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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 220

BOOK IV.

“The desire of the moth for the star.”

CHAPTER I.

AT the close of that day Claudis Flamma discovered that he had been robbed—robbed more than once: he swore and raved and tore his hair for loss of a little bread and meat and oil and a flagon of red wine.

He did not suspect his grand‐daughter; accusing her perpetually of sins of which she was innocent, he did not once associate her in thought with the one offence which she had committed. He thought that the window of his store‐house had been forced from the exterior; he made no doubt that his spoiler was some vagabond from one of the river barges. By such tramps his hen‐house and his apple‐lofts had often previously been invaded.

She heard his lamentations and imprecations in unbroken silence; he did not question her; and without a lie she was able to keep her secret. In her own sight she had done a foul thing—a thing that her own hunger had never induced her to do. She did not seek to reconcile herself to her action by any reflection that she had only taken what she had really earned a thousand times over by her service; her mind was not sufficiently instructed, and was of too truthful a mould to be capable of the deft plea of a sophistry.

She could dare the thing; and do it, and hold her peace about it, though she should be scourged to speak; but she could not tamper with it to excuse it to herself; for this she had neither the cunning nor the cowardice.

Why had she done it?—done for a stranger what no pressure of need had made her do for her own wants? She did not ask herself; she followed her instinct. He allured her page: 221 with his calm and kingly beauty, which was like nothing else her eyes had ever seen; and she was drawn by an irresistible attraction to this life which she had bought at the price of her own from the gods. Yet stronger even than this sudden human passion which had entered into her was her dread lest he whom she had ransomed from death should know of his debt to her.

Under such a dread, she never opened her lips to anyone on this thing which she had done. Silence was natural to her; she spoke so rarely, that many in the province believed her to be dumb; no sympathy had ever been shown to her to woo her to disclose either the passions that burnt latent in her veins, or the tenderness that trembled stifled in her heart.

Thrice again did she take food and fuel to the water‐tower undetected, both by the man whom she robbed, and the man whom she succoured. Thrice again did she find her way to the desolate chamber in its owner’s absence and refill the empty platters and warm afresh the cold blank hearth. Thrice again did Claudis Flamma note the diminution of his stores, and burnish afresh his old rusty fowling‐piece, and watch half the night on his dark staircase, and prepare with his own hands a jar of poisoned honey and a bag of poisoned wheat, which he placed, with a cruel chuckle of grim glee, to tempt the eyes of his spoilers.

But the spoiler, being of his own household, saw this trap set, and was aware of it.

In a week or two the need for these acts which she hated ceased. She learned that the stranger for whom she thus risked her body and soul, had found a boatman’s work upon the water which, although a toil rough and rude, and but poorly paid, still sufficed to give him bread. Through she was herself so pressed with hunger, many a time, that as she went through the meadows and hedgerows she was glad to crush in her teeth the tender shoots of the briars, and the acrid berry of the brambles, she never again, unbidden, touched so much as a mouldy crust thrown out to be eaten by the poultry.

Flamma, counting his possessions greedily night and morning, blessed the saints for the renewed safety of his dwelling, and cast forth the poisoned wheat as a thank‐offering to the male birds who were for ever flying to and page: 222 fro their nested mates in the leafless boughs above the earliest violets, and whose little throats were strangled even in their glad flood of nuptial song, and whose soft bright eyes grew dull in death ere even they had looked upon the springtide sun.

For it was ever thus that Folle‐Farine saw men praise God.

She took their death to her own door, sorrowing and full of remorse.

“Had I never stolen the food, these birds might never have perished,” she thought, as she say the rosy throats of the robins and bullfinches turned upward in death on the turf. She blamed herself bitterly with an aching heart.

The fatality which makes human crime recoil on the innocent creatures of the animal world oppressed her with its heavy and hideous injustice. Their God was good, they said: yet for her sin and her grandsire’s greed the harmless song‐birds died by the score in torment.

“How shall a God be good who is not just?” she thought.

In this mute young lonely soul of hers Nature had sown a strong passion for justice, a strong instinct towards what was righteous. As the germ of a plant born in darkness underground will, by sheer instinct, uncurl its colourless tendrils, and thrust them through crevices and dust, and the close structure of mortared stones, until they reach the light and grow green and strong in it, so did her nature strive, of its own accord, through the gloom enveloping it, towards those moral laws which in all ages and all lands remain the same, no matter what deity be worshipped, or what creed be called the truth.

He nascent mind was darkened, oppressed, bewildered, perplexed, even like the plant which, forcing itself upward from its cellar, opens it leaves not in pure air and under a blue sky, but in the reek and smoke and fœtid odours of a city. Yet, like the plant, she vaguely felt that light was somewhere; and as vaguely sought it.

With most days she took her grandsire’s boat to and fro the town, fetching or carrying; there was no mode of transit so cheap to him as this, whose only cost was her fatigue. With each passage up and down the river, she passed by the dwelling of Arslàn.

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Sometimes she saw him; once or twice, in the twilight, he spoke to her; she only bent her head to hide her face from him, and rowed more quickly on her homeward way in silence. At other times, in his absence, and when she was safe from any detection, she entered the dismal solitudes where he laboured, and gazed in rapt and awed amazement at the shapes that were shadowed forth upon the walls.

The service by which he gained his daily bread was on the waters, and took him often leagues away—simple hardy toil, amongst fishers and canal‐carriers and bargemen. But it left him some few days, and all his nights, free for art; and never in all the years of his leisure had his fancy conceived and his hand created more exquisite dreams and more splendid phantasies than now in this bitter and cheerless time, when he laboured amidst the poorest for the bare bread of life.

“De belles choses peuvent se faire dans une cave;” and in truth the gloom of the cellar gives birth to an art more sublime than the light of the palace can ever beget.

Suffering shortens the years of the artist, and kills him oftentimes ere his prime be reached; but in suffering alone are all great works conceived. The senses, the passions, the luxuries, the lusts of the flesh, the delirium of the desires, the colours, the melodies, the fragrance, the indolences,—all that made the mere “living of life” delightful, all go to enrich and to deepen the human genius which steeps itself in them; but it is in exile from these that alone it can rise to its greatest.

The grass of the Holy River gathers perfume from the marvelous suns, and the moonless nights, and the gorgeous bloom of the east, from the aromatic breath of the leopard and the perfume of the fallen pomegranate, and the sacred oil that floats in the lamps, and the caress of the girl‐bathers’ feet, and the myrrh‐dropping unguents that glide from the maidens’ bare limbs in the moonlight,—the grass holds and feeds on them all. But not till the grass has been torn from the roots, and been crushed, and been bruised and destroyed, can the full odours exhale of all it has tasted and treasured.

Even the imagination of man may be great, but it can never be at its greatest until one serpent, with merciless page: 224 fangs, has bitten it through and through, and impregnated it with passion and with poison,—that one deathless serpent which is Memory.

Arslàn had never been more ceaselessly pursued by innumerable phantasies, and never had given to these a more terrible force, a more perfect utterance, than now, when the despair which possessed him was absolute,—when it seemed to him that he had striven in his last strife with fate, and been thrown never to rise again,—when he kept his body alive by such soulless ceaseless labour as that of the oxen in the fields—when he saw every hour drift by, barren, sullen, painful,—when only some dull yet staunch instinct of virility held him back from taking his own life in the bleak horror of these fruitless days,—when it seemed to him that his oath before Hermes, to make men call him famous, was idle as a sigh of a desert wind through the hollow ears of a skull bleaching white on the sand.

Yet he had never done greater things—never in the long years through which he had pursued and studied art.

With the poor wage that he earned by labour he bought by degrees the tools and pigments lacking to him, and lived on the scantiest and simplest food, that he might have wherewith in order to render into shape and colour the imaginations of his brain.

And it was on these that the passionate, wondering, half‐blinded eyes of Folle‐Farine looked with awe and adoration in those lonely hours when, in his absence, she stole into his chamber, and touching nothing, scarcely daring to breathe aloud, crouched on the bare pavement mute and motionless, and afraid with a fear that was the sweetest happiness her brief youth had ever known.

Though her own kind had neglected and proscribed her, with one accord, there had been enough in the little world surrounding her to feed the imaginative senses latent in her,—enough of the old mediæval fancy, of the old ecclesiastical beauty, of the old monastic spirit, to give her a consciousness, through a dumb one, of the existence of art.

Untaught though she was, and harnessed to the dreary mill‐wheel round of a hard physical toil, she yet had felt dimly the charm of the place in which she dwelt.

Where the fretted pinnacles rose in hundreds against the page: 225 sky,—where the common dwellings of the poor were panelled and parquetted and carved in a thousand fashions,—where the graceful and the grotesque and the terrible were mingled in an inextricable, and yet exquisite, confusion,—where the grey squat jug that went to the well, and the jolting beam to which the clothes’ line was fastened, and the creaking sign that swung above the smallest wine‐shop, and the wooden gallery on which the poorest troll hung out her many‐coloured rags, had all some trace of a dead art, some fashioning by a dead hand,—where all these were, it was not possible for any creature dowered by nature with any poetic instinct to remain utterly unmoved and unawakened in their midst.

Of the science and the execution of art she was still absolutely ignorant; the powers by which it was created still seemed a magic incomprehensible, and not human; but its meaning she felt with that intensity which is the truest homage of all homage to its influence.

Day after day, therefore, she returned and gazed on the three gods of forgetfulness, and on all the innumerable forms and fables which bore them company; the virgin field of her unfilled mind receiving the seeds of thought and of fancy that were scattered so largely in this solitude, lying waste, bearing no harvest.

Of these visits Arslàn himself knew nothing; towards him her bold wild temper was softened to the shyness of a doe.

She dreaded lest he should ever learn what she had done; and she stole in and out of the old granary, unseen by all, with the swiftness and the stealthiness which she shared in common with other untamed animals which, like her, shunned all man and woman kind.

And this secret—in itself so innocent, yet for which she would at times blush in her loneliness, with a cruel heat that burnt over all her face and frame—changed her life, transfigured it from its objectless, passionless, brutish dulness and monotony, into dreams and into desires.

For the first time she had in her joy and fear; for the first time she became human.

All the week through he wrought perforce by night; the great windows stood wide open to the bright cold moons of early spring; he worked only with black and white page: 226 using colour only at sunrise, or on the rare days of his leisure.

Often at nightfall she left her loft, as secretly as a fox its lair, and stole down the river, and screened herself amongst the grasses, and watched him where he laboured in the mingling light of the moon and of the oil‐lamp burning behind him.

She saw these things grow from beneath his hand, these mighty shapes created by him; and he seemed to her like a god, with the power to beget worlds at his will, and all human life in its full stature out from a little dust.

The contrast of this strength, of this power which he wielded, with the helpless exhaustion of the body in which she had found him dying, smote her with a sorrow and a sweetness that were like nothing she had ever known. That a man could summon hosts at his command like this, yet perish for a crust!—that fusion of omnipotence and powerlessness, which is the saddest and strangest of all the sad strange things of genius, awoke an absorbing emotion in her dormant heart!

She watched him thus for hours in the long nights of a slow‐footed spring, in whose mists and chills and heavy dews her inured frame took no more harm than did the green corn shooting through the furrows.

She was a witness to his solitude. She saw the fancies of his brain take form. She saw the sweep of his arm call up on the blank of the wall, or on the pale spaces of the canvas, these images which for her had alike such majesty and such mystery. She saw the faces beam, the eyes smile, the dancing‐women rise, the foliage uncurl, the gods come forth from the temples, the nereids glide through the moonlit waters, at his command, and beneath his touch.

She saw him also in those moments when, conceiving no eyes to be upon him, this man, whom mankind denied, loosened rein to the bitterness in him; and, standing weary and heartsick before these creations for which his generation had no sight, and no homage, let the agony of constant failure, of continual defeat, overcome him, and cursed aloud the madness which possessed him, which drove him on for ever in this ungrateful service, and would not let him do as other men did—tell the world lies, and take its payment out in gold.

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Until now she had hated all things, grieved for none, unless, indeed, it were for a galled ox toiling wounded and tortured on the field; or a trapped bird, shrieking in the still midnight woods.

But now, watching him, hearing him, a passionate sorrow for a human being sorrow possessed her. And to her eyes he was so beautiful in that utter unlikeness to herself and to all men whom she had seen. She gazed at him, never weary of that cold, fair, golden beauty, like the beauty of his sun‐god; of those serene deep‐lidded eyes, which looked so often past her at the dark night skies; of those lithe and massive limbs, like the limbs of the gladiator that yonder on the wall strained a lion to his breast in the deadly embrace of combat.

She gazed at him until she loved him with the intense passion of a young and ignorant life, into whose gloom no love had ever entered. With this love the instinct of her womanhood arose, amid the ignorance and savagery of her nature; and she crouched perpetually under the screen of the long grass to hide her vigil, and whenever his eyes looked from his easel outward to the night she drew back, breathless and trembling, she knew not why, into the deepest shadow.

Meantime, with that rude justice which was in her, she set herself atonement for her fault—the fault through which those tender little bright‐throated birds were stretched dead amongst the first violets of the year.

She laboured harder and longer than ever for her task‐master, and denied herself the larger half of even those scanty portions which were set aside for her of the daily fare, living on almost nothing, as those learn to do who are reared under the roof of the French poor. To his revilings she was silent, and under his blows patient. By night she toiled secretly, until she had restored the value of that which she had taken.

Why did she do it? She could not have told.

She was proud of the evil origin they gave her; she had a cynical gladness in her infamous repute; she scorned women and hated men; yet all the same she kept her hands pure of thefts and her lips pure of lies.

So the weeks went on till the hardness of winter gave way to the breath of the spring, and in all the wood and page: 228 orchard around the water‐mill of Yprès the boughs were green with buds, and the ground was pale with primroses—a spring all the sweeter and more fertile because of the severity of the past winter.

It became mid‐April. It was market‐day for all the country lying round that wondrous cathedral‐spire, which shot into the air far‐reaching and ethereal, like some fountain whose column of water had been arrested aloft and changed to ice.

The old quiet town was busy, with a rich sunshine shed upon it, in which the first yellow butterflies of the year had begun to dance.

It was high noon, and the highest tide of the market.

Flower‐girls, fruit‐girls, egg‐sellers, poultry‐hucksters, crowds of women, old and young, had jolted in on their docile asses, throned on their sheepskin saddles; and now, chattering and chaffering, drove fast their trade. On the steps of the cathedral boys with birds’‐nests, knife‐grinders making their little wheels fly, cobblers hammering, with boards across their knees, travelling pedlars with knapsacks full of toys and mirrors, and holy images, and strings of beads, sat side by side in amicable competition.

Here and there a priest passed, with his black robe and broad hat, like a dusky mushroom amongst a bed of many‐hued gillyflowers. Here and there a soldier, all colour and glitter, showed like a gaudy red tulip in bloom amidst tufts of thyme.

The old wrinkled leathern awnings of the market stalls glowed like copper in the brightness of noon. The red tiles of the houses edging the great square were gilded with yellow houseleeks. The little children ran hither and thither with big bunches of primroses or sheaves of blue wood hyacinths, singing. The red and blue serges of the young girls’ bodices were like the gay hues of the anemones in their baskets. The brown faces of the old dames under the white roofing of their headgear were like the russet faces of the home‐kept apples which they had garnered through all the winter.

Everywhere in the shade of the flapping leather, and the darkness of the wooden porches, there were the tender blossoms of the field and forest, of the hedge and garden. page: 229 The azure of the hyacinths, the pale saffron of the primroses, the cool hues of the meadow daffodils, the ruby eyes of the cultured jonquils, gleamed amongst wet rushes, grey herbs, and freshly budded leafage. Plovers’ eggs nestled in moss‐lined baskets; sheaves of velvet‐coated wallflowers poured fragrance on the air; great plumes of lilac nodded on the wind, and amber feathers of laburnum waved above the homelier masses of mint and marjoram, and sage and chervil.

It was high noon, but the women still found leisure time to hear the music of their own tongues, loud as the clacking of mill paddles. In one corner an eager little group was gathered round the stall of a favourite flower‐seller, who wore a bright crimson gown, and a string of large silver beads about her neck, and a wide linen cap, that shaded her pretty rosy face as a great snowy mushroom may grow between the sun and a little ruddy wild strawberry.

She had brown eyes that were now brimming over with tears as she stood surrounded by all the treasures of spring. She held clasped in her arms a great pot with a young almond tree growing in it, and she was weeping as though her heart would break, because a tile had fallen from a roof above and crushed low all its pink splendour of blossom.

“I saw her look at it,” she muttered. “Look at it as she passed with her wicked eyes; and a black cat on the roof mewed to her; and at that moment the tile fell. Oh, my almond tree; oh, my little darling; the only one out of three I saved through the frosts; the very one that was to have gone this night to Paris.”

“Thou art not alone, Edmée,” groaned an old woman, tottering from her nut‐stall with a heap of ruffled, blood‐stained, brown plumage held up in her hand. “Look! As she went by, my poor brown hen—the best sitter I have, good for eggs with every sunrise from Lent to Noel—just cackled and shook her tail at her; and at the very instant a huge yellow dog rushed in and killed the blessed bird—killed her in her basket! A great yellow beast that no one had ever seen before, and that vanished again into the earth like lightning.”

“Not worse than she did to my precious Rémy,” said a page: 230 tanner’s wife, who drew after her, clinging to her skirts, a little lame, mis‐shapen, querulous child.

“She hath the evil eye,” said an old decrepid man who had served in the days of his boyhood in the Army of Italy, as he sat washing fresh lettuces in a large brass bowl, by his grandson’s herb‐stall.

“You remember how we met her in the fields last Feast‐night of the Three Kings?” asked a youth looking up from plucking the feathers out from a living, struggling, moaning, goose. “Coming singling through the fog, like nothing earthly; and a moment later a torch caught little Jocelin’s curls and burnt him till he was so hideous that his mother could scarce have known him. You remember?”

“Surely we remember,” they cried in a hearty chorus round the broken almond tree. “Was there not the good old Dax this very winter killed by her if ever and creature were killed by foul means, though the law would never listen to the the Flandrins when they said so?”

“And little Bernardou,” added one who had not hitherto spoken. “Little Bernardou died a month after his grandam, in hospital. She had cast her eye on him, and the poor little lad never rallied.

“A jettatrice ever brings misfortune,” muttered the old soldier of Napoléon, washing his last lettuce and lighting a fresh pipe.

“Or does worse,” muttered the mother of the crippled child. “She is not for nothing the devil’s daughter, mark you.”

“Nay, indeed,” said an old woman, knitting from a ball of wool with which a kitten played amongst the strewn cabbage leaves and the crushed sweet‐smelling thyme. “Nay, was it not only this very winter that my son’s little youngest brother threw a stone at her, just for luck, as she went by in her boat through the town; and it stuck her and drew blood from her shoulder; and that self‐same night a piece of the oaken carvings in the ceiling gave way and dropped upon the little angel as he slept, and broke his arm above the elbow:—she is a witch; there is no question but she is a witch.”

“If I were sure so, I would think it well to kill her,” murmured the youth, as he stifled the struggling bird between his knees.

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“My sister met her going through the standing corn last harvest time, and the child she brought forth a week after was born blind, and is blind now,” said a hard‐visaged woman, washing turnips in a brass basin of water.

“I was black‐and‐blue for a month when she threw me down and took from me that hawk I had trapped; and she went and fastened my wrist in the iron instead,” hissed a boy of twelve, in a shrill piping treble, as he slit the tongue of a quivering starling.

“They say she dances naked by moonlight in the water with imps!” cried a bright little lad who was at play with the kitten.

“She is a witch, there is no doubt about that,” said again the old woman who sat knitting on the stone bench in the sun.

“And her mother such a saint!” sighed another old dame who was grouping green herbs together for salads.

And all the while the girl Edmée clasped her almond tree and sobbed over it.

“If she were only here,” swore Edmée’s lover, under his breath, stealing his hand where the silver beads lay, and striving his best to console her.

At that moment the accused came towards them, erect in the full light.

She had passed through the market with a load of herbs and flowers for one of the chief hostelries in the square, and was returning with the flat broad basket balanced empty on her head.

Something of their mutterings and curses reached her, but she neither hastened nor slackened her pace; she came on straightly towards them with her firm step, and her eyes flashing hard against the sun.

She gave no sign that she had heard except that the blood darkened a little in her cheeks, and her mouth shut close with a haughtier scorn. But the sight of her answering in that instant to their hate, the sight of her with the sunshine on her scarlet sash and her slender golden limbs, added impulse to their rage.

They had talked themselves into a passionate belief in her as a thing hellborn and unclean, that brought all manner of evil fates amongst them. They knew that holy water had never reached her; that a church’s door had never page: 232 opened to her; they had heard their children hoot her many a time unrebuked, they had always hated her with the cruelty begotten by a timid cowardice or a selfish dread. They were ripe to let their hate take shape in speech and act. The lover of Edmée loosened his hand from the silver beads about her throat, and caught up, instead, a stone.

“Let us see if her flesh feel!” he cried, and cast it.

It fell short of her, being ill‐aimed; she did not slacken her speed, nor turn out of her course; she still came towards them erect and with an even tread.

“Who lamed my Rémy?” screamed the cripple’s mother.

“Who broke my grandson’s arm?” cackled the old woman that sat knitting.

“Who withered my peach‐tree?” the old gardener hooted.

“Who freed the devil‐bird and put me on the trap?” yelled the boy with the starling.

“Who flung the tile on the almond?” shouted the flower‐girl’s lover.

“Who made my sister bring forth a little beast, blind as a mole?” shrieked the woman, washing in the brazen bowl.

“Who is a witch—who dances naked? —who bathes with devils at the full moon?” cried the youth who had plucked the goose bare alive; and he stooped for a pebble, and aimed better than his comrade, and flung it at her as she came.

“It is a shame to see the child of Reine Flamma so dealt with,” murmured the old creature that was grouping her salads.

But her voice found no echo. The old soldier even rebuked her. “A jettatrice should be killed for the good of the people,” he mumbled.

Meanwhile she came nearer and nearer. The last stone had struck her upon the arm; but it had drawn no blood; she walked on with firm, slow steps into their midst; unfaltering.

The courage did not touch them; they thought it only the hardihood of a thing that was devil‐begotten.

“She is always mute like that; she cannot feel. Strike, strike, strike!” cried the cripple’s mother; and the little cripple himself clapped his small hands and screamed his shrill laugh. The youths, obedient and nothing loth, page: 233 rained their stones on her as fast as their hands could fling them. Still she neither paused nor quailed; but came on straightly, steadily, with her face set against the light.

Their impatience and their eagerness made their aim uncertain; the stones fell fast about her on every side, but one alone struck her—a jagged flint that fell where the white linen shirt opened on her chest. It cut the skin, and the blood started; the children shrieked and danced with delight: the youths rushed at her inflamed at once with her beauty and their own savage hate.

“Stone her to death! stone her to death!” they shouted; she only laughed, and held her head erect and stood motionless where they arrested her, without the blood once paling in her face or her eyes once losing their luminous calm scorn. The little cripple clapped his hands, climbing on his mother’s back to see the sight, and his mother screamed again and again above his laughter. “Strike! strike! strike!”

One of the elder lads seized her in his arms to force her on her knees while the others stoned her. The touch of him roused all the fire slumbering in her blood. She twisted herself round in his hold with a movement so rapid that it served to free her; struck him full on the eyes with her clenched hand a blow that sent him stunned and staggering back; then, swiftly as lightning flash, drew her knife from her girdle, and striking out with it right and left, dashed through the people, who scattered from her path as sheep from the spring of a hound.

Slowly and with her face turned full upon them, she backed her way across the market‐place. The knife, turned blade outward, was pressed against her chest. None of them dared to follow her; they thought her invulnerable and possessed.

She moved calmly with a firm tread backward—backward—backward; holding her foes at bay; the scarlet sash on her loins flashing bright in the sun; her level brows bent as a tiger bends his ere he leaps. They watched her, huddling together frightened and silent. Even the rabid cries of the cripple’s mother had ceased. On the edge of the great square she paused a moment; the knife still held at her chest, her mouth curled in contemptuous laughter.

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“Strike now!” she cried to them; and she dropped her weapon, and stood still.

But there was not one amongst them who dared lift his hand. There was not so much as a word that answered her.

She laughed aloud, and waited for their attack, while the bell in the tower above them tolled loudly the strokes of noon. No one amongst them stirred. Even the shrill pipe of the lame boy’s rejoicing had sunk, and was still.

At that moment, through the golden haze of sunbeams and of summer dust that hung above the crowd, she saw the red gleam of the soldiers of the state; and their heavy tramp echoed on the silence as they hastened to the scene of tumult. She had no faith in any justice which these would deal her; had they not once dragged her before the tribunal of their law when she had forced asunder the iron jaws of that trap in the oak wood to give freedom to the bleeding hawk that was struggling in it whilst its callow birds screamed in hunger in their nest in the branches above?

She had no faith in them; nor in any justice of men; and she turned and went down a twisting lane shaded from the sun, and ran swiftly as a doe through all its turns, and down the steps leading to the water‐side. There her boat was moored; she entered it and pulled herself slowly down the river, which now at noontide was almost deserted, whilst the shutters of the houses that edged it on either side were all closed to keep out the sun.

A boatman stretched half asleep upon the sacks in his barge; a horse dozing in his harness on the towing‐path; a homeless child who had no one to call him into shelter from the heat, and who sat and dappled his little burning feet in the flowing water; these and their like were all there were here to look on her.

She rowed herself feebly, with one oar gradually out of the ways of the town; her left arm was strained, and, for the moment, useless; her shoulders throbbed with bruises; and the wound from the stone still bled. She staunched the blood by degrees, and folded the linen over it, and went on; she was so used to pain, and so strong, that this seemed to her to be but little. She had passed through similar scenes before, though the people had rarely broken into such open page: 235 violence towards her, except that winter’s day in the hut of Manon Dax.

The heat was great, though the season was but mid‐April.

The sky was cloudless; the air without a breeze. The white blossoms of peach‐trees bloomed between the old brown walls of the wooden houses. In the galleries, between the heads of saints and the faces of fauns, there were tufts of home‐bred lilies of the valley and thick flowering bushes of golden genista. The smell of mignonette was sweet upon the languid breeze, and here and there, from out the darkness of some open casement, some stove‐forced crimson or purple azalea shrub glowed; for the people’s merchandise was flowers, and all the silent water‐streets were made lovely and fragrant by their fair abundance.

The tide of the river was flowing in, the stream was swelling over all the black piles, and the broad smooth strips of sand that were visible at low water; it floated her boat inward with it without trouble, past the last houses of the town, past the budding orchards and grey stone walls of the outskirts, past the meadows and the corn‐fields and the poplars of the open country. A certain faintness had stolen on her with the gliding of the vessel and the dizzy movement of the water; pain and the loss of blood filled her limbs with an unfamiliar weakness; she felt giddy, and half blind, and almost powerless to guide her course.

When she had reached the old granary where it stood amongst the waterdocks and rushes, she checked the boat almost unconsciously, and let it drift in amidst the reeds and lie there. Then she pulled herself feebly up through the shallow pools, and across the stone sill of the casement, into the chamber where she had leaned to live a life that was utterly apart from the actual existence to which chance had doomed her.

It was the height of noon; at such an hour the creator of these things she loved was always absent at the toil which brought him his daily bread; she knew that he never returned until the evening, never painted except at earliest dawn.

The place was her own in the freedom of solitude; all these shapes and shadows in which imagination and tradition had taken visible shape were free to her; she had page: 236 grown to love them with a great passion, to seek them as consolers and as friends.

She crept into the room; its coolness, its calm, its dimmed refreshing light seemed like balm after the noise of the busy market‐place and the glare of the cloudless sunshine. A sick sense of fatigue and of feebleness had assailed her more strongly. She dropped down in the gloom of the place on the broad, cold flags of the floor, in the deepest shadow, where the light from without did not reach, and beneath the cartoon of the Gods of Oblivion.

Of all the forms with which he had people its loneliness, these had the most profound influence on her in their fair, passionless, majestic beauty, in which it seemed to her that the man who had begotten them had repeated his own likeness. For they were all alike, yet unalike; of the same form and feature, yet different even in their strong resemblance, like elder and younger brethren who hold a close companionship. For Hypnos was still but a boy with his blue‐veined eyelids closed, and his mouth rosy and parted like that of a slumbering child, and above his golden head a star rose in the purple night. Oneiros standing next was a youth whose eyes smiled as though they beheld visions that were welcome to him; in his hand, amongst the white roses, he held a black wand of sorcery, and around his bended head there hovered a dim silvery nimbus. Thanatos alone was a man full grown; and on his calm and colourless face there were blended an unutterable sadness, and an unspeakable peace; his eyes were fathomless, far‐reaching, heavy laden with thought, as though they had seen at once the heights of heaven and the depths of hell; and he, having thus seen, and knowing all things, had leaned that there was but one good possible in all the universe,—that one gift which his touch gave, and which men in their blindness shuddered from and cursed. And above him and around him there was a great darkness.

So the gods stood, and so they spoke, even to her; they seemed to her as brethren, masters, friends—these three immortals who looked down on her in their mute majesty.

They are the gods of the poor, of the wretched, of the outcast, of the proscribed,—they are the gods who respect not persons nor palaces,—who stay with the exile and flee from the king,—who leave the tyrant of the world to writhe page: 237 in torment, and call a smile beautiful as the morning on the face of a beggar child,—who turn from the purple beds where wealth and lust and brutal power lie, and fill with purest visions the darkest hours of the loneliest nights, for genius and youth,—they are the gods of consolation and of compensation,—the gods of the exile, of the orphan, of the outcasts, of the poet, of the prophet, of all whose bodies ache with the infinite pangs of famine, and whose hearts ache with the infinite woes of the world, of all who hunger with the body or the soul.

And looking at them, she seemed to know them as her only friends,—as the only rulers who ever could loose the bands of her fate and lead her forth to freedom—Sleep, and Dreams, and Death.

They were above her where she sank upon the stone floor; the shadows were dark upon the ground; but the sun rays striking through the distant window against the opposite wall fell across the head of the boy Hypnos, and played before his silver sandalled feet.

She sat gazing at him, forgetful of her woe, her task, the populace that had hooted her abroad, the stripes that awaited her at home. The answering gaze of the god magnetised her; the poetic virus which had stirred dumbly in her from her birth awoke in her bewildered brain. Without knowing what she wanted, she longed for freedom, for light, for passion, for peace, for love.

Shadowy fancies passed over her in a tumultuous pageantry; the higher instincts of her nature rose and struggle to burst the bonds in which slavery and ignorance and brutish toil had bound them; she knew nothing, knew no more than the grass knew that blew in the wind, than the passion‐flower knew that slept unborn in the uncurled leaf; and yet withal she felt, saw, trembled, imagined, and desired, all mutely, all blindly, all in confusion and in pain.

For the second time the weakness of tears rushed into her fearless eyes, which had never quailed before the fury of any living thing; her head fell on her chest; she wept bitterly,—not because the people had injured her,—not because her wounded flesh ached and her limbs were sore,—but because a distance so immeasurable, so unalterable, severed her from all of which these gods told her without speech.

The sun‐rays still shone on the bright head of Hypnos, page: 238 while the stones on which she sat, and her own form, were dark in shadow; as though the bright boy pitied her, as though he, the world’s consoler, had compassion for this thing so lonely and accursed of her kind, the dumb violence of her weeping brought its own exhaustion with it.

The drowsy heat of noon, pain, weariness, the faintness of fasting, the fatigue of conflict, the dreamy influences of that place, had their weight on her. Crouching there half on her knees, looking up ever in the faces of the three Immortals, the gift of Hypnos descended upon her and stilled her; its languor stole through her veins; its gentle pressure closed her eyelids; gradually her rigid limbs and her bent body relaxed and unnerved; she sank forward, her head lying on her outstretched arms, and the stillness of a profound sleep encompassed her.

And Oneiros added his gift also; and a throng of dim, delirious dreams floated through her brain, and peopled her slumber with fairer things than the earth holds, and made her mouth smile while yet her lids were wet.

Thanatos alone gave nothing, but looked down on her with his dark, sad eyes, and held his finger on his close‐pressed lips, as though he said:—“Not yet.”

CHAPTER II.

HER sleep remained unbroken; there was no sound to disturb it. The caw of a rook in the top of the poplar‐tree, the rushing babble of the water, the cry of a field‐mouse caught amongst the rushes by an otter, the far‐off jingle of mules’ bells from the great southern road that ran broad and white beyond the meadows, the gnawing of the rats in the network of timbers which formed the vaulted roof, these were all the noises that reached this solitary place, and these were both too faint and too familiar to awaken her.

Heat and pain made her slumber heavy, and the forms on which her waking eyes had gazed made her sleep full of dreams. Hour after hour went by; the shadows lengthened, the day advanced: nothing came to rouse her. At length page: 239 the vesper bell rang over the pastures and the peals of the Ave Maria from the cathedral in the town were audible in the intense stillness that reigned around.

As the chimes died, Arslàn crossed the threshold of the granary and entered the desolate place where he had made his home. For once his labour had been early completed, and he had hastened to employ the rare and precious moments of the remaining light.

He had almost stepped upon her ere he saw her, lying beneath his cartoons of the sons of Nyx. He paused and looked down.

Her attitude had slightly changed, and had in it all the abandonment of youth and of sleep; her face was turned upward, with quick silent breathings parting the lips; her bare feet were lightly crossed; the linen of her loose tunic was open at the throat, and had fallen back from her right arm and shoulder: the whole supple grace and force that were mingled in her form were visible under the light folds of her simple garments. The sun still lingered on the bright bowed head of Hypnos, but all light had died from off the stone floor where she was stretched.

As she had once looked on himself, so he now looked on her.

But in him there arose little curiosity and still less pity; he recognized her as the girl whom, with the face of old Egypt, he had seen rowing her boat‐load of corn down the river, and whom he had noticed for her strange unlikeness to all around her.

He supposed that mere curiosity had brought her there, and sleep overtaken her in the drowsiness of the first heat of the budding year.

He did not seek to rouse her, nor to spare her any shame or pain which at her waking, she might feel. He merely saw in her a barbaric and yet beautiful creature; and his only desire was to use the strange charms in her for his art.

A smooth‐planed panel stood on an easel near; turning it where best the light fell, he began to sketch her attitude rapidly, in black and white. It was quickly done by a hand so long accustomed to make such transcripts; and he soon went further to that richer portraiture which colour alone can accomplish. The stone pavement; the brown and slender limbs; the breadth of scarlet given by the sash page: 240 about her loins; the upturned face, whose bloom was as brilliant as that of a red carnation blooming in the twilight of some old wooden gallery; the eyelids, tear‐laden still; the mouth that smiled and sighed in dreaming; on the wall above, the radiant figure of the young god which remained in full sunlight whilst all beneath was dark;—these gave a picture which required no correction from knowledge, no addition from art.

He worked on for more than an hour, until the wood began to beam with something of the hues of flesh and blood, and the whole head was thrown out in colour, although the body and the limbs still remained in their mere outline.

Once or twice she moved restlessly, and muttered a little, dully, as though the perpetual unsparing gaze bent on her with a scrutiny so cold, and yet so searching, disturbed or magnetized her even in her sleep. But she never awakened, and he had time to study and to trace every curve and line of the half‐developed loveliness before him with as little as pity, with as cruel an exactitude, as that with which the vivisector tears asunder the living animal whose sinews he severs, or the botanist plucks to pieces the new‐born flower whose structures he desires to examine.

The most beautiful women, who had bared their charms that the might see them live again upon his canvas, had seldom had power to make his hand tremble a moment in such translation. To the surgeon all sex is dead, all charm is gone from the female corpse that his knife ravages in search of the secrets of science; and to Arslàn the women whom he modelled and pourtrayed were nearly as sexless, nearly as powerless to create passion or emotion. They were the tools of his art; no more.

When, in the isolation of the long northern winters, he had sat beside the pine‐wood that blazed on his hearth while the wolves howled down the deserted village street, and the snow drifted up and blocked from sight the last pane of the lattice and the last glimpse of the outer world, he had been more enamoured of the visions that visited him in that solitude than he had ever been since of the living creatures whose beauty he recorded in his works.

He had little passion in him, or passion was dormant; and he had sought women, even in the hours of love, with page: 241 coldness and with something of contempt for that licence which, in the days of his comparative affluence, he had not denied himself. He thought always— De ces basiers puissants comme un dictame, De ces transports plus vifs que des rayons, Que reste‐t‐il? C’est affruex, ô mon âme! Rien qu’un dessin fort pâle aux trois crayons.” And for those glowing colours of passion which burned so hotly for an instant, only so soon to fade out into the pallor of indifference or satiety, he had a contempt which almost took the place and the semblance of chastity.

He worked on and on, studying the sleeper at his feet, with the passionless keenness of a science that was as merciless in its way as the science which tortures and slaughters in order to penetrate the mysteries of sentient existence.

She was beautiful in her way, this dark strange foreign child, who looked as though her native home must have been where the Nile lily blooms, and the black brows of the Sphinx are bent against the sun.

She was beautiful, like a young leopard, like a young python, coiled there, lightly breathing, and mute and motionless and unconscious. He painted her as he would have painted the leopard or python lying asleep in the heavy hush of a noon in the tropics. And she was no more to him than these would have been.

The shadows grew longer; the sunlight died off the bright head of the boy Hypnos; the feathery reeds on the bank without got a red flush from the west; there came a sudden burst of song from a boat‐load of children going home from the meadows where they had gathered the first cowslips of the season in great sheaves that sent their sweetness on the air though the open window as they went by beneath the walls.

The shouts of the joyous singing rang shrilly through the silence; they pierced her ear and startled her from her slumber; she sprang up suddenly, with a bound like a hart that scents the hounds, and stood fronting him; her eyes opened wide, her breath panting, her nerves strained to listen and striving to combat.

In the first bewildered instant of her awakening she 0 page: 242 thought that she was still in the market‐place of the town and that the shouts were from the clamour of her late tormenters.

He turned and looked at her.

“What do you fear?” he asked her, in the tongue of the country.

She started afresh at the sound of his voice, and drew her disordered dress together, and stood mute, with her hands crossed on her bosom, and the blood coming and going under her transparent skin.

“What do you fear?” he asked again.

I fear?”

She echoed his cowardly word with a half‐tremulous defiance; the heroism of her nature, which an hour earlier had been lashed to its fullest strength, cast back the question as an insult; but her voice was low and husky, and the blood dyed her face scarlet as she spoke. For she feared him; and for the moment she had forgotten how she had come there and all that had passed, except that some instinct of the long‐hunted animal was astir in her to hide herself and fly.

But he stood between her and the passage outward, and pride and shame held her motionless. Moreover, she still listened intently: the confused voices of the children still seemed to her like those of the multitude by whom she had been chased; and she was ready to leap tiger‐like upon them, rather than let them degrade her in his sight.

He looked at her with some touch of interest: she was to him only some stray beggar girl, who had trespassed into his solitude; yet there was that in her untamed regard, in her wide open eyes, in the stag‐like grace of her attitude, in the sullen strength which spoke in her reply, that warmed him to closer notice of all these.

“Why are you in this place?” he asked her, slowly. “You were asleep here when I came, more than an hour ago.”

The colour burned in her face; she said nothing.

The singing of the children was waxing fainter, as the boat floated from beneath the wall on its homeward way into the town. She ceased to fancy these cries the cries of her foes, and recollection began to revive in her.

“Why did you come?” he repeated, musing how he page: 243 should persuade her to return to the attitude sketched out upon the easel.

She returned his look with the bold truthfulness natural to her, joined with that apprehensiveness of chastisement which becomes second nature to every creature that is for ever censured, cursed, and beaten for every real or imagined fault.

“I came to see those,” she answered him, with a backward movement of her hand, which had a sort of reverence in it, up to the forms of the gods above her. The answer moved him; he had not thought to find a feeling so high as this in this ragged, lonely, sunburnt child; and, to the man for whom, throughout a youth of ambition and of disappointment, the world had never found the voice of favour, even so much appreciation as lay in this outcast’s homage had its certain sweetness. For a man may be negligent of all sympathy for himself, yet never, if he be poet or artist, will he be able utterly to teach himself indifference to all sympathy for his works.

“Those!” he echoed, in surprise. “What can they be to you?”

She coloured at the unconcealed contempt that lay in his last word; her head drooped; she knew that they were much to her—friends, masters, teachers divine and full of pity. But she had no language in which to tell him this; and if she could have told him, she would have been ashamed. Also, the remembrance of those benefits to him, of which he was ignorant, had now come to her through the bewilderment of her thoughts, and it locked her lips to silence.

Her eyes dropped under his; the strange love she bore him made her blind and giddy and afraid; she moved restlessly, glaring round with the half‐timid, half‐fierce glances of a wild animal that desires to escape and cannot.

Watching her more closely, he noticed for the first time the stains of blood upon her shoulder, and the bruise on her chest, where the rent in her linen left it bare.

“You have been hurt?” he asked her, “or wounded?”

She shook her head.

“It is nothing.”

“Nothing? You have fallen or been ill treated, surely?”

page: 244

“The people struck me.”

“Struck you? With what?”

“Stones.”

“And why?”

“I am Folle‐Farine.”

She answered him with the quiet calm of one who offers an all‐sufficient reply.

But the reply to him told nothing: he had been too shunned by the populace, who dreaded the evil genius which they attributed to him, to have been told by them of their fancies and follies; and he had never essayed to engage either their companionship or their confidence. To be left to work, or to die, in solitude undisturbed was the uttermost that he had ever asked of any strange people amidst whom he had dwelt.

“Because you are Folle‐Farine?” he repeated. “Is that a reason to hate you?”

She gave a gesture of assent.

“And you hate them in return?”

She paused a moment, glancing still hither and thither all round, as a trapped bird glances, seeking his way outward.

“I think so,” she muttered; “and yet—I have had their little children in my reach, many a time by the water when the woods were all quiet, and I have never killed one yet.”

He looked at her more earnestly than he had done before. The repressed passion that glanced under her straight dusky brows, the unspoken scorn which curled on her mouth, the nervous meaning with which her hands clenched on the folds of linen on her breast, attracted him; there was a force in them all which aroused his attention. There were in her that conscious power for ferocity, and that contemptuous abstinence from its exercise, which lie so often in the fathomless regard of the lion; he moved nearer to her, and addressed her more gently.

“Who are you?” he asked, “and why have these people such savage violence against you?”

“I am Folle‐Farine,” she answered him again, unable to add anything else.

“Have you no other name?”

“No.”

page: 245

“But you must have a home? You live—where?”

“At the mill with Flamma.”

“Does he also ill‐use you?”

“He beats me.”

“When you do wrong?”

She was silent.

“Wrong?” “Right?”

They were but words to her—empty and meaningless. She knew that he beat her more often because she told truth or refused to cheat. For aught that she was sure of, she might be wrong, and he right.

Arslàn looked at her musingly. All the thought he had was to induce her to return to the attitude necessary to the completion of his picture.

He put a few more questions to her; but the replies told him little. At all times silent, before him a thousand emotions held her dumb. She was afraid, besides, that at every word he might suspect the debt he owed to her, and she dreaded its avowal with as passionate a fear as though, in lieu of the highest sacrifice and service, her action had been some crime against him. She felt ashamed of it, as of some unholy thing; it seemed to her impious to have dared to give him back a life that he had wearied of, and might have wished to lose.

“He must never know: he must never know,” she said to herself.

She had never imagined what fear meant until she had looked on this man’s face. Now she dreaded, with an apprehension which made her start like a criminal at every sound, lest he should ever know of this gift of life which, unbidden, she had restored to him: which, being thus given, her instinct told her he would only take as the burden of an intolerable debt, of an unmeasurable shame.

Perfect love casts out fear, runs the tradition; rather, surely, does the perfect love of a woman break the courage which no other thing could ever daunt, and set foot on the neck that no other yoke would ever touch.

By slow degrees he got from her such fragments of her obscure story as she knew. That this child, so friendless, ill‐treated, and abandoned, had been the saviour of his own existence, he never dreamed. A creature beaten and half starved herself could not, for an instant, look to him one page: 246 likely to have possessed even such humble gifts as food and fuel.

Besides, his thoughts were less with her than with the interrupted study on his easel, and his one desire was to induce her to endure the same watch upon her, waking, which had had power to disturb her even in her unconsciousness. She was nothing to him, save a thing that he wished to turn to the purpose of his art—like a flower that he plucked on his way through the fields, for the sake of its colour, to fill in some vacant nook in a mountain foreground.

“You have come often here?” he asked her, whilst she stood before him, flushing and growing pale, irresolute and embarrassed, with her hands nervously gathering the folds of her dress across her chest, and her sad, lustrous, troubled eyes glancing from side to side in a bewildered fear.

“Often,” she muttered. “You will not beat me for it? I did no harm.”

“Beat you? Amongst what brutes have you lived? Tell me, why did you care to come?”

Her face dropped.

“They are beautiful, and they speak to me,” she murmured, with a pathetic, apologetic timidity in her voice.

He laughed a little; bitterly.

“Do they? They have few auditors. But you are beautiful, too, in your way. Has no one ever told you so?”

“I?”

She glanced at him half‐wistfully, half‐despairingly; she thought that he spoke in derision of her.

“You,” he answered. “Why not? Look at yourself here: all imperfect as it is, you can see something of what you are.

Her eyes fell for the first time on the broad confused waves of dull colour, out of whose depths her own face arose, like some fair drowned thing tossed upward on a murky sea. She started with a cry as if he had wounded her, and stood still trembling.

She had looked at her own limbs floating in the opaque water of the bathing pool, with a certain sense of their beauty wakening in her; she had tossed the soft, thick, gold‐flecked darkness of her hair over her bare shoulder, page: 247 with a certain languor and delight; she had held a knot of poppies against her breast, to see their hues contrast with her own white skin;—but she had never imagined that she had beauty.

He watched her, letting the vain passion he thus taught her creep with all its poison into her veins.

He had seen such wonder and such awed delight before in Nubian girls with limbs of bronze and eyes of night, who had never thought that they had loveliness—though they had seen their forms in the clear water of the wells every time that they had brought their pitchers thither, and who had only awakened to that sweet supreme sense of power, and of possession when first they had beheld themselves live again upon his canvas.

“You are glad?” he asked her at length.

She covered her face with her hands.

“I am frightened!”

Frightened she knew not why, and utterly ashamed to have lain thus in his sight, to have slept thus under his eyes, yet filled with ecstasy, to think that she was lovely enough to him to be raised amidst those marvelous dreams which people and made heaven of his solitude.

“Well then—let me paint you there,” he said, after a pause. “I am too poor to offer you a reward for it. I have nothing—”

“I want nothing,” she interrupted him, quickly, while a dark shadow, half wrath, half sorrow, swept across her face.

He smiled a little.

“I cannot boast the same. But, since you care for all these hapless things that are imprisoned here, do me, their painter, this one grace. Lie there, in the shadow again, as you were when you slept, and let me go on with this study of you till the sun sets.”

A glory beamed over all her face. Her mouth trembled, her whole frame shook like a reed in the wind.

“If you care!” she said, brokenly, and paused. It seemed to her impossible that this form of hers, which had been only deemed fit for the whip, for the rope, for the shower of stones, could have any grace or excellence in his sight; it seemed to her impossible that this face of hers, which nothing had ever kissed except the rough tongue of some honest dog, and which had been blown on by every storm‐ page: 248 wind, beaten on by every summer sun, could have colour, or shape, or aspect that could ever please him!

“Certainly I care. Go yonder and lie as you were lying a few moments ago—there in the shadow, under these gods.”

She was used to give obedience—the dumb unquestioning obedience of the pack‐horse or the sheep‐dog, and she had no idea for an instant of refusal. It was a great terror to her to hear his voice and feel his eyes on her, and be so near to him; yet it was equally a joy sweeter and deeper than she had ever dreamed of as possible. He still seemed to her like a god, this man under whose hand flowers bloomed, and sun‐rays smiled, and waters flowed, and human forms arose, and the gracious shapes of a thousand dreams grew into substance. And yet, in herself, this man saw beauty!

He motioned her with a careless, gentle gesture, as one motions a timid dog, to the spot over which the three brethren watched hand in hand; and she stretched herself down passively and humbly, meekly as the dog stretches himself to rest at his master’s command. Over all her body the blood was leaping; her limbs shuddered; her breath came and went in broken murmurs; her bright‐hued skin grew dark and white by turns; she was filled with a passionate delight that he had found anything in her to desire or deem fair; and she quivered with a tumultuous fear that made her nervous as any panting hare. Her heart beat as it had never done when the people had raged in their fury around her.

One living creature had found beauty in her; one human voice had spoken to her gently and without a curse; one man had thought her a thing to be entreated and not scorned;—a change so marvelous in her fate transfigured all the world for her, as though the gods above had touched her lips with fire. But she was mute and motionless; the habit of silence and of repression had become her second nature: no statue of marble could have been stiller, or in semblance more lifeless, than she was where she rested on the stones. Arslàn noticed nothing of this; he was intent upon his work. The sun was very near its setting, and every second of its light was precious to him. The world indeed he knew would in all likelihood never be the wiser or the richer for anything he did; in all likelihood he knew all these things that he created were destined to moulder away page: 249 undisturbed save by the rats that might gnaw, and the newts that might traverse, them. He was buried here in the grave of a hopeless penury, of an endless oblivion. They were buried with him; and the world wanted neither him nor them.

Still, having the madness of genius, he was as much the slave of his art as though an universal fame had waited his lowliest and lightest effort.

With a deep breath that had half a sigh in it he threw down his brushes when the darkness fell. While he wrought, he forgot the abject bitterness of his life; when he ceased work, he remembered how hateful a thing it is to live when life means only deprivation, obscurity, and failure.

He thanked her with a few words of gratitude to her for her patience, and released her from the strain of the attitude.

She rose slowly with an odd dazzled look upon her face, like one coming out of great darkness into the full blaze of day. Her eyes sought the portrait of her own form, which was still hazy and unformed, amidst a mist of varying hues: that she should be elected to have a part with those glorious things which were the companions of his lowliness seemed to her a wonder so strange and so immeasurable that her mind still could not grasp it.

For it was greatness to her: a greatness absolute and incredible. The men had stoned, the women cursed, the children hooted her; but he selected her—and her alone—for that supreme honour which his hand could give.

Not noticing the look upon her face he placed before her on the rude bench, which served in that place for a table, some score of small studies in colour, trifles brilliant as the rainbow, birds, flowers, insects, a leaf of fern, an orchid in full bloom, a nest with a blue warbler in it, a few peasants by a wayside cross, a child at a well, a mule laden with autumn fruit—anything which in the district had caught his sight or stirred his fancy.

He bade her choose from them.

“There is nothing else here,” he added. “But since you care for such things, take as may of them as you will as recompense.”

Her face flushed up to the fringes of her hair; her eyes looked at the sketches in longing. Except for the scarlet scarf of Marcellin, this was the only gift she had ever had offered page: 250 her. And all these reproductions of the world around her were to her like so much sorcery. Owning one, she would have worshipped it, revered it, caressed it, treasured it; her life was so desolate and barren that such a gift seemed to her as handsfull of gold and silver would seem to a beggar were he bidden to take them and be rich.

She stretched out her arms in one quick longing gesture; then as suddenly withdrew them, folding them on her chest, whilst her face grew very pale. Something of its old dark proud ferocity gathered on it.

“I want no payment,” she said, huskily, and she turned to the threshold and crossed it.

“Wait. I did not mean to hurt you. Will you not take them as reward?”

“No.”

She spoke almost suddenly; there was a certain sharpness and dulness of disappointment at her heart. She wanted, she wished, she knew not what. But not that he should offer her payment.

“Can you return to‐morrow? or any other day?” he asked her, thinking of the sketch unfinished on the sheet of pinewood. He did not notice the beating of her heart under her folded arms, the quick gasp of her breath, the change of the rich colour in her face.

“If you wish,” she answered him below her breath.

“I do wish, surely. The sketch is all unfinished yet.”

“I will come then.”

She moved away from him across the threshold as she spoke; she was not afraid of the people, but she was afraid of this strange, passionate sweetness, which seemed to fill her veins with fire and make her drunk and blind.

“Shall I go with you homeward?”

She shook her head.

“But the people who struck you!—they may attack you again?”

She laughed a little; low in her throat.

“I showed them a knife!—they are timid as hares.”

“You are always by yourself?”

“Always.”

She drew herself with a rapid movement from him and sprang into her boat where it rocked amidst the rushes page: 251 against the steps; in another instant she had thrust it from its entanglement in the reeds, and pulled with swift, steady strokes down the stream into the falling shadows of the night.

“You will come back?” he called to her as the first stroke parted the water.

“Yes,” she answered him; and the boat shot forward into the shadow.

Night was near and the darkness soon enclosed it; the beat of the oars sounding faintly through the silence of the evening.

There was little need to exact the promise from her.

Like Persephone she had eaten of the fatal pomegranate seed, which, whether she would or no, would make her leave the innocence of youth, and the light of the sun and the blossoms of the glad green spring‐time world, and draw her footsteps backward and downward to that hell which none,—once having entered it,—can ever more forsake.

She had drifted away from him into the shadows of evening as they died from the shore and the stream into the gloom of the night.

He thought no more of pursuing her than he thought of chasing the melted shadows.

Returning to his chamber he looked for some minutes at the panel where it leaned against the wall, catching the first pallid moon‐gleam of the night.

“If she should not come, it will be of little moment,” he thought. “I have nearly enough for remembrance there.”

And he went away from the painting, and took up charcoal and turned to those anatomical studies whose severity he never spared himself, and for whose perfecting he pursued the science of form even in the bodies of the dead.

From the moment that his hand touched the stylus he forgot her; for she was no more to him than a chance bird that he might have taken from its home amidst the ripe red autumn foliage and caged for a while to study its grace and colour, its longing eye and drooping wing; and then tossed up into the air again, when he had done with it, to find its way to freedom, or to fall into the fowler’s snare;—what matter which?

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CHAPTER III.

THE boat went on into the darkness under the willow banks, past the great Calvary, whose lanthorn was just lit and glimmered through the gloom.

She knew by heart the old familiar way; and the water was as safe to her as the broadest, straightest road at noonday. She loved it best thus; dusky: half seen; muttering on through the silence; full of the shadows of the clouds and of the boughs; black as a fresh dug grave where some ruined wall leaned over it; broken into liitle silvery gleams where it caught the light from a saint’s shrine or a smith’s forge.

By day a river is but the highway of men; it is but a public bridge betwixt the country and the town; but at night it grows mystical, silent, solitary, unreal, with the sound of the sea in its murmurings and the peace of death in its calm; at night, through its ceaseless whisperings, there always seem to arise echoes from all the voices of the drowned multitudes of the ocean whence it comes, and from all the voices of the living multitudes of the city whither it goes.

It was quite dark when she reached the landing steps; the moon was just rising above the sharp gables of the mill‐house, and a lanthorn was moving up and down behind the budded boughs as Claudis Flamma went to and fro in his wood‐yard.

At the jar of the boat against the steps he peered through the branches, and greeted her with a malignant reprimand. He timed her services to the minute; and here had been a full half‐day of the spring weather wasted, and lost to him. He drove her indoors with sharp railing and loud reproaches; not waiting for an answer, but heaping on her the bitterest terms of reviling that his tongue could gather.

In the kitchen a little low‐burning lamp lit dully the poverty and dreariness of the place, and shed its orange rays on the ill‐tempered, puckered, gloomy face of the old woman Pitchou sitting at her spindle; there was a curious odour of page: 253 sun‐dried herbs and smoke‐dried fish that made the air heavy and pungent; the great chimney yawned black and fireless; a starveling cat mewed dolorously over an empty platter; under a tawdry‐coloured print of the Flight into Egypt, there hung on a nail three dead blackbirds, shot as they sang the praises of the spring; on a dresser, beside a little white basin of holy water, there lay a grey rabbit, dead likewise, with limbs broken and bleeding from the trap in which it had writhed helpless all through the previous night.

The penury, dulness, and cruelty, the hardness, barrenness, and unloveliness of this life in which she abode had never struck her with a sense so sharp as that which now fell on her; crossing the threshold of this dreary place after the shadows of the night, the beauty of the gods, the voice of praise, the eyes of Arslàn.

She came into the room, bringing with her the cool fragrance of damp earth, wet leaves, and wild flowers; the moisture of the evening was on her clothes and hair; her bare feet sparkled with the silvery spray of dew; her eyes had the look of blindness yet of lustre that the night air lends; and on her face there was a mingling of puzzled pain and of rapturous dreaming wonder, which new thought and fresh feeling had brought there to break up its darkness into light.

The old woman, twirling a flaxen thread upon her wheel, looked askance at her, and mumbled—“like mother, like child.” The old man, catching up the lamp, held it against her face, and peered at her under his grey bent brows.

“A whole day wasted!” he swore for the twentieth time, in his teeth. “Beast! What hast thou to say for thyself?”

The old dogged ferocity gathered over her countenance, chasing away the softened perplexed radiance that had been newly awakened there.

“I say nothing,” she answered.

“Nothing! nothing!” he echoed after her. “Then we will find a way to make thee speak. Nothing!—when three of the clock should have seen thee back hither at latest, and five hours since then have gone by without account. You have spent it in brawling and pleasure—in shame and iniquity—in vice and in violence, thou creature of sin!”

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“Since you know, why ask?”

She spoke with steady contemptuous calm. She disdained to seek refuge from his fury by pleading the injuries that the townsfolk had wrought her; and of the house by the river, she would not have spoken though they had killed her. The storm of his words raged on uninterrupted.

“Five hours, five mortal hours, stolen from me, your lawful work left undone that you may riot in some secret abomination that you dare not to name. Say where you have been, what you have done, you spawn of hell, or I will wring your throat as I wring a sparrow’s!”

“I have done as I chose.”

She looked him full in the eyes as she spoke, with the look in her own that a bull’s have when he lowers his head to the charge and attack.

“As you choose! Oh‐ho! You would speak as queens speak—you—a thing less than the worm and the emmet. As you choose—you!—who have not a rag on your back, not a crust of rye bread, not a leaf of salad to eat, not a lock of hay for your bed, that is not mine—mine—mine. As you choose. You!—you thing begotten in infamy; you slave; you beggar; you sloth! You are nothing—nothing less than the blind worm that crawls in the sand. You have the devil that bred you in you, no doubt; but it shall go hard if I cannot conquer him when I bruise your body and break your will.”

As he spoke he seized her to strike her; in his hand he already gripped an oak stick that he had brought in with him from his timber‐yard, and he raised it to rain blows on her, expecting no other course than the dumb, passive, scornful submission with which she had hitherto accepted whatsoever he had chosen to do against her.

But in lieu of the creature, silent and stirless, who before had stood to receive his lashes as though her body were of bronze or wood, that felt not, a leonine and superb animal sprang up in full rebellion. She started out of his grasp, her lithe form springing from his seizure as a willow bough that has been bent to earth springs back, released, into the air.

She caught the staff in both her hands, wrenched it by a sudden gesture from him, and flung it away to the farther end of the chamber; then she turned on him as a hart turns brought to bay.

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Her supple body was erect like a young pine; her eyes flushed with a lustre he had never seen in them; the breath came hard and fast through her dilated nostrils; her mouth curled and quivered.

“Touch me again!” she cried aloud, while her voice rang full and imperious through the stillness. “Touch me again; and by the heaven and hell you prate of, I will kill you!”

So sudden was the revolt, so sure the menace, that he old man dropped his hands and stood and gazed at her aghast and staring; not recognizing the mute, patient, dog‐like thing that he had beaten at will, in this stern, fearless, splendid, terrible creature, who faced him in all the royalty of wrath, in all the passion of insurrection.

He could not tell what had altered her, what had wrought this transformation, what had changed her as by sorcery; he could not tell that what had aroused a human soul in her had been the first human voice that she had listened to in love; he could not tell that her body had grown sacred to her because a stranger had called her beautiful, and that her life for the first time had acquired a worth and dignity in her sight because one man had deemed it fair.

He could not tell; he could only see that for the first time his slave had learned somewhere, and in some wise, what freedom meant; and had escaped him. This alone he saw; and, seeing it, was startled and afraid.

She waited, watching him some moments, with cold eyes of disdain, in which a smouldering fire slept, ready to burst into an all‐devouring flame.

There was not a sound in the place; the woman spinning stopped her wheel, wondering in a half‐stupid, savage fashion; the lean cat ceased its cries; there was only the continual swish of the water in the sluices under the wall without, and the dull ticking of the old Black Forest clock, that kept a fitful measure of the days and nights in its cracked case of painted wood, high up, where the thyme, and the sage, and the onions hung among the twisted rafters.

Folle‐Farine stood still, her left hand resting on her hip, her lips curved scornfully and close, her face full of passion, which she kept as still as the dead birds hanging on the wall; whilst all the time the tawny smoky hues of the oil‐ page: 256 lamp were wavering with an odd fantastic play over her head and limbs.

Before this night, she had always taken every blow and stripe patiently, without vengeance, without effort, as she saw the mule and the dog, the horse and the ox, take theirs in their pathetic patience, in their noble fortitude. She had thought that such were her daily portion as such as was the daily bread she broke.

But now, since she had awakened with the smile of the gods upon her, now, she felt that sooner than endure again that indignity, that outrage, she would let her tyrant kill her in his hate, if so he chose, and cast her body to the mill‐stream, moaning through the trees beneath the moon; the water, at least, would bear her with it, tranquil and undefiled, beneath the old grey walls and past the eyes of Arslàn.

There was that in her look which struck dumb the mouth, and held motionless the arm, of Claudis Flamma.

Caustic, savage, hard as his own ash staff though he was, he was for the moment paralysed and unmanned. Some vague sense of shame stirred heavily in him; some vague remembrance passed over him, that, whatsoever else she might be, she had been once borne in his daughter’s bosom, and kissed by his daughter’s lips, and sent to him by a dead woman’s will, with a dead woman’s wretchedness and loneliness as her sole birth‐gifts.

He passed his hands over his eyes with a blinded gesture, staring hard at her in the dusky lamplight.

He was a strong and bitter old man, made cruel by one great agony, and groping his way savagely through a dark, hungry, superstitious, ignorant life. But in that moment he no more dared to touch her than he would have dared to tear down the leaden Christ from off its crucifix, and trample it under foot, and spit on it.

He turned away, muttering in his throat, and kicking the cat from his path, while he struck out the light with his staff.

“Get to thy den,” he said, with a curse. “We are a‐bed too late. To‐morrow I will deal with thee.”

She went without a word out of the dark kitchen and up the ladder‐like stairs, up to her lair in the roof. She said nothing; it was not in her nature to threaten twice, or twice page: 257 protest; but in her heart she knew that neither the next day, nor any other day, should that which Arslàn had called “beauty,” be stripped and struck whilst life was in her to preserve it by death from that indignity.

From the time of her earliest infancy, she had been used to bare her shoulders to the lash, and take the stripes as food and wages; she had no more thought to resist them than the brave hound, who fears no foe on earth, has to resist his master’s blows; the dull habits of a soulless bondage had been too strong on her to be lightly broken, and the resignation of the loyal beasts that were her comrades, had been the one virtue that she had learnt to follow.

But no at length she had burst her bonds, and had claimed her freedom.

She had tasted the freshness of liberty, and the blood burned like fire in her face as she remembered the patience and the shame of the years of her slavery.

There was no mirror in her little lair in the gabled eaves; all the mirror she had ever known had been that which she had shared with the water‐lilies, when together she and they had leaned over the smooth dark surface of the mill‐pond. But the moon streamed clearly through the one unshuttered window, a moon full and clear, and still cold; the spring‐tide moon, from which the pale primroses borrow those tender hues of theirs, which never warm or grow deeper, however golden be the sun that my shine.

Its colourless crescent went sailing past the little square lattice hole in the wall; masses of gorgeous cloud, white and black, swept by in a fresh west wind; the fresh breath of a spring night chased away the heat and languor of the day; the smell of all the blossoms of the spring rose up from wood and orchard; the cool, drowsy murmuring of the mill‐stream beneath was the only sound on the stillness, except when now and then there came the wild cry of a mating owl.

The moonbeams fell about her where she stood; and she looked down on her smooth skin, her glistening shoulders, her lustrous and abundant hair, on which the wavering light played and undulated. The most delicious gladness that a woman’s life can know was in tumult in her, conflicting with the new and deadly sense of shame and ignorance. She learned that she was beautiful, at the same time that page: 258 she awoke to the knowledge of her dumb, lifeless, slavish inferiority to all other human beings.

“Beautiful!” she muttered to herself, “only as a poppy as a snake, as a night moth are beautiful—beautiful—and without fragrance, or sweetness, or worth!”

And her heart was heavy, even amidst all its pleasure and triumph, heavy with a sense of utter ignorance and utter worthlessness.

The poppy was snapped asunder as a weed, the snake was shunned and cursed for his poison, the night moth was killed because his nature had made him dwell in the darkness; none of the three might have any fault in truth in them; all of the three might have only the livery of evil, and no more; might be innocent, and ask only to breathe and live for a little brief space in their world, which men called God’s world.

Yet were they condemned by men, and slain, being what they were, although God made them.

Even so she felt, without reasoning, had it been, and would it be with herself.

CHAPTER IV.

IN the room below, the old Norman woman who did not fear her taskmaster, unbarred the shutter to let the moon shine in the room, and by its light put away her wheel and work, and cut a halved lettuce up upon a platter, with some dry bread, and ate them for her supper.

The old man knelt down before the leaden image, and joined his knotted hands, and prayed in a low, fierce, eager voice, while the heavy pendulum of the clock swung wearily to and fro.

The clock kept fitful and uncertain time; it had been so long imprisoned in the gloom there among the beams and cobwebs, and in this place life was so dull, so colourless, so torpid, that it seemed to have forgotten how time truly went, and to wake up now and then with a shudder of remembrance, in which its works ran madly down.

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The old woman ended her supper, munching the lettuce‐leaves thirstily in her toothless mouth, and not casting so much as a crumb of the crusts to the cat, who pitifully watched, and mutely implored, with great ravenous amber‐circled eyes. Then she took her stick and crept out of the kitchen, her wooden shoes clacking loud on the bare red bricks.

“Prayer did little to keep holy the other one,” she muttered; “unless, indeed, the devil heard and answered.”

But Claudis Flamma for all that prayed on, entreating the mercy and guidance of heaven, whilst the gore dripped from the dead rabbit, and the silent song birds hung stiff upon the nail.

“Thou hast a good labourer,” said the old woman, Pitchou, with curt significance, to her master, meeting him in the raw of the dawn, on the morrow, as he drew the bolts from his house‐door. “Take heed that thou dost not drive her away, Flamma. One may beat a saddled mule safely, but hardly so a wolf’s cub.”

She passed out of the door as she spoke with mop and pail to wash down the paved court outside; but her words abode with her master.

He meddled no more with the wolf’s club.

When Folle‐Farine came down the stairs in the crisp, cool, sweet smelling spring morning that was breaking through the mists over the land and water, he motioned to her to break her fast with the cold porridge left from overnight, and looking at her from under his bent brows with a glance that had some apprehension underneath its anger, apportioned her a task for the early day with a few bitter words of command; but he molested her no farther, nor referred ever so faintly to the scene of the past night.

She ate her poor and tasteless meal in silence, and set about her appointed labour without protest. So long as she should eat his bread, so long, she said to herself, would she serve him. Thus much the pride and honesty of her nature taught her was his due.

He watched her furtively under his shaggy eyebrows. His instinct told him that this nameless, dumb, captive, desert animal, which he had bound as a beast of burden to his millwheels, had in some manner learned her strength, and would not long remain content to be thus yoked and page: 260 driven. He had blinded her with the blindness of ignorance, and goaded her with the good of ignominy; but for all that, some way her bandaged eyes had sought and found the light, some way her numbed hide had thrilled and swerved beneath the barb.

“She also is a saint; let God take her!” said the old man to himself in savage irony, as he toiled amongst his mill gear and his sacks.

His heart was ever sore and in agony because his God had cheated him, letting him hold as purest and holiest among women the daughter who had betrayed him. In his way he prayed still; but chiefly his prayer was a passionate upbraiding, a cynical reproach. She—his beloved, his marvel, his choicest of maidens, his fairest and coldest of virgins,—had escaped him and duped him, and been a thing of passion and of foulness, of treachery and of lust, all the while that he had worshipped her. Therefore he hated every breathing thing; therefore he slew the birds in air song, the insects in their summer bravery, the lamb in its gambols, the rabbit in its play amidst the primroses. Therefore he cried to the God whom he still believed in, “Thou lettest that which was pure escape me to be defiled and be slaughtered, and now Thou lettest that which is vile escape me to become beautiful and free and strong!”

And now and then, in this woe of his which was so pitiful and yet so brutal, he glanced at her where she laboured amongst the unbudded vines and leafless fruit trees, and whetted a sickle on the whirling grindstone, and felt its edge, and thought to himself, “She was devil begotten. Would it not be well once and for all to rid men of her?” For, he reasoned, being thus conceived in infamy and branded from her birth upward, how should she be ever otherwise than to men a curse?

Where she went at her labours, to and fro amongst the bushes and by the glancing water, she saw the steel hook and caught his sideways gaze, and read his meditation.

She laughed, and did not fear.

Only she thought, “He shall not do it till I have been back there.”

Before the day was done, thither she went.

He had kept her close since the sunrise.

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Not sending her out on any of the errands to and fro the country, which had a certain pleasure to her, because she gained by them liberty and air, and the contentment of swift movement against fresh blowing winds. Nor did her send her to the town. He employed her through ten whole hours in out‐door garden labour, and in fetching and carrying from his yard to his lofts, always within sight of his own quick eye, and within call of his harsh voice.

She did not revolt. She did what he bade her do swiftly and well. There was no fault to find in any of her labours.

When the last sack was carried, the last sod turned, the last burden borne, the sun was sinking, he bade her roughly go indoors and winnow last year’s wheat in the store chambers till he should bid her cease.

She came and stood before him, her eyes very quiet in their look of patient strength.

“I have worked from daybreak through to sunset,” she said, slowly to him. “It is enough for man and beast. The rest I claim.”

Before he could reply she had leaped the low stone wall that parted the timber‐yard from the orchard, and was out of sight, flying far and fast through the twilight of the boughs.

He muttered a curse, and let her go. His head drooped on his breast, his hands worked restlessly on the stone coping of the wall, his withered lips muttered in wrath.

“There is hell in her,” he said to himself. “Let her go to her rightful home. There is one thing—”

“There is one thing?” echoed the old woman, hanging washed linen out to dry on the boughs of the half‐bloomed almond‐shrubs.

He gave a dreary, greed, miser’s chuckle.

“One thing. I have made the devil work for me hard and well ten whole years through!”

“The devil!” mumbled the woman Pitchou, in contemptuous iteration. “Dost thou think the devil was ever such a fool as to work for thy wage of blows and of black bread? Why, he rules the world, they say! And how should he rule unless he paid his people well!”

Folle‐Farine fled on, through the calm woodlands, through the pastures where the sleek herds dreamed their days away, page: 262 through the young wheat and the springing colza, and the little fields all bright with promise of the spring, and all the sunset’s wealth of golden light.

The league was but as a step to her, trained as her muscles were to speed and strength until her feet were fleet as are the doe’s. When she had gained her goal then only she paused, stricken with a sudden shyness and terror of what she hardly knew.

An instinct, rather than a thought, turned her towards a little grass‐hidden pool behind the granary, whose water, never stirred save by a pigeon’s rosy foot, or by a timid plover’s beak, was motionless and clear as any mirror.

Instinct, rather than thought, bent her head over it, and taught her eyes to seek her own reflection. It had a certain beauty that fascinated wonder in it to her with a curious indefinable attraction. For the first time in her life she had thought of it, and done such slight things as she could to make it greater. They were but few,—linen a little whiter and less coarse—the dust shaken from her scarlet sash; her bronze‐hued hair burnished to richer darkness; a knot of wild narcissi in her bosom gathered with the dew on them as she came through the wood.

This was all; yet this was something; something that showed the dawn of human impulses, of womanly desires. As she looked, she blushed for her own foolishness; and, with a quick hand, cast the white wood flowers into the centre of the pool. It seemed to her now, though only a moment earlier she had gathered them, so senseless and so idle to have decked herself with their borrowed loveliness. As if for such things as these he cared!

Then, slowly, and with her head sunk, she entered his dwelling‐place.

Arslàn stood with his face turned from her, bending down over a trestle of wood.

He did not hear her as she approached; she drew quite close to him and looked where she saw that he looked; down on the wooden bench. What she saw were a long falling stream of light hued hair, a grey still face, closed eyes, and naked limbs, which did not stir save when his hand moved them a little in their posture, and which then dropped from his hold like lead.

She did not shudder nor exclaim; she only looked with page: 263 quiet and incurious eyes. In this life of the poor such a sight has neither novelty nor terror.

It did not even seem strange to her to see it in such a place. He started slightly as he grew sensible of her presence, and turned, and threw a black cloth over the trestle.

“Do not look there,” he said to her. “I had forgotten you. Otherwise—”

“I have looked there. It is only a dead woman.”

“Only! What makes you say that?”

“I do not know. There are many—are there not?”

He looked at her in surprise seeing that this utter lack of interest or curiosity was true and not assumed; that awe, and reverence, and dread, and all emotions which rise in human hearts before the sight or memory of death were wholly absent from her.

“There are many indeed,” he made answer, slowly. “Just there is the toughest problem—it is the insect life of the world; it is the clouds of human ephemeræ, begotten one summer day to die the next; it is the millions on millions of men and women born, as it were, only to be choked by the reek of cities, and then fade out to nothing; it is the numbers that kill one’s dream of immortality!”

She looked wearily up at him, not comprehending, and, indeed, he had spoken to himself and not to her; she lifted up one corner of the cere cloth and gazed a little while at the dead face, the face of a girl young, and in a slight soft youthful manner, fair.

“It is Fortis, the rag‐picker’s daughter,” she said, indifferently, and dropt back the sheltering cloth. She did not know what nor why she envied, and yet she was jealous of this white dead thing that abode there so peacefully and so happily with the caress of his touch on its calm limbs.

“Yes,” he answered her. “It is his daughter. She died twenty hours ago,—of low fever, they say—famine, no doubt.”

“Why do you have her here?”

She felt no sorrow for the dead girl; the girl had mocked and jibed her many a time as a dark witch devil‐born; she only felt a jealous and restless hatred of her intrusion here.

“The dead sit to me often,” he said, with a certain smile that had sadness and yet coldness in it.

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“Why?”

“That they may tell me the secrets of life.”

“Do they tell them?”

“A few;—most they keep. See,—I paint death; I must watch it to paint it. It is dreary work, you think? It is not so to me. The surgeon seeks his kind of truth; I seek mine. The man Fortis came to me on the river side last night. He said to me, ‘You like studying the dead, they say; have my dead for a copper coin. I am starving;—and it cannot hurt her.’ So I gave him the coin—though I am as poor as he—and I took the dead woman. Why do you look like that? It is nothing to you; the girl shall go to her grave when I have done with her.

She bent her head in assent. It was nothing to her; and yet it filled her with a cruel feverish jealousy, it weighed on her with a curious pain.

She did not care for the body lying there—it had been but the other day that the dead girl had shot her lips out at her in mockery and called her names from a balcony in an old ruined house as the boat drifted past it;—but there passed over her a dreary shuddering remembrance that she, likewise, might one day lie thus before him and be no more to him than this. The people said that he who studied death, brought death.

The old wistful longing that had moved her, when Marcellin had died, to lay her down in the cool water and let it take her to long sleep and to complete forgetfulness, returned to her again. Since the dead were of value to him, best, she thought, be of them, and lie here in that dumb still serenity, caressed by his touch and his regard. For, in a manner, she was jealous of this woman, as of some living rival who had, in her absence, filled her place and been of use to him and escaped his thought.

Any ghastliness or inhumanity in this search of his for the truth of his art amidst the frozen limbs and rigid muscles of a corpse, never occurred to her. To her he was like a deity; to her these poor weak shreds of broken human lives, these fragile empty vessels, whose wine of life had been spilled like water that runs to waste, seemed beyond measurement to be exalted when deemed by him of value.

She would have thought no more of grudging them in page: 265 his employ and in his service than priests of Isis or of Eleusis would have begrudged the sacrificed lives of the beasts and birds that smoked upon their temple altars. To die at his will and be of use to him;—this seemed to her the most supreme glory fate could hold; and she envied the rag‐picker’s daughter lying there in such calm content.

“Why do you look so much at her?” he said at length. “I shall do her no harm; if I did, what would she know?”

“I was not thinking of her,” she answered slowly, with a certain perplexed pain upon her face. “I was thinking I might be of more use to you if I were dead! You must not kill me, because men would hurt you for that; but if you wish, I will kill myself to‐night. I have often thought of it lately.”

He started at the strangeness and suddenness of the words spoken steadily and with perfect sincerity and simplicity in the dialect of the district, with no sense in their speaker of anything unusual being offered in them. His eyes tried to search the expression of her face with greater interest and curiosity than they had ever done; and they gained from their study but little.

For the innumerable emotions awakening in her were only dimly shadowed there, and had in them the confusion of all imperfect expressions. He could not tell whether here there was a great soul struggling through the bonds of an intense ignorance and stupefaction, or whether there were only before him an animal perfect, in its physical development, but mindless as any clod of earth.

He did not know how to answer her.

“Why should you think of death?” he said at last. “Is your life so bitter to you?”

She stared at him.

“Is a beaten dog’s bitter? Or is a goaded ox’s sweet?”

“But you are so young,—and you are handsome, and a woman?”

She laughed a little.

“A woman! Marcellin said that.”

“Well! What is there strange in saying it?”

She pointed to the corpse which the last sun‐rays were brightening, till the limbs were as alabaster and the hair was as gold.

“That was a woman—a creature that is white and rose, page: 266 and has yellow hair and laughs in the faces of men, and has a mother that kisses her lips, and sees the children come to play at her knees. I am not one. I am a devil, " they say .” ,

His mouth smiled with a touch of sardonic humour, whose acrimony and whose irony escaped her.

“What have you done so good, or so great, that your world should call you so?”

Her eyes clouded and lightened alternately.

“You do not believe that I am a devil?”

“How should I tell? If you covet the title claim it,—you have a right,—you are a woman!”

“Always a woman!” she muttered with disappointment and with impatience.

“Always a woman,” he echoed as he pointed to the god Hermes. “And there is your creator.”

He!

She looked rapidly and wistfully at the white‐winged god.

“Yes. He made Woman; for he made her mind out of treachery and her words out of empty wind. Hephæstus made her heart, fusing for it brass and iron. Their work has worn well. It has not changed in all these ages!—But what is your history? Go and lie yonder, where you were last night, and tell me your story while I work.”

She obeyed him and told him what she knew; lying there, where he had motioned her, in the shadow under the figures of the three grandsons of Chaos. He listened, and wrought on at her likeness.

The story, as she told it in her curt imperfect words, was plain enough to him, though to herself obscure. It had in some little measure a likeness to his own.

It awakened a certain compassion for her in his heart, which was rarely moved to anything like pity. For to him nature was so much and man so little, the one so majestic and so exhaustless, the other so small and so ephemeral, that human wants and human woes touched him but very slightly. His own, even at their darkest, moved him rather to self‐contempt than to self‐compassion, for these were evils of the body and of the senses.

As a boy he had had no ear to the wail of the frozen and famishing people wandering homeless over the waste of drifted snow, where but the night before a village had nestled in the mountain hollow; all his senses had been page: 267 given in a trance of awe and rapture to the voices of the great winds sweeping down from the heights through the pine‐forests, and of the furious seas below, gnashing and raging on the wreck‐strewn sand. It was with these last that he had had kinship and communion, these endured always; but for the men they slew, what were they more in the great sum of time than forest‐leaves or ocean driftwood?

And, indeed, to those who are alive to the nameless, universal, eternal soul which breathes in all the grasses of the fields, and beams in the eyes of all creatures of earth and air, and throbs in the living light of palpitating stars, and thrills through the young sap of forest trees, and stirs in the strange loves of wind‐borne plants, and hums in every song of the bee, and burns in every quiver of the flame, and peoples with sentient myriads every drop of dew that gathers on a hare‐bell, every bead of water that ripples in a brook—to these the mortal life of man can seem but little, save at once the fiercest and the feeblest thing that does exist; at once the most cruel and the most impotent; tyrant of direst destruction and bondsman of lowest captivity.

Hence, pity entered very little into his thoughts at any time; the perpetual tortures of life did indeed perplex him, as it perplexes every thinking creature, with wonder at the universal bitterness that taints all creation, at the universal death whereby all forms of life are nurtured, at the universal anguish of all existence which daily and nightly assails the unknown God in piteous protest at the inexorable laws of inexplicable miseries and mysteries. But because such suffering was thus universal, therefore he almost ceased to feel pity for it; of the two he pitied the beasts far more than the human kind:—the horse staggering beneath the lash in all the feebleness of hunger, lameness, and old age; the ox bleeding from the goad on the hard furrows, or stumbling through the hooting crowd, blind, footsore, and shivering, to its last home in the slaughter‐house; the dog, yielding up its noble life inch by inch under the tortures of the knife, loyally licking the hand of the vivisector while he drove his probe through its quivering nerves; the unutterable hell in which all these gentle, kindly and long‐suffering creatures dwelt for the pleasure or the vanity, the avarice or the brutality of men,—these he pitied perpetually, page: 268 with a tenderness for them that was the softest thing in all his nature.

But when he saw men and women suffer he often smiled, not ill pleased. It seemed to him that the worst they could ever endure was only such simple retribution, such mere fair measure of all the agonies they cast broadcast.

Therefore he pitied her now for what repulsed all others from her—that she had so little apparent humanity, and that she was so like an animal in her strength and weakness, and in her ignorance of both her rights and wrongs. Therefore he pitied her; and there was that in her strange kind of beauty, in her half‐savage, half‐timid attitudes, in her curt, unlearned, yet picturesque speech, which attracted him. Besides, although solitude was his preference, he had been for more than two years utterly alone, his loneliness broken only by the companionship of boors, with whom he had not had one thought in common. The extreme poverty in which the latter months of his life had been passed, had excluded him from all human society, since he could have sought none without betraying his necessities. The alms‐seeking visit of some man even more famished and desperate than himself, such as the rag‐picker who had brought the dead girl to him for a few brass coins, had been the only relief to the endless monotony of his existence, a relief that made such change in it worse than its continuance.

In Folle‐Farine for the first time in two long, bitter, colourless, hated years, there was something which aroused his interest and his curiosity, some one to whom impulse led him to speak the thoughts of his mind with little concealment. She seemed, indeed, scarcely more than a wild beast, half‐tamed, inarticulate, defiant, shy, it might be even, if aroused, ferocious; but it was an animal whose eyes dilated in quickening sympathy with all his moods, and an animal whom, at a glance, he knew would, in time, crawl to him or combat for him as he chose.

He talked to her now, much on the same impulse that moves a man, long imprisoned, to converse with the spider that creeps on the floor, with the mouse that drinks from his pitcher, and makes him treat like an intelligent being the tiny flower growing blue and bright between the stones, which is all that brings life into his loneliness.

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The prison door once flung open, the sunshine once streaming across the darkness, the fetters once struck off, the captive once free to go out again amongst his fellows, then—the spider is left to miss the human love that it has learnt, the mouse is left to die of thirst, the little blue flower is left to fade out as it may in the stillness and the gloom alone. Then they are nothing: but while the prison doors are still locked they are much.

Here the gaoler was poverty, and the prison was the world’s neglect, and they who lay bound were high hopes, great aspirations, impossible dreams, immeasurable ambitions, all swathed and fettered, and straining to be free with dumb, mad force against bonds that would not break.

And in these, in their bondage, there were little patience, or sympathy, or softness, and to them, even nature itself at times looked horrible, though never so horrible, because never so despicable as humanity. Yet, still even in these an instinct of companionship abided; and this creature, with a woman’s beauty, and an animal’s fierceness and innocence, was in a manner welcome.

“Why were women ever made then?” she said, after awhile, following, though imperfectly, the drift of his last words, where she lay stretched, obedient to his will, under the shadow of the wall.

He smiled the smile of one who recalls some story he has heard from the raving lips of some friend fever‐stricken.

“Once, long ago, in the far East, there dwelt a saint in the desert. He was content in his solitude: he was holy and at peace: the honey of the wild bee and the fruit of the wild tamarisk tree sufficed to feed him; the lions were his ministers, and the hyenas were his slaves; the eagle flew down for his blessing, and the winds and the storms were his messengers; he had killed the beast in him, and the soul alone had dominion; and day and night, upon the lonely air, he breathed the praise of God.

“Years went with him thus, and he grew old, and he said to himself, ‘I have lived content; so shall I die purified, and ready for the kingdom of heaven.’ For it was in the day when that wooden god, who hangs on the black cross yonder, was not a lifeless effigy as now, but a name of power and of might, adjuring, while his people smiled under torture, and died in the flame, dreaming of a land where the page: 270 sun never set, and the song never ceased, and the faithful for ever were at rest. So the years, I say, went by with him, and he was glad and at peace.

“One night, when the thunder rolled and the rain‐torrents fell to the door of his cave there came a wayfarer, fainting, sickly, lame, trembling with terror of the desert, and beseeching him to save her from the panthers.

“He was loth, and dreaded to accede to her prayer, for he said, ‘Wheresoever a woman enters, there the content of man is dead.’ But she was in dire distress, and entreated him with tears and supplications not to turn her adrift for the lightning and the lions to devour: and he felt the old human pity steal on him, and he opened the door to her, and bade her enter and take sanctuary there in God’s name.

“But when she had entered, age, and sickness, and want fell from off her, her eyes grew as two stars, her lips were sweet as the rose of the desert, her limbs had the grace of the cheetah, her body had the radiance and the fragrance of frankincense on an altar of gold.

“And she laughed in his beard, and cried, saying ‘Thou thinkest thou hast lived, and yet thou hast not loved? Oh sage! oh saint! oh fool, fool, fool!’ then into his veins there rushed youth, and into his brain there came madness; the life he had led seemed but death, and eternity loathsome since passionless; and he stretched his arms to her and sought to embrace her, crying, ‘Stay with me, though I buy thee with hell.’ And she stayed.

“But when the morning broke she left him, laughing, gliding like a phantom from his arms, and out into the red sunlight, and across the desert sand, laughing, laughing, always, and mocking him whilst she beckoned. He pursued her, chasing her through the dawn, through the noon, through the night. He never found her; she had vanished as the rose of the rainbow fades out of the sky.

“He searched for her in every city, and in every land. Some say he searches still, doomed to live on through every age, and powerless to die.”

Arslàn had a certain power over words as over colour. Like all true painters, the fibre of his mind was sensuous and poetic, though the quality of passionate imagination was in him welded with a coldness and a stillness of temper born in him with his northern blood. He had dwelt much page: 271 in Asiatic countries, and much of the philosophies and much of the phraseology of the East remained with him. Something even there seemed in him of the mingled asceticism and sensualism, the severe self‐denial, with the voluptuous fancy of the saints who once had peopled the deserts in which he had in his turn delighted to dwell, free and lonely, scorning women and deserting man. He spoke seldom, being by nature silent; but when he did speak his language was unconsciously varied into picture‐like formations.

She listened breathless, with the colour in her cheeks and the fire brooding in her eyes, her unformed mind catching the swift shadowy allegories of his tale by force of the poetic instincts in her.

No one had ever talked to her thus; and yet it seemed clear to her and beautiful, like the story which the great sunflowers told as they swayed to and fro in the light, like the song that the bright brook water sung as it purled and sparkled under the boughs.

“That is true!” she said, suddenly, at length.

“It is a saint’s story in substance; it is true in spirit for all time.”

Her breath came with a sharp, swift, panting sound. She was blinded with the new light that broke in on her.

“If I be a woman, shall I then be such a woman as that?”

Arslàn rested his eyes on her with a grave, half sad, half sardonic smile.

“Why not? You are the devil’s daughter, you say. Of such are men’s kingdom of heaven!”

She pondered long upon his answer; she could not comprehend it; she had understood the parable of his narrative, yet the passion of it had passed her by, and the evil shut in it had escaped her.

“Do, then, men love what destroys them?” she asked, slowly.

“Always!” he made answer, still with that same smile as of one who remembers hearkening to the delirious ravings round him in a madhouse through which he has walked—himself sane—in a bygone time.

“I do not want love,” she said, suddenly, while her brain, half strong, half feeble, struggled to fit her thoughts to page: 272 words. “I want, I want, to have power as the priest has on the people when he says, ‘pray!’ and they pray.”

“Power!” he echoed, as the devotee echoes the name of his god. “Who does not? But do you think the woman that tempted the saint had none? If ever you reach that kingdom such power will become yours.”

A proud glad exultation swept over her face for a moment. It quickly faded. She did not believe in a future. How many times had she not, since the hand of Claudis Flamma first struck her, prayed with all the passion of a child’s dumb agony that the dominion of her Father’s power might come to her. And the great Evil had never hearkened. He, whom all men around her feared, had made her no sign that he heard, but left her to blows, to solitude, to continual hunger, to perpetual toil.

“I have prayed to the devil again and again and he will not hear,” she muttered. “Marcellin says that he has ears for all. But for me he has none.”

“He has too much to do to hear all. All the nations of the earth beseech him. Yonder man on the cross they adjure with their mouths indeed; but it is your god only whom in their hearts they worship. See how the Christ hangs his head: he is so weary of lip‐service.”

“But since they give the Christ so many temples, why do they raise none to the devil?”

“Chut! No man builds altars to his secret god. Look you: I will tell you another story. Once, in an Eastern land, there was a temple dedicated to all the deities of all the peoples that worshipped under the sun. There were many statues and rare ones; statues of silver and gold, of ivory, and agate, and chalcedony, and there were altars raised before all, on which every nation offered up sacrifice and burned incense before its divinity.

“Now, no nation would look at the god of another; and each people clustered about the feet of its own fetish, and glorified it, crying out, ‘There is no god but this god.’

“The noise was fearful, and the feuds were many, and the poor king, whose thought it had been to erect such a temple, was confounded, and very sorrowful, and murmured, saying—‘I dreamed to beget universal peace and tolerance and harmony; and lo! there come of my thoughts nothing but discord and war.’

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“Then to him there came a stranger, veiled, and claiming no country, and he said, ‘You were mad to dream religion could ever be peace, yet, be not disquieted; give me but a little space and I will erect an altar whereat all men shall worship, leaving their own gods.’

“The king gave him permission; and he raised up a simple stone, and on it he wrote, ‘To the Secret Sin!’ and, being a sorcerer, he wrote with such a curious power, that showed the inscription to the sight of each man, but blinded him whilst he gazed on it to all sight of his fellows.

“And each man forsook his god, and came and kneeled before this nameless altar, each bowing down before it, and each believing himself in solitude. The poor forsaken gods stood naked and alone; there was not one man left to worship one of them.”

She listened; her eloquent eyes fixed on him, her lips parted, her fancy fantastic and full of dreams, strengthened by loneliness, and unbridled through ignorance, steeping itself in every irony and every phantasy, and every shred of knowledge that Chance, her only teacher, cast to her.

She sat thinking, full of a vague sad pity for that denied and forsaken God on the cross, by the river, such as she had never felt before; since she had always regarded him as the symbol of cruelty, of famine and of hatred; not knowing that these are only the colours which all deities alike reflect from the hearts of the peoples that worship them.

“If I had a god,” she said, suddenly. “If a god cared to claim me—I would be proud of his worship everywhere.”

Arslàn smiled.

“All women have a god; that is why they are at once so much weaker and so much happier than men.”

“Who are their gods?”

“Their name is legion. Innocent women make gods of their offspring, of their homes, of their housework, of their duties; and are as cruel as tigresses meanwhile to all outside the pale of their temples. Others—less innocent—make gods of their own forms and faces; of bright stones dug from the earth, of vessels of gold and silver, of purple and fine linen, of passions, and vanities, and desires; gods that they consume themselves for in their youth, and that they curse, and beat, and upbraid in the days of their age. Which of these gods will be yours?”

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She thought a while, steadily and wearily.

“None of them,” she said at last.

“None? What will you put in their stead, then?”

She thought gravely some moments again. Although a certain terse and even poetic utterance was the shape which her spoken imagination naturally took at all times, ignorance and solitude had made it hard for her aptly to marry her thoughts to words.

“I do not know,” she said, wearily afresh. “Marcellin says that every God is deaf. He must be deaf—or very cruel. Look; everything lives in pain; and yet no God pities and makes an end of earth. I would—if I were He. Look; at dawn, the other day, I was out in the wood. I came upon a little rabbit in a trap; a little, pretty, soft, black‐and‐white thing, quite young. It was screaming in its horrible misery’; it had been screaming all night. Its thighs were broken in the iron teeth; the trap held it tight ; it could not escape, it could only scream—scream—scream. All in vain. When I had set it free it was mangled as if a wolf had gnawed it: the iron teeth had bitten through the fur, and the flesh, and the bone; it had lost so much blood and it was in so much pain, that it could not live. I laid it down in the braken, and put water to its mouth, and did what I could; but it was of no use. It had been too much hurt. It died as the sun rose; a little, harmless, shy creature, and only asked to nibble a leaf or two, or sleep in a little round hole, and run about merry and free. How can one care for a God since he lets these things be?”

Arslàn smiled as he heard.

“Child,—men care for a god only as a god means good to them. Men are heirs of heaven, they say; and, in right of their heritage, they make life hell to every living thing that dares dispute the world with them. You do not understand that,—tut! You are not human then. If you were human, you would begrudge a blade of grass to a rabbit, and arrogate to yourself a lease of immortality.”

She did not understand him; but she felt that she was honoured by him, and not scorned as others scorned her, for being thus unlike humanity. It was a bitter perplexity to her, this earth on which she had been flung amidst an alien people; that she should suffer herself seemed little to her, page: 275 it had become as a second nature; but the sufferings of all the innumerable tribes of creation, things of the woods, and the field, and the waters, and the sky, that toiled and sweated and were hunted, and persecuted and wrenched in torment, and finally perished to gratify the appetites or the avarice of humanity, these sufferings were horrible to her always: inexplicable, hideous, unpardonable,—a crime for which she hated God and Man.

“There is no god pitiful then?” she said, at length, “no god—not one?”

“Only those Three,” he answered her, as he motioned towards the three brethren that watched above her.

“Are they your gods?”

A smile that moved her to a certain fear of him passed a moment over his mouth.

“My gods?—No. They are the gods of youth and of age—not of manhood.”

“What is yours then?”

“Mine?—a Moloch who consumes my offspring, yet in whose burning brazen hands I have put them and myself—for ever.”

She looked at him in awe and in reverence. She imagined him the priest of some dark and terrible religion, for whose sake he lapsed his years in solitude and deprivation, and by whose powers he created the wondrous shapes that rose and bloomed around him.

“Those are gentler gods?” she said timidly, raising her eyes to the brethren above her. “Do you never—will you never—worship them?”

“I have ceased to worship them. In time—when the world has utterly beaten me—no doubt I shall pray to one at least of them. To that one, see, the eldest of the brethren, who holds his torch turned downwards.”

“And that god is—?”

“Death!”

She was silent.

Was this god not her god also?

Had she not chosen him, and laid her life down at his feet for this man’s sake?

“He must never know;—he must never know,” she said again in her heart.

And Thanatos she knew would not betray her; for page: 276 Thanatos keeps all the secrets of men—he, who alone of the gods reads the truths of men’s souls, and smiles, and shuts them in the hollow of his hand, and lets the braggart Time fly on with careless feet, telling what lies he will to please the world a little space. Thanatos holds silence and can wait;—for him must all things ripen, and, at last, to him must all things fall.

CHAPTER V.

WHEN she left him that night, and went homeward, he trimmed his lamp and returned to his labours of casting and modelling from the body of the rag‐picker’s daughter. The work soon absorbed him too entirely to leave any memory with him of the living woman. He did not know—and had he known would not have heeded—that instead of going on her straight path back to Yprès she turned again, and, hidden amongst the rushes upon the bank, crouched half sitting and half kneeling, to watch him from the river‐side. It was all dark and still, without; nothing came near, except now and then some hobbled mule turned out to forage for his evening meal, or some night‐browsing cattle straying out of bounds. Once or twice a barge went slowly and sullenly by, its single light twinkling across the breadth of the stream, and the voice of its steersman calling huskily through the fog. A drunken peasant staggered across the fields singing snatches of a republican march that broke roughly on the silence of the night. The young lambs bleated to their mothers in the meadows, and the bells of the old clock towers in the town chimed the quarters with a Laus Deo in which all their metal tongues joined musically.

She remained there undisturbed amongst the long grasses and the tufts of the reeds, gazing always into the dimly‐lighted interior where the pale rays of the oil flame lit up the white forms of the gods, the black shadows of the columns, the shapes of the wrestling lion and the strangled gladiator, the grey stiff frame and hanging hair of the dead page: 277 body, and the bending figure of Arslàn as he stooped above the corpse and pursued the secret powers of his art into the hidden things of death.

To her there seemed nothing terrible in a night thus spent, in a vigil thus ghastly; it seemed to her only a part of his strength thus to make death,—men’s conqueror,—his servant and his slave; she only begrudged every passionless touch that his grasp gave to those frozen and rigid limbs which he moved to and fro like so much clay; she only envied with a jealous thirst every cold caress that his hand lent to that loose and lifeless hair which he swept aside like so much flax.

He did not see; he did not know. To him she was no more than any bronze‐winged, golden‐eyed insect that should have floated in on a night breeze and been painted by him and been cast out again upon the darkness.

He worked more than half the night—worked until the small store of oil he possessed burned itself out, and left the hall to the feeble light of a young moon shining through dense vapours. He dropped his tools, and rose and walked to and fro on the width of the stone floor. His hands felt chilled to the bone with the contact of the dead flesh; his breathing felt oppressed with the heavy humid air that lay like ice upon his lungs.

The dead woman was nothing to him. He had not once thought of the youth that had perished in her; of the laughter that hunger had hushed for ever on the colourless lips; of the passion blushes that had died out for ever on the ashen cheeks; of the caressing hands of mother and of lover that must have wandered amongst that curling hair; of the children that should have slept on that white breast so smooth and cold beneath his hand. For these he cared nothing, and thought as little. The dead girl for him had neither sex nor story; and he had studied all phases and forms of death too long to be otherwise than familiar with them all. Yet a certain glacial despair froze his heart as he left her body, lying there in the flicker of the struggling moonbeams, and, himself, pacing to and fro in his solitude, suffered a greater bitterness than death in his doom of poverty and of obscurity.

The years of his youth had gone in fruitless labour, and the years of his manhood were gliding after them, and yet page: 278 he had failed so utterly to make his mark upon his generation that he could only maintain his life by the common toil of the common hand‐labourer, and, if he died on the morrow, there would not be one hand stretched out to save any one work of his creation from the housewife’s fires or the lime‐burner’s furnace.

Cold to himself as to all others, he said bitterly in his soul, “What is Failure except Feebleness? And what is it to miss one’s mark except to aim wildly and weakly?”

He told himself that harsh and inexorable truth a score of times, again and again, as he walked backward and forward in the solitude which only that one dead woman shared.

He told himself that he was a madman, a fool, who spent his lifetime in search and worship of a vain eidolon. He told himself that there must be in him some radical weaknesses, some inalienable fault, that he could not in all these years find strength enough to compel the world of men to honour him. Agony overcame him as he thought and thought and thought, until he scorned himself; the supreme agony of a strong nature that for once mistrusts itself as feebleness, of a great genius that for once despairs of itself as self‐deception.

Had he been the fool of his vanities all his youth upward; and had his fellow‐men been only wise and clear of sight when they had denied him and refused to see excellence in any work of his hand? Almost, he told himself, it must be so.

He paused by the open casement, and looked outward, scarcely knowing what he did. The mists were heavy; the air was loaded with damp exhalations; the country was profoundly still; above‐head only a few stars glimmered here and there through the haze. The peace, the silence, the obscurity were abhorrent to him; they seemed to close upon him, and imprison him; far away were all the colour and the strength and the strain and the glory of living; it seemed to him as though he were dead also, like the woman on the tressel yonder; dead in some deep sea grave where the weight of the waters kept him down and held his hands powerless, and shut his eyelids from all sight, while the living voices and the living footsteps of men came dimly on his ear from the world above; voices not one of page: 279 which uttered his name; footsteps, not one of which paused by his tomb.

It grew horrible to him—this death‐in‐life, to which in the freshness of manhood he often himself condemned.

“Oh, God!” he, who believed in no God, muttered half aloud, “Let me be without love, wealth, peace, health, gladness, all my life long—let me be crippled, childless, beggared, hastened to the latest end of my days,—give me only to be honoured in my works; give me only a name that men cannot, if they wish, let die.

Whether any ear greater than man heard the prayer, who shall say? Daily and nightly, through all the generations of the world, the human creature implores from his Creator the secrets of his existence, and asks in vain. There is one answer indeed; but it is the answer of all the million races of the universe, which only cry, “We are born but to perish; is Humanity a thing so high or pure that it should not claim exemption for the universal and inexorable law?”

One mortal listener heard, hidden amongst the hollow sighing rushes, bathed in moonlight and the mists; and the impersonal passion which absorbed him found echo in this inarticulate imperfect soul, just wakened in its obscurity to the first faint meanings of its mortal life, as a nest‐bird rouses in the dawn to the first faint pipe of its involuntary cry.

She barely knew what he sought, what he asked, and yet her heart ached with his desire, and shared the bitterness of his denial.

What kind of life he craved in the ages to come; what manner of remembrance he yearned for from the unborn races of men; what thing it was which he besought should be given to him in the stead of all love, all peace, all personal woes and physical delights, she did not know; the future to her had no meaning; and the immortal fame which he craved was an unknown god, of whose worship she had no comprehension; and yet she vaguely felt that what he sought was that his genius still should live when his body should be destroyed, and that those mute, motionless, majestic shapes which arose at his bidding should become characters and speak for him to all the generations of men when his own mouth should be sealed dumb in death.

This hunger of the soul which unmanned and tortured page: 280 him, though the famine of the flesh had had no power to move him, thrilled her with the instinct of its greatness. This thirst of the mind, which could not slake itself in common desires or sensual satiety, or any peace and pleasure of the ordinary life of man, had likeness in it to that dim instinct which had made her nerves throb at the glories of the changing skies, and her eyes fill with tears at the sound of a bird’s singing in the darkness of dawn, and her heart yearn with vain nameless longing as for some lost land, for some forgotten home, in the radiant hush of earth and air at sunrise.

He suffered as she suffered; and a sweet new‐born sense of unity and of likeness stirred in her amidst the bitter pity of her soul. To her he was as a king: and yet he was powerless. To give him power she would have died a thousand deaths.

“The gods gave me life for him,” she thought. “His life instead of mine? Will they forget?—Will they forget?”

And where she crouched in the gloom beneath the bulrushes she flung herself down prostrate in supplication, her face buried in the long damp river‐grass.

“Oh, Immortals!” she implored in benighted, wistful, passionate faith, “remember to give me his life and take mine. Do what you choose with me; forsake me, kill me; cast my body to fire, and my ashes to the wind; let me be trampled like the dust, and despised as the chaff; let me be bruised, beaten, nameless, hated always; let me always suffer and always be scorned; but grant me this one thing—to give him his desire!”

For unless the gods gave him greatness, she knew that vain would be the gift of life—the gift of mere length of years—which she had bought for him.

Her mind had been left blank as a desert, whilst in its solitude dreams had sprung forth wind‐sown like wayside grasses, and vague desires wandered like wild doves; but although blank the soil was rich and deep and virgin.

Because she had dwelt sundered from her kind, she had learned no evil; a stainless though savage innocence had remained with her. She had been reared in hardship and inured to hunger until such pangs seemed to her scarce worth the counting, save perhaps to see if they had been page: 281 borne with courage and without murmur. On her, profoundly unconscious of the meaning of any common luxury or any common comfort, the passions of natures more worldly‐wise, and better aware of the empire of gold, had no hold at any moment. To toil dully and be hungry and thirsty, and fatigued and footsore, had been her daily portion. She knew nothing of the innumerable pleasures and powers that the rich command. She knew scarcely of the existence of the simplest forms of civilization: therefore she knew nothing of all that he missed through poverty; she only perceived, by an unerring instinct of apprehension, all that he gained through genius.

Her mind was profoundly ignorant; her character trained by cruelty only to endurance: yet the soil was not rank, but only unfilled, not barren, but only unsown; nature had made it generous, though fate had left it untilled; it grasped the seed of the first great idea cast to it and held it firm, until it multiplied tenfold.

The imagined danger to them which the peasants had believed to exist in her had been as a strong buckler between the true danger to her from the defilement of their companionship and example; they had cursed her as they had passed, and their curses had been her blessing. Blind instincts had always moved in her to the great and the good things of which no man had taught her in any wise.

Left to herself, and uncontaminated by humanity, because proscribed by it, she had known no teachers of any sort save the winds and the waters, the sun and the moon, the daybreak and the night, and these had breathed into her an unconscious heroism, a changeless patience, a fearless freedom, a strange tenderness and callousness united. Ignorant though she was, and abandoned to the darkness of all the superstitious and the sullen stupor amidst which her lot was cast, there was yet that in her which led her to veneration of the purpose of his life.

He desired not happiness, nor tenderness, nor bodily ease, nor sensual delight, but only this one thing—a name that should not perish from amongst the memories of men. And this desire seemed to her sublime, divine; not comprehending it, she yet revered it. She, who had seen he souls of the men around her set on a handful of copper coin, a fleece of wool, a load of fruit, a petty pilfering, a low gain page: 282 in commerce, saw the greatness of a hero’s sacrifice in this supreme self‐negation which was willing to live unloved, and die forsaken by his kind, so that only the works of his hand might endure, and his thoughts be uttered in them when his body should be destroyed.

It is true that the great artist is as a fallen god who remembers a time when worlds arose at his breath, and at his bidding the barren lands blossomed into fruitfulness; the sorcery of the thyrsus is still his, though weakened.

The powers of lost dominion haunt his memory; the remembered glory of an eternal sun is in his eyes, and makes the light of common day seem darkness; the heart‐sickness of a long exile weighs on him; incessantly he labours to overtake the mirage of a loveliness which fades as he pursues it. In the poetic creation by which the bondage of his material life is redeemed, he finds at once ecstasy and disgust, because he feels at once his strength and weakness. For him all things of earth and air, and sea and cloud, have beauty; and to his ear all voices of the forest land and water world are audible.

He is as a god, since he can call into palpable shape dreams born of impalpable thought; as a god, since he has known the truth divested of lies, and has stood face to face with it, and been not afraid; a god thus. But a cripple, inasmuch as his hand can never fashion the shapes that his vision beholds; an alien, because he has lost what he never will find upon earth; a beast, since ever and again his passions will drag him to wallow in the filth of sensual indulgence; a slave, since oftentimes the divinity that is in him breaks and bends under the devilry that also is in him, and he obeys the instincts of vileness, and when he would fain bless the nations he curses them.

Some vague perception of this dawned on her; the sense was in her to feel the beauty of art, and to be awed by it though she could not have told what it was, nor why she cared for it. And to the man who ministered to it, who ruled it, and yet obeyed it, seemed to her ennobled with a greatness that was the grandest thing her blank and bitter fate had known. This was all wonderful, dreamful, awful to her, and in a half savage, half poetic way, she comprehended the one object of his life, and honoured it without doubt or question.

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No day from that time passed without her spending the evening hours under the roof of the haunted corn‐tower.

She toiled all the other hours through, from the earliest time that the first flush of day lightened the starlit skies; did not he toil too? But when the sun set she claimed her freedom; and her rulers did not dare to say her nay.

A new and wondrous and exquisite life slowly opened to her; the life of the imagination.

All these many years since the last song of Phratos had died off her ear, had been spent by her with no more culture and with no more pleasure than the mule had that she led with his load along the miry ways in the sharp winter‐time. Yet even through that utter neglect, and that torpor of thought and feeling, some wild natural fancy had been astir in her, some vague sense wakened that brought to her in the rustle of leaves, in the sound of waters, in the curling breath of mists, in the white birth of lilies, in all the notes and hues of the open‐air world, a mystery and a loveliness that they did not bear for any of those around her.

Now, in the words that Arslàn cast to her—often as idly and indifferently as a man casts bread to frozen birds on snow, birds that he pities and yet cares nothing for—the old religions, the old beliefs, became to her living truths and divine companions. The perplexities of the world grew little clearer to her, indeed; and the miseries of the animal creation no less hideous a mystery. The confusion of all things was in no wise clearer to her; even, it seemed, it deepened and grew more entangled. He could imbue her with neither credulity nor contentment; for he possessed neither, and despised both, as the fool’s paradise of those who, having climbed a sand‐hill, fancy that they have ascended Zion.

The weariness, the unrest, the desire, the contempt of such a life as his can furnish anodyne neither to itself nor any other. But such consolations and possessions—and these are limitless—as the imagination can create, he placed within her reach. Before, she had dreamed—dreamed all through the heaviness of toil and the gall of tyranny; but she had dreamed as a goatherd may upon a mist‐swept hill by the western seas, while all the earth is dark, and only its dim fugitive waking sounds steal dully on the drowsy ear. page: 284 But now, through the myths and parables which grew familiar to her, she dreamed almost as poets dream, bathed in the full flood of a setting sun on the wild edge of the Campagna; a light in which all common things of daily life grow glorious, and through whose rosy hues the only sound that comes is some rich dulcet bell which slowly swings in all the majesty and melody of prayer.

The land was no more mute to her, no more only a hard and cruel place of labour and of butchery, in which all creatures suffered and were cursed. All things rose to have their story and their symbol for her; Nature, remaining to her that one sure solace and immeasurable mystery which she had feebly felt it even in her childhood, was brought closer to her, and seemed fuller of compassion. All the forms and vices of the fair dead years of the world seemed to grow visible and audible to her, with those marvelous tales of the old heroic age which little by little he unfolded to her.

In the people around her, and in their faiths, she had no belief; she wanted a faith, and found one in all these strange sweet stories of a perished time.

She had never thought that there had been any other generation before that which was present on earth with herself; any other existence than this narrow and sordid one which encircled her home.

That men had lived who had fashioned those aërial wonders of the cathedral spires, and stained those vivid hues in its ancient casements, had been a fact too remote to be known to her, though for twelve years her eyes had gazed at them in reverence of their loveliness.

Through Arslàn the exhaustless annals of the world’s history opened before her, the present ceased to matter to her in its penury and pain; for the treasury‐houses of the golden past were opened to her sight.

Most of all she loved the myths of the Homeric and Hesiodic ages; and every humble and homely thing became ennobled to her and enriched, beholding it through the halo of poetry and of tradition.

When, aloft in the red and white apple‐blossoms sparrows pecked and screamed, and spent the pleasant summer hours above in the flower‐scented air in shrill dispute and sharp contention, she thought that she heard in their noisy page: 285 notes the arrogant voice of Alcyone. When the wild hyacinths made the ground purple beneath the poplars and the pines, she saw in them the transformed loveliness of one who had died in the fulness of youth, at play, in a summer’s noon, and died content, because stricken by the hand of the greatest and goodliest of all the gods, the god that loved him best. As the cattle, with their sleek red hides and curling horns, came through the fogs of the daybreak, across the level meadows, and through the deep dock‐leaves they seemed to her no more the mere beasts of stall and share, but even as the milk‐white herds that grazed of yore in the blest pastures.

All night, int he heart of the orchards, when the song of the nightingales rose on the stillness, it was no longer for her a little brown bird that sang to the budding fruit and her closed daisies, but was the voice of Ædon bewailing her son through the ages, or the woe of Philomela crying through the wilderness. When through the white hard brilliancy of noonday the swift swallow darted down the beams of light, she saw no longer in it an insect‐hunter, a house‐nesting creature, but saw the shape of Procne, slaughter‐haunted, seeking rest and finding none. And when she went about her labours, hewing wood, drawing water, bearing the corn to the grindstones, leading the mules to the mill‐stream, she ceased to despair. For she had heard the old glad story of the children of Zeus who dwelt so long within a herdsman’s hut, nameless and dishonoured, yet lived to go back crowned to Thebes and see the beasts of the desert and the stones of the streets rise up and obey the magic of their song.

Arslàn in his day had given many evil gifts, but this one gift that he gave was pure and full of solace; this gift of the beauty of the past. Imperfect, obscure, broken in fragments, obscured by her own ignorance, it was indeed when it reached her; yet it came with a glory that time could not dim, and a consolation that ignorance could not impair.

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CHAPTER VI.

“WHAT has come to that evil one? She walks the land as though she were a queen,” the people of Yprès said to one another, watching the creature they abhorred as she went through the town to the river‐stair or to the market‐stall.

She seemed to them transfigured.

A perpetual radiance shone in the dark depths of her eyes; a proud elasticity replaced the old sullen defiance of her carriage; her face had a sweet musing mystery and dreaminess on it; and when she smiled, her smile was soft, and sudden, like the smile of one who bears fair tidings in her heart unspoken.

Even those people, dull and plodding and taciturn, absorbed in their small trades or in their continual field labour, were struck by the change in her, and looked after her, and listened in a stupid wonder to the sonorous songs in an unknown tongue that rose so often to her lips as she strode amongst the summer grasses or led the laden mules through the fords.

They saw, even with their eyes purblind from hate, that she had thrown off their yoke, and had escaped from their narrow world, and was happy with some rich, mute, nameless happiness that they could neither evade nor understand.

The fall of evening always brought her to him; he let her come, finding a certain charm in that savage temper which grew so tame to him; in that fierce courage which to him was so humble; in that absolute ignorance which was yet so curiously blended with so strong a power of fancy and so quick an instinct of beauty. But he let her go again with indifference, and never tried by any word to keep her an hour later than she chose to stay. She was to him like some handsome, dangerous beast that flew at all others and crouched to himself. He had a certain pleasure in her colour and her grace; in making her great eyes glow, and page: 287 seeing the light of a wakening intelligence break over all her beautiful, clouded, fierce face.

As she learned to hear more often the sound of her own voice, and to use a more varied and copious language, a rude eloquence came naturally to her; and, when her silence was broken, it was usually for some terse, vivid, picturesque utterance which had an artistic interest for him. In this simple and monotonous province, with its tedious sameness of life and its green arable country that tired a sight fed in youth on the grandeur of cloud‐reaching mountains and the tumults of ice‐tossing seas, this creature so utterly unlike her kind, so golden with the glow of tawny desert suns, and so strong with the liberty and the ferocity and the dormant passion and the silent force of some free forest animal, was in a way welcome.

All things were so new and strange to her; all the common knowledge was so utterly unknown to her; all other kinds of life were so unintelligible to her; and yet with all her ignorance, she had so swift a fancy, so keen an irony, so poetic an instinct, that it seemed to him when he spoke with her that he talked to some creature from another planet than his own.

He like to make her smile; he liked to make her suffer; he liked to inflame, to wound, to charm, to tame her; he liked all these without passion, rather with curiosity than with interest, much as he had liked in the season of his boyhood to ruffle the plumage of a captured sea‐bird; to see its eye sparkle, and then grow dull and flash again with pain, and then at the last turn soft with weary, wistful tenderness, having been taught at once the misery of bondage and the tyranny of human love.

She was a bronzed, bare‐footed, fleet‐limbed young outcast, so he told himself, with the scowl of an habitual defiance on her straight brows, and the curl of an untamable scorn upon her rich red lips, and a curious sovereignty and savageness in her dauntless carriage; and yet there was a certain nobility and melancholy in her that made her seem like one of a great and fallen race; and in her eyes there was a look repellant yet appealing, and lustrous with sleeping passion, that tempted him to wake what slumbered there.

But in these early spring‐tide days he suffered her to page: 288 come and go as she listed, without either persuasion or forbiddance on his own part.

The impassioned reverence which she had for the things he had created was only the untutored, unreasoning reverence of the savage or of the peasant; but it had a sweetness for him.

He had been alone so long; and so long had passed since any cheek had flushed and any breast had heaved under the influence of any one of those strange fancies and noble stories which he had pictured on the walls of his lonely chamber. He had despaired of and had despised himself; despised his continual failure, despaired of all power to sway the souls and gain the eyes of his fellow‐men. It was a little thing—a thing so little that he called himself a fool for taking any count of it; yet the hot tears that dimmed the sight of this young barbarian who was herself of no more value than the mill‐dust that drifted on the breeze, the soft vague breathless awe that stole upon her as she gazed at the colourless shadows in which his genius spent itself, these were sweet to him with a sweetness that made him ashamed of his own weakness.

She had given the breath of life back to his body by an act of which he was ignorant; and now she gave back the breath of hope to his mind by a worship which he contemned even whilst he was glad of it.

Meanwhile the foul tongues of her enemies rang with loud glee over this new shame which they could cast at her.

“She has found a lover,—oh ho!—that brown wicked thing. A lover meet for her;—a man who walks abroad in the moonless nights, and plucks the mandrake, and worships the devil, and paints people in their own likeness, so that as the colour dries the life wastes!” So the women screamed after her often as she went; she nothing understanding or heeding, but lost in the dreams of her own waking imagination.

At times such words as these reached Claudis Flamma, but he turned a deaf ear to them: he had the wisdom of the world in him, though he was only an old miller who had never stirred ten leagues from his home; and whilst the devil served him well, he quarrelled not with the devil. In a grim way, it was a pleasure to him to think that the thing he hated might be accursed body and soul: he had never page: 289 cared either for her body or her soul; so that the first worked for him, the last might destroy itself in its own darkness:—he had never stretched a finger to hold it back.

The pride and the honesty and the rude candour and instinctive purity of this young life of hers had been a perpetual hindrance and canker to him: begotten of evil, by all the laws of justice, in evil she should live and die. So Flamma reasoned; and to the sayings of his country‐side he gave a stony ear and a stony glance.

She never once, after the first day, breathed a word to Arslàn about the treatment that she received at Yprès. It was not in her nature to complain; and she abhorred even his pity. Whatever she endured, she kept silence on it; when he asked her how her grandsire dealt with her, she always answered him—“it is well enough with me now.” He cared not enough to doubt her.

And in a manner she had learned how to keep her tyrant at bay. He did not dare to lay hands on her now that her eyes had got that new fire, and her voice that serene contempt. His wolf‐cub had shown her teeth, at last, at his lash; and he did not venture to sting her to revolt with too long use of scourge and chain. So she obtained more leisure; and what she did not spend in Arslàn’s tower she spent in acquiring another art—she learned to read.

There was an old herb‐seller in the market‐place who was not so harsh to her as the others were, but who had now and then for her a rough kindly word out of gentleness to the memory of Reine Flamma. This woman was better educated than most, and could even write a little. To her Folle‐Farine went.

“See here,” she said: “you are feeble and I am strong. I know every nook and corner in the woods. I know a hundred rare herbs that you never find. I will bring you a basketful of them twice in each week, if you will show me how to read those signs that the people call letters.”

The old woman hesitated. “It were as much as my life is worth to have you seen with me. The lads will stone my window. Still—.” The wish for the rare herbs and, and the remembrance of the fatigue that would be spared to her rheumatic body by compliance, prevailed over her fears. She consented.

Three times a week Folle‐Farine rose while it was still dark, page: 290 and scoured the wooded lands and the moss‐green orchards and the little brooks in the meadows in search of every herb that grew. She knew those green places which had been her only kingdom and her only solace as no one else knew them; and the old dame’s herb‐stall was the envy and despair of the market‐place.

Now and then a labourer earlier than the rest, or as a vagrant sleeping under a hedge‐row, saw her going through the darkness with her green bundle on her head, or stooping amongst the water‐courses ankle deep in rushes, and he crossed himself and went and told how he had seen the Evil Spirit of Yprès gathering the poison‐weeds that made ships founder, and strong men droop and die, and women love unnatural and horrible things, and all manner of woe and sickness overtake those whom she hated.

Often, too, at this lonely time, before the day broke, she met Arslàn.

It was his habit to be abroad when others slept: studies of the night and its peculiar loveliness entered largely into many of his paintings; the beauty of water rippling in the moonbeam, of grey weeds blowing against the first faint red of dawn, of dark fields with sleeping cattle and folded sheep, of pools made visible by the shine of their folded white lilies, these were all things he cared to study. The earth has always most charm, and least pain, to the poet or the artist when men are hidden away under their roofs. Then they do not break its claim with either their mirth or their brutality; then the vile and revolting coarseness of their works, that blot it with so much deformity, is softened and obscured in the purple breadths of shadow and the dim tender gleam of stars; and it was then that he loved best to move abroad.

Sometimes the shepherd going to his flocks, or the housewife opening her shutter in the wayside cabin, or the huckster driving early his mule seawards to meet the fish that the night‐trawlers had brought, saw them together thus, and talked of it; and said that these two, accursed of all honest folk, were after some unholy work—coming from the orgy of some witches’ sabbath, or seeking some devil’s root that would give them the treasured gold of misers’ tombs, or the powers of life and death.

For these things are still believed by many a peasant’s page: 291 hearth, and whispered darkly as night closes in and the wind rises.

Wading in the shallow streams, with the breeze tossing her hair, and the dew bright on her sheaf of herbs, Folle‐Farine paid thus the only wages that she could for leaning the art of letters.

One day he had said to her, half unconsciously, “If only you were not so ignorant!”—and since that day she had set herself to clear away her ignorance little by little, as she would have cleared brushwood with her hatchet.

It was the sweetest hour which she had ever known when she was able to stand before him and say, “The characters that men print are no longer riddles to me.”

He praised her; and she was glad and proud.

It was love that had entered into her, but a great love, full of intense humility, of supreme self‐sacrifice; a love that unconsciously led her to chasten into gentleness the fierce soul in her, and to try and seek light for the darkness of her mind.

He saw the influence he had on her, but he was careless of it.

A gipsy‐child working for bread at a little mill‐house in these Norman woods,—what use would be to her beauty of thought, grace of fancy, the desire begotten of knowledge, the poetry learned from the past?

Still, he gave her these; partly because he pitied her, partly because in his exhaustion and solitude this creature, in her beauty and her submission, was welcome to him.

And yet he thought so little of her, and chiefly, when he thought of her, chose to perplex her or to wound her, that he might see her eyes dilate in wondering amaze, or her face quiver and flush, and then grow dark, with the torment of a mute and subdued pain.

She was a study to him, as was the scarlet rose in the garden ways, or the purple‐breasted pigeon in the woods; he dealt with her as he would have dealt with the flower or the bird if he had wished to study them more nearly, by tearing the rose open at its core, or casting a stone at the blue‐rock on the wing.

This was not cruelty in him; it was only habit—habit, and the callousness begotten by his own continual pain.

The pain as of a knife for ever thrust into the loins, of a page: 292 cord for ever knotted hard about the temples, which is the daily and nightly penalty of those mad enough to believe that they have the force in them to change the sluggard appetites and the hungry cruelties of their kind into a life of high endeavour and divine desire.

He held that a man’s chief passion is his destiny, and will shape his fate, roughhew his fate as circumstance or as hazard may. His chief, his sole passion was a great ambition—a passion pure as crystal, since the eminence he craved was for his creations, not for his name: yet it had failed to compel the destiny that he believed to be his own; and every hour he seemed to sink lower and lower into oblivion, further and further from the possibility of any fulfillment of his dreams; and the wasted years of his life fell away one by one into the gulf of the past, vain, unheard, unfruitful, as the frozen words on the deck of the ship of Pantagruel.

“What is the use?” he muttered, half aloud, one day before his paintings. “What is the use? If I die tomorrow they will sell for so much rubbish to heat a bakery store. It is only a mad waste of hours—waste of colour, of canvas, of labour. The world has told me so, many years. The world always knows what it wants. It selects unerringly. It must judge better than I do. The man is a fool, indeed, who presumes himself to be wiser than all his generation. If the world will have nothing to do with you, go and hang yourself—or if you fear to do that, dig a ditch or a grave for a daily meal. Give over dreams. The world knows what it wants, and if it wanted you would take you. It has brazen lungs to shout for what it needs; the lungs of a multitude. It is no use what your own voice whispers you unless those great lungs also shout before you, Hosannah.”

So he spoke to himself in the bitterness of his soul, standing before his cartoons in which he had put all the genius there was in him, and which hung there unseen save by the spider that wove and the moth that flew over them.

Folle‐Farine, who was that day in his chamber, looked at him with the wistful far‐reaching comprehension which an unerring instinct taught her.

“Of a winter night,” she said, slowly, “I have heard page: 293 old Pitchou read aloud to Flamma, and she reads of their God, the one they hang everywhere on the crosses here; and the story ran that the populace scourged and nailed to death the one whom they knew afterwards, when too late, to have been the great man that they looked for, and that, being bidden to make their choice of one to save, they chose to ransom and honour a thief: one called Barabbas. Is it true?—If the world’s choice were wrong once, why not twice?”

Arslàn smiled; the smile she knew so well, and which had no more warmth than the ice floes of his native seas.

“Why not twice? Why not a thousand times? A thief has the world’s sympathies always. It is always the Barabbas—the trickster in talent, the forger of stolen wisdom, the bravo of political crime, the huckster of plundered thoughts, the charlatan of false art, whom the vox populi elects and sets free, and sends on his way rejoicing. ‘Will ye have Christ or Barrabas?’ Every generation is asked the same question, and every generation gives the same answer; and scourges the divinity out of its midst, and finds its idol in brute force and low greed.”

She only dimly comprehended, not well knowing why her words had thus roused him. She pondered awhile, then her face cleared.

“But the end?” she asked. “The dead God is the God of all these people round us now, and they have built great places in his honour, and they bow when they pass his likeness in the highway or the market place. But with Barabbas—what was the end? It seems that they loathe and despise him?”

Arslàn laughed a little.

“His end? In Syria maybe the vultures picked his bones, where they lay whitening on the plains—those times were primitive, the world was young. But in our day Barabbas lives and dies in honour, and has a tomb that stares all men in the face, setting forth his virtues, so that all who run may read. In our day Barabbas—the Barabbas of money greeds and delicate cunning, and the theft which has risen to science, and the assassination that kills souls and not bodies, and the crime that deals moral death and not material death—our Barabbas, who is crowned Fraud page: 294 in the place of mailed Force—lives always in purple and fine linen, and ends in the odours of sanctity with the prayers of priests over his corpse.”

He spoke with a certain fierce passion that rose in him whenever he thought of that world which had rejected him, and had accepted so many others, weaker in brain and nerve, but stronger in one sense, because more dishonest; and as he spoke he went straight to a wall on his right where a great sea of grey paper was stretched, untouched, and ready to his hand.

She would have spoken, but he made a motion to silence.

“Hush! be quiet,” he said to her, almost harshly, “I have thought of something.”

And he took the charcoal and swept rapidly with it over the dull blank surface till the vacancy glowed with life. A thought had kindled in him; a vision had arisen before him.

The scene around him vanished utterly from his sight. The grey stone walls, the square windows through which the fading sun rays fell, the level pastures and sullen streams, and paled skies without; all faded away as though they had existed only in a dream.

All the empty space about him became peopled with many human shapes that for him had breath and being, though no other eye could have beheld them. The old Syrian world of eighteen hundred years before arose and glowed before him. The things of his own life died away, and in their stead he saw the fierce flame of eastern suns, the gleaming range of marble palaces, the purple flush of pomegranate flowers, the deep colour of oriental robes, the soft silver of hills olive crested, the tumult of a city at high festival. And he could not rest until all he thus saw in his vision he had rendered as far as his hand could render it; and what he drew was this.

A great thirsty, heated, seething crowd; a crowd that had manhood and womanhood, age and infancy, youths and maidens, within its ranks; a crowd in whose faces every animal lust and every human passion were let loose; a crowd on which a noon sun without shadow streamed; a sun which parched and festered and engendered all corruption in the land on which it looked. This crowd was in a city, a city on whose flat roofs the myrtle and the cistus bloomed; page: 295 above whose walls the plumes of olives waved; upon whose distant slopes the darkling cedar groves rose straight against the sky, and on whose loft temple plates of gold glistened against the shining heavens. This crowd had scourges, and stones, and goads in their hands; and in their midst they led one clothed in white, whose head was thorn‐crowned, and whose eyes were filled with a god’s pity and a man’s reproach; and him they stoned, and lashed, and hooted.

And triumphant in the throng, whose choice he was, seated aloft upon men’s shoulders, with a purple robe thrown on his shoulders, there sat a brawny, grinning, bloated, jibbering thing, with curled lips and savage eyes, and satyr’s leer: the creature of greed, of lust, of obscenity, of brutality, of avarice, of desire. This thing the people followed, rejoicing exceedingly, content in the guide whom they had chosen, victorious in the fiend for whom they spurned a deity; crying, with wide‐open throats and brazen lungs, “Barabbas!”

There was not a form in all this close‐packed throng which had not a terrible irony in it, which was not in itself a symbol of some appetite or vice, for which women and men abjure the godhead in them.

A gorged drunkard lay asleep with his amphora broken beneath him, the stream of the purple wine lapped eagerly by ragged children. A money‐changer had left the receipt of custom, eager to watch and shout, and a thief clutched both hands full of the forsaken coins and fled.

A miser had dropped a bag of gold, and stopped to catch at all the rolling pieces, regardless in his greed how the crowd trampled and trod on him. A mother chid and struck her little brown curly child, because he stretched his arms and turned his face towards the thorn‐crowned captive.

A priest of the temple, with a blood‐stained knife thrust in his girdle, dragged beside him, by the throat, a little tender lamb doomed for the sacrifice.

A dancing woman with jewels in her ears, and half naked to the waist, sounding the brazen cymbals above her head, drew a score of youths after her in Barabbas’ train.

On one of the flat roof tops, reclining on purple and fine linen, looking down on the street below from the thick page: 296 foliage of her citron boughs and her red Syrian roses, was an Egyptian wanton; and leaning beside her, tossing golden apples in her bosom, was a young centurion of the Roman guard, languid and laughing, with his fair chest bare to the heat, and his armour flung in a pile beside him.

And thus, in like manner, every figure bore its parable: and above all was the hard, hot, cruel, cloudless sky of blue, without one faintest mist to break its horrible serenity, whilst high in the azure ether and against the sun, an eagle and a vulture fought, locked close, and tearing at each other’s breasts.

Six nights this conception occupied him. His days were not his own, he spent them in a rough mechanical labour which his strength executed while his mind was far away from it; but the nights were all his, and at the end of the sixth night the thing arose, perfect as far as his hand could perfect it; begotten by a chance and ignorant word as have been many of the greatest works the world has seen;—oaks sprung from the acorn a careless child has let fall.

When he had finished it his arm dropped to his side, he stood motionless; the red glow of the dawn lighting the depths of his sleepless eyes.

The artist, for one moment of ecstasy, realises the content of a god when, resting from his labours, he knows that those labours have borne their full fruit.

It is only for a moment; the greater the artist the more swiftly will discontent and misgiving overtake him, the more quickly will the feebleness of his execution disgust him in comparison with the splendour of his ideals; the more surely will he—though the world ring with applause for him—be enraged and derisive and impatient at himself.

But while the moment lasts it is a rapture; keen, pure, intense, surpassing every other. In it, fleeting though it be, he is blessed with a blessing that never falls on any other creature. The work of his brain and of his hand contents him,—it is the purest joy on earth.

Arslàn knew that joy as he looked on the work for which he had given up sleep, and absorbed in which he had almost forgotten hunger and thirst and the passage of time.

He had known no rest until he had embodied the shapes page: 297 that pursued him. He had scarcely spoken, barely slumbered an hour; tired out, consumed with restless fever, weak from want of sleep and neglect of food, he had wrought on, and on, and on, until the vision as he had beheld it lived there, recorded for the world that denied him.

As he looked on it he felt his own strength, and was glad: he had faith in himself, though he had faith in no other thing; he ceased to care what other fate befell him, so that only this supreme power of creation remained with him.

His lamp died out; the bell of a distant clock chimed the fourth hour of the passing night.

The day broke in the east, beyond the grey levels of the fields and plains; the dusky crimson of the dawn rose over the cool dark skies; the light of the morning stars came in and touched the visage of his fettered Christ;—all the rest was in shadow.

He himself remained motionless before it.

He knew that in it lay the best achievement, the highest utterance, the truest parable, that the genius in him had ever conceived and put forth;—and he knew too that he was as powerless to raise it to the public sight of men as though he were stretched dead beneath it; he knew that there would be none to heed whether it rotted there in the dust, or perished by moth or by flame; unless illness should befall him, and it should be taken with the rest to satisfy some petty debt of bread, or oil, or fuel.

There, on the wall, he had written with all the might there was in him, his warning to the age in which he lived, his message to future generations, his claims to men’s remembrance after death: and there were none to see, none to read, none to ratify his heirship.

Great things, beautiful things, things of wisdom, things of grace, things terrible in their scorn and divine in their majesty, rose up about him, incarnated by his mind and his hand—and their doom was to fade and wither without leaving one human mind the richer for their story, one human soul the nobler for their meaning.

A year of labour, and the cartoon could be transferred to the permanent life of the canvas; and he was a master of colour, and loved to wrestle with its intricacies as the mariner struggles with the storm.

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“But what were the use?” he pondered as he stood there. “What the use to be at pains to give it its full life on canvas? No man will ever look on it.”

All labours of his art were dear to him, and none wearisome: yet he doubted what it would avail to commence the perpetuation of this work on canvas.

If the world were never to know that it existed, it would be as well to leave it there on its grey sea of paper, to be moved to and fro with each wind that blew through the broken rafters, and to be brushed by the wing of the owl and the flittermouse.

The door softly unclosed: he did not hear it.

Across the chamber Folle‐Farine stole noiselessly. She had come and gone thus a score of times through those six nights of his vigil; and he had seldom seen her, never spoken to her; now and then she had touched him, and placed before him some simple meal of herbs and bread, and he had taken it half unconsciously, and drunk great draughts of water, and turned back again to his work, not noticing that she had brought to him what he sorely needed, and yet would not of himself have remembered.

She came to him without haste and without sound, and stood before him and looked;—looked with all her soul in her awed eyes.

The dawn was brighter now, red and hazy with curious faint gleams of radiance from the sun, that as yet had not risen. All the light there was fell on the crowed of Jerusalem.

She stood and gazed at it. She had watched it all grow gradually into being out from the chaos of dull spaces and confused lines. This art, which could call life from the dry wastes of wood and paper, and shed perpetual light where all was darkness, was ever to her an alchemy incomprehensible, immeasurable; a thing not to be criticised or questioned, ut adored in all its inscrutable and majestic mystery.

To her it could not have been more marvellous if his hand had changed the river sand to gold, or his touch had wakened the dead cornflowers to bloom afresh as living asphodels. But now for once she forgot the sorcery of the art in the terror and the pathos of the story it told; now for once she forgot, in the creation, its creator.

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All she saw was the face of the Christ,—the pale bent face, in whose eyes there was a patience so perfect, a pity so infinite, a reproach that had no wrath, a scorn that had no cruelty. She had hated the Christ on the cross, because he was the God of the people she hated, and in whose name they reviled her. But this Christ moved her strangely—there, in the light, alone; betrayed and forsaken, while the crowd rushed on, lauding Barabbas.

Ignorant though she was, the profound meaning of the parable penetrated her with their ironies and with their woe—the parable of the genius rejected and the thief exalted.

She trembled and was silent; in her eyes sudden tears swam.

Arslàn turned and looked at her.

“Does it move you so?” he said, slowly. “Well—the world refuses me fame; but I do not know that the world could give me a higher tribute than yours.”

“The world?” she echoed. “The world? You care for the world—you?—who have painted that?”

Arslàn did not answer her: he felt the rebuke.

He had drawn the picture in all its deadly irony, in all its pitiless truth, only himself to desire and strive for the wine streams, and the painted harlotry, and the showers of gold, and the false gods, of a worldly success.

Was he a renegade to his own religion; a sceptic of his own teaching?

It was not for the first time that the dreamy utterances of this untrained and imperfect intelligence had struck home to the imperious and mature intellect of the man of genius.

He flung his charcoal away, and looked at the sun as it rose.

“Care? I?” he answered her. “We, who call ourselves poets or painters, can see the truth and can tell it—we are prophets so far; but when we come down from our Horeb we hanker for the flesh‐pots and the dancing women, and the bags of gold, like all the rest. We are no better than those we preach to; perhaps we are worse. Our eyes are set to the light; but our feet are fixed in the mire.”

She did not hear him; and had she heard, would not have comprehended. Her eyes were still fastened on the picture, and the blood in her cheeks faded and glowed at every everl, breath she drew, and in her eye there was the wistful wistfuy page: 300 wondering, trustful reverence, which shone in those of the child, who, breaking from his mother’s arms, and regardless of the soldier’s stripes, clung to the feet of the scourged captive, and there kneeled and prayed.

Without looking at her, Arslàn went out to his daily labour on the waters.

The sun had fully risen; the day was red and clear; the earth was hushed in perfect stillness, the only sounds there were came from the wings and voices of innumerable birds.

“And yet I desire nothing for myself,” he thought. “I would lie down and die to‐morrow, gladly, did I know that they would live.”

Yet he knew that to desire a fame after death, was as idle as to desire, with a child’s desire, the stars.

For the earth is crowded full with clay gods and false prophets, and fresh legions for ever arriving to carry on the old strife for supremacy; and if a man pass unknown all the time that his voice is audible, and his hand visible, through the sound and smoke of the battle, he will dream in vain of any remembrance when the gates of the grave shall have closed on him and shut him for ever from sight.

When the world was in its youth, it had leisure to treasure its recollections; even to pause and look back; and to see what flower of a fair thought, what fruit of a noble art, it might have overlooked or left down‐trodden.

But now it is so old, and is so tired; it is purblind and heavy of foot; it does not notice what it destroys; it desires rest, and can find none; nothing can matter greatly to it; its dead are so many that it cannot count them; and being thus worn and dulled with age, and suffocated under the weight of its innumberable memories, it is very slow to be moved, and swift—terribly swift—to forget.

Why should it not be?

It has known the best, it has known the worst, that ever can befall it.

And the prayer that to the heart of a man seems so freshly born from his own desire, what is it on the weary ear of the world, save the same old, old cry which it has heard through all the ages, empty as the sound of the wind, and for ever—for ever—unanswered?

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CHAPTER VII.

SHE was his absolute slave; and he used his influence with little scruple. Whatever he told her she believed: whatever he desired, she obeyed.

With little effort Arslàn persuaded her that to lend her beauty to the purpose of his art was a sacrifice pure and supreme; repaid, it might be, with immortality, like the immortality of the Mona Lisa. It was ever painful and even loathsome to her to give her beauty to the merciless imitations of art; it stung the dignity and purity that were inborn in the daughter of an outlawed people; it wounded, and hurt, and humiliated her. She knew that these things were only done that one day the eyes of thousands and of tens of thousands might gaze on them; and the knowledge was hateful to her. But as she would have hewn wood or carried water for him, as she would have denied her lips the least morsel of bread that his might have fed thereon, as she would have gone straight to the river’s edge at his bidding, and have stood still for the stream to swell and the floods to cover her, so she obeyed him, and let him make of her what he would.

He painted or sketched her in nearly every attitude, and rendered her the centre of innumerable stories.

He placed her form in the crowd of dancing‐women that followed after Barabbas. He took her for Persephone, as for Phryne. He couched her on the bleak rocks and the sea‐sands of barren Tenedos. He made her beauty burn through the purple passion vines and the roses of silence of the Venusberg. He pourtrayed her as Daphne, with all her soft human form changing and merging into the bitter roots and the poisonous leaves of the laurel that was the fruit of love. He drew her as Læna, whose venal lips yet, being purified by a perfect love, were sealed mute unto death, and for love’s sake spake not.

He sketched her in a hundred shapes and for a hundred page: 302 stories, taking her wild deer‐like grace, and her supple mountain‐bred strength, and her beauty that had all the richness and the freshness that sun and wind and rain and the dews of the nights can give, taking these as he in other years had taken the bloom of the grape, the blush of the sea‐shell, the red glow of the desert reed, the fleeting glory of anything that, by its life or by its death, would minister to his dreams or his desires.

Of all the studies he made from her—he all the while cold to her as any priest of old to the bird that he seethed in its blood on his altars of sacrifice,—those which were slightest of all, yet of all pleased him best, were two twin studies which were fullest of that ruthless and unsparing irony with which in every stroke of his pencil he cut as with a knife into the humanity he dissected.

In the first, he painted her in all the warm, dreaming, palpitating slumber of youth, asleep in a field of poppies: thousands of the brilliant blossoms were crushed under her slender, pliant, folded limbs; the intense scarlet of the flowers burned everywhere, above, beneath, around her; purple shadow and amber light contended for the mastery upon her; her arms were lightly tossed above her head; her mouth smiled in her dreams; over her a butterfly flew, spreading golden wings to the sun; against her breast the great crimson cups of the flowers of sleep curled and glowed; amongst them, hiding and gibbering and glaring at her with elfin eyes, was the Red Mouse of the Brocken—the one touch of pitiless irony, of unsparing cynicism, that stole like a snake through the hush and the harmony and the innocence of repose.

In the second there was still the same attitude, the same solitude, the same rest, but the sleep was the sleep of death.

Stretched on a block of white marble, there were the same limbs, but livid and lifeless, and twisted in the contortions of a last agony: there was the same loveliness, but on it the hues of corruption had already stolen; the face was still turned upward, but the blank eyes stared hideously, and the mouth was drawn back from teeth closely clenched; upon the stone there lay a surgeon’s knife and a sculptor’s scalpel; between her lips the Red Mouse sat, watching, mouthing, triumphant.

All the beauty was left still, but it was left ghastly, dis‐ page: 303 coloured, ruined,—ready for the mockery of the clay, for the violation of the knife,—ready for the feast of the blind‐worm, for the narrow home dug in darkness and in dust.

And these two pictures were so alike and yet so unlike, so true to all the glory of youth, so true to all the ghastliness of death, that they were terrible; they were terrible even to the man who drew them with so unsparing and unfaltering a hand.

Only to her they were not terrible, because they showed his power, because they were his will and work. She had no share in the shudder, which even he felt, at that visible presentment of corruption to which her beauty in its human perfection was destined: since it pleasured him to do it, that was all she cared.

She would have given her beauty to the scourge of the populace, or to the fish of the sea, at his bidding. She had not asked him even what the Red Mouse meant.

She was content that he should deal with her in all things as he would. That such pourtrayals of her were cruel she never once thought: to her all others had been so brutal that the cruelties of Arslàn seemed soft as the south wind.

To be for one instant a thing in the least wished for and endeared was to her a miracle so wonderful, and so undreamt of, that it made her life sublime to her.

“Is that all the devil has done for you?” cried the gardener’s wife from the vine‐hung lattice, leaning out while the boat from Yprès went down the water‐street beneath.

“It was scarcely worth while to be his offspring if he deal you no better gifts than that. He is as niggard as the saints are—the little mean beasts. Do you know that the man who paints you brings death they say—sooner or later—to every creature that lives again for him in his art?”

Folle‐Farine, beneath the dense brown shadows cast from the timbers of the leaning houses, raised her eyes; the eyes smiled, and yet they had a look in them that chilled even the mocking, careless wanton temper of the woman who leaned above amongst the roses.

“I have heard it,” she said, simply, as her oar broke the shadows.

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“And you have no fear?”

“I have no fear.”

The gardener’s wife laughed aloud, the silver pins shaking in her yellow tresses.

“Well—the devil gives strength, no doubt. But I will not say much for the devil’s wage. A fine office he set you—his daughter—to lend yourself to a painter’s eyes like any wanton that he could hire in the market‐place for a drink of wine. If the devil do no better than that for you—his own begotten,—I will cleave close to the saints and the angels henceforth, though they do take all the gems and the gold and the lace for their altars, and bestow so little in answer.”

The boat had passed on with slow and even measure; no words of derision which they could cast at her had power to move her any more than the fret of the ruffling rooks had power to move the cathedral spires around which they beat with their wings the empty air.

The old dull, grey routine of perpetual toil was illumined and enriched. If any reviled her, she heard not. If any flung a stone at her, she caught it and dropped it on the grass, and went on with a glance of pardon. When the rude children ran after her footsteps bawling and mouthing, she turned and looked at them with a dreaming tenderness in her eyes that rebuked them and held them silenced and afraid. Now, she hated none; nor could she envy any. The women were welcome to their little joys of hearth and home; they were welcome to look for their lovers across the fields with smiling eyes shaded from the sun, or to beckon their infants from the dusky orchards to murmur fond foolish words and stroke the curls of flaxen down,—she begrudged them nothing: she, too, had her portion and her treasure.

Base usage cannot make base a creature that gives itself nobly, purely, with unutterable and exhaustless love; and whilst the people in the country round muttered at her for her vileness and disgrace, she, all unwitting and made proud, raised high above the reach of taunt and censure by a deep and speechless joy that rendered hunger, and labour, and pain, and brutal tasks, and jibing glances indifferent to her—nay, unfelt—went on her daily ways with a light richer than the light of the sun in her eyes, and in her step the page: 305 noble freedom of one who has broken from bondage and entered into a heritage of grace.

She was proud as with the pride of one selected for some great dignity; graced with the grace that a supreme devotion and a supreme ignorance made possible to her. He was as a god to her; and she had found favour in his sight. Although by all others despised, to him she was beautiful; a thing to be desired, not abhorred; a creature not cursed for daring to have a breath of mortal life, but thought worthy of life eternal amidst the deathless children of his genius. It seemed to her so wonderful that, night and day, in her heart she praised God for it—that dim unknown God of whom no man had taught her, but whom she had vaguely grown to dream of and to honour, and to behold in the setting of the sun, and in the flux of the sea, and in the mysteries of the starlit skies.

Of shame to her in it she had no thought: a passion strong as fire in its force, pure as crystal in its unselfishness, possessed her for him, and laid her at his feet to be done with as he would.

She would have crouched to him like a dog; she would have worked for him like a slave; she would have killed herself if he had bidden her without a word of resistance or a moan of regret. To be touched by him one moment as his hand moved some wave of her hair or some fold of her drapery, as he studied an outline or changed an attitude, was to her the greatest glory life could know. To be a pleasure to him for one hour, to see his eyes tell her once, however carelessly or coldly, that she had any beauty fit for his pourtrayal, was to her the noblest fate that could befall her.

To him she was no more than the cluster of grapes to the wayfarer, who brushes their bloom off and steals their sweetness, then casts them down to be trampled on, by whosoever the next comer be. But to this creature, who had no guide except her instincts of passion and sacrifice, who had no guard except the pure scorn that had kept her from the meanness and coarseness of the vices around her, this was unintelligible, unsuspected; and if she had understood it, she would have accepted it mutely, in that abject humility which had bent the dauntless temper in her to his will.

To be of use to him,—to be held of any worth to him,— page: 306 to have his eyes find any loveliness to study in her,—to be to him only as the flower which he broke from the stem to copy its bloom on his canvas, and then cast out on the sand to wither as it would,—this, even this, seemed to her the highest fate to which she could have had election.

That he only borrowed the colour of her cheek and the outline of her limbs, as he had borrowed a thousand times ere then the venal charms of the dancing‐women of taverns and play‐houses, and the hireling graces of the wanton who strayed in the public ways, was a knowledge that never touched her with its indignity. To her his art was a religion, supreme, passionless, eternal, whose sacrificial fires ennobled and consecrated all that they consumed.

“Though I shall die as the leaf dies in my body, yet I shall live for ever embalmed amidst the beauty of his thoughts,” she told herself perpetually, and all her life became transfigured.

CHAPTER VIII.

ONE day, while the year was still young, though the first thunder‐heats of the early summer had come, he asked her to go with him to the sea ere the sun set.

“The sea!” she repeated. “What is that?”

“Is it possible that you do not know?” he asked, in utter wonder—“you who have lived all these years within two leagues of it!”

“I have heard of it,” she said, simply; “but I cannot tell what it is.”

“The man has never lived yet who could tell—in fit language. Poseidon is the only one of all the old gods of Hellas who still lives and reigns. We will go to his kingdom. Sight is better than speech.”

So he took her along the slow course of the inland water through the osiers and the willows, down to where the slow river‐ripples would meet the swift salt waves.

It was true what she had said, that she had never even beheld the sea. Her errands had always been to and fro page: 307 between the mill and the quay in the town, no farther; she had exchanged so little communion with the people of the district that she knew nothing of whither the barges went that took away the corn and fruit, nor whence the big boats came that brought the coals and fish; when she had a little space of leisure to herself she had wandered indeed but never so far as the shore; almost always in the woods and the meadows, never where the river, widening as it ran, spread out between level banks, until, touching the sea, it became a broad estuary.

She had heard speak of the sea, indeed, as of some great highway on which men travelled incessantly to and fro; as of something unintelligible, remote, belonging to others, indifferent and alien to herself.

When she had thought of it at all, she had only thought of it as probably some wide canal black with mud and dust, and edged by dull pathways slippery and toilsome, along which tired horses towed heavy burdens all day long, that men and women might be thereby enriched.

Of the beauty and the mystery, of the infinite sweetness and solace of the sea, she knew no more than she knew of any loveliness or of any pity in human nature.

A few leagues off, where the stream widened into a bay and was hemmed in by sand‐banks in lieu of its flat green pastures, there was a little fishing town, built under the great curve of beetling cliffs, and busy with all the stir and noise of mart and wharf. There the sea was crowded with many masts and ruddy with red‐brown canvas; and the air was full of the salt scent of rotting sea‐weed, of stiff sails spread out to dry, of great shoals of fish poured out upon the beach, and of dusky noisome cabins, foul‐smelling, and made hideous by fish‐wives’ oaths, and the death‐screams of scalded shell‐fish.

He did not take her thither.

He took her half‐way down the stream whilst it was still sleepily beautiful with pale grey willows and green meadow land, and acres of silvery reeds, and here and there some quaint old steeple or some apple‐hidden roofs on either side its banks. But midway he left the water and stretched out across the country, she beside him, moving with that rapid, lithe, and stag‐like ease of limbs which have never known restraint.

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Some few people passed them on their way; a child, taking the cliff‐road to his home under the rocks, with a big blue pitcher in his hands; an old man, who had a fishing‐brig at sea and toiled up there to look for her, with a grey dog at his heels, and the smell of salt‐water in his clothes; a goat‐herd, clad in rough skins wool outward, and killing birds with stones as he went; a woman, with a blue skirt and scarlet hose, and a bundle of boughs and brambles on her head, with here and there a stray winter berry glowing red through the tender green leafage; all these looked askance at them, and the goat‐herd muttered a curse, and the woman a prayer, and gave them wide way through the stunted furze, for they were both of them accursed in the people’s sight.

“You find it hard to live apart from your kind?” he asked her suddenly as they gained the fields where no human habitation at all was left, and over which hung, in the radiance of the sunlit skies, the pale crescent of a week‐old moon.

“To live apart?”—she did not understand.

“Yes—like this. To see no child smile, to hear no woman gossip, no man exchange good morrow with you. Is it any sorrow to you?”

Her eyes flashed fiercely.

“What does it matter? It is best so. One is free. One owes nothing—not so much as a fair word. That is well.”

“I think it is well—if one is strong enough for it. It wants strength.”

“I am strong.”

She spoke quietly, with the firm and simple consciousness of force, which has as little of vanity in it as it has of weakness.

“To live apart,” she said, after a pause, in which he had not answered. “I know what you mean—now. It is well—it is well with those men you tell me of when the world was young, who left all other men and went to live with the watercourse and the wild dove, and the rose and the palm, and the great yellow desert; was it not well?”

“So well with them that men worshipped them for it. But there is no such worship now. The cities are the kingdom of heaven; not the deserts; and he who hankers for the wilderness is stoned in the streets as a fool. And page: 309 how should it be well with you, who have neither wild rose nor wild dove for compensation, but are only beaten and hooted, and hated and despised?”

Her eyes glittered, and her voice was hard and fierce as she answered him.

“See here.—There is a pretty golden thing in the west road of the town who fears me horribly, Yvonne, the pottery painter’s daughter. She says to her father at evening, ‘I must go read the offices to old Mother Margot;’ and he says, ‘Go, my daughter; piety and reverence of age are twin blossoms off one stem of a tree that grows at the right hand of God in Paradise.’

“And she goes; not to Margot, but to a little booth where there is dancing and singing and brawling, that her father has forbade her to go near by a league.

“There is an old man at the corner of the market‐place, Ryno, the fruit seller, who says that I am accursed, and spits out at me as I pass. He says to the people as they go by his stall, ‘See these peaches, they are smooth and rosy as a child’s cheek; sweet and firm; not their like betwixt this and Paris. I will let you have them cheap, so cheap; I need sorely to send money to my sick son in Africa.’ And the people pay, greedily; and when the peaches are home they see a little black speck in each of them, and all save their bloom is rottenness.

“There is a woman who makes lace at the windows of the house against the fourth gate; Marion Silvis; she is white and sleek, and blue‐eyed; the priests honour her, and she never misses a mass. She has an old blind mother whom she leaves in her room. She goes out softly at nightfall, and she slips to a wine‐shop full of soldiers, and her lovers kiss her on the mouth. And the old mother sits moaning and hungry at home; and a night ago she was badly burned, being alone. Now—is it well or not to be hated of those people? If I had loved them, and they me, I might have become a liar, and have thieved, and have let men kiss me, likewise.”

She spoke with aa thoughtful and fierce earnestness, not witting of the caustic in her own words, meaning simply what she said, and classing the kisses of men as some sort of weakness and vileness, like those of a theft and a lie; as she had come to do out of a curious, proud, true instinct page: 310 that was in her, and not surely from the teaching of any creature.

She in her way loved the man who walked beside her; but it was a love of which she was wholly unconscious; a pity, a sorrow, a reverence, a cultus, a deification, all combined, that had little or nothing in common with the loves of human kind, and which still left her speech as free, and her glance as fearless, with him as with any other.

He knew that; and he did not care to change it; it was singular, and gave her half her charm of savagery and innocence commingled. He answered her merely, with a smile:

“You are only a barbarian; how should you understand that the attractions of civilization lie in its multiplications of the forms of vice? Men would not bear its yoke an hour if it did not in return facilitate their sins. You are an outcast from it;—so you have kept your hands honest and your lips pure. You may be right to be thankful—I would not pretend to decide.”

“At least—I would not be as they are,” she answered him with a curl of the mouth, and a gleam in her eyes: the pride of the old nomadic tribes, whose blood was in her, asserting itself against the claimed superiority of the tamed and hearth‐bound races—blood that ran free and fearless to the measure of boundless winds and rushing waters; that made the forest and the plain, the dawn and the darkness, the flight of the wild roe and the hiding‐place of the wood‐pigeon, dearer than any roof‐tree, sweeter than any nuptial bed.

She had left the old life so long;—so long that even her memories of it were dim as dreams, and its language had died off her lips in all save the broken catches of her songs; but the impulses of it were in her, vivid and ineradicable, and the scorn with which the cowed and timid races of shed and of homestead regarded her, she, the daughter of Taric, gave back to them in tenfold measure.

“I would not be as they are!” she repeated. “To sit and spin; to watch their soup pot boil; to spend their days under a close roof; to shut the stars out, and cover themselves in their beds, as swine do with their straw in the sty; to huddle altogether in thousands, fearing to do what they will, lest the tongue of their neighbour wag evil of it; to page: 311 cheat a little and steal a little, and lie always when the false word serves them, and to mutter to themselves, ‘God will wash us free of our sins,’ and then to go and sin again stealthily, thinking men will not see and sure that their God will give them a quittance;—that is their life. I would not be as they are.”

And her spirits rose, and her earliest life in the Liébana seemed to flash on her for one moment clear and bright through the veil of the weary years, and she walked erect and swiftly through the gorse, singing by his side the bold burden of one of the old sweet songs.

And for the first time the thought passed over Arslàn,

“This tameless wild doe would crouch like a spaniel, and be yoked as a beast of burden,—if I chose.”

Whether or not he chose he was not sure.

She was beautiful in her way; barbaric, dauntless, innocent, savage; he cared to hurt, to please, to arouse, to study, to pourtray her; but to seek love from her he did not care.

And yet she was most lovely in her own wild fashion, like a young desert mare, or a seagull on the wing; and he wondered to himself that he cared for her no more, as he moved beside her through the thickets of the gorse and against the strong winds blowing from the sea.

There was so little passion in him.

He had tossed aside the hair of dead women and pourtrayed the limbs and the features of living ones till that ruthless pursuit had brought its own penalty with it; and the beauty of women scarcely moved him more than did the plumage of a bird or the contour of a marble. His senses were drugged, and his heart was dead; it was well that it should be so, he had taught himself to desire it; and yet—.

As they left the cliff road for the pathless downs that led toward the summit of the rocks, they passed by a little way‐side hut, red with climbing creepers, and all alone on the sandy soil, like the little nest of a yellowhammer.

Through its unclosed shutter the light of the sun streamed on to the pathway; the interior was visible. It was very poor; a floor of mud, a couch of rushes; a hearth on which a few dry sticks were burning; walls lichen‐covered and dropping moisture. Before the sticks, kneeling and trying page: 312 to take them burn up more brightly to warm the one black pot that hung above them, was a poor peasant girl, and above her leaned a man who was her lover, a fisher of the coast, as poor, as hardy, and as simple as herself.

In the man’s eyes the impatience of love was shining, and as she lifted her head, after breathing with all her strength on the smoking sticks, he bent and drew her in his arms and kissed her rosy mouth and the white lids that drooped over her blue smiling northern eyes. She let the fuel lie still to blaze or smoulder as it would, and leaned her head against him, and laughed softly at his eagerness. Arslàn glanced at them as he passed.

“Poor brutes!” he muttered. “Yet how happy they are! It must be well to be so easily content, and to find a ready‐made fool’s paradise in a woman’s lips.”

Folle‐Farine, hearing him, paused, and looked also. She trembled suddenly, and walked on in silence.

A new light broke on her, and dazzled her, and made her afraid: this forest‐born creature, who had never known what fear was.

The ground ascended as it stretched seaward, but on it there were only wide dull fields of colza or of grass lying, sickly and burning, under the fire of the late afternoon sun.

The slope was too gradual to break their monotony.

Above them was the cloudless weary blue; below them was the faint parched green; other colour there was none; one little dusky panting bird flew by pursued by a kite; that was the only change.

She asked him no questions; she walked mutely and patiently by his side; she hated the dull heat, the colourless waste, the hard scorch of the air, the dreary changelessness of the scene. But she did not say so. He had chosen to come to them.

A league onward the fields were merged into a heath, uncultivated and covered with short prickly furze; on the brown earth between the stunted bushes a few groats were cropping the burnt‐up grasses. Here the slope grew sharper, and the earth seemed to rise up between the sky and them, steep and barren as a house‐roof.

Once he asked her—

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“Are you tired?”

“She shook her head.

Her feet ached, and her heart throbbed; her limbs were heavy like lead in the heat and the toil. But she did not tell him so. She would have dropped dead from exhaustion rather than have confessed to him any weakness.

He took the denial as it was given, and pressed onward up the ascent.

The sun was slanting towards the west; the skies seemed like brass; the air was sharp, yet scorching; the dull brown earth still rose up before them like a wall; they climbed it slowly, and painfully, their hands and their teeth filled with its dust, which drifted in a cloud before them. He bade her close her eyes, and she obeyed him. He stretched his arm out and drew her after him up the ascent which was slippery from drought and prickly from the stunted growth of furze.

On the summit he stood still and released her.

“Now look.”

She opened her eyes with the startled half‐questioning stare of one led out from utter darkness into a full and sudden light.

Then with a great cry, she sank down on the rock, trembling, weeping, laughing, stretching out her arms to the new glory that met her sight, dumb with its grandeur, delirious with its delight.

For what she saw was the sea.

Before her dazzled sight all its beauty stretched, the blueness of the waters meeting the blueness of the skies; radiant with all the marvels of its countless hues; softly stirred by a low wind that sighed across it; bathed in a glow of gold that streamed on it from the westward; rolling from north to south in slow sonorous measure, filling the silent air with the ceaseless melody of its wondrous voice.

The lustre of the sunset beamed upon it; the cool fresh smell of its water shot like new life through all the scorch and stupor of the day; its white foam curled and broke on the brown curving rocks and wooded inlets of the shores; innumerable birds, that gleamed like silver, floated or flew above its surface; all was still, still as death, save only for the endless movement of those white swift wings and page: 314 the murmur of the waves, in which all meaner and harsher sounds of earth seemed lost and hushed to slumber and to silence.

The sea alone reigned, as it reigned in the young years of the earth when men were not; as, may be, it will be its turn to reign again in the years to come, when men and all their works shall have passed away and be no more seen nor any more remembered.

Arslàn watched her in silence.

He was glad that it should awe and move her thus. The sea was the only thing for which he cared; or which had any power over him. In the northern winters of his youth he had known the ocean, in one wild night’s work, undo all that men had done to check and rule it, and burst through all the barriers that they had raised against it, and throw down the stones of the altar and quench the fires of the hearth, and sweep through the fold and the byre, and flood the cradle of the child and the grave of the grandsire.

He had seen its storms wash away at one blow the corn harvests of years, and gather in the sheep from the hills, and take the life of the shepherd with the life of the flock. He had seen it claim lovers locked in each other’s arms, and toss the fair curls of the first‐born as it tossed the riband weeds of its deeps. And he had felt small pity; it had rather given him a certain sense of rejoicing and triumph to see the water laugh to scorn those who were so wise in their own conceit, and bind beneath its chains those who held themselves masters over all beasts of the field and birds of the air.

Other men dreaded the sea and cursed it; but he in his way loved it almost with passion, and could he have chosen the manner of his death would have desired that it should be by the sea and through the sea; a death cold and serene and dreamily voluptuous; a death on which no woman should look and in which no man should have share.

He watched her now for some time without speaking. When the first paroxysm of her emotion had exhausted itself, she stood motionless, her figure like a statue of bronze against the sun, her head sunk upon her breast, her arms outstretched as though beseeching that wondrous bright‐ page: 315 ness which she saw to take her to itself and made her one with it. Her whole attitude expressed an unutterable worship. She was like one who for the first time hears of God.

“What is it you feel?” he asked her suddenly. He knew without asking; but he had made it his custom to dissect all her joys and sufferings with little heed whether he thus added to either.

At the sound of his voice she started, and a shiver shook her as she answered him slowly, without withdrawing her gaze from the waters,

“It has been there always—always—so near me?”

“Before the land, the sea was.”

“And I never knew!—”

Her head dropped on her breast; great tears rolled silently down her cheeks; her arms fell to her sides; she shivered again and sighed. She knew all that she had lost—this is the greatest grief that life holds.

“You never knew,” he made answer. “There was only a sand‐hill between you and all this glory; but the sand‐hill was enough. Many people never climb theirs all their lives long.”

The words and their meaning escaped her.

She had for once no remembrance of him; nor any other sense save of this surpassing wonder that had thus burst on her—this miracle that had been near her for so long, yet of which she had never in all her visions dreamed.

She was quite silent; sunk there on her knees, motionless, gazing straight, with eyes unblenching, at the light.

There was no sound near them, nor was there anything in sight except where above against the deepest azure of the sky two curlews were circling around each other, and in the distance a single ship was gliding, with sails silvered by the sun. All signs of human life lay far behind; severed from them by those steep scorched slopes swept only by the plovers and the bees. And all the while she looked slow tears gathered in her eyes and fell, and the loud hard beating of her heart was audible in the hushed stillness of the upper air.

He waited awhile: then he spoke to her.

“Since it pains you, come away.”

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A great sob shuddered through her.

“Give me that pain,” she muttered, “sooner than any joy. Pain? Pain? —it is life, heaven, liberty!”

For suddenly those words which she had heard spoken around her, and which had been to her like the mutterings of the deaf and the dumb, became real to her with a thousand meanings.

Men use them unconsciously, figuring by them all the marvels of their existence, all the agonies of their emotions, all the mysteries of their pangs and passions, for which they have no other names; and even so she used them now in the tumult of awe, in the torture of joy, that possessed her.

Arslàn looked at her, and let her be.

Passionless himself, except in the pursuit of his art, the passions of this untrained and intense nature had interest for him—the cold interest of analysis and dissection, not of sympathy. As he pourtrayed her physical beauty scarcely moved by its flush of colour and grace of mould, so he pursued the development of her mind searchingly, but with little pity and little tenderness.

The seagulls were lost in the heights of the air; the ship sailed on into the light till the last gleam of its canvas vanished; the sun sank westward lower and lower till it glowed in a globe of flame upon the edge of the water; she never moved; standing there on the summit of the cliff, with her head drooped upon her breast, her form thrown out dark and motionless against the gold of the western sky, on her face still that look of one who worships with intense honour and passionate faith an unknown God.

The sun sank entirely, leaving only a trail of flame across the heavens; the waters grew grey and purple in the shadows; one boat, black against the crimson reflections of the west, swept on swiftly with the in‐rushing tide; the wind rose and blew long curls of seaweed on the rocks; the shores of the bay were dimmed in a heavy mist, through which the lights of the little hamlets dimly glowed, and the distant voices of fishermen calling to each other as they drew in their deep‐sea nets came faint and weird‐like.

Still she never moved; the sea at her feet seemed to magnetize her, and draw her to it with some unseen power.

She started again as Arslàn spoke.

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“This is but a land‐locked bay,” he said, with some contempt; he who had seen the white aurora rise over the untraversed ocean of an Arctic world, “and it lies quiet enough there, like a duck pool, in the twilight. Tell me, why does it move you so?”

She gave a heavy, stifled sigh.

“It looks so free. And I—”

On her there had vaguely come of late the feeling that she had only exchanged one tyranny for another; that, leaving the dominion of ignorance, she had only entered upon a slavery still sterner and more binding. In every vein of her body there leaped and flashed and lived the old free blood of an ever‐lawless, of an often‐criminal, race, yet, though with its instincts of rebellion so strong in her, making her break all bonds and tear off all yokes, she was the slave of a slave—since she was the slave of love. This she did not know; but its weight was upon her.

He heard with a certain pity. He was bound himself by the chain of poverty and of the world’s forgetfulness, and he had not even so much poor freedom as lies in the gilded imprisonment of fame.

“It is not free,” was all he answered her. “It obeys the laws that govern it, and cannot evade them. Its flux and reflux are not liberty, but obedience—just such obedience to natural law as our life shows when it springs into being and slowly wears itself out and then perishes in its human form to live again in the motes of the air and the blades of the grass. There is no such thing as liberty; men have dreamed of it, but nature has never accorded it.”

The words passed coldly over her: with her senses steeped in that radiance of light, that divinity of calm, that breadth of vision, that trance of awe, the chilliness and the bitterness of fact recoiled from off her intelligence, unabsorbed, as the cold rain‐drops roll off a rose.

“It is so free!” she murmured, regardless of his words, “if I had only known—I would have asked it to take me so long ago. To float dead on it—as that bird floats—it would be so quiet there: and it would not fling me back, I think. It would have pity.”

Her voice was dreamy and gentle. The softness of an indescribable desire was in it.

“Is it too late?” he said, with that cruelty which cha‐ page: 318 racterised all his words to her. “Can you have grown in love with life?”

“You live,” she said, simply.

He was silent; the brief innocent words rebuked him. They said, so clearly yet so unconsciously, the influence that his life already had gained on hers, whilst hers was to him no more than the brown seaweed was to the rock on which the waters tossed it.

“Let us go down!” he said, abruptly, at length, “it grows late.”

With one longing backward look she obeyed him, moving like a creature in a dream, as she went away, along the side of the cliff through the shadows, while the goats lying down for their night’s rest started and fled at the human footsteps.

CHAPTER IX.

ONE evening, a little later, he met her in the fields on the same spot where Marcellin first had seen her as a child amongst the scarlet blaze of the poppies.

The lands were all yellow with saffron and emerald with the young corn; she balanced on her head a great brass jar; the red girdle glowed about her waist as she moved: the wind stirred the folds of her garments; her feet were buried in the shining grass; clouds tawny and purple were behind her; she looked like some Moorish phantom seen in a dream under a sky of Spain.

He paused and gazed at her with eyes half content, half cold.

She was of a beauty so uncommon, so strange, and all that was his for his art:—a great artist, whether in words, in melody, or in colour, is always cruel, or at the least seems so, for all things that live under the sun are to him created only to minister to his one inexorable passion.

Art is so vast, and human life is so little. It is to him only supremely just that the insect of an hour should be sacrificed to the infinite and eternal truth which must endure until the heavens themselves shall wither as a scroll page: 319 that is held in a flame. It might have seemed to Arslàn base to turn her ignorance, and submission to his will, for the gratification of his amorous passions; but to make these serve the art to which he had himself abandoned every earthly good was in his sight justified, as the death‐agonies of the youth whom they decked with roses and slew in sacrifice to the sun, were in the sight of the Mexican nation.

The youth whom the Mexicans slew, on the high hill of the city, with his face to the west was always the choicest and the noblest of all the opening flower of their manhood: for it was his fate to be called to enter into the realms of eternal light, and to dwell face to face with the unbearable brightness without whose rays the universe would have perished frozen in perpetual night. So the artist, who is true to his art, regards every human sacrifice that he renders up to it; how can he feel pity for a thing which perishes to feed a flame that he deems the life of the world?

The steel that he draws out from the severed heart of his victim he is ready to plunge into his own vitals; no other religion can vaunt as much of its priests.

“What are you thinking of to‐night?” he asked her where she came through the fields by the course of a little flower‐sown brook, fringed with tall bulrushes and waving willow‐stems.

She lifted her eyelids with a dreamy and wistful regard.

“I was thinking,—I wonder what the reed felt that you told me of,—the one reed that a god chose from all its millions by the waterside and cut down to make into a flute.”

“Ah?—you see there are no reeds that make music now‐a‐days; the reeds are only good to be woven into kreels for the fruits and the fish of the market.”

“That is not the fault of the reeds?”

“Not that I know; it is the fault of men most likely who find the chink of coin in barter sweeter music than the song of the syrinx. But what do you think the reed felt then?—pain to be so sharply severed from its fellows?”

“No—or the god would not have chosen it.”

“What then?”

A troubled sigh parted her lips; these old fables were fairest truths to her, and gave a grace to every humblest page: 320 thing that the sun shone on, or the waters begat from their foam, or the winds blew with their breath into the little life of a day.

“I was trying to think. But I cannot be sure. These reeds have forgotten. They have lost their soul. They want nothing but to feed among the sand and the mud, and grow in millions together, and shelter the toads and the newts,—there is not a note of music in them all—except when the wind rises and makes them sigh, and then they remember that long, long ago, the breath of a great god was in them.”

Arslàn looked at her where she stood; her eyes resting on the reeds, and the brook at her feet; the crimson heat of the evening all about her, on the brazen amphora, on the red girdle on her loins, on the thoughtful parted lips, on the proud bent brows above which a golden butterfly floated as above the brows of Psyche.

He smiled; the smile that was so cold to her.

“Look: away over the fields, there comes a peasant with a sickle; he comes to mow down the reeds to make a bed for his cattle. If he heard you, he would think you mad.”

“They have thought me many things worse. What matter?’

“Nothing at all;—that I know. But you seem to envy that reed—so long ago—that was chosen?”

“Who would not?”

“Are you so sure? The life of the reed was always pleasant;—dancing there in the light, playing with the shadows, blowing in the winds; with the cool waters all about it all day long, and the yellow daffodils and the blue bell flowers for its brethren.”

“Nay:—how do you know?”

Her voice was low, and thrilled with a curious eager pain.

“How do you know?” she murmured. “Rather,—it was born in the sands, amongst the stones, of the chance winds, of the stray germs,—no one asking, no one heeding, brought by a sunbeam, spat out by a toad—no one caring where it dropped. Rather,—it grew there by the river, and such millions of reeds grew with it, that neither waters nor winds could care for a thing so common and worthless, but page: 321 the very snakes twisting in and out despised it, and thrust the arrows of their tongues through it in scorn. And then—I think I see!—the great god walked by the edge of the river, and he mused on a gift to give man, on a joy that should be a joy on the earth for ever; and he passed by the lily white as snow, by the thyme that fed the bees, by the gold heart in the arum flower, by the orange flame of the tall sand‐rush, by all the great water‐blossoms which the sun kissed, and the swallows loved, and he came to the one little reed pierced with the snakes’ tongues, and all alone amidst millions. Then he took it up, and cut it to the root, and killed it;—killed it as a reed—but breathed into it a song audible and beautiful to all the ears of men. Was that death to the reed?—or life? Would a thousand summers of life by the waterside have been worth that one thrill of song when a god first spoke through it?”

Her face lightened with a radiance to which the passion of her words was pale and poor; the vibrations of her voice grew sonorous and changing as the sounds of music itself; her eyes beamed through unshed tears as planets through the rain.

She spoke of the reed and the god:—she thought of herself and of him.

He was silent.

The reaper came nearer to them through the rosy haze of the evening, and cast a malignant eye upon them, and bent his back and drew the curve of his hook through the rushes.

Arslàn watched the sweep of the steel.

“The reeds only fall now for the market.” He said, with a smile that was cruel. “And the gods are all dead—Folle‐Farine.”

She did not understand; but her face lost its colour, her heart sunk, her lips closed. She went on, treading down the long coils of the wild strawberries and the heavy grasses wet with the dew.

The glow from the west died, a young moon rose, the fields and the skies grew dark.

He looked, and let her go;—alone.

In this stray offspring of a cruel chance, Hermes, pitiful for once, had given him a reed through which all sweetest and noblest music might have been breathed.

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But Hermes, when he gives such a gift, leaves the mortal on whom he bestows it to make or to miss the music as he may; and to Arslàn, his reed was but a reed as the rest were—a thing that bloomed for a summer‐eve—a thing of the stagnant water and drifting sand—a thing that lived by the breath of the wind—a thing that a man should cut down and weave in a crown for a day, and then cast aside on the stream, and neither regret nor in anywise remember—a reed of the river, as the rest were.

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