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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 437


AT sunrise a great peacock trailing his imperial purple on the edge of a smooth lawn, pecked angrily at a torn fragment of a scarlet scarf; a scarf that had been woven in his own eastern lands, but which incensed his sight, fluttering there so idly, as it seemed, on the feathery sprays of a little low almond tree that grew by the water’s edge.

The water was broad, and full of lily leaves and of rare reeds and rushes; it had been so stemmed and turned by art that it washed the basement walls and mirrored the graceful galleries and arches of the garden palace, where the birds of Hêrê dwelt.

Twenty feet above the level of the gardens, where the peacock swept in the light, there was an open casement, a narrow balcony of stone; a group of pale human faces looking out awe‐stricken. A leap in the night—the night wet and moonless,—waters a fathom deep,—a bed of sand treacherous and shifting as the ways of love. What could all these be save certain death? Of death they were afraid; but they were more afraid yet of the vengeance of their flute‐voiced lord.

On the wall the Red Mouse sat amongst the flowers of page: 438 sleep; he could have told; he who for once had heard another prayer than the blasphemies of the Brocken.

But the Red Mouse never tells any secret to men; he has lived too long in the breast of the women whom men love.

The sun came from the east, and passed through the pale stricken faces that watched from the casement, and came straight to where the Red Mouse sat amidst the poppies.

“Have you let a female soul escape you?” said the Sun.

The Red Mouse answered:

“Love is stronger than I. When he keeps his hands pure, where he guards the door of the soul, I enter not. I sit outside and watch, and watch, and watch. But it is time lost. Love is strong; the door is barred to me.”

Said the Sun,

“That is strange to hear. My sister, the Moon, has told me oftentimes that Eros is your pander—always.”

“Anteros only,” said the Red Mouse.

The Sun, wondering, said again:

“And yet I have heard that it is your boast that into every female soul you enter at birth, and dwell there unto death. Is it, then, not so?”

The Red Mouse answered:

“The boast is not mine, it is man’s.”