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- PICCOLISSIMA - 6/6 -
moment every fly had resumed his modest livery.
But what had become of the rich yellow powder? The insect had taken care to brush himself so rapidly that Piccolissima could but just see the dust he had collected pass from one part of his body to another, till the whole came to the third pair of his legs, and was collected together in a little oval cavity, surrounded by a thick circle of skin which closed in upon it. Every fly used his middle legs afterward to press and roll up into his basket his little store.
"Hast thou forgotten how to walk faster than a snail?" said Piccolissima to her sister. "These great flies were just now dressed with a cloak of gold, and now they carry their toilet in a bundle; look at the third joint of their largest legs, which they join together and let hang behind them when they fly."
"Nonsense! I know all about them," said Linette, as she saw them fly away with their burden; "these are bees who make honey, such as I have brought you for your breakfast;" and the young girl put into her sister's hand a double slice of bread and honey.
Without noticing her breakfast, Piccolissima eagerly tasted of what remained of the yellow dust of the stamens of the lily.
"But, Linette," said she, "this does not taste like honey."
"Very true; it is for the bees to entitle it to that name, and not for me. All that I know is, that they call them honey bees because they make honey. They also make wax; and I have often seen them carry away little balls of the dust of flowers. Whether they make it afterwards into honey or wax, is their business. You have only to ask them."
Piccolissima meant to do this as soon as she had courage. Meanwhile, she rubbed in her fingers the dust of the lily, yellowed the end of her nose in smelling of it, her lips in tasting of it, still without finding in it the consistency of wax, or the taste of honey.
"How do the flies do it?" said she. "I have tasted at the bottom of the tube of a honeysuckle, or of a jasmine, something more like honey than this powder." While speaking, she was going to her bread and honey, when she perceived some one had got the start of her. A number of bees were on the edge of it, and were so busily employed that Piccolissima had an opportunity of examining them closely without fear of disturbing them. It was a pleasure to see them. From under their chins protruded, as far as their teeth, a little case of shell, opening with two little leaves, whence projected a second little case, polished and shining, half open, from which was thrust a transparent tongue, covered with hairs. This tongue was stretched out and plunged into the honey, and was then moved round and round and soaked in it; soon it was contracted, and now again it became larger; the insect seemed to enjoy all these various movements. Through the hairs and the opening pores, Piccolissima saw the liquid ascend; and between the teeth of the bee, above its admirable trunk, she saw a pretty large mouth open to receive the honey.
The little observer was willing to give up all her breakfast to the little winged gormand for the sake of the satisfaction she received from seeing how he managed to eat.
"Do not let all your honey be swallowed by those greedy flies," said Linette, who was the economist of the family.
"O, it is only just that they should have part, if they have made it," said Piccolissima, still watching them. "These are larger than those other bees who carry away the golden powder. Are they not satisfied? How their antennae come down! Does it not seem as if they were tasting thus the perfume of the honey which their wonderful trunks draw up?"
"They are just the same flies; they belong to our neighbor Thomas; one is not larger than another. I have seen them ever since I was born. I don't see any thing wonderful in them," said Linette. "It is because you are so little that you are astonished at every thing."
"O Linette, it is true that every thing I see seems to me every day more curious. All that I look at seems to grow more wonderful and beautiful as I look at it; but surely these flies that are eating my breakfast are larger than those that are opening the boxes of sweetmeats in the flowers. Ah, look! there is one still bigger than the others, so funny, so hairy, so cross, and he scolds and hums all around this sweet pea."
"That is a drone; we must chase him away; he is good for nothing; he never makes any honey." And Linette drove away the shaggy drone bee.
Just at this moment, the greedy flies who were eating the honey, and their more temperate companions who were gathering the harvest of the pollen of the flowers, all flew away at once, as if by common consent.
"Ah, you have driven them all away!" said Piccolissima; and without perceiving that the sky had clouded over, she followed the insects with her eyes. Presently there began to fall some large drops of rain.
"It rains, it rains! there is a shower coming," cried Linette.
"Can it be that these cunning bees have foreseen it?" asked Piccolissima.
"What there is no question of is," said Linette, "that my poor frock will be spoiled. It is going to rain pitchforks. There will be water enough to drown you before we reach the house, and your mites of shoes will be lost; but come along. There, do you think the leaf of that cabbage will do for a shelter for you?"
"Sorores, sorores!" said a thundering voice; and in a moment Mimi was between his two sisters, whom he sheltered under a large umbrella; taking up Piccolissima and hiding her little feet in his waistcoat pocket, and asking as he went towards the house, what had kept her out so long.
"I know what you have seen," said he, with the air of a professor. "Insects of the order hymenopteres; if you ever learn Greek, Piccolissima, you will know that that means insects with membranous wings. Imagine what a fine thing it is to understand Greek. Every word contains in itself many others. For example, honey bees have a name still longer than the others; they are called mellificae. What do you say to that? They also call them anthophilai, which means lovers of flowers."
"Your new friends, in particular the domestic bees, were among the Egyptians the emblem of royalty. Are you not pleased with that, Piccolissima? The ancient kings of France had them on their arms; bees were embroidered on their shields, and on their standards; and it was very proper that they adopted them. Have they not the royal prerogative--honey and a sting? They amass treasures, and they know how to keep them. In truth I agree with you, sisterkin; I love bees and honey; finish your bread and honey or I shall eat it."
From this day Piccolissima dreamed ever of bees; her most earnest desire was to go and see a kingdom of apis mellifica, which her brother Mimi told her was in the possession of their neighbor Thomas, who kept twenty bee hives.
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