The swarm first appeared above the dozing village in the silvered light of a fat moon, which, though no one had noticed, looked remarkably like a well-fed oyster. An unusual beginning, not least, because all the bees were white: a hovering cloud of albino snow.
Then there was the incident of the rabbit. Old Willum had been sleeping under his customary bench, his elderly white head cushioned less than softly on yesterday’s newspaper. He claimed he was woken up by a white rabbit, which kissed him soundly on the mouth before lolloping over to the middle of the village green and disintegrating into the air as a swarm of white bees.
‘‘But Owd Will’m likes a drop of the heavy stuff,’’ said Gabe.
‘‘That he does, but the bees are real enough,’’ retorted John.
The two beekeepers were suiting up in order to deal with the swarm which, twelve hours on, was preventing the villagers living around the green from leaving their homes.
‘‘Real, but not right, if you know what I mean. Who’s ever heard of nocturnal, albino bees?’’
‘‘Granted, but it’s daylight now and the bees are still here. We’ve seen ‘em, same as Old Willum. He just got a bit confused as to what he was seeing. A bit like the time he woke up thinking he was a giant blue caterpillar.’’
‘‘Ah, but that was because the vicar had wrapped him up in an owd sleepin’ bag while he was catching zzzs. Confused him mightily until he sobered up, that did,’’ Gabe sniggered and carried on sniggering for longer than was truly necessary. John ignored him, treating him to a consciously dignified silence whilst continuing to don the necessary protective clothing.
Veiled, gloved and booted, the two men walked towards the swarm which, at their approach, sailed sedately across the green and into Mrs Dodgson’s award winning rose garden. Gabe and John followed in steady, if not exactly speedy, pursuit, too focussed on the bees to pay attention to Mrs Dodgson’s prize red and white blooms or the snow white cat crouched above them on the clematis arch.
As they passed under the arch, a cloud of white smoke from Mrs Dodgson’s garden bonfire wafted in front of their veils and by the time the smoke had thinned they had lost sight of the swarm. Though they searched the entire garden and those of all the neighbouring black and white cottages, they failed to find the bees’ new location. It was as if they had faded into the breeze.
The men were bemused and not a little frustrated, they had been banking on the unlikely swarm being worth a bit, but the villagers, now pouring like molasses out from their homes, were not unduly concerned. They were just grateful to be free of the constraint and able to be getting on with their business, whatever that might be. The village buzzed with renewed activity.
Mrs Dodgson remained indoors longer than most of her neighbours, but then her giant cannabis plants were going through a tricky stage in their growth cycle and needed her full attention. An earlier crop that hadn’t had enough of it, and had suffered as a consequence, was burning away discreetly on the bonfire in her back garden.
Out in the garden, the white cat, who had grown tired of the clematis and bored with waiting, stretched and grinned. He grew a pair of long ears and shortened his tail to a fluffy white scrap, then hopped off towards the rabbit hole at the foot of a nearby oak, disappearing in a puff of white fur and a fading smoke trail of silvery white bees.