Read CHAPTER XXXI - A BUTTERFLY FLIGHT of Mr. Achilles, free online book, by Jennette Lee, on

She came down the stairs with slow feet, pausing a little on each stair, as if to taste the pleasure that was coming to her. She was going out-of-doors under the sky!

She pushed open the door at the foot and looked into the small hall she had been here before. They had hurried her through into the kitchen, and down to the cellar. They had stayed there a long time hours and hours and Mrs. Seabury had held her on her lap and told her stories.

She stepped down the last step into the hall. The outside door at the end was open and through it she could see the men at work in the garden and the warm, shimmering air. She looked, with eager lip, and took a step forward and remembered and turned toward the kitchen. Mrs. Seabury had said she must have breakfast first a good, big breakfast and then.... She opened the door and looked in. The woman was standing by the stove. She looked up with a swift glance and nodded to her. “That’s right, dearie. Your breakfast is all ready you come in and eat it.” She drew up a chair to the table and brought a glass of milk and tucked the napkin under her brown chin, watching her with keen, motherly eyes, while she ate.

“That’s a good girl!” she said. She took the empty plate and carried it to the sink. “Now you wait till I’ve washed these and then !” She nodded toward the open window.

The child slipped down and came over to her and stood beside her while she worked, her eyes full of little, wistful hope. “I’ve most forgot about out-of-doors,” she said.

“Oh, you remember it all right. It’s just the same it always was,” said the woman practically. “Now I’ll stir up some meal and we’ll go feed the chicks. I’ve got ten of ’em little ones.” She mixed the yellow meal and stirred it briskly, and took down her sun-bonnet and looked at the child dubiously. “You haven’t any hat,” she said.

The child’s hand lifted to the rough cropped hair. “I did have a hat with red cherries on it,” she suggested.

The woman turned away brusquely. “That’s gone with your other things I’ll have to tie a handkerchief on you.”

She brought a big, coloured kerchief red with blue spots on it and bound it over the rough hair and stood back and looked at it, and reached out her hand. “It won’t do,” she said thoughtfully. The small face, outlined in the smooth folds, had looked suddenly and strangely refined. The woman took off the handkerchief and roughened the hair with careful hand.

The child waited patiently. “I don’t need a hat, do I?” she said politely.

The woman looked at her again and took up the dish of meal. “You’re all right,” she said, “we shan’t stay long.”

“I should like to stay a long, long time!” said Betty.

The woman smiled. “You’re going out every day, you know.”

“Yes.” The child skipped a little in the clumsy shoes, and they passed into the sunshine.

The woman looked about her with practical eyes. In the long rows of the garden the men were at work. But up and down the dusty road across the plain no one was in sight, and she stepped briskly toward an open shed, rapping the spoon a little against the side of the basin she carried, and clucking gently.

The child beside her moved slowly looking up at the sky, as if half afraid. She seemed to move with alien feet under the sky. Then a handful of yellow, downy balls darted from the shed, skittering toward them, and she fell to her knees, reaching out her hands to them and crooning softly. “The dear things!” she said swiftly.

The woman smiled, and moved toward the shed, tapping on the side of her pan and the yellow brood wheeled with the sound, on twinkling legs and swift, stubby wings.

The child’s eyes devoured them. “They belong to you, don’t they?” she cried softly. “They’re your own your very own chickens!” Her laugh crept over them and her eyes glowed. “See the little one, Mrs. Seabury! Just see him run!” She had dropped to her knees again breathless beside the board where they pushed and pecked and gobbled the little, wet lumps of the meal, and darted their shiny black bills at the board.

The woman handed her the pan. “You can feed them if you want to,” she said.

The child took the basin, with shining eyes, and the woman moved away. She examined the slatted box where the mother hen ran to and fro, with clucking wings and gave her some fresh water and looked in the row of nests along the side of the shed, and took out a handful of eggs, carrying them in wide-spread, careful fingers.

The child, squatting by the board, was looking about her with happy eyes. She’d almost forgotten the prisoned room up stairs and the long lonesome days. The woman came over to her, smiling. “I’ve found seven,” she said. The child’s eyes rested on them. Then they flitted to the sunshine outside.... A yellow butterfly was fluttering in the light across the opening of the shed. It lighted on a beam and opened slow wings, and the child’s eyes laughed softly... she moved tiptoe... “I saw a beautiful butterfly once!” she said. But the woman did not hear. She had passed out of the shed around the corner and was looking after the chickens outside her voice clucking to them lightly. The child moved toward the butterfly, absorbed in shining thought. “It was a beautiful butterfly ” she said softly, “in a Greek shop.” The wings of the butterfly rose and circled vaguely and passed behind her, and she wheeled about, peering up into the dark shed. She saw the yellow wings up there poise themselves, and wait a minute and sail toward the light outside.... But she did not turn to follow its flight Across the brown boards of the shed behind a pile of lumber, against the wall up there a head had lifted itself and was looking at her. She caught her breath “I saw a butterfly once!” she repeated dully. It was half a sob The head laid a long, dark finger on its lip and sank from sight.... The child wheeled toward the open light the woman was coming in, her hands filled with eggs. “I must carry these in,” she said briskly. She looked at the child. “You can stay and play a little while if you want to. But you must not go away, you know.”

“I will not go away,” said the child, breathless.

So the woman turned and left her and the child’s eyes followed her.