The lazy bee
In a beehive once there was a bee who would not work. She would go flying from blossom to blossom on the orange trees sucking out all the honey. But instead of taking it back to the hive she would eat it then and there.
She was a lazy bee. Every morning, the moment the sun had warmed the hive, she would come to the door and look out. On making sure that it was a lovely day, she would wash her face and comb her hair with her paws, the way flies do, and then go flitting off, as pleased as could be at the bright weather. So she would go buzzing and buzzing from flower to flower; and then after a time she would go back and see what the other bees were doing in the hive. So it would go on all day long.
Meantime the other bees would be working themselves to death trying to fill the hive full of honey; for honey is what they give the little bees to eat as soon as they are born. And these worker bees, very staid, respectable, earnest bees, began to scowl at the conduct of this shirker of a sister they had.
You must know that, at the door of every beehive, there are always a number of bees on watch, to see that no insects but bees get into the hive. These policemen, as a rule, are old bees, with a great deal of experience in life. Their backs are quite bald, because all the hair gets worn off from rubbing against the hive as they walk in and out of the door.
One day when the lazy bee was just dropping in to see what was going on in the hive, these policemen called her to one side:
“Sister,” said they, “it is time you did a little work. All us bees have to work!”
The little bee was quite scared when the policemen spoke to her, but she answered:
“I go flying about all day long, and get very tired!”
“We didn’t ask you how tired you got! We want to see how much work you can do! This is Warning Number 1!”
And they let her go on into the hive.
But the lazy little bee did not mend her ways. On the next evening the policemen stopped her again:
“Sister, we didn’t see you working today!”
The little bee was expecting something of the kind, and she had been thinking up what she would say all the way home.
“I’ll go to work one of these days,” she spoke up promptly; and with a cheerful, winsome smile.
“We don’t want you to go to work one of these days,” they answered gruffly. “We want you to go to work tomorrow morning. This is Warning Number 2!”
And they let her in.
The following night, when the lazy bee came home, she did not wait for the policemen to stop her. She went up to them sorrowfully and said:
“Yes, yes! I remember what I promised. I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to work today!”
“We didn’t ask how sorry you were, nor what you had promised. What we want from you is work. Today is the nineteenth of April. Tomorrow will be the twentieth of April. See to it that the twentieth of April does not pass without your putting at least one load of honey into the hive. This is Warning Number 3! You may enter!”
And the policemen who had been blocking the door stepped aside to let her in.
The lazy bee woke up with very good intentions the next morning; but the sun was so warm and bright and the flowers were so beautiful! The day passed the same as all the others; except that toward evening the weather changed. The sun went down behind a great bank of clouds and a strong icy wind began to blow.
The lazy little bee started for home as fast as she could, thinking how warm and cozy it would be inside the hive, with all that storm blowing out of doors. But on the porch of the beehive the policemen got in front of her.
“Where are you going, young lady?” said they.
“I am going in to bed. This is where I live!”
“You must be mistaken,” said the policemen. “Only busy worker bees live here! Lazy bees are not allowed inside this door!”
“Tomorrow, surely, surely, surely, I am going to work,” said the little bee.
“There is no tomorrow for lazy bees,” said the policemen; for they were old, wise bees, and knew philosophy. “Away with you!” And they pushed her off the doorstep.
The little bee did not know what to do. She flew around for a time; but soon it began to grow dark; the wind blew colder and colder, and drops of rain began to fall. Quite tired at last, she took hold of a leaf, intending to rest a moment; but she was chilled and numbed by the cold. She could not hang on, and fell a long distance to the ground.
She tried to get to her wings again, but they were too tired to work. So she started crawling over the ground toward the hive. Every stone, every stick she met, she had to climb over with great effort—so many hills and mountains they seemed to such a tiny bee. The raindrops were coming faster when, almost dead with cold and fright and fatigue, she arrived at the door of the hive.
“Oh, oh,” she moaned. “I am cold, and it is going to rain! I shall be sure to die out here!” And she crept up to the door.
But the fierce policemen again stopped her from going in.
“Forgive me, sisters,” the little bee said. “Please, let me go in!”
“Too late! Too late!” they answered.
“Please, sisters, I am so sleepy!” said the little bee.
“Too late! Too late!” said they.
“Please, sisters, I am cold!” said the little bee.
“Sorry! You can’t go in!” said they.
“Please, sisters, for one last time! I shall die out here!”
“You won’t die, lazy bee! One night will teach you the value of a warm bed earned by honest labor! Away from here!”
And they pushed her off the doorstep again.
By this time it was raining hard. The little bee felt her wings and fur getting wetter and wetter; and she was so cold and sleepy she did not know what to do. She crawled along as fast as she could over the ground, hoping to come to some place where it was dry and not so cold. At last she came to a tree and began to walk up the trunk. Suddenly, just as she had come to the crotch of two branches, she fell! She fell a long, long distance and landed finally on something soft. There was no wind and no rain blowing. On coming to her wits the little bee understood that she had fallen down through a hole inside a hollow tree.
And now the little bee had the fright of her life. Coiled up near her there was a snake, a green snake with a brick-colored back. That hollow tree was the snake’s house; and the snake lay there looking at her with eyes that shone even in that darkness. Now, snakes eat bees, and like them. So when this little bee found herself so close to a fearful enemy of her kind, she just closed her eyes and murmured to herself:
“This is the last of me! Oh, how I wish I had worked!”
To her great surprise, however, the snake not only did not eat her, but spoke to her rather softly for such a terrible snake:
“How do you do, little bee? You must be a naughty little bee, to be out so late at night!”
“Yes,” she murmured, her heart in her throat. “I have been a naughty bee. I did not work, and they won’t let me in to go to my bed!”
“In that case, I shall not be so sorry to eat you!” answered the snake. “Surely there can be no harm at all in depriving the world of a useless little bee like you! I won’t have to go out for dinner tonight. I shall eat you right here!”
The little bee was about as scared as a bee can be.
“That is not fair,” she said. “It is not just! You have no right to eat me just because you are bigger than I am. Go and ask people if that isn’t so! People know what is right and wrong!”
“Ah, ah!” said the snake, lifting his head higher, “so you have a good opinion of men? So you think that the men who steal your honey are more honest than snakes who eat you? You are not only a lazy bee. You are also a silly one!”
“It is not because men are dishonest that they take our honey,” said the bee.
“Why is it then?” said the snake.
“It’s because they are more intelligent than we are!” That is what the bee said; but the snake just laughed; and then he hissed:
“Well, if you must have it that way, it’s because I’m more intelligent than you that I’m going to eat you now! Get ready to be eaten, lazy bee!”
And the snake drew back to strike, and lap up the bee at one gobble.
But the little bee had time to say:
“It’s because you’re duller than I am that you eat me!”
“Duller than you?” asked the snake, letting his head down again. “How is that, stupid?”
“However it is, it’s so!”
“I’ll have to be shown!” said the snake. “I will make a bargain with you. We will each do a trick; and the cleverest trick wins. If I win, I’ll eat you!”
“And if I win?” asked the little bee.
“If you win,” said the snake after some thought, “you may stay in here where it is warm all night. Is it a bargain?”
“It is,” said the bee.
The snake considered another moment or so and then began to laugh. He had thought of something a bee could not possibly do. He darted out of a hole in the tree so quickly the bee had scarcely time to wonder what he was up to; and just as quickly he came back with a seed pod from the eucalyptus tree that stood near the beehive and shaded it on days when the sun was hot. Now the seed pods of the eucalyptus tree are just the shape of a top; in fact, the boys and girls in Argentina call them “tops”—trompitos!
“Now you just watch and see what I’m a-going to do,” said the snake. “Watch now! Watch!…”
The snake wound the thin part of his tail around the top like a string; then, with a jump forward to his full length, he straightened his tail out. The “top” began to spin like mad on the bark floor there at the bottom of the hollow tree; and it spun and spun and spun, dancing, jumping, running off in this direction and then in that direction. And the snake laughed! And he laughed and he laughed and he laughed! No bee would ever be able to do a thing like that!
Finally the top got tired of spinning and fell over on its side.
“That is very clever!” said the bee, “I could never do that!”
“In that case, I shall have to eat you!” said the snake.
“Not just yet, please,” said the bee. “I can’t spin a top; but I can do something no one else can do!”
“What is that?” asked the snake.
“I can disappear!” said the bee.
“What do you mean, disappear?” said the snake, with some interest. “Disappear so that I can’t see you and without going away from here?”
“Without going away from here!”
“Without hiding in the ground?”
“Without hiding in the ground!”
“I give up!” said the snake. “Disappear! But if you don’t do as you say, I eat you, gobble, gobble, just like that!”
Now you must know that while the top was spinning round and round, the little bee had noticed something on the floor of the hollow tree she had not seen before: it was a little shrub, three or four inches high, with leaves about the size of a fifty-cent piece. She now walked over to the stem of this little shrub, taking care, however, not to touch it with her body. Then she said:
“Now it is my turn, Mr. Snake. Won’t you be so kind as to turn around, and count ‘one,’ ‘two,’ ‘three.’ At the word ‘three,’ you can look for me everywhere! I simply won’t be around!”
The snake looked the other way and ran off a “onetathree,” then turning around with his mouth wide open to have his dinner at last. You see, he counted so fast just to give the bee as little time as possible, under the contract they had made.
But if he opened his mouth wide for his dinner, he held it open in complete surprise. There was no bee to be found anywhere! He looked on the floor. He looked on the sides of the hollow tree. He looked in each nook and cranny. He looked the little shrub all over. Nothing! The bee had simply disappeared!
Now, the snake understood that if his trick of spinning the top with his tail was extraordinary, this trick of the bee was almost miraculous. Where had that good-for-nothing lazybones gone to? Here? No! There? No! Where then? Nowhere! There was no way to find the little bee!
“Well,” said the snake at last, “I give up! Where are you?”
A little voice seemed to come from a long way off, but still from the middle of the space inside the hollow tree.
“You won’t eat me if I reappear?” it said.
“No, I won’t eat you!” said the snake.
“I promise! But where are you?”
“Here I am,” said the bee, coming out on one of the leaves of the little shrub.
It was not such a great mystery after all. That shrub was a Sensitive-plant, a plant that is very common in South America, especially in the North of the Republic of Argentina, where Sensitive-plants grow to quite a good size. The peculiarity of the Sensitive-plant is that it shrivels up its leaves at the slightest contact. The leaves of this shrub were unusually large, as is true of the Sensitive-plants around the city of Misiones. You see, the moment the bee lighted on a leaf, it folded up tight about her, hiding her completely from view. Now, the snake had been living next to that plant all the season long, and had never noticed anything unusual about it. The little bee had paid attention to such things, however; and her knowledge this time had saved her life.
The snake was very much ashamed at being bested by such a little bee; and he was not very nice about it either. So much so, in fact, that the bee spent most of the night reminding him of the promise he had made not to eat her.
And it was a long, endless night for the little bee. She sat on the floor in one corner and the snake coiled up in the other corner opposite. Pretty soon it began to rain so hard that the water came pouring in through the hole at the top of the tree and made quite a puddle on the floor. The bee sat there and shivered and shivered; and every so often the snake would raise his head as though to swallow her at one gulp. “You promised! You promised! You promised!” And the snake would lower his head, sheepishlike, because he did not want the bee to think him a dishonest, as well as a stupid snake.
The little bee, who had been used to a warm hive at home and to warm sunlight out of doors, had never dreamed there could be so much cold anywhere as there was in that hollow tree. Nor had there ever been a night so long!
But the moment there was a trace of daylight at the hole in the top of the tree, the bee bade the snake good-by and crawled out. She tried her wings; and this time they worked all right. She flew in a bee-line straight for the door of the hive.
The policemen were standing there and she began to cry. But they simply stepped aside without saying a word, and let her in. They understood, you see, as wise old bees, that this wayward child was not the lazy bee they had driven away the evening before, but a sadder and wiser child who now knew something about the world she had to live in.
And they were right. Never before was there such a bee for working from morning till night, day in, day out, gathering pollen and honey from the flowers. When Autumn came she was the most respected bee in the hive and she was appointed teacher of the young bees who would do the work the following year. And her first lesson was something like this:
“It is not because bees are intelligent but because they work that makes them such wonderful little things. I used my intelligence only once—and that was to save my life. I should not have gotten into that trouble, however, if I had worked, like all the other bees. I used to waste my strength just flying around doing nothing. I should not have been any more tired if I had worked. What I needed was a sense of duty; and I got it that night I spent with the snake in the hollow tree.
“Work, my little bees, work!—remembering that what we are all working for, the happiness of everybody, will be hard enough to get if each of us does his full duty. This is what people say, and it is just as true of bees. Work well and faithfully and you will be happy. There is no sounder philosophy for a man or for a bee!”