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Title: A Plague of Butterflies
Author: Fred M White
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Title: A Plague of Butterflies
Author: Fred M White




Published in the Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), Saturday 28
December 1918.

When Professor Felix Kleiser resigned the Vice-Chancellorship of
Marchester University in August, 1914, the average Briton, with his
nice sense of the proper proportion of such things, declared that the
learned gentleman had done exactly what was to be expected from any man
of honor.

It was true that the learned pundit in question was German born, but
then he had been naturalised for over twenty years, and that before he
came to this country he had been at open variance with the Kaiser and
his Junkers with regard to their blatant militarism. Indeed, it was on
record that high words had passed in the Wilhelmstrasse, after which
the professor had turned his back on his native country for good and
all, saying that England and Germany were natural allies and destined
between them to rule the world. And, at any rate, it was a matter of
public record that after the funeral of Queen Victoria Kleiser had
rudely turned his back on the Kaiser, who had offered to shake hands
with him.

Still, Kleiser had undoubtedly done the right thing, despite these
facts. For, had he stayed at Marchester, there would have been a good
deal of ill feeling, so that he gracefully retired with the regrets of
the staff and the hearty good wishes of all who knew him. Whereupon he
retired to a secluded spot some twenty miles from the port of Marmouth,
where he devoted himself to the collection and study of butterflies. On
this subject he was something of an authority, but, by comparison with
his former work, this pursuit was a mere hobby. Still, he could do work
of national importance in this direction, and he did. It was mainly
owing to his exertions that the ravages of insects and caterpillars
amongst the now precious crops were kept within limits; indeed, the
Kleiser formulae for treating growing potatoes had been a marked

But it was butterflies that Kleiser mainly affected, and from the
first he had been amazingly successful; so successful, indeed, that he
had established a regular correspondence between himself and Zoomstag
of Stockholm, probably the greatest authority on lepidopterae in
the world. As a matter of fact the authorities had rather gone out of
their way to make this correspondence easy, because Zoomstag had been
enthusiastic on the subject of these crop parasites, and Kleiser had
found some of his hints of the greatest value. There had been times
occasionally when the U-boats were busy and posts irregular, that a
letter had been conveyed to Stockholm by a British destroyer. But all
this is more or less by the way.

Certainly Kleiser had been amazingly successful in his pursuit of
butterflies all through the summer of 1917. He was probably the only
man in England who had succeeded in capturing a Swallow Tail that
year, to say nothing of a Purple Emperor or two, and when at length he
proudly displayed a Camberwell Beauty and wrote a description of it to
the papers, the jealousy of his rivals broke out into open and pointed

Canon Hillgard, a near neighbor of his and himself a collector and
authority, was frankly incredulous. But it was small use to talk like
this when the professor came across to the rectory with the specimens
actually in his hand. He was a tall, wiry figure of a man with a grey
beard and keen eyes behind his gold-rimmed spectacles, the sort of man
who suggested a certain amount of physical strength, in spite of his

"Ach, my friend," he said. "Look at this. A fine specimen of a
Camberwell Beauty, beyond doubt. What you say to dot, mein freindt. Is
she not a beauty?"

In common fairness the Canon was bound to admit, that it was. He said
the usual polite thing, but he was worried and distressed all the same.
He could put up with the Swallow Tails and Emperors, and the quite
phenomenal number of White Admirals that had fallen captive, so to
speak, to the professor's bow and spear, but he was not prepared to
swallow the Camberwell Beauty for the simple reason that no such thing
had been heard of, even in that favored haunt, for the best part of
half a century.

"How do you account for it?" he asked. "Surely it could not be an
indigenous specimen. Do you suppose it has flown out of a passing ship?"

"Dot might be," the Professor said. "A Dutch boat, perhaps. But dere it
is, and you cannot deny it."

Naturally, with the specimen before him, the Canon was not prepared to
go that length. All he could do was to congratulate the Professor on
his great good fortune and make a record of the event in his diary.
When the Professor at length departed, the Canon turned to his nephew,
Haddon Hillgard, who had taken no interest in the discussion; in fact,
he appeared to be frankly bored by the whole thing. It seemed to him
rather absurd that two elderly and learned gentlemen should be so
excited about a mere butterfly.

"What do you think of it, Haddon?" the Canon asked.

Haddon Hillgard shrugged his shoulders. He was a young man who
apparently took no interest in anything; he seemed to have reduced the
doctrine of nil admirari to a fine art. He ought, in the Canon's
private opinion, to be in the army or navy, instead of which he
appeared to have some vague job in Whitehall that allowed him frequent
vocations in different parts of the country. Just now he was supposed
to be doing work of national importance at Marmouth, on the great
naval port and base some twenty miles away, but for the last week he
had quartered himself upon the Canon. He did little else but smoke
cigarettes all day and moon about the place in an indolent fashion
that caused a certain amount of irritation to the Canon, who was an
essentially outdoor man and had played cricket for his university in
his time.

"Don't interest me much," Haddon drawled.

"No, I suppose not. I should like to see you interested in something.
But that butterfly. Now, here's a man who is more or less of a
theorist, but one who has never studied moths in their native haunts as
I have. And he's found more rare butterflies this summer than I have
found in the whole course of my life. Why, I haven't seen a Purple
Emperor for three years, and, as regards a Swallow Tail, I haven't
taken one since the Australians were here in 1884. As to a Camberwell
Beauty--tell you what it is, Haddon, that man's a humbug. I believe he
imports the larvae and turns it loose, so to speak, for the mere sake
of saying he has caught a butterfly afterwards. It has been done."

"German, isn't he?" Haddon asked listlessly.

"German born," the Canon said honestly. "But English to all practical
purposes. Resigned his job at Marchester University as soon as the war
broke out."

"Still, he is a German," Haddon persisted.

"I am not denying it. But his instincts are purely English. He has
done a lot of good, too. That new treatment of his must have saved
thousands of acres of crops. He was thanked in the House of Commons for
what he did. I am not denying that he owes a good deal to Zoomstag of

"I've heard of him," Haddon said. "Big scientific swell, isn't he? But
how does your friend get in touch with him?"

"Well, it's like this. Zoomstag is the authority on creeping pests, and
therefore the Government have gone out of their way to make it easy for
Kleiser to communicate with Zoomstag. His correspondence is uncensored,
and, indeed, I happen to know that our destroyers carry it sometimes."

But Haddon Hillgard did not appear to be listening. He strolled out
presently in his indolent way and went off on his motor cycle in the
direction of Marmouth. It was quite late before he returned, and when
he did come back he did not go out of his way to inform his uncle where
he had been. For the next day or two he rambled about the neighborhood
with a considerable quantity of cigarettes and a powerful pair of
field-glasses. Towards the end of the afternoon he was crossing a field
in the neighborhood of the Professor's house when he came in contact,
apparently quite by accident with an acquaintance from Marmouth.
This was none other than a civilian draftsman in the Naval Arsenal
there whom Hillgard knew by the name of Boom, a clever American naval
architect, who enjoyed a position of trust in the drawing office to
the department responsible for the turning out of destroyers. Hillgard
accosted this man in his usual listless way.

"Well, Boom," he drawled. "What are you doing here?"

For some reason or another Boom did not appear particularly pleased to
see his acquaintance.

"Oh," he said, "I'm having an afternoon off. Been spending an hour or
two on my favorite hobby--butterflies. So I thought I'd drop in and
see Professor Kleiser and introduce myself to him. I've had a very
interesting afternoon."

"I don't doubt it," Hillgard said drily. "See the Camberwell Beauty?
No, I don't take an interest in that sort of thing myself, but my
uncle, the Canon here, the man I am staying with, talks about nothing
else. Well, so long, Boom."

With that he strolled away in the direction of the Canonical residence.
Quickening his pace once Boom was out of sight. Then he proceeded to
shut himself in the little room at the back of the house where the
telephone was situated. He called up a certain number in Marmouth--a
number which, by the way, was not in the book--and presently got in
contact with the man he was after.

"That you, Sutton?" he said. "Yes, it sounds like your voice, but give
me the key letter. Repeat it. Yes, that's all right. Now, listen. I
believe I've got it. I want you to keep your eye open for the next two
or three days for the correspondence of Professor Kleiser. All his
letters are to be opened and, as they are read, send a confidential
messenger over here with them for me to see. What's that? Say it again."

"It's a big order," said the voice at the other end of the wire. "The
Home Office has given instructions that the professor's correspondence
isn't to be tampered with."

"Ah, I expected some tomfoolery like that," Hillgard said. "Now, go to
Admiral X----, you know who I mean, and tell him what I said. Ask him
to 'phone the Home Office at once and explain to them exactly what I
want. Now, get busy."

With this Hillgard rang off and went in unconcernedly to dinner. It was
a day or two before the first of the censored letters reached him, and
it proved to be, as he had confidently expected, a communication from
Kleiser to Zoomstag at Stockholm on general subjects, ending up with a
long account of the capture of the Camberwell Beauty. This part of the
letter Hillgard read again and again. It ran as follows:--

"It was a bit of great big luck to me, my friend. I was passing along
by a belt of trees behind some shrubs when I saw the butterfly high
overhead. At first I did not guess what it was till the insect came
down low and settled on some green stuff. Then I saw almost to my
amazement, that it was a fine specimen of the Camberwell Beauty. I
need not tell you that no specimen of this kind has been seen in the
country for forty years. It was poised there with its tail towards the
north-east, in fact, I send you a sketch of it just as it lay there on
the foliage. By rare good luck I managed to catch it without doing the
beautiful creature the slightest harm. You never saw a more beautiful
specimen. I thought at first of mounting it myself, but so great a
rarity deserves special treatment. So therefore I take it myself to
London on Thursday and I leave Marmouth by the train that departs for
London just after eleven o'clock. My Purple Emperors I am taking as
well, but those need not go to London. Those I shall dispatch to York
so that they will reach there on Friday. Perhaps I had better tell you
that the Camberwell Beauty was flying in a north-easterly direction
when I captured him--a small matter to the ignorant, perhaps, but
highly worthy of notice by scientific students like ourselves. I will
send you the two White Admirals in the course of a day or two, and
perhaps I shall be able to enclose a special of the Swallow Tail at the
same time. But as to this I'll write you more fully to-morrow."

It was some time before Hillgard locked the letter away, which he did
presently with the air of a man who is not displeased with himself. He
strolled towards the dining-room presently and sat down to his dinner,
knowing perfectly well that the subject of butterflies would come up
before long. And it did. It was easy thence to draw the Canon on to
talk of Zoomstag.

"What nationality is he!" young Hillgard asked.

"None," the Canon said promptly. "Zoomstag boasts he belongs to no
nation. As a matter of fact, he is a Swede by birth. But it pleases
him to boast that he is purely cosmopolitan, which enables him to have
correspondents in every country, even those that are at war with the

"Extravagant man?" Hillgard asked.

"Oh, very. Keeps a sort of open house. Like most scientific men, always
painfully short of money. But he's a great man, all the same, and I
have the highest opinion of him."

"That's all right," Hillgard said. And with that the subject dropped.
Nor did Hillgard bring it up again till the best part of a week had

During this time he seemed to have shaken off a good deal of the
languid pose that caused the athletic and vigorous Canon to regard
him with something almost approaching dislike. He passed most of his
time on his motor cycle travelling backwards and forwards to Marmouth.
Government work, he moaned.

Then, one evening at dinner, he introduced the subject of Kleiser and
his butterflies again. They had reached the stage when the port and
cigarettes had been introduced, and Hillgard sprawled in his chair much
as if there was nothing in the world of interest beyond the enjoyment
of the moment.

"I suppose you keep a record of these things?" he said. "I mean that
whenever one of these beastly butterflies turns up you make a note of

"Yes," the Canon said curtly, "I do." He did not like this flippant way
of speaking on what, to him, was an almost sacred subject. "Of course,
it is almost of national importance. I have a diary in which all the
circumstances surrounding the finding of a rare butterfly are carefully
recorded. Not only that, but I have a note of the measurements as well.
I suppose the last month or two Kleiser must have discovered a score of
rare butterflies--White Admirals, Swallow Tails, Purple Emperors, and,
of course, the Camberwell Beauty."

"And the dates as well?" Hillgard asked.

"The dates, certainly. But why do you ask? I began to think you didn't
take an interest in anything."

"Oh, of course, I know you regard me as a slacker," Hillgard said
good-naturedly. "But I think I shall be able to justify my existence
when the time comes. Would you mind my having a look at those diaries
and making a few notes from them?"

Somewhat flattered, the Canon assented. And he was pleased to note
how carefully this slacker of a nephew of his went through his
neatly-written pages. The latter had just completed his notes when the
telephone bell rang, and the old butler came in with a message.

"A friend of yours has just rung up from Marmouth, sir. He wouldn't
give his name. I was to tell you that the man you are asking about went
to York Castle this afternoon, and that he left all his fishing tackle
behind him. That was all, sir."

With the disappearance of the butler a strange change came over
Haddon Hillgard. He stood up and discarded both his eyeglass and that
indifferent manner of his. He had become, suddenly and unexpectedly, a
man of action. The cynical smile faded from his face, his mouth grew
stern and hard, and there was a look in his eyes that had the Canon's
high approval.

"Uncle," he said in a quick decisive voice, "are you good for an
adventure? I meant a bit of real melodrama with a prospect of physical
danger behind it?"

The one-time University blue and champion amateur middleweight
responded promptly to the challenge.

"My dear boy," he said, "I wish you could think you were half as good a
man as I am. Oh, I know I'm fifty-six, but it isn't very long ago since
I gave the village bully the hiding of his life. And he knew something
about using his fists, too. What is it?"

"Government Service," Haddon said curtly. "I want to have a look at
Professor Kleiser's collection of pupae and larvae. You told me a few
days ago that you believe he imported these things and bred them so
that he might have the honor and glory of catching them in the open.
It's quite an innocent vanity, but it might be put to very dangerous
purposes. At any rate, I am going over to the Professor's house, and,
if necessary, I am going to burgle it. Mind, I'm not doing this for
amusement. You think I am doing nothing at Whitehall--as a matter of
fact, I am in the Secret Service, though no one's supposed to know
it. I'm bound to tell you because I want your help, and I know you'll
respect my confidence. Now, are you good for a little housebreaking?"

"In the cause of my country, certainly," the Canon cried.

"Well, come on then. I think you told me that the Professor was in the
habit of retiring early. Put on a pair of old tennis shoes and I'll
do the same. What I want is to get into the Professor's workshop and
satisfy myself that these rare butterflies are really hatched from the
chrysalides, or whatever you call them, that have been imported from
abroad. This is exactly where I want your assistance. Oh, it's a big
thing, I assure you."

They set off presently across the fields in the direction of the
Professor's house. It was past 11 o'clock by this time, and rather a
dark night for the time of year, for there was no moon. Haddon Hillgard
had to stop and send a telephone message before they started, and, this
being done, he declared that there was nothing more to detain him. They
came, at length, to the outbuildings of the unpretentious house where
Kleiser had taken up his abode, and, very cautiously, they moved round
till they found an open window leading into the kitchen. Through this
they climbed until they reached at length a small stone-flagged room
which had originally been a dairy but which now contained a number of
boxes neatly arranged on shelves in which were the eggs of butterflies
in various states of progress. The Canon whispered that he had been
here before, so that he was treading on more or less familiar ground.
Then presently, with the aid of a chair, he reached a few boxes down
from a top shelf and laid them on the table. Turning on his flash-lamp
he examined the contents of the boxes carefully. A little grunt of
satisfaction escaped him.

"Ah, here we are, my boy," he said. "It is exactly as I expected. Here
are butterflies--rare butterflies--in every stage from the egg to
the chrysalis. Some of them are almost ready to hatch out now. Look
at those, and those. That's a Purple Emperor, and those in the other
box are Swallow Tails. And here are some Camberwell Beauties. Those
dingy-looking objects don't convey anything to you, but to me they're
as plain as print. Now, isn't that like a German? These have been
all imported from abroad beyond the shadow of a doubt--procured from
Zoomstag, probably. So this is that old humbug who has been triumphing
over all of us!"

"You're sure of this?" Haddon asked.

"Of course I am, though I don't know what it all means. Pure vanity, I

Haddon muttered something under his breath. He was keen enough now
and a very different man to the languid youth who had apparently been
idling for the last fortnight. He was about to say something when
there came the sound of a footstep in the passage and a second later
Kleiser came into the room. He flashed a powerful light on to the two
figures hanging over the boxes on the table, and an ominous click was
heard. The Canon stood up straight enough, looking Kleiser in the face
as far as possible, whilst Haddon Hillgard crouched so low that his
relative half-imagined that he was lying there to escape a shot from
the revolver which, beyond doubt, the German Professor had in his hand.

But it was only for an instant, then young Hillgard with a crab-like
motion launched himself fairly through the air and gripped Kleiser
round the knees. It was a beautiful piece of rugby tackling, executed
to the instant, so that the Professor crashed on the floor and as he
did so the weapon he carried flew from his hands.

The Canon was on to it like a flash. Then, knowing something about
the room in which the encounter was taking place, he reached for the
electric switch and flooded the room with light.

Kleiser lay on his face with his hands behind him--hands no longer
capable of evil, for Haddon had produced a pair of handcuffs from
somewhere and had neatly snapped them on the German's wrists. He
dragged the scowling Professor to his feet, a Professor no longer
amiable and suave, but a sullen, baffled spy with eyes venomously
gleaming behind his glasses.

"I think the game is up, Professor," Haddon said coldly. "When I tell
you that Boom has been arrested and that he has made a full confession
you will probably agree with me. At the present moment your confederate
is safe in York Castle. You can say what you like, or you can be

The German had himself well in hand by this time. He was breathing
heavily, but beyond that showed no sign of what was passing through
his mind. Haddon Hillgard opened the kitchen door and put a whistle
to his lips. A second or two later two unmistakable police-officers
in plainclothes made their appearance. They seemed to know Hillgard,
for they touched their hats to him and stood there as if waiting for
further orders.

"Here's your man," he said curtly. "You'd better take him to Marmouth.
I'll be there directly after breakfast. Meanwhile you can leave me to
search the house."

Once Kleiser had disappeared the search of the house began. There was
very little to reward a long and patient search with the aid of a
flashlight until finally Hillgard dropped upon the Professor's copy
letter book. His eyes gleamed as he turned over the flimsy pages and
read a paragraph here and there.

"This is a fine bit of luck," he said. "The methodical German has
kept a record of all his correspondence. Here are all his letters to
Zoomstag. Come along, uncle, we'll take this back with us and I'll tell
you all about it."

Half an hour later they were closeted in the Canon's study with the
copy letter book before them.

"Now, it's like this," Haddon said. "For months past we have been
suffering a series of casualties in connection with naval units
entering and leaving Marmouth. As you know, it's one of our biggest
naval bases. Since the intensive U-boat warfare began we must have
lost at least twenty ships off Marmouth. Even to-day one of our
super-Dreadnoughts had a narrow escape. Well, that sort of thing
can't go on long without the authorities coming to the conclusion
that there was something radically wrong somewhere. So I volunteered
to come down here to investigate. I knew that I could stay with you
so that my presence in the neighborhood would arouse no suspicion.
And you know I have been backwards and forwards to Marmouth on my
motor cycle making enquiries. And it didn't take me long to discover
that a man called Boom was spending a great deal more money than a
man in his position ought to. So I watched him carefully, and when
I discovered that he was a butterfly man visiting Kleiser as a kind
of worshipping disciple I began to see my way. Then you told me your
suspicions about the wonderful capture of rare specimens. You see,
Boom was in the drawing office and therefore in a position to learn a
great deal about the movements of ships. And I happen to know what you
don't, namely, that Zoomstag of Stockholm has been in the German pay
for years. You see where I got to. Boom found out about the movements
of ships and flotillas, and he conveyed that information to the
Professor. Something like this. A White Admiral means a destroyer, a
Swallow Tail a cruiser, a Purple Emperor a flotilla, and a Camberwell
Beauty a super-dreadnought. Of course, that's only a rough estimate,
but good enough for my purpose. A week before there was anything
like a fleet movement, Boom let Kleiser know. Then he goes straight
out on the hills, and comes back with a butterfly he'd caught, or
said he'd caught. This insect in the code corresponds to a cruiser,
or a flotilla, or a dreadnought, as the case may be. Your innocent
Professor, who has behaved so well, and whose throat the Kaiser would
like to cut, writes of his find to the papers, and sends a letter to
Zoomstag, telling him all about it. Now, if you'll take the trouble to
read those letters--which, by the way, our authorities expedited to
Stockholm--you will see that Kleiser introduces certain details of the
capture which really cover sailing routes, and the direction in which
our boats are going. For instance, here, he says, he is going to take
a Purple Emperor to York to be mounted on Thursday at two o'clock. My
dear uncle, that's the time and date of the sailing of the ship, which
information reached Zoomstag three or four days in advance. Need I say
any more?"

"It's wonderful," the Canon said. "Marvellous. And this must have been
thought of years ago. And meanwhile we all thought that there was a
personal quarrel between the Kaiser and the Professor, which, well--I
am lost in astonishment. And, by the way, my boy, I must apologise to

"Oh, that's all right," Haddon smiled. "You see, I was bound to lie
low. I wanted your friend the Professor to regard me as a sap-headed
fool, and I think I succeeded."

"What will become of him?" the Canon asked.

Hillgard shrugged his shoulders.

"Pretty obvious, isn't it?" he asked. "You'll hear in a few days
that a traitor has been shot in the Tower, and you can draw your own
conclusions. But not to anybody but yourself, my dear uncle. There are
some things that are best not spoken about."


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