The late afternoon sun shone warmly on a little clearing some two miles from Woodcraft. It flooded with soft golden light the scar on the face of the great forest which nature, ever abhorrent of the ugly, was trying to mask under a riot of fireweed and early goldenrod. Blackened stumps were half hidden under tangled canes of the red raspberry. In the more open places low bush blueberries carpeted the ground. At the upper end of the clearing two boys squatted beside the charred stump of a great pine.
" There he comes, Billy. Line's started again," whispered or.e.
" Tain't a he, it's a she," replied Billy dis-gustedl}'. " Don't you know that all worker bees are females? Males don't make no-honey ; they're the drones." Billy was strong on facts, if weak on grammar. M There comes another and another right behind. They're making a mighty short flight. We must be pretty close to the tree. Gee, Spud, I bet the eyes of some of the fellers will stick out when they see us luggin' in a barrel of honey ! "
" Ain't got it yet," replied Spud senten-tiously. " That tree is sure out of bounds, too. What we goin' to do about that? "
" Go on," said Billy decidedly. " Tain't far out, and I reckon the big chief won't say nothin' when he sees that honey. Gee, but this will score some for the Delawares ! "
The two boys were Billy Buxby and Spud Ely. Billy had been responsible for what he called the " big idea," which was to line out a bee tree, and Spud had closed with it at once. With all his happy-go-lucky carelessness Billy was well versed in outdoor life and by his powers of observation was continually surprising even those who knew him best. Had he been less fun-loving and careless he might easily have been one of the trusted leaders among the younger 'boys of the camp. But Billy's impulsiveness was apt to lead him into situations bordering on the reckless. He was always dreaming of doing big things and inclined to act on the inspiration of the moent, heedless of consequences.
It is doubtful if another boy in camp had noticed that there were honey-bees working among the wild flowers. Billy had kept his discovery to himself until he had perfected a plan whereby to win laurels for himself and score for the Delawares. It would not have been Billy, however, not to have dropped mysterious hints of the great coup in woodcraft which he was about to pull off, and, as he was never taken seriously, it was soon dubbed " Buxby's buncombe " and became a standing joke.
Billy stood for all the good-natured chaff of his companions without a protest. In fact he rather encouraged it that his final triumph might appear the greater. He went about with an air of secrecy, and for one whole day was engaged in making a mysterious something of which he would allow no one a glimpse. This was nothing more or less than a bee box, made after a plan once shown him by an old bee hunter from whom Billy had learned many tricks in the gentle art of " lining " bees.
The box was a very simple affair, but admirably adapted to its purpose. It was made from an old cigar box and was perhaps three inches square by three and one-half deep. Half-way down on one side Billy made a slit just wide enough to admit a piece of ordinary window glass cut to fit. Inside he tacked two little strips or guides on which the glass rested. When the glass slide was in place it divided the box into an upper and lower chamber. The cover had a half-inch hole in the middle with a piece of glass fastened over it on the inside. The whole thing was crude, but in a secret test Billy found that it answered his purpose fully. It was then that he took Spud Ely into his confidence and it was arranged that on the following afternoon they would give Billy's plan a try-out.
Preserving the utmost secrecy the two boys sought the old clearing, where Billy had previously assured himself that the bees were also at work. In the lower compartment he put a piece of bread on which he poured a liberal amount of syrup, a two-ounce bottle of which he had begged from the cook. Then he slipped the glass slide in place and was ready for business.
It was not long before his experienced eyes singled out a honey-bee at work on a spray of goldenrod on the edge of the clearing. Approaching softly with the box in one hand and the cover in the other he held the box just beneath the busy little insect and gently brushed her into it with the cover, immediately clapping this in place.
" Gee, that was easy ! " exclaimed the admiring Spud, who entertained a wholesome respect for all insects with stings.
" Pooh, that's nothin'! I've seen fellers pick 'em right up in their fingers. If you ain't afraid of bees they won't bother you none. They know when people are afraid of 'em and when they ain't," replied Billy.
The bee buzzed about angrily for a few minutes, but in her darkened prison presently quieted down, the boys taking turns at peep^ ing at her through the glass in the cover. When she had taken to a quiet examination of her narrow quarters Billy very gently pulled out the glass slide. It did not take her long to discover the syrup and, forgetful of everything but the unexpected store of sweets, she was soon busy " loadin' up," as Billy expressed it.
Carefully he lifted the box and placed it on a convenient stump, then removed the cover. Presently, loaded with all she could carry, the bee took wing. Rising heavily she circled overhead once or twice to get her bearings, then shot away in a straight line across the clearing.
" Now what do we do, chase along after her ? " asked Spud.
" Naw, wait for her to come back, you numskull," replied Billy. " And while we're waiting let's catch another."
This was soon done, and the second bee was liberated as the first had been. To the surprise of the boys this one took a direction at right angles to the course of the first.
" Great snakes ! " exclaimed Billy excitedly. " These woods are full of bee trees ! "
Spud glanced at the box and just then a bee disappeared within. " Another bee has found the syrup ! I just saw it go in I " he exclaimed, becoming more and more excited.
" 'Tain't another one ; it's the first one come back, just like I told you she would." Billy peeped into the box. " I thought so," he added; " she's brought another bee with her.
When they go back they'll bring some more till the whole darn hive knows just where this little old box is."
It was even as Billy said. Presently the bees were clustering thick around the box and were continually arriving and departing, forming a double line straight to the hive in the hollow heart of some forest giant beyond the clearing. In the meantime the second bee had carried the good news home and rallied a force of workers, so that soon two lines were established.
" What will we do, split up and you follow one line while I follow the other ? " asked Spud.
" How do you expect to follow the line if you ain't got the box ? Think a bee's goin' to take you by the hand and lead you ?" asked Billy sarcastically, forgetful that this was a wholly new experience to Spud. " We'll stick together and work out the first line, and then if we have time we'll try the other."
He drew out his knife and blazed the stump on which the bee box sat. Then squatting down he carefully sighted along the second line of bees and cut a rough arrow with the point indicating the exact line of flight. " Now,' said he, " we can come back any old time and run down that line."