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The Life of the Bee

The Swarm
9]
WE will now, so as to draw more closely to nature, consider the different episodes of the
swarm as they come to pass in an ordinary hive, which is ten or twenty times more
populous than an observation one, and leaves the bees entirely free and untrammelled.
Here, then, they have shaken off the torpor of winter. The queen started laying again in
the very first days of February, and the workers have flocked to the willows and nut-
trees, gorse and violets, anemones and lungworts. Then spring invades the earth, and
cellar and stream with honey and pollen, while each day beholds the birth of thousands of
bees. The overgrown males now all sally forth from their cells, and disport themselves on
the combs; and so crowded does the too prosperous city become that hundreds of belated
workers, coming back from the flowers towards evening, will vainly seek shelter within,
and will be forced to spend the night on the threshold, where they will be decimated by
the cold. Restlessness seizes the people, and the old queen begins to stir. She feels that a
new destiny is being prepared. She has religiously fulfilled her duty as a good creatress;
and from this duty done there result only tribulation and sorrow. An invincible power
menaces her tranquillity; she will soon be forced to quit this city of hers, where she has
reigned. But this city is her work, it is she, herself. She is not its queen in the sense in
which men use the word. She issues no orders; she obeys, as meekly as the humblest of
her subjects, the masked power, sovereignly wise, that for the present, and till we attempt
to locate it, we will term the "spirit of the hive." But she is the unique organ of love; she
is the mother of the city. She founded it amid uncertainty and poverty. She has peopled it
with her own substance; and all who move within its walls--workers, males, larvae,
nymphs, and the young princesses whose approaching birth will hasten her own
departure, one of them being already designed as her successor by the "spirit of the hive"-
-all these have issued from her flanks.
[10]
What is this "spirit of the hive"--where does it reside? It is not like the special instinct
that teaches the bird to construct its well planned nest, and then seek other skies when the
day for migration returns. Nor is it a kind of mechanical habit of the race, or blind
craving for life, that will fling the bees upon any wild hazard the moment an unforeseen
event shall derange the accustomed order of phenomena. On the contrary, be the event
never so masterful, the "spirit of the hive" still will follow it, step by step, like an alert
and quickwitted slave, who is able to derive advantage even from his master's most
dangerous orders.
It disposes pitilessly of the wealth and the happiness, the liberty and life, of all this
winged people; and yet with discretion, as though governed itself by some great duty. It
regulates day by day the number of births, and contrives that these shall strictly accord
with the number of flowers that brighten the country-side. It decrees the queen's
 
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