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A Dog of Flanders, and Other Stories. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 191

II.

WELL, not seeing the stars as I strove to do, I took refuge in sorrow for my neighbour. It is well for your poet when he turns to a like resource. Too often I hear he takes, instead, to the wine cellar which yawns under the crown that he curses.

My neighbour, I soon saw, was poorer even than we were. He was a painter, and he painted beautiful things. But his canvases and the necessaries of his art were nearly all that his empty attic had in it; and when, after working many hours with a wretched glimmer of oil, he would come to his lattice and lean out, and try as I had tried to see the stars, and fail as I had failed, I saw that he was haggard, pallid, and weary unto death with two dire diseases—hunger and ambition.

He could not see the stars because of the crown, but in time, in those long midsummer nights, he came to see a little glow‐worm amongst my blossoms, which in a manner, perhaps, did nearly as well.

He came to notice Lili at her work.

Often she had to sit up half the night to get enough page: 192 colouring done to make up the due amount of labour; and she sat at her little deal table, with her little feeble lamp, with her beautiful hair coiled up in a great knot and her pretty head drooping so wearily—as we do in the long days of drought—but never once looking off, nor giving way to rebellion or fatigue, though from the whole city without there came one ceaseless sound, like the sound of an endless sea; which truly it was—the sea of pleasure.

Not for want of coaxings, not for want of tempters, various and subtle, and dangers often and perilously sweet, did Lili sit there in her solitude earning two sous an hour with straining sight and aching nerves that the old paralytic creature within might have bed and board without alms.

Lili had been sore beset in a thousand ways, for she was very fair to see; but she was proud and she was innocent, and she kept her courage and her honour; yea, though you smile—though she dwelt under an attic roof, and that roof a roof of Paris.

My neighbour, in the old gabled window over the way, leaning above his stone‐wort, saw her one night thus at work by her lamp, with the silver ear‐rings, that were her sole heirloom and her sole wealth, drooped against the soft hues and curves of her graceful throat.

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And when he had looked once, he looked every night, and found her there; and I, who could see straight into his chamber, saw that he went and made a picture of it all—of me, and the bird in the cage, and the little old dusky lamp, and Lili with her silver ear‐rings and her pretty drooping head.

Every day he worked at the picture, and every night he put his light out and came and sat in the dark square of his lattice, and gazed across the street through my leaves and my blossoms at my mistress. Lili knew nothing of this watch which he kept on her: she had put up a little blind of white network, and she fancied that it kept out every eye when it was up; and often she took even that away, because she had not the heart to deprive me of the few faint breezes which the sultry weather gave us.

She never saw him in his dark hole in the old gable there, and I never betrayed him—not I. Roses have been the flowers of silence ever since the world began. Are we not the flowers of love?

“Who is he?” I asked of my gossip the vine. The vine had lived fifty years in the street, and knew the stories and sorrows of all the human bees in the hive.

“He is called René Claude,” said the vine. “He is a man of genius. He is very poor.”

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“You use synonyms,” murmured the old balsam who heard.

“He is an artist,” the vine continued. “He is young. He comes from the south. His people are guides in the Pyrenees. He is a dreamer of dreams. He has taught himself many things. He has eloquence too. There is a little club at the back of the house which I climb over. I throw a tendril or two in at the crevices and listen. The shutters are closed. It is forbidden by law for men to meet so. There René speaks by the hour, superbly. Such a rush of words, such a glance, sucn a voice, like the roll of musketry in anger, like the sigh of music in sadness! Though I am old, it makes the little sap there is left in me thrill and grow warm. He paints beautiful things too; so the two swallows say who build under his eaves; but I suppose it is not of much use: no one believes in him, and he almost starves. He is young yet, and feels the strength in him, and still strives to do great things for the world that does not care a jot whether he lives or dies. He will go on so a little longer. Then he will end like me. I used to try and bring forth the best grapes I could, though they had shut me away from any sun to ripen them and any dews to cleanse the dust from them. But no one cared. No one gave me a drop of water to still my thirst, nor page: 195 pushed away a brick to give me a ray more of light. So I ceased to try and produce for their good; and I only took just so much trouble as would keep life in me myself. It will be the same with this man.”

I, being young and a rose, the flower loved of the poets, thought the vine was a cynic, as many of you human creatures grow to be in the years of your age when the leaves of your life fall sere.

I watched René long and often. He was handsome, he suffered much; and when the night was far spent he would come to his hole in the gable and gaze with tender, dreaming eyes, my pale foliage to the face of Lili. I grew to care for him, and I disbelieved the prophecy of the vine; and I promised myself that one summer or another, near or far, the swallows, when they came from the tawny African world to build in the eaves of the city, would find their old friend flown and living no more in a garret, but in some art‐palace where men knew his fame.

So I dreamed—I, a little white rose, exiled in the passage of a city, seeing the pale moonlight reflected on the gray walls and the dark windows, and trying to cheat myself by a thousand fancies into the faith that I once more blossomed in the old sweet leafy garden‐ways in Provence.

One night—the hottest night of the year—Lili came page: 196 to my side by the open lattice. It was very late: her work was done for the night. She stood a moment, with her lips rested softly on me, looking down on the pavement that glistened like silver in the sleeping rays of the moon.

For the first time she saw the painter René watching her from his niche in the gable, with eyes that glowed and yet were dim.

I think women foresee with certain prescience when they will be loved. She drew the lattice quickly to, and blew the lamp out: she kissed me in the darkness. Because her heart was glad or sorry? Both, perhaps.

Love makes one selfish. For the first time she left my lattice closed all through the oppressive hours until daybreak.

“Whenever a woman sees anything out of her window that makes her eager to look again, she always shuts the shutter. Why, I wonder?” said the balsam to me.

“That she may peep unsuspected through a chink,” said the vine round the corner, who could overhear.

It was profane of the vine, and in regard to Lili untrue. She did not know very well, I dare say, why she withdrew herself on that sudden impulse, as the pimpernel shuts itself up at the touch of a raindrop.

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But she did not stay to look through a crevice; she went straight to her little narrow bed, and told her beads and prayed, and slept till the cock crew in a stable near and the summer daybreak came.

She might have been in a chamber all mirror and velvet and azure and gold in any one of the ten thousand places of pleasure, and been leaning over gilded balconies under the lime leaves, tossing up little paper balloons in the air for gay wagers of love and wine and jewels. Pleasure had asked her more than once to come down from her attic and go with its crowds; for she was fair of feature and lithe of limb, though only a work‐girl of Paris. And she would not, but slept here under the eaves, as the swallows did.

“We have not sun enough, little rose, you and I,” she would say to me with a smile and a sigh. “But it is better to be a little pale, and live a little in the dark, and be a little cramped in a garret window, than to live grand in the sun for a moment, and the next to be tossed away in a gutter. And one can be so happy anyhow—almost anyhow!—when one is young. If I could only see a very little piece more of the sky, and get every Sunday out to the dear woods, and live one floor lower, so that the winters were not quite so cold and the summers not quite so hot, and page: 198 find a little more time to go to mass in the cathedral, and be able to buy a pretty blue‐and‐white home of porcelain for you, I should ask nothing more of the blessed Mary—nothing more upon earth.”

She had had the same simple bead‐roll of innocent wishes ever since the first hour that she had raised me from the dust of the street; and it would, I doubt not, have remained her only one all the years of her life, till she should have glided down into a serene and cheerful old age of poverty and labour under that very same roof, without the blessed Mary ever deigning to hearken or answer. Would have done so if the painter René could have seen the stars, and so had not been driven to look instead at the glowworm of her lamp as it was shining through my leaves.

But after that night on which she shut‐to the lattice so suddenly, I think the bead‐roll of her pure desires lengthened—lengthened, though for some time the addition to it was written on her heart in a mystical language which she did not try to translate even to herself—I suppose fearing its meaning.

René made approaches to his neighbour’s friendship soon after that night. He was but an art‐student, the son of a poor mountaineer, and with scarce a thing he could call his own except an easel of deal, a few plaster casts and a bed of straw. She was but a page: 199 working‐girl, born of Breton peasants, and owning as her sole treasures two silver ear‐rings and a white rose.

But for all that, no courtship could have been more reverential on the one side or fuller of modest grace on the other, if the scene of it had been a palace of princes or a château of the nobles.

He spoke very little.

The vine had said that at the club round the corner he was very eloquent, with all the impassioned and fierce eloquence common to men of the South. But with Lili he was almost mute. The vine, who knew human nature well—as vines always do, since their juices unlock the secret thoughts of men and bring to daylight their darkest passions—the vine said that such silence, in one by nature eloquent, showed the force of his love and its delicacy.

This may be so; I hardly know. My lover the wind, when he is amorous, is loud, but then it is true his loves are not often very constant.

René chiefly wooed her by gentle service. He brought her little lovely wild flowers, for which he ransacked the woods of St. Germain’s and Meudon. He carried the billets of her fire‐wood up the seven long, twisting, dirty flights of stairs. He fought for her with the wicked old porteress at the door down page: 200 stairs. He played to her in the grey of the evening on a quaint simple flute, a relic of his boyhood, the sad, wild, touching airs of his own southern mountains—played at his open window while the lamps burned through the dusk, till the people listened at their doors and casements, and gathered in groups in the passage below, and said to one another, “How clever he is!—and yet he starves.”

He did starve very often, or at least he had to teach himself to keep down hunger with a morsel of black chaff‐bread and a stray roll of tobacco. And yet I could see that he had become happy.

Lili never asked him within her door. All the words they exchanged were from their open lattices, with the space of the roadway between them.

I heard every syllable they spoke, and they were on the one side most innocent, and on the other most reverential. Ay, though you may not believe it—you who know the people of Paris from the travesties of theatres and the slanders of salons.

And all this time secretly he worked on at her portrait. He worked out of my sight and hers, in the inner part of his garret, but the swallows saw and told me.

There are never any secrets between birds and flowers.

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We used to live in Paradise together, and we love one another as exiles do; and we hold in our cups the raindrops to slake the thirst of the birds, and the birds in return bring to us from many lands and over many waters tidings of those lost ones who have been torn from us to strike the roots of our race in far‐off soils and under distant suns.

Late in the summer of the year, one wonderful fête‐day, Lili did for once get out to the woods, the old kindly green woods of Vincennes.

A neighbour on a lower floor, a woman who made poor scentless, senseless, miserable imitations of all my race in paper, sat with the old bedridden grandmother while Lili took her holiday‐so rare in her life, though she was one of the motes in the bright champagne of the dancing air of Paris. I missed her solely on each of those few sparse days of her absence, but for her I rejoiced.

Je reste: tu t’en vas,” says the rose to the butterfly in the poem; and I said so in my thoughts to her.

She went to the broad level grass, to the golden fields of the sunshine, to the sound of the bees murmuring over the wild purple thyme, to the sight of the great snowy clouds slowly sailing over the sweet blue freedom of heaven—to all the things of my birth‐ page: 202 right and my deathless remembrance—all that no woman can love as a rose can love them.

But I was not jealous; nay, not though she had cramped me in a little earth‐bound cell of clay. I envied wistfully indeed, as I envied the swallows their wings which cleft the air, asking no man’s leave for their liberty. But I would not have maimed a swallow’s pinion had I had the power, and I would not have abridged an hour of Lili’s freedom. Flowers are like your poets: they give ungrudgingly, and, like all lavish givers, are seldom recompensed in kind.

We cast all our world of blossom, all our treasury of fragrance, at the feet of the one we love; and then, having spent ourselves in that too abundant sacrifice, you cry, “A yellow, faded thing!—to the dust‐hole with it!” and root us up violently and fling us to rot with the refuse and offal; not remembering the days when our burden of beauty made sunlight in your darkest places, and brought the odours of a lost paradise to breathe over your bed of fever.

Well, there is one consolation. Just so likewise do you deal with your human wonder‐flower of genius.

Lili went for her day in the green midsummer world—she and a little blithe, happy‐hearted group of young work‐people—and I stayed in the garret window, hot and thirsty, and drooping and pale, choked by the page: 203 dust that drifted up from the pavement, and hearing little all day long save the quarrels of the sparrows and the whirr of the engine‐wheels in a baking‐house close at hand.

For it was some great day or other, when all Paris was out en fête, and everyone was away from his or her home, except such people as the old bedridden woman and the cripple who watched her. So, at least, the white roof‐pigeons told me, who flew where they listed, and saw the whole splendid city beneath them—saw all its glistening of arms and its sheen of palace roofs, all its gilded domes and its white, wide squares, all its crowds, many‐hued as a field of tulips, and all its flashing eagles, golden as the sun.

When I had been alone two hours, and whilst the old building was silent and empty, there came across the street from his own dwelling‐place, the artist René, with a parcel beneath his arm.

He came up the stairs with a light and noiseless step, and pushed open the door of our attic. He paused on the threshold a moment with the sort of reverent hushed look on his face that I had seen on the faces of one or two swarthy, bearded, scarred soldiers as they paused before the shrine at the door of the little chapel which stood in my sight on the other side of our street.

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Then he entered, placed the thing which he carried on a wooden chair fronting the light, uncovered it, and went quietly out again without the women in the inner closet hearing him,

What he had brought was the canvas I had seen grow under his hand, the painting of me and the lamp and Lili. I do not doubt how he had done it: it was surely the little attic window, homely and true in likeness, and yet he had glorified us all, and so framed in my leaves and my white flowers, the low oil flame and the fair head of my mistress, that there was that in the little picture which made me tremble and yet be glad.

On a slender slip of paper attached to it there was written, “Il n’y a pas de nuit sans étoile.”

Of him I saw no more. The picture kept me silent company all that day.

At evening Lili came. It was late. She brought with her a cool perfume of dewy mosses and fresh leaves, and strawberry plants—sweet as honey. She came in with a dark dreamy brilliance in her eyes, and long coils of foliage in her hands.

She brought to the canary chickweed and a leaf of lettuce. She kissed me and laid wet mosses on my parching roots, and fanned me with the breath of her fresh lips. She took to the old women within a huge page: 205 cabbage leaf full of cherries, having, I doubt not, gone herself without in order to bring the ruddy fruit to them.

She had been happy, but she was very quiet. To those who love the country as she did, and, thus loving it, have to dwell in cities, there is as much of pain, perhaps, as of pleasure in a fleeting glimpse of the lost heaven.

She was tired, and sat for a while, and did not see the painting, for it was dusk. She only saw it when she rose to light the lamp: then, with a little shrill cry, she fell on her knees before it in her wonder and her awe, and laughed and sobbed a little, and then was still again, looking at this likeness of herself.

The written words took her long to spell out, for she could scarcely read, but when she had mastered them, her head sank on her breast with a flush and a smile, like the glow of dawn over my own native Provence, I thought.

She knew whence it came, no doubt, though there were many artists and students of art in that street.

But then there was only one who had watched her night after night as men watched the stars of old to read their fates in the heavens.

Lili was only a young ouvrière, she was only a girl page: 206 of the people: she had quick emotions and innocent impulses; she had led her life straightly because it was her nature, as it is of the lilies‐her namesakes, my cousins—to grow straight to the light, pure and spotless. But she was of the populace: she was frank, fearless, and strong, despite all her dreams. She was glad, and she sought not to hide it.

With a gracious impulse of gratitude she turned to the lattice, and leaned past me, and looked for my neighbour.

He was there in the gloom: he strove not to be seen, but a stray ray from a lamp at the vintner’s gleamed on his handsome dark face, lean, and pallid, and yearning, and sad, but full of force and of soul, like a head of Rembrandt’s. Lili stretched her hands to him with a noble, candid gesture and a sweet, tremulous laugh:

“What you have given me!—it is you?—it is you?”it is you?”

“Mademoiselle forgives?” he murmured, leaning as far out as the gable would permit.

The street was still deserted, and very quiet. The theatres were all open to the people that night free, and bursts of music from many quarters rolled in through the sultry darkness.

Lili coloured over all her fair pale face, even as I page: 207 have seen my sisters’ white breasts glow to a wondrous wavering warmth as the sun of the west kissed them. She drew her breath with a quick sigh. She did not answer him in words, but with a sudden movement of exquisite eloquence, she broke from me my fairest and my last‐born blossom and threw it from her lattice into his.

Then, as he caught it, she closed the lattice with a swift, trembling hand, and fled to the little sleeping‐closet where her crucifix and her mother’s rosary hung together above her bed.

As for me, I was left bereaved and bleeding. The dew which waters the growth of your human love is usually the tears or blood of some martyred life.

I was sacrificed for Lili.

I prayed, as my torn stem quivered, and my fairest begotten sank to her death in the night and in the silence, that I might be the first and the last to suffer from the human love born that night.

I, a rose—Love’s flower.

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