And so Maya and the flower-sprite started off together in the bright mid-summer night, flying low over the blossomy meadow. His white reflection crossing the brook shone as though a star were gliding through the water.
How happy the little bee was to confide herself to this gracious being! Whatever he were to do, wherever he were to lead her would be good and right, she felt. She would have liked to ask him a thousand questions had she dared.
As they were passing between a double row of high poplar-trees, something whirred above them; a dark moth, as big and strong as a bird, crossed their way.
“One moment, wait one moment, please,” the sprite called.
Maya was surprised to see how readily the moth responded.
All three alighted on a high poplar branch, from which there was a far view out upon the tranquil, moonlit landscape. The quaking leaves whispered delicately. The moth, perching directly opposite Maya in the full light of the moon, slowly lifted his spread wings and dropped them again, softly, as if gently fanning—fanning a cool breath upon someone. Broad, diagonal stripes of a gorgeous bright blue marked his wings, his black head was covered as with dark velvet, his face was like a strangely mysterious mask, out of which glowed a pair of dark eyes. How wonderful were the creatures of the night! A little cold shiver ran through Maya, who felt she was dreaming the strangest dream of her life.
“You are beautiful,” she said to the moth, “beautiful, really.” She was awed and solemn.
“Who is your companion?” the moth asked the sprite.
“A bee. I met her just as I was leaving my flower.”
The moth seemed to realize what that meant. He looked at Maya almost enviously.
“You fortunate creature!” he said in a low, serious, musing tone, shaking his head to and fro.
“Are you sad?” asked Maya out of the warmth of her heart.
The moth shook his head.
“No, not sad.” His voice sounded friendly and grateful, and he gave Maya such a kind look that she would have liked to strike up a friendship with him then and there.
“Is the bat still abroad, or has he gone to rest?” This was the question for which the sprite had stopped the moth.
“Oh, he’s gone to rest long ago. You want to know, do you, on account of your companion?”
The sprite nodded. Maya was dying to find out what a bat was, but the sprite seemed to be in a hurry. With a charming gesture of restlessness he tossed his shining hair back from his forehead.
“Come, Maya,” he said, “we must hurry. The night is so short.”
“Shall I carry you part of the way?” asked the moth.
The sprite thanked him but declined. “Some other time!” he called.
“Then it will be never,” thought Maya as they flew away, “because at dawn the flower-sprite must die.”
The moth remained on the leaf looking after them until the glimmer of the fairy garments grew smaller and smaller and finally sank into the depths of the blue distance. Then he turned his face slowly and surveyed his great dark wings with their broad blue stripes. He sank into revery.
“So often I have heard that I am gray and ugly,” he said to himself, “and that my dress is not to be compared with the superb robes of the butterfly. But the little bee saw only what is beautiful in me.—And she asked me if I was sad. I wonder whether I am or not.—No, I am not sad,” he decided, “not now.”
Meanwhile Maya and the flower-sprite flew through the dense shrubbery of a garden. The glory of it in the dimmed moonlight was beyond the power of mortal lips to say. An intoxicatingly sweet cool breath of dew and slumbering flowers transformed all things into unutterable blessings. The lilac grapes of the acacias sparkled in freshness, the June rose-tree looked like a small blooming heaven hung with red lamps, the white stars of the jasmine glowed palely, sadly, and poured out their perfume as if, in this one hour, to make a gift of their all.
Maya was dazed. She pressed the sprite’s hand and looked at him. A light of bliss shone from his eyes.
“Who could have dreamed of this!” whispered the little bee.
Just then she saw something that sent a pang through her.
“Oh,” she cried, “look! A star has fallen! It’s straying about and can’t find its way back to its place in the sky.”
“That’s a firefly,” said the flower-sprite, without a smile.
Now, in the midst of her amazement, Maya realized for the first time why the sprite seemed so dear and kind. He never laughed at her ignorance; on the contrary, he helped her when she went wrong.
“They are odd little creatures,” the sprite continued. “They carry their own light about with them on warm summer nights and enliven the dark under the shrubbery where the moonlight doesn’t shine through. So firefly can keep tryst with firefly even in the dark. Later, when we come to the human beings, you will make the acquaintance of one of them.”
“Why?” asked Maya.
“You’ll soon see.”
By this time they had reached an arbor completely overgrown with jasmine and woodbine. They descended almost to the ground. From close by, within the arbor, came the sound of faint whispering. The flower-sprite beckoned to a firefly.
“Would you be good enough,” he asked, “to give us a little light? We have to push through these dark leaves here; we want to get to the inside of the jasmine-arbor.”
“But your glow is much brighter than mine.”
“I think so, too,” put in Maya, more to hide her excitement than anything else.
“I must wrap myself up in a leaf,” explained the sprite, “else the human beings would see me and be frightened. We sprites appear to human beings only in their dreams.”
“I see,” said the firefly. “I am at your service. I will do what I can.—Won’t the great beast with you hurt me?”
The sprite shook his head no, and the firefly believed him.
The sprite now took a leaf and wrapped himself in it; the gleam of his white garments was completely hidden. Then he picked a little bluebell from the grass and put it on his shining head like a helmet. The only bit of him left exposed was his face, which was so small that surely no one would notice it. He asked the firefly to perch on his shoulder and with its wing to dim its lamp on the one side so as to keep the dazzle out of his eyes.
“Come now,” he said, taking Maya’s hand. “We had better climb up right here.”
The little bee was thinking of something the sprite had said, and as they clambered up the vine, she asked:
“Do human beings dream when they sleep?”
“Not only then. They dream sometimes even when they are awake. They sit with their bodies a little limp, their heads bent a little forward, and their eyes searching the distance, as if to see into the very heavens. Their dreams are always lovelier than life. That’s why we appear to them in their dreams.”
The sprite now laid his tiny finger on his lips, bent aside a small blooming sprig of jasmine, and gently pushed Maya ahead.
“Look down,” he said softly, “you’ll see what you have been wishing to see.”
The little bee looked and saw two human beings sitting on a bench in the shadows cast by the moonlight—a boy and a girl, the girl with her head leaning on the boy’s shoulder, and the boy holding his arm around the girl as if to protect her. They sat in complete stillness, looking wide-eyed into the night. It was as quiet as if they had both gone to sleep. Only from a distance came the chirping of the crickets, and slowly, slowly the moonlight drifted through the leaves.
Maya, transported out of herself, gazed into the girl’s face. Although it looked pale and wistful, it seemed to be transfused by the hidden radiance of a great happiness. Above her large eyes lay golden hair, like the golden hair of the sprite, and upon it rested the heavenly sheen of the midsummer night. From her red lips, slightly parted, came a breath of rapture and melancholy, as if she wanted to offer everything that was hers to the man by her side for his happiness.
And now she turned to him, pulled his head down, and whispered a magical something that brought a smile to his face such as Maya thought no earthly being could wear. In his eyes gleamed a happiness and a vigor as if the whole big world were his to own, and suffering and misfortune were banished forever from the face of the earth.
Maya somehow had no desire to know what he said to the girl in reply. Her heart quivered as though the ecstasy that emanated from the two human beings was also hers.
“Now I have seen the most glorious thing that my eyes will ever behold,” she whispered to herself. “I know now that human beings are most beautiful when they are in love.”
How long Maya stayed behind the leaves without stirring, lost in looking at the boy and girl, she did not know. When she turned round, the firefly’s lamp had been extinguished, the sprite was gone. Through the doorway of the arbor far across the country on the distant horizon showed a narrow streak of red.
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