“Unless they alter their course, and there’s no reason why they should, they’ll reach your plantation in two days at the latest.”
Leiningen sucked placidly at a cigar about the size of a corncob and for a few seconds gazed without answering at the agitated District Commissioner. Then he took the cigar from his lips, and leaned slightly forward. With his bristling grey hair, bulky nose, and lucid eyes, he had the look of an aging and shabby eagle.
“Decent of you,” he murmured, “paddling all this way just to give me the tip. But you’re pulling my leg of course when you say I must do a bunk. Why, even a herd of saurians couldn’t drive rne from this plantation of mine.”
The Brazilian official threw up lean and lanky arms and clawed the air with wildly distended fingers. “Leiningen!” he shouted. “You’re insane! They’re not creatures you can fight–they’re an elemental–an ‘act of God!’ Ten miles long, two miles wide–ants, nothing but ants! And every single one of them a fiend from hell; before you can spit three times they’ll eat a full-grown buffalo to the bones. I tell you if you don’t clear out at once there’ll he nothing left of you but a skeleton picked as clean as your own plantation.”
Leiningen grinned. “Act of God, my eye! Anyway, I’m not an old woman; I’rn not going to run for it just because an elemental’s on the way. And don’t think I’m the kind of fathead who tries to fend off lightning with his fists either. I use my intelligence, old man. With me, the brain isn’t a second blindgut; I know what it’s there for. When I began this model farm and plantation three years ago, I took into account all that could conceivably happen to it. And now I’m ready for anything and everything–including your ants.”
The Brazilian rose heavily to his feet. “I’ve done my best,” he gasped. “Your obstinacy endangers not only yourself, but the lives of your four hundred workers. You don’t know these ants!”
Leiningen accompanied him down to the river, where the Governrnent launch was moored. The vessel cast off. As it moved downstream, the exclamation mark neared the rail and began waving its arms frantically. Long after thc launch had disappeared round the bend, Leiningen thought he could still hear that dimming imploring voice, “You don’t know them, I tell you! You don’t know them!”
But the reported enemy was by no means unfamiliar to the planter. Before he started work on his settlement, he had lived long enough in the country to see for himself the fearful devastations sometimes wrought by these ravenous insects in their campaigns for food. But since then he had planned measures of defence accordingly, and these, he was convinced? were in every way adequate to withstand the approaching peril.
Moreover, during his three years as a planter, Leiningen had met and defeated drought, Hood, plague and all other “acts of God” which had come against him-unlike his fellow-settlers in the district, who had made little or no resistance. This unbroken success he attributed solely to the observance of his lifelong motto: The human brain needs only to become fully aware of its powers to conquer even the elements. Dullards reeled senselessly and aimlessly into the abyss; cranks, however brilliant, lost their heads when circumstances suddenly altered or accelerated and ran into stone walls, sluggards drifted with the current until they were caught in whirlpools and dragged under. But such disasters, Leiningen contended, merely strengthened his argument that intelligence, directed aright, invariably makes man the master of his fate.