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A Set of Six

It concerns the engineer of the steam-launch belonging to the Maranon cattle estate of the
B. O. S. Co., Ltd. This estate is also an island--an island as big as a small province, lying
in the estuary of a great South American river. It is wild and not beautiful, but the grass
growing on its low plains seems to possess exceptionally nourishing and flavouring
qualities. It resounds with the lowing of innumerable herds--a deep and distressing sound
under the open sky, rising like a monstrous protest of prisoners condemned to death. On
the mainland, across twenty miles of discoloured muddy water, there stands a city whose
name, let us say, is Horta.
But the most interesting characteristic of this island (which seems like a sort of penal
settlement for condemned cattle) consists in its being the only known habitat of an
extremely rare and gorgeous butterfly. The species is even more rare than it is beautiful,
which is not saying little. I have already alluded to my travels. I travelled at that time, but
strictly for myself and with a moderation unknown in our days of round-the-world
tickets. I even travelled with a purpose. As a matter of fact, I am--"Ha, ha, ha!--a
desperate butterfly-slayer. Ha, ha, ha!"
This was the tone in which Mr. Harry Gee, the manager of the cattle station, alluded to
my pursuits. He seemed to consider me the greatest absurdity in the world. On the other
hand, the B. O. S. Co., Ltd., represented to him the acme of the nineteenth century's
achievement. I believe that he slept in his leggings and spurs. His days he spent in the
saddle flying over the plains, followed by a train of half-wild horsemen, who called him
Don Enrique, and who had no definite idea of the B. O. S. Co., Ltd., which paid their
wages. He was an excellent manager, but I don't see why, when we met at meals, he
should have thumped me on the back, with loud, derisive inquiries: "How's the deadly
sport to-day? Butterflies going strong? Ha, ha, ha!"--especially as he charged me two
dollars per diem for the hospitality of the B. O. S. Co., Ltd., (capital L1,500,000, fully
paid up), in whose balance-sheet for that year those monies are no doubt included. "I
don't think I can make it anything less in justice to my company," he had remarked, with
extreme gravity, when I was arranging with him the terms of my stay on the island.
His chaff would have been harmless enough if intimacy of intercourse in the absence of
all friendly feeling were not a thing detestable in itself. Moreover, his facetiousness was
not very amusing. It consisted in the wearisome repetition of descriptive phrases applied
to people with a burst of laughter. "Desperate butterfly-slayer. Ha, ha, ha!" was one
sample of his peculiar wit which he himself enjoyed so much. And in the same vein of
exquisite humour he called my attention to the engineer of the steam-launch, one day, as
we strolled on the path by the side of the creek.
The man's head and shoulders emerged above the deck, over which were scattered
various tools of his trade and a few pieces of machinery. He was doing some repairs to
the engines. At the sound of our footsteps he raised anxiously a grimy face with a pointed
chin and a tiny fair moustache. What could be seen of his delicate features under the
black smudges appeared to me wasted and livid in the greenish shade of the enormous
tree spreading its foliage over the launch moored close to the bank.
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