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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 375

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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