The Ants

by André Maurois

Between two sheets of glass, fastened together by strips of gummed paper along the edges, a colony of tiny brown monsters was toiling and moiling. The shopkeeper had provided the ants with a little sand, in which they had made converging passages. Right in the middle could be seen a larger creature, nearly always motionless. This was the Queen, to whom the ants respectfully brought nourishment.

"No trouble at all," said the salesman. "All you have to do is to place a morsel of honey in this opening, once a month. . . . just one morsel. . . . . The ants will see to carrying it and sharing it for themselves. . . ."

"Once a month?" said the young woman. "Is one little piece enough to keep this whole nation alive for a month?"

She wore a large white straw hat, a dress of flowered muslin. Her arms were bare. The salesman eyed her sadly.

"One morsel is enough," he repeated.

"How delightful!" she said.

And she bought the transparent ant-heap.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"Darling!" she said. "Have you seen my ants?"

She was holding the flat, thin, living frame between her pale fingers with their tinted nails. The man seated beside her admired the curve of her bent neck.

"How interesting you make life, my dear . . . With you, everything is fresh and different . . . Last night, Bach . . . and now, these ants. . . ."

"Look, darling," she said, with the childlike eagerness that he loved (as she knew). "Do you see that great big one there? That’s the Queen. . . The workers wait on her. . . . I feed them myself. . . . And would you believe it, dear– one drop of honey a month is all they need! Poetic, isn’t it?"

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

After a week her lover and her husband had both tired of the ant-heap. She hid it behind the mirror on the mantelpiece of her room. At the end of the month she forgot the little piece of honey. Slowly the ants starved to death. To the very end they kept a speck of honey for the Queen, who was the last to perish.

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