NOW that I had taken my first flight into the blue, I felt at last that the world had truly opened for me, and that I was a real bee with duties and responsibilities and without hesitation I accepted them. Rushing around in uncontrolled delight, I heard again the laden workers murmuring about the great stores of honey they were taking. It seemed, from what I could gather, that practically all the workers of the hive were directing their course to this new, rich field. I was listening as hard as ever I might to all this converse, when an important bee cried out: "Why don't you get to work?"
Up to that moment I had done nothing nor had I even then thought of it, but at the suggestion I made off, following to the entrance and then into the air a worker bound for the unknown treasure-field. I got off a little more slowly than he, but to my surprise I found I could easily outfly him. We had gone but a short distance when he began to descend, and, with no ceremony, landed at the same instant on the alighting- board of a strange hive where a thousand bees were struggling. I discovered immediately that many of the bees around were strangers to me and that all acted like mad pushing, pulling, and fighting., Some were struggling to get in and some to get out. I saw at once that those outward bound were heavily laden with honey, and that they had to fight the hungry bees scrambling for a taste of the nectar. I collided with an old fellow heavily loaded and was about to attack him, when he hurled me aside. I was now aflame with the passion of acquisition. Honey I must have, even if it cost my life!
I scrambled along with the rest to get in and finally succeeded. But there the trouble began. Whether it was because I looked young or was really ignorant of the procedure, the first thing I knew a bad-tempered, elderty bee attacked me. I learned long afterward that he was one of the last survivors of the colony, fighting to the end. First, he seized me by the leg, but I kicked him off; then, undaunted, he got me by the wing in such a way that I could not shake him, and the next thing I knew he was about to sting me. Other bees were rushing pell-mell over us. I felt the tiniest prick of his stinger, and then with a supreme effort I escaped his clutches. I rushed away from the spot and soon came upon a batch of honey over which it appeared ten thousand bees were quarreling and fighting. Without thinking, I fell into the scrimmage and by some chance finally landed on a half-filled cell, and into it I plunged.
Here my troubles began afresh. Hundreds of bees piled on top of me and all but drowned me in the honey I was intent on possessing. For a minute my head was buried in it and I began to strangle. But by a mighty effort I escaped.
It was almost as difficult to get out of the hive as it was in ; and on my return journey a hungry, malevolent bee intercepted me and demanded that I divide my load with him. On my refusing he seized me by a wing and jerked me so violently that I thought he had all but torn it off. I fought him from the start, but, he being a stalwart and I heavily laden, he thrashed me almost into a lifeless state. To add to my terrible mischance, another freebooter, more vicious than the first, joined against me, and the two of them overcame me quickly and robbed me of my load. They left me half senseless and I was only too glad to escape with my life.
I flew as straight as an arrow to my home,, feeling outraged and exhausted. After all, I was not powerful not important. I was crestfallen ; but I did not even have to think of the direction or the location of my house, and you may be assured I was glad to return to it, if only to make sure that I was alive and knew the road. At the same time I was still under the impression that I had some honey in my sac. Nobody had taught me how to unload it, but I went forward to a cell. Imagine how downcast I was to find that not an atom of honey had been left me! I was infuriated; so resolved at once to try again. Hurriedly I went to the place for another load, but found the bees had nearly all gone. Once inside, I discovered that not a drop of honey remained, hence the reason for their leaving. I was wandering about when a poor crippled bee approached. Could this be one of the rascals that robbed me and who had suffered a worse fate?
"Won't you have pity on me and let me go home with you?" he said, sorrowfully. "I'm all alone in the world."
His tone and request cut me deeply; he was clearly no robber, for I saw that he was broken-hearted and had but five legs one of his basket-legs was missing. And how wretched he looked!
"Have you no home?" I asked, with compassion.
"This was my home, but you and ten thousand like you have destroyed it. There wasn't much left of it, though, when our Queen-Mother died."
I felt guilty as a thief caught red-handed. Remorse was at my throat.
"Yes," I said, "you may go home with me. But tell me about your Queen-Mother. What became of her?"
Then he began a fascinating story which kept me rooted to the place, desolate as it was.
"Well, it was this way: One sunny afternoon, a long time ago, our Queen-Mother went for a flight into the outer world, a thing she did but rarely and never returned. Have you ever lived in a house without a Queen-Mother? You do not understand, then, what a terrible thing that is."
He stopped short and would say no more.
"Please go on!" I urged.
"Some day I'll tell you all of it. It is a long story, but for us the end was in sight. In the large economy of the universe our efforts were futile. Better for us and for the great Life of the Bee that the honey we had gathered should be conserved by strange colonies, and that our short lives should be yielded up or dedicated to strengthening them, than that it should be left rich booty to web-worms and mice. So it came to pass, you and others found out our condition and sought our stores, as it has been written you should. We fought at first, half-heartedly as one without friends or kinsmen or home will fight. You saw the end of the battle. It is over. And now will you let me go home with you ? You see I have but five legs, but I can still work and help do the things that remain to be done."
So absorbing had been his story, I quite forgot myself, and while I answered, "I'm so sorry for you, and want you to come," my thoughts were far away. The things he had told me out of his life and out of the life of the colony had gone deep in my breast. Turning from him, I looked around and, lo ! the hive was silent as death. Not a thing of life remained except this poor, miserable, orphaned bee. Death had come, and now stood guard over the portal of the little home where once a beautiful spirit had brooded, and where some of the laws we may not understand had come to fulfilment. . . .
"Come with me," I said, in a whisper. He followed, limping but uncomplaining. On the bottom-board we saw a number of dead bees which I had not noticed on going in, I had been in such haste.
"So many of my brothers are dead," he murmured,
"why should I want to live? Because I am needed? You think I am needed? You think I am commanded by the high powers to give my energies and my intelligence to the problems that confront us ? Perhaps that is true, and I shall bide by the call and give my life to my new family."
We came at length to the entrance; I noticed that he turned and looked in a dazed way at the things about him. It was a sad farewell. His little brothers had gone. His tribe had perished. He should see his home never again.
Then I rose on my wings and he followed me ever so closely. A new chapter in our lives had opened.