Butterfly Man/Chapter XIX

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Levenson - Butterfly Man - Chapter left.pngXIXLevenson - Butterfly Man - Chapter right.png



I have been sitting by the window of my apartment—it is a bleak day and London is not inspiring on bleak days. The chill has been penetrating and the gas log is blue and gold. It occurs to me, as I watch a little bird, a starling, I think—that I am very calm, very contented.

I've been a long time over here—unconsciously I ape the London manner of speaking and writing. It gets into the bones, this city. Large and clammy in the winter but, if you trust yourself to the out-of-doors, heartily sound and comforting all the same, if you have sense to shut windows and light fires. As the months pass, I do the correct London things. I become more and more suited to this England. America, as I think I told you so many times, is disturbing. Too wide, too open, too conglomerate. Of course, New York is not. One can, you know, be rather happy in New York. Here, where one is unquestionably what one is, whether a clerk, an Earl, the propellor of a char-à-banc, or a composer of popular tunes, everyone is substantial. This feeling of being rooted in firm soil quiets me. Too, distance from you, from your unaccountably deep moods, has relieved my emotions. Because, you may be sure now, you communicated your unrest to me. I was a little wild-eyed those last weeks. I admit it. Your idea of my coming here at once was splendid. Thanks, old dear.

Thanks, indeed, but not for one kind word. I know perfectly that you are not a prolific writer of letters. I did, however, anticipate a word from you. My only news comes from box-office statements father forwards to me, usually pleasing as to their totals, but unimaginatively devoid of news of you. Old Mike has been looking after the finances of the troupe; he even does me, his genius son, the service of mailing an occasional newspaper notice. Lately though, I have seen none; and I have not even been able to read your name in print.

I live quietly, work hard. Occasionally, a spree; mild one, of course. The other night at the Kit Kat I was taken unawares. A not unimposing young person sat alone in a corner. He reminded me of you, there in the shadow. I had the temerity to approach him. Thankful I was to learn that he knew me because of one of my silly tunes. He's an equerry, no less, a gentleman of what the British call substance and as unlike you as could be. Oxford, lineage, heraldic thingamabobs on his shirt sleeves and a superior air. But fond of music. If he had that blithe wit that was yours before you went gloomy on me, he'd be perfect. But spare thy tears, Penelope, that was all. I shan't, however, let him cut into my time as you did. Nor shall I flee from him to Montreal and be pursued. Shameless that was, now wasn't it? I still have the treasured cork from that last champagne bottle. Shameless again, am I not, to gloat? But I do. It was worth it.

I pray that you too have learned to savor things. I worried so about you. Your face, usually so inspiringly devilish, was black as night when you saw me off that Saturday. I half wondered, would it be suicide? And then I realized that you have too much sense not to be able to thrust yourself into fire and emerge unscathed. That blend of you, raw American, rare dancer, vagabond, laughing boy and weeping sentimentalist, ah, you are a fantastic person! What made you grow so curiously? Why did folks never tell you? What made you not believe me when I told you I was a surface swimmer? The sea—and life—have no depth for me. You, my dear, must learn to avoid the rapids, the tides, the swifter currents. You must float—like me. A bleeding heart is not a pretty sight. Pull the zipper tight and show it never again.

Now it is January. You are teaching the dance to Cincinnati, this night. It will be bitter cold there and you should learn how to drink hot rum and heavy wines—if you can find them in Cincinnati. Soon you will be in Chicago, a long run, I trust; and in April, with my revue open here, I shall fly to you, fly to you.

In the meantime, cheerio, old dear, and a bit o' fluff be your heart, to toss on every wind that blows.