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The swarming fever

WE found him at once. "What does this mean?" I cried. " It means," said he, "that, late as the season is, the swarming fever has seized the colony."

"Why?" we cried.

"Well, we have so much honey and there is so much in the field and the colony so strong, it can easily spare a force of pioneers to begin a new colony. Here is the working out of destiny controlling the very life of the bee."

Crip spoke enthusiastically, and both Buzz-Buzz and I were fascinated by his story. The first thing I knew I, also, was seized with the enthusiasm. Queen -cells had been started half a dozen at least. I laid hold and helped draw out the comb to build up a huge cell, where, in the mysterious processes of time, a Queen would appear! Almost against her wishes, the Queen-Mother deposited eggs in the various cells and began, under mild protest, to expand her brood-cHamber in anticipation of the promised exodus of her children. While she did not fear that enough would go to imperil the existence of her own colony, she doubted the wisdom of the enterprise. She discouraged in every way possible the ardor of the workers who continued to bring in honey until there was no longer space to store it. Indeed, they crowded the Queen so that she was driven to despair. The very space she had set aside for her brood-chamber 'for the winter was encroached upon and heaped with bread and honey, but for the nonce there was no stopping them.

Crip said: '-You are crazy; it is too late in the season to swarm; it means extinction." But one replied: "It is the law! There is a chance for the swarm to survive, and the chance must be taken; particularly when the parent colony shows its ability to survive."

"Truly said," added Crip. "I merely wanted to find whether you knew what the higher law compels." But where would the swarm begin a home? This question now began to be asked. It seemed that nobody thought of the great Master who sat for hours under the mesquite-tree. Would he not provide a house?

The next day Buzz-Buzz came to me, greatly excited. "You and I and others are to go into the woods and search for a home for the swarm!"

That was the order. It was enough we went. We seemed to know that the only place to look for a home was among the great oaks that bordered the lake, and thither we ; betook ourselves. We flew from tree to tree, exploring every hole we could find in the hope of discovering a hollow big enough to house a swarm. Three days we spent in vain. On the fourth we found one, and with great joy we returned home and reported. Immediately a hundred bees or more were assigned to prepare the hollow tree for a habitation. Buzz-Buzz and I led the way back, and all hands fell to cleaning out the cobwebs and the de*bris of decayed wood. Several days were spent in this undertaking, and finally the word was passed that the new home was ready.

But things were not ready with the parent colony. No Queen had emerged from her cell. From hour to hour the bees marched by impatiently, waiting for the "click-click" of her mandibles and for sight of them piercing the wax door to the cell. And there was much speculation as to which of the half-dozen possible Queens would first emerge. Finally, one day, at high noon, the rumor ran over the hive that a Queen had been born, and the excitement became intense. "A Queen! A Queen!"

Crip and I forced our way through the crush to the spot where the Queen was surrounded by a joyous multitude. He, finally, on account of his lameness, was compelled to abandon his efforts to pay his homage to the new-born mother. But I, nothing daunted, persisted, and presently came near enough to feel her presence. I, too, sang fervently, for a new hope had risen. Soon in the vast forest of the world a new colony would be planted to aid in carrying on the eternal work of the bee.

At another corner of the hive I heard a different sound. It was the wail of a Queen that was being destroyed. I hurried toward her, but somehow felt no pity for her. A great cluster of bees completely enveloped her; this was the mode of taking the royal life. All the remaining cells with their occupants had been cut down, and soon there remained in all the hive but the one mother and the one daughter. I came upon the destroyed cells, torn and empty, and could not help mourning the death of the royal creatures they had housed. Perhaps there had been but minutes between the births of the Queens, but those minutes had been fatal to the last. Preparations went steadily on for the day of the exodus. The new Queen took her first flight successfully; and then came the mating! Only a few drones had been permitted to escape the massacre of a month earlier tolerated on the chance of a lost or a dead Queen borne with against a belated mating.

"How wonderful," Crip observed, that these things should be provided for and how close are life and death!"

It was a hot afternoon when the time came for the nuptial flight, and it lacked the wild glamour of an earlier one that I had witnessed. On the first occasion there were literally thousands of drones that went up toward the heavens in search of the one radiant thing in the world. And they had all returned save one immortal, who had found and won the Queen, only to lose his life! Compared with the first flight, this last seemed commonplace. I should have foregone the opportunity of witnessing the thin procession, bound on the momentous journey of uniting two lives, so that the thread of existence might not be cut short for the bee.

I groped about impatiently, awaiting news of the bridal party. It was not long delayed, for soon there were sounds of rejoicing throughout the hive; and now the last preparations had been ended and the day was at hand for the great adventure. Round and round the hive went the signal that on the morrow the swarm should go forth to its home in the woods. Quietly and with no bickerings, the tallies were laid this one should go, this one should stay there was in no case dispute or contest. Each bee accepted the issue with all the grace of a fatalist. I was one of them.

Really, I was greatly disappointed not to have been chosen to go, for I had been one of the pioneers and had helped find and prepare the new home in the liveoak by the clear waters of the beautiful lake. It was a bitter disappointment, but I uttered no word of complaint. When I came up with Crip I found he, too, had been left behind.

"Why shouldn't we have been chosen to go?" I asked, somewhat downcast.

"I am too old too useless," Crip answered. "You are young and brave enough, but battles are to be fought here as well as yonder. And some of the strong and gallant had need to remain."

Something in Crip's look and tone struck me. Was I too old to go? Had that been the reason? I had heard a cry over the hive that only young bees should go, for there would be small hope of raising much of a brood in the new colony through the winter. If it could build comb enough and gather sufficient honey to feed itself, it would be fortunate.

So, I was not young enough. Until then I had not thought of my age; it seemed to me that I was still as active as on the day I flew into the sky. As for Crip, "too useless" seemed a cruel phrase. For who could say what was the worth of his stores of knowledge? But I could see that he moved more feebly from day to day.

"Only the strong are to be chosen the fit? Crip, that bears hard on us."

"Not a bit of it," he replied, cheerily. "Take courage; that is the way of things in the world of the bee."

Then he added that it would be a hard battle to build a home in the short space of time allotted and to store food enough to last through the winter. It meant a fight, for already the glimmerings of the fall were upon us! Pale shadows of color began to stain the leaves, and the flowers turned their faces more wistfully each day to the sun. Still, the bees would go. There was no denying the operation of the law, which commanded that the chance be taken. The whole law of survival was involved and there was none to deny it.

So, all night long murmurings and vague discontents and forebodings and anticipations ran through the hive. Those marked so mysteriously to go realized that their lives were at stake and likely to be lost. Yet each one in the hive would have gone. It was not until late that I learned that our own mother, my mother, the mother of the hive, was to go away, leaving her daughter to preside over the destinies of the old. Here, too, Crip was wont to philosophize.

"You see, our mother is not young," he began. "If she should perish in the stress of the winter and the new colony be lost, it would be less grievous than the loss of this new, vigorous Queen. Besides, our mother has had experience. She has lived over one winter. She knows how much of a brood to rear to maintain the strength of the colony or whether she dare rear any at all bearing in mind the while that there must be a fine adjustment between the mouths to be fed and the total of supplies. She knows well how to keep this account. Last winter, I am told, our stores ran low, so low, in fact, that many of our brothers sacrificed their lives in order to conserve the supplies so as to bring the Queen-Mother with a few attendants through the long, bitter winter. Not a young bee was reared until the first flowers had come riotously trampling on the skirts of the frost. So, you see, they know best. She will lead the swarm, and perhaps, if the season is late, and the frost slow to come, they can build their combs and store sufficient honey to bring them through. Perhaps even spring may come to their rescue, blossoming early. A late, backward spring, however, might end them, even if they had escaped the fury of the winter."

There seemed no end to Crip's knowledge. Lying there on the comb, he looked pathetically helpless, and there was a quaver in his voice. I could see that he was reflecting that age had dropped upon him heavily on account of his wounds. Then, stoic that he was, I knew that some morning I should search in vain for trace of him. Once a bee becomes useless, he said, there is but one thing for him to do. I knew that Crip was already contemplating the end. Bitterness for a moment welled up in me at the thought that so much wisdom should be lost and so soon. That was the edict. But, after all, was the wisdom really lost?

Our talk was broken at length by the call of the morning. The first pale gleams of light filtered through the entrance of the hive. Already there were murmurings and presently the faint note of the swarm. Two hours passed three hours and now the trumpet sounded for the flight. Each of the chosen rushed to the nearest cell and filled his sac to its utmost capacity. Some early-returning foragers, laden with pollen, heard the signal and made ready to go, carrying with them their loads. Stores must be taken along to last until comb was built and new supplies gathered from the fields. Rations for three or four days were thus provided. When all was ready the trumpet sounded again and the march began. In the fore went the scouts who'were to lead the way to the new home. Then, following after, came the chosen ones in a mighty multitude, and lastly the Queen, Out into the air 'they flew, then round and round, each one singing the Song of the Swarm, which could be heard afar off. Round and round in a dizzy circle they flew, but in an ever-widening whirl. The scouts, I could hear from my point of vantage at the door, were becoming impatient. The Queen had been delayed, and until word of her presence among them was spoken, they could only circle about. Or else, failing that word, they could and would return to the hive. But at the height of their impatience the glad word came, "The Queen is here!"

Then they delayed no longer, but started in a whirlwind flight toward the lake and to their new home, uttering, as they drew away, that marvelously wild and moving song which pulsed with the tremors of life and death.

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