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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 323

BOOK V.

“If I love thee, what is that to thee?”

CHAPTER I.

“ONLY a little gold!” he thought, one day, looking on the Barabbas cartoon. “As much as I have flung away on a dancing‐woman, or the dancing‐woman on the jewel for her breast. Only a little gold, and I should be free; and with me these.”

The thought escaped him unawares in broken words, one day, when he thought himself alone.

This was a perpetual torture to him, this captivity and penury, this aimlessness and fruitlessness, in which his years were drifting, spent in the dull bodily labour that any brainless human brute could execute as well as he, consuming his days in physical fatigue in order that a roof he despised might cover him, and a bread which was bitter as gall to him might be his to eat; knowing all the while that the real strength which he possessed, the real power that could give him an empire amidst his fellows, was dying away in him as slowly but as surely as though his brain were feasting fishes in the river mud below.

So little!—just a few handfuls of that wealth that cheats and wantons, fools and panders, gathered and scattered so easily in that world with which he had now no more to do than if he were lying in his grave,—and having this little, he would be able to compel the gaze of the world, and arouse the homage of its flinching fear, even if it should still continue to deny him other victories.

It was not the physical privations of poverty which could daunt him.

His boyhood had been spent in a health‐giving and simple training, amidst a strong and hardy mountain‐ page: 324 people. It was nothing to him to make his bed on straw; to bear hunger unblenchingly; to endure cold and heat, and all the freaks and changes of wild weather.

In the long nights of a northern winter he had fasted for weeks on a salted fish and a handful of meal; on the polar seas he had passed a winter ice‐blocked, with famine kept at bay only by the flesh of the seal, and men dying around him raving in the madness of thirst.

None of the physical ills of poverty could appal him; but its imprisonment, its helplessness, the sense of utter weakness, the impotence to rise and go to other lands and other lives, the perpetual narrowness and darkness in which it compelled him to abide, all these were horrible to him; he loathed them as a man loathes the irons on his wrists, and the stone vault of his prison‐cell.

“If I had only money!” he muttered, looking on his Barabbas, “ever so little—ever so little!”

For he knew that if he had as much gold as he had thrown away in earlier times to the Syrian beggar who had sat to him on his house‐top at Damascus, he could go to a city and make the work live in colour, and try once more to force from men that wonder and that fear which are the highest tributes that the multitude can give to the genius which arises amidst it.

There was no creature in the chamber with him, except the spiders that wove in the darkness among the timbers.

It was only just then dawn.

The birds were singing in the thickets of the water’s edge; a blue kingfisher skimmed the air above the rushes, and a dragon‐fly hunted insects over the surface of the reeds by the shore; the swallows, that built in the stones of the tower, were wheeling to and fro, glad and eager for the sun.

Otherwise it was intensely silent.

In the breadth of shadow still cast across the stream by the walls of the tower, the market‐boat of Yprès Yprés glided by, and the soft splash of the passing oars was a sound too familiar to arouse him.

But, unseen, Folle‐Farine, resting one moment in her transit to look up at that grim grey pile in which her paradise was shut, watching and listening with the fine‐strung senses of a great love, heard through the open page: 325 casement the muttered words which, out of the bitterness of his heart, escaped his lips unconsciously.

She heard and understood.

Although a paradise to her, to him it was only a prison.

“It is with him as with the great black eagle that they keep in the bridge‐tower, in a hole in the dark, with wings cut close and a stone tied to each foot,” she thought, as she went on her way noiselessly down with the ebb tide on the river. And she sorrowed exceedingly for his sake.

She knew nothing of all that he remembered in the years of his past—of all that he had lost, whilst yet young, as men should only lose their joys in the years of their old age; she knew nothing of the cities and the habits of the world—nothing of the world’s pleasures and the world’s triumphs.

To her it had always seemed strange that he wanted any other life than this which he possessed.

To her, the freedom, the strength, the simplicity of it, seemed noble, and all that the heart of a man could desire from fate.

Going forth at sunrise to his daily labour on the broad golden sheet of the waters, down to the sight and the sound and the smell of the sea, and returning at sunset to wander at will through the woods and the pastures in the soft evening shadows; free to watch and pourtray with the turn of his wrist the curl of each flower, the wonder of every cloud, the smile in any woman’s eyes, the gleam of any moonbeam through the leaves; or to lie still on the grass, or the sand by the shore, and see the armies of the mists sweep by over his head, and hearken to the throb of the nightingale’s voice through the darkness, and gather the coolness of the dews in the hollow of his hand, and let the night go by in dreams of worlds beyond the stars;—such a life as this seemed to her beyond any other beautiful.

A life in the air, on the tide, in the light, in the wind, in the sound of salt waves, in the smell of wild thyme, with no roof to come between him and the sky, with no need to cramp body and mind in the cage of a street—a life spent in the dreaming of dreams, and full of vision and thought as the summer was full of its blossoms and fruits,—it seemed to her the life that must needs be best for a man, since the life that was freest, simplest, and highest.

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She knew nothing of the lust of ambition, of the desire of fame, of the ceaseless unrest of the mind which craves the world’s honour, and is doomed to the world’s neglect; of the continual fire which burns in the hands which stretch themselves in conscious strength to seize a sceptre, and remain empty, only struck in the palm by the buffets of fools.

Of these she knew nothing.

She had no conception of them—of the weakness and the force that twine one in another in such a temper as his. She was at once above them and beneath them. She could not comprehend that he who could so bitterly disdain the flesh‐pots and the wine‐skins of the common crowd, yet could stoop to care for that crowd’s Hosannas.

But yet this definite longing which she overheard in the words that escaped him she could not mistake; it was a longing plain to her, one that moved all the dullest and most brutal souls around her.

All her years through she had seen the greed of gold, or the want of it, the twin rulers of the only little dominion that she knew. Money, in her estimate of it, meant only some little sum of copper pieces, such as could buy a hank of flax, a load of sweet chestnuts, a stack of wood, a swarm of bees, a sack of autumn fruits.

What in cities would have been penury, was deemed illimitable riches in the homesteads and cabins which had been her only world.

“A little gold!—a little gold!” she pondered ceaselessly, as she went on down the current.

She knew that he only craved it, not to purchase any pleasure for his appetites or for his vanities, but only as the lever whereby he would be enabled to lift off from him that iron weight of adverse circumstances which held him down darkness as the stones held the caged eagle.

“A little gold!” she said to herself again and again as the boat drifted on to the town, with the scent of the mulberries, and the herbs, and the basket of roses, which were its cargo for the market, fragrant on the air.

“A little gold!”

It seemed so slight a thing, and the more cruel because so slight, to stand thus between him and that noonday splendour of fame which he sought to win, in his obscurity page: 327 and indigence, as the blinded eagle in his den still turned his aching eyes by instinct to the sun.

Her heart was weary for him as she went.

“What use for the gods to have given him back life,” she thought, “if they must give him thus with it the incurable fever of an endless desire?”

It was a gift as poisoned, a granted prayer as vain, as the immortality which they had given to Tithonus.

“A little money,” he had said: it seemed a thing almost within her grasp.

Had she been willing to steal from Flamma, she could have taken it as soon as the worth of the load which she carried should have been paid to her; but by a theft she would not serve Arslàn now. No gifts would she give him but what should be pure and worthy of his touch.

She pondered and pondered, cleaving the waters with regular measures, and gliding under the old stone arches of the bridge into the town.

When she brought the boat back up the stream at noonday, her face had cleared; her mouth smiled; she rowed on swiftly, with a light sweet and glad in her eyes.

A thought had come to her.

In the market‐place that day she had heard two women talk together, under the shade of their great red umbrellas, over their heaps of garden produce.

“So thou hast bought the brindled calf after all. Thou art in luck.”

“Aye, in luck indeed, for the boy to rout up the old pear‐tree and find those queer coins beneath it. The tree had stood there all my father’s and grandfather’s time, and longer too, for aught I know, and now one ever dreamed there was any treasure at the root; but he took a fancy to dig up the tree; he said it looked like a ghost, with its old grey arms, and he wanted to plant a young cherry.”

“There must have been a mass of coin?

“No,—only a few little shabby, bent pieces. But the lad took them up to the Prince Sartorian, and he is always crazed about the like; and he sent us for them quite a roll of gold, and said that the coins found were, beyond a doubt, of the Julain time—whatever he might mean by that.”

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“Sartorian will buy any rubbish of that sort. For my part, I think if one buried a brass button only long enough, he would give one a bank‐note for it.”

“They say there are marble creatures of his that cost more than would dower a thousand brides, or pension a thousand soldiers. I do not know about that. My boy did not get far in the palace; but he said that the hall he waited in was graven with gold and precious stones. One picture he saw in it was placed on a golden altar, as if it were a god. To worship old coins, and rags of canvas, and idols of stone like that,—how vile it is! while we are glad to get a nettle‐salad off the edge of the road.”

“But the coins gave thee the brindled calf.”

“That was no goodness to us. Sartorian has a craze for such follies.”

Folle‐Farine had listened, and, standing by them, for once spoke.

“Who is Sartorian? Will you tell me?”

The women were from a far‐distant village, and had not the infinite horror of her felt by those who lived in the near neighbourhood of the mill at Yprès Yprés .

“He is a great noble,” they answered her, eyeing her with suspicion.

“And where is his dwelling?”

“Near Rioz. What do the like of you want with the like of the Prince?”

She gave them thanks for their answers, and turned away in silence with a glow at her heart.

“What is that wicked one thinking of now, that she asks for such as the Prince Sartorian?” said the women, crossing themselves, repentant that they had so far forgotten themselves as to hold any syllable of converse with the devil’s daughter.

An old man plucking birds near at hand chuckled low in his throat:—

“Maybe she knows that Sartorian will give yet more gold for new faces than for old coins; and—how handsome she is, the black‐browed witch!”

She had passed away through the crowds of the market, and did not hear.

“I go to Rioz myself in two days’ time with the mules,” she thought; and her heart rose, her glance lightened, she page: 329 moved through the people with a step so elastic, and a face so radiant from the flush of a new hope, that they fell away from her with an emotion which for once was not wholly hatred.

That night, when the mill‐house was quiet, and the moonbeams fell through all its small dim windows and chequered all its wooden floors, she rose from the loft where she slept, and stole noiselessly down the steep stairway to the chamber where the servant Pitchou slept.

It was a little dark chamber, with jutting beams and a casement that was never unclosed. On a nail hung the blue woolen skirt and the linen cap of the woman’s working dress. In a corner was a little image of a saint and a string of leaden beads.

On a flock pallet the old wrinkled creature slept, tired out with the labour of a long day amongst the cabbage‐beds and rows of lettuces, muttering as she slept of the little daily peculations that were the sweet sins of her life and of her master’s.

She cared for her soul—cared very much, and tried to save it; but cheating was dear to her, and cruelty was natural: she tricked the fatherless child in his measure of milk for the tenth of a sou, and wrung the throat of the bullfinch as it sang, lest he should peck the tenth of a cherry.

Folle‐Farine went close to the straw bed and laid her hand on the sleeper.

“Wake! I want a word with you.”

Pichou started, struggled, glared with wide‐open blinded eyes, and gasped in horrible fear.

Folle‐Farine put the other hand on her mouth.

“Listen! The night I was brought here you stole the sequins off my head. Give them back to me now, or I will kill you where you lie.”

The grip of her left hand on the woman’s throat, and the gleam of her knife in the right, were enough, as she had counted they would be.

Old Pitchou struggled, lied, stammered, writhed, strove to scream, and swore her innocence of this theft which had waited eleven years to rise against her to Mary and her angels; but in the end she surrendered, and tottered on her shuddering limbs, and crept beneath her bed, and with page: 330 terror and misery brought forth from her secret hole in the rafters of the floor the little chain of shaking sequins.

It had been of no use to her: she had always thought it of inestimable value, and could never bring herself to part from it, visiting it night and day, and being perpetually tormented with the dread lest her master should discover and claim it.

Folle‐Farine seized it from her silently, and laughed—a quiet cold laugh—at the threats and imprecations of the woman who had robbed her in her infancy.

“How can you complain of me, without telling also of your own old sin?” she said, with contempt, as she quitted the chamber. “Shriek away as you choose: the chain is mine, not yours. I was weak when you stole it; I am strong enough now. You had best not meddle, or you will have the worst of the reckoning.”

And she shut the door on the old woman’s screams and left her, knowing well that Pitchou would not dare to summon her master.

It was just daybreak. All the world was still dark.

She slipped the sequins in her bosom, and went back to her own bed of hay in the loft.

There was no sound in the darkness but the faint piping of song birds that felt the coming of day long ere the grosser senses of humanity could have seen a glimmer of light on the black edge of the eastern clouds.

She sat on her couch with the sequins in her hand, and gazed upon them. They were very precious to her. She had never forgotten or ceased to desire them, though to possess herself of them by force had never occurred to her until that night. Their theft had been a wrong which she had never pardoned, yet she had never avenged it until now.

As she held them in her hand for the first time in eleven years, a strong emotion came over her.

The time when she had worn them came out suddenly in sharp relief from the haze of her imperfect memories. All the old forest‐life for a moment revived for her.

The mists of the mountains, the smell of the chestnut‐woods, the curl of the white smoke amongst the leaves, the sweet wild strains of the music, the mad grace of the old Moorish dances, the tramp through the hill passes, the leap page: 331 and splash of the tumbling waters,—all arose to her for one moment from the oblivion in which years of toil and exile had buried them.

The tears started to her eyes; she kissed the little glittering coins, she thought of Phratos.

She had never known his fate.

The gipsy who had been found dead in the fields had been forgotten by the people before the same snows which had covered his body had melted at the first glimmer of the wintry sun.

Flamma could have told her; but he had never spoken one word in all her life to her, except in curt reprimand or in cruel irony. All the old memories had died out; and no wanderers of her father’s race had ever come into the peaceful and pastoral district of the northern seaboard, where they could have gained no footing, and could have made no plunder.

The sight of the little band of coins, which had danced so often amongst her curls under the moonlit leaves in the Liébana to the leaping and tuneful measures of the viol, moved her to a wistful longing for the smile and the voice of Phratos.

“I would never part with them for myself,” she thought; “I would die of hunger first—were it only myself.”

And still she was resolved to part with them; to sell her single little treasure—the sole gift of the only creature that had ever loved her, even in the very first hour that she had recovered it.

The sequins were worth no more than any baby’s woven crown of faded daisies; but to her, as to the old peasant, they seemed, by their golden glitter, a source of wealth incalculable.

At twilight that day, as she stood by Arslàn, she spoke to him, timidly.

“I go to Rioz with the two mules, at daybreak to‐morrow, with flour for Flamma. It is a town, larger than the one yonder. Is there anything I might do there—for you?”

“Do? What should you do?” he answered her, with inattention and almost impatience; for his heart was sore with the terrible weariness of inaction.

She looked at him very wistfully, and her mouth parted a page: 332 little as though to speak; but his repulse chilled the words that rose to her lips.

She dared not say her thoughts to him, lest she should displease him.

“If it come to nought he had best not know, perhaps,” she said to herself.

So she kept silence.

CHAPTER II.

ON the morrow, before the sun was up, she set out on her way, with the two mules, to Rioz. It was a town distant some three leagues, lying to the southward.

Both the mules were heavily laden with as many sacks as they could carry: she could ride on neither; she walked between them with a bridle held in either hand.

The road was not a familiar one to her; she had only gone thither some twice or thrice, and she did not find the way long, being full of her own meditations and hopes, and taking pleasure in the gleam of new waters, and the sight of fresh fields, and the green simple loveliness of a pastoral country in late summer.

She met few people; a market‐woman or two on their asses, a walking pedlar, a shepherd, or a swineherd—these were all.

The day was young, and none but the country‐people were astir. The quiet roads were dim with mists; and the tinkle of a sheep’s bell was the only sound in the silence.

But as the morning advanced the mists lifted, the sun grew powerful; the roads were straight and without shadow; the mules stumbled, footsore; she herself grew tired and fevered.

It was midday when she entered Rioz; a town standing in a dell, surrounded with apple orchards and fields of corn and colza, with a quaint old square tower of the thirteenth century rising amongst its roofs, and round about it old moss‐green ramparts whereon the bramble and the gorse grew wild.

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She led her fatigued and thirsty beasts through the nearest gateway, where a soldier sat smoking, and a girl in a blue petticoat and a scarlet bodice talked to him, resting her hands on her hips, and her brass pails on the ground.

She left the sacks of flour at their destination, which was a great bakehouse in the centre of the town; stalled the mules herself in a shed adjoining the little crazy wine‐shop where Flamma had bidden her bait them, and with her own hands unharnessed, watered, and foddered them.

The wine‐shop had for sign a white pigeon; it was tumble‐down, dusky, half‐covered with vines that grew loose and entwined each other at their own fancy; it had a little court in which grew a great walnut‐tree; there was a bench under the tree; and the shelter of its boughs was cool and very welcome in the full noon heat. The old woman who kept the place, wrinkled, shrivelled, and cheery, bade her rest there, and she would bring her food and drink.

But Folle‐Farine, with one wistful glance at the shadowing branches, refused, and asked only the way to the house of Prince Sartorian.

The woman of the tavern looked at her sharply, and said, as the market‐woman had said, “What does the like of you want with the Prince?”

“I want to know the way to it. If you do not tell it, another will,” she answered, as she moved out of the little court‐yard.

The old woman called after her that it was out by the west gate, over the hill through the fields for more than two leagues: if she followed the wind of the water westward, she could not go amiss.

“What is this baggage wanting to do with Sartorian?” she muttered, watching the form of the girl as it passed up the steep sunshiny street.

“Some evil, no doubt,” answered her assistant, a stalwart wench, who was skinning a rabbit in the yard. “You know, she sells bags of wind to founder the ships, they say, and the wicked herb, bon plaisir, and the philtres that drive men mad. She is as bad as a cagote.”

Her old mistress, going within to toss a fritter for one of the mendicant friars, chuckled grimly to herself.

“No one would ask the road there for any good; that is page: 334 sure. No doubt she has heard that Sartorian is a choice judge of colour and shape in all the Arts!”

Folle‐Farine when out by the gate, and along the water westward.

In a little satchel she carried some half‐score of oil‐sketches that Arslàn had given her, rich, graceful, shadowy things—girl’s faces, coils of foilage, river rushes in the moonlight, a purple passion‐flower blooming on a grey ruin; a child, golden‐headed and bare‐limbed, wading in brown waters;—things that had caught his sight and fancy, and had been transcribed, and then tossed aside, with the lavish carelessness of genius.

She asked one or two peasants, whom she met, her way; they stared, and grumbled, and pointed to some distant towers rising out of the wooden slopes,—those they said were the towers of the dwelling of Sartorian.

One hen‐huckster, leading his ass to market with a load of live poultry, looked over his shoulder after her, and muttered with a grin to his wife:

“There goes a handsome piece of porcelain for the old man to lock in his velvet‐lined cupboards.”

And the wife laughed in answer:

“Ay; she will look well, gilded as Sartorian always gilds what he buys.”

The words came to the ear of Folle‐Farine: when wondered what they could mean; but she would not turn back to ask.

Her feet were weary, like her mules’; the sun scorched her; she felt feeble, and longed to lie down and sleep; but she toiled on up the sharp ascent that rose in cliffs of limestone above the valley where the river ran.

At last she came to gates that were like those of the cathedral, all brazen, blazoned, and full of scrolls and shields. She pushed one open—there was no one there to say her nay, and boldly entered the domain which they guarded.

At first it seemed to be only like the woods at home; the trees were green, the grass was long, the birds sang, the rabbits darted. But by‐and‐by she went farther; she grew bewildered; she was in a world strange to her.

Trees she had never seen rose like the pillars of temples; gorgeous flowers, she had never dreamed of, played in the page: 335 sun; vast columns of water sprang aloft from the mouths of golden dragons or the silver breasts of dolphins; nude women, wondrous and white and still, stood here and there amidst the leafy darkness. She paused amongst it all, dazzled, and thinking that she dreamed.

She had never seen any gardens, save the gardens of the poor.

A magnolia‐tree was above her; she stooped her face to one of its great fragrant creamy cups and kissed it softly. A statue of Clytie was beside her; she looked timidly up at the musing face, and touched it, wondering why it was so very cold, and would not move or smile.

A fountain flung up its spray beside her; she leaned and caught it, thinking it so much silver, and gazed at it in sorrowful wonder as it changed to water in her grasp.

She walked on like one enchanted, silently, thinking that she had strayed into some sorcerer’s kingdom: she was not afraid, but glad. She walked on for a long while, always amongst these mazes of leaves, these splendours of blossom, these cloud‐reaching waters, these marble forms so motionless and thoughtful.

At last she came on the edge of a great pool, fringed with the bullrush and the lotus, and the white pampas‐grass, and the flame‐like flowering reed, of the East and of the West. All around, the pool was sheltered with dark woods of cedar and thickets of the sea‐pine. Beyond them stood afar off a great pile that seemed to her to blaze like gold and silver in the sun. She approached it through a maze of roses, and ascended a flight of marble steps on to a terrace. A doorway was open near. She entered it.

She was intent on the object of her errand, and she had no touch of fear in her whole temper.

Hall after hall, room after room, opened to her amazed vision; an endless spectacle of marvellous colour stretched before her eyes: the wonders that are gathered together by the world’s luxury were for the first time in her sight; she saw for the first time in her life how the rich lived.

She moved forward, curious, astonished, bewildered, but nothing daunted.

On the velvet of the floors her steps trod as firmly and as freely as on the moss of the orchard at Yprès Yprés . Her eyes glanced as gravely and as fearlessly over the frescoed walls, page: 336 the gilded woods, the jewelled cups, the broidered hangings, as over the misty pastures where the sheep were folded.

It was not in the daughter of Taric to be daunted by the dazzle of mere wealth. She walked through the splendid and lonely rooms wondering, indeed, and eager to see more; but there was no spell here such as the gardens had flung over her. To the creature free born in the Liébana no life beneath a roof could seem beautiful.

She met no one.

At the end of the fourth chamber, which she traversed, she paused before a great picture in a heavy golden frame; it was the seizure of Persephone. She knew the story, for Arslàn had told her of it.

She saw for the first time how the pictures that men called great were installed in princely splendour: this was the fate which he wanted for his own.

A little lamp, burning perfume with a silvery smoke, stood before it: she recalled the words of the woman in the market‐place; in her ignorance, she thought the picture was worshipped as a divinity; as the people worshipped the great picture of the Virgin that they burned incense before in the cathedral.

She looked, with something of gloomy contempt in her eyes, at the painting which was mantled in massive gold, with purple draperies opening to display it; for it was the chief masterpiece upon those walls.

“And he cares for that!” she thought, with a sigh half of wonder, half of sorrow.

She did not reason on it, but it seemed to her that his works were greater hanging on their bare walls where the spiders wove.

“Who is ‘he’?” a voice asked behind her.

She turned and saw a small and feeble man, with keen and humorous eyes, and an elfin face, delicate in its form, malicious in its meaning.

She stood silent, regarding him; herself a strange figure in that lordly place, with her brown limbs, her bare head and feet, her linen tunic, her red knotted girdle.

“Who are you?” she asked him curtly, in counter‐question.

The little old man laughed.

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“I have the honour to be your host.”

A disappointed astonishment clouded her face.

“You! are you Sartorian?” she muttered—“the Sartorian whom they call a prince?”

“Even I,” he said with a smile. “I regret that I please you no more. May I ask to what I am indebted for your presence? You seem a fastidious critic.”

He spoke with good‐humoured irony, taking snuff whilst he looked at the lustrous beauty of this barefooted gypsy, as he thought her, whom he had found thus astray in his magnificent chambers.

She amused him; finding her silent, he sought to make her speak.

“How did you come in hither? You care for pictures, perhaps, since you seem to feed on them like some wood‐pigeon on a sheaf of corn?”

“I know of finer than yours,” she answered him coldly, chilled by the amused and malicious ridicule of his tone into a sullen repose. “I did not come to see anything you have. I came to sell you these: they say in Yprès Yprés that you care for such bits of coin.”

She drew out of her bosom her string of sequins, and tendered them to him.

He took them, seeing at once that they were of no sort of value; such things as he could buy for a few coins in any bazaar of Africa or Asia. But he did not say so.

He looked at her keenly, as he asked:

“Whose were these?”

She looked in return at him with haughty defiance.

“They are mine. If you want such things, as they say you do, take them and give me their value—that is all.”

“Do you come her to sell them?”

“Yes. I came three leagues to‐day. I heard a woman from near Rioz say that you liked such things. Take them, or leave them.”

“Who gave them to you?”

“Phratos.”

Her voice lingered sadly over the word. She still loved the memory of Phratos.

“And who may Phratos be?”

Her eyes flashed at the cross‐questioning.

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“That is none of your business. If you think that I stole them, say so. If you want them, buy them. One or the other.”

The old man watched her amusedly.

“You can be very fierce,” he said to her. “Be gentle a little, and tell me whence you came, and what story you have.”

But she would not.

“I have not come here to speak of myself,” she said obstinately. “Will you take the coins, or leave them?”

“I will take them,” he said; and he went to a cabinet in another room and brought out with him several shining gold pieces.

She fastened her eager eyes on them thirstily.

“Here is payment,” he said to her, holding them to her.

Her eyes fastened on the money entranced; she touched it with a light, half‐fearful touch, and then drew back and gazed at it amazed.

“All that—all that?” she muttered. “Is it their worth? Are you sure?”

“Quite sure,” he said with a smile. He offered her in them some thirty times their value.

She paused a moment, incredulous of her own good fortune, then darted on them as a swallow at a gnat, and took them and put them to her lips, and laughed a sweet glad laugh of triumph, and slid them in her bosom.

“I am grateful,” she said simply; but the radiance in her eyes, the laughter on her mouth, the quivering excitement in all her face and form, said the same thing for her far better than her words.

The old man watched her narrowly.

“They are not for yourself?” he asked.

“That is my affair,” she answered him, all her pride rising in arms. “What concerned you was their value.”

He smiled and bent his head.

Fairly rebuked. But say is this all you came for? Wherever you came from, is this all that brought you here?”

She looked awhile in his eyes steadily, then she brought the sketches from their hiding‐place. She placed them before him.

“Look at those.”

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He took them to the light and scanned them slowly and critically; he knew all the mysteries and intricacies of art, and he recognised in these slight things the hand and the colour of a master. He did not say so, but held them for some time in silence.

“These also are for sale?” he asked, at length.

She had drawn near him, her face flushed with intense expectation, her longing eyes dilated, her scarlet lips quivering with eagerness. That he was a stranger and a noble was nothing to her: she knew he had wealth; she saw he had perception.

“See here!” she said, swiftly, the music of her voice rising and falling in breathless, eloquent intonation. “Those things are to the great works of his hand as a broken leaf beside your gardens yonder. He touches a thing and it is beauty. He takes a reed, a stone, a breadth of sand, a woman’s face, and under his hand it grows glorious and gracious. He dreams things that are strange and sublime; he has talked with the gods, and he had seen the worlds beyond the sun. All the day he works for his bread, and in the grey night he wanders where none can follow him; and he brings back marvels and mysteries, and beautiful, terrible stories that are like the sound of the sea. Yet he is poor, and no man sees the things of his hand; and he is sick of his life, because the days go by and bring no message to him, and men will have nothing of him; and he has hunger of body and hunger of mind. For me, if I could do what he does, I would not care though no man ever looked on it. But to him it is bitter that it is only seen by the newt, and the beetle, and the night‐hawk. It wears his soul away, because he is denied of men. ‘If I had gold, if I had gold!’ he says, always, when he thinks that none can hear him.”

Her voice trembled, and was still for a second; she struggled with herself and kept it clear and strong.

The old man never interrupted her.

“He must not know: he would kill himself if he knew; he would sooner die than tell any man. But, look you, you drape your pictures here with gold and with purple, you place them high in the light; you make idols of them, and burn incense before them. That is what he wants for his: they are the life of his life. If they could be page: 340 honoured, he would not care, though you should slay him to‐morrow. Go to him, and make you idols of his; they are worthier gods than ours. And what his heart is sick for is to have them seen by men. Were I he, I would not care; but he cares, so that he perishes.”

She shivered as she spoke; in her earnestness and eagerness, she laid her hand on the stranger arm, and held it there; she prayed, with more passion than she would have cast into any prayer to save her own life.

“Where is he; and what do you call him?” the old man asked her quietly.

He understood the meaning that ran beneath the unconscious extravagance of her faithful and impassioned language.

He is called Arslàn; he lives in the granary‐tower, by the river, between the town and Yprès Yprés . He comes from the north, far away—very, very far, where the seas are all ice and the sun shines at midnight. Will you make the things that he does to be known to the people? You have gold; and gold, he says, is the compeller of men.”

“Arslàn?” he echoed.

The name was not utterly unknown to him; he had seen works signed with it at Paris and at Rome—strange things of a singular power, of an union of cynicism and idealism, which was too sensual for one half the world, and too pure for the other half.

“Arslàn?—I think I remember. I will see what I can do.”

“You will say nothing to him of me?”

“I could not say much. Who are you? Whence do you come?”

“I live at the water‐mill of Yprès Yprés . They say that Reine Flamma was my mother. I do not know: it does not matter.

“What is your name?”

“Folle‐Farine. They called me after the mill‐dust.”

“A strange namesake.”

“What does it matter? Any name is only a little puff of breath—less than the dust, anyhow.”

“Is it? I see, you are a Communist.”

“What?”

“A Communist—a Socialist. You know what that is. page: 341 You would like to level my house to the ashes, I fancy, by the look on your face.

“No,” she said simply, with a taint of scorn, “I do not care to do that. If I had cared to burn anything it would have been the Flandrin’s village. It is odd that you should live in a palace and he should want for bread; but then he can create things, and you can only buy them. So it is even, perhaps.”

The old man smiled, amused.

“You are no respecter of persons, that is certain. Come in another chamber and take some wine, and break your fast. There will be many things here that you never saw or tasted.”

She shook her head.

“The thought is good of you,” she said, more gently than she had before spoken. “But I never took a crust out of charity, and I will not begin.”

“Charity? Do you call an invitation a charity?”

“When the rich ask the poor—yes.”

Sartorian looked in her eyes with a smile.

“But when a man, old and ugly, asks a woman that is young and beautiful, on which side lies the charity then?”

“I do not favour fine phrases,” she answered curtly, returning his look with a steady indifference.

“You are hard to please in anything, it would seem. Well, come hither, a moment at least.”

She hesitated a moment; then thinking to herself that to refuse would seem like fear, she followed him through several chambers into one where his own mid‐day breakfast was set forth.

She moved through all the magnificence of the place with fearless steps, and meditative glances, and a grave measured easy grace, as tranquil and as unimpressed as though she walked through the tall ranks of the seeding grasses on a meadow slope.

It was all full of the colour, the brilliancy, the choice adornment, the unnumbered treasures, and the familiar luxuries of a great noble’s residence; but such things as these had no awe for her.

The mere splendours of wealth, the mere accumulation of luxury, could not impress her for an instant; she passed through them indifferent and undaunted, thinking to her‐ page: 342 self, “However they may gild their roofs, the roofs shut out the sky no less.”

Only, as she passed by some dream of a great poet cast in the visible shape of sculpture or of painting, did her glance grow reverent and humid; only when she recognised amidst the marble forms, or the pictured stories, some one of those dear gods in whom she had a faith as pure and true as ever stirred in the heart of an Ionian child, did she falter and pause a little to gaze there with a tender homage in her eyes.

The old man watched her with a musing, studious glance from time to time.

“Let me tempt you,” he said to her when they reached the breakfast‐chamber. “Sit down with me and eat and drink. No? Taste these sweetmeats at the least. To refuse to break bread with me is churlish.”

“I never owed nay man a crust, and I will not begin now,” she answered obstinately, indifferent to the blaze of gold and silver before her, to the rare fruits and flowers, to the wine in their quaint flagons, to the numerous attendants who waited motionless around her.

She was sharply hungered, and her throat was parched with the heat and the dust, and the sweet unwonted odours of the wines and the fruits assailed all her sense; but he besought her in vain.

She poured herself out some water into a goblet of ruby glass, rimmed with a band of pearls, and drank it, and set the cup down as indifferently as though she had drunk from the old wooden bowl chained amongst the ivy to the well in the mill‐yard.

“Your denial is very churlish,” he said, after many a honeyed entreaty, which had met with no other answer from her. “How shall you bind me to keep bond with you, and rescue your Northern Regner from his cave of snakes, unless you break bread with me, and so compel my faith?”

She looked at him from under the dusky cloud of her hair, with the golden threads gleaming on it like sun‐rays through darkness.

“A word that needs compelling,” she answered him curtly, “is broken by the heart before the lips give it. It is to plant a tree without a root, to put faith in a man that needs a bond.”

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He watched her with keen humorous eyes of amusement.

“Where have you got all your wisdom?” he asked.

“It is not wisdom; it is truth.”

“And truth is not wisdom? You would seem to know the world well.”

She laughed a little short laugh, whilst her face clouded.

“I know it not at all. But I will tell you what I have seen.”

“And that is—?”

“I have seen a great toadstool spring up all in one night, after rain, so big, and so white, and so smooth, and so round,—and I knew its birth was so quick, and its growth was so strong, because it was a false thing that would poison all who should eat of it.”

“Well?”

“Well—when men speak over‐quick and over‐fair, what is that but the toadstool that springs from their breath?”

“Who taught you so much suspicion?”

Her face darkened in anger.

“Suspicion? That is a thing that steals in the dark and is afraid. I am afraid of nothing.”

“So it would seem.”

He mused a moment whether he should offer her back her sequins as a gift; he thought not. He divined aright that she had only sold them because she had innocently believed in the fulness of their value. He tried to tempt her otherwise.

She was young; she had a beautiful face, and a form like an Atalanta. She wore a scarlet sash girt to her loins, and seemed to care for colour and for grace. There was about her a dauntless and imperious freedom. She could not be indifferent to all those powers which she besought with such passion for another.

He had various treasures shown to her,—treasures of jewels, of gold and silver, of fine workmanship, of woven stuffs delicate and gorgeous as the wing of a butterfly.

She looked at them tranquilly, as though her eyes had rested on such things all her days.

“They are beautiful, no doubt,” she said simply. “But I marvel that you—being a man—care for such things as these.”

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“Nay; I care to give them to beautiful women, when such come to me,—as one has come to‐day. Do me one trifling grace; choose some one thing at least out of these to keep in remembrance of me.”

Her eyes burned in anger.

“If I think your bread would soil my lips, is it likely I should think to touch your treasure with my hands and have them still clean?”

“You are very perverse,” he said, relinquishing his efforts with regret.

He knew how to wait for a netted fruit to ripen under the rays of temptation: gold was a forcing heat—slow, but sure.

She watched him with musing eyes that had a gleam of scorn in them, and yet a certain apprehension.

“Are you the Red Mouse?” she said suddenly.

He looked at her surprised, and for the moment perplexed; then he laughed—his little low cynical laugh.

“What makes you think that?”

“I do not know. You look like it—that is all. He has made one sketch of me as I shall be when I am dead; and the Red Mouse sits on my chest, and it is glad. You see that, by its glance. I never asked him what he meant by it. Some evil, I think; and you look like it. You have the same triumph in your eye.”

He laughed again, not displeased, as she had thought that he would be.

“He has painted you so? I must see that. But believe me, Folle‐Farine, I shall wish for my triumph before your beauty is dead—if I am indeed the Red Mouse.”

She shrunk a little with an unconscious and uncontrollable gesture of aversion.

“I must go,” she said abruptly. “The mules wait. Remember him, and I will remember you.”

He smiled.

“Wait, have you thought what a golden key for him will do for you when it unlocks you eagle’s cage and unbinds his wings?”

“What?”

She did not understand; when she had come on this eager errand, no memory of her own fate had retarded or hastened her footsteps.

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“Well, you look to take the same flight to the same heights, I suppose?”

“I?”

“Yes, you. You must know that you are beautiful. You must know so much?”

A proud light laughed like sunshine over all her face.

“Ah, yes!” she said, with a little low, glad breath, and the blaze of a superb triumph in her eyes. “He has painted me in a thousand ways. I shall live as the rose lives, on his canvas—a thing of a day that he can make immortal!”

The keen elfin eyes of the old man sparkled with a malign mirth; he had found what he wanted—as he thought.

“And so, if this dust of oblivion blots out his canvas for ever from the world’s sight, your beauty will be blotted with it? I see. Well, I can understand how eager you are to have your eagle fly free. The fame of the Fornarina stands only second to the fame of Cleopatra.”

“Fornarina? What is that?”

“Fornarina? One who, like you, gave the day’s life of a rose, and who got eternal fire for it,—as you think to do.”

She started a little, and a tremulous pain passed over the dauntless brilliance of her face, and stole its colour for awhile.

“I?” she murmured. “Ah, what does it matter for me? If there be just a little place—anywhere—wherever my life can live with his on the canvas, so that men say once now and then, in all the centuries, to each other, ‘See, it is true—he thought her worthy of that, though she was less than a grain of dust under the hollow of his foot,’ it will be enough for me—more than enough.”

The old man was silent; watching her, the mockery had faded from his eyes; they were surprised and contemplative. She stood with her head drooped, with her face pale, an infinite yearning and resignation stole into the place of the exultant triumph which had blazed there like the pale light of morning a moment earlier.

She had lost all remembrance of time and place; the words died softly, as in a sigh of love, upon her lips.

He waited awhile; then he spoke.

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“But, if you were sure that even thus much would be denied to you; if you were sure that, in casting your eagle loose on the wind, you would lose him for ever in the heights of a heaven you would never enter yourself; if you were sure that he would never give you one thought, one wish, one memory, but leave every trace of your beauty to perish as fast as the damp could rot or the worm could gnaw it; if you were sure that his immortality would be your annihilation, say, would you still bid me turn a gold key in the lock of his cage, and release him?”

She roused herself slowly from her reverie, and gazed at him with a smile he could not fathom; it was so far away from him, so full of memory, so pitiful of his doubt.

She was thinking of the night when she had found a man dying, and had bought his life back for him, with her own, from the gods.

For the past was sacred to her, and the old wild faith to her was still a truth.

But of it her lips never spoke.

“What is that to you?” she asked, briefly. “If you turn the key, you will see. It was not of myself that I came here to speak. Give him liberty, and I will give you gratitude. Farewell.”

Before he had perceived what she was about to do, she had left his side, and had vanished through one of the doors which stood open, on to the gardens without.

He sent his people to search for her on the terraces and lawns, but vainly; she was fleeter than they, and had gone through the green glades in the sunlight as fast as a doe flies.

The old man sat silent.

CHAPTER III.

WHEN she had outrun her strength, for the moment, and was forced to slacken her speed, she paused to take breath on the edge of the wooded lands. She looked neither to right nor left; on her backward flight the waters had no song, the marble forms no charm, the wonder‐flowers no page: 347 magic for her as she went; she had no ear for the melodies of the birds, no sight for the paradise of the rose‐hung ways; she had only one thought left—the gold that she had gained.

The cruelty of his words had stabbed her with each of their slow keen words as with a knife; the sickness of a mortal terror had touched her for the instant, as she had remembered that it might be her fate to be not even so much as a memory in the life which she had saved from the grave.

But with the first breath of the outer air the feebleness passed. The strength of the passion that possessed her was too pure to leave her long a prey to any thought of her own fate.

She smiled again as she looked up through the leaves at the noon‐day sun.

“What will it matter how or when the gods take my life, so only they keep their faith and give me his?” she thought.

And her step was firm and free, and her glance cloudless, and her heart content, as she went on her homeward path through the heat of the day.

She was so young, she was so ignorant, she was still so astray in the human world about her, that she thought she held a talisman in those nine gold pieces.

“A little gold,” he had said; and here she had it—honest, clean, worthy of his touch and usage.

Her heart leaped to the glad and bounding music of early youth, youth which does not reason, which only believes, and which sees the golden haze of its own faiths, and thinks them the promise of the future, as young children see the golden haze of their own hair and think it the shade of the angels’ wings above their heads.

When she at length reached the mill‐house the sun had sunk; she had been sixteen hours on foot, taking nothing all the while but a roll of rye bread that she had carried in her pouch, and a few water‐cresses that she had gathered in a little brook when the mules had paused to drink there.

Yet when she had housed the grain, and turned the tired animals into their own nook of meadow to graze and rest for the night, she entered the house neither for repose page: 348 nor food, but flew off again through the dusk of the falling night.

She had no remembrance of hunger, nor thirst, nor fatigue; she had only a buoyant sense of an ecstatic joy; she felt as though she had wings, and clove the air with no more effort than the belated starling which flew by her over the fields.

“A little god,” he had said; and in her bosom, wrapped in a green chestnut leaf, were there not the little, broad, round, glittering pieces which in the world of men seemed to have power to gain all love, all honour, all peace, and all fealty?”

“Phratos would have wished his gift to go so,” she thought to herself, with a swift, penitent, remorseful memory.

For a moment she paused and took them once more out of their hiding‐place, and undid the green leaf that enwrapped them, and kissed them and laughed, the hot tears falling down her cheeks, where she stood alone in the fields amid the honey‐smell of the clover in the grass, and the fruit‐fragrance of the orchards all about her in the dimness.

“A little gold!—a little gold!” she murmured, and she laughed aloud in her great joy, and blessed the gods that they had given her to hear the voice of his desire.

“A little gold,” he had said, only; and here she had so much!

No sorcerer, she thought, ever had power wider than this wealth bestowed on her. She did not know; she had no measurement. Flamma’s eyes she had seen glisten over a tithe of such a sum as over the riches of an emperor’s treasury.

She slipped them in her breast again and ran on past the reeds silvering in the rising moon, past the waters quiet on a windless air, past the dark Christ who would not look,—who had never looked, or she had loved him with her earliest love, even as for his pity she loved Thanatos.

Breathless and noiseless she severed the reeds with her swift feet, and lightly as a swallow on the wing passed through the dreary portals into Arslàn’s chamber.

His lamp was lighted.

He stood before the cartoon of the Barabbas, touching it page: 349 here and there with his charcoal, adding those latest thoughts, those after‐graces, with which the artist delights to caress his picture, with a hand as soft and as lingering as the hand with which a mother caresses the yellow sunshine of her first‐born’s curls.

His face as he stood was very pale, passionless, weary, with a sadness sardonic and full of scorn for himself on his mouth, and in his eyes those dreams which went so far—so far—into worlds whose glories his hand could pourtray for no human sight.

He was thinking, as he worked, of the Barabbas.

“You must rot,” he thought. “You will feed the rat and the mouse; the squirrel will come and gnaw you to line his nest; and the beetle and the fly will take you for a spawning‐bed. You will serve no other end—since you are mine. And yet I am so great a fool that I love you, and try to bring you closer and closer to the thing I see, and which you are not, and never can be. For what man lives so happy as to see the Canaan of his ideals,—save as Moses saw it from afar off, only to raise his arms to it vainly, and die?”

There came a soft shiver of the air, as though it were severed by some eager bird.

She came and stood beside him, a flash like the sunrise on her face, a radiance in her eyes more lustrous than any smile; her body tremulous and breathless from the impatient speed with which her footsteps had been winged; about her all the dew and fragrance of the night.

“Here is the gold!” she cried.

Her voice was eager and broken with its too great haste.

“Gold?”

He turned and looked at her, ignorant of her meaning, astonished at her sudden presence there.

“Here is the gold!” she murmured, her voice rising swift and clear, and full of the music of triumph with which her heart was thrilling. “‘A little gold,’ you said, you remember?—‘only a little.’ And this is much. Take it—take it! Do you not hear?”

“Gold?” he echoed again, shaken from his trance of thought, and comprehending nothing and remembering nothing of the words that he had spoken in his solitude.

“Yes! It is mine,” she said, her voice broken in its page: 350 tumult of ecstasy—“it is mine—all mine. It is no charity, no gift to me. The chain was worth it, and I would only take what it was worth. A little gold, you said; and now you can make the Barabbas live for ever upon canvas, and compel men to say that it is great.”

As the impetuous, tremulous words broke from her, she drew the green leaf with the coins in it from her bosom, and thrust it in to his hand, eager, exultant, laughing, weeping, all the silence and the control of her nature swept away in the flood of this immeasurable joy possessing her.

The touch of the glittering pieces against his hands stung him to comprehension; his face flushed over all its pallor; he thrust it away with a gesture of abhorrence and rejection.

“Money!” he muttered. “What money?—yours?”

“Yes, mine entirely; mine indeed!” she answered, with a sweet, glad ring of victory in her rejoicing voice. “It is true, quite true. They were the chains of sequins that Phratos gave me when I used to dance to his music in the mountains; and I have sold them. ‘A little gold,’ you said; ‘and the Barabbas can live for ever.’ Why do you look so? It is all mine; all yours—”

In the last words her voice lost all its proud exultation, and sank low, with a dull startled wonder in it.

Why did he look so?

His gesture of refusal she had not noticed. But the language his glance spoke was one plain to her. It terrified her, amazed her, struck her chill and dumb.

In it there was disgust, anger, loathing, even horror;—and yet there was in it also an unwonted softness, which in a woman’s eyes would have shown itself by a rush of sudden tears.

“What do you think that I have done?” she murmured under her breath. “The gold is mine—mine honestly. I have not stolen it, nor begged it. I got it as I say. Why will you not take it? Why do you look at me so?”

“I? Your money? God in heaven! what can you think me?”

She grew white to the lips, all the impetuous, radiant tumult of her innocent rapture frozen into terror.

“I have done nothing wrong,” she murmured with a piteous wistfulness and wonder—“nothing wrong, indeed; page: 351 there is no shame in it. Will you not take it—for their sake?”

He turned on her with a severity almost savage.

“It is impossible! Good God! Was I not low enough already? How dared you think a thing so vile of me? Have I ever asked pity of any living soul?”

His voice was choked in his throat; he was wounded to the heart.

He had no thought that he was cruel; he had no intent to terrify or hurt her; but the sting of this last and lowest humiliation was so horrible to all the pride of his manhood, and so bitterly reminded him of his own abject poverty; and with all this there was an emotion in him that he had difficulty to control—being touched by her ignorance and by her gift as few things in his life had ever touched him.

She stood before him trembling, wondering, sorely afraid; all the light had died out of her face; she was very pale, and her eyes dilated strangely.

For some moments there was silence between them.

“You will not take it?” she said at last, in a hushed, fearful voice, like that of one who speaks in the sight of some dead thing which makes all quiet around it.

“Take it!” he echoed. “I could sooner kill a man out yonder and rob him. Can you not understand? Greater shame could never come to me. You do not know what you would do. There may be beasts that fall as low, no doubt, but they are curs too base for hanging. Have I frightened you? I did not mean to frighten you. You mean well and nobly, no doubt—no doubt. You do not know what you would do. Gifts of gold from man to man are bitter, and sap the strength of the receiver; but from woman to man they are—to the man shameful. Can you not understand?”

Her face burned duskily; she moved with a troubled confused effort to get away from his gaze.

“No,” she said in her shut teeth. “I do not know what you mean. Flamma takes all the gold I make. Why not you, if it be gold that is honest?”

“Flamma is your grandsire—your keeper—your master. He has a right to do as he chooses. He gives you food and shelter, and in return he takes the gains of your labour. But I,—what have I ever given you? I am a stranger to page: 352 you, and should have no claim on you, if I could be base enough to seek one. I am hideously poor. I make no disguise with you,—you know too well how I live. But can you not see?—if I were mean enough to take the worth of a crust from you, I should be no more worthy of the very name of man. It is for the man to give to the woman. You see.”

She heard him in silence, her face still dark with the confused pain on it of one who has fallen or been struck upon the head, and half forgets and half remembers.

“I do not see,” she muttered. “Whoever has, gives; what does it matter? The folly in me was its littleness: it could not be of use. But it was all I had.”

“Little or great,—the riches of empires, or a beggar’s dole,—there could be no difference in the infamy to me. Have I seemed to you a creature so vile or weak that you could have a title to put such shame upon me?”

Out of the bitter passion of his soul, words more cruel than he had consciousness of rose to his lips and leaped to speech, and stung her as scorpions sting.

She said nothing; her teeth clenched, her face changed as it had used to do when Flamma had beaten her.

She said nothing, but turned away; and with one twist of her hand she flung the pieces through the open casement into the river that flowed below.

They sank with a little shiver of the severed water.

He caught her wrist a second too late.

“What madness? What have you done? You throw your gold away to the river‐swamp for me, when I have not a shred worth a copper‐piece to pay you back in their stead! I did not mean to hurt you; it was only the truth,—you could not have shamed me more. You bring on me an indignity that I can neither requite nor revenge. You have no right to load me with debts that I cannot pay—with gifts that I would die sooner than receive. But, then, how should you know?—how should you know? If I wounded you with sharp words, I did wrong.”

There was a softness that was almost tenderness in his voice as he spoke the last phrases in his self‐reproach; but her face did not change, her eyes did not lose their startled horror; she put her hand to her throat as though she choked.

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“You cannot do wrong—to me,” she muttered, true, even in such a moment, to the absolute adoration which possessed her.

Then, ere he could stay her, she turned, without another word, and fled out from his presence into the dusk of the night.

The rushes in the moonlight sighed where they grew by the water‐side above the sands where the gold had sunk.

A thing more precious than gold was dead; and only the reeds mourned for it. A thing of the river as they were, born like them from the dust, from the flood, from the wind and the foam; a thing that a god might desire, a thing that a breeze might break.

CHAPTER IV.

THE day broke tranquilly. There was a rosy light over all the earth. In the cornlands a few belated sheaves stood alone in the reaping‐ground, while children sought stray ears that might still be left amongst the wild flowers and the stubble. The smell of millions of ripening autumn fruits filled the air from the orchards. The women going to their labour in their fields, gave each other a quiet good day; whilst their infants pulled down the blackberry branches in the lanes or bowled the early apples down the roads. Great clusters of black grapes were already mellowed on the vines that clambered over cabin roof and farmhouse chimney. The chimes of the earliest bells sounded softly from many a little steeple bosomed in the rolling woods.

An old man going to his work passed by a girl lying asleep in a hollow of the ground, beneath a great tree of berries. She was lying with her face turned upward; her arms above her head; her eyelids were wet; her mouth smiled a dreamy tenderness; her lips murmured a little inaudibly; her bosom heaved with fast uneven palpitating breaths.

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It was sunrise.

In the elder thicket little chaffinches were singing, and a missel‐thrush gave late in the year a song of the April weather. The east was radiant with the promise of a fair day, in which summer and autumn should be wedded with gorgeous pomp of colour, and joyous chorus of the birds. The old man roughly thrust against her breast the heavy wooden shoe on his right foot.

“Get up!” he muttered, “Is it for the like of you to lie and sleep at day‐dawn? Get up, or your breath will poison the grasses that the cattle feed on, and they will die of an elf‐shot, surely.”

She raised her head from where it rested on her out‐stretched arms, and looked him in the eyes and smiled unconsciously; then glanced around and rose and dragged her steps away, in the passive mechanical obedience begotten by long slavery.

There was a shiver in her limbs; a hunted terror in her eyes; she had wandered sleepless all night long.

“Beast,” muttered the old man, trudging on with a backward glance at her. “You have been at a witches’ sabbath, I dare be bound. We shall have fine sickness in the styes and byres. I wonder would a silver bullet hurt you, as the fables say? If I were sure it would, I would not mind having my old silver flagon melted down, though it is the only thing worth a rush in the house.”

She went on through the long wet rank grass, not hearing his threats against her. She drew her steps slowly and lifelessly through the heavy dews; her hand was sunk; her lips moved audibly, and murmured as she went, “A little gold, a little gold!”

“May be some one has shot her this very day‐dawn,” thought the peasant, shouldering his axe as he went down into the little wood to cut ash‐sticks for the market. “She looks half dead already; and they say the devil‐begotten never bleed.”

The old man guessed aright. She had received her mortal wound; though it was one bloodless and tearless, and for which no moan was made, lest any should blame the slayer.

The sense of some great guilt was on her, as she stole through the rosy warmth of the early morning.

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She had thought to take him liberty, honour, strength, and dominion among his fellows—and he had told her, that she had dealt him the foulest shame that his life had ever known.

“What right have you to burden me with debt unasked?” he had cried out against her in the bitterness of his soul. And she knew that, unasked, she had laid on him the debt of life.

If ever he should know?—

She had wandered on and on, aimlessly, not knowing what she did all the night through, hearing no other sound but the fierce hard scathing scorn of his reproaches.

He had told her she was in act so criminal, and yet she knew herself in intent so blameless; she felt like those of whom she had heard in the old Hellenic stories, who had been doomed by fate, guiltless themselves, to work some direful guilt, which had to be, out to its bitter end, the innocent yet the accursed instrument of destiny, even as Adrastus upon Atys.

On and on, through the moonlight she had fled, when she had left the water‐tower that night; down the slope of the fields, through the late blossoms of the poppies, and the feathery haze of the ripened grasses tossed in waves from right to left; the long shadows of the clouds upon the earth, chasing her like the spectre hosts of the Aaskarreya of his Scandinavian skies.

She had dropped at last like a dying thing, broken and breathless on the ground.

There she crouched, and hid her face upon her hands; the scorch of an intolerable shame burned on it.

She did not know what ailed her; what consumed her with abhorrence of herself. She longed for the earth to yawn and cover her; for the lilies asleep in the pool, to unclose and take her amidst them. Every shiver of a leaf, under a night‐bird’s passage, every motion of the water, as the willow branches swept it, made her start and shiver as though some great guilt was on her soul.

Not a breath of wind was stirring, not a sound disturbed the serenity of the early night; she heard no voice but the plaintive cry of the cushat. She saw “no snakes but the keen stars,” which looked on her cold and luminous, and indifferent to human woes as the eyes of Arslàn.

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Yet she was afraid; afraid with a trembling horror of herself; she who had once never known one pulse of fear, and who had smiled in the eyes of death as children in their mother’s.

The thrill of a new‐born, inexplicable, cruel consciousness stole like fire through her. She knew now that she loved him with that strange mystery of human love which had been for ever to her until now a thing apart from her, denied to her, half scorned, half yearned for; viewed from afar with derision, yet with desire, as a thing at once beneath her and beyond her.

All the light died; the moon rose; the while lilies shared in its pallid rays; the night birds went by on the wind. She never stirred; the passionate warmth of her frame changed to a deadly cold; her face was buried in her hands; ever and again she shivered, and glanced round, as the sound of a hare’s step or the rustle of a bough by a squirrel broke the silence.

The calm night‐world around her, the silvery seas of reeds, the dusky woods, the moon in its ring of golden vapour, the flickering foilage, the gleam of the glowworm in the dew, all the familiar things amidst which her feet had wandered for twelve summers in the daily measure of those beaten tracks; all these seemed suddenly strange to her—mysterious, unreal.

She longed for the day to dawn again, though day was but an hour dead. And yet she felt that at the first break of light she must flee and hide from his and every eye.

She but meant to give him honour; and he had upbraided her gift as shame.

The bitterness, the cruelty, the passion of his reproaches, stung with their poison, as, in her vision of the reed, she had seen the barbed tongues of a thousand snakes striking through and through the frail, despised, blossomless slave of the wind.

She had thought that as the god to the reed, so might he to her say hereafter, “You are the lowliest and least of all the chance‐born things of the sands and the air, and yet through you has an immortal music arisen,”—and for the insanity of her thought he had cursed her.

Towards dawn, where she had sunk down in the moss, page: 357 and in the thickets of elder and thorn—where she had made her bed in her childhood many a summer night, when she had been turned out from the doors of the mill‐house; there for a little while a fitful exhausted sleep came to her; the intense exhaustion of bodily fatigue overcoming and drugging to slumber the fever and the wakefulness of the mind. The thrush came out of the thorn, while it was still quite dark, and the morning stars throbbed in the skies, and sang his day‐song close about her head.

In her sleep she smiled. For Oneiros was merciful; and she dreamed that she slept folded close in the arms of Arslàn, and in her dreams she felt the kisses of his lips rain fast on hers.

Then the old peasant trudging to his labour in the obscurity of the early day saw her, and struck at her with his foot and woke her roughly, and muttered, “Get thee up; is it such beggars as thee that should be a‐bed when the sun breaks?”

She opened her eyes, and smiled on him unconsciously, as she had smiled in her brief oblivion. The passion of her dreams was still about her; her mouth burned, her limbs trembled; the air seemed to her filled with music, like the sound of the mavis singing in the thorn.

Then she remembered; and shuddered; and arose, knowing the sweet, mad dream, which had cheated her, a lie. For she awoke alone.

She did not heed the old man’s words, she did not feel his hurt; yet she obeyed him, and left the place, and dragged herself feebly towards Yprès Yprés by the sheer unconscious working of that instinct born of habit which takes the ox or the ass back undriven through the old accustomed ways to stand beside their ploughshare or their harness faithful and unbidden.

Where the stream ran by the old mill‐steps the river reeds were blowing in the wind, with sun‐rays playing in their midst, and the silver wings of the swallows brushing them with a swift caress.

“I thought to be the reed chosen by the gods!” she said bitterly in her heart, “but am I not worthy—even to die.”

For she would have asked of fate no nobler thing than this—to be cut down as the reed by the reaper, if so be page: 358 that through her the world might be brought to hearken to the music of the lips that she loved.

She drew her aching weary limbs feebly through the leafy ways of the old mill‐garden. The first leaves of autumn fluttered down upon her head; the last scarlet of the roses flashed in her path as she went; the winelike odours of the fruits were all about her on the air. It was then fully day. The sun was up; the bells rang the sixth hour far away from the high towers and spires of the town.

At the mill‐house, and in the mill‐yard, where usually everyone had arisen and were hard at labour whist the dawn was dark, everything was still. There was no sign of work. The light blazed on the panes of the casements under the eaves, but its summons failed to arouse the sleepers under the roof.

The bees hummed around their houses of straw; the pigeons flew to and fro between the timbers of the walls and the boughs of the fruit trees. The mule leaned his head over the bar of the gate, and watched with wistful eyes. The cow in her shed lowed, impatient for some human hands to unbar her door, and lead her forth to her green clovered pasture. A dumb boy, who aided in the working of the mill, sat astride of a log of timber, kicking his feet amongst the long grasses, and blowing thistles down above his head upon the breeze.

The silence and the inactivity startled her into a sense of them, as no noise or movement, curses of blows, could have done. She looked around stupidly; the window‐shutters of the house‐windows were closed, as though it were still night.

She signed rapidly to the boy.

“What has happened? Why is the mill not at work thus late?”

The lad left off blowing the thistle feathers on the wind, and grinned, and answered on his hands:

“Flamma is almost dead, they say.”

And he grinned again, and laughed, as far as his uncouth and guttural noises could be said to approach the triumph and the jubilance of laughter.

She stared at him blankly for awhile, bewildered and shaken from the stupor of her own misery. She had never thought of death and her tyrant in unison.

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He had seemed a man formed to live on and on and on unchanging for generations; he was so hard, so unyielding, so hale, so silent, so callous to all pain; it had ever seemed to her—and to the country round,—that death itself would never venture to come to wrestle with him. She stood amongst the red and the purple and the russet gold of the latest summer flowers in the mill‐garden, where he had scourged her as a little child for daring to pause and cool her burning face in the sweetness of the white lilies. Could that ruthless arm be unnerved even by age or death—it seemed to her quite impossible.

All was quite still. Nothing stirred, except the silvery gnats of the morning, and the bees, and the birds in the leaves. There seemed a strange silence everywhere, and the great wheels stood still in the mill‐water; never within the memory of any in that countryside had those wheels failed to turn at sunrise, unless locked by a winter‐frost.

She hastened her steps, and went within. The clock ticked, the lean cat mewed; other sound there was none. She left her wooden shoes at the bottom step, and stole up the steep stairs. The woman Pitchou peered with a scared face out from her master’s chamber.

“Where hast been all night?” she whispered in her grating voice; “thy grandsire lies a‐dying.”

“Dying?”

“Aye,” muttered the old peasant. “He had a stroke yester’‐night, as he came from the corn fair. They brought him home in the cart. He is as good as dead. You are glad.”

“Hush!” muttered the girl fiercely; and she dropt down on the topmost step, and rested her head on her hands. She had nothing to grieve for; and yet there was that in the coarse congratulations which jarred on her and hurt her.

She thought on Manon Dax dead in the snow; she thought of the song‐birds dead in the traps; she thought of the poor coming—coming—coming—through so many winters to beg bread, and going away with empty hands and burdened hearts, cursing God. Was this death‐bed all their vengeance? It was poor justice, and came late.

Old Pitchou stood and looked at her.

“Will he leave her the gold or no?” she questioned in page: 360 herself; musing whether or no it were better to be civil to the one who might inherit all his wealth, or might be cast adrift upon the world—who could say which?

After awhile Folle‐Farine rose silently and brushed her aside, and went into the room.

It was a poor chamber; with a bed of straw and a rough bench or two, and a wooden cross with a picture of the Ascension hung above it. The square window was open, a knot of golden pear leaves nodded to and fro; a linnet sang.

On the bed Claudis Flamma lay; dead already, except for the twitching of his mouth, and the restless wanderings of his eyes. Yet not so lost to life but that he knew her at a glance; and, as she entered, glared upon her, and clenched his numbed hands upon the straw, and with a horrible effort in his almost lifeless limbs, raised the right arm, that alone had any strength or warmth left in it, and pointed at her with a shriek:

“She was a saint—a saint: God took her. So I said:—and was proud. While all the while man begot on her that!

Then with a ghastly rattle in his throat, he quivered, and lay paralysed again; only the eyes were alive, and were still speaking—awfully.

Folle‐Farine went up to his bed, and stood beside it, looking down on him.

“You mean—my mother?”

It was the first time that she had ever said the word. Her voice lingered on the word, as though loth to leave its unfamiliar sweetness.

He lay and looked at her, motionless, impatient, lifeless; save only for the bleak and bloodshot stare of the stony eyes.

She thought that he had heard; but he made no sign in answer.

She sank down on her knees beside his bed, and put her lips close to him.

“Try and speak to me of my mother—once—once,” she murmured, with a pathetic longing in her voice.

A shudder shook his frozen limbs. He made no answer, he only glared on her with a terrible stare that might be horror, repentance, grief, memory, fear—she could not tell.

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Old Pitchou stretched her head from the corner, as a hooded snake from its hole.

“Ask where the money is hid,” she hissed in a shrill whisper. “Ask—ask—while he can yet understand.”

He understood, for a smile grim and horrible disturbed his tight lips a moment.

Folle‐Farine did not hear.

“Tell me of my mother;—tell me, tell me,” she muttered. Since a human love had been born in her heart, she had thought often of that mother whose eyes had never looked on her, and whose arms had never held her.

His face changed, but he did not speak; he gasped for breath, and lay silent; his eyes troubled and confused; it might be that in that moment remorse was with him, and there arose the vain regrets of cruel years.

It might be that dying thus, he knew that from his hearth, as from hell, mother and child had both been driven whilst his lips had talked of God.

A little bell rang softly in the orchard below the casement; the clear voice of a young boy singing a canticle crossed the voice of the linnet; there was a gleam of silver in the sun. The Church bore its Host to the dying man.

They turned her from the chamber.

The eyes of one unsanctified might not gaze upon the mysteries of the blest.

She went out without resistance; she was oppressed and stupefied; she went to the stairs, and there sat down again, resting her forehead on her hands.

The door of the chamber was a little open, and she could hear the murmurs of the priest’s words, and smell the odours of the sacred chrism. A great bitterness came on her mouth.

“One crust in love—to the poor—in the deadly winters, had been better worth than all this oil and prayer,” she thought. And she could see nothing but the old famished face of Manon Dax in the snow and the moonlight, as the old woman had muttered, “God is good.”

The offices of the Church ceased; there reigned an intense stillness; a stillness as of cold.

Suddenly the voice of Claudis Flamma rang out loud and shrill.

“I loved her! Oh Heaven! Thou knowest!”

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She rose and looked through the space of the open door into the death‐chamber.

He had sprung half erect, and with his arms outstretched, gazed at the gladness and the brightness of the day. In his eyes there was a mortal agony, a passion of reproach.

With one last supreme effort, he raised the crucifix which the priests had laid upon his bare anointed breast, and held it aloft, and shook it, and spat on it, and cast it forth from him broken on the ground.

Even Thou art a lie!” he cried—it was the cry of the soul leaving the body,—with the next moment he fell back—dead.

In that one cry his heat had spoken; the cold, hard heart that yet had shut one great love and one great faith in it, and losing these, had withered and shown no wound.

For what agony had been like unto his?

Since who could render him back on earth, or in the grave, that pure white soul he had believed in? Yea—who? Not man; not even God.

Therefore, had he suffered without hope.

She went away from the house and down the stairs, and out into the ruddy noon. She took her way by instinct to the orchard, and there sat down upon a moss‐grown stone within the shadow of the leaves.

All sense was deadened in her under a deep unutterable pity.

From where she sat she could see the lattice window, and the gabled end of the chamber, where the linnet sang, and the yellow fruit of the pear‐tree swung. All about was the drowsy hot weather of the fruit harvest; the murmur of bees; the sweep of the boughs in the water.

Never, in all the years that they had dwelt together beneath one roof, had any good word or fair glance been given her; he had nourished her on bitterness, and for his wage paid her a curse. Yet her heart was sore for him; and judged him without hatred.

All things seemed clear to her, now that a human love had reached her; and this man also, having loved greatly and been betrayed, became sanctified in her sight.

She forgot his brutality, his avarice, his hatred; she remembered only that he had loved, and I his love been fooled, and so had lost his faith in God and man, and had page: 363 thus staggered wretchedly down the darkness of his life, hating himself and every other, and hurting every other human thing that touched him, and crying ever in his blindness, “O Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!”

And now he was dead.

What did it matter?

Whether any soul of his lived again, or whether body and mind both died for ever, what would it benefit all those whom he had slain?—the little fair birds, poisoned in their song; the little sickly children, starved in the long winters; the miserable women, hunted to their grave for some small debt of fuel or bread; the wretched poor, mocked in their famine by his greed and gain?

It had been woe for him that his love had wronged him, and turned the hard excellence of his life to stone: but none the less had it been woe to them to fall and perish, because his hand would never spare, his heart would never soften.

Her heart was sick with the cold, bitter, and inexorable law, which had let this man drag out his seventy years, cursing and being cursed; and lose all things for a dream of God; and then at the last, upon his death‐bed, know the dream likewise to be false.

“It is so cruel! It is so cruel!” she muttered, where she sat with dry eyes in the shade of the leaves, looking at that window where death was.

And she had reason.

For there is nothing so cruel in life as a Faith;—the Faith, whatever its name may be, that draws a man on all his years through on one narrow path, by one tremulous light, and then at the last, with a laugh—drowns him.

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CHAPTER V.

THE summer day went by. No one sought her. She did not leave the precincts of the still mill‐gardens; a sort of secresy and stillness seemed to bind her footsteps there, and she dreaded to venture forth, lest she should meet the eyes of Arslàn.

The notary had put seals upon all the cupboards and desks. Two hired watchers sat in the little darkened room above. Some tapers burned beside his bed. The great clock ticked heavily. All the house was closed. Without burned the great roses of the late summer, and the scorch of a cloudless sun. The wheels of the mill stood still. People came and went; many women amongst them. The death of the miller of Yprès Yprés was a shock to all his countryside. There was scarce a face that did not lighten, as the peasants going to their labour, met one another in the mellow fields, and called across,

“Hast heard? Flamma is dead—at last.”

No woman came across the meadows with a little candle, and kneeled down by his body, and wept and blessed the stiff and withered hands for the good that they had wrought, and for the gifts that they had given.

The hot day‐hours stole slowly by; all was noiseless there where she sat, lost in the stupefied pain of her thoughts,: in the deep shadow of the leaves, where the first breath of the Autumn had gilded them and varied them, here and there, with streaks of red.

No one saw her; no one remembered her, no one came to her. She was left in peace, such peace as is the lot of those for whose sigh no human ear is open, for whose need no human hand is stretched.

Once indeed, at noonday, the old serving‐woman sought her, and forced on her some simple meal of crusts and eggs.

“For who can tell?” the shrewd old Norman crone thought to herself, “who can tell? She may get all the treasure: who knows? And if so, it will be best to have page: 365 been a little good to her this day, and to seem as if one had forgiven about the chain of coins.”

For Pitchou, like the world at large, would pardon offences, if for pardon she saw a sure profit in gold.

“Whom will he have left all the wealth to, think you,” the old peasant muttered, with a cunning glitter in her sunken eyes, standing by her at noon, in the solitude, where the orchards touched the mill‐stream.

“The wealth, whose wealth?” Folle‐Farine echoed the word stupidly. She had had no thought of the hoarded savings of that long life of theft and of oppression. She had had no remembrance of any possible inheritance which might accrue to her by this sudden death. She had been too long his goaded and galled slave to be able to imagine herself his heir.

“Aye, his wealth,” answered the woman, standing against the water with her wooden shoes deep in dock‐leaves and grass, gazing, with a curious eager grasping greed in her eyes, at the creature whom she always done her best to thwart, to hurt, to starve, and to slander. “Aye, his wealth. You, who look so sharp after your bits of heathen coins, cannot for sure pretend to forget the value he must have laid by, living as he lived all the days from his youth upward. There must be a rare mass of gold hid away somewhere or another—the notary knows, I suppose—it is all in the place, that I am sure. He was too wise ever to trust money far from home; he knew well it was a gad‐about, that once you part with never comes back to you. It must be all in the secret places; in the thatch, under the hearthstone, in the rafters, under the bricks. And, maybe, there will be quite a fortune. He made so much, and he lived so near. Where think you it will go?”

A faint bitter smile flickered a moment over Folle‐Farine’s mouth.

“It should go to the poor. It belongs to them. It was all coined out of their hearts and their bodies.”

“They you have no hope for yourself:—you?”

“I?”

She muttered the word dreamily; and raised her aching eyelids, and stared in stupefaction at the old, haggard, dark, ravenous face of Pitchou.

“Pshaw! You cannot cheat me that way,” said the page: 366 woman, moving away through the orchard‐branches, muttering to herself. “As if a thing of hell like you ever served like a slave all these years, on any other hope, than the hope of the gold! Well,—as for me, I never pretend to lie in that fashion. If it had not been for the hope of a share in the gold, I would never have eaten for seventeen years the old wretch’s mouldy crusts and lentil‐washings.”

She hobbled, grumbling on her way back to the house, through the russet shadows and the glowing gold of the orchards.

Folle‐Farine sat by the water, musing on the future which had opened to her with the woman’s words of greed.

Before another day had sped, it was possible,—so even said one who hated her, and begrudged her every bit and drop that she had taken at the miser’s board—possible that she would enter into the heritage of all that this long life spent in rapacious greed and gain, had gathered together.

One night earlier, paradise itself would have seemed to open before her with such a hope; for she would have hastened to the feet of Arslàn, and there poured all treasure that chance might have given her, and would have cried out of the fulness of her heart, “Take, enjoy, be free do as you will. So that you make the world of men own your greatness, I will live as a beggar all the years of my life, and think myself richer than kings!”

But now, what use would it be, though she were called to an empire? She would not dare to say to him, as a day earlier she would have said with her first breath, “All that is mine, is thine.”

She would not even dare to give him all and creep away unseen, unthanked, unhonoured into obscurity and oblivion, for had he not said, “You have no right to burden me with debt.”

Yet as she sat there lonely amongst the grasses, with the great mill‐wheels at rest in the water and the swallows skimming the surface, that was freed from the churn and the foam of the wheels as though the day of Flamma’s death had been a saint’s day, the fancy which had been set so suddenly before her, dazzled her, and her aching brain and her sick despair, could not choose but play with it despite themselves.

If the fortune of Flamma came to her, it might be pos‐ page: 367 sible, she thought, to spend it so as to release him from his bondage, without knowledge of his own; so to fashion with it a golden temple and a golden throne for the works of his hand, that the world, which as they all said worshipped gold, should be forced to gaze in homage on the creations of his mind and hand.

And yet he had said greater shame there could come to no man, than to rise by the aid of a woman. The apple of life, however sweet and fair in its colour and savour, would be as poison in his mouth if her hand held it. That she knew, and in the humility of her great and reverent love, she submitted without question to its cruelty.

At night, she went within to break her fast, and try to rest a little. The old peasant woman served her silently, and for the first time willingly. “Who can say?” the Norman thought to herself, “Who can say? She may yet get it all, who knows?”

At night as she slept, Pitchou peered at her, shading the light from her eyes.

“If only I could know who gets the gold?” she muttered. Her sole thought was the money; the money that the notary held under his lock and seal. She wished now that she had dealt better with the girl sometimes; it would have been safer, and it could have done no harm.

With earliest dawn Folle‐Farine fled again to the refuge of the wood. She shunned, with the terror of a hunted doe, the sight of people coming and going, the priests and the gossips, the sights and the sounds, and none sought her.

All the day through she wandered in the cool dewy orchard ways.

Beyond the walls of the foilage, she saw the shrouded window, the flash of the crucifix, the throngs of the mourners, the glisten of the white robes. She heard the deep sonorous swelling of the chants; she saw the little precession come out from the doorway and cross the old wooden bridge, and go slowly through the sunlight of the meadows. Many of the people followed, singing, and bearing tapers; for he who was dead had stood well with the Church, and from such there still issues for the living a fair savour.

No one came to her. What had they to do with her? a creature unbaptised, and an outcast?

She watched the little line fade away, over the green and page: 368 golden glory of the fields. She did not think of herself—since Arslàn had looked at her, in his merciless scorn, she had had neither past nor future.

It did not even occur to her, that her home would be in this place no longer; it was as natural to her, as its burrow to the cony, its hole to the fox. It did not occur to her, that the death of this her tyrant could not but make some sudden and startling change in all her ways and fortune.

She waited in the woods all day; it was so strange a sense to her to be free of the bitter bondage that had lain on her life so long; she could not at once arise and understand the meaning of her freedom; she was like a captive soldier, who had dragged the cannon‐ball so long, that when it is loosened from his limb, the limb feels strange, and his step sounds uncompanioned.

She was thankful, too, for the tortured beasts, and the hunted birds; she fed them, and looked in their gentle eyes, and told them that they were free. But in her own heart one vain wish only ached—she thought—

“If only I might die for him;—as the reed for the god!”

The people returned, and then after awhile all went forth again; they and their priests with them. The place was left alone. The old solitude reigned; the sound of the wood‐dove only filled the quiet.

The day grew on; in the orchards it was already twilight, whilst on the waters and in the open lands farther away the sun was bright. There was a wicket close by under the boughs: a bridle‐path ran by, moss‐grown, and little used, but leading from the public road beyond.

From the gleam of the twisted fruit trees a low flute‐like noise came to her ear in the shadow of the solitude.

“Folle‐Farine,—I go on your errand. If you repent there is time yet to stay me. Say—do you bid me still set your Norse‐god free from the Cave of the Snakes?”

She, startled, looked up into the roofing of the thick foilage; she saw shining on her with a quiet smile the eyes which she had likened to the eyes of the Red Mouse. They scanned her gravely and curiously: they noted the change in her since the last sun had set.

“What did he say to you for your gold?” the old man asked.

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She was silent; the blood of an intolerable shame burned in her face; she had not thought that she had betrayed her motive in seeking a price for her chain of coins.

He laughed a little softly.

“Ah! You fancied I did not know your design when you came so bravely to sell your Moorish dancing‐gear. Oh, Folle‐Farine!—female things, with eyes like yours, must never hope to keep a secret?”

She never answered; she had risen and stood rooted to the ground, her head hung down, her breast heaving, the blood coming and going in her intolerable pain, as though she flushed and frozen under a surgeon’s probe.

“What did he say to you?” pursued her questioner. “There should be but one language possible from a man of his years to a woman of yours.”

She lifted her eyes and spoke at last.

“He said that I did him a foul shame: the gold lies in the sands of the river.”

She was strong to speak the truth inflexibly to the full; for its degradation to herself she knew was honour to the absent. It showed him strong and cold and untempted, preferring famine and neglect and misery to any debt or burden of a service done.

The old man, leaning on the wooden bar of the gate amongst the leaves, looked at her long and thoughtfully.

“He would not take your poor little pieces? You mean that?”

She gave a sign of assent.

“That was a poor reward to you, Folle‐Farine!”

Her lips grew white and shut together.

“Mine was the fault,” she muttered—“the folly. He was right, no doubt.”

“You are very loyal. I think your Northern god was only thus cold because your gift was such a little one, Folle‐Farine.”

A strong light flashed on him from her eyes.

“It would have been the same if I had offered him an empire.”

“You are so sure? Does he hate you then—this god of yours?”

She quivered from head to foot; but her courage would not yield, her faith would not be turned.

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“Need a man hate the dust under his foot?” she muttered in her teeth; “Because it is a thing too lowly for him to think of as he walks.”

“You are very truthful.”

She was silent; standing there in the shadow of the great mill‐timbers.

The old man watched her with calm approving eyes, as he might have watched a statue of bronze. He was a great man, a man of much wealth, of wide power, of boundless self‐indulgence, of a keen serene wisdom, which made his passions docile ministers to his pleasure, and never allowed them any mastery over himself. He was studying the shape of her limbs, the hues of her skin, the lofty slender stature of her form, and the cloud of her hair that was like the golden gleaming mane of a young desert mare.

“All these in Paris,” he was thinking. “Just as she is, with just the same bare feet and limbs, the same untrammelled gait, the same flash of scarlet round her loins, only to the linen tunic a hem of gold, and on the breast a flame of opals. Paris would say that even I had never in my many years done better. The poor barbarian! she sells her little brazen sequins, and thinks them her only treasure, whilst she has all that! Is Arslàn blind, or is he only tired?”

But he spake none of his thoughts aloud. He was too wary to scare the prey he meant to secure with any screams of the sped arrow, or any sight of the curled lasso.

“Well,” he said, simply, “I understand; your eagle, in recompense for your endeavours to set him free, only tears your heart with his talons? It is the way of eagles. He has wounded you sorely. And the wound will bleed many a day.”

She lifted her head.

“Have I complained?—have I asked your pity, or any man’s?”

“Oh, no, you are very strong! So is a lioness; but she dies of a man’s wound sometimes. He has been very base to you.”

“He has done as he thought it right to do. Who shall lay blame on him for that?”

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“Your loyalty says so ; you are very brave, no doubt. But tell me, do you still wish this man, who wounds you so cruelly, set free?”

“Yes.”

“What, still?”

“Why not?”

“Why not? Only this: that once he is let loose your very memory will be shaken from his thoughts as the dust of the summer, to which you liken yourself, is shaken from his feet!”

“No doubt.”

She thought she did not let him see the agony he dealt her; she stood unflinching, her hands crossed upon her breast, her head drooped, her eyes looking far from him to where the fading sunlight gleamed still upon the reaches of the river.

“No doubt,” he echoed. “And yet I think you hardly understand. This man is a great artist. He has a great destiny, if he once can gain the eye and the ear of the world. The world will fear him, and curse him always; he is very merciless to it; but if he once conquer fame, that fame will be one to last as long as the earth lasts. That I believe. Well, give this man what he longs for and strives for, a life in his fame which shall not die so long as men have breath to speak of art. What will you be in that great drunken dream of his, if once we make it true for him? Not even a remembrance, Folle‐Farine. For though you have fancied that you, by your beauty, would at least abide upon his canvas, and so go on to immortality with his words and name, you seem not to know that so much also will do any mime who lets herself for hire on a tavern stage, or any starveling who makes her daily bread by giving her face and form to a painter’s gaze. Child! what you have thought noble, men and women have decreed one of the vilest means by which a creature traffics in her charms. The first lithe‐limbed model that he finds in the cities will displace you on his canvas and in his memory. Shall he go free—to forget you?”

She listened dumbly; her attitude unchanging, as she had stood in other days, under the shadow of the boughs, to receive the stripes of her master.

“He shall be free—to forget me.”

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The words were barely audible, but they were inflexible, as they were echoed through her locked teeth.

The eyes of her tormentor watched her with a wondering admiration; yet he could not resist the pleasure of an added cruelty, as the men of the torture‐chambers of old strained once more the fair fettered from of a female captive, that they might see a little longer those bright limbs quiver, and those bare nerves heave.

“Well; be it so if you will it. Only think long enough. For strong though you are, you are also weak; for you are of your mother’s sex, Folle‐Farine. You may repent. Think well. You are no more to him than your eponymus, the mill‐dust. You have said so to yourself. But you are beautiful in your barbarism; and here you are always near him; and with a man who has no gold to give, a woman need have few rivals to fear. If his heart eat itself out here in solitude, soon or late, he will be yours, Folle‐Farine. A man, be he what he will, cannot live long without some love, more or less, for some woman. A little while, and your Norse‐god alone here, disappointed, embittered, friendless, galled by poverty, and powerless to escape, will turn to you, and find a sweetness on your lips, a balm in your embrace, an opium draught for an hour, at least, in that wonderful beauty of yours. A woman who is beautiful, and who has youth, and who has passion, need never fail to make a love‐light beam in the eyes of a man, if only she know how to wait, if only she be the sole blossom that grows in his pathway, the sole fruit within the reach of his hands. Keep him here, and soon or late, out of sheer despair of any other paradise, he will make his paradise in your breast. Do you doubt? Child, I have known the world many years, but this one thing I have ever known to be stronger than any strength a man can bring against it to withstand it—this one thing which fate has given you, the bodily beauty of a woman.”

His voice ceased softly in the twilight—this voice of Mephistopheles—which tempted her but for the sheer sole pleasure of straining this strength to see if it should break—of deriding this faith to see if it would bend—of alluring this soul to see if it would fall.

She stood abased in a piteous shame—the shame that any man should thus read her heart,—which seemed to burn page: 373 and wither up all liberty, all innocence, all pride in her, and leave her a thing too utterly debased to bear the gaze of any human eyes, to bear the light of any noonday sun.

And yet the terrible sweetness of the words tempted her with such subtle force: the passions of a fierce, amorous race ran in her blood,—the ardour and the liberty of an outlawed and sensual people were bred with her flesh and blood,—to have been the passion‐toy of the man she loved for one single day,—to have felt for one brief summer night his arms hold her and his kisses answer hers, she would have consented to die a hundred deaths in uttermost tortures when the morrow should have dawned, and would have died rejoicing, crying to the last breath,—

“I have lived: it is enough!”

He might be hers! The mere thought, uttered in another’s voice, thrilled through her with a tumultuous ecstacy, hot as flame, potent as wine.

He might be hers—all her own—each pulse of his heart echoing hers, each breath of his lips spent on her own. He might be hers!—she hid her face upon her hands; a million tongues of fire seemed to curl about her and lap her life. The temptation was stronger than her strength.

She was a friendless, loveless, nameless thing, and she had but one idolatry and one passion, and for this joy that they set to her lips she would have given her body and her soul. Her soul—if the gods and man allowed her one—her soul and all her life, mortal and immortal, for one single day of Arslàn’s love. Her soul, for ever, to any hell they would—but his?

Not for this had she sold her life to the gods—not for this; not for the raptures of passion, the trance of the senses, the heaven of self.

What she had sworn to them, if they saved him, was for ever to forget in him herself, to suffer dumbly for him, and, whensoever they would, in his stead to die.

“Choose,” said the soft wooing voice of her tempter, while his gaze smiled on her through the twilight. “Shall he consume his heart here in solitude till he loves you perforce, or shall he go free amongst the cities of men, to remember you no more than he remembers the reeds by the river?”

The reeds by the river.

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The chance words that he used, by the mere hazards of speech, cut the bonds of passion which were binding so close about her.

As the river reed to the god, so she had thought that her brief span of life might be to the immortality of his; was this the fulfilling of her faith? To hold him here with his strength in chains, and his genius perishing in darkness, that she, the thing of an hour, might know delight in the reluctant love, in the wearied embrace, of a man heart‐sick and heart‐broken?

She shook the deadly sweetness of the beguilement off her as she would have shaken an asp’s coils off her wrist, and rose against it, and was once more strong.

“What have you to do with me?” she muttered, feebly, while the fierce glare of her eyes burned through the gloom of the leaves. “Keep your word; set him free. His freedom let him use—as he will.”

Then, ere he could arrest her flight, she hand plunged into the depths of the orchards, and was lost in their flickering shadows.

Sartorian did not seek to pursue her. He turned and went thoughtfully and slowly back by the grass‐grown footpath through the little wood, along by the river side, to the water‐tower. His horses and his people waited near, but it suited him to go thither on this errand on foot and alone.

“The Red Mouse does not dwell in that soul as yet. That sublime unreason—that grand barbaric madness! And yet both will fall to gold, as that fruit falls to the touch,” he thought, as he brushed a ripe yellow pear from the shelter of the reddening leaves, and watched it drop, and crushed it gently with his foot, and smiled as he saw that though so golden on the rind, and so white and so fragrant in the flesh, at the core was a rotten speck, in which a little black worm was twisting.

He had shaken it down from idleness; where he left it, crushed in the public pathway, a swarm of ants and flies soon crawled, and flew, and fought, and fastened, and fed on the fallen purity, which the winds had once tossed up to heaven, and the sun had once kissed into bloom.

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CHAPTER VI.

THROUGH the orchards, as his footsteps died away, there came a shrill scream on the silence, which only the sighing of the cushats had broken.

It was the voice of the old serving‐woman, who called on her name from the porch.

In the old instinct, born of long obedience, she drew her self wearily through the tangled ways of the gardens and over the threshold of the house.

She had lost all remembrance of Flamma’s death, and of the inheritance of his wealth. She only thought of those great and noble fruits of a man’s genius which she had given up all to save; she only thought ceaselessly, in the sickness of her heart, “Will he forget?—forget quite—when he is free?”

The peasant standing in the porch with arms a‐kimbo, and the lean cat rubbing ravenous sides against her shoes, peered forth from under the rich red leaves of the creepers that shrouded the pointed roof of the door‐way.

Her wrinkled face was full of malignity; her toothless mouth smiled; her eyes were full of a greedy triumph. Before her was the shady, quiet, leafy garden, with the water running clear beneath the branches; behind her was the kitchen with its floor of tiles, its strings of food, its wood‐piled hearth, its crucifix, and its images of saints.

She looked at the tired limbs of the creature whom she had always hated for her beauty and her youth; at the droop of the proud head, at the pain and the exhaustion which every line of the face and the form spoke so plainly; at the eyes which burned so strangely as she came through the grey pure air, and yet had such a look in them of sightlessness and stupor.

“She has been told,” thought the old serving‐woman. “She has been told, and her heart breaks for the gold.”

The thought was sweet to her—precious with the preciousness of vengeance.

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“Come within,” she said, with a grim smile about her mouth. “I will give thee a crust and a drink of milk. None shall say I cannot act like a Christian; and tonight I will let thee rest here in the loft, but no longer. With the break of day thou shalt tramp. We are Christians here.”

Folle‐Farine looked at her with blind eyes, comprehending nothing that she spoke.

“You called me?” she asked, the old mechanical formula of servitude coming to her lips by sheer unconscious instinct.

“Ay, I called. I would have thee to know that I am mistress here now; and I will have no vile things gad about in the night so long as they eat of my bread. To‐night thou shalt rest here, I say; so much will I do for sake of thy mother, though she was a foul light o’love; when all men deemed her a saint; but to‐morrow thou shalt tramp. Such hell‐spawn as thou art may not lie on a bed of holy church.”

Folle‐Farine gazed at her, confused and still, not comprehending; scarcely awake to the voice which thus adjured her; all her strength spent and bruised, after the struggle of the temptation which had assailed her.

“You mean,” she muttered, “you mean—What would you tell me? I do not know.”

The familiar place reeled around her. The saints and the satyrs on the carved gables grinned on her horribly. The yellow house‐leek on the roof seemed to her so much gold, which had a tongue, and muttered, “You prate of the soul. I alone am the soul of the world.”

All the green, shadowy, tranquil ways grew strange to her; the earth shook under her feet; the heavens circled around her:—and Pitchou, looking on her, thought that she was stunned by the loss of the miser’s treasure!

She!—in whose whole burning veins there ran only one passion, in whose crushed brain there was only one thought—“Will he forget—forget quite—when he is free?”

The old woman stretched her head forward, and cackled out eager, hissing, tumultuous words.

“Hast thou not heard? No? Well, see then. Some said you should be sent for, but the priest and I said No. Neither Law nor Church count the love‐begotten. Flamma page: 377 died worth forty thousand francs, set aside all his land and household things. God rest his soul! He was a man. He forgot my faithful service, true, but the good almoner will remember all that to me. Forty thousand francs! What a man! And hardly a nettled boiled in oil would he eat some days together. Where does this money go—eh, eh? Canst guess?”

“Go?”

Pitchou watched her grimly, and laughed aloud.

“Ah, ah! I know. So you dared to hope too? Oh fool! What thing did ever he hate as he hated your shadow on the wall? The money, and the lands, and the things—every coin, every inch, every crumb—is willed away to the Bishop, to the holy Bishop in the town yonder, to hold for the will of God and the glory of his kingdom. And masses will be said for his soul, daily, in the cathedral; and the gracious almoner has as good as said that the mill shall be let to Fraçvron, the baker, who is old and has no women to his house; and that I shall dwell here and manage all things, and rule Fraçvron, and end my days in the chimney corner. And I will stretch a point and let you lie in the hay to‐night, but to‐morrow you must tramp, for the devil’s daughter and Holy Church will scarce go to roost together.

Folle‐Farine heard her stupidly, and stupidly gazed around; she did not understand. She had never had any other home, and, in a manner, even in the apathy of a far greater woe, she clove to this place; to its familiarity, and its silences, and its old woodland ways.

“Go!”—she looked down through the aisles of the boughs dreamily; in a vague sense she felt the sharpness of desolation which repulses the creature whom no human heart desires, and whom no human voice bids stay.

“Yes. Go; and that quickly,” said the peasant, with a sardonic grin. “I serve the Church now. It is not for me to harbour such as thee; nor is it fit to take the bread of the poor and the pious to feed lips as accursed as are thine. Thou may’st lie here to‐night—I would not be over harsh—but tarry no longer. Take a sup and a bit, and to bed. Dost hear? ”

Folle‐Farine, without a word in answer, turned on her heel and left her.

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The old woman watched her shadow pass across the threshold, and away down the garden paths between the green lines of the clipped box, and vanish beyond the fall of drooping fig boughs and the walls of ivy and of laurel; then with a chuckle she poured out her hot coffee, and sat in her corner and made her evening meal well pleased; comfort was secured her for the few years which she had to live, and she was revenged for the loss of the sequins.

“How well it is for me that I went to mass every Saint’s day,” she thought, foreseeing easy years and plenty under the rule of the Church and of old deaf Françvron the baker.

Folle‐Farine mounted the wooden ladder to the hayloft which had been her sleeping‐chamber, there took the little linen and the few other garments which belonged to her, folded them together in her winter sheep‐skin, and sent down the wooden steps once more, and out of the mill‐garden across the bridge into the woods.

She had no fixed purpose even for the immediate hour; she had not even a tangible thought for her future. She acted on sheer mechanical impulse, like one who does sane things unconsciously, walking abroad in the trance of sleep. That she was absolutely destitute scarcely bore any sense to her. She had never realised that this begrudged roof and scanty fare, which Flamma had bestowed on her, had, wretched though they were, yet been all the difference between home and homelessness—between existence and starvation.

She wandered on aimlessly through the woods.

She paused a moment on the river’s edge, and turned and looked back at the mill and the house. Form where she stood, she could see its brown gables and its peaked roof rising from masses of orchard foilage, and green garden leaves; further round it, closed the dark belt of the deep chestnut woods.

She looked; and great salt tears rushed into her hot eyes and blinded them.

She had been hated by those who dwelt there, and had there known only pain, and toil, and blows, and bitter words. And yet the place itself was dear to her; its homely and simple look, its quiet garden ways, its dells of leafy shadow, its bright and angry waters, its furred and feathered page: 379 creatures that gave it life and loveliness,—these had been her consolations often,—these, in a way, she loved.

Such as it was, her life had been bound up with it; and though often its cool pale skies and level lands had been a prison to her, yet her heart clove to it in this moment when she left it—for ever. She looked once at it long and lingeringly, full in the light of the rising sun; then turned and went on her way.

She walked slowly through the cool evening shadows, while the birds fluttered about her head. She did not comprehend the terrible fate that had befallen her. She did not think that it was horrible to have no canopy but the clear sky, and no food but the grain rubbed form the ripe wheat‐ears.

The fever of conscious passion which had been born in her, and the awe of the lonely death that she had witnessed, were on her too heavily, and with too dreamy and delirious an absorption, to leave any room in her thoughts for the bodily perils or the bodily privations of her fate.

Some vague expectancy of some great horror, she knew not what, was on her. She was as in a trance, her brain was giddy, her eyes blind. Though she walked straightly, bearing her load upon her head, on and on as through the familiar paths, she yet had no goal, no sense of what she meant to do, or whither she desired to go.

The people were still about, going from their work in the fields, and their day at the town‐market, to their homesteads and huts. Every one of them cast some word at her. For the news had spread by sunset over all the country‐side that Flamma’s treasures were gone to holy Church.

They were spoken in idleness, but they were sharp, flouting, merciless arrows of speech, that struck her hardly as the speakers cast them, and laughed, and passed by her. She gave no sign that she heard, not by so much as the quiver of a muscle or the glance of an eye; but she, nevertheless, was stung by them to the core. For they showed her how worthless and friendless a thing had dared to dream that she might be of service to the life of Arslàn.

Not one of them, man or boy, but made a mock of her as they trooped by through the purpling leaves or the tall seed‐grasses. Not one of them, mother or maiden, that gave a gentle look at her, paused to remember that she page: 380 was homeless, and knew no more where to lay her head that night than any sick hart driven from its kind.

She met many in the soft grey and golden evening, in the fruit‐hung ways, along the edge of the meadows; fathers with their little children running by them, laden with plumes of night‐shade; mothers bearing their youngest born before them on the high sheepskin saddle; young lovers talking together as they drove the old cow to her byre; old people counting their market gains cheerily; children paddling knee‐deep in the brooks for cresses. None of them had a kindly glance for her;—all had a flouting word. There was not one who offered her so much as a draught of milk; not one who wished her so much as a brief good‐night.

“She will quit the country now; that is one good thing,” she heard many of them say of her. And they spoke of Flamma, and praised him; saying, how pure as myrrh in the nostrils was the death of one who feared God.

The night came on nearer; the ways grew more lonely; the calf bleating sought its dam, the sheep folded down close together, the lights came out under the lowly roofs; now and then from some open window in the distance there came the sound of voices singing together; now and then there fell across her path two shadows turning one to the other.

She only was alone.

What did she seek to do?

She paused on a little slip of moss‐green timber that crossed the water in the open plain, and looked down at herself in the shining stream. None desired her—none remembered her; none said to her, “Stay with us a little, for love’s sake.”

“Surely I must be vile as they say, that all are against me!” she thought; and she pondered wearily in her heart where her sin against them could lie.

That brief delirious trance of joy that had come to her with the setting of the last day’s sun, had with the sun sunk away. The visions which had haunted her sleep under the thorn‐tree whilst the thrush sang, had been killed under the cold and bitterness of the waking world. She wondered, while her face grew red with shame, what she had been mad enough to dream of in that sweet, cruel page: 381 slumber. For him—she felt that sooner than again look upward to his eyes she would die by a thousand deaths.

What was she to him?—a barbarous, worthless, and unlovely thing, whose very service was despised, whose very sacrifice was condemned.

“I would live as a leper all the days of my life, if, first, I might be fair in his sight one hour!” she thought; and she was unconscious of horror or of impiety in the ghastly desire, because she ahd but one religion, this—her love.

She crossed the little bridge, and sat down to rest on the root of an old oak on the edge of the fields of poppies.

The evening had fallen quite. There was a bright moon on the edge of the plain. The cresset lights of the cathedral glowed through the dusk. All was purple and grey and still. There were the scents of heavy earths and wild thymes and the breath of grazing herds. The little hamlets were but patches of darker shade on the soft brown shadows of the night. White sea‐mists, curling and rising chased each other over the dim world.

She sat motionless, leaning her head upon her hand.

She could not weep, as other creatures could. The hours drew on. She had no home to go to; but it was not for this that she sorrowed.

Afar off, a step trod down the grasses. A hawk rustled through the gloom. A rabbit fled across the path. The boughs were put aside by a human hand; Arslàn came out from the darkness of the woods before her.

With a sharp cry she sprang to her feet and fled, on one passionate reasonless instinct to hide herself for ever and for ever from the only eyes she loved.

Before her was the maze of the poppy‐fields. In the moonlight their blossom, so gorgeous at sunset or at noon, lost all their scarlet gaud and purple pomp, and drooped like discrowned kings stripped bare in the midnight of calamity.

Their colourless flowers writhed and twined about her ankles. Her brown limbs glistened in the gleam from the skies. She tightened her red girdle round her loins and ran, as a doe runs to reach the sanctuary.

Long withes of trailing grasses, weeds that grew amongst the grasses, caught her fleet feet and stopped her. The earth was wet with dew. A tangle of boughs and brambles page: 382 filled the path. For once, her sure steps failed her. She faltered and fell.

Ere he could touch her, she rose again. The scent of the wet leaves was in her hair. The rain‐drops glistened on her feet. The light of the stars seemed in her burning eyes. Around her were the gleam of the night, the scent of the flowers, the smell of the woods. On her face the moon shone.

She was like a creature born from the freshness of dews, from the odour of foilage, from the hues of the clouds, from the foam of the brooks, from all things of the woods and the water. In that moment she was beautiful with the beauty of women.

“If only she could content me!” he thought. If only he cared for the song of the reed by the river!

But he cared nothing at all for anything that lived; and a pursuit that was passionless of a thing that was helpless, seemed to him base; and his feet were set on a stony and narrow road where he would not encumber his strength with a thing of her sex, lest the burden should draw him backward one rood on his way.

He had never loved her; he never would love her; his eyes were awake to her beauty, indeed, and his reason owned it beyond all usual gifts of her sex. But his senses remained cold to it: he had used it in the service of his art, and therein had scrutinised, and pourtrayed, and debased it, until it had lost to him all that fanciful sanctity, all that half‐mysterious charm, which arouse the passion of love in a man to a woman.

So he let her be, and stood by her in the dusk of the night with no light in his own eyes.

“Do not fly from me,” he said to her. “I have sought you, to ask your forgiveness, and—”

She stood silent, her head bent; her hands were crossed upon her chest in the posture habitual to her under any pain; her face was shrouded in the shadow; her little bundles of clothes had dropped on the grasses, and was hidden by them. Of Flamma’s death and of her homelessness he had heard nothing.

“I was harsh to you,” he said, gently. “I spoke, in the bitterness of my heart, unworthily. I was stung with a great shame;—I forgot that you could not know. Can you forgive?”

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“The madness was mine,” she muttered. “It was I, who forgot—”

Her voice was very faint, and left her lips with effort; she did not look up; she stood bloodless, breathless, swaying to and fro, as a young tree which has been cut through near the root sways ere it falls. She knew well what his words would say.

“You are generous, and you shame me—indeed—thus,” he said with a certain softness as of unwilling pain in his voice which shook its coldness and serenity.

This greatness in her, this wondrous faithfulness to himself, this silence, which bore all wounds from his hand, and was never broken to utter one reproach against him, these moved him. He could not choose but see that this nature, which he bruised and forsook, was noble beyond any common nobility of any human thing.

“I have deserved little at your hands, and you have given me much,” he said slowly. “I feel base and unworthy; for—I have sought you to bid you farewell.”

She had awaited her death‐blow; she received its stroke without a sound.

She did not move, nor cry out, nor make any sign of pain, but standing there her form curled within itself, as a withered fern curls, and all her beauty changed like a fresh flower that is held in a flame.

She did not look at him; but waited, with her head bent, and her hands crossed on her breast as a criminal waits for his doom.

His nerve nearly failed him; his heart nearly yielded. He had no love for her; she was nothing to him. No more than any one of the dark, nude, savage women who had sat to this art on the broken steps of ruined Temples of the Sun; or the antelope‐eyed creature of desert and plain who had come before him in the light of the East, and had passed as the shadows passed, and, like them, were forgotten.

She was nothing to him. And yet he could not choose but think—all this mighty love, all this majestic strength, all this superb and dreamy loveliness, would die out here, as the evening colours had died out of the skies in the west, none pausing even to note that they were dead.

He knew that he had but to say to her, “Come!” and page: 384 she would go beside him, whether to shame or ignominy, or famine or death, triumphant and rejoicing as the martyrs of old went to the flames, which were to them the gates of paradise.

He knew that there would not be a blow his hand could deal which could make her deem him cruel; he knew that there would be no crime which he could bid her commit for him which would not seem to her a virtue; he knew that for one hour of his love she would slay herself by any death he told her; he knew that the deepest wretchedness lived through by his side would be sweeter and more glorious than any kingdom of the world or heaven. And he knew well that to no man is it given to be loved twice with such love as this.

Yet,—he loved not her; and he was, therefore, strong, and he drove the death‐stroke home, with pity, with compassion, with gentleness, yet surely home—to the heart.

“A stranger came to me an hour or more ago,” he said to her; and it seemed even to him as though he slew a life godlier and purer and stronger than his own,—“an old man, who gave no name. I have seen his face—far away, long ago—I am not sure. The memory is too vague. He seemed a man of knowledge, and a man critical and keen. That study of you—the one amongst the poppies,—you remember—took his eyes and pleased him. He bore it away with him, and left in its stead a roll of paper money—money enough to take me back amongst men—to set me free for a little space. Oh, child! you have seen—this hell on earth kills me. It is a death in life. It has made me brutal to you sometimes; sometimes I must hurt something, or go mad.”

She was silent; her attitude had not changed, but all her loveliness was like one of the poppies that his foot had trodden on, discoloured, broken, ruined. She stood as though changed to a statue of bronze.

He looked on her, and knew that no creature had ever loved him as this creature had loved. But of love he wanted nothing,—it was weariness to him; all he desired was power amongst men.

“I have been cruel to you,” he said, suddenly. “I have stung and wounded you often. I have dealt with your page: 385 beauty as with this flower under my foot. I have had no pity for you. Can you forgive me ere I go?”

“You have no sins to me,” she made answer to him. She did not stir; nor did the deadly calm on her face change; but her voice had a harsh metallic sound, like the jar of a bell that is broken.

He was silent also. The coldness and the arrogance of his heart were pained and humbled by her pardon of them. He knew that he had been pitiless to her—with a pitilessness less excusable than that which is born of the fierceness of passion and the idolatrous desires of the senses. Man would have held him blameless here, because he had forborn to pluck for his own this red and gold reed in the swamp; but he himself knew well that, nevertheless, he had trodden its life out, and so bruised it, as he went, that never would any wind of heaven breathe music through its shattered grace again.

“When do you go?” she asked. Her voice had still the same harsh broken sound in it. She did not lift the lids of her eyes; her arms were crossed upon her breast;—all the ruins of the trampled poppy‐blossom were about her, blood‐red as a field where men have fought and died.

He answered her, “At dawn.”

“And where?”

“To Paris. I will find fame—or a grave.”

A long silence fell between them.

The church chimes, far away in the darkness, tolled the ninth hour. She stood passive, colourless as the poppies were, bloodless from the thick, dull beating of her heart. The purple shadow and the white stars swam around her. Her heart was broken; but she gave no sign. It was her nature to suffer to the last in silence.

He looked at her, and his own heart softened; almost he repented him.

He stretched his arms to her, and drew her into them, and kissed the dew‐laden weight of her hair, and the curling lithe from, whence all warmth had died, and the passionate loveliness, which was cast to him, to be folded in his bosom or thrust away by his foot—as he chose.

“Oh, child, forgive me, and forget me,” he murmured. “I have been base to you,—brutal, and bitter, and cold oftentimes;—yet I would have loved you, if I could. Love page: 386 would have been youth, folly, oblivion; all the nearest likeness that men get of happiness on earth. But love is dead in me, I think, otherwise—”

She burned like fire, and grew cold as ice in his embrace. Her brain reeled; her sight was blind. She trembled as she had never done under the sharpest throes of Flamma’s scourge.

Suddenly she cast her arms about his throat, and clung to him, and kissed him in answer with that strange, mute, terrible passion with which the lips of the dying kiss the warm and living face that bends above them, on which they know they never again will rest.

Then she broke from him, and sprang into the maze of the moonlit fields, and fled from him like a stag that bears its death‐shot in it, and knows it, and seeks to hide itself and die unseen.

He pursued her, urged by a desire that was cruel, and a sorrow that was tender. He had no love for her; and yet—now that he had thrown her from him for ever—he would fain have felt those hot mute lips tremble again in their terrible eloquence upon his own.

But he sought her in vain. The shadows of the night hid her from him.

He went back to his home alone.

“It is best so,” he said to himself.

For the life that lay before him he needed all his strength, all his coldness, all his cruelty. And she was only a frail female thing—a reed of the river, songless, and blown by the wind as the rest were.

He returned to his solitude, and lit his lamp, and looked on the creations which alone he loved.

“They shall live,—or I will die,” he said in his own heart. With the war to which he went what had any amorous toy to do?

That night Hermes had no voice for him.

Else might the wise god had said, “Many reeds grow together by the river, and men tread them at will, and none are the worse. But in one reed of a million song is hidden; and when a man carelessly breaks that reed in twain, he may miss its music often and long,—yea, all the years of his life.”

But Hermes that night spake not.

And he brake his reed, and cast it behind him.

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CHAPTER VII.

WHEN the dawn came, it found her lying face downward among the rushes by the river. She had run on, and on, and on blindly, not knowing where she fled, with the strange force which despair lends; then suddenly had dropped, as a young bull drops in the circus with the steel sheathed in its brain. There she had remained insensible, the blood flowing a little from her mouth.

It was quite lonely by the waterside. A crane among the sedges, an owl on the wind, a water‐lizard under the stones, such were the only moving things. It was in a solitary bend of the stream; its banks were green and quiet; there were no dwellings near; and there was no light anywhere, except the dull glow of the lamp above the Calvary.

No one found her. A young fox came and smelt at her, and stole frightened away. That was all. A sharp wind rising with the reddening of the east blew on her, and recalled her to consciousness after many hours. When her eyes at length opened, with a blank stare upon the greyness of the shadows, she lifted herself a little and sat still, and wondered what had chanced to her.

The first rays of the sun rose over the dim blue haze of the horizon. She looked at it and tried to remember, but failed. Her mind was sick and dull.

A little beetle, green and bronze, climbed in and out amongst the sand of the river‐shore; her eyes vacantly followed the insect’s aimless circles. She tried to think, and could not; her thoughts went feebly and madly round and round, round and round, as the beetle went in his maze of sand. It was all so grey, so still, so chill, she was afraid of it. Her limbs were stiffened by the exposure and dews of the night. She shivered and was cold.

The sun rose—a globe of flame above the edge of the world.

Memory flashed on her with its light.

She rose a little, staggering and blind, and weakened by page: 388 the loss of blood; she crept feebly to the edge of the stream, and washed the stains from her lips, and let her face rest a little in the sweet, silent, flowing water.

Then she sat still amidst the long rush‐like grass, and thought, and thought, and wondered why life was so tough and merciless a thing, that it would ache on, and burn on, and keep misery awake to know itself even when its death‐blow had been dealt, and the steel was in its side.

She was still only half sensible of her wretchedness. She was numbed by weakness, and her brain seemed deadened by a hot pain, that shot through it as with tongues of flame.

The little beetle at her feet was busied in a yellower soil than sand. He moved round and round in a little dazzling heap of coins, and trembling paper thin as gauze. She saw it without seeing for awhile; then, all at once, a knowledge flashed on her. She saw that the money had fallen from her tunic. She guessed the truth—that in his last embrace he had slid into her bosom half that sum whereof he had spoken as the ransom which had set him free.

Her bloodless face grew scarlet with an immeasurable shame. She would have suffered far less if he had killed her.

He who denied her love to give her gold!

Better that, when he had kissed her, he had covered her eyes softly with one hand, and with the other driven his knife straight through the white warmth of her breast.

The sight of the gold stung her like a snake.

Gold!—such wage as men flung to the painted harlots gibing at the corners of the streets!

The horror of the humiliation filled her with loathing of herself. Unless she had become shameful in his sight, she thought, he could not have cast this shame upon her.

She gathered herself slowly up, and stood and looked with blind aching eyes at the splendour of the sunrise.

Her heart was breaking.

Her one brief dream of gladness was severed sharply, as with a sword, and killed for ever.

She did not reason—all thought was stunned with her; but as a woman, who loves looking on the face she loves, will see sure death written there long ere any other can detect it, so she knew, by the fatal and unerring instinct of page: 389 passion, that he was gone from her as utterly and as eternally as though his grave had closed on him.

She did not even in her own heart reproach him. Her love for him was too perfect to make rebuke against him possible to her. Had he not a right to go as he would, to do as he chose, to take her or leave her, as best might seem to him? Only he had no right to shame her with what he had deemed shame to himself; no right to insult what he had slain.

She gathered herself slowly up, and took his money in her hand, and went along the river bank.

Whither?

She had no knowledge at first; but, as she moved against the white light and the cool currents of the morning air, her brain cleared a little. The purpose which had risen in her slowly matured and strengthened; without its sustenance she would have sunk down and perished, like a flower cut at the root.

Of all the world that lay beyond the pale of those golden and russet orchards and scarlet lakes of blowing poppies she had no more knowledge than the lizard at her feet.

Cities, he had often said, were as fiery furnaces that consumed all youth and innocence which touched them: for such as she to go to them was, he had often said, to cast a luscious and golden peach of the summer into the core of a wasp’s nest. Nevertheless, her mind was resolute to follow him,—to follow him unknown by him; so that, if his footsteps turned to brighter paths, her shadow might never fall across his ways; but so that, if need were, if failure still pursued him, and by failure came misery and death, she would be there beside him, to share those fatal gifts which none would dispute with her or grudge.

To follow him was to her an instinct as natural and as irresistible as it is to the dog to track his master’s wanderings.

She would have starved ere she would have told him that she hungered. She would have perished by the roadside ere ever she would have cried to him that she was homeless. She would have been torn asunder for a meal by wolves ere she would have bought safety or succour by one coin of that gold he had slid in her bosom, like the wages of a thing that was vile.

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But to follow him she never hesitated: unless this had been possible to her, she would have refused to live another hour. The love in her, at once savage and sublime, at once strong as the lion’s rage and humble as the camel’s endurance, made her take patiently all wrongs at his hands, but made her powerless to imagine a life in which he was not.

She went slowly now through the country, in the hush of the waking day.

He had said that he would leave at dawn.

In her unconscious agony of the night gone by, she had run far and fast ere she had fallen; and now, upon her waking, she had found herself some league from the old mill‐woods, and further yet from the tower on the river where he dwelt.

She was weak, and the way seemed very long to her; ever and again, too, she started aside and hid herself, thinking each step were his. She wanted to give him back his gold, yet she felt as though one look of his eyes would kill her.

It was long, and the sun was high, ere she had dragged her stiff and feeble limbs through the long grasses of the shore and reached the ruined granary. Crouching down, and gazing through the spaces in the stones from which so often she had watched him, she saw at once that the place was desolate.

The great Barabbas, and the painted panels and canvases, and all the pigments and tools and articles of an artist’s store, were gone: but the figures on the walls were perforce left there to perish. The early light fell full upon them, sad and calm and pale, living their life upon the stone.

She entered and looked at them.

She loved them greatly; it pierced her heart to leave them there—alone.

The bound Helios working at the mill, with white Hermes watching, mute and content,—Persephone crouching in the awful shadow of the dread winged King,—the Greek youths, with doves in their breasts and golden apples in their hands,—the women dancing upon Cithæron, in the moonlight,—the young gladiator wrestling with the Libyan lion,—all the familiar shapes and stories that made page: 391 the grey walls teem with the old sweet life of the heroic times, were there—left to the rat and the spider, the dust and the damp, the slow, sad death of a decay which no heart would sorrow for, nor any hand arrest.

The days would come and go, the suns would rise and set, the nights would fall, and the waters flow, and the great stars throb above in the skies, and they would be there—alone.

To her they were living things, beautiful and divine; they were bound up with all the hours of her love; and at their feet she had known the one brief dream of ecstacy that had sprung up for her, great and golden as the prophet’s gourd, and as the gourd in a night had withered.

She held them in a passionate tenderness—these, the first creatures who had spoken to her with a smile, and had brought light in to the darkness of her life. She flung herself on the ground and kissed its dust, and prayed for them in an agony of prayer—prayed for them that the hour might come, and come quickly, when men would see the greatness of their maker, and would remember them, and seek them, and bear them forth in honour and in worship to the nations. She prayed in an agony; prayed blindly, and to whom she knew not; prayed, in the sightless instinct of the human heart, towards some greater strength which could bestow at once retribution and consolation.

Nor was it so much for him as for them that she thus prayed: in loving them she had reached the pure and impersonal passion of the artist. To have them live, she would have given her own life.

Then the bonds of her torment seemed to be severed; and, for the first time, she fell into a passion of tears, and stretched there on the floor of the forsaken chamber, wept as women weep upon a grave.

When she arose, at length, she met the eyes of Hypnos and Oneiros and Thanatos—the gentle gods who give forgetfulness to men.

They were her dear gods, her best beloved and most compassionate; yet their looks struck coldly to her heart.

Sleep, Dreams, and Death,—were these the only gifts with which the gods, being merciful, could answer prayer?

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