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Title: Odette - A Fairy Tale for Weary People
Author: Firbank, Ronald
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Odette - A Fairy Tale for Weary People" ***

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ODETTE



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

Crown 8vo. 6s. each


VAINGLORY

“The author of this book has a gift for trenchant satire ... one cannot
help feeling that Mr. Firbank must have gone straight to life for some
of these people.”
                                                          _New Witness._


INCLINATIONS

“Mr. Ronald Firbank’s fiction bears a strong resemblance to the work of
the Futurists in painting.”
                                                       _Glasgow Herald._

“The book is pleasant, vivacious and stimulating throughout.”

                                                             _Scotsman._


CAPRICE (In preparation)


  GRANT RICHARDS LTD.
  ST. MARTIN’S ST.
  LONDON
  W.C.



[Illustration: AVE MARIA]



  ODETTE

  A FAIRY TALE FOR WEARY PEOPLE

  BY
  RONALD FIRBANK

  WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS
  BY ALBERT BUHRER

  LONDON
  GRANT RICHARDS LIMITED
  ST. MARTIN’S STREET
  1916



  _IN ALL THE WORLD
  TO
  THE DEAREST OF MOTHERS_



Odette: A Fairy Tale for Weary People



I


In the long summer evenings, when the shadows crept slowly over the
lawn, and the distant towers of the cathedral turned purple in the
setting sun, little Odette d’Antrevernes would steal out from the old
grey chateau to listen to the birds murmuring “good-night” to one
another amongst the trees.

Far away, at the end of the long avenue of fragrant limes, wound the
Loire, all amongst the flowery meadows and emerald vineyards, like a
wonderful looking-glass reflecting all the sky; and across the river,
like an ogre’s castle in a fairy tale, frowned the chateau of Luynes,
with its round grey turrets and its long, thin windows, so narrow, that
scarcely could a princess in distress put forth her little white hand
to wave to the true knight that should rescue her from her terrible
fate.

Just until the sun disappeared behind the trees, veiled in a crimson
cloud, little Odette would remain in the shadowy garden, then quickly
and mysteriously she would slip back into the old grey chateau; where,
in the long, dim drawing-room, before two wax candles, she would find
her Aunt Valerie d’Antrevernes embroidering an altar cloth for the
homely lichened village church, that one could see across the rose
garden from the castle windows.

“Where have you been, my child?” her aunt would ask her, glancing up
from the lace altar cloth that fell around her in a snowy cloud.

And Odette, in her pretty baby voice, would reply: “I have been
listening to the birds saying their evening prayers,” and then silently
she would sit on a low hassock at her aunt’s feet, and tell herself
fairy stories until Fortune, her Creole nurse, should come and carry
her off to bed.

Sometimes of an evening the old Curé of Bois-Fleuri would come to
visit Madame d’Antrevernes, and little Odette would watch them as they
talked, wondering all the while if Monsieur le Curé had really seen
God. She had never dared ask.

Her aunt always sat in a high armchair of faded blue tapestry,
embroidered in gold, with the family arms on a background of
fleur-de-lys, and her pale, beautiful face, as it bent over the lace
altar cloth, made little Odette think of angels and Holy Saints.

Odette had always seen her aunt thus, bending over an altar cloth for
God, so whenever she thought of Madame d’Antrevernes it was with a
peculiar reverence that almost approached to awe.

One evening, when little Odette lay awake in her deep four-posted bed,
watching the firelight dance upon the strange tapestry figures that
covered the walls, she heard Fortune, her old nurse, talking to one of
the servants. She caught her aunt’s name, then her own, and without
realizing that she was doing wrong, she listened to what Fortune said.

She did not really understand what she heard, for she was watching the
firelight as it shone upon a tall faded-looking lady in blue, who was
regarding with outstretched arms the sky which was full of angels.
All about the lady, in a field of red and white flowers, lay sleeping
sheep. Her aunt had once told her that the faded-looking blue lady,
whom Odette had imagined to be the Lady Virgin herself, was Joan of
Arc receiving the message from heaven to deliver France.

So as Odette watched the firelight dancing upon the faded tapestry,
she listened, without knowing that she was listening to the voice of
Fortune, who, in the next room, sat gossiping with another servant.

“She never seems able to forget him,” she heard Fortune say. “Ever
since the day that Monsieur le Marquis killed Monsieur d’Antrevernes in
a duel, Madame has never recovered.”

“She had scarcely been married a month, sweet soul, when her husband
was brought home to her dead ... and so beautiful he looked as he lay
in the great hall, his eyes wide-open and smiling, just as if he were
still alive.... Madame la Comtesse was in the rose garden at the time
with Monsieur le Curé--no one knew where she was, and when suddenly
she entered the hall, her hands all full of summer roses, and saw her
husband lying dead before her, she gave a terrible cry and fainted
straight away.... For days after she hung between life and death, and
then, when she at last got well again, she always seemed to be thinking
of him, always seemed to be living in the past. Sometimes she would
sit for hours in the garden staring in front of her, and smiling and
talking to herself so that I used to feel afraid. Then, a few years
later, when the father and mother of the little Odette were drowned
on their way back from India, Madame seemed to wake up from her long
dream, as it were, and went to Paris to fetch Mademoiselle Odette from
the convent of the Holy Dove.”

Little Odette had fallen asleep berced by the lullaby of the old
servant’s voice, and when next morning the risen sun shone in a shower
of gold through the diamond-paned windows of her room, and all the
birds in the garden below were rejoicing amidst the trees, little
Odette had forgotten the conversation she had overheard the previous
night as she lay awake watching the firelight dancing upon the faded
blue gown of the Maid of France.

[Illustration: THE NURSE’S STORY]



II


Sometimes of an afternoon Monsieur le Curé de Bois-Fleuri would
call at the chateau and ask Blaise, the long valued butler, whether
Mademoiselle Odette d’Antrevernes was at home; and Blaise would smile
at Monsieur le Curé and ask him to be seated whilst he went to see.

Then slowly, slowly, Blaise would traverse the great hall, pass under
the torn and faded flags that drooped sadly like dead things from the
massive rafters and shaking his silver head and murmuring to himself he
would disappear on the great staircase lined with armour.

And the old Curé would sit musing on the past, his eyes fixed on the
torn flags that had once been borne in proud splendour at Pavie and
Moncontour.

Then the little Odette in her flowing robe would trip eagerly down the
wide oak staircase, and making a low reverence to the Curé, she would
take his hand, and together they would walk out into the rose garden
that faced the south side of the chateau.

There, by a broken statue on a rustic seat they would sit surrounded by
clustering roses, and the Curé, with his soft, low voice, would tell
little Odette beautiful stories about the Saints and the Virgin Mary.

But the story that Odette found the most wonderful of all, was the
account of the child Bernadette beholding the Holy Virgin in the
mountains. This, for her, was the most perfect story in the world, and
with her quick, imaginative mind she would picture the little peasant
girl Bernadette returning to her parents’ distant dwelling, when
suddenly in a ray of glorious light, the Holy Mary herself appeared on
the lonely mountain path, like a beautiful dream.

Oh! how Odette wished that she could have been little Bernadette! And
she would delight to surmise what the little peasant girl looked like;
whether her hair was brown, or whether it was gold--and Odette was
terribly disappointed when asking the Curé this question, that he only
shook his head and said he did not know.

So the days slipped by quietly as on silver wings. Madame d’Antrevernes
always in her high blue chair, her altar cloth between her hands, and
little Odette on a faded cushion dreaming at her feet.

[Illustration: THE ROSE GARDEN]

Then one beautiful evening in August, as little Odette watched the
two twin towers of the distant Cathedral flush purple in the setting
sun, and the great round dome of St. Martin’s Church loom like a ripe
apricot against the sky, a wonderful idea came to her. She, too, would
seek the Holy Virgin. She, too, like little Bernadette, would speak
with the Holy Mary, the Mother of the Lord Seigneur Christ.



III


It was the evening of the eventful night. For one whole week Odette had
prayed steadfastly, and now this evening she was going to speak to the
Holy Mary in the rose garden, when Aunt Valerie and Fortune, Blaise,
and Monsieur le Curé were all fast asleep.

She felt terribly excited as she kissed her aunt good-night, and
trembling with a beautiful holy fear she allowed Fortune to undress her
and put her to bed.

Then for two long hours she watched the moonlight fall upon the dim
blue figure of Joan of Arc, for the frail summer fire that Fortune lit
of an evening had long ago burnt itself out, and now the room was
filled with mysterious shadows and strange creakings of furniture, so
that it was all Odette could do not to be afraid. At last she heard the
gentle rustle of her aunt’s gown as she passed her door, and Odette
could see the yellow light from Madame d’Antreverne’s candle glint like
a fleeting star through the keyhole. Soon afterwards she heard the slow
steps of Blaise cross the Picture Gallery, and then a sudden silence
fell upon the chateau only broken by faint nocturnal noises from the
garden.

Odette sat up amid her pillows listening. She felt her heart beating,
beating, as if it were trying to escape.

Then silently she slipped from her bed, crossed to the window, and
looked out.

Perhaps the Virgin was already waiting for her in the garden?

But she saw no one.

Far away she could see a few lights shining like fallen stars in the
town of Tours, and through the trees upon the lawn she saw the Loire
glittering like an angel’s robe beneath the moon.

“How wicked to expect the Holy Virgin to wait for me,” thought Odette,
“It is I that must wait for Her.” And fastening a fair silver cross
about her neck, she noiselessly opened the bedroom door, and found
herself standing alone upon the great dark staircase.

To get to the garden it was necessary to cross the Picture Gallery; for
the Picture Gallery was at the top of the great staircase.

Odette trembled as she passed down the long still Gallery where the
portraits of her ancestors peered eerily from the panelled walls. But
she was comforted by the thought that Gabrielle was at the other end.

It was the picture of Gabrielle d’Antrevernes, one of the beauties of
the court of Louis XIV, that Odette loved most. And she never tired of
looking at the long pale face, the sea-blue eyes, and the dull gold
hair capped with pearls, of her beautiful ancestress.

Odette adored the tired languid-looking hands, full of deep red roses,
that lay like two dead doves upon the silver brocaded gown, and she
would weave beautiful tales about Gabrielle, seated on her favourite
cushion, peering up at the portrait, her great eyes lost in thought.

But this evening she did not linger as her custom was but with a
friendly smile to the beloved Gabrielle she hurried by, her cautious
feet all a-pit-a-pat, a-pit-a-pat, on the parquet floor.

Then she went down the broad staircase between the pale armour, beneath
the brooding flags, and so to the glass door that led to the garden.

The door was locked, and oh! the dreadful creak it gave as
Odette turned the key! and a pair of little exploring mice rushed
helter-skelter, tumbling about on the slippery floor.

Odette tremulously turned the handle, and suddenly she found herself
alone after midnight in the garden.

Her heart beat so that she thought she was going to die. But oh! how
beautiful the garden looked beneath the moon! The roses seemed to look
more mysterious by moon-shine. Their perfume seemed more pure. Odette
bent down and kissed a heavy crimson rose all illumined with silver
dew, and then quickly she picked a great bouquet of flowers to offer
to the Virgin. Some of the flowers were sleeping as she picked them,
and Odette thought, with a little thrill of delight, at their joy on
awakening and finding themselves on the Holy Mother’s breast.

Then, her arms full of flowers, Odette went and knelt down by the low
marble seat, where so often Monsieur le Curé had spoken to her of the
Saint Mary and of Jesus, her Son. And there, with her eyes fixed upon
the stars, she waited....

In the trees a nightingale sang so beautifully that Odette felt the
tears come into her eyes, and then far away another bird sang back ...
and then both together, in an ecstasy, mixed their voices in one, and
the garden seemed to Odette as if it were paradise.

Suddenly a low moan, like the sound of a breaking heart, made Odette
start to her feet.

Could it be that the Holy Mother was in pain? She looked about her.

Yes, there it was again ... a long, low cry ... it came from the other
side of the wall, it came from the road.

Odette hastily collected the flowers in her hands, and ran swiftly down
the avenue of lime trees, her untied hair drifting aerially behind her
as she ran.

Then once upon the white road, she looked about her expectantly, but
there was no one to be seen. The river ran the other side of the road
like a silver chain, and far away in the town of Tours a few lights
burnt like candles in the dark. She stood still, listening intently;
yes, there again, quite, quite close, was the long, sad cry.

Odette ran forward to the river bank from where the sound seemed to
come, and there, her face buried in her hands--a woman lay.

“Oh! Oh!” cried the little Odette, the tears rolling down her cheeks,
“the Holy Mother is in pain,” and stooping down, she timidly kissed the
sobbing woman at her feet.

Then as the woman uncovered her face with her hands, Odette sprang back
with a startled scream. There, on the grass, amongst the pale-hued
daisies, lay a woman with painted cheeks and flaming hair; a terrible
expression was in her eyes.

[Illustration: BOIS-FLEUR]

“Who are you? What do you want?” she asked Odette brutally; and Odette,
afraid and trembling, began to sob, hiding her face in her hands so as
not to see the dreadful eyes of the woman at her feet.

She felt the woman staring at her, though she did not dare look, then
suddenly she heard a laugh, a laugh that froze her blood.

“Why, you have no shoes or stockings,” said the woman, in a frenzy of
mad laughter. “What are you doing here in your nightgown on the high
roads? You’ve begun early, my dear!” And she rocked herself to and fro,
laughing, laughing, laughing, and then suddenly her laughter turned to
tears. All her poor thin body shook with terrible sobs; it seemed as if
her very heart was breaking.

Odette uncovered her eyes and looked at this shattered wreck of a human
soul, and an immense unaccountable pity seized her, for suddenly she
bent down and kissed the woman on her burning lips.

The woman’s sobs grew quieter, as she felt Odette’s pure cool mouth
upon her fevered face. “Who are you?” she kept asking her, “Who are
you?”

And Odette in her baby voice whispered back, “The Holy Virgin has sent
me, in order to make you well!”

Presently the woman calmed herself, and sat staring at the shining
river, as though she had quite forgotten that Odette was beside her.

“Tell me what is the matter,” Odette said at length, “and I will try to
help you.”

The woman looked at her kindly: “How should you understand what is the
matter?” she said, “You, who have lived always with good people, far
away from the temptations of the world, what have you to do with the
likes of us?”

“I do not understand,” said Odette, looking at the woman with great
questioning eyes.

“And may you never understand, little one,” said the woman, kissing
her. “When I was but a wee mite I heard the preaching folk tell of God
and the Angels. You must be one of them, I think?”

“Oh! no, Oh! no,” said Odette, “I am not an angel, but I have been sent
by the Queen of Heaven to save you here to-night.”

The woman looked at her curiously. “You came only just in time,” she
said, and again her eyes strayed towards the river.

“Let me give you this silver cross,” Odette said, changing it from her
own neck to the woman’s. “Keep it always, for it is holy, and is a
sign that Jesus came into the world to die for us.”

The woman took the cross into her hands, and seemed to weigh it. “Is it
really silver?” she asked.

Odette smiled at her. “Yes, and is it not beautiful? It was given to
me by my mother before she went away to India; I do not remember her
giving it me, for I was then only a tiny creature. But Aunt Valerie has
often told me that when mamma hung it around my neck, she cried, and
kissed me, and told me to love the Holy Virgin, for that faith, and
love, were the only things that were beautiful in life.”

The woman looked at her sadly. “I will keep it in memory of you, little
one,” she said, “It may bring me luck,” and she got up as if to go.

“Will you promise never to do things that the Holy Mary would not
approve of?” asked Odette, taking the woman’s hand, and gazing
earnestly into her eyes.

“I will try, little one,” the woman said, and she stooped and kissed
Odette passionately; the warm tears falling from her eyes upon Odette’s
upturned face.

Far away in the East, the day began to Dawn. A flush of yellow like
ripe fruit spread slowly across the sky. The birds in the trees piped
drowsily to one another, and the bent cyclamens by the river-side
lifted their fragrant hearts in rapture to the rising sun.

The woman and Odette stood side by side watching the breaking day,
then, as a clock struck away across the meadows from some church tower,
the woman shivered, and looked down the long white road that followed
the river bank.

“I must go,” she said.

Odette looked at her. “Where to?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” answered the woman. “I am going to try to find
work--honest work,” and taking Odette in her arms she kissed her again
and again. “Good-bye, little one,” she said, “And since you pray to the
Holy Mother, perhaps sometimes you will pray for me.”

And then, with a tired, sad step, the woman walked slowly away down the
long white road, her shadow falling beside her as though it were her
soul.

“Oh, Holy Virgin, Mother of Our Lord Seigneur Christ, I thank Thee for
having brought me here this night,” prayed the little Odette. “Take
into Thy protection, dear Mother, this poor woman who has need of Thee,
and bring her safely to Thy beautiful Kingdom in Heaven, for the sake
of our Lord Jesus. Amen.”

Then little Odette returned thoughtfully to the great grey chateau.
And as she passed down the avenue of over-arching limes a thousand
thrushes sang deliriously amidst the branches.

But Odette felt somehow changed since last she passed the castle gates.
She felt older. For suddenly she realized that Life was not a dream;
she realized for the first time that Life was cruel, that Life was sad,
that beyond the beautiful garden in which she dwelt, many millions of
people were struggling to live, and sometimes in the struggle for life
one failed--like the poor woman by the river bank.

And Odette turned as she walked, and looked behind her, to where, by
the roadside, and dying beneath the golden sun, the red roses that she
had gathered for the Holy Mother, shone in the morning light like drops
of crimson blood.



  GARDEN CITY
  PRESS LTD.,
  :: PRINTERS, ::
  LETCHWORTH.


[Illustration]



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.





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