Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Clara Dillingham Pierson

T HERE was in the forest a great hollow tree where for years a swarm of Bees had made their home. To look at it in winter, one would never guess what a store of honey was sealed up within, but in summer the Bees were always passing in and out, and it was indeed a busy place. Then the workers had to gather honey and build the cells and look out for the Queen-Mother's many babies. The Queen-Mother had so much care of her eggs that she could really do nothing but attend to them. After they were ready in their cells, the Workers took care of them, and tucked in a lot of bread for the babies to eat when they were hatched. Then there was the bread-making to be done also, and all the Workers helped bring the pollen, or flower-dust, out of which it was made.

The Drones didn't do anything, not a thing, not a single thing, unless it were taking care of the Queen when she flew away from the tree. They had done that once, but it was long ago, before she had laid an egg and while she was still quite young. They were handsome great fellows, strong and well-formed, and if you didn't know about them, you might have thought them the pleasantest Bees in the tree. Of course you would not care for them after finding how lazy they were, for people are never liked just because they are fine-looking.

The Drones always found some excuse for being idle, and like many other lazy people they wanted the busy ones to stop and visit with them. "What is the hurry?" they would say. "There will be more honey that you can get to-morrow. Stop a while now."

But the Workers would shake their brown heads and buzz impatiently as they answered, "We can get to-morrow's honey when to-morrow comes, but to-day's honey must be gathered to-day."

Then the Drones would grumble and say that they didn't see the sense of storing up so much honey anyway. That also was like lazy people the world over, for however much they scold about getting the food, they are sure to eat just as much as anybody else. Sometimes lazy people eat even more than others, and pick for the best too.

On cloudy days, the Workers did stay at home in the tree, but not to play. They clung to the walls and to each other and made wax. It took much patience to make wax. When they were gathering honey there was so much that was interesting to be seen, and so many friends to meet, that it was really quite exciting; but when they made wax they had to hang for a long, long time, until the wax gathered in flakes over their bodies. Then it was ready to scrape off and shape into six-sided cells to hold honey or to be homes for the babies.

One sunshiny morning the Queen-Mother stopped laying her eggs and cried: "Listen! did you hear that?"

"What?" asked the Workers, crowding around her.

"Why, that noise," she said. "It sounded like a bird calling 'Kyrie! K-y-rie!' and I thought I heard a Worker buzzing outside a minute ago, but no one has come in. I am afraid—" and here she stopped.

"Of what are you afraid!" asked the Drones, who, having nothing to do but eat and sleep, were always ready to talk about anything and everything. The great trouble with them was that if you once began to talk they did not like to have you leave and go to work.

"Why," said the Queen-Mother, "I don't want to alarm you, but I thought it was a Kingbird."

"Well, what if it was?" said a big Drone. "There is only one of him and there are a great many of us."

"Yes," said the Queen-Mother, "but there may not be so many of us very long if he begins to watch the tree. I have lived much longer than you and I know how Kingbirds act."

This was true, for Queens live to be very old, and Drones never live long because they are so lazy.

"Well," said the big Drone, "we must find out about this. Just fly around and see if it is a Kingbird," he said to a Worker. "We must know about things before we act."

"Suppose you should go," she replied. "I have my leg-pockets full of pollen, and it ought to be made into bread at once. I never saw Larvæ so hungry as these last ones are."

"I only wish that I could go," said the big Drone, limping as he got out of her way; "but my fifth foot just stepped on my third foot, and I can hardly move."

When he said this, all the Workers smiled, and even the Queen-Mother had to turn away her head. The Drones looked as solemn as possible. It would not do for them to laugh at their brother. They did not want him to laugh at them when they made excuses for staying at home. They even pretended not to hear one of the Workers when she said that it was funny how some people couldn't use their wings if one of their feet hurt them.

"Yes," said another Worker, "and it is funny, too, how some people can get along very well on three legs when they have to, while others are too helpless to do anything unless they can use the whole six."

The Drones began to talk together. "I think that the whole swarm should fly at the Kingbird and sting him and drive him away," said one. "There is no sense in allowing him to perch outside our home and catch us as we pass in and out. I  say that we should make war upon him!" He looked very fierce as he spoke, buzzing and twitching his feelers at every step.

"Exactly!" cried another Drone. "If I had a sting, I would lead the attack. As it is, I may be useful in guarding the comb. It is a great pity that Drones have no stings." You would have thought, to hear him speak, that if he had been given a sting like those of the Workers, not all the Bees in the tree could keep him from fighting.

While the Drones were talking about war, some of the Workers sent to their Queen for advice. "Tell us," they said, "how to drive away the Kingbird. Should we try to sting him? You know it kills a Bee to sting anybody, and we don't want to if we can help it, yet we will if you say so."

The Queen-Mother shook her head. "You must not bother me about such things," she said. "I have all that I can do to get the eggs ready, and you must look after the swarm. Nobody else can do my work, and I have no time to do yours." As she spoke, she finished the one hundred and seventeenth egg of that day's lot, and before night came she would probably have laid more than a thousand, so you can see she was quite right when she said she had no time for other things.

This left the Workers to plan for themselves, and they agreed that a number of them should fly out together and see where the Kingbird was. Then they could decide about attacking him later. When one gave the signal, they dashed out as nearly together as possible.

After the Workers returned with honey and pollen, the Drones crowded around them, asking questions. "Where is he? What does he look like? Did he try to catch you?" The Workers would not answer them, and said: "Go and find out for yourself. We all came back alive." Then they went about their work as usual.

"I don't see how they dared to go," said a very young Bee who was just out of her cocoon and was still too weak to fly.

"Pooh!" said the big Drone. "You wouldn't see me hanging around this tree if I were not lame."

"There is no use in stopping work even if you are scared," said one of the Workers. She smiled as she spoke, and whispered something to the Queen-Mother as she passed her. The Queen-Mother smiled also.

"Why don't you Drones go for honey?" she said. "You must be getting very hungry."

"We don't feel very well," they answered. "Perhaps it would be better for our health if we were to keep quiet for a while and save our strength. We will lunch off some of the honey in the comb if we need food."

"Not a bit of it!" exclaimed the Workers. "Stay in the tree if you want to for your health, but don't you dare touch the honey we have gathered for winter, when the day is clear and bright like this." And whenever a Drone tried to get food from the comb they drove him away.

The poor Drones had a hard day of it, and at night they were so hungry they could hardly sleep. The next morning they peeped out, and then rushed away to the flowers for their breakfast. They stayed out all day, and when they returned at night they rushed swiftly into the tree again.

"There!" they said; "we escaped the Kingbird."

"What Kingbird?" asked a Worker.

"The one who was there yesterday," answered the Drones. "Has he been back to-day?"

"There was no Kingbird near the tree yesterday," said the Worker.

"What!" cried the Drones.

"No," said the Queen-Mother, "I was mistaken when I thought I heard him. The Workers told me after they had been out for honey. Perhaps they forgot to tell you."

But her eyes twinkled as she spoke, and all the Workers smiled, and for some reason the Drones did not know what to say.