In half a minute the first of the invaders was down, his head crushed by a mattock in the hands of a bee-tormented native. In a single minute all were gone but two; and a moment later, Deltos alone, because he had chanced to secure a long club, was alive of all that crew.
For a minute he kept them off by sheer strength. He swung the stick with such vigor that he fairly cleared a circle for himself. The natives paused, howling and shrieking, before the final rush.
An inspiration came to Deltos. He tore his cap from his head and his net from his face.
“Look!” he screamed, above the uproar. “I am a man, like yourselves! Do not kill!”
Next second he froze in his tracks. The next he was writhing in the death agony, and the bees were supreme once.
Supreme herself had stung Deltos.
Of the four on the earth, Smith was the first to make any comment. He had considerable difficulty in throwing his thought to the others; somehow he felt slightly dazed.
“This is—unbelievable!” he said, and repeated it twice. “To think that those insects are still the masters!”
“I wish”—Billie’s voice shook somewhat—“I wish almost that I had let you warn Rolla. It might have helped—” She broke off suddenly, intent upon something Supreme was hearing. “Just listen!”
“Quick!” a lieutenant was humming excitedly to the commandant. “Back to the hives; give the order, Supreme!”
It was done, and immediately the bees quit the throng of natives and their victims, rushing at top speed for their precious city. As they went, Supreme demanded an explanation.
“What is the meaning of this?”
For answer the lieutenant pointed her antennae straight ahead. At first Supreme could see nothing in the growing darkness; then she saw that some of the sky was blacker than the rest. Next she caught a faint glow.
“Supreme, the deadly flower has come to the hives!”
It was true! In ten minutes the city was near enough for the commandant to see it all very clearly. The fire had started on the windward side, and already had swept through half the hives!
“Quick!” the order was snapped out. “Into the remaining houses, and save the young!”
She herself led the horde. Straight into the face of the flames they flew, unquestioningly, unhesitantly. What self, compared with the Hive?
Next moment, like a mammoth billow, the smoke rolled down upon them all. And thus it came about that the villagers, making their cautious way toward the bee city, shouted for joy and danced as they had never danced before, when they saw what had happened.
Not a bee was left alive. Every egg and larva was destroyed; every queen was burned. And every last soldier and worker had lost her life in the vain attempt at rescue.