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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 120

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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