By BARRY VAN-ASTEN
THE ELUSIVE SINGING BUTTERFLY
It was early the next morning when Pegamina awoke to the shafts of sunlight entering through the windows, giving the room an other-worldly glow. As the last curtains of sleep fell from her eyes, she sat up and looked about her – there was the music box, still on the bookcase, and there were her shoes on top of the shelf by the fire. But how awful the room seemed in the sunlight, its decay unmasked for all to see! Could there ever have been joy here? Across the room great chains of cobwebs fell and everywhere that Pegamina looked there was a thick carpet of dust eager to blot out every reminder that this room had once known life. Yet nothing could live here now; this is a dead room! How very different it all seemed the night before. ‘The darkness does hide the things one doesn’t want to see’ thought Pegamina as she sat by the window, looking at the wild green landscape stretching out beyond the yew trees that had been so frightening in the darkness. Now everything was calm and still, yet Pegamina felt confused: ‘had it all been a dream?’ she thought. And not wishing to stay any longer, she hurried from its dim walls and depressing air, out into the sunshine – ‘Let it keep its secrets’ she whispered to herself.
She had walked for most of the morning and was beginning to feel rather hungry. As she turned a bend in the lane, she noticed a large stone monument in the middle of the crossroads. It didn’t seem to be of anything in particular, just an ordinary stone column with some words written upon it. Pegamina walked towards the column and read the words out aloud: ‘In memory of a thin man’ and she read on:
‘Here lies one, whose soul was meek,
He ate, but only once a week;
He grew so frail, he could not stand:
He weighed but fifty grains of sand.
And if in life you should meet
A man so disinclined to eat:
Don’t cough, don’t sneeze, don’t say “Good Day!”
For you shall blow him quite away!’
‘How strange’ thought Pegamina as she sat down against the stone column to rest a while;
‘Don’t do that!’ came a voice from somewhere.
‘Don’t do what?’ replied Pegamina, jumping to her feet.
‘Don’t pity poor thin man for he is dead – he left too many things in his heart unsaid!’ And just then, an odd-looking bird-like creature stepped from behind the column and introduced itself:
‘I am the Don’t Don’t bird don’t you know and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance’ it said in a gruff voice, bowing so low that its nose touched the ground.
‘My name’s Pegamina, how do you do?’ she said a little nervously.
‘Exceedingly!’ was all that the Don’t Don’t bird replied.
Now, to give a description of the Don’t Don’t bird would take so long that by the time you’ve understood what it was in the end you would have completely forgotten what it was in the beginning, for it was such a fascinating and unusual bird in its appearance. But briefly, one could say that its head was of the exotic sort: too much beak and not enough eye! (I must mention here that the Don’t Don’t was somewhat disadvantaged in the eye department, in fact, he had decided at an early age that one eye is quite sufficient to see the world and to have two seemed positively greedy, so out came the eye!) its feathers were sometimes black and sometimes blue, for they seemed unable to agree on one colour. Its legs were long and thin and its feet were three sizes too big. And the whole ensemble was carelessly thrown into a pair of ancient golfing trousers and a red hunting jacket. And upon his back he carried a pink ruck-sack with a shotgun strapped across it. And all this could be seen pacing up and down before Pegamina, looking a little flustered.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Pegamina.
‘I’m waiting’ replied the Don’t Don’t.
‘Waiting for what?’ ‘Not what – whom!’
‘Then for whom are you waiting?’
‘Peacock!’ said Don’t Don’t, almost singing it.
Pegamina didn’t like to ask why he was waiting for the peacock, although she would have liked to have known. She sat down and feeling a little weak from being hungry, she said:
‘I don’t suppose you have something I could eat in your bag?’
‘You can’t eat in my bag but I have something in my bag that you can eat!’ returned the Don’t Don’t. And he reached into his ruck-sack and pulled out a big red apple and said:
‘You may take this apple with my compliments’ and he bowed once again, just as low.
‘Thank you, you are kind’ said Pegamina accepting the apple.
‘Tell me, why are you sitting at the monument; are you waiting for someone too?’ inquired the Don’t Don’t.
‘No, I’m only resting, you see, I have become quite lost and don’t know which road to take’.
‘Don’t take that one!’ said Don’t Don’t, pointing, ‘it goes nowhere, which is all very well if you want to go nowhere, but if you want to go somewhere, then I would take that road’ and he pointed once again. But Pegamina didn’t really understand where somewhere was and why it was better than nowhere, but she supposed it was better than here or anywhere.
As she sat eating the apple, she forgot all about the Don’t Don’t bird and thought only about her ghostly visitor the night before. Why was he occupying her thoughts so much? In her mind she saw how kind he had been to her and how very lonely he seemed in that crumbling time mill. She thought how, for the first time in her whole life she had looked into someone’s eyes and found more than pity for her own sorrows; more than the cruel thoughts that hurt so much and cannot be hidden by one’s eyes no matter how hard you try. It’s like the sunlight, she thought, pouring in at the windows of that dark and dreary house; nothing can escape the truth and one’s eyes are like the sunlight, for no deceit can be hidden away by them. But she didn’t want these feelings, there was no joy in them, only pain, for the truth was she had fallen in love with a ghost!
As she wiped a tear from her eye, the Don’t Don’t bird, who, between keeping his eye out for the peacock and observing the sad, sitting figure of Pegamina, suddenly said:
‘Don’t cry little one! It is only the butterfly fluttering in your heart!’
‘What do you mean?’ said Pegamina, not understanding.
‘Don’t you know of the elusive singing butterfly?’
‘I’ve never heard of it!’
‘Dear me not heard of it!’ chimed the Don’t Don’t.
‘I’m afraid not. Will you tell me about it?’
‘Well’ began the Don’t Don’t bird, ‘a long time ago, when there was time of course, there was a great falling out between the night moon and the day moon’.
‘You mean there are two moons?’
‘There were, let me continue. Now, these moons, they had both fallen completely in love with a princess and her name was Caltrenia. She was so beautiful that all the young and handsome princes came to admire her beauty and ask for her hand in marriage. But the princess would never consent for she so very much liked having two moons fighting for her love that no mere prince could ever compete or be acceptable to her! Each night, she would sing from the highest window in the tower of the palace to the night moon and each morning she would play her harp to the day moon, for she could decide between them. But her father, the King, grew more and more unhappy, for the land was plentiful with prosperous and well-connected young princes, yet his daughter who despised all earthly riches, would have none for a husband! So the King sent word throughout the kingdom that whoever could rid the land of the day moon, that man, no matter his status or his finances, shall take the hand of his daughter in marriage. Well, as you can imagine, many tried and many failed and the King grew more and more anxious, until one day, a man named Myther, not so very handsome and not so very rich, came and put a spell over the day moon, transforming it into a beautiful butterfly!’
‘And what happened next?’ said Pegamina, entranced by the story.
‘The princess married the man, though she did not love him. She tried with all her heart, yet still she could find no affection for him. Then, one day, she ran away from her doting husband and away from her father’s kingdom, in search of the butterfly that sang so sweetly. She searched and she searched but no trace of the butterfly could she find and she grew very sad and very old until she was never heard of again!’
‘What a terrible thing to fall in love! But tell me, has anyone ever seen this butterfly?’ said a tearful Pegamina.
‘No, it is elusive, but it can be heard, so I’m told, when one is deeply in love. Its soft, sonorous voice sings in the hearts of lovers. And I think it is singing in your heart!’
Pegamina said nothing as she felt the tears come to her eyes once more.
‘There is a song about the butterfly that is well known here, would you like to hear it?’ said the Don’t Don’t bird.
‘Oh yes, I would please’ Pegamina answered. And the Don’t Don’t bird began to sing:
‘O secret or symphony -
I know its heart too well;
Sweet sovereign of life's mystery,
Your silence cannot tell
What difference this is, parts you and I
Or what spirit takes you far away.
Will this love immense, never fade;
Could my heart but love you less?
I have seen your fiery wings displayed
To summer's silver light caress;
Serene, unfolds, and flits away
And blessed to live another day.
I'll say I'll seek its beauty,
To hear its sealed heart sigh
Through the long, lone summer,
Wherever its soft wings lie.
And passions fleeting in vain, will chase,
Though never mar nor seize its grace.
Since then in my remembering
Its sad and sable flush,
Fate, in its surrendering,
Steals by a pale moon's crush
Where the frailness of the butterfly
Unknowing strength - must die!’
Pegamina wept. ‘Perhaps it does sing in my heart after all!’ she thought.
‘Ah! Here’s Peacock now!’ shouted the Don’t Don’t bird.
‘Helloooo’ boomed the peacock, striding towards them with a refined air about it.
‘He’s a game old bird the Peacock, a positive enigma, I say a positive enigma to all who know him!’ whispered the Don’t Don’t bird in Pegamina’s ear.
Now, there was nothing unusual about the peacock except for a rather long scarf wrapped at least three dozen times its neck with the remaining ends continually getting under his feet and tripping him over. On his head he wore a top hat that was much too large for him and so he was forever pushing the brim up from out of his eyes. And on his back he carried an over-stuffed ruck-sack!
‘Up to no good I see Don’t Don’t! And what have we here?’ said Peacock, waving a wing in the general direction of Pegamina.
‘This is my new acquaintance dear Peacock, her name is Pegamina and she has the butterfly within her!’
‘Ahhh, so young and so foolish! Pleased to meet you!’ Peacock said, shaking her hand but looking at the Don’t Don’t bird.
‘I’m very pleased to know you’ she said, curtsying for he did look so distinguished.
‘Are you indeed? Then I’m sure we shall get on just fine, eh Don’t Don’t?’ and they both laughed, and Pegamina, not wishing to seem rude and unfriendly, laughed too.
‘Well are we all ready?’ the peacock said in a theatrical manner.
'We are so ready Peacock that there is a danger of expiring from over-readiness!’ chuckled the Don’t Don’t.
‘Ahh I see we’re in fine jest Don’t Don’t; one needs to laugh when one is so incredibly laughable!’ and they both laughed.
‘Ready for what?’ inquired Pegamina.
‘For the hunt! My dear, for the hunt!’ answered the peacock, emphasising the word ‘hunt’.
‘But what are you hunting?’
‘I don’t know... what are we hunting Peacock?’
‘Ahhh who knows when the sweet hunt is upon us!’ the peacock answered displaying a grand sweeping gesture with his wing and again emphasising the word ‘hunt’.
‘We may begin by shooting at the Lily, that’s always good sport! Or maybe throwing stones at the weeping trout, or then again, we could make another attempt at cracking the shell on the back of the giant shouting snail’ Peacock said gleefully.
‘But why?’ said a shocked Pegamina.
‘Why?’ said the Don’t Don’t.
‘Whhhhy?’ said Peacock.
‘Yes why? That’s not very nice at all!’
‘Nice’ said the Don’t Don’t.
‘Niiiice’ said the peacock. And he continued: ‘My dear, let me explain. We are sporting fowl. We hunt. It’s what we do’ he said, emphasising the word ‘hunt’ again.
‘I think it’s very cruel!’ Pegamina shouted angrily.
‘Cruel! Of course not’ said an astonished Peacock.
‘Of course not’ echoed the Don’t Don’t. ‘Besides, Peacock can fire away with both barrels all day long and still not hit a thing!’ Don’t Don’t whispered behind his wing.
‘I heard that!’ screeched Peacock, frowning.
‘And anyway’ continued Don’t Don’t ‘fishy likes stones thrown at it, it’s just like being tickled, only more fatal, you see. And as for the snail, well, its shell is un-crackable, but one must try, mustn’t one? It’s the love of the hunt!’
‘Precisely Don’t Don’t, the love of the hunt!’ Peacock interjected, again emphasising the word ‘hunt’.
‘I know what’s right and I know what’s wrong, and this is definitely wrong!’ Pegamina shouted, stamping her foot.
‘Good for you!’ said the Don’t Don’t, nodding its head.
‘Good day to yoooou’ sang the peacock and the two sporting fowl went on their way, contemplating the day’s hunt as Peg took the road to ‘somewhere’, thinking what wickedness there is in even those who know beauty!
Pegamina and the Don't Don't bird
at the Monument