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THE YOUNG QUEENS




HERE let us close our hive, where we find that life is reassuming
its circular movement, is extending and multiplying, to be again
divided as soon as it shall attain the fulness of its happiness and
strength; and let us for the last time reopen the mother-city, and
see what is happening there after the departure of the swarm.

The tumult having subsided, the hapless city, that two thirds of her
children have abandoned for ever, becomes feeble, empty, moribund;
like a body from which the blood has been drained. Some thousands of
bees have remained, however; and these, though a trifle languid
perhaps, are still immovably faithful to the duty a precise destiny
has laid upon them, still conscious of the part that they have
themselves to play; they resume their labours, therefore, fill as
best they can the place of those who have gone, remove all trace of
the orgy, carefully house the provisions that have escaped pillage,
sally forth to the flowers again, and keep scrupulous guard over the
hostages of the future.

And for all that the moment may appear gloomy, hope abounds wherever
the eye may turn. We might be in one of the castles of German
legend, whose walls are composed of myriad phials containing the
souls of men about to be born. For we are in the abode of life that
goes before life. On all sides, asleep in their closely sealed
cradles, in this infinite superposition of marvellous six-sided
cells, lie thousands of nymphs, whiter than milk, who with folded
arms and head bent forward await the hour of awakening. In their
uniform tombs, that, isolated, become nearly transparent, they seem
almost like hoary gnomes, lost in deep thought, or legions of
virgins whom the folds of the shroud have contorted, who are buried
in hexagonal prisms that some inflexible geometrician has multiplied
to the verge of delirium.

Over the entire area that the vertical walls enclose, and in the
midst of this growing world that so soon shall transform itself,
that shall four or five times in succession assume fresh vestments,
and then spin its own winding-sheet in the shadow, hundreds of
workers are dancing and flapping their wings. They appear thus to
generate the necessary heat, and accomplish some other object
besides that is still more obscure; for this dance of theirs
contains some extraordinary movements, so methodically conceived
that they must infallibly answer some purpose which no observer has
as yet, I believe, been able to divine.

A few days more, and the lids of these myriad urns--whereof a
considerable hive will contain from sixty to eighty thousand--will
break, and two large and earnest black eyes will appear, surmounted
by antennae that already are groping at life, while active jaws are
busily engaged in enlarging the opening from within. The nurses at
once come running; they help the young bee to emerge from her
prison, they clean her and brush her, and at the tip of their tongue
present the first honey of the new life. But the bee, that has come
from another world, is bewildered still, trembling and pale; she
wears the feeble look of a little old man who might have escaped
from his tomb, or perhaps of a traveller strewn with the powdery
dust of the ways that lead unto life. She is perfect, however, from
head to foot; she knows at once all that has to be known; and, like
the children of the people, who learn, as it were, at their birth,
that for them there shall never be time to play or to laugh, she
instantly makes her way to the cells that are closed, and proceeds
to beat her wings and to dance in cadence, so that she in her turn
may quicken her buried sisters; nor does she for one instant pause
to decipher the astounding enigma of her destiny, or her race.



The most arduous labours will, however, at first be spared her. A
week must elapse from the day of her birth before she will quit the
hive; she will then perform her first "cleansing flight," and absorb
the air into her tracheae, which, filling, expand her body, and
proclaim her the bride of space. Thereupon she returns to the hive,
and waits yet one week more; and then, with her sisters born the
same day as herself, she will for the first time set forth to visit
the flowers. A special emotion now will lay hold of her; one that
French apiarists term the "soleil d'artifice," but which might more
rightly perhaps be called the "sun of disquiet." For it is evident
that the bees are afraid, that these daughters of the crowd, of
secluded darkness, shrink from the vault of blue, from the infinite
loneliness of the light; and their joy is halting, and woven of
terror. They cross the threshold and pause; they depart, they
return, twenty times. They hover aloft in the air, their head
persistently turned to the home; they describe great soaring circles
that suddenly sink beneath the weight of regret; and their thirteen
thousand eyes will question, reflect, and retain the trees and the
fountain, the gate and the walls, the neighbouring windows and
houses, till at last the aerial course whereon their return shall
glide have become as indelibly stamped in their memory as though it
were marked in space by two lines of steel.


A new mystery confronts us here, which we shall do well to
challenge; for though it reply not, its silence still will extend
the field of our conscious ignorance, which is the most fertile of
all that our activity knows. How do the bees contrive to find their
way back to the hive that they cannot possibly see, that is hidden,
perhaps, by the trees, that in any event must form an imperceptible
point in space? How is it that if taken in a box to a spot two or
three miles from their home, they will almost invariably succeed in
finding their way back?

Do obstacles offer no barrier to their sight; do they guide
themselves by certain indications and landmarks; or do they possess
that peculiar, imperfectly understood sense that we ascribe to the
swallows and pigeons, for instance, and term the "sense of
direction"? The experiments of J. H. Fabre, of Lubbock, and, above
all, of Romanes (Nature, 29 Oct. 1886) seem to establish that it is
not this strange instinct that guides them. I have, on the other
hand, more than once noticed that they appear to pay no attention to
the colour or form of the hive. They are attracted rather by the
ordinary appearance of the platform on which their home reposes, by
the position of the entrance, and of the alighting-board. But this
even is merely subsidiary; were the front of the hive to be altered
from top to bottom, during the workers' absence, they would still
unhesitatingly direct their course to it from out the far depths of
the horizon; and only when confronted by the unrecognisable
threshold would they seern for one instant to pause. Such
experiments as lie in our power point rather to their guiding
themselves by an extraordinarily minute and precise appreciation of
landmarks. It is not the hive that they seem to remember, but its
position, calculated to the minutest fraction, in its relation to
neighbouring objects. And so marvellous is this appreciation, so
mathematically certain, so profoundly inscribed in their memory,
that if, after five months' hibernation in some obscure cellar, the
hive, when replaced on the platform, should be set a little to right
or to left of its former position, all the workers, on their return
from the earliest flowers, will infallibly steer their direct and
unwavering course to the precise spot that it filled the previous
year; and only after some hesitation and groping will they discover
the door which stands not now where it once had stood. It is as
though space had preciously preserved, the whole winter through, the
indelible track of their flight: as though the print of their tiny,
laborious footsteps, still lay graven in the sky.

If the hive be displaced, therefore, many bees will lose their way;
except in the case of their having been carried far from their
former home, and finding the country completely transformed that
they had grown to know perfectly within a radius of two or three
miles; for then, if care be taken to warn them, by means of a little
gangway connecting with the alighting-board, at the entrance to the
hive, that some change has occurred, they will at once proceed to
seek new bearings and create fresh landmarks.



And now let us return to the city that is being repeopled, where
myriad cradles are incessantly opening, and the solid walls even
appear to be moving. But this city still lacks a queen. Seven or
eight curious structures arise from the centre of one of the combs,
and remind us, scattered as they are over the surface of the
ordinary cells, of the circles and protuberances that appear so
strange on the photographs of the moon. They are a species of
capsule, contrived of wrinkled wax or of inclined glands,
hermetically sealed, which fills the place of three or four workers'
cells. As a rule, they are grouped around the same point; and a
numerous guard keep watch, with singular vigilance and restlessness,
over this region that seems instinct with an indescribable prestige.
It is here that the mothers are formed. In each one of these
capsules, before the swarm departs, an egg will be placed by the
mother, or more probably--though as to this we have no certain
knowledge--by one of the workers; an egg that she will have taken
from some neighbouring cell, and that is absolutely identical with
those from which workers are hatched.

From this egg, after three days, a small larva will issue, and
receive a special and very abundant nourishment; and henceforth we
are able to follow, step by step, the movements of one of those
magnificently vulgar methods of nature on which, were we dealing
with men, we should bestow the august name of fatality. The little
larva, thanks to. this regimen, assumes an exceptional development;
and in its ideas, no less than in its body, there ensues so
considerable a change that the bee to which it will give birth might
almost belong to an entirely different race of insects.

Four or five years will be the period of her life, instead of the
six or seven weeks of the ordinary worker. Her abdomen will be twice
as long, her colour more golden, and clearer; her sting will be
curved, and her eyes have seven or eight thousand facets instead of
twelve or thirteen thousand. Her brain will be smaller, but she will
possess enormous ovaries, and a special organ besides, the
spermatheca, that will render her almost an hermaphrodite. None of
the instincts will be hers that belong to a life of toil; she will
have no brushes, no pockets wherein to secrete the wax, no baskets
to gather the pollen. The habits, the passions, that we regard as
inherent in the bee, will all be lacking in her. She will not crave
for air, or the light of the sun; she will die without even once
having tasted a flower. Her existence will pass in the shadow, in
the midst of a restless throng; her sole occupation the
indefatigable search for cradles that she must fill. On the other
hand she alone will know the disquiet of love. Not even twice, it
may be, in her life shall she look on the light--for the departure
of the swarm is by no means inevitable; on one occasion only,
perhaps, will she make use of her wings, but then it will be to fly
to her lover. It is strange to see so many things--organs, ideas,
desires, habits, an entire destiny--depending, not on a germ, which
were the ordinary miracle of the plant, the animal, and man, but on
a curious inert substance: a drop of honey.*

*It is generally admitted to-day that workers and queens, after the
hatching of the egg, receive the same nourishment,--a kind of milk,
very rich in nitrogen, that a special gland in the nurses' head
secretes. But after a few days the worker larvae are weaned, and put
on a coarser diet of honey and pollen; whereas the future queen,
until she be fully developed, is copiously fed on the precious milk
known as "royal jelly."


About a week has passed since the departure of the old queen. The
royal nymphs asleep in the capsules are not all of the same age, for
it is to the interest of the bees that the births should be nicely
gradationed, and take place at regular intervals, in accordance with
their possible desire for a second swarm, a third, or even a fourth.
The workers have for some hours now been actively thinning the walls
of the ripest cell, while the young queen, from within, has been
simultaneously gnawing the rounded lid of her prison. And at last
her head appears; she thrusts herself forward; and, with the help of
the guardians who hasten eagerly to her, who brush her, caress her,
and clean her, she extricates herself altogether and takes her first
steps on the comb. At the moment of birth she too, like the workers,
is trembling and pale, but after ten minutes or so her legs become
stronger, and a strange restlessness seizes her; she feels that she
is not alone, that her kingdom has yet to be conquered, that close
by pretenders are hiding; and she eagerly paces the waxen walls in
search of her rivals. But there intervene here the mysterious
decisions and wisdom of instinct, of the spirit of the hive, or of
the assembly of workers. The most surprising feature of all, as we
watch these things happening before us in a hive of glass, is the
entire absence of hesitation, of the slightest division of opinion.
There is not a trace of discussion or discord. The atmosphere of the
city is one of absolute unanimity, preordained, which reigns over
all; and every one of the bees would appear to know in advance the
thought of her sisters. And yet this moment is the gravest, the most
vital, in their entire history. They have to choose between three or
four courses whose results, in the distant future, will be totally
different; which, too, the slightest accident may render disastrous.
They have to reconcile the multiplication of species--which is their
passion, or innate duty--with the preservation of the hive and its
people. They will err at times; they will successively send forth
three or four swarms, thereby completely denuding the mother-city;
and these swarms, too feeble to organise, will succumb, it may be,
at the approach of winter, caught unawares by this climate of ours,
which is different far from their original climate, thatthe bees,
notwithstanding all, have never forgotten. In such cases they suffer
from what is known as "swarming fever;" a condition wherein life, as
in ordinary fever, reacting too ardently on itself, passes its aim,
completes the circle, and discovers only death.


Of all the decisions before them there is none that would seem
imperative; nor can man, if content to play the part of spectator
only, foretell in the slightest degree which one the bees will
adopt. But that the most careful deliberation governs their choice
is proved by the fact that we are able to influence, or even
determine it, by for instance reducing or enlarging the space we
accord them; or by removing combs full of honey, and setting up, in
their stead, empty combs which are well supplied with workers'
cells.

The question they have to consider is not whether a second or third
swarm shall be immediately launched,--for in arriving at such a
decision they would merely be blindly and thoughtlessly yielding to
the caprice or temptation of a favourable moment,--but the
instantaneous, unanimous adoption of measures that shall enable them
to issue a second swarm or "cast" three or four days after the birth
of the first queen, and a third swarm three days after the departure
of the second, with this first queen at their head. It must be
admitted, therefore, that we discover here a perfectly reasoned
system, and a mature combination of plans extending over a period
considerable indeed when compared with the brevity of the bee's
existence.

These measures concern the care of the youthful queens who still lie
immured in their waxen prisons. Let us assume that the "spirit of
the hive "has pronounced against the despatch of a second swarm. Two
courses still remain open. The bees may permit the first-born of the
royal virgins, the one whose birth we have witnessed, to destroy her
sister-enemies; or they may elect to wait till she have performed
the perilous ceremony known as the "nuptial flight," whereon the
nation's future depends. The immediate massacre will be authorised
often, and often denied; but in the latter case it is of course not
easy for us to pronounce whether the bees' decision be due to a
desire for a second swarm, or to their recognition of the dangers
attending the nuptial flight; for it will happen at times that, on
account of the weather unexpectedly becoming less favourable, or for
some other reason we cannot divine, they will suddenly change their
mind, renounce the cast that they had decreed, and destroy the royal
progeny they had so carefully preserved. But at present we will
suppose that they have determined to dispense with a second swarm,
and that they accept the risks of the nuptial flight. Our young
queen hastens towards the large cradles, urged on by her great
desire, and the guard make way before her. Listening only to her
furious jealousy, she will fling herself on to the first cell she
comes across, madly strip off the wax with her teeth and claws, tear
away the cocoon that carpets the cell, and divest the sleeping
princess of every covering. If her rival should be already
recognisable, the queen will turn so that her sting may enter the
capsule, and will frantically stab it with her venomous weapon until
the victim perish. She then becomes calmer, appeased by the death
that puts a term to the hatred of every creature; she withdraws her
sting, hurries to the adjoining cell, attacks it and opens it,
passing it by should she find in it only an imperfect larva or
nymph; nor does she pause till, at last, exhausted and breathless,
her claws and teeth glide harmless over the waxen walls.

The bees that surround her have calmly watched her fury, have stood
by, inactive, moving only to leave her path clear; but no sooner has
a cell been pierced and laid waste than they eagerly flock to it,
drag out the corpse of the ravished nymph, or the still living
larva, and thrust it forth from the hive, thereupon gorging
themselves with the precious royal jelly that adheres to the sides
of the cell. And finally, when the queen has become too weak to
persist in her passion, they will themselves complete the massacre
of the innocents; and the sovereign race, and their dwellings, will
all disappear.

This is the terrible hour of the hive; the only occasion, with that
of the more justifiable execution of the drones, when the workers
suffer discord and death to be busy amongst them; and here, as often
in nature, it is the favoured of love who attract to themselves the
most extraordinary shafts of violent death.

It will happen at times that two queens will be hatched
simultaneously, the occurrence being rare, however, for the bees
take special care to prevent it. But whenever this does take place,
the deadly combat will begin the moment they emerge from their
cradles; and of this combat Huber was the first to remark an
extraordinary feature. Each time, it would seem that the queens, in
their passes, present their chitrinous cuirasses to each other in
such a fashion that the drawing of the sting would prove mutually
fatal; one might almost believe that, even as a god or goddess was
wont to interpose in the combats of the Iliad, so a god or a
goddess, the divinity of the race, perhaps, interposes here; and the
two warriors, stricken with simultaneous terror, divide and fly, to
meet shortly after and separate again should the double disaster
once more menace the future of their people; till at last one of
them shall succeed in surprising her clumsier or less wary rival,
and in killing her without risk to herself. For the law of the race
has called for one sacrifice only.

The cradles having thus been destroyed and the rivals all slain, the
young queen is accepted by her people; but she will not truly reign
over them, or be treated as was her mother before her, until the
nuptial flight be accomplished; for until she be impregnated the
bees will hold her but lightly, and render most passing homage. Her
history, however, will rarely be as uneventful as this, for the bees
will not often renounce their desire for a second swarm. In that
case, as before, quick with the same desires, the queen will
approach the royal cells; but instead of meeting with docile
servants who second her efforts, she will find her path blocked by a
numerous and hostile guard. In her fury, and urged on by her fixed
idea, she will endeavour to force her way through, or to outflank
them; but everywhere sentinels are posted to protect the sleeping
princesses. She persists, she returns to the charge, to be repulsed
with ever increasing severity, to be somewhat roughly handled even,
until at last she begins vaguely to understand that these little
inflexible workers stand for a law before which that law must bend
whereby she is inspired.

And at last she goes, and wanders from comb to comb, her unsatisfied
wrath finding vent in a war-song, or angry complaint, that every
bee-keeper knows; resembling somewhat the note of a distant trumpet
of silver; so intense, in its passionate feebleness, as to be
clearly audible, in the evening especially, two or three yards from
the double walls of the most carefully enclosed hive.

Upon the workers this royal cry has a magical effect. It terrifies
them, it induces a kind of respectful stupor; and when the queen
sends it forth, as she halts in front of the cells whose approach is
denied her, the guardians who have but this moment been hustling
her, pushing her back, will at once desist, and wait, with bent
head, till the cry shall have ceased to resound. Indeed, some
believe that it is thanks to the prestige of this cry, which the
Sphinx Atropos imitates, that the latter is able to enter the hive,
and gorge itself with honey, without the least molestation on the
part of the bees.

For two or three days, sometimes even for five, this indignant
lament will be heard, this challenge that the queen addresses to her
well protected rivals. And as these in their turn develop, in their
turn grow anxious to see the light, they too set to work to gnaw the
lids of their cells. A mighty disorder would now appear to threaten
the republic. But the genius of the hive, at the time that it formed
its decision, was able to foretell every consequence that might
ensue; and the guardians have had their instructions: they know
exactly what must be done, hour by hour, to meet the attacks of a
foiled instinct, and conduct two opposite forces to a successful
issue. They are fully aware that if the young queens should escape
who now clamour for birth, they would fall into the hands of their
elder sister, by this time irresistible, who would destroy them one
by one. The workers, therefore, will pile on fresh layers of wax in
proportion as the prisoner reduces, from within, the walls of her
tower; and the impatient princess will ardently persist in her
labour, little suspecting that she has to deal with an enchanted
obstacle, that rises ever afresh from its ruin. She hears the
war-cry of her rival; and already aware of her royal duty and
destiny, although she has not yet looked upon life, nor knows what a
hive may be, she answers the challenge from within the depths of her
prison. But her cry is different; it is stifled and hollow, for it
has to traverse the walls of a tomb; and, when night is falling, and
noises are hushed, and high over all there reigns the silence of the
stars, the apiarist who nears these marvellous cities and stands,
questioning, at their entrance, recognises and understands the
dialogue that is passing between the wandering queen and the virgins
in prison.



To the young princesses, however, this prolonged reclusion is of
material benefit; for when they at last are freed they have grown
mature and vigorous, and are able to fly. But during this period of
waiting the strength of the first queen has also increased, and is
sufficient now to enable her to face the perils of the voyage. The
time has arrived, therefore, for the departure of the second swarm,
or "cast," with the first-born of the queens at its head. No sooner
has she gone than the workers left in the hive will set one of the
prisoners free; and she will evince the same murderous desires, send
forth the same cries of anger, until, at last, after three or four
days, she will leave the hive in her turn, at the head of the
tertiary swarm; and so in succession, in the case of "swarming
fever," till the mother-city shall be completely exhausted.

Swammerdam cites a hive that, through its swarms and the swarms of
its swarms, was able in a single season to found no less than thirty
colonies.

Such extraordinary multiplication is above all noticeable after
disastrous winters; and one might almost believe that the bees,
forever in touch with the secret desires of nature, are conscious of
the dangers that menace their race. But at ordinary times this fever
will rarely occur in a strong and well-governed hive. There are many
that swarm only once; and some, indeed, not at all.

After the second swarm the bees, as a rule, will renounce further
division, owing either to their having observed the excessive
feebleness of their own stock, or to the prudence urged upon them by
threatening skies. In that case they will allow the third queen to
slaughter the captives; ordinary life will at once be resumed, and
pursued with the more ardour for the reason that the workers are all
very young, that the hive is depopulated and impoverished, and that
there are great voids to fill before the arrival of winter.



The departure of the second and third swarms resembles that of the
first, and the conditions are identical, with the exception that the
bees are fewer in number, less circumspect, and lacking in scouts;
and also that the young and virgin queen, being unencumbered and
ardent, will fly much further, and in the first stage lead the swarm
to a considerable distance from the hive. The conduct of these
second and third migrations will be far more rash, and their future
more problematical. The queen at their head, the representative of
the future, has not yet been impregnated. Their entire destiny
depends on the ensuing nuptial flight. A passing bird, a few drops
of rain, a mistake, a cold wind--any one of these may give rise to
irremediable disaster. Of this the bees are so well aware that when
the young queen sallies forth in quest of her lover, they often will
abandon the labours they have begun, will forsake the home of a day
that already is dear to them, and accompany her in a body, dreading
to let her pass out of their sight, eager, as they form closely
around her, and shelter her beneath their myriad devoted wings, to
lose themselves with her, should love cause her to stray so far from
the hive that the as yet unfamiliar road of return shall grow
blurred and hesitating in every memory.



But so potent is the law of the future that none of these
uncertainties, these perils of death, will cause a single bee to
waver. The enthusiasm displayed by the second and third swarms is
not less than that of the first. No sooner has the mother-city
pronounced its decision than a battalion of workers will flock
around each dangerous young queen, eager to follow her fortunes, to
accompany her on the voyage where there is so much to lose, and so
little to gain beyond the desire of a satisfied instinct. Whence do
they derive the energy we ourselves never possess, whereby they
break with the past as though with an enemy? Who is it selects from
the crowd those who shall go forth, and declares who shall remain?
No special class divides those who stay from those who wander
abroad; it will be the younger here and the elder there; around each
queen who shall never return veteran foragers jostle tiny workers,
who for the first time shall face the dizziness of the blue. Nor is
the proportionate strength of a swarm controlled by chance or
accident, by the momentary dejection or transport of an instinct,
thought, or feeling. I have more than once tried to establish a
relation between the number of bees composing a swarm and the number
of those that remain; and although the difficulties of this
calculation are such as to preclude anything approaching
mathematical precision, I have at least been able to gather that
this relation--if we take into account the brood-cells, or in other
words the forthcoming births--is sufficiently constant to point to
an actual and mysterious reckoning on the part of the genius of the
hive.



We will not follow these swarms on their numerous, and often most
complicated, adventures. Two swarms, at times, will join forces; at
others, two or three of the imprisoned queens will profit by the
confusion attending the moment of departure to elude the
watchfulness of their guardians and join the groups that are
forming. Occasionally, too, one of the young queens, finding herself
surrounded by males, will cause herself to be impregnated in the
swarming flight, and will then drag all her people to an
extraordinary height and distance. In the practice of apiculture
these secondary and tertiary swarms are always returned to the
mother-hive. The queens will meet on the comb; the workers will
gather around and watch their combat; and, when the stronger has
overcome the weaker they will then, in their ardour for work and
hatred of disorder, expel the corpses, close the door on the
violence of the future, forget the past, return to their cells, and
resume their peaceful path to the flowers that await them.



We will now, in order to simplify matters, return to the queen whom
the bees have permitted to slaughter her sisters, and resume the
account of her adventures. As I have already stated, this massacre
will be often prevented, and often sanctioned, at times even when
the bees apparently do not intend to issue a second swarm; for we
notice the same diversity of political spirit in the different hives
of an apiary as in the different human nations of a continent. But
it is clear that the bees will act imprudently in giving their
consent; for if the queen should die, or stray in the nuptial
flight, it will be impossible to fill her place, the workers' larvae
having passed the age when they are susceptible of royal
transformation. Let us assume, however, that the imprudence has been
committed; and behold our first-born, therefore, unique sovereign,
and recognised as such in the spirit of her people. But she is still
a virgin. To become as was the mother before her, it is essential
that she should meet the male within the first twenty days of her
life. Should the event for some reason be delayed beyond this
period, her virginity becomes irrevocable. And yet we have seen that
she is not sterile, virgin though she be. There confronts us here
the great mystery--or precaution--of Nature, that is known as
parthenogenesis, and is common to a certain number of insects, such
as the aphides, the lepidoptera of the Psyche genus, the hymenoptera
of the Cynipede family, etc. The virgin queen is able to lay; but
from all the eggs that she will deposit in the cells, be these large
or small, there will issue males alone; and as these never work, as
they live at the expense of the females, as they never go foraging
except on their own account, and are generally incapable of
providing for their subsistence, the result will be, at the end of
some weeks, that the last exhausted worker will perish, and the
colony be ruined and totally annihilated. The queen, we have said,
will produce thousands of drones; and each of these will possess
millions of the spermatozoa whereof it is impossible that a single
one can have penetrated into the organism of the mother. That may
not be more astounding, perhaps, than a thousand other and analogous
phenomena; and, indeed, when we consider these problems, and more
especially those of generation, the marvellous and the unexpected
confront us so constantly--occurring far more frequently, and above
all in far less human fashion, than in the most miraculous fairy
stories--that after a time astonishment becomes so habitual with us
that we almost cease to wonder. The fact, however, is sufficiently
curious to be worthy of notice. But, on the other hand, how shall we
explain to ourselves the aim that nature can have in thus favouring
the valueless drones at the cost of the workers who are so
essential? Is she afraid lest the females might perhaps be induced
by their intellect unduly to limit the number of their parasites,
which, destructive though they be, are still necessary for the
preservation of the race? Or is it merely an exaggerated reaction
against the misfortune of the unfruitful queen? Can we have here one
of those blind and extreme precautions which, ignoring the cause of
the evil, overstep the remedy; and, in the endeavour to prevent an
unfortunate accident, bring about a catastrophe? In reality--though
we must not forget that the natural, primitive reality is different:
from that of the present, for in the original forest the colonies
might well be far more scattered than they are to-day--in reality
the queen's unfruitfulness will rarely be due to the want of males,
for these are very numerous always, and will flock from afar; but
rather to the rain, or the cold, that will have kept her too long in
the hive, and more frequently still to the imperfect state of her
wings, whereby she will be prevented from describing the high flight
in the air that the organ of the male demands. Nature, however,
heedless of these more intrinsic causes, is so deeply concerned with
the multiplication of males, that we sometimes find, in motherless
hives, two or three workers possessed of so great a desire to
preserve the race that, their atrophied ovaries notwithstanding,
they will still endeavour to lay; and, their organs expanding
somewhat beneath the empire of this exasperated sentiment, they will
succeed in depositing a few eggs in the cells; but from these eggs,
as from those of the virgin mother, there will, issue only males.



Here we behold the active intervention of a superior though perhaps
imprudent will, which offers irresistible obstruction to the
intelligent will of a life. In the insect world such interventions
are comparatively frequent, and much can be gained from their study;
for this world being more densely peopled and more complex than
others, certain special desires of nature are often more palpably
revealed to us there; and she may even at times be detected in the
midst of experiments we might almost be warranted in regarding as
incomplete. She has one great and general desire, for instance, that
she displays on all sides; the amelioration of each species through
the triumph of the stronger. This struggle, as a rule, is most
carefully organised. The hecatomb of the weak is enormous, but that
matters little so long as the victors' reward be effectual and
certain. But there are cases when one might almost imagine that
nature had not had time enough to disentangle her combinations;
cases where reward is impossible, and the fate of the victor no less
disastrous than that of the vanquished. And of such, selecting an
instance that will not take us too far from our bees, I know of no
instance more striking than that of the triongulins of the _Sitaris
colletes._ And it will be seen that, in many details, this story is
less foreign to the history of man than might perhaps be imagined.

These triongulins are the primary larvae of a parasite proper to a
wild, obtuse-tongued, solitary bee, the Colletes, which builds its
nest in subterranean galleries. It is their habit to lie in wait for
the bee at the approach to these galleries; and then, to the number
of three, four, five, or often of more, they will leap on her back,
and bury themselves in her hair. Were the struggle of the weak
against the strong to take place at this moment there would be no
more to be said, and all would pass in accordance with universal
law. But, for a reason we know not, their instinct requires, and
nature has consequently ordained, that they should hold themselves
tranquil so long as they remain on the back of the bee. They
patiently bide their time while she visits the flowers, and
constructs and provisions her cells. But no sooner has an egg been
laid than they all spring upon it; and the innocent colletes
carefully seals down her cell, which she has duly supplied with
food, never suspecting that she has at the same time ensured the
death of her offspring.

The cell has scarcely been closed when the triongulins grouped round
the egg engage in the inevitable and salutary combat of natural
selection. The stronger, more agile, will seize its adversary
beneath the cuirass, and, raising it aloft, will maintain it for
hours in its mandibles until the victim expire. But, while this
fight is in progress, another of the triongulins, that had either no
rival to meet, or already has conquered, takes possession of the egg
and bursts it open. The ultimate victor has therefore this fresh
enemy to subdue; but the conquest is easy, for the triongulin, deep
in the satisfaction of its pre-natal hunger, clings obstinately to
the egg, and does not even attempt to defend itself. It is quickly
despatched; and the other is at last alone, and possessor of the
precious egg it has won so well. It eagerly plunges its head into
the opening its predecessor had made; and begins the lengthy repast
that shall transform it into a perfect insect. But nature, that has
decreed this ordeal of battle, has, on the other hand, established
the prize of victory with such miserly precision that nothing short
of an entire egg will suffice for the nourishment of a single
triongulin. So that, as we are informed by M. Mayet, to whom we owe
the account of these disconcerting adventures, there is lacking to
our conqueror the food its last victim consumed before death; and
incapable therefore of achieving the first stage of its
transformation, it dies in its turn, adhering to the skin of the
egg, or adding itself, in the sugary liquid, to the number of the
drowned.



This case, though rarely to be followed so closely, is not unique in
natural history. We have here, laid bare before us, the struggle
between the conscious will of the triongulin, that seeks to live,
and the obscure and general will of nature, that not only desires
that the triongulin should live, but is anxious even that its life
should be improved, and fortified, to a degree beyond that to which
its own will impels it. But, through some strange inadvertence, the
amelioration nature imposes suppresses the life of even the fittest,
and the Sitaris Colletes would have long since disappeared had not
chance, acting in opposition to the desires of nature, permitted
isolated individuals to escape from the excellent and far-seeing law
that ordains on all sides the triumph of the stronger.

Can this mighty power err, then, that seems unconscious to us, but
necessarily wise, seeing that the life she organises and maintains
is forever proving her to be right? Can feebleness at times overcome
that supreme reason, which we are apt to invoke when we have
attained the limits of our own? And if that be so, by whom shall
this feebleness be set right?

But let us return to that special form of her resistless
intervention that we find in parthenogenesis. And we shall do well
to remember that, remote as the world may seem in which these
problems confront us, they do indeed yet concern ourselves very
nearly. Who would dare to affirm that no interventions take place in
the sphere of man--interventions that may be more hidden, but not
the less fraught with danger? And in the case before us, which is
right, in the end,--the insect, or nature? What would happen if the
bees, more docile perhaps, or endowed with a higher intelligence,
were too clearly to understand the desires of nature, and to follow
them to the extreme; to multiply males to infinity, seeing that
nature is imperiously calling for males? Would they not risk the
destruction of their species? Are we to believe that there are
intentions in nature that it is dangerous to understand too clearly,
fatal to follow with too much ardour; and that it is one of her
desires that we should not divine, and follow, all her desires? Is
it not possible that herein there may lie one of the perils of the
human race? We too are aware of unconscious forces within us, that
would appear to demand the reverse of what our intellect urges. And
this intellect of ours, that, as a rule, its own boundary reached,
knows not whither to go--can it be well that it should join itself
to these forces, and add to them its unexpected weight?



Have we the right to conclude, from the dangers of parthenogenesis,
that nature is not always able to proportion the means to the end;
and that what she intends to preserve is preserved at times by means
of precautions she has to contrive against her own precautions, and
often through foreign circumstances she has not herself foreseen?
But is there anything she does foresee, anything she does intend to
preserve? Nature, some may say, is a word wherewith we clothe the
unknowable; and few things authorise our crediting it with
intelligence, or with aim. That is true. We touch here the
hermetically sealed vases that furnish our conception of the
universe. Reluctant, over and over again, to label these with the
inscription "UNKNOWN," that disheartens us and compels us to
silence, we engrave upon them, in the degree of their size and
grandeur, the words "Nature, life, death, infinite, selection,
spirit of the race," and many others, even as those who went before
us affixed the words "God, Providence, destiny, reward," etc. Let it
be so, if one will, and no more. But, though the contents of the
vases remain obscure, there is gain at least in the fact that the
inscriptions to-day convey less menace to us, that we are able
therefore to approach them and touch them, and lay our ears close to
them and listen, with wholesome curiosity.

But whatever the name we attach to these vases, it is certain that
one of them, at least, and the greatest--that which bears on its
flank the name "Nature"--encloses a very real force, the most real
of all, and one that is able to preserve an enormous and marvellous
quantity and quality of life on our globe, by means so skilful that
they surpass all that the genius of man could contrive. Could this
quantity and quality be maintained by other means? Is it we who
deceive ourselves when we imagine that we see precautions where
perhaps there is truly no more than a fortunate chance, that has
survived a million unfortunate chances?



That may be; but these fortunate chances teach us a lesson in
admiration as valuable as those we might learn in regions superior
to chance. If we let our gaze travel beyond the creatures that are
possessed of a glimmer of intellect and consciousness, beyond the
protozoa even, which are the first nebulous representatives of the
dawning animal kingdom, we find, as has been abundantly proved by
the experiments of Mr. H. J. Carter, the celebrated microscopist,
that the very lowest embryos, such as the myxomycetes, manifest a
will and desires and preferences; and that infusoria, which
apparently have no organism whatever, give evidence of a certain
cunning. The Amoebae, for instance, will patiently lie in wait for
the new-born Acinetes, as they leave the maternal ovary; being aware
that these must as yet be lacking their poisonous tentacles. Now,
the Amoebae have neither a nervous system nor distinguishable organs
of any kind. Or if we turn to the plants, which, being motionless,
would seem exposed to every fatality,--without pausing to consider
carnivorous species like the Drusera, which really act as
animals,--we are struck by the genius that some of our humblest
flowers display in contriving that the visit of the bee shall
infallibly procure them the crossed fertilisation they need. See the
marvellous fashion in which the Orchis Moris, our humble country
orchid, combines the play of its rostellum and retinacula; observe
the mathematical and automatic inclination and adhesion of its
pollinia; as also the unerring double seesaw of the anthers of the
wild sage, which touch the body of the visiting insect at a
particular spot in order that the insect may, in its turn, touch the
stigma of the neighbouring flower at another particular spot; watch,
too, in the case of the Pedicularis Sylvatica, the successive,
calculated movements of its stigma; and indeed the entrance of the
bee into any one of these three flowers sets every organ vibrating,
just as the skilful marksman who hits the black spot on the target
will cause all the figures to move in the elaborate mechanisms we
see in our village fairs.

We might go lower still, and show, as Ruskin has shown in his
"Ethics of the Dust," the character, habits, and artifices of
crystals; their quarrels, and mode of procedure, when a foreign body
attempts to oppose their plans, which are more ancient by far than
our imagination can conceive; the manner in which they admit or
repel an enemy, the possible victory of the weaker over the
stronger, as, for instance, when the all-powerful quartz submits to
the humble and wily epidote, and allows this last to conquer it; the
struggle, terrible sometimes and sometimes magnificent, between the
rock-crystal and iron; the regular, immaculate expansion and
uncompromising purity of one hyaline block, which rejects whatever
is foul, and the sickly growth, the evident immorality, of its
brother, which admits corruption, and writhes miserably in the void;
as we might quote also the strange phenomena of crystalline
cicatrisation and reintegration mentioned by Claude Bernard, etc.
But the mystery here becomes too foreign to us. Let us keep to our
flowers, which are the last expression of a life that has yet some
kinship with our own. We are not dealing now with animals or
insects, to which we attribute a special, intelligent will, thanks
to which they survive. We believe, rightly or wrongly, that the
flowers possess no such will; at least we cannot discover in them
the slightest trace of the organs wherein will, intellect, and
initiative of action, are usually born and reside. It follows,
therefore, that all that acts in them in so admirable a fashion must
directly proceed from what we elsewhere call nature. We are no
longer concerned with the intellect of the individual; here we find
the un conscious, undivided force in the act of ensnaring other
forms of itself. Shall we on that account refuse to believe that
these snares are pure accidents, occurring in accordance with a
routine that is also incidental? We are not yet entitled to such a
deduction. It might be urged that these flowers, had these
miraculous combinations not been, would not have survived, but would
have had their place filled by others that stood in no need of
crossed fertilisation; and the non-existence of the first would have
been perceived by none, nor would the life that vibrates on the
earth have seemed less incomprehensible to us, less diverse, or less
astounding.

And yet it would be difficult not to admit that acts which bear all
the appearance of acts of intelligence and prudence produce and
support these fortunate chances. Whence do they issue,--from the
being itself, or from the force whence that being draws life? I will
not say "it matters but little," for, on the contrary, to know the
answer were of supreme importance to us. But, in the meantime, and
till we shall learn whether it be the flower that endeavours to
maintain and perfect the life that nature has placed within it, or
whether it be nature that puts forth an effort to maintain and
improve the degree of existence the flower has assumed, or finally
whether it be chance that ultimately governs chance, a multitude of
semblances invite us to believe that something equal to our loftiest
thoughts issues at times from a common source, that we are compelled
to admire without knowing where it resides.

There are moments when what seems error to us comes forth from this
common source. But, although we know very few things, proofs abound
that the seeming error was in reality an act of prudence that we at
first could not grasp. In the little circle, even, that our eyes
embrace we are constantly shown that what we regarded as nature's
blunder close by was due to her deeming it well to adjust the
presumed inadvertence out yonder. She has placed the three flowers
we mentioned under conditions of such difficulty that they are
unable to fertilise themselves; she considers it beneficial,
therefore, for reasons beyond our powers of perception, that they
should cause themselves to be fertilised by their neighbours; and,
inasmuch as she enhances the intelligence of her victims, she
displays on our right the genius she failed to display on our left.
The byways of this genius of hers remain incomprehensible to us, but
its level is always the same. It will appear to fall into
error--assuming that error be possible--thereupon rising again at
once in the organ charged to repair this error. Turn where we may,
it towers high over our heads. It is the circular ocean, the
tideless water, whereon our boldest and most independent thoughts
will never be more than mere abject bubbles. We call it Nature
to-day; to-morrow, perhaps, we shall give it another name, softer or
more alarming. In the meanwhile it holds simultaneous, impartial
sway over life and death; furnishing the two irreconcilable sisters
with the magnificent and familiar weapons that adorn and distract
its bosom.


Does this force take measures to maintain what may be struggling on
its surface, or must we say, arguing in the strangest of circles,
that what floats on its surface must guard itself against the genius
that has given it life? That question must be left open. We have no
means of ascertaining whether it be notwithstanding the efforts of
the superior will, or independently of these, or lastly because of
these, that a species has been able to survive.

All we can say is that such a species exists, and that, on this
point, therefore, nature would seem to be right. But who shall tell
us how many others that we have not known have fallen victim to her
restless and forgetful intellect? Beyond this, we can recognise only
the surprising and occasionally hostile forms that the extraordinary
fluid we call life assumes, in utter unconsciousness sometimes, at
others with a kind of consciousness: the fluid which animates us
equally with all the rest, which produces the very thoughts that
judge it, and the feeble voice that attempts to tell its story.





Next: THE NUPTIAL FLIGHT

Previous: THE LIFE OF THE BEE



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