Butterfly in Amber


Raider Times photo / Grace Theodore / Word Painter

That afternoon in the garden, Stella thought butterflies were the flowers of the air. Flowers and butterflies arrive with the warm weather, both  short-term passing and delicate. Then, she turned around and saw a painted lady, weak, wings flapping around, dying. She found it caught on a spiderweb, fluttering nervously as a spider rapidly approached. She took it in the palm of her hand. Stella saw the damage on its wings and wondered whether it would’ve been more humane to let the spider poison it. She let it free onto one of the lush garden flowers surrounding Monarch Inn.

Looking at the injured butterfly, Stella felt taken by a horrible feeling something was about to happen. She closed the box with the lid filled with little holes and proceeded towards the entrance of Monarch Inn.

The small Inn was perched on a plain near the woods. The Inn was so old and so poor that it was surprising it still stood. Yet, it seemed alive and welcoming. A warm ribbon of smoke rising from the old chimney completed the picture. The whole Inn was made of dark red bricks. Hedges, vines, and honeysuckles flanked the entrance. A white gate with paint falling off gave way to a path of small pebbles. A pond with lily pads and a frog or two decorated the left side of the garden, painted with hundreds of flowers of many colors. The grass was hued yellow due to the blazing sun of the summer. Old trees gave shade to the late afternoon strolls, an ideal spot to find peace afar from the hectic, noisy world.

Stella, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Carraway, was now eleven years old. Her hair was a light golden brown that cascaded past her shoulders like waves of earth that softly reflected the sun’s light. Her eyes were emerald river waters, glossy and serene. There was a real strength in her, as if the storms were whispering breezes when she was there. She was confident and fiercely independent, her smile music under the summer breeze.     

Stella was now in her room, a wonderland of knickknacks hanging on light wooden shelves framed by deep blue walls with gentle flower garlands. A desk sat below the window that overlooked the butterfly garden of Monarch Inn. 

Covered by scattered papers and a handful of carefully sharpened colored pencils, it was the display of beautiful butterfly drawings. Stella carefully removed her pictures and placed her cardboard box on the desk. As she started to feed her yet tiny caterpillars, the old rusty bell of Monarch Inn rang. Stella carefully placed the lid and secured the box before flying down the carpeted steps to the entrance hallway. She was curious to see who would have arrived with the blazing sun of midday in summer. 

An old lady appeared at the other side of the door. She was wiping the sweat from her face with a delicately 

embroidered handkerchief. Her face was flustered from climbing the hill from the train station. She carried only an old green canvas handbag with a yellow butterfly embroidered. The bag got Stella’s attention because the exquisite stitching of the butterfly design reminded her of a drawing she had seen in one of the books in Mr. Carraway’s study. Mr. Carraway was a rare edition book collector, and since their Inn was called Monarch Inn, he had acquired several books on legends and stories of rare butterflies. Stella approached the old lady. 

“The symbol of the Butterfly in Amber!” she exclaimed without holding back her excitement as she pointed to the butterfly embroidered on the canvas.

For a quick moment, Stella could see the surprise in the lady’s eyes, yet the lady quickly managed to answer in a casual voice:

“Oh dear, Amber? No, no, this is just a butterfly! My late husband gave me this bag for our 40th anniversary, as our family name is Papillon. My dear girl. Papillon is French for butterfly.” Mrs. Papillon gave a little smile, yet her eyes said there was more to it than a mere gift.

The bell rang a second time as Mrs. Carraway accompanied Mrs. Papillon to her room on the Inn’s first floor. Stella opened the door. A thin, tall man greeted Stella by slightly bowing while removing his grey felt hat. Stella greeted him back and led him in. As the man walked in, Stella suddenly glued her eyes to the handle of the fancy cane the tall man paraded back and forth as he talked to Mr. Carraway, who was writing the man’s information down in the guest book. 

Stella shouted again, “The butterfly on the handle of your cane! The Butterfly in Amber?” The man was faster to respond than Mrs. Papillon had been, “Butterfly in Amber? Nonsense! A good friend of mine gave me this cane as a gift for my 50th birthday! My name is Mr. Schmetterling, butterfly in German.” 

Stella could read behind the frowning eyes of Mr. Schmetterling, knowing something odd was happening; it could not be just a coincidence, the Butterfly symbol in two different objects of two of the guests with “Butterfly” for their last name. Was this a coincidence, or was there something to worry about?

Stella ran to Mr. Carraway’s study, an old wooden-beamed room overflowing with books carefully classified on neatly stacked shelves. The room doubled as the Inn’s library. It was open for guests who wanted to venture into the pages of the old books. Stella opened the stained-glass doors and went in, eager to find some connection to Butterfly in Amber. She recalled having read something about precious stones and alchemy; she remembered from her lazy summer afternoons sheltered in the shade and coolness of the room. It had to be there somewhere.

She hadn’t even started to look when the bell rang for the third time. Stella heard her mom calling her name to go open the door. 

“I am with Mrs. Papillon; I can’t get to the door now,” said Mrs. Carraway. Without questioning it, Stella went to open the entrance door. This time, there was another man, shorter than the first one. She learned later he had been a gemology professor. The man had a strong foreign accent. 

“I have a reservation under Professor Klejnot,” said the man sternly. 

“Klejnot, where does the name come from, if you don’t mind me asking?” curiously asked Stella.

“Polish, I am Polish,” Professor Klejnot continued.

“Does Klejnot mean butterfly in Polish?”

“Well, no!” said the man with surprise in his eyes. “Butterfly!” he laughed. 

Stella was a little bit upset that the man was laughing at her question. “Well, what does it mean then?” She  asked intensely. 

“If you must know…” continued Professor Klejnot. “it is …”

“Gem perhaps?” interrupted Stella. 

“Well, yes!!” Professor Klejnot admitted with a big surprise. 

Without explaining how she figured that out, she ran to the study again to check on a particular book she had recalled seeing, “Butterfly in Amber.” She took the burgundy leather-bound book from the top shelf and read the title “Alchemy Gems and Their Powers.” She skimmed through its dusty pages and suddenly stopped. There it was! Stella began reading.

Butterfly in Amber: A rare gem used by Renaissance Alchemists of the court of the Borgias in Italy. The gem is said to have powers unknown to the modern world, yet it is priceless due to its beauty and rarity. Lucrezia Borgia hid it in one of her travels to England, and it is said to be hidden in a little cottage where she used to spend some of her summers.”

A cottage in England? Could Monarch Inn be the hiding place of the Butterfly in Amber? Stella’s mind was racing. Would the guests be after it? Was her family in danger?      

Stella put the book back carefully on the shelf and headed to the living room, where the three guests were resting from the trip. The evening had suddenly turned grey. 

“A storm is approaching,” said Mrs. Papillon. “I can feel it in my bones!” 

Mrs. Carraway appeared in the room with an old tea set and some pastries for the afternoon snack. She carefully set the tray on a small table beside the two sofas in the room and invited the guests to have some of that delicious treat. 

Not long after, the electricity in Monarch Inn went off as the storm outside increased. Everyone gasped at the unexpected loss of electricity. Mrs. Carraway and Stella quickly fetched some candles and lit them. Stella thought the atmosphere was conducive to storytelling and begged the guests to tell her about how they came to Monarch Inn.

There were only two of the three guests in the room. Mr. Klejnot was not there yet, though he had been in the room when Mrs. Carraway entered with the tea. Mrs. Papillon started her storytelling. 

“You see…” she said, “I am a fan of old secrets and plots. I was reading about the life of Lucrezia Borgia, a Spanish-Italian noblewoman of the House of Borgia. Rumor has it, she was the culprit of many poisonings and murders and very skilled in the arts of alchemy. Lucrezia secretly escaped to England to meet with Paracelsus, a German alchemist. The description of the location and one of the pictures I found of the place took me to Monarch Inn.”

At that time, Mr. Klejnot arrived dressed in different clothes and wet hair, complaining that he was taking a shower when the lights went off and had to shower with cold water because he couldn’t see where to turn the handle for the hot one. As Mr. Klejnot was explaining his absence from the room, Mr. Carraway came back from checking the fuse box in the basement of the house and, with an almost secret eye signal, called Mrs. Carraway to the kitchen. 

“Someone has tampered with the fuse box; I don’t like this a bit!” Stella heard her dad say. 

“Oh, my dear, what are we going to do?” said Mrs. Carraway. 

Mr. Carraway told his wife to take care of Stella while he called the police. Stella, pretending not to have heard, hurried back to the living room and asked Mr. Schmetterling for his story. Clearing out his voice, Mr. Schmetterling started to speak: 

“Some years ago, I started this tradition of spending my vacations wherever there was a place with the name ‘Butterfly’ in it. My last name is ‘Butterfly’ in German, so I thought it would be fun to trace different Schmetterling spots. I have since visited places like Butterflies in Kanha National Park, the Butterfly Rainforest, and Palawan Butterfly Eco Garden, to name a few. I have this thing for murder stories where the Papilio Antimachus poison has been the cause of the death of the victim. The Papilio Antimachus is a giant African Butterfly whose poison is deadly to humans. It thrills me to think of such an elegant fragile creature as a heartless killer.” 

“Come on, Mr. Schmetterling, you are scaring the child!” shouted Mrs. Carraway. Mr. Schmetterling laughed sinisterly, “I thought young ones would appreciate a horror story on a stormy evening!”

Stella, creeped out by Mr. Schmetterling’s story, moved quickly to Mr. Klejnot. “I am not scared about a made-up tale, though I have to admit it was a good one, that of Mr. Schmetterling! Now it is your turn Mr. Klejnot; why did you come to Monarch Inn?”

“Monarch Inn is situated not far from the Baltic shore where thousands of amber pieces are washed ashore every year, hence the little pebble stones of orange color you find on the beach. As a retired gemologist, I wanted to study the shore in this region. Who knows, maybe I will stumble onto the priceless Butterfly in Amber!” 

Everyone gasped. “Oh, come on, you all don’t fool anybody; you all know about the legend of the Butterfly in Amber! I can see it in your eyes!” added Mr. Klejnot. 

Mrs. Papillon ensured everyone knew that ‘Butterfly in Amber’ was a simple legend. “We don’t even know if Monarch Inn is the site where Lucrezia Borgia hid the stone!” she added. At that moment, the bell rang once more.

“Hello, Mr. Mac,” said Stella with relief as she greeted the man. 

“This is Mr. Mac, everybody, he is our….” Mr. Mac interrupted Stella and quickly finished her sentence. 

“The baker, I am the baker. Mr. Carraway asked me to bring some more bread for dinner. Here it is, Mr. Carraway, two loaves of bread as you called for.” Mr. Mac continued handing two loaves of bread to Mr. Carraway. “Stay for dinner, please, Mr. Mac, it is too dark, and the storm seems to be getting stronger,” said Mrs. Carraway.

“I will gladly accept your offer,” replied Mr. Mac.    

Mr. Mac was really a police officer.  

They all proceeded to the living room for dinner, Stella carefully analyzing the guests. They all seemed to have a motive to find and steal the Butterfly in Amber, or at least she thought so. That night Stella couldn’t sleep. She knew they were safe with Mr. Mac at the Inn, but there was too much on her mind. Mr. Carraway and Mr. Mac made it seem as if Mr. Mac could not turn on the car to return to town because the rain had soaked the battery. So, Mr. Mac stayed for the night. 

Stella went down to the kitchen to fix herself hot cocoa. From the corner of her eye, Stella saw the shadow of someone in the hallway carrying some kind of bag. As Stella made her way toward the hallway, the shadow disappeared, but she could still hear steps that seemed to go down the basement. The steps were heavy; Stella didn’t dare to follow. As Stella returned to her room, she heard a second set of steps coming from the living room. As Stella headed towards the steps, she was interrupted by Mrs. Carraway, who told her to go back to her room.

The following day, Mr. Mac came to the breakfast room and, with a stern voice, asked Mr. Klejnot to stand up. Mr. Klejnot stood up, and Mr. Mac proceeded handcuffed Mr. Klejnot. Mr. Klejnot, confused, asked why he was being handcuffed. 

Mr. Mac exclaimed, “Come on, you thief! Stop talking and come with me! You tampered with the fuse box, exited the Inn through the basement door, and came in again through the door in the kitchen that leads to the garden. That is why you were all wet. You ensured the house’s lights would be off so you could steal the Butterfly in Amber unseen.”

“It wasn’t me, I swear!” said Mr. Klejnot. 

Stella shouted, “Wait! it wasn’t Mr. Klejnot, he had nothing to do with it!”

“But we found Mr. Klejnot’s gemology tools in the basement,” continued Mr. Mac. 

“It wasn’t him! let me explain, please!” yelled Stella. Mrs. Papillon and Mr. Schmetterling started to share glances and stood up from their chairs. 

“Everybody sit down!” yelled Mr. Mac taking out his gun. 

“What are you talking about, Stella?” said Mr. Carraway. 

“Let me explain. Last night, when I was in the kitchen drinking a cup of hot cocoa, I saw someone head down to the basement. I was scared and did not follow that person but observed that they had a slight limp while going down the steps. The person was carrying a bag that I now know was Mr. Klejnot’s bag. It was you, wasn’t it, Mrs. Papillon? I saw you come down the steps today and limping!” 

Mrs. Papillon exclaimed: “Why in the world would I want to make Mr. Klejnot seem guilty?”  

Stella continued explaining: “So nobody suspected you and Mr. Shmetterling of stealing the Butterfly in Amber.” 

Everyone stared at Stella, astonished. Stella continued: “It seemed odd to me that a man and a woman ended up in the same Inn, at the same time, with the same last name meaning ‘butterfly.’ You are not complete strangers; you are husband and wife! Hence the same last name, am I right? Last night while Mrs. Papillon was going down to the basement, Mr. Schmetteling was stealing the Butterfly in Amber.”

“Here in our Inn? Where?” said Mr. Carraway. 

“Hidden in plain sight,” said Stella pointing to the grandfather clock in the living room. “The butterfly in the middle of the clock is missing its body; that is where the Butterfly in Amber should be. Too many coincidences and a slip of the tongue, Mrs. Papillon. You mentioned the name of the alchemist Lucrezia Borgia was meeting here. That is when I knew you were too informed for it to be a mere curiosity of yours. You see, Mr. Mac, those two are the guilty ones, not Mr. Klejnot. I made some calls yesterday, and Mr. Klejnot was just here for research for the Smithsonian museum about the Baltic Amber. He thought the Butterfly in Amber was a mere legend.”

Mr. Schmetterling, holding Mrs. Papillon’s bag, stood up to escape, but Mr. Mac caught him before he got to the door. Schmetterling dropped the bag and the the beautiful gem rolled onto the floor. 

As Stella returned to her room that evening, she looked at the box on her table. She opened the lid and carefully observed the caterpillars inside it. Stella thought of the beautiful Butterfly in Amber imprisoned in the clock all these years. She took a last glance at the caterpillars. She knew it was time to send them back to the earth.


(Published November 2022)