Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
previous
next
page: 364

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.

page: 369

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.

page: 370

“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?”

page: 371

“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.”

page: 372

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.

page: 374

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.

previous
next