THE MASSACRE OF THE MALES





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.





THE MASON BEES THE METHOD OF THE AMMOPHILAE. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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