THE ADVENTURES OF MAYA THE BEE
THE ADVENTURES OF MAYA THE BEE
Illustrated by Homer Boss
New York Thomas Seltzer 1922
Copyright, 1922, by Thomas Seltzer, Inc. All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America
The Translation of this book was made by ADELE SZOLD SELTZER
The Poems were done into English by ARTHUR GUITERMAN
I. First Flight 1 II. The House of the Rose 14 III. The Lake 25 IV. Effie and Bobbie 43 V. The Acrobat 60 VI. Puck 72 VII. In the Toils 87 VIII. The Bug and the Butterfly 104 IX. The Lost Leg 113 X. The Wonders of the Night 133 XI. With the Sprite 153 XII. Alois, Ladybird and Poet 163 XIII. The Fortress 172 XIV. The Sentinel 182 XV. The Warning 194 XVI. The Battle 204 XVII. The Queen's Friend 218
LIST OF COLORED ILLUSTRATIONS
"Won't you come in?" FRONTISPIECE
Facing Page Maya lifted her wings, buzzed farewell to the lake, and flew inland 42
A human being in miniature was coming up out of the iris 146
The Queen came without her court, attended only by her aide and two ladies-in-waiting 200
The elderly lady-bee who helped the baby-bee Maya when she awoke to life and slipped from her cell was called Cassandra and commanded great respect in the hive. Those were exciting days. A rebellion had broken out in the nation of bees, which the queen was unable to suppress.
While the experienced Cassandra wiped Maya's large bright eyes and tried as best she could to arrange her delicate wings, the big hive hummed and buzzed like a threatening thunderstorm, and the baby-bee found it very warm and said so to her companion.
Cassandra looked about troubled, without replying. It astonished her that the child so soon found something to criticize. But really the child was right: the heat and the pushing and crowding were almost unbearable. Maya saw an endless succession of bees go by in such swarming haste that sometimes one climbed up and over another, or several rolled past together clotted in a ball.
Once the queen-bee approached. Cassandra and Maya were jostled aside. A drone, a friendly young fellow of immaculate appearance, came to their assistance. He nodded to Maya and stroked the shining hairs on his breast rather nervously with his foreleg. (The bees use their forelegs as arms and hands.)
"The crash will come," he said to Cassandra. "The revolutionists will leave the city. A new queen has already been proclaimed."
Cassandra scarcely noticed him. She did not even thank him for his help, and Maya felt keenly conscious that the old lady was not a bit nice to the young gentleman. The child was a little afraid to ask questions, the impressions were coming so thick and fast; they threatened to overwhelm her. The general excitement got into her blood, and she set up a fine, distinct buzzing.
"What do you mean by that?" said Cassandra. "Isn't there noise enough as it is?"
Maya subsided at once, and looked at Cassandra questioningly.
"Come here, child, we'll see if we cannot quiet down a bit." Cassandra took Maya by her gleaming wings, which were still soft and new and marvelously transparent, and shoved her into an almost deserted corner beside a few honeycombs filled with honey.
Maya stood still and held on to one of the cells.
"It smells delicious here," she observed.
Her remark seemed to fluster the old lady again.
"You must learn to wait, child," she replied. "I have brought up several hundred young bees this spring and given them lessons for their first flight, but I haven't come across another one that was as pert and forward as you are. You seem to be an exceptional nature."
Maya blushed and stuck the two dainty fingers of her hand in her mouth.
"Exceptional nature—what is an exceptional nature?" she asked shyly.
"Oh, that's not nice," cried Cassandra, referring not to Maya's question, which she had scarcely heeded, but to the child's sticking her fingers in her mouth. "Now, listen. Listen very carefully to what I am going to tell you. I can devote only a short time to you. Other baby-bees have already slipped out, and the only helper I have on this floor is Turka, and Turka is dreadfully overworked and for the last few days has been complaining of a buzzing in her ears. Sit down here."
Maya obeyed, with great brown eyes fastened on her teacher.
"The first rule that a young bee must learn," said Cassandra, and sighed, "is that every bee, in whatever it thinks and does, must be like the other bees and must always have the good of all in mind. In our order of society, which we have held to be the right one from time immemorial and which couldn't have been better preserved than it has been, this rule is the one fundamental basis for the well-being of the state. To-morrow you will fly out of the hive, an older bee will accompany you. At first you will be allowed to fly only short stretches and you will have to observe everything, very carefully, so that you can find your way back home again. Your companion will show you the hundred flowers and blossoms that yield the best nectar. You'll have to learn them by heart. This is something no bee can escape doing.— Here, you may as well learn the first line right away—clover and honeysuckle. Repeat it. Say 'clover and honeysuckle.'"
"I can't," said little Maya. "It's awfully hard. I'll see the flowers later anyway."
Cassandra opened her old eyes wide and shook her head.
"You'll come to a bad end," she sighed. "I can foresee that already."
"Am I supposed later on to gather nectar all day long?" asked Maya.
Cassandra fetched a deep sigh and gazed at the baby-bee seriously and sadly. She seemed to be thinking of her own toilsome life—toil from beginning to end, nothing but toil. Then she spoke in a changed voice, with a loving look in her eyes for the child.
"My dear little Maya, there will be other things in your life—the sunshine, lofty green trees, flowery heaths, lakes of silver, rushing, glistening waterways, the heavens blue and radiant, and perhaps even human beings, the highest and most perfect of Nature's creations. Because of all these glories your work will become a joy. Just think—all that lies ahead of you, dear heart. You have good reason to be happy."
"I'm so glad," said Maya, "that's what I want to be."
Cassandra smiled kindly. In that instant—why, she did not know—she conceived a peculiar affection for the little bee, such as she could not recall ever having felt for any child-bee before. And that, probably, is how it came about that she told Maya more than a bee usually hears on the first day of its life. She gave her various special bits of advice, warned her against the dangers of the wicked world, and named the bees' most dangerous enemies. At the end she spoke long of human beings, and implanted the first love for them in the child's heart and the germ of a great longing to know them.
"Be polite and agreeable to every insect you meet," she said in conclusion, "then you will learn more from them than I have told you to-day. But beware of the wasps and hornets. The hornets are our most formidable enemy, and the wickedest, and the wasps are a useless tribe of thieves, without home or religion. We are a stronger, more powerful nation, while they steal and murder wherever they can. You may use your sting upon insects, to defend yourself and inspire respect, but if you insert it in a warm-blooded animal, especially a human being, you will die, because it will remain sticking in the skin and will break off. So do not sting warm-blooded creatures except in dire need, and then do it without flinching or fear of death. For it is to our courage as well as our wisdom that we bees owe the universal respect and esteem in which we are held. And now good-by, Maya dear. Good luck to you. Be faithful to your people and your queen."
The little bee nodded yes, and returned her old monitor's kiss and embrace. She went to bed in a flutter of secret joy and excitement and could scarcely fall asleep from curiosity. For the next day she was to know the great, wide world, the sun, the sky and the flowers.
Meanwhile the bee-city had quieted down. A large part of the younger bees had now left the kingdom to found a new city; but for a long time the droning of the great swarm could be heard outside in the sunlight. It was not from arrogance or evil intent against the queen that these had quitted; it was because the population had grown to such a size that there was no longer room for all the inhabitants, and it was impossible to store a sufficient food-supply of honey to feed them all over the winter. You see, according to a government treaty of long standing, a large part of the honey gathered in summer had to be delivered up to human beings, who in return assured the welfare of the bee-state, provided for the peace and safety of the bees, and gave them shelter against the cold in winter.
"The sun has risen!"
The joyous call sounding in Maya's ears awoke her out of sleep the next morning. She jumped up and joined a lady working-bee.
"Delighted," said the lady cordially. "You may fly with me."
At the gate, where there was a great pushing and crowding, they were held up by the sentinels, one of whom gave Maya the password without which no bee was admitted into the city.
"Be sure to remember it," he said, "and good luck to you."
Outside the city gates, a flood of sunlight assailed the little bee, a brilliance of green and gold, so rich and warm and resplendent that she had to close her eyes, not knowing what to say or do from sheer delight.
"Magnificent! It really is," she said to her companion. "Do we fly into that?"
"Right ahead!" answered the lady-bee.
Maya raised her little head and moved her pretty new wings. Suddenly she felt the flying-board on which she had been sitting sink down, while the ground seemed to be gliding away behind, and the large green domes of the tree-tops seemed to be coming toward her.
Her eyes sparkled, her heart rejoiced.
"I am flying," she cried. "It cannot be anything else. What I am doing must be flying. Why, it's splendid, perfectly splendid!"
"Yes, you're flying," said the lady-bee, who had difficulty in keeping up with the child. "Those are linden-trees, those toward which we are flying, the lindens in our castle park. You can always tell where our city is by those lindens. But you're flying so fast, Maya."
"Fast?" said Maya. "How can one fly fast enough? Oh, how sweet the sunshine smells!"
"No," replied her companion, who was rather out of breath, "it's not the sunshine, it's the flowers that smell.— But please, don't go so fast, else I'll drop behind. Besides, at this pace you won't observe things and be able to find your way back."
But little Maya transported by the sunshine and the joy of living, did not hear. She felt as though she were darting like an arrow through a green-shimmering sea of light, to greater and greater splendor. The bright flowers seemed to call to her, the still, sunlit distances lured her on, and the blue sky blessed her joyous young flight.
"Never again will it be as beautiful as it is to-day," she thought. "I can't turn back. I can't think of anything except the sun."
Beneath her the gay pictures kept changing, the peaceful landscape slid by slowly, in broad stretches.
"The sun must be all of gold," thought the baby-bee.
Coming to a large garden, which seemed to rest in blossoming clouds of cherry-tree, hawthorn, and lilacs, she let herself down to earth, dead-tired, and dropped in a bed of red tulips, where she held on to one of the big flowers. With a great sigh of bliss she pressed herself against the blossom-wall and looked up to the deep blue of the sky through the gleaming edges of the flowers.
"Oh, how beautiful it is out here in the great world, a thousand times more beautiful than in the dark hive. I'll never go back there again to carry honey or make wax. No, indeed, I'll never do that. I want to see and know the world in bloom. I am not like the other bees, my heart is meant for pleasure and surprises, experiences and adventures. I will not be afraid of any dangers. Haven't I got strength and courage and a sting?"
She laughed, bubbling over with delight, and took a deep draught of nectar out of the flower of the tulip.
"Grand," she thought. "It's glorious to be alive."
Ah, if little Maya had had an inkling of the many dangers and hardships that lay ahead of her, she would certainly have thought twice. But never dreaming of such things, she stuck to her resolve.
Soon tiredness overcame her, and she fell asleep. When she awoke, the sun was gone, twilight lay upon the land. A bit of alarm, after all. Maya's heart went a little faster. Hesitatingly she crept out of the flower, which was about to close up for the night, and hid herself away under a leaf high up in the top of an old tree, where she went to sleep, thinking in the utmost confidence:
"I'm not afraid. I won't be afraid right at the very start. The sun is coming round again; that's certain; Cassandra said so. The thing to do is to go to sleep quietly and sleep well."
THE HOUSE OF THE ROSE
By the time Maya awoke, it was full daylight. She felt a little chilly under her big green leaf, and stiff in her limbs, so that her first movements were slow and clumsy. Clinging to a vein of the leaf she let her wings quiver and vibrate, to limber them up and shake off the dust; then she smoothed her fair hair, wiped her large eyes clean, and crept, warily, down to the edge of the leaf, where she paused and looked around.
The glory and the glow of the morning sun were dazzling. Though Maya's resting-place still lay in cool shadow, the leaves overhead shone like green gold.
"Oh, you glorious world," thought the little bee.
Slowly, one by one, the experiences of the previous day came back to her—all the beauties she had seen and all the risks she had run. She remained firm in her resolve not to return to the hive. To be sure, when she thought of Cassandra, her heart beat fast, though it was not very likely that Cassandra would ever find her.— No, no, to her there was no joy in forever having to fly in and out of the hive, carrying honey and making wax. This was clear, once and for all. She wanted to be happy and free and enjoy life in her own way. Come what might, she would take the consequences.
Thus lightly thought Maya, the truth being that she had no real idea of the things that lay in store for her.
Afar off in the sunshine something glimmered red. A lurking impatience seized the little bee. Moreover, she felt hungry. So, courageously, with a loud joyous buzz, she swung out of her hiding-place into the clear, glistening air and the warm sunlight, and made straight for the red patch that seemed to nod and beckon. When she drew near she smelled a perfume so sweet that it almost robbed her of her senses, and she was hardly able to reach the large red flower. She let herself down on the outermost of its curved petals and clung to it tightly. At the gentle tipping of the petal a shining silver sphere almost as big as herself, came rolling toward her, transparent and gleaming in all the colors of the rainbow. Maya was dreadfully frightened, yet fascinated too by the splendor of the cool silver sphere, which rolled by her, balanced on the edge of the petal, leapt into the sunshine, and fell down in the grass. Oh, oh! The beautiful ball had shivered into a score of wee pearls. Maya uttered a little cry of terror. But the tiny round fragments made such a bright, lively glitter in the grass, and ran down the blades in such twinkling, sparkling little drops like diamonds in the lamplight, that she was reassured.
She turned towards the inside of the calix. A beetle, a little smaller than herself, with brown wing-sheaths and a black breastplate, was sitting at the entrance. He kept his place unperturbed, and looked at her seriously, though by no means unamiably. Maya bowed politely.
"Did the ball belong to you?" she asked, and receiving no reply added: "I am very sorry I threw it down."
"Do you mean the dewdrop?" smiled the beetle, rather superior. "You needn't worry about that. I had taken a drink already and my wife never drinks water, she has kidney trouble.— What are you doing here?"
"What is this wonderful flower?" asked Maya, not answering the beetle's question. "Would you be good enough to tell me its name?"
Remembering Cassandra's advice she was as polite as possible.
The beetle moved his shiny head in his dorsal plate, a thing he could do easily without the least discomfort, as his head fitted in perfectly and glided back and forth without a click.
"You seem to be only of yesterday?" he said, and laughed—not so very politely. Altogether there was something about him that struck Maya as unrefined. The bees had more culture and better manners. Yet he seemed to be a good-natured fellow, because, seeing Maya's blush of embarrassment, he softened to her childish ignorance.
"It's a rose," he explained indulgently. "So now you know.— We moved in four days ago, and since we moved in, it has flourished wonderfully under our care.— Won't you come in?"
Maya hesitated, then conquered her misgivings and took a few steps forward. He pressed aside a bright petal, Maya entered, and she and the beetle walked beside each other through the narrow chambers with their subdued light and fragrant walls.
"What a charming home!" exclaimed Maya, genuinely taken with the place. "The perfume is positively intoxicating."
Maya's admiration pleased the beetle.
"It takes wisdom to know where to live," he said, and smiled good-naturedly. "'Tell me where you live and I'll tell you what you're worth,' says an old adage.— Would you like some nectar?"
"Oh," Maya burst out, "I'd love some."
The beetle nodded and disappeared behind one of the walls. Maya looked about. She was happy. She pressed her cheeks and little hands against the dainty red hangings and took deep breaths of the delicious perfume, in an ecstasy of delight at being permitted to stop in such a beautiful dwelling.
"It certainly is a great joy to be alive," she thought. "And there's no comparison between the dingy, crowded stories in which the bees live and work and this house. The very quiet here is splendid."
Suddenly there was a loud sound of scolding behind the walls. It was the beetle growling excitedly in great anger. He seemed to be hustling and pushing someone along roughly, and Maya caught the following, in a clear, piping voice full of fright and mortification.
"Of course, because I'm alone, you dare to lay hands on me. But wait and see what you get when I bring my associates along. You are a ruffian. Very well, I am going. But remember, I called you a ruffian. You'll never forget that."
The stranger's emphatic tone, so sharp and vicious, frightened Maya dreadfully. In a few moments she heard the sound of someone running out.
The beetle returned and sullenly flung down some nectar.
"An outrage," he said. "You can't escape those vermin anywhere. They don't allow you a moment's peace."
Maya was so hungry she forgot to thank him and took a mouthful of nectar and chewed, while the beetle wiped the perspiration from his forehead and slightly loosened his upper armor so as to catch his breath.
"Who was that?" mumbled Maya, with her mouth still full.
"Please empty your mouth—finish chewing and swallowing your nectar. One can't understand a word you say."
Maya obeyed, but the excited owner of the house gave her no time to repeat her question.
"It was an ant," he burst out angrily. "Do those ants think we save and store up hour after hour only for them! The idea of going right into the pantry without a how-do-you-do or a by-your-leave! It makes me furious. If I didn't realize that the ill-mannered creatures actually didn't know better, I wouldn't hesitate a second to call them—thieves!"
At this he suddenly remembered his own manners.
"I beg your pardon," he said, turning to Maya, "I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Peter, of the family of rose-beetles."
"My name is Maya," said the little bee shyly. "I am delighted to make your acquaintance." She looked at Peter closely; he was bowing repeatedly, and spreading his feelers like two little brown fans. That pleased Maya immensely.
"You have the most fascinating feelers," she said, "simply sweet...."
"Well, yes," observed Peter, flattered, "people do think a lot of them. Would you like to see the other side?"
"If I may."
The rose-beetle turned his fan-shaped feelers to one side and let a ray of sunlight glide over them.
"Great, don't you think?" he asked.
"I shouldn't have thought anything like them possible," rejoined Maya. "My own feelers are very plain."
"Well, yes," observed Peter, "to each his own. By way of compensation you certainly have beautiful eyes, and the color of your body, the gold of your body, is not to be sneezed at."
Maya beamed. Peter was the first person to tell her she had any good looks. Life was great. She was happy as a lark, and helped herself to some more nectar.
"An excellent quality of honey," she remarked.
"Take some more," said Peter, rather amazed by his little guest's appetite. "Rose-juice of the first vintage. One has to be careful and not spoil one's stomach. There's some dew left, too, if you're thirsty."
"Thank you so much," said Maya. "I'd like to fly now, if you will permit me."
The rose-beetle laughed.
"Flying, always flying," he said. "It's in the blood of you bees. I don't understand such a restless way of living. There's some advantage in staying in one place, too, don't you think?"
Peter courteously held the red curtain aside.
"I'll go as far as our observation petal with you," he said. "It makes an excellent place to fly from."
"Oh, thank you," said Maya, "I can fly from anywhere."
"That's where you have the advantage over me," replied Peter. "I have some difficulty in unfolding my lower wings." He shook her hand and held the last curtain aside for her.
"Oh, the blue sky!" rejoiced Maya. "Good-by."
"So long," called Peter, remaining on the top petal to see Maya rise rapidly straight up to the sky in the golden sunlight and the clear, pure air of the morning. With a sigh he returned, pensive, to his cool rose-dwelling, for though it was still early he was feeling rather warm. He sang his morning song to himself, and it hummed in the red sheen of the petals and the radiance of the spring day that slowly mounted and spread over the blossoming earth.
Gold and green are field and tree, Warm in summer's glow; All is bright and fair to see While the roses blow.
What or why the world may be Who can guess or know? All my world is glad and free While the roses blow.
Brief, they say, my time of glee; With the roses I go; Yes, but life is good to me While the roses blow.
"Dear me," thought Maya, after she had flown off, "oh, dear me, I forgot to ask Mr. Peter about human beings. A gentleman of his wide experience could certainly have told me about them. But perhaps I'll meet one myself to-day." Full of high spirits and in a happy mood of adventure, she let her bright eyes rove over the wide landscape that lay spread out below in all its summer splendor.
She came to a large garden gleaming with a thousand colors. On her way she met many insects, who sang out greetings, and wished her a pleasant journey and a good harvest.— But every time she met a bee, her heart went pit-a-pat. After all she felt a little guilty to be idle, and was afraid of coming upon acquaintances. Soon, however, she saw that the bees paid not the slightest attention to her.
Then all of a sudden the world seemed to turn upside down. The heavens shone below her, in endless depths. At first she was dreadfully frightened; she thought she had flown too far up and lost her way in the sky. But presently she noticed that the trees were mirrored on the edge of the terrestrial sky, and to her entrancement she realized that she was looking at a great serene basin of water which lay blue and clear in the peaceful morning. She let herself down close to the surface. There was her image flying in reflection, the lovely gold of her body shining at her from the water, her bright wings glittering like clear glass. And she observed that she held her little legs properly against her body, as Cassandra had taught her to do.
"It's bliss to be flying over the surface of water like this. It is, really," she thought.
Big fish and little fish swam about in the clear element, or seemed to float idly. Maya took good care not to go too close; she knew there was danger to bees from the race of fishes.
On the opposite shore she was attracted by the water-lilies and the rushes, the water-lilies with their large round leaves lying outspread on the water like green plates, and the rushes with their sun-warmed, reedy stalks.
She picked out a leaf well-concealed under the tall blades of the rushes. It lay in almost total shade, except for two round spots like gold coins; the rushes swayed above in the full sunlight.
"Glorious," said the little bee, "perfectly glorious."
She began to tidy herself. Putting both arms up behind her head she pulled it forward as if to tear it off, but was careful not to pull too hard, just enough to scrape away the dust; then, with her little hind legs, she stroked and dragged down her wing-sheaths, which sprang back in position looking beautifully bright and glossy.
Just as she had completed her toilet a small steely blue-bottle came and alighted on the leaf beside her. He looked at her in surprise.
"What are you doing here on my leaf?" he demanded.
Maya was startled.
"Is there any objection to a person's just resting here a moment or two?"
Maya remembered Cassandra's telling her that the nation of bees commanded great respect in the insect world. Now she was going to see if it was true; she was going to see if she, Maya, could compel respect. Nevertheless her heart beat a little faster because her tone had been very loud and peremptory.
But actually the blue-bottle was frightened. He showed it plainly. When he saw that Maya wasn't going to let anyone lay down the law to her he backed down. With a surly buzz he swung himself on to a blade that curved above Maya's leaf, and said in a much politer tone, talking down to her out of the sunshine:
"You ought to be working. As a bee you certainly ought. But if you want to rest, all right. I'll wait here."
"There are plenty of leaves," observed Maya.
"All rented," said the blue-bottle. "Now-a-days one is happy to be able to call a piece of ground one's own. If my predecessor hadn't been snapped up by a frog two days ago, I should still be without a proper place to live in. It's not very pleasant to have to hunt up a different lodging every night. Not everyone has such a well-ordered state as you bees. But permit me to introduce myself. My name is Jack Christopher."
Maya was silent with terror, thinking how awful it must be to fall into the clutches of a frog.
"Are there many frogs in the lake?" she asked and drew to the very middle of the leaf so as not to be seen from the water.
The blue-bottle laughed.
"You are giving yourself unnecessary trouble," he jeered. "The frog can see you from below when the sun shines, because then the leaf is transparent. He sees you sitting on my leaf, perfectly."
Beset by the awful idea that maybe a big frog was squatting right under her leaf staring at her with his bulging hungry eyes, Maya was about to fly off when something dreadful happened, something for which she was totally unprepared. In the confusion of the first moment she could not make out just exactly what was happening. She only heard a loud rustling like the wind in dry leaves, then a singing whistle, a loud angry hunter's cry. And a fine, transparent shadow glided over her leaf. Now she saw—saw fully, and her heart stood still in terror. A great, glittering dragon-fly had caught hold of poor Jack Christopher and held him tight in its large, fangs, sharp as a knife. The blade of the rush bent low beneath their weight. Maya could see them hovering above her and also mirrored in the clear water below. Jack's screams tore her heart. Without thinking, she cried:
"Let the blue-bottle go, at once, whoever you are. You have no right to interfere with people's habits. You have no right to be so arbitrary."
The dragon-fly released Jack from its fangs, but still held him fast with its arms, and turned its head toward Maya. She was fearfully frightened by its large, grave eyes and vicious pincers, but the glittering of its body and wings fascinated her. They flashed like glass and water and precious stones. The horrifying thing was its huge size. How could she have been so bold? She was all a-tremble.
"Why, what's the matter, child?" The dragon-fly's tone, surprisingly, was quite friendly.
"Let him go," cried Maya, and tears came into her eyes. "His name is Jack Christopher."
The dragon-fly smiled.
"Why, little one?" it said, putting on an interested air, though most condescending.
Maya stammered helplessly:
"Oh, he's such a nice, elegant gentleman, and he's never done you any harm so far as I know."
The dragon-fly regarded Jack Christopher contemplatively.
"Yes, he is a dear little fellow," it replied tenderly and—bit Jack's head off.
Maya thought she was losing her senses. For a long time she couldn't utter a sound. In horror she listened to the munching and crunching above her as the body of Jack Christopher the blue-bottle was being dismembered.
"Don't put on so," said the dragon-fly with its mouth full, chewing. "Your sensitiveness doesn't impress me. Are you bees any better? What do you do? Evidently you are very young still and haven't looked about in your own house. When the massacre of the drones takes place in the summer, the rest of the world is no less shocked and horrified, and I think with greater justification."
"Have you finished up there?" She did not dare to raise her eyes.
"One leg still left," replied the dragon-fly.
"Do please swallow it. Then I'll answer you," cried Maya, who knew that the drones in the hive had to be killed off in the summer, and was provoked by the dragon-fly's stupidity. "But don't you dare to come a step closer. If you do I'll use my sting on you."
Little Maya had really lost her temper. It was the first time she had mentioned her sting and the first time she felt glad that she possessed the weapon.
The dragon-fly threw her a wicked glance. It had finished its meal and sat with its head slightly ducked, fixing Maya with its eyes and looking like a beast of prey about to pounce. The little bee was quite calm now. Where she got her courage from she couldn't have told, but she was no longer afraid. She set up a very fine clear buzzing as she had once heard a sentinel do when a wasp came near the entrance of the hive.
The dragon-fly said slowly and threateningly:
"Dragon-flies live on the best terms with the nation of bees."
"Very sensible in them," flashed Maya.
"Do you mean to insinuate that I am afraid of you—I of you?" With a jerk the dragon-fly let go of the rush, which sprang back into its former position, and flew off with a whirr and sparkle of its wings, straight down to the surface of the water, where it made a superb appearance reflected in the mirror of the lake. You'd have thought there were two dragon-flies. Both moved their crystal wings so swiftly and finely that it seemed as though a brilliant sheen of silver were streaming around them.
Maya quite forgot her grief over poor Jack Christopher and all sense of her own danger.
"How lovely! How lovely!" she cried enthusiastically, clapping her hands.
"Do you mean me?" The dragon-fly spoke in astonishment, but quickly added: "Yes, I must admit I am fairly presentable. Yesterday I was flying along the brook, and you should have heard some human beings who were lying on the bank rave over me."
"Human beings!" exclaimed Maya. "Oh my, did you see human beings?"
"Of course," answered the dragon-fly. "But you'll be very interested to know my name, I'm sure. My name is Loveydear, of the order Odonata, of the family Libellulidae."
"Oh, do tell me about human beings," implored Maya, after she had introduced herself.
The dragon-fly seemed won over. She seated herself on the leaf beside Maya. And the little bee let her, knowing Miss Loveydear would be careful not to come too close.
"Have human beings a sting?" she asked.
"Good gracious, what would they do with a sting! No, they have worse weapons against us, and they are very dangerous. There isn't a soul who isn't afraid of them, especially of the little ones whose two legs show—the boys."
"Do they try to catch you?" asked Maya, breathless with excitement.
"Yes, can't you understand why?" Miss Loveydear glanced at her wings. "I have seldom met a human being who hasn't tried to catch me."
"But why?" asked Maya in a tremor.
"You see," said Miss Loveydear, with a modest smirk and a drooping, sidewise glance, "there's something attractive about us dragon-flies. That's the only reason I know. Some members of our family who let themselves be caught went through the cruellest tortures and finally died."
"Were they eaten up?"
"No, no, not exactly that," said Miss Loveydear comfortingly. "So far as is known, man does not feed on dragon-flies. But sometimes he has murderous desires, a lust for killing, which will probably never be explained. You may not believe it, but cases have actually occurred of the so-called boy-men catching dragon-flies and pulling off their legs and wings for pure pleasure. You doubt it, don't you?"
"Of course I doubt it," cried Maya indignantly.
Miss Loveydear shrugged her glistening shoulders. Her face looked old with knowledge.
"Oh," she said after a pause, grieving and pale, "if only one could speak of these things openly. I had a brother who gave promise of a splendid future, only, I'm sorry to say, he was a little reckless and dreadfully curious. A boy once threw a net over him, a net fastened to a long pole.— Who would dream of a thing like that? Tell me. Would you?"
"No," said the little bee, "never. I should never have thought of such a thing."
The dragon-fly looked at her.
"A black cord was tied round his waist between his wings, so that he could fly, but not fly away, not escape. Each time my brother thought he had got his liberty, he would be jerked back horribly within the boy's reach."
Maya shook her head.
"You don't dare even think of it," she whispered.
"If a day passes when I don't think of it," said the dragon-fly, "I am sure to dream of it. One misfortune followed another. My brother soon died." Miss Loveydear heaved a deep sigh.
"What did he die of?" asked Maya, in genuine sympathy.
Miss Loveydear could not reply at once. Great tears welled up and rolled down her cheeks.
"He was stuck in a pocket," she sobbed. "No one can stand being stuck in a pocket."
"But what is a pocket?" Maya could hardly take in so many new and awful things all at once.
"A pocket," Miss Loveydear explained, "is a store-room that men have in their outer hide.— And what else do you think was in the pocket when my brother was stuck into it? Oh, the dreadful company in which my poor brother had to draw his last breath! You'll never guess!"
"No," said Maya, all in a quiver, "no, I don't think I can.— Honey, perhaps?"
"Not likely," observed Miss Loveydear with an air of mingled importance and distress. "You'll seldom find honey in the pockets of human beings. I'll tell you.— A frog was in the pocket, and a pen-knife, and a carrot. Well?"
"Horrible," whispered Maya.— "What is a pen-knife?"
"A pen-knife, in a way, is a human being's sting, an artificial one. They are denied a sting by nature, so they try to imitate it.— The frog, thank goodness, was nearing his end. One eye was gone, one leg was broken, and his lower jaw was dislocated. Yet, for all that, the moment my brother was stuck in the pocket he hissed at him out of his crooked mouth:
"'As soon as I am well, I will swallow you.'
"With his remaining eye he glared at my brother, and in the half-light of the prison you can imagine what an effect the look he gave him must have had—fearful!— Then something even more horrible happened. The pocket was suddenly shaken, my brother was pressed against the dying frog and his wings stuck to its cold, wet body. He went off in a faint.— Oh, the misery of it! There are no words to describe it."
"How did you find all this out?" Maya was so horrified she could scarcely frame the question.
"I'll tell you," replied Miss Loveydear. "After a while the boy got hungry and dug into his pocket for the carrot. It was under my brother and the frog, and the boy threw them away first.— I heard my brother's cry for help, and found him lying beside the frog on the grass. I reached him only in time to hear the whole story before he breathed his last. He put his arms round my neck and kissed me farewell. Then he died—bravely and without complaining, like a little hero. When his crushed wings had given their last quiver, I laid an oak leaf over his body and went to look for a sprig of forget-me-nots to put upon his grave. 'Sleep well, my little brother,' I cried, and flew off in the quiet of the evening. I flew toward the two red suns, the one in the sky and the one in the lake. No one has ever felt as sad and solemn as I did then.— Have you ever had a sorrow in your life? Perhaps you'll tell me about it some other time."
"No," said Maya. "As a matter of fact, until now I have always been happy."
"You may thank your lucky stars," said Miss Loveydear with a note of disappointment in her voice.
Maya asked about the frog.
"Oh, him," said Miss Loveydear. "He, it is presumed, met with the end he deserved. The hard-heartedness of him, to frighten a dying person! When I found him on the grass beside my brother, he was trying to get away. But on account of his broken leg and one eye gone, all he could do was hop round in a circle and hop round in a circle. He looked too comical for words. 'The stork'll soon get ye,' I called to him as I flew away."
"Poor frog!" said little Maya.
"Poor frog! Poor frog indeed! That's going too far. Pitying a frog. The idea! To feel sorry for a frog is like clipping your own wings. You seem to have no principles."
"Perhaps. But it's hard for me to see any one suffer."
"Oh"—Miss Loveydear comforted her—"that's because you're so young. You'll learn to bear it in time. Cheerio, my dear.— But I must be getting into the sunshine. It's pretty cold here. Good-by!"
A faint rustle and the gleam of a thousand colors, lovely pale colors like the glints in running water and clear gems.
Miss Loveydear swung through the green rushes out over the surface of the water. Maya heard her singing in the sunshine. She stood and listened. It was a fine song, with something of the melancholy sweetness of a folksong, and it filled the little bee's heart with mingled happiness and sadness.
Softly flows the lovely stream Touched by morning's rosy gleam Through the alders darted, Where the rushes bend and sway, Where the water-lilies say "We are golden-hearted!"
Warm the scent the west-wind brings, Bright the sun upon my wings, Joy among the flowers! Though my life may not be long, Golden summer, take my song! Thanks for perfect hours!
"Listen!" a white butterfly called to its friend. "Listen to the song of the dragon-fly." The light creatures rocked close to Maya, and rocked away again into the radiant blue day. Then Maya also lifted her wings, buzzed farewell to the silvery lake, and flew inland.
EFFIE AND BOBBIE
When Maya awoke the next morning in the corolla of a blue canterbury bell, she heard a fine, faint rustling in the air and felt her blossom-bed quiver as from a tiny, furtive tap-tapping. Through the open corolla came a damp whiff of grass and earth, and the air was quite chill. In some apprehension, she took a little pollen from the yellow stamens, scrupulously performed her toilet, then, warily, picking her steps, ventured to the outer edge of the drooping blossom. It was raining! A fine cool rain was coming down with a light plash, covering everything all round with millions of bright silver pearls, which clung to the leaves and flowers, rolled down the green paths of the blades of grass, and refreshed the brown soil.
What a change in the world! It was the first time in the child-bee's young life that she had seen rain. It filled her with wonder; it delighted her. Yet she was a little troubled. She remembered Cassandra's warning never to fly abroad in the rain. It must be difficult, she realized, to move your wings when the drops beat them down. And the cold really hurt, and she missed the quiet golden sunshine that gladdened the earth and made it a place free from all care.
It seemed to be very early still. The animal life in the grass was just beginning. From the concealment of her lofty bluebell Maya commanded a splendid view of the social life coming awake beneath. Watching it she forgot, for the moment, her anxiety and mounting homesickness. It was too amusing for anything to be safe in a hiding-place, high up, and look down on the doings of the grass-dwellers below.
Slowly, however, her thoughts went back—back to the home she had left, to the bee-state, and to the protection of its close solidarity. There, on this rainy day, the bees would be sitting together, glad of the day of rest, doing a little construction here and there on the cells, or feeding the larvae. Yet, on the whole, the hive was very quiet and Sunday-like when it rained. Only, sometimes messengers would fly out to see how the weather was and from what quarter the wind was blowing. The queen would go about her kingdom from story to story, testing things, bestowing a word of praise or blame, laying an egg here and there, and bringing happiness with her royal presence wherever she went. She might pat one of the younger bees on the head to show her approval of what it had already done, or she might ask it about its new experiences. How delighted a bee would be to catch a glance or receive a gracious word from the queen!
Oh, thought Maya, how happy it made you to be able to count yourself one in a community like that, to feel that everybody respected you, and you had the powerful protection of the state. Here, out in the world, lonely and exposed, she ran great risks of her life. She was cold, too. And supposing the rain were to keep up! What would she do, how could she find something to eat? There was scarcely any honey-juice in the canterbury bell, and the pollen would soon give out.
For the first time Maya realized how necessary the sunshine is for a life of vagabondage. Hardly anyone would set out on adventure, she thought, if it weren't for the sunshine. The very recollection of it was cheering, and she glowed with secret pride that she had had the daring to start life on her own hook. The number of things she had already seen and experienced! More, ever so much more, than the other bees were likely to know in a whole lifetime. Experience was the most precious thing in life, worth any sacrifice, she thought.
A troop of migrating ants were passing by, and singing as they marched through the cool forest of grass. They seemed to be in a hurry. Their crisp morning song, in rhythm with their march, touched the little bee's heart with melancholy.
Few our days on earth shall be, Fast the moments flit; First-class robbers such as we Do not care a bit!
They were extraordinarily well armed and looked saucy, bold and dangerous.
The song died away under the leaves of the coltsfoot. But some mischief seemed to have been done there. A rough, hoarse voice sounded, and the small leaves of a young dandelion were energetically thrust aside. Maya saw a corpulent blue beetle push its way out. It looked like a half-sphere of dark metal, shimmering with lights of blue and green and occasional black. It may have been two or even three times her size. Its hard sheath looked as though nothing could destroy it, and its deep voice positively frightened you.
The song of the soldiers, apparently, had roused him out of sleep. He was cross. His hair was still rumpled, and he rubbed the sleep out of his cunning little blue eyes.
"Make way, I'm coming. Make way."
He seemed to think that people should step aside at the mere announcement of his approach.
"Thank the Lord I'm not in his way," thought Maya, feeling very safe in her high, swaying nook of concealment. Nevertheless her heart went pit-a-pat, and she withdrew a little deeper into the flower-bell.
The beetle moved with a clumsy lurch through the wet grass, presenting a not exactly elegant appearance. Directly under Maya's blossom was a withered leaf. Here he stopped, shoved the leaf aside, and made a step backward. Maya saw a hole in the ground.
"Well," she thought, all a-gog with curiosity, "the things there are in the world. I never thought of such a thing. Life's not long enough for all there is to see."
She kept very quiet. The only sound was the soft pelting of the rain. Then she heard the beetle calling down the hole:
"If you want to go hunting with me, you'll have to make up your mind to get right up. It's already bright daylight." He was feeling so very superior for having waked up first that it was hard for him to be pleasant.
A few moments passed before the answer came. Then Maya heard a thin, chirping voice rise out of the hole.
"For goodness' sake, do close the door up there. It's raining in."
The beetle obeyed. He stood in an expectant attitude, his head cocked a little to one side, and squinted through the crack.
"Please hurry," he grumbled.
Maya was tense with eagerness to see what sort of a creature would come out of the hole. She crept so far out on the edge of the blossom that a drop of rain fell on her shoulder, and gave her a start. She wiped herself dry.
Below her the withered leaf heaved; a brown insect crept out, slowly. Maya thought it was the queerest specimen she had ever seen. It had a plump body, set on extremely thin, slow-moving legs, and a fearfully thick head, with little upright feelers. It looked flustered.
"Good morning, Effie dear." The beetle went slim with politeness. He was all politeness, and his body seemed really slim. "How did you sleep? How did you sleep, my precious—my all?"
Effie took his hand rather stonily.
"It can't be, Bobbie," she said. "I can't go with you. We're creating too much talk."
Poor Bobbie looked quite alarmed.
"I don't understand," he stammered. "I don't understand.— Is our new-found happiness to be wrecked by such nonsense? Effie, think—think the thing over. What do you care what people say? You have your hole, you can creep into it whenever you like, and if you go down far enough, you won't hear a syllable."
Effie smiled a sad, superior smile.
"Bobbie, you don't understand. I have my own views in the matter.— Besides, there's something else. You have been exceedingly indelicate. You took advantage of my ignorance. You let me think you were a rose-beetle and yesterday the snail told me you are a tumble-bug. A considerable difference! He saw you engaged in—well, doing something I don't care to mention. I'm sure you will now admit that I must take back my word."
Bobbie was stunned. When he recovered from the shock he burst out angrily:
"No, I don't understand. I can't understand. I want to be loved for myself, and not for my business."
"If only it weren't dung," said Effie offishly, "anything but dung, I shouldn't be so particular.— And please remember, I'm a young widow who lost her husband only three days ago under the most tragic circumstances—he was gobbled up by the shrewmouse—and it isn't proper for me to be gadding about. A young widow should lead a life of complete retirement. So—good-by."
Pop into her hole went Effie, as though a puff of wind had blown her away. Maya would never have thought it possible that anyone could dive into the ground as fast as that.
Effie was gone, and Bobbie stared in blank bewilderment down the empty dark opening, looking so utterly stupid that Maya had to laugh.
Finally he roused, and shook his small round head in angry distress. His feelers drooped dismally like two rain-soaked fans.
"People now-a-days no longer appreciate fineness of character and respectability," he sighed. "Effie is heartless. I didn't dare admit it to myself, but she is, she's absolutely heartless. But even if she hasn't got the right feelings, she ought to have the good sense to be my wife."
Maya saw the tears come to his eyes, and her heart was seized with pity.
But the next instant Bobbie stirred. He wiped the tears away and crept cautiously behind a small mound of earth, which his friend had probably shoveled out of her dwelling. A little flesh-colored earthworm was coming along through the grass. It had the queerest way of propelling itself, by first making itself long and thin, then short and thick. Its cylinder of a body consisted of nothing but delicate rings that pushed and groped forward noiselessly.
Suddenly, startling Maya, Bobbie made one step out of his hiding-place, caught hold of the worm, bit it in two, and began calmly to eat the one half, heedless of its desperate wriggling or the wriggling of the other half in the grass. It was a tiny little worm.
"Patience," said Bobbie, "it will soon be over."
But while he chewed, his thoughts seemed to revert to Effie, his Effie, whom he had lost forever and aye, and great tears rolled down his cheeks.
Maya pitied him from the bottom of her heart.
"Dear me," she thought, "there certainly is a lot of sadness in the world."
At that moment she saw the half of the worm which Bobbie had set aside, making a hasty departure.
"Did you ever see the like!" she cried, surprised into such a loud tone that Bobbie looked around wondering where the sound had come from.
"Make way!" he called.
"But I'm not in your way," said Maya.
"Where are you then? You must be somewhere."
"Up here. Up above you. In the bluebell."
"I believe you, but I'm no grasshopper. I can't turn my head up far enough to see you. Why did you scream?"
"The half of the worm is running away."
"Yes," said Bobbie, looking after the retreating fraction, "the creatures are very lively.— I've lost my appetite." With that he threw away the remnant which he was still holding in his hand, and this worm portion also retreated, in the other direction.
Maya was completely puzzled. But Bobbie seemed to be familiar with this peculiarity of worms.
"Don't suppose that I always eat worms," he remarked. "You see, you don't find roses everywhere."
"Tell the little one at least which way its other half ran," cried Maya in great excitement.
Bobbie shook his head gravely.
"Those whom fate has rent asunder, let no man join together again," he observed.— "Who are you?"
"Maya, of the nation of bees."
"I'm glad to hear it. I have nothing against the bees.— Why are you sitting about? Bees don't usually sit about. Have you been sitting there long?"
"I slept here."
"Indeed!" There was a note of suspicion in Bobbie's voice. "I hope you slept well, very well. Did you just wake up?"
"Yes," said Maya, who had shrewdly guessed that Bobbie would not like her having overheard his conversation with Effie, the cricket, and did not want to hurt his feelings again.
Bobbie ran hither and thither trying to look up and see Maya.
"Wait," he said. "If I raise myself on my hind legs and lean against that blade of grass I'll be able to see you, and you'll be able to look into my eyes. You want to, don't you?"
"Why, I do indeed. I'd like to very much."
Bobbie found a suitable prop, the stem of a buttercup. The flower tipped a little to one side so that Maya could see him perfectly as he raised himself on his hind legs and looked up at her. She thought he had a nice, dear, friendly face—but not so very young any more and cheeks rather too plump. He bowed, setting the buttercup a-rocking, and introduced himself:
"Bobbie, of the family of rose-beetles."
Maya had to laugh to herself. She knew very well he was not a rose-beetle; he was a dung-beetle. But she passed the matter over in silence, not caring to mortify him.
"Don't you mind the rain?" she asked.
"Oh, no. I'm accustomed to the rain—from the roses, you know. It's usually raining there."
Maya thought to herself:
"After all I must punish him a little for his brazen lies. He's so frightfully vain."
"Bobbie," she said with a sly smile, "what sort of a hole is that one there, under the leaf?"
"A hole? A hole, did you say? There are very many holes round here. It's probably just an ordinary hole. You have no idea how many holes there are in the ground."
Bobbie had hardly uttered the last word when something dreadful happened. In his eagerness to appear indifferent he had lost his balance and toppled over. Maya heard a despairing shriek, and the next instant saw the beetle lying flat on his back in the grass, his arms and legs waving pitifully in the air.
"I'm done for," he wailed, "I'm done for. I can't get back on my feet again. I'll never be able to get back on my feet again. I'll die. I'll die in this position. Have you ever heard of a worse fate!"
He carried on so that he did not hear Maya trying to comfort him. And he kept making efforts to touch the ground with his feet. But each time he'd painfully get hold of a bit of earth, it would give way, and he'd fall over again on his high half-sphere of a back. The case looked really desperate, and Maya was honestly concerned; he was already quite pale in the face and his cries were heart-rending.
"I can't stand it, I can't stand this position," he yelled. "At least turn your head away. Don't torture a dying man with your inquisitive stares.— If only I could reach a blade of grass, or the stem of the buttercup. You can't hold on to the air. Nobody can do that. Nobody can hold on to the air."
Maya's heart was quivering with pity.
"Wait," she cried, "I'll try to turn you over. If I try very hard I am bound to succeed. But Bobbie, Bobbie, dear man, don't yell like that. Listen to me. If I bend a blade of grass over and reach the tip of it to you, will you be able to use it and save yourself?"
Bobbie had no ears for her suggestion. Frightened out of his senses, he did nothing but kick and scream.
So little Maya, in spite of the rain, flew out of her cover over to a slim green blade of grass beside Bobbie, and clung to it near the tip. It bent under her weight and sank directly above Bobbie's wriggling limbs. Maya gave a little cry of delight.
"Catch hold of it," she called.
Bobbie felt something tickle his face and quickly grabbed at it, first with one hand, then with the other, and finally with his legs, which had splendid sharp claws, two each. Bit by bit he drew himself along the blade until he reached the base, where it was thicker and stronger, and he was able to turn himself over on it.
He heaved a tremendous sigh of relief.
"Good God!" he exclaimed. "That was awful. But for my presence of mind I should have fallen a victim to your talkativeness."
"Are you feeling better?" asked Maya.
Bobbie clutched his forehead.
"Thanks, thanks. When this dizziness passes, I'll tell you all about it."
But Maya never got the answer to her question. A field-sparrow came hopping through the grass in search of insects, and the little bee pressed herself close to the ground and kept very quiet until the bird had gone. When she looked around for Bobbie he had disappeared. So she too made off; for the rain had stopped and the day was clear and warm.
Oh, what a day!
The dew had fallen early in the morning, and when the sun rose and cast its slanting beams across the forest of grass, there was such a sparkling and glistening and gleaming that you didn't know what to say or do for sheer ecstasy, it was so beautiful, so beautiful!
The moment Maya awoke, glad sounds greeted her from all round. Some came out of the trees, from the throats of the birds, the dreaded creatures who could yet produce such exquisite song; other happy calls came out of the air, from flying insects, or out of the grass and the bushes, from bugs and flies, big ones and little ones.
Maya had made it very comfortable for herself in a hole in a tree. It was safe and dry, and stayed warm the greater part of the night because the sun shone on the entrance all day long. Once, early in the morning, she had heard a woodpecker rat-a-tat-tatting on the bark of the trunk, and had lost no time getting away. The drumming of a woodpecker is as terrifying to a little insect in the bark of a tree as the breaking open of our shutters by a burglar would be to us. But at night she was safe in her lofty nook. At night no creatures came prying.
She had sealed up part of the entrance with wax, leaving just space enough to slip in and out; and in a cranny in the back of the hole, where it was dark and cool, she had stored a little honey against rainy days.
This morning she swung herself out into the sunshine with a cry of delight, all anticipation as to what the fresh, lovely day might bring. She sailed straight through the golden air, looking like a brisk dot driven by the wind.
"I am going to meet a human being to-day," she cried. "I feel sure I am. On days like this human beings must certainly be out in the open air enjoying nature."
Never had she met so many insects. There was a coming and going and all sorts of doings; the air was alive with a humming and a laughing and glad little cries. You had to join in, you just had to join in.
After a while Maya let herself down into a forest of grass, where all sorts of plants and flowers were growing. The highest were the white tufts of yarrow and butterfly-weed—the flaming milkweed that drew you like a magnet. She took a sip of nectar from some clover and was about to fly off again when she saw a perfect droll of a beast perched on a blade of grass curving above her flower. She was thoroughly scared—he was such a lean green monster—but then her interest was tremendously aroused, and she remained sitting still, as though rooted to the spot, and stared straight at him.
At first glance you'd have thought he had horns. Looking closer you saw it was his oddly protuberant forehead that gave this impression. Two long, long feelers fine as the finest thread grew out of his brows, and his body was the slimmest imaginable, and green all over, even to his eyes. He had dainty forelegs and thin, inconspicuous wings that couldn't be very practical, Maya thought. Oddest of all were his great hindlegs, which stuck up over his body like two jointed stilts. His sly, saucy expression was contradicted by the look of astonishment in his eyes, and you couldn't say there was any meanness in his eyes either. No, rather a lot of good humor.
"Well, mademoiselle," he said to Maya, evidently annoyed by her surprised expression, "never seen a grasshopper before? Or are you laying eggs?"
"The idea!" cried Maya in shocked accents. "It wouldn't occur to me. Even if I could, I wouldn't. It would be usurping the sacred duties of our queen. I wouldn't do such a foolish thing."
The grasshopper ducked his head and made such a funny face that Maya had to laugh out loud in spite of her chagrin.
"Mademoiselle," he began, then had to laugh himself, and said: "You're a case! You're a case!"
The fellow's behavior made Maya impatient.
"Why do you laugh?" she asked in a not altogether friendly tone. "You can't be serious expecting me to lay eggs, especially out here on the grass."
There was a snap. "Hoppety-hop," said the grasshopper, and was gone.
Maya was utterly non-plussed. Without the help of his wings he had swung himself up in the air in a tremendous curve. Foolhardiness bordering on madness, she thought.
But there he was again. From where, she couldn't tell, but there he was, beside her, on a leaf of her clover.
He looked her up and down, all round, before and behind.
"No," he said then, pertly, "you certainly can't lay eggs. You're not equipped for it. You haven't got a borer."
"What—borer?" Maya covered herself with her wings and turned so that the stranger could see nothing but her face.
"Borer, that's what I said.— Don't fall off your base, mademoiselle.— You're a wasp, aren't you?"
To be called a wasp! Nothing worse could happen to little Maya.
"I never!" she cried.
"Hoppety-hop," answered he, and was off again.
"The fellow makes me nervous," she thought, and decided to fly away. She couldn't remember ever having been so insulted in her life. What a disgrace to be mistaken for a wasp, one of those useless wasps, those tramps, those common thieves! It really was infuriating.
But there he was again!
"Mademoiselle," he called and turned round part way, so that his long hindlegs looked like the hands of a clock standing at five minutes before half-past seven, "mademoiselle, you must excuse me for interrupting our conversation now and then. But suddenly I'm seized. I must hop. I can't help it, I must hop, no matter where. Can't you hop, too?"
He smiled a smile that drew his mouth from ear to ear. Maya couldn't keep from laughing.
"Can you?" said the grasshopper, and nodded encouragingly.
"Who are you?" asked Maya. "You're terribly exciting."
"Why, everybody knows who I am," said the green oddity, and grinned almost beyond the limits of his jaws.
Maya never could make out whether he spoke in fun or in earnest.
"I'm a stranger in these parts," she replied pleasantly, "else I'm sure I'd know you.— But please note that I belong to the family of bees, and am positively not a wasp."
"My goodness," said the grasshopper, "one and the same thing."
Maya couldn't utter a sound, she was so excited.
"You're uneducated," she burst out at length. "Take a good look at a wasp once."
"Why should I?" answered the green one. "What good would it do if I observed differences that exist only in people's imagination? You, a bee, fly round in the air, sting everything you come across, and can't hop. Exactly the same with a wasp. So where's the difference? Hoppety-hop!" And he was gone.
"But now I am going to fly away," thought Maya.
There he was again.
"Mademoiselle," he called, "there's going to be a hopping-match to-morrow. It will be held in the Reverend Sinpeck's garden. Would you care to have a complimentary ticket and watch the games? My old woman has two left over. She'll trade you one for a compliment. I expect to break the record."
"I'm not interested in hopping acrobatics," said Maya in some disgust. "A person who flies has higher interests."
The grasshopper grinned a grin you could almost hear.
"Don't think too highly of yourself, my dear young lady. Most creatures in this world can fly, but only a very, very few can hop. You don't understand other people's interests. You have no vision. Even human beings would like a high elegant hop. The other day I saw the Reverend Sinpeck hop a yard up into the air to impress a little snake that slid across his road. His contempt for anything that couldn't hop was so great that he threw away his pipe. And reverends, you know, cannot live without their pipes. I have known grasshoppers—members of my own family—who could hop to a height three hundred times their length. Now you're impressed. You haven't a word to say. And you're inwardly regretting the remarks you made and the remarks you intended to make. Three hundred times their own length! Just imagine. Even the elephant, the largest animal in the world, can't hop as high as that. Well? You're not saying anything. Didn't I tell you you wouldn't have anything to say?"
"But how can I say anything if you don't give me a chance?"
"All right, then, talk," said the grasshopper pleasantly. "Hoppety-hop." He was gone.
Maya had to laugh in spite of her irritation.
The fellow had certainly furnished her with a strange experience. Buffoon though he was, still she had to admire his wide information and worldly wisdom; and though she could not agree with his views of hopping, she was amazed by all the new things he had taught her in their brief conversation. If he had been more reliable she would have been only too glad to ask him questions about a number of different things. It occurred to her that often people who are least equipped to profit by experiences are the very ones who have them.
He knew the names of human beings. Did he, then, understand their language? If he came back, she'd ask him. And she'd also ask him what he thought of trying to go near a human being or of entering a human being's house.
"Mademoiselle!" A blade of grass beside Maya was set swaying.
"Goodness gracious! Where do you keep coming from?"
"But do tell, do you hop out into the world just so, without knowing where you mean to land?"
"Of course. Why not? Can you read the future? No one can. Only the tree-toad, but he never tells."
"The things you know! Wonderful, simply wonderful!— Do you understand the language of human beings?"
"That's a difficult question to answer, mademoiselle, because it hasn't been proved as yet whether human beings have a language. Sometimes they utter sounds by which they seem to reach an understanding with each other—but such awful sounds! So unmelodious! Like nothing else in nature that I know of. However, there's one thing you must allow them: they do seem to try to make their voices pleasanter. Once I saw two boys take a blade of grass between their thumbs and blow on it. The result was a whistle which may be compared with the chirping of a cricket, though far inferior in quality of tone, far inferior. However, human beings make an honest effort.— Is there anything else you'd like to ask? I know a thing or two."
He grinned his almost-audible grin.
But the next time he hopped off, Maya waited for him in vain. She looked about in the grass and the flowers; he was nowhere to be seen.
Maya, drowsy with the noonday heat, flew leisurely past the glare on the bushes in the garden, into the cool, broad-leaved shelter of a great chestnut-tree.
On the trodden sward in the shade under the tree stood chairs and tables, evidently for an out-door meal. A short distance away gleamed the red-tiled roof of a peasant's cottage, with thin blue columns of smoke curling up from the chimneys.
Now at last, thought Maya, she was bound to see a human being. Had she not reached the very heart of his realm? The tree must be his property, and the curious wooden contrivances in the shade below must belong to his hive.
Something buzzed; a fly alighted on the leaf beside her. It ran up and down the green veining in little jerks. You couldn't see its legs move, and it seemed to be sliding about excitedly. Then it flew from one finger of the broad leaf to another, but so quickly and unexpectedly that you might have thought it hadn't flown but hopped. Evidently it was looking for the most comfortable place on the leaf. Every now and then, in the suddennest way, it would swing itself up in the air a short space and buzz vehemently, as though something dreadfully untoward had occurred, or as though it were animated by some tremendous purpose. Then it would drop back to the leaf, as if nothing had happened, and resume its jerky racing up and down. Lastly, it would sit quite still, like a rigid image.
Maya watched its antics in the sunshine, then approached it and said politely:
"How do you do? Welcome to my leaf. You are a fly, are you not?"
"What else do you take me for?" said the little one. "My name is Puck. I am very busy. Do you want to drive me away?"
"Why, not at all. I am glad to make your acquaintance."
"I believe you," was all Puck said, and with that he tried to pull his head off.
"Mercy!" cried Maya.
"I must do this. You don't understand. It's something you know nothing about," Puck rejoined calmly, and slid his legs over his wings till they curved round the tip of his body. "I'm more than a fly," he added with some pride. "I'm a housefly. I flew out here for the fresh air."
"How interesting!" exclaimed Maya gleefully. "Then you must know all about human beings."
"As well as the pockets of my trousers," Puck threw out disdainfully. "I sit on them every day. Didn't you know that? I thought you bees were so clever. You pretend to be at any rate."
"My name is Maya," said the little bee rather shyly. Where the other insects got their self-assurance, to say nothing of their insolence, she couldn't understand.
"Thanks for the information. Whatever your name, you're a simpleton."
Puck sat there tilted like a cannon in position to be fired off, his head and breast thrust upward, the hind tip of his body resting on the leaf. Suddenly he ducked his head and squatted down, so that he looked as if he had no legs.
"You've got to watch out and be careful," he said. "That's the most important thing of all."
But an angry wave of resentment was surging in little Maya. The insult Puck had offered her was too much. Without really knowing what made her do it, she pounced on him quick as lightning, caught him by the collar and held him tight.
"I will teach you to be polite to a bee," she cried.
Puck set up an awful howl.
"Don't sting me," he screamed. "It's the only thing you can do, but it's killing. Please remove the back of your body. That's where your sting is. And let me go, please let me go, if you possibly can. I'll do anything you say. Can't you understand a joke, a mere joke? Everybody knows that you bees are the most respected of all insects, and the most powerful, and the most numerous. Only don't kill me, please don't. There won't be any bringing me back to life. Good God! No one appreciates my humor!"
"Very well," said Maya with a touch of contempt in her heart, "I'll let you live on condition that you tell me everything you know about human beings."
"Gladly," cried Puck. "I'd have told you anyhow. But please let me go now."
Maya released him. She had stopped caring. Her respect for the fly and any confidence she might have had in him were gone. Of what value could the experiences of so low, so vulgar a creature be to serious-minded people? She would have to find out about human beings for herself.
The lesson, however, had not been wasted. Puck was much more endurable now. Scolding and growling he set himself to rights. He smoothed down his feelers and wings and the minute hairs on his black body—which were fearfully rumpled; for the girl-bee had laid on good and hard—and concluded the operation by running his proboscis in and out several times—something new to Maya.
"Out of joint, completely out of joint!" he muttered in a pained tone. "Comes of your excited way of doing things. Look. See for yourself. The sucking-disk at the end of my proboscis looks like a twisted pewter plate."
"Have you a sucking-disk?" asked Maya.
"Goodness gracious, of course!— Now tell me. What do you want to know about human beings?— Never mind about my proboscis being out of joint. It'll be all right.— I think I had best tell you a few things from my own life. You see, I grew up among human beings, so you'll hear just what you want to know."
"You grew up among human beings?"
"Of course. It was in the corner of their room that my mother laid the egg from which I came. I made my first attempts to walk on their window-shades, and I tested the strength of my wings by flying from Schiller to Goethe."
"What are Schiller and Goethe?"
"Statues," explained Puck, very superior, "statues of two men who seem to have distinguished themselves. They stand under the mirror, one on the right hand and one on the left hand, and nobody pays any attention to them."
"What's a mirror? And why do the statues stand under the mirror?"
"A mirror is good for seeing your belly when you crawl on it. It's very amusing. When human beings go up to a mirror, they either put their hands up to their hair, or pull at their beards. When they are alone, they smile into the mirror, but if somebody else is in the room they look very serious. What the purpose of it is, I could never make out. Seems to be some useless game of theirs. I myself, when I was still a child, suffered a good deal from the mirror. I'd fly into it and of course be thrown back violently."
Maya plied Puck with more questions about the mirror, which he found very difficult to answer.
"Here," he said at last, "you've certainly flown over the smooth surface of water, haven't you? Well, a mirror is something like it, only hard and upright."
The little fly, seeing that Maya listened most respectfully and attentively to the tale of his experiences, became a good deal pleasanter in his manners. And as for Maya's opinion of Puck, although she didn't believe everything he told her, still she was sorry she had thought so slightingly of him earlier in their meeting.
"Often people are far more sensible than we take them to be at first," she told herself.
Puck went on with his story.
"It took a long time for me to get to understand their language. Now at last I know what they want. It isn't much, because they usually say the same thing every day."
"I can scarcely believe it," said Maya. "Why, they have so many interests, and think so many things, and do so many things. Cassandra told me that they build cities so big that you can't fly round them in one day, towers as high as the nuptial flight of our queen, houses that float on the water, and houses that glide across the country on two narrow silver paths and go faster than birds."
"Wait a moment!" said Puck energetically. "Who is Cassandra? Who is she, if I may make so bold as to ask? Well?"
"Oh, she was my teacher."
"Teacher!" repeated Puck contemptuously. "Probably also a bee. Who but a bee would overestimate human beings like that? Your Miss Cassandra, or whatever her name is, doesn't know her history. Those cities and towers and other human devices you speak of are none of them any good to us. Who would take such an impractical view of the world as you do? If you don't accept the premise that the earth is dominated by the flies, that the flies are the most widespread and most important race on earth, you'll scarcely get a real knowledge of the world."
Puck took a few excited zigzag turns on the leaf and pulled at his head, to Maya's intense concern. However, the little bee had observed by this time that there wasn't much sense to be got out of his head any way.
"Do you know how you can tell I am right?" asked Puck, rubbing his hands together as if to tie them in a knot. "Count the number of people and the number of flies in any room. The result will surprise you."
"You may be right. But that's not the point."
"Do you think I was born this year?" Puck demanded all of a sudden.
"I don't know."
"I passed through a winter," Puck announced, all pride. "My experiences date back to the ice age. In a sense they take me through the ice age. That's why I'm here—I'm here to recuperate."
"Whatever else you may be, you certainly are spunky," remarked Maya.
"I should say so," exclaimed Puck, and made an airy leap out into the sunshine. "The flies are the boldest race in creation. We never run away unless it is better to run away, and then we always come back.— Have you ever sat on a human being?"
"No," said Maya, looking at the fly distrustfully out of the corner of her eye. She still didn't know quite what to make of him. "No, I'm not interested in sitting on human beings."
"Ah, dear child, that's because you don't know what it is. If ever you had seen the fun I have with the man at home, you'd turn green with envy. I'll tell you.— In my room there lives an elderly man who cherishes the color of his nose by means of a peculiar drink, which he keeps hidden in the corner cupboard. It has a sweet, intoxicating smell. When he goes to get it he smiles, and his eyes grow small. He takes a little glass, and he looks up to the ceiling while he drinks, to see if I am there. I nod down to him, and he passes his hand over his forehead, nose and mouth to show me where I am to sit later on. Then he blinks, and opens his mouth as wide as he can, and pulls down the shade to keep the afternoon sun from bothering us. Finally he lays himself down on a something called a sofa, and in a short while begins to make dull snuffling sounds. I suppose he thinks the sounds are beautiful. We'll talk about them some other time. They are man's slumber song. For me they are the sign that I am to come down. The first thing I do is to take my portion from the glass, which he left for me. There's something tremendously stimulating about a drop like that. I understand human beings. Then I fly over and take my place on the forehead of the sleeping man. The forehead lies between the nose and the hair and serves for thinking. You can tell it does from the long furrows that go from right to left. They must move whenever a man thinks if something worth while is to result from his thinking. The forehead also shows if human beings are annoyed. But then the folds run up and down, and a round cavity forms over the nose. As soon as I settle on his forehead and begin to run to and fro in the furrows, the man makes a snatch in the air with his hands. He thinks I'm somewhere in the air. That's because I'm sitting on his think-furrows, and he can't work out so quickly where I really am. At last he does. He mutters and jabs at me. Now then, Miss Maya, or whatever your name is, now then, you've got to have your wits about you. I see the hand coming, but I wait until the last moment, then I fly nimbly to one side, sit down, and watch him feel to see if I am still there.— We kept the game up often for a full half hour. You have no idea what a lot of endurance the man has. Finally he jumps up and pours out a string of words which show how ungrateful he is. Well, what of it? A noble soul seeks no reward. I'm already up on the ceiling listening to his ungrateful outburst."
"I can't say I particularly like it," observed Maya. "Isn't it rather useless?"
"Do you expect me to erect a honeycomb on his nose?" exclaimed Puck. "You have no sense of humor, dear girl. What do you do that's useful?"
Little Maya went red all over, but quickly collected herself to hide her embarrassment from Puck.
"The time is coming," she flashed, "when I shall do something big and splendid, and good and useful too. But first I want to see what is going on in the world. Deep down in my heart I feel that the time is coming."
As Maya spoke she felt a hot tide of hope and enthusiasm flood her being.
Puck seemed not to realize how serious she was, and how deeply stirred. He zigzagged about in his flurried way for a while, then asked:
"You don't happen to have any honey with you, do you, my dear?"
"I'm so sorry," replied Maya. "I'd gladly let you have some, especially after you've entertained me so pleasantly, but I really haven't got any with me.— May I ask you one more question?"
"Shoot," said Puck. "I'll answer, I'll always answer."
"I'd like to know how I could get into a human being's house."
"Fly in," said Puck sagaciously.
"But how, without running into danger?"
"Wait until a window is opened. But be sure to find the way out again. Once you're inside, if you can't find the window, the best thing to do is to fly toward the light. You'll always find plenty of windows in every house. You need only notice where the sun shines through. Are you going already?"
"Yes," replied Maya, holding out her hand. "I have some things to attend to. Good-by. I hope you quite recover from the effects of the ice age."
And with her fine confident buzz that yet sounded slightly anxious, little Maya raised her gleaming wings and flew out into the sunshine across to the flowery meadows to cull a little nourishment.
Puck looked after her, and carefully meditated what might still be said. Then he observed thoughtfully:
"Well, now. Well, well.— Why not?"
IN THE TOILS
After her meeting with Puck the fly Maya was not in a particularly happy frame of mind. She could not bring herself to believe that he was right in everything he had said about human beings, or right in his relations to them. She had formed an entirely different conception—a much finer, lovelier picture, and she fought against letting her mind harbor low or ridiculous ideas of mankind. Yet she was still afraid to enter a human dwelling. How was she to know whether or not the owner would like it? And she wouldn't for all the world make herself a burden to anyone.
Her thoughts went back once more to the things Cassandra had told her.
"They are good and wise," Cassandra had said. "They are strong and powerful, but they never abuse their power. On the contrary, wherever they go they bring order and prosperity. We bees, knowing they are friendly to us, put ourselves under their protection and share our honey with them. They leave us enough for the winter, they provide us with shelter against the cold, and guard us against the hosts of our enemies among the animals. There are few creatures in the world who have entered into such a relation of friendship and voluntary service with human beings. Among the insects you will often hear voices raised to speak evil of man. Don't listen to them. If a foolish tribe of bees ever returns to the wild and tries to do without human beings, it soon perishes. There are too many beasts that hanker for our honey, and often a whole bee-city—all its buildings, all its inhabitants—has been ruthlessly destroyed, merely because a senseless animal wanted to satisfy its greed for honey."
That is what Cassandra had told Maya about human beings, and until Maya had convinced herself of the contrary, she wanted to keep this belief in them.
It was now afternoon. The sun was dropping behind the fruit trees in a large vegetable garden through which Maya was flying. The trees were long past flowering, but the little bee still remembered them in the shining glory of countless blossoms, whiter than light, lovely, pure, and exquisite against the blue of the heavens. The delicious perfume, the gleam and the shimmer—oh, she'd never forget the rapture of it as long as she lived.
As she flew she thought of how all that beauty would come again, and her heart expanded with delight in the glory of the great world in which she was permitted to live.
At the end of the garden shone the starry tufts of the jasmine—delicate yellow faces set in a wreath of pure white—sweet perfume wafted to Maya on the soft wings of the breeze.
And weren't there still some trees in bloom? Wasn't it the season for lindens? Maya thought delightedly of the big serious lindens, whose tops held the red glow of the setting sun to the very last.
She flew in among the stems of the blackberry vines, which were putting forth green berries and yielding blossoms at the same time. As she mounted again to reach the jasmine, something strange to the touch suddenly laid itself across her forehead and shoulders, and just as quickly covered her wings. It was the queerest sensation, as if her wings were crippled and she were suddenly restrained in her flight, and were falling, helplessly falling. A secret, wicked force seemed to be holding her feelers, her legs, her wings in invisible captivity. But she did not fall. Though she could no longer move her wings, she still hung in the air rocking, caught by a marvelously yielding softness and delicacy, raised a little, lowered a little, tossed here, tossed there, like a loose leaf in a faint breeze.
Maya was troubled, but not as yet actually terrified. Why should she be? There was no pain nor real discomfort of any sort. Simply that it was so peculiar, so very peculiar, and something bad seemed to be lurking in the background. She must get on. If she tried very hard, she could, assuredly.
But now she saw a thread across her breast, an elastic silvery thread finer than the finest silk. She clutched at it quickly, in a cold wave of terror. It clung to her hand; it wouldn't shake off. And there ran another silver thread over her shoulders. It drew itself across her wings and tied them together—her wings were powerless. And there, and there! Everywhere in the air and above her body—those bright, glittering, gluey threads!
Maya screamed with horror. Now she knew! Oh—oh, now she knew! She was in a spider's web.
Her terrified shrieks rang out in the silent dome of the summer day, where the sunshine touched the green of the leaves into gold, and insects flitted to and fro, and birds swooped gaily from tree to tree. Nearby, the jasmine sent its perfume into the air—the jasmine she had wanted to reach. Now all was over.
A small bluish butterfly, with brown dots gleaming like copper on its wings, came flying very close.
"Oh, you poor soul," it cried, hearing Maya's screams and seeing her desperate plight. "May your death be an easy one, lovely child. I cannot help you. Some day, perhaps this very night, I shall meet with the same fate. But meanwhile life is still lovely for me. Good-by. Don't forget the sunshine in the deep sleep of death."
And the blue butterfly rocked away, drugged by the sunshine and the flowers and its own joy of living.
The tears streamed from Maya's eyes; she lost her last shred of self-control. She tossed her captive body to and fro, and buzzed as loud as she could, and screamed for help—from whom she did not know. But the more she tossed the tighter she enmeshed herself in the web. Now, in her great agony, Cassandra's warnings went through her mind:
"Beware of the spider and its web. If we bees fall into the spider's power we suffer the most gruesome death. The spider is heartless and tricky, and once it has a person in its toils, it never lets him go."
In a great flare of mortal terror Maya made one huge desperate effort. Somewhere one of the long, heavier suspension threads snapped. Maya felt it break, yet at the same time she sensed the awful doom of the cobweb. This was, that the more one struggled in it, the more effectively and dangerously it worked. She gave up, in complete exhaustion.
At that moment she saw the spider herself—very near, under a blackberry leaf. At sight of the great monster, silent and serious, crouching there as if ready to pounce, Maya's horror was indescribable. The wicked shining eyes were fastened on the little bee in sinister, cold-blooded patience.
Maya gave one loud shriek. This was the worst agony of all. Death itself could look no worse than that grey, hairy monster with her mean fangs and the raised legs supporting her fat body like a scaffolding. She would come rushing upon her, and then all would be over.
Now a dreadful fury of anger came upon Maya, such as she had never felt before. Forgetting her great agony, intent only upon one thing—selling her life as dearly as possible—she uttered her clear, alarming battle-cry, which all beasts knew and dreaded.
"You will pay for your cunning with death," she shouted at the spider. "Just come and try to kill me, you'll find out what a bee can do."
The spider did not budge. She really was uncanny and must have terrified bigger creatures than little Maya.
Strong in her anger, Maya now made another violent, desperate effort. Snap! One of the long suspension threads above her broke. The web was probably meant for flies and gnats, not for such large insects as bees.
But Maya got herself only more entangled.
In one gliding motion the spider drew quite close to Maya. She swung by her nimble legs upon a single thread with her body hanging straight downward.
"What right have you to break my net?" she rasped at Maya. "What are you doing here? Isn't the world big enough for you? Why do you disturb a peaceful recluse?"
That was not what Maya had expected to hear. Most certainly not.
"I didn't mean to," she cried, quivering with glad hope. Ugly as the spider was, still she did not seem to intend any harm. "I didn't see your web and I got tangled in it. I'm so sorry. Please pardon me."
The spider drew nearer.
"You're a funny little body," she said, letting go of the thread first with one leg, then with the other. The delicate thread shook. How wonderful that it could support the great creature.
"Oh, do help me out of this," begged Maya, "I should be so grateful."
"That's what I came here for," said the spider, and smiled strangely. For all her smiling she looked mean and deceitful. "Your tossing and tugging spoils the whole web. Keep quiet one second, and I will set you free."
"Oh, thanks! Ever so many thanks!" cried Maya.
The spider was now right beside her. She examined the web carefully to see how securely Maya was entangled.
"How about your sting?" she asked.
Ugh, how mean and horrid she looked! Maya fairly shivered with disgust at the thought that she was going to touch her, but replied as pleasantly as she could:
"Don't trouble about my sting. I will draw it in, and nobody can hurt himself on it then."
"I should hope not," said the spider. "Now, then, look out! Keep quiet. Too bad for my web."
Maya remained still. Suddenly she felt herself being whirled round and round on the same spot, till she got dizzy and sick and had to close her eyes.— But what was that? She opened her eyes quickly. Horrors! She was completely enmeshed in a fresh sticky thread which the spider must have had with her.
"My God!" cried little Maya softly, in a quivering voice. That was all she said. Now she saw how tricky the spider had been; now she was really caught beyond release; now there was absolutely no chance of escape. She could no longer move any part of her body. The end was near.
Her fury of anger was gone, there was only a great sadness in her heart.
"I didn't know there was such meanness and wickedness in the world," she thought. "The deep night of death is upon me. Good-by, dear bright sun. Good-by, my dear friend-bees. Why did I leave you? A happy life to you. I must die."
The spider sat wary, a little to one side. She was still afraid of Maya's sting.
"Well?" she jeered. "How are you feeling, little girl?"
Maya was too proud to answer the false creature. She merely said, after a while when she felt she couldn't bear any more:
"Please kill me right away."
"Really!" said the spider, tying a few torn threads together. "Really! Do you take me to be as big a dunce as yourself? You're going to die anyhow, if you're kept hanging long enough, and that's the time for me to suck the blood out of you—when you can't sting. Too bad, though, that you can't see how dreadfully you've damaged my lovely web. Then you'd realize that you deserve to die."
She dropped down to the ground, laid the end of the newly spun thread about a stone, and pulled it in tight. Then she ran up again, caught hold of the thread by which little enmeshed Maya hung, and dragged her captive along.
"You're going into the shade, my dear," she said, "so that you shall not dry up out here in the sunshine. Besides, hanging here you're like a scarecrow, you'll frighten away other nice little mortals who don't watch where they're going. And sometimes the sparrows come and rob my web.— To let you know with whom you're dealing, my name is Thekla, of the family of cross-spiders. You needn't tell me your name. It makes no difference. You're a fat bit, and you'll taste just as tender and juicy by any name."
So little Maya hung in the shade of the blackberry vine, close to the ground, completely at the mercy of the cruel spider, who intended her to die by slow starvation. Hanging with her little head downward—a fearful position to be in—she soon felt she would not last many more minutes. She whimpered softly, and her cries for help grew feebler and feebler. Who was there to hear? Her folk at home knew nothing of this catastrophe, so they couldn't come hurrying to her rescue.
Suddenly down, in the grass, she heard some one growling:
"Make way! I'm coming."
Maya's agonized heart began to beat stormily. She recognized the voice of Bobbie, the dung-beetle.
"Bobbie," she called, as loud as she could, "Bobbie, dear Bobbie!"
"Make way! I'm coming."
"But I'm not in your way, Bobbie," cried Maya. "Oh dear, I'm hanging over your head. The spider has caught me."
"Who are you?" asked Bobbie. "So many people know me. You know they do, don't you?"
"I am Maya—Maya, the bee. Oh please, please help me!"
"Maya? Maya?— Ah, now I remember. You made my acquaintance several weeks ago.— The deuce! You are in a bad way, if I must say so myself. You certainly do need my help. As I happen to have a few moments' time, I won't refuse."
"Oh, Bobbie, can you tear these threads?"
"Tear those threads! Do you mean to insult me?" Bobbie slapped the muscles of his arm. "Look, little girl. Hard as steel. No match for that in strength. I can do more than smash a few cobwebs. You'll see something that'll make you open your eyes."
Bobbie crawled up on the leaf, caught hold of the thread by which Maya was hanging, clung to it, then let go of the leaf. The thread broke, and they both fell to the ground.
"That's only the beginning," said Bobbie.— "But Maya, you're trembling. My dear child, you poor little girl, how pale you are! Now who would be so afraid of death? You must look death calmly in the face as I do. So. I'll unwrap you now."
Maya could not utter a syllable. Bright tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She was to be free again, fly again in the sunshine, wherever she wished. She was to live.
But then she saw the spider coming down the blackberry vine.
"Bobbie," she screamed, "the spider's coming."
Bobbie went on unperturbed, merely laughing to himself. He really was an extraordinarily strong insect.
"She'll think twice before she comes nearer," he said.
But there! The vile voice rasped above them:
"Robbers! Help! I'm being robbed. You fat lump, what are you doing with my prey?"
"Don't excite yourself, madam," said Bobbie. "I have a right, haven't I, to talk to my friend. If you say another word to displease me, I'll tear your whole web to shreds. Well? Why so silent all of a sudden?"
"I am defeated," said the spider.
"That has nothing to do with the case," observed Bobbie. "Now you'd better be getting away from here."
The spider cast a look at Bobbie full of hate and venom; but glancing up at her web she reconsidered, and turned away slowly, furious, scolding and growling under her breath. Fangs and stings were of no avail. They wouldn't even leave a mark on armor such as Bobbie wore. With violent denunciations against the injustice in the world, the spider hid herself away inside a withered leaf, from which she could spy out and watch over her web.
Meanwhile Bobbie finished the unwrapping of Maya. He tore the network and released her legs and wings. The rest she could do herself. She preened herself happily. But she had to go slow, because she was still weak from fright.
"You must forget what you have been through," said Bobbie. "Then you'll stop trembling. Now see if you can fly. Try."
Maya lifted herself with a little buzz. Her wings worked splendidly, and to her intense joy she felt that no part of her body had been injured. She flew slowly up to the jasmine flowers, drank avidly of their abundant scented honey-juice, and returned to Bobbie, who had left the blackberry vines and was sitting in the grass.
"I thank you with my whole heart and soul," said Maya, deeply moved and happy in her regained freedom.
"Thanks are in place," observed Bobbie. "But that's the way I always am—always doing something for other people. Now fly away. I'd advise you to lay your head on your pillow early to-night. Have you far to go?"
"No," said Maya. "Only a short way. I live at the edge of the beech-woods. Good-by, Bobbie, I'll never forget you, never, never, so long as I live. Good-by."
THE BUG AND THE BUTTERFLY