First Flights—Narrow Escape
EXT morning, Buz and Hum were, of course, in a great hurry to leave the hive and try their wings; but one of the nurses, who happened to see them on their way to the entrance very early indeed, told them not to be tempted out by the bright rays of the sun, which had only just risen, but to wait till the world was a little warmer. "Many a young bee," she added, "yes, and many an older bee who ought to have known better, has left this hive on a bright-looking spring morning, and has never returned, because it was really so much colder than it seemed that no bee could stand it. The fact is, we can not endure cold weather; we should like to be able to, but we can't, and so there's an end of it."
With these sagacious words the nurse took her departure, and Buz and Hum, though they felt it was a great trial to wait, agreed to do nothing foolish.
"At any rate," said the former, "we can stand out on the board, and run in directly we feel cold."
So out they went, and took a bee's-eye view of the garden.
It was certainly a lovely morning, and the sun shone right into the mouth of the hive, which faced east, or rather south-east, as a hive should.
The garden in which it stood, had a high wall all way round it; but, as the ground sloped away, Buz and Hum could see the country beyond, and the end of the beautiful lime-tree avenue which led from the old house near at hand.
Such a comfortable, old-fashioned country-house it was, with many gable-ends, and queer bits of building sticking out from it in all directions. It didn't belong to any particular order of architecture, and didn't want to. There was nothing at all correct about it; and no architect, traveling through the country to pick up hints, would have thought of pulling out his book of plans to take a copy. You couldn't copy it—that was just the beauty of it; but no artist could possibly pass it without taking off a lot of sketches of odd bits and corners here and there, or without being delighted with the picturesque old place.
And inside! Was there ever such a place for children to play hide-and-seek in? There were really no end of long passages, and big cupboards, and tiny rooms; while, as for stairs! they were here, there, and everywhere: almost every room had two or three steps leading up to it, or two or three steps leading down to it; for the architect, or rather architects (there must have been a dozen of them employed at different times), seemed to have said, "No, we won't have any two rooms exactly on the same level—not if we can help it." Some of the rooms had windows that looked down into the old hall; others had managed to get so exactly into the middle of the house that there was nothing for it but to light them from the next room; but that didn't matter a bit: they did famously for keeping bandboxes and odd things in, and there were heaps of rooms to spare. Nowadays, people wouldn't like to build in that sort of way, they are so particular about turning every inch of space to account; and one might tell from a glance at the outside of a modern house the situation of all the rooms within. Well, that wasn't the case with Heathercombe, at any rate; but, such as it was, no one could have helped saying, "What a dear, comfortable old place! I wonder what its history is? There must be plenty of stories belonging to it." And so there were, as even the old lime trees in the avenue knew quite well.
The garden exactly suited the house, so it is hardly necessary to say that there was nothing formal about it. You couldn't take in the whole pattern of the flower-beds at once, as if you were looking at a Turkey carpet; for little narrow paths, that twisted about as much as they possibly could, led you to all kinds of odd nooks and out-of-the-way corners, here passing a quaint bit of yew hedge, and there rounding a clump of enormous shrubs; and in all the corners and in every nook you would find a little flower-bed or two, filled with dear old-fashioned flowers—moss roses, wall-flowers, columbines, stocks, marigolds, and many others; and hardly any of those eternal geraniums with dreadful names, and calceolarias of high degree, which have to be shown in stiff regimental order, and which look very lovely in certain places, but wouldn't have suited the old garden at all. Then there were plenty of rustic seats and dear little summer-houses, and, of course, an old sundial, so covered with moss that the figures on the dial were completely hidden—that didn't matter; it would have been a shame to dream of utilizing it—and on the summer-houses, sweetbriers and honeysuckles crept and twined and hung as much as ever they liked, and mignonette grew in patches all about the place, and even the steps of the old sundial were covered with musk.
What with all the sweet flowers, and what with the yew hedges and tall shrubs, affording shelter from any wind that might blow, it was the place of all others for bees.
But Buz and Hum knew nothing about this as yet, and as they looked at the kitchen garden they thought it was big enough for any thing. There were no fanners at work on the board: the morning was too cool for them to be needed—so cool that, though plenty of bees kept on walking to the edge of the board and taking observations—it was some time before any flew off.
At last, as the sun's rays grew warmer, one or two were hardy enough to start away on their long day's work; but just then Buz and Hum felt quite chilled, and had to run into the hive, where they very soon got nice and warm again.
"How lucky it is," said Hum, "that we didn't fly off at once!"
"Why, yes," replied Buz, "it is certainly colder than it seemed at first; after all, I suppose it's a good thing to take advice."
"Take advice," repeated a bee who was standing near the entrance, and who heard what Buz said; "I should think it was, just. But what advice have you been taking?"
So Buz told her, and she seemed pleased, and said:
"I'll tell you what it is, if you two will stay with me I'll let you know when I consider it warm enough for you to go out; and when I consider it so, it will be so."
"Come," thought Buz, "she doesn't seem to mistrust her judgment much."
"I might perhaps be tempted," continued the bee, "to go out a little too soon myself, but when one judges for others one is not led away by inclination; do you understand?"
"Yes," replied Buz, "you mean that it does not matter to you how long we have to wait, don't you?"
"That's about it," said the bee.
"But shan't we keep you waiting?" asked Hum.
"No; I'm not going out this morning. I shall fan when it gets warmer: that's my work to-day. Now, if you are warm again, we'll just step out and take a look round."
So they all three went out, and even in the short time they had been away they found that the sun had become much more powerful.
But their newly-made friend would not let them start quite at once, and took the opportunity of giving them several hints about collecting honey, and so on. "However," she added, "I won't bother you any more now; for there is a certain party to whom you are going to be introduced, who will teach you more in a day than you could learn from me in a week."
"Who?" asked Buz and Hum together.
"Experience," answered the bee, looking very wise indeed.
And now at last the time came, and Buz and Hum were allowed to try their wings.
"Follow me," said their friend; "I can spare time to fly a little way; and when I stop, you stop too."
"All right," cried Buz, trembling with excitement.
Hum said nothing, but her wings began to move, almost in spite of herself.
Away went the bee, as straight as a line from the mouth of the hive, and away flew Buz and Hum after her; but at first starting they both found it a little difficult to keep quite straight, and Buz knocked against the board to begin with, and nearly stopped herself, as she had not learned how to rise.
The bee did not go far, and lit on the branch of a peach tree which was growing against a wall hard by. Buz came after her in a great hurry, but missed the branch and gave herself a bang against the wall. Hum saw this, and managed to stop herself in time; but she did not judge her distance very well either, and got on to the peach tree in a scrambling sort of way.
"Very good," said their friend, as they all three stood together; "you will soon be able to take care of yourselves now; but just let me see you back to the hive."
So off they flew again, and alighted on the board in a very creditable manner.
"Now," said the bee, "I shall leave you; but before I go let me advise you, as a friend, not to quit the garden to-day; there are plenty of flowers, and plenty of opportunities for you to meet with 'Experience,' without flying over any of the four walls. Good-by."
So saying, she disappeared into the hive.
"Isn't it too delightful!" exclaimed Buz to Hum. "Flying! why it's even more fun than I thought!"
"It is," said Hum; "but I should like to get some honey at once."
"Of course," replied Buz, "only I should like to fly a good way to get it."
"I want to fill a cell quickly," said Hum.
"Oh yes, to be sure! What a delightful thing it will be to put one's proboscis down into every flower and see what's there! Do you know," added Buz, putting out her proboscis, "I feel as if I could suck tremendously; don't you?"
"Yes, yes!" cried Hum, "I long to be sucking; let's be off at once."
So away they went, and lit on a bed of flowers.
Hum spent the day between the hive and that bed, and was quite, quite happy; but Buz, though she too liked collecting the honey, wanted to have more excitement in getting it; and every now and then, as she passed to and from the hive, a lovely field of clover, not far off, sent forth such a delicious smell, as the breeze swept over it, that she was strongly tempted to disregard the advice she had been given, and to hurry off to it.
At last she could stand it no longer; and, rising high into the air, she sailed over the wall and went out into the world beyond.
Yes, right out into the world; and very much did she enjoy the sense of freedom, of going as high as she liked and flying as fast as she could, and stopping exactly when and where she felt inclined, with nobody to bother her with good advice—which she was ready to admit was all very well, though, at the same time, a person couldn't everlastingly be taking it. She had had quite enough for one day, she was sure of that; and so she hadn't told Hum of her intention to leave that poky old kitchen garden: Hum might be giving advice next and that would be too absurd!
And so she reached the field of clover, and, flying quite low over the flowers, was astonished to see what lots of bees were busy among them—bumble bees without end, and plenty of honey bees too; in fact, the air was filled with the pleasant murmur that they made.
"To be sure," said Buz to herself, "this is the place for me! Poor dear old Hum! I hope she's enjoying herself as much as I am. I don't mean to be idle either, so here goes for some honey."
But the first thing to do was to pick out a flower to settle on.
It seemed easy enough, for there were hundreds of thousands to choose from. That was just it; who was to choose any particular flower out of such a lot! A dozen times Buz was on the point of alighting on one, and a dozen times she was attracted by another close by, which seemed a little fresher, or a little richer, or a little larger. This wouldn't do at all; she felt she was wasting time, and had just made up her mind to let herself fall anyhow into the clover and begin on the first bit she touched, when she caught sight of a splendid flower close to her. There was no mistake about it this time; it was a king clover, she thought, so tall and fine, and promising such a supply of honey that she settled on it at once in triumph.
And she eagerly unpacked her proboscis and explored, one after another, the cups of the many flowers clustered together in the head.
But how dreadfully disappointing! Not a drop of honey, not the least little drop, could she find in the whole flower!
"Well, I declare!" she said aloud, as she raised her head at last in disgust, "it's perfectly dry!"
At this the flower gave a low silvery laugh, and shook a little on its stalk.
"Dry!" it repeated; "I should rather think I was; sucked as dry as a brick, half an hour ago."
"Indeed!" said Buz.
"Yes, my dear, indeed," repeated the flower cheerily; "and so many bees besides yourself have been sold this morning, that it's really quite ridiculous! I suppose you're a young bee, eh?"
"Well, rather," answered Buz. "Why?"
"You see, you young things always will pick out the biggest and tallest of us, and will waste your time in trying us all over, quite forgetting that others before you have most likely been attracted by just the same qualities that you admire yourself. Now let me give you a bit of advice."
"More advice," thought Buz to herself. "Oh dear!" However, she said politely enough that she would be glad to have it.
"Then," said the flower, "pick out the blossoms that are most hidden and most out of the way. Flowers that are really almost troublesome to get at are generally worth trying: you will find this the case nearly always and remember also, that if the first two or three cups of a head like mine be dry, it is hardly worth while trying all the others, for the same bee who cleared out the first will probably have worked out every cup in the flower. Don't you think so?"
"Yes, I do," replied Buz; "I know I should, at least. Well, I'm much obliged to you for the hint, and I'll be off at once and take advantage of it."
"All right," said the flower. "Good-by."
"Good-by," answered Buz; and away she flew.
Not for more than a few yards though; turning suddenly back, she lit once more on the same flower.
"I thought I'd just ask you," she said, "if it's a fair question, do you mind us bees taking away your honey; or do you consider us so many robbers?"
"Mind it!" replied the flower, "Not at all; you do us quite as much good as we do you, without being able to help it any more than we can."
"Do we really?" said Buz.
"Of course you do," answered the flower: "look at your legs."
"I can only see a little yellow dust on them."
"Well, that's pollen; and the pollen from one flower fertilizes others. But how is it to get to them? It must be carried, of course; and though sometimes the wind does this for us, you bees are the means we chiefly depend on. In short, without bees there would be a very poor look-out for flowers; and, of course, we are necessary to you: so, you see, it's a case of 'tit for tat.' Good-morning."
"Good-morning again, and thank you," said Buz, as she flew away.
And now it was high time to set to work in earnest; so Buz was very diligent indeed, and, remembering what the tall clover blossom had told her, she selected the most out-of-the-way flowers she could find, and soon collected as much honey as she could carry.
But by the time she had done this she found herself close to the further end of the clover field; and while resting for a moment, before starting to carry her load to the hive, she noticed a little pond in the corner. Feeling thirsty after her hard work, she flew off to take a few sips; but just as she reached the pond and was in the act of descending, a light gust of wind caught her and turned her half over, and before she could recover herself she was plunged far out into the water!
Poor Buz! She was a brave little bee, but this was a terrible accident; and after a few wild struggles she almost gave herself up. The water was so cold, and she felt herself so helpless in it; and then the accident had happened so suddenly, and taken her so utterly by surprise, that it was no wonder she lost courage. Only for a moment though; just as she was giving up in despair the hard and seemingly useless work of paddling and struggling with all her poor little legs at once, she saw that a bit of stick was floating near her, and with renewed energy she attempted to get to it. Alas! it was all she could do to keep her head above water; as for moving along through it, that seemed impossible, and she was tempted to give up once more. It was very hard though; there was the stick, not more than a foot away from her; if she could only reach it! At any rate, she was determined it should not be her fault if she was unsuccessful; so she battled away harder than ever, though her strength began to fail and she was becoming numbed with the cold. Just as she made this last effort another gust of wind swept over the pond, and Buz saw that the stick began to move through the water, and to come nearer and nearer to her. The fact was that a small twig sticking up from it acted as a sail, though Buz didn't know this. And now the stick was quite close, almost within reach; in another moment she would be on it. Ah! but a moment seems a long time when one is at the last gasp, as poor Buz was.
Would she be drowned after all? No! Just as she was sinking she touched the stick with one little claw, and held on as only drowning people can; and then she got another safely lodged, and was able to rest for a moment. Oh, the relief of that, after such a long and ceaseless struggle!
But even then it was very hard work to get up on the stick, very hard indeed. However, Buz managed it at last, and dragged herself quite out of the cold, cruel water.
By this time the breeze was blowing steadily over the pond, and the stick would soon reach the bank; but Buz felt very miserable and cold, and her wings clung tightly to her, and she looked dreadfully forlorn.
The pond, too, was overshadowed by trees; so there were no sunbeams to warm her.
"Ah!" thought she, "if I can manage to drag myself up into the sunshine, and rest and be well warmed, I shall soon be better."
Well, the bank was safely reached at last; but Buz, all through her life, never forgot what a business it was climbing up the side. The long grasses yielded to her weight, and bent almost straight down, as if on purpose to make it as uphill work for her as possible. And even when she reached the top it took her a weary while to get across the patch of dark shadow and out into the glad sunlight beyond; but she managed to arrive there at last, and crawling on the top of a stone which had been well warmed by the sun's rays, she rested for a long time.
At last she sufficiently recovered to make her way, by a succession of short flights, back to the hive. After the first of these she felt so dreadfully weak that she almost doubted being able to accomplish the journey, and began to despond.
"If I ever do get home," she said to herself, "I will tell Hum all about it, and how right she was to take advice; in fact, my story shall be known throughout the hive: it may be a useful warning to many young bees yet unhatched."
Now, whether it was that the exercise did her good, or that the sun's rays became hotter that afternoon, can not be known: but this is certain, that Buz felt better after every flight, and before she had reached the end of the clover field she had almost determined to say nothing about her adventure, except, of course, to Hum. "What's the use of being laughed at?" she thought. "I shouldn't mind much if it would do any good; but would it? that's the point. I fancy not; the young bees would only be amused at hearing what a mess I had got into, but they never would think of the story at the right time. No, I shall certainly not make it public."
So she sipped a little honey, cleaned herself with her feet, and stretched her wings, and, with the sun glistening brightly on her, looked quite fine again. Her last flight brought her to the top of the kitchen-garden wall, from which she was just about to start for the hive, when she thought how disagreeable it would be to meet Hum and tell her every thing. "After all, what good can possibly come of alluding to my adventure?" she said to herself. "It hurt no one but me, and I'm all right again now; so I may say it has done me good. No, I declare I'll say nothing at all about it to Hum or any one else: that will be the best way."
So she opened her wings and flew gayly to the hive, which she entered just as if nothing had happened.