Thus the days and weeks of her young life passed for little Maya among the insects in a lovely summer world—a happy roving in garden and meadow, occasional risks and many joys. For all that, she often missed the companions of her early childhood and now and again suffered a pang of homesickness, an ache of longing for her people and the kingdom she had left. There were hours, too, when she yearned for regular, useful work and association with friends of her own kind.
However, at bottom she had a restless nature, little Maya had, and was scarcely ready to settle down for good and live in the community of the bees; she wouldn’t have felt comfortable. Often among animals as well as human beings there are some who cannot conform to the ways of the others. Before we condemn them we must be careful and give them a chance to prove themselves. For it is not always laziness or stubbornness that makes them different. Far from it. At the back of their peculiar urge is a deep longing for something higher or better than what every-day life has to offer, and many a time young runaways have grown up into good, sensible, experienced men and women.
Little Maya was a pure, sensitive soul, and her attitude to the big, beautiful world came of a genuine eagerness for knowledge and a great delight in the glories of creation.
Yet it is hard to be alone even when you are happy, and the more Maya went through, the greater became her yearning for companionship and love. She was no longer so very young; she had grown into a strong, superb creature with sound, bright wings, a sharp, dangerous sting, and a highly developed sense of both the pleasures and the hazards of her life. Through her own experience she had gathered information and stored up wisdom, which she now often wished she could apply to something of real value. There were days when she was ready to return to the hive and throw herself at the queen’s feet and sue for pardon and honorable reinstatement. But a great, burning desire held her back—the desire to know human beings. She had heard so many contradictory things about them that she was confused rather than enlightened. Yet she had a feeling that in the whole of creation there were no beings more powerful or more intelligent or more sublime than they.
A few times in her wanderings she had seen people, but only from afar, from high up in the air—big and little people, black people, white people, red people, and such as dressed in many colors. She had never ventured close. Once she had caught the glimmer of red near a brook, and thinking it was a bed of flowers had flown down. She found a human being fast asleep among the brookside blossoms. It had golden hair and a pink face and wore a red dress. It was dreadfully large, of course, but still it looked so good and sweet that Maya thrilled, and tears came to her eyes. She lost all sense of her whereabouts; she could do nothing but gaze and gaze upon the slumbering presence. All the horrid things she had ever heard against man seemed utterly impossible. Lies they must have been—mean lies that she had been told against creatures as charming as this one asleep in the shade of the whispering birch-trees.
After a while a mosquito came and buzzed greetings.
“Look!” cried Maya, hot with excitement and delight. “Look, just look at that human being there. How good, how beautiful! Doesn’t it fill you with enthusiasm?”
The mosquito gave Maya a surprised stare, then turned slowly round to glance at the object of her admiration.
“Yes, it is good. I just tasted it. I stung it. Look, my body is shining red with its blood.”
Maya had to press her hand to her heart, so startled was she by the mosquito’s daring.
“Will it die?” she cried. “Where did you wound it? How could you? How could you screw up your courage to sting it? And how vile! Why, you’re a beast of prey!”
The mosquito tittered.
“Why, it’s only a very little human being,” it answered in its high, thin voice. “It’s the size called girl—the size at which the legs are covered half way up with a separate colored casing. My sting, of course, goes through the casing but usually doesn’t reach the skin.—Your ignorance is really stupendous. Do you actually think that human beings are good? I haven’t come across one who willingly let me take the tiniest drop of his blood.”
“I don’t know very much about human beings, I admit,” said Maya humbly.
“But of all the insects you bees have most to do with human beings. That’s a well-known fact.”
“I left our kingdom,” Maya confessed timidly. “I didn’t like it. I wanted to learn about the outside world.”
“Well, well, what do you think of that!” The mosquito drew a step nearer. “How do you like your free-lancing? I must say, I admire you for your independence. I for one would never consent to serve human beings.”
“But they serve us too!” said Maya, who couldn’t bear a slight to be put upon her people.
“Maybe.—To what nation do you belong?”
“I come of the nation in the castle park. The ruling queen is Helen VIII.”
“Indeed,” said the mosquito, and bowed low. “An enviable lineage. My deepest respects.—There was a revolution in your kingdom not so long ago, wasn’t there? I heard it from the messengers of the rebel swarm. Am I right?”
“Yes,” said Maya, proud and happy that her nation was so respected and renowned. Homesickness for her people awoke again, deep down in her heart, and she wished she could do something good and great for her queen and country. Carried away on the wings of this dream, she forgot to ask about human beings. Or, like as not, she refrained from questions, feeling that the mosquito would not tell her things she would be glad to hear. The mite of a creature impressed her as a saucy Miss, and people of her kind usually had nothing good to say of others. Besides, she soon flew away.
“I’m going to take one more drink,” she called back to Maya. “Later I and my friends are going flying in the light of the westering sun. Then we’ll be sure to have good weather to-morrow.”
Maya made off quickly. She couldn’t bear to stay and see the mosquito hurt the sleeping child. And how could she do this thing and not perish? Hadn’t Cassandra said: “If you sting a human being, you will die?”
Maya still remembered every detail of this incident with the child and the mosquito, but her craving to know human beings well had not been stilled. She made up her mind to be bolder and never stop trying until she had reached her goal.
At last Maya’s longing to know human beings was to be satisfied, and in a way far, far lovelier and more wonderful than she had dreamed.
Once, on a warm evening, having gone to sleep earlier than usual, she woke up suddenly in the middle of the night—something that had never happened to her before. When she opened her eyes, her astonishment was indescribable: her little bedroom was all steeped in a quiet bluish radiance. It came down through the entrance, and the entrance itself shone as if hung with a silver-blue curtain.
Maya did not dare to budge at first, though not because she was frightened. No. Somehow, along with the light came a rare, lovely peacefulness, and outside her room the air was filled with a sound finer, more harmonious than any music she had ever heard. After a time she rose timidly, awed by the glamour and the strangeness of it all, and looked out. The whole world seemed to lie under the spell of an enchantment. Everything was sparkling and glittering in pure silver. The trunks of the birch-trees, the slumbering leaves were overlaid with silver. The grass, which from her height seemed to lie under delicate veils, was set with a thousand pale pearls. All things near and far, the silent distances, were shrouded in this soft, bluish sheen.
“This must be the night,” Maya whispered and folded her hands.
High up in the heavens, partly veiled by the leaves of a beech-tree, hung a full clear disk of silver, from which the radiance poured down that beautified the world. And then Maya saw countless bright, sharp little lights surrounding the moon in the heavens—oh, so still and beautiful, unlike any shining things she had ever seen before. To think she beheld the night, the moon, and the stars—the wonders, the lovely wonders of the night! She had heard of them but never believed in them. It was almost too much.
Then the sound rose again, the strange night sound that must have awakened her. It came from nearby, filling the welkin, a soaring chirp with a silvery ring that matched the silver on the trees and leaves and grass and seemed to come rilling down from the moon on the beams of silver light.
Maya looked about for the source, in vain; in the mysterious drift of light and shadow it was difficult to make out objects in clear outline, everything was draped so mysteriously; and yet everything showed up true and in such heroic beauty.
Her room could keep her no longer; out she had to fly into this new splendor, the night splendor.
“The good Lord will take care of me,” she thought, “I am not bent upon wrong.”
As she was about to fly off through the silver light to her favorite meadow, now lying full under the moon, she saw a winged creature alight on a beech-tree leaf not far away. Scarcely alighted, it raised its head to the moon, lifted its narrow wings, and drew the edge of one against the other, for all the world as though it were playing on a violin. And sure enough, the sound came, the silvery chirp that filled the whole moonlit world with melody.
“Exquisite,” whispered Maya, “heavenly, heavenly, heavenly.”
She flew over to the leaf. The night was so mild and warm that she did not notice it was cooler than by day. When she touched the leaf, the chirper broke off playing abruptly, and to Maya it seemed as if there had never been such a stillness before, so profound was the hush that followed. It was uncanny. Through the dark leaves filtered the light, white and cool.
“Good night,” said Maya, politely, thinking “good night” was the greeting for the night like “good morning” for the morning. “Please excuse me for interrupting, but the music you make is so fascinating that I had to find out where it came from.”
The chirper stared at Maya, wide-eyed.
“What sort of a crawling creature are you?” it asked after some moments had passed. “I have never met one like you before.”
“I am not a crawling insect. I am Maya, of the nation of bees.”
“Oh, of the nation of bees. Indeed ... you live by day, don’t you? I have heard of your race from the hedgehog. He told me that in the evening he eats the dead bodies that are thrown out of your hive.”
“Yes,” said Maya, with a faint chill of apprehension, “that’s so; Cassandra told me about him; she heard of him from the sentinels. He comes when twilight falls and snouts in the grass looking for dead bodies.—But do you associate with the hedgehog? Why, he’s an awful brute.”
“I don’t think so. We tree-crickets get along with him splendidly. We call him Uncle. Of course he always tries to catch us, but he never succeeds, so we have great fun teasing him. Everybody has to live, doesn’t he? Just so he doesn’t live off me, what do I care?”
Maya shook her head. She didn’t agree. But not caring to insult the cricket by contradicting, she changed the subject.
“So you’re a tree-cricket?”
“Yes, a snowy tree-cricket.—But I must play, so please don’t keep me any longer. It’s full moon, a wonderful night. I must play.”
“Oh, do make an exception this once. You play all the time.—Tell me about the night.”
“A midsummer night is the loveliest in the world,” answered the cricket. “It fills the heart with rapture.—But what my music doesn’t tell you I shan’t be able to explain. Why need everything be explained? Why know everything? We poor creatures can find out only the tiniest bit about existence. Yet we can feel the glory of the whole wide world.” And the cricket set up its happy silvery strumming. Heard from close by, where Maya sat, the music was overpowering in its loudness.
The little bee sat quite still in the blue summer night listening and musing deeply about life and creation.
Silence fell. There was a faint whirr, and Maya saw the cricket fly out into the moonlight.
“The night makes one feel sad,” she reflected.
Her flowery meadow drew her now. She flew off.
At the edge of the brook stood the tall irises brokenly reflected in the running water. A glorious sight. The moonlight was whirled along in the braided current, the wavelets winked and whispered, the irises seemed to lean over asleep. “Asleep from sheer delight,” thought the little bee. She dropped down on a blue petal in the full light of the moon and could not take her eyes from the living waters of the brook, the quivering flash, the flashing come and go of countless sparks. On the bank opposite, the birch-trees glittered as if hung with the stars.
“Where is all that water flowing to?” she wondered. “The cricket is right. We know so little about the world.”
Of a sudden a fine little voice rose in song from the flower of an iris close beside her, ringing like a pure, clear bell, different from any earthly sound that Maya knew. Her heart throbbed, she held her breath.
“Oh, what is going to happen? What am I going to see now?”
The iris swayed gently. One of the petals curved in at the edge, and Maya saw a tiny snow-white human hand holding on to the flower’s rim with its wee little fingers. Then a small blond head arose, and then a delicate luminous body in white garments. A human being in miniature was coming up out of the iris.
A human being in miniature was coming up out of the iris
Words cannot tell Maya’s awe and rapture. She sat rigid.
The tiny being climbed to the edge of the blossom, lifted its arms up to the moonlight, and looked out into the bright shining night with a smile of bliss lighting up its face. Then a faint quiver shook its luminous body, and from its shoulders two wings unfolded, whiter than the moonlight, pure as snow, rising above its blond head and reaching down to its feet. How lovely it was, how exquisitely lovely. Nothing that Maya had ever seen compared with it in loveliness.
Standing there in the moonlight, holding its hands up to heaven, the luminous little being lifted its voice again and sang. The song rang out in the night, and Maya understood the words.
My home is Light. The crystal bowl
Of Heaven’s blue, I love it so!
Both Death and Life will change, I know,
But not my soul, my living soul.
My soul is that which breathes anew
From all of loveliness and grace;
And as it flows from God’s own face,
It flows from His creations, too.
Maya burst into sobs. What it was that made her so sad and yet so happy, she could not have told.
The little human being turned around.
“Who is crying?” he asked in his chiming voice.
“It’s only me,” stammered Maya. “Excuse me for interrupting you.”
“But why are you crying?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps just because you are so beautiful. Who are you? Oh, do tell me, if I am not asking too much. You are an angel, aren’t you? You must be.”
“Oh, no,” said the little creature, quite serious. “I am only a sprite, a flower-sprite.—But, dear little bee, what are you doing out here in the meadow so late at night?”
The sprite flew over to a curving iris blade beside Maya and regarded her long and kindly from his swaying perch in the moonlight.
Maya told him all about herself, what she had done, what she knew, and what she longed for. And while she spoke, his eyes never left her, those large dark eyes glowing in the white fairy face under the golden hair that ever and anon shone like silver in the moonlight.
When she finished he stroked her head and looked at her so warmly and lovingly that the little bee, beside herself with joy, had to lower her gaze.
“We sprites,” he explained, “live seven nights, but we must stay in the flower in which we are born, else we die at dawn.”
Maya opened her eyes wide in terror.
“Then hurry, hurry! Fly back into your flower!”
The, sprite shook his head sadly.
“Too late.—But listen. I have more to tell you. Most of us sprites are glad to leave our flowers never to return, because a great happiness is connected with our leaving. We are endowed with a remarkable power: before we die, we can fulfill the dearest wish of the first creature we meet. It is when we make up our minds seriously to leave the flower for the purpose of making someone happy that our wings grow.”
“How wonderful!” cried Maya. “I’d leave the flower too, then. It must be lovely to fulfill another person’s wish.” That she was the first being whom the sprite on his flight from the flower had met, did not occur to her. “And then—must you die?”
The sprite nodded, but not sadly this time.
“We live to see the dawn still,” he said, “but when the dew falls, we are drawn into the fine cobwebby veils that float above the grass and the flowers of the meadows. Haven’t you often noticed that the veils shine white as though a light were inside them? It’s the sprites, their wings and their garments. When the light rises we change into dew-drops. The plants drink us and we become a part of their growing and blooming until in time we rise again as sprites from out their flowers.”
“Then you were once another sprite?” asked Maya, tense, breathless with interest.
The earnest eyes said yes.
“But I have forgotten my earlier existence. We forget everything in our flower-sleep.”
“Oh, what a lovely fate!”
“It is the same as that of all earthly creatures, when you really come to think of it, even if it isn’t always flowers out of which they wake up from their sleep of death. But we won’t talk of that to-night.”
“Oh, I’m so happy!” cried Maya.
“Then you haven’t got a wish? You’re the first person I’ve met, you know, and I possess the power to grant your dearest wish.”
“I? But I’m only a bee. No, it’s too much. It would be too great a joy. I don’t deserve it, I don’t deserve that you should be so good to me.”
“No one deserves the good and the beautiful. The good and the beautiful come to us like the sunshine.”
Maya’s heart beat stormily. Oh, she did have a wish, a burning wish, but she didn’t dare confess it. The elf seemed to guess; he smiled so you couldn’t keep anything a secret from him.
“Well?” He stroked his golden hair off his pure forehead.
“I’d like to know human beings at their best and most beautiful,” said the little bee. She spoke quickly and hotly. She was afraid she would be told that so great a wish could not be granted.
But the sprite drew himself up, his expression was serious and serene, his eyes shone with confidence. He took Maya’s trembling hand and said:
“Come. We’ll fly together. Your wish shall be granted.”
Notes: This book follows the adventures of a little bee.
Author: Waldemar Bonsels
Translators: Book - Adele Szold Seltzer, Poems - Arthur Guiterman
Publisher: Thomas Seltzer, New York