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The Life of the Bee

The Massacre Of The Males
[94]
IF skies remain clear, the air warm, and pollen and nectar abound in the flowers, the
workers, through a kind of forgetful indulgence, or over-scrupulous prudence perhaps,
will for a short time longer endure the importunate, disastrous presence of the males.
These comport themselves in the hive as did Penelope's suitors in the house of Ulysses.
Indelicate and wasteful, sleek and corpulent, fully content with their idle existence as
honorary lovers, they feast and carouse, throng the alleys, obstruct the passages, and
hinder the work; jostling and jostled, fatuously pompous, swelled with foolish, good-
natured contempt; harbouring never a suspicion of the deep and calculating scorn
wherewith the workers regard them, of the constantly growing hatred to which they give
rise, or of the destiny that awaits them. For their pleasant slumbers they select the
snuggest corners of the hive; then, rising carelessly, they flock to the open cells where the
honey smells sweetest, and soil with their excrements the combs they frequent. The
patient workers, their eyes steadily fixed on the future, will silently set things right. From
noon till three, when the purple country trembles in blissful lassitude beneath the
invincible gaze of a July or August sun, the drones will appear on the threshold. They
have a helmet made of enormous black pearls, two lofty, quivering plumes, a doublet of
iridescent, yellowish velvet, an heroic tuft, and a fourfold mantle, translucent and rigid.
They create a prodigious stir, brush the sentry aside, overturn the cleaners, and collide
with the foragers as these return laden with their humble spoil. They have the busy air,
the extravagant, contemptuous gait, of indispensable gods who should be simultaneously
venturing towards some destiny unknown to the vulgar. One by one they sail off into
space, irresistible, glorious, and tranquilly make for the nearest flowers, where they sleep
till the afternoon freshness awake them. Then, with the same majestic pomp, and still
overflowing with magnificent schemes, they return to the hive, go straight to the cells,
plunge their head to the neck in the vats of honey, and fill themselves tight as a drum to
repair their exhausted strength; whereupon, with heavy steps, they go forth to meet the
good, dreamless and careless slumber that shall fold them in its embrace till the time for
the next repast.
[95]
But the patience of the bees is not equal to that of men. One morning the long-expected
word of command goes through the hive; and the peaceful workers turn into judges and
executioners. Whence this word issues, we know not; it would seem to emanate suddenly
from the cold, deliberate indignation of the workers; and no sooner has it been uttered
than every heart throbs with it, inspired with the genius of the unanimous republic. One
part of the people renounce their foraging duties to devote themselves to the work of
justice. The great idle drones, asleep in unconscious groups on the melliferous walls, are
rudely torn from their slumbers by an army of wrathful virgins. They wake, in pious
wonder; they cannot believe their eyes; and their astonishment struggles through their
sloth as a moonbeam through marshy water. They stare amazedly round them, convinced
 
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