T HE next day Emile, when only half awake, began to think of the ants' cows. "We must beg uncle," said he to Jules, "to tell us the rest of his story this morning."
No sooner said than done: they went to look for their uncle.
"Aha!" cried he upon hearing their request, "the ants' cows are interesting you. I will do better than tell you about them, I will show them to you. First of all call Claire."
Claire came in haste. Their uncle took them under the elder bush in the garden, and this is what they saw:
The bush is white with flowers. Bees, flies, beetles, butterflies, fly from one flower to another with a drowsy murmur. On the trunk of the elder, amongst the ridges of the bark, numbers of ants are crawling, some ascending, some descending. Those ascending are the more eager. They sometimes stop the others on the way and appear to consult them as to what is going on above. Being informed, they begin climbing again with even more ardor, proof that the news is good. Those descending go in a leisurely manner, with short steps. Willingly they halt to rest or to give advice to those who consult them. One can easily guess the cause of the difference in eagerness of those ascending and those descending. The descending ants have their stomachs swollen, heavy, deformed, so full are they; those ascending have their stomachs thin, folded up, crying hunger. You cannot mistake them: the descending ants are coming back from a feast and, well fed, are returning home with the slowness that a heavy paunch demands; the ascending ants are running to the same feast and put into the assault of the bush the eagerness of an empty stomach.
"What do they find on the elder to fill their stomachs?" asked Jules. "Here are some that can hardly drag along. Oh, the gluttons!"
"Gluttons! no," Uncle Paul corrected him; "for they have a
worthy motive for gorging themselves. There is above, on the
elder, an immense number of the cows. The descending ants
have just milked them, and it is in their paunch that they
carry the milk for the common nourishment of the
Uncle Paul drew down to the children's level the top of a
branch, and all looked at it attentively. Innumerable black
velvety lice, immobile and so close together as to touch one
another, cover the under side of the leaves and the still
tender wood. With a sucker more delicate than a hair plunged
into the bark, they fill themselves peacefully with the sap
of the elder without changing their position. At the end of
their back, they have two short and hollow
hairs, two tubes
from which, if you look attentively, you can see a little
drop of sugary liquid escape from time to time. These black
lice are called
In the midst of the herd, on the
herd, even, when the cattle are too close together, the
famished ants come and go from one louse to another,
watching for the delicious little drop. The one who sees it
runs, drinks, enjoys it, and seems to say on raising its
little head: Oh, how good, oh, how good it is! Then it goes
on its way looking for another mouthful of milk. But
Uncle Paul let go the branch, which sprang back into its natural position. Milkmaids, cattle, and pasture were at once at the top of the elder bush.
"That is wonderful, Uncle," cried Claire.
"Wonderful, my dear child. The elder is not the only bush
that nourishes milk herds for the ants.
Claire and her uncle went