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Perils

CRIP and I were sober and silent. Prom the alighting - board we watched them draw away and disappear, and were on the eve of turning into the hive, when up came the Master breathlessly. He stopped and gazed at the retreating cloud, knowing too well what had happened. He knew, too, by their actions, that a home had been prepared for their reception. He seemed surprised to think that the bees should swarm so late in the season, and not a little chagrined to think they could have done it under his eyes. His curiosity at once led him to find whence the swarm had come, and he walked straight to our hive. A few excited bees were still flying back and forth, but Crip and I, like the condemned, stood stolidly and wondered. His lips moved, but he said no word; he turned on his heels and went away.

Shortly, however, he returned, the little Shadow with him. They were talking of the swarming, for he pointed the way the bees had gone. In his hand he held that horrid smoking thing, and Crip and I both knew what that meant. He would open our house. I resented this, for I remembered the smoke in my eyes when he took the top off our hive and lifted out frame after frame, taking away from us part of our honey. I remembered, too, how I longed to sting him, but how all my efforts were unavailing, for he had hidden himself under a screen. And yet I really did not want to sting him. Just why I flew at him I could not understand.

"He is angry with us now," said Crip. "He knows we are insane. He probably will take away our honey and leave us to starve, as we merit. We have proven our short-sightedness and have lost our right to survive."

"No, he will not do that," I replied. On the instant I seemed no longer to distrust him; I remembered his kindness to me on a day when, overladen, a gust of wind had felled me to the earth. He had placed me on a twig, where, after disgorging part of my load, and washing my body and my wings, I again made way to my home.

But it was certain that we should know his intentions shortly, for, on coming close, he sent a puff of smoke into the entrance that choked and blinded both Crip and me and the guards, and sent us scurrying into the hive. Then, passing the smoker to the Little Master, he carefully lifted off the top and the upper section of our hive, and began an inspection of the brood-chamber. He seemed to be right happy at discovering that the queen-cells had been destroyed, which carried the assurance to his mind that no further swarming was in contemplation; but when his eyes fell upon the new Queen-Mother, they widely distended and a smile of joy lighted his face.

" Wonderful creature," he murmured. The little Shadow cried: "Let me see. Isn't she a beauty!"

By this time the smoke had cleared away and my disposition had changed. I said to Crip that we ought to attack them. But he answered that it would be folly now that only evil would result. Further parleying was cut short by a blast of smoke shot at us by the Little Master, who apparently had discerned outward signs of the rebellion, for my body was poised and I suppose I must have been emitting the note of anger. The smoke sent us all flying into a remote corner of the hive.

Then the Master replaced the section of hive he had removed, and began to lift frame after frame, uttering little exclamations, as though he had not suspected that we had gathered such quantities of honey in so short and late a season. It was easy for him now to understand why we had developed the swarming fever, although it evidently appeared to him a foolish adventure.

"He has been dreaming in his rose-garden," commented Crip, when the Master had nearly finished his examination. "That is the reason he has neglected us of late. He did not know there had been a great flow of honey."

We were talking among ourselves, when up came Buzz-Buzz, angry from the smoke in his eyes. "A fine lot this fellow," he growled.

"You don't like him?" I asked. He just looked at us. He was too irritated to speak.

"He'll get over it," mused Crip.

We were still holding converse when again the top came off and one by one the Master lifted out our combs and robbed them of their honey. They were battered and broken and empty when he restored them to us. We were all infuriated, and for a while flew madly about him and about the Little Master the dog kept at a respectful distance straining every effort to drive them away. But the Little One only smoked us the more, while the Master went on with his work. He was careful to kill no bee, brushing off every one of them before taking away the combs of honey, and while returning them.

Quickly it was all over. When he had gone we at once took stock and found that he had left us quite enough to carry us through the winter, barring accident. But almost before the appraisal had been made a catastrophe was upon us. The honey from a broken comb had flooded the bottom-board, and began to pour out through the entrance onto the ground, and robber bees were shortly upon it. We summoned all our guards fpr our protection, but the robbers in thousands came, and in spite of our resistance they forced their way into the hive and began to plunder at random. Poor old Crip even mixed in the melee, fighting like a veteran, while I, beaten and trampled, finally lay senseless on the floor.

We should have been lost but for the thoughtfulness of the Master, who, returning to see that all was well, found us besieged and overrun. He quietly closed the entrance to our hive, and thus left us to clear it of the marauders within doors, which we did promptly, although at heavy cost in the lives of our brothers. An hour later he returned and opened ever so slightly our door. Although a few robbers still lingered and endeavored to force an entrance, they were easily beaten off. In the mean time we carefully cleaned up the spilled honey which had nearly been our undoing and the battle was over.

The night came and we cleared our house of the dead. Scattered indiscriminately they lay friend and foe many score of them. Among them I found the veteran who had been kind to me, with the mark of a lance in his breast. Certain it was that he had died fighting bravely. I had found his body, and I determined to keep it by me through the night, and on the morrow I meant to give a fitting burial. I remembered a high knoll overlooking the lake and the country round about, and there I said he should be laid to rest. I told Crip of my purpose, and he applauded me, and together we watched over him. More than once we almost had to fight to prevent the cleaners from taking his body away.

On the morrow, in the early dawn, I dragged him forth and, taking him in my mandibles, flew away with him, dropping him on the knoll. The poor old veteran! Somehow I had gained the notion that one day he would awake, and from that vantage-point find himself nearer the stars.

We now began another chapter in the life of our colony. We were left with none too much honey, and, besides, our numbers had been greatly 'depleted by the exodus and by the assault of the robbers. Our Queen-Mother immediately organized her followers and sent us all scouring the fields for additional foods. Thanks to the late season, there still remained an abundant harvest. Soon we had replenished our supplies to a point where we could rest comfortably, and our good mother set about rearing just enough brood to have us weather the winter safely. But we never stopped work. Day after day we gathered bread and honey.

"We cannot have too much," said Crip. "You see, since you have not gone through a winter you have much to learn. It is no simple business. Frightful northers sweep down upon us and chill us and kill us. Sometimes it grows so cold the young bees are frozen in their cells. They must then be removed, or else sickness and disease will follow. Sometimes, too, if stores run low and our numbers fall below a certain point, we ourselves can no longer keep warm. That means death for us all."

"But we have plenty of stores," I replied. "We have nothing to fear."

"There are always fears. An animal running wild may topple over your house; a bad man may slip in and steal your supplies; a moth may enter and lay eggs producing destructive worms; a bear may chance to find you and with his great paws rend the hive asunder!"

"Stop!" I cried. "If there are yet other dangers, I do not wish to know them."

"But it is well to know. There are diseases to combat, such as dysentery, paralysis, and foul brood

"Oh, stop!" I begged him.

Was life really such a hazard? so perilous a journey? And all for what? Toward what misty goal? It was a glorious day in October. The Indian summer had come, flooding all the hills and vales with its magical sheets of amethyst, while a drowsy wind from the south bore on its breath the odor of autumn. Now and then that indefinable note, presaging the advent of winter a note wiiich is neither a requiem nor a dirge could be heard like a faint flute in the branches of the trees. The sun shone big and round and still with a suggestion of summer. Scattered 'clouds went drifting lazily by, wonderfully emphasizing the turquoise blue of the sky.

"Is it going to rain?" I asked of Crip, who was dragging himself along on the alighting-board, ready for a new excursion into the woods.

"No," he mumbled.

It had been weeks since my experience in the flood, but ever after that when a cloud was in the sky I bethought me of rain. But I had now come to know that rains were something more than clouds. Crip and I had been laboring to fill adjoining cells. We had already gathered many loads of honey that day.

"I'm tired," he said, right plaintively. "I can't do as much as I could once."

"Why don't you rest?" I begged of him. ,

"Rest! What word is that? Did ever a bee rest when there was work to do?"

With that he hobbled a little farther on his four legs, his poor old body half carried and half dragged. But his wings were still powerful and lifted him instantly into the all-absorbing space.

This time I took an entirely different direction from any I had thus far traveled. On and on I flew, mile after mile, until presently I scented something and went for it. It proved to be a field of June corn, in silk and tassel and, oh, what quantities of pollen ! I gathered a little and hastened back to report. Almost at once a string of my brothers were flying to and fro, laden with bread.

We had now stored up a great surplus of food, and the Queen-Mother broadened her brood areas. She deemed it wise to enlarge her family ; first, because she had a premonition that a wild winter would soon break upon us, and, for the further reason, that half the battle was to be strong in numbers in the spring, when the honey-fountains opened.

When I returned with my last load, well toward sunset, I found Crip waiting at our rendezvous, my ancient cell.

"You have done well to-day," he said, "and I wanted to tell you so. Five miles is a long journey to go for a load, but it was worth it. I, too, made one trip but have pity on me only when I got there did I remember that I had no basket-legs; hence I was forced to return empty-handed. It is too much for me to bear. I am old and useless."

I could not stand to hear him depreciate himself, in such fashion, and remonstrated with him.

"Well, it's too true," he persisted. "Some day you will understand."

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