|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
NCLE PAUL was still talking when they heard a persistent
noise in the garden: pom! pom! pom! pom! as if some smith
had set up his anvil under the big elder-tree. They ran to
see what it was. Jacques was gravely tapping with a key on
the watering can: pom! pom! pom! pom! Mother Ambroisine was
busily beating a copper saucepan with a small stone: pom!
pom! pom! pom!
Have our two good servants lost their heads, that they are
giving themselves up, with the most serious air in the
world, to this charivari? Without suspending their singular
occupation, they exchange a few words. "They are going
toward the currant bush," says Jacques. "They look as if
they were going away," answers Mother Ambroisine; and the
pom! pom! pom! pom! is resumed.
Just then Uncle Paul and his nephews and niece come up. One
glance is enough to explain everything to Uncle Paul. Over
the garden there is a kind of red smoke flying, which
sometimes rises and sometimes sinks, sometimes scatters and
sometimes comes together in a compact mass. A monotonous
whirring of wings proceeds from the midst of the red smoke.
Jacques and Mother Ambroisine, still tapping, follow the
cloud. Uncle Paul looks on, greatly
 preoccupied. Emile,
Jules, and Claire look at each other, surprised at what is
The little cloud descends, it approaches the currant-bush,
as Jacques had foreseen, passes around it, examines it,
chooses a branch. And now pom! pom! pom! pom! louder than
ever. On the branch selected a round mass is formed, visibly
increasing while the cloud, less and less compact, whirls
around. Jacques and Mother Ambroisine stop tapping. Soon
there hangs from the branch of the currant-bush a large
bunch, from which the last comers of the living cloud depart
to return an instant later. All is over; one can now
Emile, who suspects it is bees, would like to return to the
house. His old misadventure with the hive has left him with
lively remembrances. To reassure him his uncle takes him by
the hand. Emile bravely approaches the currant-bush. What
risk can he run with his uncle? Jules and Claire come close
also; it is worth the trouble.
Now, on the currant-bush hangs a bunch of bees, all close
together. Some belated ones come from here and there, choose
a good place, and cling on to the preceding ones. The branch
bends under the burden, for there are several thousands on
it. The first arrivals, doubtless the most robust, since
they will have to support the whole load, have seized the
branch with the claws of their forefeet; others have come
and fastened themselves to the hind feet of the first bees,
and in their turn have served as suspension points to a
third rank; then, gradually, to a fourth, fifth, sixth, and
more still, meantime
dimin-  ishing in number, until finally
they are all clinging there by their hands, as one might
say. The children stand in wonder before the bunch of bees,
whose red down and lustrous wings shine in the sun; but they
prudently keep at a distance.
"Do we not run the risk of being stung by getting so near?"
"In their present condition bees rarely make use of their
sting. If you foolishly went and tormented them, I would not
answer for their conduct; but leave them alone, and you can
watch them at your ease, without any fear. They have other
cares now than thinking of stinging little curious boys!"
"And what cares? They look very peaceful; one would say they
were all asleep."
"The grave cares of a people who have no country and seek to
create one for themselves."
"Bees have a country, then?"
"They have a hive, which amounts to the same thing for
"Then they are looking for a hive to live in?"
"They are looking for a hive."
"And where do these homeless bees come from?"
"They come from the old hive in the garden."
"They might have stayed there, instead of going out to seek
"They could not. The population of the hive increased, and
there was not room enough for all. So the most adventurous,
under the guidance of a queen, expatriated themselves to
found a colony elsewhere. The emigrating troop is called a
 "The queen who leads the swarm—she must be there in the
"She is. It is she who, alighting on the currant bush,
determined the halt of the entire company."
These words, country, queen, emigrants, colony, had
impressed the children's imaginations; they were astonished
to hear the terms of human politics applied to bees.
Questions came one after another, but Uncle Paul turned a
"Wait until the swarm is gathered into the hive, and I will
tell you at length the splendid story of the bees. At
present I will only answer Claire's question as to why
Jacques and Mother Ambroisine tapped on the watering-pot and
"If the swarm had flown off into the country, it would have
been lost to us. It was necessary to induce it to alight on
a tree in the garden and there form itself into a bunch. It
has always been thought that this result could be obtained
by making a noise. Thus the sound of thunder is imitated
and, as it is said, the bees, afraid of the perils of an
approaching storm, quickly seek refuge. I do not believe
bees are silly enough to fear a storm because of this
tapping on an old pot. They alight where they please, when
they please, and not far from the old hive, provided the
place suits them."
Jacques, with a saw in one hand and a hammer in the other,
called to Uncle Paul. With some new boards he was going to
make a house for the swarm. By evening the hive was ready.
At the bottom were three little holes for the bees to go in
and out, and inside some pegs for holding the future
 A large flag-stone had been placed against the wall for the
hive to stand on. At night-fall they went to the
currant-bush. The bunch of bees was put into the hive, and a
few shakes detached it from the branch. Finally the hive was
put in place on its support.
The next morning Jules watched to see what the bees were
doing. The house had suited them. They were to be seen
coming, one by one, out of the little doors of the hive,
rubbing themselves a moment in the sun on the flag-stone,
and then flying away to the flowers in the garden. They were
at work. The colony was founded. At a grand council they had
decided matters during the night.
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