As soon as the meal was over, the farmer, at their request, gladly undertook to show them some thing of his peculiar husbandry. A hive or two may be found any where—but a thousand hives! This was a great proprietor. Going out of the enclosure, he led them to a neighboring hill, on the south-eastern side of which, well sheltered from the northern blasts, many lanes, five or six feet wide, had been cut through the thickets, all leading to a central point, where, well sheltered by the natural hedge, he had formed one of his numerous colonies. Last night’s shower had refreshed the thirsty vegetation, washing the dust from the leaves and deepening their green; some diamond drops still hung sparkling on the foliage; and numberless blossoms were opening to the early beams of the sun. The citizens of this thriving commonwealth were literally as busy as bees, and the region was vocal with their buzz. The ladies shrunk from the well armed but laborious crowd which surrounded them, going forth light or returning laden to their homes; but the farmer assured them that the busy multitude were perfectly tame, and as harmless as sheep, unless maliciously disturbed.
Though this was but one of several colonies, the hives were too numerous to be easily counted. They were all cylindrical in shape, being made of the bark of the cork-tree, which is an excellent non-conductor of heat, and were each covered with an inverted pan of earthenware, the edge of which overhung the hive like a cornice. Each hive was fastened together with pegs of hard wood, so that it could be easily taken to pieces, and the joints were stopped with peat.
Full of the economy of the industrious tribes, whose habits he had studied so profitably, the farmer talked long and well on the subject. From him they learned that the bees would range a league and more from the hive, if they could not gather honey nearer home. That he gathered two harvests a year, spring and autumn each yielding one, while the cold winter and the parched and blossomless summer equally suspended the profitable labor of his winged workmen. He pointed out the plants whose blossoms were preferred by the bees, and professed to be able to distinguish the honey gathered in each month, varying as it did in qualities according to the succession of flowers which bloomed through the seasons, and he gave a preference to the product of the rosemary over all other plants.
Lady Mabel was delighted with the method and the scale of this branch of rural industry. “We have Moors enough in Scotland. Indeed, I wish so much of them had not fallen to papa’s lot. But when I go home, I will endeavor to turn these wastes to better account, and rival our friend here, by establishing a bee farm on a grand scale.”
“You must not forget to carry the rosemary and other choice plants with you,” said Mrs. Shortridge, “and some beams of the Portuguese sun, to secure two seasons of flowers in the year.”