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WHEN UNCLE HANNIBAL SPOKE AT THE CHAPEL
FOR a month or more the old Squire had looked perplexed. Two of his lifelong friends were rival candidates for the senatorship from Maine, and each had expressed the hope that the old Squire would aid him in his canvass. Both candidates knew that many of the old Squire's friends and neighbors looked to him for guidance in political, matters. Without seeming to express personal preference, the old Squire could not choose between them, for both were statesmen of wide experience and in every way good men for the office.
The first was Hannibal Hamlin, who had been Vice-President with Abraham Lincoln in 1861-1865: "Uncle Hannibal," as we young people at the farm always called him after that memorable visit of his, when we ate "fried pies" together. He had been Senator before the Civil. War, and also Governor of Maine; now, after the war, in 1868, he had again been nominated for the senatorship under the auspices of the Republican party.
The other candidate, the Hon. Lot M. Morrill, had been Governor of Maine in 1858, and had also been United States Senator. I cherished a warm feeling for him, for he was the man who had so opportunely helped me to capture the runaway calf, Little Dagon.
Politically, we young folks were much divided in our sympathies that fall. My cousins Addison and Theodora were ardent supporters of Uncle Hannibal, whereas I, thinking of that calf, could not help feeling loyal to Senator Morrill. Hot debates we had! Halstead alone was indifferent. At last Ellen declared herself on my side and thus made a tie at table. I never knew whom the old Squire favored; he never told us and was always reluctant to speak of the matter.
It was a very close contest, and in the legislature was finally decided by a plurality of one in favor of Mr. Hamlin. Seventy-five votes were cast for him, seventy-four for Mr. Morrill, and there was one blank vote, over which a dispute later arose.
Earlier in the season, when the legislators who were to decide the matter at Augusta were being elected, both candidates made personal efforts to win popular support. Thus it happened that Uncle Hannibal on one of his visits to his native town that year, promised to give us a little talk. Since there was no public hall in the neighborhood, the gathering was to be held at the capacious old Methodist chapel.
There had been no regular preaching there of late, and the house had fallen into lamentable disrepair. The roof was getting leaky; the wind had blown off several of the clapboards; and a large patch of the plaster, directly over the pulpit, had fallen from the ceiling.
Fall was now drawing on, with colder weather, and ' so, on the day of Uncle Hannibal's talk, the old Squire sent Addison and me over to the chapel to kindle a fire in the big box stove and also to sweep out the place.
We drove over in the morning the meeting was to begin at two o'clock and set to work at once. While we were sweeping up the dιbris we noticed insects flying round overhead. For a while, however, we gave them little heed; Addison merely remarked that there was probably a hornets' nest up in the loft, but that hornets would not molest any one if they were left alone. But after we had kindled a fire in the stove and the long funnel had begun to heat the upper part of the room, they began to fly in still greater numbers. Soon one of them darted down at us, and Addison pulled off his hat to drive it away.
"I say!" he cried, as his eyes followed the insect where it alighted on the ceiling. "That's no hornet! That's a honeybee and an Egyptian, too!"
We quickly made sure that they were indeed Egyptian bees. They were coming down through the cracks between the laths at the place where the plaster had fallen from the ceiling.
"Do you suppose there's a swarm of bees up there in the loft?" Addison exclaimed. "I'll bet there is," he added, "a runaway swarm that's gone in at the gable end outside, where the clapboards are off."
He climbed up on the high pulpit and with the handle of the broom rapped on the ceiling. We immediately heard a deep humming sound overhead, and so many bees flew down through the cracks that Addison descended in haste. We retreated toward the door.
"What are we going to do when Senator Hamlin and all the people come?" I asked.
"I don't know!" Addison muttered, perplexed. "That old loft is roaring full of bees. We've got to do something with them, or there won't be any speaking here to-day."
We thought of stopping up the cracks, but there were too many of them to make that practicable. To dislodge the swarm from the loft, too, would be equally difficult, for the more we disturbed the bees the more furious they would become.
At last we thought of the old Squire's bee smoker with which he had sometimes subdued angry swarms that were bent on stinging.
"You drive home as fast as you can and get the smoker and a ladder," Addison said, "and I'll stay here to watch the fire in the stove."
So I drove old Nance home at her best pace. When I got there I looked for the old Squire to tell him of our trouble, but found that he had already driven to the village to meet Senator Hamlin and the other speakers of the afternoon. Grandmother and the girls were too busy getting ready for the distinguished guests, who were to have supper with us, to give much heed to my story of the bees. So I got the smoker, the box of elm-wood punk and a ladder about fourteen feet long, and with this load drove back at top speed to the meetinghouse.
Addison had eaten his share of the luncheon that we had brought, and while I devoured mine he pottered with the smoker; neither of us understood very well how it worked. There are now several kinds of bee smokers on the market; but the old Squire had contrived this one by making use of an old-fashioned bellows to puff the smoke from out of a two-quart tin can in which the punk wood was fired by means of a live coal. The nose of the bellows was inserted at one end of the can; and into a hole at the other end the old gentleman had soldered a short tin tube through which he could blow the smoke in any direction he desired. In order not to burn his fingers he had inclosed both bellows and can in supporting strips of wood; thus he could hold the contrivance in one hand and squeeze the bellows with the other.
As we were unfamiliar with the contrivance, we both had to climb the ladder one to hold the can and the other to pump the bellows. We lost so much time in getting started that when at last we were ready to /begin operations people had already begun to arrive. They asked us all sorts of questions and bothered us a good deal, but we kept right on at our task. The smoker was working well, and we felt greatly encouraged. Those rings of black vapor drove the bees back and, as the smoke rose through the cracks, prevented them from coming down again.
We were still up that ladder by the pulpit, puffing smoke at those cracks, when the old Squire and Uncle Hannibal arrived, with Judge Peters and the Hon. Hiram Bliss. The house was now full of people, and they cheered the newcomers; there was not a little laughter and joking when some one told the visiting statesmen that a swarm of bees was overhead.
"Boys," Uncle Hannibal cried, "do you suppose there's much honey up there?"
He asked the Squire whether Egyptian bees were good honey gatherers, and laughed heartily when the old gentleman told him what robbers they were and how savagely they stung.
"Judge!" Uncle Hannibal cried to Judge Peters. "That's what's the matter with our Maine politics. The Egyptians are robbing us of our liberties!"
That idea seemed to stick in his mind, for later, when he began his address, he referred humorously to several prominent leaders of the opposing party as bold, bad Egyptians. "We shall have to smoke them out," he said, laughing. "And I guess that the voters of this district are going to do it, and the boys, too," he continued, pointing up to us on the ladder.
He had refused to speak from the pulpit, and so stood on the floor of the house in what he described as his proper place; the pulpit, he said, was no place for politics.
After so many years I cannot pretend to remember all that Uncle Hannibal said; besides, my attention was largely engrossed in directing the nozzle of the smoker at those cracks between the laths. Addison and I were badly crowded on the ladder, and the small rungs were not comfortable to stand on. Now and then, in spite of our efforts, an Egyptian got through the cracks and dived down near Uncle Hannibal's head.
"A little more smoke up there, boys!" he would cry, pretending to dodge the insect. "I thought I heard an Egyptian then, and it sounded a little like Brother Morrill's voice!"
WHEN UNCLE HANNIBAL SPOKE AT THE CHAPEL
The great buzzing that was going on up in the loft was plainly audible below. Now and again Uncle Hannibal cocked his ear to listen, and once he cried, "The Egyptians are rallying! We are going to have a hard fight with them this year. Don't let them rob us!"
When the old Squire introduced the next speaker, Judge Peters, Senator Hamlin remarked that Peters was a hard stinger himself, as many a criminal had learned to his cost. And when the Hon. Hiram Bliss was introduced, Uncle Hannibal cut in with the remark that we need make no mistake on account of Mr. Bliss's name, for when he got after the Egyptians they would be in anything except a blissful state of mind. He also jocosely bade Mr. Bliss not to talk too long.
"We must get that honey," he said, laughing heartily. "I'd much rather have some honey than hear one of your old dry speeches!"
During Mr. Bliss's address we boys were wondering whether Senator Hamlin really intended to try to get that honey. We were inclined to think that he had merely been joking; but Mr. Bliss had no sooner sat down than Uncle Hannibal was on his feet.
"Now for that honey!" he cried with twinkling eyes. "I feel sure there's enough up there for every one to have a bite."
"How are you going to get it?" some one said.
"Why, go right up and take it!" he exclaimed. "You know, my friends, that all through the Civil War I had the misfortune to be Vice-President, which is about the most useless, sit-still-and-do-nothing office in this country. All those four years I wanted to go to the front and do something. I wanted to be a general or a private with a gun. The war is past, thank God, but I haven't got over that feeling yet, and now I want to lead an attack on those Egyptians! Back there over the singers' gallery I think I see a scuttle that leads up into the loft. Come on, boys, and fetch a bucket or two, or some baskets. Let's storm the fort!"
The crowd was laughing now, and men were shouting advice of all sorts. Uncle Hannibal was already on his way to the singers' gallery, and Addison, hastily thrusting the smoker into my hands, got down from the ladder and ran to help our distinguished visitor. Others followed them up the back stairs to the gallery; but the old Squire, seeing what was likely to happen, came to my assistance on the ladder. Taking the smoker into his own hands, he worked it vigorously in order to send as much smoke as possible up into the loft.
But on pushing up the scuttle the opening was found to be no more than fifteen inches square; and Uncle Hannibal was a two-hundred-pound man with broad shoulders. He mounted the singers' bench, but he could barely get his large black head up through the hole.
"Ah!" he cried in disgust. "Why didn't they make it larger? Just my luck. I never can get to the front!"
Grabbing Addison playfully by the shoulder he said, "I will put you up."
But at first Addison held back. "They'll sting me to death!" he protested.
"Wait!" Uncle Hannibal cried. "We will rig you up for it!" And leaning over the front rail of the gallery, he shouted, "Has any lady got a veil two or three veils?"
Several women gave their veils, which Uncle Hannibal tied over Addison's hat; then the Senator put his own large gloves on Addison's hands. By that time the gallery was full of people all laughing and giving advice. A man produced some string, and with it they tied Addison's trouser legs down and fastened his jacket sleeves tight round the wrists. Then Uncle Hannibal lifted him up as if he had been a child and at one boost shoved him up through the scuttle hole. When Addison had got to his feet in the loft, the Senator passed him a wicker lunch basket and a tin pail.
Tiptoeing his way perilously over the scantlings, laths and plaster, Addison made his way back to the rear end of the meetinghouse. The honeycombs were mostly on a beam against the boards of the outer wall. The punk smoke was so dense up there that he could hardly get his breath. The bees, nearly torpid from the smoke, were crawling sluggishly along on the underside of the roof, and offered no resistance when Addison broke off the combs.
With his basket and pail well filled, he tiptoed back to the scuttle and handed the spoils to Uncle Hannibal, who instantly led the way down the back stairs and outdoors.
"We have despoiled the Egyptians!" he cried. "I didn't do much myself, but a younger hero has appeared. Now for a sweet time!" And he passed the pail and basket round.
There was as much as twenty pounds of honey, and every one got at least a taste. The old Squire and I had now stopped puffing smoke, and we joined the others outside. To this day I remember just how Uncle Hannibal looked as he stood there on the meetinghouse platform, with a chunk of white, dripping comb in his hand. He took a big bite from it; and I said to myself that, if he took many more bites like that one, there would not be much honey left for the old Squire and me. But we got a taste of it, and very good honey it was.
Our victory over the Egyptians, however, was not yet complete. Either because the smoke was now clearing up, or because they smelled the honey that we were eating, they began to come round to the front end of the house, where they hovered over the people and darted down savagely at them. Outcries arose; men and women tried frantically to brush the insects away. Horses out at the sheds began to squeal. More bees were coming round every moment the angriest bees I have ever seen! They stung wherever they touched. Judge Peters and Mr. Bliss were fighting the insects with both hands; and Uncle Hannibal, too, was pawing the air, with guffaws of laughter.
"The Egyptians are getting the best of us!" he cried. "We had better retire in as good order as we can or it will be another Bull Run!"
Retreat was clearly the part of discretion, and so the whole gathering streamed away down the road to a safe distance. In fact, there was a pretty lively time before all of the people had unhitched their teams and got away. But in spite of many bee stings it had been a very hilarious meeting; and it is safe to say that all who were at the Methodist chapel that afternoon wanted Uncle Hannibal for Senator.
The old Squire drove home with his guests to supper; Addison and I gathered up our brooms and bee smoker and followed them.
At supper Uncle Hannibal asked us to tell him more about those Egyptian bees, of which he had never heard before; and after the meal he went out to see the colonies in the garden. He walked up to a hive and boldly caught one of the bees between his thumb and forefinger. Holding it fast, he picked up a pea pod for it to sting, so that he could see how long a stinger it had.
"Ah, but that is a cruel chap!" he said. "You'll have to use brimstone, I guess, to get those Egyptians out of the meetinghouse."
In point of fact, brimstone was what two of the church stewards did use, a few weeks later, before there were services at the chapel again; but they did not find much honey left.