an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia

Title: The Antics of Algy
Author: Musette Morell
eBook No.: 2100211h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: 2021
Most recent update: 2021

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

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The Antics of Algy

Musette Morell

CONTENTS

Chapter One. - Some Of His Antics
Chapter Two. - A Home is Wrecked
Chapter Three. - Through a Jungle of Grass
Chapter Four. - Lost and Found
Chapter Five. - The New Home is Built
Chapter Six. - The Ant Lion
Chapter Seven. - Algy Gets a Surprise
Chapter Eight. - The Marriage Flight

 

Chapter One
Some Of His Antics

ALGY ANT was bobbing up and down, wriggling and giggling. But these antics did not please Algy’s nurse. She said in a very cross voice:

“Algy, your antics give me the frantics. Now keep still and remember what I say.”

“Yes, Nursey,” said Algy, keeping still for exactly half a second.

“Now listen to me!” said Nurse. You are going out to play—”

“Oh yes—oh yes—oh yes!” cried Algy.

“Well, when you go out to play, what is it you must be careful of?”

Algy thought and thought. “First of all I must be careful of that—that—er, that—”

“Algy, can’t you remember?”

“Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, Nursey, I can remember. I’m a very good rememberer, I am.”

“Well then, when you go out to play, what is it you must be careful of?”

“First of all, that—that—yelling, tramping, stamping two-legged creature, called— called— joy!”

“Boy,” said Nurse.

“Oh yes, boy. I must be very careful of boy, cos if he sees me he’ll most certainly catch me: and if he does catch me he’ll prob’ly pick me up and put me in a box and keep me there for weeks— and weeks— and weeks— and—”

“Yes, yes!” said Nurse impatiently.

“Weeks—till I starve.”

“You’d starve long before then,” said Nurse. “What else must you be careful of?”

“I know, Nursey! I know, I know!”

“Well, what?”

“I must be careful of er—er—oh yes! that screaming, silly, giggling, wriggling one, called— called— twirl!”

“Girl, girl!” said Nurse.

“Oh yes, girl-girl.”

“Not girl-girl. Just girl,” said Nurse. “And what else must you be careful of?”

“That big whirring, grinding, slicing, splicing— corn-blower!

“Lawn-mower,” said Nurse. “And, also, the—”

Herds!” shouted Algy.

“Not herds, birds,” said Nurse.

“Oh yes, birds. A bird will come wheeling, squealing down and— tweak! go snipet-nippetting me up in his beak, and gobble-gobbling me down his throat.”

“That’s so,” said Nurse. “So...”

So,” repeated Algy,

“When a little ant goes walking,
he should look to left and right,
till he sees a foe come stalking—
then run home with all his might.”

“That’s a good little antling.” said Nurse. “Now brush yourself and give yourself a lick-wash. I’d hate you to look untidy, for who’s ever seen an untidy ant?”

So Algy brushed himself with his spurs, and gave himself a good lick. Then he asked. “Now can I go out to play, Nursey?”

“Yes, till sun-down. Remember, all antlings come home at sun-down.”

“Oh. I’ll remember sun-down. Nursey, cos sun-down’s tea-time.” And Algy ran off singing a song he often sang when he was by himself and that went to the tune of “Little Brown Jug Don’t I Love Thee.”

“I’m Algernon Ant, come skipping by,
the bravest ant beneath the sky.
No frightening thing can frighten me.
for frightening things delighten me.
Ha, ha, ha! I declare
I am the ant you cannot scare!—
Ha, ha, ha! I declare
Ha, I am the ant you cannot scare.”

Suddenly there was a sound of wings, and some birds flew into view.

“Aw, look at those herds flying in the sky! I think you call them herds,” said Algy to himself. Then he yelled out very loudly,

“Twitter, twitter, silly herds,
flying in the sky!
Here I am, but you can’t see
cos you’re much too high.”

But at that moment a frightening thing happened. One bird flew down from the sky and looked at Algy in a very hungry sort of way.

“Ooooh, by my pincers and tweezers!” gasped Algy. “Herds eat ants, and I’m an ant. I think I’ll hide behind this blade of grass. He can’t see me here—he’ll never see me here! He’ll miss me here. I know he will, I’m sure he will! I feel he will. I—I—hope—he—will.”

And the bird did—and flew away.

Algy smiled, and at once began singing once more, this time to the tune of “Here We Are Again”.

“Here I am—he—he!
Happy as can be.
No old herdies ever can frighten me!”

Suddenly there sounded the loud, whirring, grinding, slicing, splicing sound of a lawn-mower.

Algy stopped singing. “Oooh,” thought Algy, “what’s that? I know it’s a something dangerous to ants, but I disremember what. Is it a joy, or a twirl, or a corn-blower, or a herd? I think its a corn-blower. But—Ooooh! whatever it is, I don’t think I’ll stay. I’ll just creep away—under cover—of this clover—’neath the shoulder—of this boulder—round this crinkly-wrinkly stone...Ah, how nice to be alone!”

And then, as he was quite alone, he sang loudly.

“Here I am—he—he!
Happy as can be.
No corn-blower ever can frighten me!”

But although Algy had got safely away from the lawnmower the birds had come flying back.

“Oh, here come those old herds again.” said Algy to himself, and he yelled out even louder than before.

“Twitter, twitter, silly herds!
‘Spose you think I ran.
Here I am,. but you can’t see—
Oh! Oooh! yes you can.”

For one bird could. This bird whose name was Mr Samuel Sparrow, had stepped down from the sky and walked over to the stone behind which Algy crouched. And after perching his head on one side for a moment, he pounced. Yes, he pounced on Algy.

“Aha! I thought I smelt an ant.
I’ve got you now!—don’t kick and pant,
you fat little nit-wit,
you tasty wee tit-bit.
Home you come to my nest above
for you’re just the dinner my babies love.”

And even though Algy kept crying out that be wasn’t a nit-wit and wasn’t a tit-bit, Mr Sparrow picked him up in his beak and flew off with him.

In Mr Sparrow’s nest-home there were three fledgling sparrows, and when the hungry babies saw what their daddy had in his beak, they each squawked, “For me!”—“For me!”—“For me!”

“Whose turn was it to be fed last time?” asked Mr Sparrow.

“Not mine!”—“Not mine!”—“Not mine!” squawked the babies.

“Whose turn is it to be fed this time?”

“Mine!”—“Mine!”—“Mine!” screamed the babies.

“It can’t be everybody’s turn.
Now don’t wriggle—squiggle—squirm.”

“Give me the worm!” squawked each of the babies.

“It’s ant, not worm. A fat little fellow.
Now open your mouths—[squawk!]
Please don’t yell-O!
Fluffy, don’t peck Beaky!
Beaky, don’t twig Squeaky!
If you’re calm, I’ll let you choose him;
if you fight, you’ll only lose him!”

But Fluffy and Beaky and Squeaky did fight, and that’s how they came to lose Algy.

Daddy Sparrow was very cross and said:

“There! You’ve lost him! Well I told you.
He’s fallen to the ground! I should scold you!
Now, now, don’t make a howdy-do!”

“Boo-hoo! Boo-hoo! Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo!” wept the babies.

And down, down, down from the sparrow’s nest—away down on the ground, Algy Ant was huffing and puffing as he picked himself up and counted his six legs to see if they were all there.

“Phew!” he puffed. “That was a long drop from the barrow’s nest. I—I—got away all right! They can’t catch me!” Then he sang to the tune of “Here We Are Again”,

“Here I am—he-he!
Happy as can be.
No old barrow ever can frighten me!

“To think those old baby barrows wanted to eat me! Umph! I’d like to eat something. Think it must be tea-time. Yes, sun’s down—better be getting home. I just follow this track between the two clumps of clover till I come to our nest.” And he ran home, singing to the same tune:

“I’ll be home for tea:
just rely on me.
I think tea—jolly good company.

“Ah, there’s our ant nest! What a beautiful round red home it is. Oh, and there’s Nurse at the door. Hullo, Nursey!”

“So you’ve come back at last!” snapped Nurse.

“I’ve come back fast.”

“Let me feel you with my horns. Yes its really you. You’re late. Why, even the working ants have come in. This is the last day you’ll go out to play, Algernon Ant. I’ve a good mind to pinch you with my mandibles.”

“But, Nursey-

“After this you’ll join the working ants and learn to do things.”

“But I’ve been doing things. I—I—met the great biggest big corn-blower, and the great biggest big herd—”

“I suppose you mean a lawn-mower and a bird. Were you frightened?”

“No, I was delightened. But I frightened them.”

“Now, don’t boast! Why didn’t you come home for tea?”

“But I did come home for tea. Tea’s just what I came home for.”

“Tea’s over long ago.”

Algy looked blank. “Over!” he gasped.

“Over,” said Nurse.

“Over!” murmured Algy slowly and sadly. “Oh, dearie, dearie me! Over, and I haven’t even begun!”

Chapter Two
A Home Is Wrecked

THE next morning Algy was very tired, and slept in.

Nurse shook him. “Wake up, Algy, the sun is drying up the dew and you’ve got a whole new day before you. And you know what’s going to happen today.”

“What do you mean, Nursey?”

“I mean that today you are to become a worker.”

“Ooh,” said Algy, slowly. “You know, Nursey. I’ve been wishing—and wishing—and wishing—”

“Wishing what?”

“Wishing I had wings.”

“Nonsense, Algy, only men ants and women ants have wings. Your legs are short, your body is fat and your eyes are small; that means you are a worker.”

“Wish I had wings.”

“Workers never have wings.”

“That’s why I wish I had.”

Nurse was shocked. She said. sternly. “Algernon Ant, you can’t mean you don’t want to work.”

“That’s just what I do mean,” said Algy. “I don’t want to work.”

“By my pincers and tweezers! By my delicate horns! I’ve never heard an ant say that before.”

“I’m sorry, Nursey; but then, you see, I’ve never worked before.”

“Ah, that’s it!” said Nurse, with relief. “But when you have worked, you’ll know how good it is, and how important it makes you feel and then you’ll love it.”

Will I?” asked Algy, in a very small voice.

“Of course you will. Why, the workers are the most useful people in the world. Now give yourself a brush down with your spurs, and stand up on your six feet, and let me lick you over! ... There, now you’re nice and clean. Come along!”

“Wait, what’s that noise?” asked Algy. “That great biggest big noise?”

Nurse listened. Then she said, “Yes, there is a noise. By the sound of it, it’s one of those huge humans walking this way. Perhaps a boy or a girl.”

“Let me look,” said Algy.

“Don’t go outside the nest. Algy! You’ll have a human foot on you, if you’re not careful.”

“I’m not frightened,” said Algy. “I’ll just peep my little head out.” And he popped his head round the open door of the ant-nest. But he popped it back again very quickly, and his voice sounded very small as he said, “Yes, it is a human. It’s a joy.”

“You mean a boy,” said Nurse.

“Yes, a boy. A great biggest big one and he’s got the great biggest big lick in his hand.”

“Not a lick, a stick. Oh, dear! If he pokes our nest with that stick, there’ll be a landslide,” cried Nurse.

And the boy did poke the stick and there was a landslide. The land muttered and spluttered and heaved and billowed so that the ant nest rocked to and fro like a ship on a stormy sea; then split and finally broke all up. All the ants muttered and spluttered, too. Even Nurse spluttered as she muttered, “Are you all right, Algy?”

“No, Nursey, I’m all wrong. The land went jumpety-jump and I went bumpety-bump and now I’m standing on my little head with mud in my eye,” said Algy.

“Give me your horn and I’ll pull you up! There! now you’re all right.”

“A landslide! A landslide! A landslide!” shouted the ants, dashing hither and thither, all wanting to help at once.

Nurse wanted to help, too. “We must save all the eggs,” she said, picking up one of them.

“The eggs! The eggs! Save the eggs,” shouted the ants, each picking one up in his mandibles, but not knowing where to take it.

Just then a very important-looking worker ant stepped out in front of all the other clustered, flustered ants and clapped his mandibles.

“Listen!” said Nurse. “He is going to make an announcement.”

“What’s an-nounce-ment?” asked Algy.

“S-ssh. Listen, and you’ll hear one!”

So Algy listened, and all the other ants listened to the important-looking worker ant, as he announced in a loud important voice:

“Fellow ants, our nest has been destroyed by an ignorant, cruel, young human. Our beautiful nest that rose two feet above the ground and sank two feet below the ground, is now mostly ruined. We could rebuild our nest—”

“Hurrah!” shouted the ants.

“Yes, we could rebuild our nest; but we workers of the Ant Republic have agreed that it is no longer safe to live here. We must move. We must build another nest in a safer place. And in time we shall build a nest, not two, but three feet above ground, and three feet below.”

“Hurrah! Hurrah!” shouted all the other ants.

“Our engineers, and our surveyors have already gone ahead to find a safe spot where we can build; and now all of us must follow them, with brave hearts. For you know what we say:

Through good and bad, through thick and thin,
you never see an ant give in.
One for all and all for one—
that’s the way to get things done.”

The ants cheered and the speaker went on,

You know what to do. and will do it without fuss. Our nurses will, of course, carry the eggs and the young larvae antlings to our new home. All workers will, of course, help any sick or old ants. For with us ants it is:

One for all and all for one—
that’s the way to get things done!

To work then, ants!”

“To work! To work! To work!” cried the ants, rushing about their affairs. “To work! To work! To work!”

“And what do we do, Nursey?” asked Algy.

“Well, I’m a nurse, and you heard our speaker say that the nurses must carry the eggs and larvae to our new nest.”

“Wouldn’t you like to carry me instead, Nursey?” Algy asked, and he made himself look as small and helpless and charming as he could.

“Carry a great fat antling like you? Of course not. Why, you’re big enough to be a worker—and that reminds me—”

“Oh. don’t let it remind you, Nursey,” cried Algy very quickly.

“Oh, but it does remind me that this is the day you were to start working.”

“I thought that’s what you’d be reminded of,” said Algy, sadly.

“You may as well start by carrying an egg. Here, hold out your mandibles and I’ll give you one! There! Are you holding it tightly?”

“Y-y-yes.”

‘‘Well, be very, very careful of it, for the eggs are the most precious things in ant life. They must never, never be hurt in any way. Now, come along! Oh, here come the other nurses—so we can all set out together.

As the nurses came marching up, they chanted in chorus:

“Here we come on busy legs,
Rescuing our precious eggs.
Hurry, hurry—don’t stand and talk!
Hustle and bustle and hurry your walk.”

And they all hustled and bustled—all except Algy.

“Hurry up, Algy! Why are you dawdling back there, behind all the others?” Nurse scolded.

“I’m hurrying—and hurrying—and hurrying,” panted Algy. “But my egg is so heavy—”

“Nonsense, nonsense,” said Nurse. “An ant can carry anything ten times his own weight. And anyway, these eggs are not a bit heavy. Come along!”

My egg is very heavy, Nursey. And it’s slippery, too. It’s very slippery.” And Algy giggled one of his most mischievous giggles. “I hope I don’t drop it,” he said slowly, and giggled again.

 

Chapter Three
Through A Jungle Of Grass

MEANWHILE, all the other ants were hurrying and scurrying along, through the thick jungle of grass, to a new patch of ground where it would be safe to build their new nest.

First came the surveyors and engineers, then the foragers, then the masons, then the nurses, and way, way back—the very last of them all—came Algernon. Every ant hustled and bustled and hurried his walk—every ant except Algy. Algy was looking this way and that way at everything in sight; and not caring which way or what way he walked. And as he dawdled along he sang:

“I’m Algernon Ant, come creeping by,
the bravest ant beneath the sky.
No frightening thing can frighten me,
for frightening things delighten me.
Ha, ha, ha! I declare
I am the ant you cannot scare.
Ha, ha, ha! I declare
I am the ant you cannot scare.”

And Algy looked carefully round this way and that way just to make sure there wasn’t anything about that could scare him. And as there wasn’t, he sang more loudly than ever.

“Algy, do stop dawdling,” said Nurse. “Look, you’re right at the end of the procession.”

“What’s a pro-cess-ion, Nurse?”

“A procession is a long line of ants moving from here to there. Have you got your egg safe?”

“I’ve got it, but it isn’t very safe.”

“Why isn’t it safe?”

“Well, the egg is very big, Nursey.”

“Not too big for you.”

“The egg is very heavy, Nursey.”

“Not too heavy for you.”

“And an egg that is big and heavy might spill itself on the ground, Nursey.”

“If that egg spills itself on the ground it will be the worse for you, Algy Ant. Well, why have you stopped? What’s the matter now?”

“I—I’m stuck, Nursey.”

“Stuck?”

“Yes, my six little feet are stuck—tight—on a blade of grass, and I can’t—I can’t get them unstuck.”

“Let me look,” said Nurse, frowning. “Oh, I see, you’re walking along a snail’s track. No wonder you’re stuck! Here, put your little horn in my mandible and I’ll pull you out of the gum.” And Nurse did pull him out of the gum which, when it let go, made a great smacking sound like a kiss.

“There, you silly antling!” scolded Nurse. “Now hold your egg tightly and let’s hurry! And after this, don’t walk on the grass. Walk under it, like the other ants.”

The other ants were walking under the grass, chanting:

“Tiny road,
tiny track,
running on,
turning back;
here we come,
here we go,
quickety, slickety,
never slow.”

But Algy wasn’t quick, Algy was slow. In fact he was so slow that, once again, he had stopped.

Will you come on, Algy? Why have you stopped now?” asked Nurse.

“I’m nibbling—and nibbling—and nibbling.”

“Yes, I can hear you nibbling. But what are you nibbling, and where are you nibbling?”

“I’m just over your head. Nursey dear.”

“Oh, so you’ve wandered up a flower stem to eat the blossom. That’s very greedy.”

“I’m not only eating, Nursey dear, I’m sniffing—and sniffing—and sniffing. Oh, she does smell so sweet!”

“Really, Algy, your antics give me the frantics, Why can’t you stay on the ground like a good little antling? If I have to go up that flower stem to fetch you down, I’ll give you a hard pinch with my mandibles.”

“I’m coming—and coming—and coming.”

“And all the other ants are going, and going, and going. We’ll have to run like the wind to catch up to them.”

“When—I—run—like—the—wind—I—puff—like—the—wind,” said Algy, running and puffing.

“Anyway, we have caught up with the others,” said Nurse. For they could now see the other ants, and hear them chanting:

“We hurry and scurry
down the garden border,
hustling, bustling,
but always in order.”

“I’ll be glad when we’re out of this garden,” said Nurse. “Then you won’t be stopping every minute to eat and sniff the flowers.”

“I can see someone else sniffing flowers,” said Algy. “She’s the great biggest big he you ever saw.”

‘Not a he—a bee. I don’t like bees,” said Nurse.

“Wait, I’ll just tell her you don’t.” And Algy ran over to the bee.

“Come back, Algy. You’re only making an excuse to go and sniff another flower. Oh dear! here is that dreadful bee following us. Now she’ll start boasting about herself.”

And Mrs Bee did. She boasted and buzzed:

“You’ve heard of me,
the Busy Bee,
they’ve made a moral story
about the way
I work all day.
That’s how I won my glory!
Buzz wuzz tee,
I’m the Bumble Bee,
buzz-buzz, wuzz-wuzzy boo!
You’ve heard of ME,
the humble bee,
but I’ve not heard of YOU!”

This made Nurse very angry, and she said:

“You needn’t be
so vain, old Bee;
you needn't be conceited;
for, hark to me! your history
is far from being completed.
There’ll come a day,
a day, I say,
when you will buzz no more.
We ants will thrive upon your hive
and hunt you from your door!”

Mrs Bee laughed rudely:

“Tee-hee! Tee-hee!
Excuse my glee,
but, really, it diverts me—
that such a dot,
a mere black spot
could dream such railing hurts me.
I’m the Bumble Bee,
buzz-buzz, wuzz-wuzzy boo!
You’ve heard of ME,
the humble bee,
but I’ve not heard of YOU!”

By this time Nurse had lost her temper. She scowled and growled:

“Such a stiff-necked body,
stuck-up shoddy
old creature I’ve never seen. I’ve not.
Though I’m polite,
it’s only right
to show her once for all what’s what!
This boasting bee
had better flee
or I will fight and bite her.
I’d like to dump
and soundly thump,
and scrag and scratch the skiter!”

“Would you really, Nursey?” asked Algy, looking pleased and surprised.

But Mrs Bee smiled in a provoking, joking sort of way and buzzed on:

“Boy who’s lazy,
girl who’s hazy
is referred to me;
to emulate
and imitate
my noble industry.
Buzz wuzz tee,
I’m the Bumble Bee,
buzz-buzz, wuzz-wuzzy boo!
You’ve heard of ME,
the humble bee,
but I’ve not heard of You!”

Suddenly there were loud buzzes from Mrs Bee:

“Who’s tearing my wing?
Who’s biting my sting?
Who’s pinching and pricking,
and thumping and kicking?”

“Nursey, Nursey, is it you? Are you doing what you said you’d like to do?” giggled Algy, very very surprised.

“Oh, my powerful sting!
Oh, my beautiful wing!
Oh, what shall I do?
I’m wounded—boo-hoo!
Boo-hoo, boo—boo—HOO!”

screamed Mrs Bee, flying away.

“Ah, she’s gone! Vain old thing,” said Nurse. “Fancy boasting to me—an ant! Why, we ants are the oldest form of civilization.”

“What is civilization, Nursey?”

“Civilization is being civil to one another.”

“Is that what you were to the old he when you scruffed her just now, Nursey?” Algy asked, sweetly.

Nurse frowned. “H’m, I don’t like to remember that,” she said. “No one should scruff anyone!”

“Then if you don’t like to remember it, don’t remember it, Nursey. I won’t.”

“No, because you don’t remember anything, Algy. Well, let’s hurry, or we’ll never get to our new nest tonight. Now hold on to your egg—”

“Did you say my egg, Nursey?”

“Yes, your egg, Algy.”

“My—my egg, Nursey?”

“Yes, of course your egg. Why, good gracious! Where is your egg?

“Its here, Nursey, on the ground.”

“On the ground. Do you mean you dropped it?”

“Not quite, Nursey. But you see, I’m only a little ant, and it’s a very big egg, and so—and so—and so I stood on the egg so that I wouldn’t be knocked over when you were showing Mrs He you were civilized.” And Algy gave a little wriggle and a giggle.

Nurse was horrified. “Algernon Ant, you stood on an egg!” And then Nurse saw the egg and gave a loud gasp, “Why, yes, look at it—there’s a great big dent in the middle of it.”

“Yes, it dents in there,” agreed Algy sadly. Then he added brightly, “But it bulges out here! I don’t think it’s really hurt except it’s not quite round in the middle any more. But perhaps an egg doesn’t like going round, anyway.”

Nurse looked more fierce than Algy had ever seen her. “You, Algernon, stood on an egg! An ant stood on an ant egg!

“Don’t worry, Nursey. I don’t! There! see, I’ve picked it up now and we can hurry and scurry and catch up with the others.”

“But where are the others?” cried Nurse.

And sure enough they were nowhere to be seen. For while Nurse and Mrs Bee were talking, the other ants had kept on walking and walking and so now, of course, Algy and his nurse couldn’t see them at all.

“It’s getting very dark,” said Algy. “Yes, night’s coming down.”

“And Nursey, the sky wears a frown. It’s scowling—with blackedy eyebrows in crowds.”

“Those eyebrows are heavy rainclouds. And we’ve lost the other ants. Oh, dear!”

“Oh, we can soon catch up with them,” cried Algy, running under a long blade of grass, and shouting very loudly. “Hi, ants, wait for us! Wait for us! Wait for us!”

“Algy, don’t run from me into the dark, or you’ll be lost, too,” cried Nurse.

But it was too late. Algy had run into the dark! and he was lost!

 

Chapter Four
Lost And Found

ALGY kept on running and running until he was back again at the garden border where they had met Mrs Bee. But he did not find the other ants, and he did not find Nurse. So there he was, quite alone, without another ant in sight—lost in the great Australian grass! And it was very dark.

Suddenly, there sounded a loud hooting.

“Oooooh, there’s the thing that hoots—I think you call it a fowl,” said Algy, listening to the owl.

Then there sounded a loud mewing.

“And there’s the thing that mews—I think you call it a hat,” said Algy, listening to the cat.

Next there sounded a loud barking.

“And there’s the thing that barks—I think you call it a frog,” said Algy, listening to the dog. Then, after a big yawn he went on:

“O-o-o-oh, the night is big and black and seems to wrap me round.
The moon peeped out behind a cloud and, when it saw me, frowned.
And I am very little, and the sky is very high.
I—I wish Nurse was here to tuck me in my comfy cosy-bye...
Nursey!...I’m sleepy—
and the dark makes me feel creepy—
and I’m by myself, alone...
Well, I’ll crawl beneath this stone,
fold my two mandibles, shut each eye—
curl up my six feet—
and—go—sleepy—bye.”

So Algy crawled beneath the stone, set down his egg, folded his two mandibles, shut his two eyes, curled up his six feet and went to sleep.

And while he slept the moon went in and the sun came out, and a rooster crowed and blowed to show it was morning.

Algy opened his eyes, and smiled. “Why, it’s day!” he said, “A new day! A brand new day! Oooh! Sun shines so bright he sizzles. The pickets chirp! I think you call them pickets,” said Algy, listening to the crickets. Then he grew sad. “But—I’m—still—lost.” Then he smiled again, “Still, as Nurse isn’t here, I needn’t have a wash, and I can eat what I like. Here’s something that I like—a great biggest big cherry about a thousand times bigger than me. If I eat all this for breakfast, I won’t want dinner or tea. Ummmmm!” And he took a huge bite.

Then suddenly, floating to him through the tall grass, came Nurse’s voice, calling, “Algy! Algy! Algy!”

“Here I am, Nursey!”

“Oh, Algy, I have found you at last!” cried Nurse, bobbing round from behind a pebble. “Let me feel you with my delicate horns to make sure it’s really you...Yes, for sure it’s you. I’ve been hunting for you all night long. Where have you been? And what are you doing?”

“I slept under a stone. And now I’m eating—and eating—eating,” said Algy.

“H’m, so I see. But take it from me, if you eat too much you’ll pop!”

“Oh, I couldn’t eat too much,” said Algy.

“Well, you’ve eaten enough for two now.”

“H’m, yes, I’m afraid I can’t eat another crumb,” Algy admitted. “But I’m very, very, very thirsty.”

“Well, take a sip of dew from that wood violet near you and pick up your egg. I hope you’ve still got your egg, have you?”

“Yes, here it is,” said Algy, proudly.

“Well, now hold it very carefully and we’ll walk along this way. I’m sure I can smell ants on this track. Come on!”

Then far away through the jungle of grass a voice sounded faintly: “Ant there! Ant there!”

“Algy, listen! Did you hear some ant calling?”

“Yes, I heard—I heard—I heard,” said Algy. “Who can it be?”

“Its probably a scout, sent out to find us. Yes, here comes a scout, waving his horns.”

“Ant there! Ant there!” cooed the scout.

“Ant here! Ant here!” answered Nurse.

The scout marched up and, standing in front of Algy and Nurse, said in a very important voice, “I’m looking for antling Algernon, and Nurse Number Six Hundred and Ten.”

“I am Nurse Six Hundred and Ten,” said Nurse.

“And I am antling Algernon,” said Algy.

The scout felt them with his sensitive feelers. “Yes, it’s you sure enough,” he said. “We heard you were lost, stolen or strayed, so I was sent to find you.”

“Algy strayed and then he got lost,” said Nurse. “Have you been searching for us long?”

“Since sun-up time. Come, follow me to our camp”

So Algy and Nurse followed the scout, who went hurrying and scurrying down the garden border. He walked so fast that Algy had to run to keep him in sight. Algy thought it best to run because he didn’t want to be lost again, and he did so want to see his new home.

At last the scout stopped and said, “Here we are. You see we found a very good patch of ground on which to build our new nest. Every ant’s been busy; and the engineers and miners, masons and builders are still on the job.”

“Now, Algy, this will be a treat for you, seeing how a nest is built,” said Nurse.

“Hasn’t he ever seen a nest built before?” asked the scout.

“No, he’s not old enough.”

Algy did not like that. “Why, I’m as old as any other ant my age.” he said. “But how do we build the nest, Mr Scout?”

“First,” answered the scout, “our engineers and surveyors came here and found this clear space of ground for us. Then we began the building.”

“How did we do that?”

“The miners dug down into the earth with their mandibles.”

“I have got two mandibles,” Algy said, proudly.

“Of course. All ants have two mandibles. I don’t know what we’d do without mandibles.”

“We’d do without,” said Algy. “But tell me what the miners do?”

“You’ll be able to see that for yourself if you watch,” said the ant. “I must get back to work.” And off he hustled.

“It isn’t a very big nest or very high,” said Algy.

“But it’s growing.” said Nurse. “You just look.”

“Where are the miners?”

“They are underneath, hollowing out the lower rooms. If you listen you can hear them chanting in their tunnels.” And Algy listened and heard the miners chanting while they dug:

“First a little hole
we dig, and dig, and dig.
Till the little hole
grows big, and big, and big.
Standing in the soil,
digging down and deep,
piling grain on grain
high up in a heap.”

“Oh, I see!” said Algy. “Every bit of soil the miners dig out of the earth is piled up in a heap on top of the earth.”

“Yes. So you see our nest rises higher as it grows deeper. Then there are other workers, scattered about outside. Their job is to hunt and forage for bits and pieces to pile on the heap. Listen to them!”

And Algy heard the workers chanting:

“Forage in the dust!
treasures lie all round;
sheaves of grass and straw
everywhere are found.
Every load of leaf,
chunk of wood or straw,
we stack upon the heap,
then search for more and more.”

“They carry very large loads of leaf, and very large chunks of stick, don’t they, Nursey? The load is sometimes so heavy that it knocks them over,” said Algy.

And tripping and slipping the foragers chanted:

“We stumble and tumble
head over toe,
but get up; and once up
onward we go.”

And onward they went, all the time saying, “Onward we go! Onward we go! Onward we go!”

“Then there are the masons,” said Nurse. “They make the bricks. Listen to them!”

And Algy listened and heard the masons chant:

“With a dab of dust,
we masons do our trick
roll the dust in dew,
make a mighty brick.”

“What do the masons do with the bricks they make?” asked Algy.

“Can’t you see? They stick them into the places where the building looks unfinished.”

“Yes, I see,” said Algy. “Oh, what a lot of workers bustling about, everywhere— everywhere— everywhere!”

“Yes,” said Nurse, “every part of the building is going on at the same time— inside and out, below and above.”

“And are they making rooms inside?”

“Dozens and dozens of rooms and dozens of passages and galleries.”

“Oh, it’s wonderful! I want to help, too.”

“That’s the way to speak, Algy! Now you sound like a true ant,” said Nurse and she looked very, very pleased.

“How can I help, Nursey? Which part shall I look at?”

“You don’t look, you do,” said Nurse sternly. “You’re an ant, Algernon—and ants work!”

“But I don’t like working, Nursey. You know that.”

“I know that your antics give me the frantics,” said Nurse. “Now do as I do. Bring your egg inside to the nursery.”

“Ooh, have they got the nursery built?”

“Of course they have. The nursery is always the first room they build. That’s where we keep our eggs—and our eggs are very, very important. Come along now and help!”

“I’m coming—I’m coming—I’m coming.” cried Algy. And he went running after the others to watch them work.

 

Chapter Five
The New Home Is Built

THE ants worked on and on, on and on until their new home was even bigger than the last home. They then all stood off together and, gazing at it proudly, chanted each in turn:

“This is the Nest we ants built. These are the Eggs that live in the Nest we ants built.”

“I am the Queen who lays the Eggs that live in the Nest we ants built.”

“We are the Nurses who tend the Queen who lays the Eggs that live in the Nest we ants built."

“We are the Sentries who guard the Nurses who tend the Queen who lays the Eggs that live in the nest we ants built.”

“We are the Builders of roof and floor who house the Sentries who guard the Nurses who tend the Queen who lays the Eggs that live in the Nest we ants built.”

“We are the Seekers of grass and straw who serve the Builders of roof and floor who house the Sentries who guard the Nurses who tend the Queen who lays the Eggs that live in the Nest we ants built.”

“We are the Miners who delve and explore who prepare for the Seekers of grass and straw who serve the builders of roof and floor who house the Sentries who guard the Nurses who tend the Queen who lays the Eggs that live in the Nest we ants built.”

“We are the Masons with bricks galore who help the Miners to delve and explore who prepare for the Seekers of grass and straw who serve the Builders of roof and floor who house the Sentries who guard the Nurses who tend the Queen who lays the Eggs that live in the Nest we ants built.”

“We are the Workers who toil and store to feed All: the Masons of bricks galore who help the Miners to delve and explore who prepare for the Seekers of grass and straw who serve the Builders of roof and floor who house the Sentries who guard the Nurses who tend the Queen who lays the Eggs that live in the Nest
we ants built.
We ants built—
We ants built—
Who—live—in—the—nest—we—ants—built.”

“Oh, Nursey, I say it is the bestest best nest in the world and the biggest big!” cried Algy happily. “Are we going to live here?”

“Yes, and work here.”

“Ooooh—work.” The happy look left Algy s face.

“Yes, your play days are over. You’re a big ant now, so it’s work for you, not play,” said Nurse, frowning.

“Couldn’t it just be the other way round, Nursey? Couldn’t it just be play, not work?”

“No, it just couldn’t. So remember.”

“I’m sure to remember. I mean, I’m sure to remember something. But I’m not sure what the something will be that I’ll remember. I have a sort-of-a, kind-of-a-feeling I’ll be able to remember play easier than I can remember work.”

Algernon Ant!” said Nurse, looking very stern.

Just then, hundreds and hundreds of ants came marching along, and chanting briskly,

“There’s work to do,
and we’ll do it, too!
Keep on and on
till we get through.
To work—to work—to work—to work!”

“Quick, Algy! Run and join the workers,” Nurse ordered.

“But they’re marching away, Nursey.”

“They’re marching to work. Off you go, with them.”

“Aren’t you coming Nursey?”

“No. I’m going inside to look after the eggs. I’m a nurse.”

“And I’m a—?”

“You’re a worker, Algy. Run on, or you’ll never catch up!”

“I’m running—and running—and running.” said Algy miserably. And he really did run...a little way!

The workers marched on ahead of him chanting “To work! To work! To work! To work!” until they came to a clear space between a dandelion and a clump of clover. Then they all scattered and ran this way and that way.

Algy was taking a sip of honey-dew from a yellow daisy when a very busy-looking ant rushed up to him and said, “I hear you are going to start work today.”

“Er—er—er—yes,” said Algy, unhappily.

“Then why don’t you start?”

I’m just waiting to start,” said Algy, in a small voice.

“You don’t wait to start! You start. And once you start, you don’t wait until you’ve finished.”

Ooooooooo!” said Algy in an even smaller voice.

“Well START!” said the worker, loudly. “Can’t you see we’re all foraging. Why don’t you forage?”

“I don’t know how to forage,” said Algy. “What is foraging?”

“Foraging is hunting for supplies of food.”

“Oh food!” cried Algy, and he smiled one of his biggest smiles. “Food! I’m hungry, too.”

But the worker ant looked very stern. “We’re not hunting for food to eat,” he said. “We’re hunting for it to take back to the nest.”

“Oh! Still, when you get it back to the nest, you do eat it then. Don’t you, Worker?”

“Yes, but we share it. You never see an ant eat alone.”

“Don’t you? Oh, but then you couldn’t see him if he was alone, could you, Worker?”

“Don’t play!” shouted the worker ant. “Work! Work!”

“B—but I don’t know how.”

“Look at that hunk of melon by your right three feet.”

“Ooh, yes! It looks a tasty one, doesn’t it?” cried Algy.

“It does. Hoist it over your shoulder and tramp back with it to the nest. That will be working. Go on, lift it up!”

“Up—up—up—Got it!” gasped Algy.

“Now carry it back home,” said the worker.

“But how can I find my way home?” asked Algy.

“Ants always find their way home,” said the worker. “They have a homing instinct.”

“But I might get lost.”

“Ants can’t get lost.”

“I can get lost,” said Algy proudly. “I was with Nurse, and first Nursey and I lost sight of all the other Nurses, and then I lost sight of Nursey, and so I was really and truly lost.”

“You must have been very young.” said the worker, and he sniffed a bit. “Good-bye.”

“Oh, wait a minute,” Algy called quickly.

“What do you want now?” the worker asked impatiently.

“Well, I was just thinking—and thinking—and thinking,” said Algy. “You see, I’ll be alone when I’m going back to the nest, won’t I?”

“Yes.”

“And I don’t eat this tasty speck of melon, do I?”

“Of course not.”

“I don’t even take a nibble?”

“Not half a nibble?”

“Oh dear, I must be a good ant!” said Algy thoughtfully. “I had no idea I was such a hero. Oh, don’t go yet!”

“What do you want?” asked the worker, looking back over his shoulder.

“I was just thinking—and thinking—and thinking—er—suppose I forget to take this— um— tasty bit of melon back to the nest?”

“You won’t forget.”

“But I do forget—sometimes.” said Algy.

“Ants never forget.”

“Oh!” said Algy. Then he had another thought. “Er-suppose I get frightened, going alone?”

“You won’t be frightened. Ants are never frightened”

“Oh!” said Algy, suddenly feeling very big and brave. “Being an ant is certainly being something very important isn’t it?”

But the worker ant had dashed off to grab a piece of rotted apple core. So Algy, feeling very brave, and holding tightly to his piece of melon, set out to find his way back to the nest alone. And, as he went, he sang his bravest song.

“I’m Algernon Ant come skipping by,
the bravest ant beneath the sky.
No frightening thing can frighten me,
for frightening things delighten me—”

He stopped in the middle of his song and said to himself, “I hope I’m on the right track.”

“It all depends where you wish to go, old thing!” said a very starchy voice, with a very-high-above-you accent.

“Oooooh! Who’s that?” gasped Algy, shutting his eyes tight, and no longer feeling big and brave. “I—I’ll just creep under this stone before I look.” So he crept under the stone and then, very carefully, opened one eye and peeped slowly out. When he saw that the voice had come from a large pale-green grasshopper he felt quite big and brave again.

He called out in his loudest voice, “Oh, hullo, Mr Brassclopper, I’m Algernon Ant.”

“Yes, I heard you singing about it,” replied the grasshopper. “Why don’t you come out?”

“Oh, I like being under this stone. But I’m not frightened, you know.” And Algy smiled politely at the grasshopper, who was looking as grand as grasshoppers always do; for, like all the others, this one seemed to wear a long-tailed coat, and his sticking-out eye, glinting like a drop of dew, seemed for all the world like an eye-glass. This struck Algy, who said, “That’s a very nice green coat you’re wearing, and a very nice glass in front of your eye, Mr Brassclopper.”

For answer the grasshopper began to sing. He sang:

“A grasshopper I—
with a glass in my eye—
it’s a monocle really, old thing!
I’ve a handsome green coat
with two tails that float
behind me, like flags, when I spring.

I’m a beau and a fop
and a jolly old top,
I’m a toff and a regular dandy.
My Christian name’s Hector,
I drink only nectar,
and dine on ambrosia candy.

My wonderful hopping
would set your eyes popping;
I fold my back legs like a spring,
then I stretch them out wide,
and sail off in a glide,
a tremendous stupendous great fling!”

“Ooh, Mr Brassclopper, you did jump a long way,” cried Algy. “I can’t jump like that, but I can work, and I can remember, and I’m never afraid, and I take the food I find back to the nest without eating it. In fact, I’m an ant!

“You bore me!” said Mr Grasshopper and he gave another huge jump that took him way up, over the tops of the grasses, out of sight.

“He’s jumped home!” said Algy. “Well, I’d better skip home. Now where’s my eye-glass.” And, pretending to be a grasshopper-ant, he pretended to fix an eye-glass into his eye, and, still clutching his speck of melon, off he went, singing in a very starchy voice, with a very high-above-you accent,

“Ha, ha, ha, I declare
I am the ant you cannot scare!
Ha, ha, ha, I declare
I am the ant you cannot scare.”

Chapter Six
The Ant Lion

ALGY had been skipping along through the grass, and singing for a long, long time but he wasn’t home yet. “I must be nearly there,” he said to himself. He was feeling a bit tired and hot, and so was quite glad when a little breeze blew up.

“Ah,” he said.

“Here comes a breeze.
Its tossing the trees,
it’s nodding the heads
of the flowers in their beds,
it’s rippling the glass
of the pool—and the grass.

Ooooh, how the grass sways! Every stalk is a swing. If I wasn’t so good and in such a hurry to get back to the nest with this great big load of melon, I’d have a swing on one of those stalks. But I must hurry home.

Bump the long-haired, green-eyed grass,
and knock the daffodils as I pass!
Ooooh, I’d love to sit and sway
in a daffodil all day.
There I’d swing high up and high,
high as herds fly in the sky!

But I must—I must hurry home...Well perhaps I could have just a little swing. Just a tiny, teeny, weeny swing in the golden daffodil. Oh, here’s a bell-blue! A bell’s best of all, cos I’ll ring as I swing!”

So down went his melon on the ground, and up the flower stalk went Algy to sit in the blue-cushioned bell. And the little breeze puffed itself up and up, and blew harder and harder, so that it tossed the bluebell from side to side, till it rang and rang, and Algy felt like a bird, flying way up high in the sky.

But suddenly there was a loud noise of wings. “Oh, oh,” said Algy to himself, “here comes a real herd, a big brown one—I think you call him a barrow. I’d better get down before he sees me...Ah, I’m on the ground again and he hasn’t eaten me. Now where did I put my melon? Oh, oh, it isn’t here!...Or there!...Or anywhere!”

And while he was running this way and that way and every other way, looking for his melon, Algy suddenly tripped and slipped—down, down, down, into a great big sandy hole.

“Got you!” shouted a deep grumpy voice.

“Who are you?” squeaked Algy, shutting his eyes tightly.

“I am an ant lion. And you have fallen into the trap I made to catch you,” answered the deep grumpy voice.

“Oh, you dug this biggest big sandy hole, did you?” asked Algy, opening his eyes and looking around.

“Yes, I did—with my shovel-shaped head.”

“I—I don’t like lions,” whimpered Algy.

“But I like ants—to eat!” and the ant lion smacked his lips.

Y—you don’t want to eat me, do you?” asked Algy, in his very smallest voice.

“That’s just what I do want,” said the ant lion, and he smacked and smacked and smacked his lips.

“Oh, I wouldn’t eat me if I were you, Mr Lion, dear. Really, I wouldn’t. Really and truly. I don’t taste nice. I’m—I’m tough!” cried Algy.

“Oh, no, you’re not tough. You’re a nice, fat, juicy little antling.”

“Oh dear!” cried Algy. And he struggled very hard to walk up the side of the hole; but wherever he tried to walk, the sand crumbled beneath his feet so that he fell back down into the hole again.

“Here! Where do you think you’re going?” roared the ant lion.

“I—I have to get back to my nest. Nurse will be wondering where I am.”

“Well you needn’t think you can climb up the side of this funnel-shaped hole because you can’t! It’s much too cleverly built,” snarled the ant lion.

“I can try,” said Algy. And he tried and tried, but all he could do was to keep slithering and sliding, while the ant lion laughed wickedly and sang:

“I’m a most amazing li-on:
I can’t roar, but how I shi-on
at a-catching of you, Ant.
Like the fly with the spry spider
you quickly fall insider
little trap—and there you pant.”

And indeed Algy was panting so that it seemed his sides would burst, as the ant lion went on singing:

“I hope you have relations
and some friends who’ll have the patience
to search for you. Ho, my!
When they all fall in my trappy.
won’t I be a happy chappy!
Yum! For tea I’ll have ant-pie!”

“Let me out! Let me out,” screamed Algy. But the ant lion went on, rather crossly:

“Now don’t splash around the scenery
or you’ll find the sand machinery
will smother you like a flea.
Pray, stop it now and quickly
or the sand will make you prickly
and so spoil your taste for me,
and you must taste good for me!
Yum-yum! my tasty tea!
My scrumptious, umptious tea!

“I don’t want to taste good! Let me out!” wept Algy.

“Oh, don’t fuss! I do dislike a fussy meal,” said the ant lion.

But Algy fussed and struggled. “Help!” he shouted. “Ant there! Ant there! Ant there!”

“Its no use shouting. Nothing can save you,” said the ant lion.

But Algy went on shouting, “Ant there! Ant there!”

And then, oh then—over the tops of the grasses, through the clover, in between the pebbles and way down even into the great trap of the ant lion, came floating a voice.

“Ant here!” shouted the voice.

“Hurrah! Some ant heard me!” cried Algy and, looking up, he saw the face of an ant peering down at him from over the brink of the hole. “Oh, please get me out of here, good kind ant!” pleaded Algy.

“Why, if it isn’t that young Algernon from our nest! And he’s fallen into the pit of an ant lion!” cried the ant. And soon dozens and dozens of ants came swarming and storming round the brink of the hole until Algy could see a whole frill of ant faces hanging over the rim and staring down at him.

“Oh please, please get me out of here!” cried Algy, again.

“If we try to get you out, we might all fall in,” said the first ant.

“But you will try, won’t you? Nurse told me ants always help each other.”

“Oh, we’ll help you! But first, we’ll have to work out a plan how to do it.”

“Ha, ha! Let them try to help you—that’s just what I want.” growled the ant lion, smacking his lips. “I’ll burrow my shovel-shaped head in the sand and send it swishing round and round like a whirlpool, so that no one can stand up in it. Aha! I toss my head round, and that tosses the sand, and the tossing sand tosses these ants down here to me, and then I toss them into my mouth and gobble them up. Yum, yum! Let them all come! But first I’ll eat you!” And the ant lion made a grab at Algy.

“Help! Help! Help!” screamed Algy, making his voice as loud as he could to that the ants way up on top of the hole could hear him.

And way up on top of the hole, the first ant said to the other ants, ‘I’ve thought of a plan, mates. Quick! Make a living chain!”

“A living chain! A living chain! A living chain!” chanted the others.

“Yes, first every ant must take hold of the ant next to him by his mandibles,” said the first ant.

“Yes, yes!” agreed the ants, all clutching hold of each other, so that the second ant held the first ant, and the third ant held the second ant, and the fourth ant held the third ant, and so on, until all together they had made one long living chain.

“That’s right.” said the first ant. “Now let the ant at the end of the chain take a firm hold of a grass stem...got it?”

“Got it!” said the end ant.

“Good!” said the first ant. “Now I am the tip of your chain. And we must stretch out so that we swing right down into the pit. And don’t forget, we must all keep hold of each other very, very tightly, so that our chain doesn’t break! Are you all ready”

“Yes!” shouted the ants.

“Then, over the edge with me!” cried the first ant. And over the edge, and down, down, down into the ant lions big sandy hole went the first ant—and the second ant—and the third ant, and so on, until the last ant, at the end of the chain, had to hold very, very tightly indeed to the grass stem; because he knew if he let it go, even for a second, all the ants would go reeling, head-over-heeling down into the hole, and be gobbled up by the ant lion.

Then the first ant, who was at the head of the chain, stretched out his mandibles, and caught hold of Algy by his horns.

“You’re all right now, Algy,” he said. “I’ve got you.”

“But the ant lion’s got me, too!” cried Algy.

“Kick him and make him let you go!” said the first ant. So Algy bent his legs, then shot them out again as hard as ever he could.

“Ouch! Kick me with your six feet, would you, Ant?” wheezed the ant lion, doubling up and making a face.

“Yes, I would,” Algy cried out loudly, for the ants were pulling him up, up, up, so that by this time he was almost at the top of the hole.

“Ha, they can try to pull you out, but I’ll soon have them all in,” roared the ant lion. “Just wait till I get my whirlpool of sand swirling! That’ll cut the ground from beneath their feet!”

“Oooh, I’m getting pelted with sand!” cried Algy. “Were all getting pelted with sand!” gasped the first ant. But don’t let our chain break, mates! Remember:

Through good and bad, through thick and thin,
You never see an ant give in.

So pull, mates! Pull! Pull! Pull!”

“Pull!—Pull!—Pull!” echoed the ants. And they pulled and pulled and pulled until Algy was right up out of the hole.

“We’ve got him out. He’s saved!” cried the first ant.

“Thank you all a great biggest big thanks for saving me!” said Algy giving each of them a smile.

“That’s all right, Algernon,” said the first ant. “But after this be careful of lion pits.”

“Are there many of them about?” asked Algy.

“Lots and lots. Often an ant, travelling alone, has fallen into one and has never been heard from again.”

“Ooh!” said Algy. “I fell into one, but you soon heard from me! I shouted!”

“That’s so,” said the first ant. “And now, mates. let’s get back to the nest.”

“I can’t go home yet,” said Algy. “Not till I find my load of melon.”

“Oh, was that your melon? We found it under a bluebell just before we heard you call.”

“You’ve got my melon!” cried Algy, skipping about joyfully. “Oh, hurrah! hurrah! Now I can show Nursey that I can go out hunting for food and bring it back without even taking one lick, and I’ll tell her I met the great biggest big lion and—and kicked him! Hurrah!”

“Come, then!” said the first ant. “Let’s up with our loads and make for home!” So each ant hoisted his bundle of straw, or grass, or stick, or leaf, or food, over his shoulder and made for home, chanting as he marched along:

“After we roam
we turn back home
to find our nest,
and it is best.
Home—home—home—home.”

“Hurrah! There’s Nursey at the door of our nest. We’re nearly there!” cried Algy.

“Home! Home! Home! Home!” chanted the ants, “Home! Home! Home!”

 

Chapter Seven
Algy Gets A Surprise

IT was very, very early in the morning—so early that Algy and all the other ants were asleep—and the sun was only just beginning to shine, and the first kookaburra only just beginning to laugh.

The sentinels were the first to stir. They opened their eyes, stood up on their three pairs of legs, gave themselves a good lick, and began to open the doors to the nest. Soon all the other ants arose and began to sing to the air of “The Campbells Are Coming”:

“A new day is dawning, hurrah! hurrah!
A new day is dawning, hurrah! hurrah!
We’ve worked for this morning,
so rise without yawning.
A new day is dawning, hurrah! hurrah!”

“Wake up, Algy, wake up,” cried Nurse, giving him a gentle shake. Algy yawned, and yawned, and yawned. “My, you were fast asleep,” said Nurse.

“No, Nursey, I wasn’t fast asleep—only loosely,” said Algy. “But I’m widest wide awake now.”

“Well, you have a wash and a brush down, and then I’ve a surprise for you.”

“Oooh! I like surprises—I mean the nice ones,” said Algy, hopping up and down on his six feet.

“Well, be quick! For I must hurry and help take the eggs out on to the top of the nest,” said Nurse.

“Why do all you nurses take the eggs out every morning, Nursey?”

“Why, to let the sun warm them and hatch them, of course.”

“But you don’t leave them out in the sun, Nursey.”

“No. When the roof gets too hot, we carry them down into the warm hatching-room just under it. Then later, when the sun is high and the first hatching room has grown too hot, we carry them down to a lower room, where the air is cooler, and when that gets too hot, we carry them to a still lower room, and so on—all through the day. For, although we must keep the eggs warm, we mustn’t let them get too hot.”

“There, I’m washed!” cried Algy.

“Are you quite clean? Let me give you an extra lick! Stand still! Any ant would think you were a baby reptile the way you wriggle. Oh, stand still! You’re as jumpy as a frog. There! Give yourself a brush down with your spurs.

“I’m brushed. Now for your surprise, Nursey!”

“Well, now that the sentinels have opened the doors you can go out.” said Nurse.

“But the surprise, Nursey!”

“You’ll know that when you go out.”

“You know what happened last time?” said Algy darkly.

“You mean about the old ant lion catching you?”

“I mean about me getting away from him, and kicking him,” giggled Algy.

“H’m, you’re certainly braver than you were, Algy. If only your memory were better and you liked working, you’d be a first-rate little antling. Ah, here come the workers!”

The workers were all marching along the passages towards the open doors of the nest, chanting:

“We’ve work to do
and we’ll do it, too!
Keep on and on
till we get through.
Work—work—work—work
Work—work—work—work—”

“You’d better go with them, Algy,” said Nurse.

“But I went last time,” said Algy, “and you know what I did. I found a great biggest big speck of melon, and I carried it home—and carried it home—and carried it home!”

“Why did you need to carry it home three times?”

“I didn’t, Nursey.”

“Then why did you say you did?”

“I didn’t, Nursey.”

“Well Algy, you said, ‘I carried it home, and carried it home, and carried it home—like that!”

“Oh, that!” said Algy, thinking it out. “Well, you see, first, I carried it some of the way; next, I carried it more of the way, and last, I carried it all of the way.”

“Still, I wish you wouldn’t say things three times, Algy. It’s most confusing.”

“All right, Nursey dear. After this, I’ll try to say things only two times.”

“Once would be enough.”

“All right. I’ll try to say everything only once times.”

“Work—work—work—work!” chanted the workers.

“The workers are leaving the nest.” cried Nurse. “Quick! Go with them!”

“But, Nursey—but, Nursey—I don’t want to.”

“You were born to be a worker. Algy, so if you are a good ant, you will work. Now what do you say?”

“I—I—think I am a good ant,” said Algy, very slowly.

Nurse was delighted. “Yes, I think you are too,” she said. “In fact, I notice you’re getting better in every way; you’re not frightened any more, and you don’t boast nearly as much as you used to, and—”

“And I don’t forget to remember, do I, Nursey?”

“Yes, even your memory is better than it was,” said Nurse.

“If—if I could only like work—” began Algy.

“Ah, then you’d be a—”

“A first rate little antling,” finished Algy.

“Yes,” said Nurse. “Now run along to work, and that surprise I spoke of.”

“I’m running! I’m running! I’m running!” cried Algy, but then he remembered Nurse telling him not to say everything three times, so he said, “I mean ‘I’m running’ just once.”

Outside the nest the workers were all marching along beside the garden border, looking very, very important. Algy ran after them and at last caught up to the end one. “Please,” he said, “please, where do we work today?”

“On the third rose-tree to the left,” said the worker. “We’re going a-milking.”

“A-milking? A-milking what?” asked Algy.

“Ant cows, of course. Would you like to milk, too?”

“Two? No, thank you, one would be enough,” said Algy, politely.

“No, no! I didn’t ask if you would like to milk two cows; I said would you, too, like to milk?”

“I’m not two; I’m only one,” said Algy.

“Oh dear! I’ll put it this way—would you like to milk?

“Milk what?”

“A cow!” screamed the worker.

“Milk a cow?” cried Algy, smiling, “Oh, yes! Oh, yes! Oh, yes!—er, I mean, ‘Oh, yes!’ just once.”

All this time, Algy and the workers had been hurrying down the garden border, under the grass of a strip of lawn, over the soil and pebbles of a flower garden, and up the stem of the third rose-tree. Now suddenly they all stopped.

“Here we are!” the worker told Algy.

“Oh, yes! We’re at the tippety-top of the rose-tree. Oooh, and look at all those little green animals on the rose-stem!”

“Those are the cows.”

“Oh, I like cows,” said Algy.

“Yes, we ants all do,” said the worker. “But human people don’t care for them because they eat the fresh shoots of rose-trees. Human people call the cows ‘aphides’.”

“Look, look! They’re eating now,” said Algy. pointing at the cows.

“Yes, they’re sucking the sap from the rose-stems. Time to begin our milking. See underneath this first cow, a drop of liquid forming?”

“Yes, I see it,” said Algy.

“That is the honey-dew.”

“How did it get there?”

“Well, the cow pumps sap from the rose-tree, the sap passes through it and oozes out as honey-dew, and then I—do—this!” said the worker. and he caught the drop of honey-dew in his open sac. “That’s how we milk our cows. You try it.”

“But there’s no drop there, now,” said Algy. “You took it.”

“Then stroke the cow with your horns. Pat him!”

“I’m patting him—and—oh yes, there’s another drop of honey-dew underneath him. It’s ready to drop,” cried Algy.

“Then catch it in your sac!’’

“Yeow! Here I go!” shouted Algy, and—splash!—he caught the drop of honeydew in his sac.

“Keep on stroking your cow and catching the drops, while I milk this other one!” said the worker.

“I will,” laughed Algy. And he began to sing to the air of “Little Brown Jug”:

“Now I have a cow that gives honey-dew
I’ll pat her gently, wouldn’t you?
I’ll stroke her so, in just this way,
and milk her forty times a day.
Ha, ha, ha, you and me,
little green cow don’t I love thee!
Ha, ha, ha, you and me,
little green cow don’t I love thee!”

Algy went on singing and milking happily. Then suddenly he cried, “Oh, oh, my sac is full!”

“So is mine.” said the worker. “We must go home now and take the honey-dew. The other milkers are ready to start too,”

“Home—home—home—home,” chanted the workers as they marched back to the nest.

“Home—home—home!” shouted Algy.

Nurse was very pleased to see Algy return home without any mishap. “Did you have a good time?” she asked.

“Oh yes, Nursey! We’ve been having a most splendiferous time. We’ve been milking ant cows. And when our sacs were full of honey-dew, we came back to the nest, and—”

“And what did you do with the honey-dew?” asked Nurse.

‘We shared it among all the ants who hadn’t milked,” answered Algy. ‘With the engineers, and surveyors, our nurses, and miners, and foragers, and masons and all the other workers.”

“And you enjoyed working, didn’t you, Algy?”

‘Working? I haven’t been working, Nursey. I’ve just been a-milking, and—”

“That was work,” said Nurse.

Algy opened his eyes very wide. “Was it? Oh, was it? Then I’m really a worker who works? Oh, Nursey, and work’s just lovely, after all!”

Nurse chuckled, and Algy went on, “But, Nursey, although I found that work could be fun, I didn’t find your surprise.”

“Yes you did, Algy. That was my surprise—that work can be fun!”

“Oh! That is a surprise!” cried Algy; and his voice cracked and split in two with amazement. “That is a surprise!!”

Chapter Eight
The Marriage Flight

ONE evening towards the end of August, all the ants began to shake and quiver all over with excitement; and when Algy asked the reason why, Nurse answered, “Algy, Algy, don’t you know what day it is?”

“Well, Nursey, it’s either Monday or Friday, but I think it’s Wednesday,” said Algy.

“It’s—it’s wedding day!” cried Nurse.

“Oh!” said Algy. “So that’s why we’re all tippy-toe. Are we all getting married?”

“No, no,” said Nurse. “Workers never get married, only the ants with wings marry. Come along! hurry up and see the couples depart on their honeymoon. The workers wish them to swarm before the sun sets.”

“Yes, Nursey, I’ll hurry.” said Algy. And he said it only once, and hurried along after Nurse to where the workers were opening the doors of the nest to let the men and women ants go out.

Algy could easily tell the men ants from the women, because they were smaller and had larger eyes: and he could tell both the men and the women from the workers because they had wings.

But Nurse said, “They won’t have their wings for long, now that they’re to be married.”

“Shoo! Shoo! Shoo!” shouted the workers, pushing the men and women out of doors.

“Why do the workers have to push them?” Algy asked. “Don’t the men and women want to be married?”

“Oh, yes, they want to be married; but they’re not used to doing things for themselves,” said Nurse. “You see, they’ve never worked or ever done anything useful in their lives before: the workers have always managed things for them.”

“Shoo! Shoo! Shoo!” cried the workers dragging the lagging brides and bridegrooms outside.

Algy and Nurse ran outside, too. And there they saw lots of men and women ants getting ready for their marriage flight. They spread their wings and, for a good take-off, they climbed to the top of leaves and grasses and stood there on tip-toe, quivering and shivering with excitement. As they spread them, the gauzy wings crackled. Algy thought how beautiful they looked with the sun shining through them, shimmering and gleaming like bright bits of rainbow.

“The men ants seem even more excited than the women ants,” he said to Nurse.

“Yes,” she replied. “This is what they were born and reared for—this marriage flight. Listen to them!”

So Algy listened while the men ants chanted:

“For this we were born,
for this we shall die,
all our lives were for this—
let us fly—fly—fly!”

And then the women ants answered:

“For this we were born,
to serve, not to die;
this our destiny—
so fly—fly—fly!”

“Look!” cried Nurse. “they’re going to swarm.”

All the winged ants were rising into the air, waving their fine filmy wings, through which the sun shone even more beautifully than before. Up, up, up, they flew, and away, away till Algy could not see them.

“They’ve flown away on their marriage flight.” said Nurse. “And now it’s getting dark. It’s time you were in bed.”

The next morning Algy awoke early as a bird, and ran outside to see if the men and women ants had returned from their honeymoon. But there was no sign of them.

“The men don’t return,” Nurse explained, “and only some of the women.”

“How many women?” asked Algy.

“Just as many as the workers need to lay the eggs.”

“But only queens can lay eggs, Nursey.”

“That’s right. After the marriage flight the women become queens. Some of them fly away to new nests of their own: and some of them come back here to lay the eggs that our new baby ants will be hatched from.”

“But Queen Emmet lays all our eggs, Nursey.”

“Yes, but Queen Emmet is growing old, Algy. She has laid thousands and thousands of eggs and now she is getting tired.”

“Tired—tired—tired!” said a dreary, weary voice. Turning round, Algy saw a very large ant, and knew at once that it was Queen Emmet, for she was the largest ant in the whole nest. She had come outside for a moment, to see what was going on, but now several of the workers ran to her and, catching hold of her in their mandibles, led her back into the nest again.

The queen sighed, but went quietly with the workers; and as she went, little round white things dropped from her body. These were eggs, so the nurses were quick to gather them up and carry them off to the nurseries.

Algy heard the queen mumbling to herself, so he crept up close to hear what she said. This is what he heard:

“I’m a queen—
what’s that mean?
Fourteen years old,
yet I do as I’m told.
And I work—how I work!
I never must shirk.
Each night and each day
I lay—and I lay.
A whole generation
is my creation;
yet if I dare rest,
every ant in the nest
will fidget, and beg,
Just one more egg!

I’m fourteen years old,
yet I do as I’m told.
If I stroll through a door
I’ll be circled, for sure,
by swarms who will say,
‘Come home now, don’t stray!’

Yet I’m proud as can be
of my industry.
A whole generation
is my creation.
So each night, each day
I shall lay, lay, and lay—
lay—and lay—’

And fat old Queen Emmet wandered off, still laying and laying.

Suddenly there was a great shout from the workers outside. Algy guessed it must be the new queens returning to the nest. And it was. In they came through an open door led by the workers, who at once began to tear off their lovely bridal wings, for the little queens would never fly again. From now on they would do as Queen Emmet did; and they began at once.

“I must go and help gather up those new eggs,” said Nurse. “What a pile of them already!”

“Well, Nursey,” said Algy, “you know the more eggs there are, the more little antlings will be hatched from them. And the more little antlings that are hatched, the more workers there will be to build a bigger and better nest, and to care for us all.”

“My!” smiled Nurse. “You’ve got the right idea at last, Algy.”

“And I’ve another idea, Nursey. I’ve the idea to help you with the eggs.”

“Oh, no, Algy! It isn’t your job to look after the eggs,” said Nurse.

“Oh, no, my real job is to forage for food and to milk the ant cows,” said Algy, feeling very big and important. “Oh, it’s such fun, milking, Nursey. We’re going milking again today—on the fourth rose-tree in the garden.”

Just then the milkers came marching down the passage towards the open door, and chanting as they came:

“To work! To work!
To work! To work!
We’ve work to do,
and we do it, too!
One for all, and all for one—
that’s the way to get things done.”

“Good-bye, Algy!” cried Nurse.

“Good-bye. Nursey dear! See you this evening!” And Algy ran off to work, singing.

And here we leave Algy Ant busy and gay: you’ll see him at work in your garden all day, and though you can’t hear as he hurries along you know he’ll be singing the same little song:

“One for all and all for one—
that’s the way to get things done.”


THE END

Project Gutenberg Australia