Death of Hum—Robbery—Restitution
OR the next few days Buz kept steadily at work, and the combs in the super were at last filled and sealed up. They were quite beautiful! clean, regular, and of a golden straw color: the wax was thin and transparent; and as no eggs had been laid in the super, it was all virgin honey—a perfect picture!
Buz had now plenty of leisure, but she spent a good deal of her time in the hive; for the days began to get short, and the nights long and cold, and the sun himself was lazy about getting up in the morning. And Buz began to feel that the bright beautiful summer of her life was over too; and she remembered with tenderness the lovely mornings she had known, when the sun, streaming early into the hive, had tempted her away to flowery fields and pleasant gardens; when the dew-drops, sparkling so brightly on the gossamer webs, seemed strings of fairy diamonds; and when the flowers, fresh from their night's rest, lifted up their heads and shook out their petals, and offered her all their store of honey; and then she thought of Hum, dear, gentle Hum, in whose company she had enjoyed her first experiences.
"I declare I will go to the old hive again, as soon as I can," said she to herself, "and try to find out how she is getting on. They won't let me in, I suppose; but I may hear something of her. I quite long to see her once more."
So the very next day, when the sun shone out for a time, Buz paid a visit to her former home.
What was her disappointment, however, to find that the old hive was gone!
As she approached, and was about to alight on the footboard, a sight met her eyes that caused her to dart aside. On the board itself, and lying in heaps upon the ground beneath, were thousands of dead bees. Pieces of breeding-comb were lying about, and a sickly smell filled the air all round. It was a hideous wreck—a pitiable end!
"What horrible thing can have happened?" thought Buz, as she flew wildly about. "And what can have become of poor dear Hum? When I remember the orderly life we used to lead here, the busy work, the watchful sentries, the combs full of promising grubs, and the rich stores of beautiful honey, how terrible this change appears! It is too sad—too dreadful!"
But after the first feeling of terror, her anxiety to find out something about Hum overcame every other consideration, and she alighted on the footboard. Tremblingly she approached a heap of bees—they were indeed dead!—stiff, cold, and in many cases clogged with honey that had escaped when the hive was torn from its stand.
But not all dead—not quite all. Here and there she saw a faint motion, as a bee gave a weary struggle with her legs, or moved her antennæ. Hurrying from one to another, Buz came at last to a bee which had evidently crept into an empty cell to die; and a thrill passed through her as she touched her antennæ, and discovered the object of her search.
Yes, it was indeed Hum! and she was not too late to say "good-by," for Hum recognized and feebly caressed her.
"Oh, Hum!" cried Buz; "dear Hum! What has happened? What can I do for you, my poor darling?"
And she began to lick her with her tongue, and to stroke her softly.
"Dear old Buz," whispered Hum faintly; "how good of you to come! I shall die quite happy now, if you will stay with me for a little time—such a little time."
"I will never leave you!" cried Buz impetuously. "Let me die with you, if you must die; but surely it isn't so bad as that. I can not bear to lose you. Let me get you some honey; let me do something for you."
"You can do nothing, dear; I am past eating; only come close to me. There! I want nothing more now."
"But what has happened, Hum? My dear, dear Hum! Who can have been so cruel? Are you strong enough to tell me?"
"I will try," answered Hum; "I should like you to know. Last evening I was out late, for I wanted to finish filling the very last cell there was to be filled. A shower of rain came on, and I crept into a hole for shelter. This made me later still, and when I got back I found the entrance of the hive closed, and smoke coming out from every crevice. Two men were standing close by; the smoke made me feel sick and giddy; presently the men pulled the hive from the board. Oh, Buz! it was dreadful to see them shake out the dead bees in heaps. Some of the honey came out, and they pulled out the breeding comb. Only to think how many grubs, which would soon have become busy bees, have been destroyed! Only to think how much honey they would have collected next spring! It is very, very sad. For myself, dear, I think I had done my work; I am getting to feel quite old, and could hardly have expected to live through the winter. Ah!" she continued more faintly, "how long and cold the night has been! I found this empty cell and crept into it, or I must have died hours ago. A few other bees, who, like me, had not returned before the hive was filled with smoke, were going about at first, but I have seen none moving lately. Where are you, Buz, dear? Where are your antennæ? It is so dark and so cold."
"I am quite, quite close to you, my poor Hum!" said Buz. "Can't you see and feel me?"
"No, no," answered Hum in a whisper; "it is too dark and cold for that. I am going, dear—I am going fast. You have been so often in my thoughts; you make me so happy now. Good-by, dear! good-by!"
As she ceased, a shiver convulsed her for a moment, her antennæ quivered once more, and—her busy, useful life was over.
For some time Buz remained by her side; she could not bear to leave her friend; but at last she flew sorrowfully away.
"It would do poor Hum no good," she thought, "if I staid in that miserable place. What a sad story it is! and how cruel! Not only hundreds of bees, that have worked hard all their lives, are rewarded by thus being killed, but hundreds of grubs are prevented from ever doing the work they would have done so well. If I meet the wild bee again, I shall not have much to say. I begin to understand that there may be advantages in a hollow tree, after all."
So saying, she went disconsolately home.
But misfortunes never come singly, and Buz had hardly settled herself in a corner of the super, when she became aware, by a sudden commotion among the bees near the aperture which led down to the hive below, that something unusual was taking place.
Buz ran down the comb at once, and found a crowd of bees collected round the place where the aperture had been: there was no aperture now!
A zinc slide, worked from the outside, had been pushed across, cutting off all communication from below; and a bee, who had been ascending at the time, had been caught and crushed to death.
At this moment the covering of the super was removed, and a flood of light admitted.
Then there was running and bustling indeed! Every part of the glass was explored again and again, and each bee continually revisited the slide, in hopes of finding it removed.
But no—they were completely cut off! The only way out of the super had been through the hive below, and that way was closed.
The bees grew very angry—particularly Buz!
"Ah, my fine fellow!" said she to herself, as she ran up and down, looking through the glass at the gardener outside, "just you wait till I'm out; I've something more than honey for you!"
The more angry and excited the bees became, however, the hotter grew the hive.
Many of them began to fan violently; but that did no good, because no cool air from the outside could be obtained.
"I shall be choked," said a bee to Buz, as she passed her; "I know I shall."
"I shouldn't mind what happened to me afterward," cried Buz, almost beside herself, "if I could go at that man, and make him run."
It became hotter and hotter.
The bees began to get frightened, and hardly knew what they did.
Many of them went to the honey for consolation, and ate as fast as they could.
Even Buz, in spite of her fury, couldn't help feeling anxious.
The man outside now passed a thin, sharp knife between the edge of the super and the top of the hive on which it stood. He was obliged to do this, because the bees, when they first took possession of it, had cemented it down with a kind of resin. In spite of all his care, some little honey escaped, and one or two bees were injured.
Now Buz, although she had determined to take no honey, found it impossible to keep her resolution when she saw it actually running at her feet, and, in a feverish excited way, she began to suck it up. This made her feel a little less spiteful, but she still kept her eyes on the enemy outside.
The latter, having by this time loosened the super, lifted up one side of it, and inserted a small wedge of wood, which gave the bees an opportunity of getting away.
Some of them, being still frightened, darted off at once, and entered the hive as usual. Others took a turn round, and then went back to the super, irresistibly attracted by the honey.
But Buz, the instant she was free, flew as straight as she could and as hard as she could at the man's nose, meaning to give him the full benefit of her sting. What was her astonishment and indignation on finding herself stopped, when close to his face, by something soft and yielding, which she had not noticed at first, and which she could hardly see, even when close to him!
Again and again she flew at him—at his ears, his chin, his nose—and each time she was prevented from getting within stinging distance. The most provoking part of it was, that the man did not take the least notice of her efforts, or seem even to know that she was trying to drive him away. One or two other bees had joined Buz in her attack on him, but, as he was quite safe behind his veil, they at last left him alone, and even Buz gave it up.
By this time the greater part of the bees had left the super; but a good many stragglers still remained, and feasted to excess on the honey.
In order to get rid of these, the gardener removed the super to some little distance, turned it upside down, and with a soft feather gently dislodged them, and though it took him some time, he at length persuaded the very last bee to fly heavily home.
Then he carried off the super in triumph.
Buz, on meeting a friend near the entrance of the hive, eagerly talked the matter over.
"Here's a pretty thing!" she exclaimed. "Were you up above when it happened?"
"No; I was down here."
"Why didn't you all come out and help, then," said Buz, "or do something?"
"We couldn't think what had happened; we have only one way of getting up, you know, and we kept on trying that. How we did try, to be sure!"
"Well," said Buz; "between us all, we managed it about as badly as we could. Of course you know they have taken away that beautiful honey?"
"Yes, and very provoking it is; still, it's a mercy we have so much here."
"Yes, indeed," answered Buz; "things might be worse than they are, I suppose." For she remembered what had happened to poor Hum, and to her old home, and felt that she had still something to be thankful for.
Soon after this came a week of wet weather, and the bees were obliged to fall back on their stores.
"I do wish," said a bee one day, who was working near Buz, "that we hadn't lost all that honey. I declare I'm almost afraid to eat at all now."
"We have enough to last for a long time, at any rate," replied Buz; "and I have heard that food is sometimes supplied."
"Indeed!" said the other. "Who supplies it?"
"Ah!" replied Buz, with an important air—she was rather proud of being able to give information now, instead of, as formerly, always asking questions herself—"You will be surprised to hear that."
"The only thing that surprises me is that any one should supply it."
"I was told," said Buz, "by a bee who had heard it from a very old friend of hers, that the man who stole the honey will very likely try to make up for it by giving us some other food."
"That would be curious, I must say," admitted the other. "I wonder why he does it. Perhaps," she added, "he thinks we like it better than honey."
"Or, perhaps," answered Buz, with superior wisdom—it was a very young bee to whom she spoke—"he likes our honey better than the stuff he brings. Why, whatever is the matter with you?" she continued quickly, addressing a bee who had stopped, in passing, to rub her forelegs over her head, and to lick and clean herself. "You are all sticky and shiny, and there is such an odd smell about you."
"I hardly know myself," was the reply; "but something has happened up above, at the hole by which we used to get into the top part of the hive."
"Something is always happening up there!" cried Buz, pettishly.
"Now, keep your sting in!" returned the other. "As far as I can make out, there is no need to grumble; though I got more than I want of whatever it is, I can't say it's bad." She began to lick her forefeet again.
"I suppose," remarked Buz, "you wish me to understand something; can't you explain?"
"I know very little about it, I tell you," answered the other impatiently. "I was standing close to where the hole used to be, when there was a sudden movement, and the light came through. I was running up to see what was going on, when something soft and sticky came down on top of me; I was half-smothered for a moment, and could not get away. At last I crawled off, and now I'm cleaning myself. And I still say," she added, as she passed her feet over her head and antenna, "that it's by no means bad stuff."
Buz went at once to see what had happened. She found that the aperture, instead of being covered by the slide, was now filled up with a soft material, which bulged out in the middle, and was covered with drops of something sticky.
Several bees were already sucking at these, and Buz followed their example. Whatever it might be, there was certainly no harm in it—it was sweet and pleasant to eat.
The best of it was, that as fast as the bees sucked up the drops, more were formed on the surface of the material; but the latter was too thick to allow them to fall right through: they only hung on, ready to be sucked.
"Come!" said Buz; "if this is how they supply us, we shall do very well: a capital notion, I call it, if they will only keep it going!"
With this addition to their stores, the bees were able to look forward without apprehension to the long winter, which was so rapidly approaching.