this gave place to
a rich bronze, and then to a clear, iridescent silvery blue. The eye
proper was silvery white, but the upper part of the eyeball fairly
glowed with color. In front it was jet black flecked with gold,
merging behind into a brilliant blue. Yet this patch of jeweled tissue
was visible only rarely as the tadpole turned forward, and in the
opaque liquid of the mica pool must have ever been hidden. And even if
plainly seen, of what use was a shred of rainbow to a sexless tadpole
in the depths of a shady pool!

With high-arched fins, beginning at neck and throat, body compressed
as in a racing yacht, there could be no bottom life for Guinevere.
Whenever she touched a horizontal surface,--whether leaf or twig,--she
careened; when she sculled through a narrow passage in the floating
algæ, her fins bent and rippled as they were pressed bodywards. So she
and her fellow brood lived in mid-aquarium, or at most rested lightly
against stem or glass, suspended by gentle suction of the complex
mouth. Once, when I inserted a long streamer of delicate water-weed,
it remained upright, like some strange tree of carboniferous memory.
After an hour I found this the perching-place of fourteen Redfin tads,
and at the very summit was Guinevere. The rest were arranged nearly
in altitudinal size--two large tadpoles being close below Guinevere,
and a bevy of six tiny chaps lowest down. All were lightly poised,
swaying in mid-water, at a gently sloping angle, like some unheard-of,
orange-stained, aquatic autumn foliage.

For two weeks Guinevere remained almost as I have described her,
gaining slightly in size, but with little alteration of color or
pattern. Then came the time of the great change: we felt it to be
imminent before any outward signs indicated its approach. And for four
more days there was no hint except the sudden growth of the hind legs.
From tiny dangling appendages with minute toes and indefinite knees,
they enlarged and bent, and became miniature but perfect frog's limbs.

She had now reached a length of two inches, and her delicate colors
and waving fins made her daily more marvelous. The strange thing about
the hind limbs was that, although so large and perfect, they were
quite useless. They could not even be unflexed; and other mere
pollywogs near by were wriggling toes, calves, and thighs while yet
these were but imperfect buds. When she dived suddenly, the toes
occasionally moved a little; but as a whole, they merely sagged and
drifted like some extraneous things entangled in the body.

Smoothly and gracefully Guinevere moved about the aquarium. Her gills
lifted and closed rhythmically--twice as slowly as compared with the
three or four times every second of her breathless young tadpolehood.
Several times on the fourteenth day, she came quietly to the surface
for a gulp of air.

Looking at her from above, two little bulges were visible on either
side of the body--the ensheathed elbows pressing outward. Twice, when
she lurched forward in alarm, I saw these front limbs jerk
spasmodically; and when she was resting quietly, they rubbed and
pushed impatiently against their mittened tissue.

And now began a restless shifting, a slow, strange dance in mid-water,
wholly unlike any movement of her smaller companions; up and down,
slowly revolving on oblique planes, with rhythmical turns and
sinkings--this continued for an hour, when I was called for lunch. And
as if to punish me for this material digression and desertion, when I
returned, in half an hour, the miracle had happened.

Guinevere still danced in stately cadence, with the other Redfins at a
distance going about their several businesses. She danced alone--a
dance of change, of happenings of tremendous import, of symbolism as
majestic as it was age-old. Here in this little glass aquarium the
tadpole Guinevere had just freed her arms--she, with waving scarlet
fins, watching me with lidless white and staring eyes, still with
fish-like, fin-bound body. She danced upright, with new-born arms
folded across her breast, tail-tip flagellating frenziedly, stretching
long fingers with disks like cymbals, reaching out for the land she
had never trod, limbs flexed for leaps she had never made.

A few days before and Guinevere had been a fish, then a helpless
biped, and now suddenly, somewhere between my salad and coffee, she
became an aquatic quadruped. Strangest of all, her hands were mobile,
her feet useless; and when the dance was at an end, and she sank
slowly to the bottom, she came to rest on the very tips of her two
longest fingers; her legs and toes still drifting high and useless.
Just before she ceased, her arms stretched out right froggily, her
weird eyes rolled about, and she gulped a mighty gulp of the strange
thin medium that covered the surface of her liquid home.

At midnight of this same day only three things existed in the
world--on my table I turned from the _Bhagavad-Gita_ to Drinkwater's
_Reverie_ and back again; then I looked up to the jar of clear water
and watched Guinevere hovering motionless. At six the next morning she
was crouched safely on a bit of paper a foot from the aquarium. She
had missed the open window, the four-foot drop to the floor, and a
neighboring aquarium stocked with voracious fish: surely the gods of
pollywogs were kind to me. The great fins were gone--dissolved into
blobs of dull pink; the tail was a mere stub, the feet drawn close,
and a glance at her head showed that Guinevere had become a frog
almost within an hour. Three things I hastened to observe: the pupils
of her eyes were vertical, revealing her genus _Phyllomedusa_ (making
apt our choice of the feminine); by a gentle urging I saw that the
first and second toes were equal in length; and a glance at her little
humped back showed a scattering of white calcareous spots, giving the
clue to her specific personality--_bicolor_: thus were we introduced
to _Phyllomedusa bicolor_, alias Guinevere, and thus was established
beyond doubt her close relationship to Gawain.

During that first day, within three hours, during most of which I
watched her closely, Guinevere's change in color was beyond belief.
For an hour she leaped from time to time; but after that, and for the
rest of her life, she crept in strange unfroglike fashion, raised high
on all four limbs, with her stubby tail curled upward, and reaching
out one weird limb after another. If one's hand approached within a
foot, she saw it and stretched forth appealing, skinny fingers.

At two o'clock she was clad in a general cinnamon buff; then a shade
of glaucous green began to creep over head and upper eyelids, onward
over her face, finally coloring body and limbs. Beneath, the little
pollyfrog fairly glowed with bright apricot orange, throat and tail
amparo purple, mouth green, and sides rich pale blue. To this maze of
color we must add a strange, new expression, born of the prominent
eyes, together with the line of the mouth extending straight back with
a final jeering, upward lift; in front, the lower lip thick and
protruding, which, with the slanting eyes, gave a leering, devilish
smirk, while her set, stiff, exact posture compelled a vivid thought
of the sphinx. Never have I seen such a remarkable combination. It
fascinated us. We looked at Guinevere, and then at the tadpoles
swimming quietly in their tank, and evolution in its wildest
conceptions appeared a tame truism.

This was the acme of Guinevere's change, the pinnacle of her
development. Thereafter her transformations were rhythmical,
alternating with the day and night. Through the nights of activity she
was garbed in rich, warm brown. With the coming of dawn, as she
climbed slowly upward, her color shifted through chestnut to maroon;
this maroon then died out on the mid-back to a delicate, dull
violet-blue, which in turn became obscured in the sunlight by
turquoise, which crept slowly along the sides. Carefully and
laboriously she clambered up, up to the topmost frond, and there
performed her little toilet, scraping head and face with her hands,
passing the hinder limbs over her back to brush off every grain of
sand. The eyes had meanwhile lost their black-flecked, golden,
nocturnal iridescence, and had gradually paled to a clear silvery
blue, while the great pupil of darkness narrowed to a slit.

Little by little her limbs and digits were drawn in out of sight, and
the tiny jeweled being crouched low, hoping for a day of comfortable
clouds, a little moisture, and a swift passage of time to the next
period of darkness, when it was fitting and right for Guineveres to
seek their small meed of sustenance, to grow to frog's full estate,
and to fulfil as well as might be what destiny the jungle offered. To
unravel the meaning of it all is beyond even attempting. The breath of
mist ever clouds the mirror, and only as regards a tiny segment of the
life-history of Guinevere can I say, "There is no need to wipe the
mirror."



VII

A JUNGLE LABOR-UNION


Pterodactyl Pups led me to the wonderful Attas--the most astounding of
the jungle labor-unions. We were all sitting on the Mazaruni bank, the
night before the full moon, immediately in front of my British Guiana
laboratory. All the jungle was silent in the white light, with now and
then the splash of a big river fish. On the end of the bench was the
monosyllabic Scot, who ceased the exquisite painting of mora
buttresses and jungle shadows only for the equal fascination of
searching bats for parasites. Then the great physician, who had come
six thousand miles to peer into the eyes of birds and lizards in my
dark-room, working with a gentle hypnotic manner that made the little
beings seem to enjoy the experience. On my right sat an army captain,
who had given more thought to the possible secrets of French
chaffinches than to the approaching barrage. There was also the
artist, who could draw a lizard's head like a Japanese print, but
preferred to depict impressionistic Laocoön roots.

These and others sat with me on the long bench and watched the
moonpath. The conversation had begun with possible former life on the
moon, then shifted to Conan Doyle's _The Lost World_, based on the
great Roraima plateau, a hundred and fifty miles west of where we were
sitting. Then we spoke of the amusing world-wide rumor, which had
started no one knows how, that I had recently discovered a
pterodactyl. One delightful result of this had been a letter from a
little English girl, which would have made a worthy chapter-subject
for _Dream Days_. For years she and her little sister had peopled a
wood near her home with pterodactyls, but had somehow never quite seen
one; and would I tell her a little about them--whether they had
scales, or made nests; so that those in the wood might be a little
easier to recognize.

When strange things are discussed for a long time, in the light of a
tropical moon, at the edge of a dark, whispering jungle, the mind
becomes singularly imaginative and receptive; and, as I looked through
powerful binoculars at the great suspended globe, the dead craters and
precipices became very vivid and near. Suddenly, without warning,
there flapped into my field, a huge shapeless creature. It was no
bird, and there was nothing of the bat in its flight--the wings moved
with steady rhythmical beats, and drove it straight onward. The wings
were skinny, the body large and of a pale ashy hue. For a moment I was
shaken. One of the others had seen it, and he, too, did not speak, but
concentrated every sense into the end of the little tubes. By the time
I had begun to find words, I realized that a giant fruit bat had flown
from utter darkness across my line of sight; and by close watching we
soon saw others. But for a very few seconds these Pterodactyl Pups, as
I nicknamed them, gave me all the thrill of a sudden glimpse into the
life of past ages. The last time I had seen fruit bats was in the
gardens of Perideniya, Ceylon. I had forgotten that they occurred in
Guiana, and was wholly unprepared for the sight of bats a yard across,
with a heron's flight, passing high over the Mazaruni in the
moonlight.

The talk ended on the misfortune of the configuration of human
anatomy, which makes sky-searching so uncomfortable a habit. This
outlook was probably developed to a greater extent during the war
than ever before; and I can remember many evenings in Paris and London
when a sinister half-moon kept the faces of millions turned
searchingly upward. But whether in city or jungle, sky-scanning is a
neck-aching affair.

The following day my experience with the Pterodactyl Pups was not
forgotten, and as a direct result of looking out for soaring vultures
and eagles, with hopes of again seeing a white-plumaged King and the
regal Harpy, I caught sight of a tiny mote high up in mid-sky. I
thought at first it was a martin or swift; but it descended, slowly
spiraling, and became too small for any bird. With a final, long,
descending curve, it alighted in the compound of our bungalow
laboratory and rested quietly--a great queen of the leaf-cutting Attas
returning from her marriage flight. After a few minutes she stirred,
walked a few steps, cleaned her antennæ, and searched nervously about
on the sand. A foot away was a tiny sprig of indigo, the offspring of
some seed planted two or three centuries ago by a thrifty Dutchman. In
the shade of its three leaves the insect paused, and at once began
scraping at the sand with her jaws. She loosened grain after grain,
and as they came free they were moistened, agglutinated, and pressed
back against her forelegs. When at last a good-sized ball was formed,
she picked it up, turned around and, after some fussy indecision,
deposited it on the sand behind her. Then she returned to the very
shallow, round depression, and began to gather a second ball.

I thought of the first handful of sand thrown out for the base of
Cheops, of the first brick placed in position for the Great Wall, of a
fresh-cut trunk, rough-hewn and squared for a log-cabin on Manhattan;
of the first shovelful of earth flung out of the line of the Panama
Canal. Yet none seemed worthy of comparison with even what little I
knew of the significance of this ant's labor, for this was earnest of
what would make trivial the engineering skill of Egyptians, of Chinese
patience, of municipal pride and continental schism.

Imagine sawing off a barn-door at the top of a giant sequoia, growing
at the bottom of the Grand Cañon, and then, with five or six children
clinging to it, descending the tree, and carrying it up the cañon
walls against a subway rush of rude people, who elbowed and pushed
blindly against you. This is what hundreds of leaf-cutting ants
accomplish daily, when cutting leaves from a tall bush, at the foot of
the bank near the laboratory.

There are three dominant labor-unions in the jungle, all social
insects, two of them ants, never interfering with each other's field
of action, and all supremely illustrative of conditions resulting from
absolute equality, free-and-equalness, communalism, socialism carried
to the (forgive me!) anth power. The Army Ants are carnivorous,
predatory, militant nomads; the Termites are vegetarian scavengers,
sedentary, negative and provincial; the Attas, or leaf-cutting ants,
are vegetarians, active and dominant, and in many ways the most
interesting of all.

The casual observer becomes aware of them through their raids upon
gardens; and indeed the Attas are a very serious menace to agriculture
in many parts of the tropics, where their nests, although underground,
may be as large as a house and contain millions of individuals. While
their choice among wild plants is exceedingly varied, it seems that
there are certain things they will not touch; but when any
human-reared flower, vegetable, shrub, vine, or tree is planted, the
Attas rejoice, and straightway desert the native vegetation to fall
upon the newcomers. Their whims and irregular feeding habits make it
difficult to guard against them. They will work all round a garden for
weeks, perhaps pass through it _en route_ to some tree that they are
defoliating, and then suddenly, one night, every Atta in the world
seems possessed with a desire to work havoc, and at daylight the next
morning, the garden looks like winter stubble--a vast expanse of stems
and twigs, without a single remaining leaf. Volumes have been written,
and a whole chemist's shop of deadly concoctions devised, for
combating these ants, and still they go steadily on, gathering leaves
which, as we shall see, they do not even use for food.

Although essentially a tropical family, Attas have pushed as far north
as New Jersey, where they make a tiny nest, a few inches across, and
bring to it bits of pine needles.

In a jungle Baedeker, we should double-star these insects, and paragraph
them as "_Atta_, named by Fabricius in 1804; the Kartabo species,
_cephalotes_; Leaf-cutting or Cushie or Parasol Ants; very abundant.
_Atta_, a subgenus of _Atta_, which is a genus of _Attii_,
which is a tribe of _Myrmicinæ_, which is a subfamily of
_Formicidæ_," etc.

With a feeling of slightly greater intimacy, of mental possession, we
set out, armed with a name of one hundred and seventeen years'
standing, and find a big Atta worker carving away at a bit of leaf,
exactly as his ancestors had done for probably one hundred and
seventeen thousand years.

We gently lift him from his labor, and a drop of chloroform banishes
from his ganglia all memory of the hundred thousand years of pruning.
Under the lens his strange personality becomes manifest, and we wonder
whether the old Danish zoölogist had in mind the slender toe-tips
which support him, or in a chuckling mood made him a namesake of C.
Quintius Atta. A close-up shows a very comic little being, encased in
a prickly, chestnut-colored armor, which should make him fearless in a
den of a hundred anteaters. The front view of his head is a bit
mephistophelian, for it is drawn upward into two horny spines; but the
side view recalls a little girl with her hair brushed very tightly up
and back from her face.

The connection between Atta and the world about him is furnished by
this same head: two huge, flail-shaped antennæ arching up like aerial,
detached eyebrows--vehicles, through their golden pile, of senses
which foil our most delicate tests. Outside of these are two little
shoe-button eyes; and we are not certain whether they reflect to the
head ganglion two or three hundred bits of leaf, or one large mosaic
leaf. Below all is swung the pair of great scythes, so edged and hung
that they can function as jaws, rip-saws, scissors, forceps, and
clamps. The thorax, like the head of a titanothere, bears three pairs
of horns--a great irregular expanse of tumbled, rock-like skin and
thorn, a foundation for three pairs of long legs, and sheltering
somewhere in its heart a thread of ant-life; finally, two little
pedicels lead to a rounded abdomen, smaller than the head. This
Third-of-an-inch is a worker Atta to the physical eye; and if we catch
another, or ten, or ten million, we find that some are small, others
much larger, but that all are cast in the same mold, all
indistinguishable except, perhaps, to the shoe-button eyes.

When a worker has traveled along the Atta trails, and has followed the
temporary mob-instinct and climbed bush or tree, the same
irresistible force drives him out upon a leaf. Here, apparently,
instinct slightly loosens its hold, and he seems to become individual
for a moment, to look about, and to decide upon a suitable edge or
corner of green leaf. But even in this he probably has no choice. At
any rate, he secures a good hold and sinks his jaws into the tissue.
Standing firmly on the leaf, he measures his distance by cutting
across a segment of a circle, with one of his hind feet as a center.
This gives a very true curve, and provides a leaf-load of suitable
size. He does not scissor his way across, but bit by bit sinks the tip
of one jaw, hook-like, into the surface, and brings the other up to
it, slicing through the tissue with surprising ease. He stands upon
the leaf, and I always expect to see him cut himself and his load
free, Irishman-wise. But one or two of his feet have invariably
secured a grip on the plant, sufficient to hold him safely. Even if
one or two of his fellows are at work farther down the leaf, he has
power enough in his slight grip to suspend all until they have
finished and clambered up over him with their loads.

Holding his bit of leaf edge-wise, he bends his head down as far as
possible, and secures a strong purchase along the very rim. Then, as
he raises his head, the leaf rises with it, suspended high over his
back, out of the way. Down the stem or tree-trunk he trudges, head
first, fighting with gravitation, until he reaches the ground. After a
few feet, or, measured by his stature, several hundred yards, his
infallible instinct guides him around pebble boulders, mossy orchards,
and grass jungles to a specially prepared path.

Thus in words, in sentences, we may describe the cutting of a single
leaf; but only in the imagination can we visualize the cell-like or
crystal-like duplication of this throughout all the great forests of
Guiana and of South America. As I write, a million jaws snip through
their stint; as you read, ten million Attas begin on new bits of leaf.
And all in silence and in dim light, legions passing along the little
jungle roads, unending lines of trembling banners, a political parade
of ultra socialism, a procession of chlorophyll floats illustrating
unreasoning unmorality, a fairy replica of "Birnam Forest come to
Dunsinane."

In their leaf-cutting, Attas have mastered mass, but not form. I have
never seen one cut off a piece too heavy to carry, but many a
hard-sliced bit has had to be deserted because of the configuration
of the upper edge. On almost any trail, an ant can be found with a
two-inch stem of grass, attempting to pass under a twig an inch
overhead. After five or ten minutes of pushing, backing, and pulling,
he may accidentally march off to one side, or reach up and climb over;
but usually he drops his burden. His little works have been wound up,
and set at the mark "home"; and though he has now dropped the prize
for which he walked a dozen ant-miles, yet any idea of cutting another
stem, or of picking up a slice of leaf from those lying along the
trail, never occurs to him. He sets off homeward, and if any emotion
of sorrow, regret, disappointment, or secret relief troubles his
ganglia, no trace of it appears in antennæ, carriage, or speed. I can
very readily conceive of his trudging sturdily all the way back to the
nest, entering it, and going to the place where he would have dumped
his load, having fulfilled his duty in the spirit at least. Then, if
there comes a click in his internal time-clock, he may set out upon
another quest--more cabined, cribbed, and confined than any member of
a Cook's tourist party.

I once watched an ant with a piece of leaf which had a regular
shepherd's crook at the top, and if his adventures of fifty feet could
have been caught on a moving-picture film, Charlie Chaplin would have
had an arthropod rival. It hooked on stems and pulled its bearer off
his feet, it careened and ensnared the leaves of other ants, at one
place mixing up with half a dozen. A big thistledown became tangled in
it, and well-nigh blew away with leaf and all; hardly a foot of his
path was smooth-going. But he persisted, and I watched him reach the
nest, after two hours of tugging and falling and interference with
traffic.

Occasionally an ant will slip in crossing a twiggy crevasse, and his
leaf become tightly wedged. After sprawling on his back and vainly
clawing at the air for a while, he gets up, brushes off his antennæ,
and sets to work. For fifteen minutes I have watched an Atta in this
predicament, stodgily endeavoring to lift his leaf while standing on
it at the same time. The equation of push equaling pull is fourth
dimensional to the Attas.

With all this terrible expenditure of energy, the activities of these
ants are functional within very narrow limits. The blazing sun causes
them to drop their burdens and flee for home; a heavy wind frustrates
them, for they cannot reef. When a gale arises and sweeps an exposed
portion of the trail, their only resource is to cut away all sail and
heave it overboard. A sudden downpour reduces a thousand banners and
waving, bright-colored petals to débris, to be trodden under foot.
Sometimes, after a ten-minute storm, the trails will be carpeted with
thousands of bits of green mosaic, which the outgoing hordes will
trample in their search for more leaves. On a dark night little seems
to be done; but at dawn and dusk, and in the moonlight or clear
starlight, the greatest activity is manifest.

Attas are such unpalatable creatures that they are singularly free
from dangers. There is a tacit armistice between them and the other
labor-unions. The army ants occasionally make use of their trails when
they are deserted; but when the two great races of ants meet, each
antennæs the aura of the other, and turns respectfully aside. When
termites wish to traverse an Atta trail, they burrow beneath it, or
build a covered causeway across, through which they pass and repass at
will, and over which the Attas trudge, uncaring and unconscious of its
significance.

Only creatures with the toughest of digestions would dare to include
these prickly, strong-jawed, meatless insects in a bill of fare. Now
and then I have found an ani, or black cuckoo, with a few in its
stomach: but an ani can swallow a stinging-haired caterpillar and
enjoy it. The most consistent feeder upon Attas is the giant marine
toad. Two hundred Attas in a night is not an uncommon meal, the exact
number being verifiable by a count of the undigested remains of heads
and abdomens. _Bufo marinus_ is the gardener's best friend in this
tropic land, and besides, he is a gentleman and a philosopher, if ever
an amphibian was one.

While the cutting of living foliage is the chief aim in life of these
ants, yet they take advantage of the flotsam and jetsam along the
shore, and each low tide finds a column from some nearby nest
salvaging flowerets, leaves, and even tiny berries. A sudden wash of
tide lifts a hundred ants with their burdens and then sets them down
again, when they start off as if nothing had happened.

The paths or trails of the Attas represent very remarkable feats of
engineering, and wind about through jungle and glade for surprising
distances. I once traced a very old and wide trail for well over two
hundred yards. Taking little Third-of-an-inch for a type (although he
would rank as a rather large Atta), and comparing him with a six-foot
man, we reckon this trail, ant-ratio, as a full twenty-five miles.
Belt records a leaf-cutter's trail half a mile long, which would mean
that every ant that went out, cut his tiny bit of leaf, and returned,
would traverse a distance of a hundred and sixteen miles. This was an
extreme; but our Atta may take it for granted, speaking antly, that
once on the home trail, he has, at the least, four or five miles ahead
of him.

The Atta roads are clean swept, as straight as possible, and very
conspicuous in the jungle. The chief high-roads leading from very
large nests are a good foot across, and the white sand of their beds
is visible a long distance away. I once knew a family of opossums
living in a stump in the center of a dense thicket. When they left at
evening, they always climbed along as far as an Atta trail, dropped
down to it, and followed it for twenty or thirty yards. During the
rains I have occasionally found tracks of agoutis and deer in these
roads. So it would be very possible for the Attas to lay the
foundation for an animal trail, and this, _à la_ calf-path, for the
street of a future city.

The part that scent plays in the trails is evidenced if we scatter an
inch or two of fresh sand across the road. A mass of ants banks
against the strange obstruction on both sides, on the one hand a solid
phalanx of waving green banners, and on the other a mob of empty-jawed
workers with wildly waving antennæ. Scouts from both sides slowly
wander forward, and finally reach one another and pass across. But not
for ten minutes does anything like regular traffic begin again.

When carrying a large piece of leaf, and traveling at a fair rate of
speed, the ants average about a foot in ten seconds, although many go
the same distance in five. I tested the speed of an Atta, and then I
saw that its leaf seemed to have a peculiar-shaped bug upon it, and
picked it up with its bearer. Finding the blemish to be only a bit of
fungus, I replaced it. Half an hour later I was seated by a trail far
away, when suddenly my ant with the blemished spot appeared. It was
unmistakable, for I had noticed that the spot was exactly that of the
Egyptian symbol of life. I paced the trail, and found that seventy
yards away it joined the spot where I had first seen my friend. So,
with occasional spurts, he had done two hundred and ten feet in thirty
minutes, and this in spite of the fact that he had picked up a
supercargo.

Two parts of hydrogen and one of oxygen, under the proper stimulus,
invariably result in water; two and two, considered calmly and without
passion, combine into four; the workings of instinct, especially in
social insects, is so mechanical that its results can almost be
demonstrated in formula; and yet here was my Atta leaf-carrier
burdened with a minim. The worker Attas vary greatly in size, as a
glance at a populous trail will show. They have been christened
_macrergates, desmergates_ and _micrergates_; or we may call the
largest Maxims, the average middle class Mediums, and the tiny chaps
Minims, and all have more or less separate functions in the ecology of
the colony. The Minims are replicas in miniature of the big chaps,
except that their armor is pale cinnamon rather than chestnut.
Although they can bite ferociously, they are too small to cut through
leaves, and they have very definite duties in the nest; yet they are
found with every leaf-cutting gang, hastening along with their larger
brethren, but never doing anything, that I could detect, at their
journey's end. I have a suspicion that the little Minims, who are very
numerous, function as light cavalry; for in case of danger they are as
eager at attack as the great soldiers, and the leaf-cutters, absorbed
in their arduous labor, would benefit greatly from the immunity
ensured by a flying corps of their little bulldog comrades.

I can readily imagine that these nestling Minims become weary and
foot-sore (like bank-clerks guarding a reservoir), and if instinct
allows such abominable individuality, they must often wish themselves
back at the nest, for every mile of a Medium is three miles to them.

Here is where our mechanical formula breaks down; for, often, as many
as one in every five leaves that pass bears aloft a Minim or two,
clinging desperately to the waving leaf and getting a free ride at the
expense of the already overburdened Medium. Ten is the extreme number
seen, but six to eight Minims collected on a single leaf is not
uncommon. Several times I have seen one of these little banner-riders
shift deftly from leaf to leaf, when a swifter carrier passed by, as
a circus bareback rider changes steeds at full gallop.

Once I saw enacted above ground, and in the light of day, something
which may have had its roots in an _anlage_ of divine discontent. If I
were describing the episode half a century ago, I should entitle it,
"The Battle of the Giants, or Emotion Enthroned." A quadruple line of
leaf-carriers was disappearing down a hole in front of the laboratory,
bumped and pushed by an out-pouring, empty-jawed mass of workers. As I
watched them, I became aware of an area of great excitement beyond the
hole. Getting down as nearly as possible to ant height, I witnessed a
terrible struggle. Two giants--of the largest soldier Maxim
caste--were locked in each other's jaws, and to my horror, I saw that
each had lost his abdomen. The antennæ and the abdomen petiole are the
only vulnerable portions of an Atta, and long after he has lost these
apparently dispensable portions of his anatomy, he is able to walk,
fight, and continue an active but erratic life. These mighty-jawed
fellows seem never to come to the surface unless danger threatens; and
my mind went down into the black, musty depths, where it is the duty
of these soldiers to walk about and wait for trouble. What could have
raised the ire of such stolid neuters against one another? Was it
sheer lack of something to do? or was there a cell or two of the
winged caste lying fallow within their bodies, which, stirring at
last, inspired a will to battle, a passing echo of romance, of the
activities of the male Atta?

Their unnatural combat had stirred scores of smaller workers to the
highest pitch of excitement. Now and then, out of the mêlée, a Medium
would emerge, with a tiny Minim in his jaws. One of these carried his
still living burden many feet away, along an unused trail, and dropped
it. I examined the small ant, and found that it had lost an antenna,
and its body was crushed. When the ball of fighters cleared, twelve
small ants were seen clinging to the legs and heads of the mutilated
giants, and now and then these would loosen their hold on each other,
turn, and crush one of their small tormenters. Several times I saw a
Medium rush up and tear a small ant away, apparently quite insane with
excitement.

Occasionally the least exhausted giant would stagger to his four and
a half remaining legs, hoist his assailant, together with a mass of
the midgets, high in air, and stagger for a few steps, before falling
beneath the onrush of new attackers. It made me wish to help the great
insect, who, for aught I knew, was doomed because he was
different--because he had dared to be an individual.

I left them struggling there, and half an hour later, when I returned,
the episode was just coming to a climax. My Atta hero was exerting his
last strength, flinging off the pile that assaulted him, fighting all
the easier because of the loss of his heavy body. He lurched forward,
dragging the second giant, now dead, not toward the deserted trail or
the world of jungle around him, but headlong into the lines of stupid
leaf-carriers, scattering green leaves and flower-petals in all
directions. Only when dozens of ants threw themselves upon him, many
of them biting each other in their wild confusion, did he rear up for
the last time, and, with the whole mob, rolled down into the yawning
mouth of the Atta nesting-hole, disappearing from view, and carrying
with him all those hurrying up the steep sides. It was a great battle.
I was breathing fast with sympathy, and whatever his cause, I was on
his side.

The next day both giants were lying on the old, disused trail; the
revolt against absolute democracy was over; ten thousand ants passed
to and fro without a dissenting thought, or any thought, and the
Spirit of the Attas was content.



VIII

THE ATTAS AT HOME


Clambering through white, pasty mud which stuck to our boots by the
pound, peering through bitter cold mist which seemed but a thinner
skim of mud, drenched by flurries of icy drops shaken from the
atmosphere by a passing moan and a crash, breathing air heavy with a
sweet, horrible, penetrating odor--such was the world as it existed
for an hour one night, while I and the Commandant of _Douaumont_
wandered about completely lost, on the top of his own fort. We finally
stumbled on the little grated opening through which the lookout peered
unceasingly over the landscape of mud. The mist lifted and we
rediscovered the cave-like entrance, watched for a moment the ominous
golden dumb-bells rising from the premier ligne, scraped our boots on
a German helmet and went down again into the strangest sanctuary in
the world.

This was the vision which flashed through my mind as I began vigil at
an enormous nest of Attas--the leaf-cutting ants of the British
Guiana jungle. In front of me was a glade, about thirty feet across,
devoid of green growth, and filled with a great irregular expanse of
earth and mud. Relative to the height of the Attas, my six feet must
seem a good half mile, and from this height I looked down and saw
again the same inconceivably sticky clay of France. There were the
rain-washed gullies, the half-roofed entrances to the vast underground
fortresses, clean-swept, perfect roads, as efficient as the arteries
of Verdun, flapping dead leaves like the omnipresent, worn-out
scare-crows of camouflage, and over in one corner, to complete the
simile, were a dozen shell-holes, the homes of voracious ant-lions,
which, for passing insects, were unexploded mines, set at hair
trigger.

My Atta city was only two hundred feet away from the laboratory, in
fairly high jungle, within sound of the dinner triangle, and of the
lapping waves on the Mazaruni shore. To sit near by and concentrate
solely upon the doings of these ant people, was as easy as watching a
single circus ring of performing elephants, while two more rings, a
maze of trapezes, a race track and side-shows were in full swing. The
jungle around me teemed with interesting happenings and distracting
sights and sounds. The very last time I visited the nest and became
absorbed in a line of incoming ants, I heard the shrill squeaking of
an angry hummingbird overhead. I looked up, and there, ten feet above,
was a furry tamandua anteater slowly climbing a straight purpleheart
trunk, while around and around his head buzzed and swore the little
fury--a pinch of cinnamon feathers, ablaze with rage. The curved claws
of the unheeding anteater fitted around the trunk and the strong
prehensile tail flattened against the bark, so that the creature
seemed to put forth no more exertion than if walking along a fallen
log. Now and then it stopped and daintily picked at a bit of termite
nest.

With such side-shows it was sometimes difficult to concentrate on the
Attas. Yet they offered problems for years of study. The glade was a
little world in itself, with visitors and tenants, comedy and tragedy,
sounds and silences. It was an ant-made glade, with all new growths
either choked by upflung, earthen hillocks, or leaves bitten off as
soon as they appeared. The casual visitors were the most conspicuous,
an occasional trogon swooping across--a glowing, feathered comet of
emerald, azurite and gold; or, slowly drifting in and out among the
vines and coming to rest with waving wings, a yellow and red spotted
Ithomiid,--or was it a Heliconiid or a Danaiid?--with such bewildering
models and marvelous mimics it was impossible to tell without capture
and close examination. Giant, purple tarantula-hawks hummed past,
scanning the leaves for their prey.

Another class of glade haunters were those who came strictly on
business,--plasterers and sculptors, who found wet clay ready to their
needs. Great golden and rufous bees blundered down and gouged out
bucketsful of mud; while slender-bodied, dainty, ebony wasps, after
much fastidious picking of place, would detach a tiny bit of the
whitest clay, place it in their snuff-box holder, clean their feet and
antennæ, run their rapier in and out and delicately take to wing.

Little black trigonid bees had their special quarry, a small deep
valley in the midst of a waste of interlacing Bad Lands, on the side
of a precipitous butte. Here they picked and shoveled to their hearts'
content, plastering their thighs until their wings would hardly lift
them. They braced their feet, whirred, lifted unevenly, and sank back
with a jar. Then turning, they bit off a piece of ballast, and heaving
it over the precipice, swung off on an even keel.

Close examination of some of the craters and volcanic-like cones
revealed many species of ants, beetles and roaches searching for bits
of food--the scavengers of this small world. But the most interesting
were the actual parasites, flies of many colors and sizes, humming
past like little planes and zeppelins over this hidden city, ready to
drop a bomb in the form of an egg deposited on the refuse heaps or on
the ants themselves. The explosion might come slowly, but it would be
none the less deadly. Once I detected a hint of the complexity of the
glade life--beautiful metallic green flies walking swiftly about on
long legs, searching nervously, whose eggs would be deposited near
those of other flies, their larvæ to feed upon the others--parasites
upon parasites.

As I had resolutely put the doings of the treetops away from my
consciousness, so now I forgot visitors and parasites, and armed
myself for the excavation of this buried metropolis. I rubbed
vaseline on my high boots, and about the tops bound a band of
teased-out absorbent cotton. My pick and shovel I treated likewise,
and thus I was comparatively insulated. Without precautions no living
being could withstand the slow, implacable attack of disturbed Attas.
At present I walked unmolested across the glade. The millions beneath
my feet were as unconscious of my presence as they were of the breeze
in the palm fronds overhead.

At the first deep shovel thrust, a slow-moving flood of reddish-brown
began to pour forth from the crumbled earth--the outposts of the Atta
Maxims moving upward to the attack. For a few seconds only workers of
various sizes appeared, then an enormous head heaved upward and there
came into the light of day the first Atta soldier. He was twice as
large as a large worker and heavy in proportion. Instead of being
drawn up into two spines, the top of his head was rounded, bald and
shiny, and only at the back were the two spines visible, shifted
downward. The front of the head was thickly clothed with golden hair,
which hung down bang-like over a round, glistening, single, median
eye. One by one, and then shoulder to shoulder, these Cyclopean
Maxims lumbered forth to battle, and soon my boots were covered in
spite of the grease, all sinking their mandibles deep into the
leather.

When I unpacked these boots this year I found the heads and jaws of
two Attas still firmly attached, relics of some forgotten foray of the
preceding year. This mechanical, vise-like grip, wholly independent of
life or death, is utilized by the Guiana Indians. In place of
stitching up extensive wounds, a number of these giant Atta Maxims are
collected, and their jaws applied to the edges of the skin, which are
drawn together. The ants take hold, their bodies are snipped off, and
the row of jaws remains until the wound is healed.

Over and around the out-pouring soldiers, the tiny workers ran and bit
and chewed away at whatever they could reach. Dozens of ants made
their way up to the cotton, but found the utmost difficulty in
clambering over the loose fluff. Now and then, however, a needle-like
nip at the back of my neck, showed that some pioneer of these shock
troops had broken through, when I was thankful that Attas could only
bite and not sting as well. At such a time as this, the greatest
difference is apparent between these and the Eciton army ants. The
Eciton soldier with his long, curved scimitars and his swift, nervous
movements, was to one of these great insects as a fighting d'Artagnan
would be to an armored tank. The results were much the same
however,--perfect efficiency.

I now dug swiftly and crashed with pick down through three feet of
soil. The great entrance arteries of the nest branched and bifurcated,
separated and anastomosed, while here and there were chambers varying
in size from a cocoanut to a football. These were filled with what
looked like soft grayish sponge covered with whitish mold, and these
somber affairs were the _raison d'être_ for all the leaf-cutting, the
trails, the struggles through jungles, the constant battling against
wind and rain and sun.

But the labors of the Attas are only renewed when a worker disappears
down a hole with his hard-earned bit of leaf. He drops it and goes on
his way. We do not know what this way is, but my guess is that he
turns around and goes after another leaf. Whatever the nests of Attas
possess, they are without recreation rooms. These sluggard-instructors
do not know enough to take a vacation; their faces are fashioned for
biting, but not for laughing or yawning. I once dabbed fifteen Mediums
with a touch of white paint as they approached the nest, and within
five minutes thirteen of them had emerged and started on the back
track again.

The leaf is taken in charge by another Medium, hosts of whom are
everywhere. Once after a spadeful, I placed my eye as close as
possible to a small heap of green leaves, and around one oblong bit
were five Mediums, each with a considerable amount of chewed and
mumbled tissue in front of him. This is the only time I have ever
succeeded in finding these ants actually at this work. The leaves are
chewed thoroughly and built up into the sponge gardens, being used
neither for thatch nor for food, but as fertilizer. And not for any
strange subterranean berry or kernel or fruit, but for a fungus or
mushroom. The spores sprout and proliferate rapidly, the gray mycelia
covering the garden, and at the end of each thread is a little knobbed
body filled with liquid. This forms the sole food of the ants in the
nest, but a drop of honey placed by a busy trail will draw a circle of
workers at any time--both Mediums and Minims, who surround it and
drink their fill.

When the fungus garden is in full growth, the nest labors of the
Minims begin, and until the knobbed bodies are actually ripe, they
never cease to weed and to prune, thus killing off the multitude of
other fungi and foreign organisms, and by pruning they keep their
particular fungus growing, and prevent it from fructifying. The fungus
of the Attas is a particular species with the resonant, Dunsanyesque
name of _Rozites gongylophora_. It is quite unknown outside of the
nests of these ants, and is as artificial as a banana.

Only in Calcutta bazaars at night, and in underground streets of
Pekin, have I seen stranger beings than I unearthed in my Atta nest.
Now and then there rolled out of a shovelful of earth, an unbelievably
big and rotund Cicada larva--which in the course of time, whether in
one or in seventeen years, would emerge as the great marbled winged
_Cicada gigas_, spreading five inches from tip to tip. Small
tarantulas, with beautiful wine-colored cephalothorax, made their home
deep in the nest, guarded, perhaps, by their dense covering of hair;
slender scorpions sidled out from the ruins. They were bare, with
vulnerable joints, but they had the advantage of a pair of hands, and
long, mobile arms, which could quickly and skilfully pluck an
attacking ant from any part of their anatomy.

The strangest of all the tenants were the tiny, amber-colored roaches
which clung frantically to the heads of the great soldier ants, or
scurried over the tumultuous mounds, searching for a crevice
sanctuary. They were funny, fat little beings, wholly blind, yet
supremely conscious of the danger that threatened, and with only the
single thought of getting below the surface as quickly as possible.
The Attas had very few insect guests, but this cockroach is one which
had made himself perfectly at home. Through century upon century he
had become more and more specialized and adapted to Atta life, eyes
slipping until they were no more than faint specks, legs and antennæ
changing, gait becoming altered to whatever speed and carriage best
suited little guests in big underground halls and galleries. He and
his race had evolved unseen and unnoticed even by the Maxim policemen.
But when nineteen hundred humanly historical years had passed, a man
with a keen sense of fitness named him Little Friend of the Attas; and
so for a few more years, until scientists give place to the next
caste, _Attaphila_ will, all unconsciously, bear a name.

Attaphilas have staked their whole gamble of existence on the
continued possibility of guest-ship with the Attas. Although they
lived near the fungus gardens they did not feed upon them, but
gathered secretions from the armored skin of the giant soldiers, who
apparently did not object, and showed no hostility to their diminutive
masseurs. A summer boarder may be quite at home on a farm, and safe
from all ordinary dangers, but he must keep out of the way of scythes
and sickles if he chooses to haunt the hay-fields. And so Attaphila,
snug and safe, deep in the heart of the nest, had to keep on the qui
vive when the ant harvesters came to glean in the fungus gardens.
Snip, snip, snip, on all sides in the musty darkness, the keen
mandibles sheared the edible heads, and though the little Attaphilas
dodged and ran, yet most of them, in course of time, lost part of an
antenna or even a whole one.

Thus the Little Friend of the Leaf-cutters lives easily through his
term of weeks or months, or perhaps even a year, and has nothing to
fear for food or mate, or from enemies. But Attaphilas cannot all
live in a single nest, and we realize that there must come a crisis,
when they pass out into a strange world of terrible light and
multitudes of foes. For these pampered, degenerate roaches to find
another Atta nest unaided, would be inconceivable. In the big nest
which I excavated I observed them on the back and heads not only of
the large soldiers, but also of the queens which swarmed in one
portion of the galleries; and indeed, of twelve queens, seven had
roaches clinging to them. This has been noted also of a Brazilian
species, and we suddenly realize what splendid sports these humble
insects are. They resolutely prepare for their gamble--_l'aventure
magnifique_--the slenderest fighting chance, and we are almost
inclined to forget the irresponsible implacability of instinct, and
cheer the little fellows for lining up on this forlorn hope. When the
time comes, the queens leave, and are off up into the unheard-of sky,
as if an earthworm should soar with eagle's feathers; past the
gauntlet of voracious flycatchers and hawks, to the millionth chance
of meeting an acceptable male of the same species. After the mating,
comes the solitary search for a suitable site, and only when the
pitifully unfair gamble has been won by a single fortunate queen,
does the Attaphila climb tremblingly down and accept what fate has
sent. His ninety and nine fellows have met death in almost as many
ways.

With the exception of these strange inmates there are very few tenants
or guests in the nests of the Attas. Unlike the termites and Ecitons,
who harbor a host of weird boarders, the leaf-cutters are able to keep
their nest free from undesirables.

Once, far down in the nest, I came upon three young queens, recently
emerged, slow and stupid, with wings dull and glazed, who crawled with
awkward haste back into darkness. And again twelve winged females were
grouped in one small chamber, restless and confused. This was the only
glimpse I ever had of Atta royalty at home.

Good fortune was with me, however, on a memorable fifth of May, when
returning from a monkey hunt in high jungle. As I came out into the
edge of a clearing, a low humming attracted my attention. It was
ventriloquial, and my ear refused to trace it. It sounded exactly like
a great aerodrome far in the distance, with a score or more of planes
tuning up. I chanced to see a large bee-like insect rising through
the branches, and following back along its path, I suddenly perceived
the rarest of sights--an Atta nest entrance boiling with the
excitement of a flight of winged kings and queens. So engrossed were
the ants that they paid no attention to me, and I was able to creep up
close and kneel within two feet of the hole. The main nest was twenty
feet away, and this was a special exit made for the occasion--a
triumphal gateway erected far away from the humdrum leaf traffic.

The two-inch, arched hole led obliquely down into darkness, while
brilliant sunshine illumined the earthen take-off and the surrounding
mass of pink Mazaruni primroses. Up this corridor was coming, slowly,
with dignity, as befitted the occasion, a pageant of royalty. The king
males were more active, as they were smaller in size than the females,
but they were veritable giants in comparison with the workers. The
queens seemed like beings of another race, with their great bowed
thorax supporting the folded wings, heads correspondingly large, with
less jaw development, but greatly increased keenness of vision. 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
wing tissue. 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.

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 the
lower part of 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 which 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 Minims--hatch. 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, and 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 as we know, she becomes a mere
egg-producing 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.

One wonders whether, throughout the long hours, weeks and months, in
darkness which renders her eyes a mockery, there ever comes to her
dull ganglion a flash of memory of The Day, of the rushing wind, the
escape from pursuing puff-birds, the jungle stretching away for miles
beneath, her mate, the cool tap of drops from a passing shower, the
volplane to earth, and the obliteration of all save labor. Did she
once look behind her, did she turn aside for a second, just to feel
the cool silk of petals?

As we have seen, an Atta worker is a member of the most implacable
labor-union in the world: he believes in a twenty-four hour day, no pay, no
play, no rest--he is a cog in a machine-driven
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 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-de-sac, 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 propagate, and to found
new nests. They, no less than the workers, are parts of something
more subtle than the visible Attas and their material nest. Whether I
go to the ant as sluggard, or myrmocologist, 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--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, self-banished, 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--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 organisms playing fast and loose with the borderland, not only
of plants and animals, but of the one and of the many-celled. First a
swimming lily, Stentor, a solitary animal bloom, twenty-five to the
inch; Cothurnia, a double lily, and Gonium, with a quartet of cells
clinging tremulously together, progressing unsteadily--materially
toward the rim of my field of vision--in the evolution of earthly life
toward sponges, peripatus, ants and man.

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 microscope tube
and came to rest upon a slim 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 leaf-cutting ants. And I wondered whether the Attas were any
the 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 back into the house, and voiced a toast to tolerance, to
temperance, and--to pterodactyls--and drank my cocktail.



IX

HAMMOCK NIGHTS


There is a great gulf between pancakes and truffles: an eternal,
fixed, abysmal cañon. It is like the chasm between beds and hammocks.
It is not to be denied and not to be traversed; for if pancakes with
syrup are a necessary of life, then truffles with anything must be, by
the very nature of things, a supreme and undisputed luxury, a regal
food for royalty and the chosen of the earth. There cannot be a shadow
of a doubt that these two are divided; and it is not alone a mere
arbitrary division of poverty and riches as it would appear on the
surface. It is an alienation brought about by profound and fundamental
differences; for the gulf between them is that gulf which separates
the prosaic, the ordinary, the commonplace, from all that is colored
and enlivened by romance.

The romance of truffles endows the very word itself with a halo, an
aristocratic halo full of mystery and suggestion. One remembers the
hunters who must track their quarry through marshy and treacherous
lands, and one cannot forget their confiding catspaw, that desolated
pig, created only to be betrayed and robbed of the fungi of his
labors. He is one of the pathetic characters of history, born to
secret sorrow, victimized by those superior tastes which do not become
his lowly station. Born to labor and to suffer, but not to eat. To
this day he commands my sympathy; his ghost--lean, bourgeois,
reproachful--looks out at me from every market-place in the world
where the truffle proclaims his faithful service.

But the pancake is a pancake, nothing more. It is without inherent or
artificial glamour; and this unfortunately, when you come right down
to it, is true of food in general. For food, after all, is one of the
lesser considerations; the connoisseur, the gourmet, even the
gourmand, spends no more than four hours out of the day at his table.
From the cycle, he may select four in which to eat; but whether he
will or not, he must set aside seven of the twenty-four in which to
sleep.

Sleeping, then, as opposed to eating, is of almost double importance,
since it consumes nearly twice as much time--and time, in itself, is
the most valuable thing in the world. Considered from this angle, it
seems incredible that we have no connoisseurs of sleep. For we have
none. Therefore it is with some temerity that I declare sleep to be
one of the romances of existence, and not by any chance the simple
necessary it is reputed to be.

However, this romance, in company with whatever is worthy, is not to
be discovered without the proper labor. Life is not all truffles.
Neither do they grow in modest back-yards to be picked of mornings by
the maid-of-all-work. A mere bed, notwithstanding its magic camouflage
of coverings, of canopy, of disguised pillows, of shining brass or
fluted carven posts, is, pancake like, never surrounded by this aura
of romance. No, it is hammock sleep which is the sweetest of all
slumber. Not in the hideous, dyed affairs of our summer porches, with
their miserable curved sticks to keep the strands apart, and their
maddening creaks which grow in length and discord the higher one
swings--but in a hammock woven by Carib Indians. An Indian hammock
selected at random will not suffice; it must be a Carib and none
other. For they, themselves, are part and parcel of the romance,
since they are not alone a quaint and poetic people, but the direct
descendants of those remote Americans who were the first to see the
caravels of Columbus. Indeed, he paid the initial tribute to their
skill, for in the diary of his first voyage he writes,--

"A great many Indians in canoes came to the ship to-day for the
purpose of bartering their cotton, and _hamacas_ or nets in which they
sleep."

It is supposed that this name owes its being to the hamack tree, from
the bark of which they were woven. However that may be, the modern
hammock of these tropical Red Men is so light and so delicate in
texture that during the day one may wear it as a sash, while at night
it forms an incomparable couch.

But one does not drop off to sleep in this before a just and proper
preparation. This presents complexities. First, the hammock must be
slung with just the right amount of tautness; then, the novice must
master the knack of winding himself in his blanket that he may slide
gently into his aerial bed and rest at right angles to the tied ends,
thus permitting the free side-meshes to curl up naturally over his
feet and head. This cannot be taught. It is an art; and any art is
one-tenth technique, and nine-tenths natural talent. However, it is
possible to acquire a certain virtuosity, which, after all is said, is
but pure mechanical skill as opposed to sheer genius. One might,
perhaps, get a hint by watching the living chrysalid of a potential
moon-moth wriggle back into its cocoon--but little is to be learned
from human teaching. However, if, night after night, one observes his
Indians, a certain instinctive knowledge will arise to aid and abet
him in his task. Then, after his patient apprenticeship, he may reap
as he has sowed. If it is to be disaster, it is as immediate as it is
ignominious; but if success is to be his portion, then he is destined
to rest, wholly relaxed, upon a couch encushioned and resilient beyond
belief. He finds himself exalted and supreme above all mundane
disturbances, with the treetops and the stars for his canopy, and the
earth a shadowy floor far beneath. This gentle aerial support is
distributed throughout hundreds of fine meshes, and the sole contact
with the earth is through twin living boles, pulsing with swift
running sap, whose lichened bark and moonlit foliage excel any
tapestry of man's devising.

Perhaps it is atavistic--this desire to rest and swing in a hamaca.
For these are not unlike the treetop couches of our arboreal
ancestors, such a one as I have seen an orang-utan weave in a few
minutes in the swaying crotch of a tree. At any rate, the hammock is
not dependent upon four walls, upon rooms and houses, and it partakes
altogether of the wilderness. Its movement is æolian--yielding to
every breath of air. It has even its own weird harmony--for I have
often heard a low, whistling hum as the air rushed through the cordage
mesh. In a sudden tropical gale every taut strand of my hamaca has
seemed a separate, melodious, orchestral note, while I was buffeted to
and fro, marking time to some rhythmic and reckless tune of the wind
playing fortissimo on the woven strings about me. The climax of this
musical outburst was not without a mild element of danger--sufficient
to create that enviable state of mind wherein the sense of security
and the knowledge that a minor catastrophe may perhaps be brought
about are weighed one against the other.

Special, unexpected, and interesting minor dangers are also the
province of the hamaca. Once, in the tropics, a great fruit fell on
the elastic strands and bounced upon my body. There was an ominous
swish of the air in the sweeping arc which this missile described,
also a goodly shower of leaves; and since the fusillade took place at
midnight, it was, all in all, a somewhat alarming visitation. However,
there were no honorable scars to mark its advent; and what is more
important, from all my hundreds of hammock nights, I have no other
memory of any actual or threatened danger which was not due to human
carelessness or stupidity. It is true that once, in another continent,
by the light of a campfire, I saw the long, liana-like body of a
harmless tree-snake wind down from one of my fronded bed-posts and,
like a living woof following its shuttle, weave a passing pattern of
emerald through the pale meshes. But this heralded no harm, for the
poisonous reptiles of that region never climb; and so, since I was
worn out by a hard day, I shut my eyes and slept neither better nor
worse because of the transient confidence of a neighborly serpent.

As a matter of fact, the wilderness provides but few real perils, and
in a hammock one is safely removed from these. One lies in a stratum
above all damp and chill of the ground, beyond the reach of crawling
tick and looping leech; and with an enveloping _mosquitaro_, or
mosquito shirt, as the Venezuelans call it, one is fortified even in
the worst haunts of these most disturbing of all pests.

Once my ring rope slipped and the hammock settled, but not enough to
wake me up and force me to set it to rights. I was aware that
something had gone wrong, but, half asleep, I preferred to leave the
matter in the lap of the gods. Later, as a result, I was awakened
several times by the patting of tiny paws against my body, as small
jungle-folk, standing on their hind-legs, essayed to solve the mystery
of the swaying, silent, bulging affair directly overhead. I was unlike
any tree or branch or liana which had come their way before; I do not
doubt that they thought me some new kind of ant-nest, since these
structures are alike only as their purpose in life is identical--for
they express every possible variation in shape, size, color, design,
and position. As for their curiosity, I could make no complaint, for,
at best, my visitors could not be so inquisitive as I, inasmuch as I
had crossed one ocean and two continents with no greater object than
to pry into their personal and civic affairs as well as those of
their neighbors. To say nothing of their environment and other
matters.

That my rope slipped was the direct result of my own inefficiency. The
hammock protects one from the dangers of the outside world, but like
any man-made structure, it shows evidences of those imperfections
which are part and parcel of human nature, and serve, no doubt, to
make it interesting. But one may at least strive for perfection by
being careful. Therefore tie the ropes of your hammock yourself, or
examine and test the job done for you. The master of hammocks makes a
knot the name of which I do not know--I cannot so much as describe it.
But I would like to twist it again--two quick turns, a push and a
pull; then, the greater the strain put upon it, the greater its
resistance.

This trustworthiness commands respect and admiration, but it is in the
morning that one feels the glow of real gratitude; for, in striking
camp at dawn, one has but to give a single jerk and the rope is
straightened out, without so much as a second's delay. It is the
tying, however, which must be well done--this I learned from bitter
experience.

It was one morning, years ago, but the memory of it is with me still,
vivid and painful. One of the party had left her hammock, which was
tied securely since she was skilful in such matters, to sit down and
rest in another, belonging to a servant. This was slung at one end of
a high, tropical porch, which was without the railing that surrounds
the more pretentious verandahs of civilization, so that the hammock
swung free, first over the rough flooring, then a little out over the
yard itself. A rope slipped, the faulty knot gave way, and she fell
backward--a seven-foot fall with no support of any kind by which she
might save herself. A broken wrist was the price she had to pay for
another's carelessness--a broken wrist which, in civilization, is
perhaps, one of the lesser tragedies; but this was in the very heart
of the Guiana wilderness. Many hours from ether and surgical skill,
such an accident assumes alarming proportions. Therefore, I repeat my
warning: tie your knots or examine them.

It is true, that, when all is said and done, a dweller in hammocks may
bring upon himself any number of diverse dangers of a character never
described in books or imagined in fiction. A fellow naturalist of
mine never lost an opportunity to set innumerable traps for the lesser
jungle-folk, such as mice and opossums, all of which he religiously
measured and skinned, so that each, in its death, should add its mite
to human knowledge. As a fisherman runs out set lines, so would he
place his traps in a circle under his hammock, using a cord to tie
each and every one to the meshes. This done, it was his custom to lie
at ease and wait for the click below which would usher in a new
specimen,--perhaps a new species,--to be lifted up, removed, and
safely cached until morning. This strategic method served a double
purpose: it conserved natural energy, and it protected the catch. For
if the traps were set in the jungle and trustfully confided to its
care until the break of day, the ants would leave a beautifully
cleaned skeleton, intact, all unnecessarily entrapped.

Now it happened that once, when he had set his nocturnal traps, he
straightway went to sleep in the midst of all the small jungle people who
were calling for mates and new life, so that he did not hear the click
which was to warn him that another little beast of fur had come unawares
upon his death. But he heard, suddenly, a disturbance in the low ferns
beneath his hammock. He reached over and caught hold of one of the cords,
finding the attendant trap heavy with prey. He was on the point of feeling
his way to the trap itself, when instead, by some subconscious prompting,
he reached over and snapped on his flashlight. And there before him,
hanging in mid-air, striking viciously at his fingers which were just
beyond its reach, was a young fer-de-lance--one of the deadliest of
tropical serpents. His nerves gave way, and with a crash the trap fell to
the ground where he could hear it stirring and thrashing about among the
dead leaves. This ominous rustling did not encourage sleep; he lay there
for a long time listening,--and every minute is longer in the
darkness,--while his hammock quivered and trembled with the reaction.

Guided by this, I might enter into a new field of naturalizing and say
to those who might, in excitement, be tempted to do otherwise, "Look
at your traps before lifting them." But my audience would be too
limited; I will refrain from so doing.

It is true that this brief experience might be looked upon as one
illustration of the perils of the wilderness, since it is not
customary for the fer-de-lance to frequent the city and the town. But
this would give rise to a footless argument, leading nowhere. For
danger is everywhere--it lurks in every shadow and is hidden in the
bright sunlight, it is the uninvited guest, the invisible pedestrian
who walks beside you in the crowded street ceaselessly, without
tiring. But even a fer-de-lance should rather add to the number of
hammock devotees than diminish them; for the three feet or more of
elevation is as good as so many miles between the two of you. And
three miles from any serpent is sufficient.

It may be that the very word danger is subjected to a different
interpretation in each one of our mental dictionaries. It is elastic,
comprehensive. To some it may include whatever is terrible,
terrifying; to others it may symbolize a worthy antagonist, one who
throws down the gauntlet and asks no questions, but who will make a
good and fair fight wherein advantage is neither taken nor given. I
suppose, to be bitten by vampires would be thought a danger by many
who have not graduated from the mattress of civilization to this
cubiculum of the wilderness. This is due, in part, to an ignorance,
which is to be condoned; and this ignorance, in turn, is due to that
lack of desire for a knowledge of new countries and new experiences,
which lack is to be deplored and openly mourned. Many years ago, in
Mexico, when I first entered the vampire zone, I was apprised of the
fact by the clotted blood on my horse's neck in the early morning. In
actually seeing this evidence, I experienced the diverse emotions of
the discoverer, although as a matter of fact I had discovered nothing
more than the verification of a scientific commonplace. It so happened
that I had read, at one time, many conflicting statements of the
workings of this aerial leech; therefore, finding myself in his native
habitat, I went to all sorts of trouble to become a victim to his
sorceries. The great toe is the favorite and stereotyped point of
attack, we are told; so, in my hammock, my great toes were
conscientiously exposed night after night, but not until a decade
later was my curiosity satisfied.

I presume that this was a matter of ill luck, rather than a personal
matter between the vampire and me. Therefore, as a direct result of
this and like experiences, I have learned to make proper allowances
for the whims of the Fates. I have learned that it is their pleasure
to deluge me with rainstorms at unpropitious moments, also to send me,
with my hammock, to eminently desirable countries, which, however, are
barren of trees and scourged of every respectable shrub. That the
showers may not find me unprepared, I pack with my hamaca an extra
length of rope, to be stretched taut from foot-post to head-post, that
a tarpaulin or canvas may be slung over it. When a treeless country is
presented to me in prospect, I have two stout stakes prepared, and I
do not move forward without them.

It is a wonderful thing to see an experienced hammocker take his
stakes, first one, then the other, and plunge them into the ground
three or four times, measuring at one glance the exact distance and
angle, and securing magically that mysterious "give" so essential to
well-being and comfort. Any one can sink them like fence-posts, so
that they stand deep and rigid, a reproach and an accusation; but it
requires a particular skill to judge by the pull whether or not they
will hold through the night and at the same time yield with gentle and
supple swing to the least movement of the sleeper. A Carib knows,
instantly, worthy and unworthy ground. I have seen an Indian sink his
hamaca posts into sand with one swift, concentrated motion,
mathematical in its precision and surety, so that he might enter at
once into a peaceful night of tranquil and unbroken slumber, while I,
a tenderfoot then, must needs beat my stakes down into the ground with
tremendous energy, only to come to earth with a resounding thwack the
moment I mounted my couch.

The Red Man made his comment, smiling: "Yellow earth, much squeeze."
Which, being translated, informed me that the clayey ground I had
chosen, hard though it seemed, was more like putty in that it would
slip and slip with the prolonged pressure until the post fell inward
and catastrophe crowned my endeavor.

So it follows that the hammock, in company with an adequate tarpaulin
and two trustworthy stakes, will survive the heaviest downpour as well
as the most arid and uncompromising desert. But since it is man-made,
with finite limitations, nature is not without means to defeat its
purpose. The hammock cannot cope with the cold--real cold, that is,
not the sudden chill of tropical night which a blanket resists, but
the cold of the north or of high altitudes. This is the realm of the
sleeping-bag, the joy of which is another story. More than once I have
had to use a hammock at high levels, since there was nothing else at
hand; and the numbness of the Arctic was mine. Every mesh seemed to
invite a separate draught. The winds of heaven--all four--played
unceasingly upon me, and I became in due time a swaying mummy of ice.
It was my delusion that I was a dead Indian cached aloft upon my
arboreal bier--which is not a normal state of mind for the sleeping
explorer.

Anything rather than this helpless surrender to the elements. Better
the lowlands and that fantastic shroud, the mosquitaro. For even to
wind one's self into this is an experience of note. It is ingenious,
and called the mosquito shirt because of its general shape, which is
as much like a shirt as anything else. A large round center covers the
hammock, and two sleeves extend up the supporting strands and inclose
the ends, being tied to the ring-ropes. If at sundown swarms of
mosquitoes become unbearable, one retires into his netting funnel, and
there disrobes. Clothes are rolled into a bundle and tied to the
hammock, that one may close one's eyes reasonably confident that the
supply will not be diminished by some small marauder. It is then that
a miracle is enacted. For one is at last enabled, under these
propitious circumstances, to achieve the impossible, to control and
manipulate the void and the invisible, to obey that unforgotten advice
of one's youth, "Oh, g'wan--crawl into a hole and pull the hole in
after you!" At an early age, this unnatural advice held my mind, so
that I devised innumerable means of verifying it; I was filled with a
despair and longing whenever I met it anew. But it was an ambition
appeased only in maturity. And this is the miracle of the tropics:
climb up into the hamaca, and, at this altitude, draw in the hole of
the mosquitaro funnel, making it fast with a single knot. It is done.
One is at rest, and lying back, listens to the humming of all the
mosquitoes in the world, to be lulled to sleep by the sad, minor
singing of their myriad wings. But though I have slung my hammock in
many lands, on all the continents, I have few memories of netting
nights. Usually, both in tropics and in tempered climes, one may
boldly lie with face uncovered to the night.

And this brings us to the greatest joy of hammock life, admission to
the secrets of the wilderness, initiation to new intimacies and
subtleties of this kingdom, at once welcomed and delicately ignored
as any honored guest should be. For this one must make unwonted
demands upon one's nocturnal senses. From habit, perhaps, it is
natural to lie with the eyes wide open, but with all the faculties
concentrated on the two senses which bring impressions from the world
of darkness--hearing and smell. In a jungle hut a loud cry from out of
the black treetops now and then reaches the ear; in a tent the faint
noises of the night outside are borne on the wind, and at times the
silhouette of a passing animal moves slowly across the heavy cloth;
but in a hamaca one is not thus set apart to be baffled by hidden
mysteries--one is given the very point of view of the creatures who
live and die in the open.

Through the meshes which press gently against one's face comes every
sound which our human ears can distinguish and set apart from the
silence--a silence which in itself is only a mirage of apparent
soundlessness, a testimonial to the imperfection of our senses. The
moaning and whining of some distant beast of prey is brought on the
breeze to mingle with the silken swishing of the palm fronds overhead
and the insistent chirping of many insects--a chirping so fine and
shrill that it verges upon the very limits of our hearing. And these,
combined, unified, are no more than the ground surge beneath the
countless waves of sound. For the voice of the jungle is the voice of
love, of hatred, of hope, of despair--and in the night-time, when the
dominance of sense-activity shifts from eye to ear, from retina to
nostril, it cries aloud its confidences to all the world. But the
human mind is not equal to a true understanding of these; for in a
tropical jungle the birds and the frogs, the beasts and the insects
are sending out their messages so swiftly one upon the other, that the
senses fail of their mission and only chaos and a great confusion are
carried to the brain. The whirring of invisible wings and the movement
of the wind in the low branches become one and the same: it is an
epic, told in some strange tongue, an epic filled to overflowing with
tragedy, with poetry and mystery. The cloth of this drama is woven
from many-colored threads, for Nature is lavish with her pigment,
reckless with life and death. She is generous because there is no need
for her to be miserly. And in the darkness, I have heard the working
of her will, translating as best I could.

In the darkness, I have at times heard the tramping of many feet; in
a land traversed only by Indian trails I have listened to an
overloaded freight train toiling up a steep grade; I have heard the
noise of distant battle and the cries of the victor and the
vanquished. Hard by, among the trees, I have heard a woman seized,
have heard her crying, pleading for mercy, have heard her choking and
sobbing till the end came in a terrible, gasping sigh; and then, in
the sudden silence, there was a movement and thrashing about in the
topmost branches, and the flutter and whirr of great wings moving
swiftly away from me into the heart of the jungle--the only clue to
the author of this vocal tragedy. Once, a Pan of the woods tuned up
his pipes--striking a false note now and then, as if it were his whim
to appear no more than the veriest amateur; then suddenly, with the
full liquid sweetness of his reeds, bursting into a strain so
wonderful, so silvery clear, that I lay with mouth open to still the
beating of blood in my ears, hardly breathing, that I might catch
every vibration of his song. When the last note died away, there was
utter stillness about me for an instant--nothing stirred, nothing
moved; the wind seemed to have forsaken the leaves. From a great
distance, as if he were going deeper into the woods, I heard him once
more tuning up his pipes; but he did not play again.

Beside me, I heard the low voice of one of my natives murmuring,
"_Muerte ha pasado_." My mind took up this phrase, repeating it,
giving it the rhythm of Pan's song--a rhythm delicate, sustained, full
of color and meaning in itself. I was ashamed that one of my kind
could translate such sweet and poignant music into a superstition,
could believe that it was the song of death,--the death that
passes,--and not the voice of life. But it may have been that he was
wiser in such matters than I; superstitions are many times no more
than truth in masquerade. For I could call it by no name--whether bird
or beast, creature of fur or feather or scale. And not for one, but
for a thousand creatures within my hearing, any obscure nocturnal
sound may have heralded the end of life. Song and death may go hand in
hand, and such a song may be a beautiful one, unsung, unuttered until
this moment when Nature demands the final payment for what she has
given so lavishly. In the open, the dominant note is the call to a
mate, and with it, that there may be color and form and contrast,
there is that note of pure vocal exuberance which is beauty for beauty
and for nothing else; but in this harmony there is sometimes the cry
of a creature who has come upon death unawares, a creature who has
perhaps been dumb all the days of his life, only to cry aloud this
once for pity, for mercy, or for faith, in this hour of his extremity.
Of all, the most terrible is the death-scream of a horse,--a cry of
frightful timbre,--treasured, according to some secret law, until this
dire instant when for him death indeed passes.

It was years ago that I heard the pipes of Pan; but one does not
forget these mysteries of the jungle night: the sounds and scents and
the dim, glimpsed ghosts which flit through the darkness and the
deepest shadow mark a place for themselves in one's memory, which is
not erased. I have lain in my hammock looking at a tapestry of green
draped over a half-fallen tree, and then for a few minutes have turned
to watch the bats flicker across a bit of sky visible through the dark
branches. When I looked back again at the tapestry, although the dusk
had only a moment before settled into the deeper blue of twilight, a
score of great lustrous stars were shining there, making new patterns
in the green drapery; for in this short time, the spectral blooms of
the night had awakened and flooded my resting-place with their
fragrance.

And these were but the first of the flowers; for when the brief tropic
twilight is quenched, a new world is born. The leaves and blossoms of
the day are at rest, and the birds and insects sleep. New blooms open,
strange scents pour forth. Even our dull senses respond to these; for
just as the eye is dimmed, so are the other senses quickened in the
sudden night of the jungle. Nearby, so close that one can reach out
and touch them, the pale Cereus moons expand, exhaling their
sweetness, subtle breaths of fragrance calling for the very life of
their race to the whirring hawkmoths. The tiny miller who, through the
hours of glare has crouched beneath a leaf, flutters upward, and the
trail of her perfume summons her mate perhaps half a mile down wind.
The civet cat, stimulated by love or war, fills the glade with an odor
so pungent that it seems as if the other senses must mark it.

Although there may seem not a breath of air in motion, yet the tide of
scent is never still. One's moistened finger may reveal no cool side,
since there is not the vestige of a breeze; but faint odors arrive,
become stronger, and die away, or are wholly dissipated by an onrush
of others, so musky or so sweet that one can almost taste them. These
have their secret purposes, since Nature is not wasteful. If she
creates beautiful things, it is to serve some ultimate end; it is her
whim to walk in obscure paths, but her goal is fixed and immutable.
However, her designs are hidden and not easy to decipher; at best, one
achieves, not knowledge, but a few isolated facts.

Sport in a hammock might, by the casual thinker, be considered as
limited to dreams of the hunt and chase. Yet I have found at my
disposal a score of amusements. When the dusk has just settled down,
and the little bats fill every glade in the forest, a box of beetles
or grasshoppers--or even bits of chopped meat--offers the possibility
of a new and neglected sport, in effect the inversion of baiting a
school of fish. Toss a grasshopper into the air and he has only time
to spread his wings for a parachute to earth, when a bat swoops past
so quickly that the eyes refuse to see any single effort--but the
grasshopper has vanished. As for the piece of meat, it is drawn like
a magnet to the fierce little face. Once I tried the experiment of a
bit of blunted bent wire on a long piece of thread, and at the very
first cast I entangled a flutter-mouse and pulled him in. I was aghast
when I saw what I had captured. A body hardly as large as that of a
mouse was topped with the head of a fiend incarnate. Between his red
puffed lips his teeth showed needle-sharp and ivory-white; his eyes
were as evil as a caricature from _Simplicissimus_, and set deep in
his head, while his ears and nose were monstrous with fold upon fold
of skinny flaps. It was not a living face, but a mask of frightful
mobility.

I set him free, deeming anything so ugly well worthy of life, if such
could find sustenance among his fellows and win a mate for himself
somewhere in this world. But he, for all his hideousness and unseemly
mien, is not the vampire; the blood-sucking bat has won a mantle of
deceit from the hands of Nature--a garb that gives him a modest and
not unpleasing appearance, and makes it a difficult matter to
distinguish him from his guileless confrères of our summer evenings.

But in the tropics,--the native land of the hammock,--not only the
mysteries of the night, but the affairs of the day may be legitimately
investigated from this aerial point of view. It is a fetish of belief
in hot countries that every unacclimatized white man must, sooner or
later, succumb to that sacred custom, the siesta. In the cool of the
day he may work vigorously, but this hour of rest is indispensable. To
a healthful person, living a reasonable life, the siesta is sheer
luxury. However, in camp, when the sun nears the zenith and the hush
which settles over the jungle proclaims that most of the wild
creatures are resting, one may swing one's hammock in the very heart
of this primitive forest and straightway be admitted into a new
province, where rare and unsuspected experiences are open to the
wayfarer. This is not the province of sleep or dreams, where all
things are possible and preëminently reasonable; for one does not go
through sundry hardships and all manner of self-denial, only to be
blindfolded on the very threshold of his ambition. No naturalist of a
temperament which begrudges every unused hour will, for a moment,
think of sleep under such conditions. It is not true that the rest and
quiet are necessary to cool the Northern blood for active work in the
afternoon, but the eye and the brain can combine relaxation with
keenest attention.

In the northlands the difference in the temperature of the early dawn
and high noon is so slight that the effect on birds and other
creatures, as well as plants of all kinds, is not profound. But in the
tropics a change takes place which is as pronounced as that brought
about by day and night. Above all, the volume of sound becomes no more
than a pianissimo melody; for the chorus of birds and insects dies
away little by little with the increase of heat. There is something
geometrical about this, something precise and fine in this working of
a natural law--a law from which no living being is immune, for at
length one unconsciously lies motionless, overcome by the warmth and
this illusion of silence.

The swaying of the hammock sets in motion a cool breeze, and lying at
full length, one is admitted at high noon to a new domain which has no
other portal but this. At this hour, the jungle shows few evidences of
life, not a chirp of bird or song of insect, and no rustling of leaves
in the heat which has descended so surely and so inevitably. But from
hidden places and cool shadows come broken sounds and whisperings,
which cover the gamut from insects to mammals and unite to make a
drowsy and contented murmuring--a musical undertone of amity and
goodwill. For pursuit and killing are at the lowest ebb, the stifling
heat being the flag of truce in the world-wide struggle for life and
food and mate--a struggle which halts for naught else, day or night.

Lying quietly, the confidence of every unconventional and adventurous
wanderer will include your couch, since courage is a natural virtue when
the spirit of friendliness is abroad in the land. I felt that I had
acquired merit that eventful day when a pair of hummingbirds--thimblefuls
of fluff with flaming breastplates and caps of gold--looked upon me with
such favor that they made the strands of my hamaca their boudoir. I was not
conscious of their designs upon me until I saw them whirring toward me, two
bright, swiftly moving atoms, glowing like tiny meteors, humming like a
very battalion of bees. They betook themselves to two chosen cords and,
close together, settled themselves with no further demands upon existence.
A hundred of them could have rested upon the pair of strands; even the
dragon-flies which dashed past had a wider spread of wing; but for these
two there were a myriad glistening featherlets to be oiled and arranged,
two pairs of slender wings to be whipped clean of every speck of dust, two
delicate, sharp bills to be wiped again and again and cleared of
microscopic drops of nectar. Then--like the great eagles roosting high
overhead in the clefts of the mountainside--these mites of birds must needs
tuck their heads beneath their wings for sleep; thus we three rested in the
violent heat.

On other days, in Borneo, weaver birds have brought dried grasses and
woven them into the fabric of my hammock, making me indeed feel that
my couch was a part of the wilderness. At times, some of the larger
birds have crept close to my glade, to sleep in the shadows of the low
jungle-growth. But these were, one and all, timid folk, politely
incurious, with evident respect for the rights of the individual. But
once, some others of a ruder and more barbaric temperament advanced
upon me unawares, and found me unprepared for their coming. I was
dozing quietly, glad to escape for an instant the insistent screaming
of a cicada which seemed to have gone mad in the heat, when a low
rustling caught my ear--a sound of moving leaves without wind; the
voice of a breeze in the midst of breathless heat. There was in it
something sinister and foreboding. I leaned over the edge of my
hammock, and saw coming toward me, in a broad, irregular front, a
great army of ants, battalion after battalion of them flowing like a
sea of living motes over twigs and leaves and stems. I knew the danger
and I half sat up, prepared to roll out and walk to one side. Then I
gaged my supporting strands; tested them until they vibrated and
hummed, and lay back, watching, to see what would come about. I knew
that no creature in the world could stay in the path of this horde and
live. To kill an insect or a great bird would require only a few
minutes, and the death of a jaguar or a tapir would mean only a few
more. Against this attack, claws, teeth, poison-fangs would be idle
weapons.

In the van fled a cloud of terrified insects--those gifted with flight
to wing their way far off, while the humbler ones went running
headlong, their legs, four, six, or a hundred, making the swiftest
pace vouchsafed them. There were foolish folk who climbed up low
ferns, achieving the swaying, topmost fronds only to be trailed by the
savage ants and brought down to instant death.

Even the winged ones were not immune, for if they hesitated a second,
an ant would seize upon them, and, although carried into the air,
would not loosen his grip, but cling to them, obstruct their flight,
and perhaps bring them to earth in the heart of the jungle, where, cut
off from their kind, the single combat would be waged to the death.
From where I watched, I saw massacres innumerable; terrible battles in
which some creature--a giant beside an ant--fought for his life,
crushing to death scores of the enemy before giving up.

They were a merciless army and their number was countless, with host
upon host following close on each other's heels. A horde of warriors
found a bird in my game-bag, and left of it hardly a feather. I
wondered whether they would discover me, and they did, though I think
it was more by accident than by intention. Nevertheless a half-dozen
ants appeared on the foot-strands, nervously twiddling their antennæ
in my direction. Their appraisal was brief; with no more than a
second's delay they started toward me. I waited until they were well
on their way, then vigorously twanged the cords under them harpwise,
sending all the scouts into mid-air and headlong down among their
fellows. So far as I know, this was a revolutionary maneuver in
military tactics, comparable only to the explosion of a set mine. But
even so, when the last of this brigade had gone on their menacing,
pitiless way, and the danger had passed to a new province, I could not
help thinking of the certain, inexorable fate of a man who, unable to
move from his hammock or to make any defense, should be thus exposed
to their attack. There could be no help for him if but one of this
great host should scent him out and carry the word back to the rank
and file.

It was after this army had been lost in the black shadows of the
forest floor, that I remembered those others who had come with
them--those attendant birds of prey who profit by the evil work of
this legion. For, hovering over them, sometimes a little in advance,
there had been a flying squadron of antbirds and others which had come
to feed, not on the ants, but on the insects which had been
frightened into flight. At one time, three of these dropped down to
perch on my hammock, nervous, watchful, and alert, waiting but a
moment before darting after some ill-fated moth or grasshopper which,
in its great panic, had escaped one danger only to fall an easy victim
to another. For a little while, the twittering and chirping of these
camp-followers, these feathered profiteers, was brought back to me on
the wind; and when it had died away, I took up my work again in a
glade in which no voice of insect reached my ears. The hunting ants
had done their work thoroughly.

And so it comes about that by day or by night the hammock carries with
it its own reward to those who have learned but one thing--that there
is a chasm between pancakes and truffles. It is an open door to a new
land which does not fail of its promise, a land in which the prosaic,
the ordinary, the everyday have no place, since they have been
shouldered out, dethroned, by a new and competent perspective. The god
of hammocks is unfailingly kind, just, and generous to those who have
found pancakes wanting and have discovered by inspiration, or
what-not, that truffles do not grow in back-yards to be served at
early breakfast by the maid-of-all-work. Which proves, I believe, that
a mere bed may be a block in the path of philosophy, a commonplace,
and that truffles and hammocks--hammocks unquestionably--are twin
doors to the land of romance.

The swayer in hammocks may find amusement and may enrich science by
his record of observations; his memory will be more vivid, his caste
the worthier, for the intimacy with wild things achieved when swinging
between earth and sky, unfettered by mattress or roof.



X

A TROPIC GARDEN


Take an automobile and into it pile a superman, a great evolutionist,
an artist, an ornithologist, a poet, a botanist, a photographer, a
musician, an author, adorable youngsters of fifteen, and a tired
business man, and within half an hour I shall have drawn from them
superlatives of appreciation, each after his own method of emotional
expression--whether a flood of exclamations, or silence. This is no
light boast, for at one time or another, I have done all this, but in
only one place--the Botanical Gardens of Georgetown, British Guiana.
As I hold it sacrilege to think of dying without again seeing the Taj
Mahal, or the Hills from Darjeeling, so something of ethics seems
involved in my soul's necessity of again watching the homing of the
herons in these tropic gardens at evening.

In the busy, unlovely streets of the waterfront of Georgetown, one is
often jostled; in the markets, it is often difficult at times to make
one's way; but in the gardens a solitary laborer grubs among the
roots, a coolie woman swings by with a bundle of grass on her head,
or, in the late afternoon, an occasional motor whirrs past. Mankind
seems almost an interloper, rather than architect and owner of these
wonder-gardens. His presence is due far more often to business, his
transit marked by speed, than the slow walking or loitering which real
appreciation demands.

A guide-book will doubtless give the exact acreage, tell the mileage
of excellent roads, record the date of establishment, and the number
of species of palms and orchids. But it will have nothing to say of
the marvels of the slow decay of a Victoria Regia leaf, or of the
spiral descent of a white egret, or of the feelings which Roosevelt
and I shared one evening, when four manatees rose beneath us. It was
from a little curved Japanese bridge, and the next morning we were to
start up-country to my jungle laboratory. There was not a ripple on
the water, but here I chose to stand still and wait. After ten minutes
of silence, I put a question and Roosevelt said, "I would willingly
stand for two days to catch a good glimpse of a wild manatee." And
St. Francis heard, and, one after another, four great backs slowly
heaved up; then an ill-formed head and an impossible mouth, with the
unbelievable harelip, and before our eyes the sea-cows snorted and
gamboled.

Again, four years later, I put my whole soul into a prayer for
manatees, and again with success. During a few moments' interval of a
tropical downpour, I stood on the same little bridge with Henry
Fairfield Osborn. We had only half an hour left in the tropics; the
steamer was on the point of sailing; what, in ten minutes, could be
seen of tropical life! I stood helpless, waiting, hoping for anything
which might show itself in this magic garden, where to-day the foliage
was glistening malachite and the clouds a great flat bowl of oxidized
silver.

The air brightened, and a tree leaning far across the water came into
view. On its under side was a long silhouetted line of one and twenty
little fish-eating bats, tiny spots of fur and skinny web, all so much
alike that they might well have been one bat and twenty shadows.

A small crocodile broke water into air which for him held no moisture,
looked at the bats, then at us, and slipped back into the world of
crocodiles. A cackle arose, so shrill and sudden, that it seemed to
have been the cause of the shower of drops from the palm-fronds; and
then, on the great leaves of the Regia, which defy simile, we
perceived the first feathered folk of this single tropical
glimpse--spur-winged jacanas, whose rich rufus and cool lemon-yellow
no dampness could deaden. With them were gallinules and small green
herons, and across the pink mist of lotos blossoms just beyond, three
egrets drew three lines of purest white--and vanished. It was not at
all real, this onrush of bird and blossom revealed by the temporary
erasing of the driven lines of gray rain.

Like a spendthrift in the midst of a winning game, I still watched
eagerly and ungratefully for manatees. Kiskadees splashed rather than
flew through the drenched air, an invisible black witch bubbled
somewhere to herself, and a wren sang three notes and a trill which
died out in a liquid gurgle. Then came another crocodile, and finally
the manatees. Not only did they rise and splash and roll and
indolently flick themselves with their great flippers, but they stood
upright on their tails, like Alice's carpenter's companion, and one
fondled its young as a water-mamma should. Then the largest stretched
up as far as any manatee can ever leave the water, and caught and
munched a drooping sprig of bamboo. Watching the great puffing lips,
we again thought of walruses; but only a caterpillar could emulate
that sideways mumbling--the strangest mouth of any mammal. But from
behind, the rounded head, the shapely neck, the little baby manatee
held carefully in the curve of a flipper, made legends of mermaids
seem very reasonable; and if I had been an early _voyageur_, I should
assuredly have had stories to tell of mer-kiddies as well. As we
watched, the young one played about, slowly and deliberately, without
frisk or gambol, but determinedly, intently, as if realizing its duty
to an abstract conception of youth and warm-blooded mammalness.

The earth holds few breathing beings stranger than these manatees.
Their life is a slow progression through muddy water from one bed of
lilies or reeds to another. Every few minutes, day and night, year
after year, they come to the surface for a lungful of the air which
they must have, but in which they cannot live. In place of hands they
have flippers, which paddle them leisurely along, which also serve to
hold the infant manatee, and occasionally to scratch themselves when
leeches irritate. The courtship of sea-cows, the qualities which
appeal most to their dull minds, the way they protect the callow
youngsters from voracious crocodiles, how or where they sleep--of all
this we are ignorant. We belong to the same class, but the line
between water and air is a no man's land which neither of us can pass
for more than a few seconds.

When their big black hulks heaved slowly upward, it brought to my mind
the huge glistening backs of elephants bathing in Indian streams; and
this resemblance is not wholly fantastic. Not far from the oldest
Egyptian ruins, excavations have brought to light ruins millions of
years more ancient--the fossil bones of great creatures as strange as
any that live in the realm of fairyland or fiction. Among them was
revealed the ancestry of elephants, which was also that of manatees.
Far back in geological times the tapir-like Moeritherium, which
wandered through Eocene swamps, had within itself the prophecy of two
diverse lines. One would gain great tusks and a long, mobile trunk and
live its life in distant tropical jungles; and another branch was to
sink still deeper into the swamp-water, where its hind-legs would
weaken and vanish as it touched dry land less and less. And here
to-day we watched a quartette of these manatees, living contented
lives and breeding in the gardens of Georgetown.

The mist again drifted its skeins around leaf and branch, gray things
became grayer, drops formed in mid-air and slipped slowly through
other slower forming drops, and a moment later rain was falling
gently. We went away, and to our mind's eye the manatees behind that
gray curtain still munch bamboos, the spur-wings stretch their
colorful wings cloudward, and the bubble-eyed crocodiles float
intermittently between two watery zones.

To say that these are beautiful botanical gardens is like the
statement that sunsets are admirable events. It is better to think of
them as a setting, focusing about the greatest water-lily in the
world, or, as we have seen, the strangest mammal; or as an exhibit of
roots--roots as varied and as exquisite as a hall of famous sculpture;
or as a wilderness of tapestry foliage, in texture from cobweb to
burlap; or as a heaven-roofed, sun-furnaced greenhouse of blossoms,
from the tiniest of dull-green orchids to the fifty-foot spike of
taliput bloom. With this foundation of vegetation recall that the
Demerara coast is a paradise for herons, egrets, bitterns, gallinules,
jacanas, and hawks, and think of these trees and foliage, islands and
marsh, as a nesting and roosting focus for hundreds of such birds.
Thus, considering the gardens indirectly, one comes gradually to the
realization of their wonderful character.

The Victoria Regia has one thing in common with a volcano--no amount
of description or of colored plates prepares one for the plant itself.
In analysis we recall its dimensions, colors, and form. Standing by a
trench filled with its leaves and flowers, we discard the records of
memory, and cleansing the senses of pre-impressions, begin anew. The
marvel is for each of us, individually, an exception to evolution; it
is a special creation, like all the rainbows seen in one's life--a
thing to be reverently absorbed by sight, by scent, by touch, absorbed
and realized without precedent or limit. Only ultimately do we find it
necessary to adulterate this fine perception with definitive words and
phrases, and so attempt to register it for ourselves or others.

I have seen many wonderful sights from an automobile,--such as my
first Boche barrage and the tree ferns of Martinique,--but none to
compare with the joys of vision from prehistoric _tikka gharries_,
ancient victorias, and aged hacks. It was from the low curves of these
equine rickshaws that I first learned to love Paris and Calcutta and
the water-lilies of Georgetown. One of the first rites which I perform
upon returning to New York is to go to the Lafayette and, after
dinner, brush aside the taxi men and hail a victoria. The last time I
did this, my driver was so old that two fellow drivers, younger than
he and yet grandfatherly, assisted him, one holding the horse and the
other helping him to his seat. Slowly ascending Fifth Avenue close to
the curb and on through Central Park is like no other experience. The
vehicle is so low and open that all resemblance to bus or taxi is
lost. Everything is seen from a new angle. One learns incidentally
that there is a guild of cab-drivers--proud, restrained, jealous. A
hundred cars rush by without notice. Suddenly we see the whip brought
up in salute to the dingy green top-hat, and across the avenue we
perceive another victoria. And we are thrilled at the discovery, as
if we had unearthed a new codex of some ancient ritual.

And so, initiated by such precedent, I have found it a worthy thing to
spend hours in decrepit cabs loitering along side roads in the
Botanical Gardens, watching herons and crocodiles, lilies and
manatees, from the rusty leather seats. At first the driver looked at
me in astonishment as I photographed or watched or wrote; but later he
attended to his horse, whispering strange things into its ears, and
finally deserted me. My writing was punctuated by graceful flourishes,
resulting from an occasional lurch of the vehicle as the horse stepped
from one to another patch of luscious grass.

Like Fujiyama, the Victoria Regia changes from hour to hour,
color-shifted, wind-swung, and the mechanism of the blossoms never
ceasing. In northern greenhouses it is nursed by skilled gardeners,
kept in indifferent vitality by artificial heat and ventilation, with
gaged light and selected water; here it was a rank growth, in its
natural home, and here we knew of its antiquity from birds whose toes
had been molded through scores of centuries to tread its great
leaves.

In the cool fragrance of early morning, with the sun low across the
water, the leaves appeared like huge, milky-white platters, with now
and then little dancing silhouettes running over them. In another
slant of light they seemed atolls scattered thickly through a dark,
quiet sea, with new-blown flowers filling the whole air with
slow-drifting perfume. Best of all, in late afternoon, the true colors
came to the eye--six-foot circles of smooth emerald, with up-turned
hem of rich wine-color. Each had a tell-tale cable lying along the
surface, a score of leaves radiating from one deep hidden root.

Up through mud and black trench-water came the leaf, like a tiny fist
of wrinkles, and day by day spread and uncurled, looking like the
unwieldy paw of a kitten or cub. The keels and ribs covering the
under-side increased in size and strength, and finally the great leaf
was ironed out by the warm sun into a mighty sheet of smooth, emerald
chlorophyll. Then, for a time,--no one has ever taken the trouble to
find out how long,--it was at its best, swinging back and forth at its
moorings with deep upright rim, a notch at one side revealing the
almost invisible seam of the great lobes, and serving, also, as
drainage outlet for excess of rain.

A young leaf occasionally came to grief by reaching the surface amid
several large ones floating close together. Such a leaf expanded, as
usual, but, like a beached boat, was gradually forced high and dry,
hardening into a distorted shape and sinking only with the decay of
the underlying leaves.

The deep crimson of the outside of the rim was merely a reflection
tint, and vanished when the sun shone directly through; but the masses
of sharp spines were very real, and quite efficient in repelling
boarders. The leaf offered safe haven to any creature that could leap
or fly to its surface; but its life would be short indeed if the
casual whim of every baby crocodile or flipper of a young manatee met
with no opposition.

Insects came from water and from air and called the floating leaf
home, and, from now on, its surface was one of the most interesting
and busy arenas in this tropical landscape.

In late September I spread my observation chair at the very edge of
one of the dark tarns and watched the life on the leaves. Out at the
center a fussy jacana was feeding with her two spindly-legged babies,
while, still nearer, three scarlet-helmeted gallinules lumbered about,
now and then tipping over a silvery and black infant which seemed
puzzled as to which it should call parent. Here was a clear example,
not only of the abundance of life in the tropics, but of the keen
competition. The jacana invariably lays four eggs, and the gallinule,
at this latitude, six or eight, yet only a fraction of the young had
survived even to this tender age.

As I looked, a small crocodile rose, splashed, and sank, sending
terror among the gallinules, but arousing the spur-wing jacana to a
high pitch of anger. It left its young and flew directly to the
widening circles and hovered, cackling loudly. These birds have ample
ability to cope with the dangers which menace from beneath; but their
fear was from above, and every passing heron, egret, or harmless hawk
was given a quick scrutiny, with an instinctive crouch and half-spread
wings.

But still the whole scene was peaceful; and as the sun grew warmer,
young herons and egrets crawled out of their nests on the island a few
yards away and preened their scanty plumage. Kiskadees splashed and
dipped along the margin of the water. Everywhere this species seems
seized with an aquatic fervor, and in localities hundreds of miles
apart I have seen them gradually desert their fly-catching for surface
feeding, or often plunging, kingfisher-like, bodily beneath, to emerge
with a small wriggling fish--another certain reflection of
overpopulation and competition.

As I sat I heard a rustle behind me, and there, not eight feet away,
narrow snout held high, one tiny foot lifted, was that furry fiend,
Rikki-tikki. He was too quick for me, and dived into a small clump of
undergrowth and bamboos. But I wanted a specimen of mongoose, and the
artist offered to beat one end of the bush. Soon I saw the gray form
undulating along, and as the rustling came nearer, he shot forth,
moving in great bounds. I waited until he had covered half the
distance to the next clump and rolled him over. Going back to my
chair, I found that neither jacana, nor gallinules, nor herons had
been disturbed by my shot.

While the introduction of the mongoose into Guiana was a very
reckless, foolish act, yet he seems to be having a rather hard time of
it, and with islands and lily-pads as havens, and waterways in every
direction, Rikki is reduced chiefly to grasshoppers and such small
game. He has spread along the entire coast, through the cane-fields
and around the rice-swamps, and it will not be his fault if he does
not eventually get a foothold in the jungle itself.

No month or day or hour fails to bring vital changes--tragedies and
comedies--to the network of life of these tropical gardens; but as we
drive along the broad paths of an afternoon, the quiet vistas show
only waving palms, weaving vultures, and swooping kiskadees, with
bursts of color from bougainvillea, flamboyant, and queen of the
flowers. At certain times, however, the tide of visible change swelled
into a veritable bore of life, gently and gradually, as quiet waters
become troubled and then pass into the seething uproar of rapids. In
late afternoon, when the long shadows of palms stretched their
blue-black bars across the terra-cotta roads, the foliage of the green
bamboo islands was dotted here and there with a scattering of young
herons, white and blue and parti-colored. Idly watching them through
glasses, I saw them sleepily preening their sprouting feathers, making
ineffectual attempts at pecking one another, or else hunched in
silent heron-dream. They were scarcely more alive than the creeping,
hour-hand tendrils about them, mere double-stemmed, fluffy petaled
blossoms, no more strange than the nearest vegetable blooms--the
cannon-ball mystery, the sand-box puzzle, sinister orchids, and the
false color-alarms of the white-bracted silver-leaf. Compared with
these, perching herons are right and seemly fruit.

As I watched them I suddenly stiffened in sympathy, as I saw all
vegetable sloth drop away and each bird become a detached individual,
plucked by an electric emotion from the appearance of a thing of sap
and fiber to a vital being of tingling nerves. I followed their united
glance, and overhead there vibrated, lightly as a thistledown, the
first incoming adult heron, swinging in from a day's fishing along the
coast. It went on and vanished among the fronds of a distant island;
but the calm had been broken, and through all the stems there ran a
restless sense of anticipation, a zeitgeist of prophetic import. One
felt that memory of past things was dimming, and content with present
comfort was no longer dominant. It was the future to which both the
baby herons and I were looking, and for them realization came quickly.
The sun had sunk still lower, and great clouds had begun to spread
their robes and choose their tints for the coming pageant.

And now the vanguard of the homing host appeared,--black dots against
blue and white and salmon,--thin, gaunt forms with slow-moving wings
which cut the air through half the sky. The little herons and I
watched them come--first a single white egret, which spiralled down,
just as I had many times seen the first returning Spad eddy downward
to a cluster of great hump-backed hangars; then a trio of tricolored
herons, and six little blues, and after that I lost count. It seemed
as if these tiny islands were magnets drawing all the herons in the
world.

Parrakeets whirl roostwards with machine-like synchronism of flight;
geese wheel down in more or less regular formation; but these herons
concentrated along straight lines, each describing its individual
radius from the spot where it caught its last fish or shrimp to its
nest or the particular branch on which it will spend the night. With a
hemicircle of sufficient size, one might plot all of the hundreds upon
hundreds of these radii, and each would represent a distinct line, if
only a heron's width apart.

At the height of the evening's flight there were sometimes fifty
herons in sight at once, beating steadily onward until almost
overhead, when they put on brakes and dropped. Some, as the little
egrets, were rather awkward; while the tricolors were the most
skilful, sometimes nose-diving, with a sudden flattening out just in
time to reach out and grasp a branch. Once or twice, when a fitful
breeze blew at sunset, I had a magnificent exhibition of aeronautics.
The birds came upwind slowly, beating their way obliquely but
steadily, long legs stretched out far behind the tail and swinging
pendulum-like whenever a shift of ballast was needed. They apparently
did not realize the unevenness of the wind, for when they backed air,
ready to descend, a sudden gust would often undercut them and over
they would go, legs, wings, and neck sprawling in mid-air. After one
or two somersaults or a short, swift dive, they would right
themselves, feathers on end, and frantically grasp at the first leaf
or twig within reach. Panting, they looked helplessly around,
reorientation coming gradually.

At each arrival, a hoarse chorus went up from hungry throats, and
every youngster within reach scrambled wildly forward, hopeful of a
fish course. They received but scant courtesy and usually a vicious
peck tumbled them off the branch. I saw a young bird fall to the
water, and this mishap was from no attack, but due to his tripping
over his own feet, the claws of one foot gripping those of the other
in an insane clasp, which overbalanced him. He fell through a thin
screen of vines and splashed half onto a small Regia leaf. With neck
and wings he struggled to pull himself up, and had almost succeeded
when heron and leaf sank slowly, and only the bare stem swung up
again. A few bubbles led off in a silvery path toward deeper water,
showing where a crocodile swam slowly off with his prey.

For a time the birds remained still, and then crept within the
tangles, to their mates or nests, or quieted the clamor of the young
with warm-storage fish. How each one knew its own offspring was beyond
my ken, but on three separate evenings scattered through one week, I
observed an individual, marked by a wing-gap of two lost feathers,
come, within a quarter-hour of six o'clock, and feed a great awkward
youngster which had lost a single feather from each wing. So there
was no hit-or-miss method--no luck in the strongest birds taking toll
from more than two of the returning parents.

Observing this vesper migration in different places, I began to see
orderly segregation on a large scale. All the smaller herons dwelt
together on certain islands in more or less social tolerance; and on
adjoining trees, separated by only a few yards, scores of hawks
concentrated and roosted, content with their snail diet, and wholly
ignoring their neighbors. On the other side of the gardens, in
aristocratic isolation, was a colony of stately American egrets,
dainty and graceful. Their circumference of radiation was almost or
quite a circle, for they preferred the ricefields for their daily
hunting. Here the great birds, snowy white, with flowing aigrettes,
and long, curving necks, settled with dignity, and here they slept and
sat on their rough nests of sticks.

When the height of homing flight of the host of herons had passed, I
noticed a new element of restlessness, and here and there among the
foliage appeared dull-brown figures. There occurred the comic
explanation of white herons who had crept deep among the branches,
again emerging in house coat of drab! These were not the same,
however, and the first glance through binoculars showed the thick-set,
humped figures and huge, staring eyes of night herons.

As the last rays of the sun left the summit of the royal palms,
something like the shadow of a heron flashed out and away, and then
the import of these facts was impressed upon me. The egret, the night
heron, the vampire--here were three types of organisms, characterizing
the actions and reactions in nature. The islands were receiving and
giving up. Their heart was becoming filled with the many day-feeding
birds, and now the night-shift was leaving, and the very branch on
which a night heron might have been dozing all day was now occupied,
perhaps, by a sleeping egret. With eyes enlarged to gather together
the scanty rays of light, the night herons were slipping away in the
path of the vampires--both nocturnal, but unlike in all other ways.
And I wondered if, in the very early morning, infant night herons
would greet their returning parents; and if their callow young ever
fell into the dark waters, what awful deathly alternates would night
reveal; or were the slow-living crocodiles sleepless, with cruel eyes
which never closed so soundly but that the splash of a young night
heron brought instant response?



XI

THE BAY OF BUTTERFLIES


Butterflies doing strange things in very beautiful ways were in my
mind when I sat down, but by the time my pen was uncapped my thoughts
had shifted to rocks. The ink was refractory and a vigorous flick sent
a shower of green drops over the sand on which I was sitting, and as I
watched the ink settle into the absorbent quartz--the inversions of
our grandmothers' blotters--I thought of what jolly things the lost
ink might have been made to say about butterflies and rocks, if it
could have flowed out slowly in curves and angles and dots over
paper--for the things we might have done are always so much more
worthy than those which we actually accomplish. When at last I began
to write, a song came to my ears and my mind again looped backward. At
least, there came from the very deeps of the water beyond the
mangroves a low, metallic murmur; and my Stormouth says that in
Icelandic _sangra_ means to murmur. So what is a murmur in Iceland
may very well be a song in Guiana. At any rate, my pen would have to
do only with words of singing catfish; yet from butterflies to rock,
to fish, all was logical looping--mental giant-swings which came as
relaxation after hours of observation of unrelated sheer facts.

The singing cats, so my pen consented to write, had serenaded me while
I crossed the Cuyuni in a canoe. There arose deep, liquid, vibrating
sounds, such as those I now heard, deep and penetrating, as if from
some submarine gong--a gong which could not be thought of as wet, for
it had never been dry. As I stopped paddling the sound became absolute
vibration, the canoe itself seemed to tremble, the paddle tingled in
my hands. It was wholly detached; it came from whatever direction the
ear sought it. Then, without dying out, it was reinforced by another
sound, rhythmical, abrupt, twanging, filling the water and air with a
slow measure on four notes. The water swirled beside the canoe, and a
face appeared--a monstrous, complacent face, such as Böcklin would
love--a face inhuman in possessing the quality of supreme contentment.
Framed in the brown waters, the head of the great, grinning catfish
rose, and slowly sank, leaving outlines discernible in ripples and
bubbles with almost Cheshire persistency. One of my Indians, passing
in his dugout, smiled at my peering down after the fish, and murmured,
"Boom-boom."

Then came a day when one of these huge, amiable, living smiles
blundered into our net, a smile a foot wide and six feet long, and
even as he lay quietly awaiting what fate brought to great catfish, he
sang, both theme and accompaniment. His whole being throbbed with the
continuous deep drumming as the thin, silky walls of his swim-bladder
vibrated in the depths of his body. The oxygen in the air was slowly
killing him, and yet his swan song was possible because of an inner
atmosphere so rich in this gas that it would be unbreathable by a
creature of the land. Nerve and muscle, special expanse of circling
bones, swim-bladder and its tenuous gas--all these combined to produce
the aquatic harmony. But as if to load this contented being with
largesse of apparently useless abilities, the two widespreading fin
spines--the fins which correspond to our arms--were swiveled in
rough-ridged cups at what might have been shoulders, and when moved
back and forth the stridulation troubled all the water, and the air,
too, with the muffled, twanging, _rip_, _rip_, _rip_, _rip_. The two
spines were tuned separately, the right being a full tone lower, and
the backward drawing of the bow gave a higher note than its forward
reach. So, alternately, at a full second tempo, the four tones rose
and fell, carrying out some strange Silurian theme: a muffled cadence
of undertones, which, thrilled with the mystery of their author and
cause, yet merged smoothly with the cosmic orchestra of wind and
ripples and distant rain.

So the great, smooth, arching lift of granite rocks at our bungalow's
shore, where the giant catfish sang, was ever afterward Boom-boom
Point. And now I sat close by on the sand and strove to think anew of
my butterflies, for they were the reason of my being there that
brilliant October afternoon. But still my pen refused, hovering about
the thing of ultimate interest as one leaves the most desired book to
the last. For again the ear claimed dominance, and I listened to a new
little refrain over my shoulder. I pictured a tiny sawhorse, and a
midget who labored with might and main to cut through a never-ending
stint of twigs. I chose to keep my image to the last, and did not
move or look around, until there came the slightest of tugs at my
knee, and into view clambered one of those beings who are so beautiful
and bizarre that one almost thinks they should not be. My second
singer was a beetle--an awkward, enormous, serious, brilliant beetle,
with six-inch antennæ and great wing covers, which combined the hues
of the royal robes of Queen Thi, tempered by thousands of years of
silent darkness in the underground tombs at Sakhara, with the grace of
curve and angle of equally ancient characters on the hill tombs of
Fokien. On a background of olive ochre there blazed great splashes and
characters of the red of jasper framed in black. Toward the front
Nature had tried heavy black stippling, but it clouded the pattern and
she had given it up in order that I might think of Egypt and Cathay.

But the thing which took the beetle quite out of a world of reasonable
things was his forelegs. They were outrageous, and he seemed to think
so, too, for they got in his way, and caught in wrong things and
pulled him to one side. They were three times the length of his other
limbs, spreading sideways a full thirteen inches, long, slender,
beautifully sculptured, and forever reaching out in front for
whatever long-armed beetles most desire. And his song, as he climbed
over me, was squeaky and sawlike, and as he walked he doddered, head
trembling as an old man's shakes in final acquiescence in the futility
of life.

But in this great-armed beetle it was a nodding of necessity, a
doddering of desire, the drawing of the bow across the strings in a
hymn of hope which had begun in past time with the first stridulation
of ancient insects. To-day the fiddling vibrations, the Song of the
Beetle, reached out in all directions. To the majority of jungle ears
it was only another note in the day's chorus: I saw it attract a
flycatcher's attention, hold it a moment, and then lose it. To me it
came as a vitally interesting tone of deep significance, for whatever
emotions it might arouse in casual ears, its goal was another
Great-armed Beetle, who might or might not come within its radius.
With unquestioning search the fiddler clambered on and on, over me and
over flowers and rocks, skirting the ripples and vanishing into a
maelstrom of waving grass. Long after the last awkward lurch, there
came back zizzing squeaks of perfect faith, and I hoped, as I passed
beyond the periphery of sound, that instinct and desire might direct
their rolling ball of vibrations toward the one whose ear, whether in
antenna, or thorax or femoral tympanum had, through untold numbers of
past lives, been attuned to its rhythm.

Two thousand miles north of where I sat, or ten million, five hundred
and sixty thousand feet (for, like Bunker Bean's book-keeper, I
sometimes like to think of things that way), I would look out of the
window one morning in days to come, and thrill at the sight of falling
flakes. The emotion would very probably be sentiment--the memory of
wonderful northland snowstorms, of huge fires, of evenings with
Roosevelt, when discussions always led to unknowable fields, when book
after book yielded its phrase or sentence of pure gold thought. On one
of the last of such evenings I found a forgotten joy-of-battle-speech
of Huxley's, which stimulated two full days and four books
re-read--while flakes swirled and invisible winds came swiftly around
the eaves over the great trophies--_poussant des soupirs_,--we longing
with our whole souls for an hour of talk with that splendid old
fighting scientist.

These are thoughts which come at first-snow, thoughts humanly narrow
and personal compared to the later delights of snow itself--crystals
and tracks, the strangeness of freezing and the mystery of melting.
And they recurred now because for days past I had idly watched
scattered flurries of lemon-yellow and of orange butterflies drift
past Kartabo. Down the two great Guiana rivers they came, steadily
progressing, yet never hurrying; with zigzag flickering flight they
barely cleared the trees and shrubs, and then skimmed the surface,
vanishing when ripples caught the light, redoubled by reflection when
the water lay quiet and polished. For month after month they passed,
sometimes absent for days or weeks, but soon to be counted at earliest
sunup, always arousing renewed curiosity, always bringing to mind the
first flurry of winter.

We watch the autumn passing of birds with regret, but when the
bluebirds warble their way southward we are cheered with the hope and
the knowledge that some, at least, will return. Here, vast stretches
of country, perhaps all Guiana, and how much of Brazil and Venezuela
no one knows, poured forth a steady stream of yellow and orange
butterflies. They were very beautiful and they danced and flickered
in the sunlight, but this was no temporary shifting to a pleasanter
clime or a land of more abundant flowers, but a migration in the grim
old sense which Cicero loved, _non dubitat_ ... _migrare de vita_. No
butterfly ever turned back, or circled again to the glade, with its
yellow cassia blooms where he had spent his caterpillarhood. Nor did
he fly toward the north star or the sunset, but between the two.
Twelve years before, as I passed up the Essequibo and the Cuyuni, I
noticed hundreds of yellow butterflies each true to his little compass
variation of NNW.

There are times and places in Guiana where emigrating butterflies turn
to the north or the south; sometimes for days at a time, but sooner or
later the eddies straighten out, their little flotillas cease tacking,
and all swing again NNW.

To-day the last of the migration stragglers of the year--perhaps the
fiftieth great-grandsons of those others--held true to the Catopsilian
lodestone.

My masculine pronouns are intentional, for of all the thousands and
tens of thousands of migrants, all, as far as I know, were males.
Catch a dozen yellows in a jungle glade and the sexes may be equal.
But the irresistible maelstrom impels only the males. Whence they come
or why they go is as utterly unknown to us as why the females are
immune.

Once, from the deck of a steamer, far off the Guiana coast, I saw
hosts of these same great saffron-wings flying well above the water,
headed for the open sea. Behind them were sheltering fronds, nectar,
soft winds, mates; before were corroding salt, rising waves, lowering
clouds, a storm imminent. Their course was NNW, they sailed under
sealed orders, their port was Death.

Looking out over the great expanse of the Mazaruni, the fluttering
insects were usually rather evenly distributed, each with a few yards
of clear space about it, but very rarely--I have seen it only twice--a
new force became operative. Not only were the little volant beings
siphoned up in untold numbers from their normal life of sleeping,
feeding, dancing about their mates, but they were blindly poured into
an invisible artery, down which they flowed in close association,
_véritables corpuscules de papillons_, almost touching, forming a
bending ribbon, winding its way seaward, with here and there a
temporary fraying out of eddying wings. It seemed like a wayward
cloud still stained with last night's sunset yellow, which had set out
on its own path over rivers and jungles to join the sea mists beyond
the uttermost trees.

Such a swarm seemed imbued with an ecstasy of travel which surpassed
discomfort. Deep cloud shadows might settle down, but only dimmed the
painted wings; under raindrops the ribbon sagged, the insects flying
closer to the water. On the other hand, the scattered hosts of the
more ordinary migrations, while they turned neither to the north nor
to the west, yet fled at the advent of clouds and rain, seeking
shelter under the nearest foliage. So much loitering was permitted,
but with the coming of the sun again they must desert the pleasant
feel of velvet leaves, the rain-washed odors of streaming blossoms,
and set their antennæ unquestioningly upon the strange last turn of
their wheel of life.

What crime of ancestors are they expiating? In some forgotten
caterpillardom was an act committed, so terrible that it can never be
known, except through the working out of the karma upon millions of
butterflies? Or does there linger in the innumerable little ganglion
minds a memory of long-lost Atlantis, so compelling to masculine
Catopsilias that the supreme effort of their lives is an attempt to
envisage it? "Absurd fancies, all," says our conscious entomological
sense, and we agree and sweep them aside. And then quite as readily,
more reasonable scientific theories fall asunder, and we are left at
last alone with the butterflies, a vast ignorance, and a great
unfulfilled desire to know what it all means.

On this October day the migration of the year had ceased. To my coarse
senses the sunlight was of equal intensity, the breeze unchanged, the
whole aspect the same--and yet something as intangible as thought, as
impelling as gravitation, had ceased to operate. The tension once
slackened, the butterflies took up their more usual lives. But what
could I know of the meaning of "normal" in the life of a butterfly--I
who boasted a miserable single pair of eyes and no greater number of
legs, whose shoulders supported only shoulder blades, and whose youth
was barren of caterpillarian memories!

As I have said, migration was at an end, yet here I had stumbled upon
a Bay of Butterflies. No matter whether one's interest in life lay
chiefly with ornithology, teetotalism, arrowheads, politics, botany,
or finance, in this bay one's thoughts would be sure to be
concentrated on butterflies. And no less interesting than the
butterflies were their immediate surroundings. The day before, I had
sat close by on a low boulder at the head of the tiny bay, with not a
butterfly in sight. It occurred to me that my ancestor, Eryops, would
have been perfectly at home, for in front of me were clumps of
strange, carboniferous rushes, lacking leaves and grace, and sedges
such as might be fashioned in an attempt to make plants out of green
straw. Here and there an ancient jointed stem was in blossom, a
pinnacle of white filaments, and hour after hour there came little
brown trigonid visitors, sting-less bees, whose nests were veritable
museums of flower extracts--tubs of honey, hampers of pollen, barrels
of ambrosia, hoarded in castles of wax. Scirpus-sedge or orchid, all
was the same to them.

All odor evaded me until I had recourse to my usual olfactory crutch,
placing the flower in a vial in the sunlight. Delicate indeed was the
fragrance which did not yield itself to a few minutes of this
distillation. As I removed the cork there gently arose the scent of
thyme, and of rose petals long pressed between the leaves of old, old
books--a scent memorable of days ancient to us, which in past lives of
sedges would count but a moment. In an instant it passed, drowned in
the following smell of bruised stem. But I had surprised the odor of
this age-old growth, as evanescent as the faint sound of the breeze
sifting through the cluster of leafless stalks. I felt certain that
Eryops, although living among horserushes and ancient sedges, never
smelled or listened to them, and a glow of satisfaction came over me
at the thought that perhaps I represented an advance on this funny old
forebear of mine; but then I thought of the little bees, drawn from
afar by the scent, and I returned to my usual sense of human futility,
which is always dominant in the presence of insect activities.

I leaned back, crowding into a crevice of rock, and strove to realize
more deeply the kinship of these fine earth neighbors. Bone of my bone
indeed they were, but their quiet dignity, their calmness in storm and
sun, their poise, their disregard of all small, petty things, whether
of mechanics, whether chemical or emotional--these were attributes to
which I could only aspire, being the prerogatives of superiors.

These rocks, in particular, seemed of the very essence of earth. Three
elements fought over them. The sand and soil from which they lifted
their splendid heads sifted down, or was washed up, in vain effort to
cover them. More subtly dead tree trunks fell upon them, returned to
earth, and strove to encloak them. For six hours at a time the water
claimed them, enveloping them slowly in a mantle of quicksilver, or
surging over with rough waves. Algal spores took hold, desmids and
diatoms swam in and settled down, little fish wandered in and out of
the crevices, while large ones nosed at the entrances.

Then Mother Earth turned slowly onward; the moon, reaching down,
beckoned with invisible fingers, and the air again entered this no
man's land. Breezes whispered where a few moments before ripples had
lapped; with the sun as ally, the last remaining pool vanished and
there began the hours of aerial dominion. The most envied character of
our lesser brethren is their faith. No matter how many hundreds of
thousands of tides had ebbed and flowed, yet to-day every pinch of
life which was blown or walked or fell or flew to the rocks during
their brief respite from the waves, accepted the good dry surface
without question.

Seeds and berries fell, and rolled into hollows rich in mulcted earth;
parachutes, buoyed on thistle silk, sailed from distant jungle plants;
every swirl of breeze brought spores of lichens and moss, and even the
retreating water unwittingly aided, having transported hither and
dropped a cargo of living things, from tiniest plant to seeds of
mightiest mora. Though in the few allotted hours these might not
sprout, but only quicken in their heart, yet blue-winged wasps made
their faith more manifest, and worked with feverish haste to gather
pellets of clay and fashion cells. I once saw even the beginning of
storage--a green spider, which an hour later was swallowed by a
passing fish instead of nourishing an infant wasp.

Spiders raised their meshes where shrimps had skipped, and flies
hummed and were caught by singing jungle vireos, where armored catfish
had passed an hour or two before.

So the elements struggled and the creatures of each strove to fulfil
their destiny, and for a little time the rocks and I wondered at it
together.

In this little arena, floored with sand, dotted with rushes and
balconied with boulders, many hundreds of butterflies were gathered.
There were five species, all of the genius _Catopsilia_, but only
three were easily distinguishable in life, the smaller, lemon yellow
_statira_, and the larger, orange _argente_ and _philea_. There was
also _eubele_, the migrant, keeping rather to itself.

I took some pictures, then crept closer; more pictures and a nearer
approach. Then suddenly all rose, and I felt as if I had shattered a
wonderful painting. But the sand was a lodestone and drew them down. I
slipped within a yard, squatted, and mentally became one of them.
Silently, by dozens and scores, they flew around me, and soon they
eclipsed the sand. They were so closely packed that their outstretched
legs touched. There were two large patches, and a smaller area
outlined by no boundary that I could detect. Yet when these were
occupied the last comers alighted on top of the wings of their
comrades, who resented neither the disturbance nor the weight. Two
layers of butterflies crammed into small areas of sand in the midst
of more sand, bounded by walls of empty air--this was a strange thing.

A little later, when I enthusiastically reported it to a professional
lepidopterist he brushed it aside. "A common occurrence the world
over, Rhopalocera gathered in damp places to drink." I, too, had
observed apparently similar phenomena along icy streams in Sikkim, and
around muddy buffalo-wallows in steaming Malay jungles. And I can
recall many years ago, leaning far out of a New England buggy to watch
clouds of little sulphurs flutter up from puddles beneath the creaking
wheels.

The very fact that butterflies chose to drink in company is of intense
interest, and to be envied as well by us humans who are temporarily
denied that privilege. But in the Bay of Butterflies they were not
drinking, nor during the several days when I watched them. One of the
chosen patches of sand was close to the tide when I first saw them,
and damp enough to appease the thirst of any butterfly. The other two
were upon sand, parched by hours of direct tropical sun, and here the
two layers were massed.

The insects alighted, facing in any direction, but veered at once,
heading upbreeze. Along the riverside of markets of tropical cities I
have seen fleets of fishing boats crowded close together, their gay
sails drying, while great ebony Neptunes brought ashore baskets of
angel fish. This came to mind as I watched my flotillas of
butterflies.

I leaned forward until my face was hardly a foot from the outliers,
and these I learned to know as individuals. One sulphur had lost a bit
of hind wing, and three times he flew away and returned to the same
spot. Like most cripples, he was unamiable, and resented a close
approach, pushing at the trespasser with a foreleg in a most
unbutterfly-like way. Although I watched closely, I did not see a
single tongue uncoiled for drinking. Only when a dense group became
uneasy and pushed one another about were the tongue springs slightly
loosened. Even the nervous antennæ were quiet after the insects had
settled. They seemed to have achieved a Rhopaloceran Nirvana, content
to rest motionless until caught up in the temporary whirlwinds of
restlessness which now and then possessed them.

They came from all directions, swirling over the rocks, twisting
through nearby brambles, and settling without a moment's hesitation.
It was as though they had all been here many times before, a
rendezvous which brooked not an instant's delay. From time to time
some mass spirit troubled them, and, as one butterfly, the whole
company took to wing. Close as they were when resting, they fairly
buffeted one another in mid-air. Their wings, striking one another and
my camera and face, made a strange little rustling, crisp and
crackling whispers of sounds. As if a pile of Northern autumn leaves,
fallen to earth, suddenly remembered days of greenness and humming
bees, and strove to raise themselves again to the bare branches
overhead.

Down came the butterflies again, brushing against my clothes and eyes
and hands. All that I captured later were males, and most were fresh
and newly emerged, with a scattering of dimmed wings, frayed at edges,
who flew more slowly, with less vigor. Finally the lower patch was
washed out by the rising tide, but not until the water actually
reached them did the insects leave. I could trace with accuracy the
exact reach of the last ripple to roll over the flat sand by the
contour of the remaining outermost rank of insects.

On and on came the water, and soon I was forced to move, and the
hundreds of butterflies in front of me. When the last one had left I
went away, returning two hours later. It was then that I witnessed the
most significant happening in the Bay of Butterflies--one which shook
to the bottom the theory of my lepidopterist friend, together with my
thoughtless use of the word normal. Over two feet of restless brown
water covered the sand patches and rocked the scouring rushes. A few
feet farther up the little bay the remaining sand was still exposed.
Here were damp sand, sand dotted with rushes, and sand dry and white
in the sun. About a hundred butterflies were in sight, some
continually leaving, and others arriving. Individuals still dashed
into sight and swooped downward. But not one attempted to alight on
the exposed sand. There was fine, dry sand, warm to a butterfly's
feet, or wet sand soaked with draughts of good Mazaruni water. But
they passed this unheeding, and circled and fluttered in two swarms,
as low as they dared, close to the surface of the water, exactly over
the two patches of sand which had so drawn and held them or their
brethren two hours before. Whatever the ultimate satisfaction may
have been, the attraction was something transcending humidity,
aridity, or immediate possibility of attainment. It was a definite
cosmic point, a geographical focus, which, to my eyes and
understanding, was unreasonable, unsuitable, and inexplicable.

As I watched the restless water and the butterflies striving to find a
way down through it to the only desired patches of sand in the world,
there arose a fine, thin humming, seeping up through the very waves,
and I knew the singing catfish were following the tide shoreward. And
as I considered my vast ignorance of what it all meant, of how little
I could ever convey of the significance of the happenings in the Bay
of Butterflies, I felt that it would have been far better for all of
my green ink to have trickled down through the grains of sand.



XII

SEQUELS


Tropical midges of sorts live less than a day--sequoias have felt
their sap quicken at the warmth of fifteen hundred springs. Somewhere
between these extremes, we open our eyes, look about us for a time and
close them again. Modern political geography and shifts of government
give us Methusalistic feelings--but a glance at rocks or stars sends
us shuddering among the other motes which glisten for a moment in the
sunlight and then vanish.

We who strive for a little insight into evolution and the meaning of
things as they are, forever long for a glimpse of things as they were.
Here at my laboratory I wonder what the land was like before the dense
mat of vegetation came to cover every rock and grain of sand, or how
the rivers looked when first their waters trickled to the sea.

All our stories are of the middles of things,--without beginning or
end; we scientists are plunged suddenly upon a cosmos in the full
uproar of eons of precedent, unable to look ahead, while to look
backward we must look down.

Exactly a year ago I spent two hours in a clearing in the jungle back
of Kartabo laboratory, and let my eyes and ears have full swing.[2]
Now in August of the succeeding year I came again to this clearing,
and found it no more a clearing. Indeed so changed was it, that for
weeks I had passed close by without a thought of the jungle meadow of
the previous year, and now, what finally turned me aside from my usual
trail, was a sound. Twelve months ago I wrote, "From the monotone of
under-world sounds a strange little rasping detached itself, a
reiterated, subdued scraping or picking. It carried my mind instantly
to the throbbing theme of the Niebelungs, onomatopoetic of the little
hammers forever busy in their underground work. I circled a small bush
at my side, and found that the sound came from one of the branches
near the top; so with my glasses I began a systematic search." This
was as far as I ever got, for a flock of parrakeets exploded close at
hand and blew the lesser sound out of mind. If I had stopped to guess
I would probably have considered the author a longicorn beetle or some
fiddling orthopter.

[Footnote 2: See page 34.]

Now, a year later, I suddenly stopped twenty yards away, for at the
end of the silvery cadence of a woodhewer, I heard the low, measured,
toneless rhythm which instantly revived to mind every detail of the
clearing. I was headed toward a distant palm frond beneath whose tip
was a nest of Rufous Hermits, for I wished to see the two atoms of
hummingbirds at the moment when they rolled from their _petit pois_
egg-shells. I gave this up for the day and turned up the hill, where
fifty feet away was the stump and bush near which I had sat and
watched. Three times I went past the place before I could be certain,
and even at the last I identified it only by the relative position of
the giant tauroneero tree, in which I had shot many cotingas. The
stump was there, a bit lower and more worn at the crevices, leaking
sawdust like an overloved doll--but the low shrub had become a tall
sapling, the weeds--vervain, boneset, velvet-leaf--all had been topped
and killed off by dense-foliaged bushes and shrubs, which a year
before had not raised a leaf above the meadow level. The old vistas
were gone, the landscape had closed in, the wilderness was shutting
down. Nature herself was "letting in the jungle." I felt like Rip Van
Winkle, or even more alien, as if the passing of time had been
accelerated and my longed-for leap had been accomplished, beyond the
usual ken of mankind's earthly lease of senses.

All these astounding changes had come to pass through the heat and
moisture of a tropical year, and under deliberate scientific
calculation there was nothing unusual in the alteration. I remembered
the remarkable growth of one of the laboratory bamboo shoots during
the rainy season--twelve and a half feet in sixteen days, but that was
a single stem like a blade of grass, whereas here the whole landscape
was altered--new birds, new insects, branches, foliage, flowers, where
twelve short months past, was open sky above low weeds.

In the hollow root on the beach, my band of crane-flies had danced for
a thousand hours, but here was a sound which had apparently never
ceased for more than a year--perhaps five thousand hours of daylight.
It was a low, penetrating, abruptly reiterated beat, occurring about
once every second and a half, and distinctly audible a hundred feet
away. The "low bush" from which it proceeded last year, was now a
respectable sapling, and the source far out of reach overhead. I
discovered a roundish mass among the leaves, and the first stroke of
the ax sent the rhythm up to once a second, but did not alter the
timbre. A few blows and the small trunk gave way and I fled for my
life. But there was no angry buzzing and I came close. After a
cessation of ten or fifteen seconds the sound began again, weaker but
steady. The foliage was alive with small Azteca ants, but these were
tenants of several small nests near by, and at the catastrophe overran
everything.

The largest structure was the smooth carton nest of a wasp, a
beautiful species, pale yellowish-red with wine-colored wings. Only
once did an individual make an attempt to sting and even when my head
was within six inches, the wasps rested quietly on the broken combs.
By careful watching, I observed that many of the insects jerked the
abdomen sharply downward, butting the comb or shell of smooth paper a
forceful blow, and producing a very distinct noise. I could not at
first see the mass of wasps which were giving forth the major rhythm,
as they were hidden deep in the nest, but the fifty-odd wasps in
sight kept perfect time, or occasionally an individual skipped one or
two beats, coming in regularly on every alternate or every third beat.
Where they were two or three deep, the uppermost wasps struck the
insects below them with their abdomens in perfect rhythm with the nest
beat. For half an hour the sound continued, then died down and was not
heard again. The wasps dispersed during the night and the nest was
deserted.

It reminded me of the telegraphing ants which I have often heard in
Borneo, a remarkable sweeping roll, caused by the host of insects
striking the leaves with their heads, and produced only when they are
disturbed. It appeared to be of the nature of a warning signal, giving
me opportunity to back away from the stinging legions which filled the
thicket against which I pushed.

The rhythm of these wasps was very different. They were peaceable, not
even resenting the devastation of their home, but always and always
must the inexplicable beat, beat, beat, be kept up, serving some
purpose quite hidden from me. During succeeding months I found two
more nests, with similar fetish of sound vibrations, which led to
their discovery. From one small nest, which fairly shook with the
strength of their beats, I extracted a single wasp and placed him in a
glass-topped, metal box. For three minutes he kept up the rhythmic
beat. Then I began a more rapid tattoo on the bottom of the box, and
the changed tempo confused him, so that he stopped at once, and would
not tap again.

A few little Mazaruni daisies survived here and there, blossoming
bravely, trying to believe that the shade was lessening, and not daily
becoming more dense. But their leaves were losing heart, and paling in
the scant light. Another six months and dead leaves and moss would
have obliterated them, and the zone of brilliant flowers and gorgeous
butterflies and birds would shift many feet into the air, with the
tops of the trees as a new level.

As long as I remained by my stump my visitors were of the jungle. A
yellow-bellied trogon came quite close, and sat as trogons do, very
straight and stiff like a poorly mounted bird, watching passing
flycatchers and me and the glimpses of sky. At first he rolled his
little cuckoo-like notes, and his brown mate swooped up, saw me,
shifted a few feet farther off and perched full of curiosity, craning
her neck and looking first with one eye, then the other. Now the male
began a content song. With all possible variations of his few and
simple tones, on a low and very sweet timbre, he belied his unoscine
perch in the tree of bird life, and sang to himself. Now and then he
was drowned out by the shrilling of cicadas, but it was a delightful
serenade, and he seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. A few days
before, I had made a careful study of the syrinx of this bird, whom we
may call rather euphoniously _Trogonurus curucui_, and had been struck
by the simplicity both of muscles and bones. Now, having summoned his
mate in regular accents, there followed this unexpected whisper song.
It recalled similar melodies sung by pheasants and Himalayan
partridges, usually after they had gone to roost.

Once the female swooped after an insect, and in the midst of one of
the sweetest passages of the male trogon, a green grasshopper shifted
his position. He was only two inches away from the singer, and all
this time had been hidden by his chlorophyll-hued veil. And now the
trogon fairly fell off the branch, seizing the insect almost before
the tone died away. Swallowing it with considerable difficulty, the
harmony was taken up again, a bit throaty for a few notes. Then the
pair talked together in the usual trogon fashion, and the sudden
shadow of a passing vulture, drew forth discordant cat calls, as both
birds swooped from sight to avoid the fancied hawk.

A few minutes later the vocal seal of the jungle was uttered by a
quadrille bird. When the notes of this wren are heard, I can never
imagine open, blazing sunshine, or unobstructed blue sky. Like the
call of the wood pewee, the wren's radiates coolness and shadowy
quiet. No matter how tropic or breathless the jungle, when the
flute-like notes arise they bring a feeling of freshness, they arouse
a mental breeze, which cools one's thoughts, and, although there may
be no water for miles, yet we can fairly hear the drip of cool drops
falling from thick moss to pools below. First an octave of two notes
of purest silver, then a varying strain of eight or ten notes, so
sweet and powerful, so individual and meaningful that it might stand
for some wonderful motif in a great opera. I shut my eyes, and I was
deaf to all other sounds while the wren sang. And as it dwelt on the
last note of its phrase, a cicada took it up on the exact tone, and
blended the two final notes into a slow vibration, beginning gently
and rising with the crescendo of which only an insect, and especially
a cicada, is master. Here was the eternal, hypnotic tom-tom rhythm of
the East, grafted upon supreme Western opera. For a time my changed
clearing became merely a sounding box for the most thrilling of jungle
songs. I called the wren as well as I could, and he came nearer and
nearer. The music rang out only a few yards away. Then he became
suspicious, and after that each phrase was prefaced by typical wren
scolding. He could not help but voice his emotions, and the harsh
notes told plainly what he thought of my poor imitation. Then another
feeling would dominate, and out of the maelstrom of harshness, of
tumbled, volcanic vocalization would rise the pure silver stream of
single notes.

The wren slipped away through the masses of fragrant Davilla blossoms,
but his songs remained and are with me to this moment. And now I
leaned back, lost my balance, and grasping the old stump for support,
loosened a big piece of soft, mealy wood. In the hollow beneath, I
saw a rainbow in the heart of the dead tree.

This rainbow was caused by a bug, and when we stop to think of it,
this shows how little there is in a name. For when we say bug, or for
that matter bogy or bugbear, we are garbling the sound which our very,
very forefathers uttered when they saw a specter or hobgoblin. They
said it _bugge_ or even _bwg_, but then they were more afraid of
specters in those days than we, who imprison will-o'-the-wisps in Very
lights, and rub fox-fire on our watch faces. At any rate here was a
bug who seemed to ill-deserve his name, although if the Niblelungs
could fashion the Rheingold, why could not a bug conceive a rainbow?

Whenever a human, and especially a house-human thinks of bugs, she
thinks unpleasantly and in superlatives. And it chances that
evolution, or natural selection, or life's mechanism, or fate or a
creator, has wrought them into form and function also in superlatives.
Cicadas are supreme in longevity and noise. One of our northern
species sucks in silent darkness for seventeen years, and then, for a
single summer, breaks all American long-distance records for insect
voices. To another group, known as Fulgorids, gigantic heads and
streamers of wax have been allotted. Those possessing the former
rejoice in the name of Lantern Flies, but they are at present
unfaithful vestal bugs, though it is extremely doubtful if their wicks
were ever trimmed or lighted. To see a big wax bug flying with
trailing ribbons slowly from tree to tree in the jungle is to recall
the streaming trains of a flock of peacocks on the wing.

The membracids must of all deserve the name of "bugges" for no elf or
hobgoblin was ever more bizarre. Their legs and heads and bodies are
small and aphid-like, but aloft there spring minarets and handles and
towers and thorns and groups of hairy balls, out of all reason and
sense. Only Stegosaurus and Triceratops bear comparison. Another group
of five-sided bugs are the skunks and civet-cats among insects,
guarding themselves from danger by an aura of obnoxious scent.

Not the least strange of this assemblage is the author of our rainbow
in the stump. My awkwardness had broken into a hollow which opened to
the light on the other side of the rotten bole. A vine had tendriled
its way into the crevice where the little weaver of rainbows had
found board and lodging. We may call him toad-hopper or spittle-bug,
or as Fabre says, "_Contentons-nous de Cicadelle, qui respecte le
tympan._" Like all of its kindred, the Bubble Bug finds Nirvana in a
sappy green stem. It has neither strong flight, nor sticky wax, thorny
armature nor gas barrage, so it proceeds to fashion an armor of
bubbles, a cuirass of liquid film. This, in brief, was the rainbow
which caught my eye when I broke open the stump. Up to that moment no
rainbow had existed, only a little light sifting through from the
vine-clad side. But now a ray of sun shattered itself on the pile of
bubbles, and sprayed itself out into a curved glory.

Bubble Bugs blow their froth only when immature, and their bodies are
a distillery or home-brew of sorts. No matter what the color, or
viscosity or chemical properties of sap, regardless of whether it
flows in liana, shrub, or vine, yet the Bug's artesian product is
clear, tasteless and wholly without the possibility of being blown
into bubbles. When a large drop has collected, the tip of the abdomen
encloses a retort of air, inserts this in the drop and forces it out.
In some way an imponderable amount of oil or dissolved wax is
extruded and mixed with the drop, an invisible shellac which toughens
the bubble and gives it an astounding glutinous endurance. As long as
the abdominal air-pump can be extended into the atmosphere, so long
does the pile of bubbles grow until the insect is deep buried, and to
penetrate this is as unpleasant an achievement for small marauders as
to force a cobweb entanglement. I have draped a big pile of bubbles
around the beak of an insect-eating bird, and watched it shake its
head and wipe its beak in evident disgust at the clinging oily films.
In the north we have the bits of fine white foam which we
characteristically call frog-spittle, but these tropic relatives have
bigger bellows and their covering is like the interfering mass of
films which emerges from the soap-bubble bowl when a pipe is thrust
beneath the surface and that delicious gurgling sound produced.

The most marvelous part of the whole thing is that the undistilled
well which the Bubble Bug taps would often overwhelm it in an instant,
either by the burning acidity of its composition, or the rubber
coating of death into which it hardens in the air. Yet with this
current of lava or vitriol, our Bug does three wonderful things, it
distills sweet water for its present protective cell of bubbles, it
draws purest nourishment for continual energy to run its bellows and
pump, and simultaneously it fills its blood and tissues with a pungent
flavor, which in the future will be a safeguard against the attacks of
birds and lizards. Little by little its wings swell to full spread and
strength, muscles are fashioned in its hind legs, which in time will
shoot it through great distances of space, and pigment of the most
brilliant yellow and black forms on its wing covers. When at last it
shuts down its little still and creeps forth through the filmy veil,
it is immature no longer, but a brilliant frog-hopper, sitting on the
most conspicuous leaves, trusting by pigmental warning to advertise
its inedibility, and watchful for a mate, so that the future may hold
no dearth of Bubble Bugs.

On my first tramp each season in the tropical jungle, I see the
legionary army 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 according to
Kingdom. The former, with carnivorous, voracious, nervous, vitally
active members, seems an intangible, animal-like organism; while the
stolid, vegetarian, unemotional, weather-swung Attas, resemble the
flowing sap of the food on which they subsist--vegetable.

Yet, whatever the simile, 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.
One year and a half ago I studied and reported upon, a nest of Ecitons
or army ants.[3] Now, eighteen months later, apparently the same army
appeared and made a similar nest of their own bodies, in the identical
spot near the door of the outhouse, where I had found them before.
Again we had to break up the temporary colony, and killed about
three-quarters of the colony with various deadly chemicals.

[Footnote 3: See page 58.]

In spite of all 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 of 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, 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 pupæ torn from their cells
and rushed down the stems to the chaos which was raging in Eciton's
own home. The wasps could guard against optical discovery, but the
blind Ecitons 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 following morning I started out 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 outhouse. 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 outhouse 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-quarter 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. Along the same route came the tiny Phorid flies, wingless
but swift as shadows, rushing from side to side, over ants, leaves,
débris, impatient only at the slowness of the army.

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 which he had traversed perhaps fifteen times: the masters
of the jungle had become their own mental prey.

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 outhouse, 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 super-mind of its Mentor lay the
foundation of another army, and again come to nest in my outhouse?

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 Betelgeuze,
of Amoeba or--of ourselves? _Vogue la galère!_



APPENDIX OF SCIENTIFIC NAMES


Page  Line

  4   26  Moriche Oriole; _Icterus chrysocephalus_ (Linné)

  8   10  Toad; _Bufo guttatus Schneid_.

 18    3  Bat; _Furipterus horrens_ (F. Cuv.)

       4  Large Bats; _Vampyrus spectrum_ (Linné)

       6  Vampire Bats; _Desmodus rotundus_ (Geoff.)

 22    5  Giant Catfish, Boom-boom; _Doras granulosus_ Valen.

 23    5  Kiskadee; _Pitangus s. sulphuratus_ (Linné)

 25   26  Parrakeets; _Touit batavica_ (Bodd.)

      26  Great Black Orioles; _Ostinops d. decumanus_ (Pall.)

 26    5  House Wrens; _Troglodytes musculus clarus_ Berl. and Hart

 29    5  Coati-mundi; _Nasua n. nasua_ (Linné)

 32    2  Frog; _Phyllomedusa_ sp.

 34   18  Mazaruni Daisies; _Sipanea pratensis_ Aubl.

      20  Button Weed; _Spermacoce_ sp.

 36   23  Melancholy Tyrant; _Tyrannus  melancholicus satrapa_
            (Cab. and Hein.)

 37    2  Monarch; _Anosia plexippus_ (Linné)

 38    7  Red-breasted Blue Chatterer; _Cotinga cotinga_ Linné

      18  Yellow Papilio; _Papilio thoas_ Linné

 49   26  Parrakeets; _Touit batavica_ (Bodd.)

 52    3  Purple-throated Cotinga; _Cotinga cayana_ (Linné)

 53   15  Dark-breasted Mourner; _Lipaugus simplex_ Licht.

 54   26  Toucans; _Ramphastus vitellinus_ Licht.

 59    6  White-fronted Ant-bird; _Pithys albifrons_ (Linné)

 60   16  Army Ants; _Eciton burchelli_ Westwood

 97   10  Great Green Kingfisher; _Chloroceryle amazona_ (Lath.)

      11  Tiny Emerald Kingfisher; _Chloroceryle americana_ (Gmel.)

103   25  Gecko; _Thecadactylus rapicaudus_ (Houtt.)

109    8  Howling Monkeys; _Alouatta seniculus macconnelli_ Elliot

113    7  Bower Bird; _Ptilonorhynchus violaceus_ (Vieill.)

116   24  Cassava; _Janipha manihot_ Kth.

126   20  Frog, Gawain; _Phyllomedusa_ sp.

132   17  Marine Toad; _Bufo marinus_ (Linné)

133    8  Scarlet-thighed Leaf-walker; _Phyllobates inguinalis_.

149    2  Attas, Leaf-cutting Ants; _Atta cephalotes_ (Fab.)

151   12  Fruit Bats; _Vampyrus spectrum_ (Linné)

152   11  King Vulture; _Gypagus papa_ (Linné)

      11  Harpy Eagle; _Harpia harpyja_ (Linné)

163    3  Ani; _Crotophaga ani_ Linné

       7  Marine Toad; _Bufo marinus_ (Linné)

164   19  White-faced Opossum; _Metachirus o. opossum_ (Linné)

173    1  Attas, Leaf-cutting Ants; _Atta cephalotes_ (Fab.)

       5  Hummingbird; _Phoethornis r. ruber_ (Linné)

174    7  Tamandua; _Tamandua t. tetradactyla_ (Linné)

175    1  Trogon; _Trogon s. strigilatus_ (Linné)

       9  Tarantula Hawks; _Pepsis_ sp.

181   17  Cicada larvæ; _Quesada gigas_ Oliv.

182    5  Roaches; _Attaphila_ sp.

231   26  Manatee; _Trichechus manatus_ Linné

232   24  Crocodile; _Caiman sclerops_ (Schneid.)

233    6  Jacana; _Jacana j. jacana_ (Linné)

       8  Gallinule; _Ionornis martinicus_ (Linné)

       9  Green Herons; _Butorides striata_ Linné

      10  Egrets; _Leucophoyx t. thula_ (Molina)

233   17  Kiskadees; _Pitangus sulphuratus_ (Linné)

      19  Black Witch; _Crotophaga ani_ (Linné)

      19  House Wren; _Troglodytes musculus clarus_ Berl. and Hart

      22  Manatee; _Trichechus manatus_ (Linné)

242    1  Jacana; _Jacana j. jacana_ (Linné)

       3  Gallinule; _Ionornis martinicus_ (Linné)

243   15  Mongoose; _Mungos mungo_ (Gmel.)

246   11  Little Egret; _Leucophoyx t. thula_ (Molina)

      14  Tri-colored Heron; _Hydranassa tricolor_ (P. L. S. Mull.)

      15  Little Blue Heron; _Florida c. caerulea_ (Linné)

249   14  White Egret; _Casmerodius egretta_ (Gmel.)

250   10  Night Heron; _Nyctanassa violacea cayennensis_ (Linné)

254    1  Giant Catfish, Boom-boom; _Doras granulosus_ Valen.

256    6  Long-armed Beetle; _Acrocinus longimanus_ (Linné)

276   10  Rufus Hummingbird; _Phoethornis r. ruber_ (Linné)

278   16  Tapping Wasp; _Synoeca irina_ Spinola

280   10  Mazaruni Daisy; _Sipanea pratensis_ Aubl.

      21  Trogons; _Trogonurus c. curucui_ (Linné)

282   10  Quadrille  Bird;  _Leucolepis  musica  musica_ (Bodd.)

284    3  Bubble Bugs; _Cercopis ruber_

289   16  Army Ants; _Eciton burchelli_ Westwood



INDEX


A

_Acrocinus longimanus_, 255-258

Allamander, 121

_Alouatta seniculus macconnelli_, 109

Ani, 163, 233

_Anosia plexippus_, 37

Antbirds, white-fronted, 59, 227

Antlions, 27, 28

Ants, Army, 58, 60, 154, 282, 289;
  attack on wasps, 290;
  circular marching of, 291-294;
  cleaning of, 79-81;
  cleaning of ground, 77;
  crippled, 70, 71, 81, 82;
  enemies, 72;
  foraging lines, 64;
  guests, 88, 292;
  labor, division of, 67;
  larvæ, 87;
  nest, 59-61, 74, 83, 289;
  nest entrance, 74;
  observing, methods of, 63;
  odor, 62, 64;
  parasites, 292;
  prey of, 67;
  rain, reaction to, 65, 66;
  refuse heaps, 77, 78;
  scavengers of nest piles, 78;
  speed of, 68, 69, 292;
  spinning, 84-86;
  vitality, 69

Ants, _Azteca_, 278

Ants, Borneo telegraph, 279

Ants, Leaf-cutting, 7, 152, 173, 289;
  at home, 172, 194;
  attack, method of guarding against, 177;
  attack, method of, 177-179;
  battle of giant soldiers, 168-171;
  castes, 166;
  enemies, 162-163;
  flight of kings and queens, 185-188;
  fungus, 180, 181;
  gardens, fungus, 179-181, 189;
  instinct, 190-192;
  leaf-chewing in nest, 180;
  leaves, carrying, 158-162;
  leaves, method of cutting, 158;
  name, origin of, 156;
  nest, 172;
  nest, foundation of, 152, 153, 189, 190;
  parasites, external, 176;
  paths, 163-165;
  queen, 152, 153;
  queens, young, in nest, 185;
  raids on garden, 154-155;
  scavengers of nest, 176;
  speed of, 165-166;
  soldier, description of, 177-178;
  trails, 163-165;
  visitors at nest, 174-176;
  worker, description of, 156, 157

_Attaphila_, 182-185

Attas. See Ants, Leaf-cutting.

_Atta cephalotes_, 155, 173


B

Bamboos, 9, 13, 23-25

Bats, 17-19

Bats, fruit, 151

Bats, vampire, 4, 18-21, 111, 208

Beach, Jungle, 90-111

Beena, 118

Bees, 35-37, 175

Beetle, 23

Beetle, Histerid, 292

Beetle, long-armed, 256-258

Beetle, rove, 72-73

Beetle, Staphylinid, 292

Beetle, water, in roots, 103

Boom-boom, 22, 252-255

Botanical Gardens, 122

Bower Bird, Purple, 113

Bougainvillia, 121

Boviander, flowers of, 120

_Bufo guttatus_, 8

_Bufo marinus_, 132, 163

Bugs, bubble, 284-288

Bugs, doodle, 28

_Butorides striata_, 233

Butterfly, 37, 125

Butterfly, beryl and jasper, 42

Butterfly, migrating, 259-263

Butterfly, Monarch, 37

Butterfly, Morpho, 51

Butterfly, Social gathering of, 268-273

Butterfly, Yellow papilio, 38

Button weed, 34


C

_Caiman sclerops_, 232

Caladium, 118

Casareep, 117

Cashew trees, 4

_Casmerodius egretta_, 249

Cassava, 116

Cassia, 44

Catfish, Giant. See Boom-boom, 22, 253, 254, 273

_Catopsilia_, species of, 268

_Cercopis ruber_, 284

_Cereus_, night blooming, 218

Chanties, 6

Chatterer, Red-breasted Blue, 38

_Chloroceryle amazona_, 97

Chloroceryle americana, 97

Cicada, 36, 37

Cicada, song of, 283

Cicada, larvæ. See _Quesada gigas_.

Clearing, Jungle, 34-57, 275

Clearing, after interval of year, 276

Coati-mundi, 29

Color, 53, 54

Convicts, 5, 7

Convicts, singing hymns, 109

_Cotinga cayana_, 52, 53

_Cotinga cotinga_, 38

Cotinga, Purple-throated, 52, 53

Cotton, Indian, 117

Cotton, Sea Island, 117

Crabs, in roots, 103

Crocodile, 232

_Crotophaga ani_, 163, 233

Cuyuni River, 9


D

Daisies, Mazaruni, 34, 280

Devilla blossoms, 283

Doodle-bugs, 28

_Doras granulosus_, 22, 254


E

Eagle, Harpy, 152

Eciton. See Army Ants

_Eciton burchelli_, 60, 289

Eggs, Butterfly, 41-43

Egrets, 233, 246, 249

_Ereops_, 264, 265


F

Fer-de-lance, 206

Flamboyant, 122

Flies, Chalcid, 292

Flies, Crane, in roots, 104-106

Flies, Phorid, 292

Flies, as scavengers, 78

_Florida c. caerulea_, 246

Flowers of boviander, 120

Flycatcher, Kiskadee, 23, 233

Flycatcher, Melancholy Tyrant, 36

Frangipani, 122

Frog,  Scarlet-thighed  Leaf-walker, 133

Frog, Tree, 32, 132

_Furipterus horrens_, 17, 18


G

Gallinule, 233, 242

Galis, 45-47

Garden, Akawai Indian, 115-119

Garden, Boviander, 120

Garden, Coolie and Negro, 120

Garden, Georgetown Botanical, 122, 230

Garden, Tropic, 230-251

Gawain, 31-33, 126

Gecko, 103, 104

Ghost, Kartabo, 25

God-birds, 26

Guests, Army Ant, 72

Guinevere, 123-148

_Gypagus papa_, 152


H

Hammocks, 195
  accident in, 204;
  capturing bats from, 218-220;
  Carib, 197, 198;
  environment and dangers, 200, 201;
  hummingbirds on, 223, 224;
  slinging of, 198, 199, 203, 209, 210;
  sounds and scents, 213-215;
  trapping from, 205, 206;
  watching army ants from, 225, 228;
  weaver-birds nesting on, 224

_Harpia harpyja_, 152

Herons, green, 233

Herons, little blue, 246

Herons, night, 250

Herons, rookery, 244-251

Herons, tricolored, 246

Hope, 16

Hummingbirds, 97, 174, 223, 276

Hyacinth, water, 121

_Hydranassa tricolor_, 246


I

_Icterus chrysocephalus_, 4

_Ionornis martinicus_, 233, 242


J

Jacana, 233, 242

_Jacana j. jacana_, 233, 242

_Janipha manihot_, 116


K

Kalacoon, 1

Kartabo, 1

Kartabo, history, 10-12

Kartabo, inmates, 21

Kartabo, morning at, 23

Kib, 29

Kibihée, 29

Kingfisher, Great Green, 97

Kingfisher, Tiny Emerald, 97

Kiskadee, 23, 233, 243

Kunami, 117

Kyk-over-al, 11, 12


L

_Leucolepis m. musica_, 282

_Leucophoyx t. thula_, 233, 246

Lilies, water, 121

_Lipaugus simplex_, 58

Lotus, 121


M

Manatee, 231-236

Martins, 4

"Mazacuni" River, 107

Mazaruni River, 9

_Metachirus o. opossum_, 164

Monarch Butterfly, 37

Mongoose, 248

Monkeys, 25

Monkeys, Howling, 109

Mosquitoes, 202, 211

Mourner, Dark-breasted, 53

_Mungos mungo_, 243


N

_Nasua n. nasua_, 29

Niebelungs, 49


O

Opossum, 164

Orchid, Toko-nook, 119

Oriole, Great Black, 25

Oriole, Moriche, 4

_Ostinops d. decumanus_, 25


P

Paddlers, 5

Palm, Cocoanut, 121

_Papilio thoas_, 38

Parasite, egg, 43, 44

Parrakeets, 25, 49-51

_Pepsis_, sp., 175

Pets, 28-33

_Phoethornis r. ruber_, 174, 276

_Phyllomedusa_, 32, 126

_Phyllomedusa bicolor_, 145

_Phyllobates inguinalis_, 133

_Pitangus s. sulphuratus_, 23, 233, 243

_Pithys albifrons_, 59

Piwari, 117

Pool, Jungle Rain, 126-132

_Ptilonorhynchus violaceus_, 113


Q

Quadrille Bird, 282, 283

_Quesada gigas_, 181


R

_Ramphastus vitellinus_, 54, 55

Roach, 182

Rocks, tidal, 265, 266

Roots, 98-106, 236

_Rozites gongylophora_, 181

Rushes, 264


S

Scorpions, 181

Sedges, Scirpus, 264, 265

Servants, negro, 14, 15

_Sipanea pratensis_, 34, 280

Snake, tree, in hammock, 201

_Spermacoce_ sp., 34

Springtails, in army ants' nest, 88

Striders, water, 129, 130

Sunrise, 107, 108

Swimming at night, 108-111

_Synoeca irina_, 278-280


T

Tadpoles, 127, 130-148

Tadpoles, colors of, 146, 147

Tadpoles, red-fins, 132, 133, 136, 139, 141, 144

Tadpoles, short-tailed blacks, 132, 138

Tamandua, 174

_Tamandua t. tetradactyla_, 174

Tanager, Blue, 111

Tarantula, 23

Tarantula Hawks, 175

Termites, 154, 162

_Thecadactylus rapicauda_, 103

_Thraupis episcopus_, 111

Tidal, area, ecology of, 266-268

Toad, 7, 8

Toad, Marine, 132, 163

Toko-nook, Orchid, 119

Toucans, 25, 54, 55, 56

_Touit batavica_, 25, 49

Tree, Fallen, 95

Tree, Prostrate, reactions of, 96, 97

Treetop, Fauna of, 95

_Trichechus manatus_, 231, 233

_Troglodytes musculus clarus_, 26, 233

Trogon, 175, 280-282

_Trogan s. strigilatus_, 175

_Trogonurus c. curucui_, 280

Tyrant, Melancholy, 36

_Tyrannus melancholicus satrapa_, 36


V

_Vampyrus spectrum_, 18

Vervain, 35

_Victoria regia_, 231, 237, 240, 241

Vulture, King, 152


W

Wasps, Ebony, 175

Wasps, Painted Nest, 289-291

Wasps, Tapping, 278-280

Wind, Voice of, 21

Witch, Black, 233

Wrens, House, 26, 27, 233

       *       *       *       *       *





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