The Purple Emperor
by Robert W. Chambers
Emperor watched me in silence. I
cast again, spinning out six feet more of
waterproof silk, and, as the line hissed through
the air far across the pool, I saw my three flies
fall on the water like drifting thistledown. The
Purple Emperor sneered.
"You see," he said,
"I am right. There is not a trout in
Brittany that will rise to a tailed fly."
"They do in America," I replied.
"Zut! for America!" observed
the Purple Emperor.
"And trout take a tailed fly in
England," I insisted sharply.
"Now do I care what things or people
do in England?" demanded the Purple Emperor.
"You don't care for anything
except yourself and your wriggling caterpillars,"
I said, more annoyed than I had yet been.
The Purple Emperor sniffed. His broad,
hairless, sunburnt features bore that obstinate
expression which always irritated me. Perhaps
the manner in which he wore his hat intensified
the irritation, for the flapping brim rested on
both ears, and the two little velvet ribbons which
hung from the silver buckle in front wiggled
and fluttered with every trivial breeze. His
cunning eyes and sharp-pointed nose were out
of all keeping with his fat red face. When he
met my eye, he chuckled.
"I know more about insects
than any man in Morbihan--or Finistère
either, for that matter," he said.
"The Red Admiral knows as much as you
"He doesn't," replied the Purple
"And his collection of butterflies is
twice as large as yours," I added, moving down the
stream to a spot directly opposite him.
"It is, is it?" sneered the Purple
Emperor. "Well, let me tell you, Monsieur Darrel, in
all his collection he hasn't a specimen, a single
specimen, of that magnificent butterfly, Apatura
Iris, commonly known as the 'Purple
"Everybody in Brittany knows that,"
I said, casting across the sparkling water; "but
just because you happen to be the only man
who ever captured a 'Purple Emperor' in
Morbihan, it--doesn't follow that you are an
authority on sea-trout flies. Why do you
say that a Breton sea-trout won't touch a
"It's so," he replied.
"Why? There are plenty of May-flies
about the stream."
"Let 'em fly!" snarled the Purple
Emperor, "you won't see a trout touch 'em."
My arm was aching, but I grasped my split
bamboo more firmly, and, half turning, waded
out into the stream and began to whip the
ripples at the head of the pool. A great green
dragon-fly came drifting by on the summer
breeze and hung a moment above the pool,
glittering like an emerald.
"There's a chance! Where is your
butterfly net?" I called across the stream
"What for? That dragonfly? I've got
dozens--Anax Junius, Drury, characteristic,
anal angle of posterior wings, in male, round;
thorax marked with----"
"That will do," I said fiercely.
"Can't I point out an insect in the air without this
burst erudition? Can you tell me, in simple everyday
French, what this little fly is this one, flitting
over the eel grass here beside me? See, it
has fallen on the water."
"Huh!" sneered the Purple Emperor,
"that's a Linnobia annulus."
"What's that?" I demanded.
Before he could answer there came a heavy
splash in the pool, and the fly disappeared.
"He! he! he!" tittered the Purple
Emperor. "Didn't I tell you the fish knew their
business? That was a sea-trout. I hope you don't get
He gathered up his butterfly net, collecting
box, chloroform bottle, and cyanide jar. Then
he rose, swung the box over his shoulder,
stuffed the poison bottles into the pockets of
his silver-buttoned velvet coat, and lighted his
pipe. This latter operation was a demoralizing
spectacle, for the Purple Emperor, like all
Breton peasants, smoked one of those microscopical
Breton pipes which requires ten minutes to
find, ten minutes to fill, ten minutes to light,
and ten seconds to finish. With true Breton
stolidity he went through this solemn rite, blew
three puffs of smoke into the air, scratched his
pointed nose reflectively, and waddled away,
calling back an ironical "Au revoir, and bad
luck to all Yankees!"
I watched him out of sight, thinking sadly
of the young girl whose life he made a hell
upon earth--Lys Trevec, his niece. She never
admitted it, but we all knew what the
black-and-blue marks meant on her soft, round arm,
and it made me sick to see the look of fear
come into her eyes when the Purple Emperor
waddled into the café of the Groix Inn.
It was commonly said that he half-starved
her. This she denied. Marie Joseph and 'Fine
Lelocard had seen him strike her the day after
the Pardon of the Birds because she had
liberated three bullfinches which he had limed the
day before. I asked Lys if this were true, and
she refused to speak to me for the rest of the
week. There was nothing to do about it. If
the Purple Emperor had not been avaricious, I
should never have seen Lys at all, but he could
not resist the thirty francs a week which I
offered him; and Lys posed for me all day long,
happy as a linnet in a pink thorn hedge.
Nevertheless, the Purple Emperor hated me, and
constantly threatened to send Lys back to her dreary
flax-spinning. He was suspicious, too, and when
he had gulped down the single glass of cider
which proves fatal to the sobriety of most
Bretons, he would pound the long, discoloured
oaken table and roar curses on me, on Yves
Terrec, and on the Red Admiral. We were the
three objects in the world which he most hated:
me, because I was a foreigner, and didn't care
a rap for him and his butterflies; and the Red
Admiral, because he was a rival entomologist.
He had other reasons for hating Terrec.
The Red Admiral, a little wizened wretch,
with a badly adjusted glass eye and a passion for
brandy, took his name from a butterfly which
predominated in his collection. This butterfly,
commonly known to amateurs as the "Red
Admiral," and to entomologists as Vanessa
Atalanta, had been the occasion of scandal among
the entomologists of France and Brittany. For
the Red Admiral had taken one of these common
insects, dyed it a brilliant yellow by the aid of
chemicals, and palmed it off on a credulous
collector as a South African species, absolutely
unique. The fifty francs which he gained by
this rascality were, however, absorbed in a suit
for damages brought by the outraged amateur
month later; and when he had sat in the
Quimperlé jail for a month, he reappeared in the
little village of St. Gildas soured, thirsty, and
burning for revenge. Of course we named him
the Red Admiral, and he accepted the name
with suppressed fury.
The Purple Emperor, on the other hand, had
gained his imperial title legitimately, for it was
an undisputed fact that the only specimen of that
beautiful butterfly, Apatura Iris, or the Purple
Emperor, as it is called by amateurs--the only
specimen that had ever been taken in Finistère
or in Morbihan--was captured and brought
home alive by Joseph Marie Gloanec, ever
afterward to be known as the Purple Emperor.
When the capture of this rare butterfly
became known the Red Admiral nearly went
crazy. Every day for a week he trotted over
to the Groix Inn, where the Purple Emperor
lived with his niece, and brought his microscope
to bear on the rare newly captured butterfly, in
hopes of detecting a fraud. But this specimen
was genuine, and he leered through his microscope
"No chemicals there, Admiral,"
grinned the Purple Emperor; and the Red Admiral chattered
To the scientific world of Brittany and
France the capture of an Apatura Iris in
Morbihan was of great importance. The Museum of
Quimper offered to purchase the butterfly, but
the Purple Emperor, though a hoarder of gold,
was a monomaniac on butterflies, and he jeered
at the Curator of the Museum. From all parts
of Brittany and France letters of inquiry and
congratulation poured in upon him. The
French Academy of Sciences awarded him a
prize, and the Paris Entomological Society made
him an honorary member. Being a Breton
peasant, and a more than commonly pig-headed
one at that, these honours did not disturb his
equanimity; but when the little hamlet of St.
Gildas elected him mayor, and, as is the custom
in Brittany under such circumstances, he left
his thatched house to take up an official life in
the little Groix Inn, his head became completely
turned. To be mayor in a village of nearly one
hundred and fifty people! It was an empire!
So he became unbearable, drinking himself
viciously drunk every night of his life, maltreating
his niece, Lys Trevec, like the barbarous old
wretch that he was, and driving the Red
Admiral nearly frantic with his eternal harping, on
the capture of Apatura Iris. Of course he
refused to tell where he had caught the butterfly.
The Red Admiral stalked his footsteps, but
"He! he! he!" nagged the Purple
Emperor, cuddling his chin over a glass of cider;
"I saw you sneaking about the St. Gildas
spinny yesterday morning. So you think you
can find another Apatura Iris by running after
me? It won't do, Admiral, it won't do, d'ye
The Red Admiral turned yellow with
mortification and envy, but the next day he
actually took to his bed, for the Purple Emperor had
brought home not a butterfly but a live chrysalis,
which, if successfully hatched, would become a perfect
specimen of the invaluable Apatura Iris. This was
the last straw. The Red Admiral shut himself up in
his little stone cottage, and for weeks now he had
been invisible to everybody except 'Fine Lelocard
who carried him a loaf of bread and a mullet or langouste
The withdrawal of the Red Admiral from the
society of St. Gildas excited first the derision
and finally the suspicion of the Purple Emperor.
What deviltry could he be hatching? Was he
experimenting with chemicals again, or was he
engaged in some deeper plot, the object of which
was to discredit the Purple Emperor? Roux,
the postman, who carried the mail on foot once
a day from Bannalec, a distance of fifteen miles
each way, had brought several suspicious letters,
bearing English stamps, to the Red Admiral,
and the next day the Admiral had been observed
at his window grinning up into the sky and
rubbing his hands together. A night or two
after this apparition the postman left two packages
at the Groix Inn for a moment while he ran
across the way to drink a glass of cider with me.
The Purple Emperor, who was roaming about
the café, snooping into everything that did not
concern him, came upon the packages and examined
the postmarks and addresses. One of
the packages was square and heavy, and felt like
a book. The other was also square, but very
light, and felt like a pasteboard box. They were
both addressed to the Red Admiral, and they
bore English stamps.
When Roux, the postman, came back, the
Purple Emperor tried to pump him, but the poor
little postman knew nothing about the contents
of the packages, and after he had taken them
around the corner to the cottage of the Red Admiral
the Purple Emperor ordered a glass of
cider, and deliberately fuddled himself until
Lys came in and tearfully supported him to his
room. Here he became so abusive and brutal
that Lys called to me,and I went and settled the
trouble without wasting any words. This also
the Purple Emperor remembered, and waited
his chance to get even with me.
That had happened a week ago, and until
to-day he had not deigned to speak to me.
Lys had posed for me all the week, and today
being Saturday, and I lazy, we had decided
to take a little relaxation, she to visit and gossip
with her little black-eyed friend Yvette in the
neighbouring hamlet of St. Julien, and I to
try the appetites of the Breton trout with the
contents of my American fly book.
I had thrashed the stream very
conscientiously for three hours, but not a trout had risen
to my cast, and I was piqued. I had begun to
believe that there were no trout in the St. Gildas
stream, and would probably have given up had
I not seen the sea trout snap the little fly which
the Purple Emperor had named so scientifically. That
set me thinking. Probably the Purple Emperor was
right, for he certainly was an expert in everything
that crawled and wriggled in Brittany. So I
matched, from my American fly book, the fly that
the sea trout had snapped up, and withdrawing the
cast of three, knotted a new leader to the silk and
slipped a fly on the loop. It was a queer fly. It
was one of those unnameable experiments which
fascinate anglers in sporting stores and which
generally prove utterly useless. Moreover, it
was a tailed fly, but of course I easily remedied
that with a stroke of my penknife. Then I was
all ready, and I stepped out into the hurrying
rapids and cast straight as an arrow to the spot
where the sea trout had risen. Lightly as a
plume the fly settled on the bosom of the pool;
then came a startling splash, a gleam of silver,
and the line tightened from the vibrating rod-tip
to the shrieking reel. Almost instantly I
checked the fish, and as he floundered for a moment,
making the water boil along his glittering
sides, I sprang to the bank again, for I saw that
the fish was a heavy one and I should probably
be in for a long run down the stream. The five-ounce
rod swept in a splendid circle, quivering
under the strain. "Oh, for a gaff-hook!" I
said aloud, for I was now firmly convinced that
I had a salmon to deal with, and no sea trout
Then as I stood, bringing every ounce to
bear on the sulking fish, a lithe, slender girl
came hurriedly along the opposite bank calling
out to me by name.
"Why, Lys!" I said, glancing up for
a second, "I thought you were at St. Julien with
"Yvette has gone to
Bannalec. I went
home and found an awful fight going on at the
Groix Inn, and I was so frightened that I came
to, tell you."
The fish dashed off at that moment, carrying
all the line my reel held, and I was compelled
to follow him at a jump. Lys, active and graceful
as a young deer, in spite of her Pont-Aven
sabots, followed along the opposite bank until
the fish settled in a deep pool, shook the line
savagely once or twice, and then relapsed into the
"Fight at the Groix Inn?" I called
across the water. "What fight?"
"Not exactly fight," quavered Lys,
"but the Red Admiral has come out of his house at last,
and he and my uncle are drinking together and
disputing about butterflies. I never saw my
uncle so angry,and the Red Admiral is sneering
and grinning. Oh, it is almost wicked to see
such a face!"
"But Lys," I said, scarcely able to
repress a smile, "your uncle and the Red Admiral are
always quarrelling and drinking."
"I know oh, dear me!--but this is
different, Monsieur Darrel. The Red Admiral has
grown old and fierce since he shut himself up
three weeks ago, and--oh, dear! I never saw
such a look in my uncle's eyes before. He
seemed insane with fury. His eyes--I can't
speak of it--and then Terrec came in."
"Oh," I said more gravely,
"that was unfortunate. What did the Red Admiral say to
Lys sat down on a rock among the ferns,
and gave me a mutinous glance from her blue
Yves Terrec, loafer, poacher, and son of
Louis Jean Terrec, otherwise the Red Admiral, had
been kicked out by his father, and had also been
forbidden the village by the Purple Emperor,
in his majestic capacity of mayor. Twice the
young ruffian had returned: once to rifle the
bedroom of the Purple Emperor--an unsuccessful
enterprise--and another time to rob his own
father. He succeeded in the latter attempt, but
was never caught, although he was frequently
seen roving about the forests and moors with his
gun. He openly menaced the Purple Emperor;
vowed that he would marry Lys in spite of all
gendarmes in Quimperlé; and these same
gendarmes he led many a long chase through
brier-filled swamps and over miles of yellow
What he did to the Purple Emperor--what
he intended to do--disquieted me but little;
but I worried over his threat concerning Lys.
During the last three months this had bothered
me a great deal; for when Lys came to St. Gildas
from the convent the first thing she captured
was my heart. For a long time I had refused to
believe that any tie of blood linked this
dainty blue-eyed creature with the Purple
Emperor. Although she dressed in the velvet-laced
bodice and blue petticoat of Finistère, and
wore the bewitching white coiffe of St. Gildas,
it seemed like a pretty masquerade. To me she
was as sweet and as gently bred as many a
maiden of the noble Faubourg who danced with
her cousins at a Louis XV fête champêtre. So
when Lys said that Yves Terrec had returned
openly to St. Gildas, I felt that I had better be
"What did Terrec say, Lys?" I
asked, watching the line vibrating above the placid
The wild rose colour crept into her cheeks.
"Oh," she answered, with a little toss of her
chin, "you know what he always says."
"That he will carry you away?"
"In spite of the Purple Emperor, the Red
Admiral, and the gendarmes?"
"And what do you say, Lys?"
"I? Oh, nothing."
"Then let me say it for you."
Lys looked at her delicate pointed sabots,
the sabots from Pont-Aven, made to order.
They fitted her little foot. They were her only
"Will you let me answer for you,
Lys?" I asked.
"You, Monsieur Darrel?"
"Yes. Will you let me give him his
"Mon Dieu, why should you concern
yourself, Monsieur Darrel?"
The fish lay very quiet, but the rod in my
"Because I love you, Lys."
The wild rose colour in her cheeks deepened;
she gave a gentle gasp, then hid her curly head
in her hands.
"I love you, Lys."
"Do you know what you say?" she
"Yes, I love you."
She raised her sweet face and looked at me
across the pool.
"I love you," she said, while the
tears stood like stars in her eyes. "Shall I come over
the brook to you?"
That night Yves Terrec left the village of
St. Gildas vowing vengeance against his father, who
refused him shelter.
I can see him now, standing in the road, his
bare legs rising like pillars of bronze from his
straw-stuffed sabots, his short velvet jacket torn
and soiled by exposure and dissipation, and his
eyes, fierce, roving, bloodshot--while the Red
Admiral squeaked curses on him, and hobbled
away into his little stone cottage.
"I will not forget you!" cried Yves
Terrec, and stretched out his hand toward his father
with a terrible gesture. Then he whipped his
gun to his cheek and took a short step forward,
but I caught him by the throat before he could
fire, and a second later we were rolling in the
dust of Bannalec road. I had to hit him a
heavy blow behind the ear before he would let
go, and then, rising and shaking myself, I dashed
his muzzle-loading fowling piece to bits against
a wall, and threw his knife into the river. The
Purple Emperor was looking on with a queer
light in his eyes. It was plain that he was sorry
Terrec had not choked me to death.
"He would have killed his father,"
I said, as I passed him, going toward the Groix Inn.
"That's his business," snarled the
Purple Emperor. There was a deadly light in his eyes.
For a moment I thought he was going to attack
me; but he was merely viciously drunk, so I
shoved him out of my way and went to bed, tired
The worst of it was I couldn't sleep, for I
feared that the Purple Emperor might begin to
abuse Lys. I lay restlessly tossing among the
sheets until I could stay there no longer. I did
not dress entirely; I merely slipped on a pair of
chaussons and sabots, a pair of knickerbockers,
a jersey, and a cap. Then, loosely tying a
handkerchief about my throat, I went down the
worm-eaten stairs and out into the moonlit road.
There was a candle flaring in the Purple
Emperor's window, but I could not see him.
"He's probably dead drunk," I
thought, and looked up at the window where, three years
before, I had first seen Lys.
"Asleep, thank Heaven!" I muttered,
and wandered out along the road. Passing the
small cottage of the Red Admiral, I saw that it
was dark, but the door was open. I stepped
inside the hedge to shut it, thinking, in case Yves
Terrec should be roving about, his father would
lose whatever he had left.
Then after fastening the door with a stone,
I wandered on through the dazzling Breton
moonlight. A nightingale was singing in a
willow swamp below, and from the edge of the
mere, among the tall swamp grasses, myriads of
frogs chanted a bass chorus.
When I returned, the eastern sky was
beginning to lighten, and across the meadows on the
cliffs, outlined against the paling horizon, I saw
a seaweed gatherer going to his work among
the curling breakers on the coast. His long
rake was balanced on his shoulder, and the sea
wind carried his song across the meadows to me:
Pray for us,
Us who toil in the sea.
Passing the shrine at the entrance of the
village took off my cap and knelt in prayer to
Our Lady of Faöuet; and if I neglected myself
in that prayer, surely I believed Our Lady of
Faöuet would be kinder to Lys. It is said that
the shrine casts white shadows. I looked, but
saw only the moonlight. Then very peacefully
I went to bed again, and was only awakened
by the clank of sabres and the trample of
horses in the road below my window.
"Good gracious!" I thought,
"it must be eleven o'clock, for there are the gendarmes
I looked at my watch; it was only half-past
eight, and as the gendarmes made their rounds
every Thursday at eleven, I wondered what had
brought them out so early to St. Gildas.
"Of course," I grumbled, rubbing my
eyes, "they are after Terrec," and I jumped into
my limited bath.
Before I was completely dressed I heard a
timid knock, and opening my door, razor in
hand, stood astonished and silent. Lys, her
blue eyes wide with terror, leaned on the
"My darling!" I cried, "what
on earth is the matter?" But she only clung to me,
panting like a wounded sea gull. At last, when I
drew her into the room and raised her face to
mine, she spoke in a heart-breaking voice:
"Oh, Dick! they are going to arrest you,
but I will die before I believe one word of what
they say. No, don't ask me," and she began
to sob desperately.
When I found that something really serious
was the matter, I flung on my coat and cap,
and, slipping one arm about her waist, went
down the stairs and out into the road. Four
gendarmes sat on their horses in front of the
café door; beyond them, the entire population
of St. Gildas gaped, ten deep.
"Hello, Durand!" I said to the
brigadier, "what the devil is this I hear about
"It's true, mon ami," replied
Durand with sepulchral sympathy. I looked him over from
the tip of his spurred boots to his sulphur-yellow
sabre belt, then upward, button by button,
to his disconcerted face.
"What for?" I said scornfully.
"Don't try any cheap sleuth work on me! Speak up,
man, what's the trouble?"
The Emperor, who sat in the doorway
staring at me, started to speak, but thought
better of it and got up and went into the house.
The gendarmes rolled their eyes mysteriously
and looked wise.
"Come, Durand," I said impatiently,
"what's the charge?"
"Murder," he said in a faint voice.
"What!" I cried incredulously.
"Nonsense! Do I look like a murderer? Get off
your horse, you stupid, and tell me who's murdered."
Durand got down, looking very silly, and
came up to me, offering his hand with a propitiatory
"It was the Purple Emperor who denounced
you! See, they found your handkerchief
at his door----"
"Whose door, for Heaven's sake?" I
"Why, the Red Admiral's!"
"The Red Admiral's? What has he
"Nothing--he's only been murdered."
I could scarcely believe my senses, although
they took me over to the little stone cottage and
pointed out the blood-spattered room. But
the horror of the thing was that the corpse of
the murdered man had disappeared, and there
only remained a nauseating lake of blood on
the stone floor, in the centre of which lay a
human hand. There was no doubt as to whom
the hand belonged, for everybody who had ever
seen the Red Admiral knew that the shrivelled
bit of flesh which lay in the thickening blood
was the hand of the Red Admiral. To me it
looked like the severed claw of some gigantic
"Well," I said, "there's been
murder committed. Why don't you do something?"
"What?" asked Durand.
"I don't know. Send for the
"He's at Quimperlé. I
"Then send for a doctor, and
find out how long this blood has been coagulating."
"The chemist from Quimperlé
is here; he's a doctor."
"What does he say?"
"He says that he doesn't know."
"And who are you going to arrest?"
I inquired, turning away from the spectacle on the
"I don't know," said the brigadier
solemnly; "you are denounced by the Purple Emperor,
because he found your handkerchief at the door
when he went out this morning."
"Just like a pig-headed Breton!" I
exclaimed thoroughly angry. "Did he not mention
"Of course not," I said. "He
overlooked the fact that Terrec tried to shoot his father
last night and that I took away his gun. All
that counts for nothing when he finds my
handkerchief at the murdered man's door."
"Come into the café,"
said Durand, much disturbed, "we can talk
it over, there. Of course, Monsieur Darrel, I
have never had the faintest idea that you were the
The four gendarmes and I walked across the
the road to the Groix Inn and entered the café. It
was crowded with Britons, smoking, drinking,
and jabbering in half a dozen dialects, all
equally unsatisfactory to a civilized ear; and I
pushed through the crowd to where little Max
Fortin, the chemist of Quimperlé, stood smoking
a vile cigar.
"This is a bad business," he said,
shaking hands and offering me the mate to his cigar,
which I politely declined.
"Now, Monsieur Fortin," I said,
"it appears that the Purple Emperor found my
handkerchief near the murdered man's door this morning,
and so he concludes"--here I glared at the
Purple Emperor--"that I am the assassin. I
will now ask him a question," and turning on
him suddenly, I shouted, "What were you doing
at the Red Admiral's door?"
The Purple Emperor started and turned
pale, and I pointed at him triumphantly.
"See what a sudden question will do.
Look how embarrassed he is, and yet I do not charge
him with murder; and I tell you, gentlemen,
that man there knows as well as I do who was
the murderer of the Red Admiral!"
"I don't!" bawled the Purple
"You do," I said. "It was
"I don't believe it," he said
obstinately, dropping his voice.
" Of course not, being pig-headed."
"I am not pig-headed," he roared
again, "but I am mayor of St. Gildas, and I do
not believe that Yves Terrec killed his
"You saw him try to kill him last
The mayor grunted.
"And you saw what I did."
He grunted again.
"And," I went on, "you heard
Yves Terrec threaten to kill his father. You heard him
curse the Red Admiral and swear to kill him.
Now the father is murdered and his body is
"And your handkerchief?" sneered
the Purple Emperor.
"I dropped it of course.
"And the seaweed gatherer who saw you
last night lurking about the Red Admiral's
cottage," grinned the Purple Emperor.
I was startled at the man's malice.
"That will do," I said. "It
is perfectly true that I was walking on the Bannalec road
last night, and that I stopped to close the Red
Admiral's door, which was ajar, although his
light was not burning. After that I went up
the road to the Dinez Woods, and then walked
over by St. Julien, whence I saw the seaweed
gatherer on the cliffs. He was near enough for
me to hear what he sang. What of that?"
"What did you do then?"
"Then I stopped at the shrine and said a
prayer, and then I went to bed and slept until
Brigadier Durand's gendarmes awoke me with
"Now, Monsieur Darrel," said the
Purple Emperor, lifting a fat finger and shooting a
wicked glance at me, "Now, Monsieur Darrel,
which did you wear last night on your midnight
stroll--sabots or shoes?"
I thought a moment. "Shoes--no, sabots.
I just slipped on my chaussons and went out
in my sabots."
"Which was it, shoes or sabots?"
snarled the Purple Emperor.
"Sabots, you fool."
"Are these your sabots? " he asked,
lifting up a wooden shoe with my initials cut on the
"Yes," I replied.
"Then how did this blood come on the
other one?" he shouted, and held up a sabot, the mate
to the first, on which a drop of blood had spattered.
"I haven't the least idea," I said
calmly; but my heart was beating very fast and I was
"You blockhead!" I said,
controlling my rage, "I'll make you pay for this when
they catch Yves Terrec and convict him. Brigadier
Durand, do your duty if you think I am
under suspicion. Arrest me, but grant me
one favour. Put me in the Red Admiral's
cottage, and I'll see whether I can't find some
clew that you have overlooked. Of course,
I won't disturb anything until the Commissaire
arrives. Bah! You all make me very ill."
"He's hardened," observed the
Purple Emperor, wagging his head.
"What motive had I to kill the Red
Admiral?" I asked them all scornfully. And they
"None! Yves Terrec is the man!"
Passing out the door I swung around and
shook my finger at the Purple Emperor.
"Oh, I'll make you dance for this, my
friend," I said; and I followed Brigadier
Durand across the street to the cottage of the
They took me at my word and placed a
gendarme with a bared sabre at the gateway by
"Give me your parole," said poor
Durand, "and I will let you go where you wish."
But I refused, and began prowling about the cottage
looking for clews. I found lots of things that
some people would have considered most important,
such as ashes from the Red Admiral's
pipe, footprints in a dusty vegetable bin, bottles
smelling of Pouldu cider, and dust--oh
lots of dust. I was not an expert, only a
stupid, everyday amateur; so I defaced the
footprints with my thick shooting boots, and I
declined to examine the pipe ashes through a
microscope, although the Red Admiral's microscope
stood on the table close at hand.
At last I found what I had been looking for,
some long wisps of straw, curiously depressed
and flattened in the middle, and I was certain
I had found the evidence that would settle
Yves Terrec for the rest of his life. It was
plain as the nose on your face. The straws were
sabot straws, flattened where the foot had
pressed them, and sticking straight out where
they projected beyond the sabot. Now nobody
in St. Gildas used straw in sabots except a
fisherman who lived near St. Julien, and the
straw in his sabots was ordinary yellow wheat
straw! This straw, or rather these straws, were
from the stalks of the red wheat which only
grows inland, and which, everybody in St. Gildas
knew, Yves Terrec wore in his sabots. I was
perfectly satisfied; and when, three hours later,
a hoarse shouting from the Bannalec Road
brought me to the window, I was not surprised
to see Yves Terrec, bloody, dishevelled, hatless,
with his strong arms bound behind him, walking
with bent head between two mounted gendarmes. The
crowd around him swelled every
crying: "Parricide! parricide! Death
to the murderer!" As he passed my window
I saw great clots of mud on his dusty sabots,
from the heels of which projected wisps of
red wheat straw. Then I walked back into the
Red Admiral's study, determined to find what
the microscope would show on the wheat straws.
I examined each one very carefully, and then,
my eyes aching, I rested my chin on my hand
and leaned back in the chair. I had not been
as fortunate as some detectives, for there was
no evidence that the straws had ever been used
in a sabot at all. Furthermore, directly across
the hallway stood a carved Breton chest, and
now I noticed for the first time that, from beneath
the closed lid, dozens of similar red wheat
straws projected, bent exactly as mine were
bent by the lid.
I yawned in disgust. It was apparent that
I was not cut out for a detective, and I bitterly
pondered over the difference between clews in
real life and clews in a detective story. After a
while I rose, walked over to the chest and
opened the lid. The interior was wadded with
the red wheat straws, and on this wadding lay
two curious glass jars, two or three small vials,
several empty bottles labelled chloroform, a
collecting jar of cyanide of potassium, and a
book. In a farther corner of the chest were
some letters bearing English stamps, and also
the torn coverings of two parcels, all from England,
and all directed to the Red Admiral under
his proper name of "Sieur Louis Jean Terrec,
St. Gildas, par Moëlan, Finistère."
All these traps I carried over to the desk,
shut the lid of the chest, and sat down to read
the letters. They were written in commercial
French, evidently by an Englishman.
Freely translated, the contents of the first
letter were as follows:
"LONDON, June 12, 1894.
"DEAR MONSIEUR (sic): Your kind favour
of the 19th inst. received and contents
noted. The latest work on the Lepidoptera of
England is Blowzer's How to catch British
Butterflies, with notes and tables, and an
introduction by Sir Thomas Sniffer. The price of
this work (in one volume, calf) is £5 or 125
francs of French money. A post-office order
will receive our prompt attention. We beg to
"FRADLEY & TOOMER,
"470 Regent Square, London, S.W."
The next letter was even less interesting.
It merely stated that the money had been
received and the book would be forwarded. The
third engaged my attention, and I shall quote it,
the translation being a free one:
"DEAR SIR: Your letter of the 1st of July
was duly received, and we at once referred it to
Mr. Fradley himself. Mr. Fradley being much
interested in your question, sent your letter to
Professor Schweineri, of the Berlin Entomological
Society, whose note Blowzer refers to on page
630, in his How to catch British Butterflies. We
have just received an answer from Professor
Schweineri, which we translate into French--(see
inclosed slip). Professor Schweineri begs
to present to you two jars of cythyl, prepared
under his own supervision. We forward the
same to you. Trusting that you will find
everything satisfactory, we remain,
"FRADLEY & TOOMER.
The inclosed slip read as follows:
"Messrs. FRADLEY & TOOMER,
"GENTLEMEN: Cythaline, a complex hydrocarbon,
was first used by Professor Schnoot, of
Antwerp, a year ago. I discovered an analogous
formula about the same time and named it cythyl.
I have used it with great success everywhere. It
is as certain as a magnet. I beg to present you
three small jars, and would be pleased to have
you forward two of them to your correspondent
in St. Gildas with my compliments. Blowzer's
quotation of me on page 630 of his glorious
work, How to catch British Butterflies, is correct.
P.H.D., D.D., D.S., M.S."
When I had finished this letter I folded it up
and put it into my pocket with the others.
Then I opened Blowzer's valuable work, How
to catch British Butterflies, and turned to
Now, although the Red Admiral could only
have acquired the book very recently, and
although all the other pages were perfectly clean,
this particular page was thumbed black, and
heavy pencil marks inclosed a paragraph at the
bottom of the page. This the paragraph:
"Professor Schweineri says: 'Of the two
old methods used by collectors for the capture of
the swift-winged, high-flying Apatura Iris, or
Purple Emperor, the first, which was using a
long-handled net, proved successful once in a
thousand times; and the second, the placing of
bait upon the ground, such as decayed meat,
dead cats, rats, etc., was not only disagreeable,
even for an enthusiastic collector, but also very
uncertain. Once in five hundred times would
the splendid butterfly leave the tops of his
favourite oak trees to circle about the fetid bait
offered. I have found cythyl a perfectly sure
bait to draw this beautiful butterfly to the
ground, where it can be easily captured. An
ounce of cythyl placed in a yellow saucer under
an oak tree, will draw to it every Apatura Iris
within a radius of twenty miles. So, if any
collector who possesses a little cythyl, even
though it be in a sealed bottle in his pocket--if
such a collector does not find a single Apatura
Iris fluttering close about him within an hour,
let him be satisfied that the Apatura Iris does
not inhabit his country.'"
When I had finished reading this note I sat
for a long while thinking hard. Then I
examined the two jars. They were labelled
"Cythyl." One was full, the other
nearly full. "The rest must be on
the corpse of the Red Admiral," I thought, "no
matter if it is in a corked bottle----"
I took all the things back to the chest, laid
them carefully on the straw, and closed the lid.
The gendarme sentinel at the gate saluted me
respectfully as I crossed over to the Groix Inn.
The inn was surrounded by an excited crowd,
and the hallway was choked with gendarmes
and peasants. On every side they greeted me
cordially, announcing that the real murderer
was caught; but I pushed by them without a
word and ran upstairs to find Lys. She opened
her door when I knocked and threw both arms
about my neck. I took her to my breast and
kissed her. After a moment I asked her if she
would obey me no matter what I commanded,
and she said she would, with a proud humility
that touched me.
"Then go at once to Yvette in St.
Julien," I said. "Ask her to harness the dog-cart
and drive to the convent in Quimperlé. Wait
for me there. Will you do this without
questioning me, my darling?"
She raised her face to mine. "Kiss
me," she said innocently; the next moment she had
I walked deliberately into the Purple
Emperor's room and peered into the gauze-covered
box which held the chrysalis of Apatura
Iris. It was as I expected. The chrysalis was
empty and transparent, and a great crack ran
down the middle of its back, but, on the netting
inside the box, a magnificent butterfly slowly
waved its burnished purple wings; for the
chrysalis had given up its silent tenant, the
butterfly symbol of immortality. Then a great
fear fell upon me. I know now that it was
the fear of the Black Priest, but neither then
nor for years after did I know that the Black
Priest had ever lived on earth. As I bent
over the box I heard a confused murmur
outside the house which ended in a furious
shout of "Parricide!" and I heard the
gendarmes ride away behind a wagon which
rattled sharply on the flinty highway. I went
to the window. In the wagon sat Yves Terrec,
bound and wild-eyed, two gendarmes at either
side of him, and all around the wagon rode
mounted gendarmes whose bared sabres scarcely
kept the crowd away.
"Parricide!" they howled.
"Let him die!"
I stepped back and opened the gauze-covered
box. Very gently but firmly I took the
splendid butterfly by its closed fore wings and
lifted it unharmed between my thumb and
forefinger. Then, holding it concealed behind my
back, I went down into the café.
Of all the crowd that had filled it, shouting
for the death of Yves Terrec, only three persons
remained seated in front of the huge empty
fireplace. They were the Brigadier Durand,
Max Fortin, the chemist of Quimperlé, and
the Purple Emperor. The latter looked
abashed when I entered, but I paid no attention
to him and walked straight to the
"Monsieur Fortin," I said, "do
you know much about hydrocarbons?"
"They are my specialty," he said
"Have you ever heard of such thing as
"Schweineri's cythyl? Oh, yes! We use
it in perfurmery."
"Good!" I said. "Has it an
"No--and yes. One is always aware of
its presence, but nobody can affirm it
has an odour. It is curious," he continued,
looking at me, "it is very curious you
should have asked me that, for all day I have
been imagining I detected the presence of
"Do you imagine so now?" I asked.
"Yes, more than ever."
I sprang to the front door and tossed out the
butterfly. The splendid creature beat the air
for a moment, flitted uncertainly hither and
thither, and then, to my astonishment, sailed
majestically back into the café and alighted on
the hearthstone. For a moment I was non-plussed,
but when my eyes rested on the Purple
Emperor I comprehended in a flash.
"Lift that hearthstone!" I
cried to the Brigadier Durand; "pry it up with your
The Purple Emperor suddenly fell forward
in his chair, his face ghastly white, his jaw loose
"What is cythyl?" I shouted,
seizing him by the arm; but he plunged heavily from his
chair, face downward on the floor, and at the
moment a cry from the chemist made me turn.
There stood the Brigadier Durand, one
hand supporting the hearthstone, one hand
raised in horror. There stood Max Fortin, the
chemist, rigid with excitement, and below, in the
hollow bed where the hearthstone had rested,
lay a crushed mass of bleeding human flesh,
from the midst of which stared a cheap glass
eye. I seized the Purple Emperor and dragged
him to his feet.
"Look!" I cried; "look at your
old friend, the Red Admiral!" but he only smiled in a
vacant way, and rolled his head muttering;
"Bait for butterflies! Cythyl! Oh, no, no,
no! You can't do it, Admiral, d'ye see. I
alone own the Purple Emperor! I alone am
the Purple Emperor!"
And the same carriage that bore me to
Quimperlé to claim my bride, carried him to
Quimper, gagged and bound, a foaming, howling
. . .
. . .
This, then, is the story of the Purple
Emperor. I might tell you a pleasanter story if
I chose; but concerning the fish that I had
hold of, whether it was a salmon, a grilse,
or a sea trout, I may not say, because I have
promised Lys, and she has promised me, that
no power on earth shall wring from our lips
the mortifying confession that the fish escaped.