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PinkMonkey.com Digital Library - PinkMonkey.com-Walden by Henry David Thoreau


their march, with faint, wiry peep, single file through the swamp, as
she directed. Or I heard the peep of the young when I could not see
the parent bird. There too the turtle doves sat over the spring, or
fluttered from bough to bough of the soft white pines over my head;
or the red squirrel, coursing down the nearest bough, was
particularly familiar and inquisitive. You only need sit still long
enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants
may exhibit themselves to you by turns.

I was witness to events of a less peaceful character. One day when I
went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed
two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly half an inch
long, and black, fiercely contending with one another. Having once
got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled and rolled on
the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was surprised to find that
the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was not a
duellum, but a bellum, a war between two races of ants, the red
always pitted against the black, and frequently two red ones to one
black. The legions of these Myrmidons covered all the hills and
vales in my woodyard, and the ground was already strewn with the
dead and dying, both red and black. It was the only battle which I
have ever witnessed, the only battle-field I ever trod while the battle
was raging; internecine war; the red republicans on the one hand,
and the black imperialists on the other. On every side they were
engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear,
and human soldiers never fought so resolutely. I watched a couple
that were fast locked in each otherís embraces, in a little sunny
valley amid the chips, now at noonday prepared to fight till the sun
went down, or life went out. The smaller red champion had fastened
himself like a vice to his adversaryís front, and through all the
tumblings on that field never for an instant ceased to gnaw at one of
his feelers near the root, having already caused the other to go by the
board; while the stronger black one dashed him from side to side,
and, as I saw on looking nearer, had already divested him of several
of his members. They fought with more pertinacity than bulldogs.
Neither manifested the least disposition to retreat. It was evident that
their battle-cry was "Conquer or die." In the meanwhile there came
along a single red ant on the hillside of this valley, evidently full of
excitement, who either had despatched his foe, or had not yet taken
part in the battle; probably the latter, for he had lost none of his
limbs; whose mother had charged him to return with his shield or
upon it. Or perchance he was some Achilles, who had nourished his
wrath apart, and had now come to avenge or rescue his Patroclus. He
saw this unequal combat from afar-for the blacks were nearly twice
the size of the red-he drew near with rapid pace till be stood on his
guard within half an inch of the combatants; then, watching his
opportunity, he sprang upon the black warrior, and commenced his
operations near the root of his right fore leg, leaving the foe to select
among his own members; and so there were three united for life, as
if a new kind of attraction had been invented which put all other
locks and cements to shame. I should not have wondered by this
time to find that they had their respective musical bands stationed on
some eminent chip, and playing their national airs the while, to
excite the slow and cheer the dying combatants. I was myself excited
somewhat even as if they had been men. The more you think of it,
the less the difference. And certainly there is not the fight recorded
in Concord history, at least, if in the history of America, that will
bear a momentís comparison with this, whether for the numbers
engaged in it, or for the patriotism and heroism displayed. For
numbers and for carnage it was an Austerlitz or Dresden. Concord
Fight! Two killed on the patriotsí side, and Luther Blanchard
wounded! Why here every ant was a Buttrick-"Fire! for Godís sake
fire!"- and thousands shared the fate of Davis and Hosmer. There
was not one hireling there. I have no doubt that it was a principle
they fought for, as much as our ancestors, and not to avoid a three-
penny tax on their tea; and the results of this battle will be as
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PinkMonkey.com Digital Library - PinkMonkey.com-Walden by Henry David Thoreau



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