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Title: Folle-Farine
Author: Ouida, 1839-1908
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          FOLLE-FARINE.

                            By OUIDA,

    AUTHOR OF "STRATHMORE," "CHANDOS," "IDALIA," "TRICOTRIN," "PUCK,"
    "GRANVILLE DE VIGNE," "UNDER TWO FLAGS," ETC.

        "Un gazetier fumeux qui se croit au flambeau
          Dit au pauvre qu'il a noyé dans les ténèbres:
        Où donc l'aperçois-tu ce Créateur du Beau?
          Ce Rédresseur que tu célèbres!"

                                   BAUDELAIRE.


    PHILADELPHIA
    J. B. LIPPINCOTT & CO.
    1871.

    Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by

    J. B. LIPPINCOTT & CO.,

    In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.



            À
        LA MÉMOIRE
         D'INGRES,
      PEINTRE-POËTE.



FOLLE-FARINE.



BOOK I.



CHAPTER I.


Not the wheat itself; not even so much as the chaff; only the dust from
the corn. The dust which no one needs or notices; the mock farina which
flies out from under the two revolving circles of the grindstones; the
impalpable cloud which goes forth to gleam golden in the sun a moment,
and then is scattered--on the wind, into the water, up in the sunlight,
down in the mud. What matters? who cares?

Only the dust: a mote in the air; a speck in the light; a black spot in
the living daytime; a colorless atom in the immensity of the atmosphere,
borne up one instant to gleam against the sky, dropped down the next to
lie in a fetid ditch.

Only the dust: the dust that flows out from between the grindstones,
grinding exceeding hard and small, as the religion which calls itself
Love avers that its God does grind the world.

"It is a nothing, less than nothing. The stones turn; the dust is born;
it has a puff of life; it dies. Who cares? No one. Not the good God; not
any man; not even the devil. It is a thing even devil-deserted. Ah, it
is very like you," said the old miller, watching the millstones.

Folle-Farine heard--she had heard a hundred times,--and held her peace.

Folle-Farine: the dust; only the dust.

As good a name as any other for a nameless creature. The
dust,--sharp-winnowed and rejected of all, as less worthy than even the
shred husks and the shattered stalks.

Folle-Farine,--she watched the dust fly in and out all day long from
between the grindstones. She only wondered why, if she and the dust were
thus kindred and namesakes, the wind flew away with the dust so
mercifully, and yet never would fly away with her.

The dust was carried away by the breeze, and wandered wherever it
listed. The dust had a sweet, short, summer-day life of its own ere it
died. If it were worthless, it at least was free. It could lie in the
curl of a green leaf, or on the white breast of a flower. It could
mingle with the golden dust in a lily, and almost seem to be one with
it. It could fly with the thistle-down, and with the feathers of the
dandelion, on every roving wind that blew.

In a vague dreamy fashion, the child wondered why the dust was so much
better dealt with than she was.

"Folle-Farine! Folle--Folle--Folle--Farine!" the other children hooted
after her, echoing the name by which the grim humor of her
bitter-tongued taskmaster had called her. She had got used to it, and
answered to it as others to their birthnames.

It meant that she was a thing utterly useless, absolutely worthless; the
very refuse of the winnowings of the flail of fate. But she accepted
that too, so far as she understood it; she only sometimes wondered in a
dull fierce fashion why, if she and the dust were sisters, the dust had
its wings while she had none.

All day long the dust flew in and out and about as it liked, through the
open doors, and among the tossing boughs, and through the fresh cool
mists, and down the golden shafts of the sunbeams; and all day long she
stayed in one place and toiled, and was first beaten and then cursed, or
first cursed and then beaten,--which was all the change that her life
knew. For herself, she saw no likeness betwixt her and the dust; for
that escaped from the scourge and flew forth, but she abode under the
flail, always.

Nevertheless, Folle-Farine was all the name she knew.

The great black wheel churned and circled in the brook water, and
lichens and ferns and mosses made lovely all the dark, shadowy, silent
place; the red mill roof gleamed in the sun, under a million summer
leaves; the pigeons came and went all day in and out of their holes in
the wall; the sweet scents of ripening fruits in many orchards filled
the air; the great grindstones turned and turned and turned, and the
dust floated forth to dance with the gnat and to play with the sunbeam.

Folle-Farine sat aloft, on the huge, black, wet timbers above the wheel,
and watched with her thoughtful eyes, and wondered again, after her own
fashion, why her namesake had thus liberty to fly forth whilst she had
none.

Suddenly a shrill, screaming voice broke the stillness savagely.

"Little devil!" cried the miller, "go fetch me those sacks, and carry
them within, and pile them; neatly, do you hear? Like the piles of stone
in the road."

Folle-Farine swung down from the timbers in obedience to the command,
and went to the heap of sacks that lay outside the mill; small sacks,
most of them; all of last year's flour.

There was an immense gladiolus growing near, in the mill-garden, where
they were; a tall flower all scarlet and gold, and straight as a palm,
with bees sucking into its bells, and butterflies poising on its stem.
She stood a moment looking at its beauty; she was scarce any higher than
its topmost bud, and was in her way beautiful, something after its
fashion. She was a child of six or eight years, with limbs moulded like
sculpture, and brown as the brook water; great lustrous eyes, half
savage and half soft; a mouth like a red pomegranate bud, and straight
dark brows--the brows of the friezes of Egypt.

Her only clothing was a short white linen kirtle, knotted around her
waist, and falling to her knees; and her skin was burned, by exposure in
the sun, to a golden-brown color, though in texture it was soft as
velvet, and showed all the veins like glass. Standing there in the deep
grass, with the great scarlet flower against her, and purple butterflies
over her head, an artist would have painted her and called her by a
score of names, and described for her some mystical or noble fate: as
Anteros, perhaps, or as the doomed son of Procne, or as some child born
to the Forsaken in the savage forests of Naxos, or conceived by
Persephone, in the eternal night of hell, while still the earth lay
black and barren and fruitless, under the ban and curse of a bereaved
maternity.

But here she had only one name, Folle-Farine; and here she had only to
labor drearily and stupidly like the cattle of the field; without their
strength, and with barely so much even as their scanty fare and
begrudged bed.

The sunbeams that fell on her might find out that she had a beauty which
ripened and grew rich under their warmth, like that of a red flower bud
or a golden autumn fruit. But nothing else ever did. In none of the eyes
that looked on her had she any sort of loveliness. She was Folle-Farine;
a little wicked beast that only merited at best a whip and a cruel word,
a broken crust and a malediction; a thing born of the devil, and out of
which the devil needed to be scourged incessantly.

The sacks were all small; they were the property of the peasant
proprietors of the district,--a district of western Normandy. But though
small they were heavy in proportion to her age and power. She lifted
one, although with effort, yet with the familiarity of an accustomed
action; poised it on her back, clasped it tight with her round slender
arms, and carried it slowly through the open door of the mill. That one
put down upon the bricks, she came for a second,--a third,--a fourth,--a
fifth,--a sixth, working doggedly, patiently and willingly, as a little
donkey works.

The sacks were in all sixteen; before the seventh she paused.

It was a hot day in mid-August: she was panting and burning with the
exertion; the bloom in her cheeks had deepened to scarlet; she stood a
moment, resting, bathing her face in the sweet coolness of a white tall
tuft of lilies.

The miller looked round where he worked, among his beans and cabbages,
and saw.

"Little mule! Little beast!" he cried. "Would you be lazy--you!--who
have no more right to live at all than an eft, or a stoat, or a toad?"

And as he spoke he came toward her. He had caught up a piece of rope
with which he had been about to tie his tall beans to a stake, and he
struck the child with it. The sharp cord bit the flesh cruelly, curling
round her bare chest and shoulders, and leaving a livid mark.

She quivered a little, but she said nothing; she lifted her head and
looked at him, and dropped her hands to her sides. Her great eyes glowed
fiercely; her red curling lips shut tight; her straight brows drew
together.

"Little devil! Will you work now?" said the miller. "Do you think you
are to stand in the sun and smell at flowers--you? Pouf-f-f!"

Folle-Farine did not move.

"Pick up the sacks this moment, little brute," said the miller. "If you
stand still a second before they are all housed, you shall have as many
stripes as there are sacks left untouched. Oh-hè, do you hear?"

She heard, but she did not move.

"Do you hear?" he pursued. "As many strokes as there are sacks, little
wretch. Now--I will give you three moments to choose. One!"

Folle-Farine still stood mute and immovable, her head erect, her arms
crossed on her chest. A small, slender, bronze-hued, half-nude figure
among the ruby hues of the gladioli and the pure snowlike whiteness of
the lilies.

"Two!"

She stood in the same attitude, the sacks lying untouched at her feet, a
purple-winged butterfly lighting on her head.

"Three!"

She was still mute; still motionless.

He seized her by the shoulder with one hand, and with the other lifted
the rope.

It curled round her breast and back, again and again and again; she
shuddered, but she did not utter a single cry. He struck her the ten
times; with the same number of strokes as there remained sacks
uncarried. He did not exert any great strength, for had he used his
uttermost he would have killed her, and she was of value to him; but he
scourged her with a merciless exactitude in the execution of his threat,
and the rope was soon wet with drops of her bright young blood.

The noonday sun fell golden all around; the deep sweet peace of the
silent country reigned everywhere; the pigeons fled to and fro in and
out of their little arched homes; the millstream flowed on, singing a
pleasant song; now and then a ripe apricot dropped with a low sound on
the turf; close about was all the radiance of summer flowers; of heavy
rich roses, of yellow lime tufts, of sheaves of old-fashioned comely
phlox, and all the delicate shafts of the graceful lilies. And in the
warmth the child shuddered under the scourge; against the light the
black rope curled like a serpent darting to sting; among the sun-fed
blossoms there fell a crimson stain.

But never a word had she uttered. She endured to the tenth stroke in
silence.

He flung the cord aside among the grass. "Daughter of devils!--what
strength the devil gives!" he muttered.

Folle-Farine said nothing. Her face was livid, her back bruised and
lacerated, her eyes still glanced with undaunted scorn and untamed
passion. Still she said nothing; but, as his hand released her, she
darted as noiselessly as a lizard to the water's edge, set her foot on
the lowest range of the woodwork, and in a second leaped aloft to the
highest point, and seated herself astride on that crossbar of black
timber on which she had been throned when he had summoned her first,
above the foam of the churning wheels, and in the deepest shadow of
innumerable leaves.

Then she lifted up a voice as pure, as strong, as fresh as the voice of
a mavis in May-time, and sang, with reckless indifference, a stave of
song in a language unknown to any of the people of that place; a loud
fierce air, with broken words of curious and most dulcet melody, which
rang loud and defiant, yet melancholy, even in their rebellion, through
the foliage, and above the sound of the loud mill water.

"It is a chant to the foul fiend," the miller muttered to himself.
"Well, why does he not come and take his own? he would be welcome to
it."

And he went and sprinkled holy water on his rope, and said an ave or two
over it to exorcise it.

Every fiber of her childish body ached and throbbed; the stripes on her
shoulders burned like flame; her little brain was dizzy; her little
breast was black with bruises; but still she sang on, clutching the
timber with her hands to keep her from falling into the foam below, and
flashing her fierce proud eyes down through the shade of the leaves.

"Can one never cut the devil out of her?" muttered the miller, going
back to his work among the beans.

After awhile the song ceased; the pain she suffered stifled her voice
despite herself; she felt giddy and sick, but she sat there still in the
shadow, holding on by the jutting woodwork, and watching the water foam
and eddy below.

The hours went away; the golden day died; the grayness of evening stole
the glow from the gladioli and shut up the buds of the roses; the great
lilies gleamed but the whiter in the dimness of twilight; the vesper
chimes were rung from the cathedral two leagues away over the fields.

The miller stopped the gear of the mill; the grindstones and the
water-wheels were set at rest; the peace of the night came down; the
pigeons flew to roost in their niches; but the sacks still lay unearned
on the grass, and a spider had found time to spin his fairy ropes about
them.

The miller stood on his threshold, and looked up at her where she sat
aloft in the dusky shades of the leaves.

"Come down and carry these sacks, little brute," he said. "If not--no
supper for you to-night."

Folle-Farine obeyed him and came down from the huge black pile slowly,
her bands crossed behind her back, her head erect, her eyes glancing
like the eyes of a wild hawk.

She walked straight past the sacks, across the dew-laden turf, through
the tufts of the lilies, and so silently into the house.

The entrance was a wide kitchen, paved with blue and white tiles, clean
as a watercress, filled with the pungent odor of dried herbs, and
furnished with brass pots and pans, with walnut presses, and with
pinewood trestles, and with strange little quaint pictures and images of
saints. On one of the trestles were set a jug of steaming milk, some
rolls of black bread, and a big dish of stewed cabbages. At the meal
there was already seated a lean, brown, wrinkled, careworn old
serving-woman, clad in the blue-gray kirtle and the white head-gear of
Normandy.

The miller stayed the child at the threshold.

"Little devil--not a bit nor drop to-night if you do not carry the
sacks."

Folle-Farine said nothing, but moved on, past the food on the board,
past the images of the saints, past the high lancet window, through
which the moonlight had begun to stream, and out at the opposite door.

There she climbed a steep winding stairway on to which that door had
opened, pushed aside a little wooden wicket, entered a loft in the roof,
loosened the single garment that she wore, shook it off from her, and
plunged into the fragrant mass of daisied hay and of dry orchard mosses
which served her as a bed. Covered in these, and curled like a dormouse
in its nest, she clasped her hands above her head and sought to forget
in sleep her hunger and her wounds. She was well used to both.

Below there was a crucifix, with a bleeding god upon it; there was a
little rudely-sculptured representation of the Nativity; there was a
wooden figure of St. Christopher; a portrait of the Madonna, and many
other symbols of the church. But the child went to her bed without a
prayer on her lips, and with a curse on her head and bruises on her
body.

Sleep, for once, would not come to her. She was too hurt and sore to be
able to lie without pain; the dried grasses, so soft to her usually,
were like thorns beneath the skin that still swelled and smarted from
the stripes of the rope. She was feverish; she tossed and turned in
vain; she suffered too much to be still; she sat up and stared with her
passionate wistful eyes at the leaves that were swaying against the
square casement in the wall, and the moonbeam that shone so cold and
bright across her bed.

She listened, all her senses awake, to the noises of the house. They
were not many: a cat's mew, a mouse's scratch, the click-clack of the
old woman's step, the shrill monotony of the old man's voice, these were
all. After awhile even these ceased; the wooden shoes clattered up the
wooden stairs, the house became quite still; there was only in the
silence the endless flowing murmur of the water breaking against the
motionless wheels of the mill.

Neither man nor woman had come near to bring her anything to eat or
drink. She had heard them muttering their prayers before they went to
rest, but no hand unlatched her door. She had no disappointment, because
she had had no hope.

She had rebellion, because Nature had implanted it in her; but she went
no further. She did not know what it was to hope. She was only a young
wild animal, well used to blows, and drilled by them, but not tamed.

As soon as the place was silent, she got out of her nest of grass,
slipped on her linen skirt, and opened her casement--a small square hole
in the wall, and merely closed by a loose deal shutter, with a hole cut
in it scarcely bigger than her head. A delicious sudden rush of summer
air met her burning face; a cool cluster of foliage hit her a soft blow
across the eyes as the wind stirred it. They were enough to allure her.

Like any other young cub of the woods, she had only two instincts--air
and liberty.

She thrust herself out of the narrow window with the agility that only
is born of frequent custom, and got upon the shelving thatch of a shed
that sloped a foot or so below, slid down the roof, and swung herself by
the jutting bricks of the outhouse wall on to the grass. The housedog, a
brindled mastiff, that roamed loose all night about the mill, growled
and sprang at her; then, seeing who she was, put up his gaunt head and
licked her face, and turned again to resume the rounds of his vigilant
patrol.

Ere he went, she caught and kissed him, closely and fervently, without
a word. The mastiff was the only living thing that did not hate her; she
was grateful, in a passionate, dumb, unconscious fashion. Then she took
to her feet, ran as swiftly as she could along the margin of the water,
and leaped like a squirrel into the wood, on whose edge the mill-house
stood.

Once there she was content.

The silence, the shadows, the darkness where the trees stood thick, the
pale quivering luminance of the moon, the mystical eerie sounds that
fill a woodland by night, all which would have had terror for tamer and
happier creatures of her years, had only for her a vague entranced
delight. Nature had made her without one pulse of fear; and she had
remained too ignorant to have been ever taught it.

It was still warm with all the balmy breath of midsummer; there were
heavy dews everywhere; here and there, on the surface of the water,
there gleamed the white closed cups of the lotos; through the air there
passed, now and then, the soft, gray, dim body of a night-bird on the
wing; the wood, whose trees were pines, and limes, and maples, was full
of a deep dreamy odor; the mosses that clothed many of the branches
hung, film-like, in the wind in lovely coils and weblike fantasies.

Around stretched the vast country, dark and silent as in a trance, the
stillness only broken by some faint note of a sheep's bell, some distant
song of a mule-driver passing homeward.

The child strayed onward through the trees, insensibly soothed and made
glad, she knew not why, by all the dimness and the fragrance round her.

She stood up to her knees in the shallow freshets that every now and
then broke up through the grasses; she felt the dews, shaken off the
leaves above, fall deliciously upon her face and hair; she filled her
hands with the night-blooming marvel-flower, and drank in its sweetness
as though it were milk and honey; she crouched down and watched her own
eyes look back at her from the dark gliding water of the river.

Then she threw herself on her back upon the mosses--so cool and moist
that they seemed like balm upon the bruised hot skin--and lay there
looking upward at the swift mute passage of the flitting owls, at the
stately flight of the broad-winged moths, at the movement of the swift
brown bats, at the soft trembling of the foliage in the breeze, at the
great clouds slowly sailing across the brightness of the moon. All these
things were vaguely sweet to her--with the sweetness of freedom, of
love, of idleness, of rest, of all things which her life had never
known: so may the young large-eyed antelope feel the beauty of the
forest in the hot lull of tropic nights, when the speed of the pursuer
has relaxed and the aromatic breath of the panther is no more against
its flank.

She lay there long, quite motionless, tracing with a sort of voluptuous
delight, all movements in the air, all changes in the clouds, all
shadows in the leaves. All the immense multitude of ephemeral life
which, unheard in the day, fills the earth with innumerable whispering
voices after the sun has set, now stirred in every herb and under every
bough around her. The silvery ghostlike wing of an owl touched her
forehead once. A little dormouse ran across her feet. Strange shapes
floated across the cold white surface of the water. Quaint things,
hairy, film-winged, swam between her and the stars. But none of these
things had terror for her; they were things of the night, with which she
felt vaguely the instinct of kinship.

She was only a little wild beast, they said, the offspring of darkness,
and vileness, and rage and disgrace. And yet, in a vague, imperfect way,
the glories of the night, its mysterious and solemn beauty, its
melancholy and lustrous charm, quenched the fierceness in her dauntless
eyes, and filled them with dim wondering tears, and stirred the
half-dead soul in her to some dull pain, some nameless ecstasy, that
were not merely physical.

And then, in her way, being stung by these, and moved, she knew not why,
to a strange sad sense of loneliness and shame, and knowing no better
she prayed.

She raised herself on her knees, and crossed her hands upon her chest,
and prayed after the fashion that she had seen men and women and
children pray at roadside shrines and crosses; prayed aloud, with a
little beating, breaking heart, like the young child she was.

"O Devil! if I be indeed thy daughter, stay with me; leave me not alone:
lend me thy strength and power, and let me inherit of thy kingdom. Give
me this, O great lord! and I will praise thee and love thee always."

She prayed in all earnestness, in all simplicity, in broken, faltering
language; knowing no better; knowing only that she was alone on the
earth and friendless, and very hungry and in sore pain, while this
mighty unknown King of the dominion of darkness, whose child she ever
heard she was, had lost her or abandoned her, and reigned afar in some
great world, oblivious of her misery.

The silence of the night alone gave back the echo of her own voice. She
waited breathless for some answer, for some revelation, some reply;
there only came the pure cold moon, sailing straight from out a cloud
and striking on the waters.

She rose sadly to her feet and went back along the shining course of the
stream, through the grasses and the mosses and under the boughs, to her
little nest under the eaves.

As she left the obscurity of the wood and passed into the fuller light,
her bare feet glistening and her shoulders wet with the showers of dew,
a large dark shape flying down the wind smote her with his wings upon
the eyes, lighted one moment on her head, and then swept onward lost in
shade. At that moment, likewise, a radiant golden globe flashed to her
sight, dropped to her footsteps, and shone an instant in the glisten
from the skies.

It was but a great goshawk seeking for its prey; it was but a great
meteor fading and falling at its due appointed hour; but to the heated,
savage, dreamy fancy of the child it seemed an omen, an answer, a thing
of prophecy, a spirit of air; nay, why not Him himself?

In legends, which had been the only lore her ears had ever heard, it had
been often told her that he took such shapes as this.

"If he should give me his kingdom!" she thought; and her eyes flashed
alight; her heart swelled; her cheeks burned. The little dim untutored
brain could not hold the thought long or close enough to grasp, or sift,
or measure it; but some rude rich glory, impalpable, unutterable, seemed
to come to her and bathe her in its heat and color. She was his
offspring, so they all told her; why not, then, also his heir?

She felt, as felt the goatherd or the charcoal-burner in those legends
she had fed on, who was suddenly called from poverty and toil, from
hunger and fatigue, from a tireless hearth and a bed of leaves, to
inherit some fairy empire, to ascend to some region of the gods. Like
one of these, hearing the summons to some great unknown imperial power
smite all his poor pale barren life to splendor, so Folle-Farine,
standing by the water's side in the light of the moon, desolate,
ignorant, brutelike, felt elected to some mighty heritage unseen of men.
If this were waiting for her in the future, what matter now were stripes
or wounds or woe?

She smiled a little, dreamily, like one who beholds fair visions in his
sleep, and stole back over the starlit grass, and swung herself upward
by the tendrils of ivy, and crouched once more down in her nest of
mosses.

And either the courage of the spirits of darkness, or the influence of
instincts dumb but nascent, was with her, for she fell asleep in her
little loft in the roof as though she were a thing cherished of heaven
and earth, and dreamed happily all through the hours of the
slowly-rising dawn; her bruised body and her languid brain and her
aching heart all stilled and soothed, and her hunger and passion and
pain forgotten; with the night-blooming flowers still clasped in her
hands, and on her closed mouth a smile.

For she dreamed of her Father's Kingdom, a kingdom which no man denies
to the creature that has beauty and youth, and is poor and yet proud,
and is of the sex of its mother.



CHAPTER II.


In one of the most fertile and most fair districts of northern France
there was a little Norman town, very very old, and beautiful exceedingly
by reason of its ancient streets, its high peaked roofs, its marvelous
galleries and carvings, its exquisite grays and browns, its silence and
its color, and its rich still life. Its center was a great cathedral,
noble as York or Chartres; a cathedral, whose spire shot to the clouds,
and whose innumerable towers and pinnacles were all pierced to the day,
so that the blue sky shone and the birds of the air flew all through
them. A slow brown river, broad enough for market-boats and for
corn-barges, stole through the place to the sea, lapping as it went the
wooden piles of the houses, and reflecting the quaint shapes of the
carvings, the hues of the signs and the draperies, the dark spaces of
the dormer windows, the bright heads of some casement-cluster of
carnations, the laughing face of a girl leaning out to smile on her
lover.

All around it lay the deep grass unshaven, the leagues on leagues of
fruitful orchards, the low blue hills tenderly interlacing one another,
the fields of colza, where the white bead-dress of the women workers
flashed in the sun like a silvery pigeon's wing. To the west were the
deep-green woods and the wide plains golden with gorse of Arthur's and
of Merlin's lands; and beyond, to the northward, was the great dim
stretch of the ocean breaking on a yellow shore, whither the river ran,
and, whither led straight shady roads, hidden with linden and with
poplar-trees, and marked ever and anon by a wayside wooden Christ, or by
a little murmuring well crowned with a crucifix.

A beautiful, old, shadowy, ancient place; picturesque everywhere; often
silent, with a sweet sad silence that was chiefly broken by the sound of
bells or the chanting of choristers. A place of the Middle Ages still.
With lanterns swinging on cords from house to house as the only light;
with wondrous scroll-works and quaint signs at the doors of all its
traders; with monks' cowls and golden croziers and white-robed acolytes
in its streets; with the subtle smoke of incense coming out from the
cathedral door to mingle with the odors of the fruits and flowers in the
market-place; with great flat-bottomed boats drifting down the river
under the leaning eaves of its dwellings; and with the galleries of its
opposing houses touching so nearly that a girl leaning in one could
stretch a Provence rose or toss an Easter-egg across to her neighbor in
the other.

Doubtless there were often squalor, poverty, dust, filth, and
uncomeliness within these old and beautiful homes. Doubtless often the
dwellers therein were housed like cattle and slept like pigs, and looked
but once out to the woods and waters of the landscapes round for one
hundred times that they looked at their hidden silver in an old delf
jug, or at their tawdry colored prints of St. Victorian or St. Scævola.

But yet much of the beauty and the nobility of the old, simple, restful
rich-hued life of the past still abode there, and remained with them. In
the straight lithe form of their maidens, untrammeled by modern garb,
and moving with the free majestic grace of forest does. In the vast,
dim, sculptured chambers, where the grandam span by the wood fire and
the little children played in the shadows, and the lovers whispered in
the embrasured window. In the broad market-place, where the mules
cropped the clover, and the tawny awnings caught the sunlight, and the
white caps of the girls framed faces fitted for the pencils of missal
painters, and the wondrous flush of color from mellow fruits and flowers
glanced amidst the shelter of deepest, freshest green. In the perpetual
presence of their cathedral, which through sun and storm, through frost
and summer, through noon and midnight, stood there amidst them, and
beheld the galled oxen tread their painful way, and the scourged mules
droop their humble heads, and the helpless harmless flocks go forth to
the slaughter, and the old weary lives of the men and women pass through
hunger and cold to the grave, and the sun and the moon rise and set, and
the flowers and the children blossom and fade, and the endless years
come and go, bringing peace, bringing war; bringing harvest, bringing
famine; bringing life, bringing death; and, beholding these, still said
to the multitude in its terrible irony, "Lo! your God is Love."

This little town lay far from the great Paris highway and all greatly
frequented tracks. It was but a short distance from the coast, but near
no harbor of greater extent than such as some small fishing village had
made in the rocks for the trawlers. Few strangers ever came to it,
except some wandering painters or antiquaries. It sent its apples and
eggs, its poultry and honey, its colza and corn, to the use of the great
cities; but it was rarely that any of its own people went thither.

Now and then some one of the oval-faced, blue-eyed, lithe-limbed maidens
of its little homely households would sigh and flush and grow restless,
and murmur of Paris; and would steal out in the break of a warm gray
morning whilst only the birds were still waking; and would patter away
in her wooden shoes over the broad, white, southern road, with a stick
over her shoulder, and a bundle of all her worldly goods upon the stick.
And she would look back often, often as she went; and when all was lost
in the blue haze of distance save the lofty spire that she still saw
through her tears, she would say in her heart, with her lips parched and
trembling, "I will come back again. I will come back again."

But none such ever did come back.

They came back no more than did the white sweet sheaves of the lilies
that the women gathered and sent to be bought and sold in the city--to
gleam one faint summer night in a gilded balcony, and to be flung out
the next morning, withered and dead.

One among the few who had thus gone whither the lilies went, and of whom
the people would still talk as their mules paced homewards through the
lanes at twilight, had been Reine Flamma, the daughter of the miller of
Yprès.

Yprès was a beechen-wooded hamlet on the northern outskirt of the town,
a place of orchards and wooded tangle; through which there ran a branch
of the brimming river, hastening to seek and join the sea, and caught a
moment on its impetuous way, and forced to work by the grim mill-wheels
that had churned the foam-bells there for centuries. The mill-house was
very ancient; its timbers were carved all over into the semblance of
shields and helmets, and crosses, and fleur-de-lis, and its frontage was
of quaint pargeted work, black and white, except where the old
blazonries had been.

It had been handed down from sire to son of the same race through many
generations--a race hard, keen, unlearned, superstitious, and
caustic-tongued--a race wedded to old ways, credulous of legend, chaste
of life, cruel of judgment; harshly strong, yet ignorantly weak; a race
holding dearer its heir-loom of loveless, joyless, bigoted virtue even
than those gold and silver pieces which had ever been its passion,
hidden away in earthen pipkins under old apple-roots, or in the crannies
of wall timber, or in secret nooks of oaken cupboards.

Claudis Flamma, the last of this toilsome, God-fearing, man-begrudging,
Norman stock, was true to the type and the traditions of his people.

He was too ignorant even to read; but priests do not deem this a fault.
He was avaricious; but many will honor a miser quicker than a
spendthrift. He was cruel; but in the market-place he always took heed
to give his mare a full feed, so that if she were pinched of her hay in
her stall at home none were the wiser, for she had no language but that
of her wistful black eyes; and this is a speech to which men stay but
little to listen. The shrewd, old bitter-tongued, stern-living man was
feared and respected with the respect that fear begets; and in truth he
had a rigid virtue in his way, and was proud of it, with scorn for those
who found it hard to walk less straightly and less circumspectly than
himself.

He married late; his wife died in childbirth; his daughter grew into the
perfection of womanhood under the cold, hard, narrow rule of his
severity and his superstition. He loved her, indeed, with as much love
as it was possible for him ever to feel, and was proud of her beyond all
other things; saved for her, toiled for her, muttered ever that it was
for her when at confession he related how his measures of flour had
been falsely weighted, and how he had filched from the corn brought by
the widow and the fatherless. For her he had sinned: from one to whom
the good report of his neighbors and the respect of his own conscience
were as the very breath of life, it was the strongest proof of love that
he could give. But this love never gleamed one instant in his small
sharp gray eyes, nor escaped ever by a single utterance from his lips.
Reprimand, or homily, or cynical rasping sarcasm, was all that she ever
heard from him. She believed that he despised, and almost hated her; he
held it well for women to be tutored in subjection and in trembling.

At twenty-two Reine Flamma was the most beautiful woman in Calvados, and
the most wretched.

She was straight as a pine; cold as snow; graceful as a stem of wheat;
lovely and silent; with a mute proud face, in which the great blue eyes
alone glowed with a strange, repressed, speechless passion and
wishfulness. Her life was simple, pure, chaste, blameless, as the lives
of the many women of her race who, before her, had lived and died in the
shadow of that water-fed wood had always been. Her father rebuked and
girded at her, continually dreaming that he could paint whiter even the
spotlessness of this lily, refine even the purity of this virgin gold.

She never answered him anything, nor in anything contradicted his will;
not one among all the youths and maidens of her birthplace had ever
heard so much as a murmur of rebellion from her; and the priests said
that such a life as this would be fitter for the cloister than the
marriage-bed. None of them ever read the warning that these dark-blue
slumbering eyes would have given to any who should have had the skill to
construe them right. There were none of such skill there; and so, she
holding her peace, the men and women noted her ever with a curious dumb
reverence, and said among themselves that the race of Flamma would die
well and nobly in her.

"A saint!" said the good old gentle bishop of the district, as he
blessed her one summer evening in her father's house, and rode his mule
slowly through the pleasant poplar lanes and breeze-blown fields of
colza back to his little quiet homestead, where he tended his own
cabbages and garnered his own honey.

Reine Flamma bowed her tall head meekly, and took his benediction in
silence.

The morning after, the miller, rising, as his custom was, at daybreak,
and reciting his paternosters, thanked the Mother of the World that she
had given him thus strength and power to rear up his motherless daughter
in purity and peace. Then he dressed himself in his gray patched blouse,
groped his way down the narrow stair, and went in his daily habit to
undraw the bolts and unloose the chains of his dwelling.

There was no need that morning for him; the bolts were already back; the
house-door stood wide open; on the threshold a brown hen perched pluming
herself; there were the ticking of the clock, the chirming of the birds,
the rushing of the water, these were the only sounds upon the silence.

He called his daughter's name: there was no answer. He mounted to her
chamber: it had no tenant. He searched hither and thither, in the house,
and the stable, and the granary: in the mill, and the garden, and the
wood; he shouted, he ran, he roused his neighbors, he looked in every
likely and unlikely place: there was no reply.

There was only the howl of the watch-dog, who sat with his face to the
south and mourned unceasingly.

And from that day neither he nor any man living there ever heard again
of Reine Flamma.

Some indeed did notice that at the same time there disappeared from the
town one who had been there through all that spring and summer. One who
had lived strangely, and been clad in an odd rich fashion, and had been
whispered as an Eastern prince by reason of his scattered gold, his
unfamiliar tongue, his black-browed, star-eyed, deep-hued beauty, like
the beauty of the passion-flower. But none had ever seen this stranger
and Reine Flamma in each other's presence; and the rumor was discredited
as a foulness absurd and unseemly to be said of a woman whom their
bishop had called a saint. So it died out, breathed only by a few
mouths, and it came to be accepted as a fact that she must have perished
in the deep fast-flowing river by some false step on the mill-timber, as
she went at dawn to feed her doves, or by some strange sad trance of
sleep-walking, from which she had been known more than once to suffer.

Claudis Flamma said little; it was a wound that bled inwardly. He
toiled, and chaffered, and drove hard bargains, and worked early and
late with his hireling, and took for the household service an old Norman
peasant woman more aged than himself, and told no man that he suffered.
All that he ever said was, "She was a saint: God took her;" and in his
martyrdom he found a hard pride and a dull consolation.

It was no mere metaphoric form of words with him. He believed in
miracles and all manner of divine interposition, and he believed
likewise that she, his angel, being too pure for earth, had been taken
by God's own hand up to the bosom of Mary; and this honor which had
befallen his first-begotten shed a sanctity and splendor on his
cheerless days; and when the little children and the women saw him pass,
they cleared from his way as from a prince's, and crossed themselves as
they changed words with one whose daughter was the bride of Christ.

So six years passed away; and the name of Reine Flamma was almost
forgotten, but embalmed in memories of religious sanctity, as the dead
heart of a saint is imbedded in amber and myrrh.

At the close of the sixth year there happened what many said was a thing
devil-conceived and wrought out by the devil to the shame of a pure
name, and to the hinderance of the people of God.

One winter's night Claudis Flamma was seated in his kitchen, having
recently ridden home his mare from the market in the town. The fire
burned in ancient fashion on the hearth, and it was so bitter without
that even his parsimonious habits had relaxed, and he had piled some
wood, liberally mingled with dry moss, that cracked, and glowed, and
shot flame up the wide black shaft of the chimney. The day's work was
over; the old woman-servant sat spinning flax on the other side of the
fire; the great mastiff was stretched sleeping quietly on the brick
floor; the blue pottery, the brass pans, the oaken presses that had been
the riches of his race for generations, glimmered in the light; the
doors were barred, the shutters closed; around the house the winds
howled, and beneath its walls the fretting water hissed.

The miller, overcome with the past cold and present warmth, nodded in
his wooden settle and slept, and muttered dreamily in his sleep, "A
saint--a saint!--God took her."

The old woman, hearing, looked across at him, and shook her head, and
went on with her spinning with lips that moved inaudibly: she had been
wont to say, out of her taskmaster's hearing, that no woman who was
beautiful ever was a saint as well. And some thought that this old
creature, Marie Pitchou, who used to live in a miserable hut on the
other side of the wood, had known more than she had chosen to tell of
the true fate of Reine Flamma.

Suddenly a blow on the panels of the door sounded through the silence.
The miller, awakened in a moment, started to his feet and grasped his
ash staff with one hand, and with the other the oil-lamp burning on the
trestle. The watch-dog arose, but made no hostile sound.

A step crushed the dead leaves without and passed away faintly; there
was stillness again; the mastiff went to the bolted door, smelt beneath
it, and scratched at the panels.

On the silence there sounded a small, timid, feeble beating on the wood
from without; such a slight fluttering noise as a wounded bird might
make in striving to rise.

"It is nothing evil," muttered Flamma. "If it were evil the beast would
not want to have the door opened. It may be some one sick or stray."

All this time he was in a manner charitable, often conquering the
niggardly instincts of his character to try and save his soul by serving
the wretched. He was a miser, and he loved to gain, and loathed to give;
but since his daughter had been taken to the saints he had striven with
all his might to do good enough to be taken likewise to that Heavenly
rest.

Any crust bestowed on the starveling, any bed of straw afforded to the
tramp, caused him a sharp pang; but since his daughter had been taken he
had tried to please God by this mortification of his own avarice and
diminution of his own gains. He could not vanquish the nature that was
ingrained in him. He would rob the widow of an ephah of wheat, and leave
his mare famished in her stall, because it was his nature to find in all
such saving a sweet savor; but he would not turn away a beggar or refuse
a crust to a wayfarer, lest, thus refusing, he might turn away from him
an angel unawares.

The mastiff scratched still at the panels; the sound outside had ceased.

The miller, setting the lamp down on the floor, gripped more firmly the
ashen stick, undrew the bolts, turned the stout key, and opened the door
slowly, and with caution. A loud gust of wind blew dead leaves against
his face; a blinding spray of snow scattered itself over his bent
stretching form. In the darkness without, whitened from head to foot,
there stood a little child.

The dog went up to her and licked her face with kindly welcome. Claudis
Flamma drew her with a rough grasp across the threshold, and went out
into the air to find whose footsteps had been those which had trodden
heavily away after the first knock. The snow, however, was falling fast;
it was a cloudy moonless night. He did not dare to go many yards from
his own portals, lest he should fall into some ambush set by robbers.
The mastiff too was quiet, which indicated that there was no danger
near, so the old man returned, closed the door carefully, drew the bolts
into their places, and came towards the child, whom the woman Pitchou
had drawn towards the fire.

She was a child of four or five years old; huddled in coarse linen and
in a little red garment of fox's skin, and blanched from head to foot,
for the flakes were frozen on her and on the little hood that covered,
gypsy-like, her curls. It was a strange, little, ice-cold, ghostlike
figure, but out of this mass of icicles and whiteness there glowed great
beaming frightened eyes and a mouth like a scarlet berry; the radiance
and the contrast of it were like the glow of holly fruit thrust out
from a pile of drifted snow.

The miller shook her by the shoulder.

"Who brought you?"

"Phratos," answered the child, with a stifled sob in her throat.

"And who is that?"

"Phratos," answered the child again.

"Is that a man or a woman?"

The child made no reply; she seemed not to comprehend his meaning. The
miller shook her again, and some drops of water fell from the ice that
was dissolving in the warmth.

"Why are you come here?" he asked, impatiently.

She shook her head, as though to say none knew so little of herself as
she.

"You must have a name," he pursued harshly and in perplexity. "What are
you called? Who are you?"

The child suddenly raised her great eyes that had been fastened on the
leaping flames, and flashed them upon his in a terror of bewildered
ignorance--the piteous terror of a stray dog.

"Phratos," she cried once more, and the cry now was half a sigh, half a
shriek.

Something in that regard pierced him and startled him; he dropped his
hand off her shoulder, and breathed quickly; the old woman gave a low
cry, and staring with all her might at the child's small, dark, fierce,
lovely face, fell to counting her wooden beads and mumbling many
prayers.

Claudis Flamma turned savagely on her as if stung by some unseen snake,
and willing to wreak his vengeance on the nearest thing that was at
hand.

"Fool! cease your prating!" he muttered, with a brutal oath. "Take the
animal and search her. Bring me what you find."

Then he sat down on the stool by the fire, and braced his lips tightly,
and locked his bony hands upon his knees. He knew what blow awaited him;
he was no coward, and he had manhood enough in him to press any iron
into his soul and tell none that it hurt him.

The old woman drew the child aside to a dusky corner of the chamber, and
began to despoil her of her coverings. The creature did not resist; the
freezing cold and long fatigue had numbed and silenced her; her eyelids
were heavy with the sleep such cold produces, and she had not strength,
because she had not consciousness enough, to oppose whatsoever they
might choose to do to her. Only now and then her eyes opened, as they
had opened on him, with a sudden luster and fierceness, like those in a
netted animal's impatient but untamed regard.

Pitchou seized and searched her eagerly, stripping her of her warm
fox-skin wrap, her scarlet hood of wool, her little rough hempen shirt,
which were all dripping with the water from the melted snow.

The skin of the child was brown, with a golden bloom on it; it had been
tanned by hot suns, but it was soft as silk in texture, and transparent,
showing the course of each blue vein. Her limbs were not well nourished,
but they were of perfect shape and delicate bone; and the feet were the
long, arched, slender feet of the southern side of the Pyrenees.

She allowed herself to be stripped and wrapped in a coarse piece of
homespun linen; she was still half frozen, and in a state of stupor,
either from amazement or from fear. She was quite passive, and she never
spoke. Her apathy deceived the old crone, who took it for docility, and
who, trusting to it, proceeded to take advantage of it, after the manner
of her kind. About the child's head there hung a little band of
glittering coins; they were not gold, but the woman Pitchou thought they
were, and seized them with gloating hands and ravenous eyes.

The child started from her torpor, shook herself free, and fought to
guard them--fiercely, with tooth and nail, as the young fox whose skin
she had worn might have fought for its dear life. The old woman on her
side strove as resolutely; long curls of the child's hair were clutched
out in the struggle; she did not wince or scream, but she fought--fought
with all the breath and the blood that were in her tiny body.

She was no match, with all her ferocity and fury, for the sinewy grip
of the old peasant; and the coins were torn off her forehead and hidden
away in a hole in the wood, out of her sight, where the old peasant
hoarded all her precious treasures of copper coins and other trifles
that she managed to secrete from her master's all-seeing eyes.

They were little Oriental sequins engraved with Arabic characters,
chained together after the Eastern fashion. To Pitchou they looked a
diadem of gold worthy of an empress. The child watched them removed in
perfect silence; from the moment they had been wrenched away, and the
battle had been finally lost to her, she had ceased to struggle, as
though disdainful of a fruitless contest. But a great hate gathered in
her eyes, and smouldered there like a half-stifled fire--it burned on
and on for many a long year afterwards, unquenched.

When Pitchou brought her a cup of water, and a roll of bread, she would
neither eat nor drink, but turned her face to the wall,--mute.

"Those are just her father's eyes," the old woman muttered. She had seen
them burn in the gloom of the evening through the orchard trees, as the
stars rose, and as Reine Flamma listened to the voice that wooed her to
her destruction.

She let the child be, and searched her soaked garments for any written
word or any token that might be on them. Fastened roughly to the fox's
skin there was a faded letter. Pitchou could not read; she took it to
her master.

Claudis Flamma grasped the paper and turned its superscription to the
light of the lamp.

He likewise could not read, yet at sight of the characters his tough
frame trembled, and his withered skin grew red with a sickly, feverish
quickening of the blood. He knew them. Once, in a time long dead, he had
been proud of those slender letters that had been so far more legible
than any that the women of her class could pen, and on beholding which
the good bishop had smiled, and passed a pleasant word concerning her
being almost fitted to be his own clerk and scribe. For a moment,
watching those written ciphers that had no tongue for him, and yet
seemed to tell their tale so that they scorched and withered up all the
fair honor and pious peace of his old age, a sudden faintness, a sudden
swooning sense seized him for the first time in all his life; his limbs
failed him, he sank down on his seat again, he gasped for breath; he
needed not to be told anything, he knew all. He knew that the creature,
whom he had believed so pure that God had deemed the earth unworthy of
her youth, was----

His throat rattled, his lips were covered with foam, his ears were
filled with a rushing hollow sound, like the roaring of his own
mill-waters in a time of storm. All at once he started to his feet, and
glared at the empty space of the dim chamber, and struck his hands
wildly together in the air, and cried aloud:

"She was a saint, I said--a saint! A saint in body and soul! And I
thought that God begrudged her, and held her too pure for man!"

And he laughed aloud--thrice.

The child hearing, and heavy with sleep, and eagerly desiring warmth, as
a little frozen beast that coils itself in snow to slumber into death,
startled by that horrible mirth, came forward.

The serge fell off her as she moved. Her little naked limbs glimmered
like gold in the dusky light; her hair was as a cloud behind her; her
little scarlet mouth was half open, like the mouth of a child seeking
its mother's kiss; her great eyes, dazzled by the flame, flashed and
burned and shone like stars. They had seen the same face ere then in
Calvados.

She came straight to Claudis Flamma as though drawn by that awful and
discordant laughter, and by that leaping ruddy flame upon the hearth,
and she stretched out her arms and murmured a word and smiled, a little
dreamily, seeking to sleep, asking to be caressed, desiring she knew not
what.

He clinched his fist, and struck her to the ground. She fell without a
sound. The blood flowed from her mouth.

He looked at her where she lay, and laughed once more.

"She was a saint!--a saint! And the devil begot in her _that_!"

Then he went out across the threshold and into the night, with the
letter still clinched in his hand.

The snow fell, the storm raged, the earth was covered with ice and
water; he took no heed, but passed through it, his head bare and his
eyes blind.

The dog let him go forth alone, and waited by the child.



CHAPTER III.


All night long he was absent.

The old serving-woman, terrified, in so far as her dull brutish nature
could be roused to fear, did what she knew, what she dared. She raised
the little wounded naked creature, and carried her to her own pallet
bed; restored her to consciousness by such rude means as she had
knowledge of, and stanched the flow of blood. She did all this harshly,
as it was her custom to do all things, and without tenderness or even
pity, for the sight of this stranger was unwelcome to her, and she also
had guessed the message of that unread letter.

The child had been stunned by the blow, and she had lost some blood, and
was weakened and stupefied and dazed; yet there seemed to her rough
nurse no peril for her life, and by degrees she fell into a feverish,
tossing slumber, sobbing sometimes in her sleep, and crying perpetually
on the unknown name of Phratos.

The old woman Pitchou stood and looked at her. She who had always known
the true story of that disappearance which some had called death and
some had deemed a divine interposition, had seen before that transparent
brown skin, those hues in cheeks and lips like the carnation leaves,
that rich, sunfed, dusky beauty, those straight dark brows.

"She is his sure enough," she muttered. "He was the first with Reine
Flamma. I wonder has he been the last."

And she went down the stairs chuckling, as the low human brute will at
any evil thought.

The mastiff stayed beside the child.

She went to the fire and threw more wood on, and sat down again to her
spinning-wheel, and span and dozed, and span and dozed again.

She was not curious: to her, possessing that thread to the secret of the
past which her master and her townfolk had never held, it all seemed
natural. It was an old, old story; there had been thousands like it; it
was only strange because Reine Flamma had been held a saint.

The hours passed on; the lamp paled, and its flame at last died out; in
the loft above, where the dog watched, there was no sound; the old woman
slumbered undisturbed, unless some falling ember of the wood aroused
her.

She was not curious, nor did she care how the child fared. She had led
that deadening life of perpetual labor and of perpetual want in which
the human animal becomes either a machine or a devil. She was a machine;
put to what use she might be--to spin flax, to card wool, to wring a
pigeon's throat, to bleed a calf to death, to bake or stew, to mumble a
prayer, or drown a kitten, it was all one to her. If she had a
preference, it might be for the office that hurt some living thing; but
she did not care: all she heeded was whether she had pottage enough to
eat at noonday, and the leaden effigy of her Mary safe around her throat
at night.

The night went on, and passed away: one gleam of dawn shone through a
round hole in the shutter; she wakened with a start to find the sun
arisen, and the fire dead upon the hearth.

She shook herself and stamped her chill feet upon the bricks, and
tottered on her feeble way, with frozen body, to the house-door. She
drew it slowly open, and saw by the light of the sun that it had been
for some time morning.

The earth was everywhere thick with snow; a hoar frost sparkled over all
the branches; great sheets of ice were whirled down the rapid
mill-stream; in one of the leafless boughs a robin sang, and beneath the
bough a cat was crouched, waiting with hungry eager eyes, patient even
in its famished impatience.

Dull as her sympathy was, and slow her mind, she started as she saw her
master there.

Claudis Flamma was at work; the rough, hard, rude toil, which he spared
to himself no more than to those who were his hirelings. He was carting
wood; going to and fro with huge limbs of trees that men in youth would
have found it a severe task to move; he was laboring breathlessly,
giving himself no pause, and the sweat was on his brow, although he trod
ankle deep in snow, and although his clothes were heavy with icicles.

He did not see or hear her; she went up to him and called him by his
name; he started, and raised his head and looked at her.

Dull though she was, she was in a manner frightened by the change upon
his face; it had been lean, furrowed, weather-beaten always, but it was
livid now, with bloodshot eyes, and a bruised, broken, yet withal savage
look that terrified her. He did not speak, but gazed at her like a man
recalled from some drugged sleep back to the deeds and memories of the
living world.

The old woman held her peace a few moments; then spoke out in her old
blunt, dogged fashion,--

"Is she to stay?"

Her mind was not awake enough for any curiosity; she only cared to know
if the child stayed: only so much as would concern her soup-kettle, her
kneaded dough, her spun hemp, her household labor.

He turned for a second with the gesture that a trapped fox may make,
held fast, yet striving to essay a death-grip; then he checked himself,
and gave a mute sign of assent, and heaved up a fresh log of wood, and
went on with his labors, silently. She knew of old his ways too well to
venture to ask more. She knew, too, that when he worked like this,
fasting and in silence, there had been long and fierce warfare in his
soul, and some great evil done for which he sought to make atonement.

So she left him, and passed in to the house, and built up afresh her
fire, and swept her chamber out, and fastened up her round black pot to
boil, and muttered all the while,--

"Another mouth to feed; another beast to tend."

And the thing was bitter to her; because it gave trouble and took food.

Now, what the letter had been, or who had deciphered it for him, Claudis
Flamma never told to any man; and from the little strange creature no
utterance could be ever got.

But the child who had come in the night and the snow tarried at Yprès
from that time thenceforward.

Claudis Flamma nourished, sheltered, clothed her; but he did all these
begrudgingly, harshly, scantily; and he did all these with an acrid hate
and scorn, which did not cease but rather grew with time.

The blow which had been her earliest welcome was not the last that she
received from him by many; and whilst she was miserable exceedingly, she
showed it, not as children do, but rather like some chained and untamed
animal, in tearless stupor and in sudden, sharp ferocity. And this the
more because she spoke but a very few words of the language of the
people among whom she had been brought; her own tongue was one full of
round vowels and strange sounds, a tongue unknown to them.

For many weeks he said not one word to her, cast not one look at her; he
let her lead the same life that was led by the brutes that crawled in
the timbers, or by the pigs that couched and were kicked in the straw.
The woman Pitchou gave her such poor scraps of garments or of victuals
as she chose; she could crouch in the corner of the hearth where the
fire warmth reached; she could sleep in the hay in the little loft under
the roof; so much she could do and no more.

After that first moment in which her vague appeal for pity and for rest
had been answered by the blow that struck her senseless, the child had
never made a moan, nor sought for any solace.

All the winter through she lay curled up on the tiles by the fence, with
her arms round the great body of the dog and his head upon her chest;
they were both starved, beaten, kicked, and scourged, with brutal words
oftentimes; they had the community of misfortune, and they loved one
another.

The blow on her head, the coldness of the season, the scanty food that
was cast to her, all united to keep her brain stupefied and her body
almost motionless. She was like a young bear that is motherless,
wounded, frozen, famished, but which, coiled in an almost continual
slumber, keeps its blood flowing and its limbs alive. And, like the
bear, with the spring she awakened.

When the townsfolk and the peasants came to the mill, and first saw this
creature there, with her wondrous vivid hues, and her bronzed half-naked
limbs, they regarded her in amazement, and asked the miller whence she
came. He set his teeth, and answered ever:

"The woman that bore her was Reine Flamma."

The avowal was a penance set to himself, but to it he never added more;
and they feared his bitter temper and his caustic tongue too greatly to
press it on him, or even to ask him whether his daughter were with the
living or the dead.

With the unfolding of the young leaves, and the loosening of the
frost-bound waters, and the unveiling of the violet and the primrose
under the shadows of the wood, all budding life revives, and so did
hers. For she could escape from the dead, cold, bitter atmosphere of the
silent loveless house, where her bread was begrudged, and the cudgel was
her teacher, out into the freshness and the living sunshine of the young
blossoming world, where the birds and the beasts and tender blue flowers
and the curling green boughs were her comrades, and where she could
stretch her limbs in freedom, and coil herself among the branches, and
steep her limbs in the coolness of waters, and bathe her aching feet in
the moisture of rain-filled grasses.

With the spring she arose, the true forest animal she was; wild, fleet,
incapable of fear, sure of foot, in unison with all the things of the
earth and the air, and stirred by them to a strange, dumb, ignorant,
passionate gladness.

She had been scarce seen in the winter; with the breaking of the year
the people from more distant places who rode their mules down to the
mill on their various errands stared at this child, and wondered among
themselves greatly, and at length asked Claudis Flamma whence she came.

He answered ever, setting hard his teeth:

"The woman that bore her was one accursed, whom men deemed a
saint--Reine Flamma."

And he never added more. To tell the truth, the horrible, biting,
burning, loathsome truth, was a penance that he had set to himself, and
from which he never wavered.

They dared not ask him more; for many were his debtors, and all feared
his scourging tongue. But when they went away, and gossiped among
themselves by the wayside well or under the awnings of the
market-stalls, they said to one another that it was just as they had
thought long ago; the creature had been no better than her kind; and
they had never credited the fable that God had taken her, though they
had humored the miller because he was aged and in dotage. Whilst one old
woman, a withered and witchlike crone, who had toiled in from the
fishing village with a creel upon her back and the smell of the sea
about her rags, heard, standing in the market-place, and laughed, and
mocked them, these seers who were so wise after the years had gone, and
when the truth was clear.

"You knew, you knew, you knew!" she echoed, with a grin upon her face.
"Oh, yes! you were so wise! Who said seven years through that Reine
Flamma was a saint, and taken by the saints into their keeping? And who
hissed at me for a foul-mouthed crone when I said that the devil had
more to do with her than the good God, and that the black-browed gypsy,
with jewels for eyes in his head, like the toad, was the only master to
whom she gave herself? Oh-hè, you were so wise!"

So she mocked them, and they were ashamed, and held their peace; well
knowing that indeed no creature among them had ever been esteemed so
pure, so chaste, and so honored of heaven as had been the miller's
daughter.

Many remembered the "gypsy with the jeweled eyes," and saw those
brilliant, fathomless, midnight eyes reproduced in the small rich face
of the child whom Reine Flamma, as her own father said, had borne in
shame whilst they had been glorifying her apotheosis. And it came to be
said, as time went on, that this unknown stranger had been the fiend
himself, taking human shape for the destruction of one pure soul, and
the mocking of all true children of the church.

Legend and tradition still held fast their minds in this remote,
ancient, and priest-ridden place; in their belief the devil was still a
living power, traversing the earth and air in search of souls, and not
seldom triumphing: of metaphor or myth they were ignorant, Satan to them
was a personality, terrific, and oftentimes irresistible, assuming at
will shapes grotesque or awful, human or spiritual. Their forefathers
had beheld him; why not they?

So the henhucksters and poulterers, the cider-makers and tanners, the
fisherfolk from the seaboard, and the peasant proprietors from the
country round, came at length in all seriousness to regard the young
child at Yprès as a devil-born thing. "She was hell-begotten," they
would mutter when they saw her; and they would cross themselves, and
avoid her if they could.

The time had gone by, unhappily, as they considered, when men had been
permitted to burn such creatures as this; they knew it and were sorry
for it; the world, they thought, had been better when Jews had blazed
like torches, and witches had crackled like firewood; such treats were
forbidden now, they knew, but many, for all that, thought within
themselves that it was a pity it should be so, and that it was mistaken
mercy in the age they lived in which forbade the purifying of the earth
by fire of such as she.

In the winter-time, when they first saw her, unusual floods swept the
country, and destroyed much of their property; in the spring which
followed there were mildew and sickness everywhere; in the summer there
was a long drought, and by consequence there came a bad harvest, and
great suffering and scarcity.

There were not a few in the district who attributed all these woes to
the advent of the child of darkness, and who murmured openly in their
huts and homesteads that no good would befall them so long as this
offspring of hell were suffered in their midst.

Since, however, the time was past when the broad market-place could have
been filled with a curious, breathless, eager crowd, and the gray
cathedral have grown red in the glare of flames fed by a young living
body, they held their hands from doing her harm, and said these things
only in their own ingle-nooks, and contented themselves with forbidding
their children to consort with her, and with drawing their mules to the
other side of the road when they met her. They did not mean to be cruel,
they only acted in their own self-defense, and dealt with her as their
fellow-countrymen dealt with a cagote--"only."

Hence, when, with the reviving year the child's dulled brain awakened,
and all the animal activity in her sprang into vigorous action, she
found herself shunned, marked, and glanced at with averted looks of
mingled dread and scorn. "A daughter of the devil!" she heard again and
again muttered as they passed her; she grew to take shelter in this
repute as in a fortress, and to be proud, with a savage pride, of her
imputed origin.

It made her a little fierce, mute, fearless, reckless, all-daring, and
all-enduring animal. An animal in her ferocities, her mute instincts,
her supreme patience, her physical perfectness of body and of health.
Perfect of shape and hue; full of force to resist; ignorant either of
hope or fear; desiring only one thing, liberty; with no knowledge, but
with unerring instinct.

She was at an age when happier creatures have scarce escaped from their
mother's arms; but she had not even thus early a memory of her mother,
and she had been shaken off to live or die, to fight or famish, as a
young fox whose dam has been flung to the hounds is driven away to
starve in the winter woods, or save himself, if he have strength, by
slaughter.

She was a tame animal only in one thing: she took blows uncomplainingly,
and as though comprehending that they were her inevitable portion.

"The child of the devil!" they said. In a dumb, half-unconscious
fashion, this five-year-old creature wondered sometimes why the devil
had not been good enough to give her a skin that would not feel, and
veins that would not bleed.

She had always been beaten ever since her birth; she was beaten here;
she thought it a law of life, as other children think it such to have
their mother's kiss and their daily food and nightly prayer.

Claudis Flamma did after this manner his duty by her. She was to him a
thing accursed, possessed, loathsome, imbued with evil from her origin;
but he did what he deemed his duty. He clothed her, if scantily; he fed
her, if meagerly; he lashed her with all the caustic gibes that came
naturally to his tongue; he set her hard tasks to keep her from
idleness; he beat her when she did not, and not seldom when she did,
them. He dashed holy water on her many times; and used a stick to her
without mercy.

After this light he did his duty. That he should hate her, was to
fulfill a duty also in his eyes; he had always been told that it was
right to abhor the things of darkness; and to him she was a thing of
utter darkness, a thing born of the black ruin of a stainless soul,
begotten by the pollution and corruption of an infernal tempter.

He never questioned her as to her past--that short past, like the span
of an insect's life, which yet had sufficed to gift her with passions,
with instincts, with desires, even with memories,--in a word, with
character:--a character he could neither change nor break; a thing
formed already, for good or for evil, abidingly.

He never spoke to her except in sharp irony or in curt command. He set
her hard tasks of bodily labor which she did not dispute, but
accomplished so far as her small strength lay, with a mute dogged
patience, half ferocity, half passiveness.

In those first winter days of her arrival he called her Folle-Farine;
taking the most worthless, the most useless, the most abject, the most
despised thing he knew in all his daily life from which to name her; and
the name adhered to her, and was the only one by which she was ever
known.

Folle-Farine!--as one may say, the Dust.

In time she grew to believe that it was really hers; even as in time she
began to forget that strange, deep, rich tongue in which she had babbled
her first words, and to know no other tongue than the Norman-French
about her.

Yet in her there existed imagination, tenderness, gratitude, and a
certain wild and true nobility, though the old man Flamma would never
have looked for them, never have believed in them. She was devil-born:
she was of devil nature: in his eyes.

Upon his own mill-ditch, foul and fetid, refuse would sometimes gather,
and receiving the seed of the lily, would give birth to blossoms born
stainless out of corruption. But the allegory had no meaning for him.
Had any one pointed it out to him he would have taken the speaker into
his orchard, and said:

"Will the crab bear a fruit not bitter? Will the nightshade give out
sweetness and honey? Fool!--as the stem so the branch, as the sap so the
blossom."

And this fruit of sin and shame was poison in his sight.



CHAPTER IV.


The little dim mind of the five-year-old child was not a blank; it was
indeed filled to overflowing with pictures that her tongue could not
have told of, even had she spoken the language of the people amidst whom
she had been cast.

A land altogether unlike that in which she had been set down that bitter
night of snow and storm: a land noble and wild, and full of color,
broken into vast heights and narrow valleys, clothed with green beech
woods and with forests of oak and of walnut, filled with the noise of
torrents leaping from crag to crag, and of brown mountain-streams
rushing broad and angry through wooded ravines. A land, made beautiful
by moss-grown water-mills, and lofty gateways of gray rock; and still
shadowy pools, in which the bright fish leaped, and mules' bells that
rang drowsily through leafy gorges; and limestone crags that pierced the
clouds, spirelike, and fantastic in a thousand shapes; and high blue
crests of snow-topped mountains, whose pinnacles glowed to the divinest
flush of rose and amber with the setting of the sun.

This land she remembered vaguely, yet gloriously, as the splendors of a
dream of Paradise rest on the brain of some young sleeper wakening in
squalor, cold, and pain. But the people of the place she had been
brought to could not comprehend her few, shy, sullen words, and her
strange, imperfect trills of song; and she could not tell them that this
land had been no realm enchanted of fairy or of fiend, but only the
forest region of the Liebana.

Thither, one rich autumn day, a tribe of gypsies had made their camp.
They were a score in all; they held themselves one of the noblest
branches of their wide family; they were people with pure Eastern blood
in them, and all the grace and the gravity of the Oriental in their
forms and postures.

They stole horses and sheep; they harried cattle; they stopped the mules
in the passes, and lightened their load of wine-skins: they entered the
posada, when they deigned to enter one at all, with neither civil
question nor show of purse, but with a gleam of the teeth, like a
threatening dog, and the flash of the knife, half drawn out of the
girdle. They were low thieves and mean liars; wild daredevils and loose
livers; loathers of labor and lovers of idle days and plundering nights;
yet they were beautiful, with the noble, calm, scornful beauty of the
East, and they wore their rags with an air that was in itself an empire.

They could play, too, in heavenly fashion, on their old three-stringed
viols; and when their women danced on the sward by moonlight, under the
broken shadows of some Moorish ruin, clanging high their tambourines
above their graceful heads, and tossing the shining sequins that bound
their heavy hair, the muleteer or the herdsman, seeing them from afar,
shook with fear, and thought of the tales told him in his childhood by
his grandam of the spirits of the dead Moors that rose to revelry, at
midnight, in the haunts of their old lost kingdom.

Among them was a man yet more handsome than the rest, taller and lither
still; wondrous at leaping and wrestling, and all athletic things;
surest of any to win a woman, to tame a horse, to strike down a bull at
a blow, to silence an angry group at a wineshop with a single glance of
his terrible eyes.

His name was Taric.

He had left them often to wander by himself into many countries, and at
times when, by talent or by terrorism, he had netted gold enough to play
the fool to his fancy, he had gone to some strange city, where credulity
and luxury prevailed, and there had lived like a prince, as his own
phrase ran, and gamed and intrigued, and feasted, and roystered right
royally whilst his gains lasted.

Those spent, he would always return awhile, and lead the common, roving,
thieving life of his friends and brethren, till the fit of ambition or
the run of luck were again on him. Then his people would afresh lose
sight of him to light on him, velvet-clad, and wine-bibbing, in some
painter's den in some foreign town, or welcome him ragged, famished, and
footweary, on their own sunburnt sierras.

And the mystery of his ways endeared him to them; and they made him
welcome whenever he returned, and never quarreled with him for his
faithlessness; but if there were anything wilder or wickeder, bolder or
keener, on hand than was usual, his tribe would always say--"Let Taric
lead."

One day their camp was made in a gorge under the great shadows of the
Picos da Europa, a place that they loved much, and settled in often,
finding the chestnut woods and the cliff caverns fair for shelter, the
heather abounding in grouse, and the pools full of trout, fair for
feeding. That day Taric returned from a year-long absence, suddenly
standing, dark and mighty, between them and the light, as they lay
around their soup-kettle, awaiting their evening meal.

"There is a woman in labor, a league back; by the great cork-tree,
against the bridge," he said to them. "Go to her some of you."

And, with a look to the women which singled out two for the errand, he
stretched himself in the warmth of the fire, and helped himself to the
soup, and lay quiet, vouchsafing them never a word, but playing
meaningly with the knife handle thrust into his shirt; for he saw that
some of the men were about to oppose his share of a common meal which he
had not earned by a common right.

It was Taric--a name of some terror came to their fierce souls.

Taric, the strongest and fleetest and most well favored of them all;
Taric, who had slain the bull that all the matadors had failed to daunt;
Taric, who had torn up the young elm, when they needed a bridge over a
flood, as easily as a child plucks up a reed; Taric, who had stopped the
fiercest contrabandista in all those parts, and cut the man's throat
with no more ado than a butcher slits a lamb's.

So they were silent, and let him take his portion of the fire and of the
broth, and of the thin red wine.

Meanwhile the two gypsies, Quità and Zarâ, went on their quest, and
found things as he had said.

Under the great cork-tree, where the grass was long and damp, and the
wood grew thickly, and an old rude bridge of unhewn blocks of rock
spanned, with one arch, the river as it rushed downward from its
limestone bed aloft, they found a woman just dead and a child just born.

Quità looked the woman all over hastily, to see if, by any chance, any
gold or jewels might be on her; there were none. There was only an ivory
cross on her chest, which Quità drew off and hid. Quità covered her with
a few boughs and left her.

Zarâ wrapped the child in a bit of her woolen skirt, and held it warm in
her breast, and hastened to the camp with it.

"She is dead, Taric," said Quità, meaning the woman she had left.

He nodded his handsome head.

"This is yours, Taric?" said Zarâ, meaning the child she held.

He nodded again, and drank another drop of wine, and stretched himself.

"What shall we do with her?" asked Quità.

"Let her lie there," he answered her.

"What shall we do with it?" asked Zarâ.

He laughed, and drew his knife against his own brown throat in a
significant gesture.

Zarâ said no word to him, but she went away with the child under some
branches, on which was hung a tattered piece of awning, orange striped,
that marked her own especial resting-place.

Out of the group about the fire, one man, rising, advanced, and looked
Taric full in the eyes.

"Has the woman died by foul means?"

Taric, who never let any living soul molest or menace him, answered him
without offense, and with a savage candor,--

"No--that I swear. I used no foul play against her. Go look at her if
you like. I loved her well enough while she lived. But what does that
matter? She is dead. So best. Women are as many as the mulberries."

"You loved her, and you will let the wolves eat her body?"

Taric laughed.

"There are no wolves in Liebana. Go and bury her if you choose,
Phratos."

"I will," the other answered him; and he took his way to the cork-tree
by the bridge.

The man who spoke was called Phratos.

He was not like his tribe in anything: except in a mutual love for a
life that wandered always, and was to no man responsible, and needed no
roof-tree, and wanted no settled habitation, but preferred to dwell wild
with the roe and the cony, and to be hungry and unclad, rather than to
eat the good things of the earth in submission and in durance.

He had not their physical perfection: an accident at his birth had made
his spine misshapen, and his gait halting. His features would have been
grotesque in their ugliness, except for the sweet pathos of the eyes and
the gay archness of the mouth.

Among a race noted for its singular beauty of face and form, Phratos
alone was deformed and unlovely; and yet both deformity and unloveliness
were in a way poetic and uncommon; and in his rough sheepskin garments,
knotted to his waist with a leathern thong, and with his thick tangled
hair falling down on his shoulders, they were rather the deformity of
the brake-haunting faun, the unloveliness of the moon-dancing satyr,
than those of a man and a vagrant. With the likeness he had the temper
of the old dead gods of the forests and rivers, he loved music, and
could make it, in all its innumerable sighs and songs, give a voice to
all creatures and things of the world, of the waters and the woodlands;
and for many things he was sorrowful continually, and for other things
he forever laughed and was glad.

Though he was misshapen, and even, as some said, not altogether straight
in his wits, yet his kin honored him.

For he could draw music from the rude strings of his old viol that
surpassed their own melodies as far as the shining of the sun on the
summits of the Europa surpassed the trembling of the little lamps under
the painted roadside Cavaries.

He was only a gypsy; he only played as the fancy moved him, by a bright
fountain at a noonday halt, under the ruined arches of a Saracenic
temple, before the tawny gleam of a vast dim plain at sunrise; in a cool
shadowy court where the vines shut out all light; beneath a balcony at
night, when the moonbeams gleamed on some fair unknown face, thrust for
a moment from the darkness through the white magnolia flowers. Yet he
played in suchwise as makes women weep, and holds children and dogs
still to listen, and moves grown men to shade their eyes with their
hands, and think of old dead times, when they played and prayed at their
mothers' knees.

And his music had so spoken to himself that, although true to his tribe
and all their traditions, loving the vagrant life in the open air, and
being incapable of pursuing any other, he yet neither stole nor slew,
neither tricked nor lied, but found his way vaguely to honesty and
candor, and, having found them, clove to them, so that none could turn
him; living on such scant gains as were thrown to him for his music from
balconies and posada windows and winehouse doors in the hamlets and
towns through which he passed, and making a handful of pulse and a slice
of melon, a couch of leaves and a draught of water, suffice to him for
his few and simple wants.

His people reproached him, indeed, with demeaning their race by taking
payment in lieu of making thefts; and they mocked him often, and taunted
him, though in a manner they all loved him,--the reckless and
blood-stained Taric most, perhaps, of all. But he would never quarrel
with them, neither would he give over his strange ways which so incensed
them, and with time they saw that Phratos was a gifted fool, who, like
other mad simple creatures, had best be left to go on his own way
unmolested and without contradiction.

If, too, they had driven him from their midst, they would have missed
his music sorely; that music which awoke them at break of day soaring up
through their roof of chestnut leaves like a lark's song piercing the
skies.

Phratos came now to the dead woman, and drew off the boughs, and looked
at her. She was quite dead. She had died where she had first sunk down,
unable to reach her promised resting-place. It was a damp green nook on
the edge of the bright mountain-river, at the entrance of that narrow
gorge in which the encampment had been made.

The face, which was white and young, lay upward, with the shadows of the
flickering foliage on it; and the eyes, which Quità had not closed, were
large and blue; her hair, which was long and brown, was loose, and had
got wet among the grass, and had little buds of flowers and stray golden
leaves twisted in it.

Phratos felt sorrow for her as he looked.

He could imagine her history.

Taric, whom many women had loved, had besought many a one thus to share
his fierce free life for a little space, and then drift away out of it
by chance, or be driven away from it by his fickle passions, or be taken
away like this one by death.

In her bosom, slipped in her clothes, was a letter. It was written in a
tongue he did not know. He held it awhile, thinking, then he folded it
up and put it in his girdle,--it might be of use, who could tell? There
was the child, there, that might live; unless the camp broke up, and
Zarâ left it under a walnut-tree to die, with the last butterflies of
the fading summer, which was in all likelihood all she would do.

Nevertheless he kept the letter, and when he had looked long enough at
the dead creature, he turned to the tools he had brought with him, and
set patiently to make her grave.

He could only work slowly, for he was weak of body, and his infirmity
made all manual toil painful to him. His task was hard, even though the
earth was so soft from recent heavy rains.

The sun set whilst he was still engaged on it; and it was quite
nightfall before he had fully accomplished it. When the grave was ready
he filled it carefully with the golden leaves that had fallen, and the
thick many-colored mosses that covered the ground like a carpet.

Then he laid the body tenderly down within that forest shroud, and, with
the moss like a winding-sheet between it and the earth which had to fall
on it, he committed the dead woman to her resting-place.

It did not seem strange to him, or awful, to leave her there.

He was a gypsy, and to him the grave under a forest-tree and by a
mountain-stream seemed the most natural rest at last that any creature
could desire or claim. No rites seemed needful to him, and no sense of
any neglect, cruel or unfitting, jarred on him in thus leaving her in
her loneliness, with only the cry of the bittern or the bell of the wild
roe as a requiem.

Yet a certain sorrow for this unknown and lost life was on him, bohemian
though he was, as he took up his mattock and turned away, and went
backward down the gorge, and left her to lie there forever, through rain
and sunshine, through wind and storm, through the calm of the summer and
the flush of the autumn, and the wildness of the winter, when the
swollen stream should sweep above her tomb, and the famished beasts of
the hills would lift up their voices around it.

When he reached the camp, he gave the letter to Taric.

Taric, knowing the tongue it was written in, and being able to
understand the character, looked at it and read it through by the light
of the flaming wood. When he had done so he tossed it behind, in among
the boughs, in scorn.

"The poor fool's prayer to the brute that she hated!" he said, with a
scoff.

Phratos lifted up the letter and kept it.

In a later time he found some one who could decipher it for him.

It was the letter of Reine Flamma to the miller at Yprès, telling him
the brief story of her fatal passion, and imploring from him mercy to
her unborn child should it survive her and be ever taken to him.

Remorse and absence had softened to her the harshness and the meanness
of her father's character; she only remembered that he had loved her,
and had deemed her pure and faithful as the saints of God. There was no
word in the appeal by which it could have been inferred that Claudis
Flamma had been other than a man much wronged and loving much, patient
of heart, and without blame in his simple life.

Phratos took the letter and cherished it. He thought it might some day
save her offspring. This old man's vengeance could not, he thought, be
so cruel to the child as might be the curse and the knife of Taric.

"She must have been beautiful?" said Phratos to him, after awhile, that
night; "and you care no more for her than that."

Taric stretched his mighty limbs in the warmth of the flame and made his
answer:

"There will be as good grapes on the vines next year as any we gathered
this. What does it signify?--she was only a woman.

"She loved me; she thought me a god, a devil, a prince, a chief,--all
manner of things;--the people thought so too. She was sick of her life.
She was sick of the priests and the beads, and the mill and the market.
She was fair to look at, and the fools called her a saint. When a woman
is young and has beauty, it is dull to be worshiped--in that way.

"I met her in the wood one summer night. The sun was setting. I do not
know why I cared for her--I did. She was like a tall white lily; these
women of ours are only great tawny sunflowers.

"She was pure and straight of life; she believed in heaven and hell; she
was innocent as the child unborn; it was tempting to kill all that. It
is so easy to kill it when a woman loves you. I taught her what passion
and freedom and pleasure and torment all meant. She came with me,--after
a struggle, a hard one. I kept her loyally while the gold lasted; that I
swear. I took her to many cities. I let her have jewels and music, and
silk dresses, and fine linen. I was good to her; that I swear.

"But after a bit she pined, and grew dull again, and wept in secret, and
at times I caught her praying to the white cross which she wore on her
breast. That made me mad. I cursed her and beat her. She never said
anything; she seemed only to love me more, and that made me more mad.

"Then I got poor again, and I had to sell her things one by one. Not
that she minded that, she would have sold her soul for me. We wandered
north and south; and I made money sometimes by the dice, or by breaking
a horse, or by fooling a woman, or by snatching a jewel off one of their
dolls in their churches; and I wanted to get rid of her, and I could not
tell how. I had not the heart to kill her outright.

"But she never said a rough word, you know, and that makes a man mad.
Maddalena or Kara or Rachel--any of them--would have flown and struck a
knife at me, and hissed like a snake, and there would have been blows
and furious words and bloodshed; and then we should have kissed, and
been lovers again, fast and fierce. But a woman who is quiet, and only
looks at you with great, sad, soft eyes, when you strike her,--what is
one to do?

"We were horribly poor at last: we slept in barns and haylofts; we ate
berries and drank the brook-water. She grew weak, and could hardly walk.
Many a time I have been tempted to let her lie and die in the hedgeway
or on the plains, and I did not,--one is so foolish sometimes for sake
of a woman. She knew she was a burden and curse to me,--I may have said
so, perhaps; I do not remember.

"At last I heard of you in the Liebana, from a tribe we fell in with on
the other side of the mountains, and so we traveled here on foot. I
thought she would have got to the women before her hour arrived. But she
fell down there, and could not stir: and so the end came. It is best as
it is. She was wretched, and what could I do with a woman like that? who
would never hearken to another lover, nor give up her dead God on his
cross, nor take so much as a broken crust if it were stolen, nor even
show her beauty to a sculptor to be carved in stone--for I tried to make
her do that, and she would not. It is best as it is. If she had lived we
could have done nothing with her. And yet I see her sometimes as I saw
her that night, so white and so calm, in the little green wood, as the
sun set----"

His voice ceased, and he took up a horn full of vino clarete; and
drained it; and was very still, stretching his limbs to bask in the heat
of the fire. The wine had loosened his tongue, and he had spoken from
his heart,--truthfully.

Phratos, his only hearer, was silent.

He was thinking of the great blue sightless eyes that he had closed, and
of the loose brown hair on which he had flung the wet leaves and the
earth-clogged mosses.

"The child lives?" he said at length.

Taric, who was sinking to sleep after the long fatigues of a heavy tramp
through mountain-passes, stirred sullenly with an oath.

"Let it go to hell!" he made answer.

And these were the only words of baptism that were spoken over the
nameless daughter of Taric the gypsy and of Reine Flamma.

That night Phratos called out to him in the moonlight the woman Zarâ,
who came from under her tent, and stood under the glistening leaves,
strong and handsome, with shining eyes and snowy teeth.

"The child lives still?" he asked.

Zarâ nodded her head.

"You will try and keep it alive?" he pursued.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"What is the use? Taric would rather it were dead."

"What matter what Taric wishes. Living or dead, it will not hinder him.
A child more or less with us, what is it? Only a draught of goat's milk
or a handful of meal. So little; it cannot be felt. You have a child of
your own, Zarâ; you cared for it?"

"Yes," she answered, with a sudden softening gleam of her bright savage
eyes.

She had a brown, strong, year-old boy, who kicked his naked limbs on the
sward with joy at Phratos's music.

"Then have pity on this motherless creature," said Phratos, wooingly. "I
buried that dead woman; and her eyes, though there was no sight in them,
still seemed to pray to mine--and to pray for her child. Be merciful,
Zarâ. Let the child have the warmth of your arms and the defense of your
strength. Be merciful, Zarâ; and your seed shall multiply and increase
tenfold, and shall be stately and strong, and shall spread as the
branches of the plane-trees, on which the storm spends its fury in vain,
and beneath which all things of the earth can find refuge. For never was
a woman's pity fruitless, nor the fair deeds of her days without
recompense."

Zarâ listened quietly, as the dreamy, poetic, persuasive words stole on
her ear like music. Like the rest of her people, she half believed in
him as a seer and prophet; her teeth shone out in a soft sudden smile.

"You are always a fool, Phratos," she said; "but it shall be as you
fancy."

And she went in out of the moonlit leaves and the clear cool, autumn
night into the little dark stifling tent, where the new-born child had
been laid away in a corner upon a rough-and-ready bed of gathered dusky
fir-needles.

"It is a little cub, not worth the saving; and its dam was not of our
people," she said to herself, as she lifted the wailing and alien
creature to her bosom.

"It is for you, my angel, that I do it," she murmured, looking at the
sleeping face of her own son.

Outside the tent the sweet strains of Phratos's music rose sighing and
soft; and mingling, as sounds mingle in a dream, with the murmurs of the
forest leaves and the rushing of the mountain-river. He gave her the
only payment in his power.

Zarâ, hushing the strange child at her breast, listened, and was half
touched, half angered.

"Why should he play for this little stray thing, when he never played
once for you, my glory?" she said to her son, as she put the dead
woman's child roughly away, and took him up in its stead, to beat
together in play his rosy hands and cover his mouth with kisses.

For even from these, the world's outcasts, this new life of a few hours'
span was rejected as unworthy and despised.

Nevertheless, the music played on through the still forest night; and
nevertheless, the child grew and throve.

The tribe of Taric abode in the Liebana or in the adjacent country along
the banks of the Deva during the space of four years and more, scarcely
losing in that time the sight, either from near or far, of the rosy
peaks of the Europa.

He did not abide with them; he quarreled with them violently concerning
some division of a capture of wine-skins, and went on his own way to
distant provinces and cities; to the gambling and roystering, the
woman-fooling and the bull-fighting, that this soul lusted after always.

His daughter he left to dwell in the tent of Zarâ, and under the defense
of Phratos.

Once or twice, in sojourns of a night or two among his own people, as
the young creature grew in stature and strength, Taric had glanced at
her, and called her to him, and felt the litheness of her limbs and the
weight of her hair, and laughed as he thrust her from him, thinking, in
time to come, she--who would know nothing of her mother's dead God on
the cross, and of her mother's idle, weak scruples--might bring him a
fair provision in his years of age, when his hand should have lost its
weight against men and his form its goodliness in the sight of women.

Once or twice he had given her a kick of his foot, or blow with his
leathern whip, when she crawled in the grass too near his path, or lay
asleep in the sun as he chanced to pass by her.

Otherwise he had naught to do with her, absent or present; otherwise he
left her to chance and the devil, who were, as he said, according to the
Christians, the natural patrons and sponsors of all love-children.
Chance and the Devil, however, had not wholly their way in the Liebana;
for besides them there was Phratos.

Phratos never abandoned her.

Under the wolfskin and pineboughs of Zarâ's tent there was misery very
often.

Zarâ had a fresh son born to her with each succeeding year; and having a
besotted love for her own offspring, had little but indifference and
blows for the stranger who shared their bed and food. Her children,
brown and curly, naked and strong, fought one another like panther cubs,
and rode in a cluster like red mountain-ash berries in the sheepskin
round her waist, and drank by turns out of the pitcher of broth, and
slept all together on dry ferns and mosses, rolled in warm balls one in
another like young bears.

But the child who had no affinity with them, who was not even wholly of
their tribe, but had in her what they deemed the taint of gentile blood,
was not allowed to gnaw her bare bone or her ripe fig in peace if they
wished for it; was never carried with them in the sheepskin nest, but
left to totter after in the dust or mud as best she might; was forced to
wait for the leavings in the pitcher, or go without if leavings there
were none; and was kicked away by the sturdy limbs of these young males
when she tried to creep for warmth's sake in among them on their fern
bed. But she minded all this little; since in the Liebana there was
Phratos.

Phratos was always good to her. The prayer which those piteous dead eyes
had made he always answered. He had always pity for the child.

Many a time, but for his remembrance, she would have starved outright or
died of cold in those wild winters when the tribe huddled together in
the caverns of the limestone, and the snow-drifts were driven up by the
northern winds and blocked them there for many days. Many a time but for
his aid she would have dropped on their march and been left to perish as
she might on the long sunburnt roads, in the arid midsummers, when the
gypsies plodded on their dusty way through the sinuous windings of
hillside paths and along the rough stones of dried-up water-courses, in
gorges and passages known alone to them and the wild deer.

When her throat was parched with the torment of long thirst, it was he
who raised her to drink from the rill in the rock, high above, to which
the mothers lifted their eager children, leaving her to gasp and gaze
unpitied. When she was driven away from the noonday meal by the hungry
and clamorous youngsters, who would admit no share of their partridge
broth and stewed lentils, it was he who bruised the maize between stones
for her eating, and gathered for her the wild fruit of the quince and
the mulberry.

When the sons of Zarâ had kicked and bruised and spurned her from the
tent, he would lead her away to some shadowy place where the leaves grew
thickly, and play to her such glad and buoyant tunes that the laughter
seemed to bubble from the listening brooks and ripple among the swinging
boughs, and make the wild hare skip with joy, and draw the timid lizard
from his hole to frolic. And when the way was long, and the stony paths
cruel to her little bare feet, he would carry her aloft on his misshapen
shoulders, where his old viol always traveled; and would beguile the
steep way with a thousand quaint, soft, grotesque conceits of all the
flowers and leaves and birds and animals: talking rather to himself than
her, yet talking with a tender fancifulness, half humor and half
pathos, that soothed her tired senses like a lullaby. Hence it came to
pass that the sole creature whom she loved and who had pity for her was
the uncouth, crippled, gay, sad, gentle, dauntless creature whom his
tribe had always held half wittol and half seer.

Thus the life in the hills of the Liebana went on till the child of
Taric had entered her sixth year.

She had both beauty and grace; she had the old Moresco loveliness in its
higher type; she was fleet as the roe, strong as the young izard, wild
as the wood-partridge on the wing; she had grace of limb from the
postures and dances with which she taught herself to keep time to the
fantastic music of the viol; she was shy and sullen, fierce and savage,
to all save himself, for the hand of every other was against her; but to
him, she was docile as the dove to the hand that feeds it. He had given
her a string of bright sequins to hang on her hair, and when the
peasants of the mountains and valleys saw her by the edge of some green
woodland pool, whirling by moonlight to the sound of his melodies, they
took her to be some unearthly spirit, and told wonderful things over
their garlic of the elf crowned with stars they had seen dancing on a
round lotos-leaf in the hush of the night.

In the Liebana she was beaten often, hungry almost always, cursed
fiercely, driven away by the mothers, mocked and flouted by the
children; and this taught her silence and ferocity. Yet in the Liebana
she was happy, for one creature loved her, and she was free--free to lie
in the long grass, to bathe in the still pools, to watch the wild things
of the woods, to wander ankle-deep in forest blossoms, to sleep under
the rocking of pines, to run against the sweet force of the wind, to
climb the trees and swing cradled in leaves, and to look far away at the
snow on the mountains, and to dream, and to love, and to be content in
dreaming and loving, their mystical glory that awoke with the sun.

One day in the red autumn, Taric came; he had been wholly absent more
than two years.

He was superb to the sight still, with matchless splendor of face and
form, but his carriage was more reckless and disordered than ever, and
in his gemlike and night-black eyes, there was a look of cunning and of
subtle ferocity new to them.

His life had gone hardly with him, and to the indolence, the passions,
the rapacity, the slothful sensuality of the gypsy--who had retained all
the vices of his race whilst losing the virtues of simplicity in living,
and of endurance under hardship--the gall of a sharp poverty had become
unendurable: and to live without dice, and women, and wine, and boastful
brawling, seemed to him to be worse than any death.

The day he returned, they were still camped in the Liebana; in one of
its narrow gorges, overhung with a thick growth of trees, and coursed
through by a headlong hill-stream that spread itself into darkling
breadths and leafy pools, in which the fish were astir under great snowy
lilies and a tangled web of water-plants.

He strode into the midst of them, as they sat round their camp-fire lit
beneath a shelf of rock, as his wont was; and was welcomed, and fed, and
plied with such as they had, with that mixture of sullen respect and
incurable attachment which his tribe preserved, through all their
quarrels, for this, the finest and the fiercest, the most fickle and the
most faithless, of them all.

He gorged himself, and drank, and said little.

When the meal was done, the young of the tribe scattered themselves in
the red evening light under the great walnuts; some at feud, some at
play.

"Which is mine?" he asked, surveying the children. They showed her to
him. The sequins were round her head; she swung on a bough of ash; the
pool beneath mirrored her; she was singing as children sing, without
words, yet musically and gladly, catching at the fireflies that danced
above her in the leaves.

"Can she dance?" he asked lazily of them.

"In her own fashion,--as a flower in the wind," Phratos answered him,
with a smile; and, willing to woo for her the good graces of her father,
he slung his viol off his shoulders and tuned it, and beckoned the
child.

She came, knowing nothing who Taric was; he was only to her a
fierce-eyed man like the rest, who would beat her, most likely, if she
stood between him and the sun, or overturned by mischance his horn of
liquor.

Phratos played, and all the gypsy children, as their wont was, danced.

But she danced all alone, and with a grace and a fire that surpassed
theirs. She was only a baby still; she had only her quick ear to guide
her, and her only teacher was such inborn instinct as makes the birds
sing and the young kids gambol.

Yet she danced with a wondrous subtlety and intensity of ardor beyond
her years; her small brown limbs glancing like bronze in the fire-glow,
the sequins flashing in her flying hair, and her form flung high in air,
like a bird on the wing, or a leaf on the wind; never still, never
ceasing to dart, and to leap, and to whirl, and to sway, yet always with
a sweet dreamy indolence, even in her fiery unrest.

Taric watched her under his bent brow until the music ceased, and she
dropped on the grass spent and panting like a swallow after a long ocean
flight.

"She will do," he muttered.

"What is it you mean with the child?" some women asked.

Taric laughed.

"The little vermin is good for a gold piece or two," he answered.

Phratos said nothing, but he heard.

After awhile the camp was still; the gypsies slept. Two or three of
their men went out to try and harry cattle by the light of the moon if
they should be in luck; two others went forth to set snares for the wood
partridges and rabbits; the rest slumbered soundly, the dogs curled to a
watching sleep of vigilant guard in their midst.

Taric alone sat by the dying fire. When all was very quiet, and the
stars were clear in midnight skies, the woman Zarâ stole out of her tent
to him.

"You signed to me," she said to him in a low voice. "You want the child
killed?"

Taric showed his white teeth like a wolf.

"Not I; what should I gain?"

"What is it you want, then, with her?"

"I mean to take her, that is all. See here--a month ago, on the other
side of the mountains, I met a fantoccini player. It was at a wineshop,
hard by Luzarches. He had a woman-child with him who danced to his
music, and whom the people praised for her beauty, and who anticked like
a dancing-dog, and who made a great deal of silver. We got friends, he
and I. At the week's end the brat died: some sickness of the throat,
they said. Her master tore his hair and raved; the little wretch was
worth handfuls of coin to him. For such another he would give twelve
gold pieces. He shall have her. She will dance for him and me; there is
plenty to be made in that way. The women are fools over a handsome
child; they open their larders and their purses. I shall take her away
before sunrise; he says he teaches them in seven days, by starving and
giving the stick. She will dance while she is a child. Later on--there
are the theaters; she will be strong and handsome, and in the great
cities, now, a woman's comeliness is as a mine of gold ore. I shall take
her away by sunrise."

"To sell her?"

The hard fierce heart of Zarâ rebelled against him; she had no
tenderness save for her own offspring, and she had maltreated the stray
child many a time; yet the proud liberty and the savage chastity of her
race were roused against him by his words.

Taric laughed again.

"Surely; why not? I will make a dancing-dog of her for the peasants'
pastime; and in time she will make dancing-dogs of the nobles and the
princes for her own sport. It is a brave life--none better."

The gypsy woman stood, astonished and irresolute. If he had flung his
child in the river, or thrown her off a rock, he would have less
offended the instincts and prejudices of her clan.

"What will Phratos say?" she asked at length.

"Phratos? A rotten fig for Phratos! What can he say--or do? The little
beast is mine; I can wring its neck if I choose, and if it refuse to
pipe when we play for it, I will."

The woman sought in vain to dissuade him; he was inflexible. She left
him at last, telling herself that it was no business of hers. He had a
right to do what he chose with his own. So went and lay down among her
brown-faced boys, and was indifferent, and slept.

Taric likewise slept, upon a pile of moss under the ledge of the rock,
lulled by the heat of the fire, which, ere lying down, he had fed with
fresh boughs of resinous wood.

When all was quite still, and his deep quiet breathing told that his
slumber was one not easily broken, a man softly rose from the ground and
threw off a mass of dead leaves that had covered him, and stood erect, a
dark, strange, misshapen figure, in the moonlight: it was Phratos.

He had heard, and understood all that Taric meant for the present and
the future of the child: and he knew that when Taric vowed to do a thing
for his own gain, it were easier to uproot the chain of the Europa than
to turn him aside from his purpose.

"It was my doing!" said Phratos to himself bitterly, as he stood there,
and his heart was sick and sore in him, as with self-reproach for a
crime.

He thought awhile, standing still in the hush of the midnight; then he
went softly, with a footfall that did not waken a dog, and lifted up the
skins of Zarâ's tent as they hung over the fir-poles. The moonbeams
slanting through the foliage strayed in, and showed him the woman,
sleeping among her rosy robust children, like a mastiff with her litter
of tawny pups; and away from them, on the bare ground closer to the
entrance, the slumbering form of the young daughter of Taric.

She woke as he touched her, opening bright bewildered eyes.

"Hush! it is I, Phratos," he murmured over her, and the stifled cry died
on her lips.

He lifted her up in his arms and left the tent with her, and dropped the
curtain of sheepskin, and went out into the clear, crisp, autumn night.
Her eyes had closed again, and her head had sunk on his shoulder heavy
with sleep; she had not tried to keep awake one moment after knowing
that it was Phratos who had come for her; she loved him, and in his hold
feared nothing.

Taric lay on the ledge of the rock, deaf with the torpor of a
half-drunken slumber, dreaming gloomily; his hand playing in his dreams
with the knife that was thrust in his waistband.

Phratos stepped gently past him, and through the outstretched forms of
the dogs and men, and across the died-out embers of the fire, over which
the emptied soup-kettle still swung, as the night-breeze blew to and fro
its chain. No one heard him.

He went out from their circle and down the path of the gorge in silence,
carrying the child. She was folded in a piece of sheepskin, and in her
hair there were still the sequins. They glittered in the white light as
he went; as the wind blew, it touched the chords of the viol on his
shoulder, and struck a faint, musical, sighing sound from them.

"Is it morning?" the child murmured, half asleep.

"No, dear; it is night," he answered her, and she was content and slept
again--the strings of the viol sending a soft whisper in her drowsy ear,
each time that the breeze arose and swept across them.

When the morning came it found him far on his road, leaving behind him
the Liebana.

There followed a bright month of autumn weather. The child was happy as
she had never been.

They moved on continually through the plains and the fields, the hills
and the woods, the hamlets and the cities; but she and the viol were
never weary. They rode aloft whilst he toiled on. Yet neither was he
weary, for the viol murmured in the wind, and the child laughed in the
sunshine.



CHAPTER V.


It was late in the year.

The earth and sky were a blaze of russet and purple, and scarlet and
gold. The air was keen and swift, and strong like wine. A summer
fragrance blended with a winter frost. The grape harvest had been
gathered in, and had been plentiful, and the people were liberal and of
good humor.

Sometimes before a wineshop or beneath a balcony, or in a broad
market-square at evening, Phratos played; and the silver and copper
coins were dropped fast to him. When he had enough by him to get a crust
for himself, and milk and fruit for her, he did not pause to play, but
moved on resolutely all the day, resting at night only.

He bought her a little garment of red foxes' furs; her head and her feet
were bare. She bathed in clear running waters, and slept in a nest of
hay. She saw vast towers, and wondrous spires, and strange piles of wood
and stone, and rivers spanned by arches, and great forests half
leafless, and plains red in stormy sunset light, and towns that lay hid
in soft gold mists of vapor; and saw all these as in a dream, herself
borne high in air, wrapped warm in fur, and lulled by the sweet familiar
fraternity of the old viol. She asked no questions, she was content,
like a mole or a dormouse; she was not beaten or mocked, she was never
hungry nor cold; no one cursed her, and she was with Phratos.

It takes time to go on foot across a great country, and Phratos was
nearly always on foot.

Now and then he gave a coin or two, or a tune or two, for a lift on some
straw-laden wagon, or some mule-cart full of pottery or of vegetables,
that was crawling on its slow way through the plains of the marshy
lands, or the poplar-lined leagues of the public highways. But as a rule
he plodded on by himself, shunning the people of his own race, and
shunned in return by the ordinary populace of the places through which
he traveled. For they knew him to be a Spanish gypsy by his skin and his
garb and his language, and by the starry-eyed Arab-faced child who ran
by his side in her red fur and her flashing sequins.

"There is a curse written against all honest folk on every one of those
shaking coins," the peasants muttered as she passed them.

She did not comprehend their sayings, for she knew none but her gypsy
tongue, and that only very imperfectly; but she knew by their glance
that they meant that she was something evil; and she gripped tighter
Phratos's hand--half terrified, half triumphant.

The weather grew colder and the ground harder. The golden and scarlet
glories of the south and of the west, their red leafage and purple
flowers, gorgeous sunsets and leaping waters, gave place to the level
pastures, pale skies, leafless woods, and dim gray tints of the
northerly lands.

The frosts became sharp, and mists that came from unseen seas enveloped
them. There were marvelous old towns; cathedral spires that arose,
ethereal as vapor; still dusky cities, aged with many centuries, that
seemed to sleep eternally in the watery halo of the fog; green
cultivated hills, from whose smooth brows the earth-touching clouds
seemed never to lift themselves; straight sluggish streams, that flowed
with leisurely laziness through broad flat meadow-lands, white with snow
and obscure with vapor. These were for what they exchanged the pomp of
dying foliage, the glory of crimson fruits, the fierce rush of the
mistral, the odors of the nowel-born violets, the fantastic shapes of
the aloes and olives raising their dark spears and their silvery network
against the amber fires of a winter dawn in the rich southwest.

The child was chilled, oppressed, vaguely awestruck, and disquieted; but
she said nothing; Phratos was there and the viol.

She missed the red forests and the leaping torrents, and the prickly
fruits, and the smell of the violets and the vineyards, and the wild
shapes of the cactus, and the old myrtles that were hoary and contorted
with age. But she did not complain nor ask any questions; she had
supreme faith in Phratos.

One night, at the close of a black day in midwinter, the sharpest and
hardest in cold that they had ever encountered, they passed through a
little town whose roadways were mostly canals, and whose spires and
roofs and pinnacles and turrets and towers were all beautiful with the
poetry and the majesty of a long-perished age.

The day had been bitter; there was snow everywhere; great blocks of ice
choked up the water; the belfry chimes rang shrilly through the rarefied
air; the few folks that were astir were wrapped in wool or sheepskin;
through the casements there glowed the ruddy flush of burning logs; and
the muffled watchmen passing to and fro in antique custom on their
rounds called out, under the closed houses, that it was eight of the
night in a heavy snowstorm.

Phratos paused in the town at an old hostelry to give the child a hot
drink of milk and a roll of rye bread. There he asked the way to the
wood and the mill of Yprès.

They told it him sullenly and suspiciously: since for a wild gypsy of
Spain the shrewd, thrifty, plain people of the north had no liking.

He thanked them, and went on his way, out of the barriers of the little
town along a road by the river towards the country.

"Art thou cold, dear?" he asked her, with more tenderness than common in
his voice.

The child shivered under her little fur-skin, which would not keep out
the searching of the hurricane and the driving of the snowflakes; but
she drew her breath quickly, and answered him, "No."

They came to a little wood, leafless and black in the gloomy night; a
dead crow swung in their faces on a swaying pear-tree; the roar of the
mill-stream loudly filled what otherwise would have been an intense
silence.

He made his way in by a little wicket, through an orchard and through a
garden, and so to the front of the mill-house. The shutters were not
closed; through the driving of the snow he could see within. It looked
to him--a houseless wanderer from his youth up--strangely warm and safe
and still.

An old man sat on one side of the wide hearth; an old woman, who span,
on the other; the spinning-wheel turned, the thread flew, the logs
smoked and flamed, the red glow played on the blue and white tiles of
the chimney-place, and danced on the pewter and brass on the shelves;
from the rafters there hung smoked meats and dried herbs and strings of
onions; there was a crucifix, and below it a little Nativity, in wax and
carved wood.

He could not tell that the goodly stores were only gathered there to be
sold later at famine prices to a starving peasantry; he could not tell
that the wooden god was only worshiped in a blind, bigoted, brutal
selfishness, that desired to save its own soul, and to leave all other
souls in eternal damnation.

He could not tell; he only saw old age and warmth and comfort; and what
the people who hooted him as a heathen called the religion of Love.

"They will surely be good to her?" he thought. "Old people, and
prosperous, and alone by their fireside."

It seemed that they must be so.

Anyway, there was no other means to save her from Taric.

His heart was sore within him, for he had grown to love the child; and
to the vagrant instincts of his race the life of the house and of the
hearth seemed like the life of the cage for the bird. Yet Phratos, who
was not altogether as his own people were, but had thought much and
often in his own wild way, knew that such a life was the best for a
woman-child,--and, above all, for a woman-child who had such a sire as
Taric.

To keep her with himself was impossible. He had always dwelt with his
tribe, having no life apart from theirs; and even if he had left them,
wherever he had wandered, there would Taric have followed, and found
him, and claimed the child by his right of blood. There was no other way
to secure her from present misery and future shame, save only this; to
place her with her mother's people.

She stood beside him, still and silent, gazing through the snowflakes at
the warmth of the mill-kitchen within.

He stooped over her, and pushed between her fur garment and her skin the
letter he had found on the breast of the dead woman in the Liebana.

"Thou wilt go in there to the old man yonder, and sleep by that pleasant
fire to-night," he murmured to her. "And thou wilt be good and gentle,
and even as thou art to me always; and to-morrow at noontide I will come
and see how it fares with thee."

Her small hands tightened upon his.

"I will not go without thee," she muttered in the broken tongue of the
gypsy children.

There were food and milk, fire and shelter, safety from the night and
the storm there, she saw; but these were naught to her without Phratos.
She struggled against her fate as the young bird struggles against being
thrust into the cage,--not knowing what captivity means, and yet afraid
of it and rebelling by instinct.

He took her up in his arms, and pressed her close to him, and for the
first time kissed her. For Phratos, though tender to her, had no woman's
foolishness, but had taught her to be hardy and strong, and to look for
neither caresses nor compassion--knowing well that to the love-child of
Taric in her future years the first could only mean shame, and the last
could only mean alms, which would be shame likewise.

"Go, dear," he said softly to her; and then he struck with his staff on
the wooden door, and, lifting its latch, unclosed it; and thrust the
child forward, ere she could resist, into the darkness of the low
entrance-place.

Then he turned and went swiftly himself through the orchard and wood
into the gloom and the storm of the night.

He knew that to show himself to a northern householder were to do her
evil and hurt; for between the wanderer of the Spanish forests and the
peasant of the Norman pastures there could be only defiance, mistrust,
and disdain.

"I will see how it is with her to-morrow," he said to himself as he
faced again the wind and the sleet. "If it be well with her--let it be
well. If not, she must come forth with me, and we must seek some lair
where her wolf-sire shall not prowl and discover her. But it will be
hard to find; for the vengeance of Taric is swift of foot and has a
far-stretching hand and eyes that are sleepless."

And his heart was heavy in him as he went. He had done what seemed to
him just and due to the child and her mother; he had been true to the
vow he had made answering the mute prayer of the sightless dead eyes; he
had saved the flesh of the child from the whip of the trainer, and the
future of the child from the shame of the brothel; he had done thus much
in saving her from her father, and he had done it in the only way that
was possible to him.

Yet his heart was heavy as he went; and it seemed to him even as though
he had thrust some mountain-bird with pinions that would cleave the
clouds, and eyes that would seek the sun, and a song that would rise
with the dawn, and a courage that would breast the thunder, down into
the darkness of a trap, to be shorn and crippled and silenced for
evermore.

"I will see her to-morrow," he told himself; restless with a vague
remorse, as though the good he had done had been evil.

But when the morrow dawned there had happened that to Phratos which
forbade him to see whether it were well with her that day or any day in
all the many years that came.

For Phratos that night, being blinded and shrouded in the storm of snow,
lost such slender knowledge as he had of that northern country, and
wandered far afield, not knowing where he was in the wide white desert,
on which no single star-ray shone.

The violence of the storm grew with the hours. The land was a sheet of
snow. The plains were dim and trackless as a desert. Sheep were frozen
in their folds, and cattle drowned amidst the ice in the darkness. All
lights were out, and the warning peals of the bells were drowned in the
tempest of the winds.

The land was strange to him, and he lost all knowledge where he was.
Above, beneath, around, were the dense white rolling clouds of snow.
Now and then through the tumult of the hurricane there was blown a
strange harsh burst of jangled chimes that wailed a moment loudly on the
silence and then died again.

At many doors he knocked: the doors of little lonely places standing in
the great colorless waste.

But each door, being opened cautiously, was with haste shut in his face
again.

"It is a gypsy," the people muttered, and were afraid; and they drew
their bars closer and huddled together in their beds, and thanked their
saints that they were safe beneath a roof.

He wrapped his sheepskin closer round him and set his face against the
blast.

A hundred times he strove to set his steps backwards to the town, and a
hundred times he failed; and moved only round and round vainly, never
escaping the maze of the endless white fields.

Now the night was long, and he was weakly.

In the midst of the fields there was a cross, and at the head of the
cross hung a lantern. The wind tossed the light to and fro. It flickered
on the head of a woman. She lay in the snow, and her hand grasped his
foot as he passed her.

"I am dead," she said to him: "dead of hunger But the lad lives--save
him."

And as she spoke, her lips closed together, her throat rattled, and she
died.

The boy slept at her feet, and babbled in his sleep, delirious.

Phratos stooped down and raised him. He was a child of eight years, and
worn with famine and fever, and his gaunt eyes stared hideously up at
the driving snow.

Phratos folded him in his arms, and went on with him: the snow had
nearly covered the body of his mother.

All around were the fields. There was no light, except from the lantern
on the cross. A few sheep huddled near without a shepherd. The stillness
was intense. The bells had ceased to ring or he had wandered far from
the sound of them.

The lad was senseless; he muttered drearily foolish words of fever; his
limbs hung in a dead weight; his teeth chattered. Phratos, bearing him,
struggled on: the snow was deep and drifted heavily; every now and then
he stumbled and plunged to his knees in a rift of earth or in a shallow
pool of ice.

At last his strength, feeble at all times, failed him; his arms could
bear their burden no longer; he let the young boy slip from his hold
upon the ground; and stood, breathless and broken, with the snowflakes
beating on him.

"The woman trusted me," he thought; she was a stranger, she was a
beggar, she was dead. She had no bond upon him. Neither could she ever
bear witness against him. Yet he was loyal to her.

He unwound the sheepskin that he wore, and stripped himself of it and
folded it about the sick child, and with a slow laborious effort drew
the little body away under the frail shelter of a knot of furze, and
wrapped it closely round, and left it there.

It was all that he could do.

Then, with no defense between him and the driving cold, he strove once
more to find his road.

It was quite dark; quite still.

The snow fell ceaselessly; the white wide land was patchless as the sea.

He stumbled on, as a mule may which being blind and bruised yet holds
its way from the sheer instinct of its sad dumb patience. His veins were
frozen; his beard was ice; the wind cut his flesh like a scourge; a
sickly dreamy sleepiness stole on him.

He knew well what it meant.

He tried to rouse himself; he was young, and his life had its sweetness;
and there were faces he would fain have seen again, and voices whose
laughter he would fain have heard.

He drew the viol round and touched its strings; but his frozen fingers
had lost their cunning, and the soul of the music was chilled and dumb:
it only sighed in answer.

He kissed it softly as he would have kissed a woman's lips, and put it
in his bosom. It had all his youth in it.

Then he stumbled onward yet again, feebly, being a cripple, and cold to
the bone, and pierced with a million thorns of pain.

There was no light anywhere.

The endless wilderness of the white plowed lands stretched all around
him; where the little hamlets clustered the storm hid them; no light
could penetrate the denseness of that changeless gloom; and the only
sound that rose upon the ghastly silence was the moaning of some
perishing flock locked in a flood of ice, and deserted by its shepherd.

But what he saw and what he heard were not these going barefoot and
blindfold to his death, the things of his own land were with him; the
golden glories of sunsets of paradise; the scarlet blaze of a wilderness
of flowers; the sound of the fountains at midnight; the glancing of the
swift feet in the dances; the sweetness of songs sad as death sung in
the desolate courts of old palaces; the deep dreamy hush of white moons
shining through lines of palms straight on a silvery sea.

These arose and drifted before him, and he ceased to suffer or to know,
and sleep conquered him; he dropped down on the white earth noiselessly
and powerlessly as a leaf sinks; the snow fell and covered him.

When the morning broke, a peasant, going to his labor in the fields,
while the stormy winter sun rose red over the whitened world, found both
his body and the child's.

The boy was warm and living still beneath the shelter of the sheepskin:
Phratos was dead.

The people succored the child, and nursed and fed him so that his life
was saved; but to Phratos they only gave such burial as the corby gives
the stricken deer.

"It is only a gypsy; let him lie," they said; and they left him there,
and the snow kept him.

His viol they robbed him of, and cast it as a plaything to their
children.

But the children could make no melody from its dumb strings. For the
viol was faithful; and its music was dead too.

And his own land and his own people knew him never again; and never
again at evening was the voice of his viol heard in the stillness, and
never again did the young men and maidens dance to his bidding, and the
tears and the laughter rise and fall at his will, and the beasts and the
birds frisk and sing at his coming, and the children in his footsteps
cry, "Lo, it is summer, since Phratos is here!"



BOOK II.



CHAPTER I.


The hottest sun of a hot summer shone on a straight white dusty road.

An old man was breaking stones by the wayside; he was very old, very
bent, very lean, worn by nigh a hundred years if he had been worn by
one; but he struck yet with a will, and the flints flew in a thousand
pieces under his hammer, as though the youth and the force of nineteen
years instead of ninety were at work on them.

When the noon bell rang from a little odd straight steeple, with a
slanting roof, that peered out of the trees to the westward, he laid his
hammer aside, took off his brass-plated cap, wiped his forehead of its
heat and dust, sat down on his pile of stones, took out a hard black
crust and munched with teeth that were still strong and wiry.

The noontide was very quiet; the heat was intense, for there had been no
rainfall for several weeks; there was one lark singing high up in the
air, with its little breast lifted to the sun; but all the other birds
were mute and invisible, doubtless hidden safely in some delicious
shadow, swinging drowsily on tufts of linden bloom, or underneath the
roofing of broad chestnut leaves.

The road on either side was lined by the straight forms of endless
poplars, standing side by side in sentinel. The fields were all ablaze
around on every side with the gold of ripening corn or mustard, and the
scarlet flame of innumerable poppies.

Here and there they were broken by some little house, white or black, or
painted in bright colors, which lifted up among its leaves a little
tower like a sugar-loaf, or a black gable, and a pointed arch beneath
it. Now and then they were divided by rows of trees standing breathless
in the heat, or breadths of apple orchards, some with fruits ruby red,
some with fruits as yet green as their foliage.

Through it all the river ran, silver in the light, with shallow fords,
where the deep-flanked bullocks drank; and ever and anon an ancient
picturesque bridge of wood, time-bronzed and moss-imbedded.

The old man did not look round once; he had been on these roads a score
of years; the place had to him the monotony and colorlessness which all
long familiar scenes wear to the eyes that are weary of them.

He was ninety-five; he had to labor for his living; he ate black bread;
he had no living kith or kin; no friend save in the mighty legion of the
dead; he sat in the scorch of the sun; he hated the earth and the sky,
the air and the landscape: why not?

They had no loveliness for him; he only knew that the flies stung him,
and that the red ants could crawl through the holes in his shoes, and
bite him sharply with their little piercing teeth.

He sat in such scanty shade as the tall lean poplar gave, munching his
hard crusts; he had a fine keen profile and a long white beard that were
cut as sharply as an intaglio against the golden sunlight, in which the
gnats were dancing. His eyes were fastened on the dust as he ate; blue
piercing eyes which had still something of the fire of their youth; and
his lips under the white hair moved a little now and then, half audibly.

His thoughts were with the long dead years of an unforgotten time--a
time that will be remembered as long as the earth shall circle round the
sun.

With the present he had nothing to do; he worked to satisfy the
lingering cravings of a body that age seemed to have lost all power to
kill; he worked because he was too much of a man still to beg, and
because suicide looked to his fancy like a weakness. But life for all
that was over with him; life in the years of his boyhood had been a
thing so splendid, so terrible, so drunken, so divine, so tragic, so
intense, that the world seemed now to him to have grown pale and gray
and pulseless, with no sap in its vines, no hue in its suns, no blood in
its humanity.

For his memory held the days of Thermidor; the weeks of the White
Terror; the winter dawn, when the drums rolled out a King's threnody;
the summer nights, when all the throats of Paris cried "Marengo!"

He had lived in the wondrous awe of that abundant time when every hour
was an agony or a victory, when every woman was a martyr or a bacchanal;
when the same scythe that had severed the flowering grasses, served also
to cleave the fair breasts of the mother, the tender throat of the
child; when the ground was purple with the blue blood of men as with the
juices of out-trodden grapes, and when the waters were white with the
bodies of virgins as with the moon-fed lilies of summer. And now he sat
here by the wayside in the dust and the sun, only feeling the sting of
the fly and the bite of the ant; and the world seemed dead to him,
because so long ago, though his body still lived on, his soul had cursed
God and died.

Through the golden motes of the dancing air and of the quivering
sunbeams, whilst high above the lark sang on, there came along the road
a girl.

She was bare-footed, and bare-throated, lithe of movement, and straight
and supple as one who passed her life on the open lands and was abroad
in all changes of the weather. She walked with the free and fearless
measure of the countrywomen of Rome or the desert-born women of Nubia;
she had barely completed her sixteenth year, but her bosom and limbs
were full and firm, and moulded with almost all the luxuriant splendor
of maturity; her head was not covered after the fashion of the country,
but had a scarlet kerchief wound about. On it she bore a flat basket,
filled high with fruits and herbs and flowers; a mass of color and of
blossom, through which her dark level brows and her great eyes,
blue-black as a tempestuous night, looked out, set straight against the
sun.

She came on, treading down the dust with her long and slender feet, that
were such feet as a sculptor would give to his Cleopatra or his Phryne.
Her face was grave, shadowed, even fierce; and her mouth, though scarlet
as a berry and full and curled, had its lips pressed close on one
another, like the lips of one who has long kept silence, and may keep
it--until death.

As she saw the old man her eyes changed and lightened with a smile which
for the moment banished all the gloom and savage patience from her eyes,
and made them mellow and lustrous as a southern sun.

She paused before him, and spoke, showing her beautiful white teeth,
small and even, like rows of cowry shells.

"You are well, Marcellin?"

The old man started, and looked up with a certain gladness on his own
keen visage, which had lost all expression save such as an intense and
absorbed retrospection will lend.

"Fool!" he made answer, harshly yet not unkindly. "When will you know
that so long as an old man lives so long it cannot be 'well' with him?"

"Need one be a man, or old, to answer so?"

She spoke in the accent and the language of the province, but with a
voice rich and pure and cold; not the voice of the north, or of any
peasantry.

She put her basket down from off her head, and leaned against the trunk
of the poplar beside him, crossing her arms upon her bare chest.

"To the young everything is possible; to the old nothing," he said
curtly.

Her eyes gleamed with a thirsty longing; she made him no reply.

He broke off half his dry bread and tendered it to her. She shook her
head and motioned it away; yet she was as sharp-hungered as any hawk
that has hunted all through the night and the woods, and has killed
nothing. The growing life, the superb strength, the lofty stature of her
made her need constant nourishment, as young trees need it; and she was
fed as scantily as a blind beggar's dog, and less willingly than a
galley-slave.

The kindly air had fed her richly, strongly, continually; that was all.

"Possible!" she said slowly, after awhile. "What is 'possible'? I do not
understand."

The old man, Marcellin, smiled grimly.

"You see that lark? It soars there, and sings there. It is possible that
a fowler may hide in the grasses; it is possible that it may be shot as
it sings; it is possible that it may have the honor to die in agony, to
grace a rich man's table. You see?"

She mused a moment; her brain was rapid in intuitive perception, but
barren of all culture; it took her many moments to follow the filmy
track of a metaphorical utterance.

But by degrees she saw his meaning, and the shadow settled over her face
again.

"The 'possible,' then, is only--the worse?" she said slowly.

The old man smiled still grimly.

"Nay; our friends the priests say there is a 'possible' which will
give--one day--the fowler who kills the lark the wings of the lark, and
the lark's power to sing _Laus Deo_ in heaven. _I_ do not say--they do."

"The priests!" All the scorn of which her curved lips were capable
curled on them, and a deep hate gathered in her eyes--a hate that was
unfathomable and mute.

"Then there is no 'possible' for me," she said bitterly, "if so be that
priests hold the gifts of it?"

Marcellin looked up at her from under his bushy white eyebrows; a glance
fleet and keen as the gleam of blue steel.

"Yes, there is," he said curtly. "You are a woman-child, and have
beauty: the devil will give you one."

"Always the devil!" she muttered. There was impatience in her echo of
the words, and yet there was an awe also as of one who uses a name that
is mighty and full of majesty, although familiar.

"Always the devil!" repeated Marcellin. "For the world is always of
men."

His meaning this time lay too deep for her, and passed her; she stood
leaning against the poplar, with her head bent and her form motionless
and golden in the sunlight like a statue of bronze.

"If men be devils they are my brethren," she said suddenly; "why do
they, then, so hate me?"

The old man stroked his beard.

"Because Fraternity is Hate. Cain said so; but God would not believe
him."

She mused over the saying; silent still.

The lark dropped down from heaven, suddenly falling through the air,
mute. It had been struck by a sparrow-hawk, which flashed back against
the azure of the skies and the white haze of the atmosphere; and which
flew down in the track of the lark, and seized it ere it gained the
shelter of the grass, and bore it away within his talons.

Marcellin pointed to it with his pipe-stem.

"You see, there are many forms of the 'possible'----"

"When it means Death," she added.

The old man took his pipe back and smoked.

"Of course. Death is the key-note of creation."

Again she did not comprehend; a puzzled pain clouded the luster of her
eyes.

"But the lark praised God--why should it be so dealt with?"

Marcellin smiled grimly.

"Abel was praising God; but that did not turn aside the steel."

She was silent yet again; he had told her that old story of the sons
born of Eve, and the one whom, hearing it, she had understood and pitied
had been Cain.

At that moment, through the roadway that wound across the meadows and
through the corn lands and the trees, there came in sight a gleam of
scarlet that was not from the poppies, a flash of silver that was not
from the river, a column of smoke that was not from the weeds that
burned on the hillside.

There came a moving cloud, with a melodious murmur softly rising from
it; a cloud that moved between the high flowering hedges, the tall amber
wheat, the slender poplars, and the fruitful orchards; a cloud that grew
larger and clearer as it drew more near to them, and left the green
water-meadows and the winding field-paths for the great highroad.

It was a procession of the Church.

It drew closer and closer by slow imperceptible degrees, until it
approached them; the old man sat upright, not taking his cap from his
head nor his pipe from his mouth; the young girl ceased to lean for rest
against the tree, and stood with her arms crossed on her breast.

The Church passed them; the gilt crucifix held aloft, the scarlet and
the white of the floating robes catching the sunlight; the silver chains
and the silver censers gleaming, the fresh young voices of the singing
children cleaving the air like a rush of wind; the dark shorn faces of
the priests bowed over open books, the tender sound of little bells
ringing across the low deep monotony of prayer.

The Church passed them; the dust of the parched road rose up in a
choking mass; the heavy mist of the incense hung darkly on the sunlit
air; the tramp of the many feet startled the birds from their rest, and
pierced through the noonday silence.

It passed them, and left them behind it; but the fresh leaves were
choked and whitened; the birds were fluttered and affrightened; the old
man coughed, the girl strove to brush the dust motes from her smarting
eyelids.

"That is the Church!" said the stone-breaker, with a smile.
"Dust--terror--a choked voice--and blinded eyes."

Now she understood; and her beautiful curled lips laughed mutely.

The old man rammed some more tobacco into the bowl of his pipe.

"That is the Church!" he said. "To burn incense and pray for rain, and
to fell the forests that were the rain-makers."

The procession passed away out of sight, going along the highway and
winding by the course of the river, calling to the bright blue heavens
for rain; whilst the little bells rang and the incense curled and the
priests prayed themselves hoarse, and the peasants toiled footsore, and
the eager steps of the choral children trod the tiny gnat dead in the
grasses and the bright butterfly dead in the dust.

The priests had cast a severer look from out their down-dropped eyelids;
the children had huddled together, with their voices faltering a
little; and the boy choristers had shot out their lips in gestures of
defiance and opprobrium as they had passed these twain beneath the
wayside trees. For the two were both outcasts.

"Didst thou see the man that killed the king?" whispered to another one
fair and curly-headed baby, who was holding in the sun her little,
white, silver-fringed banner, and catching the rise and fall of the
sonorous chant as well as she could with her little lisping tones.

"Didst thou see the daughter of the devil?" muttered to another a
handsome golden-brown boy, who had left his herd untended in the meadow
to don his scarlet robes and to swing about the censer of his village
chapel.

And they all sang louder, and tossed more incense on high, and marched
more closely together under the rays of the gleaming crucifix as they
went; feeling that they had been beneath the shadow of the powers of
darkness, and that they were purer and holier, and more exalted, because
they had thus passed by in scorn what was accursed with psalms on their
lips, with the cross as their symbol.

So they went their way through the peaceful country with a glory of
sunbeams about them--through the corn, past the orchards, by the river,
into the heart of the old brown quiet town, and about the foot of the
great cathedral, where they kneeled down in the dust and prayed, then
rose and sang the "Angelus."

Then the tall dark-visaged priest, who had led them all thither under
the standard of the golden crucifix, lifted his voice alone and implored
God, and exhorted man; implored for rain and all the blessings of
harvest, exhorted to patience and the imitation of God.

The people were moved and saddened, and listened, smiting their breasts;
and after awhile rising from their knees, many of them in tears,
dispersed and went their ways: muttering to one another:--"We have had
no such harvests as those of old since the man that slew a saint came to
dwell here;" and answering to one another:--"We had never such droughts
as these in the sweet cool weather of old, before the offspring of hell
was among us."

For the priests had not said to them, "Lo, your mercy is parched as the
earth, and your hearts as the heavens are brazen."



CHAPTER II.


In the days of his youngest youth, in the old drunken days that were
dead, this stone-breaker Marcellin had known such life as it is given to
few men to know--a life of the soul and the senses; a life of storm and
delight; a life mad with blood and with wine; a life of divinest dreams;
a life when women kissed them, and bid them slay; a life when mothers
blessed them and bade them die; a life, strong, awful, splendid,
unutterable; a life seized at its fullest and fiercest and fairest, out
of an air that was death, off an earth that was hell.

When his cheeks had had a boy's bloom and his curls a boy's gold, he had
seen a nation in delirium; he had been one of the elect of a people; he
had uttered the words that burn, and wrought the acts that live; he had
been of the Thousand of Marsala; and he had been of the avengers of
Thermidor; he had raised his flutelike voice from the tribune, and he
had cast in his vote for the death of a king; passions had been his
playthings, and he had toyed with life as a child with a match; he had
beheld the despised enthroned in power, and desolation left within
king's palaces; he, too, had been fierce, and glad, and cruel, and gay,
and drunken, and proud, as the whole land was; he had seen the white
beauty of princely women bare in the hands of the mob, and the throats
that princes had caressed kissed by the broad steel knife; he had had
his youth in a wondrous time, when all men had been gods or devils, and
all women martyrs or furies.

And now,--he broke stones to get daily bread, and those who passed him
by cursed him, saying,--

"This man slew a king."

For he had outlived his time, and the life that had been golden and red
at its dawn was now gray and pale as the ashes of a fire grown cold; for
in all the list of the world's weary errors there is no mistake so
deadly as age.

Years before, in such hot summer weather as this against which the
Church had prayed, the old man, going homewards to his cabin amidst the
fields, had met a little child coming straight towards him in the full
crimson glow of the setting sun, and with the flame of the poppies all
around her. He hardly knew why he looked at her; but when he had once
looked his eyes rested there.

She had the hues of his youth about her; in that blood-red light, among
the blood-red flowers, she made him think of women's forms that he had
seen in all their grace and their voluptuous loveliness clothed in the
red garment of death, and standing on the dusky red of the scaffold, as
the burning mornings of the summers of slaughter had risen over the
land.

The child was all alone before him in that intense glow as of fire;
above her there was a tawny sky, flushed here and there with purple;
around her stretched the solitary level of the fields burnt yellow as
gold by the long months of heat. There were stripes on her shoulders,
blue and black from the marks of a thong.

He looked at her, and stopped her, why he hardly knew, except that a
look about her, beaten but yet unsubdued, attracted him. He had seen the
same look in the years of his youth, on the faces of the nobles he
hated.

"Have you been hurt?" he asked her in his harsh strong voice. She put
her heavy load of fagots down and stared at him.

"Hurt?" She echoed the word stupidly. No one ever thought she could be
hurt; what was done to her was punishment and justice.

"Yes. Those stripes--they must be painful?"

She gave a gesture of assent with her head, but she did not answer.

"Who beat you?" he pursued.

A cloud of passion swept over her bent face.

"Flamma."

"You were wicked?"

"They said so."

"And what do you do when you are beaten?"

"I shut my mouth."

"For what?"

"For fear they should know it hurt me--and be glad."

Marcellin leaned on his elm stick, and fastened on her his keen,
passionless eyes with a look that, for him who was shamed and was
shunned by all his kind, was almost sympathy.

"Come to my hut," he said to her. "I know a herb that will take the fret
and the ache out of your bruises."

The child followed him passively, half stupidly; he was the first
creature that had ever bidden her go with him, and this rough pity of
his was sweet to her, with an amazing incredible balm in it that only
those can know who see raised against them every man's hand, and hear on
their ears the mockery of all the voices of their world. Under reviling
and contempt and constant rejection, she had become savage as a trapped
hawk, wild as an escaped panther; but to him she was obedient and
passive, because he had spoken to her without a taunt and without a
curse, which until now had been the sole two forms of human speech she
had heard. His little hut was in the midst of those spreading
cornfields, set where two pathways crossed each other, and stretched
down the gentle slope of the cultured lands to join the great highway--a
hut of stones and plaited rushes, with a roof of thatch, where the old
republican, hardy of frame and born of a toiling race, dwelt in
solitude, and broke his scanty bitter bread without lament, if without
content.

He took some leaves of a simple herb that he knew, soaked them with
water, and bound them on her shoulders, not ungainly, though his hand
was so rough with labor, and, as men said, had been so often red with
carnage. Then he gave her a draught of goat's milk, sweet and fresh,
from a wooden bowl; shared with her the dry black crusts that formed his
only evening meal; bestowed on her a gift of a rare old scarlet scarf of
woven wools and Eastern broideries, one of the few relics of his buried
life; lifted the fagots on her back, so that she could carry them with
greater ease; and set her on her homeward way.

"Come to me again," he said, briefly, as she went across the threshold.
The child bent her head in silence, and kissed his hand quickly and
timidly, like a grateful dog that is amazed to have a caress, and not a
blow.

"After a forty years' vow I have broken it; I have pitied a human
thing," the old man muttered as he stood in his doorway looking after
her shadow as it passed small and dark across the scarlet light of the
poppies.

"They call him vile, and they say that he slew men," thought the child,
who had long known his face, though he never had noted hers; and it
seemed to her that all mercy lay in her father's kingdom--which they
called the kingdom of evil. The cool moist herbs soaked on her bruises;
and the draught of milk had slaked the thirst of her throat.

"Is evil good?" she asked in her heart as she went through the tall red
poppies.

And from that evening thenceforward Folle-Farine and Marcellin cleaved
to one another, being outcasts from all others.



CHAPTER III.


As the religious gathering broke up and split in divers streams to
wander divers ways, the little town returned to its accustomed
stillness--a stillness that seemed to have in it the calm of a thousand
sleeping years, and the legends and the dreams of half a score of old
dead centuries.

On market-days and saint-days, days of high feast or of perpetual
chaffering, the town was full of color, movement, noise, and population.
The country people crowded in, filling it with the jingling of
mule-bells; the fisher people came, bringing in with them the crisp salt
smell of the sea and the blue of the sea on their garments; its own
tanners and ivory carvers, and fruiterers, and lacemakers turned out by
the hundred in all the quaint variety of costumes that their forefathers
had bequeathed to them, and to which they were still wise enough to
adhere.

But at other times, when the fishers were in their hamlets, and the
peasantry on their lands and in their orchards, and the townsfolk at
their labors in the old rich renaissance mansions which they had turned
into tanneries, and granaries, and wool-sheds, and workshops, the place
was profoundly still; scarcely a child at play in the streets, scarcely
a dog asleep in the sun.

When the crowds had gone, the priests laid aside their vestments, and
donned the black serge of their daily habit, and went to their daily
avocations in their humble dwellings. The crosses and the censers were
put back upon their altars, and hung up upon their pillars. The boy
choristers and the little children put their white linen and their
scarlet robes back in cupboards and presses, with heads of lavender and
sprigs of rosemary to keep the moth and the devil away, and went to
their fields, to their homes, to their herds, to their paper kites, to
their daisy chains, to the poor rabbits they pent in a hutch, to the
poor flies they killed in the sun.

The streets became quite still, the market-place quite empty; the drowsy
silence of a burning, cloudless afternoon was over all the quiet places
about the cathedral walls, where of old the bishops and the canons
dwelt; gray shady courts; dim open cloisters; houses covered with oaken
carvings, and shadowed with the spreading branches of chestnuts and of
lime-trees that were as aged as themselves.

Under the shelter of one of the lindens, after the populace had gone,
there was seated on a broad stone bench the girl who had stood by the
wayside erect and unbending as the procession had moved before her.

She had flung herself down in dreamy restfulness. She had delivered her
burden of vegetables and fruit at a shop near by, whose awning stretched
out into the street like a toadstool yellow with the sun.

The heat was intense; she had been on foot all day; she sat to rest a
moment, and put her burning hands under a little rill of water that
spouted into a basin in a niche in the wall--an ancient well, with a
stone image sculptured above, and a wreath of vine-leaves in stone
running around, in the lavish ornamentation of an age when men loved
loveliness for its own sake, and begrudged neither time nor labor in its
service.

She leaned over the fountain, kept cool by the roofing of the thick
green leaves; there was a metal cup attached to the basin by a chain,
she filled it at the running thread of water, and stooped her lips to it
again and again thirstily.

The day was sultry; the ways were long and white with powdered
limestone; her throat was still parched with the dust raised by the many
feet of the multitude; and although she had borne in the great basket
which now stood empty at her side, cherries, peaches, mulberries,
melons, full of juice and lusciousness, this daughter of the devil had
not taken even one to freshen her dry mouth.

Folle-Farine stooped to the water, and played with it, and drank it, and
steeped her lips and her arms in it; lying there on the stone bench,
with her bare feet curled one in another, and her slender round limbs
full of the voluptuous repose of a resting panther.

The coolness, the murmur, the clearness, the peace, the soft flowing
movement of water, possess an ineffable charm for natures that are
passion-tossed, feverish, and full of storm.

There was a dreamy peace about the place, too, which had charms likewise
for her, in the dusky arch of the long cloisters, in the lichen-grown
walls, in the broad pamments of the paven court, in the clusters of
delicate carvings beneath and below; in the sculptured frieze where
little nests that the birds had made in the spring still rested; in the
dense brooding thickness of the boughs that brought the sweetness and
the shadows of the woods into the heart of the peopled town.

She stayed there, loath to move; loath to return where a jeer, a bruise,
a lifted stick, a muttered curse, were all her greeting and her guerdon.

As she lay thus, one of the doors in the old houses in the cloisters
opened; the head of an old woman was thrust out, crowned with the high,
fan-shaped comb, and the towering white linen cap that are the female
note of that especial town.

The woman was the mother of the sacristan, and she, looking out,
shrieked shrilly to her son,--

"Georges, Georges! come hither. The devil's daughter is drinking the
blest water!"

The sacristan was hoeing among his cabbages in the little garden behind
his house, surrounded with clipt yew, and damp from the deep shade of
the cathedral, that overshadowed it.

He ran out at his mother's call, hoe in hand, himself an old man, though
stout and strong.

The well in the wall was his especial charge and pride; immeasurable
sanctity attached to it.

According to tradition, the water had spouted from the stone itself, at
the touch of a branch of blossoming pear, held in the hand of St.
Jerome, who had returned to earth in the middle of the fourteenth
century, and dwelt for awhile near the cathedral, working at the
honorable trade of a cordwainer, and accomplishing mighty miracles
throughout the district.

It was said that some of his miraculous power still remained in the
fountain, and that even yet, those who drank on St. Jerome's day in full
faith and with believing hearts, were, oftentimes, cleansed of sin, and
purified of bodily disease. Wherefore on that day, throngs of peasantry
flocked in from all sides, and crowded round it, and drank; to the
benefit of the sacristan in charge, if not to that of their souls and
bodies.

Summoned by his mother, he flew to the rescue of the sanctified spring.

"Get you gone!" he shouted. "Get you gone, you child of hell! How durst
you touch the blessed basin? Do you think that God struck water from the
stone for such as you?"

Folle-Farine lifted her head and looked him in the face with her
audacious eyes and laughed; then tossed her head again and plunged it
into the bright living water, till her lips, and her cheeks, and all the
rippling hair about her temples sparkled with its silvery drops.

The sacristan, infuriated at once by the impiety and the defiance,
shrieked aloud:

"Insolent animal! Daughter of Satan! I will teach you to taint the gift
of God with lips of the devil!"

And he seized her roughly with one hand upon her shoulder, and with the
other raised the hoe and brandished the wooden staff of it above her
head in threat to strike her; whilst his old mother, still thrusting her
lofty headgear and her wrinkled face from out the door, screamed to him
to show he was a man, and have no mercy.

As his grasp touched her, and the staff cast its shadow across her,
Folle-Farine sprang up, defiance and fury breathing from all her
beautiful fierce face.

She seized the staff in her right hand, wrenched it with a swift
movement from its hold, and, catching his head under her left arm,
rained blows on him from his own weapon, with a sudden gust of
breathless rage which blinded him, and lent to her slender muscular
limbs the strength and the force of man.

Then, as rapidly as she had seized and struck him, she flung him from
her with such violence that he fell prostrate on the pavement of the
court, caught up the metal pail which stood by ready filled, dashed the
water over him where he lay, and, turning from him without a word,
walked across the courtyard, slowly, and with a haughty grace in all the
carriage of her bare limbs and the folds of her ragged garments, bearing
the empty osier basket on her head, deaf as the stones around her to the
screams of the sacristan and his mother.

In these secluded cloisters, and in the high noontide, when all were
sleeping or eating in the cool shelter of their darkened houses, the old
woman's voice remained unheard.

The saints heard, no doubt, but they were too lazy to stir from their
niches in that sultry noontide, and, except the baying of a chained dog
aroused, there was no answer to the outcry: and Folle-Farine passed out
into the market-place unarrested, and not meeting another living
creature. As she turned into one of the squares leading to the open
country, she saw in the distance one of the guardians of the peace of
the town, moving quickly towards the cloisters, with his glittering lace
shining in the sun and his long scabbard clattering upon the stones.

She laughed a little as she saw.

"They will not come after _me_," she said to herself. "They are too
afraid of the devil."

She judged rightly; they did not come.

She crossed all the wide scorching square, whose white stones blazed in
the glare of the sun. There was nothing in sight except a stray cat
prowling in a corner, and three sparrows quarreling over a foul-smelling
heap of refuse.

The quaint old houses round seemed all asleep, with the shutters closed
like eyelids over their little, dim, aged orbs of windows.

The gilded vanes on their twisted chimneys and carved parapets pointed
motionless to the warm south. There was not a sound, except the cawing
of some rooks that built their nests high aloft in the fretted pinnacles
of the cathedral.

Undisturbed she crossed the square and took her way down the crooked
streets that led her homeward to the outlying country. It was an old,
twisted, dusky place, with the water flowing through its center as its
only roadway; and in it there were the oldest houses of the town, all of
timber, black with age, and carved with the wonderful florid fancies and
grotesque conceits of the years when a house was to its master a thing
beloved and beautiful, a bulwark, an altar, a heritage, an heirloom, to
be dwelt in all the days of a long life, and bequeathed in all honor and
honesty to a noble offspring.

The street was very silent, the ripple of the water was the chief sound
that filled it. Its tenants were very poor, and in many of its antique
mansions the beggars shared shelter with the rats and the owls.

In one of these dwellings, however, there were still some warmth and
color.

The orange and scarlet flowers of a nasturtium curled up its twisted
pilasters; the big, fair clusters of hydrangea filled up its narrow
casements; a breadth of many-colored saxafrage, with leaves of green and
rose, and blossoms of purple and white, hung over the balcony rail,
which five centuries earlier had been draped with cloth of gold; and a
little yellow song-bird made music in the empty niche from which the
sculptured flower-de-luce had been so long torn down.

From that window a woman looked down, leaning with folded arms above the
rose-tipped saxafrage, and beneath the green-leaved vine.

She was a fair woman, white as the lilies, she had silver pins in her
amber hair, and a mouth that laughed sweetly. She called to
Folle-Farine,--

"You brown thing; why do you stare at me?"

Folle-Farine started and withdrew the fixed gaze of her lustrous eyes.

"Because you are beautiful," she answered curtly. All beautiful things
had a fascination for her.

This woman above was very fair to see, and the girl looked at her as she
looked at the purple butterflies in the sun; at the stars shining down
through the leaves; at the vast, dim, gorgeous figures in the cathedral
windows; at the happy children running to their mothers with their hands
full of primroses, as she saw them in the woods at springtime; at the
laughing groups round the wood-fires in the new year time when she
passed a lattice pane that the snowdrift had not blocked; at all the
things that were so often in her sight, and yet with which her life had
no part or likeness.

She stood there on the rough flints, in the darkness cast from the
jutting beams of the house; and the other happier creature leaned above
in the light, white and rose-hued, and with the silver bells of the pins
shaking in her yellow tresses.

"You are old Flamma's granddaughter," cried the other, from her leafy
nest above. "You work for him all day long at the mill?"

"Yes."

"And your feet are bare, and your clothes are rags, and you go to and
fro like a packhorse, and the people hate you? You must be a fool. Your
father was the devil, they say: why do you not make him give you good
things?"

"He will not hear," the child muttered wearily. Had she not besought him
endlessly with breathless prayer?

"Will he not? Wait a year--wait a year."

"What then?" asked Folle-Farine, with a quick startled breath.

"In a year you will be a woman, and he always hears women, they say."

"He hears you."

The fair woman above laughed:

"Perhaps; in his fashion. But he pays me ill as yet."

And she plucked one of the silver pins from her hair, and stabbed the
rosy foam of the saxafrage through and through with it; for she was but
a gardener's wife, and was restless and full of discontent.

"Get you gone," she added quickly, "or I will throw a stone at you, you
witch; you have the evil eye, they say, and you may strike me blind if
you stare so."

Folle-Farine went on her way over the sharp stones with a heavy heart.
That picture in the casement had made that passage bright to her many a
time; and when at last the picture had moved and spoken, it had only
mocked her and reviled her as the rest did.

The street was dark for her like all the others now.

The gardener's wife, leaning there, with the green and gold of the
vineleaves brushing her hair, looked after her down the crooked way.

"That young wretch will be more beautiful than I," she thought; and the
thought was bitter to her, as such a one is to a fair woman.

Folle-Farine went slowly and sadly through the street, with her head
dropped, and the large osier basket trailing behind her over the stones.

She was well used to be pelted with words hard as hailstones, and
usually heeded them little, or gave them back with sullen defiance. But
from this woman they had wounded her; from that bright bower of golden
leaves and scarlet flowers she had faintly fancied some stray beam of
light might wander even to her.

She was soon outside the gates of the town, and beyond the old walls,
where the bramble and the lichen grew over the huge stones of ramparts
and fortifications, useless and decayed from age.

The country roads and lanes, the silver streams and the wooden bridges,
the lanes through which the market mules picked their careful way, the
fields in which the white-capped peasant women, and the brindled oxen
were at work, stretched all before her in a radiant air, sweet with the
scent of ripening fruits from many orchards.

Here and there a wayside Calvary rose dark against the sun; here and
there a chapel bell sounded from under some little peaked red roof. The
cattle dozed beside meadow ditches that were choked with wild flowers;
the dogs lay down beside their sheep and slept.

At the first cottage which she passed, the housewife sat out under a
spreading chestnut-tree, weaving lace upon her knee.

Folle-Farine looked wistfully at the woman, who was young and pretty,
and who darted her swift skilled hand in and out and around the bobbins,
keeping time meanwhile with a mirthful burden that she sang.

The woman looked up and frowned as the girl passed by her.

A little way farther on there was a winehouse by the roadside, built of
wood, vine-wreathed, and half hidden in the tall flowering briers of its
garden.

Out of the lattice there was leaning a maiden with the silver cross on
her bosom shining in the sun, and her meek blue eyes smiling down from
under the tower of her high white cap. She was reaching a carnation to a
student who stood below, with long fair locks and ruddy cheeks, and a
beard yellow with the amber down of twenty years; and who kissed her
white wrist as he caught the red flower.

Folle-Farine glanced at the pretty picture with a dull wonder and a
nameless pain: what could it mean to be happy like that?

Half a league onward she passed another cottage shadowed by a
sycamore-tree, and with the swallows whirling around its tall twisted
stone chimneys, and a beurré pear covering with branch and bloom its old
gray walls.

An aged woman sat sipping coffee in the sun, and a young one was
sweeping the blue and white tiles with a broom, singing gayly as she
swept.

"Art thou well placed, my mother?" she asked, pausing to look tenderly
at the withered brown face, on which the shadows of the sycamore leaves
were playing.

The old mother smiled, steeping her bread in the coffee-bowl.

"Surely, child; I can feel the sun and hear you sing."

She was happy though she was blind.

Folle-Farine stood a moment and looked at them across a hedge of
honeysuckle.

"How odd it must feel to have any one to care to hear your voice like
that!" she thought; and she went on her way through the poppies and the
corn, half softened, half enraged.

Was she lower than they because she could find no one to care for her or
take gladness in her life? Or was she greater than they because all
human delights were to her as the dead letters of an unknown tongue?

Down a pathway fronting her that ran midway between the yellowing seas
of wheat and a belt of lilac clover, over which a swarm of bees was
murmuring, there came a countrywoman, crushing the herbage under her
heavy shoes, ragged, picturesque, sunbrowned, swinging deep brass pails
as she went to the herds on the hillside.

She carried a child twisted into the folds of her dress; a boy, half
asleep, with his curly head against her breast. As she passed, the woman
drew her kerchief over her bosom and over the brown rosy face of the
child.

"She shall not look at thee, my darling," she muttered. "Her look
withered Rémy's little limb."

And she covered the child jealously, and turned aside, so that she
should tread a separate pathway through the clover, and did not brush
the garments of the one she was compelled to pass.

Folle-Farine heard, and laughed aloud.

She knew of what the woman was thinking.

In the summer of the previous year, as she had passed the tanyard on the
western bank of the river, the tanner's little son, rushing out in
haste, had curled his mouth in insult at her, and clapping his hands,
hissed in a child's love of cruelty the mocking words which he had heard
his elders use of her. In answer, she had only turned her head and
looked down at him with calm eyes of scorn.

But the child, running out fast, and startled by that regard, had
stepped upon a shred of leather and had fallen heavily, breaking his
left leg at the knee. The limb, unskillfully dealt with, and enfeebled
by a tendency to disease, had never been restored, but hung limp,
crooked, useless, withered from below the knee.

Through all the country side the little cripple, Rémy, creeping out into
the sun upon his crutches, was pointed out in a passionate pity as the
object of her sorcery, the victim of her vengeance. When she had heard
what they said she had laughed as she laughed now, drawing together her
straight brows and showing her glistening teeth.

All the momentary softness died in her as the peasant covered the boy's
face and turned aside into the clover. She laughed aloud and swept on
through the half-ripe corn with that swift, harmonious, majestic
movement which was inborn in her, as it is inborn in the deer or the
antelope, singing again as she went those strange wild airs, like the
sigh of the wind, which were all the language that lingered in her
memory from the land that had seen her birth.

To such aversion as this she was too well used for it to be a matter of
even notice to her. She knew that she was marked and shunned by the
community amidst which her lot was cast; and she accepted proscription
without wonder and without resistance.

Folle-Farine: the Dust. What lower thing did earth hold?

In this old-world district, amidst the pastures and cornlands of
Normandy, superstition had taken a hold which the passage of centuries
and the advent of revolution had done very little to lessen.

Few of the people could read and fewer still could write. They knew
nothing but what their priests and their politicians told them to
believe. They went to their beds with the poultry, and rose as the cock
crew: they went to mass, as their ducks to the osier and weed ponds; and
to the conscription as their lambs to the slaughter. They understood
that there was a world beyond them, but they remembered it only as the
best market for their fruit, their fowls, their lace, their skins.

Their brains were as dim as were their oil-lit streets at night; though
their lives were content and mirthful, and the most part pious. They
went out into the summer meadows chanting aves, in seasons of drought to
pray for rain on their parching orchards, in the same credulity with
which they groped through the winter fog, bearing torches and chanting
dirges to gain a blessing at seed-time on their bleak black fallows.

The beauty and the faith of the old Mediæval life were with them still;
and with its beauty and its faith were its bigotry and its cruelty
likewise. They led simple and contented lives; for the most part honest,
and among themselves cheerful and kindly; preserving much grace of
color, of costume, of idiosyncrasy, because apart from the hueless
communism and characterless monotony of modern cities.

But they believed in sorcery and in devilry; they were brutal to their
beasts, and could be as brutal to their foes; they were steeped in
legend and tradition from their cradles; and all the darkest
superstitions of dead ages still found home and treasury in their hearts
and at their hearths.

Therefore, believing her a creature of evil, they were inexorable
against her, and thought that in being so they did their duty.

They had always been a religious people in this birth country of the
Flamma race; the strong poetic veneration of their forefathers, which
had symbolized itself in the carving of every lintel, corbel, or
buttress in their streets, and in the fashion of every spire on which a
weather-vane could gleam against their suns, was still in their blood;
the poetry had departed, but the bigotry remained.

Their ancestors had burned wizards and witches by the score in the open
square of the cathedral place, and their grandsires and grandams had in
brave, dumb, ignorant peasant fashion held fast to the lily and the
cross, and gone by hundreds to the salutation of the axe and the baptism
of the sword in the red days of revolution.

They were the same people still: industrious, frugal, peaceful, loyal,
wedded to old ways and to old relics, content on little, and serene of
heart; yet, withal, where they feared or where they hated, brutal with
the brutality begotten of abject ignorance. And they had been so to this
outcast whom they all called Folle-Farine.

When she had first come amidst them, a little desolate foreign child,
mute with the dumbness of an unknown tongue, and cast adrift among
strange people, unfamiliar ways, and chill blank glances, she had shyly
tried in a child's vague instincts of appeal and trust to make friends
with the other children that she saw, and to share a little in the
mothers' smiles and the babies' pastimes that were all around her in the
glad green world of summer.

But she had been denied and rejected with hard words and harder blows;
at her coming the smiles had changed to frowns, and the pastime into
terror. She was proud, she was shy, she was savage; she felt rather than
understood that she was suspected and reviled; she ceased to seek her
own kind, and only went for companionship and sympathy to the creatures
of the fields and the woods, to the things of the earth and the sky and
the water.

"Thou art the devil's daughter!" half in sport hissed the youths in the
market-place against her as the little child went among them, carrying a
load for her grandsire heavier than her arms knew how to bear.

"Thou wert plague-spotted from thy birth," said the old man himself, as
she strained her small limbs to and fro the floors of his storehouses,
carrying wood or flour or tiles or rushes, or whatever there chanced to
need such convoy.

"Get thee away, we are not to touch thee!" hissed the six-year-old
infants at play by the river when she waded in amidst them to reach with
her lither arm the far-off water-flowers they were too timorous to
pluck, and tender it to the one who had desired it.

"The devil begot thee, and my cow fell ill yesternight after thou hadst
laid hands on her!" muttered the old women, lifting a stick as she went
near to their cattle in the meadows to brush off with a broad dockleaf
the flies that were teasing the poor, meek, patient beasts.

So, cursed when she did her duty, and driven away when she tried to do
good, her young soul had hardened itself and grown fierce, mute,
callous, isolated.

There were only the four-footed things, so wise, so silent, so tender of
heart, so bruised of body, so innocent, and so agonized, that had
compassion for her, and saved her from utter desolation. In the mild sad
gaze of the cow, in the lustrous suffering eyes of the horse, in the
noble frank faith of the dog, in the soft-bounding glee of the lamb, in
the unwearied toil of the ass, in the tender industry of the bird, she
had sympathy and she had example.

She loved them and they loved her. She saw that they were sinless,
diligent, faithful, devoted, loyal servers of base masters; loving
greatly, and for their love goaded, beaten, overtasked, slaughtered.

She took the lesson to heart; and hated men and women with a bitter
hatred.

So she had grown up for ten years, caring for no human thing, except in
a manner for the old man Marcellin, who was, like her, proscribed.

The priests had striven to turn her soul what they had termed
heavenward; but their weapons had been wrath and intimidation. She would
have none of them. No efforts that they or her grandsire made had
availed; she would be starved, thrashed, cursed, maltreated as they
would; she could not understand their meaning, or would not submit
herself to their religion.

As years went on they had found the contest hopeless, so had abandoned
her to the devil, who had made her; and the daughter of one whom the
whole province had called saint had never passed within church-doors or
known the touch of holy water save when they had cast it on her as an
exorcism. And when she met a priest in the open roads or on the bypaths
of the fields, she always sang in loud defiance her wildest melodies.

Where had she learnt these?

They had been sung to her by Phratos, and taught by him.

Who had he been?

Her old life was obscure to her memory, and yet glorious even in its
dimness.

She did not know who those people had been with whom she had wandered,
nor in what land they had dwelt. But that wondrous free life remained on
her remembrance as a thing never to be forgotten or to be known again; a
life odorous with bursting fruits and budding flowers; full of strangest
and of sweetest music; spent forever under green leaves and suns that
had no setting; forever beside fathomless waters and winding forests;
forever rhymed to melody and soothed to the measure of deep winds and
drifting clouds.

For she had forgotten all except its liberty and its loveliness; and the
old gypsy life of the Liebana remained with her only as some stray
fragment of an existence passed in another world from which she was now
an exile, and revived in her only in the fierce passion of her nature,
in her bitter, vague rebellion, in her longing to be free, in her
anguish of vain desires for richer hues and bluer skies and wilder winds
than those amidst which she toiled. At times she remembered likewise the
songs and the melodies of Phratos; remembered them when the moon rays
swept across the white breadth of water-lilies, or the breath of spring
stole through the awakening woods; and when she remembered them she
wept--wept bitterly, where none could look on her.

She never thought of Phratos as a man; as of one who had lived in a
human form and was now dead in an earthly grave; her memory of him was
of some nameless creature, half divine, whose footsteps brought laughter
and music, with eyes bright as a bird's, yet sad as a dog's, and a voice
forever singing; clad in goat's hair, and gigantic and gay; a creature
that had spoken tenderly to her, that had bidden her laugh and rejoice,
that had carried her when she was weary; that had taught her to sleep
under the dewy leaves, and to greet the things of the night as soft
sisters, and to fear nothing in the whole living world, in the earth,
or the air, or the sky, and to tell the truth though a falsehood were to
spare the bare feet flintstones, and naked shoulders the stick, and an
empty body hunger and thirst. A creature that seemed to her in her
memories even as the faun seemed to the fancies of the children of the
Piræus; a creature half man and half animal, glad and grotesque, full of
mirth and of music, belonging to the forest, to the brook, to the stars,
to the leaves, wandering like the wind, and, like the wind, homeless.

This was all her memory; but she cherished it; in the face of the
priests she bent her straight black brows and curled her scornful
scarlet lips, but for the sake of Phratos she held one religion; though
she hated men she told them never a lie, and asked them never an alms.

She went now along the white level roads, the empty basket balanced on
her head, her form moving with the free harmonious grace of desert
women, and she sang as she went the old sweet songs of the broken viol.

She was friendless and desolate; she was ill fed, she was heavily
tasked; she toiled without thanks; she was ignorant of even so much
knowledge as the peasants about her had; she was without a past or a
future, and her present had in it but daily toil and bitter words;
hunger, and thirst, and chastisement.

Yet for all that she sang;--sang because the vitality in her made her
dauntless of all evil; because the abundant life opening in her made her
glad in despite of fate; because the youth, and the strength, and the
soul that were in her could not utterly be brutalized, could not wholly
cease from feeling the gladness of the sun, the coursing of the breeze,
the liberty of nature, the sweet quick sense of living.

Before long she reached the spot where the old man Marcellin was
breaking stones.

His pile was raised much higher; he sat astride on a log of timber and
hammered the flints on and on, on and on, without looking up; the dust
was still thick on the leaves and the herbage where the tramp of the
people had raised it; and the prayers and the chants had failed as yet
to bring one slightest cloud, one faintest rain mist across the hot
unbroken azure of the skies.

Marcellin was her only friend; the proscribed always adhere to one
another; when they are few they can only brood and suffer, harmlessly;
when they are many they rise as with one foot and strike as with one
hand. Therefore, it is always perilous to make the lists of any
proscription overlong.

The child, who was also an outcast, went to him and paused; in a
curious, lifeless bitter way they cared for one another; this girl who
had grown to believe herself born of hell, and this man who had grown to
believe that he had served hell.

With the bastard Folle-Farine and with the regicide Marcellin the people
had no association, and for them no pity; therefore they had found each
other by the kinship of proscription; and in a way there was love
between them.

"You are glad, since you sing!" said the old man to her, as she passed
him again on her homeward way, and paused again beside him.

"The birds in cage sing," she answered him. "But, think you they are
glad?"

"Are they not?"

She sat down a moment beside him, on the bank which was soft with moss,
and odorous with wild flowers curling up the stems of the poplars and
straying over into the corn beyond.

"Are they? Look. Yesterday I passed a cottage, it is on the great south
road; far away from here. The house was empty; the people, no doubt,
were gone to labor in the fields; there was a wicker cage hanging to the
wall, and in the cage there was a blackbird. The sun beat on his head;
his square of sod was a dry clod of bare earth; the heat had dried every
drop of water in his pan; and yet the bird was singing. Singing how? In
torment, beating his breast against the bars till the blood started,
crying to the skies to have mercy on him and to let rain fall. His song
was shrill; it had a scream in it; still he sang. Do you say the merle
was glad?"

"What did you do?" asked the old man, still breaking the stones with a
monotonous rise and fall of his hammer.

"I took the cage down and opened the door."

"And he?"

"He shot up in the air first, then dropped down amidst the grasses,
where a little brook which the drought had not dried, was still running;
and he bathed and drank and bathed again, seeming mad with the joy of
the water. When I lost him from sight he was swaying on a bough among
the leaves over the river; but then he was silent!"

"And what do you mean by that?"

Her eyes clouded; she was mute. She vaguely knew the meaning it bore to
herself, but it was beyond her to express it.

All things of nature had voices and parables for her, because her fancy
was vivid and her mind was dreamy; but that mind was still too dark, and
too profoundly ignorant, for her to be able to shape her thoughts into
metaphor or deduction.

The bird had spoken to her; by his silence as by his song; but what he
had uttered she could not well utter again. Save, indeed, that song was
not gladness, and neither was silence pain.

Marcellin, although he had asked her, had asked needlessly; for he also
knew.

"And what, think you, the people said, when they went back and found the
cage empty?" he pursued, still echoing his words and hers by the ringing
sound of the falling hammer.

A smile curled her lips.

"That was no thought of mine," she said carelessly. "They had done
wickedly to cage him; to set him free I would have pulled down their
thatch, or stove in their door, had need been."

"Good!" said the old man briefly, with a gleam of light over his harsh
lean face.

He looked up at her as he worked, the shivered flints flying right and
left.

"It was a pity to make you a woman," he muttered, as his keen gaze swept
over her.

"A woman!" She echoed the words dully and half wonderingly; she could
not understand it in connection with herself.

A woman; that was a woman who sat in the sun under the fig-tree, working
her lace on a frame; that was a woman who leaned out of her lattice
tossing a red carnation to her lover; that was a woman who swept the
open porch of her house, singing as she cleared the dust away; that was
a woman who strode on her blithe way through the clover, carrying her
child at her breast.

She seemed to have no likeness to them, no kindred with them; she a
beast of burden, a creature soulless and homeless, an animal made to
fetch and carry, to be cursed and beaten, to know neither love nor hope,
neither past nor future, but only a certain dull patience and furious
hate, a certain dim pleasure in labor and indifference to pain.

"It was a pity to make you a woman," said the old man once more. "You
might be a man worth something; but a woman!--a thing that has no
medium; no haven between hell and heaven; no option save to sit by the
hearth to watch the pot boil and suckle the children, or to go out into
the streets and the taverns to mock at men and to murder them. Which
will you do in the future?"

"What?"

She scarcely knew the meaning of the word. She saw the female creatures
round her were of all shades of age, from the young girls with their
peachlike cheeks to the old crones brown and withered as last year's
nuts; she knew that if she lived on she would be old likewise; but of a
future she had no conception, no ideal. She had been left too ignorant
to have visions of any other world hereafter than this one which the low
lying green hills and the arc of the pale blue sky shut in upon her.

She had one desire, indeed--a desire vague but yet fierce--the desire
for liberty. But it was such desire as the bird which she had freed had
known; the desire of instinct, the desire of existence only; her mind
was powerless to conceive a future, because a future is a hope, and of
hope she knew nothing.

The old man glanced at her, and saw that she had not comprehended. He
smiled with a certain bitter pity.

"I spoke idly," he said to himself; "slaves cannot have a future. But
yet----"

Yet he saw that the creature who was so ignorant of her own powers, of
her own splendors, of her own possibilities, had even now a beauty as
great as that of a lustrous Eastern-eyed passion-flower; and he knew
that to a woman who has such beauty as this the world holds out in its
hand the tender of at least one future--one election, one kingdom, one
destiny.

"Women are loved," she said, suddenly; "will any one love me?"

Marcellin smiled bitterly.

"Many will love you, doubtless--as the wasp loves the peach that he
kisses with his sting, and leaves rotten to drop from the stem!"

She was silent again, revolving his meaning; it lay beyond her, both in
the peril which it embodied from others, and the beauty in herself which
it implied. She could reach no conception of herself, save as what she
now was, a body-servant of toil, a beast of burden like a young mule.

"But all shun me, as even the wasp shuns the bitter oak apple," she
said, slowly and dreamily; "who should love me, even as the wasp loves
the peach?"

Marcellin smiled his grim and shadowy smile. He made answer,--

"Wait!"

She sat mute once more, revolving this strange, brief word in her
thoughts--strange to her, with a promise as vague, as splendid, and as
incomprehensible as the prophecy of empire to a slave.

"The future?" she said, at last. "That means something that one has not,
and that is to come--is it so?"

"Something that one never has, and that never comes," muttered the old
man, wearily cracking the flints in two; "something that one possesses
in one's sleep, and that is farther off each time that one awakes; and
yet a thing that one sees always--sees even when one lies a-dying, they
say--for men are fools."

Folle-Farine listened, musing, with her hands clasped on the handle of
her empty basket, and her chin resting upon them, and her eyes watching
a maimed butterfly drag its wings of emerald and diamond through the
hot, pale, sickly dust.

"I dream!" she said, suddenly, as she stooped and lifted the wounded
insect gently on to the edge of a leaf. "But I dream wide awake."

Marcellin smiled.

"Never say so. They will think you mad. That is only what foolish
things, called poets, do."

"What is a poet?"

"A foolish thing, I tell you--mad enough to believe that men will care
to strain their eyes, as he strains his, to see the face of a God who
never looks and never listens."

"Ah!"

She was so accustomed to be told that all she did was unlike to others,
and was either wicked or was senseless, that she saw nothing except the
simple statement of a fact in the rebuke which he had given her. She sat
quiet, gazing down into the thick white dust of the road, bestirred by
the many feet of mules and men that had trodden through it since the
dawn.

"I dream beautiful things," she pursued, slowly. "In the moonlight most
often. I seem to remember, when I dream--so much! so much!"

"Remember--what should you remember? You were but a baby when they
brought you hither."

"So they say. But I might live before, in my father's kingdom--in the
devil's kingdom. Why not?"

Why not, indeed! Perhaps we all lived there once; and that is why we all
through all our lives hanker to get back to it.

"I ask him so often to take me back, but he does not seem ever to hear."

"Chut! He will hear in his own good time. The devil never passes by a
woman."

"A woman!" she repeated. The word seemed to have no likeness and no
fitness with herself.

A woman!--she!--a creature made to be beaten, and sworn at, and shunned,
and loaded like a mule, and driven like a bullock!

"Look you," said the old man, resting his hammer for a moment, and
wiping the sweat from his brow, "I have lived in this vile place forty
years. I remember the woman that they say bore you--Reine Flamma. She
was a beautiful woman, and pure as snow, and noble, and innocent. She
wearied God incessantly. I have seen her stretched for hours at the foot
of that cross. She was wretched; and she entreated her God to take away
her monotonous misery, and to give her some life new and fair. But God
never answered. He left her to herself. It was the devil that heard--and
replied."

"Then, is the devil juster than their God?"

Marcellin leaned his hammer on his knees and his voice rose clear and
strong as it had done of yore from the Tribune.

"He looks so, at the least. It is his wisdom, and that is why his
following is so large. Nay, I say, when God is deaf the devil listens.
That is his wisdom, see you. So often the poor little weak human soul,
striving to find the right way, cries feebly for help, and none answer.
The poor little weak soul is blind and astray in the busy streets of the
world. It lifts its voice, but its voice is so young and so feeble, like
the pipe of a newly-born bird in the dawn, that it is drowned in the
shouts and the manifold sounds of those hard, crowded, cruel streets,
where every one is for himself, and no man has ears for his neighbor. It
is hungered, it is athirst, it is sorrowful, it is blinded, it is
perplexed, it is afraid. It cries often, but God and man leave it to
itself. Then the devil, who harkens always, and who, though all the
trumpets blowing their brazen music in the streets bray in his honor,
yet is too wise to lose even the slightest sound of any in
distress--since of such are the largest sheaves of his harvest--comes to
the little soul, and teaches it with tenderness, and guides it towards
the paths of gladness, and fills its lips with the bread of sweet
passions, and its nostrils with the savor of fair vanities, and blows in
its ear the empty breath of men's lungs, till that sickly wind seems
divinest music. Then is the little soul dazzled and captured, and made
the devil's for evermore; half through its innocence, half through its
weakness; but chiefly of all because God and man would not hear its
cries whilst yet it was sinless and only astray."

He ceased, and the strokes of his hammer rang again on the sharp flint
stones.

She had listened with her lips parted breathlessly, and her nightlike
eyes dilated.

In the far distant time, when he had been amidst the world of men, he
had known how to utter the words that burned, and charm to stillness a
raging multitude. He had not altogether lost this power, at such rare
times as he still cared to break his silence, and to unfold the
unforgotten memories of a life long dead. He would speak thus to her,
but to no other.

Folle-Farine listened, mute and breathless, her great eyes uplifted to
the sun, where it was sinking westward through a pomp of golden and of
purple cloud. He was the only creature who ever spoke to her as though
she likewise were human, and she followed his words with dumb
unquestioning faith, as a dog its master's footsteps.

"The soul! What is the soul?" she muttered, at length.

He caught in his hand the beautiful diamond-winged butterfly, which now,
freed of the dust and drinking in the sunlight, was poised on a foxglove
in the hedge near him, and held it against the light.

"What is it that moves this creature's wings, and glances in its eyes,
and gives it delight in the summer's warmth, in the orchid's honey, and
in the lime-tree's leaves? I do not know; but I know that I can kill
it--with one grind of my heel. So much we know of the soul--no more."

She freed it from his hand.

"Whoever made it, then, was cruel. If he could give it so much power,
why not have given it a little more, so that it could escape you
always?"

"You ask what men have asked ten times ten thousand years--since the
world began--without an answer. Because the law of all creation is
cruelty, I suppose; because the dust of death is always the breath of
life. The great man, dead, changes to a million worms, and lives again
in the juices of the grass above his grave. It matters little. The worms
destroy; the grasses nourish. Few great men do more than the first, or
do as much as the last."

"But get you homeward," he continued, breaking off his parable; "it is
two hours past noon, and if you be late on the way you pay for it with
your body. Begone."

She nodded her head, and went; he seldom used gentle words to her, and
yet she knew, in a vague way, that he cared for her; moreover, she
rejoiced in that bitter, caustic contempt in which he, the oldest man
amidst them, held all men.

His words were the only thing that had aroused her dulled brain to its
natural faculties; in a manner, from him she had caught something of
knowledge--something, too, of intellect; he alone prevented her from
sinking to that absolute unquestioning despair which surely ends in
idiocy or in self-murder.

She pursued her way in silence across the fields, and along the straight
white road, and across a wooden bridge that spanned the river, to her
home.

There was a gentler luster in her eyes, and her mouth had the faint
light of a half smile upon it; she did not know what hope meant; it
never seemed possible to her that her fate could be other than it was,
since so long the messengers and emissaries of her father's empire had
been silent and leaden-footed to her call.

Yet, in a manner, she was comforted, for had not two mouths that day
bidden her "wait"?

She entered at length the little wood of Yprès, and heard that rush and
music of the deep mill water which was the sole thing she had learned to
love in all the place.

Beyond it were the apple orchards and fruit gardens which rendered
Claudis Flamma back full recompense for all the toil they cost
him--recompense so large, indeed, that many disbelieved in that poverty
which he was wont to aver weighed so hardly and so lightly on him. Both
were now rich in all their maturer abundance, since the stream which
rushed through them had saved them from the evil effects of the long
drought so severely felt in all other districts.

The cherry-trees were scarlet with their latest fruit; the great
pumpkins glowed among their leaves in tawny orange heaps; little
russet-breasted bullfinches beat their wings vainly at the fine network
that enshrouded the paler gold of the wall apricots; a gray cat was
stealing among the delicate yellows of the pear-shaped marrows; where a
round green wrinkled melon lay a-ripening in the sun, a gorgeous
dragon-fly was hovering, and a mother-mavis, in her simple coif of brown
and white and gray, was singing with all the gladness of her sunny
summer joys.

Beyond a hedge of prickly thorn the narrower flower-garden stretched,
spanned by low stone walls, made venerable by the silvery beards of
lichens; and the earth was full of color from the crimson and the golden
gladioli; from the carmine-hued carnations; from the deep-blue lupins,
and the Gloire de Dijon roses; from the green slender stems and the pure
white cups of the virginal lilies; and from the gorgeous beetles, with
their purple tunics and their shields of bronze, like Grecian hoplites
drawn in battle array. While everywhere, above this sweet glad garden
world, the butterflies, purple and jeweled, the redstarts in their ruby
dress, the dainty azure-winged and blue warblers, the golden-girdled
wasp with his pinions light as mist, and the velvet-coated bee with his
pleasant harvest song, flew ever in the sunlight, murmuring, poising,
praising, rejoicing.

The place was beautiful in its own simple, quiet way; lying in a hollow,
where the river tumbled down in two or three short breaks and leaps
which broke its habitual smooth and sluggish form, and brought it in a
sheet of dark water and with a million foam-bells against the walls of
the mill-house and under the ponderous wheels.

The wooden house itself also was picturesque in the old fashion when men
builded their dwellings slowly and for love; common with all its
countless carvings black by age, its jutting beams shapen into grotesque
human likeness and tragic masks; its parquetted work run over by the
green cups of stoneworts, and its high roof with deep shelving eaves
bright with diapered tiles of blue and white and rose, and alive all day
with curling swallows, with pluming pigeons, with cooing doves.

It was beautiful; and the heart of Reine Flamma's young daughter
doubtless would have clung to it with all a child's instinct of love and
loyalty to its home had it not been to her only a prison-house wherein
three bitter jailers forever ruled her with a rod of iron--bigotry and
penury and cruelty.

She flung herself down a moment in the garden, on the long grass under a
mulberry-tree, ere she went in to give her account of the fruit sold and
the moneys brought by her.

She had been on foot since four o'clock in the dawn of that sultry day;
her only meal had been a bowl of cold milk and a hunch of dry bread
crushed in her strong small teeth. She had toiled hard at such bodily
labor as was set to her; to domestic work, to the work of the distaff
and spindle, of the stove and the needle, they had never been able to
break her; they had found that she would be beaten black and blue ere
she would be bound to it; but against open air exertion she had never
rebelled, and she had in her all the strength and the swiftness of the
nomadic race of the Liebana, and had not their indolence and their
dishonesty.

She was very hungry, she was again thirsty; yet she did not break off a
fruit from any bough about her; she did not steep her hot lips in any
one of the cool juicy apricots which studded the stones of the wall
beyond her.

No one had ever taught her honesty, except indeed in that dim dead time
when Phratos had closed her small hands in his whenever they had
stretched out to some forbidden thing, and had said, "Take the goods the
gods give thee, but steal not from men." And yet honest she was, by
reason of the fierce proud savage independence in her, and her dim
memories of that sole friend loved and lost.

She wanted many a thing, many a time--nay, nearly every hour that she
lived, she wanted those sheer necessaries which make life endurable; but
she had taught herself to do without them rather than owe them, by
prayer or by plunder, to that human race which she hated, and to which
she always doubted her own kinship.

Buried in the grass, she now abandoned herself to the bodily delights of
rest, of shade, of coolness, of sweet odors; the scent of the fruits and
flowers was heavy on the air; the fall of the water made a familiar
tempestuous music on her ear; and her fancy, poetic still, though
deadened by a life of ignorance and toil, was stirred by the tender
tones of the numberless birds that sang about her.

"The earth and the air are good," she thought, as she lay there watching
the dark leaves sway in the foam and the wind, and the bright-bosomed
birds float from blossom to blossom.

For there was latent in her, all untaught, that old pantheistic instinct
of the divine age, when the world was young, to behold a sentient
consciousness in every leaf unfolded to the light; to see a soul in
every created thing the day shines on; to feel the presence of an
eternal life in every breeze that moves, in every grass that grows; in
every flame that lifts itself to heaven; in every bell that vibrates on
the air; in every moth that soars to reach the stars.

Pantheism is the religion of the poet; and nature had made her a poet,
though man as yet had but made of her an outcast, a slave, and a beast
of burden.

"The earth and the air are good," she thought, watching the sunrays
pierce the purple heart of a passion-flower, the shadows move across the
deep brown water, the radiant butterfly alight upon a lily, the
scarlet-throated birds dart in and out through the yellow feathery
blossoms of the limes.

All birds were her friends.

Phratos had taught her in her infancy many notes of their various songs,
and many ways and means of luring them to come and rest upon her
shoulder and peck the berries in her hand.

She had lived so much in the open fields and among the woods that she
had made her chief companions of them. She could emulate so deftly all
their voices, from the call of the wood dove to the chant of the
blackbird, and from the trill of the nightingale to the twitter of the
titmouse, that she could summon them all to her at will, and have dozens
of them fluttering around her head and swaying their pretty bodies on
her wrist.

It was one of her ways that seemed to the peasantry so weird and
magical, and they would come home from their fields on a spring daybreak
and tell their wives in horror how they had seen the devil's daughter in
the red flush of the sunrise, ankle-deep in violets, and covered with
birds from head to foot, hearing their whispers, and giving them her
messages to carry in return.

One meek-eyed woman had dared once to say that St. Francis had done as
much and it had been accredited to him as a fair action and virtuous
knowledge, but she was frowned down and chattered down by her louder
neighbors, who told her that she might look for some sharp judgment of
heaven for daring to couple together the blessed name of the holy saint
and the accursed name of this foul spirit.

But all they could say could not break the charmed communion between
Folle-Farine and her feathered comrades.

She loved them and they her. In the hard winter she had always saved
some of her scanty meal for them, and in the springtime and the summer
they always rewarded her with floods of songs and soft caresses from
their nestling wings.

There were no rare birds, no birds of moor and mountain, in that
cultivated and populous district; but to her all the little home-bred
things of pasture and orchard were full of poetry and of characters.

The robins with that pretty air of boldness with which they veil their
real shyness and timidity; the strong and saucy sparrows, powerful by
the strength of all mediocrities and majorities; all the dainty families
of finches in their gay apparelings; the plain brown bird that fills the
night with music; the gorgeous oriole ruffling in gold, the gilded
princeling of them all; the little blue warblers, the violets of the
air; the kingfishers that have hovered so long over the forget-me-nots
upon the rivers that they have caught the colors of the flowers on their
wings; the bright blackcaps green as the leaves, with their yellow
waistcoats and velvet hoods, the innocent freebooters of the woodland
liberties; all these were her friends and lovers, various as any human
crowds of court or city.

She loved them; they and the fourfooted beasts were the sole things that
did not flee from her; and the woeful and mad slaughter of them by the
peasants was to her a grief passionate in its despair. She did not
reason on what she felt; but to her a bird slain was a trust betrayed,
an innocence defiled, a creature of heaven struck to earth.

Suddenly on the silence of the garden there was a little shrill sound of
pain; the birds flew high in air, screaming and startled; the leaves of
a bough of ivy shook as with a struggle. She rose and looked; a line of
twine was trembling against the foliage; in its noosed end the throat of
the mavis had been caught; it hung trembling and clutching at the air
convulsively with its little drawn up feet. It had flown into the trap
as it had ended its joyous song and soared up to join its brethren.

There were a score of such traps set in the miller's garden.

She unloosed the cord from about its tiny neck, set it free, and laid it
down upon the ivy; the succor came too late; the little gentle body was
already without breath; the feet had ceased to beat the air; the small
soft head had drooped feebly on one side; the lifeless eyes had started
from their sockets; the throat was without song for evermore.

"The earth would be good but for men," she thought, as she stood with
the little dead bird in her hand.

Its mate, which was poised on a rose bough, flew straight to it, and
curled round and round about the small slain body, and piteously
bewailed its fate, and mourned, refusing to be comforted, agitating the
air with trembling wings, and giving out vain cries of grief.

Vain; for the little joyous life was gone; the life that asked only of
God and Man a home in the green leaves; a drop of dew from the cup of a
rose; a bough to swing on in the sunlight; a summer day to celebrate in
song.

All the winter through, it had borne cold and hunger and pain without
lament; it had saved the soil from destroying larvæ, and purified the
trees from all foul germs; it had built its little home unaided, and
had fed its nestlings without alms; it had given its sweet song lavishly
to the winds, to the blossoms, to the empty air, to the deaf ears of
men; and now it lay dead in its innocence; trapped and slain because a
human greed begrudged it a berry worth the thousandth part of a copper
coin.

Out from the porch of the mill-house Claudis Flamma came, with a knife
in his hand and a basket to cut lilies for one of the choristers of the
cathedral, since the morrow would be the religious feast of the
Visitation of Mary.

He saw the dead thrush in her hand, and chuckled as he went by to
himself.

"The tenth bird trapped since sunrise," he said, thinking how shrewd and
how sure in their make were these traps of twine that he set in the
grass and the leaves.

She said nothing; but a darkness of disgust swept over her face, as he
came in sight in the distance.

She knelt down and scraped a hole in the earth and laid moss in it and
put the mavis softly on its green and fragrant bier, and covered it with
handfuls of fallen rose leaves and with a sprig or two of thyme. Around
her head the widowed thrush flew ceaselessly, uttering sad cries;--who
now should wander with him through the sunlight?--who now should rove
with him above the blossoming fields?--who now should sit with him
beneath the boughs hearing the sweet rain fall between the leaves?--who
now should wake with him whilst yet the world was dark, to feel the dawn
break ere the east were red, and sing a welcome to the unborn day?



CHAPTER IV.


Meanwhile Claudis Flamma cut the lilies for the cathedral altars,
muttering many holy prayers as he gathered the flowers of Mary.

When the white lily sheaves had been borne away, kept fresh in wet moss
by the young chorister who had been sent for them, the miller turned to
her.

"Where is the money?"

She, standing beside the buried bird, undid the leathern thong about her
waist, opened the pouch, and counted out the coins, one by one, on the
flat stone of a water-tank among the lilies and the ivy.

There were a few silver pieces of slight value and some dozens of copper
ones. The fruit had been left at various stalls and houses in small
portions, for it was the custom to supply it fresh each day.

He caught them up with avidity, bit and tested each, counted them again
and again, and yet again; after the third enumeration he turned sharply
on her:

"There are two pieces too little: what have you done with them?"

"There are two sous short," she answered him curtly. "Twelve of the figs
for the tanner Florian were rotten."

"Rotten!--they were but overripe."

"It is the same thing."

"You dare to answer me?--animal! I say they had only tasted a little too
much of the sun. It only made them the sweeter."

"They were rotten."

"They were not. You dare to speak! If they had been rotten they lay
under the others; he could not have seen----"

"I saw."

"You saw! Who are you?--a beggar--a beast--a foul offspring of sin. You
dared to show them to him, I will warrant?"

"I showed him that they were not good."

"And gave him back the two sous?"

"I took seven sous for what were good. I took nothing for the rotten
ones."

"Wretch! you dare to tell me that!"

A smile careless and sarcastic curled her mouth; her eyes looked at him
with all their boldest fiercest luster.

"I never steal--not even from you, good Flamma."

"You have stolen now!" he shrieked, his thin and feeble voice rising in
fury at his lost coins and his discovered treachery. "It is a lie that
the figs were rotten; it is a lie that you took but seven sous. You
stole the two sous to buy you bread and honey in the streets, or to get
a drink at the wineshops. I know you; I know you; it is a devil's device
to please your gluttonous appetite. The figs rotten!--not so rotten as
is your soul would they be, though they were black as night and though
they stunk as river mud! Go back to Denis Florian and bring me the two
sous, or I will thrash you as a thief."

She laughed a hard, scornful, reckless laughter.

"You can thrash me; you cannot make me a thief."

"You will not go back to Florian?"

"I will not ask him to pay for what was bad."

"You will not confess that you stole the money?"

"I should lie if I did."

"Then strip."

She set her teeth in silence; and without a moment's hesitation
unloosened the woolen sash knotted round her waist, and pushed down the
coarse linen shirt from about her throat.

The white folds fell from off the perfect curves of her brown arms, and
left bare her shining shoulders beautiful as any sculptured Psyche's.

She was not conscious of degradation in her punishment; she had been
bidden to bow her head and endure the lash from the earliest years she
could remember. According to the only creed she knew, silence and
fortitude and strength were the greatest of all the virtues. She stood
now in the cross-lights among the lilies as she had stood when a little
child, erect, unquailing, and ready to suffer, insensible of humiliation
because unconscious of sin, and because so tutored by severity and
exposure that she had as yet none of the shy shame and the fugitive
shrinking of her sex.

She had only the boldness to bear, the courage to be silent, which she
had had when she had stood among the same tall lilies, in the same
summer radiance, in the years of her helpless infancy.

She uncovered herself to the lash as a brave hound crouches to it; not
from inborn cowardice, but simply from the habit of obedience and of
endurance.

He had ever used her as the Greeks the Helots; he always beat her when
she was in fault to teach her to be faultless, and when without offense
beat her to remind her that she was the offspring of humiliation and a
slave.

He took, as he had taken in an earlier time, a thick rope which lay
coiled upon the turf ready for the binding of some straying boughs; and
struck her with it, slowly. His arm had lost somewhat of its strength,
and his power was unequal to his will. Still rage for the loss of his
copper pieces and the sense that she had discovered the fraudulent
intention of his small knavery lent force to his feebleness; as the
scourge whistled through the air and descended on her shoulders it left
bruised swollen marks to stamp its passage, and curling, adder-like, bit
and drew blood.

Yet to the end she stood mute and motionless, as she had stood in her
childhood; not a nerve quivered, not a limb flinched; the color rushed
over her bent face and her bare bosom, but she never made a movement;
she never gave a sound.

When his arm dropped from sheer exhaustion, she still said not one word;
she drew tight once more the sash about her waist, and fastened afresh
the linen of her bodice.

The bruised and wounded flesh smarted and ached and throbbed; but she
was used to such pain, and bore it as their wounds were borne by the
women of the Spartan games.

"Thy two sous have borne thee bitterness," he muttered with a smile.
"Thou wilt scarce find fruit rotten again in haste. There are bread and
beans within; go get a meal; I want the mule to take flour to
Barbizène."

She did not go within to eat; the bruises and the burning of her skin
made her feel sick and weak. She went away and cast herself at full
length in the shade of the long grasses of the orchard, resting her chin
upon her hands, cooling her aching breast against the soft damp moss;
thinking, thinking, thinking, of what she hardly knew, except indeed
that she wished that she were dead, like the bird she had covered with
the rose leaves.

He did not leave her long to even so much peace as this; his shrill
voice soon called her from her rest; he bade her get ready the mule and
go.

She obeyed.

The mule was saddled with his wooden pack; as many sacks as he could
carry were piled upon the framework; she put her hand upon his bridle,
and set out to walk to Barbizène, which was two leagues away.

"Work is the only thing to drive the devil that begat her out of her,"
muttered the miller, as he watched the old mule pace down the narrow
tree-shadowed road that led across the fields: and he believed that he
did rightly in this treatment of her.

It gratified the sharp hard cruelty of temper in him, indeed, but he did
not think that in such self-indulgence he ever erred. He was a bitter,
cunning, miserly old man, whose solitary tenderness of feeling and
honesty of pride had been rooted out forever when he had learned the
dishonor of the woman whom he had deemed a saint. In the ten years of
time which had passed since first the little brown, large-eyed child had
been sent to seek asylum with him, he had grown harder and keener and
more severe with each day that rose.

Her presence was abhorrent to him, though he kept her, partly from a
savage sense of duty, partly from the persuasion that she had the power
in her to make the strongest and the cheapest slave he had ever owned.

For the rest, he sincerely and devoutly believed that the devil, in some
witchery of human guise, had polluted his daughter's body and soul, and
that it was by the foul fiend and by no earthly lover that she had
conceived and borne the creature that now abode with him.

Perhaps, also, as was but natural, he sometimes felt more furious
against this offspring of hell because ever and again some gleam of
fantastic inborn honor, some strange savage instinct of honesty, would
awake in her and oppose him, and make him ashamed of those small and
secret sins of chicanery wherein his soul delighted, and for which he
compounded with his gods.

He had left her mind a blank, because he thought the body labored
hardest when the brain was still asleep, which is true; she could not
read; she could not write; she knew absolutely nothing. Yet there was a
soul awake in her; yet there were innumerable thoughts and dreams
brooding in her fathomless eyes; yet there was a desire in her fierce
and unslacked for some other life than this life of the packhorse and of
the day laborer which alone she knew.

He had done his best to degrade and to brutalize her, and in much he had
succeeded; but he had not succeeded wholly. There was a liberty in her
that escaped his thraldom; there was a soul in her that resisted the
deadening influence of her existence.

She had none of the shame of her sex; she had none of the timorous
instincts of womanhood. She had a fierce stubborn courage, and she was
insensible of the daily outrages of her life. She would strip bare to
his word obediently, feeling only that it would be feeble and worthless
to dread the pain of the lash. She would bathe in the woodland pool,
remembering no more that she might be watched by human eyes than does
the young tigress that has never beheld the face of man.

In all this she was brutalized and degraded by her tyrant's bondage: in
other things she was far higher than he and escaped him.

Stupefied as her mind might be by the exhaustion of severe physical
labor, it had still irony and it had still imagination; and under the
hottest heats of temptation there were two things which by sheer
instinct she resisted, and resisted so that neither of them had ever
been forced on her--they were falsehood and fear.

"It is the infamous strength of the devil!" said Claudis Flamma, when he
found that he could not force her to deviate from the truth.

The world says the same of those who will not feed it with lies.



CHAPTER V.


That long dry summer was followed by an autumn of drought and scarcity.

The prayers of the priests and peoples failed to bring down rain. The
wooden Christs gazed all day long on parching lands and panting cattle.
Even the broad deep rivers shrank and left their banks to bake and stink
in the long drought. The orchards sickened for lack of moisture, and the
peasants went about with feverish faces, ague-stricken limbs, and
trembling hearts. The corn yielded ill in the hard scorched ground, and
when the winter came it was a time of dire scarcity and distress.

Claudis Flamma and a few others like him alone prospered.

The mill-house at Yprès served many purposes. It was a granary, a
market, a baker's shop, an usurer's den, all in one.

It looked a simple and innocent place. In the summertime it was peaceful
and lovely, green and dark and still, with the blue sky above it, and
the songs of birds all around; with its old black timbers, its
many-colored orchards, its leafy gardens, its gray walls washed by the
hurrying stream.

But in the winter it was very dreary, utterly lonely. The water roared,
and the leafless trees groaned in the wind, and the great leaden clouds
of rain or fog enveloped it duskily.

To the starving, wet, and woe-begone peasants who would go to it with
aching bones and aching hearts, it seemed desolate and terrible; they
dreaded with a great dread the sharp voice of its master--the hardest
and the shrewdest and the closest-fisted Norman of them all.

For they were most of them his debtors, and so were in a bitter
subjugation to him, and had to pay those debts as best they might with
their labor or their suffering, with the best of all their wool, or oil,
or fruit; often with the last bit of silver that had been an heirloom
for five centuries, or with the last bit of money buried away in an old
pitcher under their apple-tree to be the nest-egg of their little pet
daughter's dowry.

And yet Claudis Flamma was respected among them; for he could outwit
them, and was believed to be very wealthy, and was a man who stood well
with the good saints and with holy church,--a wise man, in a word, with
whom these northern folks had the kinship of mutual industry and
avarice.

For the most part the population around Yprès was thrifty and thriving
in a cautious, patient, certain way of well-doing; and by this portion
of it the silent old miser was much honored as a man laborious and
penurious, who chose to live on a leek and a rye loaf, but who must
have, it was well known, put by large gains in the thatch of his roof or
under the bricks of his kitchen.

By the smaller section of it--poor, unthrifty, loose-handed fools--who
belied the province of their birth so far as to be quick to spend and
slow to save, and who so fell into want and famine and had to borrow of
others their children's bread, the old miller was hated with a hate
deeper and stronger because forced to be mute, and to submit, to cringe,
and to be trod upon, in the miserable servitude of the hopeless debtor.

In the hard winter which followed on that sickly autumn, these and their
like fell further in the mire of poverty than ever, and had to come and
beg of Flamma loans of the commonest necessaries of their bare living.
They knew that they would have to pay a hundredfold in horrible
extortion when the spring and summer should bring them work, and give
them fruit on their trees and crops on their little fields; but they
could do no better.

It had been for many years the custom to go to Flamma in such need; and
being never quit of his hold his debtors never could try for aid
elsewhere.

The weather towards the season of Noël became frightfully severe; the
mill stream never stopped, but all around it was frozen, and the swamped
pastures were sheets of ice. The birds died by thousands in the open
country, and several of the sheep perished in snowstorms on the higher
lands.

There was dire want in many of the hovels and homesteads, and the bare
harvests of a district usually so opulent in all riches of the soil
brought trouble and dearth in their train. Sickness prevailed because
the old people and the children in their hunger ate berries and roots
unfit for human food; the waters swelled, the ice melted, many homes
were flooded, and some even swept away.

Old Pitchou and Claudis Flamma alone were content; the mill wheel never
stopped work, and famine prices could be asked in this extremity.

Folle-Farine worked all that winter, day after day, month after month,
with scarcely a word being spoken to her, or scarcely an hour being left
her that she could claim as her own.

She looked against the snow as strangely as a scarlet rose blossoming in
frost there could have done; but the people that came to and fro, even
the young men among them, were too used to that dark vivid silent face
of hers, and those lithe brown limbs that had the supple play and the
golden glow of the East in them, to notice them as any loveliness: and
if they did note them on some rare time, thought of them only as the
marks of a vagrant and accursed race.

She was so unlike to themselves that the northern peasantry never
dreamed of seeing beauty in her; they turned their heads away when she
went by, striding after her mule or bearing her pitcher from the well
with the free and vigorous grace of a mountain or desert-born creature.

The sheepskin girt about her loins, the red kerchief knotted to her
head, the loose lithe movements of her beautiful limbs, the fire and
dreams in her musing eyes--all these were so unlike themselves that they
saw nothing in them except what was awful or unlovely.

Half the winter went by without a kind word to her from any one except
such as in that time of suffering and scarcity Marcellin spoke to her.
So had every winter gone since she had come there--a time so long ago
that the memory of Phratos had become so dim to her that she often
doubted if he also were not a mere shadow of a dream like all the rest.

Half the winter she fared hardly and ate sparingly, and did the work of
the mule and the bullocks--indifferent and knowing no better, and only
staring at the stars when they throbbed in the black skies on a frosty
night, and wondering if she would ever go to them, or if they would ever
come to her--those splendid and familiar unknown things that looked on
all the misery of the earth, and shone on tranquilly and did not seem to
care.

Time came close on to the new year, and the distress and the cold were
together at their height. The weather was terrible; and the poor
suffered immeasurably.

A score of times a-day she heard them ask bread at the mill, and a score
of times saw them given a stone; she saw them come in the raw fog,
pinched and shivering, and sick with ague, and she saw her grandsire
deny them with a grating sarcasm or two, or take from them fifty times
its value for some niggard grant of food.

"Why should I think of it, why should I care?" she said to herself; and
yet she did both, and could not help it.

There was among the sufferers one old and poor, who lived not far from
the mill, by name Manon Dax.

She was a little old hardy brown woman, shriveled and bent, yet strong,
with bright eyes like a robin's, and a tough frame, eighty years old.

She had been southern born, and the wife of a stone-cutter; he had been
dead fifty years, and she had seen all her sons and daughters and their
offspring die too; and had now left on her hand to rear four young
great-grandchildren, almost infants, who were always crying to her for
food as new-born birds cry in their nests.

She washed a little when she could get any linen to wash, and she span,
and she picked up the acorns and the nuts, and she tilled a small plot
of ground that belonged to her hut, and she grew cabbages and potatoes
and herbs on it, and so kept a roof over her head, and fed her four
nestlings, and trotted to and fro in her wooden shoes all day long, and
worked in hail and rain, in drought and tempest, and never complained,
but said that God was good to her.

She was anxious about the children, knowing she could not live
long--that was all. But then she felt sure that the Mother of God would
take care of them, and so was cheerful; and did what the day brought her
to do, and was content.

Now on Manon Dax, as on thousands of others, the unusual severity of the
winter fell like a knife. She was only one among thousands.

Nobody noticed her; still it was hard.

All the springs near her dwelling were frozen for many weeks; there was
no well nearer than half a league, and half a league out and half a
league back every day over ground sharp and slippery with ice, with two
heavy pails to carry, is not a little when one is over eighty, and has
only a wisp of woolen serge between the wind and one's withered limbs.

The acorns and horse-chestnuts had all been disputed with her fiercely
by boys rough and swift, who foresaw a hard time coming in which their
pigs would be ill fed. The roots in her little garden-plot were all
black and killed by the cold. The nettles had been all gathered and
stewed and eaten.

The snow drove in through a big hole in her roof. The woods were
ransacked for every bramble and broken bough by rievers younger and more
agile than herself; she had nothing to eat, nothing to burn.

The children lay in their little beds of hay and cried all day long for
food, and she had none to give them.

"If it were only myself!" she thought, stopping her ears not to hear
them; if it had been only herself it would have been so easy to creep
away into the corner among the dry grass, and to lie still till the cold
froze the pains of hunger and made them quiet; and to feel numb and
tired, and yet glad that it was all over, and to murmur that God was
good, and so to let death come--content.

But it was not only herself.

The poor are seldom so fortunate--they themselves would say so
unhappy--as to be alone in their homes.

There were the four small lives left to her by the poor dead foolish
things she had loved,--small lives that had been rosy even on so much
hunger, and blithe even amidst so much cold; that had been mirthful
even at the flooding of the snowdrift, and happy even over a meal of
mouldy crusts, or of hips and haws from the hedges. Had been--until now,
when even so much as this could not be got, and when their beds of hay
were soaked through with snow-water; now--when they were quite silent,
except when they sobbed out a cry for bread.

"I am eighty-two years old, and I have never since I was born asked man
or woman for help, or owed man or woman a copper coin," she thought,
sitting by her black hearth, across which the howling wind drove, and
stopping her ears to shut out the children's cries.

She had often known severe winters, scanty food, bitter living,--she had
scores of times in her long years been as famished as this, and as cold,
and her house had been as desolate. Yet she had borne it all and never
asked for an alms, being strong and ignorant, and being also in fear of
the world, and holding a debt a great shame.

But now she knew that she must do it, or let those children perish;
being herself old and past work, and having seen all her sons die out in
their strength before her.

The struggle was long and hard with her. She would have to die soon, she
knew, and she had striven all her lifetime so to live that she might die
saying, "I have asked nothing of any man."

This perhaps, she thought sadly, had been only a pride after all; a
feeling foolish and wicked, that the good God sought now to chasten. Any
way she knew that she must yield it up and go and ask for something; or
else those four small things, who were like a cluster of red berries on
a leafless tree, must suffer and must perish.

"It is bitter, but I must do it," she thought. "Sure it is strange that
the good God cares to take any of us to himself through so sharp a way
as hunger. It seems, if I saw His face now, I should say, 'Not heaven
for me, Monseigneur: only bread and a little wood.'"

And she rose up on her bent stiff limbs, and went to the pile of hay on
which the children were lying, pale and thin, but trying to smile, all
of them, because they saw the tears on her cheeks.

"Be still, my treasures," she said to them, striving to speak cheerily,
and laying her hands on the curls of the eldest born; "I go away for a
little while to try and get you food. Be good, Bernardou, and take care
of them till I come back."

Bernardou promised, being four years old himself; and she crept out of
the little black door of the hut on to the white road and into the
rushing winds.

"I will go to Flamma," she said to herself.

It was three in the afternoon, nearly dark at this season of midwinter.

The business of the day was done. The people had come and gone, favored
or denied, according to such sureties as they could offer. The great
wheel worked on in the seething water; the master of the mill sat
against the casement to catch the falling light, adding up the sums in
his ledger--crooked little signs such as he had taught himself to
understand, though he could form neither numerals nor letters with his
pen.

All around him in the storehouses there were corn, wood, wool, stores of
every sort of food. All around him, in the room he lived in, there were
hung the salt meats, the sweet herbs, and the dried fruits, that he had
saved from the profusion of other and healthier years. It pleased him to
know that he held all that, and also withheld it. It moved him with a
certain saturnine glee to see the hungry wistful eyes of the peasants
stare longingly at all those riches, whilst their white lips faltered
out an entreaty--which he denied.

It was what he liked; to sit there and count his gains after his
fashion, and look at his stores and listen to the howling wind and
driving hail, and chuckle to think how lean and cold and sick they were
outside--those fools who mocked him because his saint had been a gypsy's
leman.

To be prayed to for bread, and give the stone of a bitter denial; to be
implored with tears of supplication, and answer with a grim jest; to see
a woman come with children dying for food, and to point out to her the
big brass pans full of milk, and say to her "All that makes butter for
Paris," and then see her go away wailing and moaning that her child
would die, and tottering feebly through the snow--all this was sweet to
him.

Before his daughter had gone from him, he had been, though a hard man,
yet honest, and had been, though severe, not cruel; but since he had
been aware of the shame of the creature whom he had believed in as an
angel, every fiber in him had been embittered and salted sharp with the
poignancy of an acrid hate towards all living things. To hurt and to
wound, and to see what he thus struck bleed and suffer, was the only
pleasure life had left for him. He had all his manhood walked justly,
according to his light, and trusted in the God to whom he prayed; and
his God and his child had denied and betrayed him, and his heart had
turned to gall.

The old woman toiled slowly through the roads which lay between her hut
and the water-mill.

They were roads which passed through meadows and along cornfields,
beside streamlets, and among little belts of woodland, lanes and paths
green and pleasant in the summer, but now a slough of frozen mud, and
whistled through by northeast winds. She held on her way steadily,
stumbling often, and often slipping and going slowly, for she was very
feeble from long lack of food, and the intensity of the cold drove
through and through her frame. Still she held on bravely, in the teeth
of the rough winds and of the coming darkness, though the weather was so
wild that the poplar-trees were bent to the earth, and the little light
in the Calvary lamp by the river blew to and fro, and at last died out.
Still she held on, a little dark, tottering figure, with a prayer on her
lips and a hope in her heart.

The snow was falling, the clouds were driving, the waters were roaring,
in the twilight: she was only a little black speck in the vast gray
waste of the earth and the sky, and the furious air tossed her at times
to and fro like a withered leaf. But she would not let it beat her; she
groped her way with infinite difficulty, grasping a bough for strength,
or waiting under a tree for breath a moment, and thus at last reached
the mill-house.

Such light as there was left showed her the kitchen within, the stores
of wood, the strings of food; it looked to her as it had looked to
Phratos, a place of comfort and of plenty; a strong safe shelter from
the inclement night.

She lifted the latch and crept in, and went straight to Claudis Flamma,
who was still busy beneath the window with those rude signs which
represented to him his earthly wealth.

She stood before him white from the falling snow, with her brown face
working with a strong emotion, her eyes clear and honest, and full of an
intense anxiety of appeal.

"Flamma," she said simply to him, "we have been neighbors fifty years
and more--thou and I, and many have borrowed of thee to their hurt and
shame, but I never. I am eighty-two, and I never in my days asked
anything of man or woman or child. But I come to-night to ask bread of
you--bread for the four little children at home. I have heard them cry
three days, and have had nothing to give them save a berry or two off
the trees. I cannot bear it any more. So I have come to you."

He shut his ledger, and looked at her. They had been neighbors, as she
had said, half a century and more; and had often knelt down before the
same altar, side by side.

"What dost want?" he asked simply.

"Food," she made answer; "food and fuel. They are so cold--the little
ones."

"What canst pay for them?" he asked.

"Nothing--nothing now. There is not a thing in the house except the last
hay the children sleep on. But if thou wilt let me have a little--just a
little--while the weather is so hard, I will find means to pay when the
weather breaks. There is my garden; and I can wash and spin. I will pay
faithfully. Thou knowest I never owed a brass coin to any man. But I am
so old, and the children so young----"

Claudis Flamma got up and walked to the other side of the kitchen.

Her eyes followed him with wistful, hungry longing. Where he went there
stood pans of new milk, baskets of eggs, rolls of bread, piles of
fagots. Her feeble heart beat thickly with eager hope, her dim eyes
glowed with pleasure and with thankfulness.

He came back and brought to her a few sharp rods, plucked from a
thorn-tree.

"Give these to thy children's children," he said, with a dark smile.
"For these--and for no more--will they recompense thee when they shall
grow to maturity."

She looked at him startled and disquieted, yet thinking that he meant
but a stern jest.

"Good Flamma, you mock me," she murmured, trembling; "the babies are
little, and good. Ah, give me food quickly, for God's sake! A jest is
well in season, but to an empty body and a bitter heart it is like a
stripe."

He smiled, and answered her in his harsh grating voice,--

"I give thee the only thing given without payment in this world--advice.
Take it or leave it."

She reeled a little as if he had struck her a blow with his fist, and
her face changed terribly, whilst her eyes stared without light or sense
in them.

"You jest, Flamma! You only jest!" she muttered. "The little children
starve, I tell you. You will give me bread for them? Just a little
bread? I will pay as soon as the weather breaks."

"I can give nothing. I am poor, very poor," he answered her, with the
habitual lie of the miser; and he opened his ledger again, and went on
counting up the dots and crosses by which he kept his books.

His servant Pitchou sat spinning by the hearth: she did not cease her
work, nor intercede by a word. The poor can be better to the poor than
any princes; but the poor can also be more cruel to the poor than any
slave-drivers.

The old woman's head dropped on her breast, she turned feebly, and felt
her way, as though she were blind, out of the house and into the air. It
was already dark with the darkness of the descending night.

The snow was falling fast. Her hope was gone; all was cold--cold as
death.

She shivered and gasped, and strove to totter on: the children were
alone. The winds blew and drove the snowflakes in a white cloud against
her face; the bending trees creaked and groaned as though in pain; the
roar of the mill-water filled the air.

There was now no light: the day was gone, and the moon was hidden;
beneath her feet the frozen earth cracked and slipped and gave way. She
fell down; being so old and so weakly she could not rise again, but lay
still with one limb broken under her, and the winds and the snowstorm
beating together upon her.

"The children! the children!" she moaned feebly, and then was still; she
was so cold, and the snow fell so fast; she could not lift herself nor
see what was around her; she thought that she was in her bed at home,
and felt as though she would soon sleep.

Through the dense gloom around her there came a swiftly-moving shape,
that flew as silently and as quickly as a night-bird, and paused as
though on wings beside her.

A voice that was at once timid and fierce, tender and savage, spoke to
her through the clouds of driven snow-spray.

"Hush, it is I! I--Folle-Farine. I have brought you my food. It is not
much--they never give me much. Still it will help a little. I heard what
you said--I was in the loft. Flamma must not know; he might make you
pay. But it is all mine, truly mine; take it."

"Food--for the children!"

The blessed word aroused her from her lethargy; she raised herself a
little on one arm, and tried to see whence the voice came that spoke to
her.

But the effort exhausted her; she fell again to the ground with a
groan--her limb was broken.

Folle-Farine stood above her; her dark eyes gleaming like a hawk's
through the gloom, and full of a curious, startled pity.

"You cannot get up; you are old," she said abruptly. "See--let me carry
you home. The children! yes, the children can have it. It is not much;
but it will serve."

She spoke hastily and roughly; she was ashamed of her own compassion.
What was it to her whether any of these people lived or died? They had
always mocked and hated her.

"If I did right, I should let them rot, and spit on their corpses," she
thought, with the ferocity of vengeance that ran in her Oriental blood.

Yet she had come out in the storm, and had brought away her food for
strangers, though she had been at work all day long, and was chilled to
the bone, and was devoured with ravenous hunger.

Why did she do it?

She did not know. She scorned herself. But she was sorry for this woman,
so poor and so brave, with her eighty-two years, and so bitterly denied
in her extremity.

Manon Dax dimly caught the muttered words, and feebly strove to answer
them, whilst the winds roared and the snow beat upon her fallen body.

"I cannot rise," she murmured; "my leg is broken, I think. But it is no
matter. Go you to the little ones; whoever you are, you are good, and
have pity. Go to them, go. It is no matter for me. I have lived my
life--anyway. It will soon be over. I am not in pain--indeed."

Folle-Farine stood in silence a minute, then she stooped and lifted the
old creature in her strong young arms, and with that heavy burden set
out on her way in the teeth of the storm.

She had long known the woman, and the grandchildren, by sight and name.

Once or twice when she had passed by them, the grandam, tender of heart,
but narrow of brain, and believing all the tales of her neighbors, had
drawn the little ones closer to her, under the wing of her serge cloak,
lest the evil eye that had bewitched the tanner's youngest born, should
fall on them, and harm them in like manner.

Nevertheless the evil eyes gleamed on her with a wistful sorrow, as
Folle-Farine bore her with easy strength and a sure step, through the
frozen woodland ways, as she would have borne the load of wood, or the
sacks of corn, that she was so well used to carry to and fro like a
packhorse.

Manon Dax did not stir nor struggle, she did not even strive to speak
again; she was vaguely sensible of a slow, buoyant, painless movement,
of a close, soft pressure that sheltered her from the force of the
winds, of a subtle warmth that stole through her emaciated aching frame,
and made her drowsy and forgetful, and content to be still.

She could do no more. Her day for struggle and for work was done.

Once she moved a little. Her bearer paused and stopped and listened.

"Did you speak?" she whispered.

Manon Dax gave a soft troubled sigh.

"God is good," she muttered, like one speaking in a dream.

Folle-Farine held on her way; fiercely blown, blinded by the snow,
pierced by the blasts of the hurricane, but sure of foot on the ice as a
reindeer, and sure of eye in the dark as a night-hawk.

"Are you in pain?" she asked once of the burden she carried.

There was no answer. Old Manon seemed to sleep.

The distance of the road was nothing to her, fleet and firm of step, and
inured to all hardships of the weather; yet short as it was, it cost her
an hour to travel it, heavily weighted as she was, soaked with
snow-water, blown back continually by the opposing winds, and forced to
stagger and to pause by the fury of the storm.

At last she reached the hut.

The wind had driven open the door. The wailing cries of the children
echoed sorrowfully on the stillness, answered by the bleating of sheep,
cold and hungry in their distant folds. The snow had drifted in
unchecked; all was quite dark.

She felt her way within, and being used by long custom to see in the
gloom, as the night-haunting beasts and birds can see, she found the bed
of hay, and laid her burden gently down on it.

The children ceased their wailing, and the two eldest ones crept up
close to their grandmother, and pressed their cheeks to hers, and
whispered to her eagerly, with their little famished lips, "Where is
the food, where is the food?"

But there was still no answer.

The clouds drifted a little from the moon that had been so long
obscured; it shone for a moment through the vapor of the heavy sky; the
whitened ground threw back the rays increased tenfold; the pale gleam
reached the old still face of Manon Dax.

There was a feeble smile upon it--the smile with which her last words
had been spoken in the darkness; "God is good!"

She was quite dead.



CHAPTER VI.


All that night Folle-Farine tarried with the children.

The youngest had been suffocated whilst they had been alone, by the snow
which had fallen through the roof, and from which its elders had been
too small and weakly to be able to drag it out, unaided.

She laid it, stiff already in the cold of the night, beside the body of
its old grandam, who had perished in endeavoring to save it; they lay
together, the year-old child and the aged woman, the broken bud and the
leafless bough. They had died of hunger, as the birds die on the moors
and plains; it is a common fate.

She stayed beside the children, who were frightened and bewildered and
quite mute. She divided such food as she had brought between them, not
taking any herself. She took off the sheepskin which she wore in winter,
tied round her loins as her outdoor garment, and made a little nest of
it for the three, and covered them with it. She could not close the
door, from the height of the drifted snow, and the wind poured in all
night long, though in an hour the snow ceased to fall. Now and then the
clouds parting a little, let a ray of the moon stray in; and then she
could see the quiet faces of the old dead woman and the child.

"They die of famine--and they die saying their 'God is good,'" she
thought and she pondered on it deeply, and with the bitter and
melancholy irony which life had already taught her, while the hours of
the night dragged slowly on; the winds howled above the trembling hovel,
and the children sobbed themselves to sleep at last, lulled by the
warmth of the skin, into which they crept together like young birds in a
nest.

She sat there patiently; frozen and ravenous; yet not drawing a corner
of the sheepskin to her own use, nor regretting a crumb of the bread she
had surrendered. She hated the human race, whose hand was always against
her. She had no single good deed to thank them for, nor any single
gentle word. Yet she was sorry for that old creature, who had been so
bitterly dealt with all her years through, and who had died saying "God
is good." She was sorry for those little helpless, unconscious starving
animals, who had lost the only life that could labor for them.

She forgave--because she forgot--that in other winters this door had
been shut against her, as against an accursed thing, and these babes had
mocked her in their first imperfect speech.

The dawn broke; the sharp gray winter's day came; the storm had lulled,
but the whole earth was frost-bound and white with snow, and the air was
piercing, and the sky dark and overcast.

She had to leave them; she was bound to her daily labor at the mill, she
knew that if when the sun rose she should be found absent, she and they
too would surely suffer. What to do for them she could not tell. She had
no friend save Marcellin, who himself was as poor as these. She never
spoke to any living thing, except a sheep-dog, or a calf bleating for
its mother, or a toil-worn bullock staggering over the plowed clods.

Between her and all those around her there were perpetual enmity and
mistrust, and scarcely so much of a common bond as lies in a common
humanity. For in her title to a common humanity with them they
disbelieved; while she in her scorn rejected claim to it.

At daybreak there passed by the open door in the mist a peasant going
to his cattle in the fields beyond, pushing through the snow a rude
hand-cart full of turnips, and other winter food.

She rose and called to him.

He stared and stood still.

She went to the doorway and signed to him.

"Old Manon Dax is dead. Will you tell the people? The children are here,
alone, and they starve."

"Manon Dax dead?" he echoed stupidly: he was her nearest neighbor; he
had helped her fetch her washing-water sometimes from the well half a
league away; when his wife had been down with fever and ague, the old
woman had nursed her carefully and well through many a tedious month.

"Yes, I found her on the road, in the snow, last night. She had broken
her leg, and she was dead before I got here. Go and send some one. The
little children are all alone, and one of them is dead too."

It was so dark still, that he had not seen at first who it was that
addressed him; but slowly, as he stared and stared, and drew nearer to
her, he recognized the scarlet girdle, the brown limbs, the straight
brow, the fathomless eyes. And he feared her, with a great fear rising
there suddenly, before him, out of that still white world of dawn and
shadow.

He dropped the handles of his cart and fled; a turn in the road, and the
darkness of the morning, soon hid him from sight. She thought that he
had gone to summon his people, and she went back and sat again by the
sleeping children, and watched the sad still faces of the dead.

The peasant flew home as swiftly as his heavy shoes and the broken ice
of the roads would allow.

His cabin was at some distance, at a place where, amidst the fields, a
few huts, a stone crucifix, some barns and stacks, and a single wineshop
made up a little village, celebrated in the district for its
wide-spreading orchards and their excellence of fruits.

Even so early the little hamlet was awake; the shatters were opened; the
people were astir; men were brushing the snow from their thresholds;
women were going out to their field-work; behind the narrow lattices the
sleepy-eyes and curly heads of children peered, while their fingers
played with the fanciful incrustations of the frost.

The keeper of the tavern was unbarring his house door; a girl broke the
ice in a pool for her ducks to get at the water; a few famished robins
flew to and fro songless.

His own wife was on her doorstep; to her he darted.

"Manon Dax is dead!" he shouted.

"What of that?" said his wife shouldering her broom; a great many had
died that winter, and they were so poor and sharp-set with famine
themselves, that they had neither bread nor pity to spare.

"This of that," said the man, doggedly, and full of the excitement of
his own terrors. "The young devil of Yprès has killed her, that I am
sure. She is there in the hut, in the dark, with her eyes glaring like
coals. And for what should she be there if not for evil? Tell me that."

"Is it possible?" his wife cried, incredulous, yet willing to believe;
while the girl left her ducks, and the wineshop-keeper his door, and the
women their cabins, and came and stood round the bearer of such strange
news. It was very welcome news in a raw frost-bitten dawn, when a day
was beginning that would otherwise have had nothing more wonderful in it
than tidings of how a litter of black pigs throve, and how a brown horse
had fared with the swelling in the throat.

They were very dull there from year's end to year's end; once a month,
maybe, a letter would come in from some soldier-son or brother, or a
peddler coming to buy eggs would bring likewise some stray rumor from
the outer world;--beyond this there was no change. They heard nothing,
and saw nothing, seldom moving a league away from that gray stone
crucifix, round which their little homes were clustered.

This man had nothing truly to tell; he had fled horrified to be
challenged in the twilight, and the snow, by a creature of such evil
omen as Folle-Farine. But when he had got an audience, he was too true
an orator and not such a fool as to lose it for such a little beggarly
matter as truth; and his tongue clacked quickly of all which his fears
and fancies had conceived, until he had talked himself and his
listeners into the full belief that Manon Dax being belated had
encountered the evil glance of the daughter of all evil, and had been
slain thereby in most cruel sorcery.

Now, in the whole neighborhood there was nothing too foul to be
accredited of the begotten of the fiend:--a fiend, whom all the grown
men and women remembered so well in his earthly form, when he had come
to ruin poor Reine Flamma's body and soul, with his eyes like jewels,
and his strength passing the strength of all men.

The people listened, gaping, and wonder-struck, and forgetting the
bitterness of the cold, being warmed with those unfailing human cordials
of foul suspicion and of gratified hatred. Some went off to their daily
labor, being unable to spare time for more gossip; but divers women, who
had nothing to occupy them, remained about Flandrin.

A shriveled dame, who owned the greatest number of brood-hens in the
village, who had only one son, a priest, and who was much respected and
deferred to by her neighbors, spoke first when Flandrin had ended his
tale for the seventh time, it being a little matter to him that his two
hungry cows would be lowing all the while vainly for their morning meal.

"Flandrin, you have said well, beyond a doubt; the good soul has been
struck dead by sorcery. But, you have forgot one thing, the children are
there, and that devil of Yprès is with them. We--good Christians and
true--should not let such things be. Go, and drive her out and bring the
young ones hither."

Flandrin stood silent. It was very well to say that the devil should be
driven out, but it was not so well to be the driver.

"That is as it should be," assented the other women. "Go, Flandrin, and
we--we will take the little souls in for this day, and then give them to
the public charity; better cannot be done. Go."

"But mind that thou dost strike that beast, Folle-Farine, sharply,"
cried his wife.

"If thou showest her the cross, she will have to grovel and flee," said
another.

"Not she," grumbled the old dame, whose son was a priest. "One day my
blessed son, who is nearly a saint, Heaven knows, menaced her with his
cross, and she stood straight, and fearless, and looked at it, and said
'By that sign you do all manner of vileness in this world, and say you
are to be blest in another; I know!' and so laughed and went on. What
are you to do with a witch like that,--eh?"

"Go, Flandrin," shrieked the women in chorus. "Go! Every minute you
waste, the little angels are nearer to hell!"

"Come yourselves with me, then," said Flandrin, sullenly. "I will not go
after those infants, it is not a man's work."

In his own mind he was musing on a story his priests had often told him,
of swine into which exorcised devils had entered, and dispatched swiftly
down a slope to a miserable end; and he thought of his own pigs, black,
fat, and happy, worth so much to him in the market. Better, he mused,
that Manon Dax's grandchildren should be the devil's prey, than those,
his choicest, swine.

The women jeered him, menaced him, flouted him, besought him. But
vainly--he would not move alone. He had become possessed with the
terrors that his own fancy had created; and he would not stir a step for
all their imprecations.

"Let us go ourselves, then!" screamed his wife at length, flourishing
above her head the broom with which she had swept the snow. "Men are
forever cowards. It shall never be said of me, that I left those babes
to the fiend while I gave my own children their porridge by the fire!"

There was a sentiment in this that stirred all her companions to
emulation. They rushed into their homes, snatched a shovel, a staff, a
broom, a pegstick, each whatever came uppermost, and, dragging Flandrin
in the midst, went down the sloping frozen road between its fringe of
poplars. They were not very sure in their own minds why they went, nor
for what they went; but they had a vague idea of doing what was wise and
pious, and they had a great hate in their hearts against her.

They sped as fast as the slippery road would let them, and their
tongues flew still faster than their feet; the cold of the daybreak made
them sharp and keen on their prey; they screamed themselves hoarse,
their voices rising shrilly above the whistling of the winds, and the
creaking of the trees; and they inflamed each other with ferocious
belief in the sorcery they were to punish.

They were in their way virtuous; they were content on very little, they
toiled hard from their birth to their grave, they were most of them
chaste wives and devoted mothers, they bore privation steadily, and they
slaved in fair weather and foul without a complaint. But they were
narrow of soul, greedy of temper, bigoted and uncharitable, and, where
they thought themselves or their offspring menaced, implacable. They
were of the stuff that would be burned for a creed, and burn others for
another creed. It is the creed of the vast majority of every nation; the
priests and lawgivers of every nation have always told their people that
it is a creed holy and honorable--how can the people know that it is at
once idiotic and hellish?

Folle-Farine sat within on the damp hay under the broken roof, and
watched the open door.

The children were still asleep. The eldest one in his sleep had turned
and caught her hand, and held it.

She did not care for them. They had screamed, and run behind the
woodstack, or their grandam's skirts, a hundred times when they had seen
her on the road or in the orchard. But she was sorry for them; almost as
sorry as she was for the little naked woodpigeons when their nests were
scattered on the ground in a tempest, or for the little starveling
rabbits when they screamed in their holes for the soft, white mother
that was lying, tortured and twisted, in the jaws of a steel trap.

She was sorry for them--half roughly, half tenderly--with some shame at
her own weakness, and yet too sincerely sorry to be able to persuade
herself to leave them to their fate there, all alone with their dead.

For in the savage heart of Taric's daughter there was an innermost
corner wherein her mother's nature slept.

She sat there quite still, watching the open porch and listening for
footsteps.

The snow was driven in circling clouds by the winds; the dense fog of
the dawn lifted itself off the surrounding fields; the branches of the
trees were beautiful with hanging icicles; from the meadow hard by there
wailed unceasingly the mournful moaning of Flandrin's cattle, deserted
of their master and hungry in their wooden sheds.

She heard a distant convent clock strike six: no one came. Yet, she had
resolved not to leave the children all alone; though Flamma should come
and find her there, and thrash her for her absence from his tasks. So
she sat still and waited.

After a little she heard the crisp cracking of many feet on the frozen
snow and ice-filled ruts of the narrow road; she heard a confused
clatter of angry voices breaking harshly on the stillness of the winter
morning.

The light was stronger now, and through the doorway she saw the little
passionate crowd of angry faces as the women pressed onward down the
hill with Flandrin in their midst.

She rose and looked out at them quietly.

For a minute they paused--irresolute, silent, perplexed: at the sight of
her they were half daunted; they felt the vagueness of the crime they
came to bring against her.

The wife of Flandrin recovered speech first, and dared them to the
onslaught.

"What!" she screamed, "nine good Christians fearful of one daughter of
hell? Fie! for shame! Look; my leaden Peter is round my neck! Is he not
stronger than she any day?"

In a moment more, thus girded at and guarded at the same time, they were
through the door and on the mud floor of the hearth, close to her,
casting hasty glances at the poor dead body on the hearth, whose fires
they had left to die out all through that bitter winter. They came about
her in a fierce, gesticulating, breathless troop, flourishing their
sticks in her eyes, and casting at her a thousand charges in one breath.

Flandrin stood a little aloof, sheepishly on the threshold, wishing he
had never said a word of the death of Manon Dax to his good wife and
neighbors.

"You met that poor saint and killed her in the snow with your
witcheries!" one cried.

"You have stifled that poor babe where it lay!" cried another.

"A good woman like that!" shrieked a third, "who was well and blithe and
praising God only a day ago, for I saw her myself come down the hill for
our well water!"

"It is as you did with the dear little Rémy, who will be lame all his
life through you," hissed a fourth. "You are not fit to live; you spit
venom like a toad."

"Are you alive, my angels?" said a fifth, waking the three children
noisily, and rousing their piercing cries. "Are you alive after that
witch has gazed on you? It is a miracle! The saints be praised!"

Folle-Farine stood mute and erect for the moment, not comprehending why
they thus with one accord fell upon her. She pointed to the bodies on
the hearth, with one of those grave and dignified gestures which were
her birthright.

"She was cold and hungry," she said curtly, her mellow accent softening
and enriching the provincial tongue which she had learned from those
amidst whom she dwelt. "She had fallen, and was dying. I brought her
here. The young child was killed by the snow. I stayed with the rest
because they were frightened, and alone. There is no more to tell. What
of it?"

"Thou hadst better come away. What canst thou prove?" whispered Flandrin
to his wife.

He was afraid of the storm he had invoked, and would fain have stilled
it. But that was beyond his power. The women had not come forth half a
league in the howling winds of a midwinter daybreak only to go back with
a mere charity done, and with no vengeance taken.

They hissed, they screamed, they hurled their rage at her; they accused
her of a thousand crimes; they filled the hut with clamor as of a
thousand tongues; they foamed, they spat, they struck at her with their
sticks; and she stood quiet, looking at them, and the old dead face of
Manon Dax lay upward in the dim light.

The eldest boy struggled in the grasp of the peasant woman who had
seized him, and stretched his arms, instead, to the one who had fed him
and whose hand he had held all through his restless slumber in that long
and dreary night.

The woman covered his eyes with a scream.

"Ah--h!" she moaned, "see how the innocent child is bewitched! It is
horrible!"

"Look on that;--oh, infernal thing!" cried Flandrin's wife, lifting up
her treasured figure of Peter. "You dare not face that blessed image.
See--see all of you--how she winces, and turns white!"

Folle-Farine had shrunk a little as the child had called her. Its
gesture of affection was the first that she had ever seen towards her in
any human thing.

She laughed aloud as the image of Peter was thrust in her face. She saw
it was some emblem and idol of their faith, devoutly cherished. She
stretched her hand out, wrenched it away, trampled on it, and tossed it
through the doorway into the snow, where it sank and disappeared. Then
she folded her arms, and waited for them.

There was a shriek at the blasphemy of the impious act; then they rushed
on her.

They came inflamed with all the fury which abject fear and bigoted
hatred can beget in minds of the lowest and most brutal type. They were
strong, rude, ignorant, fanatical peasants, and they abhorred her, and
they believed no child of theirs to be safe in its bed while she walked
alive abroad. Beside such women, when in wrath and riot, the tiger and
the hyena are as the lamb and the dove.

They set on her with furious force; they flung her, they trod on her,
they beat her, they kicked her with their wood-shod feet, with all the
malignant fury of the female animal that fights for its offspring's and
its own security.

Strong though she was, and swift, and full of courage, she had no power
against the numbers who had thrown themselves on her, and borne her
backward by dint of their united effort, and held her down to work their
worst on her. She could not free herself to return their blows, nor lift
herself to wrestle with them; she could only deny them the sweetness of
wringing from her a single cry, and that she did. She was mute while the
rough hands flew at her, the sticks struck at her, the heavy feet were
driven against her body, and the fierce fingers clutched at her hair,
and twisted and tore it,--she was quite mute throughout.

"Prick her in the breast, and see if the devil be still in her. I have
heard say there is no better way to test a witch!" cried Flandrin's
wife, writhing in rage for the outrage to the Petrus.

Her foes needed no second bidding; they had her already prostrate in
their midst, and a dozen eager, violent hands seized a closer grip upon
her, pulled her clothes from her chest, and, holding her down on the mud
floor, searched with ravenous eyes for the signet marks of hell. The
smooth, soft skin baffled them; its rich and tender hues were without
spot or blemish.

"What matter,--what matter?" hissed Rose Flandrin. "When our fathers
hunted witches in the old time, did they stop for that? Draw blood, and
you will see."

She clutched a jagged, rusty nail from out the wall, and leaned over her
prey.

"It is the only babe that will ever cling to thee!" she cried, with a
laugh, as the nail drew blood above the heart.

Still Folle-Farine made no sound and asked no mercy. She was powerless,
defenseless, flung on her back amidst her tormentors, fastened down by
treading feet and clinching hands; she could resist in nothing, she
could not stir a limb; still she kept silence, and her proud eyes looked
unquailing into the hateful faces bent to hers.

The muscles and nerves of her body quivered with a mighty pang, her
chest heaved with the torture of indignity, her heart fluttered like a
wounded bird,--not at the physical pain, but at the shame of these
women's gaze, the loathsome contact of their hands.

The iron pierced deeper, but they could not make her speak. Except for
her eyes, which glowed with a dusky fire as they glanced to and fro,
seeking escape, she might have been a statue of olive-wood, flung down
by ruffians to make a bonfire.

"If one were to drive the nail to the head, she would not feel!" cried
the women, in furious despair, and were minded, almost, to put her to
that uttermost test.

Suddenly, from the doorway, Flandrin raised an alarm:

"There is our notary close at hand, on the road on his mule! Hist! Come
out quickly! You know how strict he is, and how he forbids us ever to
try and take the law into our own keeping. Quick--as you love your
lives--quick!"

The furies left their prey, and scattered and fled; the notary was a
name of awe to them, for he was a severe man but just.

They seized the children, went out with them into the road, closed the
hut door behind them, and moved down the hill, the two younger wailing
sadly, and the eldest trying to get from them and go back.

The women looked mournful and held their heads down, and comforted the
little ones; Flandrin himself went to his cattle in the meadow.

"Is anything amiss?" the old white-haired notary asked, stopping his
gray mule at sight of the little cavalcade.

The women, weeping, told him that Manon Dax was dead, and the youngest
infant likewise--of cold, in the night, as they supposed. They dared to
say no more, for he had many times rebuked them for their lack of
charity and their bigoted cruelties and superstitions, and they were
quaking with fear lest he should by any chance enter the cottage and see
their work.

"Flandrin, going to his cow, saw her first, and he came to us and told
us," they added, crossing themselves fervently, and hushing little
Bernardou, who wanted to get from them and return; "and we have taken
the poor little things to carry them home; we are going to give them
food, and warm them awhile by the stove, and then we shall come back and
do all that is needful for the beloved dead who are within."

"That is well. That is good and neighborly of you," said the notary, who
liked them, having married them all, and registered all their children's
births, and who was a good old man, though stern.

He promised them to see for his part that all needed by the law and by
the church should be done for their old lost neighbor; and then he urged
his mule into a trot, for he had been summoned to a rich man's sick-bed
in that early winter morning, and was in haste lest the priest should be
beforehand with him there.

"How tender the poor are to the poor! Those people have not bread enough
for themselves, and yet they burden their homes with three strange
mouths. Their hearts must be true at the core, if their tongues
sometimes be foul," he mused, as he rode the mule down through the fog.

The women went on, carrying and dragging the children with them, in a
sullen impatience.

"To think we should have had to leave that fiend of Yprès!" they
muttered in their teeth. "Well, there is one thing, she will not get
over the hurt for days. Her bones will be stiff for many a week. That
will teach her to leave honest folk alone."

And they traversed the road slowly, muttering to one another.

"Hold thy noise, thou little pig!" cried Flandrin's wife, pushing
Bernardou on before her. "Hold thy noise, I tell you, or I will put you
in the black box in a hole in the ground, along with thy
great-grandmother."

But Bernardou wept aloud, refusing to be comforted or terrified into
silence. He was old enough to know that never more would the old kindly
withered brown face bend over him as he woke in the morning, nor the old
kindly quavering voice croon him country ballads and cradle songs at
twilight by the bright wood fire.

Little by little the women carrying the children crept down the slippery
slope, half ice and half mud in the thaw, and entered their own village,
and therein were much praised for their charity and courage.

For when they praise, as when they abuse, villages are loud of voice and
blind of eye almost as much as are the cities.

Their tongues and those of their neighbors clacked all day long, noisily
and bravely, of their good and their great deeds; they had all the
sanctity of martyrdom, and all the glory of victory, in one. True, they
have left all their house and field-work half done. "But the Holy Peter
will finish it in his own good time, and avenge himself for his
outrage," mused the wife of Flandrin, sorrowing over her lost Petrus in
the snowdrift, and boxing the ears of little Bernardou to make him cease
from his weeping, where he was huddled in her chimney corner.

When they went back with their priest at noon to the hut of old Manon
Dax to make her ready for her burial, they trembled inwardly lest they
should find their victim there, and lest she should lift up her voice in
accusation against them. Their hearts misgave them sorely. Their priest,
a cobbler's son, almost as ignorant as themselves, save that he could
gabble a few morsels of bad Latin, would be, they knew, on their side;
but they were sensible that they had let their fury hurry them into acts
that could easily be applauded by their neighbors, but not so easily
justified to the law.

"For the law is overgood," said Rose Flandrin, "and takes the part of
all sorts of vile creatures. It will protect a rogue, a brigand, a
bullock, a dog, a witch, a devil--anything,--except now and then an
honest woman."

But their fears were groundless; she was gone; the hut when they entered
it had no tenants, except the lifeless famished bodies of the old
grandam and the year-old infant.

When Folle-Farine had heard the hut door close, and the steps of her
tormentors die away down the hill, she had tried vainly several times to
raise herself from the floor, and had failed.

She had been so suddenly attacked and flung down and trampled on, that
her brain had been deadened, and her senses had gone, for the first
sharp moment of the persecution.

As she lifted herself slowly, and staggered to her feet, and saw the
blood trickle where the nail had pierced her breast, she understood what
had happened to her; her face grew savage and dark, her eyes fierce and
lustful, like the eyes of some wild beast rising wounded in his lair.

It was not for the hurt she cared; it was the shame of defeat and
outrage that stung her like a whip of asps.

She stood awhile looking at the face of the woman she had aided.

"I tried to help you," she thought. "I was a fool. I might have known
how they pay any good done to them."

She was not surprised; her mind had been too deadened by a long course
of ill usage to feel any wonder at the treatment she had been repaid
with.

She hated them with the mute unyielding hatred of her race, but she
hated herself more because she had yielded to the softness of sorrow and
pity for any human thing; and more still because she had not been armed
and on her guard, and had suffered them to prevail and to escape without
her vengeance.

"I will never come out without a knife in my girdle again," she
thought--this was the lesson that her charity had brought her as its
teaching.

She went out hardening her heart, as she crept through the doorway into
the snow and the wind, so that she should not leave one farewell word or
token of gentleness with the dead, that lay there so tranquil on the
ashes of the hearth.

"She lied even in her last breath," thought Folle-Farine. "She said that
her God was good!"

She could hardly keep on her own homeward way. All her limbs were stiff
and full of pain. The wound in her chest was scarcely more than skin
deep, yet it smarted sorely and bled still. Her brain was dull, and her
ears filled with strange noises from the force with which she had been
flung backward on her head.

She had given her sheepskin to the children, as before her Phratos had
done; and the peasants had carried the youngest of them away in it. The
sharpness of the intense cold froze the blood in her as she crawled
through a gap in the poplar hedge, and under the whitened brambles and
grasses beyond, to get backward to the mill by the path that ran through
the woods and pastures.

The sun had risen, but was obscured by fog, through which it shed a dull
red ray here and there above the woods in the east.

It was a bitter morning, and the wind, though it had abated, was still
rough, and drove the snow in clouds of powder hither and thither over
the fields. She could only move very slowly; the thorns tearing her, the
snow blinding her, the icicles lacerating her bare feet as she moved.

She wondered, dimly, why she lived. It seemed to her that the devil when
he had made her, must have made her out of sport and cruelty, and then
tossed her into the world to be a scapegoat and a football for any
creature that might need one.

That she might end her own life never occurred to her; her intelligence
was not awake enough to see that she need not bear its burden one hour
more, so long as there was one pool in the woods deep enough to drown
her under its green weeds and lily leaves any cool summer night; or that
she had but to lie down then and there, where she was, on the snow,
beneath the ice-dropping trees, and let the sleep that weighed on her
eyelids come, dreamless and painless, and there would be an end of all
for her, as for the frozen rabbits and the birds that strewed the upland
meadows, starved and stiff.

She did not know;--and had she known, wretched though existence was to
her, death would not have allured her. She saw that the dead might be
slapped on their cheek, and could not lift their arm to strike again--a
change that would not give her vengeance could have had no sweetness and
no succor for her. The change she wanted was to live, and not to die.

By tedious and painful efforts, she dragged herself home by the way of
the lanes and pastures; hungry, lame, bleeding, cold and miserable, her
eyes burning like flame, her hands and her head hot with fever.

She made her way into the mill-yard and tried to commence her first
morning's work; the drawing of water from the well for the beasts and
for the house, and the sweeping down of the old wide court round which
the sheds and storehouses ran.

She never dreamed of asking either for food or pity, either for sympathy
or remission of her labors.

She set to work at once, but for the only time since Phratos had
brought her thither the strength and vigor of her frame had been beaten.

She was sick and weak; her hand sank off the handle of the windlass; and
she dropped stupidly on the stone edge of the well, and sat there
leaning her head on her hands.

The mastiff came and licked her face tenderly. The pigeons left the meal
flung to them on the snow, and flew merrily about her head in pretty
fluttering caresses. The lean cat came and rubbed its cheek softly
against her, purring all the while.

The woman Pitchou saw her, and she called out of the window to her
master,--

"Flamma! there is thy gad-about, who has not been abed all night."

The old man heard, and came out of his mill to the well in the
courtyard.

"Where hast been?" he asked sharply of her. "Pitchou says thou hast not
lain in thy bed all night long. Is it so?"

Folle-Farine lifted her head slowly, with a dazed stupid pain in her
eyes.

"Yes, it is true," she answered, doggedly.

"And where hast been, then?" he asked, through his clinched teeth;
enraged that his servant had been quicker of eye and of ear than
himself.

A little of her old dauntless defiance gleamed in her face through its
stupor and languor, as she replied to him with effort in brief
phrases,--

"I went after old Manon Dax, to give her my supper. She died in the
road, and I carried her home. The youngest child was dead too. I stayed
there because the children were alone; I called to Flandrin and told
him; he came with his wife and other women, and they said I had killed
old Dax; they set on me, and beat me, and pricked me for a witch. It is
no matter. But it made me late."

In her glance upward, even in the curtness of her words, there was an
unconscious glimmer of appeal,--a vague fancy that for once she might,
perhaps, meet with approval and sympathy, instead of punishment and
contempt. She had never heard a kind word from him, nor one of any
compassion, and yet a dim, unuttered hope was in her heart that for once
he might condemn her persecutors and pardon her.

But the hope was a vain one, like all which she had cherished since
first the door of the mill-house had opened to admit her.

Flamma only set his teeth tighter. In his own soul he had been almost
ashamed of his denial to his old neighbor, and had almost feared that it
would lose him the good will of that good heaven which had sent him so
mercifully such a sharp year of famine to enrich him. Therefore, it
infuriated him to think that this offspring of a foul sin should have
had pity and charity where he had lacked them.

He looked at her and saw, with grim glee, that she was black and blue
with bruises, and that the linen which she held together across her
bosom had been stained with blood.

"Flandrin and his wife are honest people, and pious," he said, in answer
to her. "When they find a wench out of her bed at night, they deal
rightly with her, and do not hearken to any lies that she may tell them
of feigned almsgiving to cover her vices from their sight. I thank them
that they did so much of my work for me. They might well prick thee for
a witch; but they will never cut so deep into thy breast as to be able
to dig the mark of the devil out of it. Now, up and work, or it will be
the worse for thee."

She obeyed him.

There, during the dark winter's day, the pain which she endured, with
her hunger and the cold of the weather, made her fall thrice like a dead
thing on the snow of the court and the floors of the sheds.

But she lay insensible till the youth in her brought back consciousness,
without aid. In those moments of faintness, no one noticed her save the
dog, who came and crept to her to give her warmth, and strove to wake
her with the kisses of his rough tongue.

She did her work as best she might; neither Flamma nor his servant once
spoke to her.

"My women dealt somewhat roughly with thy wench at break of day, good
Flamma," said the man Flandrin, meeting him in the lane that afternoon,
and fearful of offending the shrewd old man, who had so many of his
neighbors in his grip. "I hope thou wilt not take it amiss? The girl
maddened my dame,--spitting on her Peter, and throwing the blessed image
away in a ditch."

"The woman did well," said Flamma, coldly, driving his gray mare onward
through the fog; and Flandrin could not tell whether he were content, or
were displeased.

Claudis Flamma himself hardly knew which he was. He held her as the very
spawn of hell; and yet it was loathsome to him that his neighbors should
also know and say that a devil had been the only fruit of that fair
offspring of his own, whom he and they had so long held as a saint.

The next day, and the next, and the next again after that, she was too
ill to stir; they beat her and called her names, but it was of no use;
they could not get work out of her; she was past it, and beyond all
rousing of their sticks, or of their words.

They were obliged to let her be. She lay for nearly four days in the hay
in her loft, devoured with fever, and with every bone and muscle in
pain. She had a pitcher of water by her, and drank continually,
thirstily, like a sick dog. With rest and no medicine but the cold
spring water, she recovered: she had been delirious in a few of the
hours, and had dreamed of nothing but of the old life in the Liebana,
and of the old sweet music of Phratos. She remained there untended,
shivering, and fever-stricken, until the strength of her youth returned
to her. She rose on the fifth day recovered, weaker, but otherwise
little the worse, with the soft sad songs of her old friend the viol
ringing always through her brain.

The fifth day from the death of Manon Dax, was the day of the new year.

There was no work being done at the mill; the wheel stood still, locked
fast, for the deep stream was close bound in ice; frost had returned,
and the country was white with snow two feet deep, and bleak and bare,
and rioted over by furious cross winds.

Flamma and Pitchou were in the kitchen when she entered it; they looked
up, but neither spoke to her. In being ill,--for the first time since
they had had to do with her,--she had committed, for the millionth time,
a crime.

There was no welcome for her in that cheerless place, where scarcely a
spark of fire was allowed to brighten the hearth, where the hens
straying in from without, sat with ruffled feathers, chilled and moping,
and where the old Black Forest clock in the corner, had stopped from the
intense cold, and grimly pointed midnight, at high noon.

There was no welcome for her: she went out into the air, thinking the
woods, even at midwinter, could not be so lonesome as was that cheerless
house.

The sun was shining through a rift in the stormy clouds, and the white
roofs, and the ice-crusted waters, and the frosted trees were glittering
in its light.

There were many dead birds about the paths. Claudis Flamma had thought
their famine time a good one in which to tempt them with poisoned grain.

She wondered where the dog was who never had failed to greet her,--a
yard farther on she saw him. He was stretched stiff and lifeless beside
the old barrel that had served him as a kennel; his master had begrudged
him the little straw needful to keep him from the hurricanes of those
bitter nights; and he had perished quietly without a moan, like a
sentinel slain at his post--frozen to death in his old age after a life
of faithfulness repaid with blows.

She stood by him awhile with dry eyes, but with an aching heart. He had
loved her, and she had loved him; many a time she had risked a stroke of
the lash to save it from his body; many a time she had sobbed herself to
sleep, in her earlier years, with her arms curled round him, as round
her only friend and only comrade in bondage and in misery.

She stooped down, and kissed him softly on his broad grizzled forehead,
lifted his corpse into a place of shelter, and covered it tenderly, so
that he should not be left to the crows and the kites, until she should
be able to make his grave in those orchards which he had loved so well
to wander in, and in which he and she had spent all their brief hours of
summer liberty and leisure.

She shuddered as she looked her last on him; and filled in the snow
above his tomb, under the old twisted pear-tree, beneath which he and
she had so often sat together in the long grasses, consoling one another
for scant fare and cruel blows by the exquisite mute sympathy which can
exist betwixt the canine and the human animal when the two are alone,
and love and trust each other only out of all the world.

Whilst the dog had lived, she had had two friends; now that he slept
forever in the old gray orchard, she had but one left. She went to seek
this one.

Her heart ached for a kind glance--for a word that should be neither of
hatred nor of scorn. It was seldom that she allowed herself to know such
a weakness. She had dauntless blood in her; she came of a people that
despised pity, who knew how to live hard and to die hard, without murmur
or appeal.

Yet, as she had clung to the old mastiff, who was savage to all save
herself; so she still clung to the old man Marcellin, who to all save
herself was a terror and a name of foul omen.

He was good to her in his own fierce, rugged way; they had the kinship
of the proscribed; and they loved one another in a strange, silent,
savage manner, as a yearling wolf cub and an aged grizzled bear might
love each other in the depths of a forest, where the foot of the hunter
and the fangs of the hound were alike against the young and the old.

She had not seen him for six days. She felt ill, and weak, and cold, and
alone. She thought she would go to him in his hut, and sit a little by
his lonely hearth, and hear him tell strange stories of the marvelous
time when he was young, and the world was drunk with a mad sweet dream
which was never to come true upon earth.

Her heart was in wild revolt, and a futile hate gnawed ever in it.

She had become used to the indignities of the populace, and the insults
of all the people who went to and fro her grandsire's place; but each
one pierced deeper and deeper than the last, and left a longer scar, and
killed more and more of the gentler and better instincts that had
survived in her through all the brutalizing debasement of her life.

She could not avenge the outrage of Rose Flandrin and her sisterhood,
and, being unable to avenge it, she shut her mouth and said nothing of
it, as her habit was. Nevertheless it festered and rankled in her, and
now and then the thought crossed her--why not take a flint and a bit of
tow, and burn them all in their beds as they slept in that little hollow
at the foot of the hill?

She thought of it often--would she ever do it?

She did not know.

It had a taint of cowardice in it; yet a man that very winter had fired
a farmstead for far less an injury, and had burned to death all who had
lain therein that night. Why should she not kill and burn these also?
They had never essayed to teach her to do better, and when she had tried
to do good to one of them the others had set on her as a witch.

In the afternoon of this first day of the year she had to pass through
their hamlet to seek Marcellin.

The sun was low and red; the dusky light glowered over the white meadows
and through the leafless twilight of the woods; here and there a
solitary tree of holly reared itself, scarlet and tall, from the
snowdrifts; here and there a sheaf of arrowy reeds pierced the sheets of
ice that covered all the streams and pools.

The little village lay with its dark round roofs, cosy and warm, with
all the winter round. She strode through it erect, and flashing her
scornful eyes right and left; but her right hand was inside her shirt,
and it gripped fast the handle of a knife. For such was the lesson which
the reward for her charity had taught her--a lesson not lightly to be
forgotten, nor swiftly to be unlearned again.

In its simple mode, the little place, like its greater neighbors, kept
high festival for a fresh year begun.

Its crucifix rose, bare and white, out of a crown of fir boughs and
many wreaths of ruddy berries. On its cabin windows the light of wood
cracking and blazing within glowed brightly. Through them she saw many
of their interiors as she went by in the shadow without.

In one the children knelt in a circle round the fire, roasting chestnuts
in the embers with gay shouts of laughter. In another they romped with
their big sheepdog, decking him with garlands of ivy and laurel.

In one little brown room a betrothal party made merry; in another, that
was bright with Dutch tiles, and hung round with dried herbs and fruits,
an old matron had her arm round the curly head of a sailor lad, home for
a short glad hour.

In the house of Flandrin a huge soup-pot smoked with savory odor, and
the eyes of his wife were soft with a tender mirth as she watched her
youngest-born playing with a Punchinello, all bells and bright colors,
and saw the elder ones cluster round a gilded Jesus of sugar.

In the wineshop, the keeper of it, having married a wife that day, kept
open house to his friends, and he and they were dancing to the music of
a horn and a fiddle, under rafters bedecked with branches of fir, with
many-hued ribbons, and with little oil lamps that blew to and fro in the
noise of the romp. And all round lay the dark still woods, and in the
midst rose the crucifix; and above, on the height of the hill, the
little old hut of Manon Dax stood dark and empty.

She looked at it all, going through it with her hand on her knife.

"One spark," she thought, playing with the grim temptation that
possessed her--"one spark on the dry thatch, and what a bonfire they
would have for their feasting!"

The thought was sweet to her.

Injustice had made her ravenous and savage. When she had tried to do
well and to save life, these people had accused her of taking it by evil
sorcery.

She felt a longing to show them what evil indeed she could do, and to
see them burn, and to hear them scream vainly, and then to say to them
with a laugh, as the flames licked up their homes and their lives,
"Another time, take care how you awake a witch!"

Why did she not do it? She did not know; she had brought out a flint and
tinder in the pouch that hung at her side. It would be as easy as to
pluck a sere leaf; she knew that.

She stood still and played with her fancy, and it was horrible and sweet
to her--so sweet because so horrible.

How soon their mirth would be stilled!

As she stood thinking there, and seeing in fancy the red glare that
would light up that peaceful place, and hearing the roar of the lurid
flames that would drown the music, and the laughter, and the children's
shouts, out of the twilight there rose to her a small, dark thing, with
a halo of light round its head: the thing was little Bernardou, and the
halo was the shine of his curling hair in the lingering light.

He caught her skirts in his hands, and clung to her and sobbed.

"I know you--you were good that night. The people all say you are
wicked, but you gave us your food, and held my hand. Take me back to
gran'mère--oh, take me back!"

She was startled and bewildered. This child had never mocked her, but he
had screamed and run from her in terror, and had been told a score of
stories that she was a devil, who could kill his body and soul.

"She is dead, Bernardou," she answered him; and her voice was troubled,
and sounded strangely to her as she spoke for the first time to a child
without being derided or screamed at in fear.

"Dead! What is that?" sobbed the boy. "She was stiff and cold, I know,
and they put her in a hole; but she would waken, I know she would, if
she only heard _us_. We never cried in the night but she heard in her
sleep, and got up and came to us. Oh, do tell her--do, do tell her!"

She was silent; she did not know how to answer him, and the strangeness
of any human appeal made to her bewildered her and held her mute.

"Why are you out in the cold, Bernardou?" she asked him suddenly,
glancing backward through the lattice of the Flandrins' house, through
which she could see the infants laughing and shaking the puppet with the
gilded bells.

"They beat me; they say I am naughty, because I want gran'mère," he
said, with a sob. "They beat me often, and oh! if she knew, she would
wake and come. Do tell her--do! Bernardou will be so good, and never vex
her, if only she will come back!"

His piteous voice was drowned in tears.

His little life had been hard; scant fare, cold winds, and naked limbs
had been his portion; yet the life had been bright and gleeful to him,
clinging to his grandam's skirts as she washed at the tub or hoed in the
cabbage-ground, catching her smile when he brought her the first daisy
of the year, running always to her open arms in any hurt, sinking to
sleep always with the singing of her old ballads on his ear.

It had been a little life, dear, glad, kindly, precious to him, and he
wept for it, refusing to be comforted by sight of a gilded puppet in
another's hand, or a sugared Jesus in another's mouth, as they expected
him to be.

It is the sort of comfort that is always offered to the homeless, and
they are always thought ungrateful if they will not be consoled by it.

"I wish I could take you, Bernardou!" she murmured, with a momentary
softness that was exquisitely tender in its contrast to her haughty and
fierce temper. "I wish I could."

For one wild instant the thought came to her to break from her bonds,
and take this creature who was as lonely as herself, and to wander away
and away into that unknown land which stretched around her, and of which
she knew no more than one of the dark leaves knew that grew in the
snow-filled ditch. But the thought passed unuttered: she knew neither
where to go nor what to do. Her few early years in the Liebana were too
dreamlike and too vaguely remembered to be any guide to her; and the
world seemed only to her in her fancies as a vast plain, dreary and
dismal, in which every hand would be against her, and every living thing
be hostile to her.

Besides, the long habitude of slavery was on her, and it is a yoke that
eats into the flesh too deeply to be wrenched off without an effort.

As she stood thinking, with the child's eager hands clasping her skirts,
a shrill voice called from the wood-stack and dung-heap outside
Flandrin's house,--

"Bernardou! Bernardou! thou little plague. Come within. What dost do out
there in the dark? Mischief, I will warrant."

The speaker strode out, and snatched and bore and clutched him away; she
was the sister of Rose Flandrin, who lived with them, and kept the place
and the children in order.

"Thou little beast!" she muttered, in fury. "Dost dare talk to the witch
that killed thy grandmother? Thou shalt hie to bed, and sup on a fine
whipping. Thank God, thou goest to the hospital to-morrow! Thou wouldst
bring a dire curse on the house in reward for our alms to thee."

She dragged him in and slammed-to the door, and his cries echoed above
the busy shouts and laughter of the Flandrin family, gathered about the
tinseled Punch and the sugared Jesus, and the soup-pot, that stewed them
a fat farm-yard goose for their supper.

Folle-Farine listened awhile, with her hand clinched on her knife; then
she toiled onward through the village, and left it and its carols and
carouses behind her in the red glow of the sinking sun.

She thought no more of setting their huts in a blaze; the child's words
had touched and softened her, she remembered the long patient bitter
life of the woman who had died of cold and hunger in her eighty-second
year, and yet who had thus died saying to the last, "God is good."

"What is their God?" she mused. "They care for Him, and He seems to care
nothing for them whether they be old or young."

Yet her heart was softened, and she would not fire the house in which
little Bernardou was sheltered.

His was the first gratitude that she had ever met with, and it was sweet
to her as the rare blossom of the edelweiss to the traveler upon the
highest Alpine summits--a flower full of promise, born amidst a waste.

The way was long to where Marcellin dwelt, but she walked on through the
fields that were in summer all one scarlet group of poppies.

The day was over, the evening drew nigh, the sound of innumerable bells
in the town echoed faintly from the distance, over the snow: all was
still.

On the night of the new year the people had a care that the cattle in
the byres, the sheep in the folds, the dogs in the kennels, the swine in
the styes, the old cart-horses in the sheds, should have a full meal and
a clean bed, and be able to rejoice.

In all the country round there were only two that were forgotten--the
dead in their graves and the daughter of Taric the gypsy.

Folle-Farine was cold, hungry, and exhausted, for the fever had left her
enfeebled; and from the coarse food of the mill-house her weakness had
turned.

But she walked on steadily.

At the hut where Marcellin dwelt she knew that she would be sure of one
welcome, one smile; one voice that would greet her kindly; one face that
would look on her without a frown.

It would not matter, she thought, how the winds should howl and the hail
drive, or how the people should be merry in their homes and forgetful of
her and of him. He and she would sit together over the little fire, and
give back hate for hate and scorn for scorn, and commune with each
other, and want no other cheer or comrade.

It had been always so since he had first met her at sunset among the
poppies, then a little child eight years old. Every new-year's-night she
had spent with him in his hovel; and in their own mute way they had
loved one another, and drawn closer together, and been almost glad,
though often pitcher and platter had been empty, and sometimes even the
hearth had been cold.

She stepped bravely against the wind, and over the crisp firm snow, her
spirits rising as she drew near the only place that had ever opened its
door gladly to her coming, her heart growing lighter as she approached
the only creature to whom she had ever spoken her thoughts without
derision or told her woes without condemnation.

His hut stood by itself in the midst of the wide pastures and by the
side of a stream.

A little light was wont to twinkle at that hour through the crevices of
its wooden shutter; this evening all was dark, the outline of the hovel
rose like a rugged mound against the white wastes round it. The only
sound was the far-off chiming of the bells that vibrated strangely on
the rarefied sharp air.

She crossed the last meadow where the sheep were folded for the night,
and went to the door and pushed against it to open it--it was locked.

She struck it with her hand.

"Open, Marcellin--open quickly. It is only I."

There was no answer.

She smote the wood more loudly, and called to him again.

A heavy step echoed on the mud floor within; a match was struck, a dull
light glimmered; a voice she did not know muttered drowsily, "Who is
there?"

"It is I, Marcellin," she answered. "It is not night. I am come to be an
hour with you. Is anything amiss?"

The door opened slowly, an old woman, whose face was strange to her,
peered out into the dusk. She had been asleep on the settle by the fire,
and stared stupidly at the flame of her own lamp.

"Is it the old man, Marcellin, you want?" she asked.

"Marcellin, yes--where is he?"

"He died four days ago. Get you gone; I will have no tramps about my
place."

"Died!"

Folle-Farine stood erect and without a quiver in her face and in her
limbs; but her teeth shut together like a steel clasp, and all the rich
and golden hues of her skin changed to a sickly ashen pallor.

"Yes, why not?" grumbled the old woman. "To be sure, men said that God
would never let him die, because he killed St. Louis; but I myself never
thought that. I knew the devil would not wait more than a hundred years
for him--you can never cheat the devil, and he always seems stronger
than the saints--somehow. You are that thing of Yprès, are you not? Get
you gone!"

"Who are you? Why are you here?" she gasped.

Her right hand was clinched on the door-post, and her right foot was set
on the threshold, so that the door could not be closed.

"I am an honest woman and a pious; and it befouls me to dwell where he
dwelt," the old peasant hissed in loud indignation. "I stood out a whole
day; but when one is poor, and the place is offered quit of rent, what
can one do?----and it is roomy and airy for the fowls, and the priest
has flung holy water about it and purified it, and I have a Horseshoe
nailed up and a St. John in the corner. But be off with you, and take
your foot from my door!"

Folle-Farine stood motionless.

"When did he die, and how?" she asked in her teeth.

"He was found dead on the road, on his heap of stones, the fourth night
from this," answered the old woman, loving to hear her own tongue, yet
dreading the one to whom she spoke. "Perhaps he had been hungered, I do
not know; or more likely the devil would not wait any longer--anyways he
was dead, the hammer in his hand. Max Lieben, the man that travels with
the wooden clocks, found him. He lay there all night. Nobody would touch
him. They say they saw the mark of the devil's claws on him. At last
they got a dung-cart, and that took him away before the sun rose. He
died just under the great Calvary--it was like his blasphemy. They have
put him in the common ditch. I think it shame to let the man that slew a
saint be in the same grave with all the poor honest folk who feared God,
and were Christians, though they might be beggars and outcasts. Get you
gone, you be as vile as he. If you want him, go ask your father the foul
fiend for him--they are surely together now."

And she drove the door to, and closed it, and barred it firmly within.

"Not but what the devil can get through the chinks," she muttered, as
she turned the wick of her lamp up higher.

Folle-Farine went back over the snow; blind, sick, feeling her way
through the twilight as though it were the darkness of night.

"He died alone--he died alone," she muttered, a thousand times, as she
crept shivering through the gloom; and she knew that now her own fate
was yet more desolate. She knew that now she lived alone without one
friend on earth.

The death on the open highway; the numbness, and stillness, and deafness
to all the maledictions of men.

The shameful bier made at night on the dung-cart, amidst loathing
glances and muttered curses; the nameless grave in the common ditch with
the beggar, the thief, the harlot, and the murderer,--these which were
so awful to all others seemed to her as sweet as to sink to sleep on
soft unshorn grass, whilst rose-leaves were shaken in the wind, and fell
as gently as kisses upon the slumberer.

For even those at least were rest. And she in her youth and in her
strength, and in the blossom of her beauty, gorgeous as a passion-flower
in the sun, envied bitterly the old man who had died at his work on the
public road, hated by his kind, weighted with the burden of nigh a
hundred years.

For his death was not more utterly lonely and desolate than was her
life; and to all taunts and to all curses the ears of the dead are deaf.



BOOK III.



CHAPTER I.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A man watched the spider as it went.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He might have found some to fill it for him, no doubt. He lived amidst
the poor, and the poor to the poor are good, though they are bad and
bitter to the rich.

But he did not open either his lips or his hand. He consumed his heart
in silence; and his vitals preyed in anguish on themselves without his
yielding to their torments.

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

He watched the spider as it went.

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

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

The spider crawled across the gray wall; across the glow from the
vanished sun; across a coil of a dead passion-vine that strayed over the
floor, across the classic shape of a great cartoon drawn in chalks upon
the dull rugged surface of stone.

Nothing arrested it; nothing retarded it, as nothing hastened it.

It moved slowly on; fat, lusterless, indolent, hueless; reached at
length its den, and there squatted aloft, loving the darkness; its young
swarming around, its netted prey held in its forceps, its nets cast
about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was weary, and its delicate wings drooped; it was storm-tossed,
wind-beaten, drenched with mist and frozen with the cold; it belonged to
the moon, to the dew, to the lilies, to the forget-me-nots, and the
night; and it found that the hard grip of winter had seized it whilst
yet it had thought that the stars and the summer were with it.

It lived before its time,--and it was like the human soul, which, being
born in the darkness of the world dares to dream of light, and wandering
in vain search of a sun that will never rise, falls and perishes in
wretchedness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was horrible.

He had to die for want of the crust that beggars gnawed in the kennels
of the city; he had to die of the lowest and commonest need of all--the
sheer animal need of food. "_J'avais quelque chose là!_" was, perhaps,
the most terrible of all those death-cries of despair which the
guillotine of Thermidor wrung from the lips of the condemned. For it was
the despair of the bodily life for the life of the mind which died with
it.

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

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

Weary of life indeed he may be; of life material, and full of subtlety,
of passion, of pleasure, of pain; of the kisses that burn, of the laughs
that ring hollow, of the honey that so soon turns to gall, of the sickly
fatigues and the tired cloyed hunger that are the portion of men upon
earth.

Weary of these he may be; but still if the gods have breathed on him and
made him mad, with the madness that men have called genius, there will
be that in him greater than himself, which he knows--and cannot know
without some fierce wrench and pang--will be numbed and made impotent,
and drift away, lost for evermore, into that eternal Night which is all
that men behold of death.

It was so with this man now.

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

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

For himself he cared nothing; but for them, he smiled a little bitterly
as he looked:

"They will light some bake-house fire to pay those that may throw my
body in a ditch," he thought.

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

They would be torn down on the morrow and thrust for fuel into some
housewife's kitchen-stove.

What matter?

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

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

He was devoured by the deadly fangs of long fast; streaks of living fire
seemed to scorch his entrails; his throat and lungs were parched and
choked; and ever and again his left hand clinched on the bones of his
naked chest as though he could wrench away the throes that gnawed it.

He knew that worse than this would follow; he knew that tenfold more
torment would await him; that limbs as strong, and muscles as hard, and
manhood as vigorous as his, would only yield to such death as this
slowly, doggedly, inch by inch, day by day.

He knew; and he knew that he could not trust himself to go through that
uttermost torture without once lifting his voice to summon the shame of
release from it. Shame, since release would need be charity.

He knew full well; he had seen all forms of death; he had studied its
throes, and portrayed its horrors. He knew that before dawn--it might be
before midnight--this agony would grow so great that it would conquer
him; and that to save himself from the cowardice of appeal, the shame of
besought alms, he would have to use his last powers to drive home a
knife hard and sure through his breast-bone.

Yet he stood there, almost forgetting this, scarcely conscious of any
other thing than of the passion that ruled him.

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER II.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was fair to look at, with dark hair twisted under her towering white
cap, and a peachlike cheek and throat, and her arms folded against her
blue kerchief crossed upon her chest. Into the chamber, unseen by her,
a young man came and stole across the shadows, and came unheard behind
her and bent his head to hers and kissed her ere she knew that he was
there. She started with a little happy cry and pushed him away with
pretty provocation; he drew her into his arms and into the chamber, and
shut to the lattice, and left only a dusky reflection from within
shining through the panes made dark by age and dust.

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

There had come a great darkness on the river, a fierce roughness in the
wind; the shutters were now closed in many of the houses of the
water-street, and their long black shadows fell across the depth that
severed them, and met and blended in the twilight. The close of this day
was stormy; the wind blew the river swiftly, and the heavy raw mists
were setting in from the sea as the night descended.

She did not heed these; she liked the wild weather best; she loved the
rush of a chill wind among her hair, and the moisture of blown spray
upon her face; she loved the manifold fantasies of the clouds, and the
melodies of the blast coming over the sands and the rushes. She loved
the swirl and rage of the angry water, and the solitude that closed in
round her with the darkness.

The boat passed onward through the now silent town; only in one other
place a light glowed through the unshuttered lattices that were ruddy
with light and emblematic with the paintings of the Renaissance. It was
the window of the gardener's wife.

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

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

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

She was growing harder, wilder, worse, with every day; more and more
like some dumb, fierce forest beast, that flees from every step and
hates the sound of every voice. Since the night that they had pricked
her for a witch, the people had been more cruel to her than ever. They
cast bitter names at her as she went by; they hissed and hooted her as
she took her mule through their villages, or passed them on the road
with her back bent under some load of fagots or of winter wood. Once or
twice they stoned her, and chance alone had saved her from injury.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was no other light.

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

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

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

To Folle-Farine it bore no such terror.

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

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

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

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

She stood up in it, and gave her strength to its guidance; it was all
that she could do to keep its course straight, and steer it so that it
should not grate upon the sand, nor be blown into the tangles of the
river reeds.

For herself she had no care, she could swim like any cygnet; and for her
own sport had spent hours in water at all seasons. But she knew that to
Claudis Flamma the boat was an honored treasure, since to replace it
would have cost him many a hard-earned and well-loved piece of money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her color paled, her breath came and went, her body trembled like a
leaf; yet she was not afraid.

A divine ecstasy of surprise and faith smote the dull misery of her
life. She saw at last another world than the world of toil in which she
had labored without sight and without hope, as the blinded ox labored in
the brick-field, treading his endless circles in the endless dark, and
only told that it was day by blows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here the silver dove of Argos winged her way through the iron-jaws of
the dark sea-gates.

Here the white Io wandered in exile and unresting, forever scourged on
by the sting in her flesh, as a man by the genius in him.

Here the glad god whom all the woodlands love played in the moonlight,
on his reeds, to the young stags that couched at his feet in golden beds
of daffodils and asphodel.

Here in a darkened land the great Demeter moved, bereaved and childless,
bidding the vine be barren, and the fig-trees fruitless, and the seed of
the sown furrows strengthless to multiply and fill the sickles with ripe
increase.

Here the women of Thebes danced upon Cithæron in the mad moonless
nights, under the cedars, with loose hair on the wind, and bosoms that
heaved and brake through their girdles of fawnskin.

Here at his labor, in Pheræ, the sun-god toiled as a slave; the highest
wrought as the lowest; while wise Hermes stood by and made mirth of the
kingship that had bartered the rod of dominion for the mere music which
empty air could make in a hollow reed.

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

These she saw, not plainly, but through the wavering shadows and the
halo of the vapors which floated, dense and silvery as smoke, in from
the misty river. Their lips were dumb, and for her they had no name nor
story, and yet they spoke to her with familiar voices. She knew them;
she knew that they were gods, and yet to the world were dead; and in the
eyes of the forest-god, who piped upon his reeds, she saw the eyes of
Phratos look on her with their tender laughter and their unforgotten
love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcellin in legends had told her of such things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"One life alone can ransom another. Live immortal with us; or for that
dead man--perish."

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

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

"Let him live!" she murmured. "It's for me,--I am nothing--nothing. Let
me die as the Dust dies--what matter?"

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

He alone heard. He--the only friend who fails no living thing. He alone
remained, and waited for her: he, whom alone of all the gods--for this
man's sake--she chose.



CHAPTER III.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She started; her hands ceased to wander through his hair, and touch his
cold lips as she would touch the cup of a flower; she rose slowly to her
feet.

She had heard; and the words, so homely and so familiar in the lives of
all the poor, pierced the wild faiths and visions of her heated brain,
as a ray of the clear daybreak pierces through the purple smoke from
altar fires of sacrifice.

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

"To die--of hunger!"

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

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

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

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

She stood still beside him, and thought.

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

He moved a little with a hollow sigh.

"Bread--bread--bread!" he muttered. "To die for bread!"

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

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

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

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

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

There was not a creature in all the world who would have given her so
much as a loaf or a fagot; even if the thought of human aid had ever
dawned on her. As it was, she never even dreamed of it; every human
hand--to the rosy fist of the smallest and fairest child--was always
clinched against her; she would have sooner asked for honey from a knot
of snakes, or sought a bed of roses in a swarm of wasps, as have begged
mercy or aid at any human hearth.

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

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

What could she do? she pondered.

Whatever she would do, she knew that she had to do quickly. Yet she
stood irresolute.

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

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

All quoted it as her only birthright; all told her that she was imbued
with it body and soul; all saw it in her slightest acts, in her most
harmless words; and she abhorred this, the one gift which men cast to
her as her only heirloom, with a strong scornful loathing which stood
her in the stead of virtue. With an instinctive cynicism which moved her
continually, yet to which she could have given no name, she had loved to
see the children and the maidens--those who held her accursed, and were
themselves held so innocent and just--steal the ripe cherries from the
stalk, pluck the forbidden flowers that nodded over the convent walls,
pierce through the boundary fence to reach another's pear, speak a lie
softly to the old grayheaded priest, and lend their ripe lips to a
soldier's rough salute, while she, the daughter of hell, pointed at,
despised, shunned as a leper, hunted as a witch, kept her hands soilless
and her lips untouched.

It was a pride to her to say in her teeth, "I am stronger than they,"
when she saw the stolen peach in their hand, and heard the lying word on
their tongue. It had a savage sweetness for her, the will with which
she denied herself the luxurious fruit that, unseen, she could have
reached a thousand times from the walls when her throat was parched and
her body empty; with which she uttered the truth, and the truth alone,
though it brought the blows of the cudgel down on her shoulders; with
which she struck aside in disdain the insolent eyes and mocking mouths
of the youths, who would fain have taught her that, if beggared of all
other things, she was at least rich in form and hue. She hated sin, for
sin seemed to her only a human word for utter feebleness; she had never
sinned for herself, as far as she knew; yet to serve this man, on whose
face she had never looked before that night, she was ready to stoop to
the thing which she abhorred.

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

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

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

She kneeled on one knee on the stone floor beside him, her heart torn
with a mute and violent struggle; her bent face dark and rigid, her
straight haughty brows knit together in sadness and conflict. In the
darkness he moved a little; he was unconscious, yet ever, in that
burning stupor, one remembrance, one regret, remained with him.

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

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

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

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

She went on straight towards her home, unconscious of cold, of fatigue,
of her wet clinging clothes, of the water that splashed unseen in the
black night up against her face as her steps sank into some shaking
strip of marsh, some brook which, in the rising of the river, ran
hissing and swelling to twice its common height. All she was sensible of
was of one inspiration, one purpose, one memory that seemed to give her
the wings of the wind, and yet to clog her feet with the weight of
lead,--the memory of that white, sad, senseless face, lying beneath the
watch of the cruel gods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The latter was burnt, and the former eaten, sparingly and grudgingly,
but the store of both was at this season of the year fairly abundant. It
had more than once happened that the mill had been cut off from all
communication with the outer world by floods that reached its upper
casements, and Claudis Flamma was provided against any such accidents;
the more abundantly as he had more than once found it a lucrative matter
in such seasons of inundation to lower provisions from his roof to boats
floating below, when the cotters around were in dire need and ready to
sell their very souls for a bag of rice or string of onions.

Folle-Farine opened the shutter of the storeroom and let in the faint
gray glimmer from the clearing skies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How like their god is to them!" she thought; the wooden crucifix was
the type of her persecutors; of those who flouted and mocked her, who
flung and pierced her as a witch; who cursed her because she was not of
their people. The cross was the hatred of the world incarnated to her;
it was in Christ's name that Marcellin's corpse had been cast on the
dung and in the ditch; it was in Christ's name that the women had
avenged on her the pity which she had shown to Manon Dax; it was in
Christ's name that Flamma scourged her because she would not pass rotten
figs for sweet.

For the name of Christ is used to cover every crime, by the peasant who
cheats his neighbor of a copper coin, as by the sovereign who massacres
a nation for a throne.

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

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

Her heart thrilled as she entered.

Her first glance to the desolate hearth showed her that the hours of her
absence had brought no change there. The gods had not kept faith with
her, they had not raised him from the dead.

"They have left it all to me!" she thought, with a strange sweet
yearning in her heart over this life that she had bought with her own.

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

The wine was pure and old; it suffused his attenuated frame as with a
rush of new blood; under her hand his heart beat with firmer and quicker
movement. She broke bread in the wine, and put the soaked morsels to his
mouth, as softly as she would have fed some little shivering bird made
nestless by the hurricane.

He was not conscious yet, but he swallowed what she held to him, without
knowing what he did; a slight warmth gradually spread over his limbs; a
strong shudder shook him.

His eyes looked dully at her through a film of exhaustion and of sleep.

"J'avais quelque chose là!" he muttered, incoherently, his voice
rattling in his hollow chest, as he raised himself a little on one arm.

"J'avais quelque chose là!" and with a sigh he fell back once more--his
head tossing in uneasiness from side to side.

Amidst the heat and mists of his aching brain, one thought remained with
him--that he had created things greater than himself, and that he died
like a dog, powerless to save them.

The saddest dying words that the air ever bare on its breath--the one
bitter vain regret of every genius that the common herds of men stamp
out as they slay their mad cattle or their drunken mobs--stayed on the
blurred remembrance of his brain, which, in its stupor and its
helplessness, still knew that once it had been strong to create--that
once it had been clear to record--that once it had dreamed the dreams
which save men from the life of the swine--that once it had told to the
world the truth divested of lies,--and that none had seen, none had
listened, none had believed.

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

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

For the first time the mind in her consciously awoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But at the gods she barely looked; her eyes were bent upon the human
form before her. She crouched beside him, half kneeling and half
sitting: her clothes were drenched, the fire scorched, the draughts of
the air froze her; she had neither eaten nor drunk since the noon of the
day; but she had no other remembrance than of this life which had the
beauty of the sun-king and the misery of the beggar.

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

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

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

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

His head had fallen on her, and she crouched unwearied in the posture
that gave him easiest rest.

With a touch so soft that it could not awaken him, she stroked the
lusterless gold of his hair, and from time to time felt for the
inaudible beating of his heart.

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

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

She did not ask wherefore,--neither of herself or of the gods did she
question whence came this wonder-flower of her nameless joy.

She only sat quiet, and let the hours drift by, and watched him as he
slept, and was content.

So the hours passed.

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

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

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

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

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

It was not the gods she feared, it was herself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She had been an outcast among an alien people too long to dream that any
human love could ever fall on her. She had been too long cursed by every
tongue, to dream that any human voice could ever arise in honor or in
welcome to a thing so despised and criminal as she.

For the gift which she had given this man, too, would curse her;--that
she had known when she had offered it.

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

With the rising of the day, all her new joy was banished.

With the waking of the world, all her dreams shrank back into secrecy
and shame.

The mere timid song of the linnet in the leafless bushes seemed sharp on
her ear, calling on her to rise and go forth to her work, as the
creature of toil, of exile, of namelessness, and of despair, that men
had made her.

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

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

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

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

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

Though still dark from heavy clouds, the dawn grew into morning as she
went noiselessly away over the gray sands, the wet shore-paths, the
sighing rushes.

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

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

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

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

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

Folle-Farine saw nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You have been away all night long!" he cried to her.

She was silent; standing below in the wet garden.

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

"Where is the boat?--that is worth more than your body. And soul you
have none."

She raised her head and looked upward.

"I have lost the boat."

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

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

"Drifted where?"

"I do not know--on the face of the flood,--with the tide."

"You had left it loose."

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

"What foul thing were you at meanwhile?"

She was silent.

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

"You can."

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

The word smote her with a sudden pang.

For the first time her courage failed her. She turned and went in
silence at his bidding.

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

For several hours she searched; hungry, drenched with water, ready to
drop with exhaustion, as she was used to see the overdriven cattle sink
upon the road. She passed many peasants; women on their mules, men in
their barges, children searching for such flotsam and jetsam as might
have been flung upon the land from the little flooded gardens and the
few riverside cabins that had been invaded in the night.

She asked tidings of the missing treasure from none of these. What she
could not do for herself, it never occurred to her that others could do
for her. It was an ignorance that was strength. At length, to her amaze,
she found it; saved for her by the branches of a young tree, which being
blown down had fallen into the stream, and had caught the boat hard and
fast as in a net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER IV.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Raised above the little throng upon the bare red rock, with the vast
green fields and dim pine-woods stretching round him as far as his eye
could reach, he preached now to the groups of fishers and herdsmen and
foresters and hunters; protesting to this simple people against the
force of wealth, and the lust of possession, as though he preached to
princes and to conquerors. He told them of what he had seen in the great
cities through which he had wandered; of the corruption and the vileness
and the wantonness; of the greed in which the days and the years of
men's lives were spent; of the amassing of riches for which alone the
nations cared, so that all loveliness, all simplicity, all high
endeavor, all innocent pastime, were abjured and derided among them. And
his voice was sweet and full as the swell of music as he spoke to them,
telling them one of the many fables and legends, of which he had
gathered a full harvest, in the many lands that had felt his footsteps.

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

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

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

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

"But it was bought with a price.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Is it thee, Arslàn? Dost thou praise gold?--I thought thou hadst
greater gods."

The boy hung his head and his face flushed.

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

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

The Preacher followed him dreamily with his glance.

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



CHAPTER V.


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

It had long been day when he awoke.

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

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

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

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

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

His mind was a blank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death before accomplishment is a failure, yet withal may be great; but
life paved by alms is a failure, and a failure forever inglorious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He arose slowly and staggered to the casement.

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

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

That was his only thanksgiving.

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

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

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

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

Beautiful, certainly; in that delicious shadow; in that vague light; in
that cloudlike mist, wherein the earth met heaven.

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

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

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

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

Then he turned away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For it was the great Apollo in Pheræ.

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

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

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

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

With dance and song the Delian maidens still hailed the divinity of
Lètô's son.

The waves of the pure Ionian air still rang forever with the name of
Delphinios.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



BOOK IV.



CHAPTER I.


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

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

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

In this alpine valley, a green nest, hidden amidst stupendous walls of
stone, bottomless precipices, and summits that touched the clouds, there
was a cottage even smaller and humbler than most, and closest of all to
the church. It was the house of the pastor.

The old man had been born there, and had lived there all the years of
his life,--save a few that he had passed in a town as a student,--and he
had wedded a neighbor who, like himself, had known no other home than
this one village. He was gentle, patient, simple, and full of
tenderness; he worked, like his people, all the week through in the open
weather among his fruit-trees, his little breadth of pasturage, his
herb-garden, and his few sheep.

On the Sabbath-day he preached to the people the creed that he himself
believed in with all the fond, unquestioning, implicit faith of the
young children who lifted to him their wondering eyes.

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

It sent him a daughter who was fair to sight, and had a voice like
music; a form lithe and white, hair of gold, and with eyes like her own
blue skies on a summer night.

She had never seen any other spot save her own valley; but she had the
old Norse blood in her veins, and she was restless; the sea tempted her
with an intense power; she desired passionately without knowing what she
desired.

The simple pastoral work, the peaceful household labors, the girls'
garland of alpine flowers, the youths' singing in the brief rose
twilight, the saga told the thousandth time around the lamp in the deep
midwinter silence; these things would not suffice for her. The old
Scandinavian Bersaeck madness was in her veins. The mountains were to
her as the walls of a tomb. And one day the sea tempted her too utterly;
beyond her strength; as a lover, after a thousand vain entreaties, one
day tempts a woman, and one day finds her weak. The sea vanquished her,
and she went--whither?

They hardly knew: to these old people the world that lay behind their
mountain fortress was a blank. It might be a paradise; it might be a
prison. They could not tell.

They suffered their great agony meekly; they never cursed her; they did
not even curse their God because they had given life to a woman-child.

After awhile they heard of her.

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

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

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

The sweet, sudden spring-came, all the white and golden flowers breaking
up from the hard crust of the soil, and all the loosened waters rushing
with a shout of liberty to join the sea. The summer followed, with the
red mountain roses blossoming by the brooks, and the green mountain
grasses blowing in the wind, with the music of the herd-bells ringing
down the passes, and the sound of the fife and of the reed-pipe calling
the maidens to the dance.

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

Forgiveness had killed her; she might have borne reproach, injury,
malediction, but against that infinite love which would bear with her
even in her wretchedness, and would receive her even in her abasement,
she had no strength.

She died as her son's eyes opened to the morning light. He inherited no
name, and they called him after his grandsire, Arslàn.

When his dead daughter lay stretched before him in the sunlight, with
her white large limbs folded to rest, and her noble fair face calm as a
mask of marble, the old pastor knew little--nothing--of what her life
through these two brief years had been. Her lips had scarcely breathed a
word before she had fallen senseless on his threshold. That she had had
triumph he knew; that she had fallen into dire necessities he saw.
Whether she had surrendered art for the sake of love, or whether she had
lost the public favor by some public caprice, whether she had been
eminent or obscure in her career, whether it had abandoned her, or she
had abandoned it, he could not tell, and he knew too little of the world
to be able to learn.

That she had traveled back on her weary way homeward to her native
mountains that her son might not perish amidst strangers; thus much he
knew, but no more. Nor was more ever known by any living soul.

In life there are so many histories which are like broken boughs that
strew the ground, snapped short at either end, so that none know the
crown of them nor the root.

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

The child had his mother's Scandinavian beauty; the beauty of a marble
statue, white as the snow, of great height and largely moulded; and his
free life amidst the ice-fields and the pine-woods, and on the wide,
wild northern seas developed these bodily to their uttermost perfection.
The people admired and wondered at him; love him they did not. The lad
was cold, dauntless, silent; he repelled their sympathies and disdained
their pastimes. He chose rather to be by himself, than with them. He was
never cruel; but he was never tender; and when he did speak he spoke
with a sort of eloquent scorn and caustic imagery that seemed to them
extraordinary in one so young.

But his grandfather loved him with a sincere love, though it was tinged
with so sharp a bitterness; and reared him tenderly and wisely; and
braced him with a scholar's lore and by a mountaineer's exposure; so
that both brain and body had their due. He was a simple childlike broken
old man; but in this youth of promise that unfolded itself beside his
age seemed to strike fresh root, and he had wisdom and skill enough to
guide it justly.

The desire of his soul was that his grandson should succeed him in the
spiritual charge of that tranquil and beloved valley, and thus escape
the dire perils of that world in which his mother's life had been caught
and consumed like a moth's in flame. But Arslàn's eyes looked ever
across the ocean with that look in them which had been in his mother's;
and when the old Norseman spoke of this holy and peaceful future, he was
silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wooden clock stood erect, uninjured; they could hear the hours go by
in slow succession. The old man was peaceful and even cheerful; praising
God often and praying that help might come to his beloved one. But his
strength could not hold out against the icy cold, the long hunger, the
dreadful blank around as of perpetual night. He died ere the first day
had wholly gone by, at even-song; saying still that he was content, and
still praising God who had rewarded his innocence with shame and
recompensed his service with agony.

For two more days and nights Arslàn remained in his living tomb,
enshrouded in eternal gloom, alone with the dead, stretching out his
hands ever and again to meet that icy touch rather than be without
companionship.

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

As soon as the spring broke he left the valley and passed over the
mountains, seeking a new world.

His old familiar home had become hateful to him; he had no tie to it
save two low graves, still snow-covered underneath a knot of tall
stone-pines; the old Norse passion of wandering was in his veins as it
had been in his mother's before him; he fiercely and mutely descried
freedom, passion, knowledge, art, fame, as she had desired them, and he
went: turning his face from that lowly green nest lying like a lark's
between the hills.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During these years he had devoted himself to the study of art with an
undeviating subservience to all its tyrannies. He had studied humanity
in all its phases; he had studied form with all the rigid care that it
requires; he had studied color in almost every land that lies beneath
the sun; he had studied the passions in all their deformities, as well
as in all their beauties; he had spared neither himself nor others in
pursuit of knowledge. He had tried most vices, he had seen all miseries,
he had spared himself no spectacle, however loathsome; he had turned
back from no license, however undesired, that could give him insight
into or empire over human raptures and affliction. Neither did he spare
himself any labor however costly, however exhausting, to enrich his
brain with that varied learning, that multifarious scene which he held
needful to every artist who dared to desire greatness. The hireling
beauty of the wanton, the splendor of the sun and sea, the charnel lore
of anatomy, the secrets of dead tongues and buried nations, the horrors
of the lazar wards and pest-houses, the glories of golden deserts and
purple vineyards, the flush of love on a young girl's cheek, the
rottenness of corruption on a dead man's limbs, the hellish tint of a
brothel, the divine calm of an Eastern night; all things alike he
studied, without abhorrence as without delight, indifferent to all save
for one end,--knowledge and art.

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

One night, in the hot, close streets of Damascus, a man was stabbed,--a
young Maronite,--who lay dying in the roadway, without sign or sound,
whilst his assassins fled; the silver Syrian moon shining full on his
white and scarlet robe, his calm, upturned face, his lean hand knotted
on the dagger he had been spared no time to use; a famished street dog
smelling at his blood. Arslàn, passing through the city, saw and paused
beside him; stood still and motionless, looking down on the outstretched
figure; then drew his tablets out and sketched the serene, rigid face,
the flowing, blood-soaked robes, the hungry animal mouthing at the
wound. Another painter, his familiar friend, following on his steps,
joined him a little later, and started from his side in horror.

"My God! what do you do there?" he cried. "Do you not see?--the man is
dying."

Arslàn looked up--"I had not thought of that," he answered.

It was thus always with him.

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

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

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

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

So for these twelve long years his labor had been waste, his efforts
been fruitless. Those years had been costly to him in purse;--travel,
study, gold flung to fallen women, sums spent on faithless friends,
utter indifference to whosoever robbed him so long as he was left in
peace to pursue lofty aims and high endeavors; all these did their
common work on wealth which was scanty in the press of the world, though
it had appeared inexhaustible on the shores of the north sea. His labors
also were costly, and they brought him no return.

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

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

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

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

"This man blasphemes; this man is immoral," his enemies had always
hooted against him.

It is what the world always says of those who utter unwelcome truths in
its unwilling ears.

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

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

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

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

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

There were hecatombs of grain, bursting their sacks, in the lofts above;
but when, once on each eighth day, the maltster owning them sent his men
to fetch some from the store, Arslàn let the boat be moored against the
wall, be filled with barley, and be pushed away again down the current,
without saying once to the rowers, "Wait; I starve!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet reflection told him that this could not be; he remembered that for
several weeks his last coin had been spent; that he had been glad to
gather the birds' winter berries to crush beneath his teeth, and gather
the dropped corn from the floor to quiet the calm of hunger; that for
many a day there had been no fire on the hearth, and that only a frame
which the long sunless northern winters had braced in early youth, had
enabled him to resist and endure the cold. Therefore, it must be
charity!

Charity! as the hateful truth came home to him, he met the eyes of the
white, slender, winged Hermes; eyes that from out that colorless and
smiling face seemed to mock him with a cruel contempt.

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

Hermes seemed to know it and to jeer him.

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

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

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

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

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

The country was well known to him, but the people not at all. He had
come by hazard on the old ruin where he dwelt, and had stayed there full
a year. These serene blue skies, these pale mists, these corn-clad
slopes, these fields of plenteous abundance, these quiet homesteads,
these fruit-harvests of this Norman plain were in soothing contrast to
all that his life had known.

These old quaint cities, these little villages that seemed always hushed
with the sound of bells, these quiet streams on which the calm sunlight
slept so peacefully, these green and golden lands of plenty that
stretched away to the dim gray distant sea,--all these had had a certain
charm for him.

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

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

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

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

They repulsed him everywhere.

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

They would have none of him.

"He brings misfortune!" they said among themselves; and they would have
none of him.

He had an evil name with them.

They said at eventide by their wood-fires that strange things had been
seen since he had come to the granary by the river.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had seen such oftentimes, eastwards, on the banks of golden rivers,
treading, with such feet as these, the sands that were the dust of
countless nations; bearing, on such shoulders as these, earthen
water-vases that might have served the feasts of Pharaohs; showing such
limbs as these against the curled palm branches, and the deep blue sky,
upon the desert's edge. But here!--a face of Asia among the cornlands of
Northern France? It seemed to him strange; he looked after her with
wonder.

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

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

The boat glided into the fog which closed behind it: a flock of
water-birds swam out from the rushes and darted at some floating kernels
of wheat that had fallen over the vessel's side; they fought and hissed,
and flapped and pecked among themselves over the chance plunder; a large
rat stole amidst them unnoticed by them in their exultation, and seized
their leader and bore him struggling and beating the air with
blood-stained wings away to a hole in the bank; a mongrel dog, prowling
on the shore, hearing the wild duck's cries, splashed into the sedges,
and swam out and gripped the rat by the neck in bold sharp fangs, and
bore both rat and bird, bleeding and dying, to the land; the owner of
the mongrel, a peasant, making ready the soil for colza in the low-lying
fields, snatched the duck from the dog to bear it home for his own
eating, and kicked his poor beast in the ribs for having ventured to
stray without leave and to do him service without permission. "The
dulcet harmony of the world's benignant law," thought Arslàn, as he
turned aside to enter the stone archway of his own desolate dwelling.
"To live one must slaughter--what life can I take?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He opposed himself no more to it. He bent his head and broke bread, and
ate and drank of the red wine:--he did not thank God or man as he broke
his fast; he only looked in the mocking eyes of Hermes, and said in his
heart:

"Since I must live, I will triumph."

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

Hermes--Hermes the liar, Hermes the wise--knew how men's oaths were
kept.



CHAPTER II.


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 granddaughter; accusing her perpetually of sins of which
she was innocent, he did not once associate her in thought with the one
offense which she had committed. He thought that the window of his
storehouse had been forced from the exterior; he made no doubt that his
spoiler was some vagabond from one of the river barges. Through such
tramps his henhouse 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 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 the dread lest he whom she had
ransomed from his death should he know his debt to her.

Under such a dread, she never opened her lips to any one 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 burned
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 succored. 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. Though
she herself was so pressed with hunger, many a time, that as she went
through the meadows and hedge-rows she was glad to crush in her teeth
the tender shoots of the briers 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 forever
flying to and 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 thus ever 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 saw 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 colorless 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 worshiped, or what creed be called the truth.

Her nascent mind was darkened, oppressed, bewildered, perplexed, even
like the plant which, forcing itself upward from its cellar, opens its
leaves not in pure air and under a blue sky, but in the reek and smoke
and fetid odors 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.

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
wherein he labored, 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, among fishers and
canal-carriers and barge-men. 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 fantasies than now in this bitter and cheerless time, when he
labored amidst the poorest for the bare bread of life.

"Des belles choses peuvent se faire dans une cuave:" 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
deliriums of the desires, the colors, the melodies, the fragrance, the
indolences,--all that make 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; from 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
odors exhale of all it has tasted and treasured.

Even thus the imagination of man may be great, but it can never be at
its greatest until one serpent, with merciless 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 fantasies,
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 labor as that of the oxen in the
fields,--when he saw every hour drift by, barren, sullen, painful,--when
only some dull yet stanch 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 the 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 labor he bought by degrees the
tools and pigments lacking to him, and lived on the scantiest and
simplest food, that he might have wherewith to render into shape and
color 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
she stole, in his absence, 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, though 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 sky,--where the
common dwellings of the poor were paneled 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 gray squat jug that went to the well, and the
jutting beam to which the clothes' line was fastened, and the creaking
sign that swung above the smallest wineshop, and the wooden gallery on
which the poorest troll hung out her many-colored 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 womankind.

And this secret--in itself so innocent, yet for which she would at times
blush in her loneliness, with a cruel heat that burnt all over her face
and frame--changed her life, transfigured it from its objectless,
passionless, brutish dullness 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 moon of early spring; he worked only
with black and white, using color 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 among the grasses, and
watched him where he labored 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 royal strength, of this supreme 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 owned. 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 the strangest of all the sad
strange things of genius, awoke an absorbing emotion in her.

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, the 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, and drove him on forever 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.

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
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 among the first violets of the
year.

She labored harder and longer than ever for her taskmaster, 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 ran on till the hardness of winter gave way to the breath
of the spring, and in all the wood and orchard around the water-mill 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, and it was market-day for Yprès, and for all the
other villages and homesteads lying round that wondrous cathedral-spire,
that shot into the air, far-reaching and ethereal, like some vast
fountain whose column of water had been arrested, 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, traveling peddlers with knapsacks full of
toys and mirrors, and holy images, and strings of beads, sat all
together in competition but in amity.

Here and there a priest passed, with his black robe and broad hat, like
a dusky mushroom among a bed of varihued gillyflowers. Here and there a
soldier, all color 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 the 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; and the brown faces of the old dames under the white roofing of
their headgear were like the russet faces of the home-kept apples 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. 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 among wet ferns, gray 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 saxafrage.

It was high noon, but the women still found leisure-time to hear the
music of their own tongues, loud and continuous as the clacking of mill
paddles.

In one corner an excited little group was gathered round the stall of a
favorite 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.

Her brown eyes were now brimming over with tears where 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 splendor 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 that moment
the tile fell. Oh, my almond-tree! oh, my little darling! the only one I
saved out of three through the frosts; the very one that was to have
gone this very night to Paris."

"Thou art not alone, Edmée," groaned an old woman, tottering from her
egg-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 Noël--just cackled
and shook her tail at her; and at that 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 tanner's wife, who
drew after her, clinging to her skirts, a little lame, misshapen,
querulous child.

"She hath the evil eye," said sternly an old 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 singing 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 any creature were killed by foul means, though the law would
never listen to 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
Napoleon, 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 among the strewn cabbage-leaves and the crushed
sweet-smelling thyme. "Nay, was it not only this very winter that my
son's little youngest boy threw a stone at her, just for luck, as she
went by in her boat through the town; and it struck 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.

"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 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 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.

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 towards them with her free,
firm step, and her lustrous 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 curled 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 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 among them.
They knew that holy water had never baptized her; that neither cross nor
chrism had ever exorcised her; that a church's door had never 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 now 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 feels!" 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 laughter. The youths, obedient and
nothing loth, rained 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 skirt 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 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
clinched hand in 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 together 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.

"Strike _now_!" she cried to them; and she dropped her weapon, and stood
still.

But there was not one among 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 among 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 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 because 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 in to 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 stanched 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 violence towards her,
except on 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 pink 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 gray stone
walls of the outskirts, past the meadows and the cornfields 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 among the waterdocks
and rushes, she checked the boat almost unconsciously, and let it drift
in amidst the reeds and lie there, and pulled herself feebly up through
the shallow pools. Then she went across the stone sill of the casement
into the chamber where she had learned 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
that she loved was always absent at the toil which brought him his
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 grown to love them with a great passion, to seek
them as consolers and as friends. She crept into the room; and 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 peopled 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 unlike; 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, among 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 fully grown; and on his calm and
colorless 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 learned 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 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 a world to writhe
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 orphan, of the outcast, 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 with 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 let 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 sunrays striking through the distant
window against the opposite wall fell across the golden head of the boy
Hypnos, and played before his silver sandaled 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 gods magnetized 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 struggled 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.

The weakness of tears rushed into her fearless eyes, that 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 sunrays still shone on the three brethren, whilst the stones on
which she sat and her own form were dark in shadow; and as though the
bright boy Hypnos 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 the 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.

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

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



CHAPTER III.


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 among 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 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
labor 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 a 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 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
color alone can accomplish. The gray stone pavement; the brown and
slender limbs; the breadth of scarlet given by the sash 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;
while on the wall above, the radiant figure of the young god 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 color, 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 out every
curve and line of the half-developed loveliness before him with as
little pity, with as cruel 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 structure he desires to
examine.

The most beautiful women, who had bared their charms that he 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 modeled and portrayed were nearly as
sexless, nearly as powerless to create passion or emotion. They were the
tools for 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 enamored of the visions which visited him in that solitude
than he had ever been since of the living creatures whose beauty he had
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 coldness and with something of
contempt for that license which, in the days of his comparative
affluence, he had not denied himself. He thought always--

    "De ces baisers puissants comme un dictame,
      De ces transports plus vifs que des rayons,
    Que reste-t-il? C'est affreux, ô mon âme!
      Rien qu'un dessin fort pâle aux trois crayons."

And for those glowing colors 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 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 of 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
through 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.

For in the first bewildered instant of her awakening she thought that
she was still in the market-place of the town, and that the shouts were
from the clamor of her late tormentors.

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 the 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 her untamed
regard, her wide-open eyes, the staglike grace of her attitude, the
sullen strength which spoke in her reply,--all attracted him to closer
notice of these.

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

The color 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 should persuade her to
return to the attitude sketched out upon his easel.

She returned his look with the bold truthfulness natural to her, joined
with the apprehensiveness of chastisement which becomes second nature to
every creature that is forever 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 favor, 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 colored 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?"

"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 their 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
clinched 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."

"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 known what fear meant until she had looked on this man's
face. Now she dreaded, with an intensity of 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: this gift,
which being thus given, her instinct told her he would only take as a
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 savior of his own existence, he never dreamed. A creature
beaten and half starved herself could not, for an instant, seem to him
one 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, awakening, 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 color, 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? Among what brutes have you lived? Tell me, why did you care
to come?"

Her face drooped, and grew a deeper scarlet, where the warm blood was
burning.

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

He laughed a little; bitterly.

"Are 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
color, 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, 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
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; and yet filled with an
ecstasy, to think that she was lovely enough to be raised amidst those
marvelous dreams that peopled 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 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-wind, beaten on
by every summer sun, could have color, 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
packhorse or the sheepdog, 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 sunrays
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 a man 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 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 loneliness 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 honor 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 color, 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 many of them as you will as recompense."

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

She stretched her arms out 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.

He stayed her with his hand.

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

"No."

She spoke almost sullenly; there was a certain sharpness and dullness 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 color 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 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 inclosed 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 springtime
world, and draw her footsteps backward and downward to that hell which
none,--once having entered it,--can ever more forsake.

She 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 perfection 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 among the ripe red autumn foliage and caged for awhile to study its
grace and color, 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?

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

She knew by heart the old familiar way; and the water was as safe to her
as the broadest and straightest road at noonday.

She loved it best thus; dusky; half seen; muttering on through the
silence; full of the shadows of the clouds and of the boughs; black as a
fresh-dug grave where some ruined wall leaned over it; broken into
little silvery gleams where it caught the light from a saint's shrine or
a smith's forge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I say nothing," she answered.

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

"Since you know, why ask?"

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

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

"I have done as I chose."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Get to thy den," he said, with a curse. "We are abed too late.
To-morrow I will deal with thee."

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

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

But now at length she had burst her bonds, and had claimed her freedom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER IV.


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

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

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

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

"Prayer did little to keep holy the other one," she muttered. "Unless,
indeed, the devil heard and answered."

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

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

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

He meddled no more with the wolf's cub.

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

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

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

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

His heart was ever sore and in agony because his God had cheated him,
letting him hold as purest and holiest among women the daughter who had
betrayed him. In his way he prayed still; but chiefly his prayer was a
passionate upbraiding, a cynical reproach. She--his beloved, his marvel,
his choicest of maidens, his fairest and coldest of virgins--had escaped
him and duped him, and been a thing of passion and of foulness, of
treachery and of lust, all the while that he had worshiped her.
Therefore he hated every breathing thing; therefore he slew the birds in
their song, the insects in their summer bravery, the lamb in its
gambols, the rabbit in its play amidst the primroses. Therefore he cried
to the God whom he still believed in, "Thou lettest that which was pure
escape me to be defiled and be slaughtered, and now Thou lettest that
which is vile escape me to become beautiful and free and strong!" And
now and then, in this woe of his which was so pitiful and yet so brutal,
he glanced at her where she labored among the unbudded vines and
leafless fruit trees, and whetted a sickle on the whirling grindstone,
and felt its edge, and thought to himself. "She was devil-begotten.
Would it not be well once and for all to rid men of her?" For, he
reasoned, being thus conceived in infamy and branded from her birth
upward, how should she be ever otherwise than to men a curse?

Where she went at her labors, to and fro among the bushes and by the
glancing water, she saw the steel hook and caught his sideway gaze, and
read his meditation.

She laughed, and did not fear. Only she thought, "He shall not do it
till I have been back _there_."

Before the day was done, thither she went.

He had kept her close since the sunrise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"There is hell in her," he said to himself. "Let her go to her rightful
home. There is one thing----"

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

He gave a dreary, greedy, miser's chuckle:

"One thing;--I have made the devil work for me hard and well ten whole
years through!"

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

Folle-Farine fled on, through the calm woodlands, through the pastures
where the leek herds dreamed their days away, through the young wheat
and the springing colza, and the little fields all bright with promise
of the spring, and all the sunset's wealth of golden light.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Do not look there," he said to her. "I had forgotten you.
Otherwise----"

"I have looked there. It is only a dead woman."

"Only! What makes you say that?"

"I do not know. There are many--are there not?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Why do you have her here?" She felt no sorrow for the dead girl; the
girl had mocked and jibed her many a time as a dark witch devil-born;
she only felt a jealous and restless hatred of her intrusion here.

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

"Why?"

"That they may tell me the secrets of life."

"Do they tell them?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He did not know how to answer her.

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

She stared at him.

"Is a beaten dog's bitter? or is a goaded ox's sweet?"

"But you are so young,--and you are handsome, and a woman?"

She laughed a little.

"A woman! Marcellin said that."

"Well! What is there strange in saying it?"

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

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

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

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

Her eyes clouded and lightened alternately.

"You do not believe that I am a devil?"

"How should I tell? If you covet the title claim it,--you have a
right,--you are a woman!"

"Always a woman!" she muttered with disappointment and with impatience.

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

"_He!_"

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, indeed, to those who are alive to the nameless, universal, eternal
soul which breathes in all the grasses of the fields, and beams in the
eyes of all creatures of earth and air, and throbs in the living light
of palpitating stars, and thrills through the young sap of forest trees,
and stirs in the strange _loves_ of wind-borne plants, and hums in every
song of the bee, and burns in every quiver of the flame, and peoples
with sentient myriads every drop of dew that gathers on a harebell,
every bead of water that ripples in a brook--to these the mortal life of
man can seem but little, save at once the fiercest and the feeblest
thing that does exist; at once the most cruel and the most impotent;
tyrant of direst destruction and bondsman of lowest captivity. Hence
pity entered very little into his thoughts at any time; the perpetual
torture of life did indeed perplex him, as it perplexes every thinking
creature, with wonder at the universal bitterness that taints all
creation, at the universal death whereby all forms of life are nurtured,
at the universal anguish of all existence which daily and nightly
assails the unknown God in piteous protest at the inexorable laws of
inexplicable miseries and mysteries. But because such suffering was thus
universal, therefore he almost ceased to feel pity for it; of the two he
pitied the beasts far more than the human kind:--the horse staggering
beneath the lash in all the feebleness of hunger, lameness, and old age;
the ox bleeding from the goad on the hard furrows, or stumbling through
the hooting crowd, blind, footsore and shivering to its last home in the
slaughter-house; the dog, yielding up its noble life inch by inch under
the tortures of the knife, loyally licking the hand of the vivisector
while he drove his probe through its quivering nerves; the unutterable
hell in which all these gentle, kindly and long-suffering creatures
dwelt for the pleasure or the vanity, the avarice or the brutality of
men,--these he pitied perpetually, with a tenderness for them that was
the softest thing in all his nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Years went with him thus, and he grew old, and he said to himself, 'I
have lived content; so shall I die purified, and ready for the kingdom
of heaven.' For it was in the day when that wooden god, who hangs on the
black cross yonder, was not a lifeless effigy, as now, but had a name of
power and of might, adjuring which, his people smiled under torture, and
died in the flame, dreaming of a land where the sun never set, and the
song never ceased, and the faithful forever were at rest.

"So the years, I say, went by with him, and he was glad and at peace.

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

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

"But when she had entered, age, and sickness, and want fell from off
her, her eyes grew as two stars, her lips were sweet as the rose of the
desert, her limbs had the grace of the cheetah, her body had the
radiance and the fragrance of frankincense on an altar of gold. And She
laughed in his beard, and cried, saying, 'Thou thinkest thou hast lived,
and yet thou hast not loved! Oh, sage! oh, saint! oh, fool, fool, fool!'
Then into his veins there rushed youth, and into his brain there came
madness; the life he had led seemed but death, and eternity loathsome
since passionless; and he stretched his arms to her and sought to
embrace her, crying, 'Stay with me, though I buy thee with hell.' And
she stayed.

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

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

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

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

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

"That is true?" she said, suddenly, at length.

"It is a saint's story in substance; it is true in spirit for all time."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I do not want love," she said, suddenly, while her brain, half strong,
half feeble, struggled to fit her thoughts to words. "I want--I want to
have power, as the priest has on the people when he says, 'Pray!' and
they pray."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"If I had a god," she said, suddenly, "if a god cared to claim me--I
would be proud of his worship everywhere."

Arslàn smiled.

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

"Who are their gods?"

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

She thought awhile.

"None of them," she said at last.

"None? What will you put in their stead, then?"

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

"I do not know," she said, wearily. "Marcellin says that God is deaf. He
must be deaf--or very cruel. Look; everything lives in pain; and yet no
God pities and makes an end of the earth. I would--if I were He.
Look--at dawn, the other day, I was out in the wood. I came upon a
little rabbit in a trap; a little, pretty, soft black-and-white thing,
quite young. It was screaming in its horrible misery; it had been
screaming all night. Its thighs were broken in the iron teeth;
the trap held it tight; it could not escape, it could only
scream--scream--scream. All in vain. Its God never heard. When I got it
free it was mangled as if a wolf had gnawed it; the iron teeth had
bitten through the fur, and the flesh, and the bone; it had lost so much
blood, and it was in so much pain, that it could not live. I laid it
down in the bracken, and put water to its mouth, and did what I could;
but it was of no use. It had been too much hurt. It died as the sun
rose; a little, harmless, shy, happy thing, you know, that never killed
any creature, and only asked to nibble a leaf or two, or sleep in a
little round hole, and run about merry and free. How can one care for a
god since all gods let these things be?"

Arslàn smiled as he heard.

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

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

"There is no god pitiful, then?" she said, at length; "no god--not one?"

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

"Are they your gods?"

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

"My gods?--No. They are the gods of youth and of age--not of manhood."

"What is yours, then?"

"Mine?--a Moloch who consumes my offspring, yet in whose burning brazen
hands I have put them and myself--forever."

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

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

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

"And that god is----"

"Death!"

She was silent.

Was this god not her god also? Had she not chosen him from all the rest
and cast her life down at his feet for this man's sake?

"He must never know, he must never know," she said again in her heart.

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



CHAPTER V.


When she left him that night, and went homeward, he trimmed his lamp and
returned to his labors of casting and modeling from the body of the
ragpicker's daughter. The work soon absorbed him too entirely to leave
any memory with him of the living woman. He did not know--and had he
known would not have heeded--that instead of going on her straight path
back to Yprès she turned again, and, hidden among the rushes upon the
bank, crouched, half sitting and half kneeling, to watch him from the
riverside.

It was all dark and still without; nothing came near, except now and
then some hobbled mule turned out to forage for his evening meal or some
night-browsing cattle straying out of bounds. Once or twice a barge went
slowly and sullenly by, its single light twinkling across the breadth of
the stream, and the voices of its steersman calling huskily through the
fog. A drunken peasant staggered across the fields singing snatches of a
republican march that broke roughly on the silence of the night. The
young lambs bleated to their mothers in the meadows, and the bells of
the old clock towers in the town chimed the quarters with a Laus Deo in
which all their metal tongues joined musically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It grew horrible to him--this death in life, to which in the freshness
of manhood he found himself condemned.

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

Whether any hearer greater than man heard the prayer, who shall say?
Daily and nightly, through all the generations of the world, the human
creature implores from his Creator the secrets of his existence, and
asks in vain. There is one answer indeed; but it is the answer of all
the million races of the universe, which only cry, "We are born but to
perish; is Humanity a thing so high and pure that it should claim
exemption from the universal and inexorable law?"

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

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

This hunger of the soul which unmanned and tortured him, though the
famine of the flesh had had no power to move him, thrilled her with the
instinct of its greatness. This thirst of the mind, which could not
slake itself in common desire or sensual satiety, or any peace and
pleasure of the ordinary life of man, had likeness in it to that dim
instinct which had made her nerves throb at the glories of the changing
skies, and her eyes fill with tears at the sound of a bird's singing in
the darkness of dawn, and her heart yearn with vain nameless longing as
for some lost land, for some forgotten home, in the radiant hush of
earth and air at sunrise. He suffered as she suffered; and a sweet
newborn sense of unity and of likeness stirred in her amidst the bitter
pity of her soul. To her he was as a king: and yet he was powerless. To
give him power she would have died a thousand deaths.

"The gods gave me life for him," she thought. "His life instead of mine.
Will they forget?--Will they forget?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He desired not happiness nor tenderness, nor bodily ease, nor sensual
delight, but only this one thing--a name that should not perish from
among the memories of men.

And this desire seemed to her sublime, divine; not comprehending it she
yet revered it. She, who had seen the souls of the men around her set on
a handful of copper coin, a fleece of wool, a load of fruit, a petty
pilfering, a small gain in commerce, saw the greatness of a hero's
sacrifice in this supreme self-negation which was willing to part with
every personal joy and every physical pleasure, so that only the works
of his hand might live, and his thoughts be uttered in them when his
body should be destroyed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new and wondrous and exquisite life was shortly opening to her; the
life of the imagination.

All these many years since the last song of Phratos had died off her
ear, never again to be heard, she had spent with no more culture and
with no more pleasure than the mule had that she led with his load along
the miry ways in the sharp winter-time. Yet even through that utter
neglect, and that torpor of thought and feeling, some wild natural fancy
had been awake in her, some vague sense stir that brought to her in the
rustle of leaves, in the sound of waters, the curling breath of mists,
the white birth of lilies, in all the notes and hues of the open-air
world, a mystery and a loveliness that they did not bear for any of
those around her.

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

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

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

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

She had never thought that there had been any other generation before
that which was present on earth with her; any other existence than this
narrow and sordid one which encircled her. That men had lived who had
fashioned those aerial wonders of the tall cathedral spires, and stained
those vivid hues in its ancient casements, had been a fact too remote to
be known to her, though for twelve years her eyes had gazed at them in
reverence of their loveliness.

Through Arslàn the exhaustless annals of the world's history opened
before her, the present ceased to matter to her in its penury and pain;
for the treasury-houses of the golden past were opened to her sight.
Most of all she loved the myths of the Homeric and Hesiodic ages; and
every humble and homely thing became ennobled to her and enriched,
beholding it through the halo of poetry and tradition.

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

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

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



CHAPTER VI.


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

She seemed to them transfigured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But in these early springtide days he suffered her to come and go as she
listed, without either persuasion or forbiddance on his own part.

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

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

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

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

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

At times such words as these reached Claudis Flamma, but he turned a
deaf ear to them: he had the wisdom of the world in him, though he was
only an old miller who had never stirred ten leagues from his home; and
whilst the devil served him well, he quarreled not with the devil.

In a grim way, it was a pleasure to him to think that the thing he hated
might be accursed body and soul: he had never cared either for her body
or her soul; so that the first worked for him, the last might destroy
itself in its own darkness:--he had never stretched a finger to hold it
back.

The pride and the honesty and the rude candor and instinctive purity of
this young life of hers had been a perpetual hinderance and canker to
him: begotten of evil, by all the laws of justice, in evil she should
live and die. So Flamma reasoned; and to the sayings of his countryside
he gave a stony ear and a stony glance. She never once, after the first
day, breathed a word to Arslàn of the treatment that she received at
Yprès. It was not in her nature to complain; and she abhorred even his
pity. Whatever she endured, she kept silence on it; when he asked her
how her grandsire dealt with her, she always answered him, "It is well
enough with me now." He cared not enough for her to doubt her.

And, in a manner, she had learned how to keep her tyrant at bay. He did
not dare to lay hands on her now that her eyes had got that new fire,
and her voice that stern serene contempt. His wolf cub had shown her
teeth at last, at the lash, and he did not venture to sting her to
revolt with too long use of scourge and chain.

So she obtained more leisure; and what she did not spend in Arslàn's
tower she spent in acquiring another art,--she learned to read.

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

To her Folle-Farine went.

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

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

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

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

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

It was his habit to be abroad when others slept: studies of the night
and its peculiar loveliness entered largely into many of his paintings;
the beauty of water rippling in the moonbeam, of gray reeds blowing
against the first faint red of dawn, of dark fields with sleeping cattle
and folded sheep, of dreamy pools made visible by the shine of their
folded white lilies,--these were all things he cared to study.

The earth has always most charm, and least pain, to the poet or the
artist when men are hidden away under their roofs. They do not then
break its calm with either their mirth or their brutality, the vile and
revolting coarseness of their works, only built to blot it with so much
deformity, is softened and obscured in the purple breadths of shadow and
the dim tender gleam of stars; and it was thus that Arslàn loved best to
move abroad.

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

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

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

The acquisition was hard and hateful--a dull plodding task that she
detested; and her teacher was old, and ignorant of all the grace and the
lore of books. She could only learn too at odd snatches of time, with
the cabin-window barred up and the light shut out, for the old peasant
was fearful of gaining a bad name among her neighbors if she were seen
in communion with the wicked thing of Yprès.

Still she, the child, persevered, and before long possessed herself of
the rudiments of letters, though she had only one primer to learn from
that belonged to the herb-seller--a rude old tattered pamphlet
recounting the life and death of Catherine of Siena. It was not that she
had cared to read, for reading's sake: books, she heard, only told the
thoughts and the creeds of the human race, and she cared nothing to know
these; but one day he had said to her, half unconsciously, "If only you
were not so ignorant!"--and since that day she had set herself to clear
away her ignorance little by little, as she would have cleared brushwood
with her hatchet.

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

He praised her; and she was glad and proud.

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

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

A gipsy-child working for bread at a little mill-house in these Norman
woods,--what use would be to her beauty of thought, grace of fancy, the
desire begotten of knowledge, the poetry learned from the past? Still he
gave her these; partly because he pitied her, partly because in his
exhaustion and solitude this creature, in her beauty and her submission,
was welcome to him.

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

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

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

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

He held that a man's chief passion is his destiny, and will shape his
fate, rough-hew his fate as circumstance or as hazard may.

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

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

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

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

"Of a winter night," she said, slowly, "I have heard old Pitchou read
aloud to Flamma, and she read of their God, the one they hang everywhere
on the crosses here; and the story was that the populace scourged and
nailed to death the one whom they knew afterwards, when too late, to
have been the great man they looked for, and that then being bidden to
make their choice of one to save, they choose to ransom and honor a
thief: one called Barabbas. Is it true?--if the world's choice were
wrong once, why not twice?"

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

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

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

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

Arslàn laughed a little.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the empty space about him became peopled with many human shapes
that for him had breath and being, though no other eye could have beheld
them.

The old Syrian world of eighteen hundred years before arose and glowed
before him. The things of his own life died away, and in their stead he
saw the fierce flame of Eastern suns, the gleaming range of marble
palaces, the purple flush of pomegranate flowers, the deep color of
Oriental robes, the soft silver of hills olive-crested, the tumult of a
city at high festival.

And he could not rest until all he thus saw in his vision he had
rendered as far as his hand could render it; and what he drew was this.

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

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

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

One gorged drunkard lay asleep with his amphora broken beneath him, the
stream of the purple wine lapped eagerly by ragged children.

A money-changer had left the receipt of custom, eager to watch and
shout, and a thief clutched both hands full of the forsaken coins and
fled.

A miser had dropped a bag of gold, and stopped to catch at all the
rolling pieces, regardless in his greed how the crowd trampled and trod
on him.

A mother chid and struck her little brown curly child, because he
stretched his arms and turned his face towards the thorn-crowned
captive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He knew that his work was good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There, on that wall, he had written, with all the might there was in
him, his warning to the age in which he lived, his message to future
generations, his claims to men's remembrance after death: and there were
none to see, none to read, none to believe. Great things, beautiful
things, things of wisdom, things of grace, things terrible in their
scorn and divine in their majesty, rose up about him, incarnated by his
mind and his hand--and their doom was to fade and wither without leaving
one human mind the richer for their story, one human soul the nobler for
their meaning.

To the humanity around him they had no value save such value of a few
coins as might lie in them to liquidate some miserable scare at the
bakehouse or the oilshop in the streets of the town.

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

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

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

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

The door softly unclosed; he did not hear it.

Across the chamber Folle-Farine stole noiselessly.

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

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

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

One ray white and pure fell upon the bowed head of the bound God.

She stood and gazed at it.

She had watched it all grow gradually into being from out the chaos of
dull spaces and confused lines. This art, which could call life from the
dry wastes of wood and paper, and shed perpetual light where all was
darkness, was even to her an alchemy incomprehensible, immeasurable; a
thing not to be criticised or questioned, but adored in all its
unscrutable and majestic majesty. To her it could not have been more
marvelous if his hand had changed the river-sand to gold, or his touch
wakened the dead cornflowers to bloom afresh as living asphodels. But
now for once she forgot the sorcery of the art in the terror and the
pathos of the story that it told; now for once she forgot, in the
creation, its creator.

All she saw was the face of the Christ,--the pale bent face, in whose
eyes there was a patience so perfect, a pity so infinite, a reproach
that had no wrath, a scorn that had no cruelty.

She had hated the Christ on the cross, because he was the God of the
people she hated, and in whose name they reviled her. But this Christ
moved her strangely--there, in the light, alone; betrayed and forsaken
while the crowd rushed on, lauding Barabbas.

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

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

"They have talked of their God--often--so often," she muttered. "But I
never knew till now what they meant."

Arslàn turned and looked at her. He had not known that she was there.

"Is it so?" he said, slowly. "Well--the world refuses me fame; but I do
not know that the world could give me a higher tribute than your
admiration."

"The world?" she echoed, with her eyes still fastened on the head of the
Christ and the multitudes that flocked after Barabbas. "The world? You
care for the world--you?--who have painted _that_?"

Arslàn did not answer her: he felt the rebuke.

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

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

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

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

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

She did not hear him; and had she heard, would not have comprehended.

Her eyes were still fastened on the Christ, and the blood in her cheeks
faded and glowed at every breath she drew, and in her eye there was the
wistful, wondering, trustful reverence which shone in those of the
child, who, breaking from his mother's arms, and, regardless of the
soldier's stripes, clung to the feet of the scourged captive, and there
kneeled and prayed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why should it not be?

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

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



CHAPTER VII.


One day, while the year was still young, though the first thunder-beats
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 often of it," she said, simply; "but I cannot tell what it
is."

"The man has never yet lived 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 seen the sea. Her
errands had always been to and fro 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 traveled 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 fishwives' oaths, and the
death-screams of scalded shellfish.

He did not take her thither.

He took her half way down the stream whilst it was still sleepily
beautiful with pale gray 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 staglike ease of limbs that have never known
restraint.

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 bands; an
old man, who had a fishing-brig at sea and toiled up there to look for
her, with a gray dog at his heels, and the smell of salt water in his
clothes; a goatherd, 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 goatherd 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 in the radiance of the still sunlit skies there hung the pale
crescent of a week-old moon.

"To live apart?"--she did not understand.

"Yes--like this. To have no child smile, no woman gossip, no man
exchange good-morrow with you. Is it any sorrow to you?"

Her eyes flashed through the darkness 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 was 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 worshiped 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 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 through the darkness, 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 on 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
fruitseller, 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 window of the house against the
fourth gate; Marion Silvis; she is white and sleek, and blue-eyed; the
priests honor 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 wineshop 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 no 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 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 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
passion, 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 savageness and innocence commingled. He
answered her merely, with a smile:

"You are only a barbarian; how should you understand that the seductions
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 hearth 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, her eyes glancing through
the sunshine of the cloudless day. "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 all together in thousands, fearing to do what they
will, lest the tongue of their neighbor wag evil of it; to 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 Liebana 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 no 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 portray 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 wind blowing from the sea.

There was so little passion left in him.

He had tossed aside the hair of dead women and portrayed 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 wayside 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 into it; 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 to make 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 eye 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 bright 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 color 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 colorless 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 goats 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,--

"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, that 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 that 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 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 ceaseless melody. The luster 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 the susurrus 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 sweet young years of the
earth when men were not; as, maybe, 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 winter 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 the 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 ribbon-weeds of its deeps. And he had felt
small pity; it had rather given him a 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 the wondrous
brightness which she saw to take her to itself and make 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 drooped on her breast; tears rolled silently down her checks;
her arms fell to her sides; she shivered again and sighed. She knew all
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 which 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, and 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 the 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."

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 scarcely more to her than they were to 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; 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 portrayed
her physical beauty scarcely moved by its flush of color 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 dropped 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 honor and passionate faith an
unknown God.

The sun sank entirely, leaving only a trail of flame across the heavens;
the waters grew gray 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 weirdlike.

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.

"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 into 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, and
yet, though with its instincts of rebellion so strong in her, moving her
to 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 in 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 the
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 characterized all his
words to her. "Can you have grown in love with life?"

"You live," she said, simply.

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

"Let us go down!" he said, abruptly, at length; "it grows late."

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



CHAPTER VIII.


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

With little effort he persuaded her that to lend her beauty to the
purpose of his art was a sacrifice pure and supreme; repaid, it might
be, with immortality, like the immortality of the Mona Lisa.

It was ever painful and even loathsome to her to give her beauty to the
callous scrutiny and to the merciless imitations of art; it stung the
dignity and the purity that were inborn in this daughter of an outlawed
people; it wounded, and hurt, and humiliated her. She knew that these
things were only done that one day the eyes of thousands and of tens of
thousands might gaze on them; and the knowledge was hateful to her.

But as she would have borne wood or carried water for him, as she would
have denied her lips the least morsel of bread that his might have fed
thereon, as she would have gone straight to the river's edge at his
bidding, and have stood still for the stream to swell and the floods to
cover her, so she obeyed him, and let him make of her what he would.

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

He placed her form in the crowd of dancing-women that followed after
Barabbas. He took her for Persephone, as for Phryne. He couched her on
the bleak rocks and the sea-sands on barren Tenedos. He made her beauty
burn through the purple vines and the roses of silence of the Venusberg.
He drew her as the fairest spirit fleeing with the autumn leaves in her
streaming hair from the pursuit of his own Storm God Othyr. He portrayed
her as Daphne, with all her soft human form changing and merging into
the bitter roots and the poisonous leaves of the laurel that was the
fruit of passion He drew her as Leonice, whose venal lips yet, being
purified by a perfect love, were sealed mute unto death, and for love's
sake spoke not.

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

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

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

In the second, there was still the same attitude, the same solitude, the
same rest, but the sleep was the sleep of death. Stretched on a block of
white marble, there were the same limbs, but livid and lifeless, and
twisted in the contortions of a last agony: there was the same
loveliness, but on it the hues of corruption already had stolen; the
face was still turned upward, but the blank eyes stared hideously, and
the mouth was drawn back from teeth closely clinched; upon the stone
there lay a surgeon's knife and a sculptor's scalpel; between her lips
the Red Mouse sat, watching, mouthing, triumphant. All the beauty was
left still, but it was left ghastly, discolored, ruined,--ready for the
mockery of the clay, for the violation of the knife,--ready for the
feast of the blind worm, for the narrow home dug in darkness and in
dust.

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

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

She had not asked him even what the Red Mouse meant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And you have no fear?"

"I have no fear."

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

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

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

The old dull gray routine of perpetual toil was illumined and enriched.
If any reviled, she heard not. If any flung a stone at her, she caught
it and dropped it safely on the grass, and went on with a glance of
pardon. When the children ran after her footsteps bawling and mouthing,
she turned and looked at them with a sweet dreaming tenderness in her
eyes that rebuked them and held them silenced and afraid.

Now, she hated none; nor could she envy any.

The women were welcome to their little joys of hearth and home; they
were welcome to look for their lovers across the fields with smiling
eyes shaded from the sun, or to beckon their infants from the dusky
orchards to murmur fond foolish words and stroke the curls of flaxen
down,--she begrudged them nothing: she, too, had her portion and her
treasure; she, too, knew the unutterable and mystical sweetness of a
human joy.

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

She was proud as with the pride of one selected for some great dignity;
proud with the pride that a supreme devotion and a supreme ignorance
made possible to her. He was as a god to her; and she had found favor in
his sight. Although by all others despised, to him she was beautiful; a
thing to be desired, not abhorred; to be caressed, not cursed. It seemed
to her so wonderful that, night and day, in her heart she praised God
for it--that dim unknown God of whom no man had taught her, but yet whom
she had vaguely grown to dream of and to honor, and to behold in the
setting of the sun, and in the flush of the clouds, and in the mysteries
of the starlit skies.

Of shame to her in it she had no thought: a passion strong as fire in
its force, pure as crystal in its unselfishness, possessed her for him,
and laid her at his feet to be done with as he would. She would have
crouched to him like a dog; she would have worked for him like a slave;
she would have killed herself if he had bidden her without a word of
resistance or a moan of regret. To be caressed by him one moment as his
hand in passing caressed a flower, even though with the next to be
broken like the flower and cast aside in a ditch to die, was to her the
greatest glory life could know. To be a pleasure to him for one hour, to
see his eyes tell her once, however carelessly or coldly, that she had
any beauty for him, was to her the sweetest and noblest fate that could
befall her. To him she was no more than the cluster of grapes to the
wayfarer, who brushes their bloom off and steals their sweetness, then
casts them down to be trampled on by whosoever the next comer be. But to
this creature, who had no guide except her instincts of passion and
sacrifice, who had no guard except the pure scorn that had kept her from
the meanness and coarseness of the vices around her, this was
unintelligible, unsuspected; and if she had understood it, she would
have accepted it mutely, in that abject humility which had bent the
fierce and dauntless temper in her to his will.

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

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

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



CHAPTER IX.


One evening he met her in the fields on the same spot where Marcellin
first had seen her as a child among the scarlet blaze of the poppies.

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

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

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

Art is so vast; and human life is so little.

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

The youth whom the Mexicans slew, on the high hill of the city, with his
face to the west, was always the choicest and the noblest of all the
opening flower of their manhood: for it was his fate to be called to
enter into the realms of eternal light, and to dwell face to face with
the unbearable brightness without whose rays the universe would have
perished frozen in perpetual night.

So the artist, who is true to his art, regards every human sacrifice
that he renders up to it; how can he feel pity for a thing which
perishes to feed a flame that he deems the life of the world?

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

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

She lifted her eyelids with a dreamy and wistful regard.

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

"Ah?--you see there are no reeds that make music nowadays; the reeds are
only good to be woven into creels for the fruits and the fish of the
market."

"That is not the fault of the reeds?"

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

"No--or the god would not have chosen it"

"What, then?"

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

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

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

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

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

"They have thought me many things worse. What matter?"

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

"Who would not?"

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

"Nay;--how do you know?"

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

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

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

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

He was silent.

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

Arslàn watched the sweep of the steel.

"The reeds only fall now for the market," he said, with a smile that was
cruel. "And the gods are all dead--Folle-Farine."

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

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

He looked, and let her go;--alone.

In her, Hermes, pitiful for once, had given him a syrinx through which
all sweetest and noblest music might have been breathed. But Hermes,
when he gives such a gift, leaves the mortal on whom he bestows it to
make or to miss the music as he may; and to Arslàn, his reed was but a
reed as the rest were--a thing that bloomed for a summer-eve--a thing of
the stagnant water and drifting sand--a thing that lived by the breath
of the wind--a thing that a man should cut down and weave in a crown for
a day, and then cast aside on the stream, and neither regret nor in any
wise remember--a reed of the river, as the rest were.



BOOK V.



CHAPTER I.


"Only a little gold!" he thought, one day, looking on the cartoon of the
Barabbas. "As much as I have flung away on a dancing-woman, or the
dancing-woman on the jewel for her breast. Only a little gold, and I
should be free; and with me _these_."

The thought escaped him unawares in broken words, one day, when he
thought himself alone.

This was a perpetual torture to him, this captivity and penury, this
aimlessness and fruitlessness, in which his years were drifting, spent
in the dull bodily labor that any brainless human brute could execute as
well as he, consuming his days in physical fatigues that a roof he
despised might cover him, and a bread which was bitter as gall to him
might be his to eat; knowing all the while that the real strength which
he possessed, the real power that could give him an empire amidst his
fellows, was dying away in him as slowly but as surely as though his
brain were feasting fishes in the river-mud below.

So little!--just a few handfuls of the wealth that cheats and wantons,
fools and panders, gathered and scattered so easily in that world with
which he had now no more to do than if he were lying in his grave;--and
having this, he would be able to compel the gaze of the world, and
arouse the homage of its flinching fear, even if it should still
continue to deny him other victories.

It was not the physical privations of poverty which could daunt him. His
boyhood had been spent in a healthful and simple training, amidst a
strong and hardy mountain-people.

It was nothing to him to make his bed on straw; to bear hunger
unblenchingly; to endure cold and heat, and all the freaks and changes
of wild weather.

In the long nights of a northern winter he had fasted for weeks on a
salted fish and a handful of meal; on the polar seas he had passed a
winter ice-blocked, with famine kept at bay only by the flesh of the
seal, and men dying around him raving in the madness of thirst.

None of the physical ills of poverty could appall him; but its
imprisonment, its helplessness, the sense of utter weakness, the
impotence to rise and go to other lands and other lives, the perpetual
narrowness and darkness in which it compelled him to abide, all these
were horrible to him; he loathed them as a man loathes the irons on his
wrists, and the stone vault of his prison-cell.

"If I had only money!" he muttered, looking on his Barabbas, "ever so
little--ever so little!"

For he knew that if he had as much gold as he had thrown away in earlier
times to the Syrian beggar who had sat to him on his house-top at
Damascus, he could go to a city and make the work live in color, and try
once more to force from men that wonder and that fear which are the
highest tributes that the multitude can give to the genius that arises
amidst it.

There was no creature in the chamber with him, except the spiders that
wove in the darkness among the timbers.

It was only just then dawn. The birds were singing in the thickets of
the water's edge; a blue kingfisher skimmed the air above the rushes,
and a dragon-fly hunted insects over the surface of the reeds by the
shore; the swallows, that built in the stones of the tower, were
wheeling to and fro, glad and eager for the sun.

Otherwise it was intensely silent.

In the breadth of shadow still cast across the stream by the walls of
the tower, the market-boat of Yprès glided by, and the soft splash of
the passing oars was a sound too familiar to arouse him.

But, unseen, Folle-Farine, resting one moment in her transit to look up
at that grim gray pile in which her paradise was shut, watching and
listening with the fine-strung senses of a great love, heard through
the open casement the muttered words which, out of the bitterness of his
heart, escaped his lips unconsciously.

She heard and understood.

Although a paradise to her, to him it was only a prison.

"It is with him as with the great black eagle that they keep in the
bridge-tower, in a hole in the dark, with wings cut close and a stone
tied to each foot," she thought, as she went on her way noiselessly down
with the ebb-tide on the river. And she sorrowed exceedingly for his
sake.

She knew nothing of all that he remembered in the years of his past--of
all that he had lost, whilst yet young, as men should only lose their
joys in the years of their old age; she knew nothing of the cities and
the habits of the world--nothing of the world's pleasures and the
world's triumphs.

To her it had always seemed strange that he wanted any other life than
this which he possessed. To her, the freedom, the strength, the
simplicity of it, seemed noble, and all that the heart of a man could
desire from fate.

Going forth at sunrise to his daily labor on the broad golden sheet of
the waters, down to the sight and the sound and the smile of the sea,
and returning at sunset to wander at will through the woods and the
pastures in the soft evening shadows, or to watch and portray with the
turn of his wrist the curl of each flower, the wonder of every cloud,
the smile in any woman's eyes, the gleam of any moonbeam through the
leaves; or to lie still on the grass or the sand by the shore, and see
the armies of the mists sweep by over his head, and hearken to the throb
of the nightingale's voice through the darkness, and mark the coolness
of the dews on the hollow of his hand, and let the night go by in dreams
of worlds beyond the stars;--such a life as this seemed to her beyond
any other beautiful.

A life in the air, on the tide, in the light, in the wind, in the sound
of salt waves, in the smell of wild thyme, with no roof to come between
him and the sky, with no need to cramp body and mind in the cage of a
street--a life spent in the dreaming of dreams, and full of vision and
thought as the summer was full of its blossom and fruits,--it seemed to
her the life that must needs be best for a man, since the life that was
freest, simplest, and highest.

She knew nothing of the lust of ambition, of the desire of fame, of the
ceaseless unrest of the mind which craves the world's honor, and is
doomed to the world's neglect; of the continual fire which burns in the
hands which stretch themselves in conscious strength to seize a scepter
and remain empty, only struck in the palm by the buffets of fools.

Of these she knew nothing.

She had no conception of them--of the weakness and the force that twine
one in another in such a temper as his. She was at once above them and
beneath them. She could not comprehend that he who could so bitterly
disdain the flesh-pots and the wine-skins of the common crowd, yet could
stoop to care for the crowd's Hosannas.

But yet this definite longing which she overheard in the words that
escaped him she could not mistake; it was a longing plain to her, one
that moved all the dullest and most brutal souls around her. All her
years through she had seen the greed of gold, or the want of it, the
twin rulers of the only little dominion that she knew.

Money, in her estimate of it, meant only some little sum of copper
pieces, such as could buy a hank of flax, a load of sweet chestnuts, a
stack of wood, a swarm of bees, a sack of autumn fruits. What in cities
would have been penury, was deemed illimitable riches in the homesteads
and cabins which had been her only world.

"A little gold!--a little gold!" she pondered ceaselessly, as she went
on down the current. She knew that he only craved it, not to purchase
any pleasure for his appetites or for his vanities, but as the lever
whereby he would be enabled to lift off him that iron weight of adverse
circumstance which held him down in darkness as the stones held the
caged eagle.

"A little gold!" she said to herself again and again as the boat drifted
on to the town, with the scent of the mulberries, and the herbs, and the
baskets of roses, which were its cargo for the market, fragrant on the
air.

"A little gold!"

It seemed so slight a thing, and the more cruel, because so slight, to
stand thus between him and that noonday splendor of fame which he sought
to win in his obscurity and indigence, as the blinded eagle in his den
still turned his aching eyes by instinct to the sun. Her heart was weary
for him as she went.

"What use for the gods to have given him back life," she thought, "if
they must give him thus with it the incurable fever of an endless
desire?"

It was a gift as poisoned, a granted prayer as vain, as the immortality
which they had given to Tithonus.

"A little gold," he had said: it seemed a thing almost within her grasp.

Had she been again willing to steal from Flamma, she could have taken it
as soon as the worth of the load she carried should have been paid to
her; but by a theft she would not serve Arslàn now. No gifts would she
give him but what should be pure and worthy of his touch. She pondered
and pondered, cleaving the waters with dull regular measure, and gliding
under the old stone arches of the bridge into the town.

When she brought the boat back up the stream at noonday, her face had
cleared; her mouth smiled; she rowed on swiftly, with a light sweet and
glad in her eyes.

A thought had come to her.

In the market-place that day she had heard two women talk together,
under the shade of their great red umbrellas, over their heaps of garden
produce.

"So thou hast bought the brindled calf after all! Thou art in luck."

"Ay, in luck indeed, for the boy to rout up the old pear-tree and find
those queer coins beneath it. The tree had stood there all my father's
and grandfather's time, and longer too, for aught I know, and no one
ever dreamed there was any treasure at the root; but he took a fancy to
dig up the tree; he said it looked like a ghost, with its old gray arms,
and he wanted to plant a young cherry."

"There must have been a mass of coin?"

"No,--only a few little shabby, bent pieces. But the lad took them up
to the Prince Sartorian; and he is always crazed about the like; and he
sent us for them quite a roll of gold, and said that the coins found
were, beyond a doubt, of the Julian time--whatever he might mean by
that."

"Sartorian will buy any rubbish of that sort. For my part, I think if
one buried a brass button only long enough, he would give one a
bank-note for it."

"They say there are marble creatures of his that cost more than would
dower a thousand brides, or pension a thousand soldiers. I do not know
about that. My boy did not get far in the palace; but he said that the
hall he waited in was graven with gold and precious stones. One picture
he saw in it was placed on a golden altar, as if it were a god. To
worship old coins, and rags of canvas, and idols of stone like
that,--how vile it is! while we are glad to get a nettle-salad off the
edge of the road."

"But the coins gave thee the brindled calf."

"That was no goodness to us. Sartorian has a craze for such follies."

Folle-Farine had listened, and, standing by them, for once spoke:

"Who is Sartorian? Will you tell me?"

The women were from a far-distant village, and had not the infinite
horror of her felt by those who lived in the near neighborhood of the
mill of Yprès.

"He is a great noble," they answered her, eyeing her with suspicion.

"And where is his dwelling?"

"Near Rioz. What do the like of you want with the like of the Prince?"

She gave them thanks for their answers, and turned away in silence with
a glow at her heart.

"What is that wicked one thinking of now, that she asks for such as the
Prince Sartorian?" said the women, crossing themselves, repentant that
they had so far forgotten themselves as to hold any syllable of converse
with the devil's daughter.

An old man plucking birds near at hand chuckled low in his throat:

"Maybe she knows that Sartorian will give yet more gold for new faces
than for old coins; and--how handsome she is, the black-browed witch!"

She had passed away through the crowds of the market, and did not hear.

"I go to Rioz myself in two days' time with the mules," she thought; and
her heart rose, her glance lightened, she moved through the people with
a step so elastic, and a face so radiant from the flush of a new hope,
that they fell away from her with an emotion which for once was not
wholly hatred.

That night, when the mill-house was quiet, and the moonbeams fell
through all its small dim windows and checkered all its wooden floors,
she rose from the loft where she slept, and stole noiselessly down the
steep stairway to the chamber where the servant Pitchou slept.

It was a little dark chamber, with jutting beams and a casement that was
never unclosed.

On a nail hung the blue woolen skirt and the linen cap of the woman's
working-dress. In a corner was a little image of a saint and a string of
leaden beads.

On a flock pallet the old wrinkled creature slept, tired out with the
labor of a long day's work among the cabbage-beds and rows of lettuces,
muttering as she slept of the little daily peculations that were the
sweet sins of her life and of her master's.

She cared for her soul--cared very much, and tried to save it; but
cheating was dear to her, and cruelty was natural: she tricked the
fatherless child in his measure of milk for the tenth of a sou, and
wrung the throat of the bullfinch as it sang, lest he should peck the
tenth of a cherry.

Folle-Farine went close to the straw bed and laid her hand on the
sleeper.

"Wake! I want a word with you."

Pitchou started, struggled, glared with wide-open eyes, and gasped in
horrible fear.

Folle-Farine put the other hand on her mouth.

"Listen! The night I was brought here you stole the sequins off my head.
Give them back to me now, or I will kill you where you lie."

The grip of her left hand on the woman's throat, and the gleam of her
knife in the right, were enough, as she had counted they would be.

Old Pitchou struggled, lied, stammered, writhed, strove to scream, and
swore her innocence of this theft which had waited eleven years to rise
against her to Mary and her angels; but in the end she surrendered, and
tottered on her shuddering limbs, and crept beneath her bed, and with
terror and misery brought forth from her secret hole in the rafters of
the floor the little chain of shaking sequins.

It had been of no use to her: she had always thought it of inestimable
value, and could never bring herself to part from it, visiting it night
and day, and being perpetually tormented with the dread lest her master
should discover and claim it.

Folle-Farine seized it from her silently, and laughed--a quiet cold
laugh--at the threats and imprecations of the woman who had robbed her
in her infancy.

"How can you complain of me, without telling also of your own old sin?"
she said, with contempt, as she quitted the chamber. "Shriek away as you
choose: the chain is mine, not yours. I was weak when you stole it; I am
strong enough now. You had best not meddle, or you will have the worst
of the reckoning."

And she shut the door on the old woman's screams and left her, knowing
well that Pitchou would not dare to summon her master.

It was just daybreak. All the world was still dark.

She slipped the sequins in her bosom, and went back to her own bed of
hay in the loft.

There was no sound in the darkness but the faint piping of young birds
that felt the coming of day long ere the grosser senses of humanity
could have seen a glimmer of light on the black edge of the eastern
clouds.

She sat on her couch with the Moorish coins in her hand, and gazed upon
them. They were very precious to her. She had never forgotten or ceased
to desire them, though to possess herself of them by force had never
occurred to her until that night. Their theft had been a wrong which she
had never pardoned, yet she had never avenged it until now.

As she held them in her hand for the first time in eleven years, a
strong emotion came over her.

The time when she had worn them came out suddenly in sharp relief from
the haze of her imperfect memories. All the old forest-life for a moment
revived for her.

The mists of the mountains, the smell of the chestnut-woods, the curl of
the white smoke among the leaves, the sweet wild strains of the music,
the mad grace of the old Moorish dances, the tramp through the
hill-passes, the leap and splash of the tumbling waters,--all arose to
her for one moment from the oblivion in which years of toil and exile
had buried them.

The tears started to her eyes; she kissed the little glittering coins,
she thought of Phratos.

She had never known his fate.

The gypsy who had been found dead in the fields had been forgotten by
the people before the same snows which had covered his body had melted
at the first glimmer of the wintry sun.

Flamma could have told her; but he had never spoken one word in all her
life to her, except in curt reprimand or in cruel irony.

All the old memories had died out; and no wanderers of her father's race
had ever come into the peaceful and pastoral district of the northern
seaboard, where they could have gained no footing, and could have made
no plunder.

The sight of the little band of coins which had danced so often among
her curls under the moonlit leaves in the Liebana to the leaping and
tuneful measures of the viol moved her to a wistful longing for the
smile and the voice of Phratos.

"I would never part with them for myself," she thought; "I would die of
hunger first--were it only myself."

And still she was resolved to part with them; to sell her single little
treasure--the sole gift of the only creature who had ever loved her,
even in the very first hour that she had recovered it.

The sequins were worth no more than any baby's woven crown of faded
daisies; but to her, as to the old peasant, they seemed, by their
golden glitter, a source of wealth incalculable.

At twilight that day, as she stood by Arslàn, she spoke to him,
timidly,--

"I go to Rioz with the two mules, at daybreak to-morrow, with flour for
Flamma. It is a town larger than the one yonder. Is there anything I
might do there--for you?"

"Do? What should you do?" he answered her, with inattention and almost
impatience; for his heart was sore with the terrible weariness of
inaction.

She looked at him very wistfully, and her mouth parted a little as
though to speak; but his repulse chilled the words that rose to her
lips.

She dared not say her thoughts to him, lest she should displease him.

"If it come to naught he had best not know, perhaps," she said to
herself.

So she kept silence.

On the morrow, before the sun was up, she set out on her way, with the
two mules, to Rioz.

It was a town distant some five leagues, lying to the southward. Both
the mules were heavily laden with as many sacks as they could carry: she
could ride on neither; she walked between them with a bridle held in
either hand.

The road was not a familiar one to her; she had only gone thither some
twice or thrice, and she did not find the way long, being full of her
own meditations and hopes, and taking pleasure in the gleam of new
waters and the sight of fresh fields, and the green simple loveliness of
a pastoral country in late summer.

She met few people; a market-woman or two on their asses, a walking
peddler, a shepherd, or a swineherd--these were all.

The day was young, and none but the country people were astir. The quiet
roads were dim with mists; and the tinkle of a sheep's bell was the only
sound in the silence.

It was mid-day when she entered Rioz; a town standing in a dell,
surrounded with apple-orchards and fields of corn and colza, with a
quaint old square tower of the thirteenth century arising among its
roofs, and round about it old moss-green ramparts whereon the bramble
and the gorse grew wild.

But as the morning advanced the mists lifted, the sun grew powerful; the
roads were straight and without shadow; the mules stumbled, footsore;
she herself grew tired and fevered.

She led her fatigued and thirsty beasts through the nearest gateway,
where a soldier sat smoking, and a girl in a blue petticoat and a
scarlet bodice talked to him, resting her hands on her hips, and her
brass pails on the ground.

She left the sacks of flour at their destination, which was a great
bake-house in the center of the town; stalled the mules herself in a
shed adjoining the little crazy wineshop where Flamma had bidden her
bait them, and with her own hands unharnessed, watered, and foddered
them.

The wineshop had for sign a white pigeon; it was tumble-down, dusky,
half covered with vines that grew loose and entwined over each other at
their own fancy; it had a little court in which grew a great
walnut-tree; there was a bench under the tree; the shelter of its boughs
was cool and very welcome in the full noon heat. The old woman who kept
the place, wrinkled, shriveled, and cheery, bade her rest there, and she
would bring her food and drink.

But Folle-Farine, with one wistful glance at the shadowing branches,
refused, and asked only the way to the house of the Prince Sartorian.

The woman of the cabaret looked at her sharply, and said, as the
market-women had said, "What does the like of you want with the Prince?"

"I want to know the way to it. If you do not tell it, another will," she
answered, as she moved out of the little courtyard.

The old woman called after her that it was out by the west gate, over
the hill through the fields for more than two leagues: if she followed
the wind of the water westward, she could not go amiss.

"What is that baggage wanting to do with Sartorian?" she muttered,
watching the form of the girl as it passed up the steep sunshiny street.

"Some evil, no doubt," answered her assistant, a stalwart wench, who was
skinning a rabbit in the yard. "You know, she sells bags of wind to
founder the ships, they say, and the wicked herb, _bon plaisir_, and the
philters that drive men mad. She is as bad as a _cajote_."

Her old mistress, going within to toss a fritter for one of the
mendicant friars, chuckled grimly to herself:

"No one would ask the road _there_ for any good; that is sure. No doubt
she had heard that Sartorian is a choice judge of color and shape in all
the Arts!"

Folle-Farine went out by the gate, and along the water westward.

In a little satchel she carried some half score of oil-sketches that he
had given her, rich, graceful, shadowy things--girls' faces, coils of
foliage, river-rushes in the moonlight, a purple passion-flower blooming
on a gray ruin; a child, golden-headed and bare-limbed, wading in brown
waters;--things that had caught his sight and fancy, and had been
transcribed, and then tossed aside with the lavish carelessness of
genius.

She asked one or two peasants, whom she met, her way; they stared, and
grumbled, and pointed to some distant towers rising out of wooded
slopes,--those they said were the towers of the dwelling of Prince
Sartorian.

One hen-huckster, leading his ass to market with a load of live poultry,
looked over his shoulder after her, and muttered with a grin to his
wife:

"There goes a handsome piece of porcelain for the old man to lock in his
velvet-lined cupboards."

And the wife laughed in answer,--

"Ay; she will look well, gilded as Sartorian always gilds what he buys."

The words came to the ear of Folle-Farine: she wondered what they could
mean; but she would not turn back to ask.

Her feet were weary, like her mules'; the sun scorched her; she felt
feeble, and longed to lie down and sleep; but she toiled on up the sharp
ascent that rose in cliffs of limestone above the valley where the river
ran.

At last she came to gates that were like those of the cathedral, all
brazen, blazoned, and full of scrolls and shields. She pushed one
open--there was no one there to say her nay, and boldly entered the
domain which they guarded.

At first it seemed to be only like the woods at home; the trees were
green, the grass long, the birds sang, the rabbits darted. But by-and-by
she went farther; she grew bewildered; she was in a world strange to
her.

Trees she had never seen rose like the pillars of temples; gorgeous
flowers, she had never dreamed of, played in the sun; vast columns of
water sprang aloft from the mouths of golden dragons or the silver
breasts of dolphins; nude women, wondrous, and white, and still, stood
here and there amidst the leavy darkness.

She paused among it all, dazzled, and thinking that she dreamed.

She had never seen any gardens, save the gardens of the poor.

A magnolia-tree was above her; she stooped her face to one of its great,
fragrant, creamy cups and kissed it softly. A statue of Clytio was
beside her; she looked timidly up at the musing face, and touched it,
wondering why it was so very cold, and would not move or smile.

A fountain flung up its spray beside her; she leaned and caught it,
thinking it so much silver, and gazed at it in sorrowful wonder as it
changed to water in her grasp. She walked on like one enchanted,
silently, and thinking that she had strayed into some sorcerer's
kingdom; she was not afraid, but glad. She walked on for a long while,
always among these mazes of leaves, these splendors of blossom, these
cloud-reaching waters, these marble forms so motionless and thoughtful.

At last she came on the edge of a great pool, fringed with the bulrush
and the lotos, and the white pampas-grass, and the flamelike flowering
reed, of the East and of the West.

All around, the pool was sheltered with dark woods of cedar and thickets
of the sea-pine. Beyond them stood aloof a great pile that seemed to her
to blaze like gold and silver in the sun. She approached it through a
maze of roses, and ascended a flight of marble steps, on to a terrace.
A door stood open near. She entered it.

She was intent on the object of her errand, and she had no touch of fear
in her whole temper.

Hall after hall, room after room, opened to her amazed vision; an
endless spectacle of marvelous color stretched before her eyes; the
wonders that are gathered together by the world's luxury were for the
first time in her sight; she saw for the first time in her life how the
rich lived.

She moved forward, curious, astonished, bewildered, but nothing daunted.

On the velvet of the floors her steps trod as firmly and as freely as on
the moss of the orchard at Yprès. Her eyes glanced as gravely and as
fearlessly over the frescoed walls, the gilded woods, the jeweled cups,
the broidered hangings, as over the misty pastures where the sheep were
folded.

It was not in the daughter of Taric to be daunted by the dazzle of mere
wealth. She walked through the splendid and lonely rooms wondering,
indeed, and eager to see more; but there was no spell here such as the
gardens had flung over her. To the creature free born in the Liebana no
life beneath a roof could seem beautiful.

She met no one.

At the end of the fourth chamber, which she traversed, she paused before
a great picture in a heavy golden frame; it was the seizure of
Persephone. She knew the story, for Arslàn had told her of it.

She saw for the first time how the pictures that men called great were
installed in princely splendor; this was the fate which he wanted for
his own.

A little lamp, burning perfume with a silvery smoke, stood before it:
she recalled the words of the woman in the market-place; in her
ignorance, she thought the picture was worshiped as a divinity, as the
people worshiped the great picture of the Virgin that they burned
incense before in the cathedral. She looked, with something of gloomy
contempt in her eyes, at the painting which was mantled in massive gold,
with purple draperies opening to display it; for it was the chief
masterpiece upon those walls.

"And he cares for _that_!" she thought, with a sigh half of wonder, half
of sorrow.

She did not reason on it, but it seemed to her that his works were
greater hanging on their bare walls where the spiders wove.

"Who is 'he'?" a voice asked behind her.

She turned and saw a small and feeble man, with keen, humorous eyes, and
an elfin face, delicate in its form, malicious in its meaning.

She stood silent, regarding him; herself a strange figure in that lordly
place, with her brown limbs, her bare head and feet, her linen tunic,
her red knotted girdle.

"Who are you?" she asked him curtly, in counter-question.

The little old man laughed.

"I have the honor to be your host."

A disappointed astonishment clouded her face.

"You! are you Sartorian?" she muttered--"the Sartorian whom they call a
prince?"

"Even I!" he said with a smile. "I regret that I please you no more. May
I ask to what I am indebted for your presence? You seem a fastidious
critic."

He spoke with good-humored irony, taking snuff whilst he looked at the
lustrous beauty of this barefooted gypsy, as he thought her, whom he had
found thus astray in his magnificent chambers.

She amused him; finding her silent, he sought to make her speak.

"How did you come in hither? You care for pictures, perhaps, since you
seem to feed on them like some wood-pigeons on a sheaf of corn?"

"I know of finer than yours," she answered him coldly, chilled by the
amused and malicious ridicule of his tone into a sullen repose. "I did
not come to see anything you have. I came to sell you these: they say in
Yprès that you care for such bits of coin."

She drew out of her bosom her string of sequins, and tendered them to
him.

He took them, seeing at a glance that they were of no sort of value;
such things as he could buy for a few coins in any bazaar of Africa or
Asia. But he did not say so.

He looked at her keenly, as he asked:

"Whose were these?"

She looked in return at him with haughty defiance.

"They are mine. If you want such things, as they say you do, take them
and give me their value--that is all."

"Do you come here to sell them?"

"Yes. I came three leagues to-day. I heard a woman from near Rioz say
that you liked such things. Take them, or leave them."

"Who gave them to you?"

"Phratos."

Her voice lingered sadly over the word. She still loved the memory of
Phratos.

"And who may Phratos be?"

Her eyes flashed fire at the cross-questioning.

"That is none of your business. If you think that I stole them, say so.
If you want them, buy them. One or the other."

The old man watched her amusedly.

"You can be very fierce," he said to her. "Be gentle a little, and tell
me whence you came, and what story you have."

But she would not.

"I have not come here to speak of myself," she said obstinately. "Will
you take the coins, or leave them?"

"I will take them," he said; and he went to a cabinet in another room
and brought out with him several shining gold pieces.

She fastened her eager eyes on them thirstily.

"Here is payment," he said to her, holding them to her.

Her eyes fastened on the money entranced; she touched it with a light,
half-fearful touch, and then drew back and gazed at it amazed.

"All that--all that?" she muttered. "Is it their worth? Are you sure?"

"Quite sure," he said with a smile. He offered her in them some thirty
times their value.

She paused for a moment, incredulous of her own good fortune, then
darted on them as a swallow at a gnat, and took them and put them to her
lips, and laughed a sweet glad laugh of triumph, and slid them in her
bosom.

"I am grateful," she said simply; but the radiance in her eyes, the
laughter on her mouth, the quivering excitement in all her face and
form, said the same thing for her far better than her words.

The old man watched her narrowly.

"They are not for yourself?" he asked.

"That is my affair," she answered him, all her pride rising in arms.
"What concerned you was their value."

He smiled and bent his head.

"Fairly rebuked. But say is this all you came for? Wherever you came
from, is this all that brought you here?"

She looked awhile in his eyes steadily, then she brought the sketches
from their hiding-place. She placed them before him.

"Look at those."

He took them to the light and scanned them slowly and critically; he
knew all the mysteries and intricacies of art, and he recognized in
these slight things the hand and the color of a master. He did not say
so, but held them for some time in silence.

"These also are for sale?" he asked at length.

She had drawn near him, her face flushed with intense expectation, her
longing eyes dilated, her scarlet lips quivering with eagerness. That he
was a stranger and a noble was nothing to her: she knew he had wealth;
she saw he had perception.

"See here!" she said, swiftly, the music of her voice rising and falling
in breathless, eloquent intonation. "Those things are to the great works
of his hand as a broken leaf beside your gardens yonder. He touches a
thing and it is beauty. He takes a reed, a stone, a breadth of sand, a
woman's face, and under his hand it grows glorious and gracious. He
dreams things that are strange and sublime; he has talked with the gods,
and he has seen the worlds beyond the sun. All the day he works for his
bread, and in the gray night he wanders where none can follow him; and
he brings back marvels and mysteries, and beautiful, terrible stories
that are like the sound of the sea. Yet he is poor, and no man sees the
things of his hand; and he is sick of his life, because the days go by
and bring no message to him, and men will have nothing of him; and he
has hunger of body and hunger of mind. For me, if I could do what he
does, I would not care though no man ever looked on it. But to him it is
bitter that it is only seen by the newt, and the beetle, and the
night-hawk. It wears his soul away, because he is denied of men. 'If I
had gold, if I had gold!' he says always, when he thinks that none can
hear him."

Her voice trembled and was still for a second; she struggled with
herself and kept it clear and strong.

The old man never interrupted her.

"He must not know: he would kill himself if he knew; he would sooner die
than tell any man. But, look you, you drape your pictures here with gold
and with purple, you place them high in the light; you make idols of
them, and burn your incense before them. That is what he wants for his:
they are the life of his life. If they could be honored, he would not
care, though you should slay him to-morrow. Go to him, and make you
idols of his: they are worthier gods than yours. And what his heart is
sick for is to have them seen by men. Were I he, I would not care; but
he cares, so that he perishes."

She shivered as she spoke; in her earnestness and eagerness, she laid
her hand on the stranger's arm, and held it there; she prayed, with more
passion than she would have cast into any prayer to save her own life.

"Where is he; and what do you call him?" the old man asked her quietly.

He understood the meaning that ran beneath the unconscious extravagance
of her fanciful and impassioned language.

"He is called Arslàn; he lives in the granary-tower, by the river,
between the town and Yprès. He comes from the north, far away--very,
very far, where the seas are all ice and the sun shines at midnight.
Will you make the things that he does to be known to the people?
You have gold; and gold, he says, is the compeller of men."

"Arslàn?" he echoed.

The name was not utterly unknown to him; he had seen works signed with
it at Paris and at Rome--strange things of a singular power, of a union
of cynicism and idealism, which was too coarse for one-half the world,
and too pure for the other half.

"Arslàn?--I think I remember. I will see what I can do."

"You will say nothing to him of me."

"I could not say much. Who are you? Whence do you come?"

"I live at the water-mill of Yprès. They say that Reine Flamma was my
mother. I do not know: it does not matter."

"What is your name?"

"Folle-Farine. They called me after the mill-dust."

"A strange namesake."

"What does it matter? Any name is only a little puff of breath--less
than the dust, anyhow."

"Is it? I see, you are a Communist."

"What?"

"A Communist--a Socialist. You know what that is. You would like to
level my house to the ashes, I fancy, by the look on your face."

"No," she said, simply, with a taint of scorn, "I do not care to do
that. If I had cared to burn anything it would have been the Flandrins'
village. It is odd that you should live in a palace and he should want
for bread; but then he can create things, and you can only buy them. So
it is even, perhaps."

The old man smiled, amused.

"You are no respecter of persons, that is certain. Come in another
chamber and take some wine, and break your fast. There will be many
things here that you never saw or tasted."

She shook her head.

"The thought is good of you," she said, more gently than she had before
spoken. "But I never took a crust out of charity, and I will not begin."


"Charity! Do you call an invitation a charity?"

"When the rich ask the poor--yes."

He looked in her eyes with a smile.

"But when a man, old and ugly, asks a woman that is young and beautiful,
on which side lies the charity then?"

"I do not favor fine phrases," she answered curtly, returning his look
with a steady indifference.

"You are hard to please in anything, it would seem. Well, come hither, a
moment at least."

She hesitated; then, thinking to herself that to refuse would seem like
fear, she followed him through several chambers into one where his own
mid-day breakfast was set forth.

She moved through all the magnificence of the place with fearless steps,
and meditative glances, and a grave measured easy grace, as tranquil and
as unimpressed as though she walked through the tall ranks of the
seeding grasses on a meadow slope.

It was all full of the color, the brilliancy, the choice adornment, the
unnumbered treasures, and the familiar luxuries of a great noble's
residence; but such things as these had no awe for her.

The mere splendors of wealth, the mere accumulations of luxury, could
not impress her for an instant; she passed through them indifferent and
undaunted, thinking to herself, "However they may gild their roofs, the
roofs shut out the sky no less."

Only, as she passed by some dream of a great poet cast in the visible
shape of sculpture or of painting, did her glance grow reverent and
humid; only when she recognized amidst the marble forms, or the pictured
stories, some one of those dear gods in whom she had a faith as pure and
true as ever stirred in the heart of an Ionian child, did she falter and
pause a little to gaze there with a tender homage in her eyes.

The old man watched her with a musing studious glance from time to time.

"Let me tempt you," he said to her when they reached the
breakfast-chamber. "Sit down with me and eat and drink. No? Taste these
sweetmeats at the least. To refuse to break bread with me is churlish."


"I never owed any man a crust, and I will not begin now," she answered
obstinately, indifferent to the blaze of gold and silver before her, to
the rare fruits and flowers, to the wines in their quaint flagons, to
the numerous attendants who waited motionless around her.

She was sharply hungered, and her throat was parched with the heat and
the dust, and the sweet unwonted odors of the wines and the fruits
assailed all her senses; but he besought her in vain.

She poured herself out some water into a goblet of ruby glass, rimmed
with a band of pearls, and drank it, and set down the cup as
indifferently as though she had drunk from the old wooden bowl chained
among the ivy to the well in the mill-yard.

"Your denial is very churlish," he said, after many a honeyed entreaty,
which had met with no other answer from her. "How shall you bind me to
keep bond with you, and rescue your Northern Regner from his cave of
snakes, unless you break bread with me, and so compel my faith?"

She looked at him from under the dusky cloud of her hair, with the
golden threads gleaming on it like sunrays through darkness.

"A word that needs compelling," she answered him curtly, "is broken by
the heart before the lips give it. It is to plant a tree without a root,
to put faith in a man that needs a bond."

He watched her with keen humorous eyes of amusement.

"Where have you got all your wisdom?" he asked.

"It is not wisdom; it is truth."

"And truth is not wisdom? You would seem to know the world well."

She laughed a little short laugh, whilst her face clouded.

"I know it not at all. But I will tell you what I have seen."

"And that is----"

"I have seen a great toadstool spring up all in one night, after rain,
so big, and so white, and so smooth, and so round,--and I knew its birth
was so quick, and its growth was so strong, because it was a false
thing that would poison all that should eat of it."

"Well?"

"Well--when men speak overquick and overfair, what is that but the
toadstool that springs from their breath?"

"Who taught you so much suspicion?"

Her face darkened in anger.

"Suspicion? That is a thing that steals in the dark and is afraid. I am
afraid of nothing."

"So it would seem."

He mused a moment whether he should offer her back her sequins as a
gift; he thought not. He divined aright that she had only sold them
because she had innocently believed in the fullness of their value. He
tried to tempt her otherwise.

She was young; she had a beautiful face, and a form like an Atalanta.
She wore a scarlet sash girt to her loins, and seemed to care for color
and for grace. There was about her a dauntless and imperious freedom.
She could not be indifferent to all those powers which she besought with
such passion for another.

He had various treasures shown to her,--treasures of jewels, of gold and
silver, of fine workmanship, of woven stuffs delicate and gorgeous as
the wing of a butterfly. She looked at them tranquilly, as though her
eyes had rested on such things all her days.

"They are beautiful, no doubt," she said simply. "But I marvel that
you--being a man--care for such things as these."

"Nay; I care to give them to beautiful women, when such come to me,--as
one has come to-day. Do me one trifling grace; choose some one thing at
least out of these to keep in remembrance of me."

Her eyes burned in anger.

"If I think your bread would soil my lips, is it likely I should think
to touch your treasure with my hands and have them still clean?"

"You are very perverse," he said, relinquishing his efforts with regret.

He knew how to wait for a netted fruit to ripen under the rays of
temptation: gold was a forcing-heat--slow, but sure.

She watched him with musing eyes that had a gleam of scorn in them, and
yet a vague apprehension.

"Are you the Red Mouse?" she said suddenly.

He looked at her surprised, and for the moment perplexed; then he
laughed--his little low cynical laugh.

"What makes you think that?"

"I do not know. You look like it--that is all. He has made one sketch of
me as I shall be when I am dead; and the Red Mouse sits on my chest, and
it is glad. You see that, by its glance. I never asked him what he meant
by it. Some evil, I think; and you look like it. You have the same
triumph in your eye."

He laughed again, not displeased, as she had thought that he would be.

"He has painted you so? I must see that. But believe me, Folle-Farine, I
shall wish for my triumph before your beauty is dead--if I am indeed,
the Red Mouse."

She shrunk a little with an unconscious and uncontrollable gesture of
aversion.

"I must go," she said abruptly. "The mules wait. Remember him, and I
will remember you."

He smiled.

"Wait: have you thought what a golden key for him will do for you when
it unlocks your eagle's cage and unbinds his wings?"

"What?"

She did not understand; when she had come on this eager errand, no
memory of her own fate had retarded or hastened her footsteps.

"Well, you look to take the same flight to the same heights, I suppose?"

"I?"

"Yes, you. You must know you are beautiful. You must know so much?"

A proud light laughed like sunshine over all her face.

"Ah, yes!" she said, with a low, glad breath, and the blaze of a superb
triumph in her eyes. "He has painted me in a thousand ways. I shall live
as the rose lives, on his canvas--a thing of a day that he can make
immortal!"

The keen elfin eyes of the old man sparkled with a malign mirth; he had
found what he wanted--as he thought.

"And so, if this dust of oblivion blots out his canvas forever from the
world's sight, your beauty will be blotted with it? I see. Well, I can
understand how eager you are to have your eagle fly free. The fame of
the Farnarina stands only second to the fame of Cleopatra."

"Farnarina? What is that?"

"Farnarina? One who, like you, gave the day's life of a rose, and who
got eternal life for it,--as you think to do."

She started a little, and a tremulous pain passed over the dauntless
brilliance of her face and stole its color for awhile.

"I?" she murmured. "Ah, what does it matter for me? If there be just a
little place--anywhere--wherever my life can live with his on the
canvas, so that men say once now and then, in all the centuries, to each
other, 'See, it is true--he thought her worthy of _that_, though she was
less than a grain of dust under the hollow of his foot,' it will be
enough for me--more than enough."

The old man was silent; watching her, the mockery had faded from his
eyes; they were surprised and contemplative.

She stood with her head drooped, with her face pale, an infinite
yearning and resignation stole into the place of the exultant triumph
which had blazed there like the light of the morning a moment earlier.

She had lost all remembrance of time and place; the words died softly,
as in a sigh of love, upon her lips.

He waited awhile; then he spoke:

"But, if you were sure that, even thus much would be denied to you; if
you were sure that, in casting your eagle loose on the wind, you would
lose him forever in the heights of a heaven you would never enter
yourself; if you were sure that he would never give you one thought, one
wish, one memory, but leave every trace of your beauty to perish as fast
as the damp could rot or the worm could gnaw it; if you were sure that
his immortality would be your annihilation, say, would you still bid me
turn a gold key in the lock of his cage, and release him?"

She roused herself slowly from her reverie, and gazed at him with a
smile he could not fathom; it was so far away from him, so full of
memory, so pitiful of his doubt.

She was thinking of the night when she had found a man dying, and had
bought his life back for him, with her own, from the gods. For the pact
was sacred to her, and the old wild faith to her was still a truth.

But of it her lips never spoke.

"What is that to you?" she said, briefly. "If you turn the key, you will
see. It was not of myself that I came here to speak. Give him liberty,
and I will give you gratitude. Farewell."

Before he had perceived what she was about to do, she had left his side,
and had vanished through one of the doors which stood open, on to the
gardens without.

He sent his people to search for her on the terraces and lawns, but
vainly; she was fleeter than they, and had gone through the green glades
in the sunlight as fast as a doe flies down the glades of her native
forest.

The old man sat silent.



CHAPTER II.


When she had outrun her strength for the moment, and was forced to
slacken her speed, she paused to take breath on the edge of the wooded
lands.

She looked neither to right nor left; on her backward flight the waters
had no song, the marble forms no charm, the wonder-flowers no magic for
her as she went; she had no ear for the melodies of the birds, no sight
for the paradise of the rose-hung ways; she had only one thought
left--the gold that she had gained.

The cruelty of his remarks had stabbed her with each of their slow keen
words as with a knife; the sickness of a mortal terror had touched her
for the instant, as she had remembered that it might be her fate to be
not even so much as a memory in the life which she had saved from the
grave. But with the first breath of the outer air the feebleness passed.
The strength of the passion that possessed her was too pure to leave her
long a prey to any thought of her own fate.

She smiled again as she looked up through the leaves at the noonday sun.

"What will it matter how or when the gods take my life, so only they
keep their faith and give me his?" she thought.

And her step was firm and free, and her glance cloudless, and her heart
content, as she went on her homeward path through the heat of the day.

She was so young, she was so ignorant, she was still so astray in the
human world about her, that she thought she held a talisman in those
nine gold pieces.

"A little gold," he had said; and here she had it--honest, clean, worthy
of his touch and usage.

Her heart leaped to the glad and bounding music of early youth: youth
which does not reason, which only believes, and which sees the golden
haze of its own faiths, and thinks them the promise of the future, as
young children see the golden haze of their own hair and think it the
shade of angels above their heads.

When she at length reached the mill-house the sun had sunk; she had been
sixteen hours on foot, taking nothing all the while but a roll of rye
bread that she had carried in her pouch, and a few water-cresses that
she had gathered in a little brook when the mules had paused to drink
there.

Yet when she had housed the grain, turned the tired animals into their
own nook of meadow to graze and rest for the night, she entered the
house neither for repose nor food, but flew off again through the dusk
of the falling night.

She had no remembrance of hunger, nor thirst, nor fatigue; she had only
a buoyant sense of an ecstatic joy; she felt as though she had wings,
and clove the air with no more effort than the belated starling which
flew by her over the fields.

"A little gold," he had said; and in her bosom, wrapped in a green
chestnut leaf, were there not the little, broad, round, glittering
pieces which in the world of men seemed to have power to gain all love,
all honor, all peace, and all fealty?

"Phratos would have wished his gift to go so," she thought to herself,
with a swift, penitent, remorseful memory.

For a moment she paused and took them once more out of their
hiding-place, and undid the green leaf that enwrapped them, and kissed
them and laughed, the hot tears falling down her cheeks, where she stood
alone in the fields amid the honey-smell of the clover in the grass, and
the fruit-fragrance of the orchards all about her in the dimness.

"A little gold!--a little gold!" she murmured, and she laughed aloud in
her great joy, and blessed the gods that they had given her to hear the
voice of his desire.

"A little gold," he had said, only; and here she had so much!

No sorcerer, she thought, ever had power wider than this wealth bestowed
on her. She did not know; she had no measurement. Flamma's eyes she had
seen glisten over a tithe of such a sum as over the riches of an
emperor's treasury.

She slipped them in her breast again and ran on, past the reeds
silvering in the rising moon, past the waters quiet on a windless air,
past the dark Christ who would not look,--who had never looked, or she
had loved him with her earliest love, even as for his pity she loved
Thanatos.

Breathless and noiseless she severed the reeds with her swift feet, and
lightly as a swallow on the wing passed through the dreary portals into
Arslàn's chamber.

His lamp was lighted.

He stood before the cartoon of the Barabbas, touching it here and there
with his charcoal, adding those latest thoughts, those after-graces,
with which the artist delights to caress his picture, with a hand as
soft and as lingering as the hand with which a mother caresses the
yellow sunshine of her first-born's curls.

His face as he stood was very pale, passionless, weary, with a sadness
sardonic and full of scorn for himself on his mouth, and in his eyes
those dreams which went so far--so far--into worlds whose glories his
hand could portray for no human sight.

He was thinking, as he worked, of the Barabbas.

"You must rot," he thought. "You will feed the rat and the mouse; the
squirrel will come and gnaw you to line his nest; and the beetle and the
fly will take you for a spawning-bed. You will serve no other end--since
you are mine. And yet I am so great a fool that I love you, and try to
bring you closer and closer to the thing I see, and which you are not,
and never can be. For what man lives so happy as to see the Canaan of
his ideals,--save as Moses saw it from afar off, only to raise his arms
to it vainly, and die?"

There came a soft shiver of the air, as though it were severed by some
eager bird.

She came and stood beside him, a flash like the sunrise on her face, a
radiance in her eyes, more lustrous than any smile; her body tremulous
and breathless from the impatient speed with which her footsteps had
been winged; about her all the dew and fragrance of the night.

"Here is the gold!" she cried.

Her voice was eager and broken with its too great haste.

"Gold?"

He turned and looked at her, ignorant of her meaning, astonished at her
sudden presence there.

"Here is the gold!" she murmured, her voice rising swift and clear, and
full of the music of triumph with which her heart was thrilling. "'A
little gold,' you said, you remember?--'only a little.' And this is
much. Take it--take it! Do you not hear?"

"Gold?" he echoed again, shaken from his trance of thought, and
comprehending nothing and remembering nothing of the words that he had
spoken in his solitude.

"Yes! It is mine," she said, her voice broken in its tumult of
ecstasy--"it is mine--all mine. It is no charity, no gift to me. The
chain was worth it, and I would only take what it was worth. A little
gold, you said; and now you can make the Barabbas live forever upon
canvas, and compel men to say that it is great."

As the impetuous, tremulous words broke from her, she drew the green
leaf with the coins in it from her bosom, and thrust it into his hand,
eager, exultant, laughing, weeping, all the silence and the control of
her nature swept away in the flood of this immeasurable joy possessing
her.

The touch of the glittering pieces against his hands stung him to
comprehension; his face flushed over all its pallor; he thrust it away
with a gesture of abhorrence and rejection.

"Money!" he muttered. "What money?--yours?"

"Yes, mine entirely; mine indeed!" she answered, with a sweet, glad ring
of victory in her rejoicing voice. "It is true, quite true. They were
the chains of sequins that Phratos gave me when I used to dance to his
music in the mountains; and I have sold them. 'A little gold,' you said;
'and the Barabbas can live forever.' Why do you look so? It is all mine;
all yours----"

In the last words her voice lost all its proud exultation, and sank low,
with a dull startled wonder in it.

Why did he look so?

His gesture of refusal she had not noticed. But the language his glance
spoke was one plain to her. It terrified her, amazed her, struck her
chill and dumb.

In it there were disgust, anger, loathing,--even horror; and yet there
was in it also an unwonted softness, which in a woman's would have shown
itself by a rush of sudden tears.

"What do you think that I have done?" she murmured under her breath.
"The gold is mine--mine honestly. I have not stolen it, nor begged it. I
got it as I say. Why will you not take it? Why do you look at me so?"

"I? Your money? God in heaven! what can you think me?"

She grew white to the lips, all the impetuous, radiant tumult of her
innocent rapture frozen into terror.

"I have done nothing wrong," she murmured with a piteous wistfulness and
wonder--"nothing wrong, indeed; there is no shame in it. Will you not
take it--for their sake?"

He turned on her with severity almost savage:

"It is impossible! Good God! Was I not low enough already? How dared you
think a thing so vile of me? Have I ever asked pity of any living soul?"

His voice was choked in his throat; he was wounded to the heart.

He had no thought that he was cruel; he had no intent to terrify or hurt
her; but the sting of this last and lowest humiliation was so horrible
to all the pride of his manhood, and so bitterly reminded him of his own
abject poverty; and with all this there was an emotion in him that he
had difficulty to control--being touched by her ignorance and by her
gift as few things in his life had ever touched him.

She stood before him trembling, wondering, sorely afraid; all the light
had died out of her face; she was very pale, and her eyes dilated
strangely.

For some moments there was silence between them.

"You will not take it?" she said at last, in a hushed, fearful voice,
like that of one who speaks in the sight of some dead thing which makes
all quiet around it.

"Take it!" he echoed. "I could sooner kill a man out yonder and rob him.
Can you not understand? Greater shame could never come to me. You do not
know what you would do. There may be beasts that fall as low, no doubt,
but they are curs too base for hanging. Have I frightened you? I did not
mean to frighten you. You mean well and nobly, no doubt--no doubt. You
do not know what you would do. Gifts of gold from man to man are bitter,
and sap the strength of the receiver; but from woman to man they are--to
the man shameful. Can you not understand?"

Her face burned duskily; she moved with a troubled, confused effort to
get away from his gaze.

"No," she said in her shut teeth. "I do not know what you mean. Flamma
takes all the gold I make. Why not you, if it be gold that is honest?"

"Flamma is your grandsire--your keeper--your master. He has a right to
do as he chooses. He gives you food and shelter, and in return he takes
the gains of your labor. But I,--what have I ever given you? I am a
stranger to you, and should have no claim on you, if I could be base
enough to seek one. I am hideously poor. I make no disguise with
you,--you know too well how I live. But can you not see?--if I were mean
enough to take the worth of a crust from you, I should be no more worthy
of the very name of man. It is for the man to give to the woman. You
see?"

She heard him in silence, her face still dark with the confused pain on
it of one who has fallen or been struck upon the head, and half forgets
and half remembers.

"I do not see," she muttered. "Whoever has, gives: what does it matter?
The folly in me was its littleness: it could not be of use. But it was
all I had."

"Little or great,--the riches of empires, or a beggar's dole,--there
could be no difference in the infamy to me. Have I seemed to you a
creature so vile or weak that you could have a title to put such shame
upon me?"

Out of the bitter passion of his soul, words more cruel than he had
consciousness of rose to his lips and leaped to speech, and stung her as
scorpions sting.

She said nothing; her teeth clinched, her face changed as it had used to
do when Flamma had beaten her.

She said nothing, but turned away; and with one twist of her hand she
flung the pieces through the open casement into the river that flowed
below.

They sank with a little shiver of the severed water.

He caught her wrist a second too late.

"What madness! What have you done? You throw your gold away to the
river-swamp for me, when I have not a shred worth a copper-piece to pay
you back in their stead! I did not mean to hurt you; it was only the
truth,--you could not have shamed me more. You bring on me an indignity
that I can neither requite nor revenge. You have no right to load me
with debts that I cannot pay--with gifts that I would die sooner than
receive. But, then, how should you know?--how should you know? If I
wounded you with sharp words, I did wrong."

There was a softness that was almost tenderness in his voice as he
spoke the last phrases in his self-reproach; but her face did not
change, her eyes did not lose their startled horror; she put her hand to
her throat as though she choked.

"You cannot do wrong--to me," she muttered, true, even in such a moment,
to the absolute adoration which possessed her.

Then, ere he could stay her, she turned, without another word, and fled
out from his presence into the dusk of the night.

The rushes in the moonlight sighed where they grew by the waterside
above the sands where the gold had sunk.

A thing more precious than gold was dead; and only the reeds mourned for
it. A thing of the river as they were, born like them from the dust,
from the flood, and the wind, and the foam; a thing that a god might
desire, a thing that a breeze might break.



CHAPTER III.


The day broke tranquilly. There was a rosy light over all the earth. In
the cornlands a few belated sheaves stood alone on the reaping ground,
while children sought stray ears that might still be left among the wild
flowers and the stubble. The smell of millions of ripening autumn fruits
filled the air from the orchards. The women going to their labor in the
fields, gave each other a quiet good-day; whilst their infants pulled
down the blackberry branches in the lanes or bowled the early apples
down the roads. Great clusters of black grapes were ready mellowed on
the vines that clambered over cabin roof and farmhouse chimney. The
chimes of the Angelus sounded softly from many a little steeple bosomed
in the rolling woods.

An old man going to his work, passed by a girl lying asleep in a hollow
of the ground, beneath a great tree of elder, black with berries. She
was lying with her face turned upward; her arms above her head; her
eyelids were wet; her mouth smiled with a dreamy tenderness; her lips
murmured a little inaudibly; her bosom heaved with fast uneven
palpitating breaths.

It was sunrise. In the elder thicket little chaffinches were singing,
and a missel-thrush gave late in the year a song of the April weather.
The east was radiant with the promise of a fair day, in which summer and
autumn should be wedded with gorgeous pomp of color, and joyous chorus
of the birds. The old man roughly thrust against her breast the heavy
wooden shoe on his right foot.

"Get up!" he muttered. "Is it for the like of you to lie and sleep at
day-dawn? Get up, or your breath will poison the grasses that the cattle
feed on, and they will die of an elf-shot, surely."

She raised her head from where it rested on her outstretched arms, and
looked him in the eyes and smiled unconsciously; then glanced around and
rose and dragged her steps away, in the passive mechanical obedience
begotten by long slavery.

There was a shiver in her limbs; a hunted terror in her eyes; she had
wandered sleepless all night long.

"Beast," muttered the old man, trudging on with a backward glance at
her. "You have been at a witches' sabbath, I dare be bound. We shall
have fine sickness in the styes and byres. I wonder would a silver
bullet hurt you, as the fables say? If I were sure it would, I would not
mind having my old silver flagon melted down, though it is the only
thing worth a rush in the house."

She went on through the long wet rank grass, not hearing his threats
against her. She drew her steps slowly and lifelessly through the heavy
dews; her head was sunk; her lips moved audibly, and murmured as she
went, "A little gold! a little gold!"

"Maybe some one has shot her this very day-dawn," thought the peasant,
shouldering his axe as he went down into the little wood to cut
ash-sticks for the market. "She looks half dead already; and they say
the devil-begotten never bleed."

The old man guessed aright. She had received her mortal wound; though it
was one bloodless and tearless, and for which no moan was made, lest any
should blame the slayer.

The sense of some great guilt was on her, as she stole through the rosy
warmth of the early morning.

She had thought to take him liberty, honor, strength, and dominion among
his fellows--and he had told her that she had dealt him the foulest
shame that his life had ever known.

"What right have you to burden me with debt unasked?" he had cried out
against her in the bitterness of his soul. And she knew that, unasked,
she had laid on him the debt of life.

If ever he should know----

She had wandered on and on, aimlessly, not knowing what she did all the
night through, hearing no other sound but the fierce hard scathing scorn
of his reproaches.

He had told her she was in act so criminal, and yet she knew herself in
intent so blameless; she felt like those of whom she had heard in the
old Hellenic stories, who had been doomed by fate, guiltless themselves,
to work some direful guilt which had to be wrought out to its bitter
end, the innocent yet the accursed instrument of destiny, even as
Adrastus upon Atys.

On and on, through the watery moonlight she had fled, when she left the
water-tower that night; down the slope of the fields; the late blossoms
of the poppies, and the feathery haze of the ripened grasses tossed in
waves from right to left; the long shadows of the clouds upon the earth,
chasing her like the specter hosts of the Aaskarreya of his Scandinavian
skies.

She had dropped at last like a dying thing, broken and breathless, on
the ground. There she crouched, and hid her face upon her hands; the
scorch of an intolerable shame burned on it.

She did not know what ailed her; what consumed her with abhorrence of
herself. She longed for the earth to yawn and cover her; for the lilies
asleep in the pool, to unclose and take her amidst them. Every shiver of
a leaf, under a night-bird's passage, every motion of the water, as the
willow branches swept it, made her start and shiver as though some great
guilt was on her soul.

Not a breath of wind was stirring, not a sound disturbed the serenity of
the early night; she heard no voice but the plaintive cry of the cushat.
She saw "no snakes but the keen stars," which looked on her cold and
luminous, and indifferent to human woes as the eyes of Arslàn.

Yet she was afraid; afraid with a trembling horror of herself; she who
had once never known one pulse of fear, and who had smiled in the eyes
of death as children in their mother's.

The thrill of a new-born, inexplicable, cruel consciousness stole like
fire through her. She knew now that she loved him with that strange
mystery of human love which had been forever to her until now a thing
apart from her, denied to her, half scorned, half yearned for; viewed
from afar with derision, yet with desire, as a thing at once beneath her
and beyond her.

All the light died; the moon rose; the white lilies shivered in its
pallid rays; the night-birds went by on the wind. She never stirred; the
passionate warmth of her frame changed to a deadly cold; her face was
buried in her hands; ever and again she shivered, and glanced round, as
the sound of a hare's step, or the rustle of a bough by a squirrel,
broke the silence.

The calm night-world around her, the silvery seas of reeds, the dusky
woods, the moon in its ring of golden vapor, the flickering foliage, the
gleam of the glowworm in the dew, all the familiar things amidst which
her feet had wandered for twelve summers in the daily measure of those
beaten tracks; all these seemed suddenly strange to her--mysterious,
unreal.

She longed for the day to dawn again, though day was but an hour dead.
And yet she felt that at the first break of light she must flee and hide
from his and every eye.

She had meant to give him honor and he had upbraided her gift as shame.

The bitterness, the cruelty, the passion of his reproaches stung her
with their poison, as, in her vision of the reed, she had seen the
barbed tongues of a thousand snakes striking through and through the
frail, despised, blossomless slave of the wind.

She had thought that as the god to the reed, so might he to her say
hereafter, "You are the lowliest and least of all the chance-born things
of the sands and the air, and yet through you has an immortal music
arisen,"--and for the insanity of her thought he had cursed her.

Towards dawn, where she had sunk down in the moss, and in the thickets
of elder and thorn--where she had made her bed in her childhood many a
summer night, when she had been turned out from the doors of the
mill-house;--there for a little while a fitful exhausted sleep came to
her; the intense exhaustion of bodily fatigue overcoming and drugging to
slumber the fever and the wakefulness of the mind. The thrush came out
of the thorn, while it was still quite dark, and the morning stars
throbbed in the skies, and sang his day-song close about her head.

In her sleep she smiled. For Oneirus was merciful; and she dreamed that
she slept folded close in the arms of Arslàn, and in her dreams she felt
the kisses of his lips rain fast on hers.

Then the old peasant trudging to his labor in the obscurity of the early
day saw her, and struck at her with his foot and woke her roughly, and
muttered, "Get thee up; is it such beggars as thee that should be abed
when the sun breaks?"

She opened her eyes, and smiled on him unconsciously, as she had smiled
in her brief oblivion. The passion of her dreams was still about her;
her mouth burned, her limbs trembled; the air seemed to her filled with
music, like the sound of the mavis singing in the thorn.

Then she remembered; and shuddered; and arose, knowing the sweet mad
dream, which had cheated her, a lie. For she awoke alone.

She did not heed the old man's words, she did not feel his hurt; yet she
obeyed him, and left the place, and dragged herself feebly towards Yprès
by the sheer unconscious working of that instinct born of habit which
takes the ox or the ass back undriven through the old accustomed ways
to stand beside their plowshare or their harness faithfully and
unbidden.

Where the stream ran by the old mill-steps the river-reeds were blowing
in the wind, with the sunrays playing in their midst, and the silver
wings of the swallows brushing them with a sweet caress.

"I thought to be the reed chosen by the gods!" she said bitterly in her
heart, "but I am not worthy--even to die."

For she would have asked of fate no nobler thing than this--to be cut
down as the reed by the reaper, if so be that through her the world
might be brought to hearken to the music of the lips that she loved.

She drew her aching weary limbs feebly through the leafy ways of the old
mill-garden. The first leaves of autumn fluttered down upon her head;
the last scarlet of the roses flashed in her path as she went; the
wine-like odors of the fruits were all about her on the air. It was then
fully day. The sun was up; the bells rang the sixth hour far away from
the high towers and spires of the town.

At the mill-house, and in the mill-yard, where usually every one had
arisen and were hard at labor whilst the dawn was dark, everything was
still. There was no sign of work. The light blazed on the panes of the
casements under the eaves, but its summons failed to arouse the sleepers
under the roof.

The bees hummed around their houses of straw; the pigeons flew to and
fro between the timbers of the walls, and the boughs of the fruit trees.
The mule leaned his head over the bar of the gate, and watched with
wistful eyes. The cow in her shed lowed, impatient for some human hands
to unbar her door, and lead her forth to her green-clovered pasture. A
dumb boy, who aided in the working of the mill, sat astride of a log of
timber, kicking his feet among the long grasses, and blowing thistle
down above his head upon the breeze.

The silence and the inactivity startled her into a sense of them, as no
noise or movement, curses or blows, could have done. She looked around
stupidly; the window-shutters of the house-windows were closed, as
though it were still night.

She signed rapidly to the dumb boy.

"What has happened? Why is the mill not at work thus late?"

The boy left off blowing the thistle feathers on the wind, and grinned,
and answered on his hands, "Flamma is _almost_ dead, they say."

And he grinned again, and laughed, as far as his uncouth and guttural
noises could be said to approach the triumph and the jubilance of
laughter.

She stared at him blankly for awhile, bewildered and shaken from the
stupor of her own misery. She had never thought of death and her tyrant
in unison.

He had seemed a man formed to live on and on and on unchanging for
generations; he was so hard, so unyielding, so hale, so silent, so
callous to all pain; it had ever seemed to her--and to the country
round--that death itself would never venture to come to wrestle with
him. She stood among the red and the purple and the russet gold of the
latest summer flowers in the mill-garden, where he had scourged her as a
little child for daring to pause and cool her burning face in the
sweetness of the white lilies. Could that ruthless arm be unnerved even
by age or death?--it seemed to her impossible.

All was quite still. Nothing stirred, except the silvery gnats of the
morning, and the bees, and the birds in the leaves. There seemed a
strange silence everywhere, and the great wheels stood still in the
mill-water; never within the memory of any in that countryside had those
wheels failed to turn at sunrise, unless locked by a winter-frost.

She hastened her steps, and went within. The clock ticked, the lean cat
mewed; other sound there was none. She left her wooden shoes at the
bottom step, and stole up the steep stairs. The woman Pitchou peered
with a scared face out from her master's chamber.

"Where hast been all night?" she whispered in her grating voice; "thy
grandsire lies a-dying."

"Dying?"

"Ay," muttered the old peasant. "He had a stroke yester-night as he
came from the corn-fair. They brought him home in the cart. He is as
good as dead. You are glad."

"Hush!" muttered the girl fiercely; and she dropped down on the topmost
step, and rested her head on her hands. She had nothing to grieve for;
and yet there was that in the coarse congratulation which jarred on her
and hurt her.

She thought of Manon Dax dead in the snow; she thought of
the song-birds dead in the traps; she thought of the poor
coming--coming--coming--through so many winters to beg bread, and going
away with empty hands and burdened hearts, cursing God. Was this
death-bed all their vengeance? It was but poor justice, and came late.

Old Pitchou stood and looked at her.

"Will he leave her the gold or no?" she questioned in herself; musing
whether or no it were better to be civil to the one who might inherit
all his wealth, or might be cast adrift upon the world--who could say
which?

After awhile Folle-Farine rose silently and brushed her aside, and went
into the room.

It was a poor chamber; with a bed of straw and a rough bench or two, and
a wooden cross with the picture of the Ascension hung above it. The
square window was open, a knot of golden pear-leaves nodded to and fro;
a linnet sang.

On the bed Claudis Flamma lay; dead already, except for the twitching of
his mouth, and the restless wanderings of his eyes. Yet not so lost to
life but that he knew her at a glance; and as she entered, glared upon
her, and clinched his numbed hands upon the straw, and with a horrible
effort in his almost lifeless limbs, raised the right arm, that alone
had any strength or warmth left in it, and pointed at her with a shriek:

"She was a saint--a saint: God took her. So I said:--and was proud.
While all the while man begot on her _that_!"

Then with a ghastly rattle in his throat, he quivered, and lay paralyzed
again: only the eyes were alive, and were still speaking--awfully.

Folle-Farine went up to his bed, and stood beside it, looking down on
him.

"You mean--my mother?"

It was the first time that she had ever said the word. Her voice
lingered on the word, as though loath to leave its unfamiliar sweetness.

He lay and looked at her, motionless, impatient, lifeless; save only for
the bleak and bloodshot stare of the stony eyes.

She thought that he had heard; but he made no sign in answer.

She sank down on her knees beside his bed, and put her lips close to
him.

"Try and speak to me of my mother--once--once," she murmured, with a
pathetic longing in her voice.

A shudder shook his frozen limbs. He made no answer, he only glared on
her with a terrible stare that might be horror, repentance, grief,
memory, fear--she could not tell.

Old Pitchou stretched her head from the corner, as a hooded snake from
its hole.

"Ask where the money is hid," she hissed in a shrill whisper.
"Ask--ask--while he can yet understand."

He understood, for a smile grim and horrible disturbed his tight lips a
moment.

Folle-Farine did not hear.

"Tell me of my mother;--tell me, tell me," she muttered. Since a human
love had been born in her heart, she had thought often of that mother
whose eyes had never looked on her, and whose breast had never fed her.

His face changed, but he did not speak; he gasped for breath, and lay
silent; his eyes trembled and confused; it might be that in that moment
remorse was with him, and the vain regrets of cruel years.

It might be that dying thus, he knew that from his hearth, as from hell,
mother and child had both been driven whilst his lips had talked of God.

A little bell rang softly in the orchard below the casement; the clear
voice of a young boy singing a canticle crossed the voice of the linnet;
there was a gleam of silver in the sun. The Church bore its Host to the
dying man.

They turned her from the chamber.

The eyes of one unsanctified might not gaze upon mysteries of the blest.

She went out without resistance; she was oppressed and stupefied; she
went to the stairs, and there sat down again, resting her forehead on
her hands.

The door of the chamber was a little open, and she could hear the
murmurs of the priest's words, and smell the odors of the sacred chrism.
A great bitterness came on her mouth.

"One crust in love--to them--in the deadly winters, had been better
worth than all this oil and prayer," she thought. And she could see
nothing but the old famished face of Manon Dax in the snow and the
moonlight, as the old woman had muttered, "God is good."

The officers of the Church ceased; there reigned an intense stillness; a
stillness as of cold.

Suddenly the voice of Claudis Flamma rang out loud and shrill,--

"I loved her! Oh, God!--_Thou_ knowest!"

She rose and looked through the space of the open door into the
death-chamber.

He had sprung half erect, and with his arms outstretched, gazed at the
gladness and the brightness of the day. In his eyes there was a mortal
agony, a passion of reproach.

With one last supreme effort, he raised the crucifix which the priests
had laid upon his bare anointed breast, and held it aloft, and shook it,
and spat on it, and cast it forth from him broken upon the ground.

"Even _Thou_ art a liar!" he cried,--it was the cry of the soul leaving
the body,--with the next moment he fell back--dead.

In that one cry his heart had spoken; the cold, hard heart that yet had
shut one great love and one great faith in it, and losing these, had
broken and shown no wound.

For what agony had been like unto his?

Since who could render him back on earth, or in the grave, that pure
white soul he had believed in once? Yea--who? Not man; not even God.

Therefore had he suffered without hope.

She went away from the house and down the stairs, and out into the ruddy
noon. She took her way by instinct to the orchard, and there sat down
upon a moss-grown stone within the shadow of the leaves.

All sense was deadened in her under a deep unutterable pity.

From where she sat she could see the wicket window, the gabled end of
the chamber, and where the linnet sang, and the yellow fruit of the
pear-tree swung. All about was the drowsy hot weather of the fruit
harvest; the murmur of bees; the sweep of the boughs in the water.

Never, in all the years that they had dwelt together beneath one roof,
had any good word or fair glance been given her; he had nourished her on
bitterness, and for his wage paid her a curse. Yet her heart was sore
for him; and judged him without hatred.

All things seemed clear to her, now that a human love had reached her;
and this man also, having loved greatly and been betrayed, became
sanctified in her sight.

She forgot his brutality, his avarice, his hatred; she remembered only
that he had loved, and in his love been fooled, and so had lost his
faith in God and man, and had thus staggered wretchedly down the
darkness of his life, hating himself and every other, and hurting every
other human thing that touched him, and crying ever in his blindness, "O
Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!"

And now he was dead.

What did it matter?

Whether any soul of his lived again, or whether body and mind both died
forever, what would it benefit all those whom he had slain?--the little
fair birds, poisoned in their song; the little sickly children, starved
in the long winters; the miserable women, hunted to their graves for
some small debt of fuel or bread; the wretched poor, mocked in their
famine by his greed and gain?

It had been woe for him that his loved had wronged him, and turned the
hard excellence of his life to stone: but none the less had it been woe
to them to fall and perish, because his hand would never spare, his
heart would never soften.

Her heart was sick with the cold, bitter, and inexorable law, which had
let this man drag out his seventy years, cursing and being cursed; and
lose all things for a dream of God; and then at the last, upon his
death-bed, know that dream likewise to be false.

"It is so cruel! It is so cruel!" she muttered, where she sat with dry
eyes in the shade of the leaves, looking at that window where death was.

And she had reason.

For there is nothing so cruel in life as a Faith;--the Faith, whatever
its name may be, that draws a man on all his years through, on one
narrow path, by one tremulous light, and then at the last, with a laugh,
drowns him.



CHAPTER IV.


The summer day went by. No one sought her. She did not leave the
precincts of the still mill-gardens; a sort of secrecy and stillness
seemed to bind her footsteps there, and she dreaded to venture forth,
lest she should meet the eyes of Arslàn.

The notary had put seals upon all the cupboards and desks. Two hired
watchers sat in the little darkened room above. Some tapers burned
beside his bed. The great clock ticked heavily. All the house was
closed. Without burned the great roses of the late summer, and the
scorch of a cloudless sun. The wheels of the mill stood still. People
came and went; many women among them. The death of the miller of Yprès
was a shock to all his countryside. There was scarce a face that did not
lighten, as the peasants going home at the evening met one another in
the mellow fields, and called across, "Hast heard? Flamma is dead--at
last."

No woman came across the meadows with a little candle, and kneeled down
by his body and wept and blessed the stiff and withered hands for the
good that they had wrought, and for the gifts that they had given.

The hot day-hours stole slowly by; all was noiseless there where she
sat, lost in the stupefied pain of her thoughts, in the deep shadow of
the leaves, where the first breath of the autumn had gilded them and
varied them, here and there, with streaks of red.

No one saw her; no one remembered her; no one came to her. She was left
in peace, such peace as is the lot of those for whose sigh no human ear
is open, for whose need no human hand is stretched. Once indeed at
noonday, the old serving-woman sought her, and had forced on her some
simple meal of crusts and eggs.

"For who can tell?" the shrewd old Norway crone thought to
herself,--"who can tell? She may get all the treasure: who knows? And if
so, it will be best to have been a little good to her this day, and to
seem as if one had forgiven about the chain of coins."

For Pitchou, like the world at large, would pardon offenses, if for
pardon she saw a sure profit in gold.

"Who will he have left all the wealth to, think you?" the old peasant
muttered, with a cunning glitter in her sunken eyes, standing by her at
noon, in the solitude, where the orchards touched the mill-stream.

"The wealth,--whose wealth?" Folle-Farine echoed the word stupidly. She
had had no thought of the hoarded savings of that long life of theft,
and of oppression. She had had no remembrance of any possible
inheritance which might accrue to her by this sudden death. She had been
too long his goaded and galled slave to be able to imagine herself his
heir.

"Ay, his wealth," answered the woman, standing against the water with
her wooden shoes deep in dock-leaves and grass, gazing, with a curious
eager grasping greed in her eyes, at the creature whom she had always
done her best to thwart, to hurt, to starve and to slander. "Ay, his
wealth. You who look so sharp after your bits of heathen coins, cannot
for sure pretend to forget the value he must have laid by, living as he
has lived all the days from his youth upward. There must be a rare mass
of gold hid away somewhere or another--the notary knows, I suppose--it
is all in the place, that I am sure. He was too wise ever to trust money
far from home; he knew well it was a gad-about, that once you part with
never comes back to you. It must be all in the secret places; in the
thatch, under the hearthstone, in the rafters, under the bricks. And,
maybe, there will be quite a fortune. He had so much, and he lived so
near. Where think you it will go?"

A faint bitter smile flickered a moment over Folle-Farine's mouth.

"It should go to the poor. It belongs to them. It was all coined out of
their hearts and their bodies."

"Then you have no hope for yourself:--you?"

"I?"

She muttered the word dreamily; and raised her aching eyelids, and
stared in stupefaction at the old, haggard, dark, ravenous face of
Pitchou.

"Pshaw! You cannot cheat me that way," said the woman, moving away
through the orchard branches, muttering to herself. "As if a thing of
hell like you ever served like a slave all these years, on any other
hope than the hope of the gold! Well,--as for me,--I never pretend to
lie in that fashion. If it had not been for the hope of a share in the
gold, I would never have eaten for seventeen years the old wretch's
mouldy crusts and lentil-washings."

She hobbled, grumbling on her way back to the house, through the russet
shadows and the glowing gold of the orchards.

Folle-Farine sat by the water, musing on the future which had opened to
her with the woman's words of greed.

Before another day had sped, it was possible,--so even said one who
hated her, and begrudged her every bit and drop that she had taken at
the miser's board,--possible that she would enter into the heritage of
all that this long life, spent in rapacious greed and gain, had gathered
together.

One night earlier, paradise itself would have seemed to open before her
with such a hope; for she would have hastened to the feet of Arslàn, and
there poured all treasure that chance might have given her, and would
have cried out of the fullness of her heart, "Take, enjoy, be free, do
as you will. So that you make the world of men own your greatness, I
will live as a beggar all the years of my life, and think myself richer
than kings!"

But now, what use would it be, though she were called to an empire? She
would not dare to say to him, as a day earlier she would have said with
her first breath, "All that is mine is thine."

She would not even dare to give him all and creep away unseen,
unthanked, unhonored into obscurity and oblivion, for had he not said,
"You have no right to burden me with debt"?

Yet as she sat there lonely among the grasses, with the great
mill-wheels at rest in the water, and the swallows skimming the surface
that was freed from the churn and the foam of the wheels, as though the
day of Flamma's death had been a saint's day, the fancy which had been
set so suddenly before her, dazzled her, and her aching brain and her
sick despair could not choose but play with it despite themselves.

If the fortune of Flamma came to her, it might be possible, she thought,
to spend it so as to release him from his bondage, without knowledge of
his own; so to fashion with it a golden temple and a golden throne for
the works of his hand, that the world, which as they all said worshiped
gold, should be forced to gaze in homage on the creations of his mind
and hand.

And yet he had said greater shame there could come to no man, than to
rise by the aid of a woman. The apple of life, however sweet and fair in
its color and savor, would be as poison in his mouth if her hand held
it. That she knew, and in the humility of her great and reverent love,
she submitted without question to its cruelty.

At night she went within to break her fast, and try to rest a little.
The old peasant woman served her silently, and for the first time
willingly. "Who can say?" the Norman thought to herself,--"who can say?
She may yet get it all, who knows?"

At night as she slept, Pitchou peered at her, shading the light from her
eyes.

"If only I could know who gets the gold?" she muttered. Her sole thought
was the money; the money that the notary held under his lock and seal.
She wished now that she had dealt better with the girl sometimes; it
would have been safer, and it could have done no harm.

With earliest dawn Folle-Farine fled again to the refuge of the wood.
She shunned, with the terror of a hunted doe, the sight of people coming
and going, the priests and the gossips, the sights and the sounds, and
none sought her.

All the day through she wandered in the cool dewy orchard-ways.

Beyond the walls of the foliage, she saw the shrouded window, the flash
of the crucifix, the throngs of the mourners, the glisten of the white
robes. She heard the deep sonorous swelling of the chants; she saw the
little procession come out from the doorway and cross the old wooden
bridge, and go slowly through the sunlight of the meadows. Many of the
people followed, singing, and bearing tapers; for he who was dead had
stood well with the Church, and from such there still issues for the
living a fair savor.

No one came to her. What had they to do with her,--a creature
unbaptized, and an outcast?

She watched the little line fade away, over the green and golden glory
of the fields.

She did not think of herself--since Arslàn had looked at her, in his
merciless scorn, she had had neither past nor future.

It did not even occur to her that her home would be in this place no
longer; it was as natural to her as its burrow to the cony, its hole to
the fox. It did not occur to her that the death of this her tyrant could
not but make some sudden and startling change in all her ways and
fortune.

She waited in the woods all day; it was so strange a sense to her to be
free of the bitter bondage that had lain on her life so long; she could
not at once arise and understand the meaning of her freedom; she was
like a captive soldier, who has dragged the cannon-ball so long, that
when it is loosened from his limb, it feels strange, and his step sounds
uncompanioned.

She was thankful, too, for the tortured beasts, and the hunted birds;
she fed them and looked in their gentle eyes, and told them that they
were free. But in her own heart one vain wish, only, ached--she thought
always:

"If only I might die for him,--as the reed for the god."

The people returned, and then after awhile all went forth again; they
and their priests with them. The place was left alone. The old solitude
had come upon it; the sound of the wood-dove only filled the quiet.

The day grew on; in the orchards it was already twilight, whilst on the
waters and in the open lands farther away the sun was bright. There was
a wicket close by under the boughs; a bridle-path ran by, moss-grown,
and little used, but leading from the public road beyond.

From the gleam of the twisted fruit trees a low flutelike noise came to
her ear in the shadow of the solitude.

"Folle-Farine,--I go on your errand. If you repent, there is time yet to
stay me. Say--do you bid me still set your Norse-god free from the Cave
of the Snakes?"

She, startled, looked up into the roofing of the thick foliage; she saw
shining on her with a quiet smile the eyes which she had likened to the
eyes of the Red Mouse. They scanned her gravely and curiously: they
noted the change in her since the last sun had set.

"What did he say to you for your gold?" the old man asked.

She was silent; the blood of an intolerable shame burned in her face;
she had not thought that she had betrayed her motive in seeking a price
for her chain of coins.

He laughed a little softly.

"Ah! You fancied I did not know your design when you came so bravely to
sell your Moorish dancing-gear. Oh, Folle-Farine!--female things, with
eyes like yours, must never hope to keep a secret!"

She never answered; she had risen and stood rooted to the ground, her
head hung down, her breast heaving, the blood coming and going in her
intolerable pain, as though she flushed and froze under a surgeon's
probe.

"What did he say to you?" pursued her questioner. "There should be but
one language possible from a man of his years to a woman of yours."

She lifted her eyes and spoke at last:

"He said that I did him a foul shame: the gold lies in the sands of the
river."

She was strong to speak the truth, inflexibly, to the full; for its
degradation to herself she knew was honor to the absent. It showed him
strong and cold and untempted, preferring famine and neglect and misery
to any debt or burden of a service done.

The old man, leaning on the wooden bar of the gate among the leaves,
looked at her long and thoughtfully.

"He would not take your poor little pieces? You mean that?"

She gave a sign of assent.

"That was a poor reward to you, Folle-Farine!" Her lips grew white and
shut together.

"Mine was the fault, the folly. He was right, no doubt."

"You are very royal. I think your northern god was only thus cold
because your gift was such a little one, Folle-Farine."

A strong light flashed on him from her eyes.

"It would have been the same if I had offered him an empire."

"You are so sure? Does he hate you, then--this god of yours?"

She quivered from head to foot; but her courage would not yield, her
faith would not be turned.

"Need a man hate the dust under his foot?" she muttered in her teeth;
"because it is a thing too lowly for him to think of as he walks."

"You are very truthful."

She was silent; standing there in the shadow of the great mill-timbers.

The old man watched her with calm approving eyes, as he might have
watched a statue of bronze. He was a great man, a man of much wealth, of
wide power, of boundless self-indulgence, of a keen serene wisdom, which
made his passions docile and ministers to his pleasure, and never
allowed them any mastery over himself. He was studying the shape of her
limbs, the hues of her skin, the lofty slender stature of her, and the
cloud of her hair that was like the golden gleaming mane of a young
desert mare.

"All these in Paris," he was thinking. "Just as she is, with just the
same bare feet and limbs, the same untrammeled gait, the same flash of
scarlet round her loins, only to the linen tunic a hem of gold, and on
the breast a flame of opals. Paris would say that even I had never in my
many years done better. The poor barbarian! she sells her little brazen
sequins, and thinks them her only treasure, whilst she has all that! Is
Arslàn blind, or is he only tired?"

But he spake none of his thoughts aloud. He was too wary to scare the
prey he meant to secure with any screams of the sped arrow, or any sight
of the curled lasso.

"Well," he said, simply, "I understand; your eagle, in recompense for
your endeavors to set him free, only tears your heart with his talons?
It is the way of eagles. He has wounded you sorely. And the wound will
bleed many a day."

She lifted her head.

"Have I complained?--have I asked your pity, or any man's?"

"Oh, no, you are very strong! So is a lioness; but she dies of a man's
wound sometimes. He has been very base to you."

"He has done as he thought it right to do. Who shall lay blame on him
for that?"

"Your loyalty says so; you are very brave, no doubt. But tell me, do you
still wish this man, who wounds you so cruelly, set free?"

"Yes."

"What, still?"

"Why not?"

"Why not? Only this: that once he is let loose your very memory will be
shaken from his thoughts as the dust of the summer, to which you liken
yourself, is shaken from his feet!"

"No doubt."

She thought she did not let him see the agony he dealt her; she stood
unflinching, her hands crossed upon her breast, her head drooped, her
eyes looking far from him to where the fading sunlight gleamed still
upon the reaches of the river.

"No doubt," he echoed. "And yet I think you hardly understand. This man
is a great artist. He has a great destiny, if he once can gain the eye
and the ear of the world. The world will fear him, and curse him always;
he is very merciless to it; but if he once conquer fame, that fame will
be one to last as long as the earth lasts. That I believe. Well, give
this man what he longs for and strives for, a life in his fame which
shall not die so long as men have breath to speak of art. What will you
be in that great drunken dream of his, if once we make it true for him?
Not even a remembrance, Folle-Farine. For though you have fancied that
you, by your beauty, would at least abide upon his canvas, and so go on
to immortality with his works and name, you seem not to know that so
much also will do any mime who lets herself for hire on a tavern stage,
or any starveling who makes her daily bread by giving her face and form
to a painter's gaze. Child! what you have thought noble, men and women
have decreed one of the vilest means by which a creature traffics in her
charms. The first lithe-limbed model that he finds in the cities will
displace you on his canvas and in his memory. Shall he go free--to
forget you?"

She listened dumbly; her attitude unchanging, as she had stood in other
days, under the shadow of the boughs, to receive the stripes of her
master.

"He shall be free--to forget me."

The words were barely audible, but they were inflexible, as they were
echoed through her locked teeth.

The eyes of her tormentor watched her with a wondering admiration; yet
he could not resist the pleasure of an added cruelty, as the men of the
torture-chambers of old strained once more the fair fettered form of a
female captive, that they might see a little longer those bright limbs
quiver, and those bare nerves heave.

"Well; be it so if you will it. Only think long enough. For strong
though you are, you are also weak; for you are of your mother's sex,
Folle-Farine. You may repent. Think well. You are no more to him than
your eponym, the mill-dust. You have said so to yourself. But you are
beautiful in your barbarism; and here you are always near him; and with
a man who has no gold to give, a woman need have few rivals to fear. If
his heart eat itself out here in solitude, soon or late he will be
yours, Folle-Farine. A man, be he what he will, cannot live long without
some love, more or less, for some woman. A little while, and your
Norse-god alone here, disappointed, embittered, friendless, galled by
poverty, and powerless to escape, will turn to you, and find a sweetness
on your lips, a balm in your embrace, an opium draught for an hour, at
least, in that wonderful beauty of yours. A woman who is beautiful, and
who has youth, and who has passion, need never fail to make a love-light
beam in the eyes of a man, if only she know how to wait, if only she be
the sole blossom that grows in his pathway, the sole fruit within reach
of his hands. Keep him here, and soon or late, out of sheer despair of
any other paradise, he will make his paradise in your breast. Do you
doubt? Child, I have known the world many years, but this one thing I
have ever known to be stronger than any strength a man can bring against
it to withstand it--this one thing which fate has given you, the bodily
beauty of a woman."

His voice ceased softly in the twilight--this voice of
Mephistopheles--which tempted her but for the sheer sole pleasure of
straining this strength to see if it should break--of deriding this
faith to see if it would bend--of alluring this soul to see if it would
fall.

She stood abased in a piteous shame--the shame that any man should thus
read her heart, which seemed to burn and wither up all liberty, all
innocence, all pride in her, and leave her a thing too utterly debased
to bear the gaze of any human eyes,--to bear the light of any noonday
sun.

And yet the terrible sweetness of the words tempted her with such subtle
force: the passions of a fierce, amorous race ran in her blood--the
ardor and the liberty of an outlawed and sensual people were bred with
her flesh and blood: to have been the passion-toy of the man she loved
for one single day,--to have felt for one brief summer hour his arms
hold her and his kisses answer hers, she would have consented to die a
hundred deaths in uttermost tortures when the morrow should have dawned,
and would have died rejoicing, crying to the last breath,--

"I have lived: it is enough!"

He might be hers! The mere thought, uttered in another's voice, thrilled
through her with a tumultuous ecstasy, hot as flame, potent as wine.

He might be hers--all her own--each pulse of his heart echoing hers,
each breath of his lips spent on her own. He might be hers!--she hid her
face upon her hands; a million tongues of fire seemed to curl about her
and lap her life. The temptation was stronger than her strength.

She was a friendless, loveless, nameless thing, and she had but one
idolatry and one passion, and for this joy that they set to her lips she
would have given her body and her soul. Her soul--if the gods and man
allowed her one--her soul and all her life, mortal and immortal, for one
single day of Arslàn's love. Her soul, forever, to any hell they
would--but his?

Not for this had she sold her life to the gods--not for this; not for
the rapture of passion, the trance of the senses, the heaven of self.

What she had sworn to them, if they saved him, was forever to forget in
him herself, to suffer dumbly for him, and, whensoever they would, in
his stead to die.

"Choose," said the soft wooing voice of her tempter, while his gaze
smiled on her through the twilight. "Shall he consume his heart here in
solitude till he loves you perforce, or shall he go free among the
cities of men, to remember you no more than he remembers the reeds by
the river?"

The reeds by the river.

The chance words that he used, by the mere hazards of speech, cut the
bonds of passion which were binding so closely about her. As the
river-reed to the god, so she had thought that her brief span of life
might be to the immortality of his. Was this the fulfilling of her
faith,--to hold him here with his strength in chains, and his genius
perishing in darkness, that she, the thing of an hour, might know
delight in the reluctant love, in the wearied embrace, of a man
heart-sick and heart-broken?

She shook the deadly sweetness of the beguilement off her as she would
have shaken an asp's coils off her wrist, and rose against it, and was
once more strong.

"What have you to do with me?" she muttered, feebly, while the fierce
glare of her eyes burned through the gloom of the leaves. "Keep your
word; set him free. His freedom let him use--as he will."

Then, ere he could arrest her flight, she had plunged into the depths of
the orchards, and was lost in their flickering shadows.

Sartorian did not seek to pursue her. He turned and went thoughtfully
and slowly back by the grass-grown footpath through the little wood,
along by the riverside, to the water-tower. His horses and his people
waited near, but it suited him to go thither on this errand on foot and
alone.

"The Red Mouse does not dwell in that soul as yet. That sublime
unreason--that grand barbaric madness! And yet both will fall to gold,
as that fruit falls to the touch," he thought, as he brushed a ripe
yellow pear from the shelter of the reddening leaves, and watched it
drop, and crushed it gently with his foot, and smiled as he saw that
though so golden on the rind, and so white and so fragrant in the flesh,
at the core was a rotten speck, in which a little black worm was
twisting.

He had shaken it down from idleness; where he left it, crushed in the
public pathway, a swarm of ants and flies soon crawled, and flew, and
fought, and fastened, and fed on the fallen purity, which the winds had
once tossed up to heaven, and the sun had once kissed into bloom.

       *       *       *       *       *

Through the orchards, as his footsteps died away, there came a shrill
scream on the silence, which only the sighing of the cushats had broken.

It was the voice of the old serving-woman, who called on her name from
the porch.

In the old instinct, born of long obedience, she drew herself wearily
through the tangled ways of the gardens and over the threshold of the
house.

She had lost all remembrance of Flamma's death, and of the inheritance
of his wealth. She only thought of those great and noble fruits of a
man's genius which she had given up all to save; she only thought
ceaselessly, in the sickness of her heart, "Will he forget?--forget
quite--when he is free?"

The peasant standing in the porch with arms akimbo, and the lean cat
rubbing ravenous sides against her wooden shoes, peered forth from under
the rich red leaves of the creepers that shrouded the pointed roof of
the doorway.

Her wrinkled face was full of malignity; her toothless mouth smiled; her
eyes were full of a greedy triumph. Before her was the shady, quiet,
leafy garden, with the water running clear beneath the branches; behind
her was the kitchen, with its floor of tiles, its strings of food, its
wood-piled hearth, its crucifix, and its images of saints.

She looked at the tired limbs of the creature whom she had always hated
for her beauty and her youth; at the droop of the proud head, at the
pain and the exhaustion which every line of the face and the form spoke
so plainly; at the eyes which burned so strangely as she came through
the gray, pure air, and yet had such a look in them of sightlessness and
stupor.

"She has been told," thought the old serving-woman. "She has been told,
and her heart breaks for the gold."

The thought was sweet to her--precious with the preciousness of
vengeance.

"Come within," she said, with a grim smile about her mouth. "I will give
thee a crust and a drink of milk. None shall say I cannot act like a
Christian; and to-night I will let thee rest here in the loft, but no
longer. With the break of day thou shalt tramp. We are Christians here."

Folle-Farine looked at her with blind eyes, comprehending nothing that
she spoke.

"You called me?" she asked, the old mechanical formula of servitude
coming to her lips by sheer unconscious instinct.

"Ay, I called. I would have thee to know that I am mistress here now;
and I will have no vile things gad about in the night so long as they
eat of my bread. Tonight thou shalt rest here, I say; so much will I do
for sake of thy mother, though she was a foul light o' love, when all
men deemed her a saint; but to-morrow thou shalt tramp. Such hell-spawn
as thou art mayst not lie on a bed of Holy Church."

Folle-Farine gazed at her, confused and still not comprehending;
scarcely awake to the voice which thus adjured her; all her strength
spent and bruised, after the struggle of the temptation which had
assailed her.

"You mean," she muttered, "you mean----What would you tell me? I do not
know."

The familiar place reeled around her. The saints and the satyrs on the
carved gables grinned on her horribly. The yellow house-leek on the roof
seemed to her so much gold, which had a tongue, and muttered, "You prate
of the soul. I alone am the soul of the world."

All the green, shadowy, tranquil ways grew strange to her; the earth
shook under her feet; the heavens circled around her:----and Pitchou,
looking on her, thought that she was stunned by the loss of the miser's
treasure!

She! in whose whole burning veins there ran only one passion, in whose
crushed brain there was only one thought--"Will he forget--forget
quite--when he is free?"

The old woman stretched her head forward, and cackled out eager,
hissing, tumultuous words:

"Hast not heard? No? Well, see, then. Some said you should be sent for,
but the priest and I said No. Neither Law nor Church count the
love-begotten. Flamma died worth forty thousand francs, set aside all
his land and household things. God rest his soul! He was a man. He
forgot my faithful service, true, but the good almoner will remember all
that to me. Forty thousand francs! What a man! And hardly a nettle
boiled in oil would he eat some days together. Where does this money
go--eh, eh? Canst guess?"

"Go?"

Pitchou watched her grimly, and laughed aloud:

"Ah, ah! I know. So you dared to hope, too? Oh, fool! what thing did
ever he hate as he hated your shadow on the wall? The money, and the
lands, and the things--every coin, every inch, every crumb--is willed
away to the Church, to the holy chapter in the town yonder, to hold for
the will of God and the glory of his kingdom. And masses will be said
for his soul, daily, in the cathedral; and the gracious almoner has as
good as said that the mill shall be let to Francvron, the baker, who is
old and has no women to his house; and that I shall dwell here and
manage all things, and rule Francvron, and end my days in the chimney
corner. And I will stretch a point and let you lie in the hay to-night,
but to-morrow you must tramp, for the devil's daughter and Holy Church
will scarce go to roost together."

Folle-Farine heard her stupidly, and stupidly gazed around; she did not
understand. She had never had any other home, and, in a manner, even in
the apathy of a far greater woe, she clove to this place; to its
familiarity, and its silence, and its old woodland-ways.

"Go!"--she looked down through the aisles of the boughs dreamily; in a
vague sense she felt the sharpness of desolation that repulses the
creature whom no human heart desires, and whom no human voice bids stay.

"Yes. Go; and that quickly," said the peasant with a sardonic grin. "I
serve the Church now. It is not for me to harbor such as thee; nor is it
fit to take the bread of the poor and the pious to feed lips as accursed
as are thine. Thou mayst lie here to-night--I would not be
overharsh--but tarry no longer. Take a sup and a bit, and to bed. Dost
hear?"

Folle-Farine, without a word in answer, turned on her heel and left her.

The old woman watched her shadow pass across the threshold, and away
down the garden-paths between the green lines of the clipped box, and
vanish beyond the fall of drooping fig-boughs and the walls of ivy and
of laurel; then with a chuckle she poured out her hot coffee, and sat in
her corner and made her evening meal, well pleased; comfort was secured
her for the few years which she had to live, and she was revenged for
the loss of the sequins.

"How well it is for me that I went to mass every Saint's-day!" she
thought, foreseeing easy years and plenty under the rule of the Church
and of old deaf Francvron, the baker.

Folle-Farine mounted the wooden ladder to the hayloft which had been her
sleeping-chamber, there took the little linen and the few other garments
which belonged to her, folded them together in her winter sheepskin, and
went down the wooden steps once more, and out of the mill-garden across
the bridge into the woods.

She had no fixed purpose even for the immediate hour; she had not even a
tangible thought for her future. She acted on sheer mechanical impulse,
like one who does some things unconsciously, walking abroad in the
trance of sleep. That she was absolutely destitute scarcely bore any
sense to her. She had never realized that this begrudged roof and scanty
fare, which Flamma had bestowed on her, had, wretched though they were,
yet been all the difference between home and homelessness--between
existence and starvation.

She wandered on aimlessly through the woods.

She paused a moment on the river-sand, and turned and looked back at the
mill and the house. From where she stood, she could see its brown gables
and its peaked roof rising from masses of orchard-blossom, white and
wide as sea-foam; further round it, closed the dark belt of the sweet
chestnut woods.

She looked; and great salt tears rushed into her hot eyes and blinded
them.

She had been hated by those who dwelt there, and had there known only
pain, and toil, and blows, and bitter words. And yet the place itself
was dear to her, its homely and simple look: its quiet garden-ways, its
dells of leafy shadow, its bright and angry waters, its furred and
feathered creatures that gave it life and loveliness,--these had been
her consolations often,--these, in a way, she loved.

Such as it was, her life had been bound up with it; and though often its
cool pale skies and level lands had been a prison to her, yet her heart
clove to it in this moment when she left it--forever. She looked once at
it long and lingeringly; then turned and went on her way.

She walked slowly through the cool evening shadows, while the birds
fluttered about her head. She did not comprehend the terrible fate that
had befallen her. She did not think that it was horrible to have no
canopy but the clear sky, and no food but the grain rubbed from the ripe
wheat-ears.

The fever of conscious passion which had been born in her, and the awe
of the lonely death that she had witnessed, wore on her too heavily, and
with too dreamy and delirious an absorption, to leave any room in her
thoughts for the bodily perils or the bodily privations of her fate.

Some vague expectancy of some great horror, she knew not what, was on
her. She was as in a trance, her brain was giddy, her eyes blind. Though
she walked straightly, bearing her load upon her head, on and on as
through the familiar paths, she yet had no goal, no sense of what she
meant to do, or whither she desired to go.

The people were still about, going from their work in the fields, and
their day at the town-market, to their homesteads and huts. Every one of
them cast some word at her. For the news had spread by sunset over all
the countryside that Flamma's treasure was gone to Holy Church.

They were spoken in idleness, but they were sharp, flouting, merciless
arrows of speech, that struck her hardly as the speakers cast them, and
laughed, and passed by her. She gave no sign that she heard, not by so
much as the quiver of a muscle or the glance of an eye; but she,
nevertheless, was stung by them to the core, and her heart hardened, and
her blood burned.

Not one of them, man or boy, but made a mock of her as they marched by
through the purpling leaves or the tall seed-grasses. Not one of them,
mother or maiden, that gave a gentle look at her, or paused to remember
that she was homeless, and knew no more where to lay her head that night
than any sick hart driven from its kind.

She met many in the soft gray and golden evening, in the fruit-hung
ways, along the edge of the meadows: fathers with their little children
running by them, laden with plumes of meadow-sweet; mothers bearing
their youngest born before them on the high sheepskin saddle; young
lovers talking together as they drove the old cow to her byre; old
people counting their market gains cheerily; children paddling knee-deep
in the brooks for cresses. None of them had a kindly glance for
her;--all had a flouting word. There was not one who offered her so much
as a draught of milk; not one who wished her so much as a brief
good-night.

"She will quit the country now; that is one good thing," she heard many
of them say of her. And they spoke of Flamma, and praised him; saying,
how pure as myrrh in the nostrils was the death of one who feared God!

The night came on nearer; the ways grew more lonely; the calf bleating
sought its dam, the sheep folded down close together, the lights came
out under the lowly roofs; now and then from some open window in the
distance there came the sound of voices singing together; now and then
there fell across her path two shadows turning one to the other.

She only was alone.

What did she seek to do?

She paused on a little slip of moss-green timber that crossed the water
in the open plain, and looked down at herself in the shining stream.
None desired her--none remembered her; none said to her, "Stay with us a
little, for love's sake."

"Surely I must be vile as they say, that all are against me!" she
thought; and she pondered wearily in her heart where her sin against
them could lie. That brief delirious trance of joy that had come to her
with the setting of the last day's sun, had with the sun sunk away. The
visions which had haunted her sleep under the thorn-tree whilst the
thrush sang, had been killed under the cold and bitterness of the waking
world. She wondered, while her face burned red with shame, what she had
been mad enough to dream of in that sweet cruel slumber. For him--she
felt that sooner than again look upward to his eyes she would die by a
thousand deaths.

What was she to him?--a barbarous, worthless, and unlovely thing, whose
very service was despised, whose very sacrifice was condemned.

"I would live as a leper all the days of my life, if, first, I might be
fair in his sight one hour!" she thought; and she was conscious of
horror or of impiety in the ghastly desire, because she had but one
religion, this--her love.

She crossed the little bridge, and sat down to rest on the root of an
old oak on the edge of the fields of poppies.

The evening had fallen quite. There was a bright moon on the edge of the
plain. The cresset-lights of the cathedral glowed through the dusk. All
was purple and gray and still. There were the scents of heavy earths and
of wild thymes, and the breath of grazing herds. The little hamlets were
but patches of darker shade on the soft brown shadows of the night.
White sea-mists, curling and rising, chased each other over the dim
world.

She sat motionless, leaning her head upon her hand.

She could not weep, as other creatures could. The hours drew on. She had
no home to go to; but it was not for this that she sorrowed.

Afar off, a step trod down the grasses. A hawk rustled through the
gloom. A rabbit fled across the path. The boughs were put aside by a
human hand; Arslàn came out from the darkness of the woods before her.

With a sharp cry she sprang to her feet and fled, impelled by
passionate, reasonless instinct to hide herself forever and forever from
the only eyes she loved.

Before her were the maze of the poppy-fields. In the moonlight their
blossoms, so gorgeous at sunset or at noon, lost all their scarlet gaud
and purple pomp, and drooped like discrowned kings stripped bare in the
midnight of calamity.

Their colorless flowers writhed and twined about her ankles. Her brown
limbs glistened in the gleam from the skies. She tightened her red
girdle round her loins and ran, as a doe runs to reach the sanctuary.

Long withes of trailing grasses, weeds that grew among the grasses,
caught her fleet feet and stopped her. The earth was wet with dew. A
tangle of boughs and brambles filled the path. For once, her sure steps
failed her. She faltered and fell.

Ere he could touch her, she rose again. The scent of the wet leaves was
in her hair. The rain-drops glistened on her feet. The light of the
stars seemed in her burning eyes. Around her were the gleam of the
night, the scent of the flowers, the smell of woods. On her face the
moon shone.

She was like a creature born from the freshness of dews, from the odor
of foliage, from the hues of the clouds, from the foam of the brooks,
from all things of the woods and the water. In that moment she was
beautiful with the beauty of women.

"If only she could content me!" he thought. If only he had cared for the
song of the reed by the river!

But he cared nothing at all for anything that lived; and a pursuit that
was passionless had always seemed to him base; and his feet were set on
a stony and narrow road where he would not incumber his strength with a
thing of her sex, lest the burden should draw him backward one rood on
his way.

He had never loved her; he never would love her; his senses were awake
to her beauty, indeed, and his reason awed it beyond all usual gifts of
her sex. But he had used it in the service of his art, and therein had
scrutinized, and portrayed, and debased until it had lost to him all
that fanciful sanctity, all that half-mysterious charm, which arouse the
passion of love in a man to a woman.

So he let her be, and stood by her in the dusk of the night with no
light in his own eyes.

"Do not fly from me," he said to her. "I have sought you, to ask your
forgiveness, and----"

She stood silent, her head bent; her hands were crossed upon her chest
in the posture habitual to her under any pain; her face was hidden in
the shadow; her little bundle of clothes had dropped on the grasses, and
was hidden by them. Of Flamma's death and of her homelessness he had
heard nothing.

"I was harsh to you," he said, gently. "I spoke, in the bitterness of
my heart, unworthily. I was stung with a great shame;--I forgot that you
could not know. Can you forgive?"

"The madness was mine," she muttered. "It was I, who forgot----"

Her voice was very faint, and left her lips with effort; she did not
look up; she stood bloodless, breathless, swaying to and fro, as a young
tree which has been cut through near the root sways ere it falls. She
knew well what his words would say.

"You are generous, and you shame me--indeed--thus," he said with a
certain softness as of unwilling pain in his voice which shook its
coldness and serenity.

This greatness in her, this wondrous faithfulness to himself, this
silence, which bore all wounds from his hand, and was never broken to
utter one reproach against him, these moved him. He could not choose but
see that this nature, which he bruised and forsook, was noble beyond any
common nobility of any human thing.

"I have deserved little at your hands, and you have given me much," he
said slowly. "I feel base and unworthy; for--I have sought you to bid
you farewell."

She had awaited her death-blow; she received its stroke without a sound.

She did not move, nor cry out, nor make any sign of pain, but standing
there her form curled within itself, as a withered fern curls, and all
her beauty changed like a fresh flower that is held in a flame.

She did not look at him; but waited, with her head bent, and her hands
crossed on her breast as a criminal waits for his doom.

His nerve nearly failed him; his heart nearly yielded. He had no love
for her; she was nothing to him. No more than any one of the dark, nude
savage women who had sat to his art on the broken steps of ruined
Temples of the Sun; or the antelope-eyed creatures of desert and plain,
who had come on here before him in the light of the East, and had passed
as the shadows passed, and, like them, were forgotten.

She was nothing to him. And yet he could not choose but think--all this
mighty love, all this majestic strength, all this superb and dreamy
loveliness would die out here, as the evening colors had died out of the
skies in the west, none pausing even to note that they were dead.

He knew that he had but to say to her, "Come!" and she would go beside
him, whether to shame or ignominy, or famine or death, triumphant and
rejoicing as the martyrs of old went to the flames, which were to them
the gates of paradise.

He knew that there would not be a blow his hand could deal which could
make her deem him cruel; he knew that there would be no crime which he
could bid her commit for him which would not seem to her a virtue; he
knew that for one hour of his love she would slay herself by any death
he told her; he knew that the deepest wretchedness lived through by his
side would be sweeter and more glorious than any kingdom of the world or
heaven. And he knew well that to no man is it given to be loved twice
with such love as this.

Yet,--he loved not her; and he was, therefore, strong, and he drove the
death-stroke home, with pity, with compassion, with gentleness, yet
surely home--to the heart.

"A stranger came to me an hour or more ago," he said to her; and it
seemed even to him as though he slew a life godlier and purer and
stronger than his own,--"an old man, who gave no name. I have seen his
face--far away, long ago--I am not sure. The memory is too vague. He
seemed a man of knowledge, and a man critical and keen. That study of
you--the one among the poppies--you remember--took his eyes and pleased
him. He bore it away with him, and left in its stead a roll of paper
money--money enough to take me back among men--to set me free for a
little space. Oh child! you have seen--this hell on earth kills me. It
is a death in life. It has made me brutal to you sometimes; sometimes I
must hurt something, or go mad."

She was silent; her attitude had not changed, but all her loveliness was
like one of the poppies that his foot had trodden on, discolored,
broken, ruined. She stood as though changed to a statue of bronze.

He looked on her, and knew that no creature had ever loved him as this
creature had loved. But of love he wanted nothing,--it was wearying to
him; all he desired was power among men.

"I have been cruel to you," he said, suddenly. "I have stung and wounded
you often. I have dealt with your beauty as with this flower under my
foot. I have had no pity for you. Can you forgive me ere I go?"

"You have no sins to me," she made answer to him. She did not stir; nor
did the deadly calm on her face change; but her voice had a harsh
metallic sound, like the jar of a bell that is broken.

He was silent also. The coldness and the arrogance of his heart were
pained and humbled by her pardon of them. He knew that he had been
pitiless to her--with a pitilessness less excusable than that which is
born of the fierceness of passion and the idolatrous desires of the
senses. Man would have held him blameless here, because he had forborne
to pluck for his own delight this red and gold reed in the swamp; but he
himself knew well that, nevertheless, he had trodden its life out, and
so bruised it, as he went, that never would any wind of heaven breathe
music through its shattered grace again.

"When do you go?" she asked.

Her voice had still the same harsh, broken sound in it. She did not lift
the lids of her eyes; her arms were crossed upon her breast;--all the
ruins of the trampled poppy-blossom were about her, blood-red as a field
where men have fought and died.

He answered her, "At dawn."

"And where?"

"To Paris. I will find fame--or a grave."

A long silence fell between them. The church chimes, far away in the
darkness, tolled the ninth hour. She stood passive, colorless as the
poppies were, bloodless from the thick, dull beating of her heart. The
purple shadow and the white stars swam around her. Her heart was broken;
but she gave no sign. It was her nature to suffer to the last in
silence.

He looked at her, and his own heart softened; almost he repented him.

He stretched his arms to her, and drew her into them, and kissed the
dew-laden weight of her hair, and the curling, meek form, while all
warmth had died, and the passionate loveliness, which was cast to him,
to be folded in his bosom or thrust away by his foot--as he chose.

"Oh, child, forgive me, and forget me," he murmured. "I have been base
to you,--brutal, and bitter, and cold oftentimes;--yet I would have
loved you, if I could. Love would have been youth, folly, oblivion; all
the nearest likeness that men get of happiness on earth. But love is
dead in me, I think, otherwise----"

She burned like fire, and grew cold as ice in his embrace. Her brain
reeled; her sight was blind. She trembled as she had never done under
the sharpest throes of Flamma's scourge. Suddenly she cast her arms
about his throat and clung to him, and kissed him in answer with that
strange, mute, terrible passion with which the lips of the dying kiss
the warm and living face that bends above them, on which they know they
never again will rest.

Then she broke from him, and sprang into the maze of the moonlit fields,
and fled from him like a stag that bears its death-shot in it, and knows
it, and seeks to hide itself and die unseen.

He pursued her, urged by a desire that was cruel, and a sorrow that was
tender. He had no love for her; and yet--now that he had thrown her from
him forever--he would fain have felt those hot mute lips tremble again
in their terrible eloquence upon his own.

But he sought her in vain. The shadows of the night hid her from him.

He went back to his home alone.

"It is best so," he said to himself.

For the life that lay before him he needed all his strength, all his
coldness, all his cruelty. And she was only a female thing--a reed of
the river, songless, and blown by the wind as the rest were.

He returned to his solitude, and lit his lamp, and looked on the
creations that alone he loved.

"They shall live--or I will die," he said to his own heart. With the war
to which he went what had any amorous toy to do?

That night Hermes had no voice for him.

Else might the wise god have said, "Many reeds grow together by the
river, and men tread them at will, and none are the worse. But in one
reed of a million song is hidden; and when a man carelessly breaks that
reed in twain, he may miss its music often and long,--yea, all the years
of his life."

But Hermes that night spake not.

And he brake his reed, and cast it behind him.



CHAPTER V.


When the dawn came, it found her lying face downward among the rashes by
the river. She had run on, and on, and on blindly, not knowing whither
she fled, with the strange force that despair lends; then suddenly had
dropped, as a young bull drops in the circus with the steel sheathed in
its brain. There she had remained insensible, the blood flowing a little
from her mouth.

It was quite lonely by the waterside. A crane among the sedges, an owl
on the wind, a water-lizard under the stones, such were the only moving
things. It was in a solitary bend of the stream; its banks were green
and quiet; there were no dwellings near; and there was no light
anywhere, except the dull glow of the lamp above the Calvary.

No one found her. A young fox came and smelt at her, and stole
frightened away. That was all. A sharp wind rising with the reddening of
the east blew on her, and recalled her to consciousness after many
hours. When her eyes at length opened, with a blank stare upon the
grayness of the shadows, she lifted herself a little and sat still, and
wondered what had chanced to her.

The first rays of the sun rose over the dim blue haze of the horizon.
She looked at it and tried to remember, but failed. Her brain was sick
and dull.

A little beetle, green and bronze, climbed in and out among the sand of
the river-shore; her eyes vacantly followed the insect's aimless
circles. She tried to think, and could not; her thoughts went feebly
and madly round and round, round and round, as the beetle went in his
maze of sand. It was all so gray, so still, so chill, she was afraid of
it. Her limbs were stiffened by the exposure and dews of the night. She
shivered and was cold.

The sun rose--a globe of flame above the edge of the world.

Memory flashed on her with its light.

She rose a little, staggering and blind, and weakened by the loss of
blood; she crept feebly to the edge of the stream, and washed the stains
from her lips, and let her face rest a little in the sweet, silent,
flowing water.

Then she sat still amidst the long rushlike grass, and thought, and
thought, and wondered why life was so tough and merciless a thing, that
it would ache on, and burn on, and keep misery awake to know itself even
when its death-blow had been dealt, and the steel was in its side.

She was still only half sensible of her wretchedness. She was numbed by
weakness, and her brain seemed deadened by a hot pain, that shot through
it as with tongues of flame.

The little beetle at her feet was busied in a yellower soil than sand.
He moved round and round in a little dazzling heap of coins and
trembling paper thin as gauze. She saw it without seeing for awhile;
then, all at once, a horror flashed on her. She saw that the money had
fallen from her tunic. She guessed the truth--that in his last embrace
he had slid into her bosom, in notes and in coin, half that sum whereof
he had spoken as the ransom which had set him free.

Her bloodless face grew scarlet with an immeasurable shame. She would
have suffered far less if he had killed her.

He who denied her love to give her gold! Better that, when he had kissed
her, he had covered her eyes softly with one hand, and with the other
driven his knife straight through the white warmth of her breast.

The sight of the gold stung her like a snake.

Gold!--such wage as men flung to the painted harlots gibing at the
corners of the streets!

The horror of the humiliation filled her with loathing of herself.
Unless she had become shameful in his sight, she thought, he could not
have cast this shame upon her.

She gathered herself slowly up, and stood and looked with blind, aching
eyes at the splendor of the sunrise.

Her heart was breaking.

Her one brief dream of gladness was severed sharply, as with a sword,
and killed forever.

She did not reason--all thought was stunned in her; but as a woman, who
loves looking on the face she loves, will see sure death written there
long ere any other can detect it, so she knew, by the fatal and unerring
instinct of passion, that he was gone from her as utterly and as
eternally as though his grave had closed on him.

She did not even in her own heart reproach him. Her love for him was too
perfect to make rebuke against him possible to her. Had he not a right
to go as he would, to do as he chose, to take her or leave her, as best
might seem to him? Only he had no right to shame her with what he had
deemed shame to himself; no right to insult what he had slain.

She gathered herself slowly up, and took his money in her hand, and went
along the river-bank. Whither? She had no knowledge at first; but, as
she moved against the white light and the cool currents of the morning
air, her brain cleared a little. The purpose that had risen in her
slowly matured and strengthened; without its sustenance she would have
sunk down and perished, like a flower cut at the root.

Of all the world that lay beyond the pale of those golden and russet
orchards and scarlet lakes of blowing poppies she had no more knowledge
than the lizard at her feet.

Cities, he had often said, were as fiery furnaces that consumed all
youth and innocence which touched them; for such as she to go to them
was, he had often said, to cast a luscious and golden peach of the
summer into the core of a wasps'-nest. Nevertheless, her mind was
resolute to follow him,--to follow him unknown by him; so that, if his
footsteps turned to brighter paths, her shadow might never fall across
his ways; but so that, if need were, if failure still pursued him, and
by failure came misery and death, she would be there beside him, to
share those fatal gifts which none would dispute with her or grudge her.

To follow him was to her an instinct as natural and as irresistible as
it is to the dog to track his master's wanderings.

She would have starved ere ever she would have told him that she
hungered. She would have perished by the roadside ere ever she would
have cried to him that she was homeless. She would have been torn
asunder for a meal by wolves ere she would have bought safety or succor
by one coin of that gold he had slid into her bosom, like the wages of a
thing that was vile.

But to follow him she never hesitated: unless this had been possible to
her, she would have refused to live another hour. The love in her, at
once savage and sublime, at once strong as the lion's rage and humble as
the camel's endurance, made her take patiently all wrongs at his hands,
but made her powerless to imagine a life in which he was not.

She went slowly now through the country, in the hush of the waking day.

He had said that he would leave at dawn.

In her unconscious agony of the night gone by, she had run far and fast
ere she had fallen; and now, upon her waking, she had found herself some
league from the old mill-woods, and farther yet from the tower on the
river where he dwelt.

She was weak, and the way seemed very long to her; ever and again, too,
she started aside and hid herself, thinking each step were his. She
wanted to give him back his gold, yet she felt as though one look of his
eyes would kill her.

It was long, and the sun was high, ere she had dragged her stiff and
feeble limbs through the long grasses of the shore and reached the
ruined granary. Crouching down, and gazing through the spaces in the
stones from which so often she had watched him, she saw at once that
the place was desolate.

The great Barabbas, and the painted panels and canvases, and all the
pigments and tools and articles of an artist's store, were gone; but the
figures on the walls were perforce left there to perish. The early light
fell full upon them, sad and calm and pale, living their life upon the
stone.

She entered and looked at them.

She loved them greatly; it pierced her heart to leave them there--alone.

The bound Helios working at the mill, with white Hermes watching, mute
and content;--and Persephone crouching in the awful shadow of the dread
winged King,--the Greek youths, with doves in their breasts and golden
apples in their hands,--the women dancing upon Cithæron in the
moonlight,--the young gladiator wrestling with the Libyan lion,--all the
familiar shapes and stories that made the gray walls teem with the old
sweet life of the heroic times, were there--left to the rat and the
spider, the dust and the damp, the slow, sad death of a decay which no
heart would sorrow for, nor any hand arrest.

The days would come and go, the suns would rise and set, the nights
would fall, and the waters flow, and the great stars throb above in the
skies, and they would be there--alone.

To her they were living things, beautiful and divine; they were bound up
with all the hours of her love; and at their feet she had known the one
brief dream of ecstasy that had sprung up for her, great and golden as
the prophet's gourd, and as the gourd in a night had withered.

She held them in a passionate tenderness--these, the first creatures who
had spoken to her with a smile, and had brought light into the darkness
of her life.

She flung herself on the ground and kissed its dust, and prayed for them
in an agony of prayer--prayed for them that the hour might come, and
come quickly, when men would see the greatness of their maker, and would
remember them, and seek them, and bear them forth in honor and in
worship to the nations. She prayed in an agony; prayed blindly, and to
whom she knew not; prayed, in the sightless instinct of the human heart,
towards some greater strength which could bestow at once retribution and
consolation.

Nor was it so much for him as for them that she thus prayed: in loving
them she had reached the pure and impersonal passion of the artist. To
have them live, she would have given her own life.

Then the bonds of her agony seemed to be severed; and, for the first
time, she fell into a passion of tears, and, stretched there on the
floor of the forsaken chamber, wept as women weep upon a grave.

When she arose, at length, she met the eyes of Hypnos and Oneiros and
Thanatos--the gentle gods who give forgetfulness to men.

They were her dear gods, her best beloved and most compassionate; yet
their look struck coldly to her heart.

Sleep, Dreams, and Death,--were these the only gifts with which the
gods, being merciful, could answer prayer?



CHAPTER VI.


At the little quay in the town many boats were lading and unlading, and
many setting their sails to go southward with their loads of eggs, or of
birds, of flowers, of fruit, or of herbage; all smelling of summer rain,
and the odors of freshly plowed earths turned up with the nest of the
lark and the root of the cowslip laid bare in them.

Folle-Farine lost herself in its little busy crowd, and learned what she
needed without any asking, in turn, question of her.

Arslàn had sailed at sunrise.

There was a little boat, with an old man in it, loaded with Russian
violets from a flower-farm. The old man was angered and in trouble: the
lad who steered for him had failed him, and the young men and boys on
the canals were all too busied to be willing to go the voyage for the
wretched pittance he offered. She heard, and leaned towards him.

"Do you go the way to Paris?"

The old man nodded.

"I will steer for you, then," she said to him; and leaped down among his
fragrant freight. He was a stranger to her, and let her be. She did for
him as well as another, since she said that she knew those waters well.

He was in haste, and, without more words, he loosened his sail, and cut
his moor-rope, and set his little vessel adrift down the water-ways of
the town, the violets filling the air with their odors and blue as the
eyes of a child that wakes smiling.

All the old familiar streets, all the dusky gateways and dim passages,
all the ropes on which the lanterns and the linen hung, all the wide
carved stairways water-washed, all the dim windows that the women filled
with pots of ivy and the song of birds,--she was drifting from them with
every pulse of the tide, never again to return; but she looked at them
without seeing them, indifferent, and having no memory of them; her
brain, and her heart, and her soul were with the boat that she followed.

It was the day of the weekly market. The broad flat-bottomed boats were
coming in at sunrise, in each some cargo of green food or of farm
produce; a strong girl rowing with bare arms, and the sun catching the
white glint of her head-gear. Boys with coils of spotted birds' eggs,
children with lapfuls of wood-gathered primroses, old women nursing a
wicker cage of cackling hens or hissing geese, mules and asses, shaking
their bells and worsted tassels, bearing their riders high on sheepskin
saddles,--these all went by her on the river, or on the towing path, or
on the broad highroad that ran for a space by the water's edge.

All of these knew her well; all of these some time or another had jeered
her, jostled her, flouted her, or fled from her. But no one stopped her.
No one cared enough for her to care even to wonder whither she went.

She glided out of the town, past the banks she knew so well, along the
line of the wood and the orchards of Yprès. But what at another time
would have had pain for her, and held her with the bonds of a sad
familiarity, now scarcely moved her. One great grief and one great
passion had drowned all lesser woes, and scorched all slighter memories.

All day long they sailed.

At noon the old man gave her a little fruit and a crust as part of her
wage; she tried to eat them, knowing she would want all her strength.

They left the course of the stream that she knew, and sailed farther
than she had ever sailed; passed towns whose bells were ringing, and
noble bridges gleaming in the sun, and water-mills black and gruesome,
and bright orchards and vineyards heavy with the promise of fruit. She
knew none of them. There were only the water flowing under the keel, and
the blue sky above, with the rooks circling in it, which had the look of
friends to her.

The twilight fell; still the wind served, and still they held on; the
mists came, white and thick, and stars rose, and the voices from the
shores sounded strangely, with here and there a note of music or the
deep roll of a drum.

So she drifted out of the old life into an unknown world. But she never
once looked back. Why should she?--He had gone before.

When it was quite night, they drew near to a busy town, whose lights
glittered by hundreds and thousands on the bank. There were many barges
and small boats at anchor in its wharves, banging out lanterns at their
mast-heads. The old man bade her steer his boat among them, and with a
cord he made it fast.

"This is Paris?" she asked breathlessly

The old man laughed:

"Paris is days' sail away."

"I asked you if you went to Paris?"

The old man laughed again:

"I said I came the Paris way. So I have done. Land."

Her face set with an anger that made him wince, dull though his
conscience was.

"You cheated me," she said, briefly; and she climbed the boat's side,
and, shaking the violets off her, set her foot upon the pier, not
stopping to waste more words.

But a great terror fell on her.

She had thought that the boat would bring her straight to Paris; and,
once in Paris, she had thought that it would be as easy to trace his
steps there as it had been in the little town that she had left. She had
had no sense of distance--no knowledge of the size of cities; the width,
and noise, and hurry, and confusion of this one waterside town made her
helpless and stupid.

She stood like a young lost dog upon the flags of the landing-place, not
knowing whither to go, nor what to do.

The old man, busied in unlading his violets into the wicker creels of
the women waiting for them, took no notice of her; why should he? He had
used her so long as he had wanted her.

There were incessant turmoil, outcry, and uproar round the
landing-stairs, where large cargoes of beetroot, cabbages, and fish were
being put on shore. The buyers and the sellers screamed and swore; the
tawny light of oil-lamps flickered over their furious faces; the people
jostled her, pushed her, cursed her, for being in the way. She shrank
back in bewilderment and disgust, and walked feebly away from the edge
of the river, trying to think, trying to get back her old health and her
old force.

The people of the streets were too occupied to take any heed of her.
Only one little ragged boy danced before her a moment, shrieking, "The
gypsy! the gypsy! Good little fathers, look to your pockets!"

But she was too used to the language of abuse to be moved by it. She
went on, as though she were deaf, through the yelling of the children
and the chattering and chaffering of the trading multitude.

There was a little street leading off the quay, picturesque and ancient,
with parquetted houses and quaint painted signs; at the corner of it sat
an old woman on a wooden stool, with a huge fan of linen on her head
like a mushroom. She was selling roasted chestnuts by the glare of a
little horn lantern.

By this woman she paused, and asked the way to Paris.

"Paris! This is a long way from Paris."

"How far--to walk?"

"That depends. My boy went up there on foot last summer; he is a young
fool, blotting and messing with ink and paper, while he talks of being a
great man, and sups with the rats in the sewers! He, I think, was a week
walking it. It is pleasant enough in fair weather. But you--you are a
gypsy. Where are your people?"

"I have no people."

She did not know even what this epithet of gypsy, which they so often
cast at her, really meant. She remembered the old life of the Liebana,
but she did not know what manner of life it had been; and since Phratos
had left her there, no one of his tribe or of his kind had been seen in
the little Norman town among the orchards.

The old woman grinned, trimming her lantern.

"If you are too bad for them, you must be bad indeed! You will do very
well for Paris, no doubt."

And she began to count her chestnuts, lest this stranger should steal
any of them.

Folle-Farine took no notice of the words.

"Will you show me which is the road to take?" she asked. Meanwhile the
street-boy had brought three or four of his comrades to stare at her;
and they were dancing round her with grotesque grimace, and singing,
"Houpe là, Houpe là! Burn her for a witch!"

The woman directed her which road to go as well as she could for the
falling darkness, and she thanked the woman and went. The
street-children ran at her heels like little curs, yelling and hissing
foul language; but she ran too, and was swifter than they, and
outstripped them, the hardy training of her limbs standing her in good
service.

How far she ran, or what streets she traversed, she could not tell; the
chestnut-seller had said "Leave the pole-star behind you," and the star
was shining behind her always, and she ran south steadily.

Great buildings, lighted casements, high stone walls, groups of people,
troopers drinking, girls laughing, men playing dominoes in the taverns,
women chattering in the coffee-houses, a line of priests going to a
death-bed with the bell ringing before the Host, a line of soldiers
filing through great doors as the drums rolled the _rentrée au
caserne_,--thousands of these pictures glowed in her path a moment, with
the next to fade and give place to others. But she looked neither to the
right nor left, and held on straightly for the south.

Once or twice a man halloed after her, or a soldier tried to stop her.
Once, going through the gateway in the southern wall, a sentinel
challenged her, and leveled his bayonet only a second too late. But she
eluded them all by the swiftness of her flight and the suddenness of her
apparition, and she got out safe beyond the barriers of the town, and on
to the road that led to the country,--a road quiet and white in the
moonlight, and bordered on either side with the tall poplars and the dim
bare reapen fields which looked to her like dear familiar friends.

It was lonely, and she sat down on a stone by the wayside and rested.
She had no hesitation in what she was doing. He had gone south, and she
would go likewise; that she might fail to find him there, never occurred
to her. Of what a city was she had not yet any conception; her sole
measurement of one was by the little towns whither she had driven the
mules to sell the fruits and the fowls.

To have been cheated of Paris, and to find herself thus far distant from
it, appalled her, and made her heart sink.

But it had no power to make her hesitate in the course she took. She had
no fear and no doubt: the worst thing that could have come to her had
come already; the silence and the strength of absolute despair were on
her.

Besides, a certain thrill of liberty was on her. For the first time in
all her life she was absolutely free, with the freedom of the will and
of the body both.

She was no longer captive to one place, bond-slave to one tyranny; she
was no longer driven with curses and commands, and yoked and harnessed
every moment of her days. To her, with the blood of a tameless race in
her, there was a certain force and elasticity in this deliverance from
bondage, that lifted some measure of her great woe off her. She could
not be absolutely wretched so long as the open sky was above her, and
the smell of the fields about her, and on her face the breath of the
blowing winds.

She had that love which is as the bezoar stone of fable--an amulet that
makes all wounds unfelt, and death a thing to smile at in derision.

Without some strong impulsion from without, she might never have cut
herself adrift from the tyranny that had held her down from childhood;
and even the one happiness she had known had been but little more than
the exchange of one manner of slavery for another.

But now she was free--absolutely free; and in the calm, cool night--in
the dusk and the solitude, with the smell of the fields around her, and
above her the stars, she knew it and was glad,--glad even amidst the woe
of loneliness and the agony of abandonment. The daughter of Taric could
not be absolutely wretched so long as the open air was about her, and
the world was before her wherein to roam.

She sat awhile by the roadside and counted his gold by the gleam of the
stars, and put it away securely in her girdle, and drank from a brook
beside her, and tried to eat a little of the bread which the old boatman
had given her as her wages, with three pieces of copper money.

But the crust choked her; she felt hot with fever, and her throat was
parched and full of pain.

The moon was full upon her where she sat; the red and white of her dress
bore a strange look; her face was colorless, and her eyes looked but the
larger and more lustrous for the black shadows beneath them, and the
weary swollen droop of their lids.

She sat there, and pondered on the next step she had best take.

A woman came past her, and stopped and looked.

The moonlight was strong upon her face.

"You are a handsome wench," said the wayfarer, who was elderly and of
pleasant visage; "too handsome, a vast deal, to be sitting alone like
one lost. What is the matter?"

"Nothing," she answered.

The old reserve clung to her and fenced her secret in, as the prickles
of a cactus-hedge may fence in the magnolia's flowers of snow.

"What, then? Have you a home?"

"No."

"Eh! You must have a lover?"

Folle-Farine's lips grew whiter, and she shrunk a little; but she
answered steadily,--

"No."

"No! And at your age; and handsome as a ripe, red apple,--with your skin
of satin, and your tangle of hair! Fie, for shame! Are the men blind?
Where do you rest to-night?"

"I am going on--south."

"And mean to walk all night? Pooh! Come home with me, and sup and sleep.
I live hard by, just inside the walls."

Folle-Farine opened her great eyes wide. It was the first creature who
had ever offered her hospitality. It was an old woman, too; there could
be nothing but kindness in the offer, she thought; and kindness was so
strange to her, that it troubled her more than did cruelty.

"You are good," she said, gratefully,--"very good; but I cannot come."

"Cannot come? Why, then?"

"Because I must go on to Paris; I cannot lose an hour. Nevertheless, it
is good of you."

The old woman laughed roughly.

"Oh-ho! the red apple must go to Paris. No other market grand enough! Is
that it?"

"I do not know what you mean."

"But stay with me to-night. The roads are dangerous. There are vagrants
and ill-livers about. There are great fogs, too, in this district; and
you will meet drunken soldiers and beggars who will rob you. Come home
with me. I have a pretty little place, though poor; and you shall have
such fare as I give my own daughters. And maybe you will see two or
three of the young nobles. They look in for a laugh and a song--all
innocent: my girls are favorites. Come, it is not a stone's throw
through the south gate."

"You are good; but I cannot come. As for the road, I am not afraid. I
have a good knife, and I am strong."

She spoke in all unconsciousness, in her heart thankful to this, the
first human creature that had ever offered her shelter or good nature.

The woman darted one sharp look at her, venomous as an adder's bite;
then bade her a short good-night, and went on her way to the gates of
the town.

Folle-Farine rose up and walked on, taking her own southward road.

She was ignorant of any peril that she had escaped. She did not know
that the only animals which prey upon the young of their own sex and
kind are women.

She was very tired; long want of sleep, anguish, and bodily fatigue made
her dull, and too exhausted to keep long upon her feet. She looked about
her for some place of rest; and she knew that if she did not husband her
strength, it might fail her ere she reached him, and stretch her on a
sick-bed in some hospital of the poor.

She passed two or three cottages standing by the roadside, with light
gleaming through their shutters; but she did not knock at any one of
them. She was afraid of spending her three copper coins; and she was too
proud to seek food or lodging as an alms.

By-and-by she came to a little shed, standing where no house was. She
looked into it, and saw it full of the last season's hay, dry and
sweet-smelling, tenanted only by a cat rolled round in slumber.

She crept into it, and laid herself down and slept, the bright starry
skies shining on her through the open space that served for entrance,
the clatter of a little brook under the poplar-trees the only sound upon
the quiet air.

Footsteps went past twice or thrice, and once a wagon rolled lumbering
by; but no one came thither to disturb her, and she sank into a fitful
heavy sleep.

At daybreak she was again afoot, always on the broad road to the
southwest.

With one of her coins she bought a loaf and a draught of milk, at a
hamlet through which she went. She was surprised to find that people
spoke to her without a curse or taunt, and dealt with her as with any
other human being.

Insensibly with the change of treatment, and with the fresh, sweet air,
and with the brisk movement that bore her on her way, her heart grew
lighter, and her old dauntless spirit rose again.

She would find him, she thought, as soon as ever she entered Paris; and
she would watch over him, and only go near him if he needed her. And
then, and then----

But her thoughts went no further. She shut the future out from her; it
appalled her. Only one thing was clear before her--that she would get
him the greatness that he thirsted for, if any payment of her body or
her soul, her life or her death, could purchase it.

A great purpose nerves the life it lives in, so that no personal terrors
can assail, nor any minor woes afflict it. Hunger, thirst, fatigue,
hardship, danger,--these were all in her path, and she had each in turn;
but not one of them unnerved her.

To reach Paris, she felt that she would have walked through flames, or
fasted forty days.

For two days and nights she went on--days cloudless, nights fine and
mild; then came a day of storm--sharp hail and loud thunder. She went on
through it all the same; the agony in her heart made the glare of
lightning and the roar of winds no more to her than the sigh of an April
breeze over a primrose bank.

She had various fortunes on her way.

A party of tramps crossing a meadow set on her, and tried to insult her;
she showed them her knife, and, with the blade bare against her throat,
made them fall back, and scattered them.

A dirty and tattered group of gypsies, swatting in a dry ditch under a
tarpaulin, hailed her, and wanted her to join with them and share their
broken food. She eluded them with disgust; they were not like the
gitanos of the Liebana, and she took them to be beggars and thieves, as,
indeed, they were.

At a little wayside cabin, a girl, with a bright rosy face, spoke softly
and cheerily to her, and bade her rest awhile on the bench in the porch
under the vines; and brought out some white pigeons to show her; and
asked her, with interest, whence she came. And she, in her fierceness
and her shyness, was touched, and wondered greatly that any female thing
could be thus good.

She met an old man with an organ on his back, and a monkey on his
shoulder. He was old and infirm. She carried his organ for him awhile,
as they went along the same road; and he was gentle and kind in return,
and made the route she had to take clear to her, and told her, with a
shake of his head, that Paris would be either hell or heaven to such as
she. And she, hearing, smiled a little, for the first time since she had
left Yprès, and thought--heaven or hell, what would it matter which, so
long as she found Arslàn?

Of Dante she had never heard; but the spirit of the "_questi chi mai da
me non piu diviso_" dwells untaught in every great love.

Once, at night, a vagrant tried to rob her, having watched her count the
gold and notes which she carried in her girdle. He dragged her to a
lonely place, and snatched at the red sash, grasping the money with it;
but she was too quick for him, and beat him off in such a fashion that
he slunk away limping, and told his fellows to beware of her; for she
had the spring of a cat, and the stroke of a swan's wing.

On the whole, the world seemed better to her than it had done: the men
were seldom insolent, taking warning from the look in her flashing eyes
and the straight carriage of her flexile frame; and the women more than
once were kind.

Many peasants passed her on their market-mules, and many carriers' carts
and farm-wagons went by along the sunny roods.

Sometimes their drivers called to her to get up, and gave her a lift of
a league or two on their piles of grass, of straw, or among their crates
of cackling poultry, as they made their slow way between the lines of
the trees, with their horses nodding heavily under the weight of their
uncouth harness.

All this while she never touched the gold that he had given her. Very
little food sufficed to her: she had been hardily reared; and for the
little she had she worked always, on her way.

A load carried, a lost sheep fetched in, some wood hewn and stacked, a
crying calf fed, a cabbage-patch dug or watered, these got her the
simple fare which she fed on; and for lodging she was to none indebted,
preferring to lie down by the side of the cows in their stalls, or under
a stack against some little blossoming garden.

The people had no prejudice against her: she found few foes, when she
had left the district that knew the story of Reine Flamma; they were, on
the contrary, amused with her strange picture-like look, and awed with
the sad brevity of her speech to them. Sometimes it chanced to her to
get no tasks of any sort to do, and at these times she went without
food: touch his gold she would not. On the road she did what good she
could; she walked a needless league to carry home a child who had broken
his leg in a lonely lane; she sought, in a foggy night, for the straying
goat of a wretched old woman; she saved an infant from the flames in a
little cabin burning in the midst of the green fields: she did what came
in her path to do. For her heart was half broken; and this was her way
of prayer.

So, by tedious endeavor, she won her passage wearily towards Paris.

She had been nine days on the road, losing her way at times, and having
often wearily to retrace her steps.

On the tenth day she came to a little town lying in a green hollow
amidst woods.

It had an ancient church; the old sweet bells were ringing their last
mid-day mass, _Salutaris hostia_; a crumbling fortress of the Angevine
kings gave it majesty and shadow; it was full of flowers and of trees,
and had quaint, quiet, gray streets, hilly and shady, that made her
think of the streets round about the cathedral of her mother's
birthplace, away northwestward in the white sea-mists.

When she entered it, noon had just sounded from all its many clocks and
chimes. The weather was hot, and she was very tired. She had not eaten
any food, save some berries and green leaves, for more than forty hours.
She had been refused anything to do in all places; and she had no
money--except that gold of his.

There was a little tavern, vine-shaded and bright with a Quatre Saisons
rose that hid its casements. She asked there, timidly, if there were any
task she might do,--to fetch water, to sweep, to break wood, to drive or
to stable a mule or a horse.

They took her to be a gypsy; they ordered her roughly to be gone.

Through the square window she could see food--a big juicy melon cut in
halves, sweet yellow cakes, warm and crisp from the oven, a white
chicken, cold and dressed with cresses, a jug of milk, an abundance of
bread. And her hunger was very great.

Nine days of sharper privation than even that to which she had been
inured in the penury of Yprès had made her cheeks hollow and her limbs
fleshless; and a continual consuming heat and pain gnawed at her chest.

She sat on a bench that was free to all wayfarers, and looked at the
food in the tavern kitchen. It tempted her with the terrible animal
ravenousness begotten by long fast. She wanted to fly at it as a starved
dog flies. A rosy-faced woman cut up the chicken on a china dish,
singing.

Folle-Farine, outside, looked at her, and took courage from her smiling
face.

"Will you give me a little work?" she murmured. "Anything--anything--so
that I may get bread."

"You are a gypsy," answered the woman, ceasing to smile. "Go to your own
folk."

And she would not offer her even a plate of broken victuals.

Folle-Farine rose and walked wearily away. She could not bear the sight
of the food; she felt that if she looked at it longer she would spring
on it like a wolf. But to use his gold never occurred to her. She would
have bitten her tongue through in famine ere she would have taken one
coin of it.

As she went, being weak from long hunger and the stroke of the sunrays,
she stumbled and fell. She recovered herself quickly; but in the fall
the money had shaken itself from her sash, and been scattered with a
ringing sound upon the stones.

The woman in the tavern window raised a loud cry!

"Oh-hè! the wicked liar!--to beg bread while her waistband is stuffed
with gold like a turkey with chestnuts! What a rogue to try and dupe
poor honest people like us! Take her to prison."

The woman cried loud; there were half a dozen stout serving-wenches and
stable-lads about in the little street, with several boys and children.
Indignant at the thought of an attempted fraud upon their charity, and
amazed at the flash and the fall of the money, they rushed on her with
shrieks of rage and scorn, with missiles of turf and stone, with their
brooms raised aloft, or their dogs set to rage at her.

She had not time to gather up the coins and notes; she could only stand
over and defend them. Two beggar-boys made a snatch at the tempting
heap; she drew her knife to daunt them with the sight of it. The people
shrieked at sight of the bare blade; a woman selling honeycomb and pots
of honey at a bench under a lime-tree raised a cry that she had been
robbed. It was not true; but a street crowd always loves a lie, and
never risks spoiling, by sifting, it.

The beggar-lads and the two serving-wenches and an old virago from a
cottage door near set upon her, and scrambled together to drive her away
from the gold and share it. Resolute to defend it at any peril, she set
her heel down on it, and, with her back against the tree, stood firm;
not striking, but with the point of the knife outward.

One of the boys, maddened to get the gold, darted forward, twisted his
limbs round her, and struggled with her for its possession. In the
struggle he wounded himself upon the steel. His arm bled largely; he
filled the air with his shrieks; the people, furious, accused her of his
murder.

Before five minutes had gone by she was seized, overpowered by numbers,
cuffed, kicked, upbraided with every name of infamy, and dragged as a
criminal up the little steep stony street in the blaze of the noonday
sun, whilst on each side the townsfolk looked out from their doorways
and their balconies and cried out:

"What is it? Oh-hè! A brawling gypsy, who has stolen something, and has
stabbed poor little Fréki, the blind man's son, because he found her
out. What is it? _Au violon!--au violon!_"

To which the groups called back again:

"A thief of a gypsy, begging alms while she had stolen gold on her. She
has stabbed poor little Fréki, the blind cobbler's son, too. We think he
is dead." And the people above, in horror, lifted their hands and eyes,
and shouted afresh, "_Au violon!--au violon!_"

Meanwhile the honey-seller ran beside them, crying aloud that she had
been robbed of five broad golden pieces.

It was a little sunny country-place, very green with trees and grass,
filled usually with few louder sounds than the cackling of geese and the
dripping of the well-water.

But its stones were sharp and rough; its voices were shrill and fierce;
its gossips were cruel and false of tongue; its justice was very small,
and its credulity was measureless. A girl, barefoot and bareheaded, with
eyes of the East, and a knife in her girdle, teeth that met in their
youngsters' wrist, and gold pieces that scattered like dust from her
bosom,--such a one could have no possible innocence in their eyes, such
a one was condemned so soon as she was looked at when she was dragged
among them up their hilly central way.

She had had money on her, and she had asked for food on the plea of
being starved; that was fraud plain enough, even for those who were free
to admit that the seller of the honey-pots had never been overtrue of
speech, and had never owned so much as five gold pieces ever since her
first bees had sucked their first spray of heath-bells.

No one had any mercy on a creature who had money, and yet asked for
work; as to her guilt, there could be no question.

She was hurried before the village tribune, and cast with horror into
the cell where all accused waited their judgment.

It was a dusky, loathsome place, dripping with damp, half underground,
strongly grilled with iron, and smelling foully from the brandy and
strong smoke of two drunkards who had been its occupants the previous
night.

There they left her, taking away her knife and her money.

She did not resist. It was not her nature to rebel futilely; and they
had fallen on her six to one, and had bound her safely with cords ere
they had dragged her away to punishment.

The little den was visible to the highway through a square low grating.
Through this they came and stared, and mouthed, and mocked, and taunted,
and danced before her. To bait a gypsy was fair pastime.

Everywhere, from door to door, the blind cobbler, with his little son,
and the woman who sold honey told their tale,--how she had stabbed the
little lad and stolen the gold that the brave bees had brought their
mistress, and begged for food when she had had money enough on her to
buy a rich man's feast. It was a tale to enlist against her all the
hardest animosities of the poor. The village rose against her in all its
little homes as though she had borne fire and sword into its midst.

If the arm of the law had not guarded the entrance of her prison-cell,
the women would have stoned her to death, or dragged her out to drown in
the pond:--she was worse than a murderess in their sight; and one weak
man, thinking to shelter her a little from their rage, quoted against
her her darkest crime when he pleaded for mercy for her because she was
young and was so handsome.

The long hot day of torment passed slowly by.

Outside there were cool woods, flower-filled paths, broad fields of
grass, children tossing blow-balls down the wind, lovers counting the
leaves of yellow-eyed autumn daisies; but within there were only foul
smells, intense nausea, cruel heats, the stings of a thousand insects,
the buzz of a hundred carrion-flies, muddy water, and black mouldy
bread.

She held her silence. She would not let her enemies see that they hurt
her.

When the day had gone down, and the people had tired of their sport and
left her a little while, an old feeble man stole timidly to her,
glancing round lest any should see his charity and quote it as a crime,
and tendered her through the bars with a gentle hand a little ripe
autumnal fruit upon a cool green leaf.

The kindness made the tears start to eyes too proud to weep for pain.

She took the peaches and thanked him lovingly and gratefully; cooled her
aching, burning, dust-drenched throat with their fragrant moisture.

"Hush! it is nothing," he whispered, frightenedly, glancing over his
shoulder lest any one should see. "But tell me--tell me--why did you say
you starved when you had all that gold?"

"I did starve," she answered him.

"But why--with all that gold?"

"It was another's."

The old man stared at her, trembling and amazed.

"What--what! die of hunger and keep your hands off money in your
girdle?"

A dreary smile came on her face.

"What! is that inhuman too?"

"Inhuman?" he murmured. "Oh, child--oh, child, tell any tale you will,
save such a tale as that!"

And he stole away sorrowful, because sure that for his fruit of charity
she had given him back a lie.

He shambled away, afraid that his neighbors should see the little thing
which he had done.

She was left alone.

It began to grow dark. She felt scorched with fever, and her head
throbbed. Long hunger, intense fatigue, and all the agony of thought in
which she had struggled on her way, had their reaction on her. She
shivered where she sat on the damp straw which they had cast upon the
stones; and strange noises sang in her ears, and strange lights
glimmered and flashed before her eyes. She did not know what ailed her.

The dogs came and smelt at her, and one little early robin sang a
twilight song in an elder-bush near. These were the only things that had
any pity on her.

By-and-by, when it was quite night, they opened the grated door and
thrust in another captive, a vagrant they had found drunk or delirious
on the highroad, whom they locked up for the night, that on the morrow
they might determine what to do with him.

He threw himself heavily forward as he was pushed in by the old soldier
whose place it was to guard the miserable den.

She shrank away into the farthest corner of the den, and crouched there,
breathing heavily, and staring with dull, dilated eyes.

She thought,--surely they could not mean to leave them there alone, all
the night through, in the horrible darkness.

The slamming of the iron door answered her; and the old soldier, as he
turned the rusty key in the lock, grumbled that the world was surely at
a pretty pass, when two tramps became too coy to roost together. And he
stumbled up the ladder-like stairs of the guard-house to his own little
chamber; and there, smoking and drinking, and playing dominoes with a
comrade, dismissed his prisoners from his recollection.

Meanwhile, the man whom he had thrust into the cell was stretched where
he had fallen, drunk or insensible, and moaning heavily.

She, crouching against the wall, as though praying the stones to yield
and hold her, gazed at him with horror and pity that together strove in
the confusion of her dizzy brain, and made her dully wonder whether she
were wicked thus to shrink in loathing from a creature in distress so
like her own.

The bright moon rose on the other side of the trees beyond the grating;
its light fell across the figure of the vagrant whom they had locked in
with her, as in the wild-beast shows of old they locked a lion with an
antelope in the same cage--out of sport.

She saw the looming massive shadow of an immense form, couched like a
crouching beast; she saw the fire of burning, wide-open, sullen eyes;
she saw the restless, feeble gesture of two lean hands, that clutched at
the barren stones with the futile action of a chained vulture clutching
at his rock; she saw that the man suffered horribly, and she tried to
pity him--tried not to shrink from him--tried to tell herself that he
might be as guiltless as was herself. But she could not prevail: nature,
instinct, youth, sex, sickness, exhaustion, all conquered her, and broke
her strength. She recoiled from the unbearable agony of that horrible
probation; she sprang to the grated aperture, and seized the iron in her
hands, and shook it with all her might, and tore at it, and bruised her
chest and arms against it, and clung to it convulsively, shriek after
shriek pealing from her lips.

No one heard, or no one answered to her prayer.

A stray dog came and howled in unison; the moon sailed on behind the
trees; the old soldier above slept over his toss of brandy; at the only
dwelling near they were dancing at a bridal, and had no ear to hear.

The passionate outcries wailed themselves to silence on her trembling
mouth; her strained hands gave way from their hold on the irons; she
grew silent from sheer exhaustion, and dropped in a heap at the foot of
the iron door, clinging to it, and crushed against it, and turning her
face to the night without, feeling some little sense of solace in the
calm clear moon;--some little sense of comfort in the mere presence of
the dog.

Meanwhile the dusky prostrate form of the man had not stirred.

He had not spoken, save to curse heaven and earth and every living
thing. He had not ceased to glare at her with eyes that had the red
light of a tiger's in their pain. He was a man of superb stature and
frame; he was worn by disease and delirium, but he had in him a wild,
leonine tawny beauty still. His clothes were of rags, and his whole look
was of wretchedness; yet there was about him a certain reckless majesty
and splendor still, as the scattered beams of the white moonlight broke
themselves upon him.

Of a sudden he spoke aloud, with a glitter of terrible laughter on his
white teeth and his flashing eyes. He was delirious, and had no
consciousness of where he was.

"The fourth bull I had killed that Easter-day. Look! do you see? It was
a red Andalusian. He had wounded three picadors, and ripped the bellies
of eight horses,--a brave bull, but I was one too many for him. She was
there. All the winter she had flouted over and taunted me; all the
winter she had cast her scorn at me--the beautiful brown thing, with her
cruel eyes. But she was there when I slew the great red bull--straight
above there, looking over her fan. Do you see? And when my sword went up
to the hilt in his throat, and the brave blood spouted, she laughed such
a little sweet laugh, and cast her yellow jasmine flower at me, down in
the blood and the sand there. And that night, after the red bull died,
the rope was thrown from the balcony! So--so! Only a year ago; only a
year ago!"

Then he laughed loud again; and, laughing, sang--

    "Avez-vous vu en Barcelonne
      Une belle dame, au sein bruni,
    Pâle comme un beau soir d'automne?
      C'est ma maîtresse, ma lionne,
        La Marchesa d'Amaguï."

The rich, loud challenge of the love-song snapped short in two. With a
groan and a curse he flung himself on the mud floor, and clutched at it
with his empty hands.

"Wine!--wine!" he moaned, lying athirst there as the red bull had lain
on the sands of the circus; longing for the purple draughts of his old
feast-nights, as the red bull had longed for the mountain streams, so
cold and strong, of its own Andalusian birthplace.

Then he laughed again, and sang old songs of Spain, broken and marred by
discord--their majestic melodies wedded strangely to many a stave of
lewd riot and of amorous verse.

Then for awhile he was quiet, moaning dully, staring upward at the white
face of the moon.

After awhile he mocked it--the cold, chaste thing that was the meek
trickster of so many mole-eyed lords.

Through the terror and the confusion of her mind, with the sonorous
melody of the tongue, with the flaming darkness of the eyes, with the
wild barbaric dissolute grandeur of this shattered manhood, vague
memories floated, distorted and intangible, before her. Of deep forests
whose shade was cool even in midsummer and at mid-day; of glancing
torrents rushing through their beds of stone; of mountain snows
flashing in sunset to all the hues of the roses that grew in millions by
the river-water; of wondrous nights, sultry and serene, in which women
with flashing glances and bare breasts danced with their spangled
anklets glittering in the rays of the moon; of roofless palaces where
the crescent still glistened on the colors of the walls; of marble
pomps, empty and desolate, where only the oleander held pomp and the
wild fig-vine held possession; of a dead nation which at midnight
thronged through the desecrated halls of its kings and passed in shadowy
hosts through the fated land which had rejected the faith and the empire
of Islam; sowing as they went upon the blood-soaked soil the vengeance
of the dead in pestilence, in feud, in anarchy, in barren passions, in
endless riot and revolt, so that no sovereign should sit in peace on the
ruined throne of the Moslem, and no light shine ever again upon the
people whose boast it once had been that on them the sun in heaven never
set:--all these memories floated before her and only served to make her
fear more ghastly, her horror more unearthly.

There he lay delirious--a madman chained at her feet, so close in the
little den that, shrink as she would against the wall, she could barely
keep from the touch of his hands as they were flung forth in the air,
from the scorch of his breath as he raved and cursed.

And there was no light except the fire in his fierce, hot eyes; except
the flicker of the moonbeam through the leaves.

She spent her strength in piteous shrieks. They were the first cries
that had ever broken from her lips for human aid; and they were vain.

The guard above slept heavy with brandy and a dotard's dreams. The
village was not aroused. What cared any of its sleepers how these
outcasts fared?

She crouched in the farthest corner, when her agony had spent itself in
the passion of appeal.

The night--would it ever end?

Besides its horror, all the wretchedness and bondage of her old life
seemed like peace and freedom.

Writhing in his pain and frenzy, the wounded drunkard struck her--all
unconscious of the blow--across her eyes, and fell, contorted and
senseless, with his head upon her knees.

He had ceased to shout his amorous songs, and vaunt his lustful
triumphs. His voice was hollow in his throat, and babbled with a strange
sound, low and fast and inarticulate.

"In the little green wood--in the little green wood," he muttered.
"Hark! do you hear the mill-water run? She looked so white and so cold;
and they all called her a saint. What could a man do but kill _that_?
Does she cry out against me? You say so? You lie. You lie--be you devil
or god. You sit on a great white throne and judge us all. So they say.
You can send us to hell?... Well, do. You shall never wring a word from
her to _my_ hurt. She thinks I killed the child? Nay--that I swear.
Phratos knew, I think. But he is dead;--so they say. Ask him.... My
brown queen, who saw me kill the red bull,--are you there too? Ay. How
the white jewels shine in your breast! Stoop a little, and kiss me. So!
Your mouth burns; and the yellow jasmine flower--there is a snake in it.
Look! You love me?--oh-ho!--what does your priest say, and your lord?
Love!--so many of you swore that. But she,--she, standing next to her
god there,--I hurt her most, and yet she alone of you all says nothing!"

       *       *       *       *       *

When, at daylight, the people unbarred the prison-door, they found the
sightless face of the dead man lying full in the light of the sun:
beside him the girl crouched with a senseless stare in the horror of her
eyes, and on her lips a ghastly laugh.

For Folle-Farine had entered at length into her Father's kingdom.



CHAPTER VIII.


For many months she knew nothing of the flight of time. All she was
conscious of were burning intolerable pain, continual thirst, and the
presence of as an iron hand upon her head, weighing down the imprisoned
brain. All she saw in the horrible darkness, which no ray of light ever
broke, was the face of Thanatos, with the white rose pressed against his
mouth, to whom endlessly she stretched her arms in vain entreaty, but
who said only, with the passionless pity of his gaze, "I come in my own
time, and neither tarry nor hasten for any supplication of a mortal
creature."

She lived as a reed torn up from the root may live by the winds that
waft it, by the birds that carry it, by the sands that draw its fibers
down into themselves, to root afresh whether it will or no.

"The reed was worthy to die!--the reed was worthy to die!" was all that
she said, again and again, lying staring with her hot distended eyes
into the void as of perpetual night, which was all that she saw around
her. The words were to those who heard her, however, the mere
meaningless babble of madness.

When they had found her in the cell of the guard-house, she was far
beyond any reach of harm from them, or any sensibility of the worst
which they might do to her. She was in a delirious stupor, which left
her no more sense of place, or sound, or time than if her brain had been
drugged to the agonies and ecstasies of the opium-eater.

They found her homeless, friendless, nameless; a thing accursed,
destitute, unknown; as useless and as rootless as the dead Spanish
vagrant lying on the stones beside her. They cast him to the public
ditch; they sent her to the public sick wards, a league away; an ancient
palace, whose innumerable chambers and whose vast corridors had been
given to a sisterhood of mercy, and employed for nigh a century as a
public hospital.

In this prison she lay without any sense of the passing of hours and
days and months.

The accusation against her fell to the ground harmless; no one pursued
it: the gold was gone--somewhere, nowhere. No one knew, unless it were
the bee-wife, and she held her peace.

She was borne, senseless, to the old hospice in the great, dull,
saintly, historic town, and there perished from all memories as all time
perished to her.

Once or twice the sister of charity who had the charge of her sought to
exorcise the demon tormenting this stricken brain and burning body, by
thrusting into the hands that clinched the air a leaden image or a cross
of sacred wood. But those heathen hands, even in delirium, threw those
emblems away always, and the captive would mutter in a vague incoherence
that froze the blood of her hearers:

"The old gods are not dead; they only wait--they only wait! I am
theirs--theirs! They forget, perhaps. But I remember. I keep my faith;
they must keep theirs, for shame's sake. Heaven or hell? what does it
matter? Can it matter to me, so that he has his desire? And that they
must give, or break faith, as men do. Persephone ate the
pomegranate,--you know--and she went back to hell. So will I--if they
will it. What can it matter how the reed dies?--by fire, by steel, by
storm?--what matter, so that the earth hear the music? Ah, God! the reed
was found worthy to die! And I--I am too vile, too poor, too shameful
even for _that_!"

And then her voice would rise in a passion of hysteric weeping, or sink
away into the feeble wailing of the brain, mortally stricken and yet
dimly sensible of its own madness and weakness; and all through the
hours she, in her unconsciousness, would lament for this--for this
alone--that the gods had not deemed her worthy of the stroke of death by
which, through her, a divine melody might have arisen, and saved the
world.

For the fable--which had grown to hold the place of so implicit a faith
to her--was in her delirium always present with her; and she had
retained no sense of herself except as the bruised and trampled reed
which man and the gods alike had rejected as unworthy of sacrifice.

All the late autumn and the early winter came and went; and the cloud
was dark upon her mind, and the pain of the blow dealt to her by Taric's
hand gnawed at her brain.

When the winter turned, the darkness in which her reason had been
engulfed began to clear, little by little.

As the first small trill of the wren stirred the silence in the old
elm-boughs; as the first feeble gleam of the new-year sunshine struggled
through the matted branches of the yews; as the first frail blossom of
the pale hepatica timidly peeped forth in the damp moss-grown walls
without, so consciousness slowly returned to her. She was so young; the
youth in her refused to be quenched, and recovered its hold upon life as
did the song of the birds, the light in the skies, the corn in the
seed-sown earth.

She awakened to strength, to health, to knowledge; though she awoke thus
blinded and confused and capable of little save the sense of some
loathsome bondage, of some irreparable loss, of some great duty which
she had left undone, of some great errand to which she had been
summoned, and found wanting.

She saw four close stone walls around her; she saw her wrists and her
ankles bound; she saw a hole high up above her head, braced with iron
bars, which served to let in a few pallid streaks of daylight which
alone ever found their way thither; she saw a black cross in one corner,
and before it two women in black, who prayed.

She tried to rise, and could not, being fettered. She tore at the rope
on her wrists with her teeth, like a young tigress at her chains.

They essayed to soothe her, but in vain; they then made trial first of
threats, then of coercion; neither affected her; she bit at the knotted
cords with her white, strong teeth, and, being unable to free herself,
fell backward in a savage despair, glaring in mute impotent rage upon
her keepers.

"I must go to Paris," she muttered again and again. "I must go to
Paris."

So much escaped her;--but her secret she was still strong to keep buried
in silence in her heart, as she had still kept it even in her madness.

Her old strength, her old patience, her old ferocity and stubbornness
and habits of mute resistance, had revived in her with the return of
life and reason. Slowly she remembered all things--remembered that she
had been accused and hunted down as a thief and brought thither into
this prison, as she deemed it, where the closeness of the walls pent her
in and shut out the clouds and the stars, the water and the moonrise,
the flicker of the green leaves against the gold of sunset, and all the
liberty and loveliness of earth and air for which she was devoured by a
continual thirst of longing, like the thirst of the caged lark for the
fair heights of heaven.

So when they spoke of their god, she answered always as the lark answers
when his jailers speak to him of song:--"Set me free."

But they thought this madness no less, and kept her bound there in the
little dark stone den, where no sound ever reached, unless it were the
wailing of a bell, and no glimpse of the sky or the trees could ever
come to charm to peaceful rest her aching eyes.

At length they grew afraid of what they did. She refused all food; she
turned her face to the wall; she stretched herself on her bed of straw
motionless and rigid. The confinement, the absence of air, were a living
death to the creature whose lungs were stifled unless they drank in the
fresh cool draught of winds blowing unchecked over the width of the
fields and forests, and whose eyes ached and grew blind unless they
could gaze into the depths of free-flowing water, or feed themselves in
far-reaching sight upon the radiant skies.

The errant passions in her, the inborn instincts towards perpetual
liberty, and the life of the desert and of the mountains which came with
the blood of the Zingari, made her prison-house a torture to her such as
is unknown to the house-born and hearth-fettered races.

If this wild moorbird died of self-imposed famine rather than live only
to beat its cut wings against the four walls of their pent prison-house,
it might turn ill for themselves; so the religious community meditated.
They became afraid of their own work.

One day they said to her:

"Eat and live, and you will be set free to-morrow."

She turned for the first time, and lifted her face from the straw in
which she buried it, and looked them in the eyes.

"Is that true?" she asked.

"Ay," they answered her. "We swear it by the cross of our blessed
Master."

"If a Christian swear it,--it must be a lie," she said, with the smile
that froze their timid blood.

But she accepted the food and the drink which they brought her, and
broke her fast, and slept through many hours; strengthened, as by strong
wine, by that one hope of freedom beneath the wide pure skies.

She asked them on awakening what the season of the year was then. They
told her it was the early spring.

"The spring," she echoed dully,--all the months were a blank to her,
which had rolled by since that red autumn evening when in the cell of
the guard-house the voice of Taric had chanted in drink and delirium the
passion songs of Spain.

"Yes. It is spring," they said again; and one sister, younger and
gentler than the rest, reached from its place above the crucifix the
bough of the golden catkins of the willow, which served them at their
holy season as an emblem of the palms of Palestine.

She looked at the drooping grace of the branches, with their buds of
amber, long and in silence; then with a passion of weeping she turned
her face from them as from the presence of some intolerable memory.

All down the shore of the river, amongst the silver of the reeds, the
willows had been in blossom when she had first looked upon the face of
Arslàn.

"Stay with us," the women murmured, drawn to her by the humanity of
those the first tears that she had ever shed in her imprisonment. "Stay
with us; and it shall go hard if we cannot find a means to bring you to
eternal peace."

She shook her head wearily.

"It is not peace that I seek," she murmured.

Peace?

He would care nothing for peace on earth or in heaven, she knew. What
she had sought to gain for him--what she would seek still when once she
should get free--was the eternal conflict of a great fame in the world
of men; since this was the only fate which in his sight had any grace or
any glory in it.

They kept their faith with her. They opened the doors of her
prison-house and bade her depart in peace, pagan and criminal though
they deemed her.

She reeled a little dizzily as the first blaze of the full daylight fell
on her. She walked out with unsteady steps into the open air where they
took her, and felt it cool and fresh upon her cheek, and saw the blue
sky above her.

The gates which they unbarred were those at the back of the hospital,
where the country stretched around. They did not care that she should be
seen by the people of the streets.

She was left alone on a road outside the great building that had been
her prison-house; the road was full of light, it was straight and
shadowless; there was a tall tree near her full of leaf; there was a
little bird fluttering in the sand at her feet; the ground was wet, and
sparkled with rain-drops.

All the little things came to her like the notes of a song heard far
away--far away--in another world. They were all so familiar, yet so
strange.

There was a little yellow flower growing in a tuft of grasses straight
in front of her; a little wayside weed; a root and blossom of the
field-born celandine.

She fell on her knees in the dust by it, and laughed and wept, and,
quivering, kissed it and blessed it that it grew there. It was the first
thing of summer and of sunshine that she had seen for so long.

A man in the gateway saw her, and shook her, and bade her get from the
ground.

"You are fitter to go back again," he muttered; "you are mad still, I
think."

Like a hunted animal she stumbled to her feet and fled from him; winged
by the one ghastly terror that they would claim her and chain her back
again.

They had said that she was free: but what were words? They had taken her
once; they might take her twice.

She ran, and ran, and ran.

The intense fear that possessed her lent her irresistible force. She
coursed the earth with the swiftness of a hare. She took no heed whence
she went; she only knew that she fled from that one unutterable horror
of the place. She thought that they were right; that she was mad.

It was a level, green, silent country which was round her, with little
loveliness and little color; but as she went she laughed incessantly in
the delirious gladness of her liberty.

She tossed her head back to watch the flight of a single swallow; she
caught a handful of green leaves and buried her face in them. She
listened in a very agony of memory to the rippling moisture of a little
brook. She followed with her eyes the sweeping vapors of the
rain-clouds, and when a west wind rose and blew a cluster of loose
apple-blossoms between her eyes, she could no longer bear the passionate
pain of all the long-lost sweetness, but, flinging herself downward,
sobbed with the ecstasy of an exile's memories.

The hell in which she had dwelt had denied them to her for so long.

"Ah, God!" she thought, "I know now--one cannot be utterly wretched
whilst one has still the air and the light and the winds of the sky."

And she arose, calmer, and went on her way; wondering, even in that
hour, why men and women trod the daily measures of their lives with
their eyes downward, and their ears choked with the dust, hearkening so
little to the sound of the breeze in the grasses, looking so little to
the passage of the clouds against the sun.

When the first blindness and rapture of her liberty had a little passed
away, and abated in violence, she stood in the midst of the green fields
and the fresh woods, a strange, sad, lonely figure of absolute
desolation.

Her clothes were in rags; her red girdle had been changed by weather to
a dusky purple; her thick clustering hair had been cut to her throat;
her radiant hues were blanched, and her immense eyes gazed woefully from
beneath their heavy dreamy lids, like the eyes of an antelope whom men
vainly starve in the attempt to tame.

She knew neither where to go nor what to do. She had not a coin nor a
crust upon her. She could not tell where she then stood, nor where the
only home that she had ever known might lie.

She had not a friend on earth; and she was seventeen years old, and was
beautiful, and was a woman.

She stood and looked; she did not weep; she did not pray; her heart
seemed frozen in her. She had the gift she had craved,--and how could
she use it?

The light was obscured by clouds, great, sweet rain-clouds which came
trooping from the west. Woods were all round, and close against her were
low brown cattle, cropping clovered grass. Away on the horizon was a
vague, vast, golden cloud, like a million threads of gossamer glowing in
the sun.

She did not know what it was; yet it drew her eyes to it. She thought of
the palaces.

A herdsman came by her to the cattle. She pointed to the cloud.

"What is that light?" she asked him.

The cowherd stared and laughed.

"That light? It is only the sun shining on the domes and the spires of
Paris."

"Paris!"

She echoed the name with a great sob, and crossed her hands upon her
breast, and in her way thanked God.

She had had no thought that she could be thus near to it.

She asked no more, but set straight on her way thither. It looked quite
close.

She had exhausted the scanty strength which she had in her first flight;
she could go but slowly; and the roads were heavy across the plowed
lands, and through the edges of the woods. She walked on and on till it
grew dusk, then she asked of a woman weeding in a field how far it might
be yet to Paris.

The woman told her four leagues and more.

She grew deadly cold with fear. She was weak, and she had no hope that
she could reach it before dawn; and she had nothing with which to buy
shelter for the night. She could see it still; a cloud, now as of
fireflies, upon the purple and black of the night; and in a passionate
agony of longing she once more bent her limbs and ran--thinking of him.

To her the city of the world, the city of the kings, the city of the
eagles, was only of value for the sake of this one life it held.

It was useless. All the strength she possessed was already spent. The
feebleness of fever still sang in her ears and trembled in her blood.
She was sick and faint, and very thirsty.

She struck timidly at a little cottage door, and asked to rest the night
there.

The woman glanced at her and slammed to the door. At another and yet
another she tried; but at neither had she any welcome; they muttered of
the hospitals and drove her onward. Finally, tired out, she dropped down
on the curled hollow of an old oak stump that stood by the wayside, and
fell asleep, seeing to the last through her sinking lids that cloud of
light where the great city lay.

The night was cold; the earth damp; she stretched her limbs out wearily
and sighed, and dreamed that Thanatos touched her with his asphodels and
whispered, "Come."



CHAPTER IX.


When she awoke she was no longer in the open air by the roadside, and
the gray of the falling night about her, and the wet leaves for her bed.
She was in a wide painted chamber, sweet with many roses, hung with deep
hues of violet, filled with gold and color and sculpture and bronze,
duskily beautiful and dimly lighted by a great wood fire that glowed
upon andirons of brass.

On the wall nearest her hung all alone a picture,--a picture of a girl
asleep in a scarlet blaze of poppies, above her head a purple butterfly,
and on her breast the Red Mouse of the Brocken.

Opposite to it, beside the hearth, watching her with his small brilliant
eyes, and quite motionless, sat the old man Sartorian, who had kept his
faith with her, though the gods had not kept theirs.

And the picture and the reality grew confused before her, and she knew
not which was herself and which her painted likeness, nor which was the
little red mouse that gibbered among the red flowers, and which the
little old man who sat watching her with the fire-gleams bright in his
eyes; and it seemed to her that she and the picture were one, and he and
the mouse were one likewise; and she moaned and leaned her head on her
hands and tried to think.

The heat of the chamber, and the strong nourishment which they had
poured down her throat when she was insensible of anything they did to
her, had revived the life in her. Memory and sense returned slowly to
her; what first awakened was her one passionate desire, so intense that
it became an instinct stifling every other, to go on her way to the city
that had flashed in its golden glory on her sight one moment, only the
next to disappear into the eternal night.

"Paris!" she muttered, mechanically, as she lifted her face with a
hopeless, bewildered prayer.

"Tell me the way to Paris," she muttered, instinctively, and she tried
to rise and walk, not well knowing what she did.

The old man laughed a little, silently.

"Ah-h-h! Women are the only peaches that roll of their own accord from
the wall to the wasp's nest!"

At the sound of his voice her eyes opened wide upon him; she knew his
face again.

"Where am I?" she asked him, with a sharp terror in her voice.

"In my house," he said, simply. "I drove by you when you lay on the
roadside. I recognized you. When people dream of immortality they
generally die in a ditch. You would have died of a single night out
there. I sent my people for you. You did not wake. You have slept here
five hours."

"Is this Rioz?" She could not comprehend; a horror seized her, lest she
should have strayed from Paris back into her mother's province.

"No. It is another home of mine; smaller, but choicer maybe. Who has cut
your hair close?"

She shuddered and turned paler with the memory of that ghastly
prison-house.

"Well; I am not sure but that you are handsomer,--almost. A sculptor
would like you more now,--what a head you would make for an Anteros, or
an Icarus, or a Hyacinthus! Yes--you are best so. You have been ill?"

She could not answer; she only stared at him, blankly, with sad,
mindless, dilated eyes.

"A little gold!" she muttered, "a little gold!"

He looked at her awhile, then rose and went and sent his handwomen, who
took her to an inner chamber, and bathed and attended her with assiduous
care. She was stupefied, and knew not what they did.

They served her tenderly. They bathed her tired limbs and laid her, as
gently as though she were some wounded royal captive, upon a couch of
down.

She had no force to resist. Her eyes were heavy, and her senses were
obscured. The potence of the draught which they had forced through her
lips, when she had been insensible, acted on her as an anodyne. She sank
back unconsciously, and she slept again, all through the night and half
the day that followed.

Through all the hours she was conscious at intervals of the fragrance of
flowers, of the gleams of silver and gold, of the sounds of distant
music, of the white, calm gaze of marble fauns and dryads, who gazed on
her from amidst the coolness of hanging foliage. She who had never
rested on any softer couch than her truss of hay or heap of bracken,
dreamed that she slept on roses. The fragrance of innumerable flowers
breathed all around her. A distant music came through the silence on her
drowsy ear. For the first time in her life of toil and pain she knew how
exquisite a pleasure mere repose can be.

At noon she awoke, crying aloud that the Red Mouse claimed her soul from
Thanatos.

When her vision cleared, and her dream passed away, the music, the
flowers, the color, the coolness, were all real around her. She was
lying on a couch as soft as the rose-beds of Sybaris. About her were the
luxuries and the graces amidst which the rich dwell. Above her head,
from a golden height, a painted Eros smiled.

The light, on to which her startled eyes opened, came to her veiled
through soft, rosy hues; the blossom of flowers met her everywhere;
gilded lattices, and precious stones, and countless things for which she
knew neither the name nor use, and wondrous plants, with birds like
living blossoms on the wing above them, and the marble heads of women,
rising cold and pure above the dreamy shadows, all the color, and the
charm, and the silence, and the grace of the life that is rounded by
wealth were around her.

She lay silent and breathless awhile, with wide-open eyes, motionless
from the languor of her weakness and the confusion of her thoughts,
wondering dully, whether she belonged to the hosts of the living or the
dead.

She was in a small sleeping-chamber, in a bed like the cup of a lotos;
there was perfect silence round her, except for the faint far-off echo
of some music; a drowsy subtle fragrance filled the air, the solemn
measure of a clock's pendulum deepened the sense of stillness; for the
first time in her life she learned how voluptuous a thing the enjoyment
of simple rest can be. All her senses were steeped in it, lulled by it,
magnetized by it; and, so far as every thought was conscious to her, she
thought that this was death--death amidst the fields of asphodel, and in
the eternal peace of the realm of Thanatos.

Suddenly her eyes fell on a familiar thing, a little picture close at
hand, the picture of herself amidst the poppies.

She leapt from her bed and fell before it, and clasped it in her arms,
and wept over it and kissed it, because it had been the work of his
hand, and prayed to the unknown gods to make her suffer all things in
his stead, and to give him the desire of his soul. And the Red Mouse had
no power on her, because of her great love.

She rose from that prayer with her mind clear, and her nerves strung
from the lengthened repose; she remembered all that had chanced to her.

"Where are my clothes?" she muttered to the serving-woman who watched
beside her. "It is broad day;--I must go on;--to Paris."

They craved her to wear the costly and broidered stuffs strewn around
her; masterpieces of many an Eastern and Southern loom; but she put them
all aside in derision and impatience, drawing around her with a proud
loving action the folds of her own poor garments. Weather-stained, torn
by bush and brier, soaked with night-dew, and discolored by the dye of
many a crushed flower and bruised berry of the fields and woods, she yet
would not have exchanged these poor shreds of woven flax and goats' wool
against imperial robes, for, poor though they were, they were the
symbols of her independence and her liberty.

The women tended her gently, and pressed on her many rare and fair
things, but she would not have them; she took a cup of milk, and passed
out into the larger chamber.

She was troubled and bewildered, but she had no fear; for she was too
innocent, too wearied, and too desperate with that deathless courage,
which, having borne the worst that fate can do, can know no dread.

She stood with her arms folded on her breast, drawing together the
tattered folds of the tunic, gazing at the riches and the luxury, and
the blended colors of the room. So softly that she never heard his
footfall, the old man entered behind her, and came to the hearth, and
looked on her.

"You are better?" he asked. "Are you better, Folle-Farine?"

She looked up, and met the eyes of Sartorian. They smiled again on her
with the smile of the Red Mouse.

The one passion which consumed her was stronger than any fear or any
other memory: she only thought----this man must know?

She sprang forward and grasped his arm with both hands, with the seizure
of a tigress; her passionate eyes searched his face; her voice came hard
and fast.

"What have you done?--is he living or dead?--you must know?"

His eyes still smiled:

"I gave him his golden key;--how he should use it, that was not in our
bond? But, truly, I will make another bond with you any day,
Folle-Farine."

She shuddered, and her hands dropped from their hold.

"You know nothing?" she murmured.

"Of your Norse god? nay, nothing. An eagle soars too high for a man's
sight to follow, you know--oftentimes."

And he laughed his little soft laugh.

The eagles often soared so high--so high--that the icy vapors of the
empyrean froze them dead, and they dropped to earth a mere bruised,
helpless, useless mass:--he knew.

She stood stunned and confused: her horror of Sartorian was struggling
into life through the haze in which all things of the past were still
shrouded to her dulled remembrance--all things, save her love.

"Rest awhile," he said, gently. "Rest; and we may--who knows?--learn
something of your Northern god. First, tell me of yourself. I have
sought for tidings of you vainly."

Her eyes glanced round her on every side.

"Let me go," she muttered.

"Nay--a moment yet. You are not well."

"I am well."

"Indeed? Then wait a moment."

She rested where he motioned; he looked at her in smiling wonder.

She leaned on one of the cushioned couches, calm, motionless, negligent,
giving no sign that she saw the chamber round her to be any other than
the wooden barn or thatched cattle-sheds of the old mill-house; her feet
were crossed, her limbs were folded in that exquisite repose which is
inborn in races of the East; the warmth of the room and the long hours
of sleep had brought the natural bloom to her face, the natural luster
to her eyes, which earlier fatigue and long illness had banished.

He surveyed her with that smile which she had resented on the day when
she had besought pity of him for Arslàn's sake.

"Do you not eat?" was all he said.

"Not here."

He laughed, his low humorous laugh that displeased her so bitterly,
though it was soft of tone.

"And all those silks, and stuffs, and laces--do they please you no
better?"

"They are not mine."

"Pooh! do you not know yet? A female thing, as beautiful as you are,
makes hers everything she looks upon?"

"That is a fine phrase."

"And an empty one, you think. On my soul! no. Everything you see here is
yours, if it please you."

She looked at him with dreaming perplexed eyes.

"What do you want of me?" she said, suddenly.

"Nay--why ask? All men are glad to give to women with such a face as
yours."

She laughed a little; with the warmth, the rest, the wonder, the vague
sense of some unknown danger, her old skill and courage rose. She knew
that she had promised to be grateful always to this man: otherwise,--oh,
God!--how she could have hated him, she thought!

"Why?" she answered, "why? Oh, only this: when I bought a measure of
pears for Flamma in the market-place, the seller of them would sometimes
pick me out a big yellow bon-chrétien, soft as butter, sweet as sugar,
and offer it to me for myself. Well, when he did that, I always knew
that the weight was short, or the fruit rotten. This is a wonderful pear
you would give me; but is your measure false?"

He looked at her with a curious wonder and admiration; he was angered,
humbled, incensed, and allured, and yet he was glad; she looked so
handsome thus with the curl on her quiet lips, and her spirited head fit
for a bronze cast of Atalanta.

He was an old man; he could bear to pause and rightly appreciate the
charm of scorn, the spur of irony, the good of hatred. He knew the full
value of its sharp spears to the wonder-blooming aloe.

He left the subject for a happier moment, and, seating himself, opened
his hands to warm them by the wood fire, still watching her with that
smile, which for its very indulgence, its merry banter, she abhorred.

"You lost your Norse god as I prophesied?" he asked, carelessly.

He saw her whole face change as with a blow, and her body bend within
itself as a young tree bends under a storm.

"He went when you gave him the gold," she said below her breath.

"Of course he went. You would have him set free," he said, with the
little low laugh still in his throat. "Did I not say you must dream of
nothing else if once you had him freed? You would be full of faith; and
unbar your eagle's prison-house, and then, because he took wing through
the open door, you wonder still. That is not very wise, Folle-Farine."

"I do not wonder," she said, with fierce effort, stifling her misery.
"He had a right to do as he would: have I said any otherwise?"

"No. You are very faithful still, I see. Yet, I cannot think that you
believed my prophecy, or you--a woman--had never been so strong. You
think I can tell you of his fate? Nay, on my soul I know nothing. Men
do not speak his name. He may be dead;--you shrink? So! can it matter so
much? He is dead to you. He is a great man, but he is a fool. Half his
genius would give him the fame he wants with much greater swiftness than
the whole ever will. The world likes talent, which serves it. It hates
genius, which rules it. Men would adore his technical treatment, his
pictorial magnificence, his anatomical accuracy; but they will always be
in awe of his intensity of meaning, of his marvelous fertility, of his
extraordinary mingling of the chillest of idealisms and the most
unsparing of sensualities,--but I talk idly. Let us talk of you; see, I
chose your likeness, and he let me have it--did you dream that he would
part with it so lightly?"

"Why not? He had a million things more beautiful."

He looked at her keenly. He could measure the superb force of this
unblenching and mute courage.

"In any other creature such a humility would be hypocrisy. But it is not
so in you. Why will you carry yourself as in an enemy's house? Will you
not even break your fast with me? Nay, that is sullen, that is barbaric.
Is there nothing that can please you? See here,--all women love these;
the gypsy as well as the empress. Hold them a moment."

She took them; old oriental jewels lying loose in an agate cup on a
table near; there were among them three great sapphires, which in their
way were priceless, from their rare size and their perfect color.

Her mouth laughed with its old scorn. She, who had lost life, soul,
earth, heaven, to be consoled with the glass beads of a bauble! This man
seemed to her more foolish than any creature that had ever spoken on her
ear.

She looked, then laid them--indifferently--down.

"Three sparrow's eggs are as big, and almost as blue, among the moss in
any month of May!"

He moved them away, chagrined.

"How do you intend to live? he asked, dryly.

"It will come as it comes," she answered, with the fatalism and
composure that ran in her Eastern blood.

"What have you done up to this moment since you left my house at Rioz?"

She told him, briefly; she wanted to hide that she had suffered aught,
or had been in any measure coldly dealt with, and she spoke with the old
force of a happier time, seeking rather to show how well it was with her
that she should thus be free, and have no law save her own will, and
know that none lived who could say to her, "Come hither" or "go there."

Almost she duped him, she was so brave. Not quite. His eyes had read the
souls and senses of women for half a century; and none had ever deceived
him. As he listened to her he knew well that under her desolation and
her solitude her heart was broken--though not her courage.

But he accepted her words as she spoke them. "Perhaps you are wise to
take your fate so lightly," he said to her. "But do you know that it is
a horrible thing to be alone and penniless and adrift, and without a
home or a friend, when one is a woman and young?"

"It is worse when one is a woman and old; but who pities it then?" she
said, with the curt and caustic meaning that had first allured him in
her.

"And a woman is so soon old!" he added, with as subtle a significance.

She shuddered a little; no female creature that is beautiful and
vigorous and young can coldly brook to look straight at the doom of age;
death is far less appalling, because death is uncertain, mystical, and
may still have beauty.

"What do you intend to do with yourself?" he pursued.

"Intend! It is for the rich 'to intend,' the poor must take what
chances."

She spoke calmly, leaning down on one of the cushioned benches by the
hearth, resting her chin on her hand; her brown slender feet were
crossed one over another, her eyelids were heavy from weakness and the
warmth of the room; the soft dim light played on her tenderly; he looked
at her with a musing smile.

"No beautiful woman need ever be poor," he said, slowly spreading out
the delicate palms of his hands to the fire; "and you are
beautiful--exceedingly."

"I know!" She gave a quick gesture of her head, tired, insolent,
indifferent; and a terrible darkness stole over her face; what matter
how beautiful she might be, she had no beauty in her own sight, for the
eyes of Arslàn had dwelt on her cold, calm, unmoved, whilst he had said,
"I would love you--if I could."

"You know your value," Sartorian said, dryly. "Well, then, why talk of
poverty and of your future together? they need never be companions in
this world."

She rose and stood before him in the rosy glow of the fire that bathed
her limbs until they glowed like jade and porphyry.

"No beautiful woman need be poor--no--no beautiful woman need be honest,
I dare say."

He smiled, holding his delicate palms to the warmth of his hearth.

"Your lover drew a grand vision of Barabbas. Well--we choose Barabbas
still, just as Jerusalem chose; only now, our Barabbas is most often a
woman. Why do you rise? It is a wet day, out there, and, for the
spring-time, cold."

"Is it?"

"And you have been ill?"

"So they say."

"You will die of cold and exposure."

"So best."

"Wait a moment. In such weather I would not let a dog stir."

"You would if the dog chose to go."

"To a master who forsook it--for a kick and a curse?"

Her face burned; she hung her head instinctively. She sank down again on
the seat which she had quitted. The old horror of shame which she had
felt by the waterside under the orchards bent her strength under this
man's unmerciful pressure. She knew that he had her secret, and the
haughty passion and courage of her nature writhed under his taunt of it.

"To refuse to stay is uncouth," he said to her.

"I am uncouth, no doubt."

"And it is ungrateful."

"I would not be that."

"Ungrateful! I did what you asked of me. I unloosed your Othyr of Art to
spend his strength as he will, in essaying to raise a storm-blast which
shall have force enough to echo through the endless tunnels of the time
to come."

"You gave him a handful of gold pieces for _that_!"

"Ah! if you thought that I should offer him the half of my possessions,
you were disappointed, no doubt. But you forgot that 'that' would not
sell in the world, as yet, for a handful of wheat."

She touched the three sapphires.

"Are your blue stones of less worth, because I, being ignorant, esteem
them of no more value than three sparrow's eggs in the hedge?"

"My poor jewels! Well, stay here to-night; you need rest, shelter, and
warmth; and to-morrow you shall go as poor as you came, if you wish. But
the world is very hard. The world is always winter--to the poor," he
added, carelessly, resting his keen far-reaching eyes upon her.

Despite herself she shuddered; he recalled to her that the world was
close at hand--the world in which she would be houseless, friendless,
penniless, alone.

"A hard world, to those who will not worship its gods," he repeated,
musingly. "And you astray in it, you poor barbarian, with your noble
madness, and your blindness of faith and of passion. Do you know what it
is to be famished, and have none to hear your cries?"

"Do I know?" her voice suddenly gathered strength and scorn, and rang
loud on the stillness. "_Do you?_ The empty dish, the chill stove, the
frozen feet, the long nights, with the roof dripping rain, the sour
berries and hard roots that mock hunger, the mud floors, with the rats
fighting to get first at your bed, the bitter black months, whose
saints' days are kept by new pains, and whose holy days are feasted by
fresh diseases. Do _I_ know? Do _you_?"

He did not answer her; he was absorbed in his study of her face; he was
thinking how she would look in Paris in some theatre's spectacle of
Egypt, with anklets of dull gold and a cymar of dead white, and behind
her a sea of palms and a red and sullen sky.

"What a fool he must have been!" he thought, as his eyes went from her
to the study of her sleeping in the poppies. "What a fool! he left his
lantern of Aladdin behind him."

"You remember unlovely things," he said, aloud. "No, I do not know them;
and I should not have supposed that you, who did, could so much have
cared to know them more, or could have clung to them as the only good,
as you now seem to do. You cannot love such hardships?"

"I have never known luxuries; and I do not wish to know them."

"Then you are no woman. What is your idea of the most perfect life?"

"I do not know--to be always in the open air, and to be quite free, and
forever to see the sun."

"Not a low ideal. You must await the Peruvian Paradise. Meanwhile there
is a dayspring that represents the sun not ill; we call it Wealth."

"Ah!" she could not deride this god, for she knew it was the greatest of
them all; when the rod of riches had been lost, had not the Far-Striking
King himself been brought low and bound down to a slave's drudgery?

The small, keen, elfin, satiric face bent on her did not change from its
musing study, its slow, vigilant smile; holding her under the subtle
influence of his gaze, Sartorian began to speak,--speak as he could at
choice, with accents sweet as silver, slow words persuasive as sorcery.
With the terse, dainty, facile touches of a master, he placed before her
that world of which she knew no more than any one of the reeds that blew
by the sands of the river.

He painted to her that life of all others which was in most vital
contrast and unlikeness to her own; the life of luxury, of indolence, of
carelessness, of sovereignty, of endless pleasure, and supreme delight;
he painted to her the years of a woman rich, caressed, omnipotent,
beautiful, supreme, with all the world before her from which to choose
her lovers, her playthings, her triumphs, her victories, her cruelties,
and her seductions. He painted the long cloudless invigorating day of
such a favorite of fortune, with its hours winged by love, and its
laughter rhymed to music, and its wishes set to gold; the same day for
the same woman, whether it were called of Rome or of Corinth, of
Byzantium or of Athens, of Babylon or of Paris, and whether she herself
were hailed hetaira or imperatrix. He drew such things as the skill of
his words and the deep knowledge of his many years enabled him, in
language which aroused her even from the absorption of her wretchedness,
and stirred her dull disordered thoughts to a movement of restless
discontent, and of strange wonder--Arslàn had never spoken to her thus.

He let his words dwell silently on her mind, awhile: then suddenly he
asked her,--

"Such lives are; do you not envy them?"

She thought,--"Envy them? she? what could she envy save the eyes that
looked on Arslàn's face?" "What were the use?" she said aloud; "all my
life I have seen all things are for others; nothing is for me."

"Your life is but just opening. Henceforth you shall see all things for
you, instead."

She flashed her eyes upon him.

"How can that be?"

"Listen to me; you are alone in the world, Folle-Farine?"

"Alone; yes."

"You have not a coin to stand a day between you and hunger?"

"Not one."

"You know of no roof that will shelter you for so much as a night?"

"Not one."

"You have just left a public place of pestilence?"

"Yes."

"And you know that every one's hand is against you because you are
nameless and bastard, and come of a proscribed people, who are aliens
alike in every land?"

"I am Folle-Farine; yes."

For a moment he was silent. The simple, pathetic acceptance of the fate
that made her name--merely because hers--a symbol of all things
despised, and desolate, and forsaken, touched his heart and moved him to
a sorrowful pity. But the pity died, and tie cruelty remained alive
behind it.

He bent on her the magnetic power of his bright, sardonic, meaning eyes.

"Well--be Folle-Farine still. Why not? But let Folle-Farine mean no
longer a beggar, an outcast, a leper, a thing attainted, proscribed, and
forever suspected; but let it mean on the ear of every man that hears it
the name of the most famous, the most imperious, the most triumphant,
the most beautiful woman of her time; a woman of whom the world says,
'look on her face and die--you have lived enough.'"

Her breath came and went as she listened; the blood in her face flushed
and paled; she trembled violently, and her whole frame seemed to dilate
and strengthen and vibrate with the electric force of that subtlest
temptation.

"I!" she murmured brokenly.

"Yes, you. All that I say you shall be: homeless, tribeless, nameless,
nationless, though you stand there now, Folle-Farine."

The wondrous promise swept her fancy for the moment on the strong
current of its imagery, as a river sweeps a leaf. This empire
hers?--hers?--when all mankind had driven and derided her, and shunned
her sight and touch, and cursed and flouted her, and barely thought her
worthy to be called "thou dog!"

He looked at her and smiled, and bent towards the warmth of the fire.

"All that I say you shall be; and--the year is all winter for the poor,
Folle-Farine."

The light on her face faded; a sudden apprehension tightened at her
heart; on her face gathered the old fierce deadly antagonism which
constant insult and attack had taught her to assume on the first instant
of menace as her only buckler.

She knew not what evil threatened; but vaguely she felt that treason was
close about her.

"If you do not mock me," she said slowly, "if you do not--how will you
make me what you promise?"

"I will show the world to you, you to the world; your beauty will do the
rest."

The darkness and the perplexed trouble deepened on her face; she rose
and stood and looked at him, her teeth shut together with a quick sharp
ring, her straight proud brows drew together in stormy silence; all the
tigress in her was awoke and rising ready to spring; yet amid that dusky
passion, that withering scorn of doubt, there was an innocent pathetic
wonder, a vague desolation and disappointment, that were childlike and
infinitely sad.

"This is a wondrous pear you offer me!" she said, bitterly. "And so
cheap?--it must be rotten somewhere."

"It is golden. Who need ask more?"

And he laughed his little low laugh in his throat.

Then, and then only, she understood him.

With a sudden unconscious instinctive action her hand sought her knife,
but the girdle was empty; she sprang erect, her face on fire with a
superb fury, her eyes blazing like the eyes of a wild beast's by night,
a magnificence of scorn and rage upon her quivering features.

Her voice rang clear and hard and cold as ring the blows of steel.

"I ask more,--that I should pluck it with clean hands, and eat of it
with pure lips. Strange quibble for a beggar,--homeless, penniless,
tribeless, nationless! So you think, no doubt. But we who are born
outlawed are born free,--and do not sell our freedom. Let me go."

He watched her with a musing smile, a dreamy calm content; all this
tempest of her scorn, all this bitterness of her disdain, all this
whirlwind of her passion and her suffering, seemed but to beguile him
more and make him surer of her beauty, of her splendor, of her strength.

"She would be a great creature to show to the world," he thought, as he
drooped his head and watched her through his half-closed eyelids, as the
Red Mouse watched the sleeper in the poppies. "Let you go?" he said,
with that slow, ironic smile,--"let you go? Why should I let you go,
Folle-Farine?"

She stooped as a tigress stoops to rise the stronger for her death
spring, and her voice was low, on a level with his ear.

"Why? Why? To save your own life--if you are wise."

He laughed in his throat again.

"Ah, ah! It is never wise to threaten, Folle-Farine. I do not threaten.
You are foolish; you are unreasonable: and that is the privilege of a
woman. I am not angered at it. On the contrary, it adds to your charm.
You are a beautiful, reckless, stubborn, half-mad, half-savage creature.
Passion and liberty become you,--become you like your ignorance and your
ferocity. I would not for worlds that you should change them."

"Let me go!" she cried, across his words.

"Oh, fool! the winter will be hard,--and you are bare of foot,--and you
have not a crust!"

"Let me go."

"Ah! Go?--to beg your way to Paris, and to creep through the cellars and
the hospitals till you can see your lover's face, and to crouch a moment
at his feet to hear him mutter a curse on you in payment for your
pilgrimage; and then to slit your throat or his--in your despair, and
lie dead in all your loveliness in the common ditch."

"Let me go, I say!"

"Or else, more like, come back to me in a week's time and say, 'I was
mad but now I am wise. Give me the golden pear. What matter a little
speck? What is golden may be rotten; but to all lips it is sweet.'"

"Let me go!"

She stood at bay before him, pale in her scorn of rags, her right hand
clinched against her breast, her eyes breathing fire, her whole attitude
instinct with the tempest of contempt and loathing, which she held down
thus, passive and almost wordless, because she once had promised never
to be thankless to this man.

He gazed at her and smiled, and thought how beautiful that chained
whirlwind of her passions looked; but he did not touch her nor even go
nearer to her. There was a dangerous gleam in her eyes that daunted
him. Moreover, he was patient, humorous, gentle, cruel, wise,--all in
one; and he desired to tame and to beguile her, and to see her slowly
drawn into the subtle sweetness of the powers of gold; and to enjoy the
yielding of each moral weakness one by one, as the southern boy slowly
pulls limb from limb, wing from wing, of the cicala.

"I will let you go, surely," he said, with his low, grim laugh. "I keep
no woman prisoner against her will. But think one moment longer,
Folle-Farine. You will take no gift at my hands?"

"None."

"You want to go,--penniless as you are?"

"I will go so,--no other way."

"You will fall ill on the road afresh."

"That does not concern you."

"You will starve."

"That is my question."

"You will have to herd with the street dogs."

"Their bite is better than your welcome."

"You will be suspected,--most likely imprisoned. You are an outcast."

"That may be."

"You will be driven to public charity."

"Not till I need a public grave."

"You will have never a glance of pity, never a look of softness, from
your northern god; he has no love for you, and he is in his grave most
likely. Icarus falls--always."

For the first time she quailed as though struck by a sharp blow; but her
voice remained inflexible and serene.

"I can live without love or pity, as I can without home or gold. Once
for all,--let me go."

"I will let you go," he said, slowly, as he moved a little away. "I will
let you go in seven days' time. For seven days you shall do as you
please; eat, drink, be clothed, be housed, be feasted, be served, be
beguiled,--as the rich are. You shall taste all these things that gold
gives, and which you, being ignorant, dare rashly deride and refuse. If,
when seven days end, you still choose, you shall go, and as poor as you
came. But you will not choose, for you are a woman, Folle-Farine!"

Ere she knew his intent he had moved the panel and drawn it behind him,
and left her alone,--shut in a trap like the birds that Claudis Flamma
had netted in his orchards.

That night, when the night without was quite dark, she knelt down before
the study of the poppies, and kissed it softly, and prayed to the
unknown God, of whom none had taught her in anywise, yet whose light she
still had found, and followed in a dim, wondering, imperfect fashion, as
a little child lost in the twilight of some pathless wood, pursues in
trembling the gleam of some great, still planet looming far above her
through the leaves.

When she arose from her supplication, her choice was already made.

And the Red Mouse had no power on her, because of her great love.



CHAPTER X.


AT sunrise a great peacock trailing his imperial purple on the edge of a
smooth lawn, pecked angrily at a torn fragment of a scarlet scarf; a
scarf that had been woven in his own Eastern lands, but which incensed
his sight, fluttering there so idly, as it seemed, on the feathery
sprays of a little low almond-tree that grew by the water's edge.

The water was broad, and full of lily-leaves and of rare reeds and
rushes; it had been so stemmed and turned by art that it washed the
basement walls and mirrored the graceful galleries and arches of the
garden palace, where the bird of Hêrê dwelt.

Twenty feet above the level of the gardens, where the peacock swept in
the light, there was an open casement, a narrow balcony of stone; a
group of pale human faces looking out awe-stricken. A leap in the
night--the night wet and moonless,--waters a fathom deep,--a bed of sand
treacherous and shifting as the ways of love. What could all these be
save certain death? Of death they were afraid; but they were more afraid
yet of the vengeance of their flute-voiced lord.

On the wall the Red Mouse sat among the flowers of sleep; he could have
told; he who for once had heard another prayer than the blasphemies of
the Brocken.

But the Red Mouse never tells any secret to men; he has lived too long
in the breast of the women whom men love.

The Sun came from the east, and passed through the pale stricken faces
that watched from the casement, and came straight to where the Red Mouse
sat amidst the poppies.

"Have you let a female soul escape you?" said the Sun.

The Red Mouse answered:

"Love is stronger than I. When he keeps his hands pure, where he guards
the door of the soul, I enter not. I sit outside and watch, and watch,
and watch. But it is time lost. Love is strong; the door is barred to
me."

Said the Sun:

"That is strange to hear. My sister, the Moon, has told me oftentimes
that Eros is your pander--always."

"Anteros only," said the Red Mouse.

The Sun, wondering, said again:

"And yet I have heard that it is your boast that into every female soul
you enter at birth, and dwell there unto death. Is it, then, not so?"

The Red Mouse answered:

"The boast is not mine; it is man's."



CHAPTER XI.


In the dark of the night she had leapt to what, as she thought, would
prove her grave; but the waters, with human-like caprice, had cast her
back upon the land with scarce an effort of her own. Given back thus to
life, whether she would or no, she by sheer instinct stumbled to her
feet and fled as fast as she could in the wet, gloomy night through the
grassy stretches of the unknown gardens and lands in which she found
herself.

She was weighted with her soaked clothes as with lead, but she was made
swift by terror and hatred, as though Hermes for once had had pity for
anything human, and had fastened to her feet his own winged sandals.

She ran on and on, not knowing whither; only knowing that she ran from
the man who had tempted her by the strength of the rod of wealth.

The rains were ceaseless, the skies had no stars, in the dense mist no
lights far or near, of the city or planets, of palace or house were
seen. She did not know where she went; she only ran on away and away,
anywhere, from the Red Mouse and its master.

When the daybreak grew gray in the heavens, she paused, and trembling
crept into a cattle-shed to rest and take breath a little. She shrank
from every habitation, she quivered at every human voice; she was
afraid--horribly afraid--in those clinging vapors, those damp deathly
smells, those ghostly shadows of the dawn, those indistinct and
unfamiliar creatures of a country strange to her.

That old man with the elf's eyes, who had tempted her, was he a god too,
she wondered, since he had the rod that metes power and wealth? He might
stretch his hand anywhere, she supposed, and take her.

The gentle cattle in their wooden home made way for her, and humbly
welcomed her. She hid herself among their beds of hay, and in the warmth
of their breath and their bodies. She was wet and wretched, like any
half-drowned dog; but the habits of her hardy life made cold, and
hunger, and exposure almost powerless to harm her. She slept from sheer
exhaustion of mind and body. The cattle could have trodden her to death,
or tossed her through the open spaces of their byres, but they seemed to
know, they seemed to pity; and they stirred so that they did not brush a
limb of her, nor shorten a moment of her slumbers.

When she awoke the sun was high.

A herdswoman, entering with the loud, harsh clash of brazen pails,
kicked her in the loins, and rated her furiously for daring to rest
there. She arose at the kick, and went out from the place passively, not
well knowing what she did.

The morning was warm and radiant; the earth and the trees were dripping
with the rains of the night; the air was full of sweet odors, and of a
delicious coldness. As far as she saw there was no token far or near of
the gleaming cloud of the city of her dreams. She ventured to ask at a
wayside cabin if she were near to or far from Paris.

The woman of the cottage looked up searchingly from the seat before the
porch, and for answer cried to her: "Paris! pouf--f--f! get out, you
drowned rat."

She had lost for the time the mental force, and even the physical force
to resent or to persevere; she was weak with hunger and bewildered with
her misery. She had only sense enough left to remember--and be
thankful--that in the night that was past she had been strong.

The sun beat on her head, the road was hard, and sharp-set with flint;
she was full of pain, her brain throbbed with fever and reeled with
weakness; a sudden horror seized her lest she might die before she had
looked again on the face of Arslàn.

She saw the dusky shade of a green wood; by sheer instinct she crept
into it as a stricken deer into its sanctuary.

She sat in the darkness of the trees in the coolness of the wood, and
rested her head on her hands, and let the big salt tears drop one by
one, as the death tears of the llama fall.

This was the young year round her; that she knew.

The winter had gone by; its many months had passed over her head whilst
she was senseless to any flight of night or day; death might have taken
the prey which it had once been robbed of by her; in all this weary
season, which to her was as a blank, his old foes of failure and famine
might have struggled for and vanquished him, she not being by; his body
might lie in any plague-ditch of the nameless poor, his hand might rot
fleshless and nerveless in any pit where the world cast its useless and
dishonored dead; the mould of his brain might make a feast for eyeless
worms, not more stone blind than was the human race he had essayed to
serve; the beauty of his face might be a thing of loathsomeness from
which a toad would turn. Oh, God! would death never take her likewise?
Was she an outcast even from that one tribeless and uncounted nation of
the dead?

That god whom she had loved, whom she had chosen, whose eyes had been so
full of pity, whose voice had murmured: "Nay, the wise know me as man's
only friend":--even he, Thanatos, had turned against her and abandoned
her.

Vague memories of things which she had heard in fable and tradition, of
bodies accursed and condemned to wander forever unresting and wailing;
of spirits, which for their curse were imprisoned in a living flesh that
they could neither lose nor cast away so long as the world itself
endured; creatures that the very elements had denied, and that were too
vile for fire to burn, or water to drown, or steel to slay, or old age
to whither, or death to touch and take in any wise. All these memories
returned to her, and in her loneliness she wondered if she were such a
one as these.

She did not know, indeed, that she had done any great sin; she had done
none willingly, and yet all people called her vile, and they must know.

Even the old man, mocking her, had said:

"Never wrestle with Fate. He throws the strongest, soon or late. And
your fate is shame; it was your birth-gift, it will be your
burial-cloth. Can you cast it off? No. But you can make it potent as
gold, and sweet as honey if you choose, Folle-Farine."

And she had not chosen; yet of any nobility in the resistance she did
not dream. She had shut her heart to it by the unconscious instinct of
strength, as she had shut her lips under torture, and shut her hands
against life.

She sat there in the wood, roofless, penniless, friendless, and every
human creature was against her. Her tempter had spoken only the bare and
bleak truth. A dog stoned and chased and mad could be the only living
thing on the face of the earth more wretched and more desolate than
herself.

The sun of noon was bright above-head in a cloudless sky, but in the
little wood it was cool and shady, and had the moisture of a heavy
morning dew. Millions of young leaves had uncurled themselves in the
warmth. Little butterflies, some azure, some yellow, some white, danced
in the light. Brown rills of water murmured under the grasses, the
thrushes sang to one another through the boughs, and the lizard darted
hither and thither, green as the arrowy leaves that made its shelter.

A little distance from her there was a group of joyous singers who
looked at her from time to time, their laughter hushing a little, and
their simple carousal under the green boughs broken by a nameless
chillness and involuntary speculation. She did not note them, her face
being bowed down upon her hands, and no sound of the thrushes' song or
of the human singers' voices rousing her from the stupefaction of
despair which drugged her senses.

They watched her long; her attitude did not change.

One of them at length rose up and went, hesitating, a step or two
forwards; a girl with winking feet, clad gayly in bright colors, though
the texture of her clothes was poor.

She went and touched the crouched, sad figure softly.

"Are you in trouble?"

The figure lifted its bowed head, its dark, hopeless eyes.

Folle-Farine looked up with a stare and a shiver.

"It is no matter, I am only--tired."

"Are you all alone?"

"Yes."

"Come and sit with us a moment. You are in the damp and the gloom; we
are so pleasant and sunny there. Come."

"You are good, but let me be."

The blue-eyed girl called to the others. They lazily rose and came.

"Heaven! she is handsome!" the men muttered to one another.

She looked straight at them all, and let them be.

"You are all alone?" they asked her again.

"Always," she answered them.

"You are going--where?"

"To Paris"

"What to do there?"

"I do not know."

"You look wet--suffering--what is the matter?"

"I was nearly drowned last night--an accident--it is nothing."

"Where have you slept?"

"In a shed: with some cattle."

"Could you get no shelter in a house?"

"I did not seek any."

"What do you do? What is your work?"

"Anything--nothing."

"What is your name?"

"Folle-Farine."

"That means the chaff;--less than the chaff,--the dust."

"It means me."

They were silent, only bending on her their bright curious eyes.

They saw that she was unspeakably wretched; that some great woe or shock
had recently fallen on her, and given her glance that startled horror
and blanched her rich skin to an ashen pallor, and frozen, as it were,
the very current of the young blood in her veins.

They were silent a little space. Then whispered together.

"Come with us," they urged. "We, too, go to Paris. We are poor. We
follow art. We will befriend you."

She was deaf to them long, being timid and wild of every human thing.
But they were urgent; they were eloquent; these young girls with their
bright eyes; these men who spoke of art; these wanderers who went to the
great city.

In the end they pressed on her their companionship. They, too, were
going to Paris; they spoke of perils she would run, of vouchers she
would need: she wondered at their charity, but in the end walked on with
them--fearing the Red Mouse.

They were mirthful, gentle people, so she thought: they said they
followed art; they told her she could never enter Paris nameless and
alone: so she went. The chief of the little troop watched wonderingly
her step, her posture, her barbaric and lustrous beauty, brilliant still
even through the pallor of grief and the weariness of fatigue; of these
he had never seen the like before, and he knew their almost priceless
value in the world, and of the working classes and street mobs of Paris.

"Listen," he said suddenly to her. "We shall play to-night at the next
town. Will you take a part?"

Walking along through the glades of the wood, lost in thought, she
started at his voice.

"I do not know what you mean?"

"I mean--will you show yourself with us? We will give you no words. It
will be quite easy. What money we make we divide among us. All you shall
do shall be to stand and be looked at--you are beautiful, and you know
it, no doubt?"

She made a weary sign of assent. Beautiful? What could it matter if she
were so, or if she were not, what the mere thought of it? The beauty
that she owned, though so late a precious possession, a crown of glory
to her, had lost all its fairness and all its wonder since it had been
strengthless to bind to hers the only heart in which she cared to rouse
a throb of passion, since it had been unworthy to draw upon it with any
lingering gaze of love the eyes of Arslàn.

He looked at her more closely; this was a strange creature, he thought,
who, being a woman and in her first youth, could thus acknowledge her
own loveliness with so much candor, yet so much indifference.

That afternoon they halted at a little town that stood in a dell across
the fields, a small place lying close about a great church tower.

It was almost dusk when they entered it; but it was all alive with
lights and shows, and trumpets and banners; it was the day of a great
fair, and the merry-go-rounds were whirling, and the trades in gilded
cakes and puppets of sugar were thriving fast, and the narrow streets
were full of a happy and noisy peasant crowd.

As soon as the little troop entered the first street a glad cry rose.

They were well known and well liked there; the people clustered by
dozens round them, the women greeting them with kisses, the children
hugging the dogs, the men clamoring with invitations to eat and to drink
and be merry.

They bade her watch them at their art in a rough wooden house outside
the wine tavern.

She stood in the shadow and looked as they bade her, while the mimic
life of their little stage began and lived its hour.

To the mind which had received its first instincts of art from the cold,
lofty, passionless creations of Arslàn, from the classic purity and from
the divine conception of the old Hellenic ideal, the art of the stage
could seem but poor and idle mimicry; gaudy and fragrantless as any
painted rose of paper blooming on a tinseled stem.

The crystal truthfulness, the barbaric liberty, the pure idealism of her
mind and temper revolted in contempt from the visible presentment and
the vari-colored harlequinade of the actor's art. To her, a note of
song, a gleam of light, a shadowy shape, a veiled word, were enough to
unfold to her passionate fancy a world of dreams, a paradise of faith
and of desire; and for this very cause she shrank away, in amazement and
disgust, from this realistic mockery of mere humanity, which left
nothing for the imagination to create, which spoke no other tongue than
the common language of human hopes and fears. It could not touch her,
it could not move her; it filled her--so far as she could bring herself
to think of it at all--with a cold and wondering contempt.

For to the reed which has once trembled under the melody born of the
breath divine, the voices of mortal mouths, as they scream in rage, or
exult in clamor, or contend in battle, must ever seem the idlest and the
emptiest of all the sounds under heaven.

"That is your art?" she said wearily to the actors when they came to
her.

"Well, is it not art; and a noble one?"

A scornful shadow swept across her face.

"It is no art. It is human always. It is never divine. There is neither
heaven nor hell in it. It is all earth."

They were sharply stung.

"What has given you such thoughts as that?" they said, in their
impatience and mortification.

"I have seen great things," she said simply, and turned away and went
out into the darkness, and wept,--alone.

She who had knelt at the feet of Thanatos, and who had heard the songs
of Pan amidst the rushes by the river, and had listened to the charmed
steps of Persephone amidst the flowers of the summer;--could she honor
lesser gods than these?

"They may forget--they may forsake, and he likewise, but I never," she
thought.

If only she might live a little longer space to serve and suffer for
them and for him still; of fate she asked nothing higher.

That night there was much money in the bag. The players pressed a share
upon her; but she refused.

"Have I begged from you?" she said. "I have earned nothing."

It was with exceeding difficulty that they ended in persuading her even
to share their simple supper.

She took only bread and water, and sat and watched them curiously.

The players were in high spirits; their chief ordered a stoup of bright
wine, and made merry over it with gayer songs and louder laughter, and
more frequent jests than even were his wont.

The men and women of the town came in and out with merry interchange of
words. The youths of the little bourg chattered light amorous nonsense;
the young girls smiled and chattered in answer; whilst the actors
bantered them and made them a hundred love prophecies.

Now and then a dog trotted in to salute the players' poodles; now and
then the quaint face of a pig looked between the legs of its master.

The door stood open; the balmy air blew in; beyond, the stars shone in a
cloudless sky.

She sat without in the darkness, where no light fell among the thick
shroud of one of the blossoming boughs of pear-trees, and now and then
she looked and watched their laughter and companionship, and their gay
and airy buffoonery, together there within the winehouse doors.

"All fools enjoy!" she thought; with that bitter wonder, that aching
disdain, that involuntary injustice, with which the strong sad patience
of a great nature surveys the mindless merriment of lighter hearts and
brains more easily lulled into forgetfulness and content.

They came to her and pressed on her a draught of the wine, a share of
the food, a handful of the honeyed cates of their simple banquet; even a
portion of their silver and copper pieces with which the little leathern
sack of their receipts was full,--for once,--to the mouth.

She refused all: the money she threw passionately away.

"Am I a beggar?" she said, in her wrath.

She remained without in the gloom among the cool blossoming branches
that swayed above-head in the still night, while the carousal broke up
and the peasants went on their way to their homes, singing along the
dark streets, and the lights were put out in the winehouse, and the
trill of the grasshopper chirped in the fields around.

"You will die of damp, roofless in the open air this moonless night,"
men, as they passed away, said to her in wonder.

"The leaves are roof enough for me," she answered them: and stayed there
with her head resting on the roll of her sheepskin; wide awake through
the calm dark hours; for a bed within she knew that she could not pay,
and she would not let any charity purchase one for her.

At daybreak when the others rose she would only take from them the crust
that was absolutely needful to keep life in her. Food seemed to choke
her as it passed her lips,--since how could she tell but what his lips
were parched dry with hunger or were blue and cold in death?

That morning, as they started, one of the two youths who bore their
traveling gear and the rude appliances of their little stage upon his
shoulders from village to village when they journeyed thus--being
oftentimes too poor to permit themselves any other mode of transit and
of porterage--fell lame and grew faint and was forced to lay down his
burden by the roadside.

She raised the weight upon her back and head as she had been wont to do
the weights of timber and of corn for the mill-house, and bore it
onward.

In vain they remonstrated with her; she would not yield, but carried the
wooden framework and the folded canvases all through the heat and
weariness of the noonday.

"You would have me eat of your supper last night. I will have you accept
of my payment to-day," she said, stubbornly.

For this seemed to her a labor innocent and just, and even full of
honor, whatever men might say: had not Helios himself been bound as a
slave in Thessaly?

They journeyed far that day, along straight sunlit highways, and under
the shadows of green trees. The fields were green with the young corn
and the young vines; the delicate plumes of the first blossoming lilacs
nodded in their footsteps; the skies were blue; the earth was fragrant.

At noonday the players halted and threw themselves down beneath a
poplar-tree, in a wild rose thicket, to eat their noonday meal of bread
and a green cress salad.

The shelter they had chosen was full of fragrance from rain-drops still
wet upon the grasses, and the budding rose vines. The hedge was full of
honeysuckle and tufts of cowslips; the sun was warmer; the mild-eyed
cattle came and looked at them; little redstarts picked up their
crumbs; from a white vine-hung cottage an old woman brought them salt
and wished them a fair travel.

But her heart was sick and her feet weary, and she asked always,--"Where
is Paris?"

At last they showed it her, that gleaming golden cloud upon the purple
haze of the horizon.

She crossed her hands upon her beating breast, and thanked the gods that
they had thus given her to behold the city of his desires.

The chief of the mimes watched her keenly.

"You look at Paris," he said after a time. "There you may be great if
you will."

"Great? I?"

She echoed the word with weary incredulity. She knew he could but mock
at her.

"Ay," he made answer seriously. "Even you! Why not? There is no dynasty
that endures in that golden city save only one--the sovereignty of a
woman's beauty."

She started and shuddered a little; she thought that she saw the Red
Mouse stir amidst the grasses.

"I want no greatness," she said, slowly. "What should I do with it?"

For in her heart she thought,--

"What would it serve me to be known to all the world and remembered by
all the ages of men if he forget--forget quite?"



CHAPTER XII.


That night they halted in a little bright village of the leafy and
fruitful zone of the city--one of the fragrant and joyous
pleasure-places among the woods where the students and the young girls
came for draughts of milk and plunder of primroses, and dances by the
light of the spring moon, and love-words murmured as they fastened
violets in each other's breasts.

The next day she entered Paris with them as one of their own people.

"You may be great here, if you choose," they said to her, and laughed.

She scarcely heard. She only knew that here it was that Arslàn had
declared that fame--or death--should come to him.

The golden cloud dissolved as she drew near to it.

A great city might be beautiful to others: to her it was only as its
gilded cage is to a mountain bird. The wilderness of roofs, the
labyrinth of streets, the endless walls of stone, the ceaseless noises
of the living multitude, these were horrible to the free-born blood of
her; she felt blinded, caged, pent, deafened. Its magnificence failed to
daunt, its color to charm, its pageantry to beguile her. Through the
glad and gorgeous ways she went, wearily and sick of heart, for the rush
of free winds and the width of free skies, as a desert-born captive,
with limbs of bronze and the eyes of the lion, went fettered past the
palaces of Rome in the triumphal train of Africanus or Pompeius.

The little band with which she traveled wondered what her eyes so
incessantly looked for, in that perpetual intentness with which they
searched every knot of faces that was gathered together as a swarm of
bees clusters in the sunshine. They could not tell; they only saw that
her eyes never lost that look.

"Is it the Past or the Future that you search for always?" the shrewdest
of them asked her.

She shuddered a little, and made him no answer. How could she tell which
it was?--whether it would be a public fame or a nameless grave that she
would light on at the last?

She was a mystery to them.

She minded poverty so little. She was as content on a draught of water
and a bunch of cress as others are on rarest meats and wines. She bore
bodily fatigue with an Arab's endurance and indifference. She seemed to
care little whether suns beat on her, or storms drenched her to the
bone; whether she slept under a roof or the boughs of a tree; whether
the people hissed her for a foreign thing of foul omen, or clamored
aloud in the streets praise of her perfect face. She cared nothing.

She was silent always, and she never smiled.

"I must keep my liberty!" she had said; and she kept it.

By night she toiled ceaselessly for her new masters; docile, patient,
enduring, laborious, bearing the yoke of this labor as she had borne
that of her former slavery, rather than owe a crust to alms, a coin to
the gaze of a crowd. But by day she searched the city ceaselessly and
alone, wandering, wandering, wandering, always on a quest that was never
ended. For amidst the millions of faces that met her gaze, Arslàn's was
not; and she was too solitary, too ignorant, and locked her secret too
tenaciously in her heart, to be able to learn tidings of his name.

So the months of the spring and the summer time went by; it was very
strange and wondrous to her.

The human world seemed suddenly all about her; the quiet earth, on which
the cattle grazed, and the women threshed and plowed, and the sheep
browsed the thyme, and the mists swept from stream to sea, this was all
gone; and in its stead there was a world of tumult, color, noise,
change, riot, roofs piled on roofs, clouds of dust yellow in the sun,
walls peopled with countless heads of flowers and of women; throngs,
various of hue as garden-beds of blown anemones; endless harmonies and
discords always rung together from silver bells, and brazen trumpets,
and the clash of arms, and the spray of waters, and the screams of
anguish, and the laughs of mirth, and the shrill pipes of an endless
revelry, and the hollow sighs of a woe that had no rest.

For the world of a great city, of "the world as it is man's," was all
about her; and she loathed it, and sickened in it, and hid her face from
it whenever she could, and dreamed, as poets dream in fever of pathless
seas and tawny fields of weeds, and dim woods filled with the song of
birds, and cool skies brooding over a purple moor, and all the silence
and the loveliness and the freedom of "the world as it is God's."

"You are not happy?" one man said to her.

"Happy!"

She said no more; but he thought, just so had he seen a rose-crested
golden-eyed bird of the great savannas look, shut in a cage in a
showman's caravan, and dying slowly, with dulled plumage and drooped
head, while the street mob of a town thrust their fingers through the
bars and mocked it, and called to it to chatter and be gay.

"Show your beauty once--just once amidst us on the stage, and on the
morrow you can choose your riches and your jewels from the four winds of
heaven as you will," the players urged on her a hundred times.

But she refused always.

Her beauty--it was given to the gods, to take or leave, in life or
death, for him.

The months went on; she searched for him always. A horrible, unending
vigil that never seemed nearer its end. Vainly, day by day, she searched
the crowds and the solitudes, the gates of the palaces and the vaults of
the cellars. She thought she saw him a thousand times; but she could
never tell whether it were truth or fancy. She never met him face to
face: she never heard his name. There is no desert wider, no maze more
unending, than a great city.

She ran hideous peril with every moment that she lived; but by the
strength and the love that dwelt together in her she escaped them. Her
sad, wide, open, pathetic eyes searched only for his face and saw no
other; her ear, ever strained to listen for one voice, was dead to every
accent of persuasion or of passion.

When men tried to tell her she was beautiful, she looked them full in
the eyes and laughed, a terrible dreary laugh of scorn that chilled them
to the bone. When the gay groups on balconies, that glanced golden in
the sun, flung sweetmeats at her, and dashed wine on the ground, and
called to her for her beauty's sake to join them, she looked at them
with a look that had neither envy nor repugnance in it, but only a cold
mute weariness of contempt.

One day a great sculptor waylaid her, and showed her a pouch full of
money and precious stones. "All that, and more, you shall have, if you
will let me make a cast of your face and your body once." In answer, she
showed him the edge of her hidden knife.

One day a young man, unlike to all the ragged and toil-worn crowds that
alone beheld her, came in those crowded quarters of the poor, and
watched her with eyes aglow like those of the youth in the old
market-square about the cathedral, and waylaid her, later, in solitude,
and slid in her palm a chain studded with precious stones of many
colors.

"I am rich," he murmured to her. "I am a prince. I can make your name a
name of power, if only you will come."

"Come whither?" she asked him.

"Come with me--only to my supper-table--for one hour; my horses wait."

She threw the chain of stones at her feet.

"I have no hunger," she said, carelessly. "Go, ask those that have to
your feast."

And she gave no other phrase in answer to all the many honeyed and
persuasive words with which in vain he urged her, that night and many
another night, until he wearied.

One day, in the green outskirts of the city, passing by under a gilded
gallery, and a wide window, full of flowers, and hung with delicate
draperies, there looked out the fair head of a woman, with diamonds in
the ears, and a shroud of lace about it, while against the smiling
scornful mouth a jeweled hand held a rose; and a woman's voice called to
her, mockingly:

"Has the devil not heard you yet, that you still walk barefoot in the
dust on the stones, and let the sun beat on your head? O fool! there is
gold in the air, and gold in the dust, and gold in the very gutter here,
for a woman!"

And the face was the face, and the voice the voice, of the gardener's
wife of the old town by the sea.

She raised, to the gilded balcony above, her great sorrowful, musing
eyes, full of startled courage: soon she comprehended; and then her gaze
gave back scorn for scorn.

"Does that brazen scroll shade you better than did the trellised vine?"
she said, with her voice ascending clear in its disdain. "And are those
stones in your breast any brighter than the blue was in the eyes of your
child?"

The woman above cast the rose at her and laughed, and withdrew from the
casement.

She set her heel on the rose, and trod its leaves down in the dust. It
was a yellow rose, scentless and loveless--an emblem of pleasure and
wealth. She left it where it lay, and went onward.

The sweet sins, and all their rich profits, that she might take as
easily as she could have taken the rose from the dust, had no power to
allure her.

The gilded balcony, the velvet couch, the jewels in the ears, the purple
draperies, the ease and the affluence and the joys of the sights and the
senses, these to her were as powerless to move her envy, these to her
seemed as idle as the blow-balls that a child's breath floated down the
current of a summer breeze.

When once a human ear has heard the whispers of the gods by night steal
through the reeds by the river, never again to it can there sound
anything but discord and empty sound in the tinkling cymbals of brass,
and the fools' bells of silver, in which the crowds in their deafness
imagine the songs of the heroes and the music of the spheres.

"There are only two trades in a city," said the actors to her, with a
smile as bitter as her own, "only two trades--to buy souls and to sell
them. What business have you here, who do neither the one nor the
other?"

There was music still in this trampled reed of the river, into which the
gods had once bidden the stray winds and the wandering waters breathe
their melody; but there, in the press, the buyers and sellers only saw
in it a frail thing of the sand and the stream, only made to be woven
for barter, or bind together the sheaves of the roses of pleasure.

By-and-by they grew so impatient of this soul which knew its right
errand so little that it would neither accept temptation itself nor deal
it to others, they grew so impatient to receive that golden guerdon from
passion and evil which they had foreseen as their sure wage for her
when they had drawn her with them to the meshes of the city, that they
betrayed her, stung and driven into treachery by the intolerable
reproach of her continual strength, her continual silence.

They took a heavy price, and betrayed her to the man who had set his
soul upon her beauty, to make it live naked and vile and perfect for all
time in marble. She saved herself by such madness of rage, such fury of
resistance, as the native tigress knows in the glare of the torches or
the bonds of the cords. She smote the sculptor with her knife; a tumult
rose round; voices shouted that he was stabbed; the men who had betrayed
her raised loudest the outcry. In the darkness of a narrow street, and
of a night of tempest, she fled from them, and buried herself in the
dense obscurity which is one of the few privileges of the outcasts.

It was very poor, this quarter where she found refuge; men and women at
the lowest ebb of life gathered there together. There was not much
crime; it was too poor even for that. It was all of that piteous,
hopeless class that is honest, and suffers and keeps silent--so silent
that no one notices when death replaces life.

Here she got leave to dwell a little while in the topmost corner of a
high tower, which rose so high, so high, that the roof of it seemed
almost like the very country itself. It was so still there, and so
fresh, and the clouds seemed so near, and the pigeons flew so close
about it all day long, and at night so trustfully sought their roost
there.

In a nook of it she made her home. It was very old, very desolate, very
barren; yet she could bear it better than she could any lower range of
dwelling. She could see the sunrise and the sunset; she could see the
rain-mists and the planets; she could look down on all the white curl of
the smoke; and she could hear the bells ring with a strange, peculiar
sweetness, striking straight to her ear across the wilderness of roofs.
And then she had the pigeons. They were not much, but they were
something of the old, fresh country life; and now and then they brought
a head of clover, or a spray of grass, in their beaks; and at sight of
it the tears would rush into her eyes, and though it was pain, it was
yet a dearer one than any pleasure that she had.

She maintained herself still without alms, buying her right to live
there, and the little food that sufficed for her, by one of those
offices in which the very poor contrive to employ those still poorer
than themselves.

They slept so heavily, those people who had the weight of twenty hours'
toil, the pangs of hunger, and the chills of cold upon them, whenever
they laid them down, and who would so willingly have slept forever with
any night they laid their heads upon their sacks of rags. But, so long
as they woke at all, they needed to wake with the first note of the
sparrows in the dark.

She, so long used to rise ere ever the first streak of day were seen,
roused scores of them; and in payment they gave her the right to warm
herself at their stove, a handful of their chestnuts, a fragment of
their crust, a little copper piece,--anything that they could afford or
she would consent to take. A woman, who had been the réveilleuse of the
quarter many years, had died; and they were glad of her:--"Her eyes have
no sleep in them," they said; and they found that she never failed.

It was a strange trade--to rise whilst yet for the world it was night,
and go to and fro the dreary courts, up and down the gloom of the
staircases, and in and out the silent chambers, and call all those sons
and daughters of wretchedness from the only peace that their lives knew.
So often she felt so loath to wake them; so often she stood beside the
bundle of straw on which some dreaming creature, sighing and smiling in
her sleep, murmured of her home, and had not the heart rudely to shatter
those mercies of the night.

It was a strange, sad office, to go alone among all those sleepers in
the stillness that came before the dawn, and move from house to house,
from door to door, from bed to bed, with the one little star of her lamp
alone burning.

They were all so poor, so poor, it seemed more cruel than murder only to
call them from their rest to work, and keep alive in them that faculty
of suffering which was all they gained from their humanity.

Her pity for them grew so great that her heart perforce softened to them
also. Those strong men gaunt with famine, those white women with their
starved children on their breasts, those young maidens worn blind over
the needle or the potter's clay, those little children who staggered up
in the dark to go to the furnace, or the wheel, or the powder-mill, or
the potato-fields outside the walls,--she could neither fear them nor
hate them, nor do aught save sorrow for them with a dumb, passionate,
wondering grief.

She saw these people despised for no shame, wretched for no sin,
suffering eternally, though guilty of no other fault than that of being
in too large numbers on an earth too small for the enormous burden of
its endless woe. She found that she had companions in her misery, and
that she was not alone under that bitter scorn which had been poured on
her. In a manner she grew to care for these human creatures, all
strangers, yet whose solitude she entered, and whose rest she roused. It
was a human interest, a human sympathy. It drew her from the despair
that had closed around her.

And some of these in turn loved her.

Neither poverty nor wretchedness could dull the lustrous, deep-hued,
flowerlike beauty that was hers by nature. As she ascended the dark
stone stairs with the little candle raised above her head, and, knocking
low, entered the place where they slept, the men and the children alike
dreamed of strange shapes of paradise and things of sorcery.

"When she wakes us, the children never cry," said a woman whom she
always summoned an hour before dawn to rise and walk two leagues to a
distant factory. It was new to her to be welcomed; it was new to see the
children smile because she touched them. It lifted a little the ice that
had closed about her heart.

It had become the height of the summer. The burning days and the sultry
nights poured down on her bare head and blinded her, and filled her
throat with the dust of the public ways, and parched her mouth with the
thirst of overdriven cattle.

All the while in the hard hot glare she searched for one face. All the
while in the hard brazen din she listened for one voice.

She wandered all the day, half the night. They wondered that she woke so
surely with every dawn; they did not know that seldom did she ever
sleep. She sought for him always;--sought the busy crowds of the living;
sought the burial-grounds of the dead.

As she passed through the endless ways in the wondrous city; as she
passed by the vast temples of art; as she passed by the open doors of
the sacred places which the country had raised to the great memories
that it treasured; it became clearer to her--this thing of his desires,
this deathless name amidst a nation, this throne on the awed homage of a
world for which his life had labored, and striven, and sickened, and
endlessly yearned.

The great purpose, the great end, to which he had lived grew tangible
and present to her; and in her heart, as she went, she said ever, "Let
me only die as the reed died,--what matter,--so that only the world
speak his name!"



CHAPTER XIII.


One night she stood on the height of the leads of the tower. The pigeons
had gone to roost; the bells had swung themselves into stillness; far
below the changing crowds were moving ceaselessly, but to that calm
altitude no sound arose from them. The stars were out, and a great
silver moon bathed half the skies in its white glory. In the stones of
the parapet wind-sown blossoms blew to and fro heavy with dew.

The day had been one of oppressive heat. She had toiled all through it,
seeking, seeking, seeking, what she never found. She was covered with
dust; parched with thirst; foot-weary; sick at heart. She looked down on
the mighty maze of the city, and thought, "How long,--how long?"

Suddenly a cool hand touched her, a soft voice murmured at her ear,--

"You are not tired, Folle-Farine?"

Turning in the gloom she faced Sartorian. A great terror held her mute
and breathless there; gazing in the paralysis of horror at this frail
life, which was for her the incarnation of the world, and by whose lips
the world said to her, "Come, eat and drink, and sew your garments with
gems, and kiss men on the mouth whilst you slay them, and plunder and
poison, and laugh and be wise. For all your gods are dead; and there is
but one god now,--that god is gold."

"You must be tired, surely," the old man said, with soft insistance.
"You never find what you seek; you are always alone, always hungered and
poor; always wretched, Folle-Farine. Ah! you would not eat my golden
pear. It was not wise."

He said so little; and yet, those slow, subtle, brief phrases pierced
her heart with the full force of their odious meaning. She leaned
against the wall, breathing hard and fast, mute, for the moment
paralyzed.

"You fled away from me that night. It was heroic, foolish, mad. Yet I
bear no anger against it. You have not loved the old, dead gods for
naught. You have the temper of their times. You obey them; though they
betray you and forget you, Folle-Farine."

She gazed at him, fascinated by her very loathing of him, as the bird by
the snake.

"Who told you?" she muttered. "Who told you that I dwell here?"

"The sun has a million rays; so has gold a million eyes; do you not
know? There is nothing you have not done that has not been told to me.
But I can always wait, Folle-Farine. You are very strong; you are very
weak, of course;--you have a faith, and you follow it; and it leads you
on and on, on and on, and one day it will disappear,--and you will
plunge after it,--and it will drown you. You seek for this man and you
cannot find even his grave. You are like a woman who seeks for her
lover on a battle-field. But the world is a carnage where the vultures
soon pick bare the bones of the slain, and all skeletons look alike, and
are alike, unlovely, Folle-Farine."

"You came--to say this?" she said, through her locked teeth.

"Nay--I came to see your beauty: your ice-god tired soon; but I----My
golden pear would have been better vengeance for a slighted passion than
his beggar's quarter, and these wretched rags----"

She held her misery and her shame and her hatred alike down under
enforced composure.

"There is no shame here," she said, between her teeth. "A beggar's
quarter, perhaps; but these poor copper coins and these rags I earn with
clean hands."

He smiled with that benignant pity, with that malign mockery, which
stung her so ruthlessly.

"No shame? Oh, Folle-Farine, did I not tell you, that, live as you may,
shame will be always your garment in life and in death? You--a thing
beautiful, nameless, homeless, accursed, who dares to dream to be
innocent likewise! The world will clothe you with shame, whether you
choose it or not. But the world, as I say, will give you one choice.
Take its red robe boldly from it, and weight it with gold and incrust it
with jewels. Believe me, the women who wear the white garments of virtue
will envy you the red robe bitterly then."

Her arms were crossed upon her breast; her eyes gazed at him with the
look he had seen in the gloom of the evening, under the orchards by the
side of the rushing mill-water.

"You came--to say this?"

"Nay: I came to see your beauty, Folle-Farine. Your northern god soon
tired, I say; but I----Look yonder a moment," he pursued; and he
motioned downward to where the long lines of light gleamed in the
wondrous city which was stretched at their feet; and the endless murmur
of its eternal sea of pleasure floated dimly to them on the soft night
air. "See here, Folle-Farine: you dwell with the lowest; you are the
slave of street mimes; no eyes see you except those of the harlot, the
beggar, the thief, the outcast; your wage is a crust and a copper coin;
you have the fate of your namesake, the dust, to wander a little while,
and then sink on the stones of the streets. Yet that you think worthy
and faithful, because it is pure of alms and of vice. Oh, beautiful
fool! what would your lost lover say if beholding you here amidst the
reek of the mob and the homage of thieves? He would say of you the most
bitter thing that a man can say of a woman: 'She has sunk into sin, but
she has been powerless to gild her sin, or make it of more profit than
was her innocence.' And a man has no scorn like the scorn which he feels
for a woman who sells her soul--at a loss. You see?--ah, surely, you
see, Folle-Farine?"

She shook like a leaf where she stood, with the yellow and lustrous
moonlight about her. She saw--she saw now!

And she had been mad enough to dream that if she lived in honesty, and,
by labor that she loathed won back, with hands clean of crime as of
alms, the gold which he had left in her trust as the wage of her beauty,
and found him and gave it to him without a word, he would at least
believe--believe so much as this, that her hunger had been famine, and
her need misery, and her homelessness that of the stray dog which is
kicked from even a ditch, and hunted from even a graveyard: but that
through it all she had never touched one coin of that cruel and
merciless gift.

"You see?" pursued the low, flutelike moaning mockery of her tormentor's
voice. "You see? You have all the shame: it is your birthright; and you
have nothing of the sweetness which may go with shame for a woman who
has beauty. Now, look yonder. There lies the world, which when I saw you
last was to you only an empty name. Now you know it--know it, at least,
enough to be aware of all you have not, all you might have in it, if you
took my golden pear. You must be tired, Folle-Farine,--to stand homeless
under the gilded balconies; to be footsore in the summer dust among the
rolling carriages; to stand outcast and famished before the palace
gates; to see the smiles upon a million mouths, and on them all not one
smile upon you; to show yourself hourly among a mob, that you may buy a
little bread to eat, a little straw to rest on! You must be tired,
Folle-Farine!"

She was silent where she stood in the moonlight, with the clouds seeming
to lean and touch her, and far beneath the blaze of the myriad of lights
shining through the soft darkness of the summer night.

Tired!--ah, God!--tired, indeed. But not for any cause of which he
spake.

"You must be tired. Now, eat of my golden pear; and there, where the
world lies yonder at our feet, no name shall be on the mouths of men as
your name shall be in a day. Through the crowds you shall be borne by
horses fleet as the winds; or you shall lean above them from a gilded
gallery, and mock them at your fancy there on high in a cloud of
flowers. Great jewels shall beam on you like planets; and the only
chains that you shall wear shall be links of gold, like the chains of a
priestess of old. Your mere wish shall be as a sorcerer's wand, to bring
you the thing of your idlest desire. You have been despised!--what
vengeance sweeter than to see men grovel to win your glance, as the
swine at the feet of Circe? You have been scorned and accursed!--what
retribution fuller than for women to behold in you the sweetness and
magnificence of shame, and through you, envy, and fall, and worship the
Evil which begot you? Has humanity been so fair a friend to you that you
can hesitate to strike at its heart with such a vengeance--so
symmetrical in justice, so cynical in irony? Humanity cast you out to
wither at your birth,--a thing rootless, nameless, only meet for the
snake and the worm. If you bear poison in your fruit, is that your
fault, or the fault of the human hands that cast the chance-sown weed
out on the dunghill to perish? I do not speak of passion. I use no
anomalous phrase. I am old and ill-favored; and I know that, any way,
you will forever hate me. But the rage of the desert-beast is more
beautiful than the meek submission of the animal timid and tame. It is
the lioness in you that I care to chain; but your chain shall be of
gold, Folle-Farine; and all women will envy. Name your price, set it
high as you will; there is nothing that I will refuse. Nay, even I will
find your lover, who loves not you; and I will let you have your fullest
vengeance on him. A noble vengeance, for no other would be worthy of
your strength. Living or dead, his genius shall be made known to men;
and, before another summer comes, all the world shall toss aloft in
triumph the name that is now nothing as the dust is;--nothing as you
are, Folle-Farine!"

She heard in silence to the end.

On the height of the roof-tops all was still; the stars seemed to beam
close against her sight; below was the infinite space of the darkness,
in which lines of light glittered where the haunts of pleasure lay; all
creatures near her slept; the wind-sown plants blew to and fro, rooted
in the spaces of the stones.

As the last words died softly on the quiet of the air, in answer she
reached her hand upward, and broke off a tuft of the yellow
wall-blossom, and cast it out with one turn of her wrist down into the
void of the darkness.

"What do I say?" she said, slowly. "What? Well, this: I could seize you,
and cast you down into the dark below there, as easily as I cast that
tuft of weed. And why I hold my hand I cannot tell; it would be just."

And she turned away and walked from him in the gloom, slowly, as though
the deed she spake of tempted her.



CHAPTER XIV.


The poverties of the city devoured her incessantly, like wolves; the
temptations of the city crouched in wait for her incessantly, like
tigers. She was always hungry, always heartsick, always alone; and there
was always at her ear some tempting voice, telling her that she was
beautiful and was a fool. Yet she never dreamed once of listening, of
yielding, of taking any pity on herself. Was this virtue? She never
thought of it as such; it was simply instinct; the instinct of a
supreme fidelity, in which all slighter and meaner passions were
absorbed and slain.

Once or twice, through some lighted casement in some lamp-lit wood,
where the little gay boats flashed on fairy lakes, she would coldly
watch that luxury, that indolence, that rest of the senses, with a curl
on her lips, where she sat or stood, in the shadow of the trees.

"To wear soft stuffs and rich colors, to have jewels in their breasts,
to sleep in satin, to hear fools laugh, to have both hands full of gold,
that is what women love," she thought; and laughed a little in her cold
wonder, and went back to her high cage in the tower, and called the
pigeons in from the rooftops at sunset, and kissed their purple throats,
and broke among them her one dry crust, and, supperless herself, sat on
the parapet and watched the round white moon rise over the shining roofs
of Paris.

She was ignorant, she was friendless, she was savage, she was very
wretched; but she had a supreme love in her, and she was strong.

A hundred times the Red Mouse tried to steal through the lips which
hunger, his servile and unfailing minister, would surely, the Red Mouse
thought, disbar and unclose to him sooner or later.

"You will tire, and I can wait, Folle-Farine," the Red Mouse had said to
her, by the tongue of the old man Sartorian; and he kept his word very
patiently.

He was patient, he was wise; he believed in the power of gold, and he
had no faith in the strength of a woman. He knew how to wait--unseen, so
that this rare bird should not perceive the net spread for it in its
wildness and weariness. He did not pursue, nor too quickly incense, her.

Only in the dark, cheerless mists, when she rose to go among the world
of the sleeping poor, at her threshold she would step on some gift
worthy of a queen's acceptance, without date or word, gleaming there
against the stone of the stairs.

When she climbed to her hole in the roof at the close of a day, all
pain, all fatigue, all vain endeavor, all bootless labor to and fro the
labyrinth of streets, there would be on her bare bench such fruits and
flowers as Dorothea might have sent from Paradise, and curled amidst
them some thin leaf that would have bought the weight of the pines and
of the grapes in gold.

When in the dusk of the night she went, wearily and footsore, through
the byways and over the sharp-set flints of the quarters of the outcasts
and the beggars, sick with the tumult and the stench and the squalor,
parched with dust, worn with hunger, blind with the endless search for
one face amidst the millions,--going home!--oh, mockery of the word!--to
a bed of straw, to a cage in the roof, to a handful of rice as a meal,
to a night of loneliness and cold and misery; at such a moment now and
then through the gloom a voice would steal to her, saying,--

"Are you not tired yet, Folle-Farine?"

But she never paused to hear the voice, nor gave it any answer.

The mill dust; the reed by the river; the nameless, friendless, rootless
thing that her fate made her, should have been weak, and so lightly
blown by every chance breeze--so the Red Mouse told her; should have
asked no better ending than to be wafted up a little while upon the
winds of praise, or woven with a golden braid into a crown of pleasure.

Yet she was so stubborn and would not; yet she dared deride her
tempters, and defy her destiny, and be strong.

For Love was with her.

And though the Red Mouse lies often in Love's breast, and is cradled
there a welcome guest, yet when Love, once in a million times, shakes
off his sloth, and flings the Red Mouse with it from him, he flings with
a hand of force; and the beast crouches and flees, and dares meddle with
Love no more.

In one of the first weeks of the wilder weather, weather that had the
purple glow of the autumnal storms and the chills of coming winter on
it, she arose, as her habit was, ere the night was altogether spent, and
lit her little taper, and went out upon her rounds to rouse the
sleepers.

She had barely tasted food for many hours. All the means of subsistence
that she had was the few coins earned from those as poor almost as
herself. Often these went in debt to her, and begged for a little time
to get the piece or two of base metal that they owed her; and she
forgave them such debts always, not having the heart to take the last
miserable pittance from some trembling withered hand which had worked
through fourscore years of toil, and found no payment but its wrinkles
in its palm; not having the force to fill her own platter with crusts
which could only be purchased by the hunger cries of some starveling
infant, or by the barter of some little valueless cross of ivory or
rosary of berries long cherished in some aching breast after all else
was lost or spent.

She had barely tasted food that day, worst of all she had not had even a
few grains to scatter to the hungry pigeons as they had fluttered to her
on the housetop in the stormy twilight as the evening fell.

She had lain awake all the night hearing the strokes of the bells sound
the hours, and seeming to say to her as they beat on the silence,--

"Dost thou dare to be strong, thou? a grain of dust, a reed of the
river, a Nothing?"

When she rose, and drew back the iron staple that fastened her door, and
went out on the crazy stairway, she struck her foot against a thing of
metal. It glittered in the feeble beams from her lamp. She took it up;
it was a little precious casket, such as of old the Red Mouse lurked in,
among the pearls, to spring out from their whiteness into the purer snow
of Gretchen's bread.

With it was only one written line:

"When you are tired, Folle-Farine?"

She was already tired, tired with the horrible thirsty weariness of the
young lioness starved and cramped in a cage in a city.

An old crone sat on a niche on the wall. She thrust her lean bony face,
lit with wolf's eyes, through the gloom.

"Are you not tired?" she muttered in the formula taught her. "Are you
not tired, Folle-Farine?"

"If I be, what of that?" she answered, and she thrust the case away to
the feet of the woman, still shut, and went on with her little dim taper
down round the twist of the stairs. She knew what she did, what she put
away. She had come to know, too, what share the sex of her mother takes
in the bringing to the lips of their kind the golden pear that to most
needs no pressing.

"If I had only your face, and your chances," had said to her that day a
serving-girl, young, with sallow cheeks, and a hollow voice, and eyes of
fever, who lived in a den lower down on the stairway.

"Are you mad that you hunger here when you might hang yourself with
diamonds like our Lady of Atocha?" cried a dancing-woman with sullen
eyes and a yellow skin from the hither side of the mountains, who begged
in the streets all day.

So, many tongues hissed to her in different fashions. It seemed to many
of them impious in one like her to dare be stronger than the gold was
that assailed her, to dare to live up there among the clouds, and
hunger, and thirst, and keep her silence, and strike dumb all the mouths
that tried to woo her down, and shake aside all the hands that strove
softly to slide their purchase-moneys into hers.

For they chimed in chorus as the bells did:

"Strength in the dust--in a reed--in a Nothing?"

It was a bitter windy morning; the rain fell heavily; there were no
stars out, and the air was sharp and raw. She was too used to all
changes of weather to take heed of it, but her thin clothes were soaked
through, and her hair was drenched as she crossed the courts and
traversed the passages to reach her various employers.

The first she roused was a poor sickly woman sleeping feverishly on an
old rope mat; the second an old man wrestling with nightmare, as the
rain poured on him through a hole in the roof, making him dream that he
was drowning.

The third was a woman, so old that her quarter accredited her with a
century of age; she woke mumbling that it was hard at her years to have
to go and pick rags for a crumb of bread.

The fourth was a little child not seven; he was an orphan, and the
people who kept him sent him out to get herbs in the outlying villages
to sell in the streets, and beat him if he let other children be
beforehand with him. He woke sobbing; he had dreamed of his dead mother,
and cried out that it was so cold, so cold.

There were scores like them at whose doors she knocked, or whose
chambers she entered. The brief kind night was over, and they had to
arise and work,--or die.

"Why do they not die?" she wondered; and she thought of the dear gods
that she had loved, the gods of oblivion.

Truly there were no gifts like their gifts; and yet men knew their worth
so little;--but thrust Hypnos back in scorn, dashing their winecups in
his eyes; and mocked Oneiros, calling him the guest of love-sick fools
and of mad poets; and against Thanatos strove always in hatred and
terror as against their dreaded foe.

It was a strange, melancholy, dreary labor this into which she had
entered.

It was all dark. The little light she bore scarcely shed its rays beyond
her feet. It was all still. The winds sounded infinitely sad among those
vaulted passages and the deep shafts of the stairways. Now and then a
woman's voice in prayer or a man's in blasphemy echoed dully through the
old half-ruined buildings. Otherwise an intense silence reigned there,
where all save herself were sleeping.

She used to think it was a city of the dead, in which she alone was
living.

And sometimes she had not the heart to waken them; when there was a
smile on some wan worn face that never knew one in its waking hours; or
when some childless mother in her lonely bed sleeping, in fancy drew
young arms about her throat.

This morning when all her tasks were done, and all the toilers summoned
to another day of pain, she retraced her steps slowly, bearing the light
aloft, and with its feeble rays shed on the colorless splendor of her
face, and on her luminous dilated troubled eyes that were forever
seeking what they never found.

A long vaulted passage stretched between her and the foot of the steps
that led to the tower; many doors opened on it, the winds wailed through
it, and the ragged clothes of the tenants blew to and fro upon the
swaying cords. She traversed it, and slowly mounted her own staircase,
which was spiral and narrow, with little loopholes ever and again that
looked out upon the walls, and higher on the roofs, and higher yet upon
the open sky. By one of these she paused and looked out wearily.

It was dark still; great low rain-clouds floated by; a little caged bird
stirred with a sad note; mighty rains swept by from the westward, sweet
with the smell of the distant fields.

Her heart ached for the country.

It was so still there in the dusk she knew, even in this wild autumn
night, which there would be so purple with leaf shadow, so brown with
embracing branches, so gray with silvery faint mists of lily, white with
virgin snows. Ah, God! to reach it once again, she thought, if only to
die in it.

And yet she stayed on in this, which was to her the deepest hell, stayed
on because he--in life or death--was here.

She started as a hand touched her softly, where she stood looking
through the narrow space. The eyes of Sartorian smiled on her through
the twilight.

"Do you shrink still?" he said, gently. "Put back your knife; look at me
quietly; you will not have the casket?--very well. Your strength is
folly; yet it is noble. It becomes you. I do you good for ill. I have
had search made for your lover, who loves not you. I have found him."

"Living?" She quivered from head to foot; the gray walls reeled round
her; she feared, she hoped, she doubted, she believed. Was it hell? Was
it heaven? She could not tell. She cared not which, so that only she
could look once more upon the face of Arslàn.

"Living," he answered her, and still he smiled. "Living. Come with me,
and see how he has used the liberty you gave. Come."

She staggered to her feet and rose, and held her knife close in the
bosom of her dress, and with passionate eyes of hope and dread searched
the face of the old man through the shadows.

"It is the truth?" she muttered. "If you mock me,--if you lie----"

"Your knife will sheathe itself in my body, I know. Nay, I have never
lied to you. One cannot wear a velvet glove to tame a lioness. Come with
me; fear nothing, Folle-Farine. Come with me, and see with your own
eyesight how the world of men has dealt with this your god."

"I will come."

Sartorian gazed at her in silence.

"You are a barbarian; and so you are heroic always. I would not lie to
you, and here I have no need. Come; it is very near to you. A breadth of
stone can sever two lives, though the strength of all the world cannot
unite them. Come."

She gripped the knife closer, and, with feet that stumbled as the feet
of a dumb beast that goes out to its slaughter, followed him, through
the dark and narrow ways. She had no fear for herself; she had no dread
of treachery or peril; for herself she could be strong, always: and the
point of the steel was set hard against her breast; but for him?--had
the gods forgotten? had he forgot?

She was sick, and cold, and white with terror as she went. She dreaded
the unknown thing her eyes might look upon. She dreaded the truth that
she had sought to learn all through the burning months of summer, all
through the horrors of the crowded city. Was it well with him, or ill?
Had the gods remembered at last? Had the stubborn necks of men been bent
to his feet? Was he free?--free to rise to the heights of lofty desire,
and never look downward, in pity, once?

They passed in silence through many passage-ways of the great stone hive
of human life in which she dwelt. Once only Sartorian paused and looked
back and spoke.

"If you find him in a woman's arms, lost in a sloth of passion, what
then? Will you say still, Let him have greatness?"

In the gloom he saw her stagger as though struck upon the head. But she
rallied and gazed at him in answer with eyes that would neither change
nor shrink.

"What is that to you?" she said, in her shut teeth. "Show me the truth:
and as for him,--he has a right to do as he will. Have I said ever
otherwise?"

He led the way onward in silence.

This passion, so heroic even in its barbarism, so faithful even in its
wretchedness, so pure even in its abandonment, almost appalled him,--and
yet on it he had no pity.

By his lips the world spoke: the world which, to a creature nameless,
homeless, godless, friendless, offered only one choice--shame or death;
and for such privilege of choice bade her be thankful to men and to
their deity.

He led her through many vaulted ways, and up the shaft of a stone
stairway in a distant side of the vast pile, which, from holding many
habitants of kings, and monks, and scholars, had become the populous
home of the most wretched travailers of a great city.

"Wait here," he said, and drew her backward into a hollow in the wall.
It was nearly dark.

As she stood there in the darkness looking down through the narrow
space, there came a shadow to her through the gloom,--a human shadow,
noiseless and voiceless. It ascended the shaft of the stairs with a
silent, swift tread, and passed by her, and went onward; as it passed,
the rays of her lamp were shed on it, and her eyes at last saw the face
of Arslàn.

It was pale as death; his head was sunk on his breast; his lips muttered
without the sound of words, his fair hair streamed in the wind; he moved
without haste, without pause, with the pulseless haste, the bloodless
quiet of a phantom.

She had heard men talk of those who, being dead, yet dwelt on earth and
moved amidst the living. She had no thought of him in that moment save
as among the dead. But he, dead or living, could have no horror for her;
he, dead or living, ruled her as the moon the sea, and drew her after
him, and formed the one law of her life.

She neither trembled nor prayed, nor wept nor laughed, nor cried aloud
in her inconceivable joy. Her heart stood still, as though some hand had
caught and gripped it. She was silent in the breathless silence of an
unspeakable awe; and with a step as noiseless as his own, she glided in
his path through the deep shaft of the stairs, upward and upward through
the hushed house, through the innumerable chambers, through the dusky
shadows, through the chill of the bitter dawn, through the close hive of
the sleeping creatures, up and up, into the very roof itself, where it
seemed to meet the low and lurid clouds, and to be lifted from the
habitations and the homes of men.

A doorway was open; he passed through it; beyond it was a bare square
place through which there came the feeblest rays of dawn, making the
yellow oil flame that burned in it look dull and hot and garish. He
passed into the chamber and stood still a moment, with his head dropped
on his chest and his lips muttering sounds without meaning.

The light fell on his face; she saw that he was living. Crouched on his
threshold, she watched him, her heart leaping with a hope so keen, a
rapture so intense, that its very strength and purity suffocated her
like some mountain air too pure and strong for human lungs to breathe.

He walked in his sleep; that sleep so strange and so terrible, which
drugs the senses and yet stimulates the brain; in which the sleeper
moves, acts, remembers, returns to daily habits, and resorts to daily
haunts, and yet to all the world around him is deaf and blind and
indifferent as the dead.

The restless brain, unstrung by too much travail and too little food,
had moved the limbs unconsciously to their old haunts and habits; and in
his sleep, though sightless and senseless, he seemed still to know and
still to suffer. For he moved again, after a moment's rest, and passed
straight to the wooden trestles on which a great canvas was
outstretched. He sank down on a rough bench in front of it, and passed
his hand before the picture with the fond, caressing gesture with which
a painter shows to another some wave of light, some grace of color, and
then sat there, stupidly, steadfastly, with his elbows on his knees and
his head on his hands, and his eyes fastened on the creation before him.


It was a rugged, desolate, wind-blown chamber, set in the topmost height
of the old pile, beaten on by all snows, drenched by all rains, rocked
by all storms, bare, comfortless, poor to the direst stretch of poverty,
close against the clouds, and with the brazen bells and teeming roofs of
the city close beneath.

She had dwelt by him for many weeks, and no sense of his presence had
come to her, no instinct had awakened in him towards the love which
clung to him with a faithfulness only as great as its humility. She,
praying always to see this man once more, and die--had been severed from
him by the breadth of a stone as by an ocean's width; and he--doomed to
fail always, spending his life in one endeavor, and by that one
perpetually vanquished--he had had no space left to look up at a
nameless creature with lithe golden limbs, about whose head the
white-winged pigeons fluttered at twilight on the housetop.

His eyes had swept over her more than once; but they had had no sight
for her; they were a poet's eyes that saw forever in fancy faces more
amorous and divine, limbs lovelier and more lily-like, mouths sweeter
and more persuasive in their kiss, than any they ever saw on earth.

One passion consumed him, and left him not pause, nor breath, nor pity,
nor sorrow for any other thing. He rested from his work and knew that it
was good; but this could not content him, for this his fellow-men
denied.

There was scarcely any light, but there was enough for her to read his
story by--the story of continual failure.

Yet where she hid upon the threshold, her heart beat with wildest music
of recovered joy; she had found him, and she had found him alone.

No woman leaned upon his breast; no soft tossed hair bathed his arms, no
mouth murmured against his own. He was alone. Her only rival was that
one great passion with which she had never in her humility dreamed to
mete herself.

Dead he might be to all the world of men, dead in his own sight by a
worse fate than that or any could give; but for her he was living,--to
her what mattered failure or scorn, famine or woe, defeat or despair?

She saw his face once more.

She crouched upon his threshold now, and trembled with the madness of
her joy, and courted its torture. She dared not creep and touch his
hand, she dared not steal and kneel a moment at his feet.

He had rejected her. He had had no need of her. He had left her with the
first hour that freedom came to him. He had seen her beauty, and learned
its lines and hues, and used them for his art, and let it go again, a
soulless thing that gave him no delight; a thing so slight he had
thought it scarcely worth his while even to break it for an hour's
sport. This was what he had deemed her; that she knew.

She accepted the fate at his hands with the submission that was an
integral part of the love she bore him. She had never thought of
equality between herself and him; he might have beaten her, or kicked
her, as a brute his dog, and she would not have resisted nor resented.

To find him, to watch him from a distance, to serve him in any humble
ways she might; to give him his soul's desire, if any barter of her own
soul could purchase it,--this was all she asked. She had told him that
he could have no sins to her, and it had been no empty phrase.

She crouched on his threshold, scarcely daring to breathe lest he should
hear her.

In the dull light of dawn and of the sickly lamp she saw the great
canvas on the trestles that his eyes, without seeing it, yet stared
at;--it was the great picture of the Barabbas, living its completed life
in color: beautiful, fearful, and divine, full of its majesty of godhead
and its mockery of man.

She knew then how the seasons since they had parted had been spent with
him; she knew then, without any telling her in words, how he had given
up all his nights and days, all his scant store of gold, all leisure and
comfort and peace, all hours of summer sunshine and of midnight cold,
all laughter of glad places, and all pleasures of passion or of ease,
to render perfect this one work by which he had elected to make good his
fame or perish.

And she knew that he must have failed; failed always; that spending his
life in one endeavor, circumstance had been stronger than he, and had
baffled him perpetually. She knew that it was still in vain that he gave
his peace and strength and passions, all the golden years of manhood,
and all the dreams and delights of the senses; and that although these
were a treasure which, once spent, came back nevermore to the hands
which scatter them, he had failed to purchase with them, though they
were his all, this sole thing which he besought from the waywardness of
fate.

"I will find a name or a grave," he had said, when they had parted: she,
with the instinct of that supreme love which clung to him with a
faithfulness only equaled by its humility, needed no second look upon
his face to see that no gods had answered him save the gods of
oblivion;--the gods whose pity he rejected and whose divinity he denied.

For to the proud eyes of a man, looking eagle-wise at the far-off sun of
a great ambition, the coming of Thanatos could seem neither as
consolation nor as vengeance, but only as the crowning irony in the
mockery and the futility of life.

The dawn grew into morning.

A day broke full of winds and of showers, with the dark masses of clouds
tossed roughly hither and thither, and the bells of the steeples blown
harshly out of time and tune, and the wet metal roofs glistening through
a steam of rain.

The sleepers wakened of themselves or dreamed on as they might.

She had no memory of them.

She crouched in the gloom on his threshold, watching him.

He sank awhile into profound stupor, sitting there before his canvas,
with his head dropped and his eyelids closed. Then suddenly a shudder
ran through him; he awoke with a start, and shook off the lethargy which
drugged him. He rose slowly to his feet, and looked at the open
shutters, and saw that it was morning.

"Another day--another day!" he muttered, wearily; and he turned from the
Barabbas.

Towards the form on his threshold he had never looked.

She sat without and waited.

Waited--for what? She did not know. She did not dare even to steal to
him and touch his hand with such a timid caress as a beaten dog ventures
to give the hand of the master who has driven it from him.

For even a beaten dog is a creature less humble and timid than a woman
that loves and whose love is rejected.

He took up a palette ready set, and went to a blank space of canvas and
began to cover it with shapes and shadows on the unconscious creative
instinct of the surcharged brain. Faces and foliage, beasts and scrolls,
the heads of gods, the folds of snakes, forms of women rising from
flames and clouds, the flowers of Paradise blossoming amidst the
corruption and tortures of Antenora. All were cast in confusion, wave on
wave, shape on shape, horror with loveliness, air with flame, heaven
with hell, in all the mad tumult of an artist's dreams.

With a curse he flung his brushes from him, and cast himself face
downward on his bed of straw.

The riot of fever was in his blood. Famine, sleepless nights, unnatural
defiance of all passions and all joys, the pestilence rife in the
crowded quarter of the poor,--all these had done their work upon him. He
had breathed in the foul air of plague-stricken places, unconscious of
its peril; he had starved his body, reckless of the flight of time; he
had consumed his manhood in one ceaseless, ruthless, and absorbing
sacrifice; and Nature, whom he had thus outraged, and thought to outrage
with impunity as mere bestial feebleness, took her vengeance on him and
cast him here, and mocked him, crying,--

"A deathless name?--Oh, madman! A little breath on the mouths of men in
all the ages to come?--Oh, fool! Hereafter you cry?--Oh, fool!--heaven
and earth may pass away like a scroll that is burnt into ashes, and the
future you live for may never come--neither for you nor the world. What
you may gain--who shall say? But all you have missed, I know. And no man
shall scorn me--and pass unscathed."

There came an old lame woman by laboriously bearing a load of firewood.
She paused beside the threshold.

"You look yonder," she said, resting her eyes on the stranger crouching
on the threshold. "Are you anything to that man?"

Silence only answered her.

"He has no friends," muttered the cripple. "No human being has ever come
to him; and he has been here many months. He will be mad--very soon. I
have seen it before. Those men do not die. Their bodies are too strong.
But their brains go,--look you. And their brains go, and yet they
live--to fourscore and ten many a time--shut up and manacled like wild
beasts."

Folle-Farine shivered where she crouched in the shadow of the doorway;
she still said nothing.

The crone mumbled on indifferent of answer, and yet pitiful, gazing into
the chamber.

"I have watched him often; he is fair to look at--one is never too old
to care for that. All winter, spring, and summer he has lived so
hard;--so cold too and so silent--painting that strange thing yonder. He
looks like a king--he lives like a beggar. The picture was his god:--see
you. And no doubt he has set his soul on fame--men will. All the world
is mad. One day in the springtime it was sent somewhere--that great
thing yonder on the trestles,--to be seen by the world, no doubt. And
whoever its fate lay with would not see any greatness in it, or else no
eyes would look. It came back as it went. No doubt they knew best;--in
the world. That was in the spring of the year. He has been like this
ever since. Walking most nights;--starving most days;--I think. But he
is always silent."

The speaker raised her wood and went slowly, muttering as she limped
down each steep stair,--

"There must hang a crown of stars I suppose--somewhere--since so many of
them forever try to reach one. But all they ever get here below is a
crown of straws in a madhouse."

"The woman says aright," the voice of Sartorian murmured low against her
ear.

She had forgotten that he was near from the first moment that her eyes
had once more fed themselves upon the face of Arslàn.

"The woman says aright," he echoed, softly. "This man will perish; his
body may not die, but his brain will--surely. And yet for his life you
would give yours?"

She looked up with a gleam of incredulous hope; she was yet so ignorant;
she thought there might yet be ways by which one life could buy
another's from the mercy of earth, from the pity of heaven.

"Ah!" she murmured with a swift soft trembling eagerness. "If the gods
would but remember!--and take me--instead. But they forget--they forget
always."

He smiled.

"Ay, truly, the gods forget. But if you would give yourself to death for
him, why not do a lesser thing?--give your beauty, Folle-Farine?"

A scarlet flush burned her from head to foot. For once she mistook his
meaning. She thought, how could a beauty that he--who perished
there--had scorned, have rarity or grace in those cold eyes, of force or
light enough to lure him from his grave?

The low melody of the voice in her ear flowed on.

"See you--what he lacks is only the sinew that gold gives. What he has
done is great. The world rightly seeing must fear it; and fear is the
highest homage the world ever gives. But he is penniless; and he has
many foes; and jealousy can with so much ease thrust aside the greatness
which it fears into obscurity, when that greatness is marred by the
failures and the feebleness of poverty. Genius scorns the power of gold:
it is wrong; gold is the war scythe on its chariot, which mows down the
millions of its foes and gives free passage to the sun-coursers, with
which it leaves those heavenly fields of light for the gross
battle-fields of earth."

"You were to give that gold," she muttered, in her throat.

"Nay, not so. I was to set him free: to find his fame or his grave; as
he might. He will soon find one, no doubt. Nay; you would make no bond
with me, Folle-Farine. You scorned my golden pear. Otherwise--how great
they are! That cruel scorn, that burning color, that icelike coldness!
If the world could be brought to see them once aright, the world would
know that no powers greater than these have been among it for many ages.
But who shall force the world to look?--who? It is so deaf, so slow of
foot, so blind, unless the film before its eyes be opened by gold."

He paused and waited.

She watched silent on the threshold there.

The cruel skill of his words cast on her all the weight of this ruin
which they watched.

Her love must needs be weak, her pledge to the gods must needs be but
imperfectly redeemed, since she, who had bade them let her perish in his
stead, recoiled from the lingering living death of any shame, if such
could save him.

The sweet voice of Sartorian murmured on:

"Nay; it were easy. He has many foes. He daunts the world and scourges
it. Men hate him, and thrust him into oblivion. Yet it were easy!--a few
praises to the powerful, a few bribes to the base, and yonder thing once
lifted up in the full light of the world, would make him great--beyond
any man's dispute--forever. I could do it, almost in a day; and he need
never know. But, then, you are not tired, Folle-Farine!"

She writhed from him, as the doe struck to the ground writhes from the
hounds at her throat.

"Kill me!" she muttered. "Will not that serve you? Kill me--and save
him!"

Sartorian smiled.

"Ah! you are but weak, after all, Folle-Farine. You would die for that
man's single sake,--so you say; and yet it is not him whom you love. It
is yourself. If this passion of yours were great and pure, as you say,
would you pause? Could you ask yourself twice if what you think your
shame would not grow noble and pure beyond all honor, being embraced for
his sake? Nay; you are weak, like all your sex. You would die, so you
say. To say it is easy; but to live, that were harder. You will not
sacrifice yourself--so. And yet it were greater far, Folle-Farine, to
endure for his sake in silence one look of his scorn, than to brave, in
visionary phrase, the thrusts of a thousand daggers, the pangs of a
thousand deaths. Kill you! vain words cost but little. But to save him
by sacrifice that he shall never acknowledge; to reach a heroism which
he shall ever regard as a cowardice; to live and see him pass you by in
cold contempt, while in your heart you shut your secret, and know that
you have given him his soul's desire, and saved the genius in him from a
madman's cell and from a pauper's grave--ah! that is beyond you; beyond
any woman, perhaps. And yet your love seemed great enough almost to
reach such a height as this, I thought."

He looked at her once, then turned away.

He left in her soul the barbed sting of remorse. He had made her think
her faith, her love, her strength, her sinless force, were but the
cowardly fruit of cruelest self-love, that dared all things in
words--yet in act failed.

To save him by any martyrdom of her body or her soul, so she had sworn;
yet now!--Suddenly she seemed base to herself, and timorous, and false.

When daybreak came fully over the roofs of the city, it found him
senseless, sightless, dying in a garret: the only freedom that he had
reached was the delirious liberty of the brain, which, in its madness,
casts aside all bonds of time and place and memory and reason.

All the day she watched beside him there, amidst the brazen clangor of
the bells and scream of the rough winds above the roofs.

In the gloom of the place, the burning color of the great canvas of
Jerusalem glowed in its wondrous pomp and power against all the gray,
cold poverty of the wretched place. And the wanton laughed with her
lover on the housetop; and the thief clutched the rolling gold; and the
children lapped the purple stream of the wasted wine; and the throngs
flocked after the thief, whom they had elected for their god; and ever
and again a stray, flickering ray of light flashed from the gloom of the
desolate chamber, and struck upon it till it glowed like flame;--this
mighty parable, whereby the choice of the people was symbolized for all
time; the choice eternal, which never changes, but forever turns from
all diviner life to grovel in the dust before the Beast.

The magnificence of thought, the glory of imagination, the radiance of
color which the canvas held, served only to make more naked, more
barren, more hideous the absolute desolation which reigned around. Not
one grace, not one charm, not one consolation, had been left to the life
of the man who had sacrificed all things to the inexorable tyranny of
his genius. Destitution, in its ghastliest and most bitter meaning, was
alone his recompense and portion. Save a few of the tools and pigments
of his art, and a little opium in a broken glass, there was nothing
there to stand between him and utter famine.

When her eyes had first dwelt upon him lying senseless under the gaze of
the gods, he had not been more absolutely destitute than he was now. The
hard sharp outlines of his fleshless limbs, the sunken temples, the
hollow cheeks, the heavy respiration which spoke each breath a
pang,--all these told their story with an eloquence more cruel than lies
in any words.

He had dared to scourge the world without gold in his hand wherewith to
bribe it to bear his stripes; and the world had been stronger than he,
and had taken its vengeance, and had cast him here powerless.

All the day through she watched beside him--watched the dull mute
suffering of stupor, which was only broken by fierce unconscious words
muttered in the unknown tongue of his birth-country. She could give him
no aid, no food, no succor; she was the slave of the poorest of the
poor; she had not upon her even so much as a copper piece to buy a crust
of bread, a stoup of wine, a little cluster of autumn fruit to cool her
burning lips. She had nothing,--she, who in the world of men had dared
to be strong, and to shut her lips, and to keep her hands clean, and her
feet straight; she, whose soul had been closed against the Red Mouse.

If she had gone down among the dancing throngs, and rioted with them,
and feasted with them, and lived vilely, they would have hung her breast
with gems, and paved her path with gold. That she knew; and she could
have saved him.

Where she kneeled beside his bed she drew his hands against her
heart,--timidly, lest consciousness should come to him and he should
curse her and drive her thence--and laid her lips on them, and bathed
them in the scorching dew of her hot tears, and prayed him to pardon her
if it had been weakness in her,--if it had been feebleness and self-pity
thus to shrink from any abasement, any vileness, any martyrdom, if such
could have done him service.

She did not know; she felt astray and blind and full of guilt. It might
be--so she thought--that it was thus the gods had tested her; thus they
had bade her suffer shame to give him glory; thus they had tried her
strength,--and found her wanting.

Herself, she was so utterly nothing in her own sight, and he was so
utterly all in all; her life was a thing so undesired and so valueless,
and his a thing so great and so measureless in majesty, that it seemed
to her she might have erred in thrusting away infamy, since infamy would
have brought with it gold to serve him.

Dignity, innocence, strength, pride--what right had she to these, what
title had she to claim them--she who had been less than the dust from
her birth upward?

To perish for him anyhow--that was all that she had craved in prayer of
the gods. And she watched him now all through the bitter day; watched
him dying of hunger, of fever, of endless desire, of continual
failure,--and was helpless. More helpless even than she had been when
first she had claimed back his life from Thanatos.

Seven days she watched thus by him amidst the metal clangor of the
bells, amidst the wailing of the autumn winds between the roofs.

She moistened his lips with a little water; it was all he took. A few
times she left him and stole down amidst the people whom she had served,
and was met by a curse from most of them; for they thought that she
tended some unknown fever which she might bring amidst them, so they
drove her back, and would hear naught of her. A few, more pitiful than
the rest, flung her twice or thrice a little broken bread; she took it
eagerly, and fed on it, knowing that she must keep life in her by some
food, or leave him utterly alone. For him she had laid down all pride;
for him she would have kissed the feet of the basest or sued to the
lowest for alms.

And when the people--whose debts to her she had often forgiven, and whom
she had once fancied had borne her a little love--drove her from them
with harshest reviling, she answered nothing, but dropped her head and
turned and crept again up the winding stairs to kneel beside his couch
of straw, and wonder, in the bewildered anguish of her aching brain, if
indeed evil were good,--since evil alone could save him.

Seven days went by; the chimes of the bells blown on the wild autumn
winds in strange bursts of jangled sound; the ceaseless murmur of the
city's crowd surging ever on the silence from the far depths below;
sunrise and moonrise following one another with no change in the
perishing life that she alone guarded, whilst every day the light that
freshly rose upon the world found the picture of the Barabbas, and shone
on the god rejected and the thief adored.

Every night during those seven days the flutelike voice of her tempter
made its hated music on her ear. It asked always,--

"Are you tired, Folle-Farine?"

Her ears were always deaf; her lips were always dumb.

On the eighth night he paused a little longer by her in the gloom.

"He dies there," he said, slowly resting his tranquil, musing gaze upon
the bed of straw. "It is a pity. So little would save him still. A
little wine, a little fruit, a little skill,--his soul's desire when his
sense returns. So little--and he would live, and he would be great; and
the secret sins of the Barabbas would scourge the nations, and the
nations, out of very fear and very shame, would lift their voices loud
and hail him prophet and seer."

Her strength was broken as she heard. She turned and flung herself in
supplication at his feet.

"So little--so little; and you hold your hand!"

Sartorian smiled.

"Nay; you hold your silence, Folle-Farine."

She did not move; her upraised face spoke without words the passion of
her prayer.

"Save him!--save him! So little, so you say; and the gods will not
hear."

"The gods are all dead, Folle-Farine."

"Save him! You are as a god! Save him!"

"I am but a mortal, Folle-Farine. Can I open the gates of the tomb, or
close them?"

"You can save him,--for you have gold."

He smiled still.

"Ah! you learn at last that there is but one god! You have been slow to
believe, Folle-Farine!"

She clung to him; she writhed around him; she kissed with her soilless
lips the base dust at his feet.

"You hold the keys of the world; you can save the life of his body; you
can give him the life of his soul. You are a beast, a devil, a thing
foul and unclean, and without mercy, and cruel as a lie; and therefore
you are the thing that men follow, and worship, and obey. I know!--I
know! You can save him if you will!"

She laughed where she was stretched upon the ground, a laugh that stayed
the smile upon his mouth.

He stooped, and the sweetness of his voice was low and soft as the south
wind.

"I will save him, if you say that you are tired, Folle-Farine."

Where she was stretched face downward at his feet she shuddered, as
though the folds of a snake curled round her, and stifled, and slew her
with a touch.

"I cannot!" she muttered faintly in her throat.

"Then let him die!" he said; and turned away.

Once again he smiled.

The hours passed; she did not move; stretched there, she wrestled with
her agony as the fate-pursued wrestled with their doom on the steps of
the temple, while the dread Eumenides drew round them and
waited--waiting in cold patience for the slow sure end.

She arose and went to his side as a dying beast in the public roadway
under a blow staggers to its feet to breathe its last.

"Let him die!" she muttered, with lips dry as the lips of the dead. "Let
him die!"

Once more the choice was left to her. So men said: and the gods were
dead.

An old man, with a vulture's eyes and bony fingers, and rags that were
plague-stricken with the poisons of filth and of disease, had followed
and looked at her in the doorway, and kicked her where she lay.

"He owes me twenty days for the room," he muttered, while his breath
scorched her throat with the fumes of drink. "A debt is a debt.
To-morrow I will take the canvas; it will do to burn. You shiver?--fool!
If you chose, you could fill this garret with gold this very night. But
you love this man, and so you let him perish while you prate of 'shame.'
Oh-ho! that is a woman!"

He went away through the blackness and the stench, muttering, as he
struck his staff upon each stair,--

"The picture will feed the stove; the law will give me that."

She heard and shivered, and looked at the bed of straw, and on the great
canvas of the Barabbas.

Before another day had come and gone, he would lie in the common ditch
of the poor, and the work of his hand would be withered, as a scroll
withers in a flame.

If she tried once more? If she sought human pity, human aid? Some
deliverance, some mercy--who could say?--might yet be found, she
thought. The gods were dead; but men,--were they all more wanton than
the snake, more cruel than the scorpion?

For the first time in seven days she left his side.

She rose and staggered from the garret, down the stairway, into the
lower stories of the wilderness of wood and stone.

She traced her way blindly to the places she had known. They closed
their doors in haste, and fled from her in terror.

They had heard that she had gone to tend some madman, plague-stricken
with some nameless fever; and those wretched lives to life clung
closely, with a frantic lore.

One woman she stayed, and held with timid, eager bands. Of this woman
she had taken nothing all the summer long in wage for waking her tired
eyes at daybreak.

"Have pity!" she muttered. "You are poor, indeed, I know; but help me.
He dies there!"

The woman shook her off, and shrank.

"Get you gone!" she cried. "My little child will sicken if you breathe
on her!"

The others said the same, some less harshly, some more harshly. Twice or
thrice they added:

"You beg of us, and send the jewels back? Go and be wise. Make your
harvest of gold whilst you can. Reap while you may in the yellow fields
with the sharp, sure sickle of youth!"

Not one among them braved the peril of a touch of pity; not one among
them asked the story of her woe; and when the little children ran to
her, their mothers plucked them back, and cried,--

"Art mad? She is plague-stricken."

She went from them in silence, and left them, and passed out into the
open air.

In all this labyrinth of roofs, in all these human herds, she yet
thought, "Surely there must be some who pity?"

For even yet she was so young; and even yet she knew the world so
little.

She went out into the streets.

Her brain was on fire, and her heart seemed frozen; her lips moved
without sound, and unconsciously shaped the words which night and day
pursued her, "A little gold,--a little gold!"

So slight a thing, they said, and yet high above reach as Aldebaran,
when it glistened through the storm-wrack of the rain.

Why could he have not been content--she had been--with the rush of the
winds over the plains, the strife of the flood and the hurricane, the
smell of the fruit-hung ways at night, the cool, green shadows of the
summer woods, the courses of the clouds, the rapture of the keen air
blowing from the sea, the flight of a bird over the tossing poppies, the
day-song of the lark? All these were life enough for her; were freedom,
loveliness, companionship, and solace. Ah, God! she thought, if only
these had made the world of his desires likewise. And even in her
ghastlier grief her heart sickened for them in vain anguish as she
went,--these the pure joys of earth and air which were her only
heritage.

She went out into the streets.

It was a night of wind and rain.

The lamps flickered through the watery darkness. Beggars, and thieves,
and harlots jostled her in the narrow ways.

"It must be hell,--the hell of the Christians," she muttered, as she
stood alone on the flints of the roads, in the rancid smell, in the
hideous riot, in the ghastly mirth, in the choking stench, in the thick
steam of the darkness, whose few dull gleams of yellow light served to
show the false red on a harlot's cheek, or the bleeding wound on a
crippled horse, or the reeling dance of a drunkard.

It was the hell of the Christians: in it there was no hope for her.

She moved on with slow unconscious movement of her limbs; her hair blew
back, her eyes had a pitiless wonder in their vacant stare; her
bloodless face had the horror in it that Greek sculptors gave to the
face of those whom a relentless destiny pursued and hunted down; ever
and again she looked back as she went, as though some nameless,
shapeless, unutterable horror were behind her in her steps.

The people called her mad, and laughed and hooted her; when they had any
space to think of her at all.

"A little food, a little wine, for pity's sake," she murmured; for her
own needs she had never asked a crust in charity, but for his,--she
would have kissed the mud from the feet of any creature who would have
had thus much of mercy.

In answer they only mocked her, some struck her in the palm of her
outstretched hand. Some called her by foul names; some seized her with a
drunken laugh, and cursed her as she writhed from their lewd hold; some,
and these often women, whispered to her of the bagnio and the brothel;
some muttered against her as a thief; one, a youth, who gave her the
gentlest answer that she had, murmured in her ear, "A beggar? with that
face? come tarry with me to-night."

She went on through the sulphurous yellow glare, and the poisonous steam
of these human styes, shuddering from the hands that grasped, the voices
that wooed her, the looks that ravished her, the laughs that mocked her.

It was the hell of the Christians: it was a city at midnight; and its
very stones seem to arise and give tongue in her derision and cry, "Oh,
fool, you dreamt of a sacrifice which should be honor; of a death, which
should be release; of a means whereby through you the world should hear
the old songs of the gods? Oh, fool! We are Christians here: and we only
gather the reeds of the river to bruise them and break them, and thrust
them, songless and dead, in the name of our Lord."

She stumbled on through the narrow ways.

After a little space they widened, and the lights multiplied, and
through the rushing rains she saw the gay casements of the houses of
pleasure.

On the gust of wind there came a breath of fragrance from a root of
autumn blossom in a balcony. The old fresh woodland smell smote her as
with a blow; the people in the street looked after her.

"She is mad," they said to one another, and went onward.

She came to a broad place, which even in that night of storm was still a
blaze of fire, and seemed to her to laugh through all its marble mask,
and all its million eyes of golden light. A cruel laugh which mocked and
said,--

"The seven chords of the lyre; who listens, who cares, who has ears to
hear? But the rod of wealth all women kiss, and to its rule all men
crawl; forever. You dreamt to give him immortality?--fool! Give him
gold--give him gold! We are Christians here: and we have but one God."

Under one of the burning cressets of flame there was a slab of stone on
which were piled, bedded in leaves, all red and gold, with pomp of
autumn, the fruits of the vine in great clear pyramids of white and
purple; tossed there so idly in such profusion from the past
vintage-time, that a copper coin or two could buy a feast for half a
score of mouths. Some of the clusters rotted already from their
over-ripeness.

She looked at them with the passionate woeful eyes of a dog mad with
thirst, which can see water and yet cannot reach it. She leaned towards
them, she caught their delicious coldness in her burning hands, she
breathed in their old familiar fragrance with quick convulsive breath.

"He dies there!" she muttered, lifting her face to the eyes of the woman
guarding them. "He dies there; would you give me a little cluster, ever
such a little one, to cool his mouth, for pity's sake?"

The woman thrust her away, and raised, shrill and sharp through all the
clamor of the crowd, the cry of thief.

A score of hands were stretched to seize her, only the fleetness of her
feet saved her. She escaped from them, and as a hare flies to her form,
so she fled to the place whence she came.

She had done all she could; she had made one effort, for his sake; and
all living creatures had repulsed her. None would believe; none would
pity; none would hear. Her last strength was broken, her last faint hope
had failed.

In her utter wretchedness she ceased to wonder, she ceased to revolt,
she accepted the fate which all men told her was her heritage and
portion.

"It was I who was mad," she thought; "so mad, so vain, to dream that I
might ever be chosen as the reed was chosen. If I can save him, anyhow,
what matter, what matter for me?"

She went back to the place where he lay--dying, unless help came to him.
She climbed the stairway, and stole through the foulness and the
darkness of the winding ways, and retraced her steps, and stood upon his
threshold.

She had been absent but one hour; yet already the last,