The Adventures of Maya the Bee, Chapter 17
THE QUEEN'S FRIEND
The noise of battle awoke Maya out of a brief sleep. She jumped up and straightway wanted to dash out to help defend the city, but soon realized that she was too weak to be of any help.
A group of struggling combatants came rolling toward her. One of them was a strong young hornet, an officer, Maya judged by his badge, who was defending himself unaided against an overwhelming number of bees. The struggling knot drew nearer. To Maya's horror it left one dead bee after another in its wake. But numbers finally told against the giant: whole clusters of bees, ready to die rather than let go, hung to his arms and legs and feelers, and their stings were beginning to pierce between the rings of his breast. Maya saw him drop down exhausted. Without cry or complaint, fighting to the very end, neither suing for mercy nor reviling his opponents, he went down to his brigand's death.
The bees left him and hurried back to the entrance to throw themselves anew into the conflict.
Maya's heart was beating stormily. She slipped over to the hornet. He lay curled up in the twilight, still breathing. She counted about twenty stings, most of them in the fore part of his body, leaving his golden armor quite whole and sound. Seeing he was still alive, she hurried away to bring water and honey—to cheer the dying man, she thought. But he shook his head and waived her off with his hand.
"I take what I want," he said proudly. "I don't care for gifts."
"Oh," said Maya, "I only thought you might be thirsty."
The young officer smiled at her, then said, not sadly, but with a strange earnestness:
"I must die."
The little bee could not reply. For the first time in her life she seemed to comprehend what it meant to have to die; and death seemed much closer when someone else was about to die than when her own life had been imperiled in the spider's web.
"If there were only something I could do," she said, and burst into tears.
The dying hornet made no answer. He opened his eyes once again and heaved a deep breath—for the last time. Half an hour later he was thrown down into the grass outside the hive along with his dead comrades.
Little Maya never forgot what she had learned from this brief farewell. She knew now for all time that her enemies were beings like herself, loving life as she did and having to die a hard death without succor. She thought of the flower sprite who had told her of his rebirth when Nature sent forth her blossoms again in the spring; and she longed to know whether the other creatures would, like the sprite, come back to the light of life after they had died the death of the earth.
"I will believe it is so," she said softly.
A messenger now came and summoned her to the queen's presence. She found the full court assembled in the royal reception room. Her legs shook, she scarcely dared to raise her eyes before her monarch and so many dignitaries. A number of the officers of the queen's staff were missing, and the gathering was unusually solemn. Yet a gleam of exaltation seemed to light every brow—as if the consciousness of triumph and new glory won encircled everyone like an invisible halo.
The queen arose, made her way unattended through the assemblage, went up to little Maya and took her in her arms.
This Maya had never expected, not this. The measure of her joy was full to overflowing; she broke down and wept.
The bees were deeply stirred. There was not one among them who did not share Maya's happiness, who was not deeply grateful for the little bee's valiant deed.
Maya now had to tell her whole story. Everybody wanted to know how she had learned of the hornets' plans and how she had succeeded in breaking out of the awful prison from which no bee had ever before escaped.
So Maya told of all the remarkable things she had seen and heard, of Miss Loveydear with the glittering wings, of the grasshopper, of Thekla the spider, of Puck, and of how splendidly Bobbie had come to her rescue. When she told of the sprite and the human beings, it was so quiet in the hall that you could hear the generators in the back of the hive kneading the wax.
"Ah," said the queen, "who'd have thought the sprites were so lovely?" She smiled to herself with a look of melancholy and longing, as people will who long for beauty.
And all the dignitaries smiled the same smile.
"How did the song of the sprite go?" she asked. "Say it again. I'd like to learn it by heart."
Maya repeated the song of the sprite.
My soul is that which breathes anew From all of loveliness and grace; And as it flows from God's own face, It flows from his creations, too.
There was silence for a while. The only sound was a restrained sobbing in the back of the hall—probably someone thinking of a friend who had been killed.
Maya went on with her story. When she came to the hornets, the bees' eyes darkened and widened. Each imagined himself in the situation in which one of their number had been, and quivered, and drew a deep breath.
"Awful," said the queen, "perfectly awful...."
The dignitaries murmured something to the same effect.
"And so," Maya ended, "I reached home. And I sue for your Majesty's pardon—a thousand times."
Oh, no one bore the little bee any ill will for having run away from the hive. You may imagine they did not.
The queen put her arm round Maya's neck.
"You did not forget your home and your people," she said kindly. "In your heart you were loyal. So we will be loyal to you. Henceforth you shall stay by my side and help me conduct the affairs of state. In that way, I think, your experiences, all the things you have learned, will be made to serve the greatest good of your people and your country."
Cheers of approval greeted the queen's words.
So ends the story of the adventures of Maya the bee. They say her work contributed greatly to the good and welfare of the nation, and she came to be highly respected and loved by her people. Sometimes on quiet evenings she went for a brief hour's conversation to Cassandra's peaceful little room, where the ancient dame lived now on pension honey. There Maya told the young bees, who listened to her eagerly, stories of the adventures which we have lived through with her.