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

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.”

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