OUT in the garden Mary sat hemming a pocket-handkerchief, and there came a little insect running—oh, in such a hurry!—across the small stone table by her side.
The sewing was not done, for Mary liked doing nothing best, and she thought it would be fun to drop her thimble over the little ant. “Now he is in the dark,” said she. “Can he mind? He is only such a little tiny thing.”
Mary ran away, for her mother called her, and she forgot all about the ant under the thimble.
There he was, the poor ant, running round and round and round the dark prison, with little horns on his head quivering, little perfect legs bending as beautifully as those of a race-horse, and he was in quite as big a fright as if he were an elephant.
“Oh,” you would have heard him say, if you had been clever enough, “I can’t get out, I can’t get out! I shall lie down and die.” ” Mary went to bed, and in the night the rain poured. The handkerchief was soaked as if somebody had been crying very much, when she went out to fetch it as soon as the sun shone. She remembered who was under the thimble. “I wonder what he is doing,” said Mary. But when she lifted up the thimble the little tiny thing lay stiff and still.
“Oh, did he die of being under the thimble?” she said aloud. “I am afraid he did mind.”
“Why did you do that, Mary?” said her father, who was close by, and who had guessed the truth. “See! he moves one of his legs. Run to the house and fetch a wee taste of honey from the breakfast-table for the little thing you starved.”
“I didn’t mean to,” said Mary.
She touched the honey in the spoon with a blade of grass, and tenderly put a drop of it before the little ant. He put out a fairy tongue to lick up the sweet stuff. He grew well, and stood upon his pretty little jointed feet. He tried to run.
“Where is he in such a hurry to go, do you think?” said father.
“I don’t know,” said Mary softly. She felt ashamed.
“He wants to run home,” said father. “I know where he lives. In a little round world of ants, under the apple tree.”
“Oh! Has such a little tiny thing a real home of his own? I should have thought he lived just anywhere about.”
“Why, he would not like that at all. At home he has a fine palace, with passages and rooms more than you could count; he and the others dug them out, that they might all live together like little people in a little town.”
“And has he got a wife and children—a lot of little ants at home?”
“The baby ants are born as eggs; they are little helpless things, and must be carried about by their big relations. There are father ants and mother ants, and lots of other ants who are nurses to the little ones. Nobody knows his own children, but all the grown-up ones are kind to all the babies. This is a little nurse ant. See how she hurries off! Her babies at home must have their faces washed.”
“O father!” cried Mary; “now that is a fairy story.”