« ElőzőTovább »
to be out of the way of the falling of the tree and the vengeance of its inmates. The jarring blows of the axe seemed to have no effect in alarming or agitating this most industrious community. They continued to ply at their usual occupations-some arriving full-freighted into port, others sallying forth on new expeditions, like so many merchantmen in a money-making metropolis, little suspicious of impending bankruptcy and downfall ; even a loud crack, which announced the disrupture of the trunk, failed to divert their attention from the intense pursuit of gain : at length down came the tree with a tremendous crash, bursting open from end to end, and displaying all the hoarded treasures of the commonwealth. One of the hunters immediately ran up with a wisp of lighted hay, as a defence against the bees. The latter, however, made no attack, and sought no revenge ; they seemed stupified by the catastrophe, and, unsuspicious of its cause, remained crawling and buzzing about the ruins, without offering us any molestation. Every one of the party now fell to, with spoon and hunting-knife, to scoop out the flakes of honeycomb with which the hollow trunk was stored. Some of them were of old date, and a deep brown colour; others were beautifully white, and the honey in their cells was almost limpid. Such of the combs as were entire were placed in camp-kettles, to be conveyed to the encampment; those which had been shivered in the fall were devoured upon the spot. Every stark bee-hunter was to be seen with a rich morsel in his hand, dripping about his fingers, and disappearing as rapidly as a cream-tart before the holiday appetite, of a schoolboy. Nor was it the bee-hunters alone that profited by the downfall of this industrious community. As if the bees would carry through the similitude of their habits with those of laborious and gainful man, I beheld numbers from rival hives, arriving on eager wing, to enrich themselves with the ruins of their neighbours. These busied themselves as eagerly and cheerily as so many wreckers on an Indiaman that has been driven on shore-plunging into
the cells of the broken honeycombs, banqueting greedily on the spoil, and then winging their way full-freighted to their homes. As to the poor proprietors of the ruin, they seemed to have no heart to do anything, not even to taste the nectar that flowed around them, but crawled backwards and forwards, in vacant desolation, as I have seen a poor fellow, with his hands in his pockets, whistling vacantly and despondingly about the ruins of his house that had been burned. It is difficult to describe the bewilderment and confusion of the bees of the bankrupt hive who had been absent at the time of the catastrophe, and who arrived, from time to time, with full cargoes from abroad. At first they wheeled about in the air, in the place where the fallen tree had once reared its head, astonished at finding all a vacuum. At length, as if comprehending their disaster, they settled down in clusters on a dry branch of a neighbouring tree, from whence they seemed to contemplate the prostrate ruin, and to buzz forth doleful lamentations over the downfall of their republic. It was a scene on which the , melancholy Jaques' might have moralised by the hour.”--Tour in Prairies, ch. ix.
“ The bee,” says an old writer, “is but a year's bird with some advantage.” Those “ hatched,” as Evelyn would say, in May die before the end of the following year. Dr. Bevan, indeed, gives only an average of six months to the worker, and four to the drone. We think that he cuts the life of the worker too short, as no doubt some last till the July of the following year. If his account were correct, the sacrifice of their lives by stifling would not be so great a loss as it would at first appear. But their use the second year is not so much for gathering honey as for tending and nursing the young. The queen-bee, though she does not “live for ever,” has
DURATION OF SWARMS.
certainly been known to last to a third or even fourth summer: one writer makes the remark on her —which has often been applied to donkeys and postboys—that he never saw a dead one; but others, Messrs. Cotton and Bagster among the number, have disproved the assertion that the Queen “never dies,” by being fortunate-or unfortunate enough—to have handled a royal carcase; and, since we commenced writing on this subject, one has kindly been forwarded to us by the post. The duration of a beecolony is of course a very different thing to the life of an individual bee, though they seem, by the ancients especially, often to have been confounded. Columella assigns ten years as the utmost limit to a hive; and though instances are brought forward of a longer period, naturalists seem to be agreed that this would be the ordinary termination of a hive left to itself. The immediate cause of its falling away is that the bees, in everything else so neat and cleanly, neglect to clear out the exuviæ of the grub —the silken cocoon that it spins and casts—from the brood-cells, till, the off-castings of successive generations choking them up and rendering them useless, the race at length degenerates and becomes extinct. Hence the importance of the practice of cutting away yearly, in those stocks which we wish to preserve, some portions of the old comb, which the bees will continually restore with fresh masonry till, like the ship Argo, it retains its original form without an inch of its original material. Cases, however, are stated of the same colony lasting many years. Della Rocca speaks of hives in Syria continuing through forty or fifty summers; and Butler relates a story, of the year 1520, that " When Ludovicus Vives was sent by Cardinal Wolsey to Oxford, there to be Public Professor of Rhetoric, being placed in the College of Bees, * he was welcomed thither by a swarm of bees; which sweetest creatures, to signify the incomparable sweetness of his eloquence, settled themselves over his head, under the leads of his study, where they have continued above 100 years ;" and they ever went by the name of Vives' Bees.
* Virgil considers the existence of a bee seven years—
• Neque enim plus septima ducitur æstas.” That of a hive endless
“ Nam genus immortale manet,” &c.
“ In the year 1630 the leads over Vives' study, being decayed, were taken up and new cast; by which occasion the stall was taken, and with it an incredible mass of honey. But the bees, as presaging their intended and imminent destruction (whereas they were never known to swarm before), did that spring (to preserve their famous kind) send down a fair swarm into the President's garden—the which in the year 1633 yielded two swarms ; one whereof pitched in the garden for the President; the other they sent up as a new colony into their old habitation, there to continue the memory of this · Mellifluous Doctor,' as the University styled him in a letter to the Cardinal. How sweetly did all things then concord, when in this neat uovoalov, newly consecrated to the Muses, the Muses' sweetest favourite was thus honoured by the Muses' birds ! ”
* So called, says Butler, by the founder, in its statutes : Corpus Christi College is meant. There is a letter of Erasmus to John Claymond, the first President, addressed J. C., Collegii Apum Præsidi. We dare not ask whether the colony is yet extant.
DEATH OF THE DRONES.
Whatever may be the period which nature or man allots to the life of the queen and the worker, there is one sad inhabitant of the hive who is seldom allowed, even by his own species, to bring his dreary autumn to a natural close. About the middle of August, the awful “massacre of the innocents,” the killing of the drones, begins.
“ After which time,” as Butler has it, “ these Amazonian dames begin to wax weary of their mates, and to like their room better than their company. When there is no use of them, there will be no room for them. For albeit, generally among all creatures, the males as most worthy do master the females, yet in these the females have the pre-eminence, and by the grammarians' leave, the feminine gender is more worthy than the masculine.” There is something unavoidably ludicrous in the distresses of these poor Jerry Sneaks. Having lived in a land of milk and honey all the summer long, partaken of the best of everything, without even stirring a foot towards it, coddled and coaxed, and so completely “spoilt,” that they are fit-for nothing, who can see them “taken by the hind legs and thrown down stairs” with a heap of workers on the top of them—their vain struggles to return—their sly attempts to creep
in stealthily—their disconsolate resignation at the last -without thinking it a just retribution for the past years of a pampered and unprofitable life? And yet there is mingled with this feeling a degree of pity for these “ melancholy Jaqueses” thrown aside (we mix our characters as in a masquerade) by the