J. Duffield.

Bert Wilson at the Wheel

A yell ended the sentence as a nip more vicious than usual brought Shorty to his feet, this time wide awake beyond all question. He cast one glance at the boys, who now made no pretence of restraint but roared with laughter. Then he saw the swarm of ants surrounding him and took in the situation. He tore his hat from his head, his coat from his shoulders, shook off his tormentors and spinning around like a dancing dervish, dashed off toward the brook. A moment later there was a splash and they heard Shorty blowing, spluttering, diving, rubbing, until finally he had rid himself of the swarms that clung closer to him than a brother.

At last he succeeded and came up the bank. Before resuming his clothes, he had to take each garment separately and search every seam and crease to make sure that not a single ant remained. Then he came back into the group like a raging lion. His temper never was any of the best, and the sudden awakening from sleep, the stings and ticklings of the invaders, and perhaps most of all, the unrestrained laughter of the boys had filled his cup to the brim. He saw red, as the saying is, and regardless of age and size was rushing toward the rest with doubled up fists and rage in his heart, when Dick caught him by the wrists and held him in his strong grasp until his fury had spent itself somewhat and he began to get control of himself.

Phil, said Dick he never called him Shorty, and at this moment that recollection helped to sober the struggling boy remember that the first duty of boy or man is to control his temper. The boys didnt mean any harm. It looked to them like a splendid joke, and perhaps we let it go a little too far. I am really to blame more than any one else because I am older and in charge of the squad. Im awfully sorry, Phil, and I beg your pardon.

The kindly tone and sincere apology were not lost on Phil, who was not without a sense of humor, which through all his anger began to struggle to the surface. The other boys, too, thoughtless and impulsive though they might be, were sound and kind at heart, and following Dicks example crowded about Phil and joined in the apology. The most flaming anger must melt before such expressions of regard and goodwill and Phil was at last compelled to smile sheepishly and say that it was all right.

Youre a sport, Phil, all right, called out Frank, and at this highest of commendations from a boys point of view, the last vestige of Phils resentment faded away.

Well, anyway, fellows, he said, I dont bear any grudge against you, but I am sure going to get even with those pesky ants. I never did care much for ants anyway. Ive been told so often to go to the ant, thou sluggard, that now Im going to them for fair, and what I do to them will be a plenty.

As he said this, he turned toward the ant hill as though to demolish it, but Dick put up a friendly hand:

No, Phil, said he, you wouldnt destroy a wonderful and beautiful palace, would you?

Palace, said Phil in amazement, thinking for a moment that Dick was stringing him.

What do you mean by that?

Just what I say, returned Dick; a wonderful and beautiful palace. There is a queen there and she walks about every day in state, surrounded by a throng of courtiers. There are princesses there that are taken out daily to get the air, accompanied by a governess, exactly as you have seen a group of boarding-school girls walking out with their teachers. Surrounding the palace is a city where there are hundreds of carpenters and farmers and sentinels and soldiers. If you waited round a while, you would see the farmers going out to milk their cows

At that point, Dick was interrupted by a roar of laughter that burst from every boy at once. They had listened in growing amazement that had rapidly become stupefaction, but this was really too much. What was the matter with Dick? Was it a joke, a parable, a fairy story? They might be kids all right, but there was a limit to everything, and when Dick talked of ants going out to milk the cows well! It was up to him to explain himself or prove his statement, and that they felt sure he could never do.

Dick waited good-naturedly while they pelted him with objections and plied him with questions. Then he took from his kit a strong magnifying glass and told them that he was going to prove to them all what he had said.

He laughs best who laughs last, he said, and I am going to show you that all I said is true. That is, he modified, I cannot prove everything just now, as I would have to destroy this wonderful palace if I were to try to show you how marvelous it is and how perfect in all its appointments. But what we dont see ourselves has been seen time and time again by hundreds of wise and truthful men, and their testimony is as strong as though it were given under oath in a court of law.

Well, said Frank, Im willing to take everything else on faith, but Im afraid Id have to see the milking done myself in order to believe it.

All right, said Dick, as it happens that is just the thing I can show you more easily than anything else.

The boys crowded eagerly around him.

The Ants Go Milking

You know, said Dick, as the boys threw themselves down at the side of the mound and looked at it with an entirely new interest, if these were African ants, you wouldnt be taking any such liberties with them. Instead of hanging around this mound you would be running away like all possessed. And if you didnt make tracks in a hurry the only thing left here would be your skeleton picked as clean as the one you saw the other day in old Dr. Sanfords office.

What? cried Jim, do you mean to say that I would run away from a little thing like an ant. Not on your life, I wouldnt.

Lets see, said Dick, youd run away from a boa-constrictor, wouldnt you?

Who wouldnt, retorted Jim.

Well, if youd run away from the boa-constrictor, and hed run away from the ants, where do you get any license to face the ants.

Do you mean to say that those monster snakes are afraid of such tiny things?

I should say they were, replied Dick, the ants go from place to place through the great African forest in countless numbers, millions at a time, a regular army of them. Nothing can stand before them. They strip every shrub, eat every blade of grass. They swarm over every living thing they find in their way. Sometimes they come across a snake unawares, and climb all over him. He squirms and twists and rushes away, trying to brush them off, against the bushes. At last he turns and bites frantically, but they never let up. They actually eat him alive, and in less than ten minutes they pass on leaving his bones picked clean as a whistle. The natives take their wives and children and flee for their lives whenever they see an army of ants approaching.

But that, of course, has nothing to do with these little American neighbors of ours. They are perfectly harmless and though they are fierce scrappers among themselves, inflict no injury on any one else. And there is nothing in the whole animal or insect world, except perhaps the bees, that have a society and government so much like that of men.

In one respect they are like their African brothers and that is in their fondness for travel. Every once in a while they make up their minds to emigrate and then they fly in swarms of millions

What? interrupted Frank, do you mean to say they fly? I never knew that an ant had wings.

Of course they have, said Dick, they often have to cross rivers to get to their new home. How could they do that without wings?

Oh, I dont know, hummed Shorty:

The bed bug has no wings at all
But he gets there just the same.

A rather severe glance from Dick quenched Phils exuberant spirits which had all come back to him since his ducking.

Now, continued Dick, these swarms are sometimes so vast that they darken the sun in certain localities. Men working on high buildings have been surrounded and almost blinded by them. While these emigrations last they are a bother, if not a peril, and the only ones that are really happy are the fish in the brooks and rivers over which they pass. Sometimes the surface is fairly black with them and the trout and little troutlings have the time of their lives. Once the flight is ended, however, and the new locality chosen, the wings disappear. Nature has no use for needless things and from that time on the air knows them no more. The carpenter ants get busy right away. The place is marked off as accurately as a surveyor marks out a plot in the suburbs of a city. The queen ant is given a royal room apart from all the others. She is a good mother and takes the best of care of her little ones. As they grow older, they in turn help the queen to care for their little brothers and sisters. They are excessively neat and clean in their personal habits. They spend hours preening and combing and cleaning until they are immaculate

Regular dudes, muttered Jim.

Well, said Tom, thats something that will never be laid up against you, Jim.

Jim, who indeed had a hard time keeping up to a high ideal of cleanliness, and whose hair was usually tumbled while his nails too often were draped in mourning, looked a little confused, and while he was thinking up something to hurl back at Tom, Dick went on.

There is one thing, however, about the ants that I dont admire. They like to get somebody else to do their work. A certain number of their own colony are hewers of wood and drawers of water for the rest. Indeed, the aristocrats among them get so lazy after a while that they will not even feed themselves. The workers not only have to hustle for the grub, but actually have to feed it to the lords and dukes. And talking of hustling for grub, just look here.

The boys followed the direction of Dicks finger, and there coming up a little beaten path they saw a procession of ants dragging along a big fat caterpillar. It had evidently put up a good fight, judging from the numbers that had been necessary to capture it, but they had proved too strong. A little convulsive movement showed that it was not yet quite dead, but it no longer made any resistance. The formic acid that the ants secrete had partly paralyzed it and made defence impossible. There was an almost comical disproportion between its large helpless bulk and the tiny size of its conquerors, but this was a case where numbers counted. The victors all pulled like good fellows and passing through one of the entrances of the mound finally dragged their booty into the inner cave.

Another thing, said Dick, when the keenly interested boys had again gathered about him, the red ants are slaveholders. When their working force has been weakened or diminished, they get a big army together and raid some colony of black ants a few hundred feet or yards distant in order to carry them away as slaves. There is nothing haphazard or slouchy about the way they go about it. Everything is arranged as carefully and precisely as in the case of an American or European power getting ready to go to war. At a given signal the troops come out and get in order of battle. There is perfect order and system everywhere. When there is a very large army, a sort of hum or buzz arises from it almost as though they were beating drums to inspire the soldiers for battle. They march forward in perfect time and dash upon the enemy with irresistible fury. The black ants through their scouts have been told of the enemys approach and have made all the preparation they can to beat them off. The infant ants, together with their household goods, have been tucked away in upper galleries where they can see the fight but not be in it.

Reserved seats as it were, murmured Frank.

The ants have two weapons. One is the nipper, that can cut off their enemys head as neatly as a pair of shears. Then they have the formic acid that, used against ants or other insects, has a poisonous quality. With both of these weapons they fight with the greatest desperation until victory declares for one side or the other. The red ants are usually victorious, as they are larger and stronger and more aggressive. In case they win, they carry away all the little ones of their black opponents and bring them up as slaves. They are treated kindly, and after a while seem to grow content and take their place as the humbler members of the community. After the battle is over the wounded ants are carried home by their companions and the dead are buried in a regular ants cemetery.

The boys had listened with a fascinated interest to these marvelous stories of life going on all around them and to which they had never given more than a passing thought.

Well, said Jim, it sure is the queerest thing I ever heard about. If anyone else but Dick had told me this I wouldnt have believed it.

Yes, said Tom, it certainly sounds like a fairy story.

What gets me, said Shorty, is that the queen seems to be the most important of the whole bunch. What about the king? It must be a regular suffragette colony.

Yes, replied Dick, in a certain sense it is. The males of the community dont amount to much. One by one their privileges are taken away from them. They even lose their wings before the females do. After they have taken their flight and safely escorted the queen to her future home they drop out of sight. Their wings fall off and in some cases are pulled off by the more ill-tempered females of the family. They hang around a little while and then drop out of sight altogether. Nobody seems to care what becomes of them. They cant even get back to the place from which they started. Their wings are gone and they cant walk. They remind me of the cat they are so different the cat came back the male ants cant.

Gee, said Jim, how do the rest get on without them?

Oh, replied Dick, they dont seem to mind the males at all. It takes away some of the conceit of the male sex when they see how easily one can get along without them.

Well, said Shorty, who was never partial to work, they at least get rid of a lot of trouble. How about the carpenter ants, the soldier ants, the foraging ants? Are they all females?

Every one of them, said Dick. It is a regular colony of Amazons.

It seems to me, said Shorty, that in all the bunch the queen is the only one who has a snap.

Dont you believe it, returned Dick, as a matter of fact, she is the hardest worker of all, that is, at the start. She is the busiest kind of a mother, brings up all the little ants, washing their faces, combing their hair

Oh, say, interrupted Shorty, arent you putting it a little bit too strong, Dick?

Not at all, said Dick; here, take up this ant and look at it through the magnifying glass.

Under the lens the boys, crowding around, saw that there, sure enough, was a fine silky down resembling very much the hair upon the human head.

Of course, said Dick, as in every other part of the animal or insect world, this only lasts for a little while. Men and women are the only creatures in the whole universe that stick by their children through thick and thin. There is no better mother than a cat, for instance, while the kittens are small and they need her help, but just as soon as they are able to shift for themselves, nothing more doing for Mrs. Cat. Out they go to hustle for their own living, and if some of the slower and lazier ones still hang around, the mothers claws soon give them a sharp reminder that it is time to be up and doing. The same is true of the birds. See how the mother bird sits brooding over her eggs. With what tender care she watches them while they are still unable to feed themselves. How the father bird scratches from morning to night to find worms to put down those scrawny little beaks. But after a while they, too, go to the edge of the nest, and with many a timid flutter stretch their wings and drop off the edge. And with the laggards, the parental beak is ready to push them off into the new world where they hustle for themselves. It is only a fellows father and mother that stand by him to the end. No matter how bad he is, how often he wrenches their hearts, how many times he has sinned and been forgiven and sinned again, the mother heart clings to him to the end. I tell you what, boys, you cant make too much of that father and mother of yours.

You bet, came in a responsive murmur from the boys.

Now, going back to the queen, said Dick, it sure does seem that after the kids have grown up shed have a dandy time. She is by far the biggest figure in the colony. The worker ants cant do too much for her. She has the finest room and the choicest food, and yet, after all, I suppose this becomes tiresome. It is just as it is with human queens. So many things are done for them, so much pomp and ceremony surrounds them, that no doubt they often sigh for freedom and would exchange their places with almost any of their subjects. They are something like a little girl that was a rich mans daughter. Her milk was pasteurized, the water she drank was sterilized, so that after a while her only thought was to grow big enough to do as she chose and the very first thing she was going to do was to eat a germ.

The boys laughed and Dick resumed.

It is almost pathetic to see the poor old queen going out for a walk. She moves in a perfect circle of courtiers. As long as she keeps in the middle she is all right, but the minute she strays to one side or attempts to go further, this surrounding group push her back. Sometimes they thrust their shoulders against her and at other times simply mass themselves in front of her, and even, at times, are undignified enough, if these hints are not sufficient, to take her by one of her antennae and lead her back into the center of the circle, for all the world like a mother taking home a naughty child by the ear. No, you can bet it is not all peaches and cream where the queen is concerned.

Well, said Shorty, only partly convinced, even if the queen has troubles of her own, it must be nice to be the aristocrat. Think of having nothing to do but just hang around and let the carpenter ants build your house and the farmer ants store up the grain and the foraging ants bring in the caterpillars and the soldier ants do the fighting.

No, said Dick, you are wrong again, Shorty. They do so little and become so dependent upon the work of others that after a while they seem to lose their faculties. They wander around in a crazy and feeble way, trying to kill time, I suppose, and after a while become so lazy and helpless that they cant even eat without help.

Cant eat! said Jim, whose appetite was a standing joke in camp; then no lords and dukes for me.

I really think, resumed Dick, that just as it is in human life, the workers are the lucky ones after all. There is something doing every minute. Their lives are full of interest. They are too busy to be unhappy. Dont make any mistake, fellows, work is the salvation of the world. The happiest are the busiest; the drones and sluggards are almost, without exception, the most miserable creatures on the face of the earth. If I were

But just at this moment a curious thing happened. The afternoon had worn on while the boys were talking, and so keen was their interest in the wonders that were being brought before their eyes that they had failed to realize how late it was. The ants had been wandering around in an aimless way that is, it seemed aimless to the boys, but doubtless they knew what they were about and had a definite object, even though the boys couldnt understand it. But now a sudden stir and bustle seemed to arouse the colony. From numerous gates the throng came forth with almost military order and precision.

Ah, said Dick, heres just the thing you want to see, boys. It is milking time and the ants are going to herd their cows. Now we will follow one of these lines and see just how they do it.

At a few feet distant from the mound there was a little shrub about three feet high, covered with foliage and with widely extended branches. The column of ants reached the foot of this, climbed it, and scattered among the branches.

The boys at a signal from Dick followed him softly, so that the ants might not be disturbed.

See, said Dick, gently taking hold of a branch that projected beyond the others, look through this magnifying glass.

One by one the boys stole up, each eager for a sight that they had never before seen or dreamed of. On the upper side of the branch which Dick held between his thumb and finger were little groups of parasites, almost too small to be seen by the naked eye. All day long they had been feeding upon the sap that came from a branch until their bodies were swollen with a transparent honey dew. An ant approached one of them, placed its antennae over the throat and extracted a tiny drop of the colorless liquid. Again and again this was repeated. It seemed like rank robbery, but there was no resistance on the part of the herd. They seemed just as glad that milking time had come as do the cows that stand lowing at the bars of the fence and calling for the farmer. Drop after drop of the honey dew was extracted, until finally the aphid, as the little creature is called, grew lank and thin, while the ant became correspondingly large. From time to time the antennae of the ant stroked the tiny hair on the back, just as a farmer would stroke the cow in order to soothe it and keep it perfectly still.

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