My mother watched the secretary's comings and goings at the Parish House speculatively. Not even the fact that he quoted her adored La Rochefoucauld, in flawless French, softened her estimate.
"If he even had the semblance of a heart!" said she, regretfully. "But he is all head, that one."
Now, I am a simple man, and this cultivated and handsome man of the world delighted me. To me immured in a mill town he brought the modern world's best. He was a window, for me, which let in light.
"That great blonde!" said Madame, wonderingly. "He is so designedly fascinating I wonder you fail to see the wheels go 'round. However, let me admit that I thank God devoutly I am no longer young and susceptible. Consider the terrible power such a man might exert over an ardent and unsophisticated heart!"
It was Hunter who had brought me a slim book, making known to me a poet I had otherwise missed.
"You are sure to like Bridges," he told me, "for the sake of one verse. Have you ever thought why I like you, Father De Rance? Because you amuse me. I see in you one of life's subtlest ironies: A Greek beauty-worshiper posing as a Catholic priest—in Appleboro!" He laughed. And then, with real feeling, he read in his resonant voice:
"I love all beautiful things: I seek and adore them. God has no better praise, And man in his hasty days, Is honored for them."
When at times the secretary brought his guests to see what he pleasingly enough termed Appleboro's one claim to distinction, the Butterfly Man did the honors to the manner born. Drawer after drawer and box after box would he open, patiently answering and explaining. And indeed, I think the contents were worth coming far to see. Some of them had come to us from the ends of the earth; from China and Japan and India and Africa and Australia, from the Antilles and Mexico and South America and the isles of the Pacific; from many and many a lonely missionary station had they been sent us. Even as our collection grew, the library covering it grew with it. But this was merely the most showy and pleasing part of the work. That which had the greatest scientific worth and interest, that upon which John Flint's value and reputation were steadily mounting, was in less lovely and more destructive forms of insect life. Beside this last, a labor calling for the most unremitting, painstaking, persevering research, observation, and intelligence, the painted beauties of his butterflies were but as precious play. For in this last he was wringing from Nature's reluctant fingers some of her dearest and most deeply hidden secrets. He was like Jacob, wrestling all night long with an unknown angel, saying sturdily:
"I will not let thee go except thou tell me thy name!" Like Jacob, he paid the price of going halt for his knowledge.
I like to think that Hunter understood the enormous value of the naturalist's work. But I fancy the silent and absorbed student himself was to his mind the most interesting specimen, the most valuable study. It amused him to try to draw his reticent host into familiar and intimate conversation. Flint was even as his name.
Oddly enough, Hunter shared the Butterfly Man's liking for that unspeakable Book of Obituaries, and I have seen him take a batch of them from his pocket as a free-will offering. I have seen him, who had all French, Russian and English literature at his fingers' ends, sit chuckling and absorbed for an hour over that fearful collection of lugubrious verse and worse grammar; pausing every now and then to cast a speculative and curious glance at his impassive host, who, paying absolutely no attention to him, bent his whole mind, instead, upon some tiny form in a balsam slide mount under his microscope.
"Why don't you admire Mr. Hunter?" I was curious to know.
"But I do admire him." Flint was sincere.
"Then if you admire him, why don't you like him?"
"I don't like the expression of his teeth," he admitted. "They're too pointed. He looks like he'd bite. I don't think he'd care much who he bit, either; it would all depend on who got in his way."
Seeing me look at him wonderingly, he paused in his work, stretched his legs under the table, and grinned up at me.
"I'm not saying he oughtn't to put his best foot foremost," he agreed. "We'd all do that, if we only knew how. And I'm not saying he ought to tell on himself, or that anybody's got any business getting under his guard. I don't hanker to know anybody's faults, or to find out what they've got up their sleeves besides their elbows, unless I have to. Why, I'd as soon ask a fellow to take off his patent leathers to prove he hadn't got bunions, or to unbutton his collar, so I'd be sure it wasn't fastened onto a wart on the back of his neck. Personally I don't want to air anybody's bumps and bunions. It's none of my business. I believe in collars and shoes, myself. But if I see signs, I can believe all by my lonesome they've got 'em, can't I?"
"Exactly. Your deductions, my dear Sherlock, are really marvelous. A gentleman wears good shoes and clean collars—wherefore, you don't like the expression of his teeth!" said I, ironically.
"Slap me on the wrist some more, if it makes you feel good," he offered brazenly. "For he may—and I sure don't." His grin faded, the old pucker came to his forehead.
"Parson, maybe the truth is I'm not crazy over him because people like him get people like me to seeing too plainly that things aren't fairly dealt out. Why, think a minute. That man's got about all a man can have, hasn't he? In himself, I mean. And if there's anything more he fancies, he can reach out and get it, can't he? Well, then, some folks might get to thinking that folks like him—get more than they deserve. And some ... don't get any more than they deserve," he finished, with grim ambiguity.
"Do you like him yourself?" he demanded, as I made no reply.
"I admire him immensely."
"Does Madame like him?" he came back.
"Madame is a woman," I said, cautiously. "Also, you are to remember that if Madame doesn't, she is only one against many. All the rest of them seem to adore him."
"Oh, the rest of them!" grunted John Flint, and scowled. "Huh! If it wasn't for Madame and a few more like her, I'd say women and hens are the two plum-foolest things God has found time to make yet. If you don't believe it, watch them stand around and cackle over the first big dunghill rooster that walks on his wings before them! There are times when I could wring their necks. Dern a fool, anyhow!" He wriggled in his chair with impatience.
"Liver," said I, outraged. "You'd better see Dr. Westmoreland about it. When a man talks like you're talking now, it's just one of two things—a liver out of whack, or plain ugly jealousy."
"I do sound like I've got a grouch, don't I?" he admitted, without shame. "Well ... maybe it's jealousy, and maybe it's not. The truth is, he rubs me rather raw at times, I don't know just how or why. Maybe it's because he's so sure of himself. He can afford to be sure. There isn't any reason why he shouldn't be. And it hurts my feelings." He looked up at me, shrewdly. "He looks all right, and he sounds all right, and maybe he might be all right—but, parson, I've got the notion that somehow he's not!"
"Good heavens! Why, look at what the man has done for the mill folks! Whatever his motives are, the result is right there, isn't it? His works praise him in the gates!"
"Oh, sure! But he hasn't played his full hand out yet, friend. You just give him time. His sort don't play to lose; they can't afford to lose; losing is the other fellow's job. Parson, see here: there are two sides to all things; one of 'em's right and the other's wrong, and a man's got to choose between 'em. He can't help it. He's got to be on one side or the other, if he's a man. A neutral is a squashy It that both sides do right to kick out of the way. Now you can't do the right side any good if you're standing flatfooted on the wrong side, can you? No; you take sides according to what's in you. You know good and well one side is full of near-poors, and half-ways, and real-poors—the downandouters, the guys that never had a show, ditchers and sewercleaners and sweatshoppers and mill hands and shuckers, and overdriven mutts and starved women and kids. It's sure one hell of a road, but there's got to be a light somewhere about it or the best of the whole world wouldn't take to it for choice, would they? Yet they do! Like Jesus Christ, say. They turn down the other side cold, though it's nicer traveling. Why, you can hog that other road in an auto, you can run down the beggars and the kids, you can even shoot up the cops that want to make you keep the speed laws. You haven't got any speed laws there. It's your road. You own it, see? It's what it is because you've made it so, just to please yourself, and to hell with the hicks that have to leg it! But—you lose out on that side even when you think you've won. You get exactly what you go after, but you don't get any more, and so you lose out. Why? Because you're an egg-sucker and a nest-robber and a shrike, and a four-flusher and a piker, that's why!
"The first road don't give you anything you can put your hands on; except that you think and hope maybe there's that light at the end of it. But, parson, I guess if you're man enough to foot it without a pay-envelope coming in on Saturdays, why, it's plenty good enough for me—and Kerry. But while I'm legging it I'll keep a weather eye peeled for crooks. That big blonde he-god is one of 'em. You soak that in your thinking-tank: he's one of 'em!"
"But look at what he's doing!" said I, aghast. "What he's doing is good. Even Laurence couldn't ask for more than good results, could he?"
The Butterfly Man smiled.
"Don't get stung, parson. Why, you take me, myself. Suppose, parson, you'd been on the other side, like Hunter is, when I came along? Suppose you'd never stopped a minute, since you were born, to think of anything or anybody but yourself and your own interests—where would I be to-day, parson? Suppose you had the utility-and-nothing-but-business bug biting you, like that skate's got? Why, what do you suppose you'd have done with little old Slippy? I was considerable good business to look at then, wasn't I? No. You've got to have something in you that will let you take gambler's chances; you've got to be willing to bet the limit and risk your whole kitty on the one little chance that a roan will come out right, if you give him a fair show, just because he is a man; or you can't ever hope to help just when that help's needed. Right there is the difference between the Laurence-and-you sort and the Hunter-men," said John Flint, obstinately.
As for Laurence, he and Hunter met continually, both being in constant social demand. If Laurence did not naturally gravitate toward that bright particular set of rather rapid young people which presently formed itself about the brilliant figure of Hunter, the two did not dislike each other, though Hunter, from an older man's sureness of himself, was the more cordial of the two. I fancy each watched the other more guardedly than either would like to admit. They represented opposite interests; one might at any moment become inimical to the other. Of this, however, no faintest trace was allowed to appear upon the calm unruffled surface of things.
If Inglesby had chosen this man by design, it had been a wise choice. For he was undoubtedly very popular, and quite deservedly so. He had unassailable connections, as we all knew. He brought a broader culture, which was not without its effect. And in spite of the fact that he represented Inglesby, there was not a door in Appleboro that was not open to him. Inglesby himself seemed a less sinister figure in the light of this younger and dazzling personality. Thus the secretary gradually removed the thorns and briars of doubts and prejudices, sowing in their stead the seeds of Inglesby's ambition and rehabilitation, in the open light of day. He knew his work was well done; he was sure of ultimate success; he had always been successful, and there had been, heretofore, no one strong enough to actively oppose him. He could therefore afford to make haste slowly. Even had he been aware of the Butterfly Man's acrid estimate of him, it must have amused him. When all was said and done, what did a Butterfly Man—even such a one as ours—amount to, in the world of Big Business He hadn't stocks nor bonds nor power nor pull. He hadn't anything but a personality that arrested you, a setter dog, a slowly-growing name, a room full of insects in an old priest's garden. Of course Hunter would have smiled! And there wasn't a soul to tell him anything of Slippy McGee!
A LITTLE GIRL GROWN UP
Summer stole out a-tiptoe, and October had come among the live-oaks and the pines, and touched the wide marshes and made them brown, and laid her hand upon the barrens and the cypress swamps and set them aflame with scarlet and gold. October is not sere and sorrowful with us, but a ruddy and deep-bosomed lass, a royal and free-hearted spender and giver of gifts. Asters of imperial purple, golden rod fit for kings' scepters, march along with her in ever thinning ranks; the great bindweed covers fences and clambers up dying cornstalks; and in many a covert and beside the open ditches the Gerardia swings her pink and airy bells. All down the brown roads white lady's-lace and yarrow and the stiff purple iron-weed have leaped into bloom; under its faded green coat the sugar-cane shows purple; and sumac and sassafras and gums are afire. The year's last burgeoning of butterflies riots, a tangle of rainbow coloring, dancing in the mellow sunshine. And day by day a fine still deepening haze descends veil-like over the landscape and wraps it in a vague melancholy which most sweetly invades the spirit. It is as if one waits for a poignant thing which must happen.
Upon such a perfect afternoon, I, reading my worn old breviary under our great magnolia, heard of a sudden a voice of pure gold call me, very softly, by my name; and looking up met eyes of almost unbelievable blue, and the smile of a mouth splendidly young and red.
I suppose the tall girl standing before me was fashionably and expensively clad; heaven knows I don't know what she wore, but I do know that whatever it was it became her wonderfully; and although it seemed to me very simple, and just what such a girl ought to wear, my mother says you could tell half a mile away that those clothes smacked of super-tailoring at its costliest. Hat and gloves she held in her slim white ringless hand. One thus saw her waving hair, framing her warm pale face in living ebony.
"Padre!" said she. "Oh, dear, dear, Padre!" and down she dropped lightly beside me, and cradled her knees in her arms, and looked up, with an arch and tender friendliness. That childish action, that upward glance, brought back the darling child I had so greatly loved. This was no Queen-of-Sheba, as John Flint had thought. This was not the regal young beauty whose photograph graced front pages. This was my own girl come back. And I knew I hadn't lost Mary Virginia.
"I remembered this place, and I knew—I just knew in my heart—you'd be sitting here, with your breviary in your hand. I knew just how you'd be looking up, every now and then, smiling at things because they're lovely and you love them. So I stole around by the back gate—and there you were!" said she, her eyes searching me. "Padre, Padre, how more than good to see you again! And I'm sure that's the same cassock I left you wearing. You could wear it a couple of lifetimes without getting a single spot on it—you were always such a delightful old maid, Padre! Where and how is Madame? Who's in the Guest Rooms? How is John Flint since he's come to be a Notable? Has Miss Sally Ruth still got a Figure? How are the judge's cats, and the major's goatee? How is everything and everybody?"
"Did you know you'd have to make room for me, Padre? Well, you will. I picked up and fairly ran away from everything and everybody, because the longing for home grew upon me intolerably. When I was in Europe, and I used to think that three thousand miles of water lay between me and Appleboro, I used to cry at nights. I hope John Flint's butterflies told him what I told them to tell him for me, when they came by! How beautiful the old place looks! Padre, you're thin. Why will you work so hard? Why doesn't somebody stop you? And—you're gray, but how perfectly beautiful gray hair is, and how thick and wavy yours is, too! Gray hair was invented and intended for folks with French blood and names. Nobody else can wear it half so gracefully. Now tell me first of all you're glad as glad can be to see me, Padre. Say you haven't forgotten me—and then you can tell me everything else!"
She paused, fanned herself with her hat, and laughed, looking up at me with her blue, blue eyes that were so heavily fringed with black.
I was so startled by her sudden appearance—as if she had walked out of my prayers, like an angel; and, above all, by that resemblance to the one long since dust and unremembered of all men's hearts save mine, that I could hardly bear to look upon her. That other one seemed to have stepped delicately out of her untimely grave; to sit once more beside me, and thus to look at me once more with unforgotten eyes. Thou knowest, my God, before whom all hearts are bare, that I could not have loved thee so singly nor served thee without fainting, all these years, if for one faithless moment I could have forgotten her!
My mother came out of the house with a garden hat tied over her white hair, and big garden gloves on her hands. At sight of the girl she uttered a joyful shriek, flung scissors and trowel and basket aside, and rushed forward. With catlike quickness the girl leaped to her feet and the two met and fell into each other's arms. I wished when I saw the little woman's arms close so about the girl, and the look that flashed into her face, that heaven had granted her a daughter.
"Mother complained that I should at least have the decency to wire you I was coming—she said I was behaving like a child. But I wanted to walk in unannounced. I was so sure, you see, that there'd be welcome and room for me at the Parish House."
"The little room you used to like so much is waiting for you," said my mother, happily.
"Next to yours, all in blue and white, with the Madonna of the Chair over the mantelpiece and the two china shepherdesses under her?"
"Then you shall see the new baby in the bigger Guest Room, and the crippled Polish child in the small one," said my mother. "The baby's name is Smelka Zurawawski, but she's all the better for it—I never saw a nicer baby. And the little boy is so patient and so intelligent, and so pretty! Dr. Westmoreland thinks he can be cured, and we hope to be able to send him on to Johns Hopkins, after we've got him in good shape. Where is your luggage? How long may we keep you? But first of all you shall have tea and some of Clelie's cakes. Clelie has grown horribly vain of her cakes. She expects to make them in heaven some of these days, for the most exclusive of the cherubim and seraphim, and the lordliest of the principalities and powers."
Mary Virginia smiled at the pleased old servant. "I've half a dozen gorgeous Madras head-handkerchiefs for you, Clelie, and a perfect duck of a black frock which you are positively to make up and wear now—you are not to save it up to be buried in!"
"No'm, Miss Mary Virginia. I won't get buried in it. I'll maybe get married in it," said Clelie calmly.
"Married! Clelie!" said my mother, in consternation. "Do you mean to tell me you're planning to leave me, at this time of our lives?"
Clelie was indignant. "You think I have no mo'sense than to leave you and M'sieu Armand, for some strange nigger? Not me!"
"Who are you going to marry, Clelie?" Mary Virginia was delighted. "And hadn't you better let me give you another frock? Black is hardly appropriate for a bride."
"I'm not exactly set in my mind who he's going to be yet, Miss Mary Virginia, but he's got to be somebody or other. There's been lots after me, since it got out I'm such a grand cook and save my wages. But I've got a sort of taste for Daddy January. He's old, but he's lively. He's a real ambitious old man like that. Besides, I'm sure of his family,—I always did like Judge Mayne and Mister Laurence, and I do like 'ristocratic connections, Miss Mary Virginia. That big nigger that drives one of the mill trucks had the impudence to tell me he'd give me a church wedding and pay for it himself, but I told him I was raised a Catholic; and what you think he said? He said, 'Oh, well, you've been christened in the face already. We can dip the rest of you easy enough, and then you'll be a real Christian, like me!' I'd just scalded my chickens and was picking them, and I was that mad I upped and let him have that dish pan full of hot water and wet feathers in his face. 'There,' says I, 'you're christened in the face now yourself,' I says. 'You can go and dip the rest of yourself,' says I, 'but see you do it somewhere else besides my kitchen,' I says. I don't think he's crazy to marry me any more, and Daddy January's sort of soothing to my feelings, besides being close to hand. Yes'm, I guess you'd better give me the black dress, Miss Mary Virginia, if you don't mind: it'd come in awful handy if I had to go in mourning."
"The black dress it shall be," said Mary Virginia, gaily. She turned to my mother. "And what do you think, p'tite Madame? I've a rare butterfly for John Flint, that an English duke gave me for him! The duke is a collector, too, and he'd gotten some specimens from John Flint. The minute he learned I was from Appleboro he asked me all about him. He said nobody else under the sky can 'do' insects so perfectly, and that nobody except the Lord and old Henri Fabre knew as much about certain of them as John Flint does. Folks thought the duke was taken up with me, of course, and I was no end conceited! I hadn't the ghost of an idea you and John Flint were such astonishingly learned folks, Padre! But of course if a duke thought so, I knew I'd better think so, too—and so I did and do! Think of a duke knowing about folks in little Appleboro! And he was such a nice old man, too. Not a bit dukey, after you knew him!"
"We come in touch with collectors everywhere," I explained.
"And so John Flint has written some sort of a book, describing the whole life history of something or other, and you've done all the drawings! Isn't it lovely? Why, it sounds like something out of a pleasant book. Mayn't I see collector and collection in the morning? And oh, where's Kerry?"
"Kerry," said my mother gravely, "is a most important personage. He's John Flint's bodyguard. He doesn't actually sleep in his master's bed, because he has one of his own right next it. Clelie was horrified at first. She said they'd be eating together next, but the Butterfly Man reminded her that Kerry likes dog-biscuit and he doesn't. I figure that in the order of his affections the Butterfly Man ranks Kerry first, Armand and myself next, and Laurence a close third."
"Oh, Laurence," said Mary Virginia. "I'll be so glad to see Laurence again, if only to quarrel with him. Is he just as logical as ever? Has he given the sun a black eye with his sling-shot? My father's always praising Laurence in his letters."
Now my mother adores Laurence. She patterns upon this model every young man she meets, and if they are not Laurence-sized she does not include them in her good graces. But she seldom lifts her voice in praise of her favorite. She is far, far too wise.
"Laurence generally looks in upon us during the evening, if he is not too busy," she said, non-committally. "You see, people are beginning to find out what a really fine lawyer Laurence is, so cases are coming to him steadily."
The trunks had arrived, and Mary Virginia changed into white, in which she glowed and sparkled like a fire opal. We three dined together, and as she became more and more animated, a pink flush stole into her rather pale cheeks and her eyes deepened and darkened. She was vividly alive. One could see why Mary Virginia was classed as a great beauty, although, strictly speaking, she was no such thing. But she had that compelling charm which one simply cannot express in words. It was there, and you felt it. She did not take your heart by storm, willynilly. You watched her, and presently you gave her your heart willingly, delighted that a creature so lovely and so unaffected and worth loving had crossed your path.
She chatted with my mother about that world which the older woman had once graced, and my mother listened without a shade to darken her smooth forehead. But I do not think I ever so keenly appreciated the many sacrifices she had made for me, until that night.
The autumn evening had grown chilly, and we had a fire in the clean-swept fireplace. The old brass dogs sparkled in the blaze, and the shadows flickered and danced on the walls, and across the faces of De Rance portraits; the pleasant room was full of a ruddy, friendly glow. My mother sat in her low rocker, making something or other out of pink and white wools for the baby upstairs. Mary Virginia, at the old square piano, sang for us. She had a charming voice, carefully cultivated and sweet, and she played with great feeling.
Kerry barked at the gate, as he always does when home is reached. My mother, dropping her work, ran to the window which gives upon the garden, and called. A moment later the Butterfly Man, with Laurence just back of him, and Kerry squeezing in between them, stood in the door. Mary Virginia, lips parted, eyes alight, hands outstretched, arose. The light of the whole room seemed not so much to gather upon her, as to radiate from her.
The dog reached her first. Outdoor exercise, careful diet, perfect grooming, had kept Kerry in fine shape. His age told only in an added dignity, a slower movement.
The girl went down on her knees, and hugged him. Pitache, aroused by Kerry's unwonted demonstrations, circled about them, rushing in every now and then to bestow an indiscriminate lick.
"Why, it's Mary Virginia!" exclaimed Laurence, and helped her to her feet. The two regarded each other, mutually appraising. He towered above her, head and shoulders, and I thought with great satisfaction that, go where she would, she could nowhere find a likelier man than this same Laurence of ours. Like David in his youth, he was ruddy and of a beautiful countenance.
"Why, Laurence! What a Jack-the-Giant-killer! Mercy, how big the boy's grown!"
"Why, Mary Virginia! What a heart-smasher! Mercy, how pretty the girl's grown!" he came back, holding her hand and looking down at her with equally frank delight. "When I remember the pigtailed, leggy, tonguey minx that used to fetch me clumps over the head—and then regard this beatific vision—I'm afraid I'll wake up and you'll be gone!"
"If you'll kindly give me back my hand, I might be induced to fetch you another clump or two, just to prove my reality," she suggested, with a delightful hint of the old truculence.
"'T is she! This is indeed none other than our long-lost child!" burbled Laurence. "Lordy, I wish I could tell her how more than good it is to see her again—and to see her as she is!"
Now all this time John Flint had stood in the doorway; and when my mother beckoned him forward, he came, I fancied, a bit unwillingly. His limp was for once painfully apparent, and whether from the day-long tramp, or from some slight indisposition, he was very pale; it showed under his deep tan.
But I was proud of him. His manner had a pleasant shyness, which was a tribute to the young girl's beauty. It had as well a simple dignity. And one was impressed by the fine and powerful physique of him, so lean and springy, so boyishly slim about the hips and waist, so deeply stamped with clean living of days in the open, of nights under the stars. The features had thinned and sharpened, and his red beard became him; the hair thinning on the temples increased the breadth of the forehead, and behind his glasses the piercing blue eyes—something like an eagle's eyes—were clear, direct, and kind. He wore his clothes well, with a sort of careless carefulness, more like an Englishman than an American, who is always welldressed, but rather gives the impression of being conscious of it.
Mary Virginia's lips parted, her eyes widened, for a fraction of a second. But if, remembering him as she had first seen and known him, she was astonished to find him as he was now, she gave no further outward sign. Instead, she gave him her hand as to an equal, and in a few gracious words let him know that she knew and was proud of what he had done and what he was yet to do. She repeated, too, with a pretty air of personal triumph, the old nobleman's praise. Indeed, it had been he who had told her of the book, which he had lately purchased and studied, she said. And oh, hadn't she just swelled with pride! She had been that conceited!
"You don't know how much obliged to you I should be, for if he hadn't accidentally learned I was from Appleboro, the town in which dwelt his most greatly prized correspondent—that's what he said, Mr. Flint!—why, I'm sure he wouldn't have noticed me any more than he noticed any other girl—which is, not at all; he being a toplofty and serious Personage addicted to people who do things and write things, particularly things about things that crawl and fly. And if he hadn't noticed me so pointedly—he actually came to see us!—why, I shouldn't have had such a perfectly gorgeous time. It was a great feather in my cap," she crowed. "Everybody envied me desperately!" She managed to make us understand that this was really a compliment to the Butterfly Man, not to herself.
"If the little book served you for one minute it was well worth the four years it took me to gather the materials together and write it," said he, pleasantly. And even the courtly Hunter couldn't have said it with a manlier grace.
"Mary Virginia," said Laurence slyly, "when you've had your fill of bugs, make him show you the Book of Obituaries. He thereby stands revealed in his true colors. Why, he made me buy the old Clarion and hire Jim Dabney to run it, so his supply of mortuary gems shouldn't be cut off untimely. To-day he culled this one:
Phileola dear, we cry because thou hast gone and left us, But well we know it is a merciful heaven which has bereft us. We tried five doctors and everything else we knew of you to save, But alas, nothing did you any good, and to-day you are in your grave!
He's got it in his pocket now. Dabney calls him Mister Bones," grinned Laurence.
My mother looked profoundly uncomfortable. The Butterfly Man reddened guiltily under her reproachful glance, but Mary Virginia giggled irrepressibly.
"I choose the Book of Obituaries first!" said she promptly, with dancing eyes. Flint drew a breath of relief.
He sat by silently enough, while Laurence and Madame and Mary Virginia talked of everything under heaven. His whole manner was that of an amused, tolerant, sympathetic listener—a manner which spurs conversation to its happiest and best. Not for nothing had Major Cartwright called him the most discriminatin' listener in Carolina.
"Oh, by the way, Flint! Hunter came by this morning to see Dabney. He is going to give a series of Plain Talks to Workingmen this winter, and of course he wants the Clarion to cover them. What do you think, Padre?"
"I think they will be eminently sensible talks and well worth listening to," said I promptly.
The Butterfly Man smiled crookedly, and shot me a freighted glance.
"Of course," said Laurence, easily. "Where's your father these days, Mary Virginia?"
"He was at the plantation this morning, but he'll be here to-morrow, because I wired him to come. I've just got to have him for awhile, business or no business."
"You did me a favor, then. I want to see him, too."
"Anything very particular?"
"How silly! You know very well he never meddles with politics, thank goodness! He thinks he has something better to do."
"That's just what I want to see him about," said Laurence.
"You mentioned a—a Mr. Hunter." Mary Virginia spoke after a short pause. "This is the first time I've heard of any Mr. Hunter in Appleboro. Who is Mr. Hunter?"
"Inglesby's right-bower, and the king-card of the pack," said Laurence promptly.
"One of them which set up golden images in high places and make all Israel for to sin," said my mother. "That's what Howard Hunter is!"
"Oh, ... Howard Hunter!" said she. "What sort of a person may he be? And what is he doing here in Appleboro?"
We told her according to our lights. Only the Butterfly Man sat silent and imperturbable.
"And you'll meet him everywhere," finished my mother. "He's everything a man should be to the naked eye, and I sincerely hope," she added piously, "that you won't like him at all."
Mary Virginia leaned back in her chair, and glanced thoughtfully down at the slim ringless hands clasped in her white lap.
"No," said she, as if to herself. "There couldn't by any chance be two such men in this one world. That is he, himself." And she lifted her head, and glanced at my mother, with a level and proud look. "I think I have met this Mr. Hunter," said she, smiling curiously. "And if that is true, your hope is realized, p'tite Madame. I shan't."
JOHN FLINT, GENTLEMAN
Almost up to Christmas the weather had been so mild and warm that folks lived out of doors. Girls clothed like the angels in white raiment fluttered about and blessed the old streets with their fresh and rosy faces. In the bright sunshine the flowers seemed to have lost all thought of winter; they forgot to fade; and roses rioted in every garden as if it were still summer. Nobody but the Butterfly Man grumbled at this springlike balminess, and he only because he was impatient to resume experiments carried over from year to year—the effect of varying degrees of natural cold upon the colors of butterflies whose chrysalids were exposed to it. He generally used the chrysalids of the Papilio Turnus, whose females are dimorphic, that is, having two distinct forms. He did not care to resort to artificial freezing, preferring to allow Nature herself to work for him. And the jade repaid him, as usual, by showing him what she could do but refusing to divulge the moving why she did it. She gave him for his pains sometimes a light, and sometimes a dark butterfly, with different degrees of blurred or enlarged and vivid markings, from chrysalids subjected to exactly the same amount of exposure.
The Butterfly Man was burning to complete his notes, already assuming the proportions of that very exact and valuable book they were afterward to become. He chafed at the enforced delay, and wished himself at the North Pole.
In the meantime, having nothing else on hand just then, it occurred to him to put some of these notes, covering the most interesting and curious of the experiments, into papers which the general run of folks might like to read. Dabney had been after him for some time to do some such work as this for the Clarion.
I think Flint himself was genuinely surprised when he read over those enchanting papers, though he did not then and never has learned to appreciate their unique charm and value. Instead, however, of sending them to Dabney, he thought they might possibly interest a somewhat wider public, and with great diffidence, and some misgivings, he sent one or two of them to certain of the better known magazines. They did not come back. He received checks instead, and a request for more.
Now the book and the several monographs he had already gotten out had been, although very interesting, strictly scientific; they could appeal only to students and scholars. But these papers were entirely different. Scientific enough, very clear and lucid and most quaintly flavored with what Laurence called Flintishness, they were so well received, and the response of the reading public to this fresh and new presentment of an ever-fascinating subject was so immediate and so hearty, that the Butterfly Man found himself unexpectedly confronting a demand he was hard put to it to supply.
He was very much more modest about this achievement than we were. My mother's pride was delicious to witness. You see, it also invested me with a very farsighted wisdom! Here was it proven to all that Father De Rance had been right in holding fast to the man who had come to him in such sorry plight.
I suppose it was this which moved Madame to take the step she had long been contemplating. Knowing her Butterfly Man, she began with infinite wile.
"Armand," said she, one bright morning in early November, "I am going to entertain, too—everybody else has done so, and now it's my turn. The weather is so ideal, and my garden so gorgeous with all those chrysanthemums and salvias and geraniums and roses, that it would be sinful not to take advantage of such conditions.
"I have saved enough out of my house-money to meet the expenses—and I am not going to be charitable and do my Christian duty with that money! I'm going to entertain. I really owe that much attention to Mary Virginia." She laid her hand on my arm. "I must see John Flint; go over to his rooms, and bring him back with you."
I thought she merely needed his help and counsel, for she is always consulting him; she considers that whatever barque is steered by John Flint must needs come home to harbor. He obeyed her summons with alacrity, for it delights him to assist Madame. He did not know what fate overshadowed him!
My mother sat in her low rocker, a lace apron lending piquancy to her appearance. She looked unusually pretty—there wasn't a girl in Appleboro who didn't envy Madame De Rance's complexion.
"Well," said the Butterfly Man cheerfully, unconsciously falling under the spell of this feminine charm, "the Padre tells me there's a party in the wind. Good! Now what am I to do? How am I to help you out?"
My mother leaned forward and compelled him to meet direct her eyes that were friendly and clear and candid as a child's.
"Mr. Flint," said she artlessly, ignoring his questions, "Mr. Flint, you've been with Armand and me quite a long time now, have you not?"
"A couple of lifetimes," said he, wonderingly.
"A couple of lifetimes," she mused, still holding his eyes, "is a fairly long time. Long enough, at least, to know and to be known, shouldn't you think?"
He awaited enlightenment. He never asks unnecessary questions.
"I am going," said my mother, with apparent irrelevance, "to entertain in honor of Mary Virginia Eustis. I shall probably have all Appleboro here. I sent for you to explain that you and Armand are to be present, too."
The Butterfly Man almost fell out of his chair.
"Me?" he gasped.
"You," with deadly softness. "You."
Horror and anguish encompassed him. Perspiration appeared on his forehead, and he gripped the arms of his chair as one bracing himself for torture. He looked at the little lady with the terror of one to whom the dentist has just said: "That jaw tooth must come out at once. Open your mouth wider, please, so I can get a grip!"
My mother regarded this painful emotion heartlessly enough. She said coolly:
"You don't need to look as if I were sentencing you to be hanged before sundown. I am merely inviting you to be present at a very pleasant affair." But the Butterfly Man, with his mouth open, wagged his head feebly.
"And this," said my mother, turning the screw again, "is but the beginning. After this, I shall manage it so that all invitations to the Parish House include Mr. John Flint. There is no reason under heaven why you should occupy what one might call an ambiguous position. I am determined, too, that you shall no longer rush away to the woods like a scared savage, the minute more than one or two ladies appear. No, nor have Armand hurrying away as quickly as he can, either, to bury or to marry somebody. All feminine Appleboro shall be here at once, and you two shall be here at the same time!
"John Flint, regard me: if the finest butterfly that ever crawled a caterpillar on this earth has the impertinence to fly by my garden the afternoon I'm entertaining for Mary Virginia, it can fly, but you shan't.
"Armand: nobody respects Holy Orders more than I do: but there isn't anybody alive going to get born or baptized or married or buried, or anything else, in this parish, on that one afternoon. If they are selfish enough to do it anyhow, why, they can do it without your assistance. You are going to stay home with me: both of you."
"My dear mother—"
"Good Lord! Madame—"
"I am not to be dearmothered nor goodlorded! Heaven knows I ask little enough of either of you. I am at your beck and call, every day in the year. It does seem to me that when I wish to be civilized, and return for once some of the attentions I have received from my friends, I might at least depend upon you two for one little afternoon!" Could anything be more artfully unanswerable?
"Oh, but Madame—" began Flint, horrified by such an insinuation as his unwillingness to do anything at any time for this adored lady.
"Particularly," continued my mother, inexorably, "when I have your best interest at heart, too, John Flint! Monsieur the Butterfly Man, you will please to remember that you are a member of my household. You are almost like a son to me. You are the apple of that foolish Armand's eye—do not look so astounded, it is true! Also, you will have a great name some of these days. So far, so good. But—you are making the grievous error of shunning society, particularly the society of women. This is wrong; it makes for queerness, it evolves the 'crank,' it spoils many an otherwise very nice man."
Flint sagged in his chair, and clasped and unclasped his hands, which trembled visibly. Madame regarded him without pity, with even a touch of scorn.
"Yes, it is indeed high time to reclaim you!" she decided, with the fearsome zeal of the female reformer of a man. "You silly man, you! Have you no proper pride? Have you absolutely no idea of your own worth? Well, then, if you haven't, I have. You shall take your place and play your part!"
"But," said Flint, and a gleam of hope irradiated his stricken face, "but I don't think I've got the clothes to wear to parties. And I really can't afford to spend any more money right now, either. I spent a lot on that old 1797 Abbot & Smith's 'Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia.' It cost like the dickens, although I really got it for about half what it's worth. I had to take it when I got the chance, and I'd be willing to wear gunny-sacking for a year to pay for those plates! I need them: I want them. But I don't need a party. I don't want a party! Madame, don't, don't make me go to any party!"
"Nonsense!" said my mother. "Clothes, indeed! I shouldn't worry about clothes, if I were you, John Flint. You came into this world knowing exactly what to wear and how to wear it. Why, you have an air! That is a very great mercy, let me tell you, and one not always vouchsafed to the deserving, either."
"I have a cage full of grubs—most awfully particular grubs, and they've got to be watched like a sick kid with the—with the whatever it is sick kids have, anyhow. Why, if I were to leave those grubs one whole afternoon—"
"You just let me see a single solitary grub have the temerity to hatch himself out that one afternoon, that's all! They have all the rest of their nasty little lives to hatch out!"
"Besides, there's a boy lives about five miles from here, and he's likely to bring me word any minute about something I simply have to have—"
"I want to see that boy!" She pointed her small forefinger at him, with the effect of a pistol leveled at his head.
"You are coming to my affair!" said she, sternly. "If you have no regard whatsoever for Mary Virginia and me, you shall have some for yourself; if you have none for yourself, then you shall have some for us!"
This took the last puff of wind from the Butterfly Man's sails.
"All right!" he gulped, and committed himself irremediably. "I—I'll be right here. You say so, and of course I've got to!"
"Of course you will," said my mother, smiling at him charmingly. "I knew I had only to present the matter in its proper light, and you'd see it at once. You are so sensible, John Flint. It's such a comfort, when the gentlemen of one's household are so amenable to reason, and so ready to stand by one!"
Having said her say, and gotten her way—as she was perfectly sure she would—Madame left the gentlemen of her household to their own reflections and devices.
"Parson!" The Butterfly Man seemed to come out of a trance. "Remember the day you made me let a caterpillar crawl up my hand?"
"Yes, my son."
"Parson, there's a horrible big teaparty crawling up my pants' leg this minute!"
"Just keep still," I couldn't help laughing at him, "and it will come down after awhile without biting you. Remember, you got used to the others in no time."
"Some of 'em stung like the very devil," he reminded me, darkly.
"Oh, but those were the hairy fellows. This is a stingless, hairless, afternoon party! It won't hurt you at all!"
"It's walking up my pants' leg, just the same. And I'm scared of it: I'm horrible scared of it! My God! Me! At a jane-junket! ... all the thin ones diked out with doodads where the bones come through ... stoking like sailors on shore leave ... all the fat ones grouchy about their shapes and thinking it's their souls. ..." And he broke out, in a fluttering falsetto:
"'Oh, Mr. Flint, do please let us see your lovely butterflies! Aren't they just too perfectly sweet for anything! I wonder why they don't trim hats with butterflies? Do you know all their names, you awfully clever man? Do they know their names, too, Mr. Flint? Butterflies must be so very interesting! And so decorative, particularly on china and house linen! How you have the heart to kill them, I can't imagine. Just think of taking the poor mother-butterflies away from the dear little baby-ones!' ...—and me having to stand there and behave like a perfect gentleman!" He looked at me, scowling:
"Now, you look here: I can stand 'em single-file, but if I'm made to face 'em in squads, why, you blame nobody but yourself if I foam at the mouth and chase myself in a circle and snap at legs, you hear me?"
"I hear you," said I, coldly. "You didn't get your orders from me. I think your proper place is in the woods. You go tell Madame what you've just told me—or should you like me to warn her that you're subject to rabies?"
"For the love of Mike, parson! Have a heart! Haven't I got troubles enough?" he asked bitterly.
"You are behaving more like an unspanked brat than a grown man."
"I wasn't weaned on teaparties," said he, sulkily, "and it oughtn't to be expected I can swallow 'em at sight without making a face and—"
"Whining," I finished for him. And I added, with a reminiscent air: "Rule 1: Can the Squeal!"
He glared at me, but as I met the glare unruffled, his lip presently twisted into a grin of desperate humor. His shoulders squared.
"All right," said he, resignedly. And after an interval of dejected silence, he remarked: "I've sort of got a glimmer of how Madame feels about this. She generally knows what's what, Madame does, and I haven't seen her make a mistake yet. If she thinks it's my turn to come on in and take a hand in any game she's playing, why, I guess I'd better play up to her lead the best I know how ... and trust God to slip me over an ace or two when I need them. You tell her she can depend on me not to fall down on her ... and Miss Eustis."
"No need to tell Madame what she already knows."
"Huh!" With his chin in his hand and his head bent, he stared out over the autumn garden with eyes which did not see its flaming flowers. Of a sudden his shoulders twitched; he laughed aloud.
"What are you laughing at?" I was startled out of a revery of my own.
"Everything," said the Butterfly Man, succinctly, and stood up and shook himself. "And everybody. And me in particular. Me! Oh, good Lord, think of Me!" He whistled for Kerry, and took himself off. I watched him walk down the street, and saw Judge Mayne's familiar greeting; and Major Cartwright stop him, and with his hand on the Butterfly Man's arm, walk off with him. Major Cartwright had kept George Inglesby out of two coveted clubs, for all his wealth; he was stiff as the proverbial poker to Howard Hunter, for all that gentleman's impeccable connections; he met John Flint, not as through a glass darkly, but face to face.
My mother, coming out of the house with her cherished manuscript cookbook in her hand, looked after them thoughtfully:
"Yes; it is high time for that man to know his proper place!"
"And does he not?"
"Oh, I suppose so, Armand. In a man's way, though—not a woman's. It's the woman's way that really matters, you see. When women acknowledge that man socially—and I mean it to happen—his light won't be hidden under a bushel basket. He will climb up into his candlestick and shine."
That sense of bewilderment which at times overwhelmed me when the case of John Flint pressed hard, overtook me now, with its ironic humor. As he himself had expressed it, I felt myself caught by a Something too big to withstand. I was afraid to do anything, to say anything, for or against, this launching of his barque upon the social sea. I felt that the affair had been once more lifted out of my power; that my serving now was but to stand and wait.
And in the meanwhile my mother, with her own hands, washed and darned the priceless old lace that was her chiefest pride; had something done to a frock; got out her sacredest treasures of linen and china and silver; requisitioned the Mayne and the Dexter spoons as well; had the Parish House scoured until it glittered; did everything to the garden but wash and iron it; spent momentous and odorous hours with Clelie over the making of toothsome delights; and on a golden afternoon gave a tea on the flower-decked verandahs and in the glorious garden, to which all Appleboro, in its best bib and tucker, came as one. And there, in the heart and center of it, cool, calm, correct, collected, hiding whatever mortal qualms he might have felt under a demeanor as perfect as Hunter's own, apparently at home and at ease, behold the Butterfly Man!
Everybody seemed to know him. Everybody had something pleasant to say to him. Folks simply accepted him at sight as one of themselves. And the Butterfly Man accepted them quite as simply, with no faintest trace of embarrassment.
If Appleboro had cherished the legend that this was a prodigal well on his way home, that afternoon settled it for them into a positive fact. His manner was perfect. It was as if one saw the fine and beautiful grain of a piece of rare wood come out as the varnish that disfigured it was removed. Here was no veneer to scratch and crack at a touch, but the solid, rare thing itself. My mother had been right, as always. John Flint stepped into his proper place. Appleboro was acknowledging it officially.
The garden was full of laughter and chatter and perfumes, and women in pretty clothes, and young girls dainty as flowers, and the smiling faces of men. But I am no longer of the party age. I stole away to a favorite haunt of mine at the back of the garden, behind the spireas and the holly tree, where there is a dilapidated old seat we have been threatening to remove any time this five years. Here, some time later, the Butterfly Man himself came stealthily, and seemed embarrassed to find the place preempted.
"Well," said I, making room for him beside me, "it isn't so bad after all, is it?"
"No. I'm glad I was let in for it," he admitted frankly, "though I'd hate to have to come to parties for a living. Still, this afternoon has nailed down a thought that's been buzzing around loose in my mind this long time. It's this: people aren't anything but people, after all. Men and women and kids, the best and the worst of 'em, they're nothing but people, the same as everybody else. No, I'll never be scared to meet anybody, after this. I'm people, too!"
"The same as everybody else."
"The same as everybody else," he repeated, soberly. "Not but what there's lots of difference between folks. And there are things it's good to know, too ... things that women like Madame ... and Miss Mary Virginia Eustis ... expect a man to know, if they're not going to be ashamed of him." He thought about this awhile, then:
"I tell you what, father," he remarked, tentatively, "it must be a mighty fine thing to know you've got the right address written on you, good and plain, and the right number of stamps, and the sender's name somewhere on a corner, to keep you from going astray or to the Dead Letter Office; and not to be scrawled in lead-pencil, and misspelt, and finger-smutched, and with a couple of postage-due stamps stuck on you crooked, and the Lord only knows who and where from."
"Why, yes," said I, "that's true, and one does well to consider it. But the main thing, the really important thing, is the letter itself—what's written inside, John Flint."
"But what's written inside wouldn't be any the worse if it was written clearer and better, and the outside was cleaner and on nice paper? And in pen-and-ink, not lead-pencil scratches?" he insisted earnestly.
"Of course not."
"That's what I've been thinking lately, father. Somehow, I always did like things to have some class to 'em. I remember how I used to lean against the restaurant windows when I was a kid, and watch the folks inside, how they dressed and acted, and the way the nicest of 'em handled table-tools. They weren't swells, of course, and plenty of 'em made plenty of mistakes—I've seen stunts done with a common table-knife that had the best of the sword-swallowing gents skinned a mile—but I wasn't a fool, and I learned some. Then when I—er—began to make real money (parson, I made it in wads and gobs and lumps those days!) why, I got me the real thing in glad rags from the real thing in tailors, and I used to blow a queen that'd been a swell herself once, to the joint where the gilt-edged bunch eat and show off their clothes and the rest of themselves. My jane looked the part to the life, I had the kale and the clothes and was chesty as a head-waiter, being considerably stuck on yours truly along about then, so we put it over. I had the chance to get hep to the last word in clothes and manners; that's what I'd gone for, though I didn't tell that to the skirt I was buying the eats for. And it was good business, too, for more than once when some precinct bonehead that pipe-dreamed he was a detective was pussy-catting some cold rat-hole, there was me vanbibbering in the white light at the swellest joints in little old New York! Funny, wasn't it? And handy! And I was learning, too—learning things worth good money to know. I saw that the best sort didn't make any noise about anything. They went about their business, whatever it was, easy-easy, same as me in my line. But, parson, though I'd got hep to the outside, and had sense enough to copy what I'd seen, I wasn't wise to the inside difference—the things that make the best what it is, I mean—because I'd never been close enough to find out that there's more to it than looks and duds and manners. It took the Parish House people to soak that into me. People aren't anything but people—but the best are—well, different."
We fell silent; a happy silence, into which, as from another planet, there drifted light laughter, and sweet gay voices of girls, and the stir and rustle of many people moving about. On the Mayne fence the judge's black Panch sat, neck outstretched, emerald eyes aslant, ears cocked uneasily at these unwonted noises. At a little distance a bluejay watched him with bright malevolent eyes, every now and then screaming insults at the whole tribe of cats, and black Panch in particular. Flint snapped his fingers, and Panch, with a spring, was off the fence and on his friend's knees. It seemed to me it had only needed the sleek beastie to make that hour perfect;—for cats in the highest degree make for a sense of homely, friendly intimacy. Flint, feeling this, stroked the black head contentedly. Panch purred for the three of us.
Into this presently broke Miss Sally Ruth Dexter, and bore down on John Flint like a frigate with all sails spread. At sight of her Panch spat and fled, and took the happy spell with him.
"Here you are, cuddling that old pirate of a black cat!" said she, briskly. "I told Madame you'd be mooning about somewhere. Here's some cocoanut cake for you both. Father, Madame's been looking for you. Did you know," she sank her voice to a piercing whisper, "that George Inglesby's here? Well, he is! He's talking to Mary Virginia Eustis, this very minute! They do say he's running after Mary Virginia, and I'm sure I wouldn't be surprised, for if ever a mortal man had the effrontery of Satan that man's George Inglesby! I must admit he's improved since Mr. Hunter took him in hand. He's not nearly so stout and red-faced, and he hasn't half the jowl, though Lord knows he'll have to get rid of a few tons more of his blubber" (Miss Sally Ruth has a free and fetterless tongue) "if he wants to look human. As I say, what's the use of being a millionaire if you've got a shape like a rainbarrel? I often tell myself, 'Maybe you haven't been given such a lot of this world's goods as some, Sally Ruth Dexter, but you can thank your sweet Redeemer you've at least got a Figure!"
The Butterfly Man cast a speculative eye over her generous proportions.
"Yes'm, you certainly have a whole lot to be thankful for," he agreed, so wholeheartedly that Miss Sally Ruth laughed.
"Get along with you, you impudent fellow!" said she, in high good humor. "Go and look at that old scamp of an Inglesby making eyes at a girl young enough to be his daughter! I heard this morning that Mr. Hunter has orders to get him, by hook or crook, an invitation to anything Mary Virginia goes to. I declare, it's scandalous! Come to think of it, though, I never saw any man yet, no matter how old or ugly or outrageous he might be, who didn't really believe he stood a perfectly good chance to win the affections of the handsomest young woman alive! If you ask me, I think George Inglesby had better join the church and get himself ready to meet his God, instead of gallivanting around girls. If he feels he has to gallivant, why don't he pick out somebody nearer his own age?"
"Why should you make him choose mutton when he wants lamb?" asked the Butterfly Man, unexpectedly.
"Because he's an old bellwether, that's why!" snapped Miss Sally Ruth, scandalized. "I wonder at Annabelle Eustis allowing him to come near Mary Virginia, millionaire or no millionaire. I bet you James Eustis will have something to say, if Mary Virginia herself doesn't!" And she sailed off again, leaving us, as the saying is, with a bug in the ear.
"Now what in the name of heaven," I wondered, "can Miss Sally Ruth mean? Mary Virginia ... Inglesby. ... The thing's sacrilegious."
The Butterfly Man rose abruptly. "Suppose we stroll about a bit?" he suggested.
"I thought," said my mother, when we approached her, "that you had disobeyed orders, and run away!"
"We were afraid to," said John Flint. "We knew you'd make us go to bed without supper."
"Did you know," said my mother, hurriedly, for Clelie was making signs to her, "that George Inglesby is here? The invitation was merely perfunctory, just sent along with Mr. Hunter's. I never dreamed the man would accept it. You can't imagine how astonished I was when he presented himself!"
A few moments later, the Butterfly Man said in a low voice: "Look yonder!" And turning, I saw Hunter. He was for the moment alone, and stood with his head bent slightly forward, his bright cold glance intent upon the two persons approaching—Mary Virginia and George Inglesby. His white teeth showed in a smile. I remembered, disagreeably, Flint's "I don't like the expression of his teeth: he looks like he'd bite."
Until that afternoon I had not seen the secretary for some time, for he had been kept unusually busy. Those eminently sensible talks to the mill workers had been well received, and were to be followed by others along the same line. He had done even more: he had induced the owners to recognize the men's Union, and all future complaints and demands were to be submitted to arbitration. Inglesby had undoubtedly gained ground enormously by that move. Hunter had done well. And yet—catching that sharp-toothed smile, I felt my faith in him for the first time shaken by one of those unaccountable uprushes of intuition which perplex and disturb.
I knew, too, that Laurence had had several long and serious conferences with Eustis, and I could well imagine the arguments he had brought to bear, the rousing of a sense of duty, and of state pride.
Eustis was obstinate. He had many interests. He was a very, very busy man. He didn't want to be a Senator; he wanted to be let alone to attend to his own business in his own way. But, insisted Laurence, when a thing must be done, and you can do it in a manner which benefits all and injures none; when your own people ask you to do it for them, isn't that your business?
A cold damning resume of Inglesby's entire career made Eustis hesitate. A vivid picture of what the state might expect at Inglesby's hands roused him to just anger. Such as this fellow represent Carolina? Never! When Inglesby's name should be put up, Eustis unwillingly agreed to oppose him.
And here was Inglesby, in my garden, making himself agreeable to Eustis's daughter! He was so plainly desirous to please her, that it troubled me, although it made his secretary smile.
The Mary Virginia walking beside Inglesby was not the Mary Virginia we knew: this was the regal one, the great beauty. Her whole manner was subtly charged with a sort of arrogant hauteur; her fairness itself changed, tinged with pride as with an inward fire, until she glowed with a cold, jewel-like brightness, hard and clear. Her very skirts rustled pridefully. Her glance at the man beside her was insulting in its disdainful indifference.
What would have saddened a nobler spirit enchanted Inglesby. He was dazzled by her. Her interest in what he was saying was coolly impersonal, the fixed habit of trained politeness. He could even surmise that she was mentally yawning behind her hand. When she looked at him her eyes under her level brows held a certain scornfulness. And this, too, delighted him. He groveled to it. His red face glowed with pleasure; he swelled with a pride very different from Mary Virginia's. I thought he had an upholstered look in his glossy clothes, reminding me unpleasantly of horsehair furniture.
"He looks like a day coach in July," growled the Butterfly Man in my ear, disgustedly.
Inglesby at this moment perceived Hunter and beamed upon him, as well he might! Who but this priceless secretary had pulled the strings which set him beside this glorious creature, in the Parish House garden? He turned to the girl, with heavy jauntiness:
"My good right hand, Miss Eustis, I assure you!" he beamed. "But I am sure you two need no dissertations upon each other's merits!"
"None whatever," said Miss Eustis, and looked over Mr. Hunter's head.
"Oh, Miss Eustis and I are really old acquaintances!" smiled the secretary. "We know each other very well indeed."
Mary Virginia made no reply. Instead, she looked about her, indifferently enough, until her glance encountered the Butterfly Man's. What he saw in her's I do not know. But he instantly moved toward her, and swept me with him.
"Father De Rance and I," said he, easily, "haven't had chance to speak to you all afternoon, Miss Eustis." He acknowledged Hunter's friendly greeting pleasantly enough.
"And I've been looking for you both." The hauteur faded from the young face. Our own Mary Virginia appeared, changed in the twinkling of an eye.
Inglesby favored me with condescending effusiveness. Flint got off with a smirking stare.
"And this," said Inglesby in the sort of voice some people use in addressing strange children to whom they desire to be patronizingly nice and don't know how, "this is the Butterfly Man!" Out came the jovial smile in its full deadliness. The Butterfly Man's lips drew back from his teeth and his eyes narrowed to gimlet points behind his glasses. "I have heard of you from Mr. Hunter. And so you collect butterflies! Very interesting and active occupation for any one that—ahem! likes that sort of thing. Very."
"He collects obituaries, too," said Hunter, immensely amused. "You mustn't overlook the obituaries, Mr. Inglesby."
Mr. Inglesby favored the collector of butterflies and obituaries with another speculative, piglike stare. You could see the thought behind it: "Trifling sort of fellow! Idiotic! Very." Aloud he merely mumbled:
"Singular taste. Very. Collecting obituaries, eh?"
"Fascinating things to collect. Very," said the Butterfly Man, sweetly. "Not to be laughed at. I might add yours to 'em, too, you know, some of these fine days!"
"Dilly, Dilly, come and be killed!" murmured Hunter. Mr. Inglesby, however, was visibly ruffled and annoyed. Who was this fellow braying of obituaries as if he, Inglesby, were on the highroad to oblivion already, when he was, in reality, still quite a young man? And right before Miss Eustis! He turned purple.
"My obituary?" he spluttered. "Mine? Mine?"
"Sure, if it's worth while," said the Butterfly Man, amiably. Mary Virginia barely suppressed a smile.
"Madame would like to see you, Miss Eustis," he told her.
Mary Virginia, bowing distantly to the millionaire and his secretary, walked off with him, I following.
Once free of them, her spirits rose soaringly.
"It's been a lovely afternoon, and I've enjoyed it all—except Mr. Inglesby. I don't like Mr. Inglesby, Padre. He's amusing enough, I suppose, at times, but one can't seem to get rid of him—he's a perfect Old Man of the Sea," she told us, confidentially. "And you can't imagine how detestably youthful he is, Mr. Flint! He told me half a dozen times this afternoon that after all, years don't matter—it is the heart which is young. And he takes cold tubs and is proud of himself, and plays golf—for exercise!" The scorn of the lithe and limber young was in her voice.
"What's the use of being a millionaire, if you have a shape like the rainbarrel?" I quoted pensively.
Later that night, when "the lights were fled, the garlands dead, and all but me departed," I went over for my usual last half-hour with John Flint. Very often we have nothing whatever to say, and we are even wise enough not to say it. We sit silently, he with Kerry's noble old head against his foot, each busy with his own thoughts and reflections, but each conscious of the friendly nearness of the other. You have never had a friend, if you have never known one with whom you might sit a silent, easy hour. To-night he sucked savagely at his old pipe, and his eyes were somber.
"You got the straight tip from Miss Sally Ruth, father," he said, coming out of a brown study. "What do you suppose that piker's trying to crawl out of his cocoon for? He never wanted to caper around Appleboro women before, did he? No. And here he's been muldooning to get some hog-fat off and some wind and waistline back. Now, why? To please himself? He don't have to care a hoot what he looks like. To please some girl? That's more likely. Parson: that girl's Mary Virginia Eustis." He added, through his teeth: "Hunter knows. Hunter's steering." And then, with quiet conviction: "They're both as crooked as hell!" he finished.
"But the thing's absurd on the face of it! Why, the mere notion is preposterous!" I insisted, angrily.
"I have seen worse things happen," said he, shortly. "But there,—keep your hair on! Things don't happen unless they're slated to happen, so don't let it bother you too much. You go turn in and forget everything except that you need a night's sleep."
I tried to follow his sound advice, but although I needed a night's sleep and there was no tangible reason why I shouldn't have gotten it, I didn't. The shadow of Inglesby haunted my pillow.
"EACH IN HIS OWN COIN"
With the New Year had descended upon John Flint an obsessing and tormenting spirit which made him by fits and starts moody, depressed, nervous, restless, or wholly silent and abstracted. I have known him to come in just before dawn, snatch a few hours' sleep, and be off again before day had well set in, though he must already have been far afield, for Kerry heeled him with lagging legs and hanging head. Or he would shut himself up, and refusing himself to all callers, fall into a cold fury of concentrated effort, sitting at his table hour after hour, tireless, absorbed, accomplishing a week's overdue work in a day and a night. Often his light burned all night through. Some of the most notable papers bearing his name, and research work of far-reaching significance, came from that workroom then—as if lumps of ambergris had been tossed out of a whirlpool.
All this time, too, he was working in conjunction with the Washington Bureau, experimenting with remedies for the boll-weevil, and fighting the plague of the cattle-tick. This, and the other outside work in which he was so immensely interested, could not be allowed to hang fire. Like many another, he found himself for his salvation caught in the great human net he himself had helped to spin. It was not only the country people who held him. Gradually, as he passed to and from on his way among them, and became acquainted with their children, there had sprung up a most curious sort of understanding between the Butterfly Man on the one side, and the half-articulate foreigners in the factory and the sly secretive mill-workers on the other.
People I had never been able to get at humanly, people who resisted even Madame, not only chose to open their doors but their mouths, to Meester Fleent. Uncouth fumbling men, slip-shod women, dirty-faced children, were never dumb and suspicious or wholly untruthful and evasive, where the Butterfly Man was concerned. He was one to whom might be told, without shame, fear, or compunction, the plain, blunt, terrible truth. He understood.
"I wish you'd look up Petronovich's boy, father," he might tell me, or, "Madame, have a woman-talk with Lovena Smith's girl at the mills, will you? Lovena's a fool, and that girl's up against things." And we went, and wondered, afterwards, what particularly tender guardian angels kept close company with our Butterfly Man.
Then occurred the great event which put Meester Fleent in a place apart in the estimation of all Appleboro, forever settled his status among the mill-hands and the "hickeys," and incidentally settled a tormenting doubt of himself in his own mind. I mean the settling of the score against Big Jan.
Half-Russian Jan was to the Poles what a padrone too often is to the Italian laborers, a creature who herded them together and mercilessly worked them for the profit of others, and incidentally his own, an exacting tyrant against whose will it was useless to rebel. He had a little timid wife with red eyes—perhaps because she cried so much over the annual baby which just as annually died. He made a good deal of money, but the dark Slav passion for whisky forced him to spend what he earned, and this increased a naturally sullen temper. He was the thorn in the Parish side; that we could do so little for the Poles was due in a large measure to Jan's stubborn hindering.
His people lived in terror of him. When they displeased him he beat them. It was not a light beating, and once or twice we had in the Guest Rooms nursed its victims back into some semblance of humanity. But what could we do? Jan was so efficient a foreman that Inglesby's power was always behind him. So when Jan chose to get very drunk, and sang long, monotonous songs, particularly when he sang through his teeth, lugubriously:
"Yeszeze Polska nie Zginela Poki my Zygemy ..."
men and women trembled. Poland might not be lost, but somebody's skin always paid for that song.
In passing one morning—it was a holiday—through the Poles' quarters, an unpleasant enough stretch which other folks religiously avoided, the Butterfly Man heard shrieks coming from Michael Karski's back yard. It was Michael's wife and children who screamed.
"It is the Boss who beats Michael, Meester Fleent," a man volunteered. "The Boss, he is much drunk. Karski's woman, she did not like the ways of him in her house, and Michael said, 'I will to send for the police.' So Big Jan beats Michael, and Michael's woman, she hollers like hell."
John Flint knew inoffensive, timid Michael; he knew his broad-bosomed, patient, cowlike wife, and he liked the brood of shockheaded youngsters who plodded along patient in old clothes, bare-footed, and with scanty enough food. He had made a corn-cob doll for the littlest girl and a cigar-box wagon with spool wheels for the littlest boy. Perhaps that is why he turned and went with the rest to Michael's yard where Big Jan was knocking Michael about like a ten-pin, grunting through his teeth: "Now! Sen' for those policemens, you!"
Michael was no pretty thing to look upon, for Jan was in an uglier mood than usual, and Michael had greatly displeased him; therefore it was Michael's turn to pay. Nobody interfered, for every one was horribly afraid Big Jan would turn upon him. Besides, was not he the Boss, and could he not say Go, and then must not a man go, short of pay, and with his wife and children crying? Of a verity!
The Butterfly Man slipped off his knapsack and laid his net aside. Then he pushed his way through the scared onlookers.
"Meester Fleent! For God's love, save my man, Meester Flint!" Michael's wife Katya screamed at him.
By way of answer Meester Fleent very deliberately handed her his eye-glasses. Then one saw that his eyes, slitted in his head, were cold and bright as a snake's; his chin thrust forward, and in his red beard his lips made a straight line like a clean knife-cut. Two bright red spots had jumped into his tanned cheeks. His lean hands balled.
He said no word; but the crumpled thing that was Michael was of a sudden plucked bodily out of Big Jan's hands and thrust into the waiting woman's. The astonished Boss found himself confronting a pale and formidable face with a pair of eyes like glinting sword-blades.
Kerry had followed his master, and was now close to his side. For the moment Flint had forgotten him. But Big Jan's evil eyes caught sight of him. He knew the Butterfly Man's dog very well. He snickered. A huge foot shot out, there was a howl of anguish and astonishment, and Kerry went flying through the air as if shot from a catapult.
"So!" Jan grunted like a satisfied hog, "I feex you like that in one meenute, me."
The red jumped from John Flint's cheeks to his eyes, and stayed there. Why, this hulking brute had hurt Kerry! His breath exhaled in a whistling sigh. He seemed to coil himself together; with a tiger-leap he launched himself at the great hulk before him. It went down. It had to.
I know every detail of that historic fight. Is it not written large in the Book of the Deeds of Appleboro, and have I not heard it by word of mouth from many a raving eye-witness? Does not Dr. Walter Westmoreland lick his lips over it unto this day?
A long groaning sigh went up from the onlookers. Meester Fleent was a great and a good man; but he was a crippled man. Death was very close to him.
Big Jan was not too drunk to fight savagely, but he was in a most horrible rage, and this weakened him. He meant to kill this impudent fellow who had taken Michael away from him before he had half-finished with him. But first he would break every bone in the crippled man's body, take him in his hands and break his back over one knee as one does a slat. A man with one leg to balk him, Big Jan? That called for a killing. Jan had no faintest idea he might not be able to make good this pleasant intention.
It was a stupendous fight, a Homeric fight, a fight against odds, which has become a town tradition. If Jan was formidable, a veritable bison, his opponent was no cringing workman scared out of his wits and too timid to defend himself. John Flint knew his own weakness, knew what he could expect at Jan's hands, and it made him cool, collected, wary, and deadly. He was no more the mild-mannered, soft-spoken Butterfly Man, but another and a more primal creature, fighting for his life. Big Jan, indeed, fancied he had nobody but the Butterfly Man to deal with; as a matter of fact he was tackling Slippy McGee.
Skilled, watchful, dangerous, that old training saved him. Every time Jan came to his feet, roaring, thrashing his arms like flails, making head-long, bull-like rushes, the Butterfly Man managed to send him sprawling again. Then he himself caught one well-aimed blow, and went staggering; but before slow-moving and raging Jan could follow up his advantage, with a lightning-like quickness the Butterfly Man made a battering ram of his head, caught Jan in the pit of the stomach, and even as he fell Jan went down, too, and went down underneath. Desperately, fighting like a fiend, John Flint kept him down. And presently using every wrestler's trick that he knew, and bringing to bear every ounce of his saved and superb strength, in a most orderly, businesslike, cold-blooded manner he proceeded to pound Big Jan into pulp. The devil that had been chained these seven years was a-loose at last, rampant, fully aroused, and not easily satisfied. Besides, had not Jan most brutally and wantonly tried to kill Kerry!
If it was a well deserved it was none the less a most drastic punishment, and when it was over Big Jan lay still. He would lie prone for many a day, and he would carry marks of it to his grave.
When the tousled victor, with a reeling head, an eye fast closing, and a puffed and swollen lip, staggered upright and stood swaying on his feet, he found himself surrounded by a great quiet ring of men and women who regarded him with eyes of wonder and amaze. He was superhuman; he had accomplished the impossible; paid the dreaded Boss in his own coin, yea, given him full measure to the running over thereof! No man of all the men Jan had beaten in his time had received such as Jan himself had gotten at this man's hands to-day. The reign of the Boss was over: and the conqueror was a crippled man! A great sighing breath of sheer worshipful admiration went up; they were too profoundly moved to cheer him; they could only stand and stare. When they wished, reverently, to help him, he waved them aside.
"Where's my dog?" he demanded thickly through his swollen lips. "Where's Kerry? If he's dead—" he cast upon fallen Jan a menacing glare.
"Your dog's in bed with the baby, and Ma's give him milk with brandy in it, and he drank it and growled at her, and the boys is holding him down now to keep him from coming out to you, and he ain't much hurt nohow," squealed one of Michael's big-eyed children.
John Flint, stretching his arms above his head, drew in a great gulping mouthful of air, exhaled it, and laughed a deepchested, satisfied laugh, for all he was staggering like a drunken man. Here Michael's wife Katya came puffing out of her house like a traction engine—such was the shape in which nature formed her—and falling on her knees, caught his hand to her vast bosom, weeping like the overflowing of a river and blubbering uncouth sounds.
"Get up, you crazy woman!" snarled John Flint, his face going brick-red. "Stop licking my hand, and get up!" Although he did not know it, Katya symbolized the mental attitude of every laborer in Appleboro toward him from that hour.
"Here's Doctor Westmoreland! And here comes the po-lice!" yelled a boy, joyous with excitement.
Westmoreland cast one by no means sympathetic glance at the wreck on the ground, and his big arms went about John Flint; his fingers flew over him like an apprehensive father's.
"What's all this? Who's been fighting here, you people?" demanded the town marshal's brisk voice. "Big Jan? And—good Lord! Mister Flint!" His eyes bulged. He looked from Big Jan on the ground to the Butterfly Man under Westmoreland's hands, with an almost ludicrous astonishment.
"I'm sure sorry, Mr. Flint, if I have to give you a little trouble for awhile, but—"
"But you'll be considerably sorrier if you do it," said Dr. Walter Westmoreland savagely. "You take that hulk over there to the jail, until I have time to see him. I can't have him sent home to his wife in that shape. And look here, Marshal: Jan got exactly what he deserved; it's been coming to him this long time. If Inglesby's bunch tries to take a hand in this, I'll try to make Appleboro too hot to hold somebody. Understand?"
The marshal was a wise enough man, and he understood. Inglesby's pet foreman had been all but killed, and Inglesby would be furiously angry. But—Mr. Flint had done it, and behind Mr. Flint were powers perhaps as potent as Inglesby's. One thing more may have influenced the marshal: The hitherto timid and apathetic people had merged into a compact and ominous ring around the Butterfly Man and the doctor. A shrill murmur arose, like the wind in the trees presaging a storm. There would be riot in staid Appleboro if one were so foolish as to lay a detaining hand upon John Flint this day. More yet, the beloved Westmoreland himself would probably begin it. Never had the marshal seen Westmoreland look so big and so raging.
"All right, Doctor," said he, hastily backing off. "I reckon you're man enough to handle this."
Some proud worshiper brought Mr. Flint his hat, knapsack, and net, and the mountainous Katya insisted upon tenderly placing his glasses upon his nose—upside down. Westmoreland used to say afterward that for a moment he feared Flint was going to bite her hand! Then man and dog were placed in the doctor's car and hurried home to my mother; who made no comment, but put both in the larger Guest Room, the whimpering dog on a comfort at the foot of his master's bed. Kerry had a broken rib, but outside of this he was not injured. He would be out and all right again in a week, Westmoreland assured his anxious master.
"Oh, you man, you!" crowed Westmoreland. "John, John, if anything were needed to make me love you, this would clinch it! Prying open nature's fist, John, having butterflies bear your name, working hand in glove with your government, boosting boys, writing books, are all of them fine big grand things. But if along with them one's man enough to stand up, John, with the odds against him, and punish a bully and a scoundrel, the only way a bully and a scoundrel can feel punishment, that's a heart-stirring thing, John! It gets to the core of my heart. It isn't so much the fight itself, it's being able to take care of oneself and others when one has to. Yes, yes, yes. A fight like that is worth a million dollars to the man who wins it!"
Westmoreland may be president of the Peace League, and tell us that force is all wrong. Nevertheless, his great-grandmother was born in Tipperary.
We kept the Butterfly Man indoors for a week, while Westmoreland doctored a viciously black eye and sewed up his lip. Morning and afternoon Appleboro called, and left tribute of fruit and flowers.
"Gad, suh, he behaved like one of Stonewall Jackson's men!" said Major Cartwright, pridefully. "No yellow in him; he's one of us!"
At nights came the Polish folks, and these people whom he had once despised because they "hadn't got sense enough to talk American," he now received with a complete and friendly understanding.
"I just come by and see how you make to feel, Meester."
"Oh, I feel fine, Joe, thank you."
There would be an interval of absolute silence, which, did not seem to embarrass either visited or visitor. Then:
"Baby better now?" Meester would ask, interestedly.
"That beeg doctor, he oil heem an' make heem well all right."
After awhile: "I mebbe go now, Meester."
"Good-night," said the host, briefly.
At the door the Pole would turn, and look back, with the wistfully animal look of the Under Dog.
"Those cheeldren, they make to get you the leetle bug. You mebbe like that, Meester, yes? They make to get you plenty much bug, those cheeldren. We all make to get you the bug, Meester, thank you."
"That's mighty nice of you folks." Then one felt the note in the quiet voice which explained his hold upon people.
"Hell, no. We like to do that for you, Meester. Thank you." And closing the door gently after him, he would slink off.
"They don't need to be so allfired grateful," said John Flint frankly. "Parson, I'm the guy to be grateful. I got a whole heap more out of that shindy than a black eye and a pretty mouth. I was bluemolding for a man-tussle, and that scrap set me up again. You see—I wasn't sure of myself any more, and it was souring on my stomach. Now I know I haven't lost out, I feel like a white man. Yep, it gives a fellow the holiday-heart to be dead sure he's plenty able to use his fists if he's got to. Westmoreland's right about that."
I was discreetly silent. God forgive me, in my heart I also was most sinfully glad my Butterfly Man could and would use his fists when he had to. I do not believe in peace at any price. I know very well that wrong must be conquered before right can prevail. But I shouldn't have been so set up!
"Here," said he one morning. "Ask Madame to give this to Jan's wife. And say, beg her for heaven's sake to buy some salve for her eyelids, will you?" "This" was a small roll of bills. "I owe it to Jan," he explained, with his twistiest smile.
Westmoreland's skill removed all outward marks of the fray, and the Butterfly Man went his usual way; but although he had laid at rest one cruel doubt, he was still in deep waters. Because of his stress his clothes had begun to hang loosely upon him.
Now the naturalist who knows anything at all of those deep mysterious well-springs underlying his great profession, understands that he is a 'prentice hand learning his trade in the workshop of the Almighty; wherein "the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made." As Paul on a time reminded the Romans.
Wherefore I who had learned somewhat from the Little Peoples now applied what they had taught me, and when I saw my man grow restless, move about aimlessly, withdraw into himself and become as one blind and dumb and unhearing, I understood he was facing a change, making ready to project himself into some larger phase of existence as yet in the womb of the future. So I did not question what wind drove him forth before it like a lost leaf. The loving silent companionship of red Kerry, the friendly faces of young children to whom he was kind, the eyes of poor men and women looking to him for help, these were better for him now than I.
But my mother was not a naturalist, and she was provoked with John Flint. He ate irregularly, he slept as it pleased God. He was "running wild" again. This displeased her, particularly as Appleboro had at her instigation included Mr. John Flint in its most exclusive list, and there were invitations she was determined he should accept. She had put her hand to the social plow in his behalf, and she had no faintest notion of withdrawing it. Once fairly aroused, Madame had that able-bodied will heaven seems to have lavished so plenteously upon small women: In recompense, I dare say, for lack of size.