We must suppose the Melipona to arrange her cells in level layers, as she already does her cylindrical cells; and we must further suppose, and this is the greatest difficulty, that she can somehow judge accurately at what distance to stand from her fellow-labourers when several are making their spheres; but she is already so far enabled to judge of distance, that she always describes her spheres so as to intersect largely; and then she unites the points of intersection by perfectly flat surfaces.
From the experiment of the ridge of vermilion wax, we can clearly see that if the bees were to build for themselves a thin wall of wax, they could make their cells of the proper shape, by standing at the proper distance from each other, by excavating at the same rate, and by endeavouring to make equal spherical hollows, but never allowing the spheres to break into each other.
We see how important a part excavation plays in the construction of the cells; but it would be a great error to suppose that the bees cannot build up a rough wall of wax in the proper position--that is, along the plane of intersection between two adjoining spheres.
The work of construction seems to be a sort of balance struck between many bees, all instinctively standing at the same relative distance from each other, all trying to sweep equal spheres, and then building up, or leaving ungnawed, the planes of intersection between these spheres.
Nor does there seem to me any great difficulty in a single insect (as in the case of a queen-wasp) making hexagonal cells, if she work alternately on the inside and outside of two or three cells commenced at the same time, always standing at the proper relative distance from the parts of the cells just begun, sweeping spheres or cylinders, and building up intermediate planes.
Thus, as I believe, the most wonderful of all known instincts, that of the hive-bee, can be explained by natural selection having taken advantage of numerous, successive, slight modifications of simpler instincts; natural selection having by slow degrees, more and more perfectly, led the bees to sweep equal spheres at a given distance from each other in a double layer, and to build up and excavate the wax along the planes of intersection.
Instantly the entire sphere burst into a mighty whispering, sharp with protest, almost twanging goldenly, if a whisper could possibly be considered to twang, rising higher, sinking deeper, the two extremes of the registry of sound threatening to complete the circle and coalesce into the bull-mouthed thundering he had so often heard beyond the taboo distance.
Like a battering ram, this king-post could be driven end-onward against the mighty red-iridescent sphere.
Of one thing he was certain: No drop of red dew shaken from the lion-mane of some sun in torment, was the sounding sphere.
Undoubtedly, since so much could be enclosed in so little a thing as the foundation stone of a public building, this enormous sphere should contain vast histories, profounds of research achieved beyond man's wildest guesses, laws and formulae that, easily mastered, would make man's life on earth, individual and collective, spring up from its present mire to inconceivable heights of purity and power.
Bassett, with his own eyes, saw colour and colours transform into sound till the whole visible surface of the vast sphere was a-crawl and titillant and vaporous with what he could not tell was colour or was sound.