Little Colonel In Arizona, Chapter 10: The School Of The Bees

THE LITTLE COLONEL IN ARIZONA
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Published July 1904

 

 

CHAPTER X.

THE SCHOOL OF THE BEES

WITH her slipper toes caught in the meshes of the hammock to keep her from falling out, and with her head hanging over nearly to the ground, Mary lay watching something beneath her, with breathless interest."

"What is it, Mary?" called Phil, as he came up and threw himself down on the grass beside her, in the shade of the bushy umbrella-tree.

She pointed to a saucer of sugar and water just below her, on the edge of which several bees had alighted. "I put it there," she said, in a low, tone, as if afraid of disturbing the bees. "Mr. Ellestad has been telling us how smart they are, and I wanted to watch them do some of their strange things myself. He wants Joyce to raise bees instead of chickens or squabs or any of the things they were talking about doing. He came up after dinner with some books, and told us so much about them, that I learned more than I would in a whole week in school. Joyce and Lloyd were so interested that, as soon as he left, they rode right over to Mr. Shaw's bee ranch to find out how much a hive costs, and all about it."

"Have they been gone long?" asked Phil, more interested in the girls than in the bees. Finding that they had been away more than an hour, and that it was almost time for their return, he settled himself to wait, feigning an interest almost as great as Mary's in the saucer of sugar and water. There was something comical to him always in Mary's serious moods, and the grave expression of the little round face, as it hung over the edge of the hammock, promised enough amusement to make the time pass agreeably.

"When one bee gets all he can carry, he goes and tells the others," explained Mary. "I've had six, so far. I suppose you know about Huber," she asked, looking up eagerly. "I didn't till Mr. Ellestad read us a lot about him out of one of the books he brought."

"I've heard of him," answered Phil, smiling, as he saw how much she wanted the pleasure of repeating her newly gained knowledge. "Suppose you tell me."

"Well, he was born in Switzerland --- in Geneva, and when Lloyd found that out, she was ready to read anything he had written, or to study anything he was interested in. She just loves Geneva. That was where she met the major who gave her Hero, her Red Cross war-dog, you know, and that is where he saved her life, by stopping a runaway horse.

"Well, Huber went blind when he was just a boy, and he would have had a terribly lonesome time if it hadn't been for the bees. He began to study them, and they were so interesting that he went on studying them his whole life. He had somebody to help him, of course, who watched the hives, and told him what went on inside, and he found out more about them than anybody had ever done before, and wrote books about them. It is two hundred years since then, and a whole library has been written about bees since then, but his books are still read, and considered among the best.

"Holland said, Pooh! the bees couldn't teach him anything. He'd just as soon go to a school of grasshoppers, and that I'd be a goose if I spent my time watching 'em eat sugar and water out of a dish. He was going off fishing with George Lee. He wouldn't wait to hear what Mr. Ellestad had to say. But all the fish in the canal wouldn't do me as much good as one thing I learned from the bees."

"What was that?" asked Phil, lazily, stretching himself out full length on the grass, and pulling his hat over his eyes.

"Sometimes it happens that something gets into the hives that don't belong there; like a slug. Once a mouse got in one, and it told in the book about a child dropping a snail in one. Well, the bees can sting such things to death, but they're not strong enough to drag them out after they're dead, and if the dead bodies stayed in the hives they'd spoil everything after awhile. So the bees just cover them all over with wax, make an air-tight cell, and seal them up in it. Isn't that smart? Then they just leave it there and go off about their business, and forget about it. Mr. Ellestad said that's what people ought to do with their troubles that can't be cured, but have to be endured. They ought to seal them up tight, and stop talking and fretting about them --- keep them away from the air, he said, seal them up so they won't poison their whole life. That set me to thinking about the trouble that is poisoning my happiness, and I made up my mind I'd pretend it was just a snail that had crept into my hive. I can't change it, I can't drag it out, but I won't let it spoil all my honey."

"Well, bless my soul!" exclaimed Phil, sitting up very straight, and looking at her with an interest that was unfeigned this time. "What trouble can a child like you have, that is so bad as all that?"

"Won't you ever tell?" said Mary, "and won't you ever laugh at me?" She was eager to unburden her soul, but afraid of appearing ridiculous in the eyes of her hero. "Well, it's being so fat! I've always wanted to be tall and slender and willowy, like the girls in books. I always play I am, when Patty and I go off by ourselves at recess. I have such good times then, but when I come back the boys call me Pudding, and Mother Bunch and Gordo. I think that is Spanish for fat. My face is just as round as a full moon, and my waist --- well, Holland calls me Chautauqua, and that's Indian for bag-tied-in-the-middle. There isn't a girl in school that has such legs as mine. I can barely reach around them with both hands."

She pulled her short gingham skirt farther over her knees as she spoke, and stole a side glance at Phil to see if he were taking as serious a view of her troubles as the situation demanded. He was staring straight ahead of him with a very grave face, for he had to draw it into a frown to keep from laughing outright.

"I'd give anything to be like Lloyd," she continued. "She's so straight and graceful, and she holds her head like a real princess. But she grew up that way, I suppose, and never did have a time of being dumpy like me. They used to call her 'airy, fairy Lillian' when she was little, because she was so light on her feet"

"They might well call her that now," remarked Phil, looking toward the road down which she was to appear. Mary, about to plunge into deeper confidences, saw the glance, and saw that he had shifted his position in order to watch for the coming of the girls. She felt that he was not as interested as she had supposed. Maybe he wouldn't care to hear how she stood every day in the tent before the mirror, to hold her shoulders as Lloyd did, or throw back her head in the same spirited way. Maybe he wouldn't understand. Maybe he would think her vain and silly and a copycat, as Holland called her. Lloyd would not have rattled on the way she had been doing. Oh, why had she been born with such a runaway tongue!

Covered with confusion, she sat so long without speaking that Phil glanced at her, wondering at the unusual silence. To his surprise there was an expression of real distress on the plump little face, and the gray eyes were winking hard to keep back the tears.

"So that is the trouble, is it?" he said, kindly, not knowing what was in her thought. "Well, it's a trouble you'll probably outgrow. I used to go to school with a girl that was nicknamed jumbo, because she weighed so much, and she grew up to be as tall and slim as a rail; so you see there is hope for you. In the meantime, you are a very sensible little girl to take the lesson of the bees to heart. Just seal up your trouble, and don't bother your head about it, and be your own cheerful, happy little self. People can't help loving you when you are that way, and they don't want you to be one mite different."

Phil felt like a grandfather as he gave this bit of advice. He did not see the look of supreme happiness which crossed Mary's face, for at that moment the girls came riding up to the house, and he sprang up to meet them.

"I'll unsaddle the ponies," he said, taking the bridles as the girls slid to the ground, and starting toward the pasture. By the time he returned, Mary had carried some chairs out to the hammock, and Joyce had brought a pitcher of lemonade.

"Come, drink to the success of my new undertaking," she called. "It's all so far off in the future that mamma says I'm counting my chickens before they are hatched, but --- I'm going into the bee business, Phil. Mr. Shaw will let me have a hive of gold-banded Italian bees for eight dollars. I don't know when I'll ever earn that much money, but I'll do it some day. Then that hive will swarm, and the new swarms will swarm, and with the honey they make I'll buy more hives. There is such a long honey-making time every year in this land of flowers, that I'll be owning a ranch as big as Mr. Shaw's some day, see if I don't! I always wanted a garden like Grandmother Ware's, with a sun-dial and a beehive in it, just for the artistic effect, but I never dreamed of making a fortune out of it."

"And I intend to get some hives as soon as I go back to Locust," said Lloyd. "It will he the easiest way in the world to raise money for ou' Ordah of Hildegarde. That's the name of the club I belong to," she explained to Phil. "One of its objects is to raise money for the poah girls in the mountain schools. We get so tiahed of the evahlasting embroidery and fancy work, and, as Mr. Ellestad says, this is so interesting, and one can learn so much from the bees."

"That's what Mary was telling me," said Phil, gravely. "But I must confess I never got much out of them. I investigated them once when I was a small boy-stirred up the hive with a stick, and by the time I was rescued I was pretty well puffed up. Not with a sense of my wisdom, however. They stung me nearly to death. So I've rather shrunk from having any more dealings with them."

"You cant deny that they gave you a good lesson in minding your own business," laughed Lloyd.

"Well, I don't care to have so many teachers after me, all teaching me the same thing. I prefer variety in my instructors."

"They don't all teach the same thing," cried Joyce, enthusiastically. "I had no idea how the work was divided up until I began to study them. People have watched them through glass hives, you know, with black shutters. They have nurses to, tend the nymphs and larva, and ladies of honour, who wait on the queen, and never let her out of their sight. And isn't it odd, they are exactly like human beings in one thing, they never turn their back on the queen. Then there are the house bees, who both air and heat the hives by fanning their wings, and sometimes they help to evaporate the honey in the same way, when there is more water in the flower nectar than usual. There are architects, masons, wax-workers, and sculptors, and the foragers, who go out to the flowers for the pollen and nectar. Some are chemists, who let a drop of formic acid fall from the end of their stings to preserve the honey, and some are capsule makers, who seal down the cells when the honey is ripe. Besides all these are the sweepers, who spend their time sweeping the tiny streets, and the bearers, who remove the corpses, and the amazons of the guard, who watch by the threshold night and day, and seem to require some kind of a countersign of all who pass, just like real soldiers. Some are artists, too, as far as knowing colours is concerned. They get red pollen from the mignonette, and yellow pollen from the lilies, and they never mix them. They always store them in separate cells in the storerooms."

"Whew!" whistled Phil, beginning to fan himself with his hat as Joyce paused. "Anything more? It takes a girl with a fad to deluge a fellow with facts."

"Tell him about the drones," said Lloyd, meaningly. She resented being laughed at. "They don't like the school of the bees eithah. If Aristotle and Cato and Pliny and those old philosophahs could spend time studying them, you needn't tuh'n up yoah nose at them!"

Lloyd turned away indignantly, but she looked so pretty with her eyes flashing, and the colour coming up in her cheeks, that Phil was tempted to keep on teasing them about their fad, as he called it. His antagonism to it was all assumed at first, but he began to feel a real resentment as the days wore on. It interfered too often with his plans. Several times he had walked up to the ranch to find Mr. Ellestad there ahead of him with a new book on bee culture, or an interesting account of some new experiment, or some ride was spoiled because, when he called, the girls had gone to Shaw's ranch to spend the afternoon.

Joyce and Lloyd purposely pointed all their morals, and illustrated all their remarks whenever they could, by items learned at the School of the Bees, until Phil groaned aloud whenever the little honey-makers were mentioned.

"If you had been Shapur you nevah would have followed that bee to the Rose Garden of Omah, would you?" asked Lloyd, one day when they had been discussing the legend of Camelback.

"No," answered Phil, "nothing could tempt me to follow one of those irritating little creatures."

"Not even to reach the City of yoah Desiah?"

"My City of Desire would have been right in that oasis, probably, if I had been Shapur. The story said, 'Water there was for him to drink, and the fruit of the date-palm.' He had everything to make him comfortable, so what was the use of going around with an ambition like a burning simoom in his breast"

"I don't believe that you have a bit of ambition," said Lloyd, in a disapproving tone that nettled Phil. "Have you?"

"I can't say that it keeps me awake of nights," laughed Phil. "And I can't see that anybody is any happier or more comfortable for being all torn up over some impossible thing he is for ever reaching after, and never can get hold of."

"Neahly everybody I know is like Shapur," said Lloyd, musingly. "Joyce is wild to be an artist, and Betty to write books, and Holland to go into the navy, and Jack to be at the head of the mines. Papa has promised him a position in the mine office as soon as he learns Spanish, and he is pegging away at it every spare minute. He says Jack will make a splendid man, for it is his great ambition to be just like his fathah, who was so steady-going and reliable and honahable in all he undahtook, that he had the respect of everybody. Papa says Jack will make just the kind of man that is needed out heah to build up this new country, and he expects great things of him some day. He says that a boy who is so faithful in small things is bound to be faithful to great ones of public trust."

"What is your City of Desire? " asked Phil, who did not relish the turn the conversation had taken. He liked Jack, but he didn't want Lloyd to sing his praises so enthusiastically.

"Oh, I'm only a girl without any especial talent," answered Lloyd, "so I can't expect to amount to as much as Joyce and Betty. But I want to live up to our club motto, and to leave a Road of the Loving Heart behind me in everybody's memory, and to be just as much like mothah and my beautiful Grandmothah Amanthis as I can. A home-makah, grandfathah says, is moah needed in the world than an artist or an authah. He consoles me that way sometimes, when I feel bad because I can't do the things I'd like to. But it is about as hard to live up to his ideal of a home-makah, as to reach any othah City of Desiah. He expects so much of me."

"But what would your ambition be if you were a boy?" asked Phil, lazily leaning back in the hammock to watch her.

"If I were a boy," she repeated. A light leaped up into her face, and unconsciously her head took its high, princesslike pose. "If I were a boy, and could go out into the world and do all sawts of fine things, I wouldn't be content to sit down beside the well and the palm-tree. I'd want something to do that was hard and brave, and that would try my mettle. I'd want to fight my way through all sawts of dangahs and difficulties. I couldn't beah to be nothing but a drone, and not have any paht in the world's hive-making and honey-making."

"Look here," said Phil, his face flushing, "you girls are associating with bees entirely too much. You're learning to sting."

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