"If I please I can kill you, or leave you on the wall to starve to death."
"I expect that," replied the butterfly, with a sigh. "But my race is shortlived, anyway; it doesn't matter whether death comes sooner or later."
"Yet you like to live, do you not?" asked the mandarin.
"Yet; life is pleasant and the world is beautiful. I do not seek death."
"Then," said the mandarin, "I will give you life--a long and pleasant life--if you will promise to obey me for a time and carry out my instructions."
"How can a butterfly serve a man?" asked the creature, in surprise.
"Usually they cannot," was the reply. "But I have a book of magic which teaches me strange things. Do you promise?"
"Oh, yes; I promise," answered the butterfly; "for even as your slave I will get some enjoyment out of life, while should you kill me--that is the end of everything!"
"Truly," said the mandarin, "butterflies have no souls, and therefore cannot live again."
"But I have enjoyed three lives already," returned the butterfly, with some pride. "I have been a caterpillar and a chrysalis before I became a butterfly. You were never anything but a Chinaman, although I admit your life is longer than mine."
"I will extend your life for many days, if you will obey me," declared the Chinaman. "I can easily do so by means of my magic."
"Of course I will obey you," said the butterfly, carelessly.
"Then, listen! You know children, do you not?--boys and girls?"
"Yes, I know them. They chase me, and try to catch me, as you have done," replied the butterfly.
"And they mock me, and jeer at me through the window," continued the mandarin, bitterly. "Therefore, they are your enemies and mine! But with your aid and the help of the magic book we shall have a fine revenge for their insults."
"I don't care much for revenge," said the butterfly. "They are but children, and 'tis natural they should wish to catch such a beautiful creature as I am."
"Nevertheless, I care! and you must obey me," retorted the mandarin, harshly. "I, at least, will have my revenge."
Then he stuck a drop of molasses upon the wall beside the butterfly's head and said:
"Eat that, while I read my book and prepare my magic formula."
So the butterfly feasted upon the molasses and the mandarin studied his book, after which he began to mix a magic compound in the tin cup.
When the mixture was ready he released the butterfly from the wall and said to it:
"I command you to dip your two front feet into this magic compound and then fly away until you meet a child. Fly close, whether it be a boy or a girl, and touch the child upon its forehead with your feet. Whosoever is thus touched, the book declares, will at once become a pig, and will remain such forever after. Then return to me and dip you legs afresh in the contents of this cup. So shall all my enemies, the children, become miserable swine, while no one will think of accusing me of the sorcery."
"Very well; since such is your command, I obey," said the butterfly. Then it dipped its front legs, which were the shortest of the six, into the contents of the tin cup, and flew out of the door and away over the houses to the edge of the town. There it alighted in a flower garden and soon forgot all about its mission to turn children into swine.
In going from flower to flower it soon brushed the magic compound from its legs, so that when the sun began to set and the butterfly finally remembered its master, the mandarin, it could not have injured a child had it tried.
But it did not intend to try.
"That horrid old Chinaman," it thought, "hates children and wishes to destroy them. But I rather like children myself and shall not harm them. Of course I must return to my master, for he is a magician, and would seek me out and kill me; but I can deceive him about this matter easily enough."
When the butterfly flew in at the door of the mandarin's laundry he asked, eagerly:
"Well, did you meet a child?"
"I did," replied the butterfly, calmly. "It was a pretty, golden-haired girl--but now 'tis a grunting pig!"
"Good! Good! Good!" cried the mandarin, dancing joyfully about the room.