He had been with me then nearly four years, and I had learned to know the symptoms:—restlessness, followed by hours of depressed and sullen brooding. So I had heretofore in a sense been forewarned, though I never witnessed one of these outbursts without being shaken to the depths. This one was different—as if the evil force had invaded him suddenly, giving him no time to resist. A glance at his face made me lay aside the book hurriedly; for this was no ordinary struggle. The words that had come to me at first came back now with redoubled meaning, and rang through my head like passing-bells:
"For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood but against ... the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness."
He tilted his head, looked upward, and swore steadily. As for me, my throat felt as if it had been choked with ashes. I could only stare at him, dumbly. If ever a man was possessed, he was. His voice rose, querulously:
"I get up in the morning, and I catch bugs, and I study them, and I dry them—and I go to bed. I get up in the morning, and I catch bugs, and I study them, and I dry them—and I go to bed. I get up every morning, and I do the same damn thing, over and over and over and over, day in, day out, day in, day out. Nothing else.... No drinks, no lights, no girls, no sprees, no cards, no gang, no risks, no jobs, no bulls, no anything! God! I could say my prayers to Broadway, anywhere from the Battery up to Columbus Circle! I want it all so hard I could point my nose like a lost dog and howl for it!
"... There is a Dutchman got a restaurant down on Eighth Avenue, and I dream at nights about the hotdog-and-kraut, and the ham-and that they give you there, and the jane that slings it. Hips on her like a horse, she has, and an arm that shoves your eats under your nose in a way you've got to respect. I smell those eats in my sleep. I want some more Childs' bucks. I want to see the electrics winking on the roofs. I want to smell wet asphalt and see the taxis whizzing by in the rain. I want to see a seven-foot Mick cop with a back like a piano-box and a paw like a ham and a foot like a submarine with stove-polish on it. I want to see the subway in the rush hour and the dips and mollbuzzers going through the crowd like kids in a berry patch. I want to see a ninety-story building going up, and the wops crawling on it like ants. I want to see the breadline, and the panhandlers, and the bums in Union Square. I want a bellyful of the happy dust the old town hands out—the whole dope and all there is of it! My God! I want everything I haven't got!"
He looked at me, wildly. He was trembling violently, and sweat poured down his face.
"Parson," he rasped, "I've bucked this thing for fair, but I've got to go back and see it and smell it and taste it and feel it and know it all again, or I'll go crazy. You're all of you so good down here you're too much for me. I'm home-sick for hell. It—it comes over me like fire over the damned. You don't fool yourself that folks who know what it is to be damned can stay on in heaven without freezing, do you? Well, they can't. I can't help it! I can't! I've got to go—this time I've got to go!"
I sat and stared at him. Oh, what was it Paul had said we were to pray for, at such a time as this?
"And for me, that speech may be given to me ... that I may open my mouth with confidence..."
But the words wouldn't come.
"I've got to go! I've got to go, and try myself out!" he gritted.
"You—understand your risks," I managed to say through stiff lips. I had always, in my secret heart, been more or less afraid of this. Always had I feared that the rulers of the world of darkness, swooping down and catching him unaware, might win the long fight in the end.
"Here you are safe. You are building up an honored name. You are winning the respect and confidence of all decent people—and you wish to undo it all. You wish to take such desperate chances—now!" I groaned.
"I've got to go!" he burst forth, white-lipped. "You've never seen a dip cut off from his dope, have you? Well, I'm it, when the old town calls me loud enough for me to hear her plain. I've stood her off as long as I could—and now I'm that crazy for her I could wallow in her dust. Besides, there's not such a lot of risks. I don't have to leave my card at the station-house to let 'em know I'm calling, do I? They haven't been sitting on what they think is my grave to keep me from getting up before Gabriel beats 'em to it, have they? No, they're not expecting me. What I could do to 'em now would make the Big Uns look like a bunch of pikers—and their beans would have to turn inside out before they fell for it that I'd come back to my happy home and was on the job again."
"If—if you hadn't been so white, I'd have cut and run for it without ever putting you wise. But I want to play fair. I'd be a hog if I didn't play fair, and I'm trying to do it. I'm going because I can't stay. I've got enough of my own money, earned honest, saved up, to pay my way. Let me take it and go. And if I can come back, why, I'll come."
He was stone deaf to entreaties, prayers, reasoning, argument. The four years of his stay with me, and all their work, and study, and endeavor, and progress, seemed to have slipped from him as if they had never been. They were swept aside like cobwebs. He broke away from me in the midst of my pleading, hurried into his bedroom, and began to sort into a grip a few necessities.
"I'll leave on the three-o'clock," he flung over his shoulder to me, standing disconsolate in the door. "I'll stop at the bank on my way." I could do nothing; he had taken the bit between his teeth and was bolting. I had for the time being lost all power of control over him, and before I might hope to recover it he would be out of my reach. Perhaps, I reflected wretchedly, the best thing to do under the circumstances, would simply be to give him his head. I had seen horses conquered like that. But the road before John Flint was so dark and so crooked—and at the end of it waited Slippy McGee!
THE BUTTERFLY MAN
It was just one-thirty by the placid little clock on his mantel. The express was due at three.
"Very well," said I, forcing myself to face the inevitable without noise, "you are free. If you must go, you must go."
"I've got to go! I've got to go!" He repeated it as one repeats an incantation. "I've got to go!" And he went on methodically assorting and packing. Even at this moment of obsession his ingrained orderliness asserted itself; the things he rejected were laid back in their proper place with, the nicest care.
I went over to tell my mother that John Flint had suddenly decided to go north. She expressed no surprise, but immediately fell to counting on her fingers his available shirts, socks, and underwear. She rather hoped he would buy a new overcoat in New York, his old one being hardly able to stand the strain of another winter. She was pleasantly excited; she knew he had many northern correspondents, with whom he must naturally be anxious to foregather. There was much to call him thither.
"He really needs the change. A short trip will do him a world of good," she concluded equably. "He is still quite a young man, and I'm sure it must be dull for him here at times, in spite of his work. Why, he hasn't been out of this county for over three years, and just think of the unfettered life he must have led before he came here! Yes, I'm sure New York will stimulate him. A dose of New York is a very good tonic. It regulates one's mental liver. Don't look so worried, Armand—you remind me of those hens who hatch ducklings. I should think a duckling of John Flint's size could be trusted to swim by himself, at his time of life!"
She had not my cause for fear. Besides, in her secret heart, Madame was convinced that, rehabilitated, reclaimed, having more than proven his intrinsic worth, John Flint went to be reconciled with and received into the bosom of some preeminently proper parent, and to be acclaimed and applauded by admiring and welcoming friends. For although she had once heard the Butterfly Man gravely assure Miss Sally Ruth Dexter that the only ancestor his immediate Flints were sure of was Flint the pirate, my mother still clung firmly to the illusion of Family. Blood will tell!
As for me, I was equally sure that blood was telling now; and telling in the atrocious tongue of the depths. I felt that the end had come. Vain, vain, all the labor, all the love, all the hope, the prayers, the pride! The submerged voice of his old life was calling him; the vampire extended her white and murderous arms in which many and many had died shamefully; she lifted to his her insatiable lips stained scarlet with the wine of hell. Against that siren smile, those beckoning hands, I could do nothing. The very fact that I was what I am, was no longer a help, but rather a hindrance; he recognized in the priest a deterring and detaining influence against which he rebelled, and which he wished to repudiate. He was, as he had said so terribly, "home-sick for hell." He would go, and he would most inevitably be caught in the whirlpools; the naturalist, the scientist, the Butterfly Man, would be sucked into that boiling vortex and drowned beyond all hope of resuscitation; but from it the soul of Slippy McGee would emerge, with a larger knowledge and a clearer brain, a thousand-fold more deadly dangerous than of old; because this time he knew better and had deliberately chosen the evil and rejected the good. By the law of the pendulum he must swing as far backward into wrong as he had swung forward into right.
I could not bring myself to speak to him, I dared not bid him the mockery of a Godspeed upon his journey, dreading as I did that journey's end. So I stood at a window and watched him as with suitcase in hand he walked down our shady street. At the corner he turned and lifted his hat in a last farewell salute to my mother, standing looking after him in the Parish House gate. Then he turned down the side-street, and so disappeared.
From his closed rooms came a long wailing howl. For the first time Kerry might not follow his master; more yet, the master had thrust the astonished dog into his bedroom and shut the door upon him. He had refused to recognize the scratch at the door, the snuffling whine through the keyhole. The outer door had slammed. Kerry raced to the window. And the master was going, and going without him! He had neither net, knapsack, nor bottle-belt, but he carried a suitcase. He did not look back, nor whistle: he meant to leave him behind. Sensing that an untoward thing was occurring, a thing that boded no good to himself or his beloved, the red dog lifted his voice and howled a piercing protest.
The sash was down, but the blinds had not yet been closed to. One saw Kerry standing with his forepaws on the window-sill, his nose against the glass, his ears lifted, his eyes anxious and distressed, his lip caught in his teeth. At intervals he threw back his head, and then came the howls.
The catastrophe—for to me it was no less a thing—had come upon me so suddenly that I was fairly stunned. From sheer force of habit I went over to the church and knelt before the altar; but I could not pray; I could only kneel there dumbly. I heard the screech of the three o'clock express coming in, and, a few minutes later, its longer screech as it departed. He had gone, then! I was not dreaming it: it was true. Down and down and down went my heart. And down and down and down went my head, humbled and prostrate. Alas, the end of hope, the fall of pride! Alas and alas for the fair house built upon the sand, wrecked and scattered!
When I rose from my knees I staggered. I walked draggingly, as one walks with fetters upon the feet. Oh, it was a cruel world, a world in which nothing but inevitable loss awaited one, in which one was foredoomed to disappointment; a world in which one was leaf by leaf stripped bare.
I could not bear to look at his closed rooms, but turned my head aside as I passed them. Disconsolate Kerry barked at my passing step, and pawed frantically at the window, but I made no effort to release him. What comfort had I for the faithful creature, deserted by what he most loved?
His dismal outcries rasped my nerves raw; it was exactly as if the dog howled for the dead. And that John Flint was dead I had no reasonable cause to doubt. He was dead because Slippy McGee was alive. That thought drove me as with a whip out into the garden, for as black an hour as I have ever lived through—the sort of hour that leaves a scar upon the soul. The garden was very still, steeped and drowsing in the bright clear sunlight; only the bees were busy there, calling from flower-door to flower-door, and sometimes a vireo's sweet whistle fluted through the leaves. Pitache lay on John Flint's porch, and dozed with his head between his paws; Judge Mayne's Panch sat on the garden fence, and washed his black face, and watched the little dog out of his emerald eyes. All along the fences the scarlet salvia shot up its vivid spikes, and when the wind stirred, the red petals fell from it like drops of blood.
It seemed to me incongruous and cruel that one should suffer on such a day; grief is for gray days; but the sunlight mocks sorrow, the soft wind makes light of it. I was out of tune with this harmony, as I walked up and down with my rosary in my hand. I knew that every flying minute took him farther and farther away from me and from hope and happiness and honor, and brought him nearer and nearer to the whirlpool and the pit. I beat my hands together and the crucifix cut into my palms. I walked more rapidly, as if I could get away from the misery within. My heart ached intolerably, a mist dimmed my sight, and a hideous choking lump rose in my throat; and it seemed to me that, old and futile and alone, I was set down, not in my garden, but in the midst of the abomination of desolation.
Through this aching desolation Kerry's cries stabbed like knife-thrusts.... And then little Pitache lifted his head, cocked a listening ear and an alert eye, perked up his black nose, thumped an expressive tail, and barked. It was a welcoming bark; Kerry, hearing it, stiffened statue-like at the window and fell to whining in his throat. The garden gate had clicked.
Dreading that any mortal eye should see me thus in my grief, knowing it was beyond my power of endurance to meet calmly or to speak coherently with any human being at that moment, I turned, with the instinct of flight strong upon me. I knew I must be alone, to face this thing in its inevitableness, to fight it out, to get my bearings. The gate was turning upon its hinges; I could hear it creak.
Hesitating which way to turn, I looked up to see who it was that was coming into the Parish House garden. And I fell to trembling, and rubbed my eyes, and stared again, unbelievingly. There had been plenty of time for him to have visited the bank and withdrawn his account; there had been plenty of time for him then to have caught the three-o'clock express. I had heard the train come and go this full hour since. Surely my wish was father to the thought that I saw him before me—my old eyes were playing me a trick—for I thought I saw John Flint walking up the garden path toward me! Pitache barked again, rose, stretched himself, and trotted to meet him, as he always did when the Butterfly Man came home.
He walked with the limp most noticeable when he tried to hurry. He was flushed and perspiring and rumpled and well-nigh breathless; his coat was wrinkled, his tie awry, his collar wilted, and bits of grass and twigs and a leaf or so clung to his dusty clothes. The afternoon sun shone full on his thick, close-cropped hair, for he carried his hat in his hands, gingerly, carefully, as one might carry a fragile treasure; a clean pocket handkerchief was tied over it.
He was making straight for his workroom. I do not think he saw me until I stepped into the path, directly in front of him. Then, stopping perforce, he looked at me with dancing eyes, wiped his red perspiring face with one hand, and nodded to the hat, triumphantly.
"Such an—aberrant!" he panted. He was still breathing so rapidly he had to jerk his words out. "I've got the—biggest, handsomest—most perfect and wonderful—specimen of—an aberrant swallow-tail—any man ever laid—his eyes on! I thought at first—I wasn't seeing things right. But I was. Parson, parson, I've seen many—butterflies—but never—another one like—this!" He had to pause, to take breath. Then he burst out again, unable to contain his delight.
"Oh, it was the luckiest chance! I was standing on the end platform of the last car, and the train was pulling out, when I saw her go sailing by. I stared with all my eyes, shut 'em, stared again, and there she was! I knew there was never going to be such another, that if I lost her I'd mourn for the rest of my days. I knew I had to have her. So I measured my distance, risked my neck, and jumped for her. Game leg and all I jumped, landed in the pit of a nigger's stomach, went down on top of him, scrambled up again and was off in a jiffy, with the darky bawling he'd been killed and the station buzzing like the judge's bees on strike, and people hanging out of all the car windows to see who'd been murdered.
"She led me the devil's own chase, for I'd nothing but my hat to net her with. A dozen times I thought I had her, and missed. It was heart-breaking. I felt I'd go stark crazy if she got away from me. I had to get her. And the Lord was good and rewarded me for my patience, for I caught her at the end of a mile run. I was so blown by then that I had to lie down in the grass by the roadside and get my wind back. Then I slid my handkerchief easy-easy under my hat, tilted it up, and here she is! She hasn't hurt herself, for she's been quiet. She's perfect. She hasn't rubbed off a scale. She's the size of a bat. Her upper wings, and one lower wing, are black, curiously splotched with yellow, and one lower wing is all yellow. She's got the usual orange spots on the secondaries, only bigger, and blobs of gold, and the purple spills over onto the ground-color. She's a wonder. Come on in and let's gloat at our ease—I haven't half seen her yet! She's the biggest and most wonderful Turnus ever made. Why, Gabriel could wear her in his crown to make himself feel proud, because there'd be only one like her in heaven!"
He took a step forward; but I could only stand still and blink, owlishly. My heart pounded and the blood roared in my ears like the wind in the pinetrees. My senses were in a most painful confusion, with but one thought struggling clear above the turmoil: that John Flint had come back.
"But you didn't go!" I stammered. "Oh, John Flint, John Flint, you didn't go!"
He snorted. "Catch me running away like a fool when a six-inch off-color swallow-tail flirts herself under my nose and dares me to catch her! You'd better believe I didn't go!"
And then I knew with a great uprush of joy that Slippy McGee himself had gone instead, and the three-o'clock express was bearing him away, forever and forever, beyond recall or return. Slippy McGee had gone into the past; he was dead and done with. But John Flint the naturalist was vibrantly and vitally alive, built upon the living rock, a house not to be washed away by any wave of passion.
This reaction from the black and bitter hour through which I had just passed, this turbulent joy and relief, overcame me. My knees shook and gave way; I tottered, and sank helplessly into the seat built around our great magnolia. And shaken out of all self-control I wept as I had not been permitted to weep over my own dead, my own overthrown hopes. Head to foot I was shaken as with some rending sickness. The sobs were torn out of my throat with gasps.
He stood stone still. He went white, and his nostrils grew pinched, and in his set face only his eyes seemed alive and suffering. They blinked at me, as if a light had shone too strongly upon them. A sort of inarticulate whimper came from him. Then with extreme care he laid the handkerchief-covered hat upon the ground, and down upon his knees he went beside me, his arms about my knees. He, too, was trembling.
"Father! ... Father!"
"My son ... I was afraid ... you were lost ... gone ... into a far country.... It would have broken my heart!"
He said never a word; but hung his head upon his breast, and clung to my knees. When he raised his eyes to mine, their look was so piteous that I had to put my hand upon him, as one reassures one's child. So for a healing time we two remained thus, both silent. The garden was exquisitely still and calm and peaceful. We were shut in and canopied by walls and roof of waving green, lighted with great cream-colored flowers with hearts of gold, and dappled with sun and shadow. Through it came the vireo's fairy flute.
God knows what thoughts went through John Flint's mind; but for me, a great peace stole upon me, mixed with a greater, reverent awe and wonder. Oh, heart of little faith! I had been afraid; I had doubted and despaired and been unutterably wretched; I had thought him lost whom the Powers of Darkness swooped upon, conquered, and led astray. And God had needed nothing stronger than a butterfly's fragile wing to bear a living soul across the abyss!
We went together, after a while, to his rooms, and when he had submitted to Kerry's welcome, we carefully examined the beautiful insect he had captured. As he had said, she had not lost a scale; and she was by far the most astonishing aberrant I have ever seen, before or since. The Turnus is perhaps the most beautiful of our butterflies, and this off-color was larger than the normal, and more irregularly and oddly and brilliantly colored. Their natural coloring is gorgeous enough; but hers was like a seraph's head-jewels.
I have her yet, with the date of her capture written under her. She is the only one of all our butterflies I claim personally. The gold has never been minted that could buy that Turnus.
"I had the station agent wire for my grip," said Flint casually. "And I gave the darky I knocked down fifty cents to soothe his feelings. He offered to let me do it again for a quarter." His eyes roved over the pleasant workroom with its books and cabinets, its air of homely comfort; through the open door one glimpsed the smaller bedroom, the crucifix on the white wall. He dropped his hand on Kerry's head, close against his knee, and drew a sharp breath.
"Father," said he, quietly, and looked at me with steady eyes, "you don't need to be afraid for me any more as you had to be to-day. To-day's the last of my—my dumfoolishness." After a moment he added:
"Remember what that little girl said when she gave me her dog? Well, I reckon she was right. I reckon I'm here for keeps. I reckon, father, that you and I do belong."
"Yes," said I; and looked over the cases of our butterflies, and the books we had gathered, and the table where we worked and studied together. "Yes; you and I belong." And I left him with Kerry's head on his knees, and Kerry's eyes adoring him, and went over to the Parish House to tell Madame that John Flint had changed his mind and wouldn't go North just now, because an aberrant Turnus had beguiled him.
For a moment my mother looked profoundly disappointed.
"Are you sure," she asked, "that this doesn't mean a loss to him, Armand?"
"Yes, I am sure."
She watched my eyes, and of a sudden she reached out, caught my hand, and squeezed it. Her face softened with sympathetic and tolerant understanding, but she asked no questions, made no comment. If Solomon had been lucky enough to marry my mother, I am sure he would never have plagued himself with the nine hundred and ninety-nine. But then, neither would he have written Proverbs.
Neither the Butterfly Man nor I have ever referred to that morning's incident; the witness of it we cherish; otherwise it pleases us to ignore it as if it had never happened. It had, of course, its results, for with a desperate intensity of purpose he plunged back into study and research; and as the work was broadening, and called for all his skill and patience, the pendulum swung him far forward again.
I had been so fascinated, watching that transformation, even mere wonderful than any butterfly's, going on before my eyes; I was so enmeshed in the web of endless duties spun for me by my big poor parish that I did not have time to miss Mary Virginia as poignantly as I must otherwise have done, although my heart longed for her.
My mother never ceased to mourn her absence; something went away from us with Mary Virginia, which could only come back to us with her. But it so happened that the ensuing summers failed to bring her back. The little girl spent her vacations with girl friends of whose standing her mother approved, or with relatives she thought it wise the child should cultivate. For the time being, Mary Virginia had vanished out of our lives.
Laurence, however, spent all his vacations at home; and of Laurence we were immensely proud. Most of his holidays were spent, not with younger companions, but oddly enough with John Flint. That old friendship, renewed after every parting, seemed to have grown stronger with the boy's growth; the passing years deepened it.
"My boy's forever boasting of your Butterfly Man," said the judge, falling into step with me one morning on the street. "He tells me Flint's been made a member of several learned societies; and that he's gotten out a book of sorts, telling all there is to tell about some crawling plague or other. And it seems this isn't all the wonderful Mr. Flint is capable of: Laurence insists that biologists will have to look Flintward pretty soon, on account of observations on what he calls insect allies—whatever they are."
"Well, you see, his work on insect allies is really unique and thorough, and it opens a door to even more valuable research," said I, as modestly as I could. "Flint is one of its great pioneers, and he's blazing the way. Some day when the real naturalist comes into his own, he will rank far, far above tricky senators and mutable governors!"
The judge smiled. "Spoken like a true bughunter," said he. "As a matter of fact, this fellow is a remarkable man. Does he intend to remain here for good?"
"Yes," said I, "I think he intends to remain here—for good." I could not keep the pride out of my voice and eyes. Let me again admit my grave fault: I am a vain and proud old man, God forgive me!
"Your goose turned out a butterfly," said the judge. "One may well be pardoned a little natural vanity when one has engineered a feat like that! Common tramp, too, wasn't he?"
"No, he wasn't. He was a most uncommon one."
"I could envy the man his spontaneity and originality," admitted the judge, rubbing his nose. "Well, father, I'm perfectly satisfied, so far, to have my only son tramp with him."
"So is my mother," said I.
At that the judge lifted his hat with a fine old-fashioned courtesy good to see in this age when a youth walks beside a maid and blows cigarette smoke in her face upon the public streets.
"When such a lady approves of any man," said he, gallantly, "it confers upon him letters patent of nobility."
"We shall have to consider John Flint knighted, then," said my mother merrily, when I repeated the conversation. "Let's see," she continued gaily. "We'll put on his shield three butterflies, or, rampant on a field, azure; in the lower corner a net, argent. Motto, 'In Hoc Signo Vinces.' There'll be no sign of the cyanide jar. I'll have nothing sinister shadowing; the Butterfly Man's escutcheon!"
She knew nothing about the trust St. Stanislaus kept; she had never met Slippy McGee.
Laurence at last hung out that shingle which was to tingle Appleboro into step with the Time-spirit. It was a very happy and important day for the judge and his immediate friends, though Appleboro at large looked on with but apathetic interest. One more little legal light flickering "in our midst" didn't make much difference; we literally have lawyers to burn. So we aren't too enthusiastic over our fledglings; we wait for them to show us—which is good for them, and sometimes better for us.
This fledgling, however, was of the stuff which endures. Laurence was one of those dynamic and dangerous people who not only think independently themselves, but have the power to make other people think. No one who came in contact with him escaped this; it seemed to crackle electrically in the air around him; he was a sort of human thought-conductor, and he shocked many a smug and self-satisfied citizen into horrific life before he had done with him.
If this young man had not been one of the irreproachable Maynes Appleboro might have set him down as a pestilent and radical theorist and visionary. But fortunately for us and himself he was a Mayne; and the Maynes have been from the dawn of things Carolinian "a good family."
I don't think I have ever seen two people so mutually delight in each other's powers as did John Flint and Laurence Mayne. The Butterfly Man was immensely proud of Laurence's handsome person and his grace of speech and manner; he had even a more profound respect for his more solid attainments, for his own struggle upward had deepened his regard for higher education. As for Laurence, he thought his friend marvelous; what he had overcome and become made him in the younger man's eyes an incarnate proof of the power of will and of patience. The originality and breadth of his views fired the boy's imagination and broadened his personality. The two complemented each other.
The Butterfly Man's workroom had a fascination for others than Laurence. It was a sort of Open Question Club. Here Westmoreland came to air his views with a free tongue and to ride his hobbies with a gallant zest; here the major, tugging at his goatee, his glasses far down on his nose, narrated in spicy chapters the Secret Social History of Appleboro. Here the judge—for he, too, had fallen into the habit of strolling over of an evening—sunk in the old Morris chair, his cigar gone cold in his fingers, reviewed great cases. And sometimes Eustis stopped by, spoke in his modest fashion of his experiments, and left us all the better for his quiet strength. And Flint, with his eyes alive and watchful behind his glasses, listened with that air which made one like to tell him things. Laurence declared that he got his post-graduate course in John Flint's workroom, and that the Butterfly Man wasn't the least of his teachers.
I should dearly like to say that the Awakening of Appleboro began in that workroom; and in a way it did. But it really had its inception in a bird's nest John Flint had discovered and watched with great interest and pleasure. The tiny mother had learned to accept his approach, without fear; he said she knew him personally. She allowed him to approach close enough to touch her; she even took food out of his fingers. He had worked toward that friendliness with great skill and patience, and his success gave him infinite pleasure. He had a great tenderness for the little brown lady, and he looked forward to her babies with an almost grandfatherly eagerness. The nest was over in a corner of our garden, in a thick evergreen bush big enough to be called a young tree.
Now on a sunny morning Laurence and I and the Butterfly Man walked in our garden. Laurence had gotten his first brief, and we two older fellows were somewhat like two old birds fluttering over an adventurous fledgling. I think we saw the boy sitting on the Supreme Court bench, that morning!
As we neared the evergreen tree the Butterfly Man raised his hand to caution us to be silent. He wanted us to see his wee friend's reception of him, and so he went on a bit ahead, to let her know she needn't be afraid—we, too, were merely big friends come a-calling. And just then we heard shrill cries of distress, and above it the louder, raucous scream of the bluejay.
The bluejay was entirely occupied with his own business of breaking into another bird's nest and eating the eggs. He scolded violently between mouthfuls; he had finished three eggs and begun on the fourth and last when we came upon the scene. He had no fear of us; he had seen us before, and he knew very well indeed that the red-bearded creature with the cane was a particular and peculiar friend of feathered folks. So he cocked a knowing head, with a cruel beak full of egg, and flirted a splendid tail at his friend; then swallowed the last morsel and rowed viciously with Laurence and me; for the bluejay is wholly addicted to billingsgate. He paid no attention to the distraught mother-bird, fluttering and crying on a limb nearby.
"Gosh, pal, I've sure had some meal!" said the bluejay to John Flint. "Chase that skirt, over there, please—she makes too much noise to suit me!"
But for once John Flint wasn't a friend to a bluejay—he uttered an exclamation of sorrow and dismay.
"My nest!" he cried tragically. "My beautiful nest with the four eggs, that I've been watching day by day! And the little mother-thing that knew me, and let me touch her, and feed her, and wasn't afraid of me! Oh, you blue devil! You thief! You murderer!" And in a great gust of sorrow and anger he lifted his stick to hurl it at the criminal. Laurence caught the upraised arm.
"But he doesn't know he's a thief and a murderer," said he, and looked at the handsome culprit with unwilling admiration. The jay, having finished the nest to his entire satisfaction, hopped down upon a limb and turned his attention to us. He screamed at Laurence, thrusting forward his impudent head; while the poor robbed mother, with lamentable cries, watched him from a safe distance. Full of his cannibal meal, Mister Bluejay callously ignored her. He was more interested in us. Down he came, nearer yet, with a flirt of fine wings, a spreading of barred tail, just above Flint's head, and talked jocularly to his friend in jayese.
"You're a thief and a robber!" raged the Butterfly Man. "You're a damn little bird-killer, that's what you are! I ought to wring your neck for you, and I'd do it if it would do the rest of your tribe any good. But it wouldn't. It wouldn't bring back the lost eggs nor the spoiled nest, either. Besides, you don't know any better. You're what you are because you were hatched like that, and there wasn't Anything to tell you what's right and wrong for a decent bird to do. The best one can do for you is to get wise to your ways and watch out that you can't do more mischief."
The bluejay, with his handsome crested head on one side, cocked his bright black eye knowingly, and passed derisive remarks. Any one who has listened attentively to a bluejay must be deeply grateful that the gift of articulate speech has been wisely withheld from him; he is a hooligan of a bird. He lifted his wings like half-playful fists. If he had fingers, be sure a thumb had been lifted profanely to his nose.
The Butterfly Man watched him for a moment in silence; a furrow came to his forehead.
"Damn little thief!" he muttered. "And you don't even have to care! No! It's not right. There ought to be some way to save the mothers and the nests from your sort—without having to kill you, either. But good Lord, how? That's what I want to know!"
"Beat 'em to it and stand 'em off," said Laurence, staring at the ravaged nest, the unhappy mother, the gorged impenitent thief. "'Git thar fustest with the mostest men.' Have the nests so protected the thief can't get in without getting caught. Build Better Bird Houses, say, and enforce a Law of the Garden—Boom and Food for all, Pillage for None. You'd have to expect some spoiled nests, of course, for you couldn't be on guard all the time, and you couldn't make all the birds live in your Better Bird Houses—they wouldn't know how. But you'd save some of them, at any rate."
"Think so?" said John Flint. "Huh! And what'd you do with him?" And he jerked his head at the screaming jay.
"Let him alone, so long as he behaved. Shoo him outside when he didn't—and see that he kept outside," said Laurence. "You see, the idea isn't so much to reform bluejays—it's to save the other birds from them."
John Flint's face was troubled. "It's all a muddle, anyhow," said he. "You can't blame the bluejay, because he was born so, and it's bluejay nature to act like that when it gets the chance. But there's the other bird—it looks bad. It is bad. For a thief to come into a little nest like that, that she'd been brooding on, and twittering to, and feeling so good and so happy about—Man, I'd have given a month's work and pay to have saved that nest! It's not fair. God! Isn't there some way to save the good ones from the bad ones?"
There he stood, in the middle of the path, staring ruefully at the wrecked bit of twigs and moss and down that had been a wee home; and with more of sorrow than anger at the feathered crook who had done the damage. The thing was slight in itself, and more than common—just one of the unrecorded humble tragedies which daily engulf the Little Peoples. But I had seen a butterfly's wing save him alive; and so I did not doubt now that a little bird's nest could weigh down the balance which would put him definitely upon the side of good and of God.
"I think there is a way," said Laurence, gravely, "and that is to beat them to it and stand them off. All the rest is talk and piffle—the only way to save is to save. There are no halfway measures; also, it's a lifetime job, full of kicks and cuffs and ingratitude and misunderstanding and failure and loneliness, and sometimes even worse things yet. But you do manage to sometimes save the nests and the fledglings, and you do sometimes escape the pain of hearing the mothers lamenting. And that's the only reward a decent mortal ought to hope for. I reckon it's about the best reward there is, this side of heaven."
The Butterfly Man swallowed this a bit ungraciously.
"You've got a devil of a way of twisting things into parables. I'm talking birds and thinking birds, and here you must go and make my birds people! I wasn't thinking about people—that is, I wasn't, until you have to go and put the notion into my head. It's not fair. The thing's bad enough already, without your lugging folks into it and making it worse!"
Laurence looked at him steadily. "You've got to think of people, when you see things like that," said he, slowly; "otherwise you only half-see. I have to think of people—of kids, particularly—and their mothers." He turned as he spoke, and stared out over our garden, with its sunny spaces, and its shrubs and flowers, and trees, to where, over in the sky a pillar of smoke rose steadily, endlessly, and merged into a cloud overhanging the quiet little town.
"The pillar of cloud by day," said he "that leads the children—" He stopped, and the whimsical smile faded from his face; his jaw set.
The bluejay, having exhausted his vocabulary of jay-ribaldry, screeched one last outrageous bit of billingsgate into Flint's ears, shut up his tail like a fan, and darted off, a streak of blue and gray. The Butterfly Man's eyes followed him smilelessly; then they came back and dwelt for a moment upon the ruined nest and the fluttering mother-bird, still vexing the ear with her shrill lamentable futile protests. From her his eyes went, out over the trees and flowers to that pillar mounting lazily and inevitably into the sky. For a long moment he stared at that, too, fixedly. After an interval he clenched his hand upon his stick and struck the ground.
"Nothing's got any business to break up a nest! I'd rather sit up all night and watch than see what I've just seen and listen to that mother-thing calling to Something that's far-off and stone deaf and can't hear nor heed. Why, the little birds haven't got even the chance to get themselves born, much less grow up and sing! I—Say, you two go on a bit. I feel mighty bad about this. I'd been watching her. She knew me. She let me feed her. If only I'd thought about the jay, why, I might have saved her. But just when she needed me I wasn't there!" He turned abruptly, and strode off toward his own rooms. Kerry followed with a drooping head and tail. But Laurence looked after him hopefully.
"Padre, the Butterfly Man's seen something this morning that will sink to the bottom of his soul and stay there: didn't you see his eyes? Now, which of those two have taught him the most—the happy thief and murderer, or the innocent unhappy victim? The bluejay's not a whit the worse for it, remember; in fact, he's all the better off, for his stomach is full and his mischief satisfied, and that's all that ever worries a bluejay. And there isn't any redress for the mother-bird. The thing's done, and can't be undone. But between them they've shown John Flint something that forces a man to take sides. Doesn't the bluejay deserve some little credit for that? And is there ever any redress for the mother-bird, Padre?"
"Why, the Church teaches—" I began.
Laurence nodded. "Yes, Padre, I know all that. But it can't teach away what's always happening here and now. At least not to the Butterfly Man and me, ... nor yet the mother-birds, Padre. No. We want to be shown how to head off the bluejays."
We walked along in silence, his hand upon my arm. His eyes were clouded with the vision that beckoned him. As for me, I was wondering just where, and how far, that bluejay was going to lead John Flint.
It led him presently to my mother. All men learn their great lessons from women and in stress the race instinctively goes back to be taught by the mothers of it. There were long intimate talks between herself and the Butterfly Man, to which Laurence was also called. In her quiet way Madame knew by heart the whole mill district, good, bad and indifferent, for she was a woman among the women. She had supported wives parting from dying husbands; she had hushed the cries of frightened children, while I gave the last blessings to mothers whose feet were already on the confines of another world; she had taken dead children from frenzied women's arms. Just as the Butterfly Man had shown the country folks to Laurence, so now Madame showed them both the mill folks, the poor folks, the foreigners in a small town disdainful of them; and she did it with the added keenness of her woman's eyes and the diviner kindness of her woman's heart.
The little lady had enormous influence in the parish. And as Laurence's plans and hopes and ambitions unfolded before her, she threw this potent influence, with all it implied, in the scale of the young lawyer's favor. They began their work at the bottom, as all great movements should begin. What struck me with astonishment was that so many quiet women seemed to be ready and waiting, as for a hoped for message, a bugle-call in the dawn, for just that which Laurence had to tell them.
"A fellow with pull behind him," said John Flint, "is what you might call a pretty fair probability. But a fellow with the women behind him is a steam-roller. There's nothing to do but clear the road and keep from under." And when he went on his rounds among the farm houses now it wasn't only the men and children he talked to. There was a message for the overworked women, the wives and daughters who had all the pains and none of the profits. Westmoreland, who had been a rather lonesome evangelist for many years, of a sudden found himself backed and supported by younger and stronger forces.
The work was done very noiselessly; there was no outward disturbances, yet; but the women were in deadly earnest; there were far, far too many small graves in our cemetery, and they were being taught to ask why the children who filled them hadn't had a fair chance? The men might smile at many things, but fathers couldn't smile when mothers of lost children wanted to know why Appleboro hadn't better milk and sanitation. And there, under their eyes bulked the huge red mills, and every day from the bosom of this Moloch went up the smoke of sacrifice.
Behind all this gathering of forces stood an almost unguessed figure. Not the lovely white-haired lady of the Parish House; not big Westmoreland; not handsome Laurence, nor outspoken Miss Sally Ruth with a suffrage button on her black basque; but a limping man in gray tweeds with a soft felt hat pulled down over his eyes and a butterfly net in his hand. That net was symbolic. With trained eye and sure hand the naturalist caught and classified us, put each one in his proper place.
Keener, shrewder far than any of us, no one, save I alone, guessed the part it pleased him to play. Laurence was hailed as the Joshua who was to lead all Appleboro into the promised land of better paving, better lighting, better schools, better living conditions, better city government—a better Appleboro. Behind Laurence stood the Butterfly Man.
He seldom interfered with Laurence's plans; but every now and then he laid a finger unerringly upon some weak point which, unnoticed and uncorrected, would have made those plans barren of result. He amended and suggested. I have seen him breathe upon the dry bones of a project and make it live. It satisfied that odd sardonic twist in him to stand thus obscurely in the background and pull the strings. I think, too, that there must have been in his mind, since that morning he had watched the bluejay destroy his nest, some obscure sense of restitution. Once, in the dark, he had worked for evil. Still keeping himself hidden, it pleased him now to work for good. So there he sat in his workroom, and cast filaments here and there, and spun a web which gradually netted all Appleboro.
There was, for instance, the Clarion. We had had but that one newspaper in our town from time immemorial. I suppose it might have been a fairly good county paper once,—but for some years it had spluttered so feebly that one wondered how it survived at all. In spite of this, nobody in our county could get himself decently born or married, or buried, without a due and proper notice in the Clarion. To the country folks an obituary notice in its columns was as much a matter of form as a clergyman at one's obsequies. It simply wasn't respectable to be buried without proper comment in the Clarion. Wherefore the paper always held open half a column for obituary notices and poetry.
These dismal productions had first brought the Clarion to Mr. Flint's notice. He used to snigger at sight of the paper. He said it made him sure the dead walked. He cut out all those lugubrious and home-made verses and pasted them in a big black scrapbook. He had a fashion of strolling down to the paper's office and snipping out all such notices and poems from its country exchanges. A more ghoulish and fearsome collection than he acquired I never elsewhere beheld. It was a taste which astonished me. Sometimes he would gleefully read aloud one which particularly delighted him:
"A Christian wife and offspring seven Mourn for John Peters who has gone to heaven. But as for him we are sure he can weep no more, He is happy with the lovely angels on that bright shore."†
My mother was horrified. She said, severely, that she couldn't to save her life see why any mortal man should snigger because a Christian wife and children seven mourned for John Peters who had gone to heaven. The Butterfly Man looked up, meekly. And of a sudden my mother stopped short, regarded him with open mouth and eyes, and retired hastily. He resumed his pasting.
"I've got a hankering for what you might call grave poetry," said he, pensively. "Yes, sir; an obituary like that is like an all-day sucker to me. Say, don't you reckon they make the people they're written about feel glad they're dead and done for good with folks that could spring something like that on a poor stiff? Wait a minute, parson—you can't afford to miss Broken-hearted Admirer:
"Miss Matty, I watched thee laid in the gloomy grave's embrace, Where nobody can evermore press your hand or your sweet face. When you were alive I often thought of thee with fond pride, And meant to call around some night & ask you to be my loving Bride. "But alas, there is a sorrowful sadness in my bosom to-day, For I never did it & now can never really know what you would say.
Miss Matty, the time may come when I can remember thee as a brother, And lay my fond true heart at the loving feet of another. For though just at present I can do nothing but sigh & groan, The Holy Bible tells us it is not good for a man to dwell alone. But even though, alas, I'm married, my poor heart will still be true, And oft in the lone night I will wake & weep to think she never can be you." —"A BROKEN-HEARTED ADMIRER."
"Ain't that sad and sweet, though?" said the Butterfly Man admiringly. "Don't you hope those loving feet will be extra loving when Broken-hearted makes 'em a present of his fond heart, parson? Wouldn't it be something fierce if they stepped on it! Gee, I cried in my hat when I first read that!" Now wasn't it a curious coincidence that, even as Madame, I regarded John Flint with open mouth and eyes, and retired hastily?
For some time the Clarion had been getting worse and worse; heaven knows how it managed to appear on time, and we expected each issue to be its last. It wasn't news to Appleboro that it was on its last legs. I was not particularly interested in its threatened demise, not having John Flint's madness for its obituaries; but he watched it narrowly.
"Did you know," he remarked to Laurence, "that the poor old Clarion is ready to bust? It will have to write a death-notice for itself in a week or two, the editor told me this morning."
"So?" Laurence seemed as indifferent as I.
The Butterfly Man shot him a freighted glance. "Folks in this county will sort of miss the Clarion," he reflected. "After all, it's the one county paper. Seems to me," he mused, "that if I were going in head, neck and crop for the sweet little job of reformer-general, I'd first off get me a grappling-hook on my town's one newspaper. Particularly when grappling-hooks were going cheap."
"Hasn't Inglesby got a mortgage on it?"
"If he had would he let it die in its bed so nice and ladylike? Not much! It'd kick out the footboard and come alive. Inglesby must be getting rusty in the joints not to reach out for the Clarion himself, right now. Maybe he figures it's not worth the price. Maybe he knows this town so well he's dead sure nobody that buys a newspaper here would have the nerve to print anything or think anything he didn't approve of. Yes, I guess that's it."
"Which is your gentle way," cut in Laurence, "of telling me I'd better hustle out and gather in the Clarion before Inglesby beats me to it, isn't it?"
"Me?" The Butterfly Man looked pained. "I'm not telling you to buy anything. I'm only thinking of the obituaries. Ask the parson. I'm—I'm addicted to 'em, like some people are to booze. But if you'd promise to keep open the old corner for them, why, I might come out and beg you to buy the Clarion, now it's going so cheap. Yep—all on account of the obituaries!" And he murmured:
"Our dear little Johnny was left alive To reach the interesting age of five When—"
"That's just about as much as I can stand of that, my son!" said I, hastily.
"The parson's got an awful tender heart," the Butterfly Man explained and Laurence was graceless enough to grin.
"Well, as I was about to say: I happened to think Inglesby would be brute enough to choke out my pet column, or make folks pay for it, and things like that haven't got any business to have price tags on 'em. So I got to thinking of you. You're young and tender; also a college man; and you're itching to wash and iron Appleboro—" he took off his glasses and wiped them delicately and deliberately.
"Did you also get to thinking," said Laurence, crisply, "that I'm just about making my salt at present, and still you're suggesting that I tie a dead old newspaper about my neck and jump overboard? One might fancy you hankered to add my obituary to your collection!" he finished with a touch of tartness.
The Butterfly Man smiled ever so gently.
"The Clarion is the county paper," he explained patiently. "It was here first. It's been here a long time, and people are used to it. It knows by heart how they think and feel and how they want to be told they think and feel. And you ought to know Carolina people when it comes right down to prying them loose from something they're used to!" He paused, to let that sink in.
"There's no reason why the Clarion should keep on being a dead one, is there? There's plenty room for a live daily right here and now, if it was run right. Why, this town's blue-molded for a live paper! Look here: You go buy the Clarion. It won't cost you much. Believe me, you'll find it mighty handy—power of the press, all the usual guff, you know! I sha'n't have to worry about obituaries, but I bet you dollars to doughnuts some people will wake up some morning worrying a whole lot about editorials. Mayne—people like to think they think what they think themselves. They don't. They think what their home newspapers tell them to think. And this is your great big chance to get the town ear and shout into it good and loud."
A week or so later Mayne & Son surprised Appleboro by purchasing the moribund Clarion. They didn't have to go into debt for it, either. They got it for an absurdly low sum, although folks said, with sniffs, that anything paid for that rag was too much.
"Nevertheless," said the Butterfly Man to me, complacently, "that's the little jimmy that's going to grow up and crack some fat cribs. Watch it grow!"
I watched; but, like most others, I was rather doubtful. It was true that the Clarion immediately showed signs of reviving life. And that Jim Dabney, a college friend from upstate, whom Laurence had induced to accept the rather precarious position of editor and manager, wrote pleasantly as well as pungently, and so set us all to talking.
I suppose it was because it really had something to say, and that something very pertinent to our local interests and affairs, that we learned and liked to quote the Clarion. It made a neat appearance in new black type, and this pleased us. It had, too, a newer, clearer, louder note, which made itself heard over the whole county. The county merchants and farmers began once more to advertise in its pages, as John Flint, who watched it jealously—feeling responsible for Laurence's purchase of it—was happy to point out.
One thing, too, became more and more evident. The women were behind the Clarion in a solid phalanx. They knew it meant for them a voice which spoke articulately and publicly, an insistent voice which must be answered. It noticed every Mothers' Meeting, Dorcas activity, Ladies' Aid, Altar Guild, temperance gathering; spoke respectfully of the suffragists and hopefully of the "public-spirited women" of the new Civic League. And never, never, never omitted nor misplaced nor misspelled a name! The boy from up-state saw to that. He was wily as the serpent and simple as the dove. Over the local page appeared daily:
"LET'S GET TOGETHER!"
After awhile we took him at his word and tried to ... and things began to happen in Appleboro.
"Here," said the Butterfly Man to me, "is where the bluejay begins to get his."
For in most Appleboro houses insistent women were asking harassed and embarrassed men certain questions concerning certain things which ladies hadn't been supposed to know anything about, much less worry their heads over, since the state was a state. So determined were the women to have these questions fairly answered that they presently asked them in cold print, on the front page of the town paper. And Laurence told them. He had appalling lists and figures and names and dates. The "chiel among us takin' notes" printed them. Dabney's editorial comments were barbed.
Now there are mills in the South which do obey the state laws and regulations as to hours, working conditions, wages, sanitation, safety appliances, child labor. But there are others which do not. Ours notoriously didn't.
John Flint and my mother had had many a conference about deplorable cases which both knew, but were powerless to change. The best they had been able to do was to tabulate such cases, with names and facts and dates, but precious little had been accomplished for the welfare of the mill people, for those who might have helped had been too busy, or perhaps unwilling, to listen or to act.
But, as Flint insisted, the new Civic League was ready and ripe to hear now what Madame had to tell. At one meeting, therefore, she took the floor and told them. When she had finished they named a committee to investigate mill conditions in Appleboro.
That work was done with a painstaking thoroughness, and the committee's final report was very unpleasant reading. But the names signed to it were so unassailable, the facts so incontrovertible, that Dabney thought best to print it in full, and later to issue it in pamphlet form. It has become a classic for this sort of thing now, and it is always quoted when similar investigations are necessary elsewhere.
It was the Butterfly Man who had taken that report and had rewritten and revised it, and clothed it with a terrible earnestness and force. Its plain words were alive. It seemed to me, when I read them that I heard ... a bluejay's ribald screech ... and the heart-rending and piercing cries of a little brown motherbird whose nest had been ravaged and destroyed.
Appleboro gasped, and sat up, and rubbed its eyes. That such things could be occurring here, in this pleasant little place, in the shadow of their churches, within reach of their homes! No one dared to even question the truth of that report, however, and it went before the Grand Jury intact. The Grand Jury very promptly called Mr. Inglesby before it. They were polite to him, of course, but they did manage to ask him some very unpleasant and rather personal questions, and they did manage to impress upon him that certain things mentioned in the Civic League's report must not be allowed to reoccur. One juror—he was a planter—had even had the temerity to say out loud the ugly word "penetentiary."
Inglesby was shocked. He hadn't known. He was a man of large interests and he had to leave a great deal to the discretion of superintendents and foremen. It might be, yes, he could understand how it might very well be—that his confidence had been abused. He would look into these things personally hereafter. Why, he was even now busily engaged compiling a "Book of Rules for Employees." He deplored the almost universal unrest among employees. It was a very bad sign. Very. Due almost entirely to agitators, too.
He didn't come out of that investigation without some of its slime sticking to him, and this annoyed and irritated and enraged him more than we guessed, for we hadn't as yet learned the man's ambition. Also, the women kept following him up. They meant to make him comply with the strict letter of the law, if that were humanly possible.
He was far too shrewd not to recognize this; for he presently called on my mother and offered her whatever aid he could reasonably give. Her work was invaluable; his foremen and superintendents had instructions to give her any information she asked for, to show her anything in the mills she wished to see, and to report to headquarters any suggestions as to the—er—younger employees, she might be kind enough to make. If that were not enough she might, he suggested, call on him personally. Really, one couldn't but admire the savoir faire of this large unctious being, so fluent, so plausible, until one happened to catch of a sudden that hard and ruthless gleam which, in spite of all his caution, would leap at times into his cold eyes.
"Is he, or isn't he, a hypocrite pure and simple, or are such men self-deceived?" mused my mother, puckering her brows. "He will do nothing, I know, that he can well avoid. But—he gave me of his own accord his personal check for fifty dollars, for that poor consumptive Shivers woman."
"She contracted her disease working in his mill and living in one of his houses on the wages he paid her," said I, "I might remind you to beware of the Greeks when they come bearing gifts."
"Proverb for proverb," said she. "The hair of the dog is good for its bite."
"Fifty dollars isn't much for a woman's life."
"Fifty dollars buys considerable comfort in the shape of milk and ice and eggs. When it's gone—if poor Shivers isn't—I shall take the Baptist minister's wife and Miss Sally Ruth Dexter with me, and go and ask him for another check. He'll give it."
"You'll make him bitterly repent ever having succumbed to the temptation of appearing charitable," said I.
We were not left long in doubt that Inglesby had other methods of attack less pleasant than offering checks for charity. Its two largest advertisers simultaneously withdrew their advertisements from the Clarion.
"Let's think this thing out," said John Flint to Laurence. "Cutting out ads is a bad habit. It costs good money. It should be nipped in the bud. You've got to go after advertisers like that and make 'em see the thing in the right light. Say, parson, what's that thing you were saying the other day—the thing I asked you to read over, remember?"
"When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise; and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge," I quoted Solomon.
"That's it, exactly. You see," he explained, "there's always the right way out, if you've got sense enough to find it. Only you mustn't get rattled and try to make your getaway out the wrong door or the front window—that spoils things. The parson's given you the right tip. That old chap Solomon had a great bean on him, didn't he?"
A few days later there appeared, in the space which for years had been occupied by the bigger of the two advertisements, the following pleasant notice:
People Who Disapprove of Civic Cleanliness, A Better Town, Better Kiddies, and A Square Deal for Everybody, Also Disapprove of Advertising in the Clarion.
And the space once occupied by the other advertiser was headed:
That ghastly poetry in which the soul of the Butterfly Man reveled appeared in that column thereafter. It was a conspicuous space, and the horn of rural mourning in printer's ink was exalted among us. It was not very hard to guess whose hand had directed those counter-blows.
When we met those two advertisers on the street afterward we greeted them with ironical smiles intended to enrage. They had at Inglesby's instigation been guilty of a tactical blunder of which the men behind the Clarion had taken fiendish and unexpected advantage. It had simply never occurred to either that a small town editor might dare to "come back." The impossible had actually happened.
I think it was this slackening of his power which alarmed Inglesby into action.
"Mr. Inglesby," said the Butterfly Man to me one night, casually, "has got him a new private secretary. He came this afternoon. His name's Hunter—J. Howard Hunter. He dresses as if he wrote checks for a living and he looks exactly like he dresses. Honest, he's the original he-god they use to advertise suspenders and collars and neverrips and that sort of thing in the classy magazines. I bet you Inglesby's got to fork over a man-sized bucket of dough per, to keep him. There'll be a flutter of calico in this burg from now on, for that fellow certainly knows how to wear his face. He's gilt-edged from start to finish!"
Laurence, lounging on the steps, looked up with a smile.
"His arrival," said he, "has been duly chronicled in to-day's press. Cease speaking in parables, Bughunter, and tell us what's on your mind."
The Butterfly Man hesitated for a moment. Then:
"Why, it's this way," said he, slowly. "I—hear things. A bit here and there, you see, as folks tell me. I put what I've heard together, and think it over. Of course I didn't need anybody to tell me Inglesby was sore because the Clarion got away from him. He expected it to die. It didn't. He thought it wouldn't pay expenses—well, the sheriff isn't in charge yet. And he knows the paper is growing. He's too wise a guy to let on he's been stung for fair, once in his life, but he don't propose to let himself in for any more body blows than he can help. So he looks about a bit and he gets him an agent—older than you, Mayne, but young enough, too—and even better looking. That agent will be everywhere pretty soon. The town will fall for him. Say, how many of you folks know what Inglesby really wants, anyhow?"
"Everything in sight," said Laurence promptly.
"And something around the corner, too. He wants to come out in the open and be IT. He intends to be a big noise in Washington. Gentlemen, Senator Inglesby! Well, why not?"
"He hasn't said so, has he?" Laurence was skeptical.
"He doesn't have to say so. He means to be it, and that's very much more to the point. However, it happens that he did peep, once or twice, and it buzzed about a bit—and that's how I happened to catch it in my net. This Johnny he's just got to help him is the first move. Private Secretary now. Campaign manager and press agent, later. Inglesby's getting ready to march on to Washington. You watch him do it!"
"Never!" said Laurence, and set his mouth.
"No?" The Butterfly Man lifted his eyebrows. "Well, what are you going to do about it? Fight him with your pretty little Clarion? It's not big enough, though you could make it a handy sort of brick to paste him in the eye with, if you aim straight and pitch hard enough. Go up against him yourself? You're not strong enough, either, young man, whatever you may be later on. You can prod him into firing some poor kids from his mills—but you can't make him feed 'em after he's fired 'em, can you? And you can't keep him from becoming Senator Inglesby either, unless," he paused impressively, "you can match him even with a man his money and pull can't beat. Now think."
The young man bit his lip and frowned. The Butterfly Man watched him quizzically through his glasses.
"Don't take it so hard," he grinned. "And don't let the whole salvation of South Carolina hang too heavy on your shoulders. Leave something to God Almighty—He managed to pull the cocky little brute through worse and tougher situations than Inglesby! Also, He ran the rest of the world for a few years before you and I got here to help Him with it."
"You're a cocky brute yourself," said Laurence, critically.
"I can afford to be, because I can open my hand this minute and show you the button. Why, the very man you need is right in your reach! If you could get him to put up his name against Inglesby's, the Big Un wouldn't be in it."
Laurence stared. The Butterfly Man stared back at him.
"Look here," said he slowly. "You remember my nest, and what that bluejay did for it? And what you said? Well, I've looked about a bit, and I've seen the bluejay at work.... Oh, hell, I can't talk about this thing, but I've watched the putty-faced, hollow-chested, empty-bellied kids—that don't even have guts enough left to laugh.... Somebody ought to sock it to that brute, on account of those kids. He ought to be headed off ... make him feel he's to be shoo'd outside! And I think I know the one man that can shoo him." He paused again, with his head sunk forward. This was so new a John Flint to me that I had no words. I was too lost in sheer wonder.
"The man I mean hates politics. I've been told he has said openly it's not a gentleman's game any more. You've got to make him see it can be made one. You've got to make him see it as a duty. Well, once make him see that, and he'll smash Inglesby."
"You can't mean—for heaven's sake—"
"I do mean. James Eustis."
Laurence got up, and walked about, whistling.
"Good Lord!" said he, "and I never even thought of him in that light. Why ... he'd sweep everything clean before him!"
I am a priest. I am not even an Irish priest. Therefore politics do not interest me so keenly as they might another. But even to my slow mind the suitability of Eustis was apparent. Of an honored name, just, sure, kind, sagacious, a builder, a teacher, a pioneer, the plainer people all over the state leaned upon his judgment. A sane shrewd man of large affairs, other able men of affairs respected and admired him. The state, knowing what he stood for, what he had accomplished for her farmers, what he meant to her agricultural interests, admired and trusted him. If Eustis wanted any gift within the power of the people to give, he had but to signify that desire. And yet, it had taken my Butterfly Man to show us this!
"Bughunter," said Laurence, respectfully. "If you ever take the notion to make me president, will you stand behind and show me how to run the United States on greased wheels?"
"I?" John Flint was genuinely astounded. "The boy's talking in his sleep: turn over—you 're lying on your back!"
"I will not!" said the Butterfly Man severely. "I have got something much more important on my hands than running states, I'll have you know. Lord, man, I'm getting ready some sheets that will tell pretty nearly all there is to tell about Catocala Moths!"
I remembered that sunset hour, and the pretty child of James Eustis putting in this man's hand a gray moth. I think he was remembering, too, for his eyes of a sudden melted, as if he saw again her face that was so lovely and so young. Glancing at me, he smiled fleetingly.
When Mary Virginia was graduated, my mother sent her, to commemorate that very important and pleasant occasion, one of her few remaining treasures—a carved ivory fan which Le Brun had painted out of his heart of hearts for one of King Louis' loveliest ladies. It still exhaled, like a whiff of lost roses, something of her vanished grace.
"I have a fancy," wrote my mother to Mary Virginia, "that having been pressed against women's bosoms and held in women's hands, having been, as it were, symbols which expressed the hidden emotions of the heart, these exquisite toys have thus been enabled to gain a soul, a soul composed of sentience and of memory. I think that as they lie all the long, long years in those carved and scented boxes which are like little tombs, they remember the lights and the flowers and the perfumes, the glimmer and gleam of jewels and silks, the frothy fall of laces, the laughter and whispers and glances, the murmured word, the stifled sigh: and above all, the touch of soft lips that used to brush them lightly; and the poor things wonder a bit wistfully what has become of all that gay and lovely life, all that perished bravery and beauty that once they knew. So I am quite sure this apparently soulless bit of carved ivory sighs inaudibly to feel again the touch of a warm and young hand, to be held before gay and smiling eyes, to have a flower-fresh face bent over it once more.
"Accept it, then, my child, with your old friend's love. Use it in your happy hours, dream over it a little, sigh lightly; and then smile to remember that this is your Hour, that you are young, and life and love are yours. It is in such youthful and happy smiles that we whose day declines may relive for a brief and bright space our golden noon. Shall I tell you a secret, before your time to know it? Youth alone is eternal and immortal! How do I know? 'Et Ego in Arcadia vixi!'"
Mary Virginia showed me that letter, long afterward, and I have inserted it here, although I suppose it really isn't at all relevant. But I shall let it stand, because it is so like my mother!
John Flint made for the schoolgirl a most wonderful tray with handles and border of hammered and twisted copper. The tray itself was covered with a layer of silvery thistle-down; and on this, hovering above flowers, some of his loveliest butterflies spread their wings. So beautifully did their frail bodies fit into this airy bed, so carefully was the work done, that you might fancy only the glass which covered them kept them from escaping.
"You will remember telling me, when you were going away to grow up," wrote John Flint, "to watch out for any big fine fellows that came by of a morning, because they'd be messengers from you to the Parish House people. Big and little they've come, and I've played like they were all of them your carriers. So you see we had word of you every single day of all these years you've been gone! Now I'm sending one or two of them back to you. Please play like my tray's a million times bigger and finer and that it's all loaded down with good messages and hopes; and believe that still it wouldn't be half big enough to hold all the good wishes the Parish House folks (you were right: I belong, and so does Kerry) send you to-day by the hand of your old friend,
THE BUTTERFLY MAN.
Mary Virginia showed me that letter, too, because she was so delighted with it, and so proud of it. I like its English very well, but I like its Irishness even better.
But, although she had at last finished and done with school, Mary Virginia didn't come home to us as we had hoped she would. Her mother had other plans, which failed to include little Appleboro. Why should a girl with such connections and opportunities be buried in a little town when great cities waited for just such with open and welcoming arms? The best we got then was a photograph of our girl in her graduation frock—slim wistful Mary Virginia, with much of her dear angular youthfulness still clinging to her.
It was Mrs. Eustis herself who kept us posted, after awhile, of the girl's later triumphant progress; the sensation she created, the bored world bowing to her feet because she brought it, along with name and wealth, so fresh a spirit, so pure a beauty. There was a certain autocratic old Aunt of her mother's, a sort of awful high priestess in the inmost shrine of the sacred elect; this Begum, delighted with her young kinswoman, ordered the rest of her world to be likewise delighted, and the world agreeing with her verdict, Mary Virginia fared very well. She was feted, photographed, and paragraphed. Her portrait, painted by a rather obscure young man, made the painter famous. In the hands of the Begum the pretty girl blossomed into a great beauty. The photograph that presently came to us quite took our breath away, she was so regal.
"She will never, never again be at home in little Appleboro," said my mother, regretfully. "That dear, simple, passionate, eager child we used to know has gone forever—life has taken her. This beautiful creature's place is not here—she belongs to a world where the women wear titles and tiaras, and the men wear kings' orders. No, we could never hope to hold her any more."
"But we could love her, could we not? Perhaps even more than those fine ladies with tiaras and titles and those fine gentlemen with orders, whom your fancy conjures up for her," said I crisply, for her words stung. They found an echo in my own heart.
"Love her? Oh, but of course! But—love counts for very, very little in the world which claims Mary Virginia now, Armand. Ambition stifles him." I was silent. I knew.
As for John Flint, he looked at that photograph and turned red.
"Good Lord! To think I had nerve to send her a few butterflies last year ... told her to play like they meant more! I somehow couldn't get the notion in my head that she'd grown up.... I never could think of her except as a sort of kid-angel, because I couldn't seem to bear the idea of her ever being anything else but what she was. Well ... she's not, any more. And I've had the nerve to give a few insects to the Queen of Sheba!"
"Bosh!" said Laurence, sturdily. "She ought to be glad and proud to get that tray, and I'll bet you Mary Virginia's delighted with it. She's her father's daughter as well as her mother's, please. As for Appleboro not being good enough for her, that's piffle, too, p'tite Madame, and I'm surprised at you! Her own town is good enough for any girl. If it isn't, let her just pitch in and help make it good enough, if she's worth her salt. Not that Mary Virginia isn't scrumptious, though. Lordy, who'd think this was the same kid that used to bump my head?"
"She turns heads now, instead of bumping them," said my mother.
"Oh, she's not the only head-turner Appleboro can boast of!" said the young man grandly. "We've always been long on good-lookers in Carolina, whatever else we may lack. They're like berries in their season."
"But the berry season is short and soon over, my son: and there are seasons when there are no berries at all—except preserved ones," suggested my mother, with that swift, curious cattiness which so often astounds me in even the dearest of women.
"Dare you to tell that to the Civic League!" chortled Laurence. "I'll grant you that Mary Virginia's the biggest berry in the patch, at the height of a full season. But look at her getup! Don't doodads and fallals, and hen-feathers in the hair, and things twisted and tied, and a slithering train, and a clothesline length of pearls and such, count for something? How about Claire Dexter, for instance? She mayn't have a Figure like her Aunt Sally Ruth, but suppose you dolled Claire up like this? A flirt she was born and a flirt she will die, but isn't she a perfect peach? That reminds me—that ungrateful minx gave two dances rightfully mine to Mr. Howard Hunter last night. I didn't raise any ructions, because, to tell you the truth, I didn't much blame her. That fellow really knows how to dance, and the way he can convey to a girl the impression that he's only alive on her account makes me gnash my teeth with green-and-blue envy. No wonder they all dote on him! No home complete without this handsome ornament!" he added.
My mother's lips came firmly together.
"It is a great mistake to figure Mephistopheles as a rather blase brunette," she remarked crisply. "I am absolutely certain that if you could catch the devil without his mask you'd find him a perfect blonde."
"Nietzsche's blonde beast, then?" suggested Laurence, amused at her manner.
"That same blonde beast is perhaps the most magnificent of animals," I put in. For alone of my household I admired immensely Mr. Inglesby's secretary. He was the only man I have ever known to whom the term 'beautiful' might be justly applied, and at the word's proper worth. Such a man as this, a two-handed sword gripped in his steel fists, a wolfskin across his broad shoulders and eagle-wings at either side the helmet that crowns his yellow hair, looks at one out of many a red, red page of the past with just such blue, dangerous, and cloudless eyes. Rolling and reeking decks have known him, and falling walls, and shrieks, and flames mounting skyward, and viking sagas, and drinking-songs roared from brass throats, and terrible hymns to Odin Allfather in the midwatches of Northern nights.
He had called upon me shortly after his arrival, his ostensible reason being my work among his mill-people. I think he liked me, later. At any rate, I had seen much of him, and I was indebted to him for more than one shrewd and practical suggestion. If at times I was chilled by what seemed to me a ruthless and cold-blooded manner of viewing the whole great social question I was nevertheless forced to admire the almost mathematical perfection to which he had reduced his system.
"But you wish to deal with human beings as with figures in a sum," I objected once.
"Figures," he smiled equably, "are only stubborn—on paper. When they're alive they're fluid and any clever social chemist can reduce them to first principles. It's really very simple, as all great things are: When in doubt, reach the stomach! There you are! That's the universal eye-opener."
"My dear friend," he added, laughing, "don't look so horrified. I didn't make things as they are. Personally, I might even prefer to say, like Mr. Fox in the old story, 'It was not so. It is not so. And God forbid it should be so!' But I can't, truthfully, and therefore—I don't. I accept what I can't help. Self-preservation, we all admit, is the first law of nature. Now I consider myself, and the class I represent, as beings much more valuable to the world than, let's say, your factory-hands, your mill-workers, your hewers of wood and drawers of water. Thus, should the occasion arise, I should most unhesitatingly use whatever weapons law, religion, civilization itself, put into my hands, without compunction and possibly what some cavilers might call without mercy; having at stake a very vital issue—the preservation of my kind, the protection of my class against Demos."
He spoke without heat, calmly, looking at me smilingly with his fine intelligent eyes: there was even much of truth in his frank statement of his case. Always has Dives spoken thus, law-protected, dining within; while without the doors of the sick civilization he has brought about, Lazarus lies, licked by the dogs of chance. No, this man was advocating no new theory; once, perhaps, I might have argued even thus myself, and done so with a clean conscience. This man was merely an opportunist. I knew he would never "reach their stomachs" unless he thought he had to. Indeed, since his coming, things had changed greatly at the mills, and for the better.
"The day of the great god Gouge," he had said to Inglesby, "is passing. It's bad business to overwork and underpay your hands into a state of chronic insurrection. That means losing time and scamping work. The square deal is not socialism nor charity nor a matter of any one man's private pleasure or conscience—it's cold hard common sense and sound scientific business. You get better results, and that's what you're after."
Perhaps it was because Appleboro offered, at that time, very little to amuse and interest that keen mind of his, that the Butterfly Man amused and interested Hunter so much. Or perhaps, proud as he was, even he could not wholly escape that curious likableness which drew men to John Flint.
He was delighted with our collection. He could appreciate its scope and value, something to which all Appleboro else paid but passing heed. John Flint declared that most folks came to see our butterflies just as they would have run to see the dog-faced boy or the bearded lady—merely for something to see. But this man's appreciation and praise were both sincere and encouraging. And as he never allowed anything or anybody unusual or interesting to pass him by without at least sampling its savor, he formed the habit of strolling over to the Parish House to talk with the limping man who had come there a dying tramp, was now a scientist, with the manner and appearance of a gentleman, and who spoke at will the language of two worlds. That this once black sheep had strayed of his own will and pleasure from some notable fold Hunter didn't for a moment doubt. Like all Appleboro, he wouldn't have been at all surprised to see this prodigal son welcomed into the bosom of some Fifth Avenue father, and have the fatted calf dressed for him by a chef whose salary might have hired three college professors. Hunter had known one or two such black sheep in his time; he fancied himself none too shrewd in thus penetrating Flint's rather obvious secret.