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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 438

CHAPTER V.

IN the dark of night she had leapt to what, as she thought, would prove her grave; but the waters with human‐like caprice had cast her back upon the land with scarce an effort of her own. Given back thus to life, whether she would or no, she by sheer instinct stumbled to her feet and fled as fast as she could in the wet gloomy night through the grassy stretches of the unknown gardens and lands in which she found herself.

She was weighted with her soaked clothes as with lead, but she was made swift by terror and hatred, as though Hermes for once had had pity for anything human, and had fastened to her feet his own winged sandals.

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She ran on and on, not knowing whither; only knowing that she ran from the man who had tempted her by the strength of the rod of wealth.

The rains were ceaseless, the skies had no stars, in the dense mist no lights, far or near, of city or planets, of palace or house, were seen. She did not know where she went; she only ran on away and away, anywhere, from the Red Mouse and its master.

When the daybreak grew grey in the heavens, she paused, and trembling crept into a cattle shed to rest and take breath a little. She shrank from every habitation, she quivered at every human voice; she was afraid—horribly afraid—in those clinging vapours, those damp deathly smells, those ghostly shadows of the dawn, those indistinct and unfamiliar creatures of a country strange to her.

That old man with the elf’s eyes, who had tempted her, was he a god too, she wondered, since he had the rod that metes power and wealth? He might stretch his hand anywhere, she supposed, and take her.

The gentle cattle in their wooden home made way for her, and humbly welcomed her. She hid herself amongst their beds of hay, and in the warmth of their breath and their bodies. She was wet and wretched, like any half drowned dog; but the habits of her hardy life made cold and hunger and exposure almost powerless to harm her. She slept from sheer exhaustion of mind and body. The cattle could have trodden her to death, or tossed her through the open spaces of their byres, but they seemed to know, they seemed to pity; and they stirred so that they did not brush a limb of her, nor shorten a moment of her slumbers.

When she awoke the sun was high.

A herdswoman, entering with the loud harsh clash of brazen pails, kicked her in the loins, and rated her furiously for daring to rest there. She arose at the kick, and went out from the place passively, not well knowing what she did.

The morning was warm and radiant; the earth and the trees were dripping with the rains of the night; the air was full of sweet odours, and of a delicious coldness. As far as she saw there was no token far or near of the gleaming cloud of the city of her dreams. She ventured to ask at a wayside cabin is she were near or far to Paris?

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The woman of the cottage looked up searchingly from the seat before the porch, and for answer cried to her: “Paris! pouf‐f‐f! get out, you drowned rat.”

She had lost for the time the mental force, and even the physical force, to resent or to persevere; she was weak with hunger and bewildered with her misery. She had only sense enough left to remember—and be thankful—that in the night that was past she had been strong.

The sun beat on her head, the road was hard, and sharp set with flint; she was full of pain, her brain throbbed with fever and reeled with weakness; a sudden horror seized her lest she might die before she had looked again on the face of Arslàn.

She saw the dusky shade of a green wood; by sheer instinct she crept into it as a stricken deer into its sanctuary.

She sat in the darkness of the trees in the coolness of the wood, and rested her head on her hands, and let the big salt tears drop one by one, as the death tears of the llama fall.

This was the young year round her; that she knew.

The winter had gone by; its many months had passed over her head whilst she was senseless to any flight of night or day; death might have taken the prey which it had once been robbed of by her; in all this weary season, which to her was as a blank, his old foes of failure and famine might have struggled for and vanquished him, she not being by; his body might lie in any plague‐ditch of the blameless poor, his hand might rot fleshless and nerveless in any pit where the world cast its useless and dishonoured dead; the mould of his brain might make a feast for eyeless worms, not more stone blind that was the human race he had essayed to serve; the beauty of his face might be a thing of loathsomeness from which a toad would turn. Oh, God! would death never take her likewise? Was she an outcast even from that one tribeless and uncounted nation of the dead?

That God whom she had loved, whom she had chosen, whose eyes had been so full of pity, whose voice had murmured: “Nay, the wise know me as man’s only friend”:—even he, Thanatos, had turned against her and abandoned her.

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Vague memories of things which she had heard in fable and tradition, of bodies accursed and condemned to wander for ever unresting and wailing of spirits, which for their curse were imprisoned in a living flesh that they could neither lose nor cast away so long as the world itself endured; creatures that the very elements had denied, and that were too vile for fire to burn, or water to drown, or steel to slay, or old age to wither, or death to touch and take in any wise. All these memories returned to her, and in her loneliness she wondered if she were such an one as these.

She did not know, indeed, that she had done any great sin; she had done none willingly, and yet all people called her vile, and they must know?

Even the old man, mocking her, had said:

“Never wrestle with Fate. He throws the strongest, soon or late. And your fate is shame; it was your birth gift, it will be your burial cloth. Can you cast if off? No. But you can make it potent as gold, and sweet as honey if you choose, Folle‐Farine.”

And she had not chosen; yet of any nobility in the resistance she did not dream. She had shut her heart to it by the unconscious instinct of strength, as she had shut her lips under torture, and shut her hand against gold.

She sat there in the wood, roofless, penniless, friendless, and every human creature was against her. Her temper had spoken only the bare and bleak truth. A dog stoned and chased and mad could be the only living thing on the face of the earth more wretched and more desolate than herself.

The sun of noon was bright above head in a cloudless sky, but in the little wood it was cool and shady, and had the moisture of a heavy morning dew. Millions of young leaves had uncurled themselves in the warmth. Little butterflies, some azure, some yellow, some white, danced in the light. Brown rills of water murmured under the grasses, the thrushes sang to one another through the boughs, and the lizard darted hither and thither, green as the arrowy leaves that made its shelter.

A little distance from her there was a group of joyous singers who looked at her from time to time, their laughter page: 442 hushing a little, and their simple carousal under the green boughs broken by a nameless chilliness and involuntary speculation. She did not note them, her face being bowed down upon her hands, and no sound of the thrushes’ song or of the human singers’ voices rousing her from the stupefaction of despair which drugged her senses.

They watched her long; her attitude did not change.

One of them at length rose up and went hesitating a step or two forwards; a girl with twinkling feet, clad gaily in bright colours, though the texture of her clothes was poor.

She went and touched the crouched sad figure, softly.

“Are you in trouble?”

The figure lifted its bowed head, its dark hopeless eyes.

“It is no matter, I am only—tired.”

“Are you all alone?”

“Yes.”

“Come and sit with us a moment. You are in the damp and the gloom; we are so pleasant and sunny there. Come.”

“You are good, but let me be.”

The blue‐eyed girl called to the others. They lazily rose and came.

“Heaven! she is handsome!” the men muttered to one another.

She looked straight at them all, and let them be.

“You are all alone?” they asked her again.

“Always,” she answered them.

“You are going—where?”

“To Paris.”

“What to do there?”

“I do not know.”

“You look wet—suffering—what is the matter?”

“I was nearly drowned last night—an accident—it is nothing.”

“Where have you slept?”

“In a shed: with some cattle.”

“Could yo get no shelter in a house?”

“I did not seek any.”

“What do you do? What is your work?”

“Anything—Nothing.”

“What is your name?”

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“Folle‐Farine.”

“That means the chaff;—less than the chaff;—the dust.”

“It means me.”

“They were silent, only bending on her their bright curious eyes.

They saw that she was unspeakably wretched; that some great woe or shock had recently fallen on her, and given her glance that startled horror and blanched her rich skin to an ashen pallor, and frozen, as it were, the very current of the young blood in her veins.

They were silent a little space. Then whispered together.

“Come with us,” they urged. “We too go to Paris. We are poor. We follow art. We will befriend you.”

She was deaf to them long; being timid and wild of every human thing. But they were urgent; they were eloquent; these young girls with their bright eyes; these men who spoke of art; these wanderers who went to the great city.

In the end they pressed on her their companionship. They too were going to Paris; they spoke of perils she would run, of vouchers she would need: she wondered at their charity, but in the end walked on with them—fearing the Red Mouse.

They were mirthful gentle people, so she thought; they said they followed art; they told her she could never enter Paris nameless and alone: so she went. The chief of the little troop watched wonderingly her step, her posture, her barbaric and lustrous beauty, brilliant still even through the pallor of grief and the weariness of fatigue; of these he had never seen the like before and he knew their almost priceless value in the world, and of the working classes and street mobs of Paris.

“Listen,” he said suddenly to her. “We shall play to‐night at the next town. Will you take a part?”

Walking along through the glades of the wood, lost in thought, she started at his voice.

“I do not know what you mean?”

“I mean—will you share yourself with us? We will give you no words. It will be quite easy. What money we make we divide amongst us. All you shall do shall be to page: 444 stand and be looked at—you are beautiful and you know it, no doubt?”

She made a weary sign of assent. Beautiful? What could it matter if she were so, or if she were not, what these men thought of it? The beauty that she owned, though so late a precious possession, a crown of glory to her, had lost all its fairness and all its wonder since it had been strengthless to bind to hers, the only heart in which she cared to rouse a throb of passion, since it had been unworthy to draw upon it with any lingering gaze of love the eyes of Arslàn.

He looked at her more closely; this was a strange creature, he thought, who being a woman and in her first youth could thus acknowledge her own loveliness with so much candour, yet so much indifference.

That afternoon they halted at a little town that stood in a dell across the fields, a small place lying close about a great church tower.

It was almost dusk when they entered it; but it was all alive with lights and shows, and trumpets and banners; it was the day of a great fair, and the merry‐go‐rounds were whirling, and the trades in gilded cakes and puppets of sugar were thriving fast, and the narrow streets were full of a happy and noisy peasant crowd.

As soon as the little troop entered the first street a glad cry rose.

They were well known and well liked there; the people clustered by dozens round them, the women greeting them with kisses, the children hugging the dogs, the men clamouring with invitations to eat and to drink and be merry.

They bade her watch them at their art in a rough wooden house outside the wine tavern.

She stood in the shadow and looked as they bade her, while the mimic life of their little stage began and lived its hour.

To the mind which had received its first instincts of art from the cold, lofty passionless creations of Arslàn, from the classic purity and from the divine conception of the old Hellenic ideal, the art of the comic stage could seem but poor and idle mimicry; gaudy and fragrantless as any painted rose of paper blossoming on a tinselled stem.

The crystal truthlessness, the barbaric liberty, the pure page: 445 idealism of her mind and temper revolted in contempt from the visible presentment and the vari‐coloured harlequinade of the comic actor’s art. To her, a note of song, a gleam of light, a shadowy shape, a veiled word, were enough to unfold to her passionate fancy a world of dreams, a paradise of faith and of desire; and for this very cause she shrank away, in amazement an disgust, from this realistic mockery of mere humanity, which left nothing for the imagination to create, which spoke no other tongue than the common language of human quips and jests. It could not touch her, it could not move her; it filled her,—so far as she could bring herself to think of it at all,—with a cold and wondering contempt.

“That is your art?” she said wearily to the actors when they came to her.

“Well, is it not art; and a noble one?”

A scornful shadow swept across her face.

“It is no art. It is human always. It is never divine. There is neither heaven nor hell in it. It is all earth.”

They were sharply stung.

“What has given you such thoughts as that?” they said, in their impatience and mortification.

“I have seen great things,” she said simply, and turned away and went out into the darkness, and wept,—alone.

She who had knelt at the feet of Thanatos, and who had heard the songs of Pan amidst the rushes by the river, and had listened to the charmed steps of Persephone amidst the flowers of the summer;—could she honour lesser gods than these?

“They may forget—they may forsake, and he likewise, but I never,” she thought.

If only she might live a little longer space to serve and suffer for them and for him still; of fate she asked nothing higher.

That night there was much money in the bag. The players pressed a share upon her; but she refused.

“Have I begged from you?” she said. “I have earned nothing.”

It was with exceeding difficulty that they ended in persuading her even to share their simple supper.

She took only bread and water, and sat and watched them curiously.

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The players were in high spirits; their chief ordered a stoup of bright wine, and made merry over it with gayer songs and louder laughter, and more frequent jests than even were his wont.

The men and women of the town came in and out with merry interchange of words. The youths of the little bourg chattered light amorous nonsense; the young girls smiled and chattered in answer; whilst the actors bantered them and made them a hundred love prophecies.

Now and then a dog trotted in to salute the players’ poodles; now and then the quaint face of a pig looked through the legs of its master.

The door stood open; the balmy air blew in; beyond, the stars shone in a cloudless sky.

She sat without in the darkness, where no light fell amongst the thick shroud of one of the blossoming boughs of pear trees, and now and then she looked and watched their laughter and companionship, and their gay and airy buffoonery, together there within the winehouse doors.

“All fools enjoy!” she thought; with that bitter wonder, that aching disdain, that involuntary injustice, with which the strong sad patience of a great nature surveys the mindless merriment of lighter hearts and brains more easily lulled into forgetfulness and content.

They came to her and pressed on her a draught of wine, a share of the food, a handful of the honeyed cates of their simple banquet; even a portion of their silver and copper pieces with which the little leathern sack of their receipts was full,—for once,—to the mouth.

She refused all: the money she threw passionately away.

“Am I a beggar?” she said, in her wrath.

She remained without in the gloom amongst the cool blossoming branches that swayed above‐head in the still night, while the carousal broke up and the peasants went on their way to their homes, singing along the dark streets, and the lights were put out in the wine‐house, and the trill of the grasshopper chirped in the fields around.

“You will die of damp, roofless in the open air this moonless night,” men, as they passed away, said to her in wonder.

“The leaves are roof enough for me,” she answered them: and stayed there with her head resting on the roll of her page: 447 sheepskin; wide‐awake through the calm dark hours; for a bed within she knew that she could not pay, and she would not let any charity purchase one for her.

At daybreak when the others rose she would only take from them the crust that was absolutely needful to keep life in her. Food seemed to choke her as it passed her lips,—since how could she tell but what his lips were parched dry with hunger or were blue and cold in death?

That morning, as they started, one of the two youths who bore their travelling gear and the rude appliances of their little stage upon his shoulders from village to village when they journeyed thus—being oftentimes too poor to permit themselves any other mode of transit and of porterage—fell lame and grew faint and was forced to lay down his burden by the roadside.

She raised the weight upon her back and head as she had been wont to do the weights of timber and of corn for the mill‐house and bore it onward.

In vain they remonstrated with her; she would not yield, but carried the wooden framework and the folded canvasses all through the heat and weariness of the noonday.

“You would have me eat of your supper last night. I will have you accept of my payment to‐day,” she said, stubbornly.

For this seemed to her a labour innocent and just, and even full of honour whatever men might say: had not Helios himself been bound as a slave in Thessaly?

They journeyed far that day, along straight sunlit highways, and under the shadows of green trees. The fields were green with the young corn and the young vines; the delicate plumes of the first blossoming lilacs nodded in their footsteps; the skies were blue; the earth was fragrant.

At noonday the players halted and threw themselves down beneath a poplar tree, in a wild rose thicket, to eat their noonday meal of bread and a green cress salad.

The shelter they had chosen was full of fragrance from rain drops still wet upon the grasses, and the budding rose vines. The hedge was full of honeysuckle and tufts of cowslips; the sun was warmer; the mild‐eyed cattle came and looked at them; little redstarts picked up their crumbs; from a white vine‐hung cottage an old woman brought them salt and wished them a fair travel.

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But her heart was sick and her feet weary, and she asked always,—“Where is Paris?”

At last they showed it her, that gleaming golden cloud upon the purple haze of the horizon.

She crossed her hands upon her beating breast, and thanked the gods that they had thus given her to behold the city of her dreams.

The chief of the mimes watched her keenly.

“You look at Paris,” he said after a time. “There you may be great if you will.”

“Great? I?”

She echoed the word with weary incredulity. She knew he could but mock at her.

“Aye,” he made answer seriously. “Even you! Why not? There is no dynasty that endures in that golden city save only one—the sovereignty of a woman’s beauty.”

She started and shuddered a little; she thought that she saw the Red Mouse stir amidst the grasses.

“I want no greatness,” she said slowly. “What should I do with it?”

For in her heart she thought:

“What would it serve me to be known to all the world and remembered by all the ages of men if he forget—forget quite?”

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