IT was still so early that a chill enveloped the world and the workers awaited the sun. I rushed towhere I knew I should find Crip, and breathlessly began the narrative of my adventure.
"I know just about what happened," he ventured, when he had expressed his joy at seeing me, for he knew that I had been on duty and that a number of the guards had been lost."
I wept not a little for you. Yes, it was a racoon," he repeated. "You will remember I told you about them. They are crazy over honey."
He was deeply interested in the account of my mad and unwilling- ride.
Then I told him of my visit to the garden, and of the Master. He made no reply, but presently asked : "What do you know of the Master?"
"Little very little."
"Do you know that lately I've been wondering whether I have been fair to him? Once I was perfectly sure that he was an enemy to be fought on all occasions, that he made use of us only for selfish ends. Now I am beginning to think I was wrong. While he has taken our honey, he has always left us enough. Last winter, I am told, he actually brought a lot of honey and gave it to the colonies that had none. Besides, before we came in contact with men, we lived in caves and hollow trees, exposed to all manner of enemies. It is different now."
We were still busy talking when the signal for work rang through the hive, and both Crip and I made our way to the front. And, as many times before, we rose from the board together and flew at once to the field of broomweed. Side by side we ranged, visiting many of the tiny yellow flowers ere we were laden. Everything was now painfully dry, and it was all too evident that the honey flow was over. Try as hard as we might, we gathered only a few loads a day. And Crip remarked how short the days were and how far into the south the sun had drifted. Then, besides, we were obliged to leave off earlier, on account of the cold.
"The leaves are all turning red and brown and yellow," said Crip, as we flew homeward. "This is the melancholy time I've heard about. Even the wind seems sad and loiters around bush and tree as though he feared his caressing touch might hasten the downdropping of the stricken leaves. Happy, I'm sad, too."
I could only answer him that I of all bees was one of the most unhappy. And at the moment I was stricken with a feeling of homesickness, as though I, too, were "bound on a journey toward the setting sun, or as though an unmeasured catastrophe impended. As we neared home we saw the Master and his little Shadow seated by our hive, and near them, sprawling on the ground, the faithful dog. The Master was watching the incoming bees. Well he knew by the burdens they bore the condition of the fields.
"The workers are coming home very light," remarked ",he Shadow. "Just a little bread."
"The season is ended," murmured the Master.
"Soon they will go indoors and rest through the cold. We must come presently and take off the empty uppers, so as to concentrate the heat of the cluster. In that way they will conserve their stores. The cluster, you know, son, is formed by the bees covering over the brood and hanging on to one another so as to keep themselves and the young bees warm."
Crip and I deposited our loads and then returned to the alighting-board, but the speakers had gone. We could hear the Master singing in his garden ; and from a mesquite-tree hard by a mocking-bird answered him. All too soon he ceased; and the bird, after trilling a few wild refrains, as though to coax him to return, dropped into silence. For a time not a sound was heard, then the bird broke out again in a most plaintive song. He seemed to summon his phrases from the depths of despair.
Twilight had now quite engulfed the world. Crip, who had been for a time very still, began to stir restlessly. "Happy, that is my passing song. How could the bird have known that this very night I shall cleave the air for the last time? Yes, I mean it. Please don't interrupt me. The year has gone I have done my work. I am a cripple, and my wings are tattered. I shall be a burden, eating the food that may be needed ere the harvest again is ripe. My time has come and I must go into the dark. This is the law. Why should not bees fly away and never return? How much grander to pass away on the wing, hushed to sleep by the stars. How poor a thing it is to cling to the combs until death shall drag one down to the earth, there to embarrass one's brothers.
"My work is done. My body is wrecked, and the golden call echoing from eternity is in my ears. I must go. You, Happy, have much to do ere your time shall come. But you will face life bravely. "How can I thank you enough for having saved my life? Do you think I have done well? Have I worked faithfully? Hero, you say? No, not a hero; but I have tried to do the things that came to my hand; and that is all that one can do. That sums up the true meaning of life service and duty done. "Hear the bird! What a song for the night! Ah, but what music I shall hear soon when I fly out across the spaces of light! I am ready. I love you. Farewell farewell."
Crip had turned about for the last time, and was ready to go, when a heartrending cry woke the innermost caverns of the hive. He staggered a little, for he knew its meaning. I stood puzzled and amazed.
" What is it?" I begged of him.
"The worst of news our Queen is dead!" he echoed.
"Let us go to her at once."
In we went, and while I was shaken by the news which I did not fully comprehend, I was sobered and silent. I should probably have had no thought of death at all had I known what lay before us, the midnight ways we were to tread.