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15. And though it brings tears for the past, yet you will not see the flowers fade and come again, and fade and come again, year by year, and not learn a lesson of the resurrection, when that which perished here shall revive again, never more to droop or to die!
XX. - BEE LIFE.
1. The honey-bee goes forth in spring like the dove from Noah's Ark, and it is not till after many days that she brings back the olive leaf, which in this case is a pellet of golden pollen upon each hip, usually obtained from the alder or swamp willow.
But bees appear to be more eager for bread in the spring than for honey; their supply of that article, perhaps, does not keep as well as their stores of the latter; hence fresh bread in the shape of new pollen is diligently sought for.
2. My bees get their first supplies from the catkins of the willows. If but one catkin appears open anywhere within range a bee is on hand that very hour to rifle it, and it is a most pleasing experience to stand near the hive some mild April day and see them come pouring in with their little baskets packed with this fruitage of the spring. They will have new bread now; they have been to mill in good earnest; see their dusty coats and the golden grist they bring home with them.
3. When a bee brings pollen into the hive he advances to the cell in which it is to be deposited and kicks it off
as one might his overalls or rubber boots, making one foot help the other; then he walks off without ever looking behind him: another bee, one of the indoor hands, comes along, rams it down with his head, and packs it into the cell as the dairy-maid packs butter into a firkin.
4. The first spring wild flowers, whose shy faces among the dry leaves are so welcome, yield no honey. The anemone, the hepatica, the bloodroot, the arbutus, the numerous violets, the spring beauty, the corydalis, etc., woo all lovers of nature, but do not woo the honeyloving bee. It requires more sun and warmth to develop the saccharine element, and the beauty of these pale striplings of the woods and groves is their sole excuse for being. The arbutus, lying low and keeping green all winter, attains to perfume, but not to honey.
5. The first honey is perhaps obtained from the flowers of the red maple and the golden willow. The latter sends forth a wild, delicious perfume. maple blooms a little later, and from its silken tassels a rich nectar is gathered. The apple-blossom is very important to the bees. A single swarm has been known to gather twenty pounds in weight during its continuance. Bees love the ripened fruit too, and in August and September will suck themselves tipsy.
6. It is the making of wax that costs with the bee. As with the poet, the form, the receptacle, gives him more trouble than the sweet that fills it. Though, to be sure, there is always more or less of empty comb in both cases.
The honey he can have for the gathering,
but the wax he must make himself, must evolve from his inner consciousness. When wax is to be made the wax-makers fill themselves with honey and retire into their chamber for private meditation: they take hold of hands, or hook themselves together in long lines that hang from the top of the hive, and wait for the miracle to transpire.
7. After about twenty-four hours their patience is rewarded, the honey is turned into wax, minute scales of which are secreted from between the rings of the abdomen of each bee; this is taken off and from it the comb is built up. It is calculated that about twenty-five pounds of honey are used in elaborating one pound of comb, to say nothing of the time that is lost. But honey without the comb is like perfume without the rose, it is sweet merely, and soon degenerates into candy. Half the delectableness is in breaking down these frail and exquisite walls and tasting the nectar before it has lost its freshness by contact with the air.
8. The drones have the least enviable time of it. Their foothold in the hive is very precarious. They look like giants, the lords of the swarm, but they are really the tools. Their loud, threatening hum has no sting to back it, and their size and noise make them only the more conspicuous marks for the birds. They are all candidates for the favors of the queen, a fatal felicity which is vouchsafed to but one.
9. It is a singular fact also that the queen is made, not born. All the bees in the hive have a common parentage. The queen and the worker are the same in
the egg and in the chick; the notion has very generally prevailed that the queen of the bees is an absolute ruler, and issues her orders to willing subjects. But the fact is, a swarm of bees is an absolute democracy. The power and authority are entirely vested in the great mass, or workers. Their word is law, and both king and queen must obey.
10. The peculiar office and sacredness of the queen consists in the fact that she is the mother of the swarm, and the bees love and cherish her as a mother and not as a sovereign. The common bees will never use their sting upon the queen; if she is to be disposed of they starve her; and the queen herself will sting nothing but royalty-nothing but a royal queen. It is undoubtedly complimenting her to call her a queen, yet she is a superb creature, and looks every inch a queen. It is an event to distinguish her amid the mass of bees when the swarm lights; it awakens a thrill.
11. Before you have seen a queen you wonder if this or that bee, which seems a little larger than its fellows, is not she, but when you once really set eyes upon her you do not doubt for a moment. That long, elegant, shining feminine-looking creature can be none less than royalty. How beautifully her body tapers, how distinguished she looks, how deliberate her movements !
12. I always feel I have missed some good fortune if I am away from home when my bees swarm. What a delightful summer sound it is; how they come pouring out of the hive, twenty or thirty thousand bees, each striving to get out first; it is as when the dam gives way and lets the waters loose; it is a flood of bees which breaks upward into the air and becomes a maze of whirling black lines to the eye and a soft chorus of myriad musical sounds to the ear.
13. This way and that they drift, now contracting, now expanding, rising, sinking, growing thick about some branch or bush, then dispersing and massing at some other point, till finally they begin to alight in earnest, when in a few moments the whole swarm is collected upon a branch, forming a bunch as large, perhaps, as a two gallon measure. Here they will hang from one to three or four hours, or until a suitable hiving place is found or offered.
XXI. — MARMION AND DOUGLAS.
To Surrey's camp to ride ;
And Douglas gave a guide.