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Title: Slippy McGee, Sometimes Known as the Butterfly Man
Author: Oemler, Marie Conway, 1879-1932
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Slippy McGee, Sometimes Known as the Butterfly Man" ***

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     SLIPPY McGEE

     SOMETIMES KNOWN AS
     THE BUTTERFLY MAN

     BY
     MARIE CONWAY OEMLER


     NEW YORK
     THE CENTURY CO.
     1920


     1917, by
     THE CENTURY CO.


     Published, April, 1917.
     Reprinted, August, 1917; February, 1918;
     August, 1918; March, 1919; August, 1919;
     November, 1919; February, 1920.


     TO
     ELIZABETH AND ALAN OEMLER



FOREWORD


    I have known life and love, I have known death and disaster;
    Foregathered with fools, succumbed to sin, been not unacquainted
        with shame;
    Doubted, and yet held fast to a faith no doubt could o'ermaster.
    Won and lost:--and I know it was all a part of the Game.

    Youth and the dreams of youth, hope, and the triumph of sorrow:
    I took as they came, I played them all; and I trumped the trick
        when I could.
    And now, O Mover of Men, let the end be to-day or to-morrow--
    I have staked and played for Myself, and You and the Game were good!



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                      PAGE

    I APPLEBORO                                                 3
   II THE COMING OF SLIPPY McGEE                               19
  III NEIGHBORS                                                37
   IV UNDERWINGS                                               48
    V ENTER KERRY                                              65
   VI "THY SERVANT WILL GO AND FIGHT WITH THIS PHILISTINE."
      1 SAM. 17-32                                             94
  VII THE GOING OF SLIPPY McGEE                               111
 VIII THE BUTTERFLY MAN                                       131
   IX NESTS                                                   145
    X THE BLUEJAY                                             172
   XI A LITTLE GIRL GROWN UP                                  189
  XII JOHN FLINT, GENTLEMAN                                   203
 XIII "EACH IN HIS OWN COIN"                                  226
  XIV THE WISHING CURL                                        258
   XV IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT                              283
  XVI "WILL YOU WALK INTO MY PARLOR"                          302
 XVII "--SAID THE SPIDER TO THE FLY--"                        319
XVIII ST. STANISLAUS CROOKS HIS ELBOW                         343
  XIX THE I O U OF SLIPPY McGEE                               364
   XX BETWEEN A BUTTERFLY'S WINGS                             382



SLIPPY McGEE



CHARACTERS


FATHER ARMAND JEAN DE RANCÉ, Catholic Priest of Appleboro, South Carolina
MADAME DE RANCÉ, his Mother
CLÉLIE, their Servant
LAURENCE MAYNE, the Boy
MARY VIRGINIA EUSTIS, the Girl
JAMES EUSTIS, Man of the New South
MRS. EUSTIS, a Lady
DOCTOR WALTER WESTMORELAND, the Beloved Physician
JIM DABNEY, Editor of the Appleboro "Clarion"
MAJOR APPLEBY CARTWRIGHT }
MISS SALLY RUTH DEXTER   } Neighbors
JUDGE HAMMOND MAYNE      }
GEORGE INGLESBY, the Boss of Appleboro
J. HOWARD HUNTER, his Private Secretary
KERRY, an Irish Setter
PITACHE, the Parish House Dog
THE MOTHS AND BUTTERFLIES OF SOUTH CAROLINA
THE CHILDREN, THE MILL-HANDS, THE FACTORY FOLKS, and
SLIPPY MCGEE, sometimes known as the Butterfly Man



SLIPPY McGEE


CHAPTER I

APPLEBORO


"Now there was my cousin Eliza," Miss Sally Ruth Dexter once said to
me, "who was forced to make her home for thirty years in Vienna! She
married an attaché of the Austrian legation, you know; met him while
she was visiting in Washington, and she was such a pretty girl and he
was such a charming man that they fell in love with each other and got
married. Afterward his family procured him a very influential post at
court, and of course poor Cousin Eliza had to stay there with him.
Dear mama often said she considered it a most touching proof of
woman's willingness to sacrifice herself--for there's no doubt it must
have been very hard on poor Cousin Eliza. She was born and raised
right here in Appleboro, you see."

Do not think that Miss Sally Ruth was anything but most transparently
sincere in thus sympathizing with the sad fate of poor Cousin Eliza,
who was born and raised in Appleboro, South Carolina, and yet
sacrificed herself by dragging out thirty years of exile in the court
circles of Vienna! Any trueborn Appleboron would be equally sorry for
Cousin Eliza for the same reason that Miss Sally Ruth was. Get
yourself born in South Carolina and you will comprehend.

"What did you see in your travels that you liked most?" I was curious
to discover from an estimable citizen who had spent a summer abroad.

"Why, General Lee's standin' statue in the Capitol an' his recumbent
figure in Washington an' Lee chapel, of co'se!" said the colonel
promptly. "An' listen hyuh, Father De Rancé, I certainly needed him to
take the bad taste out of my mouth an' the red out of my eye after
viewin' Bill Sherman on a brass hawse in New York, with an angel
that'd lost the grace of God prancin' on ahead of him!" He added
reflectively: "I had my own ideah as to where any angel leadin' _him_
was most likely headed for!"

"Oh, I meant in Europe!" hastily.

"Well, father, I saw pretty near everything in Europe, I reckon;
likewise New York. But comin' home I ran up to Washington an' Lee to
visit the general lyin' there asleep, an' it just needed one glance to
assure me that the greatest an' grandest work of art in this round
world was right there before me! What do folks want to rush off to
foreign parts for, where they can't talk plain English an' a man can't
get a satisfyin' meal of home cookin', when we've got the greatest
work of art an' the best hams ever cured, right in Virginia? See
America first, I say. Why, suh, I was so glad to get back to good old
Appleboro that I let everybody else wait until I'd gone around to the
monument an' looked up at our man standin' there on top of it, an' I
found myself sayin' over the names he's guardin' as if I was sayin' my
prayers: _our names_.

"Uh huh, Europe's good enough for Europeans an' the Nawth's a God's
plenty good enough for Yankees, but Appleboro for me. Why, father,
they haven't got anything like our monument to their names!"

They haven't. And I should hate to think that any Confederate living
or dead ever even remotely resembled the gray granite one on our
monument. He is a brigandish and bearded person in a foraging cap,
leaning forward to rest himself on his gun. His long skirted coat is
buckled tightly about his waist to form a neat bustle effect in the
back, and the solidity of his granite shoes and the fell rigidity of
his granite breeches are such as make the esthetic shudder; one has to
admit that as a work of art he is almost as bad as the statues
cluttering New York City. But in Appleboro folks are not critical;
they see him not with the eyes of art but with the deeper vision of
the heart. He stands for something that is gone on the wind and the
names he guards are our names.

This is not irrelevant. It is merely to explain something that is
inherent in the living spirit of all South Carolina; wherefore it
explains my Appleboro, the real inside-Appleboro.

Outwardly Appleboro is just one of those quiet, conservative, old
Carolina towns where, loyal to the customs and traditions of their
fathers, they would as lief white-wash what they firmly believe to be
the true and natural character of General William Tecumseh Sherman as
they would their own front fences. Occasionally somebody will give a
backyard henhouse a needed coat or two; but a front fence? Never! It
isn't the thing. Nobody does it. All normal South Carolinians come
into the world with a native horror of paint and whitewash and they
depart hence even as they were born. In consequence, towns like
Appleboro take on the venerable aspect of antiquity, peacefully
drowsing among immemorial oaks draped with long, gray, melancholy
moss.

Not that we are cut off from the world, or that we have escaped the
clutch of commerce. We have the usual shops and stores, even an
emporium or two, and street lights until twelve, and the mills and
factory. We have the river trade, and two railroads tap our rich
territory to fetch and carry what we take and give. And, except in the
poor parish of which I, Armand De Rancé, am pastor, and some few
wealthy families like the Eustises, Agur's wise and noble prayer has
been in part granted to us; for if it has not been possible to remove
far from us all vanity and lies, yet we have been given neither
poverty nor riches, and we are fed with food convenient for us.

In Appleboro the pleasant and prejudiced Old looks askance at the
noisy and intruding New, before which, it is forced to retreat--always
without undue or undignified haste, however, and always unpainted and
unreconstructed. It is a town where families live in houses that have
sheltered generations of the same name, using furniture that was not
new when Marion's men hid in the swamps and the redcoats overran the
country-side. Almost everybody has a garden, full of old-fashioned
shrubs and flowers, and fine trees. In such a place men and women grow
old serenely and delightfully, and youth flourishes all the fairer for
the rich soil which has brought it forth.

One has twenty-four hours to the day in a South Carolina town--plenty
of time to live in, so that one can afford to do things unhurriedly
and has leisure to be neighborly. For you do have neighbors here. It
is true that they know all your business and who and what your
grandfather was and wasn't, and they are prone to discuss it with a
frankness to make the scalp prickle. But then, you know theirs, too,
and you are at liberty to employ the same fearsome frankness, provided
you do it politely and are not speaking to an outsider. It is
perfectly permissible for _you_ to say exactly what you please about
your own people to your own people, but should an outsider and an
alien presume to do likewise, the Carolina code admits of but one
course of conduct; borrowing the tactics of the goats against the
wolf, they close in shoulder to shoulder and present to the audacious
intruder an unbroken and formidable front of horns.

And it is the last place left in all America where decent poverty is
in nowise penalized. You can be poor pleasantly--a much rarer and far
finer art than being old gracefully. Because of this, life in South
Carolina sometimes retains a simplicity as fine and sincere as it is
charming.

I deplore the necessity, but I will be pardoned if I pause here to
become somewhat personal, to explain who and what I am and how I came
to be a pastor in Appleboro. To explain myself, then, I shall have to
go back to a spring morning long ago, when I was not a poor parish
priest, no, nor ever dreamed of becoming one, but was young Armand De
Rancé, a flower-crowned and singing pagan, holding up to the morning
sun the chalice of spring; joyous because I was of a perishable
beauty, dazzled because life gave me so much, proud of an old and
honored name, secure in ancestral wealth, loving laughter so much that
I looked with the raised eyebrow and the twisted lip at austerities
and prayers.

If ever I reflected at all, it was to consider that I had nothing to
pray for, save that things might ever remain as they were: that I
should remain me, myself, young Armand De Rancé, loving and above all
beloved of that one sweet girl whom I loved with all my heart. Young,
wealthy, strong, beautiful, loving, and beloved! To hold all that,
crowded into the hollow of one boyish hand! Oh, it was too much!

I do not think I had ever felt my own happiness so exquisitely as I
did upon that day which was to see the last of it. I was to go
a-Maying with her who had ever been as my own soul, since we were
children playing together. So I rode off to her home, an old house set
in its walled inclosure by the river. At the door somebody met me,
calling me by my name. I thought at first it had been a stranger. It
was her mother. And while I stood staring at her changed face she took
me by the hand and began to whisper in my ear ... what I had to know.
Blindly, like one bludgeoned on the head, I followed her into a
darkened room, and saw what lay there with closed eyes and hair still
wet from the river into which my girl had cast herself.

No, I cannot put into words just what had happened; indeed, I never
really knew all. There was no public scandal, only great sorrow. But I
died that morning. The young and happy part of me died, and, only
half-alive I walked about among the living, dragging about with me the
corpse of what had been myself. Crushed by this horrible burden which
none saw but I, I was blind to the beauties of earth and deaf to the
mercies of heaven, until a great Voice called me to come out of the
sepulcher of myself; and I came--alive again, and free, of a strong
spirit, but with youth gone from it. Out of the void of an
irremediable disaster God had called me to His service, chastened and
humbled.

"_Who is weak and I am not weak? who is offended and I burn not?_"

And yet, although I knew my decision was irrevocable, I did not find
it easy to tell my mother. Then:

"Little mother of my heart," I blurted, "my career is decided. I have
been called. I am for the Church."

We were in her pleasant morning room, a beautiful room, and the lace
curtains were pushed aside to allow free ingress of air and sunlight.
Between the windows hung two objects my mother most greatly
cherished--one an enameled Petitot miniature, gold-framed, of a man in
the flower of his youth. His hair, beautiful as the hair of Absalom,
falls about his haughty, high-bred face, and so magnificently is he
clothed that when I was a child I used to associate him in my mind
with those "_captains and rulers, clothed most gorgeously, all of them
desirable young men, ... girdled with a girdle upon their loins,
exceeding in dyed attire upon their heads, all of them princes to look
to" ... whom Aholibah "doted upon when her eyes saw them portrayed
upon the walls in vermilion_."

The other is an Audran engraving of that same man grown old and
stripped of beauty and of glory, as the leaf that falls and the flower
that fades. The somber habit of an order has replaced scarlet and
gold; and sackcloth, satin. Between the two pictures hangs an old
crucifix. For that is Armand De Rancé, glorious sinner, handsomest,
wealthiest, most gifted man of his day--and his a day of glorious men;
and this is Armand De Rancé, become the sad austere reformer of La
Trappe.

My mother rose, walked over to the Abbé's pictures, and looked long
and with rather frightened eyes at him. Perhaps there was something in
the similarity to his of the fate which had come upon me who bore his
name, which caused her to turn so pale. I also am an Armand De Rancé,
of a cadet branch of that great house, which emigrated to the New
World when we French were founding colonies on the banks of the
Mississippi.

Her hand went to her heart. Turning, she regarded me pitifully.

"Oh, no, not that!" I reassured her. "I am at once too strong and not
strong enough for solitude and silence. Surely there is room and work
for one who would serve God through serving his fellow men, in the
open, is there not?"

At that she kissed me. Not a whimper, although I am an only son and
the name dies with me, the old name of which she was so beautifully
proud! She had hoped to see my son wear my father's name and face and
thus bring back the lost husband she had so greatly loved; she had
prayed to see my children about her knees, and it must have cost her a
frightful anguish to renounce these sweet and consoling dreams, these
tender and human ambitions. Yet she did so, smiling, and kissed me on
the brow.

Three months later I entered the Church; and because I was the last
De Rancé, and twenty four, and the day was to have been my
wedding-day, there fell upon me, sorely against my will, the halo of
sad romance.

Endeared thus to the young, I suppose I grew into what I might call a
very popular preacher. Though I myself cannot see that I ever did much
actual good, since my friends praised my sermons for their "fine
Gallic flavor," and I made no enemies.

But there was no rest for my spirit, until the Call came again, the
Call that may not be slighted, and bade me leave my sheltered place,
my pleasant lines, and go among the poor, to save my own soul alive.

That is why and how the Bishop, my old and dear friend, after long
argument and many protests, at length yielded and had me transferred
from fashionable St. Jean Baptiste's to the poverty-stricken
missionary parish of sodden laboring folk in a South Carolina
coast-town: he meant to cure me, the good man! I should have the worst
at the outset.

"And I hope you understand," said he, sorrowfully, "that this step
practically closes your career. Such a pity, for you could have gone
so far! You might even have worn the red hat. It is not hoping too
much that the last De Rancé, the namesake of the great Abbé, might
have finished as an American cardinal! But God's will be done. If you
must go, you must go."

I said, respectfully, that I had to go.

"Well, then, go and try it out to the uttermost," said the Bishop.
"And it may be that, if you do not kill yourself with overwork, you
may return to me cured, when you see the futility of the task you
wish to undertake." But I was never again to see his kind face in this
world.

And then, as if to cut me off yet more completely from all ties, as if
to render my decision irrevocable, it was permitted of Providence that
the wheel of my fortune should take one last revolution. Henri Dupuis
of the banking house which bore his name shot himself through the head
one fine morning, and as he had been my guardian and was still the
executor of my father's estate, the whole De Rancé fortune went down
with him. All of it. Even the old house went, the old house which had
sheltered so many of the name these two hundred years. If I could have
grieved for anything it would have been that. Nothing was left except
the modest private fortune long since secured to my mother by my
father's affection. It had been a bridal gift, intended to cover her
personal expenses, her charities, and her pretty whims. Now it was to
stand between her and want.

Stripped all but bare, and with one servant left of all our staff, we
turned our backs upon our old life, our old home, and faced the world
anew, in a strange place where nothing was familiar, and where I who
had begun so differently was destined to grow into what I have since
become--just an old priest, with but small reputation outside of his
few friends and poor working-folks. There! That is quite enough of
_me_!

There was one pleasant feature of our new home that rejoiced me for my
mother's sake. From the very first she found neighbors who were
friendly and charming. Now my mother, when we came to Appleboro, was
still a beautiful woman, fair and rosy, with a profusion of _blonde
cendre_ curls just beginning to whiten, a sweet and arch face, and
eyes of clearest hazel, valanced with jet. She had been perhaps the
loveliest and most beloved woman of that proud and select circle which
is composed of families descended from the old noblesse, the most
exclusive circle of New Orleans society. And, as she said, nothing
could change nor alter the fact that no matter _what_ happened to us,
we were still De Rancés!

"Ah! And was it, then, a De Rancé who had the holy Mother of God
painted in a family picture, with a scroll issuing from her lips
addressing him as 'My Cousin'?" I asked, slyly.

"If it was, nobody in the world had a better right!" said she stoutly.

Thus the serene and unquestioning faith of their estimate of
themselves in the scheme of things, as evidenced by these Carolina
folk around her, caused Madame De Rancé neither surprise nor
amusement. She understood. She shared many of their prejudices, and
she of all women could appreciate a pride that was almost equal to her
own. When they initiated her into the inevitable and inescapable
Carolina game of Matching Grandfathers, she always had a Roland for
their Oliver; and as they generally came back with an Oliver to match
her Roland, all the players retired with equal honors and mutual
respect. Every door in Appleboro at once opened wide to Madame De
Rancé. The difference in religion was obviated by the similarity of
Family.

Fortunately, too, the Church and Parish House were not in the mill
district itself, a place shoved aside, full of sordid hideousness,
ribboned with railroad tracks, squalid with boarding-houses never free
from the smell of bad cooking, sinister with pawnshops, miserable with
depressingly ugly rows of small houses where the hands herded, and all
of it darkened by the grim shadow of the great red brick mills
themselves. Instead, our Church sits on a tree-shaded corner in the
old town, and the roomy white-piazza'd Parish House is next door,
embowered in the pleasantest of all gardens.

That garden reconciled my mother to her exile, for I am afraid she had
regarded Appleboro with somewhat of the attitude of the castaway
sailor toward a desert island--a refuge after shipwreck, but a desert
island nevertheless, a place which cuts off one from one's world. And
when at first the poor, uncouth, sullen creatures who were a part of
my new charge, frightened and dismayed her, there was always the
garden to fly to for consolation. If she couldn't plant seeds of order
and cleanliness and morality and thrift in the sterile soil of poor
folks' minds, she could always plant seeds of color and beauty and
fragrance in her garden and be surer of the result. That garden was my
delight, too. I am sure no other equal space ever harbored so many
birds and bees and butterflies; and its scented dusks was the paradise
of moths. Great wonderful fellows clothed in kings' raiment, little
chaps colored like flowers and seashells and rainbows, there the airy
cohorts of the People of the Sky wheeled and danced and fluttered. Now
my grandfather and my father had been the friends of Audubon and of
Agassiz, and I myself had been the correspondent of Riley and Scudder
and Henry Edwards, for I love the People of the Sky more than all
created things. And when I watched them in my garden, I am sure it was
they who lent my heart their wings to lift it above the misery and
overwork and grief which surrounded me; I am sure I should have sunk
at times, if God had not sent me my little friends, the moths and
butterflies.

Our grounds join Miss Sally Ruth Dexter's on one side and Judge
Hammond Mayne's are just behind us; so that the Judge's black Daddy
January can court our yellow Clélie over one fence, with coy and
delicate love-gifts of sugar-cane and sweet-potato pone in season; and
Miss Sally Ruth's roosters and ours can wholeheartedly pick each
other's eyes out through the other all the year round. These are fowls
with so firm a faith in the Mosaic code of an eye for an eye that when
Miss Sally Ruth has six blind of the right eye we have five blind of
the left. We are at times stung by the Mayne bees, but freely and
bountifully supplied with the Mayne honey, a product of fine flavor.
And our little dog Pitache made it the serious business of his life to
keep the Mayne cats in what he considered their proper bounds.

Major Appleby Cartwright, our neighbor to the other side of Miss Sally
Ruth, has a theory that not alone by our fruits, but by our animals,
shall we be known for what we are. He insists that Pitache wags his
tail and barks in French and considers all cats Protestants, and that
Miss Sally Ruth's hens are all Presbyterians at heart, in spite of the
fact that her roosters are Mormons. The Major likewise insists that
you couldn't possibly hope to know the real Judge Hammond Mayne unless
you knew his pet cats. You admire that calm and imperturbable
dignity, that sphinxlike and yet vigilant poise of bearing which has
made Judge Mayne so notable an ornament of the bench? It is purely
feline: "He caught it from his cats, suh: he caught every God-blessed
bit of it from his cats!"

As one may perceive, we have delicious neighbors!

When we had been settled in Appleboro a little more than a year, and I
had gotten the parish wheels running fairly smooth, we discovered that
by my mother's French house-keeping, that exquisitely careful
house-keeping which uses everything and wastes nothing, my salary was
going to be quite sufficient to cover our modest ménage, thus leaving
my mother's own income practically intact. We could use it in the
parish; but there was so much to be done for that parish that we were
rather at a loss where to begin, or what one thing to accomplish among
so many things crying aloud. But finally, tackling what seemed to us
the worst of these crying evils, we were able to turn the two empty
rooms upstairs into what Madame pleasantly called Guest Rooms, thus
remedying, to the best of our ability, the absolute lack of any
accommodation for the sick and injured poor. And as time passed, these
Guest Rooms, so greatly needed, proved not how much but how little we
could do. We could only afford to maintain two beds on our small
allowance, for they had to be absolutely free, to help those for whom
they were intended--poor folks in immediate and dire need, for whom
the town had no other place except an insanitary room in the jail. You
could be born and baptized in the Guest Rooms, or shriven and sent
thence in hope. More often you were coaxed back to health under my
mother's nursing and Clélie's cooking and the skill of Doctor Walter
Westmoreland.

No bill ever came to the Parish House from Dr. Walter Westmoreland,
whom my poor people look upon as a direct act of Providence in their
behalf. He is an enormous man, big and ruddy and baldheaded and
clean-shaven, with the shoulders of a coal-heaver and legs like a pair
of twin oaks. He is rather absent-minded, but he never forgets the
down-and-out Guest Roomers, and he has a genius for remembering the
mill-children. These are his dear and special charge.

Westmoreland is a great doctor who chooses to live in a small town; he
says you can save as many lives in a little town as a big one, and
folks need you more. He is a socialist who looks upon rich people as
being merely poor people with money; an idealist, who will tell you
bluntly that revelations haven't ceased; they've only changed for the
better.

Westmoreland has the courage of a gambler and the heart of a little
child. He likes to lay a huge hand upon my shoulder and tell me to my
teeth that heaven is a habit of heart and hell a condition of liver. I
do not always agree with him; but along with everybody else in
Appleboro, I love him. Of all the many goodnesses that God has shown
me, I do not count it least that this good and kind man was sent in
our need, to heal and befriend the broken and friendless waifs and
strays who found for a little space a resting place in our Guest
Rooms.

And when I look back I know now that not lightly nor fortuitously was
I uprooted from my place and my people and sent hither to impinge upon
the lives of many who were to be dearer to me than all that had gone
before; I was not idly sent to know and love Westmoreland, and Mary
Virginia, and Laurence; and, above all, Slippy McGee, whom we of
Appleboro call the Butterfly Man.



CHAPTER II

THE COMING OF SLIPPY MCGEE


On a cold gray morning in December two members of my flock, Poles who
spoke but little English and that little very badly, were on their way
to their daily toil in the canning factory. It is a long walk from the
Poles' quarters to the factory, and the workpeople must start early,
for one is fined half an hour's time if one is five minutes late. The
short-cut is down the railroad tracks that run through the mill
district--for which cause we bury a yearly toll of the children of the
poor.

Just beyond the freight sheds, signal tower, and water tank, is a
grade crossing where so many terrible things have happened that the
colored people call that place Dead Man's Crossin' and warn you not to
go by there of nights because the signal tower is haunted and Things
lurk in the rank growth behind the water tank, coming out to show
themselves after dark. If you _must_ pass it then you would better
turn your coat inside out, pull down your sleeves over your hands, and
be very careful to keep three fingers twisted for a Sign. This is a
specific against most ha'nts, though by no means able to scare away
all of them. Those at Dead Man's Crossin' are peculiarly malignant and
hard to scare. Maum Jinkey Delette saw one there once, coming down the
track faster than an express train, bigger than a cow, and waving
both his legs in his hands. Poor old Maum Jinkey was so scared that
she chattered her new false teeth out of her mouth, and she never
found those teeth to the day of her death, but had to mumble along as
best she could without them.

Hurrying by Dead Man's Crossin', the workmen stumbled over a man lying
beside the tracks; his clothing was torn to shreds, he was wet with
the heavy night dew and covered with dirt, cinders, and partly
congealed blood, for his right leg had been ground to pulp. Peering at
this horrible object in the wan dusk of the early morning, they
thought he was dead like most of the others found there.

For a moment the men hesitated, wondering whether it wouldn't be
better to leave him there to be found and removed by folks with more
time at their disposal. One doesn't like to lose time and be
consequently fined, on account of stopping to pick up a dead tramp;
particularly when Christmas is drawing near and money so much needed
that every penny counts.

The thing on the ground, regaining for a fraction of a second a glint
of half-consciousness, quivered, moaned feebly, and lay still again.
Humanity prevailing, the Poles looked about for help, but as yet the
place was quite deserted. Grumbling, they wrenched a shutter off the
Agent's window, lifted the mangled tramp upon it, and made straight
for the Parish House; when accidents such as this happened to men such
as this, weren't the victims incontinently turned over to the Parish
House people? Indeed, there wasn't any place else for them, unless one
excepted the rough room at the jail; and the average small town
jail--ours wasn't any exception to the rule--is a place where a
decent veterinary would scruple to put a sick cur. With him the Poles
brought his sole luggage, a package tied up in oilskin, which they had
found lying partly under him.

We had become accustomed to these sudden inroads of misfortune, so he
was carried upstairs to the front Guest Room, fortunately just then
empty. The Poles turned over to me the heavy package found with him,
stolidly requested a note to the Boss explaining their necessary
tardiness, and hurried away. They had done what they had to do, and
they had no further interest in him. Nobody had any interest in one of
the unknown tramps who got themselves killed or crippled at Dead Man's
Crossin'.

The fellow was shockingly injured and we had some strenuous days and
nights with him, for that which had been a leg had to come off at the
knee; he had lain in the cold for some hours, he had sustained a
frightful shock, and he had lost considerable blood. I am sure that in
the hands of any physician less skilled and determined than
Westmoreland he must have gone out. But Westmoreland, with his jaw
set, followed his code and fenced with death for this apparently
worthless and forfeited life, using all his skill and finesse to
outwit the great Enemy; in spite of which, so attenuated was the man's
chance that we were astonished when he turned the corner--very, very
feebly--and we didn't have to place another pine box in the potter's
field, alongside other unmarked mounds whose occupants were other
unknown men, grim causes of Dead Man's Crossin's sinister name.

The effects of the merciful drugs that had kept him quiet in time wore
away. Our man woke up one forenoon clear-headed, if hollow-eyed and
mortally weak. He looked about the unfamiliar room with wan curiosity,
then his eyes came to Clélie and myself, but he did not return the
greetings of either. He just stared; he asked no questions. Presently,
very feebly, he tried to move,--and found himself a cripple. He fell
back upon his pillow, gasping. A horrible scream broke from his
lips--a scream of brute rage and mortal fear, as of a trapped wild
beast. He began to revile heaven and earth, the doctor, myself.
Clélie, clapping her hands over her outraged ears, fled as if from
fiends. Indeed, never before nor since have I heard such a frightful,
inhuman power of profanity, such hideous oaths and threats. When
breath failed him he lay spent and trembling, his chest rising and
falling to his choking gasps.

"You had better be thankful your life is spared you, young man," I
said a trifle sharply, my nerves being somewhat rasped; for I had
helped Westmoreland through more than one dreadful night, and I had
sat long hours by his pillow, waiting for what seemed the passing of a
soul.

He glared. "Thankful?" he screamed, "Thankful, hell! I've got to have
two good legs to make any sort of a getaway, haven't I? Well, have I
got 'em? I'm down and out for fair, that's what! Thankful? You make me
sick! Honest to God, when you gas like that I feel like bashing in
your brain, if you've got any! You and your thankfulness!" He turned
his quivering face and stared at the wall, winking. I wondered,
heartsick, if I had ever seen a more hopelessly unprepossessing
creature.

It was not so much physical, his curious ugliness; the dreadful thing
was that it seemed to be his spirit which informed his flesh, an
inherent unloveliness of soul upon which the body was modeled, worked
out faithfully, and so made visible. Figure to yourself one with the
fine shape of the welter-weight, steel-muscled, lithe, powerful,
springy, slim in the hips and waist, broad in the shoulders; the arms
unusually long, giving him a terrible reach, the head round,
well-shaped, covered with thick reddish hair; cold, light, and
intelligent eyes, full of animosity and suspicion, reminding you
unpleasantly of the rattlesnake's look, wary, deadly, and ready to
strike. When he thought, his forehead wrinkled. His lips shut upon
each other formidably and without softness, and the jaws thrust
forward with the effect as of balled fists. One ear was slightly
larger than the other, having the appearance of a swelling upon the
lobe. In this unlovely visage, filled with distrust and concentrated
venom, only the nose retained an incongruous and unexpected niceness.
It was a good straight nose, yet it had something of the pleasant
tiptiltedness of a child's. It was the sort of nose which should have
complemented a mouth formed for spontaneous laughter. It looked
lonesome and out of place in that set and lowering countenance, to
which the red straggling stubble of beard sprouting over jaws and
throat lent a more sinister note.

We had had many a sad and terrible case in our Guest Rooms, but
somehow this seemed the saddest, hardest and most hopeless we had yet
encountered.

For three weary weeks had we struggled with him, until the doctor,
sighing with physical relief, said he was out of danger and needed
only such nursing as he was sure to get.

"One does one's duty as one finds it, of course," said the big doctor,
looking down at the unpromising face on the pillow, and shaking his
head. "Yes, yes, yes, one must do what's right, on the face of it,
come what will. There's no getting around _that!_" He glanced at me, a
shadow in his kind gray eyes. "But there are times, my friend, when I
wonder! Now, this morning I had to tell a working man his wife's got
to die. There's no help and no hope--she's got to die, and she a
mother of young children. So I have to try desperately," said the
doctor, rubbing his nose, "to cling tooth and claw to the hope that
there is Something behind the scenes that knows the forward-end of
things--sin and sorrow and disease and suffering and death things--and
uses them always for some beneficent purpose. But in the meantime the
mother dies, and here you and I have been used to save alive a poor
useless devil of a one-legged tramp, probably without his consent and
against his will, because it had to be and we couldn't do anything
else! Now, why? I can't help but wonder!"

We looked down again, the two of us, at the face on the pillow. And I
wondered also, with even greater cause than the doctor; for I had
opened the oilskin package the Poles found, and it had given me
occasion for fear, reflection, and prayer. I was startled and alarmed
beyond words, for it contained tools of a curious and unusual
type,--not such tools as workmen carry abroad in the light of day.

There was no one to whom I might confide that unpleasant discovery. I
simply could not terrify my mother, nor could I in common decency
burden the already overburdened doctor. Nor is our sheriff one to turn
to readily; he is not a man whose intelligence or heart one may
admire, respect, or depend upon. My guest had come to me with empty
pockets and a burglar's kit; a hint of that, and the sheriff had
camped on the Parish House front porch with a Winchester across his
knees and handcuffs jingling in his pockets. No, I couldn't consult
the law.

I had yet a deeper and a better reason for waiting, which I find it
rather hard to set down in cold words. It is this: that as I grow
older I have grown more and more convinced that not fortuitously, not
by chance, never without real and inner purposes, are we allowed to
come vitally into each other's lives. I have walked up the steep sides
of Calvary to find out that when another wayfarer pauses for a space
beside us, it is because one has something to give, the other
something to receive.

So, upon reflection, I took that oilskin package weighted down with
the seven deadly sins over to the church, and hid it under the statue
of St. Stanislaus, whom my Poles love, and before whom they come to
kneel and pray for particular favors. I tilted the saint back upon his
wooden stand, and thrust that package up to where his hands fold over
the sheaf of lilies he carries. St. Stanislaus is a beautiful and most
holy youth. No one would ever suspect _him_ of hiding under his brown
habit a burglar's kit!

When I had done this, and stopped to say three Hail Marys for
guidance, I went back to the little room called my study, where my
books and papers and my butterfly cabinets and collecting outfits
were kept, and set myself seriously to studying my files of
newspapers, beginning at a date a week preceding my man's appearance.
Then:

             Slippy McGee
     Makes Good His Name Once More.
       Slips One Over On The Police.
         Noted Burglar Escapes.

said the glaring headlines in the New York papers. The dispatches were
dated from Atlanta, and when I turned to the Atlanta papers I found
them, too, headlining the escape of "Slippy McGee."

I learned that "the slickest crook in America" finding himself
somewhat hampered in his native haunts, the seething underworld of New
York, because the police suspected him of certain daring and
mysterious burglaries although they had no positive proof against him,
had chosen to shift his base of operations South for awhile. But the
Southern authorities had been urgently warned to look out for him; in
consequence they had been so close upon his heels that he had been
surrounded while "on a job." Half an hour later, and he would have
gotten away with his plunder; but, although they were actually upon
him, by what seemed a miracle of daring and of luck he slipped through
their fingers, escaped under their very noses, leaving no clue to his
whereabouts. He was supposed to be still in hiding in Atlanta, though
as he had no known confederates and always worked alone and unaided,
the police were at a loss for information. The man had simply
vanished, after his wont, as if the earth had opened and swallowed
him. The papers gave rather full accounts of some of his past
exploits, from which one gathered that Slippy McGee was a very noted
personage in his chosen field. I sat for a long time staring at those
papers, and my thoughts were uneasy ones. What should I do?

I presently decided that I could and must question my guest. So far he
had volunteered no information beyond the curt statement that his name
was John Flint and he was a hobo because he liked the trade. He had
been stealing a ride and he had slipped--and when he woke up we had
him and he hadn't his leg. And if some people knew how to be obliging
they'd make a noise like a hoop and roll away, so's other people could
pound their ear in peace, like that big stiff of a doctor ordered them
to do.

As I stood by the bed and studied his sullen, suspicious, unfriendly
face, I came to the conclusion that if this were not McGee himself it
could very well be some one quite as dangerous.

"Friend," said I, "we do not as a rule seek information about the
guests in these rooms. We do not have to; they explain themselves. I
should never question your assertion that your name is Flint, and I
sincerely hope it is Flint; but--there are reasons why I must and do
ask you for certain definite information about yourself."

The hand lying upon the coverlet balled into a fist.

"If John Flint's not fancy enough for you," he suggested truculently,
"suppose you call me Percy? Some peach of a moniker, Percy, ain't it?"

"Percy?"

"Sure, Percy," he grinned impudently. "But if you got a grouch against
Percy, can it, and make me Algy. _I_ don't mind. It's not _me_
beefing about monikers; it's you."

"I am also," said I, regarding him steadily and ignoring his
flippancy, "I am also obliged to ask you what is your occupation--when
you are not stealing rides?"

"Looks like it might be answering questions just now, don't it? What
you want to know for? Whatever it is, I'm not able to do it now, am I?
But as you're so naturally bellyaching to know, why, I've been in the
ring."

"So I presumed. Thank you," said I, politely. "And your name is John
Flint, or Percy, or Algy, just as I choose. Percy and Algy are rather
unusual names for a gentleman who has been in the ring, don't you
think?"

"I think," he snarled, turned suddenly ferocious, "that I'm named what
I dam' please to be named, and no squeals from skypilots about it,
neither. Say! what you driving at, anyhow? If what I tell you ain't
satisfying, suppose you slip over a moniker to suit yourself--and go
away!"

"Oh! Suppose then," said I, without taking my eyes from his, "suppose,
then, that I chose to call you--_Slippy McGee_?"

I am sure that only his bodily weakness kept him from flying at my
throat. As it was, his long arms with the hands upon them outstretched
like a beast's claws, shot out ferociously. His face contracted
horribly, and of a sudden the sweat burst out upon it so blindingly
that he had to put up an arm and wipe it away. For a moment he lay
still, glaring, panting, helpless; while I stood and watched him
unmoved.

"Ain't you the real little Sherlock Holmes, though?" he jeered
presently. "Got Old Sleuth skinned for fair and Nick Carter eating
out of your hand! You damned skypilot!" His voice cracked. "You're all
alike! Get a man on his back and then put the screws on him!"

I made no reply; only a great compassion for this mistaken and
miserable creature surged like a wave over my heart.

"For God's sake don't stand there staring like a bughouse owl!" he
gritted. "Well, what you going to do? Bawl for the bulls? What put you
wise?"

"Help you to get well. No. I opened your bag--and looked up the
newspapers," I answered succinctly.

"Huh! A fat lot of good it'll do me to get well now, won't it? You
think I ought to thank you for butting in and keeping me from dying
without knowing anything about it, don't you? Well, you got another
think coming. I don't. Ever hear of a pegleg in the ring? Ever hear of
a one-hoofed dip! A long time I'd be Slippy McGee playing
cat-and-mouse with the bulls, if I had to leave some of my legs home
when I needed them right there on the job, wouldn't I? Oh, sure!"

"And was it," I wondered, "such a fine thing to be Slippy McGee,
flying from the police, that one should lament his--er--disappearance?"

His eyes widened. He regarded me with pity as well as astonishment.

"Didn't you read the papers?" he wondered in his turn. "There don't
many travel in _my_ class, skypilot! Why, I haven't _got_ any
equals--the best of them trail a mile behind. Ask the bulls, if you
want to know about Slippy McGee! And I let the happy dust alone. Most
dips are dopes, but I was too slick; I cut it out. I knew if the dope
once gets you, then the bulls get next. Not for Slippy. I've kept my
head clear, and that's how I've muddled theirs. They never get next to
anything until I've cleaned up and dusted. Why, honest to God, I can
open any box made, easy as easy, just like I can put it all over any
bull alive! That is," a spasm twisted his face and into his voice
crept the acute anguish of the artist deprived of all power to create,
"that is, I could--until I made that last getaway on a freight, and
this happened."

"I am sorry," said I soothingly, "that you have lost your leg, of
course. But better to lose your leg than your soul, my son. Why, how
do you know--"

He writhed. "Can it!" he implored. "Cut it out! Ain't I up against
enough now, for God's sake? Down and out--and nothing to do but have
my soul curry-combed and mashfed by a skypilot with _both_ his legs
and _all_ his mouth on him! Ain't it hell, though? Say, you better
send for the cops. I'd rather stand for the pen than the preaching.
What'd you do with my bag, anyway?"

"But I really have no idea of preaching to you; and I would rather not
send for the police--afterwards, when you are better, you may do so if
you choose. You are a free agent. As for your bag, why--it is--it
is--in the keeping of the Church."

"Huh!" said he, and twisted his mouth cynically. "Huh! Then it's
good-bye tools, I suppose. I'm no churchmember, thank God, but I've
heard that once the Church gets her clamps on anything worth while all
hell can't pry her loose."

Now I don't know why, but at that, suddenly and inexplicably, as if I
had glimpsed a ray of light, I felt cheered.

"Why, that's it exactly!" said I, smiling. "Once the Church gets real
hold of a thing--or a man--worth while, she holds on so fast that all
hell can't pry her loose. Won't you try to remember that, my son!"

"If it's a joke, suck the marrow out of it yourself," said he sourly.
"It don't listen so horrible funny to me. And you haven't peeped yet
about what you're going to do. I'm waiting to hear. I'm real
interested."

"Why, I really don't know yet," said I, still cheerfully. "Suppose we
wait and see? Here you are, safe and harmless enough for the present.
And God is good; perhaps He knows that you and I may need each other
more than you and the police need each other--who can tell? I should
simply set myself strictly to the task of getting entirely well, if I
were you--and let it go at that."

He appeared to reflect; his forehead wrinkled painfully.

"Devil-dodger," said he, after a pause, "are you just making a noise
with your face, or is that on the level?"

"That's on the level."

His hard and suspicious eyes bored into me. And as I held his glance,
a hint of wonder and amazement crept into his face.

"God A'mighty! I believe him!" he gasped. And then, as if ashamed of
that real feeling, he scowled.

"Say, if you're really on the level, I guess you'd better not be
flashing the name of Slippy McGee around promiscuous," he suggested
presently. "It won't do either you or me any good, see? And say,
parson,--forget Percy and Algy. How was I to know you'd be so white?
And look here: I did know a gink named John Flint, once. Only he was
called Reddy, because he'd got such a blazing red head and whiskers.
He's croaked, so he wouldn't mind me using his moniker, seeing it's
not doing him any good now."

"Let us agree upon John Flint," I decided.

"Help yourself," he agreed, equably.

Clélie, with wrath and disapproval written upon every stiffened line,
brought him his broth, which he took with a better grace than I had
yet witnessed. He even added a muttered word of thanks.

"It's funny," he reflected, when the yellow woman had left the room
with the empty bowl, "it's sure funny, but d'ye know, I'm lots easier
in my mind, knowing you know, and not having to think up a hard-luck
gag to hand out to you? I hate like hell to have to lie, except of
course when I need a smooth spiel for the cops. I guess I'll snooze a
bit now," he added, as I rose to leave the room. And as I reached the
door:

"Parson?"

"Well?"

"Why--er--come in a bit to-night, will you? That is, if you've got
time. And look here: don't you get the notion in your bean I'm just
some little old two-by-four guy of a yegg or some poor nut of a dip.
I'm _not_. Why, I've been the whole show _and_ manager besides. Yep,
I'm Slippy McGee himself."

He paused, to let this sink into my consciousness. I must confess that
I was more profoundly impressed than even he had any idea of. And
then, magnanimously, he added: "You're sure some white man, parson."

"Thank you, John Flint," said I, with due modesty.

Heaven knows why I should have been pleased and hopeful, but I was. My
guest was a criminal; he hadn't shown the slightest sign of
compunction or of shame; instead, he had betrayed a brazen pride. And
yet--I felt hopeful. Although I knew I was tacitly concealing a
burglar, my conscience remained clear and unclouded, and I had a calm
intuitive assurance of right. So deeply did I feel this that when I
went over to the church I placed before St. Stanislaus a small lamp
full of purest olive oil, which is expensive. I felt that he deserved
some compensation for hiding that package under his sheaf of lilies.

The authorities of our small town knew, of course, that another
forlorn wretch was being cared for at the Parish House. But had not
the Parish House sheltered other such vagabonds? The sheriff saw no
reason to give himself the least concern, beyond making the most
casual inquiry. If I wanted the fellow, he was only too glad to let me
keep him. And who, indeed, would look for a notorious criminal in a
Parish House Guest Room? Who would connect that all too common
occurrence, a tramp maimed by the railroad, with, the mysterious
disappearance of the cracksman, Slippy McGee? So, for the present, I
could feel sure that the man was safe.

And in the meantime, in the orderly proceeding of everyday life, while
he gained strength under my mother's wise and careful nursing and
Westmoreland's wise and careful overseeing, there came to him those
who were instruments for good--my mother first, whom, like Clélie, he
never called anything but "Madame" and whom, like Clélie, he presently
obeyed with unquestioning and childlike readiness. Now, Madame is a
truly wonderful person when she deals with people like him. Never for
a moment lowering her own natural and beautiful dignity, but without a
hint of condescension, Madame manages to find the just level upon
which both can stand as on common ground; then, without noise, she
helps, and she conveys the impression that thus noiselessly to help is
the only just, natural and beautiful thing for any decent person to
do, unless, perhaps, it might be to receive in the like spirit.

Judge Mayne's son, Laurence, full of a fresh and boyish enthusiasm,
was such another instrument. He had a handsome, intelligent face, a
straight and beautiful body, and the pleasantest voice in the world.
His mother in her last years had been a fretful invalid, and to meet
her constant demands the judge and his son had developed an angelic
patience with weakness. They were both rather quiet and
undemonstrative, this father and son; the older man, in fact had a
stern visage at first glance, until one learned to know it as the face
of a man trained to restraint and endurance. As for the boy, no one
could long resist the shrewd, kind youngster, who could spend an hour
with the most unlikely invalid and leave him all the better for it. I
was unusually busy just then, Clélie frankly hated and feared the man
upstairs, my mother had her hands full, and there were many heavy and
lonesome hours which Laurence set himself the task of filling. I left
this to the boy himself, offering no suggestions.

"Padre," said the boy to me, some time later, "that chap upstairs is
the hardest nut I ever tried to crack. There've been times when I felt
tempted to crack him with a sledge-hammer, if you want the truth. You
know, he always seemed to like me to read to him, but I've never been
able to discover whether or not he liked what I read. He never asked
me a single question, he never seemed interested enough to make a
comment. But I think that I've made a dent in him at last."

"A dent! In Flint? With what adamantine pick, oh hardiest of miners!"

"With a book. Guess!"

"I couldn't. I give up."

"The Bible!" said Laurence.

The Bible! Had _I_ chosen to read it to him, he would have resented
it, been impervious, suspicious, hostile. I looked at the boy's
laughing face, and wondered, and wondered.

"And how," said I, curious, "did you happen to pitch on the Bible?"

"Why, I got to studying about this chap. I wanted something that'd
_reach him_. I was puzzled. And then I remembered hearing my father
say that the Bible is the most interesting book in the world because
it's the most personal. There's something in it for everybody. So I
thought there'd be something in it for John Flint, and I tried it on
him, without telling him what I was giving him. I just plunged right
in, head over heels. Lord, Padre, it _is_ a wonderful old book, isn't
it? Why, I got so lost in it myself that I forgot all about John
Flint, until I happened to glance up and see that he was up to the
eyes in it, just like I was! He likes the fights and he gloats over
the spoils. He's asking for more. I think of turning Paul loose on
him."

"Well, if after the manner of men Paul fought with wild beasts at
Ephesus," I said hopefully. "I dare say he'll be able to hold his own
even with John Flint."

"I like Paul best of all, myself," said Laurence. "You see, Padre, my
father and I have needed a dose of Paul more than once--to stiffen our
backbones. So I'm going to turn the fighting old saint loose on John
Flint. 'By, Padre;--I'll look in to-morrow--I left poor old Elijah up
in a cave with no water, and the ravens overdue!"

He went down our garden path whistling, his cap on the back of his
head, and I looked after him with the warm and comforting sense that
the world is just that much better for such as he.

The boy was now, in his last high school year, planning to study
law--all the Maynes took to law as a duck to water. Brave,
simple-hearted, direct, clear-thinking, scrupulously honorable,--this
was one of the diamonds used to cut the rough hard surface of Slippy
McGee.



CHAPTER III

NEIGHBORS


On a morning in late March, with a sweet and fresh wind blowing, a
clear sun shining, and a sky so full of soft white woolly clouds that
you might fancy the sky-people had turned their fleecy flock out to
graze in the deep blue pastures, Laurence Mayne and I brought John
Flint downstairs and rolled him out into the glad, green garden, in
the comfortable wheel-chair that the mill-people had given us for a
Christmas present; my mother and Clélie followed, and our little dog
Pitache marched ahead, putting on ridiculous airs of responsibility;
he being a dog with a great idea of his own importance and wholly
given over to the notion that nothing could go right if he were not
there to superintend and oversee it.

The wistaria was in her zenith, girdling the tree-tops with amethyst;
the Cherokee rose had just begun to reign, all in snow-white velvet,
with a gold crown and a green girdle for greater glory; the greedy
brown grumbling bees came to her table in dusty cohorts, and over her
green bowers floated her gayer lovers the early butterflies, clothed
delicately as in kings' raiment. In the corners glowed the
ruby-colored Japanese quince, and the long sprays of that flower I
most dearly love, the spring-like spirea which the children call
bridal wreath, brushed you gently as you passed the gate. I never see
it deck itself in bridal white, I never inhale its shy, clean scent,
without a tightening of the throat, a misting of the eyes, a melting
of the heart.

Across our garden and across Miss Sally Ruth Dexter's you could see in
Major Appleby Cartwright's yard the peach trees in pink party dresses,
ruffled by the wind. Down the paths marched my mother's daffodils and
hyacinths, with honey-breathing sweet alyssum in between. Robins and
wrens, orioles and mocking-birds, blue jays and jackdaws, thrushes and
blue-birds and cardinals, all were busy house-building; one heard
calls and answers, saw flashes of painted wings, followed by outbursts
of ecstasy. If one should lay one's ear to the ground on such a
morning I think one might hear the heart of the world.

"_Hallelujah! Risen! Risen!_" breathed the glad, green things, pushing
from the warm mother-mold.

"_Living! Living! Loving! Loving!_" flashed and fluted the flying
things, joyously.

We wheeled our man out into this divine freshness of renewed life,
stopping the chair under a glossy, stately magnolia. My mother and
Clélie and Laurence and I bustled about to make him comfortable.
Pitache stood stock still, his tail stuck up like a sternly
admonishing forefinger, a-bossing everything and everybody. We spread
a light shawl over the man's knees, for it is not easy to bear a cruel
physical infirmity, to see oneself marred and crippled, in the growing
spring. He looked about him, snuffed, and wrinkled his forehead; his
eyes had something of the wistful, wondering satisfaction of an
animal's. He had never sat in a garden before, in all his life! Think
of it!

Whenever we bring one of our Guest Roomers downstairs, Miss Sally Ruth
Dexter promptly comes to her side of the fence to look him over. She
came this morning, looked at our man critically, and showed plain
disapproval of him in every line of her face.

On principle Miss Sally Ruth disapproves of most men and many women.
She does not believe in wasting too much sympathy upon people either;
she says folks get no more than they deserve and generally not half as
much.

Miss Sally Ruth Dexter is a rather important person in Appleboro. She
is fifty-six years old, stout, brown-eyed, suffers from a congenital
incapacity to refrain from telling the unwelcome truth when people are
madly trying to save their faces,--she calls this being frank,--is
tactless, independent, generous, and the possessor of what she herself
complacently refers to as "a Figure."

For a woman so convinced we're all full of natural and total
depravity, unoriginal sinners, worms of the dust, and the devil's
natural fire-fodder, Miss Sally Ruth manages to retain a simple and
unaffected goodness of practical charity toward the unelect, such as
makes one marvel. You may be predestined to be lost, but while you're
here you shall lack no jelly, wine, soup, chicken-with-cream,
preserves, gumbo, neither such marvelous raised bread as Miss Sally
Ruth knows how to make with a perfection beyond all praise.

She has a tiny house and a tiny income, which satisfies her; she has
never married. She told my mother once, cheerfully, that she guessed
she must be one of those born eunuchs of the spirit the Bible
mentions--it was intended for her, and she was glad of it, for it had
certainly saved her a sight of worry and trouble.

There is a cherished legend in our town that Major Appleby Cartwright
once went over to Savannah on a festive occasion and was there
joyously entertained by the honorable the Chatham Artillery. The
Chatham Artillery brews a Punch; insidious, delectable, deceptive, but
withal a pernicious strong drink that is raging, a wine that mocketh
and maketh mad. And they gave it to Major Appleby Cartwright in
copious draughts.

Coming home upon the heels of this, the major arose, put on his Prince
Albert, donned his top hat, picked a huge bunch of zinnias, and at
nine o'clock in the morning marched over to Miss Sally Ruth Dexter's.

We differ as to certain unimportant details of that historic call, but
we are in the main agreed upon the conversation that ensued.

"Sally Ruth," said the major, depositing his bulky person in a rocking
chair, his hat upon the floor, and wiping his forehead with a spotless
handkerchief the size of a respectable sheet, "Sally Ruth, you like
Old Maids?" Here he presented the zinnias.

"Why, I've got a yard full of 'em myself, Major. Whatever made you
bother to pick 'em? But to whom much hath more shall be given, I
suppose," said she, resignedly, and put them on the whatnot.

"Sally Ruth," said the major solemnly, ignoring this indifferent
reception of his offering. "Sally Ruth, come to think of it, an Old
Maid's a miserable, stiff, scentless sort of a flower. You might
think, when you first glance at 'em, that they're just like any other
flowers, but they're not; they're without one single, solitary
redeemin' particle of sweetness! The Lord made 'em for a warnin' to
women.

"What good under God's sky does it do you to be an old maid, Sally
Ruth? You're flyin' in the face of Providence. No lady should fly in
the face of Providence--she'd a sight better fly to the bosom of some
man, where she belongs. This mawnin' I looked out of my window and my
eye fell upon these unfortunate flowers. Right away I thought of you,
livin' over here all alone and by yourself, with no man's bosom to
lean on--you haven't really got anything but a few fowls and the Lord
to love, have you? And, Sally Ruth, tears came to my eyes. Talk not of
tears till you have seen the tears of warlike men! I believe it would
almost scare you to death to see me cryin', Sally Ruth! I got to
thinkin', and I said to myself: 'Appleby Cartwright, you have always
done your duty like a man. You charged up to the very muzzle of Yankee
guns once, and you weren't scared wu'th a damn! Are you goin' to be
scared now? There's a plain duty ahead of you; Sally Ruth's a fine
figure of a woman, and she ought to have a man's bosom to lean on. Go
offer Sally Ruth yours!' So here I am, Sally Ruth!" said the major
valiantly.

Miss Sally Ruth regarded him critically; then:

"You're drunk, Appleby Cartwright, that's what's the matter with you.
You and your bosom! Why, it's not respectable to talk like that! At
your age, too! I'm ashamed of you!"

"I was a little upset, over in Savannah," admitted the major. "Those
fellows must have gotten me to swallow over a gallon of their infernal
brew--and it goes down like silk, too. Listen at me: don't you ever
let 'em make you drink a gallon of that punch, Sally Ruth."

"I've seen its effects before. Go home and sleep it off," said Miss
Sally Ruth, not unkindly. "If you came over to warn me about filling
up on Artillery Punch, your duty's done--I've never been entertained
by the Chatham Artillery, and I don't ever expect to be. I suppose it
was intended for you to be a born goose, Appleby, so it'd be a waste
of time for me to fuss with you about it. Go on home, now, do, and let
Cæsar put you to bed. Tell him to tie a wet rag about your head and to
keep it wet. That'll help to cool you off."

"Sally Ruth," said the major, laying his hand upon his heart and
trying desperately to focus her with an eye that would waver in spite
of him, "Sally Ruth, _somebody's_ got to do something for you, and it
might as well be me. My God, Sally Ruth, _you're settin' like
clabber!_ It's a shame; it's a cryin' shame, for you're a fine woman.
I don't mean to scare or flutter you, Sally Ruth,--no gentleman ought
to scare or flutter a lady--but I'm offerin' you my hand and heart;
here's my bosom for you to lean on."

"That Savannah brew is worse even than I thought--it's run the man
stark crazy," said Miss Sally Ruth, viewing him with growing concern.

"Me crazy! Why, I'm askin' you," said the major with awful dignity,
"I'm askin' you to marry me!"

"Marry _you_? Marry fiddlesticks! Shucks!" said the lady.

"You won't?" Amazement made him sag down in his chair. He stared at
her owl-like. "Woman," said he solemnly, "when I see my duty I try to
do it. But I warn you--it's your last chance."

"I hope," said Miss Sally Ruth tartly, "that it's my last chance to
make a born fool of myself. Why, you old gasbag, if I had to stay in
the same house with you I'd be tempted to stick a darning needle in
you to hear you explode! Appleby, I'm like that woman that had a
chimney that smoked, a dog that growled, a parrot that swore, and a
cat that stayed out nights; _she_ didn't need a man--and no more do
I."

"Sally Ruth," said the major feelingly, "when I came here this mawnin'
it wasn't for my own good--it was for yours. And to think this is all
the thanks I get for bein' willin' to sacrifice myself! My God! The
ingratitude of women!"

He looked at Miss Sally Ruth, and Miss Sally Ruth looked at him. And
then suddenly, without a moment's warning, Miss Sally Ruth rose, and
took Major Appleby Cartwright, who on a time had charged Yankee guns
and hadn't been scared wu'th a damn, by the ear. She tugged, and the
major rose, as one pulled upward by his bootstraps.

"Ouch! Turn loose! I take it back! The devil! It wasn't intended for
any mortal man to marry you--Sally Ruth, I wouldn't marry you now for
forty billion dollars and a mule! Turn loose, you hussy! Turn loose!"
screeched the major.

Unheeding his anguished protests, which brought Judge Hammond Mayne on
the run, thinking somebody was being murdered, Miss Sally Ruth marched
her suitor out of her house and led him to her front gate. Here she
paused, jaws firmly set, eyes glittering, and, as with hooks of
steel, took firm hold upon the gallant major's other ear. Then she
shook him; his big crimson countenance, resembling a huge overripe
tomato, waggled deliriously to and fro.

"I was born"--_shake_--"an old maid,"--_shake, shake, shake_--"I have
lived--by the grace of God"--_shake, shake, shake_--"an old maid, and
I expect"--_shake_--"to die an old maid! I don't propose to
have"--_shake_--"an old windbag offering _me_ his blubbery old
bosom"--_shake, shake, SHAKE_--"at this time of my life!--and don't
you forget it, Appleby Cartwright! _THERE!_ You go back home"--_shake,
shake, shake_--"and sober up, you old gander, you!"

Major Appleby Cartwright stood not upon the order of his going, but
went at once, galloping as if a company of those Yankees with whom he
had once fought were upon his hindquarters with fixed bayonets.

However, they being next-door neighbors and friends of a lifetime's
standing, peace was finally patched up. In Appleboro we do not mention
this historic meeting when either of the participants can hear us,
though it is one of our classics and no home is complete without it.
The Major ever afterward eschewed Artillery Punch.

This morning, over the fence, Miss Sally Ruth addressed our invalid
directly and without prelude, after her wont. She doesn't believe in
beating about the bush:

"The wages of walking up and down the earth and going to and fro in
it, tramping like Satan, is a lost leg. Not that it wasn't intended
you should lose yours--and I hope and pray it will be a lesson to
you."

"Well, take it from me," he said grimly, "there's nobody but me
collecting my wages."

A quick approval of this plain truth showed in Miss Sally Ruth's
snapping eyes.

"Come!" said she, briskly. "If you've got sense enough to see _that_,
you're not so far away from the truth as you might be. Collecting your
wages is the good and the bad thing about life, I reckon. But
everything's intended, so you don't need to be too sorry for yourself,
any way you look at it. And you could just as well have lost _both_
legs while you were at it, you know." She paused reflectively. "Let's
see: I've got chicken-broth and fresh rolls to-day--I'll send you over
some, after awhile." She nodded, and went back to her housework.

Laurence went on to High School, Madame had her house to oversee, I
had many overdue calls; so we left Pitache and John Flint together,
out in the birdhaunted, sweet-scented, sun-dappled garden, in the
golden morning hours. No one can be quite heartless in a green garden,
quite hopeless in the spring, or quite desolate when there's a dog's
friendly nose to be thrust into one's hand.

I am afraid that at first he missed all this; for he could think of
nothing but himself and that which had befallen him, coming upon him
as a bolt from the blue. He had had, heretofore, nothing but his
body--and now his body had betrayed him! It had become, not the
splendid engine which obeyed his slightest wish, but a drag upon him.
Realizing this acutely, untrained, undisciplined, he was savagely
sullen, impenetrably morose. He tired of Laurence's reading--I think
the boy's free quickness of movement, his well-knit, handsome body,
the fact that he could run and jump as pleased him, irked and chafed
the man new and unused to his own physical infirmity.

He seemed to want none of us; I have seen him savagely repulse the
dog, who, shocked and outraged at this exhibition of depravity,
withdrew, casting backward glances of horrified and indignant
reproach.

But as the lovely, peaceful, healing days passed, that bitter and
contracted heart had to expand somewhat. Gradually the ferocity faded,
leaving in its room an anxious and brooding wonder. God knows what
thoughts passed through that somber mind in those long hours, when,
concentrated upon himself, he must have faced the problem of his
future and, like one before an impassable stone wall, had to fall
back, baffled. He could be sure of only one thing: that never again
could he be what he had been once--"the slickest cracksman in
America." This in itself tortured him. Heretofore, life had been
exactly what he chose to make it: he had put himself to the test, and
he had proven himself the most daring, the coolest, shrewdest, most
cunning, in that sinister world in which he had shone with so evil a
light. _He had been Slippy McGee_. Sure of himself, his had been that
curious inverted pride which is the stigmata of the criminal.

More than once I saw him writhe in his chair, tormented, shaken, spent
with futile curses, impotently lamenting his lost kingdom. He still
had the skill, the cold calculating brain, the wit, the will; and now,
by a cruel chance and a stupid accident, he had lost out! The end had
come for him, and he in his heyday! There were moments when, watching
him, I had the sensation as of witnessing almost visibly, here in our
calm sunny garden, the Dark Powers fighting openly for a soul.

_"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against
principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of
this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."_



CHAPTER IV

UNDERWINGS


If I have not heretofore spoken of Mary Virginia, it is because all
that winter she and Mrs. Eustis had been away; and in consequence
Appleboro was dull enough. For the Eustises are our wealthiest and
most important family, just as the Eustis house, with its pillared,
Greek-temple-effect front, is by far the handsomest house in town.
When we have important folks to entertain, we look to the Eustises to
save our faces for us by putting them up at their house.

One afternoon, shortly after we had gotten settled in Appleboro, I
came home to find my mother entertaining no less a personage than Mrs.
Eustis; she wasn't calling on the Catholic priest and his mother, you
understand; far from it! She was recognizing Armand De Rancé and Adele
de Marsignan!

Mrs. Eustis was a fair, plump little partridge of a woman, so
perfectly satisfied with herself that brains, in her case, would have
amounted to a positive calamity. She is an instance of the fascination
a fool seems to have for men of undoubted powers of mind and heart,
for Eustis, who had both to an unusual degree, loved her devotedly,
even while he smiled at her. She had, after some years of
childlessness, laid him under an everlasting obligation by presenting
him with a daughter, an obligation deepened by the fact that the
child was in every sense her father's child, not her mother's.

That afternoon she brought the little girl with her, to make our
acquaintance. When the child, shyly friendly, looked up, it seemed to
me for an anguished moment as if another little girl had walked out of
the past, so astonishingly like was she to that little lost playmate
of my youth. Right then and there Mary Virginia walked into my heart
and took possession, as of a place swept and garnished and long
waiting her coming.

When we knew her better my mother used to say that if she could have
chosen a little girl instead of the little boy that had been I, she
must have chosen Mary Virginia Eustis out of all the world.

Like Judge Mayne's Laurence, she chose to make the Parish House her
second home--for indeed my mother ever seemed to draw children to her,
as by some delightful magic. Here, then, the child learned to sew and
to embroider, to acquire beautiful housewifely accomplishments, and to
speak French with flawless perfection; she reaped the benefit of my
mother's girlhood spent in a convent in France; and Mrs. Eustis was
far too shrewd not to appreciate the value of this. And so we acquired
Mary Virginia.

I watched the lovely miracle of her growth with an almost painful
tenderness. Had I not become a priest, had I realized those spring
hopes of mine; and had there been little children resembling their
mother, then my own little girls had been like this one. Even thus had
been their blue eyes, and theirs, too, such hair of such curling
blackness.

The hours I spent with the little girl and Laurence helped me as well
as them; these fresh souls and growing minds freshened and revived
mine, and kept me young in heart.

"We are all made of dust," said my mother once. "But Mary Virginia's
is star dust. Star dust, and dew, and morning gold," she added
musingly.

"She simply cannot imagine evil, much less see it in anything or in
anybody," I told Madame, for at times the child's sheer innocence
troubled me for her. "One is puzzled how to bring home to this naïve
soul the ugly truth that all is not good. Now, Laurence is better
balanced. He takes people and events with a saving grain of
skepticism. But Mary Virginia is divinely blind."

My mother regarded me with a tolerant smile. "Do not worry too much
over that divinely blind one, my son," said she. "I assure you, she is
quite capable of seeing a steeple in daylight! Observe this: yesterday
Laurence angered her, and she seized him by the hair and bumped his
head against the study wall--no mild thump, either! She has in her
quite enough of the leaven of unrighteousness to save her, at a
pinch--for Laurence was entirely right, she entirely wrong. Yet--she
made him apologize before she consented to forgive him, and he did it
gratefully. She allowed him to understand how magnanimous she was in
thus pardoning him for her own naughtiness, and he was deeply
impressed, as men-creatures should be under such circumstances. Such
wisdom, and she but a child! I was enchanted!"

"Good heavens! Surely, Mother, I misunderstand you! Surely you
reproved her!"

"Reprove her?" My mother's voice was full of astonishment. "Why should
I reprove her? She was perfectly right!"

"Perfectly right? Why, you said--indeed, I assure you, you said that
Laurence had been entirely right, she entirely wrong!"

"Oh, _that!_ I see; well, as for that, she was."

"Then, surely--"

"My son, a woman who is in the wrong is entirely right when she makes
the man apologize," said my mother firmly. "That is the Law, fixed as
the Medes' and the Persians', and she who forgets or ignores it is
ground between the upper and the nether millstones. Mary Virginia
remembered and obeyed. When she grows up you will all of you adore her
madly. Why, then, should she be reproved?"

I have never been able to reflect upon Laurence getting his head
bumped and then gratefully apologizing to the darling shrew who did
it, without a cold wind stirring my hair. And yet--Laurence, and I,
too, love her all the more dearly for it! _Miserere, Domine!_

It was May when Mary Virginia came back to Appleboro. She had written
us a bubbling letter, telling us just when we were to expect her, and
how happy she was at the thought of being home once more. We, too,
rejoiced, for we had missed her sadly. My mother was so happy that she
planned a little intimate feast to celebrate the child's return.

I remember how calm and mild an evening it was. At noon there had been
a refreshing shower, and the air was deliciously pure and clear, and
full of wet woodsy scents. The raindrops fringing the bushes became
prisms, a spiderweb was a fairy foot-bridge; and all our birds,
leaving for a moment such household torments as squalling insatiable
mouths that must be filled, became jubilant choristers. "The opulent
dyepots of the angels" had been emptied lavishly across the sky, and
the old Parish House lay steeped in a serene and heavenly glow, every
window glittering diamond-bright to the west.

Next door Miss Sally Ruth was feeding and scolding her cooing pigeons,
which fluttered about her, lighting upon her shoulder, surrounding her
with a bright-colored living cloud; the judge's black cat Panch lay
along the Mayne side of the fence and blinked at them regretfully with
his slanting emerald eyes. From the Mayne kitchen-steps came, faintly,
Daddy January's sweet quavering old voice:

    "--Gwine tuh climb up higher 'n' higher,
         Some uh dese days--"

John Flint, silent, depressed, with folded lips and somber eyes,
hobbled about awkwardly, savagely training himself to use the crutches
Westmoreland had lately brought him. Very unlovely he looked, dragging
himself along like a wounded beast. The poor wretch struck a
discordant note in the sweet peacefulness of the spring evening; nor
could we say anything to comfort him, we who were not maimed.

Came a high, sweet, shrill call at the gate; a high yelp of delight
from Pitache, hurtling himself forward like a woolly white cannonball;
a sound of light and flying feet; and Mary Virginia ran into the
garden, the little overjoyed dog leaping frantically about her. She
wore a white frock, and over it a light scarlet jacket. Her blue eyes
were dancing, lighting her sweet and fresh face, colored like a rose.
The gay little breeze that came along with her stirred her skirts, and
fluttered her scarlet ribbons, and the curls about her temples. You
might think Spring herself had paused for a lovely moment in the
Parish House garden and stood before you in this gracious and virginal
shape, at once delicate and vital.

Miss Sally Ruth, scattering pigeons right and left, dashed to the
fence to call greetings. My mother, seizing the child by the arms,
held her off a moment, to look her over fondly; then, drawing her
closer, kissed her as a daughter is kissed.

I laid my hand on the child's head, happy with that painful happiness
her presence always occasioned me, when she came back after an
absence--as if the Other Girl flashed into view for a quick moment,
and then was gone. Laurence, who had followed, stood looking down at
her with boyish condescension.

"Huh! I can eat hominy off her head!" said he, aggravatingly.

"Old Mister Biggity!" flashed Mary Virginia. And then she turned and
met, face to face, the fixed stare of John Flint, hanging upon his
crutches as one might upon a cross,--a stare long, still, intent,
curious, speculative, almost incredulous.

"You are the Padre's last guest, aren't you?" her eyes were full of
gravest sympathy. "I'm so sorry you met with such a misfortune--but
I'm gladder you're alive. It's so good just to be alive in the spring,
isn't it?" She smiled at him directly, taking him, as it were, into a
pleasant confidence. She seemed perfectly unconscious of the evil
unloveliness of him; Mary Virginia always seemed to miss the evil,
passing it over as if it didn't exist. Instead, diving into the depths
of other personalities, always she brought to the surface whatever
pearl of good might lie concealed at the bottom. To her this sinister
cripple was simply another human being, with whose misfortune one must
sympathize humanly.

Clélie, in a speckless white apron and a brand-new red-and-white
bandanna to do greater honor to the little girl whom she adored, set a
table under the trees and spread it with the thin dainty sandwiches,
the delectable little cakes, and the fine bonbons she and my mother
had made to celebrate the child's return. And we had tea, making very
merry, for she had a thousand amusing things to tell us, every airy
trifle informed with something of her own brave bright mirthful
spirit. John Flint sat nearby in the wheel chair, his crutches lying
beside it, and looked on silently and ate his cake and drank his tea
stolidly, as if it were no unusual thing for him to break bread in
such company.

"Padre," said Mary Virginia with deep gravity. "My aunt Jenny says I'm
growing up. She says I'll have to put up my hair and let down my
frocks pretty soon, and that I'll probably be thinking of beaux in
another year, though she hopes to goodness I won't, until I've got
through with school at least."

The almost unconscious imitation of Miss Jenny's pecking, birdlike
voice made me smile.

"Beaux! Long skirts! Put up hair! Great Scott, will you listen to the
kid!" scoffed Laurence. "You everlasting little silly, you! P'tite
Madame, these cakes are certainly all to the good. May I have another
two or three, please!"

"I'm 'most thirteen years old, Laurence Mayne," said Mary Virginia,
with dignity. "You're only seventeen, so you don't need to give
yourself such hateful airs. You're not too old to be greedy, anyhow.
Padre, _am_ I growing up?"

"I fear so, my child," said I, gloomily.

"You're not glad, either, are you, Padre?"

"But you were such a delightful child," I temporized.

"Oh, lovely!" said Laurence, eying her with unflattering
brotherliness. "And she had so much feeling, too, Mary Virginia! Why,
when I was sick once, she wanted me to die, so she could ride to my
funeral in the front carriage; she doted on funerals, the little
ghoul! She was horribly disappointed when I got better--she thought it
disobliging of me, and that I'd done it to spite her. Once, too, when
I tried to reason with her--and Mary Virginia needed reason if ever a
kid did--she bumped my head until I had knots on it. There's your
delightful Mary Virginia for you!"

"Anyhow, you didn't die and become an angel--you stayed disagreeably
alive and you're going to become a lawyer," said Mary Virginia, too
gently. "And your head was bumpable, Laurence, though I'm sorry to say
I don't ever expect to bump it again. Why, I'm going away to school
and when I come back I'll be Miss Eustis, and you'll be Mr. Mayne!
Won't it be funny, though?"

"I don't see anything funny in calling you Miss Eustis," said
Laurence, with boyish impatience. "And I'm certainly not going to
notice you if you're silly enough to call me Mister Mayne. I hope you
won't be a fool, Mary Virginia. So many girls are fools." He ate
another cake.

"Not half as big fools as boys are, though," said she,
dispassionately. "My father says the man is always the bigger fool of
the two."

Laurence snorted. "I wonder what we'll be like, though--both of us?"
he mused.

"You? You're biggity now, but you'll be lots worse, then," said Mary
Virginia, with unflattering frankness. "I think you'll probably strut
like a turkey, and you'll be baldheaded, and wear double-lensed horn
spectacles, and spats, and your wife will call you 'Mr. Mayne' to your
face and 'Your Poppa' to the children, and she'll perfectly _despise_
people like Madame and the Padre and me!"

"You never did have any reasoning power, Mary Virginia," said
Laurence, with brotherly tact. "Our black cat Panch would put it all
over you. Allow me to inform you I'm _not_ biggity, miss! I'm
logical--something a girl can't understand. And I'd like to know what
you think _you're_ going to grow up to be?"

"Oh, let's quit talking about it," she said petulantly. "I hate to
think of growing up. Grown ups don't seem to be happy--and _I_ want to
be happy!" She turned her head, and met once more the absorbed and
watchful stare of the man in the wheel-chair.

"Weren't you sorry when you had to stop being a little boy and grow
up?" she asked him, wistfully.

"Me?" he laughed harshly. "I couldn't say, miss. I guess I was born
grown up." His face darkened.

"That wasn't a bit fair," said she, with instant sympathy.

"There's a lot not fair," he told her, "when you're born and brought
up like I was. The worst is not so much what happens to you, though
that's pretty bad; it's that you don't know it's happening--and
there's nobody to put you wise. Why," his forehead puckered as if a
thought new to him had struck him, "why, your very looks get to be
different!"

Mary Virginia started. "Oh, looks!" said she, thoughtfully. "Now,
isn't it curious for you to say just that, right now, for it reminds
me that I brought something to the Padre--something that set me to
thinking about people's looks, too,--and how you never can tell. Wait
a minute, and I'll show you." She reached for the pretty crocheted bag
she had brought with her, and drew from it a small pasteboard box.
None of us, idly watching her, dreamed that a moment big with fate was
upon us. I have often wondered how things would have turned out if
Mary Virginia had lost or forgotten that pasteboard box!

"I happened to put my hand on a tree--and this little fellow moved,
and I caught him. I thought at first he was a part of the tree-trunk,
he looked so much like it," said the child, opening the little box.
Inside lay nothing more unusual than a dark-colored and rather ugly
gray moth, with his wings folded down.

"One wouldn't think him pretty, would one?" said she, looking down at
the creature.

"No," said Flint, who had wheeled nearer, and craned his neck over the
box. "No, miss, I shouldn't think I'd call something like that
pretty,"--he looked from the moth to Mary Virginia, a bit
disappointedly.

Mary Virginia smiled, and picking up the little moth, held his body,
very gently, between her finger-tips. He fluttered, spreading out his
gray wings; and then one saw the beautiful pansy-like underwings, and
the glorious lower pair of scarlet velvet barred and bordered with
black.

"I brought him along, thinking the Padre might like him, and tell me
something about him," said the little girl. "The Padre's crazy about
moths and butterflies, you must understand, and we're always on the
lookout to get them for him. I never found this particular one before,
and you can't imagine how I felt when he showed me what he had hidden
under that gray cloak of his!"

"He's a member of a large and most respectable family, the Catocalæ,"
I told her. "I'll take him, my dear, and thank you--there's always a
demand for the Catocalæ. And you may call him an Underwing, if you
prefer--that's his common name."

"I got to thinking," said the little girl, thoughtfully, lifting her
clear and candid eyes to John Flint's. "I got to thinking, when he
threw aside his plain gray cloak and showed me his lovely underwings,
that he's like some people--people you'd think were very common, you
know. You couldn't be expected to know what was underneath, could you?
So you pass them by, thinking how ordinary, and matter of fact, and
uninteresting and even ugly they are, and you feel rather sorry for
them--because you don't know. But if you can once get close enough to
touch them--why, then you find out!" Her eyes grew deeper, and
brighter, as they do when she is moved; and the color came more
vividly to her cheek. "Don't you reckon," said she naïvely, "that
plenty of folks are like him? They're the sad color of the
street-dust, of course, for things do borrow from their surroundings,
didn't you know that? That's called protective mimicry, the Padre
says. So you only think of the dust-colored outside--and all the while
the underwings are right there, waiting for you to find them! Isn't it
wonderful and beautiful? And the best of all is, it's true!"

The cripple in the chair put out his hand with a hint of timidity in
his manner; he was staring at Mary Virginia as if some of the light
within her had dimly penetrated his grosser substance.

"Could I hold it--for a minute--in my own hand?" he asked, turning
brick-red.

"Of course you may," said Mary Virginia pleasantly. "I see by the
Padre's face this isn't a rare moth--he's been here all along, only my
eyes have just been opened to him. I don't want him to go in any
collection. I don't want him to go anywhere, except back into the
air--I owe him that for what he taught me. So I'm sure the Padre won't
mind, if you'd like to set him free, yourself."

She put the moth on the man's finger, delicately, for a Catocala is a
swift-winged little chap; it spread out its wings splendidly, as if to
show him its loveliness; then, darting upward, vanished into the cool
green depth of the shrubbery.

"I remember running after a butterfly once, when I was a kid," said
he. "He came flying down our street, Lord knows where from, or why,
and I caught him after a chase. I thought he was the prettiest thing
ever my eyes had seen, and I wanted the worst way in the world to keep
him with me. A brown fellow he was, all sprinkled over with little
splotches of silver, as if there'd been plenty of the stuff on hand,
and it'd been laid on him thick. But after awhile I got to thinking
he'd feel like he was in jail, shut up in my hot fist. I couldn't bear
that, so I ran to the end of the street, to save him from the other
kids, and then I turned him loose and watched him beat it for the sky.
They're pretty things, butterflies. Somehow I always liked them better
than any other living creatures." He was staring after the moth, his
forehead wrinkled. He spoke almost unconsciously, and he certainly had
no idea that he had given us cause for a hopeful astonishment.

Now, Mary Virginia's eyes had fallen, idly enough, upon John Flint's
hands lying loosely upon his knees. Her face brightened.

"Padre," she suggested suddenly, "why don't you let him help you with
your butterflies? Look at his hands! Why, they're just exactly the
right sort to handle setting needles and mounting blocks, and to
stretch wings without loosening a scale. He could be taught in a few
lessons, and just think what a splendid help he could be! And you do
so need help with those insects of yours, Padre--I've heard you say
so, over and over."

The child was right--John Flint did have good hands--large enough,
well-shaped, steel-muscled, powerful, with flexible, smooth-skinned,
sensitive fingers, the fingers of an expert lapidary rather than a
prize-fighter.

"If you think there's any way I could help the parson for awhile, I'd
be proud to try, miss. It's true," he added casually, with a
sphinx-like immobility of countenance, "that I'm what might be called
handy with my fingers."

"We'll call it settled, then," said Mary Virginia happily.

Laurence took her home at dusk; it was a part of his daily life to
look after Mary Virginia, as one looks after a cherished little
sister. When they were younger the boy had often complained that she
might as well be his sister, she quarreled with him so much; and the
little girl said, bitterly, he was as disagreeable as if he'd been a
brother. In spite of which the little girl, for all her delicious
impertinences, looked up to the boy; and the boy had adored her, from
the time she gurgled at him from her cradle.

My mother left us, and John Flint and I sat outdoors in the pleasant
twilight, he smoking the pipe Laurence had given him.

"Parson," said he, abruptly, "Parson, you folks are swells, ain't you?
The real thing, I mean, you and Madame? Even the yellow nigger's a
lady nigger, ain't she?"

"I am a poor priest, such as you see, my son, Madame is--Madame. And
Clélie is a good servant."

"But you were born a swell, weren't you?" he persisted. "Old family,
swell diggings, trained flunkies, and all that?"

"I was born a gentleman, if that is what you mean. Of an old family,
yes. And there was an old house--once."

"How'd _you_ ever hit the trail for the Church? I wonder! But say,
you never asked me any more questions than you had to, so you can tell
me to shut up, if you want to. Not that I wouldn't like to know how
the Sam Hill the like of you ever got nabbed by the skypilots."

"God called me through affliction, my son."

"Oh," said my son, blankly. "Huh! But I bet you the best crib ever
cracked you were some peach of a boy before you got that 'S.O.S.'"

"I was, like the young, the thoughtless young, a sinner."

"I suppose," said he tentatively, after a pause, "that _I'm_ one hell
of a sinner myself, according to Hoyle, ain't I?"

"I do not think it would injure you to change your--course of life,
nor yet your way of mentioning it," I said, feeling my way cautiously.
"But--we are bidden to remember there is more joy in heaven over one
sinner saved than over the ninety-and-nine just men."

"Is that so? Well, it listens like good horse-sense to me," said Mr.
Flint, promptly. "Because, look here: you can rake in ninety-and-nine
boobs any old time--there's one born every time the clock ticks,
parson--but they don't land something like me every day, believe me!
And I bet you a stack of dollar chips a mile high there was some
song-and-dance in the sky-joint when they put one over on _you_ for
fair. Sure!" He puffed away at his pipe, and I, having nothing to say
to this fine reasoning, held my peace.

"Parson, that kid's a swell, too, ain't she? And the boy?"

"Laurence is the son of Judge Hammond Mayne."

"And the little girl?" Insensibly his voice softened.

"I suppose," I agreed, "that the little girl is what you might call a
swell, too."

"I never," said he, reflectively, "came what you might call _talking_
close to real swells before. I've seen 'em, of course--at a distance.
Some of 'em, taking 'em by and large, looked pretty punk, to me; some
of 'em was middling, and a few looked as if they might have the goods.
But none of 'em struck me as being real live breathing _people_, same
as other folks. Why, parson, some of those dames'd throw a fit,
fancying they was poisoned, if they had to breathe the same air with
folks like me--me being what I am and they being--what they think they
are. Yet here's you and Madame, the real thing--and the boy--and the
little girl--the little girl--" he stopped, staring at me dumbly, as
the vision of Mary Virginia rose before him.

"She is, indeed, a dear, dear child," said I. His words stung me
somewhat, for once upon a time, I myself would have resented that such
as he should have breathed the same air with Mary Virginia.

"I'd almost think I'd dreamed her," said he, thoughtfully, "that is,
if I was good enough to have dreams like that," he added hastily, with
his first touch of shame. "I've seen 'em from the Battery up, and some
of 'em was sure-enough queens, but I didn't know they came like this
one. She's bran-new to me, parson. Say, you just show me what she
wants me to help you with, and I'll do it. She seems to think I can,
and it oughtn't to be any harder than opening a time-vault, ought it?"

"No," said I gravely, "I shouldn't think it would be. Though I never
opened a time-vault, you understand, and I hope and pray you'll never
touch one again, either. I'd rather you wouldn't even refer to it,
please. It makes me feel, rather--well, let's say _particeps
criminis_."

"I suppose that's the polite for punching you in the wind," said he,
just as gravely. "And I didn't think you'd ever monkeyed with a vault;
why, you couldn't, not if you was to try till Gabriel did his little
turn in the morning--not unless you'd been caught when you were softer
and put wise. Man, it's a bigger job than you think, and you've got to
have the know-how and the nerve before you can put it over. But
there--I'll keep it dark, seeing you want me to." He stretched out his
hands, regarding them speculatively. "They _are_ classy mitts," he
remarked impersonally. "Yep, seemed like they were just naturally made
to--do what they did. They were built for fine work." At that his jaw
snapped; a spasm twitched his face; it darkened.

"The work little Miss Eustis suggested for you," I insinuated hastily,
"is what very many people consider very fine work indeed. About one in
a thousand can do it properly."

"Lead me to it," said he wearily, and without enthusiasm, "and turn me
loose. I'll do what I can, to please her. At least, until I can make a
getaway for keeps."



CHAPTER V

ENTER KERRY


When I was first seen prowling along the roads and about the fields
stalking butterflies and diurnal moths with the caution of a red
Indian on the warpath and the stealth of a tiger in the jungle; when
mystified folk met me at night, a lantern suspended from my neck, a
haversack across my shoulders, a bottle-belt about my waist, and armed
with a butterfly net, the consensus of opinion was that poor Father De
Rancé was stark staring mad. Appleboro hadn't heretofore witnessed the
proceedings of the Brethren of the Net, and I had to do much patient
explaining; even then I am sure I must have left many firmly convinced
that I was not, in their own phrase, "all there."

"Hey, you! Mister! Them worms is pizen! Them's _fever_-worms!" was
shrieked at me frenziedly by the country-folks, black and white, when
I was caught scooping up the hairy caterpillars of the tiger moths.
Even when it was understood that I wished caterpillars, cocoons, and
chrysalids, for the butterflies and moths they would later make, looks
of pitying contempt were cast upon me. That a grown man--particularly
a minister of the gospel, with not only his own but other people's
souls to save--should spend time hunting for worms, with which he
couldn't even bait a hook, awakened amazement.

"What any man in his right mind wants with a thing that ain't nothin'
but wriggles an' hair on the outside an' sqush on the inside, beats
me!" was said more than once.

"But all of them are interesting, some are valuable, and many grow
into very beautiful moths and butterflies," I ventured to defend
myself.

"S'posin' they do? You can't eat 'em or wear 'em or plant 'em, can
you?" And really, you understand, I couldn't!

"An' you mean to tell me to my face," said a scandalized farmer,
watching me assorting and naming the specimens taken from my field
box, "you mean to tell me you're givin' every one o' them bugs a
_name_, same's a baptized Christian? Adam named every livin' thing,
an' Adam called them things Caterpillars an' Butterflies. If it suited
him an' Eve and God A'mighty to have 'em called that an' nothin' else,
looks to me it had oughter suit anybody that's got a grain o'real
religion. If you go to call 'em anythin' else it's sinnin' agin the
Bible. I've heard all my life you Cath'lics don't take as much stock
in the Scripters as you'd oughter, but this thing o'callin' a wurrum
Adam named plain Caterpillar a--a--_what'd_ you say the dum beast's
name was? _My sufferin' Savior!_ is jest about the wust dern
foolishness yet! I lay it at the Pope's door, every mite o' it, an'
you'd better believe he'll have to answer for sech carryin's on, some
o' these days!"

So many other things having been laid at the Pope's door, I held my
peace and made no futile attempt to clear the Holy Father of the dark
suspicion of having perpetrated their names upon certain of the
American lepidoptera.

I had yet other darker madnesses; had I not been seen spreading upon
trees with a whitewash brush a mixture of brown sugar, stale beer, and
rum?

Asked to explain this lunatic proceeding I could only say that I was
sugaring for moths; these airy fairy gentlemen having a very human
liking for a "wee drappie o't."

"That amiable failin'," Major Appleby Cartwright decided, "is a credit
to them an' commends them to a respectful hearin'. On its face it
would seem to admit them to the ancient an' honorable brotherhood of
convivial man. But, suh, there's another side to this question, an'
it's this:--a creature that's got six perfectly good legs, not to
mention wings, an' still can't carry his liquor without bein' caught,
deserves his fate. It's not in my line to offer suggestions to an
allwise Providence, or I _might_ hint that a scoop-net an' a killing
jar in pickle for some two-legged topers out huntin' free drinks
wouldn't be such a bad idea at all."

But as I pursued my buggy way--and displayed, save in this one
particular, what might truthfully be called ordinary common
sense--people gradually grew accustomed to it, looking upon me as a
mild and harmless lunatic whose inoffensive mania might safely be
indulged--nay, even humored. In consequence I was from time to time
inundated with every common thing that creeps, crawls, and flies. I
accepted gifts of bugs and caterpillars that filled my mother with
disgust and Clélie with horror; both of them hesitated to come into my
study, and I have known Clélie to be afraid to go to bed of a night
because the great red-horned "Hickory devil" was downstairs in a box,
and she was firmly convinced that this innocent worm harbored a
cold-blooded desire to crawl upstairs and bite her. That silly woman
will depart this life in the firm faith that all crawling creatures
came into the world with the single-hearted hope of biting her, above
all other mortals; and that having achieved the end for which they
were created, both they and she will immediately curl up and die.

But alas, I had but scant time to devote to this enchanting and
engrossing study, which, properly pursued, will fill a man's days to
the brim. I gathered my specimens as I could and classified and
mounted them as it pleased God--until the advent of John Flint.

Now, I must, with great reluctance, here set down the plain truth that
he, too, looked upon me at first with amaze not unmixed with rage and
contempt. Most caterpillars, you understand, feed upon food of their
own arbitrary choosing; and when they are in captivity one must
procure this particular aliment if one hopes to rear them.

_Slippy McGee feeding bugs!_ It was about as hideous and devil-born a
contretemps as, say, putting a belted earl to peel potatoes or asking
an archbishop to clean cuspidors. The man boiled with offended dignity
and outraged pride. One could actually see him swell. He had expected
something quite different, and this apparently offensive triviality
disgusted and shocked him. I could see myself falling forty thousand
fathoms in his esteem, and I think he would have incontinently turned
his back upon me save for his promise to Mary Virginia.

It is true that many of the caterpillars are ugly and formidable, poor
things, to the uninitiated eye, which fails to recognize under this
uncomely disguise the crowned and glorious citizens of the air. I had
just then a great Cecropia, an able-bodied green gentleman armed with
twelve thorn-like, sizable horns, and wearing, along with other
agreeable adornments, three yellow and four red arrangements like
growths of dwarf cactus plants on the segments behind his hard round
green head.

Mr. Flint, with an ejaculation of horror, backed off on one crutch and
clubbed the other.

"My God!" said he, "Kill it! Kill it!" I saved my green friend in the
nick of time. The man, with staring eyes, looked from me to the
caterpillar; then he leaned over and watched it, in grim silence.

He knotted his forehead, made slits of his eyes, gulped, screwed his
mouth into the thin red line of deadly determination, and with every
nerve braced, even as a martyr braces himself for the stake or the
sword, put out his hand, up which the formidable-looking worm walked
leisurely. Death not immediately resulting from this daring act, he
controlled his shudders and breathed easier. The worm became less and
less terrifying; no longer appearing, say, the size of the boa
constrictor. A few moments of this harmless meandering about Mr.
Flint's hand and arm, and of a sudden he wore his true colors of an
inoffensive and law-abiding larva, anxious only to attend strictly to
his own legitimate business, the Gargantuan feeding of himself into
the pupa from which he would presently emerge one of the most
magnificent of native moths. Gingerly Mr. Flint picked him up between
thumb and fore-finger, and as gingerly dropped him back into the
breeding-cage. He squared his shoulders, wiped his brow, and drew a
long whistling breath.

"Phe-ew! It took all my nerve to do it!" said he, frankly. "I felt for
a minute as if a strong-arm cop'd chased me up an alley and pulled his
gun on me. The feeling of a bug's legs on your bare skin is something
fierce at first, ain't it? But after _him_ none of 'em can scare me
any more. I could play tag with pink monkeys with blue tails and green
whiskers without sending in the hurry-call."

The setting boards and blocks, the arrays of pins, needles, tubes,
forceps, jars and bottles, magnifying-glasses, microscope, slides,
drying-ovens, relaxing-box, cabinets, and above all, the mounted
specimens, raised his spirits somewhat. This, at least, looked
workman-like; this, at least, promised something better than stoking
worms!

If not hopefully, at least willingly enough, he allowed himself to be
set to work. And that work had come in what some like to call the
psychological moment. At least it came--or was sent--just when he
needed it most.

He soon discovered, as all beginners must, that there is very much
more to it than one might think; that here, too, one must pay for
exact knowledge with painstaking care and patient study and ceaseless
effort. He discovered how fatally easy it is to spoil a good specimen;
how fairy-fragile a wee wing is; how painted scales rub, and vanish
into thin air; how delicate antennæ break, and forelegs will
fiendishly depart hence; and that proper mounting, which results in a
perfect insect, is a task which requires practice, a sure eye, and an
expert, delicate, and dexterous touch. Also, that one must be
ceaselessly on guard lest the baleful little ant and other tiny curses
evade one's vigilance and render void one's best work. He learned
these and other salutary lessons, which tend to tone down an amateur's
conceit of his half-knowledge; and this chastened him. He felt his
pride at stake--he who could so expertly, with almost demoniac
ingenuity, force the costliest and most cunningly constructed
burglar-proof lock; he whose not idle boast was that he was handy with
his fingers! Slippy McGee baffled, at bay before a butterfly? And in
the presence of a mere priest and a girl-child? Never! He'd show us
what he could do when he really tried to try!

Presently he wanted to classify; and he wanted to do it alone and
unaided--it looked easy enough. It irked him, pricked his pride, to
have to be always asking somebody else "what is this?" And right then
and there those inevitable difficulties that confront every earnest
and conscientious seeker at the beginning of his quest, arose, as the
fascinating living puzzles presented themselves for his solving.

To classify correctly is not something one learns in a day, be he
never so willing and eager; as one may discover who cares to take half
a dozen plain, obscurely-colored small moths, and attempts to put them
in their proper places.

Mr. Flint tried it--and those wretched creatures _wouldn't_ stay put.
It seemed to him that every time he looked at them they ought to be
somewhere else; always there was something--a bar, a stripe, a small
distinctive spot, a wing of peculiar shape, antennæ, or palpi, or
spur, to differentiate them.

"Where the Sam Hill," he blazed, "do all these footy little devils
come from, anyhow? Where am I to put a beast of a bug when the next
one that's exactly like it is entirely different the next time you
look at it? There's too much beginning and no end at all to this
game!"

For all that, he followed them up. I saw with pure joy that he refused
to dismiss anything carelessly, while he scorned to split hairs. He
had a regular course of procedure when he was puzzled. First he turned
the new insect over and over and glared at it from every possible
angle; then he rumpled his hair, gritted his teeth, squared his
shoulders and hurled himself into work.

There was, for instance, the common Dione Vanillæ, that splendid Gulf
Fritillary which haunts all the highways of the South. She's a
long-wing, but she's not a Heliconian; she's a silver-spot, but she's
not an Argynnis. She bears a striking family likeness to her fine
relations, but she has certain structural peculiarities which
differentiate her. Whose word should he take for this, and why?
Wherein lay those differences? He began, patiently, with her
cylinder-shaped yellow-brown, orange-spotted caterpillar, on the
purple passion flowers in our garden; he watched it change into a
dark-brown chrysalis marked with a few pale spots; he saw emerge from
this the red-robed lady herself, with her long fulvous forewings, and
her shorter hind wings smocked with black velvet, and her under-frock
flushed with pinkish orange and spangled with silver. And yet, in
spite of her long marvelous tongue--he was beginning to find out that
no tool he had ever seen, and but few that God Himself makes, is so
wonderful as a butterfly's tongue--she hadn't been able to tell him
that about herself which he most wished to find out. _That_ called for
a deeper knowledge than he as yet possessed.

But he knew that other men knew. And he had to know. He meant to know.
For the work gripped him as it does those marked and foreordained for
its service. That marvelous world in which the Little People dwell--a
world so absolutely different from ours that it might well be upon
another planet--began to open, slowly, slowly, one of its many
mysterious doors, allowing him just glimpse enough of what magic lay
beyond to fire his heart and to whet his appetite. And he couldn't
break into that world with a jimmy. It was burglar-proof. That portal
was so impervious to even the facile fingers of Slippy McGee, that
John Flint must pay the inevitable and appropriate toll to enter!

Westmoreland had replaced his crutches with a wooden leg, and you
might see him stumping about our grounds, minutely examining the
underside of shrubs and bushes, the bark of trees, poking into corners
and crannies, or scraping in the mold under the fallen leaves by the
fences, for things which no longer filled him with aversion and
disgust, but with the student's interest and pleasure.

"Think of me being in the same world with 'em all these years and not
knowing a thing about 'em when there's so much to know, and under my
skin stark crazy to learn it, only I didn't know I even wanted to know
what I really want to know more than anything else, until I had to
get dumped down here to find it out! I get the funniest sort of a
feeling, parson, that all along there's been a Me tucked away inside
my hide that's been loving these things ever since I was born. Not
just to catch and handle 'em, and stretch out their little wings, and
remember the names some bughouse high-brow wished on 'em, though all
that's in the feeling, too; it's something else, if I could make you
understand what I mean."

I laughed. "I think I do understand," said I. "I have a Me like that
tucked away in mine, too, you know."

He looked at me gravely. "Parson," said he, earnestly, "there's times
I wish you had a dozen kids, and every one of 'em twins! It's a shame
to think of some poor orphans swindled out of such a daddy as you'd
have made!"

"Why," said I, smiling, "_You_ are one of my twins."

"Me?" He reflected. "Maybe half of me might be, parson," he agreed,
"but it's not safe for a skypilot to be caught owning a twin like the
other half."

"I'm pinning my faith to _my_ half," said I, serenely.

"Now, why?" he asked, with sudden fierceness. "I turn it over and over
and over: it looks white on the outside, but I can't to save me figure
out _why_ you're doing it. Parson, _what_ have you got up your
sleeve?"

"Nothing but my arm. What should you think?"

"I don't know what to think, and that's the straight of it. What's
your game, anyhow? What in the name of God are you after?"

"Why, I think," said I, "that in the name of God I'm after--that other
You that's been tucked away all these years, and couldn't get born
until a Me inside mine, just like himself, called him to come out and
be alive."

He pondered this in silence. Then:

"I'll take your word for it," said he. "Though if anybody'd ever told
me I'd be eating out of a parson's hand, I'd have pushed his face in
for him. Yep, I'm Fido! _Me!_"

"At least you growl enough," said I, tartly.

He eyed me askance.

"Have I got to lick hands?" he snarled.

I walked away, without a reply; through my shoulder-blades I could
feel him glaring after me. He followed, hobbling:

"Parson!"

"Well?"

"If I'm not the sort that licks hands I'm not the sort that bites 'em,
neither. I'll tell you--it's this way: I--sort of get to chewing on
that infernal log of wood that's where my good leg used to grow
and--and splinters get into my temper--and I've _got_ to snarl or
burst wide open! You'd growl like the devil yourself, if you had to
try holding down my job for awhile, skypilot or no skypilot!"

"Why--I dare say I should," said I, contritely. "But," I added, after
a pause, "I shouldn't be any the better for it, should you think?"

"Not so you could notice," shortly. And after a moment he added, in an
altered voice: "Rule 1: Can the Squeal!"

I think he most honestly tried to. It was no easy task, and I have
seen the sweat start upon his forehead and his face go pale, when in
his eagerness he forgot for a moment the cruel fact that he could no
longer move as lightly as of old--and the crippled body, betraying
him, reminded him all too swiftly of his mistake.

The work saved him. For it is the heaven-sent sort of work, to those
ordained for it, that fills one's hours and leaves one eager for
further tasks. It called for all his oldtime ingenuity. His tools, for
instance--at times their limitations irked him, and he made others
more satisfactory to himself; tools adjusted to an insect's frail
body, not to a time-lock. Before that summer ended he could handle
even the frailest and tiniest specimen with such nice care that it was
delightful to watch him at work. The time was to come when he could
mend a torn wing or fix a broken antennas with such exquisite fidelity
to detail that even the most expert eye might well be deceived.

I had only looked for a little temporary help, such as any intelligent
amateur might be able to furnish. But I was not long unaware that this
was more than a mere amateur. To quote himself, he had the goods, and
I realized with a mounting heart that I had made a find, if I could
only hold on to it. For the first time in years I could exchange
specimens. My cabinets began to fill out--with such perfect insects,
too! We added several rare ones, a circumstance to make any
entomologist look upon the world through rosy spectacles. Why, even
the scarce shy Cossus Centerensis came to our very doors, apparently
to fill a space awaiting him. Perhaps he was a Buddhist insect
undergoing reincarnation, and was anxious to acquire merit by
self-immolation. Anyhow, we acquired him, and I hope he acquired
merit.

We had scores of insects in the drying ovens. We had more and ever more
in the breeding cages,--in our case simple home-made affairs of a keg
or a box with a fine wire-netting over the food plant; or a lamp-chimney
slipped over a potted plant with a bit of mosquito-netting tied over the
top, for the smaller forms.

These cages were a never-failing source of delight and interest to the
children, and at their hands heaven rained caterpillars upon us that
season. Even my mother grew interested in the work, though Clélie
never ceased to look upon it as a horrid madness peculiar to white
people.

"All Buckrahs is funny in dey haids," Daddy January consoled her when
she complained to him about it. "Dey gets all kind o' fool notions
'bout all kind o' fool t'ings. You ain't got to feel so bad--de Jedge
is lots wuss'n yo' boss is. Yo' boss kin see de bugs he run atter, but
my boss talk 'bout some kind o' bug he call Germ. I ax um what kind o'
bug is dat; an' he 'low you can't see um wid yo' eye. I ain't say so
to de Jedge, but _I_ 'low when you see bug you can't see wid yo' eye,
you best not seem um 'tall--case he must be some kind o' spook, an'
Gawd knows I ain't want to see no spook. Ef de bug ain't no spook, den
he mus' be eenside yo' haid, 'stead o' outside um, an' to hab bug on
de eenside o' yo' haid is de wuss kind o' bad luck. Anyhow, nobody but
Buckrah talk an' ack like dat, niggers is got mo' sense."

We found, presently, a ready and a steady sale for our extra stock. We
could supply caterpillars, butterflies and moths, or chrysalids and
cocoons; we had some rather scarce ones; and then, our unmounted
specimens were so perfect, and our mounted ones so exquisitely done,
that we had but little trouble in disposing of them. Under the hand of
John Flint these last were really works of art. Not for nothing had
he boasted that he was handy with his fingers.

The pretty common forms, framed hovering lifelike over delicately
pressed ferns and flowers, found even a readier market, for they were
really beautiful. Money had begun to come in--not largely, it is true,
but still steadily and surely. You must know how to handle your stock,
and you must be in touch with your market--scientists, students,
collectors,--and this, of course, takes time. We could supply the
larger dealers, too, although they pay less, and we had a modest
advertisement in one or two papers published for the profession, which
brought us orders. But let no one imagine that it is an easy task to
handle these frail bodies, these gossamer wings, so that naturalists
and collectors are glad to get them. Once or twice we lost valuable
shipments.

Long since--in the late spring, to be exact, John Flint had moved out
of the Guest Room, needed for other occupants, into a two-roomed
outbuilding across the garden. Some former pastor had had it built for
an oratory and retreat, but now, covered with vines, it had stood for
many years unused, save as a sort of lumber room.

When the troublesome question of where we might properly house him had
arisen, my mother hit upon these unused rooms as by direct
inspiration. She had them cleaned, repainted, scoured, and turned into
a pleasant well-lighted, airy workroom and living-room combined, and a
smaller and rather austere bedroom, with an inexpensive but very good
head of Christ over the mantel, and an old, old carved crucifix on the
wall beside the white iron bed. Laurence took from his own room a
Morris chair, whose somewhat frayed cushions my mother neatly
re-covered. Mary Virginia contributed a rug, as well as dressing-gown
and slippers. Miss Sally Ruth gave him outright a brand-new Bible, and
loaned him an old cedar-wood wardrobe which had been her
great-grandmother's, and which still smelt delicately of generations
of rose-leaved and lavendered linen.

"All I ask," said Miss Sally Ruth sharply, "is that you'll read Paul
with your eyes open and your mouth shut, and that you'll keep your
clothes in that wardrobe and your moths out of it. If it was intended
for anybody to teach you anything, then Paul will teach you; but it
_wasn't_ intended for a cedar-wood wardrobe to hold moths, and I hope
you won't forget it!"

Major Cartwright sent over a fishing-rod, a large jar of tobacco, and
a framed picture of General Lee.

"Because no man, suh, could live under the same roof with even his
pictured semblance, and not be the bettah fo' it," said the major
earnestly. "I know. I've got to live with him myself. When I'm fair to
middlin' he's in the dinin' room. When I've skidded off the straight
an' narrow path I lock him up in the parlor, an' at such times I sleep
out on the po'ch. But when I'm at peace with man an' God I take him
into my bedroom an' look at him befo' retirin'. He's about as easy to
live with as the Angel Gabriel, but he's mighty bracin', Marse Robert
is: mighty bracin'!"

Thus equipped, John Flint settled himself in his own house. It had
been a wise move, for he had the sense of proprietorship, privacy, and
freedom. He could come and go as he pleased, with no one to question.
He could work undisturbed, save for the children who brought him such
things as they could find. He put his breeding cages out on the
vine-covered piazzas surrounding two-sides of his house, arranged the
cabinets and boxes which had been removed from my study to his own,
nailed up a few shelves to suit himself, and set up housekeeping.

My mother had been frankly delighted to have my creeping friends moved
out of the Parish House, and Clélie abated in her dislike of the
one-legged man because he had, in a way, removed from her a heretofore
never-absent fear of waking up some night and finding a caterpillar
under her bed. More yet, he entailed no extra work, for he flatly
refused to have her set foot in his rooms for the purpose of cleaning
them. He attended to that himself. The man was a marvel of neatness
and order. Mesdames, permit me to here remark that when a man is neat
and orderly no woman of Eve's daughters can compare with him. John
Flint's rooms would arouse the rabid envy of the cleanest and most
scourful she in Holland itself.

Now as the months wore away there had sprung up between him, and Mary
Virginia and Laurence, one of those odd comradely friendships which
sometime unite the totally unlike with bonds hard to break. His
spotless workroom had a fascination for the youngsters. They were
always in and out, now with a cocoon, now an imago, now a larva, and
then again to see how those they had already brought were getting
along.

The lame man was an unrivaled listener--a circumstance which endeared
him to youthful Laurence, in whom thoughts and the urge to express
these thoughts in words rose like sap. This fresh and untainted
confidence, poured out so naïvely, taught John Flint more than any
words or prayers of mine could have done. It opened to him a world
into which, his eyes had not heretofore been permitted to look; and
the result was all the more sure and certain, in that the children had
no faintest idea of the effect they were producing. They had no end to
gain, no ax to grind; they merely spoke the truth as they knew it, and
this unselfish and hopeful truthfulness aroused his interest and
curiosity; it even compelled his admiration. He couldn't dismiss
_this_ as "hot air"!

I was more than glad to have him thus taught. It was a salutary
lesson, tending to temper his overweening confidence and to humble his
contemptuous pride. In his own world he had been supreme, a figure of
sinister importance. Brash had been crook or cop who had taught or
caught Slippy McGee! But in this new atmosphere, in which he breathed
with difficulty, the young had been given him for guides. They led
him, where a grownup had failed.

Mary Virginia was particularly fond of him. He had as little to say to
her as to Laurence, but he looked at her with interested eyes that
never lost a movement; she knew he never missed a word, either; his
silence was friendly, and the little girl had a pleasant fashion of
taking folk for granted. Hers was one of those large natures which
give lavishly, shares itself freely, but does not demand much in
return. She gave with an open hand to her quiet listener--her books,
her music, her amusing and innocent views, her frank comments, her
truthfulness, her sweet brave gaiety; and he absorbed it like a
sponge. It delighted her to find and bring the proper food-plants for
his cages. And she being one of those who sing while they work, you
might hear her caroling like a lark, flitting about the old garden
with her red setter Kerry at her heels.

Laurence no longer read aloud to him, but instead gave Flint such
books as he could find covering his particular study, and these were
devoured and pored over, and more begged for. Flint would go without
new clothes, neat as he was, and without tobacco, much as he liked to
smoke,--to buy books upon lepidoptera.

He helped my mother with her flowers and her vegetables, but refused
to have anything to do with her chickens, remarking shortly that hens
were such fools he couldn't help hating them. Madame said she liked to
have him around, for he was more like some unobtrusive jinnee than a
mere mortal. She declared that John Flint had what the negroes call a
"growing hand"--he had only to stick a bit of green in the ground and
it grew like Jonah's gourd.

Since he had begun to hobble about, he had gradually come to be
accepted by the town in general. They looked upon him as one who
shared Father De Rancé's madness, a tramp who was a hunter of bugs. It
explained his presence in the Parish House; I fancy it also explained
to some why he had been a tramp!

Folks got used to him, as one does to anything one sees daily. The
pleasant conservative soft-voiced ladies who liked to call on Madame
of an afternoon and gossip Christianly, and drink tea and eat Clélie's
little cakes on our broad shady verandah, only glanced casually at the
bent head and shoulders visible through the screened window across the
garden. They said he was very interesting, of course, but painfully
shy and bashful. As for him, he was as horribly afraid of them as they
would have been of him, had they known. I could not always save
myself from the sin of smiling at an ironic situation.

Judge Mayne had at first eyed the man askance, watching him as his own
cats might an interloping stray dog.

"The fellow's not very prepossessing," he told me, of an evening when
he had dined with us, "but I've been on the bench long enough to be
skeptical of any fixed good or bad type--I've found that the criminal
type is any type that goes wrong; so I shouldn't go so far as to call
this chap a bad egg. But--I hope you are reasonably sure of him,
father?"

"Reasonably," said I, composedly.

"Laurence tells me Madame and Mary Virginia _like_ the fellow. H'm!
Well, I've acquired a little faith in the intuition of women--some
women, understand, and some times. And mark you, I didn't say
_judgment_. Let us hope that this is one of the times when faith in
intuition will be justified."

Later, when he had had time to examine the work progressing under the
flexible fingers of the silent workman, he withdrew with more respect.

"I suppose he's all right, if you think so, father. But I'd watch out
for him, anyway," he advised.

"That is exactly what I intend to do."

"Rather he fell into your hands than mine. Better for him," said the
judge, briefly. Then he launched into an intimate talk of Laurence,
and in thus talking of the boy's future, forgot my helper.

That was it, exactly. The man was so unobtrusive without in the least
being furtive. Had so little to say; attended so strictly to his own
business, and showed himself so utterly and almost inhumanly
uninterested in anybody else's, that he kept in the background. He
was there, and people knew it; they were, in a sense, interested in
him, but not curious about him.

One morning in early autumn--he had been with us then some eight or
nine months--I went over to his rooms with a New York newspaper in my
hand. It had news that set my heart to pounding sickeningly--news that
at once simplified and yet complicated matters. I hesitated as to
whether or not I should tell him, but decided that whatever effect
that news might produce, I would deal with him openly, above board,
and always with truth. He must act and judge for himself and with his
eyes open. On my part there should be no concealment.

The paper stated that the body of a man found floating in the East
River had been positively identified by the police as that of Slippy
McGee. That the noted crook had gotten back into New York through the
cunning dragnet so carefully spread for him was another proof of his
daring and dexterity. How he met the dark fate which set him adrift,
battered and dreadful, in the East River, was another of those
underworld crimes that remain unsolved. Cunning and dangerous,
mysterious in his life, baffling all efforts to get at him, he was as
evilly mysterious in his death. There was only one thing sure--that
this dead wretch with the marks of violence upon him was Slippy McGee;
and since his breath had ceased, the authorities could breathe easier.

He read it deliberately; then re-read it, and sat and stared at the
paper. A slow grim smile came to his lips, and he took his chin in his
hand, musingly. The eyes narrowed, the face darkened, the jaw thrust
itself forward.

"Dead, huh?" he grunted, and stared about him, with a slow, twisting
movement of the head. "Well--I might just as well be, as buried alive
in a jay-dump at the tail-end of all creation!" Once again the Powers
of Darkness swooped down and wrestled with and for him; and knowing
what I knew, sick at heart, I trembled for him.

"What am _I_ doing here, anyhow?" he snarled with his lips drawn back
from his teeth. "Piddling with bugs--_Me!_ Patching up their dinky
little wings and stretching out their dam' little legs and feelers--me
being what I am, and they being what they are! Say, I've got to quit
this, once for all I've got to quit it. I'm not a _man_ any more. I'm
a dead one, a he-granny cutting silo for lady-worms and drynursing
their interesting little babies. My God! _Me!_" And he threw his hands
above his head with a gesture of rage and despair.

"Hanging on here like a boob--no wonder they think I'm dead! If I
could just make a getaway and pull off one more good job and land
enough--"

"You couldn't keep it, if you did land it--your sort can't. You know
how it went before--the women and the sharks got it. There'd be always
that same incentive to pull off just one more to keep you going--until
you'd pulled yourself behind bars, and stayed there. And there's the
drug-danger, too. If you escaped so far, it was because so far you had
the strength to let drugs alone. But the drugs get you, sooner or
later, do they not? Have you not told me over and over again that
'nearly all dips are dopes'? That first the dope gets you--and then
the law? No. You can't pull off anything that won't pull you into
hell. We have gone over this thing often enough, haven't we?"

"No, we haven't. And I haven't had a chance to pull off
anything--except leaves for bugs. _Me!_ I want to get my hand in once
more, I tell you! I want to pull off a stunt that'll make the whole
bunch of bulls sit up and bellow for fair--and I can do it, easy as
easy. Think I've croaked, do they? And they can all snooze on their
peg-posts, now I'm a stiff? Well, by cripes, I just want half of a
half of a chance, and I'll show 'em Slippy McGee's good and plenty
alive!"

"Come out into the garden, my son, and feel that you are good and
plenty alive. Come out into the free air. Hold on tight, a little
while longer!"

I laid my hand upon his shoulder compellingly, and although he glared
at me, and ground his teeth, and lifted his lip, he came; unwillingly,
swearing under his breath, he came. We tramped up and down the garden
paths, up and down, and back again, his wooden peg making a round
hole, like a hoofmark, in the earth. He stared down at it, spat
savagely upon it, and swore horribly, but not too loudly.

"I want to feel like a live man!" he gritted. "A live man, not a
one-legged mucker with a beard like a Dutch bomb-thrower's, puttering
about a skypilot's backyard on the wrong side of everything!"

"Stick it out a little longer, John Flint; hold fast!"

"Hold fast to what?" he demanded savagely. "To a bug stuck on a
needle?"

"Yes. And to me who trusts you. To Madame who likes you. To the dear
child who put bug and needle into your hand because she knew it was
good work and trusted your hand to do it. And more than all, to that
other Me you're finding--your own true self, John Flint! Hold fast,
hold fast!"

He stopped and stared at me.

"I'm believing him again!" said he, grievously. "I've been sat on
while I was hot, and my number's marked on me, 23. I'm hoodooed,
that's what!"

Tramp, tramp, stump, stump, up and down, the two of us.

"All right, devil-dodger," said he wearily, after a long sullen
silence. "I'll stick it out a bit longer, to please you. You've been
white--the lot of you. But look here--if I beat it some night ... with
what I can find, why, I'm warning you: don't blame _me_--you're
running your risks, and it'll be up to _you_ to explain!"

"When you want to go, John Flint--when you really and truly want to
go, why, take anything I have that you may fancy, my son. I give it
you beforehand."

"I don't want anything given to me beforehand!" he growled. "I want to
take what I want to take without anybody's leave!"

"Very well, then; take what you want to take, without anybody's leave!
I shall be able to do without it, I dare say."

He turned upon me furiously:

"Oh, yes, I guess you can! You'd do without eating and breathing too,
I suppose, if you could manage it! You do without too blamed much
right now, trying to beat yourself to being a saint! Of course I'd
help myself and leave you to go without--you're enough to make a man
ache to shoot some sense into you with a cannon! And for God's sake,
_who_ are you pinching and scraping and going without _for_? A bunch
of hickey factory-shuckers that haven't got sense enough to talk
American, and a lot of mill-hands with beans on 'em like bone buttons!
They ain't worth it. While I'm in the humor, take it from me there
ain't anybody worth anything anyhow!"

"Oh, Mr. Flint! What a shame and a sin!" called another voice. "Oh,
Mr. Flint, I'm ashamed of you!" There in the freedom of the Saturday
morning sunlight stood Mary Virginia, her red Irish setter Kerry
beside her.

"I came over," said she, "to see how the baby-moths are getting on
this morning, and to know if the last hairy gentleman I brought spins
into a cocoon or buries himself in the ground. And then I heard Mr.
Flint--and what he said is unkind, and untrue, and not a bit like him.
Why, everybody's worth everything you can do for them--only some are
worth more."

The wild wrath died out of his face. As usual, he softened at sight of
her.

"Oh, well, miss, I wasn't thinking of the like of you--and him," he
jerked his head at me, half apologetically, "nor young Mayne, nor the
little Madame. You're different."

"Why, no, we aren't, really," said Mary Virginia, puckering her brows
adorably. "We only _seem_ to be different--but we are just exactly
like everybody else, only _we_ know it, and some people never can seem
to find it out--and there's the difference! You see?" That was the
befuddled manner in which Mary Virginia very often explained things.
If God was good to you, you got a little glimmer of what she meant and
was trying to tell you. Mary Virginia often talked as the alchemists
used to write--cryptically, abstrusely, as if to hide the golden truth
from all but the initiate.

"Come and shake hands with Mr. Flint, Kerry," said she to the setter.
"I want you to help make him understand things it's high time he
should know. Nobody can do that better than a good dog can."

Kerry looked a trifle doubtful, but having been told to do a certain
thing, he obeyed, as a good dog does. Gravely he sat up and held out
an obedient paw, which the man took mechanically. But meeting the
clear hazel eyes, he dropped his hand upon the shining head with the
gesture of one who desires to become friends. Accepting this, Kerry
reached up a nose and nuzzled. Then he wagged his plumy tail.

"There!" said Mary Virginia, delightedly. "Now, don't you see how
horrid it was to talk the way you talked? Why, Kerry _likes_ you, and
Kerry is a sensible dog."

"Yes, miss," and he looked at Mary Virginia very much as the dog did,
trustingly, but a little bewildered.

"Aren't you sorry you said that?"

"Y-e-s, seeing you seem to think it was wrong."

"Well, you'll know better from now on," said Mary Virginia,
comfortingly. She looked at him searchingly for a minute, and he met
her look without flinching. That had been the one hopeful sign, from
the first--that he never refused to meet your glance, but gave you
back one just as steady, if more suspicious.

"Mr. Flint," said Mary Virginia, "you've about made up your mind to
stay on here with the Padre, haven't you? For a good long while, at
any rate? You wouldn't like to leave the Padre, would you?"

He stiffened. One could see the struggle within him.

"Well, miss, I can't see but that I've just got to stay on--for
awhile. Until he's tired of me and my ways, anyhow," he said gloomily.

Mary Virginia dismissed my tiredness with an airy wave of her hand.
She smiled.

"Do you know," said she earnestly, "I've had the funniest idea about
you, from the very first time I saw you? Well, I have. I've somehow
got the notion that you and the Padre _belong_. I think that's why you
came. I think you belong right here, in that darling little house,
studying butterflies and mounting them so beautifully they look alive.
I think you're never going to go away anywhere any more, but that
you're going to stay right here as long as you live!"

His face turned an ugly white, and his mouth fell open. He looked at
Mary Virginia almost with horror--Saul might have looked thus at the
Witch of Endor when she summoned the shade of Samuel to tell him that
the kingdom had been rent from his hand and his fate was upon him.

Mary Virginia nodded, thoughtfully.

"I feel so sure of it," said she, confidently, "that I'm going to ask
you to do me a favor. I want you to take care of Kerry for me. You
know I'm going away to school next week, and--he can't stay at home
when I'm not there. My father's away frequently, and he couldn't take
Kerry about with him, of course. And he couldn't be left with the
servants--somehow he doesn't like the colored people. He always growls
at them, and they're afraid of him. And my mother dislikes dogs
intensely--she's afraid of them, except those horrible little
toy-things that aren't _dogs_ any more." The scorn of the real
dog-lover was in her voice. "Kerry's used to the Parish House. He
loves the Padre, he'll soon love you, and he likes to play with
Pitache, so Madame wouldn't mind his being here. And--I'd be more
satisfied in my mind if he were with somebody that--that needed
him--and would like him a whole lot--somebody like you," she finished.

Now, Mary Virginia regarded Kerry even as the apple of her eye. The
dog was a noble and beautiful specimen of his race, thoroughbred to
the bone, a fine field dog, and the pride of the child's heart. He was
what only that most delightful of dogs, a thoroughbred Irish setter,
can be. John Flint gasped. Something perplexed, incredulous, painful,
dazzled, crept into his face and looked out of his eyes.

"_Me_?" he gasped. "You mean you're willing to let me keep your dog
for you? Yours?"

"I want to _give_ him to you," said Mary Virginia bravely enough,
though her voice trembled. "I am perfectly sure you'll love
him--better than any one else in the world would, except me myself. I
don't know why I know that, but I do know it. If you wanted to go
away, later on, why, you could turn him over to the Padre, because of
course you wouldn't want to have a dog following you about everywhere.
They're a lot of bother. But--somehow, I think you'll keep him. I
think you'll love him. He--he's a darling dog." She was too proud to
turn her head aside, but two large tears rolled down her cheeks, like
dew upon a rose.

John Flint stood stock-still, looking from her to the dog, and back
again. Kerry, sensing that something was wrong with his little
mistress, pawed her skirts and whined.

"Now I come to think of it," said John Flint slowly, "I never had
anything--anything alive, I mean--belong to me before."

Mary Virginia glanced up at him shrewdly, and smiled through her
tears. Her smile makes a funny delicious red V of her lower lip, and
is altogether adorable and seductive.

"That's just exactly why you thought nobody was worth anything," she
said. Then she bent over her dog and kissed him between his beautiful
hazel eyes.

"Kerry, dear," said she, "Kerry, dear Kerry, you don't belong to me
any more. I--I've got to go away to school--and you know you wouldn't
be happy at home without me. You belong to Mr. Flint now, and I'm sure
he needs you, and I know he'll love you almost as much as I do, and
he'll be very, very good to you. So you're to stay with him,
and--stand by him and be his dog, like you were mine. You'll remember,
Kerry? Good-by, my dear, dear, darling dog!" She kissed him again,
patted him, and thrust his collar into his new owner's hand.

"Go--good-by, everybody!" said she, in a muffled voice, and ran. I
think she would have cried childishly in another moment; and she was
trying hard to remember that she was growing up!

John Flint stood staring after her, his hand on the dog's collar,
holding him in. His face was still without a vestige of color, and his
eyes glittered. Then his other hand crept out to touch the dog's
head.

"It's wet--where she dropped tears on it! Parson ... she's given me
her dog ... that she loves enough to cry over!"

"He's a very fine dog, and she has had him and loved him from his
puppyhood," I reminded him. And I added, with a wily tongue: "You can
always turn him over to me, you know--if you decide to take to the
road and wish to get rid of a troublesome companion. A dog is bad
company for a man who wishes to dodge the police."

But he only shook his head. His eyes were troubled, and his forehead
wrinkled.

"Parson," said he, hesitatingly, "did you ever feel like you'd been
caught by--by Something reaching down out of the dark? Something big
that you couldn't see and couldn't ever hope to get away from, because
it's always on the job? Ain't it a hell of a feeling?"

"Yes," I agreed. "I've felt--caught by that Something, too. And it is
at first a terrifying sensation. Until--you learn to be glad."

"You're caught--and you know under your hat you're never going to be
able to get away any more. It'll hold you till you die!" said he, a
little wildly. "My God! I'm caught! First It bit off a leg on me, so I
couldn't run. Then It wished you and your bugs on me. And now--Yes,
sir; I'm done for. That kid got my goat this morning. My God, who'd
believe it? But it's true: I'm done for. She gave me her dog and she
got my goat!"



CHAPTER VI

"THY SERVANT WILL GO AND FIGHT WITH THIS PHILISTINE"
    1 Sam. 17: 32.


Mary Virginia had gone, weeping and bewept, and the spirit of youth
seemed to have gone with her, leaving the Parish House darkened
because of its absence. A sorrowful quiet brooded over the garden that
no longer echoed a caroling voice. Kerry, seeking vainly for the
little mistress, would come whining back to John Flint, and look up
mutely into his face; and finding no promise there, lie down,
whimpering, at his feet. The man seemed as desolate as the dog,
because of the child's departure.

"When I come back," Mary Virginia said to him at parting, "I expect
you'll know more about moths and butterflies than anybody else in the
world does. You're that sort. I'd love to be here, watching you grow
up into it, but I've got to go away and grow up into something myself.
I'm very glad you came here, Mr. Flint. You've helped me, lots."

"Me?" with husky astonishment.

"You, of course," said the child, serenely. "Because you are such a
good man, Mr. Flint, and so patient, and you stick at what you try to
do until you do it better than anybody else does. Often and often when
I've been trying to do sums--I'm frightfully stupid about
arithmetic--and I wanted to give up, I'd think of you over here just
trying and trying and keeping right on trying, until you'd gotten what
you wanted to know; and then _I'd_ keep on trying, too. The funny part
is, that I like you for making me do it. You see, I'm a very, very bad
person in some things, Mr. Flint," she said frankly. "Why, when my
mother has to tell me to look at so and so, and see how well they
behave, or how nicely they can do certain things, and how good they
are, and why don't I profit by such a good example, a perfectly horrid
raging sort of feeling comes all over me, and I want to be as naughty
as naughty! I feel like doing and saying things I'd never want to do
or say, if it wasn't for that good example. I just can't seem to
_bear_ being good-exampled. But you're different, thank goodness. Most
really good people are different, I guess."

He looked at her, dumbly--he had no words at his command. She missed
the irony and the tragedy, but she sensed the depths of feeling under
that mute exterior.

"I'm glad you're sorry I'm going away," said she, with the directness
that was so engaging. "I perfectly love people to feel sorry to part
with me. I hope and _hope_ they'll keep on being sorry--because
they'll be that much gladder when I come back. I don't believe there's
anything quite so wonderful and beautiful as having other folks like
you, except it's liking other folks yourself!"

"I never had to be bothered about it, either way," said he dryly. His
face twitched.

"Maybe that's because you never stayed still long enough in any one
place to catch hold," said she, and laughed at him.

"Good-by, Mr. Flint! I'll never see a butterfly or a moth, the whole
time I'm gone, without making believe he's a messenger from Madame,
and the Padre, and you, and Kerry. I'll play he's a carrier-butterfly,
with a message tucked away under his wings: 'Howdy, Mary Virginia!
I've just come from flying over the flowers in the Parish House
garden; and the folks are all well, and busy, and happy. But they
haven't forgotten you for a single solitary minute, and they miss you
and wish you'd come back; and they send you their dear, dear love--and
I'll carry your dear, dear love back to them!' So if you see a big,
big, beautiful, strange fellow come sailing by your window some
morning, why, that's mine, Mr. Flint! Remember!"

And then she was gone, and he had his first taste of unselfish human
sorrow. Heretofore his worries had been purely personal and
self-centered: this was different, and innocent. It shocked and
terrified him to find out how intensely he could miss another being,
and that being a mere child. He wasn't used to that sort of pain, and
it bewildered him.

Eustis himself had wanted the little girl sent to a preparatory school
which would fit her for one of the women's colleges. He had visions of
the forward sweep of women--visions which his wife didn't share. Her
daughter should go to the Church School at which she herself had been
educated, an exclusive and expensive institution where the daughters
of the wealthy were given a finishing hand-polish with ecclesiastical
emery, as a sort of social hall-mark. Mrs. Eustis had a horror of what
she called, in quotation-marks, the modern non-religious method of
educating young ladies.

The Eustis house was closed, and left in charge of the negro
caretakers, for Mrs. Eustis couldn't stand the loneliness of the place
after the child's departure, and Eustis himself found his presence
more and more necessary at the great plantation he was building up.
Mrs. Eustis left Appleboro, and my mother missed her. There was a vein
of pure gold underlying the placid little woman's character, which the
stronger woman divined and built upon.

Laurence, too, entered college that Fall. I had coached him, in such
hours as I could spare. He was conscientious enough, though his Greek
was not the Greek of Homer and he vexed the soul of my mother with a
French she said was spoke

    full fair and fetisly
    After ye schole of Strattford atte Bowe.

But if he hadn't Mary Virginia's sensitiveness to all beauty, nor her
playful fancy and vivid imagination, he was clear-brained and
clean-thinking, with that large perspective and that practical
optimism which seem to me so essentially American. He saw without
confusion both the thing as it was and as it could become. With only
enough humor to save him, he had a sternness more of the puritan than
of the cavalier blood from which he had sprung. Above all was he
informed with that new spirit brooding upon the face of all the
waters, a spirit that for want of a better name one might call the
Race Conscience.

It was this last aspect of the boy's character that amazed and
interested John Flint, who was himself too shrewd not to divine the
sincerity, even the commonsense, of what Laurence called "applied
Christianity." Altruism--and Slippy McGee! He listened with a puzzled
wonder.

"I wish," he grumbled to Laurence, "that you'd come off the roof. It
gives a fellow stiff neck rubbering up at you!"

"I'd rather stay up--the air's better, and you can see so much
farther," said Laurence. And he added hospitably: "There's plenty of
room--come on up, yourself!"

"With one leg?" sarcastically.

"And two eyes," said the boy. "Come on up--the sky's fine!" And he
laughed into the half-suspicious face.

The gimlet eyes bored into him, and the frank and truthful eyes met
them unabashed, unwavering, with a something in them which made the
other blink.

"When I got pitched into this burg," said the lame man thoughtfully,
"I landed all there--except a leg, but I never carried my brains in my
legs. I hadn't got any bats in my belfry. But I'm getting 'em. I'm
getting 'em so bad that when I hear some folks talk bughouse these
days it pretty near listens like good sense to me. Why, kid, I'm nut
enough now to dangle over the edge of believing you know what you're
talking about!"

"Fall over: I _know_ I know what I'm talking about," said Laurence
magnificently.

"I'm double-crossed," said John Flint, soberly and sadly, "Anyway I
look at it--" he swept the horizon with a wide-flung gesture, "it's
bugs for mine. I began by grannying bugs for _him_," he tossed his
head bull-like in my direction, "and I stand around swallowing hot
air from _you_--" He glared at Laurence, "and what's the result? Why,
that I've got bugs in the bean, that's what! Think of me licking an
all-day sucker a kid dopes out! _Me!_ Oh, he--venly saints!" he
gulped. "Ain't I the nut, though?"

"Well, supposing?" said Laurence, laughing. "Buck up! You _could_ be a
bad egg instead of a good nut, you know!"

John Flint's eyes slitted, then widened; his mouth followed suit
almost automatically. He looked at me.

"Can you beat it?" he wondered.

"Beating a bad egg would be a waste of time I wouldn't be guilty of,"
said I amusedly. "But I hope to live to see the good nut grow into a
fine tree."

"Do your damnedest--excuse me, parson!" said he contritely. "I mean,
don't stop for a little thing like _me_!"

Laurence leaned forward. "Man," said he, impressively, "he won't have
to! You'll be marking time and keeping step with him yourself before
you know it!"

"Huh!" said John Flint, non-committally.



Laurence came to spend his last evening at home with us.

"Padre," said he, when we walked up and down in the garden, after an
old custom, after dinner, "do you really know what I mean to do when
I've finished college and start out on my own hook?"

"Put 'Mayne & Son' on the judge's shingle and walk around the block
forty times a day to look at it!" said I, promptly.

"Of course," said he. "That first. But a legal shingle can be turned
into as handy a weapon as one could wish for, Padre, and _I'm_ going
to take that shingle and spank this sleepy-headed old town wide awake
with it!" He spoke with the conviction of youth, so sure of itself
that there is no room for doubt. There was in him, too, a hint of
latent power which was impressive. One did not laugh at Laurence.

"It's my town," with his chin out. "It could be a mighty good town.
It's going to become one. I expect to live all my life right here,
among my own people, and they've got to make it worth my while. I
don't propose to cut myself down to fit any little hole: I intend to
make that hole big enough to fit my possible measure."

"May an old friend wish more power to your shovel?"

"It'll be a steam shovel!" said he, gaily. Then his face clouded.

"Padre! I'm sick of the way things are run in Appleboro! I've talked
with other boys and they're sick of it, too. You know why they want to
get away? Because they think they haven't got even a fighting chance
here. Because towns like this are like billion-ton old wagons sunk so
deep in mudruts that nothing but dynamite can blow them out--and they
are not dealers in dynamite. If they want to do anything that even
_looks_ new they've got to fight the stand-patters to a finish, and
they're blockaded by a lot of reactionaries that don't know the
earth's moving. There are a lot of folks in the South, Padre, who've
been dead since the civil war, and haven't found it out themselves,
and won't take live people's word for it. Well, now, I mean to _do_
things. I mean to do them right here. And I certainly shan't allow
myself to be blockaded by anybody, living or dead. You've got to fight
the devil with fire;--I'm going to blockade those blockaders, and see
that the dead ones are decently buried."

"You have tackled a big job, my son."

"I like big jobs, Padre. They're worth while. Maybe I'll be able to
keep some of the boys home--the town needs them. Maybe I can keep some
of those poor kids out of the mills, too. Oh, yes, I expect a right
lively time!"

I was silent. I knew how supinely Appleboro lay in the hollow of a
hard hand. I had learned, too, how such a hand can close into a
strangling fist.

"Of course I can't clean up the whole state, and I can't reorganize
the world," said the boy sturdily. "I'm not such a fool as to try. But
I can do my level best to disinfect my own particular corner, and make
it fit for men and safe for women and kids to live and breathe in.
Padre, for years there hasn't been a rotten deal nor a brazen steal in
this state that the man who practically owns and runs this town hadn't
a finger in, knuckle-deep. _He's got to go_."

"Goliath doesn't always fall at the hand of the son of Jesse, my
little David," said I quietly. I also had dreamed dreams and seen
visions.

"That's about what my father says," said the boy. "He wants me to be a
successful man, a 'safe and sane citizen.' He thinks a gentleman
should practise his profession decently and in order. But to believe,
as I do, that you can wipe out corruption, that you can tackle poverty
the same as you would any other disease, and prevent it, as smallpox
and yellow fever are prevented, he looks upon as madness and a waste
of time."

"He has had sorrow and experience, and he is kind and charitable, as
well as wise," said I.

"That's exactly where the hardest part comes in for us younger
fellows. It isn't bucking the bad that makes the fight so hard: it's
bucking the wrong-idea'd good. Padre, one good man on the wrong side
is a stumbling-block for the stoutest-hearted reformer ever born. It's
men like my father, who regard the smooth scoundrel that runs this
town as a necessary evil, and tolerate him because they wouldn't soil
their hands dealing with him, that do the greatest injury to the
state. I tell you what, it wouldn't be so hard to get rid of the
devil, if it weren't for the angels!"

"And how," said I, ironically, "do you propose to set about smoothing
the rough and making straight the crooked, my son?"

"Flatten 'em out," said he, briefly. "Politics. First off I'm going to
practice general law; then I'll be solicitor-general for this county.
After that, I shall be attorney-general for the state. Later I may be
governor, unless I become senator instead."

"Well," said I, cautiously, "you'll be so toned down by that time that
you might make a very good governor indeed."

"I couldn't very well make a worse one than some we've already had,"
said the boy sternly. There was something of the accusing dignity of a
young archangel about him. I caught a glimpse of that newer America
growing up about us--an America gone back to the older, truer,
unbuyable ideals of our fathers.

"I guess you'd better tell me good-by now, Padre," said he, presently.
"And bless me, please--it's a pretty custom. I won't see you again,
for you'll be saying mass when I'm running for my train. I'll go tell
John Flint good-by, too."

He went over and rapped on the window, through which we could see
Flint sitting at his table, his head bent over a book.

"Good-by, John Flint" said Laurence. "Good luck to you and your leggy
friends! When I come back you'll probably have mandibles, and you'll
greet me with a nip, in pure Bugese."

"Good-by," said John Flint, lifting his head. Then, with unwonted
feeling: "I'm horrible sorry you've got to go--I'll miss you something
fierce. You've been very kind--thank you."

"Mind you take care of the Padre," said the boy, waiving the thanks
with a smile. "Don't let him work too hard."

"Who, me?" Flint's voice took the knife-edge of sarcasm. "Oh, sure! It
don't need but one leg to keep up with a gent trying to run a
thirty-six hour a day job with one-man power, does it? Son, take it
from me, when a man's got the real, simonpure, no-imitation,
soulsaving bug in his bean, a forty-legged cyclone couldn't keep up
with him, much less a guy with one pedal short." He glared at me
indignantly. From the first it has been one of his vainest notions
that I am perversely working myself to death.

"There's nothing to be done with the Padre, then, I'm afraid," said
Laurence, chuckling.

"I _might_ soak him in the cyanide jar for ten minutes a day without
killing him," mused Mr. Flint. "But," disgustedly, "what'd be the use?
When he came to and found he'd been that long idle he'd die of
heart-failure." He pushed aside the window screen, and the two shook
hands heartily. Then the boy, wringing my hand again, walked away
without another word. I felt a bit desolate--there are times when I
could envy women their solace of tears--as if he figured in his
handsome young person that newer, stronger, more conquering generation
which was marching ahead, leaving me, older and slower and sadder,
far, far behind it. Ah! To be once more that young, that strong, that
hopeful!

When I began to reflect upon what seemed visionary plans, I was
saddened, foreseeing inevitable disillusion, perhaps even stark
failure, ahead of him. That he would stubbornly try to carry out those
plans I did not doubt: I knew my Laurence. He might accomplish a
certain amount of good. But to overthrow Inglesby, the Boss of
Appleboro--for he meant no less than this--why, that was a horse of
another color!

For Inglesby was our one great financial figure. He owned our bank;
his was the controlling interest in the mills; he owned the factory
outright; he was president of half a dozen corporations and chairman
and director of many more.

Did we have a celebration? There he was, in the center of the stage,
with a jovial loud laugh and an ultra-benevolent smile to hide the
menace of his little cold piglike eyes, and the meaning of his heavy
jaw. Will the statement that he had a pew in every church in town
explain him? He had one in mine, too; paid for, which many of them are
not.

At the large bare office in the mill he was easy of access, and would
listen to what you had to say with flattering attention and sympathy.
But it was in his private office over the bank that this large spider
really spun the web of our politics. Mills, banks, churches, schools,
lights, railroads, stores, heating, water-power--all these juicy flies
apparently walked into his parlor of their own accord. He had made and
unmade governors; he had sent his men to Washington. How? We
suspected; but held our peace. If our Bible had bidden us Americans to
suffer rascals gladly--instead of mere fools--we couldn't be more
obedient to a mandate.

Men like James Eustis and Judge Mayne despised Inglesby--but gave him
a wide berth. They wouldn't be enmeshed. It was known that Major
Appleby Cartwright had blackballed him.

"I can stand a man, suh, that likes to get along in this world--within
proper bounds. But Inglesby hasn't got any proper bounds. He's a--a
cross between a Republican mule and a party-bolting boa-constrictor,
an' a hybrid like that hasn't got any place in nature. On top of that
he drinks ten cents a bottle grape juice and smokes five cent cigars.
And he's got the brazen and offensive effrontery to offer 'em to
self-respectin' men!"

And here was Laurence, our little Laurence, training himself to
overthrow this overgrown Goliath! Well, if the boy could not bring
this Philistine to the earth, he might yet manage to give him a few
manful clumps on the head; perhaps enough to insure a chronic
headache.

So thinking, I went in and watched John Flint finish a mounting-block
from a plan in the book open upon the table, adding, however, certain
improvements of his own.

He laid the block aside and then took a spray of fresh leaves and fed
it to a horned and hungry caterpillar prowling on a bit of bare stem
at the bottom of his cage.

"Get up there on those leaves, you horn-tailed horror! Move on,--you
lepidopterous son of a wigglejoint, or I'll pull your real name on you
in a minute and paralyze you stiff!" He drew a long breath. "You know
how I'm beginning to remember their real names? I swear 'em half an
hour a day. Next time you have trouble with those hickeys of yours,
try swearing caterpillar at 'em, and you'll find out."

I laughed, and he grinned with me.

"Say," said he, abruptly. "I've been listening with both my ears to
what that boy was talking to you about awhile ago. Thinks he can buck
the Boss, does he?"

"Perhaps he may," I admitted.

"Nifty old bird, the Big Un," said Mr. Flint, squinting his eyes.
"And," he went on, reflectively, "he's sure got your number in this
burg. Take you by and large, you lawabiders are a real funny sort,
ain't you? Now, there's Inglesby, handing out the little kids their
diplomas come school-closing, and telling 'em to be real good, and
maybe when they grow up he'll have a job in pickle for 'em--work like
a mule in a treadmill, twelve hours, no unions, _and_ the coroner to
sit on the remains, free and gratis, for to ease the widow's mind.
Inglesby's got seats in all your churches--first-aid to the parson's
pants-pockets.

"Inglesby's right there on the platform at all your spiel-fests,
smirking at the women and telling 'em not to bother their nice little
noddles about anything but holding down their natural jobs of being
perfect ladies--ain't he and other gents just like him always right
there holding down _their_ natural jobs of protecting 'em and being
influenced to do what's right? Sure he is! And nobody howls for the
hook! You let him be It--him with a fist in the state's jeans up to
the armpit!

"Look here, that Mayne kid's dead right. It's you good guys that are
to blame. We little bad ones see you kowtowing to the big worse ones,
and we get to thinking _we_ can come in under the wires easy winners,
too. However, let me tell you something while I'm in the humor to gas.
It's this: _sooner or later everybody gets theirs_. My sort and
Inglesby's sort, we all get ours. Duck and twist and turn and sidestep
all we want, at the end it's right there waiting for us, with a loaded
billy up its sleeve: _Ours!_ Some fine day when we're looking the
other way, thinking we've even got it on the annual turnout of the
cops up Broadway for class, why, Ours gets up easy on its hind legs,
spits on its mitt, and hands us exactly what's coming to us, biff! and
we wake up sitting on our necks in the middle of day-before-yesterday
and year-after-next. I got mine. If I was you I wouldn't be too
cock-sure that kid don't give Inglesby his, some of these days, good
and plenty."

"Maybe so," said I, cautiously.

"Gee, that'd be fly-time for all the good guys in this tank, wouldn't
it?" he grinned. "Sure! I can see 'em now, patting the bump on their
beams where they think the brain-patch sprouts, and handing out hunks
of con to the Lord about his being right on his old-time job of
swatting sinners in their dinners. Yet they'll all of them go right on
leading themselves up to be trimmed by the very next holdup that's got
the nerve to do them! Friend, believe a goat when he tells you that
you stillwater-and-greenpasture sheep are some bag of nuts!"

"Thank you," said I, with due meekness.

"Keep the change," said he, unabashed. "I wasn't meaning _you_,
anyhow. I've got more manners, I hope, than to do such. And, parson,
you don't need to have cold feet about young Mayne. If you ask me,
_I'd_ bet the limit on him. Why, I think so much of that boy that if
he was a rooster I'd put the gaffs and my last dollar on him, and back
him to whip everything in feathers clean up to baldheaded eagles.
Believe me, he'd do it!" he finished, with enthusiasm.

Bewildered by a mental picture of a Laurence with ruffled
neck-feathers and steel spurs, I hurriedly changed the subject to the
saner and safer one of our own immediate affairs.

"Yep, ten orders in to-day's mail and seven in yesterday's; and good
orders for the wasp-moths, single or together, and that house in New
York wants steady supplies from now on. And here's a fancy shop wants
a dozen trays, like that last one I finished. We're looking up," said
he, complacently.



The winter that followed was a trying one, and the Guest Rooms were
never empty. I like to record that John Flint put his shoulder to the
wheel and became Madame's right hand man and Westmoreland's faithful
ally. His wooden leg made astonishingly little noise, and his entrance
into a room never startled the most nervous patient. He went on
innumerable errands, and he performed countless small services that in
themselves do not seem to amount to much, but swell into a great
total.

"He may have only one leg," said Westmoreland, when Flint had helped
him all of one night with a desperately ill millworker, "but he
certainly has two hands; he knows how to use his ears and eyes, he's
dumb until he ought to speak, and then he speaks to the point. Father,
Something knew what It was about when you and I were allowed to drag
that tramp out of the teeth of death! Yes, yes, I'm certainly glad and
grateful we were allowed to save John Flint."

From that time forth the big man gave his ex-patient a liking which
grew with his years. Absent-minded as he was, he could thereafter
always remember to find such things as he thought might interest him.
Appleboro laughs yet about the day Dr. Westmoreland got some small
butterflies for his friend, and having nowhere else to put them,
clapped them under his hat, and then forgot all about them; until he
lifted his hat to some ladies and the swarm of insects flew out.

Without being asked, and as unostentatiously as he did everything
else, Flint had taken his place in church every Sunday.

"Because it'd sort of give you a black eye if I didn't," he explained.
"Skypiloting's your lay, father, and I'll see you through with it as
far as I can. I couldn't fall down on any man that's been as white to
me as you've been."

I must confess that his conception of religion was very, very hazy,
and his notions of church services and customs barbarous. For
instance, he disliked the statues of the saints exceedingly. They
worried him.

"I can't seem to stand a man dolled-up in skirts," he confessed. "Any
more than I'd be stuck on a dame with whiskers. It don't somehow look
right to me. Put the he-saints in pants instead of those brown kimonas
with gold crocheting and a rope sash, and I'd have more respect for
'em."

When I tried to give him some necessary instructions, and to penetrate
the heathen darkness in which he seemed immersed, he listened with the
utmost respect and attention--and wrinkled his brow painfully, and
blinked, and licked his lips.

"That's all right, father, that's all right. If you say it's so, I
guess it's so. I'll take your word for it. If it's good enough for you
and Madame, there's got to be something in it, and it's sure good
enough for me. Look here: the little girl and young Mayne have got a
different brand from yours, haven't they?"

"Neither of them is of the Old Faith."

"Huh! Well, I tell you what you do: you just switch me in somewhere
between you and Madame and him and her. That'll give me a line on all
of you--and maybe it'll give all of you a line on me. See?"

I saw, but as through a glass darkly. So the matter rested. And I must
in all humility set down that I have never yet been able to get at
what John Flint really believes he believes.



CHAPTER VII

THE GOING OF SLIPPY MCGEE


Little by little, so quietly as to be unnoticeable in the working, but
with, cumulative effect; built under the surface like those coral
reefs that finally rear themselves into palm-crowned peaks upon the
Pacific, during the years' slow upward march had John Flint grown.

Nature had never meant him for a criminal. The evil conditions that
society saddles upon the slums had set him wrong because they gave him
no opportunity to be right. Now even among butterflies there are
occasional aberrants, but they are the rare exceptions. Give the grub
his natural food, his chance to grow, protect him from parasites in
the meanwhile, and he will presently become the normal butterfly. That
is the Law.

At a crucial phase in this man's career his true talisman--a gray
moth--had been put into his hand; and thereby he came into his
rightful heritage.

I count as one of my red-letter days that on which I found him
brooding over the little gray-brown chrysalis of the Papilio
Cresphontes, that splendid swallowtail whose hideous caterpillar we in
the South call the orange puppy, from the fancied resemblance the hump
upon it bears to the head of a young dog. Its chrysalis looks so much
like a bit of snapped-off twig that the casual eye misses it,
fastened to a stem by a girdle of silk or lying among fallen leaves.

"I watched it ooze out of an egg like a speck of dirty water. I
watched it eat a thousand times its own weight and grow into the
nastiest wretch that crawls. I saw it stop eating and spit its stomach
out and shrivel up, and crawl out of its skin and pull its own head
off, and bury itself alive in a coffin made out of itself, a coffin
like a bit of rotting wood. Look at it! There it lies, stone-dead for
all a man's eyes can see!

"And yet this thing will answer a call no ears can hear and crawl out
of its coffin something entirely different from what went into it!
I've seen it with my own eyes, but how it's done I don't know; no, nor
no man since the world was made knows, or could do it himself. What
does it? What gives that call these dead-alive things hear in the
dark? What makes a crawling ugliness get itself ready for what's
coming--how does it _know_ there's ever going to be a call, or that
it'll hear it without fail?"

"Some of us call it Nature: but others call it God," said I.

"Search me! I don't know what It is--but I do know there's got to be
Something behind these things, anyhow," said he, and turned the
chrysalis over and over in his palm, staring down at it thoughtfully.
He had used Westmoreland's words, once applied to his own case! "Oh,
yes, there's Something, because I've watched It working with grubs,
getting 'em ready for five-inch moths and hand-colored butterflies,
Something that's got the time and the patience and the know-how to
build wings as well as worlds." He laid the little inanimate mystery
aside.

"It's come to the point, parson, where I've just _got_ to know more. I
know enough now to know how much I don't know, because I've got a peep
at how much there is to know. There's a God's plenty to find out, and
it's up to me to go out and find it."

"Some of the best and brightest among men have given all the years of
their lives to just that finding out and knowing more--and they found
their years too few and short for the work. But such help as you need
and we can get, you shall have, please God!" said I.

"I'm ready for the word to start, chief." And heaven knows he was.

His passion transformed him; he forgot himself; took his mind off
himself and his affairs and grievances and hatreds and fears; and thus
had chance to expand and to grow, in those following years of
patientest effort, of untiring research and observance, of lovingest
study. Days in the open woods and fields burned his pale skin a good
mahogany, and stamped upon it the windswept freshness of out of doors.
The hunted and suspicious glance faded from his eyes, which took on
more and more the student's absorbed intensity; the mouth lost its
sinister straightness; and while it retained an uncompromising
firmness, it learned how to smile. He was a familiar figure, tramping
from dawn to dusk with Kerry at his heels, for the dog obeyed Mary
Virginia's command literally. He looked upon John Flint as his special
charge, and made himself his fourlegged red shadow. I am sure that if
we had seen Kerry appear in the streets of Appleboro without John
Flint, we would have incontinently stopped work, sounded a general
alarm, and gone to hunt for his body. And to have seen John Flint
without Kerry would have called forth condolences.

Sometimes--when I had time--I went with him moth-hunting at night; and
never, never could either of us forget those enchanted hours under the
stars!

We moved in a quiet fresh and dewy, with the night wind upon us like a
benediction. Sometimes we skirted a cypress swamp and saw the shallow
black water with blacker trees reflected upon its bosom, and heard the
frogs' canorous quarrelings, and the stealthy rustlings of creatures
of the dark. We crossed dreaming fields, and smelt leaves and grasses
and sleeping flowers. We saw the heart of the wood bared to the magic
of the moon, which revealed a hidden and haunting beauty of places
commonplace enough by day; as if the secret souls of things showed
themselves only in the holy dark.

For the world into which we stepped for a space was not our world, but
the fairy world of the Little People, the world of the Children of the
Moon. And oh, the moths! Now it was a tiger, with his body banded with
yellow and his white opaque delicate wings spotted with black; now the
great green silken Luna with long curved tails bordered with lilac or
gold, and vest of ermine; now some quivering Catocala, with afterwings
spread to show orange and black and crimson; now the golden-brown Io,
with one great black velvet spot; and now some rarer, shyer fellow
over which we gloated.

How they flashed and fluttered about the lantern, or circled about the
trees upon which the feast had been spread! The big yellow-banded
sphinx whirred hither and thither on his owl-like wings, his large
eyes glowing like rubies, hung quivering above some flower for a
moment, and then was off again as swift as thought. The light drew the
great Regalis, all burnished tawny brown, striped and spotted with raw
gold; and the Cynthia, banded with lilac, her heavy body tufted with
white. The darkness in which they moved, the light which, for a moment
revealed them, seemed to make their colors _alive_; for they show no
such glow and glory in the common day; they pale when the moon pales,
and when the sun is up they are merely moths; they are no longer the
fantastic, glittering, gorgeous, throbbing Children of the Dark.

Home we would go, at an hour when the morning star blazed like a
lighted torch, and the pearl-gray sky was flushing with pink. No haul
he had ever made could have given him such joy as the treasures
brought home in dawns like these, so free of evil that his heart was
washed in the night dew and swept by the night wind.

My mother, after her pleasant, housewifely fashion, baked a big iced
cake for him on the day he replaced his clumsy wooden peg with the
life-like artificial limb he himself had earned and paid for. I had
wished more than once to hasten this desirable day; but prudently
restrained myself, thinking it best for him to work forward unaided.
It had taken months of patient work, of frugality, and planning, and
counting, and saving, to cover a sum which, once on a time, he might
have gotten in an hour's evil effort. And it represented no small
achievement and marked no small advance, so that it was really the
feast day we made of it. That limb restored him to a dignity he seemed
to have abdicated. It hid his obvious misfortune--you could not at
first glance tell that he was a cripple, a something of which he had
been morbidly conscious and savagely resentful. He would never again
be able to run, or even to walk rapidly for any length of time,
although he covered the ground at a good and steady gait; and as he
grew more and more accustomed to the limb there was only a slight limp
to distinguish him. The use of the stick he thought best to carry
became perfunctory. I have seen Kerry carrying that stick when his
master had forgotten all about it.

Meeting him now upon the streets, plainly but really well-dressed,
scrupulously brushed, his linen immaculate, and with his trimmed red
beard, his eyeglasses, and his soft hat, he conveyed the impression of
being a professional man--say a pleasantly homely and scholarly
college professor. There was a fixed sentiment in Appleboro that I
knew very much more about Mr. Flint's past than I would tell--which
was perfectly true, and went undenied by me; that he had seen better
days; that he had been the black sheep of a good family, gotten into a
scrape of some sort, and had then taken to traveling a rough road into
a far country, eating husks with the swine, like many another
prodigal; and that aware of this I had kept him with me until he found
himself again.

So when folks met him and Kerry they smiled and spoke, for we are
friendly people and send no man to Coventry without great cause. And
there wasn't a child, black or white, who didn't know and like the
man with the butterfly net.

The country people for miles around knew and loved him, too; for he
walked up and down the earth and went to and fro in it, full of
curious and valuable knowledge shared freely as the need arose. He
would glance at your flower-garden, for instance, and tell you what
insect visitors your flowers had, and what you should do to check
their ravages. He'd walk about your out-buildings and commend
white-wash, and talk about insecticides; and you'd learn that bees are
partial to blue, but flies are not; and that mosquitoes seem to
dislike certain shades of yellow. And then he'd leave you to digest
it.

He was a quiet evangelist, a forerunner of that Grand Army which will
some day arise, not to murder and maim men, but to conquer man's
deadliest foe and greatest economic menace--the injurious insect.

It was he who spread the tidings of Corn and Poultry and Live Stock
Clubs, stopping by many a lonely farm to whisper a word in the ears of
discouraged boys, or to drop a hint to unenlightened fathers and
mothers.

He carried about in his pockets those invaluable reports and bulletins
which the government issues for the benefit and enlightenment of
farmers; and these were left, with a word of praise, where they would
do the most good.

Those same bulletins from the Bureau of Entomology had planted in John
Flint's heart the seed which bore such fruit of good citizenship. The
whole course of his early years had tended to make him suspicious of
government, which spelt for him police and prison, the whole grim
machinery which threatened him and which he in turn threatened. He had
feared and hated it; it caught men and shut them up and broke them. If
he ever asked himself, "What can my government do for me?" he had to
answer: "It can put me in prison and keep me there; it can even send me
to the Chair." Wherefore government was a thing to hate, to injure--and
to escape from.

The first thing he had ever found worthy of respect and admiration in
this same government was one of its bulletins.

"Where'd you get this?"

"I asked for it, and the Bureau sent it."

"Oh! You've got a friend there!"

"No. The bulletins are free to any one interested enough to ask for
them."

"You mean to say the government gets up things like this--pays men to
find out and write 'em up--pays to have 'em printed--and then gives
'em away to _anybody_? Why, they're valuable!"

"Yes; but they are nevertheless quite free. I have a number, if you'd
like to go over them. Or you can send for new ones."

"But why do they do it? Where's the graft?" he wondered.

"The graft in this case is common sense in operation. If farms can be
run with less labor and loss and more profit and pleasure, why, the
whole country is benefited, isn't it? Don't you understand, the
government is trying to help those who need help, and therefore is
willing to lend them the brains of its trained and picked experts? It
isn't selfish thwart that aim, is it?"

He said nothing. But he read and re-read the bulletins I had, and sent
for more, which came to him promptly. They didn't know him, at the
Bureau; they asked him no questions; he wasn't going to pay anybody so
much as a penny. They assumed that the man who asked for advice and
information was entitled to all they could reasonably give him, and
they gave it as a matter of course. That is how and why he found
himself in touch with his Uncle Sam, a source hitherto disliked and
distrusted. This source was glad to put its trained intelligence at
his service and the only reward it looked to was his increased
capacity to succeed in his work! He simply couldn't dislike or
distrust that which benefited him; and as his admiration and respect
for the Department of Agriculture grew, unconsciously his respect and
admiration for the great government behind it grew likewise. After
all, it was _his_ government which was reaching across intervening
miles, conveying information, giving expert instruction, telling him
things he wanted to know and encouraging him to go right on and find
out more for himself!

_Now_ if he had asked himself what his government could do for him, he
had to answer: "It can help me to make good."

And he began to understand that this was possible because he obeyed
the law, and that only in intelligent obedience and co-operation is
there any true freedom. The law no longer meant skulking by day and
terror by night; it was protection and peace, and a chance to work in
the open, and the sympathy and understanding and comradeship of
decent folks. The government was no longer a brute force which
arbitrarily popped men into prison; it was the common will of a free
people, just as the law was the common conscience.

I dare not say that he learned all this easily, or all at once, or
even willingly. None of us learns our great lessons easily. We have to
live them, breathe them, work them out with sweat and tears. That we
do learn them, even inadequately, makes the glory and the wonder of
man.

And so John Flint went to school to the government of the United
States, and carried its little text-books about with him and taught
them to others in even more need that he; and heckled hopeless boys
into Corn Clubs; and coaxed sullen mothers and dissatisfied girls into
Poultry and Tomato Clubs; and was full of homely advice upon such
living subjects as the spraying of fruit trees, and how to save them
from blight and scale-insects, and how to get rid of flies, and
cut-worms, and to fight the cattle-tick, which is our curse; and the
preservation of birds, concerning which he was rabid. His liking for
birds began with Miss Sally Ruth's pigeons and the friendly birds in
our garden. And as he learned to know them his love for them grew. I
have seen him daily visit a wren's nest without once alarming the
little black-eyed mother. I have heard him give the red-bird's call,
and heard that loveliest of all birds answer him. And I have seen the
impudent jays, within reach of his hand, swear at him unabashed and
unafraid, because he fed a vireo first.

I like to think of his intimate friendship with the wholesome country
children--not the least of his blessings. He was their chief visitor
from the outside world. He knew wonderful secrets about things one
hadn't noticed before, and he could make miracles with his quick
strong fingers. He'd sit down, his stick and knapsack beside him, his
glamorous dog at his feet, and while you and your sisters and brothers
and friends and neighbors hung about him like a cluster of tow-headed
bees, he'd turn a few sticks and bits of cloth and twine and a tack or
two, and an old roller-skate wheel he took out of his pocket, into an
air-ship! He could go down by your little creek and make you a
water-wheel, or a windmill. He could make you marvelous little men,
funny little women, absurd animals, out of corks or peanuts. He knew,
too, just exactly the sort of knife your boy-heart ached for--and at
parting you found that very knife slipped into your enraptured palm.
You might save the pennies you earned by picking berries and gathering
nuts, but you could never, never find at any store any candy that
tasted like the sticks that came out of his pockets, and you needn't
hope to try. He had the inviolable secret of that candy, and he
imparted to it a divine flavor no other candy ever possessed. If you
were a little doll-less girl, he didn't leave you with the provoking
promise that Santa Claus would bring you one if you were good. He was
so sure you were good that he made you right then and there a
wonderful doll out of corn-husks, with shredded hair, and a frock of
his own handkerchief. When he came again you got another doll--a store
doll; but I think your child-heart clung to the corn-baby with the
handkerchief dress. I have often wondered how many little cheeks
snuggled against John Flint's home-made dollies, how many innocent
breasts cradled them; how many a little fellow carried his knife to
bed with him, afraid to let it get out of reach of a hard little hand,
because he might wake up in the morning and find he had only dreamed
it! No, I hardly think the country children were the least of John
Flint's blessings. They would run to meet him, hold on to his hands,
drag him here and there to show him what wonders their sharp eyes had
discovered since his last visit; and give him, with shining eyes, such
cocoons and caterpillars, and insects as they had found for him. It
was they who called him the Butterfly Man, a name which spread over
the whole country-side. If you had asked for John Flint, folks would
have stared. And if you described him--a tall man in a Norfolk suit,
with a red beard and a red dog, and an insect case:

"Oh, you mean the Butterfly Man! Sure. You'll find him about somewhere
with the kids." If there was anything he couldn't have, in that
county, it was because folks hadn't it to give if he should ask.

At home his passion for work at times terrified me. When I protested:

"I was twenty-five years old when I landed here," he reminded me. "So
I've got twenty-five years' back-work to catch up with."

He had taken over a correspondence that had since become voluminous,
and which included more and more names that stood for very much.
Sometimes when I read aloud a passage from a letter that praised him,
he turned red, and writhed like a little boy whose ears are being
relentlessly washed by his elders.

By this time he had learned to really classify; heavens, how
unerringly he could place an insect in its proper niche! It was a sort
of sixth sense with him. That cold, clear, incisive power of brain
which on a time had made Slippy McGee the greatest cracksman in
America, was, trained and disciplined in a better cause, to make John
Flint in later years an international authority upon lepidoptera, an
observer to whom other observers deferred, a naturalist whose dictum
settled disputed points. And I knew it, I foresaw it!

_Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!_ I grew as vain over his enlarging
powers as if I had been the Mover of the Game, not a pawn. I felt,
gloriously, that I had not lived for nothing. A great naturalist is
not born every day, no, nor every year, nor even every century. And I
had caught me a great burglar and I had hatched me a great naturalist!
My Latin soul was enraptured with this ironic anomaly. I could not
choose but love the man for that.

I really had some cause for vanity. Others than myself had been
gradually drawn to the unassuming Butterfly Man. Westmoreland loved
him. A sympathetic listener who seldom contradicted, but often
shrewdly suggested, Flint somehow knew how to bring out the big
doctor's best; and in consequence found himself in contact with a mind
above all meanness and a nature as big and clean as a spray-swept
beach.

"Oh, my, my, my, what a surgeon gone to waste!" Westmoreland would
lament, watching the long, sure fingers at work. "Well, I suppose it's
all for the best that Father De Rancé beat me to you--at least you've
done less damage learning your trade." So absorbed would he become
that he sometimes forget cross patients who were possibly fuming
themselves into a fever over his delay.

Eustis, who had met the Butterfly Man on the country roads and had
stopped his horse for an informal chat, would thereafter go out of his
way for a talk with him. These two reticent men liked each other
immensely. At opposite poles, absolutely dissimilar, they yet had odd
similarities and meeting-points. Eustis was nothing if not practical;
he was never too busy to forget to be kind. Books and pamphlets that
neither Flint nor I could have hoped to possess found their way to us
through him. Scientific periodicals and the better magazines came
regularly to John Flint's address. That was Eustis's way. This
friendship put the finishing touch upon the Butterfly Man's repute. He
was my associate, and my mother was devoted to him. Miss Sally Ruth,
whose pet pear-tree he had saved and whose pigeons he had cured,
approved of him, too, and said so with her usual openness.
Westmoreland was known to be his firm friend; nobody could forget the
incident of those butterflies in the doctor's hat! Major Cartwright
liked him so much that he even bore with the dogs, though Pitache in
particular must have sorely strained his patience. Pitache cherished
the notion that it was his duty to pass upon all visitors to the
Butterfly Man's rooms. For some reason, known only to himself, the
little dog also cherished a deep-seated grudge against the major, the
very sound of whose voice outside the door was enough to send him
howling under the table, where he lay with his head on his paws, a
wary eye cocked balefully, and his snarls punctuating the Major's
remarks.

"He smells my Unitarian soul, confound him!" said the major. "An' he's
so orthodox he thinks he'll get chucked out of dog-heaven, if he
doesn't show his disapproval."

The little dog did finally learn to accept the major's presence
without outward protest; though the major declared that Pitache always
hung down his tail when he came and hung it up when he left!

The Butterfly Man accepted whatever friendliness was proffered without
diffidence, but with no change in his natural reserve. You could tell
him anything: he listened, made few comments and gave no advice, was
absolutely non-shockable, and never repeated what he heard. The
unaffected simplicity of his manner delighted my mother. She said you
couldn't tell her--there was good blood in that man, and he had been
more than any mere tramp before he fell into our hands! Why, just
observe his manner, if you please! It was the same to everybody; he
had, one might think, no sense whatever of caste, creed, age, sex, or
color; and yet he neither gave offense nor received it.

Those outbursts which had so terrified me at first came at rare and
rarer intervals. If I were to live for a thousands years I should
never be able to forget the last and worst; which fell upon him
suddenly and without warning, on a fine morning while he sat on the
steps of his verandah, and I beside him with my Book of Hours in my
hand. In between the Latin prayers I sensed pleasantly the light wind
that rustled the vines, and how the Mayne bees went grumbling from
flower to flower, and how one single bird was singing to himself over
and over the self-same song, as if he loved it; and how the sunlight
fell in a great square, like a golden carpet, in front of the steps.
It was all very still and peaceful. I was just turning a page, when
John Flint jerked his pipe out of his mouth, swung his arm back, and
hurled the pipe as far as he could. I watched it, involuntarily, and
saw where it fell among our blue hydrangeas; from which a thin spiral
of smoke arose lazily in the calm air. But Flint shoved his hat back
on his head, sat up stiffly, and swore.

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!



CHAPTER VIII

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.



CHAPTER IX

NESTS


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."†

† Heaven.

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:

          OBITUARIES

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!"

"You won't?"

"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.



CHAPTER X

THE BLUEJAY


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 fêted, 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 blasé
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.

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 Rancé?
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?"

He reflected.

"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!



CHAPTER XI

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 Clélie's cakes. Clélie 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, Clélie, 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 Clélie calmly.

"Married! Clélie!" said my mother, in consternation. "Do you mean to
tell me you're planning to leave me, at this time of our lives?"

Clélie 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, Clélie?" 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. Clélie 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 Rancé 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?"

"Politics."

"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."



CHAPTER XII

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 Rancé 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 Rancé'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 Clélie
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 preëmpted.

"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 Clélie 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 Rancé 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.



CHAPTER XIII

"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.

Therefore Mr. Flint duteously appeared at intervals among the elect,
and appeared even to advantage. And my mother remarked, complacently,
that blood will tell: he had the air! He was not expected to dance,
but he was a superb cardplayer. He never told jokes, and so avoided
deadly repetition. He had in a large measure that virtue the Chinese
extol--the virtue of allowing others to save their faces in peace. Was
it any wonder Mr. Flint's social position was soon solidly
established?

He played the game as my mother forced it upon him, though at times, I
think, it bored and chafed him sorely. What chafed him even more
sorely was the unprecedented interest many young ladies--and some old
enough to know better--suddenly evinced in entomology.

Mr. Flint almost overnight developed a savage cunning in eluding the
seekers of entomological lore. One might suppose a single man would
rejoice to see his drab workroom swarm with these brightly-colored
fluttering human butterflies; he bore their visits as visitations,
displaying the chastened resignation Job probably showed toward the
latest ultra-sized carbuncle.

"Cheer up!" urged Laurence, who was watching this turn of affairs with
unfeeling mirth. "The worst is yet to come. These are only the
chickens: wait until the hens get on your trail!"

"Mr. Flint," said Mary Virginia one afternoon, rubbing salt into his
smarting wounds, "Mr. Flint, I am so glad all the girls like you so
much. You fascinate them. They say you are such a profoundly clever
and interesting man, Mr. Flint! Why, some of those girls are perfectly
demented about you!"

"Demented," said he, darkly, "is the right word for them when it comes
down to fussing about _me_." Now Laurence had just caught him in his
rooms, and, declaring that he looked overworked and pale, had dragged
him forcibly outside on the porch, where we were now sitting. Mary
Virginia, in a white skirt, sport coat, and a white felt hat which
made her entrancingly pretty, had been visiting my mother and now
strolled over to John Flint's, after her old fashion.

"I feel like making the greatest sort of a fuss about you myself," she
said honestly. "Anyhow, I'm mighty glad girls like you. It's a good
sign."

"If they do--though God knows I can't see why--I'm obliged to them,
seeing it pleases _you_!" said Flint, without, however, showing much
gratitude in eyes or voice. "To tell you the truth, it looks to me at
times as if they were wished on me."

Mary Virginia tried to look horrified, and giggled instead.

"If I could only make any of them understand anything!" said the
Butterfly Man desperately, "but I can't. If only they really wanted to
know, I'd be more than glad to teach them. But they don't. I show them
and show them and tell them and tell them, over and over and over
again, and the same thing five minutes later, and they haven't even
listened! They don't care. What do they take up my time and say they
like my butterflies for, when they don't like them at all and don't
want to know anything about them? That's what gets me!"

Laurence winked at Mary Virginia, shamelessly.

"Bugs!" said he, inelegantly. "That's what's intended to get you, you
old duffer!"

"Mr. Flint," said Mary Virginia, with dancing eyes. "I don't blame
those girls one single solitary bit for wanting to know all
about--butterflies."

"But they don't want to know, I tell you!" Mr. Flint's voice rose
querulously.

"My dear creature, I'd be stuck on you myself if I were a girl," said
Laurence sweetly. "Padre, prepare yourself to say, 'Bless you, my
children!' I see this innocent's finish." And he began to sing, in a
lackadaisical manner, through his nose:

    "Now you're married you must obey,
     You must be true to all you say,
     Live together all your life--"

No answering smile came to John Flint's lips. He made no reply to the
light banter, but stiffened, and stared ahead of him with a set face
and eyes into which crept an expression of anguish. Mary Virginia,
with a quick glance, laid her hand on his arm.

"Don't mind Laurence and me, we're a pair of sillies. You and the
Padre are too good to put up with us the way you do," she said,
coaxingly. "And--we girls do like you, Mr. Flint, whether we're wished
on you or not."

That seductive "we" in that golden voice routed him, horse and foot.
He looked at the small hand on his arm, and his glance went swiftly to
the sweet and innocent eyes looking at him with such frank
friendliness.

"It's better than I deserve," he said, gently enough. "And it isn't
I'm not grateful to the rest of them for liking me,--if they do. It's
that I want to box their ears when they pretend to like my insects,
and don't."

"Being a gentleman has its drawbacks," said I, tentatively.

"Believe _me_!" he spoke with great feeling. "It's nothing short of
doing a life-stretch!"

The boy and girl laughed gaily. When he spoke thus it added to his
unique charm. So profoundly were they impressed with what he had
become, that even what he had been, as they remembered it, increased
their respect and affection. That past formed for him a somber
background, full of half-lights and shadows, against which he stood
out with the revealing intensity of a Rembrandt portrait.

"What I came over to tell you, is that Madame says you're to stay home
this evening, Mr. Flint," said Mary Virginia, comfortably. "I'm
spending the night with Madame, you're to know, and we're planning a
nice folksy informal sort of a time; and you're to be home."

"Orders from headquarters," commented Laurence.

"All right," agreed the Butterfly Man, briefly.

Mary Virginia shook out her white skirts, and patted her black hair
into even more distractingly pretty disorder.

"I've got to get back to the office--mean case I'm working on,"
complained Laurence. "Mary Virginia, walk a little way with me, won't
you? Do, child! It will sweeten all my afternoon and make my work
easier."

"You haven't grown up a bit--thank goodness!" said Mary Virginia. But
she went with him.

The Butterfly Man looked after them speculatively.

"Mrs. Eustis," he remarked, "is an ambitious sort of a lady, isn't
she? Thinks in millions for her daughter, expects her to make a great
match and all that. Miss Sally Ruth told me she'd heard Mrs. Eustis
tried once or twice to pull off a match to suit herself, but Miss Mary
Virginia wouldn't stand for it."

"Why, naturally, Mrs. Eustis would like to see the child well settled
in life," said I.

"Oh, you don't have to be a Christian _all_ the time," said he calmly.
"I know Mrs. Eustis, too. She talked to me for an hour and a half
without stopping, one night last week. See here, parson: Inglesby's
got a roll that outweighs his record. Suppose he wants to settle down
and reform--with a young wife to help him do it--wouldn't it be a real
Christian job to lady's-aid him?"

I eyed him askance.

"Now there's Laurence," went on the Butterfly Man, speculatively.
"Laurence is making plenty of trouble, but not so much money. No, Mrs.
Eustis wouldn't faint at the notion of Inglesby, but she'd keel over
like a perfect lady at the bare thought of Laurence."

"I don't see," said I, crossly, "why she should be called upon to
faint for either of them. Inglesby's--Inglesby. That makes him
impossible. As for the boy, why, he rocked that child in her cradle."

"That didn't keep either of them from growing up a man and a woman.
Looks to me as if they were beginning to find it out, parson."

I considered his idea, and found it so eminently right, proper, and
beautiful, that I smiled over it. "It would be ideal," I admitted.

"Her mother wouldn't agree with you, though her father might," he said
dryly. And he asked:

"Ever had a hunch?"

"A presentiment, you mean?"

"No; a hunch. Well, I've got one. I've got a hunch there's trouble
ahead for that girl."

This seemed so improbable, in the light of her fortunate days, that I
smiled cheerfully.

"Well, if there should be,--here are you and I to stand by."

"Sure," said he, laconically, "that's all we're here for--to stand
by."

Although it was January, the weather was again springlike. All day the
air was like a golden wine, drenched in a golden sun. All day in the
cedars' dark and vivid green the little wax-wings flew in and out, and
everywhere the blackberry bramble that "would grace the parlors of
heaven" was unfolding its crisp red leaves and white buds; and all the
roads and woods were gay with the scarlet berries of the casida, which
the robins love. And the nights were clear and still and starry,
nights of a beauty so vital one sensed it as something alive.

Because Mary Virginia was to spend that night at the Parish House,
Mrs. Eustis having been called away and the house for once free of
guests, my mother had seized the occasion to call about her the youth
in which her soul delighted. To-night she was as rosy and bright-eyed
as any one of her girl-friends. She beamed when she saw the old rooms
alive and alight with fresh and laughing faces and blithe figures.
There was Laurence, with that note in his voice, that light in his
eyes, that glow and glory upon him, which youth alone knows; and
Dabney, with his black hair, as usual, on end, and his intelligent
eyes twinkling behind his glasses; and Claire Dexter, colored like a
pearl set in a cluster of laughing girls; and Mary Virginia, all in
white, so beautiful that she brought a mist to the eyes that watched
her. All the other gay and charming figures seemed but attendants for
this supremer loveliness, snow-white, rose-red, ebony-black, like the
queen's child in the fairy-tale.

The Butterfly Man had obediently put in his appearance. With the
effect which a really strong character produces, he was like an
insistent deep undernote that dominates and gives meaning to a lighter
and merrier melody. All this bright life surged, never away from, but
always toward and around him. Youth claimed him, shared itself with
him, gave him lavishly of its best, because he fascinated and ensnared
its fresh imagination. Though he should live to be a thousand it would
ever pay homage to some nameless magic quality of spirit which was
his.

"Are you writing something new? Have you found another butterfly?"
asked the young things, full of interest and respect.

Well, he _had_ promised a certain paper by a certain time, though what
people could find to like so much in what he had to say about his
insects--

"Because," said Dabney, "you create in us a new feeling for them.
They're living things with a right to their lives, and you show us
what wonderful little lives most of them are. You bring them close to
us in a way that doesn't disgust us. I guess, Butterfly Man, the truth
is you've found a new way of preaching the old gospel of One Father
and one life; and the common sense of common folks understands what
you mean, thanks you for it, likes you for it, and--asks you to tell
us some more."

"Whenever a real teacher appears, always the common people hear him
gladly," said I, reflectively.

"Only," said Mary Virginia, quickly, "when the teacher himself is just
as uncommon as he can be, Padre." She smiled at John Flint with a
sincerity that honored him.

He stood abashed and silent before this naïve appreciation. It was at
once his greatest happiness and his deepest pain--that open admiration
of these clean-souled youngsters.

When he had gone, I too slipped away, for the still white night
outside called me. I went around to that favorite retreat of mine, the
battered seat shut in among spireas and syringas. I like to say my
rosary out of doors. The beads slipping through my fingers soothed me
with their monotonous insistent petition. Prayer brought me closer to
the heart of the soft and shining night, and the big still stars.

     _They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea, all of them
     shall wax old as a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change
     them, and they shall be changed; but thou art the same and
     thy years shall have no end_.

The surety of the beautiful words brought the great overshadowing
Presence near me. And I fell into a half-revery, in which the
hailmarys wove themselves in and out, like threads in a pattern.

Dreamily enough, I heard the youthful guests depart, in a gale of
laughter and flute-like goodnights. And I noted, too, that no light as
yet shone in the Butterfly Man's rooms. Well--he would hurl himself
into the work to-morrow, probably, and clear it up in an hour or two.
He was like that.

My retreat was just off the path, and near the little gate between our
grounds and Judge Mayne's. Thus, though I was completely hidden by the
screening bushes and the shadow of the holly tree as well, I could
plainly see the two who presently came down the bright open path. Of
late it had given me a curious sense of comfort to see Laurence with
Mary Virginia, and, I reflected, he had been her shadow recently. I
liked that. His strength seemed to shield her from Hunter's ambiguous
smile, from Inglesby's thoughts, even from her own mother's ambition.

I could see my girl's dear dark head outlined with a circle of
moonlight as with a halo, and it barely reached my tall boy's
shoulder. Her hand lay lightly on his arm, and he bent toward her,
bringing his close-cropped brown head nearer hers. I couldn't have
risen or spoken then, without interrupting them. I merely glanced out
at them, smilingly, with my rosary in my finger.

I reached the end of a decade: "_As it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be_--"

They stopped at the gate, and fell silent for a space, the girl with
her darling face uplifted. The fleecy wrap she wore fell about her
slim shoulders in long lines, glinting with silver. She did not give
the effect of remoteness, but of being near and dear and desirable and
beautiful. The boy, looking upon her with his heart in his eyes, drew
nearer.

"Mary Virginia," said he, eagerly and huskily and passionately and
timidly and hopefully and despairingly, "Mary Virginia, are you going
to marry anybody?"

Mary Virginia came back from the stars in the night sky to the stars
in the young man's eyes. "Why, yes, I hope I am," said she lightly
enough, but one saw she had been startled. "What a funny boy you are,
Laurence, to be sure! You don't expect me to remain a spinster, do
you?"

"You are going to be married?" This time despair was uppermost.

"I most certainly am!" said Mary Virginia stoutly. "Why, I confided
_that_ to you years and years and years ago! Don't you remember I
always insisted he should have golden hair, and sea-blue eyes, and a
classic brow, and a beautiful willingness to go away somewhere and die
of a broken heart if I ordered him to?"

"Who is it?"

"Who is who?" she parried provokingly.

"The chap you're going to marry?"

Mary Virginia appeared to reflect deeply and anxiously. She put out a
foot, with the eternal feminine gesture, and dug a neat little hole in
the graveled walk with her satin toe.

"Laurence," said she. "I'm going to tell you the truth. The truth is,
Laurence, that I simply hate to have to tell you the truth."

"Mary Virginia!" he stammered wretchedly. "You hate to have to tell
_me_ the truth? Oh, my dear, why? Why?"

"Because."

"But because why?"

"Because," said the dear hussy, demurely, "I don't know."

Laurence's arms fell to his sides, helplessly; he craned his neck and
stared.

"Mary Virginia!" said he, in a breathless whisper.

Mary Virginia nodded. "It's really none of your business, you know,"
she explained sweetly; "but as you've asked me, why, I'll tell you.
That same question plagues and fascinates me, too, Laurence. Why, just
consider! Here's a whole big, big world full of men--tall men, short
men, lean men, fat men, silly men, wise men, ugly men, handsome men,
sad men, glad men, good men, bad men, rich men, poor men,--oh, all
sorts and kinds and conditions and complexions of men: any one of whom
I might wake up some day and find myself married to: and I don't know
which one! It delights and terrifies and fascinates and amuses and
puzzles me when I begin to think about it. Here I've got to marry
Somebody and I don't know any more than Adam's housecat who and where
that Somebody is, and he might pop from around the corner at me, any
minute! It makes the thing so much more interesting, so much more like
a big risky game of guess, when you don't know, don't you think?"

"No: it makes you miserable," said Laurence, briefly.

"But I'm not miserable at all!"

"You're not, because you don't have to be. But I am!"

"You? Why, Laurence! Why should _you_ be miserable?" Her voice lost
its blithe lightness; it was a little faint. She said hastily, without
waiting for his reply: "I guess I'd better run in. It was silly of me
to walk to the gate with you at this hour. I think Madame's calling
me. Goodnight, Laurence."

"No, you don't," said he. "And it wasn't silly of you to come, either;
it was dear and delightful, and I prayed the Lord to put the notion
into your darling head, and He did it. And now you're here you don't
budge from this spot until you've heard what I've got to say.

"Mary Virginia, I reckon you're just about the most beautiful girl in
the world. You've been run after and courted and flattered and
followed until it was enough to turn any girl's head, and it would
have turned any girl's head but yours. You could say to almost any man
alive, Come, and he'd come--oh, yes, he'd come quick. You've got the
earth to pick and choose from--but I'm asking you to pick and choose
_me_. I haven't got as much to offer you as I shall have some of these
days, but I've got me myself, body and brain and heart and soul,
sound to the core, and all of me yours, and I think that counts most,
if you care as I do. Mary Virginia, will you marry me?"

"Oh, but, Laurence! Why--Laurence--I--indeed, I didn't know--I didn't
think--" stammered the girl. "At least, I didn't dream you cared--like
that."

"Didn't you? Well, all I can say is, you've been mighty blind, then.
For I do care. I guess I've always cared like that, only, somehow,
it's taken this one short winter to drive home what I'd been learning
all my life?" said he, soberly. "I reckon I've been just like other
fool-boys, Mary Virginia. That is, I spooned a bit around every good
looking girl I ran up against, but I soon found out it wasn't the real
thing, and I quit. Something in me knew all along I belonged to
somebody else. To you. I believe now--Mary Virginia, I believe with
all my heart--that I cared for you when you were squalling in your
cradle."

"Oh! ... Did I squall, really?"

"_Squall?_ Sometimes it was tummy and sometimes it was temper. Between
them you yelled like a Comanche," said this astonishing lover.

Mary Virginia tilted her head back, adorably.

"It was very, very noble of you to mind me--under the circumstances,"
she conceded, graciously.

"Believe me, it was," agreed Laurence. "I didn't know it, of course,
but even at that tender age my fate was upon me, for I _liked_ to mind
you. Even the bawling didn't daunt me, and I adored you when you
resembled a squab. Yes, I was in love with you then. I'm in love with
you now. My girl, my own girl, I'll go out of this world and into the
next one loving you."

"Then why," she asked reproachfully, "haven't you said so?"

"Why haven't I said what?"

"Why, you know. That you--loved me, Laurence." Her rich voice had sunk
to a whisper.

"Good Lord, haven't I been saying it?"

"No, you haven't! You've been merely asking me to marry you. But you
haven't said a word about loving me, until this very minute!"

"But you must know perfectly well that I'm crazy about you, Mary
Virginia!" said the boy, and his voice trembled with bewilderment as
well as passion. "How in heaven's name could I help being crazy about
you? Why, from the beginning of things, there's never been anybody
else, but just you. I never even pretended to care for anybody else.
No, there's nobody but you. Not for me. You're everything and all,
where I'm concerned. And--please, please look up, beautiful, and tell
me the truth: look at me, Mary Virginia!"

The white-clad figure moved a hair's breadth nearer; the uplifted
lovely face was very close.

"Do I really mean that to you, Laurence? All that, really and truly?"
she asked, wistfully.

"Yes! And more. And more!"

"I'll be the unhappiest girl in the world: I'll be the most miserable
woman alive--if you ever change your mind, Laurence," said she.

There was a quivering pause. Then:

"You care?" asked the boy, almost breathlessly. "Mary Virginia, you
care?" He laid his hands upon her shoulders and bent to search the
alluring face.

"Laurence!" said Mary Virginia, with a tremulous, half-tearful laugh,
"Laurence, it's taken this one short winter to teach me, too. And--you
were mistaken, utterly mistaken about those symptoms of mine. It
wasn't tummy, Laurence. And it wasn't temper. I think--I am sure--that
what I was trying so hard to squall to you in my cradle was--that I
cared, Laurence."

The young man's arms closed about her, and I saw the young mouths
meet. I saw more than that: I saw other figures steal out into the
moonlight and stand thus entwined, and one was the ghost of what once
was I. That other, lost Armand De Rancé, looked at me wistfully with
his clear eyes; and I was very, very sorry for him, as one may be
poignantly sorry for the innocent, beautiful dead. My hand tightened
on my beads, and the feel of my cassock upon me, as a uniform,
steadied and sustained me.

Those two had drawn back a little into the shadows as if the night had
reached out its arms to them. Such a night belonged to such as these;
they invest it, lend it meaning, give it intelligible speech. As for
me, I was an old priest in an old cassock, with all his fond and
foolish old heart melting in his breast. Youth alone is eternal and
immortal. And as for love, it is of God.

"_As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without
end, Amen_." I had finished the decade. And then as one awakes from a
trance I rose softly and as softly crept back to the Parish House,
happy and at peace, because I had seen that which makes the morning
stars rejoice when they sing together.

"Armand," said my mother, sleepily, "is that you, dear? I must have
been nodding in my chair. Mary Virginia's just walked to the gate with
Laurence."

"My goodness," said she, half an hour later. "What on earth can that
child mean? Hadn't you better call her in, Armand?"

"No," said I, decidedly.

Laurence brought her back presently. There must have been something
electrical in the atmosphere, for my mother of a sudden sat bolt
upright in her chair. Women are like that. That is one of the reasons
why men are so afraid of them.

"Padre, and p'tite Madame," began Laurence, "you've been like a father
and mother to me--and--and--"

"And we thought you ought to know," said Mary Virginia.

"My children!" cried my mother, ecstatically, "it is the wish of my
heart! Always have I prayed our good God to let this happen--and you
see?"

"But it's a great secret: it's not to be _breathed_, yet," said Mary
Virginia.

"Except, of course, my father--" began Laurence.

"And the Butterfly Man," I added, firmly. Well knowing none of us
could keep such news from _him_.

"As for me," said my mother, gloriously reckless, "I shall open one of
the two bottles of our great-grandfather's wine!" The last time that
wine had been opened was the day I was ordained. "Armand, go and bring
John Flint."

When I reached his rooms Kerry was whining over a huddled form on the
porch steps. John Flint lay prone, his arms outstretched, horribly
suggestive of one crucified. At my step he struggled upright. I had my
arms about him in another moment.

"Are you hurt? sick? John, John, my son, what is it? What is it?"

"No, no, I'm all right. I--was just a little shaky for the minute.
There, there, don't you be scared, father." But his voice shook, and
the hand I held was icy cold.

"My son, my dear son, what is wrong with you?"

He controlled himself with a great effort. "Oh, I've been a little off
my feed of late, father, that's all. See, I'm perfectly all right,
now." And he squared his shoulders and tried to speak in his natural
voice.

"My mother wanted you to come over for a few minutes, there's
something you're to know. But if you don't feel well enough--"

He seemed to brace himself. "Maybe I know it already. However, I'm
quite able to walk over and hear--anything I'm to be told," he said,
composedly.

In the lighted parlor his face showed up pale and worn, and his eyes
hollow. But his smile was ready, his voice steady, and the hand which
received the wine Mary Virginia herself brought him, did not tremble.

"It is to our great, great happiness we wish you to drink, old
friend," said Laurence. Intoxicated with his new joy, glowing,
shining, the boy was magnificent.

The Butterfly Man turned and looked at him; steadily, deliberately, a
long, searching, critical look, as if measuring him by a new standard.
Laurence stood the test. Then the man's eyes came back to the girl,
rose-colored, radiant, star-eyed, and lingered upon her. He arose, and
held up the glass in which our old wine seemed to leap upward in
little amber-colored flames.

"You'll understand," said the Butterfly Man, "that I haven't the
words handy to my tongue to say what's in my heart. I reckon I'd have
to be God for awhile, to make all I wish for you two come true." There
was in look and tone and manner something so sweet and reverent that
we were touched and astonished.

When my mother had peremptorily sent Laurence home to the judge, and
carried Mary Virginia off to talk the rest of the night through, I
went back to his rooms with John Flint, in spite of the lateness of
the hour: for I was uneasy about him.

I think my nearness soothed him. For with that boyish diffident
gesture of his he reached over presently and held me by the sleeve.

"Parson," he asked, abruptly, "is a man born with a whole soul, or
just a sort of shut-up seed of one? Is one given him free, or has he
got to earn and pay for one before he gets it, parson? I want to
know."

"We all want to know that, John Flint. And the West says Yes, and the
East, No."

"I've been reading a bit," said he, slowly and thoughtfully. "I wanted
to hear what both sides had to say. Paul is pretty plain, on his side
of the fence. But, parson, some chaps that talk as if they knew quite
as much as Paul does, say you don't get anything in this universe for
nothing; you have to pay for what you get. As near as I can figure it
out, you land here with a chance to earn yourself. You can quit or you
can go on--it's all up to you. If you're a sport and play the game
straight, why, you stand to win yourself a water-tight fire-proof
soul. Because, you see, you've earned and paid for it, parson. That
sounded like good sense to me. Looked to me as if I was sort of doing
it myself. But when I began to go deeper into the thing, why, I got
stuck. For I can't deny I'd been doing it more because I had to than
because I wanted to. But--which-ever way it is, I'm paying! Oh, yes,
I'm paying!"

"Ah, but so is everybody else, my son," said I, sadly. "... each in
his own coin. ... But after all isn't oneself worth while, whatever
the cost?"

"I don't know," said he. "That's where I'm stuck. Is the whole show a
skin game or is it worth while? But, parson, whatever it is, you pay a
hell of a price when you buy yourself on the instalment plan, believe
me!" his voice broke, as if on a suppressed groan. "If I could get it
over and done with, pay for my damned little soul in one big gob, I
wouldn't mind. But to have to buy what I'm buying, to have to pay what
I'm paying--"

"You are ill," said I, deeply concerned. "I was afraid of this."

He laughed, more like a croak.

"Sure I'm sick. I'm sick to the core of me, but you and Westmoreland
can't dose me. Nobody can do anything for me, I have to do it myself
or go under. That's part of paying on the instalment plan, too,
parson."

"I don't think I exactly understand--"

"No, you wouldn't. _You_ paid in a lump sum, you see. And you got what
you got. Whatever it was that got _you_, parson, got the best of the
bargain." His voice softened.

"You are talking in parables," said I, severely.

"But I'm not paying in parables, parson. I'm paying in _me_," said he,
grimly. And he laughed again, a laugh of sheer stark misery that
raised a chill echo in my heart. His hand crept back to my sleeve.

"I--can't always can the squeal," he whispered.

"If only I could help you!" I grieved.

"You do," said he, quickly. "You do, by being you. I hang on to you,
parson. And say, look here! Don't you think I'm such a hog I can't
find time to be glad other folks are happy even if I'm not. If there's
one thing that could make me feel any sort of way good, it's to know
those two who were made for each other have found it out. It sort of
makes it look as if some things do come right, even if others are
rotten wrong. I'm glad till it hurts me. I'd like you to believe
that."

"I do believe it. And, my son! if you can find time to be glad of
others' happiness, without envy, why, you're bound to come right,
because you're sound at the core."

"You reckon I'm worth my price, then, parson?"

"I reckon you're worth your price, whatever it is. I don't worry about
you, John Flint."

And somehow, I did not. I left him with Kerry's head on his knee. His
hand was humanly warm again, and the voice in which he told me
goodnight was bravely steady. He sat erect in his doorway, fronting
the night like a soldier on guard. If he were buying his soul on the
instalment plan I was sure he would be able to meet the payments,
whatever they were, as they fell due.



CHAPTER XIV

THE WISHING CURL


With February the cold that the Butterfly Man had wished for came with
a vengeance. The sky lost its bright blue friendliness and changed
into a menacing gray, the gray of stormy water. Overnight the flowers
vanished, leaving our gardens stripped and bare, and our birds that
had been so gay were now but sorry shivering balls of ruffled
feathers, with no song left in them. When rain came the water froze in
the wagon-ruts, and ice-covered puddles made street-corners dangerous.

This intense cold, damp, heavy, penetrating, coming upon the heels of
the unseasonably warm weather, seemed to bring to a head all the
latent sickness smoldering in the mill-parish, for it suddenly burst
forth like a conflagration. If the Civic League had not already done
so much to better conditions in the poorer district, we must have had
a very serious epidemic, as Dr. Westmoreland bluntly told the Town
Council.

As it was, things were pretty bad for awhile, and the inevitable white
hearse moved up and down, stopping now at this door, now at that. In
one narrow street, I remember, it moved in the exact shape of a figure
eight within the week. I do not like to recall those days. I buried
the children with the seal of Holy Mother Church upon their innocence;
I repeated over them "The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken
away"--and knew in my heart that it was man-made want, the greed of
money-madness, that had taken them untimely out of their mothers'
laps. And the earth was like iron; it opened unwillingly to receive
the babes of the poor.

In and out of stricken mill-houses and shabby shacks, as regularly as
Westmoreland and I, whose business and duty lay there, came John
Flint. He made no effort to comfort parents, although these seemed to
derive a curious consolation from his presence. He did not even come
because he wanted to; he came because the children begged to see the
Butterfly Man and one may not refuse a sick child. He had made friends
with them, made toys for them; and now he saw dull eyes brighten at
his approach and pale faces try to smile; languid and fever-hot hands
were held out to him. All the force of the affection of young
children, their dazzling faith, the almost unthinkable power upon
their plastic minds of those whom they trust, came home to him. He
could not, in such an hour, accept lightly, with a careless smile, the
fact that children loved him. And once or twice a small hand that
clung to him grew cold in his clasp, and under his eyes a child's
closed to this world.

Now, something that saw straight, thought like a naked sword-blade,
ate like a testing acid into shams and hated evasions and half-truths
and subterfuges, had of late been showing more and more behind John
Flint's reserve; and I think it might have hardened into a mentality
cold and bright and barren, hard and cutting as a diamond, had it not
been for the children whom he had to see suffer and die.

There was one child of whom he was particularly fond--a child with
the fairest of fair hair, deep and sweet blue eyes, and the quickest,
shyest, most fleeting of smiles to lighten flashingly her small pale
serious face. She had been one of the first of the mill folks'
children to make friends with the Butterfly Man. She used to watch for
him, and then, holding on to one of his fingers, she liked to trot
sedately down the street beside him.

This child's going was sudden and rather painful. Westmoreland did
what he could, but there was no stamina in that frail body, so her's
had been one of the small hands to fall limp and still out of John
Flint's. The doll he had made for her lay in the crook of her arm; it
had on a red calico dress, very garish in the gray room, and against
the child's whiteness.

Westmoreland stood, big and compassionate, at the foot of the bed. His
ruddy face showed wan and behind his glasses his gray tired eyes
winked and blinked.

"There must be," said the Doctor, as if to himself, "some eternal vast
reservoir somewhere, that stores up all this terrible total of
unnecessary suffering--the cruel and needless suffering inflicted upon
children and animals, in particular. Perhaps it's a spiritual serum
used for the saving of the race. Perhaps races higher up than we use
it--as _we_ use rabbits and guinea-pigs. No, no, nothing's wasted;
there's a forward end to pain, somewhere." He looked down at the child
and shook his head doubtfully:

"But when all is said and done," he muttered, "what do such as these
get out of it? Nothing--so far as we can see. They're victims, they
and the innocent beasts, thrust into a world which tortures and
devours them. Why? Why? Why?"

"There is nothing to do but leave that everlasting Why to God," said
I, painfully.

The Butterfly Man looked up and one saw that cold sword-straight,
diamond-hard something in his eyes:

"Parson," said he, grimly, "you're a million miles off the right
track--and you know it. Leaving things to God--things like poor kids
dying because they're gouged out of their right to live--is just about
as rotten stupid and wrong as it can well be. God's all right; he does
his part of the job. You do yours, and what happens? Why, my
butterflies answer that! I'm punk on your catechism, and if _this_ is
all it can teach I hope I die punk on it; but as near as I can make
out, original sin is leaving things like this"--and he looked at his
small friend with her doll on her arm--"to God, instead of tackling
the job yourself and straightening it out."

The child's mother, a gaunt creature without a trace of youth left in
her, although she could not have been much more than thirty, shambled
over to a chair on the other side of the bed. She wore a faded red
calico wrapper--a scrap of it had made the doll's frock--and a
blue-checked apron with holes in it. Her hair was drawn painfully back
from her forehead, and there was a wispy fringe of it on the back of
her scraggy neck. In her dull eyes glimmered nothing but the innate
uneasiness of those who are always in need, and her mouth had drawn
itself into the shape of a horseshoe. There is no luck in a horseshoe
hung thus on a woman's face. One might fancy she felt no emotion, her
whole demeanor was so apathetic; but of a sudden she leaned over and
took up one of the thick shining curls; half smiling, she began to
wrap it about her finger.

"I useter be right smart proud o' Louisa's hair," she remarked in a
drawling, listless voice. "She come by it from them uppidy folks o'
her pa's. I've saw her when she wasn't much more 'n hair an' eyes,
times her pa was laid up with the misery in his chest, an' me with
nothin' but piecework weeks on end.

"... She was a cu'rus kind o' child, Louisa was. She sort o'
'spicioned things wasn't right, but you think that child ever let a
squeal out o' her? Not her! Lemme tell you-all somethin', jest to show
what kind o' a heart that child had, suhs."

With a loving and mothering motion she moved the bright curl about and
about her hard finger. She spoke half intimately, half garrulously;
and from the curl she would lift her faded eyes to the Butterfly
Man's.

"'T was a Sarrerday night, an' I was a-walkin' up an' down, account o'
me bein' awful low in the mind.

"'Ma,' says Louisa, 'I'm reel hungry to-night. You reckon I could have
a piece o' bread with butter on it? I wisht I could taste some bread
with butter on it,' says she.

"'Darlin',' says I, turrible sad, 'Po' ma c'n give yo' the naked bread
an' thanks to God I got even that to give,' I says. 'But they ain't a
scrap o' butter in this house, an' no knowin' how to git any. Oh,
darlin', ma's so sorry!'

"She looks up with that quick smile o' her'n. Yes, suh, Mr. Flint, she
ups and smiles. 'You don't belong to be sorry any, ma,' says she,
comfortin'. 'Don't you mind none at all. Why, ma, darlin', _I just
love naked bread without no butter on it_!' says she. My God, Mr.
Flint, I bust out a-cryin' in her face. Seemed like I natchelly
couldn't stand no mo'!" And smiling vaguely with her poor old
down-curved mouth, she went on fingering the curl.

"Will you-all look a' that!" she murmured, with pride. "Even her
hair's lovin', an' sort o' holds on like it wants you should touch it.
My Lord o' glory, I'm glad her pa ain't livin' to see this day! He had
his share o' misery, po' man, him dyin' o' lung-fever an' all....

"Six head o' young ones we'd had, me an' him. An' they'd all dropped
off. Come spring, an' one'd be gone. I kep' a-comfortin' that man best
I could they was better off, angels not bein' pindlin' an' hungry an'
barefoot, an' thanks be, they ain't no mills in heaven. But their pa
he couldn't see it thataway nohow. He was turrible sot on them
children, like us pore folks gen'rally is. They was reel fine-lookin'
at first.

"When all the rest of 'em had went, her pa he sort o' sot his heart on
Louisa here. 'For we ain't got nothin' else, ma,' says he. 'An' please
the good Lord, we're a-goin' to give this one book-learnin' an' sich,
an' so be she'll miss them mills,' he says. 'Ma, less us aim to make a
lady o' our Louisa. Not that the Lord ain't done it a'ready,' says her
pa, 'but we got to he'p Him keep on an' finish the job thorough.' An'
here's him an' her both gone, an' me without a God's soul belongin' to
me this day! My God, Mr. Flint, ain't it something turrible the things
happens to us pore folks?"

The Butterfly Man looked from her to Westmoreland and me: doctor of
bodies, doctor of souls, naturalist, what had we to say to this woman
stripped of all? But she, with the greater wisdom of the poor, spoke
for herself and for us. A sort of veiled light crept into her sodden
face.

"It ain't I ain't grateful to you-all," said she. "God knows I be. You
was good to Louisa. Doctor, you remember that day you give her a ride
in your ottermobile an' forgot to bring her home for more 'n a hour?
My, but that child was happy!"

"'Ma,' says she when I come home that night, 'you know what heaven
is?'

"'Child,' says I, 'folks like me mostly knows what it ain't.'

"'I beat you, ma!' says she, clappin' her hands. 'Heaven ain't nothin'
much but country an' roads an' trees an' butterflies, an' things like
that,' says she. 'An' God's got ottermobiles, plenty an' plenty
ottermobiles, an' you ride free in 'em long's you feel like it, 'cause
that's what they's _for_. An', ma,' says she, 'God's, showfers is all
of 'em Dr. Westmorelands and Mr. Flints.' Yea, suh, you-all been
mighty kind to Louisa. But I reckon," she drawled, "it was Mr. Flint
Louisa loved best, him bein' a childern's kind o' man, an' on account
o' Loujaney." She laid a hand upon the rag doll lying on the little
girl's arm.

"From the first day you give her that doll, Mr. Flint--which she named
Loujaney, for her an' me both--that child ain't been parted from it."
She smiled down at the two. I could almost have prayed she would weep
instead. It would have been easier to bear.

"The King's Daughters, they give her a mighty nice doll off their
Christmas tree last year, but Louisa, she didn't take to it like she
done to Loujaney.

"'_That_ doll's jest a visitin' lady,' says she, 'but Loujaney, she's
_my child_. Mr. Flint made her a-purpose for me, same's God made me
for you, ma, an' she's mine by bornation. I can live with Loujaney. I
ain't a mite ashamed afore her when we ain't got nothin', but I turn
'tother's face to the wall so she won't know. Loujaney's pore folks
same's you an' me, an' she knows prezac'ly how 't is. That's why I
love her so much.

"An' day an' night," resumed the drawling voice, "them two's been
together. She jest lived an' et an' slept with that doll. If ever a
doll gits to grow feelin's, Loujaney's got 'em. I s'pose I'd best give
that visitin' doll to some child that wants it bad, but I ain't got
the heart to take Loujaney away from her ma. I'm a-goin' to let them
two go right on sleepin' together.

"Mr. Flint, suh, seein' Louisa liked you so much, an' it's you she'd
want to have it--" she leaned over, pushed the thick fair hair aside,
and laid her finger upon a very whimsy of a curl, shorter, paler,
fairer than the others, just above the little right ear.

"Her pa useter call that the wishin' curl," said she, half
apologetically. "You see, suh, he was a comical sort of man, an' a great
hand for pertendin' things. I never could pertend. Things is what they
is an' pertendin' don't change 'em none. But him an' her was different.
That's how come him to pertend the Lord'd put the rainbow's pot o' gold
in Louisa's hair with a wish in it, an' that ridic'lous curl one side
her head, like a mark, was the wishin' curl. He'd pertend he could pull
it twict an' say whisperin', '_Bickery-ickery-ee--my wish is comin' to
me_,' an' he'd git it. An' she liked to pertend 'twas so an' she could
wish things on it for me an' git 'em.... Clo'es an' shoes an' fire an'
cake an' beefsteak an' butter an' stayin' home.... Just pertendin', you
see.

"Mr. Flint, suh, _I_ ain't got a God's thing any more to wish for, but
you bein' the sort o' man you are, I'd rather 'twas you had Louisa's
wishin' curl, to remember her by." Snip! went the scissors; and there
it lay, pale as the new gold of spring sunlight, curling as young
grape-tendrils, in the Butterfly Man's open palm.

"_Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee_," said
the great Apostle to the lame man who lay beside the gate of the
temple that is called, Beautiful.

"I ain't got nothin' else," said the common mill-woman; and laid in
John Flint's hand Louisa's wishing-curl.

He stared at it, and turned as pale as the child on her pillow. The
human pity of the thing, its sheer stark piercing simplicity, squeezed
his heart as with a great hand.

"My God!" he choked. "My--God!" and a rending sob tore loose from his
throat. For the first time in his life he had to weep; uncontrolled,
unashamed, childlike, fatherly, brotherly. For he had experienced,
unselfishly, on account of one of the humblest of God's creatures, one
of the great divine emotions. And when that happens to a man it is as
if his soul were winnowed by the wind of an archangel's wings.

Westmoreland and I slipped out and left him with the woman. She would
know what further thing to say to him.

Outside in the bleak bitter street, the Doctor laid his hand on my
shoulder. He winked his eyes rapidly. "Father," said he, earnestly,
"when I witness such a thing as we've seen this morning, I do not lose
faith. I gain it." And he gripped me heartily with his big gloved
hand. "Tell John Flint," he added, "that sometimes a rag doll is a
mighty big thing for a man to have to his credit." Then he was gone,
with a tear freezing on his cheek.

"Angels," John Flint had said more than once, "are not middle-aged
doctors with shoulders on them like a barn-door, and ribs like a dray;
angels don't have bald heads and wear a red tie and tan shoes. But I'd
pass them all up, from Gabriel down, wings and tailfeathers, for one
Walter Westmoreland."

I would, too. And I walked along, thinking of what I had just
witnessed; sensing its time value. To those slight and fragile things
which had, for John Flint, outweighed the scales of evil--a gray moth,
a butterfly's wing, a bird's nest--I added a child's fair hair, and a
rag doll that was going to sleep with its ma.

There were but few people on the freezing streets, for folks preferred
to stay indoors and hug the fire. Fronting the wind, I walked with a
lowered head, and thus collided with a lady who turned a corner at the
same time I did.

"Don't apologize, Padre," said Mary Virginia, for it was she. "It was
my fault--I wasn't looking where I was going."

"Are you by any chance bound for the Parish House? Because my mother
will be on her way to a poor thing that's just lost her only child.
Where have you been these past weeks? I haven't seen you for ages."

"Oh, I've been rather busy, too, Padre. And I haven't been quite
well--" she hesitated. I thought I understood. For, possibly from some
servant who had overheard Mrs. Eustis expostulating with her daughter,
the news of Mary Virginia's unannounced engagement had sifted pretty
thoroughly throughout the length and breadth of Appleboro; a town
where an unfledged and callow rumor will start out of a morning and
come home to roost at night with talons and tailfeathers.

That Mary Virginia had all James Eustis's own quiet will-power,
everybody knew. She would not, perhaps, marry Laurence in the face of
her mother's open opposition. Neither would she marry anybody else to
please her mother in defiance of her own heart. There was a pretty
struggle ahead, and Appleboro took sides for and against, and settled
itself with eager expectancy to watch the outcome.

So I concluded that Mary Virginia had not been having a pleasant time.
Indeed, it struck me that she was really unwell. One might even
suspect she had known sleepless nights, from the shadowed eyes and the
languor of her manner.

Just then, swinging down the street head erect, shoulders square, the
freezing weather only intensifying his glowing fairness, came Howard
Hunter. The man was clear red and white. His gold hair and beard
glittered, his bright blue eyes snapped and sparkled. He seemed to
rejoice in the cold, as if some Viking strain in him delighted in its
native air.

As he paused to greet us a coldness not of the weather crept into Mary
Virginia's eyes. She did not speak, but bowed formally. Mr. Hunter,
holding her gaze for a moment, lifted his brows whimsically and
smiled; then, bowing, he passed on. She stood looking after him, her
lips closed firmly upon each other.

Tucking her hand in my arm, she walked with me to the Parish House
gate. No, she said, she couldn't come in. But I was to give her
regards to the Butterfly Man, and her love to Madame.

"Parson," the Butterfly Man asked me that night, "have you seen Mary
Virginia recently?"

"I saw her to-day."

"I saw her to-day, too. She looked worried. She hasn't been here
lately, has she?"

"No. She hasn't been feeling well. I hear Mrs. Eustis has been very
outspoken about the engagement, and I suppose that's what worries Mary
Virginia."

"I don't think so. She knew she had to go up against that, from the
first. She's more than a match for her mother. There's something else.
Didn't I tell you I had a hunch there was going to be trouble? Well,
I've got a hunch it's here."

"Nonsense!" said I, shortly.

"I know," said he, stubbornly. And he added, irrelevantly: "It's
generally known, parson, that Eustis will be nominated. Inglesby's
managed to gain considerable ground, thanks to Hunter, and folks say
if it wasn't for Eustis he'd win. As it is, he'll be swamped. I hear
he was thunderstruck when he got wind of what Mayne was going to play
against him--for he knows Laurence brought Eustis out. Inglesby's
mighty sore. He's the sort that hates to have to admit he can't get
what he wants."

"Then he'd better save himself the trouble of having to put it to the
test," said I.

"I'm wondering," said John Flint. "I wish I hadn't got that hunch!"

I did not see Mary Virginia again for some time. Just then I moved
breathlessly in a horrid round of sickbeds, for the wave had reached
its height; already it had swept seventeen of my flock out of time
into eternity.

I came home on one of the last of those heavy evenings, to find
Laurence waiting for me in my study. He was standing in the middle of
the room, his hands clasped behind his back.

"Padre," said he by way of greeting, "have you seen Mary Virginia
lately? Has Madame?"

"No, except for a chance meeting one morning on the street. But she
has been sending me help right along, bless her."

"Has Madame heard anything from her, Padre?"

"No, I don't think so. But we've been frightfully busy of late, you
understand."

"No, neither of you know," said Laurence, in a low voice. "You
wouldn't know. Padre, I--don't look at me like that, please; I'm not
ill. But, without reason--swear to you before God, without any reason
whatever, that I can conjure up--she has thrown me over, jilted
me--Mary Virginia, Padre! And I'm to forget her. _I'm to forget her,
you understand?_ Because she can't marry me." He spoke in a level,
quiet, matter of fact voice. Then laughter shook him like a nausea.

I laid my hand upon him. "Now tell me," said I, "what you have to tell
me."

"I've really told you all I know," said Laurence. "Day before
yesterday she sent for me. You can't think how happy it made me to
have her send for me, how happy I've been since I knew she cared! I
felt as if there wasn't anything I couldn't do. There was nothing too
great to be accomplished--

"Well, I went. She was standing in the middle of the long
drawing-room. There was a fire behind her. She was so like ice I
wonder now she didn't thaw. All in white, and cold, and frozen. And
she said she couldn't marry me. That's why she had sent for me--to
tell me that she meant to break our engagement: _Mary Virginia_!

"I wanted to know why. I was within my rights in asking that, was I
not? And she wouldn't let me get close to her, Padre. She waved me
away. I got out of her that there were reasons: no, she wouldn't say
what those reasons were; but there were reasons. Her reasons, of
course. When I began to talk, to plead with her, she begged me not to
make things harder for her, but to be generous and go away. She just
couldn't marry me, didn't I understand? So I must release her."

He hung his head. The youth of him had been dimmed and darkened.

"And you said--?"

"I said," said Laurence simply, "that she was mine as much as I was
hers, and that I'd go just then because she asked me to, but I was
coming back. I tried to see her again yesterday. She wouldn't see me.
She sent down word she wasn't at home. But I knew all along she was.
Mary Virginia, Padre!

"I tried again. I haven't got any pride where she's concerned. Why
should I? She's--she's my soul, I think. I can't put it into words,
because you can't put feelings into words, but she's the pith of life.
Then I wrote her. Half a dozen times I wrote her. I got down to the
level of bribing the colored maid to take the notes to her, one every
hour, like a medicine, and slip them under her door. I know she
received them. I repeated it again to-day. It's Mary Virginia at
stake, and I can't take chances, can I? And this afternoon she sent
this.

     "Oh, Laurence, be generous and spare me the torment of
     questions. So far you have not reproached me; spare me that,
     too! Don't you understand? I cannot marry you. Accept the
     inevitable as I do. Forgive me and forget me. M.V.E."

The writing showed extreme nervousness, haste, agitation.

"Well?" said Laurence. But I stood staring at the crumpled bit of
paper. I knew what I knew. I knew what my mother had thought fit to
reveal to me of the girl's feelings: Mary Virginia had been very sure.
I remembered what my eyes had seen, my ears heard. I was sure she was
faithful, for I knew my girl. And yet--

There came back to me a morning in spring and I riding gaily off in
the glad sunshine, full of faith and of hope. To find what I had
found. I handed the note back, in silence.

"Oh, why, why, why?" burst out the boy, in a gust of acute torment.
"For God's sake, why? Think of her eyes and her mouth, Padre--and her
forehead like a saint's--No, she's not false. God never made such eyes
as hers untruthful. I believe in her. I've got to believe in her. I
tell you, I belong to her, body and soul." He began to walk up and
down the room, and his shoulders twitched, as if a lash were laid over
them. "I could forgive her for not loving me, if she doesn't love me
and found it out, and said so. Women change, do they not? But--to
take a man that loves her--and tear his living soul to shreds and
tatters--

"If _she's_ a liar and a jilt, who and what am I to believe? Why
should she do it, Padre--to me that love her? Oh, my God, think of it:
to be betrayed by the best beloved! No, I can't think it. This isn't
just any light girl: this is Mary Virginia!"

I put my hand on his shoulder. He is a head over me, and once again as
broad, perhaps. We two fell into step. I did not attempt to counsel or
console.

"Here I come like a whining kid, Padre," said he, remorsefully,
"piling my troubles upon your shoulders that carry such burdens
already. Forgive me!"

"I shouldn't be able to forgive you if you didn't come," said I. Up
and down the little room, up and down, the two of us.

Came a light tap at the door. The Butterfly Man's head followed it.

"Didn't I hear Laurence talking?" asked he, smiling. The smile froze
at sight of the boy's face. He closed the door, and leaned against it.

"What's wrong with her?" he asked, quickly. It did not occur to us to
question his right to ask, or to wonder how he knew.

In a dull voice Laurence told him. He held out his hand for the note,
read it in silence, and handed it back.

"What do you make of it?" I asked.

"Trouble," said he, curtly; and he asked, reproachfully, "Don't you
know her, both of you, by this time?"

"I know," said Laurence, "that she has sent me away from her."

"Because she wants to, or because she thinks she has to?" asked John
Flint.

"Why should she do so unless it pleased her?" I asked sorrowfully.

His eyes flashed. "Why, she's _herself!_ A girl like her couldn't play
anybody false because there's no falseness in her to do it with. What
are you going to do about it?"

"There is nothing to do," said Laurence, "but to release her; a
gentleman can do no less."

John Flint's lips curled. "Release her? I'd hang on till hell froze
over and caught me in the ice! I'd wait. I'd write and tell her she
didn't need to make herself unhappy about me, I was unhappy enough
about her for the two of us, because she didn't trust me enough to
tell me what her trouble was, so I could help her. That first and
always I was her friend, right here, whenever she needed me and
whatever she needed me for. And I'd stand by. What else is a man good
for?"

"I believe," said I, "that John Flint has given you the right word,
Laurence. Just hold fast and be faithful."

Laurence lifted his haggard face. "There isn't any question of my
being faithful to her, Padre. And I couldn't make myself believe that
she's less so than I. What Flint says tallies with my own intuition.
I'll write her to-night." He laid his hand on John Flint's arm.
"You're all right, Bughunter," said he, earnestly. "'Night, Padre."
Then he was gone.

"Do you think," said John Flint, when he had rejected every conjecture
his mind presented as the possible cause of Mary Virginia's action,
"that Inglesby could be at the bottom of this?"

"I think," said I, "that you have an obsession where that man is
concerned. He is a disease with you. Good heaven, what could Inglesby
possibly have to do with Mary Virginia's affairs?"

"That's what I'm wondering. Well, then, who is it?"

"Perhaps," said I, unwillingly, "it is Mary Virginia herself."

"Forget it! She's not that sort."

"She is a woman."

"Ain't it the truth, though?" he jeered. "What a peach of a reason for
not acting like herself, looking like herself, being like herself!
She's a woman! So are all the rest of the folks that weren't born men,
if you'll notice. They're women; we're men: and both of us are people.
Get it?"

"I get it," said I, annoyed. "Your attitude, John Flint, is a vulgar
platitude. And permit me to--"

"I'll permit you to do anything except get cross," said he, quickly.
The ghost of a smile touched his face. "Being bad-tempered, parson,
suits you just about as well as plaid pants and a Hello Bill button."

"I am a human being," I began, frigidly.

"And I'm another. And so is Mary Virginia. And there we are, parson.
I'm troubled. I don't like the looks of things. It's no use telling
myself this is none of my business; it is very much my business. You
remember ... when I came here ..." he hesitated, for this is a subject
we do not like to discuss, "what you were up against ... parson, I've
thought you must have been caught and crucified yourself, and learned
things on the cross, and that's why you held on to me. But with the
kids, it was different--particularly the little girl. The first thing
I ever got from her was a lovely look, the first time ever I set eyes
on her she came with an underwing moth. I'd be a poor sort that
wouldn't be willing to be spilt like water and scattered like dust, if
she needed me now, wouldn't I?"

"But," said I, perplexed, "what can you do? A young lady has seen fit
to break her engagement; young ladies often see fit to do that, my
dear fellow. This isn't an uncommon case. Also, one doesn't interfere
in a lady's private affairs, not even when one is an old priest who
has loved her since her childhood, nor yet a Butterfly Man who is her
devoted friend. Don't you see?"

"I see there's something wrong," said he, doggedly.

"Perhaps. But that doesn't give one the right to pry into something
she evidently doesn't wish to reveal," I told him.

"I suppose," said he, heavily, "you are right. But if you hear
anything, let me know, won't you?"

I promised; but I found out nothing, save that it had not been Mrs.
Eustis who influenced her daughter's action. This came out in a call
Mrs. Eustis made at the Parish House.

"My dear," she told my mother, "when she told me she had broken that
engagement, I was astounded! But I can't say I wasn't pleased.
Laurence is a dear boy; and his family's as good as ours--no one can
take that away from the Maynes. But Mary Virginia should have done
better.

"I quarreled with her, argued with her, pleaded with her. I cried and
cried. But she's James Eustis to the life--you might as well try to
move the Rock of Gibraltar. Then one morning she came to my room and
told me she found she couldn't marry Laurence! And she had already
told him so, and broken her engagement, and I wasn't to ask her any
questions. I didn't. I was too glad."

"And--Laurence--?" asked my mother, ironically.

"Laurence? Laurence is a _man_. Men get over that sort of thing. I've
known a man to be perfectly mad over his wife--and marry, six months
after her death. They're like that. They always get over it. It's
their nature."

"Let us hope, then, for Laurence's peace of mind," said my mother,
"that he'll get over it--like all the rest of his sex. Though I
shouldn't call Laurence fickle, or faithless, if you ask me."

"He is a very fine boy. I always liked him myself and James adores
him. If I had two or three daughters, I'd be willing to let one of
them marry Laurence--after awhile. But having only one I must say I
want her to do better."

"I see," said my mother. To me she said later:

"And yet, Armand, although I condemn it, I can quite appreciate Mrs.
Eustis's point of view. I was somewhat like that myself, once upon a
time."

"You? Never!"

My mother smiled tolerantly.

"Ah, but you never offered me a daughter-in-law I did not relish. It
was much easier for me to bear the Church!"

That night I went over to John Flint's, for I thought that the fact
of Mary Virginia's deliberately choosing to act as she had done would
in a measure settle the matter and relieve his anxiety.

There was a cedar wood fire before which Kerry lay stretched; little
white Pitache, grown a bit stiff of late, occupied a chair he had
taken over for his own use and from which he refused to be dislodged.
Major Cartwright had just left, and the room still smelt of his cigar,
mingling pleasantly with the clean smell of the burning cedar.

On the table, within reach of his hand, was ranged the Butterfly Man's
entire secular library: Andrew Lang's translation of Homer; Omar;
Richard Burton's Kasidah; Saadi's Gulistan, over which he chuckled;
Robert Burns; Don Quixote; Joan of Arc, and Huckleberry Finn; Treasure
Island; the Bible Miss Sally Ruth had given him--I never could induce
him to change it for my own Douai version--; one or two volumes of
Shakespeare; the black Obituary Book, grown loathsomely fat; and the
"Purely Original Verse of James Gordon Coogler," which a light-minded
professor of mathematics at the University of South Carolina had given
him, and in which he evilly delighted. Other books came and went, but
these remained. To-night it was the Bible which lay open, at the Book
of Psalms.

"Look at this." He laid his finger on a verse of the nineteenth: "The
testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple."

"The times I've turned that over in my mind, out in the woods by night
and the fields by day!" said the Butterfly Man, musingly. "The simple
is _me_, parson, and the testimony is green things growing, and
butterflies and moths, and Kerry, and people, and trouble, and
Louisa's hair, and--well, about everything, I reckon.

"Yes, everything's testimony, and it can make wise the simple--if he's
not too simple. I reckon, parson, the simple is lumped in three
lots--the fool for a little while, the fool for half the day, and the
life-everlasting twenty-four-hours-a-day, dyed-in-the-wool damn-fool.

"Some of us are the life-everlasting kind, the kind that used to make
old man Solomon wall his eyes and throw fits and then get busy and
hatch out proverbs with stings in their tails. A lot of us are
half-the-day fools; and all the rest are fools for a little while.
There's nobody born that hasn't got his times and seasons for being a
fool for a while. But that's the sort of simple the testimony slams
some sense into. Like _me_," he added earnestly, and closed the great
Book.

I told him presently what I had heard; that, as he surmised, Mrs.
Eustis was not responsible for Mary Virginia's change of mind--or
perhaps of heart. He nodded. But he offered no comment. Now, since I
had come in, he had been from time to time casting at me rather
speculative and doubtful glances. He drummed on the table, smiled
sheepishly, and presently reached for a package, unwrapped it, and
laid before me a book.

'"The Relation of Insect Life to Human Society,'" I read, "By John
Flint and Rev. Armand Jean De Rancé. With notes and drawings by Father
De Rancé." It bore the imprint of a great publishing house.

"You suggested it more than once," said John Flint. "Off and on, these
two years, I've been working on it. All the notes I particularly asked
you for were for this. Mighty fine and acute notes they are,
too--you'd never have been willing to do it if you'd known they were
for publication--I know you. And I saved the drawings. I'm vain of
those illustrations. Abbot's weren't in it, next to yours."

As a matter of fact I have a pretty talent for copying plant and
insect. I have but little originality, but this very limitation made
the drawings more valuable. They were almost painfully exact, the
measurements and coloration being as approximately perfect as I could
get them.

Now that the book has been included in all standard lists I needn't
speak of it at length--the reviewers have given it what measure of
bricks and bouquets it deserved. But it is a clever, able,
comprehensive book, and that is why it has made its wide appeal.

Every least credit that could possibly be given to me, he had
scrupulously rendered. He had made full use of note and drawing. He
made light enough of his own great labor of compilation, but his
preface was quick to state his "great indebtedness to his patient and
wise teacher."

One sees that the situation was not without irony. But I could not
cloud his pleasure in my co-authorship nor dim his happiness by
disclaiming one jot or tittle of what he had chosen to accredit me
with. It is more blessed to give than to receive, but much more
difficult to receive than to give.

"Do you like it?" he asked, hopefully.

"I am most horribly proud of it," said I, honestly.

"Sure, parson? Hand on your heart?"

"Sure. Hand on my heart."

"All right, then," said he, sighing with relief.

"Here's your share of the loot," and he pushed a check across the
table.

"But--" I hesitated, blinking, for it was a check of sorts.

"But nothing. Blow it in. Say, I'm curious. What are you going to do
with yours?"

"What are you going to do with yours?" I asked in return.

He reddened, hesitated; then his head went up.

"I figure it, parson, that by way of that rag-doll I'm kin to Louisa's
ma. As near as I can get to it, Louisa's ma's my widow. It's a devil
of a responsibility for a live man to have a widow. It worries him.
Just to get her off my mind I'm going to invest my share of this book
for her. She'll at least be sure of a roof and fire and shoes and
clothes and bread with butter on it and staying home sometimes. She'll
have to work, of course; anyway you looked at it, it wouldn't be right
to take work away from her. She'll work, then; but she won't be
worked. Louisa's managed to pull something out of her wishin' curl for
her ma, after all. I'm sure I hope they'll let the child know."

I could not speak for a moment; but as I looked at him, the red in his
tanned cheek deepened.

"As a matter of fact, parson," he explained, "somebody ought to do
something for a woman that looks like that, and it might just as well
be me. I'm willing to pay good money to have my widow turn her mouth
the other way up, and I hope she'll buy a back-comb for those bangs on
her neck."

"And all this," said I, "came out of one little wishin' curl,
Butterfly Man?"

"But what else could I do?" he wondered, "when I'm kin to Loujaney by
bornation?" and to hide his feeling, he asked again:

"Now what are you going to do with yours?"

I reflected. I watched his clever, quizzical eyes, out of which the
diamond-bright hardness had vanished, and into which I am sure that
dear child's curl had wished this milder, clearer light.

"You want to know what I am going to do with mine?" said I, airily.
"Well; as for me, the very first thing I am going to do is to
purchase, in perpetuity, a fine new lamp for St. Stanislaus!"



CHAPTER XV

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT


Timid tentative rifts and wedges of blue had ventured back into the
cold gray sky, and a stout-hearted robin or two heralded spring. One
morning coming from mass I saw in the thin watery sunshine the painted
wings of the Red Admiral flash by, and I welcomed him as one welcomes
the long-missed face of a friend. I cannot choose but love the Red
Admiral. He has always stirred my imagination, for frail as his gay
wings are they have nevertheless borne this dauntless small Columbus
of butterflies across unknown seas and around uncharted lands, until
like his twin-sister the Painted Lady he has all but circled the
globe. A few days later a handful of those gold butterflies that
resemble nothing so much as new bright dandelions in the young grass,
dared the unfriendly days before their time as if to coax the lagging
spring to follow.

The sad white streamers disappeared from doors and for a space the
little white hearse ceased to go glimmering by. Then at many windows
appeared small faces bearing upon them the mark of the valley of the
shadow through which they had just passed. Although they were on side
streets in the dingy mill district, far removed from our pleasant
windows that looked out upon trees and flowers, all Appleboro was
watching these wan visages with wiser and kinder eyes.

Perhaps the most potent single factor in the arousing of our civic
conscience was a small person who might have justly thought we hadn't
any: I mean Loujaney's little ma, whose story had crept out and gone
from lip to lip and from home to home, making an appeal to which there
could be no refusal.

When Major Cartwright heard it, the high-hearted old rebel hurried
over to the Parish House and thrust into my hand a lean roll of bills.
And the major is by no means a rich man.

"It's not tainted money," said the major, "though some mighty good
Bourbon is goin' to turn into pap on account of it. However, it's an
ill wind that doesn't blow somebody good--Marse Robert can come on
back upstairs now an' thaw himself out while watchin' me read the
Lamentations of Jeremiah--who was evidently sufferin' from a dry spell
himself."

On the following Sunday the Baptist minister chose for his text that
verse of Matthew which bids us take heed that we despise not one of
these little ones because in heaven their angels do always behold the
face of our Father. And then he told his people of that little one who
had pretended to love dry bread when she couldn't get any butter--in
Appleboro. And who had gone to her rest holding to her thin breast a
rag-doll that was kin to her by bornation, Loujaney being poor folks
herself and knowing prezactly how't was.

Over the heads of loved and sheltered children the Baptist brethren
looked at each other. Of course, it wasn't their fault any more than
anybody else's.--In a very husky voice their pastor went on to tell
them of the curl which the woman who hadn't a God's thing left to
wish for had given as a remembrance to "that good and kind man, our
brother John Flint, sometimes known as the Butterfly Man."

Dabney put the plain little discourse into print and heightened its
effect by an editorial couched in the plainest terms. We were none of
us in the humor to hear a spade called an agricultural implement just
then, and Dabney knew it; particularly when the mill dividends and the
cemetery both showed a marked increase.

Something had to be done, and quickly, but we didn't exactly know how
nor where to begin doing it. Laurence, insisting that this was really
everybody's business, called a mass-meeting at the schoolhouse, and
the _Clarion_ requested every man who didn't intend to bring his
women-folks to that meeting to please stay home himself. Wherefore
Appleboro town and county came with the wife of its bosom--or maybe
the wife came and fetched it along.

Laurence called the meeting to order, and his manner of addressing the
feminine portion of his audience would have made his gallant
grandfather challenge him. He hadn't a solitary pretty phrase to
tickle the ears of the ladies--he spoke of and to them as women.

"And did you see how they fell for him?" rejoiced the Butterfly Man,
afterward. "From the kid in a middy up to the great old girl with
three chins and a prow like an ocean liner, they were with him. When
you're in dead earnest, can the ladies; just go after women as women
and they're with you every time. They know."

A Civic Leaguer followed Laurence, then Madame, and after her a girl
from the mills, whose two small brothers went in one night. There
were no set speeches. Everybody who spoke had something to say; and
everybody who had something to say spoke. Then Westmoreland, who like
Saul the king was taller by the head and shoulders than all Israel,
bulked up big and good and begged us to remember that we couldn't do
anything of permanent value until we first learned how to reach those
folks we had been ignoring and neglecting. He said gruffly that
Appleboro had dumped its whole duty in this respect upon the frail
shoulders of one old priest, and that the Guest Rooms were overworked.
Didn't the town want to do its share now? The town voted, unanimously,
that it did.

There was a pause. Laurence asked if anybody else had anything to say?
Apparently, anybody else hadn't.

"Well, then," said Laurence, smiling, "before we adjourn, is there
anybody in particular that Appleboro County here assembled wants to
hear?"

And at that came a sort of stir, a murmur, as of an immense multitude
of bees:

"_The Butterfly Man!_" And louder: "The Butterfly Man!"

Followed a great hand-clapping, shrill whistles, the stamping of feet.
And there he was, with Westmoreland and Laurence behind him as if to
keep him from bolting. His face expressed a horrified astonishment.
Twice, thrice, he opened his lips, and no words came. Then:

"_I?_" in a high and agonized falsetto.

"You!" Appleboro County settled back with rustles of satisfaction.
"Speech! Speech!" From a corn-club man, joyfully.

"Oh, marmar, look! It's the Butterfly Man, marmar!" squealed a child.

"A-a-h! Talk weeth us, Meester Fleent!" For the first time a "hand"
felt that he might speak out openly in Appleboro.

John Flint stood there staring owlishly at all these people who ought
to know very well that he hadn't anything to say: what should he have
to say? He was embarrassed; he was also most horribly frightened. But
then, after all, they weren't anything but people, just folks like
himself! When he remembered that his panic subsided. For a moment he
reflected; as if satisfied, he nodded slightly and thrust his hand
into his breast pocket.

"Instead of having to listen to me you'd better just look at this,"
said the Butterfly Man. "Because this can talk louder and say more in
a minute than I could between now and Judgment." And he held out
Louisa's dear fair whimsy of a curl; the sort of curl mothers tuck
behind a rosy ear of nights, and fathers lean to and kiss. "_I_
haven't got anything to say," said the Butterfly Man. "The best I can
do is just to wish for the children all that Louisa pretended to pull
out of her wishin' curl--and never got. I wish on it that all the kids
get a square deal--their chance to grow and play and be healthy and
happy and make good. And I wish again," said the Butterfly Man,
looking at his hearers with his steady eyes, "I wish that you folks,
every God-blessed one of you, will help to make that wish come true,
so far as lies in your power, from now until you die!" His funny,
twisty smile flashed out. He put the fairy tress back into his breast
pocket, made a casual gesture to imply that he had concluded his
wishes for the present; and walked off in the midst of the deepest
silence that had ever fallen upon an Appleboro audience.

But however willing we might be, we discovered that we could not do
things as quickly or as well as might be wished. People who wanted to
help blundered tactlessly. People who wanted to be helped had to be
investigated. People who ought to be helped were suspicious and
resentful, couldn't always understand or appreciate this sudden
interest in their affairs, were inclined to slam doors, or, when
cornered, to lie stolidly, with wooden faces and expressionless eyes.

Ensued an awkward pause, until the Butterfly Man came unobtrusively
forward, discovering in himself that amazing diplomacy inherent in the
Irish when they attend to anybody's business but their own. It was
amusing to watch the only democrat in a solidly Democratic county
infusing something of his own unabashed humanness into proceedings
which but for him might have sloughed into

    Organized charity, carefully iced,
    In the name of a cautious, statistical Christ.

Having done what was to be done, he went about his own affairs. Nobody
gushed over him, and he escaped that perilous popularity which is as a
millstone around a man's neck. Nevertheless the Butterfly Man had
stumbled upon the something divine in his fellows, and they
entertained for him a feeling that wasn't any more tangible, say, than
pure air, and no more emotional than pure water, but was just about as
vital and life-giving.

I was enchanted to have a whole county endorse my private judgment. I
rose so in my own estimation that I fancy I was a bit condescending to
St. Stanislaus! I was vain of the Butterfly Man's standing--folks
couldn't like him too much, to please me. And I was greatly interested
in the many invitations that poured in upon him, invitations that
ranged all the way from a birthday party at Michael Karski's to a
state dinner at the Eustis's.

From Michael's he came home gaily, a most outrageous posy pinned upon
him by way of honor, and whistling a Slavic love song so dismal that
one inferred love must be something like toothache for painfulness. He
had had such a bully time, he told me. Big Jan had been there with his
wife, an old friend of Michael's Katya. Although pale, and still
somewhat shaky as to legs, Jan had willingly enough shaken hands with
his conqueror.

It seemed quite right and natural that he and Jan should presently
enter into a sort of Dual Alliance. Meester Fleent was to be
Arbitrator Extraordinary. When he stipulated that thereafter Big Jan
was only to tackle a man his own size, everybody cheered madly, and
Mrs. Jan herself beamed red-eyed approval. She said her prayers to the
man who had trounced Jan into righteousness.

But from the Eustis dinner, to which he went with my mother, he came
home somber and heavy-hearted. Laurence was conspicuously absent; it
is true he was away, defending his first big case in another part of
the State. But Mr. George Inglesby was just as conspicuously present,
apparently on the best of all possible terms with himself, the world
in general, and Mrs. James Eustis in particular. His presence in that
house, in the face of persistent rumors, made at least two guests
uneasy. Mrs. Eustis showed him a most flattering attention. She was
deeply impressed by him. He had just aided her pet mission in
China--what he had given the heathen would have buttered my children's
bread for many a day. Also, he was all but lyrical in his voicing of
the shibboleth that Woman's Sphere is the Home, wherein she should be
adored, enshrined, and protected. Woman and the Home! All the innate
chivalry of Southern manhood--

I don't know that Louisa's Ma was ever enshrined or protected by the
chivalry of any kind of manhood, no, nor any of the mill women. Their
kind don't know the word. But Mrs. Eustis was, and she agreed with Mr.
Inglesby's noble sentiments.

"Parson, you should have heard him!" raved the Butterfly Man. "There's
a sort of man down here that's got chivalry like another sort's got
hookworm, and he makes the man that hasn't got either want to set up
an image to the great god Dam!

"You'd think being chivalrous would be enough for him, wouldn't you?"
continued the Butterfly Man, bitterly. "Nix! What's he been working
the heavy charity lay for, except that it's his turn to be a
misunderstood Christian? Doesn't charity cover a multitude of skins,
though? And doesn't it beat a jimmy when it comes to breaking into
society!"

Mary Virginia, he added in an altered voice, had been exquisite in a
frock all silver lace and shimmery stuffs like moonbeams, and with a
rope of pearls about her throat, and in her black hair. Appleboro
folks do not affect orchids, but Mary Virginia wore a huge cluster of
those exotics. She had been very gracious to the Butterfly Man and
Madame. But only for a brief bright minute had she been the Mary
Virginia they knew. All the rest of the evening she seemed to grow
statelier, colder, more dazzlingly and imperially regal. And her eyes
were like frozen sapphires under her level brows, and her mouth was
the red splendid bow of Pride.

Watching her, my mother was pained and puzzled; as for the Butterfly
Man, his heart went below zero. Those who loved Mary Virginia had
cause for painful reflections.

Blinded by her beauty, were we judging her by the light of affection,
instead of the colder light of reason? We couldn't approve of her
behavior to Laurence, nor was it easy to refrain from disapproval of
what appeared to be a tacit endurance of Inglesby's attention. She
couldn't plead ignorance of what was open enough to be town talk--the
man's shameless passion for herself, a passion he seemed to take
delight in flaunting. And she made no effort to explain; she seemed
deliberately to exclude her old friends from the confidence once so
freely given. She hadn't visited the Parish House since she had broken
her engagement.


And all the while the spring that hadn't time for the little concerns
of mortals went secretly about her immortal business of rejuvenation.
The blue that had been so timid and so tentative overspread the sky;
more robins came, and after them bluebirds and redbirds and
Peterbirds, and the impudent screaming robber jay that is so beautiful
and so bold, and flute-voiced vireos, and nuthatches, and the darling
busybody wren fussing about her house-building in the corners of our
piazzas. The first red flowers of the Japanese quince opened
flame-like on the bare brown bushes. When the bridal-wreath by the
gate saw that, she set industriously to work upon her own
wedding-gown. The yellow jessamine was full of waxy gold buds; and
long since those bold frontiersmen of the year, the Judas-trees, had
flaunted it in bravest scarlet, and the slim-legged scouts of the
pines showed shoulder-straps and cockades of new gay green above
gallant brown leggings.

One brand new morning the Butterfly Man called me aside and placed in
my hands a letter. The American Society of Natural History invited Mr.
John Flint, already a member of the Entomological Society of France, a
Fellow of the Entomological Society of London, and a member of the
greatest of Dutch and German Associations, to speak before it and its
guests, at a most notable meeting to be held in the Society's splendid
Museum in New York City. Not to mention two mere ex-Presidents, some
of the greatest scientific names of the Americas were included in that
list. And it was before such as these that my Butterfly Man was to
speak. Behold me rocking on my toes!

The first effect of this invitation was to please me immensely, I
being a puffed-up old man and carnal-minded at times; nor do I seem to
improve with age. The plaudits of the world, for anybody I admire and
love, ring most sweetly in my foolish ears. Now the honors he had
gotten from abroad were fine and good in their way, but this meant
that the value of his work was recognized and his position
established in his own country, in his own time. It meant a widening
of his horizon, association with clever men and women, ennobling
friendships to broaden his life. A just measure of appreciation from
the worthwhile sweetens toil and encourages genius. And yet--our eyes
met, and mine had to ask an old question.

"Would you better accept it?" I wondered.

"I can't afford not to," said he resolutely. "The time's come for me
to get out in the open, and I might just as well face the music, and
Do it Now. Risks? I hardly think so. I never hunted in couples,
remember--I always went by my lonesome and got away with it. Besides,
who's remembering Slippy? Nobody. He's drowned and dead and done with.
But, however, and nevertheless, and because, I shall go."

Again we looked at each other; and his look was untroubled.

"The pipe-dreams I've had about slipping back into little old New
York! But if anybody had told me I'd go back like I'm going, with the
sort of folks waiting for me that will be waiting now, I'd have passed
it up. Well, you never can tell, can you? And in a way it's funny--now
isn't it?"

"No, you never can tell," said I, soberly. "But I do not think it at
all funny. Quite the contrary." Suppose, oh, suppose, that after all
these years, when a well-earned success was in his grasp, it should
happen--I turned pale. He read my fear in my face and his smile might
have been borrowed from my mother's mouth.

"Don't you get cold feet, parson," he counseled kindly. "Be a sport!
Besides, it's all in the Game, you know."

"Is it?"

"Sure!"

"And worth while, John?"

He laughed. "Believe me! It's the worthwhilest thing under the sun to
sit in the Game, with a sport's interest in the hands dealt out,
taking yours as it comes to you, bluffing all you can when you've got
to, playing your cards for all they're worth when it's your turn. No
reneging. No squealing when you lose. No boasting how you did it when
you win. There's nothing in the whole universe so intensely and
immensely worth while as being _you_ and alive, with yourself the
whole kitty and the sky your limit! It's one great old Game, and I'm
for thanking the Big Dealer that I'da whack at playing it." And his
eyes snapped and his lean brown face flushed.

"And you are really willing to--to stake yourself now, my son?"

"Lord, parson, you ought to know! And you a dead ringer for the real
thing in a classy sport yourself!"

"My _dear_ son--!"

My dear son waved his fine hand, and chuckled in his red beard.

"Would _you_ back down if this was your call? Why, you're the sort
that would tackle the biggest noise in the ring, even if you knew
you'd be dragged out on your pantry in the first half of the first
round, if you thought you'd got holy orders to do it! If you saw me
getting jellyfish of the spine now, you'd curl up and die--wouldn't
you, honest Injun?" His eyes crinkled and he grinned so infectiously
that my fears subsided. I had an almost superstitious certainty that
nothing really evil could happen to a man who could grin like that.
Fate and fortune are perfectly powerless before the human being who
can meet them with the sword of a smile.

"Well," I admitted cautiously, "jellyfish of the spine must be an
unlovely ailment; not that I ever heard of it before."

"You're willing for me to go, then?"

"You'd go anyhow, would you not?"

"Forget it!" said he roughly. "If you think I'd do anything I knew
would cause you uneasiness, you've got another thing coming to you."

"Oh, go, for heaven's sake!" said I, sharply.

"All right. I'll go for heaven's sake," he agreed cheerfully. "And now
it's formally decided I'm to go, and talk, the question arises--what
they really want me to talk about? _I_ don't know how to deal in
glittering generalities. A chap on the trail of truth has got to let
generalities go by the board. The minute he tackles the living Little
People he chucks theories and bucks conditions.

"Suppose I tell the truth as I see it: that most so-called authorities
are like cats chasing their tails--because they accept theories that
have never been really proven, run after them, and so never get
anywhere? And that facts dug up in the open under the sunlight don't
always fit in with notions hatched out in libraries under the electric
light?

"Suppose I say that after they've run everything down to that plasma
they're so fond of beginning and ending with, there is still something
behind it all their theories can't explain away? Protoplasm doesn't
explain Life any more than the battery explains electricity. Instinct?
Evolution? The survival of the fittest? Well, nothing is tagged for
fair, and I'm more than willing to be shown. For the more I find out
from the living things themselves,--you can't get truth from death,
you've got to get it from life--the more self-evident it seems to me
that to exist at all insects must have arrived on the scene complete,
handfinished, with the union label of the Great Workshop on them by
way of a trade-mark."

"As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, one God, world
without end, Amen!" said I, smiling. I have never thought it necessary
to explain or excuse the Creator. God is; things are.

But he shook his head, wrinkling his forehead painfully. "I wish I
_knew_," said he, wistfully. "You're satisfied to believe, but I have
got to know. Oh, great Power behind Things, I want to know! I want to
_know_!"

Ah, but I also do most passionately wish to know! If, however, the
Insect has taught me anything in my lifelong study of it, it is to
recognize the Unknowable, to know there is that which I cannot hope to
know. But if under the law of its world, so different from ours and
yet so alike because so inevitable, the Insect must move in a fixed
circle within which it is safe, a circle whose very limitation
preserves it from error and thus from destruction, may not a like
fixed circle beyond which _we_ may not penetrate preserve us, too? Are
these mountain peaks of the Unknowable, the Impassable, which
encompass the skyline of our humanity, these heights so mysterious and
so unscalable, not rather bulwarks between man's pride and the abyss?

Something of this I said to the Butterfly Man, and he nodded, but did
not answer. He fell into a brown study; then plunged from the room
without further look or word and made for his own desk. I was not
afraid of what the Butterfly Man, fresh from little Appleboro's woods
and fields, would have to say to the scholars and scientists gathered
to hear him!

Apparently he was not either, for after he had gotten a few notes
together he wisely turned the whole affair over to that mysterious
Self that does our work and solves our problems for us. On the surface
he busied himself with a paper setting forth the many reasons why the
County of Appleboro should appropriate adequate funds for a common
dipping vat, and hurried this to Dabney, who was holding open a space
in the _Clarion_ for it. Then there were new breeding cages to be
made, for the supply of eggs and cocoons on hand would require
additional quarters, once they began to emerge.

By the Saturday he had finished all this; and as I had that afternoon
free we spent some beautiful hours with the microscope and slide
mounts. I completed, too, the long delayed drawings of some diurnal
wasp-moths and their larvæ. We worked until my mother interrupted us
with a summons to an early dinner, for Saturday evening belongs to the
confessional and I was shortly due at the church.

I left Flint with Madame and Miss Sally Ruth, who had run over after
the neighborly Appleboro wont with a plate of fresh sponge-cake and a
bowl of fragrant custard. Miss Sally Ruth is nothing if not generous,
but there are times when one could wish upon her the affliction of
dumbness. As I slipped into my cassock in the study, I could hear her
uplifted voice, a voice so insistent and so penetrating that it can
pierce closed doors and come through a ceiling:

"I declare to goodness, I don't know what to believe any more! She's
got money enough in her own right, hasn't she? For heaven's sake,
then, why should she marry for more money? But you never really know
people, do you? Why, folks say--"

I hurried out of the house and ran the short distance to the church. I
wished I hadn't heard; I wished Miss Sally Ruth, good as she is, would
sometimes hold her tongue. She will set folks by the ears in heaven
some of these days if she doesn't mend her ways before she gets there.

It must have been all of ten o'clock when I got back to the Parish
House. Madame had retired; John Flint's rooms were dark. The night
itself was dark, though in between the clouds that a brisk wind
pulleyhauled about the skies, one saw many stars.

Too tired to sleep, I sat beside my window and breathed the repose
that lay like a benediction upon the little city. I found myself
praying; for Mary Virginia, whom I loved and over whom I was sorely
troubled; for Laurence, even now walking such a road as I also once
had to travel with feet as young but no more steadfast; and then with
a thankfulness too deep for words, I thought a prayer for the
Butterfly Man. So thinking and so praying, with a glow in my heart
because of him, I closed my window, and crept into bed and into
sleep.

I awoke with a start. Somebody was in the room. There was an urgent
voice whispering my name, an urgent hand upon me. A pocket light
flashed, and in its pale circle appeared the face of John Flint.

"Get up!" said he in an intense whisper. "And come. Come!"

"Why, what in the name of heaven--"

"Don't make a row!" he snarled, and brought his face close. "Here--let
me help you. Heaven, man, how slow you are!" With furious haste he
forced my clothes upon me and even as I mechanically struggled to
adjust them he was hustling me toward the door, through the dark hall,
and down the stairs.

"Easy there--careful of that step!" he breathed in my ear, guiding me.

"But what is the matter?" I whispered back impatiently. I do not
relish mystery and I detest being led willynilly.

"In my rooms," said he briefly, and hustled me across the garden on
the double run, I with my teeth chattering, for I had been dragged out
of my sleep, and the night air was cold.

He fairly lifted me up his porch-steps, unlocked his door, and pushed
me inside. With the drawn shades and the flickering firelight, the
room was peaceful and pleasant enough. Then Kerry caught my astonished
gaze, for the dog stood statue-like beside the Morris chair, and when
I saw what Kerry guarded I crossed myself. Sunk into the chair, the
Butterfly Man's old gray overcoat partly around her, was Mary
Virginia.

At my involuntary exclamation she raised her head and regarded me. A
great sigh welled from her bosom and I could see her eyes dilate and
her lips quiver.

"Padre, Padre!" Down went her head, and she began to cry childishly,
with sobs.

I watched her helplessly, too bewildered to speak. But the other man's
face was the face of one crucified. I saw his eyes, and something I
had been all too blind to rushed upon me overwhelmingly. This, then,
was what had driven him forth for a time, this was what had left its
indelible imprint upon him! He had hung upon his cross and I had not
known. Oh, Butterfly Man, I had not known!

"She'll be able to talk to you in a few minutes now, parson." He was
so perfectly unconscious of himself that he had no idea he had just
made mute confession. He added, doubtfully: "She said she had to come
to you, about something--I don't know what. It's up to you to find
out--she's got to talk to you, parson."

"But--I wanted to talk to you, Padre. That's why I--ran away from home
in the middle of the night." She sat suddenly erect. "I just couldn't
stand things, any more--by myself--"

Gone was the fine lady, the great beauty, the proud jilt who had
broken Laurence's heart and maddened and enslaved Inglesby. Here was
only a piteous child with eyes heavy from weeping, with a pale and sad
face and drooping childish lips. And yet she was so dear and so
lovely, for all her reddened eyelids and her reddened little nose,
that one could have wept with her. The Butterfly Man, with an intake
of breath, stood up.

"I shall leave you with the Padre now," he said evenly, "to tell him
what you wanted to tell him. Father, understand: there's something
rotten wrong, as I've been telling you all along. Now she's got to
tell you what it is and all about it. Everything. Whether she likes to
or not, and no matter what it is, she's got to tell you. You
understand that, Mary Virginia?"

She fixed him with a glance that had in it something hostile and
oblique. Even with those dearest of women whom I adore, there are
moments when I have the impression that they have, so to speak, their
ears laid back flat, and I experience what I may justly term cat-fear.
I felt it then.

"Oh, don't have too much consideration for my feelings, Mr. Flint!"
said she, with that oblique and baffling glance, and the smile Old
Fitz once likened to the Curve in the Cat's Tail. "Indeed, why should
you go? Why don't you stay and find out _why_ I wanted to run to the
Padre--to beg him to find some way to help me, since I can't fall like
a plum into Mr. Inglesby's hand when Mr. Hunter shakes the Eustis
family tree!"

His breath came whistlingly between his teeth.

"Parson! You hear?" he slapped his leg with his open palm. "Oh, I knew
it, I knew it!" And he turned upon her a kindling glance:

"I knew all along it was never in you to be anything but true!" said
the Butterfly Man.



CHAPTER XVI

"WILL YOU WALK INTO MY PARLOR"


It is impossible for me to put down in her own words what Mary
Virginia told the Butterfly Man and me. Also, I have had to fill in
gaps here and there, supplying what was lacking, from my intimate
knowledge of the actors and from such chance words and hints and bits
of detail as came to me afterward. But what I have added has been
necessary, in order to do greater justice to everybody concerned.

If it be true that the boy is father to the man, it is even more
tritely true that the girl is mother to the woman, there being here
less chance for change. So it was with Mary Virginia. That gracious
little girlhood of hers, lived among the birds and bees and blossoms
of an old Carolina garden, had sent her into the Church School with a
settled and definite idealism as part of her nature. Her creed was
simple enough: The world she knew was the best of all possible worlds,
its men good, its women better; and to be happy and loved one had only
to be good and loving.

The school did not disabuse her of this pleasing optimism. It was a
very expensive school and could afford to have optimisms of its own.
For one thing, it had no pupils poor enough to apply the acid test.

When Mary Virginia was seventeen, Mrs. Eustis perceived with dismay
that her child who had promised beauty was instead become angular,
awkward, and self-conscious; and promptly packed the unworldly one off
to spend a saving summer with a strenuously fashionable cousin, a
widow, of whom she herself was very fond. She liked the idea of
placing the gauche girl under so vigorous and seasoned a wing as
Estelle Baker's. As for Mrs. Baker herself, that gay and good-humored
lady laughed at the leggy and serious youngster and promptly took her
education in hand along lines not laid down in Church Schools.

Mrs. Baker was delighted with her own position--the reasonably young,
handsome, and wealthy widow of a man she had been satisfied to marry
and later to bury. She had an unimpaired digestion and no illusions, a
kind heart, and the power of laughter. Naturally, she found life
interesting. A club-woman, an ultra-modernist, vitally alive, she was
fully abreast of her day. Her small library skimmed the cream of the
insurgents and revolutionaries of genius; and here the shy and
reticent schoolgirl with the mark of the churchly checkrein fresh upon
her, was free to browse, for her cousin had no slightest notion of
playing censor. Mrs. Baker thought that the sooner one was allowed to
slough off the gaucheries of the Young Person, the better. She did not
gauge the real and tumultuous depths of feeling concealed under the
young girl's simplicity.

The revolutionaries and the insurgent and free poets didn't trouble
Mary Virginia very much. Although she sensed that something was wrong
with somebody somewhere--hence these lyrical lamentations--she could
not, to save her, tell what all the pother was about, for as yet she
saw the world _couleur de rose_. Some one or two of the French and
Germans pleased her; she fell into long reveries over the Gael, who
has the sound of the sea in his voice and whose eyes are full of a
haunting light, as of sunsets upon graves. But it was the Russians who
electrified and dazzled her. When she glimpsed with her eyes of a
young girl those strange souls simple as children's and yet mosaiced
with unimaginable and barbarous splendors, she stood blinking and half
blinded, awed, fascinated, and avid to know more of that sky-scaling
passion with which they burned.

And in that crucial moment she chanced upon the "Diary of Marie
Bashkirtseff," so frank and so astounding that it took her breath away
and swept her off her feet. She was stirred into a vague and trembling
expectancy; she had the sense of waiting for something to happen. Life
instantly became more colorful and more wonderful than she had dreamed
could be possible, and she wished passionately to experience all these
emotions, so powerful and so poignant. The Russian's morbid and
disease-bright genius acted upon her as with the force and intensity
of a new and potent toxin. She could not lay the book aside, but
carried it up to her room to be pored and pondered over. She failed to
understand that, untried as she was, it was impossible for her to
understand it. Had the book come later, it had been harmless enough;
but it came at a most critical moment of that seething period when
youth turns inward to question the universe, and demands that the
answer shall be personal to itself. The first long ground-swell of
awakening emotion swept over her, sitting in the pleasant chintz-hung
room, with the Russian woman's wild and tameless heart beating through
the book open upon her knees. And these waves of emotion that at
recurrent intervals surge over the soul, come from the shores of a
farther country than any earthly seas have touched, and recede to
depths so profound that only the eyes of God may follow their ebb and
flow.

Mrs. Baker, however, saw nothing about which to give herself any
concern. If she perceived the girl intense and preoccupied, she smiled
indulgently--at Mary Virginia's age one is apt to be like that, and
one recovers from that phase as one gets over mumps and measles. Mrs.
Baker did think it advisable, though, to subtly detach the girl from
books for awhile. She amused herself by allowing her wide-eyed
glimpses of the larger life of grown-ups, by way of arousing and
initiation. Thus it happened that one afternoon at the country-club,
where Mary Virginia, at the green-fruit stage, found herself playing
gooseberry instead of golf, Mrs. Baker sauntered up with a tall and
very blonde man.

"Here," said she gaily, indicating with a wave of her hand her
sulky-eyed young cousin, "is a marvel and a wonder--a girl who accepts
on faith everything and everybody! My dear Howard, in all probability
she will presently even believe in _you_!" With that she left them,
whisked off by a waiting golfer.

The man and the girl appraised each other. The man saw young
bread-and-butter with the raw sugar of beauty sprinkled upon it
promisingly. What the girl saw was not so much a faultlessly groomed
and handsome man as the most beautiful person in the world. And
suddenly she was aware that that for which she had been waiting had
come. Something divine and wonderful was happening, and there was fire
before her eyes and the noise of unloosed winds and great waters in
her ears, and her knees trembled and her heart fluttered. A vivid red
flamed into her pale cheeks, a soft and trembling light suffused her
blue eyes. That happens when the sweet and virginal freshness of youth
is brought face to face with the bright shadow of love.

He drew her out of her shyness and made her laugh, and after awhile,
when there was dancing, he danced with her. He did not behave to her
as other men of Estelle's acquaintance had more than once behaved--as
though they bestowed the lordly honor of their society upon her out of
the sheer goodness of their hearts and their desire to please Mrs.
Baker. Mary Virginia was uncompromising and stiff-necked enough then,
and she bored most of her cousin's friends unconsciously. Now this
man, as much their superior as the sun is to farthing dips, was
exerting himself to please her. That was the one thing Mary Virginia
needed to arouse her.

Mrs. Baker admired Mr. Hunter for a grace of manner almost Latin in
its charm. If at times he puzzled her, he at least never bored her or
anybody else, and for this she praised him in the gates. Her respect
for him deepened when she perceived that he never allowed himself to
be absorbed or monopolized.

The pleasant widow did not take him too seriously. She only asked that
he amuse and interest her. He did both, to a superlative degree. That
is why and how he saw so much of the school-girl cousin whose naïvete
made him smile, it was so absurdly sincere.

Mrs. Baker was glad enough to have Howard take her charge off her
hands occasionally. She thought contact with this fine pagan an
excellent thing for the girl who took herself so seriously. She was
really fond of Mary Virginia, but she must have found her hand-grenade
directness a bit disconcerting at times. She wanted the child's visit
to be pleasant, and she considered it very amiable of Howard to help
her make it so. She had no faintest notion of danger--to her Mary
Virginia was nothing but a child, a little girl one indulged with
pickles and pound-cake and the bliss of staying up later than the
usual bedtime. As for Hunter, his was the French attitude toward the
Young Person; she had heard him say he preferred his flowers in full
bloom and his fruit ripe--one then knows what one is getting; one
isn't deceived by canker in the closed bud and worm in the green
fruit. No, Howard wasn't the sort that hankered for verjuice.

None the less, although Mrs. Baker didn't know it, Mary Virginia was
engaged to the godlike Howard when she returned to school. It was to
be a state secret until after she was graduated, and in the meantime
he was to "make himself worthier of her love." She hadn't any notion
he could be improved upon, but it pleased her to hear him say that.
Humility in the superman is the ultimate proof of perfection.

The maid who attended her room at school arranged for the receipt of
his letters and mailed Mary Virginia's. The maid was sentimental, and
delighted to play a part smacking of those dime novels she spoiled her
brains with.

The little schoolgirl who was in love with love, and secretly
betrothed to a man who had stepped alive out of old knightly romance,
walked in the Land of April Rainbows and felt the whole joyous
universe suffused with a delicious and quivering glow of light and
sound and scent. Surcharged with an emotion that she was irresistibly
urged to express, and unable to do so by word of mouth, she was driven
to the necessity of putting it down on paper for him. And she put it
down in the burning words, the fiery phrases, of those anarchists of
art who had intoxicated and obsessed her.

Just a little later,--even a year later--and Mary Virginia could never
have written those letters. But now, very ignorant, very innocent,
very impassioned, she accomplished a miracle. She was like one
speaking an unknown tongue, perfectly sure that the spirit moved her,
but quite unable to comprehend what it was that it moved her to say.

When Mrs. Baker insisted that her young cousin should come back to her
for the Christmas holidays, the girl was more than eager to go. Seeing
him again only deepened her infatuation.

That holiday visit was an unusually gay one, for Mrs. Baker was really
fond of Mary Virginia--the young girl's tenderness and simplicity
touched the woman of the world. She gave a farewell dance the night
before Mary Virginia was to return to school. It was an informal
affair, with enough college boys and girls to lend it a junior air,
but there was a goodly sprinkling of grown-ups to deepen it, for the
hostess said frankly that she simply couldn't stand the Very Young
except in broken doses and in bright spots.

Hunter, of course, was to be one of the grownups. He had sent Mary
Virginia the flowers she was to wear. And she had a new dancing frock,
quite the loveliest and fluffiest and laciest she had ever worn.

He was somewhat late. And so engrossed with him were all her thoughts,
so eager was she to see him, that she was a disappointing companion
for anybody else. She couldn't talk to anybody else. She flitted in
and out of laughing groups like a blue-and-silver butterfly, and
finally managed to slip away to the stair nook behind what Mrs. Baker
liked to call the conservatory. This was merely a portion of the big
back hall glassed in and hung with a yellow silk curtain; it had a
tiny round crystal fountain in the center and one or two carved seats,
but one wouldn't think so small a space could hold so much bloom and
fragrance. From the nook where Mary Virginia sat, one could hear every
word spoken in the flower-room, though the hearer remained hidden by
the paneled stairway.

Hands in her lacy lap, eyes abstracted, she fell into the dreams that
youth dreams; in which a girl--one's self, say,--walks hand in hand
through an enchanted world with a being very, very little lower than
the angels and twice as dear. They are such innocent dreams, such
impossible dreams, so untouched of all reality; but I wonder, oh I
wonder, if life can ever give us anything to repay their loss!

Somebody spoke in the conservatory and she looked up, startled.
Through a parting in the silk curtain she glimpsed the woman and
recognized one of Estelle's friends, handsome and fashionable, but a
woman she had never liked.

"You provoke me. You try my patience too much!" she was saying, in a
tone of suppressed anger. "People are beginning to say that you have a
serious affair with that sugar-candy chit. I want to know if that is
true?"

The man laughed, a lazy, pleasant, disarming laugh. She knew that
laugh among a million, and her heart began to beat, but not with doubt
or distrust. She wondered how she had missed him, and if he had been
looking for her; she thought of the exquisite secret that bound them
together, and wondered how he was going to protect it without evasions
or untruthfulness. And she thought the woman abominable.

"You're so suspicious, Evie!" he said smilingly. "Why bother about
what can give you no real concern? Why discuss it here, at all? It's
not the thing, really."

The woman stamped her foot. She had an able-bodied temper.

"I will know, and I will know now. I have to know," said she, and her
voice shook. Mary Virginia would have coughed then, would have made
her presence known had she been able; but something held her silent.
"Remember, you're not dealing with a love-sick school-girl now,
Howard: you are dealing with _me_. Have you made that little fool
think you're in love with her?"

"Why, and what then?" he asked coolly. "I like the child. Of course
she is without form and void as yet, but there's quite a lot to that
girl."

"Oh, yes! Quite a lot!" said she, with sarcasm. "That's what made me
take notice. James Eustis's girl--and barrels of money. She'll be a
catch. You are clever, Howard! But what of _me_?"

Mary Virginia's heart fluttered. Indeed, what of this other woman?

"Oh, well, there's nothing definite yet, Evie," said he soothingly. A
hint of impatience was betrayed in his voice. Plainly, it irked him to
be held up and questioned point-blank, at such a time and place. Just
as plainly, he wished to conciliate his jealous questioner. "My dear
girl, it would be all of two or three years before the affair could be
considered. Let well enough alone, Evie. Let's talk about something
else."

"No. We will talk about this. You are offering me a two or three
years' reprieve, are you not? Well, and then?"

"Well, and then suppose I do marry the little thing,--if she hasn't
changed her little mind?" said he, exasperated into punishing her. "It
wouldn't be a bad thing for me, remember, and she's temptingly easy to
deal with--that girl has more faith than the twelve apostles. Heavens,
Evie, don't look like that! My dearest girl, _you_ don't have to
worry, anyhow. If your--er--impediment hasn't stood in my way, why
should mine in yours?"

He spoke with a half-impatient, half-playful reproach. The woman
uttered a little cry. To soothe and silence her, he kissed her. It was
very risky, of course, but then the whole situation was risky, and he
took his chance like the bold player he was. The girl crouching behind
the paneled wall clenched her hands in her lap, felt her heart and
brain on fire, and wondered why the sky did not fall upon the world
and blot it out.

When those two had left the conservatory and she could command her
trembling limbs and whip her senses back into some semblance of order,
she went upstairs and got his letters. When she came downstairs again
he was standing in the hall, and he came forward eager, smiling,
tender, as if his heart welcomed her; as perhaps it did, men having
catholic hearts. She put her hand on his arm and whispered: "Come
into the conservatory."

The hall was quite empty. From drawing-room and library and
dining-room came the laughter and chatter of many people. Then the
music struck up a gay and popular air. The lilt and swing of it made
her giddy. But the little flower-room was cool and sweet, and she drew
a breath of relief.

Hunter bent his fair head, but she pushed him away with her hands
against his chest. A horror of his beauty, his deliberate fascination,
the falseness of him, came over her. For the first time she had been
brought face to face with sin and falsehood, and hers was the
unpardoning white condemnation of an angel to whom sin is unknown and
falsehood impossible. That such knowledge should have come through him
of all men made the thing more unbearable. Surprised and irritated by
the pale tragedy of her aspect, Hunter stared, waiting for her to
speak.

"I was on the stairs. I heard you--and that woman," said she with the
directness that was sometimes so appalling. "And I _know_." Her face
turned burning red before it paled again. She was ashamed for him with
the noble shame of the pure in heart.

His face, too, went red and white with rage and astonishment. It was a
damnable trap for a man to be caught in, and he was furious with the
two women who had pushed him into it--he could have beaten them both
with rods. Innocent as this girl was, he could not hope to deceive her
as to the real truth. She had heard too much. But he thought he could
manage her; women were as wax in Hunter's hands. To begin with, they
_wanted_ to believe him.

"I hate to have to say it--but the lady is jealous," he said frankly
enough, with a disarming smile; and shrugged his shoulders, quite as
if that simple statement explained and excused everything.

"Oh, she need not be afraid--of me!" said the girl, with white-hot
scorn. "I'd rather die by inches of leprosy than belong to you now.
You are clever, though. And I _was_ easy to deal with, wasn't I? And I
cared so much! I dare say it was really your hair and beard, but I
honestly thought you a sort of Archangel! Well, you're not. You're not
anything I thought you--not good nor kind nor honorable nor
truthful--not anything but just a rather paltry sort of liar. You're
not even loyal to _her_. I think I could respect you more if you were.
But I _am_ James Eustis's girl--and that's my salvation, Mr. Hunter.
Please take your letters. You will send me back mine to-morrow."

He stroked his short gold beard. The color had come back into his face
and a new light flashed into his cold blue eyes. He laughed. "Why, you
game little angel!" he said delightedly. "Gad, I never thought you had
it in you--never. I begin to adore you, Mary Virginia, upon my soul I
do! Now listen to reason, my too-good child, and don't be so
puritanical. You've got to take folks as they are and not as you'd
like them to be, you know. Men are not angels, no, nor women, either.
You must learn to be charitable--a virtue very good people seldom
practice and never properly appreciate." And he added, leaning lower:
"Mary Virginia! Give me another chance ... you won't be sorry,
Ladybird."

But she stood unmoved, stonily silent, holding out the letters. And
when he still ignored this silent insistence, she thrust them into his
hands and left him.

Mary Virginia was to go back to school the next night. All day she
waited for her letters. Instead came a note and a huge bunch of
violets. The note said he couldn't allow those precious letters which
meant so much to him to pass even into her hands who had written them.
When he could summon up the courage, he would presently destroy them
himself. And she had treated him with great harshness, and wouldn't
she be a good little girl and let him see her, if only for a few
minutes, before she went away?

Mary Virginia tore up the note and returned the violets by way of
answer.

When she returned to school, the superioress regretted that she had
been allowed to visit Mrs. Baker again, because too much gaiety wasn't
good for her, and she was falling off in her studies. The other girls
said she had lost all her looks, for in truth she was wan and peaked
and hollow-eyed. Seventeen suffers frightfully, when it suffers at
all. Eighteen enjoys its blighted affection, revels in its broken
heart, would like to crochet a black edging on its immortal soul, and
wouldn't exchange its secret sorrow for a public joy. Nineteen is
convalescent--pride would come to its rescue even if life itself did
not beguile it into being happy.

Mary Virginia got back her color and her appetite and forgot to
remember that her heart was incurably broken and that she could never
love again. She liked to think her painful experience had made her
very wise. Then she went abroad, and her cure was complete. The result
of it all was that poise and pride which had so greatly delighted the
autocratic old kinswoman whose fiat had set the last seal of social
success upon her.

When one of life's little jokes flung Hunter into Appleboro and she
had to observe him with impartial and less ingenuous eyes, she forgave
the simple schoolgirl's natural mistake. He had not changed, and she
perceived his effect upon others older and wiser than herself. And her
pride chose neither to slight nor to ignore him now, but rather to
meet him casually, with indifference, as a stranger in whom she was
not at all interested.

Mr. Inglesby she did not take seriously. She did not dream that a
possible menace to herself lay in this stout man whom she considered
fatuous and absurd, when she thought of him at all. That her mother
should be completely taken in by his specious charity and his
plausible presentment of himself, did not surprise her. She was
inclined to smile scornfully and so dismiss him.

She underestimated Inglesby.

The very fact that there was such an obstacle in the way as a young
fellow with whom she fancied herself in love only deepened Inglesby's
passion for Mary Virginia. She was in her proper person all that he
coveted and groveled to. To possess her in addition to his own
wealth--what more could a man ask? Let Eustis become senator,
governor, president, anything he chose. But let Inglesby have Mary
Virginia by way of fair exchange.

Mr. Inglesby was well aware that Miss Eustis would not for one moment
consider him--unless she had to. He proposed to so arrange affairs
that she had to. Naturally, he looked to his private secretary to help
him bring about this desirable end. And at this opportune moment fate
played into his hands in a manner that left Mr. Hunter's assent a
matter of course.

Mr. Hunter had very expensive tastes which his salary was not always
sufficient to cover. Wherefore, like many another, he speculated. When
he was lucky, it was easy money; but it was never enough. Of late he
had not been fortunate, and he found himself confronted by the high
cost of living as he chose to live. This annoyed him. So when there
came his way what appeared to be an absolute certainty of not only
recouping all his losses but of making some real money as well, Hunter
plunged, with every dollar he could manage to get hold of. But Wall
Street is a lane that has many crooked and devious turnings, and Mr.
Hunter's investments took a very wrong turn. And this time it was not
only all his own money that had been lost. The bottom might have
dropped out of things then, except for Inglesby.

When Hunter had to tell him the truth the financier listened with an
unmoved face. Then he swung around in his chair, lifted an eyebrow,
grunted, and remarked briefly: "Very unsafe thing to do, Hunter.
Very." And shoved his personal check across the desk. Nobody knew
anything about it, except the head bookkeeper of the bank.

Inglesby had no illusions, however. He understood that to have in his
power an immensely clever man who knew as much about his private
affairs as Hunter did, was good business, to say the least. He simply
invested in Mr. Hunter's brains and personality for his own immediate
ends, and he expected his brilliant and expensive secretary to prove
the worth of the investment.

Inglesby had not risen to his present heights by beating about the
bush in his dealings with others. He had seized Success by the
windpipe and throttled it into obedience, and he ruthlessly bent
everything and everybody to his own purposes. The task he set before
Hunter now was to steer the Inglesby ship through a perilous passage
into the matrimonial harbor he had in mind. Let Hunter do that--no
matter how--and the pilot's future was assured. Inglesby would be no
niggardly rewarder. But let the venture come to shipwreck and Hunter
must go down with it. Hunter was not left in any doubt upon that
score.

Brought face to face with the situation as it affected his fortune and
misfortune, Hunter must have had a very bad half an hour. I am sure he
had not dreamed of such a contretemps, and he must have been startled
and amazed by the cold calculation and the raw fury of passion he had
to deal with. I do not think he relished his task. His was the sort of
conscience that would dislike such a course, not because it was
dishonorable or immoral in itself, but because its details offended
his fastidiousness. I think he would have extricated himself honorably
if he could. It just happened that he couldn't.

Give a sufficient shock to a man's pocket-nerve and you electrify his
brain-cells, which automatically receive orders to work overtime.
Hunter's brain worked then because it had to, self-preservation being
the first law of nature. And this service for Inglesby not only spelt
safety; it meant the golden key to the heights, the power to gratify
those fine tastes which only a rich and able man can afford. Inglesby
had promised that, and he had just had a fair example of what
Inglesby's support meant.

One must try to consider the case from Mr. Hunter's point of view. To
refuse Inglesby meant disaster. And who was Laurence, who was Mary
Virginia, that he should quixotically wreck his prospects for them?
Why should he lose Inglesby's goodwill or gain Inglesby's enmity for
them or anybody else? Forced to choose, Hunter made the only choice
possible to him.

_Voe victis!_



CHAPTER XVII

"--SAID THE SPIDER TO THE FLY--"


Now I am only an old priest and no businessman, so of course I do not
know just how Hunter was set like a hound upon the track of those
circumstances that, properly manipulated, helped him toward a solution
of his problem--the getting of a girl apparently as unreachable as
Mary Virginia Eustis.

To start with, he had two assets, the first being Eustis pride.
Shrewdly working upon that, Hunter played with skill and finesse.

When he was ready, it was easy enough to meet Miss Eustis on the
street of an afternoon. Although her greeting was disconcertingly
cold, he fell into step beside her. And presently, in a low and
intimate voice, he began to quote certain phrases that rang in her
astonished ears with a sort of hateful familiarity.

A glance at her face made him smile. "I wonder," he questioned, "if
you have changed, dear puritan? You are engaged to Mayne now, I hear.
Very clever chap, Mayne. The moving power behind your father, I
understand. And engaged to you! You're so intense and interesting when
you're in love that one is tempted to envy Mayne. Do you write _him_
letters, too?"

Mary Virginia's level eyes regarded him with haughty surprise. The
situation was rather unbelievable.

"Miss Eustis--" he paused to bow and smile to some passing girls who
plainly envied Mary Virginia, "Miss Eustis, you must come to my
office, say to-morrow afternoon. We must have a heart-to-heart talk. I
have something you will find it to your interest to discuss with me."

She disdained to reply, to ask him to leave her; her attitude did not
even suggest that he should explain himself. Seeming to be perfectly
content with this attitude, he sauntered along beside her.

"Do you know," he smiled, "that with you the art of writing genuine
love-letters amounts to a gift? I am sure your father--and let's say
Mayne--would be astonished and delighted to read the ones I have. They
are unequaled. Human documents, heart-interest, delicate and piquant
sex-tang--the very sort of thing the dear public devours. I told you
once they meant a great deal to me, remember? They're going to mean
more. Come about four, please." He lifted his hat, bowed, and was
gone.

Mary Virginia went to his office at four o'clock the next afternoon,
as he had planned she should. She wanted to know exactly what he
meant, and she fancied he meant to make her buy back the letters he
claimed not to have destroyed. The bare idea of anybody on earth
reading those insane vaporings sickened her.

Hunter's manner subtly allowed her to understand that he had known she
would come, and this angered her inexpressibly; it gave him an
advantage.

"Instead of wasting time in idle persiflage," he said when he had
handed her a chair, "let's get right down to brass tacks. You
naturally desire to know why I kept your letters? For one reason,
because they are a bit of real literature. However, I propose to
return them now--for a consideration."

He leaned forward, idly drumming on the polished desk, and regarded
her with a sort of impersonal speculation. A little smile crept to his
lip.

"The whirligig of time does bring in its revenges, doesn't it?" he
mused aloud. Mary Virginia's lips curled.

"I do not follow you," she said coldly. "I am not even sure you have
the letters--that is why I am here. I must see them with my own eyes
before I agree to pay for them. That is what you expect me to do, is
it not?"

"Oh, I have them all right--that is very easily proven," said he,
unruffled. "Now listen carefully, please, while I explain the real
reason for your presence here this afternoon. Mr. Inglesby, for
reasons of his own, desires to don the senatorial toga; why not? Also,
even more vehemently, Mr. Inglesby desires to lead to the altar Miss
Mary Virginia Eustis: yourself, dear lady, your charming self: again,
why not? Who can blame him for so natural and laudable an ambition?

"As to his ever persuading you to become Mrs. Inglesby, without
some--ah--moral suasion, why, you know what his chance would be better
than I do. As to his persuading the state to send him to Washington,
it would have been a certainty, a sure thing, if our zealous young
friend Mayne hadn't egged your father into the game. How Mayne managed
that, heaven knows, particularly with your father's affairs in the
condition they are. Now, Eustis is a fine man. Far too fine to be lost
in the shuffle at Washington, where he'd be a condemned
nuisance--just as he sometimes is here at home. Do you begin to
comprehend?"

"Why, no," said she, blankly. "And I certainly fail to see where my
silly letters--"

"Let me make it plainer. You and your silly letters put the game into
Mr. Inglesby's hands, swing the balance in his favor. _You_ pay _me_?
Heavens, no! _We_ pay _you_--and a thumping price at that!"

For a long moment they looked at each other.

"My dear Miss Eustis," he put the tips of his fine fingers together,
bent forward over them, and favored her with a white-toothed smile,
"behold in me Mr. Inglesby's ambassador--the advocate of Cupid. Plainly,
I am authorized to offer you Mr. Inglesby's heart, his hand, and--his
check-book. Let us suppose you agree to accept--no, don't interrupt me
yet, please. And keep your seat, Miss Eustis. You may smile, but I would
advise you to consider very seriously what I am about to say to you, and
to realize once for all that Mr. Inglesby is in dead earnest and
prepared to go to considerable lengths. Well, then, as I was about to
say: suppose you agree to accept his proposal! Being above all things a
business man, Mr. Inglesby realizes that gilt-edged collateral should be
put up for what you have to offer--youth, beauty, charm, health,
culture, family name, desirable and influential connections, social
position of the highest. In exchange he offers the Inglesby millions,
his absolute devotion to yourself, and his hearty support to all your
father's plans and interests. Observe the last, please; it is highly
important. Besides this, Mayne and Eustis want reform, progress,
Demos-with-a-full-dinner-pail, all the wearisome rest of that uplift
stuff? Inglesby will see that they get an undiluted dose of it. More
yet: if you have any scruples about Mayne, Inglesby will get behind that
young man and boost him until he can crow on the weathervane--when you
are Mrs. Inglesby. A chap like Mayne would be valuable, properly
expurgated. Come, Miss Eustis, that's fair enough. If you refuse--well,
it's up to you to make Eustis understand that he must eliminate himself
from politics--and look out for himself," he finished ominously.

Mary Virginia rose impetuously.

"I am no longer seventeen, Mr. Hunter. What, do you honestly think you
can frighten a grown woman into believing that a handful of silly
letters could possibly be worth all that? Well, you can't. And--let me
remind you that blackmailing women isn't smiled upon in Carolina. A
hint of this and you'd be ostracized."

"So would you. And why use such an extreme term as blackmailing for
what really is a very fair offer?" said he, equably. "The letters are
not the only arrows in my quiver, Miss Eustis. But as you are more
interested in them than anything else just now, suppose we run over a
few, just to remind you of their amazing nature?" He rose leisurely,
opened the safe in a corner of the room, took from the steel
money-vault a package, and Mary Virginia recognized her own writing.
Always keeping them under his own hand, he yet allowed her to lean
forward and verify what he chose to read.

Her face burned and tears of mortification stung her eyes. Good
heavens, had she been as silly and as sentimental as all that? But as
she listened to his smooth remorseless voice, mortification merged
into amazement and amazement into consternation. Older and wiser now,
she saw what ignorance and infatuation had really accomplished, and
she realized that a fool can unwittingly pull the universe about her
ears.

She was appalled. It was as if her waking self were confronted by an
incredible something her dreaming self had done. She knew enough of
the world now to realize how such letters would be received--with
smiles intended to wound, with the raised eyebrow, the shrugged
shoulder. She wondered, with a chill of panic, how she could ever hope
to make anybody understand what she admitted she herself couldn't
explain. For heaven's sake, _what_ had she been trying to tell this
man? She didn't know any more, except that it hadn't been what these
letters seemed to reveal.

"Well?" said the lazy, pleasant voice, "don't you agree with me that
it would have been barbarous to destroy them? Wonderful, aren't they?
Who would credit a demure American schoolgirl with their supreme art?
A French court lady might have written them, in a day when folks made
a fine art of love and weren't afraid nor ashamed."

"I must have been stark mad!" said she, twisting her fingers. "How
could I ever have done it? Oh, how?"

"Oh, we all have our moments of genius!" said he, airily.

As he faced her, smiling and urbane, she noted woman-fashion the
superfine quality of his linen, the perfection of every detail of his
appearance, the grace with which he wore his clothes. His manner was
gracious, even courtly. Yet there was about him something so
relentless that for the first time she felt a quiver of fear.

"If my father--or Mr. Mayne--knew this, you would undoubtedly be
shot!" said she, and her eyes flashed.

"Unwritten law, chivalry, all the rest of that rot? I am well aware
that the Southern trigger-finger is none too steady, where lovely
woman is concerned," he admitted, with a faint sneer. "But when one
plays for high stakes, Miss Eustis, one runs the risks. Granted I do
get shot? That wouldn't give you the letters: it would simply hand
them over to prosecuting attorneys and the public press, and they'd be
damning with blood upon them. No, I don't think there'll be any
fireworks--just a sensible deal, in which everybody benefits and
nobody loses."

"The thing is impossible, perfectly impossible."

"I don't see why. Everything has its price and I'm offering you a
pretty stiff one."

"I would rather be burned alive. Marry Mr. Inglesby? _I_? Why, he is
impossible, perfectly impossible!"

"He is nothing of the kind. And he is very much in love with you--you
amount to a grand passion with Inglesby. Also, he has twenty
millions." He added dryly: "You are hard to please."

Mary Virginia waved aside grand passion and twenty millions with a
gesture of ineffable disdain.

"Even if I were weak and silly enough to take you seriously, do you
imagine my father would ever consent? He would despise me. He would
rather see me dead."

"Oh, no, he wouldn't. Nobody can afford to despise a woman with twenty
millions. It isn't in human nature. Particularly when you save Mr.
James Eustis himself from coming a breakneck cropper, to say the very
least."

For the moment she missed the significance of that last remark.

"I repeat that I would rather be burned alive. I despise the man!"
said she, passionately.

"Oh, no, you wouldn't." His manner was a bit contemptuous. "And you'd
soon get used to him. Women and cats are like that. They may squall
and scratch a bit at first, but the saucer of cream reconciles them,
and presently they are quite at home and purring, the sensible
creatures! You'll end by liking him very well."

The girl ignored this Job's comforting.

"What shall I say to my father?" she asked directly. "Tell him you
kept the foolish letters written you by an ignorant child--and the
price is either his or my selling out to Mr. Inglesby?"

"That is your lookout. You can't expect us to let your side whip us,
hands down, can you? Mr. Inglesby does not propose to submit tamely to
_everything_." His face hardened, a glacial glint snapped into his
eyes. "Inglesby's no worse than anybody else would be that had to hold
down his job. He's got virtues, plenty of solid good-citizen,
church-member, father-of-a-family virtues, little as you seem to
realize it. Also, let me repeat--he has twenty millions. To buy up a
handful of letters for twenty million dollars looks to me about the
biggest price ever paid since the world began. Don't be a fool!"

"I refuse. I refuse absolutely and unconditionally. I shall
immediately send for my father--and for Mr. Mayne--"

"I give you credit for better sense," said he, with a razor-edged
smile. "Eustis is honorable and Mayne is in love with you, and when
you spring this they'll swear they believe you: _but will they_? Do
men ever believe women, without the leaven of a little doubt? Speaking
as a man for men, I wouldn't put them to the test. No, dear lady, I
hardly think you are going to be so silly. Now let us pass on to
something of greater moment than the letters. Did you think I had
nothing else to urge upon you?"

"What, more?" said she, derisively. "I don't think I understand."

"I am sure you don't. Permit me, then, to enlighten you." He paused a
moment, as if to reflect. Then, impressively:

"Hitherto, Miss Eustis, you have had the very button on Fortune's
cap," he told her. "Suppose, however, that fickle goddess chose to
whisk herself off bodily, and left you--_you_, mind you! to face the
ugly realities of poverty, and poverty under a cloud?" And while she
stared at him blankly, he asked: "What do you know of your father's
affairs?"

As a matter of fact she knew very little. But something in the deadly
pleasantness of his voice, something in his eyes, startled her.

"What do you mean, Mr. Hunter?"

"Ah, now we get down to bedrock: your father's affairs," he said evenly.
"Your father, Miss Eustis, is a very remarkable man, a man with one
idea. In other words, a fanatic. Only a fanatic could accomplish what
Eustis has accomplished. His one idea is the very sound old idea that
people should remain on the land. He starts in to show his people how to
do it successfully. Once started, the work grows like Jonah's gourd. He
becomes a sort of rural white hope. So far, so good. But reclamation
work, experimenting, blooded stock, up-to-the-minute machinery,
labor-saving devices, chemicals, high-priced experts, labor itself, all
that calls for money, plenty of money. Your father's work grew to its
monumental proportions because he'd gotten other men interested in
it--all sorts and conditions of men, but chiefly--and here's at once his
strength and weakness--farmers, planters, small-town merchants and
bankers. They backed him with everything they had--and they haven't
lost--yet.

"However, there are such things as bad seasons, labor troubles,
boll-weevil, canker, floods, war. He lost ship-loads of cotton. He
lost heavily on rice. Remember those last floods? In some of his
places they wiped the work of years clean off the map. He had to begin
all over, and he had to do it on borrowed money; which in lean and
losing years is expensive. Floods may come and crops may go, but
interest on borrowed money goes on forever. He mortgaged all he could
mortgage, risked everything he could risk, took every chance--and now
everything is at stake with him.

"Do you realize what it would mean if Eustis went under? A smash to
shake the state! Consider, too, the effect of failure upon the man
himself! He can't fail, though--_if Mr. Inglesby chooses to lend a
hand_. Now do you begin to comprehend?"

In spite of her distrust, he impressed her profoundly. He did not
over-estimate her father's passionate belief in himself and the value
of his work. If anything, Hunter had slurred the immense influence
Eustis exerted, and the calamitous effect his failure would have upon
the plain people who looked up to him with such unlimited trust. They
would not only lose their money; they would lose something no money
could pay for--their faith.

"Oh, but that just simply couldn't happen!" said Mary Virginia, and
her chin went up.

"It could very easily happen. It may happen shortly," he contradicted
politely. "Heavens, girl, don't you know that the Eustis house is
mortgaged to the roof, that Rosemount Plantation is mortgaged from the
front fences to the back ditches? No, I suppose he wouldn't want his
women-folks to know. He thinks he can tide it over. They always
believe they can tide it over, those one-idea chaps. And he could,
too, for he's a born winner, is Eustis. Give him time and a good
season and he'd be up again, stronger than ever." While he spoke he
was taking from a drawer a handful of papers, which he spread out on
the desk. She could see upon all of them a bold clear "_James
Eustis_."

"One place mortgaged to prop up another, and that in turn mortgaged to
save a third. Like links in a chain. Any chain is only as strong as
its weakest link, remember. And we've got the links. Look at these,
please." He laid before her two or three slips of paper. Mary
Virginia's eyes asked for enlightenment.

"These," explained Hunter, "are promissory notes. You will see that
some of them are about due--and the amounts are considerable."

"Oh! And _he_ had to do that?"

"Of course. What else could he do? We kept a very close watch since we
got the first inkling that things were not breaking right for him. Mr.
Inglesby's own interests are pretty extensive--and we set them to
work. It wasn't hard to manage, after things began to shape: a word
here, a hint there, an order somewhere else; and once or twice, of
course, a bit of pressure was brought to bear, in obdurate instances.
But the man with money is always the man with the whip hand. Eustis
got the help he had to have--and presently we got these. All perfectly
legitimate, all in the course of the day's work.

"Now, promissory notes are dangerous instruments should a holder
desire to use them dangerously. Mr. Inglesby could give Eustis an
extension of time, or he could demand full payment and immediately
foreclose. You see, it's entirely optional with Mr. Inglesby." And he
leaned back in his chair, perfectly self-possessed, entirely at his
ease, and waited for her to speak.

"You could do that--anybody could do that--to my father?" she was
only half-convinced.

"I assure you we can send him under--with a lot of other men's money
tied around his neck to keep him down."

"But even you would hesitate to do a thing like that!"

"All is fair," said Hunter, "in love and war."

"_Fair_?"

"Legitimate, then."

"But if he is in Mr. Inglesby's way and in his power at the same time,
why not remove him in the ordinary course of business? Why drag in me
and my letters?"

"Why? Because it's the letters that enable us to reach _you_. My dear
girl, Mr. Inglesby doesn't really give a hang whether Eustis sinks or
swims. He'd as lief back him as not, for in the long run it's good
business to back a winner. But it's _you_ he's playing for, and on
that count all is fish that comes to his net. _Now_ do you begin to
see?"

Mary Virginia began to see. She looked at the unruffled man before her
a bit wonderingly.

"And what do _you_ get out of this?" she asked, unexpectedly. "Mr.
Inglesby is to get me, I am to get his money and a package of letters,
my father is to get time to save himself; well then, what do _you_
get? The pleasure of doing something wrong? Revenge?"

But Hunter looked at her with cold astonishment. "You surprise me," he
said. "You talk as if you'd been going to see too many of those
insufferable screen-plays that make the proletariat sniffle and the
intelligent swear. I am merely a business man, Miss Eustis, and
attending to this particular affair for my employer is all in the
course of the day's work. I--er--am not in a position to refuse to
obey orders or to be captious, particularly since Mr. Inglesby has
agreed to double my present salary. That in itself is no light
inducement--but I get more. I get Mr. Inglesby's personal backing,
which means an assured future to me; as it will mean to you and your
father, if you have got the sense you were born with. This is
business. Kindly omit melodrama--crude, and not at all your style,
really," he finished, critically.

"This is nothing short of villainy. And not at all too crude for
_your_ style," said Mary Virginia.

He laughed good-humoredly. "Bad temper is vastly becoming to you," he
told her. "It gives you a magnificent color."

And at that Mary Virginia looked at him with eyes in which the shadow
of fear was deepening. Hard as nails, cold as ice, to him she was
merely a means to an end. He did not even hate her. The guillotine
does not hate those whom it decapitates, either; none the less it
takes off their heads once they get in the way of the descending
knife.

"I suggest," said Hunter, rising, "that you go home now and think the
matter over carefully. Weigh what you and your father stand to gain
against what you stand to lose. I do not press you for an immediate
decision. You shall have a reasonable time for consideration." It was
a threat and a command, thinly veiled.

All that night, unable to sleep, she did think the matter over
carefully; she turned and twisted it about and about and saw it now
from this angle and now from that; and the more she studied it in all
its bearings the worse it grew. There was no escape from it.

Suppose, although she knew she could never, never hope to
satisfactorily explain them, she nevertheless told her father about
those letters and the part they were to be made play, now that his own
affairs had reached a crisis? She could fancy herself telling him that
he must shield himself behind her skirts if he would save himself from
ruin. That ... to James Eustis!

Suppose that the Carolina trigger-finger slipped, as Hunter had
nonchalantly admitted might happen: what then? But it is the woman in
the case who always suffers the most and the longest; it is the woman,
always, who pays the greater price. Her fears magnified the imagined
evil, her pride was crucified.

What tortured her most was that they were actually making her party to
a wreck that could easily be averted. Hunter had admitted that Eustis
could weather the storm, if he were given time. Oh, to gain time for
him, then! And she lay there, staring into the dark with wet eyes. How
could she help him, she who was also snared?

And in desperation she hit upon a forlorn hope. She dared not speak
out openly to anybody, she dared not flatly refuse Inglesby's
pretensions, for that would be to invite the avalanche. What she
proposed to herself was to hold him off as long as she could. She
would not be definite until the last possible minute. Always there was
the chance that by some miracle of mercy Eustis might be able to meet
those notes when they fell due. Let him do that, and she would then
tell him everything. But not now. He was bearing too much, without
that added burden.

It cost her a supreme effort to face the situation as it affected
herself and Laurence. Life without Laurence! The bare thought of it
tested her heart and showed her how inalienably it belonged to him.
But under all his lovingness and his boyishness, Laurence had a
sternness, a ruggedness as adamantine as one of Cromwell's Iron-sides.
With him to know would be to act. Well--he mustn't know. It terrified
her to think of just what might happen, if Laurence knew.

Under the circumstances there seemed but one course open to her--to
give up Laurence, and that without explanations. For his own sake she
had to keep silent--just as Hunter had known she would. What Laurence
must think of her, even the loss of his affection and respect, would
be part of the price paid for having been a fool.

In the most unobtrusive manner they kept in touch with her. Hunter had
so adroitly wirepulled, and so deftly softened and toned down
Inglesby's crudities, that Mrs. Eustis had become the latter's open
champion. Condescending and patronizing, she liked the importance of
lending a very rich man her social countenance. She insisted that he
was misunderstood. Men of great fortunes are always misunderstood.
Nobody considers it a virtue to be charitable to the rich--they save
all their charity for the poor, who as often as not are undeserving,
and are generally insanitary as well. Mrs. Eustis thanked her heavenly
Father she was a woman of larger vision, and never thought ill of a
man just because he happened to be a millionaire. Millionaires have
got souls, she hoped? And hearts? Mrs. Eustis said she knew Mr.
Inglesby's noble heart, my dear, whether others did or not.

Compelled to apparently jilt Laurence, Mary Virginia sank deeper and
deeper into the slough of despond. A terror of Inglesby's power, as of
something supernatural, was growing upon her, a terror almost childish
in its intensity. He had begun to occupy the niche vacated by the
Boogerman her Dah had threatened her with in her nursery. She could
barely conceal this terror, save that an instinct warned her that to
let him know she feared him would be fatal. And she felt for him a
physical repulsion strong enough to be nauseating.

The fact that she disdained and perhaps even disliked him and made no
effort to conceal her feelings, did not in the least ruffle his bland
complacency nor affront his pride. He knew that not even an Inglesby
could hope to find a Mary Virginia more than once in a lifetime, and
the haughtier she was the more she pleased him; it added to his
innate sense of power, and this in itself endeared her to him
inexpressibly.

But as the girl still held out stubbornly, trying to evade the final
word that would force a climax disastrous any way she viewed it,
Inglesby's patience was exhausted. He was determined to make her come
to terms by the word of her own mouth, and he had no doubt that her
final word must be Yes; perhaps a Yes reluctant enough, but
nevertheless one to which he meant to hold her.

To make that final demand more impressive, Hunter was not entrusted
with the interview. Hunter may have been doubtful as to the wisdom of
this, but Inglesby could no longer forego the delight of dealing with
Mary Virginia personally. On the Saturday night, then, Mrs. Eustis
being absent, Mr. Inglesby, manicured, massaged, immaculate, shaven
and shorn, called in person; and not daring to refuse, Mary Virginia
received him, wondering if for her the end of the world had not come.

He made a mistake, for Mary Virginia had her back against the wall,
literally waiting for the Eustis roof to fall. But he could not forego
the pleasure of witnessing her pride lower its crest to him. He did
not relish a go-between, even such a successful one as his secretary.
He had made up his mind that she should have until to-morrow night,
Sunday, to come to a decision--just that long, and not another hour.
He was not getting younger; he wanted to marry, to found a great
establishment as whose mistress Mary Virginia should shine. And she
was making him lose time.

What Inglesby succeeded in doing was to bring her terror to a head,
and to fill her with a sick loathing of him. Under the smooth
protestations, the promises, the threats veiled with hateful and oily
smiles, the man himself was revealed: crude, brutal, dominant,
ruthless, a male animal bull-necked and arrogant, with small eyes,
wide nostrils, cruel moist lips, sensual fat white hands she hated.
And he was so sure of her! Mary Virginia found herself smarting under
that horrible sureness.

Perfectly at his ease, inclined to be familiar and jocose, he looked
insolently about the lovely old room that had never before held such a
suitor for a daughter of that house. Watching her with the complacent
eyes of an accepted lover, assuming odious airs of proprietorship such
as made one wish to throttle him, he was in no hurry to go. It seemed
to her that black and withering years rolled over her head before he
could bring himself to rise to take his departure. Death could hardly
be colder to a mortal than she had been to this man all the evening,
and yet it had not disconcerted him in the least!

He stood for a moment regarding her with the eyes of possession. "And
to think that to-morrow night I shall have the right to openly claim
you as my promised wife!" he exulted. "You can't realize what it means
to a man to be able to say to the world that the most beautiful woman
in it is his!"

Directly in front of her hung the portrait of the founder of the house
in Carolina, the cavalier who had fled to the new world when Charles
Stuart's head fell in the old one. It was a fine and proud face, the
eyes frank and brave, the mouth firm and sweet. The girl looked from
it to George Inglesby's, and found herself unable to speak. But as she
stood before him, tall and proud and pale, the loveliness, the
appealing charm of her, went like a strong wine to the man's head.
With a quick and fierce movement he seized her hand and covered it
with hot and hateful kisses.

At the touch of his lips cold horror seized her. She dragged her hand
free and waved him back with a splendid indignation. But Inglesby was
out of hand; he had taken the bit between his teeth, and now he
bolted.

"Do you think I'm made of stone?" he bellowed, and the mask slipped
altogether. There was no hypocrisy about Inglesby now; this was
genuine. "Well, I'm not! I'm a man, a flesh-and-blood man, and I'm
crazy for you--and you're _mine_! You're _mine_, and you might just as
well face the music and get acquainted with me, first as last.
Understand?

"I'm not such a bad sort--what's the matter with me, anyhow? Why ain't
I good enough for you or any other woman? Suppose I'm not a young
whippersnapper with his head full of nonsense and his pockets full of
nothing, can the best popinjay of them all do for you what _I_ can?
Can any of 'em offer you what _I_ can offer? Let him try to: I'll
raise his bid!

"Here--don't you stand there staring at me as if I'd tried to slit
your throat just because I've kissed your hand. Suppose I did? Why
shouldn't I kiss your hand if I want to? It's my hand, when all's said
and done, and I'll kiss it again if I feel like it. No, no, beauty, I
won't, not if it's going to make you look at me like that! Why, queen,
I wouldn't frighten you for worlds! I love you too much to want to do
anything but please you. I'd do anything, everything, just to please
you, to make you like me! You'll believe that, won't you?" And he
held out his hands with a supplicating and impassioned gesture.

"Why can't we be friends? Try to be friends with me, Mary Virginia!
You would, if you only knew how much I love you. Why, I've loved you
ever since that first day I saw you, after you'd come back home. I was
going into the bank, and I turned, and there you were! You had on a
gray dress, and you wore violets, a big bunch of them. I can smell
them yet. God! It was all up with me! I was crazy about you from the
start, and it's been getting worse and worse ... worse and worse!

"You don't know all I mean to do for you, beauty! I'm going to give
you this little old world to play with. Nothing's too good for _you_.
Look at me! I'm not an old man yet--I've only just _begun_ to make
money for you. Now be a little kind to me. You've got to marry me, you
know. Look here: you kiss me good-night, just once, of your own free
will, and I swear you shall have anything under the sky you ask me
for. Do you want a string of pearls that will make yours look like a
child's playpretty? I'll hang a million dollars around that white
throat of yours!"

But there came into the girl's eyes that which gave him pause. They
stood staring at each other; and slowly the wine-dark flush faded from
his face and left him livid. Little dents came about his nose, and his
lips puckered as if the devil had pinched them together.

"No?" said he thickly, and his jaw hardened, and his eyes narrowed
under his square forehead. "No? You won't, eh? Too fine and proud? My
lady, you'll learn to kiss me when I tell you to, and glad enough of
the chance, before you and I finish with each other! Why, you--I--Oh,
good God! Why do you rouse the devil in me, when I only want to be
friends with you?"

But she, with a ghastly face, turned swiftly and with her head held
high walked out of the room, passed through the wide hall, and
ascended the stairs, without even bidding him goodnight. Let him take
his dismissal as he would--she could stand no more!

Once in her own room, Mary Virginia dismissed Nancy for the night. She
had to be alone, and the colored woman was an irrepressible magpie.
Furiously she scrubbed her hands, as if to remove the taint of his
touch. That he had dared! Her teeth chattered. She could barely save
herself from screaming aloud. She bathed her face, dashed some toilet
water over herself, and fell into a chair, limp and unnerved.

_One day!_

She was facing the end and she knew it. Because she had to say No. She
had never for one minute admitted to herself the possibility of her
own surrender. She could give up Laurence, since she had to; but she
could not accept Inglesby. Anything rather than that! At the most, all
she had hoped was to evade that final No until the last moment, in
order to give Eustis what poor respite she could. Only her great love
for him had enabled her to do that much. And it had not helped. When
she thought of the wreck that must come, she beat her hands together,
softly, in sheer misery. It was like standing by and watching some
splendid ship being pounded to pieces on the rocks.

Only her innate bravery and her real and deep religious instinct saved
her from altogether sinking into inertia and despair. She _had_ to
arouse herself. Other women had faced situations equally as impossible
and unbearable as hers, and the best of them had not allowed
themselves to be whipped into tame and abject submission. Even at the
worst they had snatched the great chance to live their own lives in
their own way. As for her, surely there must be some way out of this
snarl, some immediate way that led to honorable freedom, even without
hope. But how and where was she to find any way open to her, between
now and to-morrow night?

On her dressing table, with a handful of trinkets upon it, lay the
tray that the Butterfly Man had sent her when she was graduated. Chin
in hands, Mary Virginia stared absently enough at the brightly colored
butterflies she had been told to remember were messengers bearing on
their wings the love of the Parish House people. Why--why--of course!
The Parish House people! They had blamed her, because they hadn't
understood. But if she were to ask the Parish House people for any
help within their power, she could be sure of receiving it without
stint.

If she could get to the Parish House without anybody knowing where she
was, Inglesby and Hunter would be balked of that interview to-morrow
night. The worst was going to happen anyhow, but if she couldn't save
herself from anything else, at least she could save herself from
facing them alone. To be able to do that, she would go now, in the
middle of the night, and tell the Padre everything. Unnerved as she
was, she couldn't face the hours between now and to-morrow morning
here, by herself. She had to get to the Parish House.

It was then after eleven. Nancy having been dismissed for the night,
she had no fear of being interrupted. She made her few preparations,
switched off the light, and sat down to wait until she could be sure
that all the servants were abed, and the streets deserted. She felt as
if she were a forlorn castaway upon a pinpoint of land, with
immeasurable dark depths upon either side.

The midnight express screeched and was gone. She switched on the light
for a last look about her pretty, pleasant room. There was a snapshot
of the Parish House people upon her mantel, and she nodded to it,
gravely, before she once more plunged the room into darkness.

Noiselessly she slipped downstairs and let herself out. The midnight
air was bitingly cold, but she did not feel it. With one handsatchel
holding all she thought she could honestly lay claim to, Mary Virginia
turned her back upon the home that had sheltered her all her life, but
that wouldn't be able to shelter its own people much longer, because
Inglesby was going to take it away from them. It made her wince to
think of him as master under that roof. The old house deserved a
happier fate.

At best the Parish House could be only a momentary stopping-place.
What lay beyond she didn't know. What her fate held further of evil
she couldn't guess. But at least, she thought, it would be in her own
hands. It wasn't. Unexpectedly and mercifully was it put into the
abler and stronger hands of the Butterfly Man.


Now, that night Flint had found himself unable to work. He was
unaccountably depressed. He couldn't read; even the Bible, opened at
his favorite John, hadn't any comfort for him. He shoved the book
aside, snatched hat and overcoat, and fled to his refuge the healing
out-of-doors.

He trudged the country roads for awhile, then turned toward town,
intending to pass by the Eustis house. It wasn't the first time he had
passed the Eustis house at night of late, and just to see it asleep in
the midst of its gardens steadied him and made him smile at the vague
fears he entertained.

He was almost up to the gate when a girl emerged from it, and he
stiffened in his tracks, for it was Mary Virginia. A second later, and
they stood face to face.

"Don't be alarmed, it is I, Flint," he said in his quiet voice. And
then he asked directly: "Why are you out alone at this hour? Where are
you going?"

"To--to the Parish House," she stammered. She was greatly startled by
his sudden appearance.

"Exactly," said the Butterfly Man, with meaning, and relieved her of
her satchel. He asked no questions, offered no comments; but as
quickly as he could he got her to his own rooms, put Kerry on guard,
and ran for help.



CHAPTER XVIII

ST. STANISLAUS CROOKS HIS ELBOW


Mary Virginia's voice trailed into silence and she sank back into her
chair, staring somberly at the fire. Her face marked with tears, the
long braids of her hair over her shoulders, she looked so like a sad
and chidden child that the piteousness of her would have moved and
melted harder hearts than ours.

The Butterfly Man had listened without an interruption. He sat leaning
slightly forward, knees crossed, the left arm folded to support the
elbow of the right, and his chin in his cupped right hand. His eyes
had the piercing clear directness of an eagle's; they burned with an
unwavering pale flame. Shrewder far than I, he saw the great advantage
of knowing the worst, of at last thoroughly understanding Hunter and
Inglesby and the motives which moved them. He had, too, a certain
tolerance. These two had merely acted according to their lights; he
had not expected any more or less, therefore he was not surprised now
into an undue condemnation.

But the fighting instinct rose rampant in me. My hands are De Rancé
hands, the hands of soldiers as well as of priests, and they itched
for a weapon, preferably a sword. Horrified and astonished,
suffocating with anger, I had no word at command to comfort this
victim of abominable cunning. Indeed, what could I say; what could I
do? I looked helplessly at the Butterfly Man, and the stronger man
looked back at me, gravely and impassively.

"But what is to be done?" I groaned.

He seemed to know, for he said at once:

"Call Madame. Tell her to bring some extra wraps. I am going to take
Mary Virginia home, and Madame will go with us."

"But why shouldn't she stay here?"

"Because she'd better be at home to-morrow morning, parson. We're not
supposed to know anything of her affairs, and I'd rather she didn't
appear at the Parish House. Also, she needs sleep right now more than
she needs anything else, and one sleeps better in one's own bed.
Madame will see that she goes to hers and stays there."

I was perfectly willing to commit the affair into John Flint's hands.
But Mary Virginia demurred.

"No. I want to stay here! I don't want to go home, Padre."

Flint shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said mildly, "but I'm going to
take you home." He looked so inexorable that Mary Virginia shrugged
her shoulders.

"Oh, all right, Mr. Flint, I'll go," said she. "What difference does
it make? I'll even go to bed--as I'm told." And she added in a tone of
indescribable bitterness: "I have read that men lie down and sleep
peacefully the night before they are hanged. Well, I suppose they
could: they hadn't anything but death to face on the morrow, but I--"
and she caught her breath.

"Why not take it for granted to-night that you'll be looked after
to-morrow?" suggested Flint. "Mary Virginia, nothing's ever so bad as
it's going to be."

"Oh, yes, I'll be looked after to-morrow!" said she, bitingly. "Mr.
Inglesby will see to that!" She covered her face with her hands.

"Oh, I don't know!" The Butterfly Man shut his mouth on the words like
a knife. "Inglesby may think he's going to, but somehow _I_ think he
won't."

"Ah!" said she scornfully. "Perhaps _you'll_ be able to stop him?"

"Perhaps," he agreed. "If I don't, somebody or something else will.
It's very unlucky to be too lucky too long. You see, everybody's got
to get what's coming to them, and it generally comes hardest when
they've tied themselves up to the notion they're It. Somehow I fancy
Mr. Inglesby's due to come considerable of a cropper around about
now."

"Between now and to-morrow night?" she wondered, with sad contempt.

"Why not? Anything can happen between a night and a night." He looked
at her with shrewd appreciation: "You have taken yourself so
seriously," said he, "that you've pretty nearly muddled yourself into
being tragic. Those fellows knew who they were dealing with when they
tackled _you_. They could bet the limit you'd never tell. So long as
you didn't tell, so long as they had nobody but you to deal with, they
had you where they wanted you. But now maybe things might happen that
haven't been printed in the program."

"What things?" she mocked somberly.

"I don't know, yet," he admitted, "But I do know there is always a
way out of everything except the grave. The thing is to find the right
way. That's up to the Padre and me. Parson, would you mind going after
Madame now, please? The sooner we go the better."

Have I not said my mother is the most wonderful of women? I waked her
in the small hours with the startling information that Mary Virginia
was downstairs in John Flint's workroom, and that she herself must
dress and accompany her home. And my mother, though she looked her
stark bewilderment, plagued me with no questions.

"She is in great trouble, and she needs you. Hurry."

Madame slid out of her bed and reached for her neatly folded garments.

"Wait in the hall, Armand; I will be with you in ten minutes." And she
was, wrapped and hatted.

Once in the workroom, she cast a deep and searching woman-glance at
the pale girl in the chair. Her face was so sweet with motherliness
and love and pity, and that profound comprehension the best women show
to each other, that I felt my throat contract. Gathered into Madame's
embrace, Mary Virginia clung to her old friend dumbly. Madame had but
one question:

"My child, have you told John Flint and my son what this trouble of
yours is?"

"Yes; I had to, I had to!"

"Thank the good God for that!" said my mother piously. "Now we will go
home, dearest, and you can sleep in peace--you have nothing more to
worry about!"

The clasp of the comforting arms, the sweet serenity of the mild eyes,
and above all the little lady's perfect confidence, aroused Mary
Virginia out of her torpor. She felt that she no longer stood alone
at the mercy of the merciless. Bundled in the wraps my mother had
provided, she paused at the door.

"I think you will forgive me any trouble I may cause you, because I am
sure all of you love me. And whatever comes, I will be brave enough to
face and to bear it. Padre, dear Padre, you understand, don't you?"

"My child, my darling child, I understand."

"I'll be back in half an hour, parson," the Butterfly Man remarked
meaningly. Then the three melted into the night.

Left alone, I was far from sharing Madame's simple faith in our
ability to untangle this miserable snarl. I knew now the temper of the
men we had to deal with. I also understood that in cases like this the
Southern trigger-finger is none too steady. Seen from a certain point
of view, if ever men deserved an unconditional and thorough killing,
these two did. Yet this homicidal specter turned me cold, for Mary
Virginia's sake.

For Eustis himself I could see nothing but ruin ahead, but I wished
passionately to help the dear girl who had come to me in her stress.
But what was one to do? How should one act?

I sat there dismally enough, my chin sunk upon my breast; for as a
plotter, a planner, a conspirator, I am a particularly hopeless
failure. I have no sense of intrigue, and the bare idea of plotting
reduces me to stupefaction.

Perhaps because I am a priest by instinct, I always discover in myself
the instant need of prayer when confronted by the unusual and the
difficult. I have prayed over seemingly hopeless problems in my time
and I think I have been led to a clear solution of many of them.
Major Cartwright insists that this is merely because I bring desire
and will to bear upon a given point and so release an irresistible
natural force. He says prayer is as much a science as, say,
mathematics--such and such its units, and such and such its fixed
results. Well, maybe so. All I know is that when I beseech aid I think
I receive it.

So I ran over to the church and let myself in. I felt that at least
for a few minutes I must kneel before the altar and implore help for
her who was like my own child to me.

The empty church was quite black save for the sanctuary lamp and the
little red votive lights burning before the statues of the saints and
of our Lady. All these many little lights only cast the veriest ghosts
of brightness upon the darkness, but the white altar was revealed by
the larger glow of the sanctuary lamp. There it shone with a mild and
pure luster, unfailing, calm, steady, burning through the night, the
sign and symbol of that light of Love which cannot fail, but burns and
burns and burns forever and forever before an altar that is the
infinite universe itself.

My little-faith, my ready-to-halt faith, raised its head above the
encompassing waters; the wild turmoil and torment died away: ... after
the earthquake and the fire and the whirlwind, the still small
voice....

Then I, to whom life at best can only be working and waiting, was for
a space able to pray for her to whom life should be "_as the light of
the morning, when the sun riseth, even a clear morning without clouds;
and as the tender grass by clear shining after rain_." I remembered
her as she had first come to me, a little loving child to fill my
empty heart, the poor clay heart that cannot even hold fast to the
love of God but by these frail all-powerful ties of simple human
affection. And when I thought of her now, so young and so sore-beset,
a bird caught in the snare of the fowler, I beat my breast for pity
and for grief. Oh, how should I help her, how!

I turned my head, and there stood St. Stanislaus upon his pedestal,
the memorial lights flickering upon his long robe, his smooth boy's
face, his sheaf of lilies. I regarded him rather absently. Something
stirred in my consciousness; something I always had to remember in
connection with St. Stanislaus....

Across my mind as across a screen flashed a series of pictures--a
mangled tramp carried into the Parish House, my mother watching with a
concerned and shocked face, and the hall mud-stained by the trampling
feet of the clumsy bearers; the shaggy Poles, caps off, turning over
to me as to high authority the heavy oilskin package they had found; I
opening that package later and standing amazed and startled before its
contents; and that same package, hidden under my cassock, carried over
to the church and placed for security and secrecy in the keeping of
the little saint. Well, that had been quite right; there had been
nothing else to do; one had to be secret and careful when one had in
one's keeping the tools of that notorious burglar, Slippy McGee.

Small wonder that I did not connect those pictures with the fate of
Mary Virginia Eustis! No, I did not immediately grasp their tremendous
bearing upon the petitions I was repeating. And all the while, with a
dull insistence, an enraging persistence, they flickered before the
eyes of my memory--the Poles, the screaming cursing tramp;
Westmoreland pondering aloud as to why he had been permitted to save
so apparently worthless a life; and the little saint hiding from the
eyes of men all traces of lost Slippy McGee. Nor, more curiously yet,
did I connect them with the Butterfly Man. The Butterfly Man was
somebody else altogether, another and a different person, a man of
whom even one's secretest thoughts were admiring and respectful. He
was so far removed from the very shadow of such things as these, that
it did one's conscience a sort of violence to think of him in
connection with them. I tried to dismiss the memories from my mind. I
wished to concentrate wholly upon the problem of Mary Virginia.

And then that mysterious, hidden self-under-self that lives in us far,
far beneath thought and instinct and conscience and heredity and even
consciousness itself, rose to the surface with a message:

_Slippy McGee had been the greatest cracksman in all America...._
"Honest to God, skypilot, I can open any box made, easy as easy!" ...
_And even as his tools were hidden in St. Stanislaus, Slippy McGee
himself was hidden in John Flint_.

Recoiling, I clung to the altar railing. What dreadful thing was I
contemplating, what fearful temptation was assailing me, here under
the light of the sanctuary lamp? I looked reproachfully at St.
Stanislaus, as if that seraphic youth had betrayed my confidence. I
suspected him of being too anxious to rid himself of the ambiguous
trust imposed upon him without so much as a by-your-leave. Perhaps he
was secretly irked at the use to which his painted semblance had been
put, and seized this first opportunity to extricate himself from a
position in which the boldest saint of them all might well hesitate to
find himself.

I began to consider John Flint as he was, the work he had
accomplished, the splendid structure of that life slowly and
laboriously made over and lived so cleanly in the light of day. Not
only had that old evil personality been sloughed off like a larval
skin; he had come forth from it another creature, a being lovable,
wise, tender, full of charm. Even the hint of melancholy that was
becoming more and more a part of him endeared him to others, for the
broader and brighter the light into which he was steadily mounting,
the more marked and touching was this softening shadow.

And I who had been the _accoucheur_ of his genius, I who had watched
and prayed and ministered beside the cradle of his growth, was I of
all men to threaten his overthrow? Alas, what madness was upon me that
I was evoking before the very altar the grim ghost of Slippy McGee?

There passed before me in procession the face of Laurence with all its
boyish bloom stripped from it and the glory of its youth vanished; and
the bowed and humbled head of James Eustis, one of the large and noble
souls of this world; and the innocent beauty of Mary Virginia,
wistfully appealing; followed them the beautiful ruthless face of
Hunter, dazzlingly blonde, gold-haired as Baldur; and the piglike eyes
and heavy jowl of Inglesby, brutally dominant; and then the dear
whimsical visage of the Butterfly Man himself. They passed; and I fell
to praying, with a sort of still desperation, for all of us.

And all the while the steady and rosy light of the sanctuary lamp fell
upon me, and the little lights flickered before the silent saints. I
took myself in hand, forced myself into self-control. I did not
minimize one risk nor slur one danger. I knew exactly what was at
stake. And having done this, I decided upon my course:

"If he has thought of this himself, then I will help. But if he has
not, I will not suggest it, no, no matter what happens."

I told myself I would say ten more Hailmarys, and I said them, with an
Ourfather at the end. And without further praying I got to my feet.
The church seemed to be full of breathless whisperings, as if it
watched and listened while I moved over to Stanislaus and tipped him
backward. He is a rather heavy and sizable boy for all his saintly
slimness. Up in the hollow inside, in the crook of his arm, lay the
oilskin package he had kept these long years through, waiting for
to-night.

"If ever you prayed for mortals in peril, pray, for the love of God,
for all of us this night!" I told him. And with the package in a fold
of my cassock I went back across the dark garden and let myself into
the Butterfly Man's rooms, and was hardly inside the door when he
himself returned.

"Didn't meet a soul. And they got in without waking anybody in the
house," said he complacently, rubbing his hands before the fire. "I
waited until they showed a light upstairs. She's all right, now
Madame's with her."

"Have you--have you thought of anything--any way, John?" I quavered,
and wondered if he heard my heart dunting against my ribs.

"Why, I've thought that she's got until to-morrow night to come to
terms," said he, and turned to face me. "And she can't accept them.
Nobody could--that is, not a girl like her. As for Inglesby, he might
push Eustis under, but he wouldn't have been so cocksure of _her_ if
it wasn't for those letters. She's been afraid of what might happen if
Eustis or Laurence found out about them--somebody ran the risk of
being put to bed with a shovel. There's where they had her. A bit
unbearable to think of, isn't it?" He spoke so mildly that I looked up
with astonishment and some disappointment.

"Why," said I, ruefully, "if that's as far as you've gone, we are
still at the starting point."

"No need to go farther and fare worse, parson," said he, equably. "I
saw that the first minute I could see anything but red. Yet do you
know, when she was telling us about it, I thought like a fool of
everything but the right thing, from sandbagging and shanghaing
Inglesby, down to holding up Hunter with an automatic?

"When I got my reason on straight, I went back to the starting
point--the letters, parson, the letter in the safe in Hunter's office.
Given the letters she'd be free--the one thing Inglesby doesn't want
to happen. We've got to have those letters."

My mouth was parched as with fever and I saw him through a blur.

"I don't know," he went on, "if you agree with me, parson, but to my
mind the best way to fight the devil is with fire. What did you do
with those tools?"

"_Tools?_" in a dry whisper. "_Tools_, John?"

"Tools. Kit. Layout. You had them. Could you put your hand on them in
a hurry to-night? Don't stare so, man! And for the Lord's love don't
you tell me you destroyed them! What did you do with my tools?"

The four winds roared in my ears, and one lifted the hair on my scalp,
as if the Rider on the Pale Horse had passed by. By way of reply I
placed a heavy package on the table before him, slumped into my chair,
and covered my face with my hands. Oh, Stanislaus, little saint, what
had we done between us to-night to the Butterfly Man?

When I looked up again he had risen. With his hands gripping the edge
of the table until the knuckles showed white, and his neck stretched
out, he was staring with all his eyes. A low whistle escaped him.
Wonder, incredulity, a sort of ironic amusement, and a growing,
iron-jawed determination, expressed themselves in his changing
countenance. Once or twice he wet his lips and swallowed. Then he sat
down again, deliberately, and fixed upon me a long and somewhat
disconcerting stare, as if he were rearranging and tabulating his
estimate of Father Armand Jean De Rancé. He took his head in his
hands, and with slitted eyes considered the immediate course of action
to which the possession of that package committed him. One surmised
that he was weighing and providing for every possible contingency.

Tentatively he spread out his fine hands, palms uppermost, and flexed
them; then, turning them, he laid them flat upon the table and again
spread out his fingers. They were notable hands--shapely, supple,
strong as steel, the thin-skinned fingertips as delicate and sensitive
of touch as the antennæ he was used to handling. They were even more
capable than of old, because of the exquisite work they had been
trained to accomplish, work to which only the most skilled lapidary's
is comparable. Apparently satisfied, he drew the bundle toward him.
Before he opened it he lifted those cool, blue, and ironic eyes to
mine; and I am sure I was by far the paler and more shaken of the two.

"They were in the crook of St. Stanislaus' arm." I tried to keep my
voice steady. "I was praying--when you were gone." Somehow, I did not
find it easy to explain to him. "And ... I remembered.... And I
brought them with me ... so in case you also ... remembered--" I could
go no further. I broke into a sort of groaning cry: "Oh, John, John!
My son, my son!"

"Steady!" said he. "Of course you remembered, parson. It's the only
way. Didn't I tell her there's always a way out? Well, here it is!"
His funny, twisted smile came to his lips; it twisted the heart in my
breast. No thought of himself, of what this thing might mean to him,
seemed to cross his mind.

"I prayed," said I, almost sobbing, "I prayed. And, John, there stood
St. Stanislaus--" I stopped again, choking.

He nodded, understandingly. He was methodically spreading out the not
unbeautiful instruments. And as he picked them up one by one, handling
them with his strong and expert fingers and testing each with a
hawk-eyed scrutiny, a most curious and subtle change stole over the
Butterfly Man.

I felt as if I were witnessing the evocation of something superhuman.
Horrified and fascinated, I saw what might be called the apotheosis
of Slippy McGee, so far above him was it, come back and subtly and
awfully blend with my scientist. It was as if two strong and powerful
individualities had deliberately joined forces to forge a more vital
being than either, since the training, knowledge, skill and intellect
of both would be his to command. If such a man as _this_ ever stepped
over the deadline he would not be merely "the slickest cracksman in
America"; he would be one of the master criminals of the earth. I
fancy he must have felt this intoxicating new access of power, for
there emanated from him something of a fierce and exalted delight. A
potentiality, as yet neither good nor evil, he suggested a spiritual
and physical dynamo.

He gave a tigerish purr of pleasure over the tools, handling them with
the fingers of the artist and admiring them with the eyes of the
connoisseur. "The best I could get. All made to order. Tested blue
steel. I never kicked at the price, and you wouldn't believe me if I
told you what this layout cost in cold cash. But they paid. Good stuff
always pays in the long run. It was lucky I winded the cops on that
last job, or I'd have had to leave them. As it was, I just had time to
grab them up before I hit the trail for the skyline. They don't need
anything but a little rubbing--a saint's elbow must be a snug berth. I
wish I had some juice, though."

"Juice?"

"Nitroglycerine," very gently, as to a child. "It does not make very
much noise and it saves time when you're in a hurry--as you generally
are, in this business," he smiled at me quizzically. "Not that one
can't get along without it." The swift fingers paused for a fraction
of a second to give a steel drill an affectionate pat. "I used to know
one of the best ever, who never used anything but a particular drill,
a pet bit, and his ear. Somebody snitched though, so the last I heard
of him he was doing a twenty-year stretch. Pity, too. He was an artist
in his line, that fellow. And his taste in neckties I have never seen
equaled." The Butterfly Man's voice, evenly pitched and pleasantly
modulated, a cultivated voice, was quite casual.

He gathered his tools together and replaced them in the old worn case.
"Wonder if that safe is a side-bolt?" he mused. "Most likely. I dare
say it's only the average combination. A one-armed yegg could open
most of the boxes in this town with a tin button-hook. Anyhow, it
would have to be a new-laid lock _I_ couldn't open. If he's left the
letters in the safe we're all right--so here's hoping he has. I
certainly don't want to go to his room unless I have to. Hunter's not
the sort to sit on his hands, and I'm not feeling what you'd call real
amiable."

A glance at his face, with little glinting devil-lights shining far
back in his eyes, set me to babbling:

"Oh, no, no, no, no, that would never do! God forbid that you should
go to his rooms! He must have left them in the safe! He had to leave
them in the safe!"

"Sure he's left them in the safe: why shouldn't he?" he made light of
my palpable fears. Slipping into his gray overcoat, he pulled on his
felt hat, thrust his hands into his wellworn dogskin gloves, and
picked up the package. Nobody in the world ever looked less like a
criminal than this brown-faced, keen-eyed man with his pleasant
bearing. Why, this was John Flint, the kindly bug-hunter all Appleboro
loved, "that good and kind and Christian man, our brother John Flint,
sometimes known as the Butterfly Man."

"Now, don't you worry any at all, parson," he was saying. "There's
nothing to be afraid of. I'll take care of myself, and I'll get those
letters if they're in existence. I've got to get them. What else was I
born for, I'd like to know?"

The question caught me like a lash across the face.

"You were born," I said violently, "to win an honored name, to do a
work of inestimable value. And you are deliberately and quixotically
risking it, and I allow you to risk it, because a girl's happiness
hangs in the balance! If you are detected it means your own ruin, for
you could never explain away those tools. Yes! You are facing possible
ruin and disgrace. You might have to give up your work for years--have
you considered that? Oh, John Flint, stop a moment, and reflect! There
is nothing in this for you, John, nothing but danger. No, there's
nothing in it for you, except--"

He held up his hand, with a gesture of dignity and reproach.

"--except that I get my big chance to step in and save the girl I
happen to love, from persecution and wretchedness, if not worse," said
he simply. "If I can do that, what the devil does it matter what
happens to _me_? You talk about name and career! Man, man, what could
anything be worth to me if I had to know she was unhappy?"

The tides of emotion rushed over him and flooded his face into a
shining-eyed passion nakedly unashamed and beautiful. And I had
thought him casual, carelessly accepting a risk!

"Parson," he wondered, "didn't you _know_? No, I suppose it wouldn't
occur to anybody that a man of my sort should love a girl of hers. But
I do. I think I did the first time I ever laid eyes on her, and she a
girl-kid in a red jacket, with curls about her shoulders and a face
like a little new rose in the morning. Remember her eyes, parson, how
blue they were? And how she looked at me, so friendly--_me_, mind you,
as I was! And she handed me a Catocala moth, and she gave me Kerry.
'You're such a good man, Mr. Flint!' says she, and by God, she meant
it! Little Mary Virginia! And she got fast hold of something in me
that was never anybody's but hers, that couldn't ever belong to
anybody but her, no, not if I lived for a thousand years and had the
pick of the earth.

"It wasn't until she came back, though, that I knew I belonged to her
who could never belong to me. If I was dead at one end of the world
and she dead at the other, we couldn't be any farther apart than life
has put us two who can see and speak to each other every day!"

"And yet--" he looked at me now and laughed boyishly, "and yet it
isn't for Mayne, that she loves, it isn't for you, nor Eustis, nor any
man but me alone to help her, by being just what I am and what I have
been! Risks? Fail her? _I?_ I couldn't fail her. I'll get those
letters for her to-night, if Hunter has hidden them in the beam of his
eye!" He turned to me with a sudden white glare of ferocity that
appalled me. "I could kill him with my hands," said he, with a quiet
cold deadliness to chill one's marrow, "and Inglesby after him, for
what they've made her endure! When I think of to-night--that brute
daring to touch _her_ with his swine's mouth--I--I--"

His face was convulsed; but after a moment's fierce struggle the
disciplined spirit conquered.

"No, there's been enough trouble for her without that, so they're safe
from me, the both of them. I wouldn't do anything to imperil her
happiness to save my own life. She was born to be happy--and she's
going to have her chance. _I'll_ see to that, Mary Virginia!"

The man seemed to grow, to expand, to tower giant-like before me. Next
to the white heat of this lava-flow of pure feeling, all other loves
lavished upon Mary Virginia during her fortunate life seemed dwarfed
and petty. Beside it Inglesby's furious desire shrunk into a loathsome
thing, small and crawling; and my own affection was only an old
priest's; and even the strong and faithful love of Laurence appeared
pale and boyish in the light of this majestic passion which gave all
and in return asked only the right to serve and to save.

"_Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm; for
love is strong as death_ ...

"_Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if
a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would
utterly be contemned_."

Trying desperately to cling to such rags and tatters of common sense
as I could lay hold upon:

"There is your duty to yourself," I managed to say. "Yes, yes, one
owes a great duty to oneself and one's work, John. You are risking too
much--name, friends, honor, work, freedom. For God's sake, John, do
not underestimate the danger. You have not had time to consider it."

"Ho! Listen to the parson preaching self-interest!" he mocked. "He's a
fine one to do that--at this hour of his life!"

"I tell you you endanger everything," I insisted. I might bring that
package, but at least he shouldn't rush upon the knife unwarned.

"I know that--I'm no fool. And _I_ tell _you_ it's worth while.
To-night makes me and my whole life worth while, the good and the bad
of it together. Risks? I'll take all that's coming. You stay here and
say some prayers for me, parson, if it makes you feel any better. As
for me, I'm off."

At that I lost my every last shred of commonplace everyday sanity, and
let myself swing without further reserve into the wild current of the
night.

"Oh, very well!" said I shrilly. "You will take chances, you will run
risks, _hein?_ My friend, you do not stir out of this house this night
without _me_!" He stared, as well he might, but I folded my arms and
stared back. Let him leave me, bent on such an errand? I to sit at
home idly, awaiting the issue, whatever it might be?

"I mean it, John Flint. I am going with you. Was it not I, then, who
saved those tools and had them ready to your hand? Whatever happens to
you now happens to me as well. It is quite useless for you to argue,
to scowl, to grind the teeth, to swear like that. And it will be
dangerous to try to trick me: I am going!"

For he was protesting, violently and profanely. His profanity was so
sincere, so earnest, so heartfelt, that it mounted into heights of
real eloquence. Also, he did everything but knock me down and lock me
indoors.

"Whatever happens to you happens to me," I repeated doggedly, and I
was not to be moved. I had a hazy notion that somehow my being with
him might protect him in case of any untoward happening, and minimize
his risks.

I ran into his bedroom and clapped his best hat on my head, leaving my
biretta on his bed; and I put on his new dark overcoat over my
cassock. Both the borrowed garments were too big for me, the hat
coming down over my ears, the coat-sleeves over my hands. I being as
thin as a peeled willow-wand, and the clothes hanging upon me as on a
clothes-rack, I dare say I cut a sad and ludicrous figure enough.
Flint, standing watching me with his burglarious bundle under his arm,
gave an irrepressible chuckle and his eyes crinkled.

"Parson," said he solemnly, "I've seen all sorts and sizes and colors
and conditions of crooks, up and down the line, in my time and
generation, but take it from me you're a libel and an outrage on the
whole profession. Why, you crazy he-angel, you'd break their hearts
just to look at you!" And he grinned. At a moment like that, he
grinned, with a sort of gay and light-hearted _diablerie_. They are a
baffling and inexplicable folk, the Irish. I suppose God loves the
Irish because He doesn't really know how else to take them.

"It will break my own heart, and possibly my mother's and Mary
Virginia's will break to keep it company, if anything evil happens to
you this night," said I, severely. I was in no grinning humor, me.

He reached over and carefully buttoned, with one hand, the too-big
collar about my throat. For a moment, with that odd, little-boy
gesture of his, he held on to my sleeve. He looked down at me; and his
eyes grew wide, his face melted into a whimsical tenderness.

"When you get to heaven, parson, you'll keep them all busy a hundred
years and a day trying to cut and make a suit of sky clothes big
enough to fit your real measure," said he, irrelevantly. "You real
thing in holy sports, come on, since you've got to!" With that he blew
out the light, and we stepped into the cold and windy night. It was
ten minutes after three.

Armed with bottle-belt, knapsack, and net, many a happy night had I
gone forth with the Butterfly Man a-hunting for such as we might find
of our chosen prey. Armed now with nothing more nor less formidable
than the black rosary upon which my hand shut tightly, I, Armand De
Rancé, priest and gentleman, walked forth with Slippy McGee in those
hours when deep sleep falls upon the spirit of man, for to aid and
encourage and abet and assist and connive at, nothing more nor less
than burglary.



CHAPTER XIX

THE I O U OF SLIPPY MCGEE


The wind that precedes the dawn was blowing, a freakish and impish
wind though not a vicious one. One might imagine it animated by those
sportive and capricious nature-spirits an old Father of the church
used to call the monkeys of God. Every now and then a great deluge of
piled-up clouds broke into tossing billows and went rolling and
tumbling across the face of the sky, and in and out of these swirling
masses the high moon played hide-and-seek and the stars showed like
pin-points. Such street lights as we have being extinguished at
midnight, the tree-shaded sidewalks were in impenetrable shadow, the
gardens that edged them were debatable ground, full of grotesque
silhouettes, backgrounded by black bulks of silent houses all
profoundly asleep. As for us, we also were shadows, whose feet were
soundless on the sandy sidewalks. We moved in the dark like travelers
in the City of Dreadful Night.

And so we came at last to the red-brick bank, approaching it by the
long stretch of the McCall garden which adjoins it. For years there
have been battered "For Sale" signs tacked onto its trees and fences,
but no one ever came nearer purchasing the McCall property than asking
the price. Folks say the McCalls believe that Appleboro is going to
rival New York some of these days, and are holding their garden for
sky-scraper sites.

I was very grateful to the McCall estimate of Appleboro's future, for
the long stretch shadowed by their overgrown shrubbery brought us to
the door leading to the upstair offices, without any possible danger
of detection.

The bank had been a stately old home before business seized upon it,
tore out its whole lower floors, and converted it into a strong and
commodious bank. It is the one building in all Appleboro that keeps a
light burning all night, a proceeding some citizens regard as
unnecessary and extravagant; for is not Old Man Jackson there employed
as night watchman? Old Man Jackson lost a finger and a piece of an ear
before Appomattox, and the surrender deprived him of all opportunity
to repay in kind. It was his cherished hope that "some smartybus
crooks 'd try to git in my bank some uh these hyuh nights--an' I
cert'nly hope to God they'll be Yankees, that's all."

Somehow, they hadn't tried. Perhaps they had heard of Old Man
Jackson's watchful waiting and knew he wasn't at all too proud to
fight. His quarters was a small room in the rear of the building,
which he shared with a huge gray tomcat named Mosby. With those two on
guard, Appleboro knew its bank was as impregnable as Gibraltar. But as
nobody could possibly gain entrance to the vaults from above, the
upper portion of the building, given over to offices, was of course
quite unguarded.

One reached these upper offices by a long walled passageway to the
left, where the sidewall of the bank adjoins the McCall garden. The
door leading to this stairway is not flush with the street, but is set
back some feet; this forms a small alcove, which the light flickering
through the bank's barred windows does not quite reach.

John Flint stepped into this small cavern and I after him. As if by
magic the locked door opened, and we moved noiselessly up the narrow
stairs with tin signs tacked on them. At the head of the flight we
paused while the flashlight gave us our bearings. Here a short passage
opens into the wide central hall. Inglesby's offices are to the left,
with the windows opening upon the tangled wilderness of the McCall
place.

Right in front of us half a dozen sets of false teeth, arranged in a
horrid circle around a cigar-box full of extracted molars such as made
one cringe, grinned bitingly out of a glass case before the dentist's
office door. The effect was of a lipless and ghastly laugh.

Before the next door a fatuously smiling pink-and-white bust simpered
out of the Beauty Parlor's display-case, a bust elaborately coiffured
with pounds of yellow hair in which glittered rhinestone buckles. Hair
of every sort and shade and length was clustered about her, as if she
were the presiding genius of some barbarian scalping-cult. Seen at
that hour, in the pale luster of the flashlight, this sorry plunder of
lost teeth and dead hair made upon one a melancholy impression,
disparaging to humanity. I had scant time to moralize on hair and
teeth, however, for Flint was stopping before a door the neat brass
plate of which bore upon it:

          _Mr. Inglesby_.

Mr. Inglesby had a desk downstairs in the bank, in the little pompous
room marked "President's Office," where at stated hours and times he
presided grandly; just as he had a big bare office at the mills, where
he was rather easy of access, willing to receive any one who might
chance to catch him in. But these rooms we were entering without
permission were the sanctum sanctorum, the center of that wide web
whose filaments embraced and ensnared the state. It would be about as
easy to stroll casually into the Vatican for an informal chat with the
Holy Father, to walk unannounced into the presence of the Dalai Lama,
or to drop in neighborly on the Tsar of all the Russias, as to
penetrate unasked into these offices during the day.

We stepped upon the velvet square of carpet covering the floor of what
must have once been a very handsome guest chamber and was now a very
handsome private office. One had to respect the simple and solid
magnificence of the mahogany furnishings, the leather-covered chairs,
the big purposeful desk. Above the old-fashioned marble mantel hung a
life-sized portrait in oils of Inglesby himself. The artist had done
his sitter stern justice--one might call the result retribution; and
one wondered if Inglesby realized how immensely revealing it was.
There he sat, solid, successful, informed with a sort of brutal
egotism that never gives quarter. In despite of a malevolent
determination to look pleasant, his smile was so much more of a threat
than a promise that one could wish for his own sake he had scowled
instead. He is a throaty man, is Inglesby; and this, with an
uncompromising squareness of forehead, a stiffness of hair, and a
hard hint of white in the eyes, lent him a lowering likeness to an
unpedigreed bull.

John Flint cast upon this charming likeness one brief and pregnant
glance.

"Regular old Durham shorthorn, isn't he?" he commented in a low voice.
"Wants to charge right out of his frame and trample. Take a look at
that nose, parson--like a double-barreled shotgun, for all the world!
Beautiful brute, Inglesby. Makes you think of that minotaur sideshow
they used to put over on the Greeks."

In view of Laurence and of Mary Virginia, I saw the resemblance.

Mr. Hunter's office was less formal than Mr. Inglesby's, and furnished
with an exact and critical taste alien to Appleboro, where many a
worthy citizen's office trappings consist of an alpaca coat, a chair
and a pine table, three or four fly-specked calendars and shabby
ledgers, and a box of sawdust. To these may sometimes be added a pot
of paste with a dead cockroach in it, or a hound dog either scratching
fleas or snapping at flies.

Here the square of carpet was brown as fallen pine-needles in October,
the walls were a soft tan, the ceiling and woodwork ivory-toned. One
saw between the windows a bookcase filled with handsomely bound books,
and on top of it a few pieces of such old china as would enrapture my
mother. The white marble mantel held one or two signed photographs in
silver frames, a pair of old candlesticks of quaint and pleasing
design, and a dull red pottery vase full of Japanese quince. There
were a few good pictures on the walls--a gay impudent Detaille Lancer
whose hardy face of a fighting Frenchman warmed one's heart; some
sketches signed with notable American names; and above the mantel a
female form clothed only in the ambient air, her long hair swept back
from her shoulders, and a pearl-colored dove alighting upon her
outstretched finger.

I suppose one might call the whole room beautiful, for even the desk
was of that perfection of simplicity whose cost is as rubies. It was
not, however, a womanish room; there was no slightest hint of
femininity in its uncluttered, sane, forceful orderliness. It was
rather like Hunter himself--polished, perfect, with a note of finality
and of fitness upon it like a hall-mark. Nothing out of keeping,
nothing overdone. Even the red petal fallen from the pottery vase on
the white marble mantel was a last note of perfection.

Flint glanced about him with the falcon-glance that nothing escapes.
For a moment the light stayed upon the nude figure over the
mantel--the one real nude in all Appleboro, which cherishes family
portraits of rakehelly old colonials in wigs, chokers, and
tight-fitting smalls, and lolloping ladies with very low necks and
sixteen petticoats, but where scandalized church-goers have been known
to truss up a little plaster copy of the inane Greek Slave in a
pocket-handkerchief, by way of needful drapery.

"What I want to know is, _why_ a lady should have to strip to the buff
just to play with a pigeon?" breathed John Flint, and his tone was
captious.

It did not strike me as being to the last degree whimsical,
improbable, altogether absurd, that such a man should pause at such a
time to comment upon art as he thinks it isn't. On the contrary it was
a consistent and coherent feature of that astounding nightmare in
which we figured. The absurd and the impossible always happen in
dreams. I am sure that if the dove on the woman's finger had opened
its painted bill and spoken, say about the binomial theorem, or the
Effect of Too Much Culture upon Women's Clubs, I should have listened
with equal gravity and the same abysmal absence of surprise. I
pattered platitudinously:

"The greatest of the Greeks considered the body divine in itself, my
son, and so their noblest art was nude. Some moderns have thought
there is no real art that is not nude. Truth itself is naked."

"Aha!" said my son, darkly. "I see! You take off your pants when you
go out to feed your chickens, say, and you're not bughouse. You're
art. Well, if Truth is naked, thank God the rest of us are liars!"

What I have here set down was but the matter of a moment. Flint
brushed it aside like a cobweb and set briskly about his real
business. Over in the recess next to the fireplace was the safe, and
before this he knelt.

"Hold the light!" he ordered in a curt whisper. "There--like that.
Steady now." My hand closed as well upon the rosary I carried, and I
clung to the beads as the shipwrecked cling to a spar. The familiar
feel of them comforted me.

I do not know to this day the make of that safe, nor its actual
strength, and I have always avoided questioning John Flint about it. I
do know it seemed incredibly strong, big, heavy, ungetatable. There
was a dark-colored linen cover on top of it, embroidered with yellow
marguerites and their stiff green leaves. And there was a brass
fern-jar with claw feet, and rings on the sides that somehow made me
think of fetters upon men's wrists.

"A little lower--to the left. So!" he ordered, and with steady fingers
I obeyed. He stood out sharply in the clear oval--the "cleverest crook
in all America" at work again, absorbed in his task, expert, a
mind-force pitting itself against inanimate opposition. He was
smiling.

The tools lay beside him and quite by instinct his hand reached out
for anything it needed. I think he could have done his work
blindfolded. Once I saw him lay his ear against the door, and I
thought I heard a faint click. A gnawing rat might have made something
like the noise of the drill biting its way. With this exception an
appalling silence hung over the room. I could hardly breathe in it. I
gripped the rosary and told it, bead after bead.

_"Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death--"_

There are moments when time loses its power and ceases to be; before
our hour we seem to have stepped out of it and into eternity, in which
time does not exist, and wherein there can be no relation of time
between events. They stand still, or they stretch to indefinite and
incredible lengths--all, all outside of time, which has no power upon
them. So it was now. Every fraction of every second of every minute
lengthened into centuries, eternities passed between minutes. The
hashish-eater knows something of this terror of time, and I seemed to
have eaten hashish that night.

I could still see him crouching before the safe; and all the while the
eternities stretched and stretched on either side of us, infinities I
could only partly bridge over with Hailmarys and Ourfathers.

_"And lead us not into temptation ... but deliver us from evil ..."_

Although I watched him attentively, being indeed unable to tear my
eyes away from him, and although I held the light for him with such a
steady hand, I really do not know what he did, nor how he forced that
safe. I understand it took him a fraction over fourteen minutes.

"Here she comes!" he breathed, and the heavy door was open, revealing
the usual interior, with ledgers, and a fairsized steel money-vault,
which also came open a moment later. Flint glanced over the contents,
and singled out from other papers two packages of letters held
together by stout elastic bands, and with pencil notations on the
corner of each envelope, showing the dates. He ran over both, held up
the smaller of the two, and I saw, with a grasp of inexpressible
relief, the handwriting of Mary Virginia.

He locked the vault, shut the heavy door of the rifled safe, and began
to gather his tools together.

"You have forgotten to put the other packages back," I reminded him. I
was in a raging fever of impatience to be gone, to fly with the
priceless packet in my hand.

"No, I'm not forgetting. I saw a couple of the names on the envelopes
and I rather think these letters will be a whole heap interesting to
look over," said he, imperturbably. "It's a hunch, parson, and I've
gotten in the habit of paying attention to hunches. I'll risk it on
these, anyhow. They're in suspicious company and I'd like to know
why." And he thrust the package into the crook of his arm, along with
the tools.

The light was carefully flashed over every inch of the space we had
traversed, to make sure that no slightest trace of our presence was
left. As we walked through Inglesby's office John Flint ironically
saluted the life-like portrait:

"You've had a ring twisted in your nose for once, old sport!" said he,
and led me into the dark hall. We moved and the same exquisite caution
we had exercised upon entering, for we couldn't afford to have Dan
Jackson's keen old ears detect footfalls overhead at that hour of the
morning. Now we were at the foot of the long stairs, and Flint had
soundlessly opened and closed the last door between us and freedom.
And now we were once more in the open air, under the blessed shadow of
the McCall trees, and walking close to their old weather-beaten fence.
The light was still shining in the bank, and I knew that that
redoubtable old rebel of a watchman was peacefully sleeping with his
gray guerilla of a marauding cat beside him. He could afford to sleep
in peace. He had not failed in his trust, for the intruders had no
designs upon the bank's gold. Questioned, he could stoutly swear that
nobody had entered the building. In proof, were not all doors locked?
Who should break into a man's office and rob his safe just to get a
package of love-letters--if Inglesby made complaint?

I remember we stood leaning against the McCall fence for a few
minutes, for my strength had of a sudden failed, my head spun like a
top, and my legs wavered under me.

"Buck up!" said Flint's voice in my ear. "It's all over, and the
baby's named for his Poppa!" His arm went about me, an arm like a
steel bar. Half led, half carried, I went staggering on beside him
like a drunken man, clutching a rosary and a packet of love-letters.

The streets were still dark and deserted, the whole town slept. But
over in the east, when one glimpsed the skies above the trees, a
nebulous gray was stealing upon the darkness; and the morning star
blazed magnificently, in a space that seemed to have been cleared for
it. Somewhere, far off, an ambitious rooster crowed to make the sun
rise.

It took us a long time to reach home. It was all of a quarter past
four when we turned into the Parish House gate, cut across the garden,
and reached Flint's rooms. Faint, trembling in every limb, I fell into
a chair, and through a mist saw him kneel and blow upon the coals of
the expiring fire, upon which he dropped a lightwood knot. A ruddy
glow went dancing up the chimney. Then he was beside me again. Very
gently he removed hat and overcoat. And then I was sitting peacefully
in the Morris chair, in my old cassock, and with my own old biretta on
my head; and there was no longer that thin buzzing, shrill and
torturing as a mosquito's, singing in my ears. At my knee stood Kerry,
with his beautiful hazel eyes full of a grave concern; and beside him,
calm and kind and matter-of-fact, the Butterfly Man himself stood
watching me with an equal regard. I rubbed my forehead. The incredible
had happened, and like all incredible things it had been almost
ridiculously simple and easy of accomplishment. Here we were, we two,
priest and naturalist, in our own workroom, with an old dog wagging
his tail beside us. Could anything be more commonplace? The last trace
of nightmare vanished, as smoke dispelled by the wind. If Mary
Virginia's letters had not been within reach of my hand I would have
sworn I was just awake out of a dream of that past hour.

"She has escaped from them, they cannot touch her, she is free!" I
exulted. "John, John, you have saved our girl! No matter what they do
to Eustis they can't drag her into the quicksands _now_."

But he went walking up and down, shoulders squared, face uplifted. One
might think that after such a night he would have been humanly tired,
but he had clean forgotten his body. His eyes shone as with a flame
lit from inward, and I think there was on him what the Irish people
call the _Aisling_, the waking vision. For presently he began to
speak, as to Somebody very near him.

"Oh, Lord God!" said the Butterfly Man, with a reverent and fierce
joy, "she's going to have her happiness now, and it wasn't holy priest
nor fine gentleman you picked out to help her toward it--it was me,
Slippy McGee, born in the streets and bred in the gutter, with the
devil knows who for his daddy and a name that's none of his own! For
that I'm Yours for keeps: _You've got me_.

"You've done all even God Almighty can do, given me more than I ever
could have asked You for--and now it's up to me to make good--and I'll
do it!"

There came to listening me something of the emotion I experienced when
I said my first Mass--as if I had been brought so close to our Father
that I could have put out my hand and touched Him. Ah! I had had a
very small part to play in this man's redemption. I knew it now, and
felt humbled and abashed, and yet grateful that even so much had been
allowed me. Not I, but Love, had transformed a sinner and an outlaw
into a great scientist and a greater lover. And I remembered Mary
Virginia's childish hand putting into his the gray-winged Catocala,
and how the little moth, raising the sad-colored wings worn to suit
his surroundings, revealed beneath that disfiguring and disguising
cloak the exquisite and flower-like loveliness of the underwings.

He paused in his swinging stride, and looked down at me a bit shyly.

"Parson--you see how it is with me?"

"I see. And I think she is the greater lady for it and you the finer
gentleman," said I stoutly. "It would honor her, if she were ten times
what she is--and she is Mary Virginia."

"She is Mary Virginia," said the Butterfly Man, "and I am--what I am.
Yet somehow I feel sure I can care for her, that I can go right on
caring for her to the end of time, without hurt to her or sorrow to
me." And after a pause, he added, deliberately:

"I found something better than a package of letters to-night, parson.
I found--_Me_."

For awhile neither of us spoke. Then he said, speculatively:

"Folks give all sorts of things to the church--dedicate them in
gratitude for favors they fancy they've received, don't they? Lamps,
and models of ships, and glass eyes and wax toes and leather hands,
and crutches and braces, and that sort of plunder? Well, I'm moved to
make a free-will offering myself. I'm going to give the church my
kit, and you can take it from me the old Lady will never get her
clamps on another set like that until Gabriel blows his trumpet in the
morning. Parson, I want you to put those tools back where you had
them, for I shall never touch them again. I couldn't. They--well,
they're sort of holy from now on. They're my IOU. Will you do it for
me?"

"Yes!" said I.

"I might have known you would!" said he, smiling. "Just one more
favor, parson--may I put her letters in her hands, myself?"

"My son, my son, who but you should do that?" I pushed the package
across the table.

"Great Scott, parson, here it is striking five o'clock, and you've
been up all night!" he exclaimed, anxiously. "Here--no more gassing.
You come lie down on my bed and snooze a bit. I'll call you in plenty
of time for mass."

I was far too spent and tired to move across the garden to the Parish
House. I suffered myself to be put to bed like a child, and had my
reward by falling almost immediately into a dreamless sleep, nor did I
stir until he called me, a couple of hours later. He himself had not
slept, but had employed the time in going through the letters open on
his table. He pointed to them now, with a grim smile.

"Parson!" said he, and his eyes glittered. "Do you know what we've
stumbled upon? Dynamite! Man, anybody holding that bunch of mail could
blow this state wide open! So much for a hunch, you see!"

"You mean--"

"I mean I've got the cream off Inglesby's most private deals, that's
what I mean! I mean I could send him and plenty of his pals to the
pen. Everybody's been saying for years that there hasn't been a rotten
deal pulled off that he didn't boss and get away with it. But nobody
could prove it. He's had the men higher-up eating out of his
hand--sort of you pat my head and I'll pat yours arrangement--and
here's the proof, in black and white. Don't you understand? Here's the
proof: these get him with the goods!

"These," he slapped a letter, "would make any Grand Jury throw fits,
make every newspaper in the state break out into headlines like a kid
with measles, and blow the lid off things in general--if they got out.

"Inglesby's going to shove Eustis under, is he? Not by a jugfull. He's
going to play he's a patent life-preserver. He's going to _be_ that
good Samaritan he's been shamming. Talk about poetic justice--this
will be like wearing shoes three sizes too small for him, with a
bunion on every toe!" And when I looked at him doubtfully, he laughed.

"You can't see how it's going to be managed? Didn't you ever hear of
the grapevine telegraph? Well then, dear George receives a grapevine
wireless bright and early to-morrow morning. A word to the wise is
sufficient."

"He will employ detectives," said I, uneasily.

The Butterfly Man looked at me quizzically.

"_With_ an eagle eye and a walrus mustache," said he, grinning. "Sure.
But if the plainclothes nose around, are they going to sherlock the
parish priest and the town bughunter? _We_ haven't got any interest in
Mr. Inglesby's private correspondence, have we? Suppose Miss Eustis's
letters are returned to her, what does that prove? Why, nothing at
all,--except that it wasn't her correspondence the fellows that
cracked that safe were after. We should worry!

"Say, though, don't you wish you could see them when they stroll down
to those beautiful offices and go for to open that nice burglar-proof
safe with the little brass flower-pot on top of it? What a joke! Holy
whiskered black cats, what a joke!"

"I'm afraid Mr. Inglesby's sense of humor isn't his strong point,"
said I. "Not that I have any sympathy for him. I think he is getting
only what he deserves."

"_Alexander the coppersmith wrought me much evil. May God requite him
according to his works!_" murmured the Butterfly Man, piously, and
chuckled. "Don't worry, parson--Alexander's due to fall sick with the
pip to-day or to-morrow. What do you bet he don't get it so bad he'll
have to pull up all his pretty plans by the roots, leave Mr. Hunter in
charge, and go off somewhere to take mudbaths for his liver? Believe
me, he'll need them! Why, the man won't be able to breathe easy any
more--he'll be expecting one in the solar plexus any minute, not
knowing any more than Adam's cat who's to hand it to him. He can't
tell who to trust and who to suspect. If you want to know just how
hard Alexander's going to be requited according to his works, take a
look at these." He pointed to the letters.

I did take a look, and I admit I was frightened. It seemed to me
highly unsafe for plain folks like us to know such things about such
people. I was amazed to the point of stupefaction at the corruption
those communications betrayed, the shameless and sordid disregard of
law and decency, the brutal and cynical indifference to public
welfare. At sight of some of the signatures my head swam--I felt
saddened, disillusioned, almost in despair for humanity. I suppose
Inglesby had thought it wiser to preserve these letters--possibly for
his own safety; but no wonder he had locked them up! I looked at the
Butterfly Man openmouthed.

"You wouldn't think folks wearing such names could be that rotten,
would you? Some of them pillars of the church, too, and married to
good women, and the fathers of nice kids! Why, I have known crooks
that the police of a dozen states were after, that wouldn't have been
caught dead on jobs like some of these. Inglesby won't know it, but he
ought to thank his stars _we've_ got his letters instead of the State
Attorney, for I shan't use them unless I have to.... Parson, you
remember a bluejay breaking up a nest on me once, and what Laurence
said when I wanted to wring the little crook's neck? That the thing
isn't to reform the jay but to keep him from doing it again? That's
the cue."

He gathered up the scattered letters, made a neat package of them, and
put it in a table drawer behind a stack of note-books. And then he
reached over and touched the other package, the letters written in
Mary Virginia's girlish hand.

"Here's her happiness--long, long years of it ahead of her," he said
soberly. "As for you, you take back those tools, and go say mass."

Outside it was broad bright day, a new beautiful day, and the breath
of the morning blew sweetly over the world. The Church was full of a
clear and early light, the young pale gold of the new Spring sun.
None of the congregation had as yet arrived. Before I went into the
sacristy to put on my vestments, I gave back into St. Stanislaus'
hands the IOU of Slippy McGee.



CHAPTER XX

BETWEEN A BUTTERFLY'S WINGS


There was a glamour upon it. One knew it was going to grow into one of
those wonderful and shining days in whose enchanted hours any
exquisite miracle might happen. I am perfectly sure that the Lord God
walked in the garden in the cool of an April day, and that it was a
morning in spring when the angels visited Abraham, sitting watchful in
the door of his tent.

There was in the air itself something long-missed and come back, a
heady and heart-moving delight, a promise, a thrill, a whisper of
"_April! April!_" that the Green Things and the hosts of the Little
People had heard overnight. In the dark the sleeping souls of the
golden butterflies had dreamed it, known it was a true Word, and now
they were out, "Little flames of God" dancing in the Sunday sunlight.
The Red Gulf Fritillary had heard it, and here she was, all in her
fine fulvous frock besmocked with black velvet, and her farthingale
spangled with silver. And the gallant Red Admiral, the brave beautiful
Red Admiral that had dared unfriendlier gales, trimmed his painted
sails to a wind that was the breath of spring.

Over by the gate the spirea had ventured into showering sprays
exhaling a shy and fugitive fragrance, and what had been a blur of
gray cables strung upon the oaks had begun to bud with emerald and
blossom with amethyst--the wisteria was a-borning. And one knew there
was Cherokee rose to follow, that the dogwood was in white, and the
year's new mintage of gold dandelions was being coined in the fresh
grass.

There wasn't a bird that wasn't caroling _April!_ at the top of his
voice from the full of his heart; for wasn't the world alive again,
wasn't it love-time and nest-time, wasn't it Spring?

Even to the tired faces of my work-folks that shining morning lent a
light that was hope. Without knowing it, they felt themselves a vital
part of the reborn world, sharers in its joy because they were the
children of the common lot, the common people for whom the world is,
and without whom no world could be. Classes, creeds, nations, gods,
all these pass and are gone; God, and the common people, and the
spring remain.

When I was young I liked as well as another to dwell overmuch upon the
sinfulness of sin, the sorrow of sorrow, the despair of death. Now
that these three terrible teachers have taught me a truer wisdom and a
larger faith, I like better to turn to the glory of hope, the wisdom
of love, and the simple truth that death is just a passing phase of
life. So I sent my workers home that morning rejoicing with the truth,
and was all the happier and hopefuller myself because of it.

Afterwards, when Clélie was giving me my coffee and rolls, the
Butterfly Man came in to breakfast with me, a huge roll of those New
York newspapers which contain what are mistakenly known as Comic
Supplements tucked under his arm.

He said he bought them because they "tasted like New York" which they
do not. Just as Major Cartwright explains his purchase of them by the
shameless assertion that it just tickles him to death "to see what
Godforsaken idjits those Yankees can make of themselves when they
half-way try. Why, suh, one glance at their Sunday newspapers ought to
prove to any right thinkin' man that it's safer an' saner to die in
South Carolina than to live in New York!"

_I_ think the Butterfly Man and Major Cartwright buy those papers
because they think they are _funny_! After they have read and
sniggered, they donate them to Clélie and Daddy January. And presently
Clélie distributes them to a waiting colored countryside, which
wallpapers its houses with them. I have had to counsel the erring and
bolster the faith of the backsliding under the goggle eyes of inhuman
creations whose unholy capers have made futile many a prayer. And yet
the Butterfly Man likes them! Is it not to wonder?

He laid them tenderly upon the table now, and smiled slyly to see me
eye them askance.

"Did you know," said he, over his coffee, "that Laurence came in this
morning on the six-o'clock? January had him out in the garden showing
off the judge's new patent hives, and I stopped on my way to church
and shook hands over the fence. It was all I could do to keep from
shouting that all's right with the world, and all he had to do was to
be glad. I didn't know how much I cared for that boy until this
morning. Parson, it's a--a terrible thing to love people, when you
come to think about it, isn't it? I told him you were honing to see
him: and that we'd be looking for him along about eleven. And I
intimated that if he didn't show up then I'd go after him with a gun.
He said he'd be here on the stroke." After a moment, he added gently:
"I figured they'd be here by then--Madame and Mary Virginia."

"What! You have induced Laurence to come while she is here--without
giving him any intimation that he is likely to meet her?" I said,
aghast. "You are a bold man, John Flint!"

The study windows were open and the sweet wind and the warm sun poured
in unchecked. The stir of bees, the scent of honey-locust just
opening, drifted in, and the slow solemn clangor of church bells, and
lilts and flutings and calls and whistlings from the tree-tops. We
could see passing groups of our neighbors, fathers and mothers
shepherding little flocks of children in their Sunday best, trotting
along with demure Sabbath faces on their way to church. The Butterfly
Man looked out, waved gaily to the passing children, who waved back a
joyous response, nodded to their smiling parents, followed the flight
of a tanager's sober spouse, and sniffed the air luxuriously.

"Oh, somebody's got to stage-manage, parson," he said at last, lightly
enough, but with a hint of tiredness in his eyes. "And then vanish
behind the scenes, leaving the hero and heroine in the middle of the
spotlight, with the orchestra tuning up 'The Voice that Breathed o'er
Eden,'" he finished, without a trace of bitterness. "So I sent Madame
a note by a little nigger newsie." His eyes crinkled, and he quoted
the favorite aphorism of the colored people, when they seem to
exercise a meticulous care: "Brer Rabbit say, 'I trus' no mistake.'"

"You are a bold man," said I again, with a respect that made him
laugh. Then we went over to his rooms to wait, and while we waited I
tried to read a chapter of a book I was anxious to finish, but
couldn't, my eyes being tempted by the greener and fresher page
opening before them. Flint smoked a virulent pipe and read his papers.

Presently he laid his finger upon a paragraph and handed me the
paper.... And I read where one "Spike" Frazer had been shot to death
in a hand-to-hand fight with the police who were raiding a dive
suspected of being the rendezvous of drug-fiends. Long wanted and at
last cornered, Frazer had fought tigerishly and died in his tracks,
preferring death to capture. A sly and secretive creature, he had had
a checkered career in the depths. It was his one boast that more than
anybody else he had known and been a sort of protegé of the once
notorious Slippy McGee, that King of Crooks whose body had been found
in the East River some years since, and whose daring and mysterious
exploits were not yet altogether forgotten by the police or the
underworld.

"_Sic transit gloria mundi!_" said the Butterfly Man in his gentle
voice, and looked out over the peaceful garden and the Sunday calm
with inscrutable eyes. I returned the paper with a hand that shook. It
seemed to me that a deep and solemn hush fell for a moment upon the
glory of the day, while the specter of what might have been gibbered
at us for the last time.

Out of the heart of that hush walked two women--one little and rosy
and white-haired, one tall and pale and beautiful with the beauty upon
which sorrow has placed its haunting imprint. Her black hair framed
her face as in ebony, and her blue, blue eyes were shadowed. By an
odd coincidence she was dressed this morning just as she had been when
the Butterfly Man first saw her--in white, and over it a scarlet
jacket. Kerry and little Pitache rose, met them at the gate, and
escorted them with grave politeness. The Butterfly Man hastily emptied
his pipe and laid aside his newspapers.

"Your note said we were to come, that everything was all right," said
my mother, looking up at him with bright and trustful eyes. "Such a
relief! Because I know you never say anything you don't mean, John."

He smiled, and with a wave of the hand beckoned us into the workroom.
Madame followed him eagerly and expectantly--she knew her John Flint.
Mary Virginia came listlessly, dragging her feet, her eyes somber in a
smileless face. She could not so quickly make herself hope, she who
had journeyed so far into the arid country of despair. But he, with
something tender and proud and joyful in his looks, took her
unresisting hand and drew her forward.

"Mary Virginia!" I had not known how rich and deep the Butterfly Man's
voice could be. "Mary Virginia, we promised you last night that if you
would trust us, the Padre and me, we'd find the right way out, didn't
we? Now this is what happened: the Padre took his troubles to the
Lord, and the Lord presently sent him back to _me_--with the beginning
of the answer in his hand! And here's the whole answer, Mary
Virginia." And he placed in her hand the package of letters that meant
so much to her.

My mother gave a little scream. "Armand!" she said, fearfully. "She
has told me all. _Mon Dieu_, how have you two managed this, between
midnight and morning? My son, you are a De Rancé: look me in the eyes
and tell me there is nothing wrong, that there will be no ill
consequences--"

"There won't be any comebacks," said John Flint, with engaging
confidence. "As for you, Mary Virginia, you don't have to worry for
one minute about what those fellows can do--because they can't do
anything. They're double-crossed. Now listen: when you see Hunter, you
are to say to him, '_Thank you for returning my letters_.' Just that
and no more. If there's any questioning, _stare_. Stare hard. If
there's any threatening about your father, _smile_. You can afford to
smile. They can't touch him. But _how_ those letters came into your
hands you are never to tell, you understand? They did come and that's
all that interests you." He began to laugh, softly. "All Hunter will
want to know is that you've received them. He's too game not to lose
without noise, and he'll make Inglesby swallow his dose without
squealing, too. So--you're finished and done with Mr. Hunter and Mr.
Inglesby!" His voice deepened again, as he added gently: "It was just
a bad dream, dear girl. It's gone with the night. Now it's morning,
and you're awake."

But Mary Virginia, white as wax, stared at the letters in her hand,
and then at me, and trembled.

"Trust us, my child," said I, somewhat troubled. "And obey John Flint
implicitly. Do just what he tells you to do, say just what he tells
you to say."

Mary Virginia looked from one to the other, thrust the package upon
me, walked swiftly up to him, and, laying her hands upon his arms
stared with passionate earnestness into his face: the kind, wise,
lovable face that every child in Appleboro County adores, every woman
trusts, every man respects. Her eyes clung to his, and he met that
searching gaze without faltering, though it seemed to probe for the
root of his soul. It was well for Mary Virginia that those brave eyes
had caught something from the great faces that hung upon his walls and
kept company and counsel with him day and night, they that conquered
life and death and turned defeat into victory because they had first
conquered themselves!

"Yes!" said she, with a deep sigh of relief. "I trust you! Thank God
for just how much I can believe and trust you!"

I think that meeting face to face that luminous and unfaltering
regard, Mary Virginia must have divined that which had heretofore been
hidden from her by the man's invincible modesty and reserve; and being
most generous and of a large and loving soul herself, I think she
realized to the uttermost the magnitude of his gift. Her name, her
secure position, her happiness, the hopes that the coming years were
to transform into realities--oh, I like to think that Mary Virginia
saw all this, in one of those lightning-flashes of spiritual insight
that reveal more than all one's slower years; I like to think she saw
it given her freely, nobly, with joy, a glorious love-gift from the
limping man into whose empty hand she had one day put a little gray
underwing!

I glanced at my mother, and saw by her most expressive face that she
knew and understood. She had known and understood, long before any of
us.

"If I might offer a suggestion," I said in as matter-of-fact a voice
as I could command, "it would be, that the sooner those letters are
destroyed, the better."

Mary Virginia took them from me and dropped them on the coals
remaining from last night's fire--the last fire of the season. They
did not ignite quickly, though they began to turn brown, and thin
spirals of smoke arose from them. The Butterfly Man knelt, thrust a
handful of lightwood splinters under the pile, and touched a match
here and there. When the resinous wood flared up, the letters blazed
with it. They blazed and then they crumbled; they disappeared in bits
of charred and black paper that vanished at a touch; they were gone
while we watched, the girl kneeling upon the hearthrug with her hand
on Flint's arm, and I with my old heart singing like a skylark in my
breast, and my mother's mild eyes upon us all.

Life and color and beauty flowed back into Mary Virginia's face and
music's self sang again in her voice. She was like the day itself,
reborn out of a dark last night. When the last bit of blackened paper
went swirling up the chimney, and the two of them had risen, the most
beautiful and expressive eyes under heaven looked up like blue and
dewy flowers into the Butterfly Man's face. She was too wise and too
tender to try to thank him in words, and never while they two lived
would this be again referred to so much as once by either; but she
took his hand, palm upward, gave him one deep long upward glance, and
then bent her beautiful head and dropped into the center of his palm a
kiss, and closed the fingers gently over it for everlasting keeping
and remembrance. The eyes brimmed over then, and two large tears fell
upon his hand and washed her kiss in, indelibly.

None of us four had the power of speech left us. Heaven knows what we
should have done, if Laurence hadn't opened the door at that moment
and walked in upon us. I don't think he altogether sensed the
tenseness of the situation which his coming relieved, but he went pale
at sight of Mary Virginia, and he would have left incontinently if my
mother, with a joyous shriek, hadn't pounced upon him.

"Laurence! Why, Laurence! But we didn't expect you home until
to-morrow night!" said she, kissing him motherly. "My dear, dear boy,
how glad I am to see you! What happy wind blew you home to-day,
Laurence?"

"Oh, I finished my work ahead of schedule and got away just as soon as
I could," Laurence briefly and modestly explained thus that he had won
his case. He edged toward the door, avoiding Mary Virginia's eyes. He
had bowed to her with formal politeness. He wondered at the usually
tactful Madame's open effort to detain him. It was a little too much
to expect of him!

"I just ran in to see how you all were," he tried to be very casual.
"See you later, Padre. 'By, p'tite Madame. 'By, Flint." He bowed again
to Mary Virginia, whose color had altogether left her, and who stood
there most palpably nervous and distressed.

"Laurence!" The Butterfly Man spoke abruptly. "Laurence, if a chap was
dying of thirst and the water of life was offered him, he'd be
considerable of a fool to turn his head aside and refuse to see it,
wouldn't he?"

Laurence paused. Something in the Butterfly Man's face, something in
mine and Madame's, but, above all, something in Mary Virginia's,
arrested him. He stood wavering, and my mother released his arm.

"I take it," said John Flint, boldly plunging to the very heart of the
matter, "I take it, Laurence, that you still care a very great deal
for this dear girl of ours?" And now he had taken her hand in his and
held it comfortingly. "More, say, than you could ever care for anybody
else, if you lived to rival Methusaleh? So much, Laurence, that not to
be able to believe she cares the same way for you takes the core out
of life?" His manner was simple and direct, and so kind that one could
only answer him in a like spirit. Besides, Laurence loved the
Butterfly Man even as Jonathan loved David.

"Yes," said the boy honestly, "I still care for her--like that. I
always did. I always will. She knows." But his voice was toneless.

"Of course you do, kid brother," said Flint affectionately. "Don't you
suppose I know? But it's just as well for you to say it out loud every
now and then. Fresh air is good for everything, particularly feelings.
Keeps 'em fresh and healthy. Now, Mary Virginia, you feel just the
same way about Laurence, don't you?" And he added: "Don't be ashamed
to tell the most beautiful truth in the world, my dear. Well?"

She went red and white. She looked entreatingly into the Butterfly
Man's face. She didn't exactly see why he should drive her thus, but
she caught courage from his. One saw how wise Flint had been to have
snared Laurence here just now. One moment she hesitated. Then:

"Yes!" said she, and her head went up proudly. "Yes, oh, yes, I
care--like that. Only much, much more! I shall always care like that,
although he probably won't believe me now when I say so. And I can't
blame him for doubting me."

"But it just happens that I have never been able to make myself doubt
you," said Laurence gravely. "Why, Mary Virginia, you are _you_."

"Then, Laurence," said the Butterfly Man, quickly, "will you take your
old friends' word for it--mine, Madame's, the Padre's--that you were
most divinely right to go on believing in her and loving her, because
she never for one moment ceased to be worthy of faith and affection?
No, not for one moment! She couldn't, you know. She's Mary Virginia!
And will you promise to listen with all your patience to what she may
think best to tell you presently--and then forget it? You're big
enough to do that! She's been in sore straits, and she needs all the
love you have, to help make up to her. Can she be sure of it,
Laurence?"

Laurence flushed. He looked at his old friend with reproach in his
fine brown eyes. "You have known me all my life, all of you," said he,
stiffly. "Have I ever given any of you any reason to doubt me!"

"No, and we don't. Not one of us. But it's good for your soul to say
things out loud," said Flint comfortably. "And now you've said it,
don't you think you two had better go on over to the Parish House
parlor, which is a nice quiet place, and talk this whole business over
and out--together?"

Laurence looked at Mary Virginia and what he saw electrified him.
Boyishness flooded him, youth danced in his eyes, beauty was upon him,
like sunlight.

"Mary Virginia!" said the boy lover to the girl sweetheart, "is it
really so? I was really right to believe all along that you--care?"

"Laurence, Laurence!" she was half-crying. "Oh, Laurence, are you sure
_you_ care--yet? You are sure, Laurence? You are _sure_? Because--I--I
don't think I could stand things now if--if I were mistaken--"

I don't know whether the boy ran to the girl at that, or the girl to
the boy. I rather think they ran to each other because, in another
moment, perfectly regardless of us, they were clinging to each other,
and my mother was walking around them and crying heartily and
shamelessly, and enjoying herself immensely. Mary Virginia began to
stammer:

"Laurence, if you only knew--Laurence, if it wasn't for John
Flint--and the Padre--" The two of them had the two of us, each by an
arm; and the Butterfly Man was brick-red and furiously embarrassed, he
having a holy horror of being held up and thanked.

"Why, I did what I did," said he, uncomfortably. "But,"--he brightened
visibly--"if you _will_ have the truth, have it. If it wasn't for this
blessed brick of a parson I'd never have been in a position to do
anything for anybody. Don't you forget that!"

"What ridiculous nonsense the man talks!" said I, exasperated by this
shameless casuistry. "John Flint raves. As for me--"

"As for you," said he with deep reproach, "you ought to know better
than to tell such a thumping lie at this time of your life. I'm
ashamed of you, parson! Why, you know good and well--"

"Why, John Flint, you--" I began, aghast.

My mother began to laugh. "For heaven's sake, thank them both and
have done with it!" said she, a bit hysterically. "God alone knows how
they managed, but this thing lies between them, the two great geese.
Did one ever hear the like?"

"Madame is right, as always," said Laurence gravely. "Remember, I
don't know anything yet, except that somehow you've brought Mary
Virginia and me back to each other. That's enough for _me_. I haven't
got any questions to ask." His voice faltered, and he gripped us by
the hand in turn, with a force that made me, for one, wince and
cringe. "And Padre--Bughunter, you both know that I--" he couldn't
finish.

"That we--" choked Mary Virginia.

"Sure we know," said the Butterfly Man hastily. "Don't you know you're
our kids and we've got to know?" He began to edge them towards the
door. I think his courage was getting a little raw about the corners.
"Yes, you two go on over to the Parish House parlor, where you'll have
a chance to talk without being interrupted--Madame will see to
that--and don't you show your noses outside of that room until
everything's settled the one and only way everything ought to be
settled." His eyes twinkled as he manoeuvered them outside, and then
stood in the doorway to watch them walk away--beautiful, youthful,
radiantly happy, and very close together, the girl's head just on the
level of the boy's shoulder. He was still faintly smiling when he came
back to us; if there was pain behind that smile, he concealed it. My
mother ran to him, impulsively.

"John Flint!" said she, profoundly moved and earnest. "John Flint, the
good God never gave me but one child, though I prayed for more. Often
and often have I envied her silly mother Mary Virginia. But now.
John, I know that if I could have had another child that, after
Armand, I'd love best and respect most and be proudest of in this
world, it would be _you_. Yes, _you_. John Flint, you are the best
man, and the bravest and truest and most unselfish, and the finest
gentleman, outside of my husband and my son, that I have ever known.
What makes it all the more wonderful is that you're a genius along
with it. I am proud of you, and glad of you, and I admire and love you
with all my heart. And I really wish you'd call me mother. You should
have been born a De Rancé!"

This, from my mother! I was amazed. Why, she would think she was
flattering one of the seraphim if she had said to him, "You might have
been a De Rancé!"

"Madame!" stammered Flint, "why, Madame!"

"Oh, well, never mind, then. Let it go at Madame, since it would
embarrass you to change. But I look upon you as my son, none the less.
I claim you from this hour," said she firmly, as one not to be
gainsaid.

"I'm beginning to believe in fairy-stories," said Flint. "The beggar
comes home--and he isn't a beggar at all, he's a Prince. Because the
Queen is his mother."

My mother looked at him approvingly. The grace of his manner, and the
unaffected feeling of his words, pleased her. But she said no more of
what was in her heart for him. She fell back, as women do, upon the
safe subject of housekeeping matters.

"I suppose," she mused, "that those children will remain with us
to-day? Yes, of course. Armand, we shall have the last of your
great-grandfather's wine. And I am going to send over for the judge.
Let me see: shall I have time for a cake with frosting? H'm! Yes, I
think so. Or would you prefer wine jelly with whipped cream, John?"

He considered gravely, one hand on his hip, the other stroking his
beard.

"Couldn't we have both!" he wondered hopefully. "Please! Just for this
once?"

"We could! We shall!" said my mother, grandly, recklessly,
extravagantly. "Adieu, then, children of my heart! I go to confer with
Clélie." She waved her hand and was gone.

The place shimmered with sun. Old Kerry lay with his head between his
paws and dozed and dreamed in it, every now and then opening his hazel
eyes to make sure that all was well with his man. All outdoors was one
glory of renewing life, of stir and growth, of loving and singing and
nest-building, and the budding of new green leaves and the blossoming
of April boughs. Just such April hopes were theirs who had found each
other again this morning. All of life at its best and fairest
stretched sunnily before those two, the fairer for the cloud that had
for a time darkened it, the dearer and diviner for the loss that had
been so imminent.

... That was a redbird again. And now a vireo. And this the
mockingbird, love-drunk, emptying his heart of a troubadour in a song
of fire and dew. And on a vagrant air, a gipsy air, the scent of the
honey-locust. The spring for all the world else. But for him I
loved,--what?

I suppose my wistful eyes betrayed me, for used to the changing
expressions of my thin visage, he smiled; and stood up, stretching
his arms above his head. He drew in great mouthfuls of the sweet air,
and expanded his broad chest.

"I feel full to the brim!" said he gloriously. "I've got almost too
much to hold with both hands! Parson, parson, it isn't possible you're
fretting over _me_? Sorry for _me_? Why, man, consider!"

Ah, but had I not considered? I knew, I thought, what he had to hold
fast to. Honor, yes. And the friendship of some and the admiration of
many and the true love of the few, which is all any man may hope for
and more than most attain. Outside of that, a gray moth, and a
butterfly's wing, and a torn nest, and a child's curl, and a ragdoll
in her grave; and now a girl's kiss on the palm and a tear to hallow
it. But I who had greatly loved and even more greatly lost and
suffered, was it not for me of all men to know and to understand?

"But I have got the thing itself," said the Butterfly Man, "that makes
everything else worth while. Why, I have been taught how to love! My
work is big--but by itself it wasn't enough for me. I needed something
more. So I was swept and empty and ready and waiting--when she came.
Now hadn't there got to be something fine and decent in me, when it
was she alone out of all the world I was waiting for and could love?"

"Yes, yes. But oh, my son, my son!"

"Oh, it was bad and bitter enough at first, parson. Because I wanted
her so much! Great God, I was like a soul in hell! After awhile I
crawled out of hell--on my hands and knees. But I'd begun to
understand things. I'd been taught. It'd been burnt into me past
forgetting. Maybe that's what hell is for, if folks only knew it.
Could anything ever happen to anybody any more that I couldn't
understand and be sorry for, I wonder?

"No, don't you worry any about me. I wouldn't change places with
anybody alive, I'm too glad for everything that's ever happened to me,
good and bad. I'm not ashamed of the beginning, no, nor I'm not afraid
of the end.

"Will you believe me, though, when I tell you what worried me like the
mischief for awhile? Family, parson! You can't live in South Carolina
without having the seven-years' Family-itch wished on you, you know. I
felt like a mushroom standing up on my one leg all by myself among a
lot of proper garden plants--until I got fed up on the professional
Descendant banking on his boneyard full of dead ones; then I quit
worrying. I'm Me and alive--and I should worry about ancestors! Come
to think about it, everybody's an ancestor while you wait. I made up
my mind I'd be my own ancestor and my own descendant--and make a good
job of both while I was at it."

But I was too sad to smile. And after awhile he asked gently:

"Are you grieving because you think I've lost love? Parson, did you
ever know something you didn't know how you knew, but you know you
know it because it's true? Well then--I know that girl's mine and I
came here to find her, though on the face of it you'd think I'd lost
her, wouldn't you? Somewhere and sometime I'll come again--and when I
do, she'll know _me_."

And to save my life I couldn't tell him I didn't believe it! His
manner even more than his words impressed me. He didn't look
improbable.

"One little life and one little death," said the Butterfly Man,
"couldn't possibly be big enough for something like this to get away
from a man forever. I have got the thing too big for a dozen lives to
hold. Isn't that a great deal for a man to have, parson?"

"Yes." said I. "It is a great deal for a man to have." But I foresaw
the empty, empty places, in the long, long years ahead. I added
faintly: "Having that much, you have more than most."

"You only have what you are big enough not to take," said he. "And I'm
not fooling myself I shan't be lonesome and come some rough tumbles at
times. The difference is, that if I go down now I won't stay down. If
there was one thing I could grieve over, too, it would be--kids. I'd
like kids. My own kids. And I shall never have any. It--well, it just
wouldn't be fair to the kids. Louisa'll come nearest to being mine by
bornation--though I'm thinking she's managed to wish me everybody
else's, on her curl."

"So! You are your own ancestor and your own descendant, and
everybody's kids are yours! You are modest, _hein_? And what else have
you got?"

His eyes suddenly danced. "Nothing but the rest of the United States,"
said the Butterfly Man, magnificently. And when I stared, he laughed
at me.

"It's quite true, parson: I have got the whole United States to work
for. Uncle Sam. U.S. _Us!_ I've been drafted into the Brigade that
hasn't any commander, nor any colors, nor honors, nor even a name;
but that's never going to be mustered out of service, because we that
enlist and belong can't and won't quit.

"Parson, think of _me_ representing the Brigade down here on the
Carolina coast, keeping up the work, fighting things that hurt and
finding out things that help Lord, what a chance! A hundred millions
to work for, a hundred millions of one's own people--and a trail to
blaze for the unborn millions to come!" His glance kindled, his face
was like a lighted lamp. The vision was upon him, standing there in
the April sunlight, staring wide-eyed into the future.

Its reflected light illumined me, too--a little. And I saw that in a
very large and splendid sense, this was the true American. He stood
almost symbolically for that for which America stands--the fighting
chance to overcome and to grow, the square deal, the spirit that looks
eagle-eyed and unafraid into the sunrise. And above all for unselfish
service and unshakable faith, and a love larger than personal love,
prouder than personal pride, higher than personal ambition. They do
not know America who do not know and will not see this spirit in her,
going its noble and noiseless way apart.

"The whole world to work for, and a whole lifetime to do it in!" said
the voice of America, exultant. "Lord God, that's a man-sized job, but
You just give me hands and eyes and time, and I'll do the best I can.
You've done Your part by me--stand by, and I'll do mine by You!"

Are those curious coincidences, those circumstances which occur at
such opportune moments that they leave one with a sense of a guiding
finger behind the affairs of men--are they, after all, only fortuitous
accidents, or have they a deeper and a diviner significance?

There stood the long worktable, with orderly piles of work on it; the
microscope in its place; the books he had opened and pushed aside last
night; and some half-dozen small card-board boxes in a row, containing
the chrysalids he had been experimenting with, trying the effect of
cold upon color. The cover of one box had been partially pushed off,
possibly when he had moved the books. And while we had been paying
attention to other things, one of these chrysalids had been paying
strict attention to its own business, the beautiful and important
business of becoming a butterfly. Flint discovered it first, and gave
a pleased exclamation.

"Look! Look! A Turnus, father! The first Turnus of the year!"

The insect had been out for an hour or two, but was not yet quite
ready to fly. It had crawled out of the half-opened box, dragged its
wormy length across the table, over intervening obstacles, seeking
some place to climb up and cling to.

Now the Butterfly Man had left the Bible open, merely shoving it aside
without shutting it, when he had found no comfort for himself last
night in what John had to say. Protected by piled-up books and propped
almost upright by the large inkstand, it gave the holding-place the
insect desired. The butterfly had walked up the page and now clung to
the top.

There she rested, her black-and-yellow body quivering like a tiny live
dynamo from the strong force of circulation, that was sending vital
fluids upward into the wings to give them power and expansion. We had
seen the same thing a thousand and one times before, we should see it
a thousand and one times again. But I do not think either of us could
ever forego the delight of watching a butterfly's wings shaping
themselves for flight, and growing into something of beauty and of
wonder. The lovely miracle is ever new to us.

She was a big butterfly, big even for the greatest of Carolina
swallow-tails; not the dark dimorphic form, but the true Tiger Turnus
itself, her barred yellow upper wings edged with black enamel indented
with red gold, her tailed lower wings bordered with a wider band of
black, and this not only set with lunettes of gold but with purple
amethysts, and a ruby on the upper and lower edges. Her wings moved
rhythmically; a constant quivering agitated her, and her antennæ with
their flattened clubs seemed to be sending and receiving wireless
messages from the shining world outside.

And as the wings had dried and grown firmer in the mild warm current
of air and the bright sunlight, she moved them with a wider and bolder
sweep. The heavy, unwieldy body, thinned by the expulsion of those
currents driven upward to give flying-power to the wings, had taken on
a slim and tapering grace. She had reached her fairy perfection. She
was ready now for flight and light and love and freedom and the
uncharted pathways of the air, ready to carry out the design of the
Creator who had fashioned her so wondrously and so beautiful, and had
sent ahead of her the flowers for that marvelous tongue of hers to
sip.

Waiting still, opening and closing her exquisite wings, trying them,
spreading them flat, the splendid swallow-tail clung to the page of
the book open at the Gospel of John. And I, idly enough, leaned
forward, and saw between the opening and the closing wings, words. The
which John Flint, bending forward beside me, likewise saw. "_Work_,"
flashed out. And on a lower line, "_while it is day_."

I grasped the edge of the table; his knuckles showed white beside
mine.

    "_I must work the works of him
     that sent me, while it is day._"

His eyes grew larger and deeper. A sort of inward light, a serene and
joyous acceptance and assurance, flowed into them. I that had dared to
be despondent felt a sense of awe. The Voice that had once spoken
above the Mercy Seat and between the wings of the cherubim was
speaking now in immortal words between, the wings of a butterfly.

She was poising herself for her first flight, the bright and lovely
Lady of the Sky. Now she spread her wings flat, as a fan is unfurled.
And now she had lifted them clear and uncovered her message. The
Butterfly Man watched her, hanging absorbed upon her every movement.
And he read, softly:

    "_I must work
    ... while it is day_."

Lightly as a flower, a living and glorious flower, she lifted and
launched herself into the air, flew straight and sure for the outside
light, hung poised one gracious moment, and was gone.

He turned to me the sweetest, clearest eyes I have ever seen in a
mortal countenance, the eyes of a little child. His face had caught a
sort of secret beauty, that was never to leave it any more.

"Parson!" said the Butterfly Man, in a whisper that shook with the
beating of his heart behind it: "Parson! _Don't it beat hell?_"

I rocked on my toes. Then I flung my arms around him, with a jubilant
shout:

"It does! It does! Oh, Butterfly Man, by the grace and the glory and
the wonder of God, it beats hell!"

THE END





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