ON my way back the first rays of light caught the topmost branches of the trees and gilded the flying clouds in the east. Far in the west, black and forbidding masses of cloud were gathering, and the wind, I observed, had shifted its course. Again I had lost Crip, and I was regretful, for there were questions which only he could answer. But I flew all the faster for being alone, and soon found the very place and the very flowers I had visited before. Speedily I took my load, but I could not fail to return to the flowers I had come to love. Other petals from the elder had fluttered away, due either to the eager foraging of bees or to the gusty impatience of the wind. The younger had opened wider her heart to the sun.
"I've been waiting for you," she said, sweetly.
"All that I have I yield up to you gladly. This is my end. Oh, how glorious is life! How splendid to be able to give of one's store so that life shall go on eternally!"
"Yes, eternally," echoed the elder blossom. "Even I, in dying, leave my seed behind to follow the summer suns through numberless ages; and I breathe into the world an imperishable fragrance. It shall be wafted to the utmost bounds; it shall gladden the hearts of the lowliest. Though it be scattered by the winds, it shall not cease to exist."
By this time I had filled my honey-sac, and, after flying three times around these two well-beloved blossoms, I made for home. I was depressed by the talk which I had heard. I could not wholly comprehend it, and I wanted to consult Crip.
I was not long reaching our hive, for the wind seemed to get under me and literally to blow me on. I deposited my treasure, hurried out again, and once more headed for the sunflower-field, where I quickly gathered a load. Then straight for home. It was difficult flying now, because the wind was in my face. I rose higher, following Crip's advice, but still it blew and almost beat me back. The black clouds which I remembered having seen in the west seemed almost over me, and suddenly terrific noises crashed around. It grew dark and great flashes of fire tore the heavens apart and blinded me.
This terrified me. I knew not its meaning, but instinctively I fled homeward. But my progress was slow, and I had not gone far when again the whole world seemed to tremble, shaken through and through by the most violent rumblings conceivable. It grew so dark I almost stopped in my flight, not sure of my way. At this moment of hesitation something struck me squarely in the back, almost knocking me down. It had been a great drop of water, and almost immediately others began to pelt me. Soaking wet and tossed by the gale, I was forced to alight. As I dropped downward I saw nothing but black shadows, and presently I was dashed into a great tree. I seized a branch that offered shelter, which proved to be none too well protected against the blast that now drove the rain in solid sheets. I was cold, and clambered around to the under side of the limb, and there, feeling none too secure, I grudgingly deposited some of my honey in a crevice. By lightening my load I was better able to keep my balance; but so gusty was the blast that it whipped the rain all over me, and I was unable to find a spot that was dry. I began to climb from one branch to another in the hope of reaching a safer haven, but, alas! none was to be found. Worse things, too, were awaiting me. I was crying for Crip when the branch to which I clung suddenly snapped. Down and down it fell while I clung to it. I was too cold and wet to try to take wing, and presently the branch crashed into a swirling stream of water.
At first I was entirely submerged. It seemed an interminable time that I stayed under the water; but presently I came to the surface and caught my breath. Cold as I was, I still clung with all the tenacity of my being to the floating branch that was hurried onward by the raging torrent. I was beginning to feel a little more comfortable when over went the branch again in the seething water, and again I seemed to go down to immeasurable depths. This time I felt my legs giving way in the rush of the waters. My head swam and I strangled, but just as it seemed all over with me the branch again came to the surface. I caught my breath, shifted slightly my footing, and hurriedly emptied my honey-sac. This gave me more confidence in spite of the numbness that had nearly overcome me from the cold and water. There I sat shaking, awaiting the next turn of the branch, which now seemed merely to be bobbing up and down in the waters. The wind was still whistling through the trees, the rain was falling in torrents, and the thunder rumbled in unabated violence.
How long I clung to the branch in desperation I do not know. But after a time the rain ceased, the wind fell to a whimper among the bushes, and the darkness broke along the horizon. It began to grow a little brighter. Imagine my joy, therefore, to find that my perch was now quite clear of the flood waters, the branch safely nestling in the top of a bush. In a short space it grew warmer, and I took courage; I began to dry myself and to preen my wings. The light gained, and before long, after trying out my strength, I found that I could again mount into the air, and with one wide sweep I made for home.