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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 473

CHAPTER VIII.

THE dawn grew into morning.

A day broke full of winds and of showers, with the dark masses of clouds tossed roughly hither and thither, and the bells of the steeples blown harshly out of time and tune, and the wet metal roofs glistening through a steam of rain.

The sleepers wakened of themselves or dreamed on as they might.

She had no memory of them.

She crouched in the gloom on his threshold, watching him.

He sank awhile into profound stupor, sitting there before his canvas, with his head dropped and his eyelids closed. Then suddenly a shudder ran through him; he awoke with a start, and shook off the lethargy which drugged him. He rose slowly to his feet, and looked at the open shutters, and saw that it was morning.

“Another day—another day!” he muttered, wearily; and he turned from the Barabbas and flung himself face forward on his bed of straw.

Towards the form on his threshold he had never looked.

She sat without and waited.

Waited—for what? She did not know. She did not dare even to steal to him and touch his hand with even such a timid caress as a beaten dog ventures to give the hand of the master who has driven it from him.

For even a beaten dog is a creature less humble and timid than a woman that loves and whose love is rejected.

He took up a palette ready set, and went to a blank space of canvas and began to cover it with shapes and shadows on the unconscious creative instinct of the surcharged brain. Faces and foilage, beasts and scrolls, the heads of gods, the folds of snakes, forms of women rising from flames and clouds, the flowers of Paradise blossoming amidst the corruption and tortures of Antenora. All were cast in confusion, wave on wave, shape on shape, horror page: 474 with loveliness, air with flame, heaven with hell, in all the mad tumult of an artist’s dream.

With a curse he flung his brushes from him, and cast himself face downward on his bed of straw.

The riot of fever was in his blood. Famine, sleepless nights, opiates with which he had lulled the pangs of vain desires, unnatural defiance of all passions and all joys, the pestilence rife in the crowded quarter of the poor,—all these had done their work upon him. He had breathed in the foul air of plague‐stricken places, unconscious of its peril; he had starved his body, reckless of the flight of time; he had consumed his manhood in one ceaseless, ruthless, and absorbing sacrifice; and Nature, whom he had thus outraged, and thought to outrage with impunity as mere bestial feebleness, took her vengeance on him and cast him here, and mocked him, crying:—

“A deathless name?—Oh, madman. A little breath on the mouths of men in all the ages to come?—Oh, fool! Hereafter, you cry? —oh, fool!—heaven and earth may eart hmay pass away, like a scroll that is burnt into ashes, and the future you live for may never come—neither for you nor the world. What you may gain—who shall say? But all you have missed, I know. And no man shall scorn me—and pass unscathed.”

There came an old lame woman by, laboriously bearing a load of firewood. She passed beside the threshold.

“You look yonder,” she said, resting her eyes on the stranger crouching on the threshold. “Are you anything to that man?”

Silence only answered her.

“He has no friends,” muttered the cripple. “No human being has ever come to him; and he has been here many months. He will be mad—very soon. I have seen it before. Those men do not die. Their bodies are too strong. But their brains go,—look you. And their brains go, and yet they live—to fourscore and ten many a time—shut up and manacled like wild beasts.”

Folle‐Farine shivered where she crouched in the shadow of the doorway; she still said nothing.

The crone mumbled on indifferent of answer, and yet pitiful, gazing into the chamber.

“I have watched him often; he is fair to look at—one page: 475 is never too old to care for that. All winter, spring, and summer he has lived so hard:—so cold too and so silent—painting that strange thing yonder. He looks like a king—he lives like a beggar. The picture was his god,—see you. And no doubt he has set his soul on fame—men will. All the world is mad. One day in the spring time it was sent somewhere—that great thing yonder on the tressels,—to be seen by the world, no doubt. And whoever its fate lay with would not see any greatness in it, or else no eyes would look. It came back as it went. No doubt they knew best;—in the world. That was in the spring of the year. He has been like this ever since. Walking most nights;—starving most days;—I think. But he is always silent.”

The speaker raised her pails and went slowly, muttering as she limped down each steep stair:

“There must hang a crown of stars, I suppose—somewhere—since so many of them for ever try to reach one. But all they ever get here below is a crown of straws in a madhouse.”

“The woman says aright,” the voice of Sartorian murmured low against her ear. She had forgotten that he was near from the first moment that her eyes had once more fed themselves upon the face of Arslàn.

“The woman says aright,” he echoed softly. “ This man will perish; his body may not die, but his brain will—surely. And yet for his life you would give yours?”

She looked up with a gleam of incredulous hope; she was yet so ignorant; she thought there might yet be ways by which one life could buy another’s from the mercy of earth, from the pity of heaven.

“Ah!” she murmured with a swift soft trembling eagerness. “If the gods would but remember!—and take me instead. But they forget—they forget always.

He smiled.

“Ay, truly, the gods forget. But if you would give yourself to death for him, why not do a lesser thing?—give your beauty—Folle‐Farine.”

A scarlet flush burnt her from head to foot. For once she mistook his meaning. She thought—how could a beauty that he who perished there had scorned, have rarity or grace in those cold eyes, or force or light enough to lure him from his grave?

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The low melody of the voice in her ear flowed on.

“See you—what he lacks is only the sinew that gold gives. What he has done is great. The world rightly seeing must fear it; and fear is the highest homage the world ever gives. But he is penniless; and he has many foes; and jealousy can with so much ease thrust aside the greatness which it fears into obscurity, when that greatness is marred by the failures and the feebleness of poverty. Genius scorns the power of gold: it is wrong; gold is the war scythe on its chariot, which mows down the millions of its foes and gives free passage to the sun‐coursers, with which it leaves those heavenly fields of light for the gross battle‐fields of earth.”

“You were to give that gold,” she muttered, in her throat.

“Nay, not so. I was to set him free: to find his fame or his grave; as he might. He will soon find one, no doubt. Nay; you would make no bond with me, Folle‐Farine. You scorned my golden pear. Otherwise—how great his genius is! That cruel scorn, that burning colour, that ice‐like coldness! If the world could be brought to see them once aright, the world would know that no powers greater than these have been amongst it for many ages. But who shall force the world to look?—who? It is so deaf, so slow of foot, so blind, unless the film before its eyes be opened by gold.”

He paused and waited.

She watched silent on the threshold there.

The cruel skill of his words cast on her all the weight of this ruin which they watched.

Her love must need be weak, her pledge to the gods must needs be but imperfectly redeemed, since she, who had bade them let her perish in his stead, recoiled from the lingering living death of any shame, if such could save him.

The sweet voice of Sartorian murmured on:

“Nay; it were easy. He has many foes. He daunts the world and scourges it. Men hate him, and thrust him into oblivion. Yet it were easy!—a few praises to the powerful, a few bribes to the base, and yonder thing once lifted up in the full light of the world, would make him great—beyond any man’s dispute—for ever. I could do it, page: 477 almost in a day; and he need never know. But then you are not tired,—Folle‐Farine!”

She writhed from him, as the doe struck to the ground writhes from the hounds at her throat.

“Kill me!” she muttered. “Will not that serve you? Kill me—and save him!”

Sartorian smiled.

“Ah! you are but weak, after all, Folle‐Farine. You would die for that man’s single sake—so you say; and yet it is not him whom you love. It is yourself. If this passion of yours were great and pure, as you say, would you pause? Could you ask yourself twice if what you think your shame would not grow noble and pure beyond all honour, being embraced for his sake? Nay; you are weak, like all your sex. You would die, so you say. To say it is easy; but to live, that were harder. You will not sacrifice yourself—so. And yet it were greater far, Folle‐Farine, to endure for his sake in silence one look of his scorn, than to brave, in visionary phrase, the thrusts of a thousand daggers, the pangs of a thousand deaths. Kill you!—vain words cost but little. But to save him by sacrifice that he shall never acknowledge; to reach a heroism which he shall ever regard as cowardice; to live and see him pass you by in cold contempt, while in your heart you shut your secret, and know that you have given him his soul’s desire, and saved the genius in him from a madman’s cell and from a pauper’s grave—ah! that is beyond you; beyond any woman perhaps. And yet your love seemed great enough almost to reach such a height as this, I thought.”

He looked at her once, then turned away.

He left in her soul the barbed sting of remorse. He had made her think her faith, her love, her strength, her sinless force, were but the cowardly fruit of cruellest self‐love, that dared all things in words,—yet in action failed.

To save him by any martyrdom of her body or her soul, so she had sworn; yet now!— Suddenly she seemed base to herself, and timorous, and false.

When daybreak came fully over the roofs of the city, it found him senseless, sightless, dying in a garret: the only freedom that he had reached was the delirious liberty of the brain, which, in its madness, casts aside all bonds of time and place and memory and reason.

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All the day she watched beside him, there, amidst the brazen clangour of the bells and scream of the rough winds above the roofs.

In the gloom of the place, the burning colour of the great canvas of Jerusalem glowed in s wondrous pomp and power against all the grey, cold poverty of that wretched place. And the wanton laughed with her lover on the housetop; and the thief clutched the rolling gold; and the children lapped the purple steam of wasted wine; and the throngs flocked after the thief, whom they had elected for their god; and ever and again a stray flickering ray of light flashed from the gloom of the desolate chamber, and struck upon it till it glowed like flame;—this mighty parable, whereby the choice of the people was symbolised for all time; the choice eternal, which never changes, but for ever turns from all diviner life to grovel in the dust before the Beast.

The magnificence of thought, the glory of imagination, the radiance of colour which the canvas held, served only to make more naked, more barren, more hideous the absolute desolation which reigned around. Not one grace, not one charm, not one consolation had been left to the life of the man who had sacrificed all things to the inexorable tyranny of his genius. Destitution, in its ghastliest and most bitter meaning, was alone his recompense and portion. Save a few of the tools and pigments of his art, and a little opium in a broken glass, there was nothing there to stand between him and utter famine.

When her eyes had first dwelt upon him lying senseless under the gaze of the gods, he had not been more absolutely destitute than he was now. The hard sharp outlines of his fleshless limbs, the sunken temples, the hollow cheeks, the heavy respiration which spoke each breath a pang,—all these told their story with an eloquence more cruel than lies in any words.

He had dared to scourge the world without gold in his hand wherewith to bribe it to bear his stripes; and the world had been stronger than he, and had taken its vengeance, and had cast him here powerless.

All the day through she watched beside him—watched the dull mute suffering of stupor, which was only broken by fierce unconscious words muttered in the unknown page: 479 tongue of his birth country. She could give him no aid, no food, no succour; she was the slave of the poorest of the poor; she had not upon her even so much as a copper piece to buy a crust of bread, a stoup of wine, a little cluster of autumn fruit to cool his burning lips. She had nothing,—she, who in the world of men had dared to be strong, and to shut her lips, and to keep her hands clean, and her feet straight; she, whose soul had been closed against the Red Mouse.

If she had gone down amongst the dancing throngs, and rioted with them, and feasted with them, and lived vilely, they would have hung her breast with gems, and paved her path with gold. That she knew; and she could have saved him.

Where she kneeled beside his bed she drew his hands against her heart—timidly, lest consciousness should come to him and he should curse her and drive her thence;—and laid her lips on them, and bathed them in the scorching dew of her hot tears, and prayed him to pardon her if it had been weakness in her,—if it had been feebleness and self‐pity thus to shrink from any abasement, any vileness, any martyrdom, if such could have done him service.

She did not know; she felt astray and blind, and full of guilt. It might be—so she thought—that it was thus the gods had tested her; thus they had bade her suffer shame to give him glory; thus they had tried her strength,—and found her wanting.

Herself, she was so utterly nothing in her own sight, and he was so utterly all in all; her life was a thing so undesired and so valueless, and his a thing so great and so measureless in majesty, that it seemed to her she might have erred in thrusting away infamy, since infamy would have brought with it gold to serve him.

Dignity, innocence, strength, pride—what right had she to these, what title had she to claim them—she who had been less than the dust from her birth upward?

To perish for him anyhow—that was all that she had craved in prayer of the gods. And she watched him now all through the bitter day; watched him dying of hunger, of fever, of endless desire, of continual failure,—and was helpless. More helpless even than she had been when first she had claimed back his life from Thanatos.

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Seven days she watched thus by him amidst the metal clangour of the bells, amidst the wailing of the autumn winds between the roofs.

She moistened his lips with a little water: it was all he took. A few times she left him and stole down amidst the people whom she had served, and was met by a curse from most of them; for they thought that she tended some unknown fever which she might bring amidst them, so they drove her back and would hear naught of her. A few, more pitiful than the rest, flung her twice or thrice a little broken bread; she took it eagerly, and fed on it, knowing that she must keep life in her by some food, or leave him utterly alone. For him she had laid down all pride; for him she would have kissed the feet of the basest or sued to the lowest for alms.

And when the people—whose debts to her she had often forgiven, and whom she had once fancied had borne her a little love—drove her from them with harshest reviling, she answered nothing, but dropped her head and turned and crept again up the winding stairs to kneel beside his couch of straw, and wonder, in the bewildered anguish of her aching brain, if indeed evil were good,—since evil alone could save him.

Seven days went by; the chimes of the bells blown on the wild autumn winds in strange bursts of jangled sound; the ceaseless murmur of the city’s crowd surging ever on the silence from the far depths below; sunrise and moonrise following one another with no change in the perishing life that she alone guarded, whilst every day the light that freshly rose upon the world found the picture of the Barabbas, and shone on the god rejected and the thief adored.

Every night during those seven days the flute‐like voice of her tempter made hated music to her ear. It asked always,—

“Are you tired,—Folle‐Farine?”

Her ears were always deaf; her lips were always dumb.

On the eigth night Sartorian paused a little longer by her in the gloom.

“He dies there,” he said, slowly resting his tranquil musing gaze upon the bed of straw. “It is a pity. So little would save him still. A little wine, a little fruit, a page: 481 little skill,—his soul’s desire when his sense returns. So little—and he would live, and he would be great; and the Barabbas would scourge the secret sins of the nations, and the nations, out of very fear and very shame, would lift their voices loud and hail him prophet and seer.”

Her strength was broken as she heard. She turned and flung herself in supplication at his feet.

“So little—so little; and you hold your hand!”

Sartorian smiled.

“Nay; you hold your silence, Folle‐Farine.”

She did not move; her upraised face spoke without words the passion of her prayer.

“Save him!—save him! So little, so you say; and the gods will not hear.”

“The gods are all dead,—Folle‐Farine.”

“Save him! You are as a god! Save him!”

“I am but a mortal,—Folle‐Farine. Can I open the gates of the tomb, or close them?”

“You can save him,—for you have gold.”

He smiled still.

“Ah! you learn at last that there is but one god? You have been slow to believe,—Folle‐Farine.”

She clung to him; she writhed around him; she kissed with her soilless lips the base dust at his feet.

“You hold the keys of the world; you can save the life of his body; you can give him the life of his soul. You are a beast, a devil, a thing foul and unclean, and without mercy, and cruel as a lie; and therefore you are the thing that men follow, and worship, and obey. I know!—I know! You can save him if you will!”

She laughed where she was stretched upon the ground, a laugh that stayed the smile upon his mouth.

He stooped, and the sweetness of his voice was low and soft as the south wind.

“I will save him, if you say that you are tired,—Folle‐Farine.”

Where she was stretched face downward at his feet she shuddered, as though the folds of a snake curled round her, and stifled her, and slew her with a touch.

“I cannot!” she muttered faintly in her throat.

“Then let him die!” he said; and turned away.

Once again he smiled,—and left her.

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The hours passed; she did not move; stretched there, she wrestled with her agony as the fate‐pursued wrestled with their doom on the steps of the temple, while the dread Eumenides drew round them and waited—waiting in cold patience for the slow sure end.

She arose and went to Arslàn’s side as a dying beast in the public roadway under a blow staggers to its feet to breathe its last.

“Let him die!” she muttered, with lips dry as the lips of the dead. “Let him die!”

Once more the choice was left to her. So men said: and the gods were dead.

An old creature, with a vulture’s eyes and bony fingers, and rags that were plague‐stricken with the poisons of filth and of disease, had followed and looked at her in the doorway, and kicked her where she lay.

“He owes me twenty days for the room,” he muttered, while his breath scorched her throat with the fumes of drink. “A debt is a debt. To‐morrow I will take the canvas; it will do to burn. You shiver?—fool! If you chose, you could fill this garret with gold this very night. But you love this man, and so you let him perish while you prate of ‘shame.’ Oh‐ho! that is a woman!”

He went away through the blackness and the stench, muttering, as he struck his staff upon each stair:

“The picture will feed the stove; the law will give me that.”

She heard and shivered, and looked at the bed of straw, and on the great canvas of the Barabbas.

Before another day had come and gone, he would lie in the common ditch of the poor, and the work of his hand would be withered, as a scroll withers in a flame.

If she tried once more? If she sought human pity, human aid? Some deliverance, some mercy,—who could say? —might yet be found, she thought. The gods were dead; but men—were they all more wanton than the snake, more cruel than the scorpion?

For the first time in seven days she left his side to go forth into the living world.

She rose and staggered for the garret, down the stairway, into the lower stories of the wilderness of wood and stone.

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She traced her way blindly to the places she had known. They closed their doors in haste, and fled from her in terror.

They had heard that she had gone to tend some madman plague‐stricken with some nameless fever; and those wretched lives to life clung closely, with a frantic love.

One woman she stayed, and held with timid, eager hands. Of this woman she had taken nothing all the summer long in wage for waking her tired eyes at daybreak.

“Have pity!” she muttered. “You are poor, indeed, I know; but help me. He dies there!”

The woman shook her off and shrank.

“Get you gone,” she cried. “My little child will sicken if you breathe on her!”

The others said the same, some less harshly, some more harshly. Twice or thrice they added:

“You beg of us, and send the jewels back? Go and be wise. Make your harvest of gold whist you can. Reap while you may in the yellow fields with the sharp sure sickle of youth!”

Not one amongst them braved the peril of a touch of pity; not one amongst them asked the story of her woe; and when the little children ran to her their mothers plucked them back, and cried:

“Art mad? She is plague‐stricken.”

She went from them in silence, and left them and passed out into the open air.

In all this labyrinth of roofs, in all these human herds she yet thought, “Surely there must be some who pity?”

For even yet she was so young; and even yet she knew the world so little.

She went out into the streets.

Her brain was on fire, and her heart seemed frozen; her lips moved without sound, and unconsciously shaped the words which night and day pursued her, “A little gold—a little gold!”

So slight a thing, they said, and yet high above reach as Aldebaran, when it glistened through the storm wrack of the rain.

Why could he have not been content, as she had been, with the rush of the winds over the plains, the strife of the flood and the hurricane, the smell of the fruit‐hung ways at night, the cool green shadows of the summer woods, the page: 484 courses of the clouds, the rapture of the keen air blowing from the sea, the flight of a bird over the tossing poppies, the day song of the lark,—all these were life enough for her; were freedom, loveliness, companionship, and solace. Ah, God! she thought, if only these had made the world of his desires likewise. And even in her ghastlier grief her heart sickened for them in vain anguish as she went—these the pure joys of earth and air which were her only heritage.

She went out into the streets.

It was a night of wind and rain.

The lamps flickered through the watery darkness. Beggars and thieves and harlots jostled her in the narrow ways.

“It must be Hell—the hell of the Christians,” she muttered, as she stood alone on the flints of the roads, in the rancid smell, in the hideous riot, in the ghastly mirth, in the choking stench, in the thick steam of the darkness, whose few dull gleams of yellow light served to show the false red on a harlot’s cheek, or the bleeding wound on a crippled horse, or the reeling dance of a drunkard.

It was the hell of the Christians: in it there was no hope for her.

She moved on with slow unconscious movement of her limbs; her hair blew back, her eyes had a pitiless wonder in their vacant stare; her bloodless face had the horror in it that Greek sculptors gave to the face of those whom a relentless destiny pursued and hunted down; ever and again she looked back as she went, as though some nameless, shapeless, unutterable horror were behind her in her steps.

The people called her mad, and laughed and hooted her; when they had any space to think of her at all.

“A little food, a little wine, for pity’s sake,” she murmured; for her own needs she had never asked a crust in charity, but for his,—she would have kissed the mud from the feet of any creature who would have had thus much of mercy.

In answer they only mocked her, some struck her int he palm of her outstretched hand. Some called her by foul names; some seized her with a drunken laugh, and cursed her as she writhed from their lewd hold; some, and these often women, whispered to her of the bagnio and the brothel; some muttered against her as a thief; one, a youth, who gave her the gentlest answer that she had, page: 485 murmured in her ear, “a beggar? with that face? come tarry with me to‐night.”

She went on through the sulphurous yellow gare, and the poisonous steam of these human styes, shuddering from the hands that grasped, the voices that wooed her, the looks that ravished her, the laughs that mocked her.

It was the hell of the Christians; it was a city at midnight; and its very stones seemed to arise and give tongue in her derision and cry, “Oh, fool, you dreamt of a sacrifice which should be honour; of a death, which should be release; of a means whereby through you the world should hear the old songs of the gods? Oh, fool! We are Christians here: and we only gather the reeds of the river to bruise them and break them, songless and dead, in the name of our Lord.”

She stumbled on through the narrow ways.

After a little space they widened, and the lights multiplied, and through the rushing rains she saw the gay casements of the houses of pleasure.

On a gust of wind there came a breath of fragrance from a root of autumn blossom in a balcony. The old sweet woodland smell smote her as with a blow; the people in the street looked after her.

“She is mad,” they said to one another, and went onward.

She came to a broad place, which even in that night of storm was still a blaze of fire, and seemed to her to laugh through all its marble mask, and all its million eyes of golden light. A cruel laugh which mocked and said:

“The seven chords of the lyre; who listens, who cares, who has ears to hear? But the rod of wealth all women kiss, and to its rule all men crawl; for ever. You dreamt to give him immortality?—fool! Give him gold—give him gold! We are Christians here: and we have but one God.”

Under one of the burning cressets of flame there was a slab of stone on which were piled, bedded in leaves, all red and gold, with pomp of autumn, the fruit of the vine in great clear pyramids of white and purple; tossed there so idly in such profusion from the past vintage time, that a copper coin or two could buy a feast for half a score of months. Some of the clusters rotted already from their over ripeness.

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She looked at them with the passionate woful eyes of a dog mad with thirst, which can see water and yet cannot reach it. She leaned towards them, she caught their delicious coldness in her burning hands, she breathed in their old familiar fragrance with quick convulsive breath.

“He dies there!” she muttered, lifting her face to the eyes of the woman guarding her. “He dies there; would you give me a little cluster, ever such a little one, to cool his mouth, for pity’s sake?”

The woman thrust her away, and raised, shrill and sharp through all the clamour of the crowd, the cry of thief.

A score of hands were stretched to seize her, only the fleetness of her feet saved her. She escaped from them, and as a hare flies to her form, so she fled to the place whence she came.

She had done all she could; she had made one effort, for his sake; and all living creatures had repulsed her. None would believe; none would pity; none would hear. Her last strength was broken, her last faint hope had failed.

In her utter wretchedness she ceased to wonder, she ceased to revolt, she accepted the fate which all men told her was her heritage and portion.

“It was I who was mad,” she thought, “so mad, so vain, to dream that I might ever be chosen as the reed was chosen. If I can save him, anyhow, what matter, what matter for me?”

She went back to the place where he lay—dying, unless help came to him. She climbed the stairway, and stole through the foulness and the darkness of the winding ways, and retraced her steps, and stood upon his threshold.

She had been absent but one hour; yet already the last, most abject, most wretched penalty of death had come to him. They robbed him in his senselessness.

The night was wet. The rain dropped through the roof. The rats fought on the floor and climbed the walls. The broken lattice blew to and fro with every gust of wind.

A palsied crone, with ravenous hands; sheared the locks of his fair hair, muttering, “They will fetch a stoup of brandy; and they would take them to‐morrow in the dead‐house.”

The old man who owned the garret crammed into a wallet such few things of metal, or of wood, or of paper, as page: 487 were left in the utter poverty of the place, muttering as he gathered the poor shreds of art, “They will do to burn; they will do to burn. At sunrise I will get help and carry the great canvas down.”

The rats hurried to their holes at the light; the hag let fall her shears, and fled through an opening in the wall.

The old man looked up and smiled with a ghastly leer upon her in the shadows.

“To‐morrow I will have the great canvas,” he said, as he passed out, bearing his wallet with him. “And the students will give me a silver bit, for certain, for that fine corpse of his. It will make good work for their knives and their moulding‐clay. And he will be dead to‐morrow;—dead, dead.”

And he grinned in her eyes as he passed her. A shiver shook her; she said nothing; it seemed to her as though she would never speak again.

She set down her lamp, and crossed the chamber, and kneeled down beside the straw that made his bed.

She was quite calm.

She knew that the world gave her one chance—one only. She knew that men alone reigned, and that the gods were dead.

She flung herself beside him on the straw and wound her arms about him, and laid his head to rest upon her heart; one moment—he would never know.

Between them there would be for ever silence. He would never know.

Greatness would come to him, and the dominion of gold; and the work of his hands would pass amidst the treasures of the nations; and he would live and arise and say, “the desire of my heart is mine,”—and yet he would never know that one creature had so loved him that she had perished more horribly than by death to save him.

If he lived to the uttermost years of man, he would never know how, body and soul, she had passed away to destruction for his sake.

To die for him!

She laughed to think how sweet and calm such sacrifice as that had been.

Amidst the folded lilies, on the white waters, as the moon rose,—she laughed to think how she had sometimes dreamed page: 488 to slay herself in such tender summer peace for him. That was how women perished when men loved, and loved enough to die with them, their lips upon each other’s to the last. But she—

Death in peace; sacrifice in honour; a little memory in a human heart; a little place in a great hereafter; there were things too noble for her—so they said.

A martyrdom in shame; a life in ignominy—these were all to which she might aspire—so they said.

Upon his breast women would sink to sleep; amongst his hair their hands would wander, and on his mouth their sighs would spend themselves. Shut in the folded leaves of the unblossomed years some dreams of passion and some flower of love must lie for him—that she knew.

She loved him with that fierce and envious force which grudged the wind its privilege to breathe upon his lips, the earth its right to bear his footsteps, which was for ever jealous of the mere echo of his voice, avaricious of the mere touch of his hand. And when she gave him to the future, she gave him to other eyes, that would grow blind with passion, meeting his; to other forms, that would burn with sweetest shame beneath his gaze; to other lives, whose memories would pass with his to the great Hereafter, made immortal by his touch: all these she gave, she knew.

Almost it was stronger than her strength. Almost she yielded to the desire which burned in her to let him die,—and die there with him,—and so hold him for ever hers, and not the world’s; his and none other’s in the eternal unison of the grave, so that with hers his beauty should be consumed, and so that with hers his beauty should be shut from human sight, and the same corruption feed together on their hearts.

Almost she yielded; but the greatness of her love was stronger than its vileness, and its humility was more perfect than its cruelty.

It seemed to her,—mad, and bruised, and stunned with her misery,—that for a thing so worthless and loveless and despised as she to suffer the deadliest shame to save a life so great as his was, after all, a fate more noble than she could have hoped.

For her—what could it matter?—a thing baser than the dust,—whether the feet of men trampled her in scorn a page: 489 little more, a little less, before she sank away into the eternal night wherein all things are equal and all things forgotten?

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