Her adventure with the spider gave Maya something to think about. She made up her mind to be more cautious in the future, not to rush into things so recklessly. Cassandra’s prudent warnings about the greatest dangers that threaten the bees, were enough to give one pause; and there were all sorts of other possibilities, and the world was such a big place—oh, there was a good deal to make a little bee stop and think.
It was in the evening particularly, when twilight fell and the little bee was all by herself, that one consideration after another stirred her mind. But the next morning, if the sun shone, she usually forgot half the things that had bothered her the night before, and allowed her eagerness for experiences to drive her out again into the gay whirl of life.
One day she met a very curious creature. It was angular and flat as a pancake, but had a rather neat design on its sheath; and whether its sheath were wings or what, you couldn’t really tell. The odd little monster sat absolutely still on the shaded leaf of a raspberry bush, its eyes half closed, apparently sunk in meditation. The scent of the raspberries spread around it deliciously. Maya wanted to find out what sort of an animal it was. She flew to the next-door leaf and said how-do-you-do. The stranger made no reply.
“How do you do, again?” And Maya gave its leaf a little tap. The flat object peeled one eye open, turned it on Maya, and said:
“A bee. The world is full of bees,” and closed its eye again.
“Unique,” thought Maya, and determined to get at the stranger’s secret. For now it excited her curiosity more than ever, as people often do who pay no attention to us. She tried honey. “I have plenty of honey,” she said. “May I offer you some?” The stranger opened its one eye and regarded Maya contemplatively a moment or two. “What is it going to say this time?” Maya wondered.
This time there was no answer at all. The one eye merely closed again, and the stranger sat quite still, tight on the leaf, so that you couldn’t see its legs and you’d have thought it had been pressed down flat with a thumb.
Maya realized, of course, that the stranger wanted to ignore her, but—you know how it is—you don’t like being snubbed, especially if you haven’t found out what you wanted to find out. It makes you feel so cheap.
“Whoever you are,” cried Maya, “permit me to inform you that insects are in the habit of greeting each other, especially when one of them happens to be a bee.” The bug sat on without budging. It did not so much as open its one eye again. “It’s ill,” thought Maya. “How horrid to be ill on a lovely day like this. That’s why it’s staying in the shade, too.” She flew over to the bug’s leaf and sat down beside it. “Aren’t you feeling well?” she asked, so very friendly.
At this the funny creature began to move away. “Move” is the only word to use, because it didn’t walk, or run, or fly, or hop. It went as if shoved by an invisible hand.
“It hasn’t any legs. That’s why it’s so cross,” thought Maya.
When it reached the stem of the leaf it stopped a second, moved on again, and, to her astonishment, Maya saw that it had left behind a little brown drop.
“How very singular,” she thought—and clapped her hand to her nose and held it tight shut. The veriest stench came from the little brown drop. Maya almost fainted. She flew away as fast as she could and seated herself on a raspberry, where she held on to her nose and shivered with disgust and excitement.
“Serves you right,” someone above her called, and laughed. “Why take up with a stink-bug?”
“Don’t laugh!” cried Maya.
She looked up. A white butterfly had alighted overhead on a slender, swaying branch of the raspberry bush, and was slowly opening and closing its broad wings—slowly, softly, silently, happy in the sunshine—black corners to its wings, round black marks in the centre of each wing, four round black marks in all. Ah, how beautiful, how beautiful! Maya forgot her vexation. And she was glad, too, to talk to the butterfly. She had never made the acquaintance of one before even though she had met a great many.
“Oh,” she said, “you probably are right to laugh. Was that a stink-bug?”
“It was,” he replied, still smiling. “The sort of person to keep away from. You’re probably very young still?”
“Well,” observed Maya, “I shouldn’t say I was—exactly. I’ve been through a great deal. But that was the first specimen of the kind I had ever come across. Can you imagine doing such a thing?”
The butterfly had to laugh again.
“You see,” he explained, “stink-bugs like to keep to themselves. They are not very popular, so they use the odoriferous drop to make people take notice of them. We’d probably soon forget the fact of their existence if it were not for the drop: it serves as a reminder. And they want to be remembered, no matter how.”
“How lovely, how exquisitely lovely your wings are,” said Maya. “So delicate and white. May I introduce myself? Maya, of the nation of bees.”
The butterfly laid his wings together to look like only one wing standing straight up in the air. He gave a slight bow.
“Fred,” he said laconically.
Maya couldn’t gaze her fill.
“Fly a little,” she asked.
“Shall I fly away?”
“Oh no. I just want to see your great white wings move in the blue air. But never mind. I can wait till later. Where do you live?”
“Nowhere specially. A settled home is too much of a nuisance. Life didn’t get to be really delightful until I turned into a butterfly. Before that, while I was still a caterpillar, I couldn’t leave the cabbage the livelong day, and all one did was eat and squabble.”
“Just what do you mean?” asked Maya, mystified.
“I used to be a caterpillar,” explained Fred.
“Never!” cried Maya.
“Now, now, now,” said Fred, pointing both feelers straight at Maya. “Everyone knows a butterfly is first a caterpillar. Even human beings know it.”
Maya was utterly perplexed. Could such a thing be?
“You must really explain more clearly,” she said. “I couldn’t accept what you say just so, could I? You wouldn’t expect me to.”
The butterfly perched beside the little bee on the slender swaying branch of the raspberry bush, and they rocked together in the morning wind. He told her how he had begun life as a caterpillar and then, one day, when he had shed his last caterpillar skin, he came out a pupa or chrysalis.
“At the end of a few weeks,” he continued, “I woke up out of my dark sleep and broke through the wrappings or pupa-case. I can’t tell you, Maya, what a feeling comes over you when, after a time like that, you suddenly see the sun again. I felt as though I were melting in a warm golden ocean, and I loved my life so that my heart began to pound.”
“I understand,” said Maya, “I understand. I felt the same way the first time I left our humdrum city and flew out into the bright scented world of blossoms.” The little bee was silent a while, thinking of her first flight.—But then she wanted to know how the butterfly’s large wings could grow in the small space of the pupa-case.
“The wings are delicately folded together like the petals of a flower in the bud. When the weather is bright and warm, the flower must open, it cannot help itself, and its petals unfold. So with my wings, they were folded up, then unfolded. No one can resist the sun when it shines.”
“No, no—one cannot—one cannot resist the sunshine.” Maya mused, watching the butterfly as he perched in the golden light of the morning, pure white against the blue sky.
“People often charge us with being frivolous,” said Fred. “We’re really happy—just that—just happy. You wouldn’t believe how seriously I sometimes think about life.”
“Tell me what all you think.”
“Oh,” said Fred, “I think about the future. It’s very interesting to think about the future.—But I should like to fly now. The meadows on the hillside are full of yarrow and canterbury bells; everything’s in bloom. I’d like to be there, you know.”
This Maya understood, she understood it well, and they said good-by and flew away in different directions, the white butterfly rocking silently as if wafted by the gentle wind, little Maya with that uneasy zoom-zoom of the bees which we hear upon the flowers on fair days and which we always recall when we think of the summer.
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