AS we hurried in search of her, on all sides there was wailing: "Ai ai ai ! Woe woe woe ! Our Queen is dead!"
A spirit of dread and disaster filled the place and shook us mightily. Crip said never a word.
"I remember you told me once you had lost your Queen-Mother that was the time I found you in the hive that we robbed. You were going to tell me about it."
"Yes; but now it is too late it is terrible. You do not understand "
At length we came to where she lay asleep on the bottom-board of the house she had graced for so short a space. Around her surged her children, weeping for the queenly dead.
"She had been ill but a few days," one said.
"She has not been well since the robbery," added another.
"She was hurt in the fight," put in a third.
"But she did not complain," answered another. Crip and I now in our turn came into the presence of the Queen lying prone on the floor, her wings draped about her. There were present none of the trappings of the dead, nor anything to show that she was not asleep, so peacefully she lay there. I came presently face to face with her, and once I had looked into her eyes I saw that the vision had vanished, that the spirit had gone.
I turned away sick at heart, wailing I know not what black hymn of despair. Crip, too, I had lost, and I feared he had gone on his long journey. I seemed to sink into a bottomless abyss. Soon I had partially recovered my composure. The commotion which had swept the colony slowly subsided, although there still ran an undercurrent of anxiety. What should we do? That part of the intelligence of the bee which has to grapple with such emergencies had been active on the instant.
"The Queen is dead long live the Queen," was the low, reverential chorus.
"Three Queens have been ordained," ran the cry. Without knowing why, I hurried to the place which had been chosen for the wax-cell palaces and there was Crip! He appeared to be the leader, and I was overjoyed to see him.
"You've found something more to do," I said to him. 'Tm so glad."
"You see, I'm one of the oldest
"Don't look so dejected," Crip volunteered to those about him. "Hurry hurry! Soon we shall have another Queen to reign over us."
And now magic began to intervene or miracle. Three cells with three tiny larvae, two days old, were selected, and over these the great cell-palaces were erected. But more mysterious was the feeding of these tiny things, which under normal conditions would emerge workers. Think, then, of the transformation which will produce a Queen ! Thanks to a secret buried in the heart of the bee, the worker, it is supposed, is converted, through feeding, into a Queen. Crip told me all this in his cheerful way; and he assumed so much importance in looking after the destinies of the three royal personages, that once or twice I was irritated at his conduct.
"Why three Queens?" I inquired, one day. "We need only one."
"To make sure that one will survive. The bee takes no chance where it can be avoided."
The embryonic Queens grew rapidly, and in due season the doors of the palaces were sealed, not to be broken until her ladyship herself should choose to bite her way to the light.
The days were now being counted, even the hours, against the time when She would appear! Once more a little life was manifest in the hive. Workers went scouring the country for forage, and every bee found something to do, so happy were they in anticipation of the coming event.
The Master, too, had shown much interest in us. On one of the early days of our trouble, in passing, he had discovered our condition.
"They have lost their Queen," he said to the little Shadow. "You can tell that by their movements. Everything is now in confusion. Let us see whether they have eggs or young larvae available for the making of a Queeru"
With that he opened our hive and found the queen-cells. "Here are cells already," he commented, a gleam of satisfaction on his grave face.
"Let me see!" cried the Shadow, poking a little, curious face around a jorner of the hive. The Master knew at a glance the age of the Queens, for the cells had not been sealed; he knew that on such a day one would come forth amid the acclaim of a colony which had languished between hope and fear life* and death. So now, from day to day, with his little Shadow, he passed, pausing in front of the hive long enough to discover whether the great event had occurred.
It was on a day golden with a sun steeped in the waning glory of an Indian summer that the Queen emerged and took her throne. Crip and I had gone to the lake for a load of water, and we should probably not have missed the event had we not, out of curiosity, returned by the hollow tree which our brothers of the swarm had occupied. We flew up to the very entrance; the workers were filing past in a great stream, humming a note of content.
"They will survive," I said to Crip. "The season has been a late one, and they must have gathered ample stores."
We were in jubilant mood, on account of this discovery, which chimed in perfectly with conditions at home, for even before we alighted the sound of rejoicing reached us.
"A Queen has been born! A Queen! A Queen!"
We found a throng mad with rejoicings. Crip and I edged our way in, eager to pay our homage, thrilling at the thought that a new lease of life for the colony had been vouchsafed. We reached the place of the palace-cells, only to find them in ruins. Excited bees were razing the last buttresses, while echoing from all sides were: "A new mother has come! A Queen!"
Presently two beautiful Queens were led to execution, for one had been crowned and one only might rule the hive.
Order was restored, and things went normally until the nuptial day. In the life of the colony there is no equally vital event. Destiny waits on the mating of the Queen.
On a wonderfully fine, warm day, at the noon hour, she made ready for flight. Already in the air could be heard the roar of the drones, that groped about in search of the queenly presence. And now from the alighting-board she rose into the crystal blue. Crip and I, for no reason, followed, not near enough, however, to encroach on the sacred precincts. Higher and higher she climbed, now pursued by some scores of drones. Round and round in mazy flight they whirled until the heavens seemed dizzy, and the ultimate moment had arrived, when a yellow flash crossed the sky and fluttered in their midst a bee-bird.
"Fly for your life !" a drone cried.
"Fly fly !"
A moment later it was all over, and a silent doomed procession dropped earthward the Queen was missing the bee-bird had caught her. The news spread instantly. I had been among the first to make report of it.
"We shall all die together now," said Crip, in dejection.
"It is only a matter of days. We have no eggs, no larvae, and may not rear another mother. Alas alas!"