Gateway to the Classics: Buz: The Life and Adventures of a Honey Bee by Maurice Noel
Buz: The Life and Adventures of a Honey Bee by  Maurice Noel


Dispute with a Peacock Butterfly—The Snail Settles It

dropcap image OR a few days after her narrow escape, Buz did not venture far from the hive, and worked steadily and well. She now and then met Hum, and they were always good friends; but she found that what she had heard was quite true, and that there was not much time for any thing but work. One morning, however, as they were both waiting near the entrance of the hive till it should be warm enough to go out, Hum asked Buz if she had seen the queen yet.

"I should think so!" replied Buz. "The first time I met her, I was carrying in some honey, and was passing between two combs, when, without knowing why, I found myself turning round to the right and bowing away like any thing! 'What's the matter with me?' thought I; 'this is quite ridiculous'—but ridiculous or not, I did not seem to be able to stop, and was actually getting angry with myself, when I saw, in the midst of a circle of bees close to me, one who I felt must be the queen. She was so long in the body and so graceful, and her wings were so much shorter than ours, that no one could help seeing the difference at once; and, then, all the bees round were careful to keep their heads turned toward her. She was busy laying eggs, and I watched her for some time; but one got tired of that, and so I squeezed out of the crowd. I suppose you've seen her too?"

"Oh, yes!" answered Hum, "and she noticed me quite kindly; I'd do any thing for her—any thing!"

"Certainly," said Buz; "I suppose you feel that you couldn't do a stroke of work unless you knew that she was in the hive, and all safe."

"Yes," answered Hum, "I quite feel so."

"With regard to that," pursued Buz, "every bee in the hive is just the same."

"How do you know?"

"A drone told me."

"I have several times seen you talking to drones."

"I always go to a drone when I want to know any thing."

"Do you really?"

"Yes, of course; bees who work hard like you, old Hum, never have time to explain, but are always in such a hurry to be off. Now drones are very lazy in every other way, but are tremendous gossips, I find."

"Ah!" said Hum; "I remember nurse telling me that if I showed her a lazy person, she would show me a gossip."

"That's it!" cried Buz. "Well, a drone told me that the custom we all have of touching each other with our antennæ whenever we pass, was introduced on purpose to save the trouble of asking after the queen. It's merely a signal that every thing is going on well with her."

"I can believe that," said Hum, "for it's just what I feel."

At this moment the sun peeped over a bank of morning clouds, and called the bees to work; and out went Buz and Hum with the rest, the former making her way to the old-fashioned flower garden near the house.

Here she was soon busy among some early stocks and mignonette which grew near the sundial, and had already made several journeys to and from the hive, when she was addressed by a peacock butterfly which she had noticed flitting about, and which was now sitting on the top of the dial itself.

"You seem to have something like  an appetite this morning!" said the butterfly.

"What do you mean?" said Buz.

"But you'll make yourself ill, you know," continued the butterfly.

"I'm sure I shan't!" answered Buz, indignantly.

"Unless you're like a snake," persisted the butterfly in an aggravating manner, "and can take in enough food for a week."

"You don't know what you're talking about," cried Buz, turning angrily away.

"Oh, yes, I do," said the butterfly coolly; "I've been watching you, and thinking. It's the only thing I've been doing."

"And you've done that wrong," retorted Buz; "so it's a pity you weren't asleep."

"I've been thinking," repeated the butterfly, as if she hadn't heard what Buz said, "that you bees are a greedy lot; and the more I think of it, the more I can't remember ever seeing a bee that was doing any thing except what you're doing now."

"Do you mind saying that again?" said Buz sarcastically; "it's a pretty sentence, very!"

"Not at all," said the butterfly. And she repeated it all over again, word for word, and seemed quite pleased.

This bothered Buz, who didn't exactly know what to say; when the butterfly continued in the calmest manner—"The simple truth is, you're always  thinking of eating."

"Why, you ignorant, conceited creature!" cried Buz; "how dare you tell me that?"

"Because it's a fact—come now, isn't it?" said the butterfly.

"No! No!! No!!! It's a most abominable story!"

"You seem a little put out," said the butterfly, "which is foolish; people can't always agree, you know. Now, suppose you come here and talk the matter over with me quietly. I'm sure you can spare a few minutes."

Buz was at first inclined to refuse indignantly; but remembering what a triumph it would be to prove the butterfly wrong in every thing she said, consented.

"That's right," said the butterfly, as Buz settled down close to her. "Now begin."

"How?" asked Buz.

"I made a statement that seemed to annoy you. You must either admit it, or prove I'm wrong. My statement was, that you bees are always thinking of eating."

"I certainly don't admit it."

"Then disprove it."

"To begin with, we don't—but, I say," said Buz, suddenly interrupting herself, "why shouldn't you  prove you're right?"

"Any thing you please; I won't be particular with you. Well then, I've observed, not you alone, but dozens of other bees—not on this day alone, but on dozens of other days—and you have all been doing the same thing—always. You have all been employed in sucking every drop of honey out of every single flower you could get at; as for ever resting, or playing about, or even stopping to talk—why you know  you never do. Those are the observations I have made myself, and on those observations I base my statement—I base my statement," repeated the butterfly, speaking very slowly, and evidently rather proud of herself.

"Among your other observations," said Buz, trying to talk as calmly as the butterfly, "have you ever noticed that we are in the habit of leaving at intervals the flowers on which we are busy, of flying rapidly away, and of returning after a short absence?"

"I have," replied the butterfly.

"Can you tell me why we do so?"

"If you'll promise not to be vexed, I'll tell you what I've always thought."

"I'll promise," said Buz.

"To get an appetite for a little more honey."

"Ah! then you're just wrong—as wrong as ever you can be."

"Am I really?" said the butterfly. "Well, you know, it was only a guess, and isn't of the least consequence."

"But it is," cried Buz, "of the greatest possible consequence, and so you'll be driven to admit when I explain that we leave the flowers, on purpose to deposit the honey we have collected, in our hive; and there it is stored up for our use during the winter. So you see we don't eat it at all, or think of eating it—there!—and so you're wrong!" concluded Buz, excitedly.

"Then you'd like me to withdraw my statement?" asked the butterfly.

"Of course; you must  withdraw it, now you know that I have hardly eaten any honey all this morning—not so much as you have, I daresay."

"Very good," replied the butterfly; "but before I do so, tell me if I am wrong in thinking you said the honey was stored for your use during the winter."

"That's just what I said."

"May I ask how you use it?"

"Why, we eat it, of course," said Buz.

"Then all this morning you must have been thinking—not of what you were eating, certainly—but of what you are going to eat in the winter. Dear me! dear me! This is even worse than I thought," said the butterfly, almost sadly.

"But it isn't greediness on our part," said Buz; "we call it, being provident."

"It sounds greedy to me though," said the butterfly. "According to your own account, you think all the summer of what you are going to eat all the winter. You think of nothing else, and work like slaves, and never have any fun. Well, I wouldn't be a bee!"

Buz was rather disconcerted at the turn the conversation had taken, and, more to gain time than for any other reason, she asked the butterfly how she spent her  time.

"I do exactly what I like all day long, and never think of a moment beyond the present. If I feel hungry, I eat, and directly I'm satisfied I think of food no longer; if I am hot, I fly in the shade; if cold, I bask in the sun. When I feel lively, I dance gayly up and down in the air, and the moment I'm tired, I stop. I have a thousand companions as gay and beautiful as myself, always ready to play with me, and nothing can put me out, for I don't care what happens to me."

"But when the cold winter begins?"

"Then I shall die," said the butterfly, very cheerfully—"at least, so I suppose; but what of that? Perhaps I shall like it."

"At any rate," said Buz, "you have described a very selfish, useless sort of life."

"And in what sense is yours useful?" retorted the butterfly, "except to yourself perhaps. If you do not gather all the honey you talk about for your own use, you at least expect a share of what the other bees in your hive collect; so that in point of fact you only work hard in order to keep yourself alive. I ask again, what's the use of your keeping alive?"

"To begin with," said Buz, "I help to make the cells in which we rear the young grubs, and to collect the food with which we feed them—and in that way I am unselfishly useful, you must allow."

"Perhaps; but after all, what do you gain by working hard to rear a lot of things as useless as yourself? I know there will be dozens of young caterpillars—nasty things!—crawling about some day, that will all come out of the eggs I laid yesterday. Do you suppose I'm proud of that? Certainly not."

Buz suddenly remembered what the clover flower had told her with regard to the use of bees in distributing pollen, and eagerly repeated it to the butterfly, who only said—

"I sincerely hope you don't take any credit to yourself for that. You surely are not proud of doing what you couldn't help  doing, however hard you tried?"

"I like to think I am useful, even if no praise is due to me for doing so. My life would not be spent in vain if I were useful even against my will,  and I still say that it is a higher and nobler one than yours. I am convinced that the consciousness of being usefully employed——"

"I deny the usefulness to any one but yourself, mind," put in the butterfly.

"Makes life far happier," continued Buz, "than it can possibly be in your case, who live only for self-indulgence; and, even if it be true, as you affirm it is, that my existence is utterly in vain, the very fact of my longing to be of use, and of your being unwilling to be useful even if you could, makes me certain that it is better to be a bee than a butterfly."

"Pity we can't agree!" said the butterfly. "Fine day, ain't it?"

Buz was so annoyed at the flippant manner in which the butterfly put an end to the conversation, in which she had really become interested, that she turned to leave without saying another word, when she heard a thick, muffled voice, so close to her that she quite started—

"I'm very old." Then there was a pause. "Very old indeed," continued the voice, which, Buz now found proceeded from a large snail, stuck close to the edge of the sundial. "Hundreds of years, perhaps," said the snail slowly, as if he was reckoning up.

"Thousands, I should say," remarked the butterfly, in a low voice.

"And I know a lot." Here there was a long pause.

"He knows how to keep silence, at any rate," said the butterfly to Buz.

"Which is more than some  people do," retorted Buz.

"In here I think a good deal," continued the snail. "I was once imprisoned in a rock for over a hundred years; I thought a good deal then."

Buz didn't know what to say, and even the butterfly made no remark; the voice was so very solemn, and also she felt that the snail wouldn't have cared for any words of hers. The latter soon continued—

"I once considered the subject of your late conversation (of which, I must tell you, I heard every word) for fifty years at a stretch."

"Did you get a headache after it?" the butterfly couldn't help asking. But the snail didn't seem to hear her, and Buz took no notice whatever of the question.

"And as," said the snail, "you were both totally wrong in the conclusions to which you came, I shall just put you right. You bee," he continued—suddenly shooting out the horn nearest to Buz, and keeping it pointed toward her—"seem to despise the butterfly for not working, or taking any care for the future, and for leading a vain and useless life, as you call it. Don't despise the butterfly. And you butterfly"—here he shot out his other horn, and pointed it at the insect he addressed—"appear to pity the bee because she works hard during the summer, in order that she may keep herself alive through the winter, instead of enjoying herself while she may. Don't pity the bee."

The snail paused for a moment, and drew in both his horns, and then continued in a very solemn manner—

"What is right for one person, is wrong for another. If a bee were to lead the life of a butterfly, she would be miserable; for she was created in order that she might work, and no one can be really happy who is not fulfilling the object of his creation. On the other hand, if a butterfly were to attempt to work, she would fail, and be miserable also. So let the bee work as hard as she can, without being proud of doing what is only her duty—and she will be as happy as the butterfly. Let the butterfly sit in the sun and look beautiful, and enjoy all the pleasures of life and be thankful for them: above all, let her never look down on those whose duty it is to work; let her always have a soft heart and a kind word for such as are fagged and worn by the toil she is not called upon to endure herself—and the butterfly will be as happy as the bee. As for presuming"—(here the snail became as stern as such a soft thing conveniently could)—"as for presuming to settle which is the nobler, or higher, or better life to lead, how dare you attempt to do so! It is not for you to decide. In my opinion, whoever does the work he is given to do, best—whatever that work may be—whatever that work may be, mind," repeated the snail emphatically, putting out both his horns, and pointing one at each of the insects in a very significant manner—"leads the best life."

At this moment the sun, which had been behind a cloud for some time, shone brightly out, and the snail retired into his shell at once, and rested on the cool soft moss which grew over the dial. The two insects looked at each other rather foolishly, and Buz was the first to speak:

"I'm glad that snail overheard us, and spoke out so plainly; I seem to see things differently now, and retract what I said about selfishness."

"And I," answered the butterfly—who was really very good-natured, and was apt to hurt people's feelings only from want of thought—"am very sorry indeed that I should have laughed at you or your work; for I honor you in my heart, I do indeed. Now come," she continued coaxingly, "do let us part friends; and if you would let me take one of the hints given by that dear old snail, I should think it so kind of you. If ever you feel tired or over-worked, or whenever things go wrong, do come and let me try to cheer you up; now do!"

"I certainly will," answered Buz, "though at the same time, I enjoy my work so much that I don't expect to have to trouble you often; however it's quite nice of you to think of it," she concluded, "and I hope we may frequently meet. Now I really must be off. I don't consider my time here has been wasted, but I am perfectly rested, and have plenty to do."

"I won't try to detain you," said the butterfly; "and mind, I shall always be most interested in hearing what work you are engaged in, and how it is getting on."

"And on my part," answered Buz gayly, "it will always be a pleasure to me to see you flying about and looking so pretty. Good-by, dear!"

"Good-by, good-by!" echoed the butterfly, as Buz went off.

For some little time after this, the pretty butterfly sat and thought, but at last, rousing herself with a merry little laugh—"I mustn't become like the snail," she said to herself; "that's  not my work, at any rate."

So away she flew, in the highest possible spirits, in and out, in and out, among the flowers and over the shrubs that grew in the delightful old garden.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: First Flights—Narrow Escape  |  Next: Swarming
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2020   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.