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 Libellulidæ.”
“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.
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