Corveo Newman and the Red Butterfly
-oOo-
Alan Gullette

      One day Corveo went out to play, leaving his Mediaeval manuscripts scattered on the heavy oak tables of the family study. As he wandered through the fields which surrounded his house, he chanced to see a bright red butterfly with enormous wings. At first, he was so astonished by its beauty and size that he was unable to do anything but stare at it, watching it bob up and down among the flowers. Then the butterfly alighted on an azalea blossom and stayed very still.

     Corveo slowly approached the butterfly, careful not to make a sudden motion that might scare it away. But he stepped on a twig that made a loud crack, and he froze on the spot, certain that the butterfly would be startled and fly off. Instead, the butterfly merely chuckled and said to Corveo:

     "Don't worry, I'm not afraid of you! I am wise enough to know that you mean me no harm."

     At this, Corveo was much relieved. He sat down on the ground near the broken twig. "Well, yes, you are quite right. It was foolish of me to think that I could sneak up on you in so clumsy a fashion."

     The butterfly spoke again: "So, what brings you outside on such a beautiful day? You should be studying your ancient manuscripts for clues to the historical manifestations of religious truths."

     Corveo was ashamed. "But... I studied for three hours this morning and my mind was starting to drift, so I thought it couldn't hurt if I took a little walk -- you know, to refresh myself."

     "And what brings you to me in particular? There is a very wise juniper bush nearer to your house..."

     "Oh, I didn't know!" exclaimed Corveo. "Well, I guess I was attracted by your bright red color, your enormous size, and your dancing motion as you glided among the flowers."

     "Quite so," said the butterfly matter-of-factly.

     A moment passed in which nothing was said. The red butterfly sat on the azalea blossom; Corveo sat on the ground nearby. Each one eyed the other expectantly.

     Then the butterfly spoke:

     "Corveo, you are a human being and therefore you are very wise. Perhaps you are too young to realize your own wisdom. Many people are this way: either because they are young, or because of some other reason, they do not know their own wisdom.

     "Butterflies are very wise creatures, and we realize our own wisdom. We have watched humans and other living things for millions of years. Human beings see things but do not always notice them. You yourself are as wise as I am, but since you do not know your own wisdom I appear to be wiser than you!"

     Corveo was amazed by the butterfly's revelations. He pondered them in silence. After a while, he spoke:

     "Tell me, wise butterfly, how is it that I can be as wise as you and yet not realize my own wisdom?"

     The red butterfly shifted its position a little and fanned its enormous wings.

     "Ah, Corveo! If you could follow me a little, you would know the answer to your wise question..." And with that the butterfly fluttered off into the air.

     Corveo jumped up and chased after the butterfly, but the butterfly had a had start and was able to fly higher than Corveo. Still, Corveo managed to keep up with him.

     Suddenly, a huge blackbird swooped down and gobbled up the beautiful red butterfly.

     Corveo Newman went home.

     The next day around the same time, Corveo again grew weary of his studies and walked out into the fields to refresh himself. He mourned the loss of the red butterfly and began humming the notes of a reverent hymn. Suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks.

     The huge blackbird that had eaten the red butterfly was sitting on a tree a few yards away, chittering.

     "Ha ha, here comes Corveo! Wise little Corveo! Well, scholar Corveo, where is the beautiful red butterfly today?"

     Corveo was furious.

     "You know very well where he is, you awful thing!" And Corveo picked up a rock and threw it at the blackbird.

     The blackbird chittered and flew into the air, easily dodging the stone missile. Then he returned to the branch.

     "Corveo! Stupid Corveo! Killing me will not bring back your butterfly! In fact, if you were half as wise as you pretend to be, you would realize that blackbirds are very wise creatures and, therefore, you could learn much from me. Besides, I am very beautiful."

     Corveo calmed down and realized that, indeed, the huge bird had a very pretty sheen -- almost green -- where the light hit his jet-black feathers.

     "Furthermore," the blackbird continued, "how can you blame me for eating the butterfly -- I need to eat, too! You yourself have wrung the necks of chickens with your bare hands."

     Corveo considered this truth.

     "Still," Corveo argued, "I need not waste my time on you. Though you are pretty and wise, you are also arrogant and violent."

     "Ha ha! No more violent than humans are. Didn't you just throw a rock at me a moment ago? And perhaps you, too, are arrogant -- you just said you don't want to spend time with me."

     "But what have I to gain?" Corveo asked. "I have already lost a friend to you."

     "My dear Corveo, I am as wise as the red butterfly. Perhaps I am wiser than he, for I have eaten many of his kind. From me, you could gain much wisdom -- the same as you sought from the butterfly."

     Corveo considered this for a moment.

     "What wisdom do you have to offer?" Corveo asked suspiciously.

     "Tut, tut! If you were any wiser, Corveo, you would see for yourself how you might learn from me."

     And with that the huge blackbird turned and flew off. But as he flew past a small bush a clever brown fox jumped out and caught him. The bird struggled and cried out, but the fox was too strong for him.

     Corveo was in shock. The fox saw Corveo and chuckled, then he ran away, dragging the bird through the underbrush. Corveo chased after them.

     "Come back, cruel fox! Let go of my friend the blackbird!"

     The fox giggled and said between his clenched teeth:

     "Poor Corveo! You friend the bird is dead, and now he will be my meal!" He began eating the bird as he ran, chased by Corveo.

     They came to a clearing. The fox had gulped down the last of the blackbird and turned to face Corveo.

     "Stop, Corveo! I will hold my ground against you!"

     "Nasty fox!" cried Corveo. "You are a vile beast and you have eaten my friend! If I had the means, I would kill you!"

     "Temper, temper, my dear Corveo! You should know that I am vicious and will defend myself as I need. Besides, I only ate the blackbird because I was hungry -- I have to eat, too, you know! Are you so unwise that your friends haven't taught you this?"

     Corveo was upset and furious. He was upset because he had lost his friend the blackbird. He was furious because the fox mocked him and he could do nothing to avenge the poor bird. Vainly, he looked around for a rock or a stick with which to attach the fox.

     "Calm down, Corveo! My death will get you nothing -- foxes make bad meals for humans. Besides, I am very wily and wise, and you could learn much from me!"

     "I have heard much talk of wisdom," complained Corveo, still angry. "But I have seen very little of it. Beauty is plain to the eye, but wisdom is far harder to see."

     Then note my beauty!" said the fox. "My coat is shiny brown and I am small and sinewy, slender but strong, with sharp teeth. I am very quick and cunning."

     "That is not beauty but ugliness!" cried Corveo. "You are not a thing of beauty -- you are a thing of horror. You are not a creature of life, but death incarnate!"

     "Ah, Corveo, you are too quick to judge, especially for one so young and unwise. Let me tell you, every creature must eat to survive; and to eat another creature you must destroy it, take its life. This is not cruel -- it's just the way of life."

     Corveo was calmer, but still upset. He didn't want to accept what had happened or what the fox was saying.

     "Wisdom," the fox continued philosophically, "is to be found in acknowledging the ways of life and death. To be wise is to understand death and so avoid it as long as possible."

     Corveo abandoned his anger and sadness and simply listened to what the fox had to say.

     "Corveo, if you will promise to let me go without seeking to injure me, I will impart my wisdom to you, which is greater than the wisdom of butterflies or birds."

     Corveo thought about this. He had lost his friends, but hurting the fox would not bring them back. Besides, he was curious for wisdom.

     "Very well," he said, "I promise to let you go without seeking to harm you. What is your wisdom?"

     The fox grinned. He was satisfied with himself for achieving the pact with Corveo. He opened his mouth to speak.

     Suddenly a shot rang out. The fox was dead.

     Corveo's father ran up with a rifle.

     "Corveo! You should know better than to get so close to wild animals! Come along home -- your studies await you.



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