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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 332

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.

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