The Mother Hive

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Actions and Reactions, as published and frequently reprinted between 1907 and 1950.


[Page 83, line 2] Wax-moth several members of the family Galleridæ infest the nests of bees: G. mellonella, the Greater Wax Moth and the smaller wax-moth Anchræia grisella, both of which make silk-lined tunnels through the combs which are ruined in the process. ( Herbert Mace, The Complete Handbook of Bee-Keeping, Ward Lock Ltd., revised and reprinted, 1978. p. 162.)

[Page 83, line 6] fanners bees detailed to ventilate the hive by fanning with their wings.

[Page 83, line 10] honey-flight workers graduate to this after internal duties and a few short flights to orientate themselves.

[Page 83, line 13] foul-brooded Bacillus pluton is the European version, Bacillus larvae American, which is most prevalent in the United Kingdom. (Mace, p. 155)

[Page 83, line 21] brood-frame where the young bees are reared.

[Page 84, line 3] Melissa A feminine proper name, and the Greek for ‘bee’; also the name of a benevolent witch in “Orlando Furioso”, a poem by Ludovice Ariosto (1474-1533).

[Page 85, lines 2-3] write me, at least, as one that loved her fellow-workers an echo of the poem “Abou Ben Adhem and the Angel” by James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859):

I pray thee then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow-men.

[Page 85, line 20] scrap-wax see Mace (p.175) for the production of waxs and cell-building, and (p.15) for propolis which is used by the bees to fill unwanted crevices in the hive. The name is Greek for ‘before the city’ and is believed to derive from its use by certain races of bees to build defensive walls inside the entrance of the hive (p. 15) so that only bees can enter.

[Page 85, line 28] show a leg an old cry from the days when women were allowed on board naval vessels in harbour and joined their men in hammocks at night. When the hands were called in the morning, the women were allowed a lie-in on production of a – probably – hairless leg. This practice ceased in about 1840 although the expression (and hammocks) remained in use for many years thereafter

[Page 85, lines 33 and overleaf] building pillars to keep ‘em out is purely a Cypriote trick unworthy of British bees… The day-old bee, quoting the Wax Moth, is arguing that the best defence is to take a conciliatory attitude towards your possible enemies, rather as Liberal politicians sometimes argued in the years before the Great War. This was not a view that commended itself to Kipling, who had a strong and urgent sense of the need for single-minded disciplined defence of the realm, precisely the principle that the Wax Moth was undermining by appealing to the unworldly young. [See the verse “Natural Theology”, and the story “The Army of a Dream” in Traffics and Discoveries].

[Page 86, line 32]“ducky” and “darling” they are exhibiting sentimental, even lesbian, tendencies, like some ot the women in “My Son’s Wife” (A Diversity of Creatures). The Wax Moth’s insincere technique of persuasion by appealing to feelings, and insisting on the innately loving feelings between ‘sisters’ (worker bees, on whom the hive depends, are females), reflects Kipling’s contempt for Liberal insistence on the brotherhood of man. [see his verses “The Dykes,” “Natural Theology” etc.

[Page 87, line 8] fan see page 83, line 6 above.

[Page 87, line 27] carissima the Italian for dearest.

[Page 87, line 30] you drop them in patches a queen will lay 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day, but in a regular manner into adjoining cells in the honeycomb.

[Page 88, line 13] ivy honey the flavour of honey depends on the flowers from which it is gathered.

[Page 89, line 2] Levantine parasites inhabitants of the Eastern Mediterranean area – at one time applied to somewhat unsavoury characters, which is the significance here.

[Page 89, line 19 ] stillness, warmth and food six pounds of honey is needed to make a pound of wax.

[Page 89, line 30] Cheshire R Cheshire, author of Bees and Bee-Keeping,
Root A I Root (published with E R Root, (The A B C and X Y Z of Bee-Keeping (1877),
Langstroth the Rev. Lorenzo L. Langstroth (1810-1895)

[Page 90, line 11] ‘Nuff said ! slang for ‘enough said’.

[Page 12, line 12] Chuck it ! similar – ‘Stop it !’

[Page 91, line 6] Sacharissa perhaps ‘sweetheart’, from sakkharon, Greek for ‘sugar’.

[Page 92, line 2] a drone leg In the worker bee, the legs form one of the most complex tool-kits in all natural history. Their rear legs have pollen baskets surrounded by stiff hairs on the outside which permit them to bring home masses of pollen. Inside the hind legs are the ‘pollen combs’ and between two of the joints are the so-called ‘wax shears’. Edwin Way Teale, The Golden Throng, A Book about Bees (1943).

[Page 93, line 8] the Swarming Cry it was believed that swarming, the mass departure of all or many of the bees from an overcrowded hive, or one into which a new queen had been introduced – was led by the queen uttering such a cry. Teale says, though:

And yet it is not strictly true to say they follow the queen. They cluster where she alights, and they encircle her in a vast living ball of flying insects when she is on the wing. But in many cases thousands of the tumultuous throng have already taken to the air before the queen appears. In fact, swarms have been known to leave the hive without a queen. Some higher power, the spirit of the hive, seems to dictate when the swarm begins.

[Page 93, line 9] Job’s warhorse He saith among the trumpets Ha , ha ! and he smelleth the battle afar off. [Job, 39, 25.]

[Page 93, line 10] her immense age (three years) a queen may live for five years, but is usually replaced after two.

[Page 93, line 11] cañon usually anglicized as ‘canyon’, a deep gorge with a river at the bottom – from the Spanish for ‘tube’.
pibroch martial music on the bagpipes (Scottish).

[Page 93, line 16] La Reine le veult ‘the Queen wills it’ – traditional Norman French for the Royal Assent to an Act of Parliament.

[Page 94, lines 6-7] A Light … Hot Smoke what happened emerges in the conversation and action below – the Bee-keeper, wearing protective clothing and a veil opens the top of the hive and directs smoke at the bees who commence to fill their honey-sacs and so become calm.

[Page 94, line 26] a little light will burn a sulphur-candle to disinfect the hive.

[Page 94, line 23) the Day of Judgment the final trial of souls at the end of the world – many references in the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

[Page 95, line 22] bald and fray-winged the average life of a bee is six or seven weeks’ ordinary activity in the field.

[Page 96, line 1] mating flights there is normally only one mating flight for a drone.

[Page 96, line 3] feelers the bees’ antennae, essential organs of smell.

[Page 96, line 6] six-sided cell the strongest and most efficient form of construction.

[Page 97, line 8] two miles away usually regarded as the maximum radius of flight.

[Page 97, line 22] a fool’s eyes are in the ends of the earth an echo of Proverbs, 17, 24: Wisdom is before him that hath understanding: but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.

[Page 99, line 1] Royal Cell a larger cell for the rearing of a future queen.

[Page 99, line 3] kopje pronounced ‘kopie’ – Afrikaans for a small hill. The South African War of 1899-1202 had been over for six years, and the British public would have been familiar with the word, as such hills featured largely in the fighting. See “The Way that He Took” (Land and Sea Tales) and “The Captive” (Traffics and Discoveries).

[Page 99, line 13] Royal Jelly a fluid similar to thick cream produced by bees for feeding prospective queens; other grubs are reared on it for two or three days, after which they go onto honey.

[Page 99, line 30] The Book of Queens not traced, probably invented by the author.

[Page 99, line 31] the Great Ash Ygdrasil the tree that holds together earth, heaven and hell in Norse mythology.

[Page 100, line 20] a new heaven and a new earth Revelations, 21, 1: And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away and there was no more sea.

[Page 100, lines 25-27] Aster garden flowers usually known as ‘Michaelmas Daisies’, order Compostae.
Crocus hardy cormous plant of the order Irideae, found in gardens and the wild.
Ladies’ Smock one of the hellebores also known as ‘Cuckoo-Pint’.
Chrysanthemum order Compositae – over 200 species blooming in the autumn.
Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus, a shrub with white flowers and scarlet berries.

[Page 100, line 29] Hymettus a mountain south-east of Athens, famous for its honey.

[Page 100, line 31] the Order of the Flowers the flowers at lines 25-27 above are not mentioned in the order in which they bloom; Kipling gives the bees a table to learn by heart.

[Page 103, line 16] confusing post hoc with propter hoc post hoc ergo propter hoc is Latin for ‘after this, therefore because of this’, an expression used to ridicule the habit of confusing sequence with consequence.

[Page 104, line 4] circular cell-work see Note to Page 96, line 6 above.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved