“Waal, I can say, I like it,” answered Gershom, first passing his thumb along the edge of the axe, in order to ascertain its state; then swinging the tool, with a view to try its “hang.”
“I can’t say much for your axe, stranger, for this helve has no tarve to’t, to my mind; but, sich as it is, down must come this elm, though ten millions of bees should set upon me for my pains.”
This was no idle boast of Waring’s. Worthless as he was in so many respects, he was remarkably skilful with the axe, as he now proved by the rapid manner in which he severed the trunk of the large elm on which he was at work. He inquired of Ben where he should “lay the tree,” and when it came clattering down, it fell on the precise spot indicated. Great was the confusion among the bees at this sudden downfall of their long-cherished home. The fact was not known to their enemy, but they had inhabited that tree for a long time; and the prize now obtained was the richest he had ever made in his calling. As for the insects, they filled the air in clouds, and all the invaders deemed it prudent to withdraw to some little distance for a time, lest the irritated and wronged bees should set upon them and take an ample revenge. Had they known their power, this might easily have been done, no ingenuity of man being able to protect him against the assaults of this insignificant-looking animal, when unable to cover himself, and the angry little heroes are in earnest. On the present occasion, however, no harm befell the marauders. So suddenly had the hive tumbled that its late occupants appeared to be astounded, and they submitted to their fate as men yield to the power of tempests and earthquakes. In half an hour most of them were collected on an adjacent tree, where doubtless a consultation on the mode of future proceedings was held, after their fashion.
The Indians were more delighted with le Bourdon’s ingenious mode of discovering the hive than with the richness of the prize; while Ben himself, and Gershom, manifested most satisfaction at the amount of the earnings. When the tree was cut in pieces, and split, it was ascertained that years of sweets were contained within its capacious cavities, and Ben estimated the portion that fell to his share at more than three hundred pounds of good honey—comb included—after deducting the portions that were given to the Indians, and which were abstracted by Gershom. The three last, however, could carry but little, as they had no other means of bearing it away than their own backs.
The honey was not collected that night. The day was too far advanced for that; and le Bourdon—certainly never was name less merited than this sobriquet as applied to the active young bee-hunter—but le Bourdon, to give him his quaint appellation, offered the hospitalities of his own cabin to the strangers, promising to put them on their several paths the succeeding day, with a good store of honey in each knapsack.