Philip the Fly
Philip the Fly
BY GEORGE WESTON
WHEN I turned the corner of our avenue that Saturday afternoon, I saw Fido sitting on the lawn in front of the house (instead of galloping forward in his customary way) and looking sorrowfully toward me from behind our hydrangea bush. With a vague feeling of alarm I called and whistled him and (standing still and bending over) I slapped my evening paper against my knee and uttered inspiring cries. Thus encouraged, Fido came bounding forward according to his usual custom, and when he leaped up in his strenuous effort to welcome me home I was pleased to discover that his nose was very cold, this being (as Alicia always says) the surest of symptoms that all is well with Fido.
Nevertheless, it seemed to me (when Fido was leading the homeward procession with the paper in his mouth) that his features denoted worriment and that his fat old back had a troubled appearance which was quite unusual to him.
"Dear old Fido!" I cried (to encourage him).
But Fido (still trotting forward with the paper in his mouth) only looked as though his heart would break, and mournfully trotted on.
"Cats, Fido! Cats!" I cried (as a last desperate remedy).
But Fido (still trotting forward with the paper in his mouth) only gave such a sigh that he nearly dropped the paper, and trotted on more mournfully than before.
Whereupon I ran up our piazza steps in growing alarm (not knowing what to expect, but fearing the worst), and I have seldom felt more relieved than when Alicia promptly opened the door to let us in. Fido, however, instead of running in ahead, dropped the paper on the door-mat and stiffly walked back to the top step of the piazza. And there he turned his back upon us and sat down and looked at the scenery with the air of a dog who can suffer in silence and whose feelings have been hurt more than he could ever attempt to express.
"Why, what's the matter with him?" I asked Alicia in utter bewilderment.
"Sh!" said Alicia, with her finger on her lip. "Don't pay any attention to him!"
"But what has happened?" I cried, looking again at the outcast on the top step.
"Sh!" said Alicia. "Come in and get your lunch. He's only listening."
Looking once more at Fido, I saw indeed that he had one of his ears turned back toward us, and from his attitude of strained attention it was evident that he was closely following our conversation. Feeling that I was looking at him, he turned his head for a moment to verify his suspicions, and then gazing out at the scenery again he gave his fat old back such a frightfully dejected appearance that I could hardly have been more surprised if Fido had burst into tears.
"Don't mind him, Edward!" repeated Alicia in a whisper, "but come on in and get your lunch. It's ready and waiting."
And she made such a bright and pleading little figure in her blue dress and her embroidered apron (the one with the three pockets and the thimble-holder) that for the moment I forgot the incomprehensible conduct of Fido, and went into the house.
"Now, that's funny!" I suddenly exclaimed, putting down my bouillon cup the better to express my growing amazement.
"What's funny, Edward?" asked Alicia, and she peeped brightly around the center vase to see. "What's funny?"
"Why," I cried (with the air Of a man who can feel the foundations of his home being swept from under him), "Peter isn't here, either!"
Peter is our glossy black cat (Alicia has raised him from a kitten), and never before (except on two unavoidable occasions when he had been nursing the honorable wounds of battle) had I known Peter to absent himself from the dining-room when there was the least indication or promise of food upon the table.
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about Peter, Edward," said Alicia, retreating behind the center-piece, her little face as pink as the roses in the vase. And (peeping around again) she completely changed the subject by adding, "Do have another cup of bouillon, Edward! Do!"
"But, Alicia," I cried, looking at the vacant places where our two pets were in the habit of taking their hungry stations, "where is Peter?"
"He is out on the back piazza," said Alicia, a little coldly (I thought), and she went into a total eclipse behind the vase.
"Out on the back piazza?" I repeated.
"Sulking," said Alicia.
"Sulking?" I repeated, scarcely believing my ears.
"Oh, I suppose he would come in if I were to coax him," said Alicia. She fetched the steel from the sideboard and sharpened the carving-knife as though she were about to cut a bit of meat. Almost immediately Fido and Peter stalked in, but when they saw that Alicia was (in fact) not cutting any meat, Fido and Peter turned around and stalked out again "like a team" (as Alicia always says) and with so much dignity in the way they held their tails that I felt abashed and ashamed of myself in my own house.
"Edward," said Alicia, looking thoughtfully around the center-piece (after Fido and Peter had left the premises), "flies are terrible things; aren't they?"
"Flies?" I repeated, having now reached the stage where astonishment could no further go—"flies, Alicia?"
"Yes. The doctor said this morning that they were the bane of civilization. And yet, after all, poor things, they can't help it; can they, Edward?"
"Was Doctor Wilkinson here this morning?" I asked.
"No; not Doctor Wilkinson. This was another doctor, and he was selling fly-traps."
Whereupon, feeling that reason was tottering on its throne, I moved the center-piece to the side of the table so that I could see her with an unobstructed view. "Alicia," I pleaded, "tell me all!"
"About ten o'clock this morning, then," began Alicia, secretly pleased (I felt) because she held the key to so much mystery—"about ten o'clock this morning, Edward," she began, her dear little face all rosy with the news she had to tell, "I heard somebody tapping on the back door." Alicia tapped three times on the table and made quite a little drama out of it. "So I opened the door and there stood a man who introduced himself as Doctor Davis, and said that he was touring the country to warn the ladies of America about the horrors of flies."
"About the horrors of flies," I nodded, comfortably feeling that I was now about to follow one of the clues.
"Yes, and—oh, Edward!—I wish you could have heard him. He hadn't been talking a minute before he almost had me frightened. Did you know, Edward, that flies are responsible for ever so many things?"
"I have heard something about it," I admitted.
"Yes, and I nearly thought I had the neuralgia last week, and I mentioned it to him, and the way Fido wheezes sometimes when he runs too fast, and the doctor traced it all back to flies. I forget now," mused Alicia, "just what he said, but it sounded very reasonable at the time. It was either because we had to keep the doors shut on account of the flies, or something else. Anyhow, I bought a fly-trap from him and hung it up in the kitchen. The cutest thing, Edward! And what do you think? It hadn't been hanging there five minutes before it had caught a fly!"
"Never!" I cried.
"Yes, sir!" cried Alicia, her eyes as bright as diamonds.
And, "Never!" I cried again.
And, "Yes, sir!" repeated Alicia, "The biggest, hummingest blue-bottle fly you ever saw!"
"Did you kill it?"
"N-no," said Alicia.
"You didn't kill it?"
"N-n-no," said Alicia, more slowly before. "After all, a fly can't help it, you know. I hate flies, of course, but when it comes right down to one little fly, sitting there all by himself, somehow I don't seem to hate him so much. And he is such a nice one."
"Who is?" I asked, beginning to wonder again.
"Our fly," said Alicia, thoughtfully playing with her fork.
"Our fly?" I asked, all at sea for the second time. "Our fly?"
"Yes," said Alicia, "the one in the trap. Come and look at him, Edward."
She cut up a plate of meat for Fido and Peter and put it in the corner of the pantry in its usual place. Then, leading the way into the kitchen (and if my arm was around her it makes no difference), she took me to a strange-looking object of wire-netting and glass which hung from the shelf in the corner. A loud buzzing arose when we drew near, and, looking inside the trap, I saw there a large fly.
"There," said Alicia, proudly, "that's Philip."
"Philip!" I muttered.
"Philip the fly!" exclaimed Alicia, briskly nodding her pretty little head—"that's the name I gave him. And—oh, Edward!—I believe he knows me already!"
Philip (I noticed then) was regarding me through the meshing of the trap in a benign and approving manner and (stepping nearer) I saw that the bottom of his cage was graced with several varieties of refreshment, such as morsels of cake, sugar, and a bit of bread and butter and jam.
"Is that the bait?" I asked, pointing to Philip's provisions.
"No," said Alicia, uncertainly. And in a still more uncertain voice she added, "I was giving him something to eat."
In the pantry behind us I heard Fido and Peter hurriedly having their lunch.
"Ah-ha!" I cried, as a ray of light suddenly broke upon me, "so that is why Fido sits out on the front piazza!"
"Yes," nodded Alicia, "he's jealous because I have been talking to Philip."
"And that is why Peter sulks on the back porch!"
"Peter's jealous, too," sighed Alicia, "but they'll get over it quickly enough when—Philip—is gone. It seems a shame to kill him," she sighed again, "but I suppose it has to be done."
Inexorably then I lifted the trap from its hook and started for the cellar.
"Don't hurt him too much, Edward," pleaded Alicia.
And more inexorably than before I opened the cellar door and stepped down on the landing.
"Good-by, Philip!" breathed Alicia.
I looked back at her, but she had turned away and was gazing pensively out of the window. In the pantry behind, her, Fido was watching me and wagging his tail, and Peter (who had also had his eye on me) was sportively playing with Fido's wagging tail. I shut the door and descended to the cellar. There, with Alicia's woebegone little face still in my memory, I opened one of the windows and shook Philip out of the trap. He flew away and I returned upstairs.
"Did you?" whispered Alicia, when I hung the empty cage back on the hook.
"No," I answered, avoiding her eye, "I opened the window and let him fly away."
And then, as though by common consent, we carefully avoided the subject. I was reading the paper in the sitting-room when (from the kitchen) I heard Alicia's excited voice.
"Oh, Edward! Quick!"
I ran to the kitchen and found her standing in front of the fly-trap. And in the trap was a benign and peaceful blue-bottle fly who looked up from his bit of cake and regarded me with a look of tolerant familiarity.
"It's Philip!" laughed Alicia, almost trembling with her delight. "He flew in the door, buzzed right past me, and crawled into the trap!"
And there we were! And the more I looked, the louder I laughed. And the louder I laughed, the more Alicia talked to Philip. And the more Alicia talked to Philip, the more irrevocably did Fido and Peter seat themselves on the front and the back piazzas respectively, while Philip continued to gaze at me from his bit of cake with that benign and approving expression and as though he wished me to know that he was a wise old blue-bottle fly who had found a good home—and knew it.