Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
previous
next
page: 71

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.

previous
next