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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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CHAPTER III.

WHEN she awoke she was no longer in the open air by the roadside, with the grey of the falling night about her, and the wet leaves for her bed. She was in a white painted chamber, sweet with many roses, hung with deep hues of violet, filled with gold and colour and sculpture and bronze, duskily beautiful and dimly lighted by a great wood fire that glowed upon andirons of brass.

On the wall nearest her hung all alone a picture,—a picture of a girl asleep in a scarlet blaze of poppies, above her head a purple butterfly, and on her breast the Red Mouse of the Brocken.

Opposite to it beside the hearth, watching her with his small brilliant eyes, and quite motionless, sat the old man Sartorian, who had kept his faith with her, though the gods had not kept theirs.

And the picture and the reality grew confused before her, and she knew not which was herself and which her painted likeness, nor which was the little red mouse that gibbered among the red flowers, and which the little old man who sat watching her with the fire gleams bright in his eyes; and it seemed to her that she and the picture were one, and he and the mouse were one likewise; and she moaned and leaned her head on her hands and tried to think.

The heat of the chamber and the strong nourishment which they had poured down her throat when she was insensible of anything they did to her, had revived the life in her. Memory and sense returned slowly to her; what first awakened her was her one passionate desire, so intense that it became an instinct stifling every other, to go on her way to the city that had flashed in its golden glory on her sight one moment, only the next to disappear into the eternal night.

“Paris!” she muttered mechanically, as she lifted her face with a hopeless bewildered prayer.

“Tell me the way to Paris,” she muttered instinctively, and she tried to rise and walk, not well knowing what she did.

The old man laughed a little silently.

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“A‐h‐h‐. Women are the only peaches that roll of their own accord from the wall to the wasp’s nest.”

At the sound of his voice her eyes opened wide upon him; she knew his face again.

“Where am I?” she asked him with a sharp terror in her voice.

“In my house,” he said simply. “I drove by you when you lay on the roadside. I recognised you. When people dream of immortality they generally die in a ditch. You would have died of a single night out there. I sent my people for you. You did not wake. You have slept here five hours.”

“Is this Rioz?” She could not comprehend, a horror seized her lest she should have strayed from Paris back into her mother’s province.

“No. It is another home of mine;’ smaller, but choicer may be. Who has cut your hair close?”

She shuddered and turned paler with the memory of that ghastly prison‐house.

“Well; I am not sure but that you are handsomer,—almost. A sculptor would like you more now,—what a head you would make for an Anteros, or an Icarus, or a Hyacinthus. Yes—you are best so. You have been ill?”

She could not answer; she only stared at him blankly, with sad, mindless, dilated eyes.

“A little gold,” she muttered; “a little gold.”

He looked at her awhile, then rose and went and sent his handwomen, who took her to an inner chamber, and bathed and attended her with assiduous care; she was stupefied and knew not what they did.

They served her tenderly. They bathed her tired limbs and laid her as gently as though she were some wounded royal captive upon a couch of down.

She had no force to resist. Her eyes were heavy, and her senses were obscured. The potence of the draught which they had forced through her lips, when she had been insensible, acted on her as an anodyne. She sank back unconsciously, and she slept again, all through the night and half the day that followed.

Through all the hours she was conscious at intervals of the fragrance of flowers, of the gleams of silver and gold, of the sounds of distant music, of the white calm gaze of page: 423 marble fauns and dryads, who looked on her from amidst the coolness of hanging foilage. She who had never rested on any softer couch than her truss of hay or heap of bracken, dreamed that she slept on roses. The fragrance of innumerable flowers breathed all around her. A distant music came through the silence on her drowsy ear. For the first time in her life of toil and pain she knew how exquisite a pleasure mere repose can be.

At noon she awoke, crying aloud that the Red Mouse claimed her soul from Thanatos.

When her vision cleared, and her dream passed away, the music, the flowers, the colour, the coolness, were all real around her. She was lying on a couch as soft as the rose‐beds of Sybaris. About her were the luxuries and the graces amidst which the rich dwell. Above her head, from a golden height, a painted Eros smiled.

The light, on to which her startled eyes opened, came to her veiled through soft, rosy hues; the blossom of flowers met her everywhere, glided lattices and precious stones, and countless things for which she knew neither the name nor use, and wondrous plants, with birds like living blossoms on the wing above them, and the marble heads of women, rising cold and pure above the dreamy shadows—all the colour, and the charm, and the silence, and the grace of the life that is rounded by wealth was around her.

She lay silent and breathless awhile, with wide open eyes, motionless from the languor of her weakness and the confusion of her thoughts, wondering dully, whether she belonged to the hosts of the living or the dead. She was in a small sleeping chamber, in a bed like the cup of a lotus; there was perfect silence round her, except for the faint far‐off echo of some music; a drowsy subtle fragrance filled the air, the solemn measure of a clock’s pendulum deepened the sense of stillness; for the first time in her life she learned how voluptuous a thing the enjoyment of simple rest can be. All her senses were steeped in it, lulled by it, magnetised by it; and, so far as every thought was conscious to her, she thought that this was death—death amidst the fields of asphodel, and in the eternal peace of the realm of Thanatos.

Suddenly her eyes fell on a familiar thing, a little picture close at hand, the picture of herself amidst the poppies.

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She leapt from the bed, and fell before it, and clasped it in her arms, and wept over it and kissed it, because it had been the work of his hand, and prayed to the unknown gods to make her suffer all things in his stead, and to give him the desire of his soul. And the Red Mouse had no power on her, because of her great love.

She arose from that prayer with her mind clear, and her nerves strung; she remembered all that had chanced to her.

“Where are my clothes?” she muttered to the serving‐women who watched beside her. “It is broad day;—I must go on;—to Paris.”

They craved her to wear the costly and broidered stuffs strewn about her; masterpieces of many an eastern and southern loom; but she put them all aside in derision and impatience, drawing around her with a proud loving action the folds of her own poor garments. Weather‐stained, torn by bush and briar, soaked with night dew, and discoloured by the dye of many a crushed flower and bruised berry of the fields and woods, she yet would not have exchanged these poor shreds of woven flax and goats’ wool against imperial roves, for poor though they were, they were the symbols of her independence and her liberty.

The women tended her gently, and pressed on her many rare and fair things, but she would not have them; she took a cup of milk, and passed out into the larger chamber.

She was troubled and bewildered, but she had no fear; for she was too innocent, too wearied, and too desperate with that deathless courage, which having borne the worst that fate can do, can know no dread.

She stood with her arms folded on her breast, drawing together the tattered folds of the tunic, gazing at the luxury, and the blended colour of the room. So softly, that she never heard his footfall, the old man entered behind her, and came to the hearth, and looked on her.

“You are better?” he asked. “Are you better, Folle‐Farine.”

She looked up, and met the eyes of Sartorian. They smiled again on her with the smile of the Red Mouse.

The one passion which consumed her was stronger than any fear or any other memory: she only though—this man must know?

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She sprang forward and grasped his arm with both hands, with the seizure of a tigress; her passionate eyes searched his face; her voice came hard and fast.

“What have you done?—is he living or dead?—you must know?”

His eyes still smiled:

“I gave him his golden key;—how he should use it, that was not in our bond. But, truly, I will make another bond with you any day, Folle‐Farine.”

She shuddered, and her hands dropped from their hold.

“You know nothing?” she murmured.

“Of your Norse‐god? nay, nothing. An eagle soars too high for a man’s sight to follow, you know—oftentimes.”

And he laughed his little soft laugh.

The eagle often soared so high—so high—that the icy vapours of the empyrean froze them dead, and they dropped to earth a mere, bruised, helpless, useless mass:—he knew.

She stood stunned and confused: her horror of Sartorian was struggling into life through the haze in which all things of the past were still shrouded to her dulled remembrance—all things save her love.

“Rest awhile,” he said, gently. “Rest; and we may—who knows?—learn something of your northern god. First; tell me of yourself. I have sought for tidings of you vainly.”

Her eyes glanced round her on every side.

“Let me go,” she muttered.

“Nay—a moment yet. You are not well.”

“I am well.”

“Indeed. Then wait a moment.”

She rested where he motioned; he looked at her in smiling wonder.

She leaned on one of the cushioned couches, calm, motionless, negligent, giving no sign that she saw the chamber round her to be any other than the wooden barn or thatched cattle‐sheds of the old mill‐house; her feet were crossed, her limbs were folded in that exquisite repose which is inborn in races of the East; the warmth of the room, and the long hours of sleep had brought the natural bloom to her face, the natural lustre to her eyes, which earlier fatigue and long illness had banished.

He surveyed her with that smile which she had resented page: 426 on the day when she had besought pity of him for Arslàn’s sake.

“Do you not eat?” was all he said.

“Not here.”

He laughed his low humorous laugh that displeased her so bitterly, though it was soft of tone.

“And all those silks, and stuffs, and laces—do they please you no better?”

“They are not mine.”

“Pooh! do you not know yet? A female thing, as beautiful as you are, makes hers everything she looks upon?”

“That is a fine phrase.”

“And an empty one you think. On my soul! no. Everything you see here is yours, if it please you.”

She looked at him with dreaming perplexed eyes.

“What do you want of me?” she said, suddenly.

“Nay—why ask? All men are glad to give to women with such a face as yours.”

She laughed a little; with the warmth, the rest, the wonder, the vague sense of some unknown danger, her old skill and courage rose. She knew that she had promised to be grateful always to this man; otherwise,—oh, God!—how she could have hated him, she thought!

“Why?” she answered, “why? Oh, only this: when I bought a measure of pears for Flamma in the market‐place, the seller of them would sometimes pick me out a big yellow bon‐chrétien, soft as butter, sweet as sugar, and offer it to me for myself. Well, when he did that, I always knew that the weight was short, or the fruit rotten. This is a wonderful pear you would give me; but is your measure false?”

He looked at her with a curious wonder and admiration; he was angered, humbled, incensed, and allured, and yet he was glad; she looked so handsome thus with the curl on her quiet lips, and her spirited head fit for a bronze cast of Atalanta.

He was an old man; he could bear to pause and rightly appreciate the charm of scorn, the spur of irony, the goad of hatred. He knew the full value of its sharp spears to the wonder‐blooming aloe.

He left the subject for a happier moment, and seating page: 427 himself, opened his hands to warm them by the wood fire, still watching her with that smile, which for its very indulgence, its very banter, she abhorred.

“You lost your Norse‐god as I prophesied?” he asked carelessly.

He saw her whole face change as with a blow, and her body bend within itself as a young tree bends under a storm.

“He went when you gave him the gold,” she said below her breath.

“Of course he went. You would have him set free,” he said, with the little low laugh still in his throat. “Did I not say you must dream of nothing else if once you had him freed. You would be full of faith; and unbar your eagle’s prison‐house, and then, because he took wing through the open‐door, you wonder still. That is not very wise, Folle‐Farine.”

“I do not wonder,” she said, with fierce effort stifling her misery. “He had a right to do as he would: have I said any otherwise?”

“No. You are very faithful still, I see. Yet, I cannot think that you believed my prophecy, or you—a woman had never been so strong. You think I can tell you of his fate? Nay, on my soul I know nothing. Men do not speak his name. He may be dead;—you shrink? So! can it matter so much? He is dead to you. He is a great man, but he is a fool. Half his genius would give him the fame he wants with much greater swiftness than the whole ever will. The world likes talent, which serves it. It hates genius, which rules it. Men would adore his technical treatment, his pictorial magnificence, his anatomical accuracy; but they will always be in awe of his intensity of meaning, of his marvellous fertility, of his extraordinary mingling of the chilliest of idealism, and the most unsparing of sensualities,—but I talk idly. Let us talk of you; see, I chose your likeness, and he let me have it—did you dream that he would part with it so lightly?”

“Why not? He had a million things more beautiful?”

He looked at her keenly. He could measure the superb force of this unblenching and mute courage.

“In any other creature such an humility would be an hypocrisy. But it is not so in you. Why will you carry page: 428 yourself as in an enemy’s house? Will you not even break your fast with me? Nay, that is sullen, that is barbaric. Is there nothing that can please you? See here,—all women love these; the gipsy as well as the empress. Hold them a moment.”

She took them; old oriental jewels lying loose in an agate cup on a table near; there were amongst them three great sapphires, which in their way were priceless, from their rare size and their perfect colour.

Her mouth laughed with its old scorn. She, who had lost life, soul, earth, heaven, to be consoled with the glass beads of a bauble! This man seemed to her more foolish than any creature that had ever spoken on her ear.

She looked, then laid them—indifferently—down.

“Three sparrow’s eggs are as big and almost as blue, among the moss in any month of May!”

He moved them away, chagrined.

“How do you intend to live?” he asked drily.

“It will come as it comes,” she answered with the fatalism and composure that ran in her eastern blood.

“What have you done up to this moment since you left my house at Rioz?”

She told him, briefly; she wanted to hide that she had suffered aught, or had been in any measure coldly dealt with, and she spoke with the old force of a happier time, seeking rather to show how well it was with her that she should thus be free, and have no law save her own will, and knew that none lived who could say to her, “Come hither,” or “go there.”

Almost she duped him, she was so brave. Not quite. His eyes had read the souls and senses of women for half a century; and none had ever deceived him. As he listened to her he knew well that under her desolation and her solitude her heart was broken—though not her courage.

But he accepted her words as she spoke them. “Perhaps you are wise to take your fate so lightly,” he said to her. “But, do you know that it is a horrible thing to be alone and penniless and adrift, and without a home or a friend, when one is a woman and young?”

“It is worse when one is a woman, and old; but who pities it then?” she said with the curt and caustic meaning that had first allured him in her.

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“And a woman is so soon old!” he added with as subtle a significance.

She shuddered a little; no female creature that is beautiful and vigorous and young can coldly brook to look straight at the doom of age; death is far less appalling, because death is uncertain, mystical, and may still have beauty.

“What do you intend to do with yourself?” he pursued.

“Intend! It is for the rich ‘to intend,’ the poor must take what chances.”

She spoke calmly, leaning down on one of the cushioned benches by the hearth, resting her chin on her hand; her brown slender feet were crossed one over another, her eye‐lids were heavy from weakness and the warmth of the room; the soft dim light played on her tenderly; he looked at her with a musing smile.

“No beautiful woman need ever be poor,” he said, slowly spreading out the delicate palms of his hands to the fire; “and you are beautiful—exceedingly.”

“I know!” she gave a quick gesture of her head, tired, insolent, indifferent; and a terrible darkness stole over her face; what matter how beautiful she might be, she had no beauty in her own sight, for the eyes of Arslàn had dwelt on her, cold, calm, unmoved, whilst he had said, “I would love you—if I could.”

“You know your value,” Sartorian said drily. “Well then, why talk of poverty and of your future together? they need never be companions in this world.”

She rose and stood before him in the rosy glow of the fire that bathed her limbs until they glowed like jade and porphyry.

“No beautiful woman need be poor—no—no beautiful woman need be honest, I dare say.”

He smiled, holding his delicate palms to the warmth of his hearth.

“Your lover drew a grand vision of Barabbas. Well—we choose Barabbas still, just as Jerusalem chose; only now, our Barabbas is most often a woman. Why do you rise? It is a wet day, out there, and, for the spring time, cold.”

“Is it?”

“And you have been ill?”

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“So they say.”

“You will die of cold and exposure.”

“So best.”

“Wait a moment. In such weather I would not let a dog stir.”

“You would if the dog chose to go.”

“To a master who forsook it—for a kick and a curse?”

Her face burned; she hung her head instinctively. She sank down again on the seat which she had quitted. The old horror of shame which she had felt by the water side under the orchards bent her strength under this man’s unmerciful passion. She knew that he had her secret, and the haughty passion and courage of her nature writhed under his taunt of it.

“To refuse to stay is uncouth,” he said to her.

“I am uncouth, no doubt.”

“And it is ungrateful.”

“I would not be that.”

“Ungrateful! I did what you asked of me. I unloosed your Othyr of Art to spend his strength as he will, in essaying to raise a storm blast which shall have force enough to echo through the endless tunnels of the time to come.”

“You gave him a handful of gold pieces for that!

“Ah! if you thought that I should offer him the half of my possessions you were disappointed, no doubt. But you forgot that ‘that’ would not sell in the world, as yet, for a handful of wheat.”

She touched the three sapphires.

“Are your blue stones of less worth, because I, being ignorant, esteem them no more value than three sparrows’ eggs in the hedge?”

“My poor jewels! Well, stay here to‐night, you need rest, shelter, and warmth; and to‐morrow you shall go as poor as you came, if you wish. The world is very hard. The world is always winter—to the poor,” he added, carelessly, resting his keen far‐reaching eyes upon her.

Despite herself she shuddered; he recalled to her that the world was close at hand—the world in which she would be houseless, friendless, penniless, alone.

“A hard world, to those who will not worship its gods,” he repeated, musingly. “And you astray in it, you poor barbarian, with your noble madness, and your blindness of page: 431 faith and of passion. Do you know what it is to be famished, and have none to hear your cries?”

“Do I know?” her voice suddenly gathered strength and scorn, and rang loud on the stillness. “Do you? The empty dish, the chill stove, the frozen feet, the long nights, with the roof dripping rain, the sour berries and hard roots that mock hunger, the mud floors, with the rats fighting to get first at your bed, the bitter black months, whose saints’ days are kept by new pains, and whose holy days are feasted by fresh diseases. Do I know? Do you?

He did not answer her; he was absorbed in his study of her face; he was thinking how she would look in Paris in some theatre’s spectacle of Egypt, with anclets of dull gold and a cymar of dead white, and behind her a sea of palms and a red and sullen sky.

“What a fool he must have been,” he thought, as his eyes went from her to the study of her sleeping in the poppies. “What a fool, he left his lantern of Aladdin behind him.”

“You remember unlovely things,” he said aloud. “No, I do not know them; and I should not have supposed that you, who did, could so much have cared to know them more, or could have clung to them as the only good; as you now seem to do. You cannot love such hardships?”

“I have never known luxuries; and I do not wish to know them.”

“Then you are no woman,—what is your idea of the most perfect life?”

“I do not know—to be always in the open air and to be quite free, and for ever to see the sun.”

“Not a low ideal. You must await the Peruvian Paradise. Meanwhile there is a day spring that represents the sun not ill; we call it Wealth.”

“Ah!” she could not deride this god, for she knew it was the greatest of them all; when the rod of riches had been lost, had not the Far‐Striking King himself been brought low and bound down to a slave’s drudgery?

The small, keen, elfin, satiric face bent on her did not change from its musing study, its slow vigilant smile; holding her under the subtle influence of his gaze, Sartorian began to speak,—speak as he could at choice, with accents sweet as silver, slow words persuasive as sorcery. With the terse, page: 432 dainty, facile touches of a master, he placed before her that world of which she knew no more than any one of the reeds that blew by the sands of the river.

He painted to her that life of all others, which was in most vital contrast and unlikeliness to her own; the life of luxury, of indolence, of carelessness, of sovereignty, of endless pleasure, and supreme delight; he painted to her the years of a woman rich, caressed, omnipotent, beautiful, supreme, with all the world before her from which to choose her lovers, her playthings, her triumphs, her victories, her cruelties, and her seductions.

He painted the long cloudless invigorating day of such a favourite of fortune, with its hours winged by love and its laughter rhymed to music, and its wishes set to gold; the same day for the same woman, whether it were called of Rome or of Corinth, of Byzantium or of Athens, of Babylon or of Paris, and whether she herself were hailed hetaira or imperatrix. He drew such things as the skill of his words and the deep knowledge of his many years enabled him, in language which aroused her even from the absorption of her wretchedness, and stirred her dull disordered thoughts to a movement of restless discontent, and of strange wonder—Arslàn had never spoken to her thus.

He let his words dwell silently on her mind, awhile: then suddenly he asked her,

“Such lives are; do you not envy them?”

She thought—“envy them? she? what could she envy save the eyes that looked on Arslàn’s face?” “What were the use?” she said aloud; “all my life I have seen that all things are for others; nothing is for me.”

“Your life is but just opening. Henceforth you shall see all things for you, instead.”

She flashed her eyes upon him.

“How can that be?”

“Listen to me; you are alone in the world, Folle‐Farine?”

“Alone; yes.”

“You have not a coin to stand a day between you and hunger?”

“Not one.”

“You know of no roof that will shelter you for so much as a night?”

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“Not one.”

“You have just left a public place of pestilence?”

“Yes.”

“And you know that everyone’s hand is against you because you are nameless and bastard, and come of a proscribed people, who are aliens alike in every land?”

“I am Folle‐Farine; yes.”

For a moment he was silent. The simple, pathetic acceptance of the fate that made her name—merely because hers—a symbol of all things despised, and desolate, and forsaken, touched his heart and moved him to a sorrowful pity. But the pity died, and the cruelty remained alive behind it.

He bent on her the magnetic power of his bright, sardonic, meaning eyes.

“Well—be Folle‐Farine still. Why not? But let Folle‐Farine mean no longer a beggar, an outcast, a leper, a thing attainted, proscribed, and for ever suspected; but let it mean on the ear of every man that hears it the name of the most famous, the most imperious, the most triumphant, the most beautiful woman of her time; a woman of whom the world says, ‘Look on her face and die—you have lived enough.’”

Her breath came and went as she listened: the blood in her face flushed and paled; she trembled violently, and her whole frame seemed to dilate and strengthen and vibrate with the electric force of that subtlest temptation.

“I!” she murmured brokenly.

“Yes, you. All that I say to you shall be: homeless, tribeless, nameless, nationless, thought you stand there now, Folle‐Farine.”

The wondrous promise swept her fancy for the moment on the strong current of its imagery, as a river sweeps a leaf. This empire hers?—hers?—when all mankind had driven and derided her and shunned her sight and touch, and cursed and flouted her, and barely thought her worthy to be called “thou dog!”

He looked at her and smiled, and bent towards the warmth of the fire.

“All that I say you shall be; and—the year is all winter for the poor, Folle‐Farine.”

The light on her face faded; a sudden apprehension page: 434 tightened at her heart; on her face gathered the old fierce deadly antagonism which constant insult and attack had taught her to assume on the first instant of menace as her only buckler.

She knew not what evil threatened; but vaguely she felt that treason was close about her.

“If you do not mock me,” she said slowly, “if you do not—how will you make me what you promise?”

“I will show the world to you, you to the world; your beauty will do the rest.”

The darkness and the perplexed trouble deepened on her face; she rose and stood and looked at him, her teeth shut together with a quick sharp ring, her straight proud brows drew together in stormy silence; all the tigress in her was awoke and rising ready to spring; yet amidst that dusky passion, that withering scorn of doubt, there was an innocent pathetic wonder, a vague desolation and disappointment, that were childlike and infinitely sad.

“This is a wondrous pear you offer me!” she said bitterly. “And so cheap?—it must be rotten somewhere.”

“It is golden. Who need ask more?”

And he laughed his little low laugh in his throat.

Then, and then only, she understood him.

With a sudden unconscious instinctive action her hand sought her knife, but the girdle was empty; she sprang erect, her face on fire with a superb fury, her eyes blazing, like the eyes of a wild beast’s by night, a magnificence of scorn and rage upon her quivering features.

Her voice rang clear and hard and cold as ring the blows of steel.

“I ask more,—that I should pluck it with clean hands, and eat of it with pure lips. Strange quibble for a beggar,—homeless, penniless, tribeless, nationless? So you think, no doubt. But we who are born outlawed are born free,—and do not sell our freedom. Let me go.”

He watched her with a musing smile, a dreamy calm content; all this tempest of her scorn, all this bitterness of her disdain, all this whirlwind of her passion and her suffering, seemed but to beguile him more and make him surer of her beauty, of her splendour, of her strength.

“She would be a great creature to show to the world,” he thought, as he drooped his head and watched her through page: 435 his half‐closed eyelids, as the Red Mouse watched the sleeper in the poppies. “Let you go?” he said with that slow ironic smile— “ let you go? Why should I let you go—Folle‐Farine?”

“Why? Why? To save your own life—if you are wise.”

He laughed in his throat again.

“Ah, ah! It is never wise to threaten, Folle‐Farine. I do not threaten. You are foolish; you are unreasonable; and that is the privilege of a woman. I am not angered at it. On the contrary; it adds to your charm. You are a beautiful, reckless, stubborn, half mad, half savage creature. Passion and liberty become you,—become you like your ignorance and ferocity. I would not for worlds that you should change them.”

“Let me go,” she cried, across his words.

“Oh fool! the winter will be hard,—and you are bare of foot,—and you have not a crust!”

“Let me go.”

“Ah! Go?—to beg your way to Paris, and to creep through the cellars and the hospitals till you can see your lover’s face, and to crouch a moment at his feet to hear him mutter a curse on you in payment for your pilgrimage; and then to slit your throat or his—in your despair, and lie dead in all your loveliness in the common ditch.”

“Let me go, I say!”

“Or else, more like, come back to me in a week’s time and say, ‘I was made but now I am wise. Give me the golden pear. What matter a little speck? What is golden may be rotten; but to all lips it is sweet.”

“Let me go!”

She stood at bay before him, pale in her scorn of rage, her right hand clenched against her breast, her eyes breathing fire, her whole attitude instinct with the tempest of contempt and loathing, which she held down thus, passive and almost wordless, because she once had promised never to be thankless to this man.

He gazed at her and smiled, and thought how beautiful that chained whirlwind of her passions looked; but he did not touch her nor even go nearer to her. There was a dangerous gleam in her eyes that daunted him. Moreover page: 436 he was patient, humorous, gentle, cruel, wise—all in one; and he desired to tame and to beguile her, and to see her slowly drawn into the subtle sweetness of the powers of gold; and to enjoy the yielding of each moral weakness one by one, as the southern boy slowly pulls limb from limb, wing from wing, of the cicada.

“I will let you go—surely,” he said, with his low grim laugh. “I keep no woman prisoner against her will. But think one moment longer, Folle‐Farine. You will take no gift at my hands?”

“None.”

“You want to go,—penniless as you are?”

“I will go so; no other way.”

“You will fall ill on the road afresh.”

“That does not concern you.”

“You will starve.”

“That is my question.”

“You will have to herd with the street dogs.”

“Their bite is better than your welcome.”

“You will be suspected,—most likely imprisoned. You are an outcast.”

“That may be.”

“You will be driven to public charity.”

“Not till I need a public grave.”

“You will have never a glance of pity, never a look of softness, from your northern god; he has no love for you, and he is in his grave most likely. Icarus falls—always.”

For the first time she quailed as though struck by a sharp blow; but her voice remained inflexible and serene.

“I can live without love or pity, as I can without home or gold. Once for all,—let me go.”

“I will let you go,” he said slowly, as he moved a little away. “I will let you go in seven days’ time. For seven days you shall do as you please; eat, drink, be clothed, be housed, be feasted, be served, be beguiled—as the rich are. You shall taste all these things that gold gives, and which you, being ignorant, dare rashly deride and refuse. If when seven days end you still choose, you shall go, and as poor as you came. But you will not choose, for you are woman, Folle‐Farine!”

Ere she knew his intent he had moved the panel and drawn it behind him, and left her alone,—shut in a trap page: 437 like the birds that Claudis Flamma had netted in his orchards.

That night, when the night without was quite dark, she knelt down before the study of the poppies, and kissed it softly, and prayed to the unknown God, of whom none had taught her in anywise, yet whose light she still had found, and followed in a dim wondering imperfect fashion, as a little child lost in the twilight of some pathless wood, pursues in trembling the gleam of some great still planet looming far above her through the leaves.

When she arose from her supplication, her choice was already made.

And the Red Mouse had no power on her, because of her great love.

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