The Adventures of Maya the Bee, Chapter 02
THE HOUSE OF THE ROSE
By the time Maya awoke, it was full daylight. She felt a little chilly under her big green leaf, and stiff in her limbs, so that her first movements were slow and clumsy. Clinging to a vein of the leaf she let her wings quiver and vibrate, to limber them up and shake off the dust; then she smoothed her fair hair, wiped her large eyes clean, and crept, warily, down to the edge of the leaf, where she paused and looked around.
The glory and the glow of the morning sun were dazzling. Though Maya's resting-place still lay in cool shadow, the leaves overhead shone like green gold.
"Oh, you glorious world," thought the little bee.
Slowly, one by one, the experiences of the previous day came back to her—all the beauties she had seen and all the risks she had run. She remained firm in her resolve not to return to the hive. To be sure, when she thought of Cassandra, her heart beat fast, though it was not very likely that Cassandra would ever find her.— No, no, to her there was no joy in forever having to fly in and out of the hive, carrying honey and making wax. This was clear, once and for all. She wanted to be happy and free and enjoy life in her own way. Come what might, she would take the consequences.
Thus lightly thought Maya, the truth being that she had no real idea of the things that lay in store for her.
Afar off in the sunshine something glimmered red. A lurking impatience seized the little bee. Moreover, she felt hungry. So, courageously, with a loud joyous buzz, she swung out of her hiding-place into the clear, glistening air and the warm sunlight, and made straight for the red patch that seemed to nod and beckon. When she drew near she smelled a perfume so sweet that it almost robbed her of her senses, and she was hardly able to reach the large red flower. She let herself down on the outermost of its curved petals and clung to it tightly. At the gentle tipping of the petal a shining silver sphere almost as big as herself, came rolling toward her, transparent and gleaming in all the colors of the rainbow. Maya was dreadfully frightened, yet fascinated too by the splendor of the cool silver sphere, which rolled by her, balanced on the edge of the petal, leapt into the sunshine, and fell down in the grass. Oh, oh! The beautiful ball had shivered into a score of wee pearls. Maya uttered a little cry of terror. But the tiny round fragments made such a bright, lively glitter in the grass, and ran down the blades in such twinkling, sparkling little drops like diamonds in the lamplight, that she was reassured.
She turned towards the inside of the calix. A beetle, a little smaller than herself, with brown wing-sheaths and a black breastplate, was sitting at the entrance. He kept his place unperturbed, and looked at her seriously, though by no means unamiably. Maya bowed politely.
"Did the ball belong to you?" she asked, and receiving no reply added: "I am very sorry I threw it down."
"Do you mean the dewdrop?" smiled the beetle, rather superior. "You needn't worry about that. I had taken a drink already and my wife never drinks water, she has kidney trouble.— What are you doing here?"
"What is this wonderful flower?" asked Maya, not answering the beetle's question. "Would you be good enough to tell me its name?"
Remembering Cassandra's advice she was as polite as possible.
The beetle moved his shiny head in his dorsal plate, a thing he could do easily without the least discomfort, as his head fitted in perfectly and glided back and forth without a click.
"You seem to be only of yesterday?" he said, and laughed—not so very politely. Altogether there was something about him that struck Maya as unrefined. The bees had more culture and better manners. Yet he seemed to be a good-natured fellow, because, seeing Maya's blush of embarrassment, he softened to her childish ignorance.
"It's a rose," he explained indulgently. "So now you know.— We moved in four days ago, and since we moved in, it has flourished wonderfully under our care.— Won't you come in?"
Maya hesitated, then conquered her misgivings and took a few steps forward. He pressed aside a bright petal, Maya entered, and she and the beetle walked beside each other through the narrow chambers with their subdued light and fragrant walls.
"What a charming home!" exclaimed Maya, genuinely taken with the place. "The perfume is positively intoxicating."
Maya's admiration pleased the beetle.
"It takes wisdom to know where to live," he said, and smiled good-naturedly. "'Tell me where you live and I'll tell you what you're worth,' says an old adage.— Would you like some nectar?"
"Oh," Maya burst out, "I'd love some."
The beetle nodded and disappeared behind one of the walls. Maya looked about. She was happy. She pressed her cheeks and little hands against the dainty red hangings and took deep breaths of the delicious perfume, in an ecstasy of delight at being permitted to stop in such a beautiful dwelling.
"It certainly is a great joy to be alive," she thought. "And there's no comparison between the dingy, crowded stories in which the bees live and work and this house. The very quiet here is splendid."
Suddenly there was a loud sound of scolding behind the walls. It was the beetle growling excitedly in great anger. He seemed to be hustling and pushing someone along roughly, and Maya caught the following, in a clear, piping voice full of fright and mortification.
"Of course, because I'm alone, you dare to lay hands on me. But wait and see what you get when I bring my associates along. You are a ruffian. Very well, I am going. But remember, I called you a ruffian. You'll never forget that."
The stranger's emphatic tone, so sharp and vicious, frightened Maya dreadfully. In a few moments she heard the sound of someone running out.
The beetle returned and sullenly flung down some nectar.
"An outrage," he said. "You can't escape those vermin anywhere. They don't allow you a moment's peace."
Maya was so hungry she forgot to thank him and took a mouthful of nectar and chewed, while the beetle wiped the perspiration from his forehead and slightly loosened his upper armor so as to catch his breath.
"Who was that?" mumbled Maya, with her mouth still full.
"Please empty your mouth—finish chewing and swallowing your nectar. One can't understand a word you say."
Maya obeyed, but the excited owner of the house gave her no time to repeat her question.
"It was an ant," he burst out angrily. "Do those ants think we save and store up hour after hour only for them! The idea of going right into the pantry without a how-do-you-do or a by-your-leave! It makes me furious. If I didn't realize that the ill-mannered creatures actually didn't know better, I wouldn't hesitate a second to call them—thieves!"
At this he suddenly remembered his own manners.
"I beg your pardon," he said, turning to Maya, "I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Peter, of the family of rose-beetles."
"My name is Maya," said the little bee shyly. "I am delighted to make your acquaintance." She looked at Peter closely; he was bowing repeatedly, and spreading his feelers like two little brown fans. That pleased Maya immensely.
"You have the most fascinating feelers," she said, "simply sweet...."
"Well, yes," observed Peter, flattered, "people do think a lot of them. Would you like to see the other side?"
"If I may."
The rose-beetle turned his fan-shaped feelers to one side and let a ray of sunlight glide over them.
"Great, don't you think?" he asked.
"I shouldn't have thought anything like them possible," rejoined Maya. "My own feelers are very plain."
"Well, yes," observed Peter, "to each his own. By way of compensation you certainly have beautiful eyes, and the color of your body, the gold of your body, is not to be sneezed at."
Maya beamed. Peter was the first person to tell her she had any good looks. Life was great. She was happy as a lark, and helped herself to some more nectar.
"An excellent quality of honey," she remarked.
"Take some more," said Peter, rather amazed by his little guest's appetite. "Rose-juice of the first vintage. One has to be careful and not spoil one's stomach. There's some dew left, too, if you're thirsty."
"Thank you so much," said Maya. "I'd like to fly now, if you will permit me."
The rose-beetle laughed.
"Flying, always flying," he said. "It's in the blood of you bees. I don't understand such a restless way of living. There's some advantage in staying in one place, too, don't you think?"
Peter courteously held the red curtain aside.
"I'll go as far as our observation petal with you," he said. "It makes an excellent place to fly from."
"Oh, thank you," said Maya, "I can fly from anywhere."
"That's where you have the advantage over me," replied Peter. "I have some difficulty in unfolding my lower wings." He shook her hand and held the last curtain aside for her.
"Oh, the blue sky!" rejoiced Maya. "Good-by."
"So long," called Peter, remaining on the top petal to see Maya rise rapidly straight up to the sky in the golden sunlight and the clear, pure air of the morning. With a sigh he returned, pensive, to his cool rose-dwelling, for though it was still early he was feeling rather warm. He sang his morning song to himself, and it hummed in the red sheen of the petals and the radiance of the spring day that slowly mounted and spread over the blossoming earth.
Gold and green are field and tree, Warm in summer's glow; All is bright and fair to see While the roses blow.
What or why the world may be Who can guess or know? All my world is glad and free While the roses blow.
Brief, they say, my time of glee; With the roses I go; Yes, but life is good to me While the roses blow.