Juliet was a kind little girl. She was three and a half years old. Mommy often did her long brown hair up in a pretty ponytail. Her big beautiful eyes lit up her face.
Her little brother was just a year old and his name was Bastien. He still crawled. He was funny and he often made his big sister laugh. She loved him a lot.
On that day, in fact, Juliet found herself in the yard with him. She noticed something quite strange going through the grass near the fence: two columns of ants. They followed each other like train cars.
Our friend stopped for a moment to watch them.
All the ants who came from the end of the yard towards the house seemed to be out for a walk. They weren't carrying anything. They moved forwards one after the other in single file.
But the ants who came from the house and were going back to the anthill, a little hole near the hedge, each carried a little something that was very pale in colour. This seemed quite heavy for them.
Juliet was surprised and curious.
Her little brother was beside her, still crawling around as usual. Without doing it on purpose and without really paying attention, he placed his hand down so his fingers were in the path of one of the columns of ants. Now one of them climbed up on the back of his hand.
The little girl took her brother's wrist and looked at the ant. It stopped and didn't seem like it wanted to go away. What should she do?
Our friend remembered a nasty ant bite she had on her leg, just the week before. It was really bad and it had made her cry so she had tears running down her cheeks. It would swell up and make a lump, according to Daddy. Mommy put an ointment on it, but the lump itched for days.
Juliet was a good big sister and she didn't want Bastien to be bitten by the ant that had stopped on his hand. She wondered how to make it go away.
Should she take it between her thumb and forefinger and gently put it back on the ground? She didn't think that was a good idea. If you take an ant between your thumb and your forefinger, there's a big risk that it'll bite your finger.
Maybe she should dump a bucket of water over Bastien and try to drown the ant? Probably not. If he gets all wet, he'll start to cry.
Maybe she could try to smush the ant by hitting Bastien's hand really hard? That would hurt her brother. It wasn't a good idea.
Maybe she should call Mommy or Daddy? Oh probably. But they seemed pretty busy in the house. It'd be better not to bother them for now.
Juliet decided to brush her fingers quickly over the back of Bastien's hand. The ant was knocked off and it fell to the ground.
Our friend smiled, delighted. She was proud of herself. She did a good job of protecting her little brother.
But where was that little ant? It wasn't heading towards the anthill. It made its way between the blades of grass and the daisies.
It stopped near Bastien's yellow truck. It seemed to hesitate for a moment. Suddenly, it decided. It climbed up the rear wheel and hoisted itself up onto the bed of the truck.
"You want to go for a ride in the truck?" Juliet asked. "Okay. I'm going to help you."
She rolled the truck over the lawn to the house. The ant, now at the front of the truck, watched the scenery go by.
They passed quite close to another ant. This one held the yellow petal of a buttercup in its mouth. The ant got down from the truck and went over to the one that seemed to be its friend.
They headed over to Juliet's red ball. The two ants tried to get up onto it.
"Do you want to play on the ball?" asked our friend.
Gently, she rolled the red ball and it passed above the two little ones. It stopped in a hollow.
A third ant was there in the hollow, holding a poppy petal in its mouth. Juliet saw them say hello to each other. They touched antennas. Then they continued on, one after the other, towards the garden shed.
They passed by a blue marble our little friend had lost the other day. Very orderly, the three ants went around it without looking at it.
A fourth ant was hiding nearby. It held a cornflower petal in its mouth.
After greeting it, they turned themselves around and joined up with the row of ants that ran from Juliet's house to the anthill. As for our friend's ant, it wasn't carrying anything just then so it picked up a grain of rice that was lying there between the blades of grass.
The little girl saw these four colours moving away, mixing with the ants who carried the clear packages with them. The yellow petal from the buttercup, the red from the poppy, the blue from the cornflower, and the white grain of rice marched off to the end of the yard.
Our friend, always very curious, wondered where the ants found this strange, pale stuff that they were carrying to the anthill.
She figured out a really simple way of learning this. She just had to go along with the ones who weren't carrying anything, to walk beside them and to watch where they ended up.
Juliet followed the length of the line with her eyes. She got to the foundation of the house like this.
She noticed right away that the ants were climbing the length of the brick wall to the living room windowsill. There, they came to a quarter of an apple. They each dug out a tiny piece and then took it back to the anthill.
The little girl remembered the apple that Mommy cut for her yesterday. She had placed a piece of it on the windowsill. And she forgot it there. Now what was happening was that the ants were crossing the length of the yard, cutting pieces of apple and bringing them back to their own house.
Juliet thought of Bastien crawling around on the lawn. There was a chance that he'd stop near the ants again and they would almost certainly bite him. She had to do something so that they didn't come over to this side of the yard, so they didn't cross the lawn.
She took the piece of apple and she placed it right next to the anthill near the fence. This way the ants could find their food next to their house. They didn't have any reason to cross the yard.
And this is why Bastien, who crawled around on all fours, was never bitten by the ants.
Juliet was really a very nice big sister!
Translation : Andrew Gordon Middleton