What Shall We Do Now? 161
If the farmer's wife makes her own butter there will be an opportunity to help her in the dairy among the wide red pans of milk and the cool cleanness. Perhaps she will let you use the skimmer. Turning the churn is not much fun except- just when the butter forms.
Another thing that the farmer's wife will very likely let you do is to "ring" the bees when they swarm. "Ringing" the bees is beating a tin pot or a shovel with a stick close to the swarm. The sound is supposed, by some country-people, to stupefy or please them, and thus check any desire to fly off; but many bee-masters think it useless. Very likely the practice has come down from the old days before sugar was cheap—when every one wanted honey for sweetening purposes and therefore most persons kept bees—and has lost its true meaning on the way. "Ringing" probably was then meant to announce to the neighbours that your bees were swarming, so that it would be more easy to claim them if they strayed to another's ground.
Bees swarm on hot days in the early summer, usually in a tree, but sometimes in a room, if the window is open, and often in a bush, quite close to the ground. When they swarm in a tree you would think a black snowstorm was raging all around it. Every moment the cluster of bees grows larger and larger, until, after half an hour or so, it is quiet. Then the swarm has to be taken. This is the most interesting part, but you must be careful not to be too near in case an accident occurs and the bees become enraged and sting you. The following is part of a description of the taking of a swarm of bees in a neighbour's garden last summer :—
When all the bees had at last settled, Mrs. Peters, in the absence of Mr. Peters, sent for Mr. Cronk. Mr. Cronk lives close by, and is also a bee-master. Meanwhile she bustled about the kitchen making a mixture of cold tea and sugar. This being for the refreshment of the swarm, it was spread on the inside of an empty straw hive.
Mr. Cronk came at once, armed with a net, which he placed over his head. It made him look like a diver, and he laughed hugely when the