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A Dog of Flanders, and Other Stories. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 172

I.

I WAS a Provence rose.

A little slender rose, with leaves of shining green and blossoms of purest white—a little fragile thing, but fair, they said, growing in the casement in a chamber in a street.

I remember my birth‐country well. A great wild garden, where roses grew together by millions and tens of millions, all tossing our bright heads in the light of a southern sun on the edge of an old, old city—old as Rome—whose ruins were clothed with the wild fig‐tree, and the scarlet blossom of the climbing creepers growing tall and free in our glad air of France.

I remember how the ruined aqueduct went like a dark shadow straight across the plains; how the green and golden lizards crept in and out and about amongst page: 173 the grasses; how the cicala sang her song in the moist, sultry eves; how the women from the wells came trooping by, stately as monarchs, with their water‐jars upon their heads; how the hot hush of the burning noons would fall, and all things droop and sleep except ourselves; how swift amongst us would dart the little blue‐winged birds, and hide their heads in our white breasts and drink from our hearts the dew, and then hover above us in their gratitude, with sweet faint music of their wings, till sunset came.

I remember— But what is the use? I am only a rose; a thing born for a day, to bloom and be gathered, and die. So you say: you must know. God gave you all created things for your pleasure and use. So you say.

There my birth was; there I lived—in the wide south, with its strong, quivering light, its radiant skies, its purple plains, its fruits of gourd and vine. I was young; I was happy; I lived: it was enough.

One day a rough hand tore me from my parent stem and took me, bleeding and drooping, from my birth‐place, with a thousand other captives of my kind. They bound a score of us up together, and made us a cruel substitute for our cool, glad garden‐home with poor leaves, all wet from their own tears, and page: 174 mosses torn as we were from their birth‐nests under the great cedars that rose against the radiant native skies.

Then we were shut in darkness for I know not how long a space; and when we saw the light of day again we were lying with our dear dead friends, the leaves, with many flowers of various kinds, and foliage and ferns and shrubs and creeping plants, in a place quite strange to us—a place filled with other roses and with all things that bloom and bear in the rich days of midsummer; a place which I heard them call the market of the Madeleine. And when I heard that name I knew that I was in Paris.

For many a time, when the dread hand of the reaper had descended upon us, and we had beheld our fairest and most fragrant relatives borne away from us to death, a shiver that was not of the wind had run through all our boughs and blossoms, and all the roses had murmured in sadness and in terror, “Better the worm or the drought, the blight or the fly, the whirlwind that scatters us as chaff, or the waterspout that levels our proudest with the earth—better any of these than the long‐lingering death by famine and faintness and thirst that awaits every flower which goes to the Madeleine.”

It was an honour, no doubt, to be so chosen. A page: 175 rose was the purest, the sweetest, the haughtiest of all her sisterhood ere she went thither. But, though honour is well, no doubt, yet it surely is better to blow free in the breeze and to live one’s life out, and to be, if forgotten by glory, yet also forgotten by pain. Nay, yet: I have known a rose, even a rose who had but one little short life of a summer day to live through and to lose, perish glad and triumphant in its prime because it died on a woman’s breast and of a woman’s kiss. You see there are roses as weak as men are.

I awoke, I say, from my misery and my long night of travel, with my kindred beside me in exile, on a flower‐stall of the Madeleine.

It was noon—the pretty place was full of people; it was June, and the day was brilliant. A woman of Picardy sat with us on the board before her—a woman with blue eyes and ear‐rings of silver, who bound us together in fifties and hundreds into those sad gatherings of our pale ghosts which in your human language you have called “bouquets.”

The loveliest and greatest amongst us suffered decapitation, as your Marie Stuarts and Marie Antoinettes did, and died at once to have their beautiful bright heads impaled—a thing of death, a mere mockery of a flower—on slender spears of wire.

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I, a little white and fragile thing, and very young, was in no way eminent enough amongst my kind to find that martyrdom which as surely awaits the loveliest of our roses as it awaits the highest fame of your humanity.

I was bound up amongst a score of others with ropes of gardener’s bass to chain me amidst my fellow‐prisoners, and handed over by my jailer with the silver ear‐rings to a youth who paid for us with a piece of gold— whether of great or little value I know not now. None of my own roses were with me: all were strangers. You never think, of course, that a little rose can care for its birth‐place or its kindred; but you err.

O fool! Shall we not care for one another?‐we who have so divine a life in common, who together sleep beneath the stars, and together sport in the summer wind, and together listen to the daybreak singing of the birds, whilst the world is dark and deaf in slumber—we who know that we are all of heaven that God, when He called away His angels, bade them leave on the sin‐stained, weary, sickly earth to now and then make man remember Him!

You err. We love one another well; and if we may not live in union, we crave at least in union to droop and die. It is seldom that we have this boon. Wild page: 177 flowers can live and die together; so can the poor amongst you; but we of the cultivated garden needs must part and die alone.

All the captives with me were strangers: haughty, scentless pelargoniums; gardenias, arrogant even in their woe; a knot of little, humble forget‐me‐nots, ashamed in the grand company of patrician prisoners; a stephanotis, virginal and pure, whose dying breath was peace and sweetness; and many sprays of myrtle born in Rome, whose classic leaves wailed Tasso’s lamentation as they went.

I must have been more loosely fettered than the rest were, for in the rough, swift motion of the youth who bore us my bonds gave way, and I fell through the silver transparency of our prison‐house, and dropped stunned upon the stone pavement of a street.

There I lay long, half senseless, praying, so far as I had consciousness, that some pitying wind would rise and waft me on his wings away to some shadow, some rest, some fresh, cool place of silence.

I was tortured with thirst; I was choked with dust; I was parched with heat.

The sky was as brass, the stones as red‐hot metal; the sun scorched like flame on the glare of the staring walls; the heavy feet of the hurrying crowd tramped past me black and ponderous: with every step I page: 178 thought my death would come under the crushing weight of those clanging heels.

It was five seconds, five hours—which I know not. The torture was too horrible to be measured by time.

I must have been already dead, or at the very gasp of death, when a cool, soft touch was laid on me: I was gently lifted, raised to tender lips, and fanned with a gentle, cooling breath‐breath from the lips that had kissed me.

A young girl had found and rescued me—a girl of the people, poor enough to deem a trampled flower a treasure‐trove.

She carried me very gently, carefully veiling me from sun and dust as we went; and when I recovered perception I was floating in a porcelain bath on the surface of cool, fresh water, from which I drank eagerly as soon as my sickly sense of faintness passed away.

My bath stood on the lattice‐sill of a small chamber; it was, I knew afterward, but a white pan of common earthenware, such as you buy for two sous and put in your birdcages. But no bath of ivory and pearl and silver was ever more refreshing to imperial or patrician limbs than was that little clean and snowy pattypan to me.

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Under its reviving influences I became able to lift my head and raise my leaves and spread myself to the sunlight, and look round me.

The chamber was in the roof, high above the traffic of the passage‐way beneath; it was very poor, very simple, furnished with few and homely things. True, to all our nation of flowers it matters little, when we are borne into captivity, whether the prison‐house which receives us be palace or garret.

Not to us can it signify whether we perish in Sèvres vase of royal blue or in kitchen pipkin of brown ware. Your lordliest halls can seem but dark, pent, noisome dungeons to creatures born to live on the wide plain, by the sunlit meadow, in the hedgerow, or the forest, or the green, leafy garden way; tossing always in the joyous winds, and looking always upward to the open sky.

But it is of little use to dwell on this. You think that flowers, like animals, were only created to be used and abused by you, and that we, like your horse and dog, should be grateful when you honour us by slaughter or starvation at your hands.

To be brief, this room was very humble, a mere attic, with one smaller still opening from it; but I scarcely thought of its size or aspect. I looked at nothing but the woman who had saved me.

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She was quite young; not very beautiful, perhaps, except for wonderful soft azure eyes and a mouth smiling and glad, with lovely curves to the lips, and hair dark as a raven’s wing, which was braided and bound close to her head. She was clad very poorly, yet with an exquisite neatness and even grace; for she was of the people no doubt, but of the people of France. Her voice was very melodious; she had a silver cross on her bosom; and though her face was pale, it had health.

She was my friend, I felt sure. Yes, even when she held me and pierced me with steel, and murmured over me,—

“They say roses are so hard to rear thus, and you are such a little thing; but do grow to a tree and live with me. Surely you can, if you try.”

She had wounded me sharply and thrust me into a tomb of baked red clay filled with black and heavy mould. But I knew that I was pierced to the heart that I might—though only a little offshoot gathered to die in a day—strike root of my own and be strong, and carry a crown of fresh blossoms.

For she but dealt with me as your world deals with you, when your heart aches and your brain burns, and Fate stabs you, and says in your ear, “O fool! to be great you must suffer.”

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You to your fate are thankless, being human; but I, a rose, was not.

I tried to feel not utterly wretched in that little dull clay cell: I tried to forget my sweet glad southern birth‐place, and not to sicken and swoon in the noxious gases of the city air.

I did my best not to shudder in the vapour of the stove, and not to grow pale in the clammy heats of the street, and not to die of useless lamentation for all that I had lost—for the noble tawny sunsets, and the sapphire blue skies, and the winds all fragrant with the almond‐tree flowers, and the sunlight in which the yellow orioles flashed like gold.

I did my best to be content and show my gratitude all through a parching autumn and a hateful winter; and with the spring a wandering wind came and wooed me with low, amorous whispers —came from the south, he said; and I learned that, even in exile in an attic window, love may find us out and make for us a country and a home.

So I lived and grew and was happy there, against the small, dim garret panes, and my lover from the south came, still faithful, year by year; and all the voices round me said that I was fair—pale indeed, and fragile of strength, as a creature torn from its own land and all its friends must be; but contented and glad, and page: 182 grateful to the God who made me, because I had not lived in vain, but often saw sad eyes, half blinded with toil and tears, smile at me when they had no other cause for smiles.

“It is bitter to be mewed in a city,” said once to me an old, old vine who had been thrust into the stones below and had climbed the house wall, heaven knew how, and had lived for half a century jammed between buildings, catching a gleam of sunshine on his dusty leaves once perhaps in a whole summer. “It is bitter for us. I would rather have had the axe at my root and been burned. But perhaps without us the poorest of people would never remember the look of the fields. When they see a green leaf they laugh a little, and then weep —some of them. We, the trees and the flowers, live in the cities as those souls amongst them whom they call poets live in the world—exiled from heaven that by them the world may now and then bethink itself of God.”

And I believe that the vine spoke truly. Surely, he who plants a green tree in a city way plants a thought of God in many a human heart arid with the dust of travail and clogged with the greeds of gold.

So, with my lover the wind and my neighbour the vine, I was content and patient, and gave many hours of pleasure to many hard lives, and brought forth page: 183 many a blossom of sweetness in that little nook under the roof.

Had my brothers and sisters done better, I wonder, living in gilded balconies or dying in jewelled hands?

I cannot say: I can only tell of myself.

The attic in which I found it my fate to dwell was very high in the air, set in one of the peaked roofs of the quarter of the Luxembourg, in a very narrow street, populous and full of noise, in which people of all classes, except the rich, were to be found—in a medley of artists, students, fruit‐sellers, workers in bronze and ivory, seamstresses, obscure actresses, and all the creators, male and female, of the thousand and one airy arts of elegant nothingness which a world of pleasure demands as imperatively as a world of labour demands its bread.

It would have been a street horrible and hideous in any city save Florence or Paris: in Florence it would have been saved by colour and antiquity—in Paris it was saved by colour and grace. Just a flash of a bright drapery, just a gleam of a gay hue, just some tender pink head of a hydrangea, just some quaint curl of some gilded woodwork, just the green glimmer of my friend the vine, just the snowy sparkle of his neighbour the water‐spout,—just these, so little and yet so much, made the crooked passage a bearable page: 184 home, and gave it a kinship with the glimpse of the blue sky above its pent roofs.

O wise and true wisdom! to redeem poverty with the charms of outline and of colour, with the green bough and the song of running water, and the artistic harmony which is as possible to the rough‐hewn pine‐wood as in the polished ebony, “It is of no use!” you cry. O fools! which gives you perfume—we, the roses, whose rich hues and matchless grace no human artist can imitate, or the rose‐trémière, which mocks us, standing stiff and gaudy and scentless and erect?

Grace and pure colour and cleanliness are the divinities that redeem the foulness and the ignorance and the slavery of your crushed, coarse lives when you have sight enough to see that they are divine. But that is so seldom—so seldom.

In my little attic, in whose window I have passed my life, they were known gods and honoured; so that, despite the stovepipe and the poverty, and the little ill‐smelling candle, and the close staircase without, with the rancid oil in its lamps and its fœtid faint odours, and the refuse, and the gutters, and the gas in the street below, it was possible for me, though a rose of Provenee and a rose of the open air freeborn, to draw my breath in it and to bear my blossoms, and to page: 185 smile when my lover the wind roused me from sleep with each spring, and said in my ear, “Arise! for a new year is come.”

Now, to greet a new year with a smile, and not a sigh, one must be tranquil, at least, if not happy.

Well, I and the lattice, and a few homely plants of saxifrage and musk and balsam who bloomed there with me, and a canary who hung in a cage amongst us, and a rustic creeper who clung to a few strands of strained string and climbed to the roof and there talked all day to the pigeons,—we all belonged to the girl with the candid sweet eyes, and by name she was called Lili Kerrouel, and for her bread she gilded and coloured those little cheap boxes for sweetmeats that they sell in the wooden booths at the fairs on the boulevards, while the mirlitons whirl in their giddy go‐rounds and the merry horns of the charlatans challenge the populace.

She was a girl of the people: she could read, but I doubt if she could write. She had been born of peasant parents in a Breton hamlet, and they had come to Paris to seek work, and had found it for a while and prospered; and then had fallen sick and lost it, and struggled for a while, and then died, running the common course of so many lives amongst you. They had left Lili alone at sixteen, or rather page: 186 worse than alone—with an old grandam, deaf and quite blind, who could do nothing for her own support, but sat all day in a wicker chair by the lattice or the stove, according as the season was hot or cold, and mumbled a little inarticulately over her worn wooden beads.

Her employers allowed Lili to bring these boxes to decorate at home, and she painted at them almost from dawn to night. She swept, she washed, she stewed, she fried, she dusted; she did all the housework of her two little rooms; she tended the old woman in all ways; and she did all these things with such cleanliness and deftness that the attics were wholesome as a palace; and though her pay was very small, she yet found means and time to have her linen spotless, and make her pots and pans shine like silver and gold, and to give a grace to all the place, with the song of a happy bird and the fragrance of flowers that blossomed their best and their sweetest for her sake, when they would fain have withered to the root and died in their vain longing for the pure breath of the fields and the cool of a green woodland world.

It was a little, simple, hard life, no doubt—a life one would have said scarce worth all the trouble it took to get bread enough to keep it going. A hard life, colouring always the same eternal little prints all page: 187 day long, no matter how sweet the summer day might be, or how hot the tired eyes.

A hard life, with all the wondrous, glorious, wasteful, splendid life of the beautiful city around it in so terrible a contrast; with the roll of the carriages day and night on the stones beneath, and the pattering of the innumerable feet below, all hurrying to some pleasure, and every moment some burst of music or some chime of bells or some ripple of laughter on the air.

A hard life, sitting by one’s self in a little dusky garret in the roof, and straining one’s sight for two sous an hour, and listening to an old woman’s childish mutterings and reproaches, and having always to shake the head in refusal of the neighbour’s invitations to a day in the woods or a sail on the river. A hard life, no doubt, when one is young and a woman, and has soft shining eyes and a red curling mouth.

And yet Lili was content.

Content, because she was a French girl; because she had always been poor, and thought two sous an hour, riches; because she loved the helpless old creature whose senses had all died while her body lived on; because she was an artist at heart, and saw beautiful things round her even when she scoured her brasses and washed down her bare floor.

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Content, because with it all she managed to gather a certain “sweetness and light” into her youth of toil; and when she could give herself a few hours’ holiday, and could go beyond the barriers, and roam a little in the wooded places, and come home with a knot of primroses or a plume of lilac in her hands, she was glad and grateful as though she had been given gold and gems.

Ah! In the lives of you who have wealth and leisure we, the flowers, are but one thing among many: we have a thousand rivals in your porcelains, your jewels, your luxuries, your intaglios, your mosaics, all your treasures of art, all your baubles of fancy. But in the lives of the poor we are alone: we are all the art, all the treasure, all the grace, all the beauty of outline, all the purity of hue that they possess: often we are all their innocence and all their religion too.

Why do you not set yourselves to make us more abundant in those joyless homes, in those sunless windows?

Now, this street of hers was very narrow, it was full of old houses, that nodded their heads close together as they talked, like your old crones over their fireside gossip.

I could, from my place in the window, see right into the opposite garret window. It had nothing of page: 189 my floral nation in it, save a poor colourless stone‐wort, who got a dismal living in the gutter of the roof, yet who too, in his humble way, did good and had his friends, and paid the sun and the dew for calling him into being.

For on that rainpipe the little dusty thirsty sparrows would rest and bathe and plume themselves, and bury their beaks in the pale stone‐crop, and twitter with one another joyfully, and make believe that they were in some green and amber meadow in the country in the cowslip time.

I did not care much for the stone‐crop or the sparrows; but in the third summer of my captivity there with Lili the garret casement opposite stood always open, as ours did, and I could watch its tenant night and day as I chose.

He had an interest for me.

He was handsome, and about thirty years old; with a sad and noble face, and dark eyes full of dreams, and cheeks terribly hollow, and clothes terribly threadbare.

He thought no eyes were on him when my lattice looked dark, for his garret, like ours, was so high that no glance from the street ever went to it. Indeed, when does a crowd ever pause to look at a garret, unless by chance a man have hanged himself out of its page: 190 window? That in thousands of garrets men may be dying by inches for lack of bread, lack of hope, lack of justice, is not enough to draw any eyes upward to them from the pavement.

He thought himself unseen, and I watched him many a long hour of the summer night when I sighed at my square open pane in the hot, sulphurous mists of the street, and tried to see the stars and could not. For, between me and the one small breadth of sky which alone the innumerable roofs left visible, a vintner had hung out a huge gilded imperial crown as a sign on his roof‐tree; and the crown, with its sham gold turning black in the shadow, hung between me and the planets.

I knew that there must be many human souls in a like plight with myself, with the light of heaven blocked from them by a gilded tyranny, and yet I sighed, and sighed, and sighed, thinking of the white pure stars of Provence throbbing in the violet skies.

A rose is hardly wiser than a poet, you see: neither rose nor poet will be comforted, and be content to dwell in darkness because a crown of tinsel swings on high.

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