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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 63

BOOK II.

“Yo contra todos, y todos contra yo.”

CHAPTER I.

THE hottest sun of a hot summer shone on a straight dusty road. An old man was breaking stones by the wayside; he was very old, very bent, very lean, worn by ninety years if he had been worn by one; but he struck yet with a will, and the flints flew in a thousand pieces under his hammer, as though the youth and the force of nineteen years instead of ninety were at work on them.

When the noon bell rang from a little odd straight steeple, with a slanting roof, that peered out of the trees to the westward, he laid his hammer aside, threw off his brass‐plated cap, wiped his forehead of its heat and dust, sat down on his pile of stones, and took out hard black crust and munched it with teeth that were still strong and white.

The noontide was very quiet; the heat was intense, for there had been no rainfall for several weeks; there was one lark singing high up in the air, with its little breast lifted to the sun; but all the other birds were mute and invisible, doubtless hidden in some delicious shadow, swinging drowsily on tufts of linden bloom, or underneath the roofing of broad chestnut leaves.

The road on either side was lined by the straight forms of endless poplars, standing side by side as sentinels. The fields were all ablaze on every acre with the gold of ripening corn or mustard, and the scarlet flame of innumerable poppies. Here and there they were broken by some little house, white or black, or painted in bright colours, which lifted up amongst its leaves a little tower like a sugar‐loaf page: 64 or a carved gable, and a pointed arch beneath it. Now and then they were divided by rows of trees standing breathless in the heat, or breadths of apple orchards, some with early fruits already ripe, some with fruits as yet green as their foliage.

Through it all the river ran, silver in the light; with shallow fords, where the deep‐flanked bullocks drank; and ever and anon an ancient picturesque bridge of wood, time‐bronzed and moss‐embroidered.

The old man did not look round once; he had been on these roads a score of years; the place had to him the monotony and colourlessness which all long familiar scenes wear to the eyes that are weary of them.

He was ninety‐five; he had to labour for his living; he ate black bread; he had no living kith or kin; no friend save in the mighty legion of the dead; and he sat in the scorch of the sun; he hated the earth and the sky, the air and the landscape: why not? They had no loveliness for him; he only knew that the flies stung him and that the red ants could crawl through the holes in his shoes, and bite him sharply with their little piercing teeth.

He sat in such shade as the tall lean poplar gave, munching his hard crusts; he had a fine keen profile and a long white beard that were thrown out as sharply as a sculpture against the golden sunlight, in which the gnats were dancing. His eyes were fastened on the dust as he ate; blue piercing eyes that had still something of the fire of their youth; and his lips under the white hair moved a little now and then, half audibly.

His thoughts were with the long dead years of an unforgotten time—a time that will be remembered as long as the earth shall circle round the sun.

With the present he had nothing to do; he worked to satisfy the lingering cravings of a body that age seemed to have lost all power to kill; he worked because he was too much of a man still to beg, and because suicide looked to his fancy like a weakness, but life for all that was over with him; life in the years of his boyhood had been a thing so splendid, so terrible, so drunken, so divine, so tragic, so intense, that the world seemed now to him to have grown pale and grey and pulseless, with no sap in its veins, no hue in its suns, no blood in its humanity.

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For his memory held the days of Thermidor; the weeks of the White Terror; the winter dawn, when the drums rolled out a King’s threnody; the summer nights, when all the throats of Paris cried “Marengo!”

He had lived in the wondrous awe of that abundant time when every hour was an agony or a victory; when every woman was a martyr or a bacchanal; when the same scythe that had severed the flowering grasses served also to cleave the fair breasts of the mother, the tender throat of the child; when the ground was purple with the blue blood of men as with the juices of out‐trodden grapes, and when the waters were white with the bodies of virgins as with the moon‐fed lilies of summer. And how he sat here by the wayside, in the dust and the sun, only feeling the sting of the fly and the bite of the ant; and the world seemed dead to him, because so long ago, though his body still lived on, his soul and had cursed God and died.

Through the golden notes of the dancing air and of the quivering sunbeams, whilst high above the lark sang on, there came along the road a girl.

She was bare‐footed and bare‐throated, lithe of movement, and straight and supple, as one who passed her life on the open lands and was abroad in all changes of the weather.

She walked with the free and fearless measure of the country women of Rome or the desert‐born women of Nubia; she had barely entered his sixteenth year; but her bosom and limbs were full and firm, and moulded with almost the luxuriant splendor of maturity; her head was not covered after the fashion of the country, but had a scarlet kerchief wound about, and on it she bore a great flat basket, filled high with fruits and herbs and flowers; a mass of colour and of blossom, through whose leaves and tendrils her dark level brows and her great eyes, blue black as a tempestuous night, looked out, set straight against the sun.

She came on, treading down the dust with her long and slender feet, that were such feet as a sculptor would give his Cleopatra or his Phryne. Her face was grave, shadowed, even fierce; and her mouth, though scarlet as a berry and full and curled, had its lips pressed close to one another, page: 66 like the lips of one who has long kept silence, and may keep it—until death.

As she saw the old man her eyes changed and lightened with a smile which for the moment banished all the gloom and savage patience from her eyes, and made them mellow and lustrous as a southern sun.

She paused before him, and spoke, showing her beautiful white teeth, small and even, like rows of cowrie shells.

“You are well, Marcellin?”

The old man started, and looked up with a certain gladness on his own keen visage, which had lost all expression save such as an intense and absorbed retrospection will lend.

“Fool!” he made answer, harshly yet not unkindly. “When will you know that so long as an old man lives so long it cannot be ‘well’ with him?”

“Need one be a man, or old, to answer so?”

She spoke in the accent and the language of the province, but with a voice rich and pure and cold; not the voice of the north, or of any peasantry. She put her basket down from off her head, and leaned against the trunk of the poplar beside him, crossing her arms upon her bare chest.

“To the young everything is possible; to the old nothing,” he said curtly.

Her eyes gleamed with a fierce thirsty longing; she made him no reply.

He broke off half his dry bread and tendered it to her. She shook her head and motioned it away; yet she was as hungered as any hawk that has hunted all through the night and the woods, and has killed nothing. The growing life, the superb strength, the lofty stature of her made her need constant nourishment, as young trees need it; and she was fed as scantily as a blind beggar’s dog, and less willingly than a galley slave.

The kindly air had fed her richly, strongly, continually; that was all.

“Possible!” she said slowly, after awhile. “What is possible? I do not understand.”

The old man, Marcellin, smiled grimly.

“You see that lark? It soars there, and sings there. It is possible that a fowler may hide in the grasses; it is possible that it may be shot as it sings; it is possible that page: 67 it may have the honour to die in agony to grace a rich man’s table. You see?”

She mused a moment; her brain was rapid in intuitive perception, but barren of all culture; it took her many moments to follow the filmy track of a metaphorical utterance. But by degrees she saw his meaning, and the shadow settled over her face again.

“The possible, then, is only—the worse?” she said slowly.

The old man smiled still grimly.

“Nay; our friends the priests say there is a ‘possible’ which will give—one day—the fowler who kills the lark the wings of the lark, and the lark’s power to sing Laus Deo in heaven. I do not say—they do.”

“The priests!”

All the scorn of which her curved lips were capable curled on them, and a deep hate gathered in her eyes—a hate that was unfathomable and mute.

“Then there is no ‘possible’ for me,” she said bitterly, “if so be that priests hold the gifts of it?”

Marcellin looked up at her from under his bushy white eyebrows; a glance fleet and keen as the gleam of blue steel.

“Yes, there is,” he said curtly. “You are a woman child, and have beauty: the devil will give you one.”

“Always the devil!” she muttered. There was impatience in her echo of the words, and yet there was an awe also as of one who uses a name that is mighty and full of majesty, although familiar.

“Always the devil!” repeated Marcellin. “For the world is always of men.”

His meaning this time lay too deep for her, and passed her; she stood leaning against the poplar, with her head bent and her form motionless in the sunlight like a statue of bronze.

“If men be devils they are my brethren,” she said suddenly: “why do they then so hate me?”

The old man stroked his beard.

“Because Fraternity is Hate. Cain said so; but God would not believe him.”

She mused over the saying; silent still.

The lark dropped down from heaven, suddenly falling page: 68 through the air, mute. It had been struck by a sparrow‐hawk, which flashed black against the azure of the skies and the white haze of the atmosphere; and which flew down in the track of the lark and seized it ere it gained the shelter of the grass and bore it away within his talons.

Marcellin pointed to it with his pipe‐stem.

“You see there are many forms of the ‘possible’”—

“When it means Death,” she added.

The old man took his pipe back and smoked.

“Of‐course—Death is the key‐note of creation.”

Again she did not comprehend; a puzzled pain clouded the lustre of her eyes.

“But the lark praised God—why should it be so dealt with?”

Marcellin smiled grimly.

“Abel was praising God; but that did not turn aside the steel.”

She was silent yet again; he had told her that old story of the sons born of Eve, and the one whom, hearing it, she had understood and pitied had been Cain.

At that moment, through the roadway that wound across the meadows and through the corn lands and the trees, there came in sight a gleam of scarlet that was not from the poppies, a flash of silver that was not from the river, a column of smoke that was not from the weeds that burned on the hillside.

There came a cloud, with a melodious murmur softly rising from it: a cloud that moved between the high flowering hedges, the tall amber wheat, the slender poplars, and the fruitful orchards; a cloud that grew larger and clearer as it drew more near to them, and left the green water meadows and winding field paths for the great high road.

It was a procession of the Church.

It drew closer and closer by slow imperceptible degrees, until it approached them; the old man sat upright, not taking his cap from his head nor his pipe from his mouth; the young girl cease to lean for rest against the tree, and stood with her arms crossed on her breast.

The Church passed them; the great gilt crucifix held aloft, the scarlet and the white of the robes catch‐ page: 69 ing the sunlight; the silver chains and silver censers gleaming; the fresh young voices of the singing children cleaving the air like a rush of wind; the dark shorn faces of the priests bowed over open books, the tender sound of the bells ringing across the low deep monotony of prayer.

The Church passed them; the dust of the parched road rose up in a choking mass; the heavy mist of the incense hung darkly on the sunlit air; the tramp of the many feet startled the birds from their rest, and pierced through the noonday silence.

It passed them, and left them behind it; but the fresh leaves were choked and whitened; the birds were fluttered and affrightened; the old man coughed, the girl strove to brush the dust motes from her smarting eyelids.

“That is the Church!” said the stone‐breaker, with a smile. “Dust—terror—a choked voice—and blinded eyes.”

Now she understood; and her beautiful curled lips laughed mutely.

The old man rammed some more tobacco into the bowl of his pipe.

“That is the Church!” he said. “To burn incense and pray for rain, and to fell the forests that were the rainmakers.”

The procession passed away out of sight, going along the highway and winding by the course of the river, calling to the bright blue heavens for rain; whilst the little bells rang and the incense curled and the priest prayed themselves hoarse, and the peasants toiled footsore, and the eager steps of the choral children trod the tiny gnat dead in the grasses and the bright butterfly dead in the dust.

The priests had cast a severer look from out their down‐dropped eyelids; the children had huddled together, with their voices faltering a little; and the boy choristers had shot out their lips in gestures of defiance and opprobrium as they had passed these twain beneath the wayside trees. For the two were both outcasts.

“Didst thou see the man that killed the king?” whispered to another one fair and curly‐headed baby, who was holding in the sun her little, white, silver‐fringed banner, and catching the rise and fall of the sonorous chaunt as well as she could with her little, lisping tones.

“Didst thou see the daughter of the devil?” muttered to page: 70 another a handsome golden brown boy, who had left his herd untended in the meadow to don his scarlet robes and swing about the censer of his village chapel.

And they all sang louder, and tossed more incense on high, and marched more closely together under the rays of the gleaming crucifix as they went; feeling that they had been beneath the shadow of the powers of darkness, and that they were purer and holier and more exalted, because they had thus passed by in scorn what was accursed with psalms on their lips, with the cross as their symbol.

So they went their way through the peaceful country with a glory of sunbeams about them—through the corn, past the orchards, by the river, into the heart of the old brown, quiet town, and about the foot of the great cathedral, where they kneeled down int he dust and prayed, then rose and sang the “Angelus.”

Then, the tall dark‐visaged priest, who had led them all thither under the standard of the golden crucifix, lifted his voice alone and implored God, and exhorted man; implored for rain and all the blessings of harvest, exhorted to patience and the imitation of God.

The people were moved and saddened, and listened, smiting their breasts; and after a while rising from their knees, many of them in tears, dispersed and went their ways, muttering to one another:—“We have had no such harvests as those of old since the men that slew a saint came to dwell here;” and answering to one another:—“We had never such droughts as these in the sweet cool weather of old, before the offspring of hell was amongst us.”

For the priests had not said to them, “Lo! your mercy is parched as the earth, and your hearts as the heavens are brazen.”

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CHAPTER II.

IN the days of his youngest youth, in the old drunken days that were dead, this old stone‐breaker Marcellin had known such life as it is given to few men to know—a life of the soul and the senses; a life of storm and delight; a life mad with blood and wine; a life of divinest dreams; a life when women kissed them, and bade them slay; a life when mothers blessed them and bade them die; a life, strong, awful, splendid, unutterable; a life seized at its fullest and fiercest and fairest, out of an air that was death, off an earth that was hell.

When his cheeks had had a boy’s bloom and his curls a boy’s gold he had seen a nation in delirium; he had been one of the elect of a people; he had uttered the words that burn, and wrought the acts that live; he had been of the Thousand of Marsala; and he had been of the avengers in Thermidor: he had raised his flute‐like voice from the tribune, and he had cast in his vote for the death of a king; passions had been his playthings, and he had toyed with life as a child with a match; he had beheld the despised enthroned in power, and desolation left within kings’ palaces; he too had been fierce, and glad, and cruel, and gay, and drunken, and proud, as the whole land was; he had seen the white beauty of the royal women bare in the hands of the mob, and the throats that princes had caressed kissed by the broad steel knife; he had had his youth in a wondrous time, when all men had been gods or devils, and all women martyrs or furies.

And now,—he broke stones to get daily bread, and those who passed him by cursed him, saying:

“This man slew a king.”

For he had outlived his time, and the life that had been golden and red at its dawn was now grey and pale as the ashes of a fire grown cold; for in all the list of the world’s weary errors there is no mistake so deadly as age.

Years before, in such hot summer weather as this, against which the Church had prayed, the old man, going homewards to his little cabin amidst the fields, had met a little page: 72 child coming straight towards him in the full crimson glow of the setting sun, and with the flame of the poppies all around her.

He hardly knew why he looked at her, but when he had once looked his eyes rested there.

She had the hues of his youth about her; in that blood‐red light, amongst the blood‐red flowers, she made him think of women’s forms that he had seen in all their grace and their voluptuous loveliness clothed in the red garment of death, and standing on the dusky red of the scaffold as the burning mornings of the summers of slaughter had risen over the land.

The child was all alone before him in that intense glow as of fire; above her there was a tawny sky, flushed here and there with purple; around her stretched the solitary level of the fields burnt yellow as gold by the long mouths of heat. There were stripes on her shoulders blue and black from the marks of a thong.

He looked at her, and stopped her, why he hardly knew, except that a look about her, beaten but yet unsubdued, attracted him. He had seen the look of yore in the years of his youth, on the faces of the nobles he hated.

“Have you been hurt?” he asked her in his harsh, strong voice. She put her heavy load of faggots down and stared at him.

“Hurt?” She echoed the word stupidly. No one ever thought she could be hurt; what was done to her was punishment and justice.

“Yes. Those stripes—they must be painful?”

She gave a gesture of assent with her head, but she did not answer.

“Who beat you?” he pursued.

A cloud of passion swept over her beat face.

“Flamma.”

“You were wicked?”

“They said so.”

“And what do you do when you are beaten?”

“I shut my mouth.”

“For what?”

“For fear they should know it hurt me—and be glad.”

Marcellin leaned on his elm stick, and fastened on her his keen passionless eyes with a look which, for him who page: 73 shunned and was shunned by all his kind, was almost sympathy.

“Come to my hut,” he said to her. “I know a herb that will take the fret and the ache out of your bruises.”

The child followed him passively, half stupidly; he was the first creature that had ever bidden her go with him, and this rough pity of his was sweet to her, with an amazing incredible balm in it which only those can know who see raised against them every man’s hand, and hear on their ears the mockery of all the voices of their world.

Under reviling, and contempt, and constant rejection, she had become savage as a trapped hawk, wild as an escaped panther; but to him she was obedient and passive, because he had spoken to her without a taunt and without a curse, which until now had been the sole two forms of human speech that she had heard.

His little hut was in the midst of those spreading cornfields, set where two pathways crossed each other, and stretched down the gentle slope of the cultured lands to join the great highway—a hut of stones and plaited rushes, with of roof of thatch, where the old republican, hardy of frame and born of a toiling race, dwelt in solitude, and broke his scanty bitter bread without lament, if without content.

He took some leaves of a simple herb that he knew, soaked them with water, and bound them on her shoulders, not ungently, though his hand was so rough with labour, and, as men said, had been so often red with carnage.

Then he gave her a draught of goat’s milk, sweet and fresh, from a wooden bowl; shared with her the dry black crusts that formed his only evening meal; bestowed on her a gift of a rare old scarlet scarf of woven wools and eastern broideries, one of the few relics of his buried life; lifted the faggots on her back, so that she could carry them with greater ease; and set her on her homeward way.

“Come to me again,” he said, briefly, as she went across the threshold.

The child bent her head in silence, and kissed his hand quickly and timidly, like a grateful dog that is amazed to have a caress, and not a blow.

“After a forty years’ vow I have broken it; I have pitied a human thing,” the old man muttered as he stood in his page: 74 doorway looking after her shadow as it passed small and dark across the scarlet light of the poppies.

“They call him vile, and they say that he slew men,” thought the child, who had long known his face, though he had never noted hers; and it seemed to her that all mercy lay in her father’s kingdom—which they called the kingdom of evil. The cool moist herbs slaked the heat of her bruises; and the draught of milk had slaked the thirst of her throat.

“Is evil good?” she asked in her heart as she went through the tall red poppies.

And from that evening thenceforward Folle‐Farine and Marcellin cleaved to one another, being outcasts from all others.

CHAPTER III.

AS the religious gathering broke up and split in divers streams to divers ways, the little town returned to its accustomed stillness—a stillness that seemed to have in it the calm of a thousand sleeping years, and the legends and the dreams of half a score of old dead centuries.

On market‐days and saint‐days, days of high feast or of perpetual chaffering, the town was full of colour, movement, noise, and population.

The country people crowded in, filling it with the jingling of mule‐bells; the fisher people came, bringing with them the crisp salt smell of the sea and the blue of the sea on their garments; its own tanners and ivory carvers, and fruiterers, and lacemakers turned out by the hundred in all the quaint variety of costumes which their forefathers had bequeathed to them, and to which they were still wise enough to adhere. But at other times when the fishers were in their hamlets, and the peasantry on their lands and in their orchards, and the townsfolk at their labours in the old renaissance mansions, which they had turned into tanneries, and granaries, and wool‐sheds, and workshops, the page: 75 place was profoundly still; scarcely a child at play in the streets, scarcely a dog asleep in the sun.

When the crowds had gone the priests laid aside their vestments, and donned the black serge of their daily habit, and went to their daily avocations in their humble dwellings.

The crosses and the censers were put back upon their altars, and hung up upon their pillars.

The boy choristers and the little children put their white linen and their scarlet robes back in cupboards and presses, with heads of lavender and sprigs of rosemary to keep the moth and the devil away, and went to their fields, to their homes, to their herds, to their paper kites, to their daisy chains, to the poor rabbits they pent in a hutch, to the poor flies they killed in the sun.

The town became quite still, the market place quite empty; the drowsy silence of a burning, cloudless afternoon was over all the quiet places about the cathedral walls, where of old the bishops and the canons dwelt; grey shady courts; dim open cloisters; houses covered with oaken carvings, and shadowed with the spreading branches of chestnuts and of lime‐trees that were as aged as themselves.

Under the shelter of one of the lindens, after the populace had gone, there was seated on a broad stone bench the girl who had stood by the wayside erect and unbending as the procession had moved before her.

She had flung herself down in dreamy restfulness. She had delivered her burden of vegetables and fruit at a shop near by, whose awning stretched out into the street like a toadstool yellow with the sun. The heat was intense; she had been on foot all day; she sat to rest a moment, and put her burning hands under a little rill of water that spouted into a basin in a niche in the wall. An ancient well, with a stone image of the Madonna sculptured above, and a wreath of vine‐leaves in stone running around, in the lavish ornamentation of an age when men loved loveliness for its own sake, and begrudged neither time nor labour in its service.

She leaned over the fountain, kept so cool by the roofing of the thick green leaves; there was a metal cup attached to the basin by a chain, and she filled it at the running page: 76 thread of water, and stooped her lips to it again and again thirstily.

The day was sultry; the ways were long and white with powdered limestone; her throat was still parched with the dust raised by the many feet of the multitude; and although she had borne in the great basket which now stood empty at her side, cherries, peaches, mulberries, melons, full of juice and lusciousness, this daughter of the devil had not taken even one to freshen her dry mouth.

Folle‐Farine stooped to the water and played with it, and drank it, and steeped her lips and her arms in it; lying there on the stone bench, with her bare feet curled one in another, and her slender round limbs full of the voluptuous repose of a resting panther. The coolness, the murmur, the clearness, the peace, the soft flowing movement of water, possess an ineffable charm for natures that are passion‐tossed, feverish, and full of storm.

There was a dreary peace about the place, too, which had charms likewise for her; in the dusky arch of the long cloisters, in the grey lichen‐grown walls, in the broad pamments of the paven court, in the clusters of strange delicate carving beneath and below; in the sculptured friezes where little nests that the birds had made in the spring still rested, and in the dense brooding thickness of the boughs which brought the sweetness and the shadows of the woods into the heart of the peopled town.

She stayed there, loath to move; loath to return where a jeer, a bruise, a lifted stick, a muttered curse, were all her greeting and her guerdon.

As she lay thus, one of the doors in the old houses in the cloisters opened; the head of an old woman was thrust out, crowned with the high fan‐shaped comb, and the towering white linen cap, that are the female note of that especial town.

The old woman wa the mother of the sacristan, and she, looking out, shrieked shrilly to her son:

“Georges, Georges! come hither. The devil’s daughter is drinking the blest water!”

The sacristan was hoeing amongst his cabbages in the garden behind his house, surrounded with clipt yew, and damp from the deep shade of the cathedral, that overshadowed it.

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He ran out at his mother’s call, hoe in hand, himself an old man, though stout and strong.

The well in the wall was his especial charge and pride; immeasurable sanctity attached to it.

According to tradition, the water had spouted from the stone itself, at the touch of a branch of blossoming pear, held in the hand of St. Jerome, who had returned to earth in the middle of the fourteenth century, and dwelt for a while near the cathedral, working at the honourable trade of a cordwainer, and accomplishing mighty miracles throughout the district. It was said that some of his miraculous power still remained in the fountain, and that even yet, those who drank on St. Jerome’s day, in full faith and with believing hearts, were, oftentimes, cleansed of sin, and purified of bodily diseases.

Wherefore on that day, throngs of peasantry flocked in from all sides, and crowded round it, and drank; to the benefit of the sacristan in charge, if not to that of their souls and bodies.

Summoned by his mother, he flew to the rescue of the sanctified spring.

“Get you gone!” he shouted. “Get you gone, you child of hell! How durst you touch the blessed basin? Do you think that God struck water from the stone for such as you?”

Folle‐Farine lifted her head and looked him in the face with her audacious eyes, and laughed; then tossed her head again, and plunged it into the bright living water, till her lips, and her cheeks, and all the rippling hair about her temples sparkled with its silvery drops.

The sacristan, infuriated at once by the impiety and the defiance, shrieked aloud.

“Insolent animal! Daughter of Satan! I will teach you to taint the gift of a saint with the lips of the devil!”

And he seized her roughly with one hand upon her shoulder, and with the other raised the hoe and brandished the wooden staff of it above her head in threat to strike her; whilst his old mother, still thrusting her lofty head‐gear and her wrinkled face from out of the door, screamed to him to show he was a man, and have no mercy.

As his grasp touched her, and the staff cast its shadow page: 78 across her, Folle‐Farine sprang up, defiance and fury breathing from all her beautiful fierce face.

She seized the staff in her right hand, wrenched it with a swift movement from his hold, and catching his head under her left arm, rained blows on him from his own weapon with a sudden gust of breathless rage which blinded him, and lent to her slender muscular limbs, the strength and force of man. Then, as rapidly as she had seized and struck him, she flung him from her with such violence that he fell prostrate on the pavement of the court; caught up the metal pail which stood by ready filled, dashed the water over him where he lay, and turning from him without a word, walked across the courtyard slowly, and with a haughty grace in all the carriage of her bare limbs, and the folds of her ragged garments; bearing the empty osier‐basket on her head, deaf as the stones around to the screams of the sacristan and his mother.

In these secluded cloisters, and in the high noontide, when all were sleeping or eating in the cool shelter of their darkened houses, the old woman’s voice remained unheard.

The saints heard, no doubt, but they were too lazy to stir from their niches in that sultry noontide; except the baying of a chained dog aroused, there was no answer to the outcry, and Folle‐Farine passed out into the market place unarrested, and not meeting another living creature.

As she turned into one of the squares that led to the open country, she saw in the distance one of the guardians of the peace of the town moving quickly towards the cloisters, with his glittering lace shining in the sun, and his long scabbard clattering upon the stones. She laughed a little as she saw.

“They will not come after me,” she said to herself. “Thy are too afraid of the devil.”

She judged rightly; they did not come.

She crossed the wide scorching square, whose white stones blazed in the glare of the sun.

There was nothing in sight except a stray cat prowling in a corner, and three sparrows quarrelling over a foul‐smelling heap of refuse.

The quaint old houses round seemed all asleep, with the shutters closed like tired eyelids over their little dim, aged, page: 79 orbs of windows. The gilded vanes on their twisted chimneys, and carved parapets, pointed motionless to the warm south. There was not a sound except for the cawing of some rooks, who built their nests high aloft in the fretted pinnacles of the cathedral.

Undisturbed she crossed the square, and took her way down the crooked street that led her homeward to the outlying country. It was an old, twisting, dusky place, with the water flowing through its centre as its only roadway; and in there were the oldest houses of the town, all of timber, black with age, and carved with the wonderful florid fantasies and grotesque conceits of the years when a house was to its master a thing beloved and beautiful, a bulwark, an altar, a heritage, an heirloom to be dwelt in all the days of a long life, and bequeathed in all honour and honesty to a noble offspring.

The street was very silent, the ripple of the water was the chief sound that filled it. Its tenants were very poor, in many of its antique mansions the beggars shared shelter with the rats and the owls. In one of these dwellings, however, there were still some warmth and colour.

The orange and scarlet flowers of a nasturtium curled up its twisted pilasters; the big, fair clusters of hydrangea filled up its narrow casements; a breadth of many‐coloured saxifrage, with leaves of green and rose, and blossoms of purple and white, hung over the balcony rail, which five centuries earlier had been draped with cloth of gold; and a little yellow song bird made music in the empty niche from which the sculptured flower‐de‐luce had been so long torn down.

From the window a woman looked, leaning with folded arms above the rose‐tipped saxifrage, and beneath the green‐leaved vine.

She was a fair woman, white as the lilies, and she had silver pins in her amber hair, and a mouth that laughed sweetly. She called to Folle‐Farine,

“You brown thing; why do you stare at me?”

Folle‐Farine started and withdrew the fixed gaze of her lustrous eyes.

“Because you are beautiful,” she answered curtly.

All beautiful things head a fascination for her. This woman above was very fair to see, and she looked at her page: 80 as she looked at the purple butterflies in the sun; at the stars shining down through the leaves; at the vast, dim, gorgeous figures in the cathedral windows; at the happy children running to their mothers with their hands full of primroses, as she saw them in the woods at spring‐time; at the laughing groups round the wood‐fires in the new year time when she passed a lattice pane that the snow‐drift had not blocked; at all the things that were so often in her sight, and yet with which her life had no part or likeness.

She stood there on the rough flints, in the darkness cast from the jutting beams of the house; and the other happier creature leaned above there in the light, white and rose‐hued, and with the silver bells of the pins shaking in her yellow tresses.

“You are old Flamma’s grand‐daughter,” cried the other from her leafy nest above. “You work for him all day long at the mill?”

“Yes.”

“And your feet are bare, and your clothes are rags, and you go to and fro like a packhorse, and the people hate you? You must be a fool. Your father was the devil, they say; why do you not make him give you good things?”

“He will not hear,” the child muttered wearily; had she not besought him endlessly with breathless prayers?

“Will he not? Wait a year—wait a year.”

“What then?” asked Folle‐Farine, with a quick startled breath.

“In a year you will be a woman, and he always hears women, they say.”

“He hears you?”

The fair woman above laughed:

“Perhaps; in his fashion. But he pays me ill as yet,” and she plucked one of the silver pins from her hair, and stabbed the rosy foam of the saxifrage through and through with it; for she was but a gardener’s wife, and was restless and full of discontent.

“Get you gone,” she added quickly, “or I will thrown a stone at you, you witch; you have the evil eye, they say, and you may strike me blind if you stare so.”

Folle‐Farine went on her way over the sharp stones with a heavy heart. That picture in the casement head had made page: 81 that passage bright to her many a time; and when at last that picture had moved and spoken, it had only mocked her and reviled her as the rest did.

The street was dark for her like all the others now.

The gardener’s wife, leaning there, with the green and gold of the vineleaves brushing her hair, looked after her down the crooked way.

“That young wretch will be more beautiful than I,” she thought; and the thought was bitter to her, as such a one is to a fair woman.

Folle‐Farine went slowly and sadly through the street with her head dropped, and the large osier basket trailing behind her over the stones.

She was well used to be pelted with words hard as hailstones, and usually heeded them little, or gave them back with sullen, fierce defiance. But from this woman they had wounded her; for that bright bower of golden leaves and scarlet flowers she had faintly fancied some stray beam of light might wander even to her.

She was soon outside the gates of the town, and beyond the old walls, where the bramble and the lichen grew over the huge stones of ramparts and fortifications, useless and decayed from age.

The country roads and paths, the silver streams and the wooden bridges, the lanes through which the market mules picked their careful way, the fields in which the white‐capped peasant women and the brindled oxen were at work, stretched all before her in a radiant air, sweet with the scent of ripening fruits from many orchards.

Here and there a wayside crucifix rose dark against the sun; here and there a chapel bell sounded from under some little peaked red roof. The cattle dozed beside meadow ditches that were choked with wild flowers; the dogs lay down beside their sheep and slept.

At the first cottage which she passed, the housewife sat out under a spreading chestnut tree, weaving lace upon her knee.

Folle‐Farine looked wistfully at the woman, who was young and pretty, and who darted her swift skilled hand in and out around the bobbins, keeping time meanwhile with a mirthful burden that she sang.

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The woman looked up and frowned as the girl passed by her.

A little way farther on there was winehouse by the roadside, built of wood, vine‐wreathed, and half hidden in the tall flowering briars of its garden.

Out of the lattice there was leaning a maiden with the silver cross on her bosom shining in the sun, and her meek blue eyes smiling down from under the tower of her white cap. She was reaching a carnation to a student who stood below, with long fair locks and ruddy cheeks, and a beard yellow with the amber down of twenty years; and who kissed her white wrist as he caught the red flower.

Folle‐Farine glanced at the pretty picture with a dull wonder and a nameless pain: what could it mean to be happy like that?

Half a league onward she passed another cottage shadowed by a sycamore‐tree, and with the swallows whirling around its tall twisted stone chimneys, and a beurré pear covering with branch and bloom its old grey walls. An aged woman sat sipping coffee in the sun, and a young one was sweeping the blue and white tiles with a broom, singing gaily as she swept.

“Art thou well placed, my mother?” she asked, pausing to look tenderly at the withered brown face, on which the shadows of the sycamore leaves were playing.

The old mother smiled, steeping her bread in the coffee bowl.

“Surely, child; I can feel the sun and hear you sing.”

She was happy though she was blind.

Folle‐Farine stood a moment and looked at them across a hedge of honeysuckle.

“How odd it must be to have anyone to care to hear your voice like that!” she thought; and she went on her way through the poppies and corn, half softened, half enraged.

Was she lower than they because she could find no one to care for her or take gladness in her life? or was she greater than they because all human delights were to her as the dead letters of an unknown tongue?

Down a pathway fronting her, which ran midway between the yellowing seas of wheat and a belt of lilac clover, and over which a swarm of bees was murmuring, there came a page: 83 country‐woman, crushing the herbage under her heavy shoes, ragged, picturesque, sunbrowned, swinging deep brass pails as she went to the herds on the hillside. She carried a child twisted into the folds of her dress; a boy, half asleep, with his curly head against her breast.

As she passed, the woman drew her kerchief over her bosom, and over the brown rosy face of the child.

“She shall not look at thee, my darling,” she muttered. “Her look withered Rémy’s little limb.” And she covered the child jealously, and turned aside, so that she should tread a separate pathway through the clover, and needed not to brush the garments of the one she was compelled to pass.

Folle‐Farine heard, and laughed aloud.

She knew of what the woman was thinking.

In the summer of the previous year, as she had passed the tanyard on the western bank of the river, the tanner’s little son, rushing out in haste, had curled his mouth in insult at her, and clapping his hands, hissed in a child’s love of cruelty the mocking words which he had heard his elders use of her. In answer, she had only turned her head and looked down at him with calm eyes of scorn.

But the child, running out fast, and startled by that regard, had slipped upon a shred of leather and had fallen heavily, breaking his left leg at the knee.

The limb, unskilfully dealt with, and enfeebled by a tendency to disease, had never been restored, but hung limp, crooked, useless, withered from below the knee. Through all the country side the little cripple, Rémy, creeping out into the sun upon his crutches, was pointed out in a passionate pity as the object of her sorcery, the victim of her vengeance.

When she had heard what they said she had laughed as she laughed now, drawing together her straight brows and showing her glistening teeth.

All the momentary softness died in her now as the peasant covered the boy’s face and turned aside into the clover. She laughed aloud, and swept on through the half‐ripe corn with that swift, harmonious, majestic movement which was inborn in her, as it is inborn in the deer or the antelope; singing again as she went those strange wild airs, like the sigh of the wind, which were all the language page: 84 which lingered in her memory from the land that had seen her birth.

To such aversion as this she was too well used for it to be a matter of even notice to her. She knew that she was marked and shunned by the community amidst which her lot was cast; and she accepted proscription without wonder and without resistance.

Folle‐Farine: the Dust. What lower thing did earth hold?

In this old‐world district, amidst the pastures and cornlands of Normandy, superstition had taken a hold which the passage of centuries and the advent of revolution had done very little to lessen.

Few of the people could read, and fewer still could write. They knew nothing but what their priests and their politicians told them to believe. They went to their beds with the poultry, and rose as the cock crew: they went to mass, as their ducks to the osier and weed ponds; and to the conscription as their lambs to the slaughter.

They understood that there was a world beyond them, but they remembered it only as the best market for their fruit, their fowls, their lace, their skins. Their brains were as dim as were their oil‐lit streets at night; though their lives were content and mirthful, and for the most part pious. They went out into the summer meadows chaunting aves, in seasons of drought to pray for rain on their parching orchards, in the same credulity with which they groped through the winter fog, bearing torches and chaunting dirges to gain a blessing at seed time on their bleak black fallows.

The beauty and the faith of the old Mediæval life were with them still; and its faith were its bigotry and its cruelty likewise.

They led simple and contented lives; for the most part honest, and amongst themselves cheerful and kindly; preserving much grace of colour, of costume, of idiosyncracy, because apart from the hueless communism and characterless monotony of modern cities.

But they believed in sorcery and in devilry; they were brutal to their beasts, and could be as brutal to their foes; they were steeped in legend and tradition from their cradles; and all the darkest superstitions of dead ages page: 85 still found home and treasury in their hearts and at their hearths.

Therefore, believing her a creature of evil, they were inexorable against her; and thought that in being so they did their duty.

They had always been a religious people in this birth country of the Flamma race; the strong poetic reverence of their forefathers, which had symbolised itself in the carving of every lintel, corbel, or buttress in their streets, and in the fashion of every spire on which a weather‐vane could gleam against the sun, was still in their blood; the poetry had departed, but the bigotry remained.

Their ancestors had burned wizards and witches by the score in the open square of the cathedral place, and their grandsires and grandams had in brave, dumb, ignorant peasant fashion held fast to the lily and the cross, and gone by hundreds to the salutation of the axe and the baptism of the sword in the red days of revolution.

They were the same people still; industrious, frugal, peaceful, loyal, wedded to old ways and to old relics, content on little, and serene of heart; yet, withal, where they feared or where they hated, brutal with the brutality begotten of abject ignorance. And they had been so to this outcast whom they all called Folle‐Farine.

When she had first come amidst them, a little desolate foreign child, mute with the dumbness of an unknown tongue, and cast adrift amongst strange people, unfamiliar ways, and chill blank glances, she had shyly tried in a child’s vague instincts of appeal and trust to make friends with the other children that she saw, and to share a little in the mothers’ smiles and the babies’ pastimes that were all around her in the glad green world of summer.

But she had been denied and rejected with hard words and harder blows; at her coming the smiles had changed to frowns, and the pastime into terror.

She was proud, she was shy, she was savage; she felt rather than understood that she was suspected and reviled; she ceased to seek her own kind, and only went for companionship and sympathy to the creatures of the fields an the woods, to the things of the earth and the sky and the water.

“Thou art the devil’s daughter!” half in sport hissed page: 86 the youths in the market‐place against her as the little child went amongst them, carrying a load for her grandsire, heavier than her arms knew how to bear.

“Thou wert plague‐spotted from thy birth,” said the old man himself, as she strained her small limbs to and fro the floors of his storehouses, carrying wood or flour or tiles or rushes, or whatever there chanced to need such convoy.

“Get thee away, we are not to touch thee!” hissed the six‐year old infants at play by the river when she waded in amidst them to reach with her lither arms the far‐off water‐flower which they were too timorous to pluck, and tendered it to the one who had desired it.

“The devil begot thee, and my cow fell ill yesterday after thou hadst laid hands upon her!” muttered the old women, lifting a stick as she went near to their cattle in the meadows to brush off with a broad dockleaf the flies that were teasing the poor, meek, patient beasts.

So, cursed when she did her duty and driven away when she tried to do good, her young soul had hardened itself and grown fierce, mute, callous, isolated.

There were only the four‐footed things, so wise, so silent, so tender of heart, so bruised of body, so innocent, and so agonised, that had compassion for her, and saved her from utter desolation. In the mild sad gaze of the cow, in the lustrous suffering eyes of the horse, in the noble frank faith of the dog, in the soft bounding glee of the lamb, in the unwearied toil of the ass, in the tender industry of the bird, she had sympathy and she had example.

She loved them and they loved her.

She saw that they were sinless, diligent, faithful, devoted, loyal servers of base masters; loving greatly, and for their love goaded, beaten, overtasked, slaughtered.

She took the lesson to heart; and hated men and women with a bitter hatred.

So she had grown up for ten years, caring for no human thing, except in a manner for the old man Marcellin, who was, like her, proscribed.

The priest had striven to turn her soul what they had termed heavenward; but their weapons had been wrath and intimidation. She would have none of them. No efforts that they or her grandsire made had availed; she would be starved, thrashed, cursed, maltreated as they page: 87 would; she could not understand their meaning, or would not submit herself to their religion.

As years went on they found the contest hopeless, so had abandoned her to the devil, who had made her; and the daughter of one whom the whole province had called saint had never passed within church‐doors or known the touch of holy water save when they had cast it on her as an exorcism. And when she met a priest in the open roads or on the byepaths of the fields, she always sang in loud defiance her wildest melodies.

Where had she learnt these?

They had been sung to her by Phratos, and taught by him.

Who had he been?

Her old life was obscure to her memory, and yet glorious even in that dimness.

She did not know who those people had been with whom she had wandered, nor in what land they had dwelt.

But that wondrous free life remained on her remembrance as a thing never to be forgotten or to be known again; a life odorous with bursting fruits and budding flowers; full of strangest and of sweetest music; spent for ever under green leaves and suns that had no setting; for ever beside fathomless waters and winding forests; for ever rhymed to melody and soothed to the measure of deep winds and drifting clouds.

For she had forgotten all except its liberty and its loveliness; and the old gypsy life of the Liébana remained with her only as some stray fragment of an existence passed in another world from which she was now an exile, and revived in her only in the fierce passion of her nature, in her bitter, vague rebellion, in her longing to be free, in her anguish of vain desires for richer hues and bluer skies and wilder winds than those amidst which she toiled.

At times she remembered likewise the songs and the melodies of Phratos; remembered them when the moon rays swept across the white breadth of water lilies, or the breath of the spring stole through the awakening woods; and when she remembered them she wept—wept bitterly, where none could look on her.

She never thought of Phratos as a man; as of one who had lived in a human form, and was now lying dead in an earthly page: 88 grave. Her memory of him was as of some nameless creature half divine, whose footsteps brought laughter and music, with eyes bright as a bird’s, yet sad as a dog’s, and a voice for ever singing; clad in goat’s hair, gigantic and gay: a creature that had spoken tenderly to her, that had bidden her laugh and rejoice, that had carried her when she was weary; that had taught her to sleep under the dewy leaves, and to greet the things of the night as soft sisters, and to fear nothing in the whole living world, in the earth, or the air, or the sky, and to tell the truth though a falsehood were to save the bare feet from flintstones, and naked shoulders from the stick, and an empty body from hunger and thirst. A creature that seemed to her in her memories even as the faun seemed to the fancies of the children of the Piræus; a creature half man and half animal, glad and grotesque, full of mirth and of music, belonging to the forest, to the brook, to the stars, to the leaves, wandering like the wind, and, like the wind, homeless.

This was all her memory; but she cherished it; in the face of the priests she bent her straight black brows and curled her scornful scarlet lips, but for the sake of Phratos she held one religion; though she hated men she told them never a lie, and asked of them never alms.

She went now along the white level roads, the empty basket balanced on her head, her form moving with the free harmonious grace of desert women, and she sang as she went the old sweet songs of the broken viol.

She was friendless and desolate; she was ill‐fed, she was heavily tasked; she toiled without thanks; she was ignorant of even so much knowledge as the peasants about her had; she was without a past or a future, and her present had in it but daily toil and bitter words; hunger, and thirst, and chastisement.

Yet for all that she sang;—sang because the vitality in her made her dauntless of all evil; because the abundant life opening in her made her glad in despite of fate; because the youth, and the strength, and the soul that were in her could not utterly be brutalised, could not wholly cease from feeling the gladness of the sun, the coursing of the breeze, the liberty of nature, the sweet quick sense of living.

Before long she reached the spot where the old man Marcellin was breaking his stones.

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His pile was raised much higher; he sat astride on a log of timber and hammered the flints on and on, on and on, without looking up; the dust, where the tramp of the people had raised it, was still thick on the leaves and the herbage; and the prayers and the chaunts had failed as yet to bring the slightest cloud, the faintest rain mist, across the hot unbroken azure of the skies.

Marcellin was her only friend; the proscribed always adhere to one another; when they are few they can only brood and suffer, harmlessly; when they are many they rise as with one foot and strike as with one hand. Therefore, it is always perilous to make the lists of any proscription over long.

The child, who was also an outcast, went to him and paused; in a curious, lifeless, bitter way they cared for one another; this girl who had grown to believe herself born of hell, and this man who had grown to believe that he had served hell.

With the bastard Folle‐Farine and with the regicide Marcellin the people had no association, and for them no pity; therefore they had found each other by the kinship of proscription; and in a way there was love between them.

“You are glad, since you sing!” said the old man to her as she passed him again on her homeward way, and paused again beside him.

“The birds in cages sing,” she answered him. “But, think you they are glad?”

“Are they not?”

She sat down a moment beside him, on the bank which was soft with moss, and odorous with wild flowers curling up the stems of the poplars and straying over into the corn beyond.

“Are they? Look. Yesterday I passed a cottage, it is on the great south road; far away from her. The house was empty; the people, no doubt, were gone to labour in the fields; there was a wicker cage hanging to the wall, and in the cage there was a blackbird. The sun beat on his head; his square of sod was a dry clod of bare earth; the heat had dried every drop of water in his pan; and yet the bird was singing. Singing how? In torment, beating his breast against the bars till the blood started, crying to the skies to have mercy on him and to let rain fall. His song page: 90 was shrill; it had a scream in it; still he sang. Do you say the merle was glad?”

“What did you do?” asked the old man, still breaking his stones with a monotonous rise and fall of his hammer.

“I took the cage down and opened the door.”

“And he?”

“He shot up in the air first, then dropped down amidst the grasses, where a little brook which the drought had not dried was still running; and he bathed and drank and bathed again, seeming mad with the joy of the water. When I lost him from sight he was swaying among the leaves on a bough over the river; but then he was silent.”

“And what do you mean by that?”

Her eyes clouded; she was mute. She vaguely knew the meaning it bore to herself, but it was beyond her to express it. All things of nature had voices and parables for her, because her fancy was vivid and her mind was dreamy; but that mind was still too dark, and too profoundly ignorant, for her to be able to shape her thoughts into metaphor or deduction.

The bird had spoken to her; by his silence as by his song; but what he had uttered she could not well utter again. Save, indeed, that song was not gladness, and neither was silence pain.

Marcellin, although he had asked her, had asked needlessly; for he also knew.

“And what, think you, the people said when they went back and found the cage empty?” he pursued, still echoing his words and hers by the ringing sound of the falling hammer.

A smile curled her lips.

“That was no though of mine.” she said carelessly. “They had done wickedly to cage him; to set him free I would have pulled down their thatch, or stove in their door, had need been.”

“Good!” said the old man briefly, with a gleam of light over his harsh lean face.

He looked up at her as he worked, the shivered flints flying right and left.

“It was a pity to make you a woman,” he muttered, as his keen gaze swept over her.

“A woman!” She echoed the words dully and half page: 91 wonderingly; she could not understand it in connection with herself.

A woman; that was a woman who sat in the sun under the fig tree, working her lace on a frame; that was a woman who leaned out of her lattice tossing a red carnation to her lover; that was a woman who swept the open porch of their house, singing as she cleared the dust away; that was a woman who strode on her blithe way through the clover, carrying her child at her breast.

She seemed to have no likeness to them, no kindred with them; she, a beast of burden, a creature soulless and homeless; an animal made to fetch and carry, to be cursed and beaten, to know neither love nor hope, neither past nor future, but only a certain dull patience and furious hate, a certain dim pleasure in labour and indifference to pain.

“It was a pity to make you a woman,” said the old man once more. “You might be a man worth something; but a woman!—a thing that has no medium; no haven between hell and heaven; no option save to sit by the hearth to watch the pot boil and suckle the children, or to go out into the streets and the taverns to mock at men and to murder them. Which will you do in the future?”

“What?”

She scarcely knew the meaning of the word. She saw that the female creatures round her were of all shades of age, from the young girls with their peach‐like cheeks to the old crones brown and withered as last year’s nuts; she knew that if she lived on she would be old likewise; but of a future she had no conception, no ideal. She had been left too ignorant to have visions of any other world hereafter than this one which the low‐lying green hills and the arc of the pale blue sky shut in upon her.

She had one desire, indeed—a desire vague yet fierce—the desire for liberty. But it was such desire as the bird which she had freed had known; the desire of instinct, the desire of existence, only; her mind was powerless to conceive a future, because a future is a hope, and of hope she knew nothing.

The old man glanced at her, and saw that she had not comprehended. He smiled with a certain bitter pity.

“I spoke idly,” he said to himself; “slaves cannot have a future. But yet—“

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Yet he saw that the creature who was so ignorant of her own powers, of her own splendours, of her own possibilities, had even now a beauty as great as that of a lustrous eastern‐eyed passion‐flower; and he knew that to a woman who has such beauty as this the world holds out in its hand the tender of at least one future—one election, one kingdom, one destiny.

“Women are loved,” she said suddenly; “will any one love me?”

Marcellin smiled bitterly.

“Many will love you, doubtless—as the wasp loves the peach that he kisses with his sting, and leaves rotten to drop from the stem!”

She was silent again, revolving his meaning; it lay beyond her, both in the peril which it embodied from others, and the beauty in herself which it implied. She could reach no conception of herself, save as what she now was, a body servant of toil, a beast of burden like a young mule.

“But all shun me, as even the wasp shuns the bitter oak apple,” she said, slowly and dreamily; “who should love me, even as the wasp loves the peach?”

Marcellin smiled his grim and shadowy smile. He made answer—

“Wait!”

She sat mute once more, revolving this strange, brief word in her thoughts—strange to her, with a promise as vague, as splendid, and as incomprehensible as the prophecy of empire to a slave.

“The future?” she said, at last. “That means something that one has not, and that is to come—is it so?”

“Something that one never has, and that never comes,” muttered the old man, wearily cracking the flints in two; “something that one possesses in one’s sleep, and that is farther off each time that one awakes; and yet a thing that one sees always—sees even when one lies a‐dying, they say—for men are fools.”

Folle‐Farine listened, musing, with her hands clasped on the handles of her empty basket, and her chin resting upon them, and her eyes watching a maimed butterfly drag its wings of emerald and diamond through the hot, pale, sickly dust.

“I dream!” she said, suddenly, as she stooped and lifted page: 93 the wounded insect gently on to the edge of a leaf. “But I dream wide awake.”

Marcellin smiled.

“Never say so. They will think you mad. That is only what foolish things, called poets, do.”

“What is a poet?”

“A foolish thing—I tell you—mad enough to believe that men will care to strain their eyes, as he strains his, to see the face of a God who never looks and never listens.”

“Ah!”

She was so accustomed to be told, that all she did was unlike to others, and was either wicked or was senseless, that she saw nothing except the simple statement of a fact in the rebuke which he had given her. She sat quiet, gazing down into the thick white dust of the road, bestirred by the many feet of mules and men that had trodden through it since the dawn.

“I dream beautiful things,” she pursued slowly. “In the moonlight most often. I seem to remember, when I dream—so much! so much!”

“Remember—what should you remember? You were but a baby when they brought you hither.”

“So they say. But I might live before, in my father’s kingdom. In the devil’s kingdom? Why not?”

“Why not, indeed! Perhaps we all lived there once; and that is why we all, through all our lives, hanker to get back to it!”

“I ask him so often to take me back, but he does not seem ever to hear.”

“Chut! He will hear in his own good time. The devil never passes by a woman.”

“A woman!” she repeated. The word seemed to have no likeness and no fitness with herself.

A woman—she!—a creature made to be beaten, and worn at, and shunned, and loaded like a mule, and driven like a bullock!

“Look you,” said the old man, resting his hammer for a moment, and wiping the sweat from his brow. “I have lived in this vile place forty years. I remember the woman that they say bore you—Reine Flamma. She was a beautiful woman, and pure as snow, and noble, and innocent. She wearied God incessantly. I have seen her stretched for page: 94 hours at the foot of that cross. She was wretched; and she entreated her God to take away her monotonous misery, and to give her some life new and fair. But God never answered. He left her to herself. It was the devil that heard—and replied.”

“Then, is the devil juster than their God?”

Marcellin leaned his hammer on his knee, and his voice rose clear and strong; as it had rung of yore from the tribune.

“He looks so, at the least. It is his wisdom, and that is why his following is so large. Nay, I say, when God is deaf the devil listens.

“That is his wisdom, see you.

“So often the poor little weak human soul, striving to find the right way, cries feebly for help, and none answer.

“The poor little weak soul is blind and astray in the busy streets of the world.

“It lifts its voice, but its voice is so young and so feeble, like the pipe of a newly‐born bird in the dawn, that it is drowned in the shouts and the manifold sounds of those hard, crowded, cruel streets, where every one is for himself, and no man has ears for his neighbour. It is hungered, it is athirst, it is sorrowful, it is blinded, it is perplexed, it is afraid.

“It cries often, but God and man leave it to itself.

“Then the devil, who hearkens always, and who, though all the trumpets blowing their brazen music in the streets bray in his honour, yet is too wise to lose even the slightest sound of any in distress—since of such are the largest sheaves of his harvest—comes to the little soul, and teaches it with tenderness, and guides it towards the paths of gladness, and fills it s lips with the bread of sweet passions, and its nostrils with the savour of fair vanities, and blows in its ear the empty breath of men’s lungs, till that sickly wind seems divinest music.

“Then is the soul dazzled and captured, and made the devil’s for evermore; half through its innocence, half through its weakness; but chiefly of all because God and man would not hear its cries while yet it was sinless and only astray.”

He ceased, and the strokes of his hammer rang again on the sharp flint stones.

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She had listened with her lips parted breathlessly, and her night‐like eyes dilated. In the years of his youth the old man had possessed that rare power which can tip words with fire, and send them burning and keen into the coldest heart; and the power was still there, when it woke up from the stupor of a life of toil, and the silence of a harsh old age. In the far distant time, when he had been amidst the world of men, he had known how to utter the words that charmed to stillness a raging multitude. He had not altogether lost this eloquence at such rare times as he still cared to break his silence, and to unfold the unforgotten memories of a life long dead.

He would speak thus to her, but to no other.

Folle‐Farine listened, mute and breathless, her eyes uplifted to the sun, where it was sinking westward through a pomp of golden and of purple cloud. He was the only creature who ever spoke to her as though she likewise were human; and she followed his words with dumb unquestioning faith, as a dog its master’s footsteps.

“The soul! What is the soul?” she muttered at length.

He caught in his hand the beautiful diamond‐winged butterfly, which now, freed of the dust and drinking in the sunlight, was poised on a foxglove in the hedge growing near him, and held it against the light.

What is it that moves this creature’s wings, and glances in its eyes, and gives it delight in the summer’s warmth, in the orchid’s honey, and in the lime‐tree’s leaves?”

“I do not know; but I know that I can kill it—with one grind of my heel.”

“So much we know of the soul—no more.”

She freed it from his hand.

“Whoever made it, then, was cruel. If he could give it so much power, why not have given it a little more, so that it could escape you always?”

“You ask what men have asked ten times ten thousand years—since the world began—without an answer. Because the law of all creation is cruelty, I suppose; because the dust of death is always the breath of life. The great man, dead, changes to a million worms, and lives again in the juices of the grass above his grave. It matters little. The worms destroy; the grasses nourish. page: 96 Few great men do more than the first, or as much as the last.”

“But get you homeward,” he continued, breaking off his parable; “it is two hours past noon, and if you be late on the way you pay for it with your body. Begone.”

She nodded her head, and went; he seldom used gentle words to her, and yet she knew, in a way, that he cared for her; moreover, she rejoiced in that bitter, caustic contempt in which he, the oldest man amidst them, held all men.

His words were the only thing that had aroused her dulled brain to its natural faculties; in a manner, from him she had caught something of knowledge—something, too, of intellect; he alone prevented her from sinking to that absolute unquestioning despair which surely ends in idiocy or in self‐murder.

She pursued her way in silence across the fields, and along the straight white road, and across a wooden bridge that spanned the river, to her home.

There was a gentler lustre in her eyes and her mouth had the faint light of a half smile upon it; she did not know what hope meant; it never seemed possible to her that her fate could be other than it was, since so long the messengers and emissaries of her father’s empire had been silent and leaden‐footed to her call.

" Yet, in a manner, she was comforted, for had not two mouths that day bidden her “wait”?

She entered at length the little wood of Yprès Yprés , and heard that rush and music of the deep mill water, which was the sole thing she had learned to love in all the place.

Beyond it were the apple orchards and fruit gardens which rendered Claudis Flamma back full recompense for the toil they cost him—recompense so large, indeed, that many disbelieved in that poverty which he was wont to aver weighed so hardly and so tightly on him. Both were now rich in all their mature abundance, since the stream which rushed through them had saved them from the evil effects of the long drought so severely felt in other districts. The cherry trees were scarlet with their latest fruit; the great pumpkins glowed amongst their leaves in tawny orange heaps; little russet‐breasted bullfinches beat their wings vainly at the fine network that enshrouded the paler gold of the wall apricots; a grey cat was stealing amongst the page: 97 delicate yellows of the pear‐shaped marrows; where a round green wrinkled melon lay a‐ripening in the sun, a gorgeous dragon‐fly was hovering, and a mother‐mavis, in her simple coif of brown and white and grey, was singing with all the gladness of her sunny summer joys.

Beyond a hedge of prickly thorn the narrower flower garden stretched, spanned by low stone walls, made venerable by the silvery beards of lichens; and the whole earth was full of colour from the crimson and the golden gladioli; from the carmine‐hued carnations; from the deep‐blue lupins, and the Gloire de Dijon roses; from the green slender stems, and the pure white cups, of the virginal lilies; and from the gorgeous beetles, with their purple tunics and their shields of bronze, like Grecian hoplites in battle array. While everywhere, above this sweet glad garden world, the butterflies, purple and jewelled, the red‐starts in their ruby coats, the dainty azure‐winged blue‐warblers, the golden‐girdled wasp with his pinions light as mist, and the velvet‐coated bee with his pleasant harvest song, flew ever in the sunlight, murmuring, poising, praising, rejoicing.

The place was beautiful in its own simple, quiet way; lying in a hollow, where the river tumbled down in tow or three short breaks and leaps which broke its habitual smooth and sluggish form, and brought it in a sheet of dark water and with a million foam‐bells against the walls of the mill‐house and under the ponderous wheels.

The wooden house itself also was picturesque, in the old fashion common when men built their dwellings slowly and for love; with all its countless carvings black by age, its jutting beams shapen into grotesque human likeness and tragic masks; its parquetted work run over by the green cups of stoneworks, and its high roof with deep shelving eave bright with diapered tiles of blue and white and rose, and alive all day with curling swallows, with pluming pigeons, with cooing doves.

It was beautiful; and the heart of Reine Flamma’s young daughter doubtless would have clung to it, with all a child’s instinct of love and loyalty to its home, had it not been to her only a prison‐house wherein three bitter gaolers for ever ruled her with a rod of iron—bigotry and penury and cruelty.

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She flung herself down a moment in the garden, on the long grass under a mulberry tree, ere she went in to give her account of the fruit sold and the monies brought by her.

She had been on foot since four o’clock in the dawn of that sultry day; her only meal had been a bowl or cold milk and a hunch of dry bread crushed in her strong small teeth. She always toiled hard at such bodily labour as was set to her; to domestic work, to the work of the distaff and spindle, of the stove and the needle, they had never been able to break her; they had found that she would be beaten black and blue ere she would be bound to it; but against open air exertion she had never rebelled, and she had in her all the strength and the swiftness of the nomadic race of the Liébana, and had nought of their indolence and their dishonesty.

She was very hungry, she was again thirsty; yet she did not break off a fruit from any bough about her; she did not steep her hot lips in any one of the cool juicy apricots which studded the stones of the wall beyond her.

No one had ever taught her honesty, except indeed in that dim dead time when Phratos had closed her small hands in his whenever they had stretched out to some forbidden thing, and had said, “Take the goods the gods give thee, but steal not from men.” And yet honest she was, by reason of the fierce proud savage independence in her, and her dim memories of that sole friend loved and lost.

She wanted many a thing, many a time;—nay, nearly every hour that she lived, she wanted those sheer necessaries which make life endurable; but she had taught herself to do without them rather than owe them by prayer or plunder to that human race which she hated, and to which she always doubted her own kinship.

Buried in the grass, she now abandoned herself to the bodily delights of rest, of shade, of coolness, of sweet odours: the scent of the fruits and flowers was heavy on the air; the fall of the water made a familiar tempestuous music on her ear; and her fancy, poetic still, though deadened by a life of ignorance and toil, was stirred by the tender tones of the numberless birds that sang about her.

“The earth and the air are good,” she thought, as she lay page: 99 there watching the dark leaves sway in the foam and the wind, and the bright‐bosomed birds float from blossom to blossom.

For there was latent in her, all untaught, that old pantheistic instinct of the divine age, when the world was young, to behold a sentient consciousness in every leaf unfolded to the light; to see a soul in every created thing the day shines on; to feel the presence of an eternal life in every breeze that moves, in every grass that grows; in every flame that lifts itself to heaven; in every bell that vibrates on the air; in every moth that soars to reach the stars.

Pantheism is the religion of the poet; and nature had made her a poet, though man as yet had but made of her an outcast, a slave, and a beast of burden.

“The earth and the air are good,” she thought, watching the sun‐rays pierce the purple heart of a passion‐flower, the shadows move across the deep brown water, the radiant butterfly alight upon a lily, the scarlet‐throated birds dart in and out, through the yellow feathery blossoms of the limes.

All birds were her friends.

Phratos had taught her in her infancy many notes of their various songs, and many ways and means of luring them to come and rest upon her shoulder and peck the berries in her hands. She had lived so much in the open fields and amongst the woods that she had made her chief companions of them. She could emulate so deftly all their voices, from the call of the wood dove to the chant of the blackbird, and from the trill of the nightingale to the twitter of the titmouse, that she could summon them all to her at will, and have dozens of them fluttering around her head and swaying their pretty bodies on her wrist.

It was one of her ways that seemed to the peasantry so weird and magical; and they would come home from their fields on a spring day‐break and tell their wives in horror how they had seen the devil’s daughter in the red flush of the sunrise, ankle‐deep in violets, and covered with birds from head to foot, hearing their whispers, and giving them her messages to carry in return.

One meek‐eyed woman had dared once to say that St. Francis had done as much, and it had been accredited to him as a fair action and virtuous knowledge; but she was page: 100 frowned down and chattered down by her louder neighbours, who told her that she might look for some sharp judgment of heaven for daring to couple together the blessed name of the holy saint and the accursed name of this foul spirit.

But all they could say could not break the charmed communion between Folle‐Farine and her feathered companions.

She loved them and they her. In the hard winter she had always saved some of her scanty meal for them, and in the springtime and the summer they always rewarded her with floods of songs and soft caresses from their nestling wings.

There were no rare birds, no birds of moor and mountain, in that cultivated and populous district; but to her all the little home‐bred things of pasture and orchard were full of poetry and of character.

The robins, with that pretty air of boldness with which they veil their real shyness and timidity; the strong and saucy sparrows, powerful by the strength of all mediocrities and majorities; all the dainty families of finches in their gay apparellings; the plain brown bird that filled the night with music; the gorgeous oriole ruffling in gold, the gilded princeling of them all; the little blue warblers, the violets of the air; the kingfishers who had hovered so long over the forget‐me‐nots upon the rivers that they had caught the colours of the flowers on their wings; the bright black‐caps green as the leaves, with their yellow waistcoats and velvet hoods, the innocent freebooters of the woodland liberties: all these were her friends and lovers, various as any human crowds of court or city.

She loved them; they and the fourfooted beasts were the sole things that did not flee from her; and the woeful and mad slaughter of them by the peasants was to her a grief passionate in its despair. She did not reason on what she felt; but to her a bird slain was a trust betrayed, an innocence defiled, a creature of heaven struck to earth.

Suddenly on the silence of the garden there was a little shrill sound of pain; the birds flew high in air, screaming and startled; the leaves of a bough of ivy shook as with a struggle.

She rose and looked; a line of twine was trembling against the foliage; in its noosed end the throat of the page: 101 mavis had been caught; it hung tremblingly and clutching at the air convulsively with its little drawn up feet. It had flown into the trap as it had ended its joyous song and soared up to join its brethren.

There were a score of such traps set in the miller’s garden.

She unloosed the cord from about its tiny neck, set it free, and laid it down upon the ivy: the succour came too late; the little gentle body was already without breath; the feet had ceased to beat the air; the small soft head had drooped feebly on one side; the lifeless eyes had started from their sockets; the throat was without song for evermore.

“The earth would be good but for men,” she thought, as she stood with the little dead bird in her hand.

Its mate, which was poised on a rose bough, flew straight to it, and curled round and round about the small slain body, and piteously bewailed its fate, and mourned, refusing to be comforted, agitating the air with trembling wings, and giving out vain cries of grief.

Vain; for the little joyous life was gone; the life that asked only of God and Man a home in the green leaves; a drop of dew from the cup of a rose; a bough to swing on in the sunlight; a summer day to celebrate in song.

All the winter through, it had borne cold and hunger and pain without lament; it had saved the soil from destroying larvæ, and purified the trees from all foul germs; it had built its little home unaided, and had fed its nestlings without alms; it had given its sweet song lavishly to the winds, to the blossoms, to the empty air, to the deaf ears of men; and now it lay dead in its innocence; trapped and slain because human greed begrudge it a berry worth the thousandth part of a copper coin.

Out from the porch of the mill‐house Claudis Flamma came, with a knife in his hand and a basket, to cut lilies for one of the choristers of the cathedral, since the morrow would be the religious feast of the Visitation of Mary.

He saw the dead thrush in her hand, and chuckled to himself as he went by.

“The tenth bird trapped since sunrise,” he said, thinking how shrewd and how sure in their make were these traps of twine that he set in the grass and the leaves.

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She said nothing; but the darkness of disgust swept over her face, as he came in sight in the distance.

She knelt down and scraped a hole in the earth; and laid moss in it and put the mavis softly on its green and fragrant bier, and covered it with handsful of fallen rose leaves and with a spring or two of thyme.

Around her head the widowed thrush flew ceaselessly, uttering sad cries;—who now should wander with him through the sunlight?—who now should rove with him above the blossoming fields?—who now should sit with him beneath the boughs hearing the sweet rain fall between the leaves?—who now should wake with him whilst yet the world was dark, to feel the dawn break, ere the east were red, and sing a welcome to the unborn day?

CHAPTER IV.

MEANWHILE Claudis Flamma cut the lilies for the cathedral altars, muttering many holy prayers as he gathered the flowers of Mary.

When the white lily sheaves had been borne away, kept fresh in wet moss, by the young chorister who had been sent for them, the miller turned to her.

“Where is the money?”

She, standing beside the buried bird, undid the leathern thong about her waist, opened the pouch, and counted out the coins, one by one, on the flat stone of a water tank amongst the lilies and the ivy.

There were a few silver pieces of slight value and some dozens of copper ones. The fruit had been left at various stalls and houses in small portions, for it was the custom to supply it fresh each day.

He caught them up with avidity, bit and tested each, counted them again and again, and yet again; after the third enumeration he turned sharply on her.

“There are two pieces too little: what have you done with them?”

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“There are two sous short,” she answered him curtly. “Twelve of the figs for the tanner Florian were rotten.”

“Rotten!—they were but over ripe.”

“It is the same thing.”

“You dare to answer me?—animal! I say they had only tasted a little too much of the sun. It only made them the sweeter.”

“They were rotten.”

“They were not. You dare to speak! If they had been rotten, they lay under the others; he could not have seen—”

“I saw.”

“You saw! Who are you?—a beggar—a beast—a foul offspring of sin. You dared to show them to him, I will warrant?”

“I showed him that they were not good.”

“And gave him back the two sous?”

“I took seven sous for what were good. I took nothing for the rotten ones.”

“Wretch! you dare to tell me that!”

A smile careless and sarcastic curled her mouth; her eyes looked at him with all their boldest, fiercest lustre.

“I never steal—not even from you, good Flamma.”

“You have stolen now!” he shrieked, his thin and feeble voice rising in fury at his lost coins and his discovered treachery. “It is a lie that the figs were rotten; it is a lie that you took but seven sous. You stole the two sous to buy you bread and honey in the streets, or to get a drink at the wine shops. I know you; I know you; it is a devil’s device to please your gluttonous appetite. The figs rotten!—not so rotten as is your soul would they be though they were black as night and though they stank as river mud! Go back to Denis Florian and bring me the two sous, or I will thrash you as a thief.”

She laughed a hard, scornful, reckless laughter.

“You can thrash me; you cannot make me a thief.”

“You will not go back to Florian?”

“I will not ask him to pay for what was bad.”

“You will not confess that you stole the money?”

“I should lie if I did.”

“Then strip.”

She set her teeth in silence; and without a moment’s page: 104 hesitation unloosened the woollen sash knotted round her waist, and pushed down the coarse linen tunic from about her throat.

The white folds fell from off the perfect curves of her brown arms, and left bare her shining shoulders, beautiful as any sculptured Psyche’s.

She was not conscious of degradation in her punishment; she had been bidden to bow her head and endure the lash from the earliest years she could remember. According to the only creed she knew, silence and fortitude and strength were the greatest of all virtues.

She stood now in the cross lights among the lilies as she had stood when a little child, erect, unquailing, and ready to suffer; insensible of humiliation because unconscious of sin; and so tutored by severity and exposure that she had as yet none of the shy shame and the fugitive shrinking of her sex. She had only the boldness to bear, the courage to be silent, which she had had when she had stood amongst the same tall lilies, in the same summer radiance, in the years of her helpless infancy.

She uncovered herself to the lash as a brave hound crouches to it; not from inborn cowardice, but simply from the habit of obedience and of endurance.

He had used her as the Greeks the Helots; he always beat her, when she was at fault, to teach her to be faultless; and, when without offence, beat her to remind her that she was the offspring of humiliation, and a slave.

He took, as he had taken in an earlier time, a thick rope which lay coiled upon the turf ready for the binding of some straying boughs; and struck her with it, slowly. His arm had lost somewhat of its strength, and his power was unequal to his will. Still rage for the loss of his copper pieces, and the sense that she had discovered the fraudulent intention of his small knavery, lent force to his feebleness; as the scourge whistled through the air and descended on her shoulders it left bruised, swollen marks to stamp its passage, and curling, adder‐like, bit and drew blood.

Yet to the end she stood mute and motionless, as she had stood in her childhood; not a nerve quivered, not a limb flinched: the colour rushed over her bent face and her bare chest, but she never made a movement; she never gave a sound.

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When his arm dropped from sheer exhaustion, she still said not one word; she drew tight once more the sash about her waist, and fastened afresh the linen of her bodice.

The bruised and wounded flesh smarted and ached and throbbed; but she was used to such pain, and bore it as their wounds were borne by the women of the Spartan games.

“Your two sous have brought you bitterness,” he muttered with a smile. “You will scarce find my fruit rotten again in haste. There are bread and beans within; go get a meal; I want the mule to take flour to Barbizène.”

She did not go within to eat; the bruises and the burning of her skin made her feel sick and weak. She went away and cast herself at full length in the shade of the long grasses of the orchard; resting her chin upon her hands, cooling her aching breast against the soft damp moss; thinking, thinking, thinking, of what she hardly knew, except, indeed, that she wished that she were dead, like the bird she had covered with the leaves.

He did not leave her long to even so much peace as this; his shrill voice soon called her from her rest; he bade her get ready the mule and go.

She obeyed.

The animal was saddled with his wooden pack; as many sacks as he could carry were piled upon the framework; she put her hand upon his bridle, and set out to walk to Barbizène which was two leagues away.

“Work is the only thing to drive the devil that begat her out of her,” muttered the miller, as he watched the old mule pace down the narrow, tree‐shadowed road that led across the fields: and he believed that he did rightly in this treatment of her.

It gratified the sharp hard cruelty of temper in him, indeed, but he did not think that in such self‐indulgence he ever erred. He was a bitter, cunning, miserly old man, whose solitary tenderness of feeling and honesty of pride had been rooted out for ever when he had learned the dishonour of the woman whom he had deemed a saint. In the ten years of time which had passed since first the little brown large‐eyed child had been sent to seek asylum with page: 106 him, he had grown harder and keener and more severe with each day that rose.

Her presence was abhorrent to him, though he kept her, partly from a savage sense of duty, partly from the persuasion that she had the power in her to make the strongest and the cheapest slave he had ever owned. For the rest, he sincerely and devoutly believed that the devil, in some witchery of human guise, had polluted his daughter’s body and soul, and that it was by the foul fiend and by no earthly lover that she had conceived and borne the creature who now abode with him.

Perhaps, also, as was but natural, he sometime felt more furious against this offspring of hell because ever and again some gleam of fantastic inborn honour, some strange savage instinct of honesty, would awake in her and oppose him, and make him ashamed of those small and secret sins of chicanery wherein his soul delighted, and for which he compounded with his gods.

He had left her mind a blank, because he thought the body laboured hardest when the brain was still asleep, which is true; she could not read; she could not write; she knew absolutely nothing.

Yet there was a soul awake in her; there were innumerable thoughts and dreams brooding in her fathomless eyes; there was a desire in her, fierce and unslaked, for some other life than this life of the packhorse and of the day labourer which alone she knew.

He had done his best to degrade and to brutalise her, and in much he had succeeded; but he had not succeeded wholly. There was a liberty in her that escaped his thraldom; there was a soul in her that resisted the deadening influence of her existence.

She had none of the shame of her sex; she had none of the timorous instincts of womanhood. She had a savage stubborn courage, and she was insensible of the daily outrages of her life. She would strip bare to his word obediently, feeling only that it would be feeble and worthless to dread the pain of the lash. She would bathe in the woodland pool, remembering no more that she might be watched by human eyes than does the young tigress that has never beheld the face of man.

In all this she was brutalised and degraded by her tyrant’s page: 107 bondage: in other things she was far higher than he, and escaped him.

Stupefied as her mind might be by the exhaustion of severe physical labour, it had still irony and it had still imagination; and under the hottest heats of temptation there were two things which by sheer instinct she resisted, and resisted so that neither of them had ever been forced on her—they were falsehood and fear.

“It is the infamous strength of the devil!” said Claudis Flamma, when he found that he could not force her to deviate from the truth.

The world says the same of those who will not feed it with lies.

CHAPTER V.

THAT long dry summer was followed by an autumn of drought and scarcity.

The prayers of the priests and peoples failed to bring down rain. The wooden Christs gazed all day long on parching lands and panting cattle. Even the broad deep rivers shrank and left their banks to bake and stink in the long drought.

The orchards sickened for lack of moisture, and the peasants went about with feverish faces, ague‐stricken limbs, and trembling hearts. The corn yielded ill in the hard scorched ground, and when the winter came it was a time of dire scarcity and distress.

Claudis Flamma and a few others like him alone prospered.

The mill‐house at Yprès served many purposes. It was a granary, a market, a baker’s shop, an usurer’s den, all in one.

It looked a simple and innocent place. In the summer time it was peaceful and lovely, green and dark and still, with the blue sky above it, and the songs of birds all around; with its old black timbers, and its many‐coloured orchards, and its pretty leafy gardens, and its grey walls page: 108 washed by the hurrying stream. But in the winter it was very dreary, utterly lonely. The water roared, and the leafless trees groaned in the wind, and the great leaden clouds of rain or fog enveloped it duskily.

To the starving, wet, and woe‐begone peasants who would go to it with aching bones and aching hearts, it seemed desolate and terrible. They dreaded with a great dread the sharp voice of its master—the hardest and the shrewdest and the closest fisted Norman of them all.

For they were most of them his debtors, and so were in a bitter subjugation to him, and had to pay those debts as best they might with their labour or their suffering; with the best of all their wool, or oil, or fruit; often with the last bit of silver that had been an heirloom for five centuries, or with the last bit of money buried away in an old pitcher under their apple tree to be the nest egg of their little pet daughter’s dowry.

And yet Claudis Flamma was respected among them; for he could outwit them, and was believed to be very wealthy, and was a man who stood well with the good saints and with holy Church:—a wise man, in a word, with whom these northern folks had the kinship of mutual industry and avarice.

For the most part the population around Yprès was thrifty and thriving in a cautious, patient, certain way of well‐doing; and, by this portion of it, the silent old miser was much honoured as man laborious and penurious, who chose to live on a leek and a rye loaf, but who must have, it was well known, put by large gains in the thatch of his roof or under the bricks of his kitchen.

By the smaller section of it—poor, unthrifty, loose‐handed fools—who belied the province of their birth so far as to be quick to spend and slow to save, and who therefore fell into want and famine and had to borrow of others their children’s bread, the old miller was hated with a hate deeper and stronger because forced to be mute, and to submit, to cringe, and to be trod upon, in the miserable servitude of the hopeless debtor.

In the hard winter which followed on that sickly autumn these and their like fell farther in the mire of poverty than ever, and had to come and beg of Flamma loans of the commonest necessaries of their bare living. They knew page: 109 that they would have to pay a hundredfold in horrible extortion when the spring and summer should bring them work, and give them fruit on their trees and crops on their little fields; but they could do no better.

It had been for many years the custom to go to Flamma in such need; and being never quit of his hold, his debtors never could try for aid elsewhere.

The weather towards the season of Noel became frightfully severe; the mill stream never stopped, but all around it was frozen, and the swamped pastures were sheets of ice. The birds died by thousands in the open country, and several of the sheep perished in snow storms on the higher lands.

There was dire want in many of the hovels and homesteads, and the bare harvests of a district, usually so opulent in the riches of the soil, brought trouble and dearth in their train.

Sickness prevailed because the old people and the children in their hunger ate berries and roots unfit for human food; the waters swelled, the ice melted, and many homes were flooded, and some even swept away.

Old Pitchou and Claudis Flamma alone were content; the mill wheel never stopped work, and famine prices could be asked for in this extremity.

Folle‐Farine worked all that winter, day after day, month after month, with scarcely a word being spoken to her, or scarcely an hour being left her that she could claim as her own.

She looked against the snow as strangely as a scarlet rose blossoming in frost there could have done; but the people that came to and fro, even the young men amongst them, were too used to that dark vivid silent face of hers, and those lithe brown limbs that had the supple play and the golden glow of the East in them, to notice them as any loveliness; and if they did note them on some rare time, thought of them only as the marks of a vagrant and accursed race.

She was so unlike to themselves that the northern peasantry never dreamed of seeing beauty in her; they turned their heads away when she went by, striding after her mule or bearing her pitcher from the well with the free and vigorous grace of a mountain or desert‐born creature.

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The sheepskin girt about her loins, the red kerchief knotted to her head, the loose lithe movements of her beautiful limbs, the sullen fire and fierce dreams in her musing eyes,—all these were so unlike themselves that they saw nothing in them except what was awful or unlovely.

Half the winter went by without a kind word to her from any one except such as in that time of suffering and scarcity Marcellin spoke to her. So had every winter gone since she had come there—a time so long ago that the memory of Phratos had become so dim to her that she often doubted if he also were not a mere shadow of a dream like all the rest.

Half the winter she fared hardly and ate sparingly, and did the work of the mule and the bullocks: indifferent and knowing no better, and only staring at the stars when they throbbed in the black skies on a frosty night, and wondering if she would ever go to them, or if they would ever come to her—those splendid and familiar yet unknown things that looked on all the misery of the earth, and shone on tranquilly and did not seem to care.

Time came close on to the new year, and the distress and the cold were together at their height. The weather was terrible; and the poor suffered immeasurably.

A score of times a‐day she heard them ask bread at the mill, and a score of time saw them given a stone; she saw them come in the raw fog, pinched and shivering, and sick with ague, and she saw her grandsire deny them with a grating sarcasm or two, or take from them fifty times its value for some niggard grant of food.

“Why should I think of it, why should I care?” she said to herself; and yet she did both, and could not help it.

There was among the sufferers one old and poor, who lived not far from the mill, by name Manon Dax.

She was a little old hardy brown woman, shrivelled and bent, yet strong, with bright eyes like a robin’s, and a tough frame, eighty years old.

She had been southern born, and the wife of a stone cutter; he had been dead fifty years, and she had seen all her sons and daughters and their offspring die too; and had now, left on her hand to rear, four young great‐grandchildren, almost infants, who were always crying to her for food as new‐born birds cry in their nests.

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She washed a little, when she could get any linen to wash, and she span, and she picked up the acorns and the nuts, and she tilled a small plot of ground that belonged to her hut, and she grew cabbages and potatoes and herbs on it, and so kept a roof over her head, and fed her four nestlings, and trotted to and fro in her wooden shoes all day long, and worked in hail and rain, in drought and tempest, and never complained, but said that God was good to her.

She was anxious about the children, knowing she could not live long—that was all. But then she felt sure that the Mother of God would take care of them, and so was cheerful; and did what the day brought her to do, and was content.

Now on Manon Dax, as on thousands of others, the unusual severity of the winter fell like a knife.

She was only one amongst thousands. Nobody noticed her; still it was hard.

All the springs near her dwelling were frozen for many weeks; there was no well nearer than half a league; and half a league out and half a league back every other day over ground sharp and slippery with ice, with two heavy pails to carry, is not a little when one is over eighty, and has only a wisp of woollen serge between the wind and one’s withered limbs.

The acorns and horse‐chestnuts had all been disputed with her fiercely by boys rough and swift, who foresaw a time coming in which their pigs would be ill‐fed. The roots in her little garden plot were all black and killed by the cold. The nettles had been all gathered and stewed and eaten.

The snow drove in through a big hole in her roof. The woods were ransacked for every bramble and broken bough by reivers younger and more agile than herself; she had nothing to eat, nothing to burn.

The children lay in their little beds of hay and cried all day long for food, and she had none to give them.

“If it were only myself!” she thought, stopping her ears not to hear them; if it had been only herself it would have been so easy to creep away into the corner among the dry grass, and to lie still till the cold froze the pains of hunger and made them quiet; and to feel numb and tired, page: 112 and yet glad that it was all over, and to murmur that God was good, and so to let death come—content.

But it was not only herself.

The poor are seldom so fortunate—they themselves would say so unhappy—as to be alone in their homes.

There were the four small lives left to her by the poor dead foolish things she had loved,—small lives that had been rosy even on so much hunger, and blithe even amidst so much cold; that had been mirthful even at the flooding of the snowdrift, and happy even over a meal of mouldy crusts, or of hips and haws from the hedges. Had been—until now, when even so much as this could not be got, and when their beds of hay were soaked through with snow‐water; now—when they were quite silent, except when they sobbed out a cry for bread.

“I am eighty‐two years old, and I have never since I was born asked man or woman for help, or owed man or woman a copper coin,” she thought, sitting by her black hearth, across which the howling wind drove, and stopping her ears to shut out the children’s cries.

She had often known severe winters, scanty food, bitter living,—she had scores of times in her long years been as famished as this, and as cold, and her house had been as desolate.

Yet she had borne it all and never asked for an alms, being strong and ignorant, and being also in fear of the world, and holding a debt a great shame.

But now she knew that she must do it, or let those children perish; being herself old and past work, and having seen all her sons die out in their strength before her.

The struggle was long and hard with her.

She would have to die soon, she knew, and she had striven all her lifetime so to live that she might die saying, “I have asked nothing of any man.”

This perhaps, she thought sadly, had been only a pride after all; a feeling foolish and wicked, that the good God sought now to chasten.

Any way she knew that she must yield it up and go and ask for something; or else those four small things, that were like a cluster of red berries on a leafless tree, must suffer and must perish.

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“It is bitter, but I must do it,” she thought. “Sure it is strange that the good God cares to take any of us to himself through so sharp a way as hunger. It seems, if I saw His face now, I should say, ‘Not heaven for me, Monseigneur: only bread and a little wood.’”

And she rose up on her bent stiff limbs, and went to the pile of hay on which the children were lying, pale and thin, but trying to smile, all of them, because they saw the tears on her cheeks.

“Be still, my treasures,” she said to them, striving to speak cheerily, and laying her hands on the curls of the eldest born; “I go away for a little while to try and get you food. Be good, Bernardou, and take care of them till I come back.”

Bernardou promised, being four years old himself; and she crept out of the little black door of the hut into the white road and the rushing winds.

“I will go to Flamma,” she said to herself.

It was three in the afternoon, nearly dark at the season of midwinter. The business of the day was done.

The people had come and gone, favoured or denied, according to such sureties as they could offer.

The great wheel worked on in the seething water; the master of the mill sat against the casement to catch the falling light, adding up the sums in his ledger—crooked little signs such as he had taught himself to understand, though he could form neither numerals nor letters with his pen.

All around him in the storehouses there were corn, wood, wool, stores of every sort of food. All around him, in the room he lived in, there were hung the salt meats, the sweet herbs, and the dried fruits, that he had saved from the profusion of other and healthier years. It pleased him to know that he held all that, and also withheld it.

It moved him with a certain saturnine glee to see the hungry wistful eyes of the peasants stare longingly at all those riches, whilst their white lips faltered out an entreaty—which he denied. It was what he liked; to sit there and count his gains after his fashion, and look at his stores and listen to the howling wind and driving hail, and to chuckle to think how lean and cold and sick they were outside—those fools who had mocked him because his saint had been a gipsy’s leman.

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To be prayed to for bread, and give the stone of a bitter denial; to be implored with tears of supplication, and to answer with a grim jest; to see a woman come with children dying for food, and to point out to her the big brass pans full of milk, and say to her, “All that makes butter for Paris,” and then to see her go away wailing and moaning that her child would die, and tottering feebly through the snow—all this was sweet to him.

Before his daughter had gone from him, he had been, though a hard man, yet honest, and had been, though severe, not cruel; but since he had been aware of the shame of the creature whom he had believed in as an angel, every fibre in him had been embittered and salted sharp with the poignancy of an acrid hate towards all living things. To hurt and to wound, and to see what he thus struck bleed and suffer, was the only pleasure life had left for him. He had all his manhood walked justly, according to his light, and trusted in the God to whom he prayed; and his God and his trust had denied and betrayed him, and his heart had turned to gall.

The old woman toiled slowly through the roads which lay between her hut and the water‐mill.

They were roads which passed through meadows and along corn‐fields, beside streamlets, and amongst little belts of woodland, lanes and paths green and pleasant in the summer, but now a slough of frozen mud, and whistled through by north‐east winds. She held on her way steadily, stumbling often, and often slipping and going slowly, for she was very feeble from long lack of food, and the intensity of the cold drove through and through her frame.

Still she held on, bravely, in the teeth of the rough winds and of the coming darkness, though the weather was so wild that the poplar trees were bent to the earth, and the little light in the Calvary lamp by the river blew to and fro, and at last died out. Still she held on, a little dark tottering figure, with a prayer on her lips and a hope in her heart.

The snow was falling, the clouds were driving, the waters were roaring in the twilight: she was only a little black speck in the vast grey waste of the earth and the sky, and the furious air tossed her at times to and fro like a withered leaf. But she would not let it beat her; she groped her page: 115 way with infinite difficulty, grasping a bough for strength, or waiting under a tree for breath a moment, and thus at last reached the mill‐house.

Such light as there was left showed her the kitchen within, the stores of wood, the strings of food; it looked to her as it had looked to Phratos, a place of comfort and of plenty; a strong safe shelter from the inclement night.

She lifted the latch and crept in, and went straight to Claudis Flamma, who was still busy beneath the window with those rude signs which represented to him his earthly wealth.

She stood before him white from the falling snow, with her brown face working with a strong emotion, her eyes clear and honest, and full of an intense anxiety of appeal.

“Flamma,” she said simply to him, “we have been neighbours fifty years and more—thou and I, and many have borrowed of thee to their hurt and shame, but I never. I am eighty‐two, and I never in my days asked anything of man or woman or child. But I come to‐night to ask bread of you,—bread for the four little children at home. I have heard them cry three days, and have had nothing to give them save a berry or two off the trees. I cannot bear it any more. So I have come to you.”

He shut his ledger, and looked at her. They had been neighbours, as she had said, half a century and more; and had often knelt down before the same altar, side by side.

“What dost want?” he asked simply.

“Food,” she made answer; “food and fuel. They are so cold—the little ones.”

“What canst pay for them?” he asked.

“Nothing—nothing now. There is not a thing in the house except the last hay the children sleep on. But if thou wilt let me have a little—just a little—while the weather is so hard, I will find means to pay when the weather breaks. There is my garden; and I can wash and spin. I will pay faithfully. Thou knowest I never owed a brass coin to any man. But I am so old, and the children are so young—”

Claudis Flamma got up and walked to the other side of the kitchen. Her eyes followed him with wistful, hungry longing.

Where he went there stood pans of new milk, baskets of page: 116 eggs, rolls of bread, piles of faggots. Her feeble heart beat thickly with eager hope, her dim eyes glowed with pleasure and with thankfulness.

He came back and brought to her a few sharp rods, plucked from a thorn tree.

“Give these to thy children’s children,” he said, with a dark smile. “For these—and for no more—will they recompense thee when they shall grow to maturity.”

She looked at him startled and disquieted, yet thinking that he meant but a stern jest.

“Good Flamma, you mock me,” she murmured, trembling; “the babes are little and good. Ah, give me food quickly, for God’s sake! A jest is well in season, but to an empty body and a bitter heart it is like a stripe.”

He smiled, and answered her in this harsh grating voice,

“I give thee the only thing given without payment in this world—advice. Take it or leave it.”

She reeled a little as if he had struck her a blow with his fist, and her face changed terribly, whilst her eyes stared without light or sense in them.

“You jest, Flamma! You only jest!” she muttered. “The little children starve, I tell you. You will give me bread for them? Just a little bread? I will pay as soon as the weather breaks.”

“I can give nothing. I am poor, very poor,” he answered her, with the habitual lie of the miser; and he opened his ledger again, and went on counting up the dots and crosses by which he kept his books.

His servant Pitchou sat spinning by the hearth: she did not cease her work, nor intercede by a word.

The poor can be better to the poor than any princes; but the poor can also be more cruel to the poor than any slave drivers.

The old woman’s head dropped on her breast, she turned feebly, and felt her way, as though she were blind, out of the house and into the air.

It was already dark with the darkness of descending night.

The snow was falling fast. Her hope was gone: all was cold—cold as death.

She shivered and gasped, and strove to totter on: the children were alone. The winds blew and drove the snow page: 117 flakes in a white cloud against her face; the bending trees creaked and groaned as though in pain; the roar of the mill‐water filled the air.

There was now no light: the day was gone, and the moon was hidden; beneath her feet the frozen earth cracked and slipped and gave way.

She fell down; being so old and so weakly she could not rise again, but lay still with one limb broken under her, and the winds and the storm beating together upon her.

“The children! the children!” she moaned feebly, and then was still: she was so cold, and the snow fell so fast; she could not lift herself nor see what was around her; she thought that she was in her bed at home, and felt as though she would soon sleep.

Through the dense gloom around her there came a swiftly moving shape, that flew as silently and as quickly as a night bird, and paused as though on wings beside her.

A voice that was at one timid and fierce, tender and savage, spoke to her through the clouds of driven snow spray.

“Hush, it is I! I—Folle‐Farine. I have brought you my food. It is not much—they never give me much. Still it will help a little. I heard what you said—I was in the loft. Flamma must not know; he might make you pay. But it is all mine, truly mine, take it.”

“Food—for the children!”

The blessed word aroused her from her lethargy; she raised herself a little on one arm, and tried to see whence the voice came that spoke to her. But the effort exhausted her; she fell again to the ground with a groan—her limb was broken.

Folle‐Farine stood above her; her dark eyes gleaming like a hawk’s through the gloom, and full of a curious, startled pity.

“You cannot get up; you are old,” she said, abruptly. “See—let me carry you home. The children! yes, the children can have it. It is not much; but it will serve.”

She spoke hastily and roughly; she was ashamed of her own compassion. What was it to her, whether any of these people lived or died? They had always mocked and hated her.

“If I did right, I should let them rot, and spit on their page: 118 corpses,” she thought, with the ferocity of vengeance that ran in her oriental blood.

Yet she had come out in the storm, and had brought away her food for strangers, though she had been at work all day long, and was chilled to the bone, and was devoured with a ravenous hunger.

Why did she do it?

She did not know. She scorned herself. But she was sorry for this woman, so poor and brave, with her eighty‐two years, and so bitterly denied in her extremity.

Manon Dax dimly caught the muttered words, and feebly strove to answer them, whilst the winds roared and the snow beat upon her fallen body.

“I cannot rise,” she murmured; “my leg is broken, I think. But it is no matter. Go you to the little ones; whoever you are, you are good, and have pity. Go to them, go. It is no matter for me. I have lived my life—any way. It will soon be over. I am not in pain—indeed.”

Folle‐Farine stood in silence a moment, then she stooped and lifted the old creature in her strong young arms, and with that heavy burden set out on her way in the teeth of the storm.

She had known the woman, and the little ones, by sight and name long and well.

Once or twice when she had passed by them, the grandam, tender of heart, but narrow of brain, and believing all the tales of her neighbours, had drawn the children closer to her, under the wing of her serge cloak, lest the evil eye that had bewitched the tanner’s youngest born, should fall on them, and harm them in like manner.

Nevertheless the evil eyes gleamed on her with a wistful sorrow, as Folle‐Farine bore her with easy strength and a sure step, through the frozen woodland ways, as she would have borne the load of wood, or the sack of corn, which she was so well used to carry to and fro like a packhorse.

Manon Dax did not stir, she did not even strive to speak again; she was vaguely sensible of a slow, buoyant, painless movement, of a close soft pressure that sheltered her from the force of the winds, of a subtle warmth that stole through her emaciated aching frame, and made her drowsy and forgetful, and content to be still.

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She could do no more. Her day for struggle and for work was done.

Once she moved a little. Her bearer paused and stopped and listened.

“Did you speak?”

Manon Dax gave a soft troubled sigh.

“God is good,” she muttered, like one speaking in a dream.

Folle‐Farine held on her way, as before her Phratos had once held on his; fiercely blown, blinded by the snow, pierced by the blasts of the hurricane, but sure of foot on the ice as a reindeer, and sure of eye in the dark as a night‐hawk.

“Are you in pain?” she asked once of the burden she carried.

There was no answer.

“She is asleep,” she thought; and went onward.

The distance of the road was nothing to her, fleet and firm of step, and inured to all hardships of the weather; yet it cost her an hour to travel it, heavily weighted as she was, soaked with snow‐water, blown back continually by the opposing winds, and forced to stagger and to pause by the fury of the storm.

At last she reached the hut.

The wind had driven open the door. The wailing cries of the children echoed sorrowfully on the stillness, answered by the bleating of sheep, cold and hungry in their distant folds. The snow had drifted in unchecked; all was quite dark.

She felt her way within over the heaps of the snow, and being used by long custom to see in the gloom, as the night‐haunting beasts and birds can see, she found the bed of hay, and laid her burden gently down on it.

The children ceased their wailing; the two eldest ones crept up close to their grandmother; and pressed their cheeks to hers, and whispered to her eagerly, with their little famished lips:

“Where is the food, where is the food?”

But there was still no answer.

The clouds drifted a little from the moon which had been so long obscured; it shone for a moment through the vapour of the heavy sky; the whitened ground threw back the rays page: 120 increased tenfold; the pale gleam reached the old still face of Manon Dax.

There was a feeble smile upon it—the smile with which her last words had been spoken in the darkness; “God is good!”

She was quite dead.

CHAPTER VI.

ALL that night Folle‐Farine tarried with the children.

The youngest had been suffocated whilst they had been alone, by the snow that had fallen through the roof, from which its elders had been too small and weakly to be able to drag it out, unaided. She laid it, stiff already in the cold night, beside the body of its old grandam, who had perished in endeavouring to save it; they lay together, the year‐old child and the aged woman, the broken bud and the leafless bough. They had died of hunger, as the birds die on the moors and plains; it is a common fate.

She stayed beside the children, who were frightened and bewildered and quite mute. She divided such food as she had brought between them, not taking any herself. She took off the sheepskin which she wore in winter tied round her loins as her outdoor garment, and made a little nest of it for the three, and covered them with it. She could not close the door, from the height of the drifted snow, and the wind poured in all night long, though in an hour the snow ceased to fall.

Now and then the clouds parting a little, let a ray of the moon stray in; and then she could see the quiet faces of the old woman and the child.

“They die of famine—and they die saying their ‘God is good,’” she thought; and she pondered on it deeply, with the bitter and melancholy irony which life had already taught her.

The hours of the night dragged slowly on; the winds howled above the trembling hovel; the children sobbed themselves to sleep at last, lulled by the warmth of the page: 121 sheepskin, in which they crept together like young birds in a nest.

She sat there patiently; frozen and ravenous; yet not drawing a corner of the sheepskin to her own use, nor regretting a crumb of the bread she had surrendered.

She hated the human race, whose hand was always against her. She had no single good deed to thank them for, nor any single gentle word. Yet she was sorry for that old creature, who had been so bitterly dealt with all her years through, who had died saying “God was good.” She was sorry for those little helpless, unconscious starving animals, who had lost the only life that could labour for theirs.

She forgave—because she forgot—that in other winters this door had been shut against her as against an accursed thing, and these babes had mocked her in their first imperfect speech.

The dawn broke; the sharp grey winter’s day came; the storm had lulled; but the whole earth was frost‐bound and white with snow, the air was piercing, the sky dark and overcast.

She had to leave them; she was bound to her daily labour at the mill; she knew that if when the sun rose she were found to be absent, she and they too would surely suffer. What to do for them she could not tell. She had no friend save Marcellin, who himself was as poor as these. She never spoke to any living thing, except a sheep‐dog, or a calf bleating for its mother, or a toil‐worn bullock staggering over the ploughed clods.

Between her, and all those around her, there were perpetual enmity and mistrust, and scarcely so much of a common bond as lies in a common humanity. For in her title to a common humanity with them they disbelieved; while she in her scorn rejected all claim to it.

At daybreak there passed by the open door in the mist, a peasant going to his cattle in the fields beyond, pushing through the snow a rude hand‐cart full of turnips, and other winter food.

She rose and called to him.

He stared and stood still.

She went to the doorway and signed to him.

“Old Manon is dead. Will you tell the people? The children are here, alone, and they starve.”

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“Manon Dax dead?” he echoed stupidly: he was her nearest neighbour, and he had helped her to fetch her washing‐water sometimes from the well half a league away, and when his wife had been down, with fever and ague, the old woman had nursed her carefully and well through many a tedious month.

“Yes, I found her on the road, in the snow, last night. She had broken her leg, and she was dead before I got here. Go and send some one. The little children are all alone, and one of them is dead too.”

It was so dark still, that he had not seen at first who it was that addressed him, but slowly, as he stared and stared, and drew nearer to her, he recognised the scarlet girdle, the brown limbs, the straight brow, the fathomless eyes.

He feared her, with a great fear rising there suddenly before him, out of that still white world of dawn and shadow.

He dropped the handles of his cart and fled; a turn in the road, and the darkness of the morning, soon hid him from sight. She thought that he had gone to summon his people, and she went back and sat again by the sleeping children, and watched the sad still faces of the dead.

The peasant flew home as swiftly as his heavy shoes and the broken ice of the roads would allow.

His cabin was at some distance, at a place where, amidst the fields, a few huts, a stone crucifix, some barns and stacks, and a single wineshop made up a little village, celebrated in the district for its wide spreading orchards and their excellence of fruits.

Even so early the little hamlet was awake; the shutters were opened; the people were astir; men were brushing the snow from their thresholds; women were going out to their field‐work; behind the narrow lattices the sleepy eyes and curly heads of children peered, while their fingers played with the fanciful encrustations of the frost.

The keeper of the tavern was unbarring his house door; a girl broke the ice in a pool for her ducks to get at the water; a few famished robins flew to and fro songless.

His own wife was on her doorstep; to her he darted.

“Manon Dax is dead!” he shouted.

“What of that?” said his wife, shouldering her broom; a great many had died that winter, and they were so poor page: 123 and sharp‐set with famine themselves, that they had neither bread nor pity to spare.

“This of that!’ cried the old man, doggedly, and full of the excitement of his own terrors. “The young devil of Yprès has killed her, that I am sure. She is there in the hut in the dark, with her eyes glaring like coals. And for what should she be there if not for evil? Tell me that.”

“Is it possible?” his wife cried, incredulous, yet willing to believe.

The girl left her ducks, the wineshop‐keeper his door, the women their cabins, and came and stood round the bearer of such strange news: very welcome news in a raw frost‐bitten dawn, when a day was beginning that would otherwise have had nothing more wonderful in it than tidings of how a litter of black pigs throve, and how a brown horse had fared with the swelling in the throat.

They were very dull there from year’s end to year’s end; once a month, may be, a letter would come in from some soldier‐son or brother, or a pedlar coming to buy eggs would bring likewise some stray rumour from the outer‐world;—beyond this there was no change, they heard nothing, and saw nothing, seldom moving a league away from that stone crucifix, round which their homes were clustered.

The man Flandrin had nothing truly to tell; he had fled horrified to be challenged, in the twilight and the snow, by a creature of such evil omen. But when he had got an audience, he was too true an orator, and not such a fool as to lose it for such a little beggarly matter as the truth; and his tongue clacked quickly of all which his fears and fancies had conceived, until he had talked himself and his listeners into the full belief that Manon Dax being belated had encountered the evil glance of the daughter of all evil, and had been slain thereby in most cruel sorcery.

Now, in the whole neighbourhood, there was nothing too foul to be credible of the begotten of the fiend—a fiend whom all the grown men and women remembered so well in his earthly form, when he had come to ruin poor Reine Flamma’s body and soul, with his eyes like jewels, and his strength passing the strength of all men.

The people listened, gaping, and wonderstruck, and forgetting the bitterness of the cold, being warmed with those unfailing human cordials of foul suspicion and of gratified page: 124 hatred. Some went off to their daily labour, being unable to spare time for more gossip; but divers women who had nothing to occupy them remained about Flandrin.

A shrivelled dame, who owned the greatest number of brood‐hens in the village, and who had only one son, a priest, and who was much respected and deferred to by her neighbours, spoke first when Flandrin had ended his tale for the seventh time, it being a little matter to him that his two hungry cows would be lowing all the while vainly for their morning meal.

“Flandrin, you have said well, beyond a doubt; the good soul has been struck dead by sorcery. But, you have forgot one thing, the children are there, and that devil of Yprès is with them. We—good Christians and true—should not let such things be. Go, and drive her out and bring the young ones hither.”

Flandrin stood silent.

It was very well to say that the devil should be driven out, but it was not so well to be the driver.

“That is as it should be,” assented the other woman. “Go, Flandrin, and we—we will take the little souls in for this day, and then give them to the public charity, better cannot be done. Go.”

“But mind that thou dost strike that beast, Folle‐Farine, sharply!” cried his wife.

“If thou showest her the cross, she will have to grovel and flee,” said another.

“Not she,” grumbled an old dame, whose son was a priest. “One day my blessed son, who is nearly a saint, Heaven knows, menaced her with his cross, and she stood straight, and fearless, and looked at it, and said, ‘By that sign you do all manner of vileness in this world, and say you are safe to be blest in another; I know!’ and so laughed and went on. What are you to do with a witch like that—eh?”

“Go, Flandrin,” shrieked the women in chorus, “Go! Every minute you waste the little angels are nearer to hell!”

“Come yourselves with me, then,” said Flandrin, sullenly. “I will not go after those infants, it is not a man's work.”

In his own mind he was musing on a story which his priests had often told him, of swine into which exorcised page: 125 devils had entered, and despatched swiftly down a slope to a miserable end; and he thought of his own pigs, black, fat, and happy, worth so much to him in the market.

Better, he mused, that Manon Dax’s grandchildren should be the devil’s prey, than those, his choicest, swine.

The women jeered him, menaced him, flouted him, besought him. But vainly—he would not move alone. He had become possessed of the terrors of his own fancy had created; and he would not stir a step for all their imprecations.

“Let us go ourselves, then!” screamed his wife at length, flourishing above her head the broom with which she had swept the snow. “Men are ever cowards. It shall never be said of me, that I left those babes to the fiend while I gave my own children their porridge by the fire!”

There was a sentiment in this that stirred all her companions to emulation. They rushed into their homes, snatched a shovel, a staff, a broom, a pig‐stick, each whatever came uppermost, and dragging Flandrin in the midst, went down the sloping frozen road between its fringe of poplars.

They were not very sure in their own minds, why they went, nor for what they went; but they had a vague idea of doing what was wise and pious, and they had a great hate in their hearts against the child. They sped as fast as the slippery road would let them, and their tongues flew still faster than their feet; the cold of the daybreak made them sharp and keen on their prey, as the air was on themselves; they screamed fable on fable hoarsely, their voices rising shrilly above the whistling of the winds, and the creaking of the trees, and they inflamed each other with ferocious belief in the sorcery they were to punish.

They were in their way virtuous; they were content on very little; they toiled hard from their birth to their grave; they were most of them chaste wives and devoted mothers, they bore privation steadily, and they slaved in fair weather and foul without a complaint. But they were narrow of soul, greedy of temper, bigoted and uncharitable, and, when they thought themselves or their offspring menaced, implacable.

They were of the stuff that would be burned for a creed, and burn others for another creed.

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It is the creed of the vast majority of every nation; the priests and lawgivers of every nation have always told their people that it is a creed holy and honourable—how can the people know that it is at once idiotic and hellish?

Folle‐Farine sat within on the damp hay under the broken roof, and watched the open door.

The children were still asleep. The eldest one in his sleep had turned and caught her hand, and held it.

She did not care for them. They had screamed, and run behind the woodstock, or their grandam's skirts, a hundred times when they had seen her on the road or in the orchard.

But she was sorry for them; almost as sorry as she was for the little naked woodpigeons when their nests were scattered on the ground in a tempest, or for the little starveling rabbits when they screamed in their holes for the soft white mother that was lying, tortured and twisted, in the jaws of a steel‐trap.

She was sorry for them—half roughly, half tenderly sorry—with some shame at her own weakness, and yet too sincerely sorry to be able to persuade herself to leave them to their fate there, all alone with their dead. For in the savage heart of Taric’s daughter there was an innermost corner wherein her mother’s nature slept.

She sat there quite still, watching the porch, and listening for footsteps.

The snow was driven in encircling clouds by the winds, the dense fog of the dawn lifted itself off the surrounding fields; the branches of the trees were beautiful with hanging icicles; from the meadow hard‐by there wailed unceasingly the mournful moaning of Flandrin’s cattle, deserted of their master, and hungry in their wooden sheds.

She heard a distant convent clock strike six: no one came. Yet she had resolved not to leave the children all alone, though Flamma should come and find her there, and thrash her for her absence from his tasks. So she sat still, and waited.

After a little she heard the crisp cracking of many feet on the frozen snow and ice‐filled ruts of the narrow road; she heard a confused clatter of angry voices breaking harshly on the stillness of the winter morning.

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The light was stronger now, and through the doorway she saw the little passionate crowd of angry faces as the women pressed onward down the hill with Flandrin in their midst.

She rose, and looked out at them, quietly.

For a minute they paused—irresolute, silent, perplexed: at the sight of her they were half daunted; they felt the vagueness of the crime they came to bring against her.

The wife of Flandrin recovered speech first, and dared them to the onslaught.

“What!” she screamed, “nine good Christians fearful of one daughter of hell? Fie! for shame! Look; my leaden Peter is round my neck! Is he not stronger than she any day?”

In a moment more, thus girded at and guarded at the same time, they were through the door and stood on the mud floor of the hearth, close to her, casting hasty glances at the poor dead body on the hearth, whose fires they had left to die out all through that bitter winter.

They came about her in a fierce, gesticulating, breathless troop, flourishing their sticks in her eyes, and casting at her all their various charges in one breath. Flandrin stood a little aloof, sheepishly on the threshold, wishing that he had never said a word of the death of Manon Dax to his good wife and neighbours.

“You met that poor saint and killed her in the snow with your witcheries!” one cried.

“You have stifled that poor babe where it lay!” cried another.

“A good woman like that!” shrieked a third, “who was well and blithe and praising God only a day ago, for I saw her myself come down the hill for our well water!”

“It is as you did with the dear little Rémy, who will be lame all his life, through you,” hissed a fourth. “You are not fit to live; you spit venom like a toad.”

“Are you alive, my angels?” said a fifth, waking the three children noisily, and rousing their piercing cries. “Are you alive after that witch has gazed on you? It is a miracle! The Saints be praised!”

Folle‐Farine stood mute and erect for the moment, not comprehending why they thus with one accord fell upon her. She pointed to the bodies on the hearth, with one of page: 128 those grave and dignified gestures which were her birthright from the old oriental race.

“She was cold and hungry,” she said curtly, her mellow accent softening and enriching the provincial tongue which she had learned from those amidst whom she dwelt. “She had fallen, and was dying. I brought her here. The young child was killed by the snow. I stayed with the rest because they were frightened and alone. There is no more to tell. What of it?”

“Thou hast better come away. What canst thou prove?” whispered Flandrin to his wife.

He was afraid of the storm he had invoked, and would fain have stilled it. But that was beyond his power. The women had not come forth half a league in the howling winds of a midwinter daybreak only to go back with a mere charity done, and with no vengeance taken.

They hissed, they screamed, they hurled their rage at her; they accused her of a thousand crimes; they filled the hut with clamor as of a thousand tongues; they foamed, they spat, they struck her with their sticks; and she stood quiet, looking at them, and the old dead face of Manon Dax which lay upward in the dim light.

The eldest boy struggled in the grasp of the peasant woman who had seized him, and stretched his arms, instead, to the one who had fed him, and whose hand he had held all through his restless slumber in that long and dreary night. The woman covered his eyes with a scream.

”Ah—h!” she moaned, “see how the innocent child is bewitched! It is horrible!”

“Look on that;—oh infernal thing!” cried Flandrin’s wife, lifting up her treasured figure of Peter. “You dare not face that blessed image. See—see all of you—how she sh winces, and turns white!”

Folle‐Farine had shrunk a little as the child had called to her. Its gesture of affection was the first that she had ever seen towards her in any human thing.

She laughed aloud as the image of Peter was thrust in her face. She saw it was some emblem and idol of their faith, devotedly cherished. She stretched her hand out, wrenched it away, trampled on it, and tossed it through the doorway into the snow, where it sank and disappeared. Then she folded her arms, and waited for them.

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There was a loud shriek at the blasphemy of the impious act; then they rushed on her.

They came inflamed with all the fury which abject fear and bigoted hatred can beget in minds of the lowest and most brutal type. They were strong, rude, ignorant, fanatical peasants, they abhorred her, they believed no child of theirs safe in its bed while she walked abroad alive. Beside such women, when in wrath and riot, the tiger and they hyæna are as the lamb and the dove.

They set on her with furious force, flung her, trod on her, beat her, kicked her with their wood‐shod feet, with all the malignant fury of the female animal that fights for its offspring’s and its own security.

Strong though she was, and swift, and full of courage, she had no power against the numbers who had thrown themselves on her, and borne her backward by dint of their united effort, and held her down to work their worst on her.

She could not free herself nor return their blows, nor lift herself to wrestle with them; she could only deny them the sweetness of wringing from her a single cry, and that much she did.

She was mute while the rough hands flew at her, the sticks struck at her, the heavy feet were driven against her body, the fingers clutched at her long hair, and twisted and tore at it—she was quite mute throughout.

“Prick her in the breast, and see if the devil be still in her. I have heard say there is no better way to test a witch!” cried Flandrin’s wife, writhing in rage for the outrage to the Petrus.

Her foes needed no second bidding; they had her already prostrate in their midst, and a dozen eager hands seized a closer grip upon her, pulled her clothes from her chest, and, holding her down on the mud floor, searched with ravenous eyes for the signet marks of hell.

The smooth skin baffled them; its rich and tender hues were without spot or blemish.

“What matter; what matter?” hissed Rose Flandrin. “When our fathers hunted witches in the old time, did they stop for that? Draw blood, and you will see.”

She clutched a jagged rusty nail from out the wall, and leaned over her prey.

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“It is the only babe that will ever cling to thee!” she cried, with a laugh, as the nail drew blood above the heart.

Still Folle‐Farine made no sound and asked no mercy.

She was powerless, defenceless, flung on her back amidst her tormentors, fastened down by treading feet and clenching hands; she could resist in nothing, she could not stir a limb, still she kept silence, and her proud eyes looked unquailing into the hateful faces bent to hers.

The muscles and nerves of her body quivered with a mighty pang, her chest heaved with the torture of indignity, her heart fluttered like a wounded bird—not at the physical pain, but at the shame of these women’s gaze, the loathsome contact of their reckless touch. The iron pierced deeper, but they could not make her speak.

Except for her eyes, that glowed with a dusky fire as they glanced to and fro, seeking escape, she might have been a statue of olive wood, flung down by ruffians to make a bonfire.

“If one were to drive the nail to the head, she would not feel!” cried the women, in furious despair, and were minded, almost, to put her to the uttermost test.

Suddenly from the doorway Flandrin raised an alarm:

“There is our notary close at hand, on the road on his mule! Hist! Come out quickly. You know how strict he is, and how he forbids us ever to try and take the law into our own keeping. Quick—as you love your lives—quick!”

The furies left their prey, and scattered and fled; the notary was a name of awe to them, for he was a severe man, but just.

They seized the children, went out with them into the road, closed the hut door behind them, and moved down the hill; the children wailing sadly, and the eldest trying to get from them and go back.

The women looked mournful and held their heads down, and comforted the little ones; Flandrin himself went to his cattle in the meadow.

"Is anything amiss?" the old white‐haired notary asked, stopping his favourite grey mule at sight of the little calvacade.

The women, weeping, told him that Manon Dax was dead, and the youngest infant likewise—of cold, in the night, as page: 131 they supposed. They dared to say no other thing, for he had many times rebuked them for their lack of charity and their bigoted cruelties and superstitions, and they were quaking with fear lest he should by any chance enter the cottage and see their work.

“Flandrin, going to his cow, saw her first, and he came to us and told us,” they added, crossing themselves fervently, and hushing little Bernardou, who wanted to get from them and return; “and we have taken the poor little things to carry them home; we are going to give them food, and warm them awhile by the stove, and then we shall come back and do all that is needful for the beloved dead who are within.”

“That is well. That is good and neighbourly of you,” said the notary, who liked them all, having married them all, and registered their children’s births, and who was a good old man though stern; kindly and very honest.

He promised them to see for his part that all needed by the law and by the church should be done for their old lost neighbour, and then urged his fat mule into a trot, for he had been summoned to a rich man’s sick bed in that early winter morning, and was in haste lest the priest should be beforehand with him there.

“How tender the poor are to the poor! Those people have not bread enough for themselves, and yet they burden their homes with three strange mouths. Their hearts must be true at the core, if their tongues sometimes be foul,” he mused, as he rode the mule down through the fog.

The women went on, carrying and dragging the children with them, in a sullen impatience.

“To think we should have had to leave that fiend of Yprès!” they muttered in their teeth. “Well, there is one thing, she will not get over the hurt for days. Her bones will be stiff for many a week. That will teach her to leave honest folk alone.”

And they traversed the road slowly; muttering to one another.

“Hold thy noise, thou little pig!” cried Flandrin’s wife, pushing Bernardou on before her. “Hold thy noise, I tell you, or I will put you in the black box in a hole in the ground, along with thy great‐grandmother.”

But Bernardou wept aloud, refusing to be comforted or page: 132 terrified into silence. He was old enough to know that never more would the old kindly withered brown face bend over him as he woke in the morning, nor the old kindly quavering voice croone him country ballads and cradle songs at twilight by the bright wood fire.

Little by little the women carrying the children crept down the slippery slope, half ice and half mud in the thaw, and entered their own village, and therein were much praised for their charity and courage.

For when they praise, as when they abuse, villages are loud of voice and blind of eye, much as are the cities.

Their tongues, and those of their neighbours, clacked all day long, noisily and bravely, of their good and their great deeds; they had all the sanctity of martyrdom, and all the glory of victory, in one.

True, they had left all their house and field work half done;—“but the Holy Peter will finish it in his own good time, and avenge himself for his outrage,” mused the wife of Flandrin, sorrowing over her lost Petrus in the snowdrift, and boxing the ears of little Bernardou, as he huddled in her chimney corner, to make him cease from weeping.

When they went back with their priest at noon to the hut of old Manon Dax to make her ready for her burial, they trembled inwardly lest they should find their victim there, and lest she should lift her voice in accusation against them. Their hearts misgave them sorely. Their priest, a cobbler’s son, and almost as ignorant as themselves, would be, they knew, on their own side; but they were sensible that they had let their fury hurry them into acts which could easily be applauded by their neighbours, but not so easily justified to the law.

“For the law is over good,” said Rose Flandrin, “and takes the part of all sorts of vile creatures. It will protect a rogue, a brigand, a bullock, a dog, a witch, a devil—anything,—except now and then an honest woman.”

But their fears were groundless; she was gone; the hut when they entered it had no tenants except the lifeless famished bodies of the old grandam and the year‐old infant.

When Folle‐Farine had heard the hut door close, and the steps of her tormentors die away down the hill, she had tried page: 133 vainly several times to raise herself from the floor, and had failed.

She had been so suddenly attacked and flung down and trampled on, that her brain had been deadened, and her sense had gone for the first sharp moment of the persecution.

As she lifted herself slowly, and staggered to her feet, and saw the blood trickle where the nail had pierced her breast, she understood what had happened to her; and her face grew savage and dark, and her eyes fierce and lustful, like the eyes of some wild beast rising wounded in his lair.

It was not for the hurt she cared; it was the shame of defeat and outrage that stung her like a whip of asps.

She stood awhile looking at the dead face of the woman she had aided.

“I tried to help you,” she thought. “I was a fool. I might have known how they pay any good done to them.”

She was not surprised; her mind had been too deadened by a long course of ill usage to feel any wonder at the treatment with which she had been repaid.

She hated them with the mute unyielding hatred of her race, but she hated herself more because she had yielded to the softness of sorrow and pity for any human thing; and more still because she had not been armed and on her guard, and had suffered them to prevail and to escape without her vengeance.

“I will never come abroad without a knife in my girdle again,” she thought—this was the lesson that her charity had brought her as its teaching.

She went out hardening her heart, as she crept through the doorway into the snow and the wind, so that she should not leave one farewell word or token of gentleness with the dead, that lay there so tranquil on the ashes of the hearth.

“She lied, even in her last breath!” thought Folle‐Farine. “She said that her God was good!”

She could hardly keep on her own homeward way. All her limbs were stiff and full of pain. The wound in her chest was scarcely more than skin deep, yet it smarted sorely and bled still. Her brain was dull, and her ears were filled with strange noises from the force with which she had been flung backward on her head.

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She had given her sheepskin to the children, as before her Phratos had done; and one of the peasants had carried the youngest away in it. The sharpness of the intense cold froze the blood in her as she crawled through a gap in the poplar hedge, and under the whitened brambles and grasses, beyond, to get backward to the mill by the path that ran through the woods and pastures.

The sun had risen, but was obscured by fog, through which it shed a dull red ray here and there above the woods in the east.

It was a bitter morning, and the wind, though it had abated, was still rough, and drove the snow in clouds of powder hither and thither over the fields. She could only move very slowly, very stiffly; the thorns tearing her, the snow blinding her, the icicles lacerating her bare feet as she moved.

She wondered, dimly, why she lived. It seemed to her that the devil, when he had made her, must have made her out of sport and cruelty, and then tossed her into the world to be a scapegoat and a football for any creature that might need one.

That she might end her own life never occurred to her; her intelligence was not awake enough to see that she need not have borne its burden one hour more, so long as there had been one pool in the woods deep enough to drown her under its green weeds and lily leaves any cool summer night. Nay,—that she had but to lie down, then and there, where she was, beneath the ice‐dropping trees, and let the sleep that weighed so heavily on her eyelids come, dreamless and painless, and there would be an end of all for her, as for the frozen rabbits and the birds that strewed the upland meadows, starved and stiff.

She did not know;—and had she known, wretched though existence was to her, death would not have allured her. She saw that the dead might be slapped on their cheek, and could not lift their arm to strike again—a change that would not give her vengeance could have had no sweetness and no succour for her. The change she wanted was to live, not to die.

By tedious and painful efforts, she dragged herself home by the way of the lanes and pastures; hungry, lame, page: 135 bleeding, cold and miserable, with her eyes burning, and her hands and her head hot with fever.

She made her way into the mill‐yard and tried to commence her first morning’s work; the drawing of water from the well for the beasts and for the house, and the sweeping down of the old wide court round which the sheds and storehouses ran.

She never dreamed of asking either for food or pity, either for sympathy or remission of her labours. She set to work at once, but for the only time since Phratos had brought her thither, the strength and vigour of her frame had been beaten.

She was sick and weak; her hand sank off the handle of the windlass; and she dropped stupidly on the stone edge of the well, and sat there leaning her head on her hands.

The mastiff came and licked her face tenderly. The pigeons left the meal flung to them on the snow, and flew merrily about her head in pretty fluttering caresses. The lean cat came and rubbed its cheek softly against her, purring all the while. The woman Pitchou saw her, and she called out of the window to her master.

“Flamma! there is thy gad‐about, who has not been a’ bed all night.”

The old man heard, and came out of his mill to the well in the courtyard.

“Where hast been?” he asked sharply of her. “Pitchou says thou hast not lain in thy bed all night long. Is it so?”

Folle‐Farine lifted her head slowly, with a dazed stupid pain in the look of her eyes.

“Yes, it is true,” she answered, doggedly.

“And where hast been then?” he asked, through his clenched teeth; enraged that his servant had been quicker of eye and ear than himself.

A little of her old dauntless defiance gleamed in her face through its stupor and langour, as she replied to him with effort in brief phrases.

“I went after old Manon Dax, to give her my supper. She died in the road, and I carried her home. And the youngest child was dead too. I stayed there because the children were alone; I called to Flandrin and told him; he came with his wife and other women, and they said I had page: 136 killed old Dax; they set on me, and beat me, and pricked me for a witch. It is no matter. But it made me late.”

In her glance upward, even in the curtness of her words, there was an unconscious glimmer of appeal, a vague fancy that for once she might, perhaps, meet with approval and sympathy, instead of punishment and contempt. She had never heard a kind word from him, nor one of any compassion, and yet a dim unuttered hope was in her heart, that for once he might condemn her persecutors and pardon her.

But the hope was a vain one, like all which she had cherished since first the door of the mill‐house had opened to admit her.

Flamma only set his teeth tighter. In his own soul he had been almost ashamed of his denial to his old neighbour, and had almost feared, that it would lose him the good will of that good heaven which sent him so mercifully such a sharp year of famine to enrich him. Therefore, it infuriated him, to think that this offspring of a foul sin should have had pity and charity, where he had lacked them.

He looked at her and saw with grim glee, that she was black and blue with bruises, and that the linen which she held together across her bosom had been stained with blood.

“Flandrin and his wife are honest people, and pious,” he said, in answer to her. “When they find a wench out of her bed at night, they deal rightly with her, and do not hearken to any lies that she may tell them of feigned alms‐giving to cover her vices from their sight. I thank them that they did so much of my work for me. They might well prick thee for a witch; but they will never cut so deep into thy breast, as to be able to dig the mark of the devil out of it. Now, up and work, or it will be worse for thee.”

She obeyed him.

There during the dark winter’s day, the pain which she endured, with her hunger and the cold of the weather, made her fall thrice, like a dead thing, on the snow of the court, and the floors of the sheds. But she lay insensible till the youth in her brought back consciousness, without aid; in those moments of faintness, no one noticed her save the dog, who came and crept to her to give her warmth, and strove to wake her with the kisses of his rough tongue.

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She did her work as best she might; neither Flamma nor his servant once spoke to her.

“My women dealt somewhat roughly with thy wench at break of day, good Flamma,” said the man Flandrin, meeting him in the lane that afternoon, and fearful of offending the shrewd old man who had so many of his neighbours in his grip. “I hope thou wilt not take it amiss? The girl maddened my dame—spitting on her Peter, and throwing the blessed image away in a ditch.”

“The woman did well,” said Flamma coldly, driving his grey mare onward through the fog.

Flandrin could not tell whether he were content, or were displeased.

Claudis Flamma hardly knew which he was, himself; he held her as the very spawn of hell itself, and yet it was loathsome to him, that his neighbours should also know, and say, that a devil had been the only fruit of that fair offspring of his own, whom he and they had so long held as a saint.

The next day and the next, and the next again after that, she was too ill to stir; they beat her and called her names, but it was of no use; they could not get work out of her; she was past it, and beyond all rousing of their sticks, or of their words.

They were obliged to let her be. She stayed for nearly four days in the hay in her loft; devoured with fever, and with every bone and muscle in pain. She had a pitcher of water by her and drank continually, thirstily, like a sick dog. With rest and no medicine but the cold spring water, she recovered: she had been delirious in a few of the hours, and had dreamed of nothing but of the old life in the Liébana, and of the old sweet music of Phratos. She remained there untended, shivering and fever‐stricken, until the strength of her youth returned to her. She rose on the fifth day weaker, but otherwise little the worse; with the soft sad songs of her old friend the viol ringing always through her brain.

The fifth day from the death of Manon Dax, was the day of the new year.

There was no work being done at the mill; the wheel stood still, locked fast, for the deep stream was close bound in ice; frost had returned, and the country was white with page: 138 snow two feet deep, and bleak and bare, and rioted over by furious cross winds.

Flamma and Pitchou were in the kitchen when she entered it; they looked up, but neither spoke to her. In being ill—for the first time since they had had to do with her,—she had committed, for the millionth time, a crime.

There was no welcome for her in that cheerless place, where scarcely a spark of fire was allowed to brighten the heart, and where the hens, straying in from without, sat with ruffled feathers, chilled and moping, and where the Black Forest clock in the corner, had stopped from the intense cold.

There was no welcome for her—she went out into the air, thinking the woods, even at midwinter, could not be so lonesome as was the cheerless house.

The sun was shining through a rift in the stormy clouds, and the white roofs, and the ice‐crusted waters, and the frosted trees, were glittering in its light.

There were many dead birds about the paths. Claudis Flamma had thought their famine‐time a good one, in which to tempt them with poisoned grain.

She wondered where the dog was who never had failed to greet her,—a yard farther on she saw him.

He was stretched stiff and lifeless beside the old barrel that had served him as a kennel; his master had begrudged him the little straw needful to keep him from the hurricanes of those bitter nights; and he had perished quietly, without a moan, like a sentinel slain at his post—frozen to death in his old age after a life of faithfulness repaid with blows.

She stood by him a while with dry eyes, but with an aching heart. He had loved her, and she had loved him; and many a time she had risked a stroke of the lash to save it from his body; and many a time she had sobbed herself to sleep in her earlier years, with her arms curled round him, as round her only friend and only comrade in bondage and in misery.

She stooped down; kissed him softly on his broad grizzled forehead, and lifted his corpse into a place of shelter, and covered it tenderly, so that he should not be left to the crows and the kites, until she should be able to make his grave in page: 139 those orchards in which he had loved so well to wander, and in which he and she had spent all their brief hours of summer liberty and leisure.

She shuddered as she looked her last on him; and filled in the snow above his tomb, under the old twisted pear tree, beneath which, he and she had so often sat together in the long grasses, consoling one another for scant fare and cruel blows by the exquisite mute sympathy which can exist betwixt the canine and the human animal when the two are alone, and love and trust each other, only, out of all the world.

Whilst the dog had lived, she had had two friends; now that he slept for ever in the old grey orchard, she had but one left.

She went to seek this one.

Her heart ached for a kind glance—for a word that should be neither of hatred or of scorn. It was seldom that she allowed herself to know such a weakness. She had dauntless blood in her; she came of a people that despised pity, and who knew how to live hard, and to die hard, without murmur or appeal. Yet she had clung to the old mastiff, who was savage to all save herself; so she still clung to the old man Marcellin who to all save herself was a terror and a name of foul omen.

He was good to her in his own fierce and rugged way; and they had the kinship of the proscribed; and they loved one another in a strange, silent, savage manner, as a yearling wolf cub and an aged grizzled bear might love each other in the depths of forest, where the foot of the hunter and the fangs of the hound were alike against the young and the old.

She had not seen him for six days. She felt ill, and weak, and cold, and alone. She thought she would go to him in his hut, and sit a little by his lonely hearth, and hear him tell strange stories of the marvelous time when he was young, and the world was drunk with a mad sweet dream which had never come true upon earth.

Her heart was in wild revolt, and a fierce futile hate gnawed ever in it. She had become used to the indignities of the populace, and the insults of all the people who went to and fro her grandsire’s place; but each one pierced deeper and deeper than the last, and left a longer scar, and page: 140 killed more and more of the gentler and better instincts which had survived in her through all the brutalising debasement of her life.

She could not avenge the outrage of Rose Flandrin and her sisterhood, and being unable to avenge it, she shut her mouth and said nothing of it, as her habit was. Nevertheless it festered and rankled in her; and now and then the thought crossed her—why not take a flint and a bit of tow, and burn them all in their beds as they slept in that little hollow at the foot of the hill?

She thought of it often—would she ever do it? She did not know.

It had a taint of cowardice in it; yet a man that very winter had fired a farmstead for far less an injury, and had burned to death all who had lain therein that night. Why should she not kill and burn these also? They had never essayed to teach her to do better, and when she had tried to do good to one of them, the others had set on her as a witch.

In the afternoon of this first day of the year she had to pass through their hamlet to seek Marcellin.

The sun was low and red; the dusky light glowered over the white meadows and through the leafless twilight of the woods; here and there a solitary tree of holly reared itself, scarlet and tall, from the snowdrifts; here and there a sheaf of arrowy reeds pierced the sheets of ice that covered all the streams and pools.

The little village lay with its dark round roofs, cosy and warm, with all the winter round. She strode through it erect, and flashing her scornful eyes right and left; but her right hand was inside her skirt. For such was the lesson which the reward for her charity had taught her—a lesson not lightly to be forgotten, nor swiftly to be unlearned again.

In its simple mode, the little place, like its greater neighbours, kept high festival for a fresh year begun.

Its crucifix rose, bare and white, out of a crown of fir boughs and many wreaths of ruddy berries. On its cabin windows the light of wood cracking and blazing within glowed brightly. Through them she saw many of their interiors as she went by in the shadow without.

In one the children knelt in a circle round the fire, page: 141 roasting chestnuts in the embers with gay shouts of laughter. In another, they romped with their big sheepdog, decking him with garlands of ivy and laurel.

In one little brown room a betrothal party made merry; in another, that was bright with Dutch tiles, and hug round with dried herbs and fruits, an old matron had her arm round the curly head of a sailor lad, home for a short glad hour.

In the house of Flandrin a huge soup‐pot smoked with savoury odour, and the eyes of his wife were soft with a tender mirth as she watched her youngest‐born playing with a Punch, all bells and bright colours, and saw the elder ones cluster round a gilded Jesus of sugar.

In the wine‐shop, the keeper of it, having taken to himself a wife that day, kept open house to his friends, and he and they were dancing to the music of a horn and a fiddle, under rafters bedecked with branches of fir, with many‐hued ribands, and with little oil‐lamps that blew to and fro in the noise of the romp. And all round were the dark still woods, and in the midst rose the crucifix; and above, on the height of the hill, the little old hut of Manon Dax stood dark and empty.

She looked at it all, going through it, with her hand on her knife.

“One spark,” she thought, playing with the grim temptation that possessed her—“one spark on the dry thatch, and what a bonfire they would have for their feasting!”

The thought was sweet to her.

Injustice had made her ravenous and savage. When she had tried to do well, and to save life, these people had accused her of taking it by evil sorcery.

She felt a longing to show them what evil indeed she could do, and to see them burn, and to hear them scream vainly, and then to say to them with a laugh, as the flames licked up their homes and their lives, “Another time, take care how you awake a witch!”

Why did she not do it? She did not know; she had brought out a flint and tinder in the pouch that hung at her side. It would be as easy as to pluck a sere leaf; she knew that.

She stood still and played with her fancy, and it was horrible and sweet to her—so sweet because so horrible.

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How soon their mirth would be stilled!

As she stood thinking, there, and in her fancy seeing the red glare that would light up that peaceful place, and hearing the roar of the lurid flames that would drown the music, and the laughter, and the children’s shouts, out of the twilight there rose to her a small dark thing, with a halo round its head: the thing was Bernardou, and the halo was the shine of his curling hair in the lingering light.

He caught her skirts in his hands, and clung to her and sobbed.

“I know you—you were good that night. The people all say you are wicked, but you gave us your food, and held my hand. Take me back to gran’mère—oh, take me back!”

She was startled and bewildered.

This child had never mocked her, but he had screamed and run from her in terror, and had been told a score of stories that she was a devil, who could kill his body and soul.

“She is dead, Bernardou,” she answered him; and her voice was troubled, and sounded strangely to her as she spoke for the first time to a child without being derided or screamed at in fear.

“Dead! What is that?” sobbed the boy. “She was stiff and cold, I know, and they put her in a hole; but she would waken, I know she would, if she only heard us. We never cried in the night but she heard in her sleep, and got up and came to us. Oh, do tell her—do, do tell her!”

She was silent; she did not know how to answer him, and the strangeness of any human appeal made to her bewildered her and made her mute.

“Why are you out in the cold, Bernardou?” she asked him suddenly, glancing backward through the lattice of the Flandrins’ house, through which she could see the infants laughing and shaking the puppet with gilded bells.

“They beat me; they say I am naughty, because I want gran’mère,” he said, with a sob. “they beat me often, and oh! if she knew, she would wake and come. Do tell her—do! Bernardou will be so good, and never vex her, if only she will come back!”

His piteous voice was drowned in tears.

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His little life had been hard; scant fare, cold winds, and naked limbs had been his portion; yet the life had been bright and gleeful to him, clinging to his grandam’s skirts as she washed at the tub or hoed in the cabbage‐ground, catching her smile when he brought her the first daisy of the year, running always to her open arms in any hurt, sinking to sleep always with the singing of her old ballads on his ear.

It had been a little life, dear, glad, kindly, precious to him, and he wept for it; refusing to be comforted by sight of a gilded puppet in another’s hand, or a sugared Jesus in another’s mouth, as they expected him to be.

It is the sort of comfort that is always offered to the homeless, and they are always thought ungrateful if they will not be consoled by it.

“I wish I could take you, Bernardou!” Folle‐Farine murmured, with a momentary softness that was exquisitely tender in its contrast to her haughty and fierce temper. “I wish I could.”

For one wild instant the thought came to her to break from her bonds, and take this creature who was as lonely as herself, and to wander away and away into that unknown land which stretched around her, and of which she knew no more than one of the dark leaves knew that grew in the snow‐filled ditch.

But the thought passed unuttered; she knew neither where to go nor what to do.

Her few early years in the Liébana were too dream‐like and too vaguely remembered to be any guide to her; and the world seemed only to her in her fancies as a vast plain, dreary and dismal, in which every hand would be against her, and every living thing be hostile to her. Beside, the long habitude of slavery was on her, and it is a yoke that eats into the flesh too deeply to be wrenched off without many an effort.

As she stood thinking, with the child’s eager hands clasping her skirts, a shrill voice called from the woodstack and dung‐heap outside Flandrin’s house:

“Bernardou! Bernardou! thou little plague. Come within. What dost do out there in the dark? Mischief, I will warrant.”

The speaker strode out, and snatched and bore and clutched page: 144 him away; she was the sister of Rose Flandrin, who lived with them, and kept the place and the children in order.

“Thou little beast!” she muttered, in fury. “Dost dare talk to the witch that killed they grandmother? Thou shalt hie to bed, and sup on a fine whipping. Thank God, thou goest to the hospital tomorrow! Thou woudst bring a dire curse on the house in reward for our alms to thee.”

She dragged him in and slammed‐to the door, and his cries echoed above the busy shouts and laughter of the Flandrin family, gathered about the tinselled Punch and the sugared Jesus, and the soup‐pot, that stewed them a fat farm‐yard goose for their supper.

Folle‐Farine listened awhile, with her hand clenched on her knife; then she toiled onward through the village, and left it and its carols and carousings behind her in the red glow of the sinking sun.

She thought no more of setting their huts in a blaze; the child’s words had touched and softened her; she remembered the long patient bitter life of the woman who had died of cold and hunger in her eighty‐second year, and yet who had thus died saying to the last, “God is good.”

“What is their God?” she mused. “They care for him, and he seems to care nothing for them whether they be old or young.”

Yet her heat was softened, and she would not fire the house in which little Bernardou was sheltered.

His was the first gratitude that she had ever met with, and it was sweet to her as the rare blossom of the edelweiss to the traveller upon the highest Alpine summits—a flower full of promise, born amidst a waste.

The way was long to where Marcellin dwelt, but she walked on through the fields that were in summer all one scarlet glow of poppies, and were now a white sheet of frozen water.

The day was over, the evening drew nigh, the sound of innumerable bells in the town echoed faintly from the distance, over the snow: all was still.

On the night of the new year the people had a care that the cattle in the byers, the sheep in the folds, the dogs in the kennels, the swine in the styes, the old cart‐horses in the sheds, should have a full meal and a clean bed, and be able to rejoice.

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In all the country round there were only two that were forgotten—the dead in their graves, and the daughter of Taric.

Folle‐Farine was cold, hungry, and exhausted, for the fever had left her enfeebled; and from the coarse food of the mill‐house her weakness had turned.

But she walked on steadily.

At the hut where Marcellin dwelt she knew that she would be sure of one welcome, one smile; one voice that would greet her kindly; one face that would look on her without a frown.

It would not matter, she thought, how the winds should howl and the hail drive, or how the people should be merry in their homes and forgetful of her and of him. He and she would sit together over the little fire, and give back hate for hate and scorn for scorn, and commune with each other, and want no other cheer or comrade.

It had been always so since he had first met her at sunset amongst the poppies, then a little child of eight years old. Every new‐year’s night she had spent with him in his hovel; and in their own mute way they had loved one another, and drawn closer together, and been almost glad, though often pitcher and platter had been empty, and sometimes even the hearth had been cold.

She stepped bravely against the wind, and over the crisp firm snow, her spirits rising as she drew near the only place that had ever opened its door gladly to her coming; her heart growing lighter as she approached the only creature to whom she had ever spoken her thoughts without derision or told her woes without condemnation.

His hut stood by itself in the midst of the wide pastures, and by the side of a stream.

A little light was wont to twinkle at that hour through the crevices of its wooden shutter; this evening all was dark, the outline of the hovel rose like a rugged mound against the white wastes round it. The only sound was the far‐off chiming of the bells that vibrated strangely on the rarefied sharp air.

She crossed the last meadow where the sheep were folded for the night, and went to the door and pushed against it to open it—it was locked.

She struck it with her hand.

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“Open, Marcellin—open quickly. It is only I.”

There was no answer.

She smote the wood more loudly, and called to him again.

A heavy step echoed on the mud floor within; a match was struck, a dull light glimmered; a voice she did not know muttered drowsily, “Who is there?”

“It is I, Marcellin,” she answered. “It is not night. I am come to be an hour with you. Is anything amiss?”

The door opened slowly, an old woman, whose face was strange to her, peered out into the dusk. She had been asleep on the settle by the fire, and stared stupidly at the flame of her own lamp.

“Is it the old man, Marcellin, you want?” she asked.

“Marcellin, yes—where is he?”

“He died four days ago. Get you gone; I will have no tramps about my place.”

“Died!”

Folle‐Farine stood erect, without a quiver in her face or in her limbs; but her teeth shut together like a steel clasp, and all the rich and golden hues of her skin changed to a sickly ashen pallor.

“Yes, why not?” grumbled the old woman. “To be sure men said that God would never him die, because he killed St. Louis; but myself I never thought that. I knew the devil would not wait more than a hundred years for him—you can never cheat the devil, and he always seems stronger than the saints—somehow. You are that thing of Yprès, are you not? Get you gone!”

“Who are you? Why are you here?” she gasped.

Her right hand was clenched on the door‐post, and her right foot was set on the threshold, so that the door could not be closed.

“I am an honest woman and a pious; and it befouls me to dwell where he dwelt,” the old peasant hissed in loud indignation. “I stood out a whole day, but when one is poor and the place is offered quit of rent, what can one do?—and it is roomy and airy for the fowls, and the priest has flung holy water about and purified it, and I have a Horse‐shoe nailed up, and a St. John in the corner. But be off with you, and take your foot from my door.”

Folle‐Farine stood motionless.

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“When did he die; and how?” she asked in her teeth.

“He was found dead on the road, on his heap of stones, the fourth night from this,” answered the old woman, loving to hear her own tongue, yet dreading the one to whom she spoke. “Perhaps he had been hungered, I do not know; or more likely the devil would not wait any longer; anyways, he was dead—the hammer in his hand. Max Liében, the man that travels with the wooden clocks, found him. He lay there all night. Nobody would touch him. They say they saw the mark of the devil’s claws on him. At last they got a dung‐cart, and took him away before the sun rose. He died just under the great Calvary—it was like his blasphemy. They have put him in the common ditch. I think it shame to let the man that slew a saint be in the same grave with all the poor honest folk who feared God, and were Christians though they might be beggars and outcasts. Get you gone, you be as vile as he. If you want him go ask your father the foul fiend for him—they are surely together now.”

And she drove the door to, and closed it, and barred it firmly within.

“Not but what the devil can get through the chinks,” she muttered, as she turned the wick of her lamp up higher.

Folle‐Farine went back over the snow; blind, sick, feeling her way through the twilight as though it were the darkness of night.

“He died alone—he died alone,” she muttered, a thousand times, as she crept shivering through the gloom; and she knew that now her own fate was yet more desolate. She knew that now she lived alone without one friend on earth.

The death on the open highway; the numbness, and stillness, and deafness to all the maledictions of men; the shameful bier made at night on the dung‐cart, amidst loathing glances and muttered curses; the nameless grave in the common ditch with the beggar, the thief, the harlot, and the murderer;—these, which were so awful to all others, seemed to her as sweet as to sink to sleep on soft unshorn grass, whilst rose leaves are shaken in the wind, and fall as gently as kisses upon the slumberer.

For she in her youth and in the splendour of her strength, and in the blossom of her beauty, gorgeous as a passion‐ page: 148 flower in the sun, envied bitterly the old man who had died at his work on the public road, hated by his kind, and weighted with the burden of nigh a hundred years.

Since his death was not more utterly lonely and desolate than was her life; and to all taunts and to all curses the ears of the dead are deaf.

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