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"The Man Who Murdered a Fairy" from Pictorial Review

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Pictorial Review
The Man Who Murdered a Fairy
by Ellis Parker Butler

Even a man named John Cudd may have a fairy.

Every morning at nine o'clock, or ten o'clock, or eleven o'clock, or some time during the morning, or during the afternoon, or the next day, or the next week John Cudd went to his room and closed the door and pushed the bolt. He was exceedingly irregular about this because he never wished to see the fairy until he was ready to see her, and he was never ready until the proper moment arrived. The result was that he always did see the fairy. She was always there, waiting for him, and she always had the material he needed. It was always the exact material he needed, because he never knew what he did need until the fairy unrolled it. Then he knew it was the one thing in the world that would do for the work he must undertake. He was still going to his room and bolting the door and seeing the fairy when he was a man of forty-two years, three months, and seven days.

On the day when John Cudd was five years, seven months, and four days old he was in school. The window was open, and the warm air was sweet with the odor of the new cut hay in the field beyond the stone wall, and vibrating with the bird voices that came from the trees behind the schoolhouse.

'The Man Who Murdered a Fairy' by Ellis Parker Butler

"I wish," thought John Cudd, "it was recess and I could eat three slices of bread and butter and jelly. I wish it was recess and I could eat the cold leg of chicken my mother put in my lunchbox. I wish it was recess and I could eat --"

"John Cudd," said the teacher sharply, "two and two?"

"Four!" said John Cudd.

"That is right," said the teacher. "I thought I would catch you that time, for your mind seemed far away. What were you thinking of, John Cudd?"

"Something to eat," said John Cudd.

"And a very proper thing to think of," said the teacher, "for it is now time for the noon recess. School is dismissed until one. It is time we all thought of something to eat."

'The Man Who Murdered a Fairy' by Ellis Parker Butler

John Cudd went out with the other scholars. He was not first and he was not last. He climbed over the stone wall and found a comfortable seat in the sweet, new hay and opened his lunchbox and ate. He ate all that was in his lunchbox and did not wish for more. He was content. He was replete. He lay back in the hay and put his hands behind his head and cocked up one knee and put the foot of his other leg on it and looked at the toe of his shoe. There was not another thing in the whole world that he wanted.

"In that shoe," he said to himself, "there are two toes and two more toes, and that makes four toes, and in that shoe there is another toe, and that makes five toes. Two and two and one are five. Two and two and one always have been five. Two and two and one always will be five. I have learned that. I'll never forget that."

And then, balancing on the very tip of his shoe, with her gauzy wings outspread, he saw the fairy. She was teetering there, laughing because it was so difficult to stand there on her tiptoes, and almost slipping now and then. She had her tiny arms outstretched to aid her in her balancing, and now and again she would turn her back to John Cudd, and once, when a bee flew near her, the wind from the bee's wings almost toppled her over and she had to flutter up into the air an inch.

John Cudd watched her quite a while. Then he said, "You're not a fairy. You can't fool me; there are no fairies."

"You ought to know," she answered with perfect good humor; "you go to school. I don't go to school; I've never been to school; I don't know whether there are fairies or not. I dare say you are right."

"Maybe you think you are a fairy, but you're not," said John Cudd, stubbornly.

"No?" said the fairy. "What am I, then?"

They had a long conversation about it. She seated herself on the tip of his shoe and clasped her hands around one of her knees and talked it all over with him and, somehow, John Cudd found himself turned completely around.

Before the school bell rang he was saying she was a fairy and she was pretending she doubted it. He made her admit it at last. She even told him that her name was Faletta, and that she was his very own fairy, if he wanted her to be that.

"Of course, it doesn't matter to me in the least, John Cudd," she said. "You needn't have me if you don't want me. You need only think I am a dragonfly that has alighted on your shoetip, or a wasp, or a yellow jacket, or a bee."

I don't want to think that," said John Cudd. "I want you for my own truly fairy."

So it was agreed.

When the bell rang the fairy flew away, turning to throw fairy kisses to John Cudd as she went, and John Cudd went into the schoolroom again. The window was still open, and the warm air was sweet with the odor of the new cut hay in the field beyond the stone wall, and vibrating with the bird voices that came from the trees behind the schoolhouse.

"I smell the flowers of fairyland and I hear the fairy choir asinging," said John Cudd to himself. "I wish I might mount astride a butterfly and with a trusty thorn of haw in my hand go forth to battle with the robber hornets and --"

"John Cudd," said the teacher sharply, "two and two?"

"Five!" said John Cudd.

"Five, indeed!" said the teacher still more sharply. "Five what, pray!"

"Five fair princesses robed in golden gauze," said John Cudd, "and five brave knights with lances at rest, and five fierce dragons breathing smoke and flame."

"John Cudd," said the teacher, "I ask you again, how much are two and two?"

"Eight," said John Cudd. "Eight royal kings bringing me heaped measures of gold. And twelve. Twelve palaces of ivory and most precious gems. And eighteen. Eighteen fair dreams of happiness."

"John Cudd," said the teacher sternly, "two and two are four."

"Yes," said John Cudd, "that is also true."

"John Cudd," said the teacher, "I know what to think of you; you have a fairy, John Cudd."

"Yes, sir, if you please, teacher," said the boy.

"I thought so," said the teacher. "And let me tell you this, John Cudd -- to have a fairy is the most wicked, reprehensible, detestable, unreasonable, shameful, outrageous, nonsensical thing in this world. I order and command you to get rid of the fairy at once. Do you hear me?"

"Yes, sir," said John Cudd.

"And may God grant," said the teacher softly, "that you disobey me and keep your fairy until you die, and cherish her and love her and believe her and obey her. I had a fairy myself --"

For a full moment the teacher could not say more.

"God forgive me," he said then; "two and two can never again be anything but four for me."

The teacher quite suddenly raised the lid of his desk and hid his face behind it, and John Cudd thought it was strange to see a teacher weep in school.

Every day, after that first day, John Cudd met his fairy. Sometimes, when his knee was cocked up and the foot of the other leg resting on it, and his head thrown back against the fragrant hay or a mossy bank, Faletta would sit on the toe of his shoe and talk with him, and sometimes a spider would spin a thread from John Cudd's shoetip to a nearby daisy or goldenrod and Faletta would dance on the thread. One day John Cudd found a rusty jew's harp, and on it he played wonderful music for Faletta -- with woodwinds and brasses and kettledrums; with oboes and French horns and triangles and hautboys; with timbrels and banjos and guitars. The music he played was so sweet and tender that he wept and Faletta wept, and the music he played on it was so noble and grand that his heart throbbed and Faletta's heart throbbed.

"I hate to chop my daily stint of wood," John Cudd said one day. "I want to lie on my back and dream; I do not want to whang an ax into stupid chunks of wood."

"Thou growest slothful in thy lady's arms, Sir Baldred the Lion-maned," said Faletta, with a smile. "Behold how the accursed Saracens raise their heads in haughty pride, well knowing that thy doughty battle-ax resteth."

Therefore John Cudd arose and swung his ax and clove a vast amount of wood, crying, "Die, pagan, die!"

But on another day John Cudd said, "I must cut some wood today; Mr. Johnson is going to pay me dollars and cents if I cut half a cord of wood."

'The Man Who Murdered a Fairy' by Ellis Parker Butler

"Wood?" said Faletta, laughing scornfully. "Wood? Cut wood? You talk of wood to cut when Milton and Shakespeare, Dryden and Pope, Keats, Shelley, and Tennyson stand with bowed heads awaiting the greatest poet of them all? Shame upon you, John Cudd!"

Thereupon John Cudd put his hand in his pocket and found a stubby pencil and he said " I will take this eagle quill --" and he found a scrap of torn lesson paper and he said, "and I will take this bit of parchment made of the skin of the sheep that wore the golden fleece --" and he wet the nub of pencil in his mouth and said "and I will write a poem that will live through all the ages and win me an undying wreath of fame," and he wrote

The rose is red,
The violet is blue;
Shugger is sweet,
And so are you.

When the poem was completed John Cudd read it to Faletta, and it was so wonderful and wholly incomparable that John Cudd wept and Faletta wept. They wept for pride and joy.

Thus, too, in due time, John Cudd told Faletta of Susan Jane Wiggs.

"I do not want to make a mistake, my fairy," he said "for I wish to be sure I love her before I speak to her."

"Love is, undoubtedly, the most precious thing in the world," said Faletta most seriously. "Let others marry for wealth if they will, John Cudd, but a noble heart should marry for love alone. If you have love, you have all. If you love now, the time will never come when you and your wedded wife will quarrel or be anything but joyously happy. Where love is, a leaky roof causes no annoyance. Where love is, the poorest food cooked in the most indigestible way is always palatable and delicious. Where love is, the vastest piles of unpaid bills are a delight and the visits of the bill collector are a pleasure to you. Love is enough."

"I'm glad you say so," said John Cudd, "because that is exactly what I think. And now I ask you -- don't you think Susan Jane Wiggs is the most beautiful, most graceful, sweetest, loveliest, wittiest, kindest girl in the world?"

"Certainly I do," said Faletta. "How could any one think any other thing?"

'The Man Who Murdered a Fairy' by Ellis Parker Butler

"Yes. I think her pug nose is supremely beautiful," said John Cudd. "Her freckles are so charmingly amusing, don't you think so? She has the elegance of a royal princess -- she's so squatty and dumpy; like the Venus de Milo or -- or Aphrodite. And the mind of a George Eliot or -- or of a Minerva. The mind of a really nice Minerva; a sweet, gentle one."

"I was going to say exactly the same thing," said Faletta, "only more. She sheds an ineffable radiance of beauty, like an angel."

"Yes, that is what I feel," said John Cudd, so he married Susan Jane Wiggs, and he was really very happy with her. He was extremely happy with her, because he knew she was a queen and an angel and the one woman in the whole wide, wide world. Every day Faletta told him so.

Faletta told him many things. She told him he was sure to be a great author some day. Every morning, or the morning after that, or the next week after it, John Cudd would go to his dingy little room and bolt the door, and Faletta would be there. Sometimes she would be sitting on the cork of his inkbottle, or she might be standing making comical faces as she peered into the bowl of his horrible old pipe, or she might be dancing on the slippery handle of his penholder. Or, again, she might be perched on the narrow picture molding, swinging her feet and smiling. Most often, however, John Cudd found her fluttering before the letter he had framed and hung on the wall over his desk. His fairy seemed never to tire of fluttering before this letter.

The letter was a letter from an editor and it said, "I am forced to accept your story, 'The Child of the Foam,' and I enclose a check for it. Frankly, John Cudd, I did not want to buy this story. It is not at all the sort of story our magazine uses. It is not the sort of story any magazine uses. It has no feet on the ground. I remember I bought just such another story from you eight years ago and for the same reason: I had to buy it. It, like this, was not the sort of story that is being written. Like this, it was such a story as you might have made from a rainbow furnished by a fairy. I will say, frankly, that these two stories are the best I have bought since I have been an editor, but you know very well you cannot -- and no man can -- do many such stories. If I may offer a bit of well meant advice let me urge you hitch your pen to a good, honest, everyday plow horse. I want such stories as 'The Child of the Foam,' but neither you nor any other man can do many of them, and when such stories are not perfection they are nothing. If you will let me, as your very good friend, diagnose your case, I will say that your trouble is that you have a fairy. Get rid of her!"

Again and again John Cudd and Faletta had read this letter together, and he said,

'The Man Who Murdered a Fairy' by Ellis Parker Butler

"He is a mighty good fellow, that man, but he does not know us, Faletta."

The truth was quite the opposite. The editor did know John Cudd; John Cudd did not know himself. How could a man who would not admit that the only thing two and two can make is four know himself? The trouble with John Cudd was that he was quite happy. Faletta saw to that. It could not be otherwise, because a fairy is an impossible, nonexistent thing. There are no fairies. Hence a man who has one and knows he has one and believes in her and in fairies generally is bound to be happy. That is pure logic.

What a fairy tells a man is this: "What is true may be true, and often is true, but there can not be the slightest doubt that the unreal is real. Two and two may make four sometimes, but it can always make the odor of freshly plowed turf. What you grasp in your hand may be a loaf of bread, but no one can dispute that the thing just beyond your grasp is a thousand golden ducats. The street before your house may be full of ruts, but no one can deny that heaven is paved with gold. The justice of the peace in your town may have feet of clay, but no one can deny that the Great Capitan of Tanga-Grak is a giant. Let us not, then, unlace the shoes of the justice of the peace. Let us believe his feet are of gold."

So, on the evening of the clay when he was forty-two years, three months, and two days old John Cudd's wife looked up from her sewing and said, casually,

"The Mortons have a handsome new limousine." The next day John Cudd went to his room and bolted the door. Faletta sat on the edge of his desk preening her gauzy wings.

"The Mortons have a handsome new limousine," John Cudd said.

"Yes?" said Faletta. "That's interesting, but think of ten years from now. You may have a whole fleet of limousines."

"That's so!" said John Cudd happily. "I hadn't happened to think of that. Did you bring the material for today's work?"

"Dear me, yes!" said Faletta. "And I am so ashamed of it! You know how I am, John Cudd. When I see a bit of woven rainbow --"

"Rainbow!" cried John Cudd. "Great! Splendid! A rainbow is just what I wanted to work with today. I'll do a splendid thing if you have brought a piece of rainbow."

"It is rather flimsy," said Faletta. "It was woven by the fairies of twice-attenuated cobweb thread."

"That's the stuff!" John Cudd cried. "That is what a rainbow must be. It must be lighter than the breath of a gnat and more illusive than the light from a vanished drop of dew. Give it to me!"

"I'm afraid there isn't much of it," said Faletta. "I could get only a yard and seven-eighths."

"No matter! Think of working up a real rainbow! Give it to me!"

All that day Faletta and John Cudd worked on the bit of rainbow, cutting and sewing and ripping and trying it this way and that until at night there was nothing left of it but a mere nothing that John Cudd tossed in the air and blew away.

"The Mortons have a handsome new limousine," Mrs. John Cudd said that evening, looking up from her sewing.

"The Mortons have a handsome new limousine," John Cudd said to Faletta the next morning. "I have not even a flivver."

"Do you know," said Faletta brightly, "that after I left you last night I was wondering what you could do if you had a nice piece of moonbeam cloth, so I have brought you some today."

"Not the real stuff? Not woven moonbeams caught on a June night as they shone on the surface of a lake?"

"Yes; exactly that. Sheer as the gauze of my wings."

"Give it to me!" cried John Cudd. "I can do a wonderful thing with a woven moonbeam. I have always longed to work in woven moonbeams."

"There isn't much of it," said Faletta doubtfully. "I could get only the least little bit. There was only seven-eighths of a yard."

"No matter; better an inch of moonbeam than a mile of unbleached muslin."

So all that day Faletta and John Cudd cut and snipped and sewed and ripped, and at night nothing was left but a glow as slight as the glow of a quenched firefly.

"The Mortons have a handsome new limousine," said John Cudd's wife that evening after dinner.

"The Mortons have a handsome new limousine," said John Cudd to his fairy the next morning.

"But see what you have!" said Faletta. "I have brought you today cloth of gold made of the sunlight reflected from the petals of a buttercup. Of course, if you prefer a limousine --"

"But I don't!" cried John Cudd joyously. "Who could? Give me the cloth. Ah! This is real happiness -- to work with such stuff as this. I can shape an elfin dream from this --"

"I don't know," said Faletta doubtfully. "There is only a scanty half yard. It is all there is in the world."

"No matter! Hand me the shears. Oh! Pardon me! I forgot that ten of you could not lift those shears. But, to work, Faletta! This is indeed joy!"

And at night all that was left was a touch of yellow on the tip of John Cudd's finger, as if he had pressed the very tip of his finger to the stamens of a lily and a bit of pollen had adhered thereto.

After dinner that evening John Cudd's wife said, "Did you get much work done today, John?"

"No, dear," he answered. "I was trying to do something with the woven light reflected from a buttercup's petals. It is difficult stuff to handle."

Mrs. John Cudd sewed a minute in silence.

"I suppose your fairy brought it to you?" she said.

"Yes, my dear," said John Cudd.

"Henry Morton uses canvas," said Mrs. John Cudd. "He gets an excellent stout quality at Briggs & Brown's."

"Yes, I understand they sell it," said John Cudd.

John Cudd was done with fairies. He was indeed.

"The Mortons have a handsome new limousine," said Mrs. Cudd. "I don't suppose, John --"

"What, my dear?" John Cudd asked, although he knew well enough what was very properly in his wife's mind.

"No matter," she said. I was just wondering."

So it happened that on the morning of the day when he was forty-two years, three months, and seven days old John Cudd entered his room and bolted the door. On the edge of his tobacco can the fairy Faletta sat. She was swinging her feet and as they touched the brass tobacco can her heels made the can ring like fairy joy bells. As she saw John Cudd she fluttered up into the air and flew toward him smiling.

"The Mortons have a handsome new limousine," said John Cudd sternly. He said it not only sternly but angrily.

"Interesting if true, dear old John Cudd," laughed the fairy, "but what do we care for that?"

"I have bought eight hundred yards, three chapters and six paragraphs of good, honest cotton canvas," said John Cudd.

Faletta fluttered down to John Cudd's telephone stand. She looked up at her old friend anxiously. "But, John!" she asked. "What does that mean?"

"I think you know what it means," he said. "It means that all my life I have been happy, because you have let me think things were better than reality. It means that all my life you have kept me walking through a land of faery, where I thought many men were honest who were not honest, and many women were fair who were not fair, and many people were good who were not good. You have kept me believing that a high ideal, even if not reached, was better than a full stomach. You have made me believe in fairies. I am through with all that. You have made me be happy in a belief that high endeavor and eagerness to think the best are a man's greatest good. With all that I am through. These three things only are necessary for man: food, shelter, raiment. In them is content. In one thing only is satisfaction: a larger wage than is earned by my fellow. In one thing only is happiness: the accumulation of material luxuries. The Mortons have a handsome limousine!"

The glare in John Cudd's eye frightened his fairy. She breathed rapidly and put her hand on her bosom as she watched his face. Her eyes grew large with fear.

"But John, dear John Cudd!" she pleaded. "You do not know what you are saying! John -- wait. Wait, old friend of mine, until you see what I have brought you today --"

John Cudd had been standing with his back to the door and with one hand behind him. He stepped forward quickly now and raised that hand. In it was a wire fly killer. As he stepped forward he struck at the fairy, and the weapon came down upon the telephone stand, but Faletta fluttered away just as the blow fell. She flew to the window and her wings drummed against the glass pane as she tried to beat her way out.

She had but one thought -- John Cudd had gone mad. As he crossed the room she cried out and flew far from him, her wings beating against the ceiling.

John Cudd turned and followed her. When he came within reach he struck at her wicked blows that would have crushed her delicate body had they reached her. Around and around the room he chased her, slashing at her, and she darted hither and thither, whimpering with fright until her wings tired and she darted to the window again. She flew up the window and slipped down it, and only then she noticed that it was open the smallest crack at the bottom -- the crack by which she had entered; the crack John Cudd had always left for her to enter by. She bent down to creep out to the free, open air, but John Cudd was already above her and with a touch of his hand closed the window.

She turned toward him again then. She crossed her hands on her breast and looked up at the man she had given happiness for so many long years, and the weapon fell upon her, crushing her to the window sill, a broken, lifeless, useless thing.

John Cudd opened the window then and brushed what was left of the murdered fairy out of the window with the tip of the fly killer. He was done with fairies.

He was indeed. He turned to the telephone stand where she had stood pleading, and picked up the little parcel she had dropped there. He opened it scornfully.

In billow upon billow there fell from his hands the wonderful stuff Faletta had brought him for that day's work. It was woven of tears and laughter, of odors of flowers and murmurs of winds, of high hopes and deep despairs, of colors and sounds and agonies and joys.

Just to gaze upon it John Cudd wept and laughed and thrilled and cowered.

'The Man Who Murdered a Fairy' by Ellis Parker Butler

John Cudd tried to grasp the magical fairy fabric fast, but it slipped between his fingers and, as it slipped, it vanished. In a moment it was gone forever -- gone from John Cudd and from you and from me and from the world, and gone, too, for all time.

This was a pity, but it could not be helped. John Cudd had killed the fairy that brought it.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:19:56am USA Central
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