WE awakened about the same time and began to stir about. The first thing that happened was a new experience the wax-pickers fell upon me and raked and scraped me for the tiny bits of wax which now, on account of my voracious appetite, had begun to grow in each of the rings marking the under sections of my body. They were so rude that at first I was inclined to resent their interference, which seemed to be mere meddling. But when I looked at Crip and saw two busy wax -pickers fumbling over him, I began to understand that this was part of a routine, and so I stood still until they had finished.
"They won't bother with me much longer," said Crip, sadly. "You see, when one becomes old the wax grows thinly so the pickers give over. But you! They'll get you. I have noticed that you are rather greedy about eating honey. This means you'll get fat and produce lots of wax."
"Tell me about wax and comb," I begged of him.
"Comb, my child, is made of wax; this is comb on which you are standing. It is everywhere about you. The cups that hold our honey and our bread are made of it. The cell in which you were born is of wax; and, besides, it is used to stop the holes in our house. Of course there are different kinds of comb, depending on the use to which it is put. Why, these sheets of comb with their six-sided cells are wonderful in their economy, in their plan and symmetry. The cell we build is perfect. No other structure would serve our purposes, combining such strength and capacity. The cell is indispensable to the life of the bee ! otherwise he could not exist.
' So don't let me see you make ready to fight the next time the wax-pickers approach, and they'll soon be after you again."
I answered nothing. I was wondering in what far age we had learned to build the six-sided cell, and in what tiny brain it had been conceived. They fit so perfectly, I stood quite still marveling at the harmony of it all and wondering how many things there remained for me to learn. At every turn I had been confronted with something new. And was it to be so to the end? What could the end be, of which Crip frequently spoke?
"How old are you?" I asked.
"Two months glorious with flowers, but ending in disaster."
"Well, you saw the close of it the death of our colony."
"Yes, I remember," I said. But he was so wise I could scarcely believe that he was but two months old, for he seemed so tattered of wing and battered of body ! Without thinking what we were about, we drew near the door. Groups of workers were banked about the entrance, waiting impatiently to be away at the first streaks of dawn. Presently a note like a bugle-call sounded, and immediately the face of things was changed. By twos and threes and fours the workers took wing and scurried into the fields.
A dull gray light lay on the world; the air was damp and moved lazily out of the east; the dew had fallen thick on the flowers and now began to twinkle from myriad angles. Crip and I had left the hive at the same instant, but once on the wing I forgot all about him and flew like mad this way and that until I caught a whiff of fragrance from an unexplored meadow, and thither I hastened. Strange and thrilling sensation! I had not until now felt the joy of dipping into the flowers and searching out their honey-pots. It was a field of late sunflowers, and all of them had their faces toward the east, eager to look upon the sun. Joyfully they waved in the breeze and beckoned to one another as if to say:
" Good morning. How glorious is the sun, our king!" In spite of the dew on their faces, some of them already were wearing the brand of the hot summer, which had all but gone and left them beseeching of autumn her tender graces.
"I am old and frayed," I heard one say, "and these mornings chill me, but my work is done. The heart and soul of me are here; I shall not pass; I shall endure; my seed shall spring up to brighten the world."
"But I am young," a tender blossom said, "and I shall be cut off. The frost will slay me and I shall have rattled down to dust ere my soul has developed its immortal parts."
At the moment I was taking honey from its lips, and I felt a quivering as if its heart fluttered.
" Dear little flower," I said, "you are living your life; you cannot die; you will be swallowed up in the universal spirit of things. Your face has spread a glamour of gold in the world; your honey has nourished a thousand winged things; your scented breath has floated far and has carried blessings into silent places. Memory of you will linger; it will be preserved by the things you have fed, by the things you have gladdened. And, too, I promise that I shall remember you!"
"How can you remember me," the flower asked,
"when you, too, are doomed?"
"What!" I cried. "Doomed! Why, I am young, I am swift, I am beautiful, I am glorious!"
"Yes, and so am I. But we pass."
"You are wise for so young a flower," spoke up the elder blossom. "Both of you are of the heavens; both have your lives before you in this tiny garden, ere you return to the golden fields that spread out toward the sun. You are immortal."
Just then I saw one of the petals blow away from the face of the elder flower. It fluttered and fluttered and finally fell to the earth. Scarcely had it struck the ground when something with a long, thin body and active legs seized it and began struggling to draw it through the grass, intent on some mysterious purpose.
I was quite absorbed, and from my post of vantage on the breast of the floweret I followed the movements of the thing that tugged at the petal. I had never seen this thing before and I was wishing for Crip, when, behold! he appeared.
"What are you doing?" he cried at me.
"How many loads have you gathered? What are you staring at?"
He had submerged me with questions. I answered none of them. I had, indeed, forgotten my work momentarily, so absorbed had I been in the talk of the flowers.
"Have you a load? Let's go," cried he.
I was ready, truly, but I could not refrain from asking him about this strange animal that pulled the leaf so sedulously through the grass.
"An ant!" Crip answered, rather glumly.
"Do you see what he is about?"
"Yes he is gathering his winter stores. A time comes when he must go indoors and he must have food even as you and I. Come now, let's be off." I looked down at the ant struggling with his burden and then at the disheveled flower, casting a last glance at the tender face which had yielded up honey to me, wondering at the strangeness of it all.
"Come on," cried Crip, rising on wing. I did not speak, but followed him. I flew at his heels until he began to fag a bit and then I came up alongside, careful, however, not to outdistance him. I soon saw that he had a heavier load than I, and I felt ashamed, but I knew this had come through my having wasted a few minutes, and I resolved then and there that the next time I should be first. Another thing I noticed, we were flying very low, so near the earth we almost brushed the tops of the bushes. I asked Crip the reason.
The wind," he answered, in better humor than could have been expected. "Don't you feel that heavy head current ? If you should go up it would be a hard fight home with these loads. You see, there are currents and currents," he went on, "and you must use your wits. Take the current that blows your way. Profit by whatever nature bestows."
Almost at once I saw the yard with its white hives, like dots, and the Master with the Little One and the dog that seemed always with them. The next moment Crip and I were dropping down to our hive. I was overjoyed when I fell upon the alighting-board, and could not restrain my exuberance of feeling. So I bowed my head humbly as best I might with the load I carried, uttering a hymn of thanksgiving the very hymn, Crip told me, that every worker for a million years had uttered on returning to his hive with his first load of honey. I cannot explain, but some mysterious force seized me, compelling me to bow my head and to sing. I should have done it had it cost my life. Such is the law of the hive, just as there is the law of the jungle. I did not know why I was so happy, but something bubbled over in me, and the very intoxication of it finally sent me running madly to deposit my load in a waiting cell, and once more to take wing for the field of the flowers of the sun.