Short Stories » Bees, Their Habits and What They Did

Bees, Their Habits and What They Did

THERE was a great commotion in a certain hive of bees, for it had been announced that one of the brood cells was being enlarged and fitted up appropriately for the occupancy of a royal infant, a future queen- bee.

There was a great hurrying to and fro, large numbers were sent out to bring in an increased supply of pollen for bee bread and wax, while the honey gatherers had special orders for an unlimited quantity of sweets, well, as much as the hive would hold. The drones were ordered to stand out of the way of the committees and workers, as well as to keep a respectful distance from the attendants of the royal infant and her august mother, the queen. None of these subjects ever turn their backs upon the queen, but advance and retire with the utmost deference and skill. There are no upstarts in bee society, they are all properly reared from birth.

While a number of professional excellence were reciting or singing to her majesty, still others sought to conceal from her serenity the fact of the oppressive heat outside, by a thoughtful use of their wings as fans, thus creating a circulation of air delicately perfumed by the merest suggestions of the most exquisite flora adorning an expansive and charming landscape. Neither overwhelmed nor oppressed by these refined attentions, the reflective faculties of her majesty wandered in delicious fancy over realms of nature bounteous in resources and rapturous to the eye; but, having the interests of her well-ordered kingdom and loyal subjects at heart, she stifled the desire which the vision impelled, by this noble and exquisite self-sacrificing sentiment. "Not yet; I must not desert my royal duties at this important time for my personal gratification." Revealing no sign of this mental conflict and victory over self, the queen directed her thoughts toward subjects of present importance, and deliberated upon the provisions necessary for the dignity and station of the royal infant, and in a short time the matter was decided in her own mind and set aside until the time for action should arrive. As the authority of a queen-bee is absolute, and no prime ministers or parliaments presume to arrogate to them- selves superior wisdom and present their advice, and her majesty never asks any, but proceeds always according to the original constitution framed by the Grand Organizer of the Bee Kingdom (which has never had any amendments appended to it), there was no cause for any anxiety or further consideration, so she graciously listened to the soft harmony of voices rising from the populace of contented spirits and willing hands, and her mind and heart felt to ask for nothing further at the disposal of nature, but relapsed into blissful ease, unlike many sordid and avaricious monarchs, whose reflections in times of peace are upon conquest and plunder.

The pollen gatherers returned, and their work was assigned them, some to the refectory, while others, the wax-makers, repaired to their own department. In less than a minute, nearly one hundred of these ran up to a cross at the top, and, catching hold with their foreclaws, swung off as though practicing a trapeze performance. Quicker than I can tell you, another set followed, and, catching onto the hind legs, dangling down, called out to the rest to come along. This was repeated until a perfect curtain, all sparkling with dazzling eyes, quivering wings and a background of gold and polished black stripes, shaded with velvety brown, hung before your astonished eyes. " Do your legs ache ? " called out the bees below, and the brave little fellows above answered back, "We can stand it; stick to your work." And so they did, until the wax came out in rings around their bodies. Then other workers hurried to them and began pulling off the wax and tucking it in pockets in their hind legs, until it rounded out and no more would hold on. As fast as the wax-makers were relieved of their manufactures, they let go of those above and hurried away, to their dinners, I suppose. The little fellows with the wax in their pockets ran around to where the masons were at work gauging and measuring off the six-sided cells for honey storage, bee bread, and brood apartments. You ought to have seen them claw out a clawful of sweet, clean wax, put it in place, and pat it to just the right angle and thickness, a little thicker up and down the corners, a little thinner in the center of the walls, until almost like paper and clear enough for light to show through it, but strong enough to hold a hundred times its weight in honey, I do believe. They run up these cells very fast, and their work is so clean, no chips and dust do these carpenters leave, and so tempting to the eye that you would want to have a chew of it, if you are like every girl and boy I ever knew.

The very minute the cells were ready, along came the honey bringers and poured in the delicate nectar. "Here!" called out an expert in sampling honey, "this has been made from sage blossoms; it is very strong. What is to be done with it?" One of the "Committee on Arrangements" stepped forward, and, with a low bow, replied: " It will be the very finest of medicated sage honey, for cases of canker, and as there is but one known range of country where it can be procured, we have the advantage of the supply." "Very well," replied the sampler, "but the demand for canker medicine is not very great ; what is this fiery lot?" "That was brought from the ranges and plains of wild mustard blossoms, and might be used in the manufacture of piccalilli, of which our masters are so fond." " The supply is quite sufficient for the piccalilli market of the entire season ; we want no more of it. But this is fine indeed, although rather dark in color, and the flavor is new to me." "This, sir, is from the earliest fruits, chiefly the native berries; and this, from field and orchard blossoms, combining all their delicate flavors," answered the bee respectfully. The sampler marked the latter A No. I, and the fruit- culled sample, B No. 2, then ordered them deposited in the whitest of the new-made comb, and covers capped on, marked with their private, undiscoverable and inimitable trade-mark.

Just as this order had been delivered, an outcry was raised that an intruder, a moth, the deadly enemy of the bee tribe, had overpowered the guard and rushed in already, working his way to the brood department, with the dastardly purpose of slaying first the young, and then, taking advantage of the distracted state of the adult population in their bereavement, to let in his accomplices without. In an instant the order was given to head him off and get him into a corner. As soon as this was accomplished, a call was made for masons and plasterers, and the judge ordered a solid wall built across the angle, and high enough to roof it over and seal it hermetically tight. The moth tried to offer some compromise, but his voice was drowned by a tumult of outcries that their laws were antediluvian and irrevocable, and, in the case of moths, there could be heard no appeal or arbitration. The sentence was imprisonment until death. Neither would the remains be remanded to relatives or friends after death. His own had looked their last upon him when they sent him forth as a spy and plunderer. Thus the enemy outside, who awaited a signal from their venturous comrade, were disappointed, for their eyes never again rested upon him. So might it be with all traitors.

Order and activity were now resumed, and after the roll was called, report was made of those who had been killed by kingbirds while on their trip, and of others snapped up by toads while resting a moment on the step of the hive on their return. The attendants upon her majesty the infant princess, and the rest of the youthful colony, also the treasurer, reported the condition of their respective charges. A consultation was also held upon the matter of some fifty pounds of honey that had been taken from the hive the day before and sold, the exact pantry closet where it was now hidden having been discovered by a scouting bee. It was resolved to recover the honey on the following day.

Early next morning the lady of a certain house decided to take a ride for her health, and breakfast with her sister. The visit lasted all day, and when they returned at night she said to her husband, " We will just have a cup of tea with bread and butter, and some of that fresh honey, instead of cooking supper." Accordingly, after the table was otherwise ready, she took a beautiful glass dish and silver knife and proceeded to the inner closet. Imagine her surprise when she saw only the pure white honey-comb. It was certainly a mystery, for how could anyone steal honey out of a locked room and without taking the comb. She thought about fairies' work, although she did not believe in such fantastical creatures. Upon close examination, a very little honey was left, but without taking it, the lady went back to the dining-room with something else. It could not be comprehended that night, but they found out the secret next morning.

When she opened the dining-room door, she heard a buzzing, and, following the sound, went into the pantry and found bees flying in and out through the slatted window. The lady watched them settle upon the honey, then fly away. She called her husband, and he laughed at the wise little creatures. " Well," said she, " I paid Mrs. James for that honey, and her bees have stolen it back, but I'll have her come over and see for herself, after breakfast." When the top of the kitchen stove was opened, the inside was swarming with bees. They soon flew outdoors when a smoke was made and brandished around them, and Mr. Blake proceeded to kindle the fire for his wife, but, strangely enough, it would not draw. Clouds of smoke puffed out of the stove, but very little out of the pipe.

"A hundred years or so ago, they would have called this witchcraft," said Mr. Blake, smiling, "but I'll simply take the pipe down. Some idle boy may have been playing us a trick while we were gone, though I can't imagine who ; " and he lifted the pipe carefully so as not to drop soot on the floor before taking it outdoors. " Goodness ! what is that ? I can't see for the smoke," he exclaimed, and then rushed out of the house, forgetful of soot or clean floor. In a minute or less the room was full of buzzing bees, all darting for the door to get fresh air. Who had ever heard of such a thing before? The bees had been determined to get into the house after the honey, and some had gone down the stove pipe while others went in at the window.

Mrs. James came over and saw how it was, and cheerfully restored the amount of honey carried away by her bees. (Now, this is a true circumstance, for I saw the identical empty honey-comb, and also the lady's kitchen before the stove pipe was replaced.) " I should think, Mrs. James, that your bees might be taught to come in to the table and eat; they seem very intelligent," said Mr. Blake good-humoredly, and to his enlightenment the lady replied : "Although I have never invited them to eat at my table, I have, in times of scarcity of bee forage in the early spring (especially as I had taken more honey from them in the fall than I should have done), prepared several articles of food for them, and set it conveniently on a bench in front of their hives ; and they very appreciatively accepted it." Mr. Blake smiled in surprise, and inquired what kind of food. "Sometimes I would dilute syrup or sugar with water, at other times a plate of very nice preserves. Trying to approach the substitute for pollen, I offered them fine corn-meal, which they also ate, and it was my habit to kill once a week a tender young chicken, prepare it as neatly as for my own cooking, and then boil it tender, and set it on a clean plate before them. They generally ate most of the meat. I think they would not have cared for the meal or meat if they could have found sufficient of their natural food, but at any rate my bees lived through the season of scarcity, without any injury to their health, I think, for they all cast off their swarms as usual. But I would never again rob them so closely in the fall; they have a right to their own provisions sufficient for the season."

Now while all this excitement was going on, and after the bees reported the recovery of the honey, affairs had not been at a stand-still in the hive. It was apparent to every member of the hive that the royal infant was growing so fast (I should have said the princess) that her interests as a future sovereign demanded official attention ; for what is sovereignty without subjects and a kingdom, and the chief persons in her majesty's suite awaited with intense yet deferential anxiety the mention of the matter by the queen, knowing full well that not even the most devoted of her subjects could understand the subject better, or feel it more deeply at heart, than her own maternal promptings and judgment could dictate. So, while their minds were at this tension, the summons came, and with all promptness was responded to. The royal mother, in august council assembled, declared her intention of abdicating in favor of her daughter, preferring to situate her among subjects already devoted to her, and called upon a few of her faithful ones to go with her to settle some new place. If a few of the younger colonists felt an ardent desire for exploration, and the laborious duties of establishing a new kingdom in a new country, a few volunteers had the privilege. This announcement threw the whole populace into excitement, but there were wise heads enough to steady everything, and organize both the new young government at home and the great expedition. The queen announced that with an escort she would take a short trip through the air, and overlook the prospect. Accordingly she sent out a weather-wise scout to ascertain if the sky was propitious. The report being favorable, the queen took a brief trip incognito, and returned well satisfied with her investigations. As she re-entered the hive, a loud acclaim made known to her that the royal daughter was addressing her de- voted attendants. The queen, then, charging such of her subjects as should remain, to preserve their established customs of union, order, industry, frugality, and loyalty, also all their laws of government, arts, and sciences, as handed down to them by their ancestors, surrounded by a loyal throng of followers and defenders, each with his own keen sword, bade them fare- well, with her blessing, and took her course forth upon her memorable expedition in search of a new place to found a kingdom. Giving orders to her reconnoitering advance guard, the queen resigned herself to zealous enjoyment of the journey.

A certain aged tree, with a large cavity, first discovered and prospected in by a woodpecker, afterwards occupied by a hermit owl, and later by squirrels, was designated as the chosen spot. Arriving there in due time, after a pleasant journey over a lovely landscape, the queen alighted for an extended observation of the scene. Crops in succession, and others of perennial growth, promised permanent harvests.

While enjoying and remarking upon these advantages, the air seemed to darken a little, as though por- tending a storm, and the bees clustered around her majesty to shut off any coolness. An alarming sight now presented itself, an old farmer scanning the sky, and holding a tin pan in his hand, while his wife was hastily brushing out an old hive. With all possible haste the queen led her subjects into the cavity in the great tree. In a short time it was discovered that some drones had followed the expedition, possibly in search of lucrative positions or royal favor, for idlers are ever sordid and unprincipled, whether insect or human. These obnoxious parasites of the new kingdom were therefore treated to a mandate just issued, to leave the society of their fellow-creatures. Indulging in the vain hope of toleration, they lingered, loth to make any effort to maintain themselves, when prompt justice was meted out to them. Seized upon at either side, they were hurried forward to the en- trance, and there reproached in stern tones for the depravity of their characters, in eating the bread of the laborer, and not even bearing a sword to draw in defense of their sovereign. Their great, burly bodies and glossy coats were ridiculed, their empty pockets pointed to, and at last, time being too precious to waste further upon them, they were thus stigmatized: "As your wings are never used upon errands of diligence, we take them from you," and, suiting the action to the word, they sawed them off, and pushed the drones over the edge, from whence they fell to the ground. Piratical and gormandizing reptiles seized upon them, and their lamentations were soon lost in deep holes or tangled grass.

The sky soon darkened, thunder pealed, lightnings flashed, and, for a while, the situation was appalling; for as yet there were no supplies, excepting that some member had brought along a day's rations, and this was made to go all around. But the storm was only a thunder-shower, and that night the moon and stars shone out clearly, and all was sweet and still. Next morning before her majesty awoke, a large proportion of her subjects set out with energy, and by diligent labor soon returned with sufficient material for the manufacture of comb and honey. Work progressed rapidly, and in one month they were quite well off, and it was only the middle of June. Then what? Let me tell you. You remember about the old farmer?

Having once got the idea in his head that bees were around, he kept a lookout, and at last traced them from his clover-field right home to their tree. How he laughed and hurried home, then hastened back with ax, pails, and hive. " Found a bee gum," said he, and the family followed him with all delight and earnestness. It was just a little cloudy that day, so most of the bees were around home, for it is considered unwise among bees to go abroad in doubtful weather, for thunder has a disastrous effect upon their systems. As they anxiously watched the weather indications, they observed that field-mice and angleworms were throwing up fresh dirt, and the birds flew in flocks, with great uneasiness and apparent dissatisfaction. Another thing that they observed was worse than a thunder-storm, the veritable old farmer, coming with his family and all those things. The bees kept very quiet, but he came right up to the tree, and squinted cautiously around.

" I'm certain this is the tree, though I don't see any bees to-day; just climb up and listen at that hole, will you, John? " John did not ascend with as much readiness as though he were hunting nuts or grapes, but cautiously neared the hollow and listened. "Yes, father," and John came down as quickly as he could.

Then something like a clap of thunder shook the tree, and every bee was stunned a moment, but recovered and rushed out to defend their queen and castle. A dreadful smoke hid the enemy from sight and con- fused the bees. Again and again the sharp ax shook the tree. Her majesty inquired the nature of these shocks, and before her faithful subjects could frame so heart-rending an explanation, she comprehended from their distress the situation, and exclaimed that there was no hope of escape. Presently there was an out- cry that the honey was pouring over everything and drowning hundreds of her subjects. A strange creaking sound and a difficulty in keeping right side up was followed by a tremendous jar! The tree was prostrate upon the ground, and the farmer's ax laid the trunk wide open. While his family secured the pailfuls of honey, the farmer transferred the masses of bees to the hive, and covered it to begin his home- ward march. Amidst all this confusion and distress, the voice of the queen was heard, and produced a magical effect: "We are spared to each other, and let us begin anew with that fortitude which belongs to our race, and replenish our stores and increase our numbers. At a favorable opportunity, we will again seek a location far removed from the evil influences of tyranny and usurpation." Her majesty's devoted people immediately rallied around her with assurances of devotion and obedience, and as soon as they were thoroughly established in their enforced quarters, resumed their labors on the following day with a patience and zeal worthy of their illustrious progenitors, the royal bees of the house of King Solomon.

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