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Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 238

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?”

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“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.”

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“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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