Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
   Home - Articles - Books


IF skies remain clear, the air warm, and pollen and nectar abound in
the flowers, the workers, through a kind of forgetful indulgence, or
over-scrupulous prudence perhaps, will for a short time longer
endure the importunate, disastrous presence of the males. These
comport themselves in the hive as did Penelope's suitors in the
house of Ulysses. Indelicate and wasteful, sleek and corpulent,
fully content with their idle existence as honorary lovers, they
feast and carouse, throng the alleys, obstruct the passages, and
hinder the work; jostling and jostled, fatuously pompous, swelled
with foolish, good-natured contempt; harbouring never a suspicion of
the deep and calculating scorn wherewith the workers regard them, of
the constantly growing hatred to which they give rise, or of the
destiny that awaits them. For their pleasant slumbers they select
the snuggest corners of the hive; then, rising carelessly, they
flock to the open cells where the honey smells sweetest, and soil
with their excrements the combs they frequent. The patient workers,
their eyes steadily fixed on the future, will silently set things
right. From noon till three, when the purple country trembles in
blissful lassitude beneath the invincible gaze of a July or August
sun, the drones will appear on the threshold. They have a helmet
made of enormous black pearls, two lofty, quivering plumes, a
doublet of iridescent, yellowish velvet, an heroic tuft, and a
fourfold mantle, translucent and rigid. They create a prodigious
stir, brush the sentry aside, overturn the cleaners, and collide
with the foragers as these return laden with their humble spoil.
They have the busy air, the extravagant, contemptuous gait, of
indispensable gods who should be simultaneously venturing towards
some destiny unknown to the vulgar. One by one they sail off into
space, irresistible, glorious, and tranquilly make for the nearest
flowers, where they sleep till the afternoon freshness awake them.
Then, with the same majestic pomp, and still overflowing with
magnificent schemes, they return to the hive, go straight to the
cells, plunge their head to the neck in the vats of honey, and fill
themselves tight as a drum to repair their exhausted strength;
whereupon, with heavy steps, they go forth to meet the good,
dreamless and careless slumber that shall fold them in its embrace
till the time for the next repast.

But the patience of the bees is not equal to that of men. One
morning the long-expected word of command goes through the hive; and
the peaceful workers turn into judges and executioners. Whence this
word issues, we know not; it would seem to emanate suddenly from the
cold, deliberate indignation of the workers; and no sooner has it
been uttered than every heart throbs with it, inspired with the
genius of the unanimous republic. One part of the people renounce
their foraging duties to devote themselves to the work of justice.
The great idle drones, asleep in unconscious groups on the
melliferous walls, are rudely torn from their slumbers by an army of
wrathful virgins. They wake, in pious wonder; they cannot believe
their eyes; and their astonishment struggles through their sloth as
a moonbeam through marshy water. They stare amazedly round them,
convinced that they must be victims of some mistake; and the
mother-idea of their life being first to assert itself in their dull
brain, they take a step towards the vats of honey to seek comfort
there. But ended for them are the days of May honey, the wine-flower
of lime trees and fragrant ambrosia of thyme and sage, of marjoram
and white clover. Where the path once lay open to the kindly,
abundant reservoirs, that so invitingly offered their waxen and
sugary mouths, there stands now a burning-bush all alive with
poisonous, bristling stings. The atmosphere of the city is changed;
in lieu of the friendly perfume of honey, the acrid odour of poison
prevails; thousands of tiny drops glisten at the end of the stings,
and diffuse rancour and hatred. Before the bewildered parasites are
able to realise that the happy laws of the city have crumbled,
dragging down in most inconceivable fashion their own plentiful
destiny, each one is assailed by three or four envoys of justice;
and these vigorously proceed to cut off his wings, saw through the
petiole that connects the abdomen with the thorax, amputate the
feverish antennae, and seek an opening between the rings of his
cuirass through which to pass their sword. No defence is attempted
by the enormous, but unarmed, creatures; they try to escape, or
oppose their mere bulk to the blows that rain down upon them. Forced
on to their back, with their relentless enemies clinging doggedly to
them, they will use their powerful claws to shift them from side to
side; or, turning on themselves, they will drag the whole group
round and round in wild circles, which exhaustion soon brings to an
end. And, in a very brief space, their appearance becomes so
deplorable that pity, never far from justice in the depths of our
heart, quickly returns, and would seek forgiveness, though vainly,
of the stern workers who recognise only nature's harsh and profound
laws. The wings of the wretched creatures are torn, their antennae
bitten, the segments of their legs wrenched off; and their
magnificent eyes, mirrors once of the exuberant flowers, flashing
back the blue light and the innocent pride of summer, now, softened
by suffering, reflect only the anguish and distress of their end.
Some succumb to their wounds, and are at once borne away to distant
cemeteries by two or three of their executioners. Others, whose
injuries are less, succeed in sheltering themselves in some corner,
where they lie, all huddled together, surrounded by an inexorable
guard, until they perish of want. Many will reach the door, and
escape into space dragging their adversaries with them; but, towards
evening, impelled by hunger and cold, they return in crowds to the
entrance of the hive to beg for shelter. But there they encounter
another pitiless guard. The next morning, before setting forth on
their journey, the workers will clear the threshold, strewn with the
corpses of the useless giants; and all recollection of the idle race
disappear till the following spring.

In very many colonies of the apiary this massacre will often take
place on the same day. The richest, best-governed hive will give the
signal; to be followed, some days after, by the little and less
prosperous republics. Only the poorest, weakest colonies--those
whose mother is very old and almost sterile--will preserve their
males till the approach of winter, so as not to abandon the hope of
procuring the impregnation of the virgin queen they await, and who
may yet be born. Inevitable misery follows; and all the
tribe--mother, parasites, workers--collect in a hungry and closely
intertwined group, who perish in silence before the first snows
arrive, in the obscurity of the hive.

In the wealthy and populous cities work is resumed after the
execution of the drones,--although with diminishing zeal, for
flowers are becoming scarce. The great festivals, the great dramas,
are over. The autumn honey, however, that shall complete the
indispensable provisions, is accumulating within the hospitable
walls; and the last reservoirs are sealed with the seal of white,
incorruptible wax. Building ceases, births diminish, deaths
multiply; the nights lengthen, and days grow shorter. Rain and
inclement winds, the mists of the morning, the ambushes laid by a
hastening twilight, carry off hundreds of workers who never return;
and soon, over the whole little people, that are as eager for
sunshine as the grasshoppers of Attica, there hangs the cold menace
of winter.

Man has already taken his share of the harvest. Every good hive has
presented him with eighty or a hundred pounds of honey; the most
remarkable will sometimes even give two hundred, which represent an
enormous expanse of liquefied light, immense fields of flowers that
have been visited daily one or two thousand times. He throws a last
glance over the colonies, which are becoming torpid. From the
richest he takes their superfluous wealth to distribute it among
those whom misfortune, unmerited always in this laborious world, may
have rendered necessitous. He covers the dwellings, half closes the
doors, removes the useless frames, and leaves the bees to their long
winter sleep. They gather in the centre of the hive, contract
themselves, and cling to the combs that contain the faithful urns;
whence there shall issue, during days of frost, the transmuted
substance of summer. The queen is in the midst of them, surrounded
by her guard. The first row of the workers attach themselves to the
sealed cells; a second row cover the first, a third the second, and
so in succession to the last row of all, which form the envelope.
When the bees of this envelope feel the cold stealing over them,
they re-enter the mass, and others take their place. The suspended
cluster is like a sombre sphere that the walls of the comb divide;
it rises imperceptibly and falls, it advances or retires, in
proportion as the cells grow empty to which it clings. For, contrary
to what is generally believed, the winter life of the bee is not
arrested, although it be slackened. By the concerted beating of
their wings--little sisters that have survived the flames of the
sun--which go quickly or slowly in accordance as the temperature
without may vary, they maintain in their sphere an unvarying warmth,
equal to that of a day in spring. This secret spring comes from the
beautiful honey, itself but a ray of heat transformed, that returns
now to its first condition. It circulates in the hive like generous
blood. The bees at the full cells present it to their neighbours,
who pass it on in their turn. Thus it goes from hand to hand and
from mouth to mouth, till it attain the extremity of the group in
whose thousands of hearts one destiny, one thought, is scattered and
united. It stands in lieu of the sun and the flowers, till its elder
brother, the veritable sun of the real, great spring, peering
through the half-open door, glides in his first softened glances,
wherein anemones and violets are coming to life again; and gently
awakens the workers, showing them that the sky once more is blue in
the world, and that the uninterrupted circle that joins death to
life has turned and begun afresh.



Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network