The Adventures of Maya the Bee, Chapter 12
ALOIS, LADYBIRD AND POET
The sun was risen high above the tops of the beech-trees when Maya awoke in her woodland retreat. In the first moments, the moonlight, the chirping of the cricket, the midsummer night meadow, the lovely sprite, the boy and the girl in the arbor, all seemed the perishing fancies of a delicious dream. Yet here it was almost midday; and she remembered slipping back into her chamber in the chill of dawn. So it had all been real, she had spent the night with the flower-sprite and had seen the two human beings, with their arms round each other, in the arbor of woodbine and jasmine.
The sun outside was glowing hot on the leaves, a warm wind was stirring, and Maya heard the mixed chorus of thousands of insects. Ah, what these knew, and what she knew! So proud was she of the great thing that had happened to her that she couldn't get out to the others fast enough; she thought they must read it in her very looks.
But in the sunlight everything was the same as ever. Nothing was changed; nothing recalled the blue moonlit night. The insects came, said how-do-you-do, and left; yonder, the meadow was a scene of bustling activity; the insects, birds and butterflies hopped, flew and flitted in the hot flickering air around the tall, gay midsummer flowers.
Sadness fell upon Maya. There was no one in the world to share her joys and sorrows. She couldn't make up her mind to fly over and join the others in the meadow. No, she would go to the woods. The woods were serious and solemn. They suited her mood.
How many mysteries and marvels lie hidden in the dim depths of the woods, no one suspects who hurries unobservant along the beaten tracks. You must bend aside the branches of the underbrush, or lean down and peep between the blackberry briars through the tall grasses and across the thick moss. Under the shaded leaves of the plants, in holes in the ground and tree-trunks, in the decaying bark of stumps, in the curl and twist of the roots that coil on the ground like serpents, there is an active, multiform life by day and by night, full of joys and dangers, struggles and sorrows and pleasures.
Maya divined only a little of this as she flew low between the dark-brown trunks under the leafy roof of green. She followed a narrow trail in the grass, which made a clear path through thicket and clearing. Now and then the sun seemed to disappear behind clouds, so deep was the shade under the high foliage and in the close shrubbery; but soon she was flying again through a bright shimmer of gold and green above the broad-leaved miniature forests of bracken and blackberry.
After a long stretch the woods opened their columned and over-arched portals; before Maya's eyes lay a wide field of grain in the golden sunshine. Butterfly-weed flamed on the grassy borders. She alighted on the branch of a birch-tree at the edge of the field and gazed upon the sea of gold that spread out endlessly in the tranquillity of the placid day. It rippled softly under the shy summer breeze, which blew gently so as not to disturb the peace of the lovely world.
Under the birch-tree a few small brown butterflies, using the butterfly-weed for corners, were playing puss-in-the-corner, a favorite game with butterfly-children. Maya watched them a while.
"It must be lots of fun," she thought, "and the children in the hive might be taught to play it, too. The cells would do for corners.— But Cassandra, I suppose, wouldn't permit it. She's so strict."
Ah, now Maya felt sad again. Because she had thought of home. And she was about to drift off into homesick revery when she heard someone beside her say:
"Good morning. You're a beast, it seems to me."
Maya turned with a start.
"No," she said, "decidedly not."
There sitting on her leaf was a little polished terra-cotta half-sphere with seven black dots on its cupola of a back, a minute black head and bright little eyes. Peeping from under the dotted dome and supporting it as best they could Maya detected thin legs fine as threads. In spite of his queer figure, she somehow took a great liking to the stout little fellow; he had distinct charm.
"May I ask who you are? I myself am Maya of the nation of bees."
"Do you mean to insult me? You have no reason to."
"But why should I? I don't know you, really I don't." Maya was quite upset.
"It's easy to say you don't know me.— Well, I'll jog your memory. Count." And the little rotundity began to wheel round slowly.
"You mean I'm to count your dots?"
"Yes, if you please."
"Seven," said Maya.
"Well?— Well? You still don't know. All right then, I'll tell you. I'm called exactly according to what you counted. The scientific name of our family is Septempunctata. Septem is Latin for seven, punctata is Latin for dots, points, you see. Our common name is ladybird, my own name is Alois, I am a poet by profession. You know our common name, of course."
Maya, afraid of hurting Alois' feelings, didn't dare to say no.
"Oh," said he, "I live by the sunshine, by the peace of the day, and by the love of mankind."
"But don't you eat, too?" asked Maya, quite astonished.
"Of course. Plant-lice. Don't you?"
"No. That would be—that is...."
"Is what? Is what?"
"Not—usual," said Maya shyly.
"Of course, of course!" cried Alois, trying to raise one shoulder, but not succeeding, on account of the firm set of his dome. "As a bourgeoise you would, of course, do only what is usual. We poets would not get very far that way.— Have you time?"
"Why, yes," said Maya.
"Then I'll recite you one of my poems. Sit real still and close your eyes, so that nothing distracts your attention. The poem is called Man's Finger, and is about a personal experience. Are you listening?"
"Yes, to every word."
"'Since you did not do me wrong, That you found me, doesn't matter. You are rounded, you are long; Up above you wear a flatter, Pointed, polished sheath or platter Which you move as swift as light, But below you're fastened tight!'"
"Well?" asked Alois after a short pause. There were tears in his eyes and a quaver in his voice.
"Man's Finger gripped me very hard," replied Maya in some embarrassment. She really knew much lovelier poems.
"How do you find the form?" Alois questioned with a smile of fine melancholy. He seemed to be overwhelmed by the effect he had produced.
"Long and round. You yourself said so in the poem."
"I mean the artistic form, the form of my verse."
"Oh—oh, yes. Yes, I thought it was very good."
"It is, isn't it!" cried Alois. "What you mean to say is that Man's Finger may be ranked among the best poems you know of, and one must go way back in literature before one comes across anything like it. The prime requisite in art is that it should contain something new, which is what most poets forget. And bigness, too. Don't you agree with me?"
"Certainly," said Maya, "I think...."
"The firm belief you express in my importance as a poet really overwhelms me. I thank you.— But I must be going now, for solitude is the poet's pride. Farewell."
"Farewell," echoed Maya, who really didn't know just what the little fellow had been after.
"Well," she thought, "he knows. Perhaps he's not full grown yet; he certainly isn't large." She looked after him, as he hastened up the branch. His wee legs were scarcely visible; he looked as though he were moving on low rollers.
Maya turned her gaze away, back to the golden field of grain over which the butterflies were playing. The field and the butterflies gave her ever so much more pleasure than the poetry of Alois, ladybird and poet.