Butterflyflutterby and Flutterbybutterfly by William Dean Howells

Story type: Literature

One morning when the papa was on a visit to the grandfather, the nephew and the niece came rushing into his room and got into bed with him. He pretended to be asleep, and even when they grabbed hold of him and shook him, he just let his teeth clatter, and made no sign of waking up. But they knew he was fooling, and they kept shaking him till he opened his eyes and looked round, and said, “Oh, oh! where am I?” as if he were all bewildered.

“You’re in bed with us!” they shouted; and they acted as if they were afraid he would try to get away from them by the way they held on to his arms.

But he lay quite still, and he only said, “I should say you were in bed with me. It seems to be my bed.”

“It’s the same thing!” said the nephew.

“How do you make that out?” asked the papa. “It’s the same thing if it’s enchantment. But if it isn’t, it isn’t.”

The niece said, “What enchantment?” for she thought that would be a pretty good chance to get what they had come for.

She was perfectly delighted, and gave a joyful thrill all over when the papa said, “Oh, that’s a long story.”

“Well, the longer the better, I should say; shouldn’t you, brother?” she returned.

The nephew hemmed twice in his throat, and asked, drowsily, “Is it a little-pig story, or a fairy-prince story?” for he had heard from his cousins that their papa would tell you a little-pig story if he got the chance; and you had to look out and ask him which it was going to be beforehand.

“Well, I can’t tell,” said the papa. “It’s a fairy-prince story to begin with, but it may turn out a little-pig story before it gets to the end. It depends upon how the Prince behaves. But I’m not anxious to tell it,” and the papa put his face into the pillow and pretended to fall instantly asleep again.

“Now, brother, you see!” said the niece. “Being so particular!”

“Well, sister,” said the nephew, “it wasn’t my fault. I had to ask him. You know what they said.”

“Well, I suppose we’ve got to wake him up all over again,” said the niece, with a little sigh; and they began to pull at the papa this way and that, but they could not budge him. As soon as they stopped, he opened his eyes.

“Now don’t say, ‘Where am I?’” said the niece.

The papa could not help laughing, because that was just the very thing he was going to say. “Well, all right! What about that story? Do you want to hear it, and take your chances of its being a Prince to the end?”

“I suppose we’ll have to; won’t we, sister?”

“Yes, we’ll leave it all to you, uncle,” said the niece; and she thought she would coax him up a little, and so she went on: “I know you won’t be mean about it. Will he, brother?”

“No,” said the nephew. “I’ll bet the Prince will keep a Prince all the way through. What’ll you bet, sister?”

“I won’t bet anything,” said the niece, and she put her arm round the papa’s neck, and pressed her cheek up against his. “I’ll just leave it to uncle, and if it does turn into a little-pig story, it’ll be for the moral.”

The nephew was not quite sure what a moral was; but at the bottom of his heart he would just as soon have it a little-pig story as not. He had got to thinking how funny a little pig would look in a Prince’s clothes, and he said, “Yes, it’ll be for the moral.”

The papa was very contrary that morning. “Well,” said he, “I don’t know about that. I’m not sure there’s going to be any moral.”

“Oh, goody!” said the niece, and she clapped her hands in great delight. “Then it’s going to be a Prince story all through!”

“If you interrupt me in that way, it’s not going to be any story at all.”

“I didn’t know you had begun it, uncle,” pleaded the niece.

“Well, I hadn’t. But I was just going to.” The papa lay quiet a while. The fact is, he had not thought up any story at all; and he was so tired of all the stories he used to tell his own children that he could not bear to tell one of them, though he knew very well that the niece and nephew would be just as glad of it as if it were new, and maybe gladder; for they had heard a great deal about these stories, how perfectly splendid they were–like the Pumpkin-Glory, and the Little Pig that took the Poison Pills, and the Proud Little Horse-car that fell in Love with the Pullman Sleeper, and Jap Doll Hopsing’s Adventures in Crossing the Continent, and the Enchantment of the Greedy Travellers, and the Little Boy whose Legs turned into Bicycle Wheels. At last the papa said, “This is a very peculiar kind of a story. It’s about a Prince and a Princess.”

“Oh!” went both of the children; and then they stopped themselves, and stuffed the covering into their mouths.

The papa lifted himself on his elbow and stared severely at them, first at one, and then at the other. “Have you finished?” he asked, as if they had interrupted him; but he really wanted to gain time, so as to think up a story of some kind. The children were afraid to say anything, and the papa went on with freezing politeness: “Because if you have, I might like to say something myself. This story is about a Prince and a Princess, but the thing of it is that they had names almost exactly alike. They were twins; the Prince was a boy and the Princess was a girl; that was a point that their fairy godmother carried against the wicked enchantress who tried to have it just the other way; but it made the wicked enchantress so mad that the fairy godmother had to give in to her a little, and let them be named almost exactly alike.”

Here the papa stopped, and after waiting for him to go on, the nephew ventured to ask, very respectfully indeed, “Would you mind telling us what their names were, uncle?”

The papa rubbed his forehead. “I have such a bad memory for names. Hold on! Wait a minute! I remember now! Their names were Butterflyflutterby and Flutterbybutterfly.” Of course he had just thought up the names.

“And which was which, uncle dear?” asked the niece, not only very respectfully, but very affectionately, too; she was so afraid he would get mad again, and stop altogether.

“Why, I should think you would know a girl’s name when you heard it. Butterflyflutterby was the Prince and Flutterbybutterfly was the Princess.”

“I don’t see how we’re ever going to keep them apart,” sighed the niece.

“You’ve got to keep them apart,” said the papa. “Because it’s the great thing about the story that if you can’t remember which is the Prince and which is the Princess whenever I ask you, the story has to stop. It can’t help it, and I can’t help it.”

They knew he was just setting a trap for them, and the same thought struck them both at once. They rose up and leaned over the papa, with their arms across and their fluffy heads together in the form of a capital letter A, and whispered in each other’s ears, “You say it’s one, and I’ll say it’s the other, and then we’ll have it right between us.”

They dropped back and pulled the covering up to their chins, and shouted, “Don’t you tell! don’t you tell!” and just perfectly wriggled with triumph.

The papa had heard every word; they were laughing so that they whispered almost as loud as talking; but he pretended that he had not understood, and he made up his mind that he would have them yet. “A little and a more,” he said, “and I should never have gone on again.”

“Go on! Go on!” they called out, and then they wriggled and giggled till anybody would have thought they were both crazy.

“Well, where was I?” This was another of the papa’s tricks to gain time. Whenever he could not think of anything more, he always asked, “Well, where was I?” He now added: “Oh yes! I remember! Well, once there were a Prince and a Princess, and their names were Butterflyflutterby and Flutterbybutterfly; and they were both twins, and both orphans; but they made their home with their fairy godmother as long as they were little, and they used to help her about the house for part board, and she helped them about their kingdom, and kept it in good order for them, and left them plenty of time to play and enjoy themselves. She was the greatest person for order there ever was; and if she found a speck of dust or dirt on the kingdom anywhere, she would have out the whole army and make them wash it up, and then sand-paper the place, and polish it with a coarse towel till it perfectly glistened. The father of the Prince and Princess had taken the precaution, before he died, to subdue all his enemies; and the consequence was that the longest kind of peace had set in, and the army had nothing to do but keep the kingdom clean. That was the reason why the fairy godmother had made the General-in-Chief take their guns away, and arm them with long feather-dusters. They marched with the poles on their shoulders, and carried the dusters in their belts, like bayonets; and whenever they came to a place that the fairy godmother said needed dusting–she always went along with them in a diamond chariot–she made the General halloo out: ‘Fix dusters! Make ready! Aim! Dust!’ And then the place would be cleaned up. But the General-in-Chief used to go out behind the church and cry, it mortified him so to have to give such orders, and it reminded him so painfully of the good old times when he would order his men to charge the enemy, and cover the field with gore and blood, instead of having it so awfully spick-and-span as it was now. Still he did what the fairy godmother told him, because he said it was his duty; and he kept his troops supplied with sudsine and dustene, to clean up with, and brushes and towels. The fairy godmother–“

“But it was a failure as far as the Khan and the Khant were concerned. The fairy godmother expected that as soon as the loudest firing began, the girl, whichever it was, would scream, and so they would know which was which. But the Khan and Khant’s father had been a famous warrior, and he had been in the habit of taking his children to battle with him from their earliest years, partly because his wife was dead and he didn’t dare trust them with the careless nurse at home, and partly because he wanted to harden their nerves. So now they just clapped their hands, and enjoyed the sham battle down to the ground.

“About sunset the fairy godmother gave it up. She had to, anyway. The troops had shot away all their powder, and the gnomes couldn’t make any more till the next day. So she set out to return to the city, with all the court following her diamond chariot, and I can tell you she felt pretty gloomy. She told the Grand Vizier that now she didn’t see any end to the trouble, and she was just going into hysterics when a barefooted boy came along driving his cow home from the pasture. The fairy godmother didn’t mind it much, for she was in her chariot; but the court ladies were on foot, and they began to scream, ‘Oh, the cow! the cow!’ and to take hold of the knights, and to get on to the fence, till it was perfectly packed with them; and who do you think the fairy godmother found had scrambled up on top of her chariot?”

The nephew and niece were afraid to risk a guess, and the papa had to say:

“The Khant! The fairy godmother pulled her inside and hugged her and kissed her, she was so glad to find out that she was the one; and she stopped the procession on the spot, and she called up the Imam, and he married the Khant to Prince–“

The papa stopped, and as the niece and nephew hesitated, he said, very sternly, “Well?”

The fact is, they had got so mixed up about the Khan and the Khant of Tartary that they had forgotten which was Butterflyflutterby and which was Flutterbybutterfly. They tried, shouting out one the one and the other the other, but the papa said:

“Oh no! That won’t work. I’ve had that sort of thing tried on me before, and it never works. I heard you whispering what you would do, and you have simply added the crime of double-dealing to the crime of inattention. The story has stopped, and stopped forever.”

The nephew stretched himself and then sat up in bed. “Well, it had got to the end, anyway.”

“Oh, had it? What became of the wicked enchantress?” The nephew lay down again, in considerable dismay.

“Uncle,” said the niece, very coaxingly, “I didn’t say it had come to the end.”

“But it has,” said the papa. “And I’m mighty glad you forgot the Prince’s name, for the rule of this story is that it has to go on as long as any one listening remembers, and it might have gone on forever.”

“I suppose,” the nephew said, “a person may guess?”

“He may, if he guesses right. If he guesses wrong, he has to be thrown from a high tower–the same one the wicked enchantress was thrown from.”

“There!” shouted the nephew; “you said you wouldn’t tell. How high was the tower, anyway, uncle? As high as the Eiffel Tower in Paris?”

“Not quite. It was three feet and five inches high.”

“Ho! Then the enchantress was a dwarf!”

“Who said she was a dwarf?”

“There wouldn’t be any use throwing her from the tower if she wasn’t.”

“I didn’t say it was any use. They just did it for ornament.”

This made the nephew so mad that he began to dig the papa with his fist, and the papa began to laugh. He said, as well as he could for laughing: “You see, the trouble was to keep her from bouncing up higher than the top of the tower. She was light weight, anyway, because she was a witch; and after the first bounce they had to have two executioners to keep throwing her down–a day executioner and a night executioner; and she went so fast up and down that she was just like a solid column of enchantress. She enjoyed it first-rate, but it kept her out of mischief.”

“Now, uncle,” said the niece, “you’re just letting yourself go. What did the fairy godmother do after they all got married?”

“Well, the story don’t say exactly. But there’s a report that when she became a fairy grandgodmother, she was not half so severe about cleaning up, and let the poor old General-in-Chief have some peace of his life–or some war. There was a rebellion among the genii not long afterwards, and the General was about ten or fifteen years putting them down.”

The nephew had been lying quiet a moment. Now he began to laugh.

“What are you laughing at?” demanded his uncle.

“The way that Khant scrambled up on top of the chariot when the cow came along. Just like a girl. They’re all afraid of cows.”

The tears came into the niece’s eyes; she had a great many feelings, and they were easily hurt, especially her feelings about girls.

“Well, she wasn’t afraid of the cannon, anyway.”

“That is a very just remark,” said the uncle. “And now what do you say to breakfast?”

The children sprang out of bed, and tried which could beat to the door. They forgot to thank the uncle, but he did not seem to have expected any thanks.