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,