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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 387

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.

page: 390

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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