Little Maya summoned every bit of strength and will power she had left. Like a bullet shot from the muzzle of a gun (bees can fly faster than most insects), she darted through the purpling dawn in a lightning beeline for the woods, where she knew she would be safe for the moment and could hide herself away should the hornet regret having let her go and follow in pursuit.
Gossamer veils hung everywhere over the level country, big drops fell from the trees on the dry leaves carpeting the ground, and the cold in the woods threatened to paralyze little Maya’s wings. No ray of the dawn had as yet found its way between the trees. The air was as hushed as if the sun had forgotten the earth, and all creatures had laid themselves to eternal rest.
Maya, therefore, flew high up in the air. Only one thing mattered—to get back as quickly as strength and wits permitted to her hive, her people, her endangered home. She must warn her people. They must prepare against the attack which the terrible brigands had planned for that very morning. Oh, if only the nation of bees had the chance to arm and make ready its defenses, it was well able to cope with its stronger opponents. But a surprise assault at rising time! What if the queen and the soldiers were still asleep? The success of the hornets would then be assured. They would take prisoners and give no quarter. The butchery would be horrible.
Thinking of the strength and energy of her people, their readiness to meet death, their devotion to their queen, the little bee felt a great wrath against their enemies the hornets. Her beloved people! No sacrifice was too great for them. Little Maya’s heart swelled with the ecstasy of self-sacrifice and the dauntless courage of enthusiasm.
It was not easy for her to find her way over the woods. Long before she had ceased to observe landmarks as did the other bees, who had great distances to come back with their loads of nectar. She felt she had never flown as high before, the cold hurt, and she could scarcely distinguish the objects below.
“What can I go by?” she thought. “No one thing stands out. I shan’t be able to reach my people and help them. Oh, oh! And here I had a chance to atone for my desertion. What shall I do? What shall I do?”—Suddenly some secret force steered her in a certain direction. “What is pushing and pulling me? It must be homesickness guiding me back to my country.” She gave herself up to the instinct and flew swiftly on. Soon, in the distance, looking like grey domes in the dim light of the dawn, showed the mighty lindens of the castle park. She exclaimed with delight. She knew where she was. She dropped closer to the earth. In the meadows on one side hung the luminous wisps of fog, thicker here than in the woods. She thought of the flower-sprites who cheerfully died their early death inside the floating veils. That inspired her anew with confidence. Her anxiety disappeared. Let her people spurn her from the kingdom, let the queen punish her for desertion, if only the bees were spared this dreadful calamity of the hornets’ invasion.
Close to the long stone wall shone the silver-fir that shielded the bee-city against the west wind. And there—she could see them distinctly now—were the red, blue, and green portals of her homeland. The stormy pounding of her heart nearly robbed her of her breath. But on she flew toward the red entrance which led to her people and her queen.
On the flying-board, two sentinels blocked the entrance and laid hands upon her. Maya was too breathless to utter a syllable, and the sentinels threatened to kill her. For a bee to force its way into a strange city without the queen’s consent is a capital offense.
“Stand back!” cried one sentinel, thrusting her roughly away. “What’s the matter with you! If you don’t leave this instant, you’ll die.—Did you ever!” He turned to the other sentinel. “Have you ever seen the like, and before daytime too?”
Now Maya pronounced the password by which all the bees knew one another. The sentinels instantly released her.
“What!” they cried. “You are one of us, and we don’t know you?”
“Let me get to the queen,” groaned the little bee. “Right away, quick! We are in terrible danger.”
The sentinels still hesitated. They couldn’t grasp the situation.
“The queen may not be awakened before sunrise,” said the one.
“Then,” Maya screamed, her voice rising to a passionate yell such as the sentinels had probably never heard from a bee before, “then the queen will never wake up alive. Death is following at my heels. Take me to the queen! Take me to the queen, I say!” Her voice was so wild and wrathful that the sentinels were frightened, and obeyed.
The three hurried together through the warm, well-known streets and corridors. Maya recognized everything, and for all her excitement and the tremendous need for haste, her heart quivered with sweet melancholy at the sight of the dear familiar scenes.
“I am at home,” she stammered with pale lips.
In the queen’s reception room she almost broke down. One of the sentinels supported her while the other hurried with the unusual message into the private chambers. Both of them now realized that something momentous was taking place, and the messenger ran as fast as his legs would carry him.
The first wax-generators were already up. Here and there a little head thrust itself out curiously from the openings. The news of the incident traveled quickly.
Two officers emerged from the private chambers. Maya recognized them instantly. In solemn silence, without a word to her, they took their posts, one on each side of the doorway: the queen would soon appear.
She came without her court, attended only by her aide and two ladies-in-waiting. She hurried straight over to Maya. When she saw what a state the child was in, the severe expression on her face relaxed a little.
The Queen came without her court, attended only by her aide and two ladies-in-waiting
“You have come with an important message? Who are you?”
Maya could not speak at once. Finally she managed to frame two words:
The queen turned pale. But her composure was unshaken, and Maya was somewhat calmed.
“Almighty queen!” she cried. “Forgive me for not respecting the duties I owe Your Majesty. Later I will tell you everything I have done. I repent. With my whole heart I repent.—Just a little while ago, as by a miracle, I escaped from the fortress of the hornets, and the last I heard was that they were planning to attack and plunder our kingdom at dawn.”
The wild dismay that the little bee’s words produced was indescribable. The ladies-in-waiting set up a loud wail, the officers at the door turned pale and made as if to dash off and sound the alarm, the aide said: “Good God!” and wheeled completely round, because he wanted to see on all sides at once.
As for the queen, it was really extraordinary to see with what composure, what resourcefulness she received the dreadful news. She drew herself up, and there was something in her attitude that both intimidated and inspired endless confidence. Little Maya was awed. Never, she felt, had she witnessed anything so superior. It was like a great, magnificent event in itself.
The queen beckoned the officers to her side and uttered a few rapid sentences aloud. At the end Maya heard:
“I give you one minute for the execution of my orders. A fraction of a second longer, and it will cost you your heads.”
But the officers scarcely looked as if they needed this incentive. In less time than it takes to tell they were gone. Their instant readiness was a joy to behold.
“O my queen!” said Maya.
The queen inclined her head to the little bee, who once again for a brief moment saw her monarch’s countenance beam upon her gently, lovingly.
“You have our thanks,” she said. “You have saved us. No matter what your previous conduct may have been, you have made up for it a thousandfold.—But go, rest now, little girl, you look very miserable, and your hands are trembling.”
“I should like to die for you,” Maya stammered, quivering.
“Don’t worry about us,” replied the queen. “Among the thousands inhabiting this city there is not one who would hesitate a moment to sacrifice his life for me and for the welfare of the country. You can go to sleep peacefully.”
She bent over and kissed the little bee on her forehead. Then she beckoned to the ladies-in-waiting and bade them see to Maya’s rest and comfort.
Maya, stirred to the depths of her being, allowed herself to be led away. After this, life had nothing lovelier to offer. As in a dream she heard the loud, clear signals in the distance, saw the high dignitaries of state assemble around the royal chambers, heard a dull, far-echoing drone that shook the hive from roof to foundation.
“The soldiers! Our soldiers!” whispered the ladies-in-waiting at her side.
The last thing Maya heard in the little room where her companions put her to bed was the tramp of soldiers marching past her door and commands shouted in a blithe, resolute, ringing voice. Into her dreams, echoing as from a great distance, she carried the ancient song of the soldier-bees:
Sunlight, sunlight, golden sheen,
By your glow our lives are lighted;
Bless our labors, bless our Queen,
Let us always be united.
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