Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options

View Options

Folle-Farine. Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 306


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.

page: 308

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—

page: 313

“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.”

page: 316

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.

page: 317

“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.