Chapter Twenty-Three: The Butler House

Editor’s Note: The rain was hounding me and I really felt like this could wait until tomorrow. The ground was practically marsh and the wind was icy and I was two beers deep with Christine over at Jim’s but duty calls I guess. History first. 

The house was a broken-down old nightmare of a barn set in an area of town where houses were more like rows of dwellings than homes. I’m not trying to disrespect this glass-strewn slum or its residents—I am saying that if the Elders and the Church are using taxes and tithes to improve Vine, the improvements are not making it to this neighborhood, where at least a hundred of God’s Chosen in the Americas live shoulder-to-shoulder under roofs that sort of keep the rain out. 

I went inside to meet with Hortense Richardson, a lunch lady at the school with a mean streak on account of kids always making fun of her name. She said the scraps of paper had been recovered from an overdue library book that dropped in the cafeteria and she’d recognized the potential value of papers before anyone else had seen it. She’d only give it to me if I brought her a gram of weed. I barely made it to my dealer’s house before he shot up for the night.

What follows was taken from the diaries of Representative Roderick Butler as recovered from the hands of his estate curator Matthew Josiah. Some pages are missing:

From The Diary of Rep. Roderick Butler, October 24, 1929

…at that, I hung up the phone more convinced than I was before. That Martin had again betrayed me, and that my political legacy would amount to nil. I stood and walked into the piano room, where I sat at the brilliantly lit ivory keys and thumbed through the sheet music on the stand: a selection from Chopin; no, it had been too long. The skills of my hands would have atrophied, surely I had the dexterity of a novice. Ah yes, a Beethoven, a more intermediate level piece first conquered in my youth. A piece I distinctly remember finishing with a feeling of having arrived, having achieved a status on the instrument not of master but certainly that of competent player; nevertheless, its relative simplicity compared to the more advanced masters of later centuries did not subtract from its comforting beauty, the feeling of my fingers across the keys as the mournful tones sonorous billowed through the air. 

It did not matter, Martin’s two-facedness, for in a sense I had already won: gears had been set in motion that not even Martin would be able to undo. Whether the Elders and Preachers liked it or not, I like Prometheus would bring modernization to Vine. In my own way. 

As I walked into the library and pursued old volumes, literature of old that I had mastered at Seminary: Milton, Marlowe, Byron. Books of the great Satanists. They possessed a knowledge of how to subvert God and remake life how you see fit, and I had done that in spite of Martin’s scheming. I had done that on my own, sans aide, and Martin should never know that sense of victory. Nor shall Martin know the sweet smells of the lavender blooms in the forests of a Vine mountain on a summer’s morning. Nor shall Martin know the refreshing cool feeling of a dip in Vine’s lake waters on an orange summers’ day. Nor shall Martin experience the joy of a rare Vine snowfall, the watery ice flecks nestling his cheek whilst the Christmas hymns are sung. I shall, from this Christmas until my last, no matter how hurried that may be, enjoy such musical pleasures thanks to the beautiful singers of Vine. The Literary Satanists taught me to do that. 

A dark kitchen. No one awake to stir a pot of coffee…

From The Diary of Rep. Roderick Butler, October 26, 1929

…when I came upon her by the river I thought surely my eyes could not be believed: Hamlet’s Desdemona, bathing by the river, get thee to a nunnery. She offered me fresh tomatoes from her basket, picked from her garden that morning. I took two and determined that Mother would be very pleased. Mother had been supervising construction on the new wing of the house all morning, surely some freshly sliced tomatoes topped with olive oil sea salt black pepper would be a surprise comfort to accompany her afternoon tea and lemonade. When I thanked this young Desdomona, she vowed to return tomorrow, and I promised to take her to see where the south portion of the garage in the house had been expanded to connect to the stables, so that more stock may be shielded from the elements, but also it was a very pleasant place to read books. Mother was indeed pleased with tomatoes and the house grew two sizes that month. As I look back upon these memories I cannot bring myself to comprehend that our courtship began in such a humble way. 

It was like when I had installed the third floor to accommodate the growing number of children. Sure, there were Daniel and Isaiah, but also the ones George and Lauren and Mildred that we had taken in. Orphans, functionally if not factually. What good is a parent who is too drunk to parent? We helped where we could. When we added the third floor it provided enough space for all the children to live their lives and have a childhood and not disrupt the work we had going on in the library and drawing room, re-shaping the future of Vine, managing its economy in secret, ensuring the flow of money like a well-built dam running over a fat cliff into Vine’s coffers, courtesy of the U.S. government. That sort of business is not the kind of business that can be conducted with the risk of children running headlong into…

…of course he was a drunk, which is why we’d had that room built specifically for him. If ever a man needed a place to sleep the demons off, it was Christopher Samuelson. He of course had his specific demons but no one was going to say he did not deserve the grace we could afford to provide with our spacious accommodations…

From The Diary of Rep. Roderick Butler, October 29, 1929 

I know now that I shall die before I see the finished construction of the gardens. The hedges were coming along nicely and we were to consult with florists next week. Why am I using the past tense? Beatrice would chide me for that. Unacceptable in her eyes. But who can say I’ll make it to the consultation with florists. I’ve had enough consultations with florists. They can consult with more florists when I’m dead. 

…No matter, my legacy is secure. I am secure. This house shall stand as a monument, if nothing else. Wouldn’t that be a sight? If I had my druthers, the house would be turned into an orphanage, or sanatorium, or someplace the poor and downtrodden of Vine can rest a weary head. Unfortunately, it seems I will not outlive Martin…

Editor’s Note: I have to admit, before reading his journals, I did not know Rep. Roderick Butler to be such a friend to the poor. No wonder Christine’s tip took me to Hortense Richardson’s shanty. No wonder Jonah is always going on about—we’ll get to that. 

Rep. Butler has always been viewed suspiciously, especially by Elders and Preachers. An outsider who felt the call of Vine while already deep into a political career, he attracted suspicion. Now I am wondering if that suspicion was because of Rep. Butler’s goals of building a house for the poor. Did his friendliness towards the downtrodden lead to friendliness with witches? I have more research to do. Research outside the Church and Library archives.

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