By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 25, 1935
“Ouch,” I shouted, “Jimmie, a bee!”
We were bowling along the highway. Jimmie Frise at the wheel.
“It’s down around my feet!” I warned loudly. “Slow down till we shoo it out.”
But Jimmie just went right on driving, with a lazy smile.
“Don’t be a sap,” I cried, “Accidents have been caused by bees. Motorists have been killed by being stung and going into the ditch.”
All Jimmie did was put his cigarette back in his mouth.
I drew my legs up on the seat and peered anxiously down into the shadows under the dashboard.
“Jim, I wish you’d slow up,” I pleaded. “It was one of those nasty big yellow and black ones, like chenille. If there is anything gives me the Dracula shivers it is the thought of a bumble bee up my pant leg.”
“A bee won’t bother you,” said Jim calmly, “unless you bother it.”
“I imagine,” I said icily, “that a bee would rightly consider itself bothered by being carried about fifty miles out of its way in this car.”
“I’ve had two hundred bees come into my car,” said Jim, “and go out of it again without stinging anybody.”
“And I tell you,” I stated, still sitting on my legs, that there are about a thousand motor car accidents unexplained every year on these highways, and I’m willing to bet it was a bee sting that caused them.”
“Did you ever got stung by a bee?” asked Jim.
“I’ve had wasps sting me,” I exclaimed.
“Yes, because you stepped on their nest or bumped into them or took a swipe at them when they were merely looking at you with friendly interest,” said Jim.
“In my opinion,” I announced, “the cause of a great many of the unexplained accidents on highways is because a man, dreamily driving along the highway, has suddenly felt a red-hot needle stick him in the back of the neck.”
“If that were so,” said Jim, “since most accidents are not fatal those who escape from motor accidents would explain how it happened. And I don’t recall ever hearing of more than two or three cases where a man blamed a bee sting for putting him in the ditch.”
“If I were you,” I begged, “I’d slow up for a minute until I shoo that bee out of this car.”
“For heaven’s sake,” said Jim, starting to slow her down, “are we going to have to stop every time a bug gets in our car?”
We slowed down and stopped, and while I took my handkerchief and flapped it around all the corners of the car Jim got out and walked around the car to take a look at the tires. He likes to stretch his legs.
“All right,” I called. “I don’t see it anywhere. It must have flown out itself.”
“OOUUCH!” yelled Jim.
And I ran around to see him jumping excitedly up and down, holding his wrist and putting it to his mouth.
“What the-?” I asked.
“A bee,” said Jim, hotly. “I was just standing here and a bee flew off that weed there, right at me, and stung me on the wrist.”
The First Communists
“Put some mud on it,” I advised him. “Spit on some mud and plaster it on the bite.”
I looked and saw a little white lump on his wrist.
“If we hadn’t stopped,” cried Jim, angrily.
“Much safer,” I assured him, “to get stung out of the car than sitting driving it.”
But Jim just stared with prejudice at me. You can’t expect a man with a bee sting to be reasonable.
We got some mud and plastered Jim’s wrist up. And then we drove on.
“Bees, they tell me,” I said, as Jim was a little sulky, “are wonderful creatures.”
“You can’t tell me,” said Jim. “I was born and raised on the farm. I kept bees.”
“They tell me,” I went on, “that they have higher form of civilization than we have?”
“They’re the first Communists,” said Jim.
“Yet the bees have drones that don’t work,” I pointed out.
“So have the Communists,” said Jim. “How do you know the drones aren’t the deep thinkers? Somebody has to think.”
“Tell me about them,” I urged.
“Bees,” said Jim, “collect honey. They put it obediently into little frames you get for them in the hives. You put up hives, as you might say, company houses. The bees live in these company houses which you have thoughtfully equipped with little wooden frames for them to store their honey in.”
“And how do you get the honey out?” I asked. “At night?”
“No, you smoke them out, ever so often,” explained Jimmie. “You make a big smudge and dope the bees, and lift the hives open and take the honey away, installing new empty frames for them. When they wake up from the smoke they feel dopey and wonder if it was but a dream that they had worked all July. So they set to work again to store up another lot. And so it goes.”
“How do you get them into the hives to start with?” I asked.
“Ever so often,” said Jim, “there get too many bees in a hive. You see, all the time the bees are storing honey the queen bee is laying eggs and raising little grubs that turn into bees. That is how you keep your bee colony up. New bees. But when a hive gets too populous they swarm. The new queen leaves the hive and takes half the bees after her. They swarm, they go flying away, looking for a new hive.”
“So?” I said.
“So you have new hives ready,” said Jim. “And when you see them swarming, to prevent them flying away to some other farmer you and your wife and the hired girl and the hired man all grab dishpans and rush out and start beating the pans, which dins and confuses the bees. And you can drive them toward the new hive you have ready for them with a couple of combs of honey in it to attract them.”
“I’ve seen pictures,” I said, “of bees swarming like festoons and drapes of bees all over a tree or a bush.”
“Or a man or a horse,” said Jim. “The trick is to prevent them flying away to some neighbor when they swarm. Because the law is that when a swarm of bees lights on your property they are your bees.”
Nice Little Side Line
“Why?” I demanded. “If my cow strays into your field it isn’t your cow.”
“Well, that’s the law, anyway,” said Jim. “So you get busy, when you see them swarm, and beat tin pans and make an awful din and drive them dizzily back toward where you have a new hive waiting for them, all nice and fresh and filled with empty frames for the silly things to devote their lives to.”
“I like honey,” I said. “Honey and bread and butter.”
“A Northern Spy apple,” said Jim, looking at his wrist, “a slice of fresh homemade bread and a comb of clover honey.”
“Mmmmmm,” I agreed.
“Everybody likes honey,” said Jim. “You never get tired of it. But you forget about it. And then, after a few weeks or months, you remember it again and get terribly hungry for it.”
“It’s healthy, too.” I pointed out. “Doctors say that the ancient Greeks were as good as they were largely because they ate quantities of honey. It was about the only sweet thing they had in the olden days.”
“Didn’t they have sugar in ancient times?” I asked.
“They put honey on their bread,” said Jim, “and they didn’t have tea. And they didn’t know about preserving. Candies were unknown. So honey was the universal sweet. Mankind has never been as good looking since they substituted sugar for honey. Bees were the big sugar manufacturers of olden times.”
“I’m going to start eating honey,” I stated.
“Personally,” said Jim, “we could have a nice little sideline if we owned a few bees. Why are we city men so dumb? Here you and I are working in a building with about five thousand people in it. We know scores of them. If we wanted to, we could know hundreds of them. Now, suppose you and I owned an apiary.”
“A what?” I exclaimed.
“An apiary. That’s what they call a bee farm,” explained Jim. “Suppose, instead of wasting our money on silly things like stocks or bonds or slapping our money into a bank or something, we invested in a bee farm. We could get some regular farmer to run it for us on shares. We’d put up the money to buy him a bunch of hives and a few thousand good pedigreed bees. Then he’d collect the honey, strain it, put it up in pails, and it could be the Frise-Clark Honey, from Pedigreed Bees.”
“Frise-Clark Honey, from Busy Bees,” I suggested.
“And every Monday,” went on Jim, “he’d ship us down a case or two of honey and we would pass the word around the building. I bet we could work up a nice little trade.”
“Is there money in it?” I inquired.
“There must be,” said Jim. “or there wouldn’t be so many people growing honey. I bet we have passed twenty farms with bee houses this afternoon.”
“Let’s drop into the next one we see, I suggested. “I’d like to see what a bee farm is like.”
“There’ll be a lot of bees around,” warned Jimmie.
“But surely they are trained,” I said.
“They wouldn’t keep bees that would sting prospective customers.”
“I suppose,” said Jim.
And this side of Palgrave we came to dear little white farmhouse with evergreen hedges and in the orchard by the house rows and rows of bee houses on their little platforms.
“Whoa,” said Jimmie.
A kind old lady greeted us as we came through the hedge. She was busy cutting lilacs.
When we asked if we could see the bees she went indoors and got a cow’s horn trimmed with brass, on which she blew a long blast very skilfully and in a few moments over the hills came an equally kind old gentleman in overalls who seemed not to have done any talking for so many years that he could hardly remember the words.
But he shyly took us out into the orchard, where we walked very slowly and politely toward the bee houses.
“We just won’t worry them.” said the old man. “If we walk very quietly now, they won’t be bothered with us.”
“Had any swarms lately?” asked Jim.
“I’m expecting a swarm any time,” said the little gentleman. “I’ve lost two swarms this year already. I’m afraid I’m not a very good bee man.”
“Would the honey taste of lilacs?” I asked him.
But he just exchanged a look with Jimmie and they both smiled,
“It tastes better than that,” said the old man proudly.
We stood respectfully looking down the first row of hives, while Jimmie asked about the bees and the blight and all the things that happen to bees. The old man said one of the swarms had gone a mile up the road and settled on the farm of a poor woman, a widow, who had been terribly hard up for a year or more, and he was very glad on her account for these were the finest bees in many a mile.
The other swarm had followed a motor truck, loaded with cows, straight south.
“The last I see of them.” said the old gentleman “the driver was driving like mad, the cows were rolling their eyes, and the bees were gaining. I hope no rich man got them, though I must say every rich farmer always has a few empty hives sitting around, expecting.”
“That’s why they’re rich,” said Jim.
“I suppose,” agreed the old man. You could see he liked Jim.
Thus we were standing, while the orchard hummed and there was a sort of cello music faintly adown the aisles of hives and the orchard trees made a lazy dappled shadow for the music to live in. And the kind old lady with the scissors was shipping more lilacs than she needed in a busy sort of way that told me we were to have some lilacs with us.
And then all of a sudden the old man jumped back and cried:
And out of one of the hives, about the fifth one down the row, bees began to boil and bubble out of the box with a high sing-sound.
“Get a pan,” shouted the old man, running for the house, with Jim and me after him. The old lady dropped the lilacs and into the house we rushed, where all was cool and fragrant, with a smell like fresh milk, and the old man feverishly thrust a milk pail on Jim and seized the dishpan off the wall for himself, while the old lady took a black cake tin and I grabbed a dipper out of a pail of water.
And toward the orchard we rushed, making a din.
Jimmie and the old man, like Indians at a war dance, hopped about the hive, banging the pans fiercely, bees were darting this way and that excitedly, and what appeared to be a sort of ragged lacy shawl slowly rose from the one hive and began swinging this way and that amongst the apple trees.
Several bees from other hives, upset by the racket, zipped around, like scout aeroplanes, zooming and diving, and I backed off because a couple of them bumped into me.
I decided to withdraw to a little distance, as the noise I was making with the dipper and a stick was not really a big noise, nor did it seem to harmonize with the deep sounds Jimmie and the old man were making with their larger vessels.
I turned my back to walk outside the edge of the orchard when I felt, rather than heard, a loud snore.
“Stand still,” roared Jimmie.
And what seemed to be a very thickly and heavy shawl was folded around my head, neck, shoulders. All was dark.
I stood very still. And all around me rang a furious whanging and banging and heavy breathing.
My fingers ached with stiffness. My leg muscles seemed turned to iron. I breathed through my lips, barely open, while a million tickles, like a million electric shocks, ran around the corners of my mouth, my ears, my eyelids.
I felt like the mummy of King Pharaoh, while the band of 500 B.C. played the funeral march on a million drums.
Then I smelt smoke.
And the lacy tickly shawl, of fine lace, of soft, singing cashmere, not chenille, was slowly lifted, wafted from my head.
I opened one eye. Then the other. I relaxed one finger. Then two. With an effort, like opening a gate, I relaxed one leg.
Jim and the old man and the lady were piously drumming under a tree, while the old man waved a dishpan full of smoking grass from side to side.
I found a thin place in the hedge. I pushed through it. Into the car I stepped, slowly and carefully. All the windows I ran up. I looked cautiously into every corner of the car. I flicked my hair experimentally with my handkerchief.
Presently the old lady came out with a big handful of lilacs.
“Are you married?” she inquired when I opened the door a little.
“If I remember rightly,” I said.
“She’d like these,” said the old lady. “They are an old-fashioned kind.”
“Would they attract bees into the car?” I asked.
“Dear, no,” said the old lady. “The bees are much too busy now to think of lilacs. Once when I was a girl I had then swarm on me.”
“Does it happen often?” I asked.
“No, but it is considered a very lucky sign,” she said. “Were you stung at all?”
“Maybe I’ll begin to feel it a little later, when I can feel anything,” I said.
Jimmie came out with a blue pail of honey for me.
“You saved them from getting away on me,” said the old man. “There’s a pail for you.”
“If I had been out on the road,” I said, “they’d have been my bees.”
“You’re right,” cried the old man.
“Well, I’d have given them back to you,” I assured him.
And I covered the lilacs with my rain slicker and we drove on about our lawful business, which was fishing.
Editor’s Notes: I’m not sure why he would use the phrase, the “Dracula Shivers”, but the Bela Lugosi Dracula movie did come out only a few years earlier in 1931.
Palgrave, Ontario is still a fairly rural area in north Peel County.