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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 494

CHAPTER XII.

IN the springtide of the year three reapers cut to the roots the reeds that grew by the river.

They worked at dawn; the skies were grey, the still and silvery stream flowed inward slowly; the air was filled with the dreamy scent of white fruit blossoms; in the hush of the daybreak the song of a lark thrilled the silence with music; under the sweep of the steel the reeds fell.

Resting from their labours with the rushes slain around them, they—looking idly within—saw her lying there beneath the gaze of the gods of oblivion.

The gleam of the gold on her limbs conquered their fear. They ventured in and looked on her, and timorously touched her and turned her face to the light of the coming day. Then they saw that she was dead.

“It is that evil thing of Yprès,” they muttered one to another; and stood looking at one and another and at her—afraid.

They spoke in whispers; they were sore afraid; it was still twilight.

“It were a righteous act to thrust her in a grave,” they murmured to each other at the last,—and paused.

“Ay, truly,” they agreed, “otherwise she may break the page: 495 bonds of Death and rise again and haunt us always; who can say? But the gold—”

And then they paused again.

“It were a sin,” one murmured, “it were a sin to bury the pure good gold in the darkness. Even if it come from hell—”

“The priests will bless it for us,” answered the other twain.

Against the darkened skies the lark was singing.

The three reapers waited a little, still afraid; then hastily, as men slaughter a thing they fear may rise against them, they stripped the white robes from her, and drew off the anklets of gold from her feet, and the chains of gold that were riven about her breast and limbs.

When they had stripped her body bare, they were stricken with a terror of the dead creature whom they had violated with their theft; and being consumed with dread lest any, as the day grew lighter, should pass by there and see what they had done, they went out in trembling haste, and together dug deep down into the wet sands, where the reeds grew, and dragged her naked body to the air, and thrust it down there, into its nameless grave, and covered it, and left it to the rising of the tide.

Then, with the gold, they hurried to their homes, leaving the reeds which they had reaped to wither in the sunrise.

The waters rose and smoothed the ruffled soil, and rippled in a sheet of silver over the shore, and effaced all traces of their work; so that no man knew this thing which they had done.

In her life as in her death she was nameless, friendless, and alone.

The reeds blew together by the river, now red in the daybreak, now white in the moonrise, and the winds sighed through them wearily, for they were songless, and the gods were dead.

The seasons came and went; the waters rose and sank; in the golden flowers of the willows the young birds made music with their wings; the soft‐footed things of brake and bush stole through the leaves, and drank at the edge of the stream, and fled away over the wet grey sand: the people passed down the slow current of the tides with lily‐sheaves of the flowering spring, with ruddy fruitage of the summer page: 496 meads, with yellow harvest of the autumn fields, passed singing, smiting the reapen rushes as they went.

But none paused there.

For Thanatos alone knew. Thanatos who watched by day and night the slain reeds sigh, fruitless and rootless, in the empty air; Thanatos, who by the cold, sad patience of his gaze, spake, saying:

“I am the only pity of the world. And even I,—to every mortal thing I come, too early, or too late.”

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