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The Life of the Bee

The Foundation Of The City
[40]
LET us rather consider the proceedings of the swarm the apiarist shall have gathered into
his hive. And first of all let us not be forgetful of the sacrifice these fifty thousand virgins
have made, who, as Ronsard sings,--
"In a little body bear so true a heart,--"
and let us, yet once again, admire the courage with which they begin life anew in the
desert whereon they have fallen. They have forgotten the splendour and wealth of their
native city, where existence had been so admirably organised and certain, where the
essence of every flower reminiscent of sunshine had enabled them to smile at the menace
of winter. There, asleep in the depths of their cradles, they have left thousands and
thousands of daughters, whom they never again will see. They have abandoned, not only
the enormous treasure of pollen and propolis they had gathered together, but also more
than 120 pounds of honey; a quantity representing more than twelve times the entire
weight of the population, and close on 600,000 times that of the individual bee. To man
this would mean 42,000 tons of provisions, a vast fleet of mighty ships laden with
nourishment more precious than any known to us; for to the bee honey is a kind of liquid
life, a species of chyle that is at once assimilated, with almost no waste whatever.
Here, in the new abode, there is nothing; not a drop of honey, not a morsel of wax;
neither guiding-mark nor point of support. There is only the dreary emptiness of an
enormous monument that has nothing but sides and roof. Within the smooth and rounded
walls there only is darkness; and the enormous arch above rears itself over nothingness.
But useless regrets are unknown to the bee; or in any event it does not allow them to
hinder its action. Far from being cast down by an ordeal before which every other
courage would succumb, it displays greater ardour than ever. Scarcely has the hive been
set in its place, or the disorder allayed that ensued on the bees' tumultuous fall, when we
behold the clearest, most unexpected division in that entangled mass. The greater portion,
forming in solid columns, like an army obeying a definite order, will proceed to climb the
vertical walls of the hive. The cupola reached, the first to arrive will cling with the claws
of their anterior legs, those that follow hang on to the first, and so in succession, until
long chains have been formed that serve as a bridge to the crowd that rises and rises.
And, by slow degrees, these chains, as their number increases, supporting each other and
incessantly interweaving, become garlands which, in their turn, the uninterrupted and
constant ascension transforms into a thick, triangular curtain, or rather a kind of compact
and inverted cone, whose apex attains the summit of the cupola, while its widening base
descends to a half, or two-thirds, of the entire height of the hive. And then, the last bee
that an inward voice has impelled to form part of this group having added itself to the
curtain suspended in darkness, the ascension ceases; all movement slowly dies away in
the dome; and, for long hours, this strange inverted cone will wait, in a silence that
 
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