| Parables from Nature|
|by Margaret S. Gatty|
|Parables for children inspired by nature. This collection includes all 29 stories from the first, second, third, and fourth series, originally published in separate volumes. Ages 6-12 |
THE LAW OF AUTHORITY AND OBEDIENCE
"Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?"—ACTS vii. 27.
 A FINE young Working-bee left his hive, one lovely summer's
morning, to gather honey from the flowers. The sun shone so
brightly, and the air felt so warm, that he flew a long,
long distance, till he came to some gardens that were very
beautiful and gay; and there having roamed about, in and out
of the flowers, buzzing in great delight, till he had so
loaded himself with treasures that he could carry no more,
he bethought himself of returning home. But, just as he was
beginning his journey, he accidentally flew through the open
window of a country-house, and found himself in a large
There was a great deal of noise and confusion,
for it was dinner-time, and the guests were talking rather
loudly, so that the Bee got quite frightened. Still he tried
to taste some rich sweetmeats that lay temptingly in a dish
on the table, when all at once he heard a child exclaim with
a shout, "Oh, there's a bee, let me catch him!" on which he
rushed hastily back to (as he thought) the open air. But,
alas! poor fellow, in another second he found that he had
flung himself against a hard transparent wall! In
words, he had flown against the glass panes of the window,
being quite unable, in his alarm and confusion, to
distinguish the glass from the opening by which he had
At last he reached his home—the hive which he had left with such a happy heart in the morning—and began to inload the bags under his thighs of their precious contents.
This unexpected blow annoyed him much; and having
wearied himself in vain attempts to find the entrance, he
began to walk slowly and quietly up and down the wooden
frame at the bottom of the panes, hoping to recover both his
strength and composure.
Presently, as he was walking along, his attention was
attracted by hearing the soft half-whispering voices of two
children, who were kneeling down and looking at him.
Said the one to the other, "This is a working-bee, Sister; I
see the wax-bags under his thighs. Nice fellow! how busy he
"Does he make the wax and honey himself?" whispered the
"Yes, he gets them from the insides of
the flowers. Don't
you remember how we watched the bees once dodging in and out
of the crocuses, how we laughed at them, they were so busy
and fussy, and their dark coats looked so handsome against
the yellow leaves? I wish I had seen this fellow loading
himself to-day. But he does more than that. He builds the
honeycomb, and does pretty nearly everything. He's a
working-bee, poor wretch!"
"What is a working-bee? and why do you call him 'Poor
"Why, don't you know, Uncle Collins says, all people are
poor wretches who work for other people who don't work for
themselves? And that is just what this bee does. There is
the queen-bee in the hive, who does nothing at all but sit
at home, give
 orders, and coddle the little ones; and all
the bees wait upon her, and obey her. Then there are the
drones—lazy fellows, who lounge all their time away. And
then there are the working-bees, like this one here, and
they do all the work for everybody. How Uncle Collins would
laugh at them, if he knew!"
"Doesn't Uncle Collins know about bees?"
"No, I think not. It was the gardener who told me. And,
besides, I think Uncle Collins would never have done talking
about them and quizzing them, if he once knew they couldn't
do without a queen. I heard him say yesterday, that kings
and queens were against Nature, for that Nature never makes
one man a king and another a cobbler, but makes them all
alike; and so he says, kings and queens are very unjust
"Bees have not the sense to know anything about that,"
observed the little Girl, softly.
"Of course not! Only fancy how angry these working fellows
would be, if they knew what the gardener told me!"
"What was that?"
"Why, that the working-bees are just the same as the queen
when they are first born, just exactly the same, and that it
is only the food that is given them, and the shape of the
house they live in, that makes the difference. The
bee-nurses manage that; they give some one sort of food, and
some another, and they make the cells different shapes, and
so some turn out queens, and the rest working-bees. It's
just what Uncle Collins says about kings and cobblers—Nature
makes them all alike. But, look! the dinner's over—we must
"Wait till I let the Bee out, Brother," said the little
Girl, taking him gently up in a soft
handker-  chief; and then
she looked at him kindly and said, "Poor fellow! so you
might have been a queen if they had only given you the right
food, and put you into a right-shaped house! What a shame
they didn't! As it is, my good friend," (and here her voice
took a childish mocking tone)—"As it is, my good friend, you
must go and drudge away all your life long, making honey and
wax. Well, get along with you! Good luck to your labours!"
And with these words she fluttered her handkerchief through
the open window, and the Bee found himself once more
floating in the air.
Oh, what a fine evening it was! But the liberated Bee did
not think so. The sun still shone beautifully though lower
in the sky, and though the light was softer, and the shadows
were longer; and as to the flowers, they were more fragrant
than ever; yet the poor Bee felt as if there were a dark
heavy cloud over his own heart, for he had become
discontented and ambitious, and he rebelled against the
authority under which he had been born.
At last he reached his home—the hive which he had left with
such a happy heart in the morning—and, after dashing in, in
a hurried and angry manner, he began to unload the bags
under his thighs of their precious contents, and as he did
so he exclaimed, "I am the most wretched of creatures!"
"What is the matter? what have you done?" cried an old
Relation who was at work near him; "have you been eating the
poisonous kalmia flowers, or have you discovered that the
mischievous honey-moth has laid her eggs in our combs?"
"Oh, neither, neither!" answered the Bee, impatiently; "only
I have travelled a long way, and
 have heard a great deal
about myself that I never knew before, and I know now that
we are a set of wretched creatures!"
"And, pray, what wise animal has been persuading you of
that, against your own experience?" asked the old Relation.
"I have learnt a truth," answered the Bee, in an indignant
tone, "and it matters not who taught it me."
"Certainly not; but it matters very much that you should not
fancy yourself wretched merely because some foolish creature
has told you you are so; you know very well that you never
were wretched till you were told you were so. I call that
very silly; but I shall say no more to you." And the old
Relation turned himself round to his work, singing very
pleasantly all the time.
But the Traveller-bee would not be laughed out of his
wretchedness; so he collected some of his young companions
around him, and told them what he had heard in the large
dining-room of the country-house; and all were astonished,
and most of them vexed. Then he grew so much pleased at
finding himself able to create such excitement and interest,
that he became sillier every minute, and made a long speech
on the injustice of there being such things as queens, and
talked of Nature making them all equal and alike, with an
energy that would have delighted Uncle Collins himself.
When the Bee had finished his speech, there was first a
silence and then a few buzzes of anger, and then a murmured
expression of plans and wishes. It must be admitted, their
ideas of how to remedy the evil now for the first time
suggested to them, were very confused.
 Some wished Uncle
Collins would come and manage all the beehives in the
country, for they were sure he would let all the bees be
queens, and then what a jolly time they should have! And
when the old Relation popped his head round the corner of
the cell he was building, just to inquire, "What would be
the fun of being queens, if there were no working-bees to
wait on one?" the little coterie of rebels buzzed very loud,
and told him he was a fool, for, of course, Uncle Collins
would take care that the tyrant who had so long been queen,
and the royal children, now ripening in their nurse-cells,
should be made to wait on them while they lasted.
"And when they are finished?" persisted the old Relation,
with a laugh.
"Buzz, buzz," was the answer; and the old Relation held his
Then another Bee suggested that it would, after all, be very
awkward for them all to be queens; for who would make the
honey and wax, and build the honeycombs, and nurse the
children? Would it not be best, therefore, that there should
be no queens whatever, but that they should all be
But then the tiresome old Relation popped his head round the
corner again, and said, he did not quite see how that change
would benefit them, for were they not all working-bees
already?—on which an indignant buzz was poured into his ear,
and he retreated again to his work.
It was well that night at last came on, and the time arrived
when the labours of
the day were over, and sleep and silence
must reign in the hive. With the dawn of the morning,
however, the troubled thoughts unluckily returned, and the
Traveller-bee and his companions kept occasionally
 together in little groups, to talk over their
wrongs and a remedy.
Meantime, the rest of the hive were too
busy to pay much attention to them, and so their idleness
was not detected. But, at last, a few hot-headed youngsters
grew so violent in their different opinions, that they lost
all self-control, and a noisy quarrel would have broken out,
but that the Traveller-bee flew to them, and suggested that,
as they were grown up now, and could not all be turned into
queens, they had best sally forth and try the republican
experiment of all being working-bees without any queen
With so charming an idea in view, he easily
persuaded them to leave the hive; and a very nice swarm they
looked as they emerged into the open air, and dispersed
about the garden to enjoy the early breeze. But a swarm of
bees, without a queen to lead them, proved only a helpless
crowd, after all. The first thing they attempted, when they
had recollected to consult, was, to fix on the sort of
place in which they should settle for a home.
"A garden, of course," says one. "A field," says another.
"There is nothing like a hollow tree," remarked a third.
"The roof of a good outhouse is best protected from wet,"
thought a fourth. "The branch of a tree leaves us most at
liberty," cried a fifth. "I won't give up to anybody,"
They were in a prosperous way to settle, were they not?
"I am very angry with you," cried the Traveller-bee, at
last; "half the morning is gone already, and here we are as
unsettled as when we left the hive!"
"One would think you were going to be queen
 over us, to hear
you talk," exclaimed the disputants. "If we choose to spend
our time in quarrelling, what is that to you? Go and do as
you please yourself!"
And he did; for he was ashamed and unhappy; and he flew to
the further extremity of the garden to hide his vexation;
where, seeing a clump of beautiful jonquils, he dived at
once into a flower to soothe himself by honey-gathering. Oh,
how he enjoyed it! He loved the flowers and the
honey-gathering more than ever, and began his accustomed
murmur of delight, and had serious thoughts of going back at
once to the hive as usual, when as he was coming out of one
of the golden cups, he met his old Relation coming out of
"Who would have thought to find you here alone?" said the
old Relation. "Where are your companions?"
"I scarcely know; I left them outside the garden."
"What are they doing?"
". . . Quarrelling . . . "
murmured the Traveller-bee.
"What they are to do."
"What a pleasant occupation for bees on a sunshiny morning!"
said the old Relation, with a sly expression.
"Don't laugh at me, but tell me what to do," said the
puzzled Traveller. "What Uncle Collins says about Nature and
our all being alike, sounds very true, and yet somehow we do
nothing but quarrel when we try to be all alike and equal."
"How old are you?" asked the old Relation.
"Seven days," answered the Traveller, in all the sauciness
of youth and strength.
"And how old am I?"
"Many months, I am afraid."
 "You are right, I am an oldish bee. Now, my dear friend, let
"Not for the world. I am the stronger, and should hurt you."
"I wonder what makes you ask advice of a creature so much
weaker than yourself?"
"Oh, what can your weakness have to do with your wisdom, my
good old Relation? I consult you because I know you are
wise; and I am humbled myself, and feel that I am foolish."
"Old and young—strong and weak—wise and foolish—what has
become of our being alike and equal? But never mind, we can
manage. Now let us agree to live together."
"With all my heart. But where shall we live?"
"Tell me first which of us is to decide, if we differ in
"You shall; for you are wise."
"Good! And who shall collect honey for food?"
"I will; for I am strong."
"Very well; and now you have made me a queen, and yourself a
working-bee! Ah! you foolish fellow, won't the old home and
the old queen do? Don't you see that if even two people live
together, there must be a head to lead and hands to follow?
How much more in the case of a multitude!"
Gay was the song of the Traveller-bee as he wheeled over the
flowers, joyously assenting to the truth of what he heard.
"Now to my companions," he cried at last. And the two flew
away together and sought the knot of discontented youngsters
outside the garden wall.
They were still quarrelling, but no energy was left them.
They were hungry and confused, and many had flown away to
work and go home as usual.
 And very soon afterwards a cluster of happy buzzing bees,
headed by the old Relation and the Traveller, were seen
returning with wax-laden thighs to their hive.
As they were going to enter, they were stopped by one of the
little sentinels who watch the doorway.
"Wait," cried he; "a royal corpse is passing out!"
And so it was;—a dead queen soon appeared in sight, dragged
along by working-bees on each side; who, having borne her to
the edge of the hive-stand, threw her over for interment.
"How is this? what has happened?" asked the Traveller-bee,
in a tone of deep anxiety and emotion: "Surely our queen is
"Oh, no!" answered the sentinel; "but there has been some
accidental confusion in the hive this morning. Some of the
cell-keepers were unluckily absent, and a young queen-bee
burst through her cell, which ought to have been blocked up
for a few days longer. Of course the two queens fought till
one was dead; and, of course, the weaker one was killed. We
shall not be able to send off a swarm quite so soon as usual
this year; but these accidents can't be helped."
"But this one might have been helped," thought the
Traveller-bee to himself, as with a pang of remorse he
remembered that he had been the cause of the mischievous
"You see," buzzed the old Relation, nudging up against
him,—"You see even queens are not equal! and that there can
be but one ruler at once!"
And the Traveller-bee murmured a heart-wrung "Yes."
And thus the instincts of Nature confirm the reasoning
conclusions of man.
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