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Maurice Noel


Building Comb—An Accident—Storing Honey—A Surprise

dropcap image OW long shall we be squeezed together like this?" demanded Buz of a bee who was clinging to her.

"For days," answered the bee shortly.

"Come, I say," said Buz, "you don't mean that, do you?"

"If you don't believe me, ask some one else."

"Oh, I believe you, but how slow!"

"I dare say," remarked another bee, "that you have heard of a queen having a great many attendants hanging about her at court; now you know what it means!"

At this moment the cluster of bees began to move, and to spread about.

The hive in which they had been taken was very different to the old straw butt they had left, their new abode being a square deal box without any bottom. Into the back of this box a pane of glass had been introduced, through which the bees might be watched at their work; and at the top of it was a short narrow slit, closed at present, but capable of being opened from without, by means of a zinc slide.

This box was placed in a wooden cupboard, which stood on four legs, had a gable roof, and doors opening at the back, and was large enough to contain three other boxes of the same size. Horizontal apertures, about two inches long and just high enough to admit a bee, were cut in the cupboard at the bottom of its front, and opposite each of the boxes within.

The floor of the cupboard, which was also the floor of the boxes, was cut away about the eighth of an inch deep, just underneath each of these apertures, and made to slope up toward the interior, so that any rain driven into a hive might run out again at once. This pleased the bees, who hate damp beyond any thing.

The swarm now began preparations for the great work of forming the comb; and hung from the top, no longer in a ball, but in sheets or strings, about which the bees could freely pass.

They formed, in fact, living scaffolding; and, as they themselves produced material for the building, all the trouble of hauling and carrying was saved.

Each bee, besides holding on as tightly and as patiently as a postage-stamp, was busily employed in preparing plates of wax.

These were secreted in pockets on the under side of the abdomen, from which the bees drew them when ready for use, working and molding them in their mouths.

"I wonder how you can all go on so long without eating," remarked Buz at length in a general sort of way to the bees about her.

"In the same way that you can," answered one of them.

"Oh, I   took in as much honey as ever I could, just before we swarmed," said Buz.

"Well, so we almost all did," replied her friend; "it is an instinct with bees."

"I wonder why," said Buz thoughtfully.

"It's simple enough," returned the other. "If we do not unload our honey, it is gradually formed into wax; so that arriving in a new hive with honey is almost the same thing as arriving with wax—and that we must have at once. So that only those few bees who happened to join the swarm without being full of honey have gone to work. The moment the honey you arrived with has become wax in your pockets, you will pull it out, and munch away at it till you have munched and pulled it into good order. Then you will place it in position, where you see it is wanted, and the nurse or architect bees will work it into shape. Then you will go out and get a fresh supply of honey, and again hang yourself up till it turns into wax. It's simple enough, as I said before."

Buz found that this was really the case, and in due time she deposited her bricks of wax, and left the architects at work, while she went off for a fresh supply of honey.

The architects began by attaching some wax to the roof of the box, and fashioning therefrom hexagonal cells—by employing which form, the greatest number can be arranged in the smallest place.

Each comb consisted of two sets of cells placed back to back. If the bottoms of these opposite sets of cells had been exactly opposite to each other, they would have been dangerously thin; and the architects, knowing this very well, arranged that the bottom of each cell should be opposite part of the bottoms of three cells on the other side of the comb.

In this manner, the thin plate of wax forming the bottom was in every case strengthened and supported by the bases of three contingent walls behind it. For the bees, having so well economized their space, were determined not to use an atom more wax than was really necessary.

"Let us be consistent all through," they said, "and then we shall make a job of it."

For nearly a week Buz stuck to her post, only going out occasionally. At the end of that time so much of the comb had been made, that she, with many others, was employed in gathering honey.

It was the beginning of June, there were plenty of flowers about, and the honey season was good. Things were looking up. Fortune, however, delights in a practical joke, and often, so to speak, cuts a hammock down when the owner is most comfortably asleep. A terrible accident happened to the bees, just at the time they seemed so prosperous.

Whether the heat within the hive became so great as to melt the wax, or whether the top of the hive was too smooth for the comb to be securely fastened thereto, it is impossible to say but, whatever might be the cause, one of the center combs, nearly filled with honey, suddenly broke down, and fell to the bottom of the hive.

The result was dreadful! Numbers of bees were crushed to death or suffocated, the floor of the hive was deluged with honey, for the comb had not been sealed, and there was a barrier formed right in the line of traffic.

Luckily for her, Buz was away when the accident happened and by the time she returned to the hive the bees were beginning to repair the mischief.

Their first care was to collect all the honey that had escaped, and to store it in the empty cells. After that they began to clear away the broken pieces of comb, and to carry out the dead.

"Of course we are not going to let that great comb stay where it is?" said Buz softly to an older bee.

"Of course we are, though," was the reply. "Why, what a waste of time it would be to carry all that wax away and make a fresh comb!"

"But it's so dreadfully in the way."

"We shall manage to get over that difficulty," said the bee confidently.

"How?" asked Buz.

"Ain't you supposed to be honey-gathering?"

"Yes, I am."

"Gather honey then, do! You'll be able to see for yourself, each time you come in, how we get on here. I can't waste time explaining."

Away flew Buz, and got honey as near the hive as she could, and worked particularly hard, so as to come in often for she was very much interested in what was going on.

The fallen comb was leaning against an adjacent one, the bottom being of course on the floor instead of a little above it, thus impeding traffic. To obviate this, tunnels were soon driven through the comb—beautiful arched tunnels, with waxen pillars to support them—while little stays and buttresses of wax were introduced wherever they were required, to make all firm and safe again.

"Capital!" said Buz approvingly, as she ran through one of the new tunnels.

"No honey to be stored in this side of the comb," remarked a bee shortly.

"All right," said Buz.

Now Buz had nearly said "Why," instead of "All right" but checked herself in time, remembering that she had often asked unnecessary questions, and that she had resolved to try to find things out for herself. In this case she soon saw the reason why.

The comb was leaning over a little, and of course any honey put into a cell on the side toward which it leaned, would run out again.

"I'm glad I didn't ask," thought Buz "and now that I'm about it, I'll just examine one of the other combs."

She did so, and found that the cells on each side sloped upward, ever so little, but enough to prevent thick stuff like honey from running out.

"Let me see," said Buz to herself, as she turned away, "how will they use the side that can't be employed for honey?"

Just at this moment there was a bustle close to her, and she saw the queen making toward the fallen comb.

"Oh, I know," thought Buz: "the queen will lay eggs in it; it will do very well for a breeding comb, of course."

Buz was right. The queen, with ten or twelve attendants round her, passed over the comb, examining each cell before she deposited an egg within it. Whenever she rested, which she frequently did, the members of her suite, who formed a sort of screen round her, overwhelmed her with their attention and caresses, and offered her honey. In one cell the queen inadvertently deposited two eggs the watchful attendants, much too polite to call her majesty's attention to this, quietly took one out and ate it.

After Buz had looked on for some little time, she asked one of the suite how many eggs the queen could lay in a day.

"A couple of hundred, or even more," was the answer.

"Does she often have an egg-laying day?"

"She lays eggs every day—for months. She does nothing else."

"Well," thought Buz as she flew off, "no wonder there are such a lot of us!"

For several weeks Buz worked very hard, and met with no adventures. It was the busy time, and a fine lot of honey was collected and sealed up.

One morning, as she was passing near the middle of the hive, she saw a good many bees employed on a large cell, which was attached to the comb only at one spot. "Ah!" said Buz to herself, "I know what that is. That's a royal cell: I remember seeing some in the old hive."

She stood and watched, and presently observed to one of the workers, "What a lot of wax you are using, to be sure!"

"I should think so, indeed," was the reply. "I don't suppose you'd wish us to be careful of our wax when we're making a royal cell—that would  be mean!"

"Oh, no!" cried Buz, "of course I shouldn't; only it seems funny, don't you know. Ever since I swarmed I have heard nothing but, 'Economize your space; economize your material'; and now, here you are, seeing how much wax you can get rid of at once! I like it myself, mind, only I can't help observing that there is enough wax there to make fifty ordinary cells."

"If I didn't think that there was," returned the other, "I should feel quite ashamed to be on the job. Bees don't economize where royalty is concerned."

She said this very stiffly, and walked away. Buz rubbed her head and antennæ with her fore legs, and felt rather snubbed.

Just at this moment there was a sudden movement of bees upward, and Buz was off directly to see what was the matter.

On reaching the top of the hive, she joined a number of bees who were crowding through a hole in the roof, and found herself at once in a fine open space above. Here a bee was gesticulating excitedly with her antennæ, and Buz joined the group of listeners round her.

"All I know is," said the bee, "that I happened to be at work on the roof just underneath where this hole has appeared. Everything was quite secure, nothing loose at all. There was no passage up, not even a very little one—that I'm sure of; and then, all of a sudden there was! I heard a kind of a tearing, scraping sound, and it became quite light! I saw this hole, ran up as fast as I could, and found myself here. That's all I can tell you."

"But was there nothing moving near the top of the hole when you came through?" asked one of the bees.

"Certainly not: that's the odd part of it. Every thing was as quiet as possible. Now, any one may account for it who can. I can't."

As the bee moved away after saying this, Buz ran off on a tour of inspection. She found herself in a space about half the size of the hive below; the walls and roof were very slippery, and the light came through them.

She climbed up the side and got to the roof, but had hardly reached it when she lost her footing and fell with a flop on to the floor.

As she stood rather confused for a moment, a friend of hers came up and said, "Isn't this a piece of luck! We had nearly filled the place below with wax and honey, and now here's room for lots more."

"Yes," replied Buz; "I was wondering the other day what we should do for space; it was getting so hot, too."

"Oh, we should have been obliged to send off a swarm, I suppose, when a young queen was hatched; but now we shall get on without that."

"What shall we do with the young queen then?" demanded Buz.

"Oh, let the old one kill her, I suppose," said the bee unconcernedly, "or starve the royal grubs, or something. I don't know," she continued, "if eggs have been laid in the royal cells yet; I rather think not, in which case the queen won't lay any at all now."

As she spoke, something came down on her head with a great bump. It was a bee, who, like Buz, had tried the roof and had met with a similar mishap. The floor and sides of the new space were by this time covered with bees, and some were continually falling down.

"I can tell you what," said Buz sagaciously; "it will be very difficult work, fastening up our comb."

"It may be difficult, but it is not impossible. We shall therefore manage it," said the bee who had just fallen. "When we have fastened a few little specks of wax about, to hold on to, we shall be able to manage. I wish it wasn't quite so light, though; I like working in the dark."

She had hardly spoken the words, when something came down on the roof and round the walls, and in a moment the place was quite dark.

"There!" said Buz; "you've got your wish: but what will happen next, I wonder?"

"Whatever happens, I shall begin to work at once," was the reply; "so, come on."

"Come on," said Buz.