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Agaliha
October 19th, 2008, 12:45 AM
CHAPTER III

THE LAKE


"Dear me," thought Maya, after she had flown off, "oh, dear me,
I forgot to ask Mr. Peter about human beings. A gentleman of his
wide experience could certainly have told me about them. But
perhaps I'll meet one myself to-day." Full of high spirits and
in a happy mood of adventure, she let her bright eyes rove over
the wide landscape that lay spread out below in all its summer
splendor.

She came to a large garden gleaming with a thousand colors. On
her way she met many insects, who sang out greetings, and wished
her a pleasant journey and a good harvest.-- But every time she
met a bee, her heart went pit-a-pat. After all she felt a little
guilty to be idle, and was afraid of coming upon acquaintances.
Soon, however, she saw that the bees paid not the slightest
attention to her.

Then all of a sudden the world seemed to turn upside down. The
heavens shone _below_ her, in endless depths. At first she was
dreadfully frightened; she thought she had flown too far up and
lost her way in the sky. But presently she noticed that the
trees were mirrored on the edge of the terrestrial sky, and to
her entrancement she realized that she was looking at a great
serene basin of water which lay blue and clear in the peaceful
morning. She let herself down close to the surface. There was
her image flying in reflection, the lovely gold of her body
shining at her from the water, her bright wings glittering like
clear glass. And she observed that she held her little legs
properly against her body, as Cassandra had taught her to do.

"It's bliss to be flying over the surface of water like this.
It is, really," she thought.

Big fish and little fish swam about in the clear element, or
seemed to float idly. Maya took good care not to go too close;
she knew there was danger to bees from the race of fishes.

On the opposite shore she was attracted by the water-lilies and
the rushes, the water-lilies with their large round leaves lying
outspread on the water like green plates, and the rushes with
their sun-warmed, reedy stalks.

She picked out a leaf well-concealed under the tall blades of
the rushes. It lay in almost total shade, except for two round
spots like gold coins; the rushes swayed above in the full
sunlight.

"Glorious," said the little bee, "perfectly glorious."

She began to tidy herself. Putting both arms up behind her head
she pulled it forward as if to tear it off, but was careful not
to pull too hard, just enough to scrape away the dust; then,
with her little hind legs, she stroked and dragged down her
wing-sheaths, which sprang back in position looking beautifully
bright and glossy.

Just as she had completed her toilet a small steely blue-bottle
came and alighted on the leaf beside her. He looked at her in
surprise.

"What are you doing here on my leaf?" he demanded.

Maya was startled.

"Is there any objection to a person's just resting here a moment
or two?"

Maya remembered Cassandra's telling her that the nation of bees
commanded great respect in the insect world. Now she was going
to see if it was true; she was going to see if she, Maya, could
compel respect. Nevertheless her heart beat a little faster
because her tone had been very loud and peremptory.

But actually the blue-bottle was frightened. He showed it
plainly. When he saw that Maya wasn't going to let anyone lay
down the law to her he backed down. With a surly buzz he swung
himself on to a blade that curved above Maya's leaf, and said in
a much politer tone, talking down to her out of the sunshine:

"You ought to be working. As a bee you certainly ought. But if
you want to rest, all right. I'll wait here."

"There are plenty of leaves," observed Maya.

"All rented," said the blue-bottle. "Now-a-days one is happy to
be able to call a piece of ground one's own. If my predecessor
hadn't been snapped up by a frog two days ago, I should still be
without a proper place to live in. It's not very pleasant to
have to hunt up a different lodging every night. Not everyone
has such a well-ordered state as you bees. But permit me to
introduce myself. My name is Jack Christopher."

Maya was silent with terror, thinking how awful it must be to
fall into the clutches of a frog.

"Are there many frogs in the lake?" she asked and drew to the
very middle of the leaf so as not to be seen from the water.

The blue-bottle laughed.

"You are giving yourself unnecessary trouble," he jeered. "The
frog can see you from below when the sun shines, because then
the leaf is transparent. He sees you sitting on my leaf,
perfectly."

Beset by the awful idea that maybe a big frog was squatting
right under her leaf staring at her with his bulging hungry
eyes, Maya was about to fly off when something dreadful
happened, something for which she was totally unprepared. In the
confusion of the first moment she could not make out just
exactly what _was_ happening. She only heard a loud rustling
like the wind in dry leaves, then a singing whistle, a loud
angry hunter's cry. And a fine, transparent shadow glided over
her leaf. Now she saw--saw fully, and her heart stood still in
terror. A great, glittering dragon-fly had caught hold of poor
Jack Christopher and held him tight in its large, fangs, sharp
as a knife. The blade of the rush bent low beneath their weight.
Maya could see them hovering above her and also mirrored in the
clear water below. Jack's screams tore her heart. Without
thinking, she cried:

"Let the blue-bottle go, at once, whoever you are. You have no
right to interfere with people's habits. You have no right to be
so arbitrary."

The dragon-fly released Jack from its fangs, but still held him
fast with its arms, and turned its head toward Maya. She was
fearfully frightened by its large, grave eyes and vicious
pincers, but the glittering of its body and wings fascinated
her. They flashed like glass and water and precious stones. The
horrifying thing was its huge size. How could she have been so
bold? She was all a-tremble.

"Why, what's the matter, child?" The dragon-fly's tone,
surprisingly, was quite friendly.

"Let him go," cried Maya, and tears came into her eyes. "His
name is Jack Christopher."

The dragon-fly smiled.

"Why, little one?" it said, putting on an interested air, though
most condescending.

Maya stammered helplessly:

"Oh, he's such a nice, elegant gentleman, and he's never done
you any harm so far as I know."

The dragon-fly regarded Jack Christopher contemplatively.

"Yes, he _is_ a dear little fellow," it replied tenderly
and--bit Jack's head off.

Maya thought she was losing her senses. For a long time she
couldn't utter a sound. In horror she listened to the munching
and crunching above her as the body of Jack Christopher the
blue-bottle was being dismembered.

"Don't put on so," said the dragon-fly with its mouth full,
chewing. "Your sensitiveness doesn't impress me. Are you bees
any better? What do you do? Evidently you are very young still
and haven't looked about in your own house. When the massacre of
the drones takes place in the summer, the rest of the world is
no less shocked and horrified, and _I_ think with greater
justification."

Maya asked:

"Have you finished up there?" She did not dare to raise her
eyes.

"One leg still left," replied the dragon-fly.

"Do please swallow it. Then I'll answer you," cried Maya, who
knew that the drones in the hive _had_ to be killed off in the
summer, and was provoked by the dragon-fly's stupidity. "But
don't you dare to come a step closer. If you do I'll use my
sting on you."

Little Maya had really lost her temper. It was the first time
she had mentioned her sting and the first time she felt glad
that she possessed the weapon.

The dragon-fly threw her a wicked glance. It had finished its
meal and sat with its head slightly ducked, fixing Maya with its
eyes and looking like a beast of prey about to pounce. The
little bee was quite calm now. Where she got her courage from
she couldn't have told, but she was no longer afraid. She set up
a very fine clear buzzing as she had once heard a sentinel do
when a wasp came near the entrance of the hive.

The dragon-fly said slowly and threateningly:

"Dragon-flies live on the best terms with the nation of bees."

"Very sensible in them," flashed Maya.

"Do you mean to insinuate that I am afraid of you--I of you?"
With a jerk the dragon-fly let go of the rush, which sprang back
into its former position, and flew off with a whirr and sparkle
of its wings, straight down to the surface of the water, where
it made a superb appearance reflected in the mirror of the lake.
You'd have thought there were two dragon-flies. Both moved their
crystal wings so swiftly and finely that it seemed as though a
brilliant sheen of silver were streaming around them.

Maya quite forgot her grief over poor Jack Christopher and all
sense of her own danger.

"How lovely! How lovely!" she cried enthusiastically, clapping
her hands.

"Do you mean me?" The dragon-fly spoke in astonishment, but
quickly added: "Yes, I must admit I am fairly presentable.
Yesterday I was flying along the brook, and you should have
heard some human beings who were lying on the bank rave
over me."

"Human beings!" exclaimed Maya. "Oh my, did you see human
beings?"

"Of course," answered the dragon-fly. "But you'll be very
interested to know my name, I'm sure. My name is Loveydear,
of the order Odonata, of the family Libellulidę."

"Oh, do tell me about human beings," implored Maya, after she
had introduced herself.

The dragon-fly seemed won over. She seated herself on the leaf
beside Maya. And the little bee let her, knowing Miss Loveydear
would be careful not to come too close.

"Have human beings a sting?" she asked.

"Good gracious, what would they do with a sting! No, they have
worse weapons against us, and they are very dangerous. There
isn't a soul who isn't afraid of them, especially of the little
ones whose two legs show--the boys."

"Do they try to catch you?" asked Maya, breathless with
excitement.

"Yes, can't you understand why?" Miss Loveydear glanced at her
wings. "I have seldom met a human being who hasn't tried to
catch me."

"But why?" asked Maya in a tremor.

"You see," said Miss Loveydear, with a modest smirk and a
drooping, sidewise glance, "there's something attractive about
us dragon-flies. That's the only reason I know. Some members of
our family who let themselves be caught went through the
cruellest tortures and finally died."

"Were they eaten up?"

"No, no, not exactly that," said Miss Loveydear comfortingly.
"So far as is known, man does not feed on dragon-flies. But
sometimes he has murderous desires, a lust for killing, which
will probably never be explained. You may not believe it, but
cases have actually occurred of the so-called boy-men catching
dragon-flies and pulling off their legs and wings for pure
pleasure. You doubt it, don't you?"

"Of course I doubt it," cried Maya indignantly.

Miss Loveydear shrugged her glistening shoulders. Her face
looked old with knowledge.

"Oh," she said after a pause, grieving and pale, "if only one
could speak of these things openly. I had a brother who gave
promise of a splendid future, only, I'm sorry to say, he was a
little reckless and dreadfully curious. A boy once threw a net
over him, a net fastened to a long pole.-- Who would dream of a
thing like that? Tell me. Would you?"

"No," said the little bee, "never. I should never have thought
of such a thing."

The dragon-fly looked at her.

"A black cord was tied round his waist between his wings, so
that he could fly, but not fly away, not escape. Each time my
brother thought he had got his liberty, he would be jerked back
horribly within the boy's reach."

Maya shook her head.

"You don't dare even think of it," she whispered.

"If a day passes when I don't think of it," said the dragon-fly,
"I am sure to dream of it. One misfortune followed another. My
brother soon died." Miss Loveydear heaved a deep sigh.

"What did he die of?" asked Maya, in genuine sympathy.

Miss Loveydear could not reply at once. Great tears welled up
and rolled down her cheeks.

"He was stuck in a pocket," she sobbed. "No one can stand being
stuck in a pocket."

"But what is a pocket?" Maya could hardly take in so many new
and awful things all at once.

"A pocket," Miss Loveydear explained, "is a store-room that men
have in their outer hide.-- And what else do you think was in
the pocket when my brother was stuck into it? Oh, the dreadful
company in which my poor brother had to draw his last breath!
You'll never guess!"

"No," said Maya, all in a quiver, "no, I don't think I
can.-- Honey, perhaps?"

"Not likely," observed Miss Loveydear with an air of mingled
importance and distress. "You'll seldom find honey in the
pockets of human beings. I'll tell you.-- A frog was in the
pocket, and a pen-knife, and a carrot. Well?"

"Horrible," whispered Maya.-- "What _is_ a pen-knife?"

"A pen-knife, in a way, is a human being's sting, an artificial
one. They are denied a sting by nature, so they try to imitate
it.-- The frog, thank goodness, was nearing his end. One eye was
gone, one leg was broken, and his lower jaw was dislocated. Yet,
for all that, the moment my brother was stuck in the pocket he
hissed at him out of his crooked mouth:

"'As soon as I am well, I will swallow you.'

"With his remaining eye he glared at my brother, and in the
half-light of the prison you can imagine what an effect the look
he gave him must have had--fearful!-- Then something even more
horrible happened. The pocket was suddenly shaken, my brother
was pressed against the dying frog and his wings stuck to its
cold, wet body. He went off in a faint.-- Oh, the misery of it!
There are no words to describe it."

"How did you find all this out?" Maya was so horrified she could
scarcely frame the question.

"I'll tell you," replied Miss Loveydear. "After a while the boy
got hungry and dug into his pocket for the carrot. It was under
my brother and the frog, and the boy threw them away first.-- I
heard my brother's cry for help, and found him lying beside the
frog on the grass. I reached him only in time to hear the whole
story before he breathed his last. He put his arms round my neck
and kissed me farewell. Then he died--bravely and without
complaining, like a little hero. When his crushed wings had
given their last quiver, I laid an oak leaf over his body and
went to look for a sprig of forget-me-nots to put upon his
grave. 'Sleep well, my little brother,' I cried, and flew off in
the quiet of the evening. I flew toward the two red suns, the
one in the sky and the one in the lake. No one has ever felt as
sad and solemn as I did then.-- Have you ever had a sorrow in
your life? Perhaps you'll tell me about it some other time."

"No," said Maya. "As a matter of fact, until now I have always
been happy."

"You may thank your lucky stars," said Miss Loveydear with a
note of disappointment in her voice.

Maya asked about the frog.

"Oh, _him_," said Miss Loveydear. "He, it is presumed, met with
the end he deserved. The hard-heartedness of him, to frighten a
dying person! When I found him on the grass beside my brother,
he was trying to get away. But on account of his broken leg and
one eye gone, all he could do was hop round in a circle and hop
round in a circle. He looked too comical for words. 'The
stork'll soon get ye,' I called to him as I flew away."

"Poor frog!" said little Maya.

"Poor frog! Poor frog indeed! That's going too far. Pitying a
frog. The idea! To feel sorry for a frog is like clipping your
own wings. You seem to have no principles."

"Perhaps. But it's hard for me to see _any_ one suffer."

"Oh"--Miss Loveydear comforted her--"that's because you're so
young. You'll learn to bear it in time. Cheerio, my dear.-- But
I must be getting into the sunshine. It's pretty cold here.
Good-by!"

A faint rustle and the gleam of a thousand colors, lovely pale
colors like the glints in running water and clear gems.

Miss Loveydear swung through the green rushes out over the
surface of the water. Maya heard her singing in the sunshine.
She stood and listened. It was a fine song, with something of
the melancholy sweetness of a folksong, and it filled the little
bee's heart with mingled happiness and sadness.

Softly flows the lovely stream
Touched by morning's rosy gleam
Through the alders darted,
Where the rushes bend and sway,
Where the water-lilies say
"We are golden-hearted!"

Warm the scent the west-wind brings,
Bright the sun upon my wings,
Joy among the flowers!
Though my life may not be long,
Golden summer, take my song!
Thanks for perfect hours!

"Listen!" a white butterfly called to its friend. "Listen to the
song of the dragon-fly." The light creatures rocked close to
Maya, and rocked away again into the radiant blue day. Then Maya
also lifted her wings, buzzed farewell to the silvery lake, and
flew inland.