View Full Version : Chapter 6: Puck

October 19th, 2008, 12:39 AM


Maya, drowsy with the noonday heat, flew leisurely past the
glare on the bushes in the garden, into the cool, broad-leaved
shelter of a great chestnut-tree.

On the trodden sward in the shade under the tree stood chairs
and tables, evidently for an out-door meal. A short distance
away gleamed the red-tiled roof of a peasant's cottage, with
thin blue columns of smoke curling up from the chimneys.

Now at last, thought Maya, she was bound to see a human being.
Had she not reached the very heart of his realm? The tree must
be his property, and the curious wooden contrivances in the
shade below must belong to his hive.

Something buzzed; a fly alighted on the leaf beside her. It ran
up and down the green veining in little jerks. You couldn't see
its legs move, and it seemed to be sliding about excitedly. Then
it flew from one finger of the broad leaf to another, but so
quickly and unexpectedly that you might have thought it hadn't
flown but hopped. Evidently it was looking for the most
comfortable place on the leaf. Every now and then, in the
suddennest way, it would swing itself up in the air a short
space and buzz vehemently, as though something dreadfully
untoward had occurred, or as though it were animated by some
tremendous purpose. Then it would drop back to the leaf, as if
nothing had happened, and resume its jerky racing up and down.
Lastly, it would sit quite still, like a rigid image.

Maya watched its antics in the sunshine, then approached it and
said politely:

"How do you do? Welcome to my leaf. You are a fly, are you not?"

"What else do you take me for?" said the little one. "My name is
Puck. I am very busy. Do you want to drive me away?"

"Why, not at all. I am glad to make your acquaintance."

"I believe you," was all Puck said, and with that he tried to
pull his head off.

"Mercy!" cried Maya.

"I must do this. You don't understand. It's something you know
nothing about," Puck rejoined calmly, and slid his legs over his
wings till they curved round the tip of his body. "I'm more than
a fly," he added with some pride. "I'm a housefly. I flew out
here for the fresh air."

"How interesting!" exclaimed Maya gleefully. "Then you must know
all about human beings."

"As well as the pockets of my trousers," Puck threw out
disdainfully. "I sit on them every day. Didn't you know _that_?
I thought you bees were so _clever_. You pretend to be at any

"My name is Maya," said the little bee rather shyly. Where the
other insects got their self-assurance, to say nothing of their
insolence, she couldn't understand.

"Thanks for the information. Whatever your name, you're a

Puck sat there tilted like a cannon in position to be fired off,
his head and breast thrust upward, the hind tip of his body
resting on the leaf. Suddenly he ducked his head and squatted
down, so that he looked as if he had no legs.

"You've got to watch out and be careful," he said. "That's the
most important thing of all."

But an angry wave of resentment was surging in little Maya. The
insult Puck had offered her was too much. Without really knowing
what made her do it, she pounced on him quick as lightning,
caught him by the collar and held him tight.

"I will teach you to be polite to a bee," she cried.

Puck set up an awful howl.

"Don't sting me," he screamed. "It's the only thing you can do,
but it's killing. Please remove the back of your body. That's
where your sting is. And let me go, please let me go, if you
possibly can. I'll do anything you say. Can't you understand a
joke, a mere joke? Everybody knows that you bees are the most
respected of all insects, and the most powerful, and the most
numerous. Only don't kill me, please don't. There won't be any
bringing me back to life. Good God! No one appreciates my

"Very well," said Maya with a touch of contempt in her heart,
"I'll let you live on condition that you tell me everything you
know about human beings."

"Gladly," cried Puck. "I'd have told you anyhow. But please let
me go now."

Maya released him. She had stopped caring. Her respect for the
fly and any confidence she might have had in him were gone. Of
what value could the experiences of so low, so vulgar a creature
be to serious-minded people? She would have to find out about
human beings for herself.

The lesson, however, had not been wasted. Puck was much more
endurable now. Scolding and growling he set himself to rights.
He smoothed down his feelers and wings and the minute hairs on
his black body--which were fearfully rumpled; for the girl-bee
had laid on good and hard--and concluded the operation by
running his proboscis in and out several times--something new
to Maya.

"Out of joint, completely out of joint!" he muttered in a pained
tone. "Comes of your excited way of doing things. Look. See for
yourself. The sucking-disk at the end of my proboscis looks like
a twisted pewter plate."

"Have you a sucking-disk?" asked Maya.

"Goodness gracious, of course!-- Now tell me. What do you want
to know about human beings?-- Never mind about my proboscis
being out of joint. It'll be all right.-- I think I had best
tell you a few things from my own life. You see, I grew up among
human beings, so you'll hear just what you want to know."

"You grew up among human beings?"

"Of course. It was in the corner of their room that my mother
laid the egg from which I came. I made my first attempts to walk
on their window-shades, and I tested the strength of my wings by
flying from Schiller to Goethe."

"What are Schiller and Goethe?"

"Statues," explained Puck, very superior, "statues of two men
who seem to have distinguished themselves. They stand under the
mirror, one on the right hand and one on the left hand, and
nobody pays any attention to them."

"What's a mirror? And why do the statues stand under the

"A mirror is good for seeing your belly when you crawl on it.
It's very amusing. When human beings go up to a mirror, they
either put their hands up to their hair, or pull at their
beards. When they are alone, they smile into the mirror, but if
somebody else is in the room they look very serious. What the
purpose of it is, I could never make out. Seems to be some
useless game of theirs. I myself, when I was still a child,
suffered a good deal from the mirror. I'd fly into it and of
course be thrown back violently."

Maya plied Puck with more questions about the mirror, which he
found very difficult to answer.

"Here," he said at last, "you've certainly flown over the smooth
surface of water, haven't you? Well, a mirror is something like
it, only hard and upright."

The little fly, seeing that Maya listened most respectfully and
attentively to the tale of his experiences, became a good deal
pleasanter in his manners. And as for Maya's opinion of Puck,
although she didn't believe everything he told her, still she
was sorry she had thought so slightingly of him earlier in their

"Often people are far more sensible than we take them to be at
first," she told herself.

Puck went on with his story.

"It took a long time for me to get to understand their language.
Now at last I know what they want. It isn't much, because they
usually say the same thing every day."

"I can scarcely believe it," said Maya. "Why, they have so many
interests, and think so many things, and do so many things.
Cassandra told me that they build cities so big that you can't
fly round them in one day, towers as high as the nuptial flight
of our queen, houses that float on the water, and houses that
glide across the country on two narrow silver paths and go
faster than birds."

"Wait a moment!" said Puck energetically. "Who is Cassandra? Who
is she, if I may make so bold as to ask? Well?"

"Oh, she was my teacher."

"Teacher!" repeated Puck contemptuously. "Probably also a bee.
Who but a bee would overestimate human beings like that? Your
Miss Cassandra, or whatever her name is, doesn't know her
history. Those cities and towers and other human devices you
speak of are none of them any good to us. Who would take such an
impractical view of the world as you do? If you don't accept the
premise that the earth is dominated by the flies, that the flies
are the most widespread and most important race on earth, you'll
scarcely get a real knowledge of the world."

Puck took a few excited zigzag turns on the leaf and pulled at
his head, to Maya's intense concern. However, the little bee had
observed by this time that there wasn't much sense to be got out
of his head any way.

"Do you know how you can tell I am right?" asked Puck, rubbing
his hands together as if to tie them in a knot. "Count the
number of people and the number of flies in any room. The result
will surprise you."

"You may be right. But that's not the point."

"Do you think I was born this year?" Puck demanded all of a

"I don't know."

"I passed through a winter," Puck announced, all pride. "My
experiences date back to the ice age. In a sense they take me
_through_ the ice age. That's why I'm here--I'm here to

"Whatever else you may be, you certainly are spunky," remarked

"I should say so," exclaimed Puck, and made an airy leap out
into the sunshine. "The flies are the boldest race in creation.
We never run away unless it is better to run away, and then we
always come back.-- Have you ever sat on a human being?"

"No," said Maya, looking at the fly distrustfully out of the
corner of her eye. She still didn't know quite what to make of
him. "No, I'm not interested in sitting on human beings."

"Ah, dear child, that's because you don't know what it is. If
ever you had seen the fun I have with the man at home, you'd
turn green with envy. I'll tell you.-- In my room there lives an
elderly man who cherishes the color of his nose by means of a
peculiar drink, which he keeps hidden in the corner cupboard.
It has a sweet, intoxicating smell. When he goes to get it he
smiles, and his eyes grow small. He takes a little glass, and he
looks up to the ceiling while he drinks, to see if I am there.
I nod down to him, and he passes his hand over his forehead,
nose and mouth to show me where I am to sit later on. Then he
blinks, and opens his mouth as wide as he can, and pulls down
the shade to keep the afternoon sun from bothering us. Finally
he lays himself down on a something called a sofa, and in a
short while begins to make dull snuffling sounds. I suppose he
thinks the sounds are beautiful. We'll talk about them some
other time. They are man's slumber song. For me they are the
sign that I am to come down. The first thing I do is to take my
portion from the glass, which he left for me. There's something
tremendously stimulating about a drop like that. I understand
human beings. Then I fly over and take my place on the forehead
of the sleeping man. The forehead lies between the nose and the
hair and serves for thinking. You can tell it does from the long
furrows that go from right to left. They must move whenever a
man thinks if something worth while is to result from his
thinking. The forehead also shows if human beings are annoyed.
But then the folds run up and down, and a round cavity forms
over the nose. As soon as I settle on his forehead and begin to
run to and fro in the furrows, the man makes a snatch in the air
with his hands. He thinks I'm somewhere in the air. That's
because I'm sitting on his think-furrows, and he can't work out
so quickly where I really am. At last he does. He mutters and
jabs at me. Now then, Miss Maya, or whatever your name is, now
then, you've got to have your wits about you. I see the hand
coming, but I wait until the last moment, then I fly nimbly to
one side, sit down, and watch him feel to see if I am still
there.-- We kept the game up often for a full half hour. You have
no idea what a lot of endurance the man has. Finally he jumps up
and pours out a string of words which show how ungrateful he is.
Well, what of it? A noble soul seeks no reward. I'm already up
on the ceiling listening to his ungrateful outburst."

"I can't say I particularly like it," observed Maya. "Isn't it
rather useless?"

"Do you expect me to erect a honeycomb on his nose?" exclaimed
Puck. "You have no sense of humor, dear girl. What do _you_ do
that's useful?"

Little Maya went red all over, but quickly collected herself to
hide her embarrassment from Puck.

"The time is coming," she flashed, "when I shall do something
big and splendid, and good and useful too. But first I want to
see what is going on in the world. Deep down in my heart I feel
that the time is coming."

As Maya spoke she felt a hot tide of hope and enthusiasm flood
her being.

Puck seemed not to realize how serious she was, and how deeply
stirred. He zigzagged about in his flurried way for a while,
then asked:

"You don't happen to have any honey with you, do you, my dear?"

"I'm so sorry," replied Maya. "I'd gladly let you have some,
especially after you've entertained me so pleasantly, but I
really haven't got any with me.-- May I ask you one more

"Shoot," said Puck. "I'll answer, I'll always answer."

"I'd like to know how I could get into a human being's house."

"Fly in," said Puck sagaciously.

"But how, without running into danger?"

"Wait until a window is opened. But be sure to find the way out
again. Once you're inside, if you can't find the window, the
best thing to do is to fly toward the light. You'll always find
plenty of windows in every house. You need only notice where the
sun shines through. Are you going already?"

"Yes," replied Maya, holding out her hand. "I have some things
to attend to. Good-by. I hope you quite recover from the effects
of the ice age."

And with her fine confident buzz that yet sounded slightly
anxious, little Maya raised her gleaming wings and flew out into
the sunshine across to the flowery meadows to cull a little

Puck looked after her, and carefully meditated what might still
be said. Then he observed thoughtfully:

"Well, now. Well, well.-- Why not?"