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THE FOUNDATION OF THE CITY
THE bee-keeper has gathered the swarm into his hive; let us now see what they will do. And, first of all, let us not be unmindful of the sacrifice that these fifty thousand workers have made, who, as Ronsard says “In a little body bear so brave a heart,” and let us, yet again, admire the courage with which they begin their life anew in the desert into which they have fallen. They have forgotten the wealth and magnificence of their native city; they are indifferent to all they have left behind. They give not a thought to the vast store of pollen that they had collected, to the 120 pounds of honey, a quantity, let it be remembered, which is more than twelve times the weight of all the bees in the hive put together, and close on 600,000 times that of the single bee. Or you might say that to us it would mean something like 42,000 tons of provisions, a great fleet laden with nourishment more precious than any known to us; for to the bee honey is a kind of liquid life, which it absorbs with almost no waste whatever.
Here, in the new abode, there is nothing; not a drop of honey, not a morsel of wax; there is nothing to begin on, there is nothing to serve as a starting-point. There is only the dreary emptiness of an enormous. building with its bare sides and roof. The smooth and rounded walls enclose only darkness; under the lofty arch is a mere void. But useless regrets are unknown to the bee; at any rate, they are not allowed to interfere with work. And instead of being depressed or moping in a corner, the bee sets to at once, and more energetically than ever.
Immediately, and without the smallest delay, the tangled mass divides, splits up and forms itself into groups. Most of these will proceed, marching abreast in regular columns, like regiments obeying the word of command, and will begin to climb the steep walls of the hive. The first bees to reach the dome will cling to it with the claws of their front legs; those behind will hang on to the ones in front of them, and the next the same, and so on to the end, till long chains have been made that serve as a sort of bridge for the crowd which is ever mounting and mounting. And, by slow degrees, these chains, as the number of bees which form them becomes greater and greater, become a kind of dense, three-cornered curtain. When the last of the bees has joined itself to this curtain that hangs in the darkness, all movement ceases in the hive; and for long hours this strange cluster will wait, in a stillness so complete as to be almost uncanny, for the mystery of wax to appear.
In the meantime, the rest of the bees those whose business it was to remain below in the hive have paid not the smallest attention to the others who were forming the curtain, and have made no effort whatever to add themselves to the number. They have been told off to inspect the hive, and to do what is immediately necessary. They start sweeping the floor, and most carefully remove, one by one, every twig, grain of sand, and dead leaf. This satisfactorily accomplished, they will most thoroughly examine and test the floor of the new dwelling. They will fill up every crack and crevice with a kind of raw wax; they will start varnishing the walls, from the top to the bottom. A certain number of guards will be sent to the gate, to take up their post there; and very soon a detachment of workers will go forth to the fields, whence they will come back with their store of pollen.
Before we raise the folds of the mysterious curtain, let us try to form some idea of the skill and industry shown by the bees in fitting up the new hive to serve their purposes. Within the walls there is merely a desert; they must plan out their city, decide where the dwellings shall be; and these must be built as quickly as possible, for the queen is ready to begin to lay her eggs. They must consider the ventilation of these dwellings, and these, too, must be strong and substantial. Different buildings will be wanted for the different kinds of food that are to be stored in them; also it is important that they should be handily placed, so that there shall be no difficulty in finding them; and passages and streets must be contrived between the cells and store-houses. And there are many other problems besides, too many indeed to relate, but they have all to be dealt with.
Bee-keepers provide different kinds of hives for the bees, ranging from the hollow tree, or the earthenware pot, or the familiar bell-shaped dome of straw which we find in our farmers’ kitchen-gardens or under their windows, hidden away between masses of sunflowers, phlox and hollyhock, to what may be called the model factory, which is, as it were, the last word of man’s ingenuity as applied to the bee. It is a building that will hold more than three hundred pounds of honey, having three or four layers of combs set in a frame which makes it easy to remove or handle the combs and take out the honey; after which, the combs can be put back in their place like a book that we return to the shelf. Now let us imagine that one fine day an obedient swarm of bees is lodged in one of these hives. The little insects are expected to be able to find their way about, to make their home there, to accept all these strange things as natural. They have to make up their minds where the winter storehouses shall be, and where the brood-cells; and these last must not be too high or too low, neither too near to or far from the entrance gate. The swarm may very likely just have come from the trunk of a fallen tree, in which there was one long, narrow gallery; it finds itself now in a tower-shaped building, whose ceiling is lost in the gloom. And in the midst of this building is a confused and bewildering network of frames and scaffolding, the like of which the bee never has seen; and all around it are puzzling signs of the impertinent interference of man.
But all this makes no difference to the bee; and no case has ever been known of a swarm refusing to do its duty, or of allowing the strangeness of its surroundings to discourage it except only if the new home should be too much exposed to the weather, or have an offensive smell. And even then they will not give way to despair; they will promptly abandon the place, fly away and seek better fortune a little further off.
But if no objection of this kind offers itself in a huge factory of this kind, the bees will calmly go their own way, paying no heed whatever to man’s desires or intentions; if the frames seem to them of use for their combs, they will readily accept them. This will be more particularly the case if the bee-keeper has artfully surrounded the upper layers of the comb with a little strip of wax; the bees will pick out the wax, and go on with the comb. If this should be covered all over with leaves of foundation-wax, the bees will often be content to deepen and lengthen the cells that have been traced out in the leaves, but will be careful to alter the position of the cells should these not form an absolutely straight line. And thus, in the space of a week, they will be in possession of a city as comfortable and well-built as the one they have left; whereas, in the ordinary way, if all the work had had to be done by them, it would have taken them two or three months to erect the buildings and storehouses out of their own shining wax.
Sir John Lubbock, who has written many interesting books on ants, bees, and wasps, does not believe that the bee has any real intelligence of its own, once it departs from what it has always been accustomed to do. And as a proof of this he mentions an experiment that any one can try for himself. If you put half a dozen bees, and the same number of flies into a bottle, then place the bottle on the table with its foot to the window, you will find that the bees will be quite unable to find their way out, and will go on flinging themselves against the glass, till they die of fatigue and hunger; while the flies will all have escaped, in less than two minutes, through the open neck of the bottle. Sir John Lubbock concludes from this that the bee cannot reason at all, and that the fly shows more ingenuity in getting out of a difficulty. It is not quite sure, however, that this conclusion is the right one. If you take up the bottle and turn it round and round, holding now the neck and now the foot to the window, you will find that the bees will turn with it, so as always to f ace the light. It is their love of the light, it is actually because of their intelligence, that they come to grief in this experiment. They feel convinced that the escape from every prison must be there where the light shines clearest. To them glass is a mystery which they have never met with in nature; they cannot understand why they are unable to pass through it, and convinced that there must be a way, they persevere to the end; in fact, it is because of their intelligence that they make these unhappy efforts to discover the secret. The feather-brained flies, on the other hand, to whom the mystery of glass means nothing and who possess no power of thought whatever, merely flutter wildly hither and thither, and end by rushing against the friendly opening that sets them free.
As another instance of the bees’ lack of intelligence, Sir John Lubbock quotes a passage from a book written by a great American bee-keeper, Mr. Langstroth: “As the fly has to feed on many substances in which it might easily be drowned, it has learned to be very prudent, and alights carefully on the edge of a vessel containing liquid food; the bee, on the other hand, plunges in headlong, and very quickly perishes. The sad fate of their companions does not hinder others from madly rushing in in their turn, to share the same miserable end. No one can understand the extent of their folly till he has seen a confectioner’s shop which has been besieged by a crowd of hungry bees. I have known thousands to be strained out from a vat of sirup in which they had been drowned; thousands more kept on plunging into the boiling sweets; the floors were covered and the windows completely darkened with bees, some crawling, others flying, and some so bedaubed that they could neither fly nor crawl — not one bee in ten able to carry home its ill-gotten spoil, and yet the air filled with new hosts of thoughtless comers!”
It will not do, however, to condemn the bees too hastily; there is something to be said on their side. They are accustomed to live in the midst of nature, which has her own regular laws; and the ways of man are strange and bewildering to them. In the forest, in their ordinary life, the madness which Langstroth describes might have come over them if some accident suddenly had destroyed a hive full of honey; but in that case there would have been no fatal glass, no boiling sugar or cloying sirup; there would have been no death or danger other than that to which every animal is exposed while seeking its food. And let us remember too that it was not mere greed, not the bees’ own hunger, that caused them to rush so wildly into the boiling vat. It was not for themselves that they plunged into the deadly sugar; they can always feast on honey at home, if they want to. The first thing the bee does when it returns to the hive is to add the honey which it has gathered to the general store; thirty times in an hour perhaps it will bring its offering to the marvelous treasure-house. Their labors, therefore, their eagerness, have no selfish motive; they have one desire, and one only, to increase the wealth in the home of their sisters, which is also the home of the future.
However, the whole truth must be told. Their industry is beyond all praise; their methods, their sacrifice of self, arouse all our admiration; but there is one thing that shocks us somewhat, and that is the indifference with which they regard the misfortunes or death of their comrades. The bee appears to possess two sides to her nature; in the hive, in their home, they all help and care for each other; the union between them, the fellowship, is very close and very true. A thousand bees will sacrifice themselves to avenge an injury done by a stranger to one of their sisters. But outside the hive, away from the home, all this changes; they no longer appear to know one another. If a piece of honeycomb were placed a few steps away from their dwelling, and out of the crowd of bees that would flock to it you were to crush or injure twenty or thirty, the others who had not been attacked would not even turn their head. That strange tongue of theirs, curved like some Chinese weapon, would quietly go on licking up the fluid that they regard as more precious than life, and they would pay no heed whatever to the agony, the cries of distress, of their sisters. And when they have sucked the comb dry, they will be so anxious that not one drop shall be lost, that they will even climb over the dead and the dying to lick up the honey these hold in their jaws, and not one sound and unharmed bee will make the slightest effort to help or relieve the victims. The thought that they themselves run any danger does not disturb them; they give no thought to the death that may perhaps await them too.
But the fact is that the bees do not know the meaning of fear, and smoke is the one thing in the world that they are afraid of. When they are out of the hive, they are curiously inoffensive. They will avoid anything that comes in their way, they will appear not to notice it, provided always that it does not venture too near. This indulgence, however, this meekness, hides a heart that is very sure of itself, very confident, very reliant. No threat will induce the bee to alter her course; she will, never attempt to escape. Inside the hive, any danger, whatever it be, will at once be boldly faced. Should any living creature, be it ant or bear or man, venture to attack the sacred dwelling, every bee will spring up and defend the home with passionate fury.
But we must frankly admit that they show no fellowship outside the hive, and no sympathy, as we understand the word, within it. On the other hand, nowhere in the world shall we discover a more perfect organization of work for the benefit of all, a more amazing devotion to the coming generation. It may be, perhaps, that this very devotion may have caused them to ignore everything else. All their love goes to what lies ahead of them; we give ours to what is around us. And are we so sure that, in our own lives, there are not many things that we do that would seem heartless and cruel to some being who might be watching us as closely as we watch the bees?
Let us now see what means the bees have of communicating with each other. Such means must obviously exist, for it would not be possible for the work of so large a city, work which is so varied and so perfectly organized, to be carried on without them. They must have some method of communication, either by sounds or by some language of touch. This strange sense may perhaps lie in the antennae, which are little horns, or feelers, containing, in the case of the workers, 12,000 delicate hairs and 5,000 “smell hollows”; with, these antennae they seem to question and understand the darkness.
It is evidently not only in their work that the bees are able to communicate with each other, for we know that any news, good or bad, any sudden event, will at once be noised about in the hive; the loss or return of the queen, for instance, the entrance of an enemy, the intrusion of a strange queen, or the discovery of treasure. And each separate incident produces such a different emotion among them, the sounds they make are so essentially varied, that the experienced bee-keeper, listening to the murmur that arises from the hive, can at once and without any difficulty tell what it is that disturbs the multitude that are moving restlessly to and fro in their city. If you would like to have a more definite proof, you have only to watch a bee which shall just have found a few drops of honey on your window-sill or the edge of your table. She will immediately lap it up; and so eagerly that you will have time to put a tiny touch of paint on her belt without disturbing or interrupting her. It is not that she is greedy; she rejoices at the thought that she has found some honey for the hive. As soon as she has filled her sac, she will go, but watch her manner of going; she will not, like the fly, for instance, merely buzz around or make a dart for the window; for a moment or two she will hover about the room, with her back to the light, eagerly fixing in her mind the exact position of the honey. Then, and not till then, she will return to the hive, empty her sac into one of the provision-cells; and in three or four minutes you will find her back again, going unhesitatingly to the spot, and making straight for the honey. And so she will come and go, till evening, if need be, as long as a drop remains; and her journeys from the hive to the window, from the window to the hive, will be as regular as clock-work; there will be no interval for rest; there will be no interruption.
I will frankly admit that the marked bee often returns alone. Are there the same differences among the bees, perhaps, as among ourselves, some of them being gossips, and others not given to talk? When I was trying this experiment once a friend who was with me said that it must be mere selfishness or vanity on the part of the bee that kept her from letting her comrades know of the treasure she had found. But, be this as it may, it will often happen that the lucky bee will bring two or three friends back with her; and I have found this to be the case four times out of ten. One day it was a little Italian bee which was the first to find the honey; I marked her belt with a touch of blue paint. When she had gorged herself she flew off, and came back with two of her sisters; these I imprisoned, but did not interfere with her. After her second feast she went forth once more, and this time returned with three friends, whom I again shut away, and kept on doing this for the rest of the afternoon, when, counting my prisoners, I found that she had brought no less than eighteen bees to the feast.
One may safely say that the bees will very frequently communicate with each other, even though this is not an invariable rule. American bee-hunters are so sure of the bees possessing this faculty that their methods of searching for nests depend in some measure upon it. “They will take a box of honey,” Mr. Josiah Emery writes, “to a field or a wood far away from any tame bees, and then pick up two or three wild ones, and let them fill themselves with the honey. The bees will fly off to their home with the spoil, and soon return with their friends, to whom they have told the glad news. These will again be allowed to drink their fill, and then taken to different points of the compass, and allowed to fly home; the direction of their flight will be carefully noted, and in this way the hunters are able to discover the position of the tree in which the bees have built their nest.”
It is to be noticed, too, that the bees do not all come together to feed on the honey we have put on the table; there will be several seconds between the different arrivals. We ask ourselves therefore whether the bees are led by, and merely follow the original discoverer, or whether they go independently, having been told by her where it is? Experts hold different opinions as to this; in the case of the ant Sir John Lubbock is satisfied that the ant which finds the treasure merely leads the way and is followed by the others; but the ant, of course, merely crawls along the ground, while the bee’s wings throw every avenue open.
My study in the country is on the first floor, and rather above the ordinary range of the flight of the bees, except at times when the lime and chestnut trees are in blossom. I took an open honeycomb, and kept it on my table for a week, without its perfume having attracted a single bee. Then I went to a glass hive that was close by the house, took an Italian bee, brought her in to my study, set her on the comb, and marked while she was feeding. When she had drunk her fill, she flew off and returned to the hive. I followed quickly, saw her crawl over the huddled mass of the bees, plunge her head into an empty cell, disgorge her honey, and then get ready to set forth again. At the entrance of the hive I had placed a glass box, divided by a trap-door into two compartments. The bee flew into this box; and as she was alone, and no other bee seemed to accompany or follow her, I left her there, and then repeated the experiment on twenty bees in succession. By means of the trap, with its two little compartments, I was able in each case to separate the marked bee from the ones that might accompany her, and to keep her a prisoner in one of the little rooms. Then I marked all the bees in the other room with paint of a different color, and set them free; I myself returned quickly to my study, to await their arrival.
Now if the bees which had not visited my study had been able to communicate with the others, and to be told by them precisely where the comb was, with instructions how to get at it, a certain number of them would have found their way to my room. I must frankly admit that, to my disappointment, there was only one that did actually arrive. And I cannot tell even whether this may not have been a mere chance. I went down and released the first bee, and my study soon was invaded by the buzzing crowd to whom she showed the way to the treasure.
We need not trouble any further with this unsatisfactory experiment of mine, for there are many other curious circumstances to be noted among the bees which make it quite certain that they can tell each other things that go much further than a mere yes or no. In the hive, for instance, the wonderful way in which they divide up their work, the way in which the work is combined, one bee holding herself in readiness to take the place of another who has finished her own particular job and is waiting for her these things all prove that they must be able to let each other know. I have often marked bees that went out in the morning collecting food; and found that, in the afternoon, if there was no special abundance of flowers, these same bees would take on another job altogether; would either be fanning and heating the brood-cells, or perhaps adding themselves to the mysterious, motionless curtain in whose midst the sculptors and waxmakers would be at work. In the same way I have found that bees which for one whole day would be gathering nothing but pollen would, on the next, evidently in obedience to some order that had been given, devote themselves entirely to the search for nectar.
Day after day, the sun will scarcely have risen when the explorers of the dawn return to the hive, which awakes to receive the glad tidings of what is happening on the earth. “The lime-trees are blossoming to-day on the banks of the canal.” “The grass by the roadside is gay with white clover.” “The sage and the lotus are about to open.” “The mignonette, the lilies, are overflowing with pollen.” The news is handed in to headquarters, and arrangements are quickly made to divide up the work. Five thousand of the strongest and most active will be sent to the lime-trees, while three thousand juniors sally forth to the clover. Those who yesterday were gathering nectar will today give a rest to their tongues and the glands of their sac, and will bring back red pollen from the mignonette or yellow pollen from the tall lilies; for you will never find a bee gathering or mixing up pollens of a different color or species, and indeed it is one of the special cares of the hive to keep the different-hued pollens apart in separate store-rooms.
The workers set out, in long black files, each one flying straight to its own particular task. George de Layens stoutly declares that they have been told where to go to, and which flowers they are to visit; that they are aware how much nectar each flower will give, and know its precise value. It is their business to collect the greatest possible amount of honey; and if we watch the different directions in which the bees fly, we will find that they divide themselves up most carefully among the flowers which offer the best chance of a prosperous harvest. As these vary day by day, so will the different orders be given. In the spring, for instance, when the fields are still bare, the bees will flock to the flowers in the woods, and eagerly visit the gorse and the violets, lungworts and anemones. But, a few days later, when cabbage and colza are beginning to flower, the bees will turn their attention to these alone, neglecting the woods almost entirely, for all the abundance that still may be found there. They know that the colza and cabbage flowers are richer in honey, and therefore give them the preference; thus deciding, day by day, what plants they shall visit, their one idea being to amass the greatest value of treasure in the least possible time.
You may ask, perhaps, what does it matter to us whether the bees have or have not a real intelligence of their own? I think that it matters a very great deal. If we could be quite certain that other creatures beside ourselves are able to think or to reason it would give us something of the emotion that came over Robinson Crusoe when he saw the print of a human foot on the sandy shore of his island. Like him, we should seem less alone. And when we study, when we try to understand, the intelligence of the bees, we are at the same time trying to understand what is the most wonderful thing in ourselves; the power that enables the will to effect its purpose, and overcome obstacles in its way.
We will now go on with the story of the hive, take it up where we left it, and lift a fold of the curtain of bees which are hanging, head downwards, from the dome. A curious kind of sweat, as white as snow and airier than the down on the wing of a bird, is beginning to show itself. This is the wax that is forming; but it is unlike the wax that we know; it has no weight, it is amazingly pure, being, as it were, the soul of the honey, which is itself the essence of the flowers.
It is very difficult to follow, stage by stage, the manufacture of wax by the swarm, or even the use to which they put it, for all this comes to pass in the very blackest depth of the mass of bees all huddled together. We know that the honey in the sac of the bees that are clinging to each other turns itself into wax, but we have no idea how this is done. All we can tell is that they will stay in this position, never stirring or making the least movement, for eighteen or twenty-four hours, and that the hive becomes so hot that it is almost as though a fire had been lit. And then at last white and transparent scales show themselves at the opening of four little pockets that every bee has underneath its stomach.
When the bodies of most of the bees forming the curtain have thus been adorned with ivory tablets, we shall suddenly see one of them detach herself from the crowd, and eagerly, hurriedly, clamber over the backs of the motionless crowd till she has reached the top of the dome. To this she will fix herself firmly, banging away with her head at those of her neighbors who seem to interfere with her movements. Then, she will seize with her mouth and her claws one of the scales that hang from her body, and set to work at it like a carpenter planing a soft piece of wood. She will pull it out, flatten it, bend it and roll it, moistening it with her tongue and licking it into shape; and, when at last she has got it to be just what she wanted, she will fix it to the highest point of the dome, thus laying the stone, the foundation, of the new city; for we have here a city that is being built downwards from the sky, and not from the earth upwards, like the cities of men. To this beginning she will add other morsels of wax, which she takes from beneath her belt; and at last, with one final lick of the tongue, one last touch of her feelers, she will go, as suddenly as she came, and disappear among the crowd. Another bee will at once take her place, carry on the work from the point where the first has left it; she will go through her own carpentering, just like her sister, and add to or improve the first one’s job if she thinks this is called for. And then a third will follow, a fourth and a fifth, all coming from different corners, all eager and earnest, till numbers and numbers have taken their turn, none of them finishing the work but each adding her share to the task in which all combine.
A small lump of wax, as yet quite formless, hangs down from the top of the hive. As soon as it is sufficiently thick, we shall see another bee coming out of the mass.
This one is very sure of herself, puts on a little side as it were; and she is watched very closely by the eager crowd below. She is one of the sculptors or carvers; she does not make any wax herself, her job being to deal with the material which the others have provided. She marks out the first cell, settles where it shall be; digs into the block for a moment, putting the wax she has taken out from the hole on the borders around it; and then she goes, making way for another, who is impatiently waiting her turn, and will go on with the work that a third will continue, while others close by are digging away at the wax on the opposite side. And very soon we shall be able to see the outline of the new comb. In shape it will be something like our own tongue, if you can imagine this to be made up of little six-sided cells, which all lie back to back. When the first cells have been built, the architects put on the ceiling, and then start building a second row, and a third and a fourth, and so on, gallery on the top of gallery, and the dimensions so carefully worked out that there will always be ample space, when the comb is finished, for the bees to move freely between its walls.
It happens, however, sometimes that a mistake has been made; that too much space, or too little, will have been left between the combs. The bees will do the best they can to set matters right; they will slant the one comb that is too near the other, or fill up the space that has been left with a new comb specially shaped.
The bees build four different kinds of cells. There are the royal cells, rather like an acorn in shape; the large cells in which the males are reared, and provisions stored when flowers are plentiful; the small cells used as cradles for the worker-bees and also as ordinary store-rooms. These last are the most common kind, and about four-fifths of the buildings will be composed of them. Then there are also a certain number of what are known as “transition-cells,” irregular in shape, which connect the larger cells with the smaller.
Each cell, with the exception of the transition ones, is worked out absolutely to scale, with extraordinary accuracy. It is a kind of six-sided tube, and two layers of these tubes form the comb. It is in these tubes that the honey is stored; and to prevent it from spilling, the bees tilt the tubes slightly forward. Each cell is solidly built, and the position of one to the other has been carefully thought out and arranged. Indeed, such wonderful skill and ingenuity is shown in the construction of the cells that it is difficult to believe that instinct alone is sufficient to account for it. The wasps, for instance, also build combs with six-sided cells; but their combs have only one layer of cells, and are not only less regular, but also less substantial; further, the wasps are so wasteful in their manner of working that, to say nothing of the loss of material, they also deprive themselves of about a third of the space that they might have used. Some bees again which are not as civilized as those in our hives build only one row of rearing-cells and rest their combs on shapeless and extravagant columns of wax. Their provision-cells are nothing but great pots, grouped together without any system or order. You could no more compare these nests with the cities of our own honey-bees than you could a village made up of huts with a modern town.
The very greatest ingenuity is shown in the construction of the combs, quite apart from the admirable precision of the architecture. Thus, for instance, there is a most skillful arrangement of alleys and gangways through and around the comb, which provide short cuts in every direction, allow the air to circulate, and prevent any block of the traffic. The connecting cells again, which join the large cells to the small ones, are so made that their shape can be altered with the least possible delay. There may be different reasons for desiring this alteration: an overflowing harvest may render more store-rooms necessary, or the workers may consider that the population of the hive should not be further increased, or it may be considered advisable that more males should be born. In any of these cases the bees will proceed, with unerring, unhesitating accuracy and precision to make the necessary changes, turning small cells into large, and large into small; and this without any waste of space or material, without allowing a single one of their buildings to become mis-shapen or purposeless, without in any way interfering with the neatness or general harmony of the hive.
The swarm whose movements we are following have started building their combs, which are already becoming fit for use. And although, as we look into the hive, we see little happening, there will be no pause, either by day or by night, in the creation of the wax, which will proceed with amazing quickness. The queen has been restlessly pacing to and fro on the borders that shine out gleamingly white in the darkness; and no sooner has the first row of cells been built than she eagerly takes possession, together with her servants, her guardians and counselors — though whether it be she who leads them, or they who direct her, is a matter beyond our knowledge. When the spot has been reached that she, or her retinue, regard as the proper one, she will arch her back, lean forward, and introduce the end of her long spindle-shaped body into one of the cells. Her escort form a circle around her, their enormous black eyes watching her every movement; they caress her wings, they feverishly wave their antennae as though to encourage her, to urge her on, or perhaps to congratulate her. You can always easily tell where the queen is, because around her there will be a kind of starry cockade, something like the oval brooch that our grandmothers used to wear; of this she will be the center. And there is one curious thing that we may note here: the worker-bees never by any chance turn their back to the queen. When she approaches a group they immediately form themselves so as to f ace her, and walk backwards before her. It is a token of respect or reverence that they never f all to show; it is the unvarying custom.
Very soon the queen will be passing from cell to cell, busily laying her eggs. She will first peep into the cell to make sure that all is in order, and that she has not been there before. In the meanwhile two or three of her escort will have hastened into the cell which she has just left, in order to see that her work has been properly done, and to care for, and as it were tuck up, the little bluish egg she has laid.
From now on right up to the first frosts of autumn the queen will never stop laying; she lays while she is being fed, she even lays in her sleep, if she ever does sleep, which may perhaps seem rather doubtful.
It will sometimes happen that the worker-bees, in their eagerness to find room for their honey, will have stored it in some of the vacant cells reserved for the queen; when she comes to these the workers frantically carry away the honey so that she may lay her eggs. If there is a shortage of cells for honey, and this is accumulating very fast, the bees will contrive, as quickly as they can, to get ready a block of large cells for the queen, as these take less time to build. But they are cells for male bees; and when the queen comes to them, she seems vexed; she will lay a few eggs, then stop, move away, and insist on being given the smaller cells that are used for the workers’ eggs. Her daughters obey; they set to at once and reduce the size of the cells; and the queen, in the meantime, goes back to the cells at which she had started at the very beginning. These will be empty now, for the larvæ will have come to life, leaving their shadowy corner, and will already have spread themselves over the flowers around, glittering in the rays of the sun and quickening the smiling hours; and soon they will sacrifice themselves in their turn to the new generation that now is beginning to take their place in the cradles they have left.
The bees all obey the queen; and yet they themselves contrive to direct her movements; for the number of eggs that she lays will be in strict proportion to the food that is given her. She does not take it herself; she is fed like a child by the workers. And if flowers are abundant, so will the food be, and therefore the number of eggs. Here we find, as everywhere in life, cause and effect working together in a circle of which one part is always in darkness; the bees, like ourselves, obey the lord of the wheel that is always turning and turning.
Some little time back I was showing one of my glass hives to a friend, and he was almost startled to see the frantic activity there. Each comb seemed alive; on every side there was movement, hurry, bustle, activity; the nurses, incessantly stirring and doing, were busy around the brood-cells; the wax-makers were forming their ladders and living gangways; the sculptors, the architects, cleaners, the builders, all were at work, feverishly, restlessly, never pausing for food or sleep; there was constant and pitiless effort among them all, save only in the cradles where lay the larvæ that soon themselves would be taking their turn in this chain of unending duty, which permits of no illness and accords no grave. And my friend, his curiosity soon satisfied, turned away, and in his eyes there were signs of sorrow, and almost of fear.
And in good truth, beneath all the gladness that we find in the hive, with its memories, of precious jewels of summer of flowers, of running waters and peaceful skies beneath all this there dwells a sadness as deep as the eye of man ever has seen. And we, who dimly gaze at these things, we who know that around us, in our own lives, among our own people, there also is sadness, we know too that this has to be, as with all things in nature. And thus it ever shall be, so long as we know not her secret; and yet there are duties all must do, and those duties suffice. And in the meantime let our heart murmur, if it will, “It is sad,” but let our reason be content to add “So it must be.”