I DID not answer Crip, for at the moment I was notified that I should take my turn at guard duty, and I went at once to report.
It was now fast growing dark, and the last workers were dropping on the alighting-board and groping their way into the hive. It was the duty of guards to inspect all who entered, and to keep out bugs and ants and intruders. More than a score of guards, I among them, kept a continuous patrol before the entrance; and all went well until far into the night.
The Master with his little Shadow had passed among us as if to bid us good night, and had gone. The moon was now rising, and a mocking-bird in a neighboring tree had been rendering melodies without number. There was no sound in all the world save the mockingbird's song that ebbed and flowed in ever wilder cadence. High above his perch he would soar into the moonlight, and as he dropped again his little gray body looking like a bit of mist he would almost burst his throat with rapturous song. Often had I heard him sing, but never had he so completely abandoned himself to the sheer frenzy of it and at such an hour!
"He's making the best of it, for soon the winter will come and his songs will cease," observed a guard. "But what glorious singing!" added another. While we were talking a guard suddenly gave an alarm. He had either scented or seen an enemy; but doubt was immediately removed, for the raw smell of an animal was borne in to us. We paused and prepared for an attack. Our wings were buzzing at intervals and our stings were ready to strike. And none too soon, for in a moment more a monstrous animal stuck his nose into the entrance of our hive. Instantly we all flew at him, some landing in his face and some on his body. But only those that struck his face succeeded in stinging him, for the hair was too long on his body.
I was unfortunate enough to have been one of those landing on his back, and immediately found myself so entangled in his hair that I could neither sting him nor free myself. I struggled in vain, and my efforts were rendered more difficult on account of the mad capers he cut in escaping from the spot. The moment we flew at him and stung him about the head, he turned somersaults and cried like a cat in torment, while he fled madly. So wildly did he fly that he banged squarely into a neighboring hive and nearly upset it. Then he collided with weeds and brush and cacti in fact, I now suspect he could see nothing. Certainly he cared not what lay in his road.
I can think of it calmly, now that I am safely back, but while I rode unwillingly upon his back I thought each instant would be my last. After vainly trying to reach his body in order to sting him, I gave over and endeavored to free myself. What with the buzzing of many pairs of wings in his ears, and the pain from the stings, he fled like the wind. Presently, however, he stopped suddenly and tried to reach me with his claws. Then he did his best to crush me with his teeth, snarling and whining betimes. He did crush some of my brother guards; but I was just back of his ears, and he could not reach me. However, I may add I almost wished he had, for his breath was horrible. I never could abide the breath of any living thing.
Soon he gave over and set out running again at top speed. I had abandoned myself for lost, when a bush scraped me out of my entanglement and I fell half dead to the ground. But the would-be robber never stopped, for I could hear the brush rattling in his wake. He still fled incontinently, as though he feared another attack, as though his very life depended on his rate of speed.
I lay there for a moment, scarcely able to move. But what could I do? The moon was still bright, but bright as it was, the way back home was dark. Instinctively, I turned to a friendly bush and made my way to the topmost branch, and there I planted myself for the rest of the night.
The^wind was blowing lustily. I did not like the threshing back and forth of the branches in the gloom, with the chance of being knocked off at any moment. I could not think calmly of crawling on the ground, for Crip had told me this was a thing to be avoided at all hazards. Scorpions and beetles and toads and snakes made the night perilous. So I clung to the branch with all my might. Now and again a pause in the wind would allow me to look up at the stars through the screen of leaves and how dear and wonderful they were! Long ago I had thought how beautiful it must be up there in the blue space, fretted with tiny lights no bigger than the candle burning in the window of the Master's house. And even then, as I turned, I could see his lamp, and I almost started to fly toward it. There was a fascination in its beams which I could scarcely resist. Always, when on guard duty, at any hour of the night, I had been able to see his light and to hear the bark of his dog. He seemed never to sleep or if he slept the lamp and the dog kept watch over him.
The blustering wind finally had compassion on me and ceased altogether. There came a. silence that was more than silence. I felt it oppressive. Then, as if a pause had been made for them, the crickets and katydids began a frightful chattering, which was punctuated betimes by the far hooting of an owl. The air grew chilly, and I began to feel cold and stiff, and held none too securely to my bush. It was a fortunate thing, I thought, that the wind had died away. How tired I was ! This had been one of the hardest days of my life. As I reflected on it, it seemed very long ago that it began; and I heartily wished for the dawn. I must have drowsed awhile, for when again I looked about me a mellow light brooded on the horizon and a great star beamed above it. Soon wide streams of gold flowed across the pale-blue sky, quenching the fires of the stars. Then, as if in compensation for their loss, fleecy Gulf clouds caught the early rays of the sun and filled the world with showers of rainbow lights.
Presently I could see well enough to rise on my wings, and in spite of the chill in the air, up I went until I got my bearings. A strange fit seized me. "Fly to the sun!" I heard in my ears; and off I went. Up and up I flew higher and higher until below me I could scarcely see the white houses of the apiary where I lived and the white house of the Master. But under me the waters of Lake Espantoso glimmered like a mirror, and in the dark fringe of trees that bordered it I remembered a swarm of my little brothers had taken refuge, and I wondered how they fared. Far as I could see stretched the undulating hills over which I had flown in search of treasure hills now clad in their robes of autumn. A fragrance reached me at this great height, which came from I knew not where, I had wheeled about and started home, when I caught sight of the Master wandering dreamily in his garden. Then immediately I knew that the fragrance came from his beautiful roses. Many a time had I flown over the place, marveling at the flowers. Indeed, I had gathered honey from the honeysuckle that climbed on the walls of his house and from the crpemyrtle hard by. But the roses ah, the roses! I loved to drop into their hearts and to breathe the sweet breath of their lives. So again, without thinking, I flew down and down until I reached the garden and sank into a rose to rest. I felt tired, ever so tired. When I emerged there was the Master fondling a rose; I circled slowly past him and around him. He saw me at once, and a tender look came into his eyes. Reluctantly I left him caressing his roses, and flew rapidly home.