Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options

View Options

Table of Contents

Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 149


“L’Artiste est un dieu tombé, qui se souvient du temps quand il créa un monde.”


NIGHT had come; a dark night of earliest spring. The wild day had sobbed itself to sleep after a restless life with fitful breath of storm and many sighs of shuddering breezes.

The sun had sunk, leaving lone tracks of blood‐red light across one‐half the heavens.

There was a sharp crisp coldness as of lingering frost in the gloom and the dulness. Heavy clouds, as yet unbroken, hung over the cathedral and the clustering roofs around it in dark and starless splendour.

Over the great still plains which stretched eastward and southward, black with the furrows of the scarce‐budded corn, the wind blew hard; blowing the river and the many streamlets spreading from it into foam; driving the wintry leaves, which still strewed the earth thickly, hither and thither in legions; breaking boughs that had weathered the winter hurricanes, and scattering the tender blossoms of the snowdrops and the earliest crocuses in all the little moss‐grown garden ways.

The smell of wet grass, of the wood‐born violets, of trees whose new life was waking in their veins, of damp earths turned freshly upwards by the plough, were all blown together by the riotous breezes.

Now and then a light gleamed through the gloom where a little peasant boy lighted home with a torch some old priest on his mule, or a boat went down the waters with a lamp hung at its prow. For it grew dark early, and people used to the river read a threat of flood on its face.

page: 150

A dim glow from the west, which was still tinged with the fire of the sunset, fell through a great square window set in a stone building, and striking across the sicklier rays of an oil lamp reached the opposing wall within.

It was a wall of grey stone, dead and lustreless like the wall of a prison‐house, over whose surface a spider as colourless as itself dragged slowly its crooked hairy limbs loaded with the moisture of the place, which was an old tower, of which the country folk told strange tales, where it stood among the rushes on the left bank of the stream.

A man watched the spider as it went.

It crept on its heavy way across the faint crimson reflection from the glow of the sunken sun.

It was fat, well‐nourished, lazy, content; its home of dusky silver hung on high, where its pleasure lay in weaving, clinging, hoarding, breeding. It lived in the dark; it had neither pity nor regret; it troubled itself neither for the death it dealt to nourish itself, nor for the light without, into which it never wandered; it spun and throve and multiplied.

It was an emblem of the man who is wise in his generation; of the man whom Cato the elder deemed divine; of the Majority and the Mediocrity who rule over the earth and enjoy its fruits.

This man knew that was wise; that those who were like to it were wise also; wise with the only wisdom which is honoured of other men.

He had been unwise—always; and therefore he stood watching the sun die, with hunger in his soul, with famine in his body.

For many months he had been half famished, as were the wolves in his own northern mountains in the winter solstice. For seven days he had only been able to crush a crust of hard black bread between his teeth. For twenty hours he had not done even so much as this. The trencher on his tressel was empty; and he had not wherewithal to refill it.

He might have found some to fill it for him no doubt. He lived amidst the poor, and the poor to the poor are good, though they are bad and bitter to the rich. But he did not open either his lips or his hands. He consumed page: 151 his heart in silence; and his vitals preyed in anguish on themselves without his yielding to their torments.

He was a madman; and Cato, who measured the godliness of man by what they gained, would have held him, accursed;—the madness that starves and is silent for an idea is an insanity, scouted by the world and the gods. For it is an insanity unfruitful; except to the future. And for the future who cares,—save these madmen themselves?

He watched the spider as it went.

It could not speak to him as its fellow once spoke in the old Scottish story. To hear as that captive heard, the hearer must have hope, and a kingdom,—if only in dreams.

This man had no hope; he had a kingdom indeed, but it was not of earth; and, in an hour of sheer cruel bodily pain, earth alone has dominion over power and worth.

The spider crawled across the grey wall; across the glow from the vanished sun; across a coil of a dead passion‐vine, that strayed loosed through the floor; across the classic shapes of a great cartoon drawn in chalks upon the dull rugged surface of stone.

Nothing arrested it; nothing retarded it, as nothing hastened it. It moved slowly on; fat, lustreless, indolent, hueless; reached at length its den, and there squatted aloft, loving the darkness; its young swarming around, its prey held in its forceps, its nest cast about.

Through the open casement there came on the rising wind of the storm, in the light of the last lingering sunbeam, a beautiful night‐moth, begotten by some cruel hot‐house heat in the bosom of some frail exiled tropical flower.

It swam in on trembling pinions, and alighted on the golden head of a gathered crocus that lay dying on the stones—a moth that should have been born to no world save that of the summer world of a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

A shape of Ariel and Oberon; slender, silver, purple, roseate, lustrous‐eyed, and gossamer‐winged.

A creature of woodland waters and blossoming forests; of the yellow chalices of kingcups and the white breasts of river lilies, of moonbeams that strayed through a summer world of shadows, and dewdrops that glistened in the deep folded hearts of roses. A creature to brush the dreaming eyes of a poet, to nestle on the bosom of a young girl page: 152 sleeping: to float earthwards on a fallen star, to slumber on a lotus life.

A creature that amidst the still soft hush of woods and waters still tells, to those who listen, of the world when the world was young.

The moth flew on, and poised on the faded crocus leaves which spread out their pale gold on the level of the grey floor.

It was weary, and its delicate wings drooped; it was storm‐tossed, wind‐beaten, drenched with mist and frozen with the cold; it belonged to the moon, to the dew, to the lilies, to the forget‐me‐nots, and to the night; and it found that the hard grip of winter had seized it whilst yet it had thought that the stars and the summer were with it. It lived before its time,—and it was like the human soul, which being born in the darkness of the world dares to dream of light, and, wandering in vain search of a sun that will never rise, falls and perishes in wretchedness.

It was beautiful exceedingly; with the brilliant tropical beauty of a life that is short‐lived. It rested a moment on the stem of the pale flower, then with its radiant eyes fastened on the point of light which the lamp thrust upward, it flew on high; and, spreading out its transparent wings and floating to the flame, kissed it, quivered once, and died.

There fell among the dust and cinder of the lamp a little heap of shrunken fire‐scorched blackened ashes.

The wind whirled them upward from their rest, and drove them forth into the night to mingle with the storm‐scourged grasses, the pale dead violets, the withered snow‐flowers, with all things frost‐touched and forgotten.

The spider sat aloft, sucking the juices from the fettered flies, teaching its spawn to prey and feed; content in squalor and in plentitude; in sensual sloth, and in the increase of its body and its hoard.

He watched them both: the success of the spider, the death of the moth; trite as a fable; ever repeated as the tides of the sea; the two symbols of humanity; of the life which fattens on greed and gain, and the life which perishes of divine desire.

Then he turned and looked at the cartoons upon the wall; shapes grand and dim, the children of his genius, a genius denied by men.

page: 153

His head sank on his chest, his hand tore the shirt away from his breast, which the pangs of a bodily hunger that he scorned, devoured, indeed, but which throbbed with a pain more bitter than that of even this lingering and ignoble death. He had genius in him, and he had to die like a wolf on the Armorican wolds, yonder westward, when the snows of winter hid all offal from its fangs.

It was horrible.

He had to die for want of the crust that beggars gnawed in the kennels of the city; he had to die of the lowest and commonest need of all—the sheer animal need of food.

J’avais quelque chose là!” was, perhaps, the most terrible of all those death‐cries of despair which the guillotine of Thermidor wrung from the lips of the condemned. For it was the despair of the bodily life for the life of the mind which died with it.

When a man clings to life for life’s sake, because it is fair and sweet, and good to the sight and the senses, there may be weakness in his shudder at its threatening loss. But when a man is loth to lose life, although it be hard and joyless and barren of all delights, because this life gives him power to accomplish things greater than he, which yet without him must perish, there is the strength in him, as there is the agony, of Prometheus.

With him it must die also: that deep dim greatness within him which moves him, despite himself; that nameless unspeakable force, which compels him to create and to achieve; that vision by which he beholds worlds beyond him not seen by his fellows.

Weary of life indeed he may be; of life material, and full of subtlety; of passion, of pleasure, of pain; of the kisses that burn, of the laughs that ring hollow, of the honey that so soon turns to gall, of the sickly fatigues and the tired cloyed hunger that are the portion of men upon earth. Weary of these he may be; but still if the gods have breathed on him and made him mad, with the madness that men have called genius, there will be that in him greater than himself, which he knows,—and cannot know without some fierce wrench and pang,—will be numbed and made impotent, and drift away, lost for evermore, into that eternal Night which is all that men behold of death.

It was so with this man now.

page: 154

Life was barren of all delight for him, full of privation, of famine, of obscurity, of fruitless travail and of vain desire; yet because he believed that he had it in him to be great, or rather because, with a purer and more impersonal knowledge, he believed that it was within his power to do that which, when done, the world would not willingly let die, it was loathsome to him to perish thus of the sheer lack of food, as any toothless snake would perish in its swamp.

He stood opposite to the great white cartoons on which his soul had spent itself; creations which seemed but vague and ghostly in the shadows of the chamber, but in which he saw, or at the least believed he saw, the title‐deeds of his own heirship to the world’s kingdom of fame.

For himself he cared nothing; but for them—he smiled bitterly as he looked: “They will light some bakehouse fire to pay those that may throw my body in a ditch,” he thought.

And yet the old passion had so much dominion still that he instinctively went nearer to his latest and best‐beloved creations, and took the white chalks up and worked once more by the dull sullen rays of the lamp behind him.

They would be torn down on the morrow and thrust for fuel into some housewife’s kitchen‐stove. What matter?

He loved them; they were his sole garniture and treasure; in them his soul had gathered all its dreams and all its pure delights: so long as his sight lasted he sought to feed it on them; so long as his hand had power he strove to touch, to caress, to enrich them.

Even in such an hour as this, the old sweet trance of Art was upon him.

He was devoured by the deadly fangs of long fast; streaks of living fire seemed to scorch his entrails; his throat and lungs were parched and choked; and ever and again his left hand clenched on the bones of his naked chest as though he could wrench away the throes that gnawed it. He knew that worse than this would follow; he knew that tenfold more torment would await him; that limbs as strong, and muscles as hard, and manhood as vigorous as his, would only yield to such death as this slowly, doggedly, inch by inch, day by day. He knew; and he knew that he could not trust himself to go through that uttermost torture without once lifting his voice to summon page: 155 the shame of release from it. Shame—since release would needs be charity.

He knew full well; he had seen all forms of death; he had studied its throes, and portrayed its horrors. He knew that before dawn—it might be before midnight—this agony would grow so great that it would conquer him; and that to save himself from the cowardice of appeal, the shame besought alms, he would have to use his last powers to drive home a knife hard and sure through his breast‐bone. Yet he stood there, almost forgetting this, scarcely conscious of any other thing than of the passion that ruled him.

Some soft curve in a girl’s bare bosom, some round smooth arm of a sleeping woman, some fringe of leaves against a moonlit sky, some broad‐winged bird sailing through shadows of the air, some full‐orbed lion rising to leap on the nude soft indolently‐folded limbs of a dreaming virgin, palm‐shadowed in the East;—all these he gazed on and touched, and looked again, and changed by some more inward curve or deepened line of his chalk stylus.

All these usurped him; appealed to him; were well beloved and infinitely sad; seemed ever in their whiteness and their loneliness to cry to him,—“Whither dost thou go? Wilt thou leave us alone?”

And as he stood, and thus caressed them with his eyes and touch, and wrestled with the inward torment which grew greater and greater as the night approached, the sudden sickly feebleness of long hunger came upon him; the grave‐like coldness of his fireless chamber slackened and numbed the flowing of his veins; his brain grew dull and all its memory ceased, confused and blotted. He staggered once, wondering dimly and idly as men wonder in delirium, if this indeed were death: then he fell backwards senseless on his hearth.

The last glow of day died off the wall. The wind rose louder, driving in through the open casement a herd of withered leaves. An owl flew by, uttering weary cries against the storm.

On high the spider sat, sucking the vitals of its prey, safe in its filth and darkness; looking down ever on the lifeless body on the hearth, and saying in its heart,—“Thou Fool!”

page: 156


AS the night fell, Folle‐Farine, alone, steered herself down the water through the heart of the town, where the buildings were oldest, and where on either side there loomed through the dusk, carved on the black timbers, strange masks of satyr and of faun, of dragon and of griffin, of fiend and of martyr.

She sat in the clumsy empty market‐boat, guiding the tiller rope with her foot.

The sea flowing in stormily upon the coast sent the tide of the river inland with a swift impetuous current, to which its sluggish depths were seldom stirred. The oars rested unused in the bottom of the boat; she glided down the stream without exertion of her own, quietly, easily, dreamily.

She had come from a long day’s work, lading and unlading timber and grain for her taskmaster, and his fellow farmers, at the river wharf at the back of the town, where the little sea‐trawlers and traders, with their fresh salt smell and their brown sails crisp from fierce sea winds, gathered for traffic with the corn barges and the egg‐boats of the land.

Her day’s labour was done, and she was repaid for it by the free effortless backward passage home through the shadows of the water‐streets; where in the overhanging buildings, ever and anon, some lantern swinging on a cord from side to side, or some open casement arched above a gallery, showed the dark sad wistful face of some old creature kneeling in prayer before a crucifix, or the gold ear‐rings of some laughing girl leaning down with the first frail violets of the year fragrant in her bodice.

The cold night had brought the glow of wood‐fires in many of the dwellings of that poor and picturesque quarter; and showed many a homely interior through the panes of the oriel and lancet windows, over which brooded sculptured figures seraph‐winged, or carven forms helmeted and leaning on their swords.

In one of them there was a group of young men and page: 157 maidens gathered round the wood nut‐burning, the lovers seeking each other’s kiss as the kernels broke the shells; in another, some rosy curly children played at soldiers with the cuirass and sabre which their grandsire had won in the army of the empire; in another, before a quaint oval old‐fashioned glass, a young girl all alone made trial of her wedding wreath upon her fair forehead, and smiled back on her own image with a little joyous laugh that ended in a sob; in another, a young bearded workman carved ivory beside his hearth, whilst his old mother sat knitting in a high oak chair; in another, a sister of charity, with a fair Madonna’s face, bent above a little pot of home‐bred snowdrops, with her tears dropping on the white heads of the flowers, whilst the sick man, of whom she had charge, slept and left her a brief space for her own memories, her own pangs, her own sickness, which was only of the heart—only—and therefore hopeless.

All these Folle‐Farine saw, going onward in the boat on the gloom of the water below.

She did not envy them; she rather, with her hatred of them, scorned them. She had been freeborn, though now she was a slave; the pleasures of the home and hearth she envied no more that she envied the imprisoned bird its seed and water, its mate and song, within the close cage bars.

Yet they had a sort of fascination for her. She wondered how they felt, these people who smiled and span, and ate and drank, and sorrowed and enjoyed, and were in health and disease, at feast and at funeral, always together, always bound in one bond of a common humanity; these people, whose God on the cross never answered them; who were poor, she knew; who toiled early and late; who were heavily taxed; who fared hardly and scantily; yet who for the main part contrived to be mirthful and content, and to find some sunshine in their darkened hours, and to cling to one another, and in a way be glad.

Just above her was the corner window of a very ancient house, encrusted with blazonries and carvings. It had been a prince‐bishop’s palace; it was now the shared shelter of half a score of lace weavers and of ivory workers, each family in their chamber, like a bee in its cell.

As the boat floated under one of the casements, she saw page: 158 that it stood open; there was a china cup filled with house‐born primroses on the broad sill; there was an antique illuminated Book of Hours lying open beside the flowers; there was a strong fire‐light shining from within; there was an old woman asleep and smiling in her dreams beside the hearth; by the open book was a girl, leaning out into the chill damp night, and looking down the street as though in search for some expected and thrice‐welcome guest.

She was fair to look at, with dark hair twisted under her towering white cap, and a peach‐like cheek and throat, and her arms folded against her blue ’kerchief crossed upon her chest.

Into the chamber, unseen by her, a young man stole across the shadows, and came unheard behind her and bent his head to hers, and kissed her ere she knew that he was there. She started with a little happy cry and pushed him away with pretty provocation; he drew her into his arms and into the chamber; he shut‐to the lattice, and left only a dusky reflection from within shining through the panes made dark by age and dust.

Folle‐Farine had watched them; as the window closed her head dropped, she was stirred with a mournful, passionate, contemptuous wonder; what was this love that was about her everywhere, and yet with which she had no share? She only thought of it with haughtiest scorn; and yet—

There had come a great darkness on the river, a surly roughness in the wind; the shutters were now closed in many of the houses of the water‐street, and their long black shadows fell across the depth that severed them, and met and blended in the twilight.

The close of this day was stormy; the wind blew the river swiftly; the heavy raw mists were setting in from the sea as the night descended. She did not heed these; she liked the wild weather best; she loved the rush of a chill wind amongst her hair, and the moisture of blown spray upon her face; she loved the manifold phantasies of the clouds, and the melodies of the blast coming over the sands and the rushes. She loved the swirl and rage of the angry water, and the solitude that closed in round her with the darkness.

The boat passed onward through the now silent town; only in one other place the light glowed through the un‐ page: 159 shuttered lattices that were ruddy and emblematic with the paintings of the Renaissance. It was the window of the gardener’s wife.

At that season there could bloom neither saxifrage nor carnation; but some green‐leaved winter shrub with rosy laden berries had replaced them, and made a shining frame all round the painted panes.

The fair woman was within; her delicate head rose out of the brown shadows round, with a lamp burning above it and a little oval mirror before. Into the mirror she was gazing with a smile, whilst with both hands about her throat she clasped some strings of polished shells brought to her from the sea.

“How white and how warm and how glad she is!” thought Folle‐Farine, looking upward; and she rowed in the gloom through the sluggish water with envy at her heart.

She was growing harder, wilder, worse, with every day; more and more like some dumb fierce forest beast, that flees from every step and hates the sound of every voice.

Since the night that they had pricked her for a witch, the people had been more cruel to her than ever; they cast bitter names at her as she went by; they hissed and hooted her as she took her mule through their villages, or passed them on the road with her back bent under some load of faggots, or of winter food; once or twice they stoned her, and chance alone had saved her from injury.

For it was an article of faith in all the hamlets round that she had killed old Manon Dax. The Flandrins said so, and they were good pious people who would not lie. Every dusky evening when the peasantry, through the doors of their cabins, saw the gleam of her bright red girdle and the flash of her hawk’s eyes, where she plodded on through the mist on her tyrant’s errands, they crossed themselves and told each other for the hundredth time the tale of her iniquities over their pan of smoking chestnuts.

It had hardened her tenfold; it had made her brood on sullen dreams of a desperate vengeance.

Marcellin, too, was gone; his body had been eaten by the quicklime in the common ditch, and there was not even a voice so stern as his to bid her a good morrow. He had been a harsh man, of dark repute and bitter tongue; but in page: 160 his way he had loved her; in his way, with the eloquence that had remained to him, and by the strange stories that he had told her of that wondrous time wherein his youth had passed, when men had been as gods and giants, and women either horrible as the Medusa or sublime as the Iphigenia, he had done something to awaken her mind; to arouse her hopes; to lift her up from the torpor of toil, the lusts of hatred, the ruinous apathy of despair. But he was dead; and she was alone; and was abandoned utterly to herself.

She mourned for him with a passionate pain that was all the more despairing, because no sound of it could ever pass her lips to any creature.

To and fro continually she went by the road on which he had died alone; by the heap of broken stones, by the wooden crucifix, by the high hedge and the cornlands beyond. Every time she went the blood beat in her brain, the tears swelled in her throat; she hated with a hatred that consumed her, and was ready to ripen into any deadly deed, the people who had shunned him in his life, and in his death derided and insulted him, and given him such burial as they gave the rotten carcass of some noxious beast.

Her heart was ripe for any evil that should have given her vengeance; a dull cold sense of utter desolation and isolation was always on her; the injustice of the people began to turn her blood to gall, her courage into cruelty; there began to come upon her the look of those who brood upon a crime.

It was, in truth, but the despairing desire to live that stirred within her; to know, to feel, to roam, to enjoy, to suffer still, if need be; but to suffer something else than the endless toil of the field‐ox and tow‐horse, something else than the unavenged blow that pays the ass and the dog for their services.

The desire to be free grew upon her with all the force and fury inherited from her father’s tameless and ever‐wandering race; if a crime could have made her free she would have seized it.

She was in the prison of a narrow and hated fate; and from it she looked out on the desert of an endless hate, which stretched around her without one blossom of love, one well‐spring of charity, rising in its deathlike waste.

The dreamy imaginations, the fantastic pictures that had page: 161 been so strong in her in her early years, were still there, though distorted by ignorance and inflamed by despair. Though, in her first poignant grief for him, she had envied Marcellin his hard‐won rest, his grave in the public ditch of the town, it was not in her to desire to die. She was too young, too strong, too restless, too impatient, and her blood of the desert and the forest was too hot.

What she wanted was to live. Live as the great moor bird did that she had seen float one day over these pale, pure, blue skies, with its mighty wings outstretched in the calm grey weather; which came none knew whence, and which went none knew whither; which poised silent and stirless against the clouds; then called with a sweet wild love‐note to its mate, and waited for him as he sailed in from the misty shadows where the sea lay; and with him rose yet higher and higher in the air; and passed westward, cleaving the fields of light, and so vanished;—a queen of the wind, a daughter of the sun; a creature of freedom, of victory, of tireless movement, and of boundless space, a thing of heaven and liberty.

* * * * *

The evening became night; a night rough and cold almost as winter.

There was no boat but hers upon the river, which ran high and strong. She left the lights of the town behind her, and came into the darkness of the country. Now and then the moon shone a moment through the storm wrack, here and there a torch glimmered, borne by some wayfarer over a bridge.

There was no other light.

The bells of the cathedral chiming a miserere, sounded full of woe behind her in the still sad air.

There stood but one building between her and her home, a square strong tower built upon the edge of the stream, of which the peasants told many tales of horror. It was of ancient date, spacious, and very strong. Its upper chambers were used as a granary by the farm‐people who owned it; the vaulted hall was left unused by them, partly because the river had been known to rise high enough to flood the floor; partly because legend had bequeathed to it a ghastly repute of spirits of murdered men who haunted it.

No man or woman in all the country round dared venture page: 162 to it after nightfall; it was all that the stoutest would do to fetch and carry grain there at broad day; and the peasant who, being belated, rowed his market‐boat past it when the moon was high, moved his oar with one trembling hand, and with the other crossed himself unceasingly.

To Folle‐Farine it bore no such terror.

The unconscious pantheism breathed into her earliest thoughts, with the teachings of Phratos, made her see a nameless mystical and always wondrous beauty in every blade of grass that fed on the dew, and with the light, rejoiced; in every bare brown stone that flashed to gold in bright brook waters, under a tuft of weed; in every hillside stream that leaping and laughing sparkled in the sun; in every wind that wailing went over the sickness of the weary world.

For such a temper, no shape of the day or the night, no mystery of life or of death can have terror; it can dread nothing, because every created thing has in it a divine life and an eternal mystery.

As she and the boat passed out into the loneliness of the country, with fitful moon gleams to light its passage, the weather and the stream grew wilder yet.

There were on both sides strips of the silvery inland sands, beds of tall reeds, and the straight stems of poplars, ghost‐like in the gloom. The tide rushed faster; the winds blew more strongly from the north; the boat rocked, and now and then was washed with water, till its edges were submerged.

She stood up in it, and gave her strength to its guidance; it was all that she could do to keep its course straight, and steer it so that it should not grate upon the sand, nor be blown into the tangles of the river reeds. For herself she had no care, she could swim like any cygnet; and, for her own sport, had spent hours in water at all seasons. But she knew that to Claudis Flamma the boat was an honoured treasure, since to replace it would have cost him many a hard‐earned and well loved piece of money.

As she stood thus upright in the little tossing vessel, against the darkness and the winds, she passed the solitary building; it had been placed so low down against the shore that its front walls, strong of hewn stone, and deep bedded in the soil, were half submerged in the dense growth of page: 163 the reeds and of the willowy osiers which grew up and brushed the great arched windows of its haunted hall. The lower half of one of the seven latticed windows had been blown wide open; a broad square casement, braced with iron bars, looking out upon the river, and lighted by a sickly glimmer of the moon.

Her boat was swayed close against the wall, in a sudden lurch, caused by a fiercer gust of wind and higher wave of the strong tide; the rushes entangled it; it grounded on the sand; there was no chance, she knew, of setting it afloat again without her leaving it to gain a footing on the sand, and use her force to push it off into the current.

She leaped out without a moment’s thought amongst the rushes, with her kirtle girt up close above her knees. She sank to her ankles in the sand, and stood to her waist in the water.

But she was almost as light and sure of foot as a moor‐gull, when it lights upon the treacherous mosses of a bog; and standing on the soaked and shelving bank, she thrust herself with all her might against her boat, dislodged it, and pushed it out once more afloat.

She was about to wade to it and spring into it, before the stream had time to move it farther out, when an owl flew from the open window behind her. Unconsciously she turned her head to look whence the bird had come.

She saw the wide dark square of the opened casement; the gleam of a lamp within the cavern‐like vastness of the vaulted hall. Instinctively she paused, drew closer, and forgot the boat.

The stone sills of the seven windows were level with the topmost sprays of the tall reeds an the willowy underwood; they were, therefore, level with herself. She saw straight in; saw, so far as the pale uncertain fusion of moon and lamp rays showed them, the height and width of this legend‐haunted place; vaulted and pillared with timber and with stone; dim and lonely as a cathedral crypt, and with the night‐birds flying to and fro in it, as in a ruin, seeking their nests in its rafters and in the capitals of its columns.

No fear, but a great awe fell upon her. She let the boat drift on its way unheeded; and stood there at gaze like a forest doe.

She had passed this grain tower with every day or night page: 164 that she had gone down the river upon the errands of her taskmaster; but she had never looked within it once, holding the peasants’ stories and terrors in the cold scorn of an intrepid courage.

Now, when she looked, she for the first time believed—believed that the dead lived and gathered there.

White, shadowy, countless shapes loomed through the gloom, all motionless, all noiseless, all beautiful, with the serene yet terrible loveliness of death.

In their midst burned a lamp; as the light burns night and day in the tombs of the kings of the east.

Her colour paled, her breath came and went, her body trembled like a leaf; yet she was not afraid. An ecstasy of surprise and faith smote the dull misery of her life. She saw at last another world than the world of toil in which she had laboured without sigh and without hope, as the blinded ox laboured in the brick‐field, treading his endless circles in the endless dark, and only told that it was day by blows.

She had no fear of them—these, whom she deemed the dwellers of the lands beyond the sun, could not be more cruel to her than had been the sons of men. She yearned to them, longed for them; wondered with rapture and with awe if these were the messengers of her father’s kingdom; if these would have mercy on her, and take her with them to their immortal homes—whether of heaven or of hell, what mattered it?

It was enough to her that it would not be of earth.

She raised herself upon the ledge above the rushes, poised herself lightly as a bird, and with deft soundless feet dropped safely on the floor within, and stood in the midst of that enchanted world. Stood motionless, gazing upwards with rapt eyes, and daring barely to draw breath with any audible sigh, lest she should rouse them, and be driven from their presence. The flame of the lamp, and the moonlight, reflected back from the foam of the risen waters, shed a strange, pallid, shadowy light on all the forms around her.

“They are the dead, surely,” she thought, as she stood amongst them; and she stayed there with her arms folded on her breast to still its beating, lest any sound should anger them and betray her; a thing lower than the dust—a mortal amidst this great immortal host.

page: 165

The mists and the shadows between her eyes and them parted them as with a sea of dim and subtle vapour, through which they looked white and implacable as a summer cloud, when it seems to lean and touch the edge of the world in a grey, quiet dawn.

They were but the creations of an artist’s classic dreams, but to her they seemed to thrill, to move, to sigh, to gaze on her; to her, they seemed to live with that life of the air, of the winds, of the stars, of silence and solitude, and all the nameless liberties of death, of which she dreamed when, shunned, and cursed, and hungered, she looked up to the skies at night from a sleepless bed.

They were indeed the dead: the dead of that fair time when all the earth was young, and men communed with their deities, and loved them, and were not afraid. When their gods were with them in their daily lives; and when in every breeze that curled the sea, in every cloud that darkened in the west, in every water‐course that leaped and sparkled in the sacred cedar groves, in every bee‐sucked blossom of wild thyme that grew purple by the marble temple steps, the breath and the glance of the gods were felt, the footfall and the voice of the gods were heard.

They were indeed the dead: the dead who—dying earliest, whilst yet the earth was young enough to sorrow for its heroic lives, to embalm them, to remember them, and to count them worthy of lament—perished in their bodies, but lived for ever immortal in the traditions of the world.

From every space of the sombre chamber some one of these gazed on her through the mist.

Here the silver dove of Argos winged her way through the iron jaws of the dark sea‐gates; here the white Io wandered, in exile and unresting, for ever scourged on by the sting in her flesh, as a man by the genius in him.

Here the glad god whom all the woodlands loved, played in the moonlight, on his reeds, to the young stags that couched at his feet in golden beds of daffodils and asphodel. Here over a darkened land the great Demeter moved, bereaved and childless, bidding the vine be barren, and the fig trees stay fruitless, and the seed of the sown furrows lie strengthless to multiply and fill the sickles with the ripe increase.

page: 166

Here the women of Thebes danced upon Cithæron in the mad moonless nights, under the cedars, with loose hair on the wind, and bosoms that heaved and brake through their girdles of fawnskin. Here at this labour, in Pheræ, the sun‐god toiled as a slave; the highest wrought as the lowest; while wise Hermes stood by and made mirth of the kingship that had bartered the rod of dominion for the mere music which empty air could make in a hollow reed.

Here, too, the brother gods stood, Hypnos and Oneiros, and Thanatos; their bowed heads crowned with the poppy and moonwort, the flowering fern, and the amaranth, and, pressed to their lips, a white rose, in the old sweet symbol of silence; fashioned in the same likeness, with the same winged feet which yet fall so softly, that no human ears hear their coming; the gods that most of all have pity on men, the gods of the Night and of the Grave.

These she saw; not plainly, but through the wavering shadows, and the halo of the vapours which floated, dense and silvery as smoke, in from the misty river.

Their lips were dumb, and for her they had no name nor story, and yet they spoke to her with familiar voices. She knew them, she knew that they were gods, and yet were dead; and in the eyes of the forest‐god, who piped upon his reeds, she saw the eyes of Phratos look on her with their tender laughter and their unforgotten love.

Just so had he looked so long ago—so long!—in the deep woods at moonrise, when he had played to the bounding fawns, to the leaping waters, to the listening trees, to the sleeping flowers.

They had called him an outcast—and lo!—she found him a god.

She sank on her knees, and buried her face in her hands, and wept—wept with grief for the living lost for ever, wept with joy that the dead for ever lived.

Tears had rarely sprung to her proud rebellious eyes; she deemed them human things, things of weakness and of shame; she had thrust them back and bitten her lips till the blood came, in a thousand hours of pain, rather than that men should be able to see them and exult. The passion had its way for once, and spent itself, and passed; she rose trembling and pale; with her eyes wet and dimmed in page: 167 lustre, like stars that shine through rain. She looked around her fearfully.

She thought that the gods might rise in wrath against her, even as mortals did, for daring to be weary of her life.

As she rose, she saw for the first time before the cold hearth the body of a man.

It was stretched straightly out on the stone floor; the chest was bare; upon the breast the right hand was clenched close and hard; the limbs were in profound repose; the head was lit by the white glimmer from the moon; the face was calm and colourless, and full of sadness.

In the dim strange light it looked white as marble, colossal as a statue, in that passionless rest, that dread repose.

Instinctively she drew nearer to him; breathless and allured she bent forward and looked closer on his face.

He was a god, like all the rest, she thought; but dead—not as they were dead, with eyes that still rejoiced in the light of cloudless suns, and with lips that still smiled with a serene benignity and an eternal love,—but dead, as mortals die, without hope, without release, with their breath frozen on their tired lips, and bound on their hearts eternally the burden of their sin and woe.

She leaned down close by his side, and looked on him—sorrowful, because, he alone of all the gods was stricken there, and he alone had the shadow of mortality upon him.

Looking thus she saw that his hands were clenched upon his chest, as though their latest effort had been to tear the bones asunder, and wrench out a heart that ached beneath them; she saw that this was not a divine, but a human form,—dead indeed as the rest were, but dead by a man’s death of assassination, or disease, or suicide, or what men love to call the “act of heaven,” whereby they mean the self‐sown fruits of their own faults and follies.

Had the gods slain him—being a mortal—for his entrance there?

Marcellin in legends had told of her of such things.

He was human; with a human beauty; which yet white was cold and golden, full of serenity and sadness, was like the sun‐god’s yonder, and very strange to her whose eyes page: 168 had only rested on the sunburnt, pinched, and rugged faces of the populace around her.

That beauty allured her; she forgot that he had against her the crime of that humanity which she hated. He was too her like some noble forest beast, some splendid bird of prey, struck down by a bolt from some murderous bow, strengthless and senseless, yet majestic even in its fall.

“The gods slew him because he dared to be too like to themselves,” she thought, “else he could not be so beautiful,—he,—only a man, and dead?”

The dreamy intoxication of fancy had deadened her to all sense of time or fact. The exaltation of nerve and brain made all fantastic phantasies seem possible to her as truth.

Herself, she was strong; and desolate no more, since the eyes of the immortals had smiled on her, and bade her welcome there; and she felt an infinite pity on him, inasmuch as with all his likeness to them he yet, having incurred their wrath, lay helpless there as any broken reed.

She bent above him her dark rich face, with a soft compassion on it; she stroked the pale heavy gold of his hair, with fingers brown and lithe, but infinitely gentle; she fanned the cold pain of his forehead, with the breath of her rose‐like mouth; she touched him, stroked him, gazed on him, as she would have caressed and looked on the velvet hide of the stag, the dappled plumage of the hawk, the white leaf of the lily.

A subtle, vague pleasure stole on her, a sharp sweet sorrow moved her,—for he was beautiful, and he was dead.

“If they would give him back his life?” she thought; and she looked for the glad forest god playing on his reed amidst the amber asphodels, he who had the smile and the glance of Phratos. But she could see his face no more.

The wind rose, the moon was hidden, all was dark save the flicker of the flame of the lamp; the storm had broken and the rain fell: she saw nothing now but the bowed head of Thanatos, holding the rose of silence to his lips.

On her ear there seemed to steal a voice from the darkness, saying:

“One life alone can ransom another. Live immortal with us; or for that dead man—perish.”

She bowed her head where she knelt in the darkness; the page: 169 force of an irresistible fate seemed upon her; that sacrifice which is at once the delirium and divinity of her sex had entered into her.

She was so lowly a thing; a creature so loveless and cursed; the gods, if they took her in pity, would soon scorn her as men had scorned; whilst he whom they had slain there—though so still, so white and mute, so powerless,—he looked a king amongst men, though the gods for his daring had killed him.

“Let him live!” she murmured. “As for me,—I am nothing—nothing. Let me die as the Dust dies—what matter?”

The wind blew the flame of the lamp into darkness; the moon still shone through the storm on to the face of Thanatos.

He alone heard. He—the only friend who, come he early or late, fails no living thing at the last.

He alone remained, and waited for her: he, whom alone of all the gods—for this man’s sake—she chose.


WHEN the trance of her delirious imaginations passed, they left her tranquil, but with the cold of death seeming to pass already from the form she looked on into hers. She was still crouching by his body on the hearth; and knew what she had chosen, and did not repent.

He was dead still;—or so she thought;—she watched him with dim dreaming eyes, watched him as women do who love.

She drew the fair glistening hair through her hands; she touched the closed and blue‐veined eyelids tenderly; she laid her ear against his heart to hearken for the first returning pulses of the life she had brought back to him.

It was no more to her the dead body of a man, unknown, unheeded, a stranger, and because a mortal, of necessity to her a foe. It was a nameless wondrous mystic force and splendour to which she had given back the pulse of page: 170 existence, the light of day; which was no more the gods’, nor any man’s, no more the prey of death, nor the delight of love; but hers—hers—shared only with the greatness she had bought for him.

Even as she looked on him she felt the first faint flutter in his heart; she heard the first faint breath upon his lips.

His eyes unclosed and looked straight at hers, without reason or lustre in them, clouded with a heavy and delirious pain.

“To die—of hunger—like a rat in a trap!” he muttered in his throat, and strove to rise; he fell back, senseless, striking his head upon the stones.

She started; her hands ceased to wander through his hair, and touch his cold lips as she would have touched the cup of a flower; she rose slowly to her feet. She had heard; and the words, so homely and so familiar in the lives of all the poor, pierced the wild faiths and visions of her heated brain, as a ray of the clear daybreak pierces through the purple smoke from altar fires of sacrifice.

The words were so terrible, and yet so trite; they cleft the mists of her dreams as tempered steel cleaves folds of gossamer.

“To die—of hunger!”

She muttered the phrase after him—shaken from her stupor by its gaunt and common truth.

It roused her to the consciousness of all his actual needs.

Her heart rebelled even against her newly found immortal masters, since, being in wrath, they could not strike him swiftly with their vengeance, but had killed him thus with these lingering and most bitter pangs, and had gathered there as to a festival to see him die.

As she stooped above him, she could discern the faint earthy cavernous odour, which comes from the languid lungs and empty chests of one who has long fasted, almost unto death.

She had known that famine odour many a time ere then; in the hut of Manon Dax, and by the hedge rows, and in the ditches, that made the sick beds of many another, as old, as wretched, and as nobly stubborn against alms; in times of drought or in inclement winters, the people in all that country side suffered continually from the hunger page: 171 torment; she had often passed by men and women, and children, crouching in black and wretched cabins, or lying fever stricken on the cold stony fields, glad to gnaw a shred of sheepskin, or suck a thorny bramble of the fields to quiet the gnawing of their entrails.

She stood still beside him, and thought.

All light had died; the night was black with storm; the shadowy shapes were gone; there were the roar of the rushing river, and the tumult of the winds and rains upon the silence; all she saw was this golden head; this colourless face; this lean and nerveless hand that rested on the feebly beating heart;—these she saw still as she would have seen the white outlines of a statue in the dark.

He moved a little, with a hollow sigh.

“Bread,—bread,—bread!” he muttered. “To die for bread!—”

At the words, all the quick resource and self reliance which the hard life she led had sharpened and strengthened in her, awoke amidst the dreams and passions, and meditations of her mystical faiths, and her poetic ignorance.

The boldness and the independence of her nature roused themselves; she had prayed for him to the gods, and to the gods given herself for him; that was well—if they kept their faith. But if they forsook it? The blood rushed back to her heart with its old proud current; alone, she swore to herself to save him. To save him in the gods’ despite.

In the street that day, she had found the half of a roll of black bread. It had lain in the mud, none claiming it: a sulky lad passed it in scorn, a beggar with gold in his wallet kicked it aside with his crutch; she took it and put it by for her supper; so often some stripe or some jibe replaced a begrudged meal for her at Flamma’s board.

That was all she had. A crust dry as a bone, which could do nothing towards saving him, could be of no more use to pass those clenched teeth, and warm those frozen veins, than so much of the wet sand gathered up from the river shore. Neither could there be any wood, which, if brought in and lit, would burn. All the timber was green and full of sap, and all, for a score square leagues around, was at that hour drenched with water.

She knew that the warmth of fire to dry the deadly page: 172 dampness in the air, the warmth of wine to quicken the chillness and the torpor of the reviving life, were what were wanted beyond all other things. She had seen famine in all its stages, and she knew the needs and dangers of that fell disease.

There was not a creature in all the world, who would have given her so much as a loaf or a faggot; even if the thought of seeking human aid had ever dawned on her.

As it was, she never even dreamed of it; every human hand,—to the rosy fist of the smallest and fairest child,—was always clenched against her; she would have sooner asked for honey from a lot of snakes, or sought a bed of roses in a swarm of wasps, than have begged mercy or aid at any human hearth.

She knew nothing, either, of an social laws that might have made such need as this, a public care on public alms. She was used to see men, women, and children perishing of want; she had heard people curse the land that bore, and would not nourish, them. She was habituated to work hard for every bit or drop that passed her lips; she lived amidst multitudes who did the same; she knew nothing of any public succour to which appeal could in such straits be made.

If bread were not forthcoming, a man or a woman had to die for lack of it, as Manon Dax and Marcellin had done; that seemed to her a rule of fate, against which there was no good in either resistance or appeal.

What could she do? she pondered. Whatever she would do, she knew that she had to do quickly. Yet she stood irresolute.

To do anything, she had to stoop herself down to that sin to which no suffering or privation of her own had ever tempted her.

In a vague fierce fashion, unholpen and untaught, she hated all sin.

All quoted it as her only birthright; all told her that she was imbued with it body and soul; all saw it in her slightest acts, in her most harmless words; and she abhorred this, the one gift which men cast to her as her only heirloom, with a strong scornful loathing which stood her in the stead of virtue.

With an instinctive cynicism which moved her con‐ page: 173 tinually, yet to which she could have given no name, she had loved to see the children and the maidens,—those who held her accursed, and were themselves held so innocent and just,—steal the ripe cherries from the stalk, pluck the forbidden flowers that nodded over the convent walls, pierce through the boundary fence to reach another’s pear, speak a lie softly to the old greyheaded priest, and lend their ripe lips to a soldier’s rough salute, whilst she, the daughter of hell, pointed at, despised, shunned as a leper, hunted as a witch,—kept her hands soilless and her lips untouched.

It was a pride to her, to say in her teeth, “I am stronger than they,” when she saw the stolen peach in their hand, and heard the lying word on their tongue. It had a savage sweetness for her, the will with which she denied herself the luxurious fruit that, unseen, she could have reached a thousand times from the walls when her throat was parched and her body empty; with which she uttered the truth, and the truth alone, though it brought the blows of the cudgel down on her shoulders; with which she struck aside in disdain, the insolent eyes, and mocking mouths of the youths, who would fain have taught her, that if beggared of all other things, she was at least rich in form and hue.

She hated sin, for sin seemed to her only a human word for utter feebleness; she had never sinned for herself, as far as she knew; yet to serve this man, on whose face she had never looked before that night, she was ready to stoop to the thing which she abhorred.

She had been so proud of her freedom for all those frailties of passion, and greed, and self pity, with which the souls of the maidens around her were haunted;—so proud, with the chaste, tameless arrogance of the women of her race, that was bred in their blood, and taught them as their first duty, by the oriental and jealous laws of their vengeful and indolent masters.

She had been so proud!—yet the cleanliness of hand and heart, this immunity from her enemies’ weakness, this independence which she had worn as a buckler of proof against all blows, which she had girded about her as a zone of purity more precious than gold—this, the sole treasure she had, she was about to surrender for the sake of a stranger.

It was a greater gift, and one harder to give, than this mortal life she had offered for his to his gods.

page: 174

As she kneeled on the stone floor beside him, her heart was torn with a mute and violent struggle; her bent face grew dark and rigid, her haughty brows knit together in sadness and conflict.

In the darkness he moved a little; he was unconscious, yet ever, in that burning stupor, one remembrance, one regret, remained with him.

“That the mind of a man can be killed for the want of the food thrown to swine!” he muttered drearily, in the one gleam of reason that shone through the delirium of his brain.

The words were broken, disjointed, almost inarticulate; but they stung her to action as the spur stings a horse.

She started erect, and crossed the chamber, leapt through the open portion of the casement, and lighted again without, knee deep in water. She lost her footing and fell, entangled in the rushes; but she rose and climbed in the darkness to where the roots of an oak stump stretched into the stream, and, gaining the shore, ran as well as the storm and the obscurity allowed her, along the bank, straight towards Yprès.

It was a wild and bitter night; the rushing of the foaming river went by her all the way; the path was flooded; she was up to her ankles in water at every step, and was often forced to wade through channels a foot deep.

She went on straight towards her home, unconscious of cold, of fatigue, of her wet clinging clothes, of the water that splashed unseen in the black night up against her face as her steps sank into some shaking strip of marsh, some brook that, in the rising of the river, ran hissing and swelling to twice its common height.

All she was sensible of was of one inspiration, one purpose, one memory that seemed to give her the wings of the wind, and yet to clog her feet with the weight of lead,—the memory of that white and senseless face, lying beneath the watch of the cruel gods.

She reached Yprès, feeling and scenting her way by instinct, as a dog does, all through the tumult of the air and against the force of the driving rains. She met no living creature; the weather was too bad for even a beggar to be afoot in it, and even the stray and homeless beasts page: 175 had sought some shelter from a ruined shed or crumbling wall.

As softly as a leaf may fall she unloosed the latch of the orchard, stole through the trees, and took her way in an impenetrable gloom, with the swift sure flight of one to whom the place had long been as familiar by night as day.

The uproar of wind and rain would have muffled the loudest tread. The shutters of the mill‐house were all closed; it was quite still. Flamma and his serving people were all gone to their beds, that they might save by sleep the cost of wood and candle.

She passed round to the side of the house, climbed up the tough network of a tree of ivy, and without much labour loosed the fastenings of her own loft window, and entering there passed through the loft into the body of the house.

Opening the door of the landing‐place noiselessly, she stole down the staircase, making no more sound than a hare makes stealing over mosses to its form. The ever‐wakeful lightly‐sleeping ears of a miser were near at hand; but even they were not aroused; and she passed down unheard.

She went hardily, fearlessly, her mind once set upon the errand. She did not reason with herself, as more timorous creatures might have done, that being half starved, and paid not at all, as recompense for strong and continual labour, she was but about to take a just due withheld, a fair wage long overdue. She only resolved to take what another needed by a violence which she had never employed to serve her own needs, and having resolved went to execute her resolution with the unhesitating dauntlessness that was bred in her, flesh and bone.

Knowing all the turns and steps of the obscure passages, she quickly found her way to the store chambers where such food and fuel as were wanted in the house were stored.

The latter was burnt and the former eaten sparingly and grudgingly, but the store of both was at this season of the year fairly abundant.

It had more than once happened that the mill had been cut off from all communication with the outer world by floods that had reached its upper casements, and Claudis page: 176 Flamma was provided against any such accidents; the more abundantly as he had more than once found it a lucrative matter in such seasons of inundation to lower provisions from his roof to boats floating below when the cotters around were in dire need and ready to sell their very souls for a bag of rice or string of onions.

Folle‐Farine opened the shutter of the store‐room and let in the faint grey glimmer from the clearing skies.

A bat which had been resting from the storm among the rafters fluttered violently against the lattice; a sparrow driven down the chimney in the hurricane flew up from one of the shelves with a twittering outcry.

She paused to open the lattice for them both, and set them free to fly forth into the still sleeping world; then she took an old rush basket that hung upon a nail, and filled it with the best of such homely food as was to be found there—loaves, and meats, and rice, and oil, and a flask of the richest wine—wine of the south, of the hue of the violet, sold under secrecy at a high charge and profit.

That done, she tied together as large a bundle of brushwood and of faggots as she could push through the window, which was broad and square, and thrust it out by slow degrees; put her basket through likewise, and lowered it carefully to the ground; she followed them herself with the agility born of long practice, and dropped on the grass beneath.

She waited but to close and refasten the shutter from without, then threw the mass of faggots on her shoulders, and carrying in her arms the osier basket, took her backward way through the orchards to the river.

She had not taken either bit or drop for her own use.

She was well used to carry burdens as heavy as the mules bore, and to walk under them unassisted fro many leagues to the hamlets and markets round about. But even her strength of bronze had become fatigued; she felt frozen to the bone; her clothes were saturated with water, and her limbs were chill and stiff. Yet she trudged on, unblenching and unpausing, over the soaked earth, and through the swollen water and the reeds, keeping always by the side of the stream, that was so angry in the darkness; by the side of the grey flooded sands, and the rushes that were blowing with a sound like the sea.

page: 177

She met no living creature except a fox, who rushed between her feet, holding in its mouth a screaming chicken.

Once she stumbled and struck her head and breast with a dull blow against a pile of wood which, in the furious weather, was unseen by her. It stunned her for the instant, but she rallied and looked up with eyes as used to pierce the deepest gloom as any goshawk’s; she discerned the outline of the Calvary, towering high and weird‐like above the edge of the river, where the priests and people had placed it, so that the boatmen boatman could abase themselves and do it honour as they passed the banks.

The lantern on the cross shone far across the stream, but shed no light upon the path she followed.

At its foot she had stumbled and been bruised upon her errand of mercy; the reflection of its rays streamed across to the opposing shore, and gave help to a boat load of smugglers landing stolen tobacco in a little creek.

She recovered herself and trudged on once more along the lonely road.

“How like their god is to them!” she thought: the wooden crucifix was the type of her persecutors; of those who flouted and mocked her, who flung and pierced her as a witch; who cursed her because she was not of their people.

The cross was the hatred of the world incarnated to her; it was in Christ’s name that Marcellin’s corpse had been cast on the dung and in the ditch; it was in Christ’s name that the women had avenged on her the pity which she had shown to Manon Dax; it was in Christ’s name that Flamma had scourged her because she would not pass rotten figs for sweet. For the name of Christ is used to cover every crime, by the peasant who cheats his neighbour of a copper coin, as by the sovereign who massacres a nation for a throne.

She left the black cross reared there against the rushes, and plodded on through sand and rain and flood, bearing her load: in Christ’s name they would have seized her as a thief.

The storm abated a little, and every now and then a gleam of moonlight was shed upon the flooded meadows. She gained the base of the tower, and by means of the length of rope let, by degrees, the firewood and the basket page: 178 through the open portion of the window on to the floor below, then again followed them herself.

Her heart thrilled as she entered.

Her first glance to the desolate hearth showed her that the hours of her absence had brought no change there.

The gods had not kept faith with her, they had not raised him from the dead.

“They have left it all to me,” she thought, with the old strange sweet yearning in her heart over this life that she had bought with her own.

She first flung the faggots and brushwood on the hearth, and set them on fire to burn, fanned by the breath of the wind. Then she poured out a little of the wine, and kneeled down by him, and forced it drop by drop through his colourless lips, raising his head upon her as she kneeled.

The wine was pure and old; it suffused his attenuated frame as with a rush of new blood; under her hand his heart moved with firmer and quicker movement.

She broke bread in the wine and put the soaked morsels to his mouth as softly as she would have fed some little shivering bird made nestless by the hurricane.

He was unconscious still, but he swallowed what she held to him, without knowing what he did; a slight warmth gradually spread over his limbs; a strong shudder shook him. His eyes looked dully at her through a film of exhaustion and of sleep.

“J’avais quelque chose là!” he muttered, incoherently, his voice rattling in his hollow chest, as he raised himself a little on one arm. “J’avais quelque chose là!” and with a sigh he fell back once more—his head tossing in uneasiness from side to side.

Amidst the heat and mists of his aching brain, one thought remained with him—that he had created things greater than himself, and that he died like a dog, powerless to save them. The saddest dying words that the air ever bare on its breath—the one bitter vain regret of every genius that the common herds of men stamp out under leaden hoofs, as they slay their mad cattle or their drunken mobs—stayed on the blurred confusion of his mind, which, in its stupor and its helplessness, still knew that once it had been strong to create—that once it had been clear to record—that once it had dreamed the dreams that save men page: 179 from the life of the swine—that once it had told to the world the truth divested of lies,—and that none had seen, none had listened to, none had believed.

There is no more terrible woe upon earth than the woe of the stricken brain, which remembers the days of its strength, the living light of its reason, the sunrise of its proud intelligence, and knows that these have passed away like a tale that is told; like a year that is spent; like an arrow that is shot to the stars, and flies aloft, and falls in a swamp; like a fruit that is too well loved of the sun, and so, over‐soon ripe, is dropped from the tree and forgot on the grasses, dead to all joys of the dawn and the noon and the summer, but still alive to the sting of the wasp, to the fret of the aphis, to the burn of the drought, to the theft of the parasite.

She only dimly understood, and yet she was smitten with awe and reverence at that endless grief which had no taint of cowardice upon it, but was pure as the patriot’s despair, impersonal as the prophet’s agony.

For the first time, the intellect in her consciously awoke. For the first time she heard a human mind find voice even in its stupor and its wretchedness to cry aloud, in reproach to its unknown Creator:

“I am yours! Shall I perish with the body? Why have you ever bade me desire the light and seek it, if for ever you must thrust me into the darkness of negation? Shall I be Nothing?—like the muscle that rots, like the bones that crumble, like the flesh that turns to ashes, and blows in a film on the winds? Shall I die so? I?—the mind of a man, the breath of a god?”

Time went by; the chimes from the cathedral tolled dully through the darkness, over the expanse of the flood.

The light from the burning wood shone redly and fitfully. The sigh and moan of the tossed rushes, and of the water birds, awakened and afraid, came from the outer world on the winds that blew through the desolation of the haunted chamber. Grey owls flew in the high roof, taking refuge from the night. Rats hurried noiseless and eager over the stones of the floor, seeking stray grains that fell through the rafters from the granaries above.

She noticed none of these things; she never looked up nor around: all she heard was the throb of the delirious words page: 180 on the silence, all she saw was the human face in the clouded light through the smoke from the flame.

The glow of the fire shone on the bowed head of Thanatos, the laughing eyes of Pan, Hermes’ fair cold derisive face, and the majesty of the Lykegênês toiling in the ropes that bound him to the mill‐stones to grind bread, for the mortal appetites and the ineloquent lips of men.

But at the gods she barely looked; her eyes were bent upon the human form beside her.

She crouched beside him, half kneeling and half sitting: her clothes were drenched, the fire scorched, the draughts of air froze, her; she had neither eaten nor drunk since the noon of the day; but she had no other remembrance than of this life which had the beauty of the sun‐king and the misery of the beggar.

He lay long, restless, unconscious, muttering strange sad words, at times of sense, at times of folly, but always, whether lucid or delirious, words of rebellion against his fate, of a despairing lament for the soul in him that would be with the body quenched.

After awhile the feverish mutterings of his voice grew lower and less frequent; his eyes seemed to become sensible of the glare of the fire, and to contract and close in a more conscious pain; after a yet longer time he ceased to stir so restlessly, ceased to sigh and shudder; he grew quite still, his breath came tranquilly, his head fell back, and he sank to a deep sleep.

The personal fears, the womanly terrors, which would have assailed creatures at once less savage and less innocent never moved her for an instant. That there was any strangeness in her action, any peril in this solitude, she never dreamed. Her heart, bold with the blood of Taric, could know no physical fear; and her mind at once ignorant and visionary, her temper at once fierce and unselfish, kept from her all thought of those suspicions, which would fall on and chastise an act like hers; suspicions, such as would have made women less pure and less dauntless tremble at that lonely house, that night of storm, that unknown fate which she had taken into her own hands, unwitting and unheeding whether good or evil might be the issue thereof.

To her he was beautiful, he suffered, she had saved him page: 181 from death, and he was hers: and this was all that she remembered. She dealt with him as she would have done with some forest beast or bird that she should have found frozen in the woods of winter.

His head had fallen on her, and she crouched unwearied in the posture that gave him easiest rest. With a touch so light that it could not awaken him, she stroked the lustreless gold of his hair, and from time to time felt for the inaudible beating of his heart.

Innumerable dreams, shapeless, delicious, swept through her brain, as the echoes of some music, faint yet unutterably sweet, that half arouses and half soothes some sleeper in a grey drowsy summer dawn.

For the first time since the melodies of Phratos had died for ever from off her ear she was happy.

She did not ask wherefore,—neither of herself nor of the gods did she question whence came this wonder‐flower of her nameless joy. She only sat quiet, and let the hours drift by, and watched this stranger as he slept, and was content.

So the night passed.

Whilst yet it seemed night still, the silence trembled with the pipe of waking birds, the darkness quivered with the pale first rays of dawn.

Over the flood and the fields the first light broke. From the unseen world behind the mist, faint bells rang in the coming day.

He moved in his sleep, and his eyes unclosed, and looked at her face as it hung above him, like some drooped rose heavy with the too great sweetness of a summer shower.

It was but the gaze of a moment, and his lids dropped again, weighted with the intense weariness of a slumber that held all his senses close in its leaden chains. But the glance, brief though it was, had been conscious;—under it a sudden flush passed over her, as the life stirs in the young woodlands at the near coming of the spring. For the first time since her birth she became wholly human.

A sharp terror made her tremble like a leaf; she put his head softly from her on the ground, and rose, quivering, to her feet.

It was not the gods whom she feared, it was herself. She page: 182 had never once known that she had beauty, any more than the flower knows it blowing on the wind. She had passed through the crowds of fair and market, not knowing why the youths looked after her with cruel eyes all aglow. She had walked through them, indifferent and unconscious, only thinking that they wanted to hunt her down as an unclean beast, and dared not, because her teeth were strong.

She had taken a vague pleasure in the supple grace of her own form, as she saw it mirrored in some woodland pool where she had bathed amidst the water‐lilies; but it had been only such an instinctive and unstudied pleasure as the swan takes in seeing her silver breast shine back to her, on the glassy current adown which she sails.

Now,—as she rose and stood, as the dawn broke, beside him, on the hearth, and heard the birds’ first waking notes, that told her the sun was even then touching the edge of the veiled world to light, a hot shame smote her, and the womanhood in her woke.

She looked down on herself, and saw that her soaked skirts were knotted above her knees, as she had bound them when she had leaped from the boat’s side; that her limbs were wet and glistening with river water, and the moisture from the grasses, and the sand and shingle of the shore; and that the linen of her vest, threadbare with age, left her arms bare to the shoulders, and showed, through its rents, the gleam of her warm brown skin and the curves of her shining shoulders.

A sudden horror came upon her, lest he should awake again and see her as she was;—wet, miserable, half‐clothed, wind‐tossed like the rushes, outcast and ashamed.

She did not know that she had beauty in her; she did not know that even as she was, she had an exquisite grace in her savage loveliness, as storm‐birds have in theirs against the thunder‐cloud and the lightning blaze of their water‐world in tempest.

She felt a sudden shrinking from all chance of his clearer and more conscious gaze; a sudden agony of shy dread, and longing to hide herself under the earth, or take refuge in the depths of the waters, rather than meet the eyes to which she had given back the light of life cast on her in abhorrence and in scorn. That he could have any other look for her, she had no thought.

page: 183

She had been an outcast amongst an alien people too long to dream that any human love or gratitude or praise could ever fall on her. She had been too long cursed by every tongue, to dream that any human voice could ever arise in honour or in welcome to a thing so despised and criminal as she. For the gift which she had given this man too would only live to curse her;—that she had known when she had offered it.

She drew her rude garments closer, and stole away with velvet footfall, through the twilight of the dawn; her head hung down, and her face was flushed as with some great guilt.

With the rising of the day all her new joy was dead. With the waking of the world, all her dreams shrank back into secrecy and shame. The mere timid song of the linnet in the leafless bushes seemed sharp on her ear, calling on her to rise and go and toil with the beasts of the share and the shaft, as the creature of labour, of exile, of namelessness, and of despair, that men had made her.

At the casement, she turned and cast one lingering glance upon him where he slept; then once more she launched herself into the dusky watery mists of the cold dawn.

She had made no more sound in her passing than a bird makes in its flight.

The sleeper never stirred, but dreamed on motionless, in the darkness and the silence, and the drowsy warmth.

He dreamed indeed, of a woman’s form, half‐bare, golden of hue like a fruit of the south, blue veined, and flushed to changing rose heats, like an opal’s fire; with limbs strong and yet slender, gleaming wet with water, and brown arched feet shining with silvery sands; with mystical eyes, black as night and amorous‐lidded; and a mouth like the half‐closed bud of a flower, which sighing seemed to breathe upon him the fragrance of dim cedar‐woods shrouded in summer rains, of honey‐weighted heather blown by moorland winds, of almond blossoms shed like snow against a purple sea; of all things air‐born, sun‐fed, fair and free.

But he saw these only as in a dream; and, as a dream, when he awakened they had passed.

Though still dark from mists and heavy clouds, the dawn page: 184 grew on to morning as she went noiselessly away over the grey sands, the wet shore paths, the sighing rushes.

The river‐meadows were all flooded, and on the opposite banks the road was impassable; but on her side she could still find footing, for the ground there had a steeper rise, and the swollen tide had not reached in any public roadway too high for her to wade, or draw herself by the half‐merged bushes through it on the homeward tracks to Yprès.

The low sun was hidden in a veil of water. The old convent‐bells of all the country‐side rang through the mists. The day was very young as yet; but the life of the soil and the stream was waking as the birds were. Boats went by on the current, bearing a sad freightage of sheep drowned in the night, and ruined peasants, whose little wealth of stack and henhouse had been swept down by the unlooked‐for tide.

From the distant banks, the voices of women came muffled through the fog, weeping and wailing for some lost lamb, choked by the water in its fold, or some pretty breadth of garden, just welcome to their sight with snowdrops and with violets, that had been laid desolate and washed away.

Through the clouds of vapour that curled in a dense opaque smoke from the wet earth, there loomed the dusky shapes of oxen; their belled horns sending forth a pleasant music from the gloom. On the air there was an odour from soaked grasses and upturned sods, from the breath of the herds lowing hock deep in water, from the green knots of broken primrose roots sailing by on the brown rough river.

A dying bush of grey lavender swept by on the stream; it had the fresh earth of its lost garden home still about it; and in its stems a robin had built her little nest. The nest streamed in tatters and ruin on the wind, the robin flew above the wreck fluttering and uttering shrill notes of woe.

Folle‐Farine saw nothing.

She held on her way blindly, mutely, mechanically, by sheer force of long habit. Her mind was in a trance: she was insensible of pain or cold, of hunger or fever, of time or place.

Yet she went straight home, as the horse being blinded will do, to the place where its patience and fealty have never been recompensed with any other thing than blows.

page: 185

As she had groped her way through the gloom of the night, and found it, though the light of the roadside Christ had been turned from her, so in the same blind manner she had groped her way to her own conceptions of honesty and duty. She hated the bitter and cruel old man, with a slave’s hatred, mute and enduring, that nothing could have changed; but all the same she served him faithfully. She was an untamed animal indeed, that he had yoked to his ploughshare; but she did her work loyally and doggedly; and whenever she had shaken her neck free of the yoke, she returned and thrust her head through it again, whether he scourged her back to it or not.

It was partially from the force of habit which is strong upon all creatures; it was partially from a vague instinct in her to work out her right to the begrudged shelter which she received, and not to be beholden for it for one single hour to any charity.

The mill was at work in the twilight when she reached it.

Claudis Flamma screamed at her from the open door of the loft, where he was weighing corn for the grinding.

“You have been away all night long!”

She was silent; standing below in the wet garden.

He cast a foul word at her, new upon his lips. She was silent all the same; her arms crossed on her breast, her head bent.

“Where is the boat?—that is worth more than your body. And soul you have none.”

She raised her head and looked upward.

“I have lost the boat.”

She thought that, very likely, he would kill her for it. Once when she had lost an osier basket, not a hundredth part of the cost of this vessel, he had beaten her till every bone in her frame had seemed broken for many a week. But she looked up quietly, standing there amongst the dripping bushes and the cheerless grassy ways.

That she never told a lie, he above in the loft knew by long proof; but this was in his sight only a piece with the strength born in her from the devil; the devil had in all ages told so many truths to the confusion of the saints of God.

“Drifted where?”

page: 186

“I do not know—on the face of the flood,—with the tide.”

“You had left it loose?”

“I got out to push it off the sand. It had grounded. I forgot it. It went adrift.”

“What foul thing were you at meanwhile?”

She was silent.

“If you do not say, I will cut your heart out with a hundred stripes!”

“You can.”

“I can! you shall know truly that I can! Go, get the boat—find it above or below water—or to the town prison you go as a thief.”

The word smote her with a sudden pang. For the first time her courage failed her. She turned and went in silence at his bidding.

In the wet daybreak, through the swollen pools and the soaked thickets, she searched for the missing vessel; knowing well that it would be scarcely less than a miracle which could restore it to her; and that the god upon the cross worked no miracles for her;—a child of sin.

For several hours she searched; hungry, drenched, ready to drop with exhaustion, as she was used to see the overdriven cattle sink upon the road.

She passed many peasants; women on their mules, men in their barges, children searching for such flotsam and jetsam as the water might have flung upon the land from the little flooded gardens, and the few riverside cabins, which it had invaded in the night. She asked tidings of the boat from none of these. What she could not do for herself, it never occurred to her that others could do for her. It was an ignorance that was strength.

At length, to her amaze, she found it; saved for her by the branches of a young tree, which, being blown down, had fallen into the stream, and had caught the boat hard and fast as in a net.

At sore peril to herself she dislodged it with infinite labour from the entanglement of the boughs, and at scarce less peril, rowed on her homeward way upon the swollen force of the turbid river; full against the tide which again was flowing inland, from the sea that beat the bar, away to the northward, in the full sunrise.

page: 187

It was far on in the forenoon, as she drew near the orchards of Yprès, brown in their leaflessness, and with grey lichens blowing from their boughs, like hoary beards of trembling paupers shaking in the icy breaths of charity.

She saw that Claudis Flamma was at work amidst his trees, pruning and delving in the red and chilly day.

She went up the winding stairs, planks green and slippery with wet river reeds, which led straight through the apple orchards to the mill.

“I have found the boat,” she said, standing before him; her voice was faint and very tired, her whole body drooped with fatigue, her head for once was bowed.

He turned with his billhook in his hands. There was a leap of gladness at his heart; the miser’s gladness over recovered treasure; but he showed such welcome neither in his eye nor words.

“It is well for you that you have,” he said with bitter meaning. “I will spare you half the stripes:—strip.”

Without a word of remonstrance, standing before him in the grey shadow of the lichens, and the red mists of the morning, she pushed the rough garments from her breast and shoulders, and vanquishing her weakness, drew herself erect to receive the familiar chastisement.

“I am guilty—this time,” she said to herself as the lash fell:—she was thinking of her theft.


A SCORE of years before, in a valley of the far north, a group of eager and silent listeners stood gathered about one man, who spoke aloud with fervent and rapturous oratory.

It was in the green Norwegian spring, when the silence of the winter world had given way to a million sounds of waking life from budding leaves and nesting birds, and melting torrents and warm winds, fanning the tender primrose into being, and wooing the red Alpine rose to blossom.

The little valley was peopled by a hardy race of herdsmen page: 188 and of fishers; men who kept their goat flocks on the steep sides of the mountains, or went down to the deep waters in search of a scanty subsistence. But they were a people simple, noble, grave, even in a manner heroic and poetic, a people nurtured on the old grand songs of a mighty past, and holding a pure faith in the traditions of a great sea‐sovereignty. They listened, breathless, to the man who addressed them, raised on a tribune of rough rock, and facing the ocean, where it stretched at the northern end of the vale; a man peasant‐born himself, but gifted with a native eloquence; half‐poet, half‐preacher; fanatic and enthusiast; one who held it as his errand to go to and fro the land, raising his voice against the powers of the world, and of wealth, and who spoke against these with a fervour and force which, to the unlearned and impressionable multitudes that heard him, seemed the voice of a genius heaven‐sent.

When a boy he had been a shepherd, and dreaming in the loneliness of the mountains, and by the side of the deep hill‐lakes far away from any sound or steps of human life, a madness, innocent, and in its way beautiful, had come upon him.

He believed himself born to carry the message of grace to the nations; and to raise up his voice against those passions whose fury had never assailed him, and against those riches whose sweetness he had never tasted. So he had wandered from city to city, from village to village; mocked in some places, revered in others; protesting always against the dominion of wealth, and speaking with a strange pathos and poetry which thrilled the hearts of his listeners, and had in it, at times, almost the menace and the mystery of a prophet’s upbraiding.

He lived very poorly; he was gentle as a child; he was a cripple and very feeble; he drank at the wayside rills with the dogs; he lay down on the open fields with the cattle; yet he had a power in him that had its sway over the people, and held the scoffers and the jesters quiet under the spell of his tender and flute‐like voice.

Raised above the little throng upon the bare red rock, with the green fiords and the dim pine‐woods stretching round him as far as his eye could reach, he preached, now to the groups of fishers and herdsmen, and foresters and hunters; protesting to this simple people against the force page: 189 of wealth, and the lust of possession, as though he preached to princes and to conquerors.

He told them of what he had seen in the great cities through which he had wandered; of the corruption and the vileness, and the wantonness; of the greed in which the days and the years of men’s lives were spent; of the amassing of riches for which alone the nations cared, so that all loveliness, all simplicity, all high endeavour, all innocent pastime, were abjured and derided amongst them. His voice was sweet and full as the swell of the music as he spoke to them, telling them one of the many fables and legends, of which he had gathered a full harvest, in the may lands that had felt his footsteps.

This was the parable he set before them that day, whilst the rude toilers of the forests and the ocean stood quiet as little children, hearkening with upturned faces and bated breath, as the sun went down behind the purple pines.

“There lived once in the east, a great king; he dwelt far away, amongst the fragrant fields of roses, and in the light of suns that never set.

“He was young, he was beloved, he was fair of face and form; and the people as they hewed stone, or brought water, said amongst themselves, ‘Verily, this man is as a god; he goes where he lists, and he lies still or rises up as he pleases; and all fruits of all lands are culled for him; and his nights are nights of gladness, and his days, when they dawn, are all his to sleep through or spend as he wills.’ But the people were wrong. For this king was weary of his life.

“His buckler was sown with gems, but his heart beneath it was sore. For he had been long bitterly harassed by foes who descended on him as wolves from the hills in their hunger, and he ha been long plauged with heavy wars and with bad rice harvests, and with many troubles to his nation that kept it very poor, and forbade him to finish the building of new marble palaces, and the making of fresh gardens of delight, on which his heart was set. So he, being weary of a barren land and of an empty treasury, with all his might prayed to the gods that all he touched might turn to gold, even as he had heard had happened to some magician page: 190 long before in other ages. And the gods gave him the thing he craved; and his treasury overflowed. No king had ever been so rich, as this king now became in the short space of a single summer‐day.

“But it was bought with a price.

“When he stretched out his hand to gather the rose that blossomed in his path, a golden flower scentless and stiff was all he grasped. When he called to him the carrier‐dove that sped with a scroll of love words across the mountains, the bird sank on his breast a carven piece of metal. When he was athirst and shouted to his cup bearer for drink, the red wine ran a stream of molten gold. When he would fain have eaten, the pulse and pomegranate grew alike to gold between his teeth. And lo! at eventide, when he sought the silent chambers of his harem, saying, ‘here at least shall I find rest,’ and bent his steps to the couch whereon his best beloved slave was sleeping, a statue of gold was all he drew into his eager arms, and cold shut lips of sculptured gold were all that met his own.

“That night the great king slew himself, unable any more to bear this agony; since all around him was desolation, even though all around him was wealth.

“Now the world is too like that king, and in its greed of gold it will barter its life away.

“Look you,—this thing is certain—I say that the world will perish, even as that king perished, slain as he was slain, by the curse of its own fulfilled desire.

“The future of the world is written. For God has granted their prayer to men. He has made them rich and their riches shall kill them.

“When all green places have been destroyed in the builder’s lust of gain:—when all the lands are but mountains of brick, and piles of wood and iron:—when there is no moisture anywhere; and no rain ever falls:—when the sky is a vault of smoke; and all the rivers reek with poison:—when forest and stream, and moor and meadow, and all the old green wayside beauty are things vanished and forgotten:—when every gentle timid thing of brake and bush, of air and water, has been killed, because it robbed them of a berry or a fruit:—when the earth is one vast city, whose young children behold neither the green of the field nor the blue of the sky; and hear no song but the hiss of the stream, and page: 191 know no music but the roar of the furnace:—when the old sweet silence of the country‐side, and the old sweet sounds of waking birds, and the old sweet fall of summer showers, and the grace of a hedge‐row bough, and the glow of the purple heather, and the note of the cuckoo and cushat, and the freedom of waste and of woodland, are all things dead, and remembered of no man:—then the world, like the Eastern king, will perish miserably of famine and of drought, with gold in its stiffened hands, and gold in its withered lips, and gold everywhere:—gold that the people can neither eat nor drink, gold that cares nothing for them, but mocks them horribly:—gold for which their fathers sold peace and health, and holiness and liberty:—gold that is one vast grave.”

His voice sank, and the silence that followed was only filled with the sound of the winds in the pine‐woods, and the sound of the sea on the shore.

The people were very still and afraid; for it seemed to them that he had spoken as prophets speak, and that his words were words of truth.

Suddenly on the awe‐stricken silence an answering voice rang, clear, scornful, bold, and with the eager and fearless defiance of youth.

“If I had been that king, I would not have cared for woman, or bird, or rose. I would have lived long enough to enrich my nation, and mass my armies, and die a conqueror. What would the rest have mattered? You are mad, O Preacher! to rail against gold. You flout a god that you know not, and that never has smiled upon you.”

The speaker stood outside the crowd with a dead sea‐bird in his hand; he was in his early boyhood, he had long locks of bright hair that curled loosely on his shoulders, and eyes of northern blue, that flashed like steel in their scorn.

The people, indignant and terrified at the cold rough words which blasphemed their prophet, turned with one accord to draw off the rash doubter from that sacred audience place, but the Preacher stayed their hands with a gesture, and looked sadly at the boy.

“Is it thee, Arslàn—dost thou praise gold?—I thought thou hadst greater gods.”

The boy hung his head and his face flushed.

page: 192

“Gold must be power always,” he muttered. “And without power what is life?”

And he went on his way out from the people with his dead bird, which he had slain with a stone that he might study the exquisite mystery of its silvery hues.

The Preacher followed him dreamily with his glance.

“Yet he will not give his life for gold,” he murmured. “For there is that in him greater than gold, which will not let him sell it, if he would.”


AND the words of the Preacher had come true; so true that the boy Arslàn, grown to manhood, had dreamed of fame, followed the genius in him, and having failed to force the world to show faith in him, had dropped down dying on a cold hearth, for sheer lack of bread, under the eyes of the gods.

It had long been day when he awoke.

The wood smouldered, still warming the stone chamber. The owls that nested in the ceiling of the hall were beating their wings impatiently against the closed casements, blind with the light and unable to return to their haunts and homes. The food and the wine stood beside him on the floor; the fire had scared the rats from theft.

He raised himself slowly, and by sheer instinct ate and drank with the avidity of long fast. Then he stared around him blankly, blinded like the owls.

It seemed to him that he had been dead; and had risen from the grave.

“It will be to suffer it all over again in a little space,” he muttered dully.

His first sensation was disappointment, anger, weariness. He did not reason. He only felt.

His mind was a blank.

Little by little a disjointed remembrance came to him. He remembered that he had been famished in the coldness of the night, had endured much torment of the body, had page: 193 fallen headlong and lost his consciousness. This was all he could recall.

He looked stupidly for awhile at the burning logs; at the pile of brambles; at the flask of wine, and the simple stores of food. He looked at the grey closed window, through which a silvery daylight came. There was not a sound in the house; there was only the cracking of the wood and the sharp sealike smell of the smoking pine boughs, to render the place different from what it had been when he last had seen it.

He could recall nothing, except that he had starved for many days; had suffered, and must have slept.

Suddenly his face burned with a flush of shame. As sense returned to him, he knew that he must have swooned from weakness produced by cold and hunger; that some one must have seen and succoured his necessity; and that the food which he had half unconsciously devoured must have been the food of alms.

His limbs writhed and his teeth clenched as the thought stole on him.

To have gone through all the aching pangs of winter in silence, asking aid of none, only to come to this at last! To have been ready to die in all the vigour of virility, in all the strength of genius, only to be saved by charity at the end! To have endured, mute and patient, the travail of all the barren years, only at their close to be called back to life by aid that was degradation!

He bit his lips till the blood started, as he thought of it. Some eyes must have looked on him, in his wretchedness. Some face must have bent over him in misery. Some other human form must have been near his in this hour of his feebleness and need, or this thing could never have been. He would have died alone and unremembered of man, like a snake in its swamp or a fox in its earth. And such a death would have been to him tenfold preferable to a life restored to him by such means as these.

Death before accomplishments is a failure, yet withal may be great; but life saved by alms is a failure, and a failure for ever inglorious.

So the shame of this ransom for death far outweighed with him the benefit.

“Why could they not let me be?” he cried in his soul page: 194 against those unknown lives which had weighed his own with the fetters of obligation. “Rather death than a debt! I was content to die; the bitterness was passed. I should have known no more. Why could they not let me be!”

And his heart was hard against them. They had stolen his only birthright—freedom.

Had he craved life so much as to desire to live by shame he would sooner have gone out into the dusky night and have snatched food enough for his wants from some rich husbandman’s granaries, or have stabbed some miser at prayers, for a bag of gold:—rather crime than the debt of a beggar.

So he reasoned; stung and made savage by the scourge of enforced humiliation. Hating himself because, in obedience to mere animal craving, he had taken and eaten, not asking whether what he took was his own.

He had closed his mouth, living, and had been ready to die mute, glad only that none had pitied him; his heart hardened itself utterly against this unknown hand which had snatched him from death’s dreamless ease and ungrudged rest, to awaken him to a humiliation that would be as ashes in his teeth so long as his life should last.

He arose slowly, and staggered to the casement.

He fancied he was delirious, and had distempered visions of the food so long desired. He knew that he had been starving long—how long? Long enough for his brain to be weak and visited with phantoms. Instinctively he touched the long round rolls of bread, the shape of the wine flask, the wicker of the basket: they were the palpable things of common life; they seemed to tell him that he had not dreamed.

Then it was charity? His lips moved with a curse.

That was his only thanksgiving.

The windows were unshuttered; through them he looked straight out upon the rising day—a day rainless and pale, and full of cool softness, after the deluge of the rains.

The faint sunlight of a spring that was still chilled by winter was shed over the flooded fields and swollen streams; snow‐white mists floated before the languid passage of the wind; and the moist land gave back, as in a mirror, the leafless trees, the wooden bridges, the belfries and the steeples, and the strange sad bleeding Christs.

page: 195

On all sides near, the meadows were sheets of water, the woods seemed to drift upon a lake; a swan’s nest was washed past on broken rushes, the great silvery birds beating their heavy wings upon the air, and pursuing their ruined home with cries. Beyond, everything was veiled in the twilight of the damp grey vapour; a world half seen, half shrouded, lovely exceedingly, filled with all divine possibilities and all hidden powers: a world such as Youth beholds with longing eyes in its visions of the future.

“A beautiful world!” he said to himself; and he smiled wearily as he said it.

Beautiful, certainly; in that delicious shadow; in that vague light: in that cloud‐like mist, wherein the earth met heaven.

Beautiful, certainly; all those mystical shapes rising from the sea of moisture which hid the earth and all the things that toiled on it. It was beautiful, this calm, dim, morning world, in which there was no sound except the distant ringing of unseen bells; this veil of vapour, whence sprang these fairy and fantastic shapes that cleft the watery air; the land to the sky, in which all homely things took grace and mystery, and every common and familiar form became transfigured.

It was beautiful; but this landscape had been seen too long and closely by him for it to have power left to cheat his senses.

Under that pure and mystical veil of the refracted rain things vile, and things full of anguish, had their being:—cattle in the slaughter‐houses; the drunkards in the hovels; disease and debauch and famine; the ditch, that was the common grave of all the poor; the hospital, where pincers and knives tore the living nerves in the inquisition of science; the fields, where the women toiled bent, cramped, and hideous; the dumb driven beasts, patient and tortured, for ever blameless, yet for ever accursed:—all these were there beneath that lovely veil, through which there came so dreamily the slender shafts of spires and the chimes of half heard bells.

He stood and watched it long, so long that the clouds descended and the vapours shifted away, and the pale sun‐rays shone clearly over a disenchanted world, where roof page: 196 joined roof and casement answered casement, and the figures on the crosses became but rude and ill‐carved daubs; and the cocks crew to one another, and the herdsmen swore at their flocks, and the oxen flinched at the goad, and the women went forth to their field work; and all the charm was gone.

Then he turned away.

The cold fresh breath of the morning had breathed upon him, and driven out the dull, delicious fancies that had possessed his brain. The simple truth was plain before him: that he had been seen by some stranger in his necessity and succoured.

He was thankless; like the sick, to whom unwelcome aid denies the refuge of the grave, calling him back to suffer, and binding on his shoulders the discarded burden of life’s infinite weariness and woes.

He was thankless; for he had grown tired of this fruitless labour, this abortive combat; he had grown tired of seeking credence and being derided for his pains, while other men prostituted their powers to base use and public gain, receiving as their wages honour and applause; he had grown tired of toiling to give beauty and divinity to a world which knew them not when it beheld them.

He had grown tired, though he was yet young, and had strength, and had passion, and had manhood. Tired—utterly, because he was destitute of all things save his genius, and in that none were found to believe.

“I have tried all things, and there is nothing of any worth.” It does not need to have worn the imperial purples and to be lying dying in old age to know thus much in all truth and all bitterness.

“Why did they give me back my life?” he said in his heart, as he turned aside from the risen sun.

He had striven to do justly with this strange, fleeting, unasked gift of existence, which comes, already warped, into our hands, and is broken by death ere we can set it straight.

He had not spent it in riot or madness, in lewd love or in gambling greed; he had been governed by great desires, though these had been fruitless, and had spent his strength to a great end, though this had been never reached.

As he turned from looking out upon the swollen stream page: 197 that rushed beneath his windows, his eyes fell upon the opposite wall, where the white shapes of his cartoons were caught by the awakening sun.

The spider had drawn his dusty trail across them; the rat had squatted at their feet; the darkness of night had enshrouded and defaced them; yet with the morning they arose, stainless, noble, undefiled.

Amongst them there was one colossal form, on which the sun poured with its full radiance.

This was the form of a captive grinding at a mill‐stone; the majestic symmetrical supple form of a man who was also a god.

In his naked limbs there was a supreme power; in his glance there was a divine command; his head was lifted as though no yoke could ever lie on that proud neck; his foot seemed to spurn the earth as though no mortal tie had ever bound him to the sod that human steps bestrode: yet at the corn‐mill he laboured, grinding wheat like the patient blinded oxen that toiled beside him.

For it was the great Apollo in Pheræ.

The hand which awoke the music of the spheres had been blood‐stained with murder; the beauty which had the light and lustre of the sun had been darkened with passion and with crime; the will which no other on earth or in heaven could withstand had been bent under the chastisement of Zeus.

He whose glance had made the black and barren slopes of Delos to laugh with fruitfulness and gladness,—he whose prophetic sight beheld all things past, present, and to come, the fate of all unborn races, the doom of all unspent ages,—he, the Far‐Striking King, laboured here beneath the curse of crime, greatest of all the gods, and yet a slave.

In all the hills and vales of Greece his Io pæan sounded still.

Upon his holy mountains there still arose the smoke of fires of sacrifice.

With dance and song the Delian maidens still hailed the divinity of Lêtô’s son.

The wave of the pure Ionian air still rang for ever with the name of Delphinios.

At Pytho and at Clarus, in Lycia and in Phokis, his oracles still breathed forth upon their fiat terror or hope page: 198 into the lives of men; and still in all the virgin forests of the world the wild beasts honoured him wheresoever they wandered, and the lion and the boar came at his bidding from the deserts to bend their free necks and their wills of fire meekly to bear his yoke in Thessaly.

Yet he laboured here at the corn‐mill of Admetus; and watching him at his bondage there stood the slender, slight, wing‐footed Hermes, with a slow, mocking smile upon his knavish lips, and a jeering scorn in his keen eyes, even as though he cried:

“O, brother, who would be greater than I! For what hast thou bartered to me the golden rod of thy wealth and thy dominion over the flocks and the herds? For seven chords strung on a shell—for a melody not even thine own! For a lyre outshone by my syrinx hast thou sold all thine empire to me. Will human ears give heed to thy song now thy sceptre has passed to my hands? Immortal music only is left thee, and the vision foreseeing the future. O god! O hero! O fool! what shall these profit thee now?”

Thus to the artist by whom they had been begotten the dim white shapes of the deities spoke. Thus he saw them, thus he heard, whilst the pale and watery sunlight lit up the form of the toiler in Pheræ.

For even as it was with the divinity of Delos, so is it likewise with the genius of a man, which, being born of a god, yet is bound as a slave to the grindstone. Since even as Hermes mocked the Lord of the Unerring Bow, so is genius mocked of the world, when it has bartered the herds and the grain, and the rod that metes wealth, for the seven chords that no ear, dully mortal, can hear.

And as he looked upon this symbol of his life, the captivity and the calamity, the strength and the slavery of his existence overcame him; and for the first hour since he had been born of a woman Arslàn buried his face in his hands and wept.

He could bend great thoughts to take the shapes that he chose, as the chained god in Pheræ bound the strong kings of the desert and the forest to carry his yoke; yet, like the god, he likewise stood fettered to the mill to grind for bread.

page: 199


A VALLEY long and narrow, shut out from the rest of the living world by the ramparts of stone that rose on either side to touch the clouds; dense forests of pines, purple as night, where the erl‐king rode and the bear‐king reigned; at one end mountains, mist, and gloom, at the other end the ocean; brief days with the sun shed on a world of snow, in which the sounds of the winds and the moans of the wolves alone were heard in the solitude; long nights of marvelous magnificence with the stars of the arctic zone glowing with an unbearable lustre above a sea of phosphorescent fire; those were Arslàn’s earliest memories—those had made him what he was.

In that pine‐clothed Norwegian valley, opening to the sea, there were a few homesteads gathered together round a little wooden church, with great torrents falling above them, and a profound loneliness around; severed by more than a day’s journey from any other of the habitations of men.

There a simple idyllic life rolled slowly on through the late and lovely spring times, when the waters loosened and the seed sprouted, and the white blossoms broke above the black ground: through the short and glorious summers, when the children’s eyes saw the elves kiss the roses, and the fairies float on the sunbeam, and the maidens braided their fair hair with blue cornflowers to dance on the eve of St. John: through the long and silent winters, when an almost continual night brooded over all things, and the thunder of the ocean alone answered the war of the wind‐torn forests, and the blood‐red blaze of the northern light gleamed over a white still mountain world, and within doors, by the warm wood fire, the youths sang Scandinavian ballads, and the old people told strange Sagas, and the mothers, rocking their new‐born sons to sleep, prayed God for mercy to have on all human lives drowning at sea and frozen in the snow.

In this Alpine valley, hidden amidst stupendous walls of stone, bottomless precipices, and summits that touched the page: 200 clouds, there was a cottage even smaller and humbler than most, and closest of all to the church. It was the house of the pastor. The old man had been born there, and had lived there all the years of his life save a few that he had passed in a town as a student; and he had wedded a neighbour who, like himself, had known no other home than this one village. He was gentle, patient, simple, and full of tenderness; he worked like his people all the week through, in the open weather, amongst his fruit‐trees, his little breadth of pasturage, his herb‐garden, and his few sheep. On the seventh day he preached to the people the creed that he himself believed in with all the fond, unquestioning, implicit faith of the young children who lifted to him their round wandering eyes.

He was good; he was old: in his simple needs and his undoubting hopes he has happy; all the living things of his little world loved him, and he loved them. And fate lit on him to torture him, as it is its pleasure to torture the innocent.

It sent him a daughter who was fair to sight, and had a voice like music; a form lithe and white, with hair of gold, and eyes like her own planets. She had never seen any other spot save her own valley; but she had the old Berserker blood in her veins, and she was restless; the sea tempted her with an intense power; she desired passionately, without knowing what she desired.

The simple pastoral work, the peaceful household labours, the girls’ garland of alpine flowers, the youths’ singing in the brief rose twilight, the saga told the thousandth time around the lamp in the deep mid‐winter silence; these things would not suffice for her. The old Scandinavian madness was her veins. And one day the sea tempted her too utterly; beyond her strength,—as a lover, after a thousand entreaties, one day tempts a woman, and one day finds her weak.

The sea vanquished her, and she went—whither?

They hardly knew: to these old people the world that lay behind their mountain fortress was a blank. It might be a paradise; it might be a prison. They could not tell. They suffered their sorrow meekly; they never cursed her; they did not even curse their fate because they had given life to a woman child.

page: 201

After awhile they heard of her.

She wrote them tender and glowing words; she was well, she was proud, she was glad, she had found those who told her that she had a voice which was as a gift of gold, and that she might sing in triumph to the nations. Such tidings came from time to time; brief welcome words, first teeming with hope, then delirious with triumph, yet ever ending with a short sad sigh of conscience, a prayer for pardon—pardon for what? The letters never said: perhaps only for the sin of desertion.

The slow salt tears of age fell on these glowing pages in which the heart of a young, vain‐glorious, tender creature stamped itself; but the old people never spoke of them to others. “She is happy, it does not matter for us.” This was all they said, yet this gentle patience was a martyrdom too sharp to last; when that year closed the mother was in her grave, and the old man left alone.

The long silent winter came, locking the valley within its fortress of ice, severing it from all the rest of the breathing human world; and the letters ceased. He would not let them say that she had forgotten; he chose to think that the severance was due to the wall of snow which was built up between them rather than to any division of her ingratitude and oblivion.

The sweet sudden Norwegian spring came, all the white and golden flowers breaking up from the hard crust of the soil, and all the loosened waters rushing with a shout of liberty to join the sea.

The summer followed with the red mountain roses blossoming by the brooks, and the green mountain grasses blowing in the wind, with the music of the herd‐bells ringing down the passes, and the sound of the fife and of the reed‐pipe calling the maidens to the dance.

In the midst of the summer, one night, when all the stars were shining above the valley, and all the children slept under the roofs with the swallows, and not a soul was stirring, save where here and there a lover watched a light glow in some lattice underneath the eaves, a half‐dead woman dragged herself feebly under the lime‐tree shadows of the pastor’s house, and struck with a faint cry upon the door and fell at her father’s feet, broken and senseless. Before the full day had dawned she had given birth to a page: 202 male child; and died as her son’s eyes opened to the morning light.

He inherited no name, and they called him after his grandsire, Arslàn.

When his dead daughter lay stretched before him in the sunlight, with her white large limbs folded to rest, and her noble fair face calm as a mask of marble, the old pastor knew little—nothing—of what her life through these two brief years had been. Her lips had scarcely breathed a word since she had fallen senseless on his threshold. That she had triumph he knew; that she had fallen into dire necessities he saw.

Whether she had surrendered art for the sake of love, or whether she had lost the public favour by some caprice of the public, whether she had been eminent or obscure in her career, whether it had abandoned her or she had abandoned it, he could not tell, and he knew too little of the world to be able to learn.

That she had travelled her weary way homeward to her native mountains that her son might not perish among strangers, he knew; but no more. Nor was more ever known by any living soul. In life there are so many histories which are like broken boughs that strew the ground after a storm, snapped short at either end, so that none know the crown of them nor the root.

The child whom she had left grew in goodliness and strength and stature, until the people said that he was like that child‐king, whom their hero Frithiof raised upon his buckler above the multitude; and who was not afraid, but boldly gripped the brazen shield, and smiled fearlessly at the noonday sun.

He had his mother’s golden Scandinavian beauty; the beauty of sculpture, white as the snow, of unusual height, and largely moulded; and his free life amidst the ice‐fields and the pinewoods, and on the wild northern seas, developed both health and strength to their uttermost perfection.

The people admired and wondered at him; they did not love him. The lad was cold, dauntless, silent; he repelled their sympathies and disdained their pastimes. He chose rather to be by himself than with them. He was never cruel; but he was never tender; and when he did speak he page: 203 spoke with a sort of eloquent scorn and caustic imagery that seemed to them extraordinary in one so young. But his grandfather loved him greatly; and reared him tenderly and wisely; and braced him with a scholar’s lore and with a mountaineer’s exposure, so that both brain and body had their due.

He was a simple childlike broken old man; but in this vigorous youth that unfolded itself beside him his age seemed to strike fresh root, and he had wisdom and skill enough to guide its development justly. The desire of his soul was that his grandson should succeed him in the spiritual charge of that tranquil valley, and thus escaped the dire perils of the cities in which the mother’s life had been caught and consumed like a moth’s in flame. But Arslàn’s eyes looked ever across the ocean with that look in them which had been in his mother’s, and when the old man spoke of this holy and peaceful future, he was silent.

Moreover, he—who had never beheld but the rude paintings on panels of pine that decorated the little red church under the firs and lindens,—he had the gift of art in him.

He had few and rough means only with which to make his crude and unguided essays; but the delirium of it was on him, and the peasants of his village gazed awe‐stricken and adoring before the things which he drew on every piece of pine‐wood, on every smooth breadth of sea‐worn granite, on every bare surface of lime‐washed wall that he could find at liberty for his usage.

Whey they asked him what, in his manhood, he would do, he said little. “I will never leave the old man,” he made answer; and he kept his word. Up to his twentieth year he never quitted the valley. He studied deeply, after his own manner, but nearly all his days were passed in the open air alone; in the pure cold air of the highest mountain summits, amidst the thunder of the furious torrents; in the black recesses of lonely forests, where none, save the wolf and the bear, wandered with him; or away on the vast expanse of the sea, where the storm drove the great arctic waves like scourged sheep, and the huge breakers seized the shore as a panther its prey.

On such a world as this, and in the marvelous nights of the north, his mind fed itself and gained its full powers. The feeble life of the old man held him to this lonely page: 204 valley that seemed filled with the coldness, the mystery, the unutterable terror and majesty of the arctic pole, to which it looked; but, unknown to him, it thus fettered him likewise where alone the genius in him could take its full shape and full stature.

Unknown to him, in these years it took the depth, the strength, the patience, the melancholy, the virility of the North; took these never to be lost again.

In the twentieth winter of his life an avalanche engulfed the pastor’s house, and the little church by which it stood; covering both beneath a mountain of earth and snow and rock and riven trees. Some of the timbers withstood the shock, and the roof remained standing uncrushed above their heads. The avalanche fell some little time after midnight: there were only present in the dwelling himself, the old man, and a serving woman.

The woman was killed on her bed by the fall of a beam upon her; he and the pastor still lived: lived in perpetual darkness without food or fuel, or any ray of light.

The wooden clock stood erect, uninjured; they could hear the hours go by in slow succession. The old man was peaceful and even cheerful; praising God often; and praying that help might come to this beloved one. But his strength could not hold out against the icy cold, the long hunger, the dreadful blank around. He died ere the first day had wholly gone by, at even‐song; saying still that he was content, and still praising God who had rewarded his innocence with shame, and recompensed his service with agony. For two more days and nights, Arslàn remained in his living tomb, enshrouded in eternal gloom, alone with the body of his grandfather, stretching out his hands ever and again to meet the icy touch rather than be without companionship.

On the morning of the third day the people of the village, who had laboured ceaselessly, reached him; and he was saved.

As soon as the spring broke, he left the valley and passed over the mountains, seeking a new world. His old familiar home had become hateful to him; he had no tie to it save two low graves, still snow‐covered underneath a knot of tall stone‐pines; the Norse passion of wandering was in his veins as it had been in his mother’s before him; he mutely page: 205 desired freedom, colour, knowledge, art, fame, as she had desired them, and he went: turning his face from that lowly green nest lying like a lark’s between the hills.

He did not go as youth mostly goes, blind with a divine dream of triumph: he went, consciously, to a bitter combat as the sea kings of old, whose blood ran in his veins, and whose strength was in his limbs, had gone to war, setting their prow hard against the sharp salt waves and in the teeth of an adverse wind.

He was not without money. The pastor, indeed, had died almost penniless; he had been always poor, and had given the little he possessed to those still poorer. But the richest landowner in the village, the largest possessor of flocks and herds, dying childless, had bequeathed his farm and cattle to Arslàn; having loved the lad’s dead mother silently and vainly. The value of these realised by sale gave to Arslàn, when he became his own master, what, in that valley at least, was wealth; and he went without care for the future on this score into the world of men; his mind full of dreams and the beautiful myths of dead ages; his temper compounded of poetry and coldness, of enthusiasm and of scepticism; his one passion a supreme ambition, pure as snow in its instinct, but half savage in its intensity.

From that spring, when he had passed away from his birthplace as the winter snows were melting on the mountain sides, and the mountain flowers were putting forth their earliest buds under the pine boughs, until the time that he now stood solitary, starving, and hopeless before the mocking eyes of his Hermes, twelve years had run their course, and all through them he had never once again beheld his native land.

Like the Scandinavian Regner, he chose rather to perish in the folds, and by the fangs, of the snakes that devoured him than return to his country with the confession of defeat. And despite the powers that were in him, his life had been a failure, an utter failure—as yet.

In his early youth he had voyaged often, with men who went to the extreme north in search of skins and such poor trade as they could drive with Esquimaux or Koraks; he had borne their dangers and their poverty, their miseries and their famine, for sake of seeing what they saw;—the pathless oceans of the ice realm, the trailing pines alone in page: 206 a white snow world, the red moon fantastic and horrible in a sky of steel, the horned clouds of reindeer rushing through the endless night, the arch of the aurora spanning the heavens with their fire. He had passed many seasons of his boyhood in the silence, the solitude, the eternal desolation, and the mute mystery of that Arctic world, which for no man has either sympathy or story; and in a way he had loved it, and was often weary for it; in a way its spirit remained with him always; and its inexorable coldness, its pitiless indifference to men’s wants and weakness, its loneliness and its purity, and its scorn, were in all the works of his hand; blended in a strange union with the cruelty, and the voluptuousness, and the gorgeousness of colour, which gave to everything he touched the glow and the temper of the east.

Thus, what he did pleased none; being for one half the world too chill, and being for the other half too sensual.

The world had never believed in him; and he found himself in the height and maturity of his powers condemned to an absolute obscurity. Not one man in a million knew his name.

During these years he had devoted himself to the study of art with an undeviating subservience to all its tyrannies.

He had studied humanity in all its phases; he had studied form with all the rigid care that it requires; he had studied colour in almost every land that lies beneath the sun; he had studied the passions in all their deformities, as well as in all their beauties; he had spared neither himself nor others in pursuit of knowledge. He had tried most vices, he had seen all miseries, he had spared himself no spectacle, however loathsome; he had turned back from no license, however undesired, that could give him insight into empire over human raptures and affliction. Neither did he spare himself any labour however costly, however exhausting, to enrich his brain with that varied learning, that multifarious science which he held needful to every artist who dared to desire greatness.

The hireling beauty of the wanton, the splendour of the sun and sea, the charnel lore of anatomy, the secrets of dead tongues and buried nations, the horrors of the lazar wards and pest‐houses, the glories of golden deserts and purple page: 207 vineyards, the flush of love on a young girl’s cheek, the rottenness of corruption on a dead man’s limbs, the hellish riot of a brothel, the divine calm of an eastern night; all things alike he studied, without abhorrence as without delight, indifferent to all save for one end,—knowledge and art.

So entirely and undividedly did this possess him that it seemed to have left him without other passions; even as the surgeon dissects the fair lifeless body of sone beautiful dead women, regardless of loveliness or sex, intent on the secret of disease, the mystery of formation, which he seeks therein, so did he study the physical beauty of women and their mortal corruption, without other memories than those of art. He would see the veil fall from off the limbs of a creature lovely as a goddess, and would think only to himself—“How shall I render this so that on my canvas it shall live once more?”

One night, in the hot, close streets of Damascus, a man was stabbed,—a young Maronite—who lay dying in the roadway, without sign or sound, whilst his assassins fled; the silver Syrian moon shining full on his white and scarlet robe, his calm, upturned face, his lean hand knotted on the dagger he had been spared no time to use; a famished street dog smelling at his blood.

Arslàn, passing through the city, saw and paused beside him; stood still and motionless, looking down on the outstretched figure; then drew his tablets out and sketched the serene, rigid face, the flowing, blood‐soaked robes, the hungry animal mouthing at the wound. Another painter, his familiar friend, following on his steps, joined him a little later, and started from his side in horror—

“My God! what do you do there?” he cried. “Do you not see?—that man is dying!”

Arslàn looked up—“I had not thought of that,” he answered.

It was thus always with him.

He was not cruel. To animals he was humane, to women gentle, to men serene; but his art was before all things with him, and with humanity he had little sympathy; and if had passions, they had wakened no more than as the drowsy tigress wakes in the hot hush of noon, half indifferent, half lustful, to strike fiercely what comes before page: 208 her, and then, having slain, couches herself and sleeps again.

But for this absolute surrender of his life, his art had as yet recompensed him nothing.

Men did not believe in him; what he wrought saddened and terrified them; they turned aside to those who fed them on simpler and on sweeter food.

His works were great, but they were such as the public mind deems impious. They unveiled human corruption too nakedly, and they shadowed forth visions too exalted, and satires too unsparing, for them to be acceptable to the multitude. They were compounded of an idealism clear and cold as crystal, and of a reality cruel and voluptuous as love. They were penetrated with an acrid satire and an intense despair: the world caring only for a honied falsehood and a gilded gloss in every art, would have none of them.

So far these twelve long years his labour had been waste, his efforts fruitless. Those years had been costly to him in purse;—travel, study, gold flung to fallen women, sums spent on faithless friends, utter indifference to whosoever robbed him, so long as he was left in peace to pursue lofty aims and high endeavours—all these did their common work on wealth which was scanty in the press of the world, though it had appeared inexhaustible on the shores of the north sea.

His labours also were costly, and they brought him no return.

The indifference to fortune in a man of genius looks, to a man of the world, the stupor of idiotcy: from such a stupor he was shaken one day to find himself face to face with beggary.

His works were seen by few, and these few were antagonstic to them.

All ways to fame were closed to him, either by the envy of other painters, or by the apathies and the antipathies of the nations themselves. In all lands he was repulsed; he roused the jealousy of his compeers and the terror of the multitudes. They hurled against him the old worn‐out cry that the office of art was to give pleasure, not pain; and when his money was gone, so that he could no longer, at his own cost, expose his works to the public gaze, they and he were alike obliterated from the public marts; they had page: 209 always denied him fame, and they at last thrust him quickly into oblivion, and abandoned him to it without remorse, and even with contentment.

He could, indeed, with the facile power of eye and touch that he possessed, have easily purchased a temporary ease and evanescent repute, if he had given the world from his pencil those themes for which it cared, and descended to the common spheres of common art. But he refused utterly to do this. The best and greatest thing in him was his honesty to the genius wherewith he was gifted; he refused to prostitute it; he refused to do other than to tell the truth as he saw it.

“This man blasphemes; this man is immoral,” his enemies had always hooted against him. It is what the world always says of those who utter unwelcome truths in its unwilling ears.

So the words of the old Skald by his own northern seashores came to pass; and at length, for the sake of art, it came to this, that he perished for want of bread.

For seven days he had been without food, except the winter berries which he broke off the trees without, and such handfuls of wheat as fell through the disjointed timbers of the ceiling, for whose possession he disputed with the rats.

The sheer absolute poverty, which leaves the man whom it has seized without so much as even a crust wherewith to break his fast, is commoner than the world in general ever dreams. For he was now so poor that for many months he had been unable to buy fresh canvas on which to work, and had been driven to chalk the outlines of the innumerable fancies that pursued him upon the bare smooth grey stone walls of the old granary in which he dwelt.

He let his life go silently away without complaint, and without effort, because effort had been so long unavailing, that he had discarded it in a contemptuous despair.

He accepted his fate, seeing nothing strange in it, and nothing pitiable; since many better men than he had borne the like. He could not have altered it without beggary or theft, and he thought either of these worse than itself.

There were hecatombs hetacombs of grain, bursting their sacks, in the lofts above; but when, once on each eighth day, the page: 210 maltster owning them sent his men to fetch some from the store, Arslàn let the boat be moored against the wall, be filled with barley, and be pushed away again down the current, wihtout saying once to the rowers, “Wait; I starve!”

And yet, though like a miser, amidst his gold, his body starved amidst the noble shapes and the great thoughts that his brain conceived and his hand called into substance, he never once dreamed of abandoning for any other the career to which he had dedicated himself from the earliest days that his boyish eyes had watched the fires of the Arctic lights glow above the winter seas.

Art was to him as mother, brethren, mistress, offspring, religion—all that other men hold dear. He had none of these, he desired none of them; and his genius sufficed to him in their stead.

It was an intense and reckless egotism, made alike cruel and sublime by its intensity and purity, like the egotism of a mother in her child. To it, as the mother to her child, he would have sacrificed every living creature; but to it also, like her, he would have sacrificed his very existence as unhesitatingly. But it was an egotism which, though merciless in its tyranny, was as pure as snow in its impersonality; it was untainted by any grain of avarice, of vanity, of selfish desire; it was independent of all sympathy; it was simply and intensely the passion for immortality:—that sublime selfishness, that superb madness, of all great minds.

Art had taken him for its own, as Demeter, in the days of her desolation, took the child Demophoon to nurture him as her own on the food of gods, and to plunge him through the flames of a fire that would give him immortal life. As the pusillanimous and sordid fears of the mortal mother lost to the child for evermore the possession of Olympian joys and of perpetual youth, so did the craven and earthly cares of bodily needs hold the artist back from the radiance of the life of the soul, and drag him from the purifying fires. Yet he had not been utterly discouraged; he strove against the Metanira of circumstance; he did his best to struggle free from the mortal bonds that bound him; and, as the child Demophoon mourned for the great goddess that had nurtured him, refusing to be comforted, so did he turn page: 211 form the base consolations of the sense and the appetites, and beheld ever before his sight the ineffable majesty of that Mater Dolorosa who once and for ever had anointed him as her own.

Even now as the strength returned to his limbs and the warmth to his veins, the old passion, the old worship, returned to him.

The momentary weakness which had assailed him passed away. He shook himself with a bitter impatient scorn for the feebleness into which he had been betrayed; and glanced around him still with a dull wonder as to the strange chances which the past night had brought. He was incredulous still; he thought that his fancy, heated by long fasting, might have cheated him; that he must have dreamed; and that the food and fuel which he saw must surely have been his own.

Yet reflection told him that this could not be; he remembered that for several weeks his last coin had been spent; that he had been glad to gather the birds’ winter berries to crush beneath his teeth, and gather the dropped corn from the floor to quiet the calm of hunger; that for many a day there had been no fire on the hearth, and that only a frame which long sunless northern winters had braced to such hardihood in early youth, had enabled him to resist and endure the cold. Therefore, it must be charity. Charity!—as the hateful truth came home to him, he met the eyes of the white, slender, winged Hermes: eyes that from out that colourless and smiling face seemed to mock him with a cruel contempt.

His was the old, old story—the rod of wealth bartered for the empty shell that gave forth music.

Hermes seemed to know it and to jeer him.

Hermes, the mischief‐monger, and the trickster of men; the inventive god who spent his days in cajoling his brethren, and his nights in the mockery of mortals; the messenger of heaven who gave Pandora to mankind; Hermes, the eternal type of unscrupulous Success, seemed to have voice and cry to him:—“Oh fool, fool, fool! who listens for the music of the spheres, and disdains the only melody that men have ears to hear—the melody of gold!”

Arslàn turned from the great cartoon of the gods in page: 212 Pheræ, and went out into the daylight, and stripped and plunged into the cold and turbulent stream. Its chilliness and the combat of its current braced his nerves and cleared his brain.

When he was clad, he left the grain‐tower with the white forms of its gods upon its walls, and walk slowly down the banks of the river. Since life had been forced back upon him he knew that it was incumbent upon his manhood to support it by the toil of his hands if men would not accept the labour of his brain.

Before, he had been too absorbed in his pursuit, too devoted to it, body and soul, to seek to sustain existence by sheer manual exertion which was the only thing that he had left untried for self‐maintenance. In a manner too he was too proud; not too proud to labour, but too proud to easily endure to lay bare his needs to the knowledge of others. But now, human charity must have saved him; a charity which he hated as the foulest insult of his life; and he had no chance save to accept it like a beggar bereft of all shame, or to seek such work as would give him his daily bread.

So he went; feebly, for he was still weak from the length of his famine.

The country was well known to him, but the people not at all. He had come by hazard on the old ruin where he dwelt, and had stayed there full a year.

These serene blue skies, these pale mists, these corn‐clad slopes, these fields of pleasant of plenteous abundance, these quiet homesteads, these fruit‐harvests of this Norman plain were in a contrast intense, yet soothing, to all that his life had known. These old quaint cities, these little villages that seemed always hushed with the sound of bells, these quiet streams on which the calm sunlight slept so peacefully, these green and golden lands of plenty that stretched away to the dim grey distant sea,—all these had had a certain charm for him.

He had abided with them, partly because amidst them it seemed possible to live on a handful of wheat and a draught of water, unnoticed and unpitied, partly because, having come hither on foot through many lands and by long hardships, he had paused there weary and incapable of farther effort.

page: 213

Whilst the little gold he had had on him had lasted he had painted innumerable transcripts of the ancient buildings, and of its summer and autumnal landscapes. And of late—through the bitter winter—of late it had seemed to him that it was as well to die here as elsewhere.

When a man knows that his dead limbs will be huddled into the common ditch of the poor, the nameless, and the unclaimed, and that his dead brain will only serve for soil to feed some little rank wayside poisonous weed, it will seldom seem of much moment in what earth the ditch be dug, by what feet the sward be trod.

He went on his way seeking work; he did not care what, he asked for any that might serve to use such strength as hunger had left in him, and to give him his daily bread. But this is a great thing to demand in the world, and so he found it.

They repulsed him everywhere.

They had their own people in plenty, they had their sturdy, tough, weather‐beaten women, who laboured all day in rain, or snow, or storm, for a pittance, and they had these in larger numbers than their field‐work needed. They looked at him askance; this man with the eyes of Arctic blue and the grave gestures of a king, who only asked to labour as the lowest amongst them. He was a stranger to them; he did not speak their tongue with their accent; he looked, with that white beauty and that lofty stature, as though he could crush them in the hollow of his hand.

They would have none of him.

“He brings misfortune!” they said amongst themselves; and they would have none of him.

He had an evil name with them. They said at eventide by their wood‐fires that strange things had been seen since he had come to the granary by the river.

Once he had painted, from the pretty face of a stonecutter’s little fair son, a study of the wondrous child Zagreus gazing in the fatal mirror; the child was laughing, and happy, and healthful at noon, crowned with carnations and river lilies, and by sunset he was dead—dead like the flowers that were still amongst his curls.

Once a girl had hired herself as a model to him for an Egyptian wanton, half a singer and half a gipsy—handsome, lithe, fantastic, voluptuous: the very night she left page: 214 the granary she was drowned in crossing a wooden bridge of the river, which gave way under the heavy tramp of the fantoccini player who accompanied her.

Once he had sketched, for the corner of an oriental study, a rare‐plumaged bird of the south, which was the idol of a water‐carrier of the district, and the wonder of all the children round: and from that date the bird had sickened and drooped, and lost its colours, and pined until it died.

The boy’s death had been from a sudden seizure of one of the many ills of infancy; the dancing girl’s had come from a common accident due to the rottenness of old worn water‐soaked timber; the mocking‐bird’s had arisen from the cruelty of captivity and the chills of northern winds; all had been the result of simple accident and natural circumstance. But they had sufficed to fill with horror the minds of a peasantry always bigoted and strongly prejudiced against every stranger; and it became to them a matter of implicit credence that whatsoever living thing should be painted by the artist Arslàn would assuredly never survive to see the rising of the morrow’s sun.

In consequence, for leagues around they shunned him; not man, nor woman, nor child would sit to him as models; and now, when he sought the wage of a daily labour amongst them, he was everywhere repulsed. He had long repulsed human sympathy, and in its turn it repulsed him.

At last he turned and retraced his steps, baffled and wearied; his early habits had made him familiar with all manner of agricultural toil; he would have done the task of the sower, the herdsman, the hewer of wood, or the charcoal‐burner; but they would none of them believe this of one with his glance and his aspect; and solicitation was new to his lips and bitter there as gall.

He took his way back along the line of the river; the beauty of the dawn had gone, the day was only now chilly, heavy, with a rank moisture from the steaming soil. Broken boughs and uprooted bushes were floating on the turgid water, and over all the land there hung a sullen fog.

The pressure of the air, the humidity, the colourless stillness that reigned throughout, weighed on lungs which for a score of years had only breathed the pure strong rarified air page: 215 of the north; he longed with a sudden passion to be once more amidst his native mountains under the clear steel‐like skies, and beside the rush of the vast wild seas. Were it only to die as he looked on them, it were better to die there than here.

He longed, as men in deserts thirst for drink, for one breath of the strong salt air of the north, one sight of the bright keen sea‐born sun as it leapt at dawn from the waters.

The crisp cold nights, the heavens which shone as steel, the forests filled with the cry of the wolves, the mountains which the ocean ceaselessly assailed, the mighty waves which marched erect like armies, the bitter Arctic wind which like a sabre cleft the darkness; all these came back to him, beloved and beautiful in all their cruelty, desired by him, with a sick longing for their freshness, for their fierceness, for their freedom.

As he dragged his tired limbs thought the grasses and looked out upon the sullen stream that flowed beside him, an oar struck the water, a flat black boat drifted beneath the bank, a wild swan disturbed rose with a hiss from the sedges.

The boat was laden with grain; there was only one rower in it, who steered by a string wound round her foot.

She did not lift her face as she went by him; but her bent brow and her bosom grew red, and she cut the water with a swifter, sharper stroke; her features were turned from him by that movement of her head, but he saw the eastern outline of the cheek and chin, the embrowned velvet of the skin, the half‐bare beauty of the heaving chest and supple spine bent back in the action of the oars, the long slender and arched shape of the naked foot, round which the cord was twined;—their contour and their colour struck him with a sudden surprise.

He had seen such oftentimes, eastwards, on the banks of golden rivers, treading, with such feet as these, the sands that were the dust of countless nations; bearing, on such shoulders as these earthen water‐vases that might have served the feasts of Pharaohs; showing such limbs as these against the curled palm branches and the deep blue sky upon the desert’s edge.

But here!—a face of Asia amongst the corn‐lands of page: 216 Northern France? It seemed to him strange; he looked after her with wonder.

The boat went on down the stream without any pause; the sculls cleaving the heavy tide with regular and resolute monotony; the golden piles of the grain and the brown form of the bending figure soon hidden in the clouds of river‐mist.

He watched her, only seeing a beggar‐girl rowing a skiff full of corn down a sluggish stream. There was nothing to tell him that he was looking upon the saviour of his body from the thralls of death; if there had been, in his mood, then, he would have cursed her.

The boat glided into the fog which closed behind it; a flock of water‐birds swam out from the rushes and darted at some floating kernels of wheat that had fallen over the vessel’s side; they fought and hissed, and flapped and pecked amongst themselves over the chance plunder; a large rat stole amidst them unnoticed by them in their exultation, and seized their leader and bore him struggling and beating the air with blood‐stained wings away to a hole in the bank; a mongrel dog, prowling on the shore, hearing the wild duck’s cries, splashed into the sedges, and swam out and gripped the rat by the neck in bold sharp fangs, and bore both rat and bird, bleeding and dying, to the land; the owner of the mongrel, a peasant making ready the ground for colza in the low‐lying fields, snatched the duck from the dog to bear it home for his own eating, and kicked his poor beast in the ribs for having ventured to stray without leave and to do him service without permission.

“The dulcet harmony of the world’s benignant law!” thought Arslàn, as he turned aside to enter the stone archway of his own desolate dwelling. “To live one must slaughter—what life can I take?”

At that moment the setting sun pierced the heavy veil of the vapour, and glowed through the fog.

The boat, now distant, glided for a moment into the ruddy haze, and was visible; the water around it, like a lake of flame, the white steam above it, like the smoke of a sacrifice fire.

Then the sun sank, the mists gathered closely once more, all light faded, and the day was dead.

page: 217

He felt stifled and sick at heart as he returned along the reedy shore towards his dreary home. He wondered dully why his life would not end: since the world would have none of him, neither the work of his brain nor the work of his hands, it seemed that he had no place in it.

He was half resolved to lie down in the water there, amongst the reeds, and let it flow over his face and breast, and kiss him softly and coldly into the sleep of death. He had desired this many times; what held him back from its indulgence was not “the child within us that fears death,” of which Plato speaks; he had no such misgiving in him, and he believed death to be a simple rupture and end of all things, such as any man had right to seek and summon for himself; it was rather that the passion of his art was too strong in him, that the power to create was too intense in him, so that he could not willingly consign the forces and the fantasies of his brain to that annihilation to which he would, without thought or pause, have flung his body.

As he entered the haunted hall which served him as his painting‐room, he saw a fresh fire of logs upon the hearth, whose leaping flames lighted the place with cheerful colour, and he saw on the stone bench fresh food, sufficient to last several days, and a brass flagon filled with wine.

A curious emotion took possession of him as he looked. It was less surprise at the fact, for his senses told him it was the work of some charity which chose to hide itself, than it was wonder as to who, in this strange land, where none would even let him earn his daily bread, knew enough or cared enough to supply his necessities thus. And with this there arose the same intolerant bitterness of the degradation of alms, the same ungrateful hatred of the succour that seemed to class him amongst beggars, which had moved him when he had awakened with the dawn.

He felt neither tenderness nor gratitude, he was only conscious of humiliation.

There were in him a certain coldness, strength, and indifference to sympathy, which, whilst they made his greatness as an artist, made his callousness as a man. It might have been sweet to others to find themselves remembered and pitied by another at an hour when their forces were spent, their fate friendless, and their hopes all dead. But it page: 218 was not so to him, he only felt like the desert animal which, wounded, repulses every healing hand, and only seeks to die alone.

There was only one vulnerable, one tender nerve in him, and this was the instinct of his genius. He had been nurtured in hardihood, and had drawn in endurance with every breath of his native air; he would have borne physical ills without one visible pang, and would have been indifferent to all mortal suffering; but for the powers in him, for the art he adored, he had a child’s weakness, a woman’s softness.

He could not bear to die without leaving behind his life some work the world would cherish.

Call it folly, call it madness, it is both: the ivory Zeus that was to give its sculptor immortality, lives but in tradition; the bronze Athene, that was to guard the Piræus in eternal liberty, has long been levelled with the dust; yet with every age the artist still gives life for fame, still cries, “Let my body perish, but make my work immortal!”

It was this in him now which stirred his heart with a new and gentler emotion; emotion which, while half disgust, was also half gladness. The food was alms‐given, since he had not earned it, and yet—by means of this sheer bodily subsistence—it would be possible for him to keep alive those dreams, that strength, by which he still believed it in him to compel his fame from men.

He stood before the Phœbus in Pheræ, thinking; it stung him with a bitter torment; it humiliated him with a hateful burden—this debt which came he knew not whence, and which he never might be able to repay. And yet his heart was strangely moved; it seemed to him that the fate which thus wantonly, and with such curious persistence, placed life back into his hands, must needs be one that would bear no common fruit.

He opposed himself no more to it.

He bent his head and broke bread, and ate and drank of the red wine:—he did not thank God or man as he broke his fast; he only looked in the mocking eyes of Hermes, and said in his heart:—

“Since I must live, I will triumph!”

And Hermes smiled: Hermes the wise, who had bought page: 219 and sold the generations of men so long ago, in the golden age, and who knew so well how they would barter away their greatness and their gladness, and their bodies and their souls, for one sweet strain of his hollow reed‐pipe, for one sweet glance of his soulless Pandora’s eyes.

Hermes—Hermes the liar, Hermes the wise,—knew how men’s oaths were kept.