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Crip, the Wise

WHEN we had returned to our cell we halted, and for a season remained quiet. Indeed, we slept a tiny bit, as much as ever a bee can sleep at a stretch, and then we fell into meditation. Among other things, I was wondering what the Queen-Mother was doing when she popped her long, thin body into each cell as she made her rounds. I could not understand and so I called on Crip to explain.

"Why, laying eggs!" he said, right sharply, as though annoyed at my ignorance.

"Well, what are eggs?" for I was still no wiser.

"Come with me," he said, and off we went across the combs.

He did not stop until he reached the very spot where we had seen the Queen. The odor of her was still strong thereabouts, but she had gone.

"Now look, stupid!" Crip said. "At the bottom of each of the cells in this section of comb is an egg."

I looked down into one and, sure enough, a small, thin, yellowish-white egg was stuck squarely in the center of it. I looked into several other cells, and each had its one egg.

I shall never forget the story which he went on to unfold. The wonderful cycle from egg to larva, from larva to bee, he explained in fascinating detail. I saw at once that he was a real sage, that his knowledge was boundless, and then to crown it he told me that even the Queen-Mother herself had sprung from an ordinary egg, having been converted through miracle into a queen ruling over this empire. Simply by feeding and tending them differently only the bees in their wisdom know how the egg which might develop into a worker or a drone, passing through a metamorphosis, can be made to break from the dark cover of the cell the personification of life eternal, as exemplified in the body and the life of the Queen.

I could not quite understand all these things, but I felt sure Crip was telling the truth; and indeed I began to look up to him with increasing admiration and wonder on account of the worlds of things he knew.* We were silent awhile. There rose again for me the night hymn of the hive. It penetrated me as not before ; it had a new significance, a new message I had been visited with a revelation. The sight I had gained of the Queen-Mother woke new and tremulous emotions within me there was a new meaning in life.

Crip stirred rather sharply, breaking my train of thought.

"What's the matter?" I queried.

"I'm tired holding on. We must get another place to rest. You see, with only five legs the load of my body grows heavy."

With that we moved up the comb to the top of it, and there he spread himself out with a little hum of content. And just then I developed a curiosity to know how he had lost his leg.

"You miss your leg, but do you suffer pain on account of it? And how did it happen?"

"That's a short story. I was coming home late one day, well laden with honey, when, without warning, one of those terrible black bee-hawks darted for me and clutched me, sailing away to the nearest bush. He had quickly rolled me up with his powerful legs and almost by the time he lit he was ready to kill me with one thrust of his proboscis. Of course I had struggled, but when one of those fellows gets his claws on you it's good-by. I had about ceased to struggle when suddenly there came a tremendous shock, and the next moment I was rolling on the ground and shaking myself free from the mutilated hawk. He had been torn to pieces by some mysterious force, and my leg, my bread-basket leg, was gone. At that moment the Master approached me; in his hands he held a long black thing which I had seen emit fire on other occasions, and somehow I suspected at once he had saved me. The little boy came hurriedly up, stooped over me and helped release me, and in a moment I was circling round to get my bearings. The little boy and the Master and even the dog watched my movements with an expression of satisfaction on their faces. I flew straightway home and was thankful still to be alive."

"Tell me more about this Master," I begged, for I was now growing vastly interested in his activities and in those of the Little One, and even the dog which once I tried to sting, because he came so close to our hive.

"Some say he is good some say that he is bad. I only know him as the chopper of weeds about our home and as my rescuer. Many times since the day he saved me have I heard him shooting bee-hawks. Indeed, I had heard the little thunder of his gun before that day, but I did not understand its meaning. They say, too, that he takes away our honey and he did take some of ours once and frightens us nearly to death with the prospect of starvation. And they fall upon him and sting him, trying to drive him away. But all this is useless, they report, since he comes armed with fire and smoke.

"Others tell of him that in the dark, cold days, if provisions run low, he brings honey and closes the door against blizzards. But I know nothing of this. I have not lived through a winter and I fear I shall never know what it means."

Thus I became infinitely interested in the Master who passed from day to day about the yard. But I was confused in mind about him, Somehow I instinctively feared him and I always found myself ready to attack him, as I explained to Crip.

"There would be no use in that," answered he.

"Should you sting him, you would achieve nothing. Instead, you would lose your life."

"How is that?" I cried, for I did not till then know I had a life at least I had never thought of it.

"You can sing once, but unless you escape with your stinger, which is rare, your life is sacrificed."

I seemed to know this and answered him nothing.

"Is it not a strange fatality," he continued, "that we should be given stingers with which to defend ourselves and our homes, and yet, when we make use of them, we lose our lives! Still, we are always ready to strike, with no thought of death."

"What is death?" I asked of Crip.

"I don't know, except that once when the bee-hawk caught me I felt myself going away. It grew dark and I heard the hum of wings that were strange and wonderful. Somehow you go to sleep and forget."

"I have thought of death," he went on. "I am old and battered, my days are as the falling flowers when the frost is upon them, and the frost soon will fall."

I waited awhile in silence, but he spoke no more. Soon he lay in that buzzing hive, asleep, and I was not long in following him to where the golden honey dripped in the garden of dreams.