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The New McGuffey Fourth Reader
by William H. McGuffey, Compiler

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By Jules Michelet

Peter Huber, walking one day in a field near Geneva, saw on the

ground a strong detachment of reddish colored ants on the march,

and bethought himself of following them. On the flanks of the

column, as if to dress its ranks, a few sped to and fro in eager

haste. After marching for about a quarter of an hour, they halted

before an ant-hill belonging to some small black ants, and a

desperate struggle took place at its gates.

A small number of blacks offered a brave resistance; but the

great majority of the people thus assailed fled through the gates

remotest from the scene of combat, carrying away their young. It

was just these which were the cause of the strife--what the

blacks most feared being the theft of their offspring. And soon

the assailants, who had succeeded in penetrating into the city,

might be seen emerging from it, loaded with the young black progeny.

The red ants, encumbered with their living booty, left the

unfortunate city in the desolation of its great loss, and resumed

the road to their own habitation, whither their astonished

observer followed them. But how was his astonishment augmented

when at the threshold of the red ants' community, a small

population of black ants came forward to receive the plunder,

welcoming with visible joy these children of their own race,

which would perpetuate it in foreign lands!

This, then, was a mixed city, where the strong warrior ants lived

on a perfectly good understanding with the little blacks. But

what of the latter? Huber soon discovered that they were the

workers of the community. It was they alone who did all the

building. They alone took care of the young red ants and the

captives of their own species. They alone administered the

affairs of the city, provided its supplies of food, and waited

upon their red masters who, like great infant giants, allowed

their little attendants to feed them at the mouth.

The only occupations of the red masters were war, theft, and

kidnapping. Nothing did they do in the intervals but wander about

lazily, and bask in the sunshine at the doors of their barracks.

Huber made an experiment. He wanted to see what would be the

result if the great red ants found themselves without servants.

He put a few into a glass case, and put some honey for them in a

corner, so that they had nothing to do but take it. Miserable the

degradation, cruel the punishment with which slavery afflicts the

enslavers! They did not touch it; they seemed to know nothing;

they had become so grossly ignorant that they could no longer

feed themselves. Some of them died from starvation, with food

before them.

To complete the experiment, Huber then introduced into the case

one black ant. The presence of this sagacious slave changed the

face of things, and reestablished life and order. He went

straight to the honey, and fed the dying simpletons.

The little blacks in many things carry a moral authority whose

signs are very visible. They do not, for example, permit the

great red ants to go out alone on useless expeditions, but compel

them to return into the city. Nor are they even at liberty to go

out in a body if their wise little slaves do not think the

weather favorable, if they fear a storm, or if the day is far

advanced. When an excursion proves unsuccessful, and they return

without children, the little blacks are stationed at the gates of

the city to forbid their ingress, and send them back to the

combat; nay more, you may see them take the cowards by the

collar, and force them to retrace their route.

These are astounding facts; but they were seen by Huber, as here

described. Not being able to trust his eyes, he summoned one of

the greatest naturalists of Sweden, Jurine, to his side, to make

new investigations and decide whether he had been deceived. This

witness, and others who made similar observations, found that his

discoveries were just as he had described them. Yet, after all

these weighty testimonies, I still doubted, until on a certain

occasion in the park of Fontainebleau, I saw it with my own eyes.

It was half past four in the afternoon of a very warm day. From a

pile of stones emerged a column of from four to five hundred red

or reddish ants. They marched rapidly toward a piece of turf,

kept in order by their sergeants, whom I saw on the flanks and

who would not permit any one to straggle.

Suddenly the mass seemed to sink and disappear. There was no sign

of ant-hills in the turf; but after a while I detected an almost

imperceptible orifice, through which we saw them vanish in less

time than it takes to write these words. I supposed that probably

this was the entrance to their own home; but in less than a

minute they showed me that I was mistaken. Out they thronged,

each carrying a young captive in its mandibles.

From the short time they had taken, it was evident that they had

a previous knowledge of the place, and knew where the infant

blacks were kept. Perhaps it was no+ their first journey. The

black ants whose home had been invaded sallied out in

considerable numbers. They did not attempt to fight. They seemed

frightened and stunned. They endeavored only to delay the red

ants by clinging to them. A red ant was thus stopped; but another

red one, who was free, relieved him of his burden, and thereupon

the black ant relaxed his grasp.

It was, in fact, a pitiful sight. The blacks offered no serious

resistance. The five hundred reds succeeded in carrying off fully

three hundred young ants. At two or three feet from the hole, the

blacks ceased to pursue them, and returned slowly to their home.


Repulsive, disagreeable.

Tropics, the warm regions near the equator.

Precaution, care taken beforehand.

Fray, fight.

Augmented, made greater.

Astounding, overwhelming.

Mandibles, the mouth organs of insects.

Sallied, rushed forth.



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