YEARS ago, banished into the far Rio Grande region, I became a keeper of bees. As a child I had loved them, even caressed them, and many a time have I held them one and a hundred at once in my hands. I knew their every mind and their wilful ways; I loved their sweet contrarieties, their happy acceptation of the inevitable, and their joyous facing of life. So it came about that, grown older, I returned to my old engagements, and, far from human habitation, amid the wild, brush-set wilderness enveloping Lake Espantoso, I built my house and brought my bees. And, too, there came with me a little Shadow, and at his heels a shepherd-dog. There, in that land of boundless spaces, we waited and watched and dreamed. The years went by silently, uneventfully day following day noiselessly, as sounds die in the sea. Spring came with its bounty of flowers; and fast on the trail of retreating winter they leaped forth in multitudes: daisy and phlox and poppy and bluebonnet and Indian feather and anemone all tossed their heads and flung their beautiful wings into the sunlight. The earth was sweet with the wild, fresh sweetness of flowers. Even the cacti and the brush blossomed like roses of Cashmere, hiding their thorns amid a profusion of loveliness.
Then the winter came, brief, primordial in its changes. The brown earth and the brown-gray sweep of the horizon, stretching inimitably away, wakened in rueful contrast to the riot of the vernal months. Season after season went by until, indeed, I seemed but a ghost fluttering in and out among the whirling days. Overhead a sky of perennial blue; in my face the winds from every zone, and in my ears the somnolent sounds of the years gone to dust. I was overwhelmed by the impalpable significance of the primeval world and by the mysterious unfoldings of life.
Hours at a time I sat amid my little brothers, the bees, now and again catching up the harmonies of their existence and marveling much at the divine rhythm of their speech. The longer I sat and brooded the more I grew into their lives, until I seemed to know their every mood and to sound the mysteries of their being.
They seemed to know me and to love me. Often in their flight, tired and overladen, they would rest for a moment on my sleeve, and then away. Many a one did I raise from the earth where he had fallen all too like our fellow-mortals weighted down by burdens too heavy to bear. And how happy I was to see them, with ever so little help, again take wing and fly heartened to their homes. I have sometimes thought that, after all, men are but bees in their ultimate essence.
Thus, with the passing years, I, a keeper of bees, came to be one of them; and even now, though far distant, I wander in dreams through the open aisles about which their white houses cluster, and through that sweet rose-garden.
My cottage was framed in roses. Clambering Mareschal Neills, yellow as the sun; and Augusta Victorias, white as the snows of dead winters, leaned upon the walls; and all about varieties innumerable and known only to my mother, lifted their heads and prayed for the fulfilment of the law.
One rose there was of all roses the most beautiful. She called it the Queen of the Prairie. Red it was as the blood of the martyrs; and, huge as a lotus leaf, it blew the most wonderful of flowers. Here was my special pride. I loved it because of her hands; I loved it because it aspired toward perfection. Early in a morning now gone a gorgeous spring dawning I rose and went into the garden, as was my wont. The sun had not yet risen, and there was in the air a brooding, a sound of far-away symphonies. From rose to rose I turned, until presently I came to the most marvelous of them all. Wonderful beyond words, I drew it to me a Queen of the Prairie. I breathed its fragrance, thrilled at its beauty, when, with a start, I saw deep within the folds of its heart a little bee, drowsing in sleep. I could but gaze and wonder, arid while I gazed one leg quivered a moment and then was still.
It is the story of his life that I would tell. I plucked the rose and bore it away with me; and even now, as I write, its crumbled leaves lie over him in a memorial urn ; and I shall be happy if I have truly caught the meaning of his life, which carried with it so much of the sweetness of endeavor, so much of the joy of living, and so much of love for the Kingdom of Light.
BEECHHURST, LONG ISLAND, March, 1917.